When the girl came to, the forest had changed dramatically. A fine mist hung in the air. The surroundings were still waterlogged, saturated, but bright rays of sunshine bore down, filtered by thin layers of leaves and moisture.
A sudden movement startled her as she struggled to recall the events of the past night.
Two grey eyes set in a small, open face were staring directly at her. Their owner was lean and had reddish-blonde hair, giving him a feisty look. It was worn lose, with ceremonial braids woven into them. She had never seen the likes of this stranger before. His features were odd to her eyes, unlike the Men she had grown accustomed to seeing in the marketplace of Beorn. They were delicate and pointed, and his cheekbones were high. There was also an absence of any facial hair, his face was smooth. He looked very young, like one who had not yet made it into manhood.
Upon closer examination, she saw that he was of a small physique, nimble and quick. He was dressed oddly, in green and brown. The material was plain, but the stitching of the clothes was fine and delicate. He smiled upon seeing the maiden awake, yet did not make any overt movements.
Three horses were grazing on the grass behind the Elf. The black beautiful mare caught her attention. Her fur was gleaming in the light, soft as pure silk. Strong muscles rippled as she moved.
The horses were clearly owned by nobles of some sort. Her stomach lurched. Nobles. They could be related to the Lord Marnor. She fought to keep the panic down. The stranger was still staring at her silently. He did not move a muscle, as if waiting. For what she did not know.
The stranger smiled once more, his face lighting up, this time directing it at something behind her. She whipped around and saw two of his companions walking in her direction, carrying with them flasks. She had not heard their approach, for they moved with such silence and surety in the forest. It unnerved her.
The two hardly paused when they saw her turning to face them. The younger of them smiled at her, and she was immediately struck by his beauty. He was lean but tall, and his lithe figure had a grace that Yuvinel never thought possible. He held his body with a regal air that made her think of royalty and nobility.
His face was fair as the morning sun, and his cheeks were set higher than that of his companion. His eyes were of a deep blue that mirrored the sky and the waters of the river, reminding her of a thousand pleasant things. She stared unabashedly at him, taking in the proud profile, the delicate nose, the beauty of his perfectly-formed lips.
A slight clearing of the throat started her out of her admiration. A faint colour crept into the cheeks of the object of her fascination. His handsome feature darkened as he shot a quick look at the one who coughed.
"You do not happen to be associated with the Lord Marnor, do you?" Yuvinel blurted out. She felt awkward and inadequate, and was suddenly aware of how shabby her clothes were.
"The Lord Marnor?" The fair features clouded over. His voice was low and lyrical, and it brought to mind trees whispering in the wind. It was comforting and soft, although a strange but pleasant accent played on his words.
He turned to look at his companion who had been standing silent behind him all this while. Yuvinel caught a sudden glimpse of his ear. A pointed ear. Elves.
She gasped. Relations between Men and Elves had grown cold in recent years. Only stories and rumour were heard about them. What she knew about the Elder Race was only through songs sung in the village inn.
"Forgive me. I did not know you were one of the first-born!" her voice was shaky and her eyes shone with fascination.
"Do not fret, my lady, for my kind has not walked among men for centuries," the small Elf said.
"What I am concerned with, is how a maiden such as yourself came to be in such a wild part of the world?" the fair Elf added.
"Father!" The events of the past night came crashing back to her in a rush. The wonderment of seeing the Elves had caused her to forget them. She leapt up.
Her arm was grabbed by the strong grip of another. She turned and found herself being swallowed by mesmerizing blue eyes, a look of concern and gentleness that suggested one who cared greatly.
"Evil is afoot in this forest. We came across men with hounds, searching among the trees. They are seeking you."
"Please, I beg you, let me go! They have taken him away!"
The Elf's face darkened. A wave of conflict swept through. Yuvinel felt a shiver run down her spine. She calmed down, however, as confidence returned to his face.
"Fret not, for we will aid you in locating your father."
