of gilded blood
chapter IV two houses

"No, 'tis not so deep as a well
Nor so wide as a church door,
But 'tis enough, 'twill serve:
Ask for me tomorrow
And you shall find me a grave man.
I am peppered, I warrant, for this world.
A plague on both your houses!
Mercutio, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet Act III Scene I

Aragorn wandered through the thickets of the Golden Wood's mallorn trees, feet falling to the ground lightly though his heart was heavy with the worry that had descended upon him since Moria. Cursed hole, he thought spitefully. There they had lost the unthinkable – simply the unloseable, and there was no clear way to fix it.

And clear or not, a little voice whispered to Aragorn, there might not be a way to fix anything. Legolas could die where he was, he could get hurt, he could be expelled from Middle-Earth forever. He may never see his home again. And the one ring would be lost with no end to the destruction and torture that Sauron wrought. The steady trickle of guilt and regret that told him it was somehow his fault that mingled with his grief to form a flood of such power that he felt something in him tighten with each step he took.

Pushing errant strands of hair behind his ear, Aragorn straightened himself up, letting his jaw work for a few moments before swallowing his sorrow and readying himself for what he knew would be a terrible confrontation. It would do no good for him to be consumed by this – not yet, not now – he could not lose hope when he himself was the one named for it.

At least Elrond himself wouldn't be here, Aragorn rationalized, not feeling so much the better for it. Actually, when he spent another moment deliberating the thought, it made him feel worse. Lord Elrond was the more tempered between him and his fair-haired seneschal, Lord Glorfindel. Lord Elrond was used to it and had had several centuries of practice putting up with it. On the other hand, Lord Glorfindel – though a mighty and wise elf himself – would not stand for such insult as the last time was graced upon the house of Elrond.

It made Aragorn pity King Thranduil, just slightly.

He sighed, a very slight breath of air slivering between his lips. As he approached the inner city, he lifted his head and unclasped his hands from behind his back, long strides more confident.

Suddenly, his feet faltered: he could see, just beyond a little creek and nest of foxes, a figure standing still at the foot of an enormous mallorn. She was wreathed in the color of blackberry currant, wind blowing long, dark strands from her pale, porcelain face, and Aragorn could feel his tense shoulders relaxing ever so slightly as he began to near.

He stopped again, though, when he was a few feet from her. His smile faded at the piercing eyes, full of not peace and calm but muted terror and agony. She was magnificent in her emotion and his thoughts and body slackened in her wake. They stood there, feet from each other, speaking nothing but saying everything.

Minutes passed and Arwen shifted her gaze downwards to the green grass, the years pooling in her eyes as she slightly shook her head to one side. More time passed, and it was as if the entire forest had silenced with them, so utterly decimated Aragorn's thoughts were at the sight of his beloved so deeply in pain.

"…I was told what happened," she said in a quiet manner, still looking down, hands grasping her robes to keep from their trembling. Her voice hadn't held the musical quality it always did. Tears slipped from his eyes but he still couldn't feel himself breathe…. She finally looked up and into Aragorn's eyes, and there, Aragorn could see all his own emotions mirrored back at him. She too had lost a brother.

Slowly he brought his hands forward, then took quick steps in her direction, closing the distance and gathering her into his arms. Arwen stood stock still for a few long moments, making Aragorn even more anxious, but she sagged against him, hands coming to his shoulders to squeeze them tightly. He held her as she shook silently, listened in grave silence as she raised her voice to the sky to join those of others, and mourned for the trials that they knew would come to pass.

Theodred, son of Theoden, was a young man of stern countenance and steel-thick will. Leader of the forces of the kingdom of Rohan, he was respected as one of their greatest warriors and looked up to as the successor of the throne. In his dark good looks his people found power, and in his blue, gray-flecked eyes, they found hope. His arms were tailored to him, marking him as the prince of the Rohirrim, and his blade had in the short years of his service seen the blood of many orcs.

All of these things, however, did little to deter Èowyn from getting what she wanted from her dear cousin.

