"Mithrandir, why do you inflict these situations upon me? Can't you manage something simple, just once?"

I watched as the wizard's grey eyebrows rose in exaggerated surprise. "The situation is exceedingly simple to me, Lord Elrond. What do you feel is complicated about it?"

I fingered the rim of the half-empty wine goblet I held, shook my head, and glowered at the pile of books on my desk. I would have glowered at Mithrandir, but etiquette demanded that I restrain myself. Stifling a growl, I tried to slouch lower in my chair, but that was an impossible task as my knees had already fetched up against the back wall of the desk.

Over the past eight months most of the citizens of Imladris had gotten used to having young Prince Legolas of Mirkwood living among us, had grown accustomed to the presence of the wizard's little shadow. We had discovered that the child was far from normal, but he was gradually releasing his patterns of wariness and silence. As a result, his behavior was becoming a bit more that of a normal child of his age. Now, just as things seemed to be settling into a peaceful pattern within our small sanctuary, Mithrandir had all but announced that he planned to neatly deposit the half-wild creature in my watch-care and leave.

I had battled Sauron's army on the slopes of Mount Orodruin, and I was the lord of Imladris with all its inherent stresses and difficulties. I wielded Vilya, a great ring of power and was not incapable of competent leadership. Yet the thought of caring for one tiny elf now filled me with great anxiety.

"I do not like this," I murmured. "Your elfing will not like it, either."

"He already does not like it," Mithrandir said quietly. "Last night, I patiently and repeatedly explained to Legolas that I must resume the travels interrupted by our meeting in Mirkwood and by our coming here. He said that he understood, but..." The wizard shrugged helplessly.

"I imagine the child understands only that his friend and guardian is leaving him in the company of strangers."

"It is not merely that which upsets him," the wizard informed me. "The thought of my traveling alone seems to fill Legolas with a panic that I am ill-prepared to calm. He seems to believe that unless he is with me, I will fall victim to spiders, orcs or wolves."

"Unless he is with you?" I tried to puzzle this out, but in vain. "Why would it help to have such a youngling with you?"

"Legolas has some notion of defending me."

"That idea is ridiculous," I observed, perhaps more harshly than I should have. "He is only a child, with no defense capabilities at all. The past eight months have shown us that Legolas's spirit is strong and resilient, but spirit alone is no defense against the evils beyond our sanctuary's borders. Surely he understands this."

Mithrandir sighed and glanced away. "As always, you speak the truth."

I studied the wizard for a long moment, noting the reluctant bend of the shoulders and the pensive shadows in the sad blue eyes as he puffed on his pipe and stared out into the night. Here I was, berating him when he didn't want to leave his charge any more than I wanted him to. Schooling my voice to gentleness, I asked, "You cannot delay this meeting with Radagast?"

"I've tarried in Imladris far too long as it is. For Legolas's sake, I would tarry another threescore years and see him into adulthood. But neither the shadows growing beyond your borders nor the White Council will wait that long. I came to Middle-earth for a solemn purpose, and that purpose must be served before all else. I also find myself strangely reluctant to reveal Legolas and his situation to the council."

"I see." I even understood, given some members of the White Council's propensity to manipute and judge.

Pushing out of my chair, I gained my feet and paced past the iron-black candle-stands and out onto the balcony. Setting my goblet on the railing, I surveyed the pale blue lights dancing across the river. Peaceful lives went on behind those lights -- lives of the elves I was sworn to protect, citizens of Imladris whose world I was determined to preserve, no matter what the Dark Lord might plan or do.

Legolas was one of my citizens now, a child I knew as small, fragile, and damaged. With or without Mithrandir in residence, as Lord of Imladris I was ultimately responsible for the child. I accepted that responsibility the night of his arrival, though I had no desire to fulfill it alone. I was more than willing to do whatever might be required to heal the hurts that Legolas's father, King Thranduil, had inflicted, but I knew my limitations. I thought also that I knew Legolas's limitations; those stormy blue eyes could be very expressive when turned my way.

My irritation at Mithrandir's looming departure was borne of fear: fear that Legolas could heal only under the wizard's gentle care. Fear that I might not know how to unlock the child's wary heart or earn his trust in any lasting way. Fear that I would never be able to do more for him than carefully offer him another piece of honeyed bread or plateful of apples beneath a table.

"I knew this was coming, you know?" I murmured as the wizard stepped up beside me.

"Knew that what was coming?" he asked, startled from his morose study of his pipe smoke.

"That you would wish to leave Legolas in my care during your absence. Or shall we say your absences, as we both know that they will be continuous and long throughout Legolas's childhood?"

Mithrandir rocked back. "I would not have you believing that I brought Legolas here specifically to be raised by you."

"I suspect that you were given little choice, Master Wizard. You could have carried your elf to Lothlorian, but we both know that neither Galadriel or Celeborn have the time or the patience to look after such a... strange and deeply injured child as is Legolas. Not to mention the mutual animosity between Thranduil and Galadriel that is known to us all. I would hope such animosity would not carry over to interactions with one so young as Legolas, but the possibility must still be considered. If the child is to remain here, I suppose that others within Imladris might be delegated to look after him, but whom could we truly trust with such a task? You will be gone for decades over the next century, and Legolas requires consistent, experienced attention if he is to grow up secure in the knowledge that is needed to survive in our world. Which brings me to my main concern: what, exactly, do you wish me to do with him?"

Mithrandir chuckled. "You have raised three children to adulthood and ask me that?"

"Elves simply do not treat their children as this one has been mishandled," I pointed out. "I have no experience with this sort of abuse, and Legolas is like no other child I have ever known."

I didn't mean to sound as sharp as I did, but the truth was inescapable; I had no real understanding of which way the child would jump in any given situation. That left me at a great disadvantage, not to mention more than a little anxious around him.

"That's certainly true," Mithrandir agreed. "All right, then. I trust you to raise Legolas as a citizen of Imladris should be raised, and who better to do so? For now, however..." The wizard pondered for a moment. "What things have you in common with him?"

"From what I can see, only horses and stories."

It was an easy enough question to answer: the former always had Legolas's undivided attention, and I got it as well whenever I told stories of the horses while Mithrandir sat holding Legolas on his lap in our Great Hall. More than once, I'd thought the child fast asleep where he lay with his head on the wizard's chest and his arms wrapped around the wizard's neck. When I looked again, however, I saw that Legolas's eyes were glittering at me in the firelight while he listened to my latest tale of happenings in our stables.

"Begin with horses and stories then," Mithrandir suggested. "Beyond that, be careful to raise neither hand nor voice to him. If you do this, then I believe that over time Legolas will come to trust you as he trusts me."

I snorted at that: Legolas would come to trust me as he trusted his beloved Mithrandir? The chances of that, I felt, were very slim. Small child and wizard had proven inseparable companions in the short time they'd been living here, often seeming to communicate without words. It was plain that the little elf was devoted his gentle rescuer. It was equally obvious that Mithrandir could not do without his little leaf, and had no wish to. But wait a moment... "Over time," the wizard had just said. I narrowed my gaze.

"Exactly how long did you say you'd be gone?"

"Six days, five darks," he replied promptly. "My journey will take me to the inn at Bree and back."

"See that it is only six days, five darks," I warned, pacing away from the railing. "From the way you speak this night, you expect to be gone a much longer time, and soon."

"Unfortunately, I do." A faint breeze stirred Mithrandir's hair and beard as his gaze held mine. "Saruman has summoned all of our Order to meet with him in Isengard at the end of next month. At that time, he will expect a full report on the goings-on at Dol Goldur, which means that as soon as possible I must journey there. It was this task that brought me to Mirkwood the day I first met my little leaf, so you see how long I have been putting that off."

His scowl was directed more at the interruption than the task, but it was not often that I had seen such dismay in the wizard's expression.

"I suspect that I will be given other assignments during our meeting," he continued, "which means that I will not be able to return to Rivendell for a few weeks, and that beyond catching up on what efforts I should have been undertaking." He looked somewhat sheepish, as though he'd never expected a thigh-high elfing to distract him so severely over most of the past year.

"How long do you expect to be gone?" I asked.

"If all goes well, two moons. It might be longer."

I drew a deep breath and closed my eyes. Two moons or longer, while I tried to keep track of an elfling who was very good at being invisible when he wished to be. An elfing who followed Mithrandir about like a pet, but who skittered away or beneath the wizard's robes whenever anyone else so much as smiled at him. Never mind touched him. Once or twice, I had been able to smooth a hand over Legolas's hair, but that had only been while he's been secure in the wizard's arms. And one of those times he'd been asleep. I found the prospect of being responsible for him more than a little daunting.

"What, exactly, am I to do with Legolas for two moons?" I wondered.

"Teach him, if you can," Mithrandir said softly, the trepidation in his eyes telling me that he knew all too well that what he was asking was impossible unless a miracle inserted itself between the boy and me during the wizard's absence. "I suspect that while Legolas's survival skills were perfected in his father's court, any regular lessons due small elves were severely lacking. Still, that is for the future, is it not?"

He abandoned the subject abruptly, no doubt hoping that Legolas would come to trust me before Mithrandir had to leave for an even more extended absence--one requiring years rather than weeks.

"I will leave tomorrow morning and return in six days," he reiterated. "The challenge for you this coming week will be to keep Legolas in the same room with you."

"How encouraging." Closing my eyes, I sent a silent prayer winging its way to Elbereth.



The morning of Mithrandir's departure dawned bright and clear and far too beautiful for the sorrow it held. The sun had barely cleared the horizon, with the morning dew still on the grass in my courtyard before Mithrandir emerged from the small chambers he shared with Legolas. Carrying him in his arms while Legolas carried the wizard's staff, they crossed the courtyard where Mithrandir's gelding and I waited.

The wizard's expression was somewhere between determined and forced cheer, while Legolas hid behind his silver-gold hair as it fell across his face. The long wooden was clutched tightly in his small fingers, and banged steadily against the wizard's shins as they traveled, though it seemed unnoticed by both. Reaching the gelding, Mithrandir reluctantly set the child on the ground before turning to attend last-minute details as were necessary for departure.

Legolas's finally looked up, and his blue eyes were filled with a sadness I'd never before seen in a child's gaze. His lower lip trembled and he bit it while Mithrandir fussed with the reins across the horse's withers. Legolas was crying, but he did not sob as other elven children did. His pain was evidenced only by the tears streaking continuously down his cheeks like condensation down a wineskin taken from a stream on a hot summer's eve.

Packs secured to saddle and tack checked once more, the wizard turned to kneel before the small elfling. Those blue eyes swam with tears as Legolas looked up at his wizard, and his breathing hitched as he struggled with his weeping. Mithrandir thumbed away the tear stains and gave a gentle smile.

"It's time, little one, and you promised to be brave as I promised to be back after five darks. Can you keep your promise?"

The narrow chin trembled, but Legolas nodded solemnly--resolute or resigned, I couldn't tell before he scrubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand.

"Lord Elrond will be looking after you, and he has many fine stories to tell," said Mithrandir, scooping the child up and hugging him tightly. "Listen to him, and I'll be back before you know it."

Setting Legolas on the ground, the wizard ran his fingers through the child's fine blonde hair before lifting into the saddle. I stepped forward to grasp the bridle as the child stepped back, out of danger of being stepped on and the better to see his wizard atop the horse. Hunching his shoulders, Legolas appeared bereft without the wizard's touch, and I could have sworn that he shivered. Reaching down impulsively, I scooped him up into my arms.

"Here now. You can't say a proper farewell from down there," I told the rigid, wide-eyed child whose fists were bunched against my tunic as he strained back and away from me. Turning Legolas slightly, I redirected his attention to Mithrandir, who had arranged his robes by now and was now regarding me and his elf in disbelief.

/So,/ that look said, /you've already managed to touch him. Well done, milord./

I acknowledged the silent compliment with a brief nod and fought to not tighten my grip. In truth, my heart was pounding hard in my chest as I anticipated Legolas fighting the embrace. The last thing I wanted to do was add to his misery at this parting. I had thought only to give him better access to Mithrandir during these last moments and was thoroughly convinced that the only reason the rigid little body was tolerating my touch was because its owner desperately wanted to be close as long as possible to the wizard astride the horse.

Giving a low cry, Legolas abruptly launched himself out of my arms and against Mithrandir's chest. I barely had time to catch his legs to prevent his sliding down the side of the horse.

"Mith you!"

The wizard's long arm snaked around Legolas's middle, pulling him safely astride the horse and into a fierce hug. Resting his cheek against the top of Legolas's head, Mithrandir squeezed his eyes closed against what I was shocked to realize were his own tears.

"I shall miss you too, my little leaf."

/If these two are this miserable at the parting of only a few days,/ I thought, /how by all of the stars will Mithrandir be able to drag himself away for the centuries his duties demand?/

"I won't be gone very long or very far this time," Mithrandir murmured. "Lord Elrond will help you count out the days, and I'll be back before you know it."

His large hand cradled Legolas's head and his blunt fingers sifted softly through the hair, only to caress the shell of a pointed ear and travel on to cup Legolas's cheek. The child leaned into his touch and sobbed softly. Tears squeezed out from between his closed eyes as he clutched Mithrandir's beard and tangled his fingers ever tighter in the thicket.

Mithrandir held the child for a very long time, stroking Legolas's bright hair and letting him cry until I thought that the child would make himself sick. Eventually, though, the tears slowed and stopped. Raising his head, Legolas found his guardian smiling kindly and still stroking his hair.

"Better?" Mithrandir rumbled.

Sniffling, the elfing dragged a sleeve beneath his nose and shrugged.

"Can you be brave now?"

Legolas didn't answer immediately, but stared down at Mithrandir's belt. Laying his hand atop the wizard's, he seemed to ponder the question for a very long time. Mithrandir seemed contented to let him do so until, slanting a glance my way, Legolas heaved a heavy sigh and nodded.

"That is well, my little leaf."

A final all-enveloping hug from Mithrandir, and then Legolas heaved a mighty sigh. Summoning a grimace that I supposed was meant as a smile, he patted Mithrandir's wizard's soggy beard. Sliding back on the gelding's withers, Legolas eyed the ground as though he planned to jump.

