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The Magpie

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“Affection is responsible for nine-tenths of whatever solid and durable happiness there is in our natural lives.” 
― C.S. Lewis


The Magpie

 

Chapter One

On the way to Imladris

A cold sharp wind had sprung up just as the small party of elves rode through the hamlet, albeit hamlet was too generous a word to describe such a dismal place.  There was a scattering of wattle and daub cottages, and what looked like a communal oven and forge.  A light rain began to fall, ghostly shadows of mist dancing in the wind.  Up ahead there was a small chapel of sorts, identifiable only by the grave markers standing in the churchyard.  A small, lone figure knelt beside what was clearly a newly filled grave, for the dirt was still mounded over the gravesite. 

“We should find a good place to shelter for the night, Elrond,” Glorfindel said, “before this weather turns worse.  It will be dark in a few hours anyway.  There does not appear to be any suitable place here.  I’d rather we ride on and put some distance between us and this dreary place.”

“Agreed,” Elrond answered.  “That poor child in the churchyard needs to be inside, out of this weather.”  Just as he spoke, one of the guards who followed behind the two Elf-lords rode quickly to the head of the column. 

“My lords,” the guard spoke, nodding his head in a quick gesture of respect, “I asked a man who came out from his cottage if there was a place for us to make camp for the night near here.  Instead of answering me, the man warned us to stay away from that child.”  Here the Elf motioned to the forlorn figure in the churchyard.  “He is alone and is being forced from the village.  How is it that men treat their children so?  And on such a day as this?”

Glorfindel and Elrond both pulled in their reins to stop, and Glorfindel raised a hand to halt the column.  “What is that you say, Talvion?  Why are they forcing him from the village?”

“I asked him, my lord,” the guard replied.  “There is sickness here, and the folk who were caring for the child have died.  The child wandered into this village a few months ago.  No one knows from whence he came, but no one will take him in because they are afraid he carries the sickness.”

Glorfindel looked at his lord.  “Elrond, we cannot….” 

“No, we cannot indeed.”  Elrond dismounted, followed by Glorfindel, both of them handing their reins to Talvion.  The leaves whispered, whipped by the winds, and the wooden grave markers swayed in a macabre dance.

“Look at him,” Glorfindel whispered under his breath, knowing Elrond could still hear him.  “So very young.  Six, perhaps seven years old?”

“If that,” Elrond said, his thoughts aligned with his friend’s.  “How can they be so heartless?”

They had reached the child.  Glorfindel sank down on one knee in the wet, dirt-strewn grass.  “Child?” he said softly in the language of men.  The boy did not look at the elves, but continued focusing on the grave.  Glorfindel reached out a hand and gently turned the child’s face toward his own.  Haunted grey eyes stared up at him.  “Why do you stay here?  Have you nowhere to go?  Is there no one who will care for you?”

A small hand reached out and touched a lock of Glorfindel’s golden hair that had fallen over his shoulder as he bent down before the child.  Suddenly the boy moved and Glorfindel found two thin arms wrapped around his bent leg, a small head covered in disheveled dark hair resting on his knee.  “Poor little one,” Glorfindel murmured, taking the child in his arms and finding his heart surprisingly filling with warmth.  The dark head settled on his shoulder.  He glanced at the row of cottages and saw a bowlegged man standing outside of a cottage - the man that Talvion had spoken to, apparently.  “Tolon,” he called to another of the guards in the Elven language, “ask that man there where this child lived.  He must have more than these thin clothes on his back, and I want his belongings.”

The child did not move his head from the golden pillow of Glorfindel’s hair, but Elrond saw the arm that was raised and the finger that pointed to a small, dark cottage just ahead of them.

“What?” Elrond murmured, walking closer to Glorfindel and speaking in their Elven language because the child had obviously understood Glorfindel’s words.  “He understood you.  The house is there.”  He motioned to the cottage.  Elrond tried to take the child from Glorfindel’s arms, but the boy whimpered and kept a fierce hold.  “Very well,” he said softly, “Glorfindel will continue to hold you. I just want to see…”  His fingers moved through the tousled and tangled locks, finding what he sought.  “Not a man-child”, he said in astonishment, “an Elfling!”

Before Glorfindel could respond, Tolon hurried over to them.  “The man says the cottage has been emptied, my lords.  These thieving villagers took everything left of any value already, leaving the poor little waif with only what he wears.”

“Then we leave now and put this dreadful place behind us.”  Glorfindel’s tone brooked no debate.

“And the child, my lord?” Tolon inquired.

“The Elfling comes with us, home to Imladris,” Elrond answered before Glorfindel could speak.  Elrond moved to his horse, removed a blanket from one of his saddlebags, and wrapped it around the child in his friend’s arms.  “It seems he prefers you. Let us away from here before this storm is completely upon us.  The Elfling needs food and warmth.  And we cannot continue to address him as ‘Elfling’.  What is your name, little one?” he asked, one hand gently caressing the Elfling’s head.

