1. The Prince and the Pea
Curled up in a deep wickerwork chair that he had dragged to the west porch from the Hall of Fire, Estel pulled his soft woollen blanket more snugly around him. Though June, the storm that had woken him in the dark hour before dawn made the early morning air damp and chill and seemingly able to find its way inside his blanket no matter how he shifted it. Estel did not mind very much though -- at least it did not bother him enough to miss the spectacular display of lightning flashing above the High Moors.
He signed contentedly through a yawn as the storm rolled away eastward, down the river. Somewhere beneath the grey clouds the sun had risen, and Estel sleepily watched as the glowing haze that filled the valley shifted from red to orange and then paled to a ghostly white that made all world seem magical and mysterious.
The wonder was not enough, though, to stifle the hunger rumbling through his waking stomach. Breakfast will soon be ready, he decided as the smell of cooking fires reached his nose. Thus, with another, wider, yawn and a long stretch of his limbs, Estel finally rose. He was however promptly distracted, as the sounds of hooves clip-clopping over stone pulled his gaze toward the bridge that crossed the Bruinen.
Ducking behind his chair, Estel waited with baited breath. Who could it be? Who would hazard the journey down the steep slopes leading into the valley so early in the morning on such a damp day as this? Perhaps the twins have returned, he considered excitedly and grinned as, sure enough, the head of one of the twins’ sturdy brown mares materialized out of the haze. Elladan soon appeared walking beside her, but Estel did not rise to greet him, for there were also people seated upon her back –- people Estel had never seen before.
They were elves, or at least he thought they were; it was difficult to tell for certain. The one seated in front had long dark hair, much like Elladan’s, but was too slumped over in the arms of the one seated behind him to make out much else. The one seated behind had golden hair that reminded him of Glorfindel, even filthy and dripping from the rain as it was. Estel could not see much more of him, as the fellow held his companion close. A good thing, too, as he would not have remained seated otherwise, Estel decided.
His heart thumped excitedly as they halted before the porch, instead of turning toward the stables as he had expected. His eager eyes studied the strangers as the golden-haired one eased the dark-haired one into Elladan’s arms. Estel could see then that both wore strange clothes. The elves of the Valley wore bright, cheerful colours, but it was plain to see, contrasted strikingly against Elladan’s periwinkle tunic, damp and dirty as it was, that these clothes were neither bright nor cheerful.
Estel shifted his gaze upward to inspect the golden-haired stranger, who waited atop the mare until Elladan moved toward the porch and then eased himself slowly to the ground. Estel frowned at the obvious weariness in the stranger’s stiff movement, but was soon too absorbed in scrutiny to worry. He could now see that the outer clothes were brown -- soft leather, perhaps, though it was difficult to be certain with the muck covering them. The stranger wore no cloak, which seemed odd to Estel. He glanced quickly at the dark-haired one as Elladan strode past and noted that he, too, wore no cloak. Perhaps they lost them, Estel decided, for it was much too grey and wet to have travelled far without a cloak.
He ducked lower as the golden-haired stranger slowly mounted the stairs and slipped inside behind Elladan. He had passed near enough for Estel to see with certainty that he was indeed an elf, though a grimy, filthy one, covered in black and red that was surely blood. They have been fighting orcs, Estel decided excitedly.
“Estel?” said Elrohir’s bemused voice, and Estel realized with a start that, intent on viewing the stranger, he had risen into view. “You are up and about very early, little one.”
“The storm woke me, and I came out to see the lightning,” answered Estel.
Elrohir nodded wearily and started toward the door, but a shout of “Elrohir!” stopped him. An amused smile lightened his fatigued expression as a mystified “Who are they?” followed.
“They are elves come for the Council,” he stated matter-of-factly, dropping exhaustedly into Estel’s wickerwork chair.
“But they are not dressed like elves,” Estel observed, coming out from behind the chair so the Elrohir would not have to twist his head around to talk to him.
“They are dressed like Wood-elves,” Elrohir said simply.
“Wood-elves!” parroted Estel with awe. But after a moment his expression shifted from wonder to scepticism, and he said knowingly, “Wood-elves do not have golden-hair. Their hair is brown, like ours, so that second fellow cannot be a Wood-elf.”
