Standing by Friends

AN:  Okay, we are now going to put you out of your misery.   lol   Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Stalking silently through the brush, treading lightly and nimbly missing all but the smallest of twigs, she followed her prey. She had been following the herd of deer for half an hour, and the young Ranger was determined to fall at least one of them to bring back to the camp. Neither the Elf nor the older Ranger that she and her companion were traveling with would believe that she had indeed become quiet enough to hunt deer with only her small hunting knife. They insisted that she learn to use a bow if she were ever to survive in the Wild on her own, but as of yet, even touching a bow brought back memories, both painful and amusing. The deer stopped at the stream, and after looking around to make sure there was nothing around, bent for a drink. The Ranger took a step forward and heard the unmistakable crack of a branch.

Confused, she looked down at her foot and saw that she had not stepped on anything, and the deer was still standing at the stream, alert now however. Leaning back against the tree, remaining on her feet, the Ranger sighed. At eighteen years, she had been traveling for six years in the Wilds, four of those with her friend, and since that friend was an Elf, she had long ago learned the value of patience. This time it would cost her, however, as she had paid no heed to the warning of something approaching. Within minutes, her senses had dulled, concentrating only on the deer that was still looking for danger. Perhaps she should have taken that as a clue.

Breath caught in the teen's throat as she felt the dagger press up against her throat. She reached for her right hip to her broadsword, but increased pressure that brought blood to the surface and trickling down her neck stopped her left hand from moving.

"This isn't funny you guys. Let me go. I get the point." She tried hopefully, praying that it was one of her companions coming to chastise her about being aware at all times.

"The only ones around are still in their camp, far enough away not to hear you scream, Ranger. So tell me, what are you doing in these woods?" It was a familiar voice that whispered these words in her ear, and yet it had been long enough that she couldn't place it. No matter, she spun more quickly than should be normal for one of her age, and the knife dropped from her neck, out of her captor's hand, and into her own. There was something all too right about the knife resting in her hands. It was then that she looked up into the eyes of one even younger than her.

"Tan!?!" she asked incredulously, staring at the fourteen year old whose eyes must have been even wider than hers.

"Kaolith? Is that you?" He looked in awe at the Ranger that he had just been threatening. "Umm, I'm sorry, I didn't know who you were, and…well, there haven't been that many Rangers wandering alone recently. I thought I was the only one around here by myself." He trailed off looking at the dagger in his friend's hands. "See, I didn't lose it." He smiled.

"Indeed you didn't young one, as you promised. And as for wandering alone, you are right. There are only few Rangers who still do. But you should remember that I never travel alone, and those companions you saw in the camp are probably my friends. You remember Selinde, don't you?"

"Yes, of course. Elladan and Elrohir aren't with you though, are they?" He looked up hopefully, wanting to see his friends again.

"Not this time, my friend. We are traveling with Strider and Legolas, the two we were looking for when we met you. Come on, young one. You won't be traveling alone in these woods for long. You can join with us. That is, if you want to?"

Taking the smile as an affirmative, she whispered, "But first we need to find that deer that you scared off. I won't go back to camp empty-handed again."

They went off, and within the hour had found and felled the deer, with only her hunting knife, as Kaolith had boasted. Dragging it behind them, they reached the outskirts of camp, and that was when Kaolith got an idea. She could see that none of her companions had heard the humans coming through the woods, and she whispered something in Tanad's ear. Smiling, he nodded and they hid the deer behind some bushes. Smearing dirt on the boy's face, he pulled his dagger and wrapped it around Kaolith's neck. They walked into the clearing, the elder of the two with a look of fear playing across her face.

"Umm, Selinde? Strider?" she called, noting the surprise that played across each of their features as they whirled on the humans.

"Kao! What's going on? Are you all right?" Selinde noted the blood trickling down her friend's neck, pushing away the thought of a practical joke.

"Do I look okay? Ouch, that hurt." As she had spoken, she had stumbled slightly, pulling her attacker with her and jabbing the dagger more deeply into her neck.

"What do you want, human?" Legolas spoke up, distaste in his voice for whoever was hurting his friend.

Then Tanad let the ball drop, cluing at least one of the Elves in on his identity. "I just wanted to see the Elf and man that this 'young' Ranger had to tramp all over Middle Earth to save two years ago. Not to mention, I'd hoped to see Selinde and the twins again."

Laughing, Kaolith moved away from her 'attacker' and let the three gaze upon Tanad.

"Tanad! Kaolith! You two are up to your old tricks again I see. Didn't take you long. Where'd you find him, Kao?"

"Actually he found me."

"Wait, what's going on here?" Strider was still confused and still had his sword drawn against the boy.

"Relax, mellon nin," Kaolith eased the sword tip down, away from her friend. "It was only a joke. It seems 'Dan and 'Ro forgot to mention that one."

"So I suppose you are going to use this as an excuse for not bringing home a deer, my friend? Will we be starting archery lessons tomorrow?" Legolas laughed, knowing that there was no longer any danger.

"Oh, yeah, about that. Hang on a minute, would you. Tan, if you would help." The three adults were pleasantly surprised when the children brought the deer back into the camp. "Told you I could do it."

