Legolas look up the road to the town of Bree and thought this might not be a good idea. They left Amon Sul at first light and traveled quickly to get to the town before dark. Thorongil explained that the town closed its gates at night. If you wished to enter the town after the gate closed you had to get past the gatekeeper. Legolas wasn't surprised the humans took such precautions. They were a suspicious lot not trusting their fellow man. Also as they traveled, Legolas had heard small groups of men blundering around in the woods that lined the road. He had asked Thorongil who they were and he said they were probably brigands. Thorongil said they didn't have anything to worry about since they were too well armed. As they approached the town the few travelers on the road looked at them oddly. Even with his hood up it wasn't hard to figure out Legolas was an elf. Thorongil slowed his horse so Legolas could pull up beside him.
"Maybe we should have switched cloaks."
"Would it have made a difference?"
"Probably not," Thorongil smiled. "We could dress you in rags and you'd still move like an elf. Now remember I'm know as Strider in these parts."
Legolas just shook his head as he looked at his companion. "Why do men insist on having so many names."
Strider smiled and continued along the road. They came to the gates of Bree and passed through without any trouble. They did get some suspicious looks as Strider made his way towards the Prancing Pony. Legolas followed as Strider went behind the inn towards the stables. A stable boy met them and waited as they dismounted. Legolas didn't wish to hide any more and pushed his hood back as he handed the reins to the young boy. The boys wide-eyed stare made Legolas smile.
"Thomas," Strider called. "Give the horses extra grain."
"Aye, sir," Thomas answered not taking his eyes of the elf. "Are you real?"
"As real as you," Legolas said as he touched the boys nose.
"Me mum ain't never gonna believe this," Thomas said as he took the horses. "A real elf!"
Strider watched as Thomas led the horses into the stables. He turned to regard his companion. The elf looked around the small courtyard with trepidation. Strider could see he wasn't comfortable inside the town. But now they had a bigger problem. As soon as Thomas was finished with the horses news of the elf would spread through Bree like a wild fire.
"I wish you hadn't done that."
"You may wish to hide your identity I do not."
"I'm not hiding," Strider argued. "I just don't like to draw attention to myself."
"But you are hiding my friend," Legolas said looking into Strider's eyes. "Why I can not know."
Strider didn't deny the elf's accusations as he led him towards the inn. As Isildur's heir he was forced to hide his identity from Sauron. Sometimes that burden was heavy to bear but Strider knew it was for the best. One day he would reveal himself and claim his rightful place. As Strider walked inside he pushed back his hood. There was no need to hide any more now that Legolas had let Thomas see him. Not that it made much of a difference, even hidden it was easy to see Legolas wasn't a man. It was still early and the bar was still fairly empty. Strider walked up to the bar as Barliman Butterbur turned around. The proprietor stared at Legolas for a few seconds then remembered his manners.
"Ah, Strider, it's good to see you." Strider knew it was a lie but said nothing. "What can I do for you?"
"We need a room," he said. "Then once we're settled, dinner."
"That's fine," Barliman said. "Would you like your usual room?" Strider nodded and Barliman handed him a key. "Dinner will be ready in an hour."
Barliman watched as Strider walked away. The elf followed him without saying a word. Barliman quickly went into the kitchen and had the cook prepare more food. Once word got 'round that one of the First Born was at the Prancing Pony the place would be packed.
Legolas followed Strider to the room he hired. Once inside Strider threw his bag over the back of one of the chairs then unfastened his cloak. Legolas glanced around the room. The room was dark an uninviting but his companion seemed to be right at home. The elf went over to the single bed and sat down.
"What is the purpose of stopping in this town?"
"I told you," Strider said annoyed. "I come here to gather information."
"I thought this journey was to prove your claim of kingship?"
"It is but I plan to fulfill an oath I swore along the way."
"And that is?"
"These were once all the lands of my ancestors," Strider explained "I swore I would watch over all that dwelled here."
"A noble task," Legolas admitted. "But not something one man can accomplish."
"I am not alone," Strider said. "I am the leader of the Dunedain."
"I see," Legolas said.
"You don't believe me!"
"The Dunedain are the last remnant of the Old Kingdom," Legolas said. "To be their leader you must be their king. You have yet to prove that."
"Why is it so hard for you to believe?" Strider asked wearily.
"As I said back at Elrond's, any man wearing the ring of Barahir can claim to be king. Even the keeper of this inn."
"Barliman?" Strider chuckled.
"Well perhaps he was a bad choice," Legolas smiled.
"Alright, my stubborn companion, I will prove to you who I am," Strider vowed. "But now I am hungry."
"I do not wish to bring my bow," Legolas said. "Will it be safe here?"
"Yes the Prancing Pony is a reputable inn."
