If she had been thinking, Neldiel Brandiriel would have stopped outside her father’s study and knocked politely rather than just skipping up to the door and pushing it open. Unfortunately, she was not thinking, so she didn’t stop and she certainly didn’t knock as she was supposed to. She knew that she had done wrong, of course; the raised eyebrow from Lord Gwathion and the hard look from Lord Brandir reminded her of the knocking rule even as she came to an abrupt halt and stared at the two lords. Idly reflecting that her father should really put a sign on the door when he was in a meeting, the fourteen coronarí old elfling gave him, and Lord Gwathion, the King’s younger nephew, a winning smile and took a step backwards.
“Not so fast, Neldiel,” Brandir said. “You and I will be discussing your lack of manners later.”
Discussing didn’t really mean discussing, Neldiel knew. It actually meant ‘I will scold you and smack your bottom, and you won’t get any say in the matter’. She sighed to herself, but curtseyed and made an apology to her father and his friend. It was a very nice apology, she decided. Brandir must have thought so too, because he gave her a brief nod before ordering her out of his study to go and play. She left promptly, with more decorum than with which she had entered, and gathered up a couple of her dolls from where she had left them in the living room.
“You must always remember to knock before entering a room,” she lectured the dolls, who stared at her blankly as she carried them outside. “Knocking is a polite thing to do. If you don’t knock, that’s being naughty, and you might even have your bottoms spanked. And you wouldn’t like that, would you, dolls?”
The dolls stayed silent. Carefully cradling one dark haired doll in her left arm and holding the other upside down with her small fingers wrapped around its ankle, Neldiel made her way further into the gardens. She passed the fish pond and a statue of Lord Manwë, and froze suddenly as her eyes fell upon another elfling, sitting in the shade of an oak tree with his back against the trunk as he read a book. The small ellon had silver hair tied back off his face, and he was dressed in the midnight blue of the royal family, with their sigil embroidered upon his chest in subtle silver thread. Neldiel didn’t have to see the sigil to know that this was Lord Celepharn, Lord Elmo’s youngest grandson. He was a bit older than her, and she had only ever seen him at social events, where their encounters had been fleeting.
“Hello,” she said cheerfully. “My name is Neldiel.”
The twenty-two coronarí old elfling didn’t look up from his book. “I don’t care.”
“You’re Lord Celepharn,” Neldiel continued, undeterred. “Your ada is Lord Gwathion, and he’s in a meeting with my ada right now. Do you know my ada? His name is Lord Brandir, and he is the King’s loremaster. That means he’s a very special and very important ellon.”
“Move, please,” Celepharn said flatly. “You’re blocking the light.”
Neldiel politely stepped aside. “Would you like to play dolls?”
“Oh.” Though she was a little disappointed, the elleth tried not to show it. “Well, what would you like to play?”
“Nothing. I don’t play with girls,” Celepharn retorted.
“Who do you play with, then?” Neldiel asked.
After a pause, the boy replied, “My elder cousins. Celeborn and Galathil. But they’re not here right now, so I am reading my book.”
Nodding thoughtfully, Neldiel knelt in front of Celepharn and ran her eyes up and down him. He lifted his book in front of his face, so the little girl just addressed that instead. “Why are you small?” That made the book drop quickly, and Celepharn stared at her with a protest of “I’m not!” Neldiel looked at him critically and gave another nod. “You are. You’re twenty-two and my cousin Miradan is twenty-one, and you’re the same height as him.”
Celepharn actually blushed a little. “I was born two months early and I’m just a bit small for my age. Adar says it doesn’t matter. He says I’ll catch up.” Pausing, he gave Neldiel a sideways look. “What’s your excuse? You’re tiny, and I bet you weren’t born early.”
“Oh, I wasn’t. My ada says that Eru can only use two handfuls of magic dust for each baby He makes, and He was so busy making me pretty and giving me lots of goodness inside, that He just forgot to make me the same size as the other elflings,” Neldiel explained, preening and combing her hair back. She hesitated as she realised that Celepharn was smirking. “What?”
