Earthdragon: hey, it's great to see you again for the sequel, I really look forward to your comments on the story! Barathon is a problem yes and he will certainly be causing trouble later on - how? can't say LOL. Legolas indeed does have a few social issues with his family - he's just not used to having a family, still can't relax in their presence.

Ninde: me alegro de que estés al día - mis historias tienden a ser largas - como te pierdes luego te puedes agobiar! LOL

Christine: hello! OK, regarding Legolas' apparent inability to deal with his family - he is still learning how to do this. Not enough time has passed for him to feel completely comfortable with them, with the exception of Handir. He's getting there though! You are welcome to giving Hwindo a cameo in your story and having it translated into Italian would be awesome! I'd love to see that happen. Let me know if you would like to mail me about it :)

Guest: I will indeed continue, I am glad you are enjoying it so far!

Rita Orca: glad you're enjoying it, and that your exams have finished!

GB: Yes, he must! But will he? Or will it be someone else? :))



Chapter Four: The Company



Idhrenohtar and Ram en' stood together, and a little further away, the rest of The Company talked quietly amongst themselves. All they knew was that their return to duty had been postponed, for that was all Elladan had told them, albeit he had said so with an enigmatic smile on his otherwise frozen face.

Koron en' Naur spoke quietly with Galadan and the Noldo Glamohtar, whose father he had met and fought beside upon the plains of the Dagorlad. Next to them, Lindohtar and Rhawthir murmured their own suppositions, their arms and hands more expressive than the Noldor and the Sindar. Only Hwindohtar and Rafnohtar were missing and would surely come together from the fortress.

Other eyes were upon them though, for the warriors, instructors and novices looked on in curiosity and some, with just a little jealousy. There were hidden eyes, too, from the far side of the courtyard, Turion's blue eyes watching in pride as he spotted Legolas striding towards those he had chosen for his patrol, a Noldorin lieutenant at his side.

"Good morning!" said Hwindohtar, loud and strong, and The Company stood to attention for the first time before him for this was not their childhood friend, nor was it the young novice warrior they had met and come to respect. This was Captain Hwindohtar, his uniform marked him as such yet more than this it was his bearing; tall and proud, a subtle smile upon his face they had not seen for too long, a look of such strength and confidence upon his singular face that infused them with a sense of safety and trust, in spite of his scant years.

Rafnohtar took his place beside the expectant elves and stood to attention, his breath baited for the words that would now surely change the course of their lives.

"As Lieutenant Rafnohtar has already told you, your postings have been cancelled," he began, and then took a deep breath, taking his time and measuring his words. "You have all now, been officially designated to a new patrol. This patrol will be commanded by myself."

He suppressed the urge to stop and allow them to manifest their joy, his joy, for he could see the pent up energy, the wide eyes and trembling lips; but no, to do so would be to falter, fall into the joy that was clawing at his defences, pleading to be set free.

"My First Lieutenant will be Dorhinen," he said, his eyes watching the minute spark of surprise behind the blue, Sindarin eyes of Korn en' Naur. "My Second Lieutenant will be Galadan," he smiled for the first time as he watched understanding dawn on the Sinda's face. He had been officially accepted into The Company.

"Lieutenant Elladan will replace either my First or Second Lieutenant should the need arise. Lieutenant Galadan, I would like you to commence command training with Idhrenohtar whenever your duties permit. With a sideways glance, Legolas watched as his friend's eyes bulged. "Elladan," continued the commander, "now is the time for you to put your project into motion and I expect your briefing on the matter of your warrior healers at your earliest convenience.

A stunned nod was all the reply he got as he continued to reveal their objective and destiny.

