"Do you know those?" he demanded, putting a hard edge in his voice.
"Ye… yes," Estel stammered. "I think so."
"Here." Elrohir handed Estel his sword, pommel first. "Take it."
The sword had been custom made for Elrohir when he had reached his full growth and was more than half as tall as the boy was. Estel gripped the pommel with both hands and lifted the point off the ground.
"Wield it one handed," Elrohir commanded.
Estel tried, dropping one hand from the pommel. The weight of the sword dragged his arm down, and he struggled to hold it over his head for longer than a second. He shook his head, eyes wide and scared as Elrohir continued to bark out orders. "Two hands then. Start in the Hawk position. Begin."
Grimacing, Estel raised the sword and fumbled it through the series of maneuvers. He winced at his own clumsy and awkward movements as the sword swung nearly uncontrolled. He finished the series and stood with the sword back over his head, his arms trembling from fatigue.
Elrohir shook his head. "Not good enough. Again. Make your swings smooth and clean this time."
Gritting his teeth, Estel started the moves again. One uncontrolled swing dragged his body sideways, and he stumbled, nearly dropping the sword.
"You will never be able to do this." Elrohir tried to keep his voice cold and hard. "Why do you bother to try?"
Estel's mouth dropped open and the sword drooped in his hands until the point touched the ground. He drew himself up to his full height and radiated outrage. "You told me to! And I will do it! It's too heavy for me now, but I'll practice every day until I've grown big enough to do it right. I will!"
Looking over him with skepticism, Elrohir pointed to Estel's arms. "They will still be your arms, why should they ever grow stronger or be more skilled than they are now?"
Estel gave a startled rolling-eyed look between his arms and Elrohir's face and back to his arms. "Of course they will," he spluttered. "I said I'd practice EVERY DAY and I have not stopped growing." Enunciating every word very carefully, he glared at Elrohir and stamped his foot. "I'll be as good a swordsman as you are when I'm grown! Better!"
"If you will be a good swordsman when you are grown, why practice now? Stick your sword hand in your pocket and leave it there. It will make no difference." Elrohir raised one lip in a sneer.
The boy's defiant stance was giving way to bewilderment. "Why are you saying this? I can't stop practicing. You told me it was important to practice all the time, so the moves would just be there when I needed them."
"But I know all the moves and tricks; you do not need to." Elrohir gave an elaborate shrug and a dismissive wave of his hand. "I will just tell you how you should strike next."
Estel's fist clenched and his knuckles showed white against the hilt. His voice rang far louder than it had, as he took a step forward. "That's stupid! You can't coach me in the middle of a fight! That is the most stupid thing I ever heard. I need to know! You can't always be telling me step by step what I have to do!"
He drew a deep breath, ready to continue the diatribe, gasped his lungs full and paused. A stricken look spread over his face, and the breath trickled out in a near wheeze. His mouth gaped open and then closed soundlessly several times, giving his face the look of a beached fish.
Elrohir suppressed a smile and raised one brow. "You are right. That would be a very foolish way to fight." He walked over to Estel and took his sword from Estel's lax hands. "You are not stupid, nor weak," he said. "If you use both your mind and your sword arm every day, they will be strong and practiced when you need them. You will be very good in a fight and no one will have to tell you what to do nor how to do it."
"Oh." The toe of Estel's shoe ground the dirt at his feet. He dropped his eyes and frowned. The embarrassed silence dragged on. "But…" Estel shifted his weight and scuffed his feet. "It's so boring. Aren't there other things I could learn? Why do I have to know about what every old king did?"
"No knowledge is wasted and you never know what will be most useful." Elrohir thought back to Estel's example. "It is not important that in eight hundred… something, Rhudaur was founded. Eärendur's sons tore apart a kingdom. If you were Eärendur, what could you have done differently so that did not happen? What would you have told Amlaith, if he came to you for advice? He did not heed Father, and he never liked me. Perhaps he would have listened to you and much evil could have been avoided."
"Me?" Estel took a step backwards.
Seeing the confusion on Estel's face, Elrohir pressed his advantage. "You are descended from the kings of Men," at Estel's startled look, he added with a smile tugging at his lips, "on your mother's side. You can be anything you want but you have to decide what is it you want to be. Do you wish to only take orders or to give them? If you set your mind against learning new things, then you may grow to be a good soldier, but not a leader of Men, and you will ever be in the background. Is that enough for you?"
"A leader of Men? I don't know any Men. You and Elladan mostly hunt orcs alone. I thought I could help you," Estel said very softly. He looked away. "That's all I want to do."
I don't know any Men. The statement rocked Elrohir. He knew that it was not strictly true. Halbeleg, Gilraen's uncle, who was acting as Chieftain of the Dúnedain, came to Rivendell every year for a short time and made a point of spending time with the boy to assess his progress. Still, Estel was lured away from the public areas whenever anyone came to Rivendell, and visitors were few and far between in these perilous times anyway. He was also not encouraged to mingle with the Dúnedain who came with Halbeleg, lest some begin to suspect he was indeed Aragorn.
His father was set on secrecy and isolation, but there had to be a way to convince him that Estel would do better with more companions. The types of mistakes he had made today were proof enough for Elrohir. It was obvious Estel needed at least one friend to grow up with. Ideally, Estel could be sent to foster in Halbeleg's stronghold for a year or two and learn what it was like to live a Man's life. Gilraen did her best, but the boy had only Eldar to emulate. Estel - Aragorn – would have to lead Men. Elrohir had always had Elladan to confide in, to challenge him. Estel had no one.
