“It is amazing, is it not, how fast they grow?”
The grey steed nickered, shaking his long, dark mane as his elf held up a parchment up for him to see. Of course, all two-legged creatures had hand-prints. He was quite proud of his own hoof-prints, but he didn’t see what was so special about the little palm-print displayed on the strange, square leaf scribbled with lines of mud. It was special mud, he knew, for he had seen the lady use it on other leaves before, and he had learned very quickly that neither were for him to eat.
“Oh, I know you don’t care,” the elf chuckled, folding the leaf up and slipping it into her pocket. “But come on, we still have a few hours of sun left.” And with that she pranced ahead of him through the trees, lost in some lovely thought.
She was so strange. Not that he minded; not at all, really, but she never did this around the other two-legged creatures known as ‘people.’ He did not understand why she could not be like this more often. Maybe it was special, that only he was privy to such carefree afternoons, but that was not important, he told himself. He could run and prance nearly whenever he wanted, and it rarely mattered who around. He actually preferred to have an audience. Having an audience always made play time better!
Jumping forward after her, Voronwen cantered around a clump of birch trees and with a deft nip, snagged the ribbon from the elf’s hair and fled, an excited shiver thrilling through him as she shouted and made chase. The game never got old. The mare Meranor was too sweet for him to play with, and he did not dare test the temperament of his person’s new war steed. Eloir hated fun. No, the game was best with his elf. She was fast, and quick, and made the game a challenge.
The dark green ribbon fluttered over his muzzle as he turned his head to look back. Snow gathered up around his hooves as he pulled to a quick stop, and he snorted. Where was she? He hated when she did this. There had been enough times of her disappearing for a reason that he could not help but be concerned. But there were no enemy camps nearby . . . were there? Whinnying, he trotted back a short ways, weaving through the trees as he looked for her footprints. Then his ears perked up. He had heard something, and he suddenly felt eyes upon him. He did not want to panic; no, he would not panic. He was brave and proud, he thought as he puffed up his chest, but he was further in the trees than a lone horse should be. Where was she? If this was some cruel trick he’d —
A sharp scream escaped him as two feet dropped onto his back from above. Bucking, the weight left his back and he felt a hand on the crest of his neck. Then she was there, spinning around him. Snatching the ribbon from his mouth, the elf let her momentum carry her, and using a low-hanging branch she swung away, landing with a soft poof in a low drift of snow several yards away. He stared at her in disbelief. Snorting almost angrily, he pawed at the ground in protest.
The elf leaned back against a tree as a fit of laughter took her. “I know, I know; that was unkind of me.”
Voronwen snorted again, lowering his head and shaking it vigorously. Unkind indeed!
“You should have seen the look on your face,” she laughed merrily, standing upright.
He narrowed his eyes at her. How could she scare him like that?!
“Oh, do not give me that sour look, Voronwen. You cannot deny that I got you good that time.”
The audacity! He skipped over to her and shoved his muzzle against her back, sending her stumbling away. He nickered and followed, poking his soft nose against her. Again! Again! He did not like to loose, and she had embarrassed him! Maybe it was a good thing they did not have an audience. To think if someone else had seen his fright. The thought was intolerable.
“No, my friend. I still have to find a good rod. Maybe by the spring, eh?” she said, weaving the silky green strip back into her hair.
Voronwen turned his head to eye her, and with a nod, motioned to the long stick tied to her back. How many magic sticks could a person need?!
The elf looked over her shoulder to the bow, putting a hand up to touch the etched wood. “I do not need this kind of stick. I need one for fishing, silly horse.”
Fishing? The steed huffed and tugged at the thick cloth hanging from her back. She already had one of those sticks. And it was the wrong time of year for fishing, wasn’t it?
“No, it’s not for me. It is for a friend,” she responded as she fixed her cloak and fur shoulder piece, walking on.
Sniffing, Voronwen stepped forward with a reluctant grunt, but he continued to eye the ribbon. Catching his glance as they strolled over a rise the elf snickered and pushed playfully against his cheek. “No you don’t. No more distracting me,” she said with a smile, pulling her braid over the opposite shoulder. Voronwen huffed out a displeased breath, but did not press her. He would get her good next time.
Continuing on, the elf and steed made their way through the woods at a leisurely pace. Once in a while she would hurry one way to examine a long stick, or swing around a thin tree or change their path to skip over stones in a brook. He let himself think that he indulged her the little sidetracks, for usually he would find a still-green clump of sweet grass to munch on along the way.
A tall bank of hills slowly rose before them, and the steed trotted ahead of his elf as the spring set against a high cliff of rocks came into view. Nothing could compare to it, the taste of fresh spring water. The water back at the stables had a muddy flavor, but he supposed not everyone could afford the luxuries that he enjoyed when on such outings.
The spring had mostly frozen over aside from where the water splashed down the rocks from above. Crystals had begun to grow up the sides of the stone and he stepped over to nibble at one. They looked like spikes of sugar but they turned to water! The disappointment of them not actually being sugar was overshadowed by the fact that they melted in his mouth.
His elf padded nimbly over the thing ice towards the small falls and scooped up a handful of frigid water for herself. Hopping over the open space to the ice on the other side she made for a clump of reeds and thin trees growing on an little island set against the cliff on the far side of the pond. Voronwen looked down to the frozen edge of the pond and back up to her. He wanted to go too!
“You probably shouldn’t. It won’t bear you–”
He ignored her. No matter that he was bigger than the island she stood on; he did not wish to be left behind. And if she could cross the ice without leaving a mark, why couldn’t he? Stepping a foot out the ice creaked, but did not break. He turned his face up to her, a pleased glint in his eyes. See! I can do — But his thoughts were interrupted at the next step when his hoof promptly broke through the ice. Startled as his leg sunk knee-deep into the freezing water, Voronwen whinnied in protest, stumbled, and quickly backed out of the spring.
“I told you,” said the elf with a sympathetic chuckle.
Voronwen didn’t want her sympathy, so he tossed his head, declaring that it was merely a trifle.
“By the Valar,” she sighed, turning to grab a hand hold in the stone above her. “I’m just going above, Voronwen. I’ll be right back.”
The elf scaled the wall of stone and in a minute she was out of sight. He stood there, staring after her. It was not fair that she could do that. The steed looked one way then another for a way up to where she had gone but there was none. So he scuffed at the snow to eat at the grass hidden beneath. Maybe if he pretended not to care she would feel bad and give him a treat when she returned. Yes, that was a splendid idea.