Estel was helping the grooms stack hay bales when he heard the clatter of hooves from the yard. Wondering who had returned, he peered out through the loft door, and to his delight spotted his brothers, Elladan and Elrohir. He slithered down the rope hoist as fast as he could, and greeted them with an excited cry. “I didn’t know you were due back yet! I thought you’d be ages!”
Elrohir dismounted, and was very nearly knocked flat on his back by the enthusiastic welcome and hug he received. He cast a sour look at Elladan, still safely on his horse, who was watching with amusement. “Do not worry about me, El – I will be fine. I do not think my ribs are broken!” he wheezed. Elrohir turned his gaze to Estel, ruffling his hair in the way he hated. Elrohir knew that. “Hello, Estel. Have you grown again? We have only been away for a few weeks!”
Estel nodded. “I know. Look!” He held out his arms, showing a pair of bony wrists, and sleeves a good three inches shorter than his arms. “Ada – r,” – he corrected himself hastily – “says I will need new clothes again. I don’t know why, these are fine!” He was oblivious to the fact that his clothes were patched and worn, fresh tears showing on both knees. Mud stains that the laundry staff had given up on covered him like a map.
Elrohir regarded his youngest brother solemnly. “They look fine to me,” he agreed with a smile. “Or at least what I am used to seeing you in. Honestly, Estel – you look like something the cat dragged in! I have seen waifs on the streets of Minas Tirith who are better dressed!”
“Is this urchin really our littlest brother? A son of Elrond?” Elladan asked as he joined them, enduring another bear hug from Estel. “It is no good, El – any new clothes would look just like these in a matter of days!”
They walked to the stables together. Estel, as always, was full of questions. “Did you go to Bree? Have you had any adventures? Did anything exciting happen? Did you meet anyone exciting? How long are you going to be home?”
Above his head, the twins exchanged glances of fond exasperation. Estel knew how much they loved him, but also knew he sometimes irritated them with his constant questions. Elladan took a deep breath. “Yes. No. In a way. Yes. For a few weeks, I think.” He counted each reply off against his fingers, responding to each question in turn.
Laughing, Elrohir gave a little more detail. “Yes, we went to Bree. Perhaps we will take you next time – I think you would like it! No, we did not have any adventures – we are far too responsible for that!”
Elladan gave a snort, and continued. “Something exciting did happen in a way, but we have to tell Adar about it first. Wait. Yes, we did meet someone I think you will find exciting. And we will be home for at least a few weeks, I hope. Is that everything?” He raised one eyebrow in imitation of their father, which always made Estel laugh guiltily.
Estel was used to the way the twins responded to his questions, and had no trouble following a conversation as it switched between them. He seized on a response of Elladan’s eagerly. “You met someone I will find exciting? Do you mean I’ll get to meet them as well? Who? When?”
“Estel, first let us see to the horses, talk to Adar and change,” Elrohir begged. “Then we will answer all your questions, I promise.”
With Estel’s enthusiastic help they unloaded the horses, removing saddles, bags and bed rolls, passing them to him until he staggered under the weight. “If you make me carry anything else, I’ll drop it in the muck!” he threatened. The twins relented, then, handing the animals to a groom, they headed for the house.
Taking pity on Estel, Elladan and Elrohir now carried most of the bags themselves, and told him a little of their journey. “Do you remember Mithrandir, Estel? He came here last when you were about five. I remember you were fascinated by his beard!”
“I had never seen anyone with a beard before!” Estel said defensively. “Of course I remember him. I liked him. There were fireworks – I was allowed to stay up to see them. Is that who you met? Is he on his way here? Why didn’t he come with you?”
“We met him on the road, and warned him about some trolls we found, who had come down from the mountains. He is on his way, but he said he was travelling with some friends who were rather slow. They should be here in a few days – all of them. He said it was a party of dwarves, and someone called Bilbo who is a hobbit,” Elladan explained.
“A hobbit? What’s that?”
Elrohir shrugged. “I have no idea – I have never heard of one before. Knowing Mithrandir, he will be – unusual. I must say, I am rather curious myself – but we will see them soon!”
