I had never been so frightened in my life. There was nothing I could do about it, nothing for it at all, but to sit in my bedchamber and wait for what was to come. And it was all my fault. I had done it; I deserved what would come. But that knowledge didn't make the shaking any less or ease the pain in my stomach at all.

Elrond's grey mare had foaled. I'd known she would foal this night: after watching so many mares over the seasons, I could read the signs as well as any. Now, Wilwaren had obviously finished with her birthing and something was amiss, for I had seen the stableman come to get Lord Elrond.

It wouldn't be news of Wilwaren's health that brought Lareth inside the hall tonight, nor news that the foal was not strong, for that would have meant merely sending word to the lord of Imladris. He wouldn't have been sent for.

It also couldn't mean the death of the mare or the foal, for Lord Elrond certainly wouldn't be called out in the darkness to view the corpses. No, he was being summoned to the stable by my friend the horsemaster for the express purpose of showing the Elf-lord something.

I knew without looking at the foal what it was Lareth wished Lord Elrond to see. I didn't need to see it to tell what flaw the foal carried. I'd been dreading its birth now for a full turn of the seasons, praying foolishly to the Valar that those who oversaw the growth of young foals inside their mother-mares would take pity on me and let it resemble Wilwaren, the sweet and beautiful grey mare that Elrond so prized; she who had gone the white of clouds on a clear summer day.

The foal would either have been white, in which case it would have been born black or perhaps chestnut, a rose grey to turn white, had it resembled its mother. Neither would have been cause for any thought at all.

It might even have been a bay, graying to white with the mane and legs that would hold their dark hair as long as possible before surrendering to the white. That would have been unusual for Lord Elrond's horses, but still within the realm of acceptability. But I knew Wilwaren's foal was not any of those.

No. I knew the color of this foal. I had known in my heart from the moment I'd opened the gates on a dark night months ago for the express purpose of breeding sire and dam.

Closing my eyes, I saw clearly in my mind's eye that the foal was now a fuzzy charcoal grey. This morning, it was as dull as any dusty forest mouse, but when the fluffy foal coat fell away, it would be black--a shining, inky black as that of his sire which is the only black horse in Imladris. That sire also happens to be my black stallion, Fuin--which points the finger of defiance, complicity and deceit, directly at me.

My heart contracted painfully in anticipation of the wrath that would fall with Lord Elrond's return. What was worse, I couldn't even tell him why I'd done it. We'd argued about this breeding months before, when Elrond had told Lareth to put Ross to Elrond's most-prized mare.

No, I'd argued. Elrond had glared at me, annoyed by the audacity of a mere stripling ward to dare debating the breeding of the Elf-lord's own horses.

But what Elrond was planning was wrong. The fact that his planned breeding would result in a cat-hammed, weak-hocked foal was beside the point. There was a roaring in my ears and a panicked feeling when I thought of this breeding. It was wrong.

The dread and panic rose in my mind and heart to an almost unbearable screeching. The only time it fell silent was when I thought of Wilwaren being coupled with Fuin. I tried to tell Elrond. Tried to explain to both the Lord of Imladris--whom I was sure had been breeding horses since the beginning of time--and to his horsemaster, who surely had been breeding horses since before Elbereth had kindled the first star in the sky.

I had stood before both of them, had dared to countermand their decision with all of my 24-year-old audacity and insisted Wilwaren be bred to my stallion.

It had not been a clever move on my part. Horsemaster Lareth had been obviously amused. Lord Elrond, however, had not. In fact, he had reacted with uncharacteristic anger at my even bringing up such a suggestion.

Worse, I couldn't find the words to make sense of what I was feeling. I was dismissed with harsh words reminding me of my age and place within the lord's household, and a reminder that black horses were not well thought of in Imladris.

Lord Elrond seemed to hold a serious aversion to them. I was sure he suffered my horse in his stable only because he could find no way to gracefully part Fuin from me. To suggest actually breeding the stallion was the height of folly, and in that moment my not breeding Fuin became Imladris law. There was no hope of claiming misunderstanding over this issue: Fuin would have no get.

And yet, later that night when I was certain no one was about, I had crept to Wilwaren's paddock and unlatched the gate that barred her from all company until the one chosen for her could be brought. My stallion had slipped within the mare's paddock with very little urging on my part, and within moments the new life had been conceived.

The moment Wilwaren had been bred, the thundering panic and drive I felt stopped as though it had never been. I returned Fuin--who was insufferably pleased with himself--to his field. No one was the wiser, and my headache and overpowering fear of the impending unknown disaster was gone.

Now, my fear was totally of myself and for myself. I'd had eleven long months to see if fate would side with me and let me escape the discovery of my traitorous actions.

Tonight I had my answer, and with the tread of the horsemaster's boot on the stair I knew fate had sided against me. I sat in my bedchamber with my arms curled about the pain and fear stampeding in my gut, awaiting my execution.

* * *


I flinched at his tone, for Lord Elrond had never sounded so cold. It was an effort, but I forced myself to look up and meet his eyes.

I immediately wished I hadn't. His eyes were an angry storm-darkened grey, and the air itself seemed to vibrate with danger--like the air before the first lightening strike of a thunderstorm.

"Come here," he commanded.

Crawling off of my bed, I attempted to make my legs comply. Elrond's hand closed over my shoulder, his fingers biting as they closed about my collar bone, and I found myself marched forcibly to his library. He settled in a chair by his desk, leaving me standing alone in the center of the room, facing him. I would rather have crawled under the desk.

"Tell me what you've done."

I tried to speak, but no words came out. They jammed in my throat and collided hopelessly as I sought for something--anything--to excuse what I'd done.

"And don't tell me you've done nothing, for I know very well that you have."


"You what, Legolas Thranduilion? Say the words. Tell me what you have done."

My breath caught at the fury in his voice. There was no possible solution to this. All I could do was confess and face my execution.

His anger was entirely new to me. I'd not gotten into trouble yet in Imladris. Oh, I'd seen myself into mischief certainly and had displeased this adult and that with childish misjudgment or the folly-filled logic of a child, but never had I been more than scolded. Had this been my father, he would have shouted in anger and dismissed me. Once the king's personal aide had removed me from Thranduil's sight, Galion would have struck me in rage and send me on my way to nurse my bruises in isolation until the next time Galion's anger rose toward me.

There had been a predicable pattern to my life in Mirkwood: a beginning, a middle, and an end to my punishment. I had understood that, and had no idea what would happen now with Lord Elrond. I'd never felt so frightened, or so guilty, in my life.

"Would you like to explain to my why my foal--from my mare and my stallion--bears such a great likeness to your horse? The horse I allowed you to keep only on the condition it be kept away from mares? All mares? The one I clearly recall expressly forbidding you to breed?"

I stared at him, helpless in the tide of his fury. Elrond, however, sought explanations. Confession. Truth. Something I could not form into words to give to him.

" Explain this to me! NOW!"

The fury in his voice was increasing as was my panic. My voice returned at his command.

"I-I'm sorry. I did it. I opened the gates, and they..."


I provided the most honest, yet most feeble excuse possible. "I had to."


"I don't know. I just...I had to."

"You wanted to," Elrond corrected harshly. "You wanted your stallion to sire a foal off my best mare, and you employed whatever means at your disposal to accomplish this after I refused your request.

"No! No, I didn't. I didn't want to disobey you. I didn't want to do it at all. I just...I had to."

"You 'had' to." Elrond's voice went to quiet ice. I took this to be a sign that my explanations were not well-received. "I ask you again, Legolas. Tell me why you did this. Tell me why you felt it was necessary to deliberately disobey me on several counts. Tell me why you felt you 'had to' defy me.

I had no answer.

"We are not talking about stealing sweet cakes from the kitchens, Legolas. We are talking about interfering in adult judgments. Of interfering with my breeding program, about stealing a year of the life of my mare, and risking her in the delivery of a foal that ought not be. We are talking about stealing from me the horse that should have been. Tell me why you felt justified in doing this."

"I can't. I just had to do it. I'm sorry," I added feebly at the end of my useless explanation.

"I imagine you are, but your regret clearly stems from being discovered in your duplicity, else you would have confessed sometime in the last turn of seasons since your little deception. Had the foal's color not given you away, you would have remained silent and allowed your interference to taint the bloodlines of my horses from here on. I have been building this breeding program for over three thousand years, Legolas Thranduilion, and you would have undone it with one act of defiance. No--more than mere defiance. This was betrayal, Legolas, for that is how I see it."

I tried to keep the tears back, but I wasn't any more successful at that than I was at explaining the compulsion I'd felt to bring those two horses together. Lord Elrond was very right: he had offered me a home and sanctuary and education, had let me live on his sufferance, and I had betrayed him, destroyed it all. I deserved to be thrown out and whatever else he wanted to do to me.

Rising, Elrond paced the library. His restless need to move illustrated the depth of his fury. Seconds lasted weeks - no, years - as he stalked about the room, carefully ignoring my presence. Finally, he turned back to me.

"You are not to go near the horses again. You will not enter the stable again under any circumstances. And you will not enter my library again. You will not read my books, for I do not know if I can trust you with those either."

Drawing himself up to his great height, he continued. "I will let you know later what I decide will be adequate compensation for your actions, for you owe me the foal that was stolen from me. This is only the beginning of your punishment, at least until I consult with Mithrandir."

My heart couldn't have fallen any further than it already had, but it managed a couple of feeble flops near my feet. "But-but Lord Elrond, the horses. I-I work in the stable--"

"You work there no longer. I cannot trust you near my horses any longer. No horses."

Oh Elbereth. My horses. My knees wobbled and I felt near to falling. He could take them. He could order Fuin destroyed. And how was I to care for the others? Feed them?

I couldn't breathe. My fear for myself was nothing compared to the terror I felt for my horses. Would Elrond let them suffer because of my actions?

"I will see to their feed," he finally growled, ad I was sure he had reached the end of the same debate I'd just gone through. "But you will not go near the stable until you have earned back my trust. If you can earn back my trust," he amended, "for this may not be possible."

