Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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Sometimes Elrond would take a break from his work to lean a hip upon the balustrade of his balcony and watch Estel play in the gardens below. Today, when he did not acknowledge Estel's wave, the boy was not too surprised for Adar seemed to be staring at the mountains and frowning. Deciding that he must be thinking hard about something Estel went on with his game . . . such an old pavement and so many cracks to avoid stepping upon.

Something was coming. Elrond could sense it in the freshening breeze . . . a dilute and far distant breath of sulphur. Out of long habit, he rubbed his thumb across the back of the gold ring binding his finger. The Ring of Air felt chill against his flesh and yet, on this late summer afternoon, the air in the valley was pleasantly warm. His gaze was drawn, as it had been all day, to the mountains and sky to the south-east.

“Adar?”

Elrond turned his back upon the view to find Elladan. “Our scouts report no unusual activity from the orcs but I have increased the guards on our borders. You are usually correct when you sense something amiss.”

“Thank you, Elladan.” He turned back to the mountains. “I am still uncertain of the nature of the threat; whether it be orc or weather, but the air is uneasy.”

“Have you consulted the other bearers?” Elladan asked with lowered voice.

“Galadriel senses only a gathering of air, possibly a storm brewing, and Mithrandir keeps his own council, as always.”

“Perhaps it is only a storm that you sense,” Elladan offered. “They are not unusual in these mountains after all.”

“Perhaps.” Elrond frowned, his gaze returning to the mountains and the first veil of thin grey cloud that began to graze their peaks. “You had best seek out Elrohir. Tell him to secure the livestock and clear the water meadows. We can prepare for the storm at the very least.”

Elladan left his father to his disquiet and Elrond called down to his foster son. “Estel, do not stray too far from the house. It is going to rain.”

“I won't, Adar.”

Half an hour later saw Elrond dressed in simple riding leathers and cloak and entering the stables. Elrohir was leading in a couple of horses as his father made for the stall housing Alagos. “Are you going riding, Adar? I thought you said there was a storm brewing.” Elrohir handed over his charges to others working in the stables then joined his father in saddling his horse.

“There is but I sense something more in the mountains. Its nature evades me so I intend to investigate more closely.”

Erohir looked to the open doors and the empty yard beyond. “Where is your escort?” He did not wait for a reply but turned at once to begin re-saddling his own mount.

“I have not selected one. All who are not already guarding our borders are needed to prepare the valley for the gathering storm. Even with my aid to turn aside the worst of it, we will be hard pressed.” Elrond kept one eye upon the cloud, thickening as it was driven in on a rapidly strengthening wind, as he adjusted girth and headstall.

Elrohir led forth his own spirited Chur. “Then I shall accompany you at least. Elladan is looking to the valley and Erestor and Faerwen, the house. Now that all the horses are stabled I can be spared.” Elrohir noted that his father bore no weapons, and offered silent thanks to the Valar that, having returned from patrol but two hours since, his own arms and cloak were still piled in a corner. Now he snatched them up, strapping them about his person with the efficiency of long custom.

Elrond leapt into the saddle and Alagos danced in place, sensing his rider's unusual agitation. Only minutes later two riders clattered out of the cobbled stable yard at the gallop, scattering the elves who jumped briskly out of their path.

“Where are we going, Adar?” Elrohir's voice could barely be heard over the din of the horse's hooves on the narrow, stone paved bridge.

“East. Up,” was Elrond's succinct reply as he led them onto a softer bridleway. For some time they followed its meandering path through the trees at a speed that the lord of the valley would have chided others for taking, but after a while uneven terrain forced them to slow to a canter and then to a walk.

Elrohir drew alongside. “The sky is darkening,” he commented as he craned his neck to look up through the canopy of dark leaves.

“And the wind is picking up, but it is not that which troubles me.”

“Then what is it?”

Elrond's frustration was clear in his sharp reply. “If I knew that do you think we would be out here?”

His son knew better than to take offence at this rare display of bad temper. “Is it orcs you sense massing?”

Elrond's ire dropped away as swiftly as it had arisen. “It has an orcish feel about it but I have strengthened our defences. They cannot tunnel into the valley and the passes are well guarded.”

Elrohir noted that they were now moving beyond the treeline and along one of Bruinen's larger tributaries, which ran down from the permanent snowcap of the mountain peaks above. “That does not prevent them from trying,” he commented wryly, his words tugged away by a sudden gust of wind that smelled strongly of rain.