"Here, now, don't do that. Let Lord Elrond help you."

Sliding his hands around the child's waist, he handed Legolas over to me. My surprised gaze met Legolas's startled, wide-eyed stare as I instinctively reached to embrace--in more ways than one--the burden Mithrandir was bestowing on me. Two small hands came around my neck in a way I'd not felt since my own children had been very small. Fine, silver-blond hair brushed my cheek, and then the child was settling against my chest and twisting around--but not fighting--to stare back at Mithrandir.

"Only five darks, little one." The wizard caressed Legolas's cheek one last time and smiled so that his eyes crinkled. "I shall miss you."

"Mith you," Legolas whispered.

With a tight smile and a final nod to me, Mithrandir turned the horse across the courtyard. Shifting in the saddle, he waved beneath the archway, and then was gone. Legolas stared at the empty space for a long moment before turning solemn blue eyes on me... and staring. I scarcely dared to breathe while I waited for his next move. The moment stretched between us, with me being slow to realize that this was probably Legolas's equivalent of, "What next?" Mentally frantic, I cast about for some subject, some event, that he might want to participate in.

"You've not seen your mare yet today, have you?" I asked gently.

He shook his head and those wary blue eyes never left mine. For the first time, I had a good look at them, only to idly register that they were the brilliant blue color of a cloudless summer's day. Impatiently, Legolas pushed at the sun-silvered hair in his eyes.

"Do you want to visit your mare, then?"

Another shrug I assumed was in agreement, and so I headed across the courtyard and onto the winding path that would take us to the stables, fighting not to turn to see if Legolas was following me. Soon I heard the soft pat of his step behind me on the cobbles, and sighed in relief.

/Swift return, Wizard,/ I thought. /You're needed here more than both of us probably know./


Of all the places I'd hidden at my father's fortress in Mirkwood, the stables had been the safest and the warmest; nothing bad had ever happened to me there. Galion hadn't wanted to risk soiling his elegant slippered feet or his robes by venturing anywhere near, and the minions he'd sent looking for me were usually too stupid to find my hiding places, or too eager to return to the main hall to put much effort into the search. Sometimes, though, those who did find me for some reason would pretend never to have seen me there. Whatever the reasons, more often than not, I could feel safe in the stables.

Lord Elrond's stables were bigger and brighter than my father's, but they smelled and felt the same -- all fresh-cut hay and horses and cool shadows. This was familiar to me, this was home. The horses poked their heads out of their stalls as we entered, all of them curious, with bright soft eyes and pricked ears.

Happy horses, I noted with surprise. Happy to see these big elves, not shrinking back into the shadows in the back of the stalls as they had at home sometimes, and there were no pinned ears either. The horses liked these elves.

This was important to note. The horses turned their attention to me as though they might be interested in meeting me. I wanted to meet all of them. But on my own time, not with the Big Elves.

In sudden alarm, I realized that Lord Elrond -- one of the Big Elves -- was still holding me. My heart gave a sudden convulsive leap into double time in fear. And I squirmed violently, twisting to get out of his embrace. Mith was gone and he'd told me to listen to the elf-lord, but I hoped that didn't mean that I had to let him touch me. Lord Elrond didn't feel angry like Galion always had, but that didn't mean I should be so stupid as to let him carry me. Past experience had taught that elf-adult moods could change without warning. Any moment, I might do something that would make Lord Elrond mad. He was very big and felt very powerful, so that I didn't want to be anywhere near him when that happened. And it would. Sooner or later, it always did.

He was strong, too. No matter how hard I squirmed, I couldn't jump out of his grasp as I sometimes could with Galion and his lackeys. Suddenly I was more afraid than I'd been since my first night in Imladris, and frantic to escape his hold on me. Our eyes met briefly in my struggles, but the Big Elf's eyes only held surprise and sadness.

He was sad? To my surprise Lord Elrond set me gently down on the dirt floor and stepped back. He even murmured what I think were supposed to be reassurances. It did help a little that he let me go. It let me know that I hadn't yet made him mad.

I backed away from him carefully. When he did not follow I moved over to the first stall. Now deprived of Lord Elrond's height, all I could do was stare up at the horse's chin and neck. Any hope of patting this horse or talking with him was totally lost. I wished I were taller as the horse stretched its neck over the door, widened its eyes, and blew a greeting at me. I missed the barrels and crates that Nesséro, the horsemaster, had set for me in Mirkwood to climb up at strategic places along the aisle. Standing on tiptoe, I reached up as far as I could to stroke the horse's velvety muzzle as it reached down toward me.

"Good morning, Lord Elrond," a low, pleasant voice spoke, its owner looming up behind me. "I see that you've brought someone to visit."

I whirled, ready to run should this stablemaster disapprove of my touching his charges. A big hand closed on my shoulder, but not harshly to keep me in place. Startled, I rocked back and stared upward only to recognize Lord Glorfindel. I already knew that he wasn't Elrond's stablemaster, but he seemed to spend a lot of time with the horses. A couple of grooms moved quietly behind him, paying none of us any attention as they went about their duties. I was glad; it made me nervous already to have the attention of two elf-lords focused firmly on me. More people staring would have made it even worse.

"Good morning," Elrond said mildly. "Legolas has come to see his mare."

"Has he now?"

Dropping to one knee, Glorfindel smiled and let go my shoulder. I didn't think I needed to run from him because he'd been nice to me before. The morning Gerdan and the Mirkwood guard visited, Glorfindel had asked about the carved horse the captain had given me and actually seemed interested in my answers. After that, he'd taken Mith and me to the stables to see the horses. The stalls had all been empty as the animals had been turned out. I'd had to look over fences then into paddocks and fields and hadn't been able to meet anyone up close.

"Annun is close to foaling," Glorfindel said to me. "She's very bored as we're keeping her up these days, so I know she'll be glad to see you. She's just over there." He gestured to a nearby stall, one with solid walls rather than planks, so that I could catch no glimpse of my mare.

Releasing the latch, Elrond gestured me over. The stall door latch softly snicked closed behind me. I sidestepped a mound of hay and Annun nickered as she turned greet me. Lowering her head so that I could slide my arms around her neck, she bumped her chin against my back, then nibbled at my hair as she used to do at home.

"She's a sweet old mare," Glorfindel said approvingly, "and she's good with Legolas."

"Hugs from mares are probably the only mothering the boy's ever known," I heard Elrond comment outside the stall.

"Sadly, yes."

Their conversation moved on to other matters -- expectations of current breedings and future foalings, I thought -- and their voices retreated. I was left alone with my mare and settled down close to her foreleg when she resumed eating hay.

Hers was as comforting a presence as it had ever been with her endless, companionable munching and the heat of her large body warming me. Her belly hung huge over me and she moved as if her hipbones were wobbly and uncertain of holding her hindquarters -- preparation for the foal that must pass between them. She would surely foal soon as Glorfindel said. I'd seen spindle-legged foals dance and play in the paddocks at Mirkwood, but Nesséro had never allowed me to witness the birthing of one. Not that it stopped me from watching anyway.

There were other ways to see, if permission wasn't granted. Mirkwood's stables had been graced with a second level for storage. Bales of hay and barrels of feed, extra blankets and boxes of equipment had willingly hidden me. Cracks in railings and floors had afforded excellent views of whatever had been happening down below as well as swift access for climbing.

Staring up into this stable's rafters, I noted where the loft stairs were and decided to explore the space over my head as soon as possible. Surely Lord Elrond wouldn't want me with him every minute of every day? Surely there would be more than enough time to find new, safe hiding places? If Elrond wanted me close days, then there was always the night. Sneaking was always easier in the dark, and the loft might be the perfect place to lie and see without being seen. I could be close to Annun, too, and none of the grooms or Glorfindel need ever know that I watched their comings and goings. I'd find out then who had kind hands for the horses and who might hit me as well as them if I got too close. I nodded and stroked Annun's leg, pleased with my plans and eager to implement them at the earliest opportunity.

Annun finished her hay soon and wandered over to gaze out of the open window to the sunny fields beyond her foaling stall. Heaving a great sigh to see her companions grazing in the new day, she rolled back her eye at me as if to say, "Outside, please." She circled back around when I ignored her request and nuzzled my new tunic with a hay-foamed muzzle, as if to try forcing me to my feet and over to the stall's back door.

"Can't go out," I whispered into her ear. "Your baby has to come first, then you can both go out."

She wasn't grateful for this information but only butted me harder with her nose. It was probably better for me to leave before she started making more demands, and I got yelled at for upsetting her. I couldn't give her what she wanted, anyway. But I could give her more hay.

Sneaking out the front door of the stall --the one Glorfindel had guided me through -- I listened carefully to find out where Lord Elrond and Glorfindel had gone. There they were, just outside the stable proper and still talking. Pushing the stall door closed, I darted across the aisle and swept aside an oil-cloth to pull free a fat flake of hay. Carrying it back to Annun, I was horrified to see my mare shove at the stall door. It swung wide, allowing her to gain the freedom she craved so much.



The expression in Annun's usually calm brown eyes was smugly triumphant as she paced across the stable aisle. Dropping my hay flake, I ran after her and shoved desperately at her leg but she wouldn't stop. Ignoring all of my efforts, she gained the door beyond which was Elrond and Glorfindel. It mattered not that Annun barely fit through that door.

Snagging the end of her tail in a feeble, last attempt to stop her, I swore softly, using a couple of the bad words that Gerdan had taught me. Annun didn't even shorten her stride at my valiant efforts to slow her; she merely towed me across the cobbles. She seemed annoyed by the weight, though. Yanking her tail out of my grasp, she flicked it back in my face as she cleared the door entirely.

"Here now, lady, what are you doing out?" A low laugh sounded, and Glorfindel appeared on the threshold. He disappeared the next moment, in pursuit of my mare, no doubt.

I was both relieved and alarmed when Lord Elrond preceded Glorfindel and Annun through the door. A quick look around the clean-swept aisle reminded me there was nowhere to hide and so I stood, helpless to avoid the attentions and temper of this Big Elf. Lord Elrond gave me a quizzical look, but didn't reach for me. Glancing briefly behind me, Elrond noted the abandoned flake of hay halfway across the aisle.

"She escaped you, did she?"

I nodded and stared at my feet.

"Did you forget to latch the door behind you?"

"Went for hay," I mumbled. "Not gone long." I kept my eyes on the floor and knew that Elrond would be very angry with me now.

"Legolas, you cannot assume a horse will stay behind a stall door that is not secured."

He didn't sound all that angry. Not yet, anyway. But he did sound stern, and the stretching silence made it clear that he expected some response from me. Glancing up, I dared to reply. "I know."

"If you know, then why did you not latch the stall door?"

"I..." Why hadn't I? I wanted Annun safe, and even though I had been in a hurry, why hadn't I locked the stall door? I knew she wanted out, so why?... How could I tell the Big Elf that I was rushing to steal more hay for her before they saw me and stopped me? "I... don't know."

Silence met my words. I waited for the hard blow that was surely to come, but all I heard was a deep sigh. Then came a hand on the back of my head -- a gentle hand, guiding rather than commanding. Almost as gentle as Mith's. It still made me flinch, though. I hadn't expected it.

"Come, Legolas, let us get out of the aisle. Glorfindel has your mare, and she needs to go back into her stall."

An irritated Annun was returned by the other Big Elf, who seemed highly amused by her displeasure. My flake of hay was tossed at Annun's feet, and Glorfindel exchanged glances with Lord Elrond before stepping back and into the shadows, to watch whatever was to happen next.

"Come here please, Legolas?"

Ah, comes the punishment. I knew it would, sooner or later. But there was no dodging it now. My feet dragged across the aisle to the elf-lord's side.

"Perhaps you don't understand how our latches work," Elrond commented. "Here, let me show you."

I watched closely as his big hands worked the latch. Twice he explained, but I didn't really hear the words, startled as I was by what was happening. Only Gerdan, the horsemasters, and a couple of the kitchen servants in Mirkwood had taken the time to explain anything to me before. Elf-lords just didn't explain things. Not anything. Ever.

"Can you close the latch yourself?"

I nodded.

"Show me."

I had to get up on tiptoe to reach the chain, and it argued with me before seating itself at the base of the metal rod, but I did it. Feeling a certain amount of triumph but knowing better than to show it, I looked at the latch and waited.

"It's not easy being small, is it?" Glorfindel said softly from the shadows. "Not when everything around you is so much bigger, taller, and out of reach?"

That made me stare at the floor again because I wasn't certain what kind of a response he was looking for.

"Legolas?" Elrond's voice commanded that I look up at him. "There is nothing wrong with being small, and you will grow in time so that things will not be so difficult for you to reach. Until you do, however, you must tell us if you do not understand or need help with something. Anyone here in Imladris will be glad to help, and no harm will come to you because of it. It's not a bad thing to be a little boy. Do you understand?"

"Yeth." I did understand. But that didn't mean I believed it.

"Good. Now please come and meet the other horses."

He scooped me up into his arms again, so fast that I couldn't run. We started off down the aisle and instinct told me that I might yet be in trouble. Pushing my hands against Elrond's chest, I let go a shriek and kicked. Hard.

He looked startled at my fighting him -- hadn't he carried me into the stable without protest only minutes before? That didn't matter; he was too close and might turn his anger on me at any minute, regardless he seemed to have overlooking my transgression at leaving the stall door open. I wanted down, and right now.

He released me immediately, leaning back and letting me slide down his thigh until my feet reached the floor with a thump. Stepping back, I panted and stared up at him, noting almost guiltily that he rubbed his thigh where I'd kicked him so hard.

"All is well, Legolas." Glorfindel spoke softly, coming slowly out of the shadows to stand beside me. I was grateful that he didn't reach for me with more than his voice. "No one is angry with you, no one means to hurt you. But the horses want to meet you. See?"

He pointed down the aisle. Every stall doorway framed an equine head turned in my direction, ears tipped toward me in definite interest.

"I don't want to disappoint them, so let's all go and see the horses, shall we?"

Interested, hah. They probably just weren't used to elves who screamed and kicked elf-lords. Still, whether they wanted to meet me or not, I definitely wanted to meet them. With that in mind, I noted again where the doorway to the stable was located and then followed the Big Elves down the aisle.