"Our immediate posting is to Imladris." A gasp escaped Elladan yet he quickly schooled himself and stood to attention once more, somewhat embarrassed. "There, we will continue our training. I must complete the Master of the Five as my king commands, and every one of you must complete a Master in at least one weapon. We will learn strategy, tactics, perfect your aerial skills and we will train, and then we will train again. We have one year, brothers. One year to become the best we can be. This is the birth of The Company, the best of Greenwood's warriors, the strongest of mind, courageous beyond the norm, dedicated to the service of our people even unto our own deaths if that is what it takes," he whispered. "You are my chosen few for once this is done, we will return to the Forest and protect her, as Yavanna has ordered it, as the Silvan people require of me, and should our commanders require our aid, they will have it."

He breathed deeply and looked to the floor, before asking them the question he knew he must.

"You are free to accept this posting - or decline it but know this," he emphasised, his green eyes sharpening somewhat unnervingly. "Should you accept, you will give your lives to this cause. There can be no half-hearted attempt. The Forest calls us, the Silvan people call us and I - can do no more than follow. My question is - will you follow me?"

Stunned silence followed as The Company stood ramrod still and the warriors that had stopped to listen did likewise, their eyes now moving to the Company with baited breath.

Idhrenohtar stepped forward and squared himself. "I will follow you to the very pits of the vortex!" he thundered, and then stepped back as Ram en' Ondo spoke. "I have always followed you - I always will, he said simply with a smile."

Legolas' jaw clenched and he desperately clung to his self-control as one by one, the rest of The Company swore their allegiance and when it was Elladan's turn, the Noldo smiled as he spoke. "There is something about you, something we have all felt yet could never understand. I will follow you, Legolas son of Lassiel, of Thranduil, of the Forest; Beriannor - my friend," he smiled, his own eyes brighter than they had been.

There was complete silence for a scant few seconds before a roar resounded around the courtyard - not from The Company but from the onlookers whose fists cut through the air, clenched with passion, a new light in their wide eyes.

Hwindo's young face lifted to meet them, only this time he was smiling.

"Then The Company is born and you are mine and I am yours. We will make this forest safe once more, wherever we go, whatever we do - whatever it takes - we of The Company, will see it done. Stand at ease," he said, and then braced himself to meet the wall of warriors that moved towards him, and then shielded him from the onlookers who smiled and shared knowing nods.

"When do we ride?"

"How long will we be there?"

They were all asking questions and Legolas held up his hands for silence, smiling as he did so.

"It is a dream, Legolas - more than I could ever have wished for…" said Lindohtar in awe, looking around him to the others.

"I have never felt such purpose in my life," said Glamohtar as he stepped forward. "Such a surge of pride and purpose I cannot describe with words. This is my life's work, my path. I bless the day I met you, Captain," he said with determination, his grey eyes sparkling.

"As do I!" said Lindohtar, and then Rhrawthir.

"We have always known - and yet we are no less joyful now that it is done," said Idhrenohtar, still reeling with the knowledge that he would train as lieutenant.

"And I," said Koron en' Naur, am thankful to my king that he assigned me to you, Legolas, grandson of Oropher. I did not want it and yet he insisted and I wonder now if fate has not had a hand in this. I was proud to protect my Lord Oropher, and I am honoured now, to serve you."

By the time they had finished, Legolas stood rigid and bright-eyed, unable to speak for long moments.

"For today, you are at the mercy of our tailors and when they have finished, you will be at mine. I will introduce you to our standard training routine, one I expect you all to carry out every day, no exceptions." With a glance at the sun, he turned back to them. "In two hours' time I want you measured and fed and standing before me in naught but your leggings and boots, understood?"

"Aye!" they thundered and Legolas' gaze lingered on them for a while before he nodded, and then watched as they were rushed away by the waiting tailors and seamstresses. There were new uniforms to craft, uniforms that no one had ever seen before.

