Glorfindel stood with his arms crossed, one toe tapping impatiently, waiting for the family argument to settle down.
"You offended his sense of justice," Elrohir said to his brother.
"Perhaps I did," snorted Elladan. "But isn't this an extreme response?"
Elrond raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. "I remember…," he began.
Elladan held up his palm. "Peace, father. Don't remind me yet again of the incident with the tree." He paced the room, further irritated by sorry memories of a week spent pouting at the top of an oak. How many yéni would pass before his father would stop bringing it up? "But what are we to do?"
"The sentries will stop him at the pass, as you well know," Elrond said. "No one leaves the Valley if I do not allow it, no more than they enter. He is perfectly safe."
Glorfindel sighed with exasperation.
"Are you going to claim that your horse is in danger?" Elrond said, with more than a hint of irony.
"No, of course not," Glorfindel said. "But I can't allow this to go by without some consequence."
"Indeed not," Elrond said. "Horse thievery is not the future occupation that I wish for my foster son, even if he shows good judgment in taking the best one."
"Stubborn boy," muttered Elladan. "Stiff-necked Dúnadan."
"That, too," said Elrond. He waited, watching his elder son patiently.
"All right, I owe him an apology," said Elladan at last. "I'll go myself to fetch him back."
"Good idea," said Elrond. "And then you are going to explain it to Gilraen."
Elladan groaned. That, indeed, was going to be by far the most unpleasant part.
When he heard the sentry's low whistle, Elladan brought his mount to a stop. Through the trees he could see Asfaloth contentedly grazing on the lush grass in a small clearing. A heavy pack and a muddy pair of shoes lay against the tree trunk.
He looked up. The sentry's grinning face peeped out of the leaves. He waved his hand in the direction of Estel's toes, sticking out over a branch.
Elladan called, "Estel."
"What do you want?" the boy said rudely.
"I want to apologize."
There was a silence. Then, with a loud rustling of leaves, the boy began climbing down and soon dropped to the ground from a large branch. He stood there, silent, as full of wrath as an eleven-year-old can be, his feet planted in a belligerent stance.
Dismounting, Elladan faced his opponent. Grey thunder looked out at him from under a scowling frown. The fury in those eyes would stop an army of Orcs, he thought. And soon enough he will be facing one. Estel was even now in the middle of a growth spurt that had added a good inch to his height and left his hands and feet too large for the rest of him.
Elladan bowed. "My lord," he said, "I seek your pardon. I have been most intolerably unfair. I should not make promises I cannot keep."
"No. You should not," the boy agreed. Those eyes gave no quarter.
"I underestimated you," he continued. "I didn't think you could meet my challenge. Indeed, your bowmanship has improved greatly, and you hit the target three times beyond my dare. But I had made you a promise beyond my power."
"Yes. You did," came the inexorable reply.
"It is by my father's order that you must stay in the Valley, and I cannot undo that. Despite my false promise, I cannot take you with me to hunt Orcs—not yet. It is my duty to obey my father's order even as it is yours. And it was grossly unfair of me to twit you about that party of Dwarves that was visiting last winter."
Insatiable curiosity began to take over the wrath in the boy's eyes. "Why couldn't I meet them," he asked, almost sadly.
"It is my father's order," Elladan repeated, "and thus for neither of us to question."
Estel opened his mouth to protest, but then thought better of it. His look of resignation combined with his hunger for experience touched Elladan's heart. "Come now," he said gently. "Do you forgive me?"
"Yes, Elladan. I forgive you."
"All right then. Let's go home."
As they cantered back, side by side on the smooth trail past the first steep climb down into the Valley, Elladan asked, "But Estel, why Asfaloth?"
"I thought that riding him was the only way I could to get out of the Valley. Don't think I don't know how strong father's protection is."
"But it didn't work."
"No," answered the boy. "It looked good all the way up, but then he stopped cold at the top. He wouldn't move an inch."
"He's a very intelligent horse," said Elladan.
"Yes," said Estel. "I love riding him. And I packed up my saddlebags with food and gear for hunting. I was all ready."
Elladan decided not to comment on this.
"But now I suppose Glorfindel will skin me alive."
"Actually," Elladan said, "he's going to make you help muck out the stables for a month."
"But I won't mind that. I love being with the horses."
"Shush. Don't tell him."
Estel turned to him with a mischievous grin. "And what's your punishment?"
"Besides having to apologize to the most stubborn boy in Middle-earth?"
The grin widened. "Yes, besides that."
Elladan sighed. "I have to explain it to your mother."
The boy burst out laughing, and, kicking Asfaloth into a run, he laughed all the way back to the House, his tangled hair streaming in the wind.
Smiling, Elladan shook his head. The next few years were going to be very interesting.