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Instruction in Youth is Like Engraving in Stone by Nieriel Raina


Title: Instruction In Youth Is Like Engraving In Stone

Rating: K

Summary: The Prince of Mirkwood takes on a dubious task…instructing a young Estel about life from the elvish proverbs. Based and titled on the proverb ‘Instruction in youth is like engraving in stone’.

Disclaimer: I only borrow people and places. The ideas and story line is mine. Proverbs quoted are public domain.

A/N: Estel is approx. 14years of age and has had on ongoing friendship/mentorship with the Prince since he was a small child. All proverbs cited are in italics and are taken from many cultures world wide.

‘Instruction In Youth Is Like Engraving In Stone’

(…it is a permanent yet sometimes a hazardous endeavor)

"Estel! …Estel it is time to get up! The sun has already showed itself above the horizon…are you planning to sleep your life away, young one?" The Prince of Mirkwood’s soft voice did not manage to even stir the young human who lay fast asleep in his bed.

Outside the birds were singing and the movement of many elves could be heard about the Last Homely House as they went about their morning routines. Estel also continued his own early morning routine…sleeping as late as he was allowed. Estel had waited and longed for Legolas’ visit, but not even his friend and mentor had been able to influence his habit of sleeping late.

Legolas frowned at the sleeping youth. It was time Estel learned some things and the elf had self appointed himself to teach his friend. A mischievous light entered the elf’s bright gray eyes and an evil smile formed on his lips.

Estel suddenly found himself lying face down on the floor, his mattress having been tipped to effectively dump him out of it. He rolled over and blinked sleepily up into a bright elven gaze.

"Legolas? What’d you do that for?" Estel mumbled as he yawned and stretched, his annoyance at being awakened so abruptly, plain on his face. Reaching up to pull the blanket over himself again, the boy curled up on the floor and closed his eyes.

"If you would rather have a bucket of water dumped over your head, I will be happy to comply." The prince’s cheerful voice grated on Estel’s ears. The young man pulled the blanket over his head. It was quickly removed. "Come, Estel, ‘The seeds of the day are best planted in the first hour’."

"What?" Estel blinked and looked at the elf more carefully. Since when had Legolas begun to sound like Erestor? "Legolas, what are you talking about and why are you dragging me out of bed so early?"

Legolas smiled at his young friend and shook his head. "It is not ‘so early’. The sun has been up for over an hour, it is going to be a fine day! I was quoting one of the old proverbs. Not all learning is of swords, bows, horses, tracking and hunting, young one!"

‘Though that is undoubtedly what Elladan and Elrohir think.’ Legolas mused, for once glad the twins were away in Lothlorien visiting Lady Arwen and Lady Galadriel. "There is much wisdom to be learned from the old sayings and I fear you have yet to learn them. As you have failed to listen to Erestor, I have taken the task upon myself."

The prince frowned. ‘Not that anyone could learn much from the boring lectures Erestor gives’, Legolas thought. He sighed. Still, the boy must learn and the elf was a firm believer in such things being learned through life lessons, not lectures. ‘ ‘Experience is the best teacher,’ after all,’ Legolas thought.

"Please tell me we are not spending your visit in the library over a book?" The young man pleaded, eyes wide in horror.

"No, but there is much to learn and you will not learn it on the floor!" The elf laughed. "Today, you will be learning some of the things you have failed to grasp from Erestor, Estel. Now, get yourself washed and dressed…and make your bed. I will meet you in the dining hall."

"But Legolas," Estel whined. "Why do I need to learn all those old sayings? They are just a bunch of pious sounding words!"

The prince shook his head, " ‘All old sayings have something in them’ , Estel. Much of the wisdom of the elves is wrapped in them, you must only learn to apply them in daily life. ‘The eye never forgets what the heart has seen’. You only need to learn to see with your heart, then you will understand them." With that, the elf left, leaving a baffled and annoyed Estel in his room to do as his friend had asked.

Estel stood unmoving for a few minutes after the elf slipped out. He sighed and moved to dress. This was not what he had in mind for spending time with his friend. He would simply have to think of some way to get Legolas’ mind off these silly old proverbs and have some fun instead.

o o o

After breakfast, Legolas and Estel walked quietly through the gardens. Estel was still grumpy from missing a couple hours of sleep and having to learn a bunch of words with messages he never understood. He sighed and glanced at his friend, deciding to try something that worked with Erestor. The young man looked up at a bird singing on a branch not far away, and smiled.

