1. The Colt and the Elf
I had just turned six months old, and was pondering what course my life would have taken by the time I became a yearling. Most of us elf-horses have a particular master, chosen when we are between the ages of six and twelve months, who will then personally train him. I belonged to Elrond, Lord of Imladris, but he already had three personally trained stallions (who, like me, are the preferred mounts, of course) as well as several mares. So, obviously he did not need another one. My sire, Noladar, and my dam, Vercamil, also belonged to Lord Elrond and they were always telling me how wise and courteous he is. There are too many people (occasionally elves, but usually men) who are not appropriately polite to their horses. Wise elves always know enough to be considerate of their steeds. Those few who do not are clearly unwise.
Being one of the bravest, smartest foals born in that year, I hoped I would secure the attention of one of the bravest, smartest elves. Now, most elves are at least reasonable, but there was one she-elf who was the most self-absorbed, little twit imaginable. I had only seen her from a distance several times, until one evening when she was walking among the horses with Lord Elrond and one of his friends, a Lord Glorfindel, whom I had not seen before. He was courteous to all the horses, and my sire said he was a really brave warrior. The she-elf, however, (who’s name I fast decided was not even worthy of learning) completely ignored me. I know it is hard to believe that any elf could ignore a foal as eye-catching as I am, but she did not even look at me. Instead, she stroked my mother’s nose. Hmph! The cheek of some elves! My mother told me that if I spent less time admiring my reflection in a puddle and pretending to ignore passersby (which I do not do), I would be on better terms with elves like her. So that I am not misrepresented, I must explain that I certainly do not spend too much time admiring my reflection in a puddle. I just happened to be looking in one on the day I am recounting now (not when I met her), but only because there was a rumor galloping around the stable that one of us was going to be a present to an advisor of Elrond. I merely was practicing my dazzling prance in case I chose him to be my attendant. My sire said I should practice paying attention to what I am told, but I think he just did not recognize genuine talent when he saw it.
But all that is beside the point. My pure white coat is so dazzlingly beautiful when Anar shines on it (and as I am obviously the most gifted of the lot), my stable mates are all jealous. They insinuate that I think too much of myself. Where they get that notion, I have no idea. But even despite that, I go out of my way not to rub it in much. That is why I hoped I would get a smart, brave master who would appreciate me properly. Then all the others of my kind would have to admit my superior abilities.
The library of Imladris was usually rather quiet at that time of day, and on this occasion it was completely empty, save for a single occupant who was seated in a chair in a corner of the room, engrossed in a scroll. He was partially hidden from sight behind the ornately carved arch of a doorway which led onto a balcony beside him. The sunlight was streaming in the doorway and shining over his shoulder onto the parchment. Though he seemed somewhat troubled by what he was reading, a smile was playing with a corner of his mouth. As he unrolled more of the scroll, his smile became less restrained. Continuing to read, his eyes, already sparkling, widened slightly, and he pressed his lips together firmly. The scroll began quivering.
A door on the other side of the room opened. Lord Elrond was of average height (for an elf), and his dark hair bore an elaborately wrought silver circlet. His eyes held the wisdom of ages past, and at this point they were glinting with amusement as he surveyed the reader (who by now was virtually shaking with silent laughter). He stepped into the room and spoke.
“What is it this time, Glorfindel? Your hands were tied behind your back? Or single-handedly, you were fighting off entire legions of orcs at the same time?”
Now laughing aloud, Glorfindel looked up from the scroll. “Did you know Lindir has taken to writing verse, Elrond?”
“No,” Elrond said, “Though it does not surprise me, as he loves such things. Surely you do not mean it is not good?”
Glorfindel gave him a disapproving look, which was not very effective since he was still laughing. Deepening his voice and arranging his expression to one of mingled excitement, awe, and solemnity he sang,
“His golden hair blew in the wind
From within he shone with light
His voice echoed above the din
As they stood on that dreadful height
‘Face me fiend, Morgoth-spawn
One shall not live beyond this day
For though my lord-king now is gone
His princess will not be your prey
I am of the house Golden-flower
Last of a noble warrior line
Lord Glorfindel will never cower
Before your foul and vile kind’”
It looked for a moment as if he would go on, but then his expression crumbled and they both laughed.
