Chapter 19: Looking ahead

The hoof lowered itself to the ground with a forceful stomp. Tiny pebbles were shoved aside and flew away from it in a dusty cloud. Stomp, stomp, stomp - the horseshoes repeated a seemingly endless pattern. As stubbornly as their master they made their way into the unknown. It was a journey without a destination, but not without a certain aim. It was more a search than anything else. She wanted to find herself, explore her powers, and use them to help others. The decision had matured inside of her slowly, almost subconsciously.

She had always wanted to explore Middle-Earth. As a child Arnaya had gazed up at the stars and wondered silently how many of them twinkled in the sky. She had tried to count them, but after a few futile attempts she had accepted that this was a rather fruitless business. They were so many. An infinite number whose sight simple overwhelmed her. After she had spent countless nights watching the sparkling night firmament she had realized how huge the universe was and how tiny she, a human being, was in comparison. She was nothing but a corn of sand, small and insignificant, yet a thirst for knowledge and the wish to travel this world had claimed possession of her that very day. After she had explored her surroundings - area around her mother's house, the neighboring meadow, the hill that lay behind this meadow and the forest that separated them from the next village - she had still felt the urge to go even further - as far as her feet would carry her. Now that dream was coming true. She had left Minas-Tirith to explore Middle-Earth. The only question left to answer was whether she was happy about that or not.

She had left behind a wise teacher, blossoming friendships and most importantly her mother who had smiled at her with knowing eyes and reassured her with a calm and gentle voice that her decision was right. "Go, child," she said, holding back tears, while she hugged her one last time, "I know that it will only be to your best." Her voice now resounded in Arnaya's head. Those last moments they had spent together were burned forever in her mind. She would remember her as she had last seen her: as an old woman at peace with the world and herself.

"Goodbye mother," she whispered silently and a wistful smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. The traipsing horse came to a stop without her noticing it. Her gaze was fixed on a point somewhere in the distance where the sky met the dark green plans, a sea of waving blades of grass, that stretched out before her. The setting sun was painting the whole scenery in warm orange and red colors. The other horse stopped besides her. She registered its white color as a blur from the corner of her eyes. Calmness raided from her traveling companion who set high up on his noble steed, watching the sunset with the air of someone who had seen thousands of them, but was each time captured anew by their beauty. The horse seemed to sense his master's mood and stood perfectly still like a statue. Not even its ears twitched.

"Why are you here?" she asked again as she had done countless times before unable to comprehend his desire to accompany her.

He leaned sideward in his saddle, miraculously never losing his balance. His breath tickled her ear. "You already know the answer," he said and his melodic voice somehow managed to send shivers down her spine as it pleasantly reverberated inside her entire body.

He was right she knew why he was here. He had told her each and every single time she had asked. Because he wanted to, he had said. Because he loved her. Obviously this answer was reason enough for him, but to her it was still slightly incomprehensible.

"Crazy elf," she muttered under her breath, knowing fully well that his keen ears would pick it up. She heard him chuckle softly in response and saw his blue eyes sparkle with merriment when she turned her head to glare at him. Unfortunately her attempt of a death glare resulted in a rather comical impression of a suppressed smile.

Arnaya tried to act gruff, like she only tolerated his presence because she could do nothing against it, but she seldom managed to deliver a good performance. The smile that sparkled in her eyes when she looked at him betrayed her and she silently cursed him more than a thousand times for making her so soft, so girlish. In reality, though she would never admit it to anybody, she was cheering inwardly about the fact that he was there and what made matters worse he knew and that was why he was now laughing.

"Come now," she hissed between clenched teeth," let's rest for the night." She indicated a group of three crooked trees a few meters away from them. "There should be good."

Legolas nodded in agreement and they both immediately started their preparations to set up a camp for the night. They had been on the road for several days, so everything had become routine. It went without saying that Legolas prepared the campfire and that she would care in the meantime for the horses and so on.