Glorfindel and Elrond went off together down the broad aisle, pausing at each stall in its turn, scratching horse chins and behind ears, relaying names and histories as I warily scuffed along behind them. The two elf-lords took turns adding details, until they were both deep in another equine debate and I was all but forgotten. Which was just fine with me, because it gave me the chance to hang back and watch them.

They didn't argue fiercely, didn't get angry or mean like Galion had done. Glorfindel only laughed when Elrond seemed to growl, and their words just went on. They seemed to be debating some sort of breeding plans, with Elrond arguing for something and Glorfindel insisting that such plans were hopeless. I got bored soon and wandered down the aisle where I found a shining white horse that stood very still and alert, with his ears canted up as he watched Glorfindel.

A glance between the boards of the stall told me that he was a stallion, easily noted from my lower angle. Even if I couldn't have seen, his heavily muscled neck and look of eagles would have told me so. Snorting, he spared a glare at me and stamped a foot in warning as I came nearer. All I got for my soft-murmured greetings and reassurances were pinned ears. He didn't even deign to lower his head and sniff my outstretched hand. He did, however, grasp the edge of the door in his teeth and rattle it. Hard. He didn't seem like a really friendly horse.

I stopped trying to get his attention when he started digging at the base of the door. Within seconds, he was slamming the points of his hooves against the stall wall and weaving back and forth, obviously agitated that his master was ignoring him. I watched in awe, wondering whose stallion he was. More than anything, I wanted to ride him. Wanted to feel his power surge beneath my hands and legs, wanted his mind and heart flying with mine.

I knew how. Knew I could do it. Perhaps tonight, if I could sneak out after dark.

Glorfindel strode past me to approach the stall and laid the palm of his hand between the stallion's eyes.

"Naur," he whispered into the flattened ear and draped his free hand across the damp, arched neck. "Be still, I am here."

Naur... 'Of fire.' For all that the stallion was white, Glorfindel's horse was fire. I understood him and knew that he would understand me. Yes, we would fly together through the darkness.

"He's beautiful, isn't he? He's also evil."

I jumped back at Elrond's voice, so close to my left ear. So absorbed had I been in watching Naur, I hadn't heard the elf-lord approach. Nor had I been conscious of Elrond's squatting down beside me.

"Naur is not evil, Lord Elrond." Glorfindel was stroking between the beast's eyes now; the ears were no longer pinned. "Only devoted."

"Devoted he may be, but he is as dangerous to others as he is devoted to you." Elrond looked across at me. "No one rides Naur but Glorfindel, no one can for he violently refuses to carry anyone else. And no one -- not even me -- dares to enter his stall but Glorfindel. This stallion will hurt anyone else who enters." He glanced over to me, his expression very serious. "Note that, little one. Naur will hurt you if you approach him."

That was silly, I thought. Naur wouldn't hurt me.

"Would you like to meet Silme, my horse?" Elrond offered.

I hesitated, wanting nothing more than to prove to Elrond that he was wrong: Naur would carry me. But now was not the time; I would wait until after dark. For now, I decided that I wanted to meet Elrond's horse and nodded shyly in reply.


A nod, and Legolas trotted willingly enough at my side, out of the stables and around to the open field where I kept Silme. Apparently, horses were the key to this child's heart. Horses and stories, had Mithrandir and I not agreed? Judging by the speed with which Legolas was accompanying me, apparently, we'd been right.

I had been worried for a moment, back in the stable before Naur's stall. I'd seen the light in Legolas's eyes reflected before in grown elves' eyes: the light that said, "This is the horse for me, I will have no other." Grown elves had paid in painful ways for such love at first sight.

I shivered inwardly as I pondered what would happen were Legolas to trip the latch into Naur's stall. The stallion struck with hooves and teeth at everyone who came near -- everyone but Glorfindel. One small elf would have been a small morsel to Naur, quickly and easily killed with a blow to the head or to the fragile little body. But all was well; Legolas had been diverted, the light in his eyes had been only a momentary distraction with Naur easily forgotten. Children shift interests so swiftly, and I'd see to it that he did.

Setting Legolas atop the fence, I entered the field, secured the gate, and whistled for Silme. A white gelding, he'd been my companion for seven years. At my whistle, he bolted out of the trees at the far side of the field. His herd followed -- an impressive collection of mares that were the mainstay of my breeding program. The foundation stallions -- two of them -- were kept on the opposite end of the stable yard. I would not be introducing Legolas to them this morning.

I heard Legolas's swift intake of breath as Silme danced up to us, blowing and snorting. His eye was fierce, but it was all show. This one liked to play more than attack. He'd been an enthusiastic, faithful companion to me all of his days.

Jumping down from the fence, Legolas pressed against my leg and reached up to touch the horse's chest. Backing up a step, Silme blew at the child's hair and peered down at him with what appeared to be astonishment to discover an elf so small. There had been no elflings born within his lifetime, nor within many generations preceding him. This was clearly something quite startling to all the horses.

But Silme's interest was all curiosity and no apprehension. Legolas's small fingers were nibbled, a velvet nose was stroked. And Legolas actually smiled up at me.

"He's good," came the quiet conclusion.

"Do you want to sit on him?"

A shy nod, and Legolas turned toward me. I hesitated, suspecting that I'd been granted permission to lift Legolas onto the horse's back, but wanting to make certain.

Moving slowly, I slipped my hands beneath his arms. When he didn't stiffen or pull away, I picked him up and settled him across the horse's back. Scooting up into position behind Silme's withers, Legolas buried his fingers deep in the white mane and then startled me by bending low to sniff the dusty mane where it cascaded over his fingers. Evidently my elegant fellow had had a fine roll this morning, though what interest this small one had in sniffing dust puzzled me.

I shook the thought aside and grasped my own bit of mane to leap up behind Legolas when Glorfindel called to me from the fence. /Follow me,/ I silently commanded Silme, and he paced obediently behind me to meet Glorfindel. It was a relief, really, to leave the difficult horses to Glorfindel.

They talked and they talked and they talked. The Big Elves were going to talk forever it seemed and showed no signs of ever stopping. I wanted to RIDE and Silme wanted to carry me. He'd told me so, and he'd already pointed out the best paths. He promised that we could run with the others in the warm sunlight, streak through the trees and over logs and feel the wind in our manes. He knew how to go very fast and I wanted to go very fast. He wanted to carry me and I was up on him, so why were we standing around waiting for Lord Elrond and Glorfindel to finish talking?

Losing patience, I tightened my fingers and my legs. /Go,/ I told Silme, and he went. Seeming to know the advantages of sneaking, he tiptoed away from Lord Elrond before breaking into a trot. Grinning, I told him, /Go faster./

His canter was smooth. As he wove his way through the grazing mares, one joined us, then another, until all of the mares flowed beside us, running in a great herd just as they had when Annun raced with me. I loved riding most of all, because then I could forget that I was just a small elf and could pretend to be one of them. Horses really were much better than elves.

We headed with all speed toward the trees, with Silme's first mare ahead and to the side of us while the others followed. Reaching over, Silme lazily bit her flank. She squealed, but more in amusement than outrage and flashed a kick in his general direction before quickening her pace. Silme stretched out, matching her, and into the trees we went. Finally flying and for the first time since coming to Rivendell, I was free.

Glorfindel's gaze left me and grew distant, intent upon something behind me. "Lord Elrond...."

I turned in time to see the elfling in my charge boot my horse into a gallop and disappear in the distant grove of trees. "By Elbereth, he'll kill himself!"

"I don't think so. The boy knows what he's doing. And he has excellent taste in a mount, don't you think?"

"But... but... that's MY horse!"

"Yes," Glorfindel said cheerily, "it is. Or was, anyway. Might be again, if you're lucky. Wait a bit and they'll all come round."

Come round, they did. Silme was in the lead now with Legolas stretched out on his neck, half buried in the whipping mane. The child looked so small on that long back, so vulnerable. I held my breath, waiting for Silme to punt him off when the horse kicked playfully at a mare that was venturing too close. How would I tell Mithrandir that I'd managed to see his elfling killed within hours of the wizard's leaving?

"Are you having fun, then?" Glorfindel shouted at Legolas when he passed.

A shriek of laughter answered as horse and child streaked past us, on their way back into the narrow woods where all sorts of traps -- half-fallen trees and wayward branches -- waited to snag the unwary, inexperienced rider. I knew those paths well, had taught Arwen when she was younger how to navigate gnarled and half-decayed old trunks that had been struck by lightning and now lay half-hidden in sand that also hid an assortment of unforgiving rocks. The entire herd thundered into the grove, intent on their fun and turning my blood to ice.

"Legolas, come back," I called as calmly as I could.

"Now there's a sight we've not seen in Imladris since I've been here," Glorfindel commented mildly at my side. "A boy and his horse taking the jumps and a bit of air on a fine, sunlit morning."

I spared a glare for him as the horses once more broke free of the bramble.

"Relax, Elrond," Glorfindel scolded and nodded toward the thundering pack. "The boy rides better than you did at his age, and I ought to know for I was there. Gil-galad had cause to worry over you far more than you have cause to worry over this one. You'd see that too, if you'd care to look."

I looked and saw a small butt planted firmly on a broad back. Legolas's legs were tight and sure, no matter that they barely reached down to Silme's ribs, and Legolas's fingers were securely buried in the silver-white mane flowing over his arms. He rode in balance and with confidence, as if he'd been born to it. Leaning close, he whispered new commands toward a velvet ear, and Silme listened. My own Silme, who sometimes would not listen to me.

The gelding slowed and Legolas locked gazes with me as if to ask, "Do you want us to stop?"

Glorfindel chose that moment to touch my arm and murmur softly, "Legolas is laughing, Elrond. How long has it been since that child had cause for joy?"

Stunned at Glorfindel's assessment and my grudging, if silent, agreement with it, I waved the young one on for another round, but shouted, "Stay out of the trees this time, if you please?"

He pleased and guided Silme past the wood. With all of the obstacles gone, my horse stretched into a gallop. They flew, slender child and powerful horse. Legolas closed his eyes to ride the wind, trusting Silme to carry him safely around and back to us. /Come here,/ I sent to the horse and he obeyed, slowing until he stopped before us, with the rest of the herd thundering past.

I shook my head in wonder as Legolas released Silme's mane, straightened, and grinned down at me. Irritation threatened to overwhelm my wonder when Glorfindel chuckled beside me.

"It's not many who've managed to relieve Lord Elrond of his horse," Glorfindel told the boy. "But I think he'd like him back now. Wouldn't you like a mount of your own, Legolas?"

Legolas shook his head and patted Silme's mane as if to say, 'This one will do nicely.' Oh, no, he would not.

"Silme is mine," I explained with far more patience than I was feeling at the moment, "and while I will share him with you from time to time, I don't want you on him when I am not here. Wouldn't you like a horse of your own to ride, whenever you'd like?"

Legolas considered, and then nodded, albeit reluctantly. Clearly, he was still taken with Silme.

"Very well, then." Reaching up, I snagged the elfling around the waist and returned him to earth. "Let's go and see what's available in another field, hmm?"

Legolas sighed deeply, but marched sturdily between Glorfindel and me into another pasture. I exchanged glances with the golden-haired elf-lord who seemed a sudden nemesis determined to greet my irritation not with murmurs of commiseration, but with yet another grin. That was fine, but it wasn't his horse being stolen nearly out from under him, was it? Not that anyone could steal Naur from him. Not that anyone even remotely sane would want to. In all honesty, I was irritated that Legolas had managed in seconds to ride a horse that had required a month of careful convincing from me before he would agree to carry me.

The field we led Legolas to held many geldings, of both Glorfindel's and my breeding. Briefly, the lord and I discussed possible mounts for Legolas before I sent Glorfindel off to retrieve the horses in question. One by one, they were paraded before the elfling. And to my rapidly growing irritation, one by one, he refused them all.

"This one would make a fine mount for you, yes?"

Legolas again shook his head, the silver-blond hair catching the light as he eyed this new prospective mount with obvious distain.

"What's wrong with this one?" Even Glorfindel was sounding a bit exasperated now. I was glad to note I was not the only one.

Frowning, the elfling gestured toward the animal's hocks and then wrinkled his nose in displeasure.

Hocks. Again it was the hocks. What was this child's obsession with hind leg joints in horses? And why weren't my horses good enough for a small brat who stole horses? I was being generous to share Silme. I was being *very* generous in giving Legolas a mount of his own. And was he grateful? No. He stood there and critiqued my horses as though he were some horsemaster with ages of experience behind him. I expected such things from Glorfindel. It was most annoying to find it in one so short that he didn't meet my waist.

That one's chest was too narrow, that one was too long in the back -- Legolas liked short-coupled horses. That one was cow-hocked, while another's withers were non-existent. That one didn't have enough angulation in the front end and could not extend its stride, much less get its knees up when jumping, and on and on it went.

"Strange that he's pointing out to you the very things I've pointed out to you in the past," murmured Glorfindel after he'd released Legolas's latest rejection. "The boy's got a gift, no doubt of it."

I all but growled in reply -- would have, if not for Legolas who had been watching us both so closely throughout the afternoon. Now I was irritated with Glorfindel as well as my small critic.

"Legolas, you must choose one," I insisted. With great longing, he gazed back toward the field holding Silme. "No, you cannot have my horse," I reiterated, emphatic this time. "There are at least thirty geldings in this field. This field, right here. Will you have any of them for your mount, or should we go forget this altogether and go in for lunch. You don't have to have your own horse. We can forget all about it right now."

There was a satisfying moment in which genuine horror flashed through those blue eyes, then Legolas shook his head quickly and turned back toward the field with new interest. He stood at the fence, brow furrowed in concentration, and considered, as serious as any horseman come from Lothlorien to purchase one of our offerings. I fully expected Legolas to reject them all out of hand and demand that I surrender Silme. Glorfindel and I had discovered a hidden strength of will in this child. Even as it irritated me in this instance, it amused Glorfindel no end. The lord wheezed beside me, trying to hold back his laughter.

