1. The Silver Bead
It had been a very long time since last Erestor had been in a city of Men, and never before had he arrived with such fanfare and pageantry.
He had been close enough to hear the words exchanged at the city gates as Elrond had handed over the symbol of authority in the Northern Kingdom as well as his daughter to Estel – no, not Estel anymore, or even Aragorn, he reminded himself, Elessar – and yet far enough back that he didn't stand out except for being one Elf among many. Glorfindel was right up there in front, standing next to Elrond and his sons, of course. Erestor sniffed with a touch of derision. As if that vain Vanya would have been anywhere else on a day like today!
And then it was time for them to walk through the city, climbing the steady slope to the very apex where the official wedding would occur. The people of Minas Tirith had obviously done their best to clean and decorate their recently sieged city for this joyous occasion, and stood lining both sides of the streets cheering and waving. Their eyes, Erestor knew, were all for their new King and the lady who would become their Queen.
And yet, they stood and waved and cheered as the lesser members of the Elven company passed them by as well. Erestor couldn't help but note how the many wide eyes stared at him as he and his companions walked slowly by. After having endured generations of being put upon by creatures from the blackest nightmares, not to mention the horror they were still recovering from, this resilient people still seemed to be shocked to discover that the creatures of Light still existed as well. The widest of eyes belonged to the faces of the children of the city.
But if the mortals were staring at the Elves, many of the Elves were staring back at the numerous little ones that seemed to be everywhere. Estel – Elessar, remember? – had been a solitary child and then youth in Imladris, and decades had passed since he'd reached his majority. In Lothlórien, it had been very long indeed since last a child had been seen. And yet here, in a city that virtually bordered the Dark Lands, they were surrounded with the young: babes in arms, toddlers clinging precariously to their mothers' skirts, and maids and youths not quite ready to don the mantle of adulthood.
Of course, Erestor nodded to himself, it made sense: mortals did not have the same luxury to simply stop having children in times of danger as Elves did. Rumor had it that Thranduil's people had continued bearing children as well simply because the overwhelming presence of evil in the forest would have decimated them long since otherwise. But never had the simple truth of needing to continue bearing children to carry on ever given him – or many of those around him, it seemed – that much pause. Only now, with so much surprised and wary innocence gazing up or out at them from every possible angle, did it become so striking.
His gaze was captured by one little one, held protectively in a mother's embrace. The dark eyes were wide, but in their depths danced a pleasure and an impishness that Erestor hadn't seen since Estel – Elessar! You must remember this! – had terrorized the household, egged on by his foster-brothers. The child's lips quirked in first a shy, and then a more open smile as Erestor couldn't help himself from smiling back; and suddenly the child was in motion. With a squirm that would have done Elladan proud, the child loosened its mother's hold and, with what looked like practiced ease, it slid down the skirt in a controlled fall until it landed not quite securely on the ground at her feet. The mother, surprised by the sudden escape, had no time to make a grab for the child before it trotted forward and wriggled between the legs of a solemn guard, one of many that lined the thoroughfare.
"I do not think so," Erestor said quietly and, with a gesture to his companion to continue on his way, stepped out of the line of Imladhrim and captured the waif before it could run the risk of being jostled away from its mother or perhaps even be stepped on. He swept the child up into his arms, cringing slightly as his ear was pierced by the ecstatic squeal of delight from his little captive, and resigning himself to the wrinkles that would result where one small hand now took firm hold of the front of his silk and brocade robe. "You are a brazen little one," Erestor stated firmly as the child's free hand began toying with the silver bead at the end of one of his warrior braids. So like Estel – and Elladan and Elrohir, in their day. How I miss that…
"Pretty!" was the gleeful response, and Erestor chuckled at last at the irrepressible nature of the very young.
"Well, pretty it may be, but your Nana is surely distressed that you have left her behind." Erestor gave a quick nod to the guard. "If I may…" With an answering nod, the guard stood aside so that he could step into the crowd of people, heading for the rather distraught young woman whose eye had not shifted from the toddler in his arms. "Lady, I return to you your little one." He bent and began shifting the child into the diminutive woman's arms, only to discover that he couldn't straighten to his full height because the tot had yet to relinquish its hold on the bead holding his braid. "Let go, child. That hurts."
"I am so sorry, my lord," the woman said in a voice that shook hard, even as she clasped her baby close again. She appeared far too frightened to even look at him. "I don't know…"
"Think nothing of it." Erestor, now disencumbered of having to hold the child, quickly pried little fingers loose of the braid with its shining, silver bead with the ease of much practice. "You must be proud to have such a strong and capable child."
He thought for a moment, seeing the wistful look on the child's face, and then came to a decision. He reached up and dislodged the bead from the end of his braid and held it up for the little one to see. "You like this?" he asked gently, going down on one knee so that he and the toddler were nearly eye to eye. The little one nodded with a huge smile.
"You may have it, then, but only if you make me a solemn promise."
That startled the woman, who suddenly found the heart to look into his face. "You don't need to do that, my lord…"
Erestor shook his head. "The little one may have my bead, but only if in return I get a promise."
"Will you promise to do what the lord asks?" she asked the child, who turned his gaze from Erestor to his mother before nodding and looking back at Erestor, this time full of childish seriousness.
"You must promise me that you will only bring joy to your mother's doorstep, never sorrow or shame; and the person you give this to later on must make you the same promise. Can you do that for me?"