Elrohir cocked his head at this, his right eyebrow rising slightly at the child’s presumed expertise, but then he laughed. Resting his head against the high back of the chair, he said, “The Wood-elf’s king has golden-hair.”
Estel’s eyes grew wide. The Wood-elf king! He had seen the Wood-elf king! He frowned suddenly and said, “He did not look much like a king to me.”
Much to Estel’s annoyance, the remarked provoked another bark of laughter from Elrohir, who replied, “Nay, he would not, as Legolas is not the Wood-elf king.”
Estel’s puzzled frown shifted to one of disgust. “But you just said…”
“I said the Wood-elf king has golden hair, which he does. I did not say that the Wood-elf king had come to Rivendell,” Elrohir corrected, lifting his head to peer at the child before him. “That was Legolas that you saw, the king’s son, who has come in his father’s stead.”
With that, Elrohir hauled himself up and trudged inside. Estel continued to frown at his back as he went. Legolas did not look to him much like the son of a king, either.
“Ai, and what would cause such an expression as that on such a fine morning as this?”
Estel whipped around and found Glorfindel climbing the stairs.
“Where did you come from?” he queried disapprovingly. Glorfindel had not arrived with the twins and would have had to rise very early to have left the house before Estel came out to watch the lightning.
Glorfindel lifted his brows at the child’s tone, but then shook his head and answered simply, “I come from the stables.”
Estel waited a moment for more information. When none seemed forthcoming, he turned back toward the door and resumed his frowning.
“I say again, child, what would cause such a grim expression so early in the day?”
Dropping into the wickerwork chair, Estel grumbled indignantly, “Elrohir is teasing me.”
“Oh,” Glorfindel said cautiously, “in what way, may I ask?”
Estel peered at him disgustedly. “He says Legolas is the son of the Wood-elf king, but he does not look like a prince to me. He clothes are plain, not to mention filthy, and he had no entourage, or even a cloak!” he explained, emphasising the last word as though it were it were clearly the most telling clue.
“Ah, I see,” said Glorfindel and tapped his lips, seemingly deep in thought. “Let me see… Yes, I believe there is a way we might be able to determine the truth of Elrohir’s claim, if you are game to try, that is.”
Glorfindel gazed steadily at him, as though sizing up his courage, and Estel puffed out his chest. “What is it I must do?”
Glorfindel tapped his lips again for several seconds, until Estel wondered if he had changed his mind and would not tell him. Then, abruptly, he said, “You must put a pea beneath Legolas’s mattress before he sleeps. Of course, then we will need to stack many more mattresses atop, for otherwise we could not be certain…” His words died away as Glorfindel fell back into thought, and then he said slowly, “Seven, with seven eider-down duvets atop them. Yes, I believe that is the correct number.”
“The correct number for what?” asked Estel, peering incredulously at Glorfindel.
“To prove, or disprove, Elrohir’s assertion, of course. Princes, you see, are quite delicate, and thus, if Legolas truly be a prince, he will feel the pea no less than if it were a boulder,” Glorfindel explained, with a twinkle in his eyes that brought the disgusted frown back to Estel’s face.
“Now you are teasing me, too,” he huffed, folding his arms in indignation.
“Starting a trifle early today, don’t you think, Glorfindel?” came a voice from within the shadows of doorway. “I would think you could at least wait until the lad had his breakfast before setting about teasing him.”
Glorfindel glowered light-heartedly as Celeborn stepped onto the porch and then said, pressing a hand to his heart, “You wound me, Celeborn. My advice is most earnest, I assure you.”
Celeborn peered at him sceptically and then turned to Estel, “What say you, Estel, of this earnest advice?”
“I say that it is not earnest at all!” huffed the child. “He says that to prove Legolas is a prince of the Wood-elves, I should put a pea under seven mattresses and put seven duvets on top of that. Nonsense is what that is!”
“Indeed, I have never heard anything so ridiculous in all my days,” said Celeborn, with a twinkle in his eye to match Glorfindel’s. “Seven mattresses and seven duvets!” he harrumphed. “Only a haughty Vanyar would presume that a Wood-elf prince needs so few to feel the pea. Nay, Estel, do not believe a word of it. If you truly wish to know the truth of it, you must certainly use no less than twenty mattresses, covered with twenty duvets.”