I nodded, quick jerks of my head quite beyond conscious control.

He glowered at me as I stood there, numbed by the emotions buffeting at me--both mine and his--and leveled one more scorching glare at me.

"Go. Get out of my sight. I am too angry to look at you any more."

I needed no further urging. I managed to back away--an old habit from dealing with Father--until I reached the door, and then I dove for the nearest shadow. Father had never battered me with such words before. Father blamed me for things and accused me with many wrongdoings. He had listed my many shortcomings, but never had he charged me with crimes in such a manner.

Elrond's words were like arrows, sharp and direct and biting deep, and the pain was no less for their lack of physicality. Father would have shouted and stormed at me for such behavior, and Galion would have struck me, but Elrond's cold banishment was worse than anything anyone in Mirkwood had ever aimed at me. Not only that, I still had to face having failed Mith so badly. My stomach heaved at that thought, and I felt physically ill.

I'd rather have been beaten.



Ai, Elbereth, I didn't mean to treat him so harshly. Discipline him, yes, for Legolas deserved it. He had earned it, he needed it as guidance. But not in such anger, and not to the degree I had.

His was a tender soul, one already dealt with harshly enough in his short years, and Legolas did not need more of it from me. But discipline is a delicate weapon to wield. The child had to suffer enough for him to avoid courting defiance again, but not suffer lasting insult from too heavy a hand.

No, judging the exact amount of force involved to obtain the results needed was a tricky process. I feared my judgment might have been a bit flawed tonight.

I was still angry with him and could admit it to myself as I swirled the wine delicately in my goblet. The sheer magnitude of Legolas' disobedience staggered me, and harsh punishment was not an unreasonable response to a transgression of this magnitude. Yes, Legolas deserved it. But I was the Lord of Imladris, reputed to be wise and compassionate, while the boy was only a child. I needed to be in control, and I needed to rein in my temper.

Sighing, I forced my teeth to unclench in response to the ache in my jaw.

He is only a child, I repeated to myself. An uncertain, solitary child who needs stability and guidance in his life.

I set the wine aside as guilt warred with the fury still sparking within me. If I left matters as they stood now, the harsh words I'd spoken would certainly damage the relationship built so tentatively between us over the years. I needed to speak to Legolas a little more calmly, needed to help him understand with discussion rather than shouting.

I hadn't haven't lost my temper that fully in countless years. The child had surely been cowed by my anger.

Of course he was frightened by your anger, I chided myself. As an adult, Isildur himself had been taken aback when confronted in full force of it, and he was a seasoned warrior with no small temper of his own.

Even Isildur had been overwhelmed when I lost control that way. And tonight, I had turned it on a child.

More guilt surfaced, creeping between the sharp edges of my still-boiling anger as the memory of Legolas' anguished, tear-filled eyes returned to me. Damage had undoubtedly been done to that tender soul, no matter how evil his actions had been to bring it about. But I couldn't undo it tonight; my anger was still very much present.

Tomorrow was time enough to soothe the hurts and repair our relationship. With luck, this incident would make it even stronger. Hopefully, it would also make Legolas a bit more obedient. Not that he'd ever been a problem child. This was the only thing I could class outside general mischief, and there'd been precious little of that. when Legolas did act out, it was staggering, for the boy never did anything by half.

I poured myself more wine and sipped, not really tasting it as I swallowed, as I tried not to think of the unnervingly silent sobs shaking those thin shoulders.

A hug and some breakfast will probably see it right, I decided. It was all that was necessary for the twins. Tomorrow I will forgive him.

But not tonight. Tonight I was haunted by memories and black horses that refused to leave me alone. Tonight was better spent with wine and grief and anger and solitude.

* * *

Breakfast was a lonely affair, with one golden child noticeably absent. No one had seen Legolas. He didn't report at the usual time to my library for lessons. He didn't show up at the stable--wise of him--nor at the archery range.

Concerned, I went to Legolas' bedchamber to see if he was sulking within. Elrohir had often spent days sulking there in his predictably foul, post-discipline tempers. This room, however, was empty though Legolas' bed was neatly made as usual, and the room no less perfect than it ever was.

The noon meal passed with still no sign of Legolas. Having missed two meals now, I was certain he would turn up late in the hall. But he did not, nor did Legolas visit the kitchens for food--though the cooks told me they'd had his usual help hauling water earlier in the morning.

Legolas hauled water for them? This was news. It seemed my young charge felt the need to be of service here in Imladris.

Evening meal passed with Legolas' continued absence, though I discovered he was somewhat more visible in the afternoon hours. He seemed to be just a few seconds ahead of me each time.

"No, he's just left. He was here a moment ago. Where did he get off to so quickly?"

It was fast becoming to become an annoying litany heard too often from those around me, and still I hadn't set eyes on the child. Finally, I abandoned my efforts at pursuit and simply ordered Legolas be brought before me. That didn't seem to work either, so that I resumed my efforts to catch up with him. To no avail.

The child's ability at stealth was great and irritating, making me feel more a fool with every failed attempt at locating him. Abandoning this obviously futile effort, I informed all I met to tell Legolas to come to see me. Forthwith.

In spite of my direct order, it took another two days for my invisible ward to gather courage enough to step within my presence--two days in which my anger at his defiance rekindled. It was just past the noon hour when I noticed his small figure standing motionless in the doorway to the library, scarcely a step inside. The child was pale, shivering slightly, and clearly uncomfortable. He hovered silently just inside the archway, waiting to be noticed. How long he'd stood there, I wasn't certain.


"You sent for me, Lord Elrond?" Quiet words, delivered while he stared at the floor.

"I sent for you two days ago." Hearing the bite in my voice, I winced inwardly.

The child flinched. This was not the tone I wanted to set for this meeting. This was supposed to be reconciliation of sorts--at the very least a truce--and with my first sentence I'd fired the first arrow.

Legolas said nothing, but stood still, his gaze fixed upon the floor to the right of my boot.

"You are honoring the restrictions, Legolas?"

"Yes, Lord Elrond. I'm trying to obey them all."

"Trying is not sufficient, young one. You must obey fully when I ask something of you."

There, my tone was more gentle this time, but Legolas' head bowed and his shoulders drooped as though I had pronounced some doom upon him. What was he thinking? My words were simple, there could be no confusion in interpretation. I tried again, gently.

"Legolas? What is it? What are you thinking? You are staying out of my stable, aren't you?" I pursued, stressing the possessive of ownership for his benefit.

"Yes, Lord Elrond, but--"

"There are no provisions or qualifications to this. You will stay out of my stable. Is that clear?"

"Yes, Lord Elrond, but…my horses. I have to visit the horses. I-I have to work, t-to pay for my horses' keep. I h-have no means other than labor to pay, and I w-work t-to see them fed. If I cannot work, I shall have to give them to others or-or-or h-have them destroyed. I c-can't leave them to starve, and I know--I know you said..."

His voice failed. Judging by Legolas' tremulous breathing, his tears threatened to reappear.

Oh Elbereth. Never was anything simple with Legolas. I knew this, yet still this was totally unexpected. The child was willing to destroy his horses to honor the penance set upon him. Discipline he deserved, but I never intended this measure of cruelty. I never thought this far.

"That won't be necessary, Legolas, " I offered as gently as I could. "Imladris can support the needs of two more horses."

"No." He sounded miserable, his gaze carefully fixed on his toes. "They're mine. You take care of me. You shouldn't have to take care of my horses. I can--" He inhaled a deep, shuddering breath as though fighting tears yet again. "I will see them in other hands, if any will take them."

"If any will take them?" I echoed, stunned by his decision.

"My mother's mare is very old, and Fuin is black," Legolas explained softly, his voice totally devoid of hope.

Pride. This young one had it in full measure. Strength. Courage and honor. Self-destruction. Isolation and lack of trust. There was only one answer I could give to keep Legolas from giving up his friends. From giving up altogether. It was time to compromise. Now.

"I understand." I was careful to keep my voice soft and low. "You may continue to work for their keep, Legolas, but you will not go near them without direct supervision at all times. You go nowhere near the stable without Glorfindel or Lareth or myself . You will never go there or into the fields alone. There will be no more temptations, and you will never approach another of my horses again without Glorfindel or Lareth's direct order to do so, along with their direct supervision. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Lord Elrond," he all but whispered. "Thank you."

Still he stared silently at the floor, so that his horses' reprieve gave me no more joy than my announcement of his other punishments.

"Have you any other questions about your new restrictions?"

"No, Lord Elrond. I understand." He swallowed hard, and pulled in another shaky breath. Tears seemed eminent once more, and he shivered once as he stood waiting…waiting for what? Whatever was he thinking?

I couldn't bear it. I reached for Legolas, concerned at this subdued change in his demeanor. I wanted nothing more that to gather the child close and comfort him as I had my own boys.

I was left alone as he spun away from my touch and fled. He hadn't once met my eyes.


The foal was now eight weeks old and annoyingly healthy. The embodiment of the conflict between my ward and myself was arrogant and playful and quite the personality. He retreated to his mother's side as I approached, sidling against her for reassurance, a grey stain against her white coat.

His insecurity lasted but a moment before foal curiosity won out, and he danced across the field to me with his fuzzy tail held high, and looking at me through the shiny rings around each eye where his foal coat had begun to shed away. He stared at me and I glared at him, for the coat against the fuzzy, matt-finished baby fuzz was not any shade of grey, but an undeniable black.

Black. It made my stomach turn just to look at him.

The foal was unimpressed with my scrutiny and displeasure. Giving a high-pitched snort, he wheeled to go kiting back to his mother.

"He's a fine foal, Elrond. There's no doubt he'll be a beauty."

I turned away from the mare and her abominable little son to find Glorfindel standing at my shoulder. He smiled as he watched the little beast finally at rest, chewing blissfully on his mother's tail.

"He is black," said I. "I won't have him here."

