Story Downloaded from Open Scrolls Archive (https://www.openscrolls.net)

Title: Butterfly-Cocoon (#888)
Author: Rous
Chapters: 22

Archive: Tolkien
Category: Alternate Universe (AU)
Description: The Elves find a "human" girl and raise her. She causes not a few problems. Introduces new culture. This is a re-write of my first fic. Reviews are welcome, flames are tolerated. Havetoist, this is your fault.
Published: 01 May 2004
Updated: 14 Apr 2005
Warnings: Pretty much G-PG for violence
Type: Drama
Characters: Imladris and Lórien Elves. Elrénia (OFC) other var


Chapter 1 - Chapter One

I own no part of any copyrighted materials. I barely own my house. I own my own creations only. This is just an obsession of mine that is getting out of control. (Just ask the Dude, who does not get Tolkien at all. I know, sacrilege).

However, any poems or songs intertwined in this story DO belong to me; they are originals. So, if you cannot possible withhold the urge to "borrow" them without permission, at least credit me as the writer.

Later chapters will deal with stronger issues. (Death, attempted rape, ultimately maybe some sex, but in confines of marriage).

Time sometime in the TA. May run until 3021. This is a rewrite of an earlier story. Any similarities were intended. It is a rewrite. Both are posted under my name, but different titles. If you have read the original story somewhere, I hope you will like this one better. I do. I plan on four parts running up to 2004 AD. (Yeah, try to figure out how that will work)!

Thank you to Havetoist for reading over chapters 3- 5 for me. I have been unable to convince someone to beta for me, so she finally consented to check it out. And also to Ingole for her help with the passage in chapter 3 concerning Elves and the class system, and Havetoist for the idea.

If you have any questions about issues dealt with in this story, please let me know. I have read the books and seen the movies, but as it is a very complex world that has been woven, I cannot think that anyone knows everything about it. So, if I have slipped up somewhere, I would appreciate knowing of it. Issues with the vacillation between American and UK English are due to reading too many historical novels. I happen to like some of the spellings (which did not make my English teachers or professor happy) You will just have to deal with it.

Issues with phraseology will be squelched. I find it difficult enough to read the style of Tolkien's writing, I am not about to try to emulate it in mine. Besides, can you imagine actually speaking that way? The Elves developed the languages. I would think they would have had enough eloquence to create an easily spoken language. So, although I have tried to keep it formal, I hope it is not cumbersome.

Outside of a very few words (Ada, sell, Iell) I have used little actual Elvish. This is partly due to the fact that I am not knowledgeable enough to just whip out the words I want. But it is mostly because the story is set in the Elves' world. It would be redundant to use Elvish words when they are already speaking Elvish. So, only a few choice words. Again, deal with it.

I want to thank Marcia, who graciously volunteered to beta this for me. I am not sure if she wanted to do it because she wants to see the chapters before they are posted, or if my canon deviations were annoying her. Either way, I do not care. She has been wonderful and very kind to me. There are a few changes in the story, mostly minor errors, added elvish where she felt warranted and clarification on some points. I would also like to thank Andreth. Any questions I have concerning canon, or feasablitly, she has jumped in and given me her two cents worth. With inflation, I figure she is worth several dollars. As along as I am updating the intro, thank you to everyone who jumps in on the threads concerning canon. Your maddening habit of wandering (and I use that term with extreme looseness) has made for very entertaining reading. So, in the future, wander away. And Juno Magic for her support and unflagging flattery. And to Havetoist for goading me into putting it here, in the first place. And a special thank you to the one who caused this to be written by telling me that the original was so bad. You were correct about the writing, but terribly incorrect about your assumptions. But, if it were not for you, this would not be here; so take it either way.

To you Mom, for instilling a love of fantasy. I wish you could read this.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~





The boat drifted into shore. Elladan stepped out into the water to grab the rope hanging from the bow. He shouted at his brother to come and help him.

“Where did this come from?” Elrohir asked, reaching down and taking the end of the rope. He glanced up and down the shore.

“I do not know, but I claim it and everything in it.”

“Good luck with that.” Elrohir looked at the less than sea-worthy craft. He wrinkled his nose. “It reeks! It smells as if an army of Orcs had sailed in it. It will never sail anywhere again. And if it did, what would you do with it then? You would be the laughing stock of the Rangers.”

“Well, we can see what is in it.”

“We do not have time for this. We are already late starting back. The commander expected us back two days ago.”

“So, shut up and help me.” He proceeded to start at the bow and search the small vessel.

Elrohir started on the other side. He had almost made it to the back when Elladan let out a yelp of pain.

“Find a fishhook?” Elrohir laughed at his joke.

“What are you doing here?” Elladan said softly.

Elrohir tried to look over his brother’s shoulder. He could not see much, but gasped when Elladan pulled a small form up by its arm. It was hard to tell exactly what they had found. The being seemed bent on remaining where they had found it. It was struggling so that it took the both of them to get it ashore without any damage.

Elladan lay on his back trying to hold the creature. Elrohir moved back to get a closer look. What he saw was a small child.

“It is a human girl.” He looked around for signs of any others. “I cannot see where she might have come from. There are no settlements close. We found nothing in the boat. What do you want to do? We are already past due returning. Arathorn will be concerned.” He laughed. “You should see yourself. You look like an Orc attacked you.”

“Before you laugh at me, you should see yourself. You are not too pretty, either. Help me get her up.”

Elrohir reached out a hand to help the child up. He saw the eyes for the first time. They were an intense shade of blue. They regarded him for several moments.

“Are you going to help me, or not. Quit mooning.”

Elrohir took her hand and stood her up. It occurred to him that she had not made a sound the whole time. Not even a whimper.

“We have to get back. What will we do with her?” he asked.

Elladan shrugged. “Take her with us? We can take her to Imladris. Father will know what to do. He is always taking in strays, anyway.”

“I will carry her, but she needs a bath first.”

The child did not struggle as they cleaned her up. They were surprised to see her skin was lighter than was theirs. Except for the hair and a spattering of spots across the face, she could be an Elf. Well, that and her less than mannerly behavior.

Elladan handed her up to his brother. She squirmed away from the horse.

“I think she is afraid of your horse,” Elladan said.

“And they say you are the dumb one,” said his brother, rolling his eyes. “Just give her here.”

Elrohir set the child in front of him. He felt her lean back against him and relax. A small hand stretched out to touch his. He felt a stirring in his chest. He thought his heart stopped for a beat.

“This is not good,” he muttered to himself.

They rode for the rendezvous with the other Rangers. They had been sent to scout the seacoast from the Bay of Balfalos north to the River Gwathló. Elrohir was concerned as they had expected to be back by now. He hoped the rest of the company was not far from their appointed meeting place. The child would slow them down even more, but they could not leave her. He had fed her and it seemed she would never stop eating. He had no idea how long she had been in the boat, but it had to have been days. He had taken one of his spare shirts and fastened it on her as a gown. It was not pretty looking, but it was clean.

The first night Elrohir had fallen asleep against a tree. When he woke he had found the girl lying next to him, her head in his lap. He looked up to see Elladan smiling at him.

“You make a good mother.”

Elrohir threw him a disgusted look.

It took them a week to find the company.

Arathorn listened to Elladan give their report.

“We followed the coastline. We then followed the river back to Tharbad. We heard of no unrest through the White Mountains. We did hear that something is stirring in the Blue Mountains. However, if there were Orcs about, they kept themselves well hidden. We found nothing of import. Except this.”

He nodded to Elrohir. His brother came forward holding a bundle. As Elladan unwrapped it, Arathorn saw it contained a child. He glanced at the brothers.

“Where did you find her?”

“On the coast. She was in a boat. A rather un-seaworthy boat. If not for Elladan’s curiosity, we would not have found her. She was hidden in a compartment, under a tarp.”

“There were no others?”

“We only took a couple of hours to look, but we found nothing.”

“What do you plan to do with her?”

“We were thinking of taking her to Imladris. Our father should know what to do. If not that, we could take her to an Edain village. I know of one family that would care for her. But I really would like to ask my father first.”

“Very well. You have leave to go. Give my regards to Lord Elrond. When will you return?”

“As soon as we can. Give us six weeks.”

“Meet us at Bree. I want to circle north of the Shire. Gandalf is concerned. He cannot say why, but if he worries, I worry.”

“We will leave as soon as we can get ready.”

They spent the next hour getting provisions and gear packed. When all was ready, they went to Arathorn and bid him farewell.

“I have written out the reports to date for your father. Be careful. You are skirting the south end of the Shire. I do not trust that area. There have been reports of sporadic raids on villages south of there.”

“We have heard. I want to go into the Shire. I know a family there with a small daughter about this one’s size. I think they will be able to help with some clothing.” Elrohir looked back at his horse where the girl sat.

“Very well. That may be safer. I will see you in six weeks.”

They mounted and started north.


****


A Rosa By Any Other Name Is Still A Prize



It took them four days to reach the Shire. They did not do much talking the first day. Before dark, Elladan found a campsite far enough off the road to go unnoticed. He saw to gathering firewood and starting a small fire while his brother unsaddled and took care of the horses.

They ate cold travel rations that night. The girl did not like them much, but hunger drove her to eat them. After she had gone to sleep, they sat by the fire.

“Where do you think she came from?” asked Elladan.

“I have no idea. My experience in finding humans in boats is very minimal. I suppose it could have been a shipwreck.”

“She does not look like one who has spent much time on the sea. Her skin is too fair.”

“Well, wherever it is, I would venture a guess that she is alone now. We may never find out.”

“If I had to guess, I would say Rohan. They are fair. And the hair is light enough, although an odd shade.”

“What would a child from Rohan be doing on the west coast?”

Elladan shrugged.

“I thought we were guessing. That is my guess.” He grinned.

“Do you think Father will send her to the village?”

“More than likely. She will be better off with her own kind. Benerd and his family will take her in. They lost their daughter last winter. I know Mares cannot have more
children. She will be grateful for the opportunity.”

Elrohir looked down at the sleeping child lying in his lap.

“How could anyone leave one so small?”


“Who can explain the ways of Men? Those we know would not, but the world is filled with all kinds.”

“Remember Arwen at this age?”

“Reluctantly. She followed me everywhere. I could not get rid of her. I miss her now. Maybe we can go to Lorien in the summer and see her.”

“If all is settled here it is possible. I would not mind seeing her. Do you think she will ever go home?”

“She misses Mother too much. In Lorien, she can move without being reminded constantly of her. You should talk. When was the last time we were home?”

“It has been a while.”


Elladan stretched out.

“I would not mind sitting in the lap of luxury for a while.”

Elrohir snorted.

“Even when you were sitting there, you would not sit still. You were always restless. You got me in such trouble.”

“I think you have it twisted. You were the one causing trouble.”

“I think Father would disagree with you.”

“We will just have to ask him.”

They both fell silent. It was peaceful watching the sunrise. They seldom took time to enjoy anything these days. There was too much to do.

When the child woke, they ate and resumed their journey. The next three days were repeats of the first. By the time they reached the Shire, they were so bored, they almost
wished something would happen.

They rode several miles into the Shire before coming to their friend’s home. People had laughed and ran short distances with them along the way. The Shire folk seemed to

have no worries. It was well they did not know what passed beyond their borders. The twins hated the thought of what could happen to these gentle folk. They at last came to the
home of Gradin Took.

Elrohir dismounted and took the girl in his arms. He looked back at his brother.

“Are you coming?”

“And listen to you try to explain why you have a child? I would not miss it. It will prove to be too entertaining.“ Elladan laughed as he slid off his horse.

Elrohir scowled at his brother’s back. Entertaining, indeed. He turned and went to the round door set in the hill. Before he could knock on the door, it swung open and a small

body wrapped itself around his legs.

He laughed at the tiny girl.

“Hello, Rosa. Is your father home?”

“He is in the garden. Did you bring me something?”

“Elladan did. Go ask him.” He grinned as the girl attacked his brother. Now he would have to come up with something.

Elrohir went around the small hill to the rear of the dwelling. He found Gradin tending his roses. They were beautiful this time of year. The man took much pride in his garden,
and with due cause. They were the finest roses in the Shire.

Gradin looked up as Elrohir came around the side of the hill.

“Greetings. And so unexpected.”


“Greetings to you also. We had some time and I have a favor to ask.”

“Where is your brother?”

“He was waylaid by a small Halfling. He must now come up with payment for entering her realm.”

“Come, sit down. Would you like some tea?”

“That would be welcome.”

By the time Gradin had returned with tea for everyone, Elladan had appeased the offended Halfling and came around to the back. Gradin set the tray on a wooden table. He

poured three large cups and one tiny one for Rosa.

“How have you been, Gradin? We were much sorrowed to hear of the passing of your wife last winter. How is Rosa?”

“We are fine. She has done much to take my mind off of the last few months. I do not know how her mother kept up with her. It is a full time job. But what do you have,
Elrohir?”

Elladan sat back and relaxed.

“We found this girl on the coast. We are taking her to our father. I thought that maybe you would spare some clothes for her. She had nothing.”

“She was alone? How could that happen?”

“We have no idea. She has not spoken. The boat she was in would not have made it past the shoreline if pushed back in.”

“Let me see her.” Gradin reached for the child. To the twins’ surprise, she went to the Halfling. She grabbed him around the neck and started crying.

“Well, maybe she is a lost Shire child.”

“I do not think so,” said Elladan. “She is too big. I think she might be from Rohan. We disagree, but she has the looks.”

“Wherever she is from, she was loved. Look how easily she came to me. Only a trusting child would do that. What will Lord Elrond do with her?”

“We are not sure. Probably place her with a family I know in a village east of Rivendell. They lost a daughter last winter. I think they would welcome her.”

“Here,” Gradin said, handing the girl back to Elrohir. “I will be right back.”

He went into the house. Within minutes he returned with a small bundle of clothes.

“You can try these. They are too big for Rosa. There is a good lady down the road who makes clothes for her. I think she has other than my daughter’s welfare in mind, but I
would not be adverse.” He grinned. “She is kind and not hard to look at.”

The twins laughed at their friend. Elrohir held up several dresses and trousers.

“I think these will do. I thank you for your generosity. Someday, you must visit us in Rivendell. I know my father would like to meet you. We have told him so much about you
and your family.”

“That is all well and good, but I think it will be a long time before it is safe to travel outside the Shire. There are rumors even here for those who listen.”

Elladan was startled. “You have heard things?”

“There are words circulating concerning a certain land to the east. Not everyone listens, but those who do are worried.”

“We thought you were well insulated against such rumors.”

“They manage to seep in. Do not worry. Not all listen or believe. It is fortunate. It is also fortunate that a few do. Ignorance will kill as surely as a blade.”

“That is an odd philosophy for a Shire man.”

“I admit that it is, but I am in a minority. Most are concerned with the daily living of life. Other than Rosa and my roses, I have little else to fill my days. So I listen. I hear all
sorts of things. I heard a tale the other day about a people from the far east. They are settled in the White Mountains south and west of here. They have had dealings with few. A
very tight and suspicious lot. Strange customs. You may want to check there for missing persons.”

Elrohir looked down at the child who had climbed back in his lap.

“That is a great distance from Balfalos. How do explain the appearance of so small a child so far from there?”

“I am not explaining anything. I am repeating what I have heard. It may be best to forget what I have said. If they lost a girl child, she can only be better off. What little I
have heard suggests their women are used mainly for chattel. Little status and no rights. I can only think she might fare better anywhere else.”

“Father will know best what to do. I wish she would speak. Even if only her name. I would like something more than child or girl.”

Rosa came over to Elrohir. She took the girl’s hand and pulled her from his lap. They went into the house. The adults sat and drank their tea. Before long they were startled
by the sound of giggles coming from the house. When they emerged, both girls were smiling and wearing Gradin’s shoes. The men laughed at the young ones trying to walk in boots that went well above their knees. The joy on the girl’s face transformed her into a very pretty sight.

“Ela taught me a new game,” said Rosa.

“Who did?” asked Elladan.


“Ela. She likes shoes.”

“Is that her name?”

“Of course, silly. My name is Rosa.”

“Ela,” Elrohir said. He was rewarded with a look from the child.

“How did you get her name, Rosa?”

“She told me.”

“The unknown language of children,” interjected Gradin. “They will speak to each other when to no one else.”

Elrohir switched to the Westron tongue and spoke to the girl. She tilted her head at him in confusion. He then switched to Elvish. She seemed to be sorting through what he
said. Suddenly, she smiled and nodded. She understood some form of the tongue of Elves.

“I guess our trip into the Shire was more than luck. Thank you for your help, Gradin. We must be getting on. We have only six weeks to get back to Bree.”

He turned to Rosa. “Thank you for your help. Now we can call her by her name.”

“You are welcome,” Rosa said, very solemnly. “Good hunting. May butterflies always tumble your tummy.”

Elrohir glanced at Gradin.

“Her own farewell. She made that up after tumbling down a hill. She said it felt good, so she did it all afternoon. You are lucky. She only says it to those she really likes.”

“Well, Lady Rosa, I will look for butterflies everywhere. When I see one, I will remember you and your blessing.”

He turned and started around the hill. Ela ran up and grabbed his hand. He looked down in surprise. He glanced back at Elladan. His brother was grinning like a besotted
Man.

“Mother.”

They were met by Gradin, who had gone through the house. He handed Elladan a sack.

“You might find she likes these better than travel food. It is some of Rosa’s favorite pastries and bread. There is also some cheese. Remember this, children get fussy when
tired. Do not overdo it with her. Let her decide when you stop.”

“Thank you for the food, and the advice. Also for the clothing and news. And you remember the butterflies.”

Gradin laughed.

“Come again. I enjoy our visits. The Elves do not come into the Shire much anymore. You are all missed. I value and cherish our friendship.”

“As do we. We will come any chance we get. And do not forget about our invitation. You would be most welcome in Rivendell.”

“I will think on it. Come, Rosa. It is naptime. I feel tired.”

The brothers laughed at him as they each gave Rosa a hug and she planted a kiss on each one. When Elladan put her down, she ran to her father.

“Goodbye, Ela. Remember the butterflies.”

Ela nodded and turned to Elrohir. He picked her up and put her on the horse, then climbed up after her. When Elladan was mounted, they turned north to catch the Great
East Road. They would make better time staying on the main roads than going cross-country with a child.



****



The afternoon was pleasantly spent riding through the Shire. People waved and children ran after them. It was unusual, but not unheard of for Elves to ride through the
Shire. They stopped in a small wooded area far from any dwellings for the night. Ela had not fussed, but they did not want to give her a chance.

Elrohir slid off of his horse and lifted her down. She went over to a log and sat down. Elladan saw to the horses while Elrohir got their supper ready. They decided to have no
fire, since they were still in the Shire. Ela turned from the food they ate and nibbled on the pastries Gradin had provided. She tried the cheese and ate every bit they gave her. When
supper was finished, she went sat next to Elrohir and snuggled up to him. He smiled down at her.

“Ela,” he said, touching her shoulder. “Elrohir,” he said, touching his chest.

She cocked her head and said “Elf.”

“Yes, but my name is Elrohir. That is Elladan,” he said pointing at his brother.

“Elldan.”

“No, Elladan.”

“Elldan.” she insisted.

“Very well. Elldan.”

“Elf,” she said pointing to him, again.

“Elrohir.”

She said several words the Elves did not understand. They picked out two that sounded familiar. Da and Elf.

“Well, at least she can speak. I was beginning to wonder,” said Elladan.

“I do not recognize the language, but maybe Father will.”

“We had better follow her example. We have a long ride tomorrow.”

Elrohir looked down and saw she had fallen asleep.



****


Must The Past Always Catch Up With You?



Elladan woke the next morning to see his brother looking at something. He crawled over to the log Elrohir was resting against. Looking towards the woods, he saw Ela crouched down. Raising himself up for a better look, he saw she was petting a rabbit. He turned to Elrohir.

“How did she get so close?”

“She just walked up to it.”

One of them must have made a movement the rabbit noticed. It jumped and ran. Ela stood and watched it go. Turning, she made her way slowly back to where the brothers
waited.

Without a word, she picked up the small bag that had held her supper. She looked up expectantly at the men.

“Would you not like some breakfast before we go?” Elladan asked.

She did not understand what he had said. He pantomimed eating. She nodded. Putting down the bag, she sat on the log, waiting. Elrohir removed the food from his bag and

offered her some. She shook her head.

“You must eat something.” He tried again. She picked up her bag and stood. Well, they could not force it down her throat.

They finished eating and saddled the horses. She went over to Elrohir’s and waited to be put on. He reached down and lifted her up into the saddle. They rode out to the
path that led to the main thoroughfare through the Shire. Neither of them said anything. The girl sat quietly on Elrohir’s horse.

“Maybe we could stop in Hobbiton for some food,” Elladan finally broke the silence.


“I really did not intend to go that far north, but we may have no choice. Unless we can find something before then.”

“Elf?” Elrohir almost missed the soft word.

“Yes, Ela?”

She patted the horse. A string of nonsensical words came from her.

“Horse,” he said.

She repeated the word several times. Getting a response from her, the twins were reluctant to let her lapse back into silence. They kept up the word game for several miles.

It was almost noon when they came to a small cluster of buildings. Without a word, they stopped their horses and surveyed the tiny village. A woman leaving one of the houses finally
decided them. Slowly approaching, Elladan called out a greeting. She glanced up at the strangers and smiled.

“Well, hello and welcome you are. Don’t see many of your kind ’round these parts anymore. Fritzi, come here. See who’s come a visiting.”

A man came from around the back of the dwelling. He also smiled to see the Elves.

“Welcome, welcome. What can we do for you?”

“Thank you for the kind welcome, sir. We would like to buy some food. It seems our small companion does not care for the hard and tasteless food of the traveler.”

“I can’t say as I blame her. Come, we can help you.”

They dismounted and Elrohir lifted Ela down from the horse. She walked up to the woman and looked up at her. Something in the child’s eyes must have spoken to the
Halfling; she took the girl’s hand.

“We will be back. Seems she has a need.”

The twins looked at each other. Why had they not thought of that? How long would she have kept going?

“Come ’round back,” said the man. “I think you will be more comfortable out there in the garden. House was built for wee folk. By the by, name’s Fritzi, wife is Meri.”

“My name is Elrohir and this is my brother, Elladan. Thank you for your kindness.”

“Think nothing of it. We do not get many visitors here. How far do you go?”

“We are going to Imaladris. That is where our father lives.”

“Imladris. That is one beautiful city. Don’t care for the mountains, myself, but if I did, that is the place to live.”

“You have been there?”

“Years ago. I went at the behest of Gandalf. He needed messages and such taken to Lord Elrond. I was free at the time, so a couple of friends and I offered to go. A most
gracious and generous host, he was. I could never repay him for his kindness to us. I would wish all people were like him.”

The brothers grinned at each other.

“I think we may know of a way to repay him. He is our father.”

“You don’t say. Well, fancy that. I did not know he had children, other than the girl.”

“We travel much. Right now we are with the Rangers. We are taking time to deliver this girl to Lord Elrond.”

He glanced at the door as his wife came out, carrying a tray of sandwiches and drinks. The girl followed her.

“Meri, these gentlemen are going to Imladris. Their father is Lord Elrond.”

“Oh, that is grand. I love to hear him tell of the magnificent city there.”

She handed each of them a plate of food and a mug of cider.

“I hope this meets your needs. It is all I have prepared.”

“This will do fine. We had breakfast, but the child would not eat.” They all turned to see her devouring her sandwich. She picked the mug up and sipped the liquid. Deciding
that it would not hurt her, she drank all of the cider. She did not ask for more, but when Meri gave her more food and drink, she ate all of that, also.

“She does have an appetite,” said Fritzi.

“When she likes the food.”

“How is it you are traveling with such a small one, and human at that?”

Between the two of them, they told the story once again. Meri clucked her tongue.

“Such a sad tale. No one to care for her.”

“I know a family that will take her in. If my father chooses not to keep her in Imladris,” said Elrohir. He looked over at Ela. She sat on the ground, playing with some clay
pots.

“I will be back,” said Meri. She went into the house. Ten minutes later, she returned with a knapsack. She had a pile of things in her arms.

“Come here, child,” she said. Ela immediately rose and came to her. Mari held up a couple of dresses and tunics. There was also a small pair of soft-soled boots. She had
even found a rag doll.

“There were our daughter’s. As she had three sons, they are of no use. I have also packed some cheese and fruit for her. There are some pastries and bread.”

“How can we repay your kindness?”

“It is not you who are paying us, we are repaying your father.”

“We thank you. I will be sure to mention you to him. We must go now. Again thank you for your hospitality.”

“We are glad to be able to help.”

They all walked around to the front of the house. Elrohir went to get Ela, but she ran back and gave Fritzi a hug, then Meri.

She rambled off some words. They managed to pick out ‘butterflies’ and ‘tummy’.

“I see she has met Rosa.”

“We stopped there yesterday. Graden is a good friend.”

“He is indeed that.”

Elrohir managed to get Ela on the horse and swung up after her. Elladan took the knapsack and placed it on his saddle. They turned and waved farewell to the Halflings.


Chapter 2 - Chapter Two

Chapter Two


And Just When Life Was Getting Boring


The two days it took them to leave the Shire were uneventful. It would be another three or four at the pace they were traveling to reach Imladris. They stopped for lunch and again for the night only. The girl never complained. Their word game was giving her quite an extensive vocabulary. Not that she used it much. She seemed to be storing the words. She only spoke when spoken to and it was usually peppered with words they did not understand. She seemed to understand more of what they were feeling, rather than what they said.

When they were a good distance from the Shire, Elladan silently turned back and disappeared for several hours. When he rejoined his brother, he seemed agitated.

“Calm down, brother,” cautioned Elrohir. “You know she picks up on your emotions. What is it?”

Giving himself several minutes, he replied, “We have a shadow. I do not know who or what yet, but they are back there.”

“We are still a day out of Imladris. How many are there?”

“At least five or six. We may be able to outrun them, but we cannot fight with the child.”

“Then we will have to move it along.” He gave his horse a slight kick in the sides. Before long they were moving at a slow canter. They had gone for three hours when he felt
the girl start to fidget slightly.

“We need to stop soon. Ela is tired and we need to eat.”

Elladan looked behind them. The way was straight and flat with no trees to hinder his view. He saw nothing.

“You go ahead and see to her. I have the trail food. I will go back and watch. Here.” He threw the bag containing her food and clothes at Elrohir. They rode on while Elladan
dropped back. Ela glanced back around Elrohir. She looked up at him.

“Elldan? Where does he go?”

“He is just riding back a ways. Do not worry. Come, we will stop up by that tree and eat.”

Reaching their goal, he dismounted. He got Ela down and hurriedly fixed her a sandwich and poured water into a small metal cup Meri had given her. She ate and then
disappeared into the bushes. Elrohir gathered up their things and repacked them. After several minutes, he decided to go get her. She came out and went to him. He picked her and
put her on the horse. He had just mounted when Elladan came riding up.

“We ride. They have the scent and have picked up the pace.” He grabbed the bag his brother threw at him. They rode at a hard canter. Elladan dropped back once more.
Ten minutes later, he caught up with them.


“The chase is on. Pick it up, brother.” Elrohir kicked his horse again and the animal shifted into a fast, hard run. They were just shy of the foothills leading into the Misty
Mountains. He clucked his tongue at the horse; if possible, they were going faster. He reached the start of the hills surrounding Imladris. Still riding hard, they came to the pass
through the hills. He slowed the horse down to a walk. They could not run down the other side of the pass. He let the horse pick its way down. The sheer drop on one side and the
mountain face on the other left no room to maneuver. He hoped they had enough of a head start to reach the entrance to the valley. Without looking back, he knew his brother had
dropped back again. He kept all of his concentration on the path ahead. Surprisingly, he felt no fear from the girl. She had her hands on his legs for balance, but there was no sound
from her. He heard a cry from behind.

“Ride, brother! They are fast on our heels!”

He spared a look ahead. He could see the valley entrance and the bridge now. It was only a short distance. He pushed the horse as fast as he dared. Finally reaching the
bridge, he shouted to the guards.

“We are followed. Elladan is behind me. Let none else pass!”

The guards ran to the outer end of the bridge. The enchantments surrounding the hidden valley would keep a wanderer out, but it would not stop arrows flung at a rider
coming in. Elladan dismounted as his horse stepped onto the bridge. He drew his sword and turned to join the guards fanned out across the width of the wide span. The riders behind
the Elves drew up on the trail above them. They could no longer see their quarry, but the Elves could see clearly that they were Men. Dirty and coarse Men. Not those that usually
came to the hidden city. The men eventually turned and headed back up to the pass.

The captain of the guard turned to Elladan, who was standing next to him.

“What passes?”

“I do not know. We picked them up a slow day’s ride out. We have been traveling at a slower pace than normal.”

The captain glanced at Elrohir and the child on his horse.

“I see. Yes the travel would be slow. I have sent a rider to your father. He was not expecting you.”

“Yes, well, we were not expecting to be here, either. We will go on now. Do you have things in hand?”

“I do not think they will try the barriers. Most find them very uncomfortable.”

Elladan laughed. He mounted his horse and followed his brother. They rode for the stables below their father’s house. He looked up at the residence. What a magnificent
place. It was everything the outside world whispered about. Those who had never seen it could describe it just from rumors.

He gabbed Ela’s bag and started up the steps leading to the main terrace.







****

A Butterfly Is No Substitute For A Bull In A China Shop



Imladris lay in a valley below the Misty Mountains. The white buildings that marched down the valley and up its sides were interspersed with long, narrow waterfalls. The effect was
breathtaking. Any outsider fortunate to have visited the Elven city proclaimed it the most beautiful thing they had ever seen.

Its ruler, Lord Elrond Halfelven, was reputed to be the wisest and most patient of leaders. He had built the city as a refuge from evil. It was a refuge now for any seeking asylum.
He did not care if they were Elven or Human. He had offered refuge to the children of Isidur, the last Great King. Even the Dwarves were welcome. It was a place of healing and
learning.

He had been pacing for a day now. Something was not right. He had felt it. For some reason, he knew it involved his sons. It had been two years since he had seen them last.
Even his friend Glorfindel could feel the unrest. When the rider had come up with the news that the twins had arrived at the bridge riding hard, he had sent for his chief advisor.

Erestor had only just arrived when Elladan came up the steps to the terrace. He was dirty and looked worn. He went to his father and bowed his head.

“Elladan, what has happened?”

“We were riding with a riddle for you and picked up a shadow. It followed us all the way through the pass. We only lost it when we crossed the bridge.”

“Where is your brother?”

“He follows. He brings the riddle. Hello, Glorfindel. Greetings, Erestor.”

They turned as Elrohir at last came up the steps. Elrond looked hard at his sons when he saw what his eldest one held.

“What is this?”

“We found her on the coast. We wanted you to see her before we took her to Benerd and Mares. I know they will take her in.”

They told them the whole story, from finding the child to the race for the valley.

“Is it possible they were after the child?” asked Erestor.

“I could not say. There was no one on the beach. We search for a couple of hours, but we had to get back to our company. You know how Arathorn worries.” He grinned.

Elrond’s steward, Erentil came from the house.

“Dinner is ready.”

“Thank you. Erentil, would you take this child to Seldala and ask her to see to her?”

“Yes, Lord Elrond.”

He gently took the sleeping girl from Elrohir. She settled on his shoulder. He went back into the house.

“We will wait dinner while you change and clean up,” Elrond said to his sons.

They nodded and went to their rooms. Twenty minutes later they entered the dining hall, bathed and changed. They had just sat down when their father’s housekeeper
came into the room, leading the girl. They had to admit, she looked much different. Her pale skin was lighter than theirs with a dusting of freckles across her nose and cheeks. Her hair,
falling to her waist, was a color not unknown, but the intensity was unusual. The setting sun caught the auburn hair and sent streaks of bright copper shining through it. Her bright
blue eyes took in everything around her. Glancing at the woman, she turned to Elrond and made a formal bow. He solemnly nodded his head to her. Seldala led her to the two empty
seats. While Elladan jumped up to hold his sister’s chair, Erestor gracefully rose and held the child’s. When they had all sat down, the serving girls brought out the food.

“Well, do you have a name?” Elrond asked the girl.

She looked at him but said nothing. He glanced at his sons.

“Rosa Took said her name was Ela. That is all we have been able to find out.”

“Elldan,” she said.

“Yes, I am Elladan. And you are?”

“Elrénia.”

“Well. That is the first time she has offered any information to us.”

“Rosa Took. Is that not Graden’s daughter? I was saddened to hear of her mother’s passing last winter. How are they?”

“They do well. Graden even hinted that a lady down the road might have more in mind than making dresses for Rosa. I think he may wed again.”

Elrond laughed.

“We also met Fritzi and Meri. I do not think we asked their name.”

“I remember Fritzi. He was very much taken with the city. Said he was eager to return to the Shire, though. I guess now we know why.”

Erendil entered and whispered in Elrond’s ear.

“It seems we have more guests. Bring them in and two more chairs.”

By the time Erendil had brought the chairs, the visitors had arrived. Elrond stood and went to the pair.

“Haldir! Rúmil! How good to see you. Is all well?”

They bowed their heads, hands over their hearts.

“Thank you, Lord Elrond. All is well. I have brought greetings and messages from my Lord and Lady. Rúmil decided that he wanted to see life outside the Golden Woods. I
fear he may never wish to leave Imladris. Lady Seldala,” he nodded to her. Cooling slightly, he turned to the twins. “Elrohir, Elladan.” He nodded to Glorfindel and Erestor.

“Come, join us for dinner. You must be hungry.”

“Truth told, we are. We came straight through.” Their chairs happened to be placed across from each other, next to Glorfindel and Elrénia. Haldir looked down at the child
beside him. He looked at Elrond and raised an eyebrow.

“A riddle. From the west coast. My sons brought her just today.” He nodded towards the twins. They told the tale of finding the girl.

“That is extraordinary. What will you do with her?”

“Put her to bed and wish her good night.”

Haldir nodded at the slight reprimand. He had forgotten for a moment where he was. This was not his Lord and not as plainspoken. He would do well to remember that.
Rúmil had missed the exchange. He and Glorfindel were deep into a story about balrogs. Haldir had cautioned his brother about the subject. Glorfindel could go on for hours.

Elrond frowned. He respected the March Warden of Lórien, but his arrogance did not sit well with him. It may serve him on the border marches, but it did not help him in
diplomatic situations.

“How is your other brother?”

“He is well, my lord.

“He has a son, does he not?”

“Yes. Elldar. He is two years old.”

“I thought so. They must be very happy.”

Haldir appeared to think about that.

“Yes, I suppose they are.”

“Elf,” Elrénia started, but finished with gibberish. Her voice was just barely audible.

“Ela, you must speak Elvish. It might be thought rude to speak a language no one understands.” Haldir noticed that only Elrohir answered the girl.

“Elf, where do we sleep tonight?” She said her words slowly and carefully.

“You will sleep in a nice big bed in a room next to Seldala. How is that?”

“And Elldan?”

“He has his own room.”

“And you, Elf?”

Haldir was getting annoyed at the child calling someone Elf. Could she not remember his name?

“I have my own room.”

“And does Glorfindel and Erestor have their own rooms? And Lord Elrond?” So she could remember names.

“Yes, sell. We all have our own rooms. Some of us even have our own houses.”

“What about the angry one?” she whispered.

“Who is that, sell?”

She quickly glanced up at Haldir. She had finally caught Rúmil and Glorfindel’s attention.

“Have you met this little one before, brother?” Rúmil asked with a grin.

“Why would she think me angry?” he asked, trying hard not to show his anger.

*She can feel it* said Elrohir, switching to Westron. Why subject the child to Haldir’s temper.

Haldir did not see the hesitant hand reach over to his. He jerked at the feathery touch on his wrist.

“Do not do that again,” he said, harshly.

Ela blanched and stiffened. A quiet stream of words came from her.

“Elvish, Ela,” came from Elrohir.

She got down from her chair.

“I did not mean to hurt you.” She turned to Elrond. “Please, do not put me back in a boat.” She ran from the room.

Elrohir ran after her, leaving his father to deal with the situation. He went to her room. Looking in, he did not see her at first. The door to the cupboard was ajar and he could
see a tiny boot. He went and sat on the bed.

“Do you want to talk to me?” He watched the boot disappear. “Do not worry about him. He does not know about children. You scared him.”

“Elvish, please,” he said when she answered him.

“I scared him? Why is he so angry? Ada said Elves were nice. HE is not nice. Maybe Da was right, not Ada.”

“Who is Da?” He suspected, but wanted her to say it.

“Nana’s adar. He was not nice. He said Elves were bad. Will my nana come and get me now? I am tired. I want to go home.”

Elrohir glanced up as his father halted at the doorway.

“Where is home?”

“I do not know. I am lost. In the big hills.”

“Can you tell me your adar’s name?”

“He said it was Gondol, but that is wrong. It was something else first.”

“He changed it?”

“Da did not like him. Or me. He was angry at Nana.”

“Will you come out? My adar would like to talk to you.”

“Is he like a da. I do not like Da. He put me in the boat. I did not like it.”

“My adar is very nice. He would never put you in a boat. Unless you wanted to.”

The cupboard door opened very slowly. A small foot stepped down onto the floor. Another followed. She was out, but still behind the door. Peeking around, she saw Elrohir
on the bed. She ran to him and grabbed his legs. He picked her up and sat her on his lap.

“There. See, no one is angry at you.”

“HE is.”

“No he is not. He wants to speak with you, when you decide it is alright,” said Elrond.

“Do I have to?”

“No, but it is the polite thing to do.”

She sighed. “Ada said I must always be polite.”

“Do you want to come back down to dinner?”

“No. I am not hungry.”

“Very well. I will give your regrets.” Elrond looked at his son.

“Do you want company?” Elrohir asked her.

“Elf, do you know where my things are?”

“They are in your cupboard.” He went over and showed her where her clothes and doll were.

“Do you want to play with me?”

“If that is what you want.”

Elrond left his eldest son sitting on the floor playing with dolls. He remembered a scene very similar when Arwen was a child.



****

Miss Manners Takes A Holiday, But Comes Back Early





Breakfast the next morning was uneventful. Ela had sneaked a look around the door before entering. Not seeing the cause of her unhappiness, she entered the dining room
and took a seat next to Elladan.

“Did you sleep well?” asked Erestor.

“Yes. It was noisy. The water runs too loud.”

“It is difficult for one not used to it. Does it bother you?”

“No. It is just noisy.”

“May I ask you a question, sell?”

“You may,” she said just as formally.

“What is your age? I mean, how old are you?”

“I know what you meant. I am ten years old. Nana made me a cake last summer to mark it.”

“I see. Ten years old. I must say, you do not look that old.”

“It is Nana’s fault, she says. She is very old and beautiful.”

“Oh, how old is she?”

“I do not know. She always just says centuries. What does she mean?”

“A century is one hundred years.”

“I know that. What does she mean?”

“That I would not know, never having spoken to her.”

“Well, Ada was very old. He said that Men and Elves were friends. He lost his best friend in the war.”

“What war?”

She shrugged her shoulders.

“Some last something. He did not like to talk about it.”

“Do you know your adar’s name?”

“He said it was Gondol, but he lied to me. I did not think Elves lied.”

Erestor glanced over at Elrond. He had agreed to question the child, but she was not acting like a six-year-old child. Her speech was too mature. He was not sure how to
answer her questions.

“Elves do not lie.”

“Then why did he tell me his name was Gondol?”

“Maybe he had a reason for changing it. You said your da did not like him. Maybe that is why he did it.”

“And maybe he just lied to me. Where is the Elf?”

“Do you mean Elrohir?”

“Yes, that is who I mean.”

“He is down at the stables. Why?”

“Because talking to him does not make my head hurt.”

Erestor sat back and raised his eyebrows. He thought he heard a muffled chuckle from Elrond.

Suddenly Ela jumped up and ran for the door. She almost collided with Haldir and Rúmil.

“I would like a word with you,” Haldir said, just a trace of haughtiness to his voice.

“I am not ready to be polite,” was the response as she slid past them and ran down the hall.

“Someone had better curb her attitude. It will get her into trouble,” he said quietly to his brother.

“Yes, just like the trouble you always got into.”

He chose to ignore the remark.

“Lord Elrond, at your convenience, I have the papers in order for you.”

“Very well. I will see you in an hour in the library.”

Haldir nodded and they left.

“What did you think?” Elrond asked Erestor.

“Either she is lying about her age, does not know or there is something else at work. She cannot be ten years old. However, her speech and abilities seem to belie that.
Right now, I do not know what to think.”

“I happen to know that Benerd is away visiting relatives in Rohan. He will not be back for several months. I will keep her here until they return. Will you see to her education
while she is here? I think we can learn much from her. I would like to know what language she speaks.”

“If that is what you wish. Do you think she will fit into a Edain family?”

“She seems very adaptable. I do not think there will be problems.”

“Then I will see what I can teach her. She seems bright enough.”




****

Train Of Thought Is A Good Thing, Unless Derailed



Within days, Ela had explored every room in the house. She had even found an old tree house that the twins had built. She had discarded her dress for the day. She wanted
to climb and trousers were so much better. She had sat down with her doll and some blocks when she heard a noise from below. Glancing over the edge of the platform, she saw the
one person she had been avoiding.

“Go away. You are not welcome here.” He strained to hear her words.

“I just wanted to apologize. You startled me. That is why I reacted as I did.” The softness in his voice matched hers.

“I am not ready to be polite. You should not be here.”

“Do you have to be polite for me to apologize?”

“Ada said I must be polite. Until then, I will not speak with you.”

“We are speaking now.”

“No, I am speaking AT you, not WITH you. Now you will please remove yourself and leave me alone. You make me uncomfortable. Ada said I do not have to do anything that
makes me uncomfortable.” Her tone changed. “Besides, you are also uncomfortable. Why?”

“What kind of question is that? I am not uncomfortable.”

“Yes, you are.”

“No, I am…” Why was he arguing with a child? Because she was right. Children made him very uncomfortable.

“Now that we have settled that, would you like to come up? It is easier to talk when you do not have to look up constantly.”

Haldir looked at the rickety centuries old platform.

“I do not think that a sound idea. Why do you not come down?”

He heard nothing, then saw a pair of boots come flying in his direction. He barely missed getting hit by one, but caught the other one with his forehead. She climbed down,
barefooted, until she was about five feet from the ground. She jumped gracefully and landed on her feet.

“Did my boot hit you? I would like to apologize.” By the smirk on her face as she turned from him, he knew that she was not sorry.

He led the way to the garden in the rear of the house. She followed him at a short distance. He sat down on a bench. She sat at the other end. He saw a book sticking out
of her bag.

“What is that?” he asked.

“A book.”

“I can see that. About what?”

“Geography. It seems that I must learn about the land. Lord Erestor has decided that he will teach me.”

“What have you learned so far?”

“That Imladris is the center of the universe and Lórien is somewhere out in the fringes.”

“Really?”

“No. But it almost got a rise out of you. Imladris is a haven. For anyone. Lórien is only for Elves. The other major holdings are the Grey Havens and Mirkwood. Men are
allowed there. Do you not find that strange? The major realms of Men are Gondor and Rohan. Mordor is of no good to anyone. The east is bad, the west is good. North is a wasteland and south for Men.”

“Well, it seems you have learned a lot. What do you intend to do with your knowledge?”

She shrugged.

“I want to learn about people. Why Elves are good and Men are not always. I really like the Halflings. Rosa was so nice to me. Are all Halflings like that? And I want to meet
a Dwarf. They seem so fascinating. Small people who live in caves. Do you not think that exciting?”

“Let me see, Elves and Men are the way they are because of their natures. The Halflings are very special people. No one wants to meet a Dwarf. And caves are bad places.”

“Elves are not always nice. I have read some of the things they did. They were no better than Men. And what of Melkor? Was he good?”

“Stop!” he said, laughing. “I think you should ask these questions of Erestor. He is a teacher, I am not.

“Do you not know everything? You are an adult.”

“My knowledge lies in other directions.”

“What do you know?”

“I know much of the geography and the peoples of our land. I also know of weapons.”

“Ada said weapons never solved anything. They only kill.”

“I would like to meet your adar.”

“Well, you will need to speak to Mandos about that.”

He looked at her in shocked silence.

“Do you know who Mandos is?”

“He keeps the ones who have passed. Is that something you did not know?”

He was saved from answering by the bell calling for the noon meal.

“Shall we go?”

“Yes. I am hungry.”



****


Hey Diddle Diddle, The Cat And The Fiddle



Everyone was surprised when they showed up for the meal together. Ela bowed to Elrond and took her seat. Haldir nodded.

*I would speak with you later,* he said to his host.

Elrond nodded and began to eat. The meal was peppered with tales of the Rangers and news of Lórien. Haldir thanked the Valar that Glorfindel was not present. He was tired of hearing of balrogs. He noted that his brother was also missing. Seldala asked Ela how she had passed the morning. Haldir sat through her account of their conversation.
Elrond just raised an eyebrow.

When they had finished, Seldala suggested a nap for Ela. The twins left for a foray into the near mountains. Haldir followed Elrond and Erestor to the library. There he
reported the conversation as it had actually taken place.

“How could she know so much of the ways of Elves, yet be so ignorant of them?” Haldir asked.

“One explanation is that she is Elven. I know it seems far fetched, but she mentioned her father did not like to speak about the war. What war do you know of that would
be ‘some last something’ to a child?”

“Another explanation would be that she is a compulsive liar and made the whole thing up.”

Erestor frowned at Haldir. “The things she says are too consistent. A compulsive liar trips himself up. Have you caught her in a lie?”

Haldir thought back. “No, I have not. So, a blow to the head? Maybe in the boat?”

“Again, the facts she has given do not support that theory. She picked up Elvish very quickly. I think she knows a form of it. Not pure, but maybe a pidgin form of it.”

“Well,” said Elrond, speaking for the first time, “We have only three, maybe four months to solve the riddle. Then she will go to Misty Havens and live with a family there. She
will be well taken care of. They lost their only daughter last winter.”

Haldir rose and addressed Elrond.

“We will leave in the morning.”

“Very well. I will have things ready for you to take back to Celeborn.”

Haldir took his leave. Elrond sat back and pondered what had been discussed.

“Do you think she is Elven?”

“Frankly, I doubt it. She looks neither Sindaran nor Noldaran. The woods Elves are disinclined to mate with Men. They place themselves above the Sindar in that respect.
They would not water down the lines. I think it likely that Elladan was right. She probably is from Rohan. She may have misunderstood things she heard concerning the ages of her
parents.”

“I am not sure. However, teach her what you can and learn also from her.”

Erestor bowed his head. He turned and left the library.




****



Erestor looked over the paper Elrénia had given him. Her writing was neat and precise. Just as he demanded. He corrected the few mistakes and handed it back. He watched as she redid the work. He knew he pushed her hard, but he would not lower his standards just because she was not Elven. Knowledge was something to be learned, not handed out on a silver platter. He also knew that she spent too much time in the library trying to keep up with him. In two months, she had mastered the alphabet and numbers. She could write simple ideas down and count to a hundred. Her Sindaran had improved. There were fewer nonsense words included in her speech. All in all, he was satisfied with her progress.

“I will return,” he said, touching her shoulder to get her attention. He went out into the garden, where he had seen Elrond.

“Erestor. How does it go today?”

“Very well. She is adept, for a human.”

“I have heard from Benerd. He will not return for another six months. It seems his brother’s wife is with child and not doing well. They want to remain for a while longer.
Their sons are returning, but I hesitate to send her without the parents there.”

“I agree. The wait will not hurt her any. She is like a sponge. Everything I teach her soaks in. When needed, she knows exactly what is correct.” He hesitated. “Have you
seen her room lately?”

“No, but I heard. Where did she find a cat?”

“She said in the stables.”

“Can you spare her lessons this afternoon? I would like to take her riding. She has been stuck in the library too much.”

“Certainly,”

“Thank you. Tell her we go after the noon meal.”

“Very well.”

He went back into the library. Ela was not at the table. He looked around and was beginning to get angry she had left, when he saw her on the terrace. He saw her playing
with something near the railing. Walking out, he saw it was a raven. He was going to shoo the bird away, when he realized she was talking to it. And not in Sindaran. She reached out
and stroked the bird’s head. He could hear her softly croon a song. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Elrond had come to the window. Several minutes went by before she shooed
the bird herself. She turned, shocked to see the two Elves watching her.

“I am terribly sorry, Lord Erestor. I know you told me not to leave the library, but the bird wanted a song.” She started to run for the library.

“Stay, sell. You have done no harm. Your work is completed for the day?”

“Yes, Lord. I corrected all the mistakes and went on to the next lesson. I do not think I made many errors.”

He gave her a rare smile. Walking over to a small table, he motioned her to join him. He laid down paper and a pen.

“You have done very well. This afternoon, Lord Elrond wants to take you riding. You are excused from lessons the rest of the day.”

“Oh. But what of the one I just finished?”

“I will look over it and we can discuss it tomorrow.”

She was quiet. She picked up the pen and dipped it in the ink. She drew for a few minutes.

“Lord Erestor? May I ask you a question?”

“Yes. If it is in my power, I will answer.”

“Why are some Men good and some bad? And are there bad Elves? And what about Melkor?”

“Wait. Slow down. I can only answer one question at a time. It is the nature of Men to be what they are. Most are good. They live by codes similar to those of the Elves.
They obey the laws. Then there are some who do not believe the law is for them. If they want something, they feel they should have it. The same can be said for Elves. We have laws
and codes. But sometimes things make even Elves do what they would not ordinarily do. Are you thinking of the Kinslayings?” At her nod, he continued. “They were driven by grief. It
is not excusable, just understandable. But remember, at the time, they did not perceive their actions as evil. It was only afterwards that they realized the harm they had done. That is
why you must be ever mindful of your actions and words. As for Melkor, it seems even the Valar can be jealous and greedy.”

“The angry one does not like me. Why?”

“Do you mean Haldir?” She nodded.

“He is not used to children. They make him uncomfortable. He is used to commanding and being obeyed. Children do not work that way. I thought you did not like him.”

“He is alright. He needs to loosen himself. He is too stiff. He needs a woman.”

Erestor blinked.

“Where did you hear that?”

“Down at the stables. When I got my cat. Why does everyone think I do not hear Elvish. I can speak it, does it not mean I can understand it?”

“I think it best if you avoided the stables. It is no place for a young girl. It could be dangerous.”

“I am not afraid. Even the old snake under the flooring likes me. He told me so.”

“You can speak with snakes?”

“Well, no. But he felt like he likes me. The horse in the end stall does not like the snake, though.”

“You were near the horse in the big stall? You must never go near him. He is too dangerous. Promise me you will not go back to the stables.”

“How will I go riding this afternoon?”

“You must promise.”

“Very well. But who will feed the snake?”

“That snake was fine before you came, he will survive.”

She drew for a while.

“Were you ever a child?”

“Yes. A long time ago.”

“Did people tell you what you could and could not do?”

“Yes. They told me for my own good. Otherwise, I would not have grown up wise enough to teach you.”

“Ada was very wise. And my Nana was very wise to wed him. She always says so.”

“May I ask you a question?”

She thought about it.

“I will answer, if it is in my power.” He smiled at her imitation of himself.

“Where is your Ada?”

“He is with Mandos. That is what Nana says. Da was very angry. Haldir is not that angry. I could learn to like him.”

“But your Ada?”

“Oh. Da did not like him. Told my Nana she was a bunch of things. I do not remember all of them. Foolish. Traitor. Worthless. Whore.”

“Alright. I understand. What happened to him?”

“I do not remember. It was not good. But he is better now. Mandos will take care of him. Do you think he will let him come visit?”

“That is a question I cannot answer. What of your Nana?”

“She was unhappy with Da. She cried for days. He finally told her to shut up if she wanted to keep the spawn. What is that?”

“Yet another question I cannot answer. Where is your Nana now?”

“I think she went swimming. I woke up one morning, and she was gone. She told me to stay under the cover so I would not get wet. But she would not hide with me. Does
it storm much here? I have not heard any thunder.”

“No, it does not storm often. Your Nana was in the boat, and then she was not?”

“Yes. Do you have a cat?”

“No. Was it storming when your Nana left?”

“Yes. She cried a lot. She said something about her nana, but I do not remember. Do you talk to birds?” He was having trouble keeping track of the conversation.

“Sometimes. But they do not talk to me.”

“Does that make me a…a…witch! That is what Da called Nana! He said it was wrong to talk to animals. If you had a cat, what color would it be?”

“I think yellow. What is a witch?”

“I do not know. Something bad? So, if my cat has kittens, and one is yellow, you will take it?”

“Yes, sell.” She looked up at him. He was rubbing his temple.

“Does your head hurt?”

“No, sell,” he said, wincing. “What have you drawn?”

“It is a picture of Ada, the last time I saw him.” Erestor was extremely disturbed to see that she had drawn a figure hanging in a tree.


Chapter 3 - Chapter Three

Not Enough Dwarves In The Bureau




“Did you hear that?” Erestor said to Elrond as he entered the library.

“Every word. I can understand why you have a headache. Is she usually so disjointed?”

“Only if she is asking the questions. If I ask them, she stays on subject. This was the worse one yet. What do you think of this drawing?”

Elrond took it and studied it.

“This is most unsettling. This is her father?”

“That is what she said.”

“It seems her da was most unhappy with her father.”

“Are you still planning on sending her to Benerd?”

“I still think it is best. She needs to be with her own kind.”

“What if you find men are not her own kind?”

“That is a bridge I will cross if it appears.”



****



Within another two months, Erestor was pleased to tell Elrond that Elrénia was reading and writing at a level consistent with an Elven child of the same apparent age. He had decided to take her to the village down the valley. She would do well with the experience.

When he came to get her, he found her waiting. She had on her best dress and new shoes. She had found someone to braid her hair. Except for the freckles and the ears, she looked Elven. She took the hand he offered. They went down the road.

“Did you look at my papers this morning?” she asked.

“There is to be no discussion of schooling today. It is a holiday. We are going to look around and see what others are doing.”

“Yes, Lord Erestor.”

They walked quietly. When they reached the town, she looked around.

“Do people live like this? Bunched up?”

“Some do. Where did you live?”

“In the forest. Just us.”

“Then it is time you saw how others live. In Gondor, they live much closer. Sometimes even in houses above each other.”

“Do they like it?”

“I suppose some do. Others may have no choice.”

“I would not like it. I would miss the trees.”

“As would I. Here, wait for me. I will be right back.” He turned into a shop and left her standing by the door. She looked at the different people around her. She saw mostly elves with a few men. There were even a couple of Halflings, but no Dwarves.

“What are you looking for, sell?” She jumped slightly at Erestor’s question. She had not heard him behind her.

“I wanted to see a Dwarf. I know there are some here, but I do not see any.”

“Nor will you. There are only a few right now, and they tend to stay in their own part of the village. They are accepted here, but not necessarily welcomed by all. Come with me.”

He had a small package he put in his left hand and took her hand with his right. He led her on down the street. There were a few who turned and stared at them. The farther they went, the less elves they saw. Erestor stopped before a small dark house. Knocking on the door, he stepped back. When the door opened, Ela was delighted to see that it was a Dwarf standing in the doorway.

“Lord Erestor. What a surprise!”

“Dorga. I have a request.”

“You have a request of me? Certainly. Anything I can do.”

“My young student has a desire to meet a Dwarf. I thought you might be inclined to speak with her.”

“I had heard you had a new pupil. I would be happy to meet her. Come in.”

They entered the dwelling, Erestor ducking to clear the lintel. When inside, he stood up, but still had to watch his head on the rafters. Dorga immediately pulled a chair from beside the wall and placed it near the table. The Elf gracefully sat down, relieved. Ela was amused, but knew better than to laugh.

“Ela, this is Master Dorga. He is here to handle the trade arrangements between his people and Imladris. Dorga, this is Elrénia. She is staying at Lord Elrond’s for a while.”

“I am honored,” she said in a soft voice. “I have wanted to meet a Dwarf for so long.”

“Well, I am honored, also,” he replied, managing to hide the laugh that threatened to explode at her formality.

“Do you live here all the time?”

“Yes. This is my home for now. When my time is up, I may just stay. This is a very good place to live.”

“Yes it is. I hope Misty Havens is as nice.”

“Misty Havens?” he asked.

“That is where I am going. I do not know why, but I must live with my own kind. Do you not live away from your own kind? I do not see the difference, but I am just a child, and…”

“Ela,” Erestor said, forestalling one of her question tirades.

“I am sorry, Lord Erestor.”

“No apology is needed. I just do not think it polite to take up much of Master Dorga’s time the first visit.”

“I can come back?” she asked, excitedly.

“Certainly. I have no objections.”

“Thank you. This is the best day ever. Well, except when I got my cat. Do you like cats? Do you have one? What color do you think is best?” She stopped at the touch on her shoulder.

“I think we have taken enough of Master Dorga’s time. We will come again.”

“Yes, Lord Erestor.”

“Thank you, Dorga. You have no idea how much this means to her.”

“Anytime.”

They left the house, Erestor rolling his neck to relieve the catch caused by ducking the doorway.

“That was very exciting. He was nothing like the Dwarves in the books.”

“That is because you have only read books written by elves. I assure you history from their point of view will differ greatly. I will see if I can find a book written by a Dwarf.”

“Is it a lesson, or for fun?”

“You would read it either way, so what is the difference?”

She thought on that for a moment.

“You are right. There is no difference.”

They walked back to Lord Elrond’s residence in silence.

“Did you enjoy your trip?” Lord Elrond was sitting on the terrace.

“Very much. I met a Dwarf. He said I may come back.”

“Who was it?”

“Dorga. He was most gracious.” The words rolled slowly from her tongue. Elrond had to cough back the laugh. She was beginning to sound too much like Erestor.

“You should go to the kitchen. I think the cook has something for you.”

“Yes, Lord Elrond.” She bowed her head and walked sedately from the room. They could hear her light footsteps running down the hall. Elrond smiled.

“It is good to have a child in the house again.”

“It is good to have such a bright pupil.” Erestor replied.

“We have something to discuss.”

“I thought as much.”

“I have heard again from Benerd. His brother’s wife has died, leaving him with a newborn baby. Mares is bringing the child back with them. I do not think it a good time to burden them with another. I would like to keep her here.”

“Are you asking me as your advisor, or her teacher?”

“Both.”

Erestor put his hands behind his back and walked to the railing. Turning, he looked at his lord.

“There would be difficulties. You have not taken in a child of men for many years. Do you remember the problems relative to their upbringing? The aging differences will be hard enough. There are no other children her age or race here now. How will she learn the things she will need later? I do not doubt our abilities to raise her, just prepare her for the outside world. Others had difficulties adapting. Some returned, never to leave again. Others drifted, never fitting in with their own. As for her, she would receive one of the best educations available, but what good will it do her out there? She is already far past the normal intelligence for one of her age and race .”

“You have already thought this through.”

“I have foreseen the possibilities. That is what you expect from me.”

“Yes, it is. I agree with all you have said. But I think she is already too advanced to just put her into the outside world. She would not fit into the lifestyle of a rural farmer.”

“That is true. So, the best thing for now is to leave her here. She will not be disappointed.”

“Good then. I will inform her at lunch. Will you stay?”

“I have several things that need my attention. I will come back this evening.” He bowed and walked back down the steps.




II
A Sticky Mess And A Funeral




Elrénia thought hard on how to best torment Caldelen today. It was her favorite pastime. She never forgave him for calling her Orc-spawn. She knew what that was. She was not stupid. In fact, she was very intelligent. Most of her adopted people took her size as an indication of her age and abilities. That was their problem.

She had lived in Imladris for five years. She was small and looked to be twelve. Her long copper hair was now gold and kept at shoulder length. It was braided at the sides and pulled back, just like Elrohir’s. She wore only breeches and a tunic, gotten for her from one of the Edain villages by Elrohir. Only a blind man could not see she emulated him at every turn.

It did not help that he spoiled her whenever he was home. He brought her hair clips from places he had visited. He brought books he thought would interest her.

Seldala, Elrond’s housekeeper despaired of her ever using the gentle graces she had been taught. She could sew and had learned to entertain guests. She knew how to behave in a social setting. She could not cook. That seemed beyond her capabilities for now. She would wear a dress only if Elrond or Erestor required it of her.

On the other hand, she could use a child’s practice bow and had a small knife. She could ride a pony well enough to stay on it. When her schooling did not require her presence, she would be out with Caldelen, an Elf child near her age.

Only Erestor could command her attention for more than necessary to learn a new skill. She still had the maddening habit of questioning a person to death.
She had been working on a special present for her adoptive father, Elrond. She had finally learned to stop saying Lord Elrond. She even sometimes referred to him as Ada. Erestor had helped with part of the surprise and Seldala had aided with the hard part.

But, first, to take care of Caldelen. He had put her cat in a box again. She knew that there was only one thing he treasured as much as she did her cat. His bow.

She had crept down to his father’s house when she thought no one was looking. She went to the window that opened into his room. Jumping up, she grabbed the ledge and pulled herself up. Carefully looking to make sure the room was empty, she dropped to the floor. Going to the cupboard where he kept his weapons, she slowly opened the door. She lifted his bow. It was a work of art. Carved with stags and horses. She did not have the heart to destroy something so beautiful, so she took all of his arrows and broke them into small pieces. Leaving them in the middle of the floor where he would be sure to see them, she climbed back out the window. As she turned, she ran into Elrohir. He had seen her sneaking off and followed.

“Ela, what were you doing up there?” he asked. He knew she had done something in Caldelen’s room. “I hope you do not get into too much trouble.”

“Not near as much as he will be in if they find out what he did.”

“What did he do?”

“I cannot tell you. I swore to secrecy, but if it comes out, I will give you every detail.” She took his hand and led him away from the house. He followed her back up to his father’s house. She sat on a bench on the terrace.

“Elf, can I leave here?”

“Where would you want to go?”

“Anywhere. I want to see the places I have read about. I want to visit Rosa. We write, but it is not the same. I want to see Lórien. I want to see the crowded houses of Gondor. I want to see flat land.”

“Is there anywhere you do not want to go?” he laughed.

“Mordor. But even that would be different.”

“What has Ada said?”

“I have not asked him. Lord Erestor said it was foolish and I should not bother him.”

“If I could talk him into it, where would you like to go first?”

“Lórien. I would like to see Arwen. And the trees. Lord Erestor says they live up in the trees. I want to see that. He says it is very beautiful.”

“It is.

“You will ask?”

“Yes, sell, I will ask. Come now, it is time to eat. I would like to be gone when Caldelen comes home.”

“He deserves it. He put my cat in a box again. If we were not such good friends, I would not like him.”

Her twisted logic made him laugh.

“Besides, when Ada goes into the lib…” She slapped her hand over her mouth.

“Ela, what about the library?”

“I cannot tell you. I did not do anything. Caldelen did it.”

Elrohir almost ran through the house to the library. He looked around, not seeing anything amiss, at first. When he went behind the desk found a small pile of books strewn about and covered with oil. They were Ela’s books and Ela’s perfume oil that he had brought her.

“Oh, Ela. What happened?”

“We were talking and started arguing about something. He became angry and said he would get even with me. I tried to stop him, but he pushed me down.”

“What were you arguing about?”

She hung her head. “Nothing.”

“Apparently it was something.”

“He called me an orc-spawn. He said I was just a human. I told him I was as good as any Elf, and better than some. I did not kill my kin. He turned white and I thought he was going to hit me. Then he stomped off to the library.”

“You have to tell Ada.”

“Not me. I swore. An oath is binding. I would never break an oath. Not for anything.”

“Elrohir, Ela. Come it is time…What happened?” They both swung around at Elrond’s demand. Ela was annoyed to see Caldelen standing behind
Elrond. He had a smirk on his face. Erestor came in behind them.

“Did you do this?”

“No, Ada.”

“Then who did?”

She glanced at Caldelen. “I cannot tell you.”

“You will tell me.”

“I cannot.” She looked Elrond in the eyes.

“Then go to your room until you decide to tell me.”

She looked at Caldelen. He stood silent with a small smile on his lips. Not so small that Elrohir missed it. He would have a talk with the boy later. Meanwhile, he turned to his father.

“She did not do this.”

“Then who did?”

“I do not know, but surely the one who did it will be honest enough to admit it.”

There was no response. Elrohir chanced a look at Caldelen. He was smiling even more.

Stooping down to her level, Elrohir said softly, “Ela, you must tell him. It is not right for you to take the blame for this.”

“I cannot. I gave my word. Lord Erestor says that if you do not keep your word, you have nothing. It is alright. I have already dealt with him.” The smirk left Caldelen’s mouth. He reached for her, but met Elrohir’s arm.

“You have caused enough damage. Go home, little boy.”

Stung by the words, Caldelen turned and sulked off.

“I will go to my room now, but I will probably starve to death before the guilty one confesses. So I will tell you now. Thank you for letting me live here, Lord Elrond. Thank you for teaching me, although it appears it is to be a wasted effort, Lord Erestor. And thank you, Elf, for all you have done for me. Please make it a grand funeral. Lots of flowers and cats. Do not forget the cats. And find a home for mine. She will be very lonely. And do not forget the snake under the stables. And I have not been near the stallion in the end stall. Please explain to Dorga why I cannot visit him anymore. Do not disturb me. I wish to die in peace and silence.” With that she tossed her head, turned and walked regally to her room.

“I think it is safe to say she did not do it.” Erestor commented, when he could do so with a straight face.

“I am inclined to agree, however, I would not have missed that for anything. She has a flair for the dramatic.”

“Are you still going to punish her?” Elrohir asked his father.

“Only until supper. I do not want to ruin her preparations for her death. She is so looking forward to it.”

“I know who did it.” He looked at his father.

“As do I. She would never damage a book. And your gifts are precious to her. I will send for him later and handle it. And he will know she did not tell on him.”




Is An Oath Binding If It Strangles?




Caldelen was furious. Not only had she broken all of his arrows, but now he had to answer to his father. He did not see what the great deal was. They were just some books. He did not see the use in teaching a human, anyway. It was not like she would live long enough to benefit. Stupid waste of time.

He picked up the shards of arrows and put them in a box. He had paid dearly for those arrows. He had taken on extra chores in the stables in exchange for them. He thought about all the hours spent mucking out stalls, and walking horses, and the grooming. She had destroyed them in minutes. Over some stupid books. And then to tattle. How human of her. She did not even know to keep an oath. He was just finishing up when his father came to his room.

“Lord Elrond wants to see you. You will change and be ready in ten minutes.” Delandor said.

“Yes, Ada.”

He washed himself and changed into more suitable clothing to meet with the ruler of Imladris. His only happy thought came from the fact he knew she would be in her room. He went out into the living area. His father was waiting.

“We will go now.”

Caldelen nodded.

As they walked up to the large home at the end of the small valley, Delandor tried to explain why what he had done was wrong. He thought he was getting through, when Caldelan spoke.

“I do not understand. They were just books. She is just a girl and human, at that. Why all the fuss?”

“Do you really not know?” asked his father, astounded.

“No, I do not. A hundred years from now, she will be dead and I will still be wondering why everyone is upset.”

“I thought you were friends.”

“We are!” he sounded surprised that his father thought otherwise.

“Then why would you do something so destructive to her?”

“She made me angry. She told me that she was as good as I am. That she did not kill her kin. Humans do that all the time. All they do is have babies, then kill each other.”

“Where did you hear this?”

“From some of the visiting elves. The ones from farther north. They said humans will not survive because they cannot stop killing. Then she says we kill our own kind. I could not let that go.”

“You were wrong. That is not what humans do. They are a very kind and generous people, for the most part. There are some bad, but then there are some not so good elves.”

By this time they had reached Elrond’s home. He welcomed them and led them to the terrace. He sat in one chair and motioned Delandor into the
other, leaving Caldelen standing.

“How are you?” Lord Elrond asked the boy.

“I am well, Lord Elrond.”

“I am glad to hear that. Do you know what happened to my library?”

Caldelen squirmed a few moments, but could not see a way out without lying.

“I ruined some of Ela’s things.”

“Yes, you did. She is very upset.”

“She will get over it. She is just a…”

“Do not finish that sentence!” Elrond thundered.

Caldelen stepped back. He had never seen Lord Elrond anything but gracious. Elrond angry scared him.

“Whatever you may think of a person, destruction of their property to hurt them is wrong. The books did not belong to you. They and the oil were gifts to her. They were cherished. Not unlike your bow, which according to my son was her target. Knowing how much it meant to you, and how beautiful it is, she could not destroy it. Who is the bigger person here? And so you understand, she did not tell who did it. Elrohir told me. It did not take one of great intellect to figure it out. She would never destroy those things. You were the only one with anything to gain.”

“It was just some books! I will replace them.”

“And where will you find books written in Dwarfish and the language of the Shire? Those were gifts from Elrohir and Rosa. They cannot be replaced. The oil alone was worth more than several horses. But that is not what matters. They were worth much more to Ela. They were from friends. Real friends. The kind that are thoughtful and think of her. I think a time apart will do you much good. I have spoken to your parents and Lord Erestor.” Caldelen flinched at the advisor’s name. “In one week, you will return and begin studies with Ela. Maybe a little education will help you understand.”

“Studies? With Lord Erestor?” Ela had filled him in on how hard he was on her.

“Yes. Now you may go.”

Caldelen looked at his father, begging with his eyes.

“I am honored, Lord Elrond, that Lord Erestor would agree to take my son as a pupil. I am sure he will not embarrass me or himself.”

Caldelen’s shoulders sagged as he turned to leave.

“Will you stay for supper?”

“No, thank you. I do not want to add insult to injury. He is smarting enough already.”

“I understand. She is in her room preparing to die because she knows he will never confess. It is so good to have children here again.”

“I hope we survive it.”

“I, too, friend. I, too.”



****



Ela moped around for the next week. Her impending death had been staved off by the invitation to dinner. Her stomach saved her from eternal sleep. She did not ask what Caldelen had said. She just graciously accepted the offer and showed up.

The first day Caldelen was to join her, she was in the library when her appointed time for studies arrived. Lord Erestor entered shortly after she did, with the boy following. She smiled and nodded to her friend. She then turned to Lord Erestor and sat expectantly with her hands folded in her lap.

“What did you learn last week?”

Without missing a beat she said, “Mordor is not the most dangerous place.”

“How so?”

“A friend is a friend only as long as you can trust them. Then they will turn on you and stab you in the back.” She heard Caldelen gasp from his end of the table.

“No, sell. That was not the lesson.”

“Well, that was the message.”

“Why did you not tell Lord Elrond who ruined your books?”

“I made an oath. You said that a man who does not keep his oath is a man with nothing. Ada said I must always keep my word.”

“Today we will discuss when it is wrong to keep an oath.”

“That is a contradiction. If you break your oath, it is not an oath.”

“Fëanor made an oath. It was binding on him and all of his sons, who also took the oath. Was it just?”

“To whom?”

“To Fëanor and his sons.”

“Yes, to Fëanor . No, to some of his sons.”

“How was it just?”

“Melkor killed his father. He was angry and wanted to avenge the deed. He vowed to destroy Melkor. That was a good thing.”

“What of his sons?”

“He had no right to force them to follow him. The path they chose led to pain and suffering for those in no way involved.”

“Very good. Now, was the oath just to the Teleri?”

“No. They had every right to decline selling ships to them. Anger is no excuse for what they did. Neither is grief. Most of his followers only left because they were unhappy. The oath was only a reason.”

“Was the oath just to the Valar?”

“It was their fault.”

“How so, sell?”

“If they had not called the Eldar in the first place, it might never have happened.”

“A valid point, but it does not answer the question.”

“No, it was not. The Eldar could have left at any time. They were not forced to stay. They only used the death as an excuse.”

“Now, take all of that and tell me, should Fëanor and his sons have kept the oath?”

“The oath was binding. They felt they could not break it. Fëanor did himself and his descendants much harm. Melkor was destroyed, but at the needless cost of many innocent lives. It also destroyed the equality of the Eldar. It caused some to think they were better than others. It took a classless society and created a hierarchy. It damaged the relationships between the different elves beyond repair.”

“So, is it wrong to break an oath?”

Caldelen watched her closely.

“Yes, it is.”

She smiled slightly as she saw Erestor reach up to rub his temple.

“How so, sell?”

“An oath is an oath. However…” He glanced at her, hesitant to hear what she may have twisted from the lesson this time. She glanced slyly back at him. “It must be heavily weighed from all sides what an oath would entail. Only then can it be determined whether or not you should swear it. It should not be made lightly or in the heat of emotion. If the oath will cause undue harm to any, it must not be sworn.

“Very good, sell,” he said, softly.


****


“Why did you not tell on me?” They were laying in the grass down by the river. They had ridden their ponies through the meadow and eaten their lunch.

“You are my friend. I knew that sooner or later you would tell them. Do not ever make me swear an oath again. I do not appreciate lessons based on my mistakes.”

“Do you not ever want to be with your own kind?”

“What are my own kind? I am lost. I feel I do not belong in either world. Not good enough for you and too good for them. Dorga knows how I feel. I think that is why we are good friends.”

“The Dwarf? He is stupid.”

“Caldelen, do you really want to make me angry, just when we have made up? You do not know him. He is very intelligent. He knows things you could not possibly learn in even your lifetime.”

“Yeah, like what?”

“For starters, he has manners. Yours are sorely lacking. You have no idea who you may offend. It would stand you well to acquire some.”

“I do not need manners. I will be a warrior. My bow and knives will be all the manners I need.”

“You should speak to Haldir the next time he is here. Or better yet, his brother, Rúmil. He could tell you how far no manners can get you.”

“You know the March Warden? How?”

“I threw my boots at him and he very graciously caught one of them with his forehead.”

“You did not! You threw shoes at the March Warden?”

“Well, he had insulted me. It was the least I could do.”

“I cannot believe your nerve.”

“Well, I was only ten at the time.”

“You are still only ten.”

“Joke if you will, you will not get a rise out of me today.”

“Why not?”

“Because Elrohir is supposed to be back. He said he would only be gone a week.”

“So what?” He still had not forgiven him for the dressing down he got before he left.

“So what? I will tell you what.” She jumped up and grabbed her pony. Jumping on, she was halfway to the stables before he caught her.

“Tell me what?”

She ignored him. Kicking her pony, she rode off at a gallop. Caldelen saw what had spurred her on. Elrohir’s horse was in the paddock. By the time he reached the stables, she had unsaddled and quickly brushed off her pony. She carefully avoided the large stalls in the end of the stables. He saw her bend over the hole in the floor. He shook his head. Stupid snake.

Without a backward glance, Ela ran to the house, Caldelen following. She went in the back and hurried to her room. Washing up and changing her clothes, she ran a brush through her hair. Deciding that she was presentable, she hurried through the house. She finally found them on the terrace. Waiting at the door to be noticed, she came out at Elrond’s nod. She formally bowed to Elrond and Erestor. She nodded her head at Elrohir. She pointedly ignored Caldelen, who was standing to the side.

“Hello, Elf. Have you come to rescue me?”

“Not yet. I have gained permission for you to go to Lórien this summer.”

“I suppose that will do.”

“I did bring a friend for you.”

She turned to the figure coming up the steps. From the corner of her eye, she saw Caldelen straighten up in surprise.

“March Warden. How good to see you.” Her tone was neutral.

“Lady.” His was likewise cool.

“How fares your cloistered realm?”

“The fringes do not sear as does the center.”

The others looked at each other.

“Then may I inquire of your brother? I do miss his smile.”

“He is well. He sends greetings. He could not come this time.”

“Would you convey my disappointment? May I get you some refreshments?”

“Only if you are not making or serving them. My forehead still hurts.”

“I will inform a server that they are required more than I.”

She went into the house. Caldelen went after her.

“That was cheeky. How could you speak to him that way?”

“What way?”

“So disrespectful. I know you. You only get so polite when you are getting ready to insult someone. There was one coming. I could feel it.”

“My, you are a ellon of many talents. First you have impeccable manners. Now you are able to divine the future. Where ever would we be without you?”

“Bah! I am done talking with you! I am going out where the ellyn are.”

“Be sure to tell them you are there. I would not want them to mistake you for a child.”


****

“Tell me again that she is not an Elf. How old did you say she is?” Haldir asked Elrond, with a grin.

“Yes, would you care to explain that little exchange?”

“Long story. An apology not very graciously accepted. I bring word from Lady Arwen and my Lord and Lady.”

“What does my daughter have to say?”

“That she would like to come for a visit.”

“She does not need to ask.”

“She thought it best to ask this time. Her grandparents are bringing her. They plan on leaving Lórien in four months. Lady Arwen thought you might want advance notice.”

“That was most thoughtful of her. Does Celeborn have a reason for coming?”

“I was told to inform you that he wishes to discuss the growing problem in Mirkwood.”

“What of Thranduil?”

“You know their history. That is all I can say.”

“Yes, unfortunately, I do know. Well, we shall be ready.”

“Elendil, will you see to the March Warden’s needs. He will join us for lunch.”

Elendil nodded and waited for Haldir to follow him.

Elendil returned to the terrace.

“Lunch is ready, Lord Elrond.”

“Thank you. We will be right in.” He and Erestor went inside, leaving Caldelen sitting alone. They stopped at the library.

“A visit concerning Mirkwood, without Thranduil. Is that wise?” asked Erestor.

“Not wise, but it may be necessary. If we can help stem the flow of evil spreading out from the south of Mirkwood, then we must offer our aid. Whether Thranduil will accept is another matter.”

“He still will not be happy to hear of it.”

“I suppose not, but he will not come here and I truly believe that Mirkwood will fall before he will step foot in Lórien.”

“He is stubborn.”

“He feels he has reason. We must respect that. But if he asks, help will be given.”


****


When they entered the dining room, Elladan, Elrohir and Ela were already seated. Haldir waited by his chair. They waited until their elders had sat down, then began eating.

“Did you enjoy your ride this morning, Ela?” Elrond asked her.

“Not especially. I do not think Caldelen likes me anymore.”

“Why is that, Iell?”

“He makes fun of me and calls my friends stupid.”

“Who does he call stupid?”

“Dorga. He says Dwarves and men are stupid. I know that Dorga is not, am I? If I am not an Elf, does that make me stupid?”

“No, you are not, and I think that is enough about stupidity. I think I know what Caldelen’s problem is. Are you ahead in your studies?”

She glanced at Erestor. He nodded to her.

“Yes. And it makes him angry that I ask for more work. He cannot wait to get out of the library. I can ride better, also. He does not pay close enough attention to his pony. I wish I had more friends. Then it would not always be just me and Caldelen.”

“There is nothing to be done for that. However, I would say that Caldelen’s problem is that he is jealous. You are further along in your studies and have fallen off your pony enough that you pay more attention to what he is doing. Do you not think this is true?”

“I suppose it could be. I do not care. I am tired of his pettiness. May I go to the village tomorrow?”

“Why do you want to go?”

“To see Dorga. He said he has something for me.”

“How are your studies?”

She waited for Erestor to reply.

“If you get everything done in the morning, I see no reason you may not go.”

“Who will go with you?”

“I will ask Caldelen.” She looked at Elrohir. “Unless you would like to go, Elf.”

“I would be honored. When would you like to leave?”

“I think after lunch.”

“Very well. Go finish your lessons.” Lord Elrond’s tone was clearly a dismissal.

“Do not let her stray too far,” he said to his son, after she had left the room. “For some reason, I feel uneasy.”

Elrohir laughed. “You always said that when one of us wanted to exercise a little freedom. She is no different. How old is she, anyway?”

“According to her, fifteen. If I had to guess by her level of maturity, I would say about ten or so,” Erestor replied. “She is not aging as a human. That again brings up the question of her parentage.”

“We still have no answers on that subject. I suspect, though, that she knew what she was talking about when she said her father was old enough to at least remember the Last Alliance. Her mother is a question. She clearly is not full Elven, if any. I will put out feelers again for information. It could be something will surface. Meanwhile, keep an eye on her. I am not at all pleased with the turn her relationship with Caldelen is taking. I had hoped one her own age would be of benefit. I do not want to see her hurt.”

“You cannot protect her from the world. No matter how hard you try, she must eventually go out on her own. We did. And we were prepared, because of you and the others here who saw to our upbringing. She will be fine.” Elrohir placed his hand over his father’s.

“You are right. I worry overmuch. Go. Enjoy the day. When do you leave?”

“I must be gone by the day after tomorrow. Elladan is meeting me in Bree. He will have finished his assignment by then.”

“See if you cannot both be back in five months. Arwen would like to see you.”

“I think we can arrange that.”

“Go now. Leave old men to their work.”

“I will do that, when I see some old men.” Elrohir laughed as he went through the door.

“I will send letters to my contacts tomorrow,” said Erestor. “It will be difficult to decide what to do with her unless we can find out who her parents were.”

“I know. See what you can find. I will check my sources. Maybe someone will have remembered something by now.”

“I will take my leave now. I am sure that I have an anxious student waiting.”

“Do not keep her waiting.”

Erestor nodded and left. Elrond sat at the table and pondered the troubles that came with raising children. He decided that they were well worth them.