“I have fought beside you at many times, my friend,” Elrond said with a chuckle, “but I was unaware that in the midst of heated battle you stopped to sing songs of challenge.”
“That might be because I do not,” Glorfindel replied, still merry. “I said nothing of the sort.”
“Did you even say anything at all?” Elrond asked curiously.
“Well, yes, but it would not look good set in verse, I am afraid,” Glorfindel answered with an embarrassed shrug, “I do not remember my exact words, but I believe I said something close to, ‘Fight someone your own strength, you hideous torch.’ Admittedly not quite as witty as I might have wished,” he continued hurriedly as Elrond arched his eyebrow amusedly at his friends’ unforeseen disclosure. “I was rather distracted at the time. The part that Lindir does not reveal is that I had just stumbled over the exceptionally uneven and rock-strewn terrain of the path, and knocked my head against a jutting part of the cliff face. That does not fit a hero’s image very well.”
Elrond silently crossed the room and gazed at the scroll. After a moment, he brought his hand up to his chin, the very picture of a learned scholar. “Hmmm, perhaps something more like this,” he said, rather too innocently.
Glorfindel gave him a sharp look, as he had a very good idea what was coming.
“He pulled himself up off the ground
Dearly hoping none had seen
A valiant elf-lord swiftly downed
By a wicked pebble mean.
He staggered to unsteady feet
Pushed his hair out of his eyes
Woozily faced the balrog’s heat . . .”
“Disregarding someone’s lies,” Glorfindel finished. “Your acclamation is duly noted and appreciated,” Glorfindel continued dryly to the now smiling elf-lord. “Perhaps Lindir’s verses are not as bad as I had originally thought.”
“Then I suppose you do not mind if I read the rest of that scroll?” Elrond asked innocently, maintaining his scholarly air, but with twinkling eyes.
Glorfindel instantly closed the scroll with a loud crunching sound, and glared at his friend, who remained unperturbed. “Highly amusing,” he said flatly. “As you will notice, I am convulsed with laughter.”
“Well, good then,” replied Elrond innocuously. “I must ask Lindir to sing it in the Hall of Fire tomorrow night. You know how I love tales about Gondolin.”
“Of course you do,” Glorfindel replied, pretending to be irritated, (while making certain that the scroll was out of Elrond’s reach), “but only the ones that feature me, and then you sing them for days on end. Those Terrible Twins of yours are even worse about it. It took me a month to get the last one out of my head. I all but dreamt of it!”
“So that is why you were so eager to see them go hunting orcs with the rangers,” Elrond grinned at his friend, dropping his hand from his chin back to his side. “I must have a word with my sons when they return.”
“I am certain you will,” Glorfindel grumbled at the elf-lord, “Since I have heard from a reliable source that it was at your suggestion they behaved so disagreeably last time.”
“Ah, yes.” Elrond’s face turned pensive. “I must have a word with my daughter on that matter.”
Each was only able to hold his stern veneer for a moment longer, before their expressions crumbled and they both laughed. Shaking his head, Glorfindel rose and returned the scroll (along with several others and a book), to its place on a shelf and then walked out onto the balcony, Elrond joining him. It was about four hours after midday in late summer. A breeze blew gently by, ruffling their clothes before sweeping in the open door and spinning all of the loose papers onto the floor. That, however, went unnoticed by the two elves.
Glorfindel was observing his friend curiously. “Did you have a purpose in coming here, or were you merely bored and looking for someone to annoy?”
“As the heir of Gil-galad, I am more tactful than that,” Elrond replied gravely.