"You must let us go with you, Theodred!" she pleaded, raising her hands to grip his arm and keep him from walking away. She worked her frustrated fingers through the sleeves of her gown – abysmal, unpractical thing it was! She much preferred her rougher peasants clothing or – even better – her warrior garb. "Please, you must!"

"Must I, Èowyn?" Theodred turned his angry gaze to his cousin, only a year and half younger than himself. "Since when must I do anything?"

"I would beg you, my brother," a quiet voice interrupted from the gate. Both turned to find a broad-shouldered blond man leaning against the door frame, heavy eyes on flitting from one form to the other, finally settling on Theodred. "If not both of us, take her with you."

Èowyn's heart nearly stopped at her brother's words. Theodred straightened, however, looking affronted, and opened his mouth to speak as he fixed his ire on his elder cousin. "What – Èomer – have – have you both lost your minds?" He ran his tongue over parched and dry lips, shaking his head, dark hair swirling around his features with each furious movement. "You know that the first place the Orcs will spill to are the Elven kingdoms! You know Rohan and there are safe places for Èowyn to be, but Lothlorien is not one of them! Much less for all three of us…."

Èomer stepped forward, rising to the challenge of the debate beautifully. Èowyn's hope soared – yes, yes! she cheered her brother on – soon Theodred would give in, he would take her with him, and Èomer too, if she could muster it –

"I am not fond of the idea," Èomer said, nodding his head to acknowledge all of the concerns that Theodred had voiced and shooting Èowyn a glare, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking, "nor am I fond of the Golden Woods, or any of those who reside there. From what I have heard, the Elf-Witch is not a hospitable creature." He crossed his arms over his chest, hands gripping his forearms tightly. He gave a moment's pause. "However," he continued, glancing back at Theodred, "I would that you take Èowyn with you."

Theodred furrowed his brow. "To what purpose, Èomer? I must go there for the council, if nothing else. You say yourself that you do not trust these people. What – "

But then he froze, and silenced, and motioned for the other two to do the same. As they heard slow, heavy footsteps approach Theodred's chambers, they faced the doors and waited, wiping their faces of anything that would give even the slightest hint as to what they were speaking of.

A head peeked into the room – black, greasy hair with a pale, greasy face – and once spying the three waiting for him, he paused a moment before stepping inside, gathering the layers of his thick black robes around him as he glided closer.

"Yes, Wormtongue, what is it that you want?" Theodred demanded, tone infused with cold, stiffened fury. Èowyn forced herself not to look away. She hated that man and she hated seeing her cousin like this.

"Oh nothing, really," Grima Wormtongue drawled, voice as oily as his skin. "I merely wanted to, ah, let you know, dear princeling, that there is a small contingent of orcs at the northern border."

"What?" Theodred demanded, feeling his heart beginning to pound loudly in his ears. Maybe this could come to their advantage, if they played their cards right. The forces of Rohan could yet handle raids without much of a problem. "Have you sent the soldiers?"

"Yes, my lord," Grima replied, beginning to slowly back out, bowing slightly as he did so. "I merely wished to let you know." He turned his gaze to the maiden standing beside her cousin's tall form. "I only thought you would like to join your people in battle as you so often do." He gave a small laugh and walked away, and they listened as his footsteps faded into nothing.

There was a terse silence. "I cannot allow for him to learn of where we intend to be," Theodred said, fists clenched, voice taut, but at a lower tone than before. "He has manipulated my father for too long – too long! – and Rohan needs aid, Èomer, Èowyn. We cannot hold this on our own." He kept his gaze fixed at the threshold of his room that had been crossed minutes before by someone he'd like no better than to kill.

He loathed leaving his people in a time of need, but for long he had been suspecting that his father's advisor had something to do with the attacks. How did he know so soon that there were orcs at the border? How did Grima of all people learn of these attacks before the cavalry did? There was something in the situation that left Theodred feeling adrift, and all he could grasp onto was the fact that the orcs from Isengard were being sent with the intention of having him killed. His people were dying because they defended him and his family.