Chapter 4 - Chapter Four

Tea For Two, Or Three, Or Not.
****

“Come on, Elf. You are too slow.” Ela pulled at Elrohir’s hand. “We will miss tea.”

“You dragged me down here for tea?” Elrohir laughed. “We could have had that at home.”

“Not this kind of tea. Lord Erestor says it is not fit for a lady. Even he does not like it.”

He glanced back at Caldelen, sulking behind them. He had not been happy that Ela had invited the boy, but there was nothing to be done now.

She had been up at dawn and in the library before breakfast finishing her lessons. She was taking no chances that she would not be allowed to go to Dorga’s. She had put on trousers and a tunic. So, this was an informal visit.

She continued to pull on his hand until they had reached the center of the village.

“Wait, Ela. I need to go in here for a moment.” Elrohir pleaded, stopping outside a small shop.

“I will meet you at Dorga’s. Do not tarry. We will not wait for you.” She laughed as he motioned her on.

She waited for Caldelen to catch up to her. They walked in silence for two or three blocks.

“Why are you so quiet?” she asked.

“You make enough noise for the both of us.”

“That is not very kind. If you did not want to come, why did you?”

“I had something to do. Do you want to help me?”

“Help you what?” she asked, suspiciously. He never wanted her help, unless it might get her into trouble. She understood their relationship better than he did and avoided most of the punishment that was meted out when he was caught, an avoidance he did not thank her for.

“I am meeting some friends and they said they would like to meet you.”

“I do not know. I told Elrohir I would go straight to Dorga’s. I will just meet you there.”

“Do humans have no sense of adventure? Why do you always do the safe thing?”

“Because that way I do not get punished by Lord Erestor or Lord Elrond. I do not enjoy their methods.”

“They have never laid a hand on you!”

“They do not need to. Their displeasure is enough. There is nothing in this world worse than a displeased Elf. They will not speak to me. That is enough to keep me in line.”

“Soon they will send you out into the world of men and you can do as you please.”

“Why do you say such mean things? They will not send me away. This is my home. They are as close to a family as my own parents were.”

“Never the less, when you are of age, you will have to go to an Edain village to find a husband. There is no one here for you.”

“Maybe I will go and maybe I will not. However, if you are the only offering the elves have, I would be better off with the Orcs. So I will take my chances on not finding a husband.”

He scowled at the back of her head as she started towards Dorga’s. He ran after her.

“Wait!” he said, forcing himself to smile. “I am sorry. I should not have said those things. Will you forgive me?”

“There is nothing to forgive. Do your friends really want to meet me? Why?”

“Because they have never seen a human raised by elves.”

“What does that matter? I would look the same if I have been raised by men. That makes no sense.”

“I think they may know who you are. They said something about an uncle.”

“You are making that up.”

“I am not. They have been looking for a girl that fits your description. They said she was taken from her home by bandits.”

“Oh. And why would bandits take a child? There is not much of a market for a small child. And besides, I was not taken from my home. At least not by myself. Nana was with me.”

“I am just telling you what they said.”

“Well, I guess it would not hurt to meet them. But only for a moment. Dorga is expecting us, and I told Elrohir that that was where I would be.”

“It will only take a minute.”

He lead her down an alley between two shops. It was dark and cool between the buildings. She slowed half way down the alley.

“Caldelen, this does not feel right. I am going back.”

She turned to see a man had entered the alley behind her.

“Caldelen!” she turned back to find him gone. “Caldelen!” The panic in her voice was unmistakable. She faced the man behind her and backed away from him, right into another man. Spinning, she looked frantically for an escape. By now there were three of them. One of them reached out and fingered her hair. She jerked from his touch. He laughed and said something she did not understand.

“Leave me alone!” she said, her voice barely audible.

‘Do you not remember the language of your mother?’ The man spoke in Westron.

She searched desperately for an escape.

“Caldelen!” she called again.

‘You mean the Elf imp? He is gone.’

“Elrohir!”

‘You would do well to shut up, girl. I have orders to bring you back, or make sure you never come back.’

Her eyes widened as she realized what the man meant.

‘Why,’ she asked.

‘Your uncle needs to either have you in hand, or be assured you are out of the way.’

“Ela!” One of the men started at the sound of Elrohir’s voice coming from out on the street.

“Elf!” she called, as loud as her voice would sound.

‘I did not want it to end this way, girl, but you leave me no choice. It would have been better if you had come willingly.’

He reached for her, but suddenly found himself holding his stomach. He had not seen the knife she held in her hand. He looked down to see a gash from one side of his abdomen to the other. He knew he had only minutes left to contemplate his life.

‘Bitch!* he said. He grabbed her face and slammed her head into the stone wall behind her. Had he the strength, it would have killed her, but his body would not respond to his will. He managed one more blow before he fell to the ground, Ela tumbling on top of him. One of the other men reached to finish the job. Before he could lay a hand on her, he was flung into the wall. The remaining man could hear his companion’s neck snap. He turned and ran. Elrohir was torn between chasing the man and seeing to Ela. He went to her and picked her up. She was covered in blood.

“What is going on?”

“Dorga, get me a horse! Quickly!”

The Dwarf asked no more questions. He went to the stable behind his house and got the horse that belonged to his neighbor. He put a bridle on her and brought her around front. Elrohir carried Ela out of the alley and handed her to Dorga. Jumping up on the horse, he asked a passing man to hand the girl up to him. He then started for home as quickly as he could through the village. Dorga followed as fast as his legs would carry him.

Clearing the edge of the small town, Elrohir kicked the horse into a gallop. He rode the animal up into the garden behind his father’s house. Calling for help, he slid off the horse, Ela still in his arms.

“What happened?” Erestor was the first to come out of the house.

“I am not sure. I am not even sure how much of this blood is hers. She was attacked in an alley. I think it a good idea someone find Caldelen. He was nowhere to be seen.”

Elrohir carried Ela to the small infirmary Elrond kept in his house. He had laid her on the bed and started checking for wounds when his father came in.

“I do not know!” he answered the unasked question. “I found her this way. What is wrong?”

“Leave me to look at her. Go, get cleaned up. Send Elendil back with warm water and clean towels.”

Elrohir went quickly to get his father’s steward. Going to his room, he went over what had happened. The boy was not with her. Something was not right. She would not have gone down that alley on her own. Something, or someone, had convinced her to go. He should never have let her go alone. He should never have let Caldelen go with them.

He returned to the infirmary as soon as he was cleaned up. He found Seldala with Elrond and Erestor. They had gotten Ela cleaned up and changed into a clean nightgown. She was lying on her side and his father was examining her head.

“None of the blood was hers. Except a small amount on her skull. She will have a headache when she wakes up, and her nose is broken, but I think that is the extent of the damage. We will know in a few hours. Meanwhile, has anyone found Caldelen?”

“He showed up with Dorga. The Dwarf says he met him on his way here. Caldelen told him Ela had been attacked. He asked for help,” Erestor said, from where he was standing by the window. There was an odd note to his voice.

“I want to speak to him.”

“He has returned home.”

Elrond turned back to the bed.

“I have done all I can for now. She will sleep for awhile. Seldala, will you stay with her?”

“Certainly, Lord Elrond. I will send for you when she awakes.”

He left the room, followed by Erestor and Elrohir. They went to the library.

“Something does not fit,” Elrohir stated. “She would not have gone off by herself like that. She told me she was going to Dorga’s.”

“No, she would not have tarried. She was going for tea, was she not?” asked Erestor.

“That is what she said.” Elrohir grinned. “She said something about you did not think it fit for a lady.”

“It is not. It is foul. He mixes it with a bit of that drink he is so fond of. It tastes like swamp water. There is nothing refined about it.”

Elendil came to the library door with Dorga.

“Master Dorga! It is good to see you.” Lord Elrond rose and greeted the Dwarf.

“Lord Elrond. How is she?”
“Sleeping, for now. It will be hours yet until she wakes. Would you like some wine?”

“Yes, thank you. This is most upsetting. I was surprised when Elrohir showed up at my door without Ela. When I told him she had not shown up, he went to find her. I ran here as quickly as I could. Does anyone know what happened?”

“Not yet. The guards say there are two dead men. One, apparently, she killed. Elrohir took care of the other one. I want to know how they gained access to Imladris. The wards should have prevented their entrance to the valley.”

They were interrupted by Seldala.

“She is awake, Lord Elrond.”

“Already? She should have slept for several hours. Who is with her?”

“Haldir wanted to stay. I saw no harm.”

“No harm leaving her with one she considers the angry one?” Elrond asked lightly, a small smile tugging at his lips.

“He did not seem angry to me. I left him singing a lullaby.”

“Then I will go see to her. Please, everyone, go to the dining room and get something to eat. It is getting late.”

He went up the stairs that led to the bedrooms. He stopped in the doorway when Haldir put his finger to his lips. He could hear the ellon speaking, but no response. Softly crossing the room, he sat down next to the March Warden.

“Can you tell me what happened, sell?” Elrond had never heard him speak so softly.

She started to shake her head and almost gave into the nausea that threatened every time she moved.

Licking her lips, she whispered, “No.”

“Do not worry. You can tell us later. Lord Elrond needs to see your head now.”

“No!” she said, fearfully. “Do not touch me.”

“He only wants to examine your wounds.”

“NO!” She tried to move away. Something in her face must have told him what was coming. He grabbed the wastebasket sitting beside her bed. She managed to get her head over the basket before the nausea finally erupted. Lying back, her skin was white as chalk. Elrond got a damp cloth and tried to wipe her forehead and mouth. She turned her head and was rewarded with another bout of dizziness and near vomiting.

“Where…is …Seldala?”

“I am here, sell.” She came into the room. Taking the cloth from Elrond, she wiped Ela’s face. The girl calmed down. There was sweat glistening on her forehead and upper lip from fighting the nausea. Elrond handed Seldala a glass of water. Ela managed a few swallows before sinking back onto the pillow. Within minutes she was asleep.

“What was that about?” asked Haldir.

“She was alone in that alley for several minutes before Elrohir found her. We do not know the intent of those men. If it was kidnapping, that would be one thing.” Seldala paused. “If they meant something else, that could explain her fear. It would be better to check her when she is asleep. Go, I will sit with her.”

“Thank you. I will come back in two hours and check her.”

Elrond left the room, Haldir behind him.

“What do you intend?” Haldir asked.

“First, I intend to make sure she is alright. Then I want to know how those men got past the wards. They had to have come in with someone.”

“I would like to stay a few more days, but then I must be getting back. You have my aid, if needed.”

“It is appreciated. You have my leave to remain as long as you can. Go and eat. I am sure they are still in the dining room. I will be down shortly.”

He went back to the doorway to Ela’s room. Standing there watching her sleep, he thought back on the last five years. No, he thought back ever further, before she came. How could one small child have made such a difference? It had always been that way. He loved children. Maybe that was part of the reason he had welcomed every child of the Dunedain he had taken in. Distant kin or not. He would continue the practice until there was no longer a need.

But there was something different about this child. He was not sure yet what it was, but he felt it. The riddle of her past held the key to her future. If only he could solve it.

Smiling at Seldala, he turned and walked down the stairs. Going into the dining room, he found the men still sitting at the table, even though the hour was late.

“There was a trader came in a week ago,” Dorga was saying. “I wondered at the time why he needed three assistants for a negotiation. But I figured it was not my business.”

“Did you know the trader?” asked Elrohir.

“I did not. He was a man, that much I can tell you. Closemouthed.”

Erestor rose and walked over to the window bench where Elrond had sat down.

“How is she?”

“Still sleeping. She would not let me touch her. Only Seldala. I think the pain may go deeper than just her head.”

“She will bear watching. Head injuries are unpredictable. I have seen men walk away from a battle, only to drop dead days later.”

“As have I. The knot on her head would indicate the probability that the blow did no more harm than the apparent surface damage, but I will pay close attention to it.”

“Have you spoken to Caldelen?”

“Not yet. What do you think his role in this?”

“I believe he had something to do with it. I only hope it was through ignorance. I would not like to think he would deliberately put her in harm’s way. However, I know that he is jealous of her. I am not sure why. Lately he has had a cruel bent in his comments to her. Not when he thinks anyone is listening, but it is there.”

“I will speak with him tomorrow. There is nothing else to be done tonight. I will send Elrohir and Haldir to the village tomorrow to ask concerning our trader friend. No matter the initial intent, in the end, he tried to kill her. I would know the reason.”

“I will see you in the morning then.” Erestor nodded to Elrond and left, pausing to say goodnight to the others. Elrond turned and looked out the window. His peaceful valley was not the safe haven it was yesterday.


****



It took Elrohir and Haldir two days to ferret out the information they were looking for. But it was long enough for the “trader” in question to remove himself from their reach. He and his remaining assistant had been seen leaving the valley the same day as the attack, before the guards had been alerted. The search gained them only a name. Indrel. They had no idea who or what the name meant, but they would not forget.



Hearts, Pride And Legs Heal, And Life Goes On.


Within a week, Ela had ventured out of her room. She would not leave during the day, but early evening would find her in the library. She told Seldala the light hurt her eyes. She would not speak to any of the other elves. Erestor shifted his hours so that he could continue her lessons at night. She would not answer any of his questions or comments, but did the work assigned to her. The one time Caldelen came to the house, she disappeared. No one saw her leave, she was just gone. It did not escape Elrond nor Erestor’s notice. Elrond’s talk with the boy had gotten nowhere. He claimed the men knew Ela and wanted to talk to her. He got scared when things turned rough and ran to get help. He did not find it odd that the one person he ran to was beneath his contempt.

A month after the incident, Glorfindel entered the library, looking for Elrond. He had been out of Imladris at the time of the attack. He found Ela sitting in the corner of the window seat, crying. Unsure of whether or not he should approach her, he paused in the doorway.

“Can I help?” he asked softly.

She shook her head, slowly. The nausea had disappeared for the most part, but the dizzy spells still caught her by surprise.

He turned to go.

“Wait.” He just caught the whisper.

Crossing the room, he sat down as far from her as the bench would allow.

“You went to the Halls of Namo.” He knew she was aware of how much he disliked the subject of his death and return. If she was asking, she had a reason.

“Yes.”

“Why did He let you come back?”

“I cannot answer that question. Why do you ask?”

“If he let you come back, maybe he will let Ada come back. I need him.”

“I do not think that is a hope to cling to, sell. I am only one of two who have ever returned. It is not reasonable to believe your adar will be allowed to come back.”

“Who speaks of reason? It is not reasonable to murder a man because you do not like his race. It is not reasonable to leave a deranged woman and small child in a boat guaranteed to sink. It is not reasonable for my uncle to want me dead. If I was reasonable, I would not have thoughts of walking off the terrace, without the benefit of the stairs. What is reason? I only know what I want. What I need. My adar.” She paused. “He looked like you. I remember. But his hair was more silver. Yours is gold. More like the March Warden’s. If you asked Namo, do you think he would release him?”

“I do not think that it is possible. Only the Valar know why they make the decisions they do. We can only accept.”

“It is not fair. We were happy. There was no reason to do what Da did. Do men go to the Halls of mandos? I often wonder where my nana is. She was not Elven. It is sad to think they are not together.”

Glorfindel sat back. He had gotten more information from her than all the searching done by his friends. He was anxious to get it to Elrond. Another piece to the puzzle.

He looked back at Ela. Her head was leaning against the window frame and she had fallen asleep. He rose and lifted a throw from a chair and covered her with it. He closed the door when he left. He did not waste any time finding Elrond.


****



Ela made her way down the back hall leading from the kitchen. She was carrying a pot of tea and two cups. Elrond had invited Dorga since it was evident that Ela would not leave the grounds. She had ventured only as far as the gardens behind the house. Even then, she would go only so far into the gardens. She was always within reach of a door.

Erestor happened to come up behind her. He was about to speak to her when she seemed to lose her balance and fell against the wall. The dropped teapot and cups shattered on the tile floor. Ela crumpled down on the floor, her back to the wall. She was holding her head and silently crying. He reached down to comfort her, but she flinched. Without saying a word, he bent down and started to pick up the broken pieces. When she was sure she would not pass out, Ela helped him. When they had the mess cleaned up, she followed him back to the kitchen. He helped her prepare another pot of tea. She got down two more cups and placed them on a tray. She allowed him to carry the tray to the small table in the garden. Setting the tray down, Erestor turned to leave. He smiled as his hearing picked up the almost inaudible voice saying only two words, “Thank you.”

“You are welcome,” was his soft reply.

****

Elrond went to the library window. He had been startled by a noise from the garden. The only thing he saw when he looked out was Dorga and Ela, having tea. The weekly visits had been going on for a month now. She was smiling more and Erestor informed him that she was speaking to him again. This was the first time he had heard her laugh in almost three months. She still would not leave the grounds. He was concerned that she refused to see Caldelen. He had been there four or five times to see her, but she informed Erentil to tell the boy she was indisposed. If anyone she did not know came, she disappeared. If they did not belong to the small group that inhabited her world, she had nothing to do with them.

Her lessons progressed at a much quicker pace, now that she did not have to wait for Caldelen to grasp what she picked up the first time. She was already past the level of education a human child would have received. If she had gone to Misty Haven, she would probably have settled down with some farmer and had children by now. She showed no interest in settling down with anyone. She did not seem inclined to ask the normal questions for one of her age.

As preparations began for the arrival of Arwen and her grandparents, Ela was released from most of her lessons. She still spent far too much time in the library, but Elrond had found her in the kitchen and shadowing Erentil. She did anything anyone asked of her. Except leave the house and surrounding gardens.

“Would you like to go to the village?” Erestor ventured one day. She had worked hard the day before and he had found her in the library, sleeping over her lessons.

“I do not think so. I have enough to do here.”

“You have done enough. You should come and get out.”

“Are you asking me to, or telling me to?”

“Asking, as always.”

“Then no. I cannot.”

“Very well, then. Tell Lord Elrond I will return this afternoon. What will you do today?”

“I have that new book Elrohir sent me. And a letter from Rosa. That will keep me busy.”

“Read in the garden. You need some sun.”

“What, my pale skin is not attractive enough, you want it pink?” she laughed. “Besides, it will bring out even more of the cursed spots.”

“Learn to live with them, sell. They are a part of you. And they are not so bad.”

“That is because you do not have any. I am sure my father would have thought them cute. Ugh. Such an odious word. Cute. That is what people say to be kind. ‘Well, she is not beautiful, but she is cute. Is that puppy not cute? What a cute Orc’.”

“I have never heard anyone say an Orc is cute.”

“I am sure there is a mother Orc somewhere saying it. Surely they think a baby Orc is cute.”

“I do not believe that Orcs are born. Where do you get these notions?”

“I am cursed with an inquisitive mind. I heard someone say that.” She looked at him, slyly.

“You lurk in far too many corners for your own good. Are you ready for Arwen’s visit?”

“For the most part. There is nothing much left to do until the last week before they arrive. Who is coming with her?”

“Her grandparents, Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. More than likely Haldir will come. Maybe his brother Rúmil. Several others you do not know.”

“May I have a lock for my door?”

“Whatever for?” Her change in directions took him off guard.

“To lock it. Why else would one need a lock?”

“Why do you feel the need for a lock?”

“I just do. Do I need a reason?”

“You should have a reason for all you do.”

“Well, then, I would like one to keep my cat in.”

“Your cat uses the window. Do you need a lock for that as well?”

“Now that you mention it, yes. I thought the door would be more reasonable. Then I could get the window lock.”

“Your mind runs in circles, sell.”

“That would explain the dizzy spells. I am sure they have nothing to do with a hard blow to the head.”

She watched the reason for her request finally dawn in his eyes.

“Can you never just say what is on your mind?”

“What, and deprive you of the joy of the riddle? You think too much like a man and an adult and an elf. It is really simple. I am afraid. The locks would make me not so afraid.”

“They cannot get here, Ela.”

“They could not get into Imladris, either. I never said it was a rational fear. Does the fear need to be valid to be felt?”

“Of course not. If it will make you feel safer, I will speak to Lord Elrond. I see no reason why he would refuse you.”

“Thank you.

“Meanwhile, get some rest. And go out to the garden.”

“Yes, Lord Erestor. I will, as always, comply.”

“Haldir is correct. That attitude will not serve you well.”

“As it is the one thing that is totally mine, I think I will hold onto it a little longer. And he should talk.”

“Go. Read your book.”

“Have a pleasant day.”

He turned and left the library.


****


Ela went to her room and got the small box she kept her writing things in. Grabbing her new book, she went out into the garden. Trying to decide where best to sit, she happened to glance up at the old tree house. Slinging the box over her shoulder and stuffing the book in the front of her shirt, she climbed up the tree. Settling down, she read the letter from Rosa first. Leaning back against the trunk, she wrote out an answer to the letter. She then picked up the book Elrohir had sent her. She had just gotten started when she heard someone in the garden. Peeking over the edge, she saw it was Caldelen. Careful to make no noise, she sat and watched him through a crack in the planking.

“Ela, I know you are up there. I want to talk to you.”

She said nothing. He circled the tree house and tried to see her.

“Why are you so mad at me? I used poor judgment. I did not know those men would hurt you.”

Still nothing from above.

“You are being childish. Come down so we can talk. If you do not, I will come up there.”

“Go away. You are not welcome here. You did not just use poor judgment. You were stupid. What did you think three grown men would want with a girl? To say hello, we are your kin and we want you to come home?”

“That is what they said.”

“And you were just angry enough with me to not think any further than what you wanted. I do not need friends like you. I want you to leave. Now.”

“I am coming up. I cannot talk to you this way.”

She started to panic.

“You cannot. It is not safe. You are too heavy.”

“I am not.”

“There is not enough room. I am warning you, Caldelen. Stay down. If you do not leave me alone, your arrows will not be the only things broken.”

He began to climb the tree.

“Stop, Caldelen! It will not hold us both!”

“You are just a girl, and human at that. What do you know?”

“I know enough to have you banned from here. I did not tell anyone what really happened in that alley. I saw you. You did not use poor judgment. You set me up. Was it all your idea, or were you just handy?”

He stuck his head over the edge of the platform.

“Who would believe you? That blow to your head so scrambled your memories, who can say what happened?”

“I have never lied. They would believe me. You, however, are a poor excuse for an Elf. I wish I had never met you.”

He climbed up and sat down on the floor of the tree house.

“See. I told you it would hold both of us. Now, I want to talk to you. I am sorry you were hurt. I did not want that to happen.”

“You are only sorry they failed. I will not accept your apology. Get down, before I push you down.”

“I am not leaving until we settle this.”

“You can leave the way you came up, or the fast way. I am done speaking to you.”

She turned and tossed her box to the ground. Before she could pick up her book, he had grabbed it.

“Give me that,” she spat at him.

“Another priceless treasure from that meddlesome Elrohir? Why does he waste his time on you?”

“Because he is a real friend. Now give it to me.”

She reached for her book, but instead met with his elbow. He had not meant to hit her, but he did not really feel sorry about it. She jerked back and grabbed her face. Realizing she was in danger of falling off of the platform, he tried to hold onto her arm. She lashed out and left four long, bloody furrows on his cheek. He howled and let go of her. He noticed the tree house had started to sway.

“Jump, Ela.” The cry came from the ground. She recognized the voice, but could not place it. Her eyes were tearing so badly she could not see, but jumped instinctively. No matter how graceful she could be, she had never jumped from eight feet before. She could not see and set her bearings, and so landed hard on her right leg. She heard a bone break and felt the hot white agony that shot through her body. The hand that managed to catch her arm probably saved her from more injuries. Looking up, she still could not see well enough to see who it was.

“I tried to grab her!” That voice she recognized. She tried to get up.

“Lie still. You have a broken leg.”

“Haldir? What are you doing here? You should not be here for another two weeks.”

“Do not worry about that. What happened up there?”

“I would ask a favor.”

“What is it, sell?”

“Tell that…that…Elf that the next time I speak to him, it will not be you, but my father standing between us.”

“Are you injured, Caldelen?”

“No, March Warden. It was not a difficult jump.” His voice carried just a trace of a sneer.

“Then I suggest you hightail it for home, before I let her up to finish whatever was going on up there.”

Caldelen looked dumbfounded.

“We were just talking and I was teasing her about her book. There was an accident.”

Leaving Ela lying on the ground, Haldir walked over to the boy.

“I heard what went on up there,” he said in a voice so soft Caldelen struggled to hear it. For all of its softness, it carried a menacing tone that few had ever disregarded, and they were all dead. “You would do well to go and not return. If I hear that you bothered her again, I will be sure that Elrohir and Lord Elrond know what really happened in that alley. Is your life worth that little to you that you would risk their wrath?”

The boy’s mouth dropped open, then closed. A look came over his eyes that Haldir had seen before. Hatred was such an ugly emotion. Caldelen turned and walked away. Haldir could hear him muttering about humans and Dwarves and the lowlife of the earth.

Hearing a gasp, Haldir turned back to the fallen girl. She had tried to get up again. He went and picked her up.

“You will not tell anyone how this happened, will you?”

“I am sorry, sell, but Lord Elrond is not going to let either of us off that easily. I will not tell what I overheard, but you must tell him how you fell out of the tree. I think you will find him understanding.”

“He will not be if he finds out what I omitted telling them. Why, again, are you here?”

“We left earlier than planned and made good time.”

“Then there are others here, as well?” He was startled at the panic in her voice.

“Yes. We came with a group. Why?”

“Will you take me to my room the back way? Then ask Him to come up?”

“What is the problem? Lord Elrond will want to see you right away.”

“I know, but I need to go to my room.” He could sense her groping for an excuse. “I forgot to let the cat out. She will be anxious.”

“The cat.”

“Yes, the cat. Are you deaf? She does not like being cooped up. Please, can we hurry?”

“Very well. But I want to meet this cat.”

“You will, just get me to my room.”

He carried her in through the kitchen and up the back stairs. Once in her room, he looked for the cat.

“I see no cat.”

“She must have gotten out on her own. Good. Now you may go get Him.”

“Ela, is this a game?”

“Oh, yes. The worse one I have ever played in my life. When Lord Erestor returns, would you ask him to see me?”

He sighed and turned to leave.

“The door, please,” she called.

He shut the door. Shaking his head, he descended the stairs to find Lord Elrond.

He found him on the terrace with Lord Celeborn.

“Did you find her?” Elrond asked.

“Oh, yes, I did. She would beg your indulgence. She is in her room and would like to speak to you.” Haldir’s tone let Elrond know that something was amiss.

“If you will excuse me, Celeborn. I will return shortly.”

Haldir followed him into the house.

“What happened?” Elrond asked.

“She fell out of the tree house. Her leg is broken and her pride shattered. Other than that, I think there is something else going on with her. She would not let me bring her through the house. She insisted I use the back stairs. Used her cat as an excuse.”

“I have not had time to prepare her for visitors. We have only gotten her to leave the house in the last two months. She will not leave the grounds. She refuses to see Caldelen and will disappear if strangers are here.”

“That would explain the fight in the tree house.”

“Fight? What fight?”

“She and Caldelen were in the tree house arguing when I found them. It was not meant for such activity and started to collapse. I told her to jump, but she could not see and missed me. I sent the boy home.”

Elrond reached for the doorknob to Ela’s room. Before he could turn it he heard her call out.

“Who is it?”

“Haldir said you wanted to talk to me.”

“I just bet he did.” he heard her mutter. Then louder, “Please, come in. But no one else.”

They entered her room. She was sitting up on the bed her leg stretched out in front of her. Elrond could see the bruising and swelling from the break.

“What happened?” he asked, looking over her leg.

“What did he tell you?” she countered, looking at the March Warden.

“That you fell from the tree. Should he have said more?”

“No. That is what happened. I fell.”

“You have never fallen before. How is it you fell this time?” Elrond turned the leg and straightened it out more.

“A dizzy spell? Maybe I blacked out.”

“And the black eye that you are going to have tomorrow?”

“Maybe Haldir is not as quick as I thought.”

“Why is there blood under your fingernails?” He went to the end of the bed and picked up her foot.

She looked down at her fingers. “Well, that defies explanation. Did I accidentally scratch you, March Warden?” He winced at her sharp gasp when Elrond jerked her foot and the bone slid back into place.

“No, you did not. Maybe another reason is in the offing.”

“No, I have no other.” She winced as Elrond ran his hands up her leg.

“Hold still, Iell. This may hurt.”

“And you could not have warned me about the other? That did not hurt?”

“You would have tensed up. I needed you relaxed.”

“Thank you for that. Who is downstairs?

“Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel.”

“How long are they staying?”

“I told you, several months. Hold still.” He laid his hands on her leg and held them there for several minutes.

“Can I stay with Dorga?”

“No. It would not be seemly.”

“Lord Erestor said he would return this afternoon. Did he know they would come early?”

“I believe so.”

“He did not mention it. Why is it unseemly? We are friends.”

“Yes, you are. I thought you did not want to go to the village.”

“I do not, but I do not want to stay here, either. Did Lord Erestor speak with you about the locks?”

“What locks?”

“Nevermind. Dorga.”

“Young girls do not just stay with older men.”

“What are we doing?”

“That is different.”

“How?”

“Do we really need this conversation now? Erestor will be back and then you may ask him.”

“Is the Elf coming?”

“Next week. He and Elladan both. Why?”

“I just thought they might help me build the tree house back up.”

“Why do you not ask Caldelen?”

She glanced over at Haldir.

“He is too busy. I do not wish to disturb him. He is disturbed enough already.”

Haldir coughed to hide a small laugh. It earned him a look from Elrond and a glare from Ela.

“Is there something you need to tell me, Ela?”

“No, Lord Elrond. There is much I want to tell you and more I probably should, but not today.”

“You may come down in a couple of hours. Let the leg rest until then.”

“May I eat here? I do not feel like company right now.”

“You will have to come out of this room, sooner or later.”

“Later would be better. Can I stay in here for a couple of months?”

“Now you are being silly.”

“I know. Go down to your guests. I am sure they are much more interesting than my broken leg.”

“I am going. And the leg is no longer broken. Just rest it.”

“May I have a drink of water?”

“You may.” Elrond went over to the wash stand and poured a cup of water. Haldir saw him slip something into the cup before he turned around.

“Here, Iell. Drink this.”

She drained the cup.

“I would have slept with out the herbs, you know.”

He smiled at her and watched her eyes slowly close.


Chapter 5 - Chapter Five

And Life Goes On
****

Supper that evening was a pleasant affair, but Ela did not appear. She asked for something sent to her room. Elrond made several trips up the stairs throughout the evening to check on her, but found her reading or playing her lute. She had picked one up in the Hall of Fire downstairs and started playing around with it. She was passable, but her songs left much to be desired. Dorga’s influence on her creative processes was definitely a negative.

Ela did not come down to breakfast the next morning. Her room was empty when he checked. He found her in the kitchen, with Dorga. They were laughing over a pot of his tea. He had forgotten that today was Tea Day. She glanced up at him, standing in the door.

“Would you care to join us?” she asked, graciously.

“Do you have enough?”

“Certainly. We always have enough.” Dorga’s voice boomed in the large room.

Elrond took the empty chair and waited while she poured him a cup of tea. He took a sip and nearly spit it back into the cup.

“How do you like it?” Ela asked, with a twinkle in her eye.

“This is…most…interest...I cannot lie,” he said. “This is really foul.”

“I know. Is it not great?” she laughed at him. “It is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, neither of us know anyone who has acquired a taste for it. Still, you must admit, it is interesting.”

“Oh, I will give you that. No wonder Erestor will not have tea with you. And I now understand the face he makes.”

“He would only try it once. You have to keep at it. Eventually, you may like it.”

“How long will that take?”

Dorga thought about it. “I know of no one who likes it. So, I guess, never.”

He and Ela were overcome with such fits of laughter, neither of them could speak.

“Then why do you drink it?” asked Elrond.

They sobered up and looked at each other.

“I do not know!” they said, together, which caused them to erupt into more laughs.

Elrond shook his head and proceeded to finish the tea. He stood and bowed to them.

“Thank you for the tea. It was most gracious of you to invite me.”

Ela nodded her head and managed to lose the smile on her lips.

“You are most welcome. Thank you for the company.” She looked at Dorga and they broke down again.

Elrond turned to leave and saw Erestor in the doorway.

“I see you have been introduced into their little society. Is that not the foulest stuff you have ever drunk?”

“Yes, and worth every drop.”

“Aye, it was at that.”


****


Ela had finally wrangled Erestor from the meetings and such long enough to check the work she had been doing on her own. He was pleased with her. She had very few mistakes and had managed to argue her point on two of them, and win.

“Lord Erestor, may I ask a question?”

“You may. I will answer if it is in my power.” It was good to engage in the words games once again.

“How long can I stay here?”

“Until we need it for a meeting.”

“Not the library. I meant Imladris. Caldelen said that I must someday go out into the world. Is that true?”

“You may stay as long as you like. This is your home. You may wish to someday leave. That is when you must go. Not before.”

“How will I find people who will accept me? I am not like your average human. I do not think I will fit in.”

“There is truth to that. You may need to go to one of the cities. There your differences would not be as noticeable. You have wanted to visit Gondor. It is a great city.”

“Maybe I will just stay here. There are men here. They would not think me strange.”

“That is also true. Your path is one you must take. No one can choose it for you. What of Lórien? You once wanted to go there.”

“I am not so sure, anymore. Besides, there are no men in Lórien. Just more elves. How would that work out?”

“Life does work itself out, sell. When it is time to choose, the choices will be there.”

“Thank you for the locks. I feel better. I only wish…” She stopped at the slight sound of approaching steps in the hallway outside the library. Erestor looked up to see Lord Celeborn standing in the doorway.

“Who were you speaking with?” he asked.

“Just Ela,” Erestor answered, turning back to find himself alone in the library. He sighed.

“Someday I would like to meet this Ela. I have been here for five days and have yet to see any evidence she exists.”

“Once she makes herself known, you may change your mind,” was all Erestor had to say.


****



Ela made her way through the garden. She had carefully made sure everyone was occupied elsewhere before venturing out into the open. Drawn by noise coming from the tree house tree, she wandered that way. Looking up, she saw Haldir nailing boards across a wooden frame. She quietly climbed the tree and stuck her head up between two of the boards.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I am rebuilding the tree house.”

“Why?”

“Because it needs it. If you are going to insist on using it, it should at least be safe.”

“I was going to ask the Elf and Elldan to do it.”

“Now they will not have to.”

“You have totally missed the point. I wanted them to do it. I know why they will do it. Why are you doing it?”

He sat back against the trunk. Regarding her for several moments, he searched for the reason he was doing it.

“Because it means something to you, and I wanted to do it for you.”


“Okay.” was all she said, climbing the rest of the way up. She picked up the bag of nails. “May I help?”

“You may. But be careful. Do not fall.”

“Do you plan to push me?”

“No.”

“Then I will not fall.”

He turned from her, smiling.

They spent a pleasant afternoon. She tried to help with the nails, but he had to straighten out more than she hammered in correctly, so he told her that she could just supervise. When they were almost finished, Rúmil found them. He was followed by a younger Elf. Haldir felt Ela stiffen and looked down.

“Rúmil, have Elldar go back into the house for a moment. I forgot my knife. It is by the bed.”

Rúmil spoke to the boy and he went back to the house. Haldir’s brother then jumped back as a pair of small boots came sailing out of the tree house. They were followed by Ela, dropping from the platform.

“I must say, sell, that was better than the last time,” Haldir called down.

“Well, I am not blinded and do not have you trying to catch me this time. Who was that?”

“That was Elldar, our nephew. He wanted to see the fabled land of Imladris.”

“How old is he?”

“About your age. Maybe a little younger.”

She waited until he had come out of the tree.

“He seems… Sorry, I have to go.” Before he could look around, she was gone. The reason for her going was just entering the gardens.

“Your knife was not there. I looked… There it is! You have it! Why did you send me for it, if you already had it?”

“Long story, Elldar. I apologize.”

“Who was up in the tree house with you?”

“Lord Elrond’s foster daughter.”

“I did not think she really existed. We have not seen her. How is it you have?”

“Another long story. Did you enjoy your hunt?”

“Yes, but I do not like our guide. He was very disrespectful. We ran into Lord Elrond’s sons and some other Rangers and Caldelen was not nice to them at all. Yes, do not say it, another long story.”

“Well, maybe Ela will show up for dinner tonight. She cannot resist Elrohir.” Haldir began gathering up the tools and scraps from his project. With Rúmil and Elldar helping, it did not take long. They finished with just enough time to get ready for dinner.

Later, at the dining table, Rúmil leaned over to his brother.

“It seems that even Elrohir could not convince her to come down.”

“She will. She just needs more time. There are too many around she does not know.”

“And never will, at this rate.”

Elrohir excused himself early and left the room. He made his way to the kitchen. Passing through, he picked up a tray and took it up the back steps. He knocked on Ela’s door.

“Who is it?”

“Come, this tray is heavy. Do not make me stand here all night.”

He heard the lock turn and the door opened. She allowed him to place the tray on the table before rushing to him and giving him a hug.

“I could hardly wait for you to get here. What took you so long? I have been waiting for hours. There are too many people in the house.”

“Slow down,” he laughed.

“I cannot. I have been stuck in here for too long.”

“Ela, you can leave anytime you want to.”

“That is what you think. Every time I look around, there is someone I do not know.”

“Do you want me to help you?”

“No,” she said reluctantly. “It is something I must do myself. But I do not have to like it.”

“Well, I will be here for a week, so by the time I leave, we will have you out of your room.”

They spent a not so quiet evening. She told him about the book he had sent. When Elladan knocked on the door, she dragged him in to play a game. It was close to midnight before she settled down enough to go to sleep.

They ran into their father as they left her room.

“I think she may come out tomorrow,” said Elrohir.

“Well, that is sooner than I expected. She will have to anyway. Tomorrow is Tea Day and she has not missed one yet. I think you two should join her.”

“I have a pressing matter to attend to, but Elladan is free. I really think he should experience it.”

“Why do I get the feeling you are setting me up?” asked his brother.

“Because he is,” replied their father. “You did not see her after the attack. She has come a long way. I sat through their little tea party last week just to hear her laugh.”

“All right. I will join them, if asked. I will see you in the morning.” He went into his room.

“Goodnight, Ada. It is good to be home.”

“And good to have you here. Goodnight.”

He stopped long enough to try Ela’s door, but it was locked. He shook his head at her need for the lock. He hoped she would outgrow it soon.


****

Elladan rose early the next morning, but Ela was already in the library. He walked in and sat down.

“Why are you up so early?”

“I have to get here early so Lord Erestor can go over my lessons. If I wait until later, he is stuck in meetings. And then I do not have access to the library. What are you doing today?”

“I heard there is to be a party. I thought I might try to get an invitation.”

“If you are referring to our tea time, you do not have to come just to make me feel good. We take it very seriously. It is a solemn occasion where two friends can discus weighty matters.”

“Well, if you do not want me…”

“However, if you happen to drop by, you may be invited.”

“I may see if I am not busy.”
“Good morning, Ela, Elladan.”

“Good morning, Lord Erestor.”

“It is time for me to leave.”

“Afraid you might learn something?” she teased.

“My head is so full of knowledge, I feel it may burst.”

“Go, run and play with your bows and arrows. Tea is at two. Do not be late. It is only good when fresh.”

He nodded at Erestor, with a smile, then hurried out the door.

“You invited him to tea?”

She shrugged. “He invited himself.”

“He is in for a surprise.”

“Oh, yes. I am sure the Elf had something to do with it.”

“Undoubtedly. Now, let me see your lessons.”

They spent the next three hours going over her work. After assigning the next week’s lesson plan, he released her for the day. She put her books and papers in her room and went down to the kitchens.

Peeking around the doorway, she saw a tray sitting on the small table. She went over and sat down. Dalgren, the cook’s assistant brought her over some fresh tea.

“Did you remember that today is Tea day?” Ela asked her.

“Yes, I did. Is he bringing that mess again?”

“Yes, he is. There will be three of us today. May I help in here for a while?”

“Well, there is bread to make. I know how you like punching the dough. Would that be alright?”

“That would be great. May I make some for tea?”

“No, I made some cakes, yesterday. They will go better with the tea.”

“Thank you. I will go change and get an apron.”

She went back upstairs and put on an old dress. After coming back down, she stopped at the pantry and got an apron. It was too big, so Dalgren helped her tie it up. For the next two hours she happily kneaded and punched bread dough. Dalgren managed to get half of the dough from her for lunch.

“You should go get cleaned up, Ela. No one would even recognize you. Lunch will be ready soon.”

“I think I will just stay here. It is quiet and peaceful.”

“You know it will not be, in an hour. Besides, you cannot…” her words trailed off as she made a deep curtsy. Ela spun around to find herself looking up at Lord Celeborn. Having no where to run, she found herself imitating Dalgren.

The ruler of Lórien took in the small cook’s assistant. Covered in flour, with her hair pulled back, she seemed unremarkable. Something about her eyes before she lowered them drew him. Her low curtsy was more than necessary and he felt her unease.

“Excuse me, may I bother you for some tea?” Ela looked back up to see he was speaking to her. She glanced at Dalgren, who nodded to her. The manners drummed into her won out. Ela sighed and went to the cupboard for a pot and a cup. She made the tea and put it on a tray.

“Thank you…what is your name?”

Without thinking, she whispered, “Ela.” Realizing what she had done, she turned and ran for the steps.

“I am sorry, my lord. She is not at ease with strangers.”

“Yes, Lord Elrond spoke to me about her. Is she always in the kitchens?”

“Oh, no, my lord. Usually she does not leave the library. She spends hours in there. She comes here to help and to vent her frustrations.”

“Such a sad situation. Please, thank her for the tea.”

“Yes, my lord.”


****


“Ela, you must come out.” Elladan had been knocking on her door for ten minutes. “Dorga is here and it is past two.”

“I do not feel like tea today. Ask him to come back tomorrow.”

“He cannot. Unlock the door and I will come in and we can talk.”

“Where is the Elf?”

“He had an appointment. Can you not talk to me?”

“Where is everyone else?”

“Father and Lord Erestor are in the library meeting with my grandparents. Haldir and Rúmil are out hunting. There is no one to run into.”

After five more minutes, he heard the lock turn.

“Alright. I will come down.”

“Good. Dorga says the tea is getting stale.”

They went down the stairs and into the kitchens. Dorga was at the table, but rose when Ela approached. She sat down and waited until the other two had also sat down.

Dorga poured tea for the three of them. He and Ela watched to see Elladan’s reaction. He drained his cup and reached for the pot.

“You like this stuff?” she asked.

“I have had worse. It is a fairly foul potion, though.”

“My estimation of you has risen, Elf,” said Dorga. “You should have seen your father trying not to spit it back out.”

“That was funny,” Ela chimed in.

They sat and drank tea and passed an hour. No one entered the kitchen to disturb them. Elrohir’s pressing appointment was at the other side of the door, insuring that they were undisturbed.

“I have a poem,” said Ela. The jokes and poems had gotten progressively worse. Elladan was glad his father could not hear some of the jokes.

‘There was a young Elf from Rivendell

Who did not treat others well

He fell off his horse

Broke his neck, of course

And now he resides in…’

“Ela, I do not think that is very nice.”

“It was the nicest thing I could think of. Besides, this is our party and we can say anything we want. I have to be nice out there. In here, I can say what I want.”

“Still, it is not very nice.”

“I did not intend it to be. You invited yourself here, so if you do not like it, you may un-invite yourself.”

“In that case, it seems there were these two soldiers from Gondor…”

Elrohir walked into the kitchen.

“Elladan, I do not think she needs to hear that particular story. Father will not thank you for telling it.”

“Oh, Elf. You could have waited a couple more minutes before coming in. You stood out there long enough.”

“Not much gets by you, does it?”

“Not much. The eyes are not as good, but I do have the ears of an Elf. Remember that.”

After the tea party, Ela finished up her lessons for the day. She then wandered out to the tree house. She noticed that Haldir had put a roof on it. Well, that defeated the whole purpose of a tree house. Now how could she see the leaves above her? Climbing the tree, she settled down against the trunk and pulled the book from the front of her tunic. She got through the first chapter when she realized she was no longer alone in the garden. Sneaking a look over the edge, she saw Lord Celeborn walking among the rose bushes. Sighing in frustration, she rolled back from the edge. There was no way she could get down without notice. She froze when she heard voices.

“Good afternoon, Lord.”

“Good afternoon, Haldir. What brings you out here?”

“I wanted to finish up the tree house.”

“Is it for the child?”

“Yes. She likes to read up there. Has she come down yet?”

“No. I do not think she knows I am here. I have been very quiet.”

“She knows. See her foot sticking out over the edge? When she reads, it twitches. It is not twitching. She is not reading. Ela!” They watched the foot slowly recede.

“Come down. I want you to meet someone.”

“We have met,” was her soft reply.

“Not formally, I believe. It is not polite to refuse to meet guests.”

“They are Lord Elrond’s guests. My guest left an hour ago.”

Celeborn looked at Haldir.

“The Dwarf. She has a fascination for Master Dorga. He introduced her to his version of tea.” He turned back to the tree. “You know it is rude to hide up there. What will Lord Erestor think?”

“He will think I have reverted to my childish ways and will understand the reasons for it. Do you not have some Orcs to slay? Or some other needy human for which to build a tree house?”

“Not today. I wish to see you. Come down. Would you leave the ruler of Lórien standing with a crick in his neck?”

“Tell me, how does one rule the fringes? Boots.”

Haldir grabbed one boot in the air and caught the other before it could hit his lord.

“You aim is unerring, as always.”

“Thank you, March Warden. Book. And be careful, please.” She dropped the book into his waiting hand. Flipping over the edge of the platform, she swung gently and dropped to the ground.

“Ela, this is Lord Celeborn. Lord, this Elrénia, Lord Elrond’s foster daughter.”

Celeborn took in her appearance. She was small, only four feet tall. Her light hair had shimmers of red when the sunlight hit it. She wore it pulled back in a series of small twists, tied with bright ribbons to match her tunic. He saw that her fair skin carried a trail of freckles crossing her nose. He could not determine if her ears had an actual point, or were just oddly shaped. Her eyes drew him. The were a bright blue. They definitely contrasted with her hair.

“Indeed, we have met. The tea was very good.”

She did not say anything for a moment. Haldir could see she weighed whether or not to trust Celeborn. Something must have made up her mind. She bowed very formally.

“You are welcome. But if you want real tea, you should come next week. Dorga makes the best tea. Are you Sindarin? You look like it. My father was Sindarin. I think. No, I am sure.”

“Ela, that is a personal matter. You do not ask people such questions when first meeting them.”

“Then how will I find out anything? Who is minding the fringes, if you are all here?”

“The fringes?” asked Celeborn.

“Lórien. A very private joke.”

Haldir turned at the look in Ela’s eyes. He saw Caldelen at the other end of the garden. When he turned back, Ela had moved behind him.

“March Warden, I have been looking for you,” Caldelen nearly shouted.

“What can I do for you?” Haldir could barely contain his contempt for the boy.

Caldelen frowned at Ela.

“Do you not have some books to read or dolls to play with?” he asked her.

“Do you not have some friend to set up and betray?”

“I thought we put that behind us.”

“I am sorry, but it is standing right out in front of me. Besides, you interrupted us. I was inviting Lord Celeborn to tea.”

“Run along, we will talk later.” He tried to sound so grown-up, Ela smiled.

“I do not think we will. Have you spoken to my father? You will have to deal with him. Now, why do you not run along and go find one of your man friends.”

“Caldelen, have you forgotten our talk? You would do well to leave and come back when she is willing to speak with you.”

“Why do you all put such store in her? She is just a child.”

“You are both childish. However, her childishness has not brought any to harm. Yours has.” He turned to Celeborn. “It is almost time for dinner, Lord. I suggest we go and get ready.”

They followed the path back to the house, leaving Caldelen standing in the middle of the garden.

“I think I will watch my back for a few days. You did not make him happy.”

“Are you still so afraid of him?”

“Only because he hates me so. I do not know why. We were friends. Ada and Lord Erestor said he is jealous. I do not know of what. He has the perfect life. He is male and an Elf. What more could he ask for?”

“Do you think that is the perfect life?”

“Is it not? Men can do whatever they want. Go hunting, fight, leave the valley. What can girls do? Sew and stay home. And elves. He has so much time. He could learn everything there is to know. He has enough time, he could visit everywhere in Middle Earth. Why would he be jealous of me?”

“How are your lessons going?”

“Lord Erestor is not displeased.” Haldir smiled. Erestor and Elrond were very pleased with her progress. “Not that I would do anything to displease him. The punishment is too hard to bear. Do you know he actually threatened to stop teaching me if I did not stay out of the stables? What kind of threat is that? And what about the snake? Did he stop to think that he was punishing the snake? For something I had done? What kind of rationale is that?”

“Ela,” said Celeborn. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen. I have been here five years and I was ten when I came. Anyway, that is close enough. How old are you?”

“Ela,” Haldir cautioned.

“He asked first.”

“I did,” Celeborn agreed. “I am a great deal older than you.”

“Do you remember the Last Alliance? My father used to talk about it. He would always get very sad.”

“Your father was at the Last Alliance?”

“I do not think so. He always just said he lost someone then.”

“Who was it?”

“I do not recall ever hearing his name.”

“Maybe someday you will remember.”

“Maybe. I remember more now than when I came. I have to go feed my cat. Do you like cats? I have an extra kitten. I must find a home for him. One cat is enough.” She looked up at Celeborn. Bowing, she said, “It was a pleasure meeting you. Enjoy your dinner.”

“Are you not joining us?” asked Haldir.

“Certainly not. I have my dinner already set up in the kitchen. I will be most happy there.”

“What about the feast before we leave? Will you join us then?”

“Who is invited?”

“I do not know.”

“I will consider it. But no promises.”

“Very well.”

She turned and seeing people in the Great Room, turned down the back way through the kitchens.

“That went well.” Haldir sighed.

“What did you expect?”

“You are the first person she has spoken to outside of her close friends in three months. I apologize for the questions. She is very inquisitive. Sometimes she acts very mature, other times, well, her age. It is difficult to figure out how old she really is. I have trouble following her questions at times.”

“She is forward.”

“But she does not mean to be rude. Her thoughts sometimes run ahead of her. She can run circles around Caldelen, which could explain the trouble between them.”

“I would like to speak with her again.”

“I am sure, now that she knows you, you will have the opportunity. She really craves knowledge. If you try the library in the early morning, you may find her.”

“I will bear that in mind.” He turned to go to his room. Haldir went to the rooms given him and his brother.


A Stalk Of elves




True to her word, Ela did not come in for dinner. Elrohir found her in the kitchen, helping ice little cakes for dessert the next day. She smiled when he came into the room.

“Haldir told me about your adventure today. So, you met my grandfather. What did you think?”

“He is very tall. And silver. And old.”

“That is all true. Have you met my grandmother?”

“No, you know that I have not. Truth? She scares me a little.”

“How so?”

“I can feel it. She knows things. Can you not sense it? It is like a fog, spreading out from her.”

“I have never heard it put that way before. Yes, she does know things. She has a special gift. Why does she frighten you?”

“What is mine is little and I do not want to share. I am afraid she will look at me and see.”

“See what, sell?”

She looked down at the cake she had just finished. Setting it down, she took off her apron.

“I have to go.” Before he could stop her, she had run up the stairs.


****


Before light the next morning, Ela was on her way to the library. She laid her books and papers neatly on the table and sat, waiting for Erestor. She closed her eyes and thought back on her short life. It was a hidden ability she had discovered. If she thought hard enough, she could see things. Some things were frightening, others merely puzzling. She was trying to remember her life before her da had found them. Her thoughts were broken by the awareness she was no longer alone. Without opening her eyes, she knew who was in the room.

“Good morning, Lord Celeborn.”

“Good morning.”

“May I help you with something?” she asked.

“I was just curious.” He walked over to a shelf holding a small collection of odd books. “I am wondering why these books written in Dwarvish and the language of the Shire are not with the others.”

“They are mine. Dorga helps me with the Dwarvish. My friend Rosa sends me interesting books about the Shire. The Elf brings me other books from his travels.”

“Do you speak Dwarvish?”

“Not particularly well. I can ask for food and tea. I can make other needs known.”

He smiled at her.

She opened her eyes.

“What were you doing when I came in?”

She cocked her head at him.

“Lord Erestor will be here soon. Did you have need to see him?”

“No. I was hoping to see you.”

“Why? Do you need tea? Or did I say something yesterday I should not have. Haldir seems to think that I did, although he is not angry with me.”

“No, I do not need tea. And you said nothing yesterday that was wrong. Haldir is very protective.”

She snorted. “You do not look like you need protection.”

“May I ask a question?”

“You may. If it is in my power, I will answer it.”

Not so subtlety reminded of Erestor, Celeborn glanced at the child.

“Why do you want to come to Lórien?”

“Is it not permissible? I realize that I do not live there, but I have always wanted to visit.”

“Why?”

“It is not here. I read about all of these places, yet I have not left Imaladris since arriving. Before that, I cannot remember leaving my home, until my da found us and dragged us to the White Mountains. My father could see things. He was not home when Da came. That is why we did not leave. My mother could not see him coming. She cried and begged him to leave us alone. I think he might have, but my father arrived and my da was so angry. Gondor would be a nice place to visit. Lord Erestor says that they live on top of each other there. They no longer have a king, but will again, one day. And Rohan is very flat. That would be interesting to see. Can you keep a secret?”

“I think I can be trusted.”

“I would not mind seeing even Mordor. There is something there. I do not know what, but it is interesting. I can feel it stir. Can you? It is like my cat, when she wakes up. She yawns and stretches, then sometimes, just goes back to sleep. Would you not think she gets enough rest? She sleeps all day, then half of the night. She would not make a very good Elf. I think she is going to have kittens again. That will not make the snake happy. He does not want any competition for the mice in the stables. The horse in the big stall does not like the snake. But the snake does not mind the horse. Horses do not eat mice. However, they like the grain that draws the mice.”

Celeborn just looked at her in fascination. He did not even try to count the threads of topics she had just covered. He had never tried to converse with someone so erratic. He understood what Haldir had meant about her thoughts running ahead of her. He himself thought through things at great length before speaking. He weighed his words carefully. She just said whatever came into her mind. Not that he found her ramblings incoherent. Her thoughts made sense; he just could not always find the connections between her statements.

She closed her eyes.

“Lord Erestor is coming. You are welcome to remain, but you may find the lessons boring.”

“No, I will leave you to your studies. May we talk again?”

“Anytime. The weighty matters of the world do not consume my days. After my lessons, I have nothing to do all day.”

“Then I will see you later.”

****


Ela crouched down beside the bush. She had been stalking Haldir’s nephew for about two hours. He seemed as lonely and bored as she was. She had just made up her mind to speak to him when Caldelen showed up.

“Hello. What was your name, again?” The condescension in Caldelen’s voice was heavy. Ela waited to see what Elldar would do.

“It is Elldar. You are the girl’s little play-friend, are you not?”

Ela could see Caldelen bristle at the words.

“I do not play with her. She is just a child.” He glanced around and lowered his voice. “And human, at that. I came to see your uncle. But if you like, I can show you around.”

“Why would you want to be around me? I am younger than she is. Would that not make me a child? And how old are you anyway? You cannot be much older than either of us.”

“Never mind, little boy. Where is your uncle?”

“I am sorry. He went off with the ellyn, to go hunting. Real hunting. Not that little journey through the woods we took, chasing coneys.”

Ela could not contain herself any longer. She burst out in quiet laughs. Both boys turned when she stood up.

“About time you came out,” said Elldar. “I was losing patience.”

“Why are you spying on us?” Caldelen’s tone was angry and showed too much of his true feelings.

“I was not spying on you, Elf.” The way she said Elf made it an insult. “I was following him. I could care less what you do, as long as it is not here. You are not welcome here. Go away.”

“Where are all of your protectors now? Did they desert you?”

“I need no protecting, except from you. I am not afraid of you. I just dislike you. Now go away, before I tell the Elf you were sniffing around again. By the way, you had better find a new place to hide your bow. The present one is too obvious.”

Caldelen’s look spoke of great sorrow for Ela if she should be caught alone again. He turned and stomped off.

“Do you know where he hides his bow?”

“I have no idea. But he does not know that. Now he will go and move it yet again. I am narrowing down his hiding places.”

“You are as subtle as an Orc attack.”

“I have been accused of that before. That one does not understand subtlety. He only understands hard directness.

“I have noticed that. I wondered if you really existed.”

“I do. It is because of him that I avoid others. He is not to be trusted. Do you want some lunch? Ada and the others will be tied up for hours yet. They argue back and forth about the best way to handle things.”

“What things?”

“I am not supposed to know, so I am certainly not going to tell you. Are you hungry, or not?”

“It is too early to eat. I want to go to the stables.”

“Have fun, then. I am not allowed down there. I will see you after lunch.” She turned to go back to the house.

“Wait. Why are you not allowed in the stables?”

“There is a stallion in the last stall. He does not mind my being there, but it worries Lord Erestor. He made me promise not to go alone anymore.”

“You would not be alone. I will be with you.”

“You do not qualify as an adult anymore than does Caldelen. No, if I want to go, I will wait for permission.”

“Are you always so biddable?” he asked.

“Have you ever been subjected to severe reprimand by Lord Erestor? It is not pleasant at all. Once, he would not speak to me for three days. Just because I went to the village without permission. No, I do nothing without asking first. Caldelen was forever trying to get me to do things, but he only wanted to get me in trouble. Most of the time, he paid for it. Another thing to endear me to him. He does not strike me as an overly-intelligent being.

“I feel the same way. He is very angry. Is it all directed at you?”

“I have no idea. We do not converse any longer. Mostly we just spar with words and insults. So far, I feel I am winning. I am sure he has a differing opinion.”

“Do you still want to go to lunch? I guess I could eat now.”

“We would do well to eat now, before everyone else comes in to eat. We will get the best pick of the food. Today is larder day. The cook fixes whatever is left from the weekend. You can have the most amazing mixtures of foods. They do not even have to go together.”

“That sounds…interesting.” He did not sound convinced.

“You will see. Come on. They are returning from their hunting. We have to hurry.”

He did not think to ask how she knew they were returning.


****

Lunch was not as bad as he had imagined. Mostly it was just ordinary food. There were a few surprises. He had never had cake with rice and peas before. And he did not think that chicken and watermelon should be on the same plate. But, it was interesting. They were sitting in the kitchen when Elrohir stuck his head in the door. Seeing Ela with Elldar, he withdrew before she saw him. He smiled as he went into the dining room.

“Why do you look so smug?” asked his brother.

“You will never guess who is in the kitchen.”

“She is always in the kitchen.”

“But who is with her?”

Elladan thought of whom all she had met. “The boy? Well, that was fast. I thought it would be a few more days before she would approach him.”

“Who is she, and what boy?” They both turned and stood as their grandmother entered the room.

“Ela is in the kitchen with Elldar.”

“I want to meet this girl. Everyone seems to have seen her but me.”

“She will not see you yet,” cautioned Elrohir. “You frighten her.”

“Whatever have I done to frighten her?”

“You have done nothing. She can sense you. She is afraid you will see inside her. Just be patient. She will come around.”

“Did you see who is in the kitchen?” asked Arwen, coming into the dining room.

“Yes. We were just discussing it.”

“Caldelen was up again. He comes on the pretext of seeing Haldir, but I think it is just to provoke her. She sent him packing, again.”

Haldir came in with Rúmil. They had cleaned up and were just sitting down, when Haldir looked around.

“Has anyone seen Elldar?”

“Kitchen,” he heard from three different voices.

“Not alone?”

“No. They were just finishing their lunch.”

“Good. He was getting bored. I saw Caldelen coming down the hill earlier. Was he up here?”

“Yes,” said Arwen. “She sent him home.”

“That boy means her no good.”

“I have spoken to my father about it,” replied Elrohir. “It will get worse, now that she is wandering out of the house more.”

Erestor chose that moment to enter the room. Glancing across to the other door, he saw Ela peek into the room. Seeing Galadriel, she quickly withdrew her head.

“Excuse me,” he said, and crossed the room.

Going into the kitchen, he was surprised to see Elldar.

“You wanted something, sell?”

“I want to go to the stables. Is there someone free who can take me? Maybe go riding?”

“I will see. I will be right back.”

He returned to the dining room.

“Elrohir, are you free this afternoon? Ela would like to go riding.”

“I think I can clear my schedule. Can she wait until after lunch?”

“She will wait. Thank you.”

When he went back into the kitchen, she was heading for the back stairs.

“Thank you,” she called over her shoulder.


****


Elrohir could hear laughter as they ran down the field. He had pulled his horse back, allowing her pony to take the lead. She was lying flat on the pony’s back. Elldar was trying to keep up with her. He finally overtook her and they raced to the bend in the river. He won, but was not sure if she let him, or not. He did not care. He did not get much opportunity to ride like this in Lórien. Too many trees. He was enjoying himself very much. That is, until Caldelen showed up.

The older boy rode out of the woods. He glanced back up the field to see Elrohir was still some distance back and riding slowly.

“I see you are still stuck on a pony.”

“You will have further to fall when you get careless.”

“I am not careless. I have earned the right to ride a horse.”

“Mucking out stalls does not earn you the ability to ride. It only earns you a mount.”

“Still, I am on a horse and you have only a pony.”

“One I have not fallen off of lately. Where were you last week? Oh, yes, sitting in the paddock in the mud. I noticed you have changed horses, yet again. Can you not find one gentle enough that likes you?”

“I will show you who can sit a horse.” He grabbed the reins of her pony and jerked. Elldar reached for him, but it was too late. Ela ended up on the ground, under her dancing pony. She yelped when a hoof clipped her leg. Elldar reached up and pulled Caldelen down from his horse. By the time Elrohir came riding up, Elldar had the older boy pinned to the ground and was sitting on him. Caldelen was shouting and trying to hit Elldar, but his uncles and father had not trained him to lose a fight. He had not hit Caldelen once.

“What is going on here?” demanded Elrohir. He had come riding up when he saw the third rider at the bend.

“I thought I would see how the grass is coming along,” was Ela’s reply, from the ground.

“I was just showing this boy how we grow up in the woods,” was Elldar’s answer, still sitting on Caldelen.

“This is all her fault!”

“How could this possibly be my fault? You made him throw me. If you would grow up, you would not have these problems. Why do you hate me so? Is it the human blood? Well, I have news for you; I have no human blood. Not a drop. Moreover, if my parents were here, they would tell you that. Just Elf and Indrel. Nothing else. And if you were to ask, either is nobler than you. I feel sorry for you. You have nothing. Only your hatred for me. I know that my parents loved me and someday I will find out who I am.”

She stood up and limped over to her pony. Shrugging off any help, she got back on and rode for the stables.

“Come on, Elldar. You uncles will be worried if she shows up and you do not.”

“Gladly.” He mounted his pony and followed Ela.

“You are not welcome anymore. Do not come up to the house. Leave her be. Do not speak to her. Do not even look at her.”

He turned his horse and galloped off towards the stables. Arriving, he found Ela outside waiting for him. She brushed down her pony and waited to turn him out. She waited until he had taken care of his horse.

“I want to go inside.”

“Come on, then.”

She followed him as far as the large hole along the wall.

“Hello, snake. I am sorry I have not been down. It is that Caldelen. Yes, I know you do not like him. Neither do I.” She sat down and waited. Within minutes, a large snake had come out of the hole. It caressed the back of her hand with its tongue. She rubbed it between the eyes. A look of contentment came over her.

After a few minutes, the snake crawled back down into its hole. She got up and went over to Elrohir.

“I am ready, Elf. Thank you. I missed him.” She walked ahead of them back to the house.


Chapter 6 - Chapter Six

Running Through The Chasms Of My Mind
****


Ela went to the study to speak to Elrond. Finding it empty, she, she went back past the library. Entering, she stopped in front of the shelf that housed her personal books. Closing her eyes, she turned her thoughts inward and savored an early memory of her parents. An unremembered feeling entered her consciousness. Uneasiness settled as she realized she was no longer alone. She did not open her eyes, but frowned.
“That was not polite,” she said softly.

The other one felt as if a door had slammed shut.

“You have a rare gift. Most cannot feel nor block me.”

“That does not make it right.”

“No, it does not. Of whom were you thinking?”

“My parents. How happy we were.”

“What happened to them?”

“I am sure that Lord Elrond already explained that. Is there need to bring it up again?”

“You are a most unusual child. Who was your mother?”

“Depending on whom you would ask, a goddess, temptress, witch, savior, whore, traitor. Shall I continue?”

“No.”

There was silence for several moments.

“Are you happy here?”

Turning, Ela opened her eyes. Galadriel noted the slight gleam in their depths.

“As happy as I can be. My parents are dead. I was torn from my home. However, I have found a home here. I am most content, for now. The time will come when I must leave,
but until then, this will do.”

“Why must you leave?”

“Does not everyone leave at some point? You are no longer in Valinor. Lord Celeborn is no longer in Doriath. Eventually, everyone comes and goes elsewhere. Someday, I will
go to another place.”

“You are correct. Do you know where you will go?”

She shrugged, a most unattractive habit of hers. “Not yet.”

“May I ask a question?”

“Another one? Yes. If in my power, I will answer.”

“How old are you?”

“I am fifteen. I was born at mid-summer. In fifteen years, I will mark my thirtieth birthday. If I were at home, my mother would make me a very pretty dress. There would be a
celebration, with guests and gifts. At that point, I will be considered no longer a child, but starting on my journey towards adulthood. In another ten years, a man will be permitted to
speak for me. Then it would be a matter of waiting until we decided to wed. I do not think my mother liked the last part. She said she would never force me to wed. I would choose. That
is why she left her people. They did not approve of my father. Actually, they hated him. They forbid her to wed him.”

“Do you know why?”

“He was different. My mother said that her people did not like any who were different. His looks, his manners, his speech, all pointed to the fact he was not one of them. She did
not care. She loved him anyway.”

“If you found a man you liked, when would you wed?”

“Anytime after my fortieth birthday. When we felt it was time. There is no hurry. My mother was seventy-five when they wed. She was far older when I was born. She had
angered her father by refusing any others. There was none left who would have her, no matter what she brought them. She was…” Galadriel could see her struggle for a word. “She was
obstinate. No man wants a woman he cannot control.”

“That is unlike elves.”

She grinned. “Yes, that has occurred to me. I have seen that also among men. They want a woman who can think, not blindly follow a man.” She looked into Galadriel’s
eyes. “You are very strong. You can think. You would not blindly follow any man nor allow one to lead you. Yet, are you wedded. Moreover, your Lord is not a man to be led. It seems
you suit each other.”
“You see much more than you admit. Tell me of your father.”

Ela closed her eyes.

“He was fair. All silver. Even his voice. When he spoke, it was like water running down a hill. His touch was like a feather. When he touched me, I felt safe and happy. He could
fix anything. Once, I fell from a tree. I hurt my arm. He fixed it and did not tell my mother. She worried so about me. My mother said I should be as lucky as she was. To find one who
made me safe.”

Without opening her eyes, she said, “Good morning, Lord Erestor. We have a guest.”

“So it would seem. Good morning, Lady.

“Ela, you are excused to prepare for tonight.”

“Yes, Lord Erestor.” Nodding, she left.

Elrond came in through the terrace door.

“What do you think?” Erestor asked.

“She is a very unusual child. She believes her father was Elven. I am inclined to agree. There is a wall I cannot penetrate. She is adept at blocking her thoughts. She also has
an ability to read things around her. She knew who I was before she saw me. Have you noticed this?”

“Some of it. She seems able to feel emotions. So far, it is as erratic as her questions are. She said the snake in the stables liked her. When asked if he told her that, she said
no, she just felt it. There have been the problems with Caldelen. He is very jealous of her. She noticed this early and has been avoiding him for months. I do not think the boy knows how
serious it is. Elrohir and Haldir both have spoken to him.”

“Have you found out who her mother’s people were?”

“Not yet,” replied Elrond. “We have two names, and small bits she has given. Elrohir said she mentioned the word Indrel last week. She mentioned it again yesterday. I know
of no people by that name, but the far southeast is an open and mostly unknown area. He will check it out when he returns to the Rangers. It seems the older she gets, the more she
remembers.

“It may be that the attack on her brought forward memories and abilities that were meant to remain dormant for yet a while. She will bear watching. She says she is fifteen, yet
her words speak of maturity beyond that, while her actions often prove her younger. She is torn. She is trying to fit in to our world, while remembering her own. The young are known to
do foolish things when confused.”

“The watching for now will not be a problem. She barely leaves the house and only goes as far as the gardens. She will not leave the grounds without an escort.” Elrond
paused and looked at Galadriel. “Thank you for speaking with her. I had hoped you could reach her. I know she is hiding something.”

“When the time comes, I am sure she will share with you. I will see you at lunch. I promised my husband a walk in the gardens.”

Both men bowed to her. She went in search of her Lord.





Misery Loves Company

****





The feast set for that night was an elaborate affair. Seldala had seen that Ela had a new gown to wear. She had argued about wearing it, but since it was insisted upon, she
made the best of it and did not fuss too much. It was a deep sapphire with slippers to match. Seldala had even found ribbons for her hair in the same shade. By the time for dinner had
arrived, she was actually looking forward to the evening.
When she finally came down the stairs, she found Elldar had also been required to dress up.

“I do not feel so bad, now,” she said to him.

“Why, because I am miserable?”

“I did not want to wear this. I would rather have worn my trousers and a tunic. This feels unnatural.”

“Not to mention it looks unnatural.”

“At least I can take my shoes off during dinner. No one ever notices.”

“Do you do this often? I mean the fancy dinner thing.”

“More than I like. Whenever someone important comes to see Ada, I have to dress up. It is most unfair. They did not come to see me.”

“Well, I cannot wait to get out of these clothes.”

“That will not be very long. We will be excused early. They will be up all night dancing and singing and drinking.”

“Well, that is something. What will we do?”

“We can go up to my room and play a game, or go to the library. I still have some work to finish for Lord Erestor. Then there is always the tree house. Sometimes I spend the
night there. It is peaceful, once you get used to the waterfalls.”

“Let me know when we can leave. At home, I do not usually have to attend these things.”

“All right. You decide what you want to do later.”

She turned as Seldala came down the stairs.

“Are you ready, Sell?” she asked.

“As ready as I ever am for this.”

“Then, come on. They are waiting.” Seldala smiled as Erestor came up behind her and took her hand, placing it on his arm.

“Come, younglings. It is time for dinner.”

Elldar shrugged, a habit he had picked up from Ela, and put her hand on his arm, imitating Erestor. He led her into the dining room to the places assigned to them. After holding
her chair for her, he took the seat next to hers. Ela gave a start when she heard a voice behind her.

“That is my chair, boy. Go sit somewhere else.”

Elldar looked back at Caldelen.

“I was not aware you would be here. Please forgive me. I had not realized this was your chair. One moment please.” He looked at the back of the chair and then turned it
over. Haldir watched him, confused. What was the boy doing?

“Again, I apologize, but your name does not seem to be anywhere on this chair. Maybe they are switched. Would you like help finding yours?”

Haldir’s elbow slipped off the table. He was hard pressed to keep from laughing. He expected a comment like that from Ela, but not Elldar. She was becoming a bad influence.

Caldelen turned red and looked around. Most of the adults had glanced away, but he caught a glimmer of a smile on Elrond’s lips. Since his parents had been invited, there had
been no choice but to include Caldelen. Elrond did not have to like it. He had warned Erentil to keep an eye on the boy. Even with so many there, he did not entirely trust him.

The conversation during dinner flowed around and over Elldar and Ela. They had their heads together quietly talking to each other. If one happened to look up, the one sight that drew their attention was Caldelen glaring at them from down and across the table. Haldir caught his look more than once. He had warned Rúmil earlier that Caldelen would be
attending. Whenever his younger brother could tear himself away from Glorfindel’s tales, he also watched the boy.

Before she knew it, dinner was over. The company that usually prompted these events had always bored Ela. This was the first time she had ever enjoyed herself.

Elrond led everyone into the Fire Room. There were roaring fires in both fireplaces. The season might be warm, but the night had cooled down. Glorfindel went over to where
the musical instruments were waiting. He picked up a lute and started to tune it. Three others went over and picked up flute, lute, and a drum. At his nod, Ela went and got her lute.
Although not proficient, she could keep up on some of the songs. As they started to play, Elrond led Arwen out into the open. Ela smiled to see Erestor and Seldala move onto the floor.
Soon, the area was crowded with dancers. Elldar sat close to Ela and watched her fingers strum the strings. Her small fingers faltered some, but it seemed more due to lack of size to fit
the neck of the lute, than lack of ability. Looking around the room for his uncles, his eyes rested on Caldelen. He was watching Ela avidly. Elldar heard a very sour chord and glanced at
her. She had stopped playing, staring at Caldelen. Elldar sensed that she had felt the older boy’s emotions. He took the lute from her and took her hand.

“I want to dance,” he said.

She allowed herself to be led out to the floor. Neither of them was very good at dancing, but they laughed at each other and had fun. A hand on his shoulder startled Elldar. He
looked up to see his eldest uncle standing behind him.

“When you are finished, I would like a dance.”

“Certainly. You may have it now.” Elldar stepped back.

Haldir took Ela’s small hand in his and placed his other hand on her shoulder. She concentrated on her feet, willing them to keep from stumbling.

“It is easier if you do not watch your feet. Just feel the rhythm. Let the music guide you.”

She looked up into his eyes. He was struck with the vividness of them. They glittered with a small inner light. The freckles crossing her nose had deepened since she had begun
spending more time outdoors. The deep crimson of her hair had lightened to gold, streaked with fire. The light from the lamps and candles gave her tresses a life of their own. If he used
his imagination, he could make out tiny points on her ears. He wondered, not for the first time, who her father was.

“Where did you learn to dance?” she asked.

“From my mother. She used to dance with me when I was a child.”

“Where is she now, if it is permissible to ask?”

“It is. She faded when my father was killed.”

“That must have been hard for you.”

“It was. It left me with two small brothers. Than in itself was hard enough. They were not the easiest of children to raise. Still, they turned out well enough.”

“How old were you?”

“Just short of my majority.”

“How could she just leave you like that? Did she not love you?”

He broke his gaze from her eyes. He had not discussed this in so many years. She could feel the pain.

“I am sorry. I did not mean to pry. It is not good for me to ask such questions.”

“It is alright. I see Elldar is impatient to reclaim you. Thank you for the dance.” He nodded to his nephew, who came forward.

“Thank you, Elldar. Watch your other uncle. If he can tear himself away from that girl in the corner, he will be over to bother the two of you.”

They glanced over to where Rúmil was chatting with an older girl. Ela remotely knew her. Dariela, or something like that.

Elldar firmly took possession of Ela’s hand and swung her around.

“He will have to find us first,” he laughed, moving into the crowd.

“That was interesting,” Ela commented. “This night is full of surprises.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, this is the most fun I have ever had at one of these dinners. Your uncle is a walking revelation. And, Rúmil is interested in more than balrogs. I wonder what else this
evening will bring.”

They had worked themselves to the doors leading to the terrace. There were several couples already drifting from the overheated room to the cool air outside.

“Would you like something to drink?” he asked.

“That would be nice. Ada has some wine set aside for us. It is slightly watered down, but still tastes good. Just ask Erentil.”

She watched him go back into the house.

“Finally, I thought he would never leave.”

She spun around at the words and came face to face with her former friend.

“Go away. I do not know how you managed to be allowed to attend, but you are not allowed to speak to me.”

“If I was not allowed, do you not think someone would have stopped me by now. I want to talk to you. About us.” He slowly worked her over to a dark corner.

“There is no us. You ruined that months ago. Even before that day in the alley. If you leave me alone, you will not have to worry about anyone else finding out. Not because I
would spare you, but I do not want anyone finding out how stupid I can be. I wish that I had never met you.”

“That will make the future difficult. I plan on asking that I be permitted to exchange rings with you.” He waited for her response. He saw Elrohir come out onto the terrace,
looking for something, or someone. He was startled by the laugh that sounded in his ear.

“You are what!” she exclaimed, between laughs. “You cannot be serious. I am too young. You are too young. Go back to our game of hiding your bow. You have a better
chance of keeping it from me than gaining my acceptance of you. I know what kind of husband I want, and you are not it.”

He grabbed her arm and shook her. “Stop it. Do not laugh at me!”

“I cannot help it.”

“What is going on here? Caldelen, let go of her. Ela, what are you doing?”

She held up her hand. When she could speak again, she looked at her brother.

“Oh, Elf. He has told me the funniest joke. I could not control myself.”

“Would you care to share it?”

“Oh, no, it was too stupid. It made no sense. It had no point.”

“Then why was it so funny?”

“It was the delivery, and the teller. Someday, I may share it, but it is too precious now.”

Elrohir scowled at the boy.

“Come on, Ela. Elldar is looking for you. He has your wine.”

“Goodbye, Caldelen,” she said, bowing slightly. “Our talk has been most enlightening. I trust you will learn from it and do nothing you will regret.” She turned before he could
say anything. Elrohir followed.

“What did he say?” Elrohir asked when they were inside. He went over to a bench along the wall. They sat down and waited for Elldar to find them.

“Will you tell your father?”

“No unless it will harm you not to.”

“He wants to exchange rings.”

He stared at her, speechless. “That was the joke? I can see how you would find it funny, but he was not amused. He is very angry right now.”

She shrugged. “That is not my fault. You know how dense he is. I told him to his face I do not want him. He just insisted on speaking to Ada. I would love to hear that
conversation.”

“Ela, this is not a game. The boy is serious.”

She sobered and looked up at him. “Do you not think I know that? What would you have me do? Tease him with false promises? I have told him no. I have pointed out the
reasons, least of all that I do not like him. Short of dragging your father into it, what can I do? He knows I cannot claim I love another. I am too young for even that game.”

“But you do, correct? There is another. There is nothing wrong with that. Now is the time for you to explore your options. Decide your future. Does this other one know?”

“No,” she whispered. “It would not be right. Besides, would I not be better off with one of my mother’s people? They must have a reason for wanting me back.”

“No good reason. You should forget about them. You are more Elven than anything else, even if only by upbringing. You would not fit into their society. Trust me. I have seen
it. Those raised in the closed confines of the havens of elves do not do well in the outside world. It may have been a disservice to have kept you all these years, but you have not been
unhappy, have you?”

“No. Lonely, sometimes, but never unhappy. And, you have been a family to me. I have been honored to be permitted to live here. Lord Elrond has been very good to me. Even
Lord Erestor has done everything he could to teach me. I would not throw any of that away. Besides, I think your father was glad to have a child again. Maybe he would like more.”

“Do not even think that,” he laughed. “We do not intend to settle down as long as the unrest exists. Moreover, I have not seen Arwen hastening towards a relationship with
any. Maybe another waif will show up in a boat.”

“Maybe, but I would not bet on that happening again. When you leave, will you do me a favor?”

“Anything.”

“Will you look for my mother’s people? I would only like to know. I feel like half of a person.”

“I will. Here comes Elldar. I think it best you stay in here for the rest of the evening. Do not wander outside. It is only by chance I found you this time.”

“I will not leave. Besides, this is the first time I have ever had fun.”

“I will blame that on Elldar. Company makes even the most tedious task bearable.”

“Thank you, Elf.”

He smiled. “Are you always going to call me that?”

“Do you object? I will stop only if it bothers you. Not because it bothers Haldir.”

He laughed. “I do not. Enjoy your evening.” He rose to leave, as Elldar reached them.

“I want a dance,” she called after him. He raised his hand and waved it in acknowledgement.

“Where did you go? I looked outside and you were gone.”

“I am sorry. I had to see to something.”

“Is everything alright?”

“It is for now. Keep an eye on Caldelen. He is very unhappy right now.”

“How much longer do you want to stay?”

“Unless you want to leave, I would like to stay a little longer. I am actually having fun. Who would have thought it?”

“I know my uncle would like a dance. I am not sure why. He is all over that girl over there.” They both glanced to where Rúmil was sitting with yet another girl.

“I do not know that one. He is persistent.”

“He is fickle. I can think of at least four girls back home. He knows he is safe here.”

The object of their discussion looked up to see them staring. He spoke to the girl and came over to them.

“Would you care to dance?” he asked Ela.

“Certainly. Although you might be more comfortable with the girl you just left.”

“No, I want to dance with you.”

He took her hand. Elldar watched as they gracefully started to dance. She had improved with the evening. He had seen his eldest uncle speaking to her; maybe he had helped
her.

As they danced, Haldir watched her from time to time. It escaped her understanding, until she saw that he was also watching her former friend, who was also watching her. The
look on the boy’s face was too easy to read. Haldir thought it time to remove the temptation from Caldelen’s reach. Striding over to where Elldar sat, he joined him.

“How do you like it here?”

“It is different. Too formal, though. I miss home.”

His uncle laughed. “So do I. I think it would be alright for you to leave, if you want.”

“I will ask her. She promised a dance to Elrohir. Is she really coming to visit this summer?”

“Yes.”

“Good. It is lonely being the only child around. Do you think she will miss all of this?”

“Probably not most of it. She does not like the formality any more than you do. It is just something with which she has grown up. I know she is happiest when in the library, or
in her tree house.”

“Then she will fit in. All we have are trees.”

