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They both watched Estel as the boy picked his way through the ruins and disappeared over the hill’s edge onto the steep path below. It was, Dorhaur thought, a good focus to help him ignore the apprehension and the sudden awkward silence. He wondered if Lord Elrond felt the same—but surely not. The ancient half-Elven lord would not be ill at ease over impending converse with a simple Dúnedan of modest name and rank. Certainly the fair, grave countenance gave no hint of whatever thoughts or feeling might lie behind it.
For himself, Dorhaur’s own mind was in a muddle. He was uncertain how to feel about Estel’s revelations of the past minutes. The lad’s words had hurt him, admittedly, but he wasn’t certain he had any real right to be so. The comments regarding Men had not been personally meant, after all, and despite that the boy was the Dúnedain’s—his own—Chieftain, Estel was also just that. A boy. And not just any boy, but one who had been reared almost solely among Elves. It was little wonder that Estel felt as he did. Truly, it would have been something of a worry had he not, for at heart it meant that the child had been well loved for the length of his short years.
And that Estel had been hearing poor tales of Men from the Dúnedain’s closest allies.
Well. Dorhaur was certain, given Elrond’s reaction to that news, that the Lord of Imladris had no part in such slander. He was also certain that Elrond would take whatever measures were necessary to see that such gossip, if it could not be stopped entirely, was at least kept away from Estel’s ears.
It was as much as he could hope for on that front, and Dorhaur chose to be satisfied.
As for the rest … Elrond had promised to address the matter with Estel, and Dorhaur believed that he would do so. History knew Elrond of Rivendell to be honorable. How the Elf lord would manage this was a question that loomed large … but Elrond was ancient and far wiser than he. Surely Dorhaur son of Dedhalin had no call to question.
His head argued fiercely, but his heart refused to be completely convinced.
The last of Estel’s head sank from view, and Elrond looked around, and Dorhaur could no longer avoid the uncomfortable thought that the Lord of Rivendell had asked to speak with him privately. He braced himself and squared around to meet the Elf’s gaze. Elrond, however, eyed him for a brief moment then turned away, wandering slowly back into the ruins. After a confused moment, Dorhaur followed.
The silence stretched, and Dorhaur was just considering that he might be forced to break it—unappealing as that thought might be—when Elrond’s musical voice threaded into the stillness. “You have a family of your own?”
It was … not what he had expected. Dorhaur nodded. “I do. A wife and three sons.”
“Ah.” A faint smile briefly split the Elf’s face. “Tell me of them.”
He had no idea of the reason for the Elf lord’s interest, but Dorhaur was fiercely proud of his family—his strong, intelligent, laughing wife and his brave, foolish (aye, foolish), good-hearted sons. They had built a good life together, he and Haletha, and he was more than willing for Elrond to hear of it, whatever the purpose behind the Elf’s request.
“Haletha, my wife, I have known from childhood. We lived near to each other from our births—which were, indeed, not so far apart—played and fought together, and I believe that even from Estel’s age we knew that we would spend our lives at each other’s side.” Dorhaur grinned shyly, remembering those early carefree days . “It was never so much a decision for us as a simple understanding.”
He continued for more than a quarter hour in the same vein, telling of their sons, their farm, and their lives when apart—which was increasingly, as more Rangers fell against incursions of orc, warg, and other evil creatures, and patrol times were lengthened to compensate for fewer men.
“My two oldest have joined the Rangers, and are even now on patrol in the northeast reaches of our lands. They go together, which gives us a little comfort—though there is always the fear that if something happens, we may lose them both at once.” Dorhaur looked down and blew out a long breath. It was something that he and Haletha had struggled long to accept. “But my youngest is still at home—two years older than Estel, no more. He is a tremendous help to his mother during these times when I must be gone from them.”
Elrond nodded slowly, casting him a wry grin. “I, too, know both the comfort and fear that comes when one’s sons ride to battle together.”
The comment took Dorhaur off guard, and then he felt foolish (his sons came by it naturally, he would fully admit) as he thought of the twin sons of Elrond in the camp below. Still, it was … an odd thought, that he shared something with the great Elf lord so prosaic as worry over one’s children.
But of course he did.
Dorhaur shook his head over his own thoughtlessness as Elrond continued, eyes turned toward the east and his own valley. “You live on a farm, you say, rather than in a village. Were your sons able to make friends beyond each other, or were their social interactions limited to your own family?” He looked around then, fixing Dorhaur with those piercing eyes. “But you knew your wife when young, so some manner of community must be available even in your rural areas.”