The twins left Estel then to report their journey and message about the trolls to Elrond. Alone again, Estel wandered down to one of the pools along the stream, idly skimming stones across the still surface as he thought about what the twins had told him. Dwarves and a hobbit – and his brothers home again! The next few days sounded most exciting.
Estel loved living at Imladris – it was so peaceful and beautiful here. Sometimes he felt it was too peaceful and beautiful, though. Nothing exciting ever happened. Elladan and Elrohir would take him swimming, climbing and picnicking when they were home, but all too often they were away, being warriors. Yes, the next few days sounded most exciting.
It was at dusk, four days later, that Mithrandir, the dwarves and the hobbit arrived. Sentries had reported their approach, and Estel hovered around the gardens, waiting for his first glimpse of the visitors. By the time they appeared it was completely dark, and Estel realised he would have a far better chance of actually seeing them indoors, so he retreated to the house, perching on a window seat.
The doors had been flung wide open, and Mithrandir, who had been at the back, led them up the steps into the hall. Elrond emerged from the library to meet the party. “Greetings, Mithrandir! Greetings, Thorin Oakenshield, to you and all your kin. Greetings, Bilbo Baggins. You are all most welcome here, my friends. Mae Govannen!”
One of the dwarves, clearly the leader, pulled off his hood and bowed. “Thorin Oakenshield at your service!” he said gruffly.
“Elrond Eärendilion of Imladris at yours and your family’s” Elrond replied formally. “Rooms have been readied for you, and baths prepared. Someone from my household will show you the way.” He turned, looking straight at Estel’s hiding place, and smiled. “Estel, would you be so good as to show our guests to their rooms? Do you mind?”
Estel emerged from the curtained alcove. “Mae Govannen,” he said as he bowed to the visitors. Then he turned to his father, smiling in delight. “No, Adar, of course I don’t mind!”
“Good.” Elrond turned to the dwarves again. “This is my son, Estel. He will take you. We will see you later at our evening meal.”
Estel led them up the stairs, casting frequent glances behind him. He was full of questions, but did not know where to start. “Have you been travelling for long?” he asked. It seemed a safe, polite question.
“Aye, over a month!” Thorin replied. “And a long, cold, miserable journey it’s been, too! The hospitality of your father’s house is most welcome.”
Finally, Estel’s curiosity got the better of him, and he began to question the dwarves. “Where have you come from? Where are you going? Are you staying long?”
Mithrandir chuckled. “Peace, young Estel! All in good time. You will have your answers soon, I expect. Your father will wish to hear of our journey as well.”
Estel fell silent as they reached the bedrooms. He showed the dwarves in; two to a room, with Mithrandir and Bilbo at the end. He looked at Bilbo curiously. Although much the same height as the dwarves, he looked nothing like them. Unlike Mithrandir and the dwarves, he had no beard, and short, curly hair. Strangest of all, he wore no boots or shoes. His feet were bare – large, hairy, and mud splattered, but bare. So this was a hobbit?
As the door closed on Mithrandir and Bilbo, Estel hurried downstairs to the library. He wanted to find out everything he could about both hobbits and dwarves, and if he could find one of his brothers or Erestor to help him, so much the better.
At supper, Estel managed to sit next to Bilbo. After the hobbit had drunk deeply from his mug of ale and began to eat, they made polite conversation. “I come from a place called The Shire,” Bilbo told him. “And oh, I do miss it! I miss my own little hole, and regular meals – lots of them – and cooking. I sometimes wonder why I ever came on this adventure! Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things, adventures!”
Apart from the meals, which Estel agreed with Bilbo about, he differed about everything else. Cooking was boring, unless it was over a camp fire with his brothers, and he yearned for adventures. But there was one thing: “Do you live in a hole?” he asked with great interest. “Like a rabbit hole?” He tried to imagine the portly little fellow in a rabbit hole, and failed utterly. Bilbo would surely get stuck.