"That one," came the final decision, as princely as any who had come out of Mirkwood before.

"You want the bay with the blaze?" Glorfindel ventured. "A fine choice with fine conformation, lad, but can you ride him?"

Glorfindel had offered quite a few horses for Legolas's consideration, but they had been chosen more for their placid temperaments than their conformation. This one was not on the elf lord's most trusty list of mounts and I could see the anxiety in him over what would come next.

"Can," Legolas assured us. "Can ride anything," he declared. I arched an eyebrow at that, at the presumption as well as the confidence.

"Let's just see if you can."

Going into the field, Glorfindel retrieved the horse in question and brought him round to a nearby paddock. Darting through the fence boards, Legolas followed eagerly down the path, trotting more than walking and dancing backward ahead of us half the time so as to watch his new friend as we traveled.

The horse snuzzed the boy, amazed as the other animals had been by this miniature elf, and then he stood quietly, much as Silme had, while Legolas circled him several times. Small hands checked legs and Legolas scowled as he picked at a scab, then poked the bump on the bone underneath it.

"Is he still the one?" Glorfindel asked.

Legolas sighed, peering critically at the animal's chest, then straightened to face us. When he nodded, Glorfindel lifted Legolas without protest into his arms and circled the horse again. "Best have another look from up here."

"So, what do you think?" I asked the imp after the two of them had made several rotations.

"Wait," Legolas ordered, all but frowning at me for my impatience.

I arched an eyebrow at Glorfindel, who grinned to hear the order. Again, Legolas was carried around the horse, and again, and I found myself wondering what might be going on in that silver-blond head of his. Legolas's eye seemed as critical as the elf-lord's who was carrying him.

Glancing over my shoulder on a whim, I saw that my own gelding was standing at the fence and staring intently at the goings-on. And it wasn't me he was watching, but the boy. Giving an inward growl, I returned my focus to the child and his -- HIS -- horse.

"Good," came Legolas's final decree.

"Yes, he is," Glorfindel agreed. "But do you know why he's good?"

"Legs are good," Legolas announced. "Head and back and neck, all good. Chest too narrow, though." He shrugged, then added the qualifier "But deep enough. He's mostly all good."

Glorfindel laughed outright. "That's one way to put it, I suppose. And you're quite right. He has clean legs and his head is noble, his back is not over-long, he's well-coupled and will carry you easily over jumps. Well chosen, little one. Did someone teach you to look for all of those things?"

Legolas shrugged. "Nesséro. Told me a little. Other stuff..." He shrugged, disinterested. "Can just see it."

Nesséro, I presumed, was one of the stablemen at Mirkwood. The great irony evident in all of this was that Glorfindel himself would have chosen only this horse from that field. The flaws Legolas had pointed out in the others were the same flaws in my own horses that Glorfindel had been pointing out to me for years. That was a fact I'd no doubt be reminded of when the wine and the song and the conversation was flowing inside my Fire Hall this coming night. Perhaps I would dine alone in my library tonight.

"All right, then. Up you go, and we'll see if you can ride him."

Setting action to words, Glorfindel settled Legolas across the horse's back. Small hands buried themselves in the mane once more, and Legolas leaned forward to give the first command.

"Hold," I said. "You wish no halter? No tack? This horse has not had a rider for some time, and he may not listen to you very well."

The child shook his head in adamant refusal. "Tack gets inna way."

I opened my mouth to object further, but the child had other plans. Kicking the horse into a canter, Legolas began by doing lazy figure eights there on the grass before us. Once more, Glorfindel's easy laughter rang out.

"Don't say anything," I growled.

"No, m'lord. I think I'll save all of my words for the night to come." He choked. "All, save these once more: the boy has a true gift, of that there's no doubt."

Legolas rode until afternoon, and even then I had to pull him off of the horse. I think that he would have slept on that poor gelding's back if I had let him.



The screaming reached me first. It was the high-pitched shriek of a terrified child, and one that I had heard before. My gaze flew instantly to the great old oak that grew outside my library balcony, and my heart turned cold as I realized that Legolas was no longer in its branches.

He'd been playing quietly in this tree all afternoon, easily within my line of site, exploring his favorite tree before curling up to sleep in the cradle of two close-growing branches I deemed not so high off the ground as to cause grievous damage should he fall. He was napping quietly only a moment ago, totally oblivious to the rain that had started to fall. My heart began to pound; something dire was in progress.

The screaming escalated, now with a hint of rage, and there was another voice joining his, this one laced with pain. I was through the library and onto the staircase when I heard Glorfindel's step behind me.

The screams mounted into piercing ranges. I gained the stairs to the lower level, charging toward the entryway with all possible speed, Glorfindel at my heels. The stairs at least gave me a view of the entry hall, as well as the source of the discord.

Arwen was rushing toward the stairs, holding Legolas clenched in her arms as he kicked and flailed and shrieked, landing no few blows as they traveled. She cried out as well, as his total effort was behind his counterassault, but she was not to be dissuaded and staggered a few more steps toward me, hands white-knuckled as she struggled to hang on to the small child. The noise stopped momentarily as Legolas twisted in her grip and managed to sink his teeth into her wrist.

This time it was Arwen who screamed so piercingly, and she abruptly released the child who landed on the stone floor with a thud that made me wince. Injuries did not seem to be his major concern, however. As Arwen examined her bitten wrist, Legolas bounced to his feet, whirled to face her and with another scream of utter fury charged directly into her, both arms extended before him, impacting into her midriff like a small battering ram.

Arwen replied with a most undignified sound of oooffff as this tiny whirlwind slammed into her, knocking her over backward to land on her much-admired backside. Legolas followed her descent so that when she looked up she found herself eye-to-eye with this little terror.

"YOU DON'T TOUCH ME!" it screamed, mere inches from her nose and bristling with fury. "YOU DON'T NEVER TOUCH ME AGAIN! NOT EVER!" Legolas then continued with words one does not normally use in court, delivered with great passion and sincerity. I had wondered what vocabulary he might have, but this was never one I had considered.

"Ah, so he can speak," murmured Glorfindel behind me "Quite fluently, too. Ouch, where did he hear that one? I don't think that's physically possible..." he mused. He seemed not at all concerned about this altercation.


I saw Arwen's eyes widen with ... was that fear? She tried to rise from the floor, I assumed in an attempt to retreat from this violent little elf, but she was yanked back down immediately. Legolas was standing on her skirt, it appeared.

"YOU GO AWAY! YOU GO AWAY AND YOU LEAVE ME ALONE! AND DON'T YOU NEVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!" Legolas howled at her again. Her eyes widened in sudden panic, and Arwen made a new effort to escape, once again finding her pinned skirts would not allow her to rise. She turned her fearful gaze toward me and cried out for rescue.


I'm not certain when I halted on the staircase, but intervention seemed appropriate, and I began to run down the steps again. Glorfindel followed, of course. I could hear him choking, trying not to laugh. I had to admit to the humor of this surreal moment; Arwen, the Evenstar, the most beautiful and loved elven lady of Imladris was currently in a physical altercation with a tiny little wildling not a quarter of her size, and the little one was winning.

He was impressive: wet hair plastered to his cheeks, oversized little boy ears sticking out through the soggy strands, spine rigid, fists clenched, absolutely shaking with fury. The sight was truly comical in one so small. It wasn't until I saw those eyes that I realized what she was up against. They were dark, they were filled with rage and almost feral. I felt a chill seize me then.

Arwen saw it too, and decided that rescue was too far away. Grabbing her skirts in both hands she yanked - hard - pulling them out from under Legolas, sending him tumbling over backwards. This gained her a split second to scramble to her feet, but she was almost too slow. Legolas bounced back to his feet with far greater speed and took off after her again. Arwen shrieked once, then took flight, hurtling through the entryway and past me with a retreating cry of "Fatheeeer, heeeellllllp!" Glorfindel's choking evolved into full laughter.

I managed to intercept the little predator, catching him out of his pursuit as he hurtled past me. He struggled wildly, seemingly unaware of who held him in his passion to further assault my daughter.

"NOT NEVER!" he screeched, full volume, into my ear. I winced, then shoved him at the still laughing Glorfindel.

"Here. Deal with him," I snapped, shoving the screaming child into his arms. I heard him grunt in pain at some impact, probably boot to knee. I didn't look back to see, but took off to attend my battered daughter. The cry of "NEEVVVEERRRRRRR!" followed me as I left the room.

She hadn't run far, just into the inner hall where she stood sniffling and trying to smooth her skirts. She looked up as I entered, and stared at me as though in shock. "Father, he's gone mad," she advised me in a shocked whisper.

I smiled - I couldn't help it. "No, Arwen. I think we've just found he has his father's temper."

"Well, he's horrid. He is an absolutely horrid child."

I put my arm around her shoulders, and guided her toward a bench where we might rest for a moment. She was trembling, I noticed; Legolas had genuinely frightened her with the intensity of his anger.

The screaming was dying down. I hoped it was not due to the demise of Lord Glorfindel. "What happened, Arwen? What started all this?"

"I was--" She paused to draw in a shuddering breath. "I was bringing him to you. I thought he was hurt or - or dead! He was in that tree, just lying there in the rain, and he didn't move when I spoke to him, so I pulled him out and I was bringing him to you--" She broke off in tears, and I held her as she shuddered for a moment. She sniffed, then straightened up, though not out of my embrace, I noted. Parental reassurance was still desirable.

"He was just lying there in that tree. He was soaked. He didn't even move when I pulled him down. I thought he was hurt or dead. But when I got about halfway here he woke up and started kicking and screaming - Father, he was really frightening me!"

"Arwen, he was merely napping in the tree."

"Then why didn't he answer me? Why didn't he wake up when I moved him? Why--why was he sleeping in the RAIN!?"

"He likes sleeping in the rain. He wanders at night when Mithrandir is away, and he seems to feel secure enough to sleep in the tree during the day. The rain was warm enough and he was under the canopy of the leaves, so not that much reached him. I was watching him, and he was quite safe. I do appreciate your concern for him, though. That was very dear of you." I rewarded her with a kiss to the forehead, but she only glared at me.

"How was I to know that? Normal elves do not sleep in trees, most certainly not in the rain. And they wake up when you shout at them. That child is not normal."

"He's had a difficult time, Arwen."

"He BIT me! Look!" She thrust her dainty wrist beneath my nose, displaying matching crescents of indentations, deep and blue-grey, with surrounding redness.

"He certainly did."

"And he hit me. He knocked me down and shouted at me. And he's ruined my dress. Father, he threatened me"

"He did all of that," I agreed patiently. "But, Arwen, you frightened him. From what Mithrandir has told, me being hauled from a tree without warning was often the prelude to a very unpleasant confrontation for him."

"And my frightening him is excuse for his turning into a savage little animal and attacking me? What fear could justify that? You'd think they hauled him off and beat him the way he was fighting me."

"Arwen, they did."

That stopped her. She looked up at me, startled, seeking truth in my expression. "Mithrandir told me he actually interrupted one such event. As he watched, the elf pulled Legolas from a tree with enough force to dislocate his elbow, and then struck him several times to gain his cooperation. And he was being taken to his father for further disciplinary purposes at that time. You woke him from very deep sleep, it sounds, and the memories came forth first as he woke."

Horror, then comprehension then compassion; the emotions crossed her lovely features swiftly. I added the final detail, one I knew of personally. "Legolas father also has such a temper, and he was being dragged before him when Mithrandir stepped in and brought him to us. It was not the first such audience, daughter. I know he frightened you and hurt you," I added, caressing the bite marks with my thumb as I held her hand, "but do try to forgive him. He is a very frightened little elf."

"I'll forgive, but just see if I ever touch him again," she finally growled, sounding far from forgiving.

"That is all I ask." I stood then, pulling her to her feet. "Come, we best see what is left of Glorfindel. I shoved Legolas into his arms as I followed you, and the silence is beginning to worry me."

She laughed at that, then turned toward me, pleased. "You came to me first?"

"You are my dear daughter. Of course I followed you." Lest there be chaos and wailing for an inordinate length of time, I added silently, but she need not know my true motivation. Peace was what Rivendell was founded upon; best we not disturb it unnecessarily.

"On the positive side, you did get him to speak to us."

"Yes, but did you hear what he said? How could-- He said, used words--

Father, his language is - is--"

"Not acceptable," I finished for her. "Yes, we'll deal with that in due time. At least he is speaking, and I am pleased with that. I think."

"Father, what are you going to do with him?"

"I plan to keep him safe and contained until Mithrandir returns. Then we shall as him what he plans to do."

The child was thrown bodily against me, still screaming in rage. I managed to snag an arm as he lunged after Arwen, and he spun to face me. His eyes were cold and frightening. Had he been an elf grown I would have been prepared to defend my very life. What could have produced such rage in someone so small? My thoughts were redirected as he lunged again against my hold, then turned to swing at me.

This was not the first irate elf I had restrained over my many years, though most were bigger. Anger of this intensity cannot be reasoned with; one must merely contain it until it burns itself out. And so I set about capturing this tiny whirlwind of fists and feet and flying silvery hair and blazing blue eyes. Yes, and teeth, I noted with a yelp, shaking him off my wrist.

I finally managed to get the hold I wanted, somewhere mid-torso, and spun him away from me to lock my arms about his chest. Pulling him securely against my chest I sank down to the chill stone of the entryway, holding him close as he screamed and fought against my hold.

"Peace, little one. Be at peace. No one will harm you here. No one is angry with you. Stop your fighting, there is no need for it now. Be still. Just be still...." I rocked him back and forth, whispering soothing words in his ear as he gradually calmed. Anger is often an overlay of fear, and as his fighting diminished, I recognized that his fury subsided into silent shivering. Or trembling.

Finally he lay still in my lap, cradled against me more than pinned there by my embrace. "Are you finished?" I asked softly. He stared at the floor for a moment, then offered a hesitant nod. "If I let go, are you going to hit me?" This time the head shook in a negative reply. "Very well, I'm going to let go now." And I did, slowly opening my arms and allowing him to stand.

I turned him to face me, noting the troubled expression and the tracks of tears that had fallen while I could not see his face. I reached up to wipe them away, but he twisted away, just out of reach.

