Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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Estel liked all of Imladris’ varied gardens, although he preferred to run on the wide lawns beside the house and play hide and seek in the woods.  He was not as fond of the walled gardens with their flower beds but there were some days when he craved their quiet, particularly when the house was busy.

Today he was roaming the physic garden alone.  He had only recently been allowed access, having made a solemn promise to Adar not to touch any of the plants.  Adar’s face had been very grave when he told Estel that some of the plants could kill simply by touch.  Estel had wanted to visit the garden for some time, simply because it was not permitted, and Elrond decided it would be safer to allow him access rather than to risk him entering without fully understanding the danger.  He had helped raised enough little boys over the years to understand the lure of the forbidden.

The house was a flurry of activity today.  A mixed party of elven warriors and mortal rangers had suffered defeat against a large band of orcs in the passes of the Misty Mountains.  They had escaped, but the cost had been high.  Although Estel had not been made party to the conversations, his hearing was acute enough to understand that some elves and men had died and there were many injured now housed in the healer’s wing.  The healer’s wing was another place that Estel was not permitted to visit.

Lost in imaginings of wielding a great sword in battle, Estel jumped when Adar’s voice interrupted him, mid-hew.  “Good morning, Estel.”  He spun about, narrowly avoiding landing in a flower bed when Elrond grabbed his shoulder. “Careful, child.  Those nettles would have given you a nasty rash.”

“Sorry, Adar.” Estel noticed that Elrond carried a trug, containing his gardening knife and gloves, over one arm.  “Have you come to collect herbs?  Can I help?”

Elrond’s keen gaze bore into him for a moment before he nodded.  “If you only touch those plants I tell you to, you may.”  He could not help but echo the bright smile that stretched Estel’s face in reply.  “Come this way.  I need marigold to make a salve for healing.  Do you remember which plant is the marigold?”

Estel ran to one of the nearby beds, pointing to the bright orange daisy-like flowers.  “These!” he announced triumphantly.

Elrond followed at a statelier pace.  “That is correct.  You have remembered your lessons well.  I will need you to harvest half of the crop.  Pinch them out here, just above the branch in the stem.  That way they will produce another crop of flowers within a few days.”  Trusting Estel to follow instruction, he moved to the next bed to harvest some long slender leaves from a small grass-like plant.

Were it not for the fact that the physic garden was tended very carefully Estel would have thought the plant a weed, for it looked most unassuming and would not be out of place under any hedgerow.  When Estel stepped closer to drop some marigolds in the trug a fine clean scent teased his nostrils.  He felt strangely drawn and leaned closer to examine the long leaves although, mindful of his Adar’s warnings, he did not touch them.  “What are these leaves used for?” he asked, inhaling more deeply of the pleasant aroma.

Elrond’s eyes narrowed for a moment then he held one out to the future chieftain of the Dunedin.  “This is called Athelas.  You may touch it for it will cause you no harm.”

Something within whispered to Estel that this plant was too special to be handled with dirty fingers so he wiped hands upon his breeches before accepting the proffered leaf.  He lifted the cut end to his nose and sniffed, eyes widening as the light perfume he had smelled earlier now hit him fully.  Trying to place the smell he was only reminded of gorse on the hillsides, fresh winds across a long meadow and clean snow in mountain passes.

Elrond watched him closely and then allowed himself a smile as he saw Estel’s reaction.  “It is very pleasant, is it not?  We use it to lift the spirits of those who are sick.  It has other uses but we have not needed it for those purposes for many years.”  His eyes flickered as though with remembered pain.  “Let us hope that we do not for many years yet to come.”  He shivered, then drew a deep breath.  “Come, finish your collecting whilst I gather other herbs.”

For nearly half an hour the two continued their harvesting, until Elrond’s trug was filled to overflowing.  As they worked Estel discovered that this was a subject that interested him.  Not that this was unusual for he found that his Adar could invariably make the driest of subjects interesting.  Each plant added to their collection was accompanied by some tale of the Eldar illustrating its purpose and method of use. 

