Tracks in the Snow|
Summary: Estel discovers peculiar tracks in the snow-covered courtyard of Imladris and decides to investigate.
Disclaimer: All characters and places are the property of the Tolkien estate.
Estel stooped low, bringing his face closer to the snow and the shape he had spotted on it. Unconsciously he stuck the tip of his tongue out of his mouth as he puzzled over the shape. It looked like a foot print.
But it was small – he righted himself to make an experimental bootprint into the snow next to it. Yes, the boot was much larger than the footprint, and he didn’t even have that big feet. What was more, the footprint only had three toes.
Something was very weird.
“Ah, no!” A surprised shout escaped his lips as one end of the thick woolen scarf he wore slipped of his neck. He fumbled to catch the offending piece of clothing but the damage was done. The ends of the scarf brushed through the snow exactly where the weird footprint and his own boot imprint had been, smudging the tracks.
He sighed in defeat and let himself fall back into the snow, landing with a soft ‘pluff’ in the ankle deep snow. Erestor was right - he was just too clumsy.
Before he could lose all spirit, however, he found a new print. Just one large step away from the first, was a second of the weird footprints. Quickly, Estel scrambled back to his feet – his mother would not appreciate him sitting in the cold snow anyway and if he got sick Adar would make him drink that awful tea again. No, it was better not to sit down. And anyway, there was a mystery waiting to be solved - right in front of his nose.
Estel tread carefully through the snow, trying not to ruin this next print as well. Just for good measure he gave the end of his scarf a firm tug to make sure it would stay in place this time. Sometimes it felt as if the scarf was as big and heavy as he himself, but he liked wearing it. His brothers had given him the thick scarf, as well as the fluffy gloves that encased his fingers to keep him warm, saying that a true adventurer needed warm clothes in the winter time. And his scarf was even bigger and better than Glorfy’s! Not that he had seen the golden-haired elven lord ever actually wear a scarf – but the one that Glorfindel had shown Estel when the boy had asked him to compare their ‘adventure gear’ was definitely smaller than his own.
The sight of the new footprint drew Estel’s attention away from his warm apparel and he bent down again to get a better look. It was the same as the first one had been. A small footprint with three toes that dug deep into the snow. For a brief moment Estel thought that something of his brothers’ and Glorfindel’s talks about tracks tugged at his memory, something was odd here – but the sight of yet another footprint pushed the thought from his mind before he could grasp it fully.
He crossed another few steps over the white blanket of snow that covered the courtyard of the Last Homely House. It was unblemished safe for the weird footprints ahead of him and the signs of his own passing in their pursuit.
The snow crunched under Estel’s feet, the only sound in the stillness outside. Most of the elves were in the Hall of Fire, he knew, preparing for the winter solstice festivities that were but a few days away. None of them would have noted the weird three-toed prints in the snow. Were they made by dwarves?
Estel had never seen a dwarf, but Elladan had said that he was just like one, just as short and just as happy to play in the dirt. Except - if he was as tall as a dwarf but his feet were too large for the footprints in the snow then didn’t that mean that also dwarven prints would be larger?
Satisfied with his logic, Estel moved on. The wind was picking up, sending loose snowflakes in a lazy tumble over the white blanket on the ground. Unconsciously, Estel tightened his scarf once more and picked up his pace, he would not lose this trail.
It was only when he reached the next footprint that he realized what had bothered him about the second one. They were identical! All of the foot prints had been left, no wait – Estel held his boot up next to the foot again for comparison – right feet! But that couldn’t be, could it?
Was the person he was following jumping on one leg?
Fighting the urge to sit back down in the cold snow, Estel thought about his discovery. He hadn’t missed any footprints, he was sure, there was no sign of a left foot. He tried to imagine how a being would look like that had small feet with only three toes and jumped through the snow on one bare foot, but found that he could not. It was too bizarre.
Yet there was a puzzle here, one that he intended to solve. Estel considered for a moment to ask his Adar for help. Elrond, the boy was sure, knew everything.
Still, as he kept gazing at the offendingly right-footed imprint, he wasn’t moving back to the house. This was his discovery and his puzzle to solve, he was simply too intrigued to let go of the mystery in the snow.
