1. The Tower Room
The abandoned garden was overgrown and unkempt. The boundary wall, or rather what was left of it, was covered in ivy; brambles and elder competed for space at its base. Beyond the walls there were aspen trees, tall and slender, their silvered bark peeling and flaking like strips of ancient parchment. Wild tangled scrub and weeds grew thick between the trees. Yet the dereliction held a certain fascination for youngsters looking for somewhere wild to explore.
"How far does this go?" Legolas asked.
"I know not." Estel answered. "I have never been down here."
"No one comes here…or at least none have been this way for a long time." Legolas mused as he wove his way through the snagging undergrowth. "There is no clear path, though I see what remains of one."
Estel tripped on a raised stone. "I think I found it." he grumbled.
"Take care, mellon nîn…" the elf warned "the ground is uneven, and the path gets steeper ahead."
Estel kept his head down, his eyes focused on where he was walking. Branches whipped back at him as Legolas brushed his way through the knotted trees and snarled shrubs which grew unchecked to either side of the sloping path. Brambles and burrs clung to his legs as the undergrowth became progressively thicker.
The elf stopped suddenly. The path bore sharply to the right as the ground beneath it fell away into a deep dell. From below came the sound of a swift stream tumbling over rocks as it flowed down to meet the Bruinen sîr. Estel drew up beside Legolas and they stood together, peering down into the steep sided valley. Five huge trees grew up from out of the dell, and in their midst rose a tall circular tower built of stone.
"I had no idea this was here." Estel murmured. "Let's go down."
The bottom third of the tower was covered with ivy, but the from what they could see the ancient column looked to be sound. Here and there were small windows fashioned to let light in to what Estel imagined must be a spiral staircase within. From the furthest edge of the zigzag path they could see a larger window set into the topmost part of the tower. The window extended almost the full width of one side of the structure. The window glass was intact, though the lead mullions and the stone sill were weathered and discoloured by rain.
Estel pointed. "There must be a room up there. Perhaps it was a watchtower."
"Aye, it might have been, but for trees that now surround it." Legolas agreed.
Estel started to scramble down the sharp bend to the next level of the path.
"Let's see if we can take a look inside."
"It may not be safe." the elf warned him. "This building is very old; older than these trees. See how their roots have encroached upon it. The trees might have undermined the foundations."
But Estel would not be dissuaded now the spirit of adventure was upon him. They continued down the path until at last they gained the bottom of the dell. Carefully they picked their way over the tangled tree roots to reach the base of the tower.
There was a wooden door, stout and solid, hung on heavy metal hinges set into a stone frame. Estel worked the latch handle and pressed his shoulder against the wood, but the door did not move.
"Is it locked?" Legolas asked.
"It is shut tight. I cannot tell whether it is locked or…" Estel tried again, lifting the handle and pushing the door again. This time it gave slightly.
"Wait, Estel." Legolas touched his arm to stop him. "I see the cause. A tree root has pushed up the threshold slab, there."
Estel moved back a little and looked at the crooked stone step.
"Can you move it?"
"The tree, or the stone?" Legolas asked dryly.
Estel rolled his eyes. "I don't think we should disturb the tree, do you?"
"I would counsel against it."
Estel pointed at the stone. "Then get to it!"
Legolas crouched and got a grip on the edge of the slab. It was wedged tightly against the bottom of the door, but gradually and with much effort he managed to wrest it free. He straightened and leant against the wall, breathing hard.
"You're going to want me to put it back afterwards, aren't you?" he panted.
"Probably." Estel grunted, as he tried the door again.
"It still won't open." he muttered, stepping back. "But I think it's just a latch lock."
"Estel, if it is locked, perhaps we should not try to get in."
"Nay…it will be locked just to keep strangers out, not us."
"Then let us go back and ask your Adar for the key."
"What, climb all the way out again and traipse back through all that undergrowth just so that we can take a look inside?" Estel scoffed dismissively.
Legolas's eyes narrowed; he regarded the young human with knowing look.
"You think Lord Elrond would refuse permission!" he stated bluntly.
"Why would he do that?" Estel countered.
"Then why is the tower locked?"
Estel sniffed. "It's probably just to keep the door shut against the winter gales."
"The gales of winter would not breach it here in this deep, so sheltered by these trees."
