Disclaimer: For full disclaimer, please see chapter 1.


Yes, I do realise that this is a little late. There were a number of things preventing me from updating sooner, among them an incredibly uncooperative, broken dishwasher and the fact that I locked myself out of our flat yesterday (I had to wait over three hours till 10:30 pm. till someone saw it fit to let me in! grrrr), but I don't think I'll go into details. I don't want to bore you all to death, after all. g Suffice to say that I'm sorry. I really am. apologetic smile

Well, we've once again reached the last chapter. It's hard to believe, really - I thought the characters would never shut up! They've been really bad this time, I think they've figured out how much that annoys me... dark look at assorted elves and ranger Ah well. They deserve a little fun as well, I guess. g

Speaking about fun: The next story. As I said, I am indeed planning to write a sequel to this, which won't be here for some time though, I'm afraid. I really have no idea when I'll find the time, but I really wouldn't expect it before end of July or something like that. dodges heavy objects Yes, yes, I KNOW that's evil and sadistic and a number of other things, but I really don't have the time right now. For a few more details about the sequel to the sequel to the sequel of the story
(g), read more after the chapter. Well, essentially it's the name and not much more, but...
The good thing is, however, that there will be a short story before that. Yay! It will most likely be posted around the 13th of July (questioning look at Marbienl Did I get that right?), and doesn't have a name yet. It's just a little story including Aragorn, Legolas and a troll, so keep an eye out for it.

Two last things: I didn't think it necessary, but since I've been asked a lot of times now whether the next story will include Lord Súliat and his delegates, I think I should make this clear. So, I'll say this very slowly and carefully: Súliat - is - Saruman. Okay? I don't think I will put him into a story, especially since his treachery wasn't discovered before III, 3018, which is still a bit in the future. g
And the second thing: There won't be any Elrond in this story, sorry. There was no way I could get them from Baredlen to Mirkwood to Rivendell in one chapter, and I somehow doubt that the Lord of Rivendell will run off headlessly to Mirkwood even though he knows perfectly well that he won't be able to help anyone. shrugs That's my interpretation, so feel free to criticise me.

Well, enough talking, here is the last chapter, which might even be the longest. I don't really know, I've stopped counting the pages - it's too depressing. g So, we have a little discussion between a certain blond elf and Aragorn, receive even more proof that Celylith is completely and utterly mad, see a bit more of Cendan, Sero and the others, we find out what happened to Anardir (yup, I didn't forget about him!) and they get back to Mirkwood. Yes, I think that's about it. g

Enjoy and review, please!

Chapter 33

Aragorn was sitting on the edge of his bed, possessing neither the desire nor, in fact, enough strength to get up and leave the room. It was a beautiful morning, but that fact only infused him with new determination to stay here and not put a foot out of his room.

The man sighed softly, allowing himself to sink backwards, back onto the heap of blankets that covered the mattress he was sitting on. His bound ribs and the rest of his numerous injuries complained fiercely against that movements, but that was something the ranger had learned to live with. It wasn't as much the weakness in his body that prevented any decisive actions on his part – even though he was still rather exhausted, even after more than a day of bed rest.

Aragorn inwardly shook his head. It was hard to believe that only one and a half days had passed since they had begun to set Legolas' exceedingly stupid plan into motion (he was still positively astonished that it had worked in the end, at least more or less). Neither he nor any of his friends or family had been awake for most of the first day, which was really not all that surprising. Both Legolas and Celylith and Glorfindel and his brothers had looked so bad that Aragorn had firmly expected them to sleep for several days in a row, elven recuperative powers or not.

After Thesieni had dragged them back to Laenro's house and had drugged those of them who hadn't already lost consciousness in the first place, it had taken Sero, Cendan and his men most of the remaining day and even quite a long part of the next one to get the entire city under their control. The fear of the people had turned into open hatred and violence, and till yesterday evening the guards had had trouble prevent angry mobs from burning the houses of prominent councilmen and high-ranking officers.

Then again, the man thought wryly, he was rather sure that the guards and Laenro's men had rather often … well, forgotten how to get to the scene of a fire or a riot. He couldn't really blame them, of course; after more than a hundred and fifty years of living under Girion's and his ancestors' rule he'd have the urge to burn something as well. Yesterday the smoke from the fires had been visible even from his window, but today he hadn't seen anything yet.

He hoped that wouldn't change either. He had no idea what would happen to this town now, but something he did know was that it wouldn't help anyone if one half of the populace kept burning down the property of the other half – no matter how much that second half might deserve it. Now that he thought about it, the relative order and quiet that hung over the city didn't surprise him all that much. He was rather sure that Cendan wouldn't look kindly on anyone who disobeyed his orders to behave civilly and respect law and order, no matter if it were his own men, Laenro's or any other people.

So, he concluded, he was neither afraid that a wild mob would burst into the house to burn it down if he left his room, nor was he particularly weak. Well, Aragorn amended reluctantly when a small voice at the back of his mind started to roar with laughter at that though, at least he was exceedingly weak. Yes, he did have a multitude of holes in various parts of his body, yes, his ribs felt as if someone very big and heavy had sat down on them, and yes, he had a purple-greenish ring of bruises covering his throat (just like Legolas), but he had felt worse – at least he thought so. He could stand and even walk unaided, which was a huge improvement to two days ago.

No, he thought darkly, the real reason for his reluctance to leave the small room was the date. Today was the first of March and therefore his twenty-third birthday. He had always been somewhat anxious on his birthdays, but because of different reasons than now.

When he had been younger, especially during the first few years after he had been brought to Rivendell, he had always been afraid that his newly adopted family would forget his birthday, since it was the only true birthday that was celebrated in Imladris. He had soon learned that elves didn't celebrate birthdays; they celebrated the day on which they had been begotten. Since elven pregnancies lasted for almost exactly a year, an elf's begetting day was also his or her birthday, but the event that was celebrated was the conception, not the birth as such.

As a child he had always feared that his elven friends and family would confuse his birthday with his begetting day or something of the like, even though that had never happened, of course. Now he wasn't afraid that Elladan and Elrohir or any of his friends would have forgotten his birthday – which they hadn't, he was sure about it. He hadn't seen much of either the twins or Legolas and the others, but he was certain that he hadn't imagined the conspiratorial sparkle in their eyes which Celylith had been unable to conceal. Legolas and the twins had acted just as they always did when they were being forced to remain somewhere where they didn't want to be (in this case, in their beds), but the silver haired wood-elf hadn't been quite as successful.

Aragorn shook his head firmly and contemplated pulling a blanket over his head. No, they were up to something, which, under normal circumstances, wouldn't have bothered him in the slightest. The only problem was that there was not even the tiniest bit of festive mood left in him at the moment; all such emotions had drained out of him, the deaths of Girion and his men and the fact that they were all alive and relatively well notwithstanding. He wasn't exactly depressed, but the last thing he wanted to do now was to accept well-wishes and listen to jokes about him growing up so fast.

He was still contemplating this when the door opened without as much as a creak, and this time Aragorn did pull the blanket over his head. Apart from the fact that it was rather cold in the room – something that happened quite often if you let the fire go out, a soft voice in his head scolded him – it just might convince whoever had entered the room that he was asleep. He almost snorted at that thought. Just whom was he trying to convince of that?

Soft, almost inaudible footsteps drew closer to his bed and stopped next to him, and Aragorn sighed inwardly. He knew these footsteps, and he would personally eat the blanket that covering most of his face if the person standing next to him would just leave like that.

The person in question did indeed not leave and merely remained where he was, until, after some moments, he finally spoke, amusement and a small amount of worry detectable in the clear voice that could be heard.

"Oh, but you can do better than this, Aragorn."

The man didn't give any outward reaction and stubbornly kept his eyes closed, wishing his fair haired friend onto the peak of Caradhras or to a comparably remote location.

There was a short silence that was finally interrupted by the sound of softly rustling clothes, and a moment later Aragorn felt how his elven visitor sat down on the edge of his bed. The seconds trickled by, and finally the ranger growled inwardly. He was slowly beginning to believe what many people said, namely that the elven race was the most annoying of them all.

"If you think that I am going to leave just because you pretend to be asleep, think again, young one."

Yes, Aragorn thought darkly. Elves were the most annoying race on all of Arda.

"And if you think that I am going to stop pretending to be asleep just because you are staring at me, it is you who should think again, my friend."

"Ah yes," the elf retorted, sounding definitely amused now, and Aragorn could almost see the raised eyebrows. "You always were a stubborn one, just like the rest of your family."

The blanket was pulled back, causing the man to finally open his eyes with a softly spoken curse. Just why couldn't they leave him alone for once?
"Alright," he grumbled irritably. "You have succeeded, I'm awake. May I suggest that you leave again so that I can go back to sleep?"

The blond elf seemed to think about it for a moment and then shook his head.
"No, Estel, I am sorry. You are expected downstairs."

Aragorn slowly sat up, wincing as that movement jarred his injuries. He took a few deep breaths and carefully leaned back against the headboard of his narrow bed.
"I am not in the mood, Glorfindel," he told the elf.

"I know," the golden haired elf nodded, and moved his left, bandaged arm the tiniest bit. "But you need it, and so do the others."

"Glorfindel," Aragorn began. "I am not in the mood, and neither are the twins or Legolas. They only plan something to cheer me up."

"Exactly," the elf nodded again. "But they also do this because they want to cheer themselves up, even though they may not know it themselves. And that is the reason why you will go down there and at least try to enjoy the honey-cakes they have bribed that dragon of a healer to get for you."

"Honey-cakes?" the ranger asked. "How in the name of the One did they manage that?" Glorfindel only shrugged, and a moment later the amused expression disappeared from the man's face and he shook his head again. "More people than I can count have been killed in the past few days, not to mention Galalith and perhaps even Anardir. I have killed more people than I can count – people, Glorfindel, Men."

The young man took a deep breath, his eyes darkening until they resembled a dark sky covered with heavy grey clouds.

"They were all men like me, my friend. Not orcs, or goblins, or uruks or any other servants of the Dark Lord, but humans. I can still remember the face of every man I have killed two days ago, did you know that? I know that I didn't have any other choice and only did what I had to protect myself and my friends, but that doesn't make it any easier."

