I am hanging from a tree when I see him.
He rides fast, with purpose and when he is close enough for me to recognise him a flash of excitement runs through me.
A Noldor warrior, fierce and strong. He flits in and out of my life randomly; I usually only see him from afar. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I have spoken to him, but here he is and there is no one here but me. I will have him all to myself for the first time ever.
When I drop to the road in front of him, his horse rears so badly I wonder that he does not fall.
He is not pleased with me.
"Estel!" His voice is deep, loud and commanding. The displeasure within it makes me flinch. "What are you doing? If I had not seen you I could have hurt you—or worse. Why are you here in the wilderness alone?"
I have to laugh then, despite my awe.
"This is not the wilderness," I cry. "I live here!"
"It is far from your home. Does your mother know you are here? What would she say? Or your father?"
"My mother knows I am in the trees and she does not stop me." I fold my arms to show him I am not afraid. "My Father neither. He often runs through the trees with me. Why would he mind?"
"Because it is dangerous," he snaps. "And you are his joy, his hope, his treasure. I do not believe he would be happy with this."
He tells me nothing I do not already know. I have heard it before from my father and my mother both, how much Father cherishes me. It is my name after all. And we do clash, my father and I, when he holds me too close. He gives me far less freedom than any of the other elflings here, and I hate it. But in this—when it comes to the trees—this Noldor is wrong.
"My father," I say, chin raised in defiance, "says this place bores him. He says nothing ever happens here. He hates it. He is never afraid for me in the trees for I am silvan!"
"You are too cheeky for your own good." The Noldor leans down, and before I know what has happened he has snatched me up so I am sitting in front of him upon his horse. "Your father lets you run wild."
But my father does not. He does not let me run half as wild as I wish to, and what he does allow my mother argues long and hard for.
I could brood on that and resent it but I do not, for now I ride with Elrohir Elrondion and it is glorious.
He slows his pace until it is a plodding walk compared to the speed of before, but to me it is still exhilarating. Until I realise—suddenly—something is wrong.
I turn where I sit to see his face, and I tell him what I should have before, had I not been so caught up in challenging him:
"Father is not here."
For Elrohir only comes here to see my father, and then not often. He never comes when Father is away. Never.
"He has gone with Erynion to see my Grandfather," I explain. "It was urgent. He had to go." When my Grandfather sends for you, you do not argue with him. I love my Grandfather dearly but when he tells me to do something . . . I do it. "You have come all this way for no reason. I am sorry; I should have told you earlier."
"I do not come to see your father," he replies. "I already know he is not here. It is Maewen I am here for."
Mother? That is not what I expected, and now I burn with curiosity. Why would Elrohir be here to see my mother?
"That is for she and I to know," he says firmly, “And not a small boy with more curiosity than is good for him." He is silent then. A silence that leaves me in no doubt he will not discuss it further, and, though I am desperate to know, I am not quite brave enough to dare to ask.
The silence lasts nearly all of our ride towards my home. It is not until we are nearly there Elrohir speaks softly in my ear.
"Legolas does not hate Valinor," he says.
"He does!" I rush to defend my father, for I know how he feels on this. "He misses his home. He never wanted to come here. It suffocates him, he says."
"He was desperate to come here," the Noldor says softly. "He does not hate it because it has brought him you. His unhappiness is not because of Valinor—he would carry it wherever he was."
There is a sharp, painful, grief in my heart at his words, for I want nothing more than for my father to be happy, but still . . . I think he may be right.
My mother greets us with a brilliant smile when we arrive. She stands in the sunlight, my small sister entwined around her legs. My sister is sweet and funny and beautiful. Calithil is her name—Moonlight. And she shines softly like the moon—lighting Father's darkness so he says. I am his hope and she is his light.
But also she is annoying, irritating, and tiresome. She follows me like a shadow, always wanting to be near me, to do what I do, when she is just too small. But I love her. I will keep her safe always and she thinks I am the cleverest, most talented elfling in our woods even when it is obvious I am not. I feel strong when I am with her—undefeatable, and I smile to see her now.
"You have bought my wanderer home to me!" My mother exclaims as she reaches up to help me down from this horse which is taller and stronger than any I have ever seen. But Elrohir does not smile. He is tense and serious when he replies.
"He was alone in the woods. He stepped in front of my horse—I could have hurt him. He should not be there alone!"
"Not you, too." Mother sighs in response. "He is quite safe there, Elrohir. He is Silvan and the trees are in his blood. He is Legolas' son after all."
But Elrohir drops his voice low as if he does not wish me to hear the next.
"If any harm should come to the boy it will destroy him. There will be no bringing him back from that. Do you wish Miriel's fate upon him?"
"I know!" My mother looks him in the eye, her own eyes flashing in defiance. Mother can seem sweet and soft, but I know at her heart is fire and spirit and she is not easily tamed. Definitely not by this Noldor. "I know what it would do. I know better than anyone! But Estel is his own person. He will live his own life. I will not cage him to save another and Legolas does not want it. Not deep in his heart, whatever he may say and do. Anyway-" she turns away suddenly, guiding us towards our flet in the trees, "It is not as if it is the dark-soaked Greenwood he runs through. Not as I did when I was young, and I am still here to tell the tale. So is Legolas."