I knew I was being unreasonable, but the heartache I felt at the circumstances surrounding Celebrian's passage Oversea hadn't eased over time, and the sight of a black horse brought back all the losses I struggled to overcome. I tolerated Legolas' brute of a stallion because it was too difficult to dispense with the beast, but I would not have another here to torment me.

"I understand," Glorfindel said softly, and I knew he did. There was no condemnation in his eyes, only gentle sympathy. Perversely, it made me feel even worse.

"Cut him and dispense with him as soon as possible. I will not harm the creature out of hand, but I will not have him in Imladris a moment longer than necessary."

"No! No, you can't! You can't geld him, please--"

Whirling, I discovered the one challenging my decision was none other than he who had created the situation to begin with. My pain and anger made another surge toward rage as Thranduil's little brat sought to defy me once again.

"You wish to counter my orders yet again, Legolas? We have yet to settle your first episode of defiance, for that is far from resolved. Do you wish to compound your transgressions?"

My voice was a growl that had cowed many an enemy, but this child stood there, quaking but unyielding.

"No, Lord Elrond. I don't want to do anything wrong, but you can't geld him. You just can't!"

"Why not? It is my horse, from my mare. If I chose to destroy him this instant, it is my right to do so. You have no say in the matter. And your discourtesy serves your cause not at all."

The child went pale and clenched his hands at his side. His eyes were wide, horrified. "You can't kill him, please don't kill him.'s--something bad will happen if you do."

My eyebrows rose at that. "Are you now offering threats, little one?"

"NO! I wouldn't do anything to hurt you. Not ever!"

I paced closer to him. My gaze held Legolas' worried blue eyes, pinned him in place as he shivered. "You have already hut me, son of Thranduil. Do you seek to add to your score?"

"No! I wouldn't make the badness happen, it would just happen. I can't explain it, I just know it will." The normally bright blue eyes were dark with anguish; whatever Legolas was trying to express, he was sincere about it.

"I will not have a black horse in Imladris," I growled. "I won't kill that foal, but I will not have him here. He can live just as well in someone else's keeping. And he will breed no more of his kind."

"Please, please don't do that. Let me have him. I'll keep him far away, and you'll never see him. Never. I promise."

"You wish to be rewarded for your efforts in deceit and disobedience?"

"No. I'll buy him from you, just like another Elf would."

"With what? You have no gold."

"What do you want? I can work. I can do things. Let me at least try."

Legolas' voice was rising steadily, and hysterics seemed just around the corner. It was most unusual behavior for this little one, but then the child's behavior since the foal's birth...

No, the foal's very conception had been outside what I had come to know of Legolas. I stared at him while considering this willful, deceitful changeling that had replaced the solemn, attentive Elfling whom Mithrandir had left in my keeping.

I started slightly at the touch of a hand on my elbow. Glorfindel stood close, clearly concerned. Drawing me aside a few paces, he glanced once over his shoulder at Legolas, who now stood in silent misery beside a silent Lareth, who had come to see what all the shouting was about. Thus assured of some small privacy, Glorfindel turned back to me.

"The child is sincerely distraught, Elrond."

"As am I."

Glordindel nodded slightly. Gracious of him to acknowledge my pain, I snapped inwardly.

"I know your anguish, and I know its source. Legolas does not. He has no understanding of what is transpiring. Once Legolas understands, I'm certain he will be more reasonable."

"Perhaps, but I harbor no great hope of this, considering how drastically the child's behavior has altered as of late. Perhaps this is his true nature, emerging now that Legolas has grown brave enough to revert to the wicked princeling of Mirkwood."

"You know that isn't true," Glorfindel soothed. "The boy has never acted out without reason. He simply cannot explain his motives right now, whatever they might be." Glorfindel shrugged, clearly as mystified as I was. "But Legolas carries his own wounds and his own secrets, and for some reason this foal's future is of great consequence to him."

I rocked back to stare in disbelief at the Elf-lord. "Are you suggesting I let Legolas have his way in this?"

"Not at all. I am suggesting that the matter need not be settled this moment. The foal isn't even close to weaning, and it will be another two seasons before he can be gelded. Legolas is very young. During that time, perhaps Legolas' obsession with the foal will fade. Perhaps he can be made to see reason. Or perhaps he will tire of the creature altogether."

Closing my eyes, I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose. "I know you, Glorfindel. You have a plan already thought out."

"I do. Legolas offered to pay you for the foal. I am thinking you might set a task for the child, something he cannot possibly achieve in exchange for the animal. Legolas will either weary of the effort or he will fail. Either way, you have not ripped away all of his hope, and you have gained the time to resolve this matter with much less trauma between you."

Glorfindel's idea had merit, they usually did. But sometimes his wisdom was highly annoying, and this was one such occasion. I resented his slight smile, even as he recognized my acceptance of his suggestion. Some days it seemed everyone in Imladris sought to make me cross. I turned away from his satisfaction and back toward the newest bane of my existence.

"Very well, Legolas. Since this foal means so much to you, I will accept your offer. I will exchange this creature for five hundred arrows. All made by your hand, and all perfect. If one arrow is flawed, all are discounted."

His eyes widened, first with hope and then dismay. But I wasn't finished yet.

"I would have you deliver them to me by the time the foal is weaned."

The child looked close to collapse, but whether from shock or from relief I could not tell. "I'll have them for you, Lord Elrond. Thank you."

Oh, the optimism of youth. The thought of those small hands crafting five hundred passable arrows in eight weeks was ridiculous. Still, I knew he would try.

At least the matter was settled for now. Refusing to look at either of the younglings causing me such turmoil, I left the pasture and swept back to the sanctuary of my library, where I knew neither foal nor Elfling would intrude.

* * *

"Five hundred arrows, Glorfindel? In two moons? How am I to do that?" The seldom-heard soft voice was filled with despair, and Legolas turned huge eyes up at me as though searching for salvation. As though I might offer some miracle to aid him.

I reached out slowly to rest an arm across Legolas' shoulders Careful not to startle him, I turned him back toward the stable and his evening work. "First, there is the time allowed. Elrond said, 'by the time the foal is weaned,' did he not?"

The blond head nodded slowly.

"Lareth?" I addressed the horsemaster hovering nearby. Obviously he didn't want to miss a moment of seeing how this all played out. "Are all foals ready for weaning at four months?"

"Why, no, Lord Glorfindel." The horsemaster joined us, grinning broadly. "Some of them are perhaps as late as six moons if they don't eat on their own or aren't growing strongly."

He glanced at the shining example of equine health and impudence as it danced toward us across the bright green grass.

"That one there, for example, might not be ready for another...oh, four or five moons. He looks a bit weedy to me."

I nodded my solemn agreement. "Doesn't he look a bit small to you, Legolas?"

The child stared at first Lareth, and then at me. "No. He's the biggest, strongest foal of the season. And he eats--"

I clapped my hand over his mouth. Legolas was nothing if not honest, but this child had to learn duplicity swiftly if he was to obtain his objective.

"That is a stunted foal, my son." I hissed in his ear. "He is is a weedy, waning creature that will not be ready for weaning for at least four more moons."

"And then," Lareth took up the tale, "if the weaning is difficult and he doesn't take to eating on his own readily, or he pines for his mother and loses ground, we won't be able to call him weaned for another six months or so."

"How many arrows can you make in six months?" I asked my bewildered, dispirited charge.

His eyes went round with comprehension. "You'd do that? You'd help me?"

"You must make the arrows, but we'll help you all we can," Lareth confirmed. "This is too fine a horse to be damned for the color of his hide. Your eye is true, little horsemaster, and I'll not see a good horse wasted."

"Let's break it down," I suggested, hopping up to perch on the oak fence. "If we claim five months' weaning time--just to be sure we've not planned on more time than we have--it means you must make one hundred arrows each month. In order to allow for some not being quite right, let's aim for a hundred-fifty arrows a month. That's three per day."

"I can do that!" Realization struck, and Legolas glowed like a signal fire. "I can! I can do it! He'll be safe--"

I suddenly had skinny arms wrapped tightly about my waist in the first hug I'd known the boy to volunteer.

"Oh thank you," he gasped, turning to treat Lareth to the same strangling embrace.

"And then you'll have two fine black stallions," Lareth agreed, awkwardly returning the hug as he was clearly more accustomed to horses than Elflings.

Pulling away abrputly, Legolas shook his head. "I don't want him. I just want him safe."

Lareth and I exchanged puzzled glances, but we silently agreed not to pursue that question for now.

"I'll teach you how I make arrows tomorrow, little one. For now, finish the evening stables," I urged gently.

Legolas nodded and turned to go back toward the feed room, only to turn and smile at us--one of those rare, true smiles with shining eyes and dimples showing that I had weeks before decided made any effort on my part worthwhile.

"Thank you."

And then he was gone, leaving Lareth and I to consider the duplicity against Elrond in which we'd just involved ourselves. The horsemaster's face held the same conviction as mine: whatever might happen, it was worth it to see the light back in Legolas' eyes.


Lord Elrond and Glorfindel were both in the Hall of Fire again. I could hear them laughing, and the quiet hum of other voices within as they shared the company of Imladris as was usual in the evening after the evening meal.

It was a very good thing to find them all within, because that meant there were only a few citizens abroad in the corridors tonight who might stop me. All I needed to do was creep across a final doorway, and I'd gain the stairs and the safety of my--no, of Mithrandir's chambers.

They were my chambers no longer. At least not after tonight. The arrows were finished, and the foal was weaned--in fact if not officially--and I could make good my escape at any time. I had only one more thing to accomplish, and that I would see to as soon as I could reach my--Mith's chambers.

I hovered just beyond the near door, listening to the flow of the conversation. I could see the entrance to the hall, but I couldn't see inside the hall itself. So it was a risk to creep across the doorway, as anyone could look up at any time and see me there, but it was a risk I must take.