"It's not supposed to," the elf shook his head slowly. "The day it becomes easy to kill a man is the day your soul dies, young one. That you mourn their deaths honours you, Estel, but you were mistaken in one regard: They were not men like you. They were nothing like you."

"No," Aragorn shook his head as well, irony and bitterness in his eyes, "No, they were not. Most of them were merely frightened out of their wits and too afraid of their lord to disobey him, even if that meant losing their lives."

"You may be right," Glorfindel replied earnestly. "Yet that doesn't change anything. They were afraid, you are right, but that doesn't change that they had the chance to choose what to do. No," he raised his hand and interrupted the man who had been about to speak, "let me finish, please. Maybe you are right, and they didn't have the choice before all this started, but in the end they did. Most of their officers were dead to begin with, and they would have had the chance to change sides or to walk away from the fight; you know that neither you nor any of Cendan's guards would have pursued them."

The fair haired elf shook his head, sadness flickering over his face.
"You certainly are correct, Aragorn, they were frightened. But they allowed that fear to dictate their actions, even when they had the chance to save their lives. There is nothing you could have done differently, young one. You did what you had to do, and if you hadn't, I wouldn't be here to have this conversation."

"Now wouldn't that be a shame," Aragorn muttered wryly.

"Indeed it would be," Glorfindel smiled smugly, totally ignoring the sarcasm that had coloured the man's words. "It would truly be a pity if I didn't have the chance to share my wisdom with young ones such as yourself."

"Oh yes," Aragorn nodded, displaying a rather false smile. "A terrible tragedy." He fell silent for a few moments before he raised his head again, a stubborn sparkle in his eyes that Glorfindel had seen often enough in Elrond's to groan inwardly. "I thank you for your words, my lord, but I am still not in the mood to celebrate."

"That hardly matters," Glorfindel retorted evenly. "It is not about what you want, but what you need."

"If you say something like 'It is only for your own good, young one', I am afraid I will have to hurt you."

"I was not intending to," the elf shook his head, a small sparkle of amusement in his eyes. He paused for a moment before he spoke again, all mirth disappearing from his eyes in an instant. "Do you know how much the twins slept during the nine days it took us to get here?"

Aragorn blinked in surprise, slightly taken aback by the sudden change of topic.

"About fifteen or sixteen hours," Glorfindel answered expressionlessly. "They were out of their minds with worry. I do not think I have seen them so afraid or anxious since … since their mother was taken in the mountains."

The young man hung his head. If Glorfindel was trying to make him feel even more miserable, then the elf lord was succeeding quite nicely.
"I am sorry," he began haltingly. "I … I didn't mean to worry any of you, I swear, I just…"

"I know," the golden haired elf said softly and placed a finger under the young man's chin, forcing him to look him in the eyes. "I know you didn't, and I am not trying to accuse you of any ill intent whatsoever. I understand why you had to follow Legolas, and I just might have done the same if our positions had been reversed."

He smiled at the ranger and let go of his chin.
"What I am trying to say is that, for more than a week, Elladan and Elrohir thought you to be dead. We all knew that you had been captured when we found that camp in the woods, and ever since then the twins feared to find your corpse somewhere. We didn't know why the prince had been taken, but it was clear that the men needed him. They didn't need you."

"No," Aragorn agreed. "If Legolas hadn't been injured when I found him, I doubt that they would have let me live either. Reran wasn't one to take unneeded baggage with him."

"Yes," Glorfindel nodded. "We had come to that conclusion as well. They thought they had been too late – again," the elf stressed quietly. "They thought all they would be able to do was to bring back your body to your father, knowing that they had failed him yet again. I know," he interrupted Aragorn before he could speak the words that were on the tip of his tongue, "I know that it wouldn't have been their fault, just like the Lady Celebrían's fate was not theirs to change. But in their hearts they still believe it, and they feel responsible for you, just like they felt responsible for their mother."

"No matter what happens," the young man said quietly, "I will die one day. Maybe not for many years to come, but in the end I will die and leave the circles of this world. That is nothing they or anyone else can change."

To his surprise, the elf merely smiled, a radiant smile that almost caused the bruises on his face and around his eye to fade.
"Ah, but Estel," he began and shook his head, "That doesn't matter, don't you understand? It wouldn't change anything if you were an elf of two thousand years, nothing at all! You are their younger brother and they love you, and nothing will ever change that."

He looked at the young man seriously, once again wondering how it was possible that a human boy of twenty-two – no, he corrected himself quickly, twenty-three – years of age could look so much like Elrond.

"They know that you will die one day, pen-neth. It doesn't matter. But what does matter is that they were worried about you, worried so much that you could hardly get a straight answer out of them. They need to see that you are alive and well, and that everything will be fine." He shrugged slightly, a small smile spreading over his face. "Besides, the honey-cakes look delicious. Almost as good as Beorn's, if you ask me."

"Well," Aragorn inclined his head graciously, returning the elf's smile, "If you say so, I will certainly not disregard your advice in this matter. There is no one who knows as much about honey-cakes as you do, my lord."

"Indeed," Glorfindel nodded. "A small advantage of living as long as I have." He slowly stood to his feet, wincing slightly in the process, and offered the man a hand up. "Are you coming now, or do I have to drag you down there?"

"Alright, alright," Aragorn grumbled mockingly. "I am coming. You win."

"Of course I do," the elf retorted good-humouredly. "I always win."

"I don't think Erestor is of that opinion," the young ranger replied as he got to his feet. They had almost reached the door, both of them swaying slightly from side to side, when Aragorn stopped, his eyes serious in his bruised face. "Thank you, my friend. You always know what to say, somehow."

"And that," the elf smiled, "is an advantage of living in your father's house for a few thousand years, Estel. He is one of the wisest elves I have ever met – and I have met quite a few."

Aragorn only inclined his head, and Glorfindel reached for the doorknob and pulled the door open, motioning the ranger to precede him. The man had almost stepped out of the room when the elf's voice caused him to stop and look back over his shoulder.

"Oh, and Estel? Happy Birthday."

The smile that spread over the ranger's face was bright and more genuine than any Glorfindel had seen on his face for a long time, and he soundlessly closed the door behind him and followed the man down the stairs where his brothers and friends were waiting for them.

It was now or never, Celylith was well aware of that.

The elf nodded to himself and slowly and carefully moved down the wooden stairs leading to the lower level of the house. He was still not up to his full strength (and would most likely not be up to his full strength either for a few weeks yet), and once he almost lost his footing on the scrubbed steps. With his right arm bound tightly to his chest, he almost would have tumbled down the stairs headfirst, and only a quick, slightly desperate move with his left hand prevented such a thing.

All the time it took him to reach the lower level, he muttered darkly under his breath, still keeping his voice low in order not to attract any attention. The last thing he needed now was to lure that monster of a healer out of whatever dark hole she hid in during the night. Well, he amended only a moment later, she was not that bad, but in combination with Legolas, Aragorn and the others she was unbearable.

He wasn't an elfling, Celylith ranted inwardly, and neither was he made out of crystal or another fragile substance. Well, it might be true that every joint in his left arm had been dislocated and/or broken, and it might also be true that he had sustained a mild head wound, and he also might have suffered a few cuts, but he was no cripple! He was perfectly able to walk around as he pleased, and unaided at that! Besides, they shouldn't tell him what to do – they were at least as injured as he was!

The silver haired elf gingerly took the last step and began to make his way through the dark house, praying to the One that he wouldn't alert any of the inhabitants. He knew that humans needed a lot of sleep (at least Aragorn did, who was about the only reference he had in that regard), and the men living here shouldn't get up for at least another half-hour – at least he hoped so. If there was one thing Celylith hated about his prince, it was his over-protectiveness and inability to understand when another person was perfectly alright, and he wouldn't put it past him to have locked the front door or something similarly ridiculous.

He shook his head slightly. No, Legolas was far too busy recovering himself to do something like that. None of his companions was well enough to do anything like that, which was the reason why he was sneaking through this house like a kind of thief. Despite all their rather … unique states of health they had decided to leave today. It had been two days since they had spent a rather enjoyable morning eating honey-cakes and listening to the twins' stories about the ranger's misspent childhood and youth, and only four days since Girion had fallen, but all of them had concluded that they needed to leave as soon as possible.

Thesieni and Sero had insisted that they needed (absolutely needed, the woman had insisted in an exasperated tone of voice) to stay for some days longer, but that was nothing any of them was willing to do. There were no carrier pigeons in this town that could carry a message to Mirkwood, and none of them wanted to stay here longer than absolutely necessary if no one knew where they were.

Celylith sighed inwardly. He knew that it wasn't necessarily a very good idea to journey through this part of Middle-earth at this kind of year, and injured at that, but there was absolutely no way he would stay here even one day longer. The king would be going out of his mind with worry by now, and so would his father. He didn't even care if his father killed him once they got back.

But before he could leave, there was something he had to do. None of his companions would approve, he was sure about it, and so here he was, trying to move as soundlessly as possible. A few moments later he reached one of the side doors and opened it, taking a deep breath of the cold air that streamed into the room. It was considerably warmer now than it had been a few days ago, and Celylith felt how a smile began to spread on his still rather cut and bruised face. It fitted, somehow, that spring had begun to arrive in these parts. It fitted especially well if one considered that it arrived when they were leaving, but Celylith didn't allow that cynical thought to destroy his precarious good mood.

He stepped out of the building into the dark street and froze for a moment, trying to remember on which side of the house the stables were. He finally decided that they were on the right side and promptly turned to the left. The very last thing he needed now was to…

A dark, thoroughly evil-sounding whinny sounded to his left, and Celylith stopped as if someone had taken a hold of his shirt and yanked him back. He slowly turned to the side, his eyes widening to a rather amusing degree as he looked at the sneering face of Rashwe, who had poked his head out of his stable that was facing toward the street. He hadn't known that horses could sneer at you, he thought blankly.

