"Running," said Guilin, "is one of the essential exercises for the warrior. Some are of the opinion that it is the single most important discipline and should come before wielding the sword and aiming the arrow. It is well reasoned, for if a warrior is too weak to fight his enemy with weapons, but can run swift as the wind over the plains, then he stands a chance of saving his life by outrunning his enemy." Guilin walked a few steps along the line of the young elves and looked at his protégés intently. "The question that remains to be considered is whether it is a warrior's task to save his life, or to try his best and slay as many foes as he can in order to protect his people."
The young elves were silent and stood unmoving; they were all pondering Guilin's words, taking their time to do so. Finally, one of them spoke, a tall, raven-haired youth, barely past childhood he seemed to be.
"It is our duty to stand and fight for our people," he said, his cheeks pale, but with a steady voice, "not to run from a battle like a coward."
There was appreciating murmur among the assembled dozen.
"That is well spoken, Lindir," said Guilin. "Yet it is my steadfast opinion that running must not be neglected in our exercise, as with running we do not only practice swiftness of movement but also endurance and strength. It is said that Gil-galad could run a whole day and night before taking a rest."
There was silent admiration on the faces of the young elves.
"Your task for today," Guilin continued, and his scholars stirred, sensing that the time of listening was over and they would at last come to the action, "is to run from this oak"—Guilin pointed to a nearby tree—"to the great birch up on yonder slope, and back again. You will take the trees as turning points and circle them when you get there. This you shall do at least until noon. Consider it, and save your strength. It is an exercise for the mind also. I will not count the times you run back and forth, but I will let none break his run before the Sun has reached her highest point."
He then told them to stand by the oak and wait for his signal to start running. When he blew his whistle, the young elves started off, some faster and some slower, but none was looking at his companions. It was one of the first things that Guilin had told them, that during physical training they should save all their thought to their own body and pay no heed to people around them. Awareness for their surroundings they trained in separate exercises. Both skills were needed when they set up mock battles, split into two parties, one waylaying the other.
Guilin stood by the oak and watched his charges run and run, minute for minute, hour for hour. Ever more often, his eyes came to rest on the man-child, Estel, whenever the young Dúnadan would pass him by. Guilin knew that this exercise was the most challenging for Estel, being a man he would by nature get more quickly exhausted than his fellows of the Eldar. But Estel was to be treated as one of their kin, so the lord Elrond had told Guilin and all other instructors of Rivendell; and indeed Estel was not now lagging behind the elves in the run, on the contrary: he was among the foremost few. His face, however, had reddened quite soon, and after a time, the sweat was running down his face. But his eyes he kept on the ground in front of him, his gaze stern and determined, and Guilin knew that he would endure the run until the very end, no matter how exhausted he would be.
The sun rose up high in the sky, and even in the shade of the oak tree Guilin could feel the summer's heat weighing down on him. The runners had to endure the burning sunlight, and it became loathsome to them. But none complained.
Away at a distance, just where the course of the run led onto the slope of the hill, Guilin could see one of the runners stumbling. He did not fall, but he lost time due to it. When that particular elf had completed his round and approached the oak, Guilin called out to him. "You there, Oromendil! Do not allow for lapses in concentration. You must see only the ground before your feet."
The young elf did not look at Guilin, but he gave a slight nod of his head, and Guilin knew that he had understood and would not stumble again.
There was not a sound on the training course except for the muffled steps and panting breath of the runners, and a thrush that was singing somewhere among the trees up on the steep side of the valley. Very faintly, the sound of the water falling down behind Elrond's house could be heard. The young runners heard nothing of those sounds.
When Guilin could see the sun standing exactly above a bell-shaped rock atop one of the mountains on the southern side of the valley, he knew that it had reached its highest point for the day. He put his whistle to his mouth and blew two piercing calls.
"It is over," he called, "come back to me."
One by one, the elves assembled again around him. They were panting and their cheeks were pink; some showed a glitter of sweat on their temples. But all of them had a certain look of satisfaction on their faces, not easy to be noticed, but quite discernible when Guilin looked deep into their young eyes. All had that look, all but one.
Estel had not come to Guilin when called. He was completing yet another round.
"Estel," Guilin called when he came near. "The game is over. You may stop running."
"I will—" Estel's words were interrupted by sharp intakes of breath. "—run—a little while longer."
His hair was pasted to his forehead and the back of his neck by sweat, his face had taken on a bright red colour, but the look in his grey eyes was determined as ever. He rounded the oak and was gone for another round. The elves all followed him with their eyes, puzzled.
"Let him practice, then," said Guilin, "as long as he wishes." He smiled to himself, the way he always found himself smiling when he was reminded of the blood of Lúthien and Beren that ran through this boy's veins. It was a silent smile, not to be seen; it was the smile of hope.
The elven boys took their leave of Guilin, all except for Lindir. He turned and ran towards Estel, who was returning down the slope of the hill.
"Estel," he called, "will you not come and have lunch with us?"
"No," said Estel.
"You have run enough for the day," said Lindir, falling into step beside his friend.
"I—I have not," panted Estel.
Lindir was getting frustrated. "It is mere practice, Estel! It is only a game."
"Life," said Estel grimly, "is not a game."
And he left Lindir standing by Guilin under the oak.
Guilin remained standing there alone for another hour or two, watching Estel getting redder in the face, breathing harder, and being drenched in sweat ever more. The sun was about to disappear behind the steep side of the valley, when finally Estel stumbled and fell. He did not allow himself to remain lying upon the ground and rose immediately. But when he was about to break into a run again, he suddenly put one hand to his stomach and the other to his mouth, and staggered over to the bushes that grew underneath the fir trees on the side of the valley.
Guilin turned away and slowly made for the house. He could hear the thrush singing and Estel choking.
Later that evening, Estel appeared in the great hall for supper and took his seat beside the lord Elrond's son Elrohir. Guilin could see signs of the strain of the exercise on the boy's face, but he appeared as strong and calm in his movements as ever. He filled his plate with the usual amount of food that he took, not much, but something of everything that a man needed to sustain. He began to eat, and at some point, for no particular reason it seemed, he looked up and met Guilin's eyes.
Guilin gave a slight nod to him, and Estel nodded back, without smiling. His face was so much graver than those of the elves, and Guilin knew that it had naught to do with the difference between their races. I know, thought Guilin, I know life will not be a game for you. For a moment he almost wished that the boy would never have to discover his true ancestry.
But then Guilin caught the eyes of the lord Elrond, and with one look they seemed to understand each other. It was as if they could see their own feelings mirrored in the other's face, although there was hardly anything showing on their faces.
It was the smile of hope.
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.