I remember the first time I saw him. He was huge to my young eyes, as tall and broad as the Lonely Mountain that towers over Mirkwood, taller even than Father with his pointed, drooping hat that seemed to scrape the ceiling of our underground corridors, and a great waterfall of a cloak about his shoulders. And he was loud. His step was loud amid our silent footfalls, his boot-heels clattering on the stone as he moved. His clothing rustled as ours did not, and his staff tapped against the stone as he walked. And he laughed, a great, deep rumbling growl of laughter. He was altogether very strange, and quite frightening to me. So of course I had to get closer to see this strange creature that much better.

I had no business being there, and well I knew it; small elves were not to intrude upon the business of their elders, or their fathers, and most certainly not upon the king's. But I stayed anyway, intrigued by this novelty in our otherwise well-ordered, predictable world in Mirkwood.

I sidled through the corridors, small and unnoticed in the shadows yet risking detection as I crept along behind my father and his guest and the others of our household that he seemed to draw to him. It seemed that I was not the only one wishing to see the stranger better, though I was the only one determined to stay hidden. The adults who lived in Mirkwood always moved freely about my father's realm, while I clung to the shadows and hoped to not be noticed, or at least not to gain unwanted notice too soon.

The stranger was even more outlandish on closer inspection than at first glimpse. His clothing was strange too, rough and gray and coarsely woven as it was. I judged that I wasn’t tall enough to come much above his boots.

Was this creature a cave troll? I had heard cave trolls spoken of, and it was said that they were large and gray. But this being was clearly welcomed by my fahter, so it must not be a cave troll. Perplexed, I bit my lip and leaned a little closer, hoping to hear something that might enlighten me.

He turned suddenly toward my corner of shadow and looked at me. At *me*. Hidden as I was, he still saw me. My heart pounded over being caught out, but his attention brought the greatest surprise of all: he had hair on his face.

I had never seen such a thing. No elf looks thus, but he wore a great bird's nest tangle of a thing, a briar patch, a… I didn't know what to think of it. This thing was as the moss that grows upon the oldest of trees. And above it were two bright, blue eyes that saw through shadow to uninvited little guests.

Was he an Ent, perhaps? I had heard my father's courtiers sing of Ents as well, tall and old and shaggy. Whatever he may have been, his eyes locked into mine and for a long, silent moment we stared at each other in equal astonishment.

I thought that perhaps it would be safer to leave the gathering then, before my father followed his guest's gaze and discovered me behind the tapestry. Slowly, I sidled away with my back pressed to the wall, hoping to gain the corner to the next corridor before the stranger gave me away.

He was kind enough to remain silent during my retreat, and I dared a glance back over my shoulder as I slipped around the corner. The eyes peering from above the dark thicket were still following me. Those eyes held curiosity, and... and they looked kind, as though they smiled.

~ ~ ~

The little one was small and far too thin, even by little elf standards, and his hair was a massive tangle of dirty brown with long, thin strands falling into his eyes. At first glimpse, I assumed that he was a servant's child, crept up from the kitchen and no doubt eager to set eyes on the Istari, new-come to his world and only just exploring Mirkwood.

I felt his presence before I saw him. Felt a bright, amazed curiosity steadily reaching out toward me from the tapestry. As that is not normally the mood of dead cloth, I focused my own curiosity upon it only to spy a pair of very small, well-worn leather boots peeking out from beneath its edge.

The child was good at sneaking, very good, as if he'd had plenty of practice at it. The tapestry did not so much as tremble as he crept along, step by step, behind it. I followed his progress until he peered around its edge and stared at me.

The moment we locked gazes, I could sense the keen intelligence and inquisitiveness behind those huge eyes, their color muddied by the hair guarding their gaze. He studied me intently -- a unique thing all in itself, as I was finding that even in my rustic, homespun appearance many elves seemed hesitant to meet my gaze. A newcomer to this little one's world, I was certain he'd never seen anything like me before.

His eyes widened suddenly, and I felt rather than heard his breath catch as our gazes locked. A flash of fear crossed his delicate face. He tensed and his dirty fingers clung to the edge of the tapestry.

His gaze flashed briefly from me to the king. Was Thranduil the focus of his fear then? It seemed so to me, as the little elf then abandoned the tapestry to begin skulking back along the cold stone wall. His goal was obviously the corner of the room, where he could easily gain the freedom of the open stone corridor.

Why in the world would a servant's child fear the king?

The boy's gaze found mine one last time before he slipped entirely out of sight around that corner. I frowned at the empty space where he'd been standing, my curiosity fully aroused, before returning my attention to the king’s commentary.

~ ~ ~

I should have stayed away. Far away. Father had important guests in the hall that afternoon, and the place was abuzz like a bothered hive. It was definitely no place for small elves.

When Father had guests, his temper was ever uncertain, and it was best to be elsewhere. But my curiosity would lead me down paths best avoided then, even when I knew what the price for my curiosity would likely be. Today was no exception, for I wanted to see the guest creature again. I wanted to look at those eyes again, eyes that seemed old and wise and that dared to smile at unwelcome little elves. So I crept up through my shadow paths once more, edging toward the hall where my father and the guest and the others of our household sat at table.

A fire had been lit in the Great Hall, and low voices blended in conversation. I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard the unfamiliar rumble of *his* voice amid the lighter voices of those of the house. I even heard the great growl of his laughter echoing with my father's laugh. It was altogether too tempting.

I dared to sneak closer and yet closer still, to peer around the doorframe with one eye at the crack between hinge and wall.

He sat next to my father and Lhunil. The pointy hat apparently came off, and its absence revealed grey-washed hair as long and wild atop his head as that which covered his cheeks. But for all of his strange looks, he smiled and he drank and he spoke with the elves just as they did.

Man, I finally decided.

I drew back to consider this thought. This must be a man, though I had never heard of my father inviting one of the lake village into our home. Men were tradesmen and servants, not equals. So maybe he was not a man. But if not a man, then what was he?

"And who is this?"

I gasped and felt the rush of adrenaline as a blow to my stomach. To my embarrassment, I fell over backward and landed sitting on the hard, cold stone to stare up at him. I had been so absorbed with pondering the question of his existence that I had failed to notice him move.

He was huge. He towered over me, as tall as the ceiling. Truly, he was the biggest creature I had ever encountered in my short years.

"Hello, little one," he said softly, his voice somehow less rumbly as he addressed me.

I couldn't speak, couldn't make my tongue work, couldn't make anything move in my sudden surge of fear. I could only stare.

Slowly, this great creature stooped down and lowered himself to one knee so that the great hairy mass on his face was down on a level with my eyes. His movement released me somehow and I scrambled to my feet, only to find myself trapped against the corner where the wall bent in to the great hall doors.


I could hear movement within the hall. My father's voice was sharp behind the creature as he questioned those about him.

"I don't believe we've met," the creature rumbled softly. "They call me Mithrandir. What do they call you?"

Kind as his eyes were, I had no wish to further this conversation and tried to slide past him. Eyes could lie. Voices could lie. Moods could change with a heartbeat, as I knew very well, and I was unsure of this stranger's intent. I needed to leave. Coming here had been a grievous error.


My father’s voice was sharp and angry, and I gasped at the sound. His delivery left no doubt what his mood was, and it heralded an unpleasant evening to come. A new fear touched me, and my eyes turned toward that sharp voice through the habit of many years learning. My father stood within the doorway to the hall, his expression dark, his stormy eyes fixed on me.

A slight movement caught my attention, and my gaze whipped back to the creature still kneeling in front of me. The creature whose hand was in motion toward me.

I shied away from it on reflex. Hands reaching for me could sometimes be kind, but more often they were not. My body had learned to evade being touched whenever possible. This hand moved swiftly and it was huge, easily the size of my face. My reflexes took no chances. His hand missed me, grazing past my shoulder as I twisted back and away.

But that hand did not retreat. It hovered there between us, and the eyes above it were startled, and then... almost sad, I should say, if I'd had more time to study them.

But time I did not have.

"LEGOLAS!" My father's command: louder now, harsher and definitely angry.

My stomach knotted in panic. I took the only road open to me. I abandoned stealth and shadow for speed. I fled, ducking under the stranger's arm and leaving the huge hand reaching after me as though to protest to my departure, though seemingly not to stay it as he allowed my escape.

I knew that my bolting would not end the confrontation; in fact, it would only worsen it once I was found and brought before my father. Running was a crime to be added to the others that would no doubt be presented to me in his chambers tonight.

In my blind flight and consideration of the disastrous encounters I'd just left, as well as the evening encounters to come, I collided roughly with another in the corridor and staggered back a pace before I could restrain my stride. A startled cry and a complaint came from the owner of the legs I had run into, full tilt.

Galion. It had to be Galion, my father's personal aide. His voice followed me, raised in shrill annoyance and rebuke. My hitting him would be yet another crime set before my father, I had no doubt. But that was later, and later was always preferable to now where my father was concerned. His temper was well-known among the elves of Mirkwood, and I had heard guests from Rivendell and Lorien remark upon it as well. But they were not as well-acquainted with it as was I.

Later was always preferable.

If I could reach the lower levels, I could slip out past the east gate because I was still small enough to squeeze through the palings, and then I could gain the trees. If I could reach the trees, then I could spend the rest of the evening hiding in their leaves, in the quiet and cool and green of the forest. At least until they found me.

They always found me, sooner or later.

Fortune favored me this day, and I reached the gate. And the sunlight. And the forest.

The leaves were welcoming as the stone below was not. The stone was my father's world, but the trees seemed to be mine. I sat cradled in the arms of my friendly old oak tree and dreading the night, but my thoughts were always dragged back to the quiet, smiling eyes of the giant in my father's hall. He had been so different from Father.

I wished that I'd had the chance to speak to him. I wondered what he would have said, if Father hadn't come just then. He said his name was Mithrandir. I wonder if he likes little elves?



The king's angry roar startled the child, making him jump. Only his eyes turned toward the sound of that voice. The rest of his body tensed and drew back as if to ward off some blow he knew was coming.

But why? I wondered. No offense had been committed. The child had been merely standing in the corner behind the door when I knelt at its edge to begin a quiet conversation. He’d not intruded, not disturbed us in any way. In fact, he’d not yet made a sound. Yet Thranduil bellowed, and the boy looked terrified. Was this a child of the staff? Was he out of bounds coming to this level of the hall?

No, Thranduil had called the boy Legolas. I knew that to be the name of the king's youngest son, mentioned in passing and brushed over as inconsequential, too young to be of any importance. Thranduil’s firstborn son, I knew, had died alongside Orophir on the slopes of Mount Doom. I had met his remaining older brother earlier in the day: Luinil, heir to all that was Mirkwood, its problems as well as its beauty. He seemed a copy of his father.

Here before me now was the third prince, Legolas, which in his native tongue meant 'greenleaf': strong new life and a new hope, I thought. Born not long after the battle on the slopes of Mount Orodruin, in which the king's first heir had fallen. Did this new little life mean so little now to the father who had named him? And what of his mother? No one had mentioned her, and she clearly was not here. Had she died, or had she sailed over sea, in grief for her lost son or away from this strange elf her mate had become?

The boy was small for his age, with skinny limbs and a pinched face. His eyes seemed far too big for that face, and while his father and his brother cast the golden light so common in this branch of the Elven race, this child was dark. His light seemed almost muddied, even as his clothing was. Perhaps he'd taken after his mother.

Casting a glance over my shoulder, I saw Thranduil standing in the doorway. His expression was stormy, his fingers bunched into fists. His blue eyes had turned to ice, and it seemed that all of his loathing was focused on the little elf before me.

"LEGOLAS!" came the second snarl.

The boy whimpered softly. I reached for him, thinking only to reassure him, but he shied away from my hands. If anything, the terror in his eyes increased tenfold.

My fingers grazed his shoulder as he twisted back and away. With my hand still hovering between us, I locked gazes with him once more and sensed the clawing panic within him. Panic to escape whatever punishment awaited him beyond his father's voice. He evaded my touch with an ease borne of long experience, and I was heartsick to realize that much more than a voice had probably been raised against this child.

/Run!/ I commanded, directing his senses to the opening beneath my arm.

His gaze shifted to my robe, and he needed no further encouragement. Legolas ducked beneath my arm and I rose to my feet, effectively blocking Thranduil's way while the boy fled down the narrow corridor.

"So that is your youngest son," I said with forced ease.

"It is." His reply dripped contempt.

Behind us, Galion's voice was raised in startled outcry, followed by shrill rage. Small footsteps pelted onward, as did the stream of Elvish invective from Thranduil's personal aide.

Galion joined us, moving silently to his king's side and fussing with his robes. His narrow face was even more sour-looking than usual when he pursed his lips.

"I apologize, my king, that he has escaped his minders once again. I will deal with them shortly, but really, something must be done about that child!"

"Something will be done with him," growled the king. "Bring him to me tonight before supper." Thranduil turned away from his aide, taking several deep breaths in an attempt to slow his anger before gesturing me to return to the hall with him. "For now, Mithrandir, you will join me at luncheon. We have much to discuss."


The day wound down eventually. Finally. I escaped the king's Great Hall on the pretense of preparing for the magnificent feast that was to be held in my honor that night. As the sun crept through the sky, tracing an infuriatingly slow path in its descent, my mind was not entirely on the matters of Mirkwood and the dangers creeping forth out of Mordor. No, my focus was back with the little elfling who had been all wide-eyed fear and cringing. It hurt for me to see someone so small in such pain, and the knowledge that more was intended for him before the feast tonight completely stripped away any appetite I might have for anything provided by Mirkwood’s king.

I had a few hours to myself, and I intended to make good use of them. Making good my escape, I traveled quickly upward through the stone corridors of the underground fortress. Instinct was telling me to seek what remained of the light and to seek the forest also, where rulers and their counselors might not go. I strode out through the lower levels and finally reached one of the exits to this underground fortress.

Without slowing my pace, I raised my hood against the rain that was falling. The east gate called to me, regardless it was barred. A shift of the hinge and a protest of metal and I was through it, unchallenged. I supposed that if a guest -- especially a wizard known to be a bit odd -- wanted to walk in the rain, no one would stop him. Indeed, I don’t think anyone even noticed my passing. That is surely a very good thing, I thought.

Pausing on the edge of the road, I surveyed the thick forest surrounding Thranduil's keep. It was big, while my quarry was small and frightened. This search could take much more time than I had to devote to it at the moment. If I were a little elf, where would I go? I asked the wind and the small creatures living in the trees. Do you know where your friend is?