He was standing in the middle of the small alley, looking at the animal that was staring at him with reproachful eyes that could even have been termed hateful. He really didn't know why Rashwe was behaving like this, he thought darkly. It had been him who had agreed to take the animal with him so it could see its master again, after all! Well, yes, it might be correct that he hadn't had much of a choice in that matter, and yes, it might also be true that Rashwe and the rest of their mounts had spent the past few days in a small, cramped stable at the castle (where the horse had most likely terrorised its surroundings with the greatest of pleasure), but that hadn't been his fault at all! He had been a little tied up at that time as well!

He had just opened his mouth to tell Rashwe exactly that when he closed it again a small snap. He would not justify himself to a horse, and most definitely not to this one! He slowly and carefully moved backwards, his eyes not leaving the animal that merely looked at him contemptuously. Next to it, another horse's head appeared, this one black as night. It was Aragorn's, the one he had named Rácatári out of reasons he refused to divulge, and it looked about as happy to see him as Rashwe, but it didn't seem to be quite as … well, evil. It just looked reproachful, and its large, soulful eyes were fixed on him accusingly.

This was all Celylith was able to take. One horse hated him, and the other made him feel like his father always did when he had done something incredibly stupid. He whirled around, coming face to face with one of the twins who was grinning at him in a manner that was beginning to look slightly deranged. It took the elf all his self-control not to startle visibly, and another moment to realise that he was facing the older of the two.

Elladan grinned when he saw the surprise the other elf was so quick to hide and raised a dark eyebrow mockingly.
"So the noble Lord Celylith, son of the equally noble Lord Celythramir, is running away from a horse?"

"No, I am not," Celylith shook his head tersely. "It's not a horse. It's a demon."

"True, true," a soft voice to Celylith's right agreed, and Elrohir stepped out of the shadow of the houses, the white bandage that was still wrapped around his head gleaming in the darkness. The younger twin was leaning heavily upon a carved wooden stick he had found somewhere in the house, and was still looking pale, even for an elf. "Still, you are running away from it, that much is certain, mellon nín."

"Oh," Celylith took a slightly wobbly step to the side and made a grand, sweeping motion with his unbound arm. "Please, show me your valour then, my Lord Elrohir! Surely you are not afraid of a little horse, demon or no demon?"

Elrohir's eyes wandered from the silver haired elf to the white horse that was slowly and derisively turning its head into his direction. The twin gulped rather obviously as the animal eyed him in a manner that made him very glad that it was safely shut away in a stable, and he turned back around to his brother and friend, a rather fake smile on his lips.

"That won't be possible, I fear," he said loftily. "We are leaving and are incidentally taking the other route, aren't we, brother?"

"Oh yes," Elladan nodded fervently and unconsciously reached out when his brother stumbled slightly. "Most certainly. I am not going anywhere near that … thing."

Rashwe's glare became even darker, if such a thing was even possible, and Celylith hastily turned around and began to follow the twins. It was bad enough that he would have to endure the animal on the way home; he wouldn't make everything worse by associating with the twins in front of it. It already despised him; there was no reason to give it yet another reason to hate him.

He had just reached the twins' side when Elrohir slowly turned his head, mindful of his injury, and gave him a mildly disapproving stare.
"Just what are you doing here anyway?"

"I could ask the same of you," Celylith answered defensively. "I am merely enjoying the beautiful morning."

Elrohir traded a wry look with his brother and ostentatiously raised his eyes to the dark sky.
"The beautiful morning. I see."

The silver haired elf ignored the twin's ironic words and gave him an innocent look that was coloured with quite a bit of suspicion as well.
"And what are you doing here? I doubt Legolas, your brother or Lord Glorfindel have agreed to let you take a little walk."

"Look who's talking," Elladan grinned at the elf, keeping one eye always on his younger brother to make sure he wouldn't fall. Now that his body had had the chance to counteract Glamir's potion in his system, he was feeling almost well again – something nobody here believed him, of course. "And to answer your question," he added smugly, "I am winning a bet."

Elrohir merely snorted as they reached the main road and turned to the left, into the direction of the central market place.
"That's what you think, dear brother." He turned to Celylith with a superior smile. "It is I who will be winning the bet, of course."

"I … see," Celylith said slowly, noticing that the two of them were heading into the same direction he was. That couldn't be good, it just couldn't. "What kind of bet?"

"You can't participate, if that's what you mean," Elladan answered. "He," he nodded into Elrohir's direction, "honestly thinks that I would believe him that he owes that gaping hole in his leg to that oxen thing."

"And the only way we can settle this argument is to walk down to the marketplace and have a look at its horns," Elrohir nodded. "Sero said yesterday that they had recaptured it after it gutted the better part of that guard contingent, so it should be there."

"The … ox," Celylith said slowly, his thoughts racing. Just how could he get the two of them to turn around and go back to the house? "Well, are you sure that's such a good idea? I mean, you are both not well and…"

The twins traded a suspicious glance and stopped, both of them looking at the silver haired elf in an inquisitive way that reminded Celylith a lot of their father.
"Neither are you," Elladan retorted. "Just what are you doing here again?"

"Well," Celylith began, thinking frantically. "I … well, strictly speaking … you could say that…"

"You want to visit that thing!" Elrohir exclaimed, looking at the other elf with wide eyes.

"Not really," the wood-elf retorted. "It's more that…"

Elladan shook his head as he realised what Celylith was doing here, on the morning of their departure, alone, sneaking through the streets like a thief.
"He doesn't want to visit it," he said slowly, his eyes not leaving the emotionless face of the silver haired elf. "He wants to free it."

"Nonsense," Elrohir shook his head as well. "Not even he is so stupid, is he?" He turned to Celylith and needed only to take one look at his face to realise that his brother was right. "I stand corrected."

Celylith gave the two of them only a dark look and continued to walk down the street. The twins stared at him for a moment, but began to follow him a moment later as quickly as they could.
"You are insane!" Elladan accused the Silvan elf. "That thing will kill you! Why would you want to free it?"

"No, it will not kill me. I will be careful," Celylith shrugged. "And someone has to."

"Uhm, no?" Elrohir arched an eyebrow. "I wouldn't even think about doing it."

"Exactly," the other elf nodded. "Nobody would. Now that Girion is dead, who knows what will happen to it?

"The more important question is: Who cares?"

"You just don't understand," Celylith shook his head. "It will simply…"

"Listen to me carefully, my friend," Elladan said darkly, pulling Celylith to a stop at the in the middle of the street and giving the marketplace that was only a few feet away a quick look. "Nobody – cares – what – happens – to – that – thing. Understood?"

"I care."

Elrohir threw his hands up, swaying slightly while he tried to regain his balance.
"You are mad!"

"That," the other elf retorted, "is a matter of definition. Now if you'll excuse me."

The twins remained where they were, looking at each other in a way that clearly suggested that they doubted the wood-elf's sanity, before they quickly followed him, moving as quickly as their injured bodies would allow them. They caught up with him in the middle of the marketplace, only a few feet away from the still frozen fountain and the large iron cage, and Elladan once again reached out and managed to grab the other elf's shirtsleeve.

"Stop!" the older twin demanded, tugging at the wood-elf's sleeve. "Would you please think about it for a moment?"

"I have," Celylith said evenly, trying to pull his clothing out Elladan's grasp. "I won't allow these people here to keep it in that cage! It deserves more than that!"

"Yes," Elrohir mumbled softly next to his twin. "A knife between its ribs, for example."

Celylith merely shot him a dark look and turned around, but had apparently forgotten that Elladan was still holding onto his shirtsleeve and was jerked to a stop after a few steps.

"Stop it!" Elladan once again demanded. "You haven't seen Legolas when he was going out of his mind with worry these few days ago! Well, I have, and I will not return to him and tell him that you got yourself killed just because you couldn't resist trying to tame that thing!"

"I do not intend to tame it," Celylith shook his head, "There's no time for that."

Elladan ground his teeth, and his younger brother took a step forward and grabbed Celylith's other shirtsleeve, meeting his outraged look evenly.
"Celylith," he began quietly, "I know that you love these kinds of monsters. The Valar know that I do not know why, but you do. I know that you want to free it, and if it were not quite such an insane idea, it would even be a noble one, but you are not up to doing it alone. Be reasonable, mellon nín. You can use only one arm and are far from healthy."

"Yes," Elladan nodded next to him. "How would you get it out of the cage? And to the gates, and through them? It would gut you before you had even left this plaza."

"I have a plan," Celylith declared smugly as he finally managed to wrench his shirt out of the twins' grasp.

"Oh," Elrohir arched an eyebrow, looking just like his father for a moment. "And what kind of plan would that be?"

"A good one. I have everything carefully laid out," the silver haired elf informed him. A moment later, he added wryly, "However, I seem to have … forgotten it."

"Forgotten. What else?" Elladan asked sarcastically. All humour fled from his face in an instant as Celylith turned to walk toward the "adorable ox" that had started snorting loudly once it had caught sight of them, and he once again reached out and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Celylith, be reasonable once every five hundred years. You can't do this alone."

"Well, I don't have any other choice, do I?" the other elf asked exasperatedly. "Unless," he added mischievously, "you are volunteering to help me?"

"Absolutely not," both twins shook their heads simultaneously.

"Then," Celylith retorted with a long-suffering sigh and once again started to walk over to the cage, "I will have to do it all by myself." He gave the two other elves a side glance and grinned inwardly when he saw the dark expressions on their faces. "No matter how dangerous it might be … how badly injured I could be … how saddened Legolas would be by my death…"

Elladan rolled his eyes in disgust and shook his head.
"You're pathetic."

"Personally, I would choose the term 'scheming'," Celylith informed him complacently.

"I am sure you would," Elrohir slowly shook his head as well. "We'll get you back for this."

"Of course you will," Celylith smiled benevolently before he nodded at Elladan. "If you would lend me a hand then…?"

The twins glowered at him but moved to comply, and the wood-elf grinned and walked over to the cage, placing his un-bandaged hand on the metal bars before snatching it back to avoid the apparently rather annoyed ox's horns. He gave the animal a mildly admonishing look and turned back to the twins, taking care not to stand too close to the cage.

"And when we're finished here, you can accompany me to the castle, hmm?"

