Usual story about a girl among the elves. Or maybe not.
Supper that evening was a pleasant affair, but Ela did not appear. She asked for something sent to her room. Elrond made several trips up the stairs throughout the evening to check on her, but found her reading or playing her lute. She had picked one up in the Hall of Fire downstairs and started playing around with it. She was passable, but her songs left much to be desired. Dorga's influence on her creative processes was definitely a negative.
Ela did not come down to breakfast the next morning. Her room was empty when he checked. He found her in the kitchen, with Dorga. They were laughing over a pot of his tea. He had forgotten that today was Tea Day. She glanced up at him, standing in the door.
"Would you care to join us?" she asked, graciously.
"Do you have enough?"
"Certainly. We always have enough." Dorga's voice boomed in the large room.
Elrond took the empty chair and waited while she poured him a cup of tea. He took a sip and nearly spit it back into the cup.
"How do you like it?" Ela asked, with a twinkle in her eye.
"This is...most...interest...I cannot lie," he said. "This is really foul."
"I know. Is it not great?" she laughed at him. "It is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, neither of us know anyone who has acquired a taste for it. Still, you must admit, it is interesting."
"Oh, I will give you that. No wonder Erestor will not have tea with you. And I now understand the face he makes."
"He would only try it once. You have to keep at it. Eventually, you may like it."
"How long will that take?"
Dorga thought about it. "I know of no one who likes it. So, I guess, never."
He and Ela were overcome with such fits of laughter, neither of them could speak.
"Then why do you drink it?" asked Elrond.
They sobered up and looked at each other.
"I do not know!" they said, together, which caused them to erupt into more laughs.
Elrond shook his head and proceeded to finish the tea. He stood and bowed to them.
"Thank you for the tea. It was most gracious of you to invite me."
Ela nodded her head and managed to lose the smile on her lips.
"You are most welcome. Thank you for the company." She looked at Dorga and they broke down again.
Elrond turned to leave and saw Erestor in the doorway.
"I see you have been introduced into their little society. Is that not the foulest stuff you have ever drunk?"
"Yes, and worth every drop."
"Aye, it was at that."
Ela had finally wrangled Erestor from the meetings and such long enough to check the work she had been doing on her own. He was pleased with her. She had very few mistakes and had managed to argue her point on two of them, and win.
"Lord Erestor, may I ask a question?"
"You may. I will answer if it is in my power." It was good to engage in the words games once again.
"How long can I stay here?"
"Until we need it for a meeting."
"Not the library. I meant Imladris. Caldelen said that I must someday go out into the world. Is that true?"
"You may stay as long as you like. This is your home. You may wish to someday leave. That is when you must go. Not before."
"How will I find people who will accept me? I am not like your average human. I do not think I will fit in."
"There is truth to that. You may need to go to one of the cities. There your differences would not be as noticeable. You have wanted to visit Gondor. It is a great city."
"Maybe I will just stay here. There are men here. They would not think me strange."
"That is also true. Your path is one you must take. No one can choose it for you. What of LÃ³rien? You once wanted to go there."
"I am not so sure, anymore. Besides, there are no men in LÃ³rien. Just more elves. How would that work out?"
"Life does work itself out, sell. When it is time to choose, the choices will be there."
"Thank you for the locks. I feel better. I only wish..." She stopped at the slight sound of approaching steps in the hallway outside the library. Erestor looked up to see Lord Celeborn standing in the doorway.
"Who were you speaking with?" he asked.
"Just Ela," Erestor answered, turning back to find himself alone in the library. He sighed.
"Someday I would like to meet this Ela. I have been here for five days and have yet to see any evidence she exists."
"Once she makes herself known, you may change your mind," was all Erestor had to say.
Ela made her way through the garden. She had carefully made sure everyone was occupied elsewhere before venturing out into the open. Drawn by noise coming from the tree house tree, she wandered that way. Looking up, she saw Haldir nailing boards across a wooden frame. She quietly climbed the tree and stuck her head up between two of the boards.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I am rebuilding the tree house."
"Because it needs it. If you are going to insist on using it, it should at least be safe."
"I was going to ask the Elf and Elldan to do it."
"Now they will not have to."
"You have totally missed the point. I wanted them to do it. I know why they will do it. Why are you doing it?"
