If Wishes Were Elves, Even Fangirls Would Dance

Part the Second


Flintstones and Jetsons

Friday night: Lizard

Dana didn't look surprised when Hobbit Woman drove up in her dual-axled monster truck with the trailer the size of Grandma's Winnebago. I've seen houses smaller than that thing. After the Shire...his name was Sam...rumbled away with Mr. and Mrs. Cotton, we went back up to the house to thaw Lorien out with some hot chocolate. Kodi and Shenzi lurked under the table, waiting for the odd Keebler elf to fall to its doom. Dana'd had no more luck with any of her research on spells; Love, Summoning or Finding Your Handsome Prince.

I think Lorien looked a little disappointed. I think.

I just felt relieved.

"Dead end." Lorien intoned.

"How'd the Nazgul Queen get the truck and trailer and horse, though. Seems like it'd be kinda' hard to steal." I said.

"Not with a charm spell. A really big kickass one." Dana said. She looked like Gandalf contemplating the treachery of Saruman. Professor Xavier contemplating Magneto's next move. The Doctor confronted by a city of daleks.

"You don't need to see my identification. I'm not the Nazgul Queen you're looking for." I said, waving my hand, Jedi-like.

Dana laughed, "It's not quite like that with the ones I know about. You have to be close, very close to the person, and eye contact is almost always necessary. Nobody remembered the truck going missing." Dana said, "I asked if anybody'd borrowed it, or rented it. Mrs. Cotton didn't remember anything but walking out there this morning and finding her horse gone."

Shenzi leered up at me from her spot under the table. "Whoa." I said. I looked at Legolas, draining his third cup of hot chocolate.

He peered back over the rim of his mug, eyes bright silver-blue with curiosity.

"What about the dog?" I said. "Maybe it's like Sam the Shire, he remembers what car the real Evil Woman drove up in. Maybe he saw the license plate!"

"That's almost too easy." Dana said. "It never resolves that easily in a book. Anyway, Sam probably remembered the license plate because he goes in that monster rig all the time. Maybe a strange car wouldn't be remembered in such detail."

Lorien said something to Legolas, I caught the word hu-beleg...mighty big dog.

He shook his head, the dog remembered a strange car engine, then being shut in the house.

Dana nodded.

We sat for awhile, staring into our chocolate. "Waitaminute," I said, "There were other animals around there, the other horses, birds...birds, like the ones who brought messages to the Mirkwood folk." Like Lorien had told me. I gave her a Meaningful Look.

She turned and chattered excitedly to Legolas. He nodded, and those longbow lips stretched back into that smile that reminded me of Shenzi.



Saturday morning

We met at Dana's barn the next morning. I chucked Kodi into the big kennel with Shenzi. Lorien looked a little bleary, despite the thirty-two ounce coffee she was holding in one Chilean-mittened hand. I noticed the mittens didn't match. "What happened to the other one?" I said. "The one that goes with the one that doesn't go with the one I burned in the spell?"

She just glared at me over her Hazelnut Cream. Probably a bookmark at the bottom of a stuff drift in her room. "Tell me again why we are here at the butt-crack of dawn?"

Lorien never says butt.

"Lots of bird activity."

"They can't be awake at this hour."

As if in answer a gawdawful screeching erupted outside, a noise guaranteed to wake even Lorien. We poked our heads out of the barn door, a horde of starlings had rumbled up on their Harleys and were mobbing the bird feeder, terrorizing all the native species. Then one of them squawked and the rest vanished in a storm of wings. A big dark shape drifted across just over the feeder.

Kodi let out a long aroooooo! from the kennel.

Lorien fumbled in a pocket.

"Cooper's Hawk." I said automatically. Then frowned. Too slow for a Coop, they hit bird feeders like rockets. All you see is a grey streak and the puff of feathers where the sparrow exploded.

The dark shape drifted up and landed in a nearby tree. Kodi, and now Shenzi had their noses lined up on it like rifle muzzles.

"It's a crow, oh Great Keeper of All Bird Knowledge." Lorien said, raising her digital camera and stalking toward the tree it had landed in.

I squinted at it, it did sort of look crowish. I thought to ask Legolas, but he was out in the round pen schooling Beo. I walked towards the big bird's tree. It cocked its head, looking down a beak like a broadsword, edged with feathers like a young Dwarf's beard. Ten feet away, I heard the whir-click of Lorien's camera. "It's grey. Dark, silvery grey, not black." I said, frowning like Lorien. But it definitely wasn't a hook-beaked hawk. It lifted off, and flew away west on broad wings. I noted the wedge-shaped tail.

"No way!" I said.

"What?" Lorien came up beside me, eyes scanning the little screen in the back of the camera.

"That was a raven."

"So?"

I yanked the camera from her hand and scanned the pictures she had just taken. Good pictures. Clear pictures. I pointed to the wedge-shaped tail and the broadsword beak. "Raaaaaven," I enunciated, "not crow. Corvid, yes, but bigger, smarter, with a wedge-shaped tail."

"I repeat, so?"

"They don't live around here. Farther north and west, yes, but not here."


She peered at the digital pics dancing by on the tiny screen. "You're sure it wasn't some kind of big weird seagull?" She cast a worried glance back at the barn. No Legolas. She let out a sigh of relief, no sea-longing to deal with, yet, at least.

"They come in other colors sometimes." I told her. And it was not really grey. It was dark silver, like storm-tossed seas, like Legolas' eyes. Like a grulla horse. And it looked like it had been watching me. A weird little chill walked up my spine. Kodi and Shenzi were staring off into the west, where the raven had flown. I glanced back into the barn. Legolas came through the doors on the far end with Beo.

The raven was gone.

Legolas slid off, leaving a thigh-shaped dust mark just behind Beo's withers, and a matching one on the butt and thighs of his jeans. Nice shape, I thought.

Lorien punched me in the arm, hard.

There was no halter, no soft cotton rope on the big horse, they'd been working in the round pen again, and the sight of a bridleless horse there wouldn't inspire too much interest in Dana's half awake morning crowd. Beo dropped his head and gave Legolas an affectionate nose-shove. I wished I was Beo. I wished I didn't have horse poop all over my boots and crud on my jeans. I almost wished I'd painted my nails and done my hair.

No, wait, I take that bit about the nails back.

"How's it going?" I asked. Not that Legolas would understand it. I was beginning to wish I'd paid more attention to things like glosseopaeia.

"Yabba-dabba-do!" he said with enthusiasm.

Lorien's eyes widened in horror, "What?"

"He's quoting great twentieth century literature; Flintstones, I believe."

"Oh noooooo!"

Dana came in leading Pumpkin. "I think he was up all night. Wanted to work on his language skills. Once he figured out how to work the remotes for the VCR, TV and DVD, I couldn't pry it out of his hands. Typical man...er...male." she shot a furtive glance at the student waving from the door. "I woke up this morning to Cartoon Network."

"Jane! Stop this crazy thing!" quothe our Elf.

"Yeah," Dana said. "Pray they never invent remotes in Middle-earth."



pae-a-nel: Legolas

Gimli watched the last wet rune fade from the deck, "Cee Dee, Dee Vee Dee, Tee Vee, Vee Cee aaaRRRRR. What strange folk these are! Do they never give anything a proper name, or just letters of their alphabet?

"Yes of course, many things have names, but some of them are so long they must abbreviate them."

"Shorten a name? Preposterous! It takes the power from it!"

Legolas shook his head, "The names were not important. These things had the power of ee-lectrissity."

"Heee-licks-what?"

"Like wizard lightning running through wires. It powered their lights and all the things with no names."

"Where did it come from?"

"Some great company of wizards headed by someone called Mother Bell. I saw one of their fortresses on the Great River. They used the power of water to make their ee-lectrissity. And at another, there were great towers breathing steam into the air." His eyebrows folded in concentration, "Lorien called it Three Mile Island. She said something about atoms..."

"Adan? Men? Of course, it's their craft. Who else would it be?"

"Att-om." Legolas enunciated. The Dwarf's hearing was definitely going the way of mortal beings, the Elf thought with a sigh.

"Adam? Is he related to Mother Bell?"



The Birdbath of Galadriel

Lizard

We thought about driving to our pullover from yesterday and walking up the hill and hiding in the cedars. Then I considered the liklihood of Lorien staying in the truck.

None.

I considered the likelihood of Lorien not sounding like a herd of moose in the woods, in the daylight.

None.

I called Mrs. Cotton and asked if we could come visit Sam. Lorien sat on a haybale near the barn phone, legs crossed, eyes closed, hands folded in some kind of ohhhhhmmmm gesture on her knees.

Legolas just stared at her, like he might at some odd sort of forest fungus.

Kodi and Shenzi grinned at them both, as if they Knew Something.

Oddly enough, Mrs. Cotton agreed to a visit.

I hung up the phone, looked at Lorien.

She smiled at me. Kinda' like Shenzi.



pae-a-canad: Legolas

"You're saying the Dwarvish lass could do magic? Like your folk?"

Legolas sighed. In all the many years he'd known Gimli, he had never been able to get certain concepts through that thick Dwarven skull..."It is only magic if you do not understand how it works. I will try to explain..."

"Legolas..."

"She was channeling the energy of mid..."

"Legolas!"

The Elf stopped in mid-word. Something no Elf ever did. Ever had, in the entire history of Middle-earth unless he met sudden death. Especially for a Dwarf.

"I would like to hear the rest of the tale before I die!" Gimli said.

Legolas opened his mouth for a clever comeback, but the words fizzled like soggy wizard fireworks. He met the earth brown eyes of his longtime friend. Brown like the deep places under the mountains, like a winter deer, like bearhide, like fallen leaves.

Mortal, like all those things. "Very well," he said gently, and continued the tale.



Lizard

Mrs. Cotton's barn made me feel like a Hobbit. Everything was ten sizes too big. Unlike Dana's barn with its rough wood and natural stone, this was all finished and polished and perfect. Inside and outside were full of flower boxes (nearly empty for winter) and shrubs, all of which looked like a horde of Sam Gamgees had been busy with their shears. She handed us three hot chocolates and some excellent homemade cookies, and gave us a cheery tour. Lorien pointed her camera everywhere; falling off haybale perches, tripping backwards over wheelbarrows and buckets, and hanging precariously off fences.

Mrs. Cotton just gave her a smile and a wave of the hand, encouraging her to take more. Mrs. Cotton's eyes were on Legolas. She tried to talk to him until we told her he was Norwegian and didn't speak English. She looked really disappointed.

For about five seconds, then she spoke to him in some odd-sounding language.

He gave her a strange look, as if he had just seen a familiar face in an alien land, but he didn't answer.

I was really hoping it wasn't Norwegian. Maybe we should have told her he was Croatian, or Uzbekistani, or Deaf.

Or Sindarin. That would have stumped her.

Mrs. Cotton looked disappointed again. "I guess my college Anglo-Saxon isn't close enough."

Legolas composed his face and whispered something to Lorien. Mrs. Cotton was already moving toward the next stall.

"What?" I poked Lorien.

"Anglo-Saxon, that is Old English, is Rohirric."

"Uh oh."

"He doesn't really speak it, but he recognizes it. When he was young, the Eotheod..."

"The who?"

"The people who would become the Rohirrim, dodo. They lived on the west side of Mirkwood. That's where the Elves got a lot of their horses and..."

Lorien was falling into The Early History of Middle-earth 101 on one side of me, and Mrs. Cotton was going on about the Medieval History of the Shire 102 on the other. I shot Legolas a look that said shut Lorien up before I stuff a haybale up her nose.

He gave me a startled look, eyed two forty pound bales stacked by a nearby stall door, and hastily pulled Lorien to the next stall.

Mrs. Cotton wandered down the barn aisle, pointing out exceptional bloodlines, winning conformation, grand champion training. She showed us the polished carriages, the shiny harnesses, the gleaming brass nameplates on the stalls. I craned my neck up at a huge bay horse being groomed by a stable girl.

"What's her name?"

"Belladonna." she said cheerfully, handing me another cookie.

That sounded vaguely familiar somehow. I think it's an herb or something. Behind me I heard Lorien choke on her cookie. Legolas was rubbing the face of a dark bay horse leaning out of a stall labeled Bungo.

What a wierd name for a horse.

We wandered outside to the big white fence. Several well-kept giants gathumped up in slow motion, and poked their coffee table sized heads over the fence, snuffling in our jackets for treats. Legolas scritched their faces and sang some soft words to them. Mrs. Cotton went happily on about bloodlines and carriage training. I nodded and smiled, though I couldn't imagine why anybody would want to be behind a horse when they could be on one.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Legolas wander away from the fence. About then Mrs. Cotton chirped at the horses and sent them all off in a lovely floating trot. She chattered about gaits and shoulders and movement and why a good carriage horse was actually not good to ride. I nodded and smiled and tried to see what Legolas was doing without looking.

Mrs. Cotton suddenly stopped chattering and stared.

Our Elf was standing by a hugely ornate birdbath, an angelic smile on his face.


He was covered in birds.

Tufted titmice, juncos, little brownish stubby-beaked sparrows (English, white throated, white crowned) little brownish stubby-beaked finches (house, purple and gold), and one camouflaged cardinal (female). There was a tiny grey nuthatch on his snowboarder hat, and three mourning doves cooing around his feet. A little black and white downy woodpecker was hopping up his leg. A couple of starlings were fighting for a position on his shoulder, until the divebombing blue jay chased them away. He looked just like on of those of Asissi bird feeders people put in their gardens.

Only hotter.

Uh ohhhhhhh..."Loriennnnnnnn..." I said.

"Wow!" she said.

"Oh my!" Mrs. Cotton said.

Oh crap ohcrapohcrap! This will take some explaining. A lot of explaining. I frantically tried to think of some logical reason our Norwegian exchange student would attract birds like ants on honey. Like Legolas attracts girls. There wasn't one.

"Just like Beleg." Mrs. Cotton said, beaming.

I heard a huge sputter from Lorien as she snorked the rest of her chocolate through her nose. I knew that name, courtesy of my book-geek friend; one hot Elven Ranger from the Silmarillion. I shot a panicked glance at her.

Her eyes were bigger than mine, which was nearly impossible. We looked at our Elf. His glance went from Lorien to me to Mrs. Cotton, one eyebrow crept up in a Spocklike questionmark.Beleg? he mouthed.

"Who?" I squawked it out like a startled blue jay.

"Oh, of course you wouldn't know. Kids these days. They watch TV, movies, they play video games. They never read. JRR Tolkien. The Silmarillion. Beleg Cuthalion was an Elven Ranger, the Chief Marchwarden of King Thingol of Doriath."

Legolas' eyebrows crept up another notch. Doriath?!

"He could talk to the forest animals." Mrs. Cotton beamed wider, then her face went all sad and mushy like. "But he was killed by his best friend, a tragic tale. But still one of my favorites."

Legolas' eyes were going from to me to Lorien, both eyebrows a question mark.

Mrs. Cotton stepped closer to the birdbath, beaming her Hobbit smile at Legolas. Her face went from sad and mushy to fascinated and mushy. "How does he do that? I've stood out here for hours with birdseed in my hand and they..."

"Um," Lorien galumped up to the birdbath, the birds scattered in panic.

Mrs. Cotton's face went from mushy to slightly annoyed. "I've read it." Lorien said breathlessly, "Beleg was one of my favorites too. And Voronwe."

Hobbit Woman's face softened. "Ah yes, the last mariner of the last fleet to seek the Undying Lands. I loved the way he got sidetracked in the Willow Meads and just stood there for days, listening to the bees and birds and dreaming. Such a sweetie. Just like my Arnold."

"Ah, I guess you've read the Hobbit?" Lorien said.

"Why yes, dear, where do you think I got all my horses' names? Too bad though that the last book took such a horrific turn. I soooooo wished The Professor had lived a bit longer, to do a sequel you know, to straighten everything out. I mean poor Glorfindel, having to face a second balrog." She shook her head and made a tsk tsk noise, like an annoyed squirrel.

"The last book?" I asked.

She gave me a long patient look, the kind reserved for those video wasteland teens she had been talking about, "Lord of the Rings, of course." Her face kind of misted over, "It was so sad about the Elves..."

"What?" I said, it only came out as a whisper.

"Under the new Dark Lord, I don't think any of them made it to the Grey Havens."



pae-a-leben: Legolas

Gimli frowned thoughtfully, "Your ladies were heavy of heart? Why?"

"I had sensed it before. But I was busy learning the ways of their land, and all of us were learning each other's languages. Lorien did not tell me what made her glance away from my eyes, or why Lizard looked at me sometimes like a hound who has stolen the roast. They hid their thoughts well."
"Na lu thent. For awhile. But not an-uir...forever. When Lizard removed me from my bath, something had slipped in the Stream of Time. Something that affected not only me, but all of my people, and yours, and all of Middle-earth."


Lizard

We fled as soon as we could politely pry ourselves loose from Mrs. Cotton's hobbitality.

Lorien looked grim.

"We'll get him back home." I said at last, with more certainty than I felt.

She threw me a look like daggers.

"What about the birds?" I said to Legolas, "Fileg...beth fileg." Bird word, as close as I could remember it.

Legolas gave me a smile, instead of laughing his butt off like he probably wanted to. Then the smile faded.

"Fileg u-gennir." he hesitated, searching for the words, "Birds see...saw nothing." He said something lengthier to Lorien, in Elvish.

"Birds, and horses, pay attention to what's important to them, and a strange car in the driveway was beneath their notice." she said.

Too bad, I thought, at least birds see in color.



pae-ar-eneg: Legolas

Gimli shook his head, "Do not even start with the Stream of Time thing again. What I want to know is why did Hobbit Woman know the name of Beleg Cuthalion? And Thingol, and Doriath! And of the Companion of Tuor and Guardian of Elrond's Father Earendil; Voronwe? And yet not recognize you for an Elf?"

"It was long since any of my folk, or yours, had walked that land. She knew the names only from The Books. A great scribe had put down many of the greatest tales of my kindred...of all of Middle-earth in those books. With pictures. Pictures! Paintings such as the finest of our artists could do. Only they had some way of..." the Elf frowned, searching for a lost word.

The Dwarf leaned forward, then thought better of it, it only disturbed his stomach. He sat back against the mast. "...way of?" he prompted.

Legolas shook his head. "These Edain had many books, and ways to make them quickly. No need for calligraphers and artists to do each copy. At the book store, and the comic shop there were thousands of books, and many of each title, and they were exactly alike. Alike! Paintings and all! Dana alone had as many books as Rivendell. Most of hers contained more words than pictures, though some had a few beautiful illustrations. Lizard brought some of her favorites to the farm for me to see; they were of a different kind, shorter stories, larger and fewer pages, and composed mainly of pictures. When I had still not learned to read their language, or even speak it very well, she and Lorien read some of those stories to me. Tales of heroes who could fly and teleport and control the weather, heroes whose flaming eyes, or burning hands could punch a hole through a mountain, heroes with minds as powerful as the greatest wizard. The pictures themselves told the tale well enough without the words."

"Hmmmph." Gimli said thoughtfully. "Books, like gold coins minted from the same mold. Magic of the Edain, I guess. Like carriages with chained wargs under the hood. Or rainbows that make music."

Legolas nodded, "We would call it magic. But any sufficiently advanced craft would be indistinguishable from magic." He fell silent for a moment, then smiled. "There was one character I remember from Lizard's books who reminds me of you."

"Eh?"

"He was short, stout, strong...unstoppable." Legolas smiled, "A good friend for an Elf to have at his side."

"A dwarf!" Gimli said with some satisfaction.

"He did not call himself that, though he was shorter than most Men. But he was much like your folk. He was named for a large, strong relative of the badgers that make their homes underground as your folk do, a creature the northern folk called wolverine. The man I speak of could be gruff, but his friends knew his true heart, a stout, loyal heart." Legolas peered up into the grey ship's rigging, singing in the wind blowing from the west.

Gimli saw his eyes go warm grey with memory, one that seemed to be more than just pictures in a book.

"One of his great friends was an Elf, one who would have been right at home here, on this ship." He leapt up and caught hold of one of the shrouds, the many long lines which held the masts in place. He swung in a swift hawk circle, drawing an imaginary cutlass. He landed back on deck with barely a sound, and cast his eyes back up into the spiderweb of rope that held mast and sail and ship together, and at the towering clouds of canvas like the individual feathers of a bird's wing.
"I wonder what it would be like to have a tail."



I Go to Find the Suuuuuuuuuuuuuun!

Or How Caradhras Would Have Been Better With Snowboards

Lizard

Life and poop goes on, but we'd pretty much kicked the poop problem for the day. Dana had some lessons, and she'd promised Amanda one with Beo.

And, of course, our Elf.