Their minds met mine and cheerfully informed me. I stepped onto a path that I never would have known was there, had they not told me. Circling the outer wall, it was choked with overgrowth. I pushed slowly down it, and the path soon cleared somewhat to reveal a mighty oak, sheltering and protective. I could sense another life joined to the tree’s, nestled safe in her arms and deep within her heart.

Unfortunately, I was not the only one approaching the sanctuary. There must have been another gate and another path, one known and used by the king's minders, for Galion stalked up to the big oak from the other side. His expression was stern and irritated, his stance was rigid. Shaking off the rain, he reached up into the tree and yanked.

A shriek and a crash, and Legolas fell at Galion's feet.

"Your father wants you. Get up," Galion snarled, prodding the child with his toe.

The boy seemed dazed, but tried to comply. Sitting up, he began to stand, only to be caught by the arm and wrenched upright. Life returned to Legolas in a rush. Twisting away from the biting grip, he escaped the hand that held him and managed to take half a step in flight before the elf’s fingers closed in his hair and rocked him backward.

"I do not appreciate your running me down in the halls," Galion muttered into the boy's ear. "Even less to I appreciate being drawn out into the wet to search for a worthless little creature like you. How it is that your father sired such a dreadful child is quite beyond my understanding."

Closing his eyes, Legolas shivered and let the elf do as he would. Cold rain ran in rivulets into the child’s eyes as he endured.

"Go!" the elf growled, shoving the child forward. He staggered and recoiled from the contact, but Galion easily locked his hand around the thin upper arm of the child, yanking him forward. "Your father awaits you, and I would not have his anger turn my way because of you. Now walk, or must I encourage you?"

Legolas made a feeble effort to pull away, and his resistance was rewarded with a stinging slap that encompassed both his cheek and tender ear. He cried out, his free hand rising to cover the reddening ear, but Galior yanked him forward again and encouraged him to move faster with another slap to the lower back and a third across his small hips. The boy stumbled forward without further protests, being sped along with another yank. Raising his arm, Galion aimed his next blow at his victim’s small backside.

The last blow never fell, for Galion’s hand was suddenly engulfed in a powerful, painful, and quite invisible grip. It was now his turn to exclaim in pain and surprise.

"Enough," I growled, stepping from the concealing shadows and wrapping my very physical fingers around the elf’s other wrist.

He cried out as I squeezed sensitive tendons, forcing him to release Legolas. Recoiling, Galion looked affronted and rubbed his assaulted wrist.

Going down on my knees, I slid my hands over Legolas's narrow shoulders and firmly pulled him back against me before fixing my gaze on the aide above me. I made a bold statement out of drawing the child into the shelter of my cloak, daring his captor to make another grab for him. Conversely, it prevented the equally dismaying possibility that the child might take flight. Legolas’s small hand crept up to cover his ear again, but otherwise he made no protest.

"Master Wizard, you are a guest in this hall, but you overstep yourself now. I am to take this child inside. His father… King Thranduil wishes to have words with his son."

"You'll not be taking this child to his father tonight."

Galion gaped at me, incredulous. "But the king has ordered--"

"I heard what the king ordered. I understand what manner of words he wishes to share with the child, as well. Legolas will not be taken to him tonight."

"Master Wizard, it will not go well for me if I do not deliver the boy, and immediately!"

"Tell him the child cannot be found."

"I will not!" Galion drew himself up and sniffed, wiped his face of the rain and glowered at Legolas, who turned his face and hid against me. "I know every nook and cranny in which the little brat hides. I can smell him out, and the king knows it. I’ve been forced to track him down and play nursemaid for far too long for him to evade me so easily."

"Then tell your king that I found his son first, and that Legolas is staying with me." My tone remained reasonable and calm, making the elf’s outrage seem quite undignified.

Galion sputtered and stared, but offered no further coherant arguments. Legolas trembled against me, whether from terror of his father or fear of me, I could not tell. The small fingers of one hand bunched in the rough material of my robe, while the other still guarded his stinging ear. I dared to rub his back in what I hoped was a comforting gesture, but Legolas only tensed. So I settled for cradling his small body against me and waited for Galion's response.

"This will not do, but on your head be it, Mithrandir," he grumbled. "I will not insult a guest with further arguments, but I will report this to my king. No doubt he will want to deal with your meddling in his business. You do your cause no service, wizard, nor will it spare that child what is due him." Glowering at Legolas one last time, Galion spun on his heels and stalked off through the leaves.

"It will be all right," I murmured, running the palm of my hand over the boy’s wet hair. He smelled of earth and rain and moved closer to me, twisting under my hand as if burrowing against me might make me stop touching him. I drew back slightly but did not relinquish my hold. "Have you eaten today?"

He stared at the ground, still shivering, but made no reply.

"Have you?" I asked cheerfully, as though the unpleasant scene from moments before had never happened. "Was that your stomach I heard growling?" I smiled and poked my forefinger gently at his small belly.

He considered matters a moment. Eventually, he shook his head. Fair enough.

"Then finding you some supper shall be the first order of our evening. Will you come with me to do that, little leaf?"

I plucked a small, damp oak leaf out of his hair. He tensed at the touch, then watched it drift to the forest floor. His eyes lifted warily to meet mine, but his chin did not come up, and he still kept one hand cupped over his abused ear. I could see the reddened tip through his fingers. The blow must have hurt badly.

"We'll go in through the kitchens," I reassured, smiling at him again, "so that you do not have to meet your father's courtiers. How does that sound?"

A nod. Other than that, Legolas didn't move.

The rain pattered harder around us, and I wondered if I should wrap the child up and carry him in a belated attempt to protect him from the rain. Given his skittishness and mistrust, it seemed a foolish notion, so that I decided not to even try it. Releasing him, I stood slowly, carefully. It wouldn't do to make any sudden moves and lose him now to the darkening forest.

"Will you show me the safest entrance, then?"

Whirling, he stared and backed away from me before heading off with what must have been his usual speed. Darting through the leaves and into the concealing shadows, he paused a few feet away and cast a glance over his shoulder. So he didn’t mean to lose me after all?

I followed at a more sedate pace, setting the vines and branches out of my way, smiling and indicating that I could keep up, after a fashion. I fully expected him to leave me behind, in which case I'd just have to ask the forest for help in finding him again. We could be at this all night, came the thought.

I hoped not.

A measure of trust must have been created between us, or perhaps Legolas just wanted his supper. In any event, he led me to an overgrown narrow gate, rusted closed and half off of its hinges. He was able to slip through it, but I was not.

I fingered my moustache and frowned at the sagging metal while Legolas waited in silent, still observation on the other side of the gate. He seemed to not notice the rain, just pushed impatiently at the wet hair falling into his eyes and staring at me as if he expected me to float over the obstruction. I gave the gate a tentative pull, but its resistance spoke of years in that position.

"Well, there’s nothing for it."

Heaving a great sigh, I set my sights on the low wall beside the gate. Grumbling and grousing, I gathered my robes and found toeholds in the old stone. Climbing up and then over, I found safe footing on solid ground once more, turned about, and found that the little elf was watching me with obvious amusement.

"You didn’t think I could do that, did you?"

A shrug. He pointed at my robes. I gathered that he felt climbing in long robes and a cloak was not a clever thing to do. If anything, his shy smile grew into a fleeting grin. The grin, I noted, was missing two front teeth. Replacements hadn't begun to grow in yet, which would make the little leaf about... yes, about twelve, I calculated, which would be the equivalent of about six years of age for a Man-child.

This little leaf was very young. He was also small for his age, but far from stupid. I had already sensed a keen intelligence behind those eyes and an iron will to survive. I now added a sense of humor to the list.

"Lead on." Stepping forward, I gestured and was gratified to see that Legolas did not cringe from my touch. Rather, he chose to walk a few paces before me, heading for the castle proper and a hint of light and warmth in the stones that turned out to be the kitchen.

My companion stopped at the edge of the preparation area, determined not to take one step further into that center of activity. I, however, as the guest of honor, had no such hesitations, and I swept my newfound friend into the kitchen with me. Uncomfortable as he might be with this situation, I would not let him out of my sight for a moment, lest it give someone the opportunity to reclaim him.

"I wish two trenchers of food be brought to my chamber, along with a jug of milk and some wine."

No one questioned my orders, but they did stare at the child accompanying me. Legolas all but shrank away from the sniffy cook and his assistants and tried to hide behind me. I filed that information away before lifting the edge of my cloak and casually draping it over him, which served to hide at least some of him. Perhaps it would serve to make him feel a little more secure. Leaning down, I whispered into his ear.

"Doesn't seem a very friendly place, does it? Come, we'll find somewhere more hospitable to eat."

Ushering him away from that hive of activity, I led him through the stone corridors to my chamber. He followed, but his steps seemed to drag slower and slower the closer we got, until by the time we reached the room he was trailing several steps behind me. Pushing open the heavy hewn door, I gestured him through it.

"They'll bring the food here, Legolas, and we'll be able to eat in peace. No one will come, no one will yell. No one will hurt you in here."

He stopped dead in the corridor and eyed the open door. His small shoulders tensed, and he looked from me to the room beyond. For a moment, I thought that he was going to bolt.

Busying myself with peeling off my heavy, damp cloak, I watched him anxiously from the corner of my eye. "The food smelled good back there, didn’t it? I expect that they’ll bring something nice. Warm, too. I’ve been traveling and eating bread and hard cheese for days, so something warm will be quite a treat for me."

Between my casual manner and the promise of a warm meal, Legolas seemed to overcome some of his hesitation. He took a step forward, then another, and another until finally, with a bit of weaving and agitation, he gathered the courage to cross the threshold itself. Standing inside the room, he stared up at me with huge eyes.

What does he think I'll do to him? I wondered.

Sounds from the corridor indicated the arrival of the meal, along with those bearing it. That was enough to send the little elf skittering further into the room and behind the chair over which I’d draped the cloak.

The food arrived then, great trenchers of it, along with the requested libations. I thanked the servants who brought it, closed the door behind them, and barred it. When I turned back, it was to see that Legolas's eyes had gone huge. Stark fear shone in them, and he was now standing with his back firmly against the far wall.

It was obvious that he felt trapped. From the way his eyes kept flickering from me to the door and back, it was equally obvious that he wanted out. Turning to the door, I laid a hand on it and whispered to the wood. No small elven hands would be able to open it; it would remain closed until I removed the words of power binding it. No small little elf would be able to escape my watch-care in the night.

"The food smells good, don't you think?" Pulling a chair up to the table, I leaned down to retrieve two thick historical tomes borrowed from Thranduil's library. Placing them on the chair, I then found utensils to set beside a trencher, poured out a mug of milk and set it close by.

Pouring myself a mug of wine, I turned away from the table, lit a small fire, and settled into the chair before it. Pulling out my pipe, I prepared and lit it.

"I'll have dinner later, if that's all right with you," I offered softly. "If it pleases you to eat now, please feel free to do so."

He didn't move from his place against the wall, and I didn't offer any further conversation. Puffing quietly, I stared at the fire and stole glances at Legolas from the corner of my eye. At first, nothing happened. I smoked, he hovered in the shadows, and that was that. It was as I was contemplating refilling both pipe and mug that I heard, or rather sensed, some slight movement behind me.

I watched out of the corner of my eye as he sidled closer to the table, his gaze never leaving me. I drew on my now-empty pipe, and did not move. Snatching a bit of bread, he backed away and gauged my reaction to his daring. Draining the last drops of my wine, I stared at the fire.

"I wish you’d sit down and eat, child," I murmured. "That’s what the food is there for."

Suspicion warred with hunger for another long moment, and I took the time to refill my pipe. Legolas stayed by the table, caught in indecision.

I rose slowly, moved slowly, and reached even more slowly to the wine. I poured it into the mug carefully, returned the beaker to the table, and turned away. And then I turned back, startling him into a two-step retreat. Smiling, I pointed at the chair.

"Sit and eat, little leaf. That plate is for you."

I returned to my place by the fire. Eyes still on me, he climbed carefully up onto the chair.

He ate quickly and quietly behind me while I blew smoke-rings. Rings were simple and mastered long ago. Ships, however, took a bit of extra effort, and so I set to practicing them. All sounds of eating ceased behind me; he was surely watching me. So smoke-ships interested him, did they? Let us see what else an old wizard could come up with.

It took several failed attempts, but I soon had a winged dragon wafting toward the hearth, only to dissolve against the stones. A gasp sounded behind me, and I dared to turn my head.

"Dragonth!" he murmured. His missing front teeth made him lisp, and his bright eyes were entirely focused on the smoke-creature that was already fading quickly.

It was the first word I’d heard him speak, and I smiled with this success. "Have you ever seen a dragon, Legolas?"

A shake of the head, which sent long hair flying everywhere. He waited for me to resume puffing on my pipe before taking another bite of food.

"Let's see if I can't create another one for you then, hmm?"

I sent the next one out over the table, directly toward him. Scarcely breathing, Legolas watched it come. It seemed to head directly for his face, though I’d not intended it to, and the boy reached up as though to ward the creature off. The dragon flew through his fingers, dissolving into wisps of smoke upon contact. He stared in amazement as the smoke dissipated, then turned his astonished gaze upon his own small fingers that had banished the dragon.

I eyed the trencher before him and noted that he'd eaten a good portion. Falling into silence, I waited for time to pass and the surge of adrenaline to clear his small body. I continued with smoke rings and ships and other unidentifiable smoky failures, and eventually my patience was rewarded when he folded his arms against the table, lowered his head, and began nodding off. A few more minutes, and he stopped fighting sleep. He stopped raising his head to peer at me, as if to ensure that I hadn't moved, that I wasn't going to transform into a dragon myself and come at him, roaring loudly and breathing flame in addition to smoke.

His eyes closed, his breathing deepened. I rose carefully from the chair and moved over him. Murmuring another spell, I deepened his sleep, then lifted his thin body out of the chair. Laying the child on the bed, I gathered a towel and a basin, poured hot water into it from the kettle over the fire, and proceeded to clean him up as best I could with such limited means.

I swiped at the grime on his face, moving carefully over the faded handprint and the blue ghosting of a new bruise across his cheekbone. Removing his jerkin, I attempted to remove the dirt on his chest and arms. Over and over, I wiped at the stubborn smears, which refused all of my efforts to remove them. The dirt covered his small chest as smudges covered his arms. The smudges were darker at his wrists, and I sat down hard on the edge of the bed when I realized how wrong I'd been in my assumptions.

