Of Music, Scrubbing, Stories, and Mares
“What are we doing today, Eldan?”
“Stop wiggling, Estel.”
Elrohir chuckled. Elladan paused in clothing the manling to glare at his twin who refused to meet his gaze and instead answered their brother’s question.
“Ada says this rain will continue into the evening. So, we will be staying inside today. But fear not little brother. Our father’s house has dozens of rooms each filled with a thousand interesting things.”
Elladan cocked an eyebrow at his twin over Estel’s shoulder. Exaggerating a bit aren’t we?
I would be more worried if Estel could count to a thousand.
Elladan shook his head as he pulled the manling’s arm through a jacket sleeve. “And when we get bored of those thousands of interesting things, brother mine, there is one more place worth making a dash through the rain to see.”
As the boy began to question his brothers at to what that place might be, Legolas sighed and glanced out the window.
The worst things about Imladris is how often it rains here, and the fact you might run into dwarves .
“Is there any way you can grant this request, my queen?”
“I believe so, Mellolaes. We are no longer allowed to enter, but some are always watching the borders. A messenger may be met by a sentinel who can see your letter is delivered to your friend.”
Mellolaes smiled as she held the envelope out to her queen. Lathwinn grinned back while taking it from the servant’s fingers. Both elleth then walked away in thought. Lathwinn pondered whom she could entrust with the delivery of the letter. Mellolaes was grateful that what she thought a difficulty had turned out to be so easy. Yet, she was disappointed for the same reason. Now she had to find another activity to fill her time.
Are you sure we should even bother with this?
It is not a tour if we do not.
So Legolas gets to hear almost the exact same speech he did centuries ago, Estel gets to hear it for the first time when he will forget it by the end of the summer, and we spend nearly an hour assuring others this tour for our frequent house guest and little brother is legitimate?
Elrohir turned a glare upon Elladan as the group paused before a doorway that was suddenly filled by another elf. The newcomer bowed, but his eyes never left the manling atop Elladan's shoulders.
“At you service Elrondions, Thranduilion, do you still wish me to give you the usual tour?”
Elrohir ignored his brother’s begging stare and nodded. “Yes, Lindir, give us the full tour.
Nithrestil rushed up behind her best friend. “Mellolaes, Mellolaes! Come quick! The King has taken pity on you!”
The Silvan spun around. Her hand was grabbed by the other elleth who dragged her down the hall. Mellolaes blinked at the back of her friend’s dark head. “I can go outside?”
“No, but wait till you see what we can do.”
The Silvan sighed, but raced along at Nithrestil’s side.
The manling gaped. Light poured in through a window a pony could leap through. The ceiling stretched up so he couldn’t brush it with his fingertips even if he was sitting on Glorfindel’s shoulders. If emptied, two horses could be ridden neck and neck down the hall. None of these things impressed Estel. The room’s contents did.
The collection left just enough room for two elves to walk side by side down the middle of the hallway and reach, remove, or play each item as they chose. The walls could barely be seen through all that was mounted and hanging upon them. Lindir waved an arm at it all.
“Welcome Elrondions and guest to the ‘Aisle of Instruments.’”
Flutes, pipes and lyres shone from their shelves. Some were polished wood, others silver or gold. A few were mithril. Most were longer than Estel’s arm, but others were small enough for him to play.
Two rows of harps that would loom over a standing Estel were on either side of the strolling group. Designs were etched into all but two of these great instruments. Fourteen were precious metal. Gems were encrusted into five of them. All had strings as taunt as those of a warrior’s bow. These whispered to the manling. His fingers twitched.
Imladris’ greatest minstrel led the way. The twins walked beside each other. Elrohir carried Estel on his shoulders. Legolas trailed behind and noted the occasional Silvan piece in the collection. None of the other elves were truly listening to the musician’s dialogue.
“And this was the harp of Elwing herself before her flight to Eärendil’s ship. Pearls of the western sea are inlaid into its silver pillar and neck.”
Estel grinned and reached down towards its strings. “Can I play it?”
Lindir turned his head to hide a cringe. “Perhaps at the end of the tour you can play a different harp.”
Elrohir forced his eyes not to roll. The minstrel gestured toward an item hanging on the north wall. “This is a flute rescued from Gondolin.”
bounced on his perch. “That was Glorfindel’s city!”
Lindir nodded. “Yes, it was.”
Estel pointed at the flute. “Did anyone kill a Balrog with it?”
“I think it would have been damaged if they had.”
