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Elladan smiled ingratiatingly. It was not that he had avoided the kitchens over recent centuries – he had happily raided the larders whenever it suited him – but this was different. For this he required the good will of those whose days were spent creating the dishes that made their way into the dining hall.
‘You want what, my lord?’ The cook folded her arms over her voluminous apron.
‘Please, Iavas,’ he said, his voice oozing charm, like honey dripping from a comb.
Behind him, one of the assistants gave an undeniable snigger.
This was not going well. Elladan continued to smile, but he felt its edges beginning to fade. No-one could maintain so much hopeful enthusiasm in the face of such indifference.
‘Please?’ his little echo chimed in.
The cook’s face softened as she looked down at the child. ‘You want to cook?’ she asked.
‘Elladan said that when it was their nana’s begetting day, they would make spiced biscuits,’ Estel said, fixing his grey eyes on the tall elleth. ‘And decorate them with sugared violets.’
‘Is is your nana’s special day, little one?’
Elrond’s son kept his mouth shut. Clearly this little one was more than capable of winning his own battles.
‘Will you help me?’ the boy said.
Iavas crouched down to meet the child at his own level and extended her hand to touch his. ‘You will have to wash your hands,’ she said seriously, ‘and we will find you something to cover your clothes. If your minder agrees to deal with the cleaning up, we have a bargain.’
Sighing resignedly as the trap closed, Elladan nodded. As he recalled the situation, he and Elrohir had sprinkled flour liberally over the kitchens, rolled out the dough and spent the time the lopsided biscuits needed to cook in nibbling stolen lengths of the raw mixture. He had no memory of cleaning anything being part of the game. But then, at that age, he had shed his filthy clothing at night to don clean apparel in the morning with no idea of the work involved in restoring one to the state of the other. ‘I am sure Estel will join me in returning the kitchens to their present state,’ he agreed.
‘He might,’ Iavas said dryly, ‘but you will get the task completed much more effectively if you leave him in a purely supervisory capacity.’
Elladan looked at his conspirator and smiled – a much more genuine smile than the one he had offered Iavas. ‘Come, Estel – let us prepare you for the magic of cooking. Your naneth will be amazed when you bring her special spiced biscuits you have made yourself!’ He swung the child into the air before tucking him securely under his arm and making his way confidently to the bowls of warm water kept for the purpose.
Shaking her head, Iavas disappeared into the store room to fill a crock with flour and select the relevant spices. She placed them on a big, well-scrubbed table and retrieved the chilled butter and honey jar before seeking out the decorative cutters that had – a very long time ago – been made for two other children to use to delight their mother.
All in all, she decided, as Elladan inserted the trays into the oven, Elrond’s son had managed better than she thought he would – both when it came to recreating something he had not made since he became adult and in managing the boy. Little Estel leaned over the table attempting to find any last traces of dough to taste, flour in his hair and honey round his mouth, but he had stirred the mixture and shaken in the spices for Elladan to beat – and the warrior had allowed the child to roll out the paste, not even showing signs of exasperation when the dough stuck to the rolling pin, and then let Estel choose which shapes to cut.
She watched Elladan curiously as he moved the child’s fingers gently out the way and swabbed the table down. It would need to be done again, of course, and the floor washed, but at least he had made no attempt to convince her that he should be allowed to escape the task – and the look on his face as he talked with the boy was … She drew an unsteady breath – gentle. Loving and amused and kind – as he had used to look, so long ago. Before that day.
Iavas realised that he was speaking to her, his eyes soft and hopeful, like the ellon he had once been, and she blinked, unsure what could bring such a look of pure entreaty to his face, before remembering both the look and its cause.
‘You can have a little of my powdered sugar,’ she granted grudgingly. ‘A very little – just enough to make a little icing. And a few of my crystallised flowers.’
‘I told you Iavas was kind,’ Elladan whispered in the child’s ear, loud enough that she was sure to hear. ‘She likes to make you think that she is sharp-tempered, but in reality she is generous to a fault.’
The child laughed, too young to understand fully, but old enough to know that he had just spent a delightful afternoon playing with things that smelled and tasted good. He reached out to the elleth and wrapped his arms round her, offering her a sticky kiss and a whispered, ‘Thank you’.
She clasped his warm body to her and stroked his wavy hair.
Elladan grinned crookedly. ‘Endearing, is he not?’ he said. ‘You think you will keep him at a distance, but he finds his way into your heart, whether you will or no.’
‘Children do,’ she said. ‘And then they stay there.’ She looked at him. ‘Whether they will or no – and you will do anything you can to make them happy.’
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