"Legolas, why do the birds always have so much to say? Do they know so much they think they need to tell everyone?" Thinking he could distract the elf with simple questions, Estel looked hopefully at Legolas and waited for him to admit he did not know.

"Many of Ilúvatar ’s creatures are so full of joy at simply being alive, they must express it. ‘A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song,’ Estel."

Legolas glanced at the young man out of the corner of his eye, and a slight smirk quirked his lips at Estel’s frown. Legolas had been a master of that trick himself when he was under a tutor. Estel would have to find some other way to distract him…but the elf would use those attempts as well. It was a teaching technique his last tutor had used, the one tutor he had not managed to drive away! The one the prince still admired and went to for advice on occasion.

"Come, let us grab our weapons, we will practice for a while. After lunch we will check on the horses. Perhaps later, a ride will cheer you up some?" At Estel’s smile, the elf took off for the house at a run, the young man not far behind.

Sounds of metal against metal filled the training grounds. Several elves gathered around to watch the Prince of Mirkwood sparring with Lord Elrond’s foster son. The young man was a natural with a sword, though he still had much to learn in the use of his preferred weapon.

Twin knives flashed and sword glinted in the morning light as Estel saw an opening and took it. However, the elf had been expecting such a move and blocked the blow, spinning around and attacking. Estel was caught off guard and incapable of blocking such a move. Unable to stop the momentum completely, a blow that would have been deadly against an enemy was reduced by Legolas to producing a nasty cut on the human’s sword arm.

"OW! Legolas! I told you I need armor when we spar like this! This is the second cut today!" Estel complained as the elf looked over the cut.

Legolas smiled, " ‘The best armor is to keep out of range’. You must learn to move faster or you will never block such moves. Still, you are much improved from my last visit. You must have been practicing…it is paying off!" Legolas smiled at Estel’s now beaming face. "We will stop for now. Let us go get this wrapped, then we will go get the horses."

o o o

A short while later the strange twosome laughingly came to a halt near the barn and paused by a circular enclosure to catch their breath. Inside the enclosure an elfing was getting riding instruction from her father. They watched as it appeared she lost her balance and fell to the ground.

"Good, Alassëa!" Urúvion praised his daughter.

Estel gaped at the elf’s words and looked at Legolas in disbelief. "Why would he praise her for falling off?"

Legolas smiled. "She was practicing falling." Estel’s eyes widened again and Legolas took the moment to pull from the proverbs of his people. "Do you not remember your own training? ‘It is not enough to know how to ride -- you must also know how to fall’. One can avoid many serious injuries by learning how to fall properly."

As Estel shook his head and rolled his eyes, Legolas decided not to point out how that piece of wisdom could apply to other areas of life as well. The young man just did not understand how to pull from the wisdom he had been taught.

Moving into the barn the two prepared their horses for a ride through the valley. Estel hoping for adventure, Legolas hoping for more chances to instill some piece of wisdom in that stubborn human’s head.

o o o

Riding through the woods, the two friends enjoyed the beauty of the morning. As the sun shone down on them, Legolas turned to Estel and continued the instruction.

"There will be many times in your life Estel when trouble and hard times come. It is in those times you must remember the old saying, ‘Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you’."

The young man blinked and frowned. "Legolas, what does the sun and shadows have to do with life’s hard times? That makes no sense!"

Legolas shook his head and smiled. "Turn around, Estel. Look behind you." Estel did so and continued frowning. "See the shadows? They are like dark times in our lives; if you focus on them, they become all you see. Now turn back around and look around you." Estel turned and the frown left his face as the sun kissed his cheeks. "Remember the good times, the joyful things in life, and focus on them, and the darkness disappears from your sight, though not gone completely. You cannot stop difficulty or sadness but you can decide what you choose to focus on. Remember the sun, Estel, and turn towards it when times are hard."

Comprehension dawned in the youth’s eyes and he turned awed eyes on his friend. Often he had wondered how Legolas remained so bright and cheerful, always a ray of sunshine even though his homeland was swallowed in darkness. Now he understood. Sunshine and darkness would never be the same again. Estel smiled at his friend and nodded.

