The next morning found Legolas and Thranduil in the stables before the sun had even fully risen.  Thranduil secured the last small pack to his horse and Legolas brushed down Arod while he waited.  Suddenly, a throaty voice was heard behind him.

"You thought you could sneak out without us knowing, did you?" asked Gimli as he stepped out of the shadows.  Behind him, Aragorn did the same.  "You think a pointy eared princeling would have better manners."

"Dear Gimli, I said my farewells to you last night."

"Still, we could not let you leave without seeing you off," Aragorn spoke up.  "Arwen could not come, but she sends this along with her good intentions."  He passed a package to Legolas.  "Lembas for your journey."

"Hannon le," Legolas said, thanking him gratefully.  "Where is Boromir?"

"He and Faramir had to return to Osgilith late last night after we spoke."

Legolas nodded.  "Aragorn, I want you to know that I will return to Gondor once Mirkwood is secure, for I will not forsake the promise that I made to you to lend you my help."

"Legolas, go with no regrets.  You have done much for me already, including all that you did to ensure that the Dark Lord did not destroy the city."

"Still, I will return."

"My borders shall always be open to you and your people."

"And ours to yours," Thranduil interrupted.  "You have given me my son back; saved his life."

"I would do nothing else, my lord Thranduil.  Your son is a good friend, and I shall miss him greatly."

"As will I," stated Gimli, "though I wish there was more than I could do to help him in Mirkwood."

"No, Gimli," said Legolas with a soft smile, "this is one task that I must face without you.  Your place is here beside Aragorn."

"Ai, you speak truly, for by tomorrow my kin shall arrive to start rebuilding the broken defenses.  Still, it will be lonely around here without you and your ridiculous elvish ways."  He teased Legolas ever so slightly, knowing that it would make his friend laugh.

"Then do not be a stranger to our lands," replied Thranduil.  "For I name you, Gimli, son of Gloin, Elf-Friend, a title of honor and rarity, for you have proven yourself to me as one deserving of such distinction.  Take this," he said, slipping off the silver chain that hung about his neck, "for this pendent is of my crest.  Anytime you wish to visit my home, show this to the guards at the strongholds.  Aragorn is known to my people and so shall be permitted to pass into our lands without question, but you they do not know, and so I fear that they may suffer you to be brought before me bound as a criminal.  I will of course make them aware that you may pass into our woods, but I cannot assure that some overzealous guard may fear that you are not who you claim to be."

"Thank you," Gimli replied, and bowed to him in dwarf fashion.  "I am ever at your service, my lord."

"And I at yours, Master Dwarf.  But come, the sun is rising, Legolas."

"Goodbye my friends," Legolas said and hugged them both tightly, for being around humans so long had finally worn off on the elf and he now hugged them instead of the traditional sturdy hand upon their shoulder.

Then he turned and mounted Arod, who whinnied in anticipation of galloping across the land.

"Go Legolas, and may the Valar always light your path," said Aragorn, saluting him in elf fashion.

Legolas nodded his thanks and then urged Arod forward and out of the stable, noting the empty stall where Shadowfax had been housed before Gandalf had left to visit with Treebeard.  He did not look back as he followed his father's lead down the narrow streets of the city.  At the main gate he took his place at his father's side and together they urged their horses into a faster pace.  Still Legolas did not turn around, but rather headed into the dawn-flooded northeast.  Onward he rode, until he knew that he would be but a tiny speck on the horizon to even the best eyes looking across the land from the topmost level of the palace.  It was only then that he stopped and looked back, a single tear sliding down his flawless cheek.

"I will return, my friends," he murmured before turning back towards his home.

~*~ End ~*~