Heart pounding and breath held short for the sake of silence, I started my stealthy journey across the few feet of doorway. I could easily hear Lord Glorfindel's voice within the hall, as his bright laughter provided a counterpoint to Lord Elrond's deep voice. But then Elrond's voice suddenly lowered into a deeper growl of displeasure.

My heart froze at the sound, knowing all to well what his anger held in store when it was turned my way, but suddenly his growl changed to laughter, joining Glorfindel's.

I was safe. He hadn't noticed me.

Stealth was abandoned for speed. Now clear of the great doors to the hall, I broke into a run, pelting down the corridors for the safety of the room in which I'd lived for the past thirteen turns of the seasons. Throwing myself within the dark chambers, I quietly closed the door and leaned back against it, panting, before sliding down to the floor.

This is where I could wait in safety for the hall to grow quiet, for all those residents of Imladris to seek sleep or to break off into singles or pairs for whatever solitary activities as were pursued during Imladris's night hours. I tried not to think about what I was leaving behind, for this was the last night I would spend within Mith's chambers. The last night I would be in Imladris. Because later tonight, I would leave.

Rising, I made my way over to the table and lit the solitary candle atop it. An arrow rested there, one of my making. I held it toward the small golden pool of light to examine it critically once again.

This was it. This was The Perfect Arrow, the one I'd selected to represent all of the arrows I had made for Lord Elrond. The arms-master and Glorfindel both had examined every single arrow I had made over the past months, but this one had been judged by all to be a tiny bit better than all the rest.

I wasn't sure why. Perhaps finally gotten the fletching trimmed short enough to please the others. Perhaps the windings were just a bit tighter and finer. I honestly didn't know. But while I was uncertain as to the arrow's specific virtues, I was quite certain that it held no flaws. None. It was the best from my hand, and it would represent all of the five hundred arrows crafted for Lord Elrond to pay for the black foal.

I set the arrow down gently beside the candle, then opened the wardrobe to peer within its gloomy interior. I had a cloak and extra leggings. A new bow from Glorfindel, who'd wanted to reward me for my work. There were also more arrows inside the wardrobe, from the less-than-perfect arrow pile, but still serviceable. There was bread I'd stolen from the kitchen for the journey, just in case my stomach could ever accept the thought of food in it once more. I'd even remembered to get grain for Fuin and his foal on the journey.

All of these things, I piled onto Mithrandir's big bed for packing.

It was a very small pile. Pulling a travel pack from behind the wardrobe, I shoved my few inside. Testing the pack with one hand, I found it not heavy enough to be a burden.

That left me only one further task; the delivery of Lord Elrond's perfect arrow.

All I had to do was wait until the halls grew quiet and empty. Then I could sneak into the library, set the arrow on his desk, and leave. It was simple enough, but the thought of creeping into his library frightened me. I wasn't welcome there, and I knew it.

What if Elrond awoke? What if he caught me there? What could I say? 'I was bringing you this arrow, Lord Elrond?' It was too frightening to contemplate, and I shook the thought away. I simply would not--could not--get caught.

I attempted to reassure myself by examining the arrow once more. Fletching trimmed and set just so; shaft straight; bindings perfect; head just so; staining of the shaft attractive and containing no errant fingerprints. Yes, it was as good an arrow as I could craft.

Clutching the shaft in my sweaty fingers, I crossed to the heavy wooden door. Sliding down the wall beside it, I opened the door a crack, the better to hear the noises of Imladris in the night. Bracing the arrow across my knees, I waited for the quiet to come.

I didn't want to leave Imladris. Elrond's sanctuary was truly the only safety and kindness I'd ever known, and I had thought to remain here forever, or at least until I'd grown up and was allowed to travel with Mith. But I'd ruined that chance.

It was my own fault. I'd betrayed the lord of Imladris, and he couldn't bear the sight of me or of the black horses. I couldn't repair this, couldn't undo what I'd done. The Valar knew that if wishing and praying and promising could do so, I would have undone what I'd wrought all those months ago. But the foal refused to be unborn, and the disaster of my betraal could not be unmade, so there were very few options open to me after that. I could think of only one, and that was to leave Imladris, quietly and forever.

I had hoped that Mith might return before tonight, because he was wise and knew everything. Mith would have known how to sort things out with Elrond.

But Mith hadn't come back. Not for months after he'd promised to be back. So I knew Mith couldn't be eager to see me, either.

The thought that Mithrandir might be angry with me as well was just too awful to think about, but it remained a definite possibility. He and Elrond had ways of keeping in touch, and Mith surely knew about my failures by now. Yet he didn't come back. Didn't send me word of any sort as he used to do. I had to admit that even Mith didn't want me now, though my heart ached at the thought and it was hard to keep the tears from escaping when I did think about it.

No more Mith.

But whether Mithrandir returned or he didn't, the fact remained that Lord Elrond was still terribly angry with me. He was made even more angry by the presence of Fuin and that foal. The only answer was to remove what was making him unhappy. The foal and I had to leave Imladris, so that Elrond might once more find peace in his own home. Now that the price Lord Elrond had asked for the foal's life was satisfied, there was no reason to linger in this place and disturb my benefactor still further.

All I need to do was deliver the arrow, and we'd leave; two black horses and the betrayer of Lord Elrond.

Finally the hall grew still, and I could hear no one stirring in the nearby corridors. It was time.

Getting to my feet, I closed my fingers about the shaft of The Perfect Arrow and pulled the door open just a bit wider. A quick scan both ways revealed no other presence, and I slipped out the door into the hallway to head with the greatest stealth I was capable of toward Lord Elrond's library.

There were no candles lit within the library, and I thanked the Valar for that one small gift. Surely this was a blessing on my departure this night, that Lord Elrond had actually retired and I could slip in and out without being noticed. I did fear he would hear the pounding of my heart, as it was so loud as to overwhelm my hearing now, but nothing stirred within.

Approach the desk. Extend my arm. Set the arrow on the desk. Open my fingers. Wipe off my sweaty fingermarks with the edge of my tunic. Turn and leave.

It was very simple. It was very easily accomplished. But oh, it hurt to do it.

Lord Elrond would find the Perfect Arrow in the morning. He would know what it meant: the foal's life was mine, and I was free to go.

I hesitated by Mith's chambers long enough to give the room one last look, to twitch the bed coverings into perfect smoothness, and to grab my small pack. There was nothing of me left in the chambers--I'd made certain of that in the days before. And now it was time to head for the stables.

I made it down to the stables, feeling the familiar knotting in my gut as I approached the long, darkened rows of stalls. I wasn't breaking Lord Elrond's restrictions by being here, I assured my nervous stomach. I wasn't going to the stable at all. I was going past the stable and out to the forest, where the Black Paddock was located, which held my two most unwelcome black horses.

Nobody went there but me. Nobody saw them but me, now that the foal had been shoved in there with Fuin.

Old Anun had died months before, so I had only the two blacks to cope with. I missed my mother's old mare terribly, but it was with relief that I acknowledged Anun's absence this night, as I knew she couldn't have made the journey back to Mirkwood.

Mirkwood. It was the only place I knew to go. It would be bad, returning there because everyone knew me now as the pet of Mithrandir, Lord Elrond, and Lord Glorfindel. Elrond's being Noldor, half-Elven, and my teacher was a horrible combination to present to my father the king, but likely Father would not be pleased with any of it and I'd hear about it loud and long.

So be it. I would bear it, come what may. I deserved it all. I had betrayed Lord Elrond. My father would probably approve of that.

Fuin heard my approach and danced to the gate, eager for my attention, eager for whatever adventure that I might have planned for us.

Poor silly horse. He had no idea. I only hoped that those in Mirkwood would treat him fairly, for I had little hope of keeping him there as my own. Perhaps the horsemaster would care for Fuin as well as he cared for Anun.

The foal struggled to his feet, stretching and giving an irritable snort before wandering over to us. I mounted Fuin and turned him out the open gate, but the foal stopped just inside the paddock and blinked at me sleepily. Clearly, he preferred his adventures to be restricted to daylight hours.

"Tolo," I urged him softly. "Follow."

He braced his long spokey legs and glared at me obstinately.

"Tolo," I urged again, pretending to have grain in my pocket to entice him to join us.

He was too clever to be caught out so easily and turned with eloquent contempt to head toward the back of the large fenced field.

Muttering words that Gerdan-of-Mirkwood and Glorfindel and Elrond had all threatened and ordered and beseeched me to never use, I slipped down from Fuin to hike back to the stable.

Yes, I crept within the forbidden stable and returned with a bit of soft rope. Yes, it was a final act of deceit and thievery in the last moments of my residency in Imladris. At least I was consistent in my failures.

I found the foal in the shadows. Before he could blink, I had the rope halter slipped over his head. Hopping back up onto Fuin, I tugged gently on the lead. The foal, insulted and sleepy and generally ill-tempered at this hour, promptly flung himself backwards and fought the rope like a fish on a line.

Taking a double wrap of the soft rope around my hand, I braced it on my thigh and ordered Fuin forward anyway. We had no time to spend on tantrums tonight, as the moon was beginning to shine high overhead, and this foal had Sauron's own will when it came to his temper.

Mercifully, the fight was short and quiet as the foal swiftly recognized that being towed by Fuin was not at all desirable, so that he was soon trotting sullenly alongside the big stallion. We headed out of Imladris, over the bridge and upward. Once out of the ford, I knew a place to cross the Bruinen that wasn't too deep for the foal. Shortly after that, we'd strike the north road that would eventually lead us to Mirkwood.

I'd left no word for Mithrandir. I'd actually penned several apologies, but they all sounded so...stupid and so weak...that I'd burned them all in the candle flame. It hurt to leave him behind too, but word would surely reach him of my return to Mirkwood. He could find me if he wanted to. I satisfied myself with that thought, though likely Mith wouldn't want to talk to me, anyway.

The road rose up before us as we climbed from the dell, and I concentrated on keeping the weanling beside me, away from the cliff edge and on safe footing. It was much better if I didn't think beyond the moment.



