He paused leaping between one stepping stone and the next, glancing up the bank towards the figure silhouetted in her own light. Lúthien Tinuviel; the words whispered in his ears without conscious thought, as always when he or so many other elves looked her way.

The Wood-elves were of the dark, Moriquendi. He knew that was the word for them. He had never understood why until he came out of Mirkwood, out of the shadows, to see the Elves his father did not wish him to see, those who had dealings with Valinor long ago or would have them again someday.

Shun them, my boy. They are not content with Middle-Earth or the stars or the sun and the moon; they imprison their light in bits of glass then fight over them like dogs over scraps of meat. They are never content anywhere. They went even to Valinor and could not be satisfied, brought their strife there and then fled, yet flaunt the Light they lost over all of us that braved the stars and the darkness and never defied the gods and never relied on anyone but ourselves. We made music at the dawn of time. We make that music now. We never called war an art nor labored long in its planning, preparation, instruments; nor did we give anyone cause to wage it against us. Our hands are unsullied by the blood of our kin. We have never desired greatness. We have never sought power and mastery. We love only that which grows and lives and dies; we are content to cherish and tend our forests, our creatures, our own kind.

Love not the light, my boy. Light is blind. In shadows the Elves were born, in gentle starlight, before the Enemy came and tried to divide the world into White and Black. We who live in the dark woods still know how to see the subtle as well as that which blazes in glory. We have not dazzled our own eyes with the light of our self-worth. We have not grovelled at the feet of the gods; we have not tresspassed the very heavens with our boats and jewels and swords. We are a part of this world as they shall never be.

Legolas still felt shame, sometimes, when he moved among the Elves of Imladris. High-elves. People who had tasted the bliss of Aman, or had been born among those who had. People that glowed with the light of the memory of the Trees.

At some level he knew he was not truly a Wood-elf, for his skin glimmered faintly to elven eyes. But he was not like the Calaquendi, and certainly not like her. There was nothing like the Evenstar, save the moon, that shone brighter.

My Lady, he said, drawing his hand to his shoulder and out in formal courtesy.

She slipped down the muddy bank after him, balancing on rich brown earth, and came to stand with her boots pressed in the edge of the water. It was one of countless rills coming down out of the mountains, the silver threads that clove the dell and gave the valley its name.

Arwen's cheeks were pinched and drawn, if that were possible, such that her perfect face seemed clouded. But her discomfit was not directed at the fair-haired archer, and her smile towards him was kind as well as rueful. He did not listen, of course. But thank you for reminding men and Aragorn himself of what he is. Sooner or later, he will believe us.

Legolas lowered his eyes. I leave the matter of Aragorn's heart to one more qualified to judge, he said politely.

Arwen touched his elbow. Nay, Legolas. You are a true friend. I am glad he has such an ally, and regret that we have not met before.

Through the light he saw her more earthly aspect, an elf-woman clad in slate blue travel-leathers fitted for light riding, hunting, or strolling in the fair glades of her home. There was a sword at her hip that caught his eye; probably another blade of high lineage that any but a Silvan Elf would know. Her hands were strong, her face achingly delicate. Just now, however, it was set and grim, almost like her father's.

The honor is mine, he answered.

She gave an explosive sigh. Yes it is, isn't it? She shook her head before he could shape an apology or a question. My father forbade me to attend the Council, nor would Arwen Undómiel be permitted to accompany you on your errand. Yet who of all of us has faced the Nine, given a part of my own fëa to the Ringbearer?

His eyes widened. I heard the tale of the Ford, but not that.

She smiled a little at his shocked expression. You would have done no less, had you the power. You understand that Middle-Earth will stand or fail, according to the Ringbearer's quest, and your people's love for this land is absolute.

He nodded, still bemused by the revelation. Since we know no other, yes. He looked around himself, at the rising mists from the nearby falls, and the constant drift of faded leaves tumbling down like a soft rain. The river was singing to itself, and there was a faint, disquieting sound he could not quite identify, like horns, like bells, a keening cry. There were hints of Aman here, long-vanished times and places, Gondolin and Doriath and all those things of which it was seldom permitted to speak in his father's realm. It made him feel restless and overawed. He wished to climb a tree, but whether he sought escape or perspective he did not know. I am sorry; it was not my intent to usurp another's place.

I do not begrudge you, friend. I only envy you. She looked up at him with a keen glance that held all the beauty of every hind he had ever chased through Mirkwood's enchanted shadows. And you also give greatly of yourself. Of all the elves at the Council, you alone were not present when the Rings were forged, and have no share of the blame. But that makes no difference to you. You go for love of Middle-Earth, to mend the mistakes of others.

He shook his head. Rings and ancient lore are high matters, and much of this is beyond me. I go because Aragorn goes.

At his words the clouds over her face parted, and again he found it almost physically painful to look upon her. And that is why I thank you. If I cannot be with him, then there is no other I would rather have at his side. I will rest easier, knowing that he has you to rely upon, with your keen eyes and swift hands, your counsel, your courage, your love.

He colored slightly. Then his eyes dropped down to the space between them, for she had put her hands over his, clasping them mutely to punctuate her words. He felt the Evenstar's heartbeat through his fingers, looked her in the eye, and thought, This is she whom he treasures above throne or title or all else; this is his heart before my eyes. This is the treasure our quest will take from the world as surely as the Ring, for if we succeed, she will die. Yet he could not help but love Aragorn the more for it: a man worthy of one he knew was far, far greater than himself. But just now she called him friend, and just now he saw the weariness, the frustration, and unshed tears in her eyes. There was mud on the toes of her boots, nor were her feet floating inches above the ground.

The elf of the Dark, as they would account him, slipped his arms around her shoulders, and rested his chin against her shadowy tresses, the only part of her that was not blinding to look at. He'll come back soon and safely, Arwen. I promise.

She sighed and rested her cheek against his fair hair. May the Valar keep you both.

My father has no trust in the Valar. Or Men.

And you.

There was a faint familiar scent on the air, not clean and pure and holy like most of the air in Imladris, but earthy, smoky, humble, an odor that went along with leather and sweat and humankind. Legolas looked up.

Aragorn was leaning against a balcony high above their level on the far side of the vale, looking down upon them with peace in his eyes, a rare unguarded expression. He was watching friend and beloved, drinking in their beauty and storing it away like waybread for the journey to come. When Legolas glanced in his direction, the Ranger raised his pipe in a silent salute.

May Beren have cause to envy you, my friend, before your time is done.