The twins' eyes narrowed in suspicion, and Elrohir finally asked reluctantly,

"'Why'?" Celylith repeated in mock surprise, mischief lurking in his dark blue eyes. "Well, to look for the dragon, of course! I believe Lord Thranduil would be most pleased to be able to give it to King Dáin of the Lonely Mountain as a little gift, don't you think? That would be just the kind of thing he would enjoy; I'm sure the dwarves are missing Smaug already…"

Elladan and Elrohir stared at the Silvan elf for long moments, speechless, but then the two of them starting laughing so hard that they were hard-pressed to keep their feet, and after a few moments Celylith gladly joined in, feeling more carefree and lighthearted than he had for a long, long time.

A few hours later the sun had risen over the dark houses of Baredlen, doing her best to lighten the dark grey stone or make it appear less foreboding. Legolas gave the small, wood-panelled room in which he had spent a substantial part of the past week a last look and slowly turned around, mindful of his bandaged side. And his bandaged head, and his bandaged arm, and…

With a small, inward headshake the elf abandoned that train of thought and carefully turned around, moving slowly in order not to tear any stitches or do anything else that could be termed careless by anyone. In the beginning, Aragorn had been too unwell himself to do much except sleep, and he had only had to cope with Thesieni, who seemed to consider his and everyone else's state of health a kind of personal insult.

The elf shook his head, this time openly. He really didn't know why every single healer in all of Arda hated him and Aragorn, he really didn't have the slightest idea. It was a fact, however, and so Thesieni had done little but glower at him. That had been bad enough already, but after a day the rest of his so-called friends had started trying to tell him what to do as well. Even Glorfindel had begun to give him disapproving stares whenever he perceived him to ignore Thesieni's recommendations (which, admittedly, was rather often the case), and now that Aragorn's body had got over the worst of its exhaustion, the man was positively unbearable. Celylith and the twins weren't much better either, and he was beginning to dread the journey that lay ahead of them.

Legolas sighed softly and carefully picked up the last of his bags and his quiver, resisting the urge to take up his bow and look at it once again. Menvan had brought his weapons, along the his companions' and their gear, back to the house the day after the fight, and had the elf not been so weak at that time, he would most likely have jumped up and hugged the man. Which would probably have been enough to scare Cendan's second-in-command into an early grave, Legolas thought with a small grin, so it might have been quite fortuitous that he had restrained himself. He liked the man, after all – admittedly, only because he had brought him his bow, but still...

"Still happy to be reunited, are you? If I am disturbing the two of you, just say it. I would understand your need for privacy."

Legolas whirled around, his right hand still clutching his bag and quiver, and relaxed minutely when he saw who had sneaked up on him – not that he had needed to guess. As he had expected, Aragorn was standing in front of him, wearing a dark grey travelling cloak one of his brothers had given him and a smug grimace that would almost have caused the elf to blush.

"I thought you were readying the horses with Glorfindel, Estel?" Legolas asked defensively, trying not to let the man see how surprised he actually was.

If he had hoped that Aragorn would miss the slightly flustered expression on his face, he was sadly mistaken.
"Oh, I readied mine, the twins' and the one Laenro is borrowing Celylith," the man answered nonchalantly with a smug smile. "Since Rashwe tried to bite me at least three times and nearly managed to rip my cloak to shreds, Glorfindel volunteered to load the horses and ready that demon you call an animal. I think it's afraid of him."

"I really don't know what you are talking about," Legolas shook his head as he placed his quiver on his back. "Rashwe is a perfectly … docile horse."

"'Docile'??" Aragorn repeated wide-eyed. "Are we talking about the same horse?"

"I believe so," Legolas smiled at the man before he turned serious in an instant. "Are Celylith and the twins back?"

"Not yet," the ranger shook his head and stepped to the side, allowing his friend to walk past him, out of the room and into the corridor. Sunbeams danced over the floorboards, and Aragorn found himself smiling. He hadn't realised how much he had missed the sun these past days and weeks. "Don't worry, my friend. They'll come; they wouldn't want us to leave without them, now would they?"

"I don't know about the twins, but I wouldn't be so sure about Celylith," Legolas shrugged slightly and followed Aragorn into the direction of the wooden stairs, noticing that the man was still limping rather heavily. Thesieni had assured them that Caellan, Teonvan's lieutenant, hadn't broken anything when he had kicked the ranger, but his ribs and hip were heavily bruised. It would take some time until Aragorn would walk normally again.

He shook himself out of his thoughts and smiled at the man who had stopped close to the staircase, waiting for him to catch up with him.
"He still believes that there is a dragon in the castle," he added in a manner of explanation. "I had to order him to stay here to prevent him from running off on some wild chase after another 'adorable, sweet, misunderstood creature'."

Aragorn smiled back, but narrowed his eyes after a moment.
"Did you order him to stay away from the ox as well?"

"No," Legolas shook his head as he began to walk down the stairs. "Why … oh."

"He'll be back," Aragorn tried to reassure the elf. "He's not up to wandering through the town all on his own."

"Which is most likely why he took your brothers with him," Legolas retorted wryly.

Aragorn shrugged wordlessly, wincing as pain awoke in his left shoulder, and was about to reply something when they reached the ground level of the house. The had only taken two or three steps and the man was just opening his mouth to say something to his elven companion when a door opened to their left and Sero stepped out of it, inclining his head in greeting as soon as he saw them. The man's long grey hair was bound back neatly and the cut on his cheek was healing nicely, and he even smiled slightly at them – something that could not be said about Thesieni who was standing behind the man, exuding dark reproach that would have put Hithrawyn to shame.

The young ranger unconsciously touched his shoulder wound which the healer had bound earlier this morning and nodded at the two humans in front of them, doing his best to ignore Thesieni who was simply staring at them in a manner that very clearly said that, if she'd have had her way, she would have dragged them back to their rooms.

"Sero," he nodded at the other man.

"Ranger," the older man retorted and nodded at him and the fair haired elf. "Your friend is waiting for you with the horses, I believe. Are you sure that you want to leave so soon?"

"Very," Aragorn smiled slightly while he and Legolas followed Sero out of the house. "We appreciate your hospitality and your concern, of course, but we really must leave."

"I see," Sero nodded with a small, ironic glance at Thesieni who was mumbling something unintelligible under her breath. "Well, we won't keep you."

They reached the large room with the benches and long table where Cendan and his second-in-command were waiting, looking as calm and composed as they always did. Only Menvan betrayed a bit of his feelings; he looked somehow rather … amused.

Legolas looked at the two men, who were still wearing their uniforms, now without the strip of red fabric wrapped around their arms. They probably didn't need it anymore, the elf thought absent-mindedly. He seriously doubted that there was a noteworthy number of Girion's men still in the city.

"Good morning," he finally said evenly. He hadn't seen the two of them – or any of their men, for that matter – since they had been brought back to Laenro's house, and, frankly, he didn't really know what he should think about them. Cendan had saved his life more than once, just like Menvan had saved Aragorn's and Glorfindel's, from what he'd heard, but that didn't mean that he trusted either of them.

Cendan actually raised an amused eyebrow and inclined his head ironically, giving the three humans and the elf in front of him a curt nod.
"Good morning," he retorted evenly. "So you are really leaving today."

"Indeed," Aragorn nodded back. "I am sure your heart bleeds."

"I didn't say that," Cendan almost smiled.

"It's a good thing that you are leaving now, and not earlier today," Menvan added. "Believe it or not, but the ox managed to escape – again!"

Neither the ranger nor the elf gave any outward reaction to the man's words, but an identical, half-amused, half-exasperated sparkle appeared in their eyes.
"Is that so?" Legolas asked nonchalantly while they were making their way over to the door.

Menvan nodded, amusement more than anything else visible on his face.
"I didn't want to believe it myself, but somehow it managed to get out of the cage. It appeared at the northern gates before anyone had noticed that it was gone, only the Gods know how. It managed to pick the exact time they had the changing of the guard, and it really got out of the city. It is most certainly the luckiest ox I have ever seen."

Legolas wrenched his eyes away from Aragorn's face and did his best to ignore the way the corners of his friend's mouth were beginning to twitch slightly. The fair haired elven prince called upon every single bit of his self-control and royal upbringings, forced his face into a neutral façade and fixed his eyes with great precision on a spot just an inch above Menvan's left eyebrow, knowing that he would dissolve into laughter if he looked him in the eye.

"It would appear so."

The man gave him an odd look, but finally nodded without saying anything. A moment later they had all stepped outside into the bright sunshine that filled the narrow alley that was nearly completely blocked by the six horses that were standing closely together to their left, in front of the stables. A few onlookers had gathered, standing close to the walls of the houses around them, but it weren't too many. It appeared that the people of this town had other things to do than watch them leave, something that Aragorn could understand only too well.

The young ranger's eyes wandered over the horses standing to his left, and he breathed a small sigh of relief when he saw his brothers' dark hair that was nearly of the same colour as Ráca's coat. They were standing next to Glorfindel, as far away as they could from Rashwe that was – now that Legolas was near – looking like the most normal, friendly horse in the world, and on the other side of the black horse Aragorn could see a bit of Celylith's silver hair.

A moment later they moved a bit, enabling him to get a better look at them, and Aragorn would nearly have lost the last bit of his composure that had made it possible for him to remain a more or less straight face. There was a rather long, blood-encrusted tear in Celylith's tunic, revealing the sight of some of Thesieni's bandages. There was also an imprint of what looked like a pair of hooves on the back of his cloak, Elrohir had a strip of linen wrapped around his hand and Elladan sported a rather bloody nose and a torn over shirt.

The man took a deep breath and forced himself to redirect his gaze from the thunderous, angry expression on his brothers' faces to the ground, praying to the Valar for composure. This was priceless; just how had that mad elf persuaded the two of them to help him?

Legolas seemed to think much the same, because he only mumbled something about how he urgently needed to speak to their companions and disappeared down the street into the four elves' direction, his slim shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. Aragorn inwardly cursed his friend for leaving him alone with the others – especially Thesieni – and finally turned half-around, bowing to the female healer, the most charming smile he could manage right now on his lips.

"My lady," he began courteously, "I thank you once again for all the help and care you have granted us. You risked your life by treating me and my companions, and we will forever be in your debt."