“You do know that Eru doesn’t actually make babies,” Celepharn replied. “An ellon and an elleth make them together.”
“How?” Neldiel asked doubtfully.
Sighing heavily as though the little girl’s lack of knowledge was a particular inconvenience to him, Celepharn leaned forward and whispered something in her ear. As her eyes widened, he sat back and gave her an insolent grin. “Would you like to try it with me and see what happens?”
“No!” Neldiel exclaimed. “That’s horrible!”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to kiss you, anyway,” Celepharn said scornfully. “Girls are disgusting.”
“You’re even more disgusting.”
“I am not.”
“I am not!” His temper flaring, Celepharn grabbed one of Neldiel’s dolls and flung it across the garden. It sailed over the elleth’s head in a wide arc, and landed with a splash in the pond, disturbing a family of ducks. Whilst Neldiel went white and stared after her doll, Celepharn bit his lip. “Oops.”
“You did that on purpose!” Neldiel wailed.
“You did, you drowned her!” With an incoherent cry, Neldiel flung herself at Celepharn. She was small, but he was caught off guard, and he tumbled to the ground as the younger elfling smashed against his chest. There was nothing he could do as she sat on top of him and pummeled him with little clenched fists; she was annoying, yes, but he wasn’t about to hit her back. Ellyn shouldn’t hit ellith, he knew, so he just gritted his teeth and did his best to wriggle out from under her.
“I’m sorry I killed your stupid doll,” he gasped.
“You’re not sorry at all!” the elleth snapped.
“Elflings!” The stern voice broke into their quarrel and made Celepharn freeze as he realised that his father had arrived on the scene, although Neldiel either didn’t hear it or just chose to ignore it, for she took the opportunity to pull his silvery hair. The stern voice rose in volume. “ENOUGH!”
“What is the meaning of this?” Lord Brandir demanded, striding forwards and lifting his youngest daughter to her feet. “We could hear the pair of you in my study, and came out to find you both rolling around on the floor like animals. Explain yourselves, at once.”
“He started it, he wouldn’t play with me and he drowned my doll!” Neldiel said quickly, getting her version of events in before the other elfling could draw breath.
“She started it,” Celepharn protested weakly, quailing under his father’s gaze.
“No, he did!”
“Enough,” Lord Gwathion said in a low voice. “I do not care who started it. We are finishing it. Celepharn, apologise at once to Lord Brandir and his daughter.”
“I’m very sorry,” Celepharn mumbled, blushing.
Brandir gave the boy a short nod, then turned to his youngest. “Neldiel.”
“Sorry,” the little girl sniffed.
After the two lords quietly exchanged apologies for their children’s behaviour, Gwathion put a hand on Celepharn’s shoulder and guided him out of the garden, whilst Brandir folded his arms and turned to look at his daughter. Neldiel rubbed sullenly at her eyes with the back of her hand. “He drowned my doll, Ada.”
“Yes, I see that she is in the pond,” Brandir conceded. “Go to your room and wait for me, and I shall have one of the garden staff fish her out. I will be along shortly to deal with you.”
It wasn’t fair, Neldiel decided, as she picked up her other doll and ran inside. She had already been in trouble for neglecting to knock on the study door, and now she would get even more smacks because of what had happened with Lord Celepharn. She supposed, grudgingly, that fighting was a bit naughty, but she wouldn’t have done it if the ellon had just played with her when she had invited him to. She was really very good at playing games, she knew, and she was much more interesting than whatever stupid book Celepharn had been reading. It was all his fault, she thought, a little sullenly, and she wouldn’t stand in the corner, even if that was what her father expected her to do.
As it happened, Brandir didn’t scold her for not being in the corner when he came in half an hour later and found her sitting on her bed. He just sat down next to her, picked her up and stood her in front of him. “Your doll is quite well, if rather wet, and you may have her back when she is dried off,” he told the elfling. “I do not approve of Lord Celepharn’s behaviour, but he is not my concern. You are, and I am not best pleased with you either.”