Imladris had survived many attempts at invasion from the orcs living within their tunnels along her borders. Indeed Elrond often posited that the setting up of this elven stronghold was the very reason for their presence, this far from Sauron's stronghold in the south. Fortunately, despite their numbers, they usually posed no more than a nuisance, for Imladris was protected by a power more potent than sword and bow. Few but close family were certain of the nature of this power but many, including their enemies, harboured suspicions.

Elrond drew rein, leaning left to survey the river bed. “This usually flows more swiftly,” he commented as his assessing gaze followed the trickle of water up, to where it disappeared around a spur of the mountain.

Elrohir frowned. “Perhaps there has been a landslide further up.”

Elrond jumped down from his mount in order to pick his way carefully along the narrow bank and around the bend. He quickly disappeared from sight and Elrohir leapt from Chur's back, trusting both mounts to remain close as he hurried after his father.

“Adar! Be careful. We do not know what is around the . . .”

He had taken no more than two steps when his ears were assailed by a loud rumbling and grinding from above. Elrohir had a swift glimpse of a wall of grey bearing down on him and jumped back, just in time to avoid being hit by a torrent of churning water and rock. Amid the grey there was a tumbling flash of brown and black and he knew at once that Elrond was no longer above him.

Leaping onto Chur's back once more he pushed him into a headlong gallop, trying to catch up with the leading edge of the flood and knowing, even as he did so, that it was hopeless. He prayed that some bend in the course would slow the water sufficiently for Elrond to escape or be washed ashore. As though waiting for this very signal, there was a loud rumble of thunder and the heavens were cracked open to release a deluge of rain that swelled the already angry river. In the distance Elrohir heard the rush of a waterfall and pushed Chur even harder.

In his haste, he almost missed the smudge of brown and black that seemed to be part of a tangle of tree roots at the water's edge, just yards before the river disappeared over an abrupt ledge and thundered headlong into the valley hundreds of feet below. Elrohir pulled Chur to a halt so abruptly that the horse cried in alarm, rearing as his hind quarters skidded under them on the wet ground, and almost dumping his rider. As it was, Elrohir only had time to slap Chur's neck in apology before he leapt from the saddle and ran to the river bank.

Elrond was face down in the water and as his son rolled him into his lap he feared what he would find. “Ada . . . No.”

Elrond's face was raw and bloodied, his eyes closed. Elrohir bent a cheek to his lips, detecting no sign of outward breath, and he watched for the rise and fall of Elrond's chest. The brown riding leathers were intended to protect their wearer from minor hurts but Elrond had been rolled and tumbled in a boulder-filled torrent. What was left of the outfit only served as a frame for the bloodied mess of his lean body. There was no sign of movement in the exposed chest.

Elrohir jumped to his feet and bent to grab his father beneath the arms, dragging him onto flat ground and tilting back his head before checking that his mouth was clear. Then, he clenched hands above the centre of Elrond's chest and began to pump in fast rhythm, before bending to pinch his father's nose and blow into lips that were already turning blue. At only the second attempt he was rewarded by a sudden cough and he rolled the still unconscious Elrond onto his side to allow copious amounts of river water to drain from his nose and mouth.

-0-

It was the sudden arrival of a riderless Alagos at the height of the storm that first alerted the house that something was amiss. By the time Elrohir arrived, but minutes later, small groups of searchers were already assembling in the porch. All paused as they noticed that Chur bore two riders. Elrohir was soaked and the figure held securely before him, bound tightly in a grey hooded cloak that hid the face in deep shadow, was no less so. From the way Elrohir's burden swayed, and the wide spread of dark staining, it was clear that the second rider had sustained some serious injury.

“Somebody help me get him to the Healers Hall!” Elrohir's voice was lost in the howl of the wind but others stepped forward none-the-less, accepting what they now realised was their Lord's senseless form. A bright flare of lightening revealed his bloodied face, reflected in the glass of a window, behind which were the stricken features of a little edan. Elrohir saw Estel's lips form, “Adar!” before Gilraen dragged her son away.

-0-

“But why can't I see Adar?” Estel wailed. He had been standing outside the door to one of the rooms of the Healers Hall for what felt to him a lifetime, but everyone had steadfastly refused his pleas for entry. Dan and Roh leaned despondently against the opposite wall and he could tell from their silence that Adar was very sick.

“When I was poorly Adar stayed with me. Adar needs me,” he sobbed, even as his Mama drew him close to sit upon the bench at her side.

“Hush, sweetheart. The healers are still working. We would only be in the way until they are finished.” Gilraen bent to kiss his crown, using all her will to hold back her own tears for she feared that her son would not survive the loss of a second father. The twins were trapped in their own thoughts. Elrohir's face was haunted and Elladan wore a stony mask that forbade all attempt at comfort.