Strider watched as Legolas unbuckled the quiver from his back. The elf also carried two knives in a holster connected to the quiver. Strider was surprised when Legolas separated the quiver from knives. Legolas lay the knives on the bed and removed his cloak. When that was done he strapped the harness on his back and the two knives were within easy reach.
"I wish you would take your cloak."
"We can sit in a dark corner. My presence here has probably already spread."
Strider nodded and led Legolas back to the common room. It was still fairly empty and they took a table in a corner that over looked the room. It was a shadowy corner and Legolas put Strider at ease by disappearing in the gloom. Barliman came over to the table to take their order.
"What can I get you fine sirs?"
"Two ales and your stew," Strider said.
"Bread and cheese as well," Legolas added.
"Are you sure you wouldnt want some wine?" Barliman asked nervously.
Legolas leaned forward into the light and looked at Barliman. "Ale will be fine."
"Aye, as you say fine sir," Barliman nodded. "Two ales coming up."
Strider sighed as he watched the bar keep leave. The other patrons had been watching and when they saw Legolas they began to speak amongst themselves. Legolas saw Strider's look of dismay and smiled as he disappeared back into the shadows.
"I'd like to draw a little less attention to us."
"Then you should never have brought me here."
Strider just sighed again and turned his attention back to the common room. The area was starting to fill up and Strider recognized people that didn't usually frequent the Inn. The news of the elf had definitely spread. Their meal arrived and Strider thanked Barliman. Legolas leaned forward into the light to reach his share and conversation increased as the newer patrons got their first glimpse of the elf. They ate their meal in silence as Strider took stock of the room. It was the first time he'd seen women at the Inn and it would probably be the last. He silently cursed knowing he wouldn't get any useful information this visit.
"The ale isn't too bad," Legolas said to make conversation. "But I do find the cheese very good."
"Barliman always has a well stocked larder," Strider said as he waved to get Barliman's attention.
"Anything else I can get you? The cook has made a berry cobbler for desert."
"We'll both have some," Strider said. "Also some of your aged white cheddar."
"I have a variety of cheeses that just arrived. I'll bring you some of each."
"I'll try some of your wine," Legolas said as he moved into the light.
"Splendid!" Barliman cried. "I have a very nice red from the south farthing."
"And I'll take another ale," Strider added.
"Tell the cook the food was excellent," Legolas said.
"She'll be pleased you said so," Barliman beamed as he moved away.
Legolas leaned against the wall smiling. Humans had some odd notions about elves. As he sat listening to the conversations around the room he was surprised that some thought elves had eyes shaped like the great cats that roamed the mountains. Or that some believed he was no taller than a small pony. Legolas glanced around the room and noticed that people would look towards their table then quickly look away. He supposed they were a little frightened of Strider. The man could be quite fierce looking when he wanted. Barliman brought over their order and quickly moved away. The inn was very busy and his name was constantly being called. A commotion started at the entrance and Legolas glanced that way. He was surprised at what he saw.
"Haflings," he said in surprise.
"You know of them?"
"Only in stories," Legolas answered. "Just before the Battle of the Five Armies my father captured a troop of dwarves wandering in the Greenwood. He imprisoned them but some how they escaped. We later found out that a hafling named Bilbo set them free."
"And how did he do that?"
"Till this day we still do not know."
After a few hours the patrons became accustomed to them sitting quietly in the corner. They started talking about daily life and what was going on around the town. Legolas had exceptional hearing and when the word 'Orc' was uttered he took notice. He looked around the room and saw four farmers sitting by the fire. Legolas concentrated to pick out just their conversation.
"It was Orcs I say."
"That's impossible. There haven't been any in the area in years."
"Well obviously pickings are slim wherever they came from. I saw one with my own eyes."
"But what do they want here?"
"Whatever they can get. They aren't choosy."
"Sometimes I regret taking the land so close to the Old Forest. No telling what will come out of there."
Legolas listened some more when he felt someone touch his arm. He went for one of his knives but his hand was grabbed before he could reach the hilt.
"Legolas it's me." Strider said as he held firmly to Legolas's arm. "What is wrong?"
"There is talk of orcs over by the Old Forest"
"Which group?" Strider asked.
"The four men over by the fire."
Strider looked over at the four men. He knew one of the men was a soldier that retired to a farm about twenty miles from Bree. If anyone would know what an Orc looked like it would be him.
"Is that the type of information you were looking for?"
"Yes, are they saying anything else?"
Strider watched as Legolas tipped his head to the left as he listened. "They are talking about crops and a flood along the river."
"I think it's time we got some sleep," Strider said as he stood. "We leave at first light."
Legolas nodded and stood as well. When he did all conversation in the common room stopped. Strider casually placed his hand on the hilt of his sword and headed for the door leading to the rooms. Legolas stood and took a look around the common room.
