The elf jerked his head up, startled, and turned toward the river. He scowled, irritated with himself for his lapse in concentration. Aragorn heard them before I did. I have lost my head today. He set the axe down and reached behind him for the shirt he had draped over a nearby shrub. Shaking his head to dislodge the wood chips clinging to his hair, he drew the garment over his torso and went to stand beside the ranger. The sound of horses drew near. He listened briefly, assuring himself that they were the familiar sounds of the steeds of Alun and the boy, and ran his sweaty hands nervously over his thighs.
Legolas welcomed the diversion the visitors would bring. Though he felt uneasy, his blindness remaining a constant source of embarrassment and frustration to him, he badly needed something to take his thoughts from the troubling words Alun had spoken the previous evening. He had pondered through the night, sitting sleepless and worried before the fire, trying to come to some understanding of what he had heard. There was not enough information to work with and draw definite conclusions, but the few facts he did have filled him with fear. An army was being gathered and trained for some unknown purpose. The leaders, one of whom apparently hailed from over the mountains, spoke against elves. What did it mean?
If the wizard and the captain meant to march on his people, they had a long journey ahead of them. The trek over the mountains would be arduous and time consuming for a large force of men, but it could be done. And after that? One hundred miles, perhaps one hundred fifty, would lie between the army and the home of his father. Were the enemy to attempt to approach the realm of Thranduil directly from the mountains they would undoubtedly be spotted by all who dwelt in those open areas. Men, dwarves and elves all moved freely around the wide plains northwest of Lake-town and Dale.
If they opted instead to close on Thranduil from the other side, moving southwest and then turning east to approach from under the cover of the forest, the elves would undoubtedly detect the army long before it got within striking distance. Neither possibility could be considered truly dangerous. This army was a remote threat at best. To march a distance of many miles over mountains and on to a target that was sure to retaliate ere one soldier set foot in the elven realm was complete folly. Surely the leaders had their eyes fixed on a different place, one that would yield more bountiful fruit.
The rational part of Legolas' mind whispered that all was well. Then why do I feel so uneasy? As if a shadow lingers, waiting for an opportunity to smother me. He stirred, angrily trying to shrug off the feeling of foreboding. Headaches and the darkness before my eyes change me. My thoughts turn too easily to fear. The army can no more march on Mirkwood than I can use my bow again.
"Tell me again what they look like; the boy and his horse," he said to Aragorn, yanking his thoughts away from situations he could not control.
Aragorn spoke quickly as the sound of splashing water told the elf that the riders were now crossing the river. "The boy has sandy brown hair and dark eyes. He is tall and slender but strongly built, about eleven years of age. Today he wears the same red cloak. It is richly embroidered with a border of gold and what must be the emblem of his house across his back: a rearing stag of white and gold against a backdrop of red. His horse is a fine chestnut stallion. The boy handles him extremely well. Greetings, my friends!" he called as the horses clattered to a stop before them.
"A good day to you both." Alun's voice was somewhat breathless. He had apparently been hard pressed to keep up with what seemed to be the child's usual pace up the hill.
"I see it was another hard ride," Aragorn said, his tone filled with mirth.
"Indeed. I can scarcely keep up with this young devil, and his horse rivals those of legend, the Mearas. How he can manage such a creature is beyond my comprehension." The saddle creaked as the soldier swung his weight over and dismounted with a grunt. There was no sound from the boy, whose horse stamped and jingled several feet to Alun's right.
Legolas steeled himself and turned toward the sound. If he was to play host, he would do so to the best of his ability. "Welcome, Lord Tarnan," he said, bowing formally. "It is an honour to have you visit with us today."
Alun's sharp laugh rang out. "The child's eyes are as large as saucers. And they appear to have swallowed his tongue. An unusual occurrence, I assure you. Get off your horse, boy," he added with gruff affection.
The child dropped lightly to the ground, and rapid footsteps approached the elf. "You can ride him if you want to."
"Ride your horse?" Legolas asked, his brows shooting up in surprise. "I thank you. It is a generous offer. Let us first put your mounts in with the old mare, and we will discuss it."
"Elves can ride anything. He won't throw you."
