I stood still and listened to Lord Elrond's footfalls moving away from the room. At least, I tried to. I imagined them moving away, as he moved so quietly there was certainly nothing to hear. Once I counted him having moved far enough away, I went to the wardrobe in the corner of the room.
"Legolas? Elrond is gone. You can come out now."
The wardrobe, thusly addressed, did not respond. Leaning over, I opened the door and found, as I had expected, one thoroughly demoralized child curled up on the floor beside his extra pair of boots. Kneeling beside my little leaf, I was careful not to touch him. As nervous as he was, it would not do to reawaken old wounds if they were raw.
"Would you like to come out of there?"
The eyes looking up at me were sad and full of resignation. "Are you angry with me too?"
"No, little leaf. I am not angry with you. Can't you at least say hello to me? I was too long away, and have missed you so very much."
That was all the invitation it took. A small body launched itself out of its hiding place and into my arms, with Legolas' own thin arms wrapped tightly about my neck.
"Mith," he murmured into my beard, sounding for all the worlds as though something desperately missed had been restored. Sitting on the stone floor, I held him close, let him cling and shiver and sniffle for as long as he wanted to. It seemed to have been a long six months for him without me.
Finally the tight embrace relaxed somewhat, and the fingers clenched in my robe started to ease their fierce grip. I held him for another moment, then lifted him away from me the better to see his face.
"Little leaf, what has been going on here?"
Legolas looked away. In the next instant, he backed a step away from me. Reaching behind him, I pushed closed the wardrobe door, lest he bolt again into that tiny sanctuary.
"Come here, my leaf. Sit with me and tell what has happened in my absence."
I tried to sound calm and reassuring, but he still didn't want to look at me. It wasn't only that Legolas was silently refusing my offer to join me. Looking about the room itself, I discovered there was no possible place except the floor where we could sit together. As for Legolas, he was stealing glances from behind his tangled hair to visually examine the room as I did.
"How are we going to sleep here tonight?" I asked with great amusement, picking myself up off of the floor. "We'll be poked and tickled unmercifully."
"I didn't know you were coming back tonight. I'd have cleared all this away if somebody had told me." He scuffed guiltily at some feather scraps on the floor, then sidled past me to snatch up a handful of finished arrows tossed onto the bed.
I intercepted him as he tried to relocate them, catching him by the shoulders to stop his constant, anxiety-driven motion. "Leaf, leave it. Come here, sit down, and talk to me."
I settled on the bed with my back to the headboard and waited. He scraped a handful of feathers off of the table and stood uncertainly, staring at them, then at the window, then at the floor…looking anywhere other than the bed where I sat.
"Come here. Sit." It was no longer a request but an order.
I patted the bed beside me, and waited expectantly. Slowly, my little leaf dragged over to the bed. I relieved him of his handful of ragged feathers, not wishing any more to find their way into the sheets. I then tugged gently on an elbow to encourage him to climb up.
He settled away from me, but it was an easy matter to get my arm around him and pull him close against my side. He truly was thin, I noted. With bony little shoulders and elbows, for all that I thought he might have grown an inch or two in my absence. I hoped, anyway.
"'Las, what is it? Elrond has told me what he knows, but it makes no sense to me. Could you tell me what's happened here?"
A shrug. Silence. He picked at the coverlet on the bed.
"Can you at least tell me why you're running away from Elrond? He can't tell me because he doesn't know, either."
That got his attention. My leaf's head snapped up, and his expression of shock was almost comical. "He doesn't know?"
"He says he does not."
"But he told me to!" The exasperation in his protest nearly undid me.
"Elrond told you to run from him?"
"Tell me exactly what he said."
"He said he was too angry to look at me anymore, and to get out of his sight. I'm trying to stay out of his sight. I really try, but Mith, some days he makes it so hard."
"Ah, I see. Hmmm…" I looked down at him, cradled so trustingly against my side. "I can see how you'd believe that. But on those days when Elrond makes it hard for you to hide, he's really trying to talk to you."
My Elfling may be silent most of the time, but his eyes are eloquent. Those eyes informed me that I was being unbelievably stupid if I believed this.
"Elrond didn't mean for always, 'Las. Probably just for the day, while he was so angry."
"He's still angry. He'll always be angry." He drew his knees up under his chin and bowed his head, hiding his expression behind both knees and a silvery curtain of hair. "I've ruined everything, Mith. He's probably going to send me away. Send me back, now that you're here."
The voice might have been muffled, but the anguish still reached me clearly.
"Do you know why he's angry?"
There was no doubting the sincerity of that statement. I imagine my leaf had been told in vivid detail why Elrond was angry. All but one important detail.
