"I am the King of all the Men and you may not pass."
"Die, filthy men!"
"Death to the evil orcs!"
Elrond smiled to himself at the sounds coming from behind him. Estel knew little about his background yet he had managed to recreate it to defend Elrond's study. Gilraen had gone to visit some of her kin leaving Estel in Elrond's care so Elrond had planned to spend some time with the boy. However, some urgent business had come up and he had to let Estel play on his own for a while.
Elrond put down his work to look round at Estel. His army of soldiers was attempting to stop the orcs from getting into the room. It looked like they were winning but then in all of Estel's games the side of good triumphed over evil. Elrond hoped he was right but feared he was wrong. It had, however, given him an idea.
He got up and walked over to the doorway to crouch by his foster son.
"Are we winning?" he asked him.
"Yes, the captain has just killed the last of the orcs. They won't get you now," he replied, holding up the captain for Elrond to inspect.
"Very good," he said. He paused for a moment. This was not going to be easy but he felt it was necessary. "Estel, has anyone told you how your father died?"
"He was killed in a battle with orcs."
"That's correct. Why don't we recreate it?"
Estel began picking up the soldiers and the orcs.
"Which one is going to be your father?"
Estel thought for a moment, examining the different soldiers he had to choose from. "This one," he said, picking up the captain's second.
Interesting, Elrond thought, but did not correct his assumption. He wanted to see what Estel would do next. He debated telling the boy Elladan and Elrohir had been there too but decided against it. He did not want Estel asking them awkward questions.
The battle began with Elrond as a silent observer. The orcs were winning this time but Elrond could guess what was going to happen next and he was right. The second-in-command - currently playing Estel's father - sacrificed himself for his captain.
"What is going to happen now?" he asked Estel.
"The other soldiers see the second's sacrifice, so they fight better and win."
"Let's pretend they did and the battle is over. What would happen next?"
"They would all leave?" Estel's games never usually extended past the end of the battles.
"The living would, yes. What would they do with the dead soldiers?"
"Take them home and-"
Elrond cut him off. "No, there are too many to carry back."
Estel thought for a moment before answering. "Would they bury them?"
"Perhaps, but the ground where they have been fighting is hard and they are too tired to dig. They will burn the dead and since we are recreating the battle, we will also."
Estel's eyes grew wide. "Burn my soldiers?"
"Yes." Elrond was firm. "Pick up the dead ones and bring them over to the fire."
Estel dutifully picked up the half of his toy soldiers that were dead, including the orcs, and followed Elrond. Standing in front of the fireplace he held one up, looked at it, then up at Elrond. No matter how innocently Estel looked at him Elrond was not going to change his mind.
"Perhaps we should say a few words."
Estel opened his mouth and shut it again. "What do the men do?" he asked.
Elrond was glad Estel had asked. Living among elves he had become very elvish. He knew Gilraen told him of his own race but rarely did he ask Elrond. "That depends on the standing of the dead. It is up to the living to decide. They are your soldiers and you are their king. It is your decision."
Estel laid them all down except the orcs. "The orcs are evil and deserve to die." Those he picked up and threw onto the fire, which roared a little higher at the addition of such fine wood. Elrond made a mental note to find out what Elladan and Elrohir were teaching their little brother.
Estel surveyed the soldiers left in front of him. "You are good and you don't deserve to die, but you fought bravely and I am very impressed with all of you." Picking up the leftmost one he put his hand as close to the fire as he dared and let go. Tears fell down his cheeks as the others followed.
The soldiers were Estel's prized possessions. Elladan and Elrohir, when they were among the men, had found an abandoned toy soldier and brought it home to give to Estel. That soldier was now his captain, the others having been made by the Elves of Imladris. No two were alike, including the orcs.
Elrond merely stood solemnly by Estel's side. Estel, wanting to copy and appear more grown up, had managed to stop crying and now only sniffed occasionally. After a time Elrond judged to be appropriate he sat down, pulled Estel into his lap and put his arms around him, allowing him to cry once more. It was a hard lesson for a little boy to learn - there were many elves who did not understand death even now - but it was better for Estel to find out now rather than firsthand in battle. If Elrond could have spared him that pain in the future he would have.
Elrond knew Estel was crying at the loss of his toys rather than the loss of a father he did not remember but it would be enough for him to understand for now. The problem, he thought, was that Estel did not feel the loss of a father because he had one, albeit only a foster father. He also had a mother that loved him, two older brothers and he had charmed most of the elves in Imladris, being the only child there.
"Your father was very brave," he told him. Estel gave a little nod in response. "I am very impressed with you and I know he would be too."
Estel looked up at Elrond briefly, smiled and hugged him a little tighter. Elrond kissed the top of his head and reflected on the circumstances that had brought this innocent boy into his life. He just wished he could stay innocent for a little longer.