"I have fallen from horses before," the elf said with a smile. "And I take it so has someone else in our company."
Alun cleared his throat. "The beast is wild. I can do nothing with him," he said, sounding embarrassed. "They named him Firestar, and for good reason. Steer clear of him, Legolas."
"He is the fastest horse in our city," Tarnan said with pride. "No one has defeated us in a race."
"I see you are a bold horseman, young sir," laughed Aragorn. "If you and Alun put your steeds in the pen, we can discuss such matters inside where the fire will warm us. Are you hungry?"
"Of course," the boy replied. "I'm always hungry." The harness sounded like bells as he turned his horse toward the barn. Alun followed, and the elf tracked them with his ears, his head held high. He felt strangely excited.
"The boy does not know I am blind," he whispered.
"I agree," Aragorn told him. "It seems in character for Alun to not speak of it, but to leave it for you to tell. Do you mean to play your game, then?"
"Yes. I do not wish to deceive the child, but I desire a genuine friendship with him. It will be tainted somehow if he knows I cannot see."
"I disagree with you there, but I will help you as promised. But the boy may realize your blindness eventually and be angry you misled him."
"I will not mislead him. I will not tell him that I can see, any more than I will tell him that I cannot." Legolas stepped forward, intending to walk to the horses, but Aragorn's hand suddenly clamped onto his forearm.
"I recognize that glint in your eye, Legolas. Stay off that horse."
The elf laughed, shaking free of the grip, but he remained standing beside his friend. "Very well, Aragorn. I will not ride him today, but I make no such promise for tomorrow."
"I was afraid you'd say that. Do you remember how the table is laid out?"
"Exactly. I know where everything is. That is, I think I do…" Legolas added, furrowing his brow. He closed his eyes, trying to control his apprehension, and pictured the table again in his mind. The bread is already on my plate. I will not have to cut it. The wine is poured. Did we set out raisins or apples? What if the boy asks me to pass something to him? Please, sweet Elbereth, get me through this meal…
"You do not look entirely at ease, my friend."
Legolas blew out a breath. "I am not. But I hope any peculiarities the boy notices will simply be thought elven traits."
"Elven traits are peculiar enough," Aragorn laughed. "Your ruse may just succeed. If I notice the boy scrutinizing you I will attempt to divert his attention. Ah, they are finished with the horses now. Are you ready?"
Legolas listened to the approaching footsteps, noting the solid even tread of the big man and the light ones of the child. He inhaled deeply, seeking to dispel his tension. "Let us go in."
The elf soon discovered there was little opportunity to feel uncomfortable. He ate sparingly, so as to avoid having to reach for things, and found himself struggling to keep up with the boy's rapid-fire questions. In between gulps of bread and honey Tarnan peppered him with all manner of inquiries ranging from elven archery (he had immediately spotted the elf's longbow hanging from the door), to whether he liked rabbit or mutton stew best. And why was the cat walking about with a sock in her mouth? The latter question the baffled elf could not answer.
And then, before Legolas could stop what happened next, the boy turned the conversation around once more and was requesting an archery demonstration. Quickly formulating a graceful excuse, the elf was in the act of drawing breath to respond when Aragorn chose that moment to interject. To his astonishment and dismay, the ranger told Tarnan that Legolas would be delighted to oblige him.
Stunned, the elf turned toward his friend, fighting to keep his anger in check before their guests. "Aragorn, you know I have not picked up my bow since I was injured," he said in a low voice.
"You can pick it up now. Begin to practice again," Aragorn said firmly.
What is he thinking? He knows how I feel about this matter. Legolas felt his body go weak and his heart wither, but with an effort he pulled himself up from the mire of self-doubt. Fueled by his rage, he responded to the ranger's challenge. "I will practice, Aragorn. Indeed I will, starting tomorrow," he said coldly. "With you as my target, tied to a tree with an apple on your head."
"I'll risk it."
"You may regret having such faith in me."
"Never," the man answered. "My faith is well-placed."
The boy was delighted. With that desire granted, he moved on to another area of interest: what lay over the mountains. Aragorn told him of the many kinds of people living there; elves, men, dwarves and hobbits, but he revealed nothing of individual realms, and he did not tell the boy and Alun that Legolas was a prince.