It wasn't dirt, it was bruising. My hands shook as rolled Legolas over gently, the better to examine his back. There were even more smudges and shadows there, disappearing into the ragged leggings that covered the rest of his small, vulnerable body. I removed his boots and wet leggings to find similar marks. I discovered that one of his thin arms held heat when I touched him to shift his position again. I backtracked to run my hand down it, then turned his arm between my hands to have a closer look.

Legolas whimpered and shifted in his sleep at the contact. Laying my hand across his narrow back, I soothed him deeper into slumber before reaching for a candle, the better to see in the gloom.

His wrists, back and arms had borne the brunt of the damage. The dark circles at his wrists spoke of old yankings as well as new – a few of which I'd personally witnessed. His left elbow was swollen. Running my fingers over muscle and bone, I felt the misalignment easily and swore softly in Dwarvish.

It was easy enough to reset the bones. Gathering the child into my arms, I turned his thumb toward his torso and slowly folded his arm toward his shoulder and felt the soft click of the joint reseating itself. My power could set the rest of this to rights as well, could heal his injuries overnight, almost, but what of the morrow? What of the next time his father or Galion, or only the Valar knew whom, got their hands on Legolas? As horrified as I was at his treatment today, I knew that his tomorrow would be much worse, and worse for days beyond that because of my interference this night.

Anger surged within me, as well as determination. There will be no next time.

I could not put wet clothing back on the boy, so I tucked him warm beneath the covers and hung the garments at the fire to dry. By then, my course was decided and my path was set. I had planned to stay a few weeks at Mirkwood, acquainting myself with the king and his court. I needed to continue familiarizing myself with the problems that needed addressed in this corner of Middle Earth.

I was ever conscious of the threat that seemed to be growing in Mordor and knew all too well that darkness was creeping closer to Thranduil's borders. There was the not insignificant threat of Dol Goldur, well within these borders, and I’d yet to get a comprehensive report on the goings-on there. There was much for me to do, and I was in Middle Earth to serve the many, not the few, and certainly not the very particular needs of one very small prince.

None of that mattered anymore. Not this night. Not when I was sitting in Thranduil’s palace, had enjoyed his hospitality, and had realized that he was physically abusing his youngest son. I didn't bother to ask the gods why; there was no why, there was only the need to remove Legolas from this place and these people.

This, I would do -- tonight, if possible. Where I would take him, I didn't yet know. Only one thing was certain; the power of the Istari would be brought to bear to keep Legolas safe, and no one would ever lay hands on him like that again. From now until the end of his days, this elf would have me to look after him.


Along with a few other vices, Thranduil loved three things: good food, good drink, and much gambling. The banquet was an interminable effort in self-discipline and patience for me, sickened as I was by the knowledge that I now bore, but I put my knowledge and my time to good use.

Thranduil satisfied his gluttony by the end of the banquet that night, and by the beginning of our games of chance he was deep enough into his cups to satisfy his second weakness. As his guest, I joined him willingly in his games of chance, but for some reason fate seemed against my winning that night. I lost three times to every win, and my host found the company of a wizard who was unable to control simple throwing dice to be a matter of great hilarity. I did win a few tosses, but by the end of our games Thranduil had bet and won innumerable times.

The last time, he bet and lost.

What he lost was Legolas. At the end of the night and before witnesses, the king had lost his youngest son to me. He surrendered Legolas willingly, without complaint or regret, much to the astonishment of the witnesses still gathered around the Great Hall.

"What you want with him, I don't know," the drunken king slurred. "He's a little ghost, like his mother. Eyes and silence, that's all you'll ever get out of him. Eyes and silence...."

Thranduil's head sank onto his chest. He begun snoring, and Galion stepped up to remove the dice from his hands and glower at me.

"Do you need help getting him to chambers?" I inquired politely.


So be it. I watched them attend their slumbering king and gave a gracious nod to excuse myself to all present. I was free to return to my chamber and did so, only to hear small whimpers of fear and distress coming through the darkness behind the door. Hurrying into the room, I discovered that Legolas was caught in the throes of some dark dream. He'd kicked off the covers, was thrashing about in the bed, and could not awaken.

Gathering him to me, I lifted him from sleep. "Hush, little leaf, it's all right. You're safe."

His small body stiffened in my arms. His bony elbow dug into my ribs as he writhed against me. "Nooooooooooooo! Father, nooo!"

The tears came hot and fast, dampening my beard as I cradled him closer to me. "It’s just a dream, Legolas. Your father isn't here, he can't hurt you. No one will hurt you again, I promise you that."


The dream had been so real that it hurt. My father, all darkness and noise, had been bearing down on me while Galion cuffed my ears. It was only when my fingers became entangled in Mithrandir's beard that I finally realized that it wasn't Galion holding me down. The pain I was feeling was only a phantom, pulled from my apprehension but no less real for all of that. Still, though my fear might be and illusion, I know that what had happened before when I was awake would likely happen again.

Something broke inside of me, then. Trapped between my father's rage and the wizard's kindness, I rolled into the prickled roughness of his embrace and hid my face against his beard. Hopelessness mocked the taste of gentleness and caring he’d given me earlier in the day, making my life even more bitter. Still, I clung to him, to the moment’s sanctuary he offered against the pain.

His large hands held me close. He smoothed my hair back over and over. And he promised that no one would hurt me again. They were just empty words that night, holding no meaning to me past the warm body I was held against. He wrapped me in his cloak, and I was somewhat aware of him carrying carried me from the bed and settling us both in the chair before the fire.

I was past caring what he did with me. I could only cry then and my tears, once loosed, were beyond my control and would not stop at my bidding. I believed that he was kind and that he would not hurt me, but I also knew that he would leave Mirkwood and I would stay. That knowledge hurt as much as any blow ever had.

He hummed and rocked as he held me. No one had ever done that before -- neither the humming or the rocking. I couldn't remember ever being held like this, either. I didn't want to lift my head away from him because if I did so he might stop rocking, so I kept my face solidly buried in his beard. It made me sneeze and he chuckled, then moved it up and out of the way so that I was sheltered beneath it for a time. He smelled different from any elf, but that wasn’t a bad thing. Galion had called him a wizard, and so I knew him for what he smelled like and how gently he touched me, if not for what he could do. I dug my fingers into his robes and wanted to stay where we were forever.

He was warmth and peace, unlike anyone I'd ever met before, and he seemed to care about little elves. He had stood against the mean ones and sent them away; those all-powerful shadows in my life had retreated at his word. But for me, he seemed to have endless time and gentleness.

I didn’t want to sleep; I wanted this moment of safety, of being held, to last forever, but I fell asleep to his rocking, somewhat conscious of his snoring. I don't know how long we shared the chair, but my sense of the light woke me at dawn, and by then I was back in his bed. And he was seated in a chair at the table, watching me.

"Good morning, little leaf," he rumbled, leaning over to hand me a mug of milk and a slice of bread once I'd struggled from the layers of bedding he'd wrapped around me. "The sun has barely cleared the horizon, but we have much to discuss this morning. If you are ready?"

I took the food and nodded. My stomach was rumbling and I ate greedily, spreading crumbs across the comforter and trying to catch the honey before it dripped onto the bedclothes. I watched for any signs of outrage at the mess I was making, but Mithrandir didn't seem to notice, much less mind.

"I am leaving Mirkwood today, Legolas, and your father will let you go with me if you wish it."

I stopped chewing and stared at him. He looked calmly back at me, his blue eyes crinkling slightly at the corners.

"Do you want to come with me?"

"W-where?" I breathed.

"To the House of Elrond, in Rivendell. We will go together, and I promise that if you come with me, no one will hurt you again." His eyes were kindly and determined. I sensed that he meant what he said, and that he somehow had the ability to make it so.

Impulsively, with just a little fear, I nodded, then licked at the trickle of honey that had crept unnoticed down my palm just before it made a dive for the sheets.

"You will come with me?"

Would I come with him? My heart knew instantly that I would follow him anywhere. I nodded again, the remains of my bread totally forgotten at the prospect of being allowed to stay with him.

He smiled then, a wide smile that made his beard shift and his eyes twinkle. A huge hand swallowed my knee, and he squeezed slightly. "That is well, little leaf."


"We'll need a horse if we're to leave this morning," I told Legolas. "Mine is still favoring that tendon, and we don't want to push him. I'd expected to stay a bit longer than overnight and let him rest, but he can either follow behind or I'll collect him later."

I glanced down at my companion of the morning and found him marching stolidly at my side, evidently ignoring the discussion completely.

Discussion. How can you have a discussion when only one party speaks? I sighed, then caught my hand as it drifted toward that tangled hair once more. It was so hard not to touch him, knowing -- no, feeling how desperately he needed affection, but to touch him was likely to upset the delicate balance we’d achieved this morning. By all the Valar, I needed the child’s cooperation to depart quickly and quietly from his father’s realm.

I stopped on the path then, waiting for my new charge to notice my lack of forward progress. He came to a halt fairly quickly and I stopped down once more to try and meet his gaze, which was buried under the tangled hair.

"We’ll need a horse, little leaf. Do you know where they're kept?"

There was a definite spark of interest at that question. My guide nodded vigorously, then pushed irritably at the hair that fell in his face.

"Could you take me there?"

Again the nod, and Legolas backed three cautious steps away from me, watching intently. 'Follow me?' was the unspoken request. I rose to my feet and nodded. Seemingly reassured that I’d not get left behind, he turned and marched down a different, crowded path, leaving me to hike my robes over the foliage and lengthen my stride to catch up.

He did try to warn me, I reflected.

This was clearly an unofficial path, as it rapidly devolved into a narrow track worn through the close trees. I was left to stumble over unseen roots and duck low branches, while Legolas hesitated only to pat a tree trunk here and there in his passing, never so much as glancing over his shoulder to see if I was following.

As though he needs to look back, I groused to myself. I must make all the noise of an oliphant crashing through these branches.

The secret path ended abruptly in an open field containing many fine horses as well as a stable. I started to step out onto the grass, to approach the stable, but two small hands grabbed my robe and pulled back on the material, hard.

I stopped instantly, startled. "What is it? What’s wrong?"

Legolas shook his head and hovered just at the edge of the treeline and watched intently. The horses in the field turned, one by one, to mark his position in the trees, and no few stepped forward to greet the young elf. Several nickers came in greeting, which seemed to cause a tall Elf to step from the stable and into the sunlight.

"There you are, little shadow," the horsemaster called. "Your friends always give you away."

I watched in surprise as my skittish charge suddenly took flight. Pelting across the grass, Legolas barreled headlong into the legs of the horsemaster, wrapped his arms about the tall elf’s thighs in a fierce hug. Laughing, the horsemaster stroked the tangled hair affectionately, but the friendly smile fell away as I stepped up behind Legolas.

"Master Wizard," came the formal greeting. All warmth had fled from those eyes as his gaze fearlessly matched mine. "Word has reached me of last night's activities."

"Has it, now?"

"Word also has it that you will be leaving here, and taking our prince with you."

'Yes," I replied as amiably as I could manage, "Legolas and I will be leaving. And we could use a mount, as mine is still weary from his long service. Is there a horse we might borrow, the prince and I?"

The horsemaster spared me another moment of obvious hostility, then bent down to speak to the child between us, who was looking anxiously from friend to benefactor as the tension escalated.

"Little shadow, your friends await your attention. Why don't you go and speak to them?" The elf gave Legolas a pat on the shoulder and sent him off toward the horses that were drifting toward them across the grass.

Still watching us, the child reluctantly backed away. But another wave from the horsemaster sent him running toward the gathering herd. Once the child's attention was focused away from us, the elf turned back to me with only the barest veneer of civility.

"Yes, I have certainly heard of last night's happenings in the hall. And though it is not my place to question such things, I would like to know what your intentions are toward our prince."

"*Your* prince?" I echoed, hoping that my voice didn't reflect the shock I felt at those words. I could feel my eyebrows climbing in surprise before I could stop them.

"Yes, Master Wizard. Our prince. There are those of us who care for him and do what we can for him," he advised almost defiantly. "We feel it is not right to hand him off to a stranger in such a fashion. And you not even an elf?"

The horsemaster glared at me with both his tone and his stance reflecting reflected aggressiveness -- no, protectiveness, I decided.

This is a good sign, I decided. Perhaps the little leaf’s life has not been all misery.

"What are your intentions toward our prince?" the elf demanded. "What do you intend to do with him?"

"I am to tell you, lest your pitchfork find my liver, Master Elf?" I smiled to take the sting out of his words, hoping to move the conversation to less hostile ground. "Your concern reflects well upon you. You have a caring heart."

My words seemed to have little impact as the horsemaster continued to glare. I sighed and took a moment to think carefully before speaking my next words.

"Let me assure you that I have only the young one's best intentions at heart. I intend to take him from this hall of madness and pain. I intend to take him to Imladris where he may be raised in a place of compassion and caring, where he can be free of fear and violence. Where they will care for his needs and his education. And if I know Lord Elrond, he will be delighted to have another young one in his care, as his boys are far too old to appreciate the company of their father any longer."

The stablemaster blinked, clearly startled by my words, and the quiet strength beneath them. "You -- you know, then?"

"I know. I witnessed… episodes yesterday. I have also seen further evidence of what’s been happening." Nodding toward Legolas, I my fingers tightly about my own wrist in mute illustration. "I managed to head off at least part of last night's violence toward him, but I cannot remain here, and I will not leave him here another night."

If an elf could be said to sag in relief, this one did. "Then you understand, and you act out of caring. Many will be glad to hear of his change in fate, but they were uncertain of you, Master Wizard. We meant no offence…."

"But you wondered what strange bargain had been struck with the selling of the princeling, and what strange desires an old wizard might harbor," I replied, half- offended and half-amused. "Again, your caring tells much of you. But should any need the assurance of my promise, I give my solemn word that I will watch after this one as though he were my own. His father gave him to me last night. Gave. Him. To. Me. To keep as my own until the end of days. I intend to hold Thranduil to that, no less than I intend to honor it. I accept my guardianship very seriously indeed."

"Then he will fare far better than he would here."

Our gazes met in solemn understanding before the horsemaster turned toward the field.

"Ah, he returns," he observed as my little elf trudged back across the grass toward us with several young horses trailing along behind him.

The horsemaster beckoned Legolas forward and the entire group straggled into a trot, with the small boy running ahead of carefully paced horses at his heels.

