Child's Play - in 1 piece

"Mother, no!" Legolas watched her crumple with a flock of arrows through her chest. He fired as quickly as he could and killed enough of the orcs that they turned for the hills they'd come out of. He dropped to his knees by his mother's side. He checked for her heartbeat which was sluggish. The blood that stained her green tunic seemed deep blackish red against the fabric. He kissed her forehead and sang her to sleep. He lifted his eyes and summoned one of the birds his mother had always spoken to. He sent it with a message to his father, then pulled his knees up to his chest and curled his arms around them. His tears seemed to burn his face. He wasn't surprised when the trees murmured a gentle keening to accompany him. It was soothing. The winds rustled the tree leaves. And to his left was a tiny creek that would feed into the river that wended its way through Mirkwood.

A rough hand caught at his neck and pulled him to his feet and away from his mother's side. He looked up through his tears and saw his archery master. The older elf pulled him close and let him cry into the soft fabric of his tunic. Legolas didn't watch as his mother was carefully carried away and their bows were picked up by the youngest squire of the household. His teacher held him and gently stroked his hair. Then, he led him back to the palace, a guiding arm around his shoulders.

Legolas wiped at his tears almost angrily. A lament was beginning to rise around them. His efforts left a streak of bright red on his cheek that was recognized by the healer that was confirming his mother's death. She immediately gestured her apprentice to his side. "You're hurt, Prince Legolas. Let me help you."

"I am fine," he said dully. His arm began to throb. The healer pushed him to a seat and checked the gash on his arm. She frowned as she cleaned it out.

"Mistress!" The older healer came to his side as well and sucked in a sharp breath. She snapped out orders.

"You there, make sure there a clean sheets in the prince's room. You, get me hot water. Apprentice, I need to you to fetch some herbs." She rattled off a list. Her fingers were moving swiftly to remove his quiver and then his shirt. The fabric was bound to the skin with blood. She shook her head and felt his skin. He was starting to feel chilled and his stomach was roiling. The courtyard started to spin and he closed his eyes. "No, young one, you cannot sleep yet."

"I am merely keeping my head from spinning."

She laughed. "Open your eyes, Legolas," she commanded and he did as he was told. The air seemed strange and wavering and the summer breeze seem cold to his skin. Hot water on his arm made him jerk away. Strong hands clamped on his shoulders to hold him still, but he didn't bother to find out whose they were. "When was your arm hit?"

"I. . . I don't recall."

"Before or after your mother fell?"

"After or at the same time. I don't know."

"This is important. I need to know."

"I can't tell you!"

"Hush, child, hush," she soothed. She stroked his brow. "This will sting. Hold him," she ordered. The hands on his shoulders tightened and the young apprentice took his wrist in her hands. The herbs did more than sting and the courtyard swam before his eyes. He was laid down carefully after he passed out.

"What happened?" Thranduil demanded of his wife's guard. He looked down at her body, still riddled with arrows. "How did this happen?"

"She and Prince Legolas went out wandering, sir. She was showing him some new roost for her birds."

"And no one was with them? I had to get a message from a bird?!"

"The Lady did not wish to be disturbed, sir."

"So you tread carefully behind them!"

The guard looked down. "She requested they be alone, sir."

"Her safety was your responsibility," Thranduil said softly, dangerously. "And her death is therefore your responsibility as well. And if my son should die, I will not be willing to let the matter rest with your transfer from this position to the forge, am I understood?"

"Yes, sir." The guard faded to the side and Thranduil looked over to where the healer was binding his son's arm. And when he was carefully laid to the ground, the grief started to creep into his heart and tie it tighter than a bowstring. He pushed down his pain with ice and hardened his features. He picked up his son with gentle arms and carried him to his room. There, surrounded by the simplicity his son favored, he felt the ice take root in his heart and prayed that it would wall off the pain.

*****

Legolas woke alone, several days later. His room was clean and neat. The sheets were soft against his skin. His arm ached a bit, but that would fade in the light of day. There was a ewer of water beside his bed and a delicate silver glass, etched with his mother's symbol of a peacock. He smiled at the sight of it. She always brought it to him when he was suffering nightmares. He sat up and saw her bow propped in the corner of his room and his heart skipped in his chest. "No," he whispered. "It was not real. It was not real," he told himself. "It was nothing more than a bad dream." But if there was one thing in the world that he was incapable of doing it was lying to himself. He'd seen her fall. He'd seen her body laid out. He'd felt the light leave her and return to its source. He curled in on himself and shook. The hall echoed with soft, sad music and it vibrated into his soul. He dressed and moved out of his room and made his way towards his father's throne room. He wavered with an odd sense of vertigo as he passed through halls he could scarcely recognize. It took him most of the journey to figure out what had happened.

He stopped and turned in a complete circle, fearful sickness growing in his heart. "No," he whispered. There was no trace of his mother anywhere in the halls. All of her weavings and carefully carved birds were gone. There was none of her devices left on the walls. He stood there stunned and lost for a long moment. A strong arm wrapped around his waist as he wavered and he looked up to find his mother's personal guard looking down at him as if from a great height. She had been on her vacation when Aewlos passed on. Now, she would stand by the young prince as long as he could. On her breast she wore a small peacock pin. The young elf she was supporting touched it. "It's all gone."

"Yes."

"Why?"

"It hurts your father too much to think of her." The young prince closed his eyes.

"Is he in the throne room or his study?"

"The throne room. He has surrounded himself with his counselors and they are creating battleplans."

"And the funeral? Or have I been cut out of that as well?"

"Aewlos made me promise never to keep hard truths from you, and in her memory I shall not. The funeral was held the day after her death. You've been asleep for five days. I made sure her bow came to you and her glass."

"Her carvings, her weavings, what has happened to them?"

"They have been returned to the earth."

"No," Legolas shook his head. "No."

"Yes." The terrible truth settled deep in his bones and Deluiel saw the reality in his eyes.

"I understand. I think I'll go listen to the woods for awhile," he said softly.

"See your father first, lest you raise his wrath."

Legolas nodded. He slipped unnoticed into the throne room. The counselors were all quiet and his father sat staring into the distance. He approached carefully, ever aware that his own flashpoint temper was inherited from his father. "Ada?" he said softly. Thranduil was on his feet in an instant, rage in his features. Legolas stepped back quickly. "I'm sorry, Father," he said softly, eyes dropping. "I didn't mean to startle you from your thoughts."

"No, Legolas, it is good to see you awake." His anger fled. His tone was cool, distant like a deep lake. "How is your arm?"

"It is healing, sir."

"That is good. Your mother was returned to the earth."

"Yes, sir."

"And her name will never again be spoken in this realm. Am I understood?"

Legolas felt a knife twist in his gut. "Yes, sir," he said softly.

"Very well. And I will not have you traipsing about the woods alone, Legolas."

"Yes, sir. Deluiel will accompany for the moment, with your leave?"

"That will do for now."

"Thank you, sir."

"Now, leave us, child, we have things to do."

"Yes, Ada," he said as he turned to leave.

"And do not call me that again."

"Adar?" Thranduil shook his head.

"As you wish, my lord," he said formally.

"Thank you, Legolas." The young prince didn't meet any of the counselor's eyes as he left, but he did manage to slam the door quite spectacularly.

Thranduil smirked. "And that, my friends, proves beyond all reasonable doubts, that he truly is my son for those of you who once questioned it."

*****

Years passed, but time didn't dim Legolas' memory of his mother or his love of the forest. And being restricted to his father's palace chaffed him horribly. He could often be found on the parapet gazing over the land, waving to the elves that lived in the forest or sharpening his already keen eye for archery. He was found there the day his father first met the elf destined to be his new wife. Legolas looked over the courtyard from his favorite perch, bored with picking off orcs long distance and watched his father greet the new company that had decided to move to Mirkwood from somewhere over Khaza dum. He watched with sharp eyes as his father smiled at the lady of the company. His heart twisted. Thranduil rarely smiled anymore. His heart was too pained and cold. He tasted something like ash in his mouth and realized he was jealous and angry. His mother was forgotten and his father was smiling at a new lady. He shook off such ideas. "Mother wants you to be happy," he whispered. "And I hope for the same, Ada." He looked up into the sky and saw the clouds rolling by. "And perhaps now I will be allowed to travel a bit, do you think?" he asked a sparrow that joined him on the parapet.

"My prince," called Sadorlien, "come in. The lord wishes you to meet the newcomers." Legolas slipped his bow into its sheath and followed his counselor down the stairs.

"What do you think of them?" he asked.

"I think they are very fair and have come very far and have suffered greatly. The dwarves have let loose a Balrog and it disturbed their rest."

"Then I shall endeavor to be as charming as I am told I can be." He winked at his counselor. "And do you find them fair of heart or fair of face, Sadorlien?"

"Both, my prince. Both."

"You called, my lord?" Legolas said formally.

"Ah, Legolas, come closer. This is Lady Cariel. She has brought a company of her people to live here, by our leave."

"I am Legolas. It is an honor to welcome you then, my lady," Legolas said with a smile. He bowed over her hand. "Your beauty and grace shall enrich this land."

"I was told that I should be on my guard for the sweetness of your father's tongue, they forgot to warn me of his son."

Legolas managed to keep the smile on his face, despite the terror that strangled his heart. Thranduil was content to ignore him most days. The king of Mirkwood laughed. "Our young Legolas has a charming tongue and a keen eye with his bow. He manages to hit all of his targets with clarity. You will join us for dinner, Legolas?"

"Yes, sir." Even when it was presented as an option, Legolas knew when he was being given an order. "By your leave, sweet lady, I will put up my bow."

"Please, my prince." She smiled at Thranduil as the young prince slipped away. "He is very charming and has his father's gift for sweet words." Her smile faded. "Yet I sense there is a tension here and I am wary of creating more turmoil."

"His mother died suddenly and violently. We do not speak of her, and rarely are the words father and son spoken in regards to the two of us. That is how it must be so that our hearts do not shatter."

*****

Dinner was a success, but Legolas felt blood in his chest. He laid down on his back on his bed and stared up at the ceiling. He wished for a breath of the outside, but his room had always been among the most defensible, with no outside facing window. He could look into the courtyard from his room, but he kept a cloth drawn over that window. He didn't like anyone to watch him sulk. He drifted away into a dream and Thranduil slipped in unannounced. Legolas looked so peaceful. His features were so fine and in stillness, he looked so much like his mother that it hurt. Thranduil gently stroked over his son's forehead and down his cheek. The wide blue eyes blinked and Legolas started to sit up. A hand on his chest pressed him back to the mattress. Thranduil sat on the edge of the bed and ran his fingers slowly down the smooth chin and down the slender neck. He brushed a stray hair from Legolas' face. "My lord?" Legolas whispered. Thranduil pressed a finger over his son's lips.

"Hush, fair prince." Legolas' eyes grew large. He licked his lips. He didn't know what this was. His father's heart seemed to have thawed for a moment, to show the tenderness in his eyes. Thranduil cupped the soft cheek. He pressed a kiss to Legolas' forehead, then each cheek, then to his lips for a long moment. Then, Thranduil pulled back to place a gentle kiss on the now worried brow. "Goodnight, Legolas," he whispered.

"Goodnight, my lord." And he was gone, leaving more confusion than he would ever know. Legolas touched his lips and shivered. His heart burned in pain.

"Naneth," he whispered. "Please, I don't know what to do anymore. I can't continue to pretend my heart is not broken. I can't heal father's wounds. I don't know what to do. And I don't know who to talk to." He turned onto his stomach and cried into his pillow. The songs of others swirled above and around him. He swore he could hear his mother's voice, singing him to sleep.

*****

Legolas was not ill-pleased with the lady who was his father's new lover. She was quick of tongue and full of mirth. She did not have great skill with the bow and she could not weave unless desperate. Her bread was sweet though and her poems were exquisite. And she was nothing at all like his mother. She preferred the mountain to the woods and she preferred being home to traveling. The trip from her home to Mirkwood was the longest she'd taken in her entire life. Legolas wished to have had even that much adventure. The wedding preparations vexed him slightly, for he was cut out completely. Neither his father, nor his new lady, asked even after his health. He spent more time in the woods than before, for he had convinced his step-mother with sweet words to convince Thranduil to release his restrictions. He knew everyone who lived in the trees and was welcome at every home. He listened eagerly when they talked of his mother and laughed over the latest gossip. He knew who was interested in whom and who the next to wed would be.

He was often gifted with tastes of the sweetest wine and herbs. He found joy in the woods and his heart grew heavy when he walked with Sadorlien to the palace. "My prince?" the guard said hesitantly as they drew close. "What rests so heavily on you tonight?"

"Lord Thranduil will soon have a new bride. And my emotions are in tangle, my friend." The guard winced internally to hear the distance between father and son was so great that even in private Legolas would not call Thranduil "father." "I do not know what is to become of me. I hope to travel. I grow weary of these walls and I wish to see the world. My aim is true and I hear rumors of war. My heart tells me that I should answer the call and defend against the darkness and my mind reminds me that my lord may not let me go. How should I learn of anything in the world, when I am kept home like a child unable to walk alone? I am several centuries beyond that point, though my lord will never hear that. I beg you, Sadorlien, don't breathe a word of this. My worries and my yearnings are my own and this is to be a happy household."

"Yes, my prince."

*****

Thranduil watched his son as he mingled with the community in the Great Hall. The slim figure actually wore his circlet for once. His hair was carefully pulled back and his face wore a brighter smile than usual. He held a glass in his hand of sweet wine, though he rarely sipped from it. He danced lightly with a woman from the village, then returned her to her husband. He avoided looking up at his father and his new mother. The problem was, she noticed. "It hurts him to see me here."

"No, Cariel."

"Yes, it does, and I understand why that is. He loves his mother still and that is normal. And it does not hurt me, my dear one. He and I are friends, and that is more than I had hoped."

"Cariel, do not think me harsh, but he is as foolish as his mother. He wants to go to the battles. I hear rumors of it and see in his eyes that he would rush to war. He killed a battalion of orcs one day and even now he hunts them from the top-most towers of this palace."

"He is not like you and I. This palace wears on his soul. Can you not see the joy that suffused him when you let him into the forest?"

"I see only his foolishness."

"And his beauty. Is he much like his mother?"

"We will not speak of that, Cariel. There are some things that will not be done. His mother is dead. That is all there is to know." Cariel sighed. She didn't like the coolth of Thranduil's heart when it came to his son. She was fond of Legolas and he had done what he could to make her welcome. He had even found some soft fabrics for the walls of her study when he found out that she couldn't weave well. It had taken her over a week of delicate probing of the others in the house to find out that he had made them himself on his mother's loom which had been secreted away in a lower room, with what could be saved of her things. And there was such pain when the two met for brief moments over breakfast that she wanted to rock them both until the pain disappeared. It was her fondest wish that her union with Thranduil would heal him and through that healing, save his son as well.

*****

Legolas retired from the party soon after his father and new mother. He carefully set the diadem of silver and burnished copper leaves onto his dressing table and changed into his more usual clothing. He stretched and settled on the edge of his bed. He was not tired and was too restless to read. He looked at the window he kept covered and frowned. Perhaps, he needed something to let in more light. He made his way down to the forge to look for shards of gemstones. He found a pile of them that had no assigned purpose and asked the master there for them. Laughingly, the old elf agreed and gathered them into a small leather bag. "And what shall you do with this, my prince?" he asked, eyes twinkling.

"That is yet to be seen."

Carefully, Legolas joined the shards with silver threads and formed a delicate cloth of jewels. He hung it gently in place and was rewarded as the multiple colors of the gems played off of the walls. He smiled, heart soaring like a child's. He folded the other cloth and put it into the chest at the foot of his bed. He gathered the shards that were left to return them to the forge. He hummed a light song as he wandered the halls for awhile. He joined the song of celebration for a moment, then found his way to the highest point of the walls. The palace guards watched him in amusement as he walked along the walls to his favorite perch and looked out over the forest.

*****

Thranduil fingered the jeweled curtain his son had made. He shook his head. He would never have come up with the idea. He stepped back and smiled as he saw the subtle design of a green-leaf repeated through the apparently random colors. Legolas paused at the end of the hallway. "Yes, my lord?"

"Ah, the young prince has been coaxed indoors once again. I wonder what has done that."

"The call of my bed, sir, and nothing more." Legolas smiled and pushed a loose strand of hair behind his ear.

Thranduil's mood faded as the gut-wrenching memory of his first wife's body on the ground of the courtyard. Legolas' smile faltered. His eyes were large. "And where did this come from?"

"My hands and my mind, sir," Legolas replied mildly, "and the cuttings from the stones in the forge workshop."

"Ah. Clever." Thranduil's voice was cold. "Where do they keep her things, Legolas?"

"Sir?" Legolas' brows furrowed. "I've her bow and glass. And the loom has been taken by another, for it seemed foolish to destroy a well made tool. What do you speak of?"

"The things that were not destroyed with the rest."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Don't lie to me, Legolas. You don't have the eyes for it." Thranduil caught his son's arm in a vice-tight grip. "Show me where they keep the loom."

Legolas did as he was told, twisting sporadically, to see if he could get free. The faces of the elves they passed were pale. "In here, sir," Legolas breathed. Thranduil dragged his son into the room behind him. He pushed the younger elf away.

"I will not have my orders disobeyed," he snarled in anger. A red wave of pain and anger swept through his mind. Without a further word he started smashing the small bird figures to the ground and tearing the fabrics from the shelves.

"No!" Legolas protested. He grabbed his father's wrist and found himself sliding down the wall, blood on his lips and pain lancing through his head. He curled up on the floor as the destruction continued. Tears streamed from his eyes. Thranduil destroyed everything in the room except the loom and stormed out. Sadorlien was the first to enter the room. He went immediately to his prince's side.

"Prince Legolas," he called quietly and the blond eventually looked up at him. Blood trickled down his chin and a dark bruise was forming on the side of his face.

"Sadorlien, have them pack it away. There may be something that can be salvaged from this. Her fabrics may yet be usable. And there is no need to scrap the jewels. Perhaps, perhaps something good can be made of this. Blankets or clothing or something."

"Yes, my lord," the guard answered and relayed the message. "It will be done. Now, will you let me conduct you to your room and call the healer?"

"There is no need for a healer. I know I will survive this. It worries me not. I just do not wish to fuel my lord's anger once more. Perhaps it would be best for me to remain awhile down here."

"Spoken like one who believes he cannot yet stand," said Deluiel knowingly. "Get him to his feet and back to his room, young guardsman. Don't let him out of your sight."

Legolas made a face at her and she laughed once more.

*****

"I just wish to go riding beyond the woods, sir. I won't go far."

"No," Thranduil said sharply once more. "You will not leave these woods. I will restrict you to the palace until you lose such thoughts."

"The more forbidden you make it the more my heart yearns for it, sir."

Thranduil's mouth tightened. "You will stay here, Legolas. In this room until I call for you." Legolas' jaw dropped. "Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"I will not have you questioning my actions again."

"Yes, sir."

Thranduil slammed out of the room. He didn't look back to see the fury on his son's face. Legolas wanted to throw something at the door his father had just left through, but he didn't dare. He sat down wearily behind his father's writing desk. He stared out the window at the sky and sighed as a hawk wheeled looking for prey. The clouds rolled by and the stars blinked awake. Legolas let his mind wander a path of dreams.

Thranduil stood in the doorway of his study and just looked at his son. In the stillness, he saw the beauty of Aewlos in his face. He saw the bone deep longing for the wide open. He saw the stillness of the predators of the wood. He saw the wild in his son's heart and nearly wept. He couldn't bear the thought of his leaving. He could not handle the fear that perhaps Legolas would not return. He saw sadness and love that warred inside both of them. And he couldn't find the path to reach out to soothe it. He was adrift in the middle of a wild ocean and the only things that kept him from being swept away from the sight of the shore were his son and his wife. And he couldn't let either of them go.

He smiled to himself and stroked down Legolas' back. "Time for dinner, little one."

"Yes, F. . . my lord." Thranduil's heart closed in at the hasty substitution and as they walked to the dining room, his tenderness disappeared behind the cold mask that he usually wore.

*****

Legolas' eyes caught sight of the visitors as they approached the woods. He climbed down from his perch and made his way down to the courtyard. He was waiting for Lord Elrond and his companions. He had rooms prepared and conducted them to his father's throne room. "Lord Elrond, my lord," he said softly. Thranduil nodded. And Legolas let the man in.

"Elrond. Celebrian. Arwen."

"Thranduil."

"Legolas, will you ask Cariel to join us please?"

"Yes, of course." Legolas went in search of his step-mother and found her in the kitchen. "Cariel? Thranduil would like for you to join him in the throne room to welcome our guests."

"How many shall I have the cooks plan for tonight?"

"At least three more." Cariel wiped the flour from her hands and went up the stairs on Legolas' arm. "Cariel, if you could see your way clear to convince *him* to let me just go on a short trip anywhere, I'd be so grateful."

"That I might get a new hanging for my window?"

"I think that could be arranged easily."

"Thank you, Legolas," Thranduil said. "Perhaps Arwen would like to take a walk through the woods." Thranduil's lips twitched towards a smile as Legolas blinked at him. He seemed suddenly to notice the Evenstar. She was wearing her riding coat still, and a faint smile played on her lips.

"With your leave, sirs?"

"Yes, of course," Elrond said. Thranduil nodded and Legolas offered his arm to Arwen and they left their fathers to arguing.

"So, you are the mysterious Prince Legolas of Mirkwood."

"If someone says I am mysterious they are sadly misinformed. I am the most transparent person I know."

"My brothers call you mysterious because they've only ever found your arrows."

"Two tall dark haired hunters?"

"Yes."

"Ah, then to them perhaps I seem so, as we have never met. Although our aims are often the same. I simply do my hunting from a different perspective."

"Are you going to introduce me to your shadow?"

"I suppose. Sadorlien, may I present Arwen Evenstar, daughter of Lord Elrond the Half-Elven."

"A pleasure, my lady."

"I don't stand on ceremony."

"Thank you, ma'am, but my lord does."

"I wouldn't have thought you so formal, Legolas."

"Not my prince, ma'am. Lord Thranduil requires that all rank relations remain formal inside the palace." They made their way to the outside forest.

"Would you have trouble climbing, Arwen?"

"No, not at all. As long as you don't expect me to be ladylike about it."

"Good. Because, if my nose does not deceive me, I think mother Ravenclaw has something sweet in her kitchen," he raised his voice a bit.

"Yes, she does, and she might be persuaded to share if the prince brings his guest up to visit her."

"Would you rather follow or lead, Arwen?"

She considered. "I'll follow and Sadorlien can catch me if I should fall." She winked at the prince who seemed rather alarmed at the prospect. "I shall endeavor to keep my feet." Legolas moved quickly up the tree with the speed of someone used to the journey. He looked down at her, then offered her a hand and led her onto the main part of the house.

*****

"Thranduil, Cariel, we had to learn from Galadriel that you had wed. Many congratulations. I do regret that we couldn't be here for the wedding."

"Why did you come, Elrond?" Cariel was not surprised by her husband's coldness any longer. He was rarely emotional anywhere but the bedroom. It was still a comfortable marriage. He was tender towards her, and she really didn't like the things Elrond was implying. He thought the marriage over-hasty she supposed, but it was logical.

"I came to make an attempt at reconciling and therefore, I apologize for my words. I understand things have been difficult in Mirkwood. My sons have, during their travels found orcs multiplying on the outskirts of your lands."

"They do not venture into Mirkwood often," Thranduil said softly. "There seems to be a curse on their approach. They get picked off by archers while still on our borders. They have nearly given up trying."

"One particular archer, from what my sons have found."

Thranduil raised a brow. "Indeed? I wasn't aware of anyone that focused."

Elrond produced an arrow. "Unless I am mistaken, your people make their own arrows?"

"Yes."

"And whose might this be? For almost all of the orcs have had one." Thranduil's face darkened.

"No, you shall not have him."

Elrond blinked. "Thranduil?"

"Those are Legolas' arrows."

"Then he would be the best to train my archers. That is all I wish. He would be perfectly safe in Rivendell."

"He will not leave Mirkwood."

"Thranduil, beloved, if I might have a word with you," Cariel interrupted sweetly. Celebrian's lips twitched. She recognized the tactic.

"If you will excuse me for a moment."

"Of course," Elrond said with a dip of his head. He glanced at his wife. They carefully did not listen to the resulting argument. Thranduil returned to the room after a long moment. He glared at his wife, but it lacked heat.

"I have, it would appear, been over-ruled. If you can leash him long enough to get him to Rivendell, you may borrow him. No more than two years, Elrond."

Elrond smiled. "I will ensure his protection."

"I would rather send his guards with him."

"As you wish."

*****

"Thank you for a wonderful tour, Legolas of Mirkwood."

"You are most welcome, Evenstar of Imladris."

"You missed dinner," Cariel chided.

"I couldn't eat another bite, however, Lady Cariel," Arwen said with a smile. "Your people are very generous."

"Have you been begging from tree to tree again, Legolas? You would think we starved you."

"Not often," Legolas said with a smile. "And how have the enemies faired?"

"They are not at one another's throats, thanks to the level heads in the room."

"Then it was for the best that I was not present."

"Unfortunately, you do tend to be as stubborn as Thranduil. Come, though, you owe me a weaving." Legolas looked at her oddly, then his eyes widened.

"You did it? He agreed? Oh most wondrous and beautiful lady, you surpass yourself this time."

"You've not asked for details."

"Do they matter?" He smiled and hugged her. "Thank you," he whispered into her ear. "Come, Beautiful Evenstar, let me conduct you to your rooms. Then, I shall join you in your study, Cariel?"

"Yes, I'll show you which window I'd like jeweled."

Arwen watched with amusement and pleasure. It was good to see that Legolas' step-mother was a good friend. She had known him nearly one night and she already felt protective of him. "And what feat of daring has your step-mother completed?"

"She has convinced Lord Thranduil to let me out of the palace for awhile. And here, my lady is your room. Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian are next to you."

"Thank you, Legolas."

*****

Thranduil watched his son leave with a face of granite. Legolas rode like he'd been on a horse for his entire life. With his son's face hidden, all he saw was long blond hair, a slender body, a quiver and arrows, and bone handled knives. He didn't wave and had barely said two words in farewell. Cariel looked at him in concern. "Are you all right, beloved?"

"I am fine."

"He will be back sooner than you can imagine."

"Who will?" Thranduil looked at her. "It doesn't matter. He won't return here. This is the thing I have most feared. He will be given taste of freedom and he will never return here. There are some details I have to go over about that new accord with Lorien."

Cariel didn't speak as he left. She kept her eyes on Legolas until she could no longer see him or the rest of the company. "Come back to us, for his sake and for your own, Greenleaf."

*****

"So, Legolas, when was the last time you went traveling?" Elrond asked.

"Sir? I was at Imladris once, I believe when I was quite young, but I scarcely remember anything except waterfalls."

Elrond was taken aback. "You've not left Mirkwood since that meeting? You were barely talking then."

"Yes, that sounds about right."

"I thought Aewlos would have taken you out more often." Sadorlien's breath caught.

"The queen did not take me beyond the borders of Mirkwood, in keeping with my lord's wishes."

Celebrian blinked in surprise. "Really? I thought she loved traveling."

"She spoke of traveling, but she loved Thranduil too much to leave him for long, and he prefers to stay home." Legolas spoke hesitantly.

"You look very much like your mother."

The prince did not reply to that. "You said you wished me to teach your archers. How many do you wish me to train?"

Elrond ceded to the boy's wishes and focussed on the making of plans as they traveled through the country.

*****

Legolas looked around Rivendell in wonder. There were soaring arches and waterfalls and pools of clear water. He had never seen anything like it except in his mind's eye. Arwen gave him a tour of the place and he feared he would be hopelessly lost, but that didn't happen. He looked around the room they had set up for him. "This is far too much, Arwen," he said stumblingly. "I don't know what I'm to do with this much room. Conduct classes?"

"Nonsense," she chided him. "You deserve this for your prowess with a bow if nothing more. And I would have thought that Thranduil's son was used to excess."

Legolas looked at her oddly. "My lord and I do not share the same taste in lifestyle. And where am I to teach your archers?"

"The courtyard to begin I believe. Is this all you brought?" She blinked at the small amount of luggage.

"It is all I need. I will be able to make arrows aplenty. And I have a few small entertainments. What else should I have brought?"

"Did you bring something formal for the introduction tonight?"

"Yes."

"Hmmmm. And something to wear when you teach."

"Yes."

"And perhaps a book or two?"

He shook his head. "I doubt that I will become so bored with exploring Lord Elrond's realm so quickly. Where are the horses stabled? I should brush down Sweetgrass."

"She has been attended to, don't worry. Elladan and Elrohir would like to meet you. They've been tracking your arrows for awhile."

"Are they here then? I assumed they would still be out wandering."

"Yes, they came back to beg Father to bring them a new archer to play with. I do not know if they've been let in on the secret yet or not. They do have a way with the kitchen staff."

"Secret? What secret would that be?"

"Your name." She smiled at his confusion. "You really have no idea what a wonder you are."

"I do not know why you think me a wonder. I'm nothing special. My archery master would have been a better choice for this."

"Father spoke with him as well, but was informed that if we wanted the best that you where the person we should seek." Legolas' cheeks burned.

"That is very high praise that I hope I can live up to."

*****

Elladan and Elrohir were twins and, therefore, they seemed to blend in Legolas' mind. He lost track of which one of them was teasing him this time as he took up his bow for some practice shots. He closed his mind to their chatter and set himself a task. On the target of hay and plain fabric he'd set up for himself he created a bird of arrow shafts. It was one of the things his mother had come up with as a training exercise. He could create anything from an orc to a peacock with his arrows when he was of a mind to do so. He studied his work critically. "I'm pulling to the left," he said to himself. He checked his bowstring and realigned it. He set a second arrow next to the one that was creating the eye and nodded. "Better. You are getting lazy, Legolas. You should have noticed earlier."

"Talking to yourself is a bad habit," Arwen told him. She caught his arm before he could begin to take the arrows out. "Please, leave it. My father needs to see this."

"But it's just a practice routine. Nothing unusual." He looked at her with a confused frown. She led him back to where he had been shooting from. He was aware suddenly of many eyes upon him. He looked around nervously at the crowd that had gathered. "Tell me this isn't the number of people your lord wishes me to train."

"No, silly, they want to watch you shoot. You managed to shut the twins up. That in itself deserves commendation."

"For a silly shooting trick? It merely makes practice more interesting."

Elrond joined them. "That is impressive, Legolas. Very impressive."

"Sir?"

"Did your archery master teach you this? If so, I really must drag him from Mirkwood as well."

"No, the queen, sir. She made it a game so that I would not be bored during practice."

"A game? I take it, then, that you can create other shapes?" Elrond was as eager as a child with a new toy.

"Yes, sir. Any creature from Mirkwood, orcs and trolls a specialty." Legolas smiled for a moment. Then, he shifted uncomfortably.

"It seems, young one, that you have something to teach every elf here."

*****

"Evenstar, don't make such a fuss. I don't think there's anyone left in Rivendell that didn't come stare at me this morning." Arwen ignored him and redid the braid over his left ear.

"Then there's even more reason for you to look impressive, isn't there?"

"I'm not impressive. Unlike you, I can walk into a room and be ignored."

"There is no reason for that." She saw Deluiel's smile. "See. She agrees with me."

"Two against one is not fair, ladies. Sadorlien, save me."

"I'm sorry, my prince, but I must join with the ladies in this point. There's no reason why you should be ignored except that you choose to be."

"Stop fidgeting or I'll never get this straight."

The prince of Mirkwood closed his eyes and resigned himself to his fate.

*****

"Will you walk with me, Legolas?" Elrond asked after the party wound down in the early hours of morning.

"Of course, my lord."

"Perhaps your shadows could be convinced to leave you to my care. Rivendell is well protected. And I will personally assure your safety."

"I may be able to convince them, but the decision has long since been out of my hands."

"My lord, you will not notice our presence, but we will not be easy enough to leave him yet. Perhaps before the year is out," Deluiel said with a smile.

"And there, Lord Elrond, is your answer. You will get used to them as easily as you do your own shadow. And they are models of discretion. If they will not leave me to sulk in Mirkwood alone, I doubt a walk in Rivendell will meet their standards." Legolas shrugged. "What wonders will you show me, lord? What tales will you impart?"

"Nothing so spectacular as the deadly beauty of your bow. And nothing so boring as the history between your father and myself." Elrond settled an arm companionably around the younger elf's shoulder and guided him onto one of the many paths that sloped gently up towards the ridge. Legolas fought the urge to shake off the touch. "Tell me, Legolas, what do you think of Arwen?"

"She is beautiful and her hair lovely like a midnight sky. Her wit is engaging and her sword a work of art. Her fingers are deft and quick and her riding form perfect. However, my lord, she is a lady and my mind cannot comprehend her ways any more than it can the One's will."

"Ladies are confusing folk for all of us. I guarantee you. Will you tell me of Aewlos' passing and Cariel's arrival? Your mother and I were good friends."

"Cariel came from near the Moria mines with a small contingent of people. It seems the dwarves loosed a Balrog."

"Is the marriage of politics then? She seemed to love him."

"She loves him well and we are friends. It would be foolish to make an enemy of her when there is no reason."

"She is very different from Aewlos."

"She is different from the queen, yes," Legolas said carefully.

"Will you tell me of your mother's final day?"

Legolas gripped the once poisoned wound that had nearly taken his own life. He bit at his lip and gathered the memories close. They continued to walk as Elrond let him gather his thoughts. "She was killed by orcs," he stated softly, "on the edges of Mirkwood, a days journey from the edge of the last home in the woods. And her son was not adept enough to save her life."

Elrond was quiet. "But he managed to save his own and has killed more orcs than his father knows about."

"You won't tell Thranduil, will you?" Legolas asked eyes bright with worry.

"He knows already."

"And still he let me leave the palace? Perhaps I should have asked for your assistance."

Elrond shook his head. "Why do you not call him father?"

"Because he wishes me not to."

"And he does not call you son."

"No, sir."

"And you don't speak of your mother."

"The queen is not to be spoken of."

"Your mother was a great woman."

"The queen was that indeed."

"What happened to her hangings? Her carvings? Her devices?"

"I have her bow. I have her favorite glass, and her loom survived. And there are none of her carvings left."

"Her weavings?" Elrond feared the answer.

"With patience they will make beautiful quilts for the winter." Legolas looked out over the waterfall they were passing by. "And they will shimmer as the water."

"Her clothes were destroyed," the elf-lord stated sadly. "All her work was reduced to shards? How did this happen?" He let his arm fall and noticed a tension leave Thranduil's son. Legolas still gripped his arm.

"Thranduil wants no reminders of his pain." They paused to look over the calming water. Then, he led the young elf further up to watch the sunrise.

"Not even his son?" Elrond whispered, mostly to himself.

"Not on his worst days. On his better days, he acknowledges my existence. More often now that Cariel has acted as a balm to his heart." Legolas shrugged. "He hurts so deeply that my soul aches."

"And what of your pain?"

"What do you mean, sir? Oh, my, is that the sun that shows her face through the mists?"

"Yes." Elrond smiled as Legolas seemed to melt in the sun.

"Thank you. It is indeed splendid here."

*****

"Lift your arm a bit here," Legolas guided Arwen's bow arm up. "What do you see? Tell me everything."

"I see the hay, and blanket. I see the trees beyond and the song glinting off of a stone in the ground."

"What in all that is your target?"

"The blanket center."

"Then, that is all you see."

"So easy for you to tell me. I prefer my sword."

"That may be so, but there is a use for each weapon. Pretend it is a song, Arwen. Attend to the voice of your target, sight it by that sound. Narrowly now, the world is nothing but the voice calling your arrow to it." His voice was a song in itself and it wrapped around her mind carefully blanketing it until she could focus. She hit her mark true. She found that if she kept hold of the nearly missed song beneath his words she could hit it every time. Her speed increased. Her brothers watched carefully. They would not see her harmed by anyone, especially a wood-elf with a silver tongue. They stared as she outpaced their records for speed in shooting. "Do you still prefer your sword?"

"It depends upon the day. If the changes are lasting, I may come to use both of them. Will you use the same technique on my brothers?"

"Perhaps, I use what I need depending on the elf." He smiled at her and she was glad to see it. He didn't smile nearly enough. He was far too quiet. He tended to fade into the wood when too many people showed up.

"Will you paint me a picture?"

"I suppose. Go fetch your arrows and I will see if I can convince Deluiel to join me." He looked over his shoulder at his guard. She shrugged and pulled her bow to the front and ready. Her arrows were fletched with gold, his with green. They had trained together for years. "Have you enough arrows for a bird?"

"Even the special one."

"Then let us do that," he said to her. She was slight, although perhaps an inch taller than Legolas. Her hair was the light brown of a beech's bark. They took position next to one another and in a blur of movement painted a peacock with feathers at rest on the blank slate of white fabric. Arwen and her brothers couldn't help but applaud the effort. Legolas smiled sadly at the peacock. "It has been too long."

"Yes, it has. She lingers yet in memory, my prince," she said for his ears only.

"She is dead and the past with her. What was will never be again," he said harshly.

"Even your heart? Do not let it bleed. She would hate this wreck of a family you've become a part of."

"Then, she shouldn't have left. Or she should have let them kill me instead." Legolas strode across the grass quickly to gather his arrows up. Deluiel shook her head.

"Ignoring my words will never unmake them, Legolas," she said firmly.

"And forgetting Lord Thranduil's will only hurt all involved," he snapped back. "The past is dead by his decree."

"The past lives still. I see it before me if not in its original form. I hear it in the musical wind of the night. And I see it in the sunrise. I see it in blood-red stains on silver that cannot be washed away with water," she said as she paced towards him. "Let go of the pain, Legolas. I would not see you trapped," she whispered into his ear. She rubbed his shoulder. He didn't respond, but she saw the glimmer of a tear in the corner of his eye.

*****

"And where is Legolas?" Elrond asked as his children joined him and his wife for supper.

"Up a tree last I saw," Arwen replied. She shrugged. "He said that he wasn't hungry."

"He's upset about whatever that guard of his said," Elladan stated.

"Whatever it was, it was private," Elrohir said firmly. "He's a wood-elf. They're odd folk."

"He grew up inside a mountain, how much of a woodsman can he be?"

"He is more comfortable up a tree than sitting in a palace," Arwen said with a smile. "And if you're desperate to find him, just look for one of his shadows. They're taking turns watching him. I think it is Sadorlien's turn."

"And why does he have guards inside Rivendell? Does his father think us so untrustworthy?" Elladan pressed.

"He has guards in Mirkwood as well," Arwen informed them. "He never goes unattended."

"A pampered pet like Haldir claims?"

Arwen's face went still and she thought. "Beloved of his people and the heart of the palace. But he is not pampered. His chambers are plainer than a ranger's sleeping rack. He doesn't hunger for things. And he hides a pain so large that it's trying to swallow him up."

"He witnessed his mother's death," Elrond said softly. His children looked at him with wide eyes.

*****

In the night there was a new voice heard and all paused to listen to it. It sang no familiar hymn or history. It raised itself in strange, off-beat rhythms and twisting melodies. Still, it was pure and simple underneath it all. "Gold and green does my lady's desire call to her, blues and purples does she sing of, and when she has woven a dream so dark and terrible and beautiful then she will call for light, and in the night she rides through the sky, her arrows form a new constellation in crimson hues and golden streams. And in the crest of moonlight, she formed a new son and gave it life on earth, and in gold it was painted and in green was it clothed. And her heart resides in the gold and green as it once desired beyond all else."

And Legolas attended to the words of the lady that told him his fate and a trail of tears slid over cheeks that shone like gold when the first rays of the sun caressed them.

*****

"You have a black eye and a split lip and only the gods know what else? I am not going to let the matter rest," Elrond snapped. He didn't notice the instinctive flinch until he turned again. Legolas did not meet his eyes, but stood, hands behind his back, resigned. "Have you seen a healer?"

"Yes, my lord," he said softly.

"And why were you fighting?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I cannot tell you that."

"And whom were you fighting?"

"I would rather not say."

"Legolas, this is not negotiable. Tell me what happened."

"I got into a fight."

"Who won?"

"No one. We were broken up by outside parties."

"Who broke up the fight?"

"Elladan and Deluiel." Elrond pinched the bridge of his nose.

"Just tell me who you were. . . Oh, no. Don't tell me." The elf-lord laughed. "Arwen, tell me how this started."

"I insulted Thranduil. He asked for me to recant. I refused and ended up taking a swing at him."

"Arwen!"

"How was I to know it would degenerate?" she asked innocently.

"By going for my groin," Legolas said with a sharp smile. He looked like a predator to her then and she made sure to say out of the range of his hands. She could see them in tight fists behind his back.

"This isn't his fault, Father."

"And I was worried about bringing another boy into the household. What am I to do with you two? I thought you were getting along."

"We do for the most part. My aim and speed are better than Elrohir now."

"He would be better if he practiced, but he is under the mistaken impression that speed is a gift from above and he doesn't need to hone it," Legolas said firmly.

"Then what sparked this debate?"

"I would rather not say, Father." Elrond blinked once, then twice.

"And if I were to order you?"

"I would ignore you." She met his eyes with clear blue. "Let this go. We are both adults."

"Then act it."

"We were. At least we didn't start a war because we were upset with one another," she informed him. "And I don't have a long standing grudge against Mirkwood because of something long past."

"Not far enough in the past for the two of us."

"It should be," Arwen told him. She laid her hand on Legolas' hands and eventually managed to ease one down to hold hers. "It won't happen again. At least not when we can be caught."

"Then I suppose I should assign you a guard as well. Not that it seems to keep Legolas out of trouble."

"You would be surprised what trouble one can convince his guard to cause if they have known each other for a long time."

"And how long have you known your guards?" Elrond asked with a smile.

"I have known Deluiel since before my birth," he said with a small smile. "She was the queen's guard. And Sadorlien grew up with me and has been my companion since I was a child."

"Then, perhaps I should request that Deluiel stay more closely near you."

"Then you misunderstand the danger," Legolas grinned. "Sadorlien fears Thranduil. Deluiel does not." Elrond laughed.

"Go on, both of you." He shook his head. "And Legolas?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Don't fear my anger. I will not harm you, even in anger, despite what tales you may have heard."

"I will endeavor to remember that, sir," the prince said softly.

*****

"Arwen packs a mean punch," Elrohir said, looking at the fading black eye. "You're lucky she wasn't truly angry at you."

"I'm lucky I'm fast enough to avoid her feet." Legolas closed his eyes and leaned back, gripping at his arm. Elladan looked curiously at him.

"Did she get you in the arm as well?"

"Hm? No, just nervous habit," Legolas said, forcing his hand down.

"What happened?"

"I was caught by an orc arrow," he said softly. "Poisoned. It should have killed me, but the healer caught it in time." He shrugged. He picked an arrow out from his quiver and smoothed the head to a sharper edge.

"Really? What happened?"

"I don't recall it well."

"Come on, just tell us what you remember."

"I'd rather not." Legolas demurred. Taking it for modesty they pressed him further. He looked up with fury in his eyes. "Let the matter rest."

"No."

"I watched my mother die. I killed as many of the creatures as I could, but she still died there in the forest, with no one but me to comfort her. And at some point I was shot. I don't know when, or how deep the wound was. I barely remember anything but pain and chillness. When I awoke she was still dead. Leave it alone." He left the room as quickly as he could. The twins, silenced, looked at one another.

"What did you do?" Arwen asked when she came upon them. She ran to find the wood elf. She looked around the courtyard and then up towards the cliffs. He wouldn't be so stupid as to go up alone? She asked herself. Then, she shook herself, he was born to the rocks as much as the trees. Of course he would climb if there was someplace high. She ran for the mountains forgetting that she was wearing a skirt and not caring in the least when it got snagged on random branches.

She scrambled up towards the young elf she often teased about being his master's shadow. "Where?" He pressed a finger to his lips and she listened, hearing a soft voice lifting up in song:

God
Oh God
May the light
Illuminate the night
The way your spirit illuminates my soul
Papa, can you hear me?
Papa, can you see me?
Papa, can you find me in the night?
Papa, are you near me?
Papa, can you hear me?
Papa, can you help me not be frightened?
Looking at the skies, I seem to see a million eyes
Which ones are yours?
Where are you now that yesterday has waved goodbye
And closed its doors?
The night is so much darker
The wind is so much colder
The world I see is so much bigger now that I'm alone."

Arwen felt the tears swim up in her eyes. There was such terrible pain there and she wished that she could ease it. A tear fell, streaming over the purple of her cheek. She sat and waited for the wood-elf to tire and come down.

*****

Arwen combed her hair back and fastened it back with a silver clasp. "Arwen! Come quickly!" her brother called.

"What have you done?" she demanded when she saw the blood on Legolas' tunic.

"Nothing. Damn him."

"I'm fine," Legolas muttered.

"If you were fine, you'd be walking and Sadorlien wouldn't be supporting you."

"That would depend on how much I paid him. I wasn't aware that someone was doing knifework. I merely wanted to see trees for awhile."

"Don't pout," she told him. She cleaned the wound and shook her head. "Didn't you hear anything?"

"Nothing that I don't hear every day of my life, Evenstar."

"He was by the borders. The guards didn't recognize him without one of us with him."

"And so they attacked an elf with no warning?"

"The darkness is growing, Evenstar."

"Greenleaf?" His eyes were very far away.

"It's growing in the East. And the orc armies grow greater every day. There is war in this land. And war marches towards Mirkwood."

"And knowing this you walked into a border guard? What were you thinking?"

"That there is something wrong at home. My heart begs me to go back, though I am shy of the two years promised to Lord Elrond." He pushed her hand away from the wound in his side.

"You need another keeper."

"What would that matter? Why do you care whether I live or die?" he demanded, sitting up with the strength of anger.

"That is what friends do, or do you have no such thing in Mirkwood?" she snapped back, eyes glinting.

"You can have no friends when your heart is as changeable as a summer storm," Legolas informed her coldly. "Those that think they know you, know nothing about you."

"And yet, you are the most transparent elf that you know. That does not bode well for you." Legolas shook his head.

"Your sister is mad. You knew that?"

"Yes, we have often accused her of the same, but in this madness she is well joined. Lie still."

"I wouldn't want to deprive the Evenstar of her practice," he said dryly. "I wonder what evil will be afoot the day I meet her with no sparring involved."

"Perhaps only love," Elladan said with a smirk. Legolas raised his brows.

"Oh, have you found a Chosen then?"

"It was not to myself I was referring."

Arwen rolled her eyes. "Ignore them, Greenleaf. They are an odd pair. Let me bind your side. Move your shirt aside."

"I wonder if my virtue is safe in this house." Legolas sighed and moved his tunic up. Arwen ran her fingers down a scar on his chest.

"This is also a bad sign, my wood-elf. The orc arrow marking you is probably due to the poison. But this is a knife wound."

Legolas didn't respond for a long moment. "Perhaps I merely wish to remember more clearly why I should be wary. Perhaps memory is why I bear the other scar as well. For memories are tricky. Even moreso among our kind who have no sense of the passing time. The years have rolled away so quickly that I cannot count them, yet the scar remains to remind me of what once was."

"How did you get this one?" Arwen asked as she bandaged the wound carefully.

"I would rather not speak of it. It is not a good memory for sharing. And are you done fussing now?" He looked to Arwen's brothers for rescue, but found only further curiosity.

"I am cursed. Sadorlien, can you not turn them from this path?"

"You wish a greater power on me than the gods have provided."

"Wipe that look off of your face." Sadorlien looked innocently at his prince. Legolas shook his head. "Sometimes I fear you take your duties too seriously."

"And if I should let you wander out of my sight, look what happens. Deluiel shall have my head for this."

"She will indeed," came a far too familiar voice from the doorway. "And I see that once again you have conspirators around you. What would you have them hide from the world this time? The last came at too great a price for my taste." Aewlos' guard stepped closer and saw the bound wound. "What have you done?"

"Startled a border guard." Legolas shrugged. "It will heal."

"And what of the day when it does not?" She shook her head. "I would not see another scar upon you."

"What is going on here?" Elrond demanded. Legolas dropped back to the cushions of Arwen's couch. "Legolas? What has happened? Arwen? You haven't been fighting again have you?"

"No, sir. I startled a guard and paid the price for it." Legolas spoke calmly and quietly, eyes closed. "That is all."

"Which guard? And where?" Elrond asked his sons. They shrugged of one accord.

"Please, my lord, I would not be the cause of contention in this household. Enough to say that I was lost in my dreams and not thinking about where I was. It was my fault for startling him."

"As he will say about the hand that cuts him down in battle," Deluiel said sharply, reminding all present that she was not one of the young ones. Legolas' eyes flashed. "My lord, I would speak with you about this," she said to Elrond. "And I would do so away from foolish tongues." She nodded at the young ones. Elrond nodded and they went to his study.

"Now you have to tell us where you came by that scar."

"We'll not let it rest," Elrohir supported his twin.

"My father," Legolas said. Then, he folded his hands over his chest. "Now, my Evenstar, how have your speed trials been going?"

*****

"It's time," Legolas said as he finished closing his bag. "I promised my lord that I would not be away longer than two years. And I will not be forsworn." He looked up at Arwen and smiled gently. "You know the way to Mirkwood. And I know the way here. But I must return home."

"I had almost hoped that you would consider this home as well."

"I am glad of the offer, but my home is Mirkwood and the forest calls to me. Rivendell is beautiful, but it is your home and I am still a guest here."

"Not for long, I trust. I call you brother now," she informed him. "And I warn you not to trust the twins on the road. They will try to get you into trouble."

"That is their aim in life." Legolas' smile turned sad. "I will miss the pranks, but that can't be helped."

"Legolas, you don't have to go back. You have been smiling so often. And the sadness was nearly out of your eyes."

"Even though I cannot forget the pain for a moment. It is with me when I breathe. And I will never be free of it, if I merely hide here in Imladris."

"And it will not ease in Mirkwood either if you will not confront your father."

"Would you have me dead then, Evenstar?" He pressed a hand to his chest. "Would you have him use his blade in more than mocking?"

"Do not forget your own pain in your need to ease his. You are ever welcome anywhere I may be. Here or Lorien."

"Thank you, Arwen, sister." He kissed her cheek.