"Theodred," Èowyn said softly, this time taking his hands in both of hers, "I fear for not only myself but for my brother if we are to remain here. That foul snake has made it no secret from us that he wishes the throne and he will do anything to get his way! If he ever becomes so bold as to banish or kill you and Èomer, then there truly will be no hope for our kingdom!" She paused in her tirade, willing for her cousin to see what she meant, to understand what she was asking. She saw in the gray-flecked eyes both sorrow and strength and it reinforced her own enough for her to finish what she had begun to say.

Stronger tones colored her words as she gathered confidence in what she was saying, and slower, but with no less urgency, she said, "Take us both with you. We will escape to the elves and find reinforcement from if not them then from Gondor or – or – the dwarves, I know not! Our people are brave and strong, and they will hold Edoras until we return."

Theodred remained silent and stoic for another few moments, before pulling Èowyn into a tight embrace and grasping Èomer's shoulder. "The journey will be long and perilous. Bring only what you must and enough rations to last a fortnight. We will not stop until we reach the sanctity of the Woods and attend the council. No one else saw the message, so we should be safe from discovery."

He pulled back from both of them, and met gazes as strong and spirited as his own. "Take your finest steed, and make sure they are fed and well-rested. Èowyn, you still have your armor – yes? Wear them and disguise your voice. Under the pretense of joining the Riders at the Fords of Isen, we leave at dusk."

Five days had passed since Moria and Gimli found himself willing for things to remain the way it was: peaceful, silent… no threats of untimely death or doom from Mordor, and basking in the glory that was the Lady Galadriel. The serenity was welcomed, and though he still didn't quite see what elves saw in these trees of theirs, it was a comfortable place to be and the Lorien elves were very kind to him and his companions.

Unlike that Mirkwood elf.

Gimli had no qualms about Legolas. Being the honest dwarf that he was, he could confidently say that Legolas was a rude, intolerable creature that was not trustworthy and undeserving of being one of the Fellowship.

…Except that he had truly shown courage in saving the life of Frodo and Gandalf in Moria. And he had secured the Ring's safety.

Those things don't count, he muttered to himself, running his fingers through his beard. Moreover, that whelp's father was the king of Mirkwood – the elf that had imprisoned the twelve dwarves traveling from the Lonely Mountain – Gimli's own father being one of them. And others would be arriving within days to attend the council that the Lady Galadriel had called, with the intent of gazing upon the leaf-brained twit and see how he was coming along. Lucky that she had sent for the others as soon as she saw Legolas fall in the mirror, or else they'd be waiting even longer for the others to arrive.

Ah, but for the irritating tree-hugger that Legolas had been, there was a lot of mourning going on for him. He had seen the stricken expression of the Marchwarden of Lorien, who later quietly explained that he visited Mirkwood quite often and had known Legolas as a mere babe (however millennia ago that may have been, Gimli thought haughtily). The singing – which he discovered was the elven way of grieving – had not yet ended; and only increased in volume as elves of Rivendell and Mirkwood and Lindon arrived over time.

And he was not so blind to notice the sag in Aragorn's shoulders ever since Moria.

…And despite how he complained and moaned and groaned about the elf, he hadn't been that bad. Gimli had half enjoyed the banter between them, despite however often and quickly it ended up offending one or the other of them. It was refreshing, somehow, and although the elf didn't have nigh the wit or clever words as he did, he had provided reasonably interesting competition.

"So you must be the son of Gloin."

Used to the fact by now (and especially after the twin sons of Elrond in Rivendell) that elves could move silently at will and that they would always do so, if only for the sake of mischief, he calmly turned to answer, but faltered when he saw who it was. First it was shock – Legolas? – but he quickly realized that though this new elf bore a striking resemblance to his fallen companion, he was certainly an older elf and held himself differently. Understanding dawning upon him and anger stirring from deep within, he stood slowly, letting his gaze stay firmly fixed on that of Thranduil.

Thranduil raised a cool eyebrow – argh, just like the other one! Gimli thought, almost able to see Legolas' face beside his father's, giving that same infuriating look. Slowly, the elf circled the dwarf, and there was silence between them.

