Lighting Fires: 1. Truant

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1. Truant

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
William Butler Yeats
"You haven't seen me," Estel's voice hissed up in a loud whisper.

Elrohir rolled his eyes. He had not needed to see Estel. He had recognized the soft thuds of running feet coming through the woods behind him. In Rivendell, only Estel had such short strides that landed with mannish force. It would also have been hard to overlook the jolt against the back of the bench as the footsteps came to a sliding halt and the scrabble as the boy rapidly inserted himself under it.

Elrohir felt the quiet morning he had longed for all summer slipping away. It was good to be home at last, but even in Rivendell, every day could not be perfect. This early autumn day promised to be fair enough. The air, heavy with damp as the dew burned off, held puffs of silver-edged, gray-bellied clouds floating high above him. The dappled shade under the tree blocked just enough of the glare of the bright morning sun. The book he held was just engrossing enough to keep him awake to enjoy it. The bench had no cushions, but curved enough to be comfortable.

Elrohir had been sitting alone, a rare enough occurrence to be enjoyable in itself.

"Please?" The thready sound reached him at the same time as a shadow came around the curve of the path.

Even with nearly ten years of practice, he still found it difficult to resist Estel. What were brothers for, if not to assist when appealed to? Elrohir twitched the trailing end of his cloak to better conceal the boy under the bench just before his father's chief counselor, Erestor, appeared on the path before him.

Careful to keep reading until Erestor stood in front of him, Elrohir blandly looked up with brows arched in a question at the interruption.

"Have you seen Estel?" Erestor asked.

Mindful of his instructions and with perfect truth, Elrohir replied, "No, not this morning. Is he playing the truant?"

"It seems so. He is very late," Erestor said, a frown appearing on his features.

Elrohir looked east to where the sun shone above the trees. "The day is fair enough to tempt him away. Will one day of lessons more or less matter?"

"One?" Erestor said, throwing up his hands. "Would that it were one! And when he does attend, he pays little attention. At this rate the boy will learn nothing."

Elrohir knew what it took to upset Erestor's normally unruffled demeanor. There had been a time when he and Elladan had considered it a point of honor to exasperate Erestor at least once a week. It did not surprise him that Estel could do the same. Still, Erestor's time could be put to better use than looking for the boy.

"You worry needlessly." Elrohir gave Erestor a conspiratorial nod and indicated the boy's location with a pointing finger. "I am certain he will be along eventually."

Erestor acknowledged the signal with raised brows, and a long-suffering shake of his head. "If you do see Estel, tell him to come any time. I will be in my study."

So, Erestor thought he would talk Estel into attending his lessons. He gave his mouth a wry twist.

Erestor grinned at his discomfiture. "Have you any idea where he might be?"

"I heard a commotion over near the kitchens. You might try there."

"I will. Enjoy your quiet morning." Erestor walked on.

When he was out of sight, Elrohir said, "It is safe to come out now."

Estel scooted out from under the bench, wiping his hands off on his trousers. Gilraen sent him out washed and brushed every morning, but he already looked disheveled. Dirt from under the bench smirched his clothes, and strands of his hair, escaping from their tight plaits, straggled over his shoulders. He sat on the bench with a wide grin and a jaunty toss of his head.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. But your lessons are also important, so do not think I will add 'any time.'" Duty done, Elrohir smiled to take any sting out of the mild rebuke and fixed his eyes on his book. Perhaps today Estel would take the hint.

Elrohir tried to concentrate, but Estel began whistling and his leg swung, kicking the bench at intervals just off the beat of the nearly tuneless music. Looking up, Elrohir met Estel's wide, grey eyes staring at him with an expectant expression.

"You can go now," Elrohir encouraged the boy. "Time to meet your friends and start whatever adventures you planned for today instead of lessons."

"The only plan I have is to stay away from anyone who would send me back to Erestor." Estel settled back more comfortably on the bench and gave Elrohir a wide, hopeful smile.

"What are your friends doing today?" Elrohir asked.

Estel shrugged and looked away. "Imros and Edracar know Mother always keeps me in to eat breakfast with her on lesson days. They left at dawn so they wouldn't have to take me with them. Morniel doesn't do anything anymore except paint and carve, and she says I'm too clumsy to help her."

