The advisor looked up. Then he looked down.
Looking up from the ground was a round pair of bright blue eyes. The elfling stood on the snow-covered garden, hugging the icy trunk of the tree. "I have a question," he whispered loudly, "but it's a secret."
"What is it?" Erestor whispered back, just as loudly.
The elfling glanced around conspiratorially before looking up again. "Why do Elladan and Elrohir not have a nana?" he whispered, eyes rounded.
The advisor closed his book, and tucked it away between two small branches of the tree. "Come up, little one." He beckoned with his hand.
Without hesitation, the elfling scuttled up the tree with ease. He plopped down on top of the advisor's lap. Erestor put a hand upon the little one's back, looking deeply into bright eyes.
"Do you remember what I told you about the sanctity of one's body, little elf?"
The elfling nodded. "The body is the ultimate sanctuary where the spirit dwells," he recited, "and when it is invaded, the spirit can no longer find rest in it and must leave." He stopped, and peered up into the older elf's face. "That is when one fades."
The advisor nodded. "Aye, that is correct." He smiled when he saw a small hand touch his black crystal pendant with fascination. "Elladan and Elrohir's nana was thusly violated by orcs."
The elfling's face froze with horror. "Did she fade?" he whispered. His small fist tightened around the crystal.
Erestor shook his head. Long black tresses wavered heavily below the branches, spreading onto the frozen trunk in a swirl of black.
"She sailed for Valinor. She did not fade because many people would be sad."
Round eyes blinked. "Then some people do not fade?"
Erestor smiled and shifted his knee. "It is very rare, but yes, some are unable to fade."
Bright blue eyes sparkled with curiosity. "Why not?"
A harsh gust of winter hit the tree. As the branches swayed with shivering whispers, Erestor pulled the child closer to his breast, shielding him from the wind. He slowly stroked his back as the wind died around them, and the whispers of the tree calmed.
"I knew a boy," he said slowly, "who could not fade."
He could hear the child swallow. Anticipation tingled in the intense gaze of the elfling.
"He had agreed to give up sovereignty over his body for a price. If he faded, he would be unable to ensure the other side kept the promise. Therefore...he did not fade."
The elfling's hand clutched the crystal harder. "What was the price?"
With a smile, Erestor patted his cheek.
"He wanted to protect someone dear. An elfling like yourself."
As realization settled in, the elfling's eyes drooped dolefully. "That's so brave and sad," he whispered, blinking away tears. "What happened to the elfling?"
The advisor did not answer right away. His gaze was distant, sweeping over the white-covered valley, the endless stretches of pale daylight that met the sky.
At long last, he turned his gaze back to the elfling's patient ones below, and smiled.
"She died, little one. He was unable to save her in the end."
The child's eyes widened. Then he frowned in confusion, as his young mind tried to make sense of it all. But it could not. He looked up again, stubborn lips set in denial, as his eyes welled up with tears. "Then that's not fair," he whispered. Bright eyes peered deep into the older elf, seeking reassurance, hoping that the older one would right the wrong, make the whole confusion all right again. A happy ending, a justice deserved, just like in the fairy tales. But Erestor could give him no such promises. He simply smiled.
"No, it is not." Tucking his hands under the child's armpits, Erestor lifted him and shifted, fitting the small body closer to his own. "But enough of deaths and hurts, little one. The fire is burning merrily inside, and you are safe in Erestor's arms. It was a long time ago. Do not cry."
The child sniffled. His heart could not turn away from the thought of the sad boy and the dying girl. Blinking through a thick glaze of tears, he looked up at the older elf's tender face. "What happened to the boy, then? Did he fade afterwards?"
Erestor shook his head. The elfling held his breath as the advisor gently brushed a finger against a wet cheek. "He lives."
The child sucked in his breath. "Is that good?" he asked, hopeful and yet uncertain, seeing the deep twinkle of silence upon the advisor's eyes.
Erestor stroked his hair wordlessly. The elfling blinked once more.
"Erestor?" he whispered fearfully. "Did the boy not heal?"
The older elf smiled a little, and shifted his gaze away from the child. Black eyes swept the snow-covered lands again, the blurred gray horizon.
Sensing a pool of bottomless grief in the older elf, the elfling stared up at deep black eyes, and suddenly threw short arms around the slender elf's neck. A round cheek pressed against the face of the raven-haired elf.
"Don't be sad, Erestor," he whispered mournfully. "Seeing you sad makes me want to cry."
A soft laughter warmed the elfling's ears, and he was pulled closer to the older elf's heart. "That would be woeful indeed. I will not be sad, then."
The elfling nodded in satisfaction, his soft hair going into the older elf's mouth and eyes as he bobbed his head.
Erestor smiled. The cold winter air was white upon them both, and yet there was warmth snuggled against his breast.
"Will he ever heal?" murmured the elfling, listening to the slow beating of the other elf's heart.
Looking upward, Erestor slowly rubbed the child's back. "That I know not, little one." He slowly pressed his lips into the nest of golden hair. The crystal was warm against his heart, pressed between two bodies. "He still does not desire or see many beauties in life. But I do know-" dark eyes turned toward an elf approaching from the other side of the garden, "that he no longer prays every day for death either."
He nodded silently, black eyes greeting deep orbs of blue. The tall elf came to a stop beneath the tree, his long yellow tresses tapping gently against his knees.
"Perhaps some day, he will heal." Erestor gently pried the elfling off of his body, and smiled into the wide eyes of the child. "After all," he said, eyes slowly locking with silent ones below, "he has all of eternity."
Following the black-eyed advisor's gaze, The elfling turned his head and saw the tall elf beneath the tree. "Glorfindel!" he exclaimed happily.
With a bright smile, the balrog slayer held out his arms. "Your father is looking for you, Legolas," he said, catching the elfling as the child hopped down from Erestor's lap. "The twins are suggesting a family time by the fire."
Holding the elfling against his chest, the balrog slayer turned. A golden shimmer swayed as he glanced back. "Will you not join us, Erestor?" he called out softly.
The advisor picked up his discarded book. "Soon," he murmured, and smiled at the disappointed elfling. "Go on, little one. I will be there shortly."
With a nod, the tall elf headed back toward the house. The advisor leaned back into the cold branches, idly fingering the edges of his pale gray robes. His fingers slowly climbed upward to curl around the black crystal that hung near his chest.
A soft chill flake landed on his head. He stilled, and slowly reached to touch the white fluff on his hair in fascination. With a tingling kiss of coldness, it melted into his hair, as the cold black strands slid between his fingers and hung down to his knees.
He looked up unto the gray sky. It was beginning to snow.
The fire was blazing bright when he entered with a pile of books. His eyes caught the elvenking, who raised his eyes from the chessboard to smile in his direction. Erestor returned the greeting with a smile of his own as he joined the two lords at the table. Elrond was smirking, obviously employing one of his tricks on his new opponent.
The happy cry from the hearth drew his attention. Erestor turned to find the twins lying on their bellies near the hearth, and Glorfindel seated gracefully by them, loose hair streaming down his dark blue robes. In his arms snuggled the golden-haired elfling, smiling happily in Erestor's direction.
"Why, greetings, Legolas," said the advisor, his quiet eyes absorbing the scene in silence. And then, he looked into his friend's eyes. They both smiled.
"You are lucky tonight," said Erestor, eyes twinkling. The black crystal glowed a pale shade of ruby against his heart. "Glorfindel usually does not tell stories anymore."
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