Gimli took the opportunity to observe his foe. He was tall. Oh, he was tall, even taller than that brute son of his. His shoulders were much broader, arms doubly muscular – obviously the mark of one who wielded a sword, rather than a bow. His robes were made of fine silks, of greens and browns and golds, and upon his long, elaborately braided and knotted blond hair, he wore a golden crown of leaves, each embedded with emeralds and diamonds and gems as beautiful as those in the dwarven caves Gimli lived in. His facial features were similar to Legolas', but had sharper angles where his son's were softer. His eyes were the same color, but there was no wonder or laughter in his eyes. As if Thranduil was a cold statue, each detail delicately etched and carved into the thickest marble available on Middle-Earth, he peered down at Gimli with contempt.

It was like looking at a bigger and more irritating version of Legolas.

Before either said or did anything, however, to Gimli's utter surprise and consternation, the king looked away and continued to walk past him.

Confused as to what that was all about, the dwarf watched the regal elf disappear beyond the trees. Standing there, appalled and unsure of whether he should be offended by the oddity that the elves were, he could slowly but surely see his peaceful and relaxing days dwindling to a close.

And how right Gimli was. For the very next day, as the dwarf wandered around the Golden Wood, vaguely beginning to wish that the pointy-eared archer were there, if only to provide some interesting debate, the sound of raised voices caught his attention from a clearing further to his left. After a moment of hesitation, in which he pondered the right to privacy versus the amusement of seeing elves bickering with each other, he felt a rush of glee and tamped it down, before slowly, painstakingly, making his way towards the clearing.

He made sure to be careful and quiet as he got closer. There was no slowing in the rapidity of the speech flowing, and reluctantly he rested his success on the lack of attention from those arguing.

Gimli, being a dwarf, hardly understood a word of the furious elvish that was passing between the three people he spied upon in surprise – Thranduil, Aragorn, and another blond elf whom he didn't recognize, but must have been very powerful indeed to face down such expressions as those Thranduil was sending in his direction.

Ah well. He settled for watching anyway – he didn't need to understand elvish to know who lost and who won.

Aragorn, however, had no such luxury. "My Lords, you must put this dissention aside if you are to be of any help during the council."

Thranduil's cold, furious rage extended a fraction of its warmth to the Dunadan. "And who are you to speak so, son of Arathorn? You who has not reclaimed the throne, who has not yet become king, who let two of the company fall in Moria? You are only so lucky that both should still live."

Aragorn was taken aback at those words, stung, though not surprised. He was the leader of the Fellowship, as Gandalf was its guide, and as Legolas had been its eyes and ears…. "Do not blame him for things that he had no control over," Glorfindel said in a clipped tone, quickly coming to ranger's aid. "The choices made were at both Mithrandir's and Legolas' discretion. And I must say that I disagree with neither."

Thranduil's eyes widened at the statement and for a moment, his rage was second to his shock. "You would leave my son to that world!"

"I would say that his choice is what keeps our hopes to destroy the dark one alive, Thranduil," Glorfindel shot back coolly. "He saved both the ring and its bearer. His actions show he was not unprepared for such a quest. You would do well to remember that."

And with dwindling thoughts of reconciliation, Aragorn regretfully watched Thranduil's previously cold wrath turn to something fiery that rivaled even the depths of Mount Doom. He had never before seen the cool, composed elf king act in such a way, and decided that he was definitely lucky that he wasn't Legolas.

"I will not forget this, Glorfindel," Thranduil said, his voice soft but as hard as the gems he was so fond of. "The house you serve has left my people to die before – and I will not allow for it to happen to my son!"

Glorfindel kept his elven stare fixed on Thranduil. Slowly, not budging in the slightest, he replied, "I do grieve for Legolas, Thranduil. Mistake me not – I am not heartless, and I would not leave any of our own to such a fate if it could be helped." He added nothing more, and finally his gaze roved from Thranduil's motionless face to Aragorn's, and giving a simple tilt of his head, the elf of Gondolin turned and left the clearing.