I wanted to stay and watch, but Dana suggested... rather the way Sauron might suggest to a Nazgul that he should find a certain lost trinket...that I work with Lorien and Pumpkin a bit. I grumbled off to the arena with the chub club, while Legolas and Dana vanished to the round pen with Amanda the Amazing and Beowabbit. Amanda, tall and slender and beautiful and possessed of enough money to buy a new truck and the best horse trailer. Amanda who was walking, no...slinking beside our Elf and beaming at him with the kind of smile that would have had the whole Film Of The Rings cast following her with little hearts sprouting up in their eyeballs. We stared after them.

Lorien raised her hands in a recentering breath.

I gave her a questioning look.

"I'm trying really hard not to hate her." she said.

"Yeah, really."

Lorien bumpity-bumped around the arena, doing a passable sitting trot, one hand firmly clenched on the pommel, the other steering cowboy style. Pumpkin collapsed into a plod and Lorien unlocked the other hand and steered her two-handed through Dana's beginner obstacle course. She knocked down three standing poles and rearranged the cavallettis with Pumpkin's feet.

But she came out grinning. "I want Legolas to show me how to shoot a bow off a horse." she said. She stopped, rummaged in her pocket, and took a picture of the back of Pumpkin's ears.

I thought of a bunch of snappy comebacks, all centering on the idea that she should learn to not fall off the horse first, but none of them came out. I just nodded and smiled. She plopped around the arena some more, gradually thumping Pumpkin into another slow jog. I wandered off to rearrange the flattened obstacle course.

Something had been tickling at the back of my head, and now it felt like eyeballs boring into my neck. I turned.

Empty barn door. Horses in the pasture. Dana's voice from the round pen. The chatter of winter birds.

Birds.

I looked up expectantly at the trees, looking for a big dark silver shape.

Nothing. A couple of crows, a redtail soaring on the thermals. A couple of vultures circling over the nearby road, looking for roadkill. I made a full circle. Wind chimes on the tree at the edge of the yard. The basketballl-sized Victorian gazing ball, a sort of purpley-blue Christmas ball on a stand, the kind that sometimes are called faerie globes. The birdbath woven out of sticks. Fifteen different birdfeeders, all busy. Shenzi and Kodi in the kennel. Yeah, Shenzi could stare a hole in Galadriel's head, but it wasn't her that was making me feel squicky. I shook my head, must be leftover nerves from this morning.

There was a warm spot on my chest where Dana's spell bag hung. Decidedly warm.

I looked in the trees again, but there were no ravens in sight.


An hour later Dana was done, and so were we. We trailed around after her for awhile, asking questions till she shooed us away.

"There isn't any more you can do right now, so go outside and play. I'm going to visit a friend of mine this afternoon, and do some more research on this."

"Isn't there anything we can do?"

"Yeah, rent a Hav-a-heart trap from the SPCA...see if they have one in a Nazgul Queen size."

"Hah, hah." I said.

"Hey..." Lorien said.

"She was kidding!"

"No, the trap thing...there's got to be a way. I mean, if we had her, that would solve everything."

"Don't mess with her. Not without me." Dana said in the Voice. The one that meant if you don't, I'll feed you to Shenzi. "And I don't even know yet how we could nail her. I mean, what would we tell the cops? Gee, this sorceress kidnapped an Elf from an alternate universe and we have to pick her brains apart to find out how to return him."

Yeah, really.

"We'll come up with a way to deal with her. If not, her karma will get her eventually." Dana said.

Yeah, well maybe my karma would just run over her dogma.

I asked if there was some way to accidentally zap her into an alternate universe. Preferably one with large, hungry predators.

Dana laughed, Shenzi grinned up at me, like a cave troll. "Go find something silly and teenagery to do with the rest of your Saturday afternoon. You'll have to deal with Nazguls and high school teachers soon enough. Come back around seven, we''ll have a movie night." She threw her work gloves into the toolbox by the door and closed it behind us.

I caught Lorien's shoulder and dragged her toward the truck.

"Hey," Dana called to us, "Take the Elf with you. Last time I left him alone, he popped all the microwave popcorn at once, just to see how it worked."

Lorien giggled.

Legolas looked confused.

"What other wonders of twentieth century civilization should we show him?" Lorien said.

"Ski Roundtop." I said with an evil grin.

"Oh noooooo!" Lorien wailed.

"There's no snow." Lorien said hopefully. "It is the middle of November, there is no snow in York County."

"Yrch?!" Legolas said in surprise. Which sounds a bit like oooo-rr-kh.

"Not orcs, York." Lorien said. Which sounds a bit like yoooo-rr-k.

"Orc?" he snapped back.

"York."

"Yrch." he asserted.

"YORK!" Lorien enunciated with passion.

"Yeah, yrch." he said.

"Yeah, ooorrkhh." I agreed, "Most of the guys around here are."


Roundtop is a bit like Weathertop, only with snowmaking equipment and ski lifts instead of ruins. Unless some newbie skier crashes and burns into a tribe of snowboarders...then there's ruins.
We went through the lodge and picked up our lift tickets and a couple of rentals. Practically every woman we passed turned and looked at us, a couple of the guys did too, but they weren't drooling like Newfoundlands. In fact most of them looked kinda' like Shenzi eyeing a potential victim.

And it wasn't me and Lorien any of them were looking at.

I had my good old board from a couple of years ago, and a new one I'd just got; Dana'd paid me for a few extra jobs over the summer. They were both light, flexible, not like the heavy planks you get at the rental. I went and picked out a decent rental board and a pair of boots. I handed my old board and boots to Lorien. It was wasted on her, but at least she had a chance this way of remaining vertical for more than two seconds. I gestured for one of Legolas' boots, read the size and got him a pair of snowboard boots from the rental. I handed him the new board.

He turned it over, running his hands along it, the way he did the bow, in the movie, when he was blond, and Orlando Bloom. He flexed it, hefted it. Then he did the same with my other board, and the rental. He looked up at me, both boards in his hands, started to hand me mine back.

"No. I can do this anytime." I thrust the good one back at him.

He hesitated for one long princely diplomatic moment, then nodded in understanding, his eyes pools of warm grey. We lashed him into the boots, stiff for support, with a built-in lean forward. He stood up and tried to walk in them. He sat down abruptly, on the floor, glaring up at us, from under his outrageous snowboarder hat. He snapped something at Lorien. She giggled, and took a picture.

"What?"

He says obviously there must be some Dwarves left in Orc County, because nobody else would have thought of such a...well, I'm not sure what that word was...design."

"Explain that it's so you don't break your ankles when you go down the slope at warp 10."


pae-ar-odog: Legolas

"Warp 10?" Gimli said.

"An allusion to extreme speed achieved by a starship called Enterprise."

"They had ships like this one? Like the ship of Earendil who sails the night sky?"

"Yes...no, well, yes but different. Like a big flying pancake with..." Legolas made sausage shapes in the air with his hands...

"Pancakes and sausages?" Gimli leaned forward, frowning at the air shapes, he glanced up at the graceful wings of canvas swaying above him, "Breakfast food does not seem like a proper design for a ship. It would sink. Straight to the bottom."

"This ship flew among the stars. Anyway, it was just a tale on TV. Special effects."

"Special eFF eXX? Teee Veee?"

"Like Gandalf's fireworks, or a very clever stage show. Dana loved to watch it, and when I learned the language better, I found it...fascinating. Funny, the second in command looked just like Elrond."


Lizard

Lorien clunked out behind us in my boots, looking frighteningly like Gimli, swaddled in layers of down and polyfill. Squashed by her bike helmet and hat, her hair mooshed together under her chin and made a passable beard too. She had that determined Lorien look on her face, the one that said neither ice, moguls, kamikaze snowboarders, or five year olds who were better than her would stay her from her course.

I pulled everybody into a huddle at the bottom of Fanny Hill. We looked over at the cluster of first-timers with their instructor, making Vs and Ws with their skis, waddling like overstuffed ducks. A few of them glanced our way, then glanced our way again. Mostly women. We watched a couple of families, down-clad tots suspended between the hands of Mom and Dad, sliding down the gentle slope of Fanny Hill. A newbie boarder fell off the lift at the top of the hill and half scrambled half slithered out of the way of four skiers behind him. I pointed over to the double-diamond slopes; the expert slopes on the steep part of the hill. The ones with names like Gunbarrel and Ramrod. A skier shot down, weaving between the slalom markers. A snowboarder carved back and forth in great sweeping arcs. Another followed on a smaller racing board; I couldn't really make out the board, but I could see he was doing about warp eleven. I knew Legolas could see exactly what they were doing, where I could see a colorful blur. "Watch them." I told him.

"Tiro curu tin." Lorien said.

He watched with a look like an eagle on a powerline tower, eyes pale silver in the snowlight.

Behind us, three skiers came to a halt and watched him. All girls. One I recognized from history class. The one who had a different nail job every week.

Lorien stomped around, trying to stay warm. Then thought better of it and huddled up against Legolas. He didn't seem to mind. I huddled on the other side, even though I didn't need to.

Visions of Keebler Elfwich cookies came to my mind, and Legolas was the creamy filling. I glanced over at the three girls, their eyes still pasted to our Elf, and gave them a big Shenzi grin. They cranked their noses up a notch and slithered off.

"Ok," Legolas said suddenly. "Good." He moved, Lorien wobbled, he caught her, smiling.

I shook my head, picked up my board.

We strapped ourselves into our boards, and one more time, I showed Lorien how it was done. She smiled through her teeth and grimly stood up. And fell over. And stood up. And fell over.

Legolas rolled to his feet, frowned at the contraption his feet were locked into.

Suddenly he reminded me of the Burger King action figure on its little base. I looked over at Lorien, "The Ring must be destroyed!" I said in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger voice. Really, that's how the action figure sounded; the Elfinator.

She laughed so hard she fell over again.

Legolas just looked at us, the way Elrond did at Merry and Pippin at the Council. Eyebrows and all.
Two middle-aged women skied by. The one in front turned to look and her buddy crashed into her. They slid in a grumbly tangle most of the way to the safety net.

Lorien lurched to her feet again and slithered a few feet.

Legolas watched me, tilting on one edge of the board, then the other. He nodded, and rocked from toe edge to heel edge.

I hopped a few feet.

He hopped.

I hopped and twisted in mid-air.

He hopped and twisted, a bit higher than was technically possible by a newbie. Or any known human who had not spent a lifetime in a half-pipe or a circus.

A couple of teenage boys stopped and stared in blatant worship.

I grinned.

A big smirk started across Legolas' face.

I heard a woman on skis muttering something about learning to snowboard.

I hopped a few times and slid down the gentle slope toward the safety net, tilting and turning just before I got to it, then scraping to a halt.

Somewhere behind me I heard a "yaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!" and Lorien whizzed by.

Legolas did a nice little carving turn, even though he wasn't really going fast enough to carve properly.

Lorien splatted into the net.

Legolas hopped and slid over and heaved her to her feet. He brushed her off. She clung to his arm like a damsel in distress.

I glared at her.

Legolas found her center of gravity for her and hopped away. He hopped to the top of the little rise where everyone was practicing, and slid down, his whole body making graceful, delicious otter curves.
About forty women stopped what they were doing to watch. Three more crashes occured. And possibly a few divorces.

Our Elf swooshed to a halt in front of the safety net, grinning from ear to pointy little ear.

"Ok," I said, "Time to hit Fanny Hill." I pointed up the line of slow-moving lift chairs to the top of the hill.

He eyed the lifts with a combination of fascination and nearly suppressed terror. He was unbuckling his board when I reached him.

"No no no!" I said, "Leave one foot on the board, makes it easier to get off the lift." I demonstrated, right foot pushing, left foot strapped in, as if you're on a skateboard. I slid toward the lift.

Legolas tucked his board under his arm and started to walk up the hill.

"Nooooo!" I shoved and slid as fast as I could, and caught his arm. I pointed at the lift. He cocked a meaningful eyebrow at me.

Lorien's board was pointed in our direction, but it was sliding the other way. She called something to him in Elvish, and he went back and caught her arm, towing her to me.

"Would you please explain to him he can't just waltz up the hill? He'll get mowed down by skiers or something." I said.

"More like manic snowboarders." she said. "I think he can avoid them though. They can't be much worse than orcs."

Lorien grabbed both his arms and heaved herself around to face him, banging him in the shins with her board, and landing squarely on his feet. He ignored it. She babbled something at him, occasionally loosing her grip for a teetering moment to point up the hill.

Finally he nodded, "Ok." He let out a resigned sigh.

When in Orc County, do as the orcs do.

We scooted over to the lift, Lorien suspended between us like an enormous toddler. Somewhere behind me I heard a guy's voice, "aaaaah!" and a thud. I turned to see two twenty-something women shoving past him toward us. We went through the Hobbit-high railings, Legolas closely watching the skiers ahead of us get scooped up by the moving chairs. He had a grim look on his face, as if he'd rather face a horde of rampaging orcs. We scooted forward, Lorien went "Waaaaahhhhh!" and the chair hit us in the butt. I grabbed it and heaved Lorien up, like I had before. Legolas let out a startled exclamation and sat down, snowboard tangling with mine and Lorien's. I pulled the safety bar down, right on Legolas' arm.

"Ack!" he said.

I had no idea ack was an Elvish word. I lifted the bar far enough for him to extract himself. Lorien grabbed me in a Watcher in the Water death grip, staring down at the snow well below us now. I shoved her into Legolas and lowered the bar. Then I shoved everybody's snowboards around so they were facing left foot forward, ready to dismount.

We drifted serenely over snowy slopes, gleaming white in the sun, with flashes of bright color weaving down, making swoopy Elvish curves in the packed snow. Lorien rummaged in the depths of her pink coat, a Grandma gift, produced her camera, and shot pictures of the action. Below us, one of the classes was just finishing up, and a few of the skiers were heading for the lifts. Oh goodie, more newbies, a whole pack of them. I tried to remember their colors, so I knew who wouldn't get out of my way; red and bright blue and something purple and blue/yellow and one in Barbie doll pink. The slope came up under us, and the chair floated over the off-ramp, I flung the bar up and slid off, dragging Lorien with me. She lurched, grabbed, and we both went over in a tangled pile. I peered over her bike helmet hoping Legolas had a clue how to get off. I pictured him staying on the lift chair, I pictured him stuck up there going round and round and round, I pictured the whole lift being stopped. I pictured the leggy Ski Patrol swooshing silently up with grim looks. I pictured the stout, hairy little Maintenence Department guys on their snowmobiles armed with axes and ladders and tools. I pictured lots of questions...

Legolas slid by us, skewed to a perfect halt, held out a hand, to me, then to Lorien. He stuck his other foot in the binding and strapped it down. He gave me a sharp nod, warrior to warrior, and headed for the slope.

Three women wobbling on new skis looked longingly after him.

I called back over my shoulder, "I want to do a training run with Legolas, make sure he's got it, ok?"

"Oh, just go ahead," Lorien called out behind me, "I'll be ok." I think she learned that guilt-inducing voice from her grandmother. 'I'll just end up going down the death slope at ninety miles and hour and crash into the padded telephone poles and die horribly, but you go have fun'.

"Hang loose, we'll come back for you." I knew she could go down Fanny Hill by herself, even if I could go down three times before she got down once. She'd be fine.

Oh Maaaaaan, that Grandmother Voice really worked. I shoved the Guilty Feeling of All Time back down into its cellar, and swooshed across the slope. It was hard to do a real carve on these gentle slopes, but I did a good, sharp turn and came back around facing upslope. Legolas cut across the slope above me in a nice sweeping arc. I held my breath as he neared the treeline, but he tilted on his toe edge and made a clean turn, leaving a line in the snow like the edge of an Elvish blade. We swept back and forth across the slope in lines like Rivendell architecture, weaving between new skiers and moms and little kids. A few started drifting in our direction, like cats to a newly opened can of Fancy Feast...mostly women.

Elf gravity.

I hit one of the low moguls on the side and caught some air, he followed me; I carved, facing upslope and saw him jump like a cat. He went airborne like somebody who'd been born in a halfpipe. I heard a "Sheeeeeit!" from a twelve year old to my right. Legolas came down in perfect balance, and swept toward me. I stuck out a hand. It was a game some of us played on the harder slopes; see if you can get close enough to slap your buddy's hand. It took good control, and precision on the double diamonds. He probably wouldn't understand but...

He swooshed by and smacked my hand, a gleeful grin on his face.

I thought about sending him back. I thought how easy it would be for Dwarves to make snowboards.

I thought of Caradhras.

Uh oh.

Middle-earth would never be the same.

Things went a bit smoother on the second attempt at the ski-lift, except for the middle-aged newbie skier with an overdose of pink; expensive new ski jacket, cutesy little fuzzy-balled Barbie doll hat, and lipstick.
Whothehell wears lipstick on a ski slope?

She slithered up as we were going through the knee-high Hobbit railings, butting in front of a little kid with a snowboard. She smiled at Legolas as if I didn't exist, and tried to get on our chair. I scooted past her, hauling the Elf with me, accidently weaving the trailing edge of my board just in front of one of her skis. The chair scooped us up just as I heard a satisfying "Aaahhhh!" and a distinct thump.

We swooshed down Fanny Hill, trying to see how fast we could go. Halfway down I caught up with Lorien. She was sliding across the hill to the left, I swept around her. "How's it going?"

"Wonderful." she said. She leaned back and scraped to a halt and fell over. She hitched around facing upslope, wobbled to her feet and began a slow slide back across the hill to the right. Slide across, brake, fall over. Turn on butt on snow, wobble to feet, slide across hill, brake, fall over. It worked pretty well, actually, she hadn't broken anything yet, not even my board.

Legolas whooshed by and made a neat circle around us, like a hawk on the wing. He caught Lorien's hand.

"Waaauuuuughhh!" she said, and they vanished downslope way faster than she'd ever gone. They looked like ice dancers, like hawks.

Barbie Woman whooshed past me, not quite under total control.

I pointed my clunky rental board straight down the slope and crouched. A little twist here, a carve there, yeah, even Fanny Hill could be fun sometimes. I cut in front of Barbie Woman, making her snowplow and flail wildly with her poles. I gave her a wave and a Shenzi grin as she yawed toward the moguls. I circled around Lorien and Legolas, and the three of us wove a pattern prettier than those silver lines on Legolas' tunic. When he was blond and Orlando Bloom.

Somewhere behind me I heard a "Yaaaaahhhhhh!" and heard the sound of a newbie skier hitting the slope, and not the way she wanted to.

We did a couple more runs, and Lorien seemed to be getting the hang of things. Which meant she was hanging on our Elf less. He stuck close to her though, and I stuck close to him, though I was itching to get onto the double diamond slopes. By the looks of him, he'd be able to handle them, no problem. If I could pry him loose from Lorien.

By the fourth run Lorien was winded. We went partway down the slope, then made a little tribal circle in the middle of Fanny Hill. Snowboarders do it all the time, never skiers; just stopping in the middle of the slope to hang out and chat, sitting in a Council of Elrond in the snow. Lorien unearthed her camera from a pocket and snapped pics of snowboarders and skiers whoosing past.

After a few minutes I stood up, "I'll catch you in a couple minutes." I told Lorien. I nodded to Legolas, "Let's go."

Lorien waved us off with one hand, the other snapping pictures of us.

Ok, pictures of the Elf.

We wove our way downslope in great wild arcs, like wild horses. Like stooping falcons. Flying on the wind.

At the bottom I saw Barbie Woman. She followed us to the lift and missed our chair again, by one. She was starting to annoy me.

We slid off at the top, and wove our way through newbies and kids to where I could see Lorien talking to a brightly clad snowboarder, kneeling on the snow with her. We slowed, waved at her to follow. At the bottom I swept into a perfect halt.

Legolas wasn't behind me.

What the...I looked up the slope and ten yards away, he stood talking to Barbie Woman. Ok, she was doing all the talking, He was just standing there, kind of fascinated by her or something. I thought he had better taste than that. I hopped over, it was harder, and looked cooler than just slithering on one foot. Maybe I could intimidate her with my athletic ability.

"Hey." I said.

She looked at me with eyes like the bottom of the ocean.

The next thing I remember is Lorien yelling something; I think it was Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima! as she crashed into Barbie Woman. Then Legolas was picking her up and grabbing me by the hand. It was hard to get up any forward motion at all, much less speed that close to the bottom of the slope, but he did it. We slid off toward the ski lodge and ducked behind a padded phone pole just as one of the elegant Ski Patrol guys came whooshing up to Barbie Woman.

"We should go, now!" Lorien said.

"It was her. It had to be her."

"Do you remember what she looked like?" I said.

"No. Legolas doesn't either."