*****

"Legolas!" Cariel waved at him from the front door. She had an infant cradled in one arm. "I told him you'd come back."

"I gave my word. And what is this?" Legolas tickled the baby's nose with one of the feathers he kept in his pouch for the making of arrows. The baby reached for the blue feather and giggled.

"This is your brother," she said smiling. "I've held off naming him. I wanted you to be here to witness it. Come in. Your father has been worried."

"When is he not?" Thranduil looked up from his papers when the door opened. Cariel came in with their new son. And a pace behind her was a face he'd not thought to see again.

"Legolas! I didn't have word that you'd arrived." He smiled at his son. "I didn't think you would leave the Evenstar."

"My lord?"

Thranduil laughed at his son's confusion.

"My lady Cariel, what are you going to name him?" Legolas asked. He stroked the infant's cheek. "He can't be more than a month."

"I knew you would be punctual, that is why he is not yet named except in the silence of my heart."

Legolas looked shyly at his father. "And what will you name him?"

"You will see at the ceremony. It will be tomorrow night, to give you rest from the road." Thranduil gently touched his son's arm.

"Rest, Legolas. I will see you in the morning."

"Yes, sir. Goodnight, sir, Cariel." Legolas slipped out of the throne room and to his own chamber. It stood unchanged, except for clean linen. He assumed that the palace guard had seen him in the forest. Sadorlien appeared not a moment later.

"The child is very like Lady Cariel at the moment."

"Perhaps it will be lucky and not take after Thranduil in the least," Legolas said.

*****

"We name you Gailduil young one." Thranduil kissed his youngest on the forehead. Legolas felt himself smile. He did not see the sharp pain in his father's eyes. His eyes and ears were instead drawn to the sight of a small bird perched in the rafters, singing with a voice as beautiful as an elf's.

"Welcome, little one," Legolas whispered. He placed a kiss on the child's forehead as well. Thranduil settled his hand on the back of Legolas' neck.

The naming was a private ceremony. Now, it was time to announce the name to Mirkwood properly. The songs lifted through the night and into the morning and on through the next day. Legolas found a way to slip away. He sorted through the scraps of fabric left from his father's rage. He assembled them into a quilt for the young prince. Then, he slipped to the nursery and tucked it around the babe. "Thank you for bringing some of the light back into my lord's eyes, little one," he whispered. "I have not seen him smile in far too long. You have his heart in your hand and do not yet know what a wonder that is. I pray that you never will understand it. Sleep well, little one."

Deluiel watched with a sad smile. Legolas would never understand how much of his father he carried in himself. Perhaps Aewlos' lessons would take still. If only the boy could find his way into the forest without homing back in on the palace like a tamed dog, perhaps he would find a way to heal his own heart. She sent a silent prayer that Thranduil would not destroy them all with silence for much longer.

Cariel looked down at the quilt and stroked it. Legolas was in the window, looking out to the woods. "This is beautiful. Is it your work?"

"Only in part. The fabrics were the queen's."

"Legolas, sweet Greenleaf," she pressed a hand to his chest. "You can speak her name, call her mother, you won't offend me."

"But my lord's anger is too great. Best that I am not tempted by habit to say the wrong thing in his presence."

Cariel sighed. "Will you help me with the child? Teach him those things I can not?"

"I will do whatever is in my power, Cariel. Whatever is in my power."

*****

It was several years later that Legolas spotted familiar riders coming to the woods. He closed his book gently and went to greet them. "Arwen Evenstar, you bring beauty with you where ever you may wander. And your brothers bring terror. Perhaps the two are united?"

"And already they begin," Elladan sighed. "Perhaps you could conduct us to your father before you insult us all?"

"I thought I already had. I shall have to work harder." He offered his arm to Arwen and led them all to see his father. "Lord Thranduil? We have guests from Rivendell."

After seeing the lord of the woods, and his lady. They met his youngest, who was beginning to speak at a precocious speed. "He picks up anything anyone says around him," Legolas said. He was holding the child in his arms. His smile was bright.

"I'm glad to see the light in you," Arwen said. He set the child down. Gailduil scampered off to find someone else to entertain him. Legolas shook his head.

"He brings light to many people. Let's get you settled, then." He led them to their chambers.

"And where will you be?" Arwen asked.

"My room is down one floor, under the nursery. I'll let you get cleaned up. Call if you need for anything."

"Whom shall we call?"

One of the house stewards stepped seemingly from the shadows. "There is often someone in the shadows. You came without attendants I hear?"

"Yes."

"That will never do. I'll assign you each one of the footmen. They are quite clever, if horrid with their arms work." The steward bowed his leave and Legolas nodded to him.

"I thought you were spoiled. Now I am sure of it," Elrohir stated. Legolas looked at him blankly. "Never mind. Come on, Elladan, let's change and get the dust off."

*****

Arwen nearly missed Legolas' room altogether. If he hadn't had the drape over his window pulled aside, she would have. As it was she wasn't sure she was in the right place. She knocked on the door.

"Come in," Legolas called to her. "Oh, Arwen, is there something I can do for you?" He stood up from his desk. There was parchment and multi-colored pigments on it. He neatly made sure that she couldn't see what he was working on and steered her to a seat.

"This is your room?" She looked around in wonder. And she felt shamed for her teasing in Rivendell. He lived more simply than she could have believed.

"Yes." His tone didn't indicate anything. She looked around. And he let her indulge herself.

"I thought you'd at least have a bed for your shadow," she teased.

"Perhaps he sleeps where all good shadows do?" Her eyes widened. "In the barracks when his duty is ended." He grinned at her. "Have you eaten? Dinner will be served shortly. Thranduil and Cariel will wish you to join them."

"But not you?"

"I don't attend dinner when I can avoid it. I am taking watch duty tonight. One of our guards is going to have a child. I've been taking her shifts for a time. I'll take you down to the dining hall. And the twins as well I suppose. Then, I shall be up on the roof if you have need of me."

"Very well."

*****

Elladan and Elrohir would not be dissuaded. They enjoyed the tour of the woods Legolas was giving them while their sister spent some time with Cariel. Yet, the darker woods beyond the bounds of the village called to them. "What harm can it do? Perhaps we can even route a few orcs back to their master," Elrohir said.

"Elrohir, Elladan, don't go past the edge of the village. There is no protection beyond these bounds."

"But we have a native guide," Elladan pointed out and clapped Legolas on the shoulder. The prince shook his head.

"Don't do this. I beg you."

"We will. You may come or not as you choose. We can find our way back," Elrohir said firmly. They weren't but a few yards in when Legolas stole up upon them.

"I would rather you did not do this, but I will not let you walk alone in these woods. There are things you do not know." He carefully steered them through what he knew to be a safe part of the woods. He checked up at the sun. "We should head back, lest we miss dinner."

"You would think you were a dwarf. Come along, Legolas." Legolas shook his head firmly. He turned and headed back to the boundaries of the village. The twins looked at one another and held a conversation in seconds. They followed him back. They were unprepared for what they found. Legolas had gone chalk white. "What is wrong?" Elladan asked.

"I have to see Lord Thranduil. If you will excuse me, sirs." Legolas moved quickly from the front hall to the throne room, his shadow close behind and the twins following the two. Sadorlien squeezed Legolas' shoulder. "Sir?"

"Come in, Legolas." The twins had never heard so icy a tone. Legolas' shadow kept the door open, but did not go in. He kept the twins in the hall so that they could watch but not interfere. "It comes to my attention that you disobeyed my command today, Legolas."

"In what manner, sir?" Legolas probed delicately.

"You were beyond the community bounds." Thranduil stood and he was impressive in his anger. He stalked towards his son. Legolas looked at him with wide eyes. His hand crept up to grasp the scar on his arm. "Why did you disobey me, boy?"

"Our guests wished to explore and I was indulging them."

"And would you kill them as you killed the queen?" Legolas seemed to crumple. His shoulders pulled in, but he lifted his chin.

"I could not let them wander alone."

Thranduil's hand flashed out and the prince staggered under the blow. He went to his knees, eyes down. "Did you or did you not go beyond the limitations I set on your wanderings?"

"I went beyond, sir," Legolas admitted.

"Very well. You are restricted to the palace until further notice."

"Yes, sir."

"And I will see those scraps burned. Now. Get the boxes. I will see them burn." Legolas shook.

"My lord, please, don't. . ."

"Now."

"Yes, my lord."

"All of them. Do not try to hide them from me again."

Legolas didn't acknowledge the twins as he went by. "Steward," he said.

"Yes, sir?"

"I need someone to carry the boxes to the forge."

"Sir?" The steward's face was shocked.

"Yes, I mean those boxes. To the forge. Now. By order of the king, they are to be destroyed." Legolas went to his room and grabbed the small box from beneath his bed and sighed. He stroked the fabric, a tear escaping his strict control and slipping down his cheek to splash on the fabric. He went to the forge, oblivious to the fact that his number of shadows had grown. Thranduil made his way to the forge to watch the destruction. He wanted no scrap to remain. Cariel and Arwen weren't far behind. Arwen looked to her brothers who could not answer her. Cariel put a hand to her mouth.

"No, Thranduil, you cannot do this," she said, anguish in her voice.

"Hold your tongue, Cariel. Do not cross me in this matter."

"You wish me to watch as you torture your son?"

"I would not hurt Gailduil." Legolas bowed his head as the barb hit its mark. "At least the child heeds me. The queen's son needs to learn that lesson."

"I have learned lessons you cannot imagine, my lord," Legolas said, an underlying of steel in his voice. "And here we have the valley's greenest fabric yet to be made. Look at the color of the spring caught in the weft and warf of its weaving." He dropped it into the fire. "And let us follow that with the richness of the bluebird's wing. And the grey of the mountains of the north. And the color of mist in the morning. And the rich beechwood bark." The fabric burned in the intense fires of the metal-working fires. And the crowd that watched, those who remembered Aewlos, they wept as the colors of her loom were destroyed. "And gold, and silver, and the orange of the autumn leaves, the yellow of the Mallorn, and the deepest red of the fire, and this one is best gone, the blood of the doe killed in the fall. Here we see mushrooms, and there we see starlight. Oh, look here is the green of the peacock's feather and the purple of its crest. And here we have the summer's sun upon her hair. Look, the blue of an infant's eyes. And thus the brown of the forest's edge. Here is one as black as midnight. And one as murky as an orc's blood. And the horse she loved so much. And the night she first met her husband. And the night she celebrated her son's coming of age. And look the quills she used to write her songs. And here the spring's youngest leaf." Legolas continued to name the hues as they burned. "And now we see the white of her wedding day. And here, here is the color of her Chosen's hair. And this the color of his eyes. And now the color of his cheeks in anger. And this was once his smile. But all that was lost so long ago that few now remember those hues." Thranduil's posture became sterner, but his anger was turned to sorrow. "And here are the wildflowers her son once gathered for no reason at all. And the butterfly's wing that she admired so much that he tried for a week to lure it closer with sweet honey. And this is her favorite sparrow's underbelly that she rubbed to thank him for bringing news. And here is her favorite hunting companion. And the shaft of her arrows as they sped through the air. And the metal of her knife as she wove it in the deadly dances. And her laughing cheeks when she rode through the forest on her fastest steed. And here was her bridegroom's favorite robe that she renewed every year so that he would never know it was getting worn. And here is the color of the shell comb she used to hold her hair back. And here is the cover of her journal. And this the pillowcases on which she laid her head on her bridenight. And there burn the clearings she loved to sit and read in."

"Naneth? What's going on?"

"A purging, little one," Legolas stated. "All traces of that which Lord Thranduil despises are being burned." Thranduil shook with fury, but he could not contradict the words in public.

"What he loves too much or what he hates too deeply?" Gailduil asked with the sharp insight that made his age at once dangerous and beautiful to behold.

"They are often one in the same. But that is not something that can be explained, only felt," the prince continued. "Would you help me put the rest on the fire and show me with your eyes what you see here?"

"I see a beautiful cloth, like the one from my crib blanket. And there is a piece of this one as well, to create the star in the center. And this makes the small bird in the upper corner. This one here is the green leaf on the bottom. And this blue is the waterfall that runs down the front. And this is the grey that makes the tower standing high. And this is the apple that hangs in the tree." And the boxes were finally all emptied.

"Thank you, little one." Legolas kissed him fondly on the cheek. "Perhaps you can get a special treat from the cook if you sneak in now. As I recall, she normally makes those little caramels, the color of your hair, early on days such as this."

Gailduil ran off in search of sweets.

"Has the duty been done, my lord?"

"How dare you involve a child?"

"How dare you pretend that he is not to be involved? These scraps you hate. These memories you despise. He shall be the one to replace them with something you can bear. If you have no further need of me, my lord, I have the watch tonight."

"Go."

Thranduil's eyes shined with tears even as his face suffused with anger. Legolas' hair shone like his mother's in the light of long-ago fires. His face in cold anger was Aewlos in battle. His tenderness, her first days holding him. Cariel touched her husband's arm and was shaken off. Thranduil followed his son to the roof of the palace, but found his way barred by Deluiel.

"You will hurt him no more tonight, Thranduil. I am sworn to his mother, not to you. I will not see him harmed by your pain any more than he already is. Leave him to the watch. Maybe you will find in your heart to look kindly upon him once more."

"You forget your place, guard."

"I came from her father's people and I can easily return to Lorien." Thranduil left and his subjects scattered before him.

Arwen mounted the stairs alone. Her brothers agreed to keep watch for her. "May I pass, Deluiel?"

"Did he not tell you where to find him? Go on, Evenstar. Ease his heart if you can. Arwen," she said suddenly, putting a hand on the younger elf's arm, "He is more fragile and more strong than anyone in this castle knows. He aches with a pain that no one can take from him and wounds that cannot be healed any further than they are by any magic I know. But he is much loved in these woods. Do not let him lose sight of that. Do not let him join his mother."

Arwen nodded. "I will take care of him." She stood at the foot of the parapet where Legolas perched and called his name gently.

"Arwen? Have you come to see the stars?"

"I have come to see you."

"Why would you want to do that? I've got enough soot from the forge that I doubt I'll get this shirt clean again. I am sure that there are streaks of ash in my hair."

Arwen shook her head. "And when the sky rains down in fire will you still jest?"

"I will try. If I don't laugh, I'll be sobbing, or raging, and that is not the way I wish to live."

"Will you tell me what that was all about?"

"My father was upset that I wandered out of the area he wishes me to be penned within. And he used it to his own ends, to erase something more of the queen that he did not think he could order on any other day. And were it any other day, I don't know if I would have obeyed him. There's only three of her things left, perhaps four. And there are things in the village, but they don't show them when he is about."

"Those fabrics were your mother's?"

"Yes. At least Gailduil's blanket will remain." Arwen sighed and climbed up to sit beside him. She blinked at the view.

"You can see nearly to the misty mountains. I can almost imagine seeing Rivendell."

"The night is not clear enough over the mountains. They haven't been in many seasons. If you look to the left perhaps you can see the edge of Lorien."

"Have you ever been there?"

"No. Rivendell's the farthest I've been from the forest. The queen took me riding south for awhile, but she didn't like to stay away for too long. She missed Lord Thranduil greatly."

"Legolas?" Arwen said after a long silence.

"Yes?"

"I will always be there for you, should you need to talk to me."

"Thank you, Arwen. Perhaps you should go down to your brothers and tell them that it wasn't their fault they judged Thranduil to be like Elrond. This would have happened were they not around as well."

"I will let you tell them that yourself. They will not listen to me. And I won't leave you to sit here alone, no matter how you try to push me away."

"I've still got a shadow."

"She is guarding the hall against your father."

Legolas looked down at the forest. He could hear the tears of his people. "I wish that there was something I could do to take the sadness away."

"From your father or your people?"

"All and myself as well, but there is nothing to be done, except to wait for time to pass and their lord to re-find his happiness. I hope so much that Gailduil will bring the light fully back into my lord's heart."

"His views are piercing."

"That they are. And his aim is as bad as yours." He looked sideways at her and she felt a smile tug at her lips.

"I thought I was trying to cheer you."

"Don't bother. My moods don't last too long."

"You worried Deluiel today."

"Of course I did. I got in trouble with Thranduil. She hates that. It tears her in two."

*****

Thranduil looked down at the sight of his sons curled up together in the large chair in front of his fire. He carefully moved the book from Legolas' hand and set in on the table by his chair. Gailduil would soon be too large for sitting in someone's lap. It would be a shame when that happened. His hand rested on the edge of the table, his eyes focussed on his eldest son. The stillness of sleep hid his wildness, his sorrow, his anger, and showed only the light that shone from within him. With the delicacy of a butterfly's landing, Thranduil stroked over the soft blond hair, then shook himself.

*****

Legolas saw the guests as far as the front door. "Sadorlien, go with them to the end of the forest."

"My prince?"

"Do it."

Sadorlien did so reluctantly. Thranduil frowned at his son. "Legolas," he said firmly.

"What on earth do you expect to happen here? Or were you planning to get rid of me as well?" Thranduil's eyes narrowed and Legolas stepped back from him.

"Speak quickly and tell me what you meant, boy."

"Only that you seem to thrill in being rid of anything that was once the queen's." Legolas shrugged. "That list grows shorter with every turning of the leaves."

"You tread a delicate path today, Legolas. You would do well not to anger me."

"What more can you do to me?" Legolas asked bitterly. "Do you want her bow? It's yours for kindling. You want her loom broken? That can be arranged. You want to burn your son's crib blanket? Feel free. You are the lord of this palace."

"Yes, I am lord of this realm. And as such, my will is your law, is that not so?"

"Yes, sir, it is."

"And my will is that you keep a civil tongue in your head." Thranduil's voice was icy. Legolas bowed formally.

"As my lord wishes. Shall I see to those papers now, sir?"

"Yes." Thranduil waved his hand in dismissal and went to seek out his wife.

*****

It took only two hundred turnings of the leaves before things became unbearable. Legolas watched in stony silence as Thranduil took his sword to the wood of Aewlos' loom. He slipped away from the room and ran towards his room. He wrote quickly on a sheet of parchment and left the note on the bed. He folded the book of his mother's life in a protective cloth and slid his knives and bow into their sheathes. He tucked the small silver cup into the pouch on his side and slipped unseen through the halls to leave a small package on his brother's bed.

Then, he slipped out the window of the nursery onto the rocks of the wall and climbed down to the trees. He disappeared from Deluiel's view and she whispered a blessing in his wake. Then, she went to pack her things.

"Legolas!" Gailduil's voice called vainly in the halls. "Legolas, where are you?" He clutched the book to his chest. He burst into his brother's room, unconcerned. He saw the parchment and picked it up.

"Gailduil, Cariel, Sadorlien, Deluiel, all my dearest family, I can take this no longer. I will remove the thorn from my father's side and remove what is left of the queen from his sight. I will be in the woods, and if the need arises I will return to your sides. Protect him for me and nurture the light in him, Gailduil." The signature was the delicate twining of Legolas' name with a leaf.

Gailduil ran to the roof and looked out into the woods. The guards looked at him in surprise as he tucked the book into his belt and climbed up to the highest point. "Where has he gone?" he asked the winds, but they did not answer. He watched late into the night, but saw no sign of his brother.

Cariel set the letter down on Thranduil's desk and glared at him. "Is your heart glad now, husband?" she demanded.

"What is this?" Thranduil looked down at his son's writing. His heart twisted in his chest as he realized that he wasn't even acknowledged in writing. Yet, that is what he had wanted from his son after all. "Gone? Fetch Deluiel," he ordered his page. "He would not disobey me like this."

"He has been bleeding as long as you have, but with no one to ease his pains in the middle of the night. The healer told me of the wound on his arm that will always pain him. He cannot escape the memories of his mother's death. And he thinks he is responsible for it. Don't punish him for needing to heal, Thranduil. He is your son."

"He is the queen's son."

"With your temper and sharp tongue. I never knew his mother. And he is not my son. I see you in him. And you are blind to cut him out like this."

"Deluiel, where is. . ." Thranduil stopped in mid-thought. "Are you going to follow him?"

"If you will excuse me, I am making preparations."

"Where would he go?"

"He is safe, Lord Thranduil. He has his mother's temperament. He is connected to these woods in a way that no one could understand. He loves this land more than anything in the world. He will stay in Mirkwood, he cannot find it in his heart to be that far away, but he is dying in this palace. The walls close further in upon him every day. I was not surprised that he left today after you destroyed what was left of Aewlos in this palace. It is his right to remember her and he can not do that here. He loved her as strongly as you do, Thranduil." Her face softened. "Thranduil, we rode together into battle. Aewlos and I fought along side of you against the Enemy's army. And in that barren wasteland the two of you found a love that survived the tempest of the storm. But Aewlos' soul always yearned for the woods, not the hills. She found rest in the song of the forest and sang of her love to you to the birds that none of them would forget that you were her Chosen. And she was beautiful haloed in that light. And you remember that well. And I fear for you, Thranduil. I fear that you have forgotten all that you once loved. And if you have forgotten your love, then I pity your wife and your youngest. Gailduil's heart is breaking now, Thranduil. His beloved brother has gone away and left him alone. He has never been to the forest alone. He needs his mother and his father to love him."

"You forget your place."

"You forget yours," she snapped, angry once more. "You are Legolas' father. Do you hear me? Father. He is your son! I let this foolishness go on too long. I should have said something sooner, but I promised Aewlos that I would stand by her son. And I have seen him spread his wings and take flight. I have done what I said I would. Do not lose your young one as well, Thranduil." She turned and left without waiting for a dismissal.

Thranduil's face was suffused with rage. He looked to his wife. "I am going to check on Gailduil." She left the room and carefully shut the door behind herself.

*****

"Naneth? Why did Legolas leave?"

"The pain was too great for him to stay."

"He left me a book."

"And what does it say?"

"It is the history of his mother. I am almost afraid to finish reading it."

"May I see it? I have long wondered about her."

"Certainly. Perhaps we could read it together?" Cariel heard the need in her son's voice and nodded.

"That would be good. Come, let's go to my study."

*****

Arwen Evenstar did not look her best. She was covered with dust from the road and her eyes were ringed with sorrow. She looked in surprise as the door of Thranduil's palace revealed Gailduil. "Gailduil?"

"Arwen Evenstar. Welcome. I haven't seen you since I was a child."

"You are still a child," she said, arching one brow. He laughed.

"I am nearly four-hundred."

"As I said, a child. Where is Legolas?"

The young elf's face fell. "Legolas is in the woods. He has not been back in nearly ten turnings of the leaves."

She stared at him. "Is there any way to send word to him? I would greatly like to speak with him."

"Let me get you settled in a room and some respite from the road first. Then I will tell you what I know of my brother."

Arwen combed out her hair with a grimness that Gailduil did not remember in her. "What has happened Gailduil? What made Thranduil change his mind?" She worked in small braids.

"Father did not change his mind. He destroyed Legolas' mother's loom and he couldn't stand it any longer, so he went to the forest. Deluiel and Sadorlien are with him I think, but they may just have left. It has been much harder here without him. Father's grief is sharp and cold."

"I must find him."

"He comes back on occasion, but he has no fixed home in the woods. He doesn't want anyone to find him."

"Then I shall have to go looking for him." She fastened her hair back with silver pins.

"Perhaps someone in the village knows. Mother Ravenclaw might. They still feed him on occasion."

"I had hoped the worst would be over for him."

"What troubles you, Arwen Evenstar?" Gailduil put a hand on her arm.

"Don't trouble yourself, Gailduil." She gave him a tight smile. He poured her a glass of sweet wine. "This is blessed."

"Thank you." He smiled impishly. "That was my first attempt at wine-making. I think it came out rather well."

"It did. I had best see your father, now that I'm somewhat presentable."

Gailduil rolled his eyes at the politics. He escorted her to the throne room. "Arwen Evenstar, Father."

"Come in, Arwen. How can I help you?"

"I came to see Legolas," she stated. She folded her hands in front of her. "And I have been informed that he is in the woods. I will look for him there. Thank you for your hospitality."

"What has happened, Arwen?"

"My mother has sailed to the Grey Havens. The pain of the orc wounds she bears were too much for her to stay here."

"You have my sympathies, Arwen. Please convey them to your father when you next see him."

"I will." She took her leave of him. "Will you look after my horse for me, Gailduil? I think I would rather walk."

"I will take him to the stables and have one of the hands take good care of him." He saw her to the village. "Mother Ravenclaw!" he called up. She looked down and smiled, then jumped lightly to the ground.

"Arwen, you must come up for some dinner. Prince Gailduil, will you join us?"

"No, thank you. I'll go see to your horse. If, if you find him, will you tell him I miss him?"

"I will." Arwen kissed the young prince's forehead and he left her there.

"You're going to look for Legolas?"

"Yes."

"Come up. I'll try to call him back." Ravenclaw let Arwen go first up the tree and followed quickly. "Tea?"

"Yes, please. Thank you."

*****

Legolas peered out at the road and frowned. He knew the new hunters, hidden by the blood of their orc victims. Then, his eyes widened. He followed them along the road. He moved through the treetops as swiftly as their walking horses. Elladan looked up at the trees in suspicion. He was pleased to see an elven figure there. He glanced at his brother who nodded to him. "Hey, you, come here," he called.

Legolas smiled to himself. "Why should I answer such a hail?" he called back.

"Because we don't wish to harm you."

"I should like to see you try. I'm sure I can still beat your speed."

"Who do you think. . . Legolas?" Elladan gaped. Elrohir laughed.

"Come out, friend."

Legolas jumped lightly down to the ground. "And what brings you to Mirkwood?"

"We were hoping to rest in Mirkwood before returning to Rivendell with Arwen."

"The Evenstar is about? Hiding under a rock perhaps?"

"She was riding directly to the palace from Lorien."

"Was she?" Legolas sighed. "I suppose that means I should see if she arrived or not." He fell into step next to the horses.

"I was wondering how you managed to slip your leash."

"I climbed out the window of course. But that was nearly two hundred turnings of the leaves. It has been nearly ten years since I returned to the palace. You have been hunting orcs."

"Don't worry. We saved a few for you."

"Good. You certainly have made a mess of yourselves. A hot bath would serve you well. Come, there's a spring this way."

"A spring?"

"Yes, underground. You'll have to pretend to be dwarves, but it is lovely to gaze upon and the water is warm and self refreshing."

"Lead on, Legolas. Lead on." He led them through the forest, always making sure there was enough room for the horses. He directed them into the opening and took the reins of their horses. He whispered softly to the creatures. Then, he turned to his friends.

"Go on. I'll brush down these two. They'll appreciate getting the tangles out of their manes." Elladan and Elrohir settled into the hot water with a sigh.

"So how much do you think he will tell us?"

"Us?" Elrohir questioned. "Nothing. I think he may talk to Arwen, but even that isn't likely."

"True. He seems lighter now though. It's a good change."

Legolas shook his head. They acted as if he couldn't hear them. Of course, considering they would never say anything of the like to his face, perhaps that was the point. He let his arms fall into the familiar rhythm of stroking. He looked up when he was finished putting a small braid into each one's mane and adorning them with wildflowers. He nodded in Deluiel's direction. She nodded back and set up a perimeter with Sadorlien on the other side. The twins would be safe enough for the moment. He slipped off to get them something to eat.

The twins were surprised when they were greeted with fresh fruits and nuts. Legolas cocked his head to the side. "You seemed hungry. Rest awhile and eat something. Then, we'll continue on."

*****

Arwen smiled at the elf that was heaping sweets onto her plate. "I really shouldn't."

"Why not? Legolas hasn't been around to eat up my sweets and I love making them. Besides, they let me see your smile. That is all for the best. Tell me of your travels, if you will?"

Arwen sighed, then nodded.

*****

Legolas hummed softly as he led the twins down the road towards Thranduil's palace. It was a hymn of praise that his mother had always loved. He walked beside the horses, with one hand on each neck. The twins were tired. They probably didn't know about the orcs that Deluiel and Sadorlien killed along the way. He wanted to join them in the fighting. Mirkwood was getting more and more dangerous. And there were rumors that the Dark Lord himself was in the woods, gathering his strength before he attacked. There were orcs infesting the Misty Mountains and they kept trying to get into the forest. They'd lost three good fighters already because they were sloppy.

Suddenly, Legolas dropped the reins, spun and threw one of his knives. It killed the orc that had broken through his shadows' guard. The fight was truly joined and he started picking off the rest of the small group. It was the policy of the outer woods that no orc unit returned to their master if they attacked. They hoped to cut off the Enemy's source of information. Soon, there were no orcs left. Legolas went to scrounge his arrows and his knife from the bodies. The twins watched in quiet fascination. They weren't quite sure if they liked the new Legolas. He seemed happier and colder at the same time. He'd become a killer, a hunter, which he hadn't been, despite his prowess with the bow.

He'd become an adult.

*****

Arwen was startled when she heard the voices of the trees whispering about the return of the spring leaves. It was autumn and the leaves of Mirkwood were brilliant in their array. "What are they talking about, Ravenclaw?"

"The return of the Greenleaf," she smirked, enjoying the joke on a stranger. "They are talking of Legolas, Arwen," she explained after a moment. "He is returning and the woods speak of his journey. They carry his messages, as the birds did for his mother, as they do for me. Come on, let's meet him on the road."

Arwen followed Ravenclaw. She liked the dark-haired elf. Her sweets were delicious, and her protection of the children admirable. She also had battle-scars on her cheeks that made Arwen think that she was not as light of spirit as she seemed. She seemed to sense the question in her guest and looked over her shoulder. "I'm the Captain of the Guard and the leader of this land should the lord and his princes fall." She laughed at Arwen's stunned expression. "Come along, young one." She took Arwen's arm.

"Mother Ravenclaw!" Legolas smiled widely. "Have you been taking good care of the Evenstar?"

"Yes, my prince." He kissed her cheek familiarly. "You've got orc blood on your tunic."

"There was a unit that attacked us on the road. You'd best ask Deluiel the full story. She took the first ones herself." Legolas shrugged. "Arwen," he smiled. He gave her a light hug, conscious of the blood on his clothing. He looked at Ravenclaw again. "What's the mood?"

"Gailduil wants to see you. I would assume that his mother does as well. I have no idea what the king is thinking. I never did."

Legolas nodded. "Well, I'll risk it."

"And we worry about you facing orcs," Sadorlien muttered under his breath. Legolas just bumped him with his shoulder.

"Just remember, his aim pulls to the left."

"Oh, no, sir. I'm sorry. You may be my responsibility, but if he starts firing arrows, you are on your own."

Legolas gave a theatrical sigh and shook his head. "Now, where is, ah, here the brat comes now."

"Legolas!" Gailduil hugged him excitedly. "I'm glad you came back. I'll take the horses in. Father's in his office. Don't disturb him if you can help it. Just send a page."

"Thank you. Are there rooms enough for these three?"

"Yes, I had them made up just in case. The barracks are set up for Sadorlien and Deluiel if they'd like. And your room is clean too."

"Thank you again." He tugged at his brother's simple braid. "And you've been working in the forge."

"I'm good at it." Gailduil shrugged.

"At least your face isn't black with soot."

"Nor does my hair have orc blood in it." Legolas ran a hand over his hair. Gailduil snickered. "You are paranoid. It's fine. You look almost presentable. I'll have the steward set up some dinner."

"For our guests only. I'll get something myself, later."

"When you don't think Father will find you you mean."

"Are you surprised?"

"No."

"I've been stuffed by Ravenclaw, Gailduil. Thank you." Arwen turned from greeting her brothers and slid her arm through Legolas'. "I'll walk awhile with you, if you aren't too tired, Greenleaf."

"I will never be too tired to walk with you, Evenstar." They made their excuses and moved through the village, followed discretely by Deluiel. Sadorlien took care to follow Arwen's brothers as they were shown to their rooms and set a fine dinner.

"What has happened that disturbs your rest, Evenstar?" Legolas asked as they paused in a quiet glen. It was well protected by the inner guard, so Legolas took the time to sit and look up at the sky. He could see the moon starting to rise. Arwen settled next to him.

"My mother has sailed to the Gray Havens."

"Oh, Arwen," he said softly. He held her as she cried, his own eyes tearing at her pain. He sang softly to her and eventually she calmed.

"I feel like a child."

"You are her child. That is why. Why did she leave? I thought she and Elrond were still deeply in love and you've not mentioned his leaving."

"Father remains in Rivendell. Mother was captured and tortured by orcs on the way to Lorien. My brothers saved her, and Father healed her. But there are some wounds that cannot be healed and the pain was too great for her. She remembers everything so clearly. She hoped that by leaving, her memories of this place would fade, and with those memories, her pain. She was so sad and scared and hurt. She wasn't the mother I remembered. When she said goodbye, I was almost relieved. The hurt ran so deep." Legolas nodded gently. "I am shamed that I wanted her to leave."

"You wanted her to be happy and in no more pain. There is no shame in that. Only kindness."

"But perhaps, if she had waited longer, the pain would have eased."

"The pain never eases. The wounds never heal. That is their nature. And if the wounds were deep, the memories would be too much to bear."

Arwen looked at him for a long moment. "You carry an orc wound."

"Yes, but it was not so terrible. The chillness, the fever, the pain, even the fear was better than the memory that accompanies it. It does not mean that I have never thought that it would have been for the best if I had died as well. Then, the pain of this forest might have been healed. There is no time for healing now. We are continually at war. Thranduil has many concerns. Arwen, you need not hear this. You need to rest. Will you do so now? I'll watch over you and sing you to sleep if you like."

"That would be nice. Thank you." She laid her head in his lap and he settled one hand on her forehead. She fell asleep to the sound of his voice.

*****

"So, do you really think Father would let her marry an elf from Mirkwood, prince or no prince?" Elladan asked idly as he stretched out the kinks from his back.

"I don't think Arwen wants to marry him. I don't think Legolas even understands the concept of flirting."

"They're courting, I'm telling you. It starts with friendship, then things get muddled up."

"They are not. I don't think he'll open his heart to her. I worry about that boy."

"So does she. And she was the one that decided she had to come to Mirkwood before riding home. And it is a bit off of the path. It's a good thing that we move at top speed. Can you imagine what might have happened if those orcs had gone after her instead?"

"Then Legolas wouldn't have left any for us."

"He wasn't anywhere near the area when she went through or he would have seen her."

"True. That could have been ugly. Can you imagine what Father would have done to us if something had happened to her?"

"Unfortunately I can. We had better take him the news tomorrow. He's not going to be happy at all. He's going to be even less happy that we didn't come straight home."

"He'll understand hunting for a little while. He'd have gone with us if he didn't have things to do."

"I know."

*****

The sun caressed Arwen's face and she opened her eyes with a smile. She felt much lighter than she had in ages. Legolas smiled down at her. "How are you?"

"I will survive. I am not ready to leave for the West at the moment."

"We'll get you some provisions. I assume you need to go to Rivendell to talk to Elrond?"

"Yes, Father doesn't know yet." She remained in her position for awhile, just soaking in the sun. Then, she stretched and stood. Legolas followed her. He offered his arm and they walked through the forest. He stopped her for a moment and climbed one of the trees. He returned with some of the brightest orange and red leaves she had ever seen. He sat her on a tree stump and twined them into her hair.

"There. That's better. I'll make a wood-elf of you yet."

She laughed, surprised to hear the sound pass her lips. "Wood-elves are an odd lot."

"The same could be said of those with mortal blood, could it not?"

She winked, not giving up the point and they continued on. Deluiel smiled and shook her head. They were such children even now. It was pleasant to see them that way.

"Will you ride to Rivendell with us?"

Legolas considered. "I would like to, but in that matter I will still defer to my lord. He can no longer restrict me within these woods, but going to Rivendell is a political matter and I will not contradict him on it."

*****

Arwen and her brother were not exactly enthusiastic about seeing Thranduil. He was not on the top of their list of favorite people. Yet, it was expected, so they went to see him. Legolas accompanied them. "Come in," Thranduil said absently from behind his desk. His glance ranged over the group quickly. "And what brings Elrond's children to Mirkwood?"

"We were in need of some rest before continuing on to Rivendell with our news," Arwen said calmly. "Our mother has chosen to sail to the Gray Havens."

Thranduil sighed. "Please convey my condolences to your father," he said coolly. "Legolas, what are you doing here?"

"I met the twins on the road and conducted them to the palace," Legolas said. He stood straight, with his eyes high, but looking past his father rather than at him.

"And why did you come to see me?" Thranduil asked. He rested the tips of his fingers against one another.

"I would ask leave to accompany Lord Elrond's children to Rivendell."

"Permission denied. You will remain in Mirkwood."

"May I know why, my lord?"

"I will not have you riding those roads. They are dangerous."

"I beg to differ, sir. The road to Rivendell is no more hazardous than the path by the river." Thranduil's eyes flashed. He did not take kindly to being contradicted.

"The answer remains no, Legolas. You are a prince of this land and would do well to remember your responsibilities."

"I would not stay long, my lord," Legolas said, voice dropping in volume and softening. His eyes dropped as well. Thranduil saw through the trick.

"Do not anger me, Legolas." Legolas' eyes flashed and met his father's boldly.

"Give me the real reason why I am not allowed to go with them," he demanded. His voice was just as icy as his father's could get in times of anger.

"I will not have you leaving these lands. Your safety is not assured."

"My safety is not assured sleeping in the bed you occasionally provide in this jail," the elf-price stated.

"These walls kept you safe as a child. It has always been, and will always be those woods and beyond where the danger lies. I will not give you leave of these woods," Thranduil stated, voice dropping a few more degrees. "And if you will not heed my orders, I will have you restrained."

Legolas' eyes narrowed. "You would not do that, sir."

"Test me if you will. Do not disobey me. You may see them to the edge of the woods. That is all. Now, speak truly, Arwen Evenstar, if one of your blood can, why did you come to Mirkwood from Lorien when Rivendell is closer?"

"I came to see Prince Legolas, my lord." Her eyes flashed in warning. "I thought only to find some comfort from him before dealing with the grief of my father. It was a decision my brothers and I came to, to delay the imparting of grievous news for a moment or two."

"And you wish to steal him away with you when you leave. That will not happen."

"I can steal nothing from your realm. And I would not have him locked away for caring to come with us."

Legolas' eyes widened and he sighed. "My lord, perhaps it would be best if such condolences as you send to Lord Elrond arrived with a more personal attendant. The treaties could be taken as well as the report of the latest activities of the orcs in the mountains and the rumors of the Dark Lord's return?" Thranduil circled on his son, but found only a thoughtful frown on his eldest's face. "And it could do no harm to unite our communities with war looming so close to Mirkwood."

Thranduil was caught by something in the speech and his mood altered drastically. "Rumors of the Dark Lord? Where are they centered?" Thranduil pulled a map to the top of the stacks of papers on his desk and Legolas began to describe where the most active areas were.

"We think the Dark Lord is gathering strength in Dol Goldur, but of course we have no proof and none can get inside. We need a sneak-thief for that sort of work."

"Which we will not find here. I will approach the rangers for that. I will consider your request. You will have my answer in the morning. This is most disturbing news." Legolas gave his father a small bow.

"Yes, sir. Shall I inform the guard to pull in the borders?"

"Not just yet. But I want a watch set on Dol Goldur. Inform Ravenclaw."

"I will do so, sir."

They received their dismissal and left the room. Arwen was angry and her brothers weren't about to get in the middle of things. "Legolas, he has no right to threaten you like that."

"He is my king."

"That does not give him the right to lock you up for no reason."

"He wishes me protected. It grieves him that I can no longer be restricted to the palace. I have long since stopped asking permission to leave here. But he is still my king and if he commands me to remain in Mirkwood, I will do so."

"Your loyalty is touching, but he was talking of restraining you. I can not believe that that is right."

"I understand your concern, but it would not be the first time he has kept me in." Legolas shook his head in amusement. "He finds me in turns more precious than his gold and an anathema to his sight. The longer I remain in the woods, the more protective he becomes of me. The longer I remain in the palace the more he rages at my presence. He will not lock me in with his horde just yet. And I think he is disturbed enough by the latest news to allow me accompany you to explain the situation to your lord."

"Legolas, he is your father."

"Watch your mouth, sister," Legolas said mildly. "The words 'father' and 'son' are never used in conversation about my lord and his prince."

"Legolas, he is your father."

"I would have you take heed of my words, Arwen. They are not just for my own amusement. There has been a decree that those words will never again be spoken in reference to the two of us in the palace. I will not have you causing an incident with my lord if I can help it. Please attend to my words," he pleaded.

"Very well. Lord Thranduil. Price Legolas. I understand. But Legolas, no, that is something to be dealt with if you come with us to Rivendell. We will discuss that later. Have you eaten?"

"Not yet. Shall I accompany you for a late lunch?"

"Yes, that would be nice."

****

"Yes, my lord?" Legolas asked.

"Take this to Elrond."

"Yes, sir."

"And return swiftly."

"Yes, sir."

"I want to know the moment you cross the edge of the forest."

"Yes, sir."

"And you should thank Cariel for taking up for you. How did you twist that woman to your side?"

"She likes my weaving." Legolas smiled insincerely at his father. It was just a small push, but his father's humor seemed to have eased over the night, for which he would thank his step-mother before he left.

"Travel quickly, Legolas."

"I will, my lord."

"And do not tarry. Be back before the first snows."

"I will, my lord."

Thranduil did not have anything else to say, but he didn't want his son to leave just yet. He looked out the window at the sky. There was a storm rolling in. "Stay with me a moment, Legolas." Thranduil gestured to the sofa. Legolas curled up on it obediently. He propped his head on his hand and played with the strap of the messenger's pack. Thranduil worked on his letters for awhile. He wasn't surprised when his son's humming moved on to actual song. He listened to the song of storms and found himself smiling.

"My lord? It would be best if we left before the storm reaches the wood's edge."

"Yes, it would. Ride safely, my prince."

"Yes, my lord." Legolas left. He carefully shut the door behind himself and took a breath to keep the tears at bay. Why couldn't every meeting be as free of strife, he wondered.

*****

Elrond smiled down at his children. He included Legolas in that appellation, for to his mind, the boy had no father. His smile faltered at the sadness in their smiles. "What's happened?" he asked after a quick greeting.

"Mother has left for the Gray Havens."

Elrond closed his eyes for a long moment and sighed. "I hoped that she would find the peace in Lorien that she could not find here. I shouldn't be surprised that she couldn't."

Legolas stroked the neck of his horse, trying not to intrude on what he saw as a private matter.

"And how have you managed to smuggle Lord Thranduil's prize out of Mirkwood?" Elrond asked, pushing his grief aside for a moment.

"We stopped at Mirkwood before coming home," Elladan said. Elrond was taken aback by the statement.

"Really? Why?"

"Arwen wished to see Legolas," Elrohir informed his father. "And she looks much better for it," he added studying his sister.

"And how did you get Thranduil's leave to come to Imladris, Legolas?"

"He has papers for you, my lord. And information you need to hear as well." Then, Legolas' mouth quirked into a smile. "And my lady Cariel was instrumental in wearing down his foul mood."

"I shall have to send her a token of thanks. I didn't think anyone was capable of changing his mind."

"There are two that I know of, sir. His youngest and his wife."

"But not his eldest?"

Legolas sighed. "We are too much alike for that, my lord."

"And where are your shadows?" Elrond said as the group led their horses to the stables.

"They are speaking with the border guards of Rivendell. Captain Ravenclaw had messages of her own to send."

"So, you've come as a messenger."

"Yes, sir. And I cannot stay long, much to my regret. I need to be back in Mirkwood before the winter." Legolas seemed to tilt his head into the wind for a moment. "Which is probably sooner than I would have planned." He frowned. "There's something wrong, isn't there? Besides, the Lady of Rivendell going West?" He looked at Elrond. The lord of Rivendell sighed.

"Yes, there is. And I think the messages you carry probably will tell us more. Meet me in my office when you are refreshed from the road."

"Yes, sir," Legolas said, eyes dropping. Elrond looked at his children and they were watching with an odd intensity to the exchange. Elrond raised his brows, but none of them answered his question. He tugged on Legolas' back braid, eliciting a surprised yelp and a swift, defensive tensing. Legolas forced himself to relax and Elrond left them.

"So, you're a scholar under that mop of hair?" Elrohir teased. Legolas made a show of arranging his braid to lay properly.

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

"What do you think is wrong with Father?" Arwen said, attempting to translate.

"There is something important that I don't have access to. I know it's happening. I know this for a fact. There are papers and communications that my lord will not allow me access to, no matter how much flattery I attempt. And his preoccupation with those papers grows every year. I know that it is important enough that it could lead to death. We lost a messenger from Lorien and another from Gondor. It's important and if I cannot wring the information out of one stone, I shall do it from another. I have just enough information to make your father believe I have more. Perhaps it will loosen his tongue a bit."

"And then you shall tell us. We shall form our own alliances apart from the previous generation."

"Unfortunately, I cannot escape all of the previous generation," Legolas said nodding to Deluiel. She looked at the group.

"I will not tell whatever it is you have planned unless it is too dangerous and the four of you need restraining. Make that five," she said glaring at her younger counterpart. Sadorlien looked at her with large eyes. She shook her head. "I'll be on the perimeter. Sadorlien will relieve me in half a day."

"I would rather you both rested for a while," Legolas said softly.

"I have no need for more rest," she stated. She turned her horse over to Sadorlien and left the "children" to their plotting.

*****

"Now, what have you brought me, Legolas?"

"A whole world of troubles and hopefully something to ease your mind a little bit, though not much. This is a letter from Lord Thranduil. This is one from Lady Cariel. My suggestion is to read Thranduil's first, then Cariel's. Then, we will discuss the rest of what I have here." Legolas perched on the windowsill and looked out at Rivendell. He closed his eyes and listened to the wind. He hummed softly to himself. He was surprised to find Elrond looking at him curiously.

"I've not heard that strain before. What is it?"

"A song I've known all my life. I don't know where it came from really. I'll sing it for you later, if you'd like."

"I think I would. And what news do you bring me of the Dark Lord?"

Legolas unrolled a map from the bag. He talked the Lord of Rivendell through the latest orc activity and showed him where the latest rumors were. Then, he added a plea. "When the time come, when this turns to full war, which I can feel somewhere in my gut, will you send people to fight?"

"We will do what we can."

"That was far less than I hoped, but close to what I expected." Legolas shrugged.

"And I'm surprised that you still have a sharp tongue."

"There are some things that time can never cure." Legolas allowed a smile to curl up his lips. "And if I recall correctly, you have a rather tart tongue yourself on occasion."

"I swear that the grass incident was merely an aberration. My daughter will tell you that I am normally very even tempered."

"I have been informed that I bring out the worst in people."

"By whom?"

"Cariel, after she found Gailduil covering himself in mud for camoflague."

"Oh, what I wouldn't have paid to see Thranduil's face about that."

"I never said that he knew."

"So Cariel has fallen to your charms?"

"She was my friend before the wedding, my lord." Legolas tapped at the map. "Is it true that the Dark Lord lives in Mirkwood?"

"I have not heard such a thing, yet I will not deny it."

"Very enlightening. Thank you."

"Is there anything more you have to deliver to me?"

"No, sir."

"Then, you may leave if you like. Or stay and peruse the library. I will have letters for you to take back with you, in two days time?" Elrond raised his brows.

"As you wish, my lord." Legolas lifted his eyes to the bookshelves. "If you really don't mind my presence, I would like to see how the histories here differ from the ones in Mirkwood." Elrond chuckled and waved the prince to the shelves.

"As you will, Prince Legolas."

"Thank you, sir."

*****

"Arwen, my braids are fine."

"The one on the left is crooked again."

"It's fine."

"Sit down," she commanded. Legolas looked to her brothers for protection, but they looked away carefully.

"YYou are of no help." Legolas sighed. He let Arwen neaten his braid for him. "I am perfectly capable of dressing myself."

"Yes, and you always braid the left of your hair crooked because it's on the far side of your head. Now, didn't you have things to tell us?"

Legolas sighed and carefully edited a report for the children of Elrond.

*****

"I can't believe you're leaving so soon," Arwen said as Legolas settled his bag over his horse's back.

"I have to be back before the snows, Arwen. And can't you smell the storm on the winds? I think it's best I get on the road before the snow starts. I'd rather stay, you know that, but I cannot."

"I know. Just, be careful, Legolas. The last time I saw your father. . ."

"He was over the anger before I left, Evenstar."

"Legolas, he threatened to lock you up in the castle!"

"Which he threatens every time I show up at the palace. It won't keep me and he does not dare to put me in the dungeon. I'll be fine."

"I don't want to lose you because of the orcs."

"You won't. To other things, perhaps. But not to orcs. I know how to fight them. And I have rage enough to destroy them without pain. It is war, Arwen."

"It has not been declared."

"Not in Rivendell. Not in Lorien. But there are those of us not protected by such powers as watch over your father and your grandmother's lands."

Arwen looked at him in confusion. "But I thought," her voice dropped, "I thought Thranduil had the last ring."

"No. That I can tell you assuredly. Mirkwood has been at war since I was a child. I grew up learning to fight the Enemy. It was assumed that I would ride to war with my people. Now, I have a funny feeling that I'll be left behind to nursemaid Gailduil. Thranduil doesn't trust any of the guards to watch him as closely as I would. He is a fool."

"Ride like the wind, Legolas."

"I will. Watch them for me, sister? They are reckless."

"Always, brother." He kissed her gently on the cheek.

"You know where to find me."

*****

Legolas wasn't looking for anything except a walk up the mountain. Sadorlien had elected to trail behind a little ways, in case there was a rock slide. So, when he slipped and fell, Legolas assumed there would be nothing to it except a little bit of embarrassment. Then, he opened his eyes and found he was lying on a bed of gold, staring up at the sun. He couldn't think of anything to sum up the situation, so he remained quiet. He turned his head to look around the chamber. Then, he closed his eyes to take an assessment of his body. No, he wasnít hurt, it hadn't been a long fall. He should be able to just get up and crawl up that perfectly smooth wall there to the hole he'd come in through. He sighed. He looked up and saw Sadorlien looking down at him. The guard assessed the situation and reached for the rope that he didn't have with him. Legolas started to snicker softly. Sadorlien shrugged.

"Who is there?" a voice growled. Legolas motioned quickly for Sadorlien to leave the hole.

