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Summary:†Mending a broken toy is one thing.†Mending a broken dream is something else.†First place†in the Teitho contest ĎFive Ingredients: Your Recipeí, in which the following items were to be included in the story: a lame horse, a knocked-over candle, a person with a disability, a missing toy, and a broken musical instrument.
The rocking horse was lame. The right runner was missing and the horse, painted white with splotches of black on its hindquarters, was listing against the wall. It still had its saddle, the leather cracked and dusty with age, and a bridle that might have been a gay red but was now only a faded bled-out pink. The mane and tail, made of real horsehair, were straggly and mostly missing.
Faramir smiled at the sight of it, his eyes bright with fond memories. "I called him Spot, for obvious reasons," he said to the man standing next to him, giving him a wry grin.
Aragorn, now known as Elessar to his people, smiled back.
"Boromir and I spent hours riding him," Faramir continued as he pushed the canvas sheet that had covered the rocking horse to one side so they could get a better look.
"How did it get broken?" Aragorn asked as he crouched down to get a better look at the toy. In spite of the damage to the horse, the craftsmanship was exquisite. Denethor had spared no expense at having this particular toy built for his sons.
Faramir gave him an embarrassed look. "I... uh... was rocking too hard and it tipped over, cracking the runner in half. I was nearly knocked out when I banged my head on the floor. Father took it away and refused to have it repaired. Boromir wouldnít speak to me for nearly a month."
Aragorn gave him a sympathetic smile as he ran a hand over the saddle. It was made of red leather and finely tooled. "How old were you?"
Faramir shrugged. "Four or five, I guess." Then he gave the horse a pat on the nose. "So, do you think itís worth repairing or will you just have a new one made?"
Aragorn shook his head. "In spite of neglect, the wood is sound. It just needs a new runner and paint. Is the saddle glued to the horse?"
"No, actually, itís removable," Faramir replied. "Thatís what made this such a special toy; we felt we were really riding when we had to put the saddle on first. Even the bridle can be removed."
The king nodded as he rose. "Well, letís drag it out of here and get it into my workroom before Eldarion sees it."
Faramir complied and together sovereign and steward wrestled with the horse, bringing it out of the attic in the Stewardís wing of the Citadel, through the main corridors and then up a flight of stairs leading to the royal apartments. Guards, servants and the occasional courtier kept their expressions neutral as they witnessed their King carrying the rocking horse, his bright blue tunic now grey with grime and dust. Faramir quickly went ahead down a short side corridor and unlocked a door at the end of it with a key the King had given him. He stepped aside to allow Aragorn to enter what was known within the Citadel as the Kingís Workroom, a long, narrow room dominated by a wooden table and shelves filled with books, mostly of a medical nature, and all the paraphernalia associated with the healing arts. It was here that Aragorn continued to engage in that aspect of his kingship, usually with Arwen at his side as they worked to cure the maladies of their people , laboring alongside the cityís healers.
Aragorn set the horse against the wall at one end and slapped the dust off his tunic and hands. Faramir leaned against the door which he had closed behind them. "Will you have Gimli fix it?" he asked.
The King shook his head. "Heís visiting his father in Erebor and wonít be back in time. Iíll have to have someone else repair it. I would do it myself but my duties will not allow me the time I would need."
"And I have no aptitude for such work, or I would volunteer," Faramir said with a wry smile.
Aragorn smiled back. "You have other talents I value more highly." Faramir straightened at the compliment. The king crouched down and worked the straps on the saddle, gently lifting it from the horseís back. "The saddle is still sound. The leather just needs oiling."
"Who will you get to do the repairs?" Faramir asked.
"Oh, Iím sure I can find someone," Aragorn replied with a sly look as he gestured for Faramir to precede him out of the room, then carefully locked the door behind them. The two men then went their separate ways.
Aragorn entered the main suite of the royal apartments to find the household in something of an uproar. Eldarion, one month away from his third birthday, was in tears while Arwen held him in her arms and rocked him in the rocking chair that had come all the way from Imladris. Two of her ladies-in-waiting were rushing about, frantically looking for something.
"Whatís the matter?" Aragorn asked, bending down to give his wife a kiss and to stroke his sonís curly locks.
"We lost Legolas," she answered with a knowing smile.