"Me either. I just remember the eyes. Weird." I said. We were huddled in Strider's cab, with the engine sputtering to life in the cold. Legolas twisted on the far side of the passenger seat, staring out one window, then the other with an expression like a hunting hawk.

"Wait, your camera." I reached out a hand.

Lorien dug in her pocket; flit, flit, flit, she scanned the digital pics she'd taken earlier. Flashes of color on the slopes, the blurs of snowboarders and skiers doing warp ten past her. A flash of hot pink, too far to see a face.

"Damn!" she said.

Lorien never says damn.

"We should have sprung the trap." Lorien said.

"With what? How? Hit her over the head with a snowboard?" I was annoyed. I wanted Nazgul Barbie's fuzzy pink hat balls on a mithril platter, but I couldn't think how to do it.

"Maybe Legolas could have done something, if he hadn't been so intent on getting us out of there." Lorien said.

"What? Legolas? He was the one she charmed in the first place. And Dana said not to mess with her."

"Since when has anything said by an adult deterred you?"

I gave her a sharp look.

"Maybe we should have followed her and tried to find her car." Lorien said.

I shook my head, "No time. If she could charm Legolas, she could charm Ski Patrol. Then we'd have them on our butts too. And it's not like that night on the trail, this time we didn't even see her coming." That really bugged me. I hadn't had a clue, neither had Legolas. And if she could sneak up on us like that...whooo boy. "And how did she know we were there, in the first place?" I reached for the protection charm Dana had given me and realized something.

It wasn't there.

I reached across Lorien to Legolas and stuck my hand inside his shirt.

"Hey, what the hell?" Lorien said.

She never says hell.

Legolas caught my hand and gave me a look like an annoyed cat.

"Where's your charm?" I said. I pointed at mine, or rather, where it should have been.

His hand went to his chest, and his eyes widened, then his face shifted to the kind of look cats give you when they leap for the steak on the counter and miss. He said something, so soft I didn't quite catch it.

"Um, he forgot it." Lorien said. "And yours?" She had noticed my own ineffectual groping.

"Yeah. I think I left it in the bathroom."

"Wonderful. I've got mine." She looked entirely too pleased with herself.

"Yeah, well anyway, how did Nazgul Barbie know we were going to be here?"

"Maybe she's got her own palantir." Lorien said. "She's being more subtle, too. No displays of raw power, like on the trail that night. Just sneak up and..."

"What? What does she want?"

Lorien looked at Legolas. "Well, she was talking to him. Charming his, um, boots off, it seemed. She ignored you, and never even noticed me."

"Yeah. How did you know? That it was her."

"Come on, Legolas standing there entranced by some cheesy chick in overgrown Barbie clothes? He's got better taste than that." She was silent for a moment, fingering the leather pouch Dana had given her. "And maybe this thing really works. I just had...a feeling."

"So, that was a purposeful crash?"

Lorien snorted, "Of course! I'm not that bad!"

I smiled. "Thanks." I paused, "Hannon le."

She grinned back, "No problem."



pae-a-tolodh: Legolas

From his seat at the swinging ship's table below decks, Gimli thrust a book at Legolas. It was bound in thin wood covered with leaves from Mirkwood trees protected by many coats of varnish. A gift from the Prince of Mirkwood on a birthday. It was full of doodles and drawings and designs for amazing contraptions, most of which had not been built, yet.

"Show me this board contraption you slid on the snow with." he said, handing Legolas a small leather pouch.

Legolas sat across the table, opened the pouch. Inside were half a dozen sticks, two fingers long and half a finger wide; charcoal and other elements pressed into fine sharp drawing tools. Gimli's design.
Better than a pencil, Legolas thought. He doodled the design, from several angles, explaining it and the bindings and boots as he went, passing The Book back and forth across the table to Gimli.
After the candles above them had burned halfway down, he shoved it back across the table to Gimli one last time.

Gimli nodded in satisfaction, he knew how good Elvish memories were. He just hoped that somewhere in the Blessed Realm, there was snow.


The See Longing


Lizard

Movie night at Dana's involves buckets of all-natural popcorn, a big-screen TV, surround sound, and a lot of beanbag chairs. I didn't even know they made those things anymore, but she had a whole living room full of them. Sometimes we dug through her ancient archives; stuff like Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone swashing and buckling, or Roy Rogers or Gene Autry singing their way through the old west, or the Seven Samurai fighting evil in ancient Japan. Sometimes we'd have strange foreign films where we had to read the subtitles. And sometimes it'd just be a kaboomfest with somebody like Arnold Schwarzenegger in it. The sight of Legolas in shorts and a tank top, sprawled in a hot pink beanbag was worth the price of tonight's admission; bringing a DVD Dana didn't have. The one I'd brought was something we'd all seen a few dozen times in the theater (except of course for the Elf), it was like pirate gold, we couldn't get enough of it.

Besides, it had Orli in it.

I leapt through the door into the kitchen, brandishing my treasured DVD like a cutlass. "Avast!" I said to Dana, "You're off the map now, here there be monsters!"

Dana laughed, Legolas studied me the way an anthropologist might study a member of an obscure tribe who painted themselves blue and ran screaming naked into battle. Lorien stood in the doorway, mouth ajar, words failing to come out. When they finally did she squeaked, "You can't! You can't do that one!" She flapped her hands and mouthed something, her eyes jerking toward Legolas, popping the third bag of microwave popcorn with the intensity of a scientist studying a new cancer cure.

"Flea bonging?" I said.

Legolas looked up.

Lorien shook her head frantically, made a little birdbeak shape by her mouth, flapped her hands some more.

"Sounds like...tweezers...pliers..."

Dana wandered by and thrust a mug of hot chocolate into Lorien's hands. "Don't worry, Lorien, he's already seen Captain Blood and the Sea Hawks, I don't think Pirates of the Caribbean is going to set him off waxing poetic over long sea voyages and western sunsets."

"Are you certain?" Lorien said.

Dana shrugged. "We'll worry about that when we get there. We're kind of in his future, or at least, one branch of it...when he goes back, he may not remember any of this. Or," she said more quietly, "we may have to make sure he doesn't."

"You can do that? Like Professor Xavier, or something?" I said through a mouthful of popcorn.

Dana smiled her Shenzi smile.

"How'd the session with your buddy go?" I asked. I didn't want to think too long about Legolas not remembering any of us. Well, yeah, I didn't want to screw up Middle-earth's future, but hey, I thought it'd be nice if...oh...I don't know.

"Zip, nein, nada, zilch." Dana said. If she'd seen the expression on my face, she didn't show it. "Of course I haven't been able to tell anyone we've got a fictional character hanging out at my place. But nobody knows anything about opening trans-dimensional doorways. Reversing a love spell, that's easy. But this is not a simple love spell, I'm pretty sure. Something more peculiar at work here. I think we need to nail down this Nazgul chick to figure it out." She reached for the fourth bowl of popcorn as Legolas took out another bag. Dana whisked the bag from his hand. "Lorien, please tell him I think we've got enough already."

We schlumped our beanbags into a circle of comfy nests surrounding the Elf. Kodi and Shenzi sprawled on the floor, with their own little piles of popcorn. And since it was my DVD, I wielded the remote. Legolas shoved his beanbag closer and two minutes into the previews said a stream of fluid Elvish and snagged the remote out of my hands. He seamlessly flicked through the menu till he found a short feature that looked interesting. He scanned through it at 8X the normal speed, then did it again for the next feature. We sat up in our beanbags, watching him flick back and forth on the menu.

"Just like this morning. Swear to all the gods, it must be wired into the flamin' y gene." Dana said. "Males." she added, and flumped back into her beanbag. "Wake me when we actually get to the movie."

"Hey," I said, reaching for the remote, "Give it here."

It slipped out of my reach, quick as a fish. I reached again, from a different angle, and Legolas evaded my reach as easily as Nightcrawler evading Juggernaut. "Arrrr." I said, grinning a pirate grin. And reached again. This time he feinted left, then dodged right, and I saw the growing smile on his face.

"That does it." I leapt on him and wrestled him to the floor, like I had a dozen other boys. Only I'd pretty much wanted to kick their butts into the next millennium, and had put a hurtin' on certain parts of their anatomy. I grabbed the remote on the way down. He slipped out of my grasp and then Kodi piled on, arooing with delight. Shenzi lifted her head once, snorted, then went back to sleep. The Prince of Mirkwood caught my leg and flipped me neatly into the next beanbag, and the remote into his hand.

Lorien sat there, staring at us like we'd gone straight over the edge of the Knowne Worlde.

Somewhere in the next hundred and thirty seconds, Legolas ended up sprawled across one puce green beanbag and one Caribbean blue one, legs effectively pinned by Dana, me sitting on his chest, all of us laughing. He looked up into my eyes, his dark in the subdued lighting. The playfull grin, the kind you'd share with a swordbrother, faded.

It was like he'd suddenly remembered I was a girl. He looked kind of embarassed, and said something in Elvish.

"My lady," Lorien said, "and he emphasized Lady..."

He handed me the remote, with a gesture that would have done justice to the presentation of a single perfect rose.

"I yield." Lorien translated, looking peeved.

I glanced away from his eyes and piled off. He rolled gracefully into his own beanbag again, and I flicked the menu to to 'play movie'. I huddled in my beanbag, inches from that lean, hard, graceful body watching Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom kick pirate butt.

I couldn't keep my mind on Orli at all.



One Wing to Fool Them All

Sunday was Family Stuff Day, for both Lorien and me. Her parents had some exciting museum trip planned, and mine had some Hobbit-sized dinner going with the rest of the clan. I grumped through endless variations on "Have some more potatoes." and "How about those Ravens." Kodi lurked under the table wolfing down bits dropped by my youngest cousins. I finally escaped with my cousins to watch Frozen for the 147th time.

Awhile later I called Lorien on the cell, she was yawning at a pre-cambrian sea-bed in the Smithsonian, I was humming mindlessly along with "Hawaiian Rollercoaster Ride" in Lilo and Stitch.

My three year old cousin was trying to put her socks on Kodi.

We both had a horrible case of Elf-withdrawal.

"I'm getting him his own cell phone, dammit." Lorien said.

She never says dammit.

I took Kodi for a walk when we got back, just as the sun was going down in fire and ice. I wanted to go over to Dana's, but I had homework from hell to finish before tomorrow. I slipped past Mom and Dad in front of the TV, and managed not to have to explain I'd do the homework later. I pulled on my running shoes, my headlamp, the broad ski-joring belt that Dad had made to hold the two dog line the attached to Kodi's harness. If I skied, it would be called ski-joring. I'd tried it with the snowboard but... nope, Nope Train to Nopeville. So I just ran; it's still a legitimate actual sport they call canicross. Kodi just called it fun. Dad said he'd build a kicksled for me this winter, so Kodi could go faster.

Humans, just too slow.


Out the door, duck under the winter dried hanging flower baskets and the fall banner, past the bird feeders, and the green seahorse birdbath, and the silver gazing globe on its cherub pedestal, hopping down the stepping stones, with their bunny designs, that Mom had placed last summer, through the Siberian proof fence and out to the Wild.

I jogged along the woods trail, imagining Legolas running under the stars in Mirkwood, and wishing he could have come along. My headlamp scribbled amber circles of light on the dark trail, picking out glints of red or green or yellow eyes when I turned toward a sudden sound in the woods. A screech owl sent out a wavering ghost-horse whinny, deer crashed away into the brush. Kodi strained after them.

"On by!" I called to him. Dana's friend Maggie trained sled dogs and that was the command to leave the chipmunk the hell alone and keep running. She'd run Kodi with her team a few times, and I practiced the commands whenever I ran on the trails with him. He reluctantly turned from the deer and trotted down the trail. I broke into a good run. Kodi stretched out ahead, hauling on me like an Iditarod champion, lengthening my own strides. We ran half an hour out into the forest, then turned and came back on the trail that led by the campfire circle.

Suddenly Kodi stopped dead in the middle of the trail.

"On by!" I yelled at him, He stood on his hind legs, staring straight up at the branches overhead.

Squirrels, he did that all the time. "Come on, sausage brains," I hauled at his collar, "Leave the squirrel alone." I looked up, weird...usually you heard them scrambling around like an airborne moose. The tree was silent.

A big bird lifted noisily off from the tree and drifted down the trail, then vanished into the trees.

I couldn't see what color it was in the dusky light, it was just a big dark shadow. Too noisy for an owl.

And I could see the broad shape of the wings...and the tail. Wedge-shaped.

A raven.


"Lorien, what do you know about ravens?" my ear was pasted to my cell phone, and my fingers were desperately trying to remember important stuff about the capital of Nebraska.

"Why are you asking me? You're the one with the hundred and ninety-seven field guides."

"I know that stuff. Peterson's Field Guide to the Eastern Birds, Audobon articles. Raven Darkholme."

"Wha?"

"Mystique's alter-ego. Evil Blue Wench of Doom?

"Shapeshifter? Mother to the hottest Elf since Legolas? Sound familiar?"

"Oh, yeah. Why ravens?"

"I saw her...him, her, again. In the dark, near the campfire circle. And they never fly at night."

"That's odd." I heard silence and could almost smell the brain cells smoking. "Crebain from Dunland."

"Yeah, really."

"Well, I have been reading Bernd Heinrich's 'Mind of the Raven'. Very interesting. Comes recommended by the Smithsonian Magazine. It's..."

"Wonderful. What I really need to know is what are they in mythology?"

"Hmmmm. Odin's Ravens, Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory." Lorien said. "They go with his wolves."

"Isn't he the guy with one eyeball? The one you don't piss off?"

"Anthony Hopkins? Thor's dad, remember? He's the chief of the Norse gods, the Allfather of sky and wind, the ravens bring him messages from the rest of the world."

Oh yeah, they were actually in the films, the Thor films. "Like Saruman's crows." I said.

"Yes. Well, no, mythic Odin's a bit like he was in the films, not evil, even if he did receive the odd bloody sacrifice."

"Yeah, but the ravens are still spies." I was thinking of Nazgul Woman, and her charm spells, and wondering if other people than Elves could talk to animals. I thought of Raven Darkholme too...shapeshifters, and an icy wind walked up my spine.

"Messengers! Not spies." Lorien emphasized. "Campfire circle, that's where you saw her? Odd. No, not odd, that's where you did the spell, right?"

"Yeah."

"Well, there's the Morrigan. Celtic goddess of fertility, battle and death. Her bird was the raven."

"Because they were wise, or because they hung out on battlefields picking out people's eyeballs?" I heard the sound of something crashing to the floor.

"I will never be able to eat melon balls again." Lorien said.

"Wonderful."

"Then there's Raven in northwest coast mythology. He's a trickster figure."

"Oh, goodie. This gets better and better."

"No, good. Well, mostly. He steals the sun and moon and stars and puts them in the sky where they belong and helps bring forth the first people."

There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

"Crebain, from Dunland." I muttered.

"No, wait, in the Hobbit, wise ravens brought messages to the Dwarves."

"Yeah. I just wonder who this raven is bringing messages to." I eyed my bo staff, leaning against the doorframe. I had a feeling I'd better be practicing.



pae-a-neder: Legolas

Elf Defense

The wind had shifted, and the grey ship was no longer beating into the wind, but reaching, with the wind off her starboard side. The keen knife-blade of the bow sliced through quieter waves now, a pod of dolphins riding just before it. Her swan neck stretched west into a red sunset, the wings of her sails amber against an indigo sky sprinkled with the first of Elbereth's stars.

The Elf moved across the deck...no, danced. Coiled and uncoiled like a striking snake. Pounded downward like a breaking wave. Hands moved like falcon talons, like the claws of a great cat. He froze in mid-stride, motionless as if Time itself had stopped, despite the rolling of the ship's deck, and the hard tilt of it as the ship heeled over in the wind. Then he was a blur of motion, faster than the eye could follow. The twin knives flashed, golden lightning bolts in the westering sun. Then he slowed, like a sweep of rain across the grass, drew himself together, rooted as deep as an ancient tree and bowed, westward.

From a secure place at the foot of the mainmast, Gimli spoke, "Why do you still practice? There are no more wars to fight."

Legolas stared west, the ship flew on, the wind blew, he breathed a hundred times, the amber glow of the moonsails high above him deepened, then faded to grey.

Indeed, why? The small changes in his life were beginning to sink in. The things he had done without thought over the centuries, the things that were as much a part of him as breathing. What use were they in this new life? He watched the water change from molten steel with blue-green shadows, to subtle shades of pewter and lavender and rose. Something big rolled up out of the Great Sea and vanished. Something he did not know the name of. And there would be many things he would not know the names of in this new place. He shivered as if a cold wind had touched him.

Gimli's feet clunked on the deck. Legolas turned to see the dwarf staring up at him, endless patience in the mine-jewel glint of his eyes.

"I have always done it." Legolas said. "And it came to us from the Valar in the beginning. It hones the body, enlightens the mind, strengthens the spirit."And I know it, as I know you. It roots me in the familiar. It carries the scent of Mirkwood's trees, the feel of moss-covered rock, the hundred thousand shades of green in the spring. He sighed and looked up at the clouds of sails, grey in the dusk, strung upon masts as great as the ancient trees of Mirkwood, the maze of spars and yards and spreaders, of sheets and shrouds and braces as complex as the woven branches of his woodland home.
Is there room for anything of my old life in Eressea? Or am I about to do something my folk never do...change?



Lizard

It was Day From Hell at school, you know, the kind of day when you've got forty-seven tests, eight tons of homework, every teacher picks on you to answer stupid questions you don't remember being in the book, in any book. Questions that will never have anything to do with real life. The day when all the Barbie clones make a special effort to remind you that pond scum has a better chance of living happily ever after than you do. I couldn't even commiserate with Lorien, she was being dragged off on a shopping expedition. With her grandmother. Gaaaah! That was more like a trek through Mordor than an evening in Rivendell.

It wasn't even my night to do stalls at Dana's, I went anyway.

"He's out back." Dana waved vaguely up toward the hill behind the house.

I pulled Kodi out of the truck, donned my headlamp, then thought better of it. The waxing moon gave a lot of light, and somehow the woods seem more, well...woodsy in the dark. I climbed the slope, wondering how I was going to find a woodelf in all those shadowy acres. Maybe he'd even gone out into the State Forest, running under the stars, like in The Book.

Well, probably Kodi would find him. He plunged ahead, dragging on the line like usual, a huge doggy grin on his face.

Laugh it up, doggyboy, you don't have to deal with Mrs. Smeed. And Tiffany Smith.

Kodi dragged me up, then right, ignoring the rustlings of small things in the leaves, the sudden shadow of a hunting screech owl, and anything that looked like a trail. He plunged through the brush, wrapping the line around every rock and branch he could find, then panting and pulling up the slope while I tried to untangle him in the dark. Near the top, the woods opened up, there was a nearly level place, ringed with mountain laurel and white pine, and carpeted with ferns in the summer. The moon turned the sky to indigo blue, and the ground to dark silver, striped with treeshadow like a tiger's back. Kodi plunged to the edge of it and stopped.

In the open glade, shimmering with moonlight and treeshadow and things I couldn't see, Legolas danced.

Not the blond Legolas who shield-surfed a stairway at Helm's Deep. Not the dark-eyed pin-up actor who smiled from the covers of a dozen magazines. Not even the windblown warrior in the Alan Lee illo in The Book.

This was something straight out of Faerie Tale; all nightshadow and moonglimmer. I heard Lorien again, quoting The Silmarillion, and how mortal Man Beren first saw Luthien, Daughter of Elvenking Thingol.

I stood, frozen, in the shadows of the pines, Kodi sat as if carved from stone. Legolas knew I was there, he had to, but the dance didn't falter. He moved like a shadow under the trees. Like a hunting cat. Like a striking falcon. He wielded two longknives, or something similar, and they flashed through the striped treeshadow faster than sight. He leaped and spun and landed with as much sound as owlflight. It was a kata, a martial arts form that would have had Jackie Chan openmouthed with awe. I reached out to the nearest tree and leaned on it. And thought how it felt when Legolas touched my hand and I was the tree.

Legolas wasn't dancing in the glade, he was the glade, woven into it like the treeroots and moonlight and the tiny hunting screech owl. He wove the kata the way Dana wove the intricate spiral of a dreamcatcher from a single piece of thread.

He finally slowed, a heron drawing itself up into a hunting pose, he stood, one-legged, and Time froze with him.

When he bowed, west, I think, I breathed again, and realized I was shivering, and not just from the late night chill. He raised his eyes, faint star glints in a shadowed face, and looked at me.

Through me.

I'd thought I understood Elf...

You know; tall and fair and wise, good paddler, awesome archer, talks to horses and trees. Or maybe the blue fuzzy one who's warm and funny and cuddly and can do a triple backflip without breaking a sweat.