The other three elves smothered chuckles. At the end of the hall, they insisted Estel be allowed to play a harp. Lindir set the least valuable lap harp in the room before the hopping manling. Estel plopped down on a tiny stool, raised his hands, and plucked the strings too hard. The minstrel winced. Even the younger elves made faces above the manling’s head. Estel bit his lip and made a second, more successful attempt. He played the only tune he knew. Lindir bobbed his head.
“Very good, Estel. That sounded well. I believe we have completed this portion of your tour.”
Elrohir lifted Estel back onto his shoulders. The minstrel returned the harp to its place. At his brothers’ promptings, Estel thanked the musician for sharing his knowledge with them. Lindir gave the proper reply and saw them to the doorway out of the hall. The younger elves exchanged glances once they were out of their elder’s sight. The strained relationship between manling and elven minstrel appeared unchanged.
Nithrestil pulled Mellolaes along behind her until they reached The Hall of Music. The place was empty. The Sindar turned to her friend with a grin. “The King set it aside for us Mellolaes, for the whole day if we choose.”
Mellolaes gave her a half grin. Only refugees of Doriath and their decedents frequented the hall. Their heavier instruments decorated the chamber along with a large fireplace, indoor fountain, and floor-to-ceiling tapestries. It was said only blizzards, thunderstorms, and dark armies could chase Green Elves indoors with their flutes, pipes, and lyres. King issued punishments now went on the list as well.
As soon as they entered the room, Nithrestil released her friend’s hand and raced to her own harp. It was formed from gold of Erebor and modeled after those of Doriath. She sat down at the instrument and looked to her friend. “I shall play and you can dance to your heart’s content.”
Mellolaes grinned. “Thank you my friend.”
“For what? I love to play.” Nithrestil raised her hands toward the strings. Mellolaes shook her head. The other elleth’s fingers brushed the strings. Mellolaes stretched upward on her toes. The music began. The Silvan leapt, ran, and twirled the dances of the songs her friend played. Then her movements became slower and less powerful. Finally, she stopped. Nithrestil’s hands fell to her lap. “What’s wrong?”
Mellolaes’ head bowed. Her cheeks burned red. “My feet miss grass, flowers, and tree roots thrilling to their rhythm.”
“Why don’t you play with me instead then?”
Mellolaes looked up with a half smile. “Give me a moment to go to my room.”
Nithrestil rose and rushed to a tapestry. “No need.” She swept a bottom corner aside and revealed a lyre, flute, and set of reed-pipes resting against the wall behind them. Mellolaes laughed.
“You darling, is it possible for you not to think of everything?”
The Silvan hugged her friend. Then she bent down and grabbed her reed-pipes. Nithrestil went back to her harp. Mellolaes began. The other elleth joined her.
All the songs started with high, quick notes that fluttered like bird wings and laughed like water over stones. Then the Silvan’s turned slow as a sluggish river and low as the moaning wind. Mellolaes growled at herself inwardly. She refused to look into Nithrestil's brown eyes. The Silvan moved from instrument to instrument. First she played her pipes, then her lap harp, and finally her flute.
Her friend had been bold enough to make a request of the king. Something those of Doriath blood did not find so easy. The king had been kind enough to grant her request. What was she doing to show her appreciation? Every time she changed instruments she tried harder to pluck and blow cheer into them. But all the songs of the Green Wood were of streams, trees, fields, birds, and stars. Pangs of missing them turned her songs to sorrow.
Of course, putting her feelings into music was cathartic, but Mellolaes was not the type to revel in sadness. She lowered her flute into her lap and sighed. Nithrestil gave her a sad smile of encouragement. Her friend’s mouth curled into a half grin.
“I am sorry Nithrestil. I am glad you did this for me, truly. It helped at first, but making music out of my discontent will pull me deeper into despair. I might as well find a task to occupy myself with instead. Likely, I will not be able to, but looking for one is something to do.”
Nithrestil nodded. “I will come with you, mellon nin.”
The twins carried Estel up and down every hall. Along their way they met maids and butlers with dusters and buckets. At the twins’ encouragement, these servants let the manling “help.”
Estel swung a duster like a sword, scattering dust over areas already wiped bare. With apologetic smiles the twins pried the duster out of their brother’s hands and carried him to a servant scrubbing the floor.
Estel sat on his bottom scrubbing the tile before him with the cloth and both hands. The twins and their Silvan friend stood back beaming at him. Then the manling clutched the edge of the bucket to pull himself up and dunk the cloth back into it. His brothers and friend pounced, but too late. The bucket overturned and soaked floor and boy. With another apologetic grin, the twins and their friend carried Estel back to his room.