"Only just," the Noldor mutters, but Mother simply ignores him.
"Thank you," she says simply, as if the conversation had never happened. She has dismissed it. "Thank you for coming, Elrohir."
"You know I will always come when you need help." He replies and I am left wondering . . . What on earth does my mother need help with from him that Father could not do for her?
It is hours until I get the chance to find out. Though I watch them like a hawk, listen carefully to their every word, they give me not one clue. They speak of pleasantries only. Gentle gossip of people I do not know, and Elrohir asks me of my studies, my friends in the wood, my Grandparents, but nothing exciting. Nothing that would explain his presence here. It is not until late the opportunity presents itself for me to listen when they do not see me.
Darkness has descended and I am in bed—asleep, they think—when I hear the murmur of their voices discussing things in earnest. Calithil has climbed into my bed, as she does often, for the dark sometimes scares her. She curls up against me, a warm, small body in the midst of the blankets, and it is hard to slowly extricate myself with out waking her. She will spoil everything if I do.
I am stealthy, though, and so I manage it, then creep to sit on the floor next to the crack in the doorway, but try as I might I can not catch every word it is they say. I hear my father's name often, and my own. My mother is upset, I know that much. Then, suddenly, the conversation ceases.
"We have a spy!"
The door is flung back. A hand reaches out to grasp me by the collar and haul me, blinking, into the light.
"Estel!" Mother is disappointed. I hear it in her voice, and Elrohir towers over me, glowering.
"Has your father never taught you it is rude to eavesdrop?" he snaps.
"It was my father who taught me how to eavesdrop!" My reply is defiant, although I know I am in the wrong. I do not like to hear criticism of my beloved father from anyone.
"Of course." Elrohir rolls his eyes as he lets go of me. "Of course he did. Why am I not surprised?"
"Come here, Estel." My mother’s voice leaves no doubt she is unhappy with me. I have shown her up. "You know better than this. Why do you listen at doorways to things that do not concern you?"
"I heard my name. It does concern me!"
She sighs, and I hate it so badly when she is not happy I am immediately contrite.
"I am sorry, Mother." I fall into her arms. "I only wanted to know why Elrohir was here."
She pulls me onto her lap, and normally I would take the opportunity to snuggle up to her warmth, but Elrohir is here and I do not wish him to think me a child Instead I twist so as to slip down beside her in the comfortable chair. I am close and yet it is a little less childish.
"You are your own worst enemy, little one." She smiles as she strokes my hair. She has forgiven me.
But Elrohir watches me carefully from across the room. When he speaks it takes me quite by surprise.
"What if you were to come with Legolas next time he visits me?" he asks. "You are old enough now I think, Estel. It is about time we ensured you were educated more like a prince and less like a wild Silvan."
"Oh!" It is an invitation that is quite unexpected and very much desired. "Do you mean it?" I cannot keep the rising excitement out of my voice. I glance at my mother, waiting for her to bring me back to earth with a refusal, but she does not.
"You will have to do better than listening to conversations not for your ears, Estel, for me to think you are old enough to go." Her face is serious but her eyes dance with laughter. She means to say yes!
"I promise!" I cry. "I will be the best I can be, Mother. I will make you proud."
"You already make me proud." She sweeps her arms around me. Nothing is so good for my heart as a hug from her, and then I remember—
"Father will not let me go." I say it flatly. I have asked him before, and he aways say no. It is too dangerous, he thinks, and he does not trust me. No matter what I do, he does not trust me to be safe.
"He will if Elrohir asks it." She pulls me close so I can feel her heartbeat. "Leave your father to me."
I can barely believe it might happen. That I will go with Father to the Noldor. And better than that, Mother does not send me to bed. She lets me sit and drift to sleep leaning against her, as her fingers comb out the knots tangled in my hair.
And eventually, through the edges of dreams, I hear them speak.
"I am in your debt, Elrohir," she says, and he chokes back a laugh.
"You are never in my debt, Maewen. I owe you the world. You know that."
"I am afraid," she murmurs then. "Legolas holds him so tight. He is terrified to lose him. Even though we are in the safety of Valinor, he sees dangers around every corner. Ghosts of the past . . . Those he has lost. Estel will grow to resent him if he does not give him the chance to spread his wings. I cannot bear to see the love they have for each other be broken and lost because of fear. But you . . . You can give Estel freedom, Elrohir. The excitement that he craves. Legolas will trust you with his son like no other."
"Anything," Elrohir replies. Anything he needs I give it freely."
My Mother is wise. She knows everything there is to know, it seems to me. I can keep no secrets from her. But as I sit—head upon her shoulder—and drift towards the dream paths, I think for the first time, she has something wrong.
For as much as she fears it, I know nothing will come between my Father and I.