Spring was spreading its gentle breath upon the hidden valley of Rivendell. The sun was a soft hue, embraced by zephyr winds that danced across the plains. Amid the blossoming flowers, a tinkling laughter could be heard in the House of Healing. Two figures were seated in the ward before a small table, working on a pile of green-stemmed herbs. The elfling swung his legs from his high perch upon a stool, unable to reach the floor.
"Then after you try out the effects of this one," said the yellow-haired elfling eagerly, "can I use it on my potions too?" he peered up into the older elf's face.
The dark-haired youth laughed as he plucked off the leaves and dropped the stiff stems into the pot that rested between them. "After my father deems it safe to use," he said, "but remember, little elf, this is potent and untested."
"I'll remember," said the elfling with excitement. He peered into the pot as he dropped a smoothened stem into it. This was a rare herb he had never used before; he wanted to know what it could do.
The youth eyed him warily. "And you must show me how much you're using before you start boiling. Will you do that?"
The elfling nodded vigorously, his broad smile bursting with exuberant joy. He swung his legs with renewed vigor as his small hands went about plucking the leaves out of the stem.
The youth eyed him, and sighed. Valar, what have I gotten myself into… He was still light-headed from the 'nutritional supplement' soup that the elfling had made for him the previous day. But who could refuse such a wide-eyed elfling's excitement to be of help? He chuckled to himself as he glanced at the pot. A little more, and they would be finished with the plucking. Then he would be able to finally test these herbs. His father had been wary of the potential power of these rare plants; doubts had been expressed about letting a certain curious and speedy – very speedy – elfling near such strong and untested herbs, but the elfling had looked upon them with such excited curiosity that Elrond had agreed to let the elfling help with the initial preparing, and watch the potion-making process, if under the supervision of a moderately experienced healer. Despite the wary look he had given his son, who happened to be that moderately experienced healer.
It did not help that the said moderately experienced healer was still light-headed from the elfling's help the previous day.
"I think we are almost ready," he announced, standing up carefully and approaching the stove that lined the wall of the healing ward. He began to feed the fire as he prepared water. The elfling watched with excitement as he plucked the last stem clean, and hugged the gigantic pot and lifted. It was heavy. He hmphed as his little arms strained against the weight.
"How much are we boiling?" the elfling asked, peering into the pot once again. The youth opened his mouth to speak, when a loud boom shook the house.
Two heads whipped toward the door. The elfling blinked. The youth glanced at him.
"Wait here, Legolas," he said curtly, "I'll be back."
Left alone, Legolas blinked at the door, and listened. There were cries of surprise, scurrying feet, and then, a faint smell of smoke. He stood with the giant pot in his arms, worriedly staring at the door. He wanted to go and see – and help, if he could – but Elladan wanted him to stay. Maybe he wanted him to take care of the herbs. Of course! Legolas turned to the stove. Elladan had left the water boiling; he obviously trusted Legolas to finish the task. With determination, he scurried toward the stove, and hefted the pot onto it by lifting himself up to his toes. With a satisfying clunk, the pot rested against the fire. Legolas scurried back to the table, dragged his high stool to the stove, and scampered on top of it. Reaching for a large stirrer that hung on the wall, he began to solemnly prepare the potion.
The kitchens were filled with smoke, with elves scurrying to and fro with pots and pails of water. But it seemed that the fire had been put out rather quickly, for there was more smoke and confusion than panic. Windows were opened, and elves with aprons milled about, fanning the air. The smoke was beginning to clear when Elladan strode straight into the bakers' kitchen.
There he found what he had been suspecting: a dark-haired elfling, eyes wide, standing with baking mittens that were too big for her little hands. She looked more bewildered than contrite. The dark-haired youth that stood behind her – or rather, between her and the stove, Elladan thought wryly – had the same expression of weary exasperation that matched his twin.
Dark eyes met. Elladan approached, fell to his knees, and began to look the elfling over for injuries. "What happened?" he demanded, lifting up tresses of dark hair and turning her around to scan her neck and ears.
"I was baking," answered the wide-eyed elfling. Elladan gave her a long-suffering look.
"Elrohir," he muttered.
The twin supplemented. "She decided that pouring oil around the fire would make the lembas bake faster."
Elladan's hands stilled. He stared into round dark eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but was too tired to give a proper reprimand. Valar, was this why Ada always looked so weary when he and Elrohir made mischief together? He could handle one elfling burning down the kitchen, or another elfling overhealing the healers, but both of them together… He opened his mouth again, but wearily ran a hand down his face instead. "No doing that next time," he said with mild sternness, and with a sigh, stood.
The child nodded, staring up in curious concern as the youth swayed to his feet. Elrohir gave him a sympathetic look.
"I have just explained to her what oil does to lembas," he said, "especially when it's closer to the fire than the bread."
"Good." Elladan looked long at the elfling. "One of these days one of you will be the death of me."
"Harrowed, are we, brother?" Elrohir's mouth twitched into a smirk. "Legolas giving you trouble?"