Turning, he breathed deeply for he had just given his first briefing as a captain, and he rather thought it had gone well. From the other side of the courtyard, he spotted Turion watching him once more. The Sinda nodded slowly, and then turned away to his own group of novice warriors, leaving Legolas with a satisfying sense of belonging, of profound gratitude and an ever growing sense of purpose. He remembered the captain's penchance for training new recruits - indeed he had given up a command so that he could do so and yet, with everything that had happened, when Legolas' identity had been discovered, Celegon had wrenched from Turion a promise, a promise to accept his command and serve as captain in the city in exchange for the right to take Legolas out on his first call of duty as a novice warrior, so that he could train him personally, and Hwindo would for ever be grateful for his sacrifice.

Walking somewhat absently into his designated office on the ground floor of the barracks, he sat behind his desk for the first time and looked around the well-appointed room. The desk was spacious and the two chairs that sat before it were plush. On one side of the room was a hearth with a sofa and chairs, and on the other was a simple bed, one he knew other captains used regularly in their own offices, especially when returning from patrols, or when there was a crisis afoot.

There were bookshelves behind him, as yet empty for he had not had time to fill them, indeed his desk was bare, with only an ink well and a candelabra to decorate it. He would bring his own diaries tomorrow, and procure for himself candles and parchment, for he had much writing to do, and letters to send. All that was in his way now, was the dinner appointment in the king's quarters this evening and then he would be free, free of distracting duties and he could truly focus on his upcoming mission.

'Duty', he had called his family a 'duty.' It did not sit well with him, indeed had he not enjoyed the evening he had spent with his father? The lunch with his siblings? Why was he still avoiding them? He asked himself in exasperation, yet the question was rhetorical, indeed he had asked it only as a means of berating himself. He avoided them because in their presence, he felt inadequate, clumsy - he felt like a child.

He started as a simply-dressed Silvan elf stood in the doorway, waiting for permission to enter.

"What is it?" asked Hwindo, standing at his empty desk.

"Captain, Sir. I have been asked to assist you with the protocols, Sir."

"What protocols?" asked Hwindo with a scowl.

"Our rules and customs, Sir. Here, the Inner Circle have unwritten laws I am here to help you understand."

"Why can they not just give me a list!" he asked.

"I am also your assistant, Sir, if you will have me of course."

"Assistant? Why would I need an assistant?" asked Legolas with a scowl. He did not want a servant - he was not royalty.

"Well Sir. You will be writing reports and missives you will need delivering safely. You will need to find warriors and suppliers, you will need your weapons tending and your boots cleaning. You will need sustenance when you are too busy to attend the mess, or a fire on a cold morning - like today.

"I can do that myself," he said, as his eyes roved over the elf that stood patiently at the door. "It is a waste of your abilities in the field, warrior."

"I can no longer serve in the field, Captain. 'Tis why I am here; it is the only way I can still be of service to my land, by helping others to do so…"

Legolas turned and walked towards the short, Silvan warrior. He could see it now, for the elf stood slightly to one side.

"What happened?" asked Hwindo.

"An arrow in the back, hit me below a vertebra and left irreversible nerve damage. I can no longer move fast enough to be of active service."

"Is this the case with other, 'assistants' here at the Inner Circle?" he asked.

"Yes. We are all ex-combat."

"You dress as civilians…" observed Hwindo.

"Yes - what would the point be, Sir, of using our uniforms?"

Hwindo turned back to the elf and walked towards him, his eyes fixed on the blue eyes of the Silvan.

"The point, warrior - is that you are still a warrior. You cannot fight in the field but you can still fight, by helping others as you have already said. I say you are a veteran and you are a warrior - it would please me - if you would use your uniform."

The Silvan stared back at the strange captain, considering his words. "If it would please you, Captain…"

But Hwindo was already speaking. "It would please me, and it will please you. You are a warrior! I know you are proud of that - show - that you are proud."

The warrior stood wide-eyed and pensive, and Hwindo rather thought he did not know what to do with himself.

"What is your name?" he asked softly.


"Antien, I need some things, if you would."

"Of course Captain."

"Parchment, ink, quills, and there are chests in my quarters at the fortress that must be brought here."

"I will see to it, Captain."

