Esendri wandered into the stables. He already knew which horses to choose for the journey. His master's steed would be a beautiful black mare. She was powerful and sleek, her black coat gleamed in the starlight that lit up the place. She whinnied as Esendri walked up to her.
The Elf picked up a brush, and started to stroke her with broad, strong movements. He teased her at the neck with his other hand, using his fingers to rub her up and down. He sang softly to her, a song about open meadows and fields.
"Nardawin, A favour is needed. Master Legolas asks for a ride to Imladris. Would you consent to bear him?" Elves knew that horses could never be tamed. Favours were asked, and they would never take a command. It was the way things were, for Elves and Men were not superior to other beasts. Instead, they existed as parts of a whole, and needed each other. Respect was vital in the relationship between them, a point that Men had yet to learn.
Nardawin rubbed her head affectionately against Esendri. She was Legolas' personal steed. Swift as the wind and more nimble than most stallions, she loved her master fiercely.
He cuddled her gently, and laughed as she nibbled on his hair affectionately in return. Her eyes were intelligent and understanding as he spoke soft words to her, and they glimmered with appreciation as Esendri fed her an apple.
He gave her a thorough run-down before leaving, and slipped into the adjacent stall.
The chestnut stallion snorted with delight upon seeing his master, and pawed the ground impatiently. Esendri beamed as he watched the horse flare its nostrils in delight, and was almost knocked over by the enthusiastic welcome. Lindral head-butted him affectionately, before allowing himself to be tickled under the chin.
Esendri placed an arm across the horse, pulling him close for a hug. He rubbed his cheek against the silky fur, laughing, as the mane tickled his face.
A soft cooing was heard in the stable next to him, and Nardawin's delighted whining filled the air.
Abandoning his own steed for a moment, he peered into the adjacent stall. He was greeted with the sight of Legolas being pressed against the stable wall by the over-affectionate mare. Legolas was laughing, while trying to free himself, pushing, without much avail, at the excited mare who had pinned him down against the wall.
"Indeed, tithen ernil, you have a way with females, do you not?"
"Do not be jealous, my friend. It is not your fault that you were born with jug-like ears!" the prince said in between struggling to work himself out from beneath the mare's strong affections.
Esendri turned back to Lindral, and fed him a handful of oats out of his pocket.
"Did you not find the Orcs?" he said as he stroked and groomed his stallion.
Legolas, having managed to writhe free of the mare, had been murmuring to her softly, and looked up at Esendri for a moment before speaking.
"Yes indeed. It was as I had suspected. The creature moved in through the trees. Leaves wilted and branches snapped where it had passed, destroying all that it came into contact with its cursed touch."
Esendri listened quietly, and waited for his master to continue for he was sure there would be more.
His patience was rewarded as Legolas started to speak again, "It did so to test me. I thought I felt its presence, but I am not sure."
"Caeriel followed me from my house. I had thought it was you initially, but it seems I have placed too much confidence in your concern for me!"
Esendri finished grooming his horse, and readied it for the journey ahead. Speaking soothingly, he opened the stable doors, leading the way, with Legolas following.
"So it is my fault, as I failed to protect you again!" Esendri exclaimed.
"Ai!" retorted Legolas.
Light was creeping back into Middle-Earth and the slumbering world started to reawaken. The two young Elves strolled through the grounds of the palace with their horses, enjoying their last moments within its safe confines, making their way to the front of the palace, where they would meet with their travelling companion.
"Perhaps so! Yet, you have not finished your story, and I am eager to hear more!" Esendri said.
"Do not hurry me! I followed Caeriel through the trees, away from the place. She told me then that our people have come to hear of the threat. My father cannot keep it hidden for any longer."
"She knows we are leaving?"
"Yes." Legolas let the sentence drift off as he recalled the words he had exchanged with the fair maiden.
Esendri did not probe further. His Master would tell him more if he wanted to.
"Then it is ever more exigent that we ride out to meet the Lord Elrond, for I feel an expectancy in the air. Something evil is about to strike. Misfortune is about to befall Greenwood."
"Indeed, Esendri. I feel it also. The trees whisper of nameless fears that they cannot describe. The creature is merely biding his time."
"You should be glad then that you will be returning to Imladris," Esendri said, attempting to probe his master for more information on the close relationship the Silvan prince shared with the Home of the half-Elven.
"It will be good to see Lord Elrond again."
"And the twins?" Esendri was not about to be deterred.
"'Twould be good to see them too, for it has been years since our last parting."
"And you have been in touch with them since your brother left?"
Legolas frowned at the edge in his voice. "Of course! Elrohir and Elladan are good friends of mine!"
Esendri was about to say that Caeriel and Lithroleah too were good friends, but thought the better of it.
"They have been supportive even from such a great distance." Legolas smiled, excited at the thought of seeing them again.
"That is good to know," Esendri could not help but feel put out.
"What is wrong, Sen?"
"You have been corresponding with them regularly?"
"I always have! And it is something you knew all along! What is the matter with you?"
"Nothing," Esendri muttered.
The arrival of Glorfindel halted the exchange.
"Good morning, my young friends. I hope you slept well, for the journey will be long and difficult."
Before either could reply, Thranduil emerged from the shadows.
"Adar!" Legolas exclaimed, surprised, not expecting his presence.
The other two bowed to the King.
Thranduil nodded his head curtly. There was tension on his face and his features were strained.
"Did you manage to explore the clearing?" he asked Legolas.
"Yes, father. I made my way there after leaving your chambers. It was as I expected. The creature carried the bodies of the Orcs through the trees. Its motivations for doing so yet are unclear." Doubt and uncertainty crept into his voice as he addressed his father.
Esendri tried to suppress a smile. The King had not asked if his son had taken matters into his own hands. It was a foregone conclusion that Legolas would take a look for himself.
"Our people have started to question this watchful peace. We can no longer hide the danger from them. Perhaps you should summon your council and discuss it openly with them. Even Milinral should be consulted."
"Perhaps. However, dawn is starting to break, and you should be on your way."
The three Elves agreed and mounted their horses. All rode bareback in the manner of Elves. Thranduil unexpectedly as he surveyed the two younger Elves, their faces lit up with trepidation. He saw the determination in his son, the devotion in his servant, and was enveloped by a fatherly longing and wistfulness.
A look of concern passed through his face. "The journey will not be easy. Stay alert for trouble, and do not go looking for it. Lord Elrond would protect you once you are within his borders, but be on the lookout before that!"
Legolas smiled in spite of himself. His father, the perpetual worrier.
The riders bode the King a final farewell before starting on their way. The King kept his eyes fixed on them as they passed through the palace grounds and disappeared into the forest. His son's words reverberated in his mind. Perhaps the time had come to let the people know.
Had he not been so preoccupied, he would have noted the soft rustle of trees as two figures slipped stealthily away.
***** Sindarin Translation: tithen ernil - little prince adar - father
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