Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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The dwarves were making their annual visit to trade.  Estel saw them arrive from a distance but Elladan had taken over Adar’s duties as tutor for the day.  Elladan was much more of a stickler for keeping the lessons on track and, even as Estel loved his big brother dearly, did not make lessons as interesting as Adar could.  So the only glimpse Estel got was through the library windows as the party crossed the distant bridge.

It was a very large party, at least there were lots of ponies, many of which were piled with packages.  But there were only about six dwarves, some riding, some walking, and all dressed in several muddy layers of leather, chain mail and heavy clothing against the autumn chill. Estel had little opportunity to note more before they moved out of his line of sight.  There would be a feast tonight and, no doubt, storytelling in the Hall of Fire but Estel’s mama never let him attend when there were strangers in the valley.

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“Roh, where do the dwarves come from?”  Estel put his foot in the stirrup and climbed easily onto Luin’s back.  Celeg watched from the stable doorway for a moment before retreating to the warmth within.

Elrohir made one final check of the tack on Estel’s mount before leaping onto his own horse.  “It was Mahal who made the dwarves.  I thought Adar had told you the creation stories.”  He led the way through the wide stable yard arch and turned left onto a less travelled path into the trees.

“No.  I mean where did these dwarves come from?  Where do they live when they’re not travelling?”  Estel clucked at Luin when the independent thinking creature threatened to stop to investigate a particularly succulent clump of grass.

“Ahh.  This group comes from the Iron Hills.  They visit us every autumn on their way west.”

Estel frowned.  “Do dwarves go West like elves, then?”

Elrohir chuckled.  “No.  I mean that they travel to the lands west of us.  There are several more mortal settlements before you reach the sea.  The dwarves travel to the markets there after they visit us and then they go home via the Gap of Rohan to our south.”

Ahead of them, beyond a bend in the path, was a small glade by a stream where they intended to stop for their midday repast.  Now Elrohir drew rein as he heard loud and, to him, uncouth voices. When Estel would have passed him, he grabbed Luin’s bridle.  “I think the glade ahead will be too muddy today.  Let us take the fork we just passed and have our lunch by the lake.”

But Estel had also heard the voices ahead and his quick mind told him that there were dwarves ahead, for he did not understand their tongue.  Before he could protest, however, a voice came from the shrubs to his right.  Elrohir knew his cause was lost when he saw his little brother’s grin.

“Can’t a fella even take a piss in peace in this valley?”  A fierce looking dwarf appeared, unhurriedly arranging his clothing.

Elrohir eased his horse closer to his little brother but dipped his head to the irritable dwarf. “Good day to you, Master Dwarf.  I am called Elrohir.  Please accept my apologies for interrupting your . . . ahem . . . business.”

The dwarf’s eyes widened as he recognised one of the sons of the Lord of Imladris and he sketched a hasty bow.  “Gribble, at your service.”  He peered around Elrohir’s tall mount to wink at Estel.  “And yours, Little Master.”

Before Elrohir could intervene Estel grinned, performing a hasty bow of his own, the sudden shift of his balance causing Luin to shuffle a little so that he had to tug on the reins.  His verbal greeting was, perforce, a little breathless.  “Estel, at yours.”

Elrohir added, “My little brother.”  Estels’ hair was hanging loose today so that it covered his ears and with his still slender build he could easily pass for an elf.

Gribble frowned, no doubt aware that Elronds’ lady had travelled West many years ago.  “It’s a raw morning and we’ve got a bit of a fire going in yon meadow.  Would you join us for a bite to eat?”  Gribble waved expansively down the path as though he owned the valley.

Now that he concentrated Elrohir could smell wood smoke and what appeared to be roast venison.  He glanced aside at his little companion and knew his cause was lost when he saw Estel’s pleading expression.  Estels’ presence was now known so he may as well turn this into a learning experience for the edan.  “I thank you, Master Gribble.  We were about to stop for luncheon anyway and will be pleased to join your company.”

Gribble led the way and within moments Estel and Elrohir were dismounting in the suddenly silent glade.  In the centre was laid a fire, carefully ringed with stones, over which was set a spit on which turned several large pieces of roasting meat.  The dwarf in charge of its rotation was smaller than the rest, his red beard shorter and less elaborately dressed than his companions.  Gribble introduced him as his younger brother, Tibble.  Around the fire the other dwarves had drawn up stones to sit on or were lounging at their ease on blankets.

Bot was the oldest of their fellowship and sported a white beard, much braided, dressed with gold beads and so long that he had to tuck it into his broad belt.  He was the leader of their company and Elrohir noted him studying Estel closely.

Beside Bot sat Donnet, who’s beard, below a broad and crooked nose, was trimmed close and of the deepest black.  By contrast his hair was long and, tied back in a simple qu. On a blanket next to him sat two who were clearly brothers by their features, Kwilim and Dwilim.  Both had bushy beards the colour of fresh turned loam and eyes of brightest green.

All of them looked much tidier and cleaner that when Estel had last glimpsed them and although they still wore mail shirts, which he considered a little impolite within the protection of Rivendell’s borders, their tunics and boots were obviously created with much skill.

“Come, sit by the fire, my lords.”  Dwilim dropped a large log close to the fire and Elrohir accepted the seat, ensuring that Estel sat close by his side.  Whist elven bodies are not affected by the cold as are mortals, still they would rather sit in comfort by a fire than in the chill of a still misty, autumn noon.  Estel was no elf, so he gladly reached out his hands to the blaze, his mouth watering at the sight and smell of roasting venison.

