4. Lord of the Wild Horses
Only a few disturbed birds wheeling in the distance remanined to mark the passage of the Sun Stallion. Legolas felt a light touch on his shoulder, then heard a clear whistle behind him.
A small mare as red as new copper trotted to the Rhawiath gate, she wore one of the sturdy saddles of the Eotheod, and a bridle of braided leather and horsehair. She was short enough for Legolas to easily reach her withers, but light and long of leg. Swift looking, like Gilion's greyhounds.
The girl moved past him, swung up on the mare and held a hand down to him. "Come."
He did not need her hand to swing up behind her, but he took it anyway; for the look on her face was not one of pity for a small boy, but one of understanding. From one horseman to another.
In silence they rode out from the Elf-camp, toward the open plain. Quiet voices and firecrackle came from the camp behind them, Legolas could see eyes turned in his direction, but none of his folk called out. He knew a few would still be watching him when he was a league away, or five. And Sul would probably follow, though he would never see her. Before him, the herd of the Eotheod moved slowly toward a tree-shaded creek, a scattering of Riders circling it, reins loose on their horses necks, turned in the saddles calling to each other in cheerful voices, or nibbling on cheese and dried fruit. One sang a loud song, in a voice only a little more pleasant than a raven's.
Legolas almost smiled.
"I have not told you my name." the girl said.
She did not say that he had heard it around the fire, several times, when his mind had been running with a golden stallion. He strained his memory for the strange-sounding name and could not find it.
"I guess I haven't told you mine either." he said.
"I am Elfhild, this fine chestnut mare is Lihtfota."
"Elfhild? That's a good name. But what does Ligghht...Litt..."
"Lihtfota." she said gently. "Lightfoot in the Common tongue, for she is swift and light."
"She is beautiful."
"What does Legolas mean?"
Ai, she had remembered the introductions better than one trained to pay attention to such things. He was glad she couldn't see his face right now. "Greenleaf." he said, wondering if it would sound silly to a girl of the Eotheod.
"A good name for one who lives in the woods."
He felt the little copper mare's haunches shift under him, her step change as they eased into a light floating canter. The herd in its cloud of golden morning dust flowed by to the east. Legolas swept his eyes over them, silver grey and golden dun, red chestnut and earth brown, bays like rich polished wood with manes of night. He scanned the herd again. Something tickled at his memory, blurred for days by polished gold.
Ahhhh, the painted horses were gone. Nowhere to be seen, and he thought he remembered a black as well.
Lihtfota swept by the herd on its slow journey to morning water. Up one rolling rise and down another. Legolas turned on Lihtfota's rump and the bright tents of the camp were gone, he could only see the tops of the trees.
"Where are we going?" his voice edged with growing excitement, and uncertainty.
"You'll see." was all Elfhild would say.
Through a thin line of trees, and along a meandering stream, twisitng back on itself till its loops nearly touched. A light floating leap across, past a hill with a ring of rocks, up a rise, then;
"Elo!" Legolas breathed. Below them in a sheltered hollow grazed a band of two dozen horses, foals and yearlings; polished bays and red-gold chestnuts and the painted mares and one black.
"I've watched them for days." Elfhild said, "The ones that no rider could catch, not the swift riders of Mirkwood, or my own folk. Their leader was too wily."
The memory returned, as if it were happening before his eyes; a golden horse dancing before the riders, teasing them on, while his mares ran ahead, dodging to left and right, down hidden paths behind the wise old ones, and escaping. "These are the mares of the Sun Stallion." he whispered.
"Yes. He helped them escape, he drives off other stallions and wolves and wargs, he sires their foals, but he is not the wise leader I speak of. That is the red and white mare at the front of the herd. See how she watches us?"
"She's old, old and wise. And she's taught her offspring well."
"Finer than any we have caught." Elfhild agreed. "See that tall bay? My sister would like her. And the red-gold one, with the silver mane, my brother lost his best mare in an orc-raid last winter, and ohhhhh...the tall painted mare like a gold and silver map of the world!"
"You have a fast horse."
"My cousin has need of a good horse, and Lihtfota will go to her when I find a new one. She is small still, but my legs are already too long on Lihtfota."
It was true then, these children of the Edain did grow as fast as foals.
They sat in silence, soaking in the wonder of it. The red and white mare dropped her head and began to graze, but another lifted hers, and continued watching.
"They are not really afraid of me anymore. But they will not let me get any closer." Elfhild said. "I wish I could talk to them."
Legolas shifted uneasily on Lihtfota's rump. He had not had much luck talking to horses lately. Especially wild ones. He focused on the mare watching him; the one black he had seen before, broad-chested, well-muscled and straight of leg, with a keen knowing eye and one white star, like Earendil's, in the middle of her forehead.
Listen. He heard Adda say.