"Hwindo simply nodded, his mind already returning to his own agenda. Antien was already at the door but he stopped and hesitated, before turning to face his new Captain.

"It is a pleasure to serve the Warlord, Captain."

Hwindo looked up and smiled. "It is a pleasure to be assisted by a veteran of this army."

Shock was clearly written on the Silvan warrior's face, but he said no more as he bowed and left the room. Within moments, Hwindo was back at his table, his mind racing and his hand itching to write.






"Why me?" asked Koron en' Naur, almost to himself as he held his arms out to the side so that the seamstress could measure his flanks.

Idhrenohtar turned to face him. "You are the most experienced lieutenant. You could have been Captain yourself had you wanted a command."

Koron en' looked to the floor, remembering the years of misery after the death of Oropher, of what he had perceived at the time, as his fault. Yet time had tempered his guilt, and Thranduil's posting of him as Legolas' bodyguard had been the final step on the road to self-forgiveness. He had finally come to terms with it, had found his self-esteem once more.

"I am Sindarin, and he is the Silvan Warlord - will they not expect our lieutenant to be Silvan?"

"If they do," said Idhreno, the hint of a warning in his voice, "he will inform them of their folly. He is not here to repeat the mistakes of the past. To him there is no Sindar-Silvan split - only warriors and their merits - your roots are indifferent to him."

Koron looked long and hard into his comrade's face and finally he nodded, and then a slow smile spread on his face, wiping the frown away and totally transforming it.

"I am honoured. I will not fail you."

"I know," said Idhreno. "And I will not fail you," he smiled, and then squeezed Koron's shoulder, before the tailor tutted and his hand slipped away and back to the front where it was promptly measured.

"Poor Lindo," scoffed Koron. "I think she likes him," he nudged Idhreno in the side as he watched the Silvan seamstress measure his waist, her softly-smiling face a little too close to the Bard Warrior.

"Pretty lad," smirked Idhreno as he turned around and held his arms out to the side.

"Ram en' now," said Idhreno with a sly smile, "is having a grand time," he laughed now as he watched the Wall of Stone smile as the tailor tried and failed to reach the top of his bicep.

"He will need a box," snickered Rhrawthir from the other side of Koron.

Glamohtar snorted a little too loud and Galadan smiled at the unusual display of humour. As for himself, his eyes travelled from Koron en' to Ram en', from Lindohtar to Rhawthir, and then to Rafnohtar and Idhrenohtar; The Company, he mused, the Warlord's elves, a multi-cultural band of warriors with the rare privilege of fighting where they would, commanded only by their captain. This was a new beginning, one Galadan understood for what it was - from this day, he was bound to these elves, perhaps even unto death, who could say. The only puzzle still in his mind was the name he would be assigned. The Valar see fit, he mused, that it would be a dignified one!

Two hours later, eight elves stood to attention before the captain. Four Silvans, two Noldor and two Sindar.

All of them, including the commander, stood in their black breaches and boots, their chests and arms bare save for the bands upon their right biceps that marked some of them as master warriors.

Hwindo walked slowly past them, his eyes lingering here and there, until he stood before them once more and spoke.

"Some of you are lacking muscle tone and that must be remedied, for once we begin our master training in Imladris, you will suffer more than is mete. You must prepare yourselves for that, and we start now.

Forget everything you learned as a novice - forget the standard training routines for I am changing them. Keep your minds open and do not judge lightly - execute my instructions down to the last letter - do you understand?" he asked.

"Aye!" shouted the warriors of The Company and so, Hwindohtar began to explain what would become the talk of the barracks and eventually, the forest beyond.






"I would celebrate with you this night but duty calls me away. Tomorrow though, no one will stop us. We will dine and have wine and sing amongst the trees - that is, if you can, for some of you may wish to crawl home and hybernate like the brown bears of the Evergreen Wood…"

"Never! Nay!" they shouted and then smiled as they slapped each other upon the backs, and Hwindo smiled a sly smile, briefly catching Elladan's knowing eyes as he did so. They had bathed as they groaned and complained and massaged sore muscles, to which Hwindo had laughed and told them that this was but the beginning of their torture.