"That was quite a speech, little one," I began. "Where did you learn all those words." He hunched in on himself, evidently well aware that those were not the appropriate means of expressing himself. "I think I learned a new word or two," I added, "and I know many not-nice words." He canted an eye toward me, as though trying to gauge my reaction and just how much trouble he was in.

"I'm sorry I bit you."

"I am too. It hurt."

"Sorry," he repeated, though this apology was directed to his toes.

"Are you really sorry?" I asked. "Sorry enough to promise not to bite me again?"

He nodded. "Really sorry. Won't bite you again."

"What about Arwen?"

"I'll bite her if she touches me." His anger flared back into life with surprising suddenness.

"She must have frightened you very badly."

He looked up at me, startled.

"Sometimes we get angry when we're scared. And I think she scared you when she took you out of the tree." He didn't reply, but tears suddenly welled up in those blue eyes. "She did, didn't she. Did someone else pull you out of trees?"


"And did something bad happen then?"

Pause, then nod. A tear broke free to trace down one cheek, followed by it's mate down the other cheek.

I pulled him into my arms, hugging him close. It was an impulsive move I thought better of the moment I reached for him, but other than stiffening initially he allowed the contact. I was surprised, and honored by his trust for some strange reason, holding him protectively in my arms.

"Nothing like that will happen here. I, Lord Glorfindel, defender of Imladris, of the House of the Golden Flower, promise you that nothing like that will ever happen here." It sounded appallingly pompous to my ears, but it seemed to impress my young charge immensely, as those worried blue eyes grew huge and round at my words.

"No, nothing like that will ever happen here, young Legolas."

We both jumped at the new voice, and found Lord Elrond and a rather watery, rumpled Arwen peeking around from behind him. Her hair was in disarray, her nose was red, her skirt was wet and wrinkled, and smooth at it though she might, she could not erase the hand prints over either hip bone, nor the muddy footprints up the left side. This was Arwen as we'd never seen her before. I knew it was a mistake, but I had to laugh.

She scowled at me, then at Legolas, proving we were now both in her ill graces. And the child in my arms growled at her. Growled. I looked down in shock and shook him slightly. "No. Put the anger aside now and behave."

"Legolas, are you all right?" Elrond asked, from a safe distance of several feet. The child nodded, tearing his glare away from Arwen long enough to meet Elrond's eyes. "Arwen misunderstood. She thought you were hurt because you were sleeping in the tree in the rain. She wanted only to bring you to me, to help you."

The glare intensified. Elrond looked uncomfortable, and Arwen somewhere between injured and apprehensive, clearly ready to flee at any moment.

"She shouldn't have touched me," he finally spat at Elrond, then turned toward Arwen with a stamp of one small foot. "You go away! You don't touch me again."

"That," she replied primly, "Is not a problem. Just see if I ever come anywhere near you again." And with this formal pronouncement, she turned and swept off down the hallway with as much dignity as her tattered appearance and the large dusty spot on her backside would allow.

Elrond watched her go, then turned back toward this newfound little terror and sighed. "Legolas, we cannot have that kind of behavior here. Not ever. I understand that you were angry--"

"And very frightened, and not fully awake," I interjected in his defense.

"True. We understand, little one," he continued, stern expression softening a bit. "But that is not the way to react. We cannot bite people, Legolas. Not ever."

He looked somewhat downcast, but the anger still thrummed through him, so I doubted he was overly repentant just yet.

"Promise me you won't bite again."

"She better not touch me."

"She will not. I have her promise on this. Now I need one from you. Promise me, Legolas. There will be no more biting."

He studied his toes, my toes, the stones beneath our feet...anything and everything other than Lord Elrond.

"Legolas?" I knew that voice. It demanded - and received - obedience from the most unruly of elves and men. But the silence stretched out and I began to wonder if this little elf was actually able to face down the lord of Imladris.

"I promise," he whispered finally. "I won't bite."

"And will you apologize to Arwen?"

"No." Flat, absolute and nonnegotiable. Was this to fall under the category of defiance? I dared look at Elrond, who gave me a faint shrug that carried 'what can I do' connotations about it. I didn't blame him; I wouldn't want to continue a head-on confrontation with this child of steel either.

Elrond hesitated, then nodded. "Would you like to return to your tree now?"

He considered this for a moment, then turned and marched from the hall every inch the prince that he was. The word regal came to my mind as I watched the dignified departure of this elfling.

"No?" I asked of Elrond once he was out of the door.

"It was phrased in the form of a question, so his refusal is not direct defiance," he hedged. "And I have no wish to fight that particular battle today."

"I doubt you'd win." I watched as the small elf reached his tree and scrambled back into the shelter of its branches. Elrond watched as well, though he didn't seem as amused as I. "A peculiar child, " I observed, "but very entertaining."

"What am I to do with this?" he burst out "The child was quite out of control."

"The child was terrified. He fought to defend himself. Granted, against the wrong foe," I amended, holding up one hand to forestall the obvious objections.

"Arwen is quite traumatized by the entire event."

"Arwen needs to stop grabbing him. That would help their relationship immensely."

He nodded, then turned to pace back to his library, definitely in need of the sanctuary. I followed, of course.

"We learned he will speak to us at need, and in complete sentences. This is a positive thing."

"It would be gratifying if he would use words acceptable for conversation and a tone of voice that didn't imply imminent death."

"This is true, but we must start someplace. And I must confess I find his vocabulary most complete," I laughed. It earned me a dark glare, but there were hints of a smile with it.

"I doubt some of it is physically possible. I haven't heard such cursing since the night you stuffed Isildur's sword in the privy."

"We, Lord Elrond. WE attended to that sword."

"I merely distracted him. You were responsible for selecting the site of its repose," Elrond replied smoothly.

"You were a full accomplice, whether you choose to confess it or not. He was most irate, however, and I can appreciate your willingness to deflect your share of the outrage."

"And this little one could match him in his anger," Elrond sighed. "We learned today that he can and will express himself when provoked, and we learned he has a temper."

"You feel he shares he shares his father's temper."

Elrond flinched visibly as the words made reality of the thought ghosting about his mind. He settled into his chair and peered hopefully into his abandoned wine goblet, checking the level of wine within. "This is not a pleasant discovery. Thranduil is known for his rages, and I do not relish having one so blessed - or cursed- within my household."

I poured more wine into his cup and mine, then settled back, trying to order my thoughts. Over the balcony rail I could see the little elf curled up against the tree trunk rather than sprawled across the branches as he was when relaxed. Today's activities had taken a toll upon him as well. I hoped we had not set his confidence back too far.

"I do not think this is quite Thranduil's temper," I commented slowly. "Thranduil knows his rage and wields it as a weapon upon occasion. Other times it is simply how he chooses to express himself. He puts no rein upon his anger because he feels no need to, and therefore it feeds upon itself and multiplies, both in intensity and frequency of appearance."

Elrond scowled into his goblet. "I know this. I know Thranduil. I knew his father, and his elder sons. The family temper breeds true. You saw this tonight."

"I saw a child with a temper frightened out of his wits. This was a fight for survival in his mind, not a tantrum."

"That could hardly be classed as a mere tantrum."

"No, it was that child choosing to survive and defend himself. I think this one has possibilities. I think that temper can be harnessed and directed. This one is a warrior, Elrond."

The skeptical look he gave me was shortened by his turning to look at the child huddled in the tree. "I have my doubts. He is violent, unpredictable and antisocial in the extreme."

"He regained control. He was willing to interact and to bow to your leadership afterward. And yet he maintained his own personal boundaries. I believe he is trainable. Even more, I think this one has potential."

"How can you say that with only that much to go on?"

"The same way you can judge the horse that will be from a weanling. I think he has potential *if* he's trained. We will harness the temper and school it, just like a difficult horse's temper. You will see." I smiled and turned my goblet in my hands.

"Not unlike Naur, is it? You do like the challenges, don't you. The difficult ones."

Glorfindel only smiled.

"You'll have to take it up with Mithrandir."

"Of course."

"But you give me hope that this wild child can be tamed."


I was in trouble. I was in more trouble now than I could ever have imagined. I had hit Lord Glorfindel, I had bitten Arwen. I yelled at Lord Elrond, and I used the words Gerdan had told me never, ever to say if I wasn't with the soldiers. This was really awful.

I was so scared when Arwen pulled me out of the tree. I thought it was Galion again. Really, I had thought it was him and I just wanted to get away. I've bitten him before. I made him bleed sometimes, and I'm not sorry either. I'm not sorry I bit the Elf Lady...but I shouldn't have bitten her. The Big Elves like Arwen, and now everyone is angry with me, and they'll tell Mithrandir what a ...what did Arwen call me? Horrid. They'll tell him I'm a horrid little Elf, and then he'll know and he'll send me home again, and then it WILL be Galion pulling me out of the tree again.

I hadn't felt this bad since I met Mithrandir, maybe ever. Leaning against the trunk of the tree, I pressed my face against the rough, wet bark. It wasn't Mith's beard, but it was as close as I could come. At least the tree still liked me. The tears started falling then, and I couldn't help crying. Galion was right. I was all of those things he said, and Arwen said, and Father said....

"Little Elf, are you awake?" It was Glorfindel.

My heart dropped down into my stomach and that began to roll over. Scared. Scaredscaredscared --I had bit him too! They sent him to fetch me in, I decided. They've figured out what to do with me, and he's come to bring me in so they can tell me and send me away.

"Could I come up?" He didn't sound mad.

I was startled and leaned over to peer down at him through the leaves. I suppose I wasn't as high as I thought, because he wasn't very far below me. He saw me then, and he smiled. And then he grabbed a branch and pulled himself up. Within just a moment he was seated beside me in the tree. Maybe I should get down? He could grab me and--

Glorfindel smiled sadly, then reached over to brush his fingers across my cheeks. I was too scared and worried to move, but his touch was kind and gentle, almost like Mith's.

"I thought you might be upset," he said softly. "I don't want you to worry about anything. You're not in trouble. No one is upset with you."

That was the silliest thing I'd ever heard from a grown Elf. How could they not be angry with me after all the awful things I'd just done? I bet I could just jump straight down and land well enough--

"We understand, Legolas. You were scared, and you were angry, and you answered in the only way you knew how."

He sounded like he meant that, and I could only stare at him. He smiled again, and it was kind of sad and kind of friendly all at once.

"You have a temper," Glorfindel continued. "You get angry. We all do, at some time or another. But we don't have to act the way you did tonight. We can control it and use it in other ways."

I guess he meant 'don't do that again,' but I wasn't sure.

"I can teach you how to act more appropriately when you are angry, if you'd like. I can show you what to do instead."

I considered this, then turned away. "Have to go now," I mumbled.

"We will talk again later, then."

I shook my head because he didn't understand. "No later. I have to go away."

"You want to leave Imladris?" He sounded surprised, but his eyes looked sad when I dared to glance over at him.

"No, but I have to. I...I bit Arwen and hit her and said bad things and yelled at Lord Elrond."

"That's all true, but that will all work out well enough. You'll see."

"They won't want me to stay." I didn't mean to sound as sad as I did, but it was hard to say that, and even harder to think of it.

He reached out then and touched my hair, stroking it like he did the horses' manes. "You are not going to leave Imladris, little one, and you are most certainly not going back to Mirkwood, if that is where your guilty thoughts are leading you. You live here, and here you will stay. And starting tomorrow, I'm going to teach you things."

He smiled and patted my shoulder and hopped out of the tree. Just kind of stood up and slid to the ground. I'd have to climb higher next time.

"Come in soon so you'll be dry in time for dinner." Waving, he walked back toward the house. I could see Lord Elrond at the balcony watching us, and he didn't look too angry any more, either, just interested.

Maybe it would be forgiven after all?

I slipped into the darkened stable with a sigh of relief. No one was here. No one saw me. I'd managed to leave those Big Elves behind. It had been an awful evening, and I was grateful to have reached safety finally. Stables were always welcoming.

I stepped carefully along the deepest shadows of the wall and listened to the familiar sounds as those in the stalls shifted in their deep straw beds and chewed contentedly at the sweet hay. The sounds were comforting in their familiarity, but I needed more right now. Where was Annun? I needed Annun. Now.

Stepping into the aisle, I was looking through the gloom, toward where I thought she was, when someone touched my head, pushing at me. I nearly screamed and would have, had my breath not been choked off by the leap my heart took. I spun away from capture, only to find a white horse head shining faintly in the shadows, ears forward and dark eyes kind.

A horse. I'd been frightened by a horse. I was disgusted by my scared-baby actions, but.... But I *was* scared. And I needed my friend, my only friend since Mith left, and I needed her now. The tears were getting closer every moment.

Abandoning all stealth, I ran down the deserted stable aisle, knowing well it was a breach of the rules and not caring one whit. A soft nicker greeted me, welcomed me. My trembling hands fumbled at the latch I'd assured Lord Elrond I could work easily, but it finally yielded to my fingers as Annun breathed encouragement down my collar. Pulling the stall door open, I lunged for her, leaning against her chest as I wrapped my arms about the base of her neck as far as they would reach, drinking in the warmth and comfort she offered. She breathed softly, not a snort, but something softer and more welcoming, and lowered her head over mine to enfold me with neck and head, her chin pressed against my hip.

"Oh, Annun, it's all gone wrong. Mith's gone away without us."

The tears won free finally, and I cried quietly against her chest as she breathed her sweet hay breath over me. Annun had always been part of my life, had always welcomed me, had never hurt me, never left me. Annun was... Annun was security and love and all things good. Even here, she was all of those things.

Tears spent, my heart finally slowed and I heaved a sigh that seemed the signal the old mare was waiting for. Raising her head, she poked me in the ear with her nose, then moved back to the tempting pile of hay in the corner. It was a generous amount, and I nodded in approval. At least they cared for the horses here, even if little Elves without wizards weren't welcome. I settled in the hay while Annun ate, relaxing in the reassuring familiarity of this haven. She ate steadily, sparing me an occasional touch or glance while I occasionally stroked her foreleg.