"I w-want Legwas," the child lisped between his tears, clearly inconsolable at the loss of his stuffed toy, given to him by Prince Legolas on his last birthday. The Elf had been amused that the child had named his toy after him. "Wh-whereís Legwas?"
Aragorn reached down and lifted his son into his arms and held him close. "Donít worry, iŰn nÓn," he crooned softly. "Weíll find Legolas, never fear." He glanced around to see the two women searching behind the sofa and under chairs. "Where did you see Legolas last?" he asked Arwen.
"If you mean the bunny," Arwen replied with a sly grin and Aragorn laughed, "Eldarion had it this morning. Sometime between breakfast and now it disappeared. You know he wonít go down for his nap without his favorite toy."
"And where is the other Legolas?" Aragorn enquired with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Right here, Aragorn."
Aragorn looked up to see his Elven friend standing in the doorway leading to the nursery, an amused look on his fair face. He was holding the white bunny in his right hand.
"Legwas!" Eldarion squealed, reaching out with his chubby arms, but whether for his toy or for the Elf was anyoneís guess.
"Where did you find it?" Arwen asked in obvious relief as Legolas sauntered over and handed the toy to the now beaming child. Eldarion clutched it to his chest as if he was never going to let it go again. Legolas smiled fondly at the son of his closest friends and ruffled the boyís unruly locks.
"Where it is always found," he answered. "Behind the bed."
"But thatís the first place we looked," Arwen exclaimed in exasperation.
"You did not look closely enough," Legolas replied with an elegant lift of an eyebrow. "It was wrapped up in the sheet so you just assumed it was not there."
"Hmph," was Arwenís skeptical reply as she relieved her husband of his small burden. "Well, thank you for rescuing your namesake," she said with a sly grin as she took the now sleepy child into the nursery for his nap.
Legolas gave her a mock bow. "I live to serve," he said. Aragorn snorted in amusement and quietly thanked the two women for their assistance and dismissed them to their own duties. With the women out of the way, Legolas gave Aragorn a considering look. "So, did you and Faramir find what you were looking for?" he asked softly.
"Yes. Itís in sorry shape but repairable," Aragorn replied. "One of the runners is missing and it needs a good coat of paint. The bridle needs to be replaced as well."
"I would be happy to work on it for you," Legolas said.
"I would do the repair work on it myself, but with this trade commission with Khand still unsettled...."
"I understand," Legolas assured him. "It really does not sound as if it will take that long to repair."
Aragorn shook his head. "It appears sound enough except for the missing runner. Come. Iíll show it to you and you can see for yourself."
The rocking horse was removed from the Kingís Workroom to an outbuilding behind the royal stables. Legolas insisted that it would be easier for him to work on it there than within the Citadel where Eldarion might find it. "He has your knack for ferreting out things," he quipped when he spoke with Aragorn and his queen about moving the horse.
"Which is why itís impossible to hide any gifts for him," Arwen said in a teasing voice.
"Who? Eldarion or Aragorn?" Legolas asked, giving them an innocent look.
Arwen laughed. "Both."
The King of the United Realms had the grace to look sheepish and Legolas smirked.
"Iím assigning you someone to act as your assistant," Aragorn told him.
"I do not need...."
"Perhaps not," Aragorn said, "but she does. Her name is Almiel. She will make sure that you eat properly and lack for nothing. I know you, Legolas. Youíll work all hours of the day and night. You wonít eat and you wonít sleep."
"I hardly think it will take too long to fix this horse, Aragorn," Legolas protested.
"Perhaps not, but in the time that it takes you, you will neglect your own needs. Almiel will be there to see that you donít. And please, do not scare her away."
Legolas raised an eyebrow. "Scare her away? Why would I do that?"
"Youíre an Elf, mellon nÓn," Aragorn shot back with a smile. "I know how much you value your privacy and donít like people fussing over you."
"Hmph," Legolas retorted, clearly unconvinced. "I will do my best not to scare her away, then."
"Good. Youíll meet her tomorrow."