"I will visit them one day," Tarnan declared firmly. "All the people. Malcovan and my tutors tell me I must stay home and not form friendships with others, but I don't believe that is the way. Friendships will strengthen my city, not threaten it."
"You have much wisdom for one so young," said Aragorn. "It pleases me to hear you say this, as I understand your tutors try to convince you otherwise."
Legolas heard the boy snort derisively. "I do not listen to them. I listen to what my mother taught me. She liked other people and making new friends. Her words are more important than theirs."
"Yes," Alun stated. "And you honour her memory by holding true to what she taught you."
"It is how I keep her alive," the boy said quietly, and Legolas heard a slight tremble in the young voice. He turned toward Tarnan in concern and sympathy. The child had lost his mother just one short year ago. The hurt and bewilderment must still be very fresh.
"Tarnan, will you introduce me to Firestar now?" he asked as he rose to his feet, eager both to distract the boy and to be quit of Aragorn's company. The urge to throw himself across the table and grab the ranger around the neck had not abated as the conversation continued. In fact it had grown so fierce as to be almost overwhelming.
"Oh, yes!" The child's chair scraped noisily against the floor as he quickly jumped up. "I want you to ride him."
"Remember your promise, Legolas," Aragorn growled in a low voice.
The elf raised his head and did his best to freeze the ranger with an icy elven glare. "Today I will not ride. Instead, I eagerly look forward to shooting you with my arrows tomorrow. I have decided to abandon the apple. My new target lies exactly thirty-seven inches from the ground, which I believe is the length of your legs. And I will, of course, be certain to center my shots. You will be called Strider no more, as I intend to permanently alter your gait."
"It appears I have gone too far," the ranger said quietly.
"You have. Let us go, Tarnan. I will follow you."
Legolas heard Aragorn rise. "I am sorry, Legolas. I thought…"
"I do not care what you thought. You knew my stand on this." The elf turned his back on his friend and left him, trailing after the boy as he crossed the yard to the horses. He was fuming. He knows I cannot do this. Why make my humiliation a public spectacle? I am an archer no more.
He sighed and pushed his anger aside as he leaned against the fence, knowing the stallion would sense his mood and choose to avoid him. He extended his hand over the fence and chirped. A soft whinny answered and he listened as a horse drew near. A velvety muzzle brushed against his hand. This was Rhosgernroch. "Hello, old lady," he murmured. "Are you enjoying your visitors?"
"She and our horses are old mates. Alun and I often came up to visit Gildwas."
"I understand he was a good friend."
"Yes," the boy said curtly, and changed the subject. "Why did Aragorn make you promise not to ride Firestar?"
"He worries about me. Did Alun tell you how Aragorn and I came to live in Gildwas' house?"
"He said you were attacked by orcs, and they hit you with a poisoned dart. It made you sick."
"Yes, very sick. I came close to dying, but Aragorn cared for me. He is a skilled healer, and by his hands I recovered. I am nearly well now, but Aragorn does not want to see me taking too many risks just yet."
"Are you really going to shoot him where you said?"
"I am seriously considering it."
"Can I watch?"
Startled, Legolas burst out laughing at the boy's sense of humour. "Yes. I will grant you a seat of honour in the first row."
"Firestar is staring at you."
"I expect he will come once he has finished looking me over," the elf. He kept his face turned toward the animals as he stroked Rhosgernroch, not wanting to try to locate the boy's eyes while speaking with him. A gust of wind blew his hair back, and he heard Tarnan hiss.
"Are you cold?" he asked in concern.
"Valar, yes. Are you not?"
"No," Legolas said. "It is not yet cold enough to bother me." But it will be cold enough to bother Aragorn. I will tie him to a tree with no jacket or cloak and leave him for a bit until he is miserable, shivering with cold and begging me to free him, and then I will start shooting. Better yet, he will be tied to the tree naked. It will be a pathetically small target, of course, but I just might be able to hit it…
"You don't even have a cloak on. Let alone a jacket!" The unmistakable sound of a boy jumping up and down came to the elf's ears.