Legolas drew to a halt between us. The horses, filled with yearling mischief and curiosity, ranged alongside him to snuffle me – rather rudely, I thought. My hat was nipped and knocked forward over my eyes before it was snatched completely off of my head. A filly snorted into my beard while a third tugged at the hem of my robe.

"Here! Here now, give me that," I protested, definitely at a disadvantage as I tugging the hat from between equine teeth only to flap it at another animal fascinated by my beard. "Be off! Leave me be!"

The young horses snorted, more amused than alarmed it seemed, and wheeled to canter off back to their fellows at grass. To my astonishment, I heard a soft sound that was very distinctly a giggle coming from behind me.

"Oh-ho, so you think that was funny?"

Legolas’s amusement collapsed instantly, and he shrank behind the legs of the horsemaster. I sighed, saddened that the moment had been lost so quickly.

"Look what your friend did to my hat," I protested, putting a very undignified, petulant, un-wizardlike whine into my tone. Kneeling, I brandished the hat not too close to the child, then carefully pointed out the large arc of dents in its fabric.

Legolas hesitantly reached out to take the huge hat in his hands. First, he brushed at the dents, then scraped at them with a dirty fingernail until the impressions vanished. My hat was then returned to me with all solemnity. I inspected it very carefully, then nodded.

"Well, that's not so bad then," I allowed before restoring the hat to its rightful place. "Warn me if they’re coming back, will you?"

Again the solemn nod.

"Now, Legolas, your friend and I were discussing a suitable mount for our journey. Tell me, little leaf, can you ride?"

His eyes widened in surprise, but then the gaze was fized on the grass between the little elf’s feet, and a very firm headshake in the negative was his reply. Looking up to the horsemaster for confirmation, I was not surprised to find him smiling and nodding in the affirmative just as emphatically.

"Little leaf, it's quite acceptable for you tell me the truth when I ask you a question," I said gently. "I ask because I wish to know the answer, and I promise that I won't be angry with you over what you tell me. I will only be unhappy with you," I added, stressing the word, "if you tell me that you've done something which I have specifically told you not to do. Do you understand?"

Legolas’s answer was a noncommittal shrug of his narrow shoulders.

"I'll take that as a yes. So tell me again: can you ride a horse well enough to stay on top of it?"

A sidelong glance, watching, appraising…Then a deep breath as courage was gathered…and the faintest of nods.

"Good. I was hoping you could. That will make things all the easier. Now, which of these horses do you think might suit us for our journey? And which one might we be allowed to borrow?"

"Might I suggest your old friend, little shadow?" said the horsemaster.

Legolas spun, tangled hair flying, to face the elf. Hope was shining from those eyes now, the first hope I'd seen in them.

"She's an older mare," the elf advised me. "She is ignored, though still strong. She produces the finest of foals, but she will never be missed. She is a good mother who can be counted on to protect her foals." He nodded significantly toward Legolas. "All of them."

"She sounds like a fine choice, then. But can she carry the both of us to Imladris if she carries so many years?"

Legolas nodded, and the Horsemaster smiled. "She can. She is not so old as all that, though I don't think she'll see many more winters. She will get you there safely if you don't overtax her."

"A good choice all around, then."

"Why don't you go and tell her, Legolas?"

The prince darted off into the horses, finding a dark mare at the back of the assembled horses. She was an odd color, dark red-brown with gold in her mane and the white scattering of age hairs about her eyes and muzzle. Her belly carried the sag of many foals’ residence within, but her neck arched proudly and she carried herself with grace as she minced across the grass toward us. Carefully, she shortened her stride to match that of the child who led her with a hand to her shoulder.

"She belonged to the Prince's mother, Master Wizard, a final gift from both her mother and myself. She also carries one further gift for the prince."

"A foal?"

He nodded and smiled, "Though he knows it not. The foal should be a fine one, a further legacy from Mirkwood, so use her gently if you can."

"Ah, this is the one?" I asked as Legolas brought the horse to a halt before me.

The mare and I regarded each other for a long moment before I reached out to stroke a misplaced strand of mane back over her neck. She sniffed my beard suspiciously, then snorted. We were both wary of each other, but once our eyes had met and our hearts had been read, intentions were deciphered, and agreements were reached. She would carry me as the young one asked. Of her carrying him, I had no doubt.

"She agrees then? When will you be leaving Mirkwood?"

"As swiftly as we may," I replied. "As soon as I collect our things, if she can travel on such short notice."

"She will be ready for you upon your return, Master Wizard. And may the stars shine brightly upon your path to Rivendell."


"Come, little leaf, we shall leave this morning, as swiftly as we may. I wish to be well down the road before nightfall."

I turned back toward the small overgrown path he'd led me down, urging him back toward the hall with equal speed. "Your friend assures us the horses will be ready, so we need only collect our things and a few provisions for the journey."

I glanced down toward my charge, suddenly aware that my concern and urgency might be communicating itself to him. As over-watchful and ever fearful as he was already, it would not do for his benefactor to frighten him as well. But Legolas wasn't there. There was no child at my side. There was no child behind me. My heart began to speed as I turned to head back. Had I lost him already? Had someone seen us and taken him from me?

No, I had thoughtlessly outdistanced him in his haste, had given no thought to his short legs. My little elf had slipped around a tree, moving as quickly as he could while still maintaining his accustomed stealth. The eyes beneath his bangs were wide and frightened. Poor child must think I’ve left him already.

"Here, Legolas. I'm here," I called as soothingly as I could in my agitation. Kneeling, I opened my arms to greet him. My heart ached anew when he skirted both hands and invitation, eyeing me reproachfully. "We need to hurry, Legolas. I want to be free of your father's hall by tonight, so we must leave as swiftly as we might. Will you let me carry you back to the hall? We'll make better time that way."

He backed away a step and narrowed his eyes as if sensing a trap.

"You can hide under my cloak," I baited. "No one will see you. No one will know you're there until we're back in my rooms."

That idea seemed to have definite appeal. Half a second's consideration brought an emphatic nod, and Legolas stepped forward to stand before me. I scooped up the small armful of elf and held him close against my chest with his legs settled naturally about my waist. With my other hand, I draped my rough cloak over him, concealing all but a small bulge against my side.

"There we are. No one will ever notice you. Now, off we go."

I strode for the hall, making good use of my long legs to cover ground in a fashion this child never could. Within moments we were sliding within the dark stone gate, leaving the new morning sun behind. My room was reached easily with no more interaction required than a casual nod to an elf here, an elf there. None of them looked closely; they seemed too intent on their own business at the start of the new day.

Pushing the heavy door closed, I set my new ward on the floor and turned to gather my things into my pack. Pipe, pouch, spare shirt, all utilitarian things were stuffed into the leather pouch with a minimum of effort. I then hesitated, looking back at the child hovering by the door.

He’s about to leave his entire world behind and has needs of his own, I realized. Clothes, personal belongings and such.

The need to leave immediately warred with my fears of further delays possible interception as we sought out the child’s rooms, wherever they might be. Must I go there? Must I take him back there, where someone might be looking for him even now? If I do not, there might be something he wants, some token that is precious to him. It’s only fair to ask him what he would wish to take with him now, as retrieval will be next to impossible by the time the sun is high.

"What of your packing, little one? Is there anything you want to take with you?"

Legolas shook his head and waited quietly for my next move.

"Nothing? Not a toy or a blanket or extra clothing, perhaps?"

Again the immediate, negative response. I was stunned.

"Nothing at all? Be certain, Legolas, for it will be a long time before we return to your father's hall. If we leave it behind now, it will be gone until you're grown."

This time the shake of the head was slower, more emphatic.

The child has nothing he cares about here, I realized. No toys, no happy things to bring with him.

My heart ached anew, and I diverted the pain by shouldering my pack and retrieving my staff. Extra clothing for the child would have been useful, but I dared not waste a second in getting him free of this hall. I was not foolish enough to believe that Thranduil would honor the agreement of last night. We needed miles between us and the king before he awoke from his drunken dreams and reclaimed his son. We needed to move quickly if we were to reach the safety of Rivendell before pursuit caught us.

Thranduil. An unpleasant thought came to me as that name came to my mind. I could not sneak from his hall like a thief in the night. I had to leave with the same dignity with which I had arrived. I had to make my formal farewells to someone. At least I would be spared another audience with Thranduil himself, as there was no possibility of his sodded form stirring so early after retiring. But still, it must be done.

With a sigh, I set the packs back on the floor.

"Legolas, I must go and give my farewells to someone. Probably Galion in your father's absence. Thranduil will be sleeping late, yes?"

A quick nod confirmed my suspicions.

"Good. I am going to go find Galion and tell him I must hasten away to investigate the forest. You are to stay here, out of sight. Do not open the door, do not leave the room. Do not make a sound. And if anyone comes, hide."

He nodded, but my sense of urgency still needed to be satisfied. I went to one knee before him, to meet his eyes directly.

"Do you understand, little leaf? You must not be seen."

His eyes went round, then went cold. Hiding he clearly understood, and he moved to the great wardrobe against the far wall.

"Good choice," I murmured. "I'll be back in just a few moments, and then we will leave."

It was a wrench to leave the child alone and vulnerable in that cold chamber. I prayed that he would be there when I returned and hesitated outside of the door for a moment, debating the possible outcomes before muttering a warding that would keep the door closed to any servants that might enter. It was as much as I could do, save to hasten in this formal leave-taking.

It did not take long at all. I believe that Galion was as glad to be rid of me as I was to leave. He knew, though, why I wanted away. And he, the insufferable prig, approved of it.

"You will be taking all of your belongings, will you not, Master Wizard?" The smirk underscored his contempt and hardened my dislike of the man into something bordering on new-hatched hatred.

"I will be taking all that belongs to me, yes," I replied firmly. "Please offer my regards to the king and my apologies for the abruptness of my departure, but my business cannot wait."

"I quite understand." The smirk deteriorated into cold contempt. "I wouldn't want to delay you, Master Wizard. I will not keep you or your baggage any longer."

I managed a cursory bow that probably came off as a stilted nod, and swept back up the corridors to the spark of light that I had left guarding my pack, away from the self-centered malice that truly ruled Mirkwood.

"I am back, little leaf," I whispered to the door. "I have come and now we go." The door opened at my touch to reveal a room empty of all but my things piled by the bed. There was no child. A second thrill of fear touched me this morning. "Legolas? It's time to go."

The wardrobe door opened just a crack, then a little more, and one wary eye watched me from within. I had to smile, for he had taken my instructions very seriously.

"You hide well, little leaf. Now, one more bit of hiding and we're free of this place. Are you ready?"


I stopped in midstride and turned back to him. I had heard him speak only once before, and not to me. But the stony resolve in that voice left little doubt that he was quite ready to leave, to cast his lot in with this strange wizard and be off.

Bless his heart, Elbereth, I sighed in silent prayer. He has such courage.

Hat securely on head. Pack over shoulder. Staff in left hand. I knelt and opened my arm to my charge, and he stepped into my embrace without hesitation this time. His arms went easily around my neck and helped me lift him easily onto my hip. This time, he gathered the cloak over his head, then burrowed close against me.

"Off we go. Kitchen first. Let's see if we can coax a meal or two from those within. Which way is fastest?"

The small body in my arms leaned across my chest to point left and down the servants corridor.

"Thank you. Now stay hidden."

Within two turns, the smell of baking bread rendered my guide unnecessary. The kitchen staff was hard at work preparing meals for those rising. The head of the staff was not there, only those underlings working hard. At my sudden appearance all work stopped, and all turned to stare at me.

"Master Wizard?"

I turned to see an elf coated in flour up to the elbows. She stepped toward me, meeting my gaze squarely.

"I have heard that you are taking the young prince with you."

This I had not anticipated. Not at all.

"And where might you have heard that?" I asked with casual curiosity. The small one in my arms clung to me, barely breathing.

"Theriel in the stable is my husband. He hastened to tell us of the Prince's change in fortune."

Others in the kitchen had moved toward her, standing in a united front before me. There were anxious expressions, worried expressions, but no hostility, no anger.

"Change in fortune?"

"You take him to Rivendell, you said." My wariness of her knowledge must have communicated itself to her in some way, as she suddenly favored me with a tight smile. "Oh, do not worry that we will breathe a word of it. You have our gratitude for helping him. Any aid we might offer is yours, Master Wizard. We have set up some provisions as might last you a few days…."

A half-grown elf struggled out with two packs bulging at the stitching. "Food and blankets, Master Wizard. What else might you need?"

I couldn't help it: I laughed. This child was clearly in the favor of Elbereth, now that her eye was drawn his way.

"My dear elves, this is a blessing I had not hoped to find. Our thanks for your gifts, your thoughtfulness, and your silence." I lifted the edge of the cloak, showing the small passenger tucked against my shoulder.

"Oh…" was all the baking elf could say. She edged forward to caress Legolas’s cheek with flour-coated fingers and bestowed a quick kiss on his forehead. "Fare well, young Prince. Perhaps we will see you again one day."

He wiped the flour away, then raised his hand in a shy wave.

"Tarnil, take that down to the stable for the Wizard and the Prince," she snapped at the young elf hovering by the door, sending him striding through the archway. To me, she said, "Go swiftly. Tarnil knows the path that will let you meet the fewest people, so you must follow him."

I nodded and covered my elf once more before heading after the boy with the packs.

The horsemaster was true to his word. My gelding and the old mare stood in the shadows behind the stable, ready but out of sight. My saddle, I noted regretfully, was on the gelding and not the mare. The packs were secured to the saddle, and the child boosted onto the smooth bare back of the mare. With a sigh that did not begin to reflect my misgivings, I managed to haul myself onto the mare, behind the child.

"May the stars light your path, Master Wizard," Theriel said as he stepped back, his face reflecting both hope and sadness. "Fare well, my little shadow. Remember all I've taught you, and mind the wizard."

He reached out to stroke the child's hair, and I realized how much he cared for this child. Many here did. How sad that they were prevented from sharing it with him.

Legolas lunged forward to wrap his arms around the horsemaster's neck in a tight hug. It lasted only a moment before the elf pushed him back. "Go. Be good. Learn everything you can. And come back here to see me some day. Now, off with you. Ride safely."

I nodded to them and urged the mare into motion. She set off sedately down the path into the forest. My gelding followed reluctantly behind only after several urging swats and growled commands from the elf.

We were away. Legolas was nearly free.


It was a lovely morning for travel. The sun was dappling the forest floor through the leafy canopy overhead, and the morning mist still lingered in low hollows. Birds sang, the air was clean and the day new. Even the mare’s walk was smooth and long-strided. My travel companion, perched in front of me on the mare’s withers, was silent and easy company for travel. It would have been a perfect journey save for the warning screaming at the back of my mind that we needed to get as far out of Mirkwood as possible, and with all haste.