Elrohir noted several axes propped about the temporary campsite.  “I trust you have not been using your axes upon the trees?” he asked suspiciously.

Bot frowned which, with his heavy brows, made him appear very fierce and Estel leaned closer to his brother’s side.  “What do you take us for?   We are guests and would never abuse your welcome,” he bristled.

Dwilim grinned.   “And you’d never invite us back.”

“Aye.  Bad for trade, that,” added Kwilim with a chuckle as he began to set out some wooden bowls.

“We only collected fallen wood.  Mind you, there’s some trees around that could do with a trim.”  Bot pointed into the branches of an ancient oak at the other side of the clearing.  “There’s a widow maker up there.”

Estel followed his hand to see a large branch that had broken off but been caught by some lower branches.  One good storm would be likely to bring it crashing down on anyone unlucky enough to be standing beneath it.

“You have a point,” Elrohir admitted.  “I shall assemble some of my people to remove it safely.”

“We could do it if you like,” Gribble offered as he helped lift the spit from the fire.

“I was not aware that dwarves could climb trees.”  Elrohir unpacked his own meagre supplies of bread, cheese and apples and added them to the huge pile of steaming meat.  The dwarves collectively turned their noses up at the fare but were more than generous in offering a share of meat to Elrohir and Estel.  Estel had never seen so much meat in one place and began to look around for the cutlery.

Gribble ripped some venison from the huge piece in his bowl and chewed appreciatively.  “We weren’t born with boots on, laddie.”

Estel beamed with delight as he used his fingers to tear at the meat in his own bowl.  Elrohir was more dainty but also eschewed use of the cutlery he knew was in his pack.  “Then, if you are willing I see no objections.”

Bot washed down a large mouthful with an equally large swallow of water.  “There’d be a price of course.”

Elrohir nodded, used to the bargaining of dwarves.  “And what would that be?”

Bot took his time chewing, glancing around at his companions.  “The pick of the wood we take down.”  The others nodded.

“That sounds fair,” Elrohir replied calmly.

Kwilim shrugged.  “Well, that was easy.”

“Were you expecting me to refuse you?” Elrohir asked with a smile as he broke off a little bread.

“Not exactly,” Dwilim replied.  “But I do enjoy a good barter.  You took all the fun out of it.”

Elrohir laughed and the trees seemed to shiver in delight.  “I am sorry to disappoint you, Master Dwilim.  We could start again if you wish.”

Bot threw a bone at Dwilim with stunning accuracy.  It bounced off the younger dwarf’s pate eliciting an, “Ouch!”  “The bargain is struck,” their leader stated firmly, to a chorus of loud laughter.

Estel and Elrohir stopped eating long before the dwarves but continued to sit by the fire whilst their hosts finished the repast.  Estel found that he felt rather comfortable in their company.  They did not expect him to be on his best behaviour all the time and even Elrohir did not seem inclined to chastise him for wiping his greasy fingers on his tunic or belching.

Once the bowls had been washed and the bones and remains thrown on the fire, Dwilim and Kwilim took out small drum and whistle.   Soon most of the dwarves were singing a very silly song about a dwarf with no beard.  Estel did not understand some of it but Elrohir joined in the general laughter several times.

Gribble selected a small piece of wood from the pile gathered to feed the fire and, taking out a knife, began to whittle as the others started another song.  Estel moved closer, fascinated that such thick fingers could be so dextrous, for within minutes a pony began to take shape in his hands. 

“I wish I could do that,” Estel sighed.

“What makes ye think you can’t, laddie?” asked Gribble as he shaped a bushy and unkempt mane on his pony.

“I don’t think Mama would let me have a sharp knife like that.”

“Who is your mama, lad?  I’m willing to bet a dragons’ hoard that it isn’t the Lady Celebrian” Gribble stated with a snort.

Had Elrohir been paying less attention to the singing he would have stepped in.  “Oh no.   Adar Elrond is only my foster father.  My mama is . . .”

“Probably wondering where you are,” Elrohir finished for him.  Around them the music faltered and stopped as Elrohir stood, helping Estel up with him.

Gribble held up a hand.  “Nay, laddy.  I meant no harm.  If you want to keep your secrets.  I’ll not probe further.  I was only curious when I saw the little one’s ears.”

Elrohir ushered Estel to his pony, lifting him into the saddle in his haste.  “I trust you will respect our wishes in this matter and say nothing beyond the boundaries of this valley.”

All the dwarves stood and then bowed.  Bot spoke for them all.  “I don’t know why you wish to hide this lad but you have my word and the word of all my companions.  We shall say nothing of the little man living with the elves.”

Elrohir drew a relieved breath.  “Thank you.  Please accept my apologies for being so abrupt.  I hope to enjoy your company in the Hall of Fire this evening.  I shall advise my father of our agreement regarding the wood.”

With those words he urged Estel and Luin before him, back to the house.  Several times before they turned the bend in the path, Estel looked back wistfully, even daring to wave when Gribble held up a hand in farewell.

It was some days later that Estel watched them leave the valley.  He looked down at the little wooden figure found on his pillow that morning and smiled.  It was a perfect image of Luin, down to every unruly lock.

 




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