He sat back against the trunk. Regarding her for several moments, he searched for the reason he was doing it.
"Because it means something to you, and I wanted to do it for you."
"Okay." was all she said, climbing the rest of the way up. She picked up the bag of nails. "May I help?"
"You may. But be careful. Do not fall."
"Do you plan to push me?"
"Then I will not fall."
He turned from her, smiling.
They spent a pleasant afternoon. She tried to help with the nails, but he had to straighten out more than she hammered in correctly, so he told her that she could just supervise. When they were almost finished, RÃºmil found them. He was followed by a younger Elf. Haldir felt Ela stiffen and looked down.
"RÃºmil, have Elldar go back into the house for a moment. I forgot my knife. It is by the bed."
RÃºmil spoke to the boy and he went back to the house. Haldir's brother then jumped back as a pair of small boots came sailing out of the tree house. They were followed by Ela, dropping from the platform.
"I must say, sell, that was better than the last time," Haldir called down.
"Well, I am not blinded and do not have you trying to catch me this time. Who was that?"
"That was Elldar, our nephew. He wanted to see the fabled land of Imladris."
"How old is he?"
"About your age. Maybe a little younger."
She waited until he had come out of the tree.
"He seems... Sorry, I have to go." Before he could look around, she was gone. The reason for her going was just entering the gardens.
"Your knife was not there. I looked... There it is! You have it! Why did you send me for it, if you already had it?"
"Long story, Elldar. I apologize."
"Who was up in the tree house with you?"
"Lord Elrond's foster daughter."
"I did not think she really existed. We have not seen her. How is it you have?"
"Another long story. Did you enjoy your hunt?"
"Yes, but I do not like our guide. He was very disrespectful. We ran into Lord Elrond's sons and some other Rangers and Caldelen was not nice to them at all. Yes, do not say it, another long story."
"Well, maybe Ela will show up for dinner tonight. She cannot resist Elrohir." Haldir began gathering up the tools and scraps from his project. With RÃºmil and Elldar helping, it did not take long. They finished with just enough time to get ready for dinner.
Later, at the dining table, RÃºmil leaned over to his brother.
"It seems that even Elrohir could not convince her to come down."
"She will. She just needs more time. There are too many around she does not know."
"And never will, at this rate."
Elrohir excused himself early and left the room. He made his way to the kitchen. Passing through, he picked up a tray and took it up the back steps. He knocked on Ela's door.
"Who is it?"
"Come, this tray is heavy. Do not make me stand here all night."
He heard the lock turn and the door opened. She allowed him to place the tray on the table before rushing to him and giving him a hug.
"I could hardly wait for you to get here. What took you so long? I have been waiting for hours. There are too many people in the house."
"Slow down," he laughed.
"I cannot. I have been stuck in here for too long."
"Ela, you can leave anytime you want to."
"That is what you think. Every time I look around, there is someone I do not know."
"Do you want me to help you?"
"No," she said reluctantly. "It is something I must do myself. But I do not have to like it."
"Well, I will be here for a week, so by the time I leave, we will have you out of your room."
They spent a not so quiet evening. She told him about the book he had sent. When Elladan knocked on the door, she dragged him in to play a game. It was close to midnight before she settled down enough to go to sleep.
They ran into their father as they left her room.
"I think she may come out tomorrow," said Elrohir.
"Well, that is sooner than I expected. She will have to anyway. Tomorrow is Tea Day and she has not missed one yet. I think you two should join her."
"I have a pressing matter to attend to, but Elladan is free. I really think he should experience it."
"Why do I get the feeling you are setting me up?" asked his brother.
"Because he is," replied their father. "You did not see her after the attack. She has come a long way. I sat through their little tea party last week just to hear her laugh."
"All right. I will join them, if asked. I will see you in the morning." He went into his room.
"Goodnight, Ada. It is good to be home."
"And good to have you here. Goodnight."
He stopped long enough to try Ela's door, but it was locked. He shook his head at her need for the lock. He hoped she would outgrow it soon.
Elladan rose early the next morning, but Ela was already in the library. He walked in and sat down.
"Why are you up so early?"
"I have to get here early so Lord Erestor can go over my lessons. If I wait until later, he is stuck in meetings. And then I do not have access to the library. What are you doing today?"