Yeah, I understood this whole Elf thing about as well as I understood quantum physics. I thought about turning around and melting back into the trees. Except it would be more like crashing, at least compared to him. I took a step back.

"Tolo." he said softly, "Come."

I wandered uncertainly into the middle of the clearing. It was hard to look up at him, into his eyes, and harder to look away.

Kodi grinned up at him and Legolas knelt and circled the dog with an arm, grinning back, and looking almost like the dark-haired guy in Wellies I'd seen in the barn all week. He sheathed the two objects he'd been wielding, his knives from Dana, perfect copies of the ones Legolas had used in the movies; when he was blond, and Orlando Bloom.

I really, really wished I'd paid more attention to things like glosseopaeia, or at least the lines in the movie. I frowned at the soft litter of pine needles on the forest floor. I wondered what Tiffany Smith would do right now.

Kodi arrooed and stuck his nose in Legolas face, and washed it with an enormous length of rose petal tongue. The Elf laughed, low and sweet, like a horse chuckle. He said something to Kodi, then did the thing you never do with Siberians. He let him off the leash. Unhooked the tugline and let him run. Kodi danced around him, ar-ara-rooing in his best wookiee accent. Legolas reached into the leaf litter and found a stick, then the two of them danced around the clearing like young wolves, leaping and evading, catching and missing and whirling in a mad predatory dance.

I knew what Tiffany Smith would do, she'd flee in panic. I watched them leaping around the clearing, feinting and dodging, like Legolas on the wall at Helm's Deep. No, more fluid, faster. I'd copied the moves from the film and done them a hundred times, but I could never look like that.

The Wild Wargs of the Woods came over and stood before me, laughing silently, leaves in their hair.
I stood, words dammed up like the river before the ents broke the dam at Isengard. I wanted to say something like...something classy, something Deep and Meaningful, like you'd hear in 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', or the very first Star Wars movie; Oh Great Master, teach me the ways of the Force.

I stood there feeling only a little brighter than pond scum.

Legolas laid his hands over mine, "What?" he asked.

I looked up into a face full of shadows and star-glint and said, "Ahhh..."

He studied my face for a moment as if trying to read my thought, then drew me out into the center of the clearing. He paused long enough to look at Kodi, "Dartho!" he said. Kodi did something he never does, he dropped to the ground and lay there like a Siberian Sphinx.

"Here." Legolas said. He drew his knives with hands that moved faster than sight. I remembered that line from the book, and it was true. He stepped back into a stance that looked utterly natural, and somehow looked like a cat about to pounce.

The cat pounced, in slow motion, swept the knives in a tight coiling arc and lashed out with the speed of a dream. He came back to a stance that made me think of herons. Then handed me the knives without a word.

I was pretty good at watching someone, and then doing what I saw. It worked for riding; every winning rider at the shows had been logged somewhere in my memory, and once or twice those riders found themselves beaten by someone they had unknowingly trained.

But then I wasn't trying to copy an Elf.

As I tried, over and over, to repeat the moves he'd just shown me, I came to the conclusion that the Elves were actually descended from sharks, or jellyfish, or some other lifeform that didn't have bones.

Nobody could move like that.

Or maybe they could, if they had five hundred years to practice.

He shadowed me, mirroring my moves, or the ones I was supposed to be doing. He danced at my shoulder, close enough to touch, and yet never there when I reached out clumsily with the knives. His shadowed face was as cool as a hawk on the wind, and he did not once laugh, even when I tripped over a tree root and landed on my sorry butt.

He reached a hand down and lifted me up as easily as a feather.

The moonshadow moved across the ground, and the sky brightened to deep blue-silver overhead. A distant hoo hoo-hoo-hoo hoo HOO! shattered the silence. Another great horned owl, closer, answered. Deer stepped out of the shadows at the edge of the clearing for a moment, staring in surprise, then moved on. A rambling skunk drifted under the laurel and waddled down the hill. A silver-furred possum appeared, sniffing at us with a face full of whiskers, then trundled off on its pink daisy hands. In a most un-Siberian manner, Kodi ignored all of them; he sat, still as stone, watching us. We danced on. Gradually the moves came easier. They piled one on another; heron and owl and striking snake, deep-rooted tree and sinuous vine and slinking cat, horse and elk, grasshopper and mantis. Or at least, that's what I think they were. Sometimes Legolas would stop and try to describe the animal form, sometimes I would get it, and sometimes I was sure he was describing a jellyfish or an armadillo.
And I was really sure there wasn't any such thing as a clam form.

I swung the knives faster now, though not as fast as the Elf. I stepped through the moonshadow with somewhat more grace than a bounding dumptruck. I leapt like 'aras' and struck like 'brog'.Floated like 'gwilwering' and snapped like 'half'.

Yeah, there really was a clam form.

Legolas suddenly stood, staring down the hill as if he had heard something in the dark.

My hand went to Dana's charm, inside my shirt, but it lay cool and silent.

Legolas said. "We should go."

I handed him back the knives, suddenly feeling how tired I was. Kodi rose from his place under the laurel and grinned up at us.

Legolas laid an arm across my shoulder, the warm, fierce embrace of a swordbrother. "Mae carnen, mae carnen, mellon nin." he said, "Well done, my friend." Then he turned and headed down the hill, Kodi at his heels, and just slow enough for me to keep up.

We reached Dana's yard, she stood by the big dinner bell at the gate, yawning. "Do you have any idea what time it is?"

I dug in my pocket for the watch I'd ditched there. "Ack!"

Legolas looked at the sky, then at Dana. He looked like Shenzi when she'd been caught with most of the Thanksgiving turkey on the floor.

"Not everyone runs on Elvish Time." Dana said pointedly.

He gave her a smile, the kind that would have melted a glacier in Antarctica.

Uh ohhhhh...I know my Mom called, about five dozen times. And what would Dana have told her? I was out in the woods with some guy in the middle of the night.

Ack! "We were, ahhhh..."

"I told your Mom you were working late on a school project." Dana was staring at Legolas with the kind of look that could have frozen Smaug in his tracks.

"Uh...thanks." I said, snapping the lead back on Kodi. "I mean, we were, sort of..."

Dana eyed the Elf, and the sheathed knives, "Don't mention it."

"GottagoSeeyatomorrow!" I ran for the truck. Dana gave me a Shenzi look, reached up and took Legolas' shoulder in a firm grip and went back up the walk to the house.



Women Who Run With the Elves

All the adventures in Lorien's life, so far, had pretty much occurred between the pages of a book, or online. Her pudgy little butt showed it. Suddenly, she wanted to try real hands-on adventure, horsemanship, archery, even the kata I'd just learned...

...as long as there was an Elf involved.

She blearily trailed me to Dana's for morning chores, just so she could come after school and shovel more poop, then go out into the big arena under the lights and heave herself onto Pumpkin and crash through a few more poles and cavallettis in Dana's obstacle course. Legolas followed her on Beo, calling out encouragement in two languages, and demonstrating proper seat, legs and hands with his own (extremely lucious) body.

Which Lorien had got a lot of pictures of. About a whole boxful of computer disks by now, I think. Well, at least she made me copies.

Meanwhile, I exercised one of the boarders' new horses, a high-powered Thoroughbred hunter whose young rider had parents with too much money and not enough horse sense. Dana figured I was getting a little bored with Cherokee and needed a Learning Experience.

Oh Noooo! Not another Learning Experience...

After a week, Lorien could walk, trot and even canter through the course. The big blue barrels stayed upright, the rails stayed perched on their piles of tires, and the pole-bending poles stayed balanced in their concrete-filled paint cans. And there were pictures of her, taken by Legolas, to prove it.
After a week, Legolas and Beo could do a second level dressage test; riding perfect circles and lines, in perfect rhythm and balance, like a dance, and all without saddle or bridle. And there were pictures of him, taken by Lorien, to prove it.

After a week, Loki had dumped me three times, played soccer with the blue barrels, frisbee with the tires, and scattered the pole-bending poles like orc spears after a battle. And there were no pictures to prove it, because I had wrestled the camera out of Lorien's hands and erased them.

Yeah, ok, you name a horse after the Norse god of havoc and general mayhem and see what happens.

I sat on a big blue plastic barrel that the blasted beast had just spooked at, run over top of, and wrecked like a Volkswagon Bug chewed on by Smaug. Loki stood, flame-red mane tumbled over half closed eyes as if nothing had happened. He yawned. I considered how many Siberians he could feed for a month.

Stupid horse.

On the other side of the arena, Lorien was doing a nice job of weaving between the pole-bending poles, without bending any of them. Legolas was pantomiming leg and rein movements, and calling commands.

Stupid Elf.

No, I did not just think that.

Oh, yeah, I did. Somewhere in the deep dark sub-basement of my subconcious, an evil green-eyed dragon snorked a great cloud of jealous vapor. I punched it squarely in its smoking little nose and locked the door on it. After all, this was my best buddy we were talking about.

Best buddies.

And Dana said I knew enough to figure out what to do with Loki myself. I stared glumly up at Loki. He twitched an ear and snorted straight in my face.

Oh great, horse snot on my face was really going to impress the hell outta the Elf.

Stupid horse, he could probably keep a whole Iditarod team fed for about twelve hundred miles.

Lorien let out a laugh from the other side of the arena, and did a nice little hop over a foot high cavalletti.

I could just go over there and beg for help. Legolas had run over when I'd got dumped, but I'd waved him off. Right now I was trying to remember why.

Oh yeah. Impress him with your bravery and horsemanship talent.

I never said I was particularly brilliant. Anyway, I figured he was busy with Beo and Lorien and I was supposed to be a Nearly Professional Horseman. I could figure it out myself.

Loki snorted again.

I stood and grabbed a chunk of mane at the base of Loki's neck, got a foot in the stirrup and started to swing up. Loki danced in a jittery circle, I hopped after him. On the umpteenth revolution, Lorien and Pumpkin appeared, like a small planet in the middle of our erratic moon-mad orbit.

"Want some help?" she said.

"Oh. No. I'm doing just fine." I said through my teeth. Loki did a nifty little scuttle-hop, the safety stirrup's rubber band twanged like a bowstring and I landed on my butt. Loki danced off to mangle some more scenery.

Pumpkin stared after him like a disapproving grandmother. Legolas reached a hand down to me. I stood, he cocked one eyebrow. Just one, just a hair. Sweet. It almost made me forget my aching butt.

"Ok. I give up." I said to him. "What is wrong with that, that, that bug-brained piece of dogfood on the hoof?"

Legolas stared after Loki for a few hundred heartbeats. Loki flattened all the poles Lorien had just woven through without touching. Legolas looked back at me, "Have you listened to him?"

"Unlike some people here, I do not speak Equine."

"You do." Lorien said, "I've seen it. You know when Pumpkin is going to break three strides before she does it."

"That's reading body language."

"Same thing. At least, it's part of it." she glanced at Legolas for confirmation.

Legolas nodded.

I want to do more, I want to hear what they're thinking. I want to know what it's like to be the horse. I want to leap on a small but restive and fiery warhorse without saddle or rein and have him not mangle the big blue barrels. I want the Elvish Way With All Good Beasts. I let out a frustrated sigh.

"Want some help?" Legolas said, echoing Lorien.

Lorien dismounted. I noticed it was much smoother than the night we'd ridden out on the trail to meet Nazgul Barbie. She kept Pumpkin's reins in one hand instead of dropping them where the mare could step on them. Lorien stood in front of me trying her best to look like a noble knight. "You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin...to the bitter end."

"Whaa?"

"Sam Gamgee. A Conspiracy Unmasked." she beamed her Quoting From The Book smile.

"Yeah...ok."

Legolas wandered across the arena to where Loki was trying to reach through the fence to a sprig of grass. He caught the reins, still looped across Loki's neck and ambled back to us, Loki in tow, bouncing like a boat in rough seas. Legolas ignored the ditzy dance and came to a halt before us.

"What does his name mean?" he asked me.

"Loki? Norse god of general mayhem and wreckage." I answered, I failed to mention the part about Tom Hiddleston being nearly as hot as Legolas (or that he could probably play this version of Legolas).

Lorien launched into a brief, for her...that is to say about ten minutes worth of...dissertation on Norse mythology. Legolas listened intently, his attention never wavering. Ten minutes probably was nothing for an Elf.

Loki twitched, fidgeted, stomped at an imaginary fly. And twitched and fidgeted some more.

The Lecture of Lorien ended at last.

"We should change his name." Legolas said.

"Yeah, really. Maybe Smaug." He was a sort of a dragonish bright red chestnut. And the general attitude matched.

"That won't help!" Lorien said. She scrunched her eyebrows and thought till I was sure I could see smoke coming out of her ears. "We need something....nice!"

"Ron Weasley. He's a redhead..."

Lorien's expression screamed Train to Nopeville.

"Something...beautiful." Legolas said.

I thought about the way Loki moved, when he wasn't crashing through poles or kicking barrels. Like an Elf, lean and leggy and smooth. I said, "How do you say 'float'?"

"Loda." Legolas and Lorien said together.

"Whoa, even sounds like his old name, so he might recognize it." In Loki's case, it probably didn't matter, he didn't even recognize his original name. "Yeah, Loda."

We stood in a circle, the newly named Loda in the center. Legolas stared at him for a long minute, then pulled the bridle off and waved him and Beo away. Loda set out across the arena in a long floating trot, reached the fence, dived left and hopped like a drunken frog over a few downed cavalletti rails. Beo twitched his ears as if he thought Loda was an idiot, and floated over the same rails, touching none. Beside us, Pumpkin fell asleep on her feet.

We watched them for the next half hour; Loda trotting, then cantering, then dashing in a mad gallop, then slowing to a mindless, wandering jog. Beo trotted elegantly around the fence, then switched directions with a subtle body signal from Legolas. Loda noticed none of this, and copied less. Legolas would occasionally step forward to push Loda in a new direction, or encourage him to move if he stopped. After a few minutes Legolas started telling us what he saw.

"Basically," I said, "You're telling us he has three working brain cells."

Legolas gave me a blank look. "Huh?" he said.

"I think cellular biology is something the Elves hadn't gotten around to yet." Lorien said.

Oh. Yeah. He had no idea what a cell was. I guess Elves just had telescopic vision, not microscopic.

"You're saying he's beautiful, athletic, and smart as a rock." Lorien said.

Legolas nodded. "I have heard the whispers of stones with more thought behind them."

"Wonderful." I said.

"So, what do we do?" Lorien asked.

Legolas rounded him up again, which took another half hour. Loda apparently didn't recognize the existence of the Elvish Way With All Good Beasts. We finally went back to the barn, three horses, and the Three Friends. Lorien put Pumpkin up in her stall, and I led Beo back to his. Legolas stood in the center aisle, one beautiful hand on Loda's forehead, contemplating his three working brain Elf was wearing an expression I never expected to see on his face; total perplexity.

"You must have met horses like this before." I said hopefully.

"No." he said.



taphae: Legolas

"Was this like those strange little hairy dogs you were telling me about?" Gimli stood on a box, peering under Legolas' elbow at the binnacle which held the navigational instruments. Tomorrow he meant to ask the ship's navigator how they worked.

Legolas wrinkled his nose as if he had smelled week old dead fish. "Yes. Some of the Edain there bred strange creatures, forgetting what made the First Dogs, or First Horses, strong. This horse's family had been bred for speed, and they had completely forgotten the brains."

"What did you do? Feed him to the dogs, as Lizard suggested?" Gimli's expression plainly showed that would have been the practical thing to do.

The Elf looked appalled. "No! Liz was frustrated, for she had tried all she knew, and for one so young...younger than I when I trained my first wild horse...she knew a great deal." A gentle smile came to his face, "And she could hear their thought, though she did not know it. She would no more feed even the most orcish horse to the dogs than eat her own dog. And she did not strike him as I have seen some Edain do. I studied him for awhile, and she watched. Finally she came and caught my hand..."


Lizard

I thought of the time, barely two weeks ago, when I had been the tree. I caught his hand, laid on Loda's fidgety head, and said, "Show me what he's thinking." Maybe it was a little pushy, maybe it wasn't something you just did to the Son of the King of All the Elves of Northern Mirkwood, but I didn't care. I wanted to know what the bloody beast's problem was and how to fix it. And probably, Loda would still be here, with his air-headed attitude, when Legolas was safely back in his Mirkwood bath. To their credit, neither one of them kicked me across the barn. I laid my hand over Legolas' long-fingered one, and he freed his other and laid it over mine.

The world shifted under me, melted, and changed to black and white.

It was like looking into the mind of Tiffany Smith, or how I imagined it would be; all air and nothingness. It was like being in the big blue end of the pool with no clear idea of which way was up. I hung there forever, waiting for a thought to swim by, and none did. Then something big and predatory moved, just out of sight, and I had an insane urge to run away. The predator vanished, and I thought of food, and running to find it. Then the big blue nothing again, but I was running, running, running in the middle of it. Then food, then a memory of something moving that I had to run from: my tiny shred of human awareness recognized it as a plastic shopping bag.

I came up for air, and the warm orange of the barn lights was as welcome as spring sun. "Whoa!"

"What?" Lorien demanded. She looked faintly peeved. She looked like I felt when she and Legolas had long conversations in Elvish.

"If you lined up blonds from Rivendell to Mirkwood and looked in the ear of the one in Rivendell, what would you see?"

"Uh, Legolas in a bathtub? Assuming the last blond has her ear to the, um, bathroom keyhole, that is."

I stared at her, shocked that any of her fantasies could be rated more than G.

Legolas came around Loda's neck and stared at her. "Bathtub?" he said.

"Nevermind." we said in unison.

"Loda." I said, hoping Legolas would forget the bathtub.

"What do you think?" he said.

I was going to ask him that, he was the one with what, five hundred years of experience talking to rocks and trees. Ok, so the trees were smarter than Loda. Maybe even the rocks. "There's a lot of empty."

"What is empty can be filled." Legolas said.

Sindarin Zen. "You sure?"

He thought about that one for a minute. "Usually."


Loda continued to be unaware of the Elvish Way With All Good Beasts. The three of us met every day now at Dana's, poop patrol days and in between. Lorien learned to ride, Beo made four foot jumps, shoulder-ins and extended trots look easy, and Loda bent more scenery, while Legolas and I sat in the center of the arena and watched him. None of us were any closer to figuring out what would fill the big blue empty in his head.

"Screw it." I said on the fourth night. "I'm going for a run."

Lorien trotted over on Pumpkin, sat down and did a nice halt without hauling on the reins.

Legolas stood, stretched like a cat, "Good idea. My brain is fried."

Lorien looked at me. "If we get him home, if I pick up The Book and he says 'my brain is fried' to Strider, I will personally come over to your house and paint your bedroom puke pink."

We let Loda the Airhead back in his stall and headed out the back. I caught Kodi on the way, and we plunged down the trail in the dark, Kodi in the lead, Legolas behind me, and Lorien jogging along on Pumpkin.

The barn lights faded behind us, the night opened before us. The big, waning moon wasn't up yet, but I knew this trail, even in the dark. The steady rhythm of Kodi's trot came through the line like electricity. Pumpkin's soft beat shadowed it, my own legs stretched into their rhythm; breathe one two three four, breathe one two three four. Legolas was a silent shadow, inches behind me, I could see him if I turned my head.

And I could...feel him. The way I felt the roots of the tree and the stretch of its branches. The way I felt where each foot of a horse was when I rode.

Breathe one two three four, breatheonetwothreefour...

An owl called, deer crashed away into the darkness.

Breatheonetwothreefour...

Mrs. Smeed and Tiffany Smith and Loda and Nazgul Barbie fell away into grey nothingness.

Breathonetwothreefour...

The rhythm of our feet was the music of a hunter's ground-eating trot, the wolf who could run all night, the Iditarod team who could make nearly 1200 miles in nine days.

The Three Friends who ran forty leagues and five, chasing a band of orcs and two hobbits.

Breatheonetwothreefour...

Breath and legs and heart beat out the music. Nightwind harmonized, an owl punctuated it like a big baritone sax.

Breatheonetwothreefour...

And suddenly I knew what Loda needed. Loda needed to run.

He had been bred for running and nothing else. "So we let him," I said to Legolas when we reached the barn again.

He gave me a long wise look. Then he smiled, like a kid who's just been handed the keys to a Ferrari.

In the morning, Lorien and I yawned through stalls, then went off to school, to do battle with Tiffany, Smeed & Co. Legolas waved at us from the edge of the woods, Loda dancing in volcanic circles under him. Legolas had a solid hold on a set of reins, but, as usual, no saddle.

When we came back that evening, Loda was snoring in his stall.

I watched Legolas going down the aisle with a bale of hay. "Is he walking funny?"

Lorien watched his retreating butt a little longer than I quite thought was necessary to make a diagnosis.