"He is under good supervision." Elladan shot an accusatory glance. "Which Arwen evidently was not, when she decided to roast us alive."
The elfling's eyes widened. "I wasn't going to eat-"
"Figure of speech, Arwen," dismissed Elrohir with a wave of his hand, "and I was talking with Ada when I heard the explosion. And thanks to our little Leaf's 'help' yesterday, I couldn't get here fast enough." He rubbed his head absentmindedly, looking a bit ill as he refocused his wandering eyes. "I think my sense of balance is permanently scarred."
It was Elladan's turn to cast his twin a sympathetic look. Then he frowned.
"Talking with Ada? He should be in a council meeting." He glanced down at Arwen as the elfling began to peer into the stove, and reached out to pull her away from its lingering heat. "Is something wrong?"
Elrohir looked thoughtful. "We need to reroute the troops. Glorfindel's patrol is too far away to intercept Gandalf."
"Gandalf?" Elladan stared.
Elrohir nodded. "Ada saw him coming in from the plains. A messenger has been dispatched."
Elladan chewed his lip thoughtfully. "The plains," he repeated, with a distant look of concern. Glancing down at the elfling who listened with wide, curious eyes, his eyes lit up into a twinkle. "You have never met Gandalf before, have you?" A light smile grazed his lips as the child shook her head. "You should ask Legolas about him. He will be very happy when he hears -" he stopped, and the smile on his face froze. "Dear Valar," he murmured, turned, and ran out of the kitchen.
Arwen blinked up at Elrohir. "Where is he going?"
The dark-haired youth stroked the child's warm head. "I think he remembered something."
Elrond was impressed. It was not every day the lord of the valley was impressed. But he was often impressed these days. Especially when he saw brilliant little elflings. Brilliant elflings armed with the dexterity and skills to quickly cause a disaster. He wanted to sigh aloud.
Elladan stood pensively at the side of the healing ward as his father stood before the table, arms crossed and staring down at the ewer as if pondering how to punish it without hurting its feelings. The potion smelled potent at best, and foul at worst. Legolas stood wide-eyed, looking anxiously at the elvenlord for a response.
Elladan half-expected his father to turn to him with another exasperated look, the I-should-have-known-better-than-to-leave-you-two-alone look, but he looked much too troubled to bother. After all, Elladan had instructed the elfling to wait before dumping the entire content into one little concoction. Although he had undeniably begun the process and left Legolas alone, leading the self-appointed assistant of an elfling to take matters into his own hands, that matter ran into the problem of yet another elfling creating distress in the kitchens, adding to yet another headache. Although excluded from the list of patients the elfling had chosen for his potions the previous day, his father looked just as ill as his two sons. And rightly so, too, for Elladan knew how much excitement this newly discovered herb stock had brought to the Rivendell House of Healing, how eager his father was to test its effects. Sadly, no one was daring enough to risk one's life for it. Poor Ada.
"I think," the elvenlord announced at last, "we shall let this potion…ferment…for a while."
Legolas blinked. "Ferment?" Remembering the term he had learned not too long ago, he stared up at the elvenlord in awe. "Can potions like this ferment?"
Absolutely not, thought Elladan.
"Of course," said Elrond, looking down at the elfling with a benevolent smile. "It is a bit…strong as it is. It is best we wait for someone who can…face up to the task…before we test the effects."
Elladan doubted anything less than a troll would be able to face up to the task. Poor Ada would never know the effects of the herb. The poor elfling's latest accomplishment would be doomed to sit on the top shelf of the herb cabinet, unreachable and untested for eternity. At least Arwen had no illusions about anyone wanting to test her burned lembas.
"Now, now," said Elrond briskly, picking up the ewer with an air of resigned finality, "you have done very well with the mixtures, Legolas. Next time, Elladan will help you with a new…downscaled…version of this drink."
If there were to be a next time within the next hundred years. Elladan knew how rare these herbs were. He wanted to sigh for his father.
Elrond glanced at Elladan as he swept across the room to place the ewer on the top shelf of the herb cabinet. "Now, go out and enjoy the sun, little one. Arwen is out in the stables."
With a degree of relief mixed with new dread, Elladan watched the elfling run out of the room. Legolas' eyes were sparkling with excitement already.
Arwen was looking longingly at the empty stall when Legolas joined her at the stables. He looked around in wonder.
"I thought one was still left," he said. Arwen shook her head sadly.
"A messenger took her. Glorfindel has to be warned."
Legolas turned to her in alarm. "About what? Is there danger coming?"
Arwen gave a solemn nod. "A Gandalf is coming."
She blinked as the Legolas nearly leaped with excitement. "Gandalf?" cried the blond elfling, eyes sparkling. "Gandalf is coming?"
Arwen nodded, peering curiously into his face. "Do you know this Gandalf?"
Legolas nodded, almost bursting with happiness. He whirled and sprinted out of the stables. Arwen stared. He reappeared moments later, grabbed her hand, and pulled her out. "Let's go greet him!" he cried excitedly. Arwen grinned.