After a peaceful lunch in a quiet meadow, where they had allowed the horses to graze, the two friends packed up and headed towards a secret spot the elf wanted to share with Estel on the river. It was quite a distance and soon the youth was complaining.

"How much further, Legolas?" Estel whined, grating on the fastly approaching impatient prince.

"You have asked that four times in the last twenty minutes! It has begun to annoy me, young one. ‘The more you ask how long will it take, the longer the journey will seem’ . I suggest you enjoy the scenery and leave me in peace…or perhaps you are not ready to see this place I wished to show you?"

"No! No, Legolas! I am sorry! I will not complain any longer, I am only tired and it seems such a long way. I will not ask again! I promise!" Estel’s face took on a pleading look.

Legolas shook his head, "‘A promise is a cloud; fulfillment is rain’ and ‘Clouds that thunder, do not always rain’. Do not make promises you will not keep, Estel." Giving another stern look at the youth, the elf urged his horse to pick up the pace. A small smile played on the prince’s lips as he noticed the youth pressing his own lips together firmly to keep from asking the dreaded question again.

They arrived mid afternoon at a place where the river ran deep under the bows of old beech trees. Legolas had not brought Estel to this part of the river before, in fact, Estel had never been to this particular place. It was beautiful the way the sun filtered through the canopy above and flashed off the rocks and water.

Before Legolas could utter a word, the youth had jumped from his horse and ran towards the inviting water, stripping as he ran. The elf opened his mouth to warn Estel that the river was deeper here than it looked, but he shut it before speaking and watched with an amused expression on his face. He silently thanked Ilúvatar for another teaching lesson on this fine day.

Estel reached the water and without hesitation, jumped right in. But unseen forces of the water pulled the young man down, the river’s current sucking him completely under and washing him downstream, to a place where the river became raging rapids.

The amusement on the elf’s face changed to horror as he realized the river’s currents were much stronger at this time of year than he remembered. The deceivingly peaceful river had undercurrents that must have increased with the rainfall a few days ago! Kicking his horse in action, Legolas sped after the barely visible human.

Rounding a bend, the elf leaped from his horse and jumped into the river, making a wild grab for the human as he fought the current. Estel reached out to Legolas, but only succeeded in barely grabbing Legolas’ hand. The youth’s momentum swung him into the elf’s legs, knocking both back into the now raging water.

The water tore the friends apart, bashing bodies against submerged rocks and fallen logs. Legolas could no longer see Estel, but he continued to fight the swirling water. A sharp pain shot through his side as the elf was smashed against a large boulder. Legolas bit back the cry of pain that would surely have had him swallowing river water.

When the elf felt for sure they would drown, the river opened back up into calm pool. Sputtering and ignoring the pain in his body, Legolas climbed to his feet, looking around frantically for Estel. Not far away, the body of his friend could be seen laying face down on the shore.

Legolas stumbled over to the young man and turned him over carefully. Estel’s eyes blinked rapidly as he focused on the elf above him.

"Estel? Estel, where are you hurt?" Legolas asked as he kneeled next to the dazed youth.

Estel slowly sat up, coughing up most of the river water he had inhaled on the perilous trip downstream. "I am not hurt, just bruised…I think." He winced and slowly tested limbs as Legolas checked him for broken bones.

As the elf tested arms and legs, he watched fearful eyes turn towards him slowly.

"Am I going to get in trouble for being an idiot?" Estel asked, eyes wide.

Legolas chuckled but grimaced as pain shot through him. With glistening eyes the prince turned his gaze on the shivering naked youth next to him. "Nay, young one! I believe I will settle for another lesson learned. I believe you have just found the truth in the old saying, ‘Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet!’"

Estel looked at his friend for a moment, an affronted look on his face. He turned his gaze on the river which had so betrayed him by luring him in with its peaceful front. Then his eyes dropped to his naked form sitting next to the elf. Estel closed his eyes and sighed as a small smile played on his lips.

"Very well, I am an idiot and a fool!"

Legolas smiled and shook his head. Seeing nothing obviously broken and only bruises, abrasions and a swollen wrist on the young man‘s body, Legolas sighed in relief, wincing again as the breath leaving his lungs caused his side to ache fiercely.