“Of course,” Glorfindel replied unconvincingly. “My memory must be failing me. Even as a child, of course you and your brother would never have done anything to annoy anyone. It would never even have crossed your guileless young minds. You were just such sweet little darlings . . .
“However,” Elrond interrupted (causing Glorfindel to appear rather smug), “I did have a purpose in seeking you out, other than to annoy you. There have recently been multiple sightings of orcs on our north-easternmost border.”
Glorfindel frowned, mirth gone, and stared unseeing at a happily singing robin that had landed on the wooden railing. “The shadow grows stronger again. It seeks what it lost.”
“My fear is that the Enemy will find it,” Elrond replied grimly. “Mithrandir concurs with me. He tells me that the servants of the shadow are in movement everywhere. Whether or not they find it, he is preparing for war again. And he will move soon.”
Glorfindel sighed and they stared in silence over the valley for a long moment. A cloud briefly covered the sun and a chill breeze blew. The robin hopped off the railing and flew into a tree before resuming his song. But the song no longer seemed as happy to the two elves.
“As I deliberated over that, it put me in mind of another challenge that is in need of solving,” Elrond continued as the cloud passed and the sun again shone undauntedly. “Your need of another horse,” he elaborated at Glorfindel’s blank look. “You know your old stallion is in no longer capable of warfare. He does not even bestir himself to assume his condescending airs of superiority when I near him anymore.”
“I am aware of that,” replied Glorfindel, and he sounded almost irked. “But I like him.”
Elrond arranged his expression to one of extreme patience. “I know you like him, Glorfindel, though what you ever saw in that indolent na-, er, horse,” he amended at Glorfindel’s frown, “I will never understand, but what I was attempting to tell you, is that you cannot very well command a battle from his back, and battle is coming, we both know that. I am not saying you need to be rid of him; I am merely offering you the choice of the foals born to my mares this year.”
Glorfindel looked at him unbelievingly. “With all respect due your excellent steeds, and appreciation of your kind offer, you know my opinion of your personal horses, Elrond. I believe we spoke of this roughly a hundred and twenty years ago. I remember it well. I do recall my saying I would have nothing more to do with your horses for the rest of my immortal life. You may think my horse is stupid, but yours . . .”
“My horses are the most intelligent in Imladris,” replied Elrond, sounding irked.
“Your horses never use their intelligence for anything good.”
“Unlike your horse, mine return for me if, for any reason, I fall off.”
“That is because your horses throw you off in the first place.”
“They are high-spirited.”
“They think it is humorous.”
“My horses do not bite people they mistrust.”
“No, they bite everyone and everything.”
“My horses do not kick people they mistrust.”
“No, they kick everyone and everything, too.”
“My horses are the fastest.”
“They are the only ones who feel the need to show it off at every opportunity.”
“My horses are loyal.”
“So is mine.”
“My horses are excellent jumpers.”
“As they constantly demonstrate, by jumping into the gardens and eating the roses.”
“They need lots of food to maintain their strength.”
“Elrond, they eat everything!”
“That is untrue!”
“That is not!”
“It is n. . .”
“Excuse me.” Both elves jumped and turned self-consciously towards the doorway. A dark-haired elf was standing there, surveying the two elves with a supremely disapproving look. Elrond recovered himself first.
“Is anything wrong, Lord Erestor?” he asked nonchalantly. When Lord Erestor stared at him in incredulity, he realized it might not have worked ideally.
“You are asking me if anything is wrong, Lord Elrond?” Erestor replied in disbelief.
Glorfindel sniggered (causing Elrond to glare at him) and ran his fingers through his hair. “No need for worry, Erestor, we were merely having a friendly disagreement.”
Erestor stared at him. “A friendly disagreement? Everyone in the valley could hear you!” He paused and stared at them with a trace of suspicion in his dark eyes. “You were discussing horses again,” he stated.
“I do not know if our slight differences of opinion should be called discussing,” Glorfindel muttered.