"Just a rather lost elf, master," Legolas said. He drew every ounce of innocence he could to the surface. "I was just walking over the mountain to look at the Dale. I didn't know it was your home. I would leave, but I'm afraid I don't know the way." The dragon moved towards him and peered closely at him.

"Your name, fair one?" He nudged the elf's side with his nose. "Are you hurt?"

"No, master dragon. I am not hurt. My name is Legolas."

"I am Smaug."

"A pleasure, master Smaug." The dragon's tongue flicked out to taste his skin. Legolas was startled.

"Hm. Not to my taste." He peered closely. "And you have nothing of gold on you."

"No," Legolas agreed. "I don't care for gold."

"That is good. Come, Master Legolas. This is the way out. You should not wander the mountain."

"I will not do so again, sir."

"Good." Legolas climbed up and out of the dragon's door. He jumped lightly to the path he had been on before. He was surprised when he was hit on the head by something small and hard. He looked to see what it was and found an emerald on the path. He picked it up and looked up at the dragon.

"You've dropped something, Master Smaug."

"Keep it in good health, Master Legolas. If my memory does not serve me well, show me. I always remember my jewels. Especially the carved ones."

"Carved?" Legolas looked more closely and saw that the emerald was indeed carved into a green leaf. "Thank you, Master dragon."

"Now, be gone and do not return."

Legolas waved and hurried around the mountain, collecting Sadorlien on his way. "We'll not be coming up here again."

"Very good, my prince. I'm glad to hear it. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Next time we go up a mountain, remind me to bring a rope."

"Yes, sir." Sadorlien grinned. "And you've made yourself a new friend. As cranky as Lord Thranduil?"

"Sadorlien?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Shut up."

*****

For over two hundred turnings of the leaves, things continued as they always had in Mirkwood. There were more orcs and more dangers to be seen from every side. There were dragons terrorizing the dwarves to the north, not that Legolas minded. He tended to cheer for Smaug. One dragon to so many dwarves, it seemed unfair. The fights were getting more bloody though and there were days when there was no rest to be had except in the arcing of black blood into the air. It was one of the more quiet days that Legolas found himself within spying distance of Dol Goldur. He glanced over his shoulder, but saw no sign of Sadorlien behind him. He settled in the tree-tops to watch. He was startled when a figure in grey robes with a grey pointed hat and a long staff came walking directly towards him. The man looked up, tugged at his beard, then took a pipe from the top of his staff. "Come down from there and walk with me," he commanded.

Surprised, the elf did as he was told. They moved through the forest on silent feet. Legolas was impressed. He'd thought the wizard would make more sound as they moved. "Your people call me Mithrandir."

"I have heard of you."

"And who would you be, Elf?"

"There are too many eyes in the trees for that, good sir. Let us walk a bit further from the Necromancer's lands and I might be more willing to talk." Legolas' eyes searched the darkness created by the canopy of leaves. Mithrandir smiled.

"Ah, caution. I didn't think any of your kin knew of such things."

"We are more cautious than most. There has been trouble in these woods and they have grown darker, despite our touch." Legolas sighed. Suddenly, his bow was out and he was firing. He stalked through the woods to gather up what arrows he could. He left two in the bodies.

"Orc arrows for orcs. Very clever. Are you trying to sow confusion?" Grey-blue eyes twinkled merrily at the elf.

"I am merely saving myself the trouble of making more arrows. These never seem to care what becomes of their arrows, so I make use of them. That they think of it as inside attacks is only a side benefit."

"And who do you look for?"

"Someone I've not seen in too long for my comfort. I would urge you to move more quickly if you wish to walk with me. If not, thank you for rousing me from my roost. I have been lost in dream-paths for too long." Mithrandir nodded and followed the elf. His walk was not quite as quick and not quite as quiet, but he managed to keep the light blond hair in sight despite the deepening gloom. He was pleased when they came upon two other elves. Legolas dropped immediately to one knee to see to the female elf with red-brown hair that was laying on the bed of fallen leaves and moss. Sadorlien looked up at him with worried eyes.

"She's hit her head on something."

"A rock it would appear," Legolas said. "And here I thought she was too hard headed to be hurt by banging into a mountain." He checked for blood and for broken bones. He sat back with a snarl of frustration. "I'm not a healer."

"Don't look at me, sir."

"Perhaps I could help?"

Sadorlien glared at the wizard.

"Mithrandir, what would you do for her?" Legolas asked.

"I am one of the Wise."

"But what would you do for her?"

"You are suspicious for an elf."

"And I know where you have been recently, Mithrandir. And you walked out unscathed and unnoticed."

"Because when I went in I was unnoticed. Let me see her." The wizard knelt down. He closed his eyes for a moment. Then, he placed his hand on her forehead. She groaned and her eyes fluttered. Legolas glared at the wizard who ignored him. Her eyes flickered open and she started cursing. Mithrandir raised his brows.

"She'll be fine. She always like this when you wake her," Sadorlien stated. "Hey, old lady, wake up."

"I'll old lady you with a switch if you don't leave me alone, boy." Legolas covered his grin with a hand. Deluiel sat up and touched the soreness at the back of her head. "Thrice cursed goblins."

"They're gone for the moment. I think we should get you back home for one of the healers to check though."

"That's an awfully long way for a bump. Who's the wizard?"

"Mithrandir."

"Ah. Bearer of bad news. Fine, we'll take him up. Hand." Legolas offered her his hand and she got to her feet. "Where's my bow?"

"I've got it," Sadorlien stated. "And your sword, and daggers and rope."

"Good. How about provisions for the wizard?"

"We can find something to eat out here. It would appear that a decision has been reached. You're here so you get to go to the palace," Legolas said as Deluiel turned to get her weapons strapped on appropriately. "As if that's a good idea these days. He'll be shot on sight. The king doesn't want any more bad news."

"And how do you know that is what I'm carrying? I might be carrying something of great importance."

"Important and good do not always equate."

"You know damn well that the wizard will have his way and go to the palace with or without us. Do you want to explain to the king how he got there?"

"Do I want to explain anything to him?" Legolas shot back. "And you're still hurting because your tongue is as sharp as honeybee's stinger."

"It can get sharper," she said with an evil smile. "Don't upset me."

Legolas rolled his eyes at her. "Do you want to go scrounging before we're off?" he asked. "Your quiver is empty."

"That's why I've got blades. Let's just go." Legolas absently adjusted her quiver with one hand as she pulled the straps tight.

"Well? Will you travel with us or alone?" he asked Mithrandir.

"I will travel with you. I think it will be more interesting."

"You're a madman or a fool then," Deluiel stated. "But thank you for sparking off the healing. These two wouldn't know how to heal a pinprick."

"It's not my fault that I can't remember herbs," Legolas said.

"It is your fault that you never studied them long enough to learn them." Legolas ignored her in favor of listening to the trees. "Children," Deluiel snorted and glanced at the wizard. "They call you Gandalf too, do they not?"

"Yes."

She nodded. "Trouble-maker."

"I only bear the news, I do not make it."

She snorted and rubbed at the sore spot on the back of her head. "Fine. As you will, then, wizard. Keep close and don't go wandering off."

Gandalf's smile was hidden by his beard. It wasn't until they were near the lighter trees of the elven holdings that they fell to serious talk once more. "Will you tell us your business, Mithrandir?" Legolas asked.

"No, I will not. I will speak only to the lord of this land."

"More the fool you," Deluiel stated.

"And you shall go to the healers before you drive me to kill you for the sheer relief from your words," Legolas said. "I swear that you never cursed that badly before you were knocked on the head."

Sadorlien snorted. "That's because she thinks you've got sensitive ears."

"Funny, I always assumed it was you she was cursing at."

"Boys! Ai!" She threw her hands up. "You, come with me," she said to Sadorlien. "You, take the trouble-maker to talk to the king." Mithrandir looked at Legolas in amusement when the other two had left them for the healer's grove.

"Is she always so abrasive?"

"For as long as I can remember, sir. Come along and I'll take you into the palace."

"An elf that lives below ground like a dwarf? What will happen next?"

"A halfling will appear in front of you," Legolas laughed. "Or rather, we'll be attacked by a youngling."

"Legolas!" Gailduil looked up from his arrow-making. He put down his tools carefully and ran to meet his brother. Legolas embraced him. "You've chosen just the wrong time to come home you know. He won't be glad to see you."

"He'll be even less glad when he sees his visitor, so I may be able to slip out without him noticing me. Is that why you're here making your arrows instead of your room?"

"No, Mother Ravenclaw insisted that if she was going to teach me to shoot properly I had to get to know the woods. Father won't let me out any farther without half a company."

"Good. It's not getting any nicer out there and the spiders would love to suck you dry." Legolas pulled on the single braid that the younger elf wore mostly to hold up his silver and diamond circlet.

"You'd better go in before he sends someone out after you."

"Why would he send someone after me? He doesn't want me in his sight."

"Unless you are out of it. Mother has not been able to break his mood for months. They had a screaming fight yesterday."

"Cariel screamed at him?"

"Yes."

"Then Mithrandir can go on by himself. I'll just go. . ." Cariel looked out from the doors with a frown on her face. She gestured Legolas inside. "do what Lady Cariel tells me. Come, Gandalf, make yourself helpful and distract Lord Thranduil long enough for me to slip out the window."

Cariel kissed Legolas' cheek. "He's in his study. He doesn't want to be disturbed. Perhaps you will lighten his mood."

Legolas stared at her. "What a sickening joke, my lady."

She smiled at him and welcomed Mithrandir. "Take the wizard to your father."

"Cariel, you didn't?"

"Yes, we were fighting over something like that."

"Oh, no."

"You will find him more than willing to keep you around so that I do not lose my temper again."

"And he thinks I guard against your temper?"

"He knows you do. Go, sing for him. Make him calm, then make sure his guest is well tended."

"Yes, Cariel."

"Now, Legolas." Legolas led Gandalf into the structure and to his father's study, which was high inside the mountain. Legolas peered into the study, then stepped in boldly.

"My lord? There is a messenger for you," he said without saying hello. Thranduil spun from his position at the window.

"Legolas. Who have you brought?"

"Mithrandir."

"Then you must stay."

"I don't know, sir. Perhaps I should call Gailduil."

"He has no concept of the war. Come in Mithrandir. Can I get you some wine?"

"That would be most kind."

"Legolas, tell the steward I want the best wine that came in today." Legolas nodded and called the steward. Thranduil gestured Gandalf to the sofa. Legolas took the wine from the steward and firmly shut the door. The steward shook his head. He should tell the guard to be prepared, there was trouble brewing. Legolas served the wine carefully and retreated to the window. He leaned against the wall and looked out into the daylight. He watched the birds dipping and gliding in the sky. "You will want a glass of your own," Thranduil said pouring one more glass. "Come, sit with us." The lord of Mirkwood said. Legolas settled in the visitor's chair and watched with careful eyes.

"The Dark Lord is in Dol Goldur as I suspected." Legolas sipped at his wine so that he would have an excuse not to say anything. "He has all seven of the Dwarf rings. He needs only the one ring to become powerful enough to rule this land once more."

"That will not happen on our watch. You know that, Mithrandir."

"There are things beyond your control, Thranduil. The ring has a will of its own."

"And what do you plan to do about Sauron?"

"I will bring up my suggestions to the Council. And will you introduce me to this new counselor of yours?"

"This is Prince Legolas."

"Your son? And why haven't I. . . Thranduil, what is wrong?"

"He is the queen's son."

"Cariel's?"

"No, wizard," Legolas said softly. "Leave it be. I am heir here. That is all. And I would like to know what Council you are speaking about."

"In time," Gandalf said with a smile. "For the moment, I think you are as weary as your companions. I would speak with Thranduil in private."

"Of course."

"Legolas." Thranduil's voice stopped the prince from leaving the room. "Your room is prepared. Do not go hiding in the barracks."

"Yes, sir."

"And why haven't you told him of the Council if he is your heir?"

"That is a story we will not approach tonight."

*****

Legolas leaned back in his chair and sighed. "I donít understand this, my lord. First you tell me to get out of your sight, then you call me back. Once I return, you ignore me. How am I supposed to react? I'm not a pet that will jump up and down for your affections. I have long since learned to live without them."

"When did you turn so cold, Legolas?" Thranduil asked.

"When did you? If you have need of me, I will be in the forest. I cannot take this place any longer. When you finally decide what you want of me, I shall return."

"Don't you dare walk out on me, boy," Thranduil snapped.

"Then give me reason to stay."

"You are my heir, but also my subject. When I give you an order you will obey it."

"Yes, my lord." Legolas remained standing near the door, still as a cat ready to pounce.

"You will remain in the palace. If you are found wandering the woods, even with your guards, I will lock you in the dungeon."

Legolas looked at his father, eyes as still as the rest of his body. "As you wish, my lord. Shall I see to your correspondence?"

"Yes."

"Very well, my lord."

*****

"Legolas, can I talk to you for a moment?" Cariel asked.

"Of course, my lady. Where shall we hide ourselves away?" Legolas responded. He gestured to the doors. "Not that way, since that would lead to the outdoors and it wouldn't do to have me smell fresh air and see stars. Nor shall we go up the stairs towards my lord's chambers. Yet, I don't think you would like the cramped chair of my room."

"My study." Cariel smirked and shook her head. "Perhaps you should consider writing a history of your father's line."

"It would be quite short, as I know no one from my father's line." They settled in Cariel's study. Legolas curled up on her sofa. She sat down on the opposite end of it, and pulled her feet up under her skirt.

"I want to talk to you about the book you left for Gailduil all those years ago."

"Why now?"

"Because the light is fading from your eyes and you seem to be harsher now, colder. It wasn't so when you left. Your heart was bleeding. You were sad, but you weren't colder than a winter's snow."

"I hear there is a cruel frost on the ground now, lady. And there are many men and dwarves suffering because of it. Yet, I am trapped here and unable to help even the woodsmen that I spoke with at length. There are children and trees and flowers and birds and many other creatures dying right now and every death pierces my heart. I cannot stand it, therefore, I must be colder than the winter frost."

"And Thranduil hardens your heart as well," she said. He glared at her, but there was no heat in it.

"Yes. Yes, he does. I cannot bear to hold his pain any longer. It is better that I stay cold, then I cannot be hurt."

"Sweet Legolas, you are so full of shit that I can barely stand it."

Cariel was rewarded by a look of utter shock on her step-son's face. "Cariel!"

"You are hurt every time he treats you coldly and your spirit sings when he treats you kindly. But this is off of the point I wanted to make. I would like to know about your mother. Not the facts that you put down, or even the scraps of poetry. I want to know the woman that once held your father's heart. I want to know what made her stay in the palace when she loved the woods so much."

"She loved my lord more," Legolas whispered. "As I do."

*****

"You're going to see whether your prisoners, which you never told me existed I should add, have gone and pissed off the dragon. Fine. Have fun. You are not going to stick me in my room for the duration of this. I just want to see the stars for once."

"Legolas, you will rule in my stead. And you will *not* go running around the forest like a common hunter. You will stay in the palace. You will take care of the papers I have left you and you will not issue any edicts to contradict my rulings. Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good."

"My lord?" Legolas said as his father turned away.

"Yes?" Thranduil snapped.

"You've taken all the fun out of the job."

Thranduil laughed.

"I should like to have seen the dwarves. Too late now, I suppose. How did they manage to slip away?"

"We will find that out in time, I think." Thranduil rode off to battle. Legolas looked up to the sparrow on ledge.

"And what can you tell me of what is happening, little one?" he asked. The bird settled on his shoulder and whispered into his ear. Legolas listened carefully, then went into the palace. Gailduil followed him.

"And what are you doing, brother? My goodness, you're wearing your crown."

"Don't get used to it. This thing is bothersome." The eldest pushed it further back on his head and opened the carefully bound set of parchments he was not to look at. Gailduil's eyes widened.

"I want to see too."

"Fine." Legolas gathered the papers and settled them on the table his father kept in the room for late dinners. They read the papers with silent fascination. After an hour, Gailduil swallowed hard.

"I need wine."

"That sounds very good."

*****

Thranduil returned to find Legolas in his office. He was chewing on what appeared to be a piece of summer grass. He was studying a book intently and taking notes from it. His crown had slipped down to settle properly over his brow where he had always hated it. The prince didn't look up until there was a clattering of stones on the desk. He jerked upright and blinked. "Ai!"

Thranduil looked over his son's shoulder at the book and frowned. "You will not be riding to Fangorn or Gondor or Mordor, so put such fancies out of your head."

"Into the grey mountains then?"

"No."

"Or to the Dales?"

"No."

"The rooks tell us that the dragon is dead and that the Men mean to resettle the Dale."

"They may. I do not care, so long as they continue to press such wonderful wine. What are you working on here?"

"I am trying to figure out where the old battles took place. Lord Elrond told me some stories and I want to see if the battle plans would work. But the maps of Mordor are too simple. They don't show anything of the land. I don't know how one is to plan anything with no knowledge."

"There are some things that cannot be planned."

"Are these your part of the dragon's treasure?" Legolas prodded the emeralds with a finger.

"Yes."

"They're pretty. Will you wear them or give them to Cariel?"

"I don't know. I haven't decided what to do with them. We are celebrating downstairs. Perhaps you would have noticed if you hadn't closed your ears."

"I was merely involved."

"I notice that my welcome from Gailduil was more enthusiastic."

"Gailduil is a brat and will always be so."

"Legolas, come down to the celebration."

"I would rather not."

"That was not a suggestion."

"Yes, sir." Legolas sighed and filed his notes away.

*****

Legolas was vaguely bored. The orcs seemed to be drawn further south. His attention was caught by a human walking along the river. He was some five miles off and wandering as if he didn't know where he was headed. Legolas shook his head. He was fond of the woodsman in the forest. This wasn't one of them, or one of their sons. None of the woodsman wore black. Legolas frowned. He stepped further out on the branch and leaned forward a bit. Deluiel's back straightened and she followed his gaze. "Are you going to play or be nice?" she asked.

"I'm sweet. Just ask Cariel."

Deluiel snorted. "Where's the wretch?"

"I was sleeping," Sadorlien said from the branch above her. "Who's that?"

"We don't know. I don't think he's one of the woodsmen," Deluiel said. "Could he be from Gondor?"

"He could be a ranger. Let's find out, shall we?"

"Legolas!" The prince ignored his guard and jumped down. He leaned against the tree, letting the human get closer. Then, he darted along the edge of the woods until he was along side the man. The man had his hand on his sword and his eyes were scanning the woods. Oh, he was good. He'd managed to pick up an elf moving. Legolas stepped past the edge of the woods. His ears picked up an angry hiss from Deluiel. He'd apologize later. Maybe.

Aragorn had grown up with elves. He didn't know who had stepped out of the forest, but there was no question that he was an elf. The disconcerting light coalesced into nothing more than sunlight on his hair and fair skin. He was dressed in brown and green with a bow poking up behind his head. Aragorn released his sword. He let his hand fall to his side and stood still, allowing the elf to look him over.

Legolas hid the amused smile when he realized he was being allowed to study the human however long he wished. He stepped forward and his eye was caught by a movement down river. His bow was in his hands and he was tracking it instantly. He kept the human in his range of vision, but tracked the creature. It was an orc, he decided a second later. He waited as calm as any predator. Then, the orc stepped close enough to ensure the shot would kill it. He was aware of the human pulling his own bow. Legolas loosed his first arrow and was ready when the rest of the unit came seemingly out of nowhere. He noted with one part of his mind that the human was firing in concert with the rest of them. He was a good shot for a human. The unit was disposed of. Legolas met Deluiel's eyes. She sent Sadorlien after arrows and remained watching carefully.

Aragorn looked between the three elves as they exchanged glances. He knew it was possible to tell an elf's age by looking at them, but he'd never had the skill. They could be the same age or not. No, the woman was older, simply by the force of her gaze. He didn't like being pinned down by it. It was disconcerting to be judged by someone he didn't know. He was surprised when she wasn't the one who took charge of things from then on. "You shoot well," the first elf said.

"Thank you."

"And what are you doing here? It is dangerous to be on your own. The orcs could have taken you."

"I can take care of myself."

"Truly? But then, they tend to ignore the humans of these woods unless they need food."

"But not the elves?" Aragorn asked, frowning in concern. "I wasn't aware that there was an open war."

"It is not exactly open, but we do not allow them to trespass on our lands."

"And humans?"

"It would depend on the human."

"And would I be allowed to pass?"

"Perhaps," Legolas said with a smile. "And who are you then, human?"

"I am Strider. A ranger."

Legolas' smile widened. "I am Legolas. May I walk with you awhile?"

"It has been several years since I had the company of an elf. I would be pleased to have you at my side."

Deluiel glared at the prince. "I would suggest you wait for Sadorlien to return with arrows."

"I should help him."

"Don't be foolish. Deluiel is keeping good watch over him. But we will wait for him, if for no other reason than it will save time." Legolas tilted his head to the side as he looked at the older elf. She shook her head.

"Unlike some, I learn my lessons."

Sadorlien returned with an armful of arrows. "These are all of the unbroken ones I could salvage. These are yours I think," he said pulling off a handful to hand to Strider. "You two get to sort through the rest on your own."

"No. For the amount of trouble you're going to get us into in about five minutes, you can do the sorting," Deluiel informed Legolas.

"It won't be that bad. Thranduil need never know."

"Lord Thranduil? The king of the Wood-elves?"

"That would be the Thranduil we are discussing," Legolas grinned. "Don't worry. His anger isn't going to be directed at you. Or even these two. He knows they just follow my lead. And he can't manage to get me to follow orders." He settled the arrows in his quiver after shaking off the last of the blood.

Aragorn looked disbelievingly at the elf.

"Shall we go on then? You can tell me where you've been and where you're going and everything before and some of what you plan for the future."

*****

Arwen looked in on her father as he relaxed in the evening. She knew what she wanted to confront him about, but she didn't want to change the peace that was on his face. In a moment, the solution came to her. "Father?"

"Yes, Arwen?"

"I'm leaving for Mirkwood in the morning."

"You could send a request and have Legolas come here, you know."

"You know his father won't let him beyond the borders unless there is need for his silver tongue to soothe you over some slight or other."

"And I would prefer you go with more than one attendant."

"I am a fast rider, Father. I will be fine."

"That is what your mother told me." Arwen sighed and caved.

"I will take a guard with me."

Elrond sighed deeply. He couldn't order her to stay in Rivendell. He'd prefer it that she was safe where he could watch her, but she was capable of making her own decisions. "Remember to tell him he's welcome to come to Rivendell at any time."

"I will. Don't worry so much, Father." She kissed his cheek. "Everything will work out in the end."

"I wish I shared your faith."

*****

"Legolas, you have a guest. Try to be civil," Thranduil said. The prince looked up at him from his book.

"Guest?" He was confused. No one ever came to visit him at the palace. His eyes cleared. "One of Lord Elrond's children?"

"Yes. The Evenstar has come to call. Is there something you want to tell me?"

"No, my lord."

Thranduil sighed. He was tired of trying to bridge the gap between them. He had created it, but he didn't know how to close it without causing more harm. "Legolas, you can tell me anything. You do know that?"

"You have said it often enough, sir. I'll go greet Arwen now, sir." Legolas set his book aside and stood. He waited for his father to move out of the way. Thranduil stepped to the side. His son left the room and he looked around it. The bow and cup were the only memories of his first wife left. He let his chin drop to his chest.

"I'm sorry, Aewlos. I'm so sorry."

Deluiel stepped in from the hallway. "Perhaps you should tell your son that." Thranduil whirled angrily to face her. "You can't hide your pain from me, Thranduil. You never could. I stood for Aewlos at your wedding. Do you remember that day?"

"Yes. I couldn't forget it. She was so happy that day. It was the first time I'd seen her in a skirt." He smiled wryly.

"We were fighting a war, Thranduil. Skirts are a hazard in battle. She was my captain. Ravenclaw's as well. We were so happy when she finally found you. And the two of you in battle was like watching the gods fight. You were so beautiful in your wrath. What happened?"

"I settled down. I have responsibilities beyond the battlefield now. I have since we came here. You know that well."

"And yet you insist on punishing Legolas for your pain."

"I do not!"

"Thranduil." The one word caught him up short. "Tell him. Let him see that you have finally found a way to leave your pain behind you. And perhaps you could loose his leash a bit more?"

"No. I will not lose him, Deluiel. I will not do that."

"If you don't let him free he will find a way to die. His heart is so cold, Thranduil. I have been watching him die day by day. Every day that you look away from him, every day that you have yelled at him, every day he is forced to forget his mother's name, I have watched him die bit by bit. There is only one person left to reach him, Thranduil."

"I don't know how any longer. He won't talk to me. He won't even tell me of Arwen. Or even that human ranger he's decided to protect when he can."

"He loves Arwen as a sister, but you loved Aewlos as a friend first as well, so I will not discount the possibility of more developing there. And Aragorn is also one of Elrond's children. He was called Estel. He is known as Strider and you should remember that. I think it will be important. I would not close these doors to Strider or you will lose your son completely."

Thranduil sighed. He ran his fingers over the jeweled weaving that Legolas used to cover his window. "I miss him."

"Tell him."

"I do not know how."

"Ask Lady Cariel to help you. Ask Prince Gailduil. I am not here as one of your guards. I am not as the prince's guard. I am here as an old friend, Thranduil. You have never been able to hide from me and you never will be able to hide from me. You were a brave warrior once. Where is your courage now?" Her voice was as harsh as the North wind.

"My courage fails me in the face of my heart. I cannot let him go and I cannot draw him closer. I will have to be satisfied with this arrangement."

"You could lift the ban on Aewlos' name as a start."

Thranduil winced, but the pain was not as sharp as he had remembered it.

"And you could let him call you 'father' once more."

"Perhaps. It will be strange in his mouth and on my ears."

Deluiel shrugged. "I am going to help Sadorlien watch over the prince and the Evenstar."

"Deluiel, I have never told you, but having you with him eases my heart."

"I know, my lord." He looked up in shock. She hadn't used his title in years. She smiled. "Welcome back, Thranduil. My first duty and loyalty will always be to my prince, but you are still my king."

"Thank you."

*****

Arwen hugged Legolas tightly. Her smile was bright and his eyes started to shine more under its influence, until he was smiling as well. "Shall we take a walk, Arwen?"

"Yes, my friend. I have something wonderful to tell you."

"Let's see, your brother fell from his horse and into a mud puddle?"

She laughed. "No, not at all." They stepped into the village and waved cheerfully to anyone who greeted them. It wasn't until they were alone at what Arwen considered their clearing that she spoke. "I've found my Chosen." Legolas spun her to stand in front of him. He searched her eyes, then a full smile bloomed on his face. He pulled her close.

"I am so happy for you. Will you tell me who it is?" She tugged on his braid.

"Of course, silly. Sit down." She dropped to lay in the grass and he joined her. A black squirrel chattered angrily at them and they both laughed. "His name is Aragorn. He is the son of Arathorn. And will be the king of the men one day. He is. . . he is everything. He is a warrior. He has a sense of humor. He has a spark of power and he has an overwhelming amount of fear. I love him with all of my heart. And Father has sent him away until he finds his way as a man. I don't know how I will bear to be without him for long. But he makes my heart leap with joy."

"Then you would like to hear that he is a ranger known as Strider." She turned to look at his profile, hearing the teasing in his voice.

"You've seen him?"

"Yes, Evenstar. I've met him. He kills orcs on occasion. He is making a very good ranger. The birds watch him for me when they can. He has lamentably met Mithrandir, but that may be all for his benefit."

Arwen rolled over and propped herself up on his chest with her arm. "You will watch him for me? Make sure nothing happens to him? I don't know if I could bear it."

"You know that you will outlive him."

"I have chosen already to give up my immortality for him, Legolas." He looked at her, stunned. Then, he closed his eyes. He nodded.

"I can see you doing that for him. I will watch him for you, when I can. I will protect him when I can." He opened his eyes and grinned. "It is not a hardship."

She wrinkled her nose at him. "So, what have you been doing with yourself?"

"Besides tormenting humans and killing orcs? Correspondence mostly. Cariel wants me to write a history of Mirkwood. Thranduil wants me to take over his letters. And Deluiel wants me to go hunting orcs because she's getting bored being stuck in the same house as Thranduil. Sadorlien has extracted a promise that I won't walk him into the spider's area again since we only managed to kill the last ten because of luck. Gailduil is pestering me to teach him songs when I can drag him out of the forge. And Mother Ravenclaw is attempting to find me a mate." Legolas rolled his eyes. "She thinks I need a keeper."

"She's right." Arwen smiled. "Sounds like you're having fun."

"Not really." Legolas sighed. "Thranduil won't let me wander far from the palace. He's gotten protective again."

"And what did you do to provoke that response?"

"Spent a year away. I don't understand it. I've spent decades in the woods and he didn't blink. I spend a year with a ranger and he's decided that I'm not to leave the house. I will never understand him. I've given up trying. I just try to stay out of the way."

"Father wants me to remind you that you're welcome at Rivendell any time you like."

"Thank you."

*****

"Where are you going?"

"Out, sir."

"No, you are not."

"Why, sir? What's the harm in taking a look?"

"There's been trouble."

"There's always been trouble and I'm not going to stay hidden in this hole until it's gone, sir. I'm sorry." Legolas turned and walked towards the door.

"You are my son. You will do as I say."

"You have not called me son in thousands of turnings."

"The fact remains that you will do as I say. I am your king."

"Why are you doing this now, my lord?"

"Legolas, I want you to stay."

"Why? Why do you want me here when you won't even look at me? I can be standing in the same room and not exist for you!" Legolas closed his eyes and calmed himself. "I'm sorry, sir."

"No, you are right. It pains me to see Aewlos in your face."

Legolas whipped around to face his father once more. His eyes were wide with shock. "It has been many years since I have heard that name pass your lips, my lord," he said quietly.

Thranduil nodded. "Legolas, it pains me to see you here, but it hurts me more when you are away. At least when I can see you, I know that you are safe, that I will not lose you."

Legolas straightened and lifted his chin. "I am not a pet, my lord. Nor am I a possession. I will not be treated as one. I am part of the forest. These walls are nothing but a prison to my soul. I cannot remain here and remain sane. I need fresh air. I need stars. I cannot do this."

"Then spend your days in the forest, but come home for your nights."

"Sir."

"Legolas, please."

"Yes, my lord." Legolas looked down.

"Thank you. I will see you for dinner then."

"Yes, sir."

*****

Legolas rode into Rivendell with his guards close behind. He dismounted and looked around, as always, impressed by the beauty of the city. There was something odd though, something unsettling. "Deluiel, do you feel something out of place?"

"No."

"I do," Sadorlien stated. "It feels like the shadow of the woods is here."

"I think both of you are over-reacting. It was just too quiet of a trip. Legolas, I think you'd best find Lord Elrond and tell him before anything else can go wrong."

"I am not looking forward to this conversation."

"I'll take your horses," Sadorlien offered. Deluiel glared at him and handed over the reins. Legolas sighed and did the same.

"Time to face the music I suppose. It would be too much to ask that Gandalf and Aragorn weren't here, wouldn't it?"

"Yes."

"Blast." Legolas made his way to Elrond's study. He knocked on the door.

"Yes?"

"It's Legolas, sir."

"Come in." Elrond looked up with a smile. It faded slowly as he took in the serious expression. "Should I call Gandalf?"

"I wish you wouldn't, but better to tell it all at once. If Aragorn is here, he should be called too."

"He is. He arrived a day ago with the hobbits. But then, you don't know about that yet. Have a seat. Both of you," he said pointedly to Deluiel.

"No, Lord Elrond. I will stand."

"You don't trust my household?"

"No, sir. I don't. Things have been rather odd lately. I'm not taking chances." Elrond summoned a page and set him off to get Gandalf and Aragorn.

Legolas didn't sit down, but rather paced in front of the bookshelf looking for something to attract his attention for a moment.

"And how is Thrandiul, Legolas?"

"He is himself."

"And that means?"

"We grate against one another." Elrond inclined his head sadly.

"Yes, Lord Elrond?" Strider asked as he came in the door. His eyes widened in surprise. "Legolas," he greeted. "Deluiel. This is not going to make me any lighter of spirit is it?"

"I should think not."

"Move along, Strider," Gandalf chided. "Legolas. Deluiel. Elrond. What has happened?"

"The creature Gollum has escaped," Legolas said, not making eye contact with anyone in the room. He stared at the spines of the books.

"How?" Gandalf demanded.

"He was taken out for fresh air. He climbed to the top of his favorite tree and refused to come down. Ravenclaw set guard on him. Then, the forest was overrun by orcs. It was the most brutal attack they have staged in many years. Ravenclaw is missing. She is either dead or wishes to be. In the confusion of the attack, Gollum escaped. We don't know if it was prearranged or if the creature had the good sense to take advantage of the situation." Aragorn didn't like the icy tone.

"Thranduil allowed a prisoner out of the dungeon?" Gandalf said in surprise.

"My lord has not been his usual charming self lately," Legolas said sharply. "But I too disagree with his actions in this matter."

Elrond looked closely at the prince. "Because of the loss of life or something more personal."

"Something a bit more personal than I am willing to discuss in this company."

"This is hard news. Mirkwood was entrusted with. . ."

"Spare me the lecture, Mithrandir," Legolas interrupted. "There is nothing for you to say that we have not already accused ourselves of." Gandalf nodded. "I would like to know, however, why the creature was entrusted to us."

Gandalf looked at Aragorn. The ranger sighed. "Thranduil doesn't approve of my talking to Legolas when I'm there on other business. Since I'm just a ranger and a pet human to boot."

"He just thinks you stole Arwen from me," Legolas contradicted. "I was in the lower borders when Aragorn finally arrived at the palace. I got the message too late to catch up with him. And my lord did not see fit to explain why Gollum was to be kept, only that he didn't want the message to be given to Lord Elrond by anyone he might feel the necessity to strike down." He turned to face his audience finally. Gandalf shook his head.

"I don't blame Thranduil for sending someone with a less sharp tongue than his usual messengers. Gollum was a ring-bearer." Legolas' eyes snapped up. "For nearly five hundred years he held the one ring in his grasp. In the Misty Mountains."

The brown eyes narrowed. They were changing swiftly to blue as Legolas' intensity increased. "And where did the ring reside before that?"

"In the silt of a riverbed."

"A river. It was in a river. A river that I should know very well, right?"

"Yes."

"As in that. . . that thing has been at the edges of Mirkwood for centuries?"

"Millenia to be more precise," Gandalf said sadly.

"And that is why the Necromancer was in the woods. He was searching for it."

"Yes."

"And my lord knew this? Or suspected?"

"He did not know. We did not know." Legolas closed his eyes.

"And some sixty turnings ago it left our forest."

Gandalf's brows rose. "And how did you guess that, Greenleaf?"

"You don't understand what damage that abomination of workmanship did," Deluiel said. Her anger was pure. "It poisoned that forest. The shadows were drawn to it and it made the Greenwood dark. Mirkwood does not have the protection that resides in Lorien or in Rivendell. Perhaps that is why the effects were felt so strongly." She sighed. She looked at Legolas. "It would appear I owe you an apology, Legolas."

Legolas stared at her in shock. "Did you just admit to being wrong about something?"

"The ring is here. The shadow of the wood is here."

"You had best tell Sadorlien he was right."

"I'm not leaving."

"You need some rest. You've not slept for the entire trip."

"Neither have you."

"Yes, but I'm younger." She shook her head. "My lord, is there anything else I can tell you?" Legolas asked.

"Nothing that can't wait until later. Frodo is still recovering."

"Frodo?"

"The hobbit that now carries the ring."

"Hobbit?" Legolas looked at Aragorn.

"I'll explain," the ranger said. "If you'll excuse us?"

Elrond nodded and they left. Aragorn's hand settled on the elf's arm for a quick squeeze. "Before I explain, did I?"

"Did you what?"

"Steal Arwen?"

Legolas looked at him in surprise. "No. I love her as a sister. And even if you did capture her attention from me, then it would mean that my feelings weren't returned. It would be far worse to have maintained a fiction of love." Legolas smiled gently. "She is so besotted by you, my handsome child." He straightened Aragorn's tunic and brushed a strand of hair back from Aragorn's cheek. He winked. They started walking again. "Now, talk. What is a hobbit?"

"A halfling." Legolas stopped dead.

"A halfling?"

"Yes."

"As in mythological being?"

"Not so mythological. They're quite nice actually. You'll like them."

"I'm sure." Legolas ignored the statement. "And how did they get the ring? And how many of them are there?"

"Well, Bilbo picked it up about sixty years ago." Legolas put a hand up.

"Don't tell me. He's the burglar who managed to get into the dragon's lair?"

"Yes."

"Oh, this is getting better and better. And they like dwarves."

"Legolas," Strider sighed, "have you ever even met a dwarf?"

"I'm not allowed to go to the mountains." Legolas shot a poisonous look towards Deluiel. "And Thranduil didn't let me see his prisoners. Well, considering the fact that they escaped before he could should be counted in his favor, I suppose."

"Then reserve you judgement until you do meet one." Aragorn settled his hand on Legolas' arm, gently guiding him in the direction of Arwen's rooms. "Bilbo kept the ring for sixty years, then passed it on to Frodo. Frodo was attacked by the Nazgul as we attempted to get him here. He was wounded. Arwen brought him all the way. Gandalf and Elrond are seeing to his healing."

"Fine. I suppose I'll be off in the morning then."

"Oh, no, no you won't."

"What do you mean?"

"Simply put, I'm not letting you leave."

"Oh, and how do you plan on stopping me, human?"

"By calling on my older brothers."

"That's cruelty."

"Ah, the twins speak so highly of you Legolas."

"Ai! Deluiel, save me."

"No, my little leaf. I think this is probably for the best. Just think before you take any rash action."

*****

"Council meeting? You want me at a council meeting? Are you insane, my lord?" Legolas questioned Elrond.

"No. I know for a fact that your father trained you for something like this. Besides, you trained the majority of the counselors from Rivendell that will be there. I expect that you will be able to control them if I cannot."

Legolas raised a brow. "You lose control of your own counselors?"

"Two of them are my sons."

"Ah, that explains everything. Can I hurt them if I need to?"

"No."

"Darn."

Elrond chuckled. "I won't even make you dress up."

"Thank goodness. I didn't bring anything formal enough for a meeting."

"I've asked Deluiel to be there as well. She has a good head on her shoulders."

"True. But a very sharp tongue."

"I'm not foolish enough to anger her. Perhaps Bilbo will let you read his tale of his adventures."

"A history I haven't read?" Legolas perked up.

"Yes."

"Wonderful. And where is this Bilbo?"

"I'll introduce you."

*****

Legolas glanced around the circle of people. He avoided staring at the dwarves as he wanted. Aragorn gave him an exasperated glare for a moment. Elrond glanced at both of them with a stern "obey or die" glare. He had perfected it on his children many years before. He welcomed the council and told them of the true purpose of their gathering. Frodo brought forth the ring and set it down with a snick on the raised stone in the center of the circle. Legolas fought the automatic clenching of his fists. He didn't notice that he was frowning at the small gold more than he was listening to the meeting. All he could sense was raging darkness and flames and he didn't like either one. He was brought back to reality by the destruction of the dwarf's axe. Then, the human wanted to use the damned thing. "It must be destroyed," Legolas asserted.

Boromir continued his rant. Legolas was willing to let him run out of steam, but he insulted Aragorn and Legolas couldn't let it pass. "He is no mere ranger. He is Aragorn son of Arathorn, and heir to the throne of Gondor. You owe him your allegience." Legolas glared firmly at Boromir, eyes shining. He was in the right of the argument.

"Sit down, Legolas," Aragorn said calmly in Elvish and Legolas looked at him in frustration. Couldn't the man see that he was going to be king whether he wanted it or not? Boromir sulked back to his chair and Legolas reiterated that the ring needed to be destroyed and the dwarf snapped. Legolas looked down at him with mild disgust. He automatically spread his arms to keep the other elves out of what he saw as a personal problem. He'd been introduced as being from Mirkwood. Not as the heir by his own request, but none the less, there was bad blood between the elves and the dwarves. This dwarf's family in particular. Then, the whole room had erupted. Legolas was almost surprised to see Deluiel launch into a diatribe. She looked to be arguing with another elf though so he ignored it and looked to Aragorn. The elves that had been flanking him were smart enough to not cross the line he'd created. Then, Gandalf started in on the dwarves.

A quiet voice stopped them all dead. "I will take it. I will take the ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way."

Gandalf joined the halfling. Then, Aragorn swore his feality. "You have my sword. If by my life or death I can protect you, I will do so."

"And you have my bow," Legolas stated. Deluiel's eyes grew stormy behind Aragorn's head, but Legolas' eyes weren't focused on her.

"And my axe," Gimli stated. Things moved quickly then. Boromir had stated that he would see it done. Then, Frodo's friends joined them. Legolas exchanged one last glance with Aragorn before Elrond announced that they were nine. It was fitting. Nine companions against nine Nazgul. Legolas made sure he had a reason to stay with Gandalf for a few minutes to let Deluiel calm down before he told her to take a message to his father. Oh, he wasn't looking forward to that conversation at all.

*****

The first hint of trouble disturbed Elrond and Gandalf where they were sitting and plotting in the corner of the great hall. There was a final feast to prepare the companions. Of course, Elrond had realized that Legolas was missing. He'd thought the younger man was finishing the book that Bilbo had lent him. He winced when the voice carried to his ears. "What were you thinking?"

He dropped his head. "Deluiel. I should have foreseen this."

*****

"I was thinking to do what needs to be done," Legolas snarled right back at his guard.

"You can't just drop everything and go following after a halfling into Mordor!"

"I can and I will."

"You get more like your father everyday," Deluiel said. Legolas winced at the barb, but didn't let it derail him.

"If that means I am stubborn enough to do what I think is right, then thank you for the compliment. I will go on this journey. And you will go home to take command of the guard as Ravenclaw would want."

"I will not walk away from you. You will not go alone."

"I will not be alone. I am not a child any longer Deluiel."

"You are still my responsibility."

"Our responsibility," Sadorlien stated. "I am not going to let you leave me behind."

"And I am not going to put you into danger. I need you to talk Thranduil down. And you are one of the few people that can charm Cariel."

"We are coming with you."

"You are going back to Mirkwood. With the ring on the move the danger at home will increase. The Shadow will use everything at its disposal to destroy anything that is good."

"I will not let you do this."

"You cannot stop me, Deluiel. I do not want to order you to do this. I want you to listen to me and follow my judgement for once."

"My prince," Sadorlien broke in, "don't ask either of us to leave you in the care of that group. We don't know their abilities. And the halflings need more protection than they can provide."

"Then I will throw Pippen at the orcs and kill them while he distracts them. I am going. You are not."

"My lord," Deluiel stated. "I say this with the utmost respect, you are a fool."

"Thank you for your assessment, Lady Guard. Just take the letter to Thranduil. Take over the army and protect Mirkwood."

"You are the heir to Mirkwood's throne."

"Deluiel, I do not want that throne or any other and you know that very well. All I want is to live peacefully and travel."

"You are still the heir and there are responsibilities you hold towards your people," Sadorlien stated. "You cannot walk away from a crown, it will find you no matter where you go."

"Sadorlien, shut up."

"No, my prince."

"State your case quickly."

"You cannot leave Lady Cariel and Gailduil alone in Mirkwood. You cannot turn your back on your people because you are their heart. I will not see you destroy yourself over a foolish quest that needs only the slightest shove to collapse."

"And I would not see Strider and Frodo alone with the rest of them. But I will also not see you, as part of my people, dragged into something like this. Hunting orcs is one thing. Going up against Sauron is quite another."

"And you think you are prepared?"

"No, but I think I will learn what I need to along the way. That part of the argument is closed. Everyone in this room knows that I will leave with the Fellowship."

"I will follow you."

"You will go to Mirkwood. Thranduil and Cariel need you both more than I will."

"Is this because of that promise you gave to Arwen?" Sadorlien asked sharply. "If you're doing this out of some half-baked idea of honor, I'll make sure you are in no condition to go."

"You might try."

"You won't hurt me. It's not in you to hurt another elf. Taunt though you may."

"What promise?" Deluiel asked.

"To look after Strider," Sadorlien replied. "And if that's what this is, you need to rethink things, my lord."

Legolas' eyes flashed and Sadorlien knew he'd stepped over the line. He stepped back a pace. Legolas' voice was icy cold. "Get out." Sadorlien knew better than to disobey. He dashed out the door with the idea of finding Arwen. He thought that she might be able to diffuse things.

He skidded around a corner and nearly into her and Aragorn who had heard the raised voices and were coming to investigate. He panted out an explanation and the lovers took off at a dead run.

"Captain Deluiel, you will do as you are ordered."

"I have often sworn my loyalty to you, youngling, but I will not follow an order that is contradictory to my purpose."

"And I thought that was to make sure I survived long enough to become an adult. You have done that."

She slapped him hard across the cheek.

"You have never taken such a tone with me and I will not tolerate it."

"And I will not be treated as a child who needs a nursemaid."

Aragorn stopped at the open door and froze there. Elves didn't care much for privacy. They barely understood the word, but the light was almost too bright for him to see past. It resolved itself into the familiar figures of Legolas and Deluiel after a moment. Arwen was speechless.

"I gave my word to your mother that I would protect you until I should follow her to the Halls of Mandros in the attempt. It is to that promise I hold true. I will not let you go without me."

"And my life is Mirkwood's," Legolas said in a tone completely opposite of her raging voice. "If Mirkwood should fall to the Shadow I will die. Go home and protect Mirkwood, Captain. That is what your duty to me and to Aewlos entails."

"I will not leave you," Deluiel said softly. They were no more than half a foot apart. "I will not leave you."

"You will. Staying will only get me killed by making me sloppy. Why should I bother to guard when I know there will be someone always there? I need to be sharp, Deluiel. I cannot do that if I am constantly caged, even by caring. Let me fly, Deluiel." She wrapped her arms around him, sorrow banking the fire of her anger. His arms surrounded her.

"You frustrate me as your mother always did. She always ran ahead into danger. My heart always clenched with the thought of losing her. I could not bear to lose you as well."

"Did you ever clip her wings?"

"No. Fine. You will leave with the Fellowship in the morning." Legolas shut his eyes to trap the tears that threatened and held her tighter. "I am entrusting him to you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. If he dies, I'll find you."

Aragorn nodded dumbly. Deluiel kissed Legolas' cheek gently and left the room. "Legolas?"

"Strider."

"Are you going to be okay?"

"I will be fine."

Arwen nudged her lover forward. Men, she thought in frustration. He didn't take the subtle hint, she place her hand on his shoulders from the back and pushed him forward bodily. He looked back at her in surprise. She looked firmly between the two of them and shut the door. She hurried after Deluiel and found her packing.

"Shall I send the horses back to Mirkwood?"

"Yes, that would be best."

"Are all men quite so dense?"

"Only when they're being prideful. But I've always had a sneaking suspicion that Legolas knows exactly when he leaves openings."

*****

Aragorn didn't say anything more, just placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. Legolas put his hand over the comforting touch. They stood that way for a long moment. "I just wish. . ."

"I know."

*****

"Sadorlien, it's okay. He's not that upset."

"Easy for you to say, my lady," Sadorlien said as he accepted the steaming cup from Arwen.

"I heard you take my name in vain."

"Iím sorry for that."

"I know. Perhaps you should tell Legolas that you understand why he's made this decision."

"But I don't understand it."

Arwen blinked. "He's got to be on his own to learn how to be himself."

"We've never been apart, Arwen. I was there the day they carried his mother in and I sat with him when he was in fever. I train with him. I ride with him. I eat with him. I hunt with him. Arwen, he is my duty, my responsibility, he is what I was born to protect. I don't understand why he's pushing me away."

"Maybe you need to learn who you are too," Arwen said softly.

*****

The Fellowship started off in the light of the setting sun. They'd decided to keep moving through the night if they could manage it. Aragorn led Bill as they followed Gandalf's lead. Aragorn found his attention captured more by Legolas than anything else. The elf was more quiet than usual, more reserved. There was a sadness in his posture that Aragorn didn't want to speculate upon. He didn't think anyone else in the company would notice it. The elf stayed near him some of the time, and moved up and back the line depending on the pace they were keeping. His eyes scanned the way carefully. Finally, the ranger figured out what was bothering him, there wasn't any humming. Legolas had an unconscious tendency to hum under his breath when he was walking, even when he was hunting. It was missing. When they stopped for a snack, he approached the elf warily. "Legolas?" he asked softly, settling next to him on the ground.

"Yes?"

"Why aren't you humming?"

"You noticed?" Legolas' eyes were deep brown and sad. "Does it bother you?"

"It surprised me. I've never known you to be without a song."

"There's no one to hear it. We hummed to keep in contact." Aragorn's eyes cleared as illumination hit.

"Your guards."

"Almost partners. Deluiel never lets me forget that there's a difference."

"Is that why you're so tense today?"

Legolas nodded. "I'm straining to hear her. Or Sadorlien. I scared him last night. I didn't mean to."

"I know that. And you told him?"

"Of course. Not like I could escape that little discussion." Legolas leaned back, stretching. "Arwen decided I needed to mend what got broken and threatened to call her brothers if I didn't do what she said."

"That's her favorite threat. She never acts on it."

Legolas looked at his friend. "So they've never dragged you to the river and thrown you in? Dragged you up a tree? Set siege against your bedroom? Tried to fill your quiver with twigs? Put extra weight on your bow, just to see if you could handle it? Lucky bastard."

Aragorn shook his head. "I grew up with them. And. . . you haven't been to Rivendell since I was very young."

"No, child."

"Would you stop calling me that? I'm older than most humans."

"But you are more than most humans."

"And you can stop the smug smiling too."

"No way. There is one thing I can hold over your head."

"It won't happen the way you think."

"Oh, I don't know about that. I think you'll get pushed into a situation where if you don't accept you will die." Legolas went very still and he held up a hand. "And the dwarf is getting restless. He thinks we're plotting against him."

"We are aren't we?"

"Just get him to pledge allegiance, Estel, and you'll be fine. So will I," he added. "I just need a couple of days to adjust to having nothing but heartbeats to listen for."

"Be careful or you'll set the hobbits to singing. It can get rather rowdy when they do."

