Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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“Come along, Estel.” With a harp tucked under his arm and walking stick in his other hand, Elrond led the way into the Hall of Fire. Nestorel was still insisting that Elrond take life easy so he had volunteered to provide their music today.

Estel followed rather reluctantly and Glorfindel and Faerwen brought up the rear. “Why do I have to learn to dance, Adar?”

Elrond set his walking stick aside and settled into the chair Glorfindel provided. It was Glorfindel who replied. “You wanted to learn how to sword fight. Of course, if you have changed your mind I will be happy to depart. I was going to join Elladan and Elrohir on a tour of our borders.”

“I do want to learn to sword fight. But why must I learn to dance first?” Estel folded his arms and pouted a little, watching his Adar from beneath frowning brows.

Elrond only unwrapped his harp and Glorfindel set hands upon slender hips, unused to dealing with a young and sullen pupil. “Because you do not just wield a sword with your hand. You use your whole body, and if you have not learned to balance you will be spitted by the first orc you encounter.”

Estel blinked, his mouth dropping open. He was unused to such graphic images and swallowed back a little bile. He supposed he should get used to such things if he was ever to kill anyone. Suddenly, sword fighting did not sound quite so exciting.

“Glorfindel.” Elrond's admonishment was soft but firm. “Perhaps we could demonstrate for him.” He arose, shrugging off his loose outer robe, taking up his walking stick, and assuming the stance Estel had often seen sparring partners take.

Glorfindel frowned but then cast about them, finally finding a pole used to draw the long window curtains. He smiled ruefully at Elrond as he held it like a long staff. It was fully twice the length of Elrond's walking stick sword.

“Now, Estel. My leg is not yet fully healed so it will disturb my balance. Just as it would with someone who has not learned to balance their weight properly.”

Glorfindel met his friend's eyes. “Are you sure you want to do this Elrond? If you get hurt Nestorel is likely to hang me from the nearest rock pinnacle.”

“He has a point,” Faerwen added as she drew Estel out of the circle of potential battle.

Elrond chuckled. “Try your hardest, Glorfindel. It may be the only time that you manage to best me in a sword . . . or should that be . . . stick fight.”

His taunt had the desired effect. “Just remember that you asked for this,” Glorfindel warned as he rose onto the balls of his feet and began to circle.

Elrond remained still, his breathing steady, even when Glorfindel moved behind him. When he circled back to face his opponent, with the speed of a striking snake, Glorfindel lunged forward with the point of the makeshift staff. Elrond moved his arm with blurring speed to block the staff and Glorfindel danced away.

Elrond raised one brow. “Glorfindel, I cannot imagine that you have grown so lax in your training. Even Estel could have blocked that move. I do not know what Nestorel has been saying but I can assure you that I am not some ancient porcelain vase.”

Glorfindel's eyes narrowed. Suddenly he spun about, sweeping the staff in a wide arc that Elrond only partially blocked, the force of it driving him to one knee. Glorfindel stepped in at once to give Elrond a hand up. “Please tell me that I do not need to send for Nestorel.”

Elrond resumed his seat, rubbing absently at his healing thigh. “Nestorel will not be searching for a convenient pinnacle,” he replied, dryly. Now he focussed on Estel, who was glowering at Glorfindel in disapproval. “I am unharmed Estel but my injury ensured that I did not have enough balance to dodge the blow effectively. I was reliant entirely upon the strength and speed of my arm, whereas, by spinning, Glorfindel could use momentum to bring more power to his blow.”

“Then can't you just teach me how to do that?” Estel asked in one last attempt at mutiny.

“I could,” Glorfindel replied as he returned the pole to its storage place. “But then all you would have is a stock of set moves. You would have no ability to formulate your own or combine them and, generally speaking, it is the unexpected move that wins a fight. To create that you must be fully aware of what your body can do and be able to feel its centre of balance.”

Elrond took up his harp and began to pluck random strings, tuning it. “As with fighting, dance demands that we find our balance and control every part of our anatomy. Unlike fighting, generally speaking, nobody gets hurt in the process.”

Glorfindel returned, bowing low to Faerwen, who laid her hand in his as she performed a deep curtsey. “First we must learn how to stand.” Glorfindel motioned for Estel to come closer. “You are fortunate in having quite good posture but it would benefit from some help. Stand with your feet a little apart.” When Estel jumped up, landing flat footed and with his feet wide apart, Glorfindel sighed. “Place your feet in line with your shoulders.” Estel drew wriggled his feet closer together. “Better. Now imagine that there is a string, running up through your body from your waist and out through the top of your head. Imagine somebody pulling on that string from above.”

