My Favorite Aragorn Stories
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Haven of Rivendell, The: 4. Smoke Rings and Wizards
In the deepening twilight, the dark-haired boy climbed to the roof of the main house at Imladris. He walked across the slates to his favorite corner where he could dangle his bare feet, spy on Elrond's courtyard, and watch the stars come out one by one in the purple sky. There, listening to the running of water from the many falls, he could imagine he was a brave elf-lord fighting evil orcs, which his nine-year-old heart desperately wished he were, or a fiery dragon, or a great wizard; anything braver and more wonderful than a little boy, frustrated by the rules of the adults of his world. Just tonight, he had heard there was a wizard right here in the hall, and Estel mightily wished he could see him, but, as usual, when there were travelers, Elrond had warned him to stay out of sight.
"It is important you do not bother the visitors," Elrond sternly forbade while they were working on lessons earlier that day. It was a repeated theme each time company arrived. "Among my visitors are great dwarf lords. They do not want to be plagued by little boys." Estel had obediently promised his foster-father he would avoid the visitors. He suspected in his heart the reason he was always banished from the hall when strangers came was that he was an embarrassment to his father, an inferior boy graciously housed by the great lord. Why else would he constantly be cautioned to stay hidden from travelers?
Oh, but to see a wizard! And, there were dwarves! There was laughing and singing tonight in the Hall of Fire, but he had to have his evening meal with his mother. Estel had been feeling forlornly sorry for himself and when his mother had sent him to bed, he climbed out to the roof where at least the stars were his friends. Menelvagor the hunter sparkled overhead. The laughter and songs from the Hall of Fire could be enjoyed just as well from up here, but he frowned sternly, creasing his young brow in an imitation of Ada, at the injustices of his world.
Estel stopped suddenly. At the edge of the roof, on his very corner, sat a boy. He had never seen another boy, though he assumed there was some somewhere. There were no boys or girls at Rivendell. Even the young elves were all so much older and taller than he was. As Estel was about to speak, the boy turned and Estel realized two things: this was no boy and wondrously, he was smoking a pipe.
"Hello, my lad," called a cheery voice. "Come and sit with me and enjoy this fine night and Elvish singing."
"Please, sir. I meant not to disturb you." Estel bowed prettily, as he had been taught.
"You do not. I would like a companion here beside me in case I fall from this dizzying height!" Estel glanced over the side of the house three floors to the courtyard below, judged the ornate balustrade to be sound, and decided that perhaps this guest was teasing him: the east cliffs that he climbed with his brothers were certainly higher. "This was the only place I could find away from all the fuss." He patted the flat tiles, still warm from the sun. "Come, sit, and let us be formally met. You can tell me how you come to be walking so freely on an elf-lord's roof and I'll tell you a tale of trolls turned miraculously to stone."
"You are i Periannath!" Estel suddenly blurted out, remembering his lessons. He plopped himself down next to the hobbit, taking him all in with an awed stare, from yellow waistcoat to large furry feet to the tobacco pipe clutched between his teeth
"Mr. Bilbo Baggins, at your service, sir," the hobbit said with a half-bow. "And you are?"
"Estel," he paused, "just Estel. That's all the name I have." The young boy looked a bit sad. Bilbo couldn't allow children ever to be sad.
"And all the name you need. That is a fine name. It means Hope, and, Just Estel, you look like a hopeful lad." Bilbo laughed and the merry sound brought a grin to the wan face of Estel. He watched fascinated as Bilbo tamped and relit his pipe. Deliciously sweet tobacco smoke swirled in the night air. "What do you do here at Rivendell?"
Estel felt a profound feeling of comradeship and peace sitting next to Bilbo under the glittering stars and forgot Elrond's constant warnings about strangers, spilling out his story as if to a confidant.
"My mother and I live here with Elrond, my foster-father. He is also my tutor."
"A fine tutor he is, I'm sure. Do you like your lessons?" Soon the two were discussing lore and songs, histories and sciences, magic and nature, for Estel was an apt pupil and Bilbo loved to talk. Both learned they loved riddles and shared several, the hobbit declaring the boy a veritable riddle-master. Time passed and as the stars blazed across the sky and the moon rose, a companionable silence fell over the two. The watery background music, a constant of Rivendell, played on and fair elf song rose from the hall. Estel watched Bilbo draw on his pipe and blow smoke like steam rising from the river at dawn. Bilbo, eyeing the youngster's fascination, blew out a large smoke ring. Delighted, Estel watched as he sent several more floating off into the trees.
"That's not much compared to Gandalf," Bilbo admitted ruefully. "I swear he can conjure a dragon in smoke and send him flying."
"Who is Gandalf?" Estel asked, dazzled by his new friend.
"Gandalf is my friend and a wizard, a maker of crackers and poppers---delightful fireworks of all kinds! You must meet him!" Suddenly, Estel's grey eyes grew big in horror, remembering Elrond's warning to leave the guests alone.
"I-I was told not to bother you." Estel stammered, scrambling up.
"You are not bothering me, lad. You are keeping me company, entertaining me for your lord Elrond. And, it's nice to talk to someone who is quite normal after all these fantastic elven and dwarvish folk." Bilbo smiled and rose, hand tight on the railing. "I'll confide in you. I'm going with them to hunt a dragon and treasure, you know, and I don't know a thing about it."
"You need a sword, I think." Estel sifted through his considerable knowledge of dragon chasing. "And maybe some armor. But, with a wizard, you may not even need those because he could cast a spell and make the dragon disappear!"
"My thoughts exactly! That is grand advice and I will pass it on to Gandalf, and tell him Estel Dragon-slayer sends it." Estel, young as he was, was aware that wizards and dwarves knew more of dragons than a nine-year-old boy did and blushed at Bilbo's teasing. He looked through dark lashes longingly.
"I wish I could go on a grand adventure like you." His greatest desire was to ride out in a brave host from Rivendell, wearing beautiful Elvish armor like Elladan and Elrohir. He stopped suddenly, realizing he had just disregarded Elrohir's warning about his most agonizing of faults: revealing too much of his inner desires. He was being too forward with this near stranger that he liked so much.
"Estel, we all have roads we have to follow. The one right outside your door will lead you to great adventures when your feet are ready. You must be patient for your time will come." Bilbo patted the boy's thin shoulder.
"That's what my lord Elrond says!" The boy smiled again, and they laughed easy in each other's company. Bilbo knocked out his pipe and rose.
"Good bye, Estel. May we meet again someday and write songs together about our great adventures." Estel watched Bilbo walk to the roof staircase and start down. When Bilbo turned back as Estel knew he would, the boy waved and climbed down over the roof ledge to the railing of his own room. Suddenly tired but happy, the scent of pipeweed still lingering on his clothes, Estel pledged as he crawled under his blankets that one day he would certainly learn to blow smoke rings and maybe search for dragon treasure too.
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