"I heard there is to be a party. I thought I might try to get an invitation."
"If you are referring to our tea time, you do not have to come just to make me feel good. We take it very seriously. It is a solemn occasion where two friends can discus weighty matters."
"Well, if you do not want me..."
"However, if you happen to drop by, you may be invited."
"I may see if I am not busy."
"Good morning, Ela, Elladan."
"Good morning, Lord Erestor."
"It is time for me to leave."
"Afraid you might learn something?" she teased.
"My head is so full of knowledge, I feel it may burst."
"Go, run and play with your bows and arrows. Tea is at two. Do not be late. It is only good when fresh."
He nodded at Erestor, with a smile, then hurried out the door.
"You invited him to tea?"
She shrugged. "He invited himself."
"He is in for a surprise."
"Oh, yes. I am sure the Elf had something to do with it."
"Undoubtedly. Now, let me see your lessons."
They spent the next three hours going over her work. After assigning the next week's lesson plan, he released her for the day. She put her books and papers in her room and went down to the kitchens.
Peeking around the doorway, she saw a tray sitting on the small table. She went over and sat down. Dalgren, the cook's assistant brought her over some fresh tea.
"Did you remember that today is Tea day?" Ela asked her.
"Yes, I did. Is he bringing that mess again?"
"Yes, he is. There will be three of us today. May I help in here for a while?"
"Well, there is bread to make. I know how you like punching the dough. Would that be alright?"
"That would be great. May I make some for tea?"
"No, I made some cakes, yesterday. They will go better with the tea."
"Thank you. I will go change and get an apron."
She went back upstairs and put on an old dress. After coming back down, she stopped at the pantry and got an apron. It was too big, so Dalgren helped her tie it up. For the next two hours she happily kneaded and punched bread dough. Dalgren managed to get half of the dough from her for lunch.
"You should go get cleaned up, Ela. No one would even recognize you. Lunch will be ready soon."
"I think I will just stay here. It is quiet and peaceful."
"You know it will not be, in an hour. Besides, you cannot..." her words trailed off as she made a deep curtsy. Ela spun around to find herself looking up at Lord Celeborn. Having no where to run, she found herself imitating Dalgren.
The ruler of LÃ³rien took in the small cook's assistant. Covered in flour, with her hair pulled back, she seemed unremarkable. Something about her eyes before she lowered them drew him. Her low curtsy was more than necessary and he felt her unease.
"Excuse me, may I bother you for some tea?" Ela looked back up to see he was speaking to her. She glanced at Dalgren, who nodded to her. The manners drummed into her won out. Ela sighed and went to the cupboard for a pot and a cup. She made the tea and put it on a tray.
"Thank you...what is your name?"
Without thinking, she whispered, "Ela." Realizing what she had done, she turned and ran for the steps.
"I am sorry, my lord. She is not at ease with strangers."
"Yes, Lord Elrond spoke to me about her. Is she always in the kitchens?"
"Oh, no, my lord. Usually she does not leave the library. She spends hours in there. She comes here to help and to vent her frustrations."
"Such a sad situation. Please, thank her for the tea."
"Yes, my lord."
"Ela, you must come out." Elladan had been knocking on her door for ten minutes. "Dorga is here and it is past two."
"I do not feel like tea today. Ask him to come back tomorrow."
"He cannot. Unlock the door and I will come in and we can talk."
"Where is the Elf?"
"He had an appointment. Can you not talk to me?"
"Where is everyone else?"
"Father and Lord Erestor are in the library meeting with my grandparents. Haldir and RÃºmil are out hunting. There is no one to run into."
After five more minutes, he heard the lock turn.
"Alright. I will come down."
"Good. Dorga says the tea is getting stale."
They went down the stairs and into the kitchens. Dorga was at the table, but rose when Ela approached. She sat down and waited until the other two had also sat down.
Dorga poured tea for the three of them. He and Ela watched to see Elladan's reaction. He drained his cup and reached for the pot.
"You like this stuff?" she asked.
"I have had worse. It is a fairly foul potion, though."
"My estimation of you has risen, Elf," said Dorga. "You should have seen your father trying not to spit it back out."
"That was funny," Ela chimed in.
They sat and drank tea and passed an hour. No one entered the kitchen to disturb them. Elrohir's pressing appointment was at the other side of the door, insuring that they were undisturbed.
