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A Light in May  by Antigone Q

Estel craned his neck to see his foster brother, who emerged from below the orchard trees to come to a halt on the stone terrace below. Elladan’s small fox frolicked on the ground, and the crow sitting on Elladan’s shoulder stared at Estel with an inquiring expression, but Elladan himself looked both angry and frightened.

Estel’s mind searched rapidly for some good explanation, but nothing came to mind. “What am I doing up here?” he repeated.

“Never mind that!” Elladan said hastily. “Come down at once! You know you are not supposed to be over the balcony like that! It is very dangerous!”

“Yes, Elladan,” replied Estel humbly. “I will be right down.” This was bad: Elladan, who had a very relaxed nature, almost never spoke sharply to anyone.

Estel began to obey quickly, removing his feet from the rails. Unfortunately, he had cut off the circulation in his feet by hanging so tightly by his knees; thus he wasn’t exactly sure whether each foot was in the right place. Without warning, Estel's legs slipped from the balcony, leaving him momentarily dangling before the weight of his own body pulled his hands from the rails and sent him hurling terrifyingly downwards.

Estel cried out as he felt himself drop, certain he would fall against the stones. Luckily, Elladan was not more than a few steps away and sprinted to catch Estel safely in his arms. Elladan’s breath was forced out with a “whoosh” and he stumbled, nearly falling himself with Estel’s weight.

"That is not what I meant by 'come down,'" Elladan said furiously, and although he knelt to put Estel calmly on the stones, Estel could tell he'd been tempted to set him down somewhat less gently. He stayed on his knees to keep himself at eye-level with Estel, but Estel had no wish to look his brother in the face. "You know better than to do so unsafe a thing! What were you doing up there to begin with?"

Estel stumbled at the prickling in his feet and tried to tap them on the ground to regain feeling. “I am sorry,” Estel apologized softly, looking at the ground. “I did not mean to – to fall.”

Elladan ignored the apology. “Estel,” he said warningly, “I asked what you were doing.”

"I was hanging upside-down off the balcony,” Estel explained without raising his eyes to his brother’s. He hoped to sound as if this were everyday behavior but had a feeling this tactic would not work. Papa had never allowed him to so much as lift his feet off the balcony while looking over the railing, and Elladan knew that.

"I did notice you were upside-down; what I want to know is why you were hanging off the balcony? You were twenty feet off the ground and you nearly fell to the stones!" Elladan sounded furious, not at all like himself, and his tone made Estel’s stomach twist.

"Why?" repeated Estel, stalling for time. He hated Elladan to be angry with him, but he couldn’t stand to disappoint his brother further by telling him the truth. Worse, Estel could feel his eyes start to sting and knew that any minute he was going to cry right in front of Elladan.

Elladan blew out his breath very, very slowly. Then he did it again. “You must never do such a thing again, do you understand? You frightened the life out of me!” Elladan scowled as he studied the balcony. His eyes moved to the little windows, and then to Estel. Estel knew the very moment that things began to click in place for his foster brother as soon as Elladan’s eyes narrowed.

“Estel,” Elladan said slowly. “I cannot but see that the balcony is very close to the open windows of the Receiving Chamber where, I have been told, Father was to be having a meeting this afternoon. Did you notice that, also?”

Estel looked down at his feet, biting his lip, and felt tears begin to slip down his cheeks. He ventured a glance upward, and Elladan’s face had finally softened to look less angry than disappointed.

“Oh, Estel,” Elladan said in a tired voice.

Estel was about to explain that he hadn’t meant any harm: he had only wanted to know about Legolas – and maybe he was a little angry about being left out of the meeting – but before he could begin, he heard a voice through the orchard.

“Elladan, what news?”

Estel sighed in relief as he saw Elrohir coming through the trees; perhaps this meant a reprieve. As Elladan turned his head, Estel wiped his cheeks quickly with the back of his hand.

Elrohir’s fine clothes were rumpled and stained, as if he had perhaps been crawling on the ground in them and then gone horseback riding afterwards. He frowned as he neared the two. “Elladan, you look exhausted! Did not you sleep at all?”

Estel looked at his brother guiltily. Now that Elrohir mentioned it, the faces of both twins seemed very tired.

“Glorfindel said to search the green and the house and the guests,” Elladan replied, rising to his feet. “That takes time, especially if thoroughness is required.”

Elrohir nodded. “Did you find anything, then?”

Elladan, though fatigued, smiled. “After combing the area for some time, I finally had the bright idea of using Laesrusc.” He glanced down at the baby fox proudly. “And the little fellow discovered something.” He took a pouch from his belt and tossed it to his twin.

Elrohir opened it carefully, looked at its contents, then sniffed at it, and his eyes widened with surprise. “For the most part, it smells of the sweetness of Yavanna’s bread. But there is also a bitter odor.”

