Chapter 4: Of Gardeners, Baths, and Letters
Galasmaed looked up and bit back a groan. It had to happen sometime that day. Headed in his direction was the small human that had gotten him lectured by his sister-in-law, Imladris' famous minstrel, and his lord.
The manling sat grinning atop the shoulders of one of Lord Elrond’s twins. King Thranduil’s youngest son walked beside them. Elrond’s other twin led the way while giving an ongoing explanation of their surroundings.
“And this is the house’s kitchen garden and the gardener in charge of it, Galasmaed Hithuiladion.”
The guide swept his arm out towards him. Galasmaed gave a slight bow at the waist.
“Greetings Elrondions, Thranduilion.”
“Greetings Galasmaed, can you tell us of this place?”
“Certainly, this is one of the many gardens of Rivendell. Several are purely for beauty. Others are for growing healing herbs. Still others are made up of plant specimens from far places. This one, however, is for the growing of food. Today I am looking over the newly planted seedlings to see if all is well with them.”
“Is the one I tried to eat okay?”
Galasmaed met the manling’s questioning gaze and forced a smile. “The seedling you bit into seems to be recovering nicely.”
Elrohir and Galasmaed continued to give a complete tour. They pointed out every different kind of plant and told Estel which foods came from them. Elladan lowered his little brother toward the ground so the manling could run his fingers over the plants’ leaves and stems. Legolas asked Estel if he could feel the difference between the slick and furry leaves, and smooth and rough stems. The manling nodded while smiling up at his friend.
“This one is furry like a kitten! And this one is smooth like your skin! And this is a twig, not a stem!”
The elves laughed, though Galasmaed’s sounded more like a forced chuckle. Shortly after this, the manling snapped off the stem of a bean plant in his excitement. The younger elves noted that Galasmaed winced. Estel stared at the loose stem in his hand and bit his lower lip.
“Oops.” He lifted his head to look up at the gardener standing over him. “I’m sorry Galasmaed.”
“It is a small matter Elrondion. The plant will survive without it and grow a new stem to take its place.”
The like went on as Estel’s brothers and friends gave him a walk-through of the other gardens. The elves in charge of each plot and path gazed upon the manling with polite smiles and watchful gazes when he approached their beloved plants. So, Elrohir, his twin, and Legolas never ceased watching the manling either except to glance at one another with despairing eyes. No, it did not seem that a nurse of plants would become the nurse of Estel.
Mellolaes ran her fingers along the tunnel roof. The roots of grass, violets, and trees were woven throughout the earth just above her. Some were perennials that had survived the winter to put out fresh shoots for yet another spring. Others were seedlings bright, new, and vulnerable.
She let her hand drop to her side as she approached another fellow servant. She needed to find something else to do with herself inside the palace before she disobeyed her king. She also had to stop encouraging the call of the forest above her.
Touring the gardens took the rest of the day. As evening drew closer the twins had Estel wash his hands and arms. Legolas thought this unnecessary. Then all three took the manling to the terrace. There they, Elrond, and Erestor ate the evening meal together.
Estel chattered about everywhere they had been, what he had learned, and proudly proclaimed what he had already known. The elves cast each other amused smiles over the table. Then it was . . . bath time.
“I don’t need one, ada!”
Elrond grit his teeth. He was holding his youngest son tightly against one of his worse-for-the-wear robes. The elf had forced himself to eat the evening meal in the garment so he could go straight from the table to the manling’s tub. “Estel, you must take a bath.”
“I’ll go swimming instead! Elhir and Eldan can dunk me in the horsey trough!”
Erestor interrupted from behind. “Do not fuss so youngling. You cannot dirty the sheets of your bed with all the leaves, and dirt, and whatever else might have gotten tangled in your hair.”
At the mention of tangled hair, Estel lifted his head and howled at the ceiling. Elrond turned to give his steward a disbelieving stare. Erestor gave an uncharacteristically apologetic look back.
The rest of the elves in the household and a few scattered over the valley heard the manling’s cry. They shook their heads, thanked their maker and the Valar none of their elflings had ever made such noise over taking a bath, and went back to their work. They had all heard it nearly every evening since the manling’s arrival.