The child nodded and put out its hand. "I pwomise…"
"Very well then." Erestor carefully avoided the reaching hand and put the bead into the mother's care. "When you are old enough, your Nana will give you your bead to keep; but until then, she will take care of it for you. Won't you?" He aimed his question at the woman. Do young ones this small here put things in their mouths still, as our young do? I do not wish this child to choke on my bead before reaching his or her majority…
"I will, my lord. I swear it."
Erestor got to his feet and put his hand gently on the child's head. "May you have a long and honorable life then, little one. The blessing of the Elves go with you."
Ignoring the wide eyes of the many spectators that had been close enough to witness the little exchange, he pressed his hand to his heart and gave a formal bow to the young woman. Then, with another nod to the watchful guard, he slipped back into the street to take a new place in the line of Imladhrim slowly walking by.
I wonder if the child will remember this day, he thought as he trained his eye on the ever-rising street and the gate to the next circle that was not far away, ready to continue his climb to the Citadel and the wedding to come. It would be nice to think so…
"You saw the Elves, Daerada?"
"I did indeed." Damon seated himself in his usual chair next to the hearth and opened his arms so that his youngest grandson could climb into his lap. "I was very young, younger than even you, but I remember them. Tall they were, slender like reeds, and graceful."
Amdir smiled. This was his favorite story. "Did you see the Queen?"
"I suppose I did," Damon remembered with a soft smile, "because she walked right past where I was with my mother. But, do you know what? The Elf I that I remember best was a man, not the Queen. He even picked me up and held me for a short time."
Little Amdir's eyes grew wide. This was a new part to the story he'd never heard before. "He did? An Elf? Really??"
Damon nodded. "I had gotten away from my nana, and made it out to the street where they were going past. He picked me up, I suppose, to keep me safe, and then gave me back to my Nana."
"What was he like, Daerada?"
"Beautiful! He had the most beautiful eyes, and I remember his voice was like music. But at the time, all I could see was this." He reached beneath his shirt and drew out the thin leather thong that he wore about his neck. "He had it in his hair, at the end of a thin braid. He took it out and gave it to me, and then went back to the street and went on up to the Citadel. I never saw him again."
Amdir touched the silver bead with awe, and Damon knew that the boy was as fascinated by the graceful motif etched into the metal as he himself had been all his life. When his grandson looked up at him again, his eyes were even wider than before. "He just gave it to you?"
"Well, he did, but only after he made me give him a promise."
"What did you promise?"
"That I would never make my Nana sad or feel shame, but only bring her joy."
"I dare say you made your Nana very happy, Ada," Meril, his daughter, commented from the table where she was chopping vegetables for the evening's stew. "After all, you were the first in our family to become a guard – and even to guard the King…"
"The most important thing was that I kept my promise," Damon said with a sideways glance, "and I think because I did keep my promise, the blessing the Elf gave me helped me out in life. At least," he grinned softly to himself, "I'd like to think it did. I never did learn his name, you know, the one who gave me this; but I think he was an important Elf. His robes were soft, a rich blue with gold stitching. The others Elves in the street bowed to him when he went back with them." Lost in the memories of that sunny morning, he smiled.
"It's pretty, Daerada." Amdir said eventually, his fingers still toying with the bead, running it back and forth on the leather thong.
Damon roused, suddenly very awake. "Yes, it is, very pretty. Would you like to have it?"
Amdir stared up at him, and at the table, Meril's hands stopped in their work. "Ada!" she chided, "you don't have to spoil him that way, just because he likes your things. And I know that's your special bead, and that you treasure it…"
"No, daughter, this was part of the promise I made to the one who gave it to me." He looked down at his grandson. "You may have this, but you must promise me that you will always bring joy to your Nana's door, and never shame or sorrow. And when the time comes, the person you give this bead to must promise you the same thing, just as you must promise me now. Do I have your word?"
Amdir didn't miss a beat. "I promise, Daerada."
"Then this bead is yours. When you're old enough, you will wear it; but until then, I'll take care of it for you, all right?" Damon tucked it back under his shirt. "After all, we don't want you to lose it or anything."
"All right." Amdir smiled up at him expectantly. "Do I get the blessing too, Daerada? You said he gave you a blessing too…"
Damon closed his eyes and remembered with all his might the Elf that he had met for those few, magical moments, a chance meeting that had changed his life, he was certain. "Yes, my boy. I think the blessing goes with the bead." He settled back into the pillows that Meril had made for him that made the chair so comfortable for aching bones to rest against. "I wish you could have seen him, Amdir, that Elf. He was… something! You've seen the Queen…" The little one in his lap nodded. "She's lovely, to be sure, isn't she?" Amdir nodded again. "But I saw them all when they came to visit – the Elves, I mean – just before they left Middle-earth forever. They were magnificent, all of them, walking past us in a silent parade."
"As magnificent as Prince Legolas?"
Ah, yes. Amdir had seen the King's friend riding and walking up the winding street to the Citadel often enough, as had most of Minas Tirith by now, to be familiar with the sight. Not quite all the Elves had left Middle-earth yet; some of them remained to remind them all of the wonders that the world could hold.
Still, Damon shook his head. "More magnificent than even Prince Legolas, Amdir, by far! And by all that is good and holy, I'll never forget the day I saw them all for as long as I live." He poked Amdir in the tummy and made the little boy giggle. "And I shall make you a promise: to tell you this story again many times, so that you will never forget either."
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.