“Perhaps it would not be noticed,” Elladan said, “especially if someone had had a great deal of wine…”

“Or perhaps it would be noticed after all, and a certain Elf did not want to upset his hosts by critiquing the food,” Elrohir speculated. He handed the packet back to Elladan.

“Whichever way you look at it, the desecration of sacred things can never be a good sign. And then it leaves more questions. Perhaps when Father gives us news…” The mention of the meeting seemed to remind Elladan of Estel. “And what am I to do with you now?”

It was the sort of question adults sometimes asked children who had been up to mischief, and Estel always felt it quite unfair. The “right” answer was certainly not “let us pretend you did not even see me,” though that was what he wanted to say.

Luckily, Elladan did not seem to expect an answer. He turned back to his twin to explain, “Estel was hanging upside-down over the balcony rail so that he could hear all that was happening within the receiving chamber. He nearly fell and broke his neck!”

“Oh, Estel!” said Elrohir reprovingly. “That was dangerous, and neither wise nor respectful of Father’s privacy.”

Estel gave a little sniff. Not Elrohir, too! Another tear slipped down his cheek and he turned away so that his brothers would not see.

“Oh, well, it could have been worse,” Elrohir said with a sidelong glance at Elladen. “You might have been playing dragons and dangling your brother by his heels over the top of the waterfall. Think of the trouble you would be in, then!”

Estel furrowed his brow in confusion. “But I do not have a brother, Elrohir. And I am not allowed across the bridge without a grown-up.”

Elladan was scowling at Elrohir. “Do not be flippant. Think of what might have happened!”

“My apologies,” Elrohir replied with a nod. “Perhaps I am too tired to think sensibly any longer. I only meant that sometimes children can be thoughtless without meaning any real harm.”

“Humph,” said Elladan grouchily. He turned to Estel. “I think you should go straight to the Hall of Fire and meditate on what you might have done differently,” he said firmly. “You should not be eavesdropping and – and being upside-down off high things.” More softly he added, “I only want you to be safe, Estel. You did greatly frighten me, you know. ”

Estel nodded and, taking his cue, turned to go back into the house.

As he left he thought he heard Elladan mutter to Elrohir, “At least I did not drop you.” But he wasn’t certain.


Gilraen and Glorfindel entered the large kitchen together. The usually neat room had not been fully cleaned from the night before. Glorfindel reflected that the cook would be beside herself if she could see the mess – but likely she was still abed, having been drafted to help search the house in the early hours of the morning.

“So how did this vial appear?” Glorfindel asked. “Large? Small? What color was it? Do you see it now?”

"No, but the bottle was here on the table," Gilraen said. "It was about like so,” she held her fingers a few inches apart. “Mostly, it was foul smelling, and I said so."

"Did someone throw it away?" Glorfindel inquired.

"Perhaps. I do not recall any longer. There was a bit of commotion when I spoke, and then again when I tried to help mix the bread."

"You attempted to help with the baking of the Lembas?" Glorfindel tried to moderate his tone, but he could not help sounding appalled. "That is not allowed! You should not have been in the kitchen at all during the ceremony. Did no one tell you so? How could you have lived in this household for five years and not understand?" He knelt to poke through a basket of potato peelings and other waste to be taken out to the compost heap.

"What ceremony?” Gilraen countered defensively, checking through a number of empty bottles for some sign of the vial she had seen. “The women were only making bread - and I was trying to be more social. Elrohir said that I should be out of my room more often."

"Yes, but - " Glorfindel paused in the process of opening a cupboard to gaze at Gilraen in horrified fascination. "did you not understand that the baking of the Waybread is sacred to us?"

"Is it?" Gilraen bent to look under the table. "That makes the reason for the women’s agitation more clear. No, I did not know."

"Only Elven women are allowed to touch the ingredients for the Lembas from the moment they come together to bake," Glorfindel explained, still waiting in vain for Gilraen to understand the magnitude of her transgression. “There is a special order of things done and certain blessings are said, and even I do not know all that happens.”

"Really?" Gilraen asked, bending down to look behind the dustbin. "So only Elven women make Lembas? How interesting."

Glorfindel shook his head in disbelief. "Elrohir is right," he replied. "You should be out more, and begin to learn the customs of some of the other folk who live here. And you should learn more Sindarin, as well. Much as I think other Elvish languages sound better on the ear, all the Elves you will meet here will probably speak Sindarin, and it will be helpful to you to understand what is going on around you."

"Elrohir might practice with me, if I asked."

"He might. You might also practice with your son, and he could practice his Westron with you. It wouldn't do for him to grow up and go back among his people with an Elvish accent."