"Hmpf," the elderly woman made, sounding rather unimpressed. "If you really wanted to thank me, boy, you would stay a bit longer. You are not hale yet, and I do not enjoy patching people up to watch them fall apart once more a few days later."

Aragorn smiled again, but determination was plain to see on his face.
"I am sorry, my lady, but that is a wish we cannot satisfy. We need to get back to Mirkwood as soon as possible." He looked at the healer, doing his best to appear earnest and sincere. "We will be fine, I promise. Elves heal quickly, and so do most of my kin. You are right, they are far from healed, but they will be just fine with time. I promise you that I won't let them tear your stitches or something similarly foolish."

"And who, Master Ranger, will be looking after you?" the woman demanded to know.

"I'm sure I'll find someone," Aragorn smiled. "Once again, thank you, my lady. We owe you our lives."

"You owe me nothing," Thesieni shook her head. "You and your companions did more than I by far." She shook her head slightly and gave Aragorn a last, disapproving look. "Go then if you must, boy. But I will assume no responsibility for any relapses any of you might suffer!"

She didn't wait for Aragorn to say anything but simply turned on her heel and disappeared back into the house, mumbling something about stubborn rangers and elves. Sero watched her go with a small smile before he turned back to the younger man.

"She likes you and the others, lad," he told Aragorn. "I have watched her rip out the hearts of older and more eloquent men than you and eat them for breakfast because they ignored her recommendations."

Aragorn looked at the grey haired man, a slightly uneasy smile on his lips.
"Surely you are speaking metaphorically."

Sero merely looked at him expressionlessly, and Aragorn decided with a small shudder that there were things he really didn't want to know. He turned back to the horses, surveying the men that were gathered in the street. He frowned slightly and turned back to the grey haired man.
"Where is Laenro?"

Sero grimaces and didn't answer for several seconds, and Aragorn realised that he hadn't seen the brown haired man since the day Girion had died. They had always talked to Sero or a few of his officers; Laenro hadn't shown himself for days. Finally the grey haired man looked up at Aragorn, sadness in his eyes, mixed with another emotion the ranger couldn't identify.

"He … is taking his sister's death very hard," Sero began haltingly. "He is working night and day to put a provisory council of some sort together, even though that will take some time yet." The man took a deep breath and looked Aragorn in the eye. "He doesn't want to see any of you, ever again."

The dark haired ranger lowered his head, suddenly thanking the Valar that Cendan and his second-in-command had moved off to the side to talk to some soldiers who had appeared in the street, attracted by the commotion.
"Oh," he said softly. "I understand. He blames us for her death."

"Yes," Sero answered frankly. "But that is only part of it, I think. I have known him for most of his life, and, above all, he feels guilty, guilty that he is still alive and Ethoani is not. He thinks that he, as her older brother, should have died in her stead, no matter how irrational that wish may be. To see you and especially the elves is simply too painful."

Aragorn nodded curtly, the distinct feeling that Laenro had every right to blame them beginning to spread inside of him.
"I see," he retorted as evenly as he could.

"I don't think you do, boy," Sero shook his head, smiling slightly when the young man raised his head, surprise and maybe a little indignation on his face.

"That is the grief talking, Strider," he added calmly. "As I said, I've known him for a long time. Laenro has always had a quick temper and has been prone to speaking without thinking. A part of him blames you, yes, but a larger part blames himself. He's always tried to protect his sister, especially after her fiancé's death, and now he feels that he has failed her – and who knows, perhaps he is right. Perhaps we could have done something to save her, but that is something we will never know. Deep in his heart he believes that what happened is not your fault and that Ethoani made a choice she never regretted, and that is all that is truly important. With time, he will accept that. Just … not now."

"What about you?" Aragorn asked softly, silver eyes serious and tense in his face. "Do you think it was our fault?"

Sero looked at him for a few moments and finally shook his head slowly.

"No," he replied just as softly. "No, I do not. You cannot take something that is not there, after all." He met the ranger's questioning eyes evenly. "She was already dead when they caught her, ranger. She had been dead for a long time, ever since she watched Ciran die. It would have come to this no matter what – sooner or later. Everything that was her died that day, and all Girion's men killed was what little was still left. No, I do not blame you."

"Thank you," a soft voice to their left spoke up before Aragorn could say anything, and both men turned around sharply.

In front of them stood Legolas who had walked back from the other elves who were visible at the horses, the twins looking strangely satisfied, while Glorfindel looked mildly amused and Celylith decidedly unhappy. The elven prince gave Sero a tiny bow and inclined his head as much as his pounding skull would allow.

"Thank you," he repeated. "I hope that, one day, Laenro will find it to forgive us for whatever blame we might bear. Neither I nor any of my companions ever meant for any of this to happen."

"I know you didn't, elf," Sero shook his head. "It's Girion who's to blame for it, again. Laenro will realise that one day and will forgive you. He may be a hothead, but he is not blind to the truth when it jumps up and grabs him by the nose. He'll understand, one day." He nodded at the two of them and gave them a small smile. "I need to be going. I wish you a safe journey, you and all your companions. I think it's safe to say we will not see each other again."

"Who knows?" Aragorn shrugged slightly, ignoring his protesting shoulder as he grasped the other man's offered hand tightly. "Thank you for everything, Sero. Look after yourself."

"And I was about to say the same thing, ranger," Sero smiled, more broadly this time. "If there is one person who needs the Gods' grace and protection, it is you, that much is certain."

Aragorn didn't even try to protest, and a few moments later Sero had disappeared inside the house as well, leaving the two friends behind. Only another second went by before they were joined by Cendan and his second-in-command, who appeared at their sides as soundlessly as always. The two of them would make wonderful rangers, Aragorn thought a little bit grumpily while he tried to appear as if he had seen them coming all along.

For quite a long time the three men and the elf merely looked at each other before Legolas finally spoke, deciding that if he knew Cendan at all, he wouldn't start speaking for the next few hours if he didn't prompt him.
"I hope you'll not be too offended when I say that I hope to never see you again."

"Not at all, elf," Cendan retorted impassively. "I couldn't agree more."

"Indeed," Menvan echoed his lieutenant's sentiments. "The two dark haired ones want to kill me, I swear they do. And the other two as well, I think."

Aragorn merely looked calmly at the brown haired man, neither denying nor confirming his suspicion – and only partly because he enjoyed the other's unease. The twins had been showing their mistrust and antipathy towards all of Cendan's men and most strongly towards the dark haired lieutenant and Menvan rather openly, and Aragorn was rather sure that, if they and Celylith got the chance, they would do something rather painful to Cendan and the others for daring to lay a single finger on their brother and friend.

"What about your uncle?" he asked Cendan, ignoring Menvan's suspicious looks that the man cast in to the other elves' direction.

"He withdrew his men," Cendan retorted, a deadpan expression on his face. "There was some trouble with some of the other tribes, but nothing he and his men couldn't handle."

"Yes," Legolas said slowly, inwardly asking the Valar for patience. "We had gathered as much. Has he withdrawn back to the lands of his tribe? Have the other tribes followed him?"

"Obviously; otherwise this city would lie in ruins," Cendan nodded. "He did as I bid him."

Aragorn felt Legolas' temper rising and forced himself to remain impassive. It was clear that Cendan wouldn't divulge any more, at least not voluntarily.
"It must have cost you a great deal."

"Yes," Cendan agreed softly, his eyes not leaving the faces of the two friends in front of him. "Yes, it did."

"What are you going to do now?" Aragorn asked, truly curious. It appeared that Laenro was working hard on somehow re-establishing order in the city, but he had no idea what Cendan would want to do now.

Cendan looked at him with a strange intensity, but finally inclined his head a little.
"For now, I'll stay here. I have to see to it that those of my men who wish to stay here to keep protecting their home are allowed to do so. They have shed their blood for this city, and I will see to it that their sacrifices are honoured." He paused for a moment. "After that – I do not know. Maybe I will stay for a while longer, or go to the South, to Gondor. They're always in need of good soldiers there, or so you hear."

"So they are," Aragorn nodded softly. "Who knows, maybe we'll see each other again after all. You can never know what the future will bring."

"Yes," Legolas agreed next to him, silver-blue eyes fixed unwaveringly on Cendan's face. "And if we do, as what will we meet? As friends? I do not think so. Maybe as enemies then?"

The dark haired lieutenant returned the elf's look evenly, and for long moments they merely looked at each other, both unwilling to be the first to look away. Finally Cendan inclined his head minutely, a small, almost undetectable hint of laughter in his eyes.

"I never had any quarrel with either of you. If we meet again, we will not meet as enemies."

Cendan gave the elven prince and the ranger a surprisingly regal, graceful nod and turned around without another word. A moment later he and his inconspicuous second-in-command had disappeared in the crowd that had gathered by now, the two of them moving so quietly that even Legolas' elven ears lost the sound of their footsteps soon after they had disappeared from sight. The blond elf kept looking after the two men for a few seconds longer before he turned back to his human friend, mild puzzlement on his fair face.

"Just when I think I understand humans, one like that one appears and ruins everything."

"Do not worry about that, mellon nín," Aragorn told the elf with a small smile while they slowly made their way over to their companions. "I don't understand them any better than you, I think, and if there is one man I will never completely understand, it is Cendan."

"You can say what you want about you edain, but you aren't boring," Legolas retorted amiably. "I just wonder as what we would meet again. Not as friends, surely, and not as enemies either. Where does that leave us?"

"Right here," Aragorn replied seriously. "On neutral ground, or at least as neutral as it gets in this part of Arda." He stopped for a second and grinned at the blond elf, mischief dancing in his eyes. "No matter what, if we meet the dear lieutenant again, it will surely be interesting."

"'Interesting'?" Legolas echoed the man's words. "It will be 'interesting'? That's what you call this … experience, interesting? 'Interesting' is a euphemistic term for 'disastrous' when travelling in your company, Estel!"

"Excuse me?" Aragorn arched a dark eyebrow, mock indignation on his still bruised face. "I am not the one who nearly got himself strangled because he made Girion angry enough to kill him with his bare hands, or who very nearly cracked his skull on a chair, or…"

Legolas merely kept walking, snorting darkly under his breath, and with a smile on his lips that belied his indignant words Aragorn hurried to catch up with the elf, silently thanking Ilúvatar and all the Valar that they had watched over them during their latest … interesting escapade.

