Tittlepin by elwen of the hidden valley

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Author's Chapter Notes:

(And then they went down to the water to see the elves dance and sing upon the midsummers-eve. - A Short Rest: The Hobbit.)


 


Imladris was well into preparations for the Enderi celebration. The three midsummer days were celebrated with feasting and there would be dancing on Midsummer's Eve. From the year of his arrival in the valley Estel had attended all the festivities but was usually asleep long before the feasting was ended. Only last year had he managed to stay awake for long enough to watch the dancing.


Now there were only two weeks to go and the kitchens were so busy that Estel had been forbidden entry for fear that he would get in the way. Of course, that only made Estel even more curious and he loved to stand at the open kitchen window to watch. The fact that several of the cooks would slip him tidbits when his Mama was not around had absolutely nothing to do with this practice. No. Definitely not, Estel thought as he munched on a delicious pastry.


“There you are!”


Estel choked and Faerwen had to slap him on the back several times, resulting in the expulsion of a large shower of crumbs. When she felt the coughing had subsided sufficiently for Estel to be able to concentrate upon more than breathing, Faerwen continued.


“I waited for you in the Hall of Fire for ages. We were supposed to practice your dance steps.”


Estel wrinkled his nose. He had conveniently forgotten that appointment. “I forgot the time,” he offered in his meekest voice.


Faerwen folded her arms and frowned down at the young edan. “I doubt that. You will have to join in the dancing at some point, so you may as well do so this year. I do not understand your reluctance. Lord Elrond tells me you have a light step.”


Turning, Estel frowned, lagging farther and farther behind Faerwen as she led the way to the Hall of Fire. As they crossed one of the many shelving terraces Estel heard laughter below. Running to the low wall, in an effort to find anything to slow his arrival at the dreaded appointment, he was in time to see a large group of dwarves and a tall, grey clad person in a ridiculously large pointed hat, make their way across the narrow bridge.


“Look, Faerwen!” Estel joined in the general merriment around the sight of at least one of the dwarves dropping to hands and knees to navigate the parapet-less span.


His companion frowned. “It is not polite to mock, Estel. Some mortals do not cope well with heights and dwarves are more used to the narrow tunnels of their mines.” She touched his shoulder. “Come along now. Elladan has been waiting for some time.”


Estel obeyed, if a little reluctantly. “I wonder why they're here. They don't look like the usual traders and it's the wrong time of year for them.”


“I have no idea but I suspect you will have wheedled the information out of someone by supper time,” Faerwen replied with a grin.


She was wrong. Everyone seemed reluctant to discuss the matter so, after a couple of days, Estel decided upon a more direct approach. He knew where the dwarves had been quartered so he decided a stroll was in order. He found them sitting upon the lawn outside their suite of rooms.


“Where are your pack ponies?” Estel stood before the largest group of dwarves he had ever seen.


“In the stables - None of yer business” replied two at once.


One who seemed to be dressed better than the rest waved his companions to silence. “You'll get a better answer if you first give us your name and business.”


Estel grinned. He liked dwarves. They never hid behind words. “My name is Estel. What's yours?”


The speaker frowned, his eyes narrowing as he noted Estel's rounded ears. “I am called Thorin Oakenshield. What is a child of men doing living with elves? What is your family?”


Estel touched his ears a little self consciously. “I am Lord Elrond's foster son,” he replied evasively. He was not supposed to accost strangers unaccompanied, and now he realised why. He hurriedly tried to turn aside the conversation. “You only have ponies for yourselves and one for the baggage. Where are the ponies carrying your wares?”


“Wares? We are not some travelling band of tinkers!” a red haired dwarf bristled as he jumped to his feet. Estel did not think it possible but Thorin's frown deepened further.


It was another with a long white, forked beard who waved the others back. “Peace, Gloin.” He addressed Estel. “We are travellers seeking rest and council, Young Master. We have not come to trade.”


“Oh.” Estel bowed to the group. “If I caused offence I'm sorry. It's just that the only dwarves I've met before came to trade.”


