Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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Estel stomped upon a stray leaf that must have drifted in the last time the doors to the balcony were open, lifting his foot to glower at the shattered brown remains before moving on to walk another circuit of his room.  He had been allowed out of bed for the first time this morning but forbidden to walk any further than the bathing chamber or the balcony outside his room.  As it was raining heavily outside, only one of those options was available and he had already had his bath for the day.

He scratched absently at the thought.  Adar had added a little bag of oats to his bath this morning and it stopped the constant itching of his dry skin but the effects wore off all too quickly.  Crossing to the table, he made a desultory search of the books scattered upon it, in hopes that a new one had appeared since he looked an hour ago.  No.  There was a Quenya grammar, a Sindarin-Quenya dictionary, a Westron dictionary, a book on mathematics, a story book about a naughty pony that he had read more times than he could count and, of course, The Darkening of Valinor. 

He stabbed the huge tome with one finger, yelping when his fingernail broke.  Celeg, who had been sitting in a corner, watching him march round and around, leapt daintily onto the table to sniff the offending book.  Deciding that it was no real threat to cat or boy she ensured it did not become one by the simple expedient of curling up on top of it and composing herself for sleep.  Estel sniffed approvingly before worrying at the sharp remains of his nail with his teeth.  That was by far the best use he could think of for that particular book.

There was a precise tap upon his door and Estel hurriedly removed his finger from his mouth.  “Please come in, Adar.”

Elrond backed into the room.  Elrond never backed into a room but when he turned to push the door shut behind him with one elegantly slippered foot, Estel could see why he had entered in that uncharacteristic fashion, for both arms were full.  In the curve of one he carried a large, squarish leather case that Estel recognised at once to be the cover for a lap harp, in the other he bore a large folio.  

Setting down both beside the table the lord of Imladris raised a brow at Celeg where she still curled upon The Darkening of Valinor.  The sleek cat blinked at him lazily.  Elrond’s brow rose higher and Celeg stared back, the very tip of her tail flicking beside her nose.  Elrond spoke one quiet word.  “Celeg.”  Uncurling lazily, Celeg paused to yawn wide, displaying an impressive array of needle sharp white teeth.  She unhurriedly stretched out her two front paws, curving her spine deeply to stick her behind in the air, in Elrond’s direction.  Then she straightened and, equally unhurriedly, sprang delicately to the floor and sauntered to her bed in the corner of the room, tail twitching all the way.

Elrond only shook his head at her antics then began to arrange Estel’s books in an orderly heap on one corner of the table.  “We celebrate the anniversary of your Naneth’s natal day this evening.  Have you given consideration to a gift for her?”

Estel clambered into a chair at the rapidly clearing table.  “I was going to make something but I’ve been so poorly that I didn’t have time,” he mourned.  “I suppose I could draw her a picture,” he offered, half-heartedly.  Even for a child, Estel’s draughtsmanship left much to be desired.  He had long ago decided that drawing was not one of his giftings and, although Elladan occasionally tried to help him, Estel did not feel that a picture would be quite the thing.

“If you will permit me, I have a suggestion.”  Elrond placed the harp case upon the table and began to release the ties.  Within, carefully nestled inside a layer of soft cloth, was a beautiful, carved and silver inlaid, pale wood harp.  Estel leaned forward, using one finger to pluck tentatively at a white string.  A warm pure note issued forth to reverberate cleanly in the air between them for a moment, before slowly dying away.

“You have never had any music lessons, have you?” Elrond asked as he drew up a chair next to his foster son.

“Erm . . . no Adar.”  Estel’s face scrunched up in distaste.  He would much rather be outside, climbing trees.

Adar gave one of his rare chuckles.  “History is much easier to learn if turned into poetry and sung to music, and I wondered if perhaps you and I could sing a song for your Mama as our gift.  I know that you have a good singing voice.”

Estel was still not impressed.  “I would like to sing with you, but why do I have to learn history?  I can’t change it.”

“The study of the past enables us to build upon the good things that happened and to learn from the bad things.”  Elrond paused a breath before continuing.  “Do you remember what happened when you forgot your wrist guard for your archery lesson last summer?”

Estel rubbed his forearm absently.   “The bowstring hurt my arm.”

“Yes, it did.  What have you learned from that?”

“That I have to wear my wrist guard when I’m using a bow,” Estel replied easily.

“Precisely.  You have learned from your past and that knowledge will help to keep you safe in the future.  Learning history is very much like that.  People have made many mistakes before you and by learning about them you can avoid making their mistakes yourself, thus saving much effort and discomfort.”  He tapped the huge tome on the table before them.  “How much have your read of ‘The Darkening of Valinor’?”

Estel bit his lip, wondering if it was worth trying to dissemble.  He did not need to contemplate for long.   All grown-ups seemed to have a knack for knowing when he was telling an untruth.  It was a skill that he hoped to master himself as he grew up.  “A page or two,” he confessed with a blush.