"Then I will see you tomorrow at the seventh hour. Eat well, sleep well, for tomorrow will be much worse than today," he said plainly, and then smirked and left together with Elladan for the barracks.

"Imladris," mused Elladan out loud. "It will be good to be home for a while."

Hwindo half turned to his friend as they walked. "You only have five more years leave, Elladan…"

"Yes," he conceded softly, "but that may change, Hwindo. There are - things I must consider …"

Hwindo scowled as he partially turned his face to his friend. "You wish to stay longer?" he asked, his voice light, tone heavy.

"Yes," said Rafno carefully, "yes I wish to stay," he said, louder now and then he stopped and turned to his puzzled captain.

"I wish to stay - for the rest of my life…"






Hwindohtar smiled as they approached the king's suite, wide and genuine for that crushing sense of anxiety that had assailed him since his return to the fortress had gone. Rafnohtar clapped him upon the shoulder, his eyes travelling over the imposing figure his friend cut. His shining uniform and elaborate hair were the perfect additions to a physical beauty that never ceased to amaze the son of Elrond.

Soon they were before the impressive, carved oak doors that would lead them to the king and his guests, and Elladan glanced at his friend - at his profile for a moment. The intense green gaze landed upon him and he was suddenly struck by how much his friend had changed over the past four years. Taken aback for a moment, Rafno righted his expression and then nodded, almost to himself rather than his friend, as if it was he who was in need of encouragement.

The double doors opened and the guards stood to one side, granting access to the captain and his Noldorin lieutenant. Hwindo stopped dead in his tracks and Elladan, startled, pulled up sharply beside him. The king stood talking with Chief Councillor Aradan and Llyniel, his daughter. Crown Prince Rinion stood beside his younger brother, Handir, laughing together with Maeneth, their sister. But there were other faces, faces Elladan knew Legolas had not been expecting to see.

A myriad of emotions crossed his friend's his face but of them all, joy was foremost. It seemed to Elladan that it was an ever increasing spiral of joy which, try as Hwindo might, could never hold at bay for there, standing before them was Amareth, and at her side, Marhen, Hwindo's aunt. Beside them, smiling softly, was Thavron the forester, and a little further away, stood Erthoron the Silvan spokesman, together with Narosen the Spirit Herder.

Legolas stood for longer than was comfortable, as if his mind laboured with its next move, its next thought or sensation. His people had come but how? He could not fathom it. There had surely not been enough time and yet, his mind's eye showed him Dunorel's enigmatic expression from the previous day, the one he had not registered at the time. The Captain had planned this, had known what would happen once they returned to the fortress and had surely sent word to Llan Galadh so that his promotion would not pass by unnoticed. It was the only explanation, however incredible it seemed to Legolas.

"May I present to you all, Captain Legolas, Commander of The Company," said Aradan formally in his strong, authoritative voice.

Marhen smiled saucily and Thavron beamed but Amareth simply stared at her son, her face frozen and yet her eyes had filled with unshed tears of pride and love. Before long she was walking towards the child she had reared in the stead of her sister, Lassiel. All through the long years of his childhood had he talked incessantly of this moment, his entire life had revolved around this, one moment in time - to be a Captain.

Legolas walked towards her, meeting her half way and then embraced her, her much smaller frame disappearing for long moments until they finally broke apart and looked at each other in wonder.

"How did you know to come?" asked Legolas, his eyes momentarily flitting to the other Silvans that had accompanied her.

"Your Captain, Dunorel. He sent word a week ago that we should come. We did not know what for, but he assured us it was nothing bad."