*****

Legolas found himself lingering closer to Aragorn than to the hobbits and the dwarf. He knew it was foolish, but he didn't think he would ever get along with that creature. Gimli seemed dead set against liking the elf. And Legolas didnít know how to overcome it. He let himself rest as they walked. He wandered the halls of light in his mind.

Aragorn smiled as he heard Legolas start to hum under his breath. It was much better for him to sing than to fight against it. It was soft enough that it wouldn't draw attention of any of the beasts they would be facing. Orcs and the Nazgul were more likely to be following the ring than to be listening to something so subtle that it could be the wind.

Boromir found himself relaxing slightly and couldn't figure out why. Nothing obvious had changed. He looked around at the company, but still could not find the cause. He saw that the hobbits were joking about something or other. Pippen was whining about food. "And I thought Strider was hard," he sighed. "But Gandalf, he's the worst."

The wizard just looked over his shoulder sternly. Something caught Legolas' attention and he stepped away from the main group for a moment. He moved so quickly and silently that Boromir thought it was a trick of his eyes. But Legolas was tucking something into the pack on Bill's back. Aragorn hadn't even bothered to stop moving. Then, the elf was walking next to them again, occasionally darting forward to talk to Gandalf. Still, there was a feeling of peace that hadn't been there before.

*****

"Legolas, you have to rest some time," Aragorn said firmly. "Arwen would have my head if I let something happen to you. She's very fond of you."

"I know she's fond of me." Legolas undid on of his braids and carefully redid it. "She'd torture me if anything happened to you, though. You're her Chosen, child."

"You only call me child when you talk about Arwen?"

Legolas sighed. "She's made the hardest decision any elf ever makes. She's given up more than you'll understand."

"Legolas," Aragorn put his hand on the elf's arm. "Does this hurt you? Does the two of us being engaged hurt you?"

"Why would it?"

"She was your friend long before I ever came on the scene. We rode together for more than a year before you found out that the two of us were in love, or that she and I even knew one another."

The elf looked at the human with a furrowed brow. "Aragorn, are you feeling guilty again? How many times have I told you that I don't expect you to share your secrets with me?"

"Stubborn elf-spawn," Strider snapped. "I do feel guilty that I never bothered to find out if you two knew each other. Hell, I never even asked her if she had someone waiting on her."

"I've never waited on her affections." Legolas rolled his eyes. "I know Elrond and Thranduil have both had the thought flit across their minds, but the Evenstar and I have always known that we were best suited to being siblings."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Weren't you ever attracted to her?"

"She's pretty, I suppose, if you go in for that type. I don't know what you mean though."

"Sexually?" Aragorn asked bluntly.

"No." Legolas sighed. "Listen, Strider, I don't have a Chosen. I'm not attracted to your girlfriend. I'm just a little off center. I'll be fine in a few days. Stop trying to take on things that aren't your fault."

"I just wanted to know. Relax."

"I was before you started with this foolish questioning."

"My apologies, Master Elf," Strider teased.

"Human brat," the elf responded cheerfully. They snickered.

"Sleep, Legolas."

"I will." Strider didn't leave. The silence lengthened. "I'll sleep. I just can't rest when you're staring at me."

"I'm not staring. I'm watching with concern because my friend has been awake for days now."

"Aragorn."

"You didn't sleep after your fight with Deluiel. You haven't slept on the trip yet."

"I don't have to sleep."

"But perhaps it would do you good to try."

"What are you going to do?" Legolas' eyes narrowed. Strider smirked at him. He patted his thigh. "Oh, no. I'm not giving you access to my braids in this mood."

"Trust me, Greenleaf."

"Always, Strider." The elf-prince settled his head on Strider's thigh and drifted away. His breathing slowed to next to nothing and his eyes glazed. The hobbits looked at them curiously. Sam's eyes were wide with concern.

"Strider? Is he okay?"

Strider blinked. "You've never seen an elf sleep before? No, of course not. He's fine, Samwise."

"But, he's so still."

Gimli snorted. "Elves are like that. Irritating. Can't be sure they're even breathing."

"Blasted Dwarf," Legolas muttered and turned over so that he wouldn't have to be aware of anything at all. His mind detached from the world until the only thing he was aware of was a subliminal thump of Aragorn's blood beneath his ear and the faint pressure of a hand on the side of his neck. He didn't hear the discussion of Elven culture that followed. When Aragorn called his name gently, he woke with elf-light in his eyes.

*****

Sadorlien moved restlessly through the courtyard where Arwen was working on a tapestry she wouldn't let him see. It wasn't as if he didn't know what was going on, but she said it was something for Aragorn and would say nothing more. He wasn't used to this sort of inactivity. Legolas didn't always indulge in hunting, but if he was reading, he was more likely to read aloud than not. And he the rushing water of Rivendell's waterfalls made him think of the basement hideout he'd guarded for so many years. The clacking of the shuttle on the loom made him even more homesick. He didn't even have Deluiel to complain to. He finally settled on a ledge that over-looked her workspace and made a game of spotting all the elves he could.

*****

Time passed quickly and the company fell into a routine. There was little laughter and less talk. It was moments like this that they lived for though. They were on the rocks, able to have a hot meal for once. Merry and Pippen were practicing swordwork with Boromir. Strider was coaching them. Gandalf was relaxing. Sam was making lunch and Frodo was watching his friends with a smile of fond amusement on his face. Legolas was on edge. He moved restlessly over the rocks looking for the thing that was not right.

Deluiel's song changed in the background. She was restless too. It was strange being out of sight of her. The tenuous connection of the song comforted him at the same time that it scared him. He didn't know exactly where she was. There were few trees in the area. It was mostly flat land. It was strange being able to see miles ahead and behind. Gimli was grumbling about not being respected or listened to or something. Legolas ignored it. The very idea of going under the mountain through Moria made his stomach clench. Cariel had told him many stories of the Balrog. He had no wish to face it.

Legolas bounded across the rocks again. Gandalf watched him with mild amusement, as one would watch a cat chasing a sunbeam. Something was nagging at the edges of Legolas' mind. He could almost hear it clearly. He paused and stared at a puff of smoke. The threat was soon identified as birds and the company scattered to hide under the rocks. Something twisted harshly in Legolas' heart and it took him most of the walk the base of the mountain to figure it out. Birds were supposed to be friends, not enemies.

The snow was coming down more and more heavily. The elf could walk atop the snow and the cold didn't bother him, but his companions weren't as lucky and there was nothing he could do to help them. He couldn't carry one of the halflings. He wasn't leading the way. He just walked along side Aragorn and kept watch. He darted forward to stop Gandalf from being killed by one particularly nasty falling rock and he could feel the mountain growl at him. He shivered. The mountain didn't want them there. It hated the humans so much that it was ripe for Sauron's plans. It didn't care that he and Deluiel were there. They were elves and more of nature than the rest of them.

There was a voice in the winds and Legolas darted forward to hear it better. It was a cruel voice and it fed the mountain's anger, but he couldn't understand the language. "There's a fell voice on the wind."

Gandalf started spell-casting and lost track of the real world. The mountain shifted, preparing to throw down snow, ice and rocks. Legolas grabbed the wizard and pulled him back from the edge of the pass. They were buried in snow. The elf shook it off and looked around doing a quick head count. Slowly they popped up from the snow and the argument began again. Through the mines of Moria, or through the Gap of Rohan. Legolas wished with all his might for Rohan. He might not like Boromir, but going near Isengard wasn't nearly as bad as walking through a demon and orc infested mine.

"We will go through the mines," Frodo said after pause for thought. Legolas looked sadly at the hobbit. He was so young to have such old shadows hanging on him. He wanted to grab the ring and fling it as far away as he could, but he knew it would do him no good. The ring had to be destroyed and Sauron could not be allowed to have it. He would not see anyone else destroyed by "such a little thing" as Boromir had termed it. Shaking off the snow he went to scout ahead. "I'm seeking the sun," he teased gently as he passed the humans with their hobbit loads. "And the mountain pass is cold and hard, the mountain stones rock free, but if the mountain's anger holds, then we shall gladly leave," he sang softly to the old stones. He felt the slight response in the lessening of the falling snow. He found the end of the snow and for the first time in months caught sight of Deluiel. She looked up at him with a crooked grin and went back to cleaning her knife. There was a wolf on the ground in front of her. It had to have attacked and therefore, must have been under the orc's control, poor beast. He waved to her and reported back to his companions. "It's not much farther now. Just six more feet and the hobbits will be able to stand without drowning again."

"Thank Goodness," Merry piped up. "I'm tired of being carried. Even though it is warmer. And I don't have to walk. Then again, forget I said anything at all."

That gave the group a good laugh. They set camp at the base of the mountain. Deluiel was once again invisible and Legolas cursed himself for thinking like a child. She was his security. His freedom was an illusion. He stopped himself. Why on earth was he thinking like that? Deluiel had not once interfered in the company. He wasn't sure anyone else even realized she was there. She wasn't caging him in. She was doing what he'd wanted and letting him just be. His anger was starting to grow. He realized he was sitting next to Frodo. Blast it all. He should have thought more clearly. He didn't know how to get up without making it look as if he was running. There was no good reason for him to stand. He went still and let himself rest deeply. Perhaps the peace of sleep would make it easier to throw off the effects of the ring. Oh, Father, I am sorry. If I had known before this, perhaps we wouldn't have drifted so far apart. A gentle hand stroking his hair woke him. He looked up into Frodo's sad eyes and understood the message there. He laid his head down in the hobbit's lap and drifted away. He thought for a moment he could hear his mother's voice.

*****

The rocks crumbled down and closed off the entrance to the mine. Deluiel thought her heart had stopped. Bill the pony stood next to her and she stroked his mane as she tried to calm herself. The noise still echoed in her ears and she couldn't hear Legolas at all. What was she going to do? She couldn't dig them out without help and she couldn't leave without knowing if they were going to live or die. But she couldn't go near that thing. It was hurt and that would make it more dangerous. She hung her head for a moment, then mounted Bill and rode towards Rivendell as fast as the pony would take her.

*****

Legolas stopped with a hand on Aragorn's shoulder. He was prepared to pull the human out of the way should the rocks start shifting. He couldn't hear anything over the echoing rumble of the rocks. He felt Aragorn's heart throbbing under his fingertips and removed his hand after a gentle squeeze. He held his bow close to his chest. He wanted to call out to Deluiel, but if her ears were ringing anything like his were, she wouldn't be able to hear him. He was vaguely aware that Gandalf was speaking, but he couldn't make out the words. The air felt stale and dead. He could feel the overwhelming wrongness of this place. The sadness, the pain, the grief, all of the torture that had destroyed these people, Gimli's family. He felt Aragorn brush his back briefly as they set off. He knew with a glance that the man wanted him in front where he would be able to spot any attack. His ears cleared for a moment just as Gandalf informed them that they would be there for four days. Four days to make it across this hole. Legolas' shoulders slumped. He felt cut off in a way he never had in his father's palace. He looked at the workmanship and had to admire it.

He looked at Gimli, who was a little more strong here, a little more sure. He walked through the tunnels with ease. Legolas sighed. Gandalf glanced briefly at him, but didn't ask what was wrong. The elf-prince kept a sharp eye out for any movement. They finally settled down for a few minutes of rest. Boromir was watching Legolas with a little frown. The elf continued to pace, not making a sound. Aragorn watched with a more knowledgeable eye. "What is wrong with him?" Boromir asked finally.

"He's underground."

"So are the rest of us. I thought that elves were a part of nature. Is this then not a part of nature?"

"It's not like that exactly. Legolas has been trapped below ground before. Granted it was much lighter than this, and without the orcs, but the feeling must have been similar. He will get used to it in a few hours more." Gandalf watched the elf with more concern than curiosity.

"Legolas," he said softly. "Come here."

There was no response. Gandalf straightened in surprise. His movement caught the elf's eye and he turned to watch the wizard. The wizard gestured him over. Legolas settled on his knees next to Gandalf. "Legolas," he said, just as softly as before. "Can you hear me?" He snapped his fingers by one pointed ear and got no response. He did it a second time and got a wince. "Can you hear me now?"

"Yes."

"You should have told me you were having trouble."

"It comes and goes. I figured that it would have to work itself out." Legolas shrugged. "It will be fine. The rocks merely left me with a bit of ringing in my ears."

"It worries you though. Take some rest, Legolas."

"I will not rest easily until I see the sun and stars again."

"Legolas," Gandalf said, then sighed. "Very well." Legolas took up his pacing once again. Aragorn looked at him with more than mild concern.

"I have to talk to him."

Boromir nodded. "I'm going to get some rest while I can."

"Sleep safely." Legolas adjusted his speed so that Aragorn could walk with him. The human put a hand in the small of the elf's back. The heat radiated into the tense muscles there. "Legolas, my friend. Tell me what has you so tight." The elf sighed.

"There are many things. That *thing* first off and foremost. Then, the fact that Deluiel will no longer be following. I won't even know that she's safely away from the Watcher in the Lake, until this is all done. And my lady Cariel."

"Lady Cariel?"

"Yes. She lived above these hills until the dwarves woke something horrid."

"Tell me."

"I cannot. Suffice it to say, I have had nightmares from the stories she tells. And while I know it was some exaggeration to make a better story, there must have been a grain of truth in it. Then, there is the fact that this place is infested with goblins. The walls smell of them. I can feel them. My arm aches."

"Were you injured when the rocks fell?"

Legolas gave him a small smile. "No, orc wounds never heal. At least so I am told. The scars fade on the surface, but not beneath. It is because they were once elves."

"When were you wounded? And why did you never tell me? I know such wounds have driven elves from Middle-Earth."

"When. . . when my mother died, I was injured. I spent five days in a fever sleep. The scar has faded almost completely. But it tends to ache when orcs are within range."

"And what is the range?" Strider's mind worked furiously.

"It is something like two to three miles. And it does not give directions. And there are times when it aches, and I never see an orc. Here it may well be the smell that is setting it off. You should fill your quiver the next time we come across a grouping. What better than to use their own arrows against them?" Strider's hand moved up to rest on the back of Legolas' neck, under his hair. He rubbed absently at the tension there, the silk of the elven hair falling over his knuckles.

"A good idea. Will you be able to shoot straight?"

"Strider, I've had this injury since before you were born. It hasn't affected my ability a bit." Legolas tightened his grip on his bow, hugging it to his body. "I'm fine, Strider. Get some rest. I won't be sleeping here."

"Legolas, Gandalf will keep watch. Come sit by me, keep watch over my dreams." Legolas stayed still for a long moment.

"Like before?"

"Like before."

"Okay."

*****

"He's lost. He's lost and we're stuck in a mine and you want me to sit down and relax?" Legolas hissed into Aragorn's ear.

"Yes, I do."

"I'll just pace."

"Your quiver's slipped down," Gimli said with a long suffering sigh. "Again."

"Thank you, Master Dwarf. I'm sure I never would have noticed."

"Don't sneer. It's unbecoming."

"Oh, shove it, Strider." Legolas pulled on the strap to tighten the quiver. Gimli shook his head.

"Let me help."

Legolas closed his eyes and drew on the diplomacy he knew was ingrained. "Thank you." The dwarf tightened the back strap.

"Is that comfortable?"

"Yes."

"Good. Now, stop pacing before you drive us all mad. Have something to eat and sit down."

"No, thank you kindly." Legolas leaned against the damp wall, trying to remember why he'd joined up with this madness in the first place. It was becoming increasingly difficult. The humans were talking. Merry and Pippen were snacking. Sam was catching a quick nap and Frodo was talking to the wizard. Legolas saw the creature following them. It was Gollum from what Gandalf had told him when he'd been spotted three days back. He couldn't help but wonder if it was worth Ravenclaw's life to keep that thing in the woods. Maybe they should have just let it go.

"Ah, this is the way," Gandalf announced.

I could have told him that hours ago, Legolas thought to himself. But no one asks the elf anything. And no one listens to him when they do.

*****

"Legolas, get them up." Legolas complied half-heartedly. He knew they had to get to Lorien, but there was a reluctance to leave that he could not explain. And the hobbits' grief was so sharp that he could feel it. But beyond that, he could hear something faint and scraping behind them. Orcs couldn't attack in the day was an old myth. They preferred not to and would burn if they did, but that didn't mean that the dark lord couldn't manipulate things so that they could attack them where they rested for the moment. Aragorn strode over quickly and got Sam on his feet, then collected Frodo. It was painful to watch, painful to sense, so Legolas shut it off. He had to be cold for awhile. Better to be numb than to die from the backlash of pain and anger. Aragorn was intent on forgetting too, that was obvious. The pace he set was too much for the little ones, and no one else was quick enough to catch up with him. Legolas was shaken by the realization that this was the role he was primed to play, go between for a king and his people. He shoved that down under a layer of ice as well. Lorien was beautiful.

He had never seen trees such as these. They didn't thrive in Mirkwood. Only the darker, hardier trees did. He also knew that they would not be welcomed in a state of war. His bow was out and aimed without his conscious thought, before Haldir confronted them. Legolas would kill to protect any of the Fellowship. He would even kill his own kind. As his father had told him long before, evil is not visible to the eye.

He should have known that Aragorn was welcomed in Lorien. Galadriel was Arwen's grandmother. And she obviously approved of Aragorn. Her eyes were soft, but distant when she looked to him. She was more focussed on those in the party she knew she could unsettle. He and Aragorn just weren't a good audience. She bade them rest and food was set for them. He paused when Celeborn's hand settled on his shoulder. "Legolas, I would speak with you."

"Yes, my lord?" he responded. He followed Celeborn to his chambers. Celeborn looked him over carefully. "My lord?" Legolas asked hesitantly when the older elf didn't speak.

"I wasn't expecting you to look as much like your mother as you do. Is it true that your father has remarried?"

"Yes, my lord."

"And do you mind his new wife?"

"Lady Cariel has been a good friend to me."

"How did you manage to come without a guard?" Celeborn was amused. He sat down and gestured for the prince to do the same.

"Deluiel was separated from us when the gates of Moria crashed down. I assume she is on her way to Rivendell as we speak. And from there back to Mirkwood."

Celeborn nodded. He didn't like the fact that the young man before him was a glacier. He knew from Arwen's stories that the elf-prince could laugh and smile and otherwise react normally. "What troubles you, young one?"

"Nothing you can heal, my lord." Legolas' back stiffened. "Although," he said with a sly glint in his eye, "if you do not mind, I think Master Gimli would like to see more of your wife."

Celeborn laughed. "Very well. I will let her know."

"Thank you, sir. Better a love-lorn dwarf than a mourning one."

"Tell me of yourself, Legolas."

"There is little to tell and the Evenstar tells my story better than I ever could."

"She is very fond of you."

"I have been told this before."

"We were at one time hoping, ah well, that doesn't matter."

Legolas glared. "Not you too."

"What do you mean?"

"Tell me that you weren't thinking that Arwen and I would make a good match. We're not compatible. She's happy to stay at home for long stretches of time, while I hate it."

"You don't leave Mirkwood."

"Not by choice. And if I have to have the settle down with a nice wife and make an heir speech I think I shall have to be ill."

"I would never tell you something like that. That's a father's prerogative."

"Well, then you may as well give me your version. I've heard it once from Elrond. And since I rarely have a father," Legolas shrugged. "I'm sorry," he said suddenly. "I didn't mean to take my feelings out on you. I've merely been frustrated."

"So you don't have a Chosen?" Celeborn's eyes were full of sympathy. "I didn't realize that you and your father weren't getting on."

"I don't have a father. For many centuries I did not have a mother either. I was born full-grown from my lord Thranduil's thoughts. Did he not tell you so?"

"Arwen told me that you never speak of your mother, but I thought that the grief was merely too strong."

Legolas looked up to the golden canopy of trees. "My lord, there are things that I cannot explain to you. Things that I barely understand, but I am beginning to grasp. My lord's thoughts have been touched and twisted by a piece of pretty metal. I cannot blame him for his actions, but I cannot forget what has gone before. It was only sixty years ago that I hear my mother's name from his throat once more. It was only due to Cariel's intervention that I have not gone mad. My brother, Gailduil, is a much better heir for Mirkwood."

"Oddly enough, I think I've heard 'I don't want to be king' from someone else Arwen is fond of." Legolas blinked. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.

"There are at least three of us who donít want to be leaders then. And Mithrandir has chosen a wonderful time to get himself killed." Legolas scowled.

"Yes, his timing is perfect," Galadriel stated. She placed a gentle hand on Legolas' shoulder to keep him from rising. "You know who you will follow when the Fellowship cracks apart."

"There would be no choice, my lady. The hobbit is strong enough to do what must be done, so long as his Chosen stays with him."

"I believe so as well. Your faith in him is admirable. Only the other hobbits feel as you do, that Frodo was the right one for this job."

"I do not think that is the truth. The others fear themselves, not Frodo."

"Then they are fools."

"We are all fools, but some quests cannot be forgotten. And some losses must be survived privately. If you will excuse me, I would be with the others for at least this night."

"Of course." Galadriel kissed his cheek gently. "Go to them."

*****

"A lament for Gandalf," Legolas stated, tipping his head up to listen more clearly.

"What are they saying?"

"I haven't the heart to tell you. The grief is yet to near for me." Legolas couldn't handle the grief the hobbits were putting off. He was not going to double it. He wandered into the forest. He settled at the base of a tree and drew his knees up to his chest. He lowered his face and let himself feel. He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was warm and firm. He looked up.

"Legolas?" Aragorn questioned. The elf looked at him and a final tear escaped his control. Aragorn brushed it away. "I'm here, if you need me. You know that?"

"I know. But the others need you more than I do at this moment."

"They are asleep, my friend."

"Time goes so quickly."

"The road was hard and my pace was harsh for them. If you hadn't called me back, I might have left them." Aragorn sighed. "I don't know why." He sat next to his friend and put an arm around the more slender shoulders. It was odd not to feel the quiver there.

"You were running from demons to safety. None of us had been to Lorien before. We didn't know its beauty or else we might have run faster ourselves."

Aragorn sighed. "And what pains you tonight, friend?"

Legolas shook his head. "It is a personal pain, Aragorn. There is nothing to be done about it, except to bear it." Aragorn tightened his grip and pulled Legolas closer to him.

"I'm not tired. I'd like to sit with you, if you'll have me."

"Of course, Aragorn."

The morning's light found Aragorn asleep, his head in Legolas' lap. The elf-prince himself was asleep. One hand rested on the human's forehead. The other on his back. Galadriel watched them for a long moment. She nodded. She would approach Aragorn first. Legolas came back to himself as he heard the hobbits talking about finally getting a full breakfast. He woke Aragorn gently. "I think you should find a real bed for tomorrow. You're going to be stiff if you keep sleeping on pillows that aren't pillows."

"I haven't slept that well in several weeks, as you should know. I came to comfort you, you know."

Legolas smiled. "I told you last night that you couldn't take away my pain, Aragorn." He shook his head. "I'm going to walk the dwarf's legs off today. He was so taken with Galadriel. I think I might see if we can find her, so that he can indulge himself in admiring her."

"And I thought elves were kind."

"You were sadly misinformed. But there is no harm in indulging Gimli. He has had a lot of grief in a short period of time. He will need the relief that Lorien will provide him."

"Your legs are asleep. You don't fool me." Legolas rolled his eyes.

"Child." He got to his feet smoothly and offered Aragorn a hand up. "I think you should get back to the others if you want to get something to eat. The hobbits have already started on the breakfast Galadriel has provided."

The Fellowship was unsurprised to see Aragorn and Legolas return together from somewhere in the woods. They were both familiar with elven ways and had probably gone to do some incomprehensible communing with nature. Or they were snogging as Merry had suggested. The hobbits looked closely to see if there was any evidence of anything interesting. Legolas looked as perfectly kempt as ever and Aragorn was dressed as he had been the night before. There was no evidence of anything. That was too bad.

"Good morning, Master Dwarf. Are you ready for that tour?" Legolas asked.

"No, you blasted elf. I've not finished breakfast and my beard is still a mess."

The Fellowship snickered at their bickering, glad of the distraction.

*****

Aragorn looked at Galadriel with faint trepidation. She was up to something. She settled her hand on his arm and they walked through the forest. "My dear Aragorn, you know that I have always enjoyed the attention you have given my granddaughter. I, unlike some of the others, have never seen a problem with the two of you being wed. But I know that you are not in love with Arwen."

"Begging your pardon, Lady, but I think I know what I feel and I love Arwen. I have from the moment I set eyes upon her."

Galadriel shook her head and smiled the most smugly serene smile she could. "Aragorn, you love her, but you are not in love with her. You love her like a sister."

"No, Lady Galadriel, I most certainly do not love her like a sister. If I were attracted to my sister in that way, I would have been run out of my home."

"Yet, she is, in one sense your sister."

Aragorn rolled his eyes. "Are you suddenly objecting to our marriage?"

"I merely want to point out that you may wish to consider it a political marriage. Elves have never held to the boundaries of humans, and we don't expect you to do so."

"Would you please take pity on me and tell me what exactly you are implying?"

"Just that the two of you will be married in human terms, but you don't have to live by those restrictions."

"Galadriel, I have never been attracted to someone other than Arwen. I love her. And if she does not love me, or loves another as well as me, I will not stand in her way. She is an elf and I know that she believes in the physical expression of love, with or without formal sanction." Aragorn sighed. "Is this the Arwen and Legolas discussion? If it is, both of them have informed me that the rumor was just a rumor and nothing more. And furthermore, Elrond already gave me that speech."

Galadriel was intrigued. "There were rumors about Arwen and Legolas that I haven't heard?"

"Only that they were thought to be heading towards marriage."

"Oh, is that all. That was wishful thinking on the part of Elrond and Thranduil. They are a good match for hunting, but not for loving. Besides, any fool could see that Legolas is in love with you."

Aragorn stopped short. "What are you talking about?"

"Why else would he follow you?" She looked surprised. "And you love him. I didn't think you were that blind." She kissed him gently on the cheek and left him to wander back to his companions.

*****

Legolas looked up. "Oh no." He caught hold of Gimli's arm in a vice-grip. "Come on, Gimli," he said with forced cheerfulness, "let's go watch the ladies in waiting at the bathing pool." The dwarf looked up in confusion and saw pleading brown eyes. He gave in and followed the elf to the pool.

"Who are we running from?" he asked softly.

"Celeborn. He's got that look on his face."

"What look?"

"I'm going to give you a talking to, young one."

Gimli nodded sagely. He knew exactly what that meant when one of his elders wore it. He assumed it was no different for an elf. On top of that, the elf had managed to find something entertaining to watch. Gimli restrained himself from imagining that one of the women in the pool was Galadriel. He couldn't believe that he was so infatuated with her. Then again, dwarves were quick to fall in love and tended to stay that way for the rest of their lives. He wondered if elves were the same. Since the elf now owed him, it was the perfect time to ask. "Legolas?"

"Yes?"

"Do elves fall in love?"

Legolas considered for a long moment. "Elves love freely. But there are rare instances when one falls in love and Choses another forever. Those loves never fade. But elves do not feel restrained by our loves either. We live so long that it is madness to believe that we would only ever meet one that we loved. Arwen, for instance, has Chosen Aragorn to be hers forever more. She is willing to die to be with him. Were he an elf, they would have been married already. As it is, Aragorn can't do without the legal aspect of things. He needs to wed her in public, although their hearts are already bound." Legolas shrugged. "Is it the same for dwarves?"

"We fall in love quickly, but only once for the rest of our lives. Once that happens, no other can satisfy us. Have you ever been in love, Legolas?"

"No, Master Gimli, never." Legolas shrugged. "I do not miss it. Have you found your love? What does it feel like?"

"Yes, I think I have. I cannot explain it to you, friend. But I hope that some day it will bless your heart as well."

Legolas gave him a sad smile. "I do not believe that I am destined for love. It is not in my nature."

Gimli didnít respond. Legolas sat back and they watched the young elves playing in the water for a few moments. "Legolas," Celeborn called. "Come, walk with me. I need to talk to you."

"In a moment, sir. Master Gimli and I still have some things to discuss."

"Don't try it, Legolas. I've been using that particular lie since before you were born. Excuse us, Master Dwarf."

"Of course."

"Demon bait."

"Topside fool," Gimli shot back.

Celeborn slipped his arm around the younger elf's shoulders. "Now, about you and Aragorn."

"What about us, my lord?" Legolas was confused. "I have promised to follow him and Frodo. I promised Arwen I would look after her Chosen. What else is there?"

"You are in love with him, boy."

"I beg to differ. I am not in love with Aragorn. I don't fall in love. I care for him. He is a friend. But I am no more in love with him than I am with my brother." He rolled his eyes. "If this is an odd lead into the Arwen discussion again, I think I might scream."

"No, this isn't about Arwen. This is about you." Celeborn frowned at the prince. "You are in love with Aragorn. It's as clear as water."

"I think, my lord, that you are mistaking things of friendship for something more."

"And I think you are being willfully blind to your own state of being."

Legolas stiffened at the sharp tone. Celeborn realized that he was missing something vital. "Legolas, have you never been in love before?"

"No, my lord. And I am not in love now. If you will excuse me, I wish to refill my quiver before it is time for us to leave."

"No, Legolas, I will not give you leave to run away from this discussion."

"Why not?"

"Because I will not see you hurting for no good reason. There is no reason why you and Aragorn shouldn't enjoy the time you have. He could die tomorrow, or he could live for a century. Why squander your time with him?"

"It is not my time. He is to wed Arwen. He is in love with Arwen. Arwen has Chosen him."

Celeborn frowned again. "I am not talking about Arwen. Will you quit bringing her up?"

"She is rather integral to the conversation, my lord. She is to wed the man you seem to think I should be involved with. I am not in love with Aragorn. I am not going to fall in love with Aragorn. Excuse me." Legolas turned out of the grip and stalked off into the woods.

"That went well," Celeborn said to the air.

*****

"Aragorn," Legolas said shaking his head. "Good Gods what is next?" He climbed up the tree without really thinking about it. He settled in the branches facing Northeast, towards Mirkwood, and braided his hair absently. He sat there until the sun set in the West. He looked at the little bird that came to rest on the branch near him. "Hello, Little One. How are you today?" He smiled as the little sparrow chirped happily at him. It picked at a strand of his hair. "Why is the world so complex, Little One? This should have been so simple. Go on the quest. Kill some orcs. Get rid of that *thing* and spend some time with a couple of old friends. I shouldn't be getting snappish and fighting with elven lords and ladies.

"I shouldn't be so scared that my heart feels as if it's going to beat out of my chest. I shouldn't be missing home with such intensity. I shouldn't want to be back under my lord's yoke. But I am so tired. There is this pain in the back of my head that grows every day. And there is a threat thatís strangling my heart. And I don't understand what Celborn wants of me. And I don't understand how we're to face what is coming. I see so much tragedy in one small band, Little One. I can't find a way to make it equal out. And I am getting so tense that I just want a battle to wash away the apathy with the sheer joy of the fight. There is rage in my heart, Little One. I am so scared of it. I am so scared that I will turn it on my friends. I don't know what to do. I want to run, but I want to stay. I want to be home, safe and sound and doing exactly what I'm told, but I want to be here as well.

"I want to stop time and turn it back and take away the tears of the hobbits and the doubts of the humans and make them see that life doesn't have to be this hard. I donít want to think of what could have become of Deluiel or what might have happened to Ravenclaw. And the whispers in the winds are so painful." The little bird hopped onto his knee and he looked into its eye for a long moment. It sang for him, then waited patiently for him to do the same. "You want a song from me, Little One?" It chirped once. "Very well." He thought for a long moment, then his voice lifted to join the gentle breeze of the Lorien air.

"God
Oh God
May the light
Illuminate the night
The way your spirit illuminates my soul
Ada, can you hear me?
Ada, can you see me?
Ada, can you find me in the night?
Ada, are you near me?
Ada, can you hear me?
Ada, can you help me not be frightened?
Looking at the skies, I seem to see a million eyes
Which ones are yours?
Where are you now that yesterday has waved goodbye
And closed its doors?
The night is so much darker
The wind is so much colder
The world I see is so much bigger now that I'm alone.
Ada, please forgive me
Try to understand me
Ada, don't you know I had no choice?
Can you hear me praying?
Anything I'm saying
Even though the night is filled with voices?
I remember ev'rything you taught me
Ev'ry book I've ever read
Can all the words in all the books
Help me to face what lies ahead?
The trees are so much taller
And I feel so much smaller
The moon is twice as lonely and the stars are half as bright
Ada, how I love you
Ada, how I need you
Ada, how I miss you kissing me goodnight
God
Oh God
May the light
Illuminate the night
The way your spirit illuminates my soul."

*****

Aragorn's ears picked up Legolas' voice on the night wind. Sam looked up. "Is that Legolas?"

"Yes."

"What's he saying?"

"I don't think I can tell you, Sam."

The hobbit looked at Aragorn carefully. He hadn't trusted Strider in the beginning, but the man was growing on him. Whatever he was hearing was painful. "My old gaffer always said that a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved."

"A wise hobbit, your gaffer. But this is something that I cannot share with you. Thank you for the offer."

"Is this about Mr. Legolas loving you?" Strider's jaw dropped.

"And how did you come to that conclusion, Samwise?"

"It's obvious to anyone willing to look. He worries over you something awful." Sam looked ruefully at Frodo. "Not that I don't understand it, sir. Brooders take a rare kind of patience to care for."

"Are you saying that I brood?"

"That you do, sir," Sam said, emboldened by being in Lorien. "I think you worry a lot. Even more now that Gandalf went and left you in charge. I think you need to let him help you some, sir. That I do."

"Samwise, will you promise me something?"

"If I can, sir."

"Whatever happens, don't leave Frodo alone?"

"I won't, sir. I won't leave Mr. Frodo for no reason."

"Thank you, Sam. You've eased my heart some."

"Then, that's a good night's work. Go talk to him, Strider."

"Yes, sir, Master Gamgee." Strider stood and headed for the tree he'd decided Legolas must have been singing from. "Legolas?" he called up.

"Aragorn?" It was almost too soft to hear.

"Yes." Legolas landed lightly next to the ranger. Aragorn carefully wiped away the tears with the bottom of his sleeve. "Sit with me?"

"Of course." They settled under the tree. Legolas let himself lean on his friend's strength.

"Will you tell me what pains you so much? A wise hobbit told me firmly that sharing sorrow halves it."

"That would be Samwise, then. He has told me the same thing. I fear that it is not true. I have shared my sorrows before and it seems to do nothing but magnify them."

"Tell me what bothers you most tonight."

"Celeborn has decided that I'm the perfect match for you."

"Odd, Galadriel and I had that conversation."

"I'm not in love with you, you know. This is as bad as Arwen attempting to set me up with Sadorlien. Then, she tried to set me up with Elrohir. And there as that, that, bitch, that Ravenclaw found for me. I understand that she's pretty, but she's petty."

"But that isn't what is bothering you." Aragorn knew full well that Legolas was used to rumors circulating about him. He'd heard odd rumors for years. He'd heard the one that said Arwen and Legolas had been having an affair for millennia. Then, there was the one that said he was sleeping with some pretty little maid from Rivendell. Not to mention the one that contended that Thranduil was going to use him to cement a relationship with Lorien. None of them meant anything to Legolas.

"I am missing my forest. I never thought I would say that, Aragorn. I never thought I would miss my lord's meddling enough to seek it out."

"You've never been far away enough to miss him."

"True." Legolas let his head drop onto Aragorn's shoulder. "What are we going to do about the dreadful duo?"

"Toss the dwarf at them?"

Legolas managed to keep a straight face for approximately five seconds, then he started to laugh. Aragorn joined him until they were gasping for breath. "Did you see his face when I caught his beard?" Legolas whispered, in case their mirth had roused their companions.

"Yes. And you enjoyed that far too much."

"It was his fault for trying to tie my hair into my quiver."

"That was accidental."

"I had to grab his beard to save his life."

"I won't tell anyone."

"Good because I still can't believe that I saved his life. He's a dwarf."

"And you like him."

"A bit."

"Admit it."

"Yes, I like the little critter."

"Why don't you stay with the company at night?" Aragorn asked, suddenly serious.

"There is something I can't explain about how the ring calls to me. It's like I'm always aware of it on the edge of my mind. And I get so angry at times that I need to get away from it."

"I haven't seen anything unusual."

"Because the ring was living in Mirkwood when we met."

Aragorn blinked. "It was?"

"Yes, in the Misty Mountains. It had lived in Mirkwood's main river source for much longer than that."

Aragorn frowned and absently pulled his companion closer. "The ring was in Mirkwood. You didn't know that until the council did you?"

"No. Mithrandir never told me why he was interested in Dol Guldur."

"Gandalf never tells anyone why he does what he does."

"I suppose. That's why I came. I had to make sure that thrice damned bit of gold-work gets destroyed."

"And if we don't go all the way to the mountain with Frodo?" Legolas considered.

"Will he have Sam with him?"

"Yes."

"That's good enough for me. Samwise Gamgee hates it for what it's done to Frodo."

"So do I."

"I know."

"I fear for this company."

"You always have. It has been getting worse as we go on though. The loss of Gandalf has thrown you for a loop, but you'll come back to your true self soon enough. I read the old hobbit's tale of his adventures in Mirkwood."

"Did you?" Aragorn was happy for the change in topic.

"Yes. It seems Mithrandir disappeared on them right at the edge of Mirkwood and they had to find their way through alone. And kill the dragon alone. He showed up at the end to make sure everything worked out though."

Or so he'd thought. "Is this your round-about way of telling me that you don't think he's dead?"

Legolas blinked innocently at the human. "No, that was a way of saying, let go and the gods will guide you in the right way. If you stop fighting them everything will work out."

"Stop that."

"What?"

"Acting your age."

"And what is my age?"

"How should I know? Arwen won't tell me."

"Then neither shall I. You'll have to ask Elrond when he comes to your coronation." Legolas moved out of strike range before Aragorn got over the shock.

"First off, no coronation."

"Right." Legolas listened with mock-attentiveness.

"Secondly, what makes you think Elrond knows?"

"He was supposedly informed of my birth. I think. No, Thranduil was already feuding with him then. He'd already packed up his wife and his followers and moved to the Greenwood. Hm. Perhaps you should ask Celeborn, as he seems to know everything, including what I should be doing with whom."

"Noted. Thirdly, why on earth have you and Arwen decided to team up against me?"

"I've known her longer. And it wouldn't be any fun to pick on you alone. And I wouldn't want you to forget what her pricking can be like."

"I prefer yours."

"I'm nicer."

"You're sharper."

"I've more practice." Legolas grinned. "That's better. I prefer to see you smiling."

"Samwise said that brooders take a special sort of patience."

"I've heard Sadorlien say the same thing." Legolas shrugged. "Personally, I think they're just trying to justify the fact that they have an overactive sense of duty towards someone else."

"So you don't think Sam is in love with Frodo?"

"I think he loves him, but not romantically."

Aragorn blinked. "Then you're the only person I know who thinks that way."

"Maybe that's because I don't think with my dick."

"Maybe you should try once and awhile."

Legolas snorted. "Go to bed, Strider, you're starting to talk like a common human."

"I am a common human."

"You are more than that and we both know it."

"And we will not get into that discussion, Legolas." Legolas surrendered.

Aragorn collapsed onto his bed of moss and blankets and was asleep moments later. Legolas looked down at him and shook his head. Damn the man for his stubbornness.

*****

Gimli watched the elf talking with his own kind with a world-weary bemusement. The elf had been making sure he got to see every part of the forest and several opportunities to see the Lady Galadriel without the formal boundaries he knew would normally be there. It was strange to realize that Legolas, who couldn't comprehend Sam's love for Frodo, was more than willing to indulge a dwarf's love for an elf. Gimli smiled to himself. It was well-enough that he got the opportunity to see the lady here, for soon they would leave and he would be left with memories. And no memory would ever be as sweet as the smile on her face or the sunlight on her hair. She was perfect in a way he could never explain. She shimmered like diamonds or quartz and was as cool and distant as sapphires set in mithril.

The dwarf sighed. It was only in the past few days that he had learned anything much about the elf, and most of that from overheard conversations with Aragorn in Moria. He had missed the fact that they had been shadowed from Rivendell. He hadn't known that the elf was afraid of being underground until Aragorn had forced Legolas to sit down and keep watch that way. He hadn't realized that the elf was never still unless he was asleep or hunting. He also hadn't realized that the elf was so attached to the company. He thought all elves were distant and cold. He hadn't realized that they felt emotions at all. And he hadn't really thought about the fact that Legolas hadn't admitted that he was in love with the human. He had thought it was because of Aragorn's engagement. Then, he'd seen how the elves of Lorien treated marriage as just a facet of love. They spent the night with their own mates more often than not, but there was no reason why they should not spend it with someone else. And privacy did not exist to them. Nor did shame it appeared.

Gimli blushed as red as his beard when Galadriel stripped off her dress and slid into the water. She waved cheerfully at the dwarf, who raised a hand in greeting. Well, it was clear that he was in for the long haul now. There was no way that he'd be able to head back to camp in the condition he was in now. Celeborn was talking to Legolas again and the younger elf did not look pleased with the way the discussion was headed.

*****

"Stop scowling and listen to me, Legolas."

"Stop trying to see things that aren't there."

"You are in love."

"I think I would notice, sir."

"I think you would not."

"And why is that, sir?"

"Since you never have before."

"I am not interested in light affairs. I will not betray Arwen in that manner either."

"It is not a betrayal."

"Isn't it? I promised to watch over Aragorn. That is what I am doing."

"Yes, you are. And you are overlooking him as well."

"I am very aware of where he is at all times. That is what one does when one is protecting someone," Legolas snapped.

"And when you close your eyes, who do you see?"

"I see many things when I dream, my lord," Legolas said softly. "Mostly, I dream of home and of the war that has already started there."

Celeborn straightened. "War? What do you mean?"

"I mean to say, sir, that the orcs are getting stronger and stronger and they do not try to hide their presence any longer. And I know the guards have been weakened by recent losses. And I fear for the safety of my home. Is that not allowed?"

"Don't get angry at me, Legolas."

"Then whom should I be angry with?" Celeborn rested a gentle hand on the taut shoulder. "Myself for not going home when my guard counseled that I should? For not following the order my lord gave to me when there was talk of sending someone to Rivendell?"

"What did you do, Legolas?" Celeborn asked suddenly. "What guilt preys upon you?"

"I requested that my lord send my bodyguards, since they are the best in the company, to accompany his messenger."

"And?" Celborn held his breath. He noted that his wife had gone still as well.

"I neglected to tell him that I was accompanying my guards as the messenger."

"Oh, Legolas. What are we to do with you, little one?"

"Not tell my lord Thranduil what I've gotten up to before I do?"

"Granted. Oh, Legolas, you've made things very difficult on yourself, you know."

"No harder than they need to be. No harder than my lord wished them before his sudden recovery of his senses a few decades back."

"I admit that I was surprised to see you outside of his holdings. I had thought that he had given his leave as a gesture of goodwill towards Elrond."

"No, my lord, I did not ask for his permission. It would not have been granted and I would be sitting currently on the roof of the palace brooding as deeply as Aragorn does now in the woods."

"Has anyone ever told you that you are far too formal?"

"No, my lord."

"When was the last time you call Thranduil anything other than 'my lord'?"

Legolas considered. "When I called him a self-centered bastard who had no idea what I thought and therefore he should not try. That was approximately three seconds before I was restricted to the palace for half a century. That was nearly five hundred turns ago."

Celeborn closed his eyes and let his chin drop to his chest. "Oh, Legolas, there is so much that you need to tell me about Mirkwood that I don't think there will be time enough left in the universe for it."

"Not if the ring is not destroyed. I will tell you all, should we survive this quest."

"Chin up. Don't be gloom and doom like your mother."

"I am a pragmatist, my lord. The queen was as well. We see that in some situations, death is a possibility. I will not turn from the path merely because of that. There is no fear of death in me. The dead cannot hurt us. It is the tortured living that are dangerous."

"Such as the other human?'

"Yes, such as the Steward."

"You really are too much like Aewlos. You know that, correct?"

"So I have been told several times."

"Go find Aragorn, then, and keep him from brooding. It will do you good."

Legolas stared at Celeborn. "Keep Aragorn from brooding? I'm not a miracle worker you know."

Celeborn shrugged. "It's your duty to try. Watching over him includes his mental health." He shooed the younger elf away.

*****

The next day, they set out again, paddling down the river of Anduin. Gimli was mooning over Galadriel. Legolas told him gently, "Your memories won't fade, Gimli. They will stay as bright and clear as they are today."

"Perhaps it is that way for elves, but not for dwarves."

"It will be. Your memories of Lorien will not fade." Gimli didn't hear the reality in the words, only the comfort of a friend. Legolas shook his head fondly. He didn't ask for much from the gods. But when he did ask, his requests were normally answered. He knew that this one would be granted as well. They always were when he asked for something for someone else.

The river was swift, but something was following them on the edge of Legolas' perception. He heard something strange in the bird's songs. He knew there was something very wrong in the air. Something nasty and dark. At first he ascribed it to the effects of the ring. But he knew that to be a lie as soon as he let his mind contemplate it. He moved automatically to keep pace with the other boats. They pulled up for a short break. Legolas let his mind rest completely in the streams of the world. He woke to a gentle hand on his shoulder. "It's time to go, Legolas."

The elf nodded. It was past time to move. He got into the boat and pushed off without more than a nodded greeting to the others. His attention pricked at something he couldn't see clearly. Three days later, they arrived at the edge of Mordor, near the gap of Rohan. Boromir would be leaving them to head to Minas Tirith then. Merry and Pippen would be sad to see him go. Legolas wasn't sure what he thought of the human leaving them. He was glad because that meant he would stop feeling the urge to knock the man's teeth in if he didn't stop mooning over Aragorn and lusting after the ring. The man had no idea what that little band of gold could do to a normally kind person. Legolas wasn't even sure that Boromir had the clarity of vision to see that it was only pride that said he could control the thing.

On the other hand, the breaking up of the group would make the danger that much greater. He didn't want to think of any of the Fellowship going on alone. He had promised Arwen that he would look after her Chosen many years before. But his heart told him that he had to look after Boromir, if only for the hobbits' sake. He had no question that Merry and Pippen could be convinced to go with the man. It might take some work, but it was possible. Then, Legolas could convince Gimli that it was his duty to help Boromir look after the little ones. Then, he and Aragorn could go with Frodo and Sam and destroy the damned ring once and for all. It was a sound plan.

They pulled up to the shore before the waterfall. "We'll camp and head out after dark," Aragorn told the group.

"We shouldn't linger," Legolas said, softly as he scanned the trees. "There is a shadow and a threat that has been growing in my mind. I can feel it."

Aragorn touched his arm, just as Pippen asked where Frodo had gone. Boromir had followed the hobbit. There were no words that had to be said. Aragorn patted Legolas' shoulder and went after the other two. Legolas tried in vain to keep the hobbits from running off after their friend. He and Gimli exchanged a glance. "They are young," Gimli said shortly.

"So are you," Legolas replied. "I don't see you running off without a partner."

"They aren't warriors, despite their bravery."

"True." Legolas straightened. "Orcs." He took off at a jog, Gimli on his heels. The fight was fast and furious. The orcs fell swiftly beneath his bow. Suddenly, his ears picked up the sound of Boromir's horn. After all the grief Elrond had given him in Rivendell, the man wouldn't use it unless it were an emergency. Aragorn nearly ran over the elf in his haste to find the Steward of Gondor.

*****

Legolas came to a full stop. Aragorn was comforting the dying Boromir. Go swiftly, little one, he whispered to the spirit that was released with Aragorn's final kiss. He was aware of Gimli behind him, but all of his being was focused on Aragorn. Strider's tears stained his face. The human wiped them away almost angrily. Legolas nodded in approval. They needed to send Boromir on and follow Merry and Pippen and Sam and Frodo. Legolas could scent them on the air. He could hear Frodo and Sam arguing on the banks of the river. There was no time left.

He strode forward and pulled the arrows from Boromir's chest. He dropped them into Aragorn's almost empty quiver. He lifted the human and Aragorn led them back to the shore. He set the body down and brushed the leaves from his beard and hair. Gimli moved to empty one of the boats. Aragorn removed the gauntlets that Boromir always wore. Legolas set Boromir in the now empty boat. He took the strip of fabric from Aragorn's fingers. He washed the wound with cool water and bound it carefully with the addition of some of the salve Strider carried. Then, Aragorn arranged the body and shoved the boat into the water. They each said their goodbyes silently.

"We have to hurry," Legolas said for the dwarf's benefit. "Sam and Frodo have reached the Eastern Shore." He turned. "You don't mean to follow them?"

"Sam and Frodo's fate is no longer in our hands."

"Then the Fellowship has failed," Gimli said sadly.

"Not so long as we hold true to each other," Aragorn said seriously. "We will not abandon Merry and Pippen to torment and death. Leave everything that you can. We travel light."

That being said he turned and set his knife in his sheath. Then, he took off into the forest. Legolas let Gimli go in front of him so that he could take the rear guard. He would let the tracker lead them for the moment.

*****

It was really too much. The dwarf was doing well, but he was flagging. They needed to stop and Aragorn was going to run himself into the ground. It was the heat radiating off of the dwarf that finally forced Legolas to act. He touched Gimli's arm and stopped him. They were in a nice enough spot for a camp. The dwarf cocked his head in a silent question. Legolas smiled gently at him, then stepped quickly after the human. He pulled at Aragorn's sleeve. "Strider, slow down," Legolas said softly. The human didn't respond. "Aragorn, you need to stop for a moment." Aragorn shook off the light touch. Legolas grabbed his arm and spun him around, knocking his feet out from under him. "Stay," he ordered.

"We have to keep going. They will kill them. You know what they are capable of!"

"Yes, you stubborn bastard I do! I've seen it. But would you do the same to Gimli?"

"What do you mean? He is fine." Aragorn looked surprised when he realized the dwarf was not with them.

"You left him behind. Just like you left us after Moria. I know you don't want to be a leader. I know, but you are running away again and I won't let you do that."

"Says the master of the art." Legolas didn't respond. "What do you want me to do? Let them die?"

"I want you to be in a condition to rescue them when we catch up with the orcs. I can't take them alone. And if you keep going at this pace, you will fall over when the next one breaths on you," Legolas hissed. "I won't see you dead of exhaustion."

Aragorn looked up at the elf who stood over him. For the first time since they'd met, he actually saw the elf angry. He gaped.