"And you left your outer-garments inside. Let us go back," the elf suggested.
"No, wait. Here comes Firestar."
Legolas listened as the stallion approached with more than a little snorting and stomping of feet. "He really thinks he is something," he laughed. "A supremely confident animal."
Rhosgernroch, with an irritated squeal, pulled back and trotted away. A new horse head appeared, thrusting into Legolas' chest and nearly knocking him backward. "Hello, Firestar. Did you just nip the old lady in the rear? I think she did not appreciate that." The elf quietly raised his hand and rested it on the horse's withers. Slowly he stroked his fingers along the neck, feeling the powerful muscles rippling beneath the warm skin. The animal jerked his head up and danced about briefly before settling again. The elf touched him once more, whispering softly to him in Sindarin as he worked his way toward the face. He traced the elegant structure of the head, moving his fingers along the ridge of the jaw, and Firestar nickered softly.
"He is a truly beautiful animal, Tarnan. And he loves you."
"He was my mother's horse," the child whispered softly.
"Was he? She must have been quite a horsewoman."
The fence vibrated as the boy leaned against it. Legolas felt Tarnan's hand lightly brush past his own as he began petting his horse. "She was. He is still perhaps a bit too much horse for me, at least everyone tells me that he is, but I wanted to learn to ride him. And take care of him. It… I thought for a while if I took good care of him, she might come back. Or at least it would make her happy, if she was watching from somewhere. Now I don't know why I thought that. It was silly." the young voice sounded defeated. Legolas heard the boy inhale deeply, but Tarnan said no more.
"Caring for Firestar and learning to ride him brings you closer to her," Legolas said. "And it comforts you. There is no foolishness in finding solace in such things. I did the same."
The fence shook again as the child shifted his weight. "You did? Your mother is dead?"
"Yes. I lost her four years ago. She was killed by orcs."
"Oh. I'm sorry," the boy said, his voice sounding unsure. He began to kick one foot against a post. "I didn't know elves had mothers."
"We have mothers."
"Was she pretty?"
The wistful question radiated an innocence that caused Legolas' heart to tighten. He smiled and closed his eyes to more easily envision the face of the one who had brought him into the world. The picture was fuzzy though, like a dream only half recalled, and he frowned in sudden confusion as he struggled to bring her features more clearly to his mind. But things other than her face came to him with clarity then and he reached gratefully for them. The scent of lavender, the silky smoothness of her gown, and a laugh like silver bells on a bright sunlit morning. His smile deepened.
"Yes, she was beautiful. Beautiful inside and out, as was your mother."
"What did you do to make it better?" the boy asked quickly. Legolas could well imagine the intensity of those young eyes watching him, waiting for an answer that would bring comfort.
"I worked in her garden. It was her greatest pleasure to bring beauty into the natural world, and after she was gone her garden sat empty and neglected. It hurt my family to think of it, and so they closed the gate and would not enter it. But I could not bear the thought of her beloved place standing cold and barren. And so I worked it whenever I had the time, and brought it back to what it had been. Aragorn helped me. And now, when it comes to life every spring, she comes to life as well."
"I'll come see it someday. We will have tea in her garden, and we will talk about our mothers there."
Strangely moved by the boy's words, Legolas turned suddenly and reached. He found Tarnan's shoulder and rested his hand on it. "I would welcome you as a dear friend."
For a moment they stood in silence, and Legolas sensed the start of a connection with this young boy who spoke so plainly and who felt the same pain that he felt. Then the moment was over, broken by the abruptness that he was beginning to understand was a characteristic of all young children.
"I'm bloody freezing," Tarnan announced, and started jumping again.
"Back to the cabin then," the elf said with a chuckle. "It won't do for our friendship to begin with you catching a chill. Alun will not allow you to return for another visit, and he would demand my head as well."
"Alun does as I command," the young lord of Carbryddin said proudly as they retreated from the biting wind. "You are my friend now. I will not permit anyone chop off your head."
"I am glad to hear it," Legolas laughed, and together the elf and the boy entered the house and closed the door behind them.First > Previous > Next