Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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Estel was lost.  To a small boy Imladris was huge and Estel had been forbidden to move beyond the stream at the foot of the slope leading down from the lawns about the house.  Even that boundary had been only recently expanded.  Estel knew he was well beyond that restriction now.

Of course, it was difficult to know for sure, he tried to tell himself.  However, as he had crossed a stream via a narrow wooden bridge some time ago, even he no longer believed that, and in his mind’s eye he could see Adar’s raised brows.  Now he stumbled over roots and rabbit holes, the mist so thick around him that at times he could hardly see his feet.

Imladris had always seemed a safe and sunny place, even in the depths of winter or on the rainiest of days.  But Estel had never travelled far from home on his own and the fog was so thick that he took to walking with one arm held ahead, to fend off any unseen branches.

“Aah!”  Celeg’s voice was faint and Estel could not determine its direction but he would recognise it anywhere.

“Celeg?  Come on, kitty.  I’m here.”  Estel stood still to listen.  Celeg had not come home last night which, in itself, was no longer unusual.  She sometimes stayed out all night and Estel suspected she visited her family in the barn.  But when she had not arrived for breakfast he grew worried.  Celeg never missed a meal, preferring the tidbits of chicken and fish that Gilraen provided over the gamier mouse and rat meat sought out by her barn raised relations.

Gilraen had tried to comfort her son, telling him not to worry; that Celeg would return when she was hungry, but something within Estel told him that his little playmate was in trouble.  So, once breakfast was over he had begun his search.  When a visit to the barn turned up no trace Estel started with the vast house and then worked his way outward.  Now he wished he had waited long enough to enlist the help of Elladan or Elrohir.

Celeg’s voice came again and Estel struck off to his left.  “I’m here, Celeg.  Where are you, kitty?”

“Aah!” 

There it was again, much closer.   But Estel could see only the dark twisted shadows of tree trunks glistening in the damp air.  “Celeg?”

“Aah!” 

Estel followed the sound, looking up in growing dread.  For a moment the valley seemed to co-operate and the mist parted, revealing a tangle of naked branches and just a glimpse of white, far above his head.  There, way above him in an ancient chestnut, Celeg was clinging to a branch, her white belly fur acting as a flag against the dark grey, lichen shrouded bark.

Estel unwittingly gave a fair imitation of his mother’s scolding voice.  “Goodness, Celeg.  How did you get up there?  Come down now.  I’ve been worried.”

Celeg tiptoed a couple of tentative steps along the branch she was sitting on, testing each inch first. But she could not seem to work out how to come down and, as Estel’s heart leapt into his throat, she performed a rather wobbly pirouette and headed back to the safety of the trunk.  There she sat down and cried once more.  “Aah!”

The mist closed in.

Estel wondered how long Celeg had been stuck.  Had she spent all the dark night out here in the cold, damp air, hungry and frightened?   Well, Celeg was his pet and everyone had made it clear that he was responsible for her, so Estel decided that the task of bringing her down must fall to him.  Remembering Adar’s lessons, he examined his clothing, tucking in stray laces and tying his long hair into a knot at his nape.  He had never attempted to climb a tree so tall but he would not leave his friend in distress for one moment longer.

“I’m coming, Celeg.”  He took a running jump and grabbed the lowest branch, almost losing his grip upon the wet bark and wincing as his palm collected several splinters.  But Adar had taught him well and soon he was sitting astride the branch and pulling himself upright with the help of the one above.  For several minutes he continued thus, hoisting himself from branch to branch, higher and higher; drawn on by Celeg’s forlorn cries.

It was as he looked down to place his foot on a particularly slippery branch that the eddying mist parted and Estel glimpsed the ground far, far below.  For what seemed like an age he could only watch as the ground seemed to spin faster and faster.  Then his eyes slammed shut and his heart stopped, starting again with a thump that felt as though it would burst from his chest.  Estel’s hands clamped tight about the central bole and his legs locked as he froze in place so that even Celeg’s pitiful cries could not induce him to move another inch.  He whimpered.

-0-

Faerwen loved autumn.  Today she had set aside her embroidery and decided to go mushroom hunting.  She and Erestor would feast on mushroom casserole and crusty bread this evening and her mouth watered at the thought.  The trug over her arm was already filled but mushrooms shrink in the cooking so she continued to follow the little valley downstream, stooping to pick as she went. 

As Faerwen walked she hummed one of Lindir’s latest compositions.  She had travelled quite some distance from the house when she grew aware of other voices coming from somewhere high above her.  Thinking it was perhaps a party of wood elves she paused for they would know where all the best mushrooms could be found.  That was when she recognised at least one of the voices.

