Of Fathers, Fears, and Reconciling
Arathrad was returning from a campaign to take back a quarter-league of wood from the darkness. He was near the front of the group returning through the tree branches. His son trailed behind talking to a friend.
Arathrad paused. He sensed a familiar presence rushing towards them. With a step to the side he dropped from the oak limb and landed in a crouch upon the ground. Then the elf looked up and smiled.
His daughter ran up to him. She was wearing a grin like sunshine. Arathrad opened his arms, and the elleth flung herself into them. Her slim arms gave him a squeeze. He wrapped his own thicker ones around his daughter, gave a lighter squeeze back, and smiled. A warrior fought harder and more willingly for a greeting like this. He buried his nose in her hair and spoke into the crest of her head. “How has our king been treating you?”
“Now ada, I deserved that punishment. I told you that.”
The elf and his daughter began to walk back towards the palace together, their arms slung over each others shoulders. “And have you committed further actions of impetuousness or mischief I should know of?”
The answering voice sounded strangely uncertain. “Noooooo . . .”
The warrior raised an eyebrow and looked down at her. “What have you to tell me then?”
“I . . . I am going away.”
“Ah.” A sad grin spread over his face. This was not unexpected, though saddening. His little elf-maid was always running off some place to tend the younglings of others.
She often came back with a bruised heart and tears to wet her father's shirt. It was not something he had expected when he had become the adar of a little elleth, but he had come to realize it was part of being the adar of this elleth.
He and Merilvidh no longer fought it. He was even relieved. That “no” of his little elfling's had sounded serious. He tried to keep his tone light while he responded. “Where to this time? A cottage on the north shore, Lake-town, nearer?”
Arathrad froze. Sensing the impending halt, Mellolaes stopped beside him. His daughter looked up at him. She was worrying her bottom lip with her teeth. Her adar stared down at her. “You are leaving for . . . ?”
“Rivendell, Ada, Imladris. I'm going to be the nurse of Elrond's adopted manling. Is that not . . . wonderful?”
The warrior kept staring at her without blinking.
Estel sat with his arms crossed over his chest, forehead wrinkled, and mouth pouting. He was scooted to the edge of a step near the middle of the stairway. The steps were extremely shallow. One with a short stride had to take a step forward for every step he took down. This made tripping safer. A stumble took you down only one stair, not all of them.
Sunlight poured in through three windows of thick, frosted glass that did not open. Fresh air came in through vents with bronze grates nailed over them. Three lamps opposite the windows were beyond the reach of even full grown elves. Long instruments were needed to light and snuff the candles. Above him was the door to his ada's sitting room, which led into the room he where he had left all the elves who no longer loved him. At the bottom of the stairs was a locked door that led to the library.
In short, the stairway was a place a child could neither escape from nor cause much mischief within. Estel called it his “prison.” There were no toys, no books, and no passing servants to notice him. He only left when his Ada, Erestor, or Glorfindel allowed it. The passage's existence was known only to Elrond, his Chief Steward, Captain, and his children. Ever since the twins were small, it had served as a place Elrond's younglings could contemplate their unacceptable deeds in solitude. Or simmer in rage as Estel was doing.
The door above opened. Elrond stepped in. The Lord of Imladris noted the manling did not move at the sound of his entrance, let alone turn around to look at him. Closing the door behind him, Elrond walked down the steps and lowered himself onto the one below that upon which his child was sitting. Even so, the elf towered over the manling by a few feet. Estel had not turned toward or glanced at him. Elrond gazed down at the boy. “You owe the others and me an apology, Estel.”
Not even a flash of emotion crossed over the elven lord's face as he continued. “You will stay here until you make that apology to us.”
Estel glared straight ahead “Then I’ll stay forever.”
A flicker of frustration flashed in the half-elf's eyes. His jaw tightened. “Why are you behaving this way? Why does having a nurse so upset you?”
“You don’t love me anymore.”
Elrond sighed. “I will always love you.”
The manling turned his back to the elf and glared at the wall. The elven lord slowed his breathing, trying to cool the heat burning in his gut and chest. His hands clenched. He would not shake his son. “Answer me, Estel. Why does my getting a nurse for you mean I do not love you anymore?”
A choked reply came from behind the turned back. “You don’t want me. You want to stay in your office and lock its door. My brothers and Glorfdel want to go to kill orcs. Erestor’s too busy. So, you’re getting a servant to watch me. None of you love me anymore.”
Estel’s shoulders were swallowed by large hands. He was turned back around and met his adar's gaze. The unsmiling, un-scowling expression of Elrond’s did not change even as his spirit flinched.
The boy’s nearly blood-red face no longer glared. It had gone lax into an expression of misery. Tears shone in the crevices beneath his eyes. One of the half-elf’s hands left a shuddering shoulder to cradle a shaking chin.
“We will always love you, Estel. As long and as often as we can, your brothers and Glorfindel will return to you from killing orcs, and Erestor will leave his work, and I shall leave my office to spend time with you. In fact, we would all rather be doing the latter than the former. Playing with you is far more fun than the obligations that pull us away. When none of us can be with you, the nurse will watch over you, to keep you safe until we can do so ourselves. Do you know why we need her to do this for us?”