Legolas smiled as he scowled, surprised that his supposition was, indeed correct. Dunorel, cold and unyielding, impervious it had seemed to his suffering, had seen fit to bring his family to the fortress, so that he would have this moment together with those that meant the most to him. Those were not the acts of a heartless, ruthless Captain - they were the gestures of an elf who feels deeply, in spite of the outward appearance he projected.

"I am so very proud of you my son, so full of love and admiration for you. I will proclaim it to the four corners of the forest - you are Captain!"

Soon, Legolas was embracing his childhood friend Thavron, and then Erthoron who had been like an uncle to him in his childhood. The enigmatic Narosen, who he had become incomprehensibly close to, in spite of his strangeness, stepped forward and tapped Legolas upon the chest where he knew the Circle of Life rested below the breast plate.

"We, the forest, are proud," he said, his eyes sparkling with intelligence, a challenging smile upon his lips.

Legolas stared back at him, wondering if he had understood what the Spirit Herder had said; 'We, the forest…" the trees, he meant the trees, and it was true. Lifting his head for a moment, he listened, listened beneath the quiet chatter and occasional laughter, listened to the sounds that only he could hear, and Narosén - to an extent. He smiled and then turned back to the Silvan mystic, nodding and then smiling again, wider now.

Servants milled around the royal family and their guests, filling wine glasses and offering sweet delights. Elladan smiled at Maeneth from afar, absurdly hopeful at her own, open regard of him. Walking slowly towards her, his now dark grey eyes fixed on her lovely face, and that sense of home came back to him, shocking him once more at the strength of the feeling. Indeed, he had sworn his oath to Legolas without the consent of his father. He had not considered it at the time, for the heat of the moment had swept away his ability for reasonable thought, he had spoken from the heart and now, his brain tortured him for how was he to release himself from his father's service?

Her eyes were before him now and she lifted her glass, clinking it against his own and then sipping on it, her eyes never leaving him, challenging him, almost, but to do what? He snorted mentally then for full well he knew her thoughts and he wondered, if tonight would be a good time to do it…

Protocol would not be ignored though, and so the captain stepped towards the king and held his head high, and then saluted. The king nodded as was custom, and then he spoke.

"Captain Legolas. The king and this realm welcome your service as a commander of its armed forces. May you serve long and well, and may Yavanna protect you always," he said, his eyes bright and wide.

He turned then, taking a wrapped object from a servant who stood discretely to one side.

"This," said the king with a flourish as he flung the cloth to one side, "is a weapon of Doriath, a sword of such length and weight that none have taken it as their own - for who, they say, can wield such a weapon? Elladan peered down at the stunning object as he listened to the king.

"I say you can, that you can learn to use this, with Lord Glorfindel's tutorship, that you can become a sword master with this blade I name Yaavan - Harvest - "

He held it out towards Legolas with both hands and Hwindo could do no more than stare down at it in awe. Slowly, reverently, he took the ancient metal in his hands, his eyes latching on to the runes along the inner edge, and then around the pommel, Legolas Thranduilion. His head snapped up to look at his father in shock and awe.

It took a while for him to find his voice, for his father had given his own name to him, burned into the blade of this, magnificent sword so that all could read it. "I shall strive to become worthy of such a thing you have gifted me with, my King."

"That is a mighty blade," murmured Rinion, "and a challenge you may not be able to live up to," he said with a sparkle in his eye. Legolas turned to Rinion, who was yet to salute him and Elladan rather thought that he would not, but that did not seem to bother Legolas at all.

"Perhaps - but with the effort will come improvement and learning - I can do no more than that."

Rinion nodded his agreement, and then turned to Maeneth who tonight, seemed to have eyes only for Elladan and his jaw tightened once more.

Conversation began to flow and Elladan watched Legolas greet Aradan, and then Llyniel who curtseyed formally. Legolas took her hand and kissed it slowly and only then, did Elladan see a tight smile grace her lovely face. His own heart flipped at the thought of what he knew he must do, and suddenly, Legolas' eyes were upon him.

"What has you so distant, Rafno?" he asked with a knowing smile.

