"My Friend Arod"
"Sedho, sedho, nuitho i 'ruith." came the soft words, sung more than said. Be still, be still, hold your wrath. The grey horse of Rohan scuttled sideways, head high, ears turned back. Legolas held the reins loosely, moving gently with the horse. Mirroring every move, quietly, like a shadow. And listening.
Away! You are not my Rider! Away, away! You are tall, and pale maned, but you smell strange. Not like my Rider. Not like any of the Riders.
I know. I know. Legolas shadowed another spin sideways. I'm not like the one who was there when you were foaled. Who brought you your first grain. The one who placed the first saddle on your strong back. Who guided you safely through dangerous paths. But I mean you no harm.
Arod stopped, ears twitching in surprise.
Legolas stepped to his shoulder. You have never met my kind before, are you surprised that I know your heart?
Arod lowered his head a notch, turned and stared at this strange Rider with one great brown eye. Who are you?
I knew many of your kin, long ago, on the other side of the great Greenwood. Legolas reached out and touched Arod's shoulder. Not gold, not dark night. Etched mithril and steel. And kin to those horses a small boy had loved a moment ago on the stream of time.
The small boy was tall now, taller than the fence of the Rhawiath, a colt no more. He had journeyed in the dark under the Misty Mountains, faced the terror of Durin's Bane, spoken with the Lady of the Wood and recieved her gifts, shot a Nazgul out of the sky. His eyes had seen more now than those of the wise black mare with Earendil's star.
Arod's brown eyes studied the Elf. Who are you, that you wish to command me? Are you a great Lord of your people?
No one important. Legolas answered.
Listen. Adda had said.
Legolas listened. And heard.
Fire and fear and fierce beasts howling, spears like an unyielding dark forest and the hard hurtful ring of swords. The thunder of the herd, and screams of the dying. The sudden shift of weight in the saddle, then nothing. Emptiness.
Legolas' hand slid around the young warhorse's neck. I hear you. It is over. Those fell beasts, the orcs, are destroyed. Your Rider is gone, but I have need of you. Of your speed, your strength, your courage. Not for me, for all of the land, for the black horses taken by the Dark, for the Future King who even now rides your friend, Hasufel, for the Little Folk in their far fields, for my friend Gimli's folk in their mountain halls. It may be a hard road, but it will be a harder world if we do not ride this road. And I will protect you on it, as I may. Will you bear me, and my friend?
One silver ear, tipped in black, flicked forward. Then the other. Arod lowered his head. He turned then and shoved his nose square into the Elf's chest. Legolas smiled, embraced the fine-chiseled head with his arms, and slid the bridle off. The grey horse nuzzled the Elf's hair, pale as the Riders' own, but with a strange scent, like the wind from the faraway forests. He took a slender braid in his teeth and pulled gently. Legolas laughed. He reached under the saddle skirts and undid the girth. Arod snuffled along the lines of the grey cloak, carrying the scents of a strange forest, of wood smoke, of the sweat of a long chase. He gave Legolas another nose-shove. Why was this strange Rider taking off his gear when there there was no stable near, and the other Riders and horses waited impatiently to move on?
We will not need them, mellon nin. You are free to come with me, or not, as you will.
Legolas slid the saddle off, looped the girth and breastplate and bridle over the pommel and handed them to a Rider who stood near. "I need them not." he said quietly.
The Rider stared at him, disbelieving. And watched as the Elf swung up on the grey horse like a cat leaping lightly onto a wall. Murmurs of wonder grew around the circle of Riders, as the fiery little horse that had tossed no few of them turned this way and that, pirouetting like a dancer under the stranger from Mirkwood. Legolas looked up at the nearest Riders and caught their eyes, the wonder in their faces gave way to a few broad, approving grins. He and Arod came and stood beside Gimli, Legolas reached a hand down to him.
The sturdy Dwarf's eyebrows hung over his eyes like dark clouds. "Perhaps I should ride with Aragorn...after all, he has seen fit to keep his saddle."
"With that axe, his horse would surely set you on the ground. I have made an agreement with my friend Arod, that if he suffers your presence, you will give him a thorough rubdown at our next stop."
"And I suppose you will build a ladder so I can reach his back?"
"If necessary, he will sit so you may attend to his needs."
"That I would pay gold to see, a great beast like that sitting like a hunting hound begging at the table.
"Begging is something you are not likely to see him doing."
Two Riders came forward and helped heave the stout, mail-clad Dwarf onto Arod's round rump. He clung to Legolas like one drowning to the side of a boat.
"He will not let you fall, unless you foolishly leap into midair." came the Elf's reassuring voice, tinged with amusement.
"And how would you know? I suppose you've asked him?"
The Dwarf shook his head and did not lighten his grip.
"He says you have all the grace of a large sack of flour, but he can probably manage to keep one of your legs on each side of him."
"Elves." Gimli muttered, and felt his friend's silent laughter. "Still, it is better than trudging after a light-footed Elf and a long-legged Ranger on foot."
"We will make a rider of you yet!"
Beneath them, Arod gave a great snort of disbelief, gathered himself and cantered lightly after Hasufel.