"Yeah." she said. "Kind of like a cowboy who hasn't got off his horse in years."

He came back up the aisle looking just short of grim.

"So, ummm," I asked him, "How far did you ride?"

His face twitched faintly, it almost looked like a wince. "Until he stopped."

"Pretty far, huh?"

His eyes were an odd greenish color, like a bruise. "I never saw why Men felt the need for saddle-trees and stirrups."

I raised an eyebrow. Stirrups raised you up off the horse's back, let you float over the bumpity-bump, instead of getting your butt...or other parts, if you were male...bruised.

Legolas eyed Loda and let out a long sigh, "Until now."


We nearly forgot about silver ravens and pick clad Nazgul. And they apparently had forgotten about us.


Of Herbs and Stewed Bambis


Lizard

"Saturday, bring feasting clothes when you come to the barn. Dana says we're doing Thanksgiving with the Indians."

The voice on the cell phone was male and familiar and had finally figured out how to work that peculiarly shaped palantir. He was also, after less than a month in Yrch County, making better use of the English language than most of the males I knew; usually they just kind of grunted at you in monosyllables.

"Native Americans." Lorien corrected. We were huddled in a far corner of the lunch room, the table frequented by kids whose best friends were online somewhere in Fiji or New Zealand; who could describe the workings of the Enterprise D's hyperdrive in terrifying detail; or who knew what xerophilous meant, and could spell it; or the ones who dressed mostly in piercings and black and summoned the odd demon on full moons.

I shrugged. "All the older generation grew up being called Indians, so that's what they still say."

"They'd really rather be identified by their tribe; Lakota or Haliwa Saponi, or Haudeenosaunee, or Onondaga, or Dine, or Kwakiutl. Most of those names mean the same thing: the Real People, and..."

I hate it when she goes into Lecture Mode. "Whatever." I said. "Most of the ones I met liked to be called Fred or George or Bev."

"We went to a Sundance last year in DC, it was..."

...time to stuff the rest of my deer bologna sandwich in Lorien's mouth. Even if she was a vegetarian.

Lorien and I trotted into the barn at 8am for the morning chores. Kodi tugged on the lead, lurching toward the intoxicating smell of horse. I hauled him back, trying to convince him he really couldn't catch one, and if he did, it would be way more than he could eat. Dana was already off in the big sand-floored arena, with its windscreen of pine trees, giving the first, and only, class of the day. I heard a clear male voice, singing cheerfully from the wash stall. It sounded like the latest boy band... I never remember their names but the earworms are kind of like a bad case of tapeworm.

"Oh no." Lorien said, "Middle-earth is so screwed."

Lorien never says screwed.

I went over to the wash stall, wondering who would be getting a bath on a cold November morning with no horse shows in sight. Kodi dragged a little harder at the lead than usual. Legolas was perched on a stool in the middle of the stall, cheerfully dismembering a deer.

Lorien ploughed to a halt on my heels and let out a "Waaughhh!" of distress.

Kodi stood up on his hind legs, leaning hard in the direction of fresh prey.

Legolas looked up at us, startled. The buffalo bow hung on a convenient tack hook, with the quiver beside it. A few late fall leaves were still stuck on it, and one arrow lay on a shelf, drying.

"Bbbbbambi." Lorien croaked. She grabbed my arm. Both of them.

Kodi took this opportunity to plunge into the wash stall and claim a portion of the kill.

"He killed Bambi!"

Legolas motioned to Kodi and he sat, looking disgruntled.

"Uh oh." I said. "This could be a problem."

"What?" Legolas said.

"Waugh!" Lorien said.

"I mean, you haven't got a hunting license."

Kodi yawned, who cared about Human Rules, he fixed ice-blue eyes on Legolas. 'You WILL share some of that, won't you? It's the rules of the pack.'

"License? I need a...one of those strange runic metal plates, as on cars?" Legolas said.

"No, no, a little paper one in a plastic pouch to stick on your camo hat...oh nevermind. You don't exist...at least as far as the Game Commission is concerned, therefore you can't get a hunting license."

"Oh." he knifed off a sliver of venison and tossed it to Kodi, "Why does Lorien look like she is surrounded by orcs?"

"She's a vegetarian."

Kodi snorted.

"What?"

"She doesn't believe in killing things to eat, except plants."

"Oh. How odd."

Kodi let out an aroooo! of agreement.

Legolas tossed him another piece.

"Yeah, tell me about it." I said.

Legolas went back to detaching the left haunch from the rest of Bambi. It was rather messy, which is why he'd chosen to do it in the wash stall. So he could hose everything down afterwards. He paused, and threw Kodi another bite.

Lorien had gone up the scale from beach-sand pale to Galadriel-in-the-moonlight-pale to downright vampiric.

"Uh, I guess we could pretend it's Dana's deer, I mean, she has a hunting license."

Kodi was demonstrating the origins of the phrase 'wolfing down your food'.

Legolas nodded. "Do you think this will be enough for us to bring to the Feast of Thanksgiving?"

"Um, yeah. Probably." Probably we'd have leftovers for a year, for every Indian in Yrch County. It was a really big, fat deer. One of the ones who hung out in the locals' corn fields no doubt.

Lorien turned and fled toward the bathroom. I'd never seen anyone quite that shade of green before.


Bambi had been turned into nice neat portable packages, suitably sized for oven or frypan. The dogs had been safely stowed in the kennel. The rest of us had found clean jeans and boots, except for Lorien in her wool wolf socks and Teva sandals, and Legolas who had fallen hard for the Goddess of Victory, Nike. He had left his snowboarder hat behind, and Dana had turned his long dark hair into an elegant braid.

"Hey," I said, "What did you do to his ears?"

They were decidedly not leaf-shaped anymore.

"Spirit Glue." Dana said.

"I hope this has nothing to do with dead horses." Lorien glowered at me. Ever since she'd figured out how to steer Pumpkin, she'd been reading every horse book she could get her hands on, and watching every movie that had a leg at each corner and a whinny. She'd kind of overdosed on that Spielberg cartoon.

"No, no, it's something actors use." Dana said, "One of my friends used it at a science fiction convention last year. You just roll your ear a little and glue it and tah dah! Instant Vulcan. Or Elf; D&D, fuzzyblue, or Middle-earth. I just did the reverse on Legolas."

I looked closer, yeah, it looked pretty good. I just hoped the glue would hold.

Dana went on packing her huge basket, "With any luck, there'll be some people there today who might have some ideas on our problem. Grab those boxes and that bag over there."

I did and we followed her out the door. We climbed into Dana's Dragon, the big red truck that pulled the trailer for shows. Lorien and I squished into the jump seats behind the front seat, Legolas peered out the window at the scenery, zooming by at sixty. He was not clutching the dash anymore, I noticed. He was pointing at every sign along the road going, "What does that say?"

Dana patiently fired back translations.

I never realized before how much there is to read in this culture. And how little of it is worth reading.
The church parking lot was full of typical greyish-tan sedans, SUVs, beat-up trucks, Jeeps, vans, old cars, a converted schoolbus painted bright purple. Bumper stickers read; we're still here, Custer wore arrow shirts, welcome to Turtle Island, Proud to be Cherokee, sure you can trust the government; ask any Indian.

Legolas kept pointing to bumper stickers and asking, "What does this say?" Then frowning, "I don't get it. Wait, what's this one..."

Dana caught his arm and dragged him toward the door of the feast hall. "Later." she said.

Lorien giggled, "It looks like that scene where he tried to ride back into the huorn wood and Gandalf wouldn't let him."

I reran the movie in my head and couldn't find the scene, not even in the extended DVD. Well there was that quick cut to his astonished face when he saw the huorns in the DVD, but I didn't remember him riding into them. "Huh?"

"The Book, dodo."

"Oh. Yeah."

Lorien looked smug.

And I couldn't even go home and look it up. The Book was changed. All because of me. Ack. I stared at the handwoven dreamcatcher dangling from a rearview mirror on the beat up truck beside me. At its bottom floated four handpainted miniature redtail hawk feathers. I hoped Dana was right. I really hoped that somewhere, in some shred of knowledge that had survived religious suppression, boarding schools and potlatch bannings...that somewhere down there in the half-forgotten shadows was the trail back to Mirkwood.

I hefted a second box of Bambi-bits, and headed for the door of the church social hall, Legolas and Dana just ahead, Lorien trotting to catch up. I stopped.

Picture a video game. Picture the little graphs and numbers on the edges that tell you how much ammo and life and stuff you have left. You never look at those. You just fly down the middle, blowing up aliens. One of those little numbers started flashing on the edge of my mental video screen. Flashing really loud and annoyingly. I glanced at it, then looked again. I looked up.

A silvery bird circled over the parking lot. Tilted, grey against the pale noon sky. Lorien saw me.

"What..." she began.

I moved, faster than Cherokee spooking from a blowing bit of plastic bag. I dropped the Bambi-box, grabbed Legolas, already halfway up the steps, and shoved him through the door.

Somewhere behind me, a seagull wheeled and wailed, and headed for Burger King.



...and Rangers and Sidekicks

We stumbled through the double doors in exactly the way Princes of even small woodland kingdoms never do. Legolas spun, caught himself, and his box of Bambiburgers, and me, dropped the box, caught the arm of an elderly lady whose trajectory had crossed ours, steadied her, then caught Lorien as she blew through the door, and dropped the second box of Bambi on my feet. He gave me a look that clearly said, the gerbils in your brain have fallen off their little wheels.

"What bug flew up your nose?" Lorien snapped.

"A seagull." I said, rolling my eyes skyward in a meaningful way.

"Oh."

"Aseegoll?" Legolas asked. "What?"

"Nothing." Lorien and I said in unison. We turned and looked across the room.

About fifty people were staring at us. Legolas gave them a huge smile, honed by centuries of princely diplomacy. They went back to the business of cooking and setting up tables and chairs and decorations and watching children and chattering among themselves...except for about a dozen women, whose eyes stayed glued on Legolas, even while their hands did other things. I picked up Bambibox A and headed for the kitchen. Behind me Legolas picked up Bambibox B and followed. Dana was already exchanging hugs and hellos with various folk in the big hall. In one corner, a young woman and a couple of guys were setting up a drum bigger than a Hobbit birthday cake. Legolas eyed it curiously.

"You have anything like that at home?" I asked him.

"Not quite. Not that big." he hefted the heavy box easily on one hip and walked over. He stood watching the guys set up the low wooden stand; two crossed pieces of wood, making an X pointing to the four directions. They set the big circle of the drum over it, a circle of chairs around it. The girl, a few years older than me and Lorien I guessed, smiled at us.

No, at Legolas.

One guy, young, slender, skin the color of beautifully baked bread, with a black braid half the length of Legolas' looked at him, his expression about as readable as an alligator's.

They paused, facing each other, two young warriors; one in copper, one in silver. There was something eerily similar about them. Maybe it was the stance, the cheekbones, or the long dark hair. Or the fact that they both came from cultures with deep roots in the natural world. Or that I associated bows with both.

And solitary Rangers.

I had a sudden awful vision of Strider, in a mask, yelling "Hi-yo Shadowfax!"

Urgh. I punched the stereotype squarely in the jaw and sent it back down where it'd come from. I smiled at Cute Drum Guy. He didn't notice. He was holding an eyelock with Legolas. I'd never seen anybody do that yet. Usually they looked away pretty quick, as if they'd looked into the space between the stars and got vertigo.

"Lemme guess," he said at last to Legolas, "Your Grandma was a Cherokee Princess..."

An eyebrow twitched, but Legolas didn't shift his gaze. "Not likely." His face had that hawk look, the one I always pictured on him when Eomer said are you Elvish folk? and he didn't mean it as a compliment.

Lorien galumped up behind me, "The cooks want Bam...what?"

"Drum Guy thinks Legolas is from the Great Tribe Wannabe." I told her.

"Huh?"

"You know, all those people who've got a Cherokee Princess tucked away in their family tree."

"Cherokee? Mine's Onondaga."

I gave her a Meaningful Stare.

"Really. My great grandmother on my Dad's side..."

I elbowed her in the ribs. Drum Guy still hadn't noticed us, or dropped his eyelock. Two of the other guys setting up the drum exchanged glances and went back to what they were doing. The girl, long-legged and jean-clad, rolled dark eyes in annoyance and stalked off toward the kitchen.

Legolas' face shifted suddenly, as if he'd seen something in Drum Guy's eyes, a slow smile spread over it like sunshine on a grey meadow. He balanced the Bambibox on one hand, and proffered it to Drum guy. "We brought this for the feast. I'm not sure who to give it to."

The box was moving in a manner which meant the one at the end of its path would have to take it, or have it drop on his feet. Drum Guy reached involuntarily and caught the box. His eyes bugged slightly and lost their hold on Legolas'. I think I heard a slight, 'ooof! ' He juggled the box frantically for a few seconds, then looked up at Legolas.

The Elf was beaming sweetly.

Drum Guy gave him a sharp nod and carried the box to the kitchen. I hoisted mine and followed.
I glanced over my shoulder, Legolas and Lorien were talking to one of the other guys on the drum. This one was smiling and waving his arms like a storyteller. It occurred to me Lorien was sandwiched between the two cutest guys left in the room.

The kitchen was full of bustle and busy and grandmas doing what grandmas do on major holidays. There was the rattle of dishes and the sizzle of frybread dropping into hot oil. Ahhhh, frybread. The recipe varies, but mostly it's flour and salt and water and baking soda. You knead it and flatten it into a round pancakish looking thing, and drop it into a pan of hot oil. It comes out golden and hot and you can put a blizzard of powdered sugar on it or a drizzle of honey or pile it high with taco fixings. A small bit of it could fuel an assault on Caradhras or Mordor.

There's nothing like it anywhere in the Known Universe.

I followed Drum Guy and left Bambi on a table with cakes and pies and candied yams and three kinds of corn pudding. Within a minute, somebody's grandma had me flipping frybread in one of the pans on the stove. I hummed something vague and poked the flat bread around like a raft on a pond. Around me bustled women of all ages, with hair in braids, or loose, or in stylish short cuts; black or brown or silver or white, one blond (natural). Jeans, skirts, khakis, ribbon shirts. Short, tall, stout, fat, skinny. Lakota, Saponi, Iroquois, Lumbee, Scottish, German, English, African, French, and every combination you could imagine. Kids ran in and out, snagging snacks, making the kind of general chaos kids do. Somebody started cooking up Bambi. I realized the song I was humming to myself wasn't in English.

It was Sindarin. Something I'd heard Legolas singing this last week.

"What's that?" came a voice over my shoulder. A long slender hand poked at the small pile of frybread lying beside my pan.

Without thinking I swatted it away. "Not yet." I said, "That's for dinner."

"Just a taste?"

I looked up into puppy eyes. Damn, I didn't know Elves could do that. "Here." I made a little pat of dough and dropped it into the pan. Fried it to a nice golden brown, pulled it out. "Try it with honey, over there." I pointed.

He did, chewing it up with thoughtful satisfaction. His eyes lit up, a look of astonishment crossed his face, "I didn't know the Edain could make this!"

"What?"

"Lembas!"



taphae-a-min: Legolas

"Lembas?" Gimli said through a mouthful of lembas. The dining table belowdecks swung gently on hithlain ropes, swaying with the roll of the ship, quieter now in the dark under the stars. "You mean waybread, cram such as the Men of Dale make. Or the honeycakes of the Beornings."

"Lembas." Legolas asserted. "Or as close to it as any mortal has ever come."

"Better than those odd little..." he frowned, searching for adequate words, "...cakes like Dwarves with cream filing?" He tugged his beard thoughtfully, "Ah, the ones with the Khazad runes."

"Keebler. Yes. Better than those."

"What did you call them, these folk? Inedain?"

"Most called them Indians, which is an unfortunate mistake made by early explorers who thought they were in a different land. The lack of the presence of 'andabonath'...ah... oliphaunts... did not tip them off, so they gave these folk the name of the folk of the Land of Oliphaunts: India. Of course these folk already had names of their own; names that flowed from the tongue, names like Lakota or Dineh or Haudeenosaunee."

For once the Dwarf did not cut Legolas off in mid-stream of consciousness. It would be like trying to dam up a river. He plunged into his great bread-bowl of stew and watched the candlelight flicker across his friend's face, unchanged since he had stood beside him on the walls at Helm's Deep, an age ago.

Well, maybe not unchanged. There was something deeper in his eyes now. Sadder. Except when he was telling stories, then his eyes lit up like summer sun on a stream. Like now.

"Perhaps these folk had Elvish blood, Avari, maybe." Gimli suggested.

Legolas shrugged, "They were not of the Firstborn, but they were first in that land. Their distant ancestors made a great trek across a bridge of land much as..." he paused, and a mist seemed to come over his eyes.

Gimli leaned forward. "What?"

"It made me think of Galadriel's folk, crossing the grinding ice."

"Did they have a Dark Lord to fight?"

"No. Only the other Edain who came across the Great Sea from the east and changed everything."

To Gimli the mist seemed to darken. "I see it is a sad tale."

Legolas spoke as if from a distant place, "Long and dark, and full of sorrow. And forgotten things; languages and customs and wisdom. But a tale also of survival and small triumphs. Dana and Lizard told me some of it. But it is past."

"If I remember what you said before, it has not happened yet...?" Gimli looked confused.

Legolas refocused on his friend's face. "The Stream of Time..."

"Legolas..."

"Oh very well, forget the Stream of Time. I will tell the Story. These folk were unlike any of the Edain I had ever met. Except perhaps the Dunedain, though they did not look like them. Fair they were, and varied. Some short, some tall, stout as Dwarves or slender as Elves, with strong-boned faces and eyes like the shadows of the mountains. The ancient ones had hair as black as night, and skin the color of a summer deer, but their children's children were varied as the rainbow. There were some among them who remembered ancient wisdom, who understood things their own folk had forgotten, things the other Edain had never learned."

"As ever, Elves speak in riddles." Gimli said gently, half smiling.

"I guess you would call it magic."



Lizard

The Pilgrims never had it quite like this. Ok, maybe they had venison and turkey and cranberry sauce, yams and pumpkin pie and squash and corn, but they definitely did not have Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream. Or Cherry Garcia. Or Dana's double death chocolate cheesecake. Legolas had three helpings. I was beginning to think he was part Hobbit. Drum Guy's girl sat across the table from us.

From Legolas.

Drum Guy turned out to be named Keith, the girl was Alicia. I saw her drag him outside for awhile, and when they came back in he had stopped glaring at Legolas. Mostly.

As if he really had anything to worry about. Man, if he only knew.

Dana chatted to the people next to us. Alicia struck up some polite conversation. Keith played the Clint Eastwood role; strong and silent and brooding. Legolas had another helping of Cherry Garcia. Lorien tried to explain why Cherry Garcia was a hysterically funny pun. Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead, the band Legolas had liked so much from our CD collection.

Legolas got it.

I never saw an Elf snork ice cream through his nose before.

Lorien asked Alicia about life on the rez, back in South Dakota, where she was originally from. Alicia just smiled and nodded and answered with terminal patience. And kept watching Legolas. At first I thought it was the usual female reaction to the world's hottest male. Then I looked closer. It was more like...like...

...like the night I stayed up watching the bird feeder, waiting for the flying squirrels to come. And I wasn't sure they really existed.

Eventually we'd stuffed ourselves, and Drum Guy wandered off to set up with his friends for the after dinner song and dance. Alicia stayed. Lorien was chattering about how she camped in a tipi with friends a few years back. Dana moved off to talk to one of the people across the room. People began moving tables and chairs back out of the way, clearing the center of the room. The drum started up, a big wall-pounding heartbeat. Legolas turned and met Alicia's eyes. She studied him for a few long breaths.

"You're a long way from home, aren't you?" she said.

He froze, like a flying squirrel in a flashlight beam. In the middle of the room dancers began making a loose circle, the drum quickened.

Legolas tilted his head slightly, "I am."

She nodded. "Come on." she got up. "There's someone you should meet."



taphae-a tad: Legolas

"What?" Gimli said. "One who could recognize an Elf when they saw one?"

"So it seemed. Alicia led me to another table, Lizard and Lorien followed closely. There was a lady, as brown and withered as a winter leaf. She sat in a chair with great spidery wheels, and was flanked by two other women, younger, but perhaps grandmothers themselves."

"'Unci,' Alicia said to her, 'I've brought someone to see you.' Unci is grandmother in the tongue of the Dakota people. The Lady looked at me with eyes like the roots of mountains, like..." Legolas paused and considered his friend's dark eyes, and the depths behind them. And how briefly they burned with the fire of life.

"Yes?"

Like yours. But he did not say it. Legolas sighed. "Her eyes saw beyond the surface of things. She met my gaze as few of the Edain do, and smiled. I took her hand, cradling it in mine."

