"Forward! Ha!" Glorfindel sat with one hand on either of his thighs, wind blowing through his hair and the mane of the horse he rode on. She galloped faster and faster, hardly minding the passenger she carried. The Imladris Captain spread his arms out to either side of him, leaning back a little, with only his balance to keep him on the wild one who so graciously granted him passage through the forest and around again to the open pastures above the valley where she and her kin lived.
"Hooo-ya!" Glorfindel laughed at his own outburst as he dismounted by grabbing hold of a branch that was overhead as they passed and dropping down to the ground. "Asfaloth!" he called out. A white head rose up from the mottled coats of cream, brown, and black. "Come, you rascal stallion!" he laughed. "You do not want to be late for dinner, do you?"
Asfaloth shook his head, leaning over to nuzzle one of the painted horses and her two less than usually painted colts. He proudly licked their noses and nuzzled the mare again, and was given a parting whinny, and then a nudge toward Glorfindel. Trotting over like a puppy, Asfaloth snorted as Glorfindel loaded the blanket and saddle back onto his mount.
"What? I am leaving the bit and bridle off," he said, waving them at the horse's nose. If Asfaloth could have, he would have shrugged. "I know, I wish you could stay here, too, but Elrond would have a fit. We are low on horses as it is." Nodding his head as Glorfindel mounted him, he gave one final call out to his family and then turned to take his master back home.
- - -
"How low are we?"
Erestor drained his glass of wine and tilted his head back, flipping his long braid over his shoulder. "We have not had the number of births expected, and we lost two mares in childbirth last season. Some of them are too old to ride into battle, Elrond. If Lindon's army arrives as soon as you say, we will have to do what we can with what we have. I cannot acquire any more from Gondor, either," he added before Elrond could respond.
"What about the horse country?"
"I farspoke with Artanis the day before last, and she tells me they are wary of whom they speak with. She could send Celeborn, but it would still take too long."
Elrond shook his head. He continued to pace the room, wondering how his advisor and horse master could remain so calm, sprawled on the couch of his office. His eyes fell to the bottle that was tipped to the floor, empty now. "Erestor, we need more horses."
"Elrond, I cannot simply pull them from thin air."
The young lord's eyes wandered over the tapestries that hung on the walls. One showed the valley at sunrise, another, the deer grazing at the river, a third, wild horses that roamed above on the plains. "Erestor-"
"You cannot ask Glorfindel for his herd," scolded Erestor. "Besides, they are wild."
"They could be tamed. Or, they would listen to him." Elrond paused and then added, "I cannot ask him, but you can ask him."
"They are like his family!" Erestor was up from his resting place in a mere moment. "If he brought them back, he would lose their trust. He loves them more than anything. I refuse to ask him."
"Erestor, we are at war," reminded Elrond. "At war."
Shaking his head, half in defiance and half to clear it, Erestor stood up. "I can not ask him that. I woll not." Making his way awkwardly to the door, he smiled sadly to Elrond on the way out. "I am sorry. Good night."
- - -
"I am not doing that!" Glorfindel roared. "You cannot order me to do... such a... horrible thing!"
"Glorfindel, understand-" began Elrond.
"No, you understand!" he bellowed back.
From in the hallway, Erestor stopped dead in his tracks. Closing his eyes as he heard Glorfindel unleash a lengthy response that included a number of expletives, he tried to decide whether it better to try to go in to calm Glorfindel, or aid him. It was not long before he saw the light from within burst into the hallway. Glorfindel emerged, and turned, shaking a finger to whomever was inside, presumably, Elrond, before merely pulling the door shut with a load bang and marching down the hall in a huff.
Deciding it was better to go after Glorfindel before he broke something or hurt himself, and that Lord Elrond could brood without him, Erestor jogged to catch up with Glorfindel. "I told him not to ask you," apologized Erestor. "I told him it was a bad idea."
"Yes, well, it is a stupid idea. Just because we need to string more bows, and he didn't realize earlier that we were going to have a need for the extras. Why does he think I put them on the arms list? For decorative use?" Glorfindel's arms were thrown up into the air. "He has no clue how to run an army. I'm sure he's been giving you advice on how to equip the cavalry as well," he snorted.
