This was written for the June, 2013 Teitho Challenge "Weapons," where it placed first. It is unbetaed.
It was nominated for the 2013 Tree and Flower Awards where it placed second in "Favorite characterization of Elrond."
T. A. 2948
Elrond stepped out onto his balcony and breathed deep. He needed to feel the sun and smell the spring air to be reminded that not all the world was lifeless or corrupted. In the study behind him, his desk was piled high with letters from Elves and Men and Wizards from what seemed like every corner of Arda—ill news in three different languages. Losses among the Dúnedain. A lingering shadow over Mirkwood that the Wood-Elves lacked the power to dispel. Orc raids along the borders of Lórien much like the ones on the outskirts of his own lands. Famine everywhere among the Secondborn, save for one small haven in the northeast, where Bard’s Men and Dáin’s gold kept it at bay.
It seemed all the efforts of the White Council had not bought them even a decade of peace. He shook his head, trying to clear it. On their own, none of these tidings spelled calamity. That so much suffering converged at once was likely a cruel coincidence. After all, there was always trouble somewhere in the world.
Why, then, did each act of evil feel like a duelist’s saber testing his guard?
If he closed his eyes, he couldn’t help but see the grim words dancing against his eyelids. He opened them and tried to banish his fears with sunlight. It was a warm day. Little remained of the previous night’s rainstorm save a few patches of wet bark and deep footprints in the soft earth. The footprints tracked a path down the green slopes, past gardens and courtyards and fountains until they reached a flat patch of land that stretched out towards a sheer cliff’s face.
There on the open ground, an archery range had been fashioned. Elrond’s foster son stood at its edge with a short bow in his hand and a quiver of arrows stuck into the ground in front of him. Elrond’s face softened. Estel would never have an Elf’s proficiency with the long bow—his eyesight, while good for a Man, was inadequate for such far-ranging shots. He had good instincts and quick reflexes, though, and with determined practice, his skills were improving. As Elrond watched, the boy picked up a ring target in his right hand, drew it back, and threw it high into the air. As the target flipped away in a spinning arc, Estel grabbed an arrow and nocked it. He drew the string to his chin. Paused. Aimed.
The arrow leapt out just as the target passed the zenith of its arc. As the latter fell to the ground, the former almost—almost—clipped its edge. A moment later, the arrow, too, was falling to stick deep in the soft earth. A miss, but a near miss.
Elrond smiled. No, not all in the world was grim and fading.
He glimpsed movement out of the corner of his eye. Turning, he saw two identical figures striding across the bridge that spanned the falls. It seemed his other sons had survived their latest crusade. This one had kept them away for more than six weeks.
Though some distance still lay between them, Elrond could see them both clearly—as clearly as they would see him if they would but look. Their garb was dirty and torn, but did not bear the brownish stains of Elven blood. Both moved with their usual easy grace, showing none of the stiffness that came from painful wounds.
Only when he felt assured that his children were uninjured did he allow himself to scowl. Perhaps feeling the heat of his glare, Elladan looked up, saw his father, and quickly looked away. Following his brother’s gaze, Elrohir also looked up, but when his eyes met Elrond’s, he held them and lifted his chin defiantly.
Elrond’s scowl deepened. He tore his gaze away, refusing to indulge his younger son in a petty battle of wills. He wondered bitterly which desolate patch of rock his sons had seen fit to liberate from the orcs this time. That was how their “expeditions” went. Sometimes—when he’d gone for weeks with no word from them—Elrond wondered whether his sons gave any thought at all to their own security or that of their home. Both seemed to matter less than their satisfaction at stacking up a few more orcish bodies.