"If you insist on dying, I'll do it for you. But for now, you will do as you are told and rest. You're shaking. You're injured. And damn it all, Aragorn, you're grieving. I can't watch you do this to yourself. We are going back to where Gimli is setting up camp. I'm going to force some water down your throat. You will sit there. You will relax for a few hours, even if you don't sleep, and you will trust my judgement to keep you safe through the night." He put a hand out to pull the ranger up.

Aragorn took the offered grasp and got to his feet. "You are a bossy bastard."

"I learned from someone a lot more stubborn than Elrond. Move."

'Who?" Aragorn couldn't help but ask.

"Arwen."

Strider couldn't help it. He laughed until there were tears in his eyes. "You could have warned me before I got engaged."

"Neither of you would have listened to me. You're a perfect match. Move."

Gimli looked up at them. "Finally. There's a shelter here. And there's water just down the hill. I'm going to sleep. Wake me for watch, Master Elf."

"Doubtful, Master Dwarf."

"When did I lose control of this group?"

"When you nearly drove the dwarf into the ground and shook me off. Sit. I'll get you something to eat."

"I don't trust you to hunt for me."

"Shut up, Aragorn. I know an herb from a poison. Humans."

"Stubborn elf."

"Rest. I won't go far."

"I'm not tired," Aragorn protested.

"You are acting like a child who wants to watch the party. Close your eyes. I'll sing you to sleep."

"Will you?"

"Yes." Legolas hummed under his breath to call the tune to mind, then started to sing the song his mother used to quiet him when he was a child. He found it had the same effect on the human and dwarf. He smiled up at the bird sitting in the tree above him. "Thank you, Naneth." He brought enough water for his companions and kept a careful watch. He noted the soft snore from Gimli. He watched the rise and fall of Aragorn's chest. He made a careful record of every feature of the man. Then, he wandered silently around his companions, contemplating his own mind. Did he love Aragorn? Yes, just as he loved Gailduil. Had he Chosen Aragorn? No. There, that was simple. But the tiny seed of doubt that Celeborn planted was beginning to grow. Would he recognize it if he were in love? Could he recognize it? There was a sharp pain in his chest as he realized that the answer to both questions was "no." He'd never been in love. He'd never even had a brief fling. He was uncommonly chaste for an elf. Even Sadorlien had had his share of affairs. Legolas knew that for a fact because he had hung on every word his oldest friend spoke about his relationships. But he'd never had the urge to indulge himself. He'd been pushed towards so many partners by concerned people that he couldn't help but see Celeborn and Galadriel's desperation as one more of those attempts. Please don't let them talk to Thranduil or Elrond about this, he prayed. Or Arwen. She'll kill me.

*****

Deluiel looked at Rivendell's bridge and felt a single tear track down her face. She wiped it away. It would do no good. She dismounted and led Bill into the compound. He was rushed to the stables for a good cleaning and she went directly to Lord Elrond. "My lord," she said formally.

"Deluiel?" He looked up in shock. "I did not expect to see you here."

"I did not expect to be here. I have grave news."

"Speak quickly."

"The Fellowship has entered Moria. The doorway collapsed behind them. I could follow them no farther. My fondest hope is that they made it to Lorien unscathed. I will return to Mirkwood now, Lord Elrond."

"I will miss you and Sadorlien, as surely as any other member of my household."

She raised a brow in his direction. "And what makes you think Sadorlien will abandon the post he promised our prince he would take?"

Elrond shook his head and smiled. "I can think of no better guard for Arwen then. Go in peace and return in peace."

"I will go in peace, but I don't think I shall return."

"Deluiel?" Elrond straightened.

"I will command the guard. If the woods have become as treacherous as Legolas believes them to be, then I will not return to Rivendell before you join your wife."

"And what do you know of that?"

"I know that when the ring is destroyed, you will leave Middle-Earth. I wish you the safest of journeys, Lord Elrond. Good-bye."

"Until I see you next."

"I will go to the Halls of Mandros, not the Gray Havens. That is assured. I would rather die and join my queen than sail and join compatriots that I have nothing in common with." She smiled at him. "Do not look so sad, Cousin."

"I worry for Mirkwood. I worry for you. It is in my nature. Take care then, Cousin, and do not leave us too soon."

Deluiel nodded. She left Rivendell without saying a word to her partner. She didn't know how to tell him the truth. And he needed his freedom as well. He needed to learn about the world that Arwen could show him. She looked up at the sky as she rode. The clouds turned to thunder and washed away her tears.

*****

Arwen looked at the young elf that was acting as her shadow. She smiled at his pacing. He must have picked up the habit from Legolas. "What is the matter?" she asked. He was off-duty from what she could tell.

"She left me."

"Yes, to follow Legolas."

"No, my lady. She was here. Just a day ago and she didn't say anything to me! The only thing my mind is coming up with is bad. I can only think that he's dead and she doesn't want me to know."

"Or perhaps she is finally listening to his orders. He told you to stay here. He told her to go to Mirkwood," she pointed out. "Sit down and eat something."

"I'm not hungry."

"Was that a question?"

"Sorry, my lady." He sat down across from her and picked at the fresh rolls and jam.

"You can call me Arwen, you know. I've told you that before."

"I know, my lady."

"I know you call Legolas by his name."

"Actually, no I don't usually."

Arwen blinked. "You don't." She reviewed her memories. "I could have sworn."

"Deluiel does, I don't. At least not often. He is my prince, my lady. I could no more call him by his name than change the pattern of the stars."

"He doesn't think of you as beneath him."

"Unless it suits his purposes or he's getting protective. When it's the three of us in the woods, we are equals. As soon as we enter a palace, then I am his guard once more. It is the way things have always been."

"You told me that you grew up with him. You sat with him when he was injured by the orc? When his mother died."

Sadorlien absently pulled on a lock of hair. "I wasn't there when they were attacked. No one was. That's why Lord Thranduil doesn't like Legolas going without a guard. I was there when they brought her in. I stood in Legolas' stead at the funeral. Then, I went and sat next to him. He was so still that he looked like marble. He was so chill to the touch. I nearly lost him once. I don't want to go through that again. I don't want to be sitting here. I want to be where I'm supposed to be! But he asked me to watch over you and I've never been able to refuse him."

"Is he in love with Aragorn as my brothers think?"

"Probably. But with Legolas you can never tell. He doesn't show passion. He's never even had a fling. So far as I know he's a virgin."

"Bullshit."

"My lady! Such language in the palace." Sadorlien smirked at her. His eyes twinkled. "But I'm telling you the truth. I'd know. He hangs on my every word, but he has no experience."

Arwen's jaw dropped. "I need to know more. He's never?"

"Never."

"Not even a kiss?"

"Maybe a chaste kiss on the cheek or the forehead, as he's given you in the past. But no, nothing more than that. That's why we were so hopeful when he became friends with you."

"That explains the rumor then."

"Which rumor?"

"That he and I were to marry."

"Oh, that one." Sadorlien shook his head. "I started that one to keep the maids from throwing themselves at someone who can't even recognize love. He'd never survive a fling. But it competes with the one that says that Lord Thranduil is going to marry him off to Lorien."

Arwen laughed. "Haldir?"

"Yes. He told Deluiel that he didn't mind when he came to visit her."

"Are they related?"

"Distant cousins. No, they fought together."

"Did they?"

"Yes, against the Dark Lord." Arwen blinked.

"She was in the battle where Sauron fell?"

"Yes, as was my lord Thranduil."

"I didn't know she was that old."

"She was the queen's right hand. Ravenclaw," he paused in grief. "Ravenclaw and Deluiel were partners in the war."

"Mother Ravenclaw? Of the sweets?"

"Yes."

"What's happened?"

"She disappeared when the orcs attacked and Gollum got free from us. We donít know if she's alive or dead. Or if we'll have to face her over a blade one day."

Arwen pressed her hand to Sadorlien's chest. "She would rather be dead than live as an orc."

"I know. Thank you."

*****

"Legolas, you must rest," Aragorn said firmly. "Tonight, you must. Save the speeches. You're tense. You get snippy when you get tense. You must rest or I'm sure to put a bolt through you."

"Fine!" The elf held up a hand in surrender. It would be good to rest for awhile. He didn't dare rest while Aragorn was so driven and Gimli so tired. They had come upon the Riders of Rohan and Aragorn had decided to start rumors of the One King's return, his return. Aragorn, the man who didn't want to be king, was throwing his weight around and there seemed to be less weight on his shoulders because of it. They'd found traces of the hobbits and that was for the best.

There was something calling to Legolas from Fangorn. He wanted to go exploring, but he didn't want to leave his companions. Even if he was beginning to feel like Aragorn's hunting hound. Very well, if he was going to be used for his senses, he was going to curl up next to his ranger. He settled his head against Aragorn's shoulder and the human stilled. Gimli looked at them with a fond grin, then took up his guard position. Legolas let his mind go and slept, as still as the dead. Aragorn repositioned him so that Legolas' head lay upon his thigh. "Why do you follow me?" Aragorn whispered. "Why do you trust me so much?"

"Because you are a good man and will be a good king," Gimli stated from his place in a low voice. "I can hear better than anyone believes. It's my vision that's not as sharp in the sun. We aren't made for sun or the outside. And that one? I think that he makes so few friends that once he makes one, he'll do anything for him. He loves you Aragorn, for all you'll become. For all he won't ever be allowed to be."

Aragorn snorted. "True, King Thranduil will probably call him back to Mirkwood. Or the seas will call him West"

"He loves this land too much. He loves you and he's friends with me. And he wants to see the world, Aragorn. He can't be trapped back in Mirkwood again. You can't allow it."

"His fate is not mine to dictate."

"He would swear to follow you as his king, if he weren't already sworn. You know that, right?"

"And when did you learn his mind?"

"In Lorien. We spent many hours together and we talked of many things."

"And was one of those things love?"

"Yes, it was as a matter of fact. He is blind to the fact that he can love anyone. He does not believe he's fated to it."

Aragorn stroked the soft hair. "And if I were to admit that I do love him, what does that say of my pending marriage?"

"That you are Elven by nature. They don't seem to have the same concept of love as the rest of the races. He would accept it if you told him that you loved him and Arwen both. And she would accept the same, I think." Gimli stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"The problem is, that I am not in love with him. He is not in love with me. And everyone else is seeing things that aren't real."

Gimli snorted. "Stubborn bastard," he muttered in Dwarvish.

Aragorn looked at him oddly, but then laid back. Legolas didn't rouse due to the shift and Aragorn fell into a light sleep, his hand resting on the platinum locks.

*****

Deluiel rode hard into Mirkwood, not stopping for rest unless the horse demanded it. She felt at least one arrow graze her hair before she made it to the peculiar safety of the darkness that hung beneath the branches. She sighed. She still had about a day's ride ahead of her, but at least she was closer to where she needed to be. Legolas, she thought to the air, I wish you could hear me. I wish I could find you. Please forgive me.

*****

Elrond was still startled to see Sadorlien standing guard over Arwen. He kept expecting to see Legolas come around the corner. War played cruel tricks like that. Bilbo was getting more frail. He prayed that the hobbit would get to see the path he started finish. Arwen was serene. She smiled up at her father. "I will be leaving in the morning for Lorien."

"Be careful, Arwen." He kissed her forehead fondly. "And you should be careful as well, young one. I won't have Deluiel Dead-Eye roasting my balls because you got hurt." The younger elves gaped at the lord of Rivendell. "Oh, didn't you know her Westron name?"

Sadorlien shook his head. "No one calls her that."

"She proved it quite adequately when she was in the Alliance."

The young elf-guard looked at Arwen, who sat in stunned silence.

"Sir?"

"Yes?"

"Will you tell us more of her?"

"Yes." Elrond sat down. "Come and sit. You needn't fear within these borders."

"My lord," Sadorlien said delicately, "it is a matter of honor. I will not stand down from being a guard just yet. But I can listen as well standing as sitting."

Elrond inclined his head. He thought for a long moment, then smiled wickedly. He had just the story. And Deluiel would hate him for it. It was too bad he couldn't give Legolas the ammunition against her.

*****

Legolas was hyper-vigilant as they traveled through the woods. They had seen an old man in the woods who would not come to their fire. They were fairly certain that it was Saruman. He'd seen no trace of an old man. He couldn't sense anything different than the shadow of orcs. They'd found traces of the hobbits, which had eased their minds a bit. They were on the right track and the little ones could already have found safety. The trees of Fangorn were strange. There is something different than Legolas had ever known. They weren't heavy with the shadows like Mirkwood. They were wary though. They weren't angry with Legolas. They did not like the dwarf. "Don't talk about chopping down trees. Use what wood they've dropped already," Legolas said firmly. "They can hear you, you know."

"Elves," Gimli snorted.

"It's true."

"Very well. I'll keep my axe sheathed for the proper things."

They bantered a bit, but it was more from form than feeling. They paused on a hillock.

"There is someone there," Legolas said suddenly, drawing an arrow to his bow. "The White Wizard approaches." Legolas stated what the trees had told him.

"Do not let him speak or he will cast a spell on us," Strider said. Legolas fired as soon as the wizard came into range, despite the brightness of his light. His arrow was knocked aside, as was Gimli's axe. Aragorn's sword heated until he could not hold it.

"You seek two hobbits. They met someone they did not expect. Does that comfort you?"

Legolas' eyes were dazzled by the brilliance of the light of the Valinor shining through the figure. He believed truly that this person was not there to hurt them. No matter what doubts rested in his companions. "Show yourself!" Aragorn demanded. Legolas wanted to tell him that this was the figure's true appearance, but his tongue was stayed as the light dimmed. "This cannot be."

"Gandalf," Gimli said gruffly, a smile crossing his face.

Legolas knelt in tribute to the light that had returned the wizard to their midst and silently asked forgiveness for attacking. Gandalf relayed his tale as they moved through Fangorn. The elf was torn between listening to his companion and the angry whispers of the leaves.

*****

"Deluiel! You've returned. But where. . . where is Legolas?" Lady Cariel asked, hand stealing to her throat.

"He is with his companions still if the Valar will it."

"Companions?" Thranduil demanded. "Where is he? In Rivendell?"

"No, my lord. He set out from Rivendell in the Fellowship of Nine that accompany the ring to Mordor."

"And Sadorlien follows. That is a comfort."

Deluiel shook her head. "Sadorlien protects the Evenstar as the prince commanded. I followed as far as Moria before we were separated by a cave-in. Even now they may be in Lothlorien or even in Rohan. I do not know. I returned to Mirkwood as Legolas originally intended me to do."

"He ordered you here?" Thranduil stated.

"Yes. He wished to do this for his own reasons and I have a small idea as to what they are, but that will be his tale to tell, here or in the Halls of Manwe."

"Then my son is truly grown."

"He was grown many, many turnings ago, Thranduil. Had life been kinder, he would have a colony of his own clearing the orcs out of the forest near Dol Goldur."

Thranduil closed his eyes to keep check of his temper. "Rest your horse. Then, take command as Aewlos meant you to do.

Deluiel bowed formally.

*****

"Hold, Legolas. Now is not the time." Legolas turned regretfully from the forest of eyes. It was the first thing on the journey that he'd been so surprised by that he couldn't help but be attracted to it. Gimli sighed in relief and Legolas dropped his chin onto the top of the dwarf's head.

"I'm sorry."

Gimli smiled to himself. He patted the elf's hand comfortingly. Gandalf led the way towards Edoras. Legolas resisted the urge to make a face at the stone palace. Not only did he have to give up his brand new bow and quiver, but then they closed the doors behind them. After fighting off a few guards Legolas let himself fade into the walls and only Gimli noticed. He was startled. He hadn't seen the elf pull in on himself since the council meeting. He'd never seen him seem to fade when someone was looking right at him. Legolas was dazzled by the sight before him. He could see the light drawing and destroying the dark tendrils of Saruman's spell.

Gandalf freed the old king and Wormtongue was run out of town. Legolas would rather have seen him dead. Legolas hovered over Aragorn as he and the dwarf ate. He breathed in the sweet smoke of Aragorn's pipe-weed as he waited and watched. "Theoden, not Aragorn is the King of Rohan." Legolas prepared to protect his charge, then relaxed as the moment passed. Theoden decided to retreat to Helm's Deep, a stone fortress backed by a mountain. Legolas' stomach dropped. If the King of Rohan would just stop yelling, he'd feel much better. Aragorn's eyes searched his elf's face, sensing something was wrong. Legolas should his head.

"Legolas, walk with me," Gandalf stated. The elf was reluctantly parted from his friends.

"What is it, Gandalf?" Legolas peered at the wizard carefully. There was something different about this man. Something colder than he was used to.

"You're in love with Aragorn."

"Not you too," the elf moaned. "We are not having this conversation. I am going to find a nice quiet spot and sleep. You are not going to bother me. You are not going to have a conversation with Aragorn that mirrors this one. If anything, perhaps you should remind him that he's promised himself to Arwen, and if he betrays her, he'll answer to not only me, but her brothers and her father. And I'm the only one that always believed they were a good match." Legolas left.

He settled himself on the floor of the library and sighed. He looked up at a sound and found Eowyn offering a bottle of wine and two glasses. He nodded and followed her to the small kitchen. The palace was nearly deserted already.

"I want to fight with you."

"That is not my decision."

"I know that. I know that my uncle will not want me to fight."

"You will protect his people in his stead."

"No, I will protect an empty land and broken people. That is not what I want. I want to see battle. I can fight. I can ride. Why do they insist I stay behind?"

"Because he favors you. He trusts you. He thinks it is a reward to be given the responsibility that you've had since his decline."

"Probably."

"And you are the last woman of his line at the moment?"

"Yes."

"Then, he wishes to see your children."

She shook her head. "What will Aragorn hear? You know him better than I."

"I don't know. He does not make sense to me. He is human." Legolas shrugged. "I know what he would say to Arwen if she were here. He would ask her to stay."

"Arwen?"

"His betrothed. She can fight and ride. But he would have her protected."

"You don't agree."

"Some of the most dangerous warriors I've ever known are female. They are more willing to protect what they see as their responsibility, despite social conventions. They will die for someone they wish to protect."

"Then I will do as my uncle bids me, to see my people protected. Then, perhaps, I will have another chance to ride to battle."

"No one can know where life will take us."

"He's engaged."

"Yes."

"And is he faithful to her?"

"Very much so."

"And you would know because?"

"I know him and his wife to be. They are like siblings to me."

"More than that, I think."

"Don't you start too, lady."

She smirked at him. "You wouldn't have been glaring at me over dinner if you weren't after him for yourself. This is one thing that women are most assuredly the masters at, Legolas. We can see emotions more clearly than any man. You are in love."

"I am not."

"You are. It would be easier for you to admit it now," she told him. "More wine?"

"Oh, yes."

*****

"Aragorn, you are in love with our friend the elf aren't you?" Gandalf asked as Aragorn polished his blade.

"What makes you say something so outrageous, Gandalf?"

"It is the truth. I cannot believe that both of you are too stubborn to see this. Elves do not have the strictures of humans, that is true. But you were raised by Elrond. You were not born to those beliefs either. Is it the fact that he is an elf or the fact that he is male that keeps you from seeing it?"

"The fact that it does not exist. I love him as a brother, as a friend, nothing more."

"You are foolish. You will need his comfort and his support. Do not turn your back on them without cause."

"Even if I were in love with Legolas, he could not be in love with me."

"What do you mean?"

"He cannot open himself up for that kind of pain. His heart would not survive my death."

"That is not necessarily true."

"Then you do not know him as well as you think."

"And you are a fool. He could die as easily as you could. An arrow to the heart. A sword to the throat. He is mortal, just long lived."

"There is not enough of a chance that he could die for that to make a difference. He will outlive me, Gandalf and we both know it. He will outlive Arwen and that will break his heart as well. He will not survive the loss of his sister. I am glad that I will not live to see that day."

"You think he is in love with Arwen?"

Aragorn snorted. "They'd kill each other within a year of the marriage."

"But a short Elven fling?"

"Not Legolas."

Gandalf blinked. "But Arwen?"

"Is an elf. She has had lovers before me." Aragorn smirked. "And she learned much from them."

"And once you are married? Do you expect her to stop?"

"Of course not." Aragorn's brow wrinkled and he brushed his dark hair back behind his ear.

"Even if she were to take up with Legolas?"

The king's brows rose. "Legolas? Legolas, the elf who doesn't look at anyone with sexual interest? Who thinks of the opposite sex as something pretty, like a picture? Are we thinking of the same elf? The one who would sooner shoot someone than kiss them? The one who has been so sheltered in his forest that it's amazing he even knows what the words mean?"

"The one that is in love with you."

"He is not."

"He is."

"I will not argue like a child with you. I don't care who Arwen sleeps with because her heart is mine. That's all that matters. I know she loves me. She will make a good queen."

"And will you make him your lover?"

"No."

"Don't be so hasty. He is fair."

"He is."

"He is loyal."

"To a fault."

"He is kind."

"To some."

"He loves unconditionally."

"He would die if he didn't."

"And you love him."

"As a friend, nothing more."

"So you say now."

"So I say and will continue to say."

"Fool."

"As you say. Goodnight, Gandalf."

*****

Legolas slipped through the stone halls on cat-quiet feet. He looked in on Aragorn and Gimli. He glanced at the wizard, then went on to check the rest of the house. He felt out of sorts in the palace. It made him long for home and he hated that beyond all other things. He found Eowyn sharpening her sword and nodded to her. He ghosted past her uncle's room. And then past what had been Worm Tongue's chambers. There was nothing outwardly wrong, but something lingered over the place, some shadow that chilled his soul. It made him think of Moria.

*****

The trip was not exactly as planned. The battle started before they even reached the fortress. Theoden led them to the battlements at Helm's Deep. The scout came suddenly, killing two humans before Legolas had time to react. He killed the scout and stood atop a hill waiting for the company of orcs to come over the hill. The riders of Rohan mustered behind him. He pulled his first arrow and whispered a brief prayer for strength. The orcs fell to his arrows. He cursed himself for his sloppiness. He had gotten too used to being with a partner. One time, he would never have let the scout get so close to him. He would have felt him coming.

His borrowed steed whispered to him and he mounted him in front of Gimli without looking. The battle was fast and hard. Too many lay dead in the field. "Aragorn!" he called. Please don't do this to me, he pleaded with fate. He should have seen the scout earlier, not relied on human senses. "Aragorn!"

"He's dead. He took a fall," a dying orc told him and Gimli gleefully. Legolas' eyes narrowed. He could almost recognize who it had once been.

"You lie," Legolas hissed. He'd know if Aragorn were dead. Wouldn't he? He picked Arwen's pendent from the creature's fingers, ignoring the little voice that named the elf it had once been. He stared at it for a moment. Then, he darted to the top of the cliff to look at the river. His heart clenched when Theoden called for them to leave. His face must have spoken when his lips did not, for the old king clasped his arm gently for a moment before calling him to follow. The elf did so, heart heavy with sorrow. So many dead in such a short time. And hope was floating somewhere down the river. A pale smile came to his lips at his mental play on words. "Bring Estel back," he whispered to the air in Elvish. Gimli looked at him oddly, but didn't say anything more. His face was a study in stoicism.

As Gimli broke the news to Eowyn that Aragorn had fallen, Legolas drifted into the fortress. All around him he could see the suffering of a people unprepared for war. He shook his head when he at last obtained the freedom of the upper wall and could walk along the battlements. He could barely remember a time when his world was not at war. There had always been boarder disputes and orcs in his forest. But there had not been many men and very few human children. Women he hadn't seen at all. The muffled sobs of widows had never before assaulted his ears. His head felt stuffed with cotton and he could barely settle down. With Gandalf off again and Aragorn drifting towards Gondor on the river, his heart felt weighted down with building stones.

He sat on the parapet, looking down at the activity below. The shadow that had plagued their steps from Lorien grew stronger and he felt an odd vertigo that made him grip his bow more tightly to his chest. Aragorn would want him to prepare the humans for the fight, but a strange lethargy overcame his limbs. Theoden sought out the elf and found him brooding. "It was a great loss," he said gently.

"Hope still lives."

"But our courage wears thing and our bodies weary with sorrows. We could use your strength."

"When the battle is joined, I will be there. Until then, I would take some rest."

Theoden rested a hand on the elf's shoulder. "You and your companions have journeyed far, only to be faced with war."

"The battle began when our Fellowship was broken. It will not end quickly. War has been in my land for many years. It was nothing new. Gimli has seen battle. His own people are great warriors, if braggarts by nature."

"And elves do not brag."

"Not so much."

"How did you come to know Aragorn?"

"We met in the forest and hunted together." A smile flitted across Legolas' face at the thought of happier times. "I would follow him through Mordor, were that our path."

"A hard thing indeed to lose him then."

Legolas inclined his head, in unconscious mimicry of his father. Theoden paused, suddenly seeing something he hadn't before.

"You are more than a hunter, Master Elf."

"Yes, as most are more than one thing."

"The jewel Aragorn wears. It comes from one of your kind."

"It does."

"From you?"

"No, but from one very dear."

"I see."

"Do you?"

"It is always hardest to stand down and watch another take your place. Is it duty or affection that stills the words of your heart?"

Legolas stiffened. "I regard Aragorn as my dearest friend, King Theoden. And his love is my heart-chosen sister."

"Duty. As it should be then. Grieve for him, but fight in his memory."

The elf inclined his head once more and the King of Rohan left him in peace. Legolas fingered the Evenstar and let his mind drift. The visions that assaulted him left tears tracking down his face. Arwen in mourning came at first. Then, the fall of the world into blanketing shadow. Hordes of orcs ravaged the cities and fire licked at the trees that screamed out for his aide. Mirkwood was in flames and not even Cariel's thunderstorms could stop them. His mother's face as she lay dying tormented him for a moment, replaced instead by the body of Boromir. Then, Aragorn lay dead and forgotten on the river's shore, his sword still at his side, his flesh picked over by carrion birds. Frodo and Sam lay dead at the hands of an orc blade.

Legolas forced himself awake. The deep ache of his arm was drowned out by the agony in his chest. And he knew in that moment, that the stories were true. He could easily die of the break in his heart if he chose to feel its pain. It was better to be cold as ice until the agony eased. I love Aragorn, he thought almost frantically. Don't let him die. Not because of some river. Don't let him be forgotten like that. Make it a glorious end worthy of song. And let me make it to battle while my will is strong. Let my song be ended by valor, not pain. His eyes lit on a lone figure on the hill. "Thank you," he whispered.

*****

"My lady?" Sadorlien said softly. He sat down next to her bed. "What is it, Lady Arwen?" She looked up at him with wet eyes.

"Did you hear him?"

"I heard him. I heard what you left unsaid to him. Have you truly made your choice?"

"I have. Just as I gave the Evenstar to him with my heart."

"Then, I'll prepare to whisk you out of the group. Do you think you can manage to look less stunning than usual?"

"Was that a compliment?" she asked, wiping the tears from her cheeks.

"Yes, I believe it was."

"Aragorn believes that I will sail to be with my people."

"Then he's in for a surprise."

"You would go against my father's wishes?"

"My lady, were you in your right mind you would realize that the fate of your kind means nothing to me."

Arwen blinked.

"We aren't leaving these shores. Only the high elves are. My prince will remain here until the call of rest is too much for him to resist. And I will stay here with him." Sadorlien shrugged. "To keep another elf with us, even if she is to become mortal, is not a hardship. Lorien may empty. Rivendell may fall to ruin, but the Mirkwood will remain with new green leaves on the trees in the spring. Rivendell's hope is in Estel, but Mirkwood's future has always been tied to the return of the Greenleaf."

"I never realized. Your people aren't leaving?"

"Mirkwood is our home. Where else would we go? There is a reason they call us wood-elves, my lady. And there is good reason why my lord Thranduil broke with the elves many years ago. And I believe I know now what that reason was."

Arwen laid a hand on Sadorlien's shoulder. "I'll prepare. I have a weaving to take with me."

"Yes. Is there anything else I should bring?"

"No. I forgot that you have been with me through all of these changes."

"I'm a very good shadow. When will you let me see the tapestry?"

"When everyone else does. Hurry. Get your things."

"I am always packed, Lady."

"Call me Arwen, since we are now conspirators."

"Arwen." Sadorlien savored the name. It tasted strange on his tongue. He nodded. "I will walk with you. We will head to Minis Tirith then?"

"We will." She stroked the soft fabric of his sleeve for a moment. "Though I think the journey will be more dangerous than I had thought it would be. We will have to go to Lorien."

"As you wish, my lady Arwen. Though, there may be a better trail than the one the fellowship took. If we have good steeds. We can cross the high pass. It will be clear for a few weeks yet."

"Then follow the river?"

"It is faster."

"Then, that is the way we shall go. Can you secure us horses?"

"Yes, Evenstar."

*****

Legolas heard Aragorn's voice ring through the compound. He was looking for the king. Human brat. He seconded Gimli's declaration for half a moment. Then, he was standing there, in front of Aragorn, eyes quickly cataloging every scratch and cut on the man's body. "You're late," he said to fill the silence. "You look terrible."

There were many things left unsaid as Legolas pulled Arwen's necklace from his pouch and set it into Aragorn's hand. Aragorn gave him a crooked smile and leaned over to give the elf's shoulder a quick squeeze.

*****

"They are frightened," Legolas stated. "I can see it in their eyes." He hadn't meant to project, but his words must have hit every ear in the room, for all sound was suspended. He switched to Elvish. "As well they should be. Three hundred against ten thousand."

"They have a better chance of defending themselves here than at Edoras," Aragorn said calmly, trying to forestall the coming storm.

"They cannot win this fight. They are all going to die!"

"Then I shall die as one of them!"

Aragorn's anger was disconcerting. Legolas was only trying to protect the man. Could no one else see? No one else understand? If Aragorn fell, Middle Earth would be lost no matter what happened to the ring. He could see it so clearly. The dwarf's hand was all the kept him from following, his own anger rising.

"Let him go, lad. Let him go." Legolas scowled at Gimli, then went to fletch arrows for the old men. The monotonous work let him think. Why was he now questioning the man he'd followed without question for months. Was it fear of losing him for real this time? Fear for the world? Or was it the pain in his arm that never eased, or the constriction in his chest that made his hard to breath and harder to stand. Or was it the shadow that hung heavy on his mind tightening its grip with each moment, blurring his vision. Or was it the creeping chill in his heart that his father had planted and he had nurtured.

The children watched him work with grim determination. He refused to disillusion them with the realities that strangled him. Their mothers and sisters and baby brothers were buried away in the caves like Old Smaug's horde. Legolas sang as he worked, voice picking up Deluiel's usual song of comfort.

Theoden watched the elf work. He didnít know all of what had been said, but he knew there was no need for this separation before a war. He listened to the song, unable to translate it, but feeling his soul rally in his chest. He laid his hand on the elf's shoulder. "Come. It is time to put on your armor."

Legolas smiled sadly. "I don't wear armor."

Theoden's brows rose. "But your companions do." He stared into the bright blue eyes for a moment. Legolas inclined his head, dropping his eyes.

"Then I will help them."

Reassured that Aragorn's second would do his duty, the king retired to prepare for the battle.

Legolas watched Aragorn dress. Then, handed him his sword. "We have followed you this far and you have not led us astray. Forgive me. I was wrong to despair."

"There is nothing to forgive, Legolas." The brief touch was all they needed to reassure themselves that the friendship was not broken. Gimli was fussing with his mail. Legolas' response to his complaints was cut off by a horn. "That is not orc horn!" The elf set off unsure of what he would find, but assured it would be good news.

*****

Arwen looked up sadly at her father. She saw him frown, perhaps finally understanding what her decision meant. She and Sadorlien disappeared into the trees with the company. Then, Sadorlien touched her arm. She mounted her steed. It would heartbreakingly easy to leave her people behind, Arwen decided, when her purpose rang so true in her heart. Aragorn must be made king. And a king needed a queen. With luck he would remain enough of an elf at heart not to be firmly bound by marriage to only her. It would pain her to separate him from anything his heart desired, or anyone for that matter. She smiled. The Valar would protect him until someone else could.

*****

Legolas dropped behind Aragorn as they jogged through the corridors. Appearances were everything in court politics. Everyone in Helm's Deep seemed to consider Legolas as Aragorn's second. It wouldn't do for him to lead the way like a hound straining at his leash. What he saw as he rounded the corner took his breath away. It was much more than he'd hoped.

Haldir acknowledged Aragorn, then Legolas. As Aragorn hugged him the fastidious Haldir looked mildly alarmed. Legolas smirked and went to inspect the company. Many of them he'd had a hand in training. Many he did not recognized, but he had a feeling they had simply not been in Rivendell when he had.

Aragorn hadn't been expecting help. He'd expected to die right along with the people of Rohan. That Haldir had come was a surprise. Haldir sent his elves to aid with preparations while he took a moment to speak with the King of Rohan and the two princes he knew far better.

Before anything else could be said, Haldir asked Legolas, "Where is your armor?"

"I don't wear armor."

"You will."

"I will not."

"Don't be stubborn. I will not have your death on my conscience."

"Armor is too heavy. It weighs me down and restricts my mobility." Legolas looked Haldir up and down. "And I will most definitely not get dressed up like a preening popinjay."

"Preening . . .? I would watch my tongue where I you."

"Watch it do what, Robin Redbreast?"

"You used to like my armor."

"I was a child. It was the first armor I'd ever seen. Now I think you're a fool holding onto a security blanket."

"I cannot believe Thranduil wished to curse me with you!"

"What do you mean?" Aragorn interjected.

"Thranduil would never have agreed to a marriage between us. He wants me dead not cursed."

"And the Greenleaf has a sharp tongue. Though you favor your mother in looks. Aewelos wore armor in battle."

Legolas glared. "My lord Thranduil and I do unfortunately share the same temperament. And that being the case, I would recommend that you be less free with your remembrances."

Gimli's eyes widened. He'd never heard such a menacing growl from the elf's lips.

"Estel, make him see reason."

"Partial armor, perhaps? As a compromise?" Aragorn suggested. "It would ease my mind to know you were protected."

Theoden hid a smile. There was no way that the elf would refuse that request.

Legolas felt his heart betray his will as his head nodded. He opened his mouth to prick at Haldir once more. However, instead of the barb that he meant to free, came a question. "Was it Celeborn or Galadriel that started the rumor?"

"Of our impending wedded spite?"

"Yes."

"Galadriel. She thought it might tame my tongue one year."

"Well that didnít work. Where do you want the archers, King Theoden?"

"On the wall. It is the best sightline."

"Very well," Aragorn answered. "We'll take position as soon as Legolas puts on some armor."

The elf rolled his eyes skyward.

"Lest we have to report to Thranduil that his favorite was killed," Haldir added.

"Don't worry, Haldir. He'll kill you outright. The dwarf he'll store in the basement in hopes that one alone will not escape."

"It seems to me that Thanduil's dungeon is not so secure as it once was," Aragorn stated pointedly.

"Ah, but now I know how they escaped. And so does Deluiel."

"Is she still following?"

"Have you seen her?"

"No. You've continued to hum however."

Legolas shook his head. "We were parted at Moria. The sparrows think she is in the Wood though."

"Then your people are well protected, though I would not mind another swordarm."

Haldir snickered. "Deluiel Dead-Eye prefers her bow. But come, you must fill me in quickly about the battle-plans."

*****

The orcs scrambled up the bodies of the dead. Legolas pulled his knives out in place of his bow. The black blood arched into the air. He didn't mind it, except to shore Aragorn up when he slipped in the puddles. As the bodies fell, Legolas felt a bolt of fear. He couldn't see Gimli any longer. He didn't like having the dwarf out of sight. His hands and feet moved automatically. Cold rage burned in his heart and his face reflected it. Even the ache in his arm couldn't stop his blades. Thunk, thunk, swish, thunk, splash, the rhythm repeated over and over again, like the chorus to a badly written song. When the orcs finally stopped coming, Legolas paused. Then, he took the weapons they had on hand and dropped them over the edge with the tip of one foot.

Legolas perched on the parapet and polished his knife. He'd spotted Gimli working his way towards them. Aragorn was cleaning his blade as well. "I'm up to two dozen," he responded to the dwarf. "It's been all knife-work up here." Theoden looked from the elf to the dwarf and back. Then, he looked at Aragorn who simply shrugged.

"It keeps them out of trouble," he said.

Legolas made a face at him. Gimli snorted.

The night grew long. The defenses of Hornburg were nearly over-run. Legolas wasn't sure to applaud his favorite human for his bravery or strangle him for worrying him so. He saw the defenders into the battlement and held out his last arrow, in hopes of protecting Aragorn and Gimli. "Aragorn," he called, throwing the human and dwarf a rope to pull them up the closed building.

"Things aren't going well, my friends."

"Ill enough," Legolas agreed, "but not hopeless. Not while you're still here."

*****

Legolas followed Aragorn without a word. The others were still edgy around him. Elves were renowned for their healing, but also for their tempers. Many of the men had never seen one of the Fair Folk. Legolas wondered what they would have made of the hobbits. Together he and Aragorn supported the defensive walls, putting out fires, cutting the ropes from the grappling hooks, pushing down ladders, and relieving the injured when they could.

He stayed as close to Aragorn as he could manage. He wondered if anyone actually did notice him, as no one spoke to him, or even acknowledged him. It was disconcertingly like being in the room with his father during a court session.

They rode out to battle next to Theoden, perhaps for the last time. Legolas felt nothing but rage when he looked at the rabble before him. He cut down what Aragorn and Theoden left for him.

"Behold the White Rider!" Aragorn announced. "Gandalf is come again."

"Come, I would look on this forest, ere the spell changes again."

The orcs were ridden into the woods and did not appear again. Aragorn smirked internally. He loved seeing Legolas act like a child. The wonder made his eyes shine. He seemed very much different from the killer he'd been during the battle. He was not the only person to wonder at the difference. He noted many a second glance fall on his elf. He glared at the one rider who dared stare at the elf overlong.

*****

Legolas looked down at Haldir's body. He shivered as the ache in his arm doubled. "Goodbye, Robin Redbreast," he whispered. "May you trade stories with your old friends." He shook his head and bent to lift the elf up onto the pyre.

"Wait, he has good armor," Theoden stated. The elf paused.

"There is no such thing, but if you wish to gather armor, have your people move quickly before the stench becomes even more unbearable."

Theoden nodded. "Was he a prince?"

"Haldir? I don't think he was, though he was of high station. I'm not well-versed in the families of Loth-Lorien." The answer gave the king pause.

"You aren't from Loth-Lorien?"

"I'm from Mirkwood."

"I have not heard much of Mirkwood. Even less than I have of Lorien. The Battle of Five Armies?"

"We were the elves in that campaign. Working with humans of course. I was not allowed to fight."

"Why not?" Aragorn asked, coming up behind Theoden.

"My lord wished me caged away until my wildness had faded with passing years," Legolas stated, unbuckling another breast-plate.

"I see. He wanted to play with the dragon and left you home to rule."

"I met him first!" Legolas protested. "He even gave me an emerald from his hoard."

"You would not have killed him," Theoden smiled. "You are too true of a friend."

Legolas rolled his eyes. "I may yet do in a human if he doesnít stop taking foolish risks with his life."

"Ah, but you wouldn't like me as well if I were a homebound curmudgeon."

"I love one well enough. Why not have affection for another?"

"Is Gandalf right?" Aragorn asked in Elvish.

"Gandalf is right about many things. What do you ask about exactly?"

Aragorn shook his head. "Another time. Your men wish to return your dead to Edoras."

Theoden nodded. "I do not know the customs of elves, but we bury our dead."

Legolas considered. "Elves do not often die in battles as brutal as this. In Loth-Lorien they return them to the ground. In Mirkwood we turn the bodies to ash, then spread it over the roots of the trees. If Aragorn makes no protest that is what I shall do here."

"I will help you. Will you sing for them?"

"There is no one else to do so."

Theoden bowed his head.

"Then it is true they all died?"

"Yes, but there is no time for the dead so long as they return to the earth. This body is not Haldir. That which was Haldir has returned to the light that created it." Legolas set the pyre on fire. Then, went to gather more bodies. He sang as he worked.

The King of Rohan listened and was comforted. It was such a joy that his eyes pricked with tears, for no one faced with such beauty could be unmoved.

*****

Gandalf looked down his nose at the elf. "Legolas, you are the most stubborn, foolish, and blind elf I have ever met! Do you wish to die? Would you break Aragorn's heart? Or hurt Gimli in this way? Is this the ultimate retribution for you father's folly? Have you never considered Mithril?"

"Are you through, Wizard?" Legolas asked coldly.

"Answer my questions, Legolas."

"I see no need to do so. You are not my father. You are not my counselor. You have no authority to speak to me as you have. My choices are mine alone." The elf turned and stalked out of the room.

"You are just like Thranduil. You even sulk as he does." Gandalf called after him.

****

Aragorn watched Legolas pace. "We will ride soon. Calm yourself, Greenleaf."

Legolas settled beside him. "How do you stand that wizard, Strider? He drives me mad!"

"Not a long distance."

"Cram it."

"What bothers you most?"

"That he thinks me too young to make my own decisions."

"You are a child to him. I find I have to agree with him on one point, you are very like Thranduil."

"Don't be insulting, Human."

"And why will you not even consider mithril? If we wrapped a hobbit in it, why not an elfling?" Aragorn dropped his hand carelessly on his elf's thigh.

"I have no patience with armor. I only wear these braces to keep my bow from impacting. I am not like Haldir. I donít tend towards fancy things."

"Armor needn't be fancy, merely practical. If I asked you point blank to wear it, would you humor me?"

The prince of Mirkwood considered for a long moment. "No," he said finally. "Not even for you, Strider. It would get me killed more surely than not."

"And why do you say that?"

"Because I haven't worn it in several millennia. To begin now would merely distract me." Legolas fell silent. "Don't worry overly much, ranger. I won't let you bury me as you did Haldir. I'm a better warrior than he."

Aragorn shook his head with a smile. "See that I don't. The world would be much darker without the lightness of your spirit."

"I don't consider my spirit light. Especially not right now, but as you will, child."

"You only call me 'child' when you're trying to distract me. Have you noticed?"

"Did you think it was unconscious?"

The human smiled. "I think Gimli would speak with you before we ride."

"I will find him then. Rest well, little ranger." Aragorn swiped at the elf as he danced away with a wink. Eowyn watched from the other side of the hall.

"He loves you well doesn't he?" she said with a sigh. "I understand that. I have no way to compete against Elvish charms, I fear. But that is not what I would discuss with you."

"He has affection for me. Come, my lady. Sit and speak with me."

*****

Gimli scowled up at the elf. "You are reckless, Master Elf! As reckless as that human!"

"I wasnít the one jumping into the middle of a group of Uruk-Hai!"

"You go without even a breastplate!"

"The walls protect me well enough."

"All fine and well when the walls hold. But when they are over-run by orcs and you are running headlong into battle without even mail! The walls do not protect you then."

"Again, I do not jump into the middle of a charging army!"

Gimli harrumphed. "Have you considered what your death would do to Aragorn, Master Elf?"

"My death will not make him suffer, Master Dwarf."

"Your death would wound him beyond measure."

"He needn't fear my death." Legolas smiled at his friend. "I will stand by him in life. I'll see the battle through. I have given my word to Arwen that I will protect him and that is what I shall do."

"You cannot protect him from a grave, Legolas."

"You are the most eloquent of my lecturers, however, I will give you the same answer. I will not wear armor. It will be nothing but a distraction to me."

"Stubborn, Elf-spawn."

Legolas smiled.

*****

****

Legolas hid his amusement as Aragorn and the dwarf tried to out-stubborn one another. "It was only a feeble blow. It will take more than a scratch to keep me back," Gimli stated firmly.

Aragorn sighed. "I will take care of it while you rest."

"Fine," Gimli harrumphed.

"You'll ride with me again?"

"Yes."

Legolas nodded absently. He was staring at the trees. "That forest is odd. It wasn't there when we rode up. I know it."

Legolas kept his horse near Gandalf, more for Gimli's comfort than his own. The forest seemed very close and smothering almost. Gimli was scared of it, though he didn't say a word. Legolas could feel the muscles of his back coiled up. "It is hot in here," the elf commented to Gandalf. "The air feels angry. Can't you feel it throbbing in your ears?"

"Yes," Gandalf replied.

"What has happened to the orcs?"

"That, I think, no one will ever know."

Gimli shivered. It was imperceptible to the naked eye, but Legolas knew. "If you stop, I'll chop your braids off," the dwarf said calmly. They rode on for awhile.

"These are the strangest trees I've ever seen and I've seen many oaks grow from acorns to ruin. I wish there was time to listen. I might be able to understand how they think."

"I can tell you what they're thinking already. Hatred of all on two legs. Crushing. Strangling."

"Not all on two legs. I think you're wrong there. It's orcs they hate because they don't belong here and they don't know much of our kind. I think they're from Fangorn, Gimli."

"Then that is the most dangerous wood in Middle-earth. I should be glad for what they've done, but I do not love them. You might think they're wonderful, but I've seen greater wonder, more beautiful than any grove or glade. My heart is still full of it. Men are odd, Legolas. Here they have one of the marvels of the Northern World, and what do they say of it? Caves! Cave! Holes to run to in case of war and store food in. Oh, Legolas, the caverns of Helm's Deep are beautiful. Dwarves would come from all over merely to look at them. They'd pay in pure gold just to see them."

"I would give gold to be excused and double to be let out if I wandered in."

"You have not seen them, so I'll forgive you. Do you think your king's halls are fair under the hills in Mirkwood? They are hovels compared with the caverns I've seen here. Halls filled with the music of water into pools as fair as Kheled-zaram in the starlight. And Legolas, when the torches are lit, then the gems and crystals and veins of ore glint in the polished walls. The like shines through the marble, as beautiful as Galadriel's hands. There are columns of white and saffron and dawn-colored roses. They are twisted into dreamlike form. And the lakes mirror them. It is magical. Happy chance drove me there and I mourn leaving it."

"Then I will wish you this fortune, Gimli, that you will come away safe from this war and return to see them, but do not tell your kindred. There seems little left for them to do according to your descriptions."

"You do not understand. No dwarf could be unmoved by it. None of them would mine those caves. Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees for firewood in the spring? We would work slowly. More delicate than anything you can imagine. We would open those caverns and make lights like once shone in Khazad-dum."

"I have never heard you talk like this. You *almost* make me regret not seeing them. How about this? If we both survive we will journey together. You shall visit Fangorn with me and I will come with you to Helm's Deep."

"That would not be the return I would choose, but I will endure the woods if you promise to come to the caves with me."

"You have my promise. But now we're coming to the end of the trees so we'll have to leave both the forest and the cave behind. How far to Isengard, Gandalf?"

"About fifteen leagues, as the crows of Saruman make it. Five from the mouth of Deeping-coom to the Fords, and ten more to the gates. But we'll not ride all the way tonight."

"And when we come there, what will we see? You may already know, but I can't guess."

"I don't know for certain," the wizard replied. "I was there last night, but many things may have happened. Yet, I don't think you'll say it's all been in vain. Not even that you had to leave your caves behind."

Legolas looked back. "Eyes! There are eyes in the forest!" He moved to start back to investigate.

"Legolas! Greenleaf!" That was all he really needed to hear. He looked at the woods in regret. Gimli sighed heavily in relief. Then, he stared with the rest of the company as creatures he'd never seen emerged from the trees. "You'll need no weapons, these are herdsmen."

"What do they herd?" Theoden, King of the Rohan asked.

"They are the shepherds of the trees. They are Ents."

"Ents!" the king exclaimed.

At length they turned away from the woods and took the road toward the Fords. Legolas followed reluctantly at first, then with more determination. He stayed near to Aragorn and Gandalf. He didnít want either of them out of his sight. The sky was red in the distance and there were dark birds flying there. He strained his ears, but he couldn't hear what they were saying. The riders set a slow pace by Elven standards, but it would keep the horses healthy. The melancholy howls of wolves pierced the air. They crossed a nearly dead river. The air seemed shriveled and bleak. It smelled of helplessness and decay to Legolas. The elf unconsciously drew closer to Aragorn.

They paused at the cairn that had been erected by the survivors of the battle for the Men of the Mark. They rode along the side of the road to Isengard. They halted at midnight at the feet of the Misty Mountains that stretched up above them. Legolas looked up the expanse and thought of Rivendell and from there of Mirkwood. He had not thought of them for what seemed like years, but he knew it was not much more than an Elven eye blink. They looked down on Isengard and the column of smoke that rose above it and into the stars.

"What do you make of that, Gandalf?" Aragorn asked. "It looks as if the Wizard's Vale is burning."

"There is always a fume above the valley," Eomer stated. "But I've not seen it like this before. These are steams, not smoke. Saruman's up to something nasty."

"Perhaps. We will know tomorrow. Now let us rest." At Gandalf's urging they set up camp by the Isen river. Late in the night the watchmen roused them. A black tide rolled towards them. "Stay where you are! No weapons! It will pass you by."

A mist gathered about them. Legolas shivered. He could hear voices just below his comprehension and a gathering heaviness of spirit that seemed to feed all his misgivings and fears to a rabid strength. Ages later, the darkness passed and he could once again breathe. He sang softly to himself and pulled his knees up to his chest. He was startled to hear another voice take up the counter-melody, but realized that it Aragorn. Human and Elven voices blended to sooth the lingering fear from the company's heart.

There was a sudden rush and the river began to flow normally once more. At dawn they started off. It had once been a beautiful green valley. But now it was near to dying. There were stripped fields tilled by the wizard's slaves. The rest was choked by brambles and weeds. Legolas couldn't look at the ravaged tree stumps. He bent his head and mourned the memories of the trees. A mist that was not all from the air blurred his vision comfortingly and kept him from seeing too far above. Gimli growled a curse low and harsh in the language of his homeland and though he could not understand it, Legolas seconded the thought.

Isengard rose above them. They entered the marble and metal city. The land was ravaged and covered. Deep pits dove into the ground and spiraled down to the protected underground life Saruman had created. The ground rumbled and shifted deep in its heart. Then, the citadel of Orthanc rose in front of them. It hung there like the great tearing tooth its name implied.

Gandalf rode forward ahead of the army. The doors of Isengard were in ruins. They were shattered and the planes were flooded. As an island stood the tower. A moment later, they saw two figures waving to them. Merry and Pippen smiled as they puffed on their pipes and snacked on salted pork and other "spoils" of the battle.