Detecting the expression of pain in the elf’s eyes, Estel slowly looked his friend up and down. "I am not seriously hurt, Legolas, but you are…show me where you are injured!"

Legolas slowly moved his hand to his side, holding his presumably broken ribs. "It is nothing, Estel. I am fine."

"And I am an orc!" The human exclaimed, reaching over to examine the prince despite the elf’s protests. Thankfully this was an injury Elrond had taught him how to treat. "Call your horse, Legolas. I will need the healer’s kit and something to wrap these ribs, they are cracked, I believe."

Legolas shook his head in disbelief, but whistled for his horse. Suffering silently through Estel’s inexperienced treatment, Legolas wondered how such a simple day had turned so quickly into disaster? It would seem a trip to Imladris never failed to leave someone injured, usually himself, the twins or now, Estel. They would now have to sneak into the Last Homely House if they wished to shirk a thorough exam and lecture from Lord Elrond.

Estel finished wrapping the elf’s ribs and wrapping an arm around his waist pulled him up. Both mounted Legolas’ horse and rode back to where Estel’s clothing lay strewn on the ground and not far away stood his horse, quietly grazing.

o o o

Once dressed Estel mounted his horse and the two headed back to Imladris. Legolas quoting more sayings as they rode, drawing from remembered ‘lessons’; Estel groaning as they were recalled and as he was required to memorize the proverbs.

"’Pray that you will never have to bear all that you are able to endure’."

"’If is better to stand there and look stupid, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt’."

"’Caution is not cowardice, even the ants march armed’."

"’Words are like spears: Once they leave your lips they can never come back’."

"’A stupid act entails doing the work twice over’."

"’He who would enjoy the fruit must not spoil the blossoms’."

Satisfied the youth had learned something, Legolas began to sing. And so they rode on, intending to enjoy the late afternoon ride despite their sore aching bodies.

o o o

Two weary riders managed to tend their horses and enter the Last Homely House without seeing a soul. After the ‘lessons’, the ride back from the river had included being chased by an angry mother bear protecting her cubs, being assaulted by squirrels hurtling nuts, and being completely drenched again in a late afternoon thundershower among other things.

Sneaking carefully through the halls, Legolas and Estel made their way to Estel’s room. There they would tend to each others multiple wounds before making themselves presentable for dinner. Upon reaching the room Estel lay down on his bed and Legolas simply sprawled on the rug.

"After all we have been through today, what piece of ‘elvish wisdom’ do you have now, Legolas?" Estel painfully stretched, then looked at the elf expectantly.

Legolas, for the first time that day, looked puzzled. How to sum up the day they had had with a final proverb, something profound. The elf shook his head, then grinned.

" ‘Wait until it is night before saying it has been a fine day’?"

o o o

Lord Elrond walked down the hall towards his family’s rooms, looking for his foster son and the mischievous Prince of Mirkwood. At the sound of laughter, he paused outside Estel’s door. Knowing Legolas and Estel were surely enjoying some joke, the Lord of Imladris peeked in quietly. His eyes widened at seeing two very dirty, bedraggled and apparently injured forms holding their sides as one lay on the bed, the other on the floor. Shaking his head, he announced his presence by clearing his throat.

Bright gray and blue-gray eyes turned sharply to the now open doorway and two faces grimaced at being caught in such a state. The Lord before them simply pointed down the hall and said, "Healing rooms…now…both of you."

Dragging their feet and grumbling as they walked, the dark haired and blond headed figures moved painfully down the hall. Behind them Elrond spoke once more.

"I believe you two should spend some time in the library going over some of the old proverbs. You both obviously have failed to grasp such wisdom! It is time you learn that ‘He that seeks trouble never misses’."

The prince and the young man looked at each other in disbelief, before continuing on towards the healing rooms, oblivious to anything else the Lord of Imladris said.

Elrond smiled and shook his head, foreseeing a great friendship that would overcome all obstacles in the years to come, indeed, one that would change Middle Earth forever. As he followed the troublesome pair, arms around the other as they hobbled down the hall, he spoke once more in only a whisper.

"‘Adversity is the touchstone of friendship.’"

The End

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Instruction in Youth is Like Engraving in Stone by Nieriel Raina

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