They both watched as Ela came towards them. She was flushed and her eyes were lit up.

“Your brother is a terrible flirt.”

“He does do a lot of it.”

“No, I mean he is terrible. Someone should teach him how to do it. He is so obvious.”

“Well, it has stood him well for a long time. As he is not yet wedded, his technique has either done him harm or good, depending on how you look at it.”

“I would say it has done him good. He is not ready for that.”

“Are you ready to leave? I would like to see you to where the two of you are going to spend the rest of the evening.”

“I promised the Elf a dance. When we are finished, I can leave, if Elldar wants to…”

“My turn.” Elrohir came up beside them. He took off with Ela before she could finish her sentence.

“Are you sure she will not miss all of this?” asked Elldar.

“Her brothers leave the day after tomorrow. We leave in three days. Soon it will be just her and the few here. She will not have anything much to miss.”

Before she could return after the dance, Elrond had claimed her. She was kept busy the next few dances. The only one she turned down was Caldelen.

By the time she returned to Elldar, she was ready to leave.

“I want to change, then I think I would like to go to the tree house. It is not too cold.”

Elldar agreed and Haldir followed them to the back of the house.

“I will meet you in the kitchen,” said Elldar. She nodded at him and started up the back stairs, Haldir following.

“I will not be long,” she said, outside her room. She went in and closed the door. He noticed she did not lock it. Soon her need for locks would be far away. Within minutes, she
opened the door back up. She was dressed in leggings and a wool tunic. He smiled to see her clutching a blanket and her doll. Fifteen, huh? He saw past her that she had laid her dress
carefully over the chair.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“Yes. I want to stop in the kitchen to get some snacks. Dalgren will have a basket ready.”

He led the way down the stairs. The promised basket was on the small table in the corner. Elldar had not come in yet, so they sat down.

“If you live in trees, are your tree houses on the ground?” she asked, grinning.

“Not everyone lives in the trees. Actually, not even most do. Orophin and Gariel live in a house outside the city walls.”

“Oh. Do you live in a house?”

“Rúmil and I both live in a talan.”

“Why does Orophin not?”

“Gariel will go up into the trees, but she prefers the ground. It is handier.”

“Where does Arwen live?”

“She lives with her grandparents, the Lord and Lady.”

“I think it will be different from Imladris. Quieter.”

“It is. There are no waterfalls. Just the Celebrant. However, to hear the wind in the mallorn trees is worth the trip. Lórien is surrounded by the plains of Rhovanion on two
sides. The Misty Mountains are to the west and Fangorn to the south.”

Elldar came into the kitchen, interrupting their talk.

“I am ready,” he said.

Haldir picked up the basket and saw them to the tree house before returning to the party.





Indulgence Can Be Painful

****



For the next several days, Elldar and Ela were inseparable. Except for her lessons in the early morning hours, they managed to spend every waking hour together. Elrohir and
Elladan took them riding, but did not let them out of their sight. Haldir found them in the tree house one day, reading one of her Dwarvish books. It was a book of children’s stories. He did
not understand her fascination with the literature of Dorga’s people. Personally, he did not think it well written or of any benefit.

She came into the library to talk to Elrond. He was at his desk finishing up some correspondence. She waited patiently until he was done. Erestor came in with another stack of
papers. Elrond looked up at her soft sigh.

“Did you need something, Ela?”

“Just a request.”

He set aside the letters and went to sit beside her. “What is it?”

“My birthday is soon.”

“Yes.”

“I have decided what I would like.”

“And what is that?”

She glanced from one to the other.

“Earrings.”

“Earrings? You want to put holes in your ears?”

“Yes. I have thought long about it. I think that I would look good in earrings.”

“Ela, elves do not pierce their ears. It is just not done.”

“Why not? I think Lady Seldala would look beautiful with earrings.”

“It is just not done. Elves do not pierce their ears.”

“You mentioned that. Well, then if I am only half Elven, then I will get the Indrel half pierced. That way, I will offend no one.”

Elrond sat back. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

“Yes. Dorga said that the human healer in the village could do it. It is safe. He does it for the others.”

“And if I say no?”

“Then I will be disappointed, but I will not. I will wait until I can do it myself.”

“Are you absolutely sure about this?”

“Yes.”

“It will hurt.”

“More than when you healed the broken leg? More than getting kicked by my pony?”

“Alright,” he laughed. “You have made your point. You have my permission.”

“Thank you, Ada.” She gave him a quick hug and ran from the room.

“Earrings?” Elrond said to Erestor.

“Her flights of independence take a different path than did your other charges.”

“Yes, they do. I will take her tomorrow. She wants to visit Dorga, anyway.”



****





Dorga was more than a little surprised to see Elrond, trailed by Elldar, with Ela the next day. He ushered them in and found a chair for the Elf. Elldar had never met a Dwarf
before. He had mixed feelings about going there, but found the small man very interesting. Elldar received more than a healthy dose of bad poetry and worse songs. He would have to
remember to edit his reports of his visit to Imladris when speaking to his mother.

Pouring tea for them, Dorga glanced at Elrond.

“So, what brings you to my humble abode, Lord?”

“It seems your bad influence on a certain girl. She wants to have her ears pierced, and it seems I have you to thank for it.”

The Dwarf laughed. “Do not blame me for that. I only told her where to go. I did not want her to have just anyone do it. But I did tell her she had to gain your consent.”

“Well, thank you for that. She waylaid me yesterday. I brought her down to have it done. I hope she knows what she is doing.”

“Most of the women of men and Dwarves have it done. It is not an uncommon practice.”

“It is among elves.”

“I would not worry. It is just two small holes.”

“In otherwise perfect ears. Why is it so important?”

“In some cultures, it is a sign of maturity. In others, a sign of unavailability. With her, it is just a desire to flex her wings. She saw several of the village girls with earrings and
wanted to fit in.”

“It will not help her in Lórien.”

“So, you intend to send her there? It will be less handy for a certain elf I know. How does she feel about it?”

“I have not yet told her. She will not take it well.”

“You have a flair for understatement. I expect she will fight tooth and toenail.”

“Aye, she will fight it, but she will go.”

“She will. I shall miss her. She has been a joy. I look forward to our visits. I will have to remember to send her some of my tea.”

“The elves of Lórien will not thank you for that. Send plenty.” They both laughed.

Elrond looked over to where Ela was showing Elldar some of Dorga’s trade samples.

“It is time, Sell. Your appointment is soon.”

“Yes, Ada. Thank you, Dorga, for your hospitality. I will see you tomorrow for tea?”

“Yes, child. I will be there.”

“Goodbye, then.” She went to the door and waited while Elrond and Elldar gave their goodbyes.

Walking down the street, Elrond noticed that she was moving slower.

“Second thoughts?” he asked.

“Maybe just a little.”

“Good. I would not feel you had thought it through if you did not have them.”

They stopped in front of the healers shop. Ela took a deep breath and went through the door that Elrond held open for her.

“Lord Elrond. I did not know you would bring her personally.” Melkin came to greet them. “Welcome. Are you ready?” he asked Ela.

She nodded.

“Come then. I have everything waiting.” He led her into the private room. She sat down in the chair.

Elrond followed, but kept out of the way. He saw her blanch at the sight of the needle, but she did not say anything.

“This will numb it up a little,” said Melkin, rubbing a swatch of cloth on her ears. “You will still feel a pinch, but nothing worse.”

He waited several minutes to allow the anesthetic to take effect. He then picked up a large needle and placed a small piece of hardwood behind her earlobe. Quickly pushing the
needle through her ear, he heard her gasp. Pulling the needle out, he placed a drop of alcohol in the hole. He then placed a very small stud in her ear. Moving to the other side, he
repeated the process. Handing her a mirror, he sat her up.

“How do you like them?” he asked.

“They are beautiful. I like them. I cannot wait to show Dalgren. She said I would not be able to go through with it. What do you think, Ada?”

“Your Indrel ears look beautiful. Come, it is time to go. How much is the fee, Melkin?”

“It is taken care of, Lord Elrond. It was a gift for her birthday. The Elf paid for the earrings and the piercing was my gift.”

“What elf?”

“He just said he was The Elf,” Melkin said with a grin.

“Elrohir. Ela, what did he have to do with this?”

“Not much. He said that if I could talk you into it, then he would get me the earrings. I did, and he did.”

“Lórien is in trouble.”



****



The next day, Ela was in the library before light. Dorga would be there at two and she wanted to be done long before then. She went over her lessons one last time before
Erestor was to arrive. Satisfied, she folded her hands and closed her eyes.

Erestor came through the door, interrupting her thoughts.

“Ela, you are excused this morning. Dorga has sent word he cannot come this afternoon. He asks if this morning would suit.”

“How can one have afternoon tea in the morning?” she asked, opening her eyes.

“I am sure you will find a way.”

“Would you care to join us, lord?”

“You know the answer to that very well. His tea is a poison that will slowly kill.”

“Probably. Nevertheless, it would be a pleasant way to spend a millennium. I have a kitten yet. Did you change your mind?”

“No, sell. One is enough. Go now. Get ready for your tea. He will be here in two hours.”

“That is enough time to see the snake.” She stood and bowed. “Thank you, Lord Erestor.”

“You are welcome.”

****

“Would it be much trouble to have tea on the front terrace? Ela asked Dalgren.

“No, sell. Are you sure?”

“Yes. I want to look out over the valley. I am tired of the mountain behind us.”

“Very well. I will see to it. How many will there be?”

“Maybe four. Do you have cakes today? Dorga loved them last week.”

“I think there may be some stale ones from the other night. How will that be?”

“Better than nothing, barely. I know you made cakes yesterday. Please say you made extra.”

Dalgren laughed. “You know I did. Yes, there are enough for your tea.”

“Thank you,” she said, giving the older woman a hug.

She went out to the terrace to see if it would do. She found the broom in a corner and started sweeping up the leaves that had blown from the trees. A squirrel chattered under
one of the small tables. Ela went over and crouched down.

“What are you doing here? There are no nuts. If you wait, there will be cake. How does that sound?” The animal cocked its head as if listening to her. Suddenly, it bolted from
the terrace. Ela turned to see Galadriel sitting in a far corner.

“Lady,” she said standing and bowing politely.

“Come here, sell.” Ela warily went over to her.

“You do not like me much, do you?”

“I did not know it was required of me to like you.”

“It is not,” the woman said, laughing. “However, why is it you do not?”

“I cannot say. I do not care to have someone read my private thoughts. They are mine. They are the only things I have. You reach out and try to see what is there. If I wanted
to share, I would. It should be my choice.”

“I understand. I will try not to intrude upon your thoughts.”

“Thank you.”

“What did the animal say to you?”

“Nothing. He does not speak elvish and I do not speak squirrel. He was just looking for food.”

Dalgren came out, followed by one of the kitchen help. They bore trays of cups and cakes. Setting them down on a table, Dalgren turned to Ela.

“Will you require anything else, lady?”

“Maybe another cup. You never know who may drop in for tea. Are you making bread this afternoon?”

“You know I have already done it. You should not spend so much time in the library.”

“Well, maybe tomorrow. Thank you, Dalgren.”

“You are welcome.”

“You could join us,” Ela said.

“Yes, and I could wed an Orc. However, we both know I will do neither. Enjoy your tea. I see Master Dorga coming up the steps.”

Ela ran over to the head of the steps. Running back to the table, she set the cups just so. She laid out napkins and tiny plates. By the time Dorga had finished his climb, she had
everything the way she wanted it. He handed her a small bottle, which she poured into the teapot.

She turned as Lord Celeborn came through the door. She bowed and showed him his chair. He in turn held hers out for her. When they were all seated, Ela poured the tea.

Celeborn thanked her and took a sip. They watched to see what he would do.

“This is not the worst mixture I have ever drunk. I remember an old Dwarf who made his so strong, it could melt the cup.”

“Then how did you drink it?” Ela asked.

“Very quickly.”

She sat for several seconds, and then broke out in laughter. Dorga joined her.

“I do not believe that you have ever drunk this before.”

“Believe what you will, I have had it. Once. However, that was enough. You do this every week?”

She nodded her head as she bit into one of the little cakes.

“We have been doing it for almost five years. Caldelen quit after a couple of weeks. He said we have no taste. Of course, he did not understand the poetry and the jokes were
over his head.” She looked at him. “Would you like to hear a poem?”

“Very well.”



“An Orc said to a lady
‘How do you do?’
She turned to look at him
And said, ‘The same to you.’
It bothered her not
That he was not her kind
For it was soon discovered
She was totally blind”



“That was interesting. Where did you learn that?”

“From the Elf. He did tell me not to recite it to his father, but you are not his father. He told me some others, but I cannot tell them to you.”

“What are you doing?”

Ela looked up to see Elldar standing in the door.

“We are having tea. I would invite you, but it is for adults.”

“You are not an adult.”

“Yes, well, in that case you may join us then, but do not tell your uncles. They would not approve.”

He sat in the empty chair. She poured him a cup and waited. He took a large swallow, and then realized what it tasted like. Ela later swore he turned at least three shades of
green before he managed to swallow the rest of the mixture.

“What is this stuff?”

“Tea. Was there something wrong with it?” She turned to the Dwarf. “I told you, Dorga, it has to be fresh. Now he will probably get sick.”

Elldar looked stricken. He was caught up in a coughing spell when his uncles came up the steps. The sight they beheld was priceless. Celeborn had a very small smile on his
lips. Ela was laughing so hard there were tears running down her cheeks. Dorga was looking out over the valley. Then they noticed their Lady sitting in the corner, smiling.

“What is wrong with the boy?” Haldir demanded.

“I think he is getting ready to throw up,” laughed Ela.

“His tea went down wrong,” said Dorga.

“His mother will never let him leave Lórien again,” added Celeborn.

“Would you like some tea?” asked Ela, innocently. She managed to take a drink with a straight face.

“Tea?” said Haldir.

“Yes, tea. We are having a tea party. That is what you drink at tea parties. Tea. And cakes.”

“Very well. We will have some tea,” he said, humoring her.

“That is not a good idea.” Elrond walked out onto the terrace. “It is laced. With poison, I think.”

Haldir decided to take his chances. He and Rúmil both accepted cups. By the time they got it down, everyone was laughing so hard, Erestor came out to see what the commotion
was. He shook his head in disgust.

“It is bad enough you indulge her and allow this foul ritual, but to let her suck others into it, that is not right.” He turned and went back to his office.

Ela suddenly stood up and took a step towards the edge of the terrace. The cup she was holding shattered on the stone paving. She went as far as the railing would allow and
even leaned over. Her gaze was fixed on the mountains to the northeast.

“Ela, come away from the edge,” Elrond said to her. “Ela! Get her!” She had leaned out farther than was prudent.

“They are dying!” she cried. She backed down from the railing. Celeborn was closest and caught her before she fell to the ground. He almost dropped her in shock. When he
looked down into her face, there was blood running from her nose. “Help them, please! They are dying!”


Chapter 7 - Chapter Seven

A ‘Sight’ Not Beheld
****


“Who is dying?” demanded Elrond.

“The people. So many.” Galadriel reached out to help her. When she touched the girl, she recoiled as if burned. Elrond looked at her, but was drawn by exclamations from the others.

Looking up towards the mountain, they could see smoke.

“Where is that?” asked Haldir.

“Misty Haven. Edain village, just over the mountain.” Elrond looked down at Ela. Her eyes were open, but she did not see anything. He took her from Celeborn and went into the house with her.

“What happened?” asked Erestor, meeting him in the hallway. He could see that Ela was pale, and the blood on her shirt. His thoughts were drawn back to when Elrohir had brought her from the village, months ago.

“I do not yet know. Find Seldala.” He went up the stairs to Ela’s room. Laying her on the bed, he found a towel and wiped the blood from her face. His hand touched her cheek. He drew back. The thoughts he had felt were chaotic and horrifying. He had seen people slaughtered. Women and children. Was this what she had seen? He looked down at her. She was sweating and her skin was white. Her eyes were unresponsive. He moved aside as Seldala came in. She took the girl’s hand in hers. He was relieved that she did not seem to feel what he had felt. He left and went back down to the terrace. There he found Celeborn and Galadriel, looking up at the mountains. Elldar sat in the corner, trying to be inconspicuous.

“Haldir and Rúmil left with your sons to investigate,” Celeborn spoke softly. Looking down at the blood that soiled the front of his robe, he did not know how to ask the next question. “She saw what happened. Did you know about this?”

“No. Did you feel it? When you touched her?”

“Yes. As did Galadriel.”

“Who is the man hanging in the tree?” she asked, coming closer.

“You saw that?” She nodded. “Her father. He was murdered by her mother’s people.”

“Elrond, that child is very troubled. Her people tried to kill her. Her parents murdered in front of her. She cannot even sort out what she is. From what you have told us and what we have seen, how could she ever live in the outside world?” Her voice was soft and carried much concern.

He sighed, in resignation. “I do not think she could. She has doubts about it. She has already spoken to Erestor. We have discussed it at length. I have reconciled myself to the fact that she will probably never leave Imladris. Unless to another haven.”

“Do you think to send her to Lórien? Who would care for her? She is too young to be on her own. How would she adjust, after living here? It is vastly different. It will not be what she is used to.”

“I no longer know what to do. If she stays here, I am afraid she will come to more harm. Caldelen has a dislike for her that could destroy both of them. I know he is not innocent in his part of the attack on her four months ago. He arranged to deliver her to those men. I just cannot prove it. Whoever they are, they are determined to have her. I fear they will try it again. Is it still all right that she visits later this summer? By then, we may have sorted this out.”

“Of course,” said Celeborn. “She will be welcome. I am assured that Gariel will make a place for her.”

“Thank you. How are Orophin and his wife?”

“They are well. I am sure that they are missing their son by now. At least she will have a few friends when she arrives.”

“I am sorry your visit had to be so involved. At least we settled on a plan for Mirkwood. Will you be staying much longer?”

“I think it time to return home. Your hospitality and home are both gracious, but I miss Lórien.” Elrond chuckled at Celeborn.

“It surely must be quieter.”

“At times. However, it has been an enjoyable visit. Has Arwen decided to return or stay?”

“I think she will return with you. She is glad to visit, but she cannot stay yet.”

“She is, as always, welcome. I look forward to Ela’s visit later. She is a most interesting child. Erratic, but interesting.”

“I am sure Erestor could fill you in on erratic. He has had the main dealing with her for five years. I am surprised he does not have more headaches.”

Seldala’s pause in the doorway interrupted the conversation.

“She is asking for you,” was all she said.

“I am coming,” he replied. “Excuse me,” he said to Celeborn and Galadriel.

“May we come?” asked Galadriel.

“You may try. She will not let many past her door. You may be disappointed.”

“I will chance it.”

“Very well then. Follow me.”

They went into the house and up the stairs. Seldala opened the door to Ela’s room. A scent of lavender floated out.

“Sell, you have company. Is it alright?” They could hear her ask the girl. They could not hear her answer.

Seldala turned to Elrond and nodded. He entered the room, Celeborn and Galadriel behind him. Ela was sitting in her chair by the open window. Elrond took in her pallor and looked deep into her eyes. At least they were bright again.

“How do you feel?” he asked her.

“Like I have been dropped off a cliff. What of the people?”

“Your brothers went to see. They should return by tomorrow.”

“They will not find much. Those men were thorough. Only the outlaying areas will have escaped. The men were brutal, but not very intelligent. They should have made sure of the fringes first.”

Galadriel’s eyes lost their focus as she looked out the window.

“The child is correct. Not many in the village are left.”

“I guess that men are also able to commit kinslaying. Caldelen was right.”

“No, Iell, he was not entirely right. Only some men would do this. Most would not.”

“What difference does it make if you cannot tell who will and who will not? You cannot trust anyone.” She looked at him with pain in her eyes. “Men kill, Indrelan kill, I know one elf who would like to. Are there no people not bent on killing someone? Wait. The Halflings. They have no history of murder. Are they the only ones?”

Elrond knelt down beside her.

“You must understand that all were created with a mind and will. It is up to the individual to decide whether good or evil will rule their life. Greed and jealousy are strong motivations for some to choose evil.”

“Will you one day choose to go to the west?”

“When my time is done here, yes. Why?”

She hesitated. “Men are destined to stay here. They have no hope of Valinor. What they have for them and their children is what they can build here. Elves have an escape from this land. When they tire of the battles here, they can leave. Of what would you have to be jealous? This is just a way stop for most of you. It is those who will stay behind who will carry on. They are the ones who have the courage. To face the future with only the hope of death at the end of their lives. What is my future? Do I have a choice? If I did, I would stay.”

Elrond could think of nothing to say to her.

Celeborn took the opportunity to survey her room. It was sparse, but she did have a few belongings scattered on shelves. There were books neatly stacked on a desk. She had her clothes neatly folded and on shelves in the cupboard. The only thing he could see out of place was a large grey striped cat sitting in the window behind her. He stepped back as something crossed his foot. Looking down he was amused to see a tiny yellow kitten batting at the hem of his robe. He reached down and picked up the creature. It was so small in his large hands you could not see it. He stroked its neck and was rewarded with a loud purr. Ela looked up at the noise. Celeborn stood with a smile on his lips. She smiled, taking in the strange sight of the Lord of Lórien playing with a kitten.

“He needs a home, you know.”

“Ah, but would he stand the journey?”

“No,” she agreed, “He is too little. I think closer to home would be better. Besides, the cat would miss him. He is the last of his litter. She would like to have him a little longer. No child should have to leave before they are ready.” She looked at Elrond as she said this.

She looked around at each of the adults.

“I am not ready. When the time is right, I will accept, but not yet.”

Erentil, searching for Elrond to announce dinner, found them still in her room. “We will be right down.” He had not noticed how late it was. “Will you join us, Iell?”

“I do not think so. I am not hungry.”

“I will have Seldala bring you up something later.

“Thank you.”

“Rest now. I will see you later.”

“Good night, Ada.”

Elrond closed the door behind them.

“She knows. Somehow she knows about Lórien.”

“You give her too much credit. She knows she is to visit later this summer,” Celeborn said as they walked down the stairs.

“It is more than that. You have not spent enough time with her to know it.”

Galadriel frowned. “I think that she knows she will be leaving soon. Not when, but soon.”

“She has spoken to you?”

“In a round about way. We spoke on the terrace earlier today. She said that when she feels it is time, she will leave.”

“I am afraid that the time may not be of her choosing. Short of banishing Caldelen, she is not safe here any longer.”

“We will welcome her when she comes. Whenever that may be.” Celeborn still held the little kitten.

“Thank you, Celeborn. I think late summer will be soon enough.”

He went to the dining room door and motioned them through. “I am hungry. Shall we eat?”

----

Ela was waiting on the terrace the next afternoon when the party returned from Misty Havens. She carefully waited back from the railing, mindful that Erestor was watching her. She had come down for breakfast, but had not shown up for lunch. When asked, Dalgren said that they were having a picnic in the tree house. No one needed to inquire as to who “they” were. Elldar was missing as well.

“They are coming!” she called, running past the library. She did not stop, but went to the kitchen for glasses and wine and water. She carried the wine out, followed by Dalgren, carrying the water and glasses. The placed their burdens down on the table and had set them out just as the returning party reached the bottom of the steps leading up from the terrace. Ela was extremely annoyed to see Caldelen had insinuated himself into the small group. He was as thick as an Orc.

Elrond came out of the house as his sons reached the terrace. He saw with surprise that Benerd was with them.

“Benerd. I am pleased to see you survived. And your family?”

“We lost only our home and some livestock. Most were not as fortunate.”

“Come. Have some wine. Where is Mares?”

“She is coming. She could not travel as fast with the small one. In addition, it seems she is to bless us with another one. They are several hours behind us.”

“Elf,” Ela said quietly to Elrohir. “Where are Haldir and Rúmil?”

“Do you worry for them, Sell?” he asked, a smile in his eyes.

“Only because Elldar would be concerned.”

“Do not drag me into this!” the boy declared.

“Do not worry. They come with Benerd’s wife and child. I will let him know that you asked for them, though.”

“Do not bother yourself. I was only concerned. It is no big thing.” She turned to get glasses of wine for everyone. She pointedly did not get one for Caldelen.

“What of me?” he asked her.

“Wine is not good for children. You know that.”

Elrohir stepped between the bristling elf and the girl.

“Why do you bait him so?” he asked softly, only for her ears.

“Because he is too dense for subtlety.”

Elrohir fetched the boy wine, himself.

Close enough to catch the conversation, Celeborn just smiled. She had a spirit he admired. It reminded him of somewhat of Galadriel when younger.

Ela went back into the house to help Dalgren bring out sandwiches and more wine. When everything had been placed on the table, she went to Erestor.

“Lord Erestor, may I have leave to wait below? I find it too close up here.”

Glancing at Elrond, who nodded slightly, Erestor looked down at the girl.

“Do not wander far. Ask Elldar to go with you. I will keep watch from up here.”

“Thank you.” He watched her go over to Elldar and speak to him. He saw from the corner of his eye that Caldelen’s gaze never left her. It was a mixture of intense dislike and something Erestor did not expect to see. Desire. Elrond had better get the girl to Lórien, and soon, he thought to himself.

----

The party from Misty Havens entered Imladris from the east. As he crossed the meadow on the far side of the river, he saw Elldar and Ela waiting. Since they did not know the people with them, he suspected that they waited for him and his brother. For some reason, it made him smile.

“What is so amusing, brother?”

He just pointed across the river.

“Ah. Who do you suppose they wait to greet?”

“It is more likely a matter of who is on the terrace.”

“There is that. Have you spoken to Lord Elrond yet?”

“No. I hope I do not have to. It is really not my place to interfere in the affairs of his subjects.”

“But if he is a threat to her, why would you not?”

“I am not sure if he is just words or not.”

“Ha!” Rúmil snorted. “You have seen the way he watches her. If he does not try to kill her, he may do something worse.”

“Not after I talk to Elrohir.”

“He leaves today. What good will that do?”

“He can tell his father things that I should not. I will leave it up to him.”

They halted at the near side of the bridge where Elldar and Ela awaited them.

“March Warden,” she said, coolly and formally. “Rúmil.” He got a grin.

She turned to the woman with them.

“Lady Mares, I presume. I hope your journey was not too difficult. I am sorry for your loss. How is the child?”

“It was difficult, but necessary. Thank you and the child is fine. May I ask your name?”

“This is Lady Elrénia,” said Haldir, with none of his usual arrogance. “She is Lord Elrond’s foster daughter. It is she who was to come to you five years ago.”

“Please, it is just Ela. Lady is for someone who does inhabit tree houses and throw boots at March Wardens.”

Haldir laughed.

Ela took the bridle of Mares’ horse and led it to the stables. Haldir helped her dismount. She leaned heavily on his arm as he put her down. Ela reached to help and suddenly drew back. Haldir glanced at her.

“What is it?” he asked.

“You carry a child,” she said to the woman.

“Yes. How did you know? I only found out days ago.”

Ela looked up in wonder. “She will be very special.”

“She?” asked Mares.

“Yes, she. A blessing after all you have lost.”

Mares started crying. Haldir helped her up the stairs.

At the top, Benerd came running when he saw she was crying.

“What is wrong? Is it the boy?”

“Ask the girl,” was all she could say.

Benerd looked at Ela questioningly.

“I did nothing. I swear.”

“Ela told Mares she was carrying a girl child,” Haldir said.

Benerd looked from Ela to his wife.

“How do you know?” he whispered.

She shrugged. “I could feel it. Can you not?”

Erestor decided it was time to pull Ela out of the discussion. He had noticed that she was winding up for one of her question tirades. He did not think anyone needed that right now. He sent her into the house to ask Seldala to ready some rooms.

Benerd took his nephew from one of his sons. The boy looked unaffected by his journey. Benerd was just thankful they had all escaped. So many of his friends and neighbors had not. According to Elladan, the village was gone. What survivors there may have been, had fled. The twins had found Benerd’s family hiding in the woods back from their farmstead. They had escaped with practically nothing.

“Erentil,” said Elrond, “will you send for Dorga? Tell him we will need clothing and give him sizes. He will know where to get it. Also, find out if that house in the bend of the river is still available. It is small, but is a good farm.” He turned to Benerd. “There is a small house not far from here. It will serve for now. Should you decide to stay, it can be enlarged.”

“You do not have to do that, Lord Elrond. We can find lodgings for now.”

“You are a good friend of my sons. I would not turn you away. If it does not suit, you may find accommodations later. For now, you need a place to stay. Tonight you will stay here. I will send someone to make sure the house is ready.”

“Thank you,” said Benerd, bowing.

Elldar had taken over Ela’s job of pouring wine and water. He also ignored Caldelen. Haldir decided it was well they were leaving soon. He would not like to explain to his younger brother why his son had damaged one of Imladris’ fair ones.



----


After Mares had eaten, Ela showed her to a room for the night. The girl had gone to the garden and picked flowers to brighten up the room. She turned down the bed and got towels for a bath. She showed Mares the bathing room and went back to find a sleeping gown for her. By the time the woman was finished bathing, hot tea and cakes were waiting in her room. Ela returned with a gown.

“I have made you tea and found a gown. Lady Seldala is taller, but she likes her gowns shorter, so it should fit. Would you like the window open or closed?” Mares had a hard time hearing the child.

“Open is fine.” She dropped her towel and put the gown on, while Ela turned around.

“I must warn you, if the window is open, you may get a visit from my cat. She thinks any open window is an open invitation to come in.”

“I do not mind. I like cats.”

“Well, then, if you decided you cannot live without one, I may be able to scrounge one up. Do you like yellow?”

“Yellow is very pretty.”

“I will keep that in mind.”

“May I ask you a question?”

“You may. I will answer if it is in my power.”

“Benerd told me that Lord Elrond was to send us a child of men. I apologize, but you do not look like one of us.”

“My father was Elven. My mother was Indrelan.”

“What is Indrelan?”

Ela shrugged. “When I remember, I will let you know. One of the many secrets in my head awaiting a sharp blow to knock them loose.”

“Ela.”

She swung around at the voice from the door.

“Lord Erestor. I did not hear you come up the stairs.”

“I do not think it polite to burden Lady Mares right now.”

“Yes, Lord Erestor. I apologize, Lady Mares. It is a bad habit, my erratic babbling, or so I have heard.”

“Stay out of corners, child. It will get you into trouble.”

“And I have not enough of that. Did Caldelen go home?”

“Ela,” his voice warned.

“Apologies, Lord Erestor.”

“Go to bed, now, Sell. I will be in the library before first light.”

“Yes, Lord Erestor. Good night. And to you, lady.” She danced between the doorjamb and her teacher.

“I am sorry if she bothered you.”

“She was no bother. She got me tea and a gown. She was very helpful.”

“Very well. Sleep well, lady.”

“Thank you, Lord Erestor. Good night.”

----

The next morning, Ela was in the library shortly after her teacher. He went over her work and found it satisfactory. She sat with hands folded and waited.

Elrond came into the room. He sat down at the large table. She did not need to look to see Erestor standing by the window, hands behind his back, gazing up at the mountains. By the timing, she figured he had been waiting until Erestor was finished with her.

“I would speak with you,” he said after several moments of silence.

She waited.

“Lady Galadriel spoke to me concerning a conversation she had with you. She said that you discussed some of the customs of your mother’s people with her.”

“Yes. Some things I remember.”

“Would you tell me?”

She looked over at him. “What more do you need to know?”

“In fifteen years, you will be old enough to be spoken for. Is this correct?”

She nodded.

“Then you may wed after forty.”

Again, she nodded.

“Is the choice yours, or your father’s?”

“It is my father’s. He would accept the man’s offer if the dowry was acceptable. Then we would be able to get to know each other. When we felt the time right, we could wed. My mother did not like this custom. That is one reason they left. She turned down all of her would-be suitors for my father. It made Da very angry. I am not sure why. All she said was that she did not want that for her children.”

“Why did they not go to your father’s people?”

“I do not think there were any left. He never spoke of anyone.”

Elrond sat back.

“What is it you really wish to ask?”

“That day in the village. I think those men were your mother’s people. For some reason, they want you back there.”

“That does not take a great deal of deductive reasoning. Would you not rather ask what happened that day?”

“Will you tell me?”

“It will not make you happy.”

“I will still listen.”

“Caldelen pushed at me to go with him. I refused, at first. However, he started taunting me about leaving Imladris. Since he insisted that all they wanted was to meet me, I gave in.” She glanced at the window. “You have taught me well, but there is a streak of foolishness that still lies within.” Turning back to Elrond, she said, “I gave in and started down the alley. Within a short distance, I knew I had made a mistake. I tried to turn back, but there was a man behind me. Another appeared in the back of the alley, followed by a third. They said that my uncle wanted me back, or dead if I refused to return.”

“Do you know why?”

“Not yet, but I will.”

“I want you to go to Lórien this summer. Elrohir set it up for you to visit. Celeborn has granted permission. Will you go?”

“What did Caldelen do now? That is the only reason you would push for this.”

“I warned you she would question,” came from the window.

“For some unfathomable reason, in spite of his desire to do you harm, he has come to me. He wants you to trade rings with him.”

She snorted softly.

“Is that likely to happen in this millennium? We are both too young. It is not permitted to even consider it until I am thirty. He will not be old enough
for another twenty or so years. Is he not a little premature?”

“Yes. That is why I want you to go to Lórien. You will be out of reach to him there.”

“Are you so sure? He has spoken to the March Warden several times about going there himself. What would stop him?”

“For all of their seeming graciousness and gentleness, the Lord and Lady of Lórien are not as lenient as am I. They cannot afford to be. They are too close to the east. I believe you will be safer there than here.”

She just sat there. She looked into his eyes. He saw a brief flash of fear cross before she closed hers.

“There is more, is there not?”

She sighed. “Is there not always more?” She remembered that day. Too clearly. But she would never tell anyone what she saw just before the man had hit her. Glancing up into the shadows of the alley, she had seen Caldelen standing and watching. She would not ever forget the smile on his face.

Elrond leaned back in his chair. “Will you go?”

“I suppose if you feel strongly enough, I will go. When may I return?”

“I cannot answer that. It will depend on circumstances.”

“Very well.” She rose and picked up her books. She paused at the door. “You know that the fringes will not be as comfortable as is the center.”

“One day you and Haldir must explain the joke to me.”

He heard her laugh as she went down the hall.

----

For the three days remaining until the party from Lórien left, Ela did not allow herself to be alone, except in her own room. She helped Mares and Seldala with what ever she could. Mares began to actually regret not having had Ela come to live with them five years ago. She was inquisitive and helpful. She asked questions concerning every aspect of the life of men. Mares laughed when Erestor finally rescued her by keeping Ela home.

Caldelen had not heeded the warning given him by Elrohir before he left. He believed that with Elrohir gone, none would stop him from trying to see Ela. Haldir had finally gone to Elrond and told him what had happened in the tree house. To say that Elrond was less that pleased would have been an understatement of the grossest kind. Haldir had never seen him so angry. He understood that part of it was at him for withholding what he knew.

“How could you have kept this from me?”

“As you pointed out to me years ago, it is not my place to question what chances in your realm. I did warn the boy, as did Elrohir.”

“He knew?”

“He has known for long that things were not right between the two of them. We both suspected Caldelen after the attack. I told him the rest a week ago. The boy does not heed warnings.”

“Then she will go to Lórien now. It is already arranged. It will require little effort to ready her to go now.”

“That may be best.”

Elrond looked closely at Haldir.

“Will you watch her for me?”

“I will, as much as possible. Orophin is on the eastern marches. He lives in Caras Galadhon. He will be in a better position to look out for her.”

“Celeborn has suggested that. She would be comfortable around Elldar. Arwen will also be close. I must speak to Celeborn.” It was clearly a dismissal. Haldir turned and left the library. That had gone better than he had expected.

After speaking with Celeborn, Elrond sent for Ela. She paused in the doorway, seeing Celeborn, Galadriel and Erestor in the library. A tingling of foreboding ran down her spine.

“You wanted to see me?” she asked.

“Come in, Sell. Sit down.” She glanced warily around at the others. Erestor smiled slightly. Elrond would never learn. The child could sense the emotions drifting through the room.

“I want you to go back to Lórien with Arwen.”

“That is not possible. I have too much to pack.”

“You do not have that much.”

“I have an appointment for tea in a few days. It is too late to cancel.”

“I will take care of that. And your cat. And the snake. Anything else?” He thought he had covered all of her excuses. The one she gave next surprised him.

“I do not want to leave. I have thought about it. This is my home. If you do not want me here anymore, I should go to my mother’s people. That is where I belong.”

Elrond looked at Erestor in exasperation. Dealing with a child was hard enough. Dealing with this one was proving to border on impossible.

“I do not want you to leave, Ela. It is for your own good. I do not feel you safe here, anymore. If you stay, you may come to more harm.”

“Ah, Haldir spoke to you. I knew he would, eventually, but he did hold out much longer than I thought he would. If I go to my mother’s people, then I will no longer be in danger. They want me, they will have me.”

“The question remains, why do they want you? No one has come openly to claim you. If their intentions were honorable, that is what they would have done. They came like thieves and used violence. That is not the way of someone who means you good.”

“You have a point. I still do not want to leave. I have changed my mind.”

“How old are you?”

She hesitated, feeling a change in his direction. “Fifteen.”

“How old is your majority?”

“You cannot hold me to that! That is not fair!”

“Until you are thirty, I can. And I will. You will be safer in Lórien. I have to do what is best for you.”

“What of my education? Do the fringes have an Erestor?”

“We have very good teachers. Maybe in directions that you have not had here,” Galadriel said.

She looked from one adult to another. The tears threatening to spill spoke of her resignation. She was defeated, and knew it.

“Very well,” she said softly. She rose and left the room, silent.

“You will have your hands full,” Elrond commented.

“She will settle when she sees what Lórien has to offer.”

“My concern,” said Erestor, “is how she will be accepted. She does not look Elven. Will your people make a place for her? I do not mean to be indelicate, but the elves of Lórien are not known for their openness.”

“That is true,” laughed Celeborn. “But she comes with us. That will make a difference. And her ties here will help.”

“I can make that easier. I have been considering adopting her. It will give her some standing. She will need all the help she can get.”

“Well, we have packing to finish. Will she be ready by tomorrow?”

“I will see to it,” said Erestor.



Age And Maturity Do Not Walk Hand-in-Hand



Ela did not leave her room the rest of the day. She kept her door locked and anyone walking by could hear movement. She did show up at dinner. She wore a gown and slippers rather than her usual leggings and boots. Her hair was done up in twists and braids. Standing behind the chair next to Elldar, she waited as he jumped up to hold it out for her. Haldir shook his head. Such formality would be lost in the everyday world of Lórien. The adjustment would be hard.

“Are you packed, Ela?” asked Elrond.

“Yes,” she said, playing with her food.

“Do you need any help?”

“No.”

“Did you find enough baskets for your clothes?”

“Yes.”

“What else are you taking?”

“Books.” Her one word answers were annoying Haldir, while eliciting amusement from the others. It was apparent she was still angry at leaving.

“Do you want anything else?”

“My pony.” Haldir smiled. Two words.

“I thought to give you a horse. You will not be able to keep up on a pony.”

“You know I cannot ride a horse. I will ride my pony. He knows me and I know him. And I want to take my cat.”

“Ela, you cannot take her. She is used to life here. She would not adjust. You cannot do that to her.” The moment the words were out of his mouth, he realized his mistake.

“And yet, you do that to me,” she said softly. “Perhaps you would like to adopt the cat.”

“Where did you hear about that?”

“She lives in the corners, Elrond,” said Erestor.

“I think she will find that harder to do in Lórien.”

“Wills and ways, Ada,” she said sweetly. She turned abruptly to Celeborn. “Do you have butterflies?”

“Butterflies?” he asked, slightly off balance at her change in subjects.

“Yes, butterflies. You know, little caterpillars that turn into big flying insects.”

“I know what a butterfly is. Yes, we have them. Why?”

“Do you have hills?”

“Yes, we have hills. Again, why?”

“And what of cats. Do you have cats?”

“No. We have no need of cats.”

“Butterflies, hills, but no cats. The fringes need enlightenment. I will take the kitten.”

“It is a long journey, Ela. It is not for tiny kittens,” said Elrond.

“Then it will have to be the cat. You can keep the kitten here, as it is not right to take children from their home.”

Haldir rolled his eyes.

“I will take the cat. Will that stop this inane conversation?” He could feel she was maneuvering to get what she wanted.

“Certainly,” she said, smiling.

Erestor exchange a look with Elrond. It was good to see someone else caught in one of her verbal loops.

“I apologize, Lord Celeborn, but I have a question.”

“Anything,” he replied. Haldir’s head came up sharply. Contrary to what Erestor and Elrond may think, she had caught him not a few times in her question circles. Celeborn had had only a taste of it.

“My letters. How will I get them?”

“What letters?”

“From Rosa Took. And Dorga. And the Elf. If I am in Lórien, how will I get them? And the books they send me?”

“I am sure Lord Elrond will see that they reach you.”

She nodded. “Can I send letters? How will they get them?”

“I will see to it.”

“Is there a library?”

“Yes. We have a large library.”

“Where will I live?”

“Where would you like to live? Elldar’s parents would let you live there. You may live with Arwen. Anywhere you like.”

“Anywhere?” she asked, a gleam deep in her eyes.

“No, Ela. That will do,” Erestor’s tone stopped the next comment.

“But why can I not stay here?”

“It has been explained. You will not argue your way out of it. It is not fair to trick Lord Celeborn. He does not know your ways.”

“Yes, Lord Erestor. I will not do it again.”

“I think it is time you went to bed, Ela,” said Elrond. “You have a long day tomorrow. Erentil will bring your things down. I will see you in the morning.”

“Yes, Ada. Good night, everyone.”

Haldir told Elldar that he should turn in, also. He nodded and left behind Ela.

They waited until both were gone.

“I believe that I will retire also,” said Arwen. “Goodnight, Ada.”

“Goodnight, Sell.”

Erestor waited until Arwen had withdrawn. “Do not let her suck you into one of her games. She will question until you no longer know what the original subject was. By the time she comes around to her point, you may have agreed to anything. I am sure Haldir could tell you how persuasive she can be. She means no harm; it is just her way. However, I think it one of the reasons Caldelen does not like her. For an elf, he seems gifted with less than usual intelligence, . He does not understand a great deal of what she says to him. It infuriates him that he believes she thinks him stupid. She does not, but she knows he does not understand subtlety or sarcasm. And she uses them like a sword with him.”

“I will be careful.” It was obvious he thought Erestor was exaggerating. After all, she was only a child. He had handled children before.

“Do not underestimate her intelligence because of her size. She may look twelve, but she has the wits and education and maturity of one much older.”

“I think we understand each other,” said Galadriel.

“I hope so.”

The conversation drifted to other topics. By midnight, all had turned in for the night.

----

Well before light, Ela dressed and went to the kitchen for a drink. She took her glass to the library to look around one last time. She felt it would be a long time before she returned. The shelf looked empty with her books gone. She had packed them in a saddlebag with the few clothes she was taking. All would fit behind her pony’s saddle. She had packed her doll and personal belongings in a small knapsack. The bottles of oil that Elrohir had sent her were wrapped in thick cloths. Several small stones from the river were included, along with a shed skin from the snake, the things she cherished from her short life there.

She moved about the room, her eyes closed, savoring the memories. The endless lessons drilled into her brain. The countless discussions. The rare smile given by Erestor. She paused, realizing she would miss him most of all. He had never accepted that she could not learn, but had given no quarter, either. He had been as hard on her as he had been on the twins and Arwen. And she had learned.

She started. She was no longer alone.

“Why are you here?” she asked.

“To ask you to stay.”

She spun around at Caldelen’s words.

“It is because of you I am forced to leave!”

“I want a dance. You danced with the March Warden.”

“He has manners. And respect. You do not.” She saw her words did not please him.

“I still will have a dance.” He reached for her hand.

“You are brave coming here after all that has happened.

“I have to talk to you. Come with me.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards a corner. She pulled back and tried to get her hand free. He was stronger and gripped her wrist harder.

“You are hurting me, Caldelen. Let go.”

“Not until I can talk to you.”

“Let go! If you do not, I will scream.”

“Everyone knows that you cannot scream that loud. Anyway, there is no need. I just want to talk.”

“I do not! Now let go!”

He abruptly pulled her toward the door. He shut the door behind him and she heard the lock turn. Frightened now, she ran for the window. He reached her before she could open the latch.

“Now, I have some things I want to say to you. I have decided that you will suit. I would like to see you more. I want to go to Elrond and ask permission to see you. I want you to tell him you agree.”

“Are you mad? Why would I do a fool thing like that? You are either mad, or stupider than I gave you credit for. You tried to get me kidnapped and almost killed.”

“That was a mistake. I know that now. I have changed my mind.”

“You have changed your mind? About hurting me? About hating me? What girl would not be swayed by that?”

“Exactly. Now, we can go out and speak to Elrond. I knew you would see things my way.”

He reached out, took her shoulders, and tried to kiss her. His mistake became painfully obvious when he doubled up with a yell. Her well-placed knee had cooled his ardor somewhat. Without thinking, he stood up and slapped her across the cheek. The blow was enough to knock her down. He jerked her back up by her arm.

“That was not wise.” He pushed her up against the wall.

“Stop this, Caldelen. We are both too young. I do not want this. You are making things worse.”

“I want this. I want you.”

“I do not want you. I never have, and I never will. Get that through your head. There is another.”

“That boy? He will never make you happy.”

“And you will? I will spend the rest of my life waiting for the moment you tire of me and throw me away. No, I will not have you. I will have a ellon. A real husband. One who knows how to treat a elleth. One like my father. Who will cherish and protect me. You will never do that. All you think about is what you want. What you need. I pity the one who accepts your offer. It is a promise of a life filled with pain and suffering.”

He held both her hands in one of his. With the other hand, he held her chin, squeezing until she cried out. “It will be your life. You do not know what you want. I will have to make the decision for the both of us. Now, you will tell Elrond what I say.”

He kissed her, hard, bruising her lips against her teeth. She maneuvered enough to stomp on his foot, and was rewarded with another slap. Her right hand slipped out of his grasp and she reached for his face, dragging her nails down his cheek. He staggered back, grabbing at the scratches. She could sense below his surface emotions now. What he was feeling terrified her. What he had in mind almost caused her to faint. She ran for the door, turning the lock. Before she could open it, the door pushed into her, knocking her to the floor. She tried to scramble away, but was picked up from behind. She fought, turning in his arms and managed a blow before she heard the words.

“Ela, calm down. Ela, it is alright.” She stopped her struggles as the voice finally broke through. She buried her head in his shoulder.

“I want to go home. I want my adar. Please.” Her words were almost incoherent, mingled with tears and sobs. “Please, take me home.”

“Ela, you are home.” Erestor looked around the room. It was empty and the window stood open. He went over to the sofa and sat down, still holding her.

“What happened?”

She was silent.

“Will you tell me what happened?”

“No,” she said.

There was a noise at the door. He looked up to see Elrond. Erestor shook his head. Elrond backed out into the hall. He turned to Erentil, who had followed him.

“Get me Delandor! And his son! Now!”

“Let me see, Sell.” Erestor turned her face towards the light. The handprint was unmistakable. He could also see bruises the shape of fingers forming along her jaw. She winced when his hand brushed her left wrist. He saw there were red marks there, as well.

“I know that Caldelen did this. He is the only one who would. Will you not tell me what happened?”

“No. I will be gone today. The sooner, the better. I only wanted to remember.” She cried into his shoulder. “This was my favorite room. Now he has ruined it. Why can he not just leave me alone?”

“I cannot answer that, Ela. I do not understand him anymore than do you.” He stood her up. “Come. We will forget him and share a last breakfast. I will miss you, child.”

“And I you. I wish I did not have to go.”

Erestor stood and took her hand. They went down the hall to the dining room. Elrond was the only one there yet. Ela could feel the fury emanating from him as he saw her face.

“The others will be down soon. I wanted a few minutes with you. Are you ready to go?”

“I am now. Any reservations I had are gone.”

“I am sorry, Iell. I will see to him after you are gone.”

“Do not bother. He is already gone. You will not find him in Imladris.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. I would know if he were still here. His feelings, if possible, are even stronger that yours right now. I would rather have your anger directed at me than what he felt.”

“You have an eight day journey ahead of you. Stay close to the others and do not stray.”
“Yes, Ada.”

“Ah, Celeborn. Good morning. It will be a good day to travel.”

“Indeed. Galadriel is upset. Would you know anything about that?”

“That depends upon what upset her.”

Celeborn was staring at Ela’s bowed head. He could see the red marks on her cheek. She refused to look up. He raised an eyebrow at Elrond, who shook his head.

“May I be excused?” she asked quietly.

“If you wish.”

“Thank you. Please let me know when it is time to leave.” She went into the kitchen.

“That is a change of events. What happened?”

Erentil came in and whispered in Elrond’s ear.

“As near as we can piece it out, Caldelen came to see her this morning. It did not go well. By the time Erestor went to the library, the damage had been done. That was a message from Delandor. The boy is gone. He left before daylight.”

“We will watch for him in Lórien. He will not be welcome.”

Slowly everyone drifted in for the morning meal. Elldar asked about Ela and was told she was finishing packing. It was not a very good lie, as all knew she was packed.

After breakfast was finished, those leaving gathered on the terrace. Seldala went to get Ela. Elrond hugged and kissed Arwen. He then said goodbye to everyone else. He was finished before Ela appeared. There was a sharp intake of breath from Haldir and Rúmil when they saw her. She kept her head bowed. Elrond took her to the bench and sat down.

“Remember, Ela. This will always be your home. You may come back when it is time. You will always be welcome here.”

“I know. Thank you for everything.” He took her in a firm embrace and kissed her forehead.

“Go. Show Lórien some culture.” He laughed.

She turned to Erestor.

“May I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Would it be permissible to hug you goodbye?”

“I would be disappointed if you did not.” She ran and threw herself at him.

“Please tell Dorga I am sorry about leaving like this.”

“He understands. He sent you a gift. With the promise to send more.” He placed a large bottle in her hands. She looked up in wonder.

“Tell him thank you. And I will wait for his letters and tea.”

“He knows, Sell, he knows.”

She turned to Seldala. Giving her a hug, she whispered in her ear, “He would be a fool to let you go.” The startled elleth smiled and looked at Erestor.

“I am ready.”

She and Elldar led the way down the stairs. They reached the stables first and mounted up. They waited for the others.

“What happened?” Elldar asked her.

“Unrequited love. Love scorned. Frustrated male. Take your pick. If I never see him again, it will be too soon.”

Haldir mounted and reined his horse over to hers.

“Where is the whelp?”

“I do not know. He is not here any longer. Even if he were, I would not tell you. His blood is not worth it. Trust me, he is more trouble than he is worth.” She did not look at him.

“If I see him, he may not reach adulthood.”

“The very reason I would not tell you where he is. Why sully your life?”

“Because the next time you will not get off so easily.”

“Which is why I am trusting you.”

Rúmil rode over to them.

“He is gone.”

“I could have told you that. You will not find him.”

Haldir looked at Ela. “How do you know?”

“I do.”

“Come, the day is not getting any younger.”

They turned at Celeborn’s words. Waving goodbye to those on the terrace, they rode for the bridge leading to the village. No one could see it, but it would be years before Ela returned.

----

Three days after their departure, Elrond welcomed a courier from Arathorn. His steward ushered in Delorfilad. They sat and had a cup of wine. After finishing his, Delorfilad turned to Elrond.

“We have found her people. Your daughter’s. Your sons asked a Ranger company to listen for rumours of a new people. While patrolling the lands west of the Shire, they found a village hidden in the White Mountains. They were refugees fleeing armies in their own land. They had been on the western sea for over a year before reaching our shores. Yrorcyn, the Ranger captain had heard of your daughter and seen a resemblance. He asked them about her. The people refused to talk and fired upon the patrol. When Yrorcyn finally got things straight, he found out that the people were attacked by beings similar to us. The men would treat only after all elves in the company had withdrawn.”

Delorfilad hesitated.

“It a twisted story from here. Yrorcyn told the men that the girl had been taken in and adopted by the Lord of Rivendell. After they stopped spitting on the ground and making gestures with their hands, they started shouting about demons. It seemed they had heard of you and knew you were an Elven lord. They said she was…” here he hesitated again. “She was used, dirty, ruined. There were allegations of rape, torture and witchcraft. Moreover, the word demon-spawn was used. They no longer had need of her. They had found another to replace her. Yrorcyn was confused. He did not understand what they meant. Moreover, it did not seem they had so many children that they could afford to throw them away. The men were in such a state; he thought it best to withdraw. When out of sight of the village, an older woman approached them, although she would not go near the elves. She told them the girl had been set to sea with her mother for witchcraft. She gave Yrorcyn a small bag and told him to give it to her foster father. She also warned them to never let her come back. It would not go well for her. Nothing was found out about the mother, but now we know about the girl.” He looked at Elrond. “They will not take her.”

Elrond closed his eyes. How could any treat children that way? They were precious. A gift. Elrénia must never learn this. He would send word to Lórien. He would trust Celeborn to handle it.

Elrond opened the bag. He spilled out a handful of dull silvery disks. He almost dropped them as he realized what they were. Mithril. A king’s ransom. Finding a paper in the bottom of the bag, he pulled it out and opened it. He could not read it, but three words jumped out at him. He sat looking at the paper. Suddenly it became clear. It was a family tree. Cera Brien, daughter of Ceria and Dorlandad. Ceria Brien, daughter of Gorden and unknown. Dorlandad, son of! But this could not be! He had died childless. Yet there it was: Dorlandad, son of Elestra!

They had never publicly married. Elrond had been entrusted with delivering the rings of betrothal. But, they had refused to marry openly, fearing that a wife and children would provide a weapon for Sauron. A king with loyalties divided could not have stood.

Elrond picked through the silvery disks. There were two rings. One was a band set with diamonds, the other, rubies. He recognized the ruby ring. It was one he had given Elestra. There was no doubt. Not only was she was his cousin, she was the granddaughter of a king. But how? He had thought Elestra dead after the Last Alliance. She had disappeared. No one had ever seen her again. She would not have gone to the Sindar. As her people, they would never have accepted that she carried a Noldor child. She had to have gone to the havens in the northwest. That was one of the last rumoured refuges of High elves. But, why had she not come to him? He would have given her refuge.

He shook his head. He picked up his pen and started a letter. There would have to be confirmation.


Chapter 8 - Chapter Eight

A Meeting Of Young And Old Minds. NOT!


Haldir looked back to see Ela trailing, again. Her pony was trying to keep up, but was just too small. She refused to push him.

“Can you not move him faster?” he asked her, again.

“Are we in a hurry?”

“If we are not in Lórien, we are always in a hurry. Maybe I should ride back to Imladris and get you a horse.”

“Get my cat while you are there. It was convenient that you forgot her.”

“That was your doing as much as mine. You chose to leave her.”

“Well, I am regretting it.”

“I am sure you will find another one.” He had noticed a tension in her since they had left Imladris. She never raised her voice, but there was an irritable tone to it.

“I am sure.”

Rúmil came riding back. “What is the hold up? I sent Elldar on. The other guards are getting nervous.”

“Go ahead. I will stay with Ela. Her pony cannot keep up. We will be along.”

“Do not tarry. It is not safe.”

“Do you think I do not know that?” Haldir’s irritation was showing more than usual. His brother looked at him.

“Just make her ride with you.”

“Not until she wants to. She will wear down.”

“Before or after you do?”

“Go. Before I cut your rank to city guard.”

“There is not much chance of that. You do not have many you trust as far as me.”

“Get going. I will see you soon.” He smiled at his youngest brother. He had a way to break his moods.

“Come on, Ela. We cannot fall behind. It is not safe.”

She kicked her pony into a quick trot, passing him. He rolled his eyes and followed her.

They rode into the camp shortly after Rúmil. The other guards had laid a fire and started the evening meal. Ela got off her pony and unsaddled him. She removed the halter she used for riding and let him roll in the grass. When he was done, she put the halter back on him, and place her riding pad close to the tether line. Haldir noted with approval. She knew enough to keep him ready for emergencies. She brushed him down and tied him with the horses.

She sat down heavily. She would sooner die than admit that her slowness was due more to the hardship of travel by horseback than concern for her pony. She had never spent so much time on him. Her legs hurt, her back, she even felt as if her hair hurt. She would love to soak in a nice hot bath. That, she knew, would not be forthcoming.

She sat apart from the others, eating the stew given her. She had discouraged Elldar from joining her. She did not want to answer any more questions about her face. She kept her eyes on her bowl or her feet. Galadriel could feel her withdrawing, but had promised to not intrude. Finally, Arwen went over and sat beside her.

“How do you feel?” she asked. “I know that travel can be hard if you have never done it. Would you like me to rub your back and shoulders?”

Ela nodded her head. Arwen started with her shoulders and slowly worked down her spine. Ela found herself starting to drift asleep. Arwen silently asked her grandmother for a blanket and pillow. She laid Ela down, settling next to her. She traced the bruise along the girl’s jaw. It was well the boy had run. Elrohir would kill him if he found him. He had been fascinated by the girl, ever since finding her. Arwen remembered her brothers’ treating her the same. They could be terrible teases, but they were loving and protective of those they saw as their own. Any who hurt one they loved would have to answer to them.

----

Ela was the first one up. She had no library to go to, so she got out one of her books and started a lesson. Erestor had given her several months’ worth of work to keep her busy. They both knew she would have it done within weeks. She had just finished when Rúmil came in from guard duty. He sat beside her on the log.

“Do you not tire of that?” he asked.

“How can one tire of knowledge? I can never learn too much. Would you like some tea?”

“Yours or ours? I do not think I can ride far with yours in my stomach.”

“It is yours. Mine is for special occasions.” She got up and went to the fire. She returned with two mugs of tea. Rúmil accepted one from her and relaxed. He noticed her eyes never left the ground.

“It was not your fault. Even elves are not all perfect.”

“There are perfect ones? Do any live in Lórien? I would like to meet them.”

“No wonder you vex Erestor and Haldir so. I am glad I do not have to put up with you.”

“The feeling is mutual. You are highly immature for your age.”

He sputtered. “My age? Do you have any idea how old I am?”

“Not old enough to control your emotions.” She grinned at the ground.

“We were speaking of you, not me.”

“Ah, yes. It was not my fault. Whose then?”

“His. He overstepped boundaries. No is no. In any language. Or culture.”

“Unless you are an Orc. Or Indrelan. Women have no rights. Not even to say no.”

“How do you know?”

“My mother told me. She told me wives are for childbearing and women were for one thing only. But, she would not tell me what. Do you know what?”

“Yes. I know what she meant, but I will not tell you either. That is not my place to discuss such things with you. Go ask my brother.”

“Why would he tell me?”

“He would not, but it would be amusing to see him dance around it.”

“You are terrible. I am glad you are not my brother.”

“Ha! Yours are as bad, if not worse. They share a brain and it is twice as devious as any I know.”

“That was not nice.” She smiled. “True, but not nice.”

“What are you two doing?” Rúmil grinned up at his brother. Ela just looked at her feet.

“We were comparing brothers. I think you win. Hers are worse.”

“I know I would not like to meet hers when they catch wind of events back home.” Haldir looked closer at Ela as she sat playing with her hair.

“What did you do?”

“What do you mean?” she mumbled, her head still bowed.

He reached out, without thinking and tilted her head up. She scrambled backward, falling off the log she was sitting on.

“Do not touch me, again!” she hissed at him. “Do not ever touch me, again!” He drew back.

“I am sorry,” he said softly. “I did not think. I would never do anything to hurt you.”

“Apology accepted,” she whispered, her head still down.

“But I still must ask what you did to your ears?”

“Are you my father? Am I to answer to you now? I am confused.”

“You are not confused and I am not falling for that. Why would you do such a thing? Elves do not pierce their ears.”

“Thank you for pointing that out. I have only heard it several times in the last two days. I am not deaf. And if they do not, what is that to me? I pierced the Indrelan part of my ears. The elven part is intact.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means they are my ears. I will do with them what I want. It is nothing to you. Do not look at them if it offends you.”

“Ela, calm down,” Rúmil tried to soothe her. “He meant nothing by it. I think they look lovely.” She rolled her eyes, finally looking at him.

“I know he meant nothing. And you are trying to placate me. Well, it worked, now leave me to my studies. I am fine. But tell me, March Warden, if wives are for childbearing, what are other women for?”

“What? Where did that come from.?”

“My mother. She said it is a practice of the Indrel.” She waited. “Well, are you going to tell me?”

“Certainly not. That is not a subject for young girls.”

“And apparently not for old elves.”

“Ela, what has gotten into you?”

“Do you mean besides being forced from another home, instead of this being a holiday with my brothers? Or having my life turned upside down by an immature elf whose hormones are running faster than his brain? Maybe it is trying to deal with an uncle bent on permanently removing me for a reason I do not yet know. Could it be all the memories floating around in my mind with no connections? Or maybe I am just mad with one too many blows to the head. Take your pick. I need to stretch my legs. If you gentlemen will excuse me, I will return shortly.”

“That was not wise.” Haldir turned to see Galadriel standing behind them. “And do not let her wander far.” Rúmil jumped up to follow her.

“Maybe not, but it may have helped her release a little tension.”

“Raising two brothers has not prepared you for a girl. They are not the same as boys. You will find your tactics do not work with her.”

“She is very angry. Will anything work?”

“Only time. She has much reason to be angry. Everything she said is true. That is a lot for a young child to cope with. I hope her stay in Lórien will help her. With some of the problems removed, she may begin to heal.”

“Did you hear all of what she said?”

“Unfortunately, yes. She is right about my grandsons. As were you. They are teases, but I fear for the boy if they find him. I would not ask again about her ears. It was a birthday present from Elrohir and Elladan, with Elrond’s reluctant blessings. She will not do anything without permission. Have you not learned that?”

“I just do not understand it. Why would anyone do such a thing?”

“She is torn between two cultures. One she grew up with, another she remembers from her mother. Until she reconciles the two, she will have this conflict. I fear we may suffer at times as much as does she. Exercise restraint with her. And you will need plenty of patience.”

“Yes, Lady. What will become of her in Lórien?”

“I have already sent word to Gariel. She will welcome the child. My husband and I will oversee things. We will have to see about the rest.”

She looked up as Ela came walking back. Rúmil was nowhere in sight.

“He is back farther. Try not to send one so noisy, next time. I cannot see as well, but there is nothing wrong with my hearing.”

Haldir chuckled when she was well past him.

They packed up and started on their way. One day followed another with the same routines. Well into the last day of travel, Haldir finally suggested to Ela that she ride with him.

“I do not think so,” she said. “We are almost there. My pony will carry me the rest of the way.”

“She is as stubborn as an Orc,” he said to Rúmil.

“Funny you should notice that. She is just like you.”

“Little brother, would you like to remain out here on the plains? I could arrange that.”

“No, the girl would object. She seems to have taken a liking to me. I think she would notice.” He grinned.

“You place too much value on your life. She would not care.”

“Yes, I would,” drifted up to them. Haldir rolled his eyes and looked back to where she and Elldar were trailing.

“You seem to do that a lot, lately, brother.”

“What?” he growled.

“Rolling your eyes. It is most unattractive. Humorous, but unattractive.”

“Haldir!”

He turned at a note of panic in her voice. “What, Sell?”

“There is something behind us. Not good. It is coming fast!”

He glanced behind them. He could see nothing. He turned back forward when Denelan, the lead guard rode back.

“The Lady says something is coming from the rear. We are picking up the pace.”

“Come on, Ela. Kick him into a run and move it. Elldar, head for home. Ride as fast as you can.” The boy lit out after Denelan.

Ela did as told. The pony ran all out, but could never match the horses. Haldir leaned over and undid her saddlebags on the right side, Rúmil getting the ties on the left. His brother grabbed the bags and moved away from the pony. Haldir dropped back behind them and glanced back. He could now see several figures on foot following them. They were actually gaining! He realized with a thrill of fear they were Orcs. He looked ahead. He could see the eaves of the forest a couple of miles away. Already the rest of the party was almost out of sight. When Rúmil looked back, Haldir could see the fear on his face also. They were not going to make it, and they could not fight with Ela there.

“Ela,” he shouted. She turned and saw what trailed them. He rode up next to her.

“Grab my arm. You will ride with me now.”

With no arguing, she reached out her left hand. Valar, it was the injured one. He knew it was still sore. It could not be helped. He took it with his left hand and jerked her off her pony. He would run faster without her weight. He saw her wince when he pulled her up behind him. She did not say a word. She wrapped her arms around his waist. He kicked his horse into a flat run. The pony veered away from them, running full out. Even he sensed not to be caught by those following. Rúmil now dropped back slightly to cover them. They were pulling away, but the Orcs still came. They had only to reach the wards. An arrow shot past them. Haldir kicked his horse again. They could not go much faster. He was suddenly welcomed by a flight of arrows from ahead. He and Rúmil flashed by the outer edge of the forest and past the wardens there. They turned their horses abruptly and watched the ensuing slaughter. The Orcs did not seem to realize their danger. They ran straight into the last of the arrows. The wardens did not miss any. When it was safe, they would go out and burn the bodies.

Haldir turned his horse back into the forest. They rode to where the others waited.

“You had me worried, Warden.”

“There was never any danger, my Lord.”

“I was not concerned for you. You can take care of yourself. It was the girl. You would not have been able to fight with her out there.”

“I made sure it was not necessary.”

“That is why you are my captain.” Celeborn smiled.

“Ela, are you alright?” Galadriel noticed her pale complexion.

She nodded, then shook her head. She was holding her left wrist in her other hand and biting her lip.

“Come here, Haldir.” He moved over to her. She reached over and took the girl’s hand. Ela winced.

“How did she break her wrist?”

Haldir swore. “I must have done it. When I pulled her from her pony. I knew it was her injured hand, but there was nothing I could do. I am sorry, Ela.”

She just nodded, trying not to cry.

They rode to the warden station back in the trees. Dismounting, Haldir reached up and lifted her down. Galadriel took her over to a large log by the fire. They sat down and she took Ela’s hand. Rubbing it gently, she spoke to the girl.

“This may hurt a little, but it will only be for a moment.”

Ela did not say anything as Galadriel continued to rub her wrist. Finally, the older woman laid the hand in the girl’s lap.

“Be careful, but it is healing now. I will have Arwen bind it for you. Are you well, child?”

She nodded her head. She looked up as one of the wardens came running in, leading her pony.

“I found this wandering around to the east. I thought it would belong to one of you.”

“It does,” said Rúmil. He led the pony over to their horses.

“That was some ride, Haldir,” exclaimed Loneldon, captain of the guard.

“Yes, we must do it again sometime,” he replied, sarcastically. “Only the next time, I will stand in the woods shooting at the Orcs while you try to outrun them.”

Denelan came up to Haldir.

“Lord Celeborn asks to see you. He is in Loneldon’s talan. He means to push on today, but wants Lady Arwen and the girl to remain for another day.”

“The girl’s name, warden, is Elrénia. Remember that. You will treat her with the respect due Lady Arwen. Is that clear?”

“Yes, captain. I meant no disrespect.” He walked away.

“You do not have to be so hard on him. He only repeats what he has heard others call her.” Haldir turned to look at his brother. He tried to give him a hard stare, but broke at Rúmil’s grin. It was too hard to stay mad at him. Or even try.

“You realize that one day I will have to teach you respect for me, do you not?”

“You realize that your other brother will not allow that, do you not?”

“I should have drowned you both in the Celebrant. My life would be easier.”

“Well, now you will spend the rest of your life paying for your mistake. Come on, I am hungry. There is stew cooking.”

“Thinking about it, that ride made me hungry. I will be there as soon as I see Lord Celeborn.”

“I will save you a bowl.”

Haldir walked back from the clearing. He went to Loneldon’s talan and knocked on the door.

“Come.”

“You wanted to see me, Lord Celeborn.”

“Yes. My Lady and I are riding on. We will make arrangements for the girl. You are to ride with us. Rúmil will come with Arwen and Ela. I want them to rest today. There is no need for them to hurry.”

“Yes, my Lord.” He bowed.

“And, Haldir?”

“Yes, Lord?”

“That was well done today. You never cease to amaze me.”

“Thank you, Lord.” He smiled slightly as he left the talan.

“What are you grinning about?” asked his brother as he joined him at the fire.

“Nothing that concerns you, little brother. I am riding on. You will bring Arwen and Ela. Do not push them. Elldar may come with you, also. I leave that up to him.”

“Did Gariel say she would take her?”

“According to the Lady, yes. I think she will be more comfortable on the ground than up in a talan. She has never lived in one, or been so high.”

“They can have the ground. I will stay up in the trees.” Rúmil grimaced at the thought of living on the ground. Orophin may have adjusted, but it would not suit him.

“Speak to me again after you have wed. You may not have a choice.” Haldir’s tone of voice was tinged with scorn.

“Then I had best not fall into that trap. I will wed when you do.”

“Ha! Our father’s line is doomed to resting on Elldar then. I have no intentions of wedding. I have found no woman willing to share my life up here. And I am not one for the city.”

“I cannot argue with you there. Still, I will wed when you do.” Rúmil’s lighthearted answer irritated his older brother.

“Go find a rock to crawl under. You try me too much.”

Rúmil just smiled and went back to find his bedroll. It had been a long day and he was turning in.

Haldir went over to where Ela and Elldar sat. She was still looking at the ground.

“How is your wrist?” he asked her.

She shrugged. He sat down next to her. Her flinch was barely perceptible.

“I am sorry. I knew that was your injured hand, but I had no choice.”

She nodded, playing in the dirt with a stick. She had drawn what looked like runes.

“What is that?”

“I do not know,” she whispered.

“Ela, look at me.” She refused.

“What Caldelen did was not your fault. You are not responsible. Can you not accept that?”

“No. We were friends. I must have given him some idea I wanted more.”

“No, you did not.” He sighed. “You did correctly. You said no and then avoided him. You did nothing wrong.”

“What if he comes here?”

“He will have to deal with me. I will not allow him in until you are old enough to handle it yourself. Is that agreeable?”

She thought about it. “I suppose. It would not be right to keep him out forever. Agreed.”

He felt better.

“Rúmil is bringing you and Arwen to the city tomorrow. You may rest today. Elldar, you may come with me or stay with Rúmil.”

“I will stay.”

“Then you had better get some sleep. It will take most of the day to reach Caras Galadhon. I do not want you to hurry. Take your time and show her Lórien on the way in.”

“Yes, uncle. Is she to stay with us?”

“For now. She has a lot to assimilate. It will take time.”

Ela got up and went over to her saddle. She lifted off the knapsack and brought it back to the fire. Rummaging through her belongings, she pulled out her doll. She smoothed the hair and dress. Haldir noticed for the first time that it was a Halfling doll.

“Did Rosa give that to you?” he asked.

She shook her head. “It was a gift from Fritzi and Meri. It had belonged to their daughter. She had only sons, so they gave it to me.”

That was the most she had said since their second day on the journey.

“What else do you have?” For some reason, he wanted to keep her talking.

She pulled out several wrapped items.

“I have the oil bottles from the Elf. Some stones from the river below the house. An old skin from the snake. There is another pair of earrings from Elldan.” She pulled them out and showed him. They were sapphires that matched her eyes, set in mithril. Worth a fortune. “I will wear these only for special occasions. They are too valuable. I also have a pair from Dalgren. They are just plain gold. For everyday wearing. I have a book from Lord Erestor. And I have some papers from Lord Elrond. I have not read them yet.”

“The earrings will look beautiful in your ears,” he lied.

“Do not say that just to make me happy. I know how you feel. And I did not do it for you. I did it for myself. I think Lord Elrond was more upset at the idea I made a decision on my own, rather than the act itself. He is not one to let go.”

“No, he is not. I was surprised that he sent you here.”

“As was I. And as there is nothing I can do about it, I will make the best of it. I think I will follow your brother’s example. I am not feeling well. I think I am tired.”

“I will see you in the city. Sleep well.”

He watched her walk away. She dropped her knapsack with her saddle, but he saw she still had the doll. She bent over again to pick up a blanket. He saw her settle not far from Rúmil. He turned to see Elldar watching him.

“What?”

“She gets to you, does she not?”

“What are you talking about? She is an irritating child, not unlike you.”

“And yet, she gets to you. I have seen it. If someone else irritated you like that, you would ignore them. And yet, you keep coming back. To me, that makes having her here all the better.”

“Your father may care what I do to his brother, but I do not think he will care if you do not come back.”

“This is probably true, but how would you deal with my mother?”

“In the future, I will not ignore urges to throw small boys into the Celebrant. It will save many woes in the future.”

“You are as soft in your heart as you are as hard in the head.”

Haldir reached over and grabbed his nephew. He held him under his arm facing backwards as he strode towards the stream behind the station. A deep hole had been dug out for bathing. Without a word, he threw Elldar into the water. He then turned, not waiting to see if the boy made it out of the hole.

“That is what should be done with disrespectful children.” He glanced at Ela to see if she took the hint. She was already asleep, but Rúmil gave him a look that spoke of no good if Haldir tried that with him.

Elldar came out of the woods at a run. Rúmil waited too long to decide whether or not to warn his brother. Haldir was grabbed at the knees and thrown forward. He turned, pinning Elldar to the ground. Several interested wardens gathered to watch. Haldir picked the boy up, again.

“Was one bath not enough?” he asked.

“Try it again,” laughed Elldar.

When Haldir tried to throw him in again, Elldar was ready. He clung to his uncle. Haldir did not know that his younger brother had gotten up and was coming up behind him. Just as Haldir threw Elldar, Rúmil pushed him. The March Warden's reflexes were so quick, his brother could not stop him
from grabbing his shirt. The three of them tumbled into the stream. They came up laughing.

“Are you enjoying yourselves?”

They looked up to see Celeborn looking down on them.

“Immensely,” said Haldir. He pulled himself out of the water. When Rúmil would have followed, he reached out and pushed him back in. Elldar wisely stayed out of his reach.

“We leave in an hour,” Celeborn informed him.

“I will be ready. I just needed to exert a little discipline.” He shook the water from his hair. He turned as his brother came up behind him.

“That felt good. Maybe now I can sleep.” He went back to his blanket and got his dry clothes. Going back to an empty talan, he changed. He came back out, rolled up in his blanket, and went to sleep. Elldar was just coming from changing. Haldir looked over and saw Ela was still asleep. He shrugged it off as he went back to change. When it was time to leave, he went over and nudged Rúmil.

“What?” he said, blinking up at Haldir.

“Keep an eye on her. She is sleeping now, but she did not eat. And we did not wake her earlier, although I thought we made enough noise to disturb the dead.”

“Alright. Enjoy your trip. I will see you tomorrow evening. It is your turn to cook.”

“It is yours, but I will do it.”

He turned and went to his horse. Mounting, he glanced back at Ela. She had not stirred. Turning his horse, he led the way to Caras Galadhon.


A Less Than Auspicious Beginning


----

Morning broke bright and sunny. Rúmil frowned to see Ela was still sleeping. That was not like her. He went over and gently shook her.

“Little one,” he said, softly. He shook her harder. “Little one. Wake up. It is time to leave.”

She groaned and rolled over. He watched her go back to sleep.

“What is wrong with you? Come on.” He sat her up and went over to get her some tea. When he returned, she was just sitting, a glazed look to her eyes.

“Does your hand hurt?” he asked.

She looked at him blankly. Rúmil looked around.

“Arwen. Can you get her ready? I have never seen her like this.”

“I will see to her.” She got Ela up and dressed. The girl refused to eat. By the time they were ready to leave, she was showing some response. Elldar saddled her pony and brought him over.

“You lead,” his uncle said. He wanted to follow to keep an eye on her. Arwen stayed beside her.

Elldar kept up the conversation on his own. He told her about the trees and different settlements they passed through. He described life in the Woods. She looked around, but did not say anything. When they stopped for lunch, Ela wandered off to look at flowers. She would not eat. When they were done eating, Rúmil made a decision.

“Elldar, I want you to bring the pony with you. We are riding ahead. Can you do this?”

“Yes. It is safe here. I do not need you to protect me.”

His uncle smiled.

“I know. I have to get her to the city. Hurry as fast as you can.”

“I will.”

Rúmil mounted and reached down for Ela. He pulled her up in front of him.

“Are you ready, lady?” he asked Arwen.

“I follow you, Warden.” She kicked her horse into a slow canter as he moved out.

----

Haldir spent a quiet evening in the talan he shared with his youngest brother. At dinner the night before, he had discussed what he knew about Ela with Orophin and Gariel, trying to make her adjustment easier.

“You will not have much trouble with her. She is inquisitive, but obedient. Any problems can be taken to the lord or lady. She has some peculiar traits, but I think most of them are due to her upbringing. Too much of Erestor has rubbed off on her.”

“What will she do all day?” asked Gariel.

“Do you mean when you can drag her out of the library? She rises early and spends most of her day there. I am sure she will find enough to interest her.”

“I am afraid she will find our house a bit cramped after living in Imladris. We only have the small storage room in the rear.”

“I think you will find her very accommodating. She is quick to adjust. And very slow to complain. You will have to drag any problems out of her. Just do not ask about her earrings.”

“Earrings? They did not let her put holes in her ears?” exclaimed Orophin.

“It seems Elrond is overindulgent. It does not help that those brothers of Arwen’s spoil her rotten. I swear that it is a wonder she turned out so well.”

“Lady Arwen is wonderful. How can you say such a thing?” asked Gariel.

“You do not know her brothers. May I see her room?”

“Certainly. I hope it suits. We found a small bed and a cupboard. She has a nightstand and a bookshelf, as you requested.”

Haldir followed his sister-in-law down the hall to the back of the house. Glancing past her, he saw that the room was small, barely more than a closet. The cupboard would hold the few things she had brought with her. The bookshelf would accommodate her books and other things. The small window was high and did not open.

“Can we make a bigger window? One that will open? I will warn you, she is going to get a cat. Somewhere, from someone. She will need the window.”

“That is not a problem. I can do it after this week. Will you be able to help?”

“Yes. I am going to be here for a couple of weeks.” He followed his younger brother outside to the porch.

“Lord Elrond sends his thanks. He did not want to send her, but life is becoming to dangerous in Imladris. She had her mother’s people and a young, misguided elf vying for her attention and neither meant any good. She will be safer here.”

“A courier came in from Imladris ahead of you. He has been waiting for two days. I do not know how he missed you. He was traveling with a Ranger. They would say nothing about their business, but they gave me the impression it had to do with the girl.”

“I hope it has nothing to do with a certain boy. She has been through enough on his account.” he paused. “I give you my thanks as well. She is a child to get under your skin. That reminds me, Orophin, if Rúmil says anything about respect, ignore him. And Elldar will get another bath if he continues in his ways.” He recounted the incident on the north marches. They spent the rest of the evening recounting their own childhood antics.

“If you will excuse me, I will turn in. It has been a long week. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, brother. It is good to have you back.”

“Aye, it is good to be back. Goodnight.”

-----

Haldir rose before dawn. Rúmil would arrive by late afternoon. He spent the morning checking supplies and straightening up around the talan. Gariel had laid out fresh linens for them. She had seen that someone came in while they were gone and cleaned. Mostly he just moved things from one place to another. He had to admit to himself that after the last couple of months in Imladris, he was bored. That would change once he was back on the marches. He was relieved when the summons to report to Celeborn came. He changed and went to the large talan the served as the center of Lórien.

The stairs leading up into the midst of the largest mallorn tree wound around the massive trunk. The spiral seemed endless. When he at last reached the top, Haldir paused at the large entrance. When Celeborn’s aide announced him, he was motioned forward. He came onto the level that served as a reception hall for the Lord and Lady. It was as big as any hall of men. He walked to where Celeborn stood by a table, reviewing the reports and various day to day correspondence that had accumulated during his absence. Haldir waited until his Lord turned to him.

“You sent for me?”

“Yes, I did. There is a courier from Imladris. He passed us during the journey here. He comes with one of Arathorn’s Rangers. They have news that you and Orophin both will need to know. Ah, here he is now.” Haldir turned to see his younger brother come towards them.

Celeborn sent all of the others away. He then asked his aide to bring in the Ranger and courier. Haldir was surprise to see Delandor.

“Haldir.” Caldelen’s father nodded to him. “Lord Elrond sends his wishes for a safe journey. I trust everything went well?”

“Other than riding in hard with Orcs on our tails, it did.”

“I have brought Delorfilad. He has been riding with Lord Elrond’s sons. They asked him to look for their sister’s people. I will let him tell his tale.”

The two brothers listened as the Ranger told once again what he had found.

When he was finished, neither spoke for moments.

“They do not want her back? Then why did they try to take her?”

“They told Yrorcyn they had found another. For what purpose, he never determined. The people became so agitated, Yrorcyn thought it better to withdraw. Lord Elrond was most upset by papers the woman sent to him. He did tell me to mention that he was checking out claims the woman made as to the girl’s parentage. He has sent letters to the Havens in the northwest. It could be that things may be more tangled than first thought. All who know about the Hidden Havens know that only the Noldor went there. It is not even known for certain who took sanctuary there. They closed the passes and approaches. I am not sure how even Lord Elrond can gain information.”