"'It is long since I have seen any of your kind.'" she said, her words as soft as owl down.

"'You... you have seen some of my folk?' I asked her in astonishment."

"We know of them.' She paused long, as if she had forgotten I was there. Then, 'Long ago, when I was thirteen, I went to see my aunt.' Her words came slow, but sure, like the tread of a turtle, 'She lived with a white man outside the reservation. It was long walk, and it was near Christmas. I was taking her a present I had made for her. On the way back it started to snow. I lost my way. A man appeared, on a horse. He was not dark, like my people. I thought he was one of the ranchers, maybe, but his horse wore no saddle, or bridle, and it was no stock horse, but a fine long-legged mare made all of wind and fire. She carried us both to my door, wrapped in his blanket. He did not speak, but he gave me a smile before he left. I remember his eyes. Like stars. Like yours."

"Cuil, haran inath in Edain..." Legolas said.

"A life, a hundred years of Men." Gimli said softly. "Too long. The Elves would have been gone."

"For my folk, but a ripple in the stream of time."

"There we go with that stream of time thing again."

Legolas straightened, gave Gimli a long patient look.

"Very well, what else did she tell you?" the Dwarf said.

"'Where was this place?' I asked her."

"'I think they are gone.' she said. 'The world has changed too much.' Then she read my heart, 'They say your folk see far.' she gave a sharp nod and squeezed my hand, 'Hmmph, like Hawk. Well, sometimes you need to see like Mouse!' "

"Mouse?" Gimli said.

"Mouse sees most with his whiskers." Legolas said. "Close, not far. Like a Dwarf in a mine tunnel."

"Hehnh." Gimli chuckled in agreement.

"She leaned close then and said one more thing..."



taphae-a-nel: Lizard

"...Raven." Unci said.

I felt a chill, like someone had left a door open. But a door to where?

As we made our way back to the dance circle Lorien, for once, was silent.

One of the women swept by and caught Legolas' arm, "Two-step, ladies choice." she said. They vanished into the stately swirl of color moving to the rhythm of the drum.

"Was that 'watch for Raven'...or' watch out for Raven'?" I said to Lorien.

Lorien frowned, but stayed silent.

I looked back toward the far end of the room, but Unci was gone.

I only had a few minutes to brood on it. Then the drum picked up the cheerful rhythm of a girl's jingledress song. This was not a powwow, so many dancers had not brought full formal regalia; bustles and roaches, feathers and fringe, just dance fans and shawls. A bunch of girls, the youngest about four, were hopping on light, quick toes. One had put on her jingledress, a colorful sheath of satin with rows of silver cones rolled from tobacco lids, they made a merry sleigh-bell beat as she hopped. Dana was in the middle, in a footwork duel with a ten year old. Someone caught my shoulders from behind and whispered in my ear, "Go on." Then gave me a light shove toward the circle. I half turned, Legolas gave me a big grin. I am gonna look sooooo stupid. But at least, not alone.

I grabbed Lorien and dragged her in with me.

She stumbled, bumbled, bit her lip in uncertainty.

Cool, I will not be the dumbest looking one out here. I'd done this before a few times, after hours at the powwows we'd gone to, not well, but, I'd done it. I felt the drumbeat, let it fall into my feet, and began to move.

Lorien was standing still, watching the feet of the fourteen year old in front of her.

Tippy toe-a tappa tappa bounce-a bounce-a bounce-a. Yeah, OK, I think I got this. I looked up at Legolas and he was watching the littlest kid with a sweet smile on his bowcurve mouth. I threw in a few spins and tried to figure out what it was that girl in front of me was doing. I looked over at Lorien, wondering if she had fallen over yet.

Those little Teva sandals were moving like gerbils on caffeine. Gallons of it. Precisely to the beat of the drum. Light and quick like the oldest girl's. I faltered, doing a great impression of a largemouth bass.

The littlest kid pattered around me and giggled.

"Ballroom dancing lessons. And tap. And..."

"Ok, ok, I get the picture."

"I never told you. I figured you'd think it was dumb." Lorien said.

Uh. Yeah. I thought of the look on our Elf's face. Maybe I should take up tango or something.

The drumbeat changed, the singers 'heya heya-ed' into a new song. Everybody danced, the girls spinning and hopping with quick little flashes of feet, older women bobbing in elegant dignity, their fringed dance shawls swaying like the grass of the plains, men stepping lightly to the rhythm of the drum, a few younger guys spinning, squatting and leaping like tornadoes in the fancy dance, one teen bending in the swaying rhythm of a grass dance, his feet drawing great arcs on the floor, pressing down imaginary prairie grass. Dana scorned the dignified bobbing of the other women her age and spun in a mad fancy dance with one of the girls, her shawl flying like butterfly wings. Legolas came and caught my arm and Lorien's and stepped lightly between us.

The drumbeat shifted, the song wailed into a new note. The sound was traditional, but the words, this time, were English; MickeyMouse MickeyMouse Donald Duck, they all live in Disneyland...all the kids danced gleefully into the circle.

Dance followed dance. The drum ran through it all like the heartbeat of the world. The singers' voices wove through it like wind, like wolfsong, like birds. We danced in the direction of the sun's path through the sky. Our feet touched Mother Earth like breathing, like that great drum heartbeat. The rest of the world and its problems fell away.

Legolas stood watching two young men, in full regalia, swirl in a fancy dance; their bustles soared off their shoulders and hips like the wings and tails of wild birds, their hands wove patterns in the air like hunting falcons. Legolas' eyes had a distant look, as if he wasn't seeing the dancers. Or as if he was seeing more than the dancers. I touched his arm, smooth and warm and hard-muscled as a horse's. I heard him catch his breath as if I had startled him.

"What do you see?" I asked him.

"Can you not feel it?" he said softly.

"What?"

"The..."

I could see him searching for the word. He shook his head, picked up my hand and held it cupped in his. He nodded back toward the dance circle. Then I saw.

Whoa! The floor swayed for a long slow heartbeat, then righted itself. I saw the dancers, the drum behind them, but around it all...no, through it..ran something like mist. No not mist, light. Light with weight and form like wind in living color. Like Dana's description of auras. Only more so. Much more. It soared up from the earth itself, whirled through the dancers joining the other light coming from the sky. It was every color, and some I had no names for.

"Whoa." I said out loud. The vision stretched for forever. For a single breath.

The dance ended, Legolas let go of my hand and the world faded back to grey. I caught his hand, "can you teach me to do that myself?" I said.

He gave me a long look, and his eyes were like the surface of the sea, hiding everything below. I thought of the feeling I'd just had, of the lightwind, of the colors that weren't in the rainbow. I reached for his hand and for the feeling of a moment ago and found it. His eyes glowed like the hearts of stars. A slow smile walked across his face. Perhaps, he said. It took me a minute to realize he hadn't said it out loud.

"Rabbit Dance!" the announcer called. "Everybody dance! Hoka!"

It was late, and the dancers who'd been in regalia had put it away. We had, between dances, helped the grandmothers clean up the kitchen. When I asked Dana if she'd learned anything, she just shook her head. I told her about Raven. She nodded. It made me think of Elrond, or Galadriel.

"Is that good or bad?" I asked. Raven, I meant.

"What do you think?" she said.

Go not to the Elves for council. I shrugged. "I think I'm gonna drop a mist net over that bloody bird if I see him again. Or get Legolas to shoot him down."

"That probably wouldn't be wise."

"Well, got any ideas on how we could trap him?"

"It's a federally protected bird. You can't. You should go dance, it's about the last one."

Couples were forming up and filing into the dance circle. Legolas was on the far side of the room, and Lorien was catching his arm and leading him into the circle. I let out a resigned sigh, it was one of the few dances where men and women danced together as a couple.

Rats. Big honkin' sewer rats. Big honkin' crawling through the culvert at Helm's Deep orcish sewer rats.

I felt a touch on my shoulder and turned to find a lean young guy with great cheekbones and dark brown hair and darker eyes, one of the earlier fancy dancers, in jeans and a t-shirt now.

"Hey," I said, the words kind of fell out of my mouth, "I saw you before, you were really good."

He smiled, kind of embarrassed like, "Yeah, so were you. Ummm, wanna dance?"

"Uh, yeah!" I caught his hand and we trotted out into the quick drumbeat, two steps forward and one step back, two steps forward and one step back.

"Now," the announcer called, "when I call red and white, switch to ballroom dancing!"

Two steps forward and one step back. Legolas and Lorien looked like they'd been doing this for five thousand years.

Two steps forward and one step back.

"Red and white!" called the announcer.

My fancy dancer caught my arm and swirled me into a scene straight out of an old black and white movie. I giggled, and spun and looked over at Lorien.

She was grinning, and spinning, and Legolas had lost the beat completely. He was laughing, and twirled a little faster than was humanly possible and came back to Lorien's hands.

"Rabbit dance!" the announcer called again.

Legolas and Lorien were in perfect sync again, and it didn't bug me at all.

Two steps forward and one step back. Yeah, just like life.

It was way better than Homecoming.



taphae-a-canad: Legolas

"Well", said Gimli, "At least you knew that there had once been Elves in that place. Perhaps there still were, somewhere."

"Dana thought so too. And she rolled the words of Unci around in her heart like a round pebble in the hand. Mouse. See like mouse. Perhaps an answer lay within reach of our whiskers."

"Raven, what about Raven?"

"Ravens have territories. Strong ties to a specific place. Lizard had seen the deep-silver one near the barn once. She did not know if the one she saw by her house was the same. Probably not. Too far away from Dana's barn. So I kept an eye out for his return to Dana's. A few of the small birds remembered seeing him that day, but not before, and not after."

"It seems your friends had forgotten any wisdom concerning ravens." Gimli said. "Balin often told us how old Carc and his wife used to live above the guard chamber at Ravenhill, and how their kin brought secret news to my kin. And how they were rewarded with such bright things as they coveted."

Legolas nodded, "I did not know old Carc or his kin, only the ravens who lived in the brighter parts of Mirkwood. They were wise and long-lived. Yet even the wise may be corrupted by power. I watched the trees and listened to the rumour of the small birds, and rode far into the great forest, but I did not see the great dark-silver bird Liz had seen, nor any of his kin, only crows."


Mushy Stuff


Life went on, two steps forward and one step back. Amanda was riding Beo through a first level test now. Lorien learned to do a flying lead change. Loda could go cross country for twenty miles and barely break a sweat. Legolas had learned the wisdom of the stirrup, and Loda's people were looking for a horse who actually wanted to be a genteel hunter, and new owners who wanted a horse who could run forever. Dana was torn between advertising him as an endurance riding horse, or sending him back to Middle-earth, just in case Gandalf needed a backup for Shadowfax.

And there were Unci's words about mouse. See like Mouse. Whatever that meant. Maybe it meant there were Elves in Yrch County. But where? Working at Booger King, McDeath Burger? Elvish lawyers? Used car salesmen? We visited three county parks, and tracked down half a dozen park rangers and one wildlife rehabber. We studied the faces of everyone we passed at the mall.

No Elves in sight. There was Thanksgiving vacation, in which I had too much pie and relatives and homework, and not enough Elf. It snowed, (which it never does in Yrch County, until the week of Farm Show in January). I thought of about fifty ways to trap a federally protected bird without the Game Commission knowing. All of them involved high-tech gear or magic I didn't possess. Dana, meanwhile, was on the net and on the phone, talking to friends and trying to figure out how to build a better Nazgul Barbie trap.

You could smell the brain cells frying fifty yards away.

We saw neither Nazgul Barbie, nor dark-silver ravens anywhere, just crows.

It was Sunday, and I had one more day to come up with a five page essay.

So of course I called Lorien and went to Dana's.

Strider rumbled in the lane over the new snow, bare trees were grey brushstrokes against blinding white, the hills of the gamelands behind the farm were silver tipped in black, like wolf fur.

"That," Lorien said, shoving Kodi off her lap for the forty-eighth time, "appears to be a...dogsled?"
She pointed to the object parked in Dana's driveway, a set of swoopy bowcurves of dark wood connected to four exuberant wolfish looking dogs, all singing at the top of their lungs.

"Yep."

"As in Call of the Wild, White Fang, Yukon gold rush." Lorien deadpanned. Her eyes were about the size of a startled owl's.

"More like Winterdance."

"What?"

"It appears there is much in great literature you have been sadly deprived of."

She gave me a glare.

"Gary Paulsen. Funniest sled dog book ever written."

"Better than Snow Dogs?"

"Ok, now who's the pop culture lemming," I grinned at her, "Snow Dogs was inspired by it. The book is way better."

Dana was crouching at the head of the team, holding the two leaders, another woman, clad in tan insulated coveralls was adjusting something on one of the wheel dogs. Legolas was standing on the runners, one foot on the brake, leaning on the driving bow. Dana's buffalo bow and quiver slung across his back.

"Cool! It's Maggie!" I parked and piled out, with a death grip on Kodi's lead. He grinned and lunged toward the team, singing in harmony with them.

Maggie looked up, "Hey Liz, want to run Couch Potato Boy there?"

"I think he can keep up with your mutts." I said amiably.

"The lighter sled's around on the other side of the van. Get it and you can take Bear, he goes well with Kodi. I'll put Shenzi in on wheel here." She nodded toward Legolas, "Your friend there followed me on the first run a couple of hours ago." She shook her head, grinning, "He's a natural. He has a way with the dogs."

"Like he can talk to them or something." I said. I thought of Arod, the horse of Rohan.

"Yeah." Maggie grinned. "Never saw anything like it." She winked at me, "Too bad he's too young for me."

Beside me Lorien coughed as if she'd just inhaled a pint of pepper.

"He's got good wood sense too. Like he was born there or something."

"Um, yeah, he was." About five hundred years ago. He should be good.

"Did a little stump shooting with that bow there. Didn't even slow the dogs down, just balanced on the runners!" Maggie looked as if she'd just found a whole team of Iditarod dogs at the SPCA. "Damn! Where'd you find him?"

"Ahhhh..."

"What about me?" Lorien broke in, poking me in the arm. "I can ride with you guys, right?"

"Too much for a two-dog team. And the little sled steers weird with somebody in the basket." I said.

"Ride with with Legs over there, that's the freight sled." Maggie said. "And it'll slow down my guys enough for Kodi to keep up." she winked again.

"Yeah, you just wait." I said. "We'll show you how it's really done."

I chained Kodi to the dogline anchored from Maggie's van's bumper to a big stake in the ground. I dug around in her gear box and found a harness in Kodi's size, slid it over his head, pulled his front feet through. Laid out the sled and the two-dog line. Legolas came over with one hand through the collar of a big black and tan dog. Bear was hopping enthusiastically on his hind legs, hauling with every ounce of his ninety or so pounds, Legolas held him easily as if he was a puppy. Bear was about thirty pounds bigger than even a big Siberian, so Maggie figured he was probably part Malamute. He wasn't as fast as some of her other dogs, but he made up for it in raw power.

We hooked Bear and Kodi in beside each other, and I took the neckline connecting their collars, leading them to a spot behind the other team. Lorien climbed in the other sled's basket, clinging to the side rails. I noticed she'd scrounged a riding helmet from Dana. Legolas stepped onto the runners behind her, hands on the driving bow, framing her shoulders. It looked almost cozy.

Sometimes I wish I was more of a dork.

Maggie was holding the lead dogs on Legolas' team. He made a sharp hand sign at her, waving her away. She stepped back, and the dogs did something totally amazing.

They stood perfectly still. Oh, they were still singing and shouting at the top of their lungs, but they were holding their position, not blasting down the trail.

Maggie walked by me, "Ok? Ready?" she said.

I nodded.

Maggie looked back at Legolas, shook her head in amazement. "He's something." she paused, a faraway look in her eyes, "You know," she said, "all the best ones are married, dead, gay or fictional."

"Yeah," I said, "He's fictional."

Maggie laughed.



These were the trails I knew with my eyes closed. I could picture every twist and turn of a horse, every shift of pace needed to navigate them. This was different. No thunder of hoofs, no rise and fall of horse's back like sea-swells, only the smooth swoosh of runners over snow, the soft chuff of dogbreath, the faint jingle of dog-tags and snaps and carabiners. Dogs run better in the cold, and the few inches of fresh snow was perfect, and fast. Around us the woods were silent, except for the occasional trill of a winter bird.

I knew the dogs would run hard for the first mile or so, and here the trail ran along the field edges, and along a State Forest service road, wide enough for a Jeep or two teams abreast. I grinned into the wind and called over to Legolas, "Last one to the creek is a poodle driver!" I yelled to Kodi and Bear and squinted through the bits of ice and snow kicking into my face. Kodi and Bear were already flying, flattening out into a hard run, tails level, backs flexing like a longbow being rapid-fired. Legolas crouched on the runners and called to the four dogs before him. They flattened out, legs flying in unison like a well-tuned machine. They drew level with me, then inched past. Shenzi looked over and leered at me.

"Hahhahhah!" I shouted at her. "Catch me." Couch Potato Boy wasn't doing so bad, neither was Bear, but Maggie's other three, and Shenzi were fast, even with Lorien weighing down the big freight sled a bit. They crept ahead, and passed, and I could see Legolas balancing on the runners, as easily as he had on the snowboard, his lean leggy body making those delicious otter curves through the turns, one foot, then the other shooting out and peddaling as if he'd been doing it for centuries.

I tried to remember if it ever snowed in Mirkwood.

The trail left the field edges and dived into the forest. Twisting madly through the trees, but still wide enough to pass, if I could catch up, they were a few lengths ahead now, and still running hard. I heard Lorien shout a few times, probably in stark panic. Then the trail rose a little, as it climbed a slight rise.
Legolas' team slowed, almost imperceptibly. I called to Bear, not the fastest sled dog ever, but Maggie had told tales of his endurance and sheer dogged persistence. "Hike! Bear! Let's go! Hike, hike!" I could see him lean into the harness harder, drop a few inches closer to the ground, Kodi's tug slackened a moment, then he threw himself back into it as Bear pulled ahead. We inched ahead, Kodi's head even with Legolas, then with Lorien, then I was staring at Shenzi in wheel position. "Hah hah!" I laughed at her. She flattened and pulled, wrinkling the line ahead of her, almost running over the lead dog. Legolas was running between the runners now, shoving the sled to help.
The dogs were still running flat out...nobody could run that fast.

He was.

I pedaled madly and Bear and Kodi inched farther ahead, then the trail swooped up to the top of the rise and Bear's great strength proved itself, as Legolas' team slowed for the hill. We swept by and I grinned back at him. His face was colored by wind and running and he was laughing.
Then down through the woods, the road straight and fast here, but it was only a short run to the bridge, Legolas' team didn't have time to catch us.

I slowed at the bridge and we came abreast.

"I think," Legolas called to me, "that my poodles need a rest, and my passenger needs to loosen her grip before her hands freeze that way forever."

"Up there." I pointed to the next rise. We slowed to a steady trot, and climbed the hill.

He called "whoa!" and the dogs stopped and stood. He set the snow hook, and reached down and pried Lorien loose from the sled's rails, then half lifted her out of the basket.

Lorien crunched through the snow to the edge of the hill and stared down across the vast forest to the west. She looked like Legolas seeing Fangorn for the first time. I realized she'd never been out this far into the forest before. She dug in her pocket for her camera, and began shooting.

"This must be what Mirkwood is like!" She exclaimed.

Legolas rested a bare hand on her shoulder, "No, and yes. This is a great wood, full of life, and the land rolls to the horizon in much the same way." His hand swept across the horizon in a graceful gesture. "Yet in Mirkwood, the trees are greater, older. This place is young, the trees are far younger than it is, and brighter than Mirkwood. There is no trace of that Shadow here."

"Yeah, just some pollution and habitat loss." I said. "That's why it feels so young. All the old trees were cut long ago."

"Still, they replanted some, and this is a State Forest now." Lorien said, "It's better than it was fifty years ago. And they've reintroduced some vanished native species, like otters and fishers."

"Fishers?" Legolas said.

"Kind of like a smaller, quicker wolverine." I said.

"Like a mink crossed with a grizzly bear." Lorien said.

"They climb trees and eat porcupines for a living." I added.

His eyes widened in wonder, "A formidable creature, no doubt. Where can we find one?" He looked ready to mount an expedition right at that moment.

"Not here, farther north." I said.

"Oh." he looked disappointed. Then he brightened, "Perhaps we could journey there. Before I return home."

"Maybe." I said. Yeah, that would be something, traveling for awhile in the woods with Legolas. I could learn the speech of birds, hear what the trees were whispering, learn what the rocks remembered. See the secret life of the forest nobody ever saw. I kind of hoped it'd be awhile before we figured out how to send him back.

