There is one tree in our woods I always go to when I wait for my father's return and I am there now. I know he is coming home today and I am determined I will be the first to see him.
Elrohir has gone, staying just one night and vanishing before I was up the next morning. Since then I have been desperate for Father to come home to see what he will say . . . to see if he will let me go with him next time he visits the Noldor.
I hang upside down while I wait. Legs hooked around the branch, hair drifting in the breeze. I see the world from a different angle and it amuses me. When Father and Erynion round the bend in the road ahead of me it is as if they ride upon the sky. I laugh at them when I see them for it is ridiculous.
"Monkey!" my father cries when he see me, pulling his horse up beaneth me. It is his special name for me, especially when he sees me in the trees. The others say it is a nonsense word that has no meaning but Father has told me he travelled once to the Desert land with Aragorn, the King of Men. He saw monkeys there. Creatures which ran through the trees like lightening, better and faster than even a Woodelf. He says I remind him of them because I am the fastest climber he has ever seen.
My Father has travelled further than any elf here. He has seen more than all of them put together. He has been to Dwarven caves which glitter like stars, to the lands of the Hobbits—little people no bigger than his waist. He has ridden with the Horsemen across the Plains. He has seen everything, my Father.
I wish I could go to his homeland and see it all. I wish I could go there with him. He would be happy there.
"Monkey," he calls now, looking up to me swinging above him. "It lightens my heart to see you. Come and tell me what has been happening here while I have been away." He holds out his arms, I let go of the branch and he catches me as I drop.
I knew he would.
"How is your Mother?" He asks as I settle myself on the horse in front of him, "And your sister? Have you kept them safe for me?"
"Of course I have. How is Grandfather? Did you sort it out....his important business?" I tilt my head around to see him.
A cloud passes over his face then, a fleeting frown.
"It was no business at all," he says. "Nothing he could not have dealt with without me. It was just an excuse to see me—a waste of our time."
"Perhaps he misses you, Father?" I pat his arm softly trying to recapture his joyous mood. "I miss him." It seems a long time since I have seen my Grandfather. It is probably not, but it seems so to me.
"Ah!" The bright smile returns to my Fathers face and with it my joy, "he has sent something for you, Monkey."
He pulls out a small package from his pocket and drops it into my hands. When I unwrap it slowly, carefully, I see the tiniest, most beautiful dragon.
"Ohhh!" I am entranced at the sight of it.
"He has carved it himself," Father says. "My Father has hidden talents, Estel. He is more than just King of the Greenwood."
"Oh, Father, it is beautiful! Who is he, this Dragon?" I know there will be a story behind this marvellous creature.
"Smaug," my Father says. "He is Smaug. He hid in the Lonely Mountain, flew through the skies breathing fire. I saw him, before Bard killed him."
Of course my Father has seen him, of course. I never doubted it.
It is then I remember my own wonderful news.
"Father, Elrohir has been! Elrohir has been here while you were away."
"Elrohir?" His face creases into a frown. "I sent word to him I was visiting my Father. Why did he not meet me at Thranduil's if he needed to see me?"
"He came to see Mother!" I am so excited to be able to tell him this news he does not know, I do not stop to think about the consequences, but Erynion does beside us. I hear his hiss of disappointment but it is too late. The words are out there.
In front of my eyes all Father's joy bleeds out upon the ground.
"Really?" He speaks to Erynion, not me. "Really? This is what it was about, this meaningless trip you insisted I take? The three of you plotting behind my back? Why would Elrohir—who keeps himself so distant—need to meet Maewen without me?" His voice drips with sarcasm and I flinch for Erynion's sake.
But Erynion meets his eye. It takes more than the cutting edge of my Father's voice to deter him.
"She needed help. You need his help and it has been too long since you saw him. It is Maewen who pays the price for that; for your stubbornness."
I wish there was a hole in the ground I could hide in. I wish I could climb off this horse and run away. I wish I did not have to sit here, invisible, in the midst of their anger.
"It is none of your business what I need!" My father snaps and he turns his back. He urges our horse away at speed, so quickly it takes me by surprise and I must grasp tightly at her mane to stay upright. We race at a gallop down the road, the wind whips my hair and normally I would be in heaven to ride like this, but my Father's anger churns behind me and I know it is all my fault.
It is Calithil who sees us first as we turn in to the path to my home . . . Or at least Mother lets her think she does. She comes running down the path towards us shouting,
"Father! Father!" and he leaps off the horse to sweep her into his arms as she squeals with glee. Calithil does not notice his mood; he hides it from her, but behind her I see my Mother does. She smiles but it does not reach her eyes. Her face is all tension as she moves towards us.
"Welcome home, Legolas," she says softly.
But Father takes his time depositing my small sister on the ground with a kiss before he replies and the reply when it comes is biting.