"What about Rilde? Or Lossen and Neldor?" A few years ago, those four had been inseparable.

"They are too little. I don't mind playing with them sometimes, but I need to learn warrior skills, and they still want to do baby things," the boy said.

There were only one or two others, and they were older still, nearly grown and already with duties. Elrohir tried, and failed, to envision a solitary childhood. When Elrohir remembered his own childhood, by comparison, it teemed with playmates. Elrohir realized, with a jolt, no one in Rivendell could grow up with Estel. After a year, or two or three, he would be older than any elf-child he befriended, with the different interests and different needs that came with maturity.

It did not help that Estel's only possible friends were Silvan elves under his father's protection. They had no use for, and their parents did not want them to have, the intense, political education being lavished on the last scion of the Númenoreans.

"Why don't you just attend your lessons?" Elrohir asked.

Estel gave a derisive snort. "I learn a lot more just being in the woods, even by myself. Didn't you find Erestor's lessons boring?"

After a thoughtful shake of his head, Elrohir closed his book and placed it on the bench. "No. I cannot say that I did. Of course, they were quite some time ago - perhaps I am misremembering - but I think I was eager for Erestor's lessons."

Estel eyed him with disbelief. "He never tells me anything useful," he huffed. "I already know all kinds of things. I can read – in four languages! - and add and divide and, and, lots of other stuff. Why do I have to keep learning stupid theories, or care about what the old kings did? 'The kingdom of Rhudaur was founded in Third Age 863 and its first king was the second son of Eärendur,'" he droned. "I am never, ever, going to need to know that. I could be doing important things, like sword work or archery practice."

Elrohir wished now he had simply handed the boy over to Erestor. In Elrohir's opinion, this had always been more complicated than it needed to be. Swordsmanship and archery were not all the boy needed to know. It would certainly be easier to say, "A Chieftain of the Dúnedain needs to know this," than to expect Estel to voluntarily forego playing to grapple with abstracts. Though he did not agree with his father's insistence that Estel would be safer if he was unaware of his exalted heritage, he knew - they all knew - the boy still needed to be educated enough to fulfill his destiny when the time came.

Elrohir quirked his brows. "And those are the most important things?"

"They are!" Estel glowed with excitement and he leaned forward. "You promised that as soon as I'm big enough, I could hunt orcs with you and Elladan all the time, and you told me to practice as much as I could. And I do! They almost never find me anymore." A speculative gleam came into his eyes.

He had promised; for some unspecified future date when Estel had grown into a 'great warrior'. "Are you a great warrior already?" Elrohir laughed, leaning over to tousle Estel's hair.

The boy's chin rose and he sounded aggrieved at Elrohir's skepticism. "I'm a good tracker. And I can use a bow and a sword and a knife. I can always find something to eat in the woods and I can start a fire and cook. I can find my way and tell time by the stars. I'm big enough." He sat back, relaxed and poised. "Take me along next time and you'll see how useful I will be."

Elrohir sat up straighter and a clutch of cold gripped his heart. So many of his friends and family – he quickly suppressed a memory of his mother's wan and wasted face - had been lost in the Wild. Estel's confident air and the paean of self-praise for his skills gave Elrohir an unwelcome suspicion. Unless he did something to discourage it, the next time they ventured into the Wild, he and Elladan would spend most of their time looking behind them expecting to see Estel. The boy would have to face the Wild some day, but, surely, he was still too young.

"I think you need to grow up a bit more first." Elrohir reached out to lay his hand on the boy's shoulder but Estel twitched away.

"No one ever understands." Estel stood up, shoved his thumbs in his belt and sullenly kicked a stray pebble off the path. He planted himself stiff-backed in front of Elrohir and stared a challenge into his eyes. "It's not fair."

Standing, the boy was eye-to-eye with Elrohir still seated on the bench. "What is not fair? You are growing up as fast as you can. I cannot stretch you, nor change the rate at which you grow," he said in his best imitation of their father's 'be reasonable' tone. "Soon, I promise, you will be old enough and bigger."