----

Haldir sat down to a quick lunch. After cleaning up, he started up to the north gate to check on the latest news and gossip. Before he could get there, he saw the one person he did not want to see. Deladrieng. A most persistent elleth. She had single mindedly been pursuing him for years. She was beautiful, but had a possessiveness for which he did not care. And a perverse streak of meanness. She had cut down any that she saw as a rival. Although given no encouragement from him, that did not stop her. She was stubborn. His brothers wisely did not point out to him that he shared some of these qualities.

“Welcome back, Haldir. I trust your journey was fair.”

“It was.”

“I have not seen your youngest brother. Tell me you did not leave him in Imladris.”

“I did not.”

“Well, since you seem to be alone, why do you not come for supper tonight? I can make a dinner fit to welcome you home.”

“I have made arrangements. And Rúmil will be here this afternoon.”

“Oh. Well, another time?”

“I do not think so. I am leaving for the marches as soon as possible. There are things that…” He was interrupted by riders coming through the gate. He went to see what the commotion was. He was annoyed when she followed.

He was surprised to see his brother.

“I thought you were taking it easy.”

“She was taking it a little too easy. I think something is wrong, but I can find nothing.”

“Where is Elldar?” Orophin came up.

“He follows with her pony.” Rúmil handed Ela down into Haldir’s ready arms. He set her down. She stood still where he put her, looking at the ground.

Deladrieng’s eyes narrowed as she took in the appearance of the child. She had heard rumors that Lady Galadriel was bringing Lord Elrond’s young daughter here to live, but she had expected someone like Lady Arwen. The girl was short and thin. Her skin was almost white. And those freckles! This child was more human than Elven. She would never attain the height of an elf. Her light hair had copper streaks gleaming through it. She wore it like a warrior. Pulled back and braided. It left her ears free. The almost pointless ears. Then the lobes drew her attention.

“Haldir, what is in that child’s ears? Are those earrings?” Her shock warred with the desire to laugh. And it was painfully obvious.

Deladrieng took a step back when the girl looked up at her. The woman was shocked at the gleam in the intensely blue eyes.

“Deladrieng, this is Lady Elrénia, Lord Elrond’s daughter. Bear that in mind.” The reprimand was unmistakable. Haldir sighed. She may have gained one enemy already.

The girl regarded the woman for a moment then turned to Rúmil.

“I thought you said I could meet perfect elves in Lórien. Where are you hiding them?”

Rúmil looked at his oldest brother. Then started laughing.

“I tell you what, little one. When you are settled, we will go together and search for one. I personally do not know of any.” He looked at Deladrieng as he said this. All knew there was no love lost between the two of them. She was looking on in shock. Had the little twit just insulted her? Or had Rúmil?

Haldir turned his head to his brother and his wife. He was hard pressed not to laugh himself.

“Ela, this is my brother Orophin and his wife Gariel. You will stay with them for now.” It obviously was an order, but Haldir remembered who was standing beside him. “Tomorrow, if it does not suit, then I will find you other accommodations. Is this acceptable?”

“It is. May I go? I am tired and do not feel like being polite.”

He smiled. “You may. Gariel, will you show her the way? I will see to her pony when Elldar arrives.”

“Certainly. Come. We have a room ready for you. It is small, but I hope it will do for the night.” She had picked up on Haldir’s change in tone. He was setting an example that he would expect all to follow. The girl was to be treated with respect. She secretly did not believe that tactic would work with Deladrieng.

“You live in a house?” asked Ela.

“Yes. I do not care to live so high. I grew up in a house in a village to the west. They can have their talain. I will stay on the ground.”

“I have a tree house, but it is only eight feet up. I once broke my leg falling out of it. I think I would break more falling out of one of these.”

“I am sure. What shall I call you? Lady Elrénia seems too formal, but it is your choice.”

“Most just call me Ela. It was the name given me by Rosa Took. At least I think that is who gave it to me.”

“Who is Rosa Took?”

“She is a friend. She lives in the Shire. We write and send books back and forth.”

“She is a Halfling?”

“Yes. Her father is a friend of my brothers. He gave them clothes and food for me after they found me. Have you ever met a Halfling?”

“No. I hear they are quite charming.”

“They are. And funny. And the most giving people. Fritzi and Meri, who are friends of Lord Elrond, gave me a doll and more clothes. They did not have to do that. Do you know they are the only race in all of Middle Earth that does not kill. That is amazing.”

“Little one.” She turned at the voice behind her. “Remember what Lord Erestor said.”

“Yes, Rúmil. I remember. I am sorry.”

Gariel did not say anything. She gave Rúmil a questioning look. He shook his head.

When they reached the house, Rúmil held the door open for them. Gariel led Ela to the back. When they reached her room, she went in and sat on the bed. Rúmil brought her things in and set them down.

“I am going back to the gate. Orophin said that dinner tonight is here?”

“Yes. We can eat in the garden.”

“I will see you later,” he said, glancing at Ela. “Rest.”

“Yes, Rúmil. Thank you.”

He walked back down the hall.

“Would you like help unpacking?” asked Gariel.

“How long will I be here?”

“Here in Caras Galadhon, or here in our house?”

“In your house. I do not want to impose. I could stay with Arwen.”

“You do not impose. The Lady asked us to care for you because you and Elldar are friends. She thought you would be comfortable here. You may go anytime.”

“It is alright to stay? Will you not need the room?”

“No. It is yours for as long as you want. If we need more room, we can build another.”

“Oh. Well, thank you. If it is alright, I would like to rest now. I am tired.”

“Certainly. I will wake you for dinner.”

Ela was almost asleep before her head hit the pillow. Gariel took a blanket from the chair and covered her up.

-----

The sun had little more than an hour to setting. Gariel had prepared the evening meal and set the table in the garden. When she went to check on Ela, she found she had not moved. Concerned, she tried to wake the girl. She did not respond. Gariel was torn between the need to get help and fear of leaving her alone. She was relieved when Haldir showed up.

“I think something is wrong with her,” she said to him.

He started for the back of the house.

“What happened?”

“She wanted to rest, but she has not moved in hours. I could not wake her.”

“Go get the Lady. She has had some dealings with Ela. Maybe she can find out what is wrong.” Gariel left.

“Ela.” He shook her gently.

“What?” she asked, her speech slightly slurred.

“It is time for dinner. You need to get up.”

“I am not…” She paused, groping for a word. “Hungry.”

“I will get you some water.” He left and came back with the water. She had not moved.

“Here, drink this.”

“I do not want it.”

“I am not leaving until you do. The Lady is coming to see you. Do you want her to see you like this?”

A spark of fear finally lit her eyes.

“Why is she coming?” she whispered. “I did nothing wrong.”

“What do you mean? Of course you did not. She is coming because I am concerned for you, as is Gariel. You are acting peculiar.”

He turned at a noise in the hallway. Galadriel’s presence filled the small room.

“You promised,” Ela whispered up to her.

“I did, child. I just want to talk. Nothing more. Haldir, please wait outside.”

He did as she bid.

The Lady sat down on the chair.

“They are concerned. You are not yourself. Will you talk to me about it?”

“There is nothing to talk about. I told you my thoughts are mine.”

“Very well. How do you like Lórien?”

“I have not seen enough of it to form an opinion. How do you like Haran?”

“It is too warm, I have heard. Of what are you afraid ?”

“Nothing. Everything. May I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Do all the feelings of others swirling around in your head make you sick?”

“Until I learned to control them, yes, that would be a good description. Is that what is making you ill?”

“It may be. Things are worse ever since the attack. Sometimes I throw up. Sometimes I feel nothing at all.”

“I may be able to help you, but you must trust me.”

“I do not know who to trust, anymore,” she said softly.

“What is your earliest memory?”

“My mother’s happiness at conceiving.”

“Did you have a younger sibling?”

“No. I was an only child.”

“You cannot mean your own conception.”

“I remember how happy they were. I could feel it.”

“That is not possible.”

She felt Ela withdraw again and mentally chastised herself. Ela smiled.

“Do not be so hard on yourself. I did not believe it when I first remembered it. It is a difficult concept.”

“Can you read me now?”

“Only because you do not think me strong enough to do it.”

“Will you let me help you?”

“The things in my head are not pretty.”

“After over seven millennia, do you not think I have seen some ugly things?” She laughed gently.

“Very well. Just this once. What do you want me to do?”

“Just lay down. Relax. We will see if we can sort things out for you.”

Ela laid back and closed her eyes. She felt a gentle touch on her temples. Then there was a slight nudging in her head. She drifted and thought back. She went through her memories until she felt a withdrawal.

Galadriel sat with her eyes closed, also. The images that flooded the Lady’s mind were chaotic. No wonder the girl was ill. She had never been around so many different people that she did not know at one time. The feelings were overwhelming her. Galadriel sorted through the emotions and set them aside. She concentrated on the memories. The girl was correct. She did remember her conception. She followed the memories forward. She saw Ela’s parents through her eyes. How happy their were. And loving. A faint familiarity struck the woman. It was almost as if she knew the man. The memories snapped forward to when she was ten years old. The mother’s people finding them. Dragging her mother from the house. Then the fury when her father showed up. The hatred and loathing on her grandfather’s face. The death of her father before her eyes. Her mother crying and finally being set adrift in the small boat. Being left to die. Her mother gone one morning. Being alone for almost two weeks before the twins finding her. Subdued memories after that. Until the attack in the alley. The shock of the man’s intentions struck Galadriel like a fist. Her fate, had she not escaped would have been worse than death. The girl had seen that. Had known what the man intended. The look in Caldelen’s eyes. Then nothing until the night of the feast. Caldelen’s intentions. Then the morning they left. That was the worst. The last betrayal. A friend who had struck her.

Galadriel almost broke the contact. Instead, she followed another path. One that she did not think even Ela knew about. She saw Mordor. In ruins. The White City, damaged, but joyful. Lórien fading. She saw a ring fall into fiery depths. A vision of a small man, no, a Halfling, broken down by responsibility. Haldir mourning the loss of a child. A betrayal that would break Ela’s heart. A world where horses no longer were needed. Where uncounted millions of people lived. Where an evil as insidious as Sauron existed.

Ela gasped when Galadriel broke the connection. She struggled to breathe. Galadriel got the cup of water from the nightstand and held it up for her. She drank small sips.

“I am sorry, Lady. It did not work?”

“It worked, child. I want to try something else. Just lie back and relax again.” She laid her hand on Ela’s forehead. She spoke soothing words in a language the girl did not understand. Ela slowly relaxed until unconsciousness claimed her. Galaldriel withdrew her hand and covered her up. She closed the door and went out to the porch, where Haldir and Gariel waited.

“No one should have to live through what that child has. I have suppressed the memories for now, but they will seep out again. I hope it is not until she is old enough to cope with them.”

“What is wrong with her?”

“She feels the emotions of those around her. She has never had contact with so many at once. Great emotional stress strengthens the ability. Her parents’ deaths, the attack in the alley, Misty Havens, Caldelen. All of these are breaking down a wall in her mind. It is difficult to cope with it all at once. I wish we could have seen this before. She is also feeling guilt. If she had not been born, her parents might be alive. She has always been different. They tried to keep her from the outside world. Her mother’s people found them. I still do not know why they wanted her. If my grandsons had not found her, she would not have had to experience that attack in Imladris. She feels it was her fault. And Caldelen. And leaving Imladris. Everything is her fault. Because she was born. I will watch her, but I promised not to try to read her anymore. We will have to do it the hard way, by observation. Time may heal her. I hope so.”

“Thank you, Lady. I know how hard it was for the both of you.” Haldir bowed his head.

“Tread slowly with her. She is fragile and vulnerable right now.”

“Yes, Lady.”

“I will see you tomorrow, Gariel. Goodnight to the both of you.”

“Goodnight, Lady.”

Haldir went to see Ela while Gariel finished with dinner. Coming back to the kitchen, he picked up a platter of vegetables. He went out to the garden.

“She is sleeping, but not like before. She stirred when I made a noise at the door.”

“Good. I will take her a tray later. I see your brothers coming. We can eat now.”

He went back in to get the meat. She followed him back out with pitchers of tea. When the others arrived, the table was ready.

“Where is Ela?” asked Elldar.

“She is resting,” said Haldir. “The journey was harder on her than we thought. She has never traveled like that before.”

“We put her pony out with our horses. He will be there when she wants him.”

“I am sure she will be grateful. When you are finished eating, you may take her in a tray. She may be hungry by then.”

“Yes, uncle.”

“How go the eastern marches, Orophin?” Haldir wasted little time getting to what was on his mind.

“Quiet. Almost too quiet. There have been few seen heading south. Mirkwood sent a courier. They have had problems in the far northeast.”

“Probably from all the men they have let in. Thranduil must know what he is doing. I am glad to live here and not there.”

“It seems to work for them. I have not heard of any trouble concerning men within Mirkwood.”

“The Orcs we ran into coming in were a small force. There must have been more farther north. It may be best to step up security for a time, Rúmil. You can take some from the city guards. I will be up in two weeks.”

Elldar finished eating and excused himself. He went into the house and came back out with a plate. He put small amounts of vegetables and meat on it and grabbed a cup of tea.

“Let me know if she does not eat,” said his uncle. The boy nodded. When he was gone, Haldir turned to his brothers.

“The Lady came to see Ela today.” He gave them the details of her discovery. “You will need to watch her closely. Right now, I can think of only one who may cause her problems.”

Rúmil snorted a laugh. “She was not happy with the child, that is for sure. I honestly do not think you will need to worry. She has proven in the past she can take care of herself.”

“Against a boy, but you have seen of what that woman is capable.”

“And she sees Ela as a threat,” said Gariel. “Just the fact you brought her here is enough to make the woman jealous.”

“She felt the same about Arwen, but dared not say anything because of her grandparents.” Orophin paused. “She will not feel the same restraint. Ela is no relation to them.”

“We will have to trust the Lord and Lady to help her.”

After dinner, Haldir and Orophin played a game of conquest. Over the pieces on the checkered board, they discussed matters concerning the borders. Rúmil helped Gariel clean up from supper. Elldar came out to announce that Ela had eaten a little. When it became too dark to see the game any longer, Haldir and Rúmil bid their brother goodnight and went home.

Gariel checked on Ela before turning in. The girl was sleeping peacefully. She smiled. A girl. She had always wanted one. It was if the Valar had dropped her desire into her lap. She prayed the child was everything Haldir had told her.


Chapter 9 - Chapter Nine

The Dust Settles


Ela was up before light. She felt none of the nausea that had plagued her for days. She said a silent prayer of thanks for whatever it was the Lady had done. She washed up and dressed in the leggings and tunic she had found laid out. Someone had put her things away the night before. She picked up her books and let herself out of the house. It did not occur to her to let anyone know where she would be. At home, all knew where she was at this hour.

She wandered for a time, looking up into the tall mellyrn. She had never seen such great trees. Their heights spread out, creating a subdued atmosphere. It was quiet and cool below the growths. The wide road she traveled was smooth and even. It could easily accommodate three wagons side-by-side. Its width was accented even more by the fact that not many were out this early. The few she passed nodded curiously. She was forced at last to stop someone and ask directions.

“Excuse me,” she said to a man.

“What, child?” He had not caught what she said. He glanced down at the slight child before him.

“I am looking for the library. Can you tell me where it is?”

He made out her words, but just barely.

“It is towards the center more. Would you like for me to show you?”

“If it is not too much trouble. I am having a hard time finding any bearings.”

“Come, it is not any trouble. I do not know you. My name is Unimandil.”

“My name is Elrénia. I am not familiar with the city. It is so big.”

“Yes, it is. You are Lady Arwen’s sister?”

“Yes. We came last night. I just wanted to find the library and do some work.”

“It is not far, lady.”

“Please, just Elrénia. No one ever calls me lady.”

“Very well. Here we are. Will you be able to find your way back home?”

“If not, I will ask. Thank you.”

“You are welcome. And welcome. I hope you will like Lórien.”

“Goodbye.” She turned and went into the large building. Inside were a few tables and chairs. She saw books lining three walls and in two rows down the center. So many! She put her things down on a table and started reading the titles. Lord Erestor had not told her they had so many books. She reached up and reverently fingered a large tome.

“May I help you?”

She spun around.

“No. I am just looking.”

“What are you reading?” the man asked her, picking up one of her books. She reached out and retrieved it from him.

“Just an essay from the First Age. My teacher gave me the assignment to re-write it from my perspective.”

“Oh, and who is your teacher?”

“Lord Erestor of Imladris. He said I could find an adequate instructor here.”

“He did, did he?” The man laughed. “That sounds like him. He is very self-assured. I dare say you will find a more than adequate teacher here. Are you then Elrond’s daughter? I heard he was sending you.”

“Yes. Where will I find this teacher?”

“Well, there are many, but as I like a challenge, I would be happy to take over for him.”

She took in his dusty clothes and sloppy grin. She reluctantly allowed that he could be a teacher. Looks often were deceiving.

“And you are…?”

“My name is Glordinel. I spend a lot of time here. Some accuse me of living here, but I do have a house to the west.”

“That is where I am staying, I think. At Gariel’s. She graciously gave me a room.”

“As a matter of fact, I live not far from there. I have seen their house. She gave you a closet.” His eyes twinkled with amusement.

“Are you sure you are a teacher? You do not seem serious enough. I do not take my education lightly.”

“Nor will I. Why do humans always feel that elves are serious all the time? Can we not have a little fun?”

“I would not know. I am not human. And it is my experience that elves take life very seriously.”

“If you are not human, what are you then?”

“My father was Sindarin. My mother was Indrelan. As far as I know, neither are of the race of men.”

“And how do you know your father was Sindarin? Did he tell you? And your mother? What is Indrelan?”

She took in his white hair and light blue eyes. The pale skin.

“He looked like you. As a matter of fact, you remind me of him. He, too, always laughed. As for my mother, I do not know where Indra is, but it is where her people came from.”

“Well enough, child. I think we will suit each other.”

“You knew who I was. Why the charade?”

“I wanted to know if you knew who you were,” he said softly.

“Did I pass the test?”

“Emphatically.”

“Then I will accept you as a teacher. Here is my work. I will wait for your assessment.”

She handed him the papers and sat down, hands folded on the table.

“Are you going to wait like that?”

“This is what I usually do. What is wrong?”

“Nothing. Do you want to look at the books?”

“Is it required?”

“No, I just thought it might be interesting.”

She thought about it. “No, I will wait here.”

He shook his head.

----

Gariel looked up from her garden to see Ela returning. She had been worried, but had told herself that Haldir had warned them the child had strange habits. She frowned to see who was with her.

“Good morning, Gariel. This is my new teacher, Lord Glordinel.”

The woman nodded. She knew very well who he was.

“Do you still want to see my books?”

“Yes. I will wait here.” He sat down in a chair on the porch.

Within minutes, Ela had returned with her books and a cup of tea. Gariel noted that the girl was not lacking in manners.

“This is quite a collection. Books from the Shire. And Gondor. Even Dwarfish. Can you read them all?”

“Yes. The Dwarfish ones are children’s books, so not very hard. The ones from the Shire are easy. The Westron tongue is easiest. The worst one is the early Quenyan. I cannot read it much at all. I do not know where my brother found it. I think it is more just to have than to read.”

“That would make sense. Not many even know that old language anymore. What else do you do, besides live in the library.”

“I can play the lute, more or less. Most of the songs I know, though, are not suitable for singing.”

“Why not?”

“I learned them from my brothers and Dorga. Lord Erestor said they are not fit for finer company. I do not understand most of them anyway. I was told I am too young to have them explained.”

“If you want, there is a fair lute player who could teach you more. I can ask him.”

“That would be acceptable.”

“Well, thank you for an enjoyable morning. And the tea. I will stop by tomorrow and see what you have done.”

“I am used to lessons before light. Are you up that early?”

“No, but I may find the time to saunter past the library after dawn. That will have to do.”

“Very well. I will wait for you.”

“Goodbye, Ela.”

“Goodbye, Lord Glordinel.”

“You are lucky,” said Gariel, after he had left.

“How so?”

“Glordinel is not only a sought after teacher, he is a gifted healer. You could have done much worse.”

“It was not my choice. He sought me out. I am sure that the Lady had something to do with it.”

Ela went into house to put her books away. She came back out and sat down in a chair on the porch. Gariel looked up from her flowers. The child sat with her hands folded in her lap.

“Is there something you would like to do?”

“My lessons are finished. I have made my bed. What else is there to do?”

“Well, what would you do at home?”

“Read in my tree house. Or help Dalgren in the kitchen. Or Lord Erestor might take me to the village.”

“I am going to see the Lady after lunch. Perhaps you would like to join me.”

“Would it be acceptable? Would she not object?”

“No. You would be welcomed. We sew and spend time visiting. Can you sew?”

“Lady Seldala taught me. Why do you need to go there to visit? Can you not just go to each other’s houses?”

“It is just what we do. Things were different in Imladris?”

“I went to Dorga’s, or he came to my house. We would visit once a week. Caldelen came all the time, until we had our falling out.”

“Well, if you want to go with me, then we had best get ready. I will fix lunch, if you want to change.” Ela looked down at her clothes.

“Is it required? Do I need to wear a dress?”

“No, what you are wearing is fine. Come on. You can help me with lunch.”

They went to the kitchen. Gariel got bread from a box and sliced enough for six sandwiches. She then sliced meat and cheese, while Ela made tea. When they were finished, Ela looked at all the sandwiches.

“Why so many?” she asked.

“I told Rúmil I would bring up lunch. He is leaving later today.”

“Oh. Will he be gone long?”

“A few months at most. Why? Will you miss him?”

“Maybe.” She picked up the pitcher of tea. They walked to one of the larger mallorn trees. Ela looked up into the heights. Gariel looked back.

“What is it?”

“We must go up there?”

“That is where he lives. Are you afraid?”

“It is so high.”

“Can you do it?”

Ela tentatively stepped onto the stairs. Gariel waited until she had taken a few steps. She turned and trusted that the girl followed. When she was half way up, she turned back. Ela was slowly coming. Gariel waited for her.

“Are you alright?”

“I have never been this high. I do not like it!”

“Try not to look down. We are almost there.” She turned up another stairway. Ela followed. They went up one more flight of stairs.

“Here we are. Watch your step.”

Ela stepped up into the talan. It was light and airy. It was not what she had expected. The windows were wide and open. The room contained two wicker sofas covered with cushions and two matching chairs on one side. A table and chairs occupied the other side of the room. Ela set the pitcher on the table. Gariel turned to get dishes from a cupboard. She then went into the back of the talan, leaving Ela alone.

“Hello. What are you doing here?”

Ela spun around to see Rúmil.

“Nothing. I mean, we brought you lunch. I am sorry. I did not mean to intrude.”

“You are not, little one. I am just surprised to see you up here. Did you come alone?”

“No, Lady Gariel is in the back.”

“Have you seen the view? It is breathtaking.”

“I will just wait here,” she said, from the middle of the room.

“Do the heights bother you?”

“Terrify would not be an adequate word. I do not like it up here.”

“It is quite safe. None have fallen for millenia.”

“It is not falling that bothers me. It is landing. Your brother is not here to exercise his dubious skills at catching me. I will remain here.”

Gariel came into the room.

“There you are. I told you noon. I have brought enough for you and Haldir. Ela made some tea. We are off to the Lady’s as soon as we eat.” She took a seat at the table. Ela stood by her chair, waiting for Rúmil to hold it for her. He smiled as he moved to do it. She sat and waited for him to sit. Accepting the sandwich given her, she started eating. They were almost done when Haldir came in.

“Good afternoon, Gariel. Ela. How was your trip up?”

“Nauseating,” she replied.

Haldir took the remaining seat and started eating.

“You will get used to it. Everyone does.” He said this as a matter of fact. Ela looked at him.

“I am not everyone. I will stay on the ground as much as possible. I have everything I need. Home and the library.”

“Ela,” said Gariel. “Tell them who your teacher is.”

“A most untidy person. Lord Glordinel. However, he seems quite adequate. He thinks I am to be a challenge. Where would he get an idea like that?” She looked at Haldir.

“I am sure I do not know. He is a worthy teacher. The best.”

“Well, we will see how he measures up to Lord Erestor. I hope he is more serious than he seems.”

“I think you will find he will suit you just fine.”

She was quiet as she finished eating. She sat and listened to the conversation around her. The talk of the borders intrigued her. It was a life vastly different than the one she had led. She stored away the things she heard. One never knew what might come in handy.

Gariel rose to clean up. Ela helped her, then wandered to a shelf of books on the wall. She turned to the brothers.

“You have a question?”

“Who reads Westron?”

“I do,” said Haldir. “It is part of my duties to travel for the Lady. I have found the need to learn to read the common tongue.”

“Was it difficult?”

“Just time consuming. Do you read it?”

“Yes. Where do you get your books?”

“I have found them on my journeys.”

“Do you find any others?”

“I have seen other books. There is a merchant in Gondor that carries many kinds.”

“Do you think you could find one on ancient Quenya? I cannot read the one I have. I need a child’s book.”

“Why would you need to learn Quenya?”

“I do not. I wish to. Can you or can you not?”

“I will see.”

Rúmil hid a small smile. The ease with which she manipulated his brother was laughable. Just question his abilities, and he jumped right up to defend himself.

“Thank you. Do they cost much? I have no coin. I have never needed any. How does one acquire it?”

“One acquires coin by working for it. One does not expect a child to work. I am sure Lord Elrond foresaw any needs and provided for them.”

“Then I will ask Lord Celeborn. He should know.”

“Would you not rather ask the Lady?”

“No, I would not. I would rather deal with one I do not have to be watchful around. Unless you intend to ask her.”

Haldir shook his head. He did not understand her fear of the Lady.

“I think it is time to go, Ela,” said Gariel. She picked up the small bag she had carried up to the talan. Ela went to the chair where she had set her knapsack. Settling it on her back, she turned to the brothers.

“Goodbye. Thank you for a lovely lunch.”

“Goodbye, little one,” said Rúmil.

She followed Gariel back down the stairs. At the intersection where they had gone to the talan, Gariel turned to go back down.

“Are we not going up?”

“No. The Lady is in the garden today.”

“Then why was it necessary for me to come up here?”

“To help me. And I thought you might like to see where they live.”

“I am happy to help, but I am not interested in coming up here more than needed. I find the heights make me dizzy.”

“Unless required by the Lady, there is no need for you to come up. I, myself, avoid it when possible. But I did promise Rúmil lunch.” They had reached the bottom of the stairs and were making their way to the spacious and manicured gardens. Ela was impressed with how beautiful they were. Long, wide paths wove among flower beds. Trees were surrounded by lawns of soft grass. Gariel led her to a large bower. It was covered by trees that had been lashed together overhead and had now grown into a dark green canopy. There were wicker benches and a few chairs scattered in a circle. Gariel went to the one occupied chair and bowed her head.

“Lady, I have brought a visitor.”

“I see, Gariel. Come here, child.” Ela walked over hesitantly. She was not sure what a safe distance from the Lady’s powers would be. She bowed her head.

“Lady. Thank you for the other day. I know not what you did, but it is easier. The illness is not as great.”

“You are welcome. I did nothing but push things back for you. The feelings will return, but by then, I hope you will have learned to control them. How was your visit today? I was told that you ventured into the upper levels.”

“It was enlightening. I have discovered that I was correct. The trees are not for me. I will remain firmly on the ground.”

The Lady laughed. “I had discerned as much. It is not a life suited to all. I happen to know your father does not care for the trees, either. I am told you are welcome at Gariel’s for as long as you like.”
“I will remain as long as she will have me. It is pleasant there.”

“Did you bring something with you to do?”

“I have some studies and writing. A little sewing.”

“Good. I see the other ladies coming. Why do you not take a seat?”

Galadriel smiled to see her pick a seat as far away as possible. Gariel sat next to her. Ela pulled out a book and her small letter box. She began writing. She did not notice who sat on her other side, until a voice disturbed her.

“Are you not the girl Haldir brought back from Rivendell?”

Ela looked up and glanced around. She finally centered her gaze on Deladrieng.

“I am sorry, were you speaking to me?”

“Ladies,” Galadriel broke in, “this is Lady Elrénia, Lord Elrond’s daughter. She has graciously consented to join us this morning.” Ela looked hard at Galadriel. What was she doing? Consented? She had just tagged along with Gariel. She felt a soothing tendril touch at her mind. She slammed down her defenses, seeing the Lady blink.

Deladrieng took the opportunity to see what Ela had written.

“What are you writing, child?”

“A letter to a friend,” she answered absently.

“That is not Elvish. What is it?”

“It is Dwarvish. Since I have no one to practice with here, I must keep up with my writing. I have need of things that only Dorga can provide.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you actually know a Dwarf?” she asked, shocked.

“I know many people. Dwarves, men, Shirefolk. We are very enlightened in Imladris. That is what we elves call Rivendell. Imladris. Rivendell is the name men use. It is funny you would use it.” There were titters around the circle.

Deladrieng sat back and appraised this young girl. She was not as young as she appeared. Her words spoke of an age beyond her apparent twelve years.

“How old are you?” she asked rudely.

“I am fifteen. May I ask a question.”

“Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“That is none of your concern.” The woman was getting angry. The girl showed no emotion whatsoever.

“You and Rúmil seem to suffer the same affliction. Lack of control over your emotions. It is something that can be helped. Maybe the Lady could teach you. It would stand you well in the future.”

The titters were getting louder. Galadriel thought it best to defuse the situation.

“I am told you have found a teacher.”

“Yes, Lady. Lord Glordinel has agreed to be my teacher. I am told I am most fortunate. Thank you.”

“For what?”

“I am sure he did not just drop out of the air to teach me. I am not sure who is responsible, so I will thank you. You may convey my thanks to
whomever they are due.”

“I am not sure who is more fortunate, you or Glordinel.”

Ela stood. “By your leave, Lady, I would retire. I am late for my lessons.”

“Go. We will see you later.”

The girl wasted little time escaping the garden. She felt she could not breathe. That woman had not meant her any good. She almost ran all the way to the house. Looking at the ground, she did not see the body in her way. She ran into him and found herself on the ground.

“I am sorry,” she offered, not looking up. She hesitated at taking the hand offered her.

“You would do well to glance up once in a while to see where you are going.” Intrigued by the soft words, she looked at him.

“Do you remember me,” he asked. She nodded.

“Yes, Lord Unimandil. I remember you.”

“Good. And it is Unimandil, or Master Unimandil. Where were you going in such a hurry?”

“I, uh, just wanted to get home and put my things away.”

He looked at her. “How much Elven are you?”

She sighed. Was that always to be an issue?

“I am half.”

“Have you ever learned to use a bow?”

“Only a child’s. It did not fit into my studies. Nor what Lady Seldala deemed lady-like behavior. I can use a knife somewhat.”

“You should come down to the fields. That is, if you have nothing else to do.”

“The fields? You mean where they train? I could not do that. It would not be proper.”

“According to whom?”

“Well…I do not know. It is done?”

“There are many elleth who at least can handle weapons. I am sure even Gariel can draw a bowstring.”

A light started glowing in her eyes.

“I will discuss it with others.”

“Do so.” He turned to leave.

“Thank you, Master Unimandil.”

He waved his hand behind him.

She turned and fairly danced back to the house.

When Gariel arrived at home several hours later, she found things had been put away and the table set for dinner. She went into the garden to find Ela in a chair, reading.

“Did you fix dinner also?” she jested.

“You do not want to taste my cooking. It is not one of my more accomplished skills. How went the sewing?”

“You did not make a friend today. You will need to watch yourself.”

“Tell me something I do not know. Why is she so rude? Her questions would never have been tolerated at home.”

“None want her to turn on them. The Lady stops her when she has gone too far, but there are those who have actually left the city because of her.”

“I can understand that. Who is coming for dinner?”

“Haldir will join us. Since Rúmil is gone, he will probably be here more often.”

“I will set another place. May I help with dinner? There are some things I am capable of doing.”

“You may. I have vegetables to peel and tea to make. We can eat in the garden again. It was so nice last night.”

Ela went in and got down an extra setting then took all of them out to the garden. She came back in and picked up a knife and started on the vegetables. They spent an hour just speaking of small things. By the time Orophin came home, dinner was ready.

“Where are your brother and son?” Gariel asked.

“Elldar was still on the fields. Haldir is with the Lady. They will both be here any time.”

He went back to the bathing room and washed up. When he came back out, Haldir had arrived, cleaned up and hungry. Elldar was not far behind.

“How was your day?” Orophin asked his wife.

“Amusing. We went up to your brothers’ talan for lunch. Ela did not like it. We then went to the gardens. Deladrieng did not like that.” She told them what had happened between Ela and the woman. It was the first time Ela had seen Haldir really laugh, without his biting cynicism. She was amazed.

When things had calmed down, she looked from Haldir to Orophin. “May I ask a question?”

“You may,” said Haldir.

“Is it permissible for me to go to the fields?”

“For what purpose?”

“To learn. I met someone the other day who suggested I come. What do you think?”

“You are asking us? You do not need our permission. I see nothing wrong with it. You are a little late starting, but you could catch up. Who did you meet?”

“Master Unimandil. I sort of ran into him again today. He said I could learn. I told him I would ask and give him my answer. And I am not asking for permission, I am asking for advice.”

“You have a habit of meeting just the right people. He is the one who trains all of the wardens.”

“So, is it acceptable or not?”

“It is up to you. Whatever you decide is acceptable. I am not sure your father would agree.”

“He would not, but then, I do have my ears pierced. He does not like anything that was my idea. You would think by now he would have learned to let go.”

Haldir chuckled. “That is a lesson he will never learn. Ask Arwen. Or the twins. They had to fight for every freedom they got as young ones.”

“I will speak with Lord Glordinel in the morning to see if he can reschedule my lessons. I wish he would get up earlier. I do not like having them so late in the morning.”

They laughed at her. She chafed at waiting until after dawn, Glordinel chafed at anything prior to mid-morning. It would be interesting to see who won the battle.

Finished eating, Ela helped Gariel and Elldar clean up. The brothers sat down to a game of conquest. When things were put away, they spent a pleasant evening in the garden. Ela finally said her goodnights. She still had some work to do and wanted to be sure to get an early start.


“Tea”sing A New Friend

-----

The dawn broke early, but none saw it. Ela had awoken to rain, a heavy rain that traveled with the thunder that could be heard in the distance. It would be a wet day. She sighed. To have to walk all the way to the library was something to which she did not look forward. She had to admit, the last few weeks had flown by. If she was not in the library with Glordinel, she could be found down on the fields. She followed Elldar down one morning. Unimandil said not a word. Just handed her a child’s bow and some arrows, as if she had been coming all along. She spent the afternoon hours working on trying to hit the targets. Unimandil had told her that it would be hard, but once she got it, she would excel. And he was right. After two weeks of trying, she finally found her rhythm. Then it was only a matter of how close to the center could she get. Long after the other students were gone, she could still be found working on her aim. Many nights, Orophin had to go and get her for supper. He would watch as she hit a few more, but then she would pack up and go home with him.

“May I ask a question?” she asked him one night, on one of their walks back to the house.

“Yes.”

“Are you still comfortable with me staying in your home?”

“We had hoped you would consider it your home as well. But, yes. Gariel loves having you there. Do you want to leave?”

“No. But if I must, I would rather do it before I get too attached.”

“You do not have to worry. You will leave when you want to. Not before. Now, how about a race?”

“What? I cannot do that. It would not be lady-like.”

“But it would be fun.”

“Do you mean, just to run? For no purpose? Why?”

“For fun. Come on, try it.” He started running lightly down the path. She looked at him askance. Shrugging, she started to run after him. By the time they reached the house, both were laughing and teasing each other. Gariel looked out the window to see what the commotion was, only to draw back. So, the girl could laugh and have fun. She smiled. Elldar came up behind her.

“What is so amusing?” he asked. His mother pointed at his father and Ela. Both were still laughing.

They came into the house. Orophin went to the bathing room, Ela to her room. Both washed up and changed clothes. They got to the table at the same time. Elldar held Ela’s chair. When all were seated, they began to eat. Gariel noticed the girl kept glancing at her, as if she wanted to ask something, but was afraid to.

“Did you want something?” she asked.

“I do. I just do not know how to ask for it.”

“Just ask. Surely it cannot be too unreasonable.”

“I would like to have tea.”

“That is a fine idea. What is the problem?”

“I do not know anyone to invite. Except Lord Celeborn. And he has already had tea with me.”

“Wait a minute,” said Elldar. “What kind of tea? Not Dorga’s?”

“Of course not. That is for special occasions and friends. I thought you might invite someone you know.”

“I hear there is a girl a little older than you just west of the city. She is in your same predicament. Her father is a Ranger. He is in the north, so her mother returned here. She has had a hard time with some of the people here. I am sure she would welcome a friend.”

“Will you arrange it? And when should I have the tea? My schedule is so full.”

“I think we can make it for two weeks from now. I will go visit Meliel’s mother and see what she says. Do you want to invite anyone else?”

“Are there others my age?”

“Sorry, sell. You and Meliel are the only ones besides Elldar. I do not think he wants to attend a tea.”

“I will wait for one of her special friends’ teas. They are more fun.”

“Thank you, Gariel. I will wait for you to make arrangements. I am going now to finish my lessons. I do not want to fall behind.”

“Goodnight, sell. I will see you tomorrow afternoon.”

-----

Two days later, Meliel came up the stairs to her mother’s talan to see Elldar’s mother just leaving. She bowed and went past her into her home.

“Mother, what did that elleth want? I saw her leave.”

“Believe it or not, she wanted to invite you to tea.”

“Tea? Why would she do that?”

“It seems the girl staying with them wants to make some friends, and they thought this would be a good way to do it.”

“But tea?” she said. “I do not know how to act around others. I will have to wear a dress. And use manners. You did not say yes, did you?”

“I did. It is time you met others your age. You cannot hang around the sentry lines of the city. You need to broaden your horizons.”

“What is the girl’s name?”

“Elrénia.”

“Is that not Lord Elrond’s daughter?” she exclaimed. “Lady Arwen’s sister? Why, in all of Arda, would she want to have tea with me?”

“Why do you not go, and ask her yourself? You have two weeks. Learn some manners and do not embarrass yourself.”

Meliel grumbled and went to her room. Her, at tea, with a lady. What nonsense. She was not wearing a dress. That was that.

----

“What did she say?” Ela was almost breathless. She was so afraid the girl had said no.

“Her mother said she would be here. However, you will have to make it informal. Meliel is not inclined to dress for the occasion. Will that be acceptable?”

“I suppose. Tea should be formal, though. Maybe next time. Thank you, Gariel.” She paused. “Is it permissible to give one a hug when happy?”

Gariel laughed. “You may give one anytime. Just be mindful of who it is and where you are.” She returned Ela’s hug. She was startled to notice the girl came almost to her shoulders now. “I think you will need some new clothes soon. You have grown several inches since you came.”

“My clothes are still serviceable.”

“That may be, but they are getting too short. We will have to see what we can do. Meanwhile, set the table. Do not forget, Rúmil will be here tonight. He wants to see you.”

“Whatever for? Surely he has more important things to do than visit with me.”

“I only know what he said in his message.”

“Well, if he wants to waste his time, that is his choice. I have set the table. Do you need anything else? I have a few more pages to finish for Lord Glordinel.”

“Go, finish up. Have you gotten him to the library before light, yet?” she called back to Ela.

“Only once. He complained so loudly, we were asked to leave the library. I was so embarrassed. I have never been asked to leave anywhere. The man is a bad influence.”

Gariel laughed, joined by her husband, who had caught the question and reply.

When Rúmil and Elldar showed up, they sat down to eat. The conversation was filled with Rúmil’s stories of life on the wards. Ela and Elldar hung on his every word. They almost forgot to eat. After dinner, Rúmil followed Ela back to her room. He looked around. She sat on the bed. He finally took the chair.

“Haldir wanted me to tell you that he will be going to Gondor soon. He will look for the book you wanted. He also asked if you needed anything else. If you have letters for Imladris, we are sending a runner with other correspondence.”

“Thank you. I have a few ready to go.”

“Do you need anything else?”

“No. I have everything I need. I am learning to use a bow. Master Unimandil says I show some promise. Lord Glordinel mentioned trying my hand at healing. Either I can, or I cannot. He says now is the time to find out. I am meeting a new friend. We are having tea.”

“Anyone I know?”

“Yes, Deladrieng.” At his look, she laughed. “No, I jest. Her name is Meliel. Her mother is Lindelen. Her father is a Ranger. She is having the same problems I am. No one wants to befriend a half-breed.”

“Where did you hear that term?”

“I will not tell you, but she will regret it.”

“Is she that hard on you?”

“She is not as stupid as Caldelen, but she is as nasty. I am hoping that this Meliel and I can be friends. Elldar is always busy. By the time I reach the fields, he is off to do something else.”

“Let me know how the tea goes. I do wish you the best of luck with Meliel.” He rose. “I have some business to attend to. I will see you tomorrow.”

“Goodnight, Rúmil.”

Gariel checked on her later to find she had fallen asleep on her books. The girl pushed herself too hard. Something would have to give.

-----

The next morning she was in the library. Glordinel was concerned to find her asleep over her books. Gariel had expressed a fear that the girl was pushing herself too hard. It seemed the fear was well founded. He backed up to the door and dropped one of the books he was carrying. He smiled as she jerked awake.

“Good morning,” he said.

“It is almost noon. I have been waiting for three hours.”

“I am sure you put the time to good use.”

“I did. I have finished what you gave me.”

“All of it? There was quite a bit of work to do.” He was reading a paper from his stack of books.

“All of it. I have even started translating that paper from Gondor you requested. It seems silly. It is just a report of the border patrol from the southern reaches. Although I did find a reference that was interesting.”

“And what was that?” he asked, absently.

“Haran is getting ready to invade Mordor and requests the elves to fight along side them when they overtake Eregion.”

“Yes, yes. You have done a good job.”

“Lord Glordinel?”

“Yes?”

“If you are not going to listen to me, I see no point in your rising so early. I will find another to bother.” She rose and started to pick up her books.

“What? What did you say?”

“I said, Mordor is in danger and we are attacking Eregion. Is that not what you wanted me to find out?”

“Is that what you really translated?”

“Of course not. But you were not listening anyway. If I have become too much for you to fit into your busy schedule, then I will find someone else.”

“No. I was just reading this paper and did not hear what you said. Look at this.” He handed her the paper.

She read it several times.

“It is a family tree.”

“Yes, it is. Did you see whose?”

“It is for a Cera Brien. This is not Elvish. Is it human?”

“I cannot say. What do you make of it?”

“It is old. The dates do not follow any I know. It shows at least three thousand years of ancestry. It stops with this Cera Brien. Is there something else I should see?”

“No. I just wanted to see what you made of it.”

“Am I to study genealogy now? I must tell you, I have no interest in it. Other than historical value, I do not care who begat whom.”

“It may be of interest one day. Would you not like to know who you are?”

“I know who I am. I am Elrénia. I am the adopted daughter of Lord Elrond. What else is important?”

“One never knows. Can you ever have too much information?”

“Is the information useful?”

“If it is?”

“Then, no, you cannot. If it is useless, then, yes. May I ask a question.”

“You know you may.”

“What prompted this discussion?”

“Curiosity. I was sent this chart and thought it might interest you.”

“It does not. And I do not believe you. You have a reason. Either you will tell me or not. Now, can we get on with my lessons? I have wasted a whole morning and I do have other things to which I must attend.”

“You have missed the point of the lesson. You never know what is important until you need the information. You should never throw away knowledge just because you see no value in it.”

“This is the lesson? Well then, I have another question.”

“Alright.”

“Is it wrong to use your resources in a careless manner?”

“What do you mean?”

“If you have a resource, and you squander it, is it wrong?”

Glordinel backtracked over the conversation. He knew the warning signs. She was trying to turn the lesson back on him. He felt on firm ground.

“It is always wrong to misuse what you have been given.”

“Good. I will see you tomorrow at dawn. I cannot calculate the lost time I have spent waiting until mid-morning for you to show up. I am sure your time is valuable, so I would not dream of squandering it. Do you not agree?”

He stared at her for several moments. He then threw his head back and laughed.

“How long did it take you to come up with that argument?”

“About two weeks. I have studied your habits and decided that you waste the morning. It would be better spent here, with me. Then I could make better use of my day.”

“There is a flaw in your logic, child.”

“And what is that?”

“You have forgotten to factor in my penchant for rising late. That will not change. It is not governed by logic. It is governed by my love of sleeping late in the morning. But I must say, the argument was almost flawless.”

“You are unbelievable. Is there nothing that can get you here earlier?”

“I am afraid you are doomed to failure on that score. You will just have to content yourself with coming later, or waiting for me.”

“That is most unacceptable. Not only do I waste my mornings, but now I have wasted two weeks on this argument.”

“Do not give up. At least you are thinking. That is what learning is all about. Using what you have learned, and applying it to life. Knowledge is nothing, if you do not apply it.”

“I am late for Master Unimandil. I will think on what you have said. But I will be here by dawn tomorrow.”

“And I will see you mid-morning. Enjoy your practice.”


-----


The two weeks sped past. Ela juggled studies in the morning with workouts in the afternoons with homework in the evenings. She managed to keep up, but Gariel did not know how. When the day finally arrived, Ela was a bundle of nerves.

“What if she does not like me?”

“It did not bother you that Haldir did not like you,” pointed out Rúmil, down to give his reports.

“I was not looking for a friend. He just happened along. This is the first time I have ever made the first move. Do I look alright?” He took in her dark blue leggings and light blue tunic. It was bright enough to hurt his eyes. Those Imladris elves were too gaudy. She was wearing her sapphire earrings and ribbons in her braids to match. He was uncomfortably aware of how good she did look. They had better watch out. There were too many unattached males and not enough ellith to go around. Some might be willing to overlook her deficiencies; her mixed bloodlines, her stature, the color of her hair and skin.

“You look beautiful.” She blushed and bowed her head.

“You are such a liar. I am going to wait on the porch.” She had everything ready. She and Gariel had spent the morning making cakes and they had set the table in the garden. Ela was not sure now if she hoped the girl would show up or not.

She sat on the porch and read her book. Glordinel had backed off of her regular studies and given her books on healing and herb lore. She attacked it with the same fervor she did everything else. She was so engrossed, she did not hear the couple approach.

-----

Meliel balked at everything her mother picked out.

“I do not want to wear that. It is too formal. And that is too green. That one is too grey.” They finally agreed on a blue outfit. Matching leggings and tunic in a dark blue. Meliel knew they clashed with her sea-green eyes; that was the reason she had them.

She dragged her feet all the way to the northwest side of the city. They approached a house nestled back under some large oak trees. Meliel saw a girl on the front porch. She wondered who she was. Probably a neighbor. The hair was not white or dark. Her skin was too pale. And blue? Who besides her wore blue?

They went up to the porch.

“I am Lindelen. I am here to see Lady Gariel.”

“Oh.” The girl jumped up.

‘Ha,’ thought Meliel. ‘Her vocabulary is outstanding.’

“Just a moment.” Her voice barely reach them. She went into the house.

Gariel came out, followed by Rúmil. Meliel almost gasped. This one she knew. Every younger woman she had ever talked to in Lórien had tried to get his attention. Even she confessed to a slight crush on him.

“Thank you for coming, Lindelen. How are you?”

“I am doing fine. I have brought Meliel.”

“Hello and welcome, Meliel. This is my husband’s brother, Rúmil.”

“I know who it is,” she blurted before she thought. He smiled down at her.

“And this Lady Elrénia.”

“Why do you do that?” Ela asked. “It is embarrassing.”

“Because Haldir insists on it. As does the Lord and Lady. What you choose to call yourself is fine, but you will be introduced properly.”

Ela rolled her eyes. “It is Ela,” her answer almost a whisper.

The girls stood staring at each other.

“Would you like to go to the garden?” Ela’s manners finally moved her to action.

“Sure,” said Meliel.

They went through the house. Ela picked up the plate of cakes and pot of tea.

“Have you ever been to tea?” she asked, when they were seated.

“I do not move in circles that require me to attend teas.”

“Oh.” She was immediately sorry when she saw Ela’s crestfallen face. The girl was trying, which is more than anyone else had done.

“Forgive me. I am not used to anyone wanting to be with me. What do we do?”

“Are you sure?” At Meliel’s nod, she continued. “I have not attended many formal teas myself. Just what was required by Lady Seldala. Mostly we just eat cakes and drink tea and talk. My tea parties were more fun.”

“What was the difference?”

“Well, Dorga would bring some foul mixture and pour it into the tea. Then we would drink it, tell jokes and recite poetry. But I had to promise not to tell my father most of the poems.”

“That sounds more fun that this.”

“As this is our first time together, I thought this would be better.”

“I suppose. Do we need to be polite?”

“It is customary. Why?”

“I have a question.”

“Alright.”

“How did you gain permission to pierce your ears? Mother said I could, then when we came here, she said it was not done.”

“You pierce the human part.”

“What? What does that mean?”

“That is what Haldir said. It means they are my ears and I only pierced the Indrelan part of them. I left the Elven part alone.”

“Oh, I like that! I never thought of that one. I used every argument I could think of!”

Gariel and Lindelen looked out the back window at Meliel’s laugh.

“They are getting along,” said Gariel.

“Yes, but why do I feel that this was a mistake on our part?” Lindelen said, laughing.

“I have a feeling that Meliel needs Ela as much as she needs Meliel.”

“This will cause problems in some areas.”

“Then it will be dealt with. Come, I have some tea for us. I do not think there is need for us to worry.”

----

Ela ran down the path to the fields, tugging on Meliel’s hand. She wanted her to meet Unimandil. Meliel was not so sure. This was the ellon responsible for training most of the march wardens. She secretly thought that that was what she wanted to do, but had not really made up her mind.

They burst out onto the fields. Elldar turned and looked at them. Ela was actually smiling. He had not seen her do that very much. He had heard the stories concerning Meliel. Personally, he dismissed them, but others did not. He hoped Ela would not have trouble over this.

She led Meliel over to a bench. Sitting her down, she went to the weapons master.

“Master Unimandil? I have a friend who I think would like to learn what you have taught me. Her name is Meliel. Will you come and meet her?”

He would have done it for the excitement on her face. He followed her to the bench.

“Master Unimandil, this is Meliel. Her mother is Lindelen.” He nodded to the girl. He noted with satisfaction that she resembled her mother’s people more so than her father’s. She looked large and strong enough to handle a sword, which he knew Ela never would.

“Do you wish to learn?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Then be here at daylight. We will see what we have.” He turned back to his students.

“There, that was not so hard. He is very fair. He does not care who your father is.”

“I am not ashamed of my father!” Meliel snapped.

“Of course you are not. And I am not ashamed of my mother. But face it, where you and I are concerned, there are those who think we should be. I am telling you that he is not one of those.”

“I am sorry. I am just so tired of defending my bloodlines. It should not matter.”

“No, it should not, but it does. I just ceased doing it. The few who say anything to me are referred to the Lady.”

“I do not have that luxury.”

“Watch Elldar. He is going to drop his sword to the left. He does not realize he does it. If the fool he is sparring with would pay attention, he could beat him.”

Sure enough, he dropped to the left. Delinfel did not catch it. Although older by years and larger, Elldar managed to best him. This happened three more times before Delinfel finally gave up. Ela and Meliel laughed at him.

“Did you bring us lunch?” he called out.

“Do I look like a serving girl to you?” muttered Ela, under her breath. “I am sure his mother packed his lunch.” She got up and took Elldar’s lunch to him.

“Why do you get him lunch and not me?”

“He is better looking. And I have to live with him. You, I do not.”

“Are you here to practice?” asked Elldar.

“As soon as you are done playing. Your uncle is down. He will join us for supper.”

“Which one?”

“The elder. I hope he found my book.”

“If he did not, he will have a good reason. I cannot believe that you could not find a book on Quenya in the library.”

“Oh, they have them, just not what I need. I did find some in Dwarvish hidden in a back room, but they are beyond me.”

“How did the lessons go this morning?”

“I think Lord Glordinel realizes he made a mistake. I am no good at healing. I know all the material, it just is not working.”

“It takes time. You had better get going. Master Unimandil is looking this way.”

Ela pulled her bow and quiver from the bag in which she carried them.

“That thing will never be of use if you keep it in a bag,” teased Delinfel.

“Until I do learn to use it, it is safer in the bag.”

She went out to the targets and strung the bow. Two hours later, she was hitting the target, but could not get to the center. She never showed any frustration, just doggedly kept at it.

“Ela,” Unimandil called out to her. “It is time to quit. Go home.”

“But if I just keep at it, I will get it,” she said, coming over to him.

“You are wearing yourself out. Give it a rest tomorrow. It will still be here the day after.”

“Yes, Master Unimandil.” She put her bow and quiver in the bag and turned to leave. Meleil had waited for her. At least Orophin would not have to come get her tonight.

“Do you do this every day?”

“Yes. Someday I will get it. It is much harder than my studies.”

“Would you like to come for dinner tomorrow?”

“I can ask Gariel. I am sure she would not care. What of your mother?”

“She will say it is fine. She wants me to meet others my own age. That is not easy when there are only a handful of us.”

“Alright, I will come. But then you must come with me the next time I have to go visiting with Gariel.”

“Ugh. That does not sound like fun.”

“It is not. But it is expected, so I do it. If you go with me, it will not be so bad. I usually take my books, then excuse myself early.”

“I will ask my mother.”

They had reached where Meliel lived.

“I will see you tomorrow afternoon. Goodnight,” said Ela.

“Until tomorrow.” Meliel turned to go up to her talan. Ela turned and started for home. She did not see who blocked her path until she almost bumped into her.

“Hello, child. It is Ela, is it not?” Deladrieng said, a smile on her lips that did not extend to her eyes.

“It is Elrénia. Please excuse me, I am late for supper.” She could barely hide the dislike in her voice.

“I see you have met the little human girl. It may not be wise for you to become too friendly.”

“Your concern is touching. However, I feel myself of an age to make those decisions for myself. If you will excuse me, I really must be going.” She tried to get past the ellith.

“Do you think to worm your way into their affection? It will not work.”

“Are you threatened by a mere child? You are more in need of help than I thought.”

Deladrieng reached out and grabbed Ela by the arm. The girl winced at the strong grip.

“You would do well to watch your step. I do not care who you pretend to be. Lord Elrond holds no sway here. You have no one to raise a hand for you here.”

Ela looked up at the older woman. Deladrieng hesitated.

“In the future, please do not speak to me, unless in the presence of another. I would not want to be the cause of problems for you. Now, release me. You may not like who I am, but others have a care. You would do well to remember that.” She pulled her arm from the other’s grip. Glancing down the path, she could see Rúmil. She walked calmly towards him.

“What is going on?” he asked her when she reached him. He could see the tears threatening to spill down her cheeks.

“Just walk. Do not look back. I feel the need to hurry home and bathe.”

He turned and laid her hand on his arm. He could see a bruise already forming where her arm had been squeezed.

“The Lady will not like this.”

“Then she does not need to find out. I have never gone to others to solve my problems. I am not about to start now.”

“You cannot deal with her on your own. I have seen her cut down those much older and mature than you.”

“Maybe that is the problem. I am younger. And I have nowhere else to go. Besides, I have you. And Haldir and Orophin. How could she possibly stand against all of that?”

He smiled down at her.

“You have courage. I have known grown men to avoid that woman.”

“Believe me, I will avoid her when at all possible. She is not stupid, but she does allow her feelings to cloud her judgment.”

They walked in silence for a space.

“Why does she dislike you so?”

“It seems she had set her sights on Orophin. When he wedded Gariel, she decided I would do. I quickly let her know how I felt. She was cruel even back then. She then thought Haldir would be acceptable. All in all, she is a very persistent elleth.”

“How much danger is there that Haldir is lax enough to fall under her spell?”

“As you can probably guess, not much.”

“Please do not tell anyone what happened. I will take care of it.”

“I will only keep silent if you promise to go to the Lady if things get out of hand.”

“Agreed. Come on. I am hungry.” They walked home arm in arm. It did not go unnoticed.
oticed.


Chapter 10 - Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten

Adolescence Is A Curse To Bear- For Parents.

Ela came through the front door of the house. She went to her room and put her things away. Coming back out front, she stopped in the kitchen to grab an apple. She glanced into the pot over the fire to see what was for supper. Gariel came in behind her.

“If you keep taking the lid off, it will never get done.”

“Just trying to decide whether or not to eat here or at Meliel’s. Her mother is cooking venison. I think I would rather have the conies.”

“Especially since you brought them?” Gariel laughed.

“It does sweeten the taste. When is Rúmil due back down?”

“Next week. Now stop asking. You are quite capable of keeping track of time. How did your studies go this morning?”

“Lord Glordinel is finally happy. It seems all the preparation is paying off. I was able to heal a broken finger today. Oh, and Elldar is allowed to go on the boar hunt this weekend. Maybe I should have let him tell you.”

“He already did. He ran all the way back here this morning to tell me. Did you forget what tomorrow is?”

Ela rolled her eyes. “No. Is it necessary for me to go? It is so boring. Just sewing and gossip.”

“Yes, it is necessary. You and Meliel can sit back and ignore all of us older elleth.”

“That is proving to be a lot of fun. Is SHE going to be there? We would both rather skip that.”

“In all probability. You will just have to ignore her.”

“Easier said than done. How are the plans for my birthday party coming?”

“They are complete. The invitations are all sent. Lord Elrond sent his answer. He and Lord Erestor are coming. And your brothers will come. Did you see Lindelen? She wanted to see about your dress fitting.”

“It is too soon to bother with that.”

“Ela, you promised. You will go this afternoon. After practice. She found the most beautiful shade of blue.”

“Oh, I do not have enough blue already,” she laughed. “Rúmil would rather I wear grey. He says blue attracts too much attention.”

“Is he jealous?”

Gariel looked at the girl. No, girl was no longer the word to use. In fifteen years she had grown into a woman. Her full height was still far below normal. She stood just five-four. And her hair had lightened to a rich gold. The freckles were still there; she would carry them for the rest of her life. She had developed strong muscles in her arms from years of practicing with her bow. She had finally achieved contentment there. Although not as fast as most of the other archers, she never missed the target anymore. Her knife skills were creating a reputation. Only with a sword was she unsatisfied. She had completed her studies to her and Glordinel’s satisfaction. Her training as a healer was slower, but the ability was there. The biggest change in her, Gariel thought, was her attitude. She was more outgoing and vocal. If there was an underdog in the city, Ela would find them and fight for them. She did not tolerate injustice.

Ela shrugged. “Why would he be?”

Gariel shook her head. There had been rumors flying for the last year concerning the two of them. Neither would confirm nor deny anything. They both knew they were skirting a dangerous area. Ela was considered too young by some. Deladrieng had brought up the subject so many times, most of the ladies were inclined to disregard her. Although accepted by most, few really considered her an elf, so why bother? By human standards, she was old enough. Meliel was older by several years and had been keeping company with several different men. No one commented on that.

“How does the Lady feel about it?”

“I did not see the need to ask her. Nor Lord Celeborn. Nor Lord Elrond. Have I covered everyone? There is nothing there. We are just good friends. Nothing more.”

“Well, you will have to answer the questions, sooner or later. Deladrieng will not let it rest.”

“I am well aware of that. Her tactics have changed little. She is relieved that my attentions do not involve Haldir. Arda will fall before he returns hers.”

“That is too true. Go on to practice. You have other things to do this afternoon.”

“Goodbye, Nana,” she said, affectionately, reaching up to kiss her cheek.

“Behave yourself. Do not let Meliel get you into trouble.”

Ela waved her hand and left, munching on her apple, her bow and quiver slung over her shoulder.

Gariel watched her walk down to the gate. She had come to regard Ela as part daughter and part sister. The girl had filled an empty place that Gariel had not even been conscious had existed. Her heart ached every time she heard Deladrieng voicing her opinions about Ela.

-----

Down at the fields, Meliel was just finishing her sword practice. Her opponent had found out he could best her, but not without more than a few bruises. Delinfel stepped back and saluted Meliel.

She turned to see Ela coming down the road. She called out a greeting. She could not hear the answer. One thing that had not changed over the years was Ela’s voice. She was still too soft-spoken. It made arguing with her too much trouble.

“Are you coming over this afternoon?” Meliel asked when Ela was closer.

“For my fitting. But I am going home for supper. Conies.”

“You suck all the joy from my life.”

“Why do you not come to my house?” Ela had not noticed Haldir sitting on the sidelines checking out the younger city guards. It would be his decision which ones went on for training for the wards.

“We could ask, I suppose.”

“I can come,” said Delinfel.

“You are not invited,” answered Meliel.

“Elldar!” he shouted.

“Do not dare!” said Ela. “The two of you will drive me mad.”

“What?” shouted back Elldar.

“Supper tonight. Your house?”

“Sure. Let me get cleaned up.”

“Why did you do that?”

“To suck all the joy from your lives.” He laughed as he turned away. Haldir grinned.

“You could at least look like you are disappointed,” Ela pointed out, speaking to Meliel.

“Yes, but I am not. I am going down to the river for a swim. I will come back when I am done.”

Ela shook her head. Supper would be anything but quiet tonight.

Unimandil called her over.

“Let me see your knife,” he said. She handed it to him. He inspected it and found no rust or nicks. He handed it back to her.

“How about a little practice?” he asked with a smile.

“Not me!” Elldar exclaimed, with a grin, shaking his head. “You will need to find a much bigger fool. I barely escaped with my life the last time.” Del had come back over and was shaking his head, also.

Some of the older students and hunters out for practice gathered round. They laughed at Elldar’s words. She had gained the respect of most of the city guards. Her archery and knife skills made her lack of ability with a sword unimportant.

“Will no one help the poor girl out?”

“No one here is interested in moving on to the next world today.” Rúmil dropped onto the bench next to his brother. Ela looked over in surprise. Haldir noticed with a touch of annoyance that she looked pleased.

“I will,” Haldir said.

“No, brother. You have not seen her fight. She does not fight fair. I have told you that before.”

“How bad can it be? She is smaller and weaker.”

Ela just stood grinning at him.

“Practice knives?” she asked.

“No. And I will take it easy on you.”

She drew her knife and held it loosely in her right hand. He turned to get his knife from his pack. He found himself flying over the bench. Ela rolled past him and jumped to her feet. She circled, giving him time to stand up and draw his knife. They circled each other for three heartbeats, when she moved in, slashed at his guts and pirouetted back out of reach. He felt the knife slice his shirt and glanced down to see if she had cut him. She had not, but he had forgotten the cardinal rule of hand-to-hand combat: never take your eyes from your opponent. When he looked back up, she was gone. He twisted around just as she jumped on his back. He turned and threw her, forgetting how big he was and how small she was. She landed on her shoulder and winced, but was back up immediately. She ran in under his knife and swung with her left hand. She danced back out before he felt the burn in his side. He had been watching her right hand. She ran back in, aiming for his knees. She checked herself when she realized he was holding his right side. His legs buckled and he fell.

“What is going on?” roared Celeborn.

The horror of the situation was finally hitting the spectators, as they realized Haldir was injured.

Celeborn knelt down beside Haldir and pushed him back down when he tried to rise.

“Fool! Did no one warn you?”

Haldir glanced at Rúmil.

So, someone had.

“I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt him!” Ela was in tears.

Haldir tried to sit up and gasped. His ribs were on fire.

“Rúmil,” Celeborn ordered. “Get him to Glordinel.”

“You,” he said to Ela, “Come with me.”

Ela turned back to Rúmil for help. He shrugged, helplessly. She followed Celeborn back into the city. She hesitated at the base of the tree where his talan was.

“Come. You have been up there enough that I know you can do it.”

She followed. When they had reached the large open talan that served as the court, he pointed to a chair. She sat down without a word. What would they do? She had not meant to hurt him. It was all a mistake.

She looked up as Lady Galadriel come down the stairs. Ela stood and bowed, lower than was warranted.

“Lady,” she said.

“Child, we must talk. Come.” She led Ela into a small antechamber. She motioned Ela to sit down. The girl took the smallest chair in the room. Celeborn sat down beside her.

Nothing was said for several minutes. Ela was afraid they were going to make her leave Lórien. As much as she still missed Imladris, Lórien had become her home. She did not want to leave.

“Please. I am sorry. Do not make me leave Lórien!”

“Leave? Is that why you think you are here?”

“Well, yes. I did not mean to hurt him. He said he wanted to see what I could do. I did not realize that he was holding back. I would never hurt him.”

“Hush child. We know you would not intentionally harm anyone. It is not in your nature. You are here because Lord Elrond sent word that he requires you in Imladris.”

“Go back to Imladris? Can it not wait until my birthday? It will only be another two months.”

“You know he would not have sent for you if it were not important.”

“Yes, Lady. Is it safe to travel? I have heard there is much unrest in the Misty Mountains.”

“I do not believe he would ask you to come if the danger was great.”

“Is it permissible to ask someone to accompany me?”

“I do not think your father would deny that. Who did you have in mind?” Ela saw a small smile cross the Lady’s lips. Who else?

“I think that Meliel would not be adverse to the opportunity.”

“Nor do I. You may ask.”

“Thank you, Lady, Lord Celeborn. Again, I am sorry about earlier. May I have leave to withdraw? I would like to check on Haldir. I would not like him to think me not sorry.”

“Run along, sell,” said Celeborn. “You will leave in two days. I will inform Rúmil to get an escort ready.”

“Rúmil? Really?”

“Is there a problem with him”

“No!” she exclaimed. “I mean, no. He will do.” Her nonchalance made Celeborn smile. “Thank you. I will leave now.” ‘Before I stick my foot any further into my mouth’ she thought to herself.

“Did she not seem a little too eager that Rúmil is to accompany her?”

“Husband, you have heard the rumors, the same as I. I do not see anything coming of it. She is young and testing the waters. Her choice is yet down the road.”

-----

Ela practically ran down the stairs from the talan. When she reached the ground, she slowed down. She walked at a sedate pace towards the small building that housed the infirmary. She was almost to the door, when she encountered Deladrieng.

“How could you? Do you realize what you almost did?”

“I am sorry, why are you speaking to me?”

“You almost killed him, you stupid girl!”

“And I got closer to him than you ever will.”

“You impertinent little cur!”

Ela looked at the woman. Her face broke out in a smile when she looked past Deladrieng.

“I am sorry, I see someone I would rather talk to.”

She walked past her. The older woman turned to see Haldir standing in the door, Rúmil beside him. She watched the girl lay a hand on the elder brother’s cheek.

“I am sorry. Can you forgive me?”

“There is nothing to forgive. Come, I am hungry and Gariel is expecting us.” Deladrieng watched as the three of them went towards home. She did notice it was Rúmil’s arm she held.

-----

Everyone at Orophin’s clamored to get the details of what had happened. Gariel had set the table in the garden. Ela noticed Meliel and Delinfel nestled in a corner. She went over.

“Are you comfortable? I do not wish to disturb you.”

“How is the March Warden?” asked Meliel.

“He will survive. Not without a scar. I have news, but it will wait until after supper.”

“What news?”

“It is not important. It will wait. I am sure Delinfel is not interested in my goings on.”

“What is it, Ela? Just tell her.” Delinfel was irritated at the interruption.

“No, I cannot. I would not spoil your evening, Del.”

The exchange had drawn the attention of the adults.

“Just tell her!”

“Well, if you insist, I suppose I could go ahead and tell you.”

“I insist!” he almost shouted.

“I am going to Imladris. The day after tomorrow.”


“All of that because you are going to Imladris?”

“Yes.” She paused. “I have gained leave to take someone with me.” The adults had watched as Delinfel neatly walked into her trap. “I do not suppose you would like to go, Meliel?” Her eyes never left Del.

The older girl jumped up.

“Me? Go to Imladris? Are you sure? I have to ask my mother.” To Del’s irritation, Meliel was out the garden gate before any could stop her.

“Are you enjoying your supper now, Del?” Ela asked softly.

“That was cruel! Why did you do that?” He scowled at her.

“In the future, do not insinuate yourself into our plans. And besides, you insisted. I tried to wait until after supper.”

“Was that necessary?” asked Elldar, when she came over to the table.

“I think it was. He needs to learn his place. He was not invited tonight. Maybe next time, he will remember his manners.” She sat in the chair Elldar held for her. Haldir smiled. She had managed to bring not a few of the customs she had grown up with to Lórien with her. He was amazed that none balked at her demands.

“Why are you going to Imladris?” asked Orophin.

“I do not know. The message just said Lord Elrond required me to be there. Rúmil, you are taking us.”

“I am not sure that is a sound idea,” objected Haldir.

“I am sure it is. Who would you have go? Yourself? Your injury is too new. They will not allow it. Besides, I am sure I would move too slowly for you.”

Haldir bit back his answer and just sat and ate. He had watched the girl grow up and was not sure he liked it. She was no longer as biddable. She was making too many decisions on her own. Rúmil was one he did not relish. He had heard the rumors, the same as everyone else. Some had them already mated. He had tried to talk to his youngest brother, but was told it was none of his business. He decided to try again after supper.

Meliel came back in the middle of the meal. She was so excited she could not sit still long enough to eat. Delinfel finally left, disgusted. Ela just smiled.

Haldir cornered Rúmil while the others were cleaning up.

“I want to know what is going on between you and Ela.”

“That is none…”

Haldir cut him off. “If it affects my family, it is my business. You must know the rumors.”

“I have heard some things. Look, honestly, there is nothing there. We like each other’s company. It is not like there are many her age. We have fun. And it keeps others at bay.”

Haldir thought he finally had it.

“You are both hedging against suitors.”

“That is one way of putting it. She is not ready. I am not interested. It serves us both.”

“Be careful. It could backfire on you. She is young yet.”

“Do not worry about us. Whether you have noticed or not, we have left a clear field for another. She will not be long stepping into the gap.” Rúmil smiled. Deladrieng had not been idle in the last fifteen years. Her desire to catch the attentions of the March Warden had gone unfulfilled.

“It will cost her a trip then. I am taking an extended tour of the marches. I wait only until you leave.”

They went back and joined their brother. He was sitting with a cup of wine. He motioned to two more cups on the table.

Ela had disappeared with Meliel. They could hear those still in the garden through the open window of Ela’s room.

“What do you think of this?” Ela help up a light grey tunic and darker trousers. “This is Rúmil’s favorite outfit. He says it is all Lórien. No greens or blues. He thinks my blue suit is too gaudy. I will take it anyway.” She moved the cat from the bed to the chair and laid the clothes out.

“I like the grey. It shows off your pale skin. Mine is so dark it just looks bad. I will take my blue, also. I like your black one. Take it. What of a dress? Do I need one?”

“I can remember when you would not wear one. How many do you have now?”

“Just two, but that is enough. Del likes the dresses.”

“Del!” said Ela, derisively. “What do you see in him?”

“He likes me. How many have you seen beating down my door?”

“That would be one more than my door.”

“Yes, well, I do not have three March Wardens to discourage suitors. Nor Lord Celeborn.”

“They do not! Why would you say such a thing?”

Meliel looked uncomfortable. She squirmed a bit before finally answering.

“It is know among the younger elves that you are off limits. It is not exactly said, just whispered.”

“WHAT?” Ela stormed out of the house. She collected herself and walked to the table where the three brothers sat.

“Orophin,” she said sweetly.

“Ela,” he said hesitantly.

“Would it be much trouble, I mean, I would not like to put you out, but could you find me a talan of my own?”

There was shocked silence for several moments.

“If that is what you want. But why?”

“Well, I was thinking that if I had a place of my own, my cat would not be a bother.”

“No,” said Haldir. “The cat is always an excuse. She is not a problem. What brought this on?”

“Nothing,” she said with a look of innocence. “I am getting older. I am sure they need the room. Besides, I have friends. It would be less bother to have them in my own home, rather than here under foot.”

“They are no bother,” said Orophin.

“Well, what of male friends? I am of an age when I should be seeing to my future. As a matter of fact, I am surprised that there have been none around.” She let her lip quiver. “Who am I fooling? None think me pretty enough. I am just that mixed blood cur.” She turned and ran for the house, crying. Rúmil put a hand out to stop her.

“You are beautiful. Why would you think not?”

“Really?” she whispered. “Do you really think so?”

“Yes, I have always thought so.”

“Oh, then would you do me a favor?”

“Anything, little one.”

“Please,” her voice grew sharp, “Do not interfere in my affairs, again!”

She walked back into the house.

The three of them sat in stunned silence.

“What was that about?”

Gariel came over.

“You fools. You could not leave well enough alone. She knows about the warnings. I heard Meliel tell her. What were you thinking?”

“We were thinking of her own good.”

“She is thirty in two months. She is old enough to make her own mistakes. You cannot protect her forever. She has to grow up.”

Ela and Meliel collapsed, laughing, on Ela’s bed.

“Did you see that?” Ela said trying to breathe.

“Yes. You are wicked.”

“Well, they should not interfere.”

“You are not interested anyway, what is the difference?”

“It should be my choice, not because they decided what was best for me.”

“Come on, we need to get you packed and then get to my mother’s. She has your dress waiting for the fitting. We can do my packing while there.”

-----

The next day, Ela could barely sit through her visit with Galadriel’s ladies. The book she had brought laid unopened on her bag. Her sewing was not even out of the bag. She and Meliel whispered to each other. Finally, Gariel had to say something to them.

“I am sorry, Gariel,” Ela whispered. “I have many things to do. I do not want to sit here.”

“You have an obligation. Bear up to it.”

“Yes, Gariel.”

She sat quietly for ten minutes. Galadriel looked up when she started fidgeting again.

“Elrénia,” said the Lady. “Are you packed for your journey?”

“Yes, Lady. We finished last evening.”

“I am sure you are looking forward to being in Imladris once again.”

“I am, but I will also look forward to returning to Lórien.” There was just a trace of a question in her voice.

“But of course. The journey is always exciting, but it is good to return home.” The Lady smiled at the look of relief on the girl’s face.

“How is my March Warden today?”

“A little sore and a lot more cautious. Lady, I would ask for an audience later with you and Lord Celeborn.”

“Certainly. Come whenever you want.”

“Thank you.”

Ela sat back and spoke quietly with Meliel. She turned when she heard a rustle of whisper and her name mentioned.

“Do you have something to say to me, Deladrieng?” She kept her voice lower than usual.

“I have yet to figure out why we tolerate non-elves in Lórien. It has happened so seldom in the past, it is not worth remembering,” Deladrieng said, quietly. It seemed she also did not want to attract the Lady’s attention.

“You would have to ask the Lady that. It seems you believe she made an error. That is what you are saying, is it not?”

Deladrieng hesitated. This was not the direction she had wanted to go.

“I do not believe the Lady would make a conscious error.”

“Then maybe Lord Celeborn made the error.”

“You are twisting my words.”

“I am trying to understand why you hate and fear me so. I am no threat to you. If what you want is available, you will have it. I do not see it happening, but then what do I know, I am merely a child.”

“You are nobody. Just a stray taken in by misguided well wishers. Someday, they will see you for who you are.”

“No, lady, it is not who I am that is important. It is what I am.” She did not realize she had raised her voice. It carried beyond the few who were seated beside them. Her blue eyes had intensified to a deep sapphire. “Do not pursue you present course. You will never have him. You will only be vastly disappointed.”

“What do you know, child? You play at adult games, luring a man into places that are not safe for him to go.”

“Do we speak of Rúmil, now? Are you still angry about that? He saw you for what you are. Can you fault him for seeking out anyone else? He has made his choice. Leave it at that.”

“Then you admit that the rumors are true?”

“I admit to nothing. But then you know whether or not they are true. You are the one who keeps them to forefront. Take my advice and find another
to harass. Leave me and my friends alone. Oh, yes, I know you are the one who has made Meliel’s life miserable. She has done nothing to you. She is not even a threat to you. For all of your vaunted pure blood, you are no better than Caldelen. Wanting what you cannot have. Trying to take what is not yours. And destroying anything in your way, including what you desire.”

“How dare you? You will live to regret your words.”

“Probably. You, on the other hand will never have a husband to warm your bed. No child will ever fill your womb. I know that you fancy Haldir. ‘Ello burne tole sl’danna!’ You have chased him long enough. You debase yourself by your antics. He will never have you. You have not the wit to keep a ellon like him. I will tell you this, you will have better luck wooing an Orc. At least they are not particular!” With a nod to the Lady, she left the glade, leaving gasps in her wake. Meliel jumped up and followed her. Gariel apologized to Lady Galadriel and left.



The Hidden Bower And Thoughts Shared

Rúmil found her by the river. She had changed into her leggings and a tunic. He smiled at her hair. She had not bothered putting it back up. He liked it down.

“I heard what happened. Was that wise?”

“No. But it was a long time coming. As long as she confined her comments to me, I could take it, but when she started on you and Meliel, it was too much.”

He was quiet. He watched her pick up small stones and throw them in the Celebrant.

“Are you ready to leave?” he asked.

“No, but I am packed. I cannot help feeling that whatever he wants, it will change everything. I do not want things changed. I am happy. Why can it not just be left at that?”

“Even those who live far beyond the comprehension of humans must accept change. It comes much slower, but it does come. How bad can it be?”

“I do not know, but I do not feel good about it. It may have to do with my mother’s people.”

“It will do no good to dwell on it. How about a ride? We could go out to see Orophin.”

“I think I would rather just walk. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.” He took her hand and rested it on his arm. They followed the river a ways. The silence was a comfortable companion as they slowly left the city behind.

“Has my brother spoken to you?”

“Do you mean the little chat that begins with ‘What are you thinking?’? Yes, he cornered me last night. I told him it was none of his business. He muttered something about adolescents. Did he not raise the two of you?”

“Yes, and I heard the Lady myself tell him that girls are not the same as boys.”

She looked up at him.

“You would think he would have noticed that by now.”

“Oh, he knows, just not when it comes to you. You are still that little girl he brought here fifteen years ago. And in his defense, you do not look much older. You really shook them up last night asking for your own talan.”

“And I did not shake you up?”

“Well, maybe a little.”

“You are funny. I saw your face. You were as shocked. You know, someday it will happen. I will grow up and move on.”

“I do not want to think on that.”

“Putting it off will not make it go away.”

“It will not. But I will rest easier.”

“Males. You think that by putting it out of your mind, it will cease to be?”

“No, but putting it out of my mind, I do not have to dwell on it. You think too much.”

“It is a curse. Come on, I want to show you something.” Several hundred feet from the path was a small bower. She did not know who had built it, but it was old. The intertwining trees and vines formed an almost impenetrable barrier.

“Watch,” she said. She went around to the opposite side of the bower and pushed on a limb. A section swung open just wide enough for passage. She went through and waited for him.

“Listen.”

“I do not hear anything,” he said.

“I know. There are not many places this close to the city where you cannot at least hear distant voices. I come here when I want to be totally alone. Only Elldar knows about it. It is like another world.”

Rúmil walked around the large space. He could not see nor hear anything outside the bower.

“What do you do here?”

“I read. Sometimes I bring my studies. Sometimes I just remember. My parents. My life before. I dream. I dream that my da never found us. That my parents are still alive and talk to me. I wonder what my life would be like. Who I would marry. My mother holding her first grandchild. The things a girl dreams about.” She wandered around the space. “What do you dream about?”

“I, too, wonder about my parents. What they were like. Did they love each other? They must have, for her to follow him. Still, it left an empty hole in my life. I do not remember them at all. Orophin says he can, but I think he just wishes so.”

“Do you ever think of wedding?”

“Sometimes, but it is not time yet. I thought I found someone, but she is for another.”

“I am sorry. You deserve the best. Maybe she is a fool.”

“I doubt that. She is destined to wed another, but I cannot be jealous. They deserve each other.”

“Then she is a fool. If she would not even consider you. I would, if I were old enough.” She did not see the pain that flooded his eyes for a moment.

“She is not a fool, and you are too young. Come, we must get back. You have to see the Lady, and Gariel is planning a party for you and Meliel. She even asked me how to make that disgusting tea.”

“Alright. Maybe you will find another in Imladris. Anything is possible.”

“Maybe. For now, I will content myself with your company.”

“Oh, that is exciting. You could surely find better company than mine. You will never find someone while spending all your time with me. I know of not a few ellith who would not be adverse to your attentions. As a matter of fact, it is too bad Meliel is so taken with Delinfel. I do not see in him what she does. He is boorish and immature.”

He laughed, then started as she took off down the path. He could hear her laughing. When he caught up with her, she was looking down in her hand.

“I found a butterfly. Is it not beautiful? It is the first one I have seen this season.” She tossed it into the air.

“Sometimes I feel like a butterfly. I started out as this grubby little thing. Then I grew. Now I feel like I am cocooned, just waiting to burst forth. Is that not the silliest thing you have ever heard?”

“I do not know about the grubby part, but if the cocoon looks like you, I can hardly wait for the butterfly.”

She looked up at him quizzically.

“I do not know what you mean,” she started, then spied another butterfly. He shook his head as she was off again. She danced through the glade surrounding the path. He listened to her laughs and watched the sunlight filtering through the open space in the canopy glint off her hair. Her spinning cause the hair to fan out like a halo. He was so struck for several seconds, he did not notice the other watching her.