"Why its an elf!" cried one of the Haflings.
Legolas smiled and gave a slight bow to the hafling before leaving the room. As he left the room voices could be heard talking excitedly. He knew its inhabitants wouldnt soon forget his visit to Bree.
Strider was good to his word and they left Bree at first light. Legolas was glad to be out of the town. He much preferred the wooded areas and the open road. Barliman had provided them with food for their journey. The cook had also made them a hot meal before they left. Legolas wanted to give her something for her kindness but she refused. The elf insisted and asked what she would like. Legolas was surprised when she asked for a lock of hair. He was showing her two broaches to chose from and all she wanted was a lock of hair. Legolas had shrugged as he pulled out one of his knives and gave her what she wanted. Strider just laughed as he bid farewell to Barliman. As the sun came up Legolas knew it would be a beautiful day. The road had been empty but as the day progressed they met more and more travelers. As they came around a bend they could see a wagon ahead. When they got closer they could see a man working on a broken wheel.
"Need some help?" Strider asked.
"Oh thank you kind...." the man stuttered to a stop when he saw them.
Again Strider was dressed all in black and looked rather imposing. The man stared at Legolas not believing his eyes.
"Da! Ma says she can't find any big sticks," cried a small boy coming from the front of the wagon. The boy stopped short and looked between his father and the people on horse back.
"Legolas, go into the woods and find a stout limb," Strider said as he dismounted.
The boy watched in awe as Legolas leaped from his horse and disappeared into the forest. The farmers wife appeared from the front of the wagon carrying a baby. She called sharply to the boy to come away as Strider approached her husband.
"What is the problem?" Strider asked.
"The cotter pin broke and the wheel fell off," the farmer said. "I have another but couldn't lift it by myself."
"When my companion returns we'll have this fixed in no time."
Strider was helping the farmer grease the axle when he heard the wife yell in shock signaling Legolas's return. The elf carried a sturdy young tree over his right shoulder with ease. Strider could see it was a deadfall that Legolas had cleared the branches from. He carried it over to the wagon and set it down.
"Well need something to brace under the branch," Legolas said.
"I've got a barrel in the back that should do," the farmer said.
Strider helped him get it out of the wagon then roll it over to the side with the missing wheel. When everything was set Strider had the farmer take the wheel and get ready to put it on when they lifted. The wife protested that Legolas should see to the wheel. Being simple farmers Strider knew they had no idea the strength of elves. If Legolas wanted he could have lifted the wagon by himself but there was no need. Strider reassured her that they could handle it and signaled to the farmer. When everything was set Strider counted to three and they lifted. The wagon easily came up off the ground and the farmer slipped the wheel in place. He slipped the cotter pin on and they lowered the wagon.
"I thank you kind sirs," he said. "Didnt know what I was to do. Need to get my goods to Bree."
"Then we'll let you continue your journey," Strider said.
"It's past lunch time," the wife said. "Surely you'll eat with us?"
"Alright but introduction are in order. I'm Strider and my companion is Legolas."
"I'm Mitch and this is my wife Emily, my son Liam and me baby daughter Heather."
Emily went to the back of the wagon and tried to reach in and get a blanket as she balanced Heather on her hip. Strider took the baby from her and then helped her climb into the wagon. Emily called Liam over and handed him a blanket. Mitch took a basket from under the drivers seat and went to take the baby from Strider.
"I have her," Strider assured him.
Legolas watched his friend as he interacted with the family. He seemed more at ease here than he did at Elrond's house. The lines of care and worry fell from Strider's face as he played with the baby. The family seemed to be at ease with Strider as well. Legolas watched as Emily spread the blanket on the ground. Strider saw him standing by the wagon and walked over. Heather reached out to Legolas.
"She wants you," Strider said as he handed the toddler to Legolas.
"Oh no," Legolas tried to protested as he held the squirming toddler in his hands.
Strider laughed at the look of fear on his friends face. Heather took a fist full of Legolas's hair and held on. The elf gave Strider a murderous look as they moved over to the blanket. Emily took cheese and bread from the basket and placed it on the blanket. Next out of the basket came a crock that was still warm; inside was a rich stew. Strider finally relented and took Heather back from Legolas.
"Are they real?" Liam asked pointing to Legolas's ears.
"Liam!" Emily scolded.
"It's alright," Legolas smiled seeming to be more at ease with the older boy. "Would you like to touch them and see?"
Liam nodded and walked over to Legolas. He hesitantly reached out and touched the tips of Legolas's pointed ears. Liam laughed and smiled at Legolas. The elf grabbed Liam and had the boy reduced to hysterical laughter as Legolas tickled him. The boy was breathless when Legolas lifted him and set him in his lap. They continued their lunch when Strider said they had to be moving on. They helped get everything loaded back into the wagon. They said their good-byes and were about to leave when Liam ran to Legolas and hugged his leg.