Legolas was bending over the rocking horse, closely examining it, to assure himself that the wood was sound and that all that was needed was to give it a good coat of paint. The saddle and the bridle had been removed. They were against the wall waiting for the Elfís attention. He would oil the saddle and make any minor repairs on it later. First thing that was needed was to replace the runner, or rather runners. He decided that it would be best to have them match. He set about removing the remaining runner, intending to use it as a template. A slight sound alerted him that he had a visitor. He looked over his shoulder to see a woman who had not yet reached her middle years, for her honey-brown hair was innocent of grey and her face was unlined. Her hazel eyes, however, seemed old and he sensed much pain and sorrow in them. She was not tall, her head barely coming to his shoulders. She was dressed simply in a gown dyed a russet brown with just the hint of lace at throat and cuffs. The oddest thing about her was the slate that hung around her neck.
"You must be Almiel," Legolas said, straightening to face her.
The woman nodded. "I have been sent to help," she said and Legolas tilted his head at the sound of her voice, for while the words were spoken distinctly, there was a flatness of tone that he did not expect.
He gave a half shrug and turned back to the horse, lifting the runner and stroking the wood to get a feel for it. "Well, you will find I am...."
"Please," the woman interrupted. "I cannot hear you if you turn away."
Legolas blinked and turned around. "Excuse me?"
Almiel nodded. "I am deaf," she explained, "but I can read what you say, so long as you face me and speak clearly." She lifted the slate. "This is for when I donít understand. Sometimes, I just am not able to read a personís lips and so I ask them to write what they are saying."
"You are deaf," Legolas said, schooling his expression. He was acquainted with the maladies that were visited upon the Younger Children, but he rarely dealt with those so afflicted. It made him feel uncomfortable for some reason.
Almiel grimaced. "As I said," she replied, "and no, yelling will not make me hear better."
Legolas blinked again. "Why would I yell at you?" he asked, not comprehending her statement.
"You would be surprised how others act when they discover I cannot hear," was her reply, and in spite of the flatness of her tone, he detected much bitterness in it.
"I will keep it in mind," he said. "Now, I must go back to work. Do you have specific duties or will you just be standing there getting in my way?" He spoke lightly and smiled, but in truth he did not want her there. He really did not know what Aragorn was up to by foisting this... this child upon him.
Almiel nodded. "I am to see that you eat on a regular basis and I am to keep the place tidy," she answered.
"And see that I go to bed at a reasonable hour as well, no doubt," he said, lifting his eyebrows and smiling.
Almiel shook her head, though there was the shadow of a smile on her lips. "His Majesty said I did not need to tuck you in at night."
"Well, small favors," Legolas said with a sniff. "I will leave you to your duties then while I work on the horse." He turned his back on her, effectively dismissing her. For a moment he could sense her presence and then there was a soft sigh and the sound of feet receding. He shook his head as he began taking measurements, wondering what Aragorn was up to in assigning her to him.
So engrossed was he in his work that he paid no heed to the outside world and so never heard Almiel enter the workroom. The first that he knew of her presence was a shy tap on his elbow. Without thinking, he reached out and grabbed her, bringing her into a hold where he could easily break her neck. She screamed and it took Legolas a few precious seconds to realize what he was doing. He stared into the womanís bloodless face, the shock in her eyes mirroring his own. He gently released her.
"Goheno nÓn, hiril. Avosto! ŕ gerithan le ķgarth."
"Wh-what... what are you saying? I donít understand."
It took Legolas a few seconds to realize that he had spoken in Sindarin rather than in Westron. "I am sorry," he repeated. "You must never approach me in that manner. I am afraid my warrior instincts take over."
"I... I called you, but you did not respond," she explained, visibly shaken but already bringing herself under control. Legolas had to admire her courage.
He gave her a chagrined look. "I am afraid I was too lost in my own thoughts to pay any attention. Did you need me for something?"
"Sorry? I canít see you very well, itís too dark in here now. Are there any candles?" She started fumbling around the nearby shelves.
He looked about, only just realizing that in the brief moments of their little scuffle, the day had fled and there was only the faintest of light from the dying sun coming through the open door and the two small windows. Not that he needed much light, for he saw well enough under starlight as if it were bright as day, but obviously Almiel could not see in the dark.
"Here, Iíll look for the candle," he said, quite forgetting that she could not hear him or even see him well enough to know that he was speaking. Before he could move, though, she gave a cry of triumph that turned into one of dismay as the fat beeswax candle she had found slipped through her fingers and fell to the floor, rolling away. Legolas was after it immediately, and soon he had it lit, setting it high on a nearby shelf. Almiel found several other candles and it was not long before the room was awash in their warm glow.