"I know that," Estel said in a voice dripping scorn. "I will grow as tall as you are, maybe taller. But my mother is Edain, not Eldar. I'm in my eleventh year! Mother says that is about half way to being grown up. Imros and Edracar are, too. They can go outside the valley, but not me! Everyone still treats me like one of the babies!"

Estel's eyes fixed on Elrohir with a plea for understanding hovering in their depths. Apparently not finding it, he rushed on, his voice becoming singsong. "Stay close to the house, Estel. Don't go into the woods without a grown-up, Estel. You're too young to do that, Estel. Do this, Estel. Don't do that, Estel." He sneered. " Go to your lessons, Estel. And I have more lessons and studying than anybody! It. Is. Just. Not. Fair!" He punctuated the last words with resentful kicks at the path and ended up at rigid attention, arms akimbo and jaw thrust out towards Elrohir.

Elrohir was momentarily taken aback. Did Estel have a valid grievance? Were they too conscious that the boy carried the last bloodline of the Dúnedain kings and putting too many restraints on him? The boy was rushing to adulthood more than twice as fast as an elf-child would. He inspected Estel carefully, noting the skinny arms and legs barely beginning their stretch to adolescence. In the boyishly rounded face, there were hints of the man to be in the determined eyes and the jut of the firm jaw.

Elrohir realized that Estel was beginning to recognize he was different. For no reason that he knew, his education was more structured and much more was demanded of him than of his playmates. No wonder he felt resentful. Unfortunately, the surest cure was the explanation of his heritage that Elrohir was forbidden to give him.

The other Dúnedain fosterlings had been several years older and had already had a season or two of Ranger training when they arrived. Had his father fostered a boy as young as Estel since Valandil? Perhaps they had misjudged and Estel was ready for more experience. Elrohir gave his head a shake.

Estel wilted at the apparent lack of support and slumped down onto the bench. "Are you going to send me to Erestor?"

"If I sent you now, would you actually go to your lessons?" Elrohir's brow lifted with the skeptical question.

"Maybe. Eventually." Estel heaved a noisy sigh and capitulated. "If I have to."

They were both quiet for a minute. When Elrohir looked over at the boy, Estel was glumly contemplating the path at his feet. How to convince him it would be far better if he stayed safely in Rivendell and went willingly to his lessons? Estel was so sure he knew enough already… Elrohir had an idea; a way to show him how much he had yet to learn.

"Hmmm. There is no doubt you are growing up quickly. You look quite the warrior compared to how you looked last summer." At the change in tone, Estel shot him a surprised and wary glance. Elrohir leaned towards the boy and gave him a nudge with his elbow. "Would you like to hunt orcs today?"

"Real orcs? Really?" Estel drew himself up from his slump and turned open, incredulous eyes on Elrohir.

Elrohir was quick to damp his excitement. "Not exactly. Not yet. The Wild is different from Rivendell and orcs are very dangerous. You are my brother, and for some reason I seem to be fond of you. I would not want to lose you untimely. I need to see for myself if you are ready to hunt real orcs." Elrohir put his hands on Estel's shoulders and tried to impress upon him the seriousness of his offer. "If you prove it to me today, I will speak to Father about changing your lessons and giving you more experience."

Estel quivered like a leashed hound on a scent. "You will? I mean, Yes, sir!" Estel snapped. He leapt to his feet. "What do I need to do?"

Elrohir stood and pointed Estel towards the house. "Go get your weapons, and whatever else you think you will need for a day of orc hunting. Do not burden yourself overmuch. Elladan and I usually cache most of the supplies. This will be a scouting mission, and we will only fight if we are forced to. Meet me back here as soon as you can."

"I will." Estel whirled away, and then ran back to Elrohir. He threw his arms around Elrohir's hips and hugged him, burying his face in his chest. "You are the best brother ever. I will not let you down."

Elrohir's arms went around the boy and he gave him a squeeze. "I love you, too, little brother. I know you will make me proud. Now go! We have an orc den to spy out."

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.

Story Information

Author: Gwynnyd

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - The Stewards

Genre: Action

Rating: General

Last Updated: 01/14/10

Original Post: 09/07/06

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