"He says you bred his mare to your stallion. Did you do that?"
Legolas stiffened beside me, but offered no response. I tightened my arm round his shoulders and pulling him hard against me to hold him even closer.
"Did you?" I pressed.
"Yes," came from within bony knees and arms.
"Why did you do that?"
An uncomfortable, reluctant wiggle. "I had to."
"Why did you feel you had to?"
"I don't know." The answer had the aggravated, rote quality of something recited many times. "I just had to."
"Come out of there." I pulled his arms away from his face. "Talk to me, not your leggings."
The tear-streaked face reluctantly came into view, and I asked again. "Why did you feel you had to?"
"It just felt like something really bad would happen if I didn't."
That was different, and made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. "Explain this feeling to me. What did it feel like?"
"It was something big and dark and scary in my mind. Like something terrible was going to happen, something awful. Really awful. And it made my head hurt and my chest ache all of the time. And I was afraid. Every time I thought about Wilwaren being bred to Ross, it came back."
"That sounds quite serious. So what made you decide to breed her to Fuin?"
"I didn't decide. I just saw him going in with her, and then the feeling went away. I knew it was wrong, so I ignored it, and then my head hurt even worse and I couldn't breathe. The only time the feeling went away was when I thought about her being bred to Fuin. So I figured I had to find a way to let them, so it would go away for good."
I considered that for a moment. "You didn't want the foal?"
"No! I didn't want to do it at all. I felt sick, thinking about going against Lord Elrond, but it was better than not doing it."
"So you decided to breed Wilwaren to your stallion."
"No, I had to," he repeated sadly.
"Did you consider talking to Lord Elrond first?"
"I tried, but he...he didn't like the idea."
"Now there's a tactful reply. I can imagine how much he didn't like the idea."
One eye canted toward me in a sidewise glance as if Legolas were wondering if I really knew how much Elrond had disliked the idea. Smiling, I ran a hand down over his hair--which needed a good comb out, as usual. I repeated the gesture as my little leaf relaxed slightly under my touch.
"So you decided you had to do this," I summarized. "How did you manage it?"
"That part was easy. I waited until late when no one was at the stable. Then I called Fuin, and we went to Wilwaren's paddock, and I opened the gate and he went in. I was afraid he'd…" A shrug, and Legolas stared at his fingers in his lap. "I was scared he'd make those noises, and somebody would come, but the two of them didn't play for more than a minute before they…they did that."
Is that a blush? I wondered. So it's no longer the mechanics of horse breeding, it's become sex? My Elfling is growing up. Fighting back the smile, I nodded with appropriate seriousness. "And what happened after they did...that?"
"It went away. Just that fast." He looked up at me. "The bad feelings and the headache and all of it just went away. I put Fuin back into the Black Paddock and came back up here. Nobody saw me and nobody knew, but it stopped. Then I was just scared because of what I'd done, not that something awful would happen. Well, it did, but just to me."
I had to hug him. He seemed to welcome my embrace this time, reassured somewhat by my listening to his tale.
"Has this feeling ever come back?"
"Only once, when Lord Elrond told Glorfindel to have the foal gelded and sold. It came back all at once, then. Really hard."
"Was that when you struck the deal with Elrond to buy the colt?"
My leaf nodded.
"All of the bad feelings went away for good after that?"
Again he nodded. "I didn't want to buy him, but it's important that he stay a stallion. I don't know why, but it is."
"Leaf, look at me." Worried eyes turned toward me, and he visibly braced for my next words. "I think what you experienced was foresight. I think it was a true sending from the Valar."
Suspicious blue eyes suddenly went round in surprise. "You do?"
"I certainly do. Think about it. You didn't want to do this, did you?"
"You didn't have any interest in the breeding, did you?"
"I don't care what Elrond breeds to what. I mean, why should I?"
"You didn't want the foal?"
"No. I still don't, and he's mine!"
"You knew you'd get in the most severe trouble of your young life, should what you did be discovered."
"I knew. And I knew it'd be black as soon as those two mated. I knew. And I knew I was going to get thrown out of Imladris for it, too."
"No, 'Las. Elrond won't ever throw you out. But he was very angry, wasn't he?"
Legolas nodded. "Very angry. VERY angry."
"So why would you do something you didn't want to do, when the results would be so awful for you?"
"Because I had to." He sounded stubborn, but I knew this wasn't Legolas' usual obstinacy at work.
"Exactly. I believe you answered the demands of foresight."
"Oh." He thought about that for a moment. "Then what I did wasn't entirely bad?"
