Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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Gilraen leaned casually upon one of the wooden walls dividing the stalls, watching proudly as her son finished brushing the little black pony.  Perhaps not so little when compared to the size of Estel, she mused as he gave the unruly forelock one last smooth.  She hid a smile as he frowned at the lock.  No matter how much anyone brushed Luin’s mane it always looked as though he had just come in from trotting through a storm.

Elrohir had asked Gilraen to make some excuse to visit the stables today as, unbeknown to the lad, it was to be the occasion of his first riding lesson.  It had not been a difficult task as this was the first appearance of some fine weather they had encountered in several days.  Celeg sat at her feet, one back leg stretched heavenward as she cleaned herself.  The now sleek cat had long ago decided that grooming ponies was a boring business.  Ever aware of her little owner’s mood, however, she stopped when Elrohir handed Estel the saddle blanket.

Estel’s eyes widened as Elrohir bent to produce a saddle from the other side of the wooden dividing panel and lay it within sight.  The elven teacher grinned.  “Yes, Estel.  It is time for your first riding lesson.”

Forgetting all he had been taught Estel squealed, jumping up and down upon the spot in glee.  Luin tossed his head and shuffled sideways, narrowly avoiding Celeg’s tale.  The cat arched her back in warning and then shot behind Gilraen’s skirts.  Before Luin could step upon his little brother’s foot instead Elrohir placed his hand firmly upon the pony’s neck murmuring, “Saes, Luin.”  The pony stilled at once but turned his head to stare accusingly at a now very still Estel.

“I’m sorry, Roh.  I forgot,” he offered contritely.

Elrohir was not going to let him off lightly, however.  “Thank you.  But I believe you owe Luin and Celeg and apology too.”

Celeg peered around the hem of Gilraen’s skirt, uttering in agreement, “Aaa”.

Estel touched hand to heart, his gaze moving from pony to cat.  “I’m sorry Luin, Celeg.  I won’t do that again.”

To Gilraen’s surprise Luin snorted, as if in understanding and Celeg ventured out to wind about first Estel’s and then Luin’s legs.  The cat had sense enough to retire behind Gilraen’s skirt once more however, having accepted the overture of peace.

“Well done, Estel.  Now put the blanket on Luin’s back.  Remember what I told you and make sure that you place it far enough forward.  We do not want him to get any saddle sores.”

Estel carefully draped the thick but beautifully woven blue blanket in place, moving around to ensure that it was evenly draped on both sides.  When he was satisfied he glanced up at Elrohir and grinned when he received a nod of approval.

“Hold out your hands,” the tall elf instructed and he held out the small saddle for Estel to hold.  Unprepared for the weight the little edan nearly dropped it but recovered before Elrohir could assist.  Elrohir nodded approval.  “Well done.  Saddle’s are quite heavy but you have not the skill, as yet, to ride without one.  Proceed, and make sure you put it on the right way around,” he added swiftly as Estel nearly put the pommel to the back.

Estel’s mother resisted the temptation to help as Estel struggled to lift it high enough to place on the pony’s back.  It took a little while but he managed it in the end, tucking up the stirrups as he had seen his papa do long ago.

Elrohir smiled.  “Well done.  Now duck under Luin’s tummy and catch the girth.”

Estel complied easily, despite Luin shuffling a little. 

Elrohir’s quiet voice stilled the animal.  “Be nice, Luin.  And stop holding your breath.”

Luin exhaled on a snort and Estel, who had been unsuccessfully trying to tighten the girth, suddenly found his task a lot easier.  Elrohir moved closer to place a hand upon Luin’s neck as Estel unfastened the rope halter to replace it with a finely tooled bridle.  When Luin clenched his teeth against the bit, Elrohir stepped in once more.  “Luin.  Give the poor child a chance at least.”   There was another snort and then Estel felt the bit slide into place.  Elrohir was proud to hear the boy murmur, “Thank you,” in Luin’s ear as he fastened the throat latch.

All the while, Gilraen itched to give instruction or step in to help and now Elrohir bowed slightly to her in acknowledgement before unfastening the rope across the front of Luin’s stall.  “Come, Estel.  We will use a mounting block in the yard for your first few lessons.”

Estel was too pleased to be taking his first lesson to worry about complaining at what he perceived to be an unnecessary restriction.  He hooked Luin’s reins forward and clucked as he followed his older brother.  Luin eyed him for a moment and Gilraen worried that the cantankerous pony would refuse to follow, or worse, pull the reins out of Estel’s hand and bolt.  She readied herself to step in but Luin simply glanced at her disdainfully and followed her son as meekly as you like.  Gilraen and Celeg brought up the rear of the little party.