Estel tried to comply but did not seem to be able to manage until Glorfindel placed one hand upon the boy's tummy and ran the other up his spine from waist to head. The boy's eyes widened. “Oh. I feel taller.”

“Good. Try to remember how that feels and maintain it as you dance. You have found your centre of balance. The trick is to maintain that as you move. Now, watch as Faerwen and I go through the first figure of the summer solstice dance.” He took the lady's hand and Elrond began to play a swift light tune.

Much as Estel did not believe he would enjoy the process of dancing himself, he did enjoy watching elves dance. Faerwen and Glorfindel seemed to drift inches above the flagged floor as their feet traced the simple measure of the dance, their bodies a liquid river that flowed about the huge chamber. The boy's mind seemed to float upon the silver melody of Elrond's harp and it was some surprise when the last notes were plucked and he sank back to earth.

Glorfindel bowed to his partner and then beckoned his pupil. “I have chosen this dance because it is one of the simpler ones. It is called the Enderi Ribbon and is very ancient. Watch my feet and remember to stand tall. It goes like this . . . Cross your left foot in front of the right, step to the side with your right, cross your left to the back, step to the side with your right and keep repeating. There are variations but those basic steps will get you through. Oh … and up on your toes.”

Estel considered that those steps were quite enough, thank you. But he stood at Glorfindel's side and tried to follow.

Elrond and Faerwen watched in silence and Glorfindel noticed their eyes twinkling as Estel had difficulty sorting out left from right. Elrond spoke up quietly after three false starts. “Your right side is the one with your writing hand, Estel.”

Even so, there were two more false starts before Faerwen stepped forward to tie her scarf about Estel's right arm. Elrond took up his harp once more.

“Remember, straight back and up onto the balls of your feet. As a general rule, your heels should not touch the floor when either dancing or fighting,” Glorfindel added, as he took one of Estel's hands and Faerwen took the other.

Elrond struck a chord and Estel swallowed, trying to keep straight in his head all the instructions regarding steps and posture. When Elrond began to play the boy gave it his best try and because of this, despite Estel's stumbling feet, Glorfindel kept the trio moving. Somewhere around the sixth repeat Estel found his feet obeying him at last. He grinned up at Faerwen, who squeezed his hand in silent congratulation.

A little while longer they continued about the room, then the music slowed and, with a flourish, ended. Estel looked to his Adar's face and felt a warm glow suffuse him as he saw the smile of approval that grew there. “Well done, Estel. I knew that you could do it. You have very good balance. You need only learn how to use it.”

Estel looked up at Glorfindel, eagerness clear in his voice as he asked, “So, can I learn to fight now?”

Glorfindel looked to Elrond in exasperation and found no help in the lord's mild and suspiciously innocent expression. “Not yet, Estel. Only when you have mastered your balance will I allow you into the Warrior's Hall. Now, there are some variations to the steps that you would do well to learn.”

Before Glorfindel could demonstrate, Elrond held up a staying hand then turned Estel to face him. “Before we go on I would like you to do something for me, Estel. I suspect your Mama has already asked this but I would like to hear it too.”

When he waited Estel realised he expected a reply. Adar only did that when he wanted to be sure that he had someone's full attention. “What is it, Adar?”

“I want your promise that you will not enter the Warrior's Hall again until you are given permission to do so by an adult.”

Estel gnawed at his bottom lip for a moment and Elrond had to prompt him. “Estel?”

Releasing a long sigh, Estel touched a hand to his chest. “I promise.”

Elrond let him go. “Thank you. I trust you to keep your promise. Now, let us see what other steps Glorfindel wishes to teach.”


Estel's promise to both Mama and Adar, regarding entry to the Warrior's Hall held for several weeks, but when Glorfindel showed no signs of ever letting him touch a blade, the restriction began to chafe. Estel was growing more and more intrigued. It seemed to him that the promise to teach him how to fight had been only a ruse to persuade him to take dancing lessons, so when he thought it was safe to do so he began to sneak onto the balcony in the Warrior's Hall. If he crouched down just to the left of the door he could peep through a small crack at the juncture of the carved wooden balustrade and wall without, he believed, being noticed by those below.

He had been sitting for an hour today, and was just considering leaving, for there had been no visitors to the hall in that time, when he heard the door below swing open and soft footfalls enter. He put his eye to the crack, rearing back in surprise when he recognised the back of his Adar's stately gait. When he did not hear the expected call of censure he put his eye to the crack again.