Elrond’s brow lifted once more.  “Is that one page or two pages?”

Estel’s finger traced the pattern of grain in the wood of the table top and his voice dropped to a whisper.  “One page . . . mostly.”

Elrond smiled, tucking a strand of hair behind the curve of Estel’s ear.  “Then let us try this . . .”  He lifted the harp, spent a moment plucking random strings as he checked that it was properly tuned, then struck a silver chord.

Estel settled back to listen as his Adar began to sing.  The words were simple, as was the tune, but Estel was surprised at the content.

Ungolient sat long and deep

But deeper yet her thought.

Faint light she sipped and would not sleep

Til from it dark she wrought.

 

Black ropes she spat and strung them high

Keen blade could not have shorn.

Black cloud she spewed to hide the sky,

Her bloated spider form . . .

 

After several more short verses Elrond struck the last note and Estel blinked.   “Oooh, I’d like to learn that,” he exclaimed.  “That’s much easier than the book.”

Elrond smiled.  “I thought it would appeal.  Perhaps I misjudged your readiness to wrestle with the original.  This is a version I taught my children.”  He pulled a sheet of paper from the folio and slid it to Estel.  “Would you like to try singing it with me this time?”

-0-

Estel was trying very hard not to show his excitement.  Dissembling was not usually acceptable but Adar had told him he would be forgiven upon this occasion.

Mama tucked the covers beneath his chin and bent to kiss his brow.  “I am sorry that you cannot come to the party, but Lord Elrond insists that you are not yet strong enough.”  She stroked his cheek and offered a wistful smile.  “I would rather spend my birthday with you but Faerwen and Erestor have gone to so much trouble that it would be very rude not to attend.”

Her son turned upon his side and curled up beneath the covers.  “It’s alright Mama.  I do feel sleepy.  Will you bring me some cake?”

Gilraen’s smile widened.  “Of course I will.  A big bit with lots of icing on it.”  One last kiss and she arose and left the room, closing the door softly behind her.

Estel bounced up at once, grabbing Celeg to give the startled cat a squeeze.  It was fortunate that Celeg was used to such exuberance or it could have earned Estel a few scratches.  As soon as she was released, she darted for her own bed where she settled in to re-arrange her ruffled fur.

Estel looked up with a start when the door began to open once more and dove down beneath the covers, his eyes tight shut.  Surely Mama was not returning with his cake so soon?  Then he heard a soft giggle.  “It is only I, Estel.  And in future, should you wish to fain sleep, do not screw up your eyes so.”

Estel’s eyes popped open to find Faerwen, standing with folded arms and broad smile, at his bedside.  He let out an explosive breath and sat up once more.  “I thought Mama had come back.”

Faerwen turned to his clothing store and began to select garments.  “You need not worry about that.  Erestor is escorting her to the hall and will ensure that she remains fully occupied.”  Even now she continued to marvel that her husband managed to combine the sweetness of temperament to know that all Imladris needed something to brighten life, after recent events, and the ruthless organisational skill to produce a party upon short notice. 

She turned back to the bed, where Estel now stood in fresh small clothes.  “Well done.”  She handed him a beautiful white suit, with its delicate scrolling embroidery of grey leaves and flowers, correctly anticipating his long-suffering sigh.  “I know you would rather wear your everyday clothes but this is a special occasion.  Your Mama will love seeing you in your best and will know that you seek to honour her by it.”

One final grimace and Estel began to tug on the knee length breeches while Faerwen sought out silk stockings and white slippers.

“Will there be lots of people there?” Estel asked as his head popped through the neck of his tunic and Faerwen returned to help him wrangle arms into long sleeves.

“The whole valley has turned out and even those Dunadain who are still recovering,” she replied, holding out a finely tooled white and silver belt.

“I thought they had all gone home,” Estel commented as he fastened the buckle and stepped into his slippers.

Faerwen began to work upon the tangles in his sable hair as gently as she could when her charge was fidgeting to be away.  “Some have departed but three remain.  The twins will be escorting them home tomorrow.”  She did not add that they would also be escorting the remains of those who had not survived battle and sickness, their bodies preserved until they could be given loving burial by their kin.  The child needed no more death in his life.

A few minutes later Faerwen shepherded Estel into the Hall of Fire via a little used door.  There a screen had been set ready that allowed those behind it to observe the going’s on in the hall without being observed themselves.

Along one wall tables had been placed and kitchen helpers were just adding the last platters and dishes of finger food.  At their centre was a huge cake, it’s white iced surface scattered with marzipan roses.  Faerwen was correct in her assertion that all would be attending.  Even the kitchen helpers were now removing aprons to reveal their finest robes.  Lindir and other musicians sat near Elrond’s chair and their soft playing mingled with many elven voices to fill the air with sweet melody.

