Never Alone

Chapter 3

by Cassia, with tiny touches by Siobhan

Stories > First > Previous   

    Elrond stood protectively in front of his sons, ready to defend them from whatever should come.  However, instead of the black horde they expected, another light shown into the chamber from the other side of the hole as the dust slowly settled.
    “Sîdh!  Peace!” A familiar voice called out to them.  “Elrond, is that you?”
    Elrond nearly sagged in relief at the sound of the fair words, letting his sword drop to his side and leaning his shoulder against the wall.  “Glorfindel!  It is I, and the twins,” he responded as the other elf lord stooped to pass through the low hole that had been made before, straightening up and taking in the situation. 
    Behind Glorfindel, Elrond could see the faces of the other elves from the hunting party peering in through into the gloom.
    The twins ran up and unabashedly hugged the very welcome newcomer, throwing their arms around the golden-haired friend of their father in relief and welcome.
    “Mae Govannen, Glorfindel,” Elrond smiled ruefully, clutching his side tightly, but smiling through his weariness.  “Very well met indeed, but what of the orcs?”
    “They are slain, they will trouble you no more,” Glorfindel offered Elrond his arm, concern crossing his fair face.  “But they seemed to have been so intent on digging through this rockslide... we thought we had better see what they were trying to reach.”
    “And I’m so very glad you did,” Elrond murmured.  “Although you may have taken years off an immortal life by not announcing yourselves sooner!” he shook his head.  Unfortunately that caused the world to spin around him and he stumbled, clutching the wall harder as the already dark room plunged into complete blackness.
    The elf lord’s knees buckled and he fell.  Elrohir and Glorfindel caught him.  “Ada!  Ada!”
    Quickly he was taken outside and laid on the grass where the other elves could see to his wounds. 
    “Ai, Elbereth,” the golden-haired elf murmured when he saw Elrond’s injury.  “Even a half hour more and this would have been beyond aide.”  Seeing the frightened faces of Elladan and Elrohir looking at him, the older elf quickly softened the concern on his features.  “But fear not, young ones, even those of us not as skilled as your father in healing can be of some use.  He will not leave us yet, I promise you.”
    Elladan held his father’s head in his lap while Elrohir helped Glorfindel wash and cleanse the wound.  Then the elves tended to the twins’ injuries, and it was obvious from the angered and painful looks on the elder elves’ faces that the cruel abuse heaped upon the young elves burned each heart to see.  But Elladan and Elrohir cared nothing for their own hurts anymore, grievous as they were; their concern was only for their father. 
    After what seemed a very long time, the elf lord’s eyes finally fluttered open again, locking immediately onto the worried faces of his children.  He smiled weakly, reaching for them.  They scooted closer.  “I told you, didn’t I?” he whispered hoarsely.  “We are never alone,” he inclined his eyes upward.  “Ilúvatar was watching over all of us this day my sons...” 


    “Ada?” Estel’s weak, but clear voice made all three elves look up and smile.  His wounds were dressed but he had fallen into unconsciousness for a while and was only now waking up.   Elrond had been speaking quietly to him the whole time and the boy turned tired, blood-shot eyes on his father.  “What did you say, Ada?”
    “I said that Ilúvatar was watching over you my son,” Elrond said gently, arranging Estel’s dark hair on the pillow. 
    “That’s funny,” the young human murmured.  “That’s what you said in my dream... Or something like it.  Elrond and Elladan were there too, but it was very dark... and there were other young elves... I think... and a brilliant jewel... or was that somewhere else?” his brow creased in confusion.  “I don’t remember.” 
    Elrond kissed the boy’s forehead.  “We’ve been worried about you my son.  I’m just glad you’re all right.”
    “I don’t feel all right,” Estel moaned slightly.
    “I shouldn’t wonder!” Elrohir chuckled.  “Considering we pulled more splinters out of you than a new-hewn tree-branch.  Estel, what happened?”
    Estel’s eyes clouded slightly.  “I-I’m sorry,” he apologized right up front because he felt he was going to have to do a lot of it.  “I know I shouldn’t have let them goad me...”
    “Who Estel?” Elladan interrupted him. 
    “Just some of the older kids from Strayton...” Estel hedged.  When he said older he meant older, considering most of the young men who had picked on him were at least two to four years his senior.  “I didn’t mean to get tangled up with them, honest, I was just exploring the old mill down by the river...”