Legolas changed the manling into a dry outfit while the twins watched with identical grins. At lunch Elladan and Elrohir filled their father in on the day’s events in the High Tongue while Legolas conversed with the manling in Sindarin. Elrond agreed to forgo further introducing Estel to menial tasks.
“Take him to the library next. Introduce him to the scribes, read a few stories to him, and perhaps the rain will let up for you to take him to the last location of the tour.”
Mellolaes and Nithrestil prowled the halls and pounced on every servant they came across. Some took pity on the imprisoned elleth. These handed her dust rags and brooms to go over shining furniture and floors with wide grins, and the words, “Our palace can never be too clean.”
Mellolaes accepted each task with grit teeth. None of the jobs took longer than an hour. Then she was prowling the tunnels again.
Nithrestil left her side. Standing idle nearby made how superfluous her friend’s toil was clearer. The darker haired elleth made a promise to herself to find Mellolaes a worthy task if she had to travel to Lake-town and drag it back to The Palace.
After lunch, Estel was taken to the library. Elrohir gestured toward two elves and one elleth sitting at desks and leaning over parchments.
“These are the scribes of Imladris, honored guests. They copy the records and stories of disintegrating scrolls onto new, or translate those in the High Tongue into Sindarin and Westron.”
The scribes paused, looked up at the group, smiled, and then looked back to their work. Estel stared down at them. “What are you writing?”
Every scribe answered Estel without looking up from their work.
“I am translating this account into Westron.”
“I am rewriting the records of the Northern Kings onto new parchment.”
“I am making copies of a document for Lord Elrond to send throughout the valley.”
The manling beamed down at them.
“I can write all my letters now.”
The one elleth scribe looked up at him with a smile. “Congratulations Elrondion.”
The elf sitting next to her nodded. “Excellent work indeed.”
The last scribe’s eyes left the page to meet the manling’s as a corner of his mouth quirked up. “You may be able to read this scroll when I am done with it.” He looked back to his work.
Elladan glanced at his twin. Does it not take them twenty years to finish a scroll?
Closer to thirty for an epic.
Estel pointed to something on the only empty desk. “What’s that?”
Elladan smiled, picked the object up, and lifted it towards the manling on the palm of his hand. “A crystal ink bottle.”
Estel snatched it from his brother’s hand. He turned the cut glass container in his small hands. It slipped from them. At the soft gasp from the small mortal and the softer “thump” on the thick carpet, the heads of the scribes shot up. Three pairs of eyes stared.
Elladan picked the container up. “No harm done. It didn’t even open.”
Three sighs of relief echoed before the same number of heads turned back to bend over an equal quantity of scrolls. Elrond’s eldest son placed the bottle back on Erestor’s desk. Then he turned to look up at the manling. “Would you like Elrohir to read you a story, Estel?” The manling grinned.
“All three copies?!”
The librarian met Mellolaes’ gaze without a twitch of emotion flitting over his face. “Yes, and as soon as two copies are free, I have been given permission to give one to a scribe so we can have four copies for the years to come.”
The elleth lowered both elbows onto his desk and covered her face with her hands. The Sindarin elf raised an eyebrow. Then he cleared his throat.
“Indeed, in my centuries of running this library I have never seen so many Silvan’s reading. I used to try to get scrolls and books into your people’s hands. Now my greatest challenge is keeping them from taking my charges outdoors with them.”
Mellolaes’ hands left her forehead and slapped down onto the wooden surface of the desk.
“Do not speak to me of the outdoors!”
The librarian raised both eyebrows at her. His lips tightened in disapproval. Mellolaes’ arms fell to her sides. Her shoulders slumped, and her head bowed.
“Forgive me sir. That was disrespectful.”
“Well, I suppose fits of temper are to be an expected result of your punishment.” Mellolaes’ jaw tightened. The Librarian went on. “Why don’t you start listing your favorite stories and I will stop you when you reach one I have a free copy of?”
Mellolaes sighed. “The voyage of Eärendil?”
The Librarian remained silent.
“The creation of the sun and moon?”
The librarian gave a slight shake of his head.
“The creation of the stars?”
Another slight head shake.
“Fingon’s rescue of Maedhros?”
Now a small spark of pity lit the librarian’s eyes. Mellolaes spun around and stomped her foot.
The Librarian straightened in his chair and cleared his throat. “A scribe wrote out the ‘The Hunt of Lathwinn and Thranduil’ recently.”
“I will take that.” Less than an hour into the familiar story Mellolaes felt a touch on her shoulder. She looked up into laughing, dark eyes. Her face folded into a pout. “Nithrestil, I just found something to occupy myself with.”