“Estel?  Where are you, child and whatever are you doing so far from the house?  Your Adar will be cross when he finds out.”  Faerwen had lived in the valley long enough to realise that with the Lord of Imladris it was always a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if he found out’.

She was surprised to hear a sob and then, “I’m up here.”

Setting down her mushrooms Faerwen peered up, into the winter-bared branches of a wide spread chestnut tree.  Even elven sight struggled with the thick mist but eventually she discerned Estel, standing very still many feet above her.  “What possessed you to climb so high?  You had best come down at once.”

Estel only wailed, “I can’t.  I’m scared, Faerwen.  Celeg is up here too.” 

The cry ended on another sob and Faerwen did not pause.  Bending, she brought the back hem of her long skirt between her legs and tucked it into her belt at the front.  One bound and she was standing on the lowest branch.  “I am coming, Little One.”

When she left the house this morning Faerwen had not taken time to change into breeches and had been berating herself ever since, for the muddied hem of her gown had soon begun to tangle wetly about her ankles.  The thought of a cosy evening by the fire with casserole and husband had kept her on her determined course however, deciding it was worth the laundering of a gown.  Now she regretted anew her wardrobe choice as she had to pause every now and then to re-secure the yards of soggy fabric at her waist.  It was as she over extended herself just a little that luck deserted her.

Having taken a riskier route than the smaller Estel, Faerwen jumped, intending to place her toe in a small break in the bark as she reached up with both hands for the branch above and to one side.  Her skirt chose that moment to slip free and, instead of encountering tree, her toe was enveloped in fabric and slipped.  Faerwen was left dangling by her hands, listening to one of her shoes clattering through branches to land with a soft thud in the leaf mould a very long way below.  She sighed.  Where was a wood elf when you needed one?

“Aah!”

“Adar!”

“Erestor!”

 

-0-

Elrond could have dissipated the fog with a thought but he loved these late autumn mornings.  There were no visitors and he had no lessons planned with Estel so the day was his own to do with as he wished.  He wished to sit in his favourite place and enjoy the still quiet of the morning.

Celebrian’s walled rose garden was empty of all other folk.  Elrond flicked a damp tendril of midnight hair from his cheek and leaned back on the wooden bench to breathe in the scent of damp loam and wood-smoke.  Even within the shelter of this bower the mist reached clammy fingers but he did not mind, instead taking delight in the bejewelled cobwebs draped from overhanging ivy. 

Before him, the naked branches of pruned rose bushes appeared and then disappeared with each eddy of the mist as though playing peek-a-boo.  Birds were silent, feathers plumped within the dry and secret places of the hawthorn hedges.  The only sound to be heard within this white cocoon was the steady pat, pat of water dripping from the surrounding trees onto thick leaf mould.

His peace was simultaneously shattered by the squeal of gate hinges and Erestor’s concerned voice calling for first Faerwen and then Estel.  Opening his mind, Elrond felt rather than heard,  “Adar!”  It was Estel’s voice and it sounded frightened.

Elrond pushed to his feet and ran for the gate, pausing only long enough to beckon the concerned Erestor to follow as he swept by him and out across the lawns.  His feet took him unerringly to the base of a sturdy chestnut several minutes later.  At his side Erestor cried out as he dropped to his knees beside a trug, overflowing with mushrooms, and scooped up one delicate but muddy shoe. 

Both elf lords looked up.  At first their eyes were met only by a wall of white mist, then Elrond blinked and, with a twitch of his fingers, the vapour thinned.  Both drew audible breath at the sight above them.

High above, they first encountered a pair of feet, dangling from a tangle of muddied green skirts.  One foot was naked and the other wore the mate to that which was now cradled in Erestor’s hands.  Both stepped back for a better view and discovered a dishevelled but determined Faerwen, dangling from her hands. 

She grimaced at her husband.  “The tree tried to help but it could only push this branch at me.  I cannot reach a foothold.”

Erestor dropped the shoe and scowled.  “Did it not occur to you that climbing whilst wearing a skirt was not the most sensible thing to do?”  The concern shining in his eyes belied the angry tone of his voice.  “Let go.  I will catch you,” he instructed tersely as he stepped beneath her.

Faerwen glanced from husband to branch and back again, a little uncertainly.  She knew Erestor was strong and she trusted him . . . really, she did, but it was an awfully long way to fall.