"Do you have to go?"
"I'm afraid so," Legolas said as he knelt at Liam's level. "I'll give you something to remember me by."
Legolas reached to his quiver and pulled out an arrow. He broke off the deadly barb and handed it to the boy. Liam smiled as he caressed the white and brown feathers. Legolas swung up on his horse and they were off. Liam waved as they rode away.
They rode the rest of the day. Strider wanted to arrive at the area where the orcs were sighted before dark. He wanted to see if he could pick up a trail before bedding down for the night. They rode for about three hours when they arrived at the area the farmers had mentioned the night before. The sun was already setting in this northern clime and they had perhaps another hour of light. Legolas scanned the area with his far seeing eyes but saw nothing about.
"Let's move closer to the tree line," Strider suggested.
Legolas nodded and they turned the horses towards the trees. The undergrowth was thick along the edge of the forest and they could barely see past it. Strider walked his horse along the forest edge looking for an indication the orcs had passed. The sun was starting to set when Legolas noticed broken branches five hundred yards from where they were.
"This way," Legolas said and pulled in front of Strider.
Strider followed Legolas and soon could see what the elf saw. The orcs had come through the brambles then tried to replace it to hide their trail. Legolas jumped off his horse and pulled brambles and vine away. The forest beyond was growing dark but a trail was easily visible.
"Do we wait for morning or go in now?" Legolas asked.
"Do you hear anything?"
Legolas stared down the trail and listened. Further into the forest he could hear birds and other animals making for their evening homes. He strained some more and heard a stream further into the forest. There were no other sounds but the ones of the forest.
"I hear nothing."
"Then we go in."
Legolas nodded and went first. Strider didn't argue knowing the elf's vision was far superior to his. They searched the trail for the short time the sun stayed up. As the shadows began to lengthen they started to look for a place to make camp. The area they were in was over grown and offered no place to stop. Legolas suggested down by the stream. Strider agreed and waved the elf ahead. The orcs trail was easy to follow but they could see it hadn't been used in some time. They hoped to find a fresher trail in the morning. As they neared the stream the forest started to clear. Legolas didn't want to camp close to the trail and turn his horse up river. A short distance from the trail was a clearing big enough for them to camp. Legolas took the horses down to the stream while Strider started to gather firewood. The stream wasn't very big but the sound was pleasing as the water tumbled over the rocks. The horses eagerly stuck their noses in to get a drink. When they were done Legolas led them back to were Strider was setting camp. By the time Legolas un-saddled the horse and rubbed them down night had fallen. Strider had a fire going and was toasting some bread.
"I've never come into the forest before," Strider said. "Most people think it's haunted."
"It's old," Legolas said dreamily. "I can hear the trees. They are content to be lazy and live out their days. But I feel that something disturbs them."
Strider looked around at the shadows and shivered. When the toast was ready Strider handed some to Legolas. They ate some jerky and cheese as well. Legolas settled back against his saddle and looked up at the sky. There wasn't much to see since the canopy of the trees extended into the clearing.
"Where do you suppose they are?" Strider asked as he added another log to the fire.
"Deeper in the forest," Legolas replied. "I'll take first watch."
Strider agreed and stretched out on his blankets. He was dreaming of Arwen when he felt an insistent shake on his shoulder. The dream quickly dissipated when he realized Legolas was rousing him. He quickly sat up and looked at the elf.
"What is it?"
"I do not know," Legolas admitted. "But the trees are not happy."
Strider added more logs to the fire and waited. Legolas had a distant look on his face and he knew the elf was listening to the forest. Something was definitely wrong. Even Strider could sense the unease of the surrounding trees. He quickly gathered the saddles and moved to the horses.
"Orcs!" Legolas yelled.
Strider dropped the saddle he was about to throw on the horse and moved quickly to Legolas's side. He knew they would have a few minutes and prepared himself for battle. Legolas stood quietly beside him with an arrow already notched and ready for flight. Time seemed to stand still and Strider swayed back and forth waiting. Sometimes he envied the way elves could wait patiently for battle. They didn't fear much and what they did fear would have men sniveling in terror. Legolas stood like a statue but Strider could see him tense ever so slightly and knew the Orcs were coming. Suddenly he heard them crashing through the forest. A band of seven Orcs burst through the stream and Legolas shot two of them before they got across. The horses neighed but didn't run. Some of the Orcs had bows and were shooting as they ran. Legolas took out one of the archers before he was forced to sling the bow over his shoulder and draw his knives. Two Orcs attacked him and he quickly moved in to engage. The Orcs couldn't counter his lightening moves and Legolas's quickly slit ones throat. The other Orc swung widely and Legolas duck under the swing and rolled. As he rolled he hamstrung the Orc and it screamed. The elf came to his feet and finished the kill. As he did he heard a scream of pain that was no Orcs. He turned to see Strider take an arrow in the shoulder. The other Orc was about to kill its victim when suddenly he had an arrow pierce him between the eyes. The last Orc ducked behind the trees and disappeared. Legolas could hear more Orcs in the distance He quickly moved to Strider side and picked up his sword. He sheathed the ling sword then grabbed Strider and threw him over his shoulder. Strider cried out but Legolas ignored him, they had to get away as quickly as possible. Legolas carried Strider over to the horses and threw Strider over the back of his horse. Legolas jumped on behind him.