    //“Hey short stuff,” Tyrin, one of the oldest, biggest boys shoved Estel from behind, making him stumble forward, down the incline towards the river.  “This is our place. What are you doing here?”
    Tyrin was an unabashed bully and so were his friends.  This old mill, quite some ways from town, was a favorite gathering place of theirs.  All the youngsters in Strayton knew that and avoided it.  But Estel was not from the nearby human town and had had very few dealings with its people... or with any other humans for that matter. 
    “Yeah, orc-bait, don’t you know what’s good for you?” someone else put in.
    Estel took several deep breaths before turning around so that when he faced the other boys his expression was neutral.  He had been taught to handle things with a level head.  He didn’t even know these boys; there was no reason for there to be animosity between them.  He hadn’t known that this place was off-limits. 
    “I’m sorry, I thought this mill was abandoned.  I didn’t know it belonged to you.  I was just looking around-” the young human started to explain calmly. 
    “'I was just looking around',” the bigger boy mocked him in a high-pitched tone, making fun of the fact that Estel’s voice hadn’t changed yet.  The other boys laughed.  They were bored and looking for something to do.  Unfortunately, picking on the new kid who had stumbled upon their hangout seemed like a pretty good way to waste some time. 
    “We exact a fee from trespassers around here, orc-bait!” a tall boy on the right sneered.
    Estel was getting mighty tired of being called that.  He was trying to be diplomatic with these people, but they were being so difficult!  “My *name* is Estel,” he informed them curtly.  “And if this is your land, then I will gladly move along.  Good day.”
    “Estel?  What kind of name is Estel?!” another one of Tyrin’s friends mocked, moving into Estel’s path so he couldn’t pass.  “Sounds like a girly name!  I haven’t seen you around town.  Are you new here, girly boy?”
    “No, my home is over the hills,” Estel kept his temper to himself.  He didn’t understand why the other teenagers didn’t like him without even knowing him, but he didn’t want to give them more reason to do so.  “I don’t live in Strayton.”
    “Over the hills?  There’s nothing out there!” one of the boys shook his head.  “You’re putting us on.”
    “Hey, wait...” recognition sparked in Tyrin’s eyes.  “I know you, I *have* seen you before. You’re never with the other kids from town, but you hang out with those elves, I’ve seen you!” Tyrin gave the younger boy another sharp shove. 
    “Yes, so?” Estel turned again and walked back up the slope towards the mill, away from the other boys.  Inside his heart stung at their mocking, but outwardly he remained totally calm-faced, which only made the other boys angrier. 
    “So why do you waste your time with them?  Your own kind isn’t good enough for you?” the boys dogged Estel’s steps.  “Why don’t we ever see you in the fields, or out playing, or even in the school?”  Not all children attended the small community lessons that the rural village sometimes offered, so that was tacked on last. 
    Estel shrugged.  “I’m busy.  I told you, I don’t live near town.  I have my lessons at home.”  The boys were still not letting him all the way up the hill and back towards the road, so he clambered up the side of the huge, broken water-wheel that hung still and useless on the land-side of the deserted mill, wanting to be away from the unpleasant youngsters. 
    “Why?  Are you stupid or something?” the village boys were not taking the hint that he wanted to be left alone.  They were having too much fun. 
    “Where do you live, in a cave?”
    “No, Rivendell, and my father teaches me because Lord Elrond is the wisest person there is.” Estel settled himself on the top of the wheel, using one rung as a seat as he absently worked at pulling a smooth stone out of a small crevice where it had become jammed in the wheel. 
    “Rivendell?!  You *live* with the elves?  Geez, no wonder you’re so weird!” Tyrin leaned against the bottom of the wheel.  “Lord Elrond can’t be your father. He’s an elf and you’re just as human as we are, freak!”
    “I was adopted.” Estel leveled the troublesome boys with a look that clearly showed he thought they were all morons for not grasping the obvious.  He was getting very tired of them.  “I trust you know what that means.”
    “Means you’re a nobody who’s not a man and not an elf,” one of the boys at Tyrin’s elbow jibed.  “And you’re just a big sissy boy like all those elves!”
    The boys started to pull on opposite sides of the old water-wheel, attempting to unbalance Estel and bring him down. 
    Estel scrambled quickly up onto the roof of the mill, deciding that these boys knew absolutely nothing if they were calling elves sissies.  That notion was so absurd it was laughable.  “Leave me alone. You’re being immature.”
    Having grown up around elves many times his senior, Estel had picked up many ‘old’ ways of talking.  Unfortunately, this only fueled the other humans’ scathing amusement and ire. 
