Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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“More tea?” 

When Elrond nodded and held out his cup Gilraen refilled it with the delicate rose tea.  Then he settled back in the cushioned seat to watch the antics of a group of younger silvan elves who had decided to chase each other through the stand of trees at the end of the lawn.

Estel was playing with Celeg on the lawn but Gilraen noted his eyes following their every move.  “He’s watching them,” she noted unnecessarily.

“Yes.  You realise that he will wish to emulate them?”  Elrond took a sip of tea and smiled as one of the climbers lost his footing and was laughingly caught by a companion.

“Sometimes I worry that we should have returned to our home.”  Gilraen sighed.  “But I understand that the village has been experiencing more frequent attacks lately.”

“You are safer here but I can understand your fears.  Estel is still too young to realise that he has not the natural skills of elvenkind.  He will wish to test his mettle.”

“I suppose I had better ask Elladan to teach him how to climb safely.  That way I know he will have some knowledge when he tries it.”  Gilraen bit her lip when another elf made what seemed to be an impossible leap from one tree to another.  “Although I really would rather he didn’t learn to do that.”

Elrond chuckled.  “I do not think he will attempt that move for some time.”  He looked up at the blue sky.  “The bark will be dry after today’s sun.  I will take him climbing tomorrow.”

Gilraen set down her teacup in surprise.  “You will teach him!”

Now Elrond laughed.  “Do not sound so surprised.  I was not born wearing these robes.”

-0-

Estel strolled slowly along the line of trees at the edge of the gently sloping lawn.  He had been told not to leave the lawn without advising someone but he did not think that just looking, while remaining on the lawn, was technically breaking that injunction.

Yesterday he had seen several elves laughing as they raced each other to the top of this group of trees and marvelled at their easy skill as they leapt from tree to tree, chasing each other. 

He glanced around to see if anyone was watching and took a tentative couple of steps into the longer grass, closer to the trees.  He was still standing on grass so could argue that he was still on the lawn.  A little voice inside warned him that his reasoning was not entirely sound but he chose to push it away.   He could not so easily push away Adar’s voice however and he jumped guiltily. 

“Estel, what are you doing?”

He spun about to find Lord Elrond, obviously just come from some formal meeting, standing a few paces behind him.  “I was only going to look, Adar.” 

“I was not aware of your interest in the nature of trees but I am sure that I can provide some interesting books upon the subject.  Was it their variety or their nurturing that drew your attention?”  He paused, raising one brow.  “Or perhaps you were trying to decide how best to climb them?”

Estel’s face reddened and he dropped his head to watch his foot, which was describing little arcs in the grass.  “I wasn’t actually going to climb one, I think,” he murmured.

Elrond sighed as he slid out of his heavy formal robe, folding it loosely before dropping it on the lawn and carelessly throwing his circlet atop it.  Estel watched in silent hope as Adar removed the sash and long inner robe until he stood before his foster son clad in breeches and shirt.  He placed his hands on narrow hips.  “I suppose I had best show you how to climb properly before you decide to learn alone.  I do not relish the prospect of explaining to your Mama how you managed to break any more of your limbs.”

Estel tried very hard to look contrite but his excitement won out easily.  “Thank you, Adar!”

When he would have run up to the nearest bole however, Elrond stopped him with a light hand on his shoulder.  “First we look,” he admonished.  Drawing Estel to one side he hunkered down and pointed to a large oak.  “What can you tell me about this tree?”

His pupil frowned, looking up into the gnarled and twisted branches of the ancient specimen.  “It’s an oak tree and it’s very old.”  He looked higher, to see a russet squirrel staring boldly back at him.  The little creature sniffed once and then disappeared into a large hole in the trunk. 

Elrond smiled.  “It is indeed.  It was planted just before Elladan and Elrohir were born.”  He let his gaze fall to the base of the ancient specimen.  “What do you see lying about its roots?”

“Lots of bits of branches and stuff.  I can’t see the roots really.” 

“And why do you think branches fall from a tree?” his teacher asked patiently.

“The wind blows them down?” Estel offered tentatively.

“But why those branches when the others remain?” his teacher probed.

For a moment Estel considered.  He was still of an age where action usually won out over thought but, when engaged, he could be coaxed into using mind before hands.  “Because they’re dead?”