I wasn't really sleeping. Actually, I was staring out into the darkness, finding rest in the muted sounds of the falls as I waited for some hint that dawn was approaching. Even though I wasn't sleeping, the tap at my doorframe startled me.

"Lord Glorfindel?" came the soft query. "There are horsemen out in the courtyard. They ask to see either you or Lord Elrond immediately."

"Horsemen? Of what sort?" I grabbed my boots and pulled on the first one.

"Men, my Lord. Rangers, I believe."

Rangers were demanding to see the two most powerful elves this side of Middle-earth in the middle of the night? This definitely did not bode well.

"Tell them I will be along in a moment. Do not disturb Lord Elrond yet. I will handle it--as soon as I get this boot on," I added with a growl, yanking on the recalcitrant leather which suddenly refused to admit my foot.

"Yes, Lord Glorfindel." The messenger turned away and headed back to the yard while I retrieved my knives, my cloak and my bow, fearing that I should next be heading to the stable and away to sort out some emergency beyond Imladris' borders.

I arrived in the courtyard to find not the tense air of rangers in crisis, but relaxed men with an air of humor about them. The leader stepped forward and grinned at me in the manner of one who knows the joke when I did not. It annoyed me, but I kept my annoyance private as I moved to greet him.

"Lord Glorfindel," the rider grinned at me. "Are you missing something tonight?"

"Not to my knowledge. What information do you bring to Imladris at such an hour?"

"Oh, it's not information I bring so much as information I seek. We would like to know when Imladris became so pressed for warriors that you started sending babies and foals out in the night to fight orcs."

"Babies and foals?" I stared at him in confusion, wondering if he was drink-taken or simply mad. "Would you care to make yourself plain, Ranger?"

"Of course, my lord." The ranger's grin broadened. "We were riding patrol tonight, and we found a little golden Elf who had wandered too far from home. He was out beyond the ford, riding one black horse and dragging a black foal alongside. Nice horses, too. Far too good to be wasted on a babe running away from home. The foal certainly would have been orc meat by dawn--probably the stallion and the little Elf, too. So fine a stallion had to have been bred by Lord Elrond, and both animals taken without permission, so we brought them back to you. And the little thief as well."

"Little golden Elf?" I repeated in dismay as the ranger joined his fellows and ran a hand down Fuin's nose. The foal stood nibbling on another ranger's glove. There was only one small blonde elf in Imladris, and I knew with sinking heart who it had to be, though I didn't see him there.

"Very small. Just a boy, or whatever you call a half-grown Elf."

Reaching behind him, the ranger pulled my Legolas out from where he had been hidden by the men surrounding and obviously guarding him. Legolas was thrust toward me, though his eyes never left the cobbles at his feet. Even in the darkness, I could see that his ear tips burned scarlet in humiliation.

"Legolas," I all but whispered, realizing the dangers pointed out by the ranger were all too real. "Are you all right? What were you doing out there alone in the woods?"

There was no response, but the ranger tightened his grip about the narrow shoulder. His fingers had to bite painfully as they closed around Legolas' collarbone in silent reprimand. Indeed, Legolas winced, but remained silent.

The ranger scowled before giving a quick shake to the same shoulder. Leaning close, he growled threateningly into the pointed ear. "You answer him, boy."

"Please tell him I did not steal the horses," came the soft reply.

"You may release him, ranger," I ordered swiftly, eager to have Legolas free of that painful and humiliating grip on his shoulder. "And no, Legolas did not steal those horses. They belong to him."

"That little boy owns horses like these?"

The ranger's astonishment turned to irritation as he looked from stallion to Elfling.

"What a waste," he grumbled, clearly disgusted.

The black horse moved forward, shouldering the ranger aside to raise its head and stand protectively at the side of his owner. Taking the hint, the ranger backed away, then snatched the foal's lead from another ranger to shove it into my hands.

"Here are your babies. Best you hang on to them, Elf Lord. We might not be nearby next time to rescue them."

With that, the rangers remounted and turned as one to head out of the courtyard and back up the trail to the woods, leaving me alone with a protective black horse, and exhausted foal and a silent, miserable child.

"Legolas, what by all the Valar were you doing out there?"

"I have to put the horses up before Lord Elrond sees them," he muttered, moving to release the rope halter on the foal, which left me standing on the cobbles and holding the end of an empty rope.

Locking his arm about the foal's neck, Legolas turned to head off into the darkness toward the direction of the stable behind the hall. Fuin paced quietly beside his boy.

"Legolas, wait," I called after him, but there was no slowing of his pace, and I was treated to the view of the sweeping tail of the stallion as he disappeared into the shadows along with his owner.

I ran to catch up. "Legolas, talk to me. That ranger found you beyond the ford. What were you doing out there?"

"Leaving. Going home."

"This is your home."

"No, this is Lord Elrond's home." He cast the words over his shoulder. "My home is in Mirkwood."

Swinging around the stallion, I wrapped an arm around his neck to halt both him and Legolas as I stood in front of them.

"I don't think Elrond would agree with that. He told you that Imladris was your home for as long as you wanted to stay, didn't he? Forever, if you wished."

"That was before."

"Before what?"

Legolas shrugged and looked away. A long moment passed before he spoke again.

"Before I ruined everything," he confessed finally. "Before I betrayed him. He hates the black horses, he hates me. He can't stand even to look at me. He shouldn't be that unhappy in his own home, so I was trying to fix it."

"Fix it how?" I asked, though the sinking feeling in my heart told me I already knew.

"By going back to Mirkwood. Mith should have left me there in the first place. I'm just trying to fix the problems by going back where I belong."

Legolas looked so miserable, so defeated, that I wanted to gather him close. Wanted to hug and assure him that all would come right, but I knew if I tried that I'd drive him even further away. Since he was still talking to me, I knew I wasn't quite classed with those who wanted him gone, but given this sensitive Elfing's logic, it wasn't so far a leap to see myself shoved into that category, too.

"Lord Elrond does not hate you," I said, low and determined, "and you are not returning to Mirkwood."

"I have to. I can't think of anything else to do." He sounded near tears, and Fuin moved closer to him, so that the stallion's head reached up over the small figure that immediately turned into his shoulder.

Legolas pressed his face against the smooth, shining neck, his tremulous breathing betraying the tears he was trying so valiantly to hide. Glaring at me, Fuin pinned his ears as he pegged me as the only available source of his rider's distress.

My hand soothed his back. "Legolas, no one wants you to leave Imladris. Most certainly not alone and in the middle of the night. The orcs would have you by dawn, son. No one wants you to be eaten by orcs."

"We'd be well enough. I remember the way, and Mith and I had no troubles coming here."

"Mithrandir is a wizard. He knows more of defense than you do, little one. He has fierce means to protect himself that you do not."

"I can make it to Mirkwood," Legolas repeated stubbornly. "We'll be fine."

"You will not be fine out there alone. Have you forgotten that the orcs overwhelmed Celebrian and her escort not that far from here? Grown elves traveling in a group?"

"I have better horses."

"Legolas," I repeated in exasperation. "I will not let the orcs have you, no matter how grim you feel the situation here in Imladris to be."

The fair head snapped up, and Legolas' eyes somehow held both despair and defiance. "What difference would it make if the orcs did eat me? It would probably be all for the better if they did. And the black horses, too. The problem would be solved then, wouldn't it?"

The child might as well as shot me with an arrow, so deep did the hopelessness of his revelation strike me. My…my ward, my apprentice, my little Elf was willing to die to end Elrond's pain and his own. This had gone far further than anyone in Imladris could dream it had.

The emotional wounds growing in Legolas' silence while he made his five hundred perfect arrows for Lord Elrond had not been visible on the surface. But I saw a bit of them now--only a tiny portion, I suspected--and it scared me very badly.

I needed Elrond to be aware of this. We needed this matter resolved well between Elf-lord and Elfling, and we needed one missing wizard very badly. Now.

"Legolas, I would grieve if you were hurt or killed. Mithrandir would as well. And whether you wish to acknowledge it or not, so would Lord Elrond. He does not hate you. Far from it. He misses you.

The look I was given said plainly I had taken leave of my senses.

"He hates me," Legolas repeated. "He can't even look at me. And Mith doesn't like me anymore, either."

"Mithrandir loves you as his own," I soothed. "He's just been away for awhile. I'm certain his efforts out in the wild have simply taken longer than he anticipated."

"It doesn't matter." Legolas pushed against Fuin, who yielded and took a step forward so that his Elfling could resume walking beside him. The foal walked beside me. "I have to get the horses out."

"It matters a great deal." I wracked my brain to find some small way to resolve the matter that would not result in Legolas heading off into the woods on his own again.

"I'll make a deal with you," I said in desperation. "If you want to return to Mirkwood that badly, I'll take you myself. Just let me tell Lord Elrond that we're going--"

"No! No, don't tell him! Don't talk to him about me!" He whirled, his eyes wide and frantic.

"I just need to tell him where I'm going," I soothed--or tried to. "I can't simply disappear for a week or two, can I?"

"No. You can't." Legolas turned once more to begin trudging toward the Black Paddock. "It's all right. You don't need to go anywhere."

"I do if you're intent on trying this again."

"No, I'll stay." I thought Legolas swiped at tears, but couldn't be certain as he had his head down. "Elrond will send me back as soon as Mith returns anyway, so it won't be forever."

"Send you back?" I echoed, dumbfounded. "Lord Elrond is not going to send-- Ai!"

I broke off as something pinched me fiercely on the back of my thigh. I slapped at whatever had bitten me, only to find the foal backing out of reach, ears flattened and eyes glittering in the dark.

"He bites!" I protested.

"He doesn't know you. He's just a baby, and he hasn't learned manners yet. He doesn't see anyone else but me, and he doesn't think you should be here."

"So he's going to attack me for that?"

Legolas nodded, then shoved the foal through the gate into his paddock. "Don't go near him. He's rather…rough."

