Child's Play Part 4 The Two Towers

*****

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.

*****

Child's Play Part 3

LotR Bedroom

The Bedrooms

The Library