Estel shrugged, but did not reply. Ignoring the elf, he glanced around them. His eyes alighted on a fallen branch and he quickly snatched it up.
"What do you intend to do?" Legolas asked him.
"I just want to see what it's like inside. We won't disturb anything."
"We already have." the elf nodded at the base of the door. "You had me move the stone."
"Don't worry, mellon nîn." Estel smiled roguishly. "I'll let you put it back afterwards."
"Hannon le." Legolas snorted.
The elf watched as his friend hefted the branch and broke off a few small side shoots to smooth its length. Then he wedged it into the gap under the door and pushed down on the branch. The door was levered upwards and lifted free from its latch.
Tossing the branch aside, Estel pushed the door open and went into the tower.
"C'mon, Legolas." he called from inside.
The elf hovered on the threshold. "I thought you only wanted to look?"
"There is nothing to see here. But there's a staircase."
Legolas heard the sound of Estel's footsteps ascending the stone stairs. Shaking his head ruefully, the elf followed him.
The tower stairs wound steeply upwards in a tight spiral around a central newel-post. About half way up the height of the tower the stairway opened onto a small landing from which stairs rose again, but this flight was different. Here the stairs had no central newel; instead they projected from the tower walls. The steps were formed of broad oak beams which were set into the stonework. As the two friends ascended, they could see their way in the light from the small windows positioned at intervals around the tower; but above them, a wooden ceiling obscured their view.
Estel pressed onwards and reached a second landing, smaller than the first. Here their way was blocked by another closed door. The ceiling was now just above them, but the steps that obviously led there were enclosed behind a partition of heavy wood panelling.
The youth tried the door, but it too was locked.
"Another latch lock, I'll wager." he muttered.
"Well that is as far as we go, mellon nîn." Legolas said firmly. "You cannot lever this one open; the door is tight against the frame."
"I know. You're right." Estel sighed heavily and struck the door frame with his hand. "It's just so frustrating!" he hissed.
"Come, let us go back down." the elf urged him.
For once Estel did not argue; they made their way back down the stairwell. At the foot of the stairs Legolas hesitated, becoming very still as he watched the doorway.
Estel crept to his side. "What is it?" he whispered.
"Someone outside." the elf answered quietly. "I think your brothers are come."
"Then let us go and greet them."
Legolas squinted into the pale light that spilled through the open door. "They reveal themselves now." he murmured. "They do not look pleased."
As they came out of the building they found Elladan and Elrohir waiting for them.
"What were you doing in there?" Elladan asked angrily.
"We just went to look, El." Estel offered.
"You should have kept away!" Elrohir snapped. "You have no business here, neither of you!"
Shocked at the vehemence of his anger, Estel tried to placate the irate elf.
"Steady, Roh! We've done no harm.."
"Indeed? You prised the door open, did you not?" Elrohir shot back. "You forced your way in!"
"Masters Elladan, Elrohir.." Legolas intervened. "We apologise for our trespass. If you will give us leave, we will remedy any disturbance caused by our ingress."
"What's all this fuss about?" Estel asked. "It's only an abandoned tower…"
Elladan held up his hand. "Just go, gwador nîn, and do not come here again."
"Estel." Legolas grabbed his arm and tried to steer him away. "We have caused offence. We should go."
The youth shook off Legolas's hold and turned back to face his brothers.
"Not until one of them tells me what is going on here!"
"It is not for us to tell." said Elladan flatly. "All you need to know is to stay away."
"Keep your secrets, then." Estel sniffed. "I'm going to ask Ada for the key."
"You will not!"
Elladan had raised his voice - a rare show of emotion. Estel allowed himself a wry smile; convinced that he had stumbled upon something that his brothers obviously wished to keep from their father.
But now Elladan advanced on him, threateningly. The youth tried to slink back but the tall elf lunged forward, grasped him by the arms and began to shake him fiercely.
Estel's head snapped back and forth so quickly he felt as if his eyes were being shaken from his skull. Abruptly, Elladan loosed his grip and Estel slumped dizzily into a heap at his feet. Hurt and angry, the youth shuffled away on his backside, trying to distance himself from his elven brother who had so suddenly acquired a murderous intent towards him.
"Listen to me, Estel!" Elladan grated, his anger naked and unmasked. "You will say nothing to Ada! For if you do, you will be in more trouble than you know - and not just from him, but from Roh & I as well."
