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A Light in May  by Antigone Q

Light from the sconces lit the room brightly when Glorfindel carried a still hiccoughing, red-eyed child to the dinner table that night. As often happened when guests arrived, the table had been laid out with bright cloth and the most tantalizing feast the cook was capable of preparing.

It was the custom in Elrond’s house that not only the family, but all of the household, and guests as well, dined together at the evening meal. Glorfindel had always enjoyed this habit, but it did make it difficult to slip into dinner unobtrusively. He tried to walk with some amount of dignity as he went up the steps of the dais to sit at the long table. Elrond sat at its head, and Glorfindel seated himself to the Elrond’s right. Elrond raised his brows at Estel’s state.

“A difficult lesson?” Elrond inquired with concern.

“For us both,” Glorfindel affirmed, settling the little boy beside him. “I do not think Estel learned any Westron tonight, but I am not sorry, for he told me of something that has been troubling him. I will be glad to share it with you at another time.” He flicked his gaze across to Nordheth and Lindir, who sat to Elrond’s left tonight. Glorfindel had no wish to air family grievances in public, or to embarrass Estel.

Elrond gave a nod, reaching across the table to touch Estel’s hair. “A hard day, my son?”

Estel gave a snuffle and shrugged.

“Might you tell me about it later?”

Estel shook his head to the negative. He did not want to discuss his unhappiness any more.

Elrond was about to speak again but was interrupted by Elladan, who greeted his father merrily and sat down next to Nordheth. At a signal from Elrond, a servant sang thanks and the meal officially began. Elrond began talking to his guests but was soon distracted.

“Elladan, what have you brought to the table?” Elrond asked, having noticed the folded jacket his son was holding. It moved slightly. “I hope that is not another baby squirrel.”

“No, Father.” Elladan shook his head, balancing the bundle in one hand while he reached for the wine. “It is a baby fox. I found it at the cave. I believe the tree struck its mother during the storm.” At his father’s look he explained, “It must stay with me or it will get too cold.”

Elrond sat back in his chair and drummed the table with his fingers. “I have told you before, Elladan, that animals do not belong at the table.” Elrond’s voice was firm. “If I allow you to bring your fox, then it follows that I must allow Estel to bring his frog or his beetle.”

“Yes, father,” Elladan said serenely, yet eyeing the stuffed quail its silver platter. “I only wish a bite to eat first.” He glanced at Estel. “What is the matter, Estel? Not having a very good day?” Elladan’s coat moved a little again.

“Let me see!” Estel commanded with excitement, misery forgotten, as he half crawled onto the table and leaned forward to peer at the bundle his foster brother held.

Elladan grinned and pulled away one corner so that all present could see the tiny head of the sleeping fox.

Lindir and Nordheth exchanged glances. Thranduil would not have been nearly so tolerant of this unorthodox behavior.

“Oooh,” said Estel, reaching toward the baby animal. “May I pet it, Elladan?”

“Better not to,” Elladan said. “It is sleepy right now, and it still nips. Perhaps after I – “

“Elladan,” cut in Elrond with a hint of impatience. “I say again, you may not bring your animals to my table. Particularly when we have guests,” he added meaningfully.

Elladan drew back, blinking, and took in the two Mirkwood visitors. “I do beg your pardon,” Elladan said, rising hastily. “You must be Nordheth and Lindir.” He again balanced his jacket with one hand while trying to load a plate to carry away with the other. “I am Elladan, son of Elrond, and I am at your service. Do excuse me from the table tonight; I seem to be indisposed. Er, Father, would we have any baby bottles down in storage somewhere?”

“I do not think so,” Elrond said, grateful that his son had taken his hint at last. “There have been no infants in the house for some time. Perhaps if you used a wine bottle and made a small hole in the cork, it would do.”

“A good thought,” Elladan agreed, somehow managing to seize the half-empty bottle of wine off the table as he carried his plate. He turned to the visitors. “I hope you have a pleasant meal. Good night Glorfindel, Father. Good night, Estel. Do not cause too much trouble,” he added, with a grin at the little boy.

“Well!” said Lindir after Elladan had gone, “Imladris seems fated to come by all sorts of strays: injured Elves, humans, orphaned foxes…”

“Not orphaned,” Estel corrected, luckily oblivious to having been included in the list of “strays.” “Elladan is taking care of it now. Papa says we have no orphans in Imladris. It is a tradition.”

All eyes turned to Elrond, who flushed slightly. “That is so. It was my – But here is Erestor at last!”

The councilor made his way to the table and sat at the place that Elladan had so recently vacated.

“Good Evening, Erestor,” Glorfindel said cheerfully. “What kept you? You are not often late.”

“Walnuts,” said Erestor with a glum look, unfolding his napkin. “According to the inventory, there is half a case of walnuts missing from the cellar… Where is my plate? Was this place not set?”

Elrond suppressed a laugh, for he knew Erestor took his job seriously. “I am sorry, my friend, but I am sure there is no need for worry.”  He passed his friend a spare plate from the end of the table, and then the meat and greens.  “We can muddle through the summer on a few less walnuts.”

Erestor, who had taken up his fork to use it on his meat, used it to gesture in a circle in the air instead. “But where have they gone? That is the problem, Lord Elrond, not that they are missing. Did someone miscount? Has the cook used them? Did someone eat them for a snack and forget to say so?” Here he cast a glance at Estel, who scowled. The two did not understand each other well and were not always on the best of terms. “They must have gone somewhere.”