"Perhaps a meal would give you the sustenance to chase the captors?" the small Elf interrupted.
Yuvinel nodded tentatively, eyes still fixed upon the blonde Elf's face, unsure of what else to do. Drawing courage from the look he gave her, she felt her body stop trembling. It was then that she noted that she was a strange cloak wrapped around her.
The Elf let go of his grip around her wrist. She blushed faintly and pulled the cloak tightly around her. It was so light and fluid that she had not noticed it draped around her initially. The morning air was chilly, and she was suddenly conscious of her tattered clothing.
"Would you care to join us? You have not had a meal for many hours," the small Elf said, trying to dispel her uneasiness.
"I am Esendri, and these are my companions, Legolas and Glorfindel." He motioned to the other two, who nodded politely in acknowledgement.
Legolas turned and spoke to the silent Elf in his own tongue. Yuvinel strained her ears, but his voice was so soft that she could barely make it out. Glorfindel frowned and replied back, a disquiet look flitting pass his face. Yuvinel noted that his raiment was different from the other two. Dressed in silver, his clothes were more ornate and resplendent. Esendri took the maiden's hand. He grinned as he sat her down at the foot of a tree and produced with a flourish an oddly shaped packet. He opened it once sure of her curiosity, beaming.
"Lembas, waybread of the Elves," he explained quietly as the other two continued their conversation. "Eat some, for it would give you strength."
Yuvinel picked up a flaky piece hesitatingly and placed it in her mouth. A taste unlike anything she had ever eaten before filled her mouth. It was strange, yet not unpleasant. She conversed with Esendri while the other two continued their debate. He managed to procure her name, and she of their origins.
The sun had swung high in the sky, and the maiden was anxious to start searching for her father. She spoke her desire to the Elves, who had sat down upon the grass, and were taking swigs out of their intricate flasks.
Legolas agreed and got up. Dusting himself, he walked over to the horses. Speaking quietly to them, he stroked the mane of the mare, cooing softly, and received an affectionate nibble on the ear in return.
"Nardawin has consented to bear you, Lady Yuvinel. However, our kindred do not ride with the saddles that you are accustomed to."
"Your concern is not misplaced, but I have never ridden a horse before." She was unashamed, and a quiet fire burned behind her dark eyes, as if daring the Elf to mock her.
To her relief and surprise, he did not show any sign of contempt. "Then ride with me, for it is a long way to your house."
"There is much to learn from the trees and the good beasts that inhabit a place," Esendri said, seeing the questions in her eyes.
Glorfindel stood up abruptly and walked over to the horses. His horse was larger than the other two, and had little bells running down its flanks. They tinkered as the horse moved towards his master, and the maiden noted with delight that they did not sound as ordinary bells, bringing to mind the rustling of falling leaves on an autumn's day.
"Come! We will begin our journey!" Glorfindel called and leapt up deftly on top of his horse. The stallion did not fidget, and seemed to read his master's mind and will. No words needed to be spoken, and Yuvinel wondered anew.
Legolas offered her his hand, and indicated to her that she mount his horse.
She blushed suddenly, remembering something. "Wouldn't it be inappropriate?"
All three Elves turned and looked at her, genuinely puzzled. They could not understand her reservation at riding with Legolas. He frowned and thought for a while.
"Inappropriate? I think not, Lady! Nardawin has given her consent! Worry not! She can easily bear the extra burden!"
Yuvinel laughed. Elves were so different from humans. Sensing no malice or threat in them, she consented willingly.
Aided by Legolas, the maiden swung herself onto Nardawin. Years of working with her father in the forest had given her some skill in movement. Once atop the horse, she marvelled at how still the beast kept. The Elf then leapt up and seated himself behind her. He leaned forward and spoke softly in her ear.
"Do not fret! Nardawin is gentle, and will neither jolt nor bolt. Relax, and enjoyment of the ride will come swiftly!"
