I would have expected a mortal to be more surprised, I think, as we surround him, arrows aimed, and he calmly stands, hands raised, waiting.
“Mae govannen,” he says, quietly, and then falls into the uncouth Westron tongue, “I am glad to see you. I bring a prisoner – Mithrandir would ask your king to keep him safe a while.”
I cannot see a prisoner. Then I realise he refers to the squirming sack at his feet.
I raise my brow, wanting more explanation.
“I was raised in the house of Elrond,” he says, as though that is likely to recommend him to us, “by birth I am one of the Dunedain.”
Again, I wonder why he thinks this is likely to make me listen.
“This prisoner,” I ask, “what manner of creature is it?”
He shrugs, and I suppose he thinks his smile is disarming as he admits, “I do not rightly know its full history, or breed – but it is small, yet vicious.”
For a moment, I long to ask for advice, but I cannot be seen to do so in front of an outsider. I must make my own decision.
I lower my bow,
“Your weapons,” I say, “we will take you before the King. Let him hear your story.”
He acquiesces in silence, but I notice he is loath to part with his sword. He does, in the end, and I wonder why, when I see it is no sword, merely a broken shaft. Oh, it is good work, ancient, but – broken. I suppose it is the way of mortals, to treasure such things.
They have only short lives, yet they persist in filling them with objects. An elf would either mend it or replace it.
He tries to talk to us as we take him to the Halls – both in his own tongue, and in some form of Sindarin – but we ignore him. He may like to think of himself as elf-friend, guest, but here – in this realm – the word of a half-breed Noldor means little, and he is captive. Detained at my lord King’s pleasure.
We let him continue to carry the sack containing his prisoner.
What else are mortals for, after all?
“My lord King,” I say, kneeling, “we found this – man – in the Forest. He says he has a vicious creature which Mithrandir would have us imprison for him.”
I wait, watching the impassive face, until he makes the gesture allowing me to rise.
Another gesture, and the man comes forward.
He repeats his account of himself, and then there is a long impassioned speech. Something mortals, I have been told, are given to, always thinking their little lives and concerns so important.
Ada – my lord King – hears him out, and sighs. He makes another beautiful gesture, and the man retreats.
“Legolas,” he looks me over, his cold eyes seeing only my failures, and I long for the chance to please him, “your group found him, you had best take charge of this creature. Place it in the dungeons – and this time, try to keep it there. We do not want a repeat of the – Erebor incident – do we?”
I flush, I cannot help it,
“No, my lord King,” I say, eyes downturned, “we will do as you say.”
I want to ask if we are to cease our usual patrols, but the words do not come to me, I am silenced by his presence – as I always am.
I need not.
“This will be your duty from now until we are rid of the creature,” he says, “Arasfaron, let the captain of the guard come to me, patrol duties will need to be reassigned.”
The silent and efficient Arasfaron nods, and walks away.
I bow, and retreat.
As I do, he speaks once more,
“I can offer one night’s hospitality to the friend of Mithrandir, then you will wish to be on your way,” he dismisses the man, “Legolas, you found him – see that he is given guest quarters and made welcome.”
For the first time, my lord King – Ada – looks at me with a hint of shared understanding, and I nod, knowing what he means.
See that this scruffy mortal is cleaned up if he wishes to eat in Hall, and see that he does not wander anywhere he should not, see anything he should not.
There is much in this kingdom the Noldor of Rivendell need not know.
The man follows me until the creature is safely locked away. It is indeed most unpleasant, and I cannot imagine what Mithrandir – or any other – wants of it. It hisses.
As we leave the dungeons, I brace myself. I know my duty as host, and I will do it, whatever it costs me. I turn to this man, and say,
“You are greatly in need of the comfort of comb and song, I think – will you join my group?”
He frowns a little, and answers,
“I am no elf, though I lived long years in Rivendell. I would be grateful simply to rest, eat, and be on my way in the morning.”
I try to control my expression, not to show the horror at his appearance – at his lack of care – but I suspect I do not. At least, not to any other elves – any more than the Silvans of my group manage to conceal their thoughts from me. We are indeed relieved not to have to comb with one so matted and grubby – but – the thought that he cares not for his state – is enough to make us uneasy.
“As you will,” I say, and we ensure he is left at a pleasant guest chamber, that he will have all he can require – apparently not including soap or water for washing – and I task two to watch his door.
“Be ready to offer him any help he needs – if he wishes to leave, he may – he must tomorrow, as the King said. Do not let him wander,” I speak quietly in our Silvan tongue, that he will neither hear nor understand my words.
“Farewell, Legolas,” he says, and I nod in answer.
I turn away, and I do not let myself think on how he spoke so urgently to my lord King, how he was listened to with such attention, how he travels alone so far. I have my position here, my tasks, my group. I have no desire to leave this Forest of mine.
I would not wish to be so alone.
I would not wish to be unwashed, uncombed.
He is only a Ranger, a Man.
He will never amount to anything.