“Perhaps some small animal found the way into the cellar,” Glorfindel said in a serious tone, yet with a twinkle in his eye. “Have you thought to set out some traps? Or perhaps you should set a guard. Even two or three.” Elrond shot him a look, quite sure that Glorfindel had less interest in the missing walnuts than in baiting Erestor into more worry.

Erestor, as usual, did not see the joke. “Well, a guard would not be necessary unless the traps did not work. But I did not see any shells around the ground, so I think it was not-“

“MAMA!” shrieked Estel, nearly standing up in his chair.

Sure enough, Elrohir was leading a nervous Gilraen to the table. Elrond was startled, but pleased. “Lady Gilraen! This is a pleasant surprise. Please, come and sit with us.”

Giving all a small smile, Gilraen sat down by her son, with Elrohir on her other side. She bent and gave her son a kiss on the top of his head. “My Greetings, Darling,” she said in Westron.

“Good Evening, Mama,” Estel returned carefully in the same language. “Mama” had been one of the few words he had retained in Common speech.

“Is Elladan not here tonight?” Gilraen asked, looking around.

Glorfindel shifted into Common to accommodate her. “He has found another animal, and is caring for it.”

“Ah,” Gilraen nodded. She did not feel much like eating, but she supposed it would be only polite to do so. But where was the wine? Had Lord Elrond forgotten it tonight?

Gilraen searched her mind for something to talk about. “What did Elladan find this time?”

As everyone else continued to converse in Westron in order to include Gilraen, Estel began to get bored. Trying to understand the other language was too much work. He occupied himself instead by studying the visitors. They were quite different from the Elves he was used to. Their manner of dress was strange, and they often had an unusually formal manner, as if Papa were king of a castle and not just Papa of the Homely House.

And then there was the matter of Nordheth’s hair. Estel knew Elves found long hair attractive, and both male and female Elves typically had hair well past their shoulders and often much longer than that. Why was Nordheth’s hair so short? Indeed, when Papa cut Estel’s hair, he often had a hard time deciding how long to leave it, for though it was thick and tangled easily, Elrond was loath to cut it off – and Estel was not even an Elf!

Nordheth did not seem to be talking to anyone, so Estel decided to ask her about it.

“Lady Nordheth?” Estel spoke in Sindarin.

The Elf heard Estel and smiled at him. “Yes, Little One?”

“Why is it that you have cut your hair so short?”

All conversation at the table stopped. Estel felt a nudge at his shin, and he scooted back in his chair so he would not get accidentally kicked again.

“Did you cut it that way on purpose?” There was another slightly stronger nudge at Estel’s shin, and he again wiggled to give himself more space.

“I apologize, Nordheth,” Elrond intervened swiftly, trying to catch Estel’s eye and failing. “His age gifts him with a great deal of curiosity.”

“No, do not worry,” Nordheth said. “I do not mind. Yes, Estel, I cut it purposefully. An Orc caught me by the hair once, and as it was not an experience I care to repeat I have kept my hair short ever since.”

“Oh.” Estel considered. Orcs were a serious subject in Elrond’s house, and though Estel could not remember ever seeing an Orc he knew they were very dangerous. “But how did you get away, if the Orc caught you by your hair?”

Estel turned to Elrond, frowning. “Papa, might you move your feet a little? Your foot keeps kicking me under the table.” Seeing the flush on Elrond’s face, he added generously, “I am sure you do not mean to.”

Glorfindel gave a laugh, and Erestor said, “Well, really!”

But Nordheth answered Estel’s question without objection. “My hair was cut off with a sword during the fight, and so I escaped.” She gave a feral grin. “And a bit of the Orc –“ Glorfindel gave a cough and Nordheth quickly temporized, “And a bit of the Orc’s fingers might have been cut as well. That was the first time my hair had ever been cut, and I have never felt the need to grow it out again.”

“That was an adventure, indeed! But, Lady Nordheth, there are no Orcs near Imladris. They would not come in the valley, and my brothers hunt them all the time. So if you wished, I think my Papa would be able to grow your hair long, now that you are here. He is a healer, and I think that he is able to do such things.”

“Estel,” said Elrond, finally deciding subtle messages were of no use. “I think it is time to drop a subject which may make our guest uncomfortable.”

“Oh. Sorry, Papa. I beg your pardon, Lady Nordheth.”

“No harm done,” Nordheth assured, continuing calmly with her meal.

There was a long silence, and then Glorfindel announced loudly that he was hoping to hear some good singing after dinner, and wouldn’t Elrond consent to sing and perhaps have Estel sing a little tune as well, since he had such a very nice voice?

On Estel’s other side, he heard his Mother whisper to Elrohir in Westron. “Elrohir? What just happened?”


Much later, after the meal had been put away and the two Mirkwood Elves walked to the Hall of Fire to hear the promised singing, Nordheth began to laugh.

“What is it?” Lindir asked.

“That was certainly an eventful dinner,” Nordheth chuckled. “Can you imagine what would have happened if it had taken place at the King’s table? Small animals, people in and out –“

Linder laughed too. “Indeed, I cannot. It is little wonder King Thranduil never visits Lord Elrond. He would not have lasted past the fox at the table.”

This set off another peal of laughter from the two of them. King Thranduil was not a bad person, but he did like protocol, especially in public.

“Actually,” Lindir said when the chuckles died down. “I rather liked it. It was not dull.”

“No,” agreed Nordheth, “It was not that.” She paused thoughtfully. “Perhaps it would be a good thing if Legolas stayed here a while.”

Lindir pondered, as well. “Perhaps it would be a good thing for us, too."

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