Lindir had arrived with his harp shortly after they, and beyond the door they could hear his clear tenor joining with Nestorel's light soprano, as they sang the ancient songs of healing. At any other time the melody would have brought peace to all who listened but this evening its effects could not seem to penetrate the gloom of their thoughts.

Above them, the heavens convulsed, spitting out an explosive clap of thunder that shook the very fabric of the building. Knowing that the house had withstood many such storms in its hundreds of years of existence, could not prevent everyone from flinching. Without Elrond's influence to soften it, the tempest fell upon the valley in a roiling fury few had experienced.

A slender and solemn elf wearing healers green slipped from Elrond's room, closing the door quietly behind her. She addressed the brothers first. “You did well to bear him here so swiftly in the teeth of such a storm,” she stated, calmly tugging free her dark hair from it's confining pins.

“How fares he, Nestorel?” was Elrohir's only anxious reply.

When the healer glanced down at Estel, Elrohir shook his head. “He saw us arrive and Adar has always made a point of telling Estel the truth.”

Nestorel nodded. “Elrond will recover. There are many injuries but he is strong. Lindir will remain with him.”

“May Este be thanked,” Elrohir murmured.

Nestorel calmly enumerated her charge's injuries. “He was struck on the head by something but already he shows signs of returning consciousness. I sense no long term damage there. As for the rest . . . the upper bone in his right arm was shattered. He has also cracked several of his ribs, and the tip of the bone of his right hip. It is a miracle that no internal organs were pierced. There are many lacerations however, the worst of which is to his left thigh. That is quite deep and long and we must watch closely over the next few days to ensure no mortification sets in.” Now she spoke directly to Estel. “His injuries look bad and will probably look angrier by tomorrow, when the bruising begins to darken, but it could have been much worse.” Her gaze returned to Elrohir. “Have you established the cause of the flood?”

Elrohir shook his head. “The mountain trails are too treacherous in this storm. Chur nearly fell several times just getting us back. As soon as it subsides I will send a party to establish exactly what occurred, but Adar seemed to believe that orcs were involved somehow.” He inhaled deeply. “I should have stayed closer.”

Nestorel touched his arm. “If you had, you would have been swept away too, and with injuries it is unlikely that either of you would have survived the storm until rescue arrived.” A bright flash, followed by a deep, rolling rumble, underlined her words.

Elladan squeezed his brother's shoulder. “At least you were close, Roh.”

Estel understood less than half of what he had heard. What he did understand was that his Adar would get better and now he dried his eyes and stepped forward to confront the tall healer. “Adar needs me. I should go and sit with him now.”

Nestorel looked down her long and elegant nose at such impertinence, softening when she saw his red-rimmed eyes. “If your Naneth permits, you may sit with him for a little while, although he is sleeping now and will probably not awaken before morning.”

Elladan spoke up. “I would like to sit with him too. We probably all do. Perhaps we could take turns?”

“Then, as Estel is so insistent, let he and I take the first watch,” Gilraen offered.

When Elrohir looked set upon objecting his brother pointed out, “You are still wearing your muddy riding leathers. I doubt Nestorel will even allow you across the threshold in that state.”

Elrohir did not need to see the healer's scowl to accept the truth of this. Elrond was very particular about keeping the Healing Halls scrupulously clean. “Very well,” he conceded with a scowl. “I shall bathe and change before returning.” Nestorel watched him stride away along the hallway at a brisk pace that promised an equally brisk return.

Elladan ushered Estel and Gilraen toward the door. “I shall just look in for a few moments and then I must see to the rest of the house. I am certain Erestor has all in hand but he will be awaiting news of Adar and there are others to be notified.” Arwen would not take kindly to learning of her father's injuries long after the event so a messenger must be sent to Lothlorien as soon as it was safe to do so.

Nestorel opened the door and followed them in, whilst also making a mental note that more chairs would be required in this room.

-0-

By dawn the storm had blown itself out, for even Nature at her worst could not sustain such violence for long. All about the valley Erestor had teams working to clear water courses and pathways, collect fallen branches and repair roofs. Elrohir would be looking in upon his father again later but for now he joined those checking fences and returning livestock to those fields and pastures that were not still draining after the deluge.

Estel yawned and stretched. He could hear someone using a hammer outside and frowned for a moment as he tried to recall why that should be. The thought popped into his head that the storm may have caused some damage and memory of the storm had him bolting upright. Adar! Looking about him he realised that he was in his own bed and he threw back the covers and ran to the sitting room, almost tripping over Celeg in his haste.