Finally, though, I stood up. Fright had been overcome, and curiosity was swiftly moving in its wake. I had planned to explore this place once I was alone, and this was the perfect opportunity. There were hiding places to find, corners to examine, horses to meet; I decided that it was going to be an exciti+ng evening. Hiding places came first, though, for surely someone would come to check the horses during the night, especially the big-bellied mares like Annun. Best I be prepared.

I gave her neck a pat, and she acknowledged my leaving with one ear canted toward me as I shuffled through the rustling straw. I guessed that if I wasn't crying or scared, the hay was more important. That was all right, I had more important things to do too.

I carefully closed the latch behind me this time, then turned to my first solo adventure in Rivendell. The first corner by Annun's stall had hay piled in it. Could I fit behind it?

It took some wiggling, and I had to pull it out from the wall just a little bit, but I could fit back there, and I didn't think anyone would notice me. This was good.

My spirits rising, I headed down the aisle, patting this nose and looking in that doorway. This was a huge stable, much bigger than Mirkwood's. Much better, too, with many possibilities. Before long I'd found at least seven good places to hide, several of which would probably work well even in daylight. I found what I guessed was a storeroom, as it held lots of work tools, grooming tools, carts for mucking out the big stalls, *huge* pitchforks and lots of other things. Curiosity dragged me to one corner, where carefully hung up on a rack was tack. A bridle, and a saddle. It was smaller than Mith's, with pretty things carved into the leather.

The pretty things were stupid, I decided. Who would want to ride in that? It was clean, though, the leather supple and it smelled wonderful. Somebody kept it in good shape, though I couldn't figure out why it was here.

The loft stairs were another exciting discovery. Hesitating, I peering into the darkness for any sign someone might be watching before I stepped onto the lowest stair. Stairs could cry out and creak and moan and tell all the big Elves for just miles around that I was climbing somewhere I ought not. I didn't trust stairs. But once I put my full weight on it, the step proved as sound as everything else in Rivendell. I jumped off of it and then back on, just to be sure, but nothing happened at all, except the horse in the stall across the aisle looked startled and started staring at me. I guess Big Elves don't do such things. I laughed at his surprise before hopping to the next step, and then hopped from one side to the other. Stair number two was friendly as well. On to number three!

It took quite a while, but I finally made it to the loft, confident that only the fourth step would squeak and give me away, and only on the right side. I'd accomplished a lot tonight, and I felt really pleased about it. Clambering up into the loft proper, I looked around at the lumps and piles in the shadows up here. I had to be careful because sometimes there were holes. I remembered the awful day when I stepped on a feeding hole that was intended for dropping hay down right inside the stall. I got dropped down inside instead, right in front of the horse in there. He was really scared, and so was I. Worse, it happened when Big Elves were in the stable aisle. I was really lucky then because Gerdan moved over really quickly to quiet the horse and saw me first. He stood in front of the door, so nobody could see me before I could hide in the corner. I wouldn't make that mistake again; it was scary. And it hurt, too, falling all the way down.

Rivendell didn't seem to want to drop hay on their horses' heads, as there were no holes in the floor. At least none as I could find. What they did have was lots of hay, bundled together with twine and stacked loosely with lots of hiding places in between. It was good hay, too; soft and sweet. Good for sleeping in. And I could see through the floor, too. Lots of wide-set boards formed the floor, and I could peer down into almost all the stalls from up here. It was wonderful. I also discovered the floor rested on the rafters. They were wide, heavy timbers, just right for me to walk across, so I could move from one side of the aisle to the other up here. I could also watch absolutely everything.

I scooted across the wide beam as easily as a branch in my old friend Oak, pausing in the middle to look down at the stable below. I could see everything from this spot -- both sides of the stable, all the way down the aisle to each end, all four doors and both stairs. I sat down, swinging my legs in the open air and grinned at this unexpected fortune.

Yes, I'd always felt safe in stables, and I knew this one would be the best spot in all of Middle-earth. I knocked a bit of dust down as I thumped my legs against my perch, which inspired an irritated snort and a bang from the far end stall. I peered harder through the gloom, only to realize....

Yes...yes it was! Naur was in that box. Oh, this was my chance to talk to him, to make friends with him without some Big Elf pulling me away and telling me something stupid about how scary he was. Horses weren't scary. All horses liked me. All horses were happy to see me. Naur just didn't know me yet. Now was my chance to fix that.

Scrambling to my feet, I headed back across to the loft floor and down the stairs as fast as I dared move. I broke the 'no running' rule again as I pelted back to the big workroom. I'd found some big boxes in the corner early, and now lifted the heavy lid of one. It wasn't easy, and I had to hold it open by letting it rest on the top of my head, but inside were oats. Sweet, clean oats. I reached down to grab handfuls of the grain, but to my disgust the level was so low that all I could do was wave my fingers helplessly several inches above them.

Wriggling out from under the heavy lid, I stood and thought about it. How could I reach the grain? I just had to have some, for Naur. I kicked at the box in annoyance, but the hollow thunk only made me crosser. I kicked the other one as well for good measure, and that box made hardly any noise at all. Did that mean it was fuller than the other box?

I got that one open and found it as stuffed as my father's treasure room. With the lid carefully balanced on top of my head, I pulled my tunic out to make a pouch and filled it with handfuls of cool, slippery oats. Only when the cloth bulged and threatened to spill did I stop. I did remember to smooth the oats in the box mostly flat, so nobody would notice what I'd stolen. Backing out from under the lid, I let it bang as it fell and headed back into the aisle.

My presence in the feed room had not escaped notice. I stopped dead to realize that every horse was staring at me. Every single one. I sighed, as I had wanted to head for Naur right away. Now, I couldn't do that.

"A bite. Just a bite," I warned them, flinching at the sound of my voice in this great and silent place. Zigzaggin my way back to Naur's end of the stable, I held up handfuls of oats to each horse along the way. Some were nice and just nibbled the grain off off my palm. Some snorted at my hand as though it was something wrong and strange. Too bad. No oats for them, for I was in a hurry.

One big bay seemed to have learned that those who paused to question such treats lost them. He grabbed my whole hand in his mouth and scraped the oats off of my fingers with his lips as I yanked back my fingers. I thought he was going to bite my hand right off, but when I looked up at him he was laughing at me. I wiped the horse spit off on my leggings and laughed back. He was funny, and I liked him. I thought he liked me, too. Maybe he just liked oats. I'd find out tomorrow, I promised myself, when I did this again. I'd do this every night, I decided instantly. This was great fun.

Annun accepted her bite with crabby indifference, as though it was too much effort for her to walk all the way to the stall door. She was often grumpy when her belly was fat, so I didn't think she meant it.

Finally, I reached Naur. He stood still in his stall, shining in the gloom, haughty and proud, staring over my head and down the aisle as though he didn't even see me. I'd saved him two handfuls of oats cradled carefully in my tunic, my arm holding the bribe tight against my chest.

"Naur?" I whispered softly. "Naur, I have a treat for you."

He deigned to glance down at me, then flicked his ears back in irritation.

"Look, Naur, I have oats."

I held up one precious handful toward the nose that remained raised over my head. I blinked, surprised. No horse ever ignored me, and no horse EVER ignored oats. He finally looked down at me -- really looked at me and my oats -- and banged his nose hard against my hand, scattering my offering. Then he turned away as though I wasn't there and circled back into the darkness of his stall.

Hurt, I looked down at the few oats still cradled in my tunic. Perhaps he just didn't see me. Maybe if I went inside the stall where I could actually talk to him and touch him, he wouldn't act this way.

Decision made, I clamped my arm over the fold in my tunic, grabbed the latch on the stall with my other hand, and stepped on the cross-brace of his stall door. Climbing in was the best way because I wasn't about to open the door and chance his getting out.

It wasn't hard to climb, only three steps on the cross-braces. I had just reached the top of the tall door and was swinging my leg over the board when I saw him coming toward me -- No, he was lungeing toward me, all angry eyes and lots of teeth.



I couldn't say what had disturbed me, but something had, making me feel that I needed to check the stable. I had these feelings from time to time, and rarely was a trip unwarranted, but all I knew now was a general sense of agitation. That was enough to prompt me to walk the short distance from my cottage to the stable and reassure myself that all was well. A quick look about, a pat to Naur's neck, and a peek at the hugely pregnant Annun would be enough.

Stepping inside the stable, I anticipated peace and instead felt my heart all but stop in my chest, for disaster was playing out before me, and I was too far away to do anything about it.

Young Legolas was in the process of swinging one leg over the top of Naur's stall door, and Naur's hard and glittering eyes caught the light as he turned toward the elfling. I felt myself moving, and my feet carried me down the aisle at top speed, but it wasn't enough, I wasn't nearly fast enough. The white head swung over the stall door, and Naur's ears were pinned flat to his neck, his teeth bared. The Elfling atop the door would be seized, shaken, trampled--

I moved even faster as the wickedly narrow muzzle lunged for the little elf. Legolas saw it coming too and flung himself backward off of the tall stall door, but he wasn't fast enough either. There was a muddle of sound -- the resounding bang as Naur's chest struck the door hard, the sharp cold sound of his teeth closing, the gasp of an Elfling, the tearing of cloth, and a heartbeat later came the thud of Legolas's small body landing on the aisle floor. Reach as I might, I wasn't fast enough to break his fall, no more than I was swift enough to warn the stallion off of the fragile little one.

Legolas hit the ground hard and stayed there. I knew those teeth had closed on him, but the question was where, and how deeply? At least Naur hadn't gotten a solid grip and pulled him into the stall. If that had happened, Legolas would have been dead, trampled beneath the hooves of my stallion before I could have leaped over the door. Clever child, dear child, he'd seen and reacted in that tiny fragment of time, and that move had clearly saved his life. The question now was what was left after the attack?

I dropped to my knees behind Legolas, who was fighting hard to draw air into his lungs. He flinched as I touched him, apparently startled to find me there. I nearly collapsed in relief to see that he still had of all his limbs and seemed relatively whole. I snatched him up from the ground, rough in my fear, and turned him to face me.

"Legolas, are you hurt? How badly did he bite you. Let me see--"

His face was white with shock, but he was still intact with arms and legs where they belonged. I didn't see any blood, and my hands swept down each limb in turn to assure myself of their soundness. Partially reassured, my hands returned to his shoulders as he tried to squirm away from me.

"...Aw-wight," came the faint squeak from my Elfling as air began struggling back into emptied lungs. "Didn't hurt me."

"Your shirt is torn, he did bite you. Let me see."

He tried to reach and close the torn cloth over his shoulder, but was unable to do so due to the tight grip I had around his upper arms. Twisting in my grasp, Legolas struggled against me.

"Didn't hurt me," he protested again, renewing his efforts to win free.

I loosened my grip slightly, nearly limp with relief that he was unharmed. It was then that my fear turned to anger, as it often does after little ones have endangered themselves.

"What are you doing here?" I demanded. "And what were you doing with that horse? You promised me this day that you wouldn't go near him, and I find you atop his door? He could have killed you, Legolas. He *tried* to kill you, and it is only the protection of Elbereth herself that kept him from biting you in two. What were you thinking?"

"I--I--s-s-oorry," came the disjointed apology.

To my horror, I realized that my hands had tightened on his arms once more, and I was actually shaking the poor child in my panicked anger. Legolas wasn't fighting me, but his eyes were huge and fearful in the dim moonlight spilling through the stall windows. I released him instantly, guiltily.

"I'm sorry, Legolas," I whispered, horrified at what I'd done. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. But I thought Naur was going to kill you, and I was frightened. I couldn't bear to lose you, little one. We've only just found you."

His blue eyes were still huge, but not frightened so much as sad.

"I'm sorry," he whispered again in turn, and reached out to pat my arm as he would a distressed horse's neck. "Really sorry. I just wanted to give him some oats." His eyes slowly filled with tears, misery reflected in the shine of unshed tears.

I opened my arms slowly, and then just as carefully pulled the slight body against my chest to hold him close and savor the reassurance of his heart beating, the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed, the very aliveness of him. Legolas rested against me and stood quietly in my embrace, his cheek against my shoulder, his breath warm in my ear. I don't think I had ever experienced a sweeter moment than that one.

I moved one hand to stroke down the tangled gold of his hair and rested my cheek against his head, inadvertently tightening the hug with my other arm. The spell was broken as Legolas stiffened in my arms, and a small squeak of pain escaped him.

Naur had bitten him after all.

I actually had calmed enough to think this time, and rather than snatching Legolas away from me and ripping his tunic open to explore the damage to his small body, I managed to simply unfold my arms and push him gently upright.

"Where does it hurt, Legolas? Is it under here?" I moved my fingers toward the torn cloth, but both his hands flew up to block me, and his fingers clenched in the fabric.

"No. Doesn't hurt. Really."

I didn't believe him. It was a lie, and we both knew it. "Please, let me see. I'll just slide this off ever so carefully and we'll have a look. I won't hurt you."

"NO." The protest was more strident, and the knuckles turned white with the force of his grip.

"Very well. Perhaps you could show me? Just a little bit, where he bit you? Would you just hold the cloth away so I could see under it? I promise I won't touch."

There was a long moment of silent debate, with both arguments clearly reflected in his eyes.

"Please, Legolas? I'm worried he's really hurt you. Please let me see that you're not bleeding horribly, or your arm dangling loose?"

The eyes narrowed, then finally he bobbed his head in a short nod of assent. Very slowly, the small hands held the torn jerkin away from the small shoulder, revealing a crescent of deep blue-grey indentations that trailed off to scrapes up toward Legolas's neck. It was a glancing blow, more of a rake than a clean bite, but still painful. This child was fortunate, unbelievably so. Had Legolas not reacted when he did, Naur would have crushed the narrow shoulder. As it stood, the stallion hadn't even truly broken the skin.

"Naur did bite you. It must hurt. Will you let me put something on it to make it feel better?"

"The burning stuff? NO!" My view of the injury was suddenly blocked by the cloth and both small hands barricading the area.

"Burning stuff?" I echoed, baffled.

"Yes, they put it on and it burns and burns. That's not better."

Clearly this was not going to be successful. I abandoned the debate.

"No, that doesn't sound better at all," I agreed. "No burning stuff. But Legolas, what were you doing out here? You should be tucked safe and warm in your bed."