Now Elrond arose, brushing dust from his knees.  Estel’s disappointment at his Adar’s imminent departure showed clearly on his face and Elrond paused.  “Estel, would you like to help me prepare some of these herbs?”

Estel nodded at once.  “Yes please!”

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While he dealt with some of the more dangerous plants at his own work bench in the apothecary room, Elrond set Estel to work with the marigolds.  He spread some on a drying tray by the sunny window and was then set to chopping up the rest, under Elrond’s careful supervision.  Once chopped, half were dropped into bottles of oil and sealed and the rest were ground with mortar and pestle and added to an ointment base to be spooned into pots.

By the time they were finished the afternoon was well advanced and Estel discovered that the exacting work of the apothecary could be every bit as exhausting as a day spent running in the woods.  Now, when he returned to the trug he discovered that the only herb left was the Athelas.  “How do we prepare this one, Adar?”

“With love,” was Elrond’s cryptic reply.

“Ah . . . here you are.”  Both turned to find Gilraen standing in the doorway. 

Elrond spoke first.  “Lady Gilraen.  We had become so engrossed in our lesson that I had lost track of the hour.  Please accept my apologies.  Have you come to visit your people in the infirmary?”

“I have.  I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help.  I do not wish to disparage your people in any way but I thought that a mortal face would perhaps be a welcome familiarity to some.”

“I take no offence and I am sure that you will indeed be a very welcome sight.  I was about to ask Estel if he would like to visit them with me.  It is fortunate that you arrived when you did, for I would not wish to do so without your permission.”

Gilraen wondered whether, had she not arrived at that moment, Elrond would have taken Estel and apologised later.  Then she wondered whether she would really have objected if he had. Her son got little enough opportunity to mix with mortals and at least she knew that her own folk would not betray him.  She considered her son, whose grey eyes were pleading silently.  “I suppose it is time to learn that fighting has its price,” she murmured softly, reaching down to stroke her son’s dark waving hair.

Elrond placed the Athelas leaves in a bowl and, taking that as her permission, hunkered down to speak face to face with the boy.  “There are several poorly men and elves in the infirmary.  Does the sight of blood frighten you?”

Estel considered his answer for a moment.  Not having been allowed access to the healer’s wing he had little experience of seeing serious injury.  However, he had been present when one of the cooks cut his hand very badly a few weeks ago and discovered then that he was more curious than squeamish.  His gaze returned to the Athelas leaves and it was as though they beckoned him to learn more.  “I don’t think so.  Though I don’t like to see people hurting.”

Elrond smiled, laying a gentle hand upon Estel’s shoulder.  “I would be concerned if you did.  No sane person would wish to see another in pain.  Would you like to help me to ease the pain of those in the infirmary?”

“Will we be using the Athelas?”

Elrond glanced up at Gilraen, who seemed pensive.  “Yes.  I will show you how we apply it.” 

“I would like to help them feel better.”

Elrond stood, guiding Estel with a hand upon his shoulder, and the boy was surprised to hear his Adar murmur, “Come then, Son of Arathorn.”

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In the healer’s wing Estel was met with a quiet air of bustle.  Several elves in pale green healer’s tabards were going efficiently about their business of tending the injured as Elrond led Estel and Gilraen into a small room.  Two walls were lined with hooks, upon which hung an assortment of robes, and against another was set a large cupboard.  Adar removed his heavy outer robe, hanging it on a hook before turning to the cupboard.  When he opened the doors Estel could see several shelves filled with pale green fabric.

“Take off your jacket and hang it up,” Elrond instructed as he sorted through the shelves.  Gilraen helped before hanging up her shawl.  Elrond paused to tie back his hair with a simple leather thong and then shook out a long tabard and slipped it over his head.  The tabard covered his clothes from neck to floor and fastened about the waist with a dark blue sash.  Gilraen followed suit, adding the white sash Elrond handed her.

Estel watched curiously as his Adar approached with what appeared to be another tabard.  But when he shook it out it revealed itself to be a long apron, which he held up in front of his foster son.  When the top was held to Estel’s shoulders the fabric formed a large pool upon the floor and Elrond pursed his lips.