"I see that." I rubbed at the aching, growing bruise on my leg and glared at the impudent colt, who glared right back, unrepentant. The stallion walked slowly, majestically past both of us and back into his domain. "Legolas, what are we to do now? What are you going to do next? Will you tell me?"

He shrugged and busied himself with locking the latch on the gate.


"I won't do anything. I'll keep cleaning stalls and staying out of sight. I won't try to leave. And I'll probably keep making arrows, if that meets with everyone's approval."

I nodded, uncertain of how to take this fragile conversation.

"I did finish the arrows," he said defensively. "All five hundred of them. The best one is on Lord Elrond's desk, and the rest are in the armory. And they are perfect. I had them checked. I didn't steal the foal."

"I never dreamed you would, little one. I know you too well to believe you'd take anything not yours."

The words were right, but they didn't offer Legolas a bit of comfort. He looked again at the black colt moving about in the darkness before turning trudge back toward the main hall with me trailing after him yet again. Suddenly he stopped and turned back to me.

"I'm sorry, Lord Glorfindel," he said formally. "I apologize for dragging you from your rest with my misguided actions tonight. I also apologize for the foal's biting you. I will see that neither events happen again."

And with that he was gone, into the shadows and the trees.

"Please don't stay out in the trees all night, Legolas?" I called after him. "At least meet me for lessons and breakfast on the field?"

There was no answer. I had absolutely no idea when I'd see him again.


"Lord Elrond?"

The quiet voice at the doorway to my library jolted me from my reading. I looked up to find one of the staff at the door.

"Lord Elrond, Mithrandir has returned."

"Ah. So he's back. Please see that his pack is taken to his room, and that any needs he may have are met."

The elf bowed and disappeared, leaving me with my thoughts once more.

This would be an interesting evening, and one I had not been looking forward to. The last four months--six, really--had been difficult ones, and Mithrandir was sure to take offense at some of it. There was no time for further thought, however; the grey wizard's heavy and unmistakable tread was ascending the stair even now.

Our greetings were the usual, and the discussion of his travels and research were enlightening, but I did not have Mithrandir's full attention. His gaze kept flicking toward the door, clearly expecting the small Elf to appear and fling himself into his Mith's arms as Legolas always did upon the wizard's return.

This time, Legolas did not. There was no surprise for me there, but I cringed at the thought of explanations and felt annoyed and foolish that the Lord of Imladris could not manage corner one small Elf.

"Where is Legolas?" The question I'd been dreading broke into my thoughts.

"He's here."

"Where? He usually greets me immediately." The grey eyebrows drew closer together as Mithrandir frowned. "Isn't afternoon time for lessons as well, or have you two already finished for the day?"

"Legolas is here. Somewhere. I'm certain you'll see him later."

"Somewhere?" This time the eyebrows went up.

"In Imladris, yes."

"But you don't know where."

"Not precisely, no. He'll be in the stables at sunset."

"That's helpful, but it is also hours from now." The benevolent and weary traveler vanished before my eyes. Mithrandir, bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire and a power to be reckoned with, leaned toward me looking displeased. "Where is my Elf, and what is going on?"

"Your Elf has committed some rather major transgressions in your absence. As a result of this, our relationship has suffered somewhat."

"What manner of transgression, Lord Elrond?" he demanded softly. "I would know the details."

"Your Elf bred my mare to his stallion against my concise orders to the contrary. He also hid this duplicity until the foal was born."

This time the eyebrows nearly reached the hairline. "Legolas did this? Why?"

"He refuses to tell me his motivation, only that he 'had to.'"

The look of puzzlement on the wizard's face returned those great, bushy eyebrows to a more normal location on his forehead, and I was gratified to see Mithrandir was as disturbed by Legolas' behavior event as I had been. I had one other fact to offer him that would make my displeasure clear.

"The foal is black."

The wizard sighed deeply and shook his head. "Elrond, I am so sorry. I understand your upset."

There. That was better. Even if his unrepentant little waif didn't understand my pain, the wizard did.

"Have you explained to him why the black horse is so upsetting to you?" Mithrandir asked. "Or has Glorfindel, perhaps?"

"It is not the color," I protested. "It is Legolas' disobedience and duplicity that is most upsetting. He has defied me, and will not even explain himself." My anger crept back with those words, and it was not lost on Mithrandir.

"Did you discipline my little leaf for this? How, exactly, did you handle it?" The wizard's voice was quiet, but the protective parent was hovering just behind the calm.

"We discussed the matter. Legolas was denied access to my library and to the horses. After a second discussion regarding his working in the stable in exchange for his horses' keep, I agreed to allow Legolas to work under direct supervision. He is not allowed near the stable without Lareth or Glorfindel with him, and he is never to approach one of my horses again."

"That seems fair," Mithrandir replied slowly. "Harsh, but fair. I would of course like to hear Legolas' side of this story. It is so unlike him, I cannot understand why he would do such a thing."

"Nor can I. And he refuses to explain, even today."

The wizard sat up a bit straight, his eyes narrowing. "Indeed? How long has this been going on?"

"Just over six months."

The beard twitched, and I knew it hid a scowl. "Where is my little leaf? I need to talk to him."

"I don't know."

"Then find him. Call him here."

"I..." Sighing, I knew my guilt was about to be exposed, and new equally that the wizard would not take it well.

"I cannot call him here," I said with some reluctance. "I cannot talk to Legolas at all. He refuses to stay in the same room with me."

That did it. Mithrandir set aside his wine and swiftly stood. "Tell me where he might be."

I rose as well to join him on what I knew was to be a futile Legolas hunt. "At this time of day, he should be working in the stables."

Mithrandir nodded to me, his eyes stony, and swept out the door.

* * *

The sun was setting as we reached the stables. Lareth was there, in the area where the in-foal mares were waiting to be let in for feed. The riding horses were munching contentedly on hay, and all looked to have been put to rights already. Only the ladies hovered at the gates.

"Ah, Lord Elrond. We don't often see you down here these days. Have you come to check on Wilwaren? She's definitely in foal."

Warning delivered, I thought, gritting my teeth. I wasn't completely ignorant, and young Legolas had just been informed that the lord of the hall was in the stable where he was working. I knew he had to be there, because the mares ambled in at that point, each selecting her stall and settling to their grain, and he was the one who opened the gate to them nightly.

"I came to see Legolas. Mithrandir has returned, and he wishes to see Legolas as well."

"Oh, well. He's working here. Hard-working child, that one. Very serious, but good with a horse. He'll be back in a moment to finish up here," Lareth added, waving a hand toward the stalls with the open doors. "As long as you're here, why don't you have a look at your mares? Your favorite is doing quite well, but someone kicked Naur, and I worry for her hock. Would you care to take a look at it, Lord Elrond?"

"I trust you will care for it with the same expertise you have always shown," I snapped, knowing quite well the distraction for what it was. "I would like to see..."

I turned back to find all the doors had been shut, carefully and silently, mere feet behind my back--the back which had been so carefully guided at the direction of my horsemaster.

The child was gone. And Mithrandir was smirking.

I didn't even bother saying good-night to Lareth. Reaching the main door of the stables, Mithrandir and I found the object of our search hurrying up the path in the deepening shadows. Legolas knew we were there somehow--even without Lareth shouting my name every second sentence--and he swiftly stepped off the path into the shadows, vanishing from sight.

"His early lessons in stealth still serve him well," Mithrandir commented from behind me. "I remember him traveling the halls of Mirkwood like a ghost."

"He's forgotten none of it," I replied, disgusted with my failure. "Perhaps he'll be found next in the foundry making arrows."

That earned me a startled look. "Why would an Elf so young be making arrows?"

"It was Glorfindel's idea," I replied, happy to share the blame with someone else this time. "I wanted the colt resulting from Legolas' breeding gelded and sent off, but Legolas overheard our discussion and was practically hysterical at the thought. Glorfindel thought it might be better if resolution of the conflict were left for another day. He also suggested I set an impossible task for Legolas in exchange for the foal. I followed Glorfindel's suggestion, and we all expect Legolas will lose interest before the allotted time is up. Or he will run out of time and fail in the assigned task."

The foundry was near the stable, so it took little time to reach it. Stepping inside, the first thing we noticed was a stack of bundled arrows against the left wall, while a pile of loose arrows sat at the back.

"Lord Elrond! Mithrandir! We don't often have such visitors here," the head of the foundry and armory greeted us. "What might I do for you this evening? Are you in need of arrows? Something I can supply you with, Master Wizard?"

"We're looking for Legolas."

"Ah, just missed him. Picked up more arrowheads and headed back. Probably for dinner. Must be about time for evening meal."

"Picked up more arrowheads?" Gandalf questioned quietly. "Does he do this often?"

"Every day. Lord Elrond, I know you said he must make the arrows himself, but I give him the heads. I hope that isn't violating your orders, but I don't want a child untrained messing about with the forge. He'll melt off his fingers."

"No, I am pleased with your decision. Your logic is quite sound."

"What are all these arrows?" Mithrandir's long finger pointed first at the neat bundles, then the haphazard pile. All were unusual, in that the fletching was of different colors. Random, almost, as compared to the golden hue of the pheasant feathers we preferred in Imladris.

"Ah, that'd be Legolas' work. Those are the perfect ones," the arms-master informed us, pointing to the carefully bundled lot ready for distribution. "The others are the ones that aren't quite perfect. Legolas has me check each and every one. Wants them all to be perfect, so I help him sort them out. Perfect," he informed us, pointing with one charcoal-blackened finger, "and not quite perfect."

"Pretty flawed is over there," he added, pointing to a basket in the corner. "We'll salvage the bits and let him start over with those. We don't see many of those anymore, usually just the one he was working on when he fell asleep."

The sheer number of arrows stunned me. This was far more than I ever dreamed the child could produce. Picking up one from the slighted pile, I found the workmanship to be quite passable, even for a skilled adult.