Erestor merely nodded, trying not to look confused as they came around the corner abruptly, almost running into Prince Thranduil. "Sorry, excuse us," apologized Glorfindel, bowing.
"No need." The prince bowed in return to the pair. "I bring a message from my father. We are ready for battle."
"That is more than I can say for our side," grumbled Glorfindel. "I sent an order to him months ago," he said, directing the prince's attention down the hall to the door that led to Elrond's office, "that we needed a number of the bows restrung. He never assigned it to anyone, and it is too late to go around collecting a little hair from all of the ellith, so he said to find one who would volunteer. I told him that was a ridiculous prospect, so he imposed a draft. If I cannot find a volunteer by the morning, he is randomly drawing one of their names."
"That is... not really going to help raise morale," replied Thranduil, not wanting to speak against their lord. "I heard that you were short horses as well. I tried to acquire some along the way, but we were unable to."
"Short horses?" Glorfindel looked now to Erestor. "You did not tell me we were short horses. How many are we short?"
"It is not something to worry about, there is nowhere to find any," Erestor explained quickly. "I am not going to fret about it. We shall make do with what we have."
"If you will excuse me." Thranduil stepped around them, giving a respectful nod to the ex-Gondolin soldiers as he headed toward Elrond's office.
Glorfindel looked back around to find that Erestor had snuck off down a side hallway somewhere and was gone.
- - -
The knock on the door was brief, and the door opened almost immediately. In the room Thranduil stood, one hand on the door and the other wrapped around a goblet. He surveyed Erestor, who stood in the hall. There was something held in his hands, but it was hidden by the shadow. After a second glance at him, Thranduil said, "Well, it is a battle hazard. You would not want an orc grabbing hold of it and yanking you off of your horse."
Erestor stepped across the threshold into the room. "Just what I was thinking," he said in a quiet, unsure voice. Swallowing, he handed over what he held, a small pair of shears, to Thranduil. "I could not do it myself, my hands kept shaking. Which is really silly, because I had shorter hair many times in the past, but once you get used to it..." He shrugged.
"Here, sit down. You should not be nervous, I promise it will not hurt," joked the prince.
Erestor sat, gripping the arms of the chair. Placing the scissors down on a table, Thranduil retrieved two glasses and filled them with a heavy, sweet liquor from a bottle that he had brought with him. "I suppose it has been some time since you have had any of this," he ventured to guess. Erestor nodded with a smile as he took the Greenwood Cider as it was called from his old friend. "How have you been?"
"Stressed. Less than when I was in Gondolin, because that was every day, and that was Melkor, not some subservient maia in over his head. Then again, Elrond is not Ecthelion. I would question our tactics, but I have greater worries."
"Ecthelion," reminisced Thranduil. "There was an elf who knew how to plan a battle. Probably the bravest elf I knew. Stupidest as well, sometimes," he joked. "When I heard that someone had gone after a trio of those beasts all at once, I said to myself 'Must have been Ecthelion', before I even knew."
Erestor nodded in agreement. "I would not have expected anything less from him. You know, he tried constantly to get me to do something with this mess," he added, motioning over his shoulder. "Never complained if it was short, but clucked like a hen when I left it grow long."
"I always thought he wore his a little too short, but that is just me, perhaps," spoke Thranduil, finishing off the rest of his drink. He picked up the shears and motioned for Erestor to stand up, then handed the scissors to him. "Thinking about it, though, mine is a little long for war. If you would not mind," he said.
"I-" Erestor bit his lip and then said, "I do not think it is all that long."
"But it could use a little trimming," pressed Thranduil, sitting up straight in the chair. "Just up to about here," he said, motioning with his hand. "So long as you keep it straight, I am not worried if you make it a little shorter. It will grow back."
Erestor tested the shears a few times to be sure they were not rusted before kneeling down behind Thranduil. "Right here, then?" he asked, matching the side of his hand up to where Thranduil had shown him.