Thorin sniffed and offered a grudging, “You are forgiven, youngster.” He went back to cleaning a very impressive looking long-sword.


White beard smiled. “Let me introduce you properly to our company.” He pointed to each dwarf in turn. “We are, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Nori, Dori, Bifor, Bofor, Bombur, Thorin, Kili, Fili, Dwalin, and I am Balin.” All but Thorin bowed with a murmured, “At your service.”


Estel blinked, very much aware that it would be some time before he remembered which name went with which beard. He had, however, absorbed enough manners to offer another bow, with his own reply of, “Estel, at your service and your family's.” He sincerely hoped that he would not be expected to provide individual service to each, however. With thirteen of them that could take up a great deal of his time and Elladan was rather a stickler for punctuality when it came to lessons.


Thirteen. Estel did a quick head count. Definitely thirteen. “Where are the others? There was a tall man and a boy.”


Oin looked up from his whittling of what looked to be a catapult. “Oh, Gandalf has gone off to speak with the elves and the burglar is somewhere in the gardens.” He yelped as Gloin gave him a hefty whack on the arm.


Estel's eyes widened. “Burglar? Does Lord Elrond know you've brought a burglar?”


It was Thorin who stepped in. “Have no fear, Master Estel or Who-ever-you-are. Our burglar only robs dragons.”


Balin rolled his eyes at Thorin as Estel's jaw dropped open. “Don't worry, laddie. The dragon is a long way off in our old home, Erebor. You've nothing to fear here.”


Estel was not fearful however. He was excited. “I thought dragons were only in history books. Are you all going to fight a dragon?”


“We understand he's not been seen in a long while, so we're rather hoping he's died of old age or gone off somewhere else, but if we have to we'll have a go at killing him. Either way, there's things in that mountain we'd like back.”


“What sort of things?” Estel asked, a little disappointed that the dragon was either dead or far away. He would like to be witness to a dragon slaying. It was sure to be very exciting.


Thorin stepped in before anyone else could reply. “Things that are nobody's business but our own,” he pronounced with some finality. “Do you not have things to do?”


Estel was wise enough to know when he was being dismissed. “Of course.” He bowed, determined to highlight this person's rude manners. “I am pleased to have met you, sirs. Goodbye and thank you for your time.”


While most of the others shuffled uncomfortably, shooting glances to Thorin, Balin smiled and bowed. “And I am pleased to have met you, laddie.”


Later that afternoon Estel slipped into the library and made for his favourite corner. There he found Celeg, already curled up on one of the giant floor cushions. She opened one sleepy eye in brief acknowledgement of his arrival then tucked her nose beneath her tail once more. Estel grinned before selecting a book and settling down in the cushion next to her. Celeg rolled over so that she was pressed against his hip, reaching out a paw to kneed at his thigh, and he obliged her by stroking her back absently as he found his page. Her purr revved up a notch at his touch, the only sound in the huge room.


Some pages later Celeg sat up, stretched and wondered off behind one of the tall book cases. Estel considered following, just in case she was up to mischief, but he was deep in the tale of Earendil the Mariner. It was only when a shadow fell across the page that Estel realised that he was no longer alone.


He blinked, bringing his eyes into focus on a set of large, black, boot clad legs beneath a shabby grey robe; definitely not the sort of fabric an elf would wear. He let his gaze climb until he met a thick and indeterminately coloured leather belt, from which hung a very business-like sword in its scabbard, and above that, a long grey beard. Beyond that was the figure's most arresting feature . . . sharp grey eyes twinkling amid a nest of wrinkles and shadowed by bushy grey brows. In the crook of one grey, clad arm the man held Celeg, who looked to be quite comfortable, thank you. Raised amongst elves from a very young age Estel could not remember ever seeing anyone who looked so ancient.


“Good afternoon, Estel.” The man's voice was rough and yet warm, in a kindly sort of way.