“So did I, but I want your help. Come on, I promise you will enjoy it more than a story we have heard a hundred times.”
Eyes focused on the grinning eyes of her friend Mellolaes rose, laid aside the book, and followed her friend from the room.
“And the colt learned to obey his mother.” Elrohir closed the book and looked up at the faces of his clapping little brother and indulgently smiling twin and friend. “So Estel, do you want to go to bed now?”
“Go to bed?” Estel’s jaw dropped and eyes went wide. Above his head Elladan was biting his lip and trying not to shake. Instead of letting his eyes glimmer back into his twin’s Elrohir drew his brows together.
“Well, the tour’s over isn’t it?”
“But what about the place outside?”
“Ohhhhhh . . .” Elrohir smacked his forehead with the heel of his hand. “Of course, and here I picked the story so I would not forget.”
Estel’s eyes went from narrowed in annoyance to wide with curiosity. “You did?”
“Yes, can you guess now?”
Estel lowered his chin into his hands with a scowl of thought. Legolas laughed, plucked the manling out of his brother’s lap, and sat him upon his own shoulders. “Come mellon nin, I will take you. We shall leave these two torturers behind.”
The Silvan then dashed out the doorway with his friend banging shut the doot itself behind them. All the scribes started, raised their heads, and glared at the closed entryway. Thankfully, only one had had pen point to page at the bang. He took a cloth, dipped it into a glass of water, and wiped the stray mark with it until it disappeared. Meanwhile, the twins looked at each other, laughed, and followed the Silvan and their brother out at a walk shutting the door gently behind them.
Legolas raced out of the house and toward a two-story building seven times as long as it was wide. Estel leaned over and pointed at it. “Horsies!”
“Well met, little one . . .”
The colt looked up, blinked, and snuffled at her. His breath, warm as it was, chilled her blood-wet palm, but she just smiled at the sensation. The mother horse turned so one of her great, brown eyes watched them. She sniffed and neighed a greeting to her newborn.
A smile spread over Mellolaes’ face. Thank goodness the palace’s stables were connected to the rest of the underground palace. The presence of a healer had not really been necessary, but she felt more needed than she had all day. The elleth picked up the clean rags beside her. “Let us see what color you are.”
Mellolaes began to rub the creature where his mother did not lick her. Nithrestil watched them both with lights dancing in her eyes. The life had come back into those of her friend.
Estel grinned over the sunlight colored head. Legolas glanced up at him with a chuckle. He walked through the open barn doors and stood there. The barn hands and steeds turned their heads toward the elf and manling silhouetted in the doorway. Legolas’ grip tightened slightly on the manling’s legs.
The steeds were in their stalls, but when beasts were powerful and skittish it was best to keep younglings close, especially if they were as fragile as those of men.
The stable elves gave polite greetings to Estel, Legolas, and the twins. The latter got glances of “what are you thinking bringing the manling here?” One tall elf, though, walked up to the group with laughing eyes. He nodded to them, “Elrondions, Thranduilion, welcome to the stables of Rivendell.”
The twins and Legolas nodded. Elrohir smiled. “Rochellon, you are keeping them as fine as ever. Elrohir looked to his brother sitting upon their friend’s shoulders. “Estel, this is Rochellon. He is the head of the stables.”
The manling waved. “Hi”
The stable master met the manling’s gaze and grinned. “Well met, little one. Would you like me to introduce you to the horses of your father’s stable?”
Estel nodded. Rochellon turned and strode to the door of the first stall. Sticking over the half-door was a white head perched on upon a thick, arched neck from which fell a mane of cloud-like hair. Rochellon reached out toward the stallion. The horse jerked his head away from the outstretched palm and snorted disdainfully. The stable elf chuckled. “This is Mountain Peak. He can be as distant and cold as the place he is named for. His ancestor was Gil-galad’s mount. Glorfindel often rides him on long journeys.”
Rochellon walked on. Legolas took a few steps aside and toward the center of the aisle distancing himself and his young friend from the stalls before following their new guide. They came to a bright, chestnut mare next. Rochellon spoke again.
“This is Hot Coal, Elladan rides her upon mountain trails.” The mare straightened her neck and sniffed at Estel. Legolas stepped back, keeping her nose out of the manling’s reach. Rochellon gave him a glance and almost unnoticeable nod of approval. “Stay away from her teeth. She is curious, but she likes to explore things with her mouth.”
Estel blinked. “Huh?”
Elladan turned to answer his brother. “She bites.”