Ah. He began to see the central topic of these questions. “Some Dúnedain farms are truly isolated, but in the area where we live, our farms are not so far apart. My sons had cousins nearby—both from my sisters and Haletha’s siblings—and other children as well. There are festival times, barn and house raisings, harvest. And often our wives take turns with the schooling, rather than each teaching her own in solitude.” He shrugged. “The Dúnedain lead hard lives, and except for those rare few who choose seclusion, we cannot survive alone. It is vital that our children form bonds at a young age with their peers, those who will be the ones to work and play and fight and suffer beside them.” He hesitated, then added, “Also … it is not the way of the children of Men to easily accept solitude or the company of only adults. They deeply desire the companionship of those their own age.” Dorhaur regretted the words as soon as they were spoken, feeling as though he had overstepped. He wondered if the Elf lord would think his words critical when they had been intended only as truth. Somewhat lamely, he added, “I know not how it is with Elven children.”
Elrond, however, took no offense. Instead, he sighed. “The years mean little to Elves. Once we reach maturity, our bodies no longer change. We do not die of illness or age. The ages of our friends, our spouse, our parents means very little.” This did not surprise him—Dorhaur’s mind still reeled when looking between Elrond and his sons, knowing the vast difference in their years and yet seeing no physical trace to mark the twins as junior to their father. In fact … had he guessed, he might have chosen Elrond as the younger—before looking into his eyes for the first time, of course. After that, there could be no question. “Even when young, we have very little internal drive to differentiate. I do not say that as adults we feel no special need to protect and teach our children, or that as children we do not understand the need to learn from our elders—that is not so. However, we also feel no particular urge to spend our time with those of our own ‘age’, as it were.” The Elf lord pursed his lips, and shrugged wryly. “Such would be difficult in any event, as often hundreds of years pass between births within our realms.”
Dorhaur blinked, startled. “Truly?”
“Indeed.” It might have been regret in Elrond’s eyes, but the emotion passed too quickly for the Ranger to be certain. “Procreation is not such a drive for Elves as it is for Men, and in these days of our waning here in Middle Earth, fewer than ever choose to bring forth children.” Their waning in Middle Earth? What might that mean? Though the words were cryptic, they left Dorhaur unsettled. “Perhaps it is the uncertainty of these times, perhaps it is simply a desire to wait for Valinor. In any event, there have been no children in Imladris not only since Estel’s arrival, but for many centuries before.”
Truly, the Elves were not as Men. He had known this … and yet, it was as if he only began to understand.
“It is different for Thranduil’s people, I believe,” the Elf continued. “The Elves of Mirkwood live in far greater harmony with the rhythms of Middle Earth. Thranduil’s line hails from Doriath, and among his people also are those who chose to stay within Mirkwood—though it was not called so then—from the beginning, rather than journey toward the light of Valinor and the Two Trees. They live in great communion with the trees, and defend against the Enemy daily with their very sweat and blood. More children are born there.” He sighed, regretful. “More Elves die there.” Elrond shook himself gently. “In any event, the rest of us live within Middle Earth, and yet in many ways, outside of it still. Imladris, Lothlórien, the Havens. We … we wait, we hold ourselves apart even as we spend ourselves against the Enemy. We live here, we love our home, and yet … we have chosen not to fully commit ourselves to this place. Always, we look to Valinor.”
Silence fell, and Dorhaur waited for Elrond to return from his musings. He wasn’t certain the Elf lord was still in fact speaking to him.
“My apologies.” Elrond’s voice sharpened, and he shook his head. “I find myself … somewhat distracted by the past weeks and by Estel’s … thoughts of this evening.”
“I would be surprised if you were not, my Lord.”