"I have a poem," said Ela. The jokes and poems had gotten progressively worse. Elladan was glad his father could not hear some of the jokes.
'There was a young Elf from Rivendell
Who did not treat others well
He fell off his horse
Broke his neck, of course
And now he resides in...'
"Ela, I do not think that is very nice."
"It was the nicest thing I could think of. Besides, this is our party and we can say anything we want. I have to be nice out there. In here, I can say what I want."
"Still, it is not very nice."
"I did not intend it to be. You invited yourself here, so if you do not like it, you may un-invite yourself."
"In that case, it seems there were these two soldiers from Gondor..."
Elrohir walked into the kitchen.
"Elladan, I do not think she needs to hear that particular story. Father will not thank you for telling it."
"Oh, Elf. You could have waited a couple more minutes before coming in. You stood out there long enough."
"Not much gets by you, does it?"
"Not much. The eyes are not as good, but I do have the ears of an Elf. Remember that."
After the tea party, Ela finished up her lessons for the day. She then wandered out to the tree house. She noticed that Haldir had put a roof on it. Well, that defeated the whole purpose of a tree house. Now how could she see the leaves above her? Climbing the tree, she settled down against the trunk and pulled the book from the front of her tunic. She got through the first chapter when she realized she was no longer alone in the garden. Sneaking a look over the edge, she saw Lord Celeborn walking among the rose bushes. Sighing in frustration, she rolled back from the edge. There was no way she could get down without notice. She froze when she heard voices.
"Good afternoon, Lord."
"Good afternoon, Haldir. What brings you out here?"
"I wanted to finish up the tree house."
"Is it for the child?"
"Yes. She likes to read up there. Has she come down yet?"
"No. I do not think she knows I am here. I have been very quiet."
"She knows. See her foot sticking out over the edge? When she reads, it twitches. It is not twitching. She is not reading. Ela!" They watched the foot slowly recede.
"Come down. I want you to meet someone."
"We have met," was her soft reply.
"Not formally, I believe. It is not polite to refuse to meet guests."
"They are Lord Elrond's guests. My guest left an hour ago."
Celeborn looked at Haldir.
"The Dwarf. She has a fascination for Master Dorga. He introduced her to his version of tea." He turned back to the tree. "You know it is rude to hide up there. What will Lord Erestor think?"
"He will think I have reverted to my childish ways and will understand the reasons for it. Do you not have some Orcs to slay? Or some other needy human for which to build a tree house?"
"Not today. I wish to see you. Come down. Would you leave the ruler of LÃ³rien standing with a crick in his neck?"
"Tell me, how does one rule the fringes? Boots."
Haldir grabbed one boot in the air and caught the other before it could hit his lord.
"You aim is unerring, as always."
"Thank you, March Warden. Book. And be careful, please." She dropped the book into his waiting hand. Flipping over the edge of the platform, she swung gently and dropped to the ground.
"Ela, this is Lord Celeborn. Lord, this ElrÃ©nia, Lord Elrond's foster daughter."
Celeborn took in her appearance. She was small, only four feet tall. Her light hair had shimmers of red when the sunlight hit it. She wore it pulled back in a series of small twists, tied with bright ribbons to match her tunic. He saw that her fair skin carried a trail of freckles crossing her nose. He could not determine if her ears had an actual point, or were just oddly shaped. Her eyes drew him. The were a bright blue. They definitely contrasted with her hair.
"Indeed, we have met. The tea was very good."
She did not say anything for a moment. Haldir could see she weighed whether or not to trust Celeborn. Something must have made up her mind. She bowed very formally.
"You are welcome. But if you want real tea, you should come next week. Dorga makes the best tea. Are you Sindarin? You look like it. My father was Sindarin. I think. No, I am sure."
"Ela, that is a personal matter. You do not ask people such questions when first meeting them."
"Then how will I find out anything? Who is minding the fringes, if you are all here?"
"The fringes?" asked Celeborn.
"LÃ³rien. A very private joke."
Haldir turned at the look in Ela's eyes. He saw Caldelen at the other end of the garden. When he turned back, Ela had moved behind him.
"March Warden, I have been looking for you," Caldelen nearly shouted.