"The boy tells me Elrohir has been here. What did the two of you decide? Am I worth saving?"
And my mother looks at me, right at me with her sorrowful eyes.
"Oh, Estel," she breathes.
"It is not his fault!" Father snaps. "Do not expect him to keep secrets from me!"
"Legolas, you need to see him. He can help you. You are so unhappy lately—"
He will not let her finish but cuts across her pleas as if he does not even hear them.
"You make me unhappy!" Then he pushes past her, down the path, up the ladder to our flet. If it had a door I imagine he would slam it.
They cut like a knife to my heart, those words. I always thought it was being here, in Valinor, so far from his home, that caused my Father's unhappiness but Elrohir said that was not so. He said Father wanted to come here. Is it us then, that cause this sadness? Is it us he does not want?
"Where is Erynion?" My mother's voice cuts across my thoughts.
"Down the road." I nod behind us. "He—" I shrug wordlessly in the end. I do not know what else to say about why he is not with us. She will know in any case.
"Go find him." She tells me and she kneels before my sister. "Will you help Estel find Erynion for me, little one? We do not want him to get lost." As if Erynion the silvan would ever get lost finding his own home. I know what she does. She wants me to take Calithil away from here.
She brushes a hand over my head ruffling my hair as she turns away, following my Father into our home amongst the trees.
We watch her as she climbs, before we turn to find Erynion as she told us. We have gone not even a dozen steps down the road before my parents raised voices float down after us.
I cannot pretend it does not hurt.
Calithil clutches my hand with her small sticky one. She grips it tight as if I am the one thing standing beteeen her and the dark, and we have not gone far before I hear the sound of small muffled sobs beside me.
"Oh Cal, do not cry!" I drop to my knees beside her and try and wipe her cheeks dry but round tears roll down them relentlessly. "Please stop."
If she does not I will cry myself and that will be terrible. I feel so useless. It is my job to protect her and I cannot fix this. I wish I could, I wish I could fix it for myself but I cannot. It is then my hand brushes against my grandfathers dragon nestled in my pocket and I know what I must do.
"Calithil, I forgot!" I say, "Father gave me a present for you, from Grandfather." and I place my beautiful dragon gently in her hand.
"For me?" It has worked. Her tears subside and she stares at it with wide wondrous eyes.
"He made it himself." For some reason I think it is important she knows that.
"Oh! It is beautiful Estel," she holds it up to the light, "Her name is Firefly!"
I want to tell her the dragon is a boy and his name is Smaug but what is the point? She is happy and that is what I wanted. She clutches it to her chest, tears forgotten and takes my hand once again. I have mended the world for her even if I cannot mend it for myself.
It is not long before we come across Erynion. He plods towards us at walking pace as if he is reluctant to reach his destination.
"Estel!" Gracefully he leaps of his horse and strides towards us. "Why are you here?" I see his glance towards my sister. I know he notices it all. Her tear-stained cheeks, my forlorness.
"Mother sent us to find you." I tell him before Calithil interrupts me.
"They are shouting," she says.
"Ah . . .well . . ." He pats me on the shoulder. "Are you hungry? What say you follow me home and we share the delicious lunch your Grandmother has packed for Legolas and I? There are some of her sweet cakes in there!" He grins at me and despite myself I cannot help but smile back. Grandmothers cakes are the best I have ever eaten.
And so that is what we do in the end. Follow him to his home in the trees and sit on the grass in the sun, food spread out before us on a blanket, as we eat far too many cakes.
Cal is entranced with her dragon. She winds a ridiculous daisy chain around its neck and plays foolish games of pretend amongst the flowers. Poor dragon. He is a mighty beast not a winsome faerie.
When Erynion finally collects up the remains of our feast and announces we must go home I do not want to.
"Come," he says. "Dusk is falling. I will be in trouble if I do not return you to your Mother." Even Calithil hesitates.
"Firefly wants to stay." She says.
"Firefly must go home to bed," Erynion takes no notice of her pleading, "Come beauty," he strokes the wild strands of hair from her small sullen face. "Your mother will be missing you and we cannot have that."
I trail along behind them as they walk, one foot dragging in front of the other, anxious what we will find at home. As it turns out it is Father we see first. He stands below our home, singing to his horse as he brushes her, a soft lilting melody he has sung me to sleep many times with before. He leans his head upon the horses side and does not see us until we are close.
"Erynion," he says in surprise then.
"I have returned your children, Legolas." The tenseness running beneath Erynion's words makes me nervous.
Calithil cannot help herself. At the sight of him her hesitation disappears.
"Father, look what Grandfather gave me!" She holds the dragon aloft and I hold my breath. I did not think she would tell him.
"He gave you this?" He takes it, turning it over carefully in his hands before fixing me with a questioning look but he is not angry. "It is beautiful little one. You must thank him when you next see him." He hands it back with not a word to me. "Go up to the house," he says to her then. "Your mother is waiting for you. She has dinner ready I think. Take her, Estel."