"I've been handing out those arrows for practice and training, Lord Elrond. They're fair work," the arms-master declared. "It's certain young Legolas has learned to make the swiftest of arrows, perfect and true. Such a skill will serve him all his days."

"How many are here?" I asked.

"Five hundred and ten perfect in the bundles, and I'd guess at another hundred or so lesser ones right now. There will be more tomorrow, for he brings in several a day. And all his own work, I swear. Look at the bindings. He trims the fletching a bit long, so its easy to see what is his hand."

"Five hundred arrows." I was stunned. He'd done it.

My amrs-master grinned. "Legolas will that colt's balls, Lord Elrond. He's a determined one."

I scowled and managed a nod to the Elf before stepping out of the acrid foundry air and back into the cool evening breeze. Did everyone in Imladris know of the contract I'd made with that Elfling?

"Where now, Elrond?"

I glanced at Mithrandir, who stood deceptively serene at my elbow.

"Dinner next," I proclaimed. "We might catch him in the kitchen."

We arrived in the kitchens of my hall at their point of peak activity. Evening had fallen, the evening meal was to be served momentarily, and having the lord and the wizard stride in only added to the chaos. Three of the cooks tried to talk to me at once, asking if they could help me, informing me of the menu in exquisite detail. One of the cook's conversation never seemed to form any coherency at all.

I caught a flash of gold in the corner--that unusual silvery shade of blonde among the deeper gold and sable hair of the usual Imladris resident. Legolas was in the corner.

"There." I nodded, directing Mithrandir's attention to where his charge stood against the back wall.

One motherly Elf who was particularly fond of Legolas was shoving a plate laden with food into his hands, clearly insistent that he take it whether he wanted it or not.

Legolas, with that instinct peculiar to him, sensed us, and I had a glimpse of his face turned toward me, eyes wide with dismay. Someone passed between us and by the time that someone had taken the two steps necessary to clear my line of site, there remained only the cook and the plate.

No Legolas.

Sighing, the cook scowled in my direction before setting the refused plate on a service counter and returning to her work.

"He doesn't eat in the hall?" Mithrandir murmured in my ear.

"Legolas hasn't taken a meal with me since the foal was born. He eats here."

"Sometimes. If there's no one looking for him!" the cook snapped as she bustled past. "If someone's looking, Legolas leaves, just as he did now. Poor little mite, small wonder he's so thin."

"Won't he come back when we leave?" asked Mithrandir.

She turned to the wizard, evidently reading and sharing his concern. "No, once that child is gone, he stays gone until next meal. Misses one, two meals a day that way some days. I try to have a plate sent up to his bedchamber, so I know he's at least had a chance at evening meal. Sometimes he peeks in, mid-day. I try to have something wrapped up for him to take on the quick; bread and cheese and a bit of fruit. Something he can snatch and go."

"Sometimes he'll take a plate and take it elsewhere, I don't know where," she continued. "I also don't know why Legolas won't sit and eat like everyone else in Imladris, but if he's that nervous about eating in company we'll just have to get him fed however we can."

She paused in her sideways scolding of me--at the very least her tattling without naming names--and considered Mithrandir with an appraising eye.

"Maybe now you're back, the child will steady a bit. I hope so. He's a dear one. It saddens all of us to see him so skittish." With a nod, she turned away and left me shifting uncomfortably under the wizard's glare.

"Let us go. We're in the way here." I elbowed my way clear of the kitchens, eager to leave behind the scene of my latest embarrassment.

Returning to my library, Mithrandir and I settled into comfortable chairs for the interim moments awaiting dinner. I hadn't long to wait for the inevitable, unpleasant questions.

"Elrond, why is Legolas running from you?"

"I have no idea. With all sincerity, Mithrandir, I do not know."

"Did you hit him?"

"No, I did not! I would not. I will admit that the thought crossed my mind, angry as I was that night, but I do not strike children. Most certainly not in the anger I felt that night."

"So you were very angry with him."

"I was. And I do not feel it undeserved. Defiance, deception and betrayal are not small crimes."

"Nor is a black horse. I understand that. But what did happen? Why does he run from you?"

"I do not know." I sounded as desperate as I felt, for guilt and worry were winning over anger now. "I've asked myself the same question time and again. I do not want Legolas fleeing every time I come near him. I want to make it right between us if I can. But I have tried, and he'll have none of me. I have resigned myself to this."

"What did you do the night you confronted him?" the wizard pursued.

"I shouted. We discussed his crimes and motivations. I told him no books or horses." I struggled with my memories of that night. Hazed with pain and fury, they were not the clearest to recall. What I did remember were huge eyes, filled with fear and misery and resignation. I remembered silent tears. I remembered no protests to my orders. But what did I say to him?

"Truly, Mithrandir, there was nothing else. I told Legolas that further punishment might follow after I'd thought about it, and that you would have to be informed, of course."

"Ah, so he's likely running from me, as well?"

"I can't see why. You didn't shout at him." No, my memories returned nothing else. "I told him to stay out of my library and away from the horses, and I sent him to bed. That was all."

The wizard shook his head, frowning. "This makes no sense. I must have his side of things."

"Let us check his chambers. Perhaps he's making arrows again."

Mithrandir rose from his chair instantly at the suggestion. It wasn't far, and I remembered marching Legolas down this corridor. My fingers had closed over the far-too-narrow shoulder, I'd propelling him into the library...

The bedchamber was empty. A single candle stood lit on the table, but there was no sign of an occupant. What did greet us was a vast array of arrows in various stages. There were shafts in different stages of completion, rough to smoothed and straight for flight; a neat pile of metal arrowheads; bindings and tools. And feathers. By the Valar, there were feathers. Feathers fresh off the birds. Feathers cleaned and washed, drying on the windowsill. Feathers split into fletching. Fletched arrows, fletched and trimmed arrows. Fletching trimmings dusted the floor. Arrows lay completed on the bed. Legolas' chambers looked more the armory than the armory had.

I sighed. Failed again.

"Why don't you go and wash up for evening meal?" Mithrandir suggested quietly. "I'll join you after I've done what I can to repair my appearance."

Smiling, he rested a hand on my shoulder. He seemed a little more heartened, but I still could not dislodge the stone in my stomach.

There was nothing else for it. I could not capture the child for even the briefest discussion. Perhaps Mithrandir would fare better than I.

Nodding in agreement, I moved away to my own quarters.


I stood still and listened to Lord Elrond's footfalls moving away from the room. At least, I tried to. I imagined them moving away, as he moved so quietly there was certainly nothing to hear. Once I counted him having moved far enough away, I went to the wardrobe in the corner of the room.

"Legolas? Elrond is gone. You can come out now."

The wardrobe, thusly addressed, did not respond. Leaning over, I opened the door and found, as I had expected, one thoroughly demoralized child curled up on the floor beside his extra pair of boots. Kneeling beside my little leaf, I was careful not to touch him. As nervous as he was, it would not do to reawaken old wounds if they were raw.

"Would you like to come out of there?"

The eyes looking up at me were sad and full of resignation. "Are you angry with me too?"

"No, little leaf. I am not angry with you. Can't you at least say hello to me? I was too long away, and have missed you so very much."

That was all the invitation it took. A small body launched itself out of its hiding place and into my arms, with Legolas' own thin arms wrapped tightly about my neck.

"Mith," he murmured into my beard, sounding for all the worlds as though something desperately missed had been restored. Sitting on the stone floor, I held him close, let him cling and shiver and sniffle for as long as he wanted to. It seemed to have been a long six months for him without me.

Finally the tight embrace relaxed somewhat, and the fingers clenched in my robe started to ease their fierce grip. I held him for another moment, then lifted him away from me the better to see his face.

"Little leaf, what has been going on here?"

Legolas looked away. In the next instant, he backed a step away from me. Reaching behind him, I pushed closed the wardrobe door, lest he bolt again into that tiny sanctuary.

"Come here, my leaf. Sit with me and tell what has happened in my absence."

I tried to sound calm and reassuring, but he still didn't want to look at me. It wasn't only that Legolas was silently refusing my offer to join me. Looking about the room itself, I discovered there was no possible place except the floor where we could sit together. As for Legolas, he was stealing glances from behind his tangled hair to visually examine the room as I did.

"How are we going to sleep here tonight?" I asked with great amusement, picking myself up off of the floor. "We'll be poked and tickled unmercifully."

"I didn't know you were coming back tonight. I'd have cleared all this away if somebody had told me." He scuffed guiltily at some feather scraps on the floor, then sidled past me to snatch up a handful of finished arrows tossed onto the bed.

I intercepted him as he tried to relocate them, catching him by the shoulders to stop his constant, anxiety-driven motion. "Leaf, leave it. Come here, sit down, and talk to me."

I settled on the bed with my back to the headboard and waited. He scraped a handful of feathers off of the table and stood uncertainly, staring at them, then at the window, then at the floor…looking anywhere other than the bed where I sat.

"Come here. Sit." It was no longer a request but an order.

I patted the bed beside me, and waited expectantly. Slowly, my little leaf dragged over to the bed. I relieved him of his handful of ragged feathers, not wishing any more to find their way into the sheets. I then tugged gently on an elbow to encourage him to climb up.

He settled away from me, but it was an easy matter to get my arm around him and pull him close against my side. He truly was thin, I noted. With bony little shoulders and elbows, for all that I thought he might have grown an inch or two in my absence. I hoped, anyway.

"'Las, what is it? Elrond has told me what he knows, but it makes no sense to me. Could you tell me what's happened here?"

A shrug. Silence. He picked at the coverlet on the bed.

"Can you at least tell me why you're running away from Elrond? He can't tell me because he doesn't know, either."

That got his attention. My leaf's head snapped up, and his expression of shock was almost comical. "He doesn't know?"

"He says he does not."

"But he told me to!" The exasperation in his protest nearly undid me.

"Elrond told you to run from him?"


"Tell me exactly what he said."

"He said he was too angry to look at me anymore, and to get out of his sight. I'm trying to stay out of his sight. I really try, but Mith, some days he makes it so hard."