The lad tried to scramble up, a task made difficult by him being settled deep in a mound of cushions. He yipped as a strong hand gripped his arm, lifting him bodily and setting him easily upon his feet. He tugged his tunic straight before bowing low to this strange personage. “Good afternoon, sir.”


When he straightened he found the old man smiling down at him. “This lady tells me you belong to her. Were she a dog I would question that, but as she is a cat she is probably correct.” Celeg only purred smugly. Of course Estel belonged to her. This ancient personage was obviously someone of great perspicacity.


Estel blinked. “May I ask your name, sir, and how you came to be here?”


“You may ask and I may answer.” The old man waited.


“Er . . . What is your name, sir, and how did you come to be here?”


“I have many names. Olorin, some call me. Others, Mithrandir. Then there's Incanus, Tharkun and some other names which I will not mention in the presence of such youth, but you may call me Gandalf and I am travelling with some dwarves and a hobbit at present. As for your second question, we came by way of a rather precipitous zig-zag path down the mountainside. Perhaps you know that route.”


Estel shook his head. “I am not allowed beyond the river bank, unaccompanied.” He frowned. “But what is a hobbit? Is it some kind of animal? Adar is very particular about what animals he allows in the valley and how they must behave.”


Celeg purred down smugly from her high perch on Gandalf's arm.


Those ancient grey eyes twinkled more brightly. “Is he now? Then I shall be sure to tell Master Baggins to be on his best behaviour.” He held out Celeg and Estel accepted his little friend. Of course, Celeg decided that she was not at all happy to be passed about like a parcel and leapt from Estel's arms at once to stalk away in a huff.


The old man chuckled before turning away to follow Celeg from the chamber. He called back over his shoulder, “We shall meet again one day, Son of Arathorn.”


-0-


“Left, Estel. You cross with your left first.” Elladan took up his harp and played the refrain again.


Estel sighed as he watched his mother perform the dance steps perfectly at his side. It was difficult to see her feet, however, beneath her long gown. Estel tried to follow his foster brother's instructions.


“Cross front, side, cross back, side, now forward . . .”


Tripping over his feet once again, Estel stamped crossly. “I can't do it! I hate dancing!”


“Estel!” His mother frowned down at him and Estel hung his head, his murmured, “Sorry Elladan,” almost lost in the cracks between the floorboards.


“It's alright, Estel. Try once more,” his foster brother replied with infuriating patience. The music started and Estel tried extra hard. He had practiced this particular dance before many times but for some reason, today his feet would simply not remember the steps, and once more he stumbled.


“I know this one. It's the Lithe Line.”


Estel turned to the door, surprised to find a boy standing a few feet away, apple in hand. Then he looked more closely. The figure had large, hairy, bare feet and his face was not that of a child. Curiosity got the better of embarrassment. “Who are you?”


His mother cleared her throat and Estel blushed, performing a hasty bow. “Good afternoon, sir. My name is Estel and this is my Mama and my brother, Elladan.”


The newcomer performed a brisk bow in reply. “It is a good afternoon, isn't it? Bilbo Baggins, at your service.”


Gilraen and Elladan inclined their heads. “Good day to you, Master Hobbit,” Elladan murmured with a genuine smile.


Estel's eyes widened. So this was the hobbit. “You don't look like a burglar.” The words were out of his mouth before he considered.


Master Baggins pursed his lips a little ruefully. “So I have been told. Indeed somebody once said that I look more like a grocer, but my Mama always said that looks can be deceiving. You should never judge a book by its cover.”


Estel doubted that was altogether true. He could think of at least one book who's worn and dark cover more than summed up its ancient and weighty contents, but it would have been rude to say so and he was now guarding his tongue more closely. “I suppose you are right and I have never actually met a burglar before. Are you truly a thief?” Estel had always been told that theft was wrong.