Both horses quickly moved out. The one Legolas was riding had neither saddle nor bridle but he wasn't worried. The horses would pick the best path. As the horse pushed into the brambles around the clearing they left an easy trail for the Orcs to follow. There was nothing Legolas could do about it and just hoped they could keep ahead of the Orcs.
Shortly after Legolas disappeared into the woods the Orc band crossed the stream. All they found were their dead and the supplies left behind by their enemy. The leader of the Orc led a search around the clearing to see which direction they went but they found nothing. It was as if the forest had swallowed them leaving no trace.
Legolas listened to hear if they were being followed. When he realized they werent he knew he had to stop to remove the arrow from Strider's shoulder. The horse broke through the underbrush into a clearing and Legolas stopped the one he was ride with his voice. The other horse stopped also not wanting to leave its companion. Legolas slid of the horse as he held Strider in place. When he was finally on the ground he lifted Strider down from the horse. As he lay him on the ground Strider opened his eyes and moaned.
"Where are we?"
"Still in the forest. I stopped to remove the arrow."
"You shouldnt have stopped," Strider insisted. "The Orcs."
"Are not following," Legolas assured him. "I need to remove the arrow. Orc arrows are notoriously filthy."
Strider nodded knowing Legolas was right. The longer the arrow stayed in his shoulder the worse it would get. Before Legolas even attempted to remove the arrow he needed bandages. All they had was his cloak and he pulled one of his knives so he could cut it into strips. When he was satisfied he had enough he moved closer to Strider and looked down on him.
"This will hurt," Legolas warned.
"Cant hurt more than it does."
Without warning Legolas punched Strider on the jaw and knocked him out. He knew that would be more merciful than trying to dig the arrow out while he was awake. Legolas used his Elven blade to cut away the clothing around the arrow. He pulled on the arrow to get an idea how deep it was. The barb could bee seen just below the skin and Legolas slipped his knife along side the arrowhead to try to ease it out. The barb slowly eased out of Strider's shoulder as Legolas carefully pulled. As the arrow came free blood began to flow sluggishly from the wound. Legolas folded a piece of the cloak and placed it against the wound. He put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding. As he did that he listened to the forest. Everything was quiet for which he was grateful. There wasnt much Legolas could do for the wound without their supplies. The best he could do was find some Athelas and then bind the wound. He left Strider to search for the healing plant.
Strider came too with a dull ache in his jaw and an even bigger one in his shoulder. He carefully opened his eyes and looked around. When he didnt see Legolas he became alarmed and tried to sit up. He cried out as his shoulder moved and slumped back to the ground.
"I wouldnt be moving so much if I were you," Legolas said as he walked towards Strider.
Strider stared at Legolas as he moved towards him in the dark. Legolas seemed to shin in the moonlight and Strider had to close his eyes.
"You could have warned me you were going to punch me."
"You would only have tensed and made it worse."
Strider glared at the elf as he knelt on the ground next to him. He saw a plant in Legolas hand and knew it was Athelas. He frowned as Legolas began to chew on some of the leaves.
"We have no water," Legolas said around a mouthful of the plant.
When it was moist enough Legolas spit the leaves into his hand and removed the bandaged from Striders shoulder. He placed the mixture on the wound and put a new bandage over the wound. When that was done Legolas continued to bind the wound when he was finished he went over to check on the horses. The beasts had valiantly pushed through the thorns and shrubs to get away from the Orcs and Legolas wanted to make sure they were all right.
"We will head back for Bree," Legolas said as he ran his hands over the horses legs.
"No," Strider argued. "Head north to Fornost."
"There is nothing left at Fornost," Legolas said around the leaves he was chewing.
Strider watched as Legolas put the Athelas on the horses as well. "Please, Legolas, do as I say."
Legolas looked towards Strider and knew what he had to do. He nodded and Strider relaxed and closed his eyes. Legolas continued with the horses and hoped he didnt regret doing as Strider asked.