"I don't think so. And I'll tell Lord Elrond so, as well."
The openness vanished as I brought up the name of the Infuriated One again. Legolas didn't pull away, but he went back to staring at his hands.
"My leaf, has anyone told you why Elrond hates black horses so?"
"No. And I wish someone would. What's wrong with being a black horse? They're still good horses, and it's not their fault they won't go white."
"Have you heard of Lady Celebrian?"
"Lord Elrond's wife."
"That's right. And the mother of Arwen and the twins. She was a beautiful lady, gentle and kind. You would have liked her."
"Is she dead?"
"No, she's not dead, for which we are all thankful."
"But she's not here. If she's not dead, why isn't she here?"
She was traveling from Lothlorien - that's south of Mirkwood, in the same forest - and she was coming back here after visiting her mother, who lives in Lothlorien. But on the way back her traveling party was attacked by orcs, and she was taken."
"Taken by the orcs?"
"Yes, my little leaf. Elladan and Elrohir went after her as soon as they realized she was missing. They caught up with the orcs, and they rescued their mother, but she was badly hurt. In her soul as well as physically. Elrond was able to heal the hurts of her body, but she no longer loved Middle-earth. After only one turn more of the seasons, she sailed to the Undying Lands."
Legolas thought about that. "Lord Elrond must be very sad. That's why he's lonely all the time, isn't it?"
"Wise child," I smiled, ruffling the silvery hair. "He is lonely. He loves her and he misses her, but he'll join her there one day, so they won't be apart forever."
"Good. Then his eyes won't be sad all the time. But what has this got to do with black horses?"
"Ah, yes. The point of the story. The first Elrond knew about his wife's capture was when her horse arrived in Imladris with blood smeared on its shoulder. It wasn't the gelding's blood, and Elrond feared then that Celebrian had come off her horse. If her horse had not let her fall, the orcs might not have caught her."
"That was a bad horse. A horse should have more heart than that."
"I agree. But hers did not. It let her fall. And the horse that let her fall was black. So when Elrond looks at a black horse, he remembers anew the loss of his wife and all his pain."
My little Elf was silent for a long time. Finally he pushed the hair away from his face and looked up to me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt him. I'd make them some other color if I could."
"I know you didn't, and I know you would. We'll deal with it the best we can, but I hope you can forgive Elrond a little for his anger now that you know some of it was from past hurts."
"I can. But it still isn't going to make him like me."
"We'll sort things out, and all will be well again. You'll see. I'll talk to Elrond and explain what you couldn't, and I think things will come right very quickly after that. Now wash up, and let's go to dinner."
Legolas pulled away at that. "I don't want to go in there. He's still mad, and until he tells me I can come back, I can't go where he is."
My dear, tender-hearted, stubborn, literal little Elf. What was I to do with him, besides love him and smooth his way in life as best I could?
"Very well. I'll bring you something. And I will explain things to Lord Elrond tonight. But tomorrow, 'Las, all three of us will sit down and talk."
"But not now," he insisted, still believing that later was better, evidently.
"Not now," I agreed. "Do you think you could finish up tonight's arrow-making while I'm gone? So we are not sleeping with sharp sticks and a dozen or so birds?"
That won the hint of a smile.
"How many more have you left to make?"
"I've done the five hundred, but I think I should do a hundred more in case Elrond doesn't like some. Only seventy-eight left to go." He seemed quite pleased by that, though I found the thought staggering--no less for his having to live with his assembly efforts for many long days.
"I'm very impressed." I meant it. "You finish up here, and I'll sort things out for you in the hall."
I turned to pull a set of clean robes out of my pack and paused to pick some bits of feather out of my beard where the barbels had hooked in. When I turned back to see what Legolas was doing, he was simply standing at the table, his arms full of arrow shafts while he looked quite lost. I realized my Elfling had quite a lot to absorb tonight, and he'd been distraught for so long.
Setting down my robes, I pulled him into a tight hug, pointy sticks and all.
"You'll crumple the fletching," he protested. Pulling them free of his arms, I plunked them down on the table only to gather him close once more and rocking him slightly. Yes, he was definitely taller; when I'd left, he'd stood below my belt. Now, he was level with it.
"All will come right and it will be well, my little leaf. I'm here now, and nothing bad can happen when I'm beside you. Together, we can handle anything."
He sighed and seemed to exhale weeks of pain with that breath. At last, my Elfling returned my hug as I thought he should, burying himself in my embrace and holding on as if he would never let go. I hoped that, with my return, Legolas again found some measure of relief. I was determined to make sure my talk with Elrond and the coming days provided even more peace for my little leaf.