The elf reached down and grabbed Estel's arm, drawing him to his feet. "Now you must leave this place and not return." he growled at the youth. "And you will keep silent!"
Estel was furious at being subjected to such humiliating treatment, but he knew he could not better either of the twins in a fight, even if they would grant him one. He nodded, grudgingly accepting their terms.
"Consider the matter settled, then. But heed what I have said." Elladan warned him. "Go now. We will replace the stone."
Estel turned on his heel and followed Legolas to the path which led from the site of the mysterious tower. Wearily and in silence they made the long climb upwards out of the dell. Thrice Estel glanced over his shoulder and paused as if about to go back, but each time the elf caught his arm and gently pulled him away.
Not too many days later Estel's steps led him once more towards the forgotten garden. The late morning sky was cloudless and brilliant sunlight brought forth beauty everywhere; even in the furthest reaches of the overgrown wilderness. Tall grasses and nettles shed their pollen to the breeze and the bindweed was hung with pale trumpet flowers.
"Estel, we should not go back there!" Legolas pleaded. "Remember how it upset your brothers."
The youth paused mid stride and turned to look askance at the elf.
"What you have to ask yourself, Legolas, is why they did not want us there."
Legolas did not answer. He did not want to encourage his friend in what was clearly a foolish and defiant venture.
"I'll wager they've got a key to that tower." Estel continued. "That's why they were so angry that we managed to get inside…"
"If they had a key, then why did they not say so?" Legolas asked.
"You heard them - they didn't want Ada to know! That means, obviously, that they have taken the key without his knowledge."
"So what if they have?" the elf argued. "Is that not more good reason to keep away from the tower? If your brothers have got access to it without permission, then certainly you should avoid being associated with their doings there."
Estel halted and turned around to face his friend.
"No, Legolas; that's the point." he explained with an exaggerated air of patience, as if talking to one witless. "We can go there, provided we are not seen, and we can explore all we like without fear of blame - for we do not have the key!"
Legolas stared at him blankly, as if he doubted he had heard correctly.
"You're not making sense, Estel."
"You'll see." the youth sniggered as he clambered over the broken wall.
The tower dell was quiet and tranquil. In its shady depths the air hung heavy with the scent of summer rain. The outer door was shut; the stone threshold replaced more or less as they had first found it, but positioned not so tightly in the opening.
"Estel." Legolas started. "Do not open the door. Leave it be. Your brothers will know if we move the stone again."
"Fear not." Estel told him. "I have another plan entirely."
Legolas watched his friend as he paced around the tower base, pausing intermittently to stare up into the trees. Finally, he stopped.
"Do you think you can climb up to the level of the window?" he asked the elf.
"Of course!" Legolas smiled.
"Good. Then try and find a way easy enough that I can climb up as well."
"That should not be too difficult. I see your plan - you intend to look into the room."
The elf set off, climbing swiftly up among the gnarled and twisting branches. He quickly gained the height of the window and then looked to find a route back down which his human friend could follow.
A short time later Estel pulled himself up on the branch beside the elf. They looked across at the tower, just a few feet in front of them. The window was lit by the sun but the interior was dark, and neither of them could make out much of what lay within, beyond the glass.
Estel shuffled along the branch, trying to get closer; Legolas leant forward and grabbed his belt, restraining him.
"Take care, mellon nîn - the branch may not hold your weight." he warned. "Let me go first."
Estel turned towards him and raised an eyebrow. "Let you go first, where?"
Legolas smiled knowingly. "It is clear to me that you intend to get into that room. Nothing else will satisfy your curiosity....so I suggest that you let me try to find a safe way."
Estel grinned at his friend. Legolas negotiated his way past him and stepped nimbly to the end of the limb. He reached up and grasped an overhanging branch, moving hand over hand along it. It was but a short step from there onto the sill. Crouching on the ledge, Legolas slid his knife between the leaden frame and the casement, knocking up the latch. The window was now open; he stepped inside, then leant out again to catch Estel as he swung precariously from the encroaching branches.
A heartbeat later they were both inside the tower room.
Although partially obscured by the surrounding trees, the view from the tower window was breathtaking. The deep cleft of the hidden dell extended below them. The young stream at its base caught the light of the sun; it glistened through the trees rippling like a thread of silver. A dark green canopy of dense woodland smothered and softened the rocky slopes beyond. At the end of the hanging valley they could just see the white foam and misty spray of the waterfall where the stream plunged to join the Bruinen river.