Estel gaped, his incredulous gaze flicking from one elf lord to the other. Surely they could not both be teasing him! “But I cannot move twenty mattresses,” he finally lamented. “It would take all day, and after his long journey, Legolas will doubtless seek his bed long before that.”
“Then it is good you have Glorfindel to aid you,” Celeborn consoled. “Mattress stacking is sure to be listed among his many renowned skills.”
Glorfindel barked with laughter before remarking, “Indeed, Celeborn, little is beyond my skill.” He winked at Estel and then, striding past Celeborn and entering the house intent upon hunting up twenty spare mattresses and duvets, he shouted, “We will rendezvous in the emissary guest room in one hour. Estel, I will ask you to fetch the pea, and, Celeborn, bring a ladder, if you would. Between the three of us, we are certain to have the task accomplished with time to spare.”
It was a sceptical Celeborn and a wary Estel that met Glorfindel in the hall outside the emissary guest room an hour later.
“Ah, I see you have managed your assignment well enough, Celeborn,” Glorfindel congratulated, noting the ladder propped up against the wall. “And you, Estel?” The child opened his fisted-palm and showed Glorfindel the fat pea he had fetched from the garden. “Excellent! Now, let us see if I have managed mine.”
With that, he opened the door and bowed his accomplices in with a flourish. Estel’s eyes went wide. He had not really believed Glorfindel would manage it. Celeborn, however, frowned with something akin to disgust at the twenty mattresses stacked here and there about the room and the twenty duvets piled upon the bed.
“What is this, Celeborn?” Glorfindel scoffed, giving the elf lord a hearty pat on the back. “Not afraid of a little hard work, are we?”
Celeborn guffawed and moved toward the bed to shift the duvets out of the way.
Glorfindel grinned slyly at his back and then turned to Estel. “The pea,” he requested, his hand extended. Estel relinquished the pea and peered up expectedly. “Your task will be to watch the hall,” Glorfindel said. “We do not want Legolas to walk in on us before all is ready, do we? After all, the test will only be valid if he does not know that he is being tested.”
Estel nodded sagely and hustled back out to the hallway. He was not certain where Legolas had gone after his arrival, or even where the twins had gone, for that matter. He asked around while he was gathering the pea, of course, but could only determine that the three were with Elrond, whom he could not seem to find either. Thus, Estel paced from one end of the hall to the other, alert for any sound that might signal someone’s approach. Elves are dreadfully hard to hear, he lamented silently, but he would not let that get in his way.
So intent was he on performing his task admirably that Estel didn’t realize how much time had passed until he heard a whistle from the bedroom. Racing back, he hurtled through the doorway and then froze, his jaw dropping in astonishment. There before him, sure enough, stood a mountain of neatly stacked mattresses, the duvets resting snugly atop them all, and the ladder propped up at the foot of the bed. It is a good thing Glorfindel thought of the ladder, he thought, else Legolas would not be able to get into bed and we would never know if he were really a prince.
They had finished just in time, he realized, as a weary but polite “Your pardon” sounded behind him and he turned to find Legolas waiting for him to move out of his way. Estel did just that, hastily, and then watched with bated breath as the Wood-elf peered incredulously at the towering mountain of mattresses. He feared that Legolas would turn right around and seek out another bed. Estel thought it would be great fun to sleep atop all those mattresses, but he had realised long ago that older elves did not always agree when he thought something would be fun. Several long seconds later, Legolas gave a sideways glance to each of the elf lords, ruffled Estel’s hair and, with a long-suffering sigh, climbed the tall ladder, bidding them all a good day as he collapsed at last into the mound of soft duvets.
For a second day in row, Estel found himself waking in the dark hour before dawn. He lay still for several minutes, blearily wondering what had woken him, and then the memory of the previous day came rushing back in a jolt that nearly tossed him from his bed. Sitting straight up, he wondered if he should linger outside Legolas’s room, or wait until breakfast to find out if it had worked. He finally decided, though reluctantly, that he should probably wait until breakfast. Legolas might get suspicious if he found him hovering outside again after finding them all in his room the previous night.