    “Immature?” Tyrin laughed with a wicked grin as he climbed up the side of the wheel towards Estel.  “A little girly whelp like you is calling *me* immature?” 
    Estel glared, his patience totally worn out.  “Frankly I’m surprised you even know what the word means...” the boy backed slowly away across the creaking slating of the old mill roof, his eyes darting around sharply, looking for a way off as the other boy pulled himself up, his face coloring with rage. 
    “What did you say?  What did you say to me, orc-bait?  Are you calling me an idiot?!”  Tyrin menaced, advancing on the smaller boy as several of Tyrin’s friend climbed up onto the roof behind him.  “Are you *looking* for a pounding kid?”
    “I’m not looking for anything, I just want you to leave me alone!” Estel backed away slowly, looking for a way out as the other boys converged on him.  The boards under his feet creaked unstably and Estel stopped moving back; he could tell the boards were rotten here and would not hold his weight, he could go no further this way.  Unfortunately, the right side of the mill dropped away sharply into the river and the left overhung a tangled mass of sharp debris and broken fencing.  Neither looked promising to jump from and he could not go back or forward with the boys blocking him in...
    Estel swallowed hard and stood his ground.  “Fighting doesn’t solve anything,” the boy shook his head.  “I don’t want to fight you.  Let me down.”
    “'I don’t want to fight you, let me down',” Tyrin mocked again.  “Coward!  Make us!”  With that he rushed the other boy. 
    Estel side-stepped quickly, evading the boy’s rush and ducking under the hands of a second.  Striking out with calculated moves, he caught a third boy in the stomach and flipped him over his back, dancing sideways, edging towards the water-wheel and the only safe way down.  
    Seven to one, Estel was badly out-numbered, but the training he had been receiving from an early age stood him in good stead.  He had nearly reached the wheel when the rotten beam beneath his foot snapped, making him stumble and fall to his hands and knees on the slick roofing. 
    The other boys never gave him the chance to get up again.  Pouncing on him like wargs on their prey the older children punched and kicked the younger boy viciously.  Estel fought back, but against such odds there was little he could do but try to twist away from the worst of the abuse. 
    Squirming out of their grip and rolling he sprung to his feet, only to run smack into Tyrin’s fist.  Estel stumbled, his lip bleeding, and Tyrin caught him by the shirt.  The older boy spun the younger around, taking full advantage of his superior size and weight.
    Estel, however, was not easily tossed off and ducked under Tyrin’s second blow, coming back with his own that caught the bully in the mouth, cracking a tooth and making the older boy let go of him.  Estel stumbled back a pace, and half-dodged one of the other boys who tried to tackle him.  But the shove threw him off balance and his boots skidded on the loose roofing shingles.  His hands found only air as he tumbled off the edge of the mill roof and down onto the sharp spikes of the broken fencing that lay in a tangled, dangerous heap on the left side of the tall building. 
    Tyrin and the others looked over the edge in shock, taking in where the other boy had fallen, how the spikes had caught him, and the blood that was already starting to well up around the ugly wounds.  Estel’s neck was bent back and he wasn’t moving. 
    To say that the boys on the roof were frightened was an understatement.  
    “Oh geez we’ve killed him!” one of Tyrin’s friends quailed, backing away and scrambling for the wheel. 
    “It was an accident!  It was an accident!”  Tyrin felt sick.  He hadn’t meant for that to happen.  None of them had.  “Let’s go, come on, let’s get out of here!” There was a mad scramble to get down. 
    “This didn’t happen, do you hear me?  None of us were here!” Tyrin shot one terrified glance back at the still body before turning and fleeing with the others.  “It was an accident!”
    Estel blinked, hearing the sounds of the retreating boys as consciousness slowly returned.  His neck had come within inches of snapping, but it had not and he had miraculously broken nothing.  However the sharp, raw ends of the broken wood posts had cut him and one spike had torn deep into his right leg.  Pain engulfed his whole being. 
    “Wait!” he called when he realized the other boys were going to just leave him there.  “Wait, please!  I-I can’t move.  I can’t...” his mind was hazy from the fall and from his own hurt.  “Please don’t leave me!  Don’t leave me here alone!  Please!”
    But the other boys never heard him.  They were already long gone.  Estel tried to move, but when he attempted to get free of the narrow shard that pierced his upper leg, he nearly passed out again.  He called out for help until he lost his voice, but no one heard.  He was trapped and no one even knew where he was.//  