They turned their attention to the interior. The room was dusty, denoting many years of disuse. The floor beneath the window was faded, the wooden boards bleached by the sun, as were the edges of the heavy sumptuous curtains which hung to either side of the window. The room was huge, and lit completely by the natural light.
"What an incredible room!" Estel gasped. " I wonder why it's not used any more?"
The furniture was ornate and intricately decorated; chairs, couches and cabinets all made from fine wood of and great beauty. A film of dust covered everything like a shroud.
"The twins have not been here." Legolas breathed. "No one has been up here for a long time."
The elf turned towards the back of the room and stopped, stock still. Unsettled, Estel followed his gaze.
Set against the wall at the furthest point from the window was a large bed. Pristine, white and undisturbed. A delicate spray of dried blooms of elanor and niphredil lay on the coverlet.
"Estel, we should not have come in here." Legolas spoke quietly. "This is a very private place, full of memory…and sadness. I can feel it. We must leave now."
Estel swallowed nervously and nodded. "Yes. You are right."
They crossed to the window. Legolas scrambled out and made his way back onto the branch. Jumping the gap was easy for an elf, but Estel hesitated. A strong breeze had got up - the trees were swaying back and forth, making the transition even more difficult. The youth realised that once he himself had gained the relative safety of the tree, Legolas would have to come back across the swaying branches yet again in order to close the window behind them.
"Wait, Legolas - I have a better idea." Estel called out to him. "I will close the window from here and go down the stairs. I will be able to turn the latch lock from the inside."
"But you will not be able to lock it again!"
"We will have to leave it that way. At least we can lever up the lower door so that it will appear that no-one has entered. We'll have to hope that whoever next comes here does not notice that the door to the topmost stairs is unlocked."
"Go then." his friend nodded. "I will meet you at the foot of the tower."
Estel fastened the window and made his way down the stairs. By the time he reached the bottom of the lower staircase, the elf had moved the threshold stone and opened the door. Together they levered the door back into its locked position and Legolas replaced the slab once more. Estel hastily trod down the moss they had dislodged by shifting the stone.
They stepped back and turned around. Instantly both of them froze; Elladan and Elrohir were there, watching silently from between the trees.
"By the Valar, you're going to be sorry you came back here!" Elrohir growled as he walked towards them.
"How dare you, Estel." Elladan said starkly.
"We haven't done anything!" Estel protested.
Elrohir snorted. "No? You've been inside, haven't you?"
The youth stared him down. "Nothing has been disturbed." he answered calmly.
"Fool. Are you denying that you have entered there?"
Estel did not answer.
"You were warned to stay away." Elladan stated flatly.
"Aye. But you did not tell me why."
"And you believes that justifies your ignoring the order?"
Estel fell silent once more - he knew he had no defence. But neither could he speak of his remorse, for he did not want his brothers to know that he and Legolas had entered the room at the top of the tower.
He decided to be brutally honest.
"I know I should have heeded your words to me. And I would have, had you asked me more courteously."
Elrohir bristled, but Elladan simply shook his head.
"Your recollection of the conversation is wanting, Estel. If you remember truly, you were not so courteous yourself."
"I let myself be provoked by your harsh treatment of me. I will let Ada be the judge of my behaviour."
"You will not! You will answer to us, here and now."
Elrohir grabbed hold of Estel's arm and tugged him forward. Estel pulled back violently and freed himself.
"You have no right - you are not Adar, I don't answer to you!" he protested. "And I am long past the age when you can chastise me with impunity."
"You will answer to us this time." Elladan told him. "Both of you were warned what would happen if you came again to this place. When you defied us, you sacrificed your right to choose."
Legolas could see the way this was going - he tried to reason with his friend.
"Estel, might not it be better to atone to your brothers than to involve your Adar?"
The youth paused to consider this, but Elrohir intervened by grabbing hold of him again. Estel tried unsuccessfully to shake him off, then he ducked and feinted to the left, slipping under the arm that held him. Elrohir's fist connected with his jaw.
Estel's lip split and he tasted blood. He shook his head to clear it, stunned not so much by the blow, but by the realisation that his elven brother had really struck him.