Estel shrugged.  “I don’t mind wearing my ordinary clothes, Adar.”

But Elrond shook his head, turning to collect a large set of shears.  “The tabards are for the benefit of our charges as much as for us.  We have found that wounds do not mortify as easily if we and all the instruments we use are as clean as possible.”  When he turned back the apron was several feet shorter and, with Gilraen adding some clever tucking at the waist, they managed to make it fit.  Anywhere else Estel would have felt ridiculous in an apron but now he felt very proud to be trusted to wear the healer’s green.

Elrond bent to fold back Estel’s sleeves to the elbow before doing the same with his own. “Now we wash our hands,” he instructed as he poured water into a basin.  Several minutes later Estel’s hands were tingling.  Elrond examined them closely before setting the nail brush aside and emptying the basin. 

Estel’s mama chuckled.  “I do believe I have never seen my son’s hands so clean.  Had you the time, Lord Elrond, I would like to employ you to supervise my son’s toilet each morning.” 

She was rewarded with a quirk of the lips.  “I would be willing to make the time but, sadly, I am certain that his hands would be dirty again within moments.  Such is the nature of children.”  He led them back along the hallway to a closed door and there he paused to look down at his little helper.  “The men and elves within this room are badly hurt and some are in pain, so we must be quiet when we enter.”

Estel frowned.  “I can hear music,” he observed.  “And why are they hurting?  You told me you had herbs to stop pain.”

Elrond shook his head sadly.  “I can ease pain but some of the herbs are difficult to clear from the body later, so they must be used sparingly.  Music can soothe and bring its own healing so our musicians help where they can.”  Then he added, “There is one more thing.  Some of those being tended were injured so badly that we had to remove limbs.  I know that you are naturally curious but you must remember not to stare at any of the hurts you see.  The loss of a limb takes time to get used to and some people get very upset.”

Estel began to wonder if he could do this after all.  Mama was always telling him not to stare at new people.  It was too late now, though, for Adar was ushering them quietly through the door.

Having been forbidden to enter the healers wing in the past, Estel had of course tried to work out just how he could get to see inside, without breaking any promises to Mama or Adar. So on several occasions he had contrived to walk on the lawns outside, but a wide area of paving meant that he could not get as close as he would have liked.  He had managed to see a little, however, so was surprised to find a room containing four beds.  “I thought there was only one person to a room,” he observed.

Elrond’s eyebrow rose.  “What made you think that?”

“When I looked through the window I . . .”  Estel bit his lip, eyes widening as he looked up at his Adar.

“We shall continue that particular conversation later.  For the moment, I will say only that we have not the space to accommodate so many without some sharing rooms.”

Estel decided to shelve his worries about Adar’s censure and concentrate upon the present.  There was one beds to his left and one to the right and beyond them were long windows, open to the fresh summer air.  Between the windows sat Lindir and the soft sound of his harp was twined with clear birdsong from the gardens beyond.

With a soft cry Gilraen crossed to the bed on the left where a bearded man slept.  Estel followed his Adar to the other side of the bed and tried hard not to notice that, although discretely draped in a cloth, one of the man’s arms terminated at the wrist and was tied to the head of the bed.  Elrond laid a gentle hand upon the man’s brow.  “Is he known to you?  I am told his name is Amdon.  Whilst I am certain he does not consider himself so, he is quite fortunate that we were at least able to save his arm.  He has no other injuries.”

“He was one of Arador’s captains and will not take this well, for he was ever an active man.”  Giraen smiled as she pushed a stray strand of dark hair from his damp brow.  “We grew up together and he was Arador’s second in command for a while, but he asked to be posted to the defence of another village a few months before Arathorn and I were wed.  I assume he has family there.”

Elrond glanced at her keenly for a moment and then nodded.  “He has a strong will.  Unfortunately, at present he is using it to hide from the world.  These two have taken refuge in dreams, rather than come to terms with their altered life.”  He turned to smile down at Estel.  “But I believe we can help them find their way back.  Then we can help with the real process of healing.” 

For the first time Gilraen remembered the contents of the bowl in Elrond’s hand.  “You are going to use Athelas?”