    Estel had no idea how much time later it was when his brothers found him there, but by then his body had already slid into shock and he remembered very little except the aching feeling of how alone and helpless he had been.
    “I’m sorry,” Estel apologized again, playing with a corner of the silken sheet that lay pulled up to his chest.  Except for the ache in his legs, he didn’t feel too bad anymore; but he feared he was in trouble, which was worse.  “I didn’t try to get in a fight with them, honestly I didn’t.”
    “I know you didn’t Estel, I’m not angry this time,” Elrond assured the boy.  Estel had been in trouble for fighting before, but this time it was most assuredly not the youngster’s fault.  He had handled himself in a way that did him great credit and Elrond was proud of him, if also heart-broken at the hurt he had taken.
    Elladan was still furious, although he contained it well for Estel’s sake.  “They didn’t even check to see if he was still alive!” he said quietly.  “Estel would have died from their thoughtlessness if we hadn’t found him when we did.”
    Elrond nodded slowly. For once he agreed with Elladan’s level of ire.  “You can be sure I will be speaking to someone about this.  Those boys parents will know what they’ve been up to.”
    “Ada...” Estel’s tired voice made the elf lord look down again.  “Ada, they said I wasn’t anything because I was a man who called elves my family.  But that’s not true.  Why did they say that?  I-I am something, aren’t I?”
    Elrond closed his eyes before taking his youngest’s hands in his.  He could still hear the words that had been thrown at he and his brother so many years ago...