"She’s a nice horse," I remarked to the top of the small, dark head. He nodded, his preferred means of commentary. "I’d like to travel a little faster, though. Can she go faster?"

Again the nod.

"Then let’s move along, shall we?" I nudged the horse with my heels, and the only response I received was an irritated swish of the tail. I tried again, a bit more forcefully. Then I gave her a not so subtle thump with a boot heel. Her head snapped up, ears pinned in annoyance. If anything, she slowed.

"Legolas? Could you ask her to go faster?" He half turned to look up at me, brow furrowed quizzically. "Tell her to go faster, please. I want to make haste in leaving Mirkwood."

He looked apprehensive, as though my request made him uneasy. I was quickly becoming annoyed with this conspiracy between horse and elf, pretending they didn’t know what I was asking of them.

"Tell her to go fast, Legolas," I ordered him.

He shrugged, and as he turned back I caught just a glimpse of that wicked grin I’d seen the night before. Leaning forward, Legolas laced his fingers in that golden mane and whispered to the horse’s back-turned ear.

My next awareness was that our pace was now similar to riding a missile from a catapult, for that sweet, lazy, elderly mare took off like her tail was on fire. Clutching for anything I could reach -- Legolas, mane, the saddle that wasn’t there – I struggled frantically to stay aboard the mare’s slippery back as the trees tore past and the wind roared in my ears.

"Whoa! Halt! Stop! Daro! Lasto! Pada! Cease, you insane equine!"

My hat flew off. I have no knowledge of when the staff left me. The packs vanished, and I clung gracelessly to this horse with one hand buried in her mane and the other wrapped tightly about the little body before me. I have no idea how long she ran or what, exactly, prompted her to stop. Perhaps I finally found the correct command, or perhaps my small elf took pity on me. Perhaps it was merely that the out-of-shape grand dame finally grew weary. In any case, her headlong flight finally slowed and returned to the sedate walk she’d offered before.

It seemed more than swift enough at this point. My heart was pounding so loudly that I couldn’t hear, and my legs quivered like saplings in a high wind. My small passenger didn’t seem to be at all upset, which I found even more irritating somehow. I gave a yank on the mare’s mane, which she wisely interpreted as a request for a halt.

"Are you all right?" I asked of my elf.

He turned again and nodded, his eyes dancing with amusement.

"Oh, so you think that was funny?"

It wasn’t exactly a shrug, but it certainly wasn’t denial. My annoyance rose another notch. He’d known the wretched beast would bolt that way and hadn’t warned me.

"I didn’t find it that amusing, myself," I growled.

I turned to stare back down the path. I had no idea how far we’d come, but I saw nothing of my belongings, save the gelding ambling up behind us.

"Well that’s done it," I snapped, hearing the irritation I had not planned to release in my voice. "Now we have to go back."

I kneed the mare into a turn and pointed her back down the path we’d just trampled. She obligingly shouldered my horse aside, and ambled back toward Thranduil’s keep.

The small figure sitting before me stiffened abruptly, then crumpled forward to rest his forehead atop hands still wound in her mane. They were now clenched tightly, white knuckled. Concerned, I reached to rest a hand on his shoulder, but Legolas flinched at the touch and twisted away to slide down the horse’s shoulder to the ground. I gasped in surprise and concern, as it was a long drop for one so small, nearly six feet, but he landed easily. He then squared his narrow shoulders and began marching down the path.

"Where are you going?"

He pointed back down the path, and then began to run. Alarm edged out my irritation, and I dismounted the mare as well to follow my child, also at a run. He was small and agile and surprisingly fast, but he wasn’t running with the grace I’d seen before. He stumbled now and again, and didn’t seem to be watching where he set his feet. And though he had speed, I had the longer legs and was gaining on him.

He stumbled again and fell to his knees just before I reached him. He made no effort to rise, but curled forward with his head bowed and his arms folded across his chest as though he was in pain. I fell to my knees beside him, my hands reaching to engulf his small shoulders before I could correct the gesture. The shoulders trembled violently under my grip. He was shaking.

No, I realized a moment later, he was crying. Legolas shook with silent sobs, unable even to catch a breath through their violence. It chilled me to the heart so see him so distraught. Worse, I had no idea why he was so upset. I’d witnessed his handling of far worse without so much as a squeak, but from a mare’s bolt he was devastated.

"What, little leaf? What is wrong? Where are you going?"

One small hand crept up inside the dark tangled hair hiding his face from me, no doubt to swipe at tears.

"What?" I urged again, squeezing his shoulders and giving a small shake. "What is it?"

The hand emerged, and waved vaguely toward the trail.

"You’re you’re upset that we’re going back? Little leaf, we have to go back—"

He wilted under my hands and curled up in a small ball of misery, sobbing silently in overwhelming grief. I stared at him for a moment, then heard my words replayed in my head. ‘That’s done it. Now we have to go back. We have to go back—‘

Grabbing the child up off the ground, I pulled him into my arms almost roughly and crushed him against my chest. "For my hat, Legolas! We have to go back for my hat!"

I wasn’t sure if he heard me through his tears. The reassurances continued from me without any conscious thought on my part, desperate as I was to ease his despair.

"No, no little one. We’re not going back to your father. We are never going back to your father. We only have to go back for my hat and staff, that’s all. Just the hat, and we’ll go not one step closer once we’ve found it. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you like that. Forgive me, please."

Rocking came naturally to me as I cradled him against me protectively. The tears did not abate, nor did he respond to me at all.

"You are my little elf now, Legolas. I am not giving you back to your father. I will never let him hurt you again. We will not return to Mirkwood, and I will keep you safe with me for as long as you wish to stay with me, which I hope is a very long time indeed. You belong with me, now, and I will let no one take you from me. Not ever. "

Small hands wound their way into my hair. The the crying changed character somehow, though I had not the experience with young ones to interpret what it might mean. All I knew was that my heart was melting and new feelings were emerging: feelings of fierce protectiveness mixed in with a strong dash of possessiveness. Is this what it is to feel as does a parent? I wondered. Is this what it is to love a child?

Yes, this must be what it is to love a child. I do believe it, for I found in that moment that I did love this child. Never mind the hot, wet face pressed against my neck or the small, damp hands painfully entangled in my hair or even the runny nose buried in my beard. This small soul suddenly meant more to me than all of Middle-Earth, and probably the Undying Lands as well.

"You’re my elf, I am your wizard, and I love you very much, little leaf. And no one will ever take you away from me," I whispered fiercely into that pointed ear. I repeated it several times, along with other soothing, mindless things that seemed appropriate to say. The morning’s urgency had faded as I sat in the damp forest litter, letting this small soul weep out the years of pain he’d stored within.

The tears finally slowed into hiccuping sobs, though the grip in my beard lessened not at all. I would have to move the morning on myself. Lifting him slightly away from my soggy shoulder, I sat him back on my lap and lifted his chin so that I might see his face. He was a mess with red eyes, a running nose, and tear tracks leaving streaks of clean skin through the overall grime of his face. I smiled at him and, with the means instinctive to all parents, used the hem of my robe to wipe away some of the damage.

"Did you understand what I told you? That you belong to me now?"

A hesitant nod.

"That you can stay with me for as long as you wish? Forever if you want to?"

Again the hesitant nod.

"Do you want to stay with me? Be my elf and let me be your wizard?"

Hope filled those eyes, hope and longing and a wistful sadness that I thought might break my heart. As though he felt this might be everything he could want and … as though it would likely be taken away again.

"Do you? Do you want to stay with me?"

He nodded then.

"Tell me. I need to hear the words," I urged.

"Yeth. Want to sthay."

I hugged him again. I couldn’t help it.

"Then it’s done, little leaf. We travel together." I set him on his feet and then stood, brushing aimlessly at the leaves clinging to my backside. "However, we still need to go back. For my hat. And my staff. And our lunch, which vanished somewhere in that wild ride. And I do hope that your horse will not be offended, but I really would like to have my saddle on her. I’m not too experienced in clinging to a naked horse."

He offered me a shy smile, then caught at my forefinger before heading back down the path. Our manic flight through the trees really hadn’t taken us very far, it seemed, for it wasn’t long before he released my finger to dart off the path and into the undergrowth. I heard some rustling about in the greenery, and within moments the hat was located and presented to me, adorned with a bit of bramble and a small tear where he’d yanked it out of a bush, evidently. He left me again, muttering over my poor wounded hat, only to reappear a few minutes later wrestling my staff which was at least twice his length. He made me laugh with his earnestness and difficulties, as he couldn’t go three steps without entangling it in a branch overhead which threatening to pull him over backwards before he noticed it, or dragging it into some bush that caught and held it fast. I let him finish the journey on his own, and thanked him for his efforts in returning the staff to me.

"Now, would you please explain to that comet of yours that I need her to wear the saddle?" I requested gently. "And that I’d like to proceed at a pace somewhere between grazing at pasture and taking off as if wolves were snapping at her heels?"

He grinned at me, all smudged face and toothless smile, the very image of innocence and mischief. He obligingly held a whispered conversation with the old lady, and the saddle was transferred to her back, though she bore it will ill grace. We climbed up onto her tall back, and after a fit of abrupt stops and discomfiting vertical lurches --during which she kicked irritably at the girth around her ribs -- we were underway once more. We traveled at a sedate trot this time, with me all the more pleased for stirrups and a pommel to grab should another fit of racing the lightning seize her. My little elf leaned back into my chest and relaxed as we continued on, at peace for the first time since I’d met him. I didn’t want to think how long it had been for him beyond that.


The further away from Mirkwood we got, the more relaxed Legolas seemed to become. And the more tense I became. I wanted down these riding paths and through the woods and safe-home to Rivendell as quickly as possible. While, through my magic and Glamdring, I could defend against any arachnid or orc threat, I didn't wish to imperil Legolas. His life and peace of mind were precious to me now; it wouldn't do to introduce him to the dangers sweeping into his father's lands. Not until he was a bit taller, anyway.

Carefully gathering my power, I spun an invisible shield of protection around our little group. I'd slept little the night before and such warding devoured more energy than I cared to admit to, but for the duration of our journey inside my magic circle, we'd be all but invisible to prying, dangerous eyes. And the little elf riding so boldly before me with his fingers tangled in the mare's mane would be safe.

The day continued bright and clear, with us making good time down the road. If I knew Thranduil -- and I thought I had learned quite enough of his moods and tolerances over the past few days -- he wouldn't realize that his son was truly gone until he bellowed for his small victim that night. Hopefully, he'd not send his guard out after us until the morrow at the earliest, perhaps two or three days if Galion was cooperatively silent about matters.

My hat shaded the worst of the sun from my elf's delicate skin. He rode bravely and happily for a time, looking in all directions in an attempt to see everything we passed, until his young muscles tired of riding. A sigh escaped him then as he relaxed further, and I subtly took control of the horse. She canted her ears back in acknowledgment of the slight tensing of my knees, but did not alter her pace.

I suspected that the novelty of the adventure and the new sights from the road were wearing thin on Legolas’s small mind. Not only that, his stomach had to be empty, for the bit of bread and honey that had served as breakfast had been swift and light and many hours ago.

Reaching back and down, I rummaged through one of the saddle bags provided by Legolas's friends. Twisting around, he watched me work. Bringing forth two small sweetloafs and a bit of cheese, I plopped them in his lap.

"Hold these, if you will."

His small hands gathered the items in, cradling them carefully against his tunic.

"We'll not be stopping while we eat," I told him. "Rivendell is a two-day journey if we dismount only to tend to necessities and sleep." My hand found a waterskin. I dared to brush my other hand over his dirty mop as it caught in my beard. His hair was unusual now that I saw it in the sunlight; it was dark but with silver highlights that caught leaf-broken sunlight. "Are you thirsty, little leaf?"

I offered the skin; in return, he offered me my loaf and the cheese.

"Here, now. Lean back against me while I divide up our wares."

He did so and drank, though he managed to pour a fair bit of water down my leg as he learned the tricky skill of drinking from a waterskin designed for larger hands. Retrieving my knife, I wrapped my arms around him and whittled away at the cheese. Opening my palm, I offered him the shavings; his small fingers slid calmly over my callused palm to gather them up and nibble on them.

I smiled to myself; how far he'd come since only the night before, to take food from me so easily. He was, as Thranduil had said, all eyes and silence. I found the silence companionable, and a comfortable companion to have on such a journey. Putting away my knife, I laid my hand on his narrow shoulder.

"I’m glad that we met, Legolas. And I'm glad to have you along today."

He cast a look over his shoulder, first at my hand, which covered almost a quarter of his small body, and then back up at me. One eye peered at me in solemn consideration from between his bangs before he nodded, just as solemnly.

I took that as agreement. Unwrapping the bread, I began humming when Legolas leaned back against me. Our luncheon was finished and the day moved on with our only companions the lazy drone of insects and the quiet sound of the horses’ hooves on the hard-packed earth. My charge nodded off in sleep, and I slipped a hand across his middle, the better to anchor him so that he did not slide off of the horse. I wasn’t entirely confident with this arrangement, however. And so, giving a sigh, I slid a hand beneath his bottom and shifted him around so that I could cradle him in my arms. He stirred and struggled at my touch, one hand locking in my sleeve and the other flailing in the empty air over the mare’s neck until his eyes opened and he recognized me.

"Be calm, little leaf. All is well," I murmured as he sagged back into my arms. "I thought only to make you a bit more comfortable."

A few more gasping breaths and his breathing began to slow, his panic fading away as sleep crept up to reclaim him. His eyes closed again, while his fingers tangled once more in my beard. This was new, and a precious trust indeed. Cradling him against me, I took out my pipe, blew on it to light it, and watched my elf sleep.

He was a small armful, far too light a weight for as old as he was. His arms and legs were too skinny as well, but there was a wiry strength in them to match the wiry strength of his mind and very soul. I needed no special power to know that I was holding someone special. Someone who would thrive in the House of Elrond, where books and learning, music and laughter and peace would surround him.

But first, we had to get there.

~ ~ ~

Mithrandir always smelled of the earth and sky and a certain scent that was all his own. When he cradled me against him on our journey from Mirkwood, his beard tickled my nose and I breathed him in. Already, I had come to think of that scent as meaning security and safety. And something else. Something that was perhaps happiness, though I'd never known such a thing before.