“Oh, no, no, no! Not a rabbit hole! My lovely little hole isn’t dirty and wet, or dry and bare. It’s mine – my own. It’s comfortable,” Bilbo told him longingly. “It’s got a round front door, green, with a beautiful shiny brass knob in the middle. I polish it every day, don’t you know! The walls are panelled, and there are tiles or carpets on the floor. And I’ve got such lovely, soft feather beds!” He sighed wistfully. “It will nice to have a short rest here, though.”
Estel grinned. “Well, we have feather beds here as well. But why did you leave? Where are you going?”
Bilbo looked around the table furtively. “It’s all Gandalf’s fault. He told the dwarves that I was a common-or-garden burglar! It seems they need some treasure stolen back from a dragon that stole it from them.”
Now even more excited and intrigued, Estel stared at Bilbo. “Treasure? A dragon? Who’s Gandalf?”
“The wizard, of course! Gandalf! I thought you knew him?”
“Oh, you mean Mithrandir! But what about the treasure? And the dragon? Are there really dragons? How are they going to find the treasure?” Questions tumbled from his lips.
Bilbo lowered his voice. “Gandalf’s got a map that shows the mountain, and the dragon, and a secret entrance.”
“A map? He should show it to my brother Elrohir, then. He’s good at maps – he could look at it for you!”
A hand came down on his shoulder, silencing him. “Now, Estel – leave poor Master Baggins to eat in peace!” Estel twisted round to see Elladan smiling down at him, and realised that everyone else had finished eating.
“Oh – forgive me!” he said apologetically to Bilbo. “That’s Elladan, my other brother. He means I’ve been asking too many questions – I do that sometimes.”
Bilbo waved the apology away. “I don’t mind – and you did not stop me eating!” He stared after Elladan, clearly puzzled. “Did you say your brother? But he’s... and you’re ... oh, I’m sorry, it’s none of my business!”
Estel grinned, not in the least offended. He was used to reactions like this. “I was adopted by Lord Elrond. Elladan and Elrohir are my foster brothers really. My own father died when I was two – I don’t really remember him. He was one of the Dúnadain. My mother still lives here, though. She’s over there.” He pointed to Gilraen, sitting next to Erestor.
The meal ended shortly, and many of those assembled moved to the Hall of Fire – so called because a fire burnt there, all the year round, even now in June. Most of the dwarves, Estel noticed, remained where they were, sitting at the tables and drinking ale. Bilbo seemed torn between staying with his companions, and going with the elves.
“Do you think they’d mind if I came?” he asked Estel. “I do love elves, and I’d love to hear their songs and stories, but – well, they frighten me a little.”
“Of course you can come!” Estel told him, pulling at Bilbo’s arm. “Come and meet my father, and my mother, and Glorfindel and Erestor. They won’t frighten you! Come on!”
Inside the Hall of Fire, Estel and Bilbo found a warm, quiet corner where they could sit and watch and listen. Bilbo did not want to intrude, and Estel, too did not wish to be noticed – though for different reasons. It was long past his bed time. He settled down with his new friend, and they listened to songs and tales as the firelight flickered and danced.
Estel was late to breakfast the next morning. Nearly everyone had gone, and all that was left was bread and honey. He was just finishing the last of that when his brothers appeared, sitting on the bench opposite. He swallowed the last mouthful, and licked his fingers. Then he looked up guiltily. “I’m sorry – I ate the last of the bread and honey. Did you want breakfast?”
“We had breakfast at the proper time, littlest brother,” Elladan told him. “Have you finished? Come on, then.” They walked out into the bright sunshine. “What do you think of our visitors now you have had a chance to talk to them?”
“I talked to Bilbo last night. Did you know they’re all going to a mountain far, far away, where there’s a dragon, and a hoard of treasure? And did you know that Bilbo’s a burglar, and he’s going to steal the treasure back from the dragon? Oh, I wish I could go with them!” he explained excitedly. “And Thorin is their leader, he’s very important – he’s the one with the pale blue hood and the silver tassel. His grandfather was a King! And perhaps if they kill the dragon, Thorin will become King instead. I didn’t get chance to talk to him last night – I hope I can meet him soon!”