Ignoring him, Elrond grasped his chance. “Exactly, Erestor. Perhaps you can persuade our mutual friend to accept my offer of a new warhorse, as his own is too old and,” he paused, “quiet.”
Erestor snorted, and gave him a look that barely fell short of disdain. “I am sure that any horse you offer Lord Glorfindel would have a lineage that looks excellent when on paper, and a good horse he may be, but with all due respect, I would not accept your offer either. I learned my lesson from watching Lord Glorfindel the last time.”
Elrond gave him a look of deepest betrayal. “But they are the best . . .”
“We know they are the best, Elrond! But I simply do not have a death wish.” Glorfindel interrupted.
“You do not have to have a dea-”
“Do not start that again!” pleaded Erestor, who came as close to groaning as an elf ever does.
“Excuse me,” a soft voice broke into their discussion. A female elf had come up to Erestor’s side. “I could not help hearing your discussion . . .”
Erestor snorted; Glorfindel grinned; Elrond scowled at them both.
“. . . . and I thought maybe I might be of assistance.”
“Your judgment is always welcome, Arwen,” Elrond smiled at her. She smiled back, and stepping past Erestor, moved to Elrond’s side.
Acknowledging Glorfindel with another smile and a nod, she suggested, “Perhaps I could suggest a compromise?”
Her quiet words caught the avid attention of the other three elves, and Erestor’s expression conveyed that if she could end the conflict, the he would commemorate the occasion.
“If Lord Glorfindel would be willing, he could go down and just look at the horses. As you know, my own palfrey is one of the offspring of my father’s favorite mount, and she is well-behaved, obedient and calm. Lord Glorfindel would not in truth choose one, merely see if one is well-mannered enough for his consideration.”
“Well-mannered is not the issue. I will be looking for one who is not a sadist,” they heard Glorfindel mumble.
Arwen continued serenely, as if she had not heard. “I am sure among the foals this year, there will be one. That is, of course, if this is acceptable to you, Father?”
This last was addressed to Elrond, who nodded. She looked at Glorfindel persuasively and he sighed.
“It is reasonable, my lady Arwen.” He took Arwen’s hand and bowed. “How could any refuse such a gracious request?”
“It is settled then,” she said cheerfully. “Now, Father, my brothers have returned, and they say they have tidings for you. Elladan said they would await you in your study.”
“Thank you, daughter,” Elrond replied, ignoring Glorfindel’s groan of dismay and his muttered ‘Why now?’.
“Good day, Erestor.” He turned to Glorfindel. “I will speak with you later, Glorfindel. Until then, may your search prove worthwhile.” His eyes twinkled as he swept off the balcony and out of the room, followed by Arwen who nodded to Erestor (who still looked grateful), and smiled impishly at Glorfindel.
As soon as they were out of sight, Glorfindel leaned against the railing and ran his hand through his hair. He looked at Erestor and the corner of his mouth quirked upward slightly. “I am reminded of Fingolfin’s challenge to Morgoth.”
“Fingolfin was bargaining with his life,” Erestor said severely. “And he lost, never truly having a chance of victory. For that matter, you and Elrond should have thought of this solution yourselves. Besides, you do not mind those horses nearly as much as you pretend. Imladris is in sore trouble if its wisest lords quibble over matters of such slight importance as this.”
“Slight? Of course. You do not train warriors, so do not have to sit on one.” muttered Glorfindel, derisively. “Those horses have warg blood, I am sure.”
Erestor opened his mouth as if he were about to say something encouraging, paused, and reflected on the situation. “Good luck.” He paused again, and then the shadow of a smile appeared on his face. “You may need it, Balrog-slayer.”
Glorfindel glared at him as only an elf-lord could.
Outside the door, Elrond raised an eyebrow at Arwen. Her look changed from unadulterated innocence to a devious grin. She gave a slight shrug. “I thought he needed more adventure in his life. You know his weakness for good horses. And Erestor is right. You should have thought of that solution yourselves.
“I did,” Elrond said. “But he would never have agreed to it without your aid.”