Elladan and Elrohir cared not one whit for the evil portents that currently littered Elrond’s desk. To them, orcs existed only to be slain; they gave no thought to greater powers that might direct their foes’ movements. They would not care what sort of troubles Thranduil might be facing and would listen to Celeborn’s woes only out of respect for their grandparents. The losses among the Dúnedain of Eriador might trouble them, but only because they had been close to most of the Chieftains—Arathorn included—and still had a few friends among the Rangers. They would give no thought to the strategic value of the former kingdom of Arnor—nevermind that it lay practically on their doorstep.
No, Elrond could not turn to his sons with his fears. Valar, he missed Arwen.
The pair gained the near bank. Elrohir made for the path that led up to the house, but his brother stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. Elladan had glanced down the ridge and seen Estel hard at work. The two turned instead toward the archery range.
A great change came over the twins as they made their way down the slope. The grim cast to their faces softened. The fierce light in their eyes gave way to a cheerful twinkle. Their steps lightened and languid, feral grace suddenly became the springing strides of elflings. They never let Estel see what they became in the wilds—the darkness that they nurtured in themselves. In the boy’s presence, they became as playful and merry as children themselves. Elrond wondered if they realized what they were protecting their brother from.
The young Man turned at their approach, and his face suddenly brightened. Dropping his bow, he flung himself at them to hug first Elrohir, then Elladan. The Elves embraced him with good grace; they’d been the recipients of such exuberant Mannish greetings since he’d barely reached past their knees. Laughter and snatches of conversation drifted up the ridge. Elrond was too far away to make out the words, but from the enraptured look on Estel’s face, he gathered that they were regaling him with their latest “adventure.”
After a moment, Estel gestured towards his short bow and his expression became earnest. Doubtless he was now telling his brothers of all the work he’d done and all the progress he’d made. This time, Elrond didn’t need to hear the words they exchanged; the look on his foster son’s face said it all. Take me with you, his eyes were pleading.
Estel wanted to accompany his brothers on their quests almost as much as they wanted him to accompany them.
The boy suddenly darted back to his bow, picked it up, and nocked an arrow. Elrohir pulled an apple from his pack, took a quick bite, and tossed it high into the air. Estel tracked the flying fruit for a moment as it arced towards the cliff face. Then, in one smooth motion, he drew, aimed, and released an arrow. This time, it was a solid hit. The arrow sliced into the apple and changed its trajectory. A heartbeat later, both arrow and apple hung quivering—sank deep into a patch of earth halfway up the cliff.
Elrond didn’t stay to watch the twins congratulate their brother on his shot. He turned and vanished into the house, unnoticed by any.
Dinner that night was a rather stilted affair. Estel was dining with his mother and there were no guests in the house, so it was only Elrond and his natural sons eating in their private dining room at a table that always felt too long. As they always did when it was just the three of them, the twins turned their chairs towards Elrond where he sat at the head of the table. That way, they didn’t have to look at the far end, at the chair that had sat empty for too many centuries.
“The orcs grow ever more galling,” Elladan was saying, “We did not think they would dare to establish their nests in the ruins of Fornost Erain, but there they were. At least we made a great many of them pay for such arrogance.”
Elrond’s mind was on other things, but worry made his tone sharp. “Arrogance, yes, because orcs are such astute students of history. They likely chose Fornost simply out of convenience. Men never go there; they think it haunted.”
Elrohir bristled at the implicit disapproval in Elrond’s words. “The Dúnedain still go there. They keep caches in the vaults. They were grateful for our assistance.”
“And what do you think will become of the surviving orcs you displaced? What if they choose to nest in Annúminas now that Fornost is closed to them? Evendim lies practically on the doorstep of the Shire.”
Elladan scowled. “If they desecrate the old capital, we will drive them out. Again.”
“And most likely drive them straight into a crowd of Halflings in the midst of their solstice celebrations,” Elrond muttered.
Elrohir’s eyes flashed. “So, what would you have us do, Father? Wait until their numbers have grown and they can infest all the lands? Sit idly by while they make their foul homes wherever it please them?”