“What are you doing, brother?” came a quiet voice from behind him. He turned.

“Just enjoying the present.”

Haldir looked at him, surprised.

“I thought you were not serious.”

“I cannot be. She will wed another.”

“How do you know?”

“The Lady told me. It seems you are not the only one interested in our relationship.”

“Does she know who it is?”

“If she does, she did not tell me. What are you doing out here?”

“I heard what happened this morning. I wanted to make sure she was alright.”

“She is. Are you sure that is all it is?”

Haldir turned and cuffed his brother on the side of the head. “Mind your tongue, youngling. I can still drown you in the Celebrant.”

“Not without damage to yourself.” Rúmil smiled to himself.

“Rúmil, come, quick!” They both turned at her soft cry. They ran to where she was last. She was looking up into an oak. They glanced up to see what had drawn her attention.

“I think it is an eagle’s nest. I have never seen one before.” She continued to look up as she moved back for a better view.

“Ela!” Haldir called out as she stepped close to the edge of a drop behind her. He made a grab for her, but missed when the ground under him suddenly caved in. They both slid
down the steep decline. They came to an abrupt stop at the bottom. She ended up face down under him.

“Get off me,” she gasped, “I cannot breathe.”

He struggled to disentangle himself. He sat back as she turned over onto her back. She lay there propped up on her elbows looking at him. She saw Rúmil carefully coming down
the bank.
“Well, that was interesting!” she said, a strange glint in her eye as she looked at Haldir. He had a funny look on his face.

“What was?” asked Rúmil.

“Nothing,” she said, quickly. “It seems your brother’s skills at preventing injury have not improved. I will have to check and see what is broken this time. You do realize that I
am running out of limbs.”

“If you had not stepped so close to the edge, we would not have fallen.”


“If you had not put your considerably greater weight so close to the edge, it would not have caved in and I would still be standing up there. What were you thinking?”

“That you would fall.”

“What happened to ‘I will not push you’?”

“I did not push you!”

“But the results are the same. Now I will have to bathe before I can see the Lord and Lady. Not to mention washing my hair, again. Do you have any idea how long that takes?”

Rúmil noticed that her angry tone was offset by the gleam in her eye. The laughter in her eyes was lost on Haldir.

Rúmil gave her his hand. She took it and allowed him to pull her up. She flounced her hair around. She also made a big show of checking for injuries.

“Well, it seems I can still walk and maybe sit a horse. I guess I will not have to postpone my trip, after all.” She turned to the brothers. “Thank you for a lovely afternoon. We really must do it again. I have not had as much fun since, oh let me think, Caldelen pushed me out of the tree house, or maybe it was the ride in.”

“Your mouth will get you in trouble. I do not think a dip in the Celebrant would be unjustified,” growled Haldir. He winced as he stood up.

“Are you all right?” she asked, concerned.

“I am fine. Go play with your butterflies.”

“Let me see.” She reached for his side.

He swatted her hand away.

“I am not letting you see anything. Go away.”

She reached out and pulled at his shirt. He jerked away, but there was blood on her hand.

“Stop it! Let me see!”


He sighed and pulled the shirt up to let her see. His wound had opened just enough to start bleeding. She pulled around the small bag she always carried around her waist.
They watched as she took out a small flask and some cloths. Pouring some of the contents from the flask on the cloth, she took a drink from the flask. While Haldir was watching her drink,
she slapped the cloth on his wound. He let out a yelp.

“What was that?” he exclaimed.

“That stuff Dorga sends me. It makes tea, is a good astringent and will peel the bark from a tree. Did it hurt?”

“Why did Elrond let you leave Imladris? At least then you were polite. Now you are rude and uncontrollable.”

“It is the influence of the Lórien elves. You know the reputation. Inhospitable, dangerous, ill-mannered. And that uncivilized teacher, Glordinel. Now, hold still.”

She gently rubbed the cloth to remove the dirt. She laid her hand on his side and counted to ten. When she removed her hand, the seam had closed. The brothers looked at the
closed wound.

“I did not know you had advanced that far,” said Rúmil.

“Neither did I. The last thing I tried to heal was the broken leg of a coney. It did not go so well. But, it was delicious.”

Haldir stared at her.

“You did not know what you were doing?”

“Oh, I know how, I just have not been able to do it. Glordinel said it would happen when the time was right. I guess he knew of what he was speaking.”

“Why did you count to ten?”

“Actually, five would have done it, but I know how cantankerous and thick-skinned you can be, so I thought the extra time necessary. Why are you complaining? It worked, did it
not? The bleeding has stopped.”

“If we send her to Mordor,” Haldir said, turning to Rúmil, “We can relieve ourselves of her and she can just talk Sauron to death.”

She looked at him. “Something there is stirring again. It is awakening. Maybe it will return to its sleep.”

He looked for her laugh. It seemed she was serious.

“What do you know of Mordor?”

“Probably less than you. I can just feel something stirring. I told Lord Celeborn about it. He did not seem concerned at the time. Should I be?”

“You should concern yourself with a trip home and your birthday. That is all that need fill your thoughts for now.”

“I believe I would rather think on the future. I want to train for the wards.” She glanced over at Haldir to see his reaction.

“That is not necessary. We have enough wardens.”

“I do not recall asking if it was necessary. I simply stated that I plan on training. Whether I make it or not is up to you, but I will train. I have learned all I need. Glordinel is concentrating my education towards healing. I find I have much more time on my hands. Of course, if you think me not capable of learning well enough, then I can always find someone and settle down. Or maybe go see if I am needed in one of the Edain villages. I am sure they can find use for an accident-prone adolescent that can sometimes heal.”

“Who put this nonsense into your head?”

“Why is it that if Elldar wants to do it, it is fine? But if I want to do it, it is nonsense. That is not fair. I can shoot just as well as most of the city guards and better than some of
them. I am sure you can find somebody who will vouch for my knife skills. Is it because I am a girl? There are female wardens. Maybe because I am only half-Elven.” Rúmil hoped his
brother could see how angry she was getting. The subject of her bloodlines was touchy at the best of times. “I know, it is the eyesight. It is not as good. Well, you know, this is not the
only place to live. There is Mirkwood and the Grey Havens. Then again, I can always return to Imladris. Compared to your fairness, how bad can Caldelen be?” She turned and climbed up
the bank. By the time they had reached the top, she was nowhere in sight.

“You have created quite a mess.” Rúmil said, looking towards the city. “She will not let you forget this.”

“I do not have to deal with her for the next month, you do. She will have cooled down by the time you return.”

“The Lady was right. You know nothing of girls. You knew little enough of boys. You should not be trusted around either.”

“That would suit me just fine. I find they are tedious and do not follow orders.”

Shaking his head, Rúmil followed him back into the city.



****



Ela sat patiently waiting for permission to see Lord Celeborn. Her hair was still damp, but braided back from her face. She smoothed out an imaginary wrinkle in her dress. She
thought back on the incident in the woods. Something had happened. She was not yet sure what, but there had been something. And she was sure that he had felt it also. It had felt as
if she had swallowed all the butterflies and they were flying in her stomach. She had never experienced anything like it. Well, she thought as Celeborn’s page motioned to her, I have a
month to sort it out. She rose and followed him into the large reception room. Bowing, she straightened back up. She glanced at the empty chair beside him.

“Is the Lady not joining you?” she asked.

“She will be here. She was detained.” Celeborn detected just a hint of relief in the girl.

“Would you like to wait for her?”

“It is not necessary. By your leave, I have a request. I want to train for the wards. The March Warden will not allow it. Is there a reason for his refusal?”

Celeborn was silent. She knew from experience he was collecting his thoughts. She waited patiently.

“Elrond sent a courier after we left Imladris. He passed us during the journey. He had found some information about your mother’s people.”

Ela thought before speaking. She had to tread carefully. It was never wise to be rude to the ones who controlled your life.

“And it was thought best not to inform me? Why?”

“I have a question for you.”

“Yes?”

“Are you content here?”

“Yes. I have been very happy here. Orophin and Gariel have treated me like a daughter. Most have accepted me. I have friends.” He smiled. He knew what troubles she had
had, and exactly how many friends she did have.

“Elrond adopted you. He did not know it at the time, but you are actually related to him. He did it out of caring and concern for you. He was given things that belonged to your
father. He has been trying to confirm his suspicions since then. I believe he may know more and wants to share his findings.” He hesitated. “The courier came with a Ranger. They had
found your mother’s people. The Rangers were not met with hospitality. All the elves in the company were forced to withdraw before their leader could even talk to the men of the village.
They did not want you back. They had put you in that boat to die with your mother. As far as they knew, you had, until someone stumbled across the knowledge that you were in Imladris.
That was the first attempt to regain you. There have been several others, even as far as Lórien. It seems you stand between your uncle and something he wants. It is not yet clear what
that is. You are safe as long as you stay within the wards. Elrond feels that it is worth the risk for you to return to Imladris.”

“And the March Warden knows all of this?”

“Yes. Until now, there has been no need to discourage you. But he is concerned that you may pursue this course.” He turned and nodded to Galadriel, just arriving.

“Oh, he has already been to see you today?”

“Yes. He was upset that you were angry.”

“Well, I can fix that. If I have your leave, I will go now and pack the rest of my things. I will return to Imladris. That will remove the thorn in his side, and if I am to be caged,
better a gilded cage than a wooden one.”

She nodded to him and turned.

“Lady Elrénia.” She turned at the words from the Lady. She nodded.

“Do not act in haste. We do not want you to leave Lórien.”

“If I cannot pursue that which calls to me, of what use am I? I will not be another Deladrieng, a piece of fluff that delights in destroying people. I want to be able to defend my
home when the time comes. I want to help others. There is more to the wards than just fighting. You need healers. I am learning to use that skill. I am a better than passing archer. I
have other skills that would be of use. Why is it unreasonable? Is it because of what I am?”

Galadriel laughed softly.

“You will never be fluff,” she said. “Your time will come, but until Elrond deems it appropriate, we must abide by his wishes. You are still in your minority. Come back and see us
when you return. It may be he will have changed his mind.”

“You mean, if I return.”

“I have no fears. You will return,” replied the Lady, with a smile. She dismissed Ela, and watched as the girl left.

“Do you think she is who Elrond suspects?”

“I know she is. Her father’s name is in her memories, but it is still locked away. It will cause not a few problems for her and everyone involved with her.
involved with her.


Chapter 11 - Chapter Eleven

The Return




Approaching the bridge, Ela remembered the first time she had come into the valley, riding hard with Elrohir; it was nothing like the confusion, to her, of guards preparing to defend their posts. This entrance was much different.

They rode to the edge of the bridge. Rúmil dismounted and approached the captain.

“I am Rúmil, march warden of Lórien. With me is Lady Elrénia and also Meliel Gaellyniell of Lórien. We have papers from Lord Elrond.”

“You need no papers. I remember you. Welcome home, Ela. Your father is expecting you.”

“Thank you, Delandor. How is your wife?”

“She is well, thank you. She sends you greetings and an invitation if you so desire.”

“That is most gracious. I will send word. Would she be inclined to join me?”

“I think that she would not be adverse.”

Meliel looked at her friend. It seemed that once she crossed the bridge, she changed into a different person. Ela had always had a formality about her, but it was so stiff now, the older girl was hard pressed not to laugh.

“What has gotten into Ela?” she asked Rúmil.

“You will find life here more formal than in Lórien. She had an upbringing that is much different than yours.”

“I do not think I like it.”

Rúmil laughed at her.

“Come,” he said. “We must get going.” He gave his horse a nudge in the sides. The others followed. They started up the road that led to Lord Elrond’s residence.

Ela watched Meliel to see her expression when she first saw the house. The last six days had been spent answering her friend’s questions about the fabled valley. She really thought Meliel was the more excited of them. Ela was not disappointed. When they turned the bend and saw the large dwelling on the hill, Meliel’s gasp could be heard by all.

“That is where you lived?” she exclaimed. “It is beautiful!”

“Yes, it is,” Ela agreed.

They rode to the stables. Ela unsaddled her own horse and brushed him down. When she was done, she turned him out with the other horses. The two guards that had accompanied them found their way to the barracks west of the stables. Rúmil took Ela’s hand and looked down at her.

“Are you ready?” he asked.

“I am,” she replied. She laid the hand on his arm. “Although I must confess to a small amount of nervousness.”

“It will pass.” He went up the stairs. At the top, they stepped out onto the terrace. Standing alone was Elrond. Ela went to him and bowed her head. She did not see the woman at the open window.

“Hello, Ada.”

“Welcome, Iell.” He waited. After several seconds, she threw herself into his open arms.

“I have missed you so,” she said.

“And I you.” He kissed her forehead. He noticed he did not have to reach down as far to do so. “You have grown. Rúmil. It is good to see you, also. Your journey was fair?”

“It was. We had no problems.”

“Ada, this is my friend Meliel. The Lady said you would not mind my inviting her to come with me. Was she correct?”

“The Lady is never wrong. You are welcome, Meliel.

“Her father is a Ranger. She is living in Lórien while he is in the north. I have so much to tell you. Where is Lord Erestor?”

“He is waiting. He has news for you, also. But I will let him tell you.”

“Has it anything to do with Lady Seldala?”

“What do you know?”

“Only what was obvious.”

“For the sake of your friendship, you had best act surprised.”

“It will have to be an act. I warned her before I left.”

“I have missed you, Iell.”

“If I have your leave, I will go up and unpack.”

“You have it. Dinner will be informal tonight.”

“Thank you. Come, Meliel. We have a few hours before dinner. I have much to show you.”

Meliel rolled her eyes at Rúmil as she went past. He grinned at her.

After they had gone, Elrond turned to him.

“She is good for Ela?”

“Very. Ela sought her out. Gariel knew the girl’s mother. She thought they would make a good match. Gariel has good instincts. They have been constant companions for almost fifteen years. Ela has had some problems with a certain elleth. Partly due to her bloodlines, but mostly due to attention paid her by my brother. This elleth has staked him out and sees Ela as a threat. We are not sure why. Ela shows no interest and is too young anyway. The elleth does not use reason. Meliel’s problems are different. All know her father is human and a Ranger. She has had a hard time gaining acceptance from any but the guards. It suits her, but her mother worries.”

“As long as Ela is happy, I am happy for her. She is more relaxed.”

“Meliel does not like the change since we entered the valley. She says Ela is too formal.”

“Is that possible?” Elrond asked in mock astonishment.

“It is for Meliel. I can hardly wait until she sees the interaction between Ela and Lord Erestor. That should be interesting.”

“To say the least. Come, I will show you to your room. You must be tired. You have some time before dinner.”

“That would be welcome. At least a bath would.”

“A bath it is then. Here you are, and you know where everything is. I will see you later.”

“Thank you, Lord Elrond.”

Elrond went back down the stairs. Entering the small room off the terrace, he approached the woman standing by the window. He was still struck by how young she looked. She had not changed much in three thousand years.

“What do you think?” he asked her.

“She does not look like him. But, there is a certain bearing that is familiar.”

“She does resemble her mother’s people. Her eyes belong to her other heritage.”

“Yes, I could see that. And the skin. Does she suspect?”

“According to Galadriel, no. The memories are there, but suppressed for now. It was necessary for her well being. She has an ability to feel out emotions. Not as strongly as the Lady, but as she was unused to it, it was enough to make her ill. When she went to Lórien, it became unbearable for her. Galadriel suppressed the ability until she could handle it. It is now slowly resurfacing. I do not think she realizes it yet.”

“Lórien. Could you have found no better place? They were always so uncivilized.”

“It has changed much in the last thousand or so years. Celeborn rules with a firm hand, but has not eliminated the spirit of the woods elves. The Lord and Lady have brought a small amount of “civility” to the Golden Woods. I suspect that Ela took some with her. She has a firm idea of how one is to behave in a situation. I cannot see her letting them change her much. The last time Haldir was here, he told me he was surprised she had managed to change his brothers and nephew as much as she had. He said she is very happy there.”

“If she is Dorlandad’s daughter, what will you do?”

“That is up to her. She is almost at the age of majority according to what her mother told her. I can only advise her after that. What will you do?”

“I do not know. I never thought to have to deal with a situation like this. When Dorlandad left, he was alone. I have heard things, sporadically, over the years, but nothing of a wife or child. Your letter came as quite a shock. The fact you could even find me was unsettling.”

“If you had not gone to the west, there were few places you could be. The only closed haven was to the northwest. Why did you not come to me? I would have given you shelter.”

“The war was yet too fresh . My pain was too fresh. If not for the child, I would have chosen to fade and join my only love. And I could not leave the land he loved and died to protect. After the child was born, I could not bear to leave him. So the only place to go for protection was a place few even knew existed. How did you find me?”

“Bits and pieces. Rumours and stories. Put together, it was enough to take the chance they were true. It has only taken fifteen years.”

She smiled. “You were such a good friend. He loved you like a brother. You were one of only a handful he entrusted with our secret. Even my parents did not know. I never told them. I did tell Dorlandad, when he was older. Everything died with his father. I did not want our son dragged into that life.”

“That life is over. There will be no more kings. Our time is fading. The time draws near when we will turn this world over to men. They will have charge of it. I, for one, am looking forward to leaving. I miss Celebrian. I know our children miss her also. When the time comes, we will sail together to Valinor.”

“Are you sure they will follow you?”

Elrond looked startled. “Why would they not?”

“I have heard things. Not about your children, but about others born here. It is a strong tie to break. There are even those among the Noldor who would choose to stay. I do not know if even I will leave. If she is my granddaughter, what more do I need to keep me here?”

“They miss their mother too much. They will go.”

“You best know your own children.”

“Come. Rest before dinner. Then you can meet her.”

“Very well. I have waited this long. What are a few more hours?”


-----

“Why are you wearing a dress?” asked Meliel, almost on the verge of a whine. “He said it was informal.”

“This dress is informal. It is not a gown. It is too short. This is what the occasion calls for. Take your time. I will be in the library. Take a bath. You will not believe how hot the water is.”

“Go. Leave me to mourn my leggings. I will wear a dress. I would not have you embarrassed.”

“You would not embarrass me. What you do is your choice.”

Ela turned and left the room. She made her way down the stairs and slowly walked to the library. Memories flooded her. Early mornings, stealing down to do some last minute studying. She paused at the door to the library. She remembered the last time she was here. The memory was painful. She forced herself to cross the threshold. Once in the room, her pain eased. She could remember the good without dwelling on the bad. She sat in the place she had occupied for so many years. Placing her hands on the table, she closed her eyes. She was regaining her ability to feel others since returning. She could feel everyone she knew. Meliel was indulging in a bath. Dalgren was in the kitchen finishing up dinner. Rúmil had found the barracks. Elestra was in the Fire Room. Erestor was approaching the library.

He reached the doorway in time to see her eyes fly open wide. She stood. Without a word to her former teacher, she went down the hall to the Fire Room. She stopped at the door to see Elrond with an ellith. He turned at the catch in her breath.

“Ela? What is it, Iell?” Her face was drained of colour. She was having trouble breathing.

“I told you this was not a good idea.” Erestor had come up behind her. “Ela, sit down, before you fall.”

“You are his mother.”

“Whose mother?” the woman asked.

“Gondol’s. Whatever his name was. My father.”

“His name was Dorlandad.”

“Yes,” Ela said slowly. “That is what it was.” Some obscure piece of information clicked into her consciousness. Genealogy charts. Something her father had remembered. “He changed it so my da would not find us. It did no good. He found us anyway.” She turned to Elrond. “Is this why you brought me here?”

“It is one reason. There are others.”

“This was not necessary.”

“It is. You wanted to find your mother’s people. Never once have you asked of your father’s. This woman can tell you of your people and your heritage.”

“What heritage? That time is gone. It is no more. I would have been content to live and die in the fringes. Haldir is correct. The center burns much too hot.”

“Would you please explain that riddle to me?” asked Elrond.

“I am content,” she said, ignoring his question. “I do not want whatever it is you seek to give me. I have made choices and decisions. I have planned the life I want. It does not include anything to do with my father and his heritage. This knowledge will do me no good, and will cause me much trouble. Can we not just let it rest? I am fine just being the little child that Lord Elrond adopted. It fits in with what I want.”

“Life does not always fit in with what we want. You have a purpose, as does everyone else. It may follow what you want, it may not. But you owe it to yourself to explore all of your possibilities.”

“What possibilities? Do you seek to restore the House? It is not possible. The time of the elves is passing. men will not tolerate it. They have their own destinies.”

“No one wants a new king. But there are other things you need to know. Your ancestry. Your family.”

“My ancestry lies here. I am the product of the elves and the Indrel. That is all I need to know. My family is here. You, my brothers and sister, friends. That is all I want. I no longer want to know about my mother’s people, nor my father’s. I will train for the wards when I return to Lórien. I am already training to be a healer. I will wed and bear the children I will. I will live and die for my home. There you have my future. I am sorry, Ada, lady, for being blunt, but that is what living in Lórien has taught me. Say what you mean, because the fringes are no place for eloquence. I beg your forgiveness and your leave to withdraw.”

She bowed and waited for Elrond’s nod. He sighed and gave it.

“Yes, I see how ‘civilized’ Lórien has become,” was Elestra’s dry comment. “How did she know who I was?”

“If you were to ask her, she would tell you that she remembered through her father. She remembers the most remarkable things. She can even remember her conception.”
“I would like to speak with her.”

“You will find her in the tree house.” Erestor had stepped forward. “That is where she goes to think. I will show you.”

“Thank you, Lord Erestor. You will excuse me, Elrond.”

“Of course.” He watched her leave with Erestor. And the troubles were only just beginning.
----

“How was her upbringing?” Elestra asked as they walked down the hall.

“It was formal. Maybe too much so. She did not have many friends. She is very intelligent and received the best education she could have. She was content as a child. Her only trouble came from another child. Delandor’s son. He was jealous of her and tried to hurt her. She avoided him.”

“She does not look elven. How can you be sure she is?”

“The Lady Galadriel is sure. She has had the most intimate contact with Ela. Elrond is sure. And I am sure.”

Elestra allowed Erestor to open the door leading to the garden. She went ahead of him and waited for him to lead her into the gardens. Erestor walked along a pebbled path.

Ela heard the door to the house click open. She peeked over the wall of the tree house. Seeing Erestor brought a smile to her lips. She was not sure about the woman. She gave her a good look. Elestra had the hair indicative of most Sindar. It was a silver and fine as silk. She was tall, but not quite as tall as Erestor. She moved with a grace that was enviable. Ela knew that she came from a different age. One of grace and graciousness. The same age that Elrond had come from. Elestra carried herself with an ease that bespoke noble bloodlines. They stopped just short of the tree.

“Ela, would you come down, please.” Erestor’s voice was soft, but firm. She sighed.

“Shoes,” she called down. She carefully dropped them. It seemed only Haldir was graced with flying shoes. She swung over the edge and dropped, landing on her feet. She reached down and picked up the shoes.

“Ela, this is Lady Elestra. I do not think you were properly introduced. She has come a long way to meet you.”

Ela bowed her head. Just the correct amount.

“I am pleased to meet you, Lady. I must apologize for my behavior earlier. I can only plead surprise.”

“It is understandable. I assure you I was as surprised to hear from Elrond. It was a great shock to find out not only was my son dead, but that I might have a grandchild. May we talk?”

“Of course. Would you like to sit on the terrace?”

“That would be acceptable.”

Ela led the way back to the vine covered terrace at the rear of the house. She waited until Elestra had seated herself in a chair, then took the other one. She nodded to Elrond, who was sitting not far away. Erestor brought another chair and sat down.

“Of what would you like to talk?”

“Tell me of your father.”

“Well, he was tall and silver. Not unlike Lord Celeborn. But he laughed and smiled more. He would take me for walks in the woods. We would go fishing in the small river. I asked to go hunting once, but he said that he did not do that. It was too painful when the animals died. I know what he meant. I have only hunted stag once, but I could not bear the crying as he died.” Elestra smiled. She remembered him saying as much, once. “He was good with his hands. He could heal anything. He and my mother loved each other very much. They did everything together. She even taught him to milk the cow. That was always amusing. He ended up with as much milk on himself as in the bucket. He never did get any better. When I was ten-years-old, he told me that my grandfather was one of the greatest elves that ever lived. Funny, I just remembered that. He promised that on my thirtieth birthday, he would tell me about his family and give me the things that were mine. I am not sure what he meant. And now he is not here to tell me. I do not think anyone could have had a better father. He told me that he wanted me to have what he never had. A father to see me to adulthood. To protect me. To grow old with my mother, spoiling grandchildren.” Ela did not seem to notice the tears running down her cheeks.

“How did he die?”

“Do you really want to know that? Is it not enough that it was unnecessary? Know that he did die trying to protect my mother and me. Not that it did any good. She is dead also.”

“I need to know.”

Ela stared towards the mountains looming over the house. After several moments, it seemed she was not going to answer. Taking a breath, she looked back at Elestra. “My da found us. My mother begged him to leave us alone. We had gone far away. We were no threat to them. But he hunted us down. All may have ended differently, but my father was away at the time, and picked that moment to return. Da’s anger was so great, he seized my father. His men beat him and dragged him behind a horse. Then they hung him. That is what happened to my gentle, laughing father. And all because my mother refused to wed one of her own. The only thing my da said was that now she could fulfill her purpose. He had picked out a husband for her. One who was strong enough to lead their people. He whipped her when she refused. He finally told her he did not need her anymore. When she was dead, I would replace her. I do not know what he meant. My mother took him aside and said something to him. If possible, his anger was even greater. He took the both of us and put us in a small boat and set us out to sea. That is the last I ever saw of him. My mother cried for two days. On the second night, a storm came up. The next morning, she was gone. That is all I remember until my brothers found me.”

“Do you believe you are my granddaughter?”

“Lady, it matters little to me whether I am your granddaughter or not. I know who my parents were. They loved me enough to try to protect me from my heritage. I have made the best of a very bad situation, with a great deal of help and even more love from strangers. Strangers that did not need to do as much as they did. If you believe me your granddaughter, well enough. If not, then I may go back to my life knowing that still I am loved. I have no aspirations to anything other than what I already have.”

Elestra was silent. Ela sat with her hands in her lap, waiting. Erestor sat back. He glanced at Elrond. There would be much to discuss later.

“May I ask a question?”

“You may, Lady. If it is in my power, I will answer.”

“If you are my son’s child, what do you plan to do?”

Ela looked into her eyes. “What do I plan? I am sorry, I thought I had made that clear. I plan on returning to Lórien, my home. I will train for the wards. Eventually, I will wed and have children. That is the future I see for me.”

“You could return with me. You could live among my people.”

“The Noldor? I think not. As much as I love the people here and I miss Imladris, it has already begun to stifle me. I miss the woods. And the way of life Lórien offers. There I am accepted for what I can do, not who I am. I cannot see myself being content in a city. And as far as my mother’s people are concerned, I remember what their village looked like. I would be better off in Bree; it is cleaner. No, I will return to my life. The Lady has already seen it is so. I would not dare try to prove her wrong.” She gave a small smile.

Suddenly Ela’s face lit up. Elestra turned to see what had caused the change. She saw only the ellon who had escorted the girl to Imladris. He smiled as he stood in the door. Elestra could feel an undercurrent between the two of them. Ela rose and went to the door. She took the elf’s hand and brought him over.

“Lady Elestra, this is Rúmil. He is a very dear friend. His brother and his wife made a home for me.” She turned to him. “This is my father’s mother. It seems she came all this way to see me. Is that not extraordinary?” Something in her voice belied her words.

“It is. Lady.” He bowed his head. Turning, he said, “Lord Erestor. It is good to see you again.”

“Likewise. How is your brother?”

“Recuperating. He underestimated an opponent in a bit of knife play. He will live.”

“He will not make that mistake again,” said Ela.

“Haldir was warned. It is well you pulled back when you did.”

“He was the one that insisted on real knives. And I did not realize he was holding back.”

“Ela?” Elrond rose from his chair. “Haldir was fighting you?”


“No one else will.”

“He was ignorant of her abilities,” said Rúmil. “Because of her size, she has developed a style of her own. Haldir likened it to…what was the phrase he used? Ah, yes. Barroom brawling.”

She snorted. “As if he has ever been near a barroom brawl. And I put no credence in that story about the Inn of the Raging Bull in Gondor.”

“But knife fighting?” Elestra was shocked.

“It is part of the training. If I want to be on the fences, I must learn. I can draw a bow, but I cannot use a sword. I am not able to best one in unarmed combat, or with knives. So I have combined the two. What one does not expect, one cannot defend against. I will only need the precious few moments before they realize what I am doing.”

“But what of the danger?”

“What danger? So far, the only danger has come from one I trusted. None else has tried to harm me. Unless you count Deladrieng, and she counts for little.”

“I do not understand this need of yours.”

“Who knows what the future holds? I feel the need now, therefore I believe it will be there in the future. Besides, that which stirs is not weak. He will turn this land upside down. Do you not think it prudent to be prepared?”

“What stirs, Ela?” asked Elrond.

“That which is to the east. You know of what I speak. I have seen some of the Writings. I have heard things. Remember the corners? They are dark, not soundproof. I only prepare for what I must do. You remember the last war. Those who were not ready did not return. Mirkwood and Lórien were sorely depleted. Do you not think it could happen again?”

“What do you know of war? You are but a child,” Elestra’s voice was bitter.

Ela looked at the ellith.
“You are correct. I am a child and know not of what I speak. I beg forgiveness and will leave to the adults subjects of which I have no knowledge. Excuse me, Lord Elrond. I will see if Meliel is ready for dinner.” She turned and left without waiting for his permission.

Erestor looked after her with disapproval. He turned back to Elestra.

“She may be remembering from her father, but she has a firm grasp of the history and politics of The Last Alliance. She is able to hold her own in a discussion on a variety of subjects. You do her a great disservice by treating her in that manner.”

“You led me to believe that she had reached adulthood. She is little more than a child.”

“She may look like a child, but I assure you she has the intelligence and maturity of one far beyond her seeming fifteen years.”

“If I may,” Rúmil said. He waited for a nod from Erestor. “There are few things that will anger her. She has had to battle the prejudice of others concerning her parentage and her appearance. There are those who dismiss her because she is only half-elven. And there are those who fail to take her seriously because she looks younger than she is. You have touched one of those sore spots. She is very angry and hurt right now. I beg you to take care. She will avoid confrontation, but if cornered, she will fight back.”

“If you thought to find a biddable child, I am sorry,” Elrond’s voice was gentle. “She is almost of an age to make her own decisions concerning her life. I can try to persuade her, but I cannot tell her what to do. Galadriel feels she has a path and must be allowed to find it. I cannot disagree. We have done all we can to give her the skills and knowledge to choose her own destiny. Will you not give it more time?”

“I will have to think on this. She is so unlike her father. I did not lose him until he was well past his childhood. I do not know about this child.”

“You have a choice. You can accept her as she is, or leave her, like the rest of her family. As she said, she has made the best of a painful situation. She has done well. She is strong and would do you proud, but you must give her a chance.”

“As I said, I will think on it. This is not a decision to make lightly.” She rose.

“No, it is not.” Elrond and Erestor stood, also. “We will see you shortly at dinner.”

Elestra left the three elves standing on the terrace.

“Was this wise?” asked Rúmil. “I do not mean to question, it is not my place, but I am concerned for Ela and what is best for her.”

“It was necessary. There is more to come.” Elrond motioned for Rúmil to sit down. “I have received word from Holm’s Hold, where her mother came from. They want her back and are willing to negotiate for her.”

“Negotiate? She is no piece of property. What do they mean?”

“Unfortunately, to them, she is. They claim to need her for political reasons. They would go into no further details, but will come and treat openly. From rumours overheard by a Ranger, there was another girl involved, but she disappeared. Now whatever they want falls back on Ela.”

“Are these not the same people who tried to kill her once and have tried several times to recover her? Why would you even speak with them?”

“Because I would know what they want. They are an unknown. In these times, an unknown is a potential enemy. I would rather know which way they lean.”

“I think it best to get her back to Lórien as soon as possible. This meeting with Lady Elestra did not go well. I can only imagine how she will react to meeting the people she holds responsible for the deaths of her parents.”

“I tend to agree. I think you should plan on returning the day after tomorrow.”

“She will not deal with these people. It is too soon to make a decision, but she has started to feel differently for someone. It will not happen anytime soon.”

“Is it anyone we know?” Elrond smiled slightly.

“It could be. She will insist he speak with you.”

“I look forward to that conversation.”

“He will not. So therefore, I look forward to it.” Rúmil grinned as he bowed and departed.

“The next two days should prove interesting,” said Erestor.

“Indeed. You reminded me that children have their own way of stirring up the pot. She is not the first, nor will she be the last.” He held the door for his old friend and followed him to the dining room.



A Moment of Reflection


Riding down through the meadow with Meliel, Ela’s thoughts were not on her horse. She was thinking about dinner the night before. She had been sorely tempted to remain in her room and skip dinner. She knew she was too old to resort to that. It had been fine when she was younger, but the accusation that she was just a child had stung. Lady Elestra had no idea who or what she was. Therefore, Ela felt she was unjustified in her comments. Dinner had been strained and all were relieved when it was over. Meliel, not knowing what had gone on down on the terrace was the most confused. Ela had only told her that a relative had come to meet her, but the older girl could tell her friend was very upset.

“What are you thinking about?” Ela was startled by Meliel’s question.

“Yesterday. I do not think it was such a good idea to return.”

“Why? It is beautiful here. Your family is here.”

“Therein lies the problem. Lady Elestra. I am not sure she wants me to be her granddaughter. I am not what she expected.”

“Just be glad she did not go to Lórien to meet you. You are not the same here as you are there. I think you would have shocked her Elven blood back to where ever she comes from.”

Ela grinned. “She is right proper, is she not?”

“As if you are not. I will be happy to return home and find my friend again. I do not like you this way. I feel as if I am always watching what I say and do.”

“Yes, Lórien is rather lax on manners. However, I feel safer there. It is too open here. I do not know why I let them talk me into leaving the Woods.”

“I do. Your adar said come and you came.”

“That will not happen again any time soon.” She glanced back at the rider following them at a discreet distance. Delandor had agreed to accompany them riding.

“Is this the way it was before you left?”

“Yes. I could not go riding or swimming by myself. Oh, yes, now I remember why I love Lórien. No guards. I can go anywhere and do anything I want. As long as the March Warden deems it necessary.”

“What is going on with you and Rúmil? And do not deny anything is going on. I know you too well.”

“There is not much to tell. We are friends. He is not interested in dealing with the simpering women that think it time he settled down. I took pity on him and agreed to play companion.”

“Oh, what a hardship! You should be rewarded.”

“And are you serious about Del? What is that about?”

“Del and I are friends. And more in a position to do something about it than are you. Are you serious?”

“I cannot be. I know what I want. It is just a matter of waiting for him. I have time. When he is ready, so will I be.”

“Who is it?” Meliel almost fell off her horse with excitement.

“And have you tell? I think not. It is my secret. Of course, you could ask the Lady and see if she tells.”

“She knows?”

“She knows far too much about me. More than I desire. I suspect she knows things that I am not even aware of yet. But that is the cost of dealing with her.”

Meliel looked up at the sun.

“It is almost noon. We should be getting back for lunch.”

Ela reluctantly turned her mare around. They met Delandor waiting for them. Ela reined in next to him.

“Have you heard from him?” she asked.

“No. I hear things about him. He joined a Ranger group that works towards the north. I have not heard he is dead, so I assume he has not run into your brothers.” He smiled. “I am sorry he caused you such pain.”

“That is not your fault. I do not blame you and neither does Ada. He just saw what he wanted and did not know why he could not have it. It did get me to Lórien. I love it there. I feel such peace and contentment.”

“It has not been the same since you left. It is too quiet.”

“At least Lord Erestor does not have to wonder what I will say next. I know I was a trial to him.”

“Never. You were a joy. I do not think he has smiled since you left.”

“I doubt that. Come on, I will race you to the stables.” She took off without any more warning. Delandor made it first, but the girls were laughing as they rode up. Dismounting, Ela unsaddled her gelding and brushed him down. She turned him out and went into the barn. Kneeling down beside the hole, she waited. Before too long, the snake came up through the hole.

“Hello, snake. Did you miss me? I have missed you.” She sat as the snake slithered around her. It finally rose up high enough to caress her nose with its tongue. Then it slowly withdrew back into its hole.

“That was unbelievable,” whispered Meliel.

Ela turned to see Meliel staring at her. She shrugged.

“Just an old friend.” She turned to Delandor.

“Thank you for the ride. I apologize for pulling you from more pressing duties.”

“Think nothing of it. It is good to get away and just relax.”

“I will see you this evening. I look forward to seeing your lady also.”

“As does she. Until this evening.” He turned and left them.

“What is this evening?” asked Meliel.

“Ada has decided that there is reason to celebrate. I personally do not feel the need, but I can never say no to him. He is so excited that I am back. Only Arwen could get more from him. I cannot help but think about the last party here. At least Caldelen will not be here this time.”

“I am here. We will have a good time. I never get invited to parties at home. The social scale does not run that low.”

“You get to attend the Lady’s little circle with me. Is that not exciting?”

“Oh, yes. And the only reason I attend is that you are mortified you will have to go alone. Misery loves company.”

“And very pleasant company it is. I invite you because I like you, not because I am lonely.”

“Liar. We both know why I go. But this sounds different. It actually sounds like fun.”

“It can be. I bet I can get more dances than you can.”

“Foul! You know them, I do not. Race you to the top!” Meliel took off before Ela could get around her. Reaching the top, they were both breathless from the climb and laughing. Ela drew up short when she saw Lady Elestra waiting on the terrace.

“Meliel, please tell Lord Elrond I will be late for lunch.” She turned to Elestra. “Lady?”

“I would like to speak with you.”

“Certainly.” Ela warily followed her to a bench.

“It has been pointed out to me that I may have taken a wrong tact with you. I meant not to belittle you. It seems that that is exactly what I did. You do not look as old as I was told you are. And I am still getting used to the idea of having a grandchild.”

“Then you do accept that your son was my father?”

“I think that I knew it from the moment I first saw you. You have a certain bearing. My son carried himself the same way. I am told you more resemble your mother’s people.”

“I know that I do look more like my mother. She was darker and her hair was a deeper shade. I suppose I inherited my father’s lighter skin.”

Elestra looked out over the valley. Ela waited for what she would say.

“Why are you so adamantly against returning with me?”

“My home is in Lórien. That is where my friends are. Would you leave your life in the Hidden Havens to come with me?”

“A month ago, I would have said no. Now I am not so sure. I would like to see where you live. I would like to meet your friends.”

“And what of the Lady? Are you anxious to see her?”

“That is the one thing of which I am not sure. I do not believe we ever met, but I know the stories I grew up with.”

“Then if you are sure, let me ask Lord Celeborn if it is possible for you to come. I do not know of a reason he would say no.”

“Would it be acceptable to you for me to come?”

“If you so wish.” She paused. “Does it bother you that I am not what you expected? For all intents and purposes, I am a woods elf. Their way of life suits me. It is what I desire.”

“If you are Dorlandad’s daughter, then you will do. What I expected and what I will accept are two different things. I see much of my son in you. The gift of healing. The compassion for others. Even the quirks of humor. He was ever smiling and joking. I despaired of him ever taking life seriously. It seems he finally did.”

“He may have taken life seriously, but he never lost his sense of humor. I do not remember ever seeing him without a smile. Except for the last.”

Ela glanced at the door. Elentil hovered just inside.

“I think Ada is concerned. He has sent Elentil to check up on me. Shall we go to lunch?”

“I think it time.” Elestra rose and took Ela’s arm in hers. They walked into the house and down the hall to the dining room. “Despite my initial misgivings, I think we could at least be friends. Do you think that possible?”

“I do not mind trying it. It would be interesting to see the reaction of certain people at home when you come. Most tolerate me because of Lord Elrond and Arwen. I have some friends, but I do not see you fitting in with them. When I am not with Lord Glordinel, I am on the fields.”

“We will see.” They entered the dining room. The men stood up and waited until they were seated to sit again.

“How was your ride, Ela?” asked Elrond.

“It is good to be able to run. Elldar was right. There are too many trees in Lórien to run a horse. Delandor said he is coming this evening. I look forward to seeing them. And what of Lady Seldala? I have not seen her.”

“She is not feeling well,” said Erestor.

“Well, since she cannot be sick, and I would have heard had she been poisoned, what could cause her illness?”

“I apologize, Ela,” answered Elrond. “I have been lax. I was to send word to you that Erestor and Seldala wed last fall.”

“How surprising! That is news indeed. I am astounded. Whoever saw that coming? Well, that explains the illness.”

“You are a little too enthusiastic. And how so?”

“Elrond, it is my turn to apologize,” said Erestor. “We only found out yesterday. Seldala is expecting a child. That is what has kept her home lately.”

“That is wonderful news!” Elrond raised his glass. “This calls for a toast. A child returning and a child arriving. Both blessings.”

After much laughter and congratulations, they returned to the meal. Finishing up, Elrond looked at Ela.

“What do you have planned for this afternoon?”

“I would like to go to the village. Is it permissible to invite Dorga this evening?”

“I would like to say yes, but it is already done. I sent word this morning.”

“Thank you. I have some things I would like to get in the village, then I will stop and say hello to Mares. I want to see her daughter. I saw the snake today. He is getting very old. He feels tired. And I noticed the cat is fat again. Where do you put all the kittens?”

“Mares is looking forward to seeing you. I do not think that is the same snake. And you would be surprised how many people want a cat when I ask them.”

“It is the same snake.”

“How do you know?” he teased.

“He told me. Now, if you will excuse us, we will go to town and spend all the coin in my pocket. Come on, Meliel, we will not be gone long at all.”

“How much do you have?” Meliel whispered.

“None. I do not carry coin. Have you ever seen me with any?”

“Oh, a joke. That was not funny.”

“It was to Ada and Lord Erestor.”

They went to their room to change. Ela put on a simple dress, Meliel insisted on trousers and a tunic. When they reached the terrace, Elrond was waiting for them.

“I have decided to go with you. I have need of a few things myself.”

“Are you sure you want to traipse around with two girls all afternoon? We can be quite tedious.”

“I am sure, but pressing needs dictate that I must go. So, let us be off. An adventure in shopping.”

Ela rolled her eyes. “You realize that the only reason I am going is for tea.”

“Yes, but you must go past shops to get there. And I do have business to tend to.”

“Very well.” Ela took one arm and Elrond placed Meliel’s arm through his other one. They went down the stairs and started on the road to the village.

Erestor watched from the terrace.

“He has missed her, no?” asked Elestra, coming up beside him.

“We all have. It was very hard when Arwen left. He was lost for so long. Then the twins dropped this small bundle of troubles in his lap. It seemed he had purpose again. He was upset at sending her away, but not in the same was as with his children. They left by choice and he took it personally for a time.”

-----

Ela was not disappointed in the welcome given her by Dorga. She was sure his voice could be heard to the other end of the village.

“It is good to see you, lass!” He grabbed her in a big hug.

“Likewise. I have missed you. I have so much to tell,” she said, extricating herself from his grasp.

“Lord Elrond, I am honored.”

“Nonsense. It is you who have honored us. She has been chafing to come since arriving.”

“Well, how about some tea. I have found no one willing to partake with me. At least none as charming.”

“I will have some. Meliel? Ada?”

“I will, if only to be able to say I had tea with a Dwarf.” Meliel’s eyes were bright with excitement.

“I will pass,” said Elrond. “I am afraid I am one of the not so charming.”

“You, Ada, having tea? After the last time, I cannot even imagine it.”

“I will admit that it is just tea, but then, is the point not the tea, but the company?”

“You are correct, Ada. It really matters not what you drink.”

“I will leave you to your tea. I have an errand to see to. I will return in an hour.” He nodded to Dorga and left, smiling at the chatter from the girls.

-----

Ela glanced up at the knock at the door. At a nod from Dorga, she answered it.

“Ada, I did not realize… Oh, Rúmil. Is something wrong?”

“Nothing, little one. Lord Erestor asked me to come. He has need of Lord Elrond. When you are finished here, he said you wanted to see Mares. And I believe Lady Seldala is also on your list. But we must hurry if we are to get back in time for dinner tonight.”

“Yes, Rúmil.” She turned to her host. “I will see you later, Dorga?”

“Certainly, lass. I would not miss it. An invitation to Elrond’s home is not to be spurned.”

“I will see you then.” She and Meliel went to the door.

“Wait for me outside. Do not wander.”

“As if I would,” she admonished him.

He turned to Dorga when they had gone.

“Was the visit pleasant?”

“Most pleasant. I had forgotten how charming she is.”

“She has missed you sorely. Letters are a poor substitute.”

“Aye, they are. I had thought when she first began coming, it was just curiosity. Yet her fascination has not waned over the years. She truly does not mind beings of different races.”

“Only her mother’s people. She has not much use for them. And she has ceased her searching for them, also. Her grandmother’s appearance seems to have quenched all desire to search out her roots.” He hesitated. “I was asked to relay a request. There are those here now she would rather avoid. Lord Erestor requests that you keep your ears open for anything. He does not trust their coming so openly now.”

“I will do that. It does not seem right. Why wait until now?”

“I do not know, but this will cause problems. I had best get them going. It is a short time until dinner. We do not want to be late. Until this evening.”

“Yes, yes. I will see you then.” He shut the door behind the tall Elf. It is time, he decided, to walk among those of the village.


Chapter 12 - Chapter Twelve

A/N The tune to the song sung by Meliel was written by Enya. It can be found at http://www.lostsoul.net/howards/midi/enya-midi/enyamidi/misc/willows.mid The MIDI is used with permission of the website. The words are not hers. To my knowledge, there are no words written for this song. If I am mistaken, I would very much appreciate knowing so.


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Women and Etiquette


“Ela, are you ready?” She could hear Meliel’s voice through the closed door. She sighed and finished her bath. “Another few minutes.”

“You had best be quick. Elentil has been up here twice now. Lord Elrond must be getting impatient.”

“He will wait. I am almost done.” The door opened and Ela came out in her under gown. She hurried to the wardrobe and pulled out the pale blue gown she had brought. Putting on her slippers as she dropped the gown over her head, she called out in a muffled voice, “Can you get me my earrings? The ones from Elldan. I wish he could be here to see me wear them.”

“If you do not move faster, no one will see them. Everyone will be gone.”

“I am ready. Stop complaining. You are the one who did not want to get dressed up.”

“If I must, then so be it, but we do not have to be late.”

“Ladies are expected to be late. Did you not know that?”

“Well, the Valar knows that is one bad habit you picked up in Lórien. I remember waiting not a few meals for Orophin to fetch you from the fields or the library.”

Ela laughed. “Time well spent, I think. Come on, we can still be on time.” She grabbed Meliel’s hand and they ran down the hall to the stairs. Pausing to compose themselves, they started down the stairway at a sedate pace. At the bottom, they found Rúmil waiting for them.

“What takes you so long? I have been waiting for ten minutes.”

“Time well invested, I am sure. We are here now.” Ela’s voice carried just a trace of haughtiness.

Elrond came down behind them.

“It is about time you removed yourself from your room.” He brushed a stray hair from Ela’s face. Opening a box he carried, he took out a thin, delicate circlet, set with a black stone. Placing it on her brow, he stepped back to look. The black stone gleamed against her pale skin. The silver crown was lost in her gold hair.

“A gift from your grandmother. The black diamond comes from her homeland. She asked that you wear it this evening.” Taking her arm in his, he said to her, “You look beautiful tonight.”

“You say that to all your foster daughters. I am sure it is written in the rules somewhere.”

“Well, I do not say it to all of my cousins. As a matter of fact, I do not believe I have ever said it to a cousin.” He smiled down at her. “I have something to tell you before we go in. After dinner, there are going to be some men here that you do not know. I do not want you to be alarmed. Just be polite and stay with one of us the rest of the evening. Can you do that?”

“I can, if that is what you want. Who are these men?”

“I will explain it all to you tomorrow. I want you to enjoy this evening. How were your visits today?”

“You will talk to Dorga, so you will know how that went. Mares was delighted with the invitation this evening. You will speak with her also. And I expect that Lady Seldala will not allow a little morning sickness to keep her away, so there is nothing I can tell you that they will not.”

“I see that Lórien has only sharpened that cheekiness you possess.”

“It is a survival tool there. Court intrigue is one thing; the brutality of the Golden Woods is another. Its peacefulness is deceptive.”

“So have I heard. Here we are.” He led her into the dining room. Rúmil followed with Meliel. Having handed them to their seats, Rúmil took the empty chair next to Ela and Elrond moved to the head of the table. Ela glanced about to see who was seated around the table. Seldala sat next to Erestor. Mares and Benerd were seated by Dorga. Delandor with his wife, Carendel, sat on the other side of Meliel. Glorfindel, coming in with Elestra, sat her next to Elrond, and then took his seat at the foot of the table, rounding out the small group. All her most cherished friends outside of Lórien. She only missed one.

After giving a toast, Elrond sat down and they proceeded to eat. Conversation floated around the table. Ela was drawn back to the last time she had had dinner here. It had not gone as smoothly as Elrond had planned. He had been angry with the Elf and Haldir for not telling him what had been going on. Well, she thought, it would be much different this time. After all, there was no Caldelen to muck things up. Things would go much smoother.

After dinner, the guests wandered through the Hall of Fire and out onto the terrace. Out of habit, Ela found herself checking the dark corners. Shaking her head, she smiled at her foolishness.

“What is it?” Rúmil asked her.

“Nothing. Just remembering that last dinner.”

“Do not think about it. You are not that little girl any longer.”

“No, I am not. In ten more years I will have reached my majority. Then I am free to accept a husband. Or not. I could just stay with the guards. On the other hand, if your stubborn brother will allow, I could train and stay on the fences. Do you have any idea what he is thinking?”

“Yes, but it is up to him to enlighten you. It is between the two of you.”

“You are as cruel as he is. Why do I bother with you?”

“We are both safe. That is why.”

“Oh, yes. Well, I believe that your brother has moved to the forefront as the worst. Mine surely would not deny me what I want.”

“Oh, no, they are over-indulgent where you are concerned. You will notice that aside from Mares, you are the only one here with earrings.”

“Well, then all will remember me.”

As the strains of music started up, he turned to her. “Would you like to dance?”

“I would love to. Thank you. Do you know someone who would like to dance with a cheeky, accident-prone adolescent?”

“I may know of one.” He took her hand before she could say anything else. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he started to move them around the floor. Her laugh caught the attention of Elrond and Erestor. Elestra frowned slightly. Ela did not see the men standing in the corner. It was well she did not see the looks on their faces.

After the song had ended, Elrond came to claim a dance. After several more dances, Ela asked Rúmil for some wine. She smiled as she declined another offer, wanting to sit and watch the others dance. Glorfindel motioned for her to come and join him. She went over and picked up a lute. Strumming to see if it was in tune, she followed the melody he was playing. Her playing had improved. He nodded with approval. She listened to the song he was singing. It was a melancholy tune from the first age. She could not place it. At a pause in the dancing to allow the participants to rest, there was singing by some of the others.

“Meliel, sing that song you and Ela do for us,” Rúmil asked in a lull.

“We only just finished it. I am not sure it is ready. Ela?”

The younger girl shrugged. She played a few chords then rested on one she liked. Meliel started in a soft soprano and Ela joined with a mellow counter.



I hear your voice sound in the night*
Crying softly, please come to me
Hush, my love, lie safe in my arms
Be not afraid
All fears allayed



Your heart speaks to mine without words
Speaks of what you have to offer
Speaks of all the promise of life
Love fills our days
With joy always
We look to see
What yet will be



As we journey through this life
Overcoming trial and strife
Breathing in the love we share
Trusting with our hearts laid bare



Through the years as I watch love grow
Hearts entwined, we face together
All of the struggles life holds in store
We can endure
If love’s kept pure
Our hearts we bind
Our life to find



Only time can tell if we are
Destined by love to reach a star
We can sail the ocean’s wave crest
We know by the One we are blest



When our journey’s close to the end
We can rest just knowing we are
Now to step into eternity
Go hand in hand
Heaven’s a land
We’ll walk that shore
Now, evermore



There was silence. The haunting music faded. Ela glanced up and saw everyone staring at the two of them. From the side of the room began applause. It traveled around the room. Meliel looked embarrassed. Ela smiled, until she saw the men in the far corner. They were not applauding or smiling. She looked up at Rúmil. He came and bent down, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Very well done,” he whispered.

Elrond approached and took her hand.

“Lady Elrénia.”

As everyone there knew her, most knew this was for the men’s benefit. Elrond glanced down at Ela. Their talk earlier had not gone as well as he would have liked. When he gave her the results of his searching, she had not been pleased. Although warming to the idea of having a grandmother, she had not been impressed with the identity of her grandfather. She could feel no connection to a grandsire dead now for three thousand years. Ela fully understood that the name would be seen an advantage by some, but she could see only problems to come.

Ela noticed that the four men were finally removing themselves from their corner. She took in their clothing. Although she was sure they thought it fine, it was coarse to her eyes. She could not help compare their bearded faces to the smooth skin of the elves. And their hair was short and unkempt to her way of thinking. She felt an immediate dislike, but carefully hid it. They came forward and stopped before Elrond.

“Lord Elrond, we would be introduced to the girl.” The one speaking had a stilted tone to his voice. Elvish was not an easy language for him. She tried to excuse his ill-manners on that. Elrond had warned the men to say nothing this evening. He did not want it ruined.

“Ela, this is Crelden, steward for Lord Muc. Gentlemen, this is Lady Elrénia of Lórien, my cousin and adopted daughter. Her father was Dorlandad, and her grandfather, Ereinion.” Standing in front of him, she did not see the look of warning given the men. She watched as Crelden translated for the others. There was a slight reaction of distaste at mention of her father’s name, but none at all for her grandfather’s. Is seemed they did not recognize the name at all. Well enough.

“Welcome to Imladris, sir .” She nodded her head, slightly, but did not offer her hand. Crelden looked at her critically. The gown was proper, if too gaudy. Her hair should be pulled up and not hanging loose. Her skin was much too pale. He compared it to the ruddier complexion most of his people bore. The circlet and earrings were unacceptable. More importantly, she did not show the proper deference to him. “Where exactly do you hail from?” she asked. He tore his gaze from her as he realized she was speaking to him, without being spoken to first.

At a look from Elrond, Crelden answered, “To the west. My lord has a holding in the west.”

“I hope your stay is pleasant. Crelden, was it not? What brings you here?”

“We are on a diplomatic mission. Rivendell is but one place we sought out.”

“A diplomatic mission? men, and the elves?” She turned to Elrond. “That is curious, Ada. That men should show up on a diplomatic mission, now?”

“Alright, I get your point, Ela. We will discuss it tomorrow.”

“Yes, Ada.” She turned to the men. “How far west?”

“Ela, tomorrow. Now is not the time.”

“Yes, Ada. I apologize. Forgive me, Crelden. My curiosity overpowers my common sense at times. It is a fault that will plague my husband, I fear.”

“Your husband? Then you are wed?”

“No, not yet, but it will not be long. Even now, I try to decided how to tell him. You see, he does not know it yet,” she whispered, conspiratorially. She smiled at Rúmil, waiting back a distance.

“That elf?”

“Is he not handsome? Of course, he is not nearly as good looking as his brother. Unfortunately, he is already wed. To a very dear friend. But that still leaves the eldest brother. He makes both the others pale. Then again, it may not be an elf, after all. There are many fine men here in Imladris. But we all know my partiality for dwarves. And the Shirefolk are happy. I think any, except the Indrel, will do. I have heard they are not a kind people. They are not what I would choose. They are not what I would choose. No, the one I am interested in does not know, but then he will not say no. He is firmly ensnared. She turned back as the man translated her words to the others. She noted that he showed deference to one man in particular.

“Ada, how long is it I must wait? Only another ten years, I think. By then I will have figured out a way to gain his acquiescence. He really is a man of simple tastes.”

“Ela, there is nothing simple about you. Go, play your games with Rúmil. He finds them more entertaining than do I.” Elrond smiled indulgently at her.

“Oh, Ada. You love the games. You will miss them when I return to Lórien.” She turned to the men. “And return I will. That is my home. My
future.” She smiled. “It was very enlightening to meet you. I must go now and see what Rúmil is doing. He and Meliel have disappeared. I am afraid Del will not be happy to hear of this.”

“Del?”

“Delinfel. Elseldar’s son. He is much taken with her.” She sighed. “I fear there will be repercussions from this little jaunt home. Do you not feel it, Ada? I do.”

“Go. Enjoy yourself. And I feel for your intended prey. He will not know what hit him.”

“Aye, the joy of the hunt.”

The five of them watched her walk over toward the terrace, where Meliel could be seen.

“That is one self-assured child.”

Elrond turned to Crelden.

“That is the way she was brought up. She knows what she wants and will have it. Now, we will let matters lie until tomorrow. Do not stir up trouble tonight. From her little game, I suspect she knows who you are, but not what you want. I would leave her tonight with no cares.”

Crelden nodded. “It will be as you wish.”

Elrond watched them go back to their corner. They would bear watching. He wished his sons were here. This whole mess had the potential to turn extremely ugly. He would avoid that if possible.

Ela felt the men’s eyes on her the rest of the evening. She flirted with Rúmil and Dorga.

“What are you doing, little one?” he asked, softly.

“You know far more than I. Those men. That is the real reason I am here. They mean no good. I think it would be better if we left tomorrow. Ada has already agreed, has he not?”

“Have you been lurking where you should not be, again?”

“No, but I think the Lady’s bar is slipping. I can feel too much of what is here. If I do not leave soon, I will be ill.

“Do you want to leave now?”

“The party, or for home?” She grinned.

“You know what I mean,” he said, laughing.

“I will stay a bit longer. If it gets much worse, I will have to leave.”

“Just let me know when you are ready.”

“You will know. I will just throw up on your shoes.”

“Do not aim at my shoes. I am not the one who dragged you back here.”

“On Lord Elrond’s shoes?” She looked horrified. “I could never do…” She smiled. “Oh, yes, there was that one time I did. But I had a very good excuse.”

“Just tell me,” he laughed, again. It drew the attention of the four men again.

“I know who they are. What do they want?”

“You will have to wait until tomorrow.”

“Very well. We will chat and run. I did not want to come, and I do not want to stay.”

“Meliel will be disappointed.”

“She will get over it. I think it best we do not tarry getting home, either. They will not be happy tomorrow.”

Rúmil risked a glance at the men. They were speaking to one another. He did not feel good about them and he had not Ela’s ‘gift’.

They circulated among the guests, her hand on his arm and he encircling her waist protectively when they stopped to chat with those Ela knew. The robes the men wore were only outdone by the gowns of the women. The colours were muted, but the satin brocades and silks added richness. The jewelry, while understated, was of such artistry that more would have been overkill. Ela could not help comparing the clothes of Dorga, a supposed simple merchant, to the imagined finery of the representatives of the Indrel. His trousers and tunic brown, but were woven with threads of gold. Even Benerd and Mares far outdid the finery of the men from Holm’s Hold. Mares was wearing a gown that Ela had left behind. Seldala had helped her re-cut it. Benerd wore leggings and a tunic, in brown, but bore an overlay of tan. It seemed the only ones out of place were the Indrel.

Within an hour, Rúmil could see the distress on her face.

“You need some air. Come, I will take you out to the terrace. Then I will get some wine.”

“Not the watered-down stuff, either. I want the good wine.”

“You will get drunk. Will that not be a pretty sight?”

“One glass.”

“Very well. Here, sit here and wait for me. Do not leave. I will not relish having to look for you.”

“Go! Get me some wine. Before I forget again why it is I like you so much.”

“I am glad I will not be the one who weds you. You have the potential to be a shrew.”

“It is that cursed Lórien. It brings out the worst in one.”

He laughed, turning to go back indoors.

“Lady.”

Ela turned to see who was behind her.

“Crelden. I am sorry. I did not notice you.”

“It seemed you were quite busy with your friend.” He frowned at her smile.

“We do tend to forget others when together. Is there something I can do for you?”

“I have a question.”

“I will answer, if it is in my power.”

“What have you against the Indrel?”

Slightly taken aback, she looked into his eyes. “Do you know some?”

“I may.”

“I do not think I am supposed to speak with you. Ada said it would be discussed tomorrow.”

“What is Ada?”

“Do you not speak Elvish?”

“There are gaps in my knowledge.”

“It means father. Lord Elrond adopted me. Even if he had not, he is my cousin. So either way, he is kin. Ada is a title of respect and appreciation for all he has done for me.” Glancing through the doors leading off the terrace, she caught sight of Elrond. There was a softness in her gaze.

“But he is not your father.”

She looked sharply at Crelden.

“As you well know. I think Ada was right. This will keep until tomorrow. It is not proper to discuss it now.”

“Alright. Then tell me of your world, what these people are to you.”

“These people are my family. If not by blood, then by choice. They took me in before they knew who or what I was. Before the bloodlines became an issue. Just because of me.

“I lived here for five years. This home gave me the time to heal. I could not imagine living anywhere else. This is where I discovered I had choices other than those my mother was afforded. I was given an education and set upon my path. All was fine, until some men came and tried to harm me. But then, you would know of that, also. Because of the threat, Ada thought it best to send me away. That would be three homes I have lost. I live now in Lórien. It is a vastly different place than Rivendell. And there are no words to describe how it compares to your village.

“And yet you will not give your people a chance?”

Ela’s voice took on an uncharacteristic tone of annoyance. “But these are my people. They raised me. I have the bloodlines. I am as much Elven as anything else, maybe more so. I have a small inheritance from my father. It will allow me to wed comfortably. This is the life I choose. And none here will naysay my decision to remain.”

“There you are, Elrénia.”

Ela turned to see Elestra.

“Yes, Grandmother?” Ela stood and bowed far more deeply than was warranted. Elestra caught the plea in her voice, and the fact she called her grandmother.

“Child, I have been bereft of your company all evening. I had hoped to speak with you before I retired.”

“Certainly, Grandmother. I apologize if I have offended you. Please, forgive me.”

“You are forgiven, Iell. Your father thought you would be chilled out here. I have brought you a wrap. Do you like it?”

Ela opened the cloth Elestra handed her. It showed an eagle in full flight holding a dragon in its claws. The embroidering was meticulous and exquisite. The cloth was of the finest silk and flowed through Ela’s hands like water.

“Oh, Grandmother! It is beautiful. Whose coat of arms is this?” Ela did not have to feign surprise.

“It belonged to my family. I am the last. Well, you are the last, now.”

“It is so old. Surely it should be put up.”

“It is six thousand years old. It has lasted this long, it will last one more night. My father gave it to me. I would have you keep it now. It is yours.”

“I will ask Ada to have a copy made. I do not think this will last long in Lórien. Perhaps he will hang it here, with the other coats of arms.”

“That is possible. I am glad you like it.”

“Do you realize that this is all I have to show of my heritage?” Her soft voice spoke of the loss she felt.

“No, it is not. Lord Elrond has a few things that I think you are old enough now to see. They belonged to your parents. It is not much, but it will ease your sorrow to have them.”

Rúmil came out with three glasses of wine. He handed one each to Ela and Elestra. He pointedly ignored the man standing there.

“Lady, are you ready to go? You do not look well. I would like to see you upstairs.”

“Yes, thank you. If you do not mind retiring so early, I think I am ready now. Grandmother, we will see you to your room, first. It has been a long day.” She drained her glass and turned to the man. “I will see you tomorrow, Crelden. It seems we have much to discuss. And negotiate is an ugly term. Are you purchasing a piece of property?”

Rúmil choked slightly on his wine. That she would use the same words he had.

Ela turned and led Elestra back into the house. She sought out Elrond.

“Ada, I must retire. Have I your leave to withdraw? It is too tight here.”

“Certainly. Rúmil will see you upstairs?”

“Yes. Grandmother is also going. The day has proven exciting in more ways than one. Please give my apologies to the guests. And if it is possible, I would like to see Dorga tomorrow, before I leave.”

“I will convey your request. Goodnight, Iell.” He bent down to kiss her forehead. She turned to Rúmil.

“I am ready.” He took her arm and they wound their way to the hallway. Elestra followed.

When they reached Ela’s room, she turned to Elestra.

“I would beg your indulgence, Lady. Would you mind staying with me a while? I have need to make a point, but I want no impropriety.”

“What point are you making?”

“That I am not going to step into a neat trap for those below. They will make demands that I am not inclined to fulfill. I know who they are and now I know what they want. My mother warned me, and I can remember her fears and refusals to follow their dictates. I only need an hour or so of your time.”

“You have it.”

“Thank you. Would you like some tea? I can have Dalgren make some.”

“That sounds good.”

“I will be back. Please, make yourself at home.” She closed the door behind her.

“Do you know what she intends?” Elestra asked.

“Knowing her as I do, I would say that she is giving those downstairs something to think on tonight. She has not lied about our relationship. She just did not elaborate. We are good friends. Under other circumstances, I believe we could make a good alliance. But she has set her sight on another. I know and accept that. Meanwhile, I keep away those who would show an interest in her, and she does the same for me. It is a mutually satisfying arrangement.”

“It seems she knows more of court intrigue than I thought.”

“Even if the court is wooded and uncivilized?” He smiled.

“You must forgive me that comment. I knew of Lórien before the Lord and Lady arrived. It had not a reputation for courtly living. It was little better than Mirkwood.”

“I would not be hasty in putting down Mirkwood. Thranduil is an able ruler. He has much to keep him from the niceties of regal living. Theirs is a different way of life. He has opened his realm to those men who dare to help him hold it. And he has not the defensive capabilities that Imladris and Lórien enjoy. He has managed to do well enough with what he has.”

“It would seem that much has changed since last I was away from the Hidden Havens. For the good, and the bad. Tell me of this one with whom she would align herself.”

“I am sorry, lady, but that is not my place. I can only tell you that he is honorable. Other than that, you will have to ask her. And I will warn you, she is not very forthcoming with personal information. Only the Lady knows what her desires are, and she approves. Although this latest piece of the puzzle may change some things.”

Rúmil rose at a knock on the door. He opened it, expecting Ela. He looked into the face of Crelden. He stepped into the hall and closed the door.

“You should not be up here. These are private rooms.”

“I wished to see the girl once more.” The man looked less than pleased to see the elf in Ela’s room.

“We are retiring for the night. The lady has had a long and stressful day. She will see you tomorrow.”

“It is very important that I speak with her.”

“It will wait. I will not allow you to disturb her. If you do not leave, I will be forced to bring Lord Elrond into it. That would not bode well for you or your cause. Why give her more reason to refuse to listen to you?”

Crelden frowned and clenched his fists before turning to go back downstairs. He did not see Ela at the other end of the hall, waiting for him to leave. She went through the open door Rúmil held for her.

“He is a most persistent being. I do not look forward to tomorrow. I do not believe the word no exists in his vocabulary.”

“It does appear that you will have a hard time convincing him to leave without you.”

“Well, I will just have to teach him that no is a word.” She set the tray down on the small table. Pouring tea in the three cups, she handed one to Elestra.

“Do you know what you do, child?”
“I believe I do. It feels right. If they think I will return to the hovel they call a city, they are sadly mistaken. Who in their right mind would choose to live in a village of men when they have lived here or in Lórien? Either place is cleaner. Even the Shire is more desirable. No, I would have them know that I am not to be bought or sold. I know what I want, and I will have it. Only one person stands in the way of my future. Only he has the power to stop me.”

Elestra sat back and sipped her tea, regarding her granddaughter. She may have some of Dorlandad’s traits, but this determination was not one of them. He had never known what it was he wanted, until the end. No, this she must have gotten it from her mother. It seemed the two of them had created a strong individual. If all Elrond had told her of Ela’s life so far was true, she would stand up to anything. It was eerie. It was almost as if the child knew what was in store. Elestra dismissed that. She was peculiar, but presentient? No, if she was, would she have had the problems she had so far experienced? Still, she had heard that Galadriel had some of that ability. Did she really know the future, or was she just able to piece things together from the present? That was a question to employ much time mulling.

She watched the two of them. They had an easy way about them. She did not flinch from him the way Elestra had seen her do around some of the other ellon. She did not think the girl was even aware she did it. A left-over proclivity from her experiences with the men and her former playmate. Except for a very few elves, Elestra could not recall her allowing anyone to touch her. She had been very unobtrusive about it. There was a defined space around her into which few were allowed. It was strengthened by the fact that she was rarely left alone. Unless engaged in private conversation, Meliel or Rúmil was always within earshot. It was slightly unnerving for Elestra. She had always fiercely protected her right to privacy. However, it seemed not to bother Ela. She took it in stride and as a part of her due.


----


Crelden was angry as he went down the stairs. How improper that the girl should have a male in her room! Things would change mightily for her when she had returned to her home. He went to the other men.

‘This is unsatisfactory. That elf is in her room. And did you see the way she was dressed? The colours and the jewelry? It will never be tolerated once she is firmly in hand.’

‘Ease yourself, Crelden. It will do no good to show our hand too soon. Let them believe they are in control. We will have her. She is ours. My father was a fool to ever let her leave. Now that my daughter is dead, we must content ourselves with her.’

‘Aye, it will be a challenge to break her. She has a long way to fall.’

‘Do not get cocky. That fall can break you just as easily.’


-----

“Ela!” Meliel came through the door, her face flushed. “Oh, I did not realize you had company.”

“What is it?”

“Those men. Lord Elrond has sent all the ladies home. I think something is going on. I was told to come up and make sure you are here. And then stay.”

“Grandmother, if you are so inclined, you may leave now. I will be fine. Meliel will be here.”

“Very well, if you are sure.”

“I am.”

“I will go back downstairs, after seeing you to your room.” Rúmil held the door for Elestra, then turned to Ela. “Goodnight, little one. I will see you in the morning. Meliel.” He nodded to them.

When they had gone, Meliel turned back to Ela.

“Do you think there will be trouble?”

“Not tonight. Crelden is angry that he found Rúmil in my room. He imagines things that are beyond the realm of decency. That is why my grandmother was here. I may be foolish, but I am not stupid.”

“Well enough, then. I think we should get as much rest as we can. Tomorrow will not be easy. Where do you want me then?”

“I want you where I will want Rúmil. By my side. These men think they have come to fetch a cowed girl who will bow to their demands. That girl never existed. My parents wanted better for me, and I will not let them down.”

They helped each other off with their gowns. Ela carefully removed her earrings and put them in the velvet box containing her jewelry, replacing them with the gold ones Dalgren had given her. She hung up her gown and slipped on her nightgown. Crawling into her bed, she gave a sigh. Oh, Nana, was this what you had envisioned? Was this what you fled? I am so sorry you had no one to stand behind you. But this time it will be different. I have strength. I have support. And I will fight to the death to avoid going back there. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she felt Meliel lay down next to her. Oh, how she missed her parents.

Ela spent a restless night, rousing between dreams of her parents. Her waking moments were filled with thoughts on the coming confrontation with her mother's people. By the time the sun rose, she felt weary, but ready to face the men.


Chapter 13 - Chapter Thirteen

----

Well before light, Ela was in the library. The moon was still bright enough that she could navigate her way without a light. She stood in front of the empty bookcase that had been hers. In fifteen years, Elrond had found nothing to replace the missing books, save two small boxes. The space looked forlorn. Was there a place in his heart as empty?”

“Good morning, Ada.” She had not turned around.

“I see that things are returning.”

“Slowly, but more quickly than I like.” She turned and looked at him. “I have a request.”

“Anything.”

“Lady Elestra gave me her family coat of arms. I would like two copies made, one for her, and one for me. Then I would like permission to hang the original here. It would not survive long in Lórien.”

“You need only ask. I will see to it. Dorga will be here for lunch. He has something for you. We need to speak.”

“I know why they are here. Not the reason behind, but I will. I will not go.”

“That is your choice. However, remember, you are still a minor. They will claim that in ten years, you will have to return. I can help you there, but it will mean others will control your immediate future. I will leave that up to you.”

“You would push my majority back another ten years? But what of my desires?”

“If you want to train, then by all means, do so. Learn all you can. You can never have too much knowledge or skill. You cannot wed. However, if you should find one willing to wait, you may go ahead with your betrothal, when it is time. I will speak with Celeborn when I arrive and discuss the best way to proceed. The path you choose is very narrow. You must not stray from the center, or you will give them the opening they want. But, I would caution you to listen to all they have to say. A choice made in ignorance is ill-made.”

She nodded. “I will listen to your advice. Will this change your plans to come to Lórien?”

“No, Iell.” He smiled. “I would not miss that for anything. And, Erestor is looking forward to coming, also. He has not stirred from Imladris for far too long. Only Seldala could keep him here.”

“Then I will pray that she recovers enough to allow him the visit.” She studied the books behind him before speaking again. “Is he really my grandfather?”

“Yes. He was a cousin, but more importantly, he was my friend. I was devastated when he fell. I was more than shocked to find out he had a son, let alone that I was harboring his granddaughter. I see nothing of him physically in you, yet you have the determination he showed. He knew what was necessary and did it. His position was not a mantle he took eagerly.”

“How did you find out about him?”

“It seems you have more family than you thought. A woman spoke to the Rangers who found your mother’s people. She sent some items that had belonged to your parents. There are also other things that she felt it time you had. They arrived the same day you left Imladris. It has taken me almost fifteen years to confirm what she claimed. But, it all holds. Your father was the son of Ereinion. His only child.”

“Who was the woman?”

“She claims to be your grandmother.” He watched to gauge her reaction.

Ela paused, Elrond recognizing her hesitation. It was thus, whenever she groped for a locked memory. Sometimes she could produce the elusive thought, but, usually not.

“Gorden, is it not?”

He smiled. “Yes, that is the name she gave. She met with the Ranger captain and begged him to give me a box. It contained papers alluding to your genealogy on your father’s side, and others confirming your mother’s. There were also belongings that now will go to you.”

“Tell me of them.” She did not have to elaborate on ‘them’. Elrond knew her curiosity was now whetted.

“They met at a gathering. It was one of the last before the war came to our doorstep. She was a young Sinda. Her family did not look kindly upon him, bloodlines notwithstanding. The Noldor turned their noses at her family. It seemed nothing would happen. Then, he started disappearing for hours at a time. It took me weeks to figure it out. By then, it was too late. They were in love. He wanted to marry her, but he was afraid that if he did, he would put her in grave danger. We were the only thing standing in Sauron’s path to the domination of Arda. He had spies everywhere. Elestra’s family sent her to the Grey Havens. He did not protest her going. He knew where her heart and her safety lay. He charged me with delivering her his ring. When I gave it to her, she cried. She gave me back one for him. She had engraved it with the words ‘I will stand until your return.’

"They spent two years stealing what time they could. When the opportunity finally arose to bring her back to court, she came as a representative for her family. Her brother was dead and her father was not able to leave his holdings. It seemed even the Grey Havens were not as secure as thought. They were secretly married and only a handful knew of it.

"On the eve of our departure, she told him that she would wait for him, no matter how long it took. She would not leave as long as there was a remnant of him remaining. When I returned without him, she knew. The next day, she was gone. I heard nothing. I sent word to her family; they knew nothing. After several years had gone by, I assumed she had either faded, or gone to the west. I had no idea she had had a son. I had no reason to search out the Hidden Havens. It was rumoured that any who sought them, disappeared. I now know that most were forced to remain there.”

“I cannot find many memories from my father. They may come later, or it may just be something I have from my mother. He was not happy at the Havens. I do know that. He was not accepted. That is why he left. I can see a mother who doted, trying to make up for his unhappiness and the feeling of emptiness, not having a father. It is no wonder he left. Circumstances were not kind to him.”

Elrond watched her, silently, as she mulled over what he had told her. He was shocked at the stricken look in her eyes.

“What am I to do with this knowledge?”

“Nothing,” came from the door. They looked up to see Elestra standing there. “There is nothing you can do. The time is past. You are who you are. Let it go at that.”

Ela sat silent. More tangles to her life. She felt like a rosebush; the moment she got things pruned and neat, a bramble shot up to mess things up.

Elrond rose and removed one of the small wooden caskets from her shelf. He set it down on the table. Opening the lid, he pulled several items from the box. He laid them out for Ela to see. There were the two rings sent by the woman from Holm’s Hold. He emptied out a bag of silver disks. Ela just glanced at them, more drawn to the rings. Elestra picked up one and put it on Ela’s left hand. The gold band, set with diamonds, was too big for her finger. Elestra slipped it onto her middle finger. Elrond took the other, a much smaller white band, set with rubies, and placed it on the third finger of her right hand.

“This was my wedding ring,” said Elestra, still holding her left hand. “I gave this to Dorlandad before he left. It was all I had left of his father.”

“And this was your mother’s wedding ring. It is smaller, following the customs of her people. The woman wanted you to have these. The mithril is also from your father.”

“These rings were my parents? Was this what my father wanted to give me?” She could not take her eyes off them, dismissing the small fortune lying on the velvet bag.

“I can only guess, but it is reasonable to assume so. What of the mithril?”

“I have no need of it. What is coin in Lórien? If I want something, I make it, or trade for it, or wager against it. I will warrant that there are not but a few who even have a use for it. Do what you think best.”

Elrond nodded. “Whatever you wish.” He put it back in the bag, returning the bag to the casket. He placed the box back on the shelf. At least it was something to replace her books.

“I am hungry,” said Elrond. “Is anyone else interested in breakfast?”

“I am,” answered Elestra.

Ela shrugged and followed them to the dining room. Erestor was waiting. He raised an eyebrow at Elrond and got a nod in return. Both seemed satisfied as they began to eat.

“I have a question, Ada.”

“Yes, Iell?”

“How do you know when you are in love?”

The comment took him by surprise.

“You want to spend time with the person. You find you have things in common. You begin to think of them as more that a friend. Why?”

“It is just that before I left Lórien, I had an incident with someone that left me feeling funny. Kind of sick inside. No, that is not the word. Butterflies. That is it. I felt like I had swallowed a mouthful of butterflies. And I know he felt it also.”

“Well, that is the other way you know. Who was it?”

“I am not ready to say. I need to think on it more. He is older. I am not sure how he would accept attentions from one he views as child. But then, I have twenty years to catch up, do I not?” She smiled. “May I have some more tea, please?”

“I would rather hear more about this.”

“Well, do you have twenty years to spend waiting?”

“You are a very trying child,” commented Elrond.

“Yes. Haldir has threatened to drop me in the Celebrant several times. It is good I have learned to swim so well.”

Elestra sat back thinking on all the comments she had heard Ela say, or had heard about her. Piecing together this with that, she thought she finally had figured it out. The girl did not make things easy on herself.

After breakfast, they went out onto the terrace. The weather was just perfect for them; the men would be over-heated. It was calculated move on Elrond’s part. He decided that any advantage would be used.

Before the appointed time for the meeting, Rúmil and Meliel came out. Dalgren brought trays of tea and cakes. They settled down to wait for the men. At precisely the time agreed upon, they topped the outside stairs. The sight that met their eyes was daunting. Elrond sat, leaning back, in a chair that uncomfortably resembled a throne. He was wearing robes shaded in a dark blue. The crown on his head was an intricate affair made of mithril and bearing a dark sapphire. Elestra sat to his right. She wore robes of gold and brown. She also bore a crown, even more elaborate than was Elrond’s. It carried three rubies that seemed to glow against her pale skin. Erestor sat on Elrond’s left, dressed in his usual black. What drew Crelden’s attention was Ela. She stood behind Erestor. The man frowned to see she did not wear a gown, but rather a tunic and trousers in grey. As did Rúmil and Meliel. Although longer and fuller than the ellon’s, the girls’ hair was dressed in the same severe manner favoured by those of the warrior ranks. Ela also wore the circlet from the night before. The man bristled at the sight of her earrings.

Crelden seated himself at the small table set up before Elrond’s chair.

“I trust your night was well spent?” said Elrond.

“It was not. But that is forgotten.”

“Would you care for some tea? Cakes?”

“No. I would have this settled.”

Elrond heard a suck of breath from behind him. Ela took exception at the lack of manners displayed by the man. He raised his hand to calm her.

“Well, then, what is it you would have settled?”

“We have come to take Cera Brien home.” Another piece of information dropped in place for her. Her memory flashed back to the chart Lord Glordinel had shown her. It had been her family.

“And who is Cera Brien?”

“She is,” he said, pointing to Ela.

“Do you mean Lady Elrénia? Her home is in Lórien. What do you mean, take her home?”

“She is a daughter of the Indrel. We would have her back.” Crelend’s impatience with Elrond’s questioning was heavy.

Elrond pulled a parchment from the pile in front of him. He made a show of examining the chart, and then handed it to Crelden.

“Is this the person you seek?”

“Yes. She is the granddaughter of Gorden. By blood and rights, we claim her and will return her to her people.” Crelden relaxed, somewhat. This would not be as difficult as he had thought. The man seemed to understand reason.

“Do you deny her parentage?”

“No. It is there.”

“Then have you forgotten her father? She has blood and rights on that side, also. Would you deny her those?”

Crelden hesitated. “Her people have need of her. She is pivotal to the well-being of her people. We are willing to overlook the mistake her mother made. We can deal with her mixed blood.” There was just the slightest tone of distain in his voice.