"What can I do for you?" Haldir could barely contain his contempt for the boy.
Caldelen frowned at Ela.
"Do you not have some books to read or dolls to play with?" he asked her.
"Do you not have some friend to set up and betray?"
"I thought we put that behind us."
"I am sorry, but it is standing right out in front of me. Besides, you interrupted us. I was inviting Lord Celeborn to tea."
"Run along, we will talk later." He tried to sound so grown-up, Ela smiled.
"I do not think we will. Have you spoken to my father? You will have to deal with him. Now, why do you not run along and go find one of your man friends."
"Caldelen, have you forgotten our talk? You would do well to leave and come back when she is willing to speak with you."
"Why do you all put such store in her? She is just a child."
"You are both childish. However, her childishness has not brought any to harm. Yours has." He turned to Celeborn. "It is almost time for dinner, Lord. I suggest we go and get ready."
They followed the path back to the house, leaving Caldelen standing in the middle of the garden.
"I think I will watch my back for a few days. You did not make him happy."
"Are you still so afraid of him?"
"Only because he hates me so. I do not know why. We were friends. Ada and Lord Erestor said he is jealous. I do not know of what. He has the perfect life. He is male and an Elf. What more could he ask for?"
"Do you think that is the perfect life?"
"Is it not? Men can do whatever they want. Go hunting, fight, leave the valley. What can girls do? Sew and stay home. And elves. He has so much time. He could learn everything there is to know. He has enough time, he could visit everywhere in Middle Earth. Why would he be jealous of me?"
"How are your lessons going?"
"Lord Erestor is not displeased." Haldir smiled. Erestor and Elrond were very pleased with her progress. "Not that I would do anything to displease him. The punishment is too hard to bear. Do you know he actually threatened to stop teaching me if I did not stay out of the stables? What kind of threat is that? And what about the snake? Did he stop to think that he was punishing the snake? For something I had done? What kind of rationale is that?"
"Ela," said Celeborn. "How old are you?"
"Fifteen. I have been here five years and I was ten when I came. Anyway, that is close enough. How old are you?"
"Ela," Haldir cautioned.
"He asked first."
"I did," Celeborn agreed. "I am a great deal older than you."
"Do you remember the Last Alliance? My father used to talk about it. He would always get very sad."
"Your father was at the Last Alliance?"
"I do not think so. He always just said he lost someone then."
"Who was it?"
"I do not recall ever hearing his name."
"Maybe someday you will remember."
"Maybe. I remember more now than when I came. I have to go feed my cat. Do you like cats? I have an extra kitten. I must find a home for him. One cat is enough." She looked up at Celeborn. Bowing, she said, "It was a pleasure meeting you. Enjoy your dinner."
"Are you not joining us?" asked Haldir.
"Certainly not. I have my dinner already set up in the kitchen. I will be most happy there."
"What about the feast before we leave? Will you join us then?"
"Who is invited?"
"I do not know."
"I will consider it. But no promises."
She turned and seeing people in the Great Room, turned down the back way through the kitchens.
"That went well." Haldir sighed.
"What did you expect?"
"You are the first person she has spoken to outside of her close friends in three months. I apologize for the questions. She is very inquisitive. Sometimes she acts very mature, other times, well, her age. It is difficult to figure out how old she really is. I have trouble following her questions at times."
"She is forward."
"But she does not mean to be rude. Her thoughts sometimes run ahead of her. She can run circles around Caldelen, which could explain the trouble between them."
"I would like to speak with her again."
"I am sure, now that she knows you, you will have the opportunity. She really craves knowledge. If you try the library in the early morning, you may find her."
"I will bear that in mind." He turned to go to his room. Haldir went to the rooms given him and his brother.
A Stalk Of elves
True to her word, Ela did not come in for dinner. Elrohir found her in the kitchen, helping ice little cakes for dessert the next day. She smiled when he came into the room.
"Haldir told me about your adventure today. So, you met my grandfather. What did you think?"
"He is very tall. And silver. And old."
"That is all true. Have you met my grandmother?"
"No, you know that I have not. Truth? She scares me a little."
"I can feel it. She knows things. Can you not sense it? It is like a fog, spreading out from her."
"I have never heard it put that way before. Yes, she does know things. She has a special gift. Why does she frighten you?"