Mellolaes sighed as she lowered herself into the steaming water filling the tub. She sank in until her chin rested lightly on the water’s surface. There the elleth gloomily pondered how unnecessary the bath was.
She’d washed thoroughly and changed after her brief stint in the healing ward. Washing clothes had been dealing with hot water and a few flakes of soap. The work in the kitchen had been light. The rest of the day she’d spent wandering around looking for tasks. After the noon meal, every assignment she had heard of had been taken. So, she had finally returned to her room to thoroughly clean it. She had been trying to save that for her last day indoors, but now she wondered if she would become desperate enough to attempt it every day.
Mellolaes hummed her mother’s song to herself as she washed her hair and then stopped when she realized how inappropriate it was. She had not brought anything inside with her at all. All she had brought into this tub was the dust of indoors.
Still bored and reluctant to leave, Mellolaes scrunched her legs up so the knees emerged from the water and submerged the upper half of her body. Then she practiced holding her breath and blowing out air bubbles. Even when the water cooled she remained. Once it grew chill, the bathwater felt more like a stream, river, and lake water.
Elrond wrote the request himself. In fact, he was determined to write every draft and copy. He hoped this would cause the recipients to read them more respectfully and to more carefully consider their message.
The tour would continue tomorrow. Not every elf in his immediate household had been examined in Estel’s presence, but he should be prepared for nothing to come of it. If tomorrow’s search proved as fruitless as today’s had been, these missives would be ready to be dispersed throughout the valley the morning after. He placed the tip of the pen to the surface of the paper and allowed the ink to become his thoughts.
Lord Elrond Eärendilion to the elves of Imladris with the fondest of his greetings,
I have found myself in need of the services of a nurse for my adopted son, Estel Elrondion. He is mortal and, therefore, fragile. He needs the most tender of care and vigilant of watching. Training on how to so care for him will be provided by myself, my steward, and my captain of the guard, Glorfindel the Balrog Slayer.
The elven lord mused aloud to himself, “That ought to convince them of the importance and honor of the task.” He lifted his pen and dipped the tip into a mithril inkwell (a gift from a dwarven king many centuries ago.) Then he went back to writing and attempted to capitalize on the reader’s caught attention.
All living expenses for the nurse will be paid for by myself. The caretaker will eat at my table and have rooms of their own across from Estel’s. They will be paid twice the salary of a soldier of Imladris. This sum will be paid out on the first day of every month or held to accumulate for twelve months and then paid out the first day of every year according to their preference. Along with all this, the nurse will have the undying gratitude of the house of Elrond even after the reshaping of the world. However, this task should not be taken up lightly. If harm befalls Estel in their keeping due to their negligence or, far worse, their actual malice, they shall be hunted by the members of the house of Elrond until we are all dead or the world is remade. I sincerely doubt any member of my realm is capable of such negligence and malice. Instead, I anticipate this offer being well received and my son soon receiving the finest and most loving of care from one of my own subjects.
Sincerely and hopefully
Your ever faithful Lord Elrond Eärendilion of Imladris
Mellolaes had returned from the evening meal, went to her room, found her writing instruments, spread them over her desk, and tried to think of something to fill every parchment she had. She only began to be truly careful of using words sparingly when she realized she was running out of ink. She sighed, sat up, and chewed the end of her feather pen in thought before crouching back down and scratching out the end of her letter.
I think I know how you felt now, Malthendui, cut off from where you truly wanted to be. I hope I helped you as much as you and others say I did. I knew you were afraid though I did not know why.
You were younger than me, and I knew I should make those younger than me feel safe and happy. Besides, the King and Queen had said we must be kind and polite to all the visitors. I was just doing what they said to do. I was well rewarded in gaining a friend like you.
I definitely feel safe myself. I know none will attack me here either with weapons, words, or cruel deeds. However, I do feel smushed as if I have been buried beneath the earth like a body. However, Nithrestil stays by my side and makes sure I do not go mad.
Mellolaes paused to dip the tip of her feather pen into the last of her ink. She sighed again and continued.
I need to stop now. Tomorrow I will ask the Queen if there is any way at all to get this letter to you. Perhaps that will take up a little time. At dawn tomorrow I will have only two days left of this punishment. Then I will be free again to go where I please.
Sincerely and with much love