Behind them, Elladan took hold of Legolas and towed him away.
Estel continued to struggle fiercely; although he knew that the elf had the upper hand, his pride would not let him submit meekly. Elrohir dragged him off his feet, twisting his arm behind him to keep him on his knees.
The elf stood on one leg and tugged off his boot. Estel was suddenly still.
"R…Roh?!" he stammered.
"Be silent. The time for excuses is past; you are going to get what you deserve. And I'm certainly not going to sully my hand on you!"
The youth subsided under the weight of his brother's condemnation. Elrohir dropped onto his right knee and bent him across his left leg. Estel yelped; his arm was wrenched painfully as the elf adjusted his position and tipped him forward.
Elrohir raised his arm and brought the sole of boot smartly down across Estel's hindquarters. The youth gritted his teeth and stubbornly swallowed the grunt of pain that threatened to burst from him. The impact stung mightily and the next stroke arrived before he had the chance to brace himself. He squirmed at the smarting burn that followed in its wake.
The blows from the boot were loud; this made them feel even worse. The leather flexed as it was wielded, causing the tough sole to crack down doubly hard on its target. Elrohir's anger was now fully manifest in the force of the blows of the relentless whacking.
That Elrohir had decided to use his boot to wallop him was as humiliating as it was painful. But Estel felt every bit of Elrohir's outrage, and the tears that he finally let fall were born of shame.
He was ashamed that he had entered the tower and he felt guilty that he had followed his compulsive and mischievous curiosity. But he did not understand why his brothers had not told him the reason why it was out of bounds to him. It was as if they did not consider him worthy of that knowledge.
Brothers they were, even if not by blood - there should be no deep secrets between them.
Abruptly, Elrohir stood up and Estel was tipped onto ground. The elf pulled his boot back on, then crouched beside the youth.
"That is just a taste of what you will get from Lord Elrond if ever he finds out that you have been here." he hissed. "Now do as you were bid and stay away from the tower!"
Estel's stomach knotted. He wondered if he should confess that he had been into the sanctum of the tower room. If Elrohir asked him, he would admit it. But the elf turned away and did not question him further.
Estel stayed prone, trying to recover his composure. His backside felt as if it were on fire, but his brother's icy contempt was like a frosty blast to his heart.
Moments later Elladan reappeared from behind the tower. Legolas limped in front of him. Clearly he had endured a similar fate and suffered the elder elf's wrath.
"Get up Estel." Elladan told him. "Leave this place, and do not return!"
Legolas bent and helped Estel to his feet. In uneasy silence they retreated together from the dell.
In the sanctuary of their rooms, Estel and Legolas nursed their bruised pride and tended to their injuries. Estel's jaw had swollen where Elrohir had struck him, but he was able to reduce the swelling by bathing it with cold water.
Dinner was now a daunting prospect that neither of them was looking forward to.
Legolas was worried about the trauma to Estel's relationship with his brothers. He could well sense his friend's frayed emotions, and he dreaded their having to sit down at table and eat together, acting as if nothing had occurred.
"Mellon nîn, is there no chance that we could be excused from dinner?" he asked.
"No. Not without Adar asking questions of us. He will know something is wrong."
"Perhaps it would help if he did."
"What do you mean by that?" the youth asked sharply.
"Estel if ever you were in need of your Adar's counsel, it is now."
"No, Legolas. I can't tell him. You heard what my…" he hesitated. "what Lords Elladan and Elrohir said. You felt their anger. How much worse would it be if Lord Elrond found out?"
"He would be angry, but I do not believe he would be harsh with you."
"I do. Today it has been brought home to me how far removed I am from this family."
Estel's words were bitter and his voice shook as he continued.
"I was raised here in this house since I was a small child. To me that seems a lifetime, but to elves, it is no time at all. And now I see that for all those long years I have deceived myself, for in truth I am still an outsider."
He paused for a moment, biting his lip, struggling for control.
"And you…you also would be called to account by Lord Elrond." he continued. "I will not be the cause of that. You have already paid for my folly."
"It was my folly also." Legolas pointed out. "Do not blame yourself for it. And do not blame your brothers. They have suffered some hurt of which we know not."
"Then why do they not share it?"
"Perhaps they just did." Legolas offered. "Some hurts go so deep that they cannot be spoken."