    You are *nothing*!  No race will claim you...

    Yes, he knew how Estel felt.  “Oh Estel, of course you are.  I don’t know why people say    cruel things to one another but, my son, what they said was a lie.  You are a man, and that is a proud heritage to bear.  You are the son of a very, very good man and woman who were close to your brothers and to me.  And most of all, Estel, you are the son of my heart.  I will always love you and be with you.”
    Estel smiled, but then looked down.  “No you won’t,” he whispered softly.  “Elves go away.  They go away where I never can.  Someday you will all leave me.”  He looked achingly between his brothers and father. 
    “No, Estel,” Elrond soothed the boy’s fears gently.  “No matter where you are, or where we are, we will always be with you because our love will always be with you.”
    Elrohir nodded, touching his little brother’s shoulder.  “And no power in Arda or anywhere else can ever change that,” he promised. 
    Elladan had left their side for a moment, but now he reappeared, holding his cloak in one hand.  The other hand was closed around something that the others could not see.  Dropping the cloak, Elladan knelt beside his little human brother’s bed. 
    “Estel?  A long time ago, Ada gave Elrohir and me something very special.  It belonged to him and his brother before us.  Now I want you to have it.”  Elladan gently pressed his mithril brooch into his younger brother’s palm, smiling as he saw Estel’s eyes light up both in awe and surprise. 
    Estel had admired those particular pieces of jewelry since he was a little child and would play with them on the twins’ cloaks when they held him in their arms.  The human had always been fascinated by the graceful curves and the shiny alloy. 
    “Elladan, you can’t give me this, you love this brooch, you and Elrohir always wear them!” Estel tried to refuse, but his older brother just took his hand and closed the human’s fingers around the smooth, cool clasp. 
    “And I love you, little brother,” Elladan smiled, ruffling the young one’s hair.  “And I want you to have it, because you are a part of our family and I want you to have the same gift with it that father gave us.  The knowledge of how very much we will always love you.”
    Elrohir smiled at his brother.  Elladan certainly had his moments.  The light on Estel’s bruised and drawn face was beautiful to see as he held the prized treasure close.  
    Elrond watched his children with eyes that were full.  Full of love, full of life, full of happiness. 
    “You would be proud of this descendent of yours, Elros,” he whispered quietly.  “He is so like you, my brother.”
    “Now, Estel,” Elrohir’s grin turned impish as he let himself flop down on the end of the bed, careful of his younger brother’s injuries.  “I hope you don’t think this means you’re getting out of your week of stable duty.  You lost that archery contest to me fair and square yesterday and I do believe I remember something about that supposed to be starting tomorrow...”
    “Oh right,” Estel rolled his eyes, chuckling slightly.  “I think I’ll jump up there and go do it right now.”
    “Don’t egg him on, El, you know he just might!” Elladan shook his head.
    Elrond rose as the three brothers teased each other quietly.  “Well I think I am going to go fix some tea for Estel while there is still some sanity left in the room...” he said as he headed for the door.  “Elladan, Elrohir, when you can spare the time, you can clean this mess up a bit.”
    It took a few moments for the others to catch what he had said. 
    “Look out,” Elrohir murmured with mock-drama as he scooted off the bed.  “Father’s making tea!”
    Elladan and Elrohir started laughing helplessly, and Estel just looked between them in confusion.
    “So?  What’s so funny?  El?!  What’s so funny?” Estel demanded when his brothers only laughed. 
    “You’ve never had father’s tea before, have you?” Elladan just shook his head as he rose to his feet. 
    “I think I feel bedtime for young humans coming on.” Elrohir ruffled the younger boy’s hair as they had a habit of doing and Estel pulled away, batting at his big brother’s hand.  