Erestor’s voice softened.  “I will catch you, my love.  Trust me.”

It was that softening that decided her and Faerwen let go.  Within the blink of an eye she was held secure in her husband’s strong arms, face buried in the dark scented fall of his hair as he murmured, over and over in her ear.  “I have you.  I have you.”

“Adar?”

Elrond paused only long enough to ensure Faerwen was safe before flinging off his outer robe and beginning to scale the tree, for he could now see Estel, hugging the bole even further up. “I am coming, Tittlepin.”  Never had he climbed so recklessly, but the need to reach his adoptive son and bring him safely to earth subsumed all thought of his own safety.  Indeed, he would have taken more risks were it not for having to arrive safe and in one piece if he was to be of any practical use to Estel.

Soon he stood beside the little Adan.  “Come, Tittlepin.  Let go the tree.  I have you safe.”  He wrapped an arm firmly about the tiny waist.

Estel’s eyes were tightly closed.  “I can’t, Adar.  My fingers won’t work.”  A tear escaped to roll down one already tearstained cheek.

Elrond bent to kiss it away, tasting the salt of it.  “Open your eyes.  Look at me,” he instructed softly.

Estel opened grey eyes trustingly to find his Adar’s face inches from his.  He swallowed, attempting a watery smile, and his Adar smiled back.

“Let go, Tittlepin.  I promise that I have you safe.  Adar will never let you fall.”

His little Tittlepin prised loose one finger and then another.  After that it was easier and soon his arms were clasped tight about Elrond’s neck, small legs wrapped about his saviour’s waist like ivy about a tree.

Elrond waited a moment, running hands over the small form to check for injuries.  When he found none, he asked gently, “Why did you climb so high?  I thought you were more sensible than this.”

Estel’s eyes widened and he leaned back so quickly to point upward that Elrond had to grab a branch to maintain his balance.  His gaze followed Estel’s finger and he sighed as he met Celeg’s golden gaze.  The little cat was sitting calmly in the fork of a branch just above Elrond’s head.

She chirruped a greeting before dropping neatly onto Elrond’s shoulder and wrapping her tail about his neck.  Estel leaned forward and cat and child touched noses.  Elrond glanced aside at the self-assured golden eyes.  “Celeg, you and I will have words later,” he promised ominously as he began to descend more carefully to earth, swaddled in child and cat.

As soon as his feet touched ground Faerwen stepped forward to enfold elf and edan in Elrond’s discarded outer robe.  She paused to kiss the little boy’s cheek and collect her trug before being turned away by her husband and led home.

Estel remained wrapped about his foster father’s body, his trembling beginning to fade now.  For her part, Celeg trotted ahead, tail waving unconcerned farewell as she went in search of food and fire.

Elrond followed.  “I would be angry with you but I suspect that your mother will be angry enough for both of us so I will say only this, ‘Do not ever do anything so foolish again.’”.

Estel snuggled deeper within the warmth of Adar’s robe.  “I promise.”  Then his voice took on a wheedling tone.  “Do we have to tell her?”

“Yes, we do,” Elrond replied firmly.

-0-

Gilraen closed the door to her son’s room, with one final glance to ensure that he was indeed asleep.  “Was I too harsh?”

Elrond looked up from where he was pouring camomile tea into two cups.  “A little harsher than I would have been but he will survive it.”  He handed her a cup and took a sip from his own.

The lady sighed.  “I have yet to develop the elven knack for calm.  All I could see were the splinters and scratches.”

Elrond allowed himself a small smile, remembering his own lack of calm at the sight of Estel so high in the tree.  “He did it with the best of intentions.  His friend was in difficulty.”

Celeg had the good grace to wind herself about their feet when they entered.  She had even remained with Estel as the youngster was berated by his mother, had his hands tended by Elrond and was put to bed for a nap.  Now, having eaten her fill, the little cat was curled upon a rug before the hearth, purring contentedly.

Gilraen scowled at the sleepy cat over the rim of her teacup.  “That creature seems to enjoy getting into trouble and dragging Estel along with her.  She got him locked in my wardrobe yesterday.”

“I am certain it was not intentional,” Elrond assured the lady as he tried unsuccessfully to hide another smile.  He set down his cup and stood, making for the door.  “Come Celeg.  It is long past the time you and I had another talk.”

Gilraen watched with some satisfaction as the little cat climbed daintily to her feet and preceded Elrond meekly from the room.   As the door closed she heard Elrond. 

“Now Celeg.  I believe I have already told you that the hunting of songbirds within this valley is forbidden . . .”




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