Rochellon stepped up to the next stall where a tall, gray gelding stood. The stable elf reached out and patted the steed, which acted as if no one was there. “This is boulder. He is strong and steady as his namesake.”
Legolas let Estel reach out and pat the horse. The manling drew back his hand with a scowl of disappointment as the gelding lowered his head toward the feed trough. Rochellon half-grinned. “He can also be as unresponsive as a stone.”
Estel patted a few horses who seemed to notice. These he wanted to stay with until Rochellon’s description of the others tempted him to continue. The stable master recited the names of all the beasts, and sometimes the names of their dams and sires, as well as any notable deeds they or their ancestors had been a part of, and who usually rode them for what purposes. Even Legolas found himself interested in what was said. They came across grooms and stable hands at work. Rochellon introduced their “guests” to these elves as they met them.
Finally, they came to the end of the building. Elrohir turned and grinned at his little brother. “And that ends the tour.”
Estel straightened with a frown. “Already?”
The stable master smiled. “Well there is still one thing left in the barn I have yet to show you.” The other three elves raised their brows at him. Estel leaned over Legolas’ head. Rochellon reached for the manling. “Would you like to see some kittens, Estel?”
Estel grinned and reached back towards the elf. The wide eyes of the other three elves watched Rochellon carry the manling up to the hayloft. They followed up the ladder one rung behind the older elf. There they and he made a barricade of themselves surrounding the youngest manling in a loose semicircle as he knelt in front of a knot of five, warm, fleecy bodies that mewed. Estel got so excited when he held one he squeezed slightly too hard. The elves gently reprimanded and showed him how to hold the kittens without squeezing. The manling loved sweeping the tips of his finger over their soft fur. Estel spent the rest of the day in the stables until dinner, after which he was forced to take his bath and went to bed.
“Which room had thousands of interesting things in it?”
Elrohir bit his lip. His twin smirked at him over the manling’s head. Elrohir cleared his throat. “The ‘Aisle of Instruments.’”
Estel’s brows furrowed. “I thought Lindir said there were only eight-hundred fifty- uhhhh . . .”
“Seven instruments, little brother,” Elladan supplied. Elrohir glared at his twin.
Mellolaes lay on her back in the straw of the hayloft above the mare and her foal. The elleth was stroking another animal lying on her stomach. The tabby purred. Her own swelled sides covered the elleth’s narrow waist. The cat would have kittens in a few weeks. Mellolaes continued to stroke the beast’s side. She counted the other heartbeats she could feel beneath the fur and skin. The elleth sighed as she drifted off to sleep. Today had not been so bad. Tomorrow was the last day of her punishment. Then she would be free to go where she pleased.
That night, in Imladris, three younger elves reported back to their three elders. The sleeping Estel himself would be spared the depressing discussion. All the elves involved simply endured it.
“None showed a glimmer of fondness for him, ada, except the stable master. Unlike the stable hands, Rochellon did not seem worried Estel would frighten the horses and ponies. He even led us up to the hayloft to show out brother the newborn kittens.”
Erestor turned to his lord. “Rochellon cannot leave his current position to look after Estel. Forcing him to leave off caring for the steeds to care for our manling alone would sour him towards Estel, even if we ourselves could afford to leave the stables in the hands of another.”
Elrond nodded. “You are correct, Erestor. We cannot ask Rochellon to give up being the head of the stables to be Estel’s nurse. The trial has been a failure.”
Glorfindel raised his head. “Perhaps not completely. We now know Estel might bond with a caregiver he has a similar interest with, perhaps animals again.”
Legolas shared a grin with the Balrog slayer. They turned their smiling faces to the lord and steward. Both glared back at the lighter haired elves. Elrond messaged his forehead.
“I am forced to admit the search for a proper care-giver for Estel in our own household has been fruitless. Are we all agreed on this?” The other elves nodded. The elven lord nodded back. “Henceforth, we will conduct the search outside our household, first throughout the rest of the valley and then outside our realm.”
“In Mirkwood?” Glorfindel questioned. Legolas stood straighter. Elrond glared at his captain.
“Not yet. After exhausting the valley, we will first look to Estel's own people and the elves of Lothlórien.”
Erestor’s brows furrowed. “The elves of Lórien I understand. They must all know the truth about our manling, but his own people do not.”
“No, but there are many manlings among them who have been orphaned, far too many. It will not be too difficult for them to believe I took one in and now wish a nurse from his own people to care for him. Even if the caregiver does realize the truth, it will only make him or her more willing to care for Estel until he is old and strong enough to be known by his first and his father’s name.”