"Or wherever you like," he replied casually.
With much care and patience, Erestor snipped straight across, leaving the ends of the golden strands to fall to the floor. When he had finished, he stepped back.
"Done already?" asked Thranduil. He stood up and brushed away a few strayed hairs from his shoulder. "Much tidier this way, after a day of fighting and riding," he added, running his fingers through his shortened mane. "Well, then, your turn."
- - -
"Hush-shhhushh." Glorfindel whispered gentle words to Asfaloth as he quietly tossed his blanket over the gate and pushed it open. "This is important. I need you to lead them away. If I go, well, I cannot go. But you can. Hide them; run them off deep into the forest. Go!" He pushed against Asfaloth's hindquarters. The horse looked over his shoulder, waiting for Glorfindel to mount, and when he did not, bowed his head low and trotted off silently away from Imladris.
Tired and worried, Glorfindel returned to the armory, hoping to find some reserves somewhere that had been overlooked so that the bows could be restrung without Elrond's edict being imposed. He was fairly certain what else Elrond would try to do before the departure of the army, and he was not about to allow anyone to get a hold of the horse tribe that lived over the valley. There seemed to be no realization that the ghost horses as some called them had their own little society built, and that it was not right to try to break them into saddle and bridle, no matter how dire the situation.
To Glorfindel's surprise, the door was ajar to the armory. He pulled out a knife from his belt and kicked open the door, finding a cloaked figure near the desk that was shoved in the corner. "Who is there?" he growled, taking a cautious step forward. The figure turned, but in the darkness, their face remained unseen. "Step forward," he commanded, reaching for a torch that he could light.
The fire flickered, revealing Erestor's face. "I am sorry, I did not mean to alarm you," he said in a shaky voice. Glorfindel sighed and lowered the torch a little, something on the desk catching his eye. Stepping closer after replacing the torch in its holder to see if his mind was deceived, he stopped, and then walked to Erestor. "I did not think anyone would be up at this time of night."
Glorfindel did not answer. Instead, he reached his hand up and brushed back the hood that covered Erestor's head. "You did not... have to..."
"Someone had to." Erestor picked up what appeared to be a thick, black rope that was coiled on the desk and handed it to Glorfindel. "You should be able to have the bows strung now."
"I just..." Glorfindel suddenly took a step forward and embraced Erestor, still holding the braid in one hand. "You did not have to do this. I would have found a way to talk him out of his idea."
"You still need to string the bows," pointed out Erestor, returning the hug briefly. "It would have been a nuisance out there anyhow," he continued. "I hear it is hotter than any hell, and showers are not an everyday occurrence."
"Still..." Glorfindel shook his head, at a loss for words. "Thank you."
- - -
It was at sunrise that the rumbling started. Like a distant thunder, it grew, closing in on them. The first thought was that it was the enemy, some new weapon perhaps, or merely a troop of orcs come to carry off the children and slaughter the rest.
When the first of the horses appeared over the ridge, Glorfindel ordered for weapons to be lowered, shading his tear filled eyes as he watched the riderless charge down into the valley, led by the leaders of the tribe. Somewhere in the middle, he saw a pure white stallion beside a spotted mare, and two frisky colts excitedly running with them, one on either side. He pinched at the bridge of his nose as he went into the house.
- - -
The rapping on the door echoed the pounding in Erestor's head. Thinking at first the events of the night before were all a bad dream, he was disappointed to find he was lacking quite a lot of hair, and also, that the pounding in his head persisted. Pulling on the robe that was draped over a nearby chair, he went to the door and opened it hesitantly. "Yes? Oh, it is you."
"What is good about it?" asked Erestor, holding his forehead.
"I have something to show you. A present for you."
For a moment, Glorfindel could tell Erestor was thinking. "Glorfindel, please, tell me you did not-"
"I did not," he said quickly, and then added, "Asfaloth did."
Closing his eyes, Erestor bowed his head and nodded. He took hold of Glorfindel's hand and gave it a squeeze. "Thank you."