Eleven days of almost continued rainfall later, six rather bedraggled, wet riders reached the long, straight alley that led to the large, magically sealed front gates of the palace of Mirkwood. Said riders were sitting on six equally bedraggled, equally wet horses from which a distinct air or resentment was emanating, a resentment that seemed to be aimed to equal parts at their riders and the miserable weather in general.

It wasn't that he could blame them, Glorfindel thought wryly and reached out with his left hand to pat Asfaloth's neck, wincing slightly at the wet, squishing sound his palm made when it connected with the animal's wet coat. The large, even now still slightly gleaming white horse turned its head with disconcerting slowness and gave its master a look that very clearly said that it would try to bite him the next time it got the chance.

Glorfindel knew his mount better than to try and appease it now; the only thing that could possibly make the horse forgive him for the relentless, uncomfortable ride they had gone through these past eleven days was its favourite kind of apples – and a lot of them, too. The golden haired elf lord grimaced slightly. He didn't know how he should explain to the king's chief cook that he really, urgently needed the better part of last year's apple harvest. Then again, he thought, the idea serving to cheer him up a little, King Thranduil would kill him anyway, so he wouldn't really have to worry about things like that.

The blond elf pushed back his hood, ignoring the rain that hit his face only a moment later. These past eleven days had been among the most uncomfortable of his life. They had tried to travel as fast as possible; they all knew that all of Mirkwood and most likely most of Rivendell must be going out of its mind with worry. The first day had been rather pleasant and had passed quickly with stories and the feeling of happiness that filled all of them at leaving Baredlen and its inhabitants behind. Neither the pleasant journey nor their feeling of elation had lasted much longer, for it had started to rain – nay, the elf corrected himself, pour – during that first night. And it hadn't stopped yet.

He shrugged slightly as they rode down the alley, neither of them speaking. None of them had minded the rain overly much in the beginning – not even Aragorn, who merely seemed annoyed at their insistence that he put on two or three extra coats to keep himself warm. What had been really bothering them was the fact that the rain turned the lands that were still covered with slowly melting snow into something closely resembling the icy surface of a lake. Not even elven horses could travel quickly over ice in this kind of weather, and so the journey had taken them longer than they would have wished – and it had been a lot harder and stressful as well.

No, Glorfindel concluded, he was very happy they had finally reached their destination, no matter what King Thranduil would do to all of them. Apart from the fact that he was beginning to become seriously annoyed with the cold, the rain and the fact that Asfaloth stumbled precisely six times an hour (he had counted), he was beginning to suspect that Aragorn was not as fine as he was claiming to be. Glorfindel didn't know all that much about human regenerative powers, but there was one thing he had learned in these past twenty-one years, and that was that an already injured human and cold and rain were not a good combination.

Their horses half walked and half slid down the alley, and Glorfindel once again cursed their bad luck. If only the rain had been enough to melt the snow completely, he wouldn't complain, or at least not as much as he was now. During the night, however, the temperature still dropped below the freezing point, therefore causing the snow and mud to freeze once more. The elf inwardly shook his head. This was the Valar's way of punishing them for past wrongdoings – and most likely also for the ones they hadn't even committed yet.

Next to him, his companions were entertaining much the same thoughts, the twins' and Aragorn's not quite as terrified as their two Silvan companions'. As happy as Legolas was to be home again, a large part was also afraid – and not only of his father's lecture that would most likely follow as soon as he had realised that he was safe and in one piece. During the last few days doubts and sorrow had been preying heavily on his mind, and Legolas felt as if they were only intensifying the closer to the palace he got.

His thoughts were centred on two persons – or rather three, now that he thought about it this way. First, on his father of course, who would most likely be torn between wishing to strangle him and hug him for the next few decades. The second person was Anardir and Galalith the third, who would neither hug him nor strangle him. Galalith was dead, of course, and even though Anardir was not, he would do neither.

No, the elf thought darkly, he would be very much surprised if Anardir did one of the two. On a rational level he knew that he was not to blame for either Galalith's death or Anardir's injury, but that changed precious little. One of his friends, one of his men was dead. He had failed his duty to protect his men from injury and death, and no matter what the circumstances were, no matter what had happened, that was something that nothing could change.

At least, Legolas thought, trying to cheer himself up, Anardir was still alive. Even despite the horrible weather that had lowered visibility to a few feet they had of course not passed through Mirkwood unchallenged. The day before yesterday they had been stopped by a patrol, and after the usually so calm and composed Mirkwood warriors had calmed down sufficiently from the surprise and joy of seeing their missing prince again, they had willingly told him about Anardir's condition and everything else that had happened during their absence.

If the elven prince had thought that that would cheer him up, he was mistaken. It only served to bring back the memories of the other elves' faces when they had told him in careful, neutral terms about the dark, listless state the blond elf had slipped into after awakening and his father's almost frantic worry. Oh yes, Legolas thought darkly, so much sarcasm in his inner voice that it surprised even him. What a cheerful thought.

Legolas was still immersed in his troubled thoughts when Rashwe suddenly stopped, causing him to raise his head in mild annoyance. To his surprise his eyes almost immediately fixed on the large stone gates that stood ajar in front of them, and with a pang of joy and sadness he realised that they were home. For a moment, he just sat on his horse, staring at the grey stone through the water that fell heavily from the skies, before he finally spurred on his horse, guiding it through the gates and into the courtyard.

Even before Celylith's horse (which was the last) had fully moved through the gates, they were surrounded by what looked like two-thirds of the guard corps and fifty percent of the rest of Mirkwood's inhabitants. All dark thoughts were chased from Legolas' mind as he looked into the overjoyed faces of the other elves and did his best to answer a thousand questions at once. Suddenly he was very glad that he had insisted that the captain of the patrol that had stopped them hadn't sent anyone ahead to inform the palace of their arrival. Apart from the fact that a messenger wouldn't have reached Mirkwood before them, he was rather sure that they wouldn't have reached the front gates at all because of all the people that would have crowded the paths.

Even now with only half of Mirkwood's population trying to greet them at once it took them nearly ten minutes to reach the stairs leading up to the main building. There nearly wasn't enough space for any of them to dismount, something about which their already rather annoyed horses weren't too happy. In the end Rashwe whinnied threateningly and tossed his head in a definitely threateningly manner, and even the most experienced and fiercest warriors backed away with impressive speed.

A few moments later all six of them had dismounted, and even the rather furiously snorting Rashwe allowed himself to be led away into the direction of the stables willingly enough. Legolas turned back to his companions, for the moment ignoring all the questions that were directed at him. He would almost have smiled as he surveyed the very, very wet beings in front of him, marvelling at how much they looked like something someone had just fished out of a river. Well, except for Glorfindel, of course. He didn't know how someone so wet could look so … well, dry.

The twins turned from where they had watched Celylith speak to one of the warriors who were essentially asking them where in the name of all the Valar they had been these past five weeks and gave Legolas a wry look.
"We've come to a decision, my friend," Elrohir told the fair haired elf loftily. "You'll be going first."

"I will?" Legolas asked back, not very surprised.

"Indeed," Elladan nodded, a small grin on his face. He quickly reached out and grabbed Aragorn's elbow as the man threatened to stumble on the slippery ground.

The young ranger was either too wet or too exhausted to even protest much, something that only proved to Legolas that humans and continuous rain didn't mix. The elven prince merely shook his head wearily as he returned the grin.
"You are cowards, all of you."

"I beg to differ," Glorfindel interjected smugly. "We are simply not very keen on facing your father's formidable wrath, young one." He cast a quick look around, locating a cluster of elves which he recognised as part of the kitchen staff. "If you'll excuse me," he told the younger beings, "I need to procure some apples." He frowned into the direction of the stables, just managing to catch sight of the tip of Asfaloth's tail as the horse was being led inside. Even the tail looked angry, he decided wryly. "A lot of apples."

A moment later he was gone, somehow managing to move through the mass of people with ease, and the four younger elves and Aragorn looked at each other, all of them looking equally bemused.
"Has one of you any idea what he was talking about?"

"Don't ask me," Aragorn shrugged lightly, doing his best to suppress a shiver that raced through his cold body. "I have only known him for twenty-one years. That's not nearly enough time to get to know Glorfindel, believe me."

"I have known him for all my life and I still don't know how his mind works. I don't think anyone except ada and maybe Erestor could claim that they do," Elrohir retorted while they were trying to push their way through the elves that were still crowding around them.

"I am concerned with more pressing problems," Celylith muttered next to them as they climbed up the stairs. Most of the elves were respectfully staying behind to give them some space – or because they had realised that the king would not be happy if his son and heir was squashed to death by his own people. "For example: Three or six?"

Legolas stopped half way up the stairs, more than willing to delay their inevitable arrival, and be it only for a few moments.
"Three or six?"

The silver haired elf grinned slightly as he looked into the clueless faces of his friends.
"Will the king give each of us his own cell or will he put two in one to save space?"

"Considering the size of the troll that is waiting to eat us, I would say he will put all of us into a single cell," Legolas retorted humorously.

"Yes," Aragorn nodded as they started to climb the stairs once more. "And then he'll forget about us for a few decades, which won't really bother you, but which will really ruin most of my youth and middle age for me."

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about that," Celylith muttered as they reached the front doors, turning back to his companions, "I don't think that we wi…"

While he had still been speaking the doors had been opened with a single movement from the inside, and Celylith's sentence was interrupted as one of his arms (luckily his left one, because the other was still healing) was seized firmly by the wrist and he was pulled forward. A moment later the elf who had grabbed him appeared in the doorway, his eyes fixed intensely on the face of the elf whose arm he was still holding.

Legolas smiled slightly at his father's advisor and gave him a small bow which the older elf returned almost automatically. A moment Celythramir's eyes returned to his son who was simply staring at him with an expression of relief, joy and a tiny bit of hesitation, and without speaking a single word he simply pulled the younger elf forward into a tight embrace. Celylith didn't say anything either, the relief on his face only intensifying as he allowed his father to pull him close, not at all caring that about half of Mirkwood was watching such a public display of affection.