He looked away, and his breath caught in something that sounded close to tears. "Can't."

"Whyever not? You and Mith have a great warm chamber with a big soft bed and a lovely fireplace in it."

He sighed, then scrubbed at his eyes with the back of one hand -- the one attached to the uninjured shoulder I noted.

"I can't," he repeated. "The big elves came and they closed the bed. It's Mith's room, and I can't stay in there when Mith is gone."

"Closed the bed?" I repeated. "Come here and tell me about this. This doesn't sound right at all."

He didn't move toward me, but he didn't shy away when I reached for him, either. The tears were close to spilling over. Wrapping my arm around the narrow shoulders, I tucked him against my chest.

"Tell me what happened?" I coaxed.

Legolas shrugged, then winced as the shoulder moved. Then with a tremulous breath, he nodded. "The Big Elves came in the room. I didn't know they were coming, they just came right in and started taking things. They put out the fire, and they took all my clothes and the book that Mith let me keep and...and my special things I was keeping. And then they closed up the bed. Mith was all gone, and I can't stay there without him."

It was difficult for me not to laugh as I recognized the evils of housekeeping. The poor little lad had clearly been quite traumatized by their invasion, benign though it was meant to be. "Your clothes were taken? Where were they?"

"Onna floor in the corner. In *my* corner. They took all of them, too. But they didn't get my boots," he added defiantly.

"Were you in the room when they came?"

Legolas nodded.

"Did you hide?"

He nodded again. I tried to shift my arm around him so that I could peek inside the neck of his tunic again as he spoke.

"What special things did they take?"

"The things for later."


"Later," he repeated, sounding more aggravated than frightened now. "Some bread and apples. I was keeping them for later."

"Where were they?"

"I hid 'em under the bed."

Under the bed. The child was hoarding food against future hunger. Sometime in his past, he had learned that it was necessary. I felt ill. "So why would they take your apples? Were they rotten? Was the bread going green?"

"No. It was hard, but that's alright. The apples were still mostly good, too."

"Mostly good? Did you eat part of them already?"

"Yes, but the other side was still good."

I managed to suppress the dismay I felt, which was trying to creep out. "Little one, we don't need to hide food here. We can have as much as we want to eat, any time we want it."

He blinked at me as though this made no sense to him at all.

"There is more than enough food in Imladris for everyone to eat as much as they want every single day," I explained. "Twice as much as they could want. You need only tell someone you want something. Or go to the kitchens."

Those blue eyes instantly narrowed at that suggestion. Very well, no kitchens.

"You could to me," I added quickly. "There are always fresh apples and cheese at my cottage."

He looked surprised. "Don't you live inside with the Big Elves?"

"No, I have my own little place, just behind the stable. I'm still not used to all of the comings and goings in the hall, and the constant gossi-- the discussions that go on night and day," I amended diplomatically. "So Lord Elrond gave me my own home. It's close to the horses and much more private. Would you like to see it? Perhaps you would like to stay with me tonight, since your bed was closed."


"Where do you plan to sleep, then?"

His gaze flicked upward for just a second before he focused steadily on his boot tips.

"The loft?" I sounded as incredulous as I felt. "You're planning to sleep in the loft until Mithrandir returns?"

"Not in the loft-- inna RAFTERS. Is good, like a tree," he replied defensively, still staring at his boots. "Nobody would know."

"Is *not* good, and *I* would know," I replied sternly. "Little boys do not sleep in the loft here, and they most certainly do not sleep on high, narrow rafters. They stay in nice warm beds. Please, Legolas, won't you come to my cottage? I, Glorfindel, Defender of the House of the Golden Flower, promise that you will be safe there." Such a declaration had worked before; it might work again?

"No Big Elves will come and take your things," I added for good measure.

His gaze slowly lifted from the tips of his boots. I dared not breathe or press my argument further while he considered.

"Aw-right," came the wary reply. "But just for tonight."

"For tonight," I agreed, hoping he would be reassured once he'd actually spent a night with me.

I resisted the impulse to look back and make sure Legolas was following me. He had agreed to sleep in my chambers for what remained of the night, but the possibility of his changing his mind still remained. Given the least doubt or provocation, he could slip off of the path between the stable and my quarters, melt into the shadows and be lost to me... until daylight at least.

I could track him if he slipped away, but to what end? To shatter the fragile trust we had seemed to build this night? To win one particular battle of knowing where he was, but lose the war by having Legolas fear that he could never evade me, no matter the need?

No. Far better for me to amble nonchalantly down the path toward home--slowing my stride so that little elves would have no difficulty keeping up--and not look back.

Unlike the private chambers in Thranduil's underground keep and my own home in long-destroyed Gondolin, by tradition Imladris's rooms had no doors. Everyone in the main house seemed to know what everyone else was doing--and with whom. The flow of visitors was constant--Elves on their way to take ship at the Grey Havens, mortals come from Gondor or Rohan to trade with the master of the House of Elrond and the fair inhabitants of Imladris.

Upon my arrival in Imladris, I'd soon grown comfortable with the flow of conversation, music and drink in Elrond's fire hall, but I'd also found myself less than comfortable with the constant lack of privacy. When I hadn't been fighting Sauron's minions in my past life, I'd craved solitude and privacy. Their lure was as strong in my new life as they had been in the old one, and so I had sought permission from Lord Elrond to build my own private sanctuary behind the stables.

A high stone wall encircled my small garden and two-room cottage. The wall made way for the trees that had been in residence far longer than had I this second time around. A narrow path flowed past a small fountain that was very much like a larger one I remembered in Gondolin. Replicas of the shield of the House of the Golden Flower graced its sides, reminding me that another elf and balrog had met their ends in the original fountain within the city of my birth. The fountain's center contained a rock cairn where--at my request and once more with Elrond's blessing--water from a nearby stream had been diverted to flow up and over the somewhat morbid recreation of the rock cairn entombing my first body. The sight and the sound of the entire arrangement served to remind me constantly of how fragile life was, and how short our time in Middle-Earth could be. And how quickly it could end.

The cottage beyond the fountain held two small rooms only; a common room wherein I received the occasional visitor--mostly Elrond, and that only rarely--and a bedchamber with a solid oak door that was as private as I could make it. This was my refuge and my sanctuary, as all of Imladris was Lord Elrond's. I needed only this small space in which to retreat, and it was my hope that Legolas might feel safe enough to sleep within its walls.

Pushing back the front door, I entered the common room and turned to await Legolas's arrival. Moonlight spilled across the threshold, but no elf-child appeared. Had I lost him after all? Cautiously, I moved so that I could see out the open door.

He was there, I noted with some relief, but had stopped to make friends with an old ash tree that bordered the path. Even now, he was patting its broad, gnarly trunk and smiling up into its boughs.

The fountain drew him next. Climbing up onto its wall, Legolas knelt and peered down into the water. Making a small sound of dissatisfaction, he then bent so far over to touch the water that his butt was up and his balance was nearly lost. Scrambling back on the wall, he tumbled off only to land on his back for the second time this night.

Grimacing at the startled cry of pain Legolas gave as his already injured shoulder was forced to absorb some of the impact, my first impulse was to rush out and try to rescue him from the pain. A hopeless wish, but powerful enough so that I had to force myself not to do so. Rolling onto his good shoulder, Legolas sat up on his knees and panted briefly. Glancing toward the door of the cottage, he seemed to be trying to discern whether I was watching or not. I thought that the shadows hid me enough from his view. In any case, Legolas eventually got to his feet and rubbed briefly at the shoulder before wincing and continuing at a more sedate pace down the path to my front door.

Pausing on the threshold, he caught sight of me hovering in the middle of the room. Not wishing to distress him further, I backed away and leaned up against the door guarding my sleepchamber, was contented to wait for the child's next move. He weaved slightly on his feet, so that I knew fatigue and pain had to be pulling at him. Still, Legolas wasn't ready to succumb to the lure of the sanctuary I offered. Poised there on the threshold, he first searched the room with his gaze.

His expressions were easy to read as he worked out where the best hiding places, bolt holes, and escapes were. [That trunk, there in the corner,] I could almost hear him thinking. [There isn't a fire, so the chimney would do, too... and there's a back door. That's good. There's a window, too.]

My windows were higher than those in the main house, for they were meant to keep out prying eyes, but... [If I moved the chair and reached high, I could probably reach it.] The rest of the furniture, he dismissed. But then, this was the child who used Mithrandir as furniture; Legolas probably didn't need anything else.

Clearly, the boy had been taught basic survival skills or had managed to learn them of a necessity on his own. Neither Elrond nor Mithrandir had furnished me with the specifics of the abuse that had driven the wizard to remove Legolas from Mirkwood, but I knew enough of Thranduil and his drunken fits--not to mention the heavy-handedness of some of his servants--to imagine well what might have actually taken place.

My heart shuddered to realize how often the child must have needed such skills in the past, for him to have perfected them at such an early age. His visual inspection of the room had been as thorough as that of any seasoned warrior moving into an enemy's camp.

He startled me by speaking. "No one comes here?"

"Lord Elrond visits occasionally, and the servants come to clean up as they did in yours and Mithrandir's chamber. But they come only into this room, and they always knock before entering. If I do not answer, they go away."

He considered this information for a long moment before asking, "Where do you sleep?"

"Here." Pushing open the door to the sleepchamber, I moved beyond the bed, to the far wall to give Legolas plenty of room.

He crossed this second threshold more readily, but still paused to survey the room. I knew what he saw: a high, open window set into one wall, flanked on one side by bookcases and on the other side by storage shelves. A small elf could climb the shelving and be gone in seconds--never mind the drop outside was probably eight feet.

[Such visual skills will serve him well all of his days,] I thought. [There's additional potential here, he might make a fine warrior. And if he does not go safely Oversea, Elbereth knows we will need more accomplished warriors before our time here is over.]

The only other things to see in my room were a bed and a somewhat large pile of dirty stable clothes I'd not yet put out for the servants to launder. Giving a decisive nod, Legolas took two steps forward, reached the foot of the bed, and looked up at me.

"It's good."

"Then shall we sleep?" I urged, gesturing to the bed. It looked inviting to me, I hoped it did as well to the little elf.

Scowling, he backed away. "Not there."

Clearly, the bed was out of bounds. I wondered why, knowing that Legolas had no qualms about sleeping with Mithrandir in the same bed. Or in Elrond's library, curled up beneath Mith's beard. So good was Legolas's ability to sneak, most of the time neither Elrond nor I were aware that the little elf had climbed up onto his wizard during the course of our conversation. The first we knew of it was when Mithrandir rose to take his leave and moved away from the table. Small legs were wrapped around the wizard's waist, skinny little arms were wound tightly around his neck. Once, Elrond had moved the long gray hair aside to reveal Legolas fast asleep, his nose buried against Mithrandir's chest. Legolas never stirred at those times, so secure was he in the wizard's embrace.

"Why will you not share a bed with me?" I asked in genuine bewilderment. A scowl was his reply.

"You're a Big Elf."

Big Elves, I knew from our conversation earlier in the stable, were not to be trusted. Even if they did not beat you, they still stole your clothes, your books, and your half-eaten apples. They might even close up the bed with you still in it, and then where would a small elf be?

Looking at things from Legolas's point of view, I had to agree with him: the big elves in his life were not to be trusted. Being within reach in the past had always meant being vulnerable; if one wasn't within reach, one couldn't be hurt. To expect Legolas to sleep close to me was unrealistic in the extreme. I wondered what, exactly, Mithrandir had done in Mirkwood to be set apart from the Big Elves.

"Well, then," I said, "if you will not have my bed, we must make another for you."

Gathering a blanket, I tossed it atop the pile of dirty clothes in the corner nearest the door. Adding one of my smaller pillows to it, I glanced at Legolas who had moved to the side of the bed nearest the window to watch me.

"What do you think?" I asked.

The nest I'd made for him fetched up against the shelving. If Legolas slept there, his back would be against the wall. He'd be able to survey the entire chamber and no one could sneak up on him. He'd be the length of the room away from me, with my feet nearest him as I lay on the bed. Door and window were both easily accessible to him--the first through bolting and the second through climbing.

"Is good," he announced.

Marching over to the nest, he climbed atop it and settled in before removing his boots. This seemed his only concession to preparing for bed. I offered another blanket--folding it in half so that it would not bury my guest--and he took it, spreading it over himself and snuggling down. Whatever silver-blond hair did not spread haphazardly over the pillow was in his face.

"I sleep now." Peering out at me with one blue eye from between the hair, Legolas regarded me with lingering suspicion. "You sleep too."

"I sleep too," I agreed.

Pulling off my own boots, I blew out the candle in its wall sconce, then settled on the bed. Lying still in the darkness, I hoped to be less of a perceived threat by setting my back to Legolas. Listening to his shallow breathing for the next few minutes, I knew that he was far from sleep. Deliberately, I lengthened and deepened my own breathing and was careful not to move.

In time, fatigue conquered Legolas's caution. His breathing grew louder and deeper, a steady, reassuring rhythm to my ears. Secure in the knowledge that Imladris's newest and smallest citizen was safe within my care, I too slept.


I opened my eyes to early morning and discovered, to my dismay, that I had rolled over somewhere in the night, so that I was facing Legolas. My movements apparently hadn't disturbed him, for he was still fast asleep and so burrowed into his nest of clothes that only the top of his head was showing.

Climbing out of bed, I pulled on my boots and decided some sort of breakfast was in order before I delivered my charge to Lord Elrond for lessons. Holding my breath for fear that my touch would wake Legolas, I dared to smooth a hand over his hair before passing into the outer chamber. I thought he'd be alright alone for the short time it would take for me to visit the kitchen. Even if Legolas awoke, he would know himself safe and unconfined.

I returned in a few short minutes with a bounty of fresh bread, milk and honey, and the ever-popular apples. I had determined to forego my morning tea and cereal in favor of joining Legolas in his mild, if established and fanatical, fare. So I thought, but I entered the bedchamber only to find it empty.

[That's it,] I thought with no small disappointment, [He's gone. No breakfast to fill his small stomach before his lessons, and we didn't even get to say good morning.]