"Now, what was it you needed?" he asked her, being sure that he stood so the light reflected his face rather than casting it in shadow.
"I brought dinner," she replied, and went to a side table where she lifted the warming cover off a dish.
"Thank you," he said, "but I am not hungry. I...."
"I was told to make sure you ate at least one meal a day," she said forthrightly. "Please do not make me look incompetent. I need the work. I promise not to bother you except to bring you one meal each evening if you will not eat more regularly. While you eat, I can tidy up." She pointed to the sawdust and wood shavings littering the floor.
Legolas sighed and nodded. In truth, he was feeling some hunger. He tried to remember the last meal he had eaten. Probably dinner with Aragorn and Arwen the evening before. "The broom is over in that corner." He pointed, making sure he did not turn his head so she could not see him, and then walked over to where his dinner sat, finding a haunch of venison, new potatoes, and some greens, as well as a flagon of wine. There were even some slices of bread and cheese. He stood there, chewing on the bread and watched the woman retrieve the broom and begin sweeping. It took him a moment to realize she was humming as she worked.
He went to her to get her attention. She gave him an enquiring look.
"What were you humming?" he asked.
She shied away from him, her expression now one of confusion. "I wasnít humming," she declared, anger and even panic putting some emotion into her voice.
Legolas nodded."Yes you were, and if you could hear then I would repeat the notes to you. How long have you been deaf?"
Now she was clearly angry as she clutched the broom tightly to her. "Why do you want to know? What is it to you, anyway?"
"I am merely curious," Legolas replied equably. "You obviously lost your hearing only recently, or your diction, I think, would not be as clear."
"Three years ago," she said, looking away. "I lost my hearing almost three years ago."
Legolas had to reach out and touch her to get her attention. "How?"
"It was a fever," she replied, her eyes dark with painful memories. "They thought I would die, even the King."
"Ah! So Aragorn was called in to help you," Legolas said, understanding a little more what the relationship was between his friend and this woman.
She nodded, grimacing. "He saved me, but he could not save my hearing. When I recovered I was deaf. It would have been better if Iíd died." Tears began running down her face and she swiped at them angrily.
"Why do you say that?" Legolas asked, lifting her chin so she would see him. "Is not life better than death?" He knew about death, had seen many of his own warriors die in the long endless battles against the Shadow that had turned the Great Greenwood into a place of horror for so many centuries. Yet, death was, for him, as it was for all Elves, an abstraction. It happened but it was not itself an end, merely an interruption. For mortals, though, it was an end indeed, at least in terms of life in Arda, and what lay beyond death was truly anyoneís guess.
For a long moment, Almiel did not answer, her expression turning bleak. When she did speak, she would not look at him, but stared at the rocking horse, its new runners still half finished. "I was a bard, or at least, that was my hope," she said, her voice soft and almost indistinct. "Iíd been an apprentice to the guild for many years and was all set to win my mastership when the fever struck." She turned her head to face him. "Do you see why I wish Iíd died instead? I was making a lute as part of my test for my mastership, as that was my specialty, being a lutenist. It was nearly completed. But as soon as I recovered from the fever and discovered Iíd gone deaf, I smashed the lute and every other instrument Iíd ever made and destroyed all my compositions. If I couldnít hear them, why should anyone else?"
"And so instead you sweep floors and serve people their dinners," Legolas retorted somewhat coldly, though he knew she could not hear his tone.
"What am I supposed to do?" she demanded hotly. "What would you have me do, my lord Elf? The guildmasters were very sympathetic but they made their position clear: if I could not hear, I could not be a bard."
"Do you hear music in your head?" he asked.
She blinked. "I...all the time."
"Is it remembered music or of your own creating?"
Almiel gave him a puzzled look. "Some of it is mine from...before, or songs I remember growing up with, but some of it is just...." she shrugged.
"How do you hear the music?" Legolas insisted.
"You mean, what instruments?" He nodded. "Usually the lute, sometimes the harp. I was never good at writing ensemble pieces. I mostly did solos and Iím no good with lyrics. I usually had one of the other apprentices write them for me. My greatest strength was as an instrumentalist."