Lihtfota dropped her head and grazed, the rythm of her munching matching the rhythm of the horses but a few galloping strides away. Elfhild sat easily, turned slightly in the saddle, a leg across her horse's neck. Legolas turned sideways, as if on a soft couch back home.
Watching the black mare, listening.
Who are you, Little One?
No one important.
You smell like the one who chased us days ago. The One who took the Sun Stallion. You smell like the Sun Stallion too. What have you done with him?
I thought I could ride him, but I am only a silly colt. I opened the gate. I guess he will return to you.
The black mare shifted her stance, cocked her head. It seemed like she was laughing. It seemed like she could see far more than Legolas opening the gate.
Come here, Little One. You do not look dangerous.
Legolas slid off Lihtfota's red rump and landed in the deep grass with no sound. He walked toward the herd. Behind him Lihtfota lifted her head for a moment, then grazed on. He heard Elfhild breath in in surprise. Several other mares in the herd lifted their heads, watching in silence.
He came and stood before the Black Mare. She lowered her head and snuffled at his hair, his tunic, unchanged for days, full of the scent of carried hay and corral dust and moved manure.
Why did you want to ride the Sun Stallion?
To feel the wind and the power and the thunder of hooves. To make that power my own. Legolas looked into deep wise eyes, eyes with fewer years than Elfhild, but eyes which had seen much. Suddenly all that about wind and power and thundering hooves seemed a terribly foolish thing to say.
I'm small, he's large and strong and fast. And beautiful. He felt the tears sting at the back of his eyes again.
The Black Mare felt it too, he knew. She nuzzled his hair and wrapped him in the warm embrace of her neck. You are wiser than some colts. Wiser than many.
He leaned against the warm silky shoulder, face pressed into her neck, feeling her gentle wisdom, and her strength, like mountains, like the broad wings of an eagle.
From the edge of the herd came a snort, like a great horn blown. Legolas felt the mares shift around him, heard the muted thud of hooves on the grass. He lifted his head. There was a sound of faint thunder, far off in the direction he had come. He followed the gaze of the mares, and saw the golden flash of Sun.
Elfhild stood on her mare's saddle, "What is it?" she called to the boy.
"The Stallion's returning." his heart was in his throat, he knew not whether to flee, or stay. To catch another glimpse of the Stallion, or to leave it as it was, an untoucheable dream. The Black Mare stood, blocking him, shielding him, like a colt of her own.
The flash of gold grew, the Sun Stallion thundered up, tossing his head, snaking it low with flattened ears as he circled his herd, making sure none were missing. He ignored the girl on the red mare, still as stone. He did not see the rope in her hand, hidden along the side of her mare.
He did see the Elf-child at the shoulder of the black Mare. He snorted, snaked his head, half-reared in front of the Black. She flattened her ears, and struck at him. Keep your place! She snapped.
He backed up, stood still, staring at Legolas. Why are you here?
I came to look on the beauty of the herd.
You came to steal my mares, colt?
No. I am no Lord of Wild Horses, as you are.
The Stallion regarded him with honey colored eyes, glowing almost like fire in the hot sun. Behind him, Lihtfota moved forward.
Legolas saw it. "Daro!" he shouted. Then "No! Stop!"
Elfhild pulled up, lowered her rope. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." he stayed at the Black Mare's shoulder, and she stood yet between him and the Stallion.
The Sun Stallion flicked an ear toward Elfhild, but did not deign to look at her. He kept his gaze on Legolas. A long, hard gaze, like an eagle's. It struck straight through to the place where Legola felt very small and stupid. Then he heard the stallion's thought; No, I think you did not come to steal my mares. You could have kept me in your little pen of sticks, but you did not. And maybe your friend could have roped some of my colts, but she did not. You have the honor of a Lord, even though you are only a colt. He dropped his head, looking the Elf-child straight in the eye.
Legolas heard it as clear as if he had shouted it; If any will follow you, they may.
The great golden horse turned and circled his herd once, whickering to them, then he trotted up a low rise, where he could watch out over the land, and dropped his head to graze.
Legolas stood, eyes wide, breathing as if he had just run for forty leagues and five. He looked up at Elfhild sitting on the red mare, ten strides away. "What was that all about?" she said, eyes wider than his own.
"We should go now." he said softly. He wrapped his arms around the Black Mare's neck, then trotted to Lihtfota, and swung up on her rump. He cast a last long look at the golden horse grazing on the hill, then at the beautiful mares in the hollow. They all watched him with deep, wise eyes.
Lihtfota turned and swung into a long reaching walk, back toward the camp. Elfhild turned for one last look. Legolas saw the longing look on her face change to puzzlement. "Four there are who follow us." she said.
He nodded, he knew without looking; a tall bay, a red-gold mare with silver mane, and Elfhild's painted mare of gold and silver, like a map of the world.
And the Black Mare with the single star, like Earendil's.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.