"Ah, I see. Hmmm…" I looked down at him, cradled so trustingly against my side. "I can see how you'd believe that. But on those days when Elrond makes it hard for you to hide, he's really trying to talk to you."

My Elfling may be silent most of the time, but his eyes are eloquent. Those eyes informed me that I was being unbelievably stupid if I believed this.

"Elrond didn't mean for always, 'Las. Probably just for the day, while he was so angry."

"He's still angry. He'll always be angry." He drew his knees up under his chin and bowed his head, hiding his expression behind both knees and a silvery curtain of hair. "I've ruined everything, Mith. He's probably going to send me away. Send me back, now that you're here."

The voice might have been muffled, but the anguish still reached me clearly.

"Do you know why he's angry?"

"I know."

There was no doubting the sincerity of that statement. I imagine my leaf had been told in vivid detail why Elrond was angry. All but one important detail.

"He says you bred his mare to your stallion. Did you do that?"

Legolas stiffened beside me, but offered no response. I tightened my arm round his shoulders and pulling him hard against me to hold him even closer.

"Did you?" I pressed.

"Yes," came from within bony knees and arms.

"Why did you do that?"

An uncomfortable, reluctant wiggle. "I had to."

"Why did you feel you had to?"

"I don't know." The answer had the aggravated, rote quality of something recited many times. "I just had to."

"Come out of there." I pulled his arms away from his face. "Talk to me, not your leggings."

The tear-streaked face reluctantly came into view, and I asked again. "Why did you feel you had to?"

"It just felt like something really bad would happen if I didn't."

That was different, and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. "Explain this feeling to me. What did it feel like?"

"It was something big and dark and scary in my mind. Like something terrible was going to happen, something awful. Really awful. And it made my head hurt and my chest ache all of the time. And I was afraid. Every time I thought about Wilwaren being bred to Ross, it came back."

"That sounds quite serious. So what made you decide to breed her to Fuin?"

"I didn't decide. I just saw him going in with her, and then the feeling went away. I knew it was wrong, so I ignored it, and then my head hurt even worse and I couldn't breathe. The only time the feeling went away was when I thought about her being bred to Fuin. So I figured I had to find a way to let them, so it would go away for good."

I considered that for a moment. "You didn't want the foal?"

"No! I didn't want to do it at all. I felt sick, thinking about going against Lord Elrond, but it was better than not doing it."

"So you decided to breed Wilwaren to your stallion."

"No, I had to," he repeated sadly.

"Did you consider talking to Lord Elrond first?"

"I tried, but he...he didn't like the idea."

"Now there's a tactful reply. I can imagine how much he didn't like the idea."

One eye canted toward me in a sidewise glance as if Legolas were wondering if I really knew how much Elrond had disliked the idea. Smiling, I ran a hand down over his hair--which needed a good comb out, as usual. I repeated the gesture as my little leaf relaxed slightly under my touch.

"So you decided you had to do this," I summarized. "How did you manage it?"

"That part was easy. I waited until late when no one was at the stable. Then I called Fuin, and we went to Wilwaren's paddock, and I opened the gate and he went in. I was afraid he'd…" A shrug, and Legolas stared at his fingers in his lap. "I was scared he'd make those noises, and somebody would come, but the two of them didn't play for more than a minute before they…they did that."

Is that a blush? I wondered. So it's no longer the mechanics of horse breeding, it's become sex? My Elfling is growing up. Fighting back the smile, I nodded with appropriate seriousness. "And what happened after they did...that?"

"It went away. Just that fast." He looked up at me. "The bad feelings and the headache and all of it just went away. I put Fuin back into the Black Paddock and came back up here. Nobody saw me and nobody knew, but it stopped. Then I was just scared because of what I'd done, not that something awful would happen. Well, it did, but just to me."

I had to hug him. He seemed to welcome my embrace this time, reassured somewhat by my listening to his tale.

"Has this feeling ever come back?"

"Only once, when Lord Elrond told Glorfindel to have the foal gelded and sold. It came back all at once, then. Really hard."

"Was that when you struck the deal with Elrond to buy the colt?"

My leaf nodded.

"All of the bad feelings went away for good after that?"

Again he nodded. "I didn't want to buy him, but it's important that he stay a stallion. I don't know why, but it is."

"Leaf, look at me." Worried eyes turned toward me, and he visibly braced for my next words. "I think what you experienced was foresight. I think it was a true sending from the Valar."

Suspicious blue eyes suddenly went round in surprise. "You do?"

"I certainly do. Think about it. You didn't want to do this, did you?"


"You didn't have any interest in the breeding, did you?"

"I don't care what Elrond breeds to what. I mean, why should I?"

"You didn't want the foal?"

"No. I still don't, and he's mine!"

"You knew you'd get in the most severe trouble of your young life, should what you did be discovered."

"I knew. And I knew it'd be black as soon as those two mated. I knew. And I knew I was going to get thrown out of Imladris for it, too."

"No, 'Las. Elrond won't ever throw you out. But he was very angry, wasn't he?"

Legolas nodded. "Very angry. VERY angry."

"So why would you do something you didn't want to do, when the results would be so awful for you?"

"Because I had to." He sounded stubborn, but I knew this wasn't Legolas' usual obstinacy at work.

"Exactly. I believe you answered the demands of foresight."

"Oh." He thought about that for a moment. "Then what I did wasn't entirely bad?"

"I don't think so. And I'll tell Lord Elrond so, as well."

The openness vanished as I brought up the name of the Infuriated One again. Legolas didn't pull away, but he went back to staring at his hands.

"My leaf, has anyone told you why Elrond hates black horses so?"

"No. And I wish someone would. What's wrong with being a black horse? They're still good horses, and it's not their fault they won't go white."

"Have you heard of Lady Celebrian?"

"Lord Elrond's wife."

"That's right. And the mother of Arwen and the twins. She was a beautiful lady, gentle and kind. You would have liked her."

"Is she dead?"

"No, she's not dead, for which we are all thankful."

"But she's not here. If she's not dead, why isn't she here?"

She was traveling from Lothlorien - that's south of Mirkwood, in the same forest - and she was coming back here after visiting her mother, who lives in Lothlorien. But on the way back her traveling party was attacked by orcs, and she was taken."

"Taken by the orcs?"

"Yes, my little leaf. Elladan and Elrohir went after her as soon as they realized she was missing. They caught up with the orcs, and they rescued their mother, but she was badly hurt. In her soul as well as physically. Elrond was able to heal the hurts of her body, but she no longer loved Middle-earth. After only one turn more of the seasons, she sailed to the Undying Lands."

Legolas thought about that. "Lord Elrond must be very sad. That's why he's lonely all the time, isn't it?"

"Wise child," I smiled, ruffling the silvery hair. "He is lonely. He loves her and he misses her, but he'll join her there one day, so they won't be apart forever."

"Good. Then his eyes won't be sad all the time. But what has this got to do with black horses?"

"Ah, yes. The point of the story. The first Elrond knew about his wife's capture was when her horse arrived in Imladris with blood smeared on its shoulder. It wasn't the gelding's blood, and Elrond feared then that Celebrian had come off her horse. If her horse had not let her fall, the orcs might not have caught her."

"That was a bad horse. A horse should have more heart than that."

"I agree. But hers did not. It let her fall. And the horse that let her fall was black. So when Elrond looks at a black horse, he remembers anew the loss of his wife and all his pain."

My little Elf was silent for a long time. Finally he pushed the hair away from his face and looked up to me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt him. I'd make them some other color if I could."

"I know you didn't, and I know you would. We'll deal with it the best we can, but I hope you can forgive Elrond a little for his anger now that you know some of it was from past hurts."

"I can. But it still isn't going to make him like me."

"We'll sort things out, and all will be well again. You'll see. I'll talk to Elrond and explain what you couldn't, and I think things will come right very quickly after that. Now wash up, and let's go to dinner."

Legolas pulled away at that. "I don't want to go in there. He's still mad, and until he tells me I can come back, I can't go where he is."

My dear, tender-hearted, stubborn, literal little Elf. What was I to do with him, besides love him and smooth his way in life as best I could?

"Very well. I'll bring you something. And I will explain things to Lord Elrond tonight. But tomorrow, 'Las, all three of us will sit down and talk."

"But not now," he insisted, still believing that later was better, evidently.

"Not now," I agreed. "Do you think you could finish up tonight's arrow-making while I'm gone? So we are not sleeping with sharp sticks and a dozen or so birds?"

That won the hint of a smile.

"How many more have you left to make?"

"I've done the five hundred, but I think I should do a hundred more in case Elrond doesn’t like some. Only seventy-eight left to go." He seemed quite pleased by that, though I found the thought staggering--no less for his having to live with his assembly efforts for many long days.

"I'm very impressed." I meant it. "You finish up here, and I'll sort things out for you in the hall."

I turned to pull a set of clean robes out of my pack and paused to pick some bits of feather out of my beard where the barbels had hooked in. When I turned back to see what Legolas was doing, he was simply standing at the table, his arms full of arrow shafts while he looked quite lost. I realized my Elfling had quite a lot to absorb tonight, and he'd been distraught for so long.

Setting down my robes, I pulled him into a tight hug, pointy sticks and all.

"You'll crumple the fletching," he protested. Pulling them free of his arms, I plunked them down on the table only to gather him close once more and rocking him slightly. Yes, he was definitely taller; when I'd left, he'd stood below my belt. Now, he was level with it.

"All will come right and it will be well, my little leaf. I'm here now, and nothing bad can happen when I'm beside you. Together, we can handle anything."

He sighed and seemed to exhale weeks of pain with that breath. At last, my Elfling returned my hug as I thought he should, burying himself in my embrace and holding on as if he would never let go. I hoped that, with my return, Legolas again found some measure of relief. I was determined to make sure my talk with Elrond and the coming days provided even more peace for my little leaf.


To be continued


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