The fair haired elven prince was still smiling broadly when a shadow fell over his face, and he redirected his gaze from the two silver haired elves to the one who had stopped just in front of him, already knowing whom he would see. Just as he had thought, it was his father who had, just like his advisor, either been alerted by the commotion or had been informed of their arrival as soon as they had ridden through the gates. Probably the latter, the young elf thought wryly. Galion always knew everything that was going on in the palace or the grounds, and his father's butler would have made sure that his king learnt of their arrival immediately.

Thranduil merely looked at him as if seeing him for the first time, his eyes boring into his son's in an unconscious attempt to commit the younger elf's features to memory. The king's blue eyes were large and bright, and Legolas realised with a small shock that his father was close to tears. The times that he had watched his controlled, always so composed father close to tears or actually crying could be counted on the fingers of one hand alone, and for the first time he truly realised how deeply his sudden disappearance must have scared the older elf.

After what felt like an eternity the golden haired king slowly reached out to touch his cheek, as if to make sure that he was real and not an illusion or a dream, and without thinking the younger elf reached out and grasped his father's hand and squeezed it softly, trying to reassure Thranduil that he was truly here and just fine.

Legolas' eyes slowly travelled from his father's hand to his face, and in the moment he looked into the older elf's bright, exultant eyes all the words he had so carefully laid out during the long nights he had spent in Reran's camp and which he had wanted to say to his father when he would see him again faded from his mind, and he realised that, sometimes, you didn't really have to say anything at all.

Very nearly exactly three days later, Legolas was closing the door which led to Aragorn's room very, very softly, trying not to wake the sleeping human. If Aragorn knew that he was checking up on him at night to make sure that he was alright and well and was generally behaving like, as the man would call it, a "mother hen", he would tease him for days.

Managing that task successfully, the elven prince quietly walked down the corridor, nodding at the guards he passed who greeted him with quite a bit more joy than usually. Even though most of the excitement that had greeted them at their arrival had died down, especially after three days of almost non-stop feasting and merrymaking, most of the elves he met were still beaming at him whenever they saw him. No matter how nice that reaction had been in the beginning, it was slowly beginning to drive him mad.

The smile that had still been adorning his face died quickly as he thought of all the things that were also beginning to drive him mad. There were quite a few of them, actually, and that was why he was walking over to his father's study to explain most of them to him – which would be not an especially pleasant experience; that was something he was very sure about.

Legolas sighed inwardly while he walked down the corridor and turned to the right, his feet automatically choosing the way that would take him to his destination. His father had of course not been angry with him, because, for once, nothing of all this had been his fault. Well, he amended quickly, at least his capture hadn't been his fault, which did not mean that there were't other things he could have, he should have prevented…

The blond elf shook his head quickly, refusing to dwell on these thoughts again. Fact was that his father had simply been overjoyed at having him back – he had almost hugged Aragorn, the twins, Glorfindel and Celylith for bringing him back, a nearly unprecedented occurrence for the usually so reserved king. His father was indeed overjoyed – maybe even a little too overjoyed, which would make everything even harder, of course.

With another mental sigh Legolas realised that he had reached the door leading to his father's study. The faint light that could be seen between the door and the doorframe proved to him that his father was indeed still here and working – it appeared that quite a lot of paperwork had not been properly attended to while he had been gone. He smiled softly. It was yet another testament to his father's worry and distraction, a testament that, under normal circumstances, would have touched him deeply, because he knew perfectly well how meticulously his father saw to his duties. Right now, however, it only served to make him feel more miserable than he already was.

Deciding that it wouldn't help anyone if he put this off any longer, he nodded at the guards flanking the door, receiving the by now customary radiant smiles in return, and raised his hand to knock. A moment later, his father's voice invited him to come in, and with a small intake of breath he opened the door and stepped into the dimly lit room.

The golden haired elf sitting behind the desk that was piled with papers in an unusual display of mild chaos looked up at his entrance, and a large smile spread over his face as he saw who his late visitor was.

"Ada," the younger elf bowed his head. "Excuse me for disturbing you at this hour."

Thranduil merely gave him a dark look and motioned for him to sit down in the armchair standing in front of the desk him which he did, obviously forcing his hands to be still. The golden haired elf raised a mocking eyebrow as he looked at the face of his son who seemed to be unwilling to look at him, a behaviour very unlike him.

"If you have come to complain about Master Hithrawyn, you are too late; he beat you to it, I fear. He left a few minutes ago, swearing to tear you limb from limb should you ever come near his healing wing again." The elven king frowned slightly. "I believe, however, that he was not entirely serious."

"He is overreacting, as usual," Legolas shrugged lightly, a smile lurking in his eyes. "I was merely visiting Strider before he released him earlier this morning, and he…"

"Yes," his father nodded wryly. "Yes, he told me all about it." He quickly turned serious again and leaned back into his chair. Sometimes, now being one of these times, he still couldn't believe that his son was back home safe and sound, and the urge to take a length of sturdy rope and tie him to his own arm had only minutely diminished. "What is it, ion nín?"

Legolas smiled ruefully; he had never been very adept at hiding things from his father. He doubted that it ever would, something which he was more than willing to live with. He looked into his father's concerned eyes and suddenly felt even more self-conscious and inconsiderate.
"It's not important," he said quickly and was about to get up from his chair. "I can come back tomorrow morning and…"

The older elf merely lifted a hand and pointed at the wooden chair, a stern expression on his face.
"Sit." Legolas complied with another rueful smile, and Thranduil leaned forward a little, the concern in his eyes only growing. "What is it, Legolas? Ever since you returned, there has been something on your mind. What is troubling you?"

The younger elf exhaled softly and finally raised his head.
"Aragorn, the twins and Lord Glorfindel will be leaving tomorrow."

"Yes," Thranduil nodded slowly. They had sent a carrier pigeon to Rivendell almost as soon as the six of them had ridden through the gates, but the twins and the others had still insisted on leaving as quickly as possible, something that Thranduil could understand only too well.

"And," Legolas added hesitantly, "I wish to accompany them."

The older elf didn't say a word, something that Legolas hadn't expected. He neither yelled at him nor did he start to laugh, both reactions the prince had been prepared for. He merely leaned back again, looking both puzzled and curious, but not disapproving.
"Why?" he simply asked.

"Well," Legolas began somewhat wryly, feeling slightly encouraged by the fact that his father hadn't ripped off his head yet, "There is the fact that everyone here is acting as if I would break if they weren't smiling at me."

"Yes," the elven king nodded slowly, "I can see that that would pose a small nuisance."

"And I haven't been to Rivendell for quite some time."

"'Quite some time'?" Thranduil repeated. "You were there last autumn!"

"Only for a few days," Legolas retorted quickly. "That hardly counts."

"But neither the fact that everyone is happy to see you nor your desire to visit Imladris are why you want to leave, is that not correct?" the golden haired elf asked softly. "Why do you want to leave so badly?"

"Oh, ada, I do not wish to get away from here!" Legolas exclaimed and shook his head. "I have never been so happy to be back home, I think!" He turned serious quickly and raised his chin to look his father in the eye. "Have you heard about Anardir?"

"Yes," Thranduil nodded. "Hithrawyn released him some time ago. He is fully healed, at least physically. The last thing I have heard is that he wants to journey to the Havens and…" He interrupted himself in mid-sentence. "Oh, I see."

"Indeed," Legolas nodded darkly. "He wants to leave tomorrow, before noon. His parents and sisters have already sailed, and since … Galalith's death there is no reason for him to remain here." Sadness stole over the elf's face and he looked at his father earnestly. "I tried to talk him out of it, ada, many, many times these past few days. He simply will not listen. He doesn't even blame me for what happened, but…"

"…you do," his father finished his sentence. "Do you not?"

"Yes," the fair haired prince admitted softly. "Yes, I do. They were my men, father, and I failed them. They were killed because of me! I shouldn't have ordered them to return to the palace, I should have sent them to Anondil's patrol instead. Who knows, maybe everything would have been different if I had."

"And maybe it wouldn't have," Thranduil shook his head. "There is no point in questioning chance and fate, my son. It was not your fault; these men weren't even looking for you specifically. If you hadn't been there, they would have simply killed one of them and taken the other. Nothing would have changed."

"We will never know now, will we?" the younger elf asked somewhat bitterly. "Galalith will never know, and neither will Anardir. I have thought about it," he added softly. "Many times, to be honest. What would I do if I were him? What would I do if Celylith or Aragorn or the twins died?"

"You would not leave," the Elvenking shook his head firmly, more than a bit of hope mixed with the quiet conviction in his voice. "You have reasons to remain here. Family, friends, and a duty to the kingdom."

"But he has that as well, father," Legolas shook his head. "Yes, his family may already dwell in the Blessed Realm, but he still has friends here. And a duty to protect what has been his home for all his life. And still he will leave." He paused for a moment before he looked at his father once more. "And I understand him, I really do. Last year, when we thought Celylith had died, I wanted to die as well. I would have faded or followed him over the Western Sea, I am sure about it."

Thranduil didn't reply anything. He had always suspected that he had got close to losing his son to despair and grief last winter, but up until now he hadn't truly known just how close. His dark thoughts were interrupted when his son leaned forward in his chair, blue eyes boring into blue eyes.

"I have to go," Legolas insisted. "I cannot stay here and look at all of Anardir's and Galalith's friends, not knowing whether or not I could have saved either or even both of them. We were not very close friends, no, but I have known both of them for a long time. I even trained with Anardir as an elfling! Every time I look at something now, at a tree we climbed when we were younger or one of the captains who used to teach us, I see Galalith lying bleeding in the snow. I need some time to think about all this, and I cannot do it here, with the grief and pain of their friends surrounding me like a dark cloud."

"I see," the blond king said slowly. "And you think that in Rivendell the pain will go away?" He shook his head sadly, dark memories clouding his eyes. "Because it will not."

"No," Legolas agreed softly. "It will not. I know that."