Thranduil and Aragorn stood side by side, watching the elf lord leave. The air was still full of tension, and the leaves of the trees around them had not yet resumed flickering in the wind, it was so still.

"Long have I defended the forests of Mirkwood," Thranduil said darkly, not sparing Aragorn a glance. "And long have my kin. We have none of the aid that Elrond Half-Elven or the Lady have, and danger was a constant in our lives since the construction of Dol Guldur so many years ago." The king's words lowered in volume, but the vehemence was evident in every syllable of what he uttered. "If I must lose my son to the Halls of Mandos, I would not have him fall in the service of men."

Practically spitting out the last word, Thranduil spun and left the clearing the opposite way Glorfindel had. Letting out a sigh, Aragorn fought to temper his anger at the king's words. The king had never been fond of their friendship – perhaps, because he knew the pain that the passing of the mortal could cause his son. And though the elf-king did not protect his son from the ferocity of battle, he did all he could to protect his son from whatever he deemed as emotionally trying. Hardly did the king consider that he himself was a source of turmoil for the prince.

A miniscule ruffling of leaves caught Aragorn's attention, and remembering who was there, called in a carrying voice, "You may come out now, Gimli."

There was silence before the rustling grew louder and the stout dwarf emerged from the trees surrounding the edges of the clearing. The other member of the Fellowship joined Aragorn at the center and looked up at him, dark eyes glittering thoughtfully from amongst the bushels of beard and hair.

They both contemplated the argument between the lords of Rivendell and Mirkwood before Aragorn indulged himself to a wry comment. "Well, that went better than I thought it would."

Jack Sparrow had very odd taste in his choice of place to go, Legolas noted to himself as they stepped off the Interceptor and made their way, stumbling amidst boulders, towards the bright lights and loud voices in the approaching distance. The exhilaration of sailing for the first time had twisted itself into a fluttering knot in his belly, and tug at his heartstrings.

He glanced at Will to see his reaction to sounds ahead, but found that the boy was still brooding over the earlier conversation he'd had with Sparrow concerning his father. Legolas was only slightly amused that Will Turner – whose dislike of pirates was evident in the simplest of things – turned out to be the son of one. He would hate to be in the boy's dilemma, so refrained from laughing aloud at the irony, but the humor he found in it was still evident to Will Turner, who was not being very forgiving about it.

Sparrow had the logic to dock the Interceptor off to the side of the crescent-shaped isle, so ships coming into the bay would not notice the presence of the stolen ship and its meager crew. "We'll be staying here for a bit," Sparrow told them as they walked along. "The Black Pearl is somewhere around here, and that means your bonny lass will be too."

"How are you sure of that?" Legolas asked softly, speaking if only to drown the empty sound of the waves crashing into the rocks below out of his mind, as he placed a hand upon a rock and used it to balance himself as he stepped on another. "They set out the night before we did, and have been here since this morn, if they were to have made it here at the same speed we have. They may have left hours ago, if they ever stopped here at all."

"You don't know them like I do." Sparrow's dark tone made Legolas glance over at him, eyes narrowed slightly in concern. Whatever it was about the crew of the Black Pearl had certainly left Sparrow both bitter and vengeful. And a man bent on revenge was hardly one Legolas felt he could trust.

Either way, Sparrow was likely to know what he was doing, and also to use whatever advantage came his direction. He and Will were safe for the while, but there was still a lurking suspicion that there was more to it than just Sparrow agreeing to help out the son of his old friend.

They finally arrived at the buildings, dirty wooden structures with bare yards. Though there was no one near, the noise could be heard much clearer, and Legolas had to work a moment to tune out the ruckus. "Come this way," Sparrow said quietly, placing a hand on his arm and gently steering the other two towards a back alley that ran between two of the cabins. He seemed unable to keep a grin from playing on his features.

"You'll love it here, lad," Jack told Will, clapping him on the back. "There's a thing or two you could learn, if I say so meself."

"Like what?" Will asked confusedly, glancing at Legolas to see if he understood what the pirate was getting at. Legolas merely shrugged, not knowing what else Will could learn in such a sty other than how to make a lot of racket.

