Legolas awoke at dawn, as was his habit ever since arriving at this strange town. Pale blue light was simmering through the window. Yawning, he sat up, and shook his head. Unkempt strands of hair fell around his shoulders. He absentmindedly ran his fingers through the tresses when a voice jolted him.
"Why don't you ever unbraid your hair?"
His body whirled to the side, where the man sat on his bed, canvas in his arms. His hand was blackened with coal. The elfling stared, incredulous.
"Did you spend the whole night drawing me?"
The man nodded, a faint smile emerging from the dark. "You look beautiful when you sleep."
The elfling scratched his head, and rose from his bedding on the floor. "I'll be back with breakfast," he said, turning away.
"Child." The voice halted his steps. Legolas glanced back. The man was watching him with an unfathomable expression on his face. "Why do you never loosen your hair?"
Silence filled the slowly brightening room. The elfling turned away, and wordlessly exited the cabin. The man was left speechless, alone in the pale blue of dawn.
Outside, Legolas took a deep inhalation, closing his eyes. His heart suddenly constricted painfully. He wanted to go home.
A moment later, he opened his eyes again, taking deliberate steps toward the woods. It was later than usual time. He would have to hurry before the rest of the villagers woke up.
The young man was walking toward Roloth's house in furious footsteps. The glint of gold and blue he had seen through the window were not fantasies – knowing Roloth, definitely not. He had seen that speck of beauty this morning. And what a beautiful child it was. Like the rest of the villagers, the young man was a criminal cast away from his homeland, and he knew that beauty accompanied danger. And what a deadly beauty that child was.
He could not keep in silence any longer. If Roloth still did not come out of his house, well, he would go to Roloth and drag him out, regardless of whether the child watched or not.
The small cabin was not far, though it was a bit apart from the other houses; all the houses were apart anyhow, as the villagers did not trust each other. There were men of all kinds here – thieves, burglars, bandits, murderers, and – well – people like Roloth.
He was just about to enter the cabin when he felt eyes on him. Leading a life of a hideaway had developed keen senses in the man, and he froze. The eyes that watched him were coming from the bushes to the side of the settlement. He turned, careful not to be hasty. And he gasped.
The child had grown overnight.
Gaping, he curled and uncurled his fingers, wondering if he should run away and warn the village of some kind of magical monster. But he was too late; the tall figure moved before he did. It was not a big move; if anything, the elf moved very slightly, cautious and distrusting. Bright blue eyes burned into his, holding the wary beauty of a ferocious wild animal.
The young man stood perfectly still, trying to assess his course of action. And once again, the elf beat him to it. The creature spoke quietly, the melodic voice dissolving into the thin morning air.
"I come to seek a child."
After the silent breakfast, Roloth sat with his canvas again, and Legolas took his usual seat on the bed. This had become their customary routine by now; the man no longer left his house for anything. He spent the whole day drawing. Though he usually worked in silence, Legolas was more pleased with this course of events than before, for it meant he had company for the whole day. He usually asked questions while the man worked, questions about the human world. And the man would smile as he answered, chuckling at the elfling's indomitable curiosity. And he would carefully avoid answering about the settlement, or the villagers, or why he was separated from his son. And he no longer asked about the elfling's family.
"Can I do it?"
The sudden question shook the child out of his reverie. He blinked, tilting his head slightly as to not skew his pose. "What?"
The man looked up from his work. "Loosen your hair."
The elfling stared. Roloth smiled. "Your hair is so beautiful. I would like to see it...undone."
A small hand reached up to tentatively finger the three intricate plaits that hung among the tresses of gold. The elfling looked up again at the man, and then shook his head.
"Why not?" pressed the man. His hands were moving faster.
Legolas tensed. "No one touches my hair." Except for Ada.
His bright eyes gleamed in the shadowed room. The sun was shining outside, only to be blocked by the blanket hanging at the window.
Roloth put down his coal, and blew gently over the parchment. "All done." He looked up, and Legolas thought he saw a tense expression on that face. A war of emotions. But before he could be sure, the man was smiling again. "So secretive...and yet you are not even an adolescent. Still a child..."
The child relaxed his pose, but his eyes remained alert. "I am older than I look."
Roloth stood, and lowered his hands into a small basin resting on the table. "Ah, but your innocence belies your age," he chuckled, as soft lapping of water filled the tense silence. "So how old are you, really? Eleven? Twelve?"
The question was met with silence.
Laughing softly, Roloth shook his head. "Forgive me, child. I had been carried away by memories. I have drawn many children, and they are so different, and yet the same."
Tension forgotten, the elfling leaned forward. His eyes were wide again, curious. "You have drawn many children?"
"Yes." The man wiped his now-clean hands on a thin cloth, and turned toward the elfling. "Children are my main subjects."