Gilraen sighed. "It's no use. I don't see the bottle anywhere. But it was here - I saw it. It was green glass, and it was resting for just here, near the wine."


In the Hall of Fire, the starry pattern on the floor glowed with the afternoon sun. Estel, who knew very well why it was wrong to eavesdrop, and who had certainly had a practical lesson in why hanging upside-down from the balcony was dangerous, was sitting silently on a cushion in one corner.

He sighed as he shifted his gaze to the mosaic on the ceiling. Theoretically, when he was sent in for a "Thinking Time," he was supposed to be able to leave the Hall as soon as he was able to explain to his teachers or to Papa Elrond why his actions were wrong. In practice, if he did not sit silently for long enough, the grown-up who sent him to think about his transgression would send him right back to "think" some more.

He was still eying the complex pattern when Ilothuir wandered in. She was tall and slender, and Estel thought her very graceful as she folded her legs under her and settled down, palms on knees, facing the unlit fireplace. A guard, one of the Elves that had been at the receiving chamber earlier, followed her at a respectful distance and took his place in the entryway, silent and watchful as she sat.

Estel had seen other Elves meditate in the way Ilothuir seemed to be trying to do; Papa had once told him that it was one of the ways Elves tried to come into harmony with Arda's song. Estel had attempted it himself for months after, but discovered that trying to listen for something he couldn't hear only made him sleepy, and concluded that he did not feel any more a part of Arda's song asleep than awake.

Ilothuir was not still like most Elves listening for the Great Song. She sighed. She squirmed. She squared her shoulders and put up her chin, then sighed again after only a few moments.

"If you don't like listening to Arda's song, maybe you could just take a nap,” Estel suggested, forgetting for the moment that he was supposed to be silent, too.

Ilothuir jumped. "Why, young Estel! I had no idea you were here. You were very quiet!"

"I am supposed to be thinking."

"Ah? And what are you to think of?"

Estel thought it was not very nice of Ilothuir to ask about his misdeeds, but she was an adult. So he answered, "About why I should not hang off the balcony by my knees and listen to important meetings."

Ilothuir seemed dismayed, though Estel saw the lips of the guard at the door quirk upward. "Ai! Estel, you were not listening to the meeting today? That was very rude!"

Estel furrowed his brow and rested his chin on his folded arms. "I only wanted to know what happened to Legolas. No one would tell me."

Ilothuir's gaze was sympathetic then. "Of course you did. But you must not listen to things that do not concern you."

"It did concern me!" Estel protested indignantly.

"Aye, but there are many things that were spoken of that mayhap you are young to hear. The world is full of evils - you need not be acquainted with them so soon."

Estel frowned and objected. "Orcs killed my father - my first father - when I was just little. I am sorry that I listened when I should not have, but, truly, I already know about bad things, Lady Ilothuir."

The Elf grew thoughtful. "I know how heavily such things weigh. My father and brothers were killed when I was very young. It was long ago, but still I remember."

"I would be so sad if anything happened to Elladan and Elrohir. How did your family die?"

Ilothuir's face tightened. "It was long ago,” she repeated. “My apologies, young Estel. I should not trouble you while you are thinking, simply because I myself am distracted.” And with that, she stood and left the room abruptly, her guard trailing doggedly.

As Ilothuir left, Estel decided that enough time had passed that he might leave, too, but as he rose, he heard people arguing in the corridor and paused.

“Erestor, I am only asking to be allowed to fletch some arrows,” Nordheth was saying as she passed. “What do you think I will do with no bow? Poke someone in the eye?”

“I will not disregard Lord Glorfindel’s orders. And Lord Glorfindel has said no weapons of any kind are to be given to outsiders. I apologize for the inconvenience, Lady Nordheth, but that is my final word.”

“Well, can you not at least give us something to do? How are we supposed to occupy ourselves?”

“I believe Lindir has been using the library. It is quite extensive, if you would like to join him.”

“Erestor, I am a courier, not a scholar. I do not wish to spend my day with books, especially if that day might well be followed by many more just like it.”

“Go find Medlin, then. No doubt he has found some way to occupy his low tastes.”

There was a long pause.

“Forgive me,” Erestor said in a quieter voice. “I am beginning to be tired, and no doubt it is wearing on me.” The Elves moved down the hall, voices fading.

There was not a single grown-up in Imladris who was not in a foul mood today, Estel decided. After a moment’s consideration, he decided the best course of action would be to use great stealth, make his way to the kitchen while avoiding all eyes, and load up on provisions. Then he could go up to the attic where it was quiet, and spend the rest of the day there.


Elrond sat next to Legolas’ still form and watched the last light fade as he leaned wearily against the back of his chair. He had tried to sleep earlier but it had been difficult with so much to worry over, and now he was deeply tired, less from lack of rest for his body than from lack of rest for his mind. He had questioned so many people so many times that he could barely remember who had given which answer any more. And the worst of it was he could swear no one was lying. Probably he was asking the wrong questions, then. What questions should he be asking?