Elrond smiled down at his foster son.  “Yes.  I thought Estel would like to see one of its uses.”

Gilraen’s eyes widened.  “Is he not too young?”

Elrond poured hot water into a large basin and beckoned Estel.  “He need not know all today.”

Estel frowned, aware that matters were being discussed that he did not understand.  When he would have asked for an explanation, however, Elrond drew him closer.  “Watch me,” he instructed.  Taking up two slender leaves he crushed them in his palm and then breathed upon them gently.  “Hold out your hands.”

Estel inhaled the perfume of a dew sprinkled spring morning and the very air around Adar seemed to sparkle with life.  “Now cast them upon the water,” Elrond instructed as he dropped them into Estel’s cupped hands.

Estel frowned as he examined the bruised leaves.  Their perfume still felt oddly familiar and his palms began to tingle strangely.  He looked up to find his Mama and Adar watching him closely.  Mama looked worried but Adar was smiling softly.

“Cast them upon the water, Estel,” Adar repeated, with a nod toward the basin, and Estel parted his hands slowly to let the Athelas fall.

They floated upon the surface and the warmth of the water seemed to intensify their perfume so that all, both elf and mortal, breathed more freely.  Elrond’s voice, warm as summer sunset, seemed to ride the vapour to the very corners of the room.  “Come back to the light.  Awake to hope of life renewed.”  

The injured elf blinked open grey eyes and Lindir leapt from his seat, weeping and almost dropping his harp in his haste to gather him into a hug.  Amdon awoke too, frowning in confusion when he saw Gilraen.

To Estel it seemed that a cloud that had drifted across the sun suddenly blew away and the world was truly filled with hope and light once more.  He looked from his mama to his Adar.  “Is this magic?”

Elrond only smiled, shaking his head.  “No, Estel.  It is a gift even some mortals hold.”  He looked to Gilraen as he intoned, “When the black breath blows and death’s shadow grows and all lights pass, come Athelas! Come Athelas!  Life to the dying in the king’s hand lying.”

Gilraen shook her head minutely.  “Please, Elrond.”  For a moment, she and Elrond locked gazes.

Estel frowned, once more aware that there was more being said here than was spoken.  “Are you a king, Adar?”

His Adar chuckled.  “No.  I am just Elrond.  Although the line of Gondor’s kings sprang from my brother’s loins many mortal generations ago.  But that is a tale for another day.”  He steered the young Adan from the room.  “Come.  There are many more for us to help.”

Behind them Gilraen released a long-held breath.

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“I think he enjoyed today.”  Elrond perched upon the balustrade, ignoring the long drop to the valley floor with the unshakable certainty in his balance that only an elf could muster.

Gilraen settled in her chair, taking a sip of wine before replying.  “I know it was a lesson to be learned eventually but I wonder if he is too young to have witnessed such pain.”

“I believe we do our children a disservice if we teach them only of the honour to be found in war, without also teaching them of the price that must sometimes be paid.  Whether by their enemy or themselves.  Estel will need to be strong but as chieftain he must also learn compassion.” Elrond took a sip from his own glass, holding the wine briefly on his tongue as he inhaled, judging it a very good vintage.

“And the Athelas?” 

Elrond smiled.  “For now, he grasps only what a future chieftain of the Dunadain must know.  If the time comes he also has enough knowledge to wield the power given to a king.”

“Life to the dying in the king’s hand lying?  Will it come in his lifetime, do you think?” 

Grey eyes grew distant as Elrond considered, then they drew back to pin the lady.  “I see many paths drawing together soon.”

“How soon?”  Gilraen set aside her wine as her stomach began to churn in alarm.

Elrond nodded toward her glass.  “The wine will settle your stomach.”  He shrugged his shoulders infinitesimally.  “It may not happen within your lifetime but I believe our little Estel is the one who can restore the line of the Kings.  Of course, the choice of whether to do so will be his.”  He took another sip from his own glass and smiled softly at her.  “But there is yet time for him to be a little boy who chases butterflies and skins his knees climbing trees.”

 

 

 




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