The Elf’s smile flashed again, white in the darkening evening. “You are most kind.” He sat on the rubble of one of the inner walls and motioned for Dorhaur to do the same. Gingerly Dorhaur complied, feeling strangely surreal. Had someone told him a week past that he would soon be discussing his Chieftain with the Lord of Imladris on the peak of Weathertop, he would have laughed in that one’s face. Once the Ranger settled, Elrond took a long breath. “I was somewhat reluctant at the first to undertake the task of being a father to Estel—not because I doubted my ability to do so, but because I knew the pain that would come from taking a Mortal into my heart as such. The time given to Men is so short …” Bats flew overhead, tracing crooked paths through sky. Night insects buzzed around their heads and past their ears. A mouse, little more than a shadow against the stone pavement, ventured forth from beneath the fallen rock of the adjoining wall, only to dart quickly back to safety when Elrond continued. “Once made, I have never regretted that decision. Estel brings joy and light to my life, and to the lives of all who know him.” The Elf turned his gaze to the sky. “And yet, that which did not concern me at the outset …” He shook his head. “My wife and I reared three children, and I expected this to be little different. In some ways that has been true, but in some ways …” He laughed softly. “In some ways, he continually baffles me. I know not whether it is because he is Estel, or because he is a child of Men, or both, but rearing him has most certainly not been like rearing the children of my own body.”
Dorhaur laughed as well, his rough chuckle jarring against the smooth music of the Elf’s mirth. “Every one of mine baffled me.” He snorted. “Still do, in fact.”
“That is true, I suppose.” Elrond stretched, long and lean. “At least, I do remember asking my sons many times over the years what they could possibly have been thinking …” He laughed again. “The last time was only a week past, as I recall.”
“It never stops, then?”
“It does not, I assure you.”
Dorhaur hesitated, then stretched his long legs, turning his own eyes toward the glittering stars. “What will you do to help Estel … come to terms with himself?”
The Elf lord sighed. “What, indeed?” Another moment of silence passed, then Elrond admitted, “I will need some time to consider, I fear. I am not, perhaps, ideally placed to teach a child how to appreciate his place as a Man. His mortality …” One eyebrow rose. “How to help my son accept that which I refused when given the choice?”
That was not something Dorhaur had considered. In point of fact, he had always believed that story to be more legend than fact.
“The Lady Gilraen …”
“Will be my first conversation once we return to Imladris, I assure you.” Elrond stood, drifting across the ruined flooring. “I do not know if Estel has expressed such sentiments to her, but I would tend to doubt it. I suspect I would have heard such news immediately.” He folded his hands behind his back. “I know that she worries about him, alone among Elves. In fact, it was this concern that nearly turned her decision in the beginning toward remaining with your people. In the end she determined that the immediate dangers to his life were the most pressing, but I know it is a concern which distresses her still.” Elrond’s jaw clenched. “He has always been a joyful, content child, and I have thought her fears groundless until now—or at least exaggerated. I see now that I was mistaken.”
Dorhaur, too, rose. “My Lord Elrond …”
“I would … appreciate whatever thoughts you may have on this matter, both as a Man and … as one father to another.”
Lord Elrond of Rivendell, Elf of ancient lineage and renowned wisdom, was asking for … his opinion.
He had not thought that this particular adventure could get stranger.
“I would … I would be honored, my Lord.” Dorhaur drew in a long breath, gathering his tumbling thoughts and hoping desperately that they would make sense when he finally spoke. The question was so vital … He had no answers, of course—he was uncertain whether answers, per se, truly even existed for this quandary—but he had thoughts aplenty. Whether they would be helpful, he knew not, but they were worth voicing. “It seems to me, on the very surface, that—”
Elrond held up a quick hand, and Dorhaur fell silent. After a moment he heard what had drawn the Elf lord’s attention. A scraping, rustling sound drifted from over the edge of the ruins, not from the direction of the path but rather off to the side. They paced forward silent feet and peered down the hill, over the remains of the obliterated wall. After a moment Elrond shot a raised eyebrow at Dorhaur, who merely shrugged.
He had, of course, no more explanation for this than did Estel’s father. He was, however, quite interested in hearing the boy’s excuses.
They waited silently, watching as the small figure inched his way up the last few feet and dragged himself onto the broken flagstones. Estel rolled over, panting and staring toward the sky, and only then did he realize that he had been observed. The boy’s eyes went wide, and his body still.
“Estel.” Elrond stepped closer, then folded his hands and stared down at his son. “Perhaps you would care to explain.”
A/N: I am so sorry for the delay on this chapter. After the holidays were over and I turned my thoughts back toward writing, this chapter just simply would. not. come. Very frustrating. I finally realized that I was trying to plan too much into it … so rather than one more chapter and an epilogue after this, there will be two more chapters and an epilogue. This chapter is a bit shorter than usual … but at least it now exists. ;-) Thanks so much for hanging in there!
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