Later that night when she starred into the dancing flames of the fire, listening to Legolas steady breath while he slept a few meters away from her, his cloak wrapped tightly around him to protect him from the chilly night air, she allowed herself to lower the wall off defense she had built up around herself.

He seemed to emit a silent call which drew her closer and closer to him no matter how hard she fought against it. So she stopped fighting. Careful not to make any sound she sneaked closer to him. The warm shine of the flames let his flaxen locks glow like gold. Her eyes softened when she looked at him. Arnaya felt a warm feeling rise inside of her. Legolas's features had a childlike innocence to them when he slept and she found herself wanting to stroke his cheek or let her fingers run through his silken hair, but she held herself back. She would wake him.

There was something she wanted to tell him. She had done it before. First only in her dreams, but then the urge to say it allowed had simple become overwhelming. Then last night when she had made sure he was fast asleep she had summoned her courage and whispered those words, those words that meant everything. Not much longer and she wouldn't be able anymore to hold then back, even during day time. For the time being she was just practicing. It was veil, she knew that, but she didn't know whether she was ready for the consequences that her words held. In spite of this the urge to tell him to his face, to shout it out into the world became stronger and stronger each day.

Arnaya kneeled down before him and let her eyes roam over his handsome features. He slept with his eyes open, a fact that she found simply unnerving. She had already known about this, but seeing it first hand was something different than being told or reading it in a book. Even now, though his deep blue eyes where fixed on a point in the distance, they made her nervous. She felt like they bore into her expectantly.

With a feather like touch she caressed his cheek, trying to memorize exactly how his skin felt against hers. "I love you," Arnaya said and her voice was barely a whisper when she spoke. The urge to kiss him was simply overwhelmingly. She fought hard against herself and while she was just pondering about the pros and the cons, he stirred in his sleep. Instinctively she tried to retreat a little bit, but before she was able to he seized her hand. "Great!" she cursed under her breath. There was no way she could get out of this situation without waking him.

"I suppose you are now thinking about a way to escape unnoticed," a male voice said with a tint of amusement to it. "Well, that will not happen anymore." Arnaya let out a yelp of surprise, as she discovered to her horror that Legolas was awake. Her thoughts raced inside her head with the speed of lighting as she was trying to assess the situation. Maybe there was still no harm done. It all depended on how much he had heard.

"How long have you been awake?" she asked cautiously.

Instead of answering her he pulled her closer so they were only inches apart, their noses almost touching. Arnaya let it all happen without the will to resist, though the sudden closeness made her nervous. She felt like her head was spinning and her heart pounded inside her chest like an Orcish war drum. Those lips. She wanted to kiss him. It had been so long. Her thoughts flew back to the only kiss they had shared that fateful morning before the fight against Sauda and a dreamy expression appeared in her eyes. She was ripped out of her thoughts when he spoke again.

"How long have I been awake?" he repeated looking at her with an intensity that made her shiver. His breath tickled her skin. Instead of continuing he softly kissed her cheek, then her temple, her other cheek, the tip of her nose. He stopped and by that time her whole body was tingling with anticipation. "I think the question really is whether you want me to have heard what you said or not."

"I'm tired of holding back, of thinking about consequences," she admitted wearily. "I would want nothing more than to let go. Let things simply happen for once," Arnaya paused. "And maybe I should," she thought aloud.

"Let us take one step after the other. What is it you want to do now?" he asked softly.

Instead of answering she smiled at him. "Let me show you," she said and her lips descended on his in a slow and sweet kiss.

They were only at the start. What was to come was an infinite journey into the unknown through valleys and other mountaintops, but always together.

THE END (for now)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, here we are at the end of the story. It has been a long time. Thank you very much for keeping up the interest and reading every week. I hope you enjoyed the story. I would like to do a sequel (really!) or something to that extent, but momentarily I've got a lot on my plate (I will go to Italy for the next semester so I have to move out of my flat and so on.) and in addition to that nice writer's block to adorn the whole crappy situation. Well, we will see. Take care and have a great time wherever you are! Bye!