At his side he heard his mother's sharp indrawn breath at the question and to his left the unmistakeable sound of Elladan smothering a laugh. It seemed that Estel's guard on his tongue was not as close as it should have been. The burglar drew himself up to his full height, which was about the same as Estel's. “I am not a thief.” He hesitated before explaining, “I have merely been engaged to 're-appropriate' certain items that were stolen from my companions.” His brows drew together before he added, “I'm not altogether sure it could be called theft if the items one is stealing were stolen from one in the first place.”


“I believe the discussion of that idea is best left to grown-ups,” Gilraen stated with a pointed nod toward her son.


“Quite right. My apologies, Lady.”


“Please call me Gilraen.”


Bilbo made another small bow and then took a last bite of his apple before casting about for somewhere to discard the core.


“Just throw it into the fire.” Elladan's brows rose as Bilbo Baggins lobbed the core perfectly into the heart of the fire, some distance away. He wondered how a hobbit would fair with bow and arrow.


Bilbo Baggins grinned. “Now am I correct in assuming that you are practicing the Lithe Line?”


“That may be what it is called in your Shire but here we call it the Enderi Ribbon. It is danced upon the mid-summers eve.” Elladan smiled at their guest. “Perhaps if Estel went through the steps you could tell us if it actually is the same as your Lithe Line.”


Estel shot his foster brother a look that would have been frightening in one of more stature. Elladan only grinned back wickedly and now it was Gilrean who had to smother a laugh.


Bilbo glanced from lady to elf knowingly. “Is it usual to hold hands or do you use kerchiefs?”


“We just join hands,” Elladan replied as he watched Master Baggins hold out his hand to Estel.


The lad only just resisted rolling his eyes as he accepted the offered hand. “I should warn you, I'm not very good at this.” He made one final protest. “I may stand on your toes.”


The hobbit only grinned. “I've been stood on by bigger feet than yours. I'm sure I'll survive.” He offered his other hand to the lady, who accepted it with a small curtsy.


Elladan struck a chord and nodded them in. Estel took a ginger step, crossing left foot over the front of his right. Bilbo and Gilraen followed his move so he stepped to the side with his right foot. Then it was left foot crossed to the rear and another step to the right. Somehow it was easier with Master Baggins and if Estel hesitated he only had to glance aside to follow what his feet were doing. For several minutes the three of them wove a line around the hall and soon Estel was grinning as his body began to move of its own accord. He was rather disappointed when Elladan began to wind the music to a close and hobbit and boy turned to bow to lady.


“My, my. Fancy that dance being known here too,” Bilbo announced. “I wonder how that came to be.”


“I think it not so surprising. We danced similar steps in my village upon Midsummers' Eve, although we dance in a circle and call it the Solstice Ring.” Gilraen led them all to some low stools by the fire, where a table had been set up with refreshments.


Master Baggins accepted a cup of elderflower cordial from her. “I wonder if dwarves dance it too.”


Estel sipped from his own cup. “I can't imagine them dancing with those big boots on.”


The hobbit chuckled. “I think you'd be surprised at how nimble a dwarf can be when he puts his mind to it.”


Elladan began to slip his harp into its padded bag. “It would be interesting to enquire. I believe Mithrandir intends to hold off your departure until after the three days of Enderi.”


“Does he now?” Bilbo noted with a smile. “I am pleased to hear that. I would like to explore a little longer. This is an altogether wonderful place.”


“I shall be sure to tell my father that you think so. You are welcome to wonder where you will, Master Hobbit.”


Estel swallowed, licking his lips. “What is Gandalf?” he asked.


Bilbo frowned. “I'm not altogether sure what it is that you are asking, lad.”


“Well . . . he looks like an old man but he doesn't move like one. Mama says that old men have round shoulders and walk slowly. Gandalf walks quickly and has big shoulders. He has a strange feel about him. He's like an elf on the inside but an Edan on the outside, if you know what I mean.”


Elladan and Gilraen sat back to listen to the conversation unfold. Elladan had known Mithrandir for some years and Gilraen had at least heard of him.


“Ahh.” Bilbo leaned close to his new friend. “Gandalf is a wizard,” he whispered. “And from what I've seen so far, a jolly good one. I would have been desert for a troll were it not for him.”