Elrond had stripped down to breaches, soft shirt and shoes, and was standing in the centre of the circle painted upon the floor. Estel could see no sign of any weapon and for some moments his Adar only stood, hands loosely at his side, head bowed. Then slowly, as though listening to some music only he could hear, he lifted his arms out to the side and then up, as though drawing some perfect arc which met above his head. Bringing his hands together he drew them down to his waist and opened them as though holding a book. One step forward and the hands were offered out, as though pushing something, then drawn back as he pivoted precisely upon one heel. Estel was mesmerised by the slow and precise movements that had Elrond flowing about the circle like water stirred within a basin.

At the end of perhaps five minutes he stilled in the centre once more, his head bowed. When he lifted his head however, his gaze went unerringly to the crack in the balustrade. “Have you seen enough, Estel? Perhaps more than you should?”

Estel swallowed. There was little point in dissembling so he stood to face the music. “I'm sorry, Adar. I only wanted to watch and I have been very quiet, so as not to distract anyone.”

“And yet news of your regular, if furtive, attendance has reached my ears.”

Estel's eyes widened. None of the warriors he watched had shown any signs of noting his presence. Yet, he supposed he should not be truly surprised for elves always seemed preternaturally aware of the world around them.

Elrond continued, tapping one ear. “Your breathing would give you away, even had you not been noted climbing the stairs. It is fortunate for you that your presence was reported to me and not to your Mama.”

Estel made a study of his booted feet. “Will you tell Mama?”

“Come down here, child. No. I will not tell your Mama. But it is my hope that you will.”

Estel swallowed as he walked to the end of the balcony, where a spiral stair led down to the practice floor. Once there he made his way, with lowered gaze, to stand before his Adar. Estel expected to be chastised for breaking his promise so Elrond's next words were a surprise and a relief.

“As you are here, you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. The exercises you just saw are used by all sword masters to establish balance and suppleness. Come here and stand upon that spot in the centre of the circle.”

Estel could not help the grin that split his face as he complied. He managed to banish it, however, when he saw Elrond's raised brow.

“Stand with your feet slightly apart, as you would to begin a dance, and remember to stand tall.”

Estel complied willingly as his Adar took up a position to his left.

“First we breathe. I want you let you breathing become slow and even.” Elrond's voice became low and hypnotic. “When first you begin to concentrate upon your breathing you will develop a tendency to breathe more quickly, but I want you to resist that temptation. Breathe in to a count of four and out to a count of five.”

Estel tried to comply, wondering when they would get to the important matter, but Adar only began to count. It was difficult at first but after half a dozen breaths Estel found that his body began to relax and he had to remind himself to stand tall. All the while, Elrond counted softly. “Do not tense your shoulders. Let your hands relax. Good. That is much better.”

Elrond took a step forward so that Estel could see him and stretched his arms out to the side at shoulder height. “Now I want you to follow me. Breathe in as you lift your arms up above your head and out as you bring your hands back down to your waist.”

For a strenuous hour Elrond took Estel through the figures and still they had not put together more than a dozen moves, for the teacher insisted that his pupil perfect each before moving on. When Elrond finally called a halt Estel's clothes were damp with perspiration and his knees were wobbling. Adar led him to a bench at the side of the room and handed him a towel. Elrond was as cool and dry as could be, despite having gone through all the moves many more times than his pupil. He folded his arms as he watched Estel scrub at his face with the towel.

“It is not as easy as it first appears, is it?”

“No, Adar. But I still don't see how it will help me to fight.”

Elrond sighed, reaching above Estel's head to pluck a wooden practice sword from the wall. “Like this,” he replied simply. Without further word he took up position in the circle and drew several slow breaths. Then he began to move, slowly at first as he put together several of the moves Estel had just been taught, then more swiftly, until he was scarcely more than a whirling blur in the boy's astonished gaze.

At the end Elrond stood, still as a statue for several moments, and with not one bead of perspiration upon his high brow. Now he reached out to replace the wooden practice blade. “When you have mastered all of this exercise I may instruct Glorfindel to allow you to practice with a wooden blade. Meanwhile, I believe you are overdue for a conversation with your Mama.”

With those words, Elrond scooped up his outer robe from the bench and left the chamber with not one backward glance. It was unusual for Adar to be so brusque but Estel put it down to some lingering pain.

Estel followed at a much slower pace, caused not only by the tiredness of his limbs. The interview with Mama was not something he looked forward to. There had been times in the past when he had bent a promise but he could not remember ever having broken one so clearly and it left an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of his stomach.