A movement at the doorway caught his eye. Elrond gave a tired smile and motioned a sad-looking Estel inside the room.

Estel moved with gloominess and dragged his feet as he approached the chair where his foster father sat. “Papa,” he said seriously, “I have had a very, very bad day.”

In spite of himself, Elrond smiled at his seven-year-old’s utter dejection. “Truly? I, too, have had a trying day. Come sit with me and we will do our best to console one another.”

Estel clambered into the chair and squeezed in beside Elrond, who sneezed. He took a closer look at his son. “Estel! You are covered in dust and cobwebs! Whatever have you been up to?”

Estel did not answer, but sighed dramatically. “No one understands me at all,” he complained.

Elrond did not laugh. It was an effort, but he refrained and put a comforting arm around Estel instead. “My poor son. Is there some way in particular that you have been misunderstood today?”

“Ye – no. No, nothing particular. But it was still a very bad day.”

“Hm.” Elrond reached over to stroke Estel’s hair comfortingly. His fingers met a dusty, tangled nest. “What is this? Estel, did you forget to comb your hair this morning?”

Estel slumped. “I did not mean to. And anyway, it was a bother.”

Elrond did chuckle a little at this. “Now, now. At least this is a thing easily remedied. Come sit in front of me.”

Estel slipped down from the chair to kneel between his foster father’s legs, and Elrond proceeded to untie the hair thong that held nearly nothing in place. It was fairly easy to comb out Estel’s curls with his fingers, though it took longer. Thick hair like Estel’s was not meant for a bristle brush, in any case.

It was soothing to comb a child’s hair. It was a small oasis of normalcy in a time when so much seemed tense and hurtful, and Elrond took comfort in it.

“Was your hair longer than mine when you were my age, Papa?”

Elrond furrowed his brow in thought. Maglor, travel, war…hair. “It was longer, I believe,” Elrond replied eventually.

“Really? How long?”

“Mm…perhaps here.” Elrond gently poked Estel near the small of his back before he began to gather up the curls to braid them.

“You should let me grow my hair long, too. I bet Elladan and Elrohir did not wear their hair short when they were my size, either.”

Estel’s guess was correct: at Estel’s size, Elladan’s hair had been long enough for Elrohir to tie it around the porch rails. Twice. In very tight knots.

“It is long enough for one of the second-born. I do not know what your mother would say if I let you grow it longer.”

“She would not care,” Estel declared. “She never cares about things like that.”

Indeed, Elrond sometimes felt that if he were to paint Estel blue and place him atop the roof like a weather vane, Gilraen would not object. Nevertheless, Elrond felt himself wavering between his wish that Estel learn Men’s customs and his own preferences. “We will see,” he hedged.

He finished plaiting his foster son’s hair and tied it again. “There. Much better.”

Estel leaned his head against his foster father’s knee and rested there. “I love you, Papa.”

Elrond was unexpectedly saddened. Estel would be with him so briefly, here one day and gone the next, like the cherry blossoms that came in a burst of glory and blew away with the wind.

“I will not think of it,” Elrond told himself. Estel was in the early spring of his life. There would be many years yet for him.

“I love you, too, Estel.” Elrond gathered Estel into his lap, ready to ignore any protests along the lines of being “too big.” But no protests came and Estel snuggled quietly into Elrond’s arms.

Estel sat silently for a few moments before asking. “Will Legolas be all right?”

Elrond nodded. “I believe the worst of the danger is past. It is only a matter of time.”

“Legolas said that Imladris has a wonderful healing air, but he has been in the Halls of Healing a great deal since he came here, hasn’t he?”

Perhaps it was Elven insight that prompted Elrond to remark, “He does seem particularly accident prone, does he not? Perhaps he will be a great hero someday, and that is why he is having so many spectacularly bad adventures. It will make the tale-telling better.”

Estel speculated. “Perhaps I will be a great hero, too, someday, and that is why I keep falling off things.”

It was on the tip of his tongue to ask, but Elrond decided he preferred not to know. He turned his gaze to Legolas and wondered when he would finally awake.

“My Lord?”

Elrond turned to Erestor, who had come to stand in the doorway. He had a deep disinclination to find the cause of the concern on the councilor’s face, but he suspected he would know of it soon in any case.

“There is news – of a sort. One of the scouts Glorfindel sent out last night has returned and – you should come and see for yourself. It is down at the north entrance.” Erestor glanced at Estel. “Estel should not – Estel, perhaps you could come with me and…and read a story while your Papa is busy.”

With great unwillingness, Elrond sent Estel with Erestor and went to see the new trouble.


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