"You've led us on a merry chase. And now we find you stuffing your faces," Gimli complained. Legolas just smiled at the scene.

"We are sitting on the field of victory and eating the spoils as is our right," Merry protested. "The salted pork is especially good."

"Salted pork," Gimli harrumphed.

"Hobbits," Gandalf said shaking his head. Pippen rode behind Aragorn and Merry joined Eomer on his steed. They rode forward toward the tower.

"Hello, young master Gandalf," Treebeard greeted. "Isengard is under new management. The stain of the wizard is slowly being washed away. Trees will come to live here again. Stone and water I can manage, but there is a wizard to be managed here."

"And here he must remain, under your guard," Gandalf informed the Ent. Just then, Pippen noticed a strange glow in the water and jumped down to investigate. He drew up a large dark sphere that glowed faintly gold. He looked at it with wonder. "Peregrine Took, give that to me immediately!"

Pippen handed it to the wizard reluctantly and watched as it was wrapped up hastily into a rough cloth. He climbed back up on the horse. Gandalf took their leave from the Ents and the company started towards Rohan. Legolas watched Aragorn carefully to make sure that he wasn't hiding any injury as the human was wont to do. His own arm ached and he couldn't be sure if it meant the presence of orcs, or if it was merely reacting to the evil that seemed to still fill the air despite the cleansing waters. The road to Edoras was uneventful.

During their absence the makings of a feast for the dead had been started under the direction of Eowyn. When they finally dismounted under the welcoming cheers of the people of Rohan, Gimli was more than ready to be done with the horse. All of this riding was truly unseemly for a dwarf. Legolas collected Aragorn's horse much to the amusement of the stable-hands. The elf escaped to the normality of bedding down the horses.

He stood at the back of the room as Theoden welcomed home his riders and remembered the dead. Merry and Pippen were in their element entertaining the room with hobbit songs and jokes while guzzling down a surprising amount of alcohol. Legolas watched the festivities for awhile, then slipped out to watch the night skies. The vantage point of the main house of Edoras was incredible. He pulled his hood up to brace against the wind. The fact that it would also ensure that none of the humans bothered him was secondary. At least that's what he told himself.

The night was shaded with dark clouds obscuring the stars and the moon. The countryside seemed strangely still. His eyes focused on everything and nothing at the same time. His mind raced with a thousand possibilities for the rising darkness. He was looking towards home, but his eyes could not see that far. He could see to the mountains, but beyond that the world was hidden from his sight. He wished for a moment that he had Elrond's ability to see the future. He could smell the warming fires from the feast hall and the rich scents of meats and sweet ales. Yet, he hungered for none of it.

He didn't turn when he heard the door open. If he remained still, perhaps he would not be seen. The trick had worked before. Strider came to his shoulder and Legolas realized that perhaps it had been merely that he had seemed so in thought that no one wished to disturb him. Of course, Aragorn would never take that hint, even if he'd told the man outright to leave him be. "There is darkness gathering. The Stars are obscured." Aragorn nodded and made some non-committal response. "There aren't enough men left to turn back the forces," Legolas stated in quiet Elvish.

"There is still hope. My dearest friend, what is really on your mind? I haven't seen your smile."

"The birds whisper that the woods are burning. And there is nothing for me to do about it. And to see what that creature did to Isengard. I remember seeing it when I was a child. The tower was white and proud and the fields filled with trees. How could one of the wise fall so far? And what does that mean for the rest of us?"

Aragorn rested a hand on Legolas' shoulder. "It merely reminds us to always be on our guard."

"And yet you dally here, drinking and singing."

"Celebration of victory is never wasted."

"Except for when you should be preparing for the next battle."

"What do you see, Legolas? Truly."

"I see the world plunging into darkness and my own soul rebels against the idea of it. I fear that we may not be enough to stop this turning. Will I still have a place in this new world? My lord would say that I should not listen to the torrent of Mithrandir's words. He would say that I have no place in doing this, any of this, that the humans should live or die on their own and I should have no hand in it."

"And what do you say?"

"That I want you to live."

"Legolas?"

"Don't ask me anything more. I'm poor company tonight."

"Do you want me to leave you?"

"No." The word was so softly spoken that Aragorn strained to hear it. It warmed his heart that he was wanted, no matter how dark the time. "You are my hope." Aragorn's hand settled on the elf's shoulder and squeezed gently. "The eye is moving," Legolas stated, startling the human. The elf's eyes widened. "He is here."

Pippen's cry alerted them. They took off at speed to break into the sleeping chambers. Aragorn grabbed the glowing ball. Instantly his mind was filled with nightmare images. He dropped the Pelantiri and collapsed back into Legolas' arms. The elf's heart stopped for a moment. He rubbed Aragorn's back feeling the tension there. "What is it, my ranger?" he asked softly. "What do you see?"

Gandalf spoke sharply to Pippen, attempting to break through the dazing effects of the Dark Lord's work.

"Do not ask me to tell you, my elf," Aragorn responded in soft Elvish -- his first language. His mind was still filled with the horrible images, the tortures and pain that awaited his brothers, and his lovers. He no longer hesitated to name Legolas that in his mind, though his mouth would not confirm it to the world. He would not see the world fall. He would see Sauron dead for Legolas' sake if nothing else. If the ring was not destroyed, he decided, he would make sure that Legolas died. He would not condemn his elf to the torment of orc-hood.

Legolas felt the relaxation of the tense muscles. Aragorn looked up at him. He brushed the soft golden strands of hair back into the hood they'd escaped from. His fingers brushed Legolas' cheek briefly. Their eyes met. Legolas sighed. "I will not ask you to tell what you fear, my ranger. I will ask if you are well enough to stand. Gandalf wishes to speak with us, I think."

The wizard glanced at the sound of his name. He raised a brow with a smug smirk. "If you will join me in the hall, I think this must be addressed."

*****

"Why should Rohan aide Gondor?" Theoden asked. "Where was Gondor when we were attacked?"

Legolas watched the proceedings with a jaded eye. He knew in his heart that Theoden was merely testing Aragorn's reactions. If Aragorn were to back down, or to become a bully, then Rohan would never aide Gondor. And while the elf understood the politics of the situation, the tone of voice angered him. He saw Theoden's eyes slip from Aragorn for just a moment and attempted to hide his feelings. In doing so he drew up his shoulders and tilted his head questioningly at the human king. Theoden turned back to Aragorn. When the discussion was ended, Gandalf and the hobbits headed towards the stables. Aragorn followed them at a distance. Gimli took his leave, leaving Theoden and Legolas standing in the room together. The Rohan guards were wary. They had long decided that the most deadly member of the fellowship was Aragorn's protector, the elf.

"What would you have me say to him?" Theoden asked, idly. He saw something in the elf that he didn't yet see in Aragorn. A bearing, a motion, something that made him treat him as more than what he appeared.

"Nothing that you have not said, King Theoden."

"You would have me support Gondor when they have done nothing to support us?"

"I would have you realize that petty concerns must fall in the face of overwhelming evil. This fight is not about Gondor, it is about mankind. If Gondor falls, Rohan will follow. My land has been fighting this battle for millennia, we have asked nothing of you, though we could by rights."

"Who are you, truly, Legolas?"

"I am Legolas of Mirkwood, son of the Queen. Heir to the throne of Mirkwood."

Theoden smiled. "I thought you might be more than a guard-dog."

"Oh, I am that as well. My heart-sister would kill me were something to happen to her Chosen." Legolas laughed and shook his head. "And I will be honest with you, King Theoden. Her wrath frightens me more than anything we might face."

"A woman should never be crossed lest she take up arms. Would that I could convince Eowyn to leave her swords behind."

"Never separate a woman from her blade," Legolas counseled. "It is less dangerous for them to fight with a weapon than without."

"How so?"

"If you make them desperate, they can destroy you with words which is infinitely worse than metal."

Theoden laughed. "Go then, find your Aragorn and calm him down. Do not let him know what you see."

"Your support? No, he needs to learn some things on his own."

****

"Mithrandir has taken Pippen then," Legolas said softly to Gimli. He looked at where Merry was watching the preparations for making bread. He shook his head. Gimli looked at the elf with a small frown.

"Why does Aragorn believe his lady has left him?"

"The elves of Imladris are leaving these shores. They will sail west, as will Galadriel's people."

"And you?"

Legolas shook his head. "We are not leaving."

"Why not?"

"The call of the land is stronger than the call of the sea. My people have never been isolated from men. We trade openly with them. War has long been in Mirkwood. This is merely the final expression of that which we have been facing since my birth. The dark shadows that hang over the land here have long been in Mirkwood. Oh, Gimli, the woods are dying. The birds bring reports of fires and fighting. The battle is joined elsewhere. It will be with us before long."

"How do you know?"

"Sometimes, master dwarf, I just know." Legolas shrugged with a smile. "Now I am going to hunt down Strider and ask him exactly what is going on."

"You'll need more than a bow to do that," Gimli snorted.

"Perhaps I'll try a smile and see if that lightens his mood. If that doesn't work, I'll resort to blackmail. You see, I know his brothers."

The dwarf laughed aloud at the cat-like smirk on Legolas' lips. He waved the elf away and went back to sharpening his axe. It had a knick in it that he wanted to get flat.

Aragorn looked over his shoulder. He was sure someone was following him, but for the life of him, he couldn't catch sight of him. Perhaps it was Eowyn making sure that he was taken care of. It was nice to have her support. He missed Arwen terribly. And if Arwen had already left for the West, there was no reason not to encourage her. She would make a fine queen. But, some part of him was sure that his follower was male. That left either the hobbit, or the elf. Gimli wasn't one to stalk him. "Legolas, stop it," he said quietly. "You're making me paranoid."

"That is a good thing, my human."

Strider couldn't help but smile indulgently. He'd been adopted by Legolas as his "pet human" years ago. It had made him welcome in Mirkwood, much to King Thranduil's dismay. "What purpose is there in driving me mad?"

"I shouldnít know, you'd have to ask Arwen."

"But I cannot, so I ask you."

"Well, it makes you all the more amenable to my whims."

"You've never sought to bend me to your whims. What is the problem today, Greenleaf?"

"Perhaps I wished to see you smile. You've not done that in days."

"What is there to smile about? The Palentir has stolen away Pippen and Mithrandir. We've lost many men in battle."

"But we have had some victory as you reminded me last night. And finding joy in these days has been hard. If you lose your smile, I fear we will have lost you."

"Legolas." Strider sighed. "Very well, my dear elf, what do you suggest we do?"

"Perhaps we should protect the baker from the advances of a hungry hobbit?"

"And by cheering Merry, cheer ourselves? I think Eowyn has him well in hand. He has fallen to her charms."

"And you have not? That isn't what I've heard."

"You dislike her?"

"No, I'm fond of her. Another human, what will my lord think?" Legolas was smirking, making Aragorn vaguely nervous. The elf was prone to tricks that embarrassed his "pet human."

"That you've spent too much time with Arwen and her brothers."

"Which is true in a sense."

Aragorn smiled at his friend. "Come, let's walk a bit together. You can tell me what lays so heavily on your mind."

"That is not what I was thinking of. I wished to cheer you not draw you into my sorrows."

"That's not fair, my friend. You have always listened to my troubles."

Legolas looked away. "That has never been a hardship. I just nod at the right time to make you feel better. Arwen taught me the technique."

"I don't believe you."

"Why not, my human?"

"Because you have always had a true answer to my problems, my friend. Why should you have cause to stop me when I wish to aide with your burdens?"

"My burdens are of the heart, my ranger, and there is nothing to be done but bear them for now. I cannot share burdens that I do not fully understand."

"Please, let me try."

Legolas sighed. They'd found themselves on the edge of the city looking out at the mountains. He gestured towards them. "For so many turns I looked towards the mountains in the distance and wished that I could fly to them like the queen's messengers. I yearned to be free of the palace and of the trees. But I have learned that I am never far from them. Even now they scream in agony as the fire tears through them and I don't know if the fires are real or some demented imaginings of the future. I hear the tales from the birds that have not yet been perverted of smoke in Mirkwood. They see it from the edges of Lorien, but don't dare to go closer. The elves have left Lorien and the birds mourn their loss.

"My heart grows heavy with fears and shadows that I seem to have known from birth. There is an ache in my side that I cannot attribute to any wound. The shadows whisper in my ears that there is danger growing near and that everything hangs in the balance. And I fear deeply for you and all the races left on these shores."

Aragorn stayed quiet as the eldest prince of Mirkwood found his words. When more was not forthcoming he prompted, "but that is not all."

"No," Legolas agreed. "I have learned something more, my ranger. A lesson precious to my heart that cannot be shared. I have given you many of my troubled dreams, but there is one last one that I cannot share."

"Why can you not share it, my friend?"

Legolas looked into Aragorn's eyes, for once the depth of his age showing true. "For I have found something that has no words, only melody and I fear that to sing it would destroy me."

Aragorn lost all his words in the shine of his friend's eyes. This was part of the awe that Arwen inspired in him, the agelessness of her eyes. He longed to be a part of their depths, but not as a painful reminder of humanity's failings. He would bring peace to the land. He would do it or see Legolas dead before he was harmed by anyone again. Carefully, considerate of all he knew of Legolas' past, he lifted a hand to brush away the tears neither of them had clearly recognized. He brushed his knuckles along the high cheekbone. "Then keep it in your mind, but not your heart. I would not see you so drowned in music that you cannot bear to live."

"But music is my heart-blood, Strider. And no music can exist in only one part of me. I will sing it in silence, in the greatest voice I know. Perhaps the Valar will see fit to free me of its burden, but I do not wish it so, for it is beautiful and haunting even in its pain." Legolas shook his head. "For now, let us continue. You will lead. I will follow. And in time we will see the shadows burned away by the brightest light."

Aragorn closed his eyes and dropped his head. "As you say. But honestly, my elf, I'm beginning to feel that you lead even when you follow." His hand rested briefly on Legolas' arm, over the wound he knew would never fully heal. "I will not rob Mirkwood of you."

"I cannot be stolen, Estel." Legolas smiled. "I go only where I choose and have done so for many turnings, despite my lord's displeasure. The queen instilled a love of flight and there are no cages that can hold me."

"I think there is one cage that holds you, your honor."

Legolas simply smiled a strange half smile that Strider had never seen before. "Not my honor, Strider, my love. It has always been my love that trained me to one place and it always will be. Come, let's go cheer Merry and forget our talk of shadows."

****

Sadorlien walked beside Arwen's horse, used to her silence and not worried in the least. They were fast approaching the point where they would need to slip into the forest. Arwen's eyes turned to the mists by the side of the road and dilated. Sadorlien blinked up at her in surprise as her horse stopped moving. "My lady. My lady, we must get going," he said softly. She turned the horse and left him standing and gaping. He turned quickly and scanned the ranks.

"Let me have that horse," he said in a tone much more of command than of request. The lady in waiting, blinked, then dismounted. He leapt onto the horses back and followed Arwen's trail easily. She wasn't even moving quietly through the pass. The lady shook her head then turned to walk with the others. Her lady would be well protected, that she knew.

"They will come when it is time for them to follow," she stated. The company started to move again, despite having lost two of its company.

It wasn't too long after Arwen confronted her father, that Sadorlien finished brushing down the horses and made his way to her chambers. Arwen gave the shards of Narsil to her father with the flattest demand he'd ever heard from her lips.

Later, he witnessed from the shadows the heartbreaking loss of Arwen's light. He bowed his head in brief sorrow. Then, he stood straight. If Arwen were now mortal, it was even more his duty to protect her than before. Her father left her laying on her couch. Sadorlien sat next to her and took up the book she'd been reading. He began to read to her, voice quickly taking on the unusual cadence of Court Elvish.

He didn't realize that in her fragile strength, she had stolen his heart.

****

Aragorn had taken his position to watch for the beacons of Minis Tirith partly to have something to do and partly to smoke his hobbit weed in peace. Legolas found the habit irritating, but ignorable. Eowyn had made it clear that she disliked it immensely. He sighed. Sometimes a man just wanted to smoke. He straightened with a start, then took off in a sprint. "The beacons of Minis Tirith. The beacons are lit. Gondor calls for aid."

There was a long moment of indrawn breath from all in the room. "And Rohan will answer," Theoden stated. "Muster the rohirrim."

The preparations were made swiftly. Aragorn watched Eowyn pass by. "You will ride with us?"

"It is traditional for the women to ride to the encampment."

He raised a brow and folded back her horse's blanket to reveal her sword. She folded it back, daring him to speak with her eyes.

"The men have found their captain. They will follow you unto death."

Aragorn's face darkened. He nodded slightly in response.

****

Legolas looked over the encampment from his perch. From where he stood he could watch over his human, his beloved, why could he still not admit to it even in his mind? He could also look out over the meager force gathered below. He murmured a silent prayer for their souls and their courage. Gimli settled with a hurrumph. "It's not enough," he said flatly.

Legolas sighed. "It will have to be unless we can conjure up another few thousand in moments. My people will not answer the call."

"And why not?"

"They will not leave the forest while it burns."

Gimli blinked. "How do you know?"

Legolas lifted his hand and a sparrow settled on it. It looked at him curiously. "I have news where-ever I fly, don't I, my friend?" The sparrow chirped happily at him. It plucked a stray hair from his braid and flew off.

Gimli snorted.

They turned and headed into the encampment. They would share a tent with Aragorn, as usual. But the human was busy talking with Theoden. Legolas frowned and headed to Eomer. "The horses are restless and the men quiet," he stated, half in question.

"They grow nervous in the shadow of the mountain."

"That road, there, where does it lead?" Gimli asked, frowning.

"It is the road to the Dimholt; the door under the mountain." Gimli turned to his companion in surprise. He hadn't realized the archer was studied in geography.

"And none who venture there ever return. That mountain is evil," Eomer ended, then walked away. Legolas studied the entrance, absently calming a horse with his touch. Aragorn approached them, looking into the mountain.

"Aragorn. Aragorn, let's get some food," Gimli said. Aragorn looked at the mountain once more, then followed. Legolas watched him, worried.

****

Theoden, frowned at the visitor. "Who are you?"

"I am Elrond, Lord of Imladris."

Theoden's eyes widened in surprise. He offered his visitor a chair. "And what brings you, Lord Elrond?"

"I must speak with Aragorn. And with you."

Theoden sent a guard to fetch Aragorn. "What is it?"

"You will not see out the battle. Prepare your people." Theoden paled at the bald statement. He wasn't used to plain speaking, even as a soldier. Aragorn entered. Elrond rose.

****

"Legolas," Elrond called quietly. The younger elf turned to face him. Elrond studied him. "Your guard still watches Arwen."

"Good."

"She is mortal."

Legolas bowed his head and closed his eyes. They stood silent for a long moment. "I will watch over Estel. Don't worry."

Elrond smiled sadly. "Take care, Legolas. This is no longer my world."

"Will you see the battle out?"

"How can I not? Celeborn is in Mirkwood, fighting with your father."

Legolas' cheek twitched involuntarily at the wording.

"Follow him closely. He will ride the dead roads."

"I know. I have nothing to fear from the dead."

"Only do not join them, Legolas."

Legolas nodded. "Sound advice. You know of Haldir's death?"

"I heard none of them returned."

"They did not. I returned them to the earth."

****

"Just where do you think you're off to?" Gimli demanded.

"No, this time you must stay, Gimli."

Legolas sauntered up, leading his horse. "Have you learned nothing of the stubbornness of dwarves?" He smiled. They mounted and headed for the mountain, leaving Theoden to tame his men.

****

As they traveled, Legolas recounted the story of the cursed army. Gimli shivered behind him. Legolas resisted the urge to smile. He'd always been fond of tales to scare youngsters. He'd done it to Strider often enough to make it a running joke between them. It was the best way to impart history though.

They stopped at the entrance to the mountain proper. "The way is shut. It was made by the dead and is kept by the dead. The way is shut," Legolas read. The horses turned and fled, leaving the three of them standing.

"I do not fear death." Aragorn strode in purposefully.

Legolas waited a heartbeat, then rolled his eyes at Gimli's reluctance. He followed Strider into the breach. Gimli came shortly after, his honor not letting him turn tail. As they confronted the King of the Dead, Legolas felt a little of his confidence dissipate. There was nothing but faith to hold onto, since his arrows were useless. His eyes remained trained on Aragorn. Estel, Elrond had named him, and Legolas couldn't argue with the appellation. The King of the Dead acquiesced.

They proceeded through the halls of the dead to the rivers. Legolas looked out over the water, hearing it for the first time. He understood, quite suddenly why Elrond's people were leaving these shores. He could hear the promise of freedom there. Then, Strider's hand was on the back of his neck for a brief moment as they headed for the Corsairs whose ships had been taken by the dead. A more efficient fighting force Legolas had never seen.

They boarded the head ship and set its black sails to take them to the shores near Minis Tirith. Legolas stood at the prow, eyes scanning ahead for dangers, and generally taking in the views he'd never had a chance to see before. Strider joined him, a gentle brush against his thigh to prove he was real, then nothing. Gimli was taking the time to rest. "You should sleep," Legolas stated. "We'll soon be fighting."

"True."

"So why don't you rest?"

"Because I would rather stay with you. One of us may die today," Strider said softly in Elvish. "And Arwen would have my head if I were to lie to you about anything, even through reticence."

Legolas looked at the human, eyes alight with curiosity. "You've never lied to me, Strider."

"But I haven't been truthful with you either. When I turned Eowyn away earlier, it wasn't just for Arwen's sake."

"Oh?" Legolas found his mouth was dry. It was an unusual sensation.

"I turned her away because I love you as well."

Legolas' eyes blinked, once, then again. "And I you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn." Legolas smiled. "My dearest friend, I could never doubt you love me. You put up with far too much to dislike me."

"Legolas, I don't mean I love you as a brother," Aragorn stated quietly. "It is not unheard of for elves to have more than one love."

"True."

"Humans can as well. I love you, Legolas. As more than a brother. You are my Chosen."

Legolas stared in wonder at his beloved ranger. "You were well named, Estel." The elf smiled sadly. "Don't die -- for my heart's sake, Aragorn."

Aragorn knew that he would get no firmer commitment out of his elf. It was enough that Legolas knew his feelings. There was nothing to change between them except physical intimacy, but that was not Legolas' forte. He'd known the elf for most of his life, and Legolas had never spoken of his lovers, though Aragorn assumed there must have been some, lest the rumors be wholly wrong. He clasped Legolas' hand for a moment and squeezed. "I will do my best, my elf."

"Then I have nothing to fear."

****

The dead made short work of the orcs that were in the city while still leaving plenty for everyone else to do. Legolas and Gimli quickly took up their favorite game of counting-kill. "Legolas!" The sharp cry alerted the elf to the Oliphant bearing down on him. Legolas considered, then ran towards the beast.

Aragorn thought his heart was going to stop as the elf ran directly at the large beast. He shouldn't have worried. Legolas quickly brought down the creature and its riders. Gimli snorted. "Still only counts as one." Legolas didn't comment, but turned to other prey. Soon, the field went silent. There was only ragged breathing and faint sounds from the city. The dead stood, demanding their due from Aragorn.

"Go and be at peace." The dead dissipated, leaving them to care for the wounded and tend the dead. Legolas heard Merry and Pippen on one side. Eowyn's tears caught his attention from the other side. But his heart was still heavy. His eyes turned to the shadowed lands across the river. They were on Mordor's doorstep and nothing would change that until the dark clouds were destroyed. He whispered a soft prayer for Sam and Frodo.

Aragorn closed his eyes and seconded the wishes. Then, he turned to practical matters. He greeted Gandalf.

****

Standing in the great hall, Gandalf said, "Frodo has passed beyond my sight. The darkness is deepening."

"If Sauron had the ring, we would know it."

"It is only a matter of time. He has suffered defeat, yes, but behind the walls of Mordor he is gathering his forces."

"Let them stay there. Let them rot," Gimli growled, puffing on his pipe. "Why should we care?"

"Because 10,000 orcs now stand between Frodo and Mt. Doom. I've sent him to his death."

"No, there's still hope for Frodo," Aragorn argued. "He needs time. We can give him that."

"How?" Gimli asked.

"Draw out his armies. We mass our forces and march for the Black Gate."

Gimli nearly choked on his smoke.

"We cannot win through strength of forces."

"But we can give Frodo time, keep the Eye focused on us. He cannot look two ways at once."

"A diversion," Legolas stated. His eyes were calm.

"Sauron will suspect it. He will not take the bait."

"Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?"

Legolas shook his head with a smile. "It's no more mad than following a Hobbit," Legolas pointed out. Aragorn clapped him on the arm, finding the exact place of the orc-wound without ever knowing it. Legolas swallowed the pain with a glimmer of dangerous humor. His human would pay someday for all the little nicks and bats he'd given the elf. And poor Aragorn would never see it coming, not from Legolas of all people.

****

The black gates were imposing. Legolas took his place at Aragorn's shoulder. Gimli was next to him, grumbling about being comrades with an elf. "How about with a friend?"

"Aye. I could do that I suppose." Gimli nodded. History was being made all around him these days. They moved closer to the gate.

"Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth! Let justice be done upon him!" Aragorn commanded.

Suddenly, the doors of started to rumble open. The whole of Sauron's army stared at them, a strong, wide surge of death. "Pull back!"

They drew back to the main force. The darkness of the eye seemed to fill the space behind the army like a dread cloud of doom. Aragorn raised his sword. The words he spoke would be forever imprinted on the souls of the men who heard him. "Sons of Gondor, or Rohan. My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of man fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of Fellowship. But it is not this day! An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the age of men comes crashing down. But it is not this day! This day, we fight. By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you, stand men of the West!"

They stood, waiting for the attack. Sauron called to Aragorn. Legolas could see the strength of that call, like a band, pulling Aragorn closer to the army. Then, Aragorn turned and met Legolas' eyes. He raised his sword and charged, calling "For Frodo!"

The battle was joined a breathless moment later. All around was clashing and gnashing and clank, klink pain of screeching death. The dull roar of battle was pierced by a clear voice. "The eagles are coming! They'll save us!"

Legolas looked and indeed saw the eagles bearing down on the Nazgul. But what held his attention was the beast attacking Aragorn. Aragorn fell and Legolas surged towards him, not even counting the number of swings. He never knew how many orcs he killed in that black moment. The only thing he cared for was reaching Aragorn's side. Nothing short of death was going to keep him. Then, Mt. Doom rumbled. The vibrations ran through the ground cracking it as the volcano spurted to life. All eyes were on the red and black plume. Aragorn never knew how the beast got off of his chest. All he could see was the red lava spewing into the air. A rolling cheer went up as the orcs were swallowed by the angry earth. It was over.

Gandalf and the eagles went to collect the hobbits, while Aragorn coordinated the assistance of the wounded. In Minis Tirith, Legolas looked Aragorn over critically. "You look a mess. Go clean up. Get some rest. I'll watch for a moment. Eomer knows his men well."

"Legolas."

"Go. Now."

Strider blinked. He'd never been ordered around by the elf. But he took the chiding and the advice and went to clean off the grime of the battle and of the road. Legolas turned to Eomer. "We must secure Osgilith. If there are any orcs left in Mordor, that will be their first target. After that is safe, we can begin the ranger sweeps again."

"The men are tired."

"I need your best, Eomer. Five of them. I'll get five of the Rangers of Gondor. That will be enough for a small outpost. There are a few rangers left. I know them. Will you assist me?"

Eomer nodded. "And where are your men?"

"In Mirkwood, where they should remain for now."

"We could use fresh men."

"They would not arrive in time for anything less than the coronation. And likely not even that. We'd have to hold the proceedings for that to happen."

Eomer's brows rose. "You don't approve?"

"Of lateness? Not particularly. Of the warriors. Yes, I approve of them, but they are bereft of their oldest captain. She is likely now one of the orcs laying on that field out there." Legolas shook his head. "Enough. I ride towards Osgilith, join me when you can."

Legolas strode out of the room. He pointed, "You, your name?"

"Henry, sir."

"Set watch on Aragorn's chambers. He is not to be disturbed for twelve hours. Enlist help if you need too."

The young boy nodded and scampered towards the king's chambers.

"He is too young."

"He is the perfect age. And he is not likely to be a killer in disguise. Aragorn's security is paramount to me. Thus, I'm going to hunt orcs. Now, where has that dwarf gotten to?" he mused aloud.

Eomer laughed.

****

Aragorn stretched. He looked out at the sun. It seemed very low in the sky. There was no way he'd only slept for an hour. He opened the door to find a page in livery there. "And who are you?"

"Henry, sir. Citadel Guard."

Aragorn smiled. "And what are your orders Guard Henry?"

"To let no one disturb you for a day, sir."

"And have you done your duty?"

"Yes, sir. These are the messages for you." He had a small pile of parchments next to him. "Master Legolas was quite clear that you were not to be disturbed at all."

"I might have known. Very well. You may stand down, Guard Henry."

"I'm sorry, sir, but not until Master Legolas returns. Pippen and I have been taking turns."

"Pippen is well?"

"Yes, sir."

"Will you fetch him for me?"

"He'll be here shortly, sir. It's almost his time."

Aragorn nodded and changed, trimming the beard that Legolas teased him about. He had been outmaneuvered by a child and a hobbit. Not the most auspicious of beginnings, but better than nothing. He heard voices outside his chamber. "Pippen," he opened the door to the grinning hobbit's face.

"Strider!" They embraced. Henry watched in awe.

"And where is Legolas?"

"He's in Osgilith. He was re-establishing the perimeter. Eomer is in his chambers. Eowyn is handling matters in the main hall. Her arm is bound up and she's weak, but I still wouldn't cross her."

"Never cross a woman. Let that be a lesson to you, Pippen."

"I know better. You'd better warn Merry though. He's taken with her. Frodo's here. He's asleep. Gandalf is taking care of him. We put Sam in a separate room so he would actually rest." Aragorn let himself be led by the merrily chatting hobbit. He steered himself towards the great hall.

"Eowyn," he said softly. She looked up from the papers.

"Aragorn," she smiled. Aragorn knew that smile. "There's someone you should meet."

He looked at the unfamiliar man. "Hello."

"I am Faramir, son of Denethor. Steward of Gondor. Welcome, King Aragorn."

"I'm not king yet. I am sorry for your losses."

Faramir inclined his head.

"Boromir died nobly."

"He did."

Eowyn smiled, sad but accepting. "I think you'll have to wrest control away from your elf. The army is under his direction at the moment."

"He's good at it. Though he hates it. At least that's what he's always told me. He just wants to hunt orcs. Gimli?"

"Has retired to a room near the hobbits. Legolas has tired him out."

"Legolas was winning the game."

Eowyn nodded. "Now that you're here, these are your responsibility."

He took the papers and started reading. When he looked up again Legolas was watching him, head canted to the side. Aragorn took stock of what he was wearing, where he was sitting, and what he was doing, before speaking. "Yes? And what can I do for you, my meddling elf?"

"Have you eaten?"

"Stop acting like my mother, Legolas. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself."

Legolas rolled his eyes. "There's food sitting on the table which hasnít been touched. I wondered if it were yours or if you were waiting for Eowyn's company."

"You know that I am not awaiting her company. Why don't you go meddle in someone else's affairs?"

"No one else has affairs which are as fun to meddle in," Legolas informed his human. "Have you eaten?"

"No, but I will presently. What is the state of Osgilith?"

"There is a small force cleaning out the wreckage of what came before and hunters going after the orcs that venture too near. The bodies of the orcs have been gathered into piles and I've started the burning. Their weapons and armor have been collected. The smiths think they will be able to convert some of what was there into more useful pieces. The leather and cloth has been taken by the people of Rohan for use with their horses."

"And our company?"

"Gimli lost interest in hunting and returned here to rest. Pippen and Merry are well. Sam is recovering. He needed only food, water and a few bandages. The damage to Frodo was worse, but Gandalf is watching over him. We were worried about Faramir, but his fever broke during the day. Eowyn had been watching over him, last I heard. Gandalf is well, though tired. Word has been sent out about your assumption of power. The date has been set for one month from today to allow the humans on the Dale and above to join us. The Shire is not expected to attend. Word has come that Wormtongue is dead by his own hand."

"And where did this news come from?"

Legolas smiled. "I have my sources. The rooks have been flying from the mountains. The Eagles will not be attending your crowning."

"And the elves?"

The elf considered. "I assume they'll be here as well. I haven't asked. I will have to return to Mirkwood after the coronation."

"And then return here? I'm sure Mirkwood can spare me an archer."

"The *best* archer," Legolas corrected. "But I've responsibilities there beyond hunting."

"Oh? Nothing to steal you from my side just yet, though?" Aragorn prodded.

"No, not just yet." Legolas' eyes were soft and smiling. He looked more at ease than he had at any time in the journey. "Come, my human, let's get you fed so that you can face the masses."

"I'm not the king yet."

"Aren't you?"

Aragorn was silent. Damned elves were always acting older and wiser. The bitch of it was, Legolas only did it when he was right. Aragorn snorted. He ate the food, surprised at how quickly it disappeared. He hadn't thought himself that hungry. Legolas watched him eat, amused. "Why do you watch me?"

"I enjoy watching you."

"But why?"

The archer shrugged. "It's become something of a hobby. I like to watch things. Now, I've one more thing to do before I retire for a deep sleep."

"And that is?"

"There's a tree that needs tending." With that statement, Legolas left.

Aragorn shook his head and looked to the heavens. "Elves," he said, feeling like Gimli.

****

Legolas stroked the branches of the white tree. It was not yet dead, but it had come very close. He tended it carefully, trying to ease the years of neglect it had suffered. It hadn't been properly cared for since the line of kings had been broken. He felt curious eyes on him and looked up. Sam was out of bed. Legolas smiled. He gestured the hobbit over. "Hello, Samwise."

"Mr. Legolas."

"And how are you faring today? They told me you would not be up for another few days?"

"Well, sir, I'm not so fragile as all that."

"You are well? The healer gave you leave to be up?"

"Yes, sir." Sam frowned at the elf. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to save the tree. It is the symbol of Gondor."

"Well, then, sir, I've got just the thing."

"Oh?" Legolas was pleased. "What do you suggest?"

"Lady Galadriel gave me some soil."

"Sam, that's wonderful."

Samwise Gamgee beamed. He got the little box he'd taken care to protect. He sprinkled just a pinch on the roots like she'd told him to do. "There, sir, that should do."

"Thank you, Master Gamgee." Legolas smiled. A little bit of dirt from Lorien might make all the difference.

****

"Prince Legolas," Brand said warmly. They were in the back hall leading to the king's receiving room. He smiled at the elf.

Legolas returned the smile with an inclination of his head. "How do you come to be all the way down here?" He liked the King of the Dale. He'd known him since he was a child.

"I came to see the king's coronation. Your brother sent this with us."

Legolas took the package curiously. He opened the wrapping to expose a silver coronet. His lips twitched as he realized that it was created to sit canted on his forehead, just enough to be noticeable to an elf. It would drive Arwen and Elrond mad. "Thank you for brining this."

"You're welcome. I hadn't thought to find you here. I'm surprised that King Thranduil let you leave the woods."

"It wasn't so much a matter of 'let' as some might believe."

The human laughed. He clapped the elf on the upper arm. "You sound like me when I was a young man."

"You are still young."

"To an elf perhaps, but to a human, not so young as I have been."

"We're none of us that. Though some retain a brighter spirit than others."

"Is the Lady Arwen here?"

"Perhaps. She has an affection for Aragorn."

"And to think your brother called you a gossip."

"Merely gossip fodder."

"Legolas!" Aragorn called. Brand was treated to a sight that would linger for years. For a heartbeat the elf-prince shone as radiantly as the stars. Then, Aragorn was there beside them and the light was gone. "Frodo has wakened."

"That is good news. If you will excuse us, Brand?"

"King Brand, welcome to Minis Tirith," Aragorn said politely.

"Hello, Strider. Go, see to your friend. They say he's a great hero."

"That he is," Strider agreed. "That he is. All of them are. For ones so small they have remarkable stead-fastness."

"Fine friends to have indeed. I shall have to meet them one day."

"I should like that." Strider nodded. He was glad to have known so many of the men that would be coming to support King Elessar. 0f course, most of them didn't know that Strider was also Aragorn, but that would come in due course.

Legolas realized in some amusement, that Aragorn was holding his hand. "Do you think I'll get lost on the way to Frodo's chambers?" he teased.

Strider looked down at the elf's hand in his own. He smirked. "Just staking my claim early as I'm sure there will be someone coming to take it from me."

"And who else do you think would grab me by the hand to lead me around the palace?"

"Why Arwen, of course. She'll be here within the day."

"And with Frodo well again the ceremony shall commence?"

"The hard part is mostly done. Brand was the last king to arrive. The ceremony doesn't bother me."

"And Arwen is coming with a full retinue?"

"She is coming with Elrond and my guess is that Sadorlien will be with them. Perhaps her brothers." Aragorn shrugged. Legolas laughed and shook his head.

"As if her brothers would let her go anywhere on her own? It will be fun to hunt with them again." There was a rather savage smile on the elf's face and Strider was surprised.

"I know you dislike. . .'

"No, Strider, I despise them. Mother Ravenclaw's body is out there. Or what used to be her body before they twisted her into an orc. I saw to the burning of it myself. I will make sure that Sauron's forces are routed. I would not wish that fate on my enemy."

"Orc-hood? No." Strider shook his head, slowing his steps. He shook off the lingering images of the Palintir's vision. He would not have to worry about his elf being turned into an orc. That much was assured. He didn't notice his fingers tightening until Legolas squeezed back.

"You worry too much, child," Legolas stated.

"And you don't? Come, let's see Frodo well."

****

Aragorn greeted Elrond and his sons. He tried not to be too disappointed that Arwen wasn't with them. "Lord Elrond."

Legolas nodded to the brothers. Elrohir winked over Strider's head. Elladan seconded the motion. Legolas raised a brow. Elrond gave Legolas' arm a squeeze. "It's good to see you, Legolas."

"My lord."

Elrond looked down his nose at the young elf. "Whatever it is you have planned, don't even consider it."

"What would I possibly be considering? Embarrassing you? Never."

"Legolas, I know that when you and Elladan get into squabbles the entire court has to watch."

"I wouldn't be embarrassing *you*, only them."

"I should have spirited you away from Mirkwood. Perhaps you would not have picked up Thranduil's humor. Or his hairsplitting tendencies."

"I'm not good at politics. But I will tell you that there's still plenty of orc hunting to be done by Osgilith."

"Really?" Elladan was pleased. "We'll have to take a trip out there to see who can get the most. And what's this we hear about being a dwarf-friend?"

"Gimli's not that bad," Legolas defended.

"Still, Legolas, an elf and a dwarf? It will never work out."

"Did Galadriel tell you about Gimli's affections then? He loves her very much."

The twins stopped in mid-thought. They looked at each other, then back at Legolas. "See you later, Estel," they chimed. Each twin took one arm and led the protesting Legolas away for an in depth gossip debriefing. Strider laughed.

"They'll never change."

"The twins? They've changed some. They don't hunt as much anymore. It's Legolas who worries me now."

"I'll look after him."

"Will you? You'll have to catch him first." Elrond nodded in the direction of the courtyard. "Will you walk with me, Aragorn?"

"Of course."

****

"So you'll able to get her into the palace right? He can't see her," Elladan pressed.

"Yes, don't worry." Legolas gestured. "Guard Henry." The young guard hurried over. The twins took him to be a page. "Will you watch over Aragorn for me once more? Don't leave his side until I say."

"Yes, sir." Henry scurried off. His boots clattered on the stones of the hall.

Elrohir laughed. "We'll hear them coming a mile away."

"Exactly. Now, where are they?"

"Down by the river. Sadorlien thought you'd be able to get them in quietly from there."

"I wonder how he knew. There's a staircase there, built into the mountain. It's not nice, but it will get us from here to there. There's a room set up for the attendants. She can stay there. Can they keep the secret do you think?"

"I think so. They're the closest to the family. Cara's there."

"Then there's no trouble at all."

****

Arwen hugged Legolas close. "Thank you, brother."

"For you, anything, sister," he whispered back. He released her. "Sadorlien?" Legolas smiled hesitantly.

The guard stood attentively by Arwen's side. He turned to his prince, a blinding smile on his face. "My lord." He opened his arms for his own hug. Legolas wrapped his arms around his oldest companion. Sadorlien held on tightly. "It eases my heart to see you well."

"And mine as well. Though, there's something different. You're in love again."

"Perhaps." Sadorlien smirked. He loved tweaking Legolas about love affairs. Then, he looked closely at the elf in front of him. "I'm not the only one in love."

"Bite your tongue. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a guard to relieve."

"I'll get the story out of you, sir," Sadorlien threatened.

"Perhaps," Legolas retorted over his shoulder.

****

Legolas went in search of the King of Men. He came upon the dwarf in the hall.

"And where is Aragorn?" Legolas asked Gimli.

"He went down to see the fields." The dwarf frowned. "Gandalf is with him."

Legolas nodded. The dwarf looked him up and down. "Finally admitted it then, lad?"

"I admit nothing, Master Dwarf."

Gimli chuckled. He patted the elf's hip. "He loves you too, you know."

"Is it that bloody obvious?"

Gimli considered. "Only if you know the both of you."

"There's that to be thankful of at least."

Gimli considered what he knew about the elf and the human. "How long have you known him?"

"Oh, years." Legolas shrugged. "He was my pet human about the same time he became Arwen's chosen. I didn't get to meet him when he was a child because I wasn't allowed to Rivendell." Legolas smiled. "I think he's grown up rather well."

"I don't believe it's paternal affection," the dwarf said flatly.

"No, I'd never be so foolish as to claim that. But I have responsibilities, Gimli. I can't follow my heart like Arwen has. Their union is for the good of both races. I will have to take my leave of him soon."

"Why?"

"My lord did not give me leave to go to Rivendell, much less come to Minis Tirith on a quest that likely should have killed me. I must return to Mirkwood to face that if nothing else." Legolas' voice was quiet, but full of rage and pain. "I cannot stay, no matter what my heart says."

"Once you taste love, leaving it is bitter."

Legolas touched Gimli's shoulder. "I'm sorry. You of all people here understand my position best."

"Aye, lad, I do. Well, then, I'm off to find some food. A dwarf could starve."

"If they can feed a hobbit, they can feed a dwarf." Legolas shook off his dark mood.

****

Aragorn looked up in surprise to find the twins watching him. "We've met Eowyn, Estel. Naughty."

"I didn't do anything."

"But you considered it."

"She would make a fine queen."

"True. So tell us, brother, what changed between you and the wood-elf?"

"I don't know what you mean."

Elrohir snorted. "Estel."

"We are as we have always been. Nothing has changed."

"Liar. What has changed?"

"Nothing between us has changed."

"If I can't get the truth from you I'll have to wrest it from Legolas."

Aragorn laughed at that. Elladan grinned. "We are desperate you know."

"Then you'll have to ask him. And I swear if you can get him to talk to you about anything, it will be a miracle."

"Sounds like a challenge. What do you think, brother?" The twins smirked at each other. "And where might our friendly wood-elf be?"

"He's right here. What have you been plotting behind my back?" Legolas glared at his well, brothers he supposed. He'd inherited them from Arwen.

"Would we do anything to harm you?"

Legolas crossed his arms, absently touching the orc wound on his arm. He looked down his nose at them. He raised his brows. "Harm? No. Embarrass? Yes. Now what are you plotting?"

Elrohir smiled. "We were just wondering what has changed over the past year. You and Estel seem different to us."

Legolas took a step in Aragorn's direction, eyes fixed on dark-haired elves. "Different how?"

"It's something subtle and indescribable. It's worrisome though. The two of you have always been so. . ."

"Stable?" Elladan finished.

"Exactly," his brother agreed. "And now you've gone and changed. It's troubling."

Aragorn shook his head. "I don't know what you mean beyond the obvious. We've both been facing Sauron for a year. That's not a good thing. We have traveled far and fought many battles together. Perhaps that's all you see."

"No, that's not it." Elrohir tapped his cheek. "I know, You're in love."

Legolas rolled his eyes. "Shut up unless you have something sensible to say. Aragorn, Eowyn wants to know when the ceremony will begin exactly. There's some female ritual that she wants to schedule properly." He shrugged.

"And why not send a page for the information?"

"She saw me first. You know what's she's like when she has her mind set on something."

"True. Have you seen Faramir?"

"The healer is checking him for any lingering affects of his wounds. Eowyn was all set to hover over him when they kicked her out."

"She was stabbed by a Nazgul!"

"And she has recovered perfectly. She wasn't half-dead when they got to her. Denethor was trying to burn Faramir when Mithrandir interfered."

Elladan cleared his throat. "Have you become his vassal then? I didn't think. . ."

"He's my pet human, I'll do what I like," Legolas stated. His voice was absent. The twins stared at him. "What?"

"How often have you had to discuss him with our kind?" Elrohir demanded.

"My lord does not approve of my friendship with any human, Strider least of all. But he knows he can't stop me. We simply have a screaming fight every few years." Legolas shrugged. "I'll leave you to your brothers. They *should* be able to protect you."

"And where are you headed?"

"I need to check Osgilith."

"Legolas, let someone else take charge of the operation there."

"There is no one else. The rangers are depleted. The officers' will is mostly destroyed. Who would you have me send? Pippen?"

"Merry." Aragorn sighed. "There are still good men. Eomer for one."

"Eomer is who is there. He needs to be relieved. The healers will have my hide if I send Faramir. Not to mention what Eowyn might do to me."

"Fine!" Aragorn lifted his hand to stop any further arguments. "We both know that no matter what I say, you're going to do exactly as you please."

"We'll go."

Legolas and Strider both stared at them. "Well, I suppose. . ."

"Do you have any real arguments against us?" Elladan asked.

"No. Just be careful. Elrond will kill me if you get killed there. Don't sulk, Legolas."

"I'm not sulking."

"Of course you aren't, Legolas," Aragorn said. He rolled his eyes towards the sky. "You're frowning for no reason."

"I am not."

"Go talk to Elrond about what the Elven contingent is going to do tomorrow or pretend you're my bodyguard, just don't prick at me."

"Do I prick at you that terribly?"

Everyone in the room knew that Legolas' contrite tones were false. "Oh yes," Aragorn replied. "Sometimes, you even treat me like King Thranduil."

"I'm not that bad to you."

"You do take after him in temperament though," Elrohir smirked.

"Oh, go get yourselves shot up by orcs." Legolas shooed them with one hand.

"Watch it, Legolas, I'll hold that tree out there hostage for good behavior."

They all laughed at that. The twins took off for Osgilith, leaving Aragorn and Legolas alone in the chamber.

"Do you think they'll let it go?" Legolas asked. He perched on the table and looked at the scattered parchments. Aragorn squeezed the elf's thigh, feeling the firm muscle there.

"No."

"Then everyone will be pestering us. But there's nothing changed between us."

"Oh? I think there's one thing." Aragorn didn't move his hand. Legolas looked down at the calloused fingers. He placed his own fingers over them.

"What?"

"I've admitted to you that I love you," Aragorn's voice was soft.

"I know, Beloved." Legolas smiled gently. "But there is nothing to change between us. I've loved you for so long without recognizing it."

Aragorn smiled. "Will you stay?"

"I cannot. I must return to the forest."

"What duty draws you there?"

"Duty to my king. Let us leave it there."

"Very well. Someday I'll get a true explanation from you."

The elf didn't answer. "Correspondence?"

"More than I thought possible." Aragorn sneered at the papers. "How am I supposed to do anything when no one will even so much as speak without a piece of paper to back them up?"

"It is the way of the world, Strider. Let me clear some of it up for you. You can read my responses and send them if you like them."

"Legolas?"

"I've done it for Thranduil. I've done it for Elrond. I've been translating messages between the two of them for what seems like my entire life."

"Very well then. Legolas, how did you come to your position in Thranduil's court?"

"An orc's arrow." The elf refused to be drawn any further and the evident pain in his voice kept Aragorn from trying.

****

Arwen reached to straighten Legolas' crown. It didn't move. He smiled. She frowned. "It's crooked."

"It's perfect."

She sighed heavily. "Father!"

Elrond came at the hail. "Legolas, what have you done to your crown?"

"My crown is exactly as it was made."

"It's crooked."

"Not by much."

"Don't pout. It's crooked." Elrond tried to straighten it. "This isn't the crown you had before."

"Gailduil sent it with King Brand of the Dale."

"He made it like this!"

Sadorlien started to laugh. Soon it infected Legolas as well. Elrond threw his hands up. "I don't know what I'm going to do with you children." Arwen's lips twitched. She touched her father's arm gently.

"It will be fine. He'd just put it on canted anyway."

"Sometimes you are less than helpful. You should take a sisterly interest in making sure he's properly courtly."

"Father," Arwen chided. Legolas shook his head with a smile.

"Shall we go?"

"Yes."

****

The actually crowning was blessedly short. Aragorn walked through the crowd, picking out the faces he recognized. It was strange to see people he'd spent so much time with bow to him. Strangely, even Eowyn bowed. He forced himself to continue to walk. He wished that Arwen could have made it. When he faced the Elves, he smiled. He put a hand on Legolas' shoulder and whispered a brief thanks. Then, their eyes met fully and he became aware of two things: first, Legolas was trying not to smirk and second, Sadorlien was standing just behind Elrond. Legolas tilted his head and Arwen was there. Aragorn took her into his arms and kissed her.

Legolas didn't know whether to cheer or cry when he saw two of his dearest friends kissing like that. His heart did a curious flip. It wasn't jealousy over their love. He'd never deny either of them anything. He examined the emotion and realized it was jealousy. He wanted to be able to kiss Aragorn like that. But even if Arwen weren't known to be his queen, he couldn't. Humans simply wouldn't accept him as Aragorn's partner. He couldn't stand by him like Arwen could. He found a sad smile on his lips. Elrond's hand squeezed his shoulders. "Peace," the elder elf whispered.

"Yes."

Elrond smiled. He considered Legolas his son more than his nephew. "You have always loved more freely than any of my children."

"I don't think I understand you, sir."

"Forget I said anything, then." Elrond's hand didn't move. "Will you stay with him, with them?"