“And what of her people here? Have we no say in this?”

“We need her. You do not. You have many girls, women. She is the only one who can fulfil what we need.”

“And what is that?”

“We need a strong leader. Her husband would provide that leader.”

“But she is not wed, and cannot be for quite a while yet.”

“She will be. He has already been chosen. In addition, necessity demands that we bend the customs. We are desperate.”

“You would have her wed before her majority? That is unheard of. Even among your own kind, she has ten years yet. Among our kind, she must wait until she is fifty. She will not be allowed to wed for another twenty years. Can you wait that long?”

“We will not. It has already been decided. The council has made an exception under the circumstances.”

“I am afraid that you will go home disappointed. The Valar do not allow for exceptions. She is forbidden to wed for twenty years. It is the law; it cannot be undone. The consequences for breaking this law have led to devastation.”

“Then explain to me why I found a male in her room last night.”

“Ela?” Elrond turned to her.

“You would have to ask Grandmother. She was the only one in the room with Rúmil when this man came to my room. Grandmother, was there something going on that you did not see fit to tell me?” The smile teasing her lips threatened to erupt into a laugh.

“Elestra?” Elrond reminded himself to speak with the girl later.

“Elrénia went down to get tea for me while I was visiting in her room. I had not had much opportunity to speak with her all evening. When the man left, Elrénia came back upstairs. After tea, Rúmil saw me to my room, and came back downstairs. Meliel was there when we left.”

“Meliel?

“They were all three having tea when you sent me upstairs for the night. Rúmil and Lady Elestra left and we went to bed.”

“Does that clear things up for you? There was nothing.”

Crelden got into a very heated discussion with the other men. It seemed none of them took into account the fact that the elves might understand Westron.

“I would hear from her.”

Ela licked her lips. Standing tall, she looked at the man.

“I have been advised to consider all of my options. What does going with you gain me?” Her seeming hesitance gave Crelden courage.

“Your husband will be king.”

“And what does that do for me?”

“You will be his consort.” He said this as if it were a great honour.

“I do not understand.” Erestor smiled, slightly. A delaying tactic while her thoughts raced ahead.

“Your mother was the daughter of the king. She is dead and you are her only eligible offspring. You are her heir.”

“Then I would be queen.”

“You would bear the title of queen, subject to your lord, of course. You would be his consort.” He did not notice the subtle shift in her attitude. Even Elestra, who did not know the girl, could sense that Ela’s footing had changed.

“That sounds remarkably like a courtesan, little better than a mistress, a whore.” Her soft words carried the contempt she felt for the man.

Crelden’s rage seemed about to erupt. The soft sneer had finally gotten past his arrogance. What woman would dare speak to him in this manner? To whom did this girl think she was speaking? Her very ignorance of the way things were was enough to cause him to strike her, and were he at home, he would not have hesitated… One of his companions whispered harshly to him. With very visible effort, Crelden calmed, somewhat. However, it was in his mind to make her pay.

“That is not the way of it. You would be wed, legally.

“So, no better than a servant.”

“No, you would have servants.”

“Power?”

“Women do not know how to handle power. That is why you have husbands.”

Ela smiled at what Galadriel would say about that. Elrond saw she had relaxed. So, she had made up her mind.

“Let me see if I understand. I am the only living heir and one can only become king by wedding me.” She waited for Crelden’s nod. “So, if I return with you, I wed the one you pick, and not one of my own choice.” Again, he nodded. “Then I am subject to him in all things.” Crelden smiled. She could understand.

She turned to Elrond. “It is settled then. Why would I not want to return with these men? I am the daughter of their heir. I would have all the riches of the Indrel at my feet.” Crelden’s smile started to falter. She turned back to him.

“Why now? You tried to kill me once and have made several attempts to locate me since.”

“There was another, but she died. And as she was only two, the council could not wait for her to attain her majority.”

“This is an odious practice.”

“It has stood us well for thousands of years.”

“In Indra, I am sure. In addition, never was it forced upon a woman to wed one not to her liking. However, you are now in Imladris. I know of nowhere in Arda where what you propose would be acceptable. Even among the royal houses of men are choices allowed. You would give me no choice.”

“That is our custom.”

“I am the daughter of Dorlandad. He was elven. That makes me elven. These are my people, whatever claims you make to the contrary. I am the granddaughter of the last of the high elven kings. These people here are my cousins, family. Rather would I be the heir to a kingdom no longer in existence, than the heir to one soon to cease to exist.” She smiled, genuinely, at the men. “I am sorry. I have thought about it, and I must decline your invitation to return. I am most happy here. I will wed one of my choosing; and I will wed him only if he agrees. It is a matter of choice.”

“You cannot refuse. Your people need you.”

She nailed him with a look that had been learned from only one person. She did his haughtiness justice. “Did they need me when they hung my father? How could you think that I would be content among the very people that murdered my father, my dear, gentle father who never even raised a hand against them, except to defend my mother and me? Did they need me when they dragged my mother and me back to their little hovel of a town? What about when my mother was beaten, did you need me then? Shall we talk about setting us adrift in a boat guaranteed to sink in the first good gale that beset us? I was alone for almost two weeks in that boat. A child. What kind of people throws away a child? Maybe shall I tell you what was in the mind of the man you sent to Rivendell to “rescue” me from the elves. I saw things in his mind that no adult should see. I was fifteen-years-old. Is it that to which you would have me return?” She looked him over with distain. “I am trying to find one good reason to return with you. So far, I am drawing a blank. If you seek to persuade me further, you will need to speak to my father. You can choose the one here, or the one in Namo’s Hall. I have no preference as to which you decide. You can find the one; I can send you to see the other.”

The man looked at her blankly. He did not understand how she could stand there, her voice devoid of all emotion.

“He does not grasp, sell,” Rúmil said softly, “That you have just threatened his life.”

The man looked startled.

Elestra looked uncomfortable. This clashed with the image of gentility that she wanted to foster in her granddaughter.

“I find I am disinclined to hand her over to you.” Elrond’s voice broke the tension. “It is not in her best interests. I think she is better off here, among her father’s people. In twenty years, if she has changed her mind, you may try again. I would advise against it.”

Crelden rose and took a step towards Ela. He met by Rúmil’s arrow.

“You know not what you invite,” Ela said softly. “He is the best archer Lórien has. He is undefeated. Have you ever been beaten, Rúmil?” He shook his head. “I thought not. Meliel is also well above average; and should you wonder, it has been months since any tried me. Since we both desire the fences, and they do not accept seconds, we have made sure we will be accepted. Now, what will you do?”

Crelden’s eyes widened when Meliel also drew her bow. Elrond and Erestor sat, seemingly oblivious to the fact that blood was about to be shed at their feet. He slowly sat back down. The bows were lowered.

“Wise choice,” said Elrond. “Now, matters here are cleared up. I think it is time for lunch. Will you join us? I insist. Ela will be leaving the day after tomorrow and this may be your last chance to see her. I would not deprive you of that.”

Crelden reluctantly accepted.

“Good. We will eat on the back terrace. It is a little too cool out here.” He smiled at the sweat rolling down the faces of the men. He ushered the men into the house ahead of him, leaving the elves from Lórien alone.

“I thought we were leaving tomorrow?” said Meliel.

“We are leaving tonight. Ada has just given us a day’s head start. We will pack after lunch. That will give us a chance to reach the summit before nightfall.”

They followed the others to the back terrace. They found an empty table to the side and sat down. Ela jumped up to help Dalgren when she came out with the food. Laughing, she convinced the elleth to sit with them when every one was served.

“I do not understand,” said Crelden.

“What is that?” asked Elrond, turning his attention from Ela and Dalgren.

“You let your women wear men’s clothes,” Crelden wore a frown on his face.

“It is better suited for their lifestyle. Can you not imagine how hard it is to ride a horse in a dress?”

“Then they should walk.” His frown had turned into a scowl.

Elrond raised his eyebrow.

“You would deny them the right to ride? Why?”

“It gives them too much a sense of independence. Women should know their place.” This was said matter-of-factly, as if it should be obvious even to a child.

“Our women have a much defined sense of their place; and they are independent. That is one of Elrénia’s strongest qualities. She knows what she wants.”

“What of her future? What man will want her if she will not obey?” Crelden demanded.

“That is not something we look for in a mate. We cherish the individuality. Her husband will appreciate her all the more for it.”

“What of the weapons? Was she serious?”

“Deadly. The bow is one weapon where she is on more equal footing with a man. Although smaller, she can outshoot many. She may not be as quick, but she has greater accuracy. And I hear that the March Warden of Lórien can attest to her skill with a knife.”

“It will all be a waste when she comes back to her people.” Crelden's voice held a tone of dismissal. He did not understand the waste of educating and training a woman.

Elrond shook his head. Had the man not been listening?

“Ada?”

“Yes, Iell?” He looked up at her.

“You sent the chart to Lord Glordinel. Why?”

“So that things would not come as too great a shock. I had hoped it would jar your memory. Unfortunately, the Lady is very good at what she does.”

“I know. I am afraid that I will need to go to her to learn to control myself. It would not do to be in a constant state of nausea.”

“You have a copy of the chart in Lórien. If you desire, I will keep the original here for safekeeping.”

She nodded. “With your leave, we would like to go down to the fields for a time.”

“You may go, but wait for Dorga. He has something for you.”

“Should he not be here?” She heard a disturbance at the door.

“I am, lass.” She turned at the deep voice. Bending over, she gave him a great hug.

“I was afraid you would not make it.”

“I would not miss the opportunity to come to Lord Elrond’s house, even if just to see you.”

“Did you bring some tea?” she teased.

“Aye, I did. And something else.”

A pair of hands covered her eyes. She reached up to remove them and stopped when she felt the skin. Her fingers danced along his for a moment. The shock of recognition elicited a gasp from her.

“Elf! How is it you are here?” She twisted in his arms and grabbed his neck.

“I bring birthday gifts.” He handed something to Dorga.

“Here, child. From a grubby old Dwarf.”

Ela took the leather bound object. Unwrapping it, she gasped. It was a sword. Not quite full-sized, but lighter than even the small one she had at home. Under it was a shirt of mail.

“Dorga! How could you? This…this is too extravagant!”

“Nonsense. It is small payment for the many years of enjoyment you have given me.”

“But how?” she glanced from Dorga to Elrohir, and back again.

“I got the mithril. Elrohir took it to the Grey Havens and had them forge the sword and make the shirt. That is why I am late. He only just arrived.”

“Oh. I do not know what to say. Thank you, thank you both.” She hugged both of them again.

“And I will tell Elladan that you wore his earrings.” Elrohir smiled at her.

She reached up and fingered the blue stones. “I felt I should put them on today. Is that not odd?”

“Very. Now, I am hungry. Is there anything left?”

“Plenty. I will get you a plate and some tableware. No, sit back down, Dalgren. I will get it.” She ran into the house.

“How are the borders?” asked Elrond.

“Quiet. We want to go to the north, but Arathorn will not allow it. I suspect he has a good reason, but he is not forthcoming with it. She looks good, Ada. Lórien agrees with her?”

“Apparently. You will see for yourself next month. Elrohir, this is Crelden. He comes from Holm’s Hold. He thought to persuade Ela to return with them. This is one of my sons, Elrohir.”

They regarded each other. The man dropped his gaze. Elrohir dismissed him.

“Here you go, Elf. I brought you some tea, also. You had better eat first. Dorga brought it.”

He laughed at her. A stray sunbeam reflected off her earring.

“I have a question.”

“Yes, Crelden?” said Elrond.

“Why do you allow her to wear earrings?”

“Why would I not?”

“It means she is married. You have assured me she is not.”

“It means nothing to the elves. We do not wear them at all. It is a perverse habit of hers insisted on after she saw the daughters of men in the village with them.”

Elrohir picked up his plate and filled it, returning to the table. Ela waited with the tea.

“So, what have you been up to?”

“I have finished my studies. I now know everything.”

“I am sure you do not. What else?”

“I am studying the healing arts. It is sporadic. Last week, I managed to close a tear in Haldir’s side. Of course, I put it there, so it was little consolation to him. He and I are in disagreement about my training for the fences. I think I am in love. Did you know Meliel’s father is finally coming to visit?”

“Slow down,” he laughed. “What was that about Haldir and you?” From the corner of his eye, he could see Crelden translating like a madman.

“Which part?”

“The hole in his side.”

She shrugged. “He wanted to see how good I was. No one else will fight me, so he did. Unfortunately, I did not realize he was holding back; he did not credit me with much skill. Overall, it was a learning experience. Not that Lord Celeborn was happy. I thought he was going to ask me to leave Lórien. And, Ada has given permission for me to train, so that will deflate THAT argument. Lord Celeborn said that was all I needed. Gariel had a dinner party last week. That was when Meliel announced that her father was coming for a visit. There, was that everything?”

“Not quite. You left out something.”

“No, I think I covered it all.”

“The ‘in love’ part.”

“Oh, that. Yes. I think I am in love. That or very sick.” She saw the men frown.

“Who is the lucky ellon?”

“I do not think I am that ready. He certainly is not. He has been given food for thought, and he has twenty years to get used to the idea.”

He laughed. “And you have twenty years to change your mind.”

“That will not happen.”

“You are so sure?”

“I am.”

“Well, then, I wish him all the luck. He is going to need it.”

She threw a napkin at him.

“You are fast returning to the top of the list of worse brothers.”

“How so?” She explained the argument between her and Rúmil.

“How are things between you two?”

“They are just fine. Are you going to start on that?”

“No. Just curious. I have heard a few things.”

“How, in all of Arda, could you possibly hear what goes on in Lórien?”

“You would be surprised what trickles out of the Forbidden Woods. Actually, I had already heard of the incident with the knives before I arrived here. You had best watch yourself. If your intended turns you down, you may not find any willing to wed you.”

“No,” she said, slowly. “You have spoken to Dorga. That is how you knew.”

“I confess,” he laughed. “But word will get around. You had best watch your step.” He was no longer laughing.

“Yes, I know. Things are already complicated.”

“Is there something I should know?”

“No. Ada will tell you, I am sure. Meanwhile, we are going down to the fields. Would you like to come?” She rose and walked towards the door. Elrohir followed.

“I will be down shortly. I will speak with my father and Lord Erestor. When are you leaving?”

“Tonight,” she said, just above a whisper. “Ada thinks to give us a day to be gone before the men find out. That should see us over the summit and well down the other side, if we do not tarry. We will make a hard ride for Lórien once we reach the plains. I do not trust these men. They do not listen to reason.”

“Well, if you are leaving tonight, you had better get going.”

She gave him a hug. “It is good to see you,” she whispered in his ear.

“And you, also. I almost forgot. Here.” He pulled a bottle from a pocket. The clear liquid had a slight tint of gold to it. She opened it and was overcome by a heavy scent.

“What is it?” she asked, breathless.

“Oil of the gardenia. It comes from the far south. It grows only in the hot climes. Do not spill any. It is cloying and you do not want to know what it is worth. I will only say that the mithril was cheaper.”

“Thank you, Elf. Is this from Elldan, also?”

“He is the one who found it. He has been searching a year for something unique. I think he found it. You should mix it with an odour-less oil to use it. Otherwise, you may not be able to stand the smell.”

“I will. I was wrong. You are the best brothers. Rúmil loses.”

“Go. The day gets no younger.”

She left to put the oil away. Returning, she retrieved her bow and quiver, then followed Rúmil through the house. Meliel downed her tea and ran after them. The men did not see them go up the front stairs to their rooms.

Elrohir went over to the table where his father sat. Sitting down, he looked at Crelden.

Dorga had already filled him in on the highlights of Crelden’s reasons for visiting. Now he wanted to see where things lay.

“Ada, have you heard from Caldelen?”

“Not since just after you left.”

“He may not survive a meeting if we run into him. He has a lot to answer for. Does his father know this?”

“He knows. He is regretful of the whole situation, but he does know that you feel you may have no choice. I would ask you to temper yourselves with mercy for his sake. See if the boy has matured any.”

“I will only promise to stay my hand long enough to hear his explanation. I will not speak for my brother.”

“And do not ask Ela. She will talk you out of anything you would do.”

“She tells me she is in love. What of that?”

“She has twenty years to fall in and out of love. Galadriel assures me that things are in hand.”

“How is Grandmother? We managed to stop in Lórien five years ago, but not since. Arwen looked well.”

“They are fine. Ela tells me that Arwen is happy. Your grandparents are looking forward to seeing you. Meliel’s father is arriving sometime during the next month. His name is Gaellyn. What do you know of him?”

“He is a captain with the northern Rangers. He is human, but well liked by men and elves under his command. We served with him just before he became captain. He is fair and even-tempered.”

“Good. I want to know more of Ela’s doings. When in Lórien, I want you to ask concerning her. Find out in whom she is interested.

Elrohir grinned. “I would not worry on that. I think I know who it is and you have no need for concern.”

“Who, then?” Finally, someone who could tell him.

“I cannot tell you. That is up to her. She will tell you when she is ready. Leave her to her games. You know how she loves them.”

Elrond’s frown made Elrohir laugh. “Very well, but if things go awry, I will come to you for answers.”

“And do I not always have them?” his son said, with maddening confidence.

“I do not know who is more vexing, you or her.”

Elrohir just grinned.

“Are you here long?”

“I will leave tomorrow. If I ride hard, I will just catch Elladan at Bree. I think he has a girl there. He has picked the same rendezvous four times in six months.”

“How are things to the south?”

“You mean other than finding we have an unknown people traipsing the White Mountains and settling in on Gondor’s doorstep? It is quiet. Do you not hail from the White Mountains?” Elrohir stared at Crelden.

“Yes. That is where we settled.”

“Do you think she would be happy there?”

“What has happiness to do with anything? She has an obligation to her people.”

“Yes. She does, and I think she is fulfilling it in Lórien. My grandmother says that she is learning skills that will aid our people.”

“And who is your grandmother?”

“The Lady Galadriel, ruler of the Golden Woods. Lothlórien.”

He saw with pleasure Crelden’s face blanch. “The Elf-witch? That is your grandmother?”

“You did not know?” Elrohir heard whispers from the other three men.

“I know who she is, not that she was related.”

“Their daughter is my wife,” said Elrond, quietly.

“And you sent Cera into that?” The elves did not understand Crelden’s growing anger.

“No, I sent Elrénia there for safe-keeping. It was the only place I knew of that could shelter her from harm.”

“But, the Elf-witch. How do know what she has learned?” He barely managed to control his contempt as he spit the words out.

“She seems content. And she has learned what she needs to survive. If she was not happy, why would she want to return?” Elrond’s voice was calm. The man was agitated, and the reason was still not apparent.

Elrohir cut in smoothly, “The only reason she is here now it that you asked her to come, Ada. Dorga told me that she is not comfortable coming back. She wants to return and the sooner the better. I look forward to spending time with her tomorrow before I leave.”

“She will like that. She plans on the borders. Do you think her good enough?”

“Five years ago, she was well on her way. It will take her some time yet. She got a late start. Most guards began when they could first hold a bow. However, she has thrown behind her desire the same determination she gave her education. I think she will make it by the time she reaches an age to make her final choice.” He looked hard at Crelden. “So, I must ask again, do you think she would be happy with your people?”

“It still matters not whether she is happy. She is required. She will be made to understand her duty.”

“I do not think you understand the situation. I take an interest in her. My brother takes an interest. If she is not happy, then neither are we. We would take it personally if anything were to happen to her. The decision was made to deal with one who has hurt her; you would not be a far stretch to include in the dealing. Think hard on that. One thing I have noticed in my travels. Some men tend to disregard the elves as above such things as bloodshed. However, I would point out that we have warriors the same as men. Our swords and knives are as sharp, our arrows as true. And, our sense of self-preservation as great. Do not test our mettle.” He stood up. “Ada, I believe I will go see how good our aspiring wardens are.” He left without a word to the men.

“I am sure you gentlemen would like some time to discuss what you have learned today. I will have someone see you to your lodgings. It has been a long day.” Elrond stood and pointedly waited until they also stood. “Erentil?” He called into the hallway. “Please have someone see these men to the village.”

“Yes, Lord Elrond. Follow me.”

The men had no choice but to leave. Elrond could still hear them grumbling as they went through the house. He followed at a distance and watched them descend the outer stairs. He noted that they stopped as they came to the fields where the garrison trained and practiced. He could make out the individual archers and saw that Ela and Meliel were making a good showing. Satisfied, he went back into the house.



-----


The laughter that drifted up from the field carried to the men standing and watching. They had been greatly misled by the source of their knowledge. These people were not gentle and peaceful like the Shire-folk. They knew well how to handle weapons of war. It seemed they had stepped in the situation with only half of what they had needed. Even their women surpassed most of Crelden’s people. They would have to take a different tact to regain the girl.

“How do you expect me to return to Lórien with any arrows, if you keep splitting them?” Ela laughed at Rúmil. “Your brother will not think much of me.”

“That is the only way to best you today. You have improved greatly. My brother will be hard pressed to invent a reason for refusing you now.”

“He will not have to. I have removed his argument. Ada gave his permission. I anticipate the look on his face.”

“I do not. He will not enjoy being out-flanked.”

“It will do him good. He is too full of himself.”

“You are asking for a dip in the Celebrant if you vex him too much.”

“I can swim. And it is all part of the game.”

Rúmil looked at the sun. Glancing back at the men, he said, in a voice just loud enough to carry, “All of this is wasted. If we leave now we can still get in several hours of hunting. I am sure your father will not mind. What do you think, Elrohir?”

“I would love to, but I have a two day ride ahead of me. I do not think I care to hunt all night and still try making it. I will be leaving early tomorrow afternoon, and I still have to attend to some business.”

“Well, I am going to get my kit and tell Ada,” Ela piped up.

“Do not be long. We do not want to lose the light. You know it is darker back in the forest.”

“I will not, Rúmil. I will get yours, also. Come on, Meliel. Do not forget to ask Londil and Relim,” she told him. “They will not forgive you if they miss out on a hunt in Imladris. It will give them something to talk about when we get home.”

“Run, little one. The sun drops.”

The girls ran back to the house. Racing to the top of the stairs, they stopped to catch their breath.

“Will you get my bag, Meliel? I need to say goodbye.”

“I will be right back with all three. It is well we packed light.”

“Ada!” Ela called, heading for the study. She found him reading a book.

“It is time?”

“Yes. We are ready and have a good excuse for taking our packs. We are going on an overnight hunt. I do not think they suspect. I just wanted to say goodbye.”

He stood up and went to her.

“It is only goodbye for a short while. I will see you in a month, only six short weeks.”

“Only. It will seem like an eternity.” She went into his arms. “I will miss you so. Have I ever told you I love you?”

“Yes, Iell. In everything you do. Have I told you how proud I am of you?”

“Yes, Ada. In everything you do. After all you have done for me, your opinion is the most important thing to me. I will never do anything to change that. Thank you for everything.”

“Thank you, sell. You have made an old man happy.”

“Yes, well, when you see an old man, see if he is as happy as you are. Oh, Grandmother.” She went to the door.

“You are leaving?”

“Yes. Now is the best time. Do you think ill of me because I am not a proper Noldo?”

“Never. You are a proper elf. That is the important thing. Do not forget to speak to Celeborn. I will wait here for word. I do not feel the inclination to remove myself back to the Hidden Havens just yet. After all, I have forever.”

“I will not make you wait that long. I like having a grandmother. It seems so…family-like.”

“Go. Now, while I will still let you.”

“Where is Lord Erestor? I cannot leave without saying goodbye to him.”

“Now, where do you think he would be?” smiled Elrond.

She gave Elestra a hug and went down the hall to the library. Meliel got there just as she did.

“Just one more quick goodbye.”

She went into the library.

“May I ask a question?”

“You may. I will answer if it is in my power.”

“What kind of gift will you bring me next month? It seems the only things I lack are my friends.”

“Well, then, I would bring some of them. Now, may I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Would you leave without giving your teacher a hug?”

“Never. You had but to ask.” She hugged him and reached up to kiss his cheek.

“Ela, we have to go. They will get suspicious.” Meliel’s voice carried a tinge of impatience.

Ela pulled herself away.

“Thank you. For everything. And I expect to see you in a month. No excuses.”

“None will be forthcoming.”

“And please say goodbye to Lady Seldala for me.”

“Certainly.”

She went from the library through the house to the terrace. Dalgren stood with a large bag.

“Were you leaving without saying goodbye to me?”

“No. You were next. What is this?”

“Something for your ‘overnight trip’. It was good to see you again. Do not wait so long again.”

“That is up to fate. I go where the winds blow me,” she said loftily, waving her hand.

“Go, child. May the winds blow you swiftly to Lórien.”

Ela bowed and said, “May butterflies always tumble your tummy.” Turning, she picked up her kit and slung it over her shoulder. Picking up the bag Dalgren had given her, she waited until Meliel was ready. They started down the stairs.

Reaching the bottom, they quickly made their way to the stables. There they found their horses saddled and ready to go. Meliel tossed Rúmil his bag and then tied her own to the back of her saddle.

“Did you speak to the others?” Ela asked.

“They said they may join us later. They had plans.” The grin on his face alluded to what the plans were. Let the men draw what conclusions they would.

“They could do that at home. When will they get a chance to hunt in the Misty Mountains again?” She shook her head, smiling. She knew what the men would think.

“I will be right back,” said Ela, jerking the ties on her bag. She went into the barn.

“Hello, snake. I fear that I will never see you again.” The snake slowly crawled up from its hole. It circled her legs and laid its head on her foot. She gently caressed its head. “Rest now. You have spent your life well. Should you go to the Halls of Namo, speak well of me to my father. Tell him that he would be proud.” The snake lifted its head and crawled back down into its hole.

“So this is what that witch taught you!” Ela spun around at the words and saw one of the men standing behind her, the one to whom Crelden seemed to defer. She was surprised he spoke Elvish, albeit, badly.

“She did not teach me this. I have always been able to do it. It is a gift from the Valar through my father. And I suppose a small part from my mother. Her father did name her witch.”

“Gift!” he spat. “It is evil. You would do well to forget it before you return.”

“I have no intentions of returning with you, ever. My home and people are here. I know that you have problems with Elvish, so I will say it in terms you will understand.” She repeated her words in Westron. The man looked shocked.

“You speak the language of men?”

“Most elves outside of Lórien and Mirkwood do. I learned from my brothers and was required to learn to read and write it. Do you think me uneducated? I can also read and speak some Dwarvish. I have books from the Shire. I have also gained a very small grasp of the ancient language, Quenya. What do you offer your daughters?”

“What they need. It does not include reading.”

“They I pity you. Women have a lot more to offer than as a bed companion. It seems there is more reason yet for refusing your offer.”

“You will come back. Sooner or later, I will have you.” He grabbed her arm. She flung herself backwards from his grasp as if burned.

“What is going on?” Elrohir demanded.

Ela stood back up. She looked the man over, as if surveying a piece of dung.

“You wear deceit like a cloak. It wraps you and hides your true purpose. Do you think I would ever be content with one such as you? It will be a cold day in your hell before that happens.” The brief contact had given her his identity. The shock of what he wanted warred with the knowledge that this was her uncle, her mother’s brother. She pulled herself together and went from the barn.

“I think it best you do not speak to her again. You have overstayed your welcome.” Elrohir turned and followed Ela from the barn.

“What was that about?” he asked her, quietly.

“It seems his true purpose for being here was not as altruistic as it appeared. He wants this marriage for reasons of his own, and he will stop at nothing to gain it. It is well that we are leaving now. I think only sorrow will ensue if we stay.”

“Maybe I should ride with you.”

“No. You have your duties. We will be fine. Once we reach the plains, it will be a speedy ride home. If we push, we can make it in five days.”

“Take care. I will see you in a month.”

“And I look forward to that. Until then.” She mounted her horse and leaned down to kiss his forehead. “Take care, yourself. There will be too much sorrow in the future to spend the present mourning.”

The three of them turned their horses from the barn and started for the northern forests. Elrohir watched until they were out of sight, and then went back to the house to inform his father of the incident in the barn. It was best they were leaving.

-----

Two hours later, they had turned towards the east. Following a low ridge for another hour, they were met by Londil and Relim. With little speech between them, the picked up their pace and headed for the summit. It was well after dark before they were through the little used pass Elrohir had mapped out for them, and started down the other side. They were farther north than would be usual, but not many knew of this cut through the mountains. They made a cold camp that night and were back up before light. Once they reached the plains, they rode as hard as they dared, without winding the horses. They stopped only for the night, eating in the saddle and resting only when watering the horses. As promised, they made the trip in five days.


Chapter 14 - Chapter Fourteen

This chapter is for ghettoelleth for your unceasing enthusiasm. Thank you. And Luthien for just noticing.




****

Chapter Fourteen
****

Loneldon, in command of the northern marches, studied the reports before him. As Rúmil’s second, he had taken over the warden station. It had been a quiet few weeks and he was thankful for that. Celedien, the captain of the eastern marches had sent word that the refugees heading south on the Plains of Rhovanion had trickled down to near nothing. They shared a mutual dislike of men but also the sorrow at people forced to abandon their homes. He finished signing the reports and placing them in the bag for Caras Galadhon. He glanced up when the sentry entered the clearing.

“Riders coming in,” reported the sentry to Loneldon. He knew it was too soon for Rúmil’s return, yet no others were expected. Saddling his horse, he rode back up to the fences with the sentry to wait. He could just make out a moving smudge on the horizon to the north. A half-hour later, he saluted the riders crossing the wards.

“Welcome back, Rúmil. You made excellent time. Any trouble?” The condition of both horses and riders spoke of hard days in the saddle. Loneldon did note that although dirty and covered with a fine sheen of sweat, the animals were not winded. Trust Rúmil to make sure of that.

“None since we left Imladris. How are things here?”

“Quiet. As a matter of fact, it has been extremely boring.” Loneldon looked quite at ease with the situation. There had been far too much activity in the recent past, what with the flight south of those living north of the Plains of Rhovanian.

“Well, I want it spread down the line to keep watch for any men approaching. Send word immediately.” Rúmil glanced around and then back the way they had come.

Loneldon nodded. The riders waited for Loneldon to swing up on his horse, then made for the encampment. The weary travellers gratefully dismounted and walked off the stiffness that four days in the saddle created. Quickly walking down their horses and turning them out into the paddock, Ela and Meliel wasted no time in taking advantage of the deep pool behind the corral.

“I have never felt so dirty in my life,” commented Meliel, coming back to the clearing.

“What about that time we all had the mud fight?” Ela gave her a sideways glance. What had begun as an afternoon jaunt to the river had turned into a mud flinging battle that had seen the four of them covered in mud before they were through.

“Well, aside from that. It will be wonderful to get back to the city and a nice clean bed.” Meliel disdainfully pulled a burr from the leg of her riding pants, then folded them and put them in her bag.

Ela laughed. “I am so tired I do not care if it is clean or not. Do we ride on, or stay the night?” she asked, looking to Rúmil. He glanced up at the sun.

“It is too late to make Caras Galadhon tonight. We leave in the morning.” Finished with a cursory tour of the station, he had settled on a log to massage knotted leg muscles. Ela moved behind him and started on his shoulders.

“Good. I do not want to see another saddle for a long while.” Leaving off Rúmil's shoulders for a moment, she clasped her hands on her lower back and arched backwards. There was a grimace of pain and audible pops as vertebrae settled back where they belonged.

“Me neither,” chipped in Meliel. “If leaving Lórien means riding like that, I will stay here.”

“I agree. It is not worth the saddle sores I am sure I will have for months.” She went back to massaging Rúmil’s shoulders. His look of discomfort slowly changed to one of relaxation. They both glanced up at the sound of a spoon hitting the side of a pot. Suddenly, empty bellies replaced tired muscles.

“At least get something in you before you turn in,” called Loneldon. He motioned at a large pot to the side of the fire. “It is only stew, but we just made it. It will not measure up to the fare I am sure you had in Imladris, but it will surpass what you had coming in.” He grinned, knowing that they were probably glad to return to simple fare.

They followed Londil and Relim’s lead and went to get their bowls. Meliel had noted with satisfaction that as soon as they had cleared the wards of Imladris, Ela had slipped back into the friend she knew. She had discovered the reasons for most of Ela’s quirks. She thought she now had a better understanding of what made Ela the way she was.

Supper was eaten quietly and quickly. One of the trainees gathered the bowls and utensils, taking them to the large pot of water now hanging over the fire, and washed them. He placed them on a low table to dry.

Finished eating, the girls went back into the tree line to find an empty talan. They finally found one that was not high enough to make Ela too uncomfortable. Rolling out their cloaks and blankets, they were asleep almost as soon as their heads hit the beds.

Rúmil and Loneldon spent an hour going over what had occurred the last two weeks. Satisfied that all was handled, Rúmil finally turned in himself.


----


The rising sun missed the small glen that served as headquarters for the northern marches. It would not make itself felt until closer to noon. Yet, it was enough to rouse those used to rising early. Loneldon came out from his talan to find that Ela had already bathed and was dressed. He shook his head. Among the circles most of the city guards and wardens moved, it was well known her proclivity to rise early. Most even knew of the running battle to get Lord Glordinel out early. She had lost that one major battle.

“Good morning, lady.” He gave her a slight nod and sat down near her.

“Good morning, warden. All is quiet?” Ela chose to ignore the honorific that had begun to creep slowly into the vocabulary of those around her.

“For the present. Is there a reason we watch for men?” Loneldon did not hesitate to ask such a question of her. While he was carefully respectful of her title, they shared a casual comradeship that allowed such familiarity.

“An exceptionally odious male who does not understand the meaning of the word ‘no’.” The distaste in her voice overshadowed the quiet words. Something obviously had happened during her visit to Imladris.

“That would cover a lot of them.” He grinned.

“Yes, it would,” she laughed, her quiet voice fairly tinkling. After a moment, her face sobered. “This one in particular has decided that he would wed an elf, despite his loathing of the race as a whole.”

“You, lady?” He was incredulous. He knew that she shared most of the elves opinions of the race of Men. She even seemed a bit more unreceptive towards them than most. He suspected it had to do with her mother’s people, although he had never asked her outright concerning the matter.

“It seems I have something he wants, and it is not me. According to him, I can gain him leadership of his people. Personally, I believe all I can gain him is a knife to the gut. And I will gladly do it, if ever given the chance.” The casualness of her tone made the comment even more chilling than the words did.

Loneldon thought on that. Rumours had trickled down the ranks of her knifing a man in Imladris when only fifteen. He had accepted the explanation that it had been more unintentional than otherwise: more a reflex from fear. However, there were those who steered clear of her. He dismissed their foolishness. Any who really knew her, knew she would never harm anyone without gross provocation. Her only real enemy seemed to be Haldir, with his refusal to allow her to train for the marches. Their public conversations had become more heated of late, with Ela pushing for more training, and Haldir denying it. And, Loneldon knew of the rumours circulating concerning her and Rúmil: rumours that they would wed when she became of age; rumours he knew had no foundation, yet were refuted by neither of them.

Well, he preferred not to dwell on it. The affairs of others were none of his business, anyway. He did his job and let it go at that. He had problems enough of his own.

“I am going to make some tea. Would you like some, warden?” She drew his attention from his thoughts.

“That would depend. Where did you get it?” he asked, suspicious.

“Imladris’ finest. Best brew a Dwarf can distil.” Her grin bespoke no good to come.

“If you can drink it, I can,” he said, not wholly convinced.

“Very well.” She went to the fire to get the pan of hot water. Dumping the leaves in it, she let it set for several minutes while she went to get a bottle from her bag. Within minutes, she brought two mugs of steaming tea over to him.

“Bottoms up,” she said. She had drained her mug while he sputtered over his. Finally reaching the bottom, he looked at her grin.

“How can you do that so easily?”

“Years of practice. It also numbs the taste buds in your mouth after a while. Makes eating unappetizing for a time. Yes, it is one of the less refined practices in Imladris, and one in which Lord Erestor despaired my joining. It seems it was beneath him. I think a lot more of the fact that Lord Celeborn would actually drink the stuff. It says more of his character.”

“How in Arda did you ever get him to drink it?”

“Curiosity, on his part. I seemed an enigma to him. However, I did not introduce him to it. It appears a long deceased Dwarf beat me to it. Somewhere back in the annals of his youth. I only amused him with my penchant for the stuff.”

“How can you drink that so early in the morning?” Rúmil dropped down beside them.

“Why do you think I am up so early?” she laughed. “No, it is not bad. It does get your body going.”

“Yes, but going where? Did anyone think to make just tea?”

“It is in the other pan. I know how you loathe the good tea.” She got up to get him a cup. Not for the first time, it occurred to Loneldon that she did not fit the mould of the ellith at court. They expected a certain amount of due. She usually was the first up to serve someone. She did not dress the part, unless required to. She was polite and deferred to authority at all times, but was never rude to those others felt beneath them. Ela had always made people feel comfortable. And, she was not above admitting that she did not know everything.

By the time Rúmil had finished his tea, Meliel was up and dressed to go. It was decided that Londil and Relim would ride part way with them, and then head west to spend a few days with their families. Rúmil would ride down with Loneldon’s reports and his own from the journey. After a quick breakfast, the party headed out. They started out leisurely enough, but the closer they got to the main road intersecting the Woods east to west, the faster the pace became.

The two western wardens bid farewell at the crossroads, Londil promising to meet with Rúmil in Caras Galadhon later in the week. In another three hours, the city gates were in view. With sighs of relief, the three of them rode through them. They made their way to the stables maintained within the city for the guard. Dismounting, they unsaddled the horses and brushed them down, turning them out when finished.

“I want a bath,” said Ela. “I cannot face anyone until then.”

“Go, get it. I will make my report to Lord Celeborn.”

“Thank you. Please ask the Lady if I may see her, at her convenience.”

“I will.”

She grabbed her bag and headed home. Reaching the house, she found it empty. Going back to her room, she looked around. It seemed so tiny compared to her room in Imladris, but it was more to her taste and preferences. She put her things away, placing her soiled clothes in the basket beside the door. Grabbing a clean dress and her bathing kit, she headed for the bathhouses. Anticipating the luxury of a hot bath, she was not paying attention to her surroundings and met Elldar.

“I see you have returned. Welcome home. Does my mother know, yet?”

“No. We only just arrived. Is everything all right?”

“Everything is fine. She has fretted ever since you left.”

“Well, I am back and not inclined to leave again anytime soon. I would just as well have skipped this jaunt.” Her voice was laced with irritability. Elldar glanced down at her.

“The visit did not go well?”

She held up a hand. “I am sorry. Forgive my irritability. The visit went well enough. I saw Ada and the Elf, and Dorga. And Lord Erestor, who by the way is to become a father. I saw the snake. I met my mother’s kin and received a marriage proposal. I found I have a grandmother and that my grandfather was well placed. And, I discovered that I do not like travelling by horseback. How are things here?”

“You received a what?” he exclaimed, shocked.

“Is that all you heard?” she asked, grinning. “It was nothing. I did not even seriously consider it.”

“But, from whom?”

“You need not act so surprised. It could happen. Someone could come and sweep me off my feet and rescue me from this mundane life.”

“The only thing mundane around here was the time spent without you and Meliel. Del has been unbearable. If you ever do that to me again, I think I will have to mete out an appropriate retribution. Do you realize that you cut the population our age in half?”

“Well, it has doubled again. Now, I am off to the baths. Did you need something more?” She paused at the look on his face.

“No.” He hesitated.

“You did not miss me?” she teased.

“Well, it is quieter at dinner. There was a small absence.” His teasing grin was met with the irritation reserved for siblings.

“I was only gone two weeks. Surely you and Del found something to entertain yourselves?”

“Go get your bath. You are in need of it!” He turned abruptly and walked away.

Ela smiled as she continued on her way.


****


“Welcome back!” Gariel came into Ela’s room. Giving the girl a hug, she stepped back to look at her. “You do not look any different.”

Ela rolled her eyes. “It was two weeks, Gariel. How much was I to change?”

“It feels like two months. Lindelen has your dress finished. Everything is ready. Would you like something to eat before you go?”

“No, thank you. I am too wound up to eat. I am to see the Lady, as soon as Rúmil returns.”

“So, did your visit go well?” Gariel's concern was evident. She knew the girl well enough to sense her unease.

“It was not as I expected it to be. Lord Elrond managed to find me a grandmother. She is in Imladris now awaiting permission to visit Lórien. I met some of my mother’s kinsmen. That did not go as well. The Elf was there. He brought me the most beautiful oil. Here, smell.” She opened the bottle and held it for Gariel.

“Oh! What is that? It is so strong.”

“The Elf said it was Oil of Gardenia. It grows in the extreme southeast, in the warm climes. I am supposed to mix it with an odourless oil. It will be interesting to see the reaction of others.”

“It will cause a stir.” Gariel turned towards the hall. “I hear Rúmil now. Do not tarry; I have planned a nice dinner for you and Meliel.”

“I will not.” They went out to the large common room.

Rúmil noticed with satisfaction that she was wearing a grey dress; anything but that bright blue of which she seemed so fond. Her smile tugged at his heart.

“The Lady says you may come anytime.” He noted the light left her eyes.

“Thank you. Are you coming to dinner?” she asked softly.

“I think an invitation was proffered.”

“Good. I will see you then.” She left him standing in the middle of the room.

“What was that about?” asked Gariel.

“I think she is disturbed. There was an offer for her, but she did not take it well.”

“An offer? What does that mean?”

“It actually was more of a demand. Her kinsmen from the White Mountains have deemed her necessary for their future. Unfortunately, they made it clear that she was a necessary evil to be suffered. They would manage to overlook her Elven blood.”

“Well, she did not mention that.” Gariel looked after Ela's form, now at the gate.

“And maybe I should not have. She has avoided the subject for almost a week now.” Rúmil followed her gaze.

“She will not go?” Gariel felt a sudden fear.

“No. There was an attempt made to explain this to her kinsmen, but I do not believe they were listening.”

“I hope this does not cause her any great distress.”

“I think after she sees the Lady, she will be fine.”

“Good. I want her to enjoy the next few weeks before her birthday celebration. I would not like to see this ruin the party for her.”



****



Ela walked east, towards the center of the city. Lost in her thoughts, she did not realize she had gone to the library, until she stood at the door. Shaking her head, she turned to leave, when she heard a voice. She turned back and went through the doors.

“Well, the traveller returns home.” The voice from the far end of the dark hall beckoned her.

“Good afternoon, Lord Glordinel. I was planning to see you tomorrow. Today will suit, if you have time.”

“I am free now. What did you need?”

“I need more training. I want to continue with you.” She said it as if half afraid he would decline.

“That is fine. Come by tomorrow and we will start. Did your visit go well?”

“I am glad to be home.” Glancing about the library, she took in the vast amount of books: not nearly as many as Imladris, but substantial, nonetheless. Glordinel was not sure if home was Lórien, or the library.

“I am glad that you are, also. Tomorrow, then.” He nodded to her.

“Thank you,” she said, bowing slightly, and leaving.



****



The mallorn in the center of the city did not look any smaller, now that she was older. It still intimidated her. Taking a deep breath, Ela started up the stairs that led to the home of the Lord and Lady. She did hug closer to the trunk. An affinity for the heights in the trees, one quality she did not inherit from her elven side. She loved the trees, just from the safety of the ground. Reaching the top, she was shaking slightly, but not from exertion. She paused to compose herself and then went to the doorway.

Del was doing a turn as page and smiled when he saw her. It was easy duty, and they had all done it. It was part of the training.

“Welcome back. I saw Rúmil earlier. Did Meliel enjoy herself?”

“She did. It was good for her. Gave her a taste of how easy life is here.”

“I can hardly wait to see her.”

“So I have been told. Will you join us for supper tonight?”

“An invitation? From you?” he teased. “I would not miss it. Are you to see the Lady?”

“Yes, please. She is expecting me.”

“Follow me, then. You may wait in the smaller chamber.”

He led her across the large floor and into the small room she had last been in before she left. Entering as he held the door for her, she gave a curtsy to Galadriel. Her slight fear of the Lady coloured every interaction between them. Ela had never gotten over the fear of Galadriel invading her mind. She was afraid someone would find the secrets she knew were hidden in her being.

“Thank you, Delinfel,” the Lady said, dismissing him. He nodded and closed the door. Galadriel motioned to the chair across from her.

“You look well, but troubled.”

“I am not comfortable coming to you, but there is need. The headaches and nausea have returned. Once again I am feeling overwhelmed by the feelings of others. I think it time I learned to deal with them. Avoidance is not the answer.”

“It never is, child. I can help you learn, but it will mean you will have no secrets from me. It is the price you will pay.”

“While I may not be willing to pay it, it seems necessary. It started in Imladris. It is still sporadic and not unbearable, but I remember before, and I do not want to experience that again.”

“I remember. It is not pleasant. What are your plans for now?”

“I spoke to Lord Glordinel earlier and asked to continue my training with him. And, I still intend to change the March Warden’s mind. Unless you have a reason I should not.”

“No, I do not. You must find your own way. No one can do it for you. I would say that up to this point, you have prepared yourself for the future as best you could. There are none can fault you on that. Go, now. I know that Gariel has missed you terribly. She has planned the evening for you and Meliel. We will speak later.”

“Thank you, Lady. Please convey my disappointment at not seeing him to your husband.”

“I will. Welcome home.”

Ela rose and left the small antechamber. She crossed the reception area and approached the doorway.

“I will see you tonight,” she said to Del, smiling.

“Tell Meliel to wear a dress.”

“You hope too hard. I barely got her in one for the dinner in Imladris. I fear you will not see one for quite a while.” She laughed at the look on his face. Waving, she started back down the stairway.


****

“Good morning, Ela. It is still Ela, is it not?” His manner made her smile.

“Good mid-morning, Lord Glordinel. And yes it is still Ela.”

“How was your dinner last evening?”

“It was pleasant. It is good to be home.” She glanced around his small office.

“Aye, I always feel that way. Are you ready to begin?”

“I am. Did Haldir tell what happened before I left? I was able to close the knife wound in his side. It surprised me almost as much as it did him.”

“He did. I was impressed that you were able to do so well. Now, where to start? There is not much to do for now, so I will put you to reading these books on herbs and poisons. It should keep you busy for several days, so I expect you will be done by tomorrow.”

“Am I that predictable?” She gave him a small smile.

“I am afraid so, sell. You must learn to alter your behaviour occasionally. It will throw others off your trail.”

“How unlike you to use hunting metaphors.” She paused. “I went to see the Lady yesterday. She is going to teach me to control this maddening ability to read the emotions of those around me.”

“You realize that your “ability” will help you as a healer. I hope you do not intend to bury it too deeply.”

“I am not interested in burying it at all. I just need to control the nausea that threatens every time I am around too many others. It seems the only relief from it is sleep. And I cannot spend my life sleeping.”

“No, I suppose you cannot. When is your turn on the fences?” He picked up some papers and added them to the pile of books on her bag.

“I am due next week. Will that inconvenience you?”

“No, you will only be to the east. I find occasionally that I need to walk and the eight miles is not too great a distance. You can take your books, and I will check up on you. Now, any questions?”

“None for the present.”

“Good. I have some herbs that need sorting and cataloguing. That should take up enough of your time, until you leave for the fields.”

“Yes, Lord Glordinel.” She placed the books he had given her in her bag and went back into the room where he stored his medicines. She then spent the next two hours sorting and bottling the dried herbs. Her writing was tiny and precise, just as Lord Erestor had demanded, and suited for the small bottles and jars. When next she looked up, the shadows had become complete in the small room. Gariel would be waiting lunch for her.

“I am leaving now,” she called to Glordinel as she was cleaning up. “I have finished all you had ready. I also washed up the bottles for the next batch. I will see you tomorrow.”

He waved absently to her as she walked past the open door to his study. She paused in the door, gazing at him, if it was possible, with a maternal look.

“When was the last time you ate?” she asked.

“This morning, I think,” he said absently.

“You cannot do that. If you do not eat, you will waste away. That will do me no good. I will be back.”

She walked up the road that led the short distance from Glordinel's to home. Going through the house to put her things away, she stopped in the kitchen.

“Do you have lunch for Elldar ready?” she asked Gariel.

“Not quite. You are early.”

“I finished sooner than I thought I would. Would you mind fixing extra? It seems the good healer does not know enough about eating. He has not eaten all day.”

“Well, it would not do for him to expire before you were finished with him.” Gariel laughed. “I will take him something.”

“Thank you. What is it about ellyn? In Imladris, all we ever did was eat. Here, you have to track them down and force them to eat. It is maddening.”

“That is their nature. It is all or nothing.”

“Well, I do not see that they are always worth the effort.” A look in her eyes belied the disdainful tone of her words.

“You will. One day you will wake up and realize that part of you is empty, and only they can fill it,” Gariel said softly remembering the day.

“It will be a day far into the future.” Ela picked up the pouch containing lunch for her and Elldar.

Gariel laughed at her. “I will remind you of that when the time comes.”

“I have to go. I am late now. I will see you later.” Shifting the pouch on her shoulder, Ela picked up her bow and quiver and left for the fields.



****



“Meliel! Are you packed yet?” Lindelen’s voice carried her frustration. “Del will be here and you know he does not like waiting.”

“Let him wait. He takes our relationship too much for granted. He needs to learn to appreciate me more.”

“You would do well to not push him. Your choices are limited.”

“Are you saying that we are settling for each other? I do not need him. I like him, but there are others. Mirkwood is full of unattached males. And there are plenty of elves and men in Imladris. Do not think to push us together, Mother. We choose each other.”

“Yes, Meliel. I am sorry. I did not mean to imply that you have no choices. Just go and have fun.”

“Mother,” Meliel rolled her eyes, “we are going for training. Do not make it sound like an overnight slumber party.”

“Can you not still have fun? Go. I see Del coming up the stairs now.”

“Goodbye.” Meliel gave her mother a quick kiss on the cheek, then ran down the stairs.

“Valar. Do you believe mothers? ‘Have fun’! You would think this is a picnic.”

“It comes from not having a father on the marches. My mother is the same way. I am sure that Elldar’s mother is more accepting. However, he did tell me that Gariel was not pleased that Ela was going.”

“She dotes on the girl. What will she do when Ela moves out?” Meliel shifted her pack to her other shoulder.

“Deal with it. It does not help that she has two about the same age. She will lose them both eventually. At least our parents have only to deal with it once.”

“I do not think it will be that easy. Once, twice, no one will be happy.”

“No, I suppose not. We need to go. Elldar and Ela are waiting at the eastern gate.” They walked at a faster pace.

-----

“Here they come.” said Ela, laughing. “I will wager that she was not ready. That irks Del so.”

“You have been known to dally when dressing.”

She grinned. “A calculated effort to remind others that ellith are worth the wait.”

“I will have to ask my uncle of that. I am sure he has a differing opinion.” Elldar's attitude was that of one who had never had to wait on another.

“You just leave your uncle out of it. It is different for us.” She ducked and picked up a clod of dirt, throwing it at him. She ducked again when he caught it and returned the throw.

“How so?” he asked.

“That is none of your concern.” She turned to Meliel and Del, smiling.

“It is about time. You know it will do none of us any good to be late.”

“Then we should hurry. I do not want to test Celedien’s patience.” Elldar pushed Delinfel ahead and pulled Ela along.

“Are you tired of washing bottles, yet?” Del asked Ela.

“No more so than you are of fletching arrows. At least if I make a mistake, I have only to clean up a mess. Yours could cause serious harm.”

“That is not a very mature way to look at it. Even the smallest job is important.”

“I will remember that next time you need a splinter from one of the arrows removed. And, what of you, Elldar? I hear you and Meliel spent a cosy afternoon yesterday. Mucking stalls! I will take my chances with the bottles.”

“At least we got outside. You realize all that squinting in the dark will make you blind?”

“But I still have my nose. I suppose no one got off easy.”

“That is the truth,” said Meliel. “Come on, I feel like a run. Last one to the giant oak has to fix lunch.” She took off. It did not take the boys long to pass her. Only Ela was left behind, but she was laughing as much as the others when she caught them.

“Are you sure you want to taste my cooking?” she gasped.

“Do not fear. Mother anticipated this and made lunch. You will just need to put it together.” He tossed a bag to her.

“You are wicked, Elldar," she replied, sticking her tongue out at him.

“And you are hopeless. When are you going to learn to cook?”

“Why do I need to when there is always someone else to do it?” She pretended indignant at his suggestion.

“You do not need to learn. There will always be someone to cook for you. Your parentage guarantees that,” Del said.

“What do you mean?” asked Ela. “Who do you suppose will want to cook for me?”

Del caught the quiet tone of her voice. Too late, he saw Meliel and Elldar both shaking their heads violently.

“Well,” he fumbled, “there have been some rumours floating around.”

“Rumours? Concerning what?” He had her full attention, now.

“Ela,” said Meliel, “just let it lie. Del does not know what he is talking about.”

“He may not know what he is talking about, but he was about to say something. I would like to hear it.” She looked at Del, expectantly.

“Can we discuss this later? It is not something to bring up now,” Meliel begged.

“Very well,” she said, putting on a smile. Only Del was fooled into thinking that the subject had been dropped. “We should get going, anyway. If we are to arrive mid-way between lunch and dinner, we had best pick up the pace.” She turned and started briskly back down the road.

“You had best watch your back,” Meliel warned Del. “She will not forget. How could you be so stupid? You knew she was not to know about the rumours.”

“I forgot. Besides, she let it drop.”

“Del,” said Elldar, “I hope you wed a smart elleth. You will need it. She did not drop it. You would do well not be alone for a while.”

“She said she would wait. Are you telling me she lied?”

“Ela never lies. She has a maddening habit of extreme patience and stretching the boundaries. And she will pick the time and place to deal with it.” Elldar shook his head. Del may be the eldest of them, but when it came to females, he knew nothing. Elldar supposed it came of being an only child. At least he had had the benefit of having Ela around. Add to that the fact that these two particular ellith did not always think like the rest, and you had the potential for a very unhappy Del.

“Wait up,” called Meliel, running after her.

Ela turned. “What am I not supposed to know?”

“It is nothing. Someone got wind of some rumours and they are asking around. Discretely, of course.”

“What rumours?”

“I am not sure. I have not paid them much attention,” Meliel hedged.

“You do not lie very well. We are usually the first to hear gossip floating around the barracks. I was pent up with Lord Glordinel all week. You do not have that excuse. You were right there in the middle of the guards. And yet, you know nothing? Extraordinary. Tell Del to watch himself.”

“Ela, let him be. He is not the brightest, but he is a friend.”

“To Elldar!" Ela snapped. "To me he has been a necessity to even out the group. What is he to you?”

Meliel blushed. Ela laughed.

“I have never seen you do that before." Her voice had softened. "It is very becoming.” She glanced back at the boys. They were furiously discussing something. Ela thought she could guess what. “Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yes. I only have seven more years until we can wed. Del has five.”

“What does your mother say?”

“‘Do not muck this up’. She is worried that his parents will say no.”

“What of your father? He does not mind you wedding an elf?”

“He did it. Why should he mind?” Meliel sounded surprised that Ela would ask such a question.

“If you say that, you do not know fathers and their daughters. What a father will allow his son to do differs greatly from what he will suffer his daughter to do. You will see. He will eventually say yes because they cannot say no, but you will not have it easy.”

“What of you? Will Lord Elrond allow you to wed any of your choosing?”

“As long as it is not an Indrel. We share a curious dislike for them. He does not care for their underhanded way of dealing. My reasons are personal. It would be difficult to live among the people responsible for the deaths of my parents. Not to mention the lack of what conveniences are available even here in Lórien.”

“Have you your eye on anyone in particular?” Meliel asked slyly. It had been a game between them for fifteen years. Meliel knew she would not get the answer until Ela was ready, but that did not stop her from trying.

“Yes,” she sighed, theatrically, “but he is not ready. Meanwhile, I will dally around with this one or that. It keeps life from getting dull. Besides, I am quite content with what I have right now. He is pleasant company and makes no demands. In fact, he would make a good husband. At least I will not drive the object of my intentions into the arms of another.”

“As far as I can tell, you are not driving anyone anywhere. Just a hint?”

“Not until I am sure he returns the interest. Do you think I need more rumours? I have enough trouble living up to the ones circulating now.”

“How do you know he will wait another twenty years?” Meliel looked back at Del.

“He has waited this long.”

“At least tell me where he is. Here, or Imladris?”

“Yes,” was all she would say. “Now, we really need to get going.”

Meliel glanced back at Elldar and Del. They were still arguing, but had started walking faster.



****
The eastern borders had been uneasy for months. The people fleeing the areas north of Mordor had slowed down, but they continued to move southward. Although none came close, the guards did not relax their vigilance.

Celedien was awaiting replacements for those returning for reassignment. He had been thankful that things had been as quiet as they had. He did not care for men, but he also did not think he would enjoy leaving the Golden Woods. These people had had to give up everything they knew. He prayed they would not turn to Lórien for refuge. He did not want to have to persuade them to keep going south, and it was hard to do so; there were so many children.

The inner watch sent word that runners approached. Celedien went back to the main camp to welcome them. He was very surprised to see Orophin, his, second waiting.

“I thought you had a leave due, Orophin. What drags you back out here?”

“These recruits may prove a handful. They are to receive full training. Haldir was most emphatic about that. I have instructions for them and you.” Celedien looked back towards the road. He could just make out the four figures moving their direction. He glanced back to Orophin.

“I am not sure I entirely like this idea. Would they not be better up north?” The whole assignment did not sit well with him.

“This is where Haldir wants them. And it is only two weeks.”

“Your son is bad enough, but I do not like having the girls out here. There is much that could go wrong.”

“They are all well trained. This is not to be a picnic. They are here because it is required. Do not look at who they are. Just treat them as you did us when we had to do our turn.” Orophin did not state his unease with the situation. Celedien may be his immediate superior, but Haldir was over both of them. His was the final word.

“You will be here, right?” The sigh of resignation was very audible.

“Do not worry so,” laughed Orophin. “I will be here.” They waited together for the four younglings to approach.

They came forward and bowed their heads to Celedien. He looked them over. What he saw was a study in contrasts. Elldar, Orophin’s son, had reached a height of almost six foot, as tall as his father, yet he was as heavy as was his uncle. His eyes took in everything around him, and looked back with an attitude that at times resembled Haldir’s. In fact, his physical shape made him resemble his uncle more than his father. Delinfel almost mirrored Elldar. Slightly taller, but not as heavy. He had the dark hair and grey eyes that marked him a wood-elf. They were the ideal elven warriors: tall, beautiful, deadly. Meliel showed little of her human blood. She was tall, just shy of Elldar’s height. Her dark hair was not a shade seen often in Lórien. She kept it pulled back and plaited in one long braid, unusual, but not unheard of. Her eyes were a greenish-grey that she inherited from her father.

On the other hand, fifteen years had not changed Elrénia’s appearance very much. She appeared only eighteen or so. Her full height was still six inches short of normal for an Elf. Her gold hair carried wide bands of blond streaking from the sun. It was worn in six braids across the crown of her head, then gathered in a braid and wrapped around her head. It was not a style any elf wore. There were bright red ribbons woven through the braids. Her skin still carried the freckles that had been hers from childhood. In appearance, she looked human, until you saw her ears. There was enough of a point to indicate there was elven blood. She wore gold earrings. She carried a bow and knife, but Celedien noticed she did not have a sword. He could see she would never handle a full-sized blade, so why bother. She was not anyone’s ideal anything, but she was just as deadly as were the others.

“You will do. You can take talain back in the woods, or stake out a patch of ground.”

“By your leave, we would take talain tonight,” Elldar spoke for all of them.

“You have it. Delcor, show them the empty talain.” The aide who came running up nodded. He led them back further into the forest. As they followed, they took the opportunity to look around. Elldar had been out here many times with his father, and Ela had come out a few occasions. This was Del's first time outside the city. Meliel had been too tired when she had arrived in Lórien to notice much.

After he had seen them settled in, Orophin took Elldar and Ela aside.

“Celedien is your captain. You will obey him in all things. Do not cause shame for your family.” He smiled to take the sting out of his words. They were not children any longer. He knew they would take this duty seriously. “I must go and give Celedien letters and instructions. Sleep well tonight. Make me proud.”

“We will, Adar. There will be no mistakes. We want this too badly.” Elldar looked his father in the eyes.

“Goodnight, then.”

He left the talan, but paused outside the door.

“At last!” Elldar exclaimed. “No more ‘guard the city’ silliness.”

“I have dreamed all my life of this. This is where an ellon can really breathe. This is where we will make our marks,” said Del.

“It is a job,” Elrénia said.

“How can you say that?” Elldar threw his cloak at her. They laughed until it hurt.

Ela sobered and looked at him. He did not like that look in her eyes.

“We may be here, but we have not earned the right to stay. This is just a training stint. We are not yet wardens. Besides, this is what I want, but it is not where I will make my mark.”

“I wish you would not talk that way. I, for one, do not intend to return until forced.”

“No matter how much I want this, I will miss my clean bed,” exclaimed Meliel.

“You always miss your bed,” complained Del.

“I do not like the inconvenience of roughing it,” she retorted.

“I am going to sleep,” said Ela. She laid out her cloak and settled down.

Elldar lay awake for quite a while. Ela’s comment about making her mark bothered him. He had heard her say some strange things in the past, things about which he had told neither his parents nor his uncles. He had noticed that sometimes Ela said things that later proved true, but as she was not consistent, he had hesitated to say anything about it.


Orophin was also disturbed. He hoped Celeborn knew what he was doing. He went to Celedien’s talan. The captain had laid out a meal for them. Orophin had eaten, but took the offered wine.

“Any special instructions? I must tell you, it makes me uncomfortable having the girl out here. There is so much to go wrong. If anything happened to her, I would not like to answer to your brother, Rúmil. All know how he feels about her.”

“Haldir said she is to get the same training as the others. Lord Celeborn has backed him up. That means she has to do the turns on the marches. I do not relish the thought of her being out here either. Gariel has given me much grief over the decision. Her appeals to the Lady have gone unheeded. They are to be here a fortnight. Galadriel thinks by then she will grow weary of soldiering and want to stay in the city. I think the Lady is mistaken.”

Celedien laughed. “She will not. The girl likes this life. I have seen her in action. She has never been subtle about her desire to be a warden. She would have made a fine son.”

“I agree." He paused and shifted the conversation. "Tell the men not to get too rowdy with her. Do not allow any to show her deference. She will not take that. Other than that, she is the same as the rest. Try not to separate her and Meliel too much. They are used to doing everything together: eating, sleeping, hunting. They work well as a team. Do not let anyone challenge her with a knife. She will not start anything, but she will surely finish it.”

“I will bear that in mind. I will warn the others, although, they will have to take their chances.” He smiled.

“I leave with the first light, so I will say farewell now. Try not to dwell on who or what she is. Just treat her like the rest.”

“I will. Goodnight.”

Orophin got his bedroll and found an empty talan. It was going to be a long two weeks.


****

Elrénia was very tired by the time the two weeks were nearly up. The sentry duty itself was boring. They would stand for hours at a time. She did not mind it; it was not quite what Elldar and Del had imagined. The rest of their time was spent hunting, gathering firewood, fetching water and clearing brush. She did all of this, just as everyone else did. Most of the wardens knew her from their hunting trips and other guard duties. She gained the respect of the rest by never pulling rank. She also did not shirk her share of the work because she was not a male. The only thing she was not required to do was cook. After one taste of her cooking, they all decided she could skip that chore. Only Elldar did not go to bed hungry that night. When asked about it, he just laughed and replied that he had been subjected to Elrénia’s culinary skills before, so he had eaten earlier.

Celedien breathed a sigh, as her turn was almost up. She had done as well as any he had seen. She was conscientious about her duties and meticulous with her weapons. He could find no fault. Nevertheless, it had worried him greatly that something could go wrong.

Delinfel and Elldar were sent to patrol with Holelian and Dorelmin, two older scouts. Celedien had sent scouts out the day before, so he knew there was little danger. They had yet to have someone approach the fences closer that a half-day’s march. Four of them would have no trouble. Holelian told them to wait in the open while he and Dorelmin checked a copse of trees out from the forest. Ela and Meliel were told to stay in the tree line and observe. They were aware of the wardens to the north and south of them.

The boys waited patiently for ten minutes. What were they doing, relieving themselves? They could have done that out here. They waited another five minutes.

“Come on. We might as well see what is so interesting.” Elldar started for the trees.

Del shrugged and started to follow.

“No!” said Ela to Meliel. “Something does not feel right. Go get Orophin. He is just to the south.” Meliel turned and ran without questioning.

There was a shout from the east as Holelian came running towards the tree line. Del and Elldar turned and started for the forest. Ela watched horrified as arrows chased them across the open glen. The three elves turned back and started firing arrows in return. Ela knew her bow did not have the reach that a full-sized bow had. She watched, frustrated, as several more wardens joined in the fray. The attackers finally came into view. Men! Attacking Lórien? What were they thinking? It was now seven against several dozen.

Ela and Meliel had been told to remain in the trees; and she had intended to do so, until she saw one of the elves fall. Without thought, she ran out to him. By now, the men were engaging in close fighting. The bows were abandoned for knives and swords. Ela dodged one couple and avoided another to reach the one she had seen fall. Skidding to a stop over him, she dropped her bow and knelt down. The arrows that had entered his body had done their damage. The one to his gut would be the worse.

Opening his eyes, he gasped. “What are you doing out here? You were told to stay put!” The effort of yelling at her almost drove him to unconsciousness.

“Shut up, Del!” she cried. “You are in no position to tell me what to do. Stop talking.” She pulled his tunic up and tore the shirt underneath. Valar, it was bad! One arrow had narrowly missed the artery in his thigh; the other had torn through his abdomen.

Reaching for her small bag, her attention was drawn by the man making his way towards her. She had just enough time to grab her knife before he attacked. Swinging her knife around, she tossed it to her left hand. It was enough to throw the man off for the seconds she needed. Crouching down, she ran in under his right hand and slashed up. It would never have worked with someone she knew, but against a stranger, it could be deadly. She backed up as the surprised man toppled over, his insides now gracing his outside.

“Ela!” Too late, she heard Del yell. Spinning, she came face to face with another man.

“Demon-spawn!” he cursed, before clouting her along side her temple. Ela dropped just inches from Del. Disoriented, she turned and crawled to him. She had just reached him enough to touch him, when the man fell over the both of them, dropped by three arrows. The body missed the arrow in Del’s stomach, but gouged the arrow in his leg, tearing more muscle. Somehow, her hand found the arrow in his gut.


Chapter 15 - Chapter Fifteen

Ela looked up at the figure before her. She took in his pale skin and silver hair. Without a word between them, she knew who he was. Taking a moment to glance at their surroundings, she turned back towards the man.

“Adar.”

“Laeriell nîn, my Summer Girl. Long have I dreamed of seeing you again. You are as beautiful as your mother.” He smiled at her. Her gaze drifted from him back to the surroundings. She looked back at him in confusion.

“So, this is how it ends? I am cut down before I even begin? What of the things I am to accomplish?”

“No, Iell. It is not your time. You are not yet strong enough to do what you try. You must release the boy.”

She glanced at Del, standing beside her. “Let Del die? I cannot. If I let go, it will be to save myself. How could I live with myself if I did that?” Del looked at her, startled. “And what of Meliel? She loves him. It would tear her apart. No, I will trust that Eru has a purpose. If I am to live, it will not be at Del’s expense.”

Dorlandad smiled at her. “You choose well. You have made me proud. I could not have asked for a better daughter.”

“What of Naneth? Is she with you?”

“No. It is not her time, either.”

“Are you telling me my mother is still alive? But, how can that be? She drowned, long ago.” Ela’s thoughts were already ahead of any answer he would give. Her mother, still out there!

“No," he said, gently. "She did not drown.”

Ela was silent. “How do you know these things?” Suddenly she looked to her father.

“Is there a snake here?”

“A snake?” he asked, a small smile tugging his lips. “I do seem to recall one passing through. He was most unusual. He spoke of a strange girl who could talk to him.”

“Did he speak well of me?”

“He spoke of your kindness to him. That said enough.”

She turned back the way they had come. They could hear a faint voice, calling.

“That is for us,” she said, wistfully. “We must go. See, I told you Eru had a plan.” She looked back to her father.

“Are you happy, Iell?” he asked, tenderly. He felt as if a hand clutched his heart. How like her mother, his beloved Ceria, she looked. Tiny and fair, with the freckles he had so loved. But, how carefree this image of his wife looked. She had been spared the hard childhood her mother had suffered.
He ached with love for this daughter he had not been allowed to raise.

“I am happy, Ada.” Looking back towards the battlefield and the ones there, she turned back to her father. “And I will be happy in the future. The Lady and I have both seen it. I shall tell your mother I spoke to you. She loved you very much and told me great things of your father. And I told her small things of you.” She suddenly threw herself into her father’s arms. “I have missed you so much. I once asked Glorfindel if you could come back to me. He said, no. Many times I wanted to come to you, but others would not allow it.
And now, much as I miss you, I am drawn back."

Del gently pulled on her arm. “We have to go, Ela.”

“Always will I think well of you, Elrénia Dorlandadiell. Think of me when you hold your firstborn. I will be watching.” His voice faded into the whisper of the wind. “I love you.”

----


The sun beating down was torture. Ela felt she was suffocating. Her last memory was of the man striking her to the ground and her reaching out to Del. She knew that if she let him go, he would not return. The body falling across them had knocked the breath from her, and now she was struggling to breathe under its weight. The lack of air and the drain of keeping Del alive were slowly taking her life. Time dragged by and she thought the last thing she would ever experience was the sound of two voices: one calling, I love you, the other crying out from far away.


----

“Over here! I found them!”

Orophin and Elldar came running. Haldir was removing the bodies from a pile. Elldar reached to help him. The cut down his arm made the job difficult. Orophin paled when he saw the small hand with the bonding rings visible under the bodies. With renewed effort, they pulled the bodies away. Del gasped and shuddered.

“Pull her away from me!” he said through clenched teeth. “It is killing her.”

Haldir removed her hand from Del who immediately fell unconscious. He gently turned her over, checking her for wounds. She was not breathing. The only thing he found was a blow to her head, nasty, but not life threatening. With a gasp, she shuddered and opened eyes that did not focus.

“Adar?” She appeared disoriented.

“No, he is still in Imladris.”

“Del?” she whispered.

“He is alive, Ela. Why did you leave the protection of the forest?” Haldir asked quietly. He was not happy with her.

“He fell. They would have killed him.”

He smiled weakly.

“Rest now,” he said, gently picking her up. He carried her back to the station where riders from Caras Galadhon were setting up a tent to treat the worst of the injured.

Twenty-one men and two elves were dead. Those with superficial cuts from knives and grazes from arrows were sent back to the station.
Glordinel followed the stretcher holding Del’s unconscious form. If the young ellon made it through the night, it would be a miracle.

Glordinel started with Del. He removed the arrows. The one to the abdomen had managed to miss vital organs, but the greatest danger would be loss of blood. The leg wound was more serious. It took him some time to work the arrow out without nicking the artery. He packed the wounds with herbs and wrapped them in bandages. Time now would decide the boy’s fate.

“This boy should be dead,” the healer said quietly, turning to Orophin. He glanced at a weeping Meliel.

“I know.”

“How long did he lie there, before being found? Who kept him from bleeding out?”

"It had to have been two hours before they were missed." Orophin glanced down the line of wounded to where Elldar sat, awaiting the healer.
"Ela ran out when he fell. She took down one attacker before she also fell.

“Ela was injured? Why did no one tell me? Where is she?” Glordinel was visibly upset.

“She is back in a talan. She sustained a blow to the head and not breathing when we found her. She could not focus her eyes, but she was coherent. Enough so that she was worried about Del.”

“Did anyone send word to Rúmil?” He knew that nothing could stop the captain of the northern fences from coming once he heard the news.

“I did. He should be here before morning.”

“Most of the wounded are not serious. They can remain here for another day or so. I want Del and Ela back in the city today. A head blow is nothing to ignore. I will go check her now.” He glanced at Celeborn.

“Go. I will finish here. I think I can still wrap a wound well enough.” The ruler of Lórien smiled at the speed with which the healer left. He turned to Orophin.

“I have never seen him dote so on one of his students.”

“Have you noticed any who do not dote on her? She is spoiled beyond reason.”

“And you are one of the worst. Second only to Gariel.”

Orophin laughed. “She does spoil the girl, but I think Ela has spoiled us even more.” Shaking his head, he turned back to the cut he was stitching.

Glordinel made his way back through the trees to Celedien’s office where he found Haldir tending Ela. The warden had gently washed the gash on her left temple. It was deep, but short. The bleeding had slowed to a trickle, and a bruise was forming down her cheek. There were scrapes along her ear and a small patch of hair was gone, caught in her attacker’s wrist guard. A knot had formed below the cut.

“How is she?” Glordinel asked Haldir softly, sensing his reluctance to leave the girl.

“I could only find the head injury.” He moved to allow Glordinel to check her. “She was not supposed to be out there.”

“Maybe not, but if she had not been, Delinfel would not be with us now. He is still in danger, but he is alive, a fact for which his parents will be grateful. Yes, you have done well cleaning it up. It will require a stitch or two, but the damage will not be physical. Did she not have an adverse reaction before to a head blow?”

“It took her months to get over it, although a great part of that was due to the circumstances.”

“Do not talk about me as if I were not here,” she whispered.

“How do you feel, sell?” Glordinel’s voice was almost as soft as hers.

“Like someone backhanded me with a vambrace. Oh, wait, they did. Valar, it hurts. How is Del? I know he is still here. Just.”

“Do you feel him?”

“He is hovering.”

“Can you open your eyes?” Glordinel moved to block the softening light from the window.

“How long was I out there? It is so dark.”

Haldir moved to close the shutters on the windows.

Glordinel moved his fingers in front of her eyes. Haldir opened the shutters back up. There was no difference. It seemed the blow had done more than raise a knot. Glordinel rose and motioned for Haldir to follow him out.

“This could be temporary. I will know more once we are back in the city. I have seen it before. It could be days, weeks,” he hesitated, “or it could be permanent.”

“You will have to move farther off if you do not want me to hear,” she called, her voice strained. Glordinel went back in.

“You heard, did you?”

“You keep forgetting that one thing I have that works properly is my ears. Yes, I heard. Do not worry. It is temporary. It will just be an inconvenience for a while."

“We are heading back to the city soon and I want you to go. They have already left with Del.”

“Very well, but only because we must get this mess cleaned up before my birthday. If not, Rúmil will trade my blue dress for a grey, and I will not even know it.” She could not see the scowl that crossed Haldir’s face.

They left her to rest. A waiting Elldar looked up as they came back to the common area.

“How is she?”

“She will live. Let me see you arm.” Glordinel examined the cut and determined that it would not require stitches. He cleaned the blood away and sprinkled a powder on the wound. Wrapping it in clean strips of bandages, he patted the boy on the back.

“You were all lucky today. Del and Ela will recover. You stood yourself very well today, I am told. Your father is proud.”

“He would not feel that way if he had seen me.”

“But he did. He is the one who told me you had done well. And you may not know it, but it was your arrow that brought down the man that attacked Ela.”

“Then why was I so afraid?”

Glordinel peered into Elldar’s eyes. “Only a fool would have no fear. If you have no fear, then you do not think of yourself or those around you. The ellon with no fear is more dangerous than the enemy. He will take chances that endanger his allies. No, fear is to be desired. It keeps you aware.”

“Honestly?”

“Honestly," the healer chuckled. "Now go. Your friends are heading for the city. You may join them.”

“Thank you, Lord Glordinel. I see why Ela respects you so much.”

“She does? That is good to know.”

~*~*~*~*~*~

Elldar overtook the party escorting Del back. Meliel looked a little better. Elldar took his friend’s pack from her and slowed his pace to match hers. Shortly after, Haldir caught up to them. He was riding and carrying an unconscious Ela. Glancing up, Meliel could make out the cut on her head.

“Elldar, go straight to your mother and explain what happened. She may have heard something by now and will be upset. Tell her that you and Ela are alright.”

“Yes, uncle. Ela will be alright?”

“With some rest and quiet, Glordinel believes she will recover.”

Elldar took off at the distance-eating pace that was common with the wardens. Haldir watched him go. It would keep him from brooding about his friends.

“She is not alright, is she?”

Haldir looked down at Meliel.

“No, but Glordinel believes it is temporary. Most symptoms with blows like this are. We will know in a few days.”

“Are you angry with her for leaving the woods?”

“Yes, I am, but not her reasons for it.”

“She saved Del’s life. I will never be angry she disobeyed.” There was defiance in the girl's voice.

“How much farther?” asked Ela dreamily.

“Not far. Does your head hurt much?”

“Not unless a whole legion of Orcs dancing on it hurts much. Can we hurry? Do you remember Imladris?”

“Yes, I do, but if we hurry, you will become even more nauseated. I do not think that will do either of us any good.”

“No, I suppose not.” He could tell by her voice she was drifting off again. “Do you remember the dance when I was fifteen?” Her question startled him.

“Yes. You were trying not to dance on my feet.”

“Mmmm. You told me to look up and not watch my feet.” He nodded, forgetting she could not see him. “Today, I watched other than my feet and felt the music rush through me. I could feel the strength leave me and enter Del. It was the same rush of accomplishment I felt when I found I could dance. Today, I danced differently.”

“Yes, Ela. Today you danced.”

“The dance leads me in another direction. It pulls me away and then throws me back to the center.” She seemed to sleep. After several minutes, she said, “I still dream of that dance. What you said to me, what you did not say. I have never danced with another in the same way.” He felt her relax.

Glancing at Meliel, he saw a dawning on her face. She turned abruptly and went to Del.

Haldir looked down at Ela. A small drop of blood was seeping through the stitches. Her face was paler than usual. The dried blood matted her hair, turning it a dark brown. He noticed, not for the first time, surely, that she was no longer a girl.

He was drawn back to the incident in the woods when they had fallen. She had sounded angry, but his brother had just laughed at him. Something had happened that day. Something he still could not quite put in perspective. He had been too busy to dwell on it, but it stirred his thoughts now. Questions surfaced that he had put away. Why did he fight her so about the marches? Well, he had proven right on that account. Children did not belong there. Orophin had convinced him that they deserved the chance, and Rúmil had done his share. And what of his youngest brother? He had been skirting a dangerous area for a year now. Was he interested in her? Would he wait twenty more years?

He felt her stir again before settling back down. She was warm, lying in his arms. He could smell the faint aroma of lavender through the metallic scent of blood. He was aware the slightly musky odour was her favourite, and her brothers made sure she always had at least one bottle of the oil, but he had never taken much notice of it.

He knew she was in for a rough spell. The last time the nausea and headaches had kept her ill for several weeks. He hoped it would pass more quickly this time. She did not have Elrond’s house in which to hide.


***********************************


Haldir glanced up as they reached the gates. Nodding farewell to Meliel, he pushed the horse to a faster walk. He ignored the questions thrown to him by passing guards. Leave the explanations to Celedien and Orophin. One face he caught was obviously not pleased. He shook his head. He risked nudging the horse to a slow trot, but a low moan quickly changed his mind. He pulled the horse back to a walk. When he finally reached Glordinel’s infirmary, his patience was wearing thin. Elldar and Gariel were waiting for him. He handed Ela to his sister-in-law and dismounted. Without a word, he took her back once he was on the ground. Going into the long, low building, he went to the far back where it was darker. He laid her down on the bed and turned to Gariel.

“She will need clean clothes and her bathing kit. As soon as Glordinel will allow, she will want a bath.”

Gariel went to the bed. Their turn was to be a hard and uncomfortable two-week stint, unpleasant, but not dangerous. Yet Elldar came back injured and while he tried to assure her that Ela was not seriously hurt, Del was coming in on a stretcher and she had already heard that two others had been killed. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. She now looked down on the girl she had come to regard as a daughter. The cut on her temple was sewed shut, but the bruising under and around it was deepening. Gariel bit back a small cry when she saw the bare spot where Ela’s hair had been pulled out. However, what pained her most was how pale the girl was.

“What happened?” she asked, tearing her eyes from Ela to look at Haldir.

“You will need to ask your son and husband. They were there; I was not. I only went when the Lady sent me. I just chanced to be in the city.”

She looked at Elldar.

“We were on guard with Holelien and Dorelmin when they were attacked by men. We turned and made for the woods, but stopped to return fire. Father and other wardens came out and it turned into a hand-to-hand fight. When Del fell, Ela ran out. She was supposed to stay in the woods. They were not supposed to leave. I shot a man. I do not really know what happened after that.”

“The man you shot fell on me, that is what happened.” Elldar spun at her words. “This has been a most unpleasant experience. May I have some water?” Elldar went to find a cup.

“How do you feel?” asked Gariel.

“You tell her, March Warden.”

“Something about Orcs dancing on her head. She was incoherent coming in.”

“I was not. I remember everything. Do not blame my aching head for your confusion.”

“Here.” He took the cup of water from Elldar. “Remember to drink slowly. I do not have a basket.”

“You had better find one. I am not feeling so well.”

“I will get you one. Meanwhile, just breathe slowly and do not try to sit up.”