"Many a good thing!" Jack answered rather magnanimously, waving his arms around as he said so. As more and more light began to filter and the voices became louder, Jack added, "More importantly, it is indeed a sad life that has never breathed this sweet, proliferous bouquet that is Tortuga."

They finally reached the end of the alley, and Legolas' eyes were assaulted by the utter mess that the village was. Men chasing women, some sitting drunkenly on barrels and others on the balconies with their legs dangling down. Some men held black metal things in their hands that set off fire in the direction they pointed and made such a sound that it felt as though someone had thrown daggers into his ears.

"What do you think?" Jack Sparrow asked, looking first at Will and then Legolas, smiling expectantly. Legolas surmised that he'd never seen the pirate as excited, one could say, as he was now.

"It'll linger," Will said after a moment, eyes wide as he took in the surroundings, though seemingly unsurprised that this was the place Sparrow had been so eager to take them to.

"Unpleasantly," Legolas added after a moment, raising an eyebrow. Maybe this was common for men? He had hardly been to any villages of men, after all, his father had soundly forbidden him from much travel – another reason he'd been so eager to join the Fellowship. This is what I disobeyed my father and king to see?

…Well, if nothing else, it didn't leave the eyes with naught to look at.

"I'll tell you, mate," Jack said, moving ahead of the other two now, holding out arms that waved around as if to encompass all that he was saying, "if every town in the world were like this one, no man would feel unloved."

And in this time, they had been noticed by not only one, but several people. However, the first to reach Jack was a woman dressed in swarthy, layered folds of what seemed like once had been a very nice deep red gown. She did not seem friendly, however, judging by the deep scowl and angle of the brows.

Far from being alarmed, as Legolas himself might have been if a woman was approaching him with that expression on her face, Jack seemed overjoyed at the sight of her. "Scarlett!"

The woman, Scarlett, said nothing in reply, and swiftly swung back her arm to bring it forward to land a harsh slap to Sparrow's face before she walked away. Jack recovered after a moment, rubbing the side of his face with a befuddled expression as he watched her leave. "Not sure I deserved that."

"Though she seems to think you did," Legolas said, nodding towards another woman that was stalking towards Jack.

"Giselle!" Immediately the ache seemed to vanish and there was a bright smile upon Sparrow's face.

This woman, who seemed almost more infuriated than Scarlett, glowered as she approached, and her hair framed her darker eyes in a way that made Legolas want to cringe on the pirate's behalf.

Raising a high-pitched and somewhat grating voice, Giselle demanded, "Who was she?"

Jack's face lost the grin and adopted the confused look. "What?"

Legolas did not have to be an elf to have sensed the resounding slap before it came. As Giselle stalked away with a haughty glare, Jack reeled again and admitted in a quiet voice, "I may have deserved that."

"I am in no mood for this," Will said, glancing warily about them. "Where is Elizabeth?"

"Not here," Jack warned, snapping up a hand quickly and scanning the loud drunks around them. He paused a moment, before his eyes locked on a tavern and he started walking towards the entrance.

"You mean to say that we'll be staying here?" Will asked in dismay, though in a way that made it clear that he didn't expect anyone to listen to him. The soft complaint was only caught by Legolas' elven hearing, and although he himself might have preferred making camp somewhere along the outskirts of the town, if only to be in the open sky and away from all the absurd racket, he knew there was safety in being among other people. After all, a crowded and busy tavern was hardly the first place one would look for a group of wanted people. Or would they? Backtracking, Legolas decided that his knowledge of the human race did not extend past Aragorn and Boromir, both of whom were exceptional, and that knowledge could hardly be applied to the people here….

Even at the threshold of the entrance the blast of drunken singing and the smell of sweat and rum reached them. Will and Legolas hung back as Jack made room arrangements, and although Will flushed nervously at all the attention that the two seemed to be garnering from the people lounging around the tavern, Legolas was used to the sort of stares he would get from those of other races and ignored them.