Legolas rode through what remained of the night. Strider was a dead weight having passed out over an hour ago. The forest was beginning to clear but Legolas was reluctant to leave it. The trees offered protection and a place to hide. If Orcs attacked them now they were doomed. Legolas took a tighter hold on Strider and tapped his heals to the horses side. The trees ended a mile ahead and Legolas stopped the horses. He watched from the safety of the trees to see if anything menacing was ahead of them. Legolas decided to wait for the sun, which would be up soon, before venturing out. He slid off the horse then gently lifted Strider off. Strider moaned and opened his eyes.
"Where are we?" he asked weakly.
"At the edge of the forest," Legolas answered as he lay Strider on the ground.
"You shouldn't have stopped."
"I want to wait for the sun before venturing out."
"There's no need to fear," Strider said. "The Dunedain patrol here."
"It matters not if they do," Legolas said. "If we are attacked again we are doomed. Better to wait for the sun to drive the Orcs under ground."
Strider nodded and settled back. His shoulder was killing and he knew it would only get worse before they found shelter. Legolas moved away and listened to the forest. The birds were starting to wake from their night's sleep and their song began to fill the forest. It gladdened Legolas to hear them, for if they were singing everything was normal in the forest. He wandered to the edge of the forest and looked out. Just barely within his far ranging sight he could make out another ruin. This was the citadel of Angmar, the home of the Witch King. The King had come down from the north and began to destroy everything in his wake. The Battle of Fornost was the last time Legolas had been in this area. The Witch King had won that battle pushing men and elves back to the south loosing the Northern Kingdom to an usurper. Later this king was offered one of the nine rings for men crafted by Sauron and was made a ringwraith. The wraiths that were beginning to stir again where the lesser ones and Legolas knew when the Witch King rose again the One Ring would be found. As Legolas watched he saw nothing out of the ordinary for miles. He decided on his course of action and moved back to Strider. Again the pain of the wound proved too much and Strider was unconscious. Legolas decided that was for the best as he checked the wound. The bleeding had stopped but the elf could see the wound was enflamed. There wasn't time now to look for more Athelas and Legolas replaced the bandages. He lifted Strider onto the other horse then swung up behind him. Legolas pulled Strider back against his chest then rested Strider's head on his shoulder. When Legolas felt Strider was secure he rode out of the forest.
Someone noted the elfs progress across the field. The observer could tell the elf was caring something in front of him but he was to far away to see what it was. As the elf made his way quickly across the field it was noted where he entered the forest. As the elf disappeared into the woods the observer disappeared as well.
Legolas felt much better once he was inside the forest again. If his memory served him Fornost wasn't too much further. He doubted there would be anything left of the ancient city but there was nowhere else to go. Why he hadn't gone back to Bree he couldn't decide. Something in Strider's tone when he said to keep going north had convinced him. The riderless horse moved closer to Legolas as they continued into the forest. His horse stumbled over a root and Legolas clutched Strider tight as he struggled to stay on. When the horse had its feet under it again Legolas shifted Strider to a different position. As he was doing that both horses raised the heads with ears pointed forward. Legolas listened and could hear movement in the forest. Suddenly the horse he was riding filled his lungs and neighed loudly. Legolas waited patiently for whoever was there to show themselves. He wasn't surprised when five men rode up and surrounded him.
"Greetings," one of the men called. "You are far from home."
"Once this used to all be ours," Legolas answered.
"But better men hold it now," another sneered.
Legolas regarded him with hooded eyes but made no reply. All the men were well armed but he could tell they lived rough. All of their clothing was well mended but worn. Their horses were well kept and Legolas knew they depended on the animals to get around.
"Cordan, enough," said the one who had greeted him. "I am Peter and these are my men. We guard this forest for our lord."
"We aren't just men," Cordan boasted. "The blood of Numenor flows in our veins."
"As does the haughtiness that destroyed your realm," Legolas remarked.
Cordan went to draw his sword but Peter moved quickly to his side and backhanded him. "This is not how our lord wishes us to act." Cordan rubbed his cheek as Peter moved back to his original position. "We offer you protection and help for your friend."
"It would be most appreciated, I am Legolas."
"Welcome to Fornost in the name of my Lord Aragorn."
"Whom did you say?" Legolas asked surprised.
"We do not reveal his name to many but the elves have always been friends of the Dunedain."
"Friends we are," Legolas said as he pulled back the hood to reveal Strider.
"Aragorn," Peter said in shock and moved his horse along side Legolas's. "What happened."
"We were attacked by Orcs between here and Bree. I was forced to leave behind our supplies in our escape and have been unable to care for the wound properly. He told me to come here."
"Quickly we must get him back to camp," Peter said as he waved the others forward.
Peter didn't even bother to ask if Legolas could hold Aragorn for a few more miles. He knew the strength of the elves. Peter rode along with Legolas and studied the elf. He wasn't one of Elrond's people but he wasn't sure if he was a follower of Galadriel either.
"Where did you meet Aragorn?" Peter asked to draw the elf out.