"I cannot. I still must face my father. I will stay to see his court begin to function. Not long after the snows. I must return to the forest, to see what the fire has done to it."

"The woods will be green again."

"They always were green, but some could not see it."

Elrond smiled a bit sad, despite the joy of the occasion. His words were interrupted by the need to show his gratefulness to the hobbits. He knelt and when he rose again, Legolas managed to elude him. The rest of the celebration, Elrond never found himself alone with the younger elf again. Legolas was standing guard over Aragorn. Sadorlien, oddly enough, wasn't bothering to shadow Legolas, he remained focused on Arwen. It galled him that Sadorlien thought Aragorn's court safer than Rivendell. But then, who in this court truly knew Legolas as anything but another elf? Elrond met Legolas' eyes and mocking smile. He inclined his head to acknowledge that he'd been outmaneuvered.

Eventually, Aragorn and Arwen retreated. Legolas leaned against the wall outside Aragorn's chambers. Sadorlien mirrored his position on the other side of the door. "How long will you stand guard for him, my prince?" Sadorlien asked.

"Until my heart drives me back to Lord Thranduil to accept whatever punishments he may lay upon me."

Sadorlien couldn't help but look away. The only thing he could never do was protect his prince from the king. "I wish that we could stay here until Strider's time is up."

"You will."

"What?" Sadorlien found it a struggle to keep his voice low. Anger flashed in his eyes. He might not have Thranduil's temper, or even Legolas' temper, but sometimes he couldn't contain it.

"I said that you will remain here. How can I leave if I know that they are unprotected? If you remain, I can return to the woods with a clear heart."

It took a few long moments. Then, Sadorlien carefully and calmly crossed the distance between them. He put his hand unerringly over the orc-mark on Legolas' arm. "If I could not protect you in Mirkwood, how can I protect them here?"

"Because you will not let anything happen to my heart," Legolas whispered.

Sadorlien's breath caught. "You are in love with Arwen?"

"She is my sister. My heart lies next to her. And that, my dearest friend, is the deepest secret I have ever given you to hold."

"Then I will hold it closer than my own. Very well, when you leave, I will not follow, though my heart breaks from the idea already. I feel as if I've lost part of myself without you or Deluiel by my side."

"I understand your pain. And I know there is nothing that can ease that ache except time. In time, perhaps, we will both adjust. But this is where you are needed now. This is where you can spread your wings. And this is where you can indulge your heart."

"What do you mean?"

"That you love the Evenstar as surely as I love my Strider. And that, my friend, can only help them both. Watch over them?"

"I have already given you that pledge. When did you learn to read me so well?"

"When you first started to have flings with the maidens that threw themselves at me. We won't be separated forever. You know my lord will soften after a few years."

"You love him too well, I think. He has all but destroyed the joy that I once saw in your eyes. Stay here. For once, indulge yourself without thinking of the woods."

"I cannot. I simply cannot. It's not in my nature. I will stay for a few months, no longer. Aragorn cannot know. I have told him that I will leave, but not when. I know that I cannot withstand his pleading. Were it possible, I would grant him anything."

"Promise me one thing, my lord."

"What?"

"Do not let your heart grow cold and hard. Don't let the ice fill you up as it did before Strider came into our world. You started to thaw then. I thought the worst was past."

"If I do not have ice in my heart, I will die from the pain of the separation. If I do not hold fast, I will die if I lose him. I have survived one broken heart by ice, it is the only way I'll survive another. My heart nearly killed me once when I thought him lost to the river. How can I survive a true death?"

Sadorlien's grip never wavered. He looked his best friend, his charge, his duty, in the eye. "If you do not survive it, then you don't. I would rather have you dead outright, than dead piece by piece."

Legolas smiled. He closed his eyes. "If I don't return to Mirkwood, Lord Thranduil will send someone for me. He did not know of my leaving, but he will know where I am. Gailduil knew enough to send a coronet with Brand. If I don't face him soon, it will be worse in the end. Perhaps he will finally order me away. Perhaps he'll destroy the last of the Queen."

"No, he will not harm you."

"He will lock me away in the palace until I am quite mad. Then, I'll escape to my trees again. There is nothing that will change that." When Sadorlien opened his mouth, Legolas touched his lips. "Enough. The decision was made before I saw your face again. Regardless of whether you abide by my wishes and remain here or not, I will not change my mind."

"Yes, sir," Sadorlien said softly, tears in his eyes. He shook off the mood and took up his place once more. They didn't speak, but not so much as a speck of dust evaded their eyes.

**** ****

"But why must you leave? You're welcome here always," Aragorn said again. He was getting desperate. For the past two months Legolas had been hinting at leaving. He'd been trying to plead his case to the elf for just as long. "Arwen, can't you talk some sense into him?"

"Estel, he's the Prince of Mirkwood. Of course he needs to visit there," she replied.

"The what!"

Legolas didn't bother to say anything. He simply left the room during the distraction.

"I thought you knew! He's Thranduil's son. He's the heir," Arwen said evenly.

"I only knew that he was a ward of Thranduil's court. I assumed his parents were Thranduil's courtiers, but I never. . . Why didn't anyone tell me?" Aragorn pinned Sadorlien with his best glare. He'd noted Legolas' disappearance, and knew that the elf was likely sulking on the upper tiers already.

"Because my prince has never seen fit to say anything. Anyone who would be in a position to go against him, has never been in contact with you. Mithrandir and Lord Elrond agreed to keep the secret because it has caused so much pain to him over the years. Of all people, Aragorn, I should think you would be the last to wish him pain."

"I would never wish pain upon him." Aragorn shook his head. "Enough. I'll talk to him later. For now, we have people we must see."

Sadorlien followed Aragorn and Arwen to the main hall. Aragorn settled in the steward's chair at the base of the thrown. He'd had a second chair installed there for Arwen. She settled gracefully into it. He stood guard for them. He could hear the minor stir of Legolas' absence, but all thought that he was merely going to check Osgilith again. Sadorlien sent up a prayer for Legolas' safety on the road. Knowing his prince, he'd need all the help he could get.

"Strider!" the elf that dashed into the room cried, launching himself at the human. Strider caught him with a laugh. The hug sent a ripple of laughter through the crowd.

"Prince Gailduil, how fares Mirkwood?"

"It's brighter, yet duller than it's ever been. Congratulations." Gailduil kissed Arwen's cheek. "Hi, Arwen. Hi, Sady."

Sadorlien winced. He'd managed to banish that nickname from his mind somehow. "My lord."

"And where is my brother? Oh, wait, before I forget, this is for you from Daddy." Gailduil handed over a sheaf of scrolls. "I took the liberty of looking at them on the way when I got bored."

"And where is your guard?" Sadorlien asked.

Gailduil rolled his eyes. "Who do you think I am? Legolas? Daddy let me come all alone. Isn't that great? I finally get to travel. You wouldn't believe what I've seen. I just followed the river down. I got to see the Dale and the vineyards. So, where is he?"

"He's either in his room, or sulking on a parapet."

"I should have guessed. Can I see him?"

"Of course. Sadorlien, would you?"

Sadorlien considered. "Guard Henry, will you take the prince to see Legolas please."

"Yes, sir. If you'll come with me, sir."

The buzz in the court was now about Legolas' rank. Arwen shook her head. "A whirlwind named Gailduil just told us that King Thranduil let him out on his own, correct?"

"Yes, Lady Arwen," Sadorlien answered.

"And you just over-rode my orders like Legolas?" Strider growled in Elvish.

"Of course, sir. They are counter to my primary duty of guarding you." Sadorlien just smiled politely as Aragorn tamed his temper. One ill-humored king was much like another to him.

****

Gailduil opened the door without knocking. "I'll wait for him here. Thank you."

"Is there anything you need, sir?"

"No, I'm fine." Gailduil dismissed the guard. He looked around the room. There was one of Legolas' weavings on the wall, but that was all. There was no bow, no glass, nothing else that would indicate his brother's presence. He found the note on the bed. "What?" He swallowed hard. He didn't have Thranduil's temper, but this made his pulse race. He stormed into the King's Hall. "He's gone! What did you do to him!"

Aragorn stared at Thranduil's son. "I have done nothing to Legolas."

"You must have done something. He wouldn't leave his pet human all alone."

"I have done nothing but offer him a place here for as long as he wishes it," the human king soothed. The courtiers were beginning to get nervous. There was an obviously distraught elf in their midst. That was never a good sign. Aragorn approached the elf carefully. Despite the fact that he was the youngest elf he really knew, Gailduil still had several centuries on him. He gently folded his hands over the parchment and took it to read for himself.

"To whomever finds this note, please conduct it to King Elassar immediately. Strider, I must go. If I do not return, it is not by my own choice. -L"

Aragorn folded the parchment carefully and put it in his pocket. Gimli stepped into the room with an entourage of dwarves. "Greetings, Gimli son of Gloin."

"Hello, Aragorn son of Arathorn. We have come to repair the damage."

Aragorn blinked, stunned. Then, he smiled. "You and your people have my heart-felt thanks."

Gimli snorted. "We'll get to work. When you see that irritating elf-spawn, tell him I'm back."

Strider nodded, then paused. "It seems our friend the elf has left for Mirkwood."

The dwarf snorted. "He'll be back. I don't think a Balrog would be able to keep him from you for too long."

"Well, my father can be about as charming as a balrog in a temper when he's got a mind to be." Gailduil had calmed. "Well, introduce me, Strider."

Sadorlien cleared his throat. "As Strider is now the King of Men, perhaps you should address him as such?"

Aragorn shook his head. "If Gailduil were to treat me with respect I might die of the shock."

"He's still Legolas' pet human, no matter what rank." Gailduil sighed. "Well, I suppose I could treat you more like a king. Are you the elf-friend dwarf then?"

"And who might you be, lad?"

"Prince Gailduil of Mirkwood." The young elf shrugged. "I'm Legolas' brother."

Gimli stared. "You're Thranduil's then. And Legolas was from the Queen's first husband or perhaps a lover?"

"No, Legolas is Thranduil's eldest. He's my half-brother. His mother was the Queen before my mother. He's a lot older than I am." Gailduil looked at the dwarf as if he were mad. "Did you not know?"

"No, he's never mentioned being a prince."

Legolas' brother froze at that. "What? He's denying his heritage outside of the woods as well?"

Gimli nodded. "I see. He and his father must have had ill-words. It happens in the best of families. Not that I don't have harsh words for your father, lad."

"Legolas has never said a harsh word to my father. At least not in my presence." Gailduil frowned. "I'd be interested to know what he was thinking. Is Mithrandir about?"

"He comes and goes," Aragorn stated. He settled back onto his throne.

"May I come with you to see the city, Master Dwarf? You can tell me more of what Legolas has been doing over the past year. We never get the good rumors up North."

"Aye, lad. King Aragorn."

Aragorn nodded his dismissal. It seemed strange that Gimli had retreated into formality, but then, it was in his nature. Strider'd still get smacked down by the dwarf or elf if he did something stupid. It would do the court good to meet an elf even less like Arwen than Legolas was. Gailduil had little care for court formality despite the fact that he'd never left Thranduil's palace before. To the best of Aragorn's knowledge, Gailduil had never even gone to live in the trees for a season. He turned his mind back to the more important parts of internal politics and let Legolas retreat to the back of his mind.

****

Legolas' horse slowed to a canter. He surveyed the damage to the forest with dismay. He could sense the new growth beneath the ashes, but it fairly gutted him to see such wanton destruction. The tower at Dul Goldur had been destroyed as well. It was likely what had caused the destruction. "Who goes there?" a voice demanded.

Legolas glared at the elf in the trees. "Legolas of Mirkwood, who challenges me?"

"I'm sorry." The female elf dropped to the floor of the forest. "I didn't realize, sir."

"What call have you to keep any elf from Mirkwood?"

She was started at the sharpness of the tone. She'd never met the prince of Mirkwood. "Lord Celeborn instructed full vigilance."

"What is Celeborn doing here? He didn't bring Galadriel did he? And where is he?"

"He's at the Palace with King Thranduil. He's working out an accord. A colony of Lorien is coming to clean up the lower part of the Greenwood."

Legolas froze. "When did they change the name?"

"After Sauron fell."

He sighed. "I take it the spiders are gone?"

"Yes. And the trolls as well. I'll let them know you're coming."

"No, don't. I don't want my lord Thranduil to hear before the trees tell him."

She blinked. "Of course." She smiled. "Is there anything you need?"

"The patrol, is it large? Are they armed?"

"Yes and yes."

"Just my luck. But if I go through the woods rather than following the river up I'll have a better chance of getting to the palace before the rumors do," he mused mostly to himself.

"You make things too complicated. I'll just tell everyone that the prince wants to have a grand entrance and not to spoil the surprise."

Legolas laughed. "You are indeed from Lorien." He rode on up the side of the trees. He spotted the new growth blooming as he drew closer to Mirkwood proper. The horse would need to stop soon. He should be just about at his favorite underground spring. He brightened. What difference could a few more hours make? At this point he was likely so deeply in trouble that he wouldn't see daylight until after Aragorn's grandchild was on the throne. His lips twitched into an amused smile. I wonder how many children they'll have? I can't see Arwen wanting only one. He set his horse grazing and then settled himself into the water. He closed his eyes and relaxed, bone handled knives easily in reach.

****

"Legolas is coming," Thranduil said absently. "Steward, make sure there's fresh wine in his room."

Celeborn raised a brow. "How do you know?"

"The trees a more cheerful. Besides, the guards think me deaf."

Celeborn laughed. "I had best get going. I know he doesn't want to see me."

"Then you have seen him more recently than you have said." Thranduil's voice was acridly bitter. Celeborn sighed at the anger. Some things never changed.

"I have. I gave him my word that you would hear his adventures from his lips and not mine."

Thranduil's eyes narrowed. "Was he hurt when you saw him?"

"By no one's hand but yours," Celeborn snapped back. "The light is shuttered in his eyes. His soul weeps for you, but his will is just as strong as yours. You've trained him to your jessies, but he is not some pet to be kept locked up."

"I have never locked him up."

"Not physically."

"He is so wild that I fear for his safety."

"Strange. You don't want anything else to do with Aewlos." Celeborn and Thranduil stood eye to eye for a long moment.

"Get out and take your papers with you. You are in these woods on my sufferance."

"You really haven't changed much have you, you stubborn old goat." Celeborn's voice was cheerfully affectionate. "I warned Aewlos away from you, but she wouldn't listen." He shook his head. "Perhaps if she'd continued her wandering ways she wouldn't have died."

"How dare you. Get out. Sail west with your wife. Leave me and mine alone."

"I can't leave him any more alone that you already have." Thranduil reached for his short sword. Celeborn held up a hand and turned to leave. "When we sail west, we will offer your son a seat with us. I think he's suffered long enough, donít you?"

The sword imbedded itself in the door next to Celeborn's head as he left. Thranduil didn't bother to remove it. He retired to his main room and found Cariel there with fresh sweetbreads. "I'm assuming Celeborn won't be joining us for dinner?"

Thranduil shook his head. He gave her a small smile. "I take it you heard our discussion?"

"Dearest, you have the loudest voice in the castle. I'm surprised that they didn't hear you in Minis Tirith."

****

Gimli was surprised at the young prince's knowledge of building, even moreso at his talent for metalwork. "I didn't think elves indulged in such pursuits."

"And who else would supply my brother with his coronets? He's endlessly losing them, or breaking them. I know that arrows are more important to him than policy, but honestly, one would think he does it on purpose."

Gimli considered. He was watching the construction crew. His Elven companion was lounging on the ground. "Perhaps he does, lad."

"Why?"

"So that he has reason to seek you out."

Gailduil paused. "No, he always reads to me, or does things with me, when he comes to the palace that is. Father would string us both up if he were to take me hunting with him. Do you think there are any histories that I haven't seen here? Is there an official document about the fight?"

"Of course, lad, in the library. Gandalf can take you there, I'm sure," Gimli said loudly enough for the wizard to hear as he came over to see what the front gate looked like now. Gandalf raised one furry brow.

"And where do you need to be taken, my boy."

Gailduil smiled his most beatific smile. The smile that meant that he was up to something. "I wanted to see the official histories. Can you show them to me?"

"Of course." Gandalf smiled in amusement. He could see Legolas' influence lurking in the younger prince's actions.

"Great! Do you think I could look at the records of human-elf alliance too? I want to see what the differences are."

Gimli chortled as the two left his sight. "No, no, not there, you fool." He bustled into the activity.

****

Gailduil looked at the page in front of him in utter shock. "Legolas of Mirkwood, son of Aewlos of Lorien." There as no other appellation on the page. He checked the front page again to see who had written the history. That was Legolas' signature. There was no doubt of that. The tiny imbedded leaves confirmed it. A single tear ran down the soft cheek. He wiped it away with the back of his hand. He reached for a pen and changed the listing to read: "Legolas ^ Prince of Mirkwood, son of Aewlos ^ and Thranduil, brother of Gailduil."

The keeper of the library snarled and came forward. He stopped at the sight of the silvery tears on Gailduil's cheeks. He backed out of the room. There was no way his stipend covered having to deal with an upset elf. He'd have to fetch one of the other Elves. That was all he could do. Maybe that wizard could help.

****

Legolas looked up at the doors of the palace. His hand rested absently on the back of his horse's neck. He let the stable-hand lead the poor dear away. He was struck by a painful vertigo. He couldn't smell Mother Ravenclaw's sweets. He didn't hear the children playing. Of course not, he chided himself. The children were in the palace. It wasn't safe yet. And Mother Ravenclaw is dead, he told himself firmly. He yearned for Sadorlien or Deluiel's presence to steady him. Then, he walked into the open doorway and the silent court. All eyes were on his passing form. There was a lighter air than usual, but there was tension there too. Well, I'm not sure what to expect either. He stepped into the King's chambers.

He bowed formally to King Thranduil. Thranduil smiled. He stepped down. He hugged the startled Legolas. "Welcome home, my son."

"I'm sorry, sir," Legolas said twisting out of the grip, "you must have me confused with Gailduil. I'm told we look much alike."

Thranduil hid the sting of that remark. "You must be tired from your journey."

"I am, sir. It has been a long journey." Legolas looked over Thranduil's shoulder in the politely fixed way that kept him from wanting to yell at the king. Thranduil frowned.

"Then, please join me for a meal once you have rested and been refreshed."

"Yes, my lord." Legolas inclined his head and left the room. Thranduil closed his eyes.

"He does take after me doesn't her?"

"Yes, my love." Cariel's voice was full of smug knowledge.

****

Legolas looked down at the crib quilt that was spread across his bed. The small note made him want to curl up and cry. "Thought you might need this. -G" He shed his bow and knives, pulled off his outer tunic and boots. He curled up on the bed, hugging the blanket close to him. It was all that was left of his mother after all. He relaxed fully for the first time since Gollum had disappeared. He'd find Deluiel in the morning.

****

"I hear you've been editing Legolas' histories," Elrond said, smiling over dinner. "Quite ambitious. You weren't even there."

"Some mistakes are just slips of the tongue. He forgot to put his title in, you see. That's not as big of a mistake as forgetting to mention that Sauron was afraid of my father."

All the eyes on the table fixed on him. Gailduil basked in being the center of attention for a moment. Gandalf's brows were very high on his head. "And why do you think that, little prince?"

Gailduil carefully tore apart a roll. The table held Aragorn, Arwen, with Sadorlien behind them of course, Gandalf, Elrond, Eowyn, Faramir, and Gimli. Sadorlien probably already knew, but he wasn't about to spoil the young prince's pleasure at telling it. "Well, Legolas and I were minding the palace. And I swear to you, Legolas was actually really wearing his crown, on his forehead like it's supposed to be. I remember that clearly because it was the first time I'd ever seen it there. Father was off fighting the dragon, which according to what I understand from Sadorlien is cruel because Legolas liked the old beast. Anyway, we were in charge of the place, despite the fact that Ada told us not to contradict any of his recent orders. So, Legolas immediately found his way into the scrolls Ada didn't want us to look at. We found a whole sheaf of letters from Sauron protesting this and that. He was trying to negotiate with Thranduil. He wanted Ada to take a ring. From what we read between the lines Ada told him to throw the ring into the fires of Mount Doom or swallow it because he wasn't going to touch the thing. The letters just kept getting madder and madder. I'm sure Ada must have said some poisonous things. Sauron didn't like Ada's refusal at all. He threatened him with all sorts of things. But I don't think he dared. The Queen would have probably chewed him to bits if Ada hadn't gotten him. We found Ada's diaries from the time as well. They helped fill in some of the details. No one else seems to have known anything about it."

Elrond's face had gone very still. He was trying to imagine his best rival with a ring of power. He shivered slightly. It could have gone either way. At least Thranduil was willful enough to refuse power. He didn't think much of human magic. He was much too independent. Gimli snorted. "I wondered where Legolas got his disregard of the bloody ring."

"Disregard?" Aragorn echoed. He considered. He nodded slowly. "He would have been the perfect one to tempt wouldn't he?"

Gailduil frowned, no one was thinking about his story. But this would probably be even more interesting. He listened intently, blending back into the background of the room like Legolas had taught him. Sadorlien raised a brow, but didn't interrupt.

"You can't tempt Legolas. He doesn't want anything," Arwen said. She didn't like the way this seemed to be heading.

"But the ring didn't even try. He never tried to get near it. He never even reacted to it."

"You don't know that," Aragorn's wife contradicted him. "He's very good at not showing his emotions. He could have been enraged and contained it."

"No," Gimli said. His voice was flat. "He didn't want the damned thing. He said as much to me."

"And you?" Gandalf asked softly.

"Oh, Aye, I wanted it. I didn't want any damned elf-spawn to touch it. That was just at the council meeting. Are you saying it chose who went on the journey?"

Elrond nodded. "That makes sense. Logically, I would never have chosen Legolas for the trip. Besides the fact that his father would have tried to kill me, his temper is too volatile."

"He has a temper?" Eowyn said in surprise. He'd seemed very patient to her. Too patient perhaps. Faramir had barely known Legolas. He knew only what his rangers had reported back to him.

"He was a soldier though," Faramir said. "Why not send him just for that?"

"The ring chose Frodo," Gandalf said firmly. "The rest chose their own fate."

"Did they?" Sadorlien said suddenly. "Did they really? Legolas went for Strider, any fool with eyes knows that. There was no question Strider would protect the Halfling. But the others, did they know what they were choosing?"

"Why did you go, Gimli?" Aragorn asked.

"I wasn't going to let any elf show me up." Gimli smiled mostly to himself. "Who would have guessed?"

"He let you win one contest."

Gimli snorted. "Why did you go with Frodo, Aragorn?"

"He needed to be protected."

Could any other member of the court seen the tableau they would have been shocked at the intimacy of the group. Gailduil looked at Strider as if for the first time. His eyes widened. He looked to Sadorlien. The older elf winked. Gailduil turned his attention to his roll, hoping to avoid the rest of the conversation. His brother was in love with a human. What the Hell was he going to do now?

****

Legolas woke, refreshed. He found his way to the dining hall. Thranduil nodded a greeting and went back to listening to whatever Cariel was telling him. Legolas settled into his normal chair and the cook's assistant hurried to feed him. She smiled coyly at him. He nodded a gentle thanks and started to eat. He was suddenly ravenous. He couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. "Legolas, you must tell us what you've been up to," Cariel said lightly. He didn't like the fact that there was just the three of them at dinner. He missed Sadorlien and Deluiel madly.

"I will, my lady, as soon as I ask the only question that's been nagging at me for nearly a year, how fares Deluiel?"

Thranduil considered his eldest for a long moment. Sometimes, the temptation to protect his son from all that would hurt him was so strong that it frightened him. "She is not well, Legolas," he said quietly.

"What has happened, my lord?"

"She was wounded. She still lingers in the healer's chambers. She must choose her path, but she insists she has too much to keep her here. They worry that she's trying to push herself too hard. She wants to take command again from her bed."

"How was she hurt?"

"That's something you'll need to discuss with her." Legolas inclined his head.

"Yes, sir."

"Now, tell me, how did you get Elrond to agree to let you go on such a foolish mission?"

"Elrond had nothing to do with it. It was my decision." Legolas was firm on that point at least. There were plenty of other items he'd need to verbally dance. "The ring had to be destroyed."

"I won't deny that, but why did you have to go?"

"Because it had to be done."

"By someone else, not by my eldest prince!" Thranduil's voice was eerily calm and icy despite the vehemence of his words. "How could Sadorlien and Deluiel let you get yourself into that much danger?"

"Deluiel was given the charge to return to Mirkwood for its protection. Sadorlien was given charge of Arwen. It was my choice to join the Fellowship, no one else's."

Cariel didn't care for the locked eyes. She was about to interrupt when the cook's assistant touched her arm. "Would you come with me, Lady?" she asked.

"Of course. What is the matter, child?"

"They must have this out on their own. Interrupting it will only go ill for all of us." The old elf looked back. "I wish he were free," she sighed.

"Which one?"

"Legolas, of course. He's always been a lovely thing. But I'm only in it for a small fling. That poor dear has already misplaced his heart." She shook her head. "Come, my lady. I do need help making the sweetbreads now that Mother Ravenclaw can't help me any longer."

Cariel bowed to the force of knowledge. She'd learned as a young elf that the servants in her household were masters of discretion. She was still a newcomer to this family. She shook her head and turned her mind to the steady work of baking and chatting with the cooks.

Legolas wouldn't have looked away from his father's eyes even if he could have. "A choice you should not have made. You were to remain here in these woods."

"Then you should have thrown me in the dungeon as you threatened."

"Don't tempt me, boy." Thranduil held onto his temper with iron will.

Legolas snorted. "My actions have never mattered except when you dislike them. Why should I bother to try to please you?"

"I am your king."

"Funny, sir, you only remark upon that when I've displeased you in some way."

"I don't remember you pleasing me any time recently."

"Then why have you kept me this long, sir? Why not destroy me with everything else that was the queen's? I'm of no use to you. You've an heir better suited to Mirkwood, why keep me?"

Thranduil reached across the table and backhanded his son across the mouth. "Don't ever speak that way again. You are more than some pet here on sufferance."

"Funny. Strider didn't even know I was the prince here. I'm nothing to you but an archer, something to be ignored until he acts up. I've still got the scars from the last time you cared enough to deal with me."

"How dare you!"

"How dare you try to stab me, sir! I've got the cut across my body. It's never healed anymore than the wound in my arm. Bitter memories are hard to kill. Perhaps it would have been best for both of us for me to have died in the Mines of Moria, or on the battlements of Helm's Deep or in the roads of the Dead. Perhaps I should have remained in Minis Tirith as Aragorn asked of me. Then you wouldn't have to worry about what a stain I am on your consciousness."

"Legolas, silence. Let me speak." When Legolas had subsided into a silent attentiveness, he started. "I have never hated you. I have never wanted you dead. The only thing I have ever wanted was for you to be protected from all ills. All of my strictures have been with that end in mind. I know that you have found them chaffing, but they have always been for your safety. Even Rivendell or Lorien I would allow you to visit. But for you to forget your duty to me and run away with your pet human is beyond my understanding or forgiveness."

"I did my duty to the world first, my lord, then I returned to you. Only my duty returned me to these halls. For, the Valar know, that my love has long been stifled by the ice of grief. I lost my parents more than a thousand turnings ago. Would that by staying I could regain them, I would still have followed Frodo and Strider on this desperate quest. It needed to be done and my death would have been no great loss to anyone except Strider and Arwen." Legolas stood.

"Sit. I am not done with you."

"As you wish, my lord."

They both ignored the tiny trickle of blood that ran from Legolas' lip and dripped softly onto his tunic. They stared at each other for a long time. "I have always loved you, son."

"What son do you speak of, sir?"

"Call me 'father' once more, Legolas. Perhaps there is yet something we can salvage."

"No, sir, as you said, 'father and son' will never be spoken in reference to us ever again. The borders of that rule are far too strict for me to over-come."

"Legolas, my son, don't be stubborn."

"What else can you do to me, my lord? What would you ask of me?"

"That you be my son. That you be my heir."

"You have Gailduil. He is better suited to court politics. Let me fly, my dearest lord. Set me free, while my wings are not yet irreparably broken."

"Stay in the Greenwood, Legolas. It needs you. I need you."

"You need me no more than you need the plate on your table or the weaving on your wall. I am nothing here, just a painful memory. Banish me like the rest of the memories. Destroy me like the Queen's loom. Smash me like her carvings. Don't force me to fade away like fog, or die of sadness like a caged song-bird." There were tears in Legolas' eyes, but he tried not to let them fall.

"You have always been my most treasured, Legolas. This land was reborn when you were born, and without your spirit, I fear that it will die out."

"It is not the only land that needs reclaiming in this world. The fire here was cleansing. Already the shoots of new trees are growing through the ashes. I have seen much, much worse. Would that I could reclaim that land for beauty." Legolas shook his head. "The woods will not die with one less elf. Perhaps my ashes would merely help it grow more freely."

"Why do you speak of death?"

"Because if I am kept here I will surely die."

Thranduil shook his head. "No, my dearest son, you will not die. You'll get used to the working of the palace again in time." He smiled. "Go see Deluiel. Perhaps she will help ease your soul, or at the least smooth your ruffled feathers."

Legolas looked at his father for a long moment, the pain in his heart swelling with angry sharpness. He inclined his head. "Of course, my lord." He was the captain of the guard when he was at the palace. It was his duty to tend to the wounded. He left the room. Half-way down the hall, he pressed a hand to the pain in his chest, willing it down and away with ice. He couldn't surrender to the pain now anymore than he could have done in the month after his mother's death. He looked up and saw a single carved bird hiding in the rafters. The tears he didn't want to shed filled his eyes. He fled to the ramparts and looked out over his forest through a veil of misty tears.

****

Thranduil looked at his hands for a long moment, letting the table be cleared and the pleasant sounds of after dinner merriment pass without notice. He fisted his hands. "What have I done to him?" he asked his fists. He retired to his office and looked up at the weaving on his wall. It was precious to him. More precious than Legolas would believe. It was the last gift his son had ever given him. It was a dancing glitter of starlight created by shards of diamonds and crystal set in silver threads. "Aewlos, what can I do to bring him back to me? He speaks only of death now. How do I reach him, my love?"

****

Aragorn found Gailduil studying him from his sprawled position on the stairs that lead to the King of Gondor's throne. He raised a brow. The elf-prince shook his head, blond hair falling free and wild as he did. He wore his coronet properly -- the tendrils of silver woven into his hair, unlike his brother. "Just wondering what my brother sees in you," he said in absent Elvish.

Aragorn tried to glare, but couldn't pull it off. The courtiers didn't know how to react to this elf. He wasn't quiet and deadly like his brother. He was light-hearted and mischievous. Aragorn was of half-a-mind to tell the lot of them that they just didn't know Legolas well enough. Gailduil didnít stand over him like a body-guard. He didn't act quiet and respectful to everyone in the room. In fact, he seemed to find human politics rather like a spectator sport. He was rooting for Aragorn, but he wouldn't mind seeing him routed once and awhile, just to keep him honest. "Perhaps you should ask him." Aragorn turned his attention back to the matter at hand. Gailduil rolled his eyes.

Aragorn was cute enough, the elf-prince supposed, though not his type. He was loyal to his friends and he was honorable to his enemies. He was far too serious, but the weight of a kingdom rested on his shoulders now, so that could be forgiven. But still, Gailduil didn't know why Legolas had fallen for a human. It was better than having fallen for a dwarf, he supposed. Gimli was nice enough, but far too rough around the edges. Something caught his attention across the room. Sadorlien was focused on the man in front of the throne. The man across the room was lifting up something and moving forward, it shined silver. Gailduil never consciously realized what he was doing, but when he was done his knife was buried to the hilt in the man's chest and the man's sword was on the ground next to him.

Aragorn walked over to the body. He looked down at the sword. "Gailduil," he growled, "what is the meaning of this?"

"He wanted to kill you. It's not the first assassination attempt I've seen. People are always trying to kill Legolas or Daddy." The elf shrugged and returned to his place. Arwen had paled, but she stood bravely and went to see the body in more detail. Sadorlien opened up the man's tunic and revealed the Eastern symbol.

"Sauron's allies, no doubt," he commented. "There's going to be more of them I'm sure."

Aragorn nodded. In that moment he was a ranger and not a king. "I want you to set up the guard, Sadorlien. I want to know all of the whispers."

"Of course you do," Sadorlien muttered under his breath. Espionage was Legolas' specialty not his. He was just a bodyguard. Perhaps the young prince might know more.

"Don't set Saddy to doing it," Gailduil said. "I'm bored. I'll do it."

"If you get killed your father will do his level best to kill me."

Gailduil rolled his eyes. "It's not like I'm Legolas. Daddy won't kill you if something happens to me. *My* mother's still alive. Besides, I enjoy gossip."

Arwen smiled and her lady-in-waiting and right hand Eowyn bit down her laughter. She glanced at Faramir who wasn't amused. He disliked any talk of Aragorn dying. She tried to get him to smile, but he refused to be tempted. Sadorlien nodded at Gailduil. The blonde elf winked. He kissed Aragorn on the cheek and wandered out of the room. Aragorn shook his head.

"King Ellesar!" the messenger said as he ran into the room. "Word from the East." Aragorn took the papers and sent the bedraggled man off for food and rest.

****

Legolas touched the quilt blanket that laid across his bed with reverence. Gailduil had left it for him, thinking he might need it. His little brother knew him better than most. The soft fabrics from Aewlos' hands comforted him. He held it close to his chest as he drifted off into dreams. Deluiel wasn't well, but she was as snippy as ever and that was a comfort. He didn't notice when Cariel looked in on him with a smile. It warmed her heart to have him back where he belonged.

He woke to the change in sounds. There were children running in the halls. He didn't remember them doing that in years. Then he tried to identify them from their voices. He counted twenty-one which meant that they'd gained one child while he was away. Gained one child and lost many more elves. The pain tried to swallow him. He would not cry for the dead. Not until he knew how many had been lost. It was time to visit his archery master.

"Hello, my prince."

"Hello, teacher. And how does the wood-gaurd fair?"

"We've done well, all things considred. There are few things to worry about, Legolas. The orcs are mostly routed, the trolls and spiders are gone. The animals are returning to their rightful colors. Your gaurd will be ready to protect the forest soon enough. It is good to have you back, Legolas. Has our lord assigned you as captain now? Deluiel is still ordering us about from her sick-bed, but it would be good for her to rest with no trouble."

"She would have my head were I to deny her her fun. And I still would put my odds on her winning the fight from her bed. I doubt I could dodge her knife quickly enough."

The archery master laughed. His hands were busy fletching arrows as he spoke. "Will you hunt with us, Prince? Or has your father once again jessied you to the throne?"

"We have not spoken of it. When did he become my father once again? I have heard it from his lips and yours."

"He has always refered to you as son to me. He is not foolish enough to pretend a different alliegance to me of all people. I taught him when he was young."

Legolas shook his head. "And the children? We haven't lost any?"

"No, they have been well-protected in these walls. Cariel gave orders for them to be brought in well before the fires started. She could smell change in the wind and thought we might be in for an especially harsh winter."

"I have missed her sweet-breads. The fire, did we lose anyone to that or only to the battles?"

"We lost a few to the fire. Those who were sending the messages back to the castle from Necromancer's fort were caught by the flash flames that started the fire. It was a dry season and there was much to catch fire. But already the new blooms are up and new children will be arriving within the year."

Legolas nodded. "He wishes me to call him Ada once more."

"He is attempting to bridge the gulf that has grown between you. He has wanted to do so for years, but he has never been able to see the path he should take."

The younger elf snorted. "You, sir, have more faith in that than I. My pet human didn't know I was his son. How strange it is to realize that. He thought me a favored courtier, an assistant, an archer. And I admit, those are the roles I am most comfortable in. How do I now become his son once more?"

"Were the two of you that far apart? It has never seemed that way to me. You grasp terribly at one another with the same words you use to distance yourselves." The archery master squeezed the prince's shoulder. "Is it pride that keeps you from him? Or anger?"

"Pain, sir, bitter, sharp pain with an icy chill that seems to reach into the center of my being and destroy all love that was once there. There must be ice in my heart or I will die from it."

"Then you deny yourself the best the world offers. You love your human well enough? Why not your father?" Something in the younger elf's eyes stopped him. "You do love Strider?"

"Very well, sir." Legolas' voice was soft. "Too well sometimes I fear. I will not long survive his death unless I can banish his love from my chest."

The elder elf stopped, suspended in time like a dew drop. "You have Chosen him?" he whispered finally.

"To my joy and my shame. I don't know what to do and you have always advised me fairly. I hope that some distance will save me, but I fear I am truly caught in the net of his love. Were he to ask it flatly I would return to him tomorrow. But he has never sought to cage me and I am thankful for that. Still, he is wed and I call him now brother."

"Your Strider has wed? That is hard news, but not impossible. I'm sure you could convince her to share him with you, were your words as sweet as Cariel's breads."

Legolas blinked. "Strider is wed to more than a woman. He is wed to a country and a people."

"He's sworn vassal to Ellesar then?"

"Something like that." Legolas smiled. He shook his head. "There is no easy solution to this matter and I do not expect that an hour will make much progress on it. Let me help you with arrows, then you can see the Lorien bow Galadriel gave me."

"A sound plan. Perhaps the work will keep you occupied long enough to hear the answer in the trees."

"Perhaps."

****

Deluiel looked up at the ceiling. It was beautifully carved and intricately painted and she was absolutely sick of it. The healer's apprentices were hurrying around in etherial silence as they'd been taught and she was tempted to throw things at them to make them talk or sing or at least acknowledge her presence. It was an uncharitable thought, born of frustration, but she wasn't above thinking it. She sighed. She couldn't move from her legs down, and couldn't sit up without the mother healer bitching at her to stay flat so that she could heal. There was little pain from the actual wounds, but that was likely due to the copious amounts of wine she'd injested with lunch. Legolas was good for that if nothing else right now. She sighed. She took a breath. Aewlos, I wish I could help him more. He is in love and I would see him mated before I join you in the halls. Forgive me, my queen, for not protecting him from himself.

****

"Prince Gailduil, don't you think you ought to head back to Mirkwood?" Sadorlien said as the younger elf pulled out his braid once again and redid it.

"No, Sady. I'm not going back to the Greenwood just yet. There's things to watch for here. I've got an network of spies working in the East and I'll see them safely home. Well, as many of them as possible home. Even if I were to stay ten turnings, Father would not mind it. He's much less protective of me. Besides, you're here. What could possibly go wrong?"

"Thank you for your vote of confidence, my lord, but I think it would suit this court better were you to convince Legolas to come back with you."

"That is not my job. It is Strider's. He's more than capable of writing a long, pleading letter. I wouldn't stay in a place where I knew my love wasn't wanted."

"Strange, Strider said he would not force anything on Greenleaf, but he did fear that our king might."

"Ada? No, he's a lot nicer than Legolas thinks. He just doesn't like Strider. He thinks that humans are a waste of time."

"And you disagree?"

"Don't you? I think humans are just the right things to focus on. If we can't become more than just trading partners, it'll fall apart. There's Osgilith out there and that's the only defense left against what was once Sauron's stronghold? Brilliant, Sady. Really. I mean it. Have you seen the place? It's a ruin! And they wonder why there are assassins able to get through."

"You feel security is that lax here?"

"You're watching me, not the king."

"Arwen threatened me with bodily harm if I were to watch over them tonight. She said it was a job best left to a ranger." Sadorlien shook his head. "And I have checked in on them several times. Who else am I to talk with at this time of night? The humans have all retired."

"How sad it must be to need to retire so early every night. How hard sleep must be for them when they cannot just fall into the dreams."

"They are noble creatures with many limitations. I for one, am glad they sleep. It gives me time to contemplate."

"The fair Evenstar you mean?" Gailduil's smile was wicked. "I think she likes you well enough too."

"She does. But humans do not understand our kind as well as Aragorn does."

"And what cause do they have to say anything? She is the queen after all."

"They have odd ideas that love is restricted to one chosen only."

Gailduil considered that for a long moment."How very sad for them. Now, Gimli was telling me that there's a forge around here?"

"Yes, sir. I'll take you to it."

"Great!"

Sadorlien hid a sigh. He wished with painful clarity that he could see a smile that like grace Legolas' face once more. He hadn't seen such a smile on his charge since they were children. Gailduil was studying him.

"Don't worry about Legolas, Sady. He'll be fine. Arwen will see to it."

"That is a frightening thought. I pity whoever comes between her and her goals."

"None would be so foolish."

****

Eowyn stretched, her golden hair falling to the side. "Now, tell me again why you don't want me to go to Osgilith with you?"

Faramir rolled his eyes heavenward. "It's not proper."

"I am a shield madien, not some pathetic lady who has never seen battle. I will ride with your knowledge or without. I will fight.I will not be left home to sulk around the palace like one of the queen's little lady-lights."

"Eowyn, please, don't endanger yourself right now."

"Then give me a better reason than you have."

"Because I love you!" Faramir snapped after a moment of furious staring.

She smiled."Is that it?"

"Is it enough?"

"For now. Because I love you. Even though I think you're as much a fool as my brother and uncle ever were. Women can fight."

"I know. And maybe when I am content in my own strength I will be willing to let you fight next to me. But for now, please, stay in the castle and help them train the children to fight. Let us repair the damage of the war before we go seeking new battles. Please, my lady fair?"

"You are quite eloquent today," Eowyn told him. "And for that, at least, I will ease your mind and remain here."

"Thank you."

****

Legolas settled his chin on his hands on Deluiel's bed, just out of her reach. He sighed. "What am I going to do?"

"About what, my sweet prince?"

"My lord Thranduil. I don't know him at all."

"He is no different than he ever was."

"He is very different, Deluiel. I don't know who he is anymore. He wishes a reconciliation between us, but I cannot see my way. It's darker than the trees were."

"That's not all that troubles you, Legolas. Tell me all of it."

"I'm in love with Strider, but you likely knew that years ago like everyone else seems to."

"No, I knew you had a Chosen now, but not who it was. That is not an impossible mating. Humans and elves can enjoy unions, you know."

"He is a king now. We can't just up and wander the forest together any longer. I cannot become between him and Arwen either. I can't seem to figure out what my lord wants of me and I cannot swear myself to Aragorn for I've always sworn feality to my father first."

"I'm glad to hear that word from your lips again, little leaf."

"I thought we had left the 'sprout' and 'little leaf' appealations in the past."

"Never, my little prince." He shifted to lean against her hand and she laughed. "Poor Legolas, teased by his nurse."

"Is that what you are to me? I have always considered you my hunting partner."

"I am your shadow, your nurse, and whatever else you need. I am loyal to your mother first, Thanduil second. Celeborn offered me a berth on a ship sailing west, but I don't wish it. I will join you mother in Manwe first. You'll always have me to look after you."

"What has the healer said about your back?"

"If I stay still and let her do her work, I'll heal, but it will take time. She's offered several times to give me a drought to make me sleep.I don't wish it. I'd rather throw things at her apprentices."

Legolas laughed at that. "Sadorlien is watching over Arwen and Aragorn for me. He looks after Arwen for himself now too. I still find myself turning to speak to him in the hall. I don't know what I'll do when it becomes clear to my lord that I'm not attended by anyone. It's an unusal freedom. I find myself getting lonely."

"Which is why you come to lurk by my bed like a spider."

"I beg to differ. I'm much more like a human's dog than a spider."

"True. You're just don't smell as badly as they do. The poor things."

"Would you like me to read you something?"

"Anything. Poetry perhaps."

"I'll fetch some then. Don't run away on me."

"Brat."

****

Aragorn looked out the window and down into the courtyard. Gailduil was tending the tree with patience that seemed out of character. Still, he was a tree elf, no matter what else and the white tree was important. Aragorn sighed. He pinched the bridge of his nose attempting to ward off the headache that was growning there.

Eowyn cleared her throat from the doorway. He turned to greet her. "Yes?"

"My lord," she said with a smile, "it seems to me that there is a solution for the ache in your head. And it would do a double service."

"Oh. And what is that?"

"Fetch Legolas back from wherever he's wandered. He can witness my wedding to Faramir and ease the ache in your head. At least a visit to know that he is well. And Arwen could tell him the news in person."

Aragorn snorted. "So who is left to tell in this court?"

"Everyone who isn't female. Themen of Gondor seem to stubborn to believe the truth even if it is before their eyes. Women can see the difference in her clearly. But from what I understand it's not more than a week or two's ride to Legolas' lands."

Aragorn sighed. "No, the weather will be fair. It's spring and I should ride up to see the Dale anyway." He smiled at her. "Thank you for speaking your mind. Faramir seems rather reluctant to do so."

"That is because he fears that his actions will lose him his place as Steward."

"Then he is a fool. But diplomacy is never ill-placed."

Eowyn shook her head. "There are times when plain-speaking is much more useful. So you'll be going to Mirkwood then?"

"Yes, it seems I shall. Perhaps I should sound Gailduil out about the mind of his father."

"Perhaps you should take a sharp stick and poke it into your ear instead."

Aragorn's brows rose. "You don't like Gailduil?"

"I would rather spend a night drinking with his brother than suffer through another speech on the proper way for a woman to carry her sword. He's like a wild animal. Pretty to look at, but not something to be touched."

Aragorn shook his head. "I much have known him longer. He seems no more wild than Legolas."

"Perhaps he isn't to you, then, Ellessar, but he is wild indeed compared to Arwen and her attendants."

"Better you should compare him to Sadorlien."

"I don't see much of him. He's too busy tracking you and your queen through the house."

"You'll be staying on with Faramir?"

"Yes. I'll likely marry the fool."

"I trust I'm invited to the wedding?"

"As soon as I convince him to ask me." She smiled. "Good journey, King Ellessar."

****

"Deluiel, please, try not to scare off the apprentices. At this rate the only one brave enough to tend you will be me," Legolas said.

Deluiel rolled her eyes. "Then do something useful, like making me a target for the ceiling. I don't want my eye to go bad because I'm forced to lay here."

"And what would you shoot into the rock with, might I ask?"

"Don't be a brat. Find something for me to do before I go mad."

"Too late."

"Come over here so I can smack you," she ordered. Legolas smirked at her. "Don't make me throw breads at you."

"Deluiel, please, you need to heal quickly so that I can escape my responsibilities once again and hide in the woods until I am no more than a memory to this place."

"Then run to your Strider and leave me in charge. I can manage the gaurd from this rom as well as from the front line and you know it well."

"Yes, I know. And I'm not going to run to Strider. Have you gone mad?"

"You're in love with him aren't you?"

"And he is married to Arwen. Our love for one another is of no concern."

"Liar."

Legolas sighed. He settled down on the edge of Deluiel's bed. He crossed his arms, letting one hand rest over the orc wound. "I love him truely and that is the problem. I will not survive if I love him. He will die and I will follow. I want to live. How foolish and petty right? But I want to travel, to sail to see the parts of this world that have been nothing but a fable to me. I had best start traveling because I will not long outlive Aragorn."

"Does your father know yet?"

"That I'm in love with a human? Of course not. I'm not an idiot. My lord would never accept that from me."

"I think you would be surprised what your father will accept. He loves you, Legolas. He has difficulty showing it, but he does. Believe me."

"I don't know who this elf is. He's so different from the one I've known. How can I suddenly accept that he cares for me as anything but a painful reminder of the past. He would lock me in this castle were I to intimate that I wish to leave it again. He wants me to forget what came before and forget his rulings. He doesn't seem to remember smashing the queen's loom and burning the scraps of her fabrics. He doesn't see that there is no trace of my lineage in this castle. He has taken everything that was once hers and destroyed it. I cannot fathom why he didn't destroy me as well." Legolas wiped angrily at the silvery tears on his cheeks.

"Come here." Deluiel opened her arms and he let her hold him as she did when he was much younger. "I miss your mother terribly. And you are very much like her in temperment, but also very like your father. I wish you could see that he has been trying desperately to protect you from the world these last thousands of turnings. I would protect you as he has, but it has never been my way. I promised your mother once that I would protect you unto my grave and I shall. But I cannot protect you from your own heart. You love your father and always have. You have always abided by his decisions and never questioned his rulings even when they were counter to your own benefits. He believed that by banishing the memories of your mother he could heal the pain in his heart and in yours. He has never seen what agony his laws created because you have been ever the dutiful son. He could no more destroy you than his own heart."

"Pretty words, but I cannot understand them."

"In time, my little leaf. In time." She stroked his hair and was pleased when he stilled and went deeply into dreams.

****

Thranduil paced his office. Cariel sat reading on the couch there. It was the history that Legolas had written and she thought it was a fitting read for the wet spring morning. She hummed softly as she read. Thranduil sighed. "How do I reach him, Cariel?"

"Let him reach you. Don't argue, don't yell. Wait, that will never work, he'll think you possessed."

He looked sourly down his nose at her. She smile and batted her lashes at him. "Sometimes I fear that his humor has rubbed off on you, my dear," he told her.

"What makes you think it is *his* humor? More likely it is yours. You are very similar to your son, though you both seem loathe to admit to it. Be kind to him Thranduil. Let him cry the tears that he has hidden for so long."

"Cariel, I fear you will never understand us." Thranduil smiled. "He cannot cry those tears, not without losing what hope he still holds. The pain will swallow us whole."

His wife glared at him. "You are a fool."

"That has been said before." The elf-king sighed. "Very well. I will seek him out and speak to him of his mother."

****

Thranduil admired the handiwork on his son's new quiver. It was his mother's device. Legolas paused at the threshold of his room. "My lord?" he questioned softly.

"This is beautiful. Who made it?"

"Galadriel had it made. And the bow as well. Both are things of beauty."

"They are. Do you find the bow much different?"

"I get more distance on it."

"That seems hard to believe. You have always been most skilled with your bow."

"Thank you, sir."

"I would speak with you for awhile, if you'll walk with me."

"Of course, my lord." They fell into step easily. Legolas had often paced by his father's side over the years. He had been a favored counselor and as such often walked with the king. "What disturbs your rest this evening?" Legolas asked when the silence had grown over-long.

Thranduil sighed. "I would heal the gap between us, Legolas. If I knew how, I would have done it before you left the last time."

Legolas bent his head. "My lord?" he prompted quietly. "Why now, my lord? Why after all we have been through? Why not before you destroyed all that was the Queen's? Before you tried to destroy me?"