"So what have you been doing since we last saw you, Tanad?" Selinde asked, remembering the night that they had left the boy with his father after rescuing him from slavers. The same slavers, they had come to find out, that had taken Legolas and Strider to the City of the Corsairs. She shuddered to remember that dreadful place, and hoped never to see it again.

"Wandering mostly. I left home after my father was killed by Orcs. I've been hoping to find you guys actually. I remembered you saying something about Rivendell, so I thought I'd try up here and see if I could happen upon you. I'd hoped to see the twins again too, but…" he trailed off, not knowing where the foursome was headed, since they were indeed close to Rivendell, and it seemed that they were at the beginning, and not the end, of their journey.

"We were headed off to Mirkwood for awhile," Kaolith took up his unasked question. "You could come with us if you like. But we may not see the twins for awhile now."

"Oh. If I could, I'd like to tag-along. It gets lonely in the woods by yourself."

"And it's not the safest of things to do." Strider cut in, listening intently to the conversation.

"I know, but I never really caught on with any groups. I guess it just happened that way."

Before Legolas could step in to agree that the boy would join them, and in the relative safety that they could provide, they all heard the cry of the Orcs that had unknowingly circled the camp. All jumped up, brandishing bows and swords and daggers, waiting for the first of the beasts to crash through the clearing.

And crash through they did. As the five took on their opponents, they could not help but think that this company was never-ending. As each from the small band took one of the Orcs' lives, they had to defend themselves from the blades of two others.

Slowly being separated, the three humans soon found that they could no longer watch their own backs, much less those of the Elves. The two groups of warriors, one of young humans, the other of elder Firstborns, fought valiantly, and each prayed to Illuvitar that they would all make it through the night.

When the band of Orcs finally realized that their prey was not so easily incapacitated as they had first thought, the few that remained on their feet turned tail and ran. Adrenaline rates lowered and the group came back together.

They took stock of each other's well-being and saw that no one had escaped without injury, but Kaolith and Tanad had fared the worst of all. Kao's sword arm was hanging limply at her side, twisted at an odd angle at both the shoulder and midway down her forearm, and her eyes were clouded with pain. The young boy was bleeding freely from a cut above his eye and a rather serious looking gash to his right arm.

"Well, young Tanad, it seems that you will be able to see my brothers after all," Strider reflected grimly just seconds before the boy crumpled forward into Kaolith's arms.

Unable to support his weight through her own injuries, the Ranger dropped to her knees, easing the boy to the ground with her. "Strider, he's been poisoned!" she exclaimed when she noticed the black tinges around his gash.

Tanad had been correct in guessing that they were on the beginning of their journey, being only a half-day's walk from Rivendell. They had brought no horses, for they had wished to enjoy each other's company in the outdoors for a while, before duties encroached upon them again.

They broke camp with the quickness only companions who had spent a lot of time together could do. Legolas lifted Kaolith while Strider carried Tanad. Selinde shouldered the packs. As they started back to Rivendell, Selinde remembered the last time they had brought Kao back to Lord Elrond.

It had been two years since they had ridden into Imladris. The Elven Lord had been told of their coming and was prepared for the worst. Selinde remembered the long healing process that Kao had gone through.

Physically, she was back to full strength in about three months. It was her memory that was long in returning.

Selinde wondered what Tanad would say, if he knew it had only been mere months since Kao's full recovery.

As Rivendell came into view, Selinde breathed a sigh of relief. She had finally found a home. Lord Elrond had been gracious enough to have a home built for them on the outskirts of the Elven Kingdom. They now had somewhere to return to after their adventures. They also had friends who cared for them.

They finally reached the doors of Elrond's home and were greeted by the Elf Lord himself. He had seen them approaching and rushed to their aid. He was thinking once again how they never managed to come back without some injury.

To the Reviewers:

Eleni – Thanx again for beta'ing Eleni, though really it just means that you get to read it faster, but all the same, thanx…

TC – Here, TC, we cordially present you with chapter one of the sequel…it coulda been a much longer wait, me thinks…and we're glad you didn't see the ending coming, that was kinda what we had in mind…

Cathy - Cube and Songbird look at raven, look back at computers (assume there's 2), look back at bird, put on headphones*  Ok, Cathy, now will you sic the evil feathered creature on someone else?

Sparx – Yup, that was the end, Sparx, and this is the beginning…lol…glad you liked TBoF, and hope you continue to drag yourself back here for more punishment…err…cliffies…err…chapters, yeah that's it, they're chapters…

Elwen – Here's the sequel, Elwen, and we thought it was a very good place to end the story…cleared everything up, don't you think? No?  Well, guess that's why you're back for more…hope you enjoy…

Cowgirl – Hope the wait wasn't too long for you, had to deal with finals and moving back home, but it coulda been worse…someone (not me!!!) started this crazy rumor that it wouldn't be posted till August or September…dunno who that was though *tries to look innocent*

Wannabe – I think I emailed you or something to try and clarify what happened in the ending, well, not that I clarified much, but I think this and the upcoming chapters will help out on that one…