"At Imladris," Legolas answered. "Strider and Gandalf saved me from the Orcs."
"The Orcs are close to Rivendell?" another rider asked.
"That is Henry," Peter said. "One of my better scouts."
"No this happened on my way from the Greenwood," Legolas explained. "I was sent by my father to ask for help."
"We heard rumors things were stirring again and Dul-Guldor," Henry said.
"More than just stirrings," Legolas said. "I was sent to warn Lord Elrond."
"Mirkwood has always been a breeding place for the dark lord," Cordan sneered.
"You are lucky I have accepted your hospitality," Legolas said coldly. "Or you would be dead."
"Cordan!" Peter yelled when he saw the younger man get angry. "Ride ahead and warn the others. Tell them to prepare a place for Aragorn and get everything ready to tend his wound."
Cordan reluctantly did as he was told. The rest of the ride was done in silence. The other men were watchful as they continued through the forest. Legolas noticed the land was starting to rise as they went. The trees became larger as they moved further into the forest and Legolas was surprised to see places of concealment high in the branches. Their journey came to and end at the top of the knoll. More men emerged from huts, which were camouflaged amongst the trees, greeted them. Legolas handed Strider to the two men that stood next to his horse. Once Strider was out of his hands he stretched his back then jumped from his horse. The two Elven horses looked out of place amongst the rough-coated horses of the men.
"I will take them," Henry said.
Legolas whispered to both horses and they followed Henry without being led. He went to enter the hut where they had taken Strider but was stopped by Cordan.
"He is with his own kind now," Cordan said. "He no longer needs your help."
"Cordan!" bellowed a voice from behind Legolas. He turned to see a giant of a man walking towards them. "Your attitude leaves much to be desired."
"He's only an elf."
Legolas quickly grabbed the man's hand as he took a swing at Cordan. "There is no need for that."
"The elf shows you more courtesy than you deserve. Now be gone!"
"Yes, Rothgar," Cordan said and moved away.
"I apologize for the lad," Rothgar said. "His parents were killed last year and he hasn't gotten over it. So you're the one who brought Strider."
"Yes," Legolas said.
"They will take good care of him," Rothgar said. "Now come. You must be hungry."
He led Legolas to a small clearing were a large fire was being tended. On a spit over the fire was a large haunch of venison. There were some men sitting around eating and Legolas could see they were all well armed.
"What you see is all that is left of the rangers of the North," Rothgar said. "We guard the small towns from bandits and other evil."
"I know of the Dunedain," Legolas said.
"I'm sure you do," Rothgar smiled. "What brings a wood elf north?"
"Strider was to prove something to me," Legolas said.
"Was he now," Rothgar laughed. "And I bet I know what that is. He doesn't act like a king does he."
"Aragorn doesn't wish to be king, but he will if he must."
"Humans are odd," Legolas said. "They run from their destiny."
"Yes I suppose we are," Rothgar laughed.
They ate in silence as Legolas watched the activity of the men. Most of them were seasoned older warriors. There were a few younger ones like Cordan but not many. As they ate Peter came to tell them Aragorn would be all right. He had a slight fever but would recover fully with rest. Legolas excused himself and went to check on Aragorn. Rothgar watched as the elf disappeared between the trees.
"Thats no ordinary elf," he commented.
"No he isn't," Peter confirmed. "Aragorn woke while we were tending his wound and asked for Legolas. I told him he was safe. He made me swear to guard the prince since he couldn't"
"Prince!" Cordan scoffed. "That's no prince."
"Do you always eavesdrop on the conversation of your elders?" Peter asked.
"I didnt intend too, I came over to ask about Aragorn and heard you say the elf was a prince."
"His father is King Thranduil of Mirkwood," Peter said. "The King fought against the dark lord in the last alliance. You'd do well to treat the prince with respect. He fought at the Battle of Fornost to help win back our kingdom."
"He said he knew of the Dunedain," Rothgar laughed. "He probably knew the first one."
Legolas walked back to the hut where Strider was. He entered to find another of the Dunedain watching over Strider. When he saw Legolas he stood and gave a slight bow before he left. Legolas looked at Strider and knew he could no longer call him by that name. Aragorn began to stir and Legolas sat in the chair at the side of the bed. Aragorn finally opened his eyes and Legolas smiled.
"What are you smiling at?"
"It would appear our roles are reversed."
"Yes but you were hurt a lot worse," Aragorn sighed.
"But I heal much faster," Legolas pointed out.
"Did you have any trouble finding them?"
"Actually they found me," Legolas admitted. "I knew someone was watching when we entered the forest."
"They are good men," Aragorn said. "It grieves me that they have to live like this."
"The day will come when The Dunedain will reclaim his kingdom," Legolas said. "I do not look forward to that time since it will mean Sauron will have gained power again. But that day was set in motion before I was born and there is nothing any of us can do to stop it."