“Or her,” Elrohir broke in.
Estel stopped in mid flow and stared at Elrohir. “What do you mean, ‘her’?” he asked.
“How do you know that Thorin is a he?” Elrohir enquired. “She might be a lady.”
“Elrohir! You might not have noticed, but he’s got a beard!”
Elrohir nodded. “Of course. All dwarves do. So?”
“So he’s a man dwarf. Besides, I didn’t think there were any dwarf women! Are you telling me that there are dwarf women, and they’ve got beards as well?” Estel peered at Elrohir suspiciously, then at Elladan. They both returned his gaze serenely. “I don’t believe you! You’re teasing me again.”
Elrohir sighed. “Estel, you are ten years old. Of course there are dwarf women – where do you think baby dwarves come from?”
“Besides, would we tease you, littlest brother?” Elladan looked supremely innocent.
Estel scowled. “You know you would. But I don’t believe you this time – you’re not going to fool me again! I’m going to ask someone else.” He glanced around the garden. He did not believe the twins about the beards – they were teasing him again. They often did, and were so convincing, and so serious, he had fallen for their tall stories more than once – but not this time. He glimpsed Bilbo and Mithrandir strolling near the stream, and hailed them with relief.
Bilbo trotted over, followed by Mithrandir “Hello, Estel, my lad!” As he reached them, Bilbo stopped, his eyes wide. Estel realised he was staring in astonishment at Elladan and Elrohir. He smothered a grin – this was another reaction he was used to. “Oh, my word – you’re twins!”
Elrohir raised one eyebrow and turned to stare at Elladan, as if this was news to him. “Why, yes, so we are!” he exclaimed.
Bilbo was rather flustered. “Oh, dear me, that was rather a silly thing to say now, wasn’t it? Do forgive me – I’ve heard of twins, but never seen them before! Estel tells me you’re his brothers – foster brothers, that is.”
As the twins began their gentle teasing, Mithrandir chuckled, then drew Estel away. “So, you have met our hobbit, I see. What do you think of him?”
“I think he’s very interesting,” Estel told him candidly. “But Mithrandir, he called you something else last night. A different name. He called you Gandalf.”
“Did he now? Well, that is my name too. I have many names,” he added mysteriously. “Some know me as Olórin, or Incánus. The dwarves call me Tharkûn. Mithrandir will do.”
Estel shook his head. “It must be confusing to have so many names. I’m glad I’m just Estel. I shall never have to worry about lots of names!”
“No? Mmm, well, we shall see.”
Estel wondered if he was always so cryptic. Was there any point in asking his next question? Yet he might as well try. “Mithrandir, there was something I wanted to ask you. My brothers – they said that dwarf women have beards. I think they were teasing me – but it might be true. I can’t tell. Do you know?”
Mithrandir mumbled into his own beard. “Did they now? Bearded dwarf women? Well, your brothers are quite right – it is true. They look so like the males that there are some foolish people who believe there are no dwarf women! Bless my beard – do such folk think dwarves grow out of stone?”
Estel said nothing. Until Elrohir had pointed out the obvious, he had never really thought about it. “But Mithrandir, are the dwarves really going to find treasure? It there really a dragon? Is Bilbo really a burglar?”
“Well now, you will have to wait and see. No doubt they will talk with your father, and perhaps with your brothers. You will find out in due course.”
Realising he would not find out any more for now, Estel went back down to the pool again, deep in thought. As well as the interest of dwarves and the hobbit was the added excitement of treasure – and a dragon.
How, he wondered, could he persuade Elrond to allow him to go with the dwarves when they left on their quest?
I have tried to use expressions and figures of speech that Bilbo and Mithrandir actually used in The Hobbit, to get a ‘feel’ for their characters.
In the chapter ‘Roast Mutton’, Gandalf says that while looking ahead he met ‘a couple of friends from Rivendell’. I put my own interpretation on whose those two friends might be!