“Mama!”

Gilraen sat at the table, calmly spooning creamed mushrooms onto a slice of toasted bread. “Good morning, sleepy head,” she smiled.

Estel was having none of this everyday politeness, however. “You took me away from Adar,” he accused with a scowl.

His mother continued to smile gently, allowing him some leeway on his manners this morning. “Your Adar is recovering well. You fell asleep at his bedside last night so Elrohir carried you here. It was long past your bed time you know.”

Only slightly mollified, Estel asserted, “But he needs me.”

Gilraen poured cool milk into a cup and added a large drizzle of honey to the small bowl of oatmeal in Estel's usual place setting. “If he does, then he needs you rested and fed. Come and eat your breakfast and, when you have bathed and dressed, you and I will go and see if he is awake.”

The sweet fragrance of warmed heather honey and the richer scent of mushrooms and toast was more than any child could resist. Estel trusted his Mama's assertion that Adar was recovering and that removed any guilt he may otherwise have felt for postponing his visit, so he clambered into his chair.

Celeg circled his chair a couple of times and then curled up beneath it. She had been fed some hours earlier but there was always the hope that Estel would sneak her something. Bacon or smoked fish were her preferred titbits but she would accept mushrooms if necessary.

After they had eaten Gilraen had sense enough not to insist that her son take the time required for a full bath but she did supervise a thorough wash. Estel chaffed at the delay and was practically dragging his mother along by the time they reached the Healers Hall. When Estel would have barged straight in, however, his mother restrained him.

“Let me just check that Nestorel is not changing your Adar's bandages,” she murmured. Estel hopped from foot to foot but stayed put as Gilraen opened the door a little and stuck her head around the edge.

“Come in, Gilraen.”

It sounded very quiet but it was his Adar's voice. Estel pushed past his mother and would have run into the room and leapt onto the bed, had she not stopped him by the simple expedient of grabbing a handful of the back of his tunic. “Gently, Estel,” she admonished.

Once he actually saw Adar the restraint became unnecessary. If he thought Elrond had looked sick the night before, as the healer had predicted, he looked even worse today.

Elrond lay amongst a mound of pillows, the light, down-filled quilt drawn up to his waist doing little to hide the bandages wrapped about his ribs, or the many dressings and scratches on his shoulders, arms and face. One eye was blackened and swollen shut, his bottom lip was split and puffy and his right arm was confined within splints and bandages. When he saw Estel he gave a small, lopsided smile. “Hello, Tittlepin.”

Gilraen shepherded her suddenly reluctant son to the bedside, settling herself into the chair silently provided by Lindir, who returned to his corner and took up his harp once more. Estel tucked himself uncertainly into his Mama's side, staring silently at Adar's face. Sensing his unease, Gilraen spoke first, even as Lindir began to pluck softly. “You gave us all quite a scare last night. How are you feeling this morning?”

Elrond took a careful breath and his words were a little slurred by the injury to his lip. “Better.”

Gilraen seriously doubted this for Elrond's skin, what was not hidden by dressings, was almost completely black or red. In deference to his male ego she did not try to contradict, however.

Estel studied his Adar. In the dimness of the room last night he had not noticed the swelling of one eye, particularly as its mate had also been closed. Now his voice was almost as thin as Elronds' as he whispered, “Papa had a poorly eye. Are you going to die like my Papa?”

Gilraen had to swallow back a cry of dismay and settled for hugging her son more tightly.

“Aie, Tittlepin! Come here.” Elrond held out his good arm to beckon Estel in and Gilraen helped her son climb carefully onto the bed. If Elrond felt any pain at the resulting jostling of his abused body he did not let it show on his face as Estel nestled into his side. Elrond wrapped his good arm about the narrow shoulders of this child of his heart. “I will be here for as long as needed.” In his very long life he had learned that one could never fully predict what may be around the corner; a fact that had been born out quite brutally yesterday. Yet he had also learned that sometimes children needed reassurance, and this was a promise he would at least do his utmost to fulfil.

Reassured, Estel relaxed in his foster father's embrace while Gilraen cleared her throat and blew her nose. When she spoke again Estel's mother was once more in full control of her emotions. “Can I get you something to drink, Elrond?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

Unnoticed until now, Celeg leapt daintily onto Elrond's bed and tiptoed up to his head. There, lord and cat met eye to eye for a moment before Celeg bent to rub her head gently across Elrond's least damaged cheek. Niceties exchanged, Celeg settled into a ball at the invalid's right hip and her loud purr soon blended with the gentle notes of Lindir's harp.