His comment was rewarded with a wide smile. “Well done!  This is a very old tree, as you so correctly pointed out.”  He led Estel around to the other side, where a large crack had formed in the wide trunk and the orange wood within was exposed to view.  “This is what happens to old trees.  The centre grows rotten and is slowly eaten away by fungus and insects.”  He pointed higher, to where a large clump of fungus plates shelved from the scar of a missing branch.

Estel followed his gaze.  “Can you eat that mushroom?”

Elrond smiled, now accommodated to the way a child’s mind flitted from one subject to the next.  “Not that one.   It is dangerous to both man and elf, although some animals have learned to cope with its poison.”  He picked up one of the many branches scattered about.   “This branch looks like any other still attached to the tree but see what could happen if you were climbing and put your foot on it.”  Taking it in his hands he bent it only gently.  It snapped with a loud crack, sending up a puff of dust.

“Oh!”  Estel sneezed, wiping his nose on his sleeve.  “How can I tell if it’s going to break?”

Elrond produced a hanky from his pocket and Estel accepted it, tucking it up his sleeve without applying it.  “Were you an elf the tree would be able to tell you which branches are safe but the ability to commune with trees was not gifted to mortal-kind.  You must therefore use your gifts of sight and touch and smell.”

“Smell?”  Estel inhaled but could sense nothing out of the ordinary.  Woodland smelled like . . . woodland.

“Yes, smell.”  Elrond drew the youngster closer to the crack in the trunk.  “Sniff here and remember the smell.  Rotten wood has a distinctive sweet but musty odour.”

Estel drew another deep breath, recognising at once the smell his foster father described.  Now that he thought about it he could remember encountering the odour in several places when walking through the woods.  At the time he had not questioned but now he realised that noticing such things may be important.  When Adar moved to stand before a smaller tree he followed, taking the initiative to move closer and inhale.

Elrond smiled.  “And what do you smell this time?”

“I can’t smell any rot.”

“Well done.  This chestnut tree is much younger and has not yet begun to hollow out with age.  Still it is always well to check every branch as we ascend.  Sometimes a small break in the protective bark, from wind or creature, can allow a canker to set in and weaken an individual branch.”  He drew Estel back several paces.  “What was one of the other senses I mentioned?”

The youngster sifted back through their conversation so far.  Smell they had covered and at this distance he did not think his Adar expected him to apply touch.  “Looking?” 

He was rewarded with another smile of approval.  “Yes.  Look up into the tree before you decide to climb.  Watch out for any broken branches that have become caught.  As you disturb the tree with your climbing they could fall on you or on anyone standing beneath.”  Elrond pointed to just such a branch, almost hidden within the dense summer foliage.  “If the leaves are not too thick you can also try to plan your journey upward.  Avoid any branch thinner than your leg and any place where a branch splits in two.  Where possible, stay close to the central trunk.”

Estel frowned.  Who knew climbing a tree could be so complicated?  Already Adar Elrond had dismissed two trees and he began to wonder if he would ever actually be allowed to climb.  Still, Adar had removed his long robes so he asked, hopefully, “Can we climb a tree today?”

Elrond shook his head but smiled.  “Edain . . . so hasty.  Tuck in the laces of your jerkin so that they do not catch on any twigs.”   Whilst Estel obeyed Elrond moved to stand before another oak, this one young and clean limbed.  “Let us ask this one.”  He beckoned Estel before touching a hand to the bark and leaning in to whisper, “Le suilon.  En ale ionneg.”

Estel’s mouth dropped open as he heard thousands of leaves shiver in response.  What Elrond heard he would never know but the elven lord smiled.  “Hannon le.”  He beckoned an awestruck Estel forward, tapping a branch just above the child’s head.   “Jump up and catch hold of this branch where it joins the trunk.”

Estel did as instructed, swinging delightedly for a moment.  Elrond allowed him time to settle then gave advice on how to lever up to sit and then stand upon the branch.  Once the boy had moved on to the next Elrond followed, his strong, lithe body promising protection should Estel miss his footing.

It took several minutes (and a little help from both elf and tree) for them to reach the point at which Elrond deemed the child would be satisfied and the two of them sat companionably upon a sturdy branch to survey the world below.  Estel showed no fear, swinging his feet and leaning out to look down.  Elrond slipped an arm about his waist, frowning when Estel would have protested.  His foster son accepted the restriction with grace.  He was sitting exactly where he wanted to be after all.  He allowed Elrond to gather him close.

“Adar.  Why can elves hear the trees when mortal’s can’t?”

“Do you remember the story of creation that we read in the library?  Illuvatar sang elvenkind to live inside creation.  Mortals were sung differently.  They move through creation.”