"If my ancestor hadnt been weak then it never would have happened," Aragorn said angrily.
"We can not know what happened with Isildur," Legolas reminded him. "We were not there."
"I know what happened. Elrond has told me."
"Sometimes Elrond forgets the power The One Ring has. There is no telling what would have happened if he had picked it up instead."
"So they have convinced you I am Isildur's heir?"
"I don't understand."
"I realized it when we helped the family that had a broken wheel."
"All I had to do was help fix a wheel to convince you," Aragorn teased. "I could have done that back in Rivendell."
"Anybody can fix a wheel just as anybody can wear a ring," Legolas smiled. "It's how you do it that counts."
"Why do elves have to be so confusing?" Aragorn growled.
"To make men's lives more interesting," Legolas said as he stood up. "I'll leave you to rest."
Legolas stepped out of the hut to find Cordan waiting for him. The elf didn't know why the very young human disliked him but he figured he was about to find out.
"You think you're better than us," Cordan sneered.
"I am no better or worse than you are."
"So why did you hide the fact that youre a prince?"
"Would it have made a difference in the way I was treated? I think not. My being a prince amongst the elves has no meaning to men. The same holds true for Aragorn. Just because he is Isildur's heir he has no influence over the elves. He will not be my king."
"When Aragorn becomes king he will rule all of Middle Earth! You'd do well to remember that elf."
"And you wish some of that power for yourself," Legolas concluded. "Man has always sought power and look what it's gotten him. You were never content with what you had."
"And why should we," Cordan said angrily. "The gods granted you immortality while men live short lives. We are forced to gain what we want quickly to enjoy it in our later life. Why the gods with held immortality from us I don't know."
"I have no answers for you," Legolas said. "But if you only help Aragorn to regain his throne only to get power for yourself it is destined to fail."
"Legolas is right," Aragorn said.
"You shouldn't be up," Legolas scolded as he grabbed his friend around the waist.
"Cordan I do not desire power," Aragorn explained. "When the time comes for me to claim what is mine I will do it with a heavy heart. I don't feel I have the will to resist what my ancestors couldn't"
"Then why resist it!" Cordan said angrily. "The One Ring could be used against its creator."
"No, Cordan," Rothgar said as he walked over. "The Ring corrupts whoever it touches."
"You don't know that!" Cordan argued.
"The old histories and the elves told us," Aragorn said.
"Oh yes the all powerful and knowing elves," Cordan sneered. "The Lady of Lothlorian hides behind her magics while Elrond sits happily in Rivendell and does nothing as Orcs attack human settlements."
"You speak ill of someone you do not know," Legolas said in a deadly voice.
"Oh I know how elves are," Cordan sneered. "They are only worried about themselves and care nothing for others."
"If that were so then your King would be dead," Legolas said angrily. "If I hadn't been there the Orcs would have killed him."
"It's true, Cordan, Legolas saved me," Aragorn said. "I owe him my life."
"But it should have been one of us!" Cordan said. "You never let us guard you. You're always going off by yourself leaving the rest of us behind."
"Is that what this is about?" Rothgar asked laughing. "You wish to go adventuring?"
"Yes!" Cordan yelled.
"Sounds like someone I know," Aragorn said looking at Legolas with a smile.
"So next time I can come with you?"
"Yes," Aragorn said. "But you may regret it."
Cordan smiled and thanked Aragorn before walking away. Legolas got a bad feeling about what just happened. Cordan changed his attitude quickly when Aragorn began to question him. Legolas knew that the lure of power is what drove the young man and not loyalty. He also knew that Aragorn would never believe him if he voiced his fears so he kept them to himself as he helped Aragorn back to bed.
After settling Aragorn for the night Legolas remained to guard him. The elf lay back on his pallet and let his mind drift. The hut around him slowly disappeared and was replaced by a stand of birches. Legolas began to walk amongst the trees listening. It was twilight and he could hear an owl in the distance. He heard someone walking behind him and turned. He wasn't surprised to see the twins.
"So you have found him," Lindon said.
"Guard him well," Himdel said.
"But most off all be his friend," Lindon added. "The path set for Aragorn son of Arathorn will be difficult."
"I will gladly be that," Legolas smiled. "Can you tell me anything about his path?"
"Nine companions there will be," the twins said in unison. "Together they will have the strength to oppose the Dark Lord. But only one may have the will to be his destroyer."
After saying that the twins disappeared and Legolas found himself back in the hut with Aragorn. He stood and walked to the door and looked out. The moonlight was shinning through the trees as Legolas pondered the words of the twins. If their prediction was correct then the Dark Lord could be defeated. If that came to be the Third age of Middle Earth would be at an end and there would be peace. Legolas hoped that day would come soon.
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