Elrond met his angry eyes for a few moments. Then he sighed and turned away. “I don’t want to fight, Elrohir. I know the two of you are only doing what you deem necessary. I merely wish you’d show a little more care for the security of Imladris. It has been . . . a difficult few weeks.”
The air hung heavy for a few seconds. If they had softened their voices and asked him what was wrong, he might have broken his own resolution and told them all his troubles. Instead, Elladan cleared his throat and changed the subject. “It is good to see you well, Father,” none of them reacted to the falsehood implicit in those words, “And Estel. He is coming into his own, don’t you think?”
Elrond couldn’t help but smile softly at that. “Yes, he grows up well and far too fast.” No matter how many of Elros’s line he fostered, Elrond never got used to how quickly they grew. At seventeen, Estel was nearing Manhood, though by the Elven reckoning, he should still be climbing trees and wishing on stars.
“His skill with the sword is prodigious,” Elrohir put in, “And his archery improves by the day.”
Now, Elrond began to sense a trap.
“Glorfindel has trained him well,” Elladan agreed, “I suppose all that remains is to hone those skills under truer conditions.”
Elrond’s eyes hardened. “No,” he said sharply.
Elladan’s face clouded with confusion. “No?”
“What you’re about to ask, the answer is ‘no.’”
“We haven’t even . . .”
“Because you were about to ask whether Estel—a boy who’s not yet seen two decades of life—can accompany you the next time the two of you plot some wild orc hunt. And the answer is ‘no.’”
From Elrohir’s mutinous expression, he knew he’d hit the mark. But, it was Elladan who spoke next, trying for a reasonable tone. “He is nearly grown. If he were among his own people, he would already have assumed the duties of a warrior. They’d have sent him on patrols starting last year. At the latest.”
“But, he is not among his own people. He is in Imladris, and we have been charged with his protection until he comes of age.”
“Protection and training,” Elrohir argued, “The Rangers haven’t entrusted us with raising Arda’s finest harpist.”
“He is receiving the finest training!”
“Which means nothing without experience to temper it! You cannot keep him within these borders forever!”
“His life is not yours to gamble!” Elrond felt his voice rising, but he found he did not care. “I cannot stop the two of you from indulging in these pointless hunts, but I will be dead before I let you drag Aragorn down with you!”
The twins fell silent, recoiling at the heat in his voice and blinking at his uncharacteristic use of Estel’s birth name.
Though his meal was but half-eaten, Elrond set down his knife and walked away.
Ithil was sinking towards the horizon, but still Elrond could not sleep. He stepped out onto his balcony. The Gil-Estel hung low and bright in the sky.
“He is too young,” Elrond murmured—speaking to himself, speaking to the stars, “Surely they ought to see that. I must give him a few years before I laden him with all the burdens of Manhood.”
The stars were silent. Elrond sighed as he stared at the brightest of them. “What else can I do, Father?”
But, though he could barely remember the sound of his father’s voice, somehow he knew what he would say. Eärendil had been a man of bold action. It was from him that Elladan and Elrohir got their fire—much like Elros before them and all of Elros’s descendants since.
Meanwhile, Elrond was left, like his mother, standing on the shorelines waiting for the ones he loved to come home.
He tore his gaze away from the stars. He would find no answer there—at least none that brought comfort. A moment later, he almost regretted this, though, as his eyes alit, instead, on Estel’s arrow where it hung, still embedded in the cliff.
The problem, to his thinking, was that the twins seemed to view Estel almost like that arrow. He was handled with care, shaped, hardened, and sharpened to fly true and far. Now, the twins were merely waiting for leave to release him upon the world, that he might do what he’d been made to do. Doubtless, he would be a great asset to them in their vendetta.
But, were Elrond’s motives any purer? He’d told them that Aragorn’s life was not theirs to gamble—not Estel, his son’s, but Aragorn’s. What could Elrond hope for, but to temper Aragorn—the hidden Chieftain, the last Heir—for a few more years before he set him against all the darkness that now littered his desk?