"I do not wish to think on it further right now." Estel firmly closed down the discussion. "Let us prepare ourselves for dinner."
At dinner Elrond could tell that something was amiss. Estel and Legolas sat stiffly, their backs ramrod straight, but they both were leaning forward slightly as if to take the weight off their haunches.
"Estel!" Erestor's whispered rebuke hissed across the table. "Don't lean on the table like that!"
Estel and Legolas both quickly removed their arms from table edge.
"Dihenno nîn, Hir nîn. Ú-renion anim." the youth mumbled, shamefaced.
Elrond smiled quietly to himself. The two of them must have fallen into Erestor's disfavour earlier, and he had obviously taken them to task - that explained their stiff and stilted manner.
The elf lord wondered briefly as to the precise nature of their misdemeanours, but he decided that he didn't need to know right now; it was kinder to spare them the embarrassment. And their story was sure to come out later.
But as the meal progressed, Elrond found something else to arouse his curiosity. In the past whenever Estel had been chastised, the lad usually suffered merciless ribbing from the twins until their father intervened and called a halt to it. But on this occasion Elladan and Elrohir seemed to be deliberately ignoring the young Dúnadan.
Elrond frowned. Estel was eating slowly but determinedly, focusing intently on his plate, tasting little and enjoying nothing. Legolas was picking unconvincingly at his food while trying to maintain an impression of appetite.
The twins were quiet; they talked to each other, but they made no attempt to engage Estel and Legolas in their conversation. And both of them avoided their father's eyes.
"Never before I heard this table so quiet!" Glorfindel remarked boisterously.
There was a loud clatter as Estel dropped his knife. It bounced off the side of his plate and skittered across the floor. He glanced up to see Elrohir glaring at him.
"Dihenno nîn." he muttered, lowering his eyes. He kept his head down.
Elrond leaned forward in his seat. "Are you well, Estel?" he asked gently.
"Na mae im, Hir nîn."
"Do you wish to be excused?"
Estel nodded. "Hannon le, Hir nîn."
"Go to your room. We will speak later."
Estel rose, bowed stiffly and left the room. Elrond watched the twins closely. Neither of them showed any sly amusement at Estel's discomforted departure, but they showed no concern either.
Legolas was fidgeting in his seat, his eyes darting back and forth nervously. As he felt the elf lord's gaze fall upon him he stilled, putting down his fork and sitting quietly, staring at the table in front of him.
"Legolas." Elrond spoke softly. "You may go too if you wish."
The young elf stood, bowed his thanks and withdrew.
"Does anyone else want to leave this cheerless table?" Elrond asked, looking pointedly at the twins.
"No Ada." they both chorused together.
"Then let us see what can be salvaged from the evening. Tell me how you spent your day, Lord Glorfindel."
The seneschal smiled. "Nothing remarkable, to be sure. I rode out this morning, and the afternoon I spent in the armoury."
"And you, Erestor?"
"For most of the day I was in the library." Erestor smiled. "Although I do confess I took some time to enjoy the gardens."
"Indeed?" Elrond's curiosity peaked again. "And what did you find there?" he prompted.
"Beauty, my Lord. The sun on the leaves and the grass underfoot. It was most refreshing."
Elrond smiled politely and turned to his sons.
"And you, ionnath nîn?" he asked. "How did you spend your day?"
The twins looked up guiltily.
"Rather idly, I'm ashamed to say…" Elladan answered. "in the woods and the gardens."
"So." Elrond concluded. "No-one save myself could resist the lure of the gardens today."
"Well, I cannot speak for Estel and Legolas.." Erestor grinned. "but I think it most unlikely that they spent the day indoors. And if they did, they stayed well away from the library."
A ripple of laughter went around the table.
Elrond raised an eyebrow. So it must have been Glorfindel, he thought, who had disciplined the young miscreants. Perhaps he had encountered them engaged in some kind of mischief.
The rest of the meal passed uneventfully. The conversation was relaxed and pleasant but inconsequential and at times Elrond found he lost the thread of it.
For his thoughts already dwelt upon what he would say to Estel.
The Lord of Imladris tapped gently on the door to Estel's room. He entered.
Estel was lying on the bed; as the door opened the lad rose gingerly to his feet.
"Cuio mae, Hir nîn." he uttered.
Such formality, even here, Elrond noted. He decided to indulge him.