Elrohir would have gladly filled the role of confidant, but he also spent more time away from Rivendell than in it. Perhaps Estel's performance today would be enough to convince his father to relax Estel's restrictions.
"You really want to spend all your time hunting orcs with us?"
"Yes." Estel still looked worried.
Elrohir took his sword and slid it back into its scabbard. He hugged the boy. "Then you had best learn everything. We are as likely to discuss philosophy as tactics around our fires, and Elladan has been known to say disparaging things about those who cannot keep up with the conversation. And Father asks us to do the most diverse things, from negotiating with Dwarves to building redoubts and watch stations, bridging rivers and destroying bridges, or deciphering the political implications of the movements of the men in Eriador."
Estel bit his lip. "That is a lot. You think I can do it?"
Laughing, Elrohir gave him a shake. "Of course. If you work hard at it."
Estel gave a decisive nod. "I will then."
Still chuckling, Elrohir turned them back towards their packs under the trees. "Come. I think there is still a treat in the bottom of my pack."
Estel came to an abrupt stop. "Lembas?" he smiled hopefully.
"Lembas! For a picnic lunch inside the boundaries of Rivendell? Even I have not that much influence in the kitchens. Honey cakes."
"Honey cakes are almost as good," Estel assured him, bounding ahead.
Reaching the tree, Elrohir dug into his pack again and removed a package wrapped in oiled cloth. He took out a honey cake, broke it in two and handed the larger piece to the boy. Estel's eyes lit with pleasure and he took a bite, honey oozing out of the nut filling and running down his fingers. The business of eating occupied them for a minute.
"Siege ladders?" Estel asked, licking a drip of honey from his fingers.
Estel pointed to the triangles Elrohir had sketched in the dirt. "You said there was another thing they were good for. Is it ladders?"
Elrohir felt both astonished and delighted. "Yes! It would be very awkward if your ladders were too short and did not reach the top of the wall."
Estel smiled and inched his way over to snuggle up to Elrohir's side.
"And we'll fight together always?" Estel asked.
Elrohir gave him a squeeze with one arm and a light punch in the shoulder with his other hand. "Yes. If you wish. But it is far more likely that once you have your kingdom, you will have no time for mere brothers."
Estel sat up and skewered Elrohir with a skeptical look. "Why would I have a kingdom?"
Because you are a worthy son of your father and the kingdom is already yours, hovered on Elrohir's lips, but he shrugged instead and said lightly, "Why should you not be a king? You will be out upon errantry and come across a small dragon…" He indicated a size about waist high, and Estel let out a delighted laugh. "Or no more than a dozen hill trolls menacing some fair country. Using both your wisdom and your skills, you will cleverly vanquish the threat. The king will be so grateful, and so weary of his rule, that he will give you the hand of the princess, his daughter, in marriage and pass into the West, leaving you his kingdom. And all your people will call you, oh, Estel the Clever."
He pounced, tickling Estel until they both fell back exhausted with laughter. Estel picked the crumbs of the honey cake from off the wrapper. After it was clean to his satisfaction, he licked the pieces from his fingers. Finally he swallowed and nodded as if he had come to a decision.
"I can see that I would do a better job as a king than someone who had to wait for a stranger to come along and remove a threat to his people. He could not have been a very good king," he said. "But, would I have to marry the princess?" Estel finished with a plaintive expression.
Elrohir did not quite succeed in keeping a straight face. "She would no doubt be very beautiful."
"So? She'd still be a girl and want me to write poetry in praise of her eyes or something." He put as much disgust into the statement as a young boy could.
"You may change your mind about girls by that time."
"I doubt it. Besides, you are much older than me and you aren't wed," Estel pointed out.
Elrohir had a kaleidoscopic flash of the reasons, from his bond with his twin, the darkening of the Age, to the terrible choice of heritage he had yet to make. He tried to sort out an explanation that would make sense to the boy looking at him. "You are right. I am not married, but it is not because I do not like girls. I have not yet slain the right dragon."
Estel seemed to accept the incomplete explanation at face value. He licked the last of the honey off his fingers and lay back on the grass with a replete smile on his face. Elrohir lay beside him, and they let the dappled sunlight wash across them through the leaves on the apple trees.
"There's still a lot of the afternoon left, isn't there?" Estel asked.
"There is," Elrohir confirmed. He wondered what adventures Estel would ask to do for the remainder of the afternoon. He had promised Estel the whole day, after all.
The boy sat up and looked around. Spying his bow, he gave a 'tchaa' of dismay. He picked it up and carefully unstrung it, fastening it properly into its carrying position. He neatened the arrows in the quiver, and retrieved the wrappings from his lunch, stowing them back into his wallet at his side. Slinging the quiver onto his back, he gave Elrohir a sketchy salute.
"I'm off." He started to walk away.
Elrohir sat up. "Where are you going?"
"To find Erestor." Estel sounded puzzled that Elrohir had had to ask. "He said he would be in his study all day and I could come any time."
"You are going to lessons this afternoon?" Elrohir wished he hadn't sounded quite so incredulous.
"Well, yes. I missed a lot of them lately," Estel confessed.
"Then I still owe you an afternoon of doing what you want. Work out with Erestor, Father, and your sword-master what day you can come with me and think about what you want to do." Estel's face split into a huge grin. "And, Estel, I think you were right. You showed me it is time you began to get some practical experience in scouting and fighting. I will speak to Father."
"You will? I am?" Estel threw himself against Elrohir and hugged him. "You are the best brother ever." Turning, he ran off, back towards the house, jumping randomly for the sheer joy of it. His whoops echoed back long after he was out of sight.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.