Setting the breakfast tray down on the rumpled blankets at the foot of my bed, I gave a heavy sigh. The chamber was exactly as I'd left it, except that the blankets atop my dirty clothes had been flung aside. Staring forlornly at the pile and missing my small companion already, I saw that Legolas's pillow had fallen to the floor and was nearly obscuring a pair of small, worn boots leaning into the clothes. Boots that were so valuable to their owner that he would never leave them behind, no matter how hastily he might depart my chamber.

Perhaps he hadn't gone, after all? Perhaps he had trusted me enough to wait for my return?

"Legolas?" I said to the pile of clothes, not daring to trust the flicker of hope that was making my heart beat faster. "I've brought a bit of breakfast, if you'd care to join me?"

The pile of clothes gave no answer. But they moved after a long moment, and Legolas emerged from their depths, scattering mussed leggings and tunics. He wrinkled his nose -- probably at the unspeakable smells of wear and stable he'd been forced to endure -- before setting his feet on the floor and looking up at me.

"How did you breathe in there?" I asked.

"Made a hole." He shrugged, his gaze darting to the common room behind me. "You alone?"

"Quite alone. See?" I added, waving the loaf of bread toward the empty room behind me. "No one anywhere about."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, I cut the loaf of bread into generous slices. The kitchen staff had already seen to the apples, and so handed Legolas a slice where he stood between the foot the bed and the clothes.

"Wait," he ordered. Climbing up onto the bed, he settled cross-legged opposite the breakfast tray -- within reach of the food, I noted, but well out of my reach unless I lunged -- which would give him time to escape.

I leaned slowly forward, stretching out my arm and offering the fruit. He took the slices from me -- one in each hand -- only to stuff the first intact into his mouth. I was amazed that it fit without choking him, but he chewed enthusiastically and without difficulty. I assumed, therefore, that this was standard for his table manners. I made a mental note for the future to cut all fruit into smaller pieces for my own peace of mind.

"Got honey," Legolas said through a mouthful of apple and nodded at the jar which had a wooden dipstick floating precariously atop it. Dipping his second slice of apple into the honeypot, he shoved that into his mouth as well. "Is good."

"So is the milk."

I poured out half a mug for him and set it carefully on the edge of the tray, well within his reach. I tended next to making half of a honey-butter sandwich and wondered if Legolas would eat even a portion of what I offered. The eagerness with which those blue eyes followed my culinary efforts when the honey came into play gave me hope. I was also hard-pressed not to smile. I decided to deem the morning a success if Legolas ate even a quarter of what I had brought for him.

I had just handed him the sticky sandwich when a knock came at my front door. An anxious voice sounded behind it, and Legolas's head whipped around.

"Glorfindel, are you in there? I would speak with you."

"It's Lord Elrond," I said quietly.

Legolas shot off of the bed and back into the nest of clothes. I grabbed at the mug of milk as it sloshed, saving the bedclothes from a dampening as the Lord of Imladris pounded once again upon my door.

"Glorfindel, it's quite urgent."

Within seconds, Legolas's small bottom had wriggled out of sight, and it was as though the child had never been there at all. Idly, I wondered where he had made his air-tent this time. I had no doubt whatsoever that two narrowed blue eyes were observing my progress out of the room as much as they could, given the angle of the pile of clothes. I closed the sleepchamber door firmly behind me.

"Sweet Elbereth, I've lost him," Elrond said breathlessly, stepping across the threshold the moment I opened the door. His gray eyes were full of panic, his broad frame tense; this was an Elrond I was not accustomed to seeing.

"You've lost whom?"

"Legolas, of course. He did not spend the night in the wizard's chambers. He's not in the stable, my library, or the kitchen -- there is no sign of him anywhere, and no one has seen him. I've lost him, Glorfindel. What am I to tell Mithrandir?"

Laying a hand on Elf-lord's shoulder, I tried not to grin too broadly. "Be at peace. Legolas is safe, he spent the night in my keeping."

"In your--" Elrond rocked back and frowned. "How in the name of Mordor did he end up with you? I thought him tucked up safe in Mithrandir's rooms."

"Legolas felt forced to sleep elsewhere," I said smoothly.

"Forced? Who forced him to do what?"

Arching an eyebrow, I set my hand at Elrond's elbow and nodded toward the garden. Smoothly, I crowded him as I would a horse, and he responded in kind, backing out of my chambers and stepping out onto the path once more. Closing the front door behind me, I made sure that we were away from little Elf ears that no doubt knew how to overhear much, even through closed doors. By silent agreement, Elrond and I took a stroll down the path and over to my fountain, whose enthusiastic burbling would mask our conversation as long as we kept our voices low.

"Legolas reported to me last night that the servants came late yesterday without warning and, in his words, closed the chamber he shared with Mithrandir."

Elrond frowned. "Pardon me?"

"Furthermore, they stole his clothes, the book he had borrowed from your library, and the half-eaten apples he had stored under the bed for future eating. That was after the fire was put out and the bed was closed up so that he could no longer use it. I suspect this last translates to your house-servants tucking in the covers so completely that Legolas was helpless to pry them loose, much less crawl beneath them. He feels he has been officially banished."

"Stars above." Laughter teased the corner of Elrond's mouth. "Did you explain that the servants stole nothing? That they were merely cleaning? Helping?"

"Of course I did, but Legolas doesn't believe me. To his way of thinking, intruders came into the chamber without his Mith's permission and stole his things. 'Didn't come when Mith was there,' Legolas pointed out, and quite rightly, too."

"No..." Elrond said thoughtfully, "they didn't come then, nor would they, for Mithrandir has always guarded his privacy fiercely. More than that, he knows to place the things he wishes cleaned outside the door to show that he is in residence. Once the wizard was gone, the servants must have thought they were to care for Legolas exactly as they care for any other guest here in Imladris. I didn't think it necessary to warn them not to disturb him."

"How could you know to warn them?" I asked. "All of us are learning exactly what disturbs the child." Settling next to Elrond on the stone wall, I folded my arms and basked in the sunlit morning. "They didn't get his boots, though, and that seems to please him. Boots appear to be very important."

Elrond shook his head in dismay. "I sent that child off to bed last night with a brief hug and a promise of seeing him in the morning. *This* morning, for lessons. I take it that he snuck out in the night?"

I nodded. "Fairly early in the night. Legolas obviously felt that he needed to find somewhere else to sleep. I believe that the stables were his first choice, but it seems he took a slight detour on his way to the rafters."

"The... rafters?"

"His bed of choice. 'Like a tree,'" I mimicked the child and couldn't help but grin at the horror that filled Elrond's eyes with that bit of news.

"That is unacceptable, not to mention unsafe," he finally got out, past his disapproving glower.

"I pointed this out to Legolas. But aren't you interested in hearing what detoured him?"

The Lord of Imladris considered for a moment. "Let me guess. A horse or two?"

"One horse. And the worst possible choice imaginable."

Elrond's gaze went wide. "Glorfindel, no. What did Naur... is Legolas--" He turned toward the cottage door as though he might storm it to inspect Legolas's injuries before I could explain.

"A grazing bite," I said quickly, "he is only slightly wounded. I entered the stable in time to see the child launch himself from the wall of Naur's stall just as the stallion closed his jaw around Legolas's shoulder."

"That horse bit him, and you're telling me it was but a grazing blow?"

I nodded. "I inspected the wound last night. You will want to do so this morning, but getting the child to show his shoulder is somewhat of a struggle. If you ask nicely, he may adjust his tunic enough for you to see the shoulder--and only the shoulder."

"What damage was done?" Elrond growled.

"The skin was not broken, but I fear Legolas will not be able to raise his arm or use it properly for a few days."

"I shall have to see this for myself." The Elf-lord looked as skeptical as he sounded. "Did you treat this wound already?"

"Ah, no. Fear of the 'burning stuff' made that quite impossible without sitting on him first, and I felt it better not to enter into physical confrontations in these early days."

"Burning stuff?" Elrond snapped. "No, don't bother." He cut off my efforts to explain this latest Legolas vocabularic mystery. "I shall have to find a way to treat this myself, then. In the meantime, thank you for letting me know he is safely in your care. May I expect him later for lessons?"

I nodded. "I shall deliver him to your library doors as soon as breakfast is completed."

Elrond nodded his satisfaction. "It is becoming plain to me that Legolas will need the care and attention of more than just myself. Thank you, Glorfindel, for volunteering to not only teach him but evidently to room with him in Mithrandir's absence."

I laughed outright. "If the Lord of Imladris expects me to sputter and howl at this sudden assignment, he's bound for disappointment. I've already made it plain to you that I would enjoy nothing more than having Legolas as an archery apprentice, and I will welcome his company as well."

Arching an elegant eyebrow, Elrond commented just loudly enough for me to hear over the running water. "Miracles happen." A heavy hand descended on my shoulder, and this time the Elf-lord's smile was sincere. "You're helping to ease a burden that's weighed heavy on my mind since Mithrandir departed, my friend. I'll look forward to seeing Legolas a bit later."

I felt a deep satisfaction watching Elrond depart down my path. No only had I won Legolas as an apprentice, I'd also arranged for him to stay safey tucked away in my cottage, away from prying courtier eyes and dangerous rafters. Surely the child would be happier with me than staying in a musty old, empty chamber devoid of the wizard of his heart?

Making my way down the path once Elrond was safely out of sight and earshot, I returned to my cottage. Opening the front door, I called out, "Elrond is gone, Legolas. It's safe to come out now."

He didn't answer me, nor did I hear any scrambling from behind the closed wooden door leading into my bedchamber. Opening it slowly, carefully, I expected to see an empty room with an innocent, soiled pile of clothing. Nothing in Imladris could have prepared me for the scene awaiting me.

Whipping around, Legolas stared up at me from where he knelt in the middle of my bed. His hair flew at the gesture, and one golden strand stuck enthusiastically to his chin. Other strands of hair appeared to be sticking together as well.

I may have saved the milk earlier from pouring out into the bed, but it seemed that Legolas had emerged from his nest of clothes in my absence to attempt making another honey sandwich. He had tipped over the honey pot, which sat between his knees. Its contents were spread over his legs, what remained of the apples, and a good portion of the bedclothes. His hands were frozen in the act of attempting to scoop up the sticky, flowing substance and pour it back into the pot.

"I spilled," he whispered, blue eyes wide. Forlornly, he stared down at his dripping fingers.

"You did, indeed," I managed, forcing back my laughter at the picture he presented. Going to sit on the edge of the bed, I reached out to smooth down the honey-laden hair only to think better of it. Best to leave it where it lay.

Legolas scraped his fingers against the pot. "I try and try, but it won't go back. No more honey."

"I don't think we want it to go back," I said, observing the detritus floating in the mess that oozed across the bed. "And there is always more honey here in Imladris," I contradicted gently.

"How can be more?" he demanded, experimentally sticking his fingers together only to force them apart.

"I'll explain on our way to the baths." Boldly scooping him up, I hoped that he had enough confidence in me not to kick as I set him on the floor. It seemed so, as he went quietly - or perhaps he was simply distracted by the accident and its aftermath. Handing him the honey pot, I said, "Wait a moment while I clean this up."

"You're not mad?" he asked as I bundled the bedclothes tightly together and tossed them aside.

"I'm not mad. As you said, it was an accident and no real harm has been done."

"Bed all ruined."

"I'll make repairs later."

"Honey all ruined." He tilted his honey pot at an awkward angle, as if trying to discern if any honey was left to come out. It was. It started dripping onto my floor.

"Here now, don't do that." Scooping him into my arms once more, I settled him against my hip, righted the ceramic pot, and wrapped his fingers securely around it. "Hold it, just so."

"You're all sticky now," he announced, waving in protest as my longer hair glued itself to his.

"I am, indeed. We both need a bath before I deliver you to Lord Elrond for lessons."

His eyes grew wide with alarm. "Will he be mad at me?"

"About the honey?" I shook my head. "Elrond is looking forward to teaching you this morning. I'm to start teaching you archery this afternoon, and we won't tell Elrond about the honey."

He grinned at me then, a lopsided, toothless grin that warmed my heart to see it. A small arm stole around my neck, pulling out hairs as my mane followed the stickiness. I endured the discomfort and grinned back. Had Legolas's gesture snatched me bald, I'd still not have protested. To feel this little boy's warm, if altogether too sticky, body settling comfortably against me was the greatest gift the Valar could have bestowed upon me -this moment was better than being reimbodied and returned to Middle-earth. But then again, had I not been reimbodied, I could not be experiencing Legolas's sweet affection and companionship this fine morning.

"We won't tell," Legolas agreed. I had the feeling that the secret had somehow worked the magic of cementing a friendship with this strange child. Legolas's eyes widened into mine in sudden realization. "You said... I'm gonna learn bows and arrows?"

"Would you like that?"

"Uh-huh." His blue eyes shown in anticipation.

"Then I shall teach you. But first, we must clean ourselves up so that we're presentable for lessons with Elrond."

"Are you gonna have lessons, too?"

"I have other errands to attend." I tried to look regretful.

"Like what?" he asked, forever suspicious.

"For one thing, I must obtain a bow and arrows with which to teach you."

"Oh!" He seemed to approve of that mission.

"I'll see you at mid-day meal," I further reassured my small apprentice, "after which you shall have our first archery lesson. How does that sound to you?"

"That's fine," Legolas pronounced, with all the solemnity befitting nobility. Clutching his honey pot closer, he asked, "Can we have more honey at mid-day? An' some apples? I didn't get enough."

I laughed outright at that. "I suppose you didn't. Should we stop by the kitchen and get another honey sandwich for you now?"

"Can't. Is late." His eyes fell on my robes, which were as sullied as his small tunic. "Have enough now. Can have more later."

My elfling was as imperious as he was wise. I felt guilty for sending him to Elrond on a half-empty stomach, but Legolas seemed to have his priorities in order, even at such an early age. Such an attitude would serve him in good stead if he continued apprenticing with me in the years to come. Not since my early days in Gondolin had I been so close to a child; never before had I been so determined to apprentice one to me. Even before meeting Legolas, I had been missing him. I was also greatly looking forward to teaching him.


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