We set off down the hill, Legolas in the lead. We kept both feet planted on the piece of snowmobile track sliding between the runners. It made a kind of light brake, going down a steep trail like this one.
I heard Legolas call to the dogs now and again, in Sindarin, then one English command to go left; haw! The dogs had slowed to a ground-eating trot, tongues hanging, mouths wide in great joyous grins. The sun was high and bright, but the air had a knife-edge to it. The trail widened and I yelled "trail!" and urged Bear and Kodi on by Legolas' team. Shenzi grinned at me as I whooshed by and leaned into her harness a little harder. I heard Legolas call something to her, in Sindarin. Kodi and Bear swept by. I glanced back and Shenzi had a look on her face as if she had leapt at a bird and missed.

There were some trails here I rarely took on horseback, because the trees overhung them too low. I took them now, geeing down one turnoff, then hawing down another. Down into a shallow valley and up the next hill, walking between the runners to rest the dogs. Then down again, in that ground-eating trot.

"Gee!" I shouted as Kodi and Bear came up to a turnoff, Kodi lifted his head and hauled right, Bear grinned and followed. I tucked and leaned on the runners, warping them through the sharp turn. Behind me Lorien gave a shout, this time it was gleeful. Then there was only the soft shush of runners and the breathing of the dogs.

And somewhere at the edge of hearing, a low growl.

"What is that?" Legolas said. I looked back and he was pointing toward the sound I was hoping was my imagination. It wasn't.

"Snowmobiles." I grumbled. The worst thing a dogteam could meet on a trail, short of an enraged moose, and around here, the only places you saw moose were zoos. "Damn!"

"It's pretty far away." Lorien said, "Maybe they're not coming this way."

It got louder.

Double damn. They had a tendency to come screaming around corners without looking. We could pull the dogs off into the woods, and wait for them to go by.

A turnoff was coming up, and I recognized it. I'd taken Cherokee over it a few times in the fall. There were a couple of downed trees that made nice little trail jumps. Something a dogteam could go over, but a snowmobile couldn't. "Haw!" I yelled and Bear pulled left, down the trail. We wound through the tight trees and the first log came up, barely a bump in the new snow, the dogs poured over it and I hopped the sled like a snowboard on a mogul. Behind me Lorien squawked, and I heard a gleeful laugh, not hers. The trail wound through some fairly sharp turns and then a somewhat bigger mogul. "Ho, hooooa, ho!" I called, slowing the dogs to a walk, they climbed it and I shoved the sled over. I looked over my shoulder and Legolas was doing the same.

On the trail we'd just left the roar of an engine grew louder, then wound down to a softer purr, then roared again.

I looked back and shouted to Legolas, "Idiots! They're taking our trail!" I called to the dogs, "Hike! Let's go!" and they took off with a new burst of speed.

We were a few hundred yards down the trail when I heard the engine sputter into silence. I thought I heard a shout too. It didn't sound pleased.

Serves them right I muttered to myself.

The dogs fell into a steady trot, and I made a turn that headed back to Dana's.

Kodi's clockwork gait faltered and he looked up.

"On by!" I yelled.

A broad set of wings sailed overhead and headed down the trail in the direction of the snowmobile.

"Whoa!" I stood on the brake, but Kodi was already stopped. "Legolas!"

He stood on his runners, drawn bow following the flight of those wings.

Silver wings. Raven wings. Shoot it! I wanted to yell, but the words froze.

The bow wavered, lowered, arrow unreleased. Raven vanished.

"Legolas!" Whatthehell were you thinking? Why didn't you...

He sheathed the arrow and slung the bow on his back again, as quick as a falcon folds its wings. The trail behind us was silent. He looked at me, "Your raven." It wasn't really a question.

"Yeah!" Of course it was! The one we need to knock out of the sky!

His eyebrows folded in concentration, "Something strange about it..."

"What?" Yeah, it's in league with Nazgul Barbie and her Minions of Doom. Or maybe she's a shapeshifter, like Mystique, and the raven IS her. Why the hell didn't you do something?

"Wrong color. And I do not know that it is in league with Nazgul Barbie."

He had heard what I hadn't said. I stared at him for a startled moment, then realized what he'd said about color. "They're not always black."

"No, the dance, remember? The...light. Different."

"Well, what does it mean?"

"I don't know. I didn't see enough."

"Raven and wolf." came a soft voice from the sled.


"What?" I turned and stared at Lorien.

"Odin has two wolves as well as his ravens; Raven and Wolf."

"Not the one-eyed dude again."

"Some of the Native American tribes identified with Wolf; teacher, healer, family provider. And Raven was Wolf's eyes, and the eyes of the Native hunter. Raven was wise and would lead the hunters, four legged or two, to game."

"So? Buncha' fairy tales."

"Oh?" Her eyes went meaningfully to the Elf, then to me. "Anyway, it's not just fairy tales, it's biology. Wolves follow ravens to prey, ravens share in the kills. They're connected. I read it in Mind of the Raven."

"What has that got to do with us? And our Nazgul-spy?"

Lorien gestured at the grey-furred, pointy-eared dog teams. "Wolves. Maybe he's not on her side."

I shook my head. I wasn't so sure. Not at all.


There was one place I knew you could rent snowmobiles. We went there, the three of us, Monday. Sure enough, there was one with a freshly busted ski still on the trailer in front of the shop. And sure enough, nobody could remember who had rented it.



taphae-ar-leben: Legolas

"Well, what was it you saw?" Gimli said, "Just a raven, the silver one Lizard had seen. An unusual color perhaps, but nothing worthy of note."

"Ravens did not live in that wood. And this one was..."

To the eyes of Gimli, Legolas seemed to be looking inward, searching for something. Finally he looked up and met his friend's gaze. "It was different. I only had a glimpse."

"What of Lorien, and the strange picture...box...thing..."

"Camera. She did not catch the raven with it. And the camera shows only the surface of things. To the camera, and your eyes it would have been just a raven. A different color, but a raven. But I saw..." his hands made shapes in the air before him, "...the light that flows through all beings...it was strong in this one, with other...colors. Not like any raven I knew. And the dogs...they saw it first, and were not afraid."


Lizard

"That's how she knows where we are." I was sure of it, and sure that Legolas could knock it out of the sky when we saw it again. I didn't care if it was a federally protected species, this one had lost all its rights when it hooked up with Nazgul Barbie. "Crebain, from Dunland." I muttered. I turned to Legolas, "There's gotta be some way you can shoot it down without quite killing it. Throw a net on it or something. Trap it maybe. With roadkill or shiny things. Donuts. Something. Then maybe we could follow the trail back to her." I slid the last stall door open and dumped a scoop of grain in the bin.

"Graban." Legolas said softly, "Not craban. Crebain often were corrupted by the Dark Powers, used as spies. Though the ones around here are not evil. Grebain, ravens, are wiser, harder to corrupt. I am not convinced this one is evil."

"You don't know for sure."

"No. I didn't get a long look at it."

"I think we should go on a raven hunt anyway." I said.

He looked at me, his eyes as readable as a night sea. "I'll keep watch for it." was all he said.

Over the next two weeks, Lorien and I thought of dozens of ways to trap a raven. Legolas grudgingly agreed to try a few of them. Problem was, they all required the presence of a raven.


A Shortcut to McDonalds

"What does that say?"

"Fred's Used Cars."

"And that one?"

"Bargain Lot; Used Cars."

"There, there!"

"More used cars."

"Your folk have more cars than Mirkwood has trees."

"Yeah, tell me about it."

Legolas was leaning out Strider's passenger side window like a Labrador retriever, snowboard hat tails waving in the wind, learning the fine art of English Literacy. Lorien huddled next to him, a little closer than I thought was necessary despite the mid-December air coming through the window. The cold didn't bother him any.

"That is why the air smells..." he wrinkled his long hawk-beak nose in distaste, "strange." he said with some diplomacy. "Not like the forest."

Kodi sang in agreement through the open window between the cab and the cap-covered truckbed.
"If they made the roads just a little wider," Lorien said, "and put a bike lane on each one, people would ride more places, use less gas."

"Solve the oil crisis, end pollution and war in the middle east." I finished. "Around here they'd just drive their SUVs on the bike path to avoid the traffic jams."

We crawled, one vertebrae in a huge car-snake, past car lots and convenience stores, fast food and other franchises, banks and beauty salons, while Lorien continued to read the History of Yrch County from the roadside signs. Legolas leaned out the window, wide-eyed, exclaiming about traffic lights, neon signs, giant inflatable Santas, and wondering what strange magic had created so much asphalt. Lorien had to pull him back into the cab a few times when people gave us odd looks. More than once, drivers gave us a glance, then a second look. A long longing one. Women drivers, naturally, well, mostly. A few of them turned and followed us.

Elf gravity.

We were on a Mission. We had a week till Christmas and almost no shopping done. We were armed for bargains. Even Legolas had a nice pile of cash in his pocket, from some things he had done for Dana around the farm. First, though, we needed to fuel up. We pulled into McDonald's.

"Couldn't we get real food?" Lorien said.

"They have salad."

"Not real salad."

Legolas stood staring at the lit-up menu boards. "What," he said, "is an egg-muck-muffin?"

"It's evil." Lorien said, "It will corrupt you." She ordered her not-real salad, and made them give her a large cup for water instead of the usual tiny one.

I got a burger with everything. And one for the Elf. And giant fries. I offered a fry to Lorien.

She made a sign in the air as if warding off Great Evil. I gave the rest to Legolas.

He ate all of them.

"Are you really sure," I asked Lorien, "he's not part Hobbit?"

We made our way back out through the little knot of women who had collected on our end of Mickey D's, and crossed the parking lot to the truck. Kodi arooed at us from the cap-covered truck bed. I opened the back gate and handed him half a burger. Behind me Lorien suddenly said, far louder than necessary, "Whoa! Did we ever play that Enya CD for you? Come on, let me show you."

I turned to see her pulling Legolas back into the truck's front seat.

Huh? Then I heard the CD player blasting. Dad had wired it so you didn't have to have the ignition on. A shadow sailed across my feet, I looked up.

A dozen seagulls were circling the dumpster. One landed a few feet from me and cocked his head at me, then waddled toward me, hoping I still had some fries left. "Shoo!" I hissed, and waved uselessly at him. I dived into Strider's front seat and fired him up. I may have laid some rubber and cut off one soccer mom in a minivan.

Legolas reached behind Lorien and touched my shoulder, "What's up?"

"Um, nothing important. I just realized what time it was and we want to get to the mall before the big crowds, and I think Wal-Mart is having some kind of sale that ends at noon."

"Uh huh." he said. He didn't believe a word of it. "Did it have something to do with those birds in the parking lot?"

Lorien and I exchanged glances full of subdued panic.

"What were they? I have never seen them before." he said, turning in the seat and peering back out of the window.

"Pigeons." I said. "Really big ones."


Santa's Little Helpers


Legolas stood entranced, staring in wonder at the acres of glass that was the entrance of Wal-Mart.

"He saw them." I hissed to Lorien. "Now what?" The gulls I meant.

"In The Book he only heard them in the dark. He never saw them till later. It was their song that turned on the sea-longing."

"Maaaaaaan, I just hope The Book is right."

So far, it seemed to be. We stopped at the Salvation Army guy, dinging his bell in front of the doors and gave him our change. Legolas popped a five in the pot and seemed mildly surprised when the fat little guy in the green elf hat gave him a particularly exuberant blessing.

We walked past the bespectacled grandmother cheerfully greeting customers, she nodded and smiled at us, and smiled a little broader at the Elf. She had a little elf hat on too.

Legolas stood in the main aisle looking up and down the cavernous expanse of stuff. "Elo!" he whispered.

I remembered something in The Hobbit about King Thranduil having a pretty good stash, though not as awesome as the Elvenkings of old. "Kinda like Mirkwood's hidden treasure room, eh?" I said.

He turned and gave me a look of surprise. "What do you mean?"

"You know, somewhere in the dungeons, a room piled high with gold and jewels and stuff."

His face crinkled into a gentle laugh, "You mean like a dragon's hoard? Tales grow down through the ages. There is no such place in my father's halls. The things we find beautiful are distributed throughout the halls, and the houses beyond." He gave the long stretches of shelving and the people, like manic ants on the move, another long look. What he thought of it he didn't say.



taphae-ar-leneg: Legolas

"What do you mean there's no treasure room in Mirkwood?"

"There isn't. There never was."

Gimli stared openmouthed at his friend of many years, many miles, many adventures. "Ridiculous! All kings have hoards, somewhere." He leaned forward, a glint in his eye, "Of course it matters no longer, so you can tell me. Really."

Legolas laughed. "Really. Our wealth was in the forest itself."

Gimli sat back on his hammock, swaying gently with the roll of the ship. He plumped up a few pillows, shook out his blankets. "Well, these Edain certainly had a treasure room. A whole city of treasure. "What did they call it again?"

"The Mall."

"Where did it all come from?"

"All over the great round world. There was much trade between lands, and the Mall was like an unimaginably huge market." He swung his long legs up onto his own hammock and perched there, cross-legged, hands flying like birds as he described the wonders of Wal-Mart. "Glass, Gimli! Yards of it, panes of it as broad as ships' sails, and as smooth as polished mithril."

"It had no leading?" Gimli's hands described the leading that joined the small panes of rippley glass he was used to seeing. "None?"

Legolas nodded excitedly.

"Preposterous! How would you make such a large piece of glass? What would hold it together? Magic?"

"No." Legolas frowned, "Well, I think not, anyway. The ceiling was as high as the Great Room in my father's halls, and piled with goods! With pots and dishes and things of the kitchen. With furniture and pillows and linens in more colors than a field of butterflies. And Gimli! A wall of TVs, with the same picture dancing across each, till one's eyes went in dizzy circles. A hall of shelves as high as a man could reach, full of rainbow bottles of things for body and hair. And another wall of shelves full of preparations for changing the color of your hair! And Gimli, tools! Enough tools to arm a family of Dwarves! Wonderful things such as you could not even imagine! For sawing and cutting and drilling and shaping, and..." he shook his head, "I had no idea what many of them would do, but there were folk in that department who looked like your folk."

"Mine?"

"Yes! Stout and bearded. Only taller. And toys! Whole shops full of toys! Furry things like wild creatures, dolls and soldiers and puzzles and games. And strange things that I could not fathom the purpose of. "

Gimli's bright eyes were nearly hidden by bushy, disbelieving brows. Some tales, he was sure, grew in the telling.



Lizard

We wandered down the mall, collecting more and more bags of stuff, and a little straggle of female shoppers drifting in our wake.

Elf gravity.

Legolas stopped to peer in shop windows; to rush in and stare in wonder at endless shelves of books, at coffee makers, at a fortress of towels in Martha Stewart colors, at a wall of TVs. He put headphones on at the music store and jumped like a panicked moose when the kid behind the counter cranked up some heavy metal.

"Uh, maybe you wanna try some New Age...over there." the kid said uncertainly.

He stood in the center of the Herb and Bath shop, with his eyes closed, just breathing. Lorien kept running over and sticking different smelly things under his nose. After a half hour of The Zen of Scent, and the girl behind the counter giving us strange looks, I hurriedly bought a big pink bottle of some kind of mystery goo that smelled like raspberries for Mom, and dragged both of them out of there.

At Jungle Bob's Tropical Pet Shop and Fish Emporium, Legolas collected a little crowd of admiring kids when every parrot in the place decided to sit on him. They were even more impressed when he got the four foot iguana to sit on his head like a hat. The only thing he wouldn't touch were the tarantulas.

At the toy store we staged our own episode of Animal Planet until the grandma behind the counter made us put the stuffed toys back. Legolas went back in the store and came out with two suspiciously large bags, which he would not let us see the contents of. I glanced at Grandma; she was waving at our Elf from the front of the store with a big smile on her face.

At the Cosmic Comic Cupboard all three of us rummaged through endless boxes of back issues. While Legolas vanished to the far end of the store to check out the latest X-Men offerings, Lorien and I continued our dive into the past.

Lorien surfaced with a huge grin and a "Whoa! Hey, look at this!" She frantically waved an old issue whose cover featured a blue Elf in pirate gear cavorting with a cutlass on the deck of a tall ship.

I grabbed it out of her hot little hands. "Nightcrawler! The Dave Cockrum four-part mini-series! Awesome! Got it already."

"I know, dodo brains." She nodded in the direction of our Elf, still glomming through new issues in the back. "He doesn't."

I stared at her, disbelieving. "You're actually going to send comic books back to Middle-earth?"

She shrugged. "He's gotta have something to do on that long sea voyage."

Somewhere in the middle of the mall we passed one of those kitschy Christmas displays, with the half acre of polyfill snow, the giant storybook, a polar bear and some penguins (never mind the fact they come from opposite poles), an animated reindeer nodding its antlers in endless boredom, the throne for Santa, and a bunch of short animated elfin things in pointy hats and curly shoes. A line of kids was making their way up to the fat guy in the red suit.

"Ho ho ho!" he chortled to a slightly terrified five year old.

"Waaaaaaugh!" wailed the girl. Her mom caught her purple mittened hand and retreated.

Legolas stopped and leaned on the railing, studying this strange cultural phenomenon. He was silent for awhile, watching Santa. Then he pointed to one of the animated pointy-hat guys. "Are those Hobbits?"

"Um, well..." Lorien said.

"I have heard of them of course, but I have never met them. Odd garb...those shoes would not do well in farming, and I thought they always went barefoot."

"Ahhh, actually..." I said.

"Oooooh, Daddy, look at the cute little elves!" came a small girl voice nearby.

Ack. Lorien and I cringed in unison.

Legolas turned to me, one eyebrow raised in a questionmark.

"Uh, well, some tales shrink down through the ages." I said.

Lorien looked up into his sea-grey eyes; eyes that would see the balrog, count the overwhelming enemy at Helm's Deep, that would meet the deep, wise eyes of Treebeard himself. "The story you are part of changed all that." She eyed the tiny toymakers, "Well, some of it, anyway. Some of us have remembered who the Elves really were."

"Ah." He gave her a gentle smile, like the one he gave Frodo at the end of RotK. When he was blond, and Orlando Bloom. He stayed, leaning on the railing, watching the various reactions of the children to Santa, like a bemused Elf at a Hobbit birthday party. "What's a Power Ranger?" he asked suddenly.

I had sudden visions of what Strider could have done with giant robots in Middle-earth.

"Why?" Lorien asked.

"That little girl asked for one."

"You can hear what they're saying?"

"Yes. Why are they telling him what they want?"

I turned to Lorien, "Didn't you tell him?"

"No, I thought you did."

"Tell me what?"

"About Christmas."

"Dana told me some. It resembles our mid-winter Yule celebrations. But I do not understand the importance of the Red Wizard."

"Uh, he lives at the North Pole with a bunch of Elves who make toys for him, and on Christmas Eve, he fires up his nine reindeer sleigh, loads it with toys and flies all over the world delivering them." I said. "Oh yeah, the lead reindeer has a light-up nose and in at least one story, hangs out with an Elf named Herbie who wants to be a dentist."

"Hermie." Lorien intoned.

"Whatever."

Legolas gave us both an odd look. "Why would they choose to live north of the Grinding Ice?"

"Yes, that is very odd." Lorien said, "It's just a frozen-over ocean. Submarines can surface through it."

"No Elf would live there, Dwarves perhaps. They like crafting such things as you have here." he gestured toward the expanse of the mall. "And why would he use reindeer? And what craft would make them fly? Why not just use one of your airplanes instead?"

"Yeah." I agreed. "Or Fed Ex."

"It's just a legend." Lorien said. "A fairy tale."

And we are standing next to what? I looked up at Legolas, and looked at the stand-in Santa in the middle of the poly-fil North Pole, and wondered what other legends had shrunk down through the ages. And where they were living now.

Mouse. Unci had said. See like mouse.

Legolas turned then, as if someone had spoken to him, and the purple mittened five year old stared up at him. Her mom stood a few feet away, chattering to a friend, oblivious. The girl, who five minutes ago had screamed at Santa, stared up at this black-braided stranger, in hiking boots and jeans and an outrageous snowboard hat and broke into a huge smile. I could see their eyes meeting, and I thought I could...no, I knew I could see something in the kid's eyes.

She knew.

Legolas smiled back, a gentle, sweet smile. With a wink, as if a secret had passed between them.



taphae-ar-odog: Legolas

"Santa? Blue wizards, brown wizards, grey wizards, white...I never heard of a red wizard."

"Nor I. But this Saint Nicholas the Red seemed to be the center of the Yule season celebrations. There were others; Christ-mass and Hanukka and Kwanzza and Sol-stice, each culture had its own, but all of them seemed to love the Red Wizard."

"What about the Hobbits? Why were there Hobbits?"