"My boat's by the tower and my bark's on the bay…" the men at the bar strung up song, and in their sloshed state and slurred tones, Legolas could barely make out the words. "And both must be gone at the dawn of the day…"

"What a filthy place," Will commented to Legolas idly, arms crossed over his chest as his eyes wandered the warmly lit establishment. Although the light was nice and undoubtedly gave his two human companions the comfort of clearer sight, it became quite clear that only an intense scrubbing would rid the floors of their layers of dirt. "Though I'd hardly expect a pirate to choose any better –"

"The moon's on the shroud, and to light thee afar on the deck of the daring's a lovelighted star…."

Legolas glanced at the lad when he abruptly stopped speaking, and catching the twisted irritation molding the boy's expression, he knew that the boy had again reminded himself that his own father had been a pirate. Stereotypes had stopped applying at that realization, and Legolas did not remain untouched by it. Long had he heard tales of raiders and wild men, which he found at about the same level of villainy as these pirates were. In battle they had seemed like a faceless mob of people, each wearing the same garb and each brandishing the same sword – same, yet different, and he sorrowed for each soul lost, but he felt that at least now he could put faces to these people, even if he thought that there would be none nearly as strange as Jack Sparrow. Indeed.

Impossibly the men's voices seemed to have grown louder. "And the sails shall be gilt in the gold of the day, and the sea robins sing as we roll on our way…."

"This way, mates," Jack called over his shoulder as he went for the rickety stairs on the right of the bar. Will seemed to have an internal debate, before he shrugged a shoulder to himself and made to follow. Legolas turned to follow as well, but as he walked past others he felt as if there were eyes on him – not the usual wondering stares – but someone's eyes were fixed on him…

Stopping at the third step he sharply turned his head towards the bar. A row of men littered the area, each holding mugs and bottles of frothy drink…. Not there, not there…. Finally his eyes met those that had been lingering on him longer than one would permit, and Legolas felt himself stiffen when he recognized the darkness that pervaded the soul of the man sitting along the far corner, tilting a shot glass to his foul lips in a lazy and self-assured manner. It was as though a haze had fallen over him – he could still hear all the braying and talk around him – dimmed somehow…. The ring weighed heavier upon the chain around his neck….

"A hundred shall serve - the best of the brave, and the chief of a thousand shall kneel as thy slave…."

The elven prince stood frozen in shock and silence as the man raised a dark brow and lit up with dark humor, eyes still set on his.

"And thou shalt reign queen, and thy empire shall last, till the black flag by inches, is torn from the mast!"

The song finished as the figure lifted his glass to him in a minute, mocking solute, and the only thing Legolas could think was, How could a servant of Saruman possibly have gotten here?

end two houses

Characters, plot, and places are property of Pirates of the Caribbean © Walt Disney; Lord of the Rings © New Line Cinema & JRR Tolkien. No infringement intended. Plot, however, is all mine.

Author's Note: I had hoped to have this out at the beginning of the month but made it longer, so I hope that makes up for it. This chapter may have been confusing, so just to clarify: all that occurs on Middle-Earth happens within a week of Moria, while so far, the events in the Caribbean have only covered a few days after Moria. Events in the Caribbean will resume matching up in the next chapter, which I have been waiting to write since starting this fic.

Arwen, Glorfindel, and a few important Lindon elves were already in Lothlorien when the council was called, and that's about all I've covered so far. Thranduil I see as a caring but overbearing father, severe and stern but still very protective of his "cub." More bad blood between Glorfindel and Thranduil will have later consequences in the coming few chapters. Although I chose the Shakespeare quote for this specific chapter, the animosity resulting between the two houses will be an issue and play a bigger role in later chapters.

Pirate song found at www .geocities .com /captcutlass /mu /so18.html (remove the spaces). Lady Russell Holmes has also sent me a work of fan art for Of Gilded Blood! Very funny, and you may see it here: img71 .photobucket .com /albums /v217 /ryssellholmes /wench.jpg (remove the spaces). Thank you so much!

For chapter status, I have been regularly updating my author's bio thing. So if you're wondering how far I am in the next chapter, you can check there anytime. Please keep reviewing, I appreciate all feedback :)