"Last one to get to him is an orc!" she giggled. They broke into a delighted run, laughing as they tumbled down the gently sloping hill in a mass of limbs and hair and giggles and sputters. The green grass was fresh upon their hair as they rolled and ran, laughter scattering in the wind.
The two elflings had run, taking turns outrunning the other, far out into the rolling plains when there were no more meshes of trees and bushes. All around them, green hills stretched, in gentle waves that seemed to sway with the spring breeze. The elflings slowed to a walk, holding hands, chatting as they walked out into the plains.
"So it was you?" Legolas' wide eyes sparkled.
Arwen put her eyebrows together, attempting to imitate her father. "I wanted it to bake faster," she said. Legolas held her hand tight in a gesture of comfort.
"Maybe if it takes longer, it will taste better," he said, peering into her morose face. Arwen attempted to thread together her eyebrows again.
"But when I become the greatest lemba baker on Middle Earth, I will make them quick as well as tasty," she said with determination. "Everyone will be able to have as many lembas as they want, and take it with them on trips on really short notice!" She turned to Legolas with a delighted sparkle in her eyes. "Whenever you go off on a trip, I'll pack you lots of lembas too!"
Legolas bounced with excitement. "Then I'll make you lots of potions! Everyone will have your lembas and my potions when they go on trips!"
"And they'll be the best on Middle Earth!" Arwen made a threatening gesture at an invisible enemy. "And whoever has your potions and my lembas will be the mightiest traveler on Middle Earth!" she ran ahead with a laugh. Legolas followed.
He almost bumped into her when she slowed. The air was still.
With a quick rise and fall of her chest, she looked around, blinking. "I don't think this is the path," she said, uncertainty edging into her voice.
Legolas looked around, searching for familiar landmarks. Indeed, these plains were too open, too generously vast and treeless, for there to be any sensible paths in them. His body stiffened. Taking Arwen's small hand into his own small one, he pulled her slowly with him as he backed away.
"Let's go back," he whispered. Suddenly a still silence seemed to descend upon them; there were no birds, no bees. No flowers, no trees – the only sounds were the sways of quiet grass.
"Do you think it's dangerous?" whispered Arwen, not daring to raise her voice above the sound of the breeze. "We're not that far from the house."
"But there are no trees," Legolas pointed out, glancing up at the great, fluffy, white clouds above his head in the expansive blue sky. Under such a peaceful sky, in such vast, green lands, he felt wrong. Something was wrong. At his young age, being accustomed to the shadows of trees, he felt unsafe and unsettled in the absence of them. And no trees meant that as well as they could see attackers, attackers could see them, and would most definitely have longer legs than them… no, this was too dangerous. No place to hide.
Legolas looked at Arwen. "How long do you think it will take Glorfindel to get here?"
Arwen fell into contemplation. "Elrohir said the troops are far away." She peered into her companion's anxious face. "That's why the messenger had to leave in a hurry."
Legolas' hand around hers tightened, and she faltered. She now saw the plain dread that was beginning to surface in her companion's bright eyes.
The troops were too far away to come for Gandalf. They were alone. Gandalf was alone. In the endless plains where there was no place to hide – nowhere to run. And furthermore – he and Arwen, caught up in the idea of greeting the wizard, had neglected to inform the inhabitants of the house that they were wandering out into the wild.
The twins are going to be angry, Legolas thought woefully. The two were usually good-humored, but something of a frightening storm surfaced in their eyes whenever they came running after missing elflings. Elladan had looked so menacing and scared, the last time he found Legolas sleeping in a tree far away from the house. Elrohir had only been able to spare him a brief, stern glance as he was busy berating a remorseful Arwen, who had fallen asleep on Legolas' belly. But the look on both of their faces – Legolas knew that look well. Ada always had that look when he came searching for him in the forest; when he found him facing a horde of foul creatures. Angry, terrified, and… so deeply sad.
He regretted neglecting to tell anyone of their departure. Elladan and Elrohir would be worried sick. They would be scolded by Lord Elrond. They would be scared, terrified even. Heat stirred uneasily in the elfling's heart.
I'm sorry, he whispered silently.
"Let's go back then," whispered Arwen, fearfully. Legolas took a step, but faltered. Arwen peered into his face. "What is it?" she whispered.
"Gandalf," Legolas said, bright eyes wide with terror and dread. "If we run away and he is attacked-"
Arwen stared at Legolas. She did not know the extent of the wizard's powers. But she did know the extent of Legolas' strength, and the friendship between her elfling friend and this mysterious wizard. She was no warrior, though her protective brothers had trained her to wield a sword from a young age. But Legolas was. And his wide eyes trembled with a sheen of terror and anxiety, torn between escorting her safely home and staying to help the wizard. She fought the urge to tug him away with her toward the house.
"Let us go, then," Arwen said with a resolute breath, tightening her hold around the blond elfling's hand. "Let us look for Gandalf."