Legolas flinched, "Ehhh, it was such memory as most of their folk preserved of..."

"Yes?"

"...us."

Gimli laughed. Then, seeing the look on his friend's face, harumphed and pulled his blankets up a bit father. "Well, if that's all they remembered of the Eldar, perhaps I don't want to know what they remembered of my folk."

Legolas nodded. He would spare Gimli the tale of Dopey and Doc.


Lizard

We finally sat in the food court eating soft pretzels, and collecting stares from passing women. A lot of them went from the pace of manic squirrels to that of a snail on a Sunday drive as they passed. A few stopped in little clusters of conversation, shooting glances our way without looking like they were looking.

Elf gravity.

Finally, Lorien rose, "We're going to Gander Mountain." she announced. "Without you."

"Oh." The outdoor store. I could think of fifteen things I wanted there, that both of them knew about.

"Cool."

She shared a conspiratory look with Legolas.

"Ok. I got other stuff to get down the mall. Meet you in..." I looked at my watch, "...an hour? Here?"

"Yeah. Good. We'll take our first haul back to Strider."

"Stuff the bags in the big dog crate in the back or Kodi will eat them."

"He can guard them then."

"Hah hah hah, A Siberian watch dog. If somebody really tried to take all that stuff he'd just watch them take it." I handed over my bags and headed back down the mall to The Bookstore.


taphae-a-tolodh: Legolas

When we had as much baggage as Bilbo had returning from the incident with the dragon, Lorien and I stowed the bags in the truck. It was good to be out in the clear air again. The Mall was full of voices ricocheting off bare walls, and footfalls and hurry and annoyance, and music that made one's head ache after awhile. We had to walk a long way to the edge of the parking lot; a field of cars that stretched like a besieging army around the great Mall. I took Kodi for a walk, and he was glad to be out of the den in the back of the truck. We went along the edge of one of the small islands of soil and trees scattered throughout the bare rock of the parking lot. I bade Kodi wait, gave his lead to Lorien, and climbed up, even though the tree was small and young. I could see the leagues of land stretched out before me; the Mall and its circling army of cars, the roads beyond with their streaming traffic, the crowded patterns of the houses and places where the folk conducted their daily business, and the grey rolling hills beyond. Far off there were patches of farmland, and near was the great sprawl of the city. Not bright, like Minas Tirith; grey and brown and full of movement, but little life. The far grey hills were cleaner, but there was no wilderness to be seen, except to the north, whence we came. Lorien stood beneath the tree and asked what I saw. I told her.

"No," she said, "I mean the other stuff, the light, the energy, like at the dance, like what Liz saw."

"In places it is strong yet. Where there are trees and living things."

"And where there aren't? Like in the city?"

"Ah," I could not find words to describe it.

"There is too little that grows here and is glad." Lorien said.

"Where did you hear that?" I asked.

She smiled, almost sadly, "You said it once. In the story."

"Ah."

"And then you brought a bunch of birds that sing and trees that do not die to Minas Tirith. Well, maybe I shouldn't have told you that. Maybe it will change things. If we ever get you back."

A shadow fell on her face then, and it went to my heart.

"Up with your head, fair maiden of the Edain, the end of the tale is not yet written, and hopelessness is only for those who have already read the end."


Lizard

I wandered down the mall in a kind of hazy Christmas daze, thinking which of The Books on Lorien's List of Doom I could afford, and what to get Legolas. What do you get a guy who's just going to go back to Mirkwood any day now? Not a CD player, that's for sure. I stopped in front of the shop windows, not really looking at anything. I got to The Bookstore and found one really good book on the Lorien list.

Somewhere at the bottom of the video screen in my brain, the little warning light started flashing again. The little leather pouch Dana had given me felt suddenly warm against my chest. Right at the edge of my field of vision, something moved, lithe and light, with delicious otter curves.

Like Legolas.

I turned and there was a middle aged computer geek type in the aisle next to me, looking over the science fiction rack. A kid farther down checking out a fantasy novel with a muscular Elf and a Dwarf wielding an oversized axe on the cover. There was a lady in the romance section, a big plaid guy with a beard in Home Improvements. I walked around the end of the rack.

A thirty-something guy in a grey bomber jacket was kneeling on the floor, studying the titles at the other end of the SF shelf. Half his hair was pulled back into a neat braid, like Legolas in the movie. The rest fell around his shoulders like a horse's mane. He pulled out a book. He stood up, still reading. No. He didn't stand, he flowed up, like a leopard yawning. He must have felt my eyes boring a hole in him because right then he turned and looked at me.

I looked into eyes like the sky over the Himalayas. Like the space between the stars.

Like Legolas'.

Something in his face shifted, startled, then shifted back again, as composed as a cat by a fire. "Looking for something special?" he said. He cocked his head a little. It made me think of birds.

"Ah. Yeah. Er..." My mouth had totally lost all connection with my brain. It occurred to me about then that his hair wasn't that dead grass blond I'd thought it was. It was bluer. Not grey, not black and white hairs. Each individual hair deep blue-grey, like his jacket, like a blue cat. Like a grulla horse.

Like our raven.

He shifted his shoulders, his eyebrows dropped like birdwings, he looked like he was going to say...

Someone moved around the rack behind him; tall, pale-haired.

With a face that could have belonged to Galadriel's brother.

"Hey," Galadriel's brother said very softly.

Sky-eyes turned, I followed his gaze and met eyes the color of the sea, and deeper. "Tulugaq!" the pale-haired one said, low, but sharp, like a command. "Let's go." He fixed his eyes on mine, and then I was falling to the bottom of the sea.

I blinked, breathed again. Ran around the end of the book rack, but they were gone.

I ran out into the mall, looking up and down the crowded length of it.

They were gone.



taphae-a-neder: Legolas

"I began to climb down then," Legolas continued, "for I could see Lorien was getting chilled.

Something caught my eye, then, a flash of wings, silver against blue."

"The gulls the girls were trying to not have you see?" Gimli broke in.

"No. Broad wings, painted on the side of one of the cars. A familiar shape. I climbed down and called to Lorien to follow. Kodi plunged after me, dragging Lorien with him. They caught up to me a few minutes later, by a Jeep the color of sky over the high mountains."

"Jeeeep? Is this a letter of the alphabet I am unaware of?"

"No. It is the name of a car Dwarves would love. It is small and hardy and tough, and can go almost anywhere a pack mule can. This one had a bright design on the doors; a pale sun, or perhaps a full moon, with a dark silver bird, wings spread in flight across it. Broad wings with a wedge-shaped tail, and a great beak like a broadsword."

"A raven!"

"Yes! Lorien came panting up beside me and stared at it in astonishment. Kodi stood up with his paws on the door, a great happy grin on his face. Lorien pulled him back, as if she thought the Jeep might be dangerous."

"It does not feel evil." I told her. "What does this say?" I pointed to the runes scrawled across the bottom of the door.

"Ravin' Maniac. It's a pun. Raving, as in mad, wild, or slightly crazy. Fey, maybe. Raven, as in bird." she frowned, walked around the Jeep, "There's a bumper sticker that says I'd rather be flying, and a little sticker here for a pilot's association. And one that says my other ride is blue too... with a picture of the tardis." Then her face brightened, "This says Hawk Circle Farm." Her grin widened, "There's an address." She looked up at me, "You don't think..."

''That this could have some connection to our raven?" I walked around the Jeep, a feather dangled from the rearview mirror.

It was dark silver.


Lizard

Legolas and Lorien met me halfway down the mall, he had seen me coming. We came together in a knot of excitement, all babbling at once.

"Elves," I said, "there were Elves in the mall."

They both shut up and stared at me.

Legolas caught my shoulders and fixed me with a look that could have pierced the dark at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. "What?" his eyes shone bright but his voice was barely a wind whisper.

"In the bookstore. Just now."

He turned, as if to run there.

"They're gone."

"Gone!" Lorien grabbed me and shook me, "What? What did you do ? Why didn't you stop them. Wait, how did you know?" Her face looked like I'd just told her I'd got a date with Orlando Bloom. Complete disbelief.

"What was that line about Legolas? Fair of face beyond the measure of Men?"

"Whoa, you remembered the Book." She said sarcastically. "There's lots of gorgeous guys in the mall, banana butt. And all of them have round ears except him." she nodded at Legolas. "I don't suppose you got a look at their ears?"

"No. Their eyes. They had eyes like his. Like the space between the stars." I told them about the encounter, and how they'd left, vanished.

"Augh!" Lorien said. "You let them get away!"

"I didn't let them do anything, I think they didn't want to be recognized. The one almost said something, but his buddy stopped him."

"Augh!" Lorien said again. "Wait, you remember what they look like, so it's not like Nazgul Barbie."

"Yeah, but that doesn't help. They could be in the Yukon by now. I wish Legolas could have seen them!"

"Ok," Lorien said, "think like Sherlock Holmes here; what were they wearing? T-shirts that said anything?"

"A blue-grey bomber jacket. And...Uh...yeah, the one had weird hair, blue."

"What? Like Nightcrawler?"

Come to think of it, he did look a little bit like my favorite X-man, only I hadn't seen his ears. "No, no, not blue like sky, blue like a cat, like a grulla horse, a blue Doberman. That kind of Cooper's Hawk-bluey-grey color. And he could still be in the Yukon by now."

"Did they say anything?"

"Ahhh..." What was that word? I stretched my brain and heard it snap. "Tool...glue...crack."

Lorien grabbed me by the front of my jacket and nearly lifted me off the ground. "What?"

"Yule...spool, drool, cool, pool, tool...yeah, toolglue...poo...loo...tooloo...ack!"

"Tooloogack?" Lorien practically shouted.

"Yeah, yeah, that's it. You're the Elvish expert, what is that?"

Her eyes were the size of a five-year olds' on Christmas morning. "It's not Elvish. It's Baffin Island Eskimo."

"Huh?" Whatthehell Eskimos had to do with this, I had no clue.

"It means Raven. It's a chapter title in Mind of the Raven!"

"Why would an Elf speak Eskimo?" I said.

"I don't know! Wait, wasn't he wearing a bomber jacket... like a pilot's?"

"Yeah. So? Lots of people do."

"And oddly enough, his hair is the same color as our raven. And the one on the Jeep." Lorien said.

"What Jeep?" I asked.

"Have you been listening to anything I said!?" She thrust her camera under my nose and flicked to a picture of a fairly ordinary looking blue Jeep. Except that it had a raven logo on the side. In dark silver.

Legolas stepped between us and laid a hand on each of our shoulders."There was a feather of that color dangling from the mirror."

"Luthien." Lorien said. "Finrod."

"What?" I said.

"There were Elves in the Silmarillion who could shapeshift themselves or others."

"Yeah," I said darkly. "and so can Mystique."


Lothlorien

...maybe

It was nightfall before we found the place, hidden on a backroad that ran along one edge of the great State Forest. A half hidden sign marked a dirt lane leading off the main road; Hawk Circle Farm. It was a big, carved wood sign with a graphic of a red-tailed hawk silhouetted against a yellow sun.

Lorien leaned forward, squinting. "What does that say underneath?"

I braked Strider, backed up so the headlights shone on the sign. "Earth Life Foundation. Environmental Education and Research Center." That at least was promising. Anybody who was running an outfit like this couldn't be all bad.

Unless it was a cover for something darker.

Lorien climbed out, took a picture of it, and squashed herself back in the cab against Legolas. She remained oddly silent for several minutes as we rattled under huge trees, reaching over us in the dark like giant sentinels. Then her voice came from the far edge of the seat, "The acronym for that is E.L.F."

"Yeah. How the heck did we miss this place before? When we were looking for Elves."

"Of course, it could be a coincidence."

"Yeah, sure." Like a guy deciding to paint his raven logo dark silver instead of black.

"We'll probably have as easy a time getting in as Tuor had finding Gondolin."

"What?"

"The Silmarillion, bonehead. Ok, for the literature impaired; as easy as the Fellowship had getting into Lothorien."

"Yeah." I touched Legolas' arm, "What do you feel?" Just because they were Elves, didn't mean they were like Legolas' folk. And the ones at the mall had not wanted to be found.

"It is not like the great forest behind Dana's, or your place. This place is old. Full of energy and life. And the borders are protected. Can you not feel it?"

"Is that why my stomach feels like half a dozen moray eels are having a dance party?"

He didn't answer, he just kept his nose to the window, staring out at the huge trees.

The road wound on through trees that stretched dark and endless on either side. Lorien leaned forward occasionally, taking pictures through the window, or rolling down a sidewindow and shooting into a blast of cold air, the flash reflecting off the roadside tree-sentinels like lightning. To the left, north, I could see a good-sized stream following the road. Legolas leaned forward as if hearing something we couldn't. I caught a flash of movement to the side, a glimpse of something in the edge of the headlights.

A deer, I told myself.

"Odd." Lorien said softly. I glanced over and she was looking at the picture she'd just taken. She thrust it under my nose, and I caught a glimpse of something four-legged, and horned, glowing in the glare of the headlights. Glowing a little brighter than it should in my halogens.

It was late on a Saturday evening, if any of this was ever open to the public, it wasn't now. And that Jeep could be anywhere.

A light loomed through the trees, and resolved into a pole light over a barn I couldn't see. Another light nearby might have marked the house. A short lane ran toward the lights. There was a small sign that said Private Drive, and a rustic wooden gate. I slowed.

Legolas waved me on, then just past the lane said softly, "Daro."

"Stop." Lorien said. She bailed out as Legolas lept out, nearly over her. He caught up his bow, and I didn't stop him this time. He vanished into the trees.

"Wonderful." I said. An owl hooted, close enough to make me jump. I palmed my pepper spray. Lorien tiptoed up beside me, raised her hand.

The flashlight beam cut through the still dark like a lightsaber. Trees stood out like the pillars of Moria, branches tangling into a ceiling overhead, traces of Thanksgiving snow lay in hollows among drifted leaves, a half-frozen creek trickled with a sound like chimes. A few stars made their way through the tree-ceiling. A wolf howled, close enough to touch. I grabbed Lorien's hand, dousing the light.

"Wonderful. Now we're in the dark." she said.

"Something might see us."

"They probably already have. Was that a wolf? Or does somebody here have a kennel full of huskies?"

"Sounded just like a wolf." A few more yodeled in harmony with the first. "It is a wildlife center." I suggested. The pack harmonics rose and fell and wavered away into silence. I let out a breath, it was an oddly comforting sound, familiar, like Kodi's own song. I began to relax.

A shadow moved at the edge of my sight. I spun and raised the pepper spray.

Legolas raised a hand, "There are many strange creatures in fences, great cats such as I have never seen before, wolves, and a great, tall beast like," he stretched his hand as high as he could, "Tall as a tree, like an elk, but all neck and legs! I have never seen such a beast!"

"Was it spotted?" I asked.

"Yes, its coat bore a pattern like the shadows of leaves on a forest floor."

"Giraffe." I said, with some relief. "Did you talk to any of these creatures?"

"What do they know about the place?" Lorien said.

"They are happy, well-fed. Though they did not recognize me, my kind is not unfamiliar to them."

"There are Elves here then." Lorien said.

"So whadda we do? Just walk up and knock on the door?" I said.

Legolas shook his head. "There was a great barn too, weathered black by age, but I did not go in. I felt a great power there. And a strange scent, like..." he wrinkled his nose, "I don't know, I have never smelled it before."

"Great." I said. "Probably dragons or something."

Something big roared. I was hoping it was one of Legolas' cats.

We drove farther, and the road bent south. Behind us another narrower road went off like a tree branch to the north. We stopped, got out and listened to the night noises; the deep booming voices of great horned owls, more wolfsong behind us. To the north a faint glow, like more house lights, twinkled through the trees. South, I could see the sky glow of the city, and the nearer twinkle of more house lights, a cluster, like a farm. Ahead of us I could hear running water. I thought of the Nimrodel on the borders of Lothlorien, and Legolas' song of her. I felt a light touch on my shoulder.

"Which way?" he said.

"You're the Elf." I said. I turned to meet Legolas' eyes, like stars in the dark. I thought of how water guarded places like Lothlorien and Rivendell. Of how Evil couldn't cross it. "Over the stream." I said. "If there's a way."

There was a a rainbow arch of stone bridge that looked like it might have been built by Gimli's folk. The water flowed wider and swifter than I'd guessed, wide enough to have a narrow island in the middle of the creek. I peered over the edge of the stone wall bordering the bridge, half expecting a troll to jump out from the darkness beneath. Lorien took pictures on the other side. The road doglegged north and followed another small creek east again. More lights through the trees. A line of shadowy buildings in the dark. Then another road to the north, and a sign that said 'Library and Visitor's Center ahead'. There was another sign, a red rectangle with a white slash across it.

"What's that?" Lorien said, "No red?"

"It's a dive flag mustard brains, if you see it on the water, it means stay away, there's divers down."

"Why would there be one here, in the middle of Pennsylvania farming country? In the winter?" Lorien said.

"A dive shop, or maybe a diving quarry, like the one my aunt took me snorkeling in."

So far, the whole place seemed to be asleep. Something made me want to take the road to the north, the one unmarked by any sign, at least none I could see from this angle. I hung a left, south, and heard the crunch of well maintained gravel under Strider's wheels. Lights loomed large through the trees, and a big building, painted the color of beach sand in a sunrise, appeared on the right. I pulled up into a well-lit parking lot and we all piled out, staring at the door, and the sign on it.

Library closed.

"Well, what did you expect?" Lorien said.

Oh, I don't know, a hundred Elven archers to materialize out of the trees and take us to see the White Lady or something. The road went ever on, so we piled back in and followed it. It twisted and wound about through dark avenues of trees, past more distant house lights, over another small bridge. Then back over the same bridge.

"We appear to be driving in circles." Lorien suggested.

"Hmmmph." I turned and drove back to where I thought I'd seen the library.

Another building, the visitor's center this time, and another closed sign. I piled out, walked a few yards away from the mass of steel that was Strider, and checked my compass. It spun in useless circles.

"Legolas?" Lorien asked.

"Try that way, west," he said. The main track bent west, while a small trail that even a Jeep would have had second thoughts about, went south. I followed the main track till it passed the dive shop and ended at a polite sort of gate, a rustic wooden bar across the path. Quarry closed.

"Well, duh," Lorien said, "Who would be diving in the middle of the winter."

"They dive in the arctic, this has got to be practically balmy by comparison. All of 42 degrees, I'd guess." It helped that I was reading the sign on the wall by the door, the one that listed the temperatures at different depths. "Hey, cool, look at this, they have an underwater Christmas tree contest!"

Legolas was peering over my shoulder at the poster, containing a photo of last year's winner, with grinning divers floating by their tree. At least I think they were grinning. You couldn't tell with the regulators hiding their mouths. Legolas cocked his head, his eyebrows knotted up, "How did they get the little lights to work underwater? And what is all that strange gear they are wearing, and what..."

Lorien grabbed him and pulled him back toward the truck. "Later! We're on a mission, remember?"
We followed the road back the way we'd come, turned right and within minutes came to the main highway and a sign behind us, much like the one we'd seen coming in; Hawk Circle Farm. The farm had swallowed us up and spit us back out, without ever revealing its secrets.

"We should come back during the day." I said.

"Turn around," Lorien said. "I have a feeling."

I spun Strider around in the middle of the road and headed back in.

There was still that unmarked road to the north, it yawned half-hidden by the kinds of thick shrubbery that grow along streams. It leaped across another little troll bridge and a smaller track went off to the right.

"There." Lorien said, pointing to the smaller track.

We came to a dead end at something that looked just like a castle gate.

Closed, of course.

Legolas got out and vanished into a tree by the gate. A moment later he returned. "There was a small village of empty dwellings, more like shops than houses. A great arena, and a small stable." He looked like someone who's gone to Fiji and found a McDonalds, "Why would your folk build a village like those of the Woodmen?"

"What, did we drive into a time warp?" I said.

"It's a Rennaissance Faireground, sausage butt." Lorien said, pointing to a sign that directed the summer public to Ye Olde Privies.

"Oh." Duh.

To Legolas she said, "It's historical recreation. A memory of how it was five hundred years ago. Or how we wish it was."

He stood staring up at the great gates. "Five hundred years, just a ripple in the stream of time. Yet your folk have changed...much. More than the Eldar could have guessed."

I saw something on his face then, it looked the way gulls sound in the dark. I reached out and touched his shoulder, "Yeah. Come on, we should go."

He broke loose from his still stance, like a dreamer waking, "Yes. There are many lights farther up the road. And some activity."

We piled back in Strider and rumbled back onto the main track. Lights appeared through the trees. Lots of lights, strung in a familiar pattern.

"Hey," I said, "This is an airstrip. I think we found our Raven's nest."



Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.