"I think it must be now…" he muttered.


"I must ask the king - I want - to court your sister, Hwindo - I can wait no longer to know if my suit is acceptable."

"Your feelings for her have grown since I have been away, and I know she returns them. It may be a good time to at least insinuate your intentions."

"Good, good," he said, his nervousness growing with every passing minute.

"Elladan, go to the king, tell him you wish to speak to him on a personal matter tomorrow… he will understand what it is you wish to speak of."

"For one that has known him for but a few months, you are hardly an expert," scoffed Elladan.

"Perhaps not, but there is some of him in me, we are not unlike…"

Elladan caught his green gaze then, and realised he had been a little abrupt.

"Will you not ask to court Llyniel then? Formally I mean?"

Legolas seemed to ponder the question for a moment before answering. "Not yet - I have so many priorities now, I cannot allow myself to become distracted."

"Well, if you are not sure…"

"Time will tell Elladan, although for you it already has," he smiled and then gestured to the king with his head.

Rafnohtar took a deep breath, squared himself, and then walked towards the king, who was talking quietly with Aradan and Handir.

"Lord Elladan," acknowledged the Royal Advisor.

"Councillor," nodded Rafno, and then turned to the king. "My King, I wonder if I could have a word with you tomorrow, on a private matter…"

"And why not now? For if I am not mistaken, you will fret until we speak and you will tell me what the point would be… come," he said simply, steering Elladan out onto the great overhang.

It was the same forest of evergreen trees that had taken them so when first they had opened their balcony doors in their rooms, yet this – this panorama was nothing short of breathtaking, for the forest stretched out before and around them, the platform thrusting the observer into the very heart of the forest, giving the impression that one simply hovered over it, rather than standing on solid rock. From their quarters, the forest was somehow distant, yet here, the forest was right there, a fingertip away, embracing the edges of the platform, almost, yet not quite caressing it.

Elladan's eyes were full of tears, not of sadness, but of the sheer sensation of grandeur he was infused with. This was magical, a parcel of Elvendom he had never experienced, and he was stunned that this was so, for this marvel of nature was totally unknown to his kin in Imladris – it seemed impossible somehow, that this - wonder - could be unheard of – anywhere, and yet it was – what a strange, magical and mysterious land this was, he mused.

"This forest was young, indeed it was mostly barren foothills, with only a few saplings dotted here and there," began the king, momentarily startling Elladan from his admiration. "The view has always been spectacular over the Lonely Mountain, but nothing comparable to what we have achieved here, in the last two thousand years."

"But how, my king? "How has it been achieved?"

"We were starting to lose the southernmost parts of the forest, enemy activity began to grow as we were forced further North, here, where we have made our stand. Yet we wanted – nay, needed, to restore what we once had to the South of the forest, for many years ago, that forest was just as splendid as this one. It is still beautiful in some parts, but no longer comparable."

"And what, exactly, did you do?" insisted Elladan. "I mean, there, for instance, further North, are the dwarves – you have Laketown to the east of you – men. How have you been able to isolate it – keep it safe?"

"They do not come here. The dwarves rarely leave their mountain, except to hunt, but they do not venture here, for they believe it haunted, something we have fomented, I must admit. It is the same for men, only because we are on friendly trading terms with them, we do not foment superstition. We simply tell them it is our garden, off-bounds to any and all, and they have respected that."

"Oropher," continued the king, "gave the Silvans and Avari a boon, in exchange for their alliance to their Sindarin king. We call this moment in our history 'The Great Unification', for our three nations came together as one. In return, my father gifted the wood dwellers a forest, a forest to create and nurture – with the condition that it be shared by all. However," continued Thranduil as his eyes scanned the far horizon, "strict rules were placed on the land. There would be no commercial activity – no agriculture, no felling, no hunting – nothing. Any excursion into the Evergreen Wood must be formally notified to the Home Guard, who would have the authority to grant or decline such visits, should the nature of them be unclear. And so, after more than two thousand years – this is the result of their efforts. This is why they will not sail – unless pain and despair take them, they will not leave this marvel they have created. I will show it to you – when time permits."