    Estel rolled his eyes.  “Stop treating me like a baby.  I’m not tired and I want to know why you’re laughing.”
    “Oh you will be tired soon,” Elladan replied cryptically as they began to clean up the room, putting away the bandages and loose herbs that were strewn about from their urgent haste earlier in the day. 
    A pillow hit the elder twin smack in the back of the head, making him drop the things he had gathered up.  Elladan turned quickly only to catch another pillow straight in the face.  A seam burst and feathers floated gently around the tall elf, creating an incredibly comical picture. 
    Elrohir, on the other side of the room, laughed.  “He got you good that time El!”
    Estel, on the bed, was trying to look innocent even though he was now sans two pillows that had been there before. 
    “Did you loose something, little brother?” Elladan advanced on the bed with a wicked grin, holding the offending article in front of him.  
    Estel gave his big brother the most wide-eyed “Who, me?” look he could muster.  Elladan was not impressed.
    “Hey, hey...” Estel scooted back against the headboard of his bed as much as he could as Elladan came closer.  “You can’t touch me, I’m hurt, see?  I’m recovering!”  He held a pillow up between them. 
    “Oh really?” Elladan climbed up onto the side of the bed next to him.  “You seem awfully spunky to me...”
    “Yes really, hey, stay away!  You can’t hit me back, Ada wouldn’t like it!” The young boy grinned impishly and tried to whack Elladan with the pillow he held, but found Elladan was quicker and caught it, easily twisting it out of his little brother’s grasp. 
    “No, dear brother?” Elladan smiled, kneeling carefully over Estel but being incredibly cautious of his brother’s injuries, so that the younger one couldn’t escape him, yet was not being harmed.  Pushing the pillow up under the human’s chin Elladan pulled a handful of feathers from the broken seam.  “But I can make you eat it!” he chuckled evilly, tickling Estel’s nose and face with the loose, silky feathers and making the boy laugh helplessly.  
    “No fair!  Hey, Elladan!  Stop!  Elrohir!! Help!” 
    Elrohir, however, was laughing so hard he was absolutely useless. 
    The sound of a very familiar voice clearing his throat made them all stop and look up.  Elrond was standing in the doorway with a tray holding a steaming cup of tea on it, one eyebrow arched very high.  He walked into the room, glancing at the feathers that were floating lightly down to the floor around him. 
    “Elladan, get off your brother,” he couldn’t keep the smile out of his voice no matter how hard he tried. 
    Elladan rolled off the bed and Estel shot him a ‘told you so’ look.  “Give me back my pillow.”
    Elladan promptly planted the pillow he was still holding right in the boy’s face. 
    “Elladan!” Elrond had to set the tray down or he was going to spill.  Sometimes his sons were simply too much, and they had a fondness for this particular type of merriment that had not grown less with age... nor did it seem likely to. 
    Elladan’s eyes were innocent.  “What?  He wanted it back.”
    Elrond shook his head, pushing the pillows where they belonged behind Estel’s back and head once more and handing the boy his tea.  “Remind me which of you is the young one,” the elf lord muttered.  “I told you to clean the room up, not make it a worse disaster.  I swear I lose more pillows to the three of you!  Will you never outgrow that habit?”
    “Probably not,” Estel said with a grin as he finished the warm, soothing liquid in the cup he was holding.  Strangely, he was beginning to feel very sleepy.  “We’ll probably be doing it still when I’m an old man...” he yawned and blinked, his head starting to feel very heavy.  “Do you really mind, Ada?” he asked somewhat blearily as his head began to nod.  
    Elrond smiled gently, taking the empty cup from relaxing fingers, easing the boy’s head back against his pillows.  “Of course not.  I hope it never changes, Estel,” he whispered quietly as the boy drifted off to sleep, lulled by the herbs Elrond had added to his tea. 
    Elrohir gently pulled the sheets up to Estel’s chin, tucking the young boy’s arms under the covers.  He paused.  The clasp Elladan had given him was still clenched firmly in one slender fist and even in slumber Estel wasn’t about to let it go. 
    Elrohir just smiled as he put that hand on the boy’s chest and pulled the covers over it.  “I think that meant a lot to him, El,” he glanced at his brother with a smile.  
    Elladan smiled, brushing stray feathers down from Estel’s tumbling dark locks.  “I wanted him to know.”  Elladan’s eyes caught his father’s, seeking approval for his actions.  After all, he knew the history behind what he had given away.
    Elrond touched his son’s shoulder gently, moving to let one hand rest on the back of either twin as he stood looking between them.  “Estel should have died today, but he did not,” he whispered softly.  “The day I gave you those brooches, I should have died, but did not.  So often, we see only the bad that happens when we feel there should have been good, and not the good that happens when tragedy would have been the more ready option.  That is something for us all to hold onto, I think.” He smiled at his boys, all three of them. 
    The twins let their arms meet behind their father’s back and Elrohir reached down to let his fingers drift across Estel’s forehead while Elladan touched their little brother’s hand, creating an unbroken circle of love that seemed to visibly brighten the small room.
    It was true.  None of them would ever truly walk alone.
The End

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