He remembered hearing that the arrow that killed Smaug had to be left to rot with the beast. Bard had long treasured it, but no power in creation could have retrieved it from the carcass of the monster it was lost in.
For once, the stillness of the night held no peace for him. But, he knew what he must do.
In the morning, he had a somewhat tense conversation with Gilraen. As always, Estel’s mother was stoic. She, perhaps more than Elrond, had seen this coming because she understood that Estel was only theirs on loan. With her blessing, the Elf-Lord sought out his foster son.
He found Estel taking his midday meal out in the stables, tossing the carrots to the horses who appreciated them far more than he did. Elrond approached on heavy steps. “Hello, Estel.”
The boy sprang to his feet and smiled, his bearing still holding some of childhood’s earnest joy. “Hello, Adar. It’s good to see you. I finally mastered that knot you showed me last week. Want to see?”
Elrond held up a hand, smiling slightly at the boy’s enthusiasm. “In a moment, perhaps. First I’d like to talk with you.” He lowered himself to sit on one of the hay bales. Estel copied him, confusion and reserved hope in his face. Elrond looked away. “You’re doing well in your studies,” he began at last, “Your brothers speak glowingly about your weapons skills. Your horsemanship and woodcraft as well. And Erestor tells me you’re finally developing an appreciation for the arts.”
Estel blushed a little and shrugged one shoulder, torn between embarrassment and deserved pride.
“I spoke with your mother,” Elrond continued, “She agreed it’s time you put your survival skills to the test. But, only you can know if you’re prepared. Tell me, Estel, are you ready to ride with a patrol?”
The boy’s face lit up. He opened his mouth to respond, but Elrond held up a hand. “It’s not a decision to make lightly,” he said sternly, “You’ve acquitted yourself well within our borders, but patrols beyond are another matter entirely. The danger is very real, even on routine patrols, and I will not tolerate you treating it like a game.”
Estel sobered. His eyes still shone, but his voice was controlled. “I understand, Adar. I won’t let you down.”
Elrond merely nodded. He smothered the fatherly urge to smile softly and murmur “You never could.” A parent’s reassurance was not what this eager young Man needed at this moment.
“Will I be going with Elladan and Elrohir?” the boy asked, his tone hopeful.
Elrond shook his head. “You’re not ready for that yet,” he said firmly.
Estel’s face fell, but only a little. “With Glorfindel, then?”
“Not this time.” Elrond allowed himself a tiny smile. “This time, I will lead the riders.”
Estel was taken aback. “But, you never ride on patrol!”
Elrond gave him a look of mock sternness, softened by a twinkle in his eyes. “Never in your lifetime, you mean. And that is not so long a time.”
Estel could no longer hold back a grin.
Elrond clasped his shoulder. “Your mother will teach you what to pack. We leave at dawn, so be ready.”
He nodded eagerly. Estel was ready.
Elrond, most likely, never would be.
It was foolish—what he did that night. It was almost like the action of a child who still ascribes thoughts and feelings to his toys. Nevertheless, Elrond waited until darkness fell and then slipped down to the archery range.
The moon was almost full. It shone softly off the cliff’s face, illuminating plenty of handholds. Elrond climbed easily while a gentle wind tugged at his clothes.
The abandoned arrow still waited, stuck deep in a patch of earth thirty feet above the ground. Elrond tugged it from the dirt and pulled the apple off the fletching. The fruit he tossed into a nearby copse of trees where it would feed the earth or whatever beast came along first. But, the arrow he put between his teeth while he climbed down.
As he unlocked the archery shed and cast about for Estel’s quiver, he shook his head at his own folly. But, still, his heart lightened just a little when he tucked the arrow back among its fellows, safe and sound.
For a little while longer.
A/N: Thanks for reading! I truly appreciate any and all feedback, so please leave some (even if only to say “enough with the Teitho stories already!”).
T. A. 2948