"I have never meant to hurt you. I meant only to avoid the pain. I thought I would die when they carried her in. If you had died, I would have."

"Why destroy all my memories? Why destroy all I knew? Why make me question my own sanity? And now, why not let me go and be rid of the pain? You've Gailduil. You've Cariel. Why do you keep me here?"

"Because I love you, my son. I have always and will always love you." Thranduil heard his voice shaking and cursed the weakness he heard there. Their walk had led them to the throne room. They entered and passed through it, not speaking until they reached the small office beside it. Legolas went immediately to the window. He looked up at the stars.

"Who are you? You are not the elf I've known."

Thranduil didn't bother to hide his wince. "I am your father. I always have been. I will admit that I have been blinded by grief for so long that I scarcely remember the joy we once shared."

****

"I cannot remember it. I cannot remember calling you 'Ada' except in the silence of my heart. I have been the Queen's son for so long that I have forgotten whether Naneth was ever called else." The word had just slipped out and Legolas turned quickly to judge his father's mood. Thranduil bent his head.

"I am sorry for that. More sorry than you will ever know. You remember her?"

"How could I forget her? She is my mother. Her spirit still lives in the songs of the birds and the memory of the forest. Now, you will likely sweep the woods to be rid of even that," Legolas spat, anger spilling free of it's cage. "And with luck I'll be able to throw myself on the pyre you build of what's left of her weavings or cut myself to the quick with the shards of her carvings. Then we'll be free of each other and the pain will end. And I'll be with her and no longer a strain on your good will!"

"Do not speak of death so, Legolas," Thranduil said softly. "Don't leave me thus."

"Why not? Why should I not throw myself from the window right now? Ai! I should have let the Oliphant kill me at Minis Tirith. Then all the troubles would be solved." Legolas pressed a hand to his chest as the pain swelled again. He closed his eyes to bar the tears.

"No, little sprout, no." Thranduil's arms were gentle as they gathered up his son. Legolas buried his face in the soft fabric of his mantle. How long had it been since he'd heard his father's voice speak with such tenderness to him? Too long ago to remember. "Cry, little sprout, it will harm no one."

Legolas sobbed into his father's coat and let himself be rocked like a child. Grief, anger, pain and fear threatened to choke him with the intensity of long-suppressed emotion. He didn't notice when he stopped crying, just that his father was singing softly a hymn of comfort and love. He hadn't heard that song since he was a child and had woken from a nightmare vision of the future. That vision had come true, which was worse. He'd seen the woods turn black and the orcs attack their borders. He'd heard the trees screaming as they were cut down around Dol Goldur. He shivered. The Valar had been kind enough to dampen down that talent. He couldn't stand to see that much. He shivered in his father's embrace, tired and scared. He felt soft fabric envelope him. He was laid down. He did not open his eyes. "Sleep, Legolas," his father whispered. "Sleep." Legolas fell into sleep and did not wake for a very long time.

****

Arwen watched Aragorn pacing back and forth with a laughing smile. She rubbed her stomach, feeling the child within it, though no human would be able to. "Dearest," she murmured, "let us go and fetch Legolas back to us."

"What makes you believe I'm pacing because of him?" Aragorn raised his brows in surprise.

"Because no one else drives you this mad. It is a special talent of his, aggrivating kings."

"And you would have me ride to Mirkwood and steal him from under his father's gaze? It's not even been a year. I cannot call for him so soon. Gailduil says there is discontent still in the East and that the lands are ravaged. People are going hungry from the lack of land to plow."

Arwen's smile grew. "I can think of no better task for a tree-elf," she stated, "than to bring life back to a land."

Aragorn stared at her. "You would have me call him like a common vassal?"

"Why not?" she countered. "He would die for you. He loves you dearly."

"I know. That is why I cannot call him. I will not use his love against him."

"His love jessied him to the throne of a king who has not looked kindly on him in millenia. He has spent thousands of turnings at his king's side. He would give you no less, and with less anger and regret. He would give you freely what his lord has compelled."

"I will not cage him, Arwen. I will not let him be used."

"Then call him back. Write to him. Tell him of what you have seen and what you wish of him. Ask nothing of him, merely send him news. And perhaps I can convince you to accompany me to Mirkwood as my time draws near. There are needs that can only be met in Elven lands to deliver our child."

"Child?" Aragorn smiled. "You're with child?"

"I am." He swept her into a tight hug.

"Then we shall have to have Legolas attend the naming ceremony. Even his father is not so cold as to deny him that. Thanduil has always indulged him when it comes to me."

Arwen looked up at her husband as he released her. "Really?"

"Yes, didn't you hear? Thranduil considers me Legolas' pet and therefore I have some leeway in my actions while in his lands. I have run of the castle when I wish it." Aragorn shrugged. "Legolas has never been pampered, but Thranduil has always treated him with high favor."

"Which is why you thought him the ward of the king from a courtier." Arwen realized.

"Yes. I assumed one of his parents was highly favored by Thranduil and at their death the king took charge of him. When I met him, Legolas and his guards were patrolling the forest's edge for orcs. I thought him an archer, a gaurd, not a prince."

"And he thought you a ranger, until I told him all that you were." Arwen shook her head. "I knew before he did that you were his Chosen, Aragorn." She smiled sadly. "I have always wished that he were aware of his love for you."

"He is, my love. But there are things in this world that are not meant to be and our love is one of them. He would die for me. I would die for him. He calls me 'brother' and no matter how much more I would have, that will suffice."

"Males," Arwen said rolling her eyes. "Have you offered him more? Have you shown him more?"

"He will not accept it, Arwen. He feels that he is being disloyal to you if he does."

Arwen stared. "He is an idiot and I will tell him so when we go to visit. I'll begin the preparations. Will you write first?"

"No. I want no one aware of our movements to that level."

"You are the king. Someone must be made aware."

"Faramir and Eowyn then, but no one else. We'll travel quietly."

"No, Aragorn. The kingdom must know that I'm going to have the child there. Let that be the reason for our trip."

"I dislike doing that. I think we would become larger targets for it."

"We will still be targets. We'll go quietly, but the people must know that it is a joyous reason. We can visit King Brand of the Dale as well."

Aragorn sighed. "Why did I take up the crown?"

"Becuase if you had not, Legolas and I would have beaten you."

He stared at her. She smiled and batted her lashes at him.

****

"Visitors!" The page's cry echoed through the palace. Legolas looked up from the history he was re-reading. He looked out over the courtyard. The palace was humming with activity. He retreated to his room and shut the door. He didn't want to be part of anything just yet. His heart was heavy. The healing between himself and his father had started, but progressed as slowly. The glaciers that had filled their hearts to numb the pain were not easily melted. Their tempers were too similar to allow it. Legolas smiled ruefully. Cariel was right, they were too much alike to make this an easy solution.

Cariel shifted the curtain from his window. She looked down her nose at him. "And why do you hide in your room, Legolas. We have visitors. Where on Earth has your circlet gone this time?"

"I don't know. It was on my desk that last I remember seeing it."

"Then move away the inks and parchement and perhaps you'll find it again. If you haven't used it as an inkstand, that is. The one with the little leaves maybe? I think that one's in my office."

"Possible. I think there might be one in the library. The librarian tends to gather anything I leave there into a box."

"And to think I thought the infant was the one who'd need care."

"Infant?"

"Word runs that one of our guests is pregnant and comes to us for protection while she gives birth."

"Ah, I see. And you want me to play the baby-sitter?"

"No, no. I'd fear that you would set it down and forget where you've put it. If it were a bow, I'd allow it. *That* I've no doubt you could find blindfolded."

Legolas smiled at her. "How else am I to get out of work but to be incompetent at it?"

"Legolas, like it or not, you are the prince of this land and work will find you no matter how you hide your talents."

He rolled his eyes at her and went back to his reading.

"Legolas."

He looked up at his name.

"Get your circlet and be ready for the guests when they arrive. Now, Legolas," she ordered.

He sighed. "Yes, my lady."

****

"Evenstar, Strider," Thranduil greeted them. "And Ellesar has allowed you to ride with only a ranger to protect you?"

"No, I have a few more gaurds," Strider said with a smile.

"Strider," Thranduil said with a faintly patronizing smile, "I don't mean to question your abilities, but surely the Queen should be better protected."

Strider met Thranduil's gaze evenly and the king was glad of it. Legolas' pet had often been to the castle and not even met with him. "She is well protected. And what have you done with Legolas?"

Thranduil's brows rose. He did smile with a glint of dangerous humor. "Now, Strider, you know I have never called you on rank, but you should respect your queen."

****

"Aragorn," Arwen said after a moment, "I think we should have traveled with a bit more pomp."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because I don't think Gailduil's been writing home."

Aragorn stared at his wife. "What are you talking about, Arwen?"

"I don't think King Thranduil has been told that you are Elessar."

Thandruil chuckled. "Arwen, my dear, you are always welcome. And Legolas' pet is always welcome. There is no need for any games."

"This is no mischief. Ask Legolas," Arwen told him.

"Am I to believe Legolas wouldn't lie to me just to further your joke?"

"I haven't spoken with him since he left Minis Tirith," Arwen stated.

"Go fetch, Legolas," Thranduil instructed the steward by the door.

"No need, my lord."

"No! I will not wear it. Cariel!" Legolas' voice carried down the hall. "It's Arwen and Aragorn, why should I?"

"Because I said you should."

"My dear Lady Cariel, I will not wear it. And stay away from my braid. My lord," Legolas said coming through the door, "please call off your wife." He smiled at his friends. "She insists that I should dress up for my siblings here."

"Siblings? Have I gained children?" Thranduil inquired delicately.

"Arwen, who you will remember has declared herself my sister, has married Aragorn. You remember Strider, don't you sir? Aragorn, son of Arathorn? Elrond's ward, Estel? King of Men? We did have this discussion once, I'm sure. Though perhaps we were both screaming to bring the hall crashing down around us." Legolas hugged Arwen. He smiled at Aragorn. "Ignore my lord, he is in a mood today."

"He's been in a mood my entire life then," Aragorn muttered softly in his elf's ear as he hugged him. Legolas stifled a laugh. He stepped back. Cariel caught Legolas' braid in one hand and dropped a circlet onto his head with the other. She released him.

"Now, let me straighten that." She reached to adjust the crown. Legolas tried to get away. Arwen laughed as Thranduil shook his head.

"Legolas," he said quietly, "stop teasing your step-mother."

Legolas stilled. He looked to Thranduil, as wary as a dog expecting a smack. Cariel used the distraction to place the younger elf's circlet into its proper place. Legolas scowled at her and pushed it off of his forehead. Thranduil reached over and pushed it back down with a finger. The two stared at each other for a moment. "As you wish, my lord," Legolas said quietly.

"King Ellesar, hmm?" Thranduil evaluated the human in front of him. "And still you carry yourself like a ranger."

"We wanted to be sure that Arwen would be protected. Most will not cross a ranger, if they can help it." Aragorn smiled. He straightened himself up. "King Thranduil, I'm an Elessar, king of men. This is my Queen, Arwen of Imladris. We request shelter, and assistance. Arwen is with child and wished to come to an Elven healer to assist with its birth."

"My congratulations, Arwen, Aragorn. Of course you are welcome. I wonder though, why did you not go to Lorien?"

"Galadriel and her elves have sailed west," Aragorn informed him. This was not the Thranduil he knew. There was an easier smile and an gentler tone to him. Perhaps it was just that Arwen was pregnant. Legolas rubbed at his circlet. Thranduil smacked his hand without looking. Legolas shook out the sting with a sulky glare.

"Explaining, of course, why Celeborn was in no hurry to leave my forest. I wouldn't want to hurry home to Galadriel's ship either." Thranduil's smile was wry. "She always was a bit of a firebrand."

Legolas stared at his father. Cariel giggled. "Oh, I can just imagine what fights the two of you must have gotten into," she said. "Now, Arwen, come with me to visit the healer." Cariel offered her arm in motherly escort. "And you can always ask me questions," she said on the way out. "Be good," she warned Thranduil over her shoulder.

Aragorn cocked his head to the side and spoke to his beloved elf. "I had thought you were planning to return after you checked in with your king," he said.

Legolas' smile grew wry. "That was the plan, but things come up as they often times do. Deluiel is in the healer's chambers and has frightened away several of the apprentices. They don't know how to deal with her."

"She was injured recently?"

"No, the wound lingers from the war. She will heal, but slowly."

"And you will remain with her." Aragorn nodded. "Sadorlien came with us."

"I should hope so. I would so hate to have to take Sady to task for leaving his duty undone." Legolas' laughing smile was a welcome sight.

"Go on then, children," Thranduil said with a wave. "And Legolas, I meant what I said. Don't leave the palace or I'll keep a full contingent of gaurds on you this time."

Legolas sighed. "Yes, my lord." He lead Aragorn out of the chamber and to the library where they could talk.

****

Thranduil watched his son leave with a heavy heart. Legolas was in love with a human. "Ai! It would be so much easier were you just a ranger, Strider. I would merely have a room set up for the two of you to share and keep you both tamed in until you were secure in your love." He sighed. "Steward, sweet wine. And send some to wherever Legolas and his ranger have hidden themselves."

"Yes, my lord." The steward smiled.

Thranduil sat heavily on his throne. "We'll have to have a party." He looked around the room. He rang for a page to get the preparations started.

****

"So, Thranduil seems much more relaxed than I remember," Aragorn said, sipping his wine appreciatively.

Legolas sighed. "He is not so shrarp with his words, but his temper is still thin and I still know how to press it. My lord is not going to change in that regard. He is easier of mind because I'm in the palace rather than without. My freedom of the woods is restricted until Deluiel is either well enough to be with me or she finds a suitable replacement." The elf rolled his eyes. "Which she will not do because it implies that she may not be able to take up the role again. I sneak out on occasion, but my lord's temper has been so even of late that I don't want to set him off again."

"Why do you not say 'my father' instead of 'my lord'?"

Legolas froze. "My lord did not with the word spoken and I have had much trouble accomidating his new request that I call him 'Ada' again. So, tell me of yourself. How does the crown set on your head? I hear that your kingdom has an elf as well? A young one with a more mischievious nature than I?"

"Gailduil has decided to take over my intelligence operations in the East. He's decided that he likes Minis Tirith. And he likes Gimli, even if he is a dwarf. And he was very upset that you had left without seeing him. He thought I had driven you away. Did I?"

Legolas stared at his human for a long moment. "No, you never could. You know that."

"Then why have you not returned? It is more than Deluiel being ill and more than Thranduil ordering you to remain in the palace. You never listened to him before on that score."

"I always listened to him unless the pain was too great to bear. I don't contradict him often. I did sneak away only to end up on a quest last time. He would keep me locked in here forever for that." The elf sighed. He stared into his wine. "And Cariel has gotten into her head that I should be a proper pince and wear my blasted crown as Gailduil does. I don't know how to leave him again. He seems so pleased that I'm here. When I left he was still cold. Now he wants to bridge the walls he set between us and I don't know how to do that."

"Time and trust," Aragorn said quietly. "Come sit by me, Legolas." The ranger patted the sofa. Legolas curled up next to him, allowing a warm arm around his shoulders. He laid his head on Aragorn's shoulder. "I've missed you, old friend."

"Has no one been telling you to eat your lunch? Or done your correspondence recently? I shall have to send word to Gailduil that he's missing the pleasure of pestering you." He yelped as Aragorn pinched him. "Human brat."

"Arwen thinks you should be at home with us."

Legolas sighed. "Arwen is always so sure of getting what she wants that she forgets that the rest of us have our own ideas."

"I would not call you from Deluiel's side when she is ill. Nor would I ask you to disobey your king. I would ask you to remember me. Write to me, Legolas. I know you can. Come to visit as soon as you're able. I would have you at the naming ceremony."

"I'm sure my father will allow it. In fact, I'm sure he'd like to be there. He has always been fond of Arwen. And of young children." Legolas' eyes closed. "And where would you like me?"

"In my castle, in my bed, at my side." Aragorn shrugged. "Wherever you would fly, so long as I do get to see you and speak with you often."

"Hmmm."

"What is it, my elf?"

"It seems to me that Arwen must have hatched a plan to steal me away. I wonder what it is."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because Arwen has no love lost for my father and would have stolen me to Imladris were she able."

"For herself? How selfish of her."

"And her brothers wanted a playmate."

"And you? What did you want?"

"To be allowed to travel where I will." Legolas sighed. "Were it possible, I'd like to bring some life back to Mordor. Those fields need care, but they could be green once more. There is a forest in Ithilian that needs aid. I promised Gimli to accompany him back to the mines of Rohan."

Aragorn laughed. "You'd willingly go underground with a dwarf, what will people say?"

"That I am a very kind being," the elf replied. "Why did you come, truly, Strider? If Arwen wanted a healer, we would have sent one to her. She has always been able to call on our community for anything."

"I wanted to see you. To make sure you were not in the dungeon as Arwen suggested."

"It's not so secure as all that. Even dwarves got free of it. My lord has often threatened it, but this room suits him well enough. Or my bedroom. He will not have me leave the palace though, which makes it as much a prison as anything else. He has changed the enchantment on the gate. It will let me in, but not out. If I want to leave, I must climb from the nursery window."

"Then we shall have to prevail upon him to set you free with us as guide. The woods are much changed."

"They are green once more. I remember them this way, Aragorn. The blackness crept in while I was still young. But the spiders and trolls are gone. The orcs are mostly routed. There has been some clean-up left, but I can hunt from the castle walls." Legolas pulled off his circlet and tossed it onto the table next to their sofa, ringing the wine bottle with negligent ease. There were elves moving around the room, but they didn't bother the two friends on the couch. Privacy was not something that either of them expected or valued.

"Let me straighten your braid."

"Why does everyone insist that my braid needs to be straight?" Legolas asked, sulking just a bit.

Aragorn unraveled it anyway and rebraided it carefully. "Because you should look your best." He threaded both side-braids through the circlet. "And you should wear your circlet. It suits you." The circlet of leaves was made to weave into his braids and look as natural as real leaves might. It was also impossible to shake loose when properlly braided in. Legolas lay across Aragorn's lap, letting the human stroke his hair as they continued to talk late into the evening.

****

Arwen smiled at her husband. "And why are you not in Legolas' bed this night?" She cuddled next to him. "Not that I mind, of course, but I had thought you wanted more than just his love."

"He is wise in many things, but physical attraction is not one of them. He doesn't discuss it and does not care about it. We discussed all manner of things, including politics, then he went to the roof to watch the borders and I returned to you. We must visit Deluiel."

"I saw her ealier. She is very much herself, though unable to move her legs. An arrow pierced her spine. The healer is sure that she will heal, but less sure when. She is in terrible pain most days, unless she has taken strong wine with lunch."

"She refuses all else, doesn't she?"

"Yes." Arwen sighed. "It is sad to see her so restricted. I had gotten used to her creeping silently behind Legolas and speaking not so quietly when he'd done something foolish. She was always so vibrant. Now, she seems a pale reflection of that. It must break Legolas' heart to see her thus. He did not lie, she has frightened away many of the apprentices. They are too young to know how to deal with her sharp tongue. So many of the elves I knew here are gone, Aragorn. They've been killed. I am surprised that the songs that fill the hall are so light."

"The darkness that lived in the woods has left. And I think they are glad to have their prince home. I heard talk of a party in our honor."

"You did indeed. Cariel was quite taken with the idea. They don't have many visitors in Mirkwood. There will be even less now. King Brand does come up to the palace. I gather he is one of the few humans allowed in."

"Brand is a good man. The humans here have been trading with the elves for centuries. Legolas even knows the woodsmen and their families to a child. Or he did. I don't know what happened in the fire. I heard they lost two in the fire and the rest were lost to the fighting. The war hit this land hard."

"And the humans? How many did they lose here?"

"The elves cleared the woods. Legolas sent them word with his mother's messengers. There were no humans lost in the wood. They were sent back to the Dale to prepare for war. Mirkwood was more prepared than Rohan or Gondor."

"What do you mean? Does someone here have sight like Elrond or did Galadriel send word?"

"I told you. Legolas sent word and the gaurd did as he bid without question. They cleared the humans from the forest and kept watch on the Necromancer's home. When the fires came, the humans were safe and the elves were ready to fight when the orcs came. War has been in Mirkwood for years. I just never saw it."

"Legolas?" Arwen closed her eyes. "Which is why he can find things out from my father when no one else can. His mother was from Lorien. Did you know that?"

"No, I did not. I never thought of him as being from anywhere but here. Did he travel there, do you know?"

"Never. He was never in Lorien, though he and Haldir were teased unmercifully that they would be wed when Legolas was of an age. I remember that much. They cannot abide each other for long spans of time. Haldir thinks Legolas Thranduil's spoiled pet. And Legolas thinks Haldir a preening popinjay."

"Oh, dear heart, did no one tell you that Haldir is dead? He brought forces to Helm's Deep. None survived."

Arwen closed her eyes and rested her head on Aragorn's shoulder. "War is such a cruel time." She sighed. "Listen, do you hear that? I've not heard that song in ages."

Aragorn lifted his head to listen to the tune. He smiled. "It's beautiful."

****

Legolas stared out his father's window at the sky. There were birds filling the sky with song. Thranduil put a hand in the small of his son's back. "And why do you tarry here as opposed to being with your pet?"

The younger elf shook his head. His circlet glinted with emerald enamel in the sun. It was woven into his braids. "He is with Arwen and the healer learning what they need to know about raising a half-human child. There are things in this world I have no curiosity about. Child-rearing is one of them."

"Who did your braids?"

"My pet. He felt it necessary to occupy his hands as we talked." Legolas shook his head. "It's too much trouble to take off at the moment."

"Good. I shall have to thank him for it."

"Why will you not even allow me to the village? I haven't seen the folk there since my return."

"Most of them have been inside since your return, so I will not accept that. In fact, they were all here for your feast." Thranduil watched as Legolas put out a hand and one of the sparrows landed on it. He looked so much like his mother that the elf-king wanted to scream.

"What is it, my lord?"

"You look very much like Awelos."

"I'll leave then, sir. I know reminders hurt you."

"No, Legolas, no, let us not start this again. I do not want you gone. It is something I'm attempting to make you understand. I have never meant to hurt you. I have never meant to drive you away. You are more dear to me than anything."

"Do not lie to me, my lord. I know I fall below Gailduil on your list. And I likely reside lower than your wife as well." Legolas sighed. "I'm sorry, my lord, I know my words are as bitter as unripe berries, but I cannot stop the feeling that spurs them on. I don't want to hurt you. I feel that my presence hurts you more than words. More than orc arrows, or dragon's fire. You look at me and you see her and your heart turns to cold ash from the flame that was snuffed out by her death and I am shamed by that pain I have caused."

Thranduil could think of no words to bring comfort. He merely wrapped his arms around his eldest son and held him tightly. "I can wish with all my might that the slights we have dealt each other over the years might disappear, but I know it cannot be so. I beg you, my son, let me at least try to reach you."

"Ada," Legolas said softly, "why do you feel you must cage me?"

"Because you will run and not return. I could not abide never seeing you again. I will not lose you to foolishness or wildness. I will not lose you."

"You will not lose me. For those turnings I lived in the trees you did not lose me. I never left the forest except to ride to Imladris and then only with others. I would not just leave, my lord. Just to the village. Make the doors let me out again."

"No, not just yet."

"It's been almost a year, Ada. Please, just to the woods?"

Thranduil stroked the soft, smooth locks. "Very well, just to the forest. But only if you are accompanied by two gaurds."

"My lord," Legolas' tone was full of frustration.

"If Deluiel Dead-Eye was not enough to keep you caged in, how can I trust any gaurd alone with you? Two gaurds, Legolas. Heed me."

"Yes, my lord."

"Will you stay awhile?"

"Yes, sir." Legolas turned once more to the window as his father turned to his papers.

****

Aragorn looked down at the bound parchments. He leafed through them carefully. He stared at the pages with their delicate calligraphy and bright red, gold, and green illuminations. He knew the hand that had written these words. This testimonial of a future that the author had hoped to never see. As he read the tale of woe, he understood. He knew how Legolas could turn his back on everything he held dear and risk his king's wrath for the greater good. He knew why his elf looked always to the North when they traveled, seeking news he couldn't possibly glean from the stars. He closed his eyes. A great gift and a great burden had been compounded by not having the safety necessary to indulge it. These pages wept with the pain of lost families and burning trees. They spoke of the branches of the future as the branches of a tree. They dripped with the agony of a prince who could not save what he reverenced most. Aragorn bent his head and whispered a small prayer of healing.

****

"Deluiel, he will not let me out without two gaurds and he does not consider Aragorn a proper gaurd. What am I to do with him?"

"Do as he says, Legolas," the older elf said with a half-smile. "I understand his fear. I would rather you not be alone in the woods, no matter how far the dangers truly are." She blinked. "You're wearing your circlet."

Legolas shrugged. "Strider braided it into place again last night, much to my lord's amusement, I might add. He wants me to wear the blasted thing all the time. Strider seems to have an inordinate fondness for it. More than likely he likes it only because it bothers me."

"And why have you not brought your pet to see me?"

"Why should I subject him to your tongue? Last time you saw him, you threatened him."

"Legolas, bring me your human pet. He and I have things to discuss."

"Deluiel."

"Do it, my prince, or I shall have Arwen do it."

"Very well. You are bossy, old lady."

"And you are a brat. Go." She shooed him away from her bed with one hand.

****

"Arwen, I really should protect Aragorn from Deluiel."

"No, you'll come with me. We need to talk, brother. And we need to talk now."

Legolas held his hands up in defeat. He hadn't done anything he thought she'd be angry about, but perhaps she just needed to yell about Aragorn's stubborness. "Come up to Cariel's sitting room. She's in the kitchens preparing for the party." Arwen put her arm through his and they made their way through the confusion of a palace being transformed. Legolas shook his head as a group of children ran past them, laughing, with sweet-breads in their hands. Cariel's sitting room was quieter. The clothes on the walls held the sound down to a reasonable level. "They sound like hobbits." Arwen laughed. Legolas relaxed. Perhaps he was being overly-sensitive and she merely wanted to talk to him.

Arwen settled on the couch and settled next to her. "Now, did Strider tell you that you must come back with us?"

"No, he did not. He said you wished me to return with you."

Arwen rolled her eyes. "He is more stubborn than anyone I know! Eowyn and Faramir are to be wed and they wish you to attend. We want you in Minis Tirith for the naming ceremony. And there is land that could do with your attention. I would have set Samwise on it, but he's gone back to the Shire with his Mr. Frodo. Gandalf is going to take Frodo and Bilbo to the Gray Havens."

"I'm sure Ada will give leave for a naming ceremony. Especially of your child. And why did Eowyn not write to tell me that she and Faramir were engaged? I shall have to take her to task for it. As for the land, I have seen it, but there is little I can do when my father will not loose me from my cage here."

"Then I shall have to speak with Thranduil. Now, on to more important matters."

"More?" the elf-prince was surprised.

"Yes. Why have you and Strider not confessed your love?"

"Arwen, it seems many believe me to be in love with your husband. And I confess that it is true. I do love him. But I call him brother not lover. I will not be dragged back to Minis Tirith because you believe me to be self-sacrificing."

Arwen's eyes narrowed and Legolas felt a quail of terror. She only got that look in her eye when she was preparing to cause him embarassment. "But you love Strider, don't you?" she asked sweetly.

"I do."

"And he loves you."

"He has said so, yes."

"But you've not even kissed him."

"Arwen, he is your husband and human to boot. I don't care if I never kiss him. That has never been a concern of mine and you well know it."

"But Legolas, why? There is no need for this. You love him dearly. I dare to say you have Chosen him. And I understand that truly. There were those that hoped you and I would wed once, but we are not cut out for that, my brother. But truly, I would share Aragorn with you. There is nothing I would deny you. Why do you still stand away?"

"I cannot give over to my heart, Arwen. It will kill me to lose him if I've had him."

Arwen frowned. "Better to die having loved than to live feeling nothing but ice. You have always had pain and often you have been as cold and remote as the ice-fields of the north. I would not see you retreat into that ice again. Legolas, it will destroy you as the frosts often kill new growth. Do not let your heart turn cold."

"Ai! Arwen, leave me be. You don't know, you just don't know." He paced in front of her. "He fell from a cliff into the river and all thought him lost. I begged the Valar to bring him back to me, but if they had not, I would have died in Helm's Deep happily. I would rather have died than felt that pain eat through me. I would be buried with Haldir and the rest. I cannot face that future and stay sane, sister," he ended more quietly.

"Oh, Legolas," she whispered. "Come here." She offered her arms. He shook his head. He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, gripping the orc-wound on his arm. He closed his eyes, willing away the pain and fear that had just crashed into him. Closing his eyes was worse. He could see Arwen withering before him and turning into the brittle cold twig she would be when Aragorn at last lay down his life. He shook his head to drive the thought away. She smiled at him when he opened his eyes. "Come here," she said again and he went to her. She kissed his cheek.

"Please, Arwen, there is nothing I can do about this. I feel the cracks that run through my heart and I fear that one more will shatter me like Naneth's carvings crashing to the floor. And please, do not try to thrust us together."

"You will still come home to Minis Tirith with us. I'll see to that. You must come see what Gimili has done with the repairs."

"As my lord wishes, so shall I do. Last word I had from him was that I was allowed into the village so long as I had two gaurds with me and if I attempt to go any further than that I will have half a unit following me."

Arwen shook her head. "I'll arrange it. I have connections."

****

Deluiel looked Strider up and down. "So why have you and Legolas been so circumspect. Surely Arwen doesn't disapprove?"

"No, of course she approves. But I will not push Legolas into something he doesn't want. And I fear that sex is something he does not want."

"Have you ever offered it?"

The human stared at her for a startled moment. "No."

"Then how do you know that he doesn't want it? You and he would be perfect together."

"Deluiel, we have known each other for a long while, and I have always appreciated your candor, but we both know that if Legolas were hurt by my advances in any way, it would cause more harm than this quiet status quo we've established. We have spoken our love for one another, leave it at that."

"Aragorn, you are a stubborn, human fool, but I knew that. Strider, you may be able to heal him. Try to accomplish what no one else has been able to do. I know that Sadorlien is in love with your wife."

"Yes, I know. And I assume they will do what any other elves might in the same situation. And they will be discrete enough that my court will not be overly vexed, but what does that matter?"

"She would share you with him."

"Deluiel, please, leave this topic be."

Deluiel snorted. "You must not allow him to cut himself off like he has before. I allowed the wounds that his father created to fester too long and he has suffered greatly for it. I hear that they have been attempting to finally heal those slights, but Thranduil was never so cruel as many thought him. Even Legolas never thought him such. But he has taken too much of his father's pain as his own. Don't allow him to sacrifice himself for you as well."

Aragorn's mouth pinched a bit at that. "I will speak with him, if only to ease your mind."

"I will content myself with that. But I will have to have the discussion I thought Sadorlien had given him about what two people in love might do."

"I do hope it's not as bald as the one that Elrond gave me when I entered my middle years."

Deluiel laughed. "We shall see. We shall see. Send him to me please?"

"Of course. I may have to slip in to watch though. It should prove quite a show."

****

"Deluiel?" Legolas queried softly.

"Oh, I'm awake. Come, sit on the bed, little sprout. We need to talk."

"What is it with being given talks today? First Arwen, now you."

"Don't sulk." Legolas settled on the bed and took her hand. There was a sadness in his eyes that she felt compelled to answer. "No, I'm not planning to leave you yet." She cocked her head to the side. "Unless the healer has told you something different than she's told me?"

"No, only that you stay because your will is so strong. Others have succumed to similar wounds, but you show no sign of that."

"But that's not what you see when you look at me, is it? Ah, little leaf, I have no regrets. And even if I were to die, I would meet up again with your mother and the others to tell old war-stories and laugh over our childhood foolishness. We took up the fight against evil years ago. Even Thranduil chose to fight evil rather than watch it. We took our punishment from the gods we upset, but we would not stand by. And I will not stand by and watch the pain swallow you, Legolas. There is more for you to do and more for you to experience. What you see here, you know is just a shell, a convienient form for the spirits within." She clasped his hand between two of hers. "Legolas, I know you love Strider. And before you even think a word, let me speak. You love him. He is your Chosen. You've never been foolish enough to lie about that to me. I would see you happy, Legolas. I would see you and Strider share all the joys of love. Arwen would not deny you that."

"No, she has said as much."

"Then what holds you back, Legolas?"

His hand tensed. "I fear my heart will break and swallow me with black pain when he dies. I thought him lost in the middle of the battle and my heart grew so weak I could barely feel it and I prayed to die in battle rather than to wither away on the vine, a summer flower that dies when faced with winter. I could not bear to lose him after having him."

"If you have the memories, perhaps it would not be so bad," Deluiel whispered. Her grip was firm and familiar. Legolas tried to find his smile for her. "I remember when you were young and had such nightmares your mother would tell you that the future is not yet written, do you remember."

"It grows like a tree in infite vairety and ever changing configuations. Yes, I remember."

"Then you cannot know what will happen if you love Aragorn completely. I know you have given him your heart. Will you not also give him the comfort of your body through the night? Can you deny him that?"

"I find I am unable to deny him anything unless it is contrary to my lord's wishes. It has never come up between us."

"And if it did?"

"I would not deny him." Legolas shrugged. "I think that you and Arwen are more interested in us consumating the relationship than we are."

"You should ask me, my prince," Sadorlien said from the foot of Deluiel's bed. "I have been given strict orders not to let you run away from the party. Hello, old lady."

"Come to steal him away? Well, talk some sense into him for me, then."

"I will. Come, my prince, we're late."

Legolas kissed Deluiel's cheek. "I will think on what you've said. And I'll send you a bottle of wine."

"You do that. Sadorlien, you owe me a report later."

****

"Yes, Captain." Sadorlien winked at her. He tugged on Legolas' braid. "Come, my prince, the party will be starting soon and the king wishes you to be in the throne room with him."

Legolas sighed. They walked easily together. "So when will you add your chime to the two lectures I've gotten today on the state of my heart?"

Sadolrien laughed. "I see, the old lady wants to make sure you'll know what to do with your human if you get him."

"I'm sure I'll figure it out. I've only been listening to you for millenia on the subject."

"Yes, my prince. Now, who on earth actually got you to wear that thing?"

"Strider. I think Arwen put him up to it. He braided it in and that means it's too much trouble to take off if I'm on a time-limit."

"And you are. You look properly princely with it on. Though, you should probably change from your hunting clothes."

"No one will know me if I dress well," Legolas protested.

"My lord."

Legolas sighed. "Why do I never seem to be the one giving orders?"

"Because I make more sense than you do."

"Dwarf-bait fool."

****

Elessar for once looked the part of a king as he made his way across the floor to Arwen. Legolas watched him with a fond smile. He wondered idly if Arwen had lectured him as well. The elf was doing his best to remain unobtrusive, though not in the shadows which would get him a lecture from Cariel. He half-listened to the story-teller who had claimed an audience nearby. It was a familiar story, but one he hadn't heard in years. Of course, they hadn't had a real party in years. Not since Gailduil had made his majority. That was a depressing thought and Legolas banished it. There was much cause for celebration. Arwen was pregnant, the orcs were routed, the trees were green once more, and he was in love. Did he really just think that last piece? No, I will not turn into Sadorlien and moon over Stride like a half-century babe. There is nothing more irritating than a love-struck elf, he told himself firmly. Though he does look... stop it. He turned his eyes away from Aragorn and to the story-teller.

****

Arwen watched her heart-brother from across the room with a small smile. Her words must have had some effect because he wasn't hiding his appraisal of Aragorn in his robes. "Your drink, my sweet."

"Thank you, love. Now, beloved, I believe there is someone who would love to see you."

"Arwen?"

"Legolas has been watching you all night, though he would deny it to his dying breath, I feel sure. He's over by the story-teller in the corner, hiding."

"He doesn't like parties. They make him nervous."

"Then go ease his nerves. And for your heart's sake, talk to him truly. Ask him to return to Minis Tirith with us."

"His father has already killed that idea. He will not even allow him so far as the edge of the forest."

"Then we shall have to work on Thranduil," Arwen stated firmly. "Go to him. For tonight at least. Make him want to come home where he belongs."

"Arwen."

"Go."

****

Aragorn gave his wife a deep bow and left her with the other expecting mothers to discuss matters he was sure he didn't want to understand. He heard their laughter following him as he stalked his elf. Legolas glanced at the group, then back at the story-teller. Aragorn stopped beside him, not saying a word, just listening to the familiar tale that was being woven anew by the story-teller. There was a soft smile on his elf's lips that he'd never seen. "Has Arwen started discussing mothering techniques with the ladies then?"

"Yes," Aragorn said. "There are some things I have no need of knowing." Legolas laughed at his consternation and the human felt something loosen in his chest. No, there was no difference in his elf except that his smile was easier tonight.

"Wine?"

"No, I'm fine."

"I promised Deluiel I'd have a bottle sent to her. I'd best find the steward. Or perhaps I could find a bottle and take it down myself."

"And deprive me of your company?"

"Never that. You could come with me."

"I don't think your father would be pleased if we slipped away. He's been watching you."

"He often watches me. I don't know why. My appearance has never pleased him."

Aragorn blinked. "I think you're wrong. He has always favored you."

"Tonight is not the time to discuss such things. Come, let's see what music is on offer on the other end of the courtyard."

"Where the little coves are?"

"Yes, and perhaps we can steal away into one until no one remembers I'm supposed to be at the party."

"You cannot avoid the party, Legolas, Thranduil would have both our heads."

"No, just mine. He wouldn't harm my pet." Legolas winked. His eyes were blue tonight, showing the elf-light that had rarely infused them when they were on the road. Aragorn threaded his fingers into his love's and they stood that way for a moment. "Come quickly before they start a dance that we shall be required to attend." They found a low couch, out of the stream of traffic where they could still watch the proceedings. "It has been a long time since we've had a party. I scarcely remembered the sounds of it." Aragorn slipped a hand around his elf's waist and pulled him to his side with gentle pressure.

"You look happy tonight. I don't think I've ever seen you this cheerful."

"Gods, you are agreeably blunt. Thank you. No one else seems to be able to speak plainly except my guards."

"You would despise me if I retreated into pretty words? Why should you, when you inspire poetry?"

"I am not as graceful as some. I am not a renound beauty like your wife. I am merely a hunter, an archer. . ."

"A prince with a smile that is either as beautiful and remote as the stars, or as hot and sharp as a knife."

"And do I cut you with my smiles often, my ranger?"

"No, you have never turned that angry smile onto me, only my enemies." They sat for a moment, just watching, content to be safe and together. There would be no assassination attempts in the borders of Thranduil's castle, simply because there was no way in if you were not of cheerful intent tonight. Legolas rested his cheek on his ranger's shoulder. "I know that Arwen spoke with you this morning."

"She did. She was most particular in her speech. She would have me return to Minis Tirith just to have me away from Thranduil."

"And I would have you there for myself," Aragorn said quietly.

"Oh, my human, you know I cannot come with you. The Naming, yes, of course. Eowyn's wedding, yes. But to stay? No, my lord would hunt me down and drag me back by my braids."

"Arwen has set her sights on changing his mind."

Legolas laughed. "She'd best set aside a few centuries, not few weeks."

"She has given up her immortality for me," Aragorn said quietly. "There will be no more centuries for her."

****

Legolas pulled his human into a tight hug. "Oh, Beloved," he whispered softly, "no tears for her. It is a choice she has freely made. She would have had to make the choice at any rate after the ring was destroyed. That is why her brothers have left this shore. They cannot remain in Middle Earth unless they remain as humans. I would not have been able to leave you either."

"It is because of her human blood?"

"Yes. All of Elrond's children made their choices. You will someday make yours. For while she has given up her immortality, she will also have extended your life. You will choose when it is time to lay down that gift and pass the from the world."

"How do you know all these things?"

"I ask questions. Arwen and I chose to be siblings years ago and Elrond has considered me one of his children since then. I have been granted much more leeway with my questions that I might otherwise have. Besides, the Queen was Celebrian's cousin on Galadriel's side. I asked all manner of impertinent questions of Galadriel because of that."

"And why did you never tell me?"

"It would have not given you strength on our journey. You thought Arwen would sail West, even though she told you she would bind her life to yours. You would not have believed me where I to have told you the things I know."

"I found your book in the library."

"What book? The history I wrote in Minis Tirith?"

"No, one I found here. A book of nightmares and dreams."

"Oh, that. I was much younger then."

"Do you still get visions of that sort?"

"No, the Valar have removed that level of clarity. I get smaller sights now and less frequently. Unlike Elrond, I have never developed a full talent for prophecy. The future is not written in any case, my Strider. We can only see possibilities."

"And did you never once forsee the ring not falling into Mt. Doom?"

"Oh, I did see that once before Naneth died. I knew many things before the orc-fever clouded my sight and my memories. I never thought of them as anything but a child's fancy though. And I knew that you would strike me down before letting me become and orc. I had no fear of that. Or that Gimli might do it if I had lost you. But then, losing you might well have done the trick anyway." Aragorn sighed and Legolas rested against him more fully, trying to comfort him with touch where words would not do the trick. "I'm sorry, my friend, I seem to have lost the politic tongue that I've had for so long. Don't let my words worry you. I've merely taken too much sweet wine and forgone my dinner."

"Legolas, there is no need for secrets between us. I would give you everything I am, were it enough to steal you away."

"Oh, my beloved idiot, there is nothing I would take from you or compell from you. You are my Strider as you have always been. Say that we shall hunt orcs, or explore Mordor and I would follow you to save you from yourself. But I will not cross my lord's wishes again. Never doubt that I love you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, my own true hope, but do not ask me to follow you when you leave next. My heart would not bear the strain of having to refuse you."

"I would not ask you to come without your father's leave." Aragorn turned to gather Legolas into his arms. "I would ask you for one night of memories."

"Anything I have to give is yours to take, Beloved," Legolas said softly.

"Then let us find a quiet room where we can spend our time together. I think no one would begrudge you now. The hour grows late and the party will continue for some time."

"Some days, Strider. Some days. We may not do it often, but we do it right when we do." Legolas laughed. He led the human up to his room. It was quieter there. The jeweled curtain was down, scattering colored light through the room. Legolas set it swinging just to see the lights move around.

****

Strider looked around. He had never been there before. Legolas and he had normally used the main rooms of the castle or slept out in the forest. The room was a contrast to the rest of the castle which was filled with sparkle and color. There was a carved headboard, a small desk covered with manuscripts and ink, a small table by the bed with a sturdy metal candle-stick, and a small carved trunk. Legolas' bow, quiver, and knives were propped in the corner. The door closed quietly behind them. There was a book propped open on the bed. Aragorn smiled. "It suits you."

"Does it? Arwen hates it."

"No, if you had walked me by several rooms and asked me to choose yours, this is the one I'd have picked. And not just because your bow is in the corner."

Legolas beamed at that. "It doesn't seem much after so many turnings, but it is mine to sleep in and mine to hide away in when the world seems too much present." He tugged at his circlet. "Now, to get this bloody thing off my head."

"Legolas, please, it looks perfect. And I'll just braid it in again if you take it out."

The elf sighed. "You are a brat. I hate wearing it."

"I know. Did Arwen tell you to dress appropriately?"

"No, Sadorlien. He has this insane idea that I'm supposed to act like a prince in the palace."

"Yes, truly an insane idea." Aragorn crossed the short distance between them and kissed Legolas gently on the lips. "But you do it well."

Legolas blinked rapidly, eyes wide. "I never thought that you'd really want to kiss me."

"Oh, my love, there is much more that I would do to you, if you'll allow it." Aragorn stroked the smooth cheek with the back of his hand.

"Anything or everything. Anything you want from me tonight, Strider, you need only ask."

The human kissed his elf again, this time more completely. He didn't stop until he needed to breath. Legolas' fingers tangled in the shoulder-length black hair. His eyes were half-closed, his smile faintly wicked. "All thoughts to the contrary, Strider, I shant break from a kiss." He leaned forward and caught Aragorn in a demanding kiss. Strider melted into the contact.

"You've been hiding things from me, my elf," Strider chided.

"What fun would I be if you knew all of me?"

"I would know who, since the gossips have missed it."

"And you are clever enough to know that it wasn't Haldir, it wasn't Arwen, it wasn't that petty maid that Mother Ravenclaw teased me with, and it wasn't you. Now, who could it have been? But it has only ever been but a kiss here and there. Hush, and kiss me again, my ranger before I fill your head with images of anyone else. I will have you as mine alone tonight, Strider. Mine alone." Legolas' eyes shone like the softly colored jewels that painted the room with light. His quick fingers removed Strider's belt and loosened the ties of his gauntlets.

"Of course, I am yours. Time or distance will never change that." Strider tugged at Legolas' shirt. "Come now, let me see you without fabric in the way."

"You have seen me before, Strider. In the springs. In the river."

"But never like this. Never here." The ranger stripped Legolas with neat efficiency. Legolas waited with an amused smile for Strider to look his full.

"Now, Strider, this is not fair, you see me, but you hide yourself away from me."

"I am not so lovely to look at."

"Let me be the judge of that." Legolas removed the circlet that Aragorn wore carefully, then lifted his clothes from him gently. He took care with each garment, folding them with reverence, much to Aragorn's amusment. There was nothing that wasn't beautiful on Legolas' body. The only scar he bore from their battles was the wound on his arm that would never fully heal.

"Arwen said that you had a scar on your chest."

"It has faded. It was a bitter memory, one best set free." Legolas smiled. His fingers were gentle as they explored Aragorn's cheek, lips, shoulder and beyond. "Show me, my beautiful ranger, show me what you want of me tonight."

Aragorn settled on the bed. He set the book aside. He pulled Legolas to settle next to him. He stroked the smooth, pale skin, watching it color slightly under his touch. His elf's eyes closed and he settled back, content to let Aragorn do as he pleased. Aragorn's heart swelled being given such freedom. They had been friends for so long, yet Legolas had never before even hinted that he would welcome such intimacy.

"I have patience, my love, but are you now regretting taking this opportunity?"

"Never."

Legolas smiled. He reached to stroke Aragorn's cheek. "My ranger. My human. My beloved." His voice was a low murmur, no more than a babbling brook that echoed the pounding of the blood in Aragorn's ears. He pulled his human down for a soft, sweet kiss and their bodies were in full contact for the first time. The heat of skin against skin shocked Aragorn for a breath of time, then he wrapped his arms around the one he thought he'd never have. They kissed for a long span until Aragorn could stand it no longer. He broke the kiss to move down his lover's body with soft, exploratory kisses, scrapes of teeth and lingering swipes of his tongue. Legolas' fingers twined through his lover's soft black hair until the rhythmic motion was enough to make Aragorn catch the delicate hunter's hands and lavish the fingers and palms with more attention. The elf made a small sound in the back of the throat as Aragorn's hard shaft brushed against the growing hardness at his groin.

Aragorn grinned down at his lover. There was less passivity in the half-closed blue eyes than the still body below him betrayed. Suddenly, he found himself on his back, with Legolas smiling down at him, as wild as any creature from the forest. The kiss they shared was less gentle than before. Legolas moved his hips delicately and Aragorn felt their shafts meet and part again. He groaned. "Gods above, you'll kill me if you take up teasing."

"Turnabout, my sweet." Legolas nipped, licked and sucked his way across Aragorn's body, kissing his scars gently as he went. Strider knew that scars represented strong memories to most elves, since they were so rare, so the care did not come as a great surprise. Legolas would never harm him, even in jest. The ranger twined his fingers into the long, blond silk and pulled Legolas' mouth to his own.

"I want you inside of me," Aragorn said bluntly. "Is there anything to ease the way?"

Legolas laughed. He kissed Aragorn lightly, then opened the messenger's bag that he dragged out from under the bed. He fished out a small bottle. The scent of nuts filled the air as he opened it. "Massage oil. It's especially good for muscle strain," he lectured with a wink.

"Oh, really?" Aragorn asked, ignoring the fact that he was beginning to get desperate.

"Now, I wonder, what differences are there between our bodies, hmm?" Those clever fingers were stroking Aragorn's thighs now. "Perhaps I should sing you to sleep now."

"Do so and I swear I will beat you black and blue," the ranger snarled. "Ai!" The fingers the probed him gently surprised him into a quiet yelp.

"Is that better, my sweet?" Legolas asked with obviously false sincerity. His fingers were stretching, but also exploring the tight clench of his lover's body. Aragorn moaned again as the fingers disappeared. They were replaced with hot, hard, stiffness and he pressed down to ease the way. The filling was exquisite. The hint of pain he was expecting was missing. Part of his mind decided that there must be more to the oil Legolas had used to relax him than just pressed nuts. Then, the elf's mouth was covering his own and Aragorn stopped thinking and started reacting. The moved together in perfect concert, the brush-strike of Legolas' member driving the human wild. He rubbed his cock against his lover's body. He moaned into the kiss as Legolas' clever fingers wrapped around his cock and stroked him in a counter-point rhythm. He came shortly, body clenching around his lover's cock. Legolas froze for a moment, eye open, recording the moment. He came shortly after, body glowing like a small star for a moment before sinking into Aragorn's embrace with boneless grace. Aragorn wrapped his arms around his lover and held him close. He slipped into sleep and didn't know anything more for several hours.

****

Thranduil shifted the curtain to look into his son's room. He shook his head with a smile. He wondered if that wasn't where the two had disappeared. He let the curtain fall down again. He turned to find his wife at his side. She raised her brows. "Is Legolas sulking already?" she asked with an amused smile.

"Not exactly. He was merely greeting his pet with a little more enthusiasm."

"Ah, I see. Now, come, my love, I would speak with you about our sons."

"I have let Gailduil run free as you wished. He ran directly to the humans and stayed there," the elf-king said dryly as they left the hall. He knew Legolas would have precious little time with his human during this trip. He didn't want to disturb them. He brushed a kiss to Cariel's cheek. "I will call him back after Arwen's child has been named. And yes, Cariel, we shall go to Minis Tirith to see it with Legolas. And yes, I will have him return with me."

"Am I so transparent?"

"To me, my llove." Thranduil shook his head. "I cannot give him leave to go, for if he goes, he will not return."

"You have said that every time he leaves these woods, yet he has always returned."

Song Quoted: Papa Can You Hear Me? From "Yentl"

TBC