It took nearly all the self-control his ten-year body could muster to stay in bed until the sky lightened. He twiddled the edges of his blankets. He hummed to himself and told himself stories about the shadows dancing across his ceiling. Then, at last, the birds began to chatter their greeting to the new day, and Estel was up in a flash.
He dressed quickly and dashed toward the Hall with leggings rumpled and tunic askew. He slowed, though, as neared the doorway and saw Legolas just entering. Composing himself, though not his clothes, Estel sauntered in behind the Wood-elf at a sedate pace.
“Good morning,” he jauntily bade his mother and the assembled elves as he took a seat opposite Legolas so that he could watch him as they ate and see if he looked tired.
“Good morning, Estel,” said Elrond, peering at the child with an amused expression that Estel did not notice as he attempted to simultaneously dish up sausages and surreptitiously peer at Legolas. “You are bright-eyed this morning. You slept well?”
“Yes, ada,” Estel answered distractedly.
“Ah, Legolas,” Elrond said abruptly, looking away from the child before Estel forced a laugh out of him. “I do not believe you have yet met our young addition. This is Estel. Estel, this is Legolas Thranduilion, emissary of Greenwood.”
“Mae govannen, young Estel,” said Legolas, bobbing his head politely. “I am pleased to have a name to go with the face.”
“Mae govannen, Legolas,” Estel replied, his gaze dropping to his plate as he waited to see if the Wood-elf would mention their meeting the previous evening. Elrond would probably not approve of the test, he thought anxiously. Legolas said no more, though, and so Estel peered up cautiously and, mustering his courage, asked in a steady voice, “Did you sleep well, Legolas?”
Legolas’s eyes, which had been watching him, darted abruptly to his plate, and Estel wondered for a moment if the Wood-elf had found them out and would tell Elrond after all. When Legolas looked up again, he had an odd expression on his face that Estel could not quite read before it fell into weariness.
“Ai, no, I fear I did not,” Legolas admitted.
“Dear me, I do apologize, Legolas. Did your mattress not suit you? Perhaps we can find you another,” Elrond said gravely.
“Nay, do not trouble,” replied Legolas, turning his gaze toward the elf lord. “I will manage, though I must admit, it did feel a though I were sleeping upon a boulder last night. But doubtless, it was my weary muscles that were to blame, and not your mattresses, for your hospitality has never lacked in comfort or kindness.”
Elrond bowed his head appreciatively at the compliment, managing, only just, to keep his expression somber. “All the same, young Legolas, do not hesitate to ask should you wish a different bed.”
“Indeed, poor chap,” commiserated Glorfindel, clapping Legolas on the back, and Estel dropped his gaze to his plate, unable to look at his co-conspirator. Thus he did not notice that no one else looked at the elf lord either -- except Gilraen, who seemed puzzled, and Galadriel, who seemed amused -- as Glorfindel said, “You are welcome to try my bed. It is soft and cosy and provided me with a most splendid night’s sleep.”
“That is a most generous offer, Glorfindel,” said Celeborn, in a slightly strangled voice that brought Estel’s gaze to him. Celeborn’s eyes, though, remained fixed on the bread he was breaking as he asked, “But wherever will you sleep?”
Glorfindel merely waved away the concern and said offhandedly, “The twins and I are off today to scout out a new pass over the mountains, so I will not be needing my bed for a day or two.”
Legolas bobbed his head in acknowledgment of the offer, before turning his attention back to his plate. It remained there for the remainder of the meal, which was fortunate for Estel, who finished his breakfast staring at Legolas wide-eyed and speechless. Legolas finished his meal first and then asked Elrond’s pardon as he excused himself ahead of the others, begging leave to soak his bruised and weary muscles.
“You have my leave, of course, Legolas,” said Elrond genially and smiled as Estel’s eyes followed the Wood-elf until he turned the corner out of sight. Elrond dropped his gaze to his plate, then, to hide the smile creeping onto his face as he heard Legolas stopped by the twins just outside the Hall entrance.
Estel though, heard nothing, too caught up still in his amazement to pay attention to aught else. And a good thing that was, too, else he would have heard the twins grumbling about their missing mattresses and Legolas grumbling amiably that he was getting too old for the pea.
Note: The Council referred to is the Third White Council, held in late summer of 2941 Third Age. Also, within my limited universe, this story takes place prior to 'Aragorn the Mighty'
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.