"What is mine is little and I do not want to share. I am afraid she will look at me and see."
"See what, sell?"
She looked down at the cake she had just finished. Setting it down, she took off her apron.
"I have to go." Before he could stop her, she had run up the stairs.
Before light the next morning, Ela was on her way to the library. She laid her books and papers neatly on the table and sat, waiting for Erestor. She closed her eyes and thought back on her short life. It was a hidden ability she had discovered. If she thought hard enough, she could see things. Some things were frightening, others merely puzzling. She was trying to remember her life before her da had found them. Her thoughts were broken by the awareness she was no longer alone. Without opening her eyes, she knew who was in the room.
"Good morning, Lord Celeborn."
"May I help you with something?" she asked.
"I was just curious." He walked over to a shelf holding a small collection of odd books. "I am wondering why these books written in Dwarvish and the language of the Shire are not with the others."
"They are mine. Dorga helps me with the Dwarvish. My friend Rosa sends me interesting books about the Shire. The Elf brings me other books from his travels."
"Do you speak Dwarvish?"
"Not particularly well. I can ask for food and tea. I can make other needs known."
He smiled at her.
She opened her eyes.
"What were you doing when I came in?"
She cocked her head at him.
"Lord Erestor will be here soon. Did you have need to see him?"
"No. I was hoping to see you."
"Why? Do you need tea? Or did I say something yesterday I should not have. Haldir seems to think that I did, although he is not angry with me."
"No, I do not need tea. And you said nothing yesterday that was wrong. Haldir is very protective."
She snorted. "You do not look like you need protection."
"May I ask a question?"
"You may. If it is in my power, I will answer it."
Not so subtlety reminded of Erestor, Celeborn glanced at the child.
"Why do you want to come to LÃ³rien?"
"Is it not permissible? I realize that I do not live there, but I have always wanted to visit."
"It is not here. I read about all of these places, yet I have not left Imaladris since arriving. Before that, I cannot remember leaving my home, until my da found us and dragged us to the White Mountains. My father could see things. He was not home when Da came. That is why we did not leave. My mother could not see him coming. She cried and begged him to leave us alone. I think he might have, but my father arrived and my da was so angry. Gondor would be a nice place to visit. Lord Erestor says that they live on top of each other there. They no longer have a king, but will again, one day. And Rohan is very flat. That would be interesting to see. Can you keep a secret?"
"I think I can be trusted."
"I would not mind seeing even Mordor. There is something there. I do not know what, but it is interesting. I can feel it stir. Can you? It is like my cat, when she wakes up. She yawns and stretches, then sometimes, just goes back to sleep. Would you not think she gets enough rest? She sleeps all day, then half of the night. She would not make a very good Elf. I think she is going to have kittens again. That will not make the snake happy. He does not want any competition for the mice in the stables. The horse in the big stall does not like the snake. But the snake does not mind the horse. Horses do not eat mice. However, they like the grain that draws the mice."
Celeborn just looked at her in fascination. He did not even try to count the threads of topics she had just covered. He had never tried to converse with someone so erratic. He understood what Haldir had meant about her thoughts running ahead of her. He himself thought through things at great length before speaking. He weighed his words carefully. She just said whatever came into her mind. Not that he found her ramblings incoherent. Her thoughts made sense; he just could not always find the connections between her statements.
She closed her eyes.
"Lord Erestor is coming. You are welcome to remain, but you may find the lessons boring."
"No, I will leave you to your studies. May we talk again?"
"Anytime. The weighty matters of the world do not consume my days. After my lessons, I have nothing to do all day."
"Then I will see you later."
Ela crouched down beside the bush. She had been stalking Haldir's nephew for about two hours. He seemed as lonely and bored as she was. She had just made up her mind to speak to him when Caldelen showed up.
"Hello. What was your name, again?" The condescension in Caldelen's voice was heavy. Ela waited to see what Elldar would do.
"It is Elldar. You are the girl's little play-friend, are you not?"
Ela could see Caldelen bristle at the words.
"I do not play with her. She is just a child." He glanced around and lowered his voice. "And human, at that. I came to see your uncle. But if you like, I can show you around."
"Why would you want to be around me? I am younger than she is. Would that not make me a child? And how old are you anyway? You cannot be much older than either of us."
"Never mind, little boy. Where is your uncle?"