He wasn't nearly so frightening now as he had been when I’d first seen him in father’s keep. His voice was no longer gruff to my ears, but deep and rumbly and caring. His hands were large and gentle on me, careful of the places on my body that still hurt. Had always hurt, it seemed. His eyes were kind, and even when he was growling he never really felt angry. Not yet, anyway.

I was glad that I'd decided to come with him. My stomach was full, the road was warm, and it seemed that life could be no better than it was at that moment. I wanted to see where we were going, for I'd heard stories of the murky shadows that lived in our wood, of spiders and wolves. Nasty shadows that could take form and make elves bleed. I wondered if the Mithrandir knew that. He seemed very wise to me, and I could sense nothing watching us from the underbrush, so I decided that he must have known how to keep the shadows away. If he could chase away Galion, shadows couldn’t possibly stand against him.

I liked being held by him. No one had ever just held me before, not without hitting me after. I'd gotten some brief hugs, but not many, from Theriel when others hadn't been looking, but this holding was an entirely different thing. Mithrandir held me against his heart, so that I could hear its slow tha-thump against my ear if I pressed close, and when he spoke his voice rumbled deep inside his chest. He began breathing fire again, as he had last night, but I decided that the smoke smelled nice, a bit like him. And he hummed. There were no words at first; the words came later, and I kept my eyes closed to listen. If he had known that I was awake, he might have stopped humming. He might even stop holding me, and I wanted this moment to go on forever.

I must have slept, for it was dark when I opened my eyes and sat up to discover that we had stopped moving. I scrubbed at my eyes with the back of my hand, feeling strange and disoriented.

"We'll camp here for the night, little leaf." Mithrandir spoke quietly, as if not to disturb the night.

I sat up on his thigh and stared down at the ground. It glowed in the moonlight, just as it did in our forest back home. Gathering myself, I started to jump down. A broad hand around my middle stopped me just as I launched myself forward.

"Here now, that's no way to do it. Let me give you a safe hand down."

"Hurts," I gasped, clutching at his fingers wrapped around my waist and trying to draw away. Mithrandir had only meant to catch me, but his big hand pressed firmly against my bruises, and I couldn’t stop my response. My middle always hurt. I braced myself for the sick feeling in my stomach that always followed the shooting pain.

Mithrandir’s fingers were warm on my middle. Instead of feeling sick, I felt a warmth spread through me.

"Hmm, yes.... Of course it must hurt and just there. I'm sorry, little leaf. I was careless. I won't forget again. Here now, can you move up against her withers and wait a moment while I dismount?"


He lifted me carefully and set me astride the base of her neck almost, and I clung to my mare’s mane, wobbling on my thin perch while Mithrandir slid off behind me. And then his hands were around my middle again, and he was settling me gently on the ground.

"If you'll gather a few sticks -- only a few, we don't need many -- we shall have a fire and a hot meal."

I nodded, eager to please this gentle giant who was my new friend. No one had ever spoken to me as he did, as if I were already an elf grown, ready to sit at my father's table.

"Don't go far."

His voice seemed carried by the very wind as I started off into the shadows. Mithrandir set off in a different direction, toward the edge of a small grove of trees, skirted by brambles. Yes, that was good, I decided. He knew about setting our backs against the brambles, so that nothing could come up on us without us knowing. That was important; things had always gone wrong when I couldn't see Galion or my father coming for me.

I listened to the dark for anything that didn't belong in the woods, just in case. I could sense the night-birds and small animals, the same as back in Mirkwood, but nothing scarier. Even they sounded at peace tonight, as though they didn’t mind our being here. I grabbed the biggest sticks I could carry and quickly trotted back to Mithrandir. He was busy rummaging around in our bags and was singing softly to himself again. I knew the words to this song now, and I mouthed them along with him, but I didn't dare let the sound escape. I liked listening to him more than I liked singing.

He didn’t seem to notice that I was back, so I dropped my sticks and cast about for stones. They were easy to find, and I quickly drew together a ring of stones that glowed in the moonlight. Piling my small offering of wood within it, I waited nearby until Mithrandir turned and noticed.

He smiled at me, surprised and pleased, and it made me feel warm inside to have done something right. "That’s a fine fire ring."

Kneeling beside me, he muttered a few words that I didn’t understand and gestured across the ring. My wood burst into flame, and I leaped back in surprise. I didn’t know anyone else who could make a fire just by waving their hand. Mithrandir could breath fire and make fire by pointing at things? I realized then that wizards weren’t elves, and they weren’t men. I thought maybe wizards were fire beings of some sort. He smiled at me, as though having fire jump up from the ground like that was perfectly ordinary, so I tried hard to pretend it was something I’d seen many times before, even though it wasn’t and my heart still pounded in surprise.

In only a few minutes, he’d warmed our dinner over the fire. There was more bread and cheese, milk for me and wine for him. It was nice of him to warm the cheese so it was softer. It was hard to bite things now my teeth were gone. He noticed that, too.

"When did you lose your teeth?"

I was afraid he’d ask that. I felt so ashamed of having lost them. I shrugged and stared at the fire.

"Was it just recently?

I nodded, then felt the need to confess my guilt to him. He probably already knew anyway. "Broke ‘em."

His eyebrows rose high, but he didn’t look angry with me for my carelessness. In fact, he looked like he wanted to laugh.

"I sthole an apple an’… an’ they sthuck innit an’ came off."

He did laugh then, a soft and growly and rumbly sound, not upset at all. I stared across the fire at him. Why was this funny?

"Little leaf, they’re * supposed * to come out."

He was laughing at me. I didn’t like it. I’m not stupid, and nobody else I knew had teeth come off like that.

"No, they’re not," I argued.

"Yes, they are. All little boys’ teeth come out and new ones will grow in their place. It’s a sign that you’re growing up."

"Everybody elth hath teeth." I was talking too much, but I didn’t care. He was laughing at me.

"That’s because they grew back in," Mithrandir explained. "If you feel right there, where they came out, I’ll bet that you can feel the new ones just under the skin. Is there something hard there?"

I poked at the gap hesitantly with my tongue and stopped, startled. There was something hard there. It hurt to press on it, but it felt good at the same time. I put my finger there to rub at it and to get a better feel of this strange thing.

"I thought so," my wizard said. "You’ll have new teeth in just a few weeks."

Mithrandir had made so many miracles in just one turn of the sun, and now he’d even managed to give me back my teeth. I just stared, overwhelmed.

He continued, "The rest will fall out too, and—"

"ALL of them? ALL my teefs?!"

He laughed again. "One at a time, little leaf, just as nature intended. You’re growing up just fine."

I wasn’t too sure about that, but at least the front ones would come back. He left me exploring my changing mouth while he put away our things in the saddle packs and secured the fire. Afterward, he came around the fire and wrapped me up in his cloak and we looked at the stars. He told me things about them, but I was so sleepy I didn’t remember what he said. I remember him shifting down on the hard earth and lying flat so that I was spread out over him. He was warmer than any bedding and softer than any tree I’d rested in. His arms lay heavy across my back, but I’d never felt so safe in my life.

I awoke once in the night, confused by the rumbling beneath my head and panicked to think he’d been injured in some way. But I remembered the sound from the night before, as I’d been held safe in his arms in the chair before the fire: he was snoring again. In only a few minutes, I decided that his snoring felt safe, too, and fell back to sleep.


I awoke in the chill morning air, with rain pelting my face and the front of my robes already wet. As for Legolas, he was nowhere to be seen. Fear gripped my heart as I climbed to my feet, sweeping the area for some sign of him. It was a hopeless effort, for the mist had rolled in to obscure everything in a heavy gray fog that made visibility impossible.

"Legolas!" I called into the mist as I gathered staff and sword, preparing for the worst. He didn’t answer me, though it was foolish of me to think he would. I could sense no sign of him.

"LEGOLAS!" I called, a bit louder. Muttering beneath my breath, I paced in a circle, wishing I knew what direction to search in first. Wishing to the gods themselves that I’d had the foresight to warn him not to stray from my protective circle, wishing that I’d awoken before him.

Whirling once more, I nearly ran over him as he was standing behind me, his eyes gone wide with dread. Shivering in the rain, he folded his arms around himself and stared up at me, blinking as rivulets ran into his eyes.

Kneeling, I grasped him by the shoulders. "You mustn’t wander off. It’s not safe."

If anything, he shivered harder. He tried to pull away from my hands, and I closed my fingers to hold him in place, dismayed that my shouting had rekindled his distrust.

"I didn’t mean to frighten you."

What was strange was that he didn’t appear frightened. He shifted his weight from foot to foot and slid his hands down before him, but he didn’t look afraid. If anything, he looked… desperate. He shook his head and tried again to free himself from my grasp.

"What’s wrong?"

He all but danced in front of me, his hands covering his crotch before whispering, "Hafta pee…."

So that was where he’d gone? Closing my eyes at my own stupidity, I turned him about and pushed gently. "Go then, little one. But not so far that the mist swallows you up."

He trotted a few steps forward before I called him back.

"No further than that, Legolas. Not in this mist."

He obediently halted and messed about with his leggings, then cast a displeased look over his shoulder. I could read his expression plainly: Are you going to watch me?

I was, indeed. I wasn’t about to let him out of my sight again, not in this forest.

"No further," I cautioned firmly.

Elven modesty and privacy were violated and he wrinkled his nose at me, but he obeyed. A cold rain began falling in earnest. The outer layer of my cloak was already soaked, and we had another day and half a night of riding to do. Legolas was fairing less well than was I, for his clothing was thin, not at all resistant to the elements, and we had nothing at hand to replace it. He returned to me quickly, with his teeth chattering and his lips turning blue. Swirling my cloak about his small shoulders, I set about preparing the horses for our journey. In a matter of minutes, I’d retrieved more bread and milk for our breakfast on horseback, scooped him onto the horse, and climbed up behind him. Retrieving my cloak, I wrapped it around all of us, letting the animal’s body heat warm my charge from beneath and wrapping him closer under the folds of my robes.

At last his opinionated mare saw the value in traveling with some speed, and she willingly struck a fair pace this morning, evidently trusting that shelter and feed would be waiting at the far end of this journey. I applauded her logic, for I shared it myself. Hunching against the steady fall of the rain, we pushed on toward Imladris.


There was noise in the hall below, the sound of unexpected arrival of guests as members of my household staff moved about hurriedly, voices calling out in that peculiar tone of one trying to be heard but still muted. If their effort was to keep from disturbing the whole of Rivendell, their efforts were appreciated, but most unsatisfactory. I rose from my rest to make my way out onto the balcony overlooking the courtyard, hoping to see what was causing the disturbance. Torchlight blazed into being, casting flickering shadows over a weary horse -- no, two horses; an old mare and a tall reachy gelding that I recognized as belonging to Mithrandir -- standing miserably in the rain. The wizard himself was moving toward the entryway with his cloak folded tightly about himself, his hat tipped forward to allow the rain to run off, and his head bent low against the weather.

Mithrandir, flying back here? But he's only just left, I pondered. He's barely had time to reach Mirkwood and come straight back here.

Alarm streaked through my mind at that thought, as the wizard had gone to investigate the growing evils in Mirkwood. What report could send him flying back in the darkness?

Grabbing for a robe at hand, I hastily shrugged into it, intent on meeting him in my library as quickly as possible, but the sound of heavy boots treading up the stairway and down my private corridor stopped me before I could leave my chambers. Evidently the messenger was coming to me. Circling the room, I lit a few candles and had the room brightly illuminated by the time Mithrandir stepped through the archway.

"Lord Elrond," he greeted me soberly -- and formally, I noted. His hat still dripped rainwater down onto his beard while dirtied water collected around his boots.

"Mithrandir," I replied with equal gravity. "What news brings you to our door in such haste? Is the enemy abroad again this storm-tossed night?"

"No, Lord Elrond. This is a personal matter. I come to petition you for sanctuary."

His words set my heart pounding. If the Istari felt the need for protection, we were all of us in peril. "Sanctuary? What enemy flies at your heels that you feel the need for protection?"

"Not so fearsome an enemy for me, but it is not for myself that I ask. It is for this one." He wizard opened his soggy cloak to reveal a small, disheveled child curled tightly against his chest. An elven child. Children come but seldom to elves, and each is cherished by its family and by the entire community. But clearly this one was not.

"And who is this?"

"This is Legolas," he advised me, his tone light and gentle, obviously not for my benefit. "Could you greet Lord Elrond, little leaf?"

The child's shivering increased and he burrowed beneath the beard. No, he wasn’t shivering, I realized. He was trembling, presumably out of fear.

"How did you come by this child?" It was not the question I had intended to ask, but it somehow inserted itself in front of the other questions I thought more pressing.

Sighing, Mithrandir unwrapped an arm from about the thin child and ran a comforting hand over his wet hair. "A gift from his father. I won him as a gambling debt."

Shock did not begin to cover what I felt at that reply. A startled gasp from the archway to the sleeping chamber echoed my own reaction. It was Arwen, who was never far from any activity in Rivendell. My dear daughter would not take this tale well, I knew.

"And who might is father be?"

Hesitation. Anxiety. This from a wizard who had enough courage to go calling, uninvited, Dol Goldur? What enemy did this child bring with him?

"Legolas is the youngest son of King Thranduil," Mithrandir finally, reluctantly answered.

Thunder rolled outside, no less than the thunder crashing in my brain at this news.

"Thranduil has not been on speaking terms with anyone since the battle on the slopes of Orodruin," I informed the wizard. "Not with Imadris or Lothlorien. Such communications as is demanded between our realms is conducted under cold formality. Harboring the abducted child of my rival is not going to foster peace between us, Mithrandir. The answer to your request is as obvious as it is tragic: Legolas cannot stay here."

I could feel Mithrandir's misery clearly as his eyes closed against my words. "I understand. May we at least stay the night? He is exhausted and cold."

"Of course you're staying."

My headstrong daughter swept into action, interrupting all diplomatic efforts on my part. What were the relations between realms and a potential war to a female bent on aiding a frightened child?

"The two of you can argue all you like," came the soft but firm rebuke as Arwen headed for the little elf in Mithrandir's arms, "but this little one needs to be dry and warm, and he could definitely use some food. Are you hungry, Legolas?"

He turned his face away, hiding in Mithrandir's hair. To my surprise, the wizard set the boy on the floor, one hand gently stroking the dark hair as he stooped down beside him.

"This is the Lady Arwen, Legolas. She is a lovely, gentle lady, and she likes little boys."

The child leaned back against him and regarded my daughter with careful scrutiny, as though judging a potential enemy.