He was still staring at the foot print when he, unconsciously, noticed something else. The tumbling snowflakes carried by the wind were moving unevenly. There was a spot, just before the foot print were they slowed down and gathered in the barest of indentations.
Not minding the snow that came up to bury his leg, Estel kneeled in the snow, once again moving his eye as close as possible to the anomaly. Was it just chance? Had the wind created this small dent in the snow here, or was it something else entirely?
The shape, barely there, was too even to be made by the wind and as Estel narrowed his eyes to see the contrast between the untouched snow and the hint of an indentation more clearly, the pieces fell into place.
The snow wasn’t untouched at all!
He had assumed that the three-toed invader and himself were the only people who had tread on the white snow covering the Imladris courtyard, but it was not so. Elves had been here. Right here, following the very same footprints he had discovered.
His excitement was doused as if it had been plunged into the cold snow he was kneeling on. The footprints were supposed to be his secret, his puzzle to figure out, his great adventure to experience. But clearly they had already been discovered.
Estel warily approached the next foot print, again identical to the ones before it, and saw the same bare hint of an indentation of another print. If he squinted he could make out the triangle shape of a boot tip, just in front of the three-toed footprint. As if the elf had squatted down to observe the print more closely…
Except the angle was wrong!
Estel had seen Glorfindel or his brothers read tracks before, the distance was off, these prints looked as if – new fire fueled Estel’s sense of adventure, and with a wide smile on his young face he dashed along the line of three-fingered prints on the ground. He no longer took the time to scrutinize every one of them, did not even slow down when one of the foot prints looked like a wolf’s imprint rather than the familiar shape of the three-toed bare foot. In fact, he barely looked where they were leading him, for he had a feeling he knew where they would be going, and what he would find at the end of his trail.
His quick breaths formed little puffs of fog in the air in front of him when he finally reached his destination and slowed down. Just as he had expected, his brothers were sitting on one of the benches by the garden pool. A small snowtroll beside one of the benches showed what they had done with the snow that they had cleaned from the area to light a small firee. In the summer time Estel loved spending the evenings here, eating freshly roasted fish from the nearby pond and gazing at the stars. Now a small can was heating over the fire, but Estel paid that and the rest of the surroundings little heed.
He raced over to the brothers and flung himself into Elrohir’s arms. “You made the footprints!” He announced. It might have sounded like an accusation if not for the laughter that accompanied the statement and the gleeful expression on his face.
He had seen through his brothers’ trick.
Soft peals of laughter rose from Elladan as he retrieved the hot can and walked over to his two brothers, carefully filling a cup with warm chocolate milk. “It seems you have been found out, brother,” he said to his twin, as he handed Estel the steaming cup. Then turning to Estel, he asked: “How did you know, tithen pen?”
“I saw your boot prints!” He took a careful sip of the cocoa, not noticing the astonished silence that followed his words as the chocolaty drink warmed him from the inside.
Elladan’s laughter broke the silence, louder than before. “Oh Elrohir, I said you had put on weight!” The older twin clapped his brother’s shoulder gleefully as he laughed at his expense.
“Actually”, Estel interrupted, shuffling his feet uncertainly before looking up at his brothers. “I did not know it was Ro,” the rest of the sentence was almost a mumble, “both of you seem to have put on the same weight.”
The twins burst into laughter at that and Elrohir stepped forward to affectionately ruffle his hair as both of the sons of Elrond were so fond of doing. “So we have, Estel, so we have.”
The rest of the morning passed with the drinking of more hot chocolate and the building of a second, much bigger, snow troll. Elrohir showed Estel how to make mock footprints by pressing the side of his fist into the snow and creating three “toe” prints with his finger above the arching “sole” of the foot.
Through it all, Estel paid careful attention to his brothers’ movement over the snow and the almost invisible prints they left behind – he did not find all of them but when he noticed a mark, he exclaimed in excitement and stooped low to get a better look, eagerly memorizing the characteristics of an elven footprint.
“You, Estel,” Elladan was saying, “will become a great tracker one day.”
“The best!” Estel answered proudly.
It was a gleeful promise, given with all the exuberance of childhood, yet, somehow, the twin sons of Elrond had the feeling that this was a promise their little brother was going to keep.