“Are you going to sit beside me and sing again?” she asked.

He looked slightly embarrassed. “Do you want me to?” he asked softly.

“It is not necessary. I was just curious. It was not un-enjoyable. But, I know you have more important things to do. How is Del?”

“He should be here any time. Glordinel says he will live, no small thanks to you. You realize that you disobeyed a direct order. You deserve to be punished.”

“Well, if you can think of something worse than this, go ahead and punish me. I rather think you cannot. Besides, your heart is not in it.”

“How do you know?”

His question went unanswered. She had drifted back to sleep. Setting the cup on a table, Haldir turned towards the entrance. Glordinel came through the door, followed by Galadriel. Del was laid down next to Ela. Meliel sat down in the chair close by.

“How was she on the ride in?” the healer asked Haldir.

“When I tried to hurry, she became ill. So we walked the entire way.”

“That is to be expected. It will pass. She kept down the water?”

Gariel nodded.

“Good. Now, they need rest, so I would like everyone to leave. Gariel, come back in a couple of hours. If she is awake, we will see about getting her cleaned up. Right now, rest is more important.”

When Meliel did not move, Gariel went over to her.

“Come. I will take you to see Del’s parents, and then you should go home to see your mother.”

Meliel reluctantly rose and let Gariel lead her out.

When they had all gone, Galadriel went to Del. She laid a hand on his forehead.

“He rests.”

“Yes,” said Glordinel.

She went to Ela. Hesitantly, she laid a hand on her forehead.

“This one does not.” Withdrawing her hand, she looked down at the girl. “Please let me know how they fare in a few hours.”

“Yes, Lady.” He watched as she left.

****
“How long have you been here?” Rúmil started awake.

“All night. How is your head?” He stretched.

“The dancing has subsided. How is Del?”

“Still unconscious. Meliel was here late last night. Glordinel finally sent her back home.”

“She is worried.”

“You are not?”

“He will recover. As will I. Is your brother still angry with me?”

“I do not believe so. He realizes why you disobeyed. Of course, you may have to deal with Celedien. He is in a state. He did not want you out there from the beginning. You will be hard pressed to find a commander willing to let you back on the fences.”

“My current condition makes the issue moot at the moment: which should make your brother happy. Have you seen Lord Glordinel this morning?”

“He is outside. Do you need him?”

“I need a bath. He said Gariel would see to it when I was ready. I am past ready. And I am hungry.”

“Just a moment.” He went to find the healer.

Ela slowly sat up. Having only a small bout of nausea, she took her time swinging her legs over the side of the bed. By the time Rúmil had returned, she was sitting, waiting.

“Let me see your head,” said Glordinel. He checked the stitches and bruising on her temple. “Nausea?”

“A little. Nothing like the last time.” She licked her dry lips, and then swallowed the slight nausea that threatened to erupt.

“Dizziness?”

“Not too much.”

“Then you may go when Gariel arrives. But nowhere else.”

“Thank you. What of some breakfast? I would settle for some bread and tea.”

“I will take care of it. Then I want you back in bed.”

“So the library is out of the question?”

“If I catch you anywhere but here, the dancing Orcs will return.”

She started to laugh, and then caught herself.

“Oh, that hurt.”

“Well, now I know how to curb that tongue of yours.” He smiled at her. “I want you to rest. Just a few days will make a great difference.”

“I know. It is just so boring. I cannot read. I cannot write. I cannot do anything.”

“You can listen for Del. I have some errands to run. If he wakes up, you have enough training to know what to do. Rúmil can help you.”

“Very well. Maybe things will be better after a bath.”

“They usually are.”



****

Del slowly crawled back up from the pit in which he had been hiding. It had been so hard to return. The lights that had beckoned him forward had been so inviting. The closer he had gone, the less pain he felt. He remembered the fight. The searing pain as the arrow had ripped through his thigh, then the cold from the second arrow. Then he looked up and saw a Valar. Except the colours were wrong. No, it was a Maia. But, that could not be right. Then he realized it was only Ela, which made no sense whatsoever. She had been ordered to stay in the trees. Poison! That was it. The arrows had carried poison and he was dying. Or dreaming. Or hallucinating. What does one do when dying of poisoning? Whatever it was, she was a part of it, kneeling over him, telling him to shut up. Well, that sounded right. She reached for her medicine bag, then grabbed her knife. He watched her kill the man using a trick that most of the guards had learned to guard against. It had saved her life this time. However, she had not seen the second man. Then he remembered her hand reaching out and falling on him, then the man dropping on the both of them. There was a confused period when he was somewhere beautiful with Ela. And an ellon, but he could not remember anything else. The last thing he recalled was looking up from the deep pit and seeing Meliel, calling to him.

He finally opened his eyes. It was dark in the building. He could make out the sunlight through the door at the far end, so he knew it was daytime.
Other than that, he had no idea even what day it was. He gave a low moan.

“Del?” He looked over at the voice.

“Ela? You are all right?”

“Better than you. I was not stupid enough to be struck by two arrows, just clubbed over the head. How do you feel?”

“Punctured.”

He watched her stand up from the chair. She teetered slightly before regaining her balance. There was a wide bandage wrapped around her eyes. Before she could take a step, Rúmil came into Del’s line of sight. He took Ela’s arm and led her to the bed. She pulled back the sheet and laid her hand on his abdomen. Feeling around she gave a nod.

“It is healing nicely. You will carry a scar, but you will live.”

“What is wrong with your eyes?”

“Just a little side effect from the blow. The light hurts, so Lord Glordinel wrapped them for me.” It was a little white lie that she hoped he would not see through, but she gave him not enough credit. He knew how bad head injuries could be, and the effects of them. He glanced at Rúmil, who shook his head.

“Your parents were here, and I think Meliel spent the night. You had them worried.”

“But not you.” His voice carried a surety he did not understand.

“Well, I know how you feel about Meliel, and how she feels about you. I knew you could not leave her.

“How do you know these things?”

“It is a gift. According to some, not a very desirable one, but a gift nonetheless.”

Del laughed.

“At least you can laugh. I almost passed out yesterday. Do you need anything? Would you like some water?”

“How long was I out?”

“It has been three days.”

“Then, yes, I want water. Is food out of the question?”

“No. You may have the same thing they are forcing me to eat: bread and weak broth.”

“Is that necessary?”

“Of course not. But, misery loves company, and if I have to eat it, so do you. Rúmil, do you mind?”

“No. I will be back with something for both of you.”

“Does it hurt much?” asked Del when he had gone.

“It is uncomfortable. If I remember to move slowly, it is not too bad.”

The silence stretched awkwardly.

“So,” she finally said. “What was the rumour you were not supposed to tell me?”

“That was a mistake on my part. Can you not just forget it?”

“I find out the most interesting things by mistake. Now, what was it?”

“I cannot tell you. Meliel will be angry.”

“Are you so enamoured of her that you cannot even think on your own?” Ela allowed a tone of disgust to colour her voice.

“Yes,” he whispered.

“Good,” she answered softly. “It is forgotten. Now, here is Rúmil. Eat, and then rest.” She returned to her chair.

She heard the tray set down on the table next to her. Shaking her head, she sat back against the wall. Well, now she knew that Del was as serious as Meliel. At least her friend would not get hurt.


Chapter 16 - Chapter Sixteen

By the end of a week, both Del and Ela were chaffing at staying in. Glordinel finally let Del go home to his parents and Ela was back in her own room. There was a small improvement in her condition. She could distinguish between light and dark. She was bored and had taken to attending the Lady’s visits with Gariel again. Rúmil had gone back north after three days. Haldir was in the east with Celedien and Orophin, investigating the battlefield. Elldar was with them. Meliel was at Del’s most of the time. There was just nothing for her to do.

“Well, cat, is this your life? Just laying around and waiting for me to come and pay attention to you? Why do you stay?” She scratched the cat behind the ears. Her fingers found the spot under the cat’s throat that was rumbling. It always calmed her to feel the cat purr.

She jumped up when she heard Gariel return.

“I am so glad you are home!” she exclaimed. “I am bored.

“I am going to the gardens later. Do you want to go?” Gariel started laying the table for lunch.

“I suppose, if there is nothing else to do. When will Elldar return?”

“Probably tonight. There," she said, finishing with the table. "Now, I am going to the garden to get vegetables for supper. Would you like to help?"

“Did Meliel bring my dress? I would go get it, but…” she smiled, shrugging.

“Yes. You can see it later. Come on, you can help me in the garden.”

Ela followed her out to the back. Gariel knelt down to pick beans from the stalks. She had planted the vegetables around the trees in the backyard. She filled a basket and glanced over to see how Ela was doing. Ela had gone to another tree and started picking. Her basket was almost as full as Gariel's.

“How can you tell they are ready?” Gariel asked.

“They feel right. If you touch them, they will tell you. Can you not do it?”

“No.” She observed Ela picking for several moments, noticing that she did not pick any under-ripe pods.
Satisfied, she went back to her own plants. It took them little more than an hour to finish. Ela had started weeding around the plants and Gariel noticed that she could tell the difference in the plants. Did the Lady would know of this?



****

“What do you see?”

“I see your hand blocking the light, Lord Glordinel. Nevertheless, I can see it. The light still hurts, but not as much.”

“I want you to avoid any direct sunlight for another week. Then we will check your eyes again. And no reading.”

“But who will label your bottles for you?” she teased.

“You are not the only one that can write. I have been known to do so when I could not find a hapless apprentice to do the drudgework. That will not stop you from washing bottles, though. I will see you tomorrow morning. Before light.”

“Is that possible? That you would be up that early that you would know whether I showed up or not?”

“Have you had any dizziness or nausea this week?”

“Some, earlier, but none today or yesterday. I think the injury was not as severe as the last time.”

“According to Haldir, there were other circumstances contributing to severity of your reaction before. You did not have those circumstances this time. You are recovering quicker than I would have thought you would, however I am not one to complain for minor blessings. I will see you tomorrow.”

“Early. Who would have thought this would be all it took to get you out before noon? I should have thought of it years ago.”

He shook his head and went out on the porch to speak with Gariel.

"You have not given me an easy job. She is pulling at the bit to do anything. I have been hard pressed to keep her in the house.” Gariel glanced towards the door.

“It is just for a little while longer.”

“I forgot to ask,” came from the house, “how is Del?”

“He is moving around.”

“Good. I have wondered.”

“Go rest, Ela.” called Gariel.

“May I go to the gardens this evening?”

“As long as it is close to sundown. Now rest.”

“I am going,” came a pouting voice.

“I am glad her injury was not more serious, or worse yet, permanent.”

“She does not deal well with immobility, does she?” chuckled Glordinel.

“Only when reading. As you have forbidden that, she has nothing else to occupy her.”

“That is about to change. I heard that a runner came in from the west. Elrond’s sons arrived this morning.
They think to surprise her.”

“I believe they are the ones who will be surprised. Do you know that she was picking beans and weeding
yesterday? With the blindfold on. And did not miss a bean or weed.”

“Rúmil said that she examined Del last week and never laid eyes on him. The Lady said that there are things hidden in her head that even Ela does not know about.”

“I am not sure I want to know what they are.”

Glordinel laughed. “I know what you mean. Just try to keep her indoors.”

“Easier said than done.” She walked him to the end of the path. “I will bring her down in the morning.”

“Until then,” he said, turning towards his home.

“Are you resting?” asked Gariel, entering the house.

“Yes, Nana. It is all I can do.”

“Good. You do not want a headache to stop you from going out this evening.”

“It will not.”



****



“Are you sure you do not mind going out so late?” Ela asked Orophin. She trailed him and Gariel.

“Yes, I am sure. I have seen little enough of the gardens lately.”

“I can find my way there on my own. You really do not have to take me.”

“I do not mind, Ela.”

There were not many in the formal gardens. It was late, but with the full moon expected, there was more than enough light. Even Ela had no trouble seeing her way. She trailed the older couple, stopping occasionally to touch a flower. They had decided to pack a small basket and eat in the gardens. Gariel and Ela had just laid out the food when a voice broke into their quiet.

Suddenly, Ela stood and looked back the way they had come. A smile broke out on her face. She walked back down the path. Orophin stood to follow her, when Gariel laid a hand on his arm.

“It is all right. She is fine.”

They listened to the laughter gradually getting louder. From around a bend in the path, Ela walked, flanked
by Arwen’s brothers.

Orophin, still standing, nodded to them and smiled.

“You made good time,” he said.

“I do not think so,” commented Ela. “You have been here since before midday. Did you see Arwen?”

“We just left there. She looks good.”

“She always does. It comes of being so beautiful, but not knowing it.”

“Have you eaten?” asked Gariel.

“Grandmother would not let us leave without eating something. However, if you have wine, we would not turn that down. Ela, I have a letter for you from Rosa.” Elladan reached into his tunic, while Gariel poured wine for everyone. Fishing the letter out, he handed it to Ela.

“Thank you, but you will have to read it to me. I am forbidden to read for another week.”

“And we thought Lord Erestor was tough.”

“Lord Glordinel could use some lessons from Lord Erestor on teaching methods. However, I did nothing
wrong, unless you talk to the March Warden. But, you are not interested in my doings. Tell me about Rosa and the
Shire.”

“Well, I will not read your letter, it is to you, but I will tell you what I know. Rosa is wedding. She found
a nice young man from over by Brandybuck. Gradin and Letty are very happy. They like the boy. And Rosa’s
sister Ella is excited about the wedding. However, her brother could care less.”

“I am so happy for her. And that Gradin and Letty are happy. I bet it will be an affair to remember.”

“Well, you will get the chance to see. Rosa asked us to see if you would like to attend.”

“I would love to, but I do not want to leave Lórien. The last experience was less than appealing.”

“You have a year to decide. The wedding is set for next summer,” added Elrohir. “Meanwhile, what are
these rumours we hear concerning you?”

“I do not know. Del refuses to tell me. As do Meliel and Elldar. I really must find more trustworthy
friends. I intended to find out, but then it just did not seem important anymore.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The rumours. It started a fight between Meliel and Del, then Elldar and Del. Poor Del, he cannot win.
Then after they brought him back to the city, I started in on him, but it was not the same. I dropped it. I will find out on my own. I did find out that he is serious about Meliel, and she is very serious about him. Elldar is hiding out on the eastern fences. Everyone has deserted me and so I cannot find out anything about anybody.”

Elrohir took a moment to digest what she had said.

“Ela, I think he means what happened last week,” said Gariel.

“I know what he meant. I do not want to discuss it. There are enough people willing to talk about it.” She turned back to the twins. “So, how is the west?”

“It is quiet. How is the east?”

“Not discussable. Where are you staying?”

“With Arwen for now.”

“Come on, Ela,” said Gariel, catching her trying to hide a yawn. “It is late, and you need to get to bed.
Lord Glordinel said before dawn.”

“Very well. I will see you both tomorrow. It is good to see you,” she said.

“And you, also. Good night.”

Gariel led Ela back down the path. She knew that the twins were anxious to question Orophin. Now was as good a time as any.



****

“Here you are.” Ela looked up at Elladan as he came through the door.

“Were you looking for me?” She finished washing up the small bottles and jars that would hold Glordinel’s medicines.

“You were a little less than forthcoming last evening.” He stood propped against the jamb.

She turned back to her bottles.

“I said I did not want to discuss it. It is done and I would rather forget it. It was not one of my finer moments.”

“Are you ashamed?” He prodder her, hoping to get a rise.

“No," she said, refusing the bait. "Just reluctant to talk about it. Can we drop it?”

“I can. Elrohir will not. Neither will Ada.”

“Then you may inform them that any mention of the subject, and I will make myself scarce.”

“Of what are you afraid?” he asked softly.

She sighed. “I am afraid of nothing. Except being badgered to death. Just drop it.” Her slightly irritated tone warned him to do just that.

“Very well. But it would have been worth the trade for the information I have.”

She looked at him suspiciously.

“What information?”

“I know what Del knows.” He was satisfied with the look of interest that sparked in her eyes.

“Tell me.”

“You talk to me, I talk to you.”

She sighed again. “What do you want to know?”

“Why?”

“My inborn need to defy authority.”

“You have never defied authority.”

“Well, that is the answer with which I am staying. Anything else you will have to find out another way.”

“Not good enough. My secret stays with me.”

She shrugged. “Keep it. I care not about it anymore. It was stupid to argue from the start. Tell me or not.”

“You are a most exasperating creature.”

“You are not the first to make that claim. Excuse me.” She went into the study. “Lord Glordinel, I have a headache. I am going home. Will you need me tomorrow?”

“Only if you feel up to it. I will walk you home.”

“That will not be necessary. It is not far. And I will close my eyes.”

“Very well. Have a pleasant evening.” He glanced through the door to Elladan.

“I hope so. You, also.” She turned and gathered her few things.

“I will walk with you,” said Elladan, still waiting in the outer room.

“I am sure you have other things to do. I will see you later. Will you come for dinner?”

“If you want.”

“Until later, then.” She walked past him. He saw her grab the doorjamb as she went through the door. She straightened up and stepped carefully off the porch. He gave her several moments, then followed. She walked unerringly down the road and up the side street that led to Orophin’s home. He waited until she was in the house, then went to talk to his brother.


****


“I tell you, she is not right.”

Elrohir shushed his brother as they approached the house.

“Well, you cannot discuss it here, in front of her. Wait until later.”

Elladan frowned, but did as his brother bid. He managed to put on a smile as they entered the garden to the rear. It was already crowded and noisy. Meliel had finally gotten Del down from his parents’ talan. Elldar was wrestling with his eldest uncle in a far corner. Lindelen was helping Gariel with the table. Only Ela seemed missing.

They made their way over to Orophin, watching his son and brother.

“Where is Ela?”

“She came home with a headache. Gariel made her lie down. She is not happy.”

“Does she seem right to you?”

“Elladan,” his brother warned.

“Well, I am concerned.”

“No, she does not,” said Haldir. “It will be taken care of tomorrow.”

“What is wrong?”

“You will have to ask Ela or the Lady. It is between them.”

Elrohir pulled his brother a distance away and started whispering in his ear. A look of understanding lit Elladan’s face.

“Did you get it settled?” asked the March Warden, just a hint of condescension tinting his voice.

“Well enough.” Elladan was not willing to let it go entirely, just yet.

“It happened before. She will get over it.”

“My window is open. If you insist on talking about me, move to another corner of the garden.” They turned to see her standing with her hands on her hips.

“You are looking good tonight,” said Elrohir, trying to defuse the situation.

“I do not.”

“Did you get a chance to try your new sword?”

“Master Unimandil has shown a curious reluctance to allow me on the fields. It seems the guards and hunters would rather not have someone using a sword or aiming a bow without the ability to see where she is aiming. Of course, I have seen some of them shoot and that does not stop them.” She smiled to take the bitterness from her words.

“Dinner is ready,” announced Lindelen. The subject of the conversation was lost as everyone gathered around the food table. Orophin had set up three more tables for seating. Elldar got his food and quickly took the table farthest from the others. Meliel followed Del, carrying his plate. Gariel took Ela’s plate from her and asked her to get a drink. Rescued from trying to navigate her slightly dizzy body and balance a plate at the same time, Ela hoped no one else noticed.

Dinner progressed at an enthusiastic, noisy pace. By the time she had finished eating, Ela was tired and her head was pounding. Picking up her plate and utensils, she went to Gariel and whispered in her ear. Gariel rose and followed her into the house. Elrohir noticed that two sets of eyes seemed overly interested in their leaving. He understood Elladan’s interest; it was the March Warden’s that concerned him.

“Elldar, tell us of this big battle.” Elrohir thought to take the interest from the house.

Between Elldar and Del, they got a very animated version of the events that had taken place over a week ago. Elldar told of mostly dodging arrows, until he got his one good shot. Del laughed about the view of the battle from the perspective of lying flat on the ground. Meliel chimed in when they forgot what she considered an important detail.

“What of Ela?” asked Elladan.

The three of them became silent.

“She was there,” said Del, quietly. He said nothing else.

“Meliel?”

“She told me to get Orophin.”

“Elldar?” he asked, exasperated.

“I did not see her.”

“I have to go home,” said Del. “Meliel, are you ready?” She nodded.

“I will walk you home,” offered Elldar. They silently took their dishes into the house and left.

“What was that about?” asked Elrohir.

“Ela does not want to talk about it, so they will not talk at all. It is curious.” Orophin looked at Haldir, who looked the other way.

“Well, I hope this is all straightened out before Ada arrives. He will not let things lie.”

Elladan looked pointedly at Haldir.

“I have an early appointment. I will see you later.” The March Warden rose to his feet. Nodding to his brother and his guests, he went around the side of the house.

“Well, he is no more forthcoming than they are.”

“I have never seen the four of them agree on anything. And, everyone knows that Del cannot keep silent. That led to an argument on their way to the east. One Ela is reluctant to pursue any longer.”

“I tried to bribe her earlier today, and she said she was not interested in my offering.”

“Hopefully Lady Galadriel will shed some light on the matter.”


Chapter 17 - Chapter Seventeen

“Good morning, Elrénia.”

“Good morning, Lady,” she replied, bowing slightly. “Thank you for seeing me.”

“With all that has happened, it seems your purpose in seeking me out is overdue.” The Lady smiled, trying to set the girl at ease.

“It does seem that way. Things have…interfered. I am no longer sure which direction to turn.”

“What are your desires?” Galadriel watched Ela carefully.

“To return to my father’s house. To have the life I was meant to have. The one stolen from me.” Ela continued standing.

“Is that possible?”

“Well do you know it is not.” She paced about the room. “Things have taken place that change me. I am uncertain of the course that I have chosen. The headaches are unbearable.”

“And yet, you have not gone to Glordinel.”

“No. There is nothing he can do.” She stopped, looking at the Lady. “The nausea returns, also. Not from the injury, but the press of those around me.”

“Do you want it blocked, once again?” asked Galadriel, already knowing the answer.

“That is no answer. There is enough hiding yet to be, I would not have it start now.”

“You know what you will surrender. Are you willing?”

“Only reluctantly. Will you discuss what you learn?”

“Only if you ask me. Nothing will ever leave me, otherwise.”

Ela’s emotions fought, her desire for independence with the desire to end her suffering. She had lived with her hidden secrets for so long, she was confused in how to feel; should she be relieved another would know how she had suffered, or ashamed another would see the secrets she had kept from Elrond. She nodded and lay down on the small couch. Closing her eyes, she felt the Lady’s presence move towards her. Tensing up, she forced herself to relax. She welcomed the Lady into her mind, albeit grudgingly. Then she felt nothing.

Galadriel was met with the same swirl of chaos as the first time. She slowly pushed it aside until she found herself in a long corridor. Her footsteps echoed softly. Walking along the polished floor, she glanced at the doors that lined the hall. All were closed, of differing colours and most carried locks. It seemed she had walked for hours before the scenery changed. There, in the middle of the hall sat a small girl in a chair. Approaching the child, Galadriel bowed.

“Hello,” she said.

The child cocked her head, as Galadriel had seen Ela do many times.

“Does she know you are here?”

“Do you mean Ela?” The child nodded. “She asked me to come. Do you object?”

“I suppose not. If she said it is all right.”

“Do you have a name?”

“You may call me Cera. It is one of many. Do you think to unlock the doors?”

“If necessary.”

“I would caution you to use extreme care. Some of these doors will open the world to her. Others will destroy her. How will you
know the difference?”

“A guide would be most helpful. Do you know the difference?”

“Aye. Nevertheless, it will not be easy. Some doors that should be opened will be difficult to unlock. Others that should remain
closed, will spring open with only a touch.”

“What are the doors?” Galadriel glanced around at the many doors.

“They are the memories. Of her, and her parents. Even farther back, if it is important.”

“How is this possible?”

“It is in her parentage; the blending of different races. An aberration. Her elven father gave her the sensitivity to feel others and heal. Her Indrel mother gave her the gift to touch other species. Her great-grandmother gave her a gentle and caring spirit. Through her veins runs the blood of the races of Arda. The noble elves, the simple Hobbits, the young men, even does she carry the blood of Haran. All, save the Dwarfs. And there is yet another. One not known to us. A Maia. He gave her a gift that has not yet manifested itself. One you will not be able to suppress. A gift that has the potential to destroy her and hers.” Cera stared into Galadriel’s eyes. “Are you sure this is the correct path to
take?”

“No. However, it is her choice. Do you have another option?” Galadriel wondered at the ease and comfort she felt talking to this child. A child that seemed older that ever her venerable years. She could feel the press of centuries emanate from the small form before her.

“No. I would offer advice. Do not open any black doors. I cannot stop you, but it will be of little help if we three are dead.” This was said so matter-of-factly, it took Galadriel several breaths to grasp the implications.

“May I ask a personal question?”

“I am not real. Would you think me offended?”

“Who, or what, are you?”

“To you, I am who she was when her first world ended. I am the embodiment of all her happy memories from her childhood. I hold the keys to the doors before you. I control the memories of her ancestors. I know the thoughts of her mother’s people back generations. All that has been handed down from daughter to daughter since the time of the Wild King out of Harad. Histories have been written and forgotten since then. I am what keep the doors locked, until needed. However, things are not as they should be. Two incidents in her second world have shaken loose my control. I cannot now open the right doors.” The child’s mask slipped and concern filled her eyes. “Can you help her?”

“What must I do?”

“She will not be thankful for it, but you must seal the doors until I have had time to repair the damage. Then, when the time is right, I will be able to function.”

“That was not her desire.” Galadriel was hesitant.

“I am aware of that. Have you always known what is best for you? Sometimes we must rely on the wisdom of others.”

“How old are you?”

“If you think of me in terms of appearance, you will make grave errors. I am her, all her memories and experiences. But, this is the age she was most happy. Therefore, I am. Now, I will show you doors that must not be sealed. They are few. Come.”

Galadriel found herself following the small child. Cera stopped in front of several bright blue doors. She laid her hand against them, and motioned for Galadriel to do the same. There were four dark blue, almost black doors that she also indicated. The last were two white doors. Then Cera led her back up the corridor to the chair.

“What were the doors?” asked the Lady.

“The white doors are her everyday memories. The innocent happenings she needs to exist. The light blue ones are things she will need in the near future. Without these, she will not be able to make several life-affecting decisions. The dark blue doors are devastating incidences in her past that she must remember. Without the knowledge of these things, her life may be forfeit. They are her parents’ deaths, the attack in Imladris and the betrayal of her friend. Are you still sure you want to do this?”
“Will it help her, now?”

“It will. But you will suffer her withdrawal from you.”

“I am not thinking of me, I am thinking of her.”

“That is well. I am pleased. And she will return one day. Amidst great tragedy for her, but you will be the one to whom she turns. Another thing. It is a great burden for you to bear. You alone will know what is behind those doors. You must never divulge it. Not even to her. It may set in motion things not yet ready, and it will shatter her trust.”

“Very well. Shall we start? I am feeling weary.”

“Yes. Follow me.”

Cera once again lead the way. She stopped at the last door. Each placing a hand on the doors, Galadriel drew runes on the door that Cera had written out for her. They continued with each door, until they came to the first dark blue one Cera had indicated. Here Galadriel drew different runes. As she finished, the door dissolved and she could see into the small room beyond. Within an instant she had seen the death of Ela’s father. Part of it mirrored what she had seen in Imladris years ago. She watched as Ela awoke after the storm to find her mother gone, drowned in the sea; heard the frightened cries of the child, screaming for her parents; saw the days spent alone in a boat on the rough seas with no food and little water. She witnessed the finding of the girl by her grandsons, smiling as she watched the scene unfold just as they had described it. Shaken, she followed Cera to the next door.

They continued until reaching the second dark door. As before, when finished writing the runes, she could see into the room. She saw the man attack Ela, saw the thoughts in his head; felt Ela’s loathing as the man touched her. She watched Ela stab the man; feeling her reluctance to take a life, even to save her own. But worse of all, she saw what the girl had seen when looking at Caldelen. The smile of satisfaction. So, that was what she had hidden from Elrond all these years.

The third dark door was next. The scene here was the library the day Ela left Imladris. The brutal way Caldelen handled her shocked Galadriel. But once again, it was the thoughts that struck her. She was almost physically sick at what was in his mind. And Ela had seen all of this.

The final dark blue door showed the battle on the eastern marches. Galadriel watched Ela run out onto the battlefield without a
thought to her own safety. She only saw Del. Then the man attacked. She saw Ela strike the man, but also felt her great reluctance and loathing at the deliberate taking of a life. And the pain when the second man attacked with the words ‘demon-spawn’. Galadriel was confused by the man standing in the hall. She did not know the place, but the man held a familiarity. Shock compounded her confusion when she realized that Ela recognized who the man was. The Lady finally grasped how close both Ela and Del had come to dying on the field.

They moved on and came to the white doors. When viewed, Galadriel saw the little things that made up Ela’s daily life. Just simple things all took for granted. The happy memories of her childhood, the things she cherished about her life in Imladris and here in Lórien.

The lighter blue doors were different. Galadriel was not sure what she saw. Sometimes there were duplicates of the people in the room. One saw Ela standing at the wards, but overlapping it was her crossing the Misty Mountains, alone. Another saw her with a man, wedded, but again, an overlapping that showed her dying. One that startled the Lady showed a man holding a dying child. She did not need to look twice to recognize the man, nor was there an overlapping to this room. Weak now, she followed Cera back to the chair.

“The blue rooms, they were confusing.”

“Sometimes there is a choice made, but it requires another to make it come to pass. Those rooms with overlapping scenes show divergent paths. She makes a choice, but because of another, it fades and another path is taken. If there is no overlapping, then that is what will be.”

“Fifteen years ago, there was a path that showed many strange things. What was that?”

“It is one of the doors that will not open any time soon. It is a glimpse of what is to be. Very few living now will see it. It is the world that will be after the withdrawal of all lesser races, when men will be left to their own devices. That door is a legacy from her grand-sire. Once you know who he is, you will know it for the curse it is. NEVER open that door.”

Galadriel was now to the point she almost swooned.

“I must go. Will I speak with you again?”

“I would hope the need does not arise, however, I will always be here.”

“Goodbye, Cera.

“Goodbye, cousin,” she said softly, as Galadriel faded.



****



When Glordinel went to fetch Ela from the Lady, he found her serving the Lady tea. He bowed and looked closer at Ela. She seemed different.

“Lady, I trust all went well.”

“Not as expected, but it is well for now. Ela, did you not have something to ask my husband?”

“Yes. You will excuse me. Thank you, Lady, for your aid,” she said to Galdariel. “I will only be a moment,” she said to Glordinel.

The Lady turned to the healer when she was gone.

“I have suppressed certain things for now. You will notice she is more as she was before the trip to Imladris. She remembers
everything, but the headaches will be gone and the overwhelming emotions from others.

“Is this a good thing?”

“It is best for now. When she is ready, the bars will again fall. If you do notice anything unusual, you will inform me.”

“Yes, my Lady.”

“I am ready,” said Ela, coming back to the small room where Glordinel waited for her.

“Well, then, we shall go. There is much to do today. My apprentice has been very lax of late.” He smiled, taking her hand on his arm.



****



“You are very chipper this morning.” Ela turned from sorting herbs to see Elrohir in the doorway.

“I feel better,” she said, smiling.

“You must have rested well last night.”


“That is all I have been doing for over a week. I am going mad. I think I would like to go riding.”

“Are you sure that is wise?” Concern coloured his voice.

“Wise or not, I want to go. I have done nothing for almost two weeks now. Surely, a short, easy ride would do me some good.
Maybe just to the eastern marches.

“I do not think you should.”

“Then it is best for me if I do not ask you.” She turned and went to Glordinel’s study. She stopped at the door.

“You did not eat again today, did you? Maybe you need a wife. Someone who will remember all the things you tend to forget, like eating and getting out of bed at a decent hour.”

“What I need is an obedient apprentice who knows her place,” he said, gruffly.

“I am sorry. You are stuck with me. May I go riding? Only to the eastern marches and very easy.”

“I have many things here that need attending. I do not see how I can spare you.”

“I will fetch you lunch,” she said in a singsong voice.

“Oh, very well,” he returned, resignedly. “Your lack of activity is wearing on me, anyway. A nice, slow ride. And only to the marches.”

“Thank you. I will return with your lunch.”

“See?” she said to Elrohir. “It is not what, but whom, you know.”

“I know what your problem is. No one has ever told you no. What will happen when they do?”

“Lots of people have told me no. No, I cannot go to the marches. No, I cannot stay in Imladris. I even tried to wheedle permission to go to Mirkwood, but for some reason was told no.” She started down the road that led to the lane home.

“You outflanked the March Warden and was able to go to the marches. You know why you were sent here. And I cannot imagine why you wanted to go to Mirkwood.”

“Because it is not here. Funny. I used the line on Lord Celeborn once and it worked. I should have thought of it this time.”

“I want to hear you ask Orophin or Gariel to go riding. Or Haldir.”

“In the first place, Orophin and Gariel would tell me to ask Lord Glordinel. And why would I ask Haldir? He is not my father. It should not concern him what I do.”

“For the sake of argument, I would like to hear what he has to say.”

“Are you here just to cause trouble? I can find enough of that on my own. I do not need your help.”

“That is a certainty. Still, would it not be fun to ask him?”

“Fun? You have a bizarre sense of fun. The last time he had fun with me involved a tree house. And,” she said at the look on his face, “I was fifteen at the time. So, put whatever thoughts trying to sneak out of your mind back in.”

“What do you mean?” he asked innocently.

She shook her head at him. Reaching the house, she went inside, followed by him.

“Gariel, do you have lunch ready?”

“Yes,” she answered, looking up from the kitchen table. “Hello, Elrohir.”

“Is there extra?”

“Did he forget to eat again?”

“What will he do when I am gone? I will return to find he has wasted away in that study of his, and no one will have noticed.”

“Oh, I think someone would notice.” Gariel managed to hide the look of panic at Ela’s mention of leaving, but it did not escape
Elrohir’s gaze. So, it would not be as easy as Ela supposed to leave. Gariel would fight her.

“I will take lunch down to him, but only because he is allowing me to go riding today.”

“Is he? Are you ready?”

“Yes. I am so tired of doing nothing. Master Unimandil will still not allow me on the fields. So, I thought a short ride to see Orophin would do.”

“Yes, that will prove interesting. Go put your things away and eat your lunch. Will you stay, Elrohir?”

“Only if you insist.”

Ela left the room.

“What is so interesting on the eastern marches?” he asked.

“My brother-in-law, and not the younger one. He will not be happy to see her.”

“Then I shall be sure to ride along. I have not had enough entertainment since arriving.”

“What entertainment are you talking about?” asked Ela, coming back into the kitchen.

“Just the joy of being around you once again,” said, around his food.

“What are you up to?” She gave him a suspicious look.

“Can I not enjoy being around you?”

She flitted her hand at him.

“Have you asked your future husband to wed you yet?”

They both looked at Gariel as she choked on her sandwich.

“That is none of your business, big brother,” she said, looking back at Elrohir. “And if this was Ada’s idea, he will know when it is time. You know me better than that.”

“It is just that, at his age, do you think he will wait another twenty years?”

“I rather think his other prospects at this time are undesirable. He will have to go far a field to find one as biddable as me.”

Now it was Elrohir’s turn to choke.

“You! Biddable? I think you have mistaken yourself for someone else.”

“Well, if he will not, there are other places to find a husband. In addition, who says I need one anyway? I am only thirty. Arwen is almost three thousand. I have a few years yet. Yes, that may be the best thing. I will wait. That way I can become a warden. I can return to Imladris. I may even go and see the Hidden Havens.”

“Do not forget your suitor in the White Mountains. He seemed very interested.”

“He was. And, I can tell you it was not interest in me. Frankly, I repulsed him. He cringed to his very core the one time he touched me. No, it was not me he wanted. And I have no interest in playing a pawn in a power struggle between two men bent on ruling a people that will be dead within a couple hundred years.”

“You know that will happen?” he said, skeptically.

“It is likely.”

“How do you know?”

“I cannot tell you that. But I can tell you that I am finished eating and ready to go riding. I can just drop Lord Glordinel’s lunch off on the way. I will be back for supper, Gariel. I will clean up.” She gave the older woman a kiss on her forehead.

“You will be careful?” asked Gareil.

“It is only a short ride out and back. What could happen? I will not venture past the wards.” She picked up the basket with
Glordinel’s lunch packed inside. “Besides, I am looking forward to dinner. I have a grave matter to discuss with your brother-in-law, and not the younger one.” She smiled slyly.

Elrohir stared at her.

“Now, if you are coming with me, I suggest we leave. It would not do to disobey Lord Glordinel because we are tardy.”

She walked from the house, knowing he would follow her.


Chapter 18 - Chapter Eighteen

****

Haldir had decided that there was nothing more he could learn on the eastern marches. It was determined that the men had not been there the day before the attack. So, they were there deliberately. Yet, the question begged, why? It was a wide spread ‘fact’ that the Golden Woods was cursed. Few who ventured there ever returned, and no humans were known to have come out unscathed. It was a well-earned reputation, perpetuated to insure there were no intrusions into the sanctuary of the Lord and Lady. If rumours told about Imladris proclaimed its beauty and graciousness, then those whispered of Lórien spoke of dark doings and evil beings. It was feared on a lesser scale than Mordor; yet spread greater apprehension than did Moria. Most knew the evil of Moria, yet Lórien looked deceptively peaceful and inviting.

Haldir stood discussing their findings with Celedien. The last two weeks had been spent going over the accountings given by those involved. A search of the men’s bodies gave no indication where they had originated. Mixed clothing and the differing races had only served to cloud the findings. It seemed senseless: the whole incident. Two wardens were dead and three younglings injured; who, he added, did not belong out there. The only person with any clue as to the identity of the men and not been asked. Ela had been overlooked as a witness.

Celedien looked at his superior.

“It has always been a requirement that the trainees for the guards do turns on the marches. You know that. You had no problem sending your brothers out here. They were younger yet.”

“I should never have sent them together. That was a mistake I will not make again.”

“It is that girl.” Celedien shook his head. “I knew there would be trouble. I told Orophin I did not feel easy about her being here.”

“It has nothing to do with the girl. They were not ready. I do not believe they take their responsibilities seriously enough.”

“If they were not ready, do you think they would have acquitted themselves as well?” Exasperation edged around the captain’s words. Did Haldir not see that it had nothing to do with their training? “And I have seen all of them with weapons. There is no fault in their training or abilities. It was a matter of bad timing and ill luck.”

“I do not believe in luck.” Haldir turned around, surveying the area once again. “I will leave you your command, Celedien, and not fault you on the events here. It was not by your choice they were here. You showed due caution and care…”

Celedien turned back towards the woods at the look on Haldir’s face. Seeing the subject of their earlier comments, and glancing back at the other man, he realized it had much to do with the girl. She was riding down the road with an ellon he did not recognize. As he was dressed in Ranger garb, Celedien deduced that this was one of Lord Elrond’s sons. He had heard they were in the city. The two of them were a striking contrast; she with her light copper and gold hair and paler than normal skin, and he with his ebony hair and his skin lightly tanned. And, he towered over her slight stature.

Haldir waited until they had ridden up to them.

“What are you doing out here?” he asked, looking up at her.

“Captain Celedien,” she said, ignoring his question. “This is my brother Elrohir. He agreed to see me safely out here.” The tall, dark elf dismounted and nodded his head at the captain.

“What are you doing out here?” Haldir asked again, a trifle irritated.

“I am bored with sitting at home. I wanted to take a ride.”

“I do not want you out here.”

“Do I need your permission? I gained Lord Glordinel’s. I feel that is sufficient.”
“It is not. After what happened, do you not realize this is no place for children?”

For all the irritation in his voice, Elrohir could sense an underlying concern.

“Is that how you view me, as a child? In another week, I will mark my majority. What will you have to say to me then?”

“I will have to say you are still a child. I happen to know of the deal you made with Elrond. You cannot fall back on that claim now.”

“Well, at least I have his permission to finish my training.”

“That will not happen. You will have to content yourself with the city guards. That is as far as it will go.”

She looked down at him, scrutinizing his face.

“What do you fear?” she asked softly.

“I fear nothing. You proved you are not mature enough to be here. You did not obey orders. You disobeyed a direct order. You cannot do as you please for self-satisfying reasons. That is not the way of a warden or a warrior.

“Self-satisfying reasons? Is that what I did? How odd. I would have thought it would be more satisfying. I feel curiously bereft of accomplishment. Perhaps the near loss of a comrade diminished the emotion. On the other hand, maybe it was the blow to the head. That always seems to disturb the equilibrium of my life. You would think by now I would be used to it. I am sure it had nothing to do with a fallen friend.”

“Obeying orders it the first and only commandment.”

“It is? Remind me of that when it is your hide that requires disobedience to save. I shall think the matter over seriously as you painfully bleed to death.”

“It will not be an issue. I will not allow myself to be put in that position.”

“Yes, your immortality and arrogance will stave off anything this world can possibly throw at you.” There was a strange gleam in her eyes. “While you anticipate the tens of thousands who march against all, it will be a bee that is your downfall. Think hard on that. No man, not even an elf can stand alone against the odds. Strength comes in numbers; yet, can one make a difference.”

“From where does this come?” he asked curiously.

She shook her head slightly and the gleam disappeared.
“Pay me no mind,” she laughed. “It is simply the ramblings of a child’s mind. I think it time to return home. I will see you tonight, March Warden. Elf, there is no need to accompany me back. I know the way.” Nodding to Celedien and the others, she turned her horse, never having dismounted, and started back.

“That was unsettling.” Elrohir watched her leave.

“And it has happened with increasing frequency. Not that you would notice if you did not know her.” Haldir sighed. “Another report to the Lady.”

“I have some things that require my attention,” said Celedien. “If you will excuse me.” He nodded to Haldir and Elrohir.

“He is the captain out here?”

“Yes. A very good man. He receives all the trainees. He trained both my brothers and me. It is close to the city should something go wrong, as it did. He is concerned that things went so badly. His concern is not misplaced. All will be more cautious next time.”

“Was it your idea to send them out here?”

“No,” he answered sharply. “Lord Celeborn said they must be given the same opportunities as all potential wardens. And Orophin and Rúmil had no small part in the argument.”

“Haldir.” Elrohir reached out and touched his shoulder. “How long have we known each other?”

Haldir looked him in the eyes.

“For many years.”

“Then I ask this as a friend. Is there any reason you did not want them out here?”

Haldir paused. Looking out at the eastern plains of Rhovanian, he found he could not put into words what he felt.

“We have too few young ones to risk them here. Meliel and Ela should not have been here. If they want to play warrior, let them do so in the city.”

Elrohir stared at him.

“Do you really believe that? That has been their dream for too many years. Moreover, I do not mind pointing out that it is because of you Ela wants it. She knows she can never be a Ranger. However, she has always held out hope that she could serve on the wards. If you refuse her, there is the possibility that she will go elsewhere. Lórien is not the only realm in need of bows. Thranduil would not turn her away. She would find a place in the Grey Havens. If she chooses, Lady Elestra has even offered her a home in the Hidden Havens. And, do not think for a moment that Ada would not welcome her back. It near broke his heart to send her away. There is also the possibility that if you push her hard enough, she will seek out her mother’s people. My father has already been warned not to let that happen. It will not go well for her to return there. Therefore, you had best make up your mind what you will tell her. She intends to bring it up tonight.”

“Do you realize that I have had trouble from your family ever since my first trip to Imladris? If it was not the two of you following me, it was Arwen. Now your father has found yet another to plague me. Why is that?”

“You irritate too easily,” Elrohir laughed. “It was always too much fun.” He sobered. “However, you may have noticed that it is not the same with Ela. I am not sure she ever was a child. The innocence was torn from her too early. I sometimes feel her soul is as old as is mine. And, if you think binding her to her arrangement with my father will work, you are sorely mistaken. Her life has been spent working as far around the edges of obedience as she can without actually crossing the line. She managed to outflank you before; she will do it again. Your arrogance is no match for her determination.”

“I believe you give her too much credit. She has never disobeyed any here. Until two weeks ago.”

“Think hard. Has she ever actually been told no to anything she wanted? She wanted to come here. It may not be the way she wanted to come, but she is here. She wanted her ears pierced. They are. She wanted to be a guard. She managed that. Even with her weaker abilities, she still can hold her own. I think you will be hard pressed to find an instance when she did not get what she wanted.”

“She wanted to go to Mirkwood, for some unfathomable reason. She did not get to go.”

“Yet. Lord Erestor warned Grandfather not to underestimate her. I think that is exactly what you do. I have noticed in the past few years that she does not think as an Eldar. In addition, if you look at Meliel, you will find the same true of her also. They have brought much of their other heritages into their being, Meliel from her Edain upbringing outside of Lórien, Ela from the peculiar abilities given her by both parents. You expect them to act and behave as proper elf maidens. I am telling you that you will get nowhere on that tack.”

“Then what would you suggest, giving them free rein to do as they please? And who will that benefit? It will not stand them well in the future. And they do have a future to think to.”

“I suggest that you temper your judgment. Stop treating them as children, and remember what it was to be young and fired for a cause. Remember when all you thought on was the present. Meliel’s future is set. She has only a handful of years before she can wed. Ela has known hers for many years. She waits, and will do nothing to jeopardize what she wants. You must exercise patience. If you do not, she will leave. And, I promise you this. Friends or no, you will answer to me if that happens.” He turned to his horse, leaving Haldir to think on what he said. He mounted, shaking his head at the thick-skulled mentality of males. Of course, that did not include him.
****

All the way back to the city, Ela went through the reasons she did not like the March Warden. She went through his stated reasons for not allowing her to do as she wished. Then she went through the arguments she had prepared to get what she wanted. When it came down to the bottom line, she knew she could not win. However, that would not stop her from making his life miserable. No, if he was going to win, she would make him work for it. Besides, she knew that in the end, she would triumph.

Smiling now, happy with the results of her musings, she rode on, nodding at those who acknowledged her. Most knew who she was, but few knew her other than by name. Some knew her by rumours. Ela shook her head. Deladrieng was one determined woman. However, Ela assured herself, the woman had a lot to learn about determination. There was a reason Ela had seldom been told no. She knew how to pick her battles. More importantly, she only fought when she knew she could win.

Reaching the city, she rode around to the entrance used by the guards. She dismounted in front of the stables and started to unsaddle her horse. She waved away the stable master, who moved to help her. It would not help her argument one bit if it was reported that she would not even care for her own mount. Besides, she loved the smell of horses. They had a dusty warm aroma that was comforting. And, other than her cat, her horse was the only being totally devoted to her. No one else could ride him. Del had thought her joking one day when she told him this. He had not raised himself in her estimation by testing her out. She had just looked at him, sitting in the mud, and cryptically remarked in a cool voice how like Caldelen he was. It had taken a conversation with Elldar to understand the comment. Even Del had noticed her contempt for him raised a notch that day.

Putting away her things and turning her horse out, Ela started home at a slow jog. She decided that with the headaches gone, she could start training again. Turning onto the wide road through the city, she picked up her pace. Lost in her thoughts, she did not hear the footsteps behind her. She gasped as strong arms grabbed her about the waist and swung her around.

“Elldan,” she gasped, “put me down! What will people think?”

“That you can actually laugh and have fun?” he said, laughing.

“I am training. Now I will have to start over.”

“Where is my brother?”

“I left him on the fences with the March Warden. With any luck, he will knock some sense into Haldir’s head. When is Ada coming?”

“They should be here any day. I am on my way to visit with Arwen. Would you like to come?”

“In the garden or the trees?”

“She said the garden. What is the difference?”

“It takes an official summons to get me in the trees. However, I will go to the garden with you. Do I have time to clean up? I love the smell of horses, but I know not everyone else does.”

“I can spare ten minutes or so. Is that enough time?”

“Yes, but do not tell Rúmil I can do it that quickly. I would not want to sully my reputation for keeping him waiting. It would not do for him to become too complacent.”

He accompanied her home. Entering the house, she called to Gariel.

“I guess no one is home. I will be quick.”

He nodded, picking up a book she had left in the family room. Wandering down the hall, he called out to her.

“How are things between you and Rúmil?”

“Fine, and none of your business. Why?”

“Just curious. He seems a little too easygoing for you.”

She stuck her head from her room.

“What do you mean by that?”

“It is just that you are... how shall I put this, strong-willed. He does not seem the type that would draw you.”

“Oh, and what ‘type’ do you think should draw me?”

“Someone strong and used to controlling situations.”

“Did you have anyone in mind?” Her voice had taken on a quiet tone.

He pretended to read the book.

“Not really, at the moment. I was just making an observation.”

“Really? And who planted this thought in your mind? Ada?” She paused. “Yes, he would. If Ada wants to know something, he may ask me.” She drew back into her room. “Furthermore, I do not appreciate the two of you raking about in my personal life. I have enough of that from other quarters.”

Elladan looked up from the book long enough to smile at the closed door.

“And you will find that book easier to understand if you could read Dwarvish and would hold it right side up.”

Frowning, he glanced down at the book. How could you tell right from wrong side up? He closed the book as she came from her room.

“It is just as well that Orcs are not too subtle. You are not very good at this.” She grabbed two apples from a basket on the kitchen table. Tossing one to him, she took a bite out of the other.

They walked silently towards the gardens.

“It is not what you think,” she said. “Rúmil and I. You may tell Ada that.”

“How do you know what I think?”

“It is on your face.”

Elladan said nothing.

“Come on, I will race you.” She took off without more warning. Even with the several seconds it took him to register what she had said, he had no trouble overtaking her.

“You have gotten faster, but still not fast enough.”

“I know,” she replied. “That is why I have to be better with the bow. I cannot outrun the enemy, so I had best be able to outshoot him.”

“From all reports, you do not need to run. Elrohir says that you are deadly.”

“I will not be if I am not allowed back on the fields. It has been two weeks. Even Elldar is allowed there for a short while. I did not even get a chance to try the new sword. And, if a certain person gets their way, I may as well take up cooking for a living. And we all know how high on my list of priorities that falls.”

They entered the gardens and made their way towards the bower. Entering the cool darkness, Ela saw Arwen and her grandmother at the far end. She walked to them and gave the Lady a slight bow, nodding to Arwen. She admittedly had never felt the same closeness to Elrond’s daughter she enjoyed with him or his sons. Arwen made her uncomfortable. Not in anything she had ever done, yet, Ela found it hard to be at ease around her. She was graceful and beautiful in a way that Ela did not feel. Although they lived in close proximity, their lives were very different. Arwen’s was taken up with the Lady and Ela spent much of her time with Glordinel and Unimandil. It did not leave much time for socializing. Still, she knew that if needed, Arwen would be there for her, as she would for the older ellith.

“How are you feeling, Ela?” asked Galadriel.

“Better, thank you. I went riding today. I rode out to the eastern marches. I spoke to Haldir. Remind me when the time comes why it should be worth my effort to save his worthless hide.” She turned as another entered the bower. “Lord Celeborn,” she said, bowing.

“What was that about my March Warden?”

“Just that an arrow could not possibly injure him. His hide is as thick as his head.”

“I may assume that he said no, yet again.”

“You assume correctly. I am struggling to understand his reasoning. So far, it is just the usual ramblings about a child’s place. And, I know that there are two ellith not much older than I to the south and one to the west. That more or less deflates his argument, do you not think?”

“You will have to take that up with him.” He turned to Elladan. “I came to tell you that a courier arrived this afternoon. Elrond is a day out. He requests that you and Elrohir meet him at the wards, with Arwen if she cares to make the trip. And if Glordinel agrees, you also, Ela.”

“I am not worried about Lord Glordinel. As long as I feed him, he will agree to anything. Maybe you should ask the March Warden.” There was just a trace of uncharacteristic bitterness in her voice. At a look from Celeborn, she sighed. “Do not mind me. He seems to bring out the worst in me. Besides, if I am not allowed to go, I have plenty to keep me busy. I am behind in my work with Lord Glordinel.”

“Well, I would enjoy a ride,” said Arwen. “When do we leave?”

“Tomorrow morning,” answered Elladan.

Ela sat back and listened to the banter between Elladan and Arwen. It had been five years since they had seen each other and had much to discuss. Galadriel rose and walked to where Ela sat.

“Would you walk with me?” she asked.

“Certainly. It will not require a sojourn into the trees, I trust.”

“No,” said the Lady, laughing. “Only through the garden.” She led the girl away from the others.

“How are the headaches?”

“They have disappeared. And the nausea. I do not feel the overwhelming emotions anymore.”

“Do you feel anything?”

“I can sometimes catch things if I really concentrate. Your March Warden is very upset with me. Elldan and the Elf are fishing for something. I can feel them. Casual feelings, no.”

“Good. After your birthday celebration, when you are ready, come see me. We will work on your control. Then, when the bars come down again, you may be more ready to handle it.”

“I will. And thank you.” She walked silent for several moments. “May I ask a question?”

“You may.”

“Do many have this ability?”

“Not anymore. The need for speaking so intimately is past. It is a trait that shows up from time to time. Apparently your father had it. I do not know of your mother. It may be she had some ability that was passed on to you.”

“You know more than you say. Can you not tell me?”

“I cannot at this time. I made a promise. You would not have me break it, would you?”

“No,” she grinned. “Are you allowed to tell me, if I ask?”

“If you ask the right question, then I will know it is time to tell you. However, this is not a game. You cannot ask questions hoping you will find the right one. It is for your own good that it is the way it is.”

“I understand.” She suddenly glanced around, realizing how late it was. “I must go! I promised Gariel I would be home for supper. It is almost that time. She does not know I have returned. I do not want her to worry.”

“Then go, child. Give her my regards.”

“Thank you, Lady. I will.” She hesitated. “Will you and Lord Celeborn come next week?” she asked, shyly.

“We have only been waiting for an invitation.”

“I was not sure whether or not to tender one. I know you are both busy.”

“Never too busy to celebrate. Now, run home.”

“Goodnight, then,” she said, bowing.

Crossing the bower, she stopped and bid the others goodnight. Running all the way home, she arrived before Haldir and Orophin.

“There you are!” exclaimed Gariel. “I saw your clothes and knew you were back. And the missing apples.”

“I apologize, Gariel. I went with Elldan to see Arwen and tarried to speak to the Lady. I hope I did not worry you overmuch.”

Gariel laughed. “Not at all. I knew you had returned. And, Glordinel brought back the basket. It is not empty. Here.” She handed the basket to Ela. Inside was a small bottle of lavender oil, her favourite.

“Oh, he did not have to do that! And I am the one who gathered the lavender. I had no idea why he needed it.”

“Well, now you know.”

“Do I have time to run to his house before supper?”

“If you do run, and hurry.”

“I will be right back.” She walked from the house, and then ran when she reached the road. Approaching his house, she ran up the steps and called out his name.

“What is it?” he called, coming out on the porch.

“Lord Glordinel,” she said, nodding. “I wanted to thank you for the oil, and ask if it is possible that I ride north tomorrow. Lord Elrond is arriving and has asked that we meet him. But only if you say it is acceptable.”

“You are welcome. But that is a long ride. I am not sure it is wise to travel that far so soon.” He winced at her crestfallen face.

“I understand. Will you need me here tomorrow? I can come early.”

“That will be fine. I am sorry. I just do not want anything to jeopardize your recovery.”

“I will see you tomorrow then. Do not forget to eat supper.”

“I have already eaten. Go home and eat.”

He smiled to see her run back up the road. He hated telling her no.

Ela came around the corner of the house just as everyone was sitting down. She took her place and started filling her plate. She glanced around.

“Where is your brother?” she asked Orophin.

“He said something about appointments.”

“Hmmph. More likely he said avoidance.”

“What?”

“He knew I was planning to speak to him tonight. I think he is avoiding me.”

“He will come later. He did have appointments.” Orophin was not sure he cared for this change in the relationship between his charge and his brother. They had always been civil to each other, even pleasant, but they were becoming more confrontational. He would like to have put it down to Ela’s age, but that did not explain Haldir.

She nodded, but did not seem convinced. Ela listened as Elldar recounted his day. It seemed that she was not the only one tugging at the bit. Del was sent home from the fields, yet again. Unimandil did not want him there until Glordinel allowed it. Unfortunately, he did not appear to be taking it as well as Ela. Elldar laughed, recounting the look on Del’s face at being told to vacate the training area. She found it hard not to sympathize with him. It was difficult to sit while others moved past you.

Finally, tired of waiting, Ela stood and started stacking dishes. She took the pile she had in and began washing them up. Gariel came in with more.

“He will come,” she said.

“Yes, but I think he does not want to talk to me. He was not happy I showed up today. I know he is not angry, but he is reluctant. It makes me wonder why.”

“That is something that will have to be worked out between the two of you. Meanwhile, did you try on your dress?”

“No. Would you like me to now?”

“If you do not mind. I promised Lindelen I would make sure it fit. Go, I will finish here.”

Ela dried her hands and went to her room. Looking around, it struck her, not for the first time, how small it was. She could have had much larger quarters living with Arwen, but she did not mind. Everything in this room was hers. Sitting down on the bed, she picked up the cat.

“Cat, life has been good here, has it not? You have grown fat and lazy. I knew you would not be happy in Imladris. I am glad the Elf brought you here.” He regarded her with large golden eyes. “Yes, I know the trip was not easy for you, but you have had things fairly easy. You are fed and sleep in a bed. What more is there?” She grinned as he started purring. “I have to try on my dress now. The only saving grace will be that the colour will irritate Rúmil. And since I know Meliel has chosen green that will irritate him even more.” She put the cat back on the bed.

Unbuttoning her tunic halfway, she skinned it up over her head. Tossing it into the basket beside the door, she turned to the dress hanging from a hook near the ceiling. It was beautiful. The blue would match her eyes and her earrings. She carefully slid it over her head. Settling it on her shoulders, she went out into the kitchen for help.

“Gariel, I cannot reach the buttons…” She stopped when she saw Haldir was the only one there. He had been filling a plate with leftovers. He stopped at the sight of her. The dress had slipped slightly from her shoulder. He had seen her in a tunic and trousers for so long; he had forgotten what a dress looked like on her. It was startling. The pale skin of her shoulders contrasted sharply with the deep blue of the dress. He could make out the freckles dancing down from her shoulder. The gentle swell of her chest was just visible where the dress had dipped. Moving his eyes lower, he smiled.

“That will look more stunning with shoes and no trousers,” he said.

She glanced down. Grinning sheepishly, she looked back up at him.

“I suppose. Just a moment.”

She ran back to her room. Swearing mildly, she fumbled with the buttons on her trousers. Kicking them off, she went back to the kitchen. He had not moved.

“Better?” she asked, holding the dress up around her shoulders.

“It will be. Come here.” She went over to him and turned around. He reached down and started with the bottom button. It lay in the small of her back. Working his way up her back, he shuddered, thinking how hard it would be to remove the dress. He stopped. What was he thinking? He finished quickly.

“There,” he said gruffly.

She turned at the tone in his voice.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No. I think Gariel is waiting for you.” He turned back to his plate.

Shrugging, she went out to the garden.

“Oh, that is lovely!” exclaimed Gariel. “But how did you button it?”

“I managed,” she said, dryly. “Does it look all right? Do you think Rúmil will like it?” She did not see that Haldir had followed her out. Therefore, she did not see the frown on his face. However, Orophin did.

“I think he will like it very much,” replied Orophin, looking at his older brother. This was a turn he had not expected. What was in his eyes? Irritation? Something else? This could be fun, or cause such trouble he did not want to contemplate it.

“The dress is beautiful, Ela. Maybe you should put it away now. You do not want to get something on it.”

“Yes, Orophin.” She turned and went back into the house. Gariel excused herself and followed.

Orophin stared at his brother. Finally, Haldir noticed.

“What?”

“What are you doing?”

“Concerning what?”

“Concerning Ela.”
“I am doing nothing.”

“Then why are you fighting her so hard?”

“She does not belong out there. Her upbringing did not prepare her for life on the marches. It is a hard life.”

“It is not like she is a pampered lady. She has had the same life as Elldar, Meliel and Del. Yet you do not refuse them. Why?”

“It will not happen. That is the end of the discussion. If that is all you want to talk about, I will take my leave. I have preparations to make for tomorrow.” He stood and walked away. Orophin thought to stop him, then decided he needed time to cool down. He hoped it would not take long.


Chapter 19 - Chapter Nineteen

Ela showed up at Glordinel’s early the next morning. She showed no signs of upset at staying behind as the others rode north. She saw them off, and made her way back through the city. Entering Glordinel’s home, she stopped at the study.

“Good morning,” he said.

“It is,” she replied.

“Come here,” he said to her. Taking hold of her chin, he turned her head into the light. Examining the left temple, he nodded. “It is healing nicely. It is taking longer than usual for an elf, but is sooner than with a human. I can take care of the scarring for you, now.”

“No. I will keep it. It will be a subtle reminder of disobedience.”

“But you cannot see it.”

“I did not say it was a reminder to me. Besides, I earned it, I will keep it.”

“As you wish.” He shook his head at the proclivities of females, and female children in particular. “I thought you may enjoy a ride this morning. I have to go up to Celonost. I am meeting a healer from the north. It would do you no harm to meet her.”

She nodded.

“Then go and get your things. We will be gone into the afternoon. Tell Gariel you will be with me.”

She ran home to do as he bid. Not finding Gariel, she left a note in the apple basket, first removing one to make room. Grabbing the small bag that contained her supplies, she ran back to Glordinel’s house.

“I am ready,” she called, jumping up the steps. She opened the door and almost collided with her teacher.

“So am I. So, off to the stables we go.”

“Who is this healer you are meeting? And do you really want me to tag along?”

“Her name is Corélned and she is from Glenrelia, to the north. She has some ideas and discoveries to discuss. I thought you might like to get out of the city.”

“Glenrelia. Is that not near the northern marches?”

“You studied your geography well. It is little more than a mile from the marches. Corélned is rather a recluse. She prefers the solitude of the north. It also affords her the opportunity to study the obscure herbs and plants that she so loves.”

“But she does not like the city?”

“No, she prefers the isolation. She will only come as far as Celonost.”

“Why have I never heard of her before? Is there something between you two?” She grinned up at him.

“Well, if there was, I think that would be none of your business. You are a lowly apprentice, not privy to the social doings of your superiors.”

“So, the answer is no,” she laughed.

“I really must find another assistant. You think too highly of yourself.”

“Good luck there. Everyone knows how gruff you can be. They are all afraid to come unless necessary.”

“Really. And I thought I was a popular person.”

She sputtered laughter at his mournful expression.

“Lord Glordinel, I know of no one who is disliked less than you. As a taskmaster, you have many things to learn. You would think I was your first student.”

“While not my first, you are among a very few.”

They had reached the stables. Ela went to the pasture and whistled. Her horse came running up and nuzzled her head. Opening the gate, she let him through and closed it behind him. He followed her to the barn. After saddling him and putting on his halter, she turned to Glordinel.

“Which horse do you prefer?” she asked.

“Something gentle. My riding is a necessary evil. I must do it; I do not have to like it.”

“Del,” she called, seeing him in the back of the large barn. “What do you have that a child could ride?”

“Are you needing a mount?” he grinned.

“Do you want to try mine?” she retorted. “It is for Lord Glordinel. He wants something gentle. I am thinking of my old pony.”

“He is dead, Ela. Here.” Del lead a small gelding out from a back stall. “He is older, but will get you where you need to go. Where are you going?”

“It is official. I am not allowed to tell you.”

“Still sore about not riding north, are you?”

“Remind me next time to leave you to your own devices when bleeding to death.”

He looked down at her.

“Why did you do that?” he asked, softly.

“Do you need to ask?”

“I know why you would have done it for Elldar or Meliel. Why me?”

“You are Elldar’s best friend and for her own reasons, Meliel likes you. Is that not enough? You are special to them.” She grinned. “Besides, I would rather not have to listen to them moaning about your death for the next several millennia. It would get tiresome.”

“Here is your horse. Get out of here before I tell Master Unimandil you were down here again.”

“I am going.” She swung up on her horse. “When you see Meliel, tell her I miss her. She is too wrapped up in you.” She ducked the clod of dirt he threw at her.

Glordinel looked up at Ela, for once not taller than she was.

“Do you ride that monster often?” he asked.

“This is the only horse I ride. And I am the only one who rides him. Why?”

“He is so big. Would a smaller mount not be safer?”

“Safer, maybe, but not near as much fun. You should see the store of coins I have put away because of him. Not to mention favours.”

“You wager? I cannot imagine.” He smiled.

They rode out the north gate. For a mile, neither said anything. Ela finally broke the silence.

“May I ask a personal question?”

“You may. I may not answer.”

“Why have you never wed?”

He was silent. Only the years of closeness between them allowed him even to consider telling her.

“There was one. I thought we would wed, but she chose another. There has been no one else since.”

“I am sorry. Maybe some day you will find another.”

“Only if she falls in my lap. I am not looking. What of you?”

“Oh, now you sound like my brothers. I am too young. But if I were not, I have an idea of what I want.”

“And what is that?”

“Ha! You may ask, but I will not answer. When the time is right, you will know. Until then, it remains in my head.”

“Well, then, since you see fit to tease your teacher, he will punish you. Did you read the books I gave you?”

“All of them.”

“Good.” He proceeded to question her on the topics of the books. It took up much of the next ten miles of travel. Finally satisfied, he stopped.

“We are almost there.”

She looked ahead and saw the start of a few cottages. Looking up, she did see a few talain, but decided it must be as Gariel had told her. Only in Caras Galadhon did they really live in the trees.

Riding through the small village, Glordinel led her to a slightly larger house. Dismounting slowly, showing his lack of riding, Glordinel stretched, and groaned. Maybe he would walk back. Stepping up onto the porch, he knocked on the door. A tall dark-haired woman opened it. Ela dismounted and tied her horse to the railing.

“Welcome, Glordinel. I trust your journey was not too taxing.” Ela noted the smile in her eyes. “And what have you brought me?”

“Corélned, this is Lady Elrénia. She has been studying with me for several years now. I thought it time you met her.”

The woman inclined her head. So this was the chit her sister had gone on about; she did not see why she was worried. The girl did not even look like an elf. Her other blood was too telling. What was it Deladrieng had said, some human tainting, or something? Then the girl looked up at her. The eyes. She had heard about the eyes. Too often. There was a reason she did not live in the city. Too close to her sister.

Ela nodded back. This woman had something familiar about her. It would come eventually. It always did.

“So, lady, how good are you?”

“I am fair. However, I would prefer Ela. Lady does not sit well with me.”

“Very well. I had heard you were very unpretentious.”

“Where would you hear something like that? I had heard you shunned society.”

“Well met! Glordinel, you have found one worthy of conversing. I like plain speech. The flowery words of court do not interest me.”

“Do not think that because she is plainspoken, she cannot hold her own at court. She was also raised in Imladris, by no less than Erestor, himself.”

“How is the old curmudgeon? I have not seen him for years.”

“If you hightail it back north, you will see him. He comes through later.” Glordinel gave her a wink.

“Well, then we should conclude our business with all haste. What could possibly drag him from his hole?”

“Does anyone realize I am still here? Or should I leave and give you some privacy?” Ela pouted, teasingly.

“Oh, Glordinel. I do like her,” said Corélned, laughing. “No, child, you do not have to leave. I am sorry.”

“No need to apologize. I am used to it. It is a useful trait, being invisible.”

“Come in.” Corélned was still laughing as she held the door for them.

Ela went in first. Looking around, she found a comfortable living area. Worn sofas and chairs with a table set to one side. Everything looked well used. Even the hangings on the wall were old.

“You do not live here?” asked Ela.

“No. This was my parents’ home. I use it when I have need to see Glordinel. He does not ride well, and I refuse to come closer to the city. It suits.”

“Now,” said Glordinel, “what do you have for me?”

Ela listened to the conversation between the two of them, studied the hangings on the wall. She heard mention of herbs and poisons that grew only in the north. Corélned went on about the advantages and uses of the different plants.

“May I ask a question?” Ela finally asked.

“What is it?” said Corélned.

“Have you heard of gardenia?”

“Yes. It is a very rare tree grown only in the far south. Even past Haran, I am told. Why?”

“My brother gave me a bottle of it, but it is so strong, I am loathe to use it.”

“Mix it with yellow rose oil. It has little scent of its own and will cut the potency. Where did he find it?”

“I learned long ago not to ask where they get things. I do not always want to know where or how they acquired something.”

“I know your brothers. That is very wise of you. Still, I am curious. I had heard the oil was a jealously guarded secret, and available only to royalty. But, then, it is well you have it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, with your bloodlines, it is only fitting you own a bottle of the oil of kings.”

“What bloodlines?”

Corélned was becoming uncomfortably aware she had broached a subject better left closed.

“I had heard that you carried bloodlines that go back to the first age.”

“There is a little piece of information that slipped from my studies.” She turned to Glordinel. “How is it that someone so far out on the fringes knows of things only Lord Elrond and I are supposed to know?”

“Then you do know?” asked Glordinel.

“Yes, I know. I asked Ada not to share it with any. Yet, Del knows. You know. Moreover, if rumours are to be believed, half the city guard knows. Where does one go to get away from all this? Mirkwood? The Hidden Havens?”

“You might as well accept it. If it is out there, someone will find it. I would not worry. The rumours are not too rampant yet.”

“It is just that this is something I would rather have stayed buried. Other than my parents, I do not care about delving any further back. So far, it has proven a very unpleasant experience; it is best forgotten. And as it is too late for that, I will just say that I would prefer to not speak about it.”

“Very well. Consider it unspoken. However, what will you do about your grandmother? Will you bury her as well?” She glanced up and caught the twinkle in his eyes.

“You are incorrigible. I do not know why I put up with you.”

“I am the best teacher in Lórien. That is why.”

“All the more reason to go back to Imladris,” she laughed. “I am hungry. Are you two going to talk all day, or do we get to eat?”

Corélned smiled.

“I have lunch ready. I knew he would forget to eat.”

“You have noticed that, also. I have to bribe him. So far, it has worked, yet I fear for him when I am not around. I have nightmares of him wasting away.”

“It is good then that my nightmares may be laid to rest.”

“Once he latches onto something, all else recedes into the background. I believe he would forget to breathe if it were not automatic.”

“I will be back,” said Glordinel. “I must leave you two to talk behind my back. But make it quick.”

They both laughed at him.

“You have been good for him,” commented Corélned, when he had gone.

“I have a feeling that others would say that he has been good for me. It seems it has been a mutually satisfying arrangement.”

“It has been good to see him so happy the last few years. It near broke his heart when his son was killed. His wife did not get over it. She chose to fade rather than live without their son. He was bitter about it for so long.”

“His son? And a wife? He has never said anything about them. I even asked him coming up why he had never wed. Oh, did I overstep there.”

“You could not know. Very few do. He came here after it happened. It was so long ago, that many who knew him then, do not even know where he is now. He settled here because it is far from his old home and the Golden Woods are closed. There is very little chance of any outside finding him here.”

They were interrupted by Glordinel’s return.

“Did you find out anything?” he asked Ela.

“Nothing of import. Are you ready to eat now? I am starving.”

“Then by all means, eat.”

They sat and enjoyed a simple meal of cold beef on bread and cider. The afternoon was filled with discussions of what Corélned found in the northern reaches of their home. Glordinel shared his findings from the swampy areas far south of the Celebrant. Before Ela knew it, several hours had slipped by.

“Excuse me, Lord Glordinel,” she said.

“What is it, child?”

“It grows late. If we are to make it back before dark, we need to leave.”

“Oh, I did not realize the time. Very well.” He stood up. “I will get these findings written down and in the library, Corélned. When will you be back down?”

“Not for several months. I am leaving for the western marches to check out some findings by Gesel. He sent me some interesting samples. I want to go see for myself.”

“Well, then, I will see you when you get back. Send me word. Come on, Ela.” He led the way out of the house. His gelding was tied up, but her horse had wandered off. She gave a sharp whistle. He came from around the back of the house, munching on some grass. Waiting until Glordinel was mounted she swung up into her saddle.

“It was good to meet you,” Ela said to Corélned.”

“Likewise. I had heard much about you. I am glad that some things exceeded the telling while others did not. I hope to see you again.”

Ela nodded and turned her horse for home.

It was dark when they finally reached the city. Ela put the horses away and bid Glordinel goodnight. Trudging towards home, she made it as far as her room and decided to rest just a moment.

****

The morning sun woke her. She jumped up and discovered that someone had removed her shoes during the night. Grabbing her bathing kit, she headed towards the bathhouses. She changed her mind when she saw who was already there. Shrugging, she headed for the river. It would not be the first time she had bathed in the cold water. Reaching the secluded area she knew few visited, she stripped down to her under slip. Laying her things on a large rock extending into the water, she dived in, shedding the garment underwater and threw it onshore. Diving once again, she came up and washed her hair.

“You are brave, coming to bathe in the river. Are you not afraid someone will see you?”

Jumping slightly at the words, she glanced up. Standing on the bank was Mar, one of Elldar’s acquaintances. Tall and willowy, he was older than Del, and usually did not deign to speak to the four younger elves. That he would do so now, struck Ela as odd.

“No one of importance. Do you have a reason to disturb me, or is there nothing to do on the gates?”

“How is it that you come here, when the bathhouses are more comfortable?”

“If it is any of your business, I do not care for the environment of the bathhouses. If that is all, I would appreciate your leaving. This was not meant to be a shared experience. I have better things to do than banter with you. I did not even think you knew of my existence.”

“Oh, I know.” Looking at her, he cleared his throat. “I wondered if you would consider a walk through the gardens later.”

“A walk?” She fumbled slightly with the words. Her brain was frantically racing to understand what it was he wanted.

“Just a stroll. Maybe after dinner. I thought you might enjoy it.”

“Well,” she drew out the word, trying to come up with an answer. “Why?” she asked abruptly.

“Why what?” he returned.

“Come, Mar. For fifteen years, you do not acknowledge that I exist. Of a sudden, you want to take a stroll. Surely, there is no interest. You do not know me.”

“I did know that you existed. I have watched you for several years. The March Warden gives you little credit. He would do well to listen to what your peers have to say. I have watched you grow from a frightened child into the elleth you almost are. Why would you think there would be no interest? You should be well aware that I am not the only one.”

Ela was quiet. She was not aware. She had lived among these people and had not even been aware of her effect upon some of them.

“Why now? I know the rumours that have been going around. I bring nothing to any alliance, so why the interest?”

“You underestimate yourself. I know exactly what you bring, in matters of possessions. You have claim to nothing. Your grandfather left nothing. Your father inherited nothing. Your grandmother has much, but that is hers. Even your mother left you nothing to desire. A sorry collection of refugees from so far to the southeast that none have ever heard of them. So what do you suppose you have? I will tell you. You. I see someone determined to succeed. Someone who does the right thing, even when others deem it wrong. You are willing to sacrifice for others. You are what you bring. What man would not desire that?”

Ela was struck dumb. No one had ever spoken to her like this.

“I can tell you what man does not. One who seeks only to gain what wedding me would get him. You do know there was an offer while I was in Imladris. That man was willing to overlook my “deficiencies” in order to attain his desires. Are you?”

“I see no deficiencies. You are who you are because of what you are. Your foreign blood adds something that makes you different, not undesirable. And yes, I know of the offer. What a strange concept, buying a wife. Tell me, would you have accepted the offer, had they waited?”

“No. I cannot live that life. Their women are little more than servants, wedded for what they can give a man. I would have no rights, no property, and no voice. It has been said that Lord Elrond did me a great disservice by keeping me in Imladris. In the world of men, I would have been more willing to accept my fate. However, he did keep me. And I do not think it a mistake. My mother did not accept that life, and she did not want it for me. She and my father died because of that way of life. I would not have their deaths thrown away. No, the Indrel will not gain a ‘queen’ if it is to be me. I am less than no man. I have just as much to offer and I will not be pushed down, just because I am not a man.”

“There, you see? You possess a fire that seems to have cooled of late. Most elleth, even now accept their lives. And yes, while elven women are equal to men, they are too cool. You have what seems to have died in this age, the inner fire that was ours at the dawning of our existence. Only those who have come from other ages still have it.”

Ela looked at him. “I think you have had too much time to dwell on this. I am nothing more than what I am. You place entirely too much confidence in your beliefs. And, as for fire, I am content just to live out my life here, in the relative peace and quiet of Lórien. I only want to serve the Lord and Lady to the best of my abilities. I will wed, and if it is what is meant for me, I will bear children. Then I intend to either live out a full and long life, or die defending it. So, you see, no fire. No defiance. Just what is expected of me. Nothing more, nothing less. You will need go elsewhere for what you seek. I do not have it.”

“Oh, but you do. You just do not realize it, yet. That fire will lead you places of which you have not yet dreamed.”

“Now you are a prophet? I think you should concentrate on the guards. Foretelling is not your forte. However, if you want to waste your time on a walk through the gardens, I am not too averse. After dinner?”

“That is acceptable.”

He turned and found himself facing her brother. Elrohir stood with his hands on his hips and a frown on his face. “While I will admit to some playful bantering with young ellith in compromising situations in the past, they did not include my sister, and I was always careful to know where their protectors were at any given time. It is a lesson I am giving you now, free. I suggest that in the future, you be more discreet. Too many know of her penchant for bathing in the river. Now go.”

Mar wasted little time leaving.

“You would do well to be more careful, Ela,” Elrohir said to her.

“It would have been more dangerous in the bathhouse. At least here, I am usually alone. I do not believe he meant any harm.”

“You must be more careful.” He held her drying sheet up for her as she got out of the river. “He is not a boy. And you cannot flirt with him as you do Rúmil.”

“Was that what I was doing, flirting? That would imply an interest on my part. There is none.” She started combing out her hair. “You are early. They must have pushed hard across the plains.”

“They did. Rúmil sent a scout that counselled that speed would be advisable. Since there had nothing better to do, they complied.”

“Did my grandmother enjoy the journey?”

“She is not complaining. I think she was worried about what she would find of Lórien, but is satisfied it is not the primitive kingdom she thought it would be. Ada would like to see you. Gariel told me where to find you. And who to look for at the bathhouse.”

Without dropping the sheet, she pulled on her trousers. Slipping on her shirt, she dropped the sheet and buttoned up. Elrohir picked up the bottle of oil from her kit and poured some into his hands. Rubbing them together, he motioned her over. He ran his hands through her thick hair. Closing her eyes, she sighed.

“I miss someone doing this for me. When you were not home, Ada or Lady Seldala would do it for me. It feels so good.”

“You know, Ela, you do not have to call her Lady. You do outrank her.”

She turned to him. “It is not a matter of rank, but of respect. The same reason I call your father Ada. I know more than anyone that he is not my father. However, it is his desire that I call him that, and so I do. Out of respect for all he has done for me. If I had my way, there would be no rank. I am who I am because of me, not my parents, nor my grandparents. Only me. I would just as soon leave it at that. Now, can we go?”

“If you wish.”

“Where is your father?” she asked, picking up her kit and stuffing her nightclothes into it. She slung it over her shoulder.

“He waits with my grandparents, up in their talan.”

She shuddered. Fifteen years had not changed her mind about the trees.

“I will go as soon as I check in with Lord Glordinel. I want to make sure he survived the ride yesterday. And see that he ate breakfast.”

“I will see you later, then. And remember what I said about being careful.”

“I will. Go. Tell your father I will be along shortly.” She watched him walk away. While she loved the brothers, well, like brothers, they were an added complication to her life. Maybe Mar had had something in mind, maybe not. Sighing, she turned towards home.

****

The climb to the main talan was not something Ela enjoyed. The heights still made her dizzy. She just clung to the inner side of the stairs leading into the upper regions of the tree. Half-way up, she paused to slow her breathing. Finally getting it under control, she stared back up. Reaching the top, she laid a shaking hand on the railing below the talan level. Taking another deep breath, she stepped up on the landing. Pausing once more, she glanced up and saw Del at the door. He came over when he saw how pale she was.

“Wait a moment,” he said, with uncharacteristic concern. “They do not know you are here, yet. Just take a few minutes.” He stood beside her until she had regained her composure somewhat.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “I hate this. Why can everyone not live on the ground? This is unnatural.”

Del laughed. “To me, you live unnaturally. I feel safer in the trees.”

“Well, if I roll out of bed in the night, I know I am only going as far as the floor.”

“Ela, no one has fallen from a talan in memory. I do not think you will be the first.”

“I know I will not. I do not intend to take the chance. The less I am up here, the less chance of it happening.”

Standing up, she went to the door. Waiting for Del to announce her, she fidgeted with her dress. It was a simple dark grey and reached almost to her ankles. While to her way of thinking it would be improper to wear trousers and tunic, she saw no need to dress formally. It was only an afternoon visit.

She looked up as Del came back through the door. He smiled and nodded to her. Swallowing, she went through the doors. Entering the main reception area, she saw Celeborn and Galadriel at the far end. With them were Lords Elrond and Erestor. She went over and stopped before the Lord and Lady. Bowing properly, she stood back up and turned to the others.

“Lord Erestor. I am pleased to see your lady is well. I trust you had a pleasant journey.”

“Lady. He nodded politely. “It was very pleasant. And I suppose I have you to thank for my reception at the marches?”

“Oh, no. That was Lord Glordinel. You will have to take that up with him.”

“I intend to. How are you, sell?”