Gentle… likes little boys? A strange thing to emphasize, I thought. What is the story here that we not know?

"Arwen?" I addressed my daughter. "Perhaps you could take our young friend into the next room to get him dried off a bit?"

"And we'll find him some dry clothes as well as something warm to eat." She smiled warmly and reached out to take his hand, but the lad only backed away.

"Just in the next room, little leaf," Mithrandir rumbled. "I'll be right here. You can hear me talking if you listen. Go get dried off. If there's extras, bring me a bit of cheese, hmmm?"

A gentle push got the child moving forward, though he carefully avoided getting close enough to Arwen for touch him and refused to meet her eyes. Mithrandir straightened, and we both watched them until they were clear of the room.

"Elrond, the child needs help," the wizard began again, low and urgent. "His father is an abusive sot."

"It matters not what he is. You do not have rights to hold that child, nor do I have rights to harbor him from his father. You know as soon as Thranduil has slept off the wine he will be asking for his son's return, and I cannot hold him here."

"Thranduil gave the child to me in front of witnesses," Mithrander hissed, his blue eyes gone dangerously dark. "He is my little elf now."

"A king cannot simply give away an heir that way, and you know it," I replied no less heatedly. "He is Thranduil's son, and Thranduil's son he will remain. I will not put our realms at conflict because you've decided the child isn't being cared for properly."

"It's more than neglect, and you could see that if you'd take half a moment to look at him before making your decision. I couldn't leave him there another night, not after what I'd seen."

"I wish I could help you, Mithrandir. It is not easy for my heart to turn away a child in need, but--"

A shriek ended our conversation -- the brief, high-pitched, panicked scream of a child, followed closely by cries of adult dismay. The subject of our debate pelted back into my chamber at full speed, dodging the grasp of one of Arwen's aides as he cleared the doorway. The wet tunic was gone as were the boots, and the skinny body was clad only in worn leggings now. But no matter his state of dress, Legolas was leaving with all possible speed. He was fast, he was agile, and he was bolting for the archway that led to the stairs and outside.

Mithrandir was too far away to reach him, but as the child tore past me it was easy enough for me to snatch him up as he pelted past. He was strong for one so small, and struggled violently against my hands closed round his upper arms, but there was no contest between his strength and my battle-trained muscles. It took only two lunges against my unyielding grip for him to recognize the futility of struggling. He ceased, standing frozen before me and seeming to shrink in on himself as he stood quietly awaiting my next move. His gaze lowered to the floor, and the head bowed, tangled hair falling forward to hide his expression from me. I could see his heart pounding as he panted, bruised skin rippling over all-too-obvious ribs.

This was not right. This attitude of defeat, of surrender, was not a normal reaction. I knelt before him so that we were closer to eye level, but Legolas refused to acknowledge me. I removed one hand from his arm and reached to push the hair away from his face, so that I might see his eyes and gain some small clue as to what was happening, but as my hand touched his hair he flinched violently and cringed away.

"Here now." I forced the words out past the lump in my throat in what I hoped were paternal tones. "That's not necessary. I'm not going to hurt you."

I reached again, but this time the lad merely turned his head away and squeezed his eyes shut in anticipation of the blow he clearly expected, and whimpered in fear.

I released him instantly, horrified at what I'd just witnessed. The child spun into motion, but this bolt took him directly into Mithrandir's arms where the wizard knelt behind the child. That protective embrace was evidently an acceptible alternative to fleeing, and Legolas burrowed against the rough woven robe as though to hide within it. Mithrandir's gaze met mine, his eyes sad with the knowledge he knew that I now held as well.

"Your request for sanctuary is granted," I murmured. "Legolas is welcome here for as long as he wishes to stay, as a full citizen of Imladris."

Mithrandir tightened his hold on the child and stood, lifting him into his arms. Relief and gratitude in equal measure was reflected in his eyes as he met mine. "I don't know about you, little leaf, but since we're welcome to stay, I should like to be dry and warm. What about you? Does that sound good to you?"

There was a hesitant nod, but the small face remained buried in his beard.

"I thought a bath would be a good place to start, Father," a plaintive voice spoke. "He could warm up as he gets clean. He’s filthy."

We all turned toward Arwen where she stood forgotten by the archway into the next room. She seemed both upset and embarrassed. "I didn’t realize he’d panic."

"No, of course you didn't," Mithrandir said gently. "How could you know the quirks of such strange and weary travelers as we are?"

He turned to face my daughter, affording me a clear view of the bruised and – oh, Elbereth -- the scarred back. Rage such as I had not known for hundreds of years surged through me at the thought of such brutality on one so young.

"Thranduil?" I heard myself growl.

Mithrandir nodded, his attention still focused on Arwen and the child he held.

"How could he?" I demanded. "I know that he grieves, but this is beyond grieving. This is madness. This lad is little more than a baby."

"I agree. But the king gave his son to me, and I intend to hold him to it. Legolas is not the first heir, and his absence is no loss to the kingdom. I, however, think this young elf is someone very special, and I shall be delighted to serve as his guardian." He turned then, shifting the discussion as he addressed my daughter. "Lady, you suggested some dry clothes and perhaps something for the weary travelers to eat?"

She smiled, her confidence returning with the assigned role of hostess and caregiver. "I was leaving just now to organize that." With that she slipped out of the room, leaving us – lord, wizard and foundling - alone.

"Did she say bath, young one?" Mithrandir managed to unpeel the small elf enough so that we could see his face. Again there was a hesitant nod. "Oh, that sounds very welcome to me. What do you think? Should we try for warm and clean?"

The wizard began moving toward the bathing room. I followed, watching as Mithrandir deftly handled the needs of this fragile child.

"Ah, there's water already in the tub," he exclaimed in overdone enthusiasm as he leaned over the gently steaming water. "Is the water warm enough? Put your hand in there and test it for me." He bent low, angling the child toward the water so that one small hand might dip below the surface. "Warm?"

Legolas nodded and was carefully set down to stand on the floor. His gaze slid toward me, a wary sidewise glance clearly questioning the presence of the elf who had captured and frightened him so. I tried not to meet his eyes and settled into the chair in the corner of the bathing chamber.

"I hope Arwen brings enough for all of us," I remarked to no one in particular. "I think I should like an early breakfast myself."

Mithrandir nodded, though whether to the sound of breakfast or in approval of my joining his casual conversation I wasn't sure.

"I do hope there is some warm bread and honey," he said. "The bread baked here is the finest I've had in Middle-Earth. Come on, now, little leaf. We can't have a bath in dirty leggings. Off they come."

The tights were deftly slipped down off of legs that were just as skinny as the arms, and before the child had a chance to protest he was swung up and into the water. It was deep, reaching midway up the scrawny little chest. The child's eyes widened in shock, but he made no protest or effort to escape.

"It would have been a nice ride, but for the rain today," Mithrandir said casually. "And we had no problems in Mirkwood. Not even any spiders. Did you know of the spiders they have there? Quite large. And rather aggressive."

He cupped his hands, pouring water over the child's torso, then reaching for the soft soap in the pot by the tub. A dab was rubbed to lather between his palms, then gently spread across the small shoulders and down his arms.

"That is ill news," I remarked, keeping the conversation going. "Are they able to handle the menace?"

The wizard's attentions moved down to grubby fingers and darkened areas around his wrists. The fingers and fingernails improved with his ministrations, but the dirt encircling the small wrists remained. My stomach twisted as I understood. He paused in his washing to give the left elbow closer scrutiny, then released it to retreat beneath the water’s surface once more.

"Well enough, I think," the wizard murmued. "I heard of many victorious battles, far more than would have interested anyone save the participants themselves."

His beard twitched, and he scowled. Evidently it had been a rather boring evening in Thranduil's hall. The soap on the hands was replenished, and Legolas's back was gently scrubbed, with great care taken over tender areas. I watched, amazed, as Mithrandir managed with paternal expertise what I would have considered to be far outside his range of experiences. Evidently there was a great deal for me to learn of this wizard.

"I didn't get many details, but it seems that Dol Goldur is still inhabited by some rather unsavory neighbors as well. The elves say that they will not go that way, so it may be there were no further details to give. Elrond, we are going to need fresh water here before much longer, I'm afraid."

"There is more in the boiler behind you. I believe we have enough at least to see to the comfort one small elf." I smiled at the elf in question, but doubted that it had any impact as his gaze carefully avoided my corner.

Coarse gray sleeves were rolled up and hands disappeared under the water for a cursory cleaning of what was out of sight. My cowardly heart was just as pleased to be spared any more heart-wrenching discoveries tonight.

"I do not know whether there will be any further investigations of that area on their part," Mithrandir continued. "I shall need to return to check into it myself. Mind your eyes, little leaf. Cover them tightly."

Water was cupped into large hands to be poured over the dark hair. Once wet, it smelled of earth and leaves and horse strongly enough to reach my corner. More soap was rubbed into the hair, mingling with but not eclipsing the scents of nature that suddenly filled the room.

"I'd say your bath came none to soon, little one. Another few days and we'd be sleeping in the stable."

One small hand snuck out from under the dripping tangles, and tugged impudently at the grey beard beside him.

"Are you implying that I might need a wash as well?" We both laughed at the emphatic nod.

"He has spent some time hiding in that wet bramble," I ventured. "Who better to judge?"

I offered a cup that I found on the window ledge, and Mithrandir scooped up water to pour through the soapy strands of hair. The water that ran from it was an appalling dirty shade, and the wizard's displeased frown echoed my own.

"I shall have my turn in the wash water soon enough, and then we shall all smell like flowers, won't we?"

More soap was applied, this time rubbed in more vigorously. More rinsing. More dirt. The child now sat in a most unappealing cloudy brownish-grey liquid. The water was released from the tub and allowed to run down the channels for disposal, while I filled two buckets from the boiler as the old water drained away. And two more. And two more, until the child had some warm liquid about him, though not as much. The seventh bucket I poured gently over the lathered hair, watching as still more grime ran away, though this time not so much. Another firm scrubbing and another bucket's-worth of rinsing had him relatively clean.

Both Mithrandir and I sat and stared at Legolas in shock. Where a dark-haired, smudged-faced elf had sat, we now had a fair-complected child with shining silver-blond hair. One with the high cheekbones and delicate features of his mother, as well as huge blue eyes. Huge and worried blue eyes. I was pleased that I was the first to break free from the spell of discovery and offer a sheet to wrap the little elf in as we waited for appropriate clothing.

"Quite the improvement, my lad. Now if we could only get Mithrandir as clean."

He looked up at me from the cocoon of fabric around him, startled, as though unsure whether I was teasing or insulting his friend. I smiled in hopes of appearing harmless, and was rewarded by the ghost of a smile in return. Actually, I think I saw one corner of his mouth twitch, but it was a start.

"I think I might put off my bath, if my companions would not be too offended. I think I hear the approach of someone who might be bringing us something to eat." Mithrandir gave the child a pat on the shoulder and rose somewhat stiffly from the floor. "Shall we go see?"

"Clothes first, then we eat -- oh, Elbereth, look at this child!" The lady of Rivendell stood frozen, transfixed by the transformation of our little guest. "He's beautiful! Father, is he not the image of his mother?"

"Is he?" Mithrandir asked softly. "It would explain much."

"He is," I confirmed. "I see much of his mother in him. Especially the eyes. And the hair. And yes, I think that it does explain much."

"I have clothes for wearing and for sleeping," Arwen advised, breaking the spell. "They were Ardelath’s son’s and outgrown, but they're still good. I'll see to some proper clothing of his own tomorrow. I gather he came with nothing else."

Her displeasure made it plain that this was not a question so much as a statement.

"Only a horse, dear lady. Only a horse. A fine one, I'm told, and one that is dear to him."

I nod at that information. Another piece of the riddle, which will no doubt find its rightful place in due time.

Clothing was handed to Mithrandir, who set it on one of the few dry spots on the floor that remained following our combined efforts to find the child under the dirt. Arwen was still staring with fascination at the lad, who anxiously shuffled closer to Mithrandir for all that he was immobilized by several windings of bath sheet.

"Why don't you dress, and join us when you're ready? I'm going to see to the food."

With that, Mithrandir turned and swept an arm toward the main chamber, clearly inviting Arwen to precede him. Startled, she complied and he paced after her. I followed after a moment of hesitation. With a moment's thought, I understood what Mithrandir was doing; he was giving the child some breathing space and wanted him to join us of his own choice. It was a carefully crafted moment, however, as we had possession of the only exits from the chambers and fresh-baked bread that I could smell even over the scent of floral-scented soap and the lingering smell of wet horse.

Arwen excused herself to see to sleeping accommodations for our guests, leaving the wizard and myself alone in the room. We sat quietly talking of what Mithrandir had learned in his travels through Lorien and Mirkwood. It was some minutes before I realized that Legolas had not yet joined us. Alarmed, I glanced toward the bath chamber, then at the clearly empty room. Mithrandir smiled, and pointed downward toward the center of the table.

Table. Down. I bent and peered into the shadows beneath the table to find our little elf fully clothed once more, sitting back against Mithrandir's shins and gnawing contentedly on an apple with his teeth to the left of center. He tilted his head for a better angle as I watched, and another awkward bite revealed the reason for this – he had no front teeth. Feeling my gaze upon him, Legolas froze. Startlingly blue eyes widened into mine with uncertainty and no little fear. I smiled, though I felt hurt beneath it and then straightened, leaving him to his shadows and his apple.

No, I couldn't leave it. My heart wouldn't have it. Snatching up another apple, I sliced it quickly into little-boy-sized wedges and piled it on a plate. Then as a second thought I added several slices of slices of cheese.

"He's too thin," I explained, trying to sound clinical. Setting the plate on the floor, I used the toe of my shoe to scoot it toward Legolas without looking.

We both waited for a tense moment, wondering what the reaction to my gift would be. The sounds of crisp apple cleanly bitten reached us, followed by a soft and contented humming sound. And then I felt a gentle pat on the toe of my shoe, much as one would pat a horse in appreciation.

A thank you from my newest son.

The sun was rising. The sky was a pearly rose grey, the thunderclouds having long since cleared away. The dawn would be a beautiful one today. And my heart felt very light with its commitment to this beautiful child. Mithrandir added more honey to a slice of bread and slipped it under the table as he smiled at me, his eyes filled with wisdom and understanding.