"I am sorry. He went off with the ellyn, to go hunting. Real hunting. Not that little journey through the woods we took, chasing coneys."
Ela could not contain herself any longer. She burst out in quiet laughs. Both boys turned when she stood up.
"About time you came out," said Elldar. "I was losing patience."
"Why are you spying on us?" Caldelen's tone was angry and showed too much of his true feelings.
"I was not spying on you, Elf." The way she said Elf made it an insult. "I was following him. I could care less what you do, as long as it is not here. You are not welcome here. Go away."
"Where are all of your protectors now? Did they desert you?"
"I need no protecting, except from you. I am not afraid of you. I just dislike you. Now go away, before I tell the Elf you were sniffing around again. By the way, you had better find a new place to hide your bow. The present one is too obvious."
Caldelen's look spoke of great sorrow for Ela if she should be caught alone again. He turned and stomped off.
"Do you know where he hides his bow?"
"I have no idea. But he does not know that. Now he will go and move it yet again. I am narrowing down his hiding places."
"You are as subtle as an Orc attack."
"I have been accused of that before. That one does not understand subtlety. He only understands hard directness.
"I have noticed that. I wondered if you really existed."
"I do. It is because of him that I avoid others. He is not to be trusted. Do you want some lunch? Ada and the others will be tied up for hours yet. They argue back and forth about the best way to handle things."
"I am not supposed to know, so I am certainly not going to tell you. Are you hungry, or not?"
"It is too early to eat. I want to go to the stables."
"Have fun, then. I am not allowed down there. I will see you after lunch." She turned to go back to the house.
"Wait. Why are you not allowed in the stables?"
"There is a stallion in the last stall. He does not mind my being there, but it worries Lord Erestor. He made me promise not to go alone anymore."
"You would not be alone. I will be with you."
"You do not qualify as an adult anymore than does Caldelen. No, if I want to go, I will wait for permission."
"Are you always so biddable?" he asked.
"Have you ever been subjected to severe reprimand by Lord Erestor? It is not pleasant at all. Once, he would not speak to me for three days. Just because I went to the village without permission. No, I do nothing without asking first. Caldelen was forever trying to get me to do things, but he only wanted to get me in trouble. Most of the time, he paid for it. Another thing to endear me to him. He does not strike me as an overly-intelligent being.
"I feel the same way. He is very angry. Is it all directed at you?"
"I have no idea. We do not converse any longer. Mostly we just spar with words and insults. So far, I feel I am winning. I am sure he has a differing opinion."
"Do you still want to go to lunch? I guess I could eat now."
"We would do well to eat now, before everyone else comes in to eat. We will get the best pick of the food. Today is larder day. The cook fixes whatever is left from the weekend. You can have the most amazing mixtures of foods. They do not even have to go together."
"That sounds...interesting." He did not sound convinced.
"You will see. Come on. They are returning from their hunting. We have to hurry."
He did not think to ask how she knew they were returning.
Lunch was not as bad as he had imagined. Mostly it was just ordinary food. There were a few surprises. He had never had cake with rice and peas before. And he did not think that chicken and watermelon should be on the same plate. But, it was interesting. They were sitting in the kitchen when Elrohir stuck his head in the door. Seeing Ela with Elldar, he withdrew before she saw him. He smiled as he went into the dining room.
"Why do you look so smug?" asked his brother.
"You will never guess who is in the kitchen."
"She is always in the kitchen."
"But who is with her?"
Elladan thought of whom all she had met. "The boy? Well, that was fast. I thought it would be a few more days before she would approach him."
"Who is she, and what boy?" They both turned and stood as their grandmother entered the room.
"Ela is in the kitchen with Elldar."
"I want to meet this girl. Everyone seems to have seen her but me."
"She will not see you yet," cautioned Elrohir. "You frighten her."
"Whatever have I done to frighten her?"
"You have done nothing. She can sense you. She is afraid you will see inside her. Just be patient. She will come around."
"Did you see who is in the kitchen?" asked Arwen, coming into the dining room.
"Yes. We were just discussing it."
"Caldelen was up again. He comes on the pretext of seeing Haldir, but I think it is just to provoke her. She sent him packing, again."
Haldir came in with RÃºmil. They had cleaned up and were just sitting down, when Haldir looked around.
