Chapter 10

Disclaimer: JRR Tolkein wrote the books: New Line Cinema made the movies. All characters in Middle-earth, save Lupa, belong to them.

First a few responses to you, the readers:

Ithilien - *hugs for you* Thank you so much for coming to read and I'm glad you liked it. I must admit I can sometimes live in fear of The Attack of Mary-Sue!!

Guardian – Yeah, kick Elfie, eh? *hugs*

Rosie & Kleptomaniac0 – I'm very happy you approve of my little Lupa. She's quite the people person, but not one to mess with!!

Daydream - *Legolas grabs his necklace back and pouts*

PuterPatty – My Muse and I struggled with that line for quite some time. *dances* I'm SO pleased you think it came out right!

Jay of Lasgalen - *grins* Angst? Moi?*chuckles at the quote from The Hobbit* I loved that bit…

Karo - *waves* Greetings from the UK!

Thanks also out to C.R., Mouse, musicgrl, Syvia (aargh…crossovers…*collapse in small heap*) and everyone else for reviewing. *hugs*

This is the final chapter in this interlude of the War of the Ring. I'm sad that it's over now, because it's been fun to write and you've all been great & supportive in reviewing. *hands out one final set of vouchers - "One free Return Ticket for the reviewer to Middle-earth, non-exchangeable, non-refundable. Choose to stay in Mirkwood, Rivendell, Lothlorien, Gondor or the Shire with the host of your choice - Aragorn, Legolas, Frodo, Elrond or Haldir"*

I hope to write another LOTR piece some time soon (or Legolas will get bored!)...I have a big original project on the back burner that's awaiting my attention, too… Until next time then- namarie! ^_^ I will continue to be here, reading everyone else's stories…

Lupa and Legolas came sparring out of the keep - much to the disgust of Gimli, who was still nursing a slight head wound, but in truth was much more concerned about the notches in his beloved axe. Sword rang on long-knife: the wolf-girl laughed as she twisted and swiped at the elf, pulling her blows neatly.

"Is this what passes for chivalrous behaviour amongst elves, Master Legolas?" Gimli demanded, as a well-placed elvish boot had Lupa sprawling in the rubble. Lupa rolled and her leg shot out - Legolas tripped and ended up sat opposite her in the dirt.

Then Gimli laughed, out loud. "I like your style, my lady!" he said to Lupa, who was sheathing her sword and grinning. "You can come and fight with us at any time."

Legolas regained his feet swiftly, looking slightly put out: like cats, elves are accustomed to landing surely and gracefully with both heels to the ground. But he held out his hand to Lupa to help her to her feet.

"I see you are feeling better," said Gandalf, from behind them. He had come up, as he often did, unannounced and wreathed in blue smoke from his pipe. "That is all for the best. We ride for Isengard as soon as we can. I hear strange tales out of the Old Forest, and I feel that Saruman is overdue a visit from me."

The determined set of his shoulders seemed to emphasize his new white robes.

"Saruman," said Lupa, "is no longer the only White Wizard that roams Middle-earth."

She glanced across at the mild amusement in the old wizard's eyes. "I hear that he has ravaged ancient woodlands. The beasts that fled from the grounds of Isengard tell fearful tales of burning and ruin."

"He will yet live to regret his despoiling of trees," said Gandalf, darkly, and Legolas gave him an odd look. "Come now. Theoden waits upon us at supper."

Aragorn, sitting at Theoden's right, felt a strong sense of satisfaction as he looked down the long table at the people gathered there. The last time he had seen this table, it had been upended and shoved against an interior door, with Haldir and several Rohirrim leaning their shoulders against it - now Haldir sat, looking (admittedly) slightly ill at ease, with the men of the Mark and two of his remaining archers, on the right side of the king. Legolas, Gimli and Lupa were sat by Gandalf on the left side. The elf was watching Gimli's attack on a piece of bread with one delicate eyebrow arched in disapproval - but when he looked to his other side and regarded Lupa worrying a roast haunch of rabbit, his expression became quite unreadable.

Aragorn suppressed a smile. He was very glad to see the disparate members of the Fellowship showing signs of regaining their old cameraderie. The wolf-claw pendant hung at Legolas's neck had not gone unnoticed by the Ranger, either.

He looked down at the silver necklace that Arwen had given to him at their parting.

Maybe sometimes, we all need someone to fight for. It is easy, in war, for the fight to become so big that we can forget why we are fighting at all, he thought. We can lose ourselves in that moment where the war is all that matters and not why it is being fought. Perhaps it is better, sometimes, to remember the smaller things…

He felt bright elvish eyes upon him, and realised that Legolas had noticed his preoccupation. The Mirkwood elf inclined his head, very briefly, as if he had heard Aragorn's thoughts and was agreeing. Then he turned back to Lupa, who was choking on a chip of bone, thumped her on the back with one long hand and rebuked Gimli for laughing -

Aragorn thought of Arwen, and the spectre of Elrond Half-Elven rose up unbidden in his mind. Of course there are some wars that have to be fought alone…

Gandalf stood, rapped the end of his staff on the table.

