An elf Estel was,
Not a man.
'Twas untrue, alas
An elf Estel was.
Whatever the cause
Of his elven elan
An elf Estel was,
Not a man.
Estel stood in front of his mirror. He had washed but wanted to be sure there was no blood left before he dressed. A group of Rangers had been attacked not far away and had come to Rivendell for help. Estel had spent the remainder of the day assisting Elrond in caring for the injured. He had often done so but he was still uncertain about getting another's blood on himself. He always enjoyed the experience, though - there was something satisfying about knowing someone would live because of your help. Perhaps he would get more used to the blood with time.
As they worked, a few of the men had commented on how like Elrond he was. He gave a wry smile as he caught sight of his ears in the mirror. He turned his head slightly so he could better see his left ear and, taking hold of the tip between thumb and forefinger, he pulled it into a point. Looking at it he noticed it was now indistinguishable from an elven ear. He let go and gave a sigh. Not only was it now hurting from being held in that position, but once he let go it went back to its original shape. No-one who saw his ears would possibly mistake him for Elrond's son.
"Estel! Are you ready yet?" His mother's voice came through the closed door into his room.
"Nearly, mother," he replied.
The uninjured Rangers had been invited to dinner and Elrond had requested Estel's presence. Since Elladan and Elrohir were not home, it fell to him to represent the sons of Elrond. He combed his hair carefully so it fell over his ears, then no-one would be able to see the tips of them were round. Perhaps the Rangers would not notice.
He quickly pulled on the clothes laid out on his bed and opened his bedroom door before his mother could walk in and chastise him again about not being ready. As predicted, she was waiting in the hallway.
She sighed, "Oh, Estel," and before he could protest she had straightened his clothes and kissed him on the cheek. He rolled his eyes and wondered if she would still be doing that to him when he had children of his own.
"I saw that. Now, remember your manners this evening and be on your best behaviour."
"Yes, mother." Of course he would. He always was - and would not do anything less in the presence of Elrond.
He reached the dining hall to find Elrond waiting for him along with the other elves and men who would be eating with them. There had been no time for introductions earlier and he was not even sure of the names of the men he had treated. Even though Elrond introduced him to each of the Rangers, there were too many names to remember and to his disappointment found he could not match any one name to a face.
Sitting down to eat he found himself placed with Elrond on one side of him, a Ranger on the other and Glorfindel opposite. Estel turned to his left.
"I am sorry," he said, "I have forgotten your name."
"That is perfectly understandable since there are a good many to remember. I am Saeldir."
"Estel," he replied, with a small nod of his head in place of a bow.
"Tell me, Estel," Saeldir said. "Do you want to be a healer when you're older?"
Estel had to stop and think about that. He had not been asked before what he wanted to do. It all seemed to be decided for him. Out of the corner of his eye saw Elrond threatening to dish his dinner up for him. He gave Elrond a look and took the bowl from him, ignoring Elrond's chuckle. "I am to be a Ranger," he eventually replied, passing the bowl onto Saeldir once his plate was full.
"A noble goal, certainly."
"It is all that I know how to do."
"I am sure you will make a fine Ranger, especially if you take after your father."
Estel looked up sharply. Which father was Saeldir referring to? He frowned as he considered what to say next, pushing his hair back behind his ears to save it getting in the way. As he did so he realised it was not the first time this evening. He gave a sigh and leaned back in his chair. He would obviously have to practice his ability to deceive in the future.
"Did you know my father?" At least he might be able to gain some information. The only memories he had of him had been told to him by his mother.
"I didn't, not personally, unfortunately." Saeldir gave a sideways glance at Estel, which did not go unnoticed, even though Estel pretended to concentrate fully on his food. "Was that long pause before asking because you thought I referred to another?"
I will never be a Ranger if I am this transparent, Estel thought. He looked to Elrond but he was busy in conversation.
"Forgive me but you are the only man in a place filled with elves. And I have been here before, when you were younger. You probably don't remember."
Estel shook his head. He remembered Rangers visiting in the past but could not say for sure if any of them had been Saeldir.
"From far away you would probably be mistaken for an elf. You certainly have their grace."
Estel smiled. It seemed to take him a good deal more effort than the elves to achieve though. "Do you envy the elves?" Many people did, he knew, but Saeldir obviously knew them well and Estel wondered if his opinion would be different.
"Who doesn't?" Saeldir replied. He paused to refill his wine glass and pour a little into Estel's, who was secretly pleased.
"I certainly wish I had their eyesight," Saeldir continued, "and then there is the big question of immortality. Wouldn't it be nice to always look young and never fear dying?"
Estel examined Saeldir. He looked older than Elrond but he knew that was an illusion. He could see in his eyes that he was wise though. He certainly would not want to look this age all his life but did he want to look as old as Saeldir? He knew his mother often worried she was starting to look older. "I am not sure," he finally said.
"When you see someone you know die, then perhaps you will wish it." He took a bite of food and Estel waited for him to finish chewing. "You are going to die one day, young Estel. What do you think about that?"
Estel saw Elrond stiffen out of the corner of his eye before the elf returned to his conversation with Glorfindel and the Ranger seated beside him. "Not for a long time though," he said, which was something of a reassurance. Although unbidden an image came to him of his mother's death. He took a bite of food and banished it to the corner of his mind. He could not imagine his life without her in it and was momentarily glad that at least Elrond would live forever and therefore always be around.