"Has anyone seen Elldar?"
"Kitchen," he heard from three different voices.
"No. They were just finishing their lunch."
"Good. He was getting bored. I saw Caldelen coming down the hill earlier. Was he up here?"
"Yes," said Arwen. "She sent him home."
"That boy means her no good."
"I have spoken to my father about it," replied Elrohir. "It will get worse, now that she is wandering out of the house more."
Erestor chose that moment to enter the room. Glancing across to the other door, he saw Ela peek into the room. Seeing Galadriel, she quickly withdrew her head.
"Excuse me," he said, and crossed the room.
Going into the kitchen, he was surprised to see Elldar.
"You wanted something, sell?"
"I want to go to the stables. Is there someone free who can take me? Maybe go riding?"
"I will see. I will be right back."
He returned to the dining room.
"Elrohir, are you free this afternoon? Ela would like to go riding."
"I think I can clear my schedule. Can she wait until after lunch?"
"She will wait. Thank you."
When he went back into the kitchen, she was heading for the back stairs.
"Thank you," she called over her shoulder.
Elrohir could hear laughter as they ran down the field. He had pulled his horse back, allowing her pony to take the lead. She was lying flat on the pony's back. Elldar was trying to keep up with her. He finally overtook her and they raced to the bend in the river. He won, but was not sure if she let him, or not. He did not care. He did not get much opportunity to ride like this in LÃ³rien. Too many trees. He was enjoying himself very much. That is, until Caldelen showed up.
The older boy rode out of the woods. He glanced back up the field to see Elrohir was still some distance back and riding slowly.
"I see you are still stuck on a pony."
"You will have further to fall when you get careless."
"I am not careless. I have earned the right to ride a horse."
"Mucking out stalls does not earn you the ability to ride. It only earns you a mount."
"Still, I am on a horse and you have only a pony."
"One I have not fallen off of lately. Where were you last week? Oh, yes, sitting in the paddock in the mud. I noticed you have changed horses, yet again. Can you not find one gentle enough that likes you?"
"I will show you who can sit a horse." He grabbed the reins of her pony and jerked. Elldar reached for him, but it was too late. Ela ended up on the ground, under her dancing pony. She yelped when a hoof clipped her leg. Elldar reached up and pulled Caldelen down from his horse. By the time Elrohir came riding up, Elldar had the older boy pinned to the ground and was sitting on him. Caldelen was shouting and trying to hit Elldar, but his uncles and father had not trained him to lose a fight. He had not hit Caldelen once.
"What is going on here?" demanded Elrohir. He had come riding up when he saw the third rider at the bend.
"I thought I would see how the grass is coming along," was Ela's reply, from the ground.
"I was just showing this boy how we grow up in the woods," was Elldar's answer, still sitting on Caldelen.
"This is all her fault!"
"How could this possibly be my fault? You made him throw me. If you would grow up, you would not have these problems. Why do you hate me so? Is it the human blood? Well, I have news for you; I have no human blood. Not a drop. Moreover, if my parents were here, they would tell you that. Just Elf and Indrel. Nothing else. And if you were to ask, either is nobler than you. I feel sorry for you. You have nothing. Only your hatred for me. I know that my parents loved me and someday I will find out who I am."
She stood up and limped over to her pony. Shrugging off any help, she got back on and rode for the stables.
"Come on, Elldar. You uncles will be worried if she shows up and you do not."
"Gladly." He mounted his pony and followed Ela.
"You are not welcome anymore. Do not come up to the house. Leave her be. Do not speak to her. Do not even look at her."
He turned his horse and galloped off towards the stables. Arriving, he found Ela outside waiting for him. She brushed down her pony and waited to turn him out. She waited until he had taken care of his horse.
"I want to go inside."
"Come on, then."
She followed him as far as the large hole along the wall.
"Hello, snake. I am sorry I have not been down. It is that Caldelen. Yes, I know you do not like him. Neither do I." She sat down and waited. Within minutes, a large snake had come out of the hole. It caressed the back of her hand with its tongue. She rubbed it between the eyes. A look of contentment came over her.
After a few minutes, the snake crawled back down into its hole. She got up and went over to Elrohir.
"I am ready, Elf. Thank you. I missed him." She walked ahead of them back to the house.