"Galu le, Estel. Havo dad."
The youth eased himself back down onto the bed.
"What is wrong, ion nîn?" Elrond asked mildly.
"Alnad na raeg."
"Nothing?" Elrond pursed his lips. " It has not escaped my notice that both you and Legolas have the demeanour of ones recently chastised."
"Aye, my Lord."
"And I would know why."
"My Lord, I led Legolas astray. We were both punished. That is the reason we suffer the consequences now." Estel shrugged. "Is that not enough?"
"No. It is not, for clearly you have not been forgiven."
"Then have you come to punish me as well?" the young man sniped.
The youth started at the angry rebuke, then he sagged and hung his head sullenly.
"You know that is not what I meant." Elrond grumbled at him. "Keep control of your temper!"
"Amin haeratha." Estel muttered.
"Let us start again. Tell me what occurred today that has left you so miserable."
"Your pardon, my Lord..but I would prefer not to speak of it."
"And I would prefer that you did."
"My Lord…it is over and done with..it is past."
"And I can see that it is not." Elrond said firmly. "Your reticence concerns me, as does your formality."
"I meant not to offend you by it, my Lord."
"Then tell me." the elf lord urged him. "I would have you unburden yourself."
Elrond was silent for a moment. He drew in a long breath and let it out slowly, as if marshalling all his patience. He stretched out his hand and lightly ran his fingers along the youth's brow and down over his temple. He flinched slightly as if burned by what he felt within.
"Estel, you are in pain. You are hurt, wounded of spirit. Who did this to you?" he breathed.
The youngster tried to turn away. "I cannot say…please my Lord, don't make me say…"
"You must tell me!" Elrond insisted more forcefully. "You will not withold this from me."
"It was Elrohir." another voice spoke from the door.
"Legolas!" Elrond exclaimed, somewhat taken aback by the young elf's interruption.
"Pardon me for intruding, my Lord, but I could hear Estel's distress. I know he will not thank me for telling you, but his reluctance is because his brothers enjoined him not to speak of what happened today."
"I see." the elf lord breathed.
"So for good or ill, I will tell of the events which led Elrohir and Elladan to punish us."
Estel put his face in his hands.
Legolas recounted the whole sorry tale. And he had to admit that their actions sounded even worse when he told them to Lord Elrond. The elf lord kept his features schooled to inscrutable stillness, but Legolas saw the shadow of anguish in his eyes as he heard of their fascination with the mysterious abandoned tower in its remote and lonely glade.
"You entered the Tower Room?" Elrond asked.
"Yes, my Lord. And we both regretted it, for as soon as we came within it I knew that we should not have gone there."
"The door to the room was locked. How did you enter?"
"Through the window.The trees grow very close."
Legolas expected a tirade, an outpouring of outrage and furious anger, but none came. Instead Elrond sat silently, regarding the two remorseful youngsters for a long moment. Estel would not look at him; his gaze was fixed on the window, searching for any distraction that would help him to keep control of his emotions.
"Legolas - leave us now." Elrond intoned. "I am most displeased that you aided Estel in this misadventure, but I know that you have already been punished. We will not speak of this again."
"Be iest lîn, Hir nîn"
The young elf bowed deeply and left the room. He hoped that Estel would forgive him.
Alone with Estel once more, Elrond stood up and reached out to his foster son.
"Come, ion nîn. Walk with me. The sun has not yet gone down and I am the only one in this household who has been indoors all day. And right now I crave the solace of the trees."
It was not the reaction Estel had anticipated - but then again, he didn't know what he had expected. He put his thoughts away for the moment and simply did as he was told.
He followed the Lord of Imladris from the room and through the house, and finally out into the gardens.
They walked the length and breadth of the gardens without haste, catching the last rays of the sun before it sank below the western horizon. Estel found that it was somehow easier to talk when his limbs were occupied in movement; the long silences between the elf and he did not seem threatening or unnatural, nor did he feel any pressure to fill them with empty phrases.
Elrond appeared content to let him take his time, but as they strolled together beneath the trees the elf lord very gradually teased out the source of Estel's deep hurt and the cause of his alienation from his brothers. And now that Estel had opened up to him, Elrond could sense a certain anticipation in the youth, an expectation that the elf lord would reciprocate and lay bare his own soul. But how to do this? For once the words he needed to help this young mortal understand eluded him.