"Theoden King," he said, addressing the monarch, "your people have won a great victory here. But this is by no means the end. Saruman awaits, though his forces are scattered, and he is still powerful. Therefore I go to Isengard, and all who wish may go with me."

Lupa spat out the bone chip (Legolas, smacking hard between her shoulder-blades, had eventually managed to dislodge it) took several deep breaths, and said: "I will ride with you, Mithrandir, if my poor horse will consent to carry me."

Gandalf chuckled. "If he will not, I am sure some horse of Rohan will," he said. "But I am surprised at your decision."

"Surely you would not turn such a capable warrior away, Mithrandir," Haldir said, with perhaps a hint of sarcasm, and Eowyn glowered icily at him from her seat next to her uncle.

"I am honoured that you call me a capable warrior," said Lupa sweetly, turning sharp eyes on Haldir. "I shall be sure and ride especially close to you when we travel, that I may guard you better."

Haldir did his best to ignore this comment, and chose instead to cast a haughty gaze upon Legolas, who looked as if he was trying to hide a smile and not managing it very well. Lupa had no such pretensions and chuckled.

"Very well then," said Gandalf. "Rest well tonight! Tomorrow the White Rider goes forth from Helm's Deep."

Lupa sat alone on the wall, looking upwards in the moonlight. It was that time of morning before the dawn begins to pale in the sky, and the stars were burning brightly.

"Are you that much enamoured of us that you emulate us to the extent of not sleeping?"

Legolas was leaning in the doorway, his head on one side, blond hair seeming white under the moon.

"I would emulate any creature, fair or foul, that can sleep with its eyes open and so keep watch," Lupa said. "But I was not trying to be an elf. I was merely looking at the moon."

Legolas considered the sky for a long moment: then he sat down at her side and said, "I hope you are not planning to follow myself and Aragorn all the way to Mordor…"

"Is that where you are going?"

"It is possible."

"Then you need not fear," Lupa said, "for I have no wish to go to that dark place. I will go to Isengard and then into Fangorn, for I have always wanted to see it -"

"As had I."

" - and then I shall return to Lorien, where perhaps the war will not reach me, even if only for a little while." Lupa looked across at the elf-prince then and smiled, a little sadly. "I wonder sometimes whether my time on Middle-earth is as limited as yours," she said. "But you can at least leave with dignity. Me? I fully expect to see my skin stretched on the walls of Bree a few brief years after you elves leave."

Legolas frowned. "Perhaps you could go with us -"

She was shaking her head and laughing. "Perhaps you could come and visit me, once in a while. There is no magic in me. I have not bourne a magic ring, I am no elf, I do not wield the sacred fire. I am just Lupa of Mirkwood, but I will find a way to escape Middle-earth before its end."

Legolas chuckled softly at her vehemence. "When you do," he said, "remember me and be glad."

Lupa looked at him seriously: "When I do," she replied, "I will come back and fetch you away from the Havens…and then you can come and live with me for a while."

She flicked the tip of his wolf-claw necklace with one finger. "So long as you wear this," she said. "I will be able to find you. In this world or any other."

"Be careful," said Legolas, laughing. "I shall start feeling hunted!"

"You should," the wolf-girl teased. "But you will be safe enough tomorrow. Remember that tomorrow I have promised Haldir that I will ride with him, and he should be glad to have me - the last skin-changing wolf in Middle-Earth!"

They rode forth from Helm's Deep the next morning, and the adventure of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli that followed is well-known and loved by hobbit-children many generations removed from Frodo Baggins. Lupa of Mirkwood remained true to her word. At the meeting on the ruins of Isengard, she turned her horse and rode back into the forest. Much to Legolas's surprise, Haldir of Lorien rode with her, saying that he would return to his people in the Golden Wood, and would be glad to accompany the wolf-girl as far as she would have him: Lupa merely showed him her white teeth and answered that he was welcome to ride with her, as long as he did not expect good conversation from such a lowly mortal as herself. To everybody's surprise, Haldir seemed to find this most amusing.

So it was that Lupa and Legolas of Mirkwood parted ways before the Great War: and little is to be said of the aftermath save that Lupa did indeed fulfil her wish and leave the shores of Middle-earth before the Age of Man took hold. But Strider the Ranger, King of Gondor and friend to Prince Legolas, knew that the elf never removed the necklace, and was often to be seen gazing out towards the Sea, one hand at his neck, as if waiting.

Hmmm! I may just have to write some more about Lupa and Legolas some time. I've even intrigued myself!!