Estel's eyes widened. “Trolls! You've seen trolls? What do they look like? Are they very big? Do they smell as bad as people say? How did you escape?” He stopped when Bilbo held up a hand.


“Good gracious, lad. You're like a pump with three handles. Let me see . . . where do I begin? I suppose it all started some days ago when I was sitting in my front garden having a nice smoke before second breakfast.”


-0-


On midsummer's eve, after the feast, Estel noticed that dwarves, hobbit, wizard and Adar disappeared. He was curious about their absence but decided it would be rude to follow . . . and Mama was watching him too closely. If he was honest, Estel was actually starting to feel rather sleepy for it was long past his bedtime, so he curled up on a cushion at his Mama's feet and dozed for a while.


He had no idea how long he slept but he was awoken by Mama's soft voice. “Come on, sleepy head. The dancing is starting and you don't want to miss it after all that practice.”


Estel sat up and stretched, before rubbing the sleep from his eyes. All around him the elves of Imladris were beginning to line up. Friends and family sought each other's hands to see in the turning of the year together. Faerwen held Erestor's hand and Lindir held that of a laughing, dark haired elf that Estel recognised from a visit to the healing rooms some months earlier. Estel took his mother's hand and they joined Erestor.


Instruments were laid aside but voices now began to hum a soft melody. The air was filled with anticipation and Estel wondered what they were waiting for. Then he saw Adar talking with the dwarves, who shook their heads at something he said. But the old wizard and the hobbit nodded and Elrond led them to the head of the line. That was when the little hobbit spoke to Elrond, pointing down the line to where Estel and Gilraen stood. Elrond smiled and nodded and Master Baggins trotted over.


“I have been invited to join the dance but I confess that all these tall elves will be a bit hard on my little legs and arms. Would you mind if I joined you, Estel?”


Estel grinned. “Stand between me and Mama. Mama is still tall but not so much as Erestor.”


Gilraen made way for their new friend. “You are most welcome, Master Baggins.”


Elrond looked about the room and the humming faded. “And so, dear friends, we once more come to the end of the summer flowering and into the season of harvest. Now Anor runs faster and the stars of Elbereth shine longer in the heavens, to remind us of Cuivienen's shores where our people first awoke. Let us celebrate, then, this special eve with voice and body and heart.”


Lindir's voice began the song and others took up the refrain, their harmonies weaving a complex melody that feet could not help but follow. Bilbo leaned in to whisper in Estel's ear, “Left front cross,” and they were off. Elrond led the way and the stately line danced out of the Hall of Fire and onto the lawns before the house. From there they wove amongst the trees and down to the river, their voices joined by wind and water, owl and nightingale.


Above them the stars shone bright and clear and a crescent moon smiled benison upon elf, peredhil, man, dwarf and hobbit alike.


-0-


The next morning Estel slurped his milk noisily in his haste to quit the breakfast table.


“Estel! Manners, please,” his Mama chided gently.


“Sorry, Mama. Can I leave the table please? I want to see Master Baggins and his friends leave. He said they would be leaving this morning.”


Gilraen shook her head. “I am sorry, dear. You slept late this morning and Gandalf led them from the valley shortly before sunrise.”


Estel's eager face dropped. “But I wanted to say goodbye. I liked Bilbo.”


Gilraen reached into her pocket and produced a small coin which she laid upon the table between them. “Master Baggins called in and asked me to give you this. He said he had no time to bring much with him on the journey but this is a coin from his home. He hopes you will keep it as a memento of his visit.”


Estel picked up the tiny silver disk, with it's circle of ivy leaves around the words, “The Shire” on one face and the legend, “1 penny” on the other. “I wish I could go with him on his adventure. I would like to see dragons and dwarf mines.”


Gilraen smiled as she stroked her son's hair. “I am sure that when you are older you will have many adventures of your own.” And yet, a corner of her mother's heart hoped that he would not.


 


 




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