Estel shook his head. Elrond smiled down at him. “Because we love you.”
Estel’s face crumbled. He threw himself into the elf’s arms and sobbed. “Sorry, Ada. M' sorry. Truly. I love you too. I do.”
Elrond wrapped his arms around the small child. Every muscle of his body that had been as tense as stone relaxed. The elf lord released a sigh that echoed off of the bare walls, floors, ceiling and stairs. “And I love you, ion nin. I always will.”
“How could you let this happen?”
Arathrad downed the contents of the goblet in his hand. Thranduil had told his servants to let the fellow warrior and father enter his private office and stay until court was through for the day. Upon entering, the king had found Arathrad striding up and down the room. Thranduil refilled his guest's glass while replying in an even tone. “After centuries of watching my father govern Silvans and governing them myself, I have realized a certain amount of 'letting things happen' is necessary.”
The Silvan gulped down his second glass of wine. Thranduil watched with a placid expression. Underneath, the king was keeping careful track of his citizen's alcohol consumption. He had fetched the wine bottle from atop his bookcase with reservations.
Silvans tended to get less violent, but more melancholy when they consumed alcohol in a dark mood. He did not want his guest attacking him, but he did not want him to enter the first stages of fading either. Thankfully, this time Arathrad did not hold up Thranduil's second-best goblet for another refilling. Instead, the elf laid his head into his arms, which were folded on the table they were sitting at. The Silvan groaned.
“What if something happens to the manling while he is in her charge? My daughter will be grieving alone hundreds of miles from us. Elrond and those closest to him will be in mourning themselves, and have no comfort for her. No other in that household will understand or the half-elf would have already given this task to them instead.”
Thranduil was relieved the elf had stopped drinking, for now. “Would you understand her pain at such a time, Arathrad?”
“Not entirely. But Merilvidh and I stopped fighting it long ago. At first we thought Mellolaes would grow out of it on her own if we let her see and feel the consequences. Other elfings have. Then our daughter reached her majority without doing so, and she was beyond our interference.”
Thranduil poured more wine into his companion's glass. The Silvan raised his head and took a sip, but only a sip. Then he set it back down and rested his chin on his arm. The king continued to gaze at his warrior. But Arathrad's stare had latched onto the wall of earth beyond his king. The Silvan sighed. “She is my youngest, the one born after the dark times.”
Thranduil did not have to force sympathy into his reply. “I know.”
“Our son was already born, although very young when we . . . left for the far south.”
“I recall. I saw you bidding he and Merilvidh farewell that day.”
“It was not her fault it took us so long to have another child after the war. That fault was mine.”
Thranduil continued to gaze at the elf. He forced words out through a tightened throat. “How well I understand.”
“It was the miracle of the Queen's healing, the birth of Legolas, that helped me have enough faith to follow your example with my own wife. But you have both had Rhovamil since. Merilvidh and I have only had Mellolaes. We never expected her to gather so much pain and scars of her own by loving the children of peoples doomed to die so often.”
Thranduil continued to gaze at his warrior. He could find no reply he wished to make. That was one sorrow he could not relate to, yet.
However, the way Legolas had bonded with the manling in question made the king very nervous indeed. Soon, he might find himself coming to the elf before him for advice and comfort. Arathrad sighed. “She may be safer from the darkness there. Once she reaches that place anyway, but from the fate of men, none can protect her. I only hope she weathers his passing as she has the others or better. I can only pray she comes home to us.”
The elf sat up and took a long swallow of his wine. Thranduil was no longer watching. His own thoughts had traveled to his child. Just how tight was the knot that bound Legolas' heart to Estel's? Should he forbid him from visiting Rivendell until the manling accepted the gift of Ilúvatar, or continue to encourage Legolas' feelings of connection with another kingdom, in case his father failed to keep this one free from the shadow?
The other father's words broke through the king's darkening thoughts. Arathrad was now leaning back in his chair and staring at the earthen ceiling. “I hope this manling appreciates my daughter's sacrifice.”
Estel trotted his clay horse across the marble floor of his room without smiling. His eyes were not so much looking at the toy as looking through it. His ada, brothers, Glorfdel, and Erstor did love him. They had told him so as they hugged him after he had said “sorry.”
The nurse wouldn’t love him, though. Servants never did. She was a servant in Legolas' ada's palace. She was going to be his ada’s servant while she was his nurse. Ada had said so. So, she couldn't love him.
Estel slammed his horse down onto the floor. A hoof broke off. He lifted the toy in surprise to stare at it.
Would his ada or Erestor fix it? They could fix his toys with glue, but sometimes they didn’t when he broke them himself. They said he had to learn not to break things. Estel set the toy down more gently, wrapped his arms around his legs, rested his chin down on his knees, and scowled.
This was all the nurse’s fault. Why did he need a nurse? He could look after himself. He didn’t need a servant who could not hand him over to another servant when she felt like it. A vision of a scowling elleth staring at him everywhere he went formed in the child’s mind.
Estel shuddered. He couldn’t have a nurse. He wouldn’t!