Elrond and I had talked almost until the sun arose. Climbing into my lap eventually, Legolas fell asleep against my chest there in the elf lord's library. I took my leave of Elrond as the sky lightened in the east and carried my charge to the large chamber that Arwen had prepared for both of us. Nightshirts were laid out on the bed, and mind proved so large that it dragged the floor when I slipped it over my head. I suspected that the soft, thickly woven nightshirt Arwen had chosen for Legolas had probably belonged to one of her twin brothers, as she'd had time by then to go rummage in storage for supplies. It smelled of cedarwood and was a bit yellowed, but it proved a perfect fit for the slender little body.

Legolas was heavily asleep and did not stir when I laid him beneath the covers. Sliding in beside him, I put out the candle and scowled at the light beyond our small balcony. Not even a wizard could delay the sun's rising, but perhaps the House of Elrond would have compassion for its guests and let us sleep long into the day.

It seemed I'd only just closed my eyes when there came a rustle at the doorway. Someone was approaching at speed, and a gentle slap of a bare palm on the archway served as a request to enter. Opening my eyes, I watched Elrond sweep into our sleeping chamber. He looked grave, his blue eyes were troubled, and my heart sank.

"Mithrandir, we have difficulties approaching."

I glanced down at the small form burrowed beneath the bedclothes beside me. The tension of the moment had reached him before it had me, and he'd gone up on his knees beneath the blankets. He sat very still, his blue eyes wide and apprehensive as they watched me.

"What is it?" I asked Elrond, not needing to know what the difficulty concerned. All three of us knew what – or whom – would be under contention.

"Riders. King Thranduil's guard from Mirkwood. They are entering the courtyard as we speak. I must greet them, but we must decide what we are to do from here. We should have done this last night rather than discussing other matters."

I nodded and laid my hand against Legolas's cheek. Closing his eyes, he leaned into my touch. "We should have, but we had other concerns, and I thought – hoped – that we’d have a bit more time."

I rose from that lovely, soft bed and turned to gently pull my small one out as well. Standing on the edge of the mattress, he leaned against me, evidently seeking some measure of reassurance. My arm around his shoulders would have to suffice for now, as the elven lord commanded all of my attention.

"Elrond, do you wish to bow out of this conflict? We would not blame you if wish to avoid a direct confrontation with Mirkwood."

He frowned, then shook his head. "I have no wish to lead Imladris into an elf-versus-elf situation, but neither can I in good conscience allow this child to be dragged back into that situation. I would feel myself equally his abuser should this happen. From the reactions I'm already getting from others among us, I feel that most of Rivendell would be equally loath to give him up."

"Then shall we run?" I suggested, my fingers carding once more through that soft, heavy hair. "We could slip out another way of if you stall them, and you could tell the riders that we are not here."

"The idea has merit, but duplicity holds no great appeal for me, either." He gazed out over the balcony for a moment, deep in thought. "No, let us confront this directly and settle the matter, so that we need not be skulking and hiding from truths that are, in any case, best brought into the open."

"Thranduil did give custody of Legolas over to me, Elrond. Willingly and repeatedly over the course of a few minutes, before many witnesses."

Elrond seemed pleased to be reminded of that fact. Surprise lightened the grim lines of his expression. "Then we will meet them and remind them it is so. I will greet them while you dress and wait for me near the greeting hall. We’ll decide what to do from there."

Legolas had slipped down from the bed. Padding across the room, he stretched on tiptoe to peer over the balcony.

"Gerdan." he whispered.

"Do you know him, little leaf?"

He nodded and pointed at the slender Captain of the Guard who was standing and waiting ahead of the others.

"Gerdan," Legolas repeated, but offered no other information.

Elrond and I exchanged glances and I shrugged, not knowing what the name or the man meant to the child. I pulled him away from the balcony’s rail lest the now-identified Captain see and identify him.

"Dress and join us," the elf lord repeated, then swept from the room.

My robes took no time to climb into, and I tugged tunic and leggings onto Legolas so quickly that I was surprised the child still had his ears in place. Boots were forgone, but I did take a moment to try to smooth the tangled, now shining hair. The first sweep of the comb was greeted with a screech from my small victim and had no effect whatsoever on the hair. Legolas stared back at me so reproachfully that I cast the comb aside and satisfied myself with at least pulling a handful of hair back away from his face and tying it off quickly with a heavy thread pulled from my sleeve. Scooping him, up, I headed for the stairs.

Three steps out the door, I decided that I had best look as formal as possible, regardless my child still looked like a waif. Wheeling back into the room, I angled Legolas's small body down toward the desk. "Hat and staff, if you please?"

He grabbed them for me. I donned the hat one-handed as we went striding down the corridor with Legolas still carrying my staff. We arrived at the edge of the entryway just as the captain squared off with Elrond. Eight elves ranged across the expanse, forming a neat, grim line behind the captain. All bore the colors of Mirkwood, and all were armed.

"Lord Elrond." The Captain offered a formal bow to the Lord of Imladris. "I am Gerdan, Captain of the Guard of Mirkwood, under orders from King Thranduil. It would seem that his child has been abducted, and there is word that he was to be brought to Rivendell. We are here to return him to retrieve and return him to his father."

Legolas and I hovered just outside the archway, listening and watching. He wiggled and pointed to the floor, so I reluctantly set him down. He then leaned against my leg, half hiding but nowhere near as tense as I expected he would be..

"What leads your king to believe that I would harbor an abducted child?"

The captain looked less than pleased, but continued with his ordered mission. "The wizard Mithrandir has taken the child, and he was reported by some to have been returning here. My company and I therefore request permission to search for the child within your borders."

"And if you should find the child?" spoke a new voice.

The captain and Elrond both turned to discover Glorfindel had slipped up to stand behind them. Elrond's grown twin sons, Elladan and Elrohir, eased silently across the floor in Glorfindel's wake to flank their father, their expressions forbidding.

"*IF* we should find the child, we are ordered to return him to his father," Gerdan relayed.

"You would take the child back? Even knowing what awaits him there?" Elrond demanded.

The captain glanced down to the shining stone of the floor, then squared his shoulders and looked back up to meet Elrond’s eyes with evident reluctance.

"Thranduil is my king, and I owe him my loyalty and obedience. I must do as he orders me." His eyes softened and grew sad, and the formal manner of the guard slipped somewhat. "My king was a good prince in his day, Lord Elrond. He was once also a good leader, as was his father, King Orophir. Thranduil grieves now, and his pain leads him down paths that he would otherwise not embrace, as he is not himself. We have hopes that one day he will return to himself and be the strong, compassionate ruler we know he is capable of being. But while he remains buried in his grief… though we must obey, not all condone what he does in his madness."

"You would still return the child to his abuser?"

Elrond’s temper was beginning to fray a bit around the edges, and Glorfindel stepped forward to place a calming hand on his lord's shoulder. Offering a polite nod, he addressed the Mirkwood guard before him. "Captain Gerdan, I am Glorfindel."

Gerdan's eyes went wide. His mouth dropped open but he closed it the next moment, the better to swallow hard. I supposed it wasn't every day that a lowly captain from Mirkwood came face to face with the elven warrior who'd slain a balrog, only to be re-embodied in his beloved Rivendell. Gendan offered a bow that was every bit as formal as the one he'd offered Elrond earlier.

"You are known to us, my lord."

Glorfindel addressed the guard with steady solemnity. "You say that you would wait for your king to pass beyond his madness. The young one he seeks has no such time to wait. He has suffered, and would suffer further should he be returned, as no child should have to."

"This we know, my lord, and we ask only to search, so that we may report that we have fulfilled our duties. We need deal with the question of the child’s return only if we should see him here."

The almost desperate emphasis on that qualifier made me narrow my eyes and then step forward, pushing Legolas back behind the archway. "So, you are not certain he is here?"

"Mithrandir?" He looked startled, discomfited by my appearance. "No, Master Wizard. I have only rumors to indicate he is here. But if you are here…."

"You do know that Thranduil gave the child to me."

"That fact is well known in Mirkwood. However, the king has had second thoughts about doing so and now refuses to acknowledge his actions as valid. He insists that it was merely… a game between you. It was not a serious matter. He says that you… misinterpreted."

"I did not misinterpret. Game though it may have been, the bet was as binding as every other bet that night."

"I understand, Master Wizard, but I ask you to understand that I must do my king’s bidding. I must search for our prince."

"Our prince?" I had heard that phrase before, and always it had been uttered by Legolas’s supporters.

Gerdan’s gaze was intense and determined. "Yes, OUR prince. We are to search, my lord, and return him if he is found. However, as none of us here actually saw him arrive in Rivendell, we cannot be certain that he is here."

The guard’s gaze shifted then, and I turned to see that Legolas had crept around the archway and up beside me to stare up at the captain. The elf hesitated, expression softening as he watched the young one move up beside me.

"The prince, as we last saw him in the halls of Mirkwood, was shy," Gerdan continued. "He had very dark hair and shunned company. I see no such child here." Turning, he addressed the Mirkwood elves that backed him. "Do you see any such child?"

All eyes were on the small waif leaning against my leg.

"No, Gerdan. We see no such child," one voice answered for all.

The captain turned his attention to the crowd of Rivendell residents that had gradually grown to become quite a crowd behind him. That crowd was muttering and pressing closer on the Mirkwood contingent.

"I volunteered to lead this search for our prince, my lords," Gerdan called to the group. "I asked my most trusted elves to accompany me on this search, so that justice might be served."

"Justice? What justice do you seek, Captain?" Elrond’s voice still held an edge, and there was an echoing murmur from the crowd around them.

"I seek to return a frightened, dark elf to Mirkwood upon his father the King’s demand. But I see no such elf here." Smiling, Gerdan sank to one knee and reaching into his tunic for a small pouch. "But if I did see our prince, I would firstly return to him something that he left behind at Mirkwood. He sometimes carried a small carven horse and seemed fond of it. As I see no such elf here, perhaps this young one with the shining blond hair would enjoy having such a toy?"

Gerdan set the tiny horse on his open palm and extended it toward Legolas, who crept forward to take it. With the toy safely in his hands, the child looked up at the guard captain, blue eyes shining, and favored him with a toothless smile.

Gerdan laughed softly with such delight, I suspected that he’d never seen such a sight before.

"Little Prince, are you safe here?" he asked quietly.

Legolas nodded.

"Does anyone here hit you, or frighten you?"

A solemn shake of the head, with hair flying everywhere.

"Do you get enough to eat?"

A nod.

Do you want to stay here?"

An emphatic nod, with more hair flying.

"Then you are happy here, little one?"

A nod and another smile, and a backward pat on my knee as I’d moved closer to hear the conversation.

Gerdan sighed with apparent relief. "Good. Take care, my prince. Grow strong and be happy. And perhaps, when you have grown and strong, you might come visit us in Mirkwood, for there are many who care about you, and will miss you."

"When he is grown and strong and able to decide for himself," I answered for Legolas. "Until then, this little elf will stay here where he will be educated and trained under Lord Elrond’s care and my guardianship."

"Many will be glad to hear of this little elf’s good fortune, whatever his name might be." The smiles we exchanged were pledges of silence, and of loyalty to a small member of Mirkwood’s royalty.

Gerdan rose and squared his shoulders to face the elven lords of Rivendell. "I thank you for your leave to search Imladris for the missing prince, Lord Elrond. Lord Glorfindel, I thank you for your assistance. It is regrettable that we found no dark-haired child resembling the missing prince of Mirkwood. We will take our leave of you now, lords, as we must report the failure of our mission to our King."

He bowed again -- they all bowed, before filing out to the horses waiting at the edge of the courtyard path, and I scooped up my little elf to follow them. Predictably, at least three of the horses nickered in greeting when Legolas appeared. The guard mounted swiftly yet still hesitated, waiting for their commander’s signal to lead off. Gerdan, however, was staring with amazement at the white-blond hair of my elf as I carried him into the sunlight.

"Wanna thhee," Legolas lisped.

I obligingly moved over to Gerdan’s horse that extended his nose eagerly to the child. Legolas patted the huge head gently, then looked up at the captain.

"Thank you for my horth," he said, so softly that I wasn’t certain Gerdan would hear the words.

The captain smiled and cautiously reached to run a hand over the shining hair. Legolas did not shy away from the touch, and Gerdan rubbed a strand of hair between his fingers, as if making a memory. "You are welcome, my prince. But I never saw you. Remember that."

My little leaf nodded, clearly understanding secrets and duplicity even at his young age. Gerdan backed up his horse and Legolas waved at him, then to the others, all of whom returned the parting gesture.

"And the king thinks he’s likely mute," Gerdan remarked dryly to his men, well within earshot of the group from Rivendell that had followed us down. "Now I can surely tell him this one is not his son."

"We will go now and report our failure to King Thranduil. Then we shall return to search the roads to the Grey Havens, and then likely to Lorien, Lord Elrond," he called back to us as he turned toward the road. With a final wicked grin, the guard raised his hand and waved his men down toward the road. As the hoofbeats faded, Elrond, Glorfindel and the twins turned to share equal surprise at the conclusion of this meeting.

"That went more smoothly than I expected," Glorfindel remarked cheerfully.

"The prince does have supporters in Mirkwood," I confirmed. "They fear for their own position and safety, so there was little they could do for him in the open, but their honor and loyalty is showing now."

"This will not end it," Elrond warned sourly, in sharp contrast with the air of success surrounding us. "In time, Thranduil will realize that Legolas is here. He will petition for his return."

"He will," I agreed. "But we have won the first round.

"May I see your horse, little leaf?" said Glorfindel, sliding up beside us.

Legolas eyed the newcomer solemnly before offering the carved pony for the lord’s inspection. Glorfindel turned it gently between his fingers, studying it while Legolas watched.

It was a well-crafted carving, with the horse’s graceful lines frozen in a gallop, tail flagged and neck arched proudly.

"He is quite a fine horse," said Glorfindel. "Who gave him to you?"

"Gerdan," Legolas whispered, taking back the carving and pulling his treasure close again.

Eyebrows rose all around. I knew that if the captain of the guard cared so much for this child, Thranduil would have a difficult time accomplishing any action against him with the king’s own army deflecting every effort he made.

"I think that we have little to worry about, at least for awhile. Perhaps even years." I smiled at Legolas, who wrapped his arms about my neck and smiled back. I bounced him slightly to set him better against my hip before heading back into the elf lord’s home. Legolas giggled at the movement, and my heart was warmed by the sound. "How about some breakfast, my friends?"

"Breakfast?" Elrond sounded incredulous, following in our wake. "You two slept through breakfast; it was hours ago."

"Then let me introduce all of you to the wonderful Hobbit custom of second breakfast."


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