There was silence for a while as the king's words registered in his mind, as he imagined the task that was set to the natives of this land. To others, it would seem more a punishment, yet to them, to be gifted with creating a forest, was a shrewd political manoeuvre indeed, thought Elladan.

"I would be most honoured, my king," replied Elladan softly as he turned to look once more at the imposing monarch, waiting for Thranduil to return his gaze.

"My King, the matter I wished to address is - of a personal nature - and I wonder perhaps, if you have guessed my intentions."

Thranduil stared blankly at him, giving away nothing at all and Elladan damned his luck, for his tactic had just been blown to pieces.

"I have feelings for your daughter, for Maeneth," he blurted, his own surprise plain on his face.

And still the king did not speak. Elladan wondered if he did it purposefully and the very thought irritated him for what he did now, was no easy task at all.

"I believe they are reciprocated and as such, I wish to ask permission to court the princess, should you deem my suit appropriate."

There, he had said it and he resisted the urge to sag where he stood.

Surprisingly, Thranduil continued to say nothing as he turned his face back to the Evergreen Wood and Elladan was momentarily caught by his striking profile and the workmanship of his crown.

Looking to the floor, he realised that there was every chance of the king rejecting his request and an uncharacteristic wave of self-doubt slammed into him.

When the king finally spoke, it took the introspective Noldo by surprise for it was soft and wistful yet cut the silence as if he shouted his words to the heavens.

"You are a member of The Company. You will be away more than you are at court. What sort of life would that be for my daughter? For a consort of this realm?"

Elladan breathed deeply, indeed he had anticipated this reaction from the king.

"That is true, my King. Indeed I believe it is the very reason that Legolas does not ask to court Llyniel. And yet, my feelings for her are too strong to ignore. There would be sacrifices, I know, but should you accept my suit, you would have no more loyal son at your side."

"You would leave your father's realm? Serve me?"

"I have already sworn allegiance to Legolas and yet for Maeneth I would swear that oath a thousand times if I could have her at my side."

Thranduil held Elladan's steady gaze squarely, saw the determination, the hope and the courage it had taken to speak thusly.

"I will think on it, Elrondion," he said, turning back to the Evergreen Wood. It was the end of the conversation, Elladan knew, and so he nodded, and then turned, leaving the king alone upon the overhang.

Inside, his eyes searched involuntarily for Maeneth, and found her already looking at him. Smiling they came together and they spoke quietly.

"Is it done?" she asked with a smile.

"Aye, it is done. He said he would think on it."

"That is good, Elladan. We have a chance."

"His concern is my condition as a member of The Company. I will be away and in danger, he does not want that life for you. "

"It is not for him to decide. Perhaps I will need to remind him of his own father's folly in denying the love our father had for Lassiel…" she said, her frosty eyes landing momentarily on Legolas, who talked and laughed with Handir.

Elladan's eyebrow cocked for he had not thought of that, but Maeneth was speaking once more.

"He has finally done it," she said softly. "Four years ago we spoke of this for even then he had it all so clearly defined in his mind. He has a route map, Elladan, a path so clearly defined it is uncanny. History will be made I believe, before our very eyes."

"Oh aye," said Rafno. "The youngest Commander in Elvendom, as far as we know. You should have seen him today, Maeneth. His first day as Captain of The Company. The other warriors stopped to listen to him and by the time he had finished with us, he had infused them all with a renewed sense of purpose. We will need it though, for the forest is turning darker with every day that passes - we all know that something is happening, some new enemy is orchestrating against us and yet, their identity eludes us…"

"Is it truly that dire, Elladan?" she asked, albeit the question was rhetorical, for Maeneth already knew it was true.

Something was coming, something new, dangerous - unexpected.