The maiden nodded. She was afraid, but felt the hard chest of the Elf pressed against her, and was astonished by the warmth she felt reverberating from it. The Elf touched her shoulders gently.
"Place your hands on her mane. If you feel yourself getting unseated, lean back into me to regain your balance." His tone was guileless, and she obeyed his instructions obediently and appreciatively.
Yuvinel watched as Esendri cleared up the spot where they had rested a while ago, and carefully picked up the flask that Legolas had left behind.
Her mind drifted again to her father, and she felt her stomach knot in fear.
"We will find your father," Legolas murmured into her ear, reading her thoughts, "Once we come across the trail, we will turn hunters, and it would not be long ere you be reunited with him!"
Esendri mounted his horse, and Legolas moved off, leading the way.
Yuvinel gave a shriek of fear as Nardawin started walking.
Legolas turned and winked at Esendri. He was amused by how tense the maiden was. Esendri frowned and gave him an odd look. It spoke very clearly about his doubts and confusion about whether they should help the girl. It was so like Legolas to deviate from what they had set out to do. On the other hand, she needed help, and could not be abandoned.
The speed of the mare increased to a canter, and very soon they were tearing through the woods. Yuvinel clenched her eyes shut as they sped up, and grabbed on wildly to the horse's mane.
She felt cool hands wrap themselves around her own. They interlaced themselves with her own fingers, then slowly unclasped and released their grip on the long hair of the horse. She remembered his advice and leaned back. The body of the Elf was rock-solid and hard. She felt confidence flood back into her.
Her eyes opened tentatively and took in the surroundings. The horse knew exactly where to go without being told. The wind blew in her face, and she gradually gave herself in to the exhilarating feeling. A smile broke on her face, and she was soon enjoying the experience.
All worries faded from her mind as she recalled the confidence of the Elves, and felt the strength of Legolas behind her.
It was all too soon that the horses began to slow down progressively. She found herself recognising the forest around her as being near to her home. The Elves had not been wrong about locating her house.
She strained her eyes to look for the clearing she knew would burst into view in a few moments.
Nardawin came to a complete stop suddenly, and Esendri and Glorfindel drew abreast. Yuvinel turned and looked questioningly into the tightly drawn face of Legolas.
"What's the matter?" A cold knot of fear seized her stomach as she noted the same expressions on the faces of the other two.
The Elves did not answer, and seemed at a lost for words.
Yuvinel struggled to free herself. With a wild cry, she leapt off the horse and fell to the floor. Picking herself up, she ran in the direction that was her house.
She heard a sharp voice call out in an Elven tongue. A moment later, firm arms had wrapped themselves around her from behind, restraining her, pinning her arms to her sides.
"Esendri is right. We made a wrong turning. Let us leave at once!" Legolas whispered.
It was confirmation of the suspicion that grew in her mind. The Elves were hiding something from her. She struggled and thrashed convulsively in his grip, as if gone mad.
"Let go of me! I recognise my own home! Let go!" Her voice was hoarse from the strain she was exerting. The Elf was strong in spite of his appearance. She beat on him furiously, fists raining down on his arms as he tried to hold her still. It was due to his respect for her that he did not pick her up and carry her back towards the horses.
Esendri and Glorfindel dismounted and ran up to their friend.
Yuvinel went still suddenly. Tears streamed down her face. She was shivering and trembling. Legolas glanced at his companions, worried.
"Please. I beg of you! Let go!" she said, voice pleading.
The arms around her loosened their grip abruptly. She fell forward, but was steadied.
Legolas sighed. He closed his eyes and turned away. He did not have the heart to see the maiden discover what the Elves had seen. She was determined, and it was not his place to protect her.
His companions stood aside him, and Esendri placed a hand on his master's arm. Legolas did not look up, but the gaze of the other two were steady, eyes baleful and full of sorrow, as they watched the maiden run in the direction of her home. Or what was left of it.
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.