“I am well. And happy, mostly. With everyone, mostly.”

“We can speak more of that riddle later.”

She turned to Elrond. Bowing, she straightened back up with a grin.

“Ada.”

“Ela.” He waited, then reached over and pulled her into an embrace. “You have grown in the last month.”

“You exaggerate. I could not possibly have grown. Maybe you are shrinking.”

He reached for her chin and turned her face. Looking at the cut over her temple, he frowned. It showed the pale green colouring of a healing bruise and the stitching was still red. If the scarring was not eased soon, it would be permanent.

“Who is seeing to this? He should have taken better care.”

“Lord Glordinel is seeing to it, and he is taking excellent care. He says it is just slower because of the Indrel part.”

“But he should have taken care of the scarring.”

“We have already had that disagreement. I told him to leave my scar alone. I am rather attached to it. It is there to remind one of the costs of disobeying to save a life.”

“But you cannot see…ah.” Having heard about the dressing down she had received over her act, he saw her logic, even if he did not understand it. “But it will leave a scar.”

“I cannot see it. It does not bother me. Now, where is Lady Elestra? The Elf said she was with you.”

“She is resting. She left word for you to come. I will show you.” Nodding to Celeborn and Galadriel, she followed Elrond from the room. They went up a side stairs to the guest rooms provided for visiting dignitaries. He opened a door for her to enter. Glancing around the sitting room, she waited while he knocked on an inner door. A few moments later, Elestra came out and looked Ela over.

“Welcome, Grandmother,” Ela said, bowing.

“And to you, Iell.”

“Welcome to Lórien. I hope it does not prove too provincial for your tastes.”

“I find it charming.”

“Another word for backwater. That is fine,” she held up her hand at the older woman’s protest. “It suits me. I rather enjoy the anonymity.”

“It seems that you cannot remain anonymous even in Lórien. Word of the fight has already gotten out.”

“How does that happen? For such a closed and forbidden realm, it leaks like a sieve. I sincerely hope nothing of import is ever concealed here. It would not be secure for long. What did you hear?”

“Only that there was an attack, and you disobeyed a direct order. And that you saved the life of fellow guardsman, and a friend.”

“Well, it seems that Del and Meliel are the only ones grateful for that. I did not make others happy.”

“Iell, you will find in life that you must make decisions that will not please others. It is your place to weigh the cost and then decide if you are willing to pay it. My husband was forced to make the ultimate choice. He did and paid the price. I do not think that given the chance to rethink his decision, he would have chosen other than the way he did. Courage is not making popular choices, but the right ones. Now, enough of this talk. I would see your world.

“I can show some of it now, if you like.”

“I would. I am tired of riding and need to walk off the stiffness.”

“I would think that after eight days, you would have lost the stiffness.”

“The bones are too old.”

“Lord Glordinel shares your dislike of riding,” she said, grinning. “Do you want to change? We will be doing a lot of walking.”

“My dear, I have not worn anything but a dress since my early years. I do not see reason to begin now.

“Very well, but I am stopping to change. Dresses make me feel curiously underdressed. Like I have forgotten to put something on. Would you like to join us, Ada?”

“I think I will leave you two to yourselves. I will visit with Arwen.”

“She will enjoy that. I will see you later.”

After he left, Ela turned to Elestra.

“Is it permissible to call you Grandmother? I did not think to ask.”

“It is quite all right, sell. As you are the only grandchild I will ever have, I would rather enjoy it.”

Satisfied, Ela held the door as Elestra left her rooms. They crossed the great reception hall and stopped at the entrance.

“Del, this is my grandmother, Lady Elestra. She has come all the way from the Hidden Havens. Grandmother, this is Delinfel. He is a friend of Elldar’s. As we are the four youngest elves in Caras Galadhon, we tend to spend our time together.”

“I am pleased to meet you, Lady. Ela has told us much about you. Well, what she knows. I hope your visit will be pleasant.”

“Thank you. I am sure I will see you again.”

She watched Ela walk to the edge of the landing.

“She is afraid of heights,” whispered Del.

Ela turned back to them with a sick smile. “Are you ready, Grandmother?”

Elestra followed her down the first flight of steps. She noticed Ela hugging the inner side of the stairs. They walked in silence to the halfway point, where Ela once again halted.

“Are you all right?”

“No. I do not like the heights. I will be fine once I reach the ground.”

“That is curious for an elf.”

“It seems my sense of balance is not as fine as is others’. I blame my mother. It seems I have much for which to thank both my parents. I must remember to do so when I reach the Halls of Namo.”

“Do you think you will go there?”

“Why not? Is it not logical? What are the chances of surviving the coming war?”

“What war?” Elestra was disturbed by the turn the conversation was taking.

“I am sorry, what?”

“The war. You mentioned a war.”

“I did? Then it must be tumbling around in my head somewhere. It will come out. It always does. I just do not always know when. We may go on now. I am fine.”

She started down the rest of the stairs. Reaching the bottom, she sighed in relief.

“Now, we will go to Gariel’s first. I want to change and ask her about supper. You will like her.”

As they walked through the city, Ela pointed out different things that meant something to her. She talked about the library and all the time spent there. She pointed out the formal gardens and explained the gatherings there. They finally came to the lane where Orophin lived. Ela held the gate for Elestra and led her to the house. Going through the open door, she called out.

“Gariel! Are you home?”

“Yes, Ela, I am. What is it?” She came into the family room. She stopped at the excitement on Ela’s face.

“Grandmother, this is Gariel. She is Rúmil’s brother’s wife. Gariel, this is Lady Elestra.” Gariel bowed to Elestra’s nod.

“Lady, welcome to our home. May I get you something to drink?”

“Tea would be welcome. Go, sell. Change.” Ela scooted down the hall to her room.

“She is happy here?” asked Elestra.

“Very. And she has been a delight for us, like a daughter. I cannot imagine how the last fifteen years would have been like without her.”

“Gariel, what is for supper tonight?” Ela called from her room.

“Stew. Did you get a better offer?” Gariel laughed.

“Not yet. Just wanted to see what my options were.” She came down the hall. “Would you like to see my room?” she asked Elestra. She had changed into dark blue trousers and a matching tunic. Her hair was plaited into a simple braid, copied from Meliel’s. Light boots covered her feet.

“I suppose that would be a good place to start. I have seen your room in Imladris.”

“Well, then, you will be disappointed,” she laughed. She led the way back to her room. Moving aside so Elestra could enter the room, she waited to see her reaction.

Her grandmother took in the small room. There was a bookshelf with several dozen books and quite a few bottles on it. The cupboard had trousers and tunics neatly folded. A knob on the wall held three or four dresses and another held a gown. As she glanced at the open window, a large yellow tabby cat jumped down on the bed. Ela went past her to sit on the bed. She picked up the cat, motioning to the chair.

“Hello, cat. You were out all night, again. If I did not know better, I would think you have a lady cat somewhere.” She laid him down on the bed.

“Are you happy here?” Elestra’s voice carried just a tinge of doubt.

“Very. Oh, I know it is not what you are used to, but I do not spend much time in here. I could have stayed with Arwen, but her way of life is not for me. And, this is not in the trees. I am usually out trying to get Lord Glordinel up by dawn. He does not function well before noon. Then I go to the fields for training. The rest of my time is spent on trying to outthink the March Warden and getting out to the fences.” She sighed. “It is a full-time job. He is as stubborn as an Orc.”

Elestra smiled. The exuberance of youth. She remembered it well. The fire she had had. The determination of her husband. It would dim, but it was good.

Ela jumped up, startling the cat. “Come, it is almost lunchtime. Would you like a sandwich?”

“I think I could find room for one.” She followed Ela back to the kitchen. Gariel was just finishing a basket lunch.

Ela sat at the table and watched Elestra pick up the sandwich for examination. The woman gingerly took a bite, chewing slowly. Swallowing, she smiled faintly.

“You do not eat like this much, do you?” Ela grinned.

“Not often. This is rather simple. Is this how you always eat?”

“Only lunch. Supper is more elaborate, but I hope you do not expect the nightly meals Ada requires. ‘Formality is wasted in the fringes.’” Her tone and the look in her eyes made it obvious she was quoting someone with whom she did not agree.

“Who said that?”

“Our dear March Warden. He has no time for the niceties of polite company.” She arched her eyebrows as she said this. Her expression was so like another, Gariel laughed.

“Ela, do not do that outside of home. It will not bode well for you is she catches you making fun of her.”

“What do I care of her? She is a useless piece of fluff. If he wants her, he is welcome to her. She would not survive long on the fences.”

“But she can make much trouble for you.”

“If she does, I will just have to wiggle out of it. She does not frighten me. She is just a bitter woman who has been thwarted in all her machinations. If he weds her, he will have his hands full wondering where she is when he is out of the city.”

Elestra listened to the exchange in silence. She had found out in Imladris that the girl was capable of handling trouble, and not above causing some of her own. She definitely did not inherit that from her father.

Ela poured more cider. Downing the cup, she picked her dishes up and set them in the sink. She turned to Elestra.

“Are you ready?”

“I am.” Ela picked up her dishes and placed them in the sink with hers. She quickly washed the few things up and placed them on the counter to dry. Elestra watched thinking how odd it was to see what should have been the heir apparent to the throne of the High Elves washing luncheon dishes. How her beloved Ereinion would laugh at the irony.

“I will stop before supper,” she said to Gariel, reaching up to kiss her cheek. Grabbing the basket, she started for the door. “Goodbye, Nana.”

“Good luck keeping up with her,” Gariel said quietly to Elestra. “She is a whirlwind when going about her business.”

“I have seen that. Thank you for lunch.”

“You are welcome. And come back, anytime.” Elestra nodded.
Ela waited by the gate. When her grandmother joined her, she started down the lane for the main road. They walked quietly, until a flash of colour drew Ela’s attention. Kneeling down along the side of the road, she picked up a butterfly. Its wing seemed broken. Ela cooed over it, and then rubbed the break, gently. Kissing the wing softly, she threw it up into the air. It fluttered over her head, lighting on her braid. Laughing, she reached her finger back and felt it crawl up to her wrist.

“Fly away, little one. It is dangerous here. You need to go out to the meadows.” As if listening to her, the butterfly flapped its wings and lifted off her finger, heading towards the more isolated part of the woods. She watched it go, and then continued down the lane.

She stopped before a large house. “This is where I do most of my studying now. Lord Glordinel,” she called as she jumped up the steps to the porch. The two meeting at the door narrowly missed hitting each other.

“One of these days you will injure me,” the tall Elf said, coming out onto the porch.

“It is a good thing you have taught me well. Lord Glordinel, this is my grandmother, Lady Elestra.”

“I am pleased to meet you,” he said, nodding to her.

“Likewise. So you are the one who takes up so much of her time.”

“Someone has to save the rest of the population. If I have her, others are spared. What do you have, child?” he asked, seeing the basket.

“It was your lunch. Now, I am not so sure. You would do well to remember who it is that ensures your survival.”

“I apologize. Now, may I have my lunch?”

“If you are that hungry, you skipped breakfast, again. Here, go and eat.” She smiled at the look of gratitude on his face. “Will you have need of me this afternoon?” she asked.

“I suppose I can handle the multitude of patients that stream through here. Go enjoy yourself. If Unimandil yells at you for creeping around the fields again, tell him I said it is time.”

“Thank you. I will. And do not forget about the party.”

“As if I would forget the chance to eat and drink at someone else’s expense. Now, go. I have things to do. Someone has to do your work.”

She laughed at his gruff demeanour. Jumping off the porch, she waited for Elestra to make a more sedate withdrawal.

By late afternoon Ela had shown her grandmother the activities that comprised her world and Elestra had a better grasp of what had made Ela and who she was. The few she met who really knew Ela were respectful, but not deferential. For her part, the girl showed no condescension. She was carefully as respectful in return. It mattered little to her if it was the stable keeper or the master of arms. Each was treated the same. It seemed the girl chose not to recognize class anymore than race. She showed a singular lack of self-importance. Elestra could not help thinking of the heir she would have made, in another place and time.

She had heard of the incidents in Imladris, good and bad. Now she was seeing what had shaped her granddaughter into a young woman. It was a life alien to her cloistered upbringing. Where Elestra had learned to use a bow for sport, Ela was deadly. Elestra could use a knife for cutting meat; Ela had killed two men and injured a third.

She shook her head. So different from Dorlandad. He had been a quiet child, causing no stir. Perhaps it had been because of his mother. No one had ever said anything to her about his Sindar blood, but the differences were there. He had had her silver hair and paler skin. His eyes had been a curious mix of blue and grey, depending on his mood. Everything about him had marked him not a Noldo. And, he had been very conscious of it. Elestra had been just as aware, but fear had kept her from leaving. Finally, Dorlandad had been the one to leave. Unable to find one willing to wed him, he had told her goodbye and walked away from their home. She had heard things over the years concerning her son, but nothing definite. He had chosen to cut himself off from all he had ever known. Until nearly fifteen hundred years later, a letter had arrived from the most unexpected person: Elrond, her husband’s aide and friend. Elrond, asking about her and her son. Elrond, claiming he had her granddaughter. Elrond. How much different would life had been had she sought him out instead of withdrawing to the northwest? However, in the aftermath of the Last Alliance, chaos had ruled her actions. Fear had driven her to hide her child, lest there were those who would seek revenge. Devastating sorrow had driven her to run. She had lost the only man she had ever loved, but could not even claim openly to have wedded him. There were no documents and only one surviving witness, and she had not even been sure of that. Therefore, she had lived her life in obscurity, slowly building a life for her and her son. Slowly working her way back up the social hierarchy to find a place where she would be accepted as at least the noble Sindar she was. Trading on her father’s name, not her husband’s. Using the wealth left her by her sire. It was a lonely life for one who had known such happiness and love.

She started as she realized that Ela might be more like her than she thought. Where there had been a desperate determination to her, Ela had a quiet determination to succeed. Where she had been content with what she could achieve, Ela would be content with nothing less than what she wanted. This child was more like her than her son had been. For the first time, she was truly proud of the daughter her son had sired.

“Grandmother!” Ela’s voice was slightly raised.

“I am sorry, Iell. What did you say?”

“You are so lost. And in pain. Did I cause it?”

“No, sell. It was caused a long time ago. You are just reminding me that life goes on and gives us compensations.”

“Well, it is near dinner time. I asked if you would like me to go back up with you.”

“That will not be necessary. I know your feelings for the heights. What if we meet later, in the gardens?”

“That would be acceptable. They are beautiful in the moonlight.”

“Then, I will see you after dinner.”

“Enjoy your meal. I know it will be more than I care for.” Ela gave Elestra a slight peck on the cheek and turned to go back home. Walking back, she wondered what had made her grandmother so sad. She had a feeling it had to do with her father. Someday, she would ask about him. When it did not pain Elestra so much.

Ela returned home. She found Gariel and Orophin in the kitchen finishing setting the table. Sitting down, she waited until they had joined her.

Orophin could not help but notice Ela’s fidgeting during the meal. Elldar had made other arrangements and they were reduced to the three of them. He watched her play with her food and smiled as she almost tipped over her cup of tea.

“Ela?”

She glanced up at him. “Yes, Orophin?”

“What is on your mind? It certainly is not dinner.”

She hesitated. Judging whether to say anything, she finally made up her mind.

“Do you think me desirable?”

“What?” exclaimed Orophin and Gariel both.

“No, that did not come out right. What I mean is, should others? Have I enough to draw the interests of others?”

“I am not sure what you mean,” stated Orophin, confused.

Without mentioning who said it, she related the conversation with Mar. Gariel smiled. She wondered how long it would take the younger men to notice Ela. Orophin did not look pleased.

“I was asked to take a stroll later, in the gardens. I did not understand the reason, until he explained it to me. I never felt that way. Now, I am wondering. Is this normal?” She looked to Gariel, pleading with her eyes.

“Oh, Ela. It is very normal. I do not think you need be concerned. If asked, and you want to, go for the walk. How will you find your destiny if you do not explore your possibilities? Will you tell us who the boy is?”

She looked at Gariel with reluctance.

“It is Mar,” she whispered.

“I did not think you cared for him.”

“I did not. I do not. I mean…I do not know what I mean. What he said confused me. First, he treats me as if I am nothing, now he tells me I could be everything. Is he serious, or just flirting?”

“Knowing Mar,” said Orophin, “I would say he is serious. And, maybe flirting just a little. He is a very sober ellon. He does little without thinking it through.”

“Then I should accept his invitation?”

“Only if you want to. However, as he says, if you turn him down, there are others. I have heard some talk. You do not go unnoticed any longer. You have gone from ‘that girl staying at Gariel’s’ to Ela, or, I have even heard, Lady Elrénia. It is something you will have to deal with eventually. I fear that is the price of growing up. You should maybe speak with the Lady. She has much more experience than do I with young elleth. I have only my brothers and Elldar to go by.”

“Yes, I think I will. That is what Lord Glordinel suggested.”

“Go, sell,” laughed Gariel. “You have not eaten enough to even clean up. I will see to it.”

Ela nodded and rose from her chair. Going into the house, she walked slowly back to her room. She took down a plain grey dress from the hook on the wall. Changing, she combed her hair and pulled it back, braiding it. She looked in the mirror on the back of the door, and then took the braid back out. Leaving her hair free, she left the house.


Chapter 20 - Chapter Twenty

Gariel came out of the house into the garden. She was surprised to see Ela beneath a tree, weeding. The morning sun had not yet reached high enough to shine down through the trees.

“Why are you here?” she asked, concerned. With the influx of visitors for her benefit, she would have thought there enough to keep her away from home.

“I think Grandmother is upset. I am not sure why, but it has to do with me. She talked only of me last night and avoided any questions about my parents. I thought it best to leave her some time to deal with it. Is there anything I can do for tonight?”

“Everything is ready. The only thing for you to do is have a good time. Enjoy this time.”

“I really wish my parents could be here. Then, if they were, I would not be here. Do you know how confusing this is? If I have one, I cannot have the other. If I have them, I cannot have you, Orophin, and all the rest. Now I could never choose which is more important to me. My life then or my life now.”

“Ela, part of what you feel is the same for every child facing adulthood. A child wants what he had, but also the belonging that comes with growing up. You are beginning to step out into a new world. Embrace it and become what you were meant to be.”

Ela grinned. “How long did you practice that speech?”

“Ever since I found I was having a child. It is the same one given me by my mother. She had many more, but I have found that most do not apply to you. Now, go bathe. You are expected for lunch with Lord Elrond. He sent a message late last night, after you had retired.”

“Very well. I will be down at the river. I feel like a swim this morning.”

“Just do not tarry too long. You will need to be back here by mid-afternoon.”

“Yes, Nana. I will be here. I think I will see if Meliel wants to go for a swim.”

“You will find her over at the stables.”

“Del.” Ela said it with a touch of derision, but under laying it was a softer tone. It was not lost on Gariel. She had heard the comments about Del for several years. While never actually derogatory, they had not been complementary, either. Her attitude had changed in the last several weeks. It was just as well, thought Gariel. If he was Meliel’s choice, then Ela would have to get along with him.

Ela went to her room and grabbed her bath kit. Leaving the house, she sauntered to the stables north of the house. Once on the road leading to the north gate, she walked faster. Glancing up, she saw Mar coming her way. With no way to avoid him, she continued walking.

“Good morning,” he said, politely.

“Good morning to you, also,” she returned, just a bit cautious. Their walk the evening before had been uncomfortable for her. Only her grandmother’s presence had enabled her to stay.

“I think your brother misunderstood my intentions yesterday.”

“I am not sure he did. What were your intentions?”

“I just wanted to talk to you. Nothing more.”

“I believe he did not think speaking to me while I was bathing was a sign of good intentions.” She looked up at him. He was not quite as tall as Elldar, and was much thinner. His dark hair was pulled back in a topknot, but hung down almost as long as hers. He had a decidedly effeminate look about him.

“Why did you seek me out?”

“Just interest.” He paused. “I did enjoy our walk in the gardens.”

“Well, while the walk was nice, you should know there is nothing there. The marking of this birthday has no significance other than in deference to my parents. Whatever you may have said yesterday, I am not interested in anything more than I already have. I agreed to walk through the gardens with you, nothing more.”

“What makes you think I have an interest?”

She looked up at him.

“You do not speak to me. Ever. Not in fifteen years. You show no interest whatsoever. Your contempt for those younger than yourself is painfully evident. I have seen you go out of your way to insult Delinfel. It seems the only one you have not ignored or insulted is Elldar. And I suspect that is out of fear of his uncle. Now, of a sudden, you seek me out twice-in two days. And, I might add, in not so very subtle ways. At what conclusions should I arrive, if not that you are interested?”

Mar laughed, loud enough to draw attention.

“You are correct. However, whether you will it or not, there are those who do look upon this marking of your birthday as a sign that you are approaching your majority. And if one listens to certain quarters, you are old enough to court, even if you have several years before you may wed.”

“One has only to think, with little imagination, where you have gotten your information. If you are so bent on an entanglement you do not understand, you may speak to Lord Elrond. I am sure he will empathize with your plight. Just do not expect him to acquiesce. There is a binding agreement that may make your wait undesirable. But, I do wish you good luck.”

“Explain how it is that you would turn me down for an older ellon such as Rúmil.”

“He holds my interest as others do not. Now, if you will excuse me, I have much to do before this evening.” She nodded and walked away. When she glanced back, he was still staring after her. She turned with a small smile.

Entering the stables, Ela looked around for Meliel. Seeing Del in the back, she approached him.

“Good morning. I am looking for Meliel. Have you seen her?”

Del glanced up from the tack he was repairing.

“She is out back. There is a new foal. You know how she gets about foals.”

“Yes, I do,” said Ela smiling. “I came to see if she wanted to go for a swim.”

“You know the answer to that. She will want to know how warm the water is, and how high it may be running from the spring rains, and where exactly you will choose to swim. Would it not save a lot of headaches just to go by yourself?”

“Yes, it would, but it would not be near as much fun.” She grinned at him. He noticed it did not last long.

“What is it?”

“Have you spoken to Mar, lately?”

“I have never spoken to him; he has spoken at me, but did not invite conversation. Why?”

“It is curious, but he has sought me out twice now. And I would have wagered he did not even notice my existence. Yesterday, he came down to the river to talk to me. Elrohir found him there and was not so gentle in suggesting he go elsewhere. Today, he was polite, almost too much so. If I am denied the use of the bathhouses, then I would prefer not to go to the river alone.”

“You can ask her. If she does not care to go, I will. And I am sure that Elldar would not mind.” She looked for anything other than a genuine offer of companionship. Seeing nothing, she nodded.

“I will keep that in mind. Meanwhile, do not forget about tonight. I have acquired permission from Lord Celeborn to get some wine from his wine master. The elderberry wine.”

“How did you manage that? Finel guards that stuff with his life. Even the Lady must gain permission for some.”

Ela grinned wickedly. “Finel made a gross error several months ago. He wagered against me in a race. The price was a favour. Now I will collect. I do not believe he will be so foolish again, unless I can persuade him to drink some of his own wine.”

Del chuckled.

“What is so funny?” They both turned to see Meliel standing in the stables’ midway.

“Ela managed to get wine from Finel and Mar is paying her court.”

“He is not! And I told you that in confidence.”

“Confidence!” exclaimed Del. “If it was to be a secret, you would not tell either of us.”

Ela turned to Meliel.

“I am going to the river to bathe. I came to see if you would go with me.”

“Well, with the heavy rains out on the eastern plains, I am sure the water will be cold.”

“Never mind. Del has offered to go. I am sure it will not take long for him to fetch his kit.”

“Wait a moment. Del offered to go? I do not think so. I will come.” She cast a look at Del and went out to get her gear.

“It was not necessary to cause me such grief,” he said. “I was honest in my offer.”

“I know you were, and I appreciated it. It was the comment about Mar. Did you think I could let that go?”

“You are a vexing creature, Ela.”

“By the way,” she said, giving him a grin that promised no good. “The rumour you were going to tell me about, before we were interrupted by our near deaths. What was it you heard?”

“Ela,” he begged. “Do not do this. Meliel will hand me my head. And, just in case she misses part of it, Elldar will be sure to finish it. Do not cause my death before I have had a chance to live.”

“I already know of the rumour.”

“Is it true, then?”

“Only as true as it would ever apply now. Do not dwell on the past. I do not. It gains me nothing and only stirs up heartache.”

“But still, to know your grandfather was…”

“Del, if you say it, you will not have to worry about Meliel and Elldar. I will hand you your head myself. If you value what friendship we enjoy, you will never bring it up to me again.”

Meliel’s return saved Del from digging his hole any deeper. Ela cheerfully bid him goodbye and went ahead of Meliel out of the stable. She heard Del sputtering to defend himself to Meliel. She did not want to admit that she was just a bit jealous of the two of them. She had at least ten years before she could even think about being where they were. She suspected that Del would pick tonight to ask Meliel to exchange rings with him. Trust Del to horn in on her night. But she could not really fault him. He just did not see a problem with doing it.

Ela turned as Meliel caught up to her.

"Does Del have any ears left?"

"He will survive. What were you thinking, asking him to go to the river?"

"I was not thinking anything. He offered, if neither you nor Elldar would go. It was no great thing. I cannot go alone right now. You do not like going, so what was I to do?" Ela picked up the pace, forcing Meliel to catch up.

"But Del?"

"I know. Are you ready for tonight?"

"I have only to get dressed. Are you ready?"

"I am. I have my dress, Gariel will do my hair, and everyone is here. Yes, I am ready. I would like you to come by the house early." Having reached the river, Ela dropped her kit on the rock.

"I can. I will tell Del to meet me there."

"No, just come and then go meet him. I want you to come to the party together. I just need you to come over earlier."

"Very well. Is anyone not coming?"

"Who would not?” Ela asked, surprised. “Everyone invited is coming."

"I wondered where Rúmil's brother is today."

Ela looked at her.

"I was just wondering. No harm in that." Meliel was not smiling.

"What game are you playing?”

"I play no games. Just forget I said anything. Now, get your bathing finished so I can get back to something constructive. I have other things to do today."

"You are such a killjoy." Ela stuck a foot in the water. "It is not too bad. Come on. You know you will have to wait forever for the bathhouse. You may as well bathe now." She jumped in, surfacing at the edge of the rock.

Dipping her hand into the river, Meliel decided it was not as cold as other times. Stripping down to her undergarments, she dove in over Ela's head from the rock. She surfaced with a gasp. "Valar, this is cold! How do you do this?"

"Stop complaining and just enjoy. We do not have a lot of time."

Ela swam out to the middle of the river. Diving down, she came back up with a whoop.

"If you think it is cold there, come out here."

"I do not think so. This is cold enough. Come back in."

"You come out. I will race you across the river."

"That is hardly fair. You swim better." She swam out to Ela.

"See, that was not so hard. Come on, I will wait for you." She took off for the far shore, slowly.

"How long are you going to need company?" asked Meliel, her voice almost a whine.

"Just until a certain elf finds out things are not to be as easy as he thinks.”

Reaching the rocks on the far shore, they paused to catch their breath.

"What do you think your ada will say?"

"About Mar? I matters little to me what he says. I will say no. I realize there are few ellith who might be interested in one so young, but that will not sway me. He can go elsewhere to find one willing. Are you ready to start back?"

Meliel nodded. They pushed off the rocks and swam back to the center of the channel. Ela stopped. Grabbing a deep breath, she dove deep. Meliel set out for the shore, knowing what Ela was doing. Sure enough, the younger girl popped up halfway between the center and the near shore. Turning, she laughed and splashed water back at Meliel. They commenced a water fight before tiring of treading water and heading back for the shore.

Laughing, they reached up for their bathing sheets. Ela grabbed hers and stepping out of the water, wrapped it around herself. Meliel followed suit. The gathered their things and parted, promising to meet a Gariel’s later.

At home, Ela put her things away and went to find Gariel. The older woman was in the garden relaxing before the events of the evening took her full attention.

Gariel picked up Ela’s comb and ran it through her hair. Parting it out, she pulled the top third back and tied it off. Twisting it into itself, she smoothed out the roll and started on the next section. She had no idea where Ela had come up with the style, but it was attractive. Pulling the last third together, she wound it back through the tie at the base of her neck. Taking grey ribbons, she wove them through the hair. Standing back, she surveyed her work. Looking at the grey, she had to disagree with Rúmil. Blue was more Ela’s colour. The grey dress and fair skin had a tendency to fade against each other. In addition, the one time Ela had tried yellow, everyone had told her not to do it again. Glancing around her left side, Gariel could just make out the scarring over her temple. She rubbed over it, wishing Ela had let Glordinel remove it when he could.

Ela reached up and grasped the hand.

“Do not fret. I am rather used to it. And it serves as a reminder that friends are worth the scars.” Turning, she reached up and laid a kiss on the older woman’s cheek. “Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For everything. If my mother were here, you are what I would like her to be like. You have been very good to me. I feel blessed to have lived here.”

“Oh, Ela. It is you who have made us feel blessed. I would only give the last fifteen years back if it would bring back your parents. Nothing else do I regret. Go now, before I start to cry. Enjoy your lunch and do not be late returning home.”

“I will not. Have Rúmil and Haldir returned yet? I do not want to miss them tonight.”

“Haldir is here. I believe he said that Rúmil is coming in any time. He needed to find a replacement for Loneldon. He complained that you invited his most trusted officer. He thought that very rude.”

“He will get over it. Celedien was surprised to receive an invitation. The only one to refuse was Corélned. She said something about her sister. Maybe she is sick.” Ela did not notice the slight cough from Gariel. Well, she thought, if the girl did not know, she was not about to tell her.

“I can tell you one was not happy with her invitation. She declined when she found out that half the city guard was coming. She felt it would not help her social standing to mingle with the masses.”

Ela smiled. “Yes, I made sure she was aware of the guest list. But now she cannot claim I excluded her.”

“Well, go now and try not to stir up too much trouble.”

“Me?” she exclaimed, “Cause trouble?

“Go!” Gariel said, laughing. Ela turned and flounced out the door.

****

Closing the gate behind her, Ela started out the lane leading to the main road. Turning east, she started towards the center of the city. She carefully avoided the puddles of water left from the overnight rain. Paying attention to the ground, she did not notice someone behind her. She was startled when his voice broke her concentration.

“Are you off to the Lady’s?”

“As a matter of fact, I am meeting Ada for lunch. What brings you into the city in the middle of the day?” She glanced at the March Warden.

“A silly party. One I was advised not to miss. Do you know anything about it?”

“I am sure no one would miss you if you did not show up. I know of one other who is declining to attend. You could keep her company. You could comfort each other.”

“Ela, you have a wicked streak.”

“So I have been informed. You would not really not come, would you?”

He thought he detected just the smallest hint of disappointment in her voice.

“Would it matter if I did not?”

“Someone may miss you. I am racking my brain to figure out whom that would be. I know, Rúmil. He told me how much he is looking forward to seeing you this evening.” His slight scowl was not lost on her.

“There is enough reason to avoid coming.”

“Did you seek me out just to banter about the party?”

He hesitated and glanced around. By the time he looked back at her, her curiosity was peaked.

“Come now,” she said. “You are not one to deal in nuances.” When he still hesitated, she said, “I am quite sure you have a reason for all of this; however I do not have the time. I am due at the Lady’s and if you do not decide what you are about, I will be late.”

“I find myself once again questioning your age.” He paused, eyeing her. “I have something for you.”

“Will it not wait until this evening?”

“No, it will not. I wanted to give it to you in private, as if it were possible to find any privacy around here, right now.”

She stood, waiting. She was definitely not making this easy. He gave up and just handed her a small box. She looked up into his eyes. Once again she felt a subtle shift in their relationship. Awkwardness had never been one of his faults. She untied the string holding the top of the box. Lifting off the lid, she gasped. She looked sharply up at him.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“Very. I found them in Minis Tirith. Your grandmother told me what to get.”

Ela lifted a necklace from the box. It was a strand of small goldstones. Hanging from it was an oval of black diamond. On half of it was carved an eagle. The other half was blank. In the bottom of the box were a matching bracelet and a pair of earrings of alternating goldstone and black diamond beads. Ela was in a state Haldir in which had seldom seen her: speechless.

“I… I do not know…I cannot accept…”

“You cannot refuse. They are a birthday gift. You said that your parents would have gifted you on this day. They are not here. I would do the honour.”

“But it is not your place. Why would you do this?” He could see the confusion in her eyes.

“Because I want to, and it is proper that you receive this. Lady Elestra went to great lengths to find out what a fitting gift would be. She told me that this is what would have been appropriate for your station had you lived among your mother’s people. And it is what may have given you had you lived with her.”

“Then why did she not give them to me?”

“Has anyone ever mentioned what a perverse child you are?”

She smiled. “Seldom mentioned, but surely thought. Just ask Erestor. If this is what you truly want, then I accept. But I am surprised at the earrings.”

He sighed quietly. For some reason, this seemed the hardest thing he had ever done. The thought that she would refuse had shaken him more than he cared to admit. He grinned back at her.

“As with all else concerning you, it is just one more thing to be accepted. I discovered long ago that there is nothing easy about you. If you insist on having holes in you ears, then you should at least have something decent to wear in them. Those bells are irritating.” He remembered the first time she had worn them. They seemed to be a part of her now.

“Very well.” She glanced up into the trees. “Oh, now I am late, and it takes me so long to get up to the Lady’s talan. I must go, but thank you for the gift. I am sure it will cause not a few stirrings.”

She turned and quickly walked away, leaving him feeling unfinished. He frowned. Such silliness over a gift.

Her parting thought was, did he really have no idea what the gift implied?

----
Elrond glanced toward the door. It was not like her to be late. He was not looking forward to the conversation he had planned. She was adamant about the subject, but it was one he could not ignore. He relaxed as he saw her finally arrive. Smiling, he remembered the small child that had fallen into his lap twenty years ago. She had filled a gap that he had not realized had grown so big. But, looking at her now, he saw she was no longer a child. She would never be as tall as her father’s people. Nor as dark as her mother’s. At first glance, she would not be mistaken for either. Elladan had been right; she more resembled the Rohan, not that they would take her for one of their own. She was a blending of several peoples, Noldor, Sindar and Indrel. Not for the first time, he wondered if there were more. As far as he knew the Indrel were a very suspicious people. He did not see them accepting any other race of beings. Her father was proof of that. And, he knew from her father’s ancestry that there was no outside blood there. He laid his imagination to rest. The girl just disturbed him, in a pleasant way. What bothered him most, however, was that she was about to be loosed upon the world. And, he was not sure what her role would be. Her parents should have been looking for a husband for her now, yet he had made her promise to wait. She had always acquiesced to those who knew better, but he had sensed a quiet will beneath her that once unleashed would seek its own way. He hoped with the training and love given her, she would choose the correct way. His attention went back to her as she made her way to him.

“Ada, I am sorry. I was stopped along the way. Am I too late?”

“No, Iell.” He rose and kissed her cheek before taking her hand and leading her to the small antechamber. She looked around the room.

“I have spent too much time in here,” she said, smiling. She sat in the chair he held for her. As he sat down, Erestor entered the room with a tray. She looked up questioningly.

“I have asked him to join us. I would discuss a delicate matter, and I do not want others here at the present. Do you mind?”

“Not at all.” She laid her box on the table. Elrond glanced at it. Ela saw he was curious. “A gift. From a friend. Would you like to see?” She slid the box across the table. Her tone was not lost on Erestor. Fifteen years had not changed some things.

Elrond opened the box, and then looked sharply at Ela.

“Who gave you this?” he asked quietly.

“A friend.” She picked up a small sandwich from the tray and started eating it, nonchalantly.

“Do you know what this is?”

“I suspect.”

“Does your friend?”

“I am quite sure he does not. Otherwise he would not have gifted me with it.”

“You cannot keep it.”

“I cannot give it back. He has no idea what it is. This is my grandmother’s doing. She sent him to find it. He went to a lot of trouble. I am not sure, but I think she tries to circumvent our agreement.” Elrond gazed into Ela’s innocent eyes.

“There is no thinking about it. And you know very well what she does.”

“Well, it will do her no good. I am not ready, and neither is he. So I will just accept the gift in the manner intended, and disregard her intentions.”

“You must return it.”

“I cannot. If he finds out what it is, then he will be humiliated. Would you have me do that? No, I cannot do it. Do you not understand?” Her tone shifted. No longer light, but with a passion that bespoke a slight bitterness. “Lady Elestra sees only the now. It is not time. There are things in motion that cannot be undone. Destiny cannot be shunted aside, or held back at our convenience. I must accept certain unpleasantries concerning my past than I cannot change. You must accept certain unpleasantries concerning my future that you cannot change. I made a promise in good faith when I agreed to wait for my majority. However, it will affect others. The Indrel will not be stayed. Even now, they seek ways to get what they desire. Do not ask how I know this. I could not tell you if I tried. They are a desperate people, and their current leader is ambitious. If I return there, do you know who desires to be king? Crelden craves it, but he was speaking for his lord. The one who is striving to get me back there is my uncle, my mother’s brother. He cannot have what he wants without me. Do you realize what I am saying?”

Elrond looked at her in shock. Wedding a child was forbidden, yet the Indrel were willing to overlook that. What she suggested now was even more taboo. Yet they seemed willing to overlook even that.

“I see that you do understand.” She paused. “And there is something else, but I cannot remember what it is. It is hovering just out of my thoughts. But it is important.” She sighed. “The Lady says that I will remember when it is time. The waiting is exasperating, though.” She looked at Elrond. “Can you imagine knowing something important, and not remembering? What if I remember too late?”

“Too late for what?”

“I do not know. That is the maddening part. If I knew, maybe I could prevent it.” She grinned over at him. “I guess you will be seeing the Lady when we are finished. At least it is not Haldir this time. He dreads speaking with me. It almost invariably leads to a trip up here.”

“I had thought that our troubles with you would be ending soon. It appears that they are just beginning. Could you have not been a simple human child that I would have sent to Misty Haven?”

“I could have been, but would you have been satisfied? You have not suffered overmuch because of me. I rather think you have enjoyed it. You do like your riddles. Now, may I have permission to come to Imladris, when I am ready?”

“Why would you need permission? I told you when you left you would always be welcome.”

“I am not yet ready to give my reasons, but it may prove troublesome if I come. They will not stop trying.”

“Then we will be waiting for them. Will you tell me who gave you the gift? I already suspect.”

She stared out the window for several minutes. He could see the confusion pass over her face. “It is not yet time, but if you press me, I will.”

He deliberated on this answer, different from the ones she had always given. Making up his mind he said, “Very well, then. We will discuss your grandfather.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Is it necessary?”

“You know that it is. Your grandmother is very distraught concerning your attitude. Do you realize that now that she has come forward, her marriage can be established? And announce that Ereinion’s line did not die with him.”

She thought on this. It had occurred to her before, but was not something she liked to dwell on. Erestor watched her face. He could see her trying to find a way out of this predicament without harming Elestra. He knew exactly when she concluded that she could not find one.

“Why can you not just establish her claim, and let it go? What good can come of this? Those who will can form their own conclusions. She has spoken little of her life before; however, I have garnered bits and pieces. And, it is not hard to imagine how difficult life was in the Havens for her. She could produce no name for Dorlandad’s sire. I understand why my father left. It is no easy thing to be unaccepted. I had a small taste of it in Holm’s Hold. I would not like to have spent my life among people treated like a cast-off. Yet, this is not only about her. I would rather not say anything about myself. It is the only compromise I can offer. Just let it go at that. I am better served by obscurity.”

Erestor smiled. He could not help wondering what the Indrel could accomplish if they let her rule, instead of a husband chosen simply because he was the strongest. He shook his head. It was no way to govern a people.

“Well enough, Iell. I see you do understand. Know that Elestra is sympathetic, knowing you are hesitant. She would spare you this, but she thinks also of her son and your future. She understands your reluctance. She hopes that you will see her side.”

“I do, but it does not please me any. I would rather have just lived in obscurity. It makes life easier. And what will you do when things stir even further?”

“What things?”

“There is still the east. And, although I do not know what it is, there is something to the south. It bears watching. When it rears its head, it will be a bitter blow.”

“Do you know what comes?”

She smiled. “As usual, just enough to disturb, but not enough to tell anything.”

“You know about the stirrings to the east. You know the history of Morgoth. Do you then also know the future?”

“Oh, Ada. That is silly. It is not possible for me to predict the future. Oh, I know you have a gift for foresight, as does the Lady, but is it always the way things will be? If so, why bother if you know a disaster is coming? If you see it, how can you prevent it?”

“I can only see what could happen. Nothing is certain. There are always variables that are not evident. I had forebodings before the attack on you in Imladris. I let Elrohir talk me out of them. I knew about the battle here when it happened. Not details, but something had happened. I do know that something evil arises in the east. And it is an old evil, one thought defeated.”

“I can sense it, also.” She closed her eyes. “It stirs as does a slumbering animal that does not quite awaken. It is shapeless and right now is not entirely aware.” She opened her eyes. “Is that what you see?”

“It is. When it does awaken, there will be much blood shed before it is finally put down for good.”

She nodded. “And it is not alone,” she whispered. “It has found an ally in one dissatisfied with his lot in life. You would do well to find him and sunder the alliance that has not quite formed yet.”

Elrond sat back. He had thought him and Mithrandir the only ones who knew. It seemed the time had come to bring the Maia to Lórien.

“Do you foresee what will happen?”

“No. That is not a gift I possess, nor would I welcome such an ability. I can only claim that the education given me taught me to fit together bits and pieces of things I hear and read. Then, you already suspected that. And, I can feel it, not the future, but the now. The stirrings have ceased for the present. However, evil is drawn towards the east even now. Can you not feel it? It is like falling in mud. The very air there is thick and tainted. Even the men who lived surrounding the area north feel it. That is why they flee.”

Elrond glanced at Erestor. They had discussed exactly what they thought she could do. It seemed not as much as they had suspected. It was just as well. The girl had enough problems without adding an ability to see the future.

Erestor reached over and gently laid a hand on her arm.

“When will you return to Imladris?”

“I am not sure. I only know that for the moment, Rohan is closed. I would not chance what lies there.”

“Would the healer remain, with what is passing?”

Elrond became aware that this was not the first time they had spoken on this subject. He sat and listened. Erestor was much more adept at prying details from Ela. Not for the first time, he noticed the affinity between them.

“He is old and settled. He does not want to leave; he will not desert those who cannot leave yet. His wife is long gone, and he sent his children and grandchildren south long ago. He, also, has a small gift for adding up facts and does not like the results. The people living in the area surrounding the north of Mordor do not need prophets and foreseers to know what happens there. They live it. It is as plain as the trees we see now. Gregor sent word to me that although he would welcome me, he advised against coming.”

“Why this pressing need, now?”

“I told you, I do not know. I only know that it is important. I feel the urge to do it. I cannot stop it any more than I can stop the sun from rising. It just is.”

“When you are ready, come home.” Elrond was sincere in his invitation. He had not liked sending her to Lórien and wanted her back home. If he could not have his own children, he wanted his adopted one where he could protect her.

“Thank you, Ada. It will not be soon, maybe a year or so. When necessary, I will know the time is right. For now, I will content myself with learning all I can. Glordinel has proven to be what I needed. I am told that I am not nearly as stiff as the northern elves, possibly from the mountains to the west.”

Elrond laughed. “By Meliel, I am sure. There is a change. I noticed it when you were home. You are surer of yourself. And, I do not doubt, more mature. I have heard the rumblings in certain quarters concerning your strong will.”

“Ha! He is the cause of my strong will, and, probably my learning to go around the edges of the rules. Yes,” she laughed, “I know what is said. It is impossible to keep anything secret here. I think even the trees have ears. There are wagers even now, on whether or not I make it to the fences. I am sure that no one has broached the subject with him, but I have a hefty amount of coin riding on the outcome. I plan on a wedding trip to Minas Tirith. And my husband will not be able to use cost as an excuse not to take me.”

“And who is that?”

“That will not work. But, it is good that your interest is peaked. Things get boring around here at times, and among friends, the subject has made many a night pass quicker.”

“Ela, you have not changed that much.” Elrond sobered. “I did have one thing to tell you. The snake in the barn died after you left.”

She nodded. “It was his time. He felt it was so. I wished him good hunting in the afterlife, and bid him say good things of me to my father, should he make it to the Halls of Namo. No, it is not a time for sadness. He offered me many years of friendship and pleasant thoughts after I left.”

Erestor rose at a knock on the door. Speaking quietly to someone outside, he turned back to Elrond.

“It was Felend. Our time is at an end.”

“Well, Ela, are you ready for tonight?”

“Most certainly, Ada. You realize that this is the last day I am considered a child. From now on, I may make my own choices.”

“You have been doing that for years. One day is not going to make a difference in that.”

“It will to one. And, the difference is that I no longer have to defer to those older than myself. Not,” she held up a hand to his reply, “that I will not, when the situation warrants. After all, I do not live in a world of my own. There are always others to consider. Know that your faith in me is not misplaced. I have no plans to do anything rash. I have thought long and hard on my future, and I have inquired concerning the wisdom of my options. There is more to consider than my own safety.”

“You are wise in that respect, Iell. I have never felt my faith misplaced. You are a strong young woman who is quite capable of making her way in the world. Just promise to be wary of that same world. It does have a tendency to bite when least expected.”

“I will. Now, I must go. I have much to do and Gariel will not thank me if I am late. She has gone to great trouble for tonight, and I do not want to disappoint her. Until tonight.” She rose and kissed Elrond’s forehead. Nodding to Erestor, she went out the door he held for her. When she was gone, they looked at each other.

“She will be fine.”

“Yes, I fear for the ones who get in her way.”

Erestor gave a rare laugh. “Right now, I fear for only one.”


Chapter 21 - Chapter Twenty-one

I feel compelled to warn you that this is the last chapter. So, if you do not like semi-cliff hangers, you may not want to read. However, the good news is that I am working on Part ll. It will be a little slow in coming as I have started back on an original story I am writing. Thank you so much, all of you who have stuck with this story through the rewrites and glitches in my personal life. I love this story as much as some of you do. And I have no intentions of not finishing it, so, if you will bear with, I will try to hurry it up.

I have run through and made minor changes in the last seven chapters. Mostly, just grammar and dropping a few lines to clarify passages. Feedback is welcome. As usual, any issues with canon are addressed in the first chapter.

Thank you,

Rous




Chapter Twenty-one

“Ela, hold still!” Gariel had been trying for half an hour to get her into her dress. Her hair alone had taken twice the normal time, simply because she would not sit still. Gariel had finally sent Meliel home to keep Ela from being distracted. All the arrangements for tonight had not been as frustrating as the last two hours.

“Gariel, do you think he will make it?”

“Who? Oh, Rúmil? Yes, he will make it. He promised.” Ela was upset he still had not returned to the city. Even Lonélden had arrived. But no Rúmil.

“I know he promised. But what if something happened?”

“If something happened, you would know. Now, stop squirming and let me get your dress on you.”

“Hello!” came from the front door.

“Lindelen!” Gariel called. “Thank the Valar you are here. Hold her down while I get this dress on her.”

“Ela, what did you say to Meliel? She is in a state.”

“I just told her stay with Del tonight. Do not wander.” She settled the dress onto her shoulders. Gariel started buttoning up the back.

“How am I supposed to get out of this, if the need arrives?”

“What need would you have to get out of it?” Lindelen smiled.

“You are wedded. Why would you need to get out of it?”

“ELA!” Gariel exclaimed.

“I am only jesting,” the girl laughed. “I have no intentions of needing to get out of it. Just do not make my wedding gown with the buttons in the back. Nor Meliel’s. She will not thank you, nor will Del.”

“Del!” said Lindelen. “He has not even made a move in that direction, yet. I think she is wasting her time on him.”

“So do I, but then he is her choice.”

“Hmmph,” said the older woman. “And when exactly am I making your wedding gown?”

“Give it a few years yet. I have things to do first.”

“There!” said Gariel, with a sigh. “Turn around.”

Lindelen and Gariel examined the dress as Ela slowly turned. The deep sapphire silk contrasted sharply with her pale skin and light copper hair. But it complemented her eyes. Her hair had been braided and twisted and looped into an intricate pile on her head. Lindelen reached for the thin tiara Ela had brought back from Imaladris. She placed it on the girl’s forehead and stood back to look. Gariel had brought Ela’s sapphire earrings from her room.

“No, I will wear these tonight,” she said, handing Gariel a box. Opening it, Gariel gasped.

“Ela, these are beautiful. Where did you get them?”

“An early gift. The stones match the one my grandmother gave me. I think they will suit.” She stood still while Gariel fastened the necklace. Ela took her gold earrings out and replaced them with the ones from the box. Lindelen picked up the bracelet and put it on her left wrist. She and Gariel took a step back to survey their handiwork.

“Not bad. Next time, we will have to do better.”

“Oh, Lindelen! Did Meliel get dressed all right?”

“Yes. She practically threw me out of the house when she was done. Told me to hie myself down here to help you. The gowns are both beautiful.”

“You did an excellent job. Thank you.”

“Are you ready to go?” asked Gariel.

“I am waiting for Ada.”

A noise at the front door caught their attention. Gariel went into the family room.

“Oh,” she said. “Ela was expecting her father.”

“Is it Rúmil?” Ela came into the room. She stopped when she saw who was standing there. The look on her face changed from excitement to something else. The man was not sure how to read it.

“You father sent me to get you. He said something about being needed at the moment. I hope you are not too disappointed it was not my brother.”

“No,” she said, lightly. Down, butterflies, she chastised herself.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes. Are you two coming?”

“We are right behind you,” said Lindelen. By mutual agreement, they held back , allowing the others to wander ahead. Gariel thought things were becoming clearer.

“I see you decided to wear the jewelry.”

“Was I not supposed to?” she asked.

“No, I mean, yes. If you wanted to.”

“Do you think they go with my dress?”

“Your dress?” he asked. “Oh, your dress.” For the first time, he noticed it was the same dress he had buttoned up for her not long ago. “They go better than the leggings and bare feet.”

She looked blank for a moment. Then started laughing. “I had forgotten about that. Yes, you are right. They do look better.”

They walked in silence for several moments.

“Why do you want to go up to the fences so much?” His question startled her.

“Because I feel a need. Do you not remember how it felt to be young? There is so much I want to do. And all at once.”

“But you are a lady. You cannot change that. There are those who object to your desires.”

“And you are not one of them?” she asked, grinning. “Why do you oppose me so?”

He thought on it. “It is not necessary. You are not needed on the borders. It seems rather irresponsible to allow you up there.”

“Irresponsible on whose part? It seems it should be my choice, if I am capable of the job. Am I?”

He took a moment. It had been a while since she had caught him up in one of her word games, but he had not forgotten how it felt. If he told her the truth, he left himself open, if he lied, she would never let him forget it.

“You are,” he said, hesitantly. “However, why risk it? Can you not content yourself with healing and teaching? Why must you compound things by seeking such a hazardous living?”

“Would you be content here in the city, day after day? Is it fair to condemn me to such an existence? You do not deny Meliel. Nor do you deny Solera or Elendin. And other than the incident on the eastern marches, when has there been much danger?”

“The danger is always there. It is not always obvious. I do not think it the place for you.” He finished as if the discussion was at an end.

Silent for minutes, Ela thought out her next comments.

“All right,” she said, watching him roll his eyes, “let me see if I understand. You do not want me on the fences. I am capable and responsible enough for all, except you. Could it be there is another reason? One not tied to my abilities? I mean, I did disobey orders. Nevermind that Del is not upset. Nor his parents, nor his future wife. Are you afraid that I will not be able to control myself? That I may cause my future husband grief?” She saw a flicker in his eyes. “Ah, so that is it. Why should you worry about that? I am not even betrothed yet. I have not given any an indication that I am ready for that. Yet you worry for him. Is that not a little fatherly of you?”

“Stop it. I do not care for the reasons your juvenile mind conjures up for my refusal. I refuse. That is the end of it.”

“Very well. I will not bring it up again.” She concentrated on the path ahead of her. “I am returning to Imladris soon.” She smiled as he stumbled.

“What!”

“My Elvish is very good. I did not stutter. Ada has said I may return. I have decided to accept his invitation.”

“When?”

“In a year or so. Does it matter? You are on the marches. I am in the city. You will not even miss me.” Well, that would give him food for thought.

He was silent. Leaving Lórien. Did he care? He found that for some reason, he did. He did not want to contemplate Rúmil’s reaction. Well, that might be amusing, for a while. It would keep his brother on his toes for a short time. He would be sure to let it slip.

They reached the outer edge of the gardens. Faint laughter could be heard from the depths of the interior. Haldir reached out and took Ela’s hand, laying it on his arm. She laid her other hand over it. To any watching, it was a gesture of intimacy that could not be mistaken. And there was one watching. One could not see her, but Ela felt her presence. She backed further into the trees, but not before her movement caught the attention of the two who followed.

“There is trouble just waiting an opportune moment,” commented Gariel.

“Ela had better watch herself. I really believe the woman is not right. I cannot understand her dislike for the girls. Ela is one thing. She does not look Elven, but Meliel inherited little of her father’s looks. She could pass for full Elven.”

“Trust me, it has nothing to do with looks. It has to do with men. Deladrieng set herself to capture Orophin. When that did not happen, she decided on Rúmil. He quickly set her straight. So then she went after Haldir. He just ignores her, for the most part. Then when Rúmil and Ela started their little game a year ago, it caused even more resentment. Now that it seems Ela is making a move into her territory, Deladrieng is really going to get nasty. I have seen it before. She has run several out of the city with her jealousy. I really do not understand it. With so many to choose from, why go for one who does not return your affections? There are many who would have been willing to accept her when she was younger, but no longer. She had become too bitter.”

“Is Ela playing games? There are those who would not welcome that. I know she is half-Elven, yet both she and Meliel bring enough of their other heritages into their lives to make waves.”

“I do not think you can inherit what Ela is doing. It is something only a woman can do. And playing games has always been part of it. Ela just picked the wrong opponent.”

“Well, I do not envy her. Meliel has told me some of the things the woman has said about her. I can only imagine what she says about Ela.”

“Whatever you imagine, it is true. Ela will not confirm it, but Deladrieng is the one who started all the ‘half-blood cur’ comments. Orophin was livid when he heard them from some of the guards. They had come to him to complain. If it came to a popularity contest between the two of them, I know where I would place my coin.”

Gariel glanced ahead when she heard her name. She saw Orophin coming towards her. The look on his face told her there was a problem.

“Rúmil is still not here.” He gave his wife a quick kiss on the cheek. “Lord Celeborn said he was taking care of business for him. I do not like it. Ela will not be happy.”

“I will speak to her. Is everything else in order?”

“Everything is ready. Come, I have seats for all of us. This way.” He led the two ladies to a large table set to the side. It was set for twenty. There were other tables scattered around the clearing. One large table held food and drinks. Wine had been set out and was already in evidence. A group of musicians were setting up across the gathering.

Nodding to Lord Elrond, already seated, but rising, the ladies took their seats. Gariel found Ela across the way, speaking to Glordinel. Haldir had disappeared. She noticed that every few minutes, Ela glanced towards the entrance to the glen. Which brother she was looking for, Gariel would not hazard a guess. Finally seeing a grin, Gariel glanced back. Neither. It was Meliel. She and Del had arrived. Ela nodded to her teacher and went to greet them.

“Oh, Meliel! You look beautiful. And the earrings.”

“Thank you. And for the earrings. Mother had a right fit about them. But, as she said, the damage was done.” She turned her head so Ela could see the tiny emerald stones. They matched her gown perfectly.

“And do you not look dashing, Del!” When Meliel’s attention was drawn away, Ela looked at her escort. “And I forgive you for messing up my party,” she whispered.

He looked startled, then sheepish. “I am sorry, but it is the perfect time.”

“The only reason I would forgive you. Just pick your time carefully.”

“I will let you decide.”

Ela glanced past him to see Celeborn and Galadriel coming up the path. “Excuse me,” she said to her friends. She walked over to where the rulers of Lórien stood surveying the gathering.

Bowing, she said, “Welcome, Lord Celeborn, Lady Galadriel. Thank you for coming. I am most pleased to see you.”

Celeborn nodded back. “I almost did not recognize you in a gown. It is beautiful, but does not suit you.”

“It is a necessary evil,” she said ruefully. “It seems Lórien has spoiled me. I had forgotten how trying these affairs can be. But it is for only one night.”

“Do not listen to him,” Galadriel laughed. “The gown does you great justice. I would see you dressed so more often. Have you seen Arwen? She left ahead of us.”

“Not yet. Do you know anything about Rúmil? He is not here, and I have heard it is your doings.” She looked unabashedly at Celeborn.

“I have no idea,” he said with a straight face. “Wife, have you anything to do with this?”

“Not a thing. I see Elrond. I would speak with him.” She escaped before Celeborn could move fast enough to join her.

“I think you do have an idea. He promised to be here, and is not. Only your business would keep him.”

“I suppose you could wait and see if he comes. Other than that, I have no advice to offer.”

She looked into his eyes. “I will wait, but this is your doing.” She laughed as he turned towards his wife to keep her from seeing his smile.

She went over to the table where her family was seated. Walking up behind Elrond, she laid her arms around his neck and kissed the back of his head. He glanced up and smiled.

“How is my youngest daughter?”

“Not so young, anymore,” she whispered in his ear. “Just wishing she could crawl up on your lap yet. Have you seen Arwen?”

“She is just arriving. And not alone, it seems.”

Ela glanced up to see her sister crossing the glen with Mar. Well, he certainly had aspirations. She nodded to the ellon, then grinned and hugged her sister.

“Ada,” Arwen said giving her father a hug. “Have you seen your sons? They seem to have disappeard.”

“That is curious,” said Ela. “So has another brother. Where do you suppose they could be? Off carousing? Maybe they forgot.”

“I would not worry,” said Elrond. “They did not forget.”

There was a commotion back in the trees. Ela stood shocked as the party made its way into the clearing. Everyone turned at her soft cry as she ran towards her brothers. There was stunned silence as she passed both of them and Rúmil. She bent to hug a small figure standing in their midst.

“Dorga! How is it you are here?”

“Hey, lass, careful of the beard. Your excitement could do irreparable harm,” he boomed. “Your father arranged it. And that is not all.” He stepped aside to reveal a young woman shorter than herself.

“No, it cannot be!”

“It is,” shouted Dorga. “Lord Elrond arranged for Rosa to come also.”

The small Hobbit looked around in wonder at all the elves. When the invitation had come to attend Ela’s party, she had thought it was to be in Imladris. She had never dreamed that she would stand in the fabled Lórien.

Ela leaned down and gave her life-long friend a warm embrace.

“You do not know how many times I have wanted to see you. How was your journey?”

“So long. I would not have thought it so far. We stopped in Rivendell. It is as beautiful as you described it. I think Father cried when he saw it. For so many years he has promised to visit. Now he can die a happy man. Not that he is not already deliriously happy. Come here, Perin.” Rosa turned back to motion someone forward. Ela took in the handsome Halfling before her. His clothes were very expensively cut and spoke of some wealth. It seemed Rosa had done well.

Perin gave a small bow.

“I am pleased to meet you, Lady Ela. Rosa has spoken much about you. I feel I almost know you.” His elvish was not quite as polished as Rosa’s, but he was understandable. In light of his dealings with Elrohir and Elladan, Gradin had made sure that his children learned to speak the elven tongue.

Ela laughed. “I wish I could say the same. She has been very closed mouth concerning you. Perhaps she feared I would swoop down on the Shire and steal you.”

“Oh, lady! I would never desert my Rosa. She is the highest treasure of the Shire.”

Gradin stepped forward. “Has she hoodwinked him, or what?”

“Hello, Gradin. It is good to see you, again. And this must be Lady Letty.” She smiled as the short, slightly stout woman blushed. “It is you I have to thank that I did not arrive in Imlandis in naught but what the Valar provided me. And to show you the gratitude I hold for you, I still have the clothes. They are stored in my father’s house awaiting the day I have a daughter of my own. I will tell her that she wears the clothes of a most foresightful Halfling. It was my good fortune that the clothes were too big for Rosa.”

“Thank you, lady,” Letty stammered. She had never spoken to an elf before, let alone had one profess gratitude for something she had not even done.

“Ela, these are our children, Feller and Ella. Rosa wrote you about them.” Gradin motioned forward a boy and small girl.

“She did. How is your leg, Feller? I must tell you that I broke mine once. I fell from my tree house. Can you imagine an elf falling from a tree?” Fifteen year old Feller looked at her in fascination. A real live elf. Talking to him. And falling from trees? What a tale to tell back home! And to think, this was his sister’s friend. Oh, the prestige this would gain him!

Ten year old Ella looked up at Ela.

“Are you really an elf?” she asked. “You do not look like Rohir and Elldan. You are all gold.”

“Yes, little one. I am an elf. A most proper one, I am informed.” Ela knelt down to look the small girl in the eye. “Would you like to meet another elf?”

“Oh, yes!” Ella exclaimed.

Ela picked her up and carried her to where Lady Galadriel sat.

“Lady, this little one would like to meet an elf. She is most taken by us. Ella, this is Lady Galadriel. She is the most proper Elf I know.”

“Oooh. You are the most beautiful Elf I have ever seen.” She nodded her small head. The Lady laughed.

“I would have more of her around. She is soothing for my ego.”

Ela went around to her father once more.

“Thank you so much. This is a gift more precious than any I can think of.”

“You will have to give Erestor the credit. He says he promised you your friends for your birthday. I only made it possible.”

“How did you gain permission for a Dwarf to enter the Woods?”

“That would be Celeborn’s doing. He is the only exception made, and for your benefit.”

“Well, I must be sure to thank him appropriately. Did Dorga bring anything with him?”

“A whole cask, I am told. I have a feeling he plans quite a tea party for you.”

“It will not be unappreciated. I am out and was planning on writing for more.”

Ela turned as Ella started squirming. She noticed the child looking at the food.

“Are you hungry, little one?” At her nod, Ela grinned. “Then we will eat. I know better than to keep a Halfling from food.” She swung Ella around as she made her way to the food table. Ela had not noticed that Haldir had rejoined the group. He was standing next to his brothers.

“Does she not look good with a child?” asked Orophin.

“Yes, she does,” remarked Rúmil. “Some man is going to be very blessed.”

Haldir stared at his youngest brother. “Not you?”

“I told you that long ago. There is nothing between us. Other than friendship.”

Haldir turned back to observe Ela with the Hafling child. “Then it will not distress you to know she is returning to Imladris.” He watched from the corner of his eye to gauge the reaction.

“I know. We spoke of it. I do not agree with her reasons, but it is her choice. And I am inclined to trust her judgment. Unlike another I could name.”

Haldir scowled. This was not the reaction he had expected. Maybe they had been telling the truth concerning their relationship. He changed his mind when she looked over and motioned his brother to join her. And he went, like a love sick puppy.

Ela returned to the table to find that Elestra had finally made it. She sat next to her grandmother and held Ella on her lap. It seemed the child was content to remain there for the rest of the meal. Ela ate around Ella and wiped her chin when the excited girl swung her spoon into the air. All of this was accomplished without effort or thought on her part, as if she had been doing it for years.

The chatter got louder as the table filled up. Another table was brought to accommodate Gradin and his family and Dorga. Since Ela and Elrond were so at ease, the Halflings felt at ease. They relaxed and enjoyed the meal. Although more informal than the meal they had been guested with at Elrond’s, the food was just as sumptuous. And the wine flowed freely. By the end of the meal, it was obvious that Lórien’s elves were ahead of Imladris when it came to throwing parties. This was no sedate gathering such as Ela had been subjected to when growing up. This was the kind of gathering that led to mornings scrounging for remedies to ease throbbing heads. The occasions were few and far between, so any excuse was welcome, even if it was a celebration from another culture. Ela’s birthday would not have been marked if not for her Indrel heritage. But that did not bother the elves. And they had gone all out. Gariel had garnered help from anyone interested in helping. And because it was for Ela, there were few not interested. She was well-liked among the guards and wardens she knew. And it did not surprise Elrond where the tendrils of friendship had reached. She was on easy terms with those from the Lord and Lady, all the way down to the stable hands that cared for her horse. All had been invited and none were shirked because of rank. He glanced over at Erestor. The same thought had occurred to his most trusted friend. It seemed their little princess was well at home among the common people. She had an air that would be totally squashed, should she return to Holm’s Hold. No, if she had to return to the world of men, her place would be more fitting at the side of a king, but at his equal, not a stepping stone to a destination. Gondor would benefit from her diplomacy and grace. He could almost see her sitting on the throne. It was a place that for once, she outdid Arwen. Elrond knew his elder daughter would never be at ease in such a situation. Arwen, a queen of men? No, she would leave with him for the undying lands when the time arrived. They would greet Celebrian together, husband and children. He could almost picture the reunion. Arwen and her mother reunited and happy. Forever.

“Ada!” Elrond started, as he realized that Arwen was speaking to him. “Where were you?” she asked softly.

He smiled at her. “Just thinking on the future. What did you want?”

“Nothing,” she smiled back. “You just looked so lost.”

“I am fine. Who is your young escort?”

“His name is Mar. He asked to accompany me this evening. I am not sure why, but it has nothing to do with an interest in me, so you may rest easy.”

“I never rest easy when it comes to my children. You all have the ability to rend any rest to shreds. Are you coming home anytime soon?”

“I cannot. Grandmother has not yet finished with me.”

“Well, it seems I am to be alone for another year. Your brothers refuse, also. However, Ela will return.”

“That is news. I thought she would stay here forever. She did not enjoy the last visit.”

“I know. But this time, it is her choice. I am not sure why she wants to come, but she and Erestor have been discussing it. I would be good if you returned with her.”

“I cannot promise that, right now. When the time comes, I will return.”

“I will be pleased to see you, whenever that may be. Ah, the dancing will begin soon.” He pondered how to ask the question that had been plaguing him for weeks. “Are you and Ela close?”

“Not as close as she is with Elrohir, or even Elladan. Our interests are not the same. Why?”

“She is dropping hints about the future. And today she showed me a gift. But would not tell me who gave it to her. Do you have any thoughts on the matter?”

“I have a few. But should I share them with you? It is Ela’s business.”

“Arwen, if you are to deprive me of your company, then the least you can do is indulge my paranoia. I would know more of this man she keeps mentioning.”

“I have only heard rumours. I can tell you that Mar seems keenly interested.”

“No, he is too young. She said he was older.”

“That leaves Rúmil. He is the only one she has shown any interest in.”

“I do not believe he is the one, either. And neither does Elrohir.”

“Ah, he will not tell you, either. Is that why you question me?” She laughed at the guilty look on her father’s face. “Do not worry. She has no intentions of jumping into marriage just yet.”

“Have you seen the gift she received? It is not a gift given by just a friend.”

“Ada, let it go. She knows what she does.” Arwen smiled. “I am sure you will not be talking to any ellon on her behalf for a long while. Just let it go and enjoy the party.”

Elrond frowned. He had the impression that there were not a few who had some ideas of what was going on, but he had found none willing to discuss them. And the worst one was the girl, herself. She had always been closed about her personal life, and it had made him uneasy at times. It was hard to gauge just which direction she would go in some situations. He glanced up as someone sat next to him.

“You look like you could use a drink.” Elestra sat a glass of wine in front of him.

“I could use some information.”

“Well, I only have wine, so will that content you for now?”

“It will have to. You could answer a question for me. Who gave Ela the necklace?”

“Now, how would I know that?”

“Elestra, I knew you when you were a simpering girl mooning over a fledgling prince. You forget that I was privy to what was going on then. You managed to get what you wanted. What is it you want this time?”

“Elrond, you have no idea how the female mind works. She will tell you when she is ready.”

“This is a most frustrating game she has learned. Who taught it to her?”

“No one need teach a girl this game. We are born knowing how to play it. Do you think you made all the moves before you and Celebrian settled on each other? If you do, then you should speak with her mother. I am quite sure there were things going on in the background that you are not aware of even today. Ela is flexing an ability she was not aware she possessed. She will use it for a while, then when the game gets old, she will stop until it is time to get serious. Let her have her fun.”

“Fun! I am not having fun.”

“No, you would not. The game was not made for males, nor in particular, fathers. I think that if you just sit back and observe, you will learn a lot. The game is a subtle dance between many. If you watch long enough, you will figure it out.”

Elrond thought back over his courtship of Celebrian. He remembered the chance meetings in the gardens. The way she had been swayed by his taking control. Their first disagreement, when afterwards he had found her flirting with Erestor. All the little things that he had not paid attention to at the time. All her doings? That was impossible. She could not have manoeuvred him that way! He had known what he wanted and taken it. No, he had been in control. He was satisfied that he could lay that to rest.

“Ada.” The soft voice broke into his reverie. He glanced up to see Ela standing in front of him. “They are starting the dancing. Would you dance the first one with me?”

“Yes, Iell. How could I refuse.” He rose and took her hand. They walked out to the center of the clearing. He took her hand as the music started. They swirled around the open area as other joined them. Mar was fast losing Arwen’s interest as he struggled to manoeuver his partner closer to the center. Arwen, guessing at his intent was just as insistent that they remain on the edges. Several made as if to cut in on Elrond, but were dissuaded by his sons. When the dance was finished, the dancers lightly applauded. There was a slight pause as everyone waited to see who would get the next dance. As the music started, Haldir frowned to see his brother step out. It was only right, but he did not have to like it. He watched them round the open area. While her appearance may have belied her Elven blood, her grace did not. Thinking back, he could remember few times when she was less than poised. She had made even falling from her pony look graceful.

Erestor was waiting when the next dance began.

“So, sell, you are then happy?”

She gazed up into his eyes.

“Now? Deliriously. I have almost everything I want. I have few regrets.”

“I look forward to your return to Imladris. As does Seldala. She chafed greatly at remaining behind.”

“I assure you that it will not be long in coming.”

“Have you spoken to Rúmil?”

“I have. He does not like it, but respects my need. Another is not so gracious.”

“What of the Lady?”

“She has always let me choose my own path. She sees no need to interfere now. Gariel will be concerned.”

She glanced over at the table where they had been seated. Rúmil was engage in conversation with Arwen and her brothers. She caught Haldir’s glance as it swept over her and then around the glen. It halted past her left. She turned to see what had made the distasteful frown on his face. Even with her poor, by elven standards, eyesight, she could make out a figure standing back in the trees. Knowing who was invited, and who was not present, she could surmise who it was. She sighed. What was it with the elleth? Had she always seen enemies? Surely Deladrieng did not see her as a threat. She shook her head.

When the dance ended, Ela walked over to Del and whispered in his ear. She then went and sat in the empty chair next to Rúmil. So, it seemed she was not yet willing to abandon him. Haldir tucked that piece of information away. His attention was drawn away, as Del stood.

“I would like to make an announcement. Pending the blessings of our parents, Meliel and I wish to share with our friends our trading of rings.” Lindelen looked startled, then glanced at Ela. She had known! As the parent of the elleth, it was her place to give consent first. She stood.

“On behalf of my husband, Gaellyn, and myself, I give my consent.” She stood waiting, until Del’s parents stood.

“We have thought long and hard on this. It was not our wish that our only son wed an outsider, let alone one of mixed blood…” Lindelen held her breath. Surely they would not deny them! “…However, after the things we have seen the last several weeks, we gladly give consent. I do not think we could find a better match for our son.” Lindelen swayed with relief, as applause and proclamations of well-wishes came from those gathered. Meliel glowed with happiness, and Del blushed with embarrassment. He caught Ela’s eye and nodded. She returned the gesture.

“That was most generous of you,” whispered a voice in her ear. She looked up into Elrond’s eyes.

“Trust me, it was that, or he would burst. But could I have done less for one of my best friends?”

“You would have done no less for anyone. It is one of your charms.”

“You flatter me. And now I feel the need for a dance. Come, Perin. You and Rosa must join me in a dance.” She grabbed Haldir’s hand and led him out into the clearing. They waited for the musicians to begin a new song. He moved forward and took Ela’s hand. His steps were sure and graceful. He noted with satisfaction that so were hers. She did not glance at her feet, and moved with a fluidity that almost defied gravity. They did not notice any others around them. This time, there were no attempts to cut in. No one had the courage. As they started, they were joined by Elrond and Elestra, the Lord and Lady and Rosa’s parents. Arwen found a ready partner in Rúmil and Orophin had pulled Gariel into the dance. Even Elldar had found an older woman who was amused by the young ellon’s enthusiasm to join. Meliel and Del danced close by his parents. They laughed and danced through three songs.

Taking a seat when the dance was finished, Haldir watched Mar. The man had been about to ask for a dance, when Celeborn had stepped in. Again, there was no cutting in. It seemed rank did have its privilege. Mar became angrier as the evening progressed and he was regulated to the outside of the circle. Rúmil had claimed a dance, as did Orophin. Her brothers horned in ahead of him. Elldar even seemed blessed. She gave Elldar and Delinfel each a turn. He had been appalled that she had even danced with the Dwarf. And now she had returned to her table, claiming fatigue. And of course, they had closed rank around her. She did seem like a princess with them all dancing court around her. Mar finally left.

By midnight, the wine had slowed its running. Those who had not drifted off to find quiet corners with their spouses joined in a tighter circle. Dancing had taken its toll and they were willing to listen to singing for a while. Eventually, Meliel was asked to sing something. Glancing to Ela, who went behind the musicians and found her lute, she quietly conferred with her friend. Nodding, she stood and went to the center of the small group. Ela struck a chord and Meliel started the song.


I cannot see by light of candle
Nor by the fire’s dance
I only seek the stars above me
Their light a shining lance

The road I walk is full of choices
The life I live they rule
If I should falter in my journey
Tears of pain, form a pool

But with your love, I will not falter
Steadfast I will be true
The love we share, will always keep us
As stars in midnight blue

I cannot see without your passion
The stars burn brighter still
They shed their light and open passage
Our hearts they speed to fill

Now onward t’wards the journey coming
The sun shines down on us
We travel with the west wind blowing
The end, our journey blest


Ela’s quiet strumming faded away. Del gave Meliel a kiss and smiled. He knew she had been working on that song for weeks, but would not sing it for him. Now he was glad she had waited. There were murmurs from those seated. Rúmil had sat down behind Ela, and she leaned back against him. He felt so comfortable. She played with her lute, just strumming random chords. There was a harmony brought up from the silence as another joined her softly. A third lute introduced a counter melody. There was silence as the three of them danced around different chords, the other two accomplished enough that they could anticipate where Ela was going with her playing. When her fingers began to tire, she finally stopped. The silence was so peaceful, all were loathe to break it.

Ela looked up and happened to catch Rosa’s glance. The girl was entranced. Her face held a look of awe.

“That was beautiful,” she whispered. “So unlike our songs in the Shire.”

“Oh, we have some fairly rowdy ones, also. But most of the ones I know are frowned upon. Too much influence by a certain Dwarf I could name. Lord Erestor would rather I did not sing them.” She looked around. “Where is he?”

“He retired early. He was feeling the absence of his lady. He bid me give you his regrets,” Elrond said.

“No regrets are needed. I must confess to feeling a little tired, myself. But first, I have a few to thank. First of all, Lord Elrond. You opened your home to me, before you knew who I was. You gave me healing and love and a purpose. I can never thank you enough. To my brothers and sister, thank you for sharing your father, so that I could have one. One could never replace the other, and both are very dear to me. Lord Celeborn, thank you for allowing me to live in your fair city. And to the Lady, you know that for which I thank you. My grandmother, for being satisfied with me as I am. Gradin, for your generosity, and Rosa for your friendship. Dorga, thank you for letting a ‘proper’ elf learn that there is another side to life. And your tea. Orophin and Gariel, for opening their home and treating me as their own. Haldir, for many hours of challenging arguments, and many more to come, I promise.” Laughter circled the group. “Lord Glordinel, you are the most unserious elf I know. Thank you for teaching me that ability. Meliel, Del and Elldar. Life here would be dull without the four of us. They should thank us.” More laughter rose. “Rúmil, I will thank you later.” This time, Elrond did not join in the laughter. Neither did Haldir. “There are too many more to name. Tonight, I asked all of my friends to join me, and I see they have. Know that you are all dear to me, and I thank you for whatever you have contributed to my life here. But more importantly, I hope I have contributed to your lives.” She grabbed her wine glass, sitting beside her. “I would like to offer a toast. To all who gathered here tonight. And to those who, because of duties, could not be here.” All drained their glasses and applauded.

“You forgot Erestor,” said Elladan.

“No, there are no words needed between us. We understand each other perfectly. Now, I for one intend to head for home. Please, I invite all of you to remain and enjoy yourselves. I am afraid I have a cruel master and must work tomorrow. He does not understand skipping work. So I will stop by his house tonight and hide all of his headache remedies. And then show up at dawn. That will teach him.” This was met with much laughter. Glordinel tried to scowl at her, but could not do it.

“I will just have to beat you to my house.”

“There is wine. You will not be leaving anytime soon.” She grinned.

“Remind me again why I keep you around.

“My charming personality. And the fact you have frightened away all others.”

“I fear for your future husband. You are entirely too cheeky.”

“He will not mind. It will keep things interesting. Now, I am off to bed. I will see you all tomorrow.” She waited for Rosa to say goodnight. She had insisted the girl stay with her, after gaining Gariel’s consent. The others were scattered in guest rooms close by. It seemed that although quite a few knew what a Halfling was, not many had ever seen one, so they were in great demand. And Ela had been surprised that Glordinel had been as fascinated with Dorga. She just attributed it to his earlier life.

Walking home, Ela quietly listened to Rosa’s soft chatter. She told how she had met Perin and of their wedding plans. Ela assured her that she was planning on attending the ceremony. She had a feeling that elves in the Shire would cause a bit more stir than Shirefolk in Lórien. But maybe not as much as a Dwarf. For all of his small stature, he did manage to stand out.

“How long will you be staying?” Ela asked, when Rosa finally wound down.

“Only a few days. It is a long journey back to the Shire, and Perin has a business to run.”

“What does he do?”

“He owns a small import concern. A friend of his likes to travel and sends things of interest home. Perin sells them and they split the profits.”

“That was wicked of you to keep this from me. Are you happy?”

“Very. Papa says that Perin is a good choice. He is more motivated than the boys around home. He will make something of himself. He will provide for me. Papa is very happy. And Letti is impressed. I only wish he did not live so far away. I will miss Papa so much.”

“You will just have to visit. At least you do not have to travel for a week to see them. I have only been back to Imladris once. It is so far, it just does not seem prudent. Especially since it means that someone has to take me.”

“I do not think I would like that. I guess I should not complain. But you are coming to the wedding, so you will be able to stop on the way back and visit your father.”

“I think I may do that. I wish to see Lady Seldala.”

“What of your plans for the future? Surely you have some idea what you want.”

“What I want, and what I get may not be the same. Right now, I am content with my life. At least I will be, once I have gained what I desire. A singularly stubborn man stands in my path. He feels I should be above such lowly employment. He does not grasp the great desire I have for that life. It is the antithesis of what I was raised to want. I feel a great need to be there.”

“What man has ever stood in the way of what a woman wants? You have only to make him think it his idea. Do you think Perin makes all the decisions? It has taken me two years of hard labor to bring him around to thinking this was his idea. And the maddening thing, he will never figure it out. He will spend the rest of his life laughing at how he cornered me into wedding him. Men! They see and hear only what they want. So I will let him believe that it was all his idea. It is a useful tool. It will gain me much in the years to come.”

“Rosa! I had no idea you were so predatory,” Ela laughed. “We shall have to drink a toast to the men of the world, and the ideas we put in their heads.”

They got ready for bed. Orophin had brought in a cot for Ela to use, as she had given Rosa her bed. They laid, talking far into the night. They discussed the little things they had experienced. They laughed over misadventures. Rosa told her that she had seen the twins a few times over the years. Ela smiled. Rosa probably saw them more than she did.

Gariel smiled, laying in her own bed, when silence finally reigned. Rosa had done more for Ela than even Meliel had been able to do. She knew that Ela was planning something, but the girl had not spoken to anyone yet. Gariel was afraid she was leaving. She would admit only to herself how much the girl meant to her. She had grown up an only child, among older children. She had wanted a daughter so much, but Orophin seemed content with just Elldar. But now that her son was following in his father’s footsteps, Gariel felt more left behind than ever.

She finally relaxed and went to sleep when she heard Elldar come in and tiptoe down the hall to his room.


The End




A/N
A story is not just the words of one person. It is the sum of those around the author. Without help and encouragement, the story may not be the best it can be.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank a few. Havetoist for urging me to post this here. And to Michael, my son, for listening to me read this for hours. To Marcia for your invaluable help with betaing the first fifteen chapters. I had more. To Ghettoelleth for your unflagging enthusiasm and LuthienTinuviel for your gentle encouragement. Haleth for just noticing. Andreth for the countless questions I had. And those who read and left comments. You have no idea how much they helped when times were low. Eärengil for the help you gave. Juno Magic for just being there.


Chapter 22 - Story Update, Again

Just a note to let you know, if you do not already, that there are now posted chapters for Part ll here. I know that the handful of readers following this story are not many, but you are important to me, so hence, the heads up. Thank you for your indulgence and interest.
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