"Well..." The man slowly approached the bed. "Children like you...they are blooming with such beauty of youth...innocence...their skin so soft, smooth...their limbs are supple, their voices-" suddenly he broke off, and quickly shook his head. He was standing directly before the child, who was bending his head back to maintain eye contact. The smooth column of the child's white throat wavered gently. Roloth quickly stepped back.
"Voices?" Legolas frowned in confusion. "You can draw voices?"
Chuckling, Roloth hastily shook his head. "No, of course not. It is simply a part of their beauty."
The man was about to open his mouth again when a knock on his door interrupted.
"Roloth!" It was a harsh voice of a man. The knock was demanding, urgent. "Roloth, open the door!"
Muttering under his breath, Roloth quickly turned to the door. Legolas grabbed his tunic and began to put it on, hastily crawling underneath the bed. Roloth draped the blanket over the side of the bed, concealing the child from view. "Stay quiet," he hissed, quickly approaching the door. "These men may hurt you."
Legolas swallowed nervously, as the man opened the door to greet another man. The visitor was burlier than Roloth, and younger. He looked about the room, and when his eyes rested on the canvas, Roloth dived for it. But even as Roloth was hastily gathering the drawings in his arms, the man stood, a frozen expression of dread and anger on his face. He grabbed Roloth by the collar and dragged him out the door, slamming the door shut.
In the cover of darkness, Legolas breathed uneasily. Men were such strange people.
"Don't be so rough, Dama!" Roloth batted the man's hand away, and glared at the younger man as he straightened out his modest apparel. "What do you want?"
The younger man loomed over him menacingly. His voice was low, dangerous. "I see that you have taken up your old hobby again, Roloth."
Roloth snorted. "Yes, I like drawing."
It was Dama's turn to snort. "Indeed. I never knew that you enjoyed drawing yourself so much." He inched closer to the older man, eyes glittering. His breath was hot upon Roloth's face. "So which is it this time, Roloth? A raven-haired girl who is yet hairless? A supple-limbed boy whose voice is still sweet? Oh pardon me, I have forgotten that there are no children in this settlement, heavens be praised."
Roloth's hand shot out, aiming at the younger man's mouth. But in an instant, the hand froze midair, as Dama's own hand caught it in a death grip.
"I wonder where the new child appeared from?" he hissed, wrath emanating from his taut body. "From the woods, perhaps?"
"I have no reason to hear this from a green one like you," retorted Roloth, eyes flashing with rage. "You forget that you are not as sinless as you like to believe."
Dama suddenly jerked Roloth forward, a breath away from his own face. "Take some time to recall that herbal drink you purchased yesterday from the supply store," he hissed, "and then lecture me about sins."
With satisfaction and disgust warring in his face, Dama threw down Roloth's arm. "I have seen him, Roloth. I saw him gathering fruit for you this morning." A contemptuous smile spread against his rugged features. "A beautiful child, is he not?"
The older man was frozen still, his tongue locked in muted silence. Dama leaned in closer.
"Beautiful things come with a price," he whispered, threateningly. "I would not play with an elf-child if I were you."
"I do not play," retorted Roloth, backing away angrily. "I was hiding him from the villagers. You know how dangerous these men are."
A harsh laughter rang in the air. Dama sneered at the trembling hands before him. "Somehow I do not think you are suited for protecting children, Roloth."
"Think what you will," snapped Roloth, turning away. He grabbed the doorknob when Dama's quiet voice cut the silence.
"An elf came looking for him this morning."
Dama crossed his arms, watching. "'A golden-haired, blue-eyed elf-child. Still a mere child, looking no older than ten, eleven, twelve years in your people's children.' Yes, Roloth, he came in the name of Mirkwood. The king is offering gold to anyone who finds him."
At this, Roloth turned, eyes flashing violently. "The reward is mine!" he hissed. "I took care of him; I was good to him!"
Dama cocked his head. "Dear Roloth, you misunderstand my intentions. I care not for the reward." His gaze flicked toward the closed door of Roloth's cabin. "I care about my blood staying inside me."
Roloth held his breath as he searched into the other man's eyes. "What did you tell him?" the voice was fearful. "Did you say you didn't know?"
Gradually, a shadow of dark rage overcame Dama's features. He stood still, glaring with black venom in his eyes, fists clenched. "If I had, then he would have demanded a village assembly so that he could question all of us. And then the elf-child would have noticed the ruckus – imagine what would happen if the elf saw you with him!" he ended in a hiss.
Roloth heaved a sigh of relief. "He does not know anything," he replied, confidence somewhat restored.
The younger man snorted. "Yes, of course. I am certain that you bought the sedative for yourself, and that the child has been unaware of your artistic hobby."
Roloth was silent.
With a great sigh, Dama scratched his head, evidently frustrated. "I said I saw a small figure wander to the west, and he went that way. If he returns, we will have to say that we didn't know you were hosting him. You will not be shielded by any of us again." He glowered at the stiff figure of the man before him. "I would be careful," he warned, stepping away. "He will return soon. And he will not be fooled a second time."