A very small voice, muffled in Glorfindel’s shoulder said, “Erestor.”

Word that the child was an Elfling spread like a flame down the column of elves.  When the Elf who kept their stores of food brought bread, cheese and fruit for the child to eat, Glorfindel was able to coax Erestor off of his shoulder to sit before him on the horse and eat.  The child was so small atop Asfaloth, so Glorfindel held an arm securely around him, and even Asfaloth seemed to know that he had to step carefully.  Glorfindel gave Erestor some water to drink, and then quietly told him to eat.  The Elfling began to fair bolt the bread down, so Glorfindel said, “Eat more slowly, Erestor.  No one will take the food from you.  All of it is for you.  If you eat slower, you will be able to finish it all.”

Erestor turned his head and raised his eyes to Glorfindel.  He said nothing, but clearly had listened because he stopped the hurried inhalation of his food, and slowly ate through the bread and cheese, followed by a pear and another drink from Glorfindel’s water flask.  Within minutes of finishing his food, the Elfling’s head drooped and he was rocked into a sound sleep by Asfaloth’s gentle gait.

The rain was left behind with the hamlet, and the elves found a suitable place next to a small stream a few miles further along the road.  They made camp and kindled their fires just as darkness enfolded them.  Dried meat and roots were set to cook in no time at all, and Elrond fashioned a garment for Erestor out of one of his spare tunics, which seemed the most expedient way to keep the Elfling warm.  The elves ate the stew, accompanied by chunks of bread and cheese they carried with them from Forlindon.  When Erestor lay asleep next to Glorfindel and Elrond, the two spoke quietly.

“He seems to be fixated on your golden hair,” Elrond said.

Glorfindel nodded.  “Do you suppose the couple who were caring for him in the village had golden hair?”

Elrond thought for a moment before answering.  “He’s Elven, so he is probably closer to twelve years – or more.  Older than we thought he was.  He’d only been in that village for a short while.  From what that man told Talvion, he wandered into the place.  I think it likely he was traveling with his family and somehow they were separated, or his family was killed and he survived.  Perhaps one day he can tell us what happened.  My guess is someone he loved had golden hair.  How he put his arms around your leg and rested his head on your knee, I warrant it was his father.”

“That would seem to be the most likely.  Poor child.”  Glorfindel sighed.  “I am already doomed, you know.  My heart warmed when I took him in my arms and he rested his head on my shoulder.  I already care about the little imp and don’t see my relinquishing him to anyone unless we somehow find his family, which I doubt will happen.  Am I evil to hope that we don’t?”

“You?  Evil?  Never.  My dear friend, there is no one on Arda more free of evil than you.  You have been my constant companion and advisor and I believe I am in the best position to assure you of that, even more so than Gildor.”

“You don’t mind that I want to care for the child?  Raise him even?  I know it will be difficult but I am…”

“…called by your heart to do it,” Elrond finished for him.  “I would expect no other decision from you, nor would Gildor.  I will help you all I can, and we will find someone good to help while you and Gildor and I carry out our duties.  Perhaps Lindir would like to help.  He would make a good teacher for the child for writing, music, and poetry.” 

“Gildor will teach him much, too,” Glorfindel mused.  “Do you think he will approve of the addition to our family?”

“You should have no doubt of that, Glorfindel.  I am quite sure my cousin will fall in love with the little one as swiftly as you did, and I would be unsurprised if the two of you do not adopt him.  The child is so sweet that he endears himself to your heart almost the moment you see him.  How the humans could have feared him, I will never understand.”

“Nor will I,” Glorfindel agreed, “but we will teach Erestor to find joy again and to be happy.”

“And don’t forget what you can teach him,” Elrond said.  “He will sense that you already love him.  He will feel safe in that love and you will teach him how to trust again.”

“And you will teach him to be kind and to think like you,” Glorfindel added with a smile.  “You’ll probably have him turned into your chief counselor by the time he reaches his majority.”

Elrond was hard pressed to stifle his laughter enough not to wake Erestor.  As if in agreement, the child stirred and wrapped his arms around Glorfindel’s leg. 

The days passed as they travelled home.  Erestor grew more comfortable with the Elves, especially Glorfindel and Elrond, though he almost never spoke.  He answered direct questions with nods or shakes of his head, clearly not yet trusting in his change of fortune. 

Elrond was finally able to coax the Elfling to ride with him part of the time, his kind and gentle soul finally breaking a hole in Erestor’s self-defensive wall.  It wasn’t long before Erestor held onto Elrond just as he did Glorfindel, and he often wound the Elf-lord’s dark hair around his fingers as if to stay attached to him.