But try he must.
"Estel, I am sorry to hear that you went against your brother's wishes." he started awkwardly.
"Ada, they did not ask me to stay away; they ordered me…and they would not tell me why. They treated me like a child."
"But you did not stay away. And like a child, you let yourself be led by your curiosity."
"It was their secrecy that inflamed it…..!"
"I see. So your trespass is their fault."
"No Ada, that's not so. It just made it easier because I was aggrieved that they treated me so."
As with their random stroll, Elrond was not sure where this exchange was going. But somehow he changed direction, almost without being aware of it, his feet walking of their own volition towards to the lower terraces.
Estel still waited for him to speak, ready to take whatever path their conversation chose, wherever it may lead.
"Tell me, Estel" Elrond said at length "What did the locked door of the tower mean to you?"
The youth shrugged. "It meant that there was something secret behind it."
"Ah yes. Secrets. I can see how it might make you think that." Elrond paused. "But what else might a locked door protect?"
Estel pondered this. "Something of value." he offered, his brow creased in thought. "Something dangerous…or perhaps something fragile."
"Yes, yes... all of those things." Elrond acknowledged. "But I fear that I am not making things clear. I confess that I too am deeply upset that you went into the Tower Room, and I know that you want to know why. There is nothing that I would keep from you, but I understand why the twins did not want to speak of it."
They were walking through the sombre groves of cypress and yew, a narrow way which led down to a quiet shaded spot, a sanctuary away from all other paths. The air was damp and cool now; Estel shivered slightly as he realised where Elrond was leading him.
They stood together before the likeness carved from white marble. A pure and matchless memory made corporal in flawless stone.
"Here lies Gilraen." Elrond spoke quietly, reverently. "She lies in peace, in this secluded glade where no others come save by your leave. Out of respect, all stay away and leave this place to you and she. Out of respect for her memory and for you, her son. Does that comfort you?"
"Yes, Ada." Estel replied softly.
Elrond led him to one side, to a low sloping tree where they could sit together.
"Now tell me, ion nîn.... How would it be to you if someone took this path unbidden; came this way to sit and stare, and disturbed this private place?"
"I would be angry with them!" Estel answered sharply. "I would be hurt."
"And could you speak to them of that hurt?"
"I know not. I might not show them my hurt, but I would show them my anger."
"But if you knew that they came here so out of foolish curiosity, or in ignorance? And they said that they meant no disrespect?"
Estel was perplexed; he found the notion intensely disturbing, but he found couldn't adequately express his feelings.
"It would still be.. hurtful…" he answered haltingly. "It..it is a very private place…and privacy is a fragile thing."
Elrond got up and moved to crouch on one knee in front of him. He placed his hands on the youth's shoulders.
"Like your heart. A most fragile thing." he murmured. His eyes closed briefly and he drew in a long deep breath as if holding back a gathering storm. But when he opened them again his eyes were calm and his face smiled so achingly sadly. And as he spoke his voice was gentle.
"Ask me what you will of the Tower Room, and I will tell you. But be brave, do not hold back. Do not hold back. And do not spare my tears."
For a moment Estel could not say anything. His eyes filled and he swallowed hard.
"Your sons will be angry that I have made you speak of it.."
Elrond nodded slowly.
"Yes, your brothers will be angry. They are angry and hurt, even as you yourself have been. But will you forgive them?"
"Yes… I will try."
"Then so must I, ion nîn." Elrond whispered softly. "Your brothers will forgive you."
He took Estel's hand; drawing it to him he placed it over his own heart and held it there.
"They know, as do I, that you will protect this private place."
Estel smiled glassily and nodded. There was grief, there was hurt and sorrow, but there was also trust.
He felt restored.
And he no longer felt alone.
Dihenno nin, Hir nîn. Ú-renion anim............... Forgive me my Lord, I forget myself.
Na mae im, Hir nîn. ...............I am well, my Lord
ionnath nîn ...........................my sons
Cuio mae, Hir nîn ...................Live well, my Lord (formal greeting)
Galu le, Estel. Havo dad ..........Bless you, Estel. Sit down.
Alnad na raeg .........................Nothing is wrong
Amin haeratha ........................I'm sorry
Be iest lîn, Hir nîn ...................As you wish, my Lord
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.