Gilraen sat in place of honour at Elrond’s right hand and her eyes sparkled with joy as she sipped from a crystal goblet of pale wine.  At her feet were scattered a selection of gifts and her hair was crowned with a coronet of yellow roses.  Estel thought he had never seen his Mama look prettier.

Faerwen dropped before him then, tugging his tunic straight and, to Estel’s surprise, placing a fine silver filet upon his head.  “There now,” she murmured.  “The perfect little prince.”

Unused to such compliments Estel grinned, reaching up to touch the simple band upon his brow.  He supposed it wasn’t too bad having to dress up every now and again if it earned him the title of ‘prince’.  Princes were always mighty warriors after all? 

Even as the thought crossed his mind he saw Elrond glance toward the screen.  The Lord of Imladris nodded to Lindir and the music ceased.  A hush descended upon the room as Elrond stood.  Turning now to bow low to Gilraen his voice dropped, rich, into the ensuing silence.

“Lady Gilraen, there is yet one more gift to bestow upon this celebration of your natal day.  The giver has toiled hard in its crafting although I think you will cherish it most because it comes from his heart.”  He bent to lift his harp, which had been leaning against the side of his chair, and nodded to where Faerwen was now escorting Estel to a growing space in the middle of the floor.

Gilraen set down her glass and would have gone to her son but she was stayed by Elladan with a hand upon her wrist.  Elrohir set a chair by Estel and Elrond settled himself upon it, harp against his shoulder.  With a wink to the child, who was now blushing furiously at all this attention, he made his announcement.

“Estel has been studying our history of late and he has a gift for his mother on this special day, which is not just her natal day but also a celebration of his return to full health.”  Drawing Estel closer to his knee he plucked the first refrain before nodding Estel in.

The child’s clear high treble was tentative at first but began to soar like a lark as his Adar added quiet subtle harmonies with his own warm firm voice.

Ungolient sat long and deep

But deeper yet her thought.

Faint light she sipped and would not sleep

Til from it dark she wrought.

 

Black ropes she spat and strung them high

Keen blade could not have shorn.

Black cloud she spewed to hide the sky,

Her bloated spider form.

 

Now Melkor crept to seek her there

In form as dark as she.

And spoke of land that shone so fair,

Neath gold and silver tree.

 

With silvered tongue he promised her

A feast of golden light.

With golden voice he pledged to her

A taste of silver bright.

 

From shadowed vale the two set forth

Beneath Ungolient's cloud,

And silently they travelled north,

Where Valar stood so proud.

 

No eye was seeking forth that day.

No creeping shadow seen.

For Manwe called a festal day

Where hearts could be made clean.

 

On Taniquetil Vanyar sang.

They danced with not a care.

In streets of Valmar silence rang.

Empty, Tirion's stair.

 

Feanor came at Manwe's call

Though Finwe would not come.

Fingolfin stood there strong and tall.

The brothers joined as one.

 

Then gold was mingled silver bright

On Valmar's empty street.

Two trees that filled the world with light,

Now doomed to dark defeat.

 

For Melkor thrust his mighty spear

Into each gleaming core.

Telperion shed silver tear,

Laurelin golden gore.

 

Ungoliant then deeply drank

Of every shining drop.

Replacing life with poison rank

Til dead, she would not stop.

 

But still she thirsted more for light

So Varda's Wells she drained,

Till even Melkor feared her might

And fled the land they stained.

 

Then darkness fell on Valinor,

Such malice never known,

This darkness born of spider gore

Ungoliant had sown.

 

It was not just a lack of light

This black that she did spill.

It entered even those of might

To strangle every will.

 

Soon Holy Mountain stood alone

Amid the blackest tide.

But Manwe on his mighty throne

Ungoliant espied.

 

Sprang forth the host of Orome

But darkness did them best,

And Melkor faded clean away.

Proud eldar failed the test.

 

Thus darkness fell on Valinor.

Much was set in motion

Which trapped some on this Eastern shore,

Sundered by an ocean.

 

The last note faded and Estel finally looked into his mother’s face, surprised to see her cheeks damp with tears.  Then she smiled, held open her arms and he ran into her embrace to bury his face in her bosom.  “Happy birthday, Mama!” The room erupted into applause.

A little later, when Gilraen had cut the cake and carried a sleepy Estel back to their chambers, Elrond sat with his sons.

“He did very well, did he not?” Elrond asked as he forked up a morsel of birthday cake.

“He certainly did better than Elrohir when he first sang in public,” Elladan replied with a smirk.

Elrohir punched his brother’s bicep.  “I had eaten something that disagreed with me.  Naneth understood.”

His father chuckled.  “Tis pity her dress did not.  She never did get rid of that stain.”

Elladan grinned.  “At least Estel will never forget that tale now.”

“And Erestor will have that book returned to his collection at last,” Elrohir pointed out.

 

 




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