Gilraen looked up from her embroidery in time to see her son step into their shared sitting room. Having been forewarned by Elrond, the set of her son's shoulders and downcast gaze were not unexpected and she set aside her work. She waited patiently as he crossed the room to stand before her, hands clasped behind his back in unconscious imitation of his Adar. When he did not speak, his Mama coaxed, “Well, Estel? What do you need to tell me?”

Estel met her gaze for only a second before resuming his study of an exquisitely patterned rug under his feet. “I didn't mean to be naughty but I was curious.”

“Curious about what?”

Estel circled one booted foot. “I went to the Warrior's Hall,” he confessed in a whisper. “I was very quiet and I made sure that I had finished all my lessons first,” he added in qualification.

Gilraen's face took on a stern cast. She set few rules for her son but, in her eyes, he was still too young to have anything to do with fighting. She had acquiesced to her child's pleas only when left with no alternative, so she was not inclined to make this easy for him. “I do not recall saying that you must finish your lessons or that you should be quiet. I do recall getting a promise from you not to enter the Warrior's Hall. On that both I and your Adar were very clear.”

Estel's grey gaze began to shimmer with as yet unshed tears. “I am sorry, Mama. I won't do it again unless you or Adar or Glorfindel tell me I can. I promise.”

Gilraen was not about to let him off the hook so simply. “You made that promise the last time that we spoke upon this matter, and now you have broken it. How am I to trust your promise now?”

A tear trickled down one small flushed cheek. “I don't know, Mama.” Estel sniffled as he tried to hold back a sudden flood of tears. He could not recall ever having felt so wretched. It was worse than being sick because at least being sick was not his fault. Now he was discovering that to break ones word had very serious consequences. Would his Mama ever let him out of her sight again? Would his heart ever feel clean again?

“I'm so sorry, Mama. What can I do to make it right? Please?” he pleaded as he began to sob.

Gilraen held out a hanky. “This is where you learn another lesson. There is nothing that you can do to make it right in this situation. The next action must be mine. I either never trust your word again or I forgive you.”

Estel accepted the hanky and swiped at his flushed cheeks. “What will you do, Mama? Please forgive me. I really won't break my promise ever again.”

Noting the anguish in his face Gilraen capitulated. “You are forgiven.” She held out her arms and Estel rushed in to lay his head upon her lap and wrap his arms about her waist.

“Thank you, Mama.”

Gilraen combed fingers through his sweaty curls. “I love you, sweetheart. I could only forgive you. But I hope you have learned an important lesson today. If you break your word it is forever worthless in the eyes of some.”

Estel's face was still buried in his Mama's lap so his words were somewhat muffled. “Yes Mama. I will remember.”

Setting a gentle hand beneath his chin, Gilraen lifted his head so that their eyes could meet. “I know and love you, so you are forgiven and we will put this behind us, but as you grow up others may have to put their trust in your word. In truth, as a leader, your word will be more important than your sword.”

“I understand, Mama.”

Now Gilraen dabbed at his eyes. “Yes, I think that you do but you have someone else to apologise to. Lord Elrond also asked for your promise. You had better hope that he is as forgiving as I.”

Estel's heart sank. Adar had said nothing of the promise but now that Mama mentioned it he realised that he really should make a formal apology. “Can I go and find him?”

Gilraen nodded. “Wash your hands and face first. You will probably find him in his private study at this hour.”


“Come in, Estel. I have been expecting you.” Elrond set down his pen and sanded the document he had just signed. Then he leaned back in his chair as Celeg leapt nimbly from his lap.

Estel approached with downcast gaze and had to swallow several times before he spoke. “I've come to apologise, Lord Elrond.”

The honorific got Elrond's attention at once. “Go on,” he coaxed.

In truth, Estel had been hoping that his first words would be sufficient but it seemed Adar wanted something more formal. Straightening his back and squaring his shoulders, Estel tried to meet his Adar's steely gaze but his voice quavered when he spoke again. “I apologise for breaking my promise, by entering the Warrior's Hall. Please forgive me?”

“I have already forgiven you in my heart, child, but it pleases me that you recognised the need to make your formal apology.” He arose and came around the huge desk to stand before his heart-son. Then, to Estel's surprise, he dropped to one knee so that they were face to face, laying a hand upon the child's shoulder. “I forgive you your deception and trust you not to break your word in the future.”

“I thought you would never love me again,” Estel wailed, and he all but fell against his Adar's chest to weep upon a velvet clad shoulder. Elrond wrapped strong arms about him, stroking the child's dark hair. “Aie, Tittlepin. Were you to break a thousand promises I would always love you.”


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