“No, Neldiel,” Brandir said firmly. He raised an eyebrow as his daughter climbed over his lap without being prompted, and he put a hand on her back to steady her. “Are we finished talking, then?”
“You just told me no, Neldiel, so you don’t even want to talk,” the elfling replied in frustration. “Can you just do it and get it over with?”
Frowning slightly, Brandir gave Neldiel a firm smack for her insolence before sitting her up on his lap. “Contrary to your beliefs, I do not enjoy having to punish you,” he told his tearful child. “I give you discipline when I must, because I must, but it is certainly not an aspect of fatherhood that gives me any pleasure. I will be happy when the day comes that you no longer require such discipline, but until then, I shall continue to give it to teach you the right way.”
“But it’s not fair that I should be smacked when Celepharn started it all!” Neldiel wailed. “Ada, he threw my doll in the water!”
Brandir sighed quietly and put his arm around his lastborn daughter. He could remember being a little younger than her, when Princess Lúthien had snapped off the leg of his favourite wooden horse. He certainly hadn’t jumped on her, as Neldiel had jumped on Celepharn, but he had gone to his foster mother Queen Melian, feeling ever so sad, to see if she could fix his horse. So, although it had been hundreds of years since he had been small enough to cry over ruined toys, he remembered that devastating feeling well enough, and understood Neldiel’s upset.
“Lord Gwathion will take care of Celepharn,” he assured his elfling. “Stop worrying about him, iel-laes. You will only get yourself worked up.”
“I’ll be sad when you smack me, so it doesn’t really matter,” Neldiel sniffled, rubbing her tears away.
“Well…I suppose I shall have to just not smack you, then.” Brandir smiled faintly as his daughter blinked her lovely eyes up at him. “I like to think that I am not entirely unreasonable, and that I am able to consider my children’s feelings. You should not have fought with Celepharn, but I know that you were not thinking clearly. The next time someone upsets you, it is important that you come and find me, or your mother, or even one of your sisters. We will be able to help you.”
Neldiel nodded quietly and promised to try and remember that. She really would try, even though she was sure that it would be difficult. Her father dropped a kiss atop her head, and she looked at him thoughtfully. “You should still smack me for not knocking.”
“The study door. I didn’t knock,” Neldiel reminded the lord. “I just walked in when you were in a meeting with Lord Gwathion.”
“Do you want me to smack you?” Brandir asked, his voice surprisingly gentle.
“No, Ada, that would be very silly of me. But it’s the right thing to do, and you’ve always said that sometimes the right thing isn’t the nicest thing or the easiest thing, but we still have to do it,” Neldiel explained. “So if you didn’t smack me, you would be con…contra…well, you know.”
“I would be contradicting myself, hmm? Yes, I suppose I would,” Brandir agreed, answering his own question. Before he could consider further, and before Neldiel could change her mind, he placed her back across his lap. Though he tucked up her gown, he left her underclothing in place, and shared out a total of fourteen smacks between her small cheeks and her more sensitive spots. None of the smacks were sharp enough to raise a sting. They were nothing more than firm pats, really; it was a symbolic spanking, not a punishment, and it made Neldiel scramble to her knees when it was all over and stare incredulously at her father.
“Ada,” she began.
Brandir silenced Neldiel with a finger over her lips. “Don’t tell me how to do my job, iel-nín. You may remain in your bedroom until dinner and think things through, but other than that we shall consider the matter closed.”
“Yes, Ada,” Neldiel conceded. As her father set her down and left her alone with a kiss to the top of her dark head, she climbed onto her bed and sat cross-legged with her chin resting in her hands. Ellyn were quite odd creatures, she decided. And being odd wasn’t even restricted to elfling ellyn like Lord Celepharn and her cousin Miradan, as just demonstrated by her father. Stern Lord Brandir, giving her one pretend smacking when really she had earned so much more? Whatever next, she wondered, as she settled down with her doll.