When they left the cool dimness of the stable Gilraen noted Elrohir waiting patiently at the mounting block, and a quick glance also revealed Elrond and Elladan standing in the shadows of the arch leading into the stable yard.  It seemed that all of her son’s new extended family were here to watch and, rather than feeling cross at their intrusion, Gilraen realised that she felt pleased for her child.  Here were people who not only cared for, but loved Estel.

Elrohir accepted the reins as Estel climbed the block.  “Always mount from the horse’s left side,” the teacher instructed quietly.  “Left foot in the stirrup.”  He tapped the appropriate leg as Estel still occasionally struggled with the principle of left and right.  “Then swing your right leg over Luin’s back.  Sit down slowly.  Do not plump into the saddle.”

Estel followed his instructions to the letter, waiting quietly as Elrohir made minor adjustments to the length of the stirrups.  Gilraen could not remember when she had last seen her son so quiet and compliant.  No doubt Elrohir had chosen Luin for just this purpose.  She knew there were gentler ponies in the stables but Luin would ensure that Estel kept his mind firmly on the task in hand. 

Elrohir paused to ask if his little brother was comfortable before attaching the lunging reins.  Only when Estel assured him he was ready did Elrohir lead Luin out into the centre of the huge yard, where there was a broad circle of grass.  With a soft cluck he encouraged Luin to begin walking, gradually letting out the lunging rein until pony and rider were describing a large circle.

“Bring your weight forward a little, Estel.  Heals down in the stirrup.  Back straight.”  All Elrohir’s instructions were given in a calm voice and Gilraen began to wish her own riding instructor had been so gentle.  She had vivid memories of her Uncle Sedrin yelling at the top of his already loud voice.  It was only now that she realised why she had been concerned about Estel’s first riding lesson and she let out a slow breath.  Estel was in safe and loving hands.  He was also wearing a hastily converted and heavily padded warrior’s helmet, something she had insisted upon despite her son’s protestations.

At that moment Estel glanced her way, eyes shining and mouth stretched into a wide grin as, following Elrohir’s instruction, he spread both arms wide.  The next moment he had his attention fully on the task as Luin gave a little hitch in his stride and Gilraen had to smile as the wise old pony drew his attention back to the task.

“I am going to ask Luin to trot now, Estel.  Remember to push down on your legs.  Heels down in the stirrup.”  Once Estel had nodded his understanding Elrohir clucked again and Luin broke into a light trot.  Gilraen was surprised to note how smooth that movement was.  The tubby little unassuming pony had a gait smoother than any horse or pony she had ever seen and she was impressed anew at Elrohir’s choice of mount.

It took Estel a few painful moments to catch the rhythm but soon he was sitting easily, hands on hips.  It seemed her son was destined to be a natural rider a skill Gilraen had mastered only poorly.  She wondered whether Elrohir would be willing to give her a few pointers at some future date.

It seemed to be only minutes before Elrohir was taking Luin back to a trot and drawing in the reins until pony and rider stood at his side. 

“Can we go again, Roh?” Estel asked a little breathlessly.

Luin dropped his head disinterestedly and began to crop the grass at his feet.

“That is enough for your first lesson, Little Brother.  You will find yourself a quite sore tomorrow as it is,” Elrohir replied with a grin.

Gilraen stepped forward, Celeg at her heels.  “You did so well, Estel.”  She gathered him into a brief hug.

“Did you see me riding with no hands, Mama?”  Estel asked excitedly as Elrohir lead them back to the mounting block.

“I did!  You are going to be a much better rider than I,” his mother assured him as she helped him dismount, steadying her son as he regained his land legs. 

Elrohir glanced at the lengthening shadows.  “I will unsaddle and clean Luin on this occasion, Estel.  That will give you the time to have a bath before your supper.”

“But Roh, I have a bath every morning.  I don’t need another,” Estel protested.

“Oh yes you do,” Gilraen replied before Elrohir could say the same.  “I will not sit through my supper with you smelling of horses.”  She gathered up her son’s hand to lead him away, pausing to say, “Thank you, Elrohir.  I wish my own teacher had been as gentle.”

Elrohir tipped his head.  “If you ever wish to ride I will be happy to assist, Lady Gilraen.  I enjoy teaching and we have some larger mounts, every bit as gentle as Luin here.”  He rubbed the pony’s nose and Luin rolled his eyes heavenward in ecstasy. 

Gilraen glanced down sceptically at the now innocent seeming pony and Elrohir chuckled.  “I promise.  We have some very gentle mares with less mischievous attitudes.”

“Thank you, Elrohir.  I may take you up on your offer, then.  I have been a little wary of horses all of my life, I am afraid.”

Elrohir smiled.  “I could tell.  I am certain I can help you to feel more comfortable on horseback.  You will find me in the stables most mornings and I would welcome some company on my daily ride.”

Estel continued to protest his need for a bath all the way back to their rooms.






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