Used to assisting in the Healers Hall, Gilraen poured a little lemonade into a feeder cup and slid a careful hand beneath Elrond's neck as he sipped from the spout. From his place at Elrond's side Estel watched closely, rubbing the ends of his Adar's long dark hair between his fingers. He could not remember ever having seen Elrond's hair free of its braids and clips, so he had never dared touch it before and was surprised at how silky it felt.

Elladan arrived as Gilraen lowered Elrond's head back into the supporting pillows. If he was surprised at seeing Estel upon the bed, at a glance from his father's one good eye he said nothing. Celeg, he gave not a second look, being very much aware that cats go where they will. “How are you feeling, Adar?”

Elrond tried another lopsided smile. “I am weary of that question. Better. What did you discover?”

Elladan allowed himself a small smile. His father would not be kept in the dark with regard to the goings on within his own small realm, but Elladan tried. “Nestorel said you were not be be bothered with such matters today.”

The spark of fire in Elrond's one functioning eye was not wholly unexpected. “Nestorel is in charge of this hall, not the entire valley. I will know how my valley and her people fair.” He winced as his ribs protested the volume of air required to produce a statement of such length.

“Very well. But if she discovers it was I who told you, I shall tell her that you leapt out of your bed and held me down.”

Estel moderated his giggle to a smirk when he felt his Adar tense at the jostling it caused.

Elladan came to the foot of the bed to make his report. “There must have been some sort of landslide just beyond that bend; perhaps caused by the rains last week. It dammed the river just beyond our border and orcs took the opportunity to weaken it in a few places, setting the simple trigger of a tree branch.”

“I remember it,” Elrond confessed.

“Yes. As soon as you stepped on it, the water broke down the weakened dam and you were carried away with the flood. It was luck that snagged your cloak on some roots or you would have been swept over the falls a few feet further on.”

“It seems Ulmo still answers prayer,” Elrond murmured.

All turned as the door opened once more to admit Nestorel. She frowned when she saw such a gathering but Elladan forestalled her protests. “I was just leaving, Lady. I only came to see for myself how he was doing.”

Gilraen arose also, reaching down to extricate her son as gently as she could, but Elrond protested. “Will you stay, Tittlepin? I feel better with you here.”

Elrond's cyclopean gaze pleaded with Gilraen and she sought permission from the healer. That lady only shrugged. “The dressings do not require replacing yet.” She fixed Elrond with a stern gaze that few others in the valley would have dared. “As long as you promise to sleep and Estel promises not to jostle you. You put on a good face, Elrond, son of Earendil, but I know how much pain you are in.”

There was a subdued chorus of, “I promise.”

Gilraen discovered that she was capable of smiling and even Lindir chuckled, unused to hearing such humbleness from his lord. Nestorel only shook her head as she left, pushing Elladan before her, and Gilraen settled back in her chair.

Estel looked to the corner where Lindir still strummed softly. “Does music really heal?” he asked.

Lindir smiled. “It certainly does for elves. Illuvatar sang the elves into being so music is a part of our fae.”

Estel settled more comfortably at Elrond's side. It said much that the usually stoic Elrond flinched, but he said nothing as he tried to compose himself for sleep. Pain prevented him from relaxing sufficiently, however. Then a high, sweet voice began to sing.

An Elven-maid there was of old,

A shining star by day:

Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,

Her shoes of silver-grey.

Lindir picked up the tune on his harp as Estel continued to add his own contribution to Elrond's healing.

A star was bound upon her brows,

A light was on her hair

As sun upon the golden boughs

In Lorien the fair.

There were many verses and by the time Estel reached the end of the lay, not only was Elrond asleep, but the child closed sleepy eyes to join him in healing dreams. Gilraen dabbed a tear from her cheek before covering her son with a light blanket. The song of Nimrodel was, perhaps, not what Nestorel would consider a healing song, but it seemed to have worked well enough this time. After all, it was not the words but the love behind them, that performed all healing.

When Nestorel returned an hour later she stepped into a room drowned in sleep. Gilraen slept in her chair and all upon the crowded bed were lost to the waking world. Even Lindir drowsed, glassy eyed, as his hands continued to pluck the strings of his harp. After a brief check of the fingers of Elrond's splinted arm and adjustment to a dressing on his chest Nestorel crept quietly from the room.

At the door she turned to whisper a simple blessing. “May Irmo and Este enfold you in their dreaming embrace.”

 

 

 

 

 

 




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