Duck - Duck - Goat!
Story by Zhie
Betaed by Charlie
Art by Mark Medved & Color by Zhie
“Duck. Duck. Duck. Duck. Duck. Duck.” Feanor
continued to round the circle, tapping each of his playmates on the head.
A smirk played on his lips, but he passed by the older elfling and went
around twice more before getting to his mark again. “Goat!” he shouted,
slapping the top of the dark head far harder than necessary. He was
halfway around by the time the elfling had managed to stand and start,
easily making it to Erestor’s former spot.
“Goat! Goat!” Mahtan giggled as Erestor blushed and smiled shyly.
“Well, yes, I’m the Goat then,” he confirmed, wishing he were not here. His mother had persuaded him to play with the other children in the area. She had bribed him with the prospect that she would not scold him for talking to animals if only he would try to make some friends his own age- and species.
- - -
“But I have friends!” he argued. “All of the squirrels, and the field mice, and the birds, and-“
“Friends who are eldar,” his mother persisted as she placed a hunk of bread and some apples in a cloth sack for him to take along.
“Oropher’s my friend, and so is Cirdan, and Finwe as well,” Erestor argued back.
His mother sighed. “Erestor, all three are grown, with families. They take an interest in your well-being, but sweetie, to them you’re just another elfling.”
Pouting, Erestor took the lunch sack that was held out to him, and heaving a great sigh, took the path that led from his family’s tent to the open fields where the elflings played.
- - -
“Go on then, Goat!” Feanor shouted, jarring Erestor from his thoughts. For emphasis, the younger bleated at him.
Mahtan snickered as Erestor began to round the circle, tapping each head in succession. “Bet he’ll have to pick a girl,” Mahtan whispered to Amarie. “You better watch out!”
Erestor paused briefly, having heard the stinging words. True, indeed, with his hand poised above the head of one of the younger ellethlings, his plan had been to shout ‘Goat!’. Instead, the word ‘Duck’ numbly left his lips, and his eyes sought out the one who had put him in this spot.
Feanor started to hear the word, but leaped up and gave chase. It seemed Erestor was about to reach his destination, but the ground came to meet him suddenly as his feet tangled with the legs of one of the boys who had abruptly stretched out his legs.
“Sorry about that,” replied Mahtan with mock sorrow as Feanor helped up the recently caught Erestor.
Erestor shrugged and shook his head. “S’a’right,” he mumbled as Feanor yanked him into the center of the circle.
“You’re the goat, and now you’re caught,” Feanor announced. “And now you stay in the middle. No, not like that,” he frowned as Erestor began to sit down. “Like a goat.”
“I’ve never played it like this,” mumbled Erestor as he stood up.
Feanor shrugged. “This is how we play it,” he said. “You know what a goat looks like, right?” he asked impatiently as Erestor continued to stand in the middle beside him.
“Like… this?” Erestor knelt down on the ground and put his hands in the grass.
“Good goat!” commended Feanor, giving Erestor a pat on the head. Erestor bowed his head shamefully as the rest of the children first laughed, then commenced with their game.
Erestor was left in the center for the remainder of the game, which wasn’t long as the voice of Finwe carried out over to the group, shouting that they should come for a snack. The elflings scrambled to get up and began to run in the director of Finwe’s house, but Feanor turned suddenly and motioned for Erestor to stop following.
“About earlier,” he began, and Erestor held out some hope for some sort of apology. “I mean, you can play with us like I said, but my Ada’s kind of funny about who comes by, and I should really tell him about you before you just come over. He’ll want to meet your parents, too. I know you understand,” he finished, running to catch up with the rest of the group.
Erestor’s hands shook as he settled beside a tree and untied the sack he had been given, only to find that some forest creatures had nibbled the fruit and ants were attacking the bread. Tossing it aside, he leaned back against the tree, willing himself not to cry.
“Ready or not, here I come!” shouted a voice. Erestor looked this way and that, and saw a young girl running from tree to bush on the edges of the glade. Standing up, he continued to watch her. As she approached him, she laughed and shook her head at him. “Are you going to help me find Makar or not?” she asked. Erestor, having not seen her ever before and having no idea who or what Makar was, simply continued to stare. “Ah, come on!” she said, and took hold of his hand, pulling him along.
Erestor heard the noise of someone giggling close by, and turned his head to listen. The girl stopped leading him, and Erestor showed the way, coming to a pine tree with boughs that hung low. There was a shriek as the pair ducked under a tree, coming from the youngster beneath it. “Meassa, not fair, you had help!” said Makar with a grin as he was tagged on the shoulder.
“Fair is, all I had to do was find you, and I did!” She turned to the elfling beside her and curtseyed. “Thank you, Erestor.”
“You are welcome, but who are you?” he wondered as Makar spread out a blanket that Erestor had not seen. From a cloth that had been tied up by its four corners, the lad brought forth sandwiches and fruit tarts, handing one of these to Erestor.
“My nana makes the best raspberry tarts,” said Makar. “Don’t you think so, dear sister?” he asked. Meassa tried to reply around the bite of tart she was eating, but instead simply nodded and smiled with chubby cheeks.
“My nana doesn’t make raspberry tarts,” Erestor said. He bit into the one he had been given and smiled as he chewed it. “These are very good,” he told them. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” the pair told him. Erestor found himself handed a cup that had been filled from a jug of milk. “We should all play hide and go seek when we are done with lunch,” suggested Meassa. “Finding two is more fun than just finding one.” Erestor happily nodded in agreement with Makar.
- - -
Staring up at the stars, the sky dimmer now that Telperion shone his light over the lands of Aman, Erestor sighed happily as he walked back home. He looked over his shoulder and waved at his new-found friends, and they waved back. He had had a long, adventurous day and longed for rest. Turning one final time to wave, he did not see his playmates, but merely shrugged it off.
When he reached home, he lifted the flap of the tent he lived in and sleepily slid inside. His parents noted his return with smiles and his mother asked, “Did you have a nice time?”
Thinking back first to his morning, Erestor frowned, but then a smile appeared on his face. “I had a great time,” he told them. “My friends and I, we played all sorts of games, and had a picnic under a gigantic tree,” he said, showing them with his arms how big the tree he spoke of was. “They said we should go hiking tomorrow, and take a swim if the water in the stream is warm enough.”
As Erestor took himself to bed, his parents smiled to each other. “Thank the Valar that he had finally shown some interest in others his age,” whispered his father to his mother.
- - -
“That was so much fun, father!” Makar strapped on his belt again, and sheathed his sword as his twin sister, Meassa, fussed with her hair as she looked at her reflection in the river. “We have to do that more often!”
“We have to do it again tomorrow,” Meassa reminded him. “You promised the little one we would return. If that is alright with you, father,” said the warrioress.
Namo smiled at his children and nodded. “It is a joy for your mother and I to watch you play as the children do.”
“What fun is being a Vala and having the ability to change your form if you never do anything with it?” asked Makar with a wink.