"You were humming," Legolas said, going back to the original topic of the discussion. "You can deny it if you wish, but I heard you, and what you were humming was quite beautiful. You may not be able to hear the music with your ears, but I suspect you hear it with your heart. Why deny it? Why deny it to others?"
He gave her a considering look but when she did not respond he shrugged and went back to his now cold meal, his back to her. He did not need to see her leave to know that she had.
Almiel did not return to the workshop the next day or the day after. Legolas barely registered that fact as he continued working. The first runner was complete and the second one nearly so. He would stain them first before attaching them to the horse. While waiting for the stain to dry he would work on the saddle and bridle. He also needed to collect some horsehair and to replace the straggly strands of the toyís mane and tail. The last thing would be to repaint the horse.
Sometime around noon on the third day since Almielís departure, Aragorn stopped by to see how the rocking horse was coming along, admiring the Elfís craftsmanship of something so simple as the runners. "How is Almiel working out?" he asked at one point.
Legolas had to stop and think, having forgotten about the young woman. He shrugged. "I do not recall seeing her for a couple of days now."
Aragorn frowned. "I hope you did nothing to frighten her away, Legolas."
"Why are you so concerned for her, Aragorn?" the Elven Prince asked.
Aragorn sighed. "I guess you can call it guilt," he replied. "I did everything I could to save her life...."
"And you did," Legolas pointed out.
"But not her livelihood," Aragorn retorted. "She is... was a gifted musician."
"She still is," Legolas said. "Being deaf has not stopped her from hearing the music inside her. In fact, I told her as much."
"Which is probably why she has not returned," Aragorn said with a rueful look.
Legolas had nothing to say to that. "I should be done here in a few more days," he said instead and turned back to his work. He heard Aragorn sigh and start to leave. Without turning, Legolas asked a question, speaking softly, almost as if to himself. "What will happen to her now?"
For a moment there was only silence and then Aragorn sighed again. "I do not know. It took her a long time to recover from the fever and I have done what I can to convince her to join the living, to find meaning in her life again, but she drifts from job to job like... like a ghost. I fear for her, Legolas. I fear that someday the despair will overwhelm her and she will do to herself what she did to her instruments. She will do to herself what the fever did not."
Aragorn didnít stay to hear Legolasí reply, and in truth, Legolas wasnít sure what he might have said to that. He sighed, shaking his head and went back to work.
He was finishing attaching the runners, idly humming the same tune Almiel had been humming, when he sensed someone standing behind him. He slowly put down his tools and turned, only then noticing that it was almost dark again. In the doorway, silhouetted against the dying light, was Almiel.
"You came back," Legolas said and then swore to himself, having forgotten she probably could not see him clearly enough to know what he was saying. He took several steps toward her. She never moved. She was clutching some papers in her hands.
"You came back," he repeated when he was sure she could see him.
She nodded and silently thrust the bundle towards him. He took them and glanced at the first page. It was filled with musical notations, and so were all the other pages. He looked up. "This is what you hear inside you, isnít it?"
She nodded, still not speaking.
"Will you play this for me?"
She gave him a frown. "I... I cannot," she said softly. "I destroyed all my instruments."
Legolas nodded. "Then, when I finish with the rocking horse, perhaps you and I can make new instruments together."
Almiel gave him a surprised look. "I do not know...."
"I do," Legolas said firmly. "You will make a lute and I will make a harp and together we will play your music and we will show the Bardsí Guild that just because you can no longer hear does not mean you cannot create beautiful music. You can become a Master Lutenist and Composer... that is, if you want it."
For a long moment she simply stood there and Legolas did not move. The light faded until they were both in shadows. Then, Legolas saw her nod. "Light some candles and I will go get your dinner," she said and turned away before Legolas could respond.
He nodded anyway. "I will do that," he said, then went in search of the candles, carefully placing the sheets of music on the table where the rocking horse waited to be repaired.
Words are Sindarin.
IŰn nÓn: My son.
Mellon nÓn: My friend.
Goheno nÓn, hiril. Avosto! ŕ gerihan le ķgarth: ĎForgive me, lady. Fear not! I will not harm theeí (literally, ĎI will not do you an ill deedí).
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