Estel stood on the balcony, leaning against the railing and watching the Rangers below, who were talking and laughing. He wondered at that - the stories they had told at dinner about the things they had seen and done were not all pleasant. They had made many toasts to fallen comrades and at least one of the men present had found a story to tell of one who had died that day, making everyone laugh at one of the dead man's antics.
He had once asked Elladan what it was like to watch one of your friends die and he had said, "It makes a hole in your life that can never been filled again." He wondered if Elladan had been referring to Estel's father but he did not want to upset his brother by asking.
The Rangers, by comparison, joked about it and he really did not understand why. Perhaps one day he would be able to ride out with Elladan and Elrohir, then he would be able to find out more about these people. His people, although it was difficult to imagine himself belonging to a race so different from himself.
He heard a noise behind him and wondered how long Elrond had been there.
"Why do they laugh," he asked, "about a subject the elves take so seriously?"
"It is because they know they are going to die, it is merely a matter of when and how it happens. Dying in battle or old age is considered a fitting death, especially for Rangers who lead a dangerous life." He paused. "Is that the life you would like?"
Estel considered it carefully, although he never really had any doubts. "I think I would be able to understand them better if I spent more time with them. I am told my father was a good Ranger."
"Yes, he was. One of the best"
"Then why did he die?"
"That is not an easy question to answer, Estel. I would tell you that you will know the answer to that question when you see it happen in front of your own eyes. But if I could spare you that pain, I would.
"Would you like to go with Elladan and Elrohir when they return?" Elrond continued. "To learn how to be a Ranger?"
Estel looked round at Elrond, unable to keep the excitement from showing in this face. "I can? Really?" He had wanted to go with them since he was a small boy but had not been allowed. Elladan and Elrohir, when they were home, had been teaching him the skills he needed to be a Ranger, but Elrond was so protective of him he wondered if he would ever let him leave Rivendell.
Elrond smiled at Estel's enthusiasm. "I would not have suggested it otherwise. Although they may not be home for some time."
Estel nodded but inside he was upset. He wished Elladan and Elrohir spent more time at home - he missed them when they were gone.
Elrond reached out a hand to touch the tip of Estel's left ear gently with one finger. "Your ear is red just here."
Estel ducked his head out of Elrond's reach.
"I know it is not easy," Elrond continued, "growing up among people who are a different race to your own, with different customs. You are a man, Estel, never forget that."
He looked round at Estel expecting him to agree but Estel was not so sure of that.
"You do have elven blood in you and you have been growing up as an elf," Elrond continued when Estel said nothing. "Perhaps that makes you as half-elven as I."
Estel returned inside to find his mother had not yet gone to bed.
"Mother," he interrupted her. Gilraen put down her quill and smiled at her son, so he brought a chair up to hers and continued. "Does it make you sad to think of my father?"
"When I remember your father I think of all the good things about him and all the good times we had. It makes me sad because he's not here. I wish he could have seen you grow up." She reached out a hand to touch Estel's cheek.
"I wish I could remember him. I feel sad that he's not here but if he were we would still be living in the Angle wouldn't we? And that makes me sad because I wouldn't have had Elrond for my father."
"Elrond has been so good to us and you are lucky to have two fathers who love you."
"Would you still love me if I was an elf?"
Gilraen laughed which annoyed Estel. It was a serious question. Seeing the look on his face she stopped abruptly. "Estel, you are my son. I would love you if you were an orc."
Estel idly fingered the edge of his shirt, not entirely believing her.
Gilraen rose and knelt in front of Estel, taking his hands in hers. "I promise it will get easier. You will understand one day. But never stop asking questions, my son."
Estel nodded. He was not going to get a clear answer from anyone this night. Gilraen rose to kiss him on the forehead and return to her correspondence. "Now, Estel, you should be in bed. You look as if you have been drinking too much wine."
"Mother! You know Elrond doesn't let me drink it."
"But you are your father's son. I know you will have found a way."
Estel merely shook his head. Although his mother often annoyed him, it seemed that she also knew him well. He did as he was told, and left her room in search of his, although he was not sure how much he would be able to sleep with these thoughts running through his head.
When Estel returned to his room, he stood in front of the mirror once more. He pushed his hair back behind his ears and ran his finger across the top of his left ear. Elrond was right, it was red; but it was also round.
What am I?, he wondered. Did growing up amongst elves make him an elf? Did dressing and acting like an elf make him one? Or was it all due to his birth and his parentage and he was unable to change that? Estel wished he were an elf, which he knew was not uncommon amongst other species on Middle-earth. Yet he was closer to that goal than any of them and still he would be denied the chance.
Estel resisted the urge to pull on the tip of his ear again and turned away from the mirror to avoid the temptation. It was not as if the Rangers would not accept him - after all, Elladan and Elrohir often joined them. Being an elf, however, would solve his problems later on when he met other men who would not then expect him to act as one of their own kind.
Perhaps though, if he was as good a Ranger as his father was, assuming all the tales were true, then it would not matter which race he seemed to belong to. For the moment he contented himself with being an elf with round ears and decided that perhaps he should wait and see what his time with the Rangers would bring before he worried about it any more. He did not want Elrond to think he was no longer interesting in becoming a Ranger and change his mind about letting him go.
A man Estel was
Not an elf
It’s what he is, not what he does
A man Estel was
Though it haunted him because
Whatever he tried to tell himself
A man Estel was
Not an elf
Poem at the end by fileg, used with permission
Many thanks to Tanaqui for beta reading