The child frowned and Elrond tried to put it in simpler terms.  “Think of elves as being a part of the land, like a tree or a flower.  Men are more like the wind.  They are not a part of the land and yet they move through and can affect the land.  Illuvatar gifted them with mortality so that, like the wind, they are free to move beyond the borders of the world we know.”

Estel considered, brushing a strand of dark hair from his face.  “What is beyond the borders?”

“I do not know the fate of man but I cannot bring myself to believe that death to this world is the end for mortals,” his Adar answered simply.

“Did my Papa go somewhere, then?”

“I believe so but I cannot prove it.  It is a secret known only to Illuvatar and a gift some of my people would very much like to possess.”

“Cousin Adwin says elves live forever.  He says even if they get killed they can come back.  Glorfindel came back, didn’t he?”

“Many men think elves are immortal.  But they are mistaken.  We are reborn and can choose to return to Middle earth but only for as long as Middle earth lives.  When the world ends, so do elves.  We seem immortal because we live for a long time . . . just as a tree would seem immortal to a squirrel.”

“But when the world ends you can go to the islands in the West,” Estel pointed out as he settled more comfortably into his Ada’s side.

“The islands of Aman were sung into being along with the land of Arda so their fate is the same.  When Arda ends so does Aman.”

Estel sniffed, nestling closer.  “I don’t want you to end, Adar.”

Elrond bent to kiss the dark head.  “Have no fear.  I shall not leave for as long as you need me, Tittlepin.”

-0-

“How did he do?” Gilraen asked as she selected a highly perfumed red rose and added it to her basket.

“He will make a good climber with practice.  The trees like him.”  Elrond cut a small peach coloured rose and lifted it to his nose to sniff appreciatively.  “He should now be able to select those trees safe for him to climb.”

Gilraen cut a piece of twisted hazel.  She had lived in the valley long enough now to express no surprise at Elrond’s suggestion that the trees were sentient.  “I would rather he did not climb at all.  But I know my son well enough to know he will try it anyway.”

“He is growing up so quickly,” the elven lord stated wistfully.

“You have no argument from me about that.  It seems only minutes since he was placed in my arms by the midwife.”

“I noted today that he has almost outgrown his bed.  How would you feel about him having his own room?” Elrond asked as he took another sniff at the rose in his hand.

“If you had asked me that a few months ago I would have objected but, honestly, I am getting a little bored of tripping over his toys.”  Gilraen snipped a branch of white rosebuds and Elrond added a frond of greenery to her collection.

“I expect Celeg has not helped there.  She seems to have acquired as many toys as Estel.”

Gilraen smiled.  “Everyone dotes on that cat.  Estel seems to return with a new toy for her every day.”

“She is quite loveable, when she is not ripping up ones clothing.  There is another smaller room adjoining your bathing chamber.  It has been used for storage for many years but once cleared it would be a perfect size for Estel and Celeg and you will still be close enough to supervise them.  Indeed, if you wish I can provide you with Faerwen’s old room across the hallway as a sitting room.  Then, in effect you would have your own suite.”  Elrond twirled the fine peach rose between his finger and thumb.

“That would be wonderful.  Thank you.  And Faerwen’s fireplace has provision for the hanging of a kettle.  I could make my own tea without having to go down to the kitchen.”

Elrond smiled.  “It is rather a trek, is it not?  I had not considered that when I allocated your room.  I only wished to provide somewhere secluded to enable you to draw breath.  Have you seen Faerwen recently?”

Gilraen cut a sweet-smelling pink rose.  “Yes.  I thought that once she married she would be too busy for us but after a couple of weeks she returned.”  She grinned.  “I think she wanted something to do with her days.  You keep her husband rather busy.”

Elrond considered for a moment.  “I suppose I have come to rely upon him too much.  Perhaps it is time to ask if he requires an assistant.  He has managed the valley almost since we arrived and when Celebrian left he also took over the running of the house.  Perhaps Faerwen would like to assist him.”

“It’s a thought.  Although I hope you are not going to assume that she wants to, simply because she is now his wife.  She may have other interests.”

Elrond raised his rose in salute.  “I take your point.  I shall ask Erestor to make arrangements regarding the additional rooms.”

 

(I make no claims for the correctness of my Sindarin.) 

Le suilon = I greet you. 

En ale ionneg = Look after my son. 

Hannon le = Thank you”

 

 




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