I climb the ladder slowly, reluctant to leave Erynion and Father alone. I remember their anger on the path and I have had enough of angry words today, but I need not have worried.
"Will you join us, Erynion?" is all Father says, "Please." It is an apology I think and Erynion takes it. Perhaps he is done with angry words as well?
All is quiet over dinner. My Father and Mother dance around each other carefully and none of the rest of us are hungry. I push at my food in a manner that could be seen as moodiness but is—in fact—simply the result of too many of Grandmothers cakes.
It is after the food is finished and my mother has cleared it all away that Father brings me something, a gilt bound book he takes off the very top shelf. He lays it in my lap carefully like treasure.
"I should have let you read this before now" he says. "It is special. Elrohir found it for me in Elrond's library before I sailed." I sit on the large rug in front of the fireplace and he curls up beside me.
"What is it?" Even opening the pages feels special and it is beautiful, a work of art.
"It is the story of Smaug," Father says, "An adventure full of dwarves and hobbits....and some elves. Your Grandfather is in there. I knew the Hobbit who wrote this."
"Are you in there, Father?"
"I was there," he laughs, "but no, I am not mentioned. He did not know my name then, you see!"
'There and Back Again', the title says. I cannot wait to read it. It brings a small ray of light back into my dark day.
Calithil has fallen asleep in my Mothers arms and Father takes her then.
"I will put her to bed," he says quietly, "I have missed her." And Mother lets him go.
I curl myself tight on the floor by the fire and begin my book, but I watch them as I do so—Erynion and my Mother. I hide behind the pages in the hope they will forget about me.
My mother stands to go to the kitchen and he follows her.
"Are you well, Maewen?" he asks, cupping her face softly with his hand.
"I am well." Her voice is soft I can barely hear her.
"Is everything. . ..?"
"Everything is alright, Erynion."
"It is no good, Maewen, the way things are. The children were in tears when I found them."
"I know, I know," she says, "We will both try harder. His sadness overwhelms him. It will not always be so."
"He is not the only one in Valinor who has suffered death and loss!"
"Do not!" My mother turns on him and hisses in anger. "Do not come into my house and criticise him in front of his son. Do not do that Erynion: Ever!"
I see Erynion glance towards me and duck my head, sheltering behind the book, hoping he did not see me listening.
They say no more.
I take myself away then, softly I fade in to the background, slip outside and climb in to the top of the trees. I have had too much of adult squabbles. I am sick of them all.
I sit and watch the stars as they dance across the sky while the trees whisper to my soul, calming all my rough edges. I do not know how long it is until Father joins me.
He stands on the limb below me.
"Can I join you?" He asks and I nod. I will never turn him away. So he pulls himself up to sit, on the bough, beside me. It seems a long time we sit in silence but eventually he speaks.
"You gave your sister your dragon."
"She was crying." I am filled with a rush of rage at the unjustness of it all. I want to hurt someone else as I have hurt today and so I do. "I am supposed to look out for her. You always tell me to. I am supposed to make things better but I could not! I cannot stop you arguing, you and Mother. I cannot fix it for her and I cannot fix it for me! The dragon was the only thing I had."
He pulls me to him, wraps his arms around me and pulls my head to my chest so his tunic soaks up the tears which have burned in my throat all afternoon.
"I am sorry," he whispers. "I am so sorry. I do not want this for you." And he rocks me as he did when I was small. Then he leans back so he can see my face and wipe away what is left of my tears.
"I will ask Grandfather to make you another dragon, Estel, one just as special. He will be so proud of you. I am so proud of you."
"It was all my fault," I mumble.
"It was not your fault. It was mine." He throws his arm back across my shoulders. I love the warmth of it against me, a soft, comforting warmth. "Your Mother says Elrohir has asked us to visit." He says then changing the subject. "Just you and I, do you want to?"
Do I want to? How can he not know the answer to that? To see the Noldor...to go on an adventure. . . With him!
"Yes!" I leave him no doubt of my eagerness.
"Then we shall go."
It is as simple as that.
He turns his eyes to the stars.
"They are beautiful are they not?"
"They make me feel better" I mumble.
"I used to sit when I was young with my Mother and watch them," he says then. "In the Greenwood. And she would tell me stories. The best stories. The stars are all different here of course."
I cannot believe it.
"With Grandmother?" I ask incredulously for my Father and my Grandmother do not speak often. She is beautiful, kind, lovely, but something between them is broken. I do not know what it is but I certainly cannot imagine them stargazing.
"With Grandmother," he sighs. "I will tell you one of her stories if you like."
And so he does. He holds me close and fills my mind with brilliant imaginings that chase all my troubles away. He keeps me safe. When I am here—with him, like this—Nothing can hurt me.
Not even him.