For a few moments Thranduil merely looked at his son, unconsciously rubbing his brow with one of his hands as if to ease the pain that was developing behind his eyes. He had known that Legolas would take the young elf's death hard, but he hadn't known that he felt quite as guilty. He sighed inwardly as he watched the anxious and at the same time determined face of his only child. He didn't want to let him go anywhere for the next few yéni, especially not to Imladris where he and Elrond's sons got into almost as much trouble as they did here, and still…

The elven king took a deep breath as he came to a decision. He knew that haunted look in his son's eyes; he had seen it many times in the eyes of many battle-hardened warriors. Legolas needed time and space and a peaceful environment to come to terms with Galalith's death, and if there was one place where you could find all three, it was Rivendell. As unhappy as he was to admit it, the Noldorin elf-haven was one of the most beautiful places of all Eriador, and also a lot safer than Mirkwood. Unless, he added wryly, you left it with a sign around your neck saying "Please shoot, poison, cut and generally maim me at your convenience", something that Legolas and his friends seemed to do rather often.

"If you want to take Celylith with you, you will be sorely disappointed," he finally said evenly. "His father informed me that his son wouldn't be leaving Mirkwood again until … yes, I think his exact words were 'until Orodruin freezes over or he regains a small degree of maturity and responsibility'."

"That could take some time," Legolas nodded calmly, before he seemed to freeze in his chair as he realised what his father was saying. "Does that mean that…?"

"Yes," Thranduil nodded back, a small smile on his face. "You may go. I would ask you to be careful and not to get yourself and Lord Elrond's sons into any trouble if I had any hopes whatsoever that you would heed my words, which I do not."

"That is hardly fair, father," Legolas shook his head with an offended expression on his face. "They get me into trouble, not the other way round. I am perfectly innocent of all this."

"This time, maybe," the older elf smiled. "Only maybe, of course."

Legolas seemed to want to protest against his father's words, but then he smiled as well and shrugged lightly. A moment later he turned serious again and inclined his head.
"Don't worry, ada, I will try to be careful. I just need some time away from here."

"I know you do," the elven king nodded. "Go then and prepare for your journey. I am sure you will even manage to convince Hithrawyn to provide you with some healing utensils if you only tell him that you will be leaving tomorrow. He might even smile at you."

"I wouldn't count on that," Legolas muttered softly under his breath, but got up from his chair. He had already reached the door and opened it when he looked back at his father, sincerity mixed with the sadness in his eyes. "Thank you, ada."

"Whatever for?" Thranduil asked, apparently greatly surprised. "This is my revenge on Lord Elrond for persuading me to let Estel stay for the winter." He smiled evilly. "With interest."

The humourous words couldn't hide the concern in the older elf's voice, and so Legolas merely gave his father a small bow and closed the door behind him.

Aragorn stifled a tired yawn, once again trying to tell himself just why it was a good, sensible and perfectly normal idea to leave Mirkwood in the morning – the very early morning.

Well, he admitted to himself, there was the fact that, the sooner they left the sooner they would get back home. It was still too soon for their father's reply to arrive, but he didn't have to read Elrond's letter to know that the elf lord had been going out of his mind with worry these past weeks.

Then, he added thoughtfully, there was also the fact that they wouldn't be seen by so many elves when they left now. He was sure that their departure would draw quite a bit attention, especially considering that Legolas had somehow managed to convince his father to let him accompany them. He wasn't sure how his elven friend had accomplished that amazing feat without losing one or more of his limbs, and he had been most surprised when Legolas had told him this morning in an annoyingly nonchalant way that he would be coming with them.

He knew of course why Legolas was so keen to leave so soon after having got back to Mirkwood; no matter how much the elf tried to hide his thoughts from him, he always had at least a good idea of what he was thinking. The young man shook his head inwardly while he took up the last of his bags and left the room. Perhaps his father would be able to talk some sense into that insufferably stubborn elf.

A few minutes of walking through rather deserted corridors Aragorn managed to locate the main staircase despite the twilight that still lay heavily over King Thranduil's halls and slowly began to walk down the stairs, forcing himself not to skip or do something equally undignified. Besides, it would be most ungrateful to show the Elves of Mirkwood that he was in fact very glad to leave the palace behind and to return to Rivendell.

He reached the bottom of the stairs and turned to the left, into the direction of the main courtyard. Even despite the fact that the sun had barely risen he was sure that there would be quite a few elves present to see them off. For example most of Hithrawyn's healers, a sarcastic voice inside his head whispered. When he had told the blond healer that they would be leaving today, he was sure that he had heard more than one elf whisper a fervent prayer of thanks. Aragorn smiled slightly. He wasn't even offended; he was as happy as they were that he would be troubling them no longer.

Yes, he decided inwardly, most of the healers would come to make sure that he really left, which may be a bit excessive, but understandable nonetheless. Still, one mustn't forget that it had been Hithrawyn's decision to keep him in the healing wing for more than two days – and that only because the elven healer had feared that he might have contracted an illness or something like that!

He was still inwardly ranting about Hithrawyn's inability (or unwillingness) to understand that he may be human but not made of crystal when he stepped outside, his eyes automatically fixing on the heavens as soon as he set foot outside of the building. It had – quite naturally, of course – stopped raining almost the exact moment they had arrived at the palace, and it would be just as natural if it started again the moment they left. To his unending surprise, however, it was not raining, even though to call the morning "beautiful" would have been stretching it quite a bit.

He hadn't descended more than a few stairs, heading into the direction of the spot where his brothers and Glorfindel could be seen with their horses, when a tall figure stepped in front of him, blocking his path. With the long experience of a person who had grown up with elves who, as a people in general, delighted in startling anyone whose senses were not as keen as theirs, Aragorn came to a sudden stop and just narrowly avoided tumbling down the remaining stairs or bumping into the dark haired elf who had all but popped out of the ground in front of him.

It took him a moment to fully regain his balance, but even if he wouldn't have had the time to take a closer look at the other being, he would have recognised him at once by the way the elf was standing in front of him, as still and unmoving as one of the statues that adorned such a large percentage of Mirkwood's gardens.

"Erelas," he finally nodded at the other elf. "I did not know that you were so vengeful."

"Ah, I wasn't," the warrior said with a small smile. "That means, I wasn't until you disappeared on me the night you left. Who taught you to move like that?"

The man smiled back and began to resume his walk.
"My brothers."

"I should have known," Erelas shook his head slightly. "They were always keen to teach others their rather dubious … habits."

"Indeed," Aragorn nodded with a broad smile.

Before the ranger could say more Erelas stopped and, to his surprise, gave him a small bow.
"Thank you," the elf said when he had righted himself. "Thank you for bringing the prince back. All of us owe you a great debt."

"No, you don't," Aragorn shook his head. "If there is someone who owes anything to anyone, it is I. You risked much to help me, and without your help and the horse you provided, I would never have made it out of the palace."

"Maybe. Maybe not," Erelas shrugged. "It is not important. The only thing that matters is that you found him. Thank you."

"It was my pleasure," Aragorn smiled and inclined his head at the elf. He frowned as a thought struck him, and he added, "There is one other thing, Master Erelas. The horse…"

"Did you have any trouble with it?" the dark haired elf asked, somewhat anxiously. "I am sorry, but it was the only one I could think of whose disappearance wouldn't attract any immediate attention. It is a bit mad, however."

"I wouldn't necessarily use that term," Aragorn retorted cautiously. "I was just wondering if there was any way that I could persuade you to, well…"

"If it agrees, it is yours, ranger," Erelas smiled, realising what the young man was hinting at. "It is one of my father's, and since he is on one of these diplomatic missions that usually take a few years, he will hardly miss it. Besides, I don't think that he has ever been exceptionally fond of it. As I said, it is a bit mad."

"Are you sure?" Aragorn asked anxiously. "I don't want to rob your family of its horses."

"Consider it a gift," the elf retorted with another smile. "I think the two of you will get along wonderfully."

"You know," Aragorn wrinkled his brow and stopped, now only a few feet away from his brothers and Glorfindel who were talking animatedly with a couple of sentries, "I think a more suspicious person than I would have considered that remark an insult."

"I couldn't imagine why," Erelas shrugged, a blank expression on his face.

Aragorn shot him a dark look, once again not entirely certain whether or not the elf was joking, but before he could say anything, Celylith appeared next to Erelas. He, too, was moving so quietly that the man never heard his approach. It really wasn't his day, the ranger decided tiredly. At the rate his hearing was deteriorating, he would soon miss an orc horde if it stomped around their camp all night, singing battle songs.

Erelas gave the silver haired captain a small bow and, with a last, grateful nod at Aragorn, retreated back into the direction of the main building. Aragorn was about to bid Celylith a good morning when he noticed the dark expression on his usually so merry face, and so he merely closed his mouth and waited for the elf to speak.

He didn't have to wait long, because Celylith soon got tired of glaring at him and finally opened his mouth to speak, reproach still swirling in his eyes together with something that might have been worry or concern.
"You put him up to this. Admit it."

The man merely blinked in confusion.
"I? Put whom up to what? What are you talking about, Celylith?"

"Don't pretend you don't know of what I speak, dúnadan," the elf all but growled. "You convinced Legolas to accompany you."

"I did not," Aragorn shook his head, slowly beginning to understand just why the Silvan elf was so upset. He – along with most of the rest of Mirkwood, he assumed – had heard about the fact that Celylith's father had found an assignment that would keep him in Mirkwood for a few years, and he began to see the source of the elf's unhappiness. "Truly, I did not. I had no idea that he was even thinking about it until he told me earlier today."

Celylith sighed and ran his left hand through his hair, nearly undoing one of his braids with the hasty movement.
"I hate it when he does that," he complained quietly. "Just who will be looking after him?"

"We will."

"Don't make me laugh, Estel," the silver haired elf shook his head. "You, your brothers and he will get yourselves cut into pieces faster than you can say 'Look after yourself', and you know it perfectly well, too."

"You could always try to convince your father to…"

"I tried," Celylith interrupted the man's sentence. "Trust me, I tried. I don't think he is even listening to me. No," he shook his head, "unless I want to disobey a direct order from him and the king, again, I will have to remain here."

"Don't worry," Aragorn tried to console the half-furious and half-disappointed elf in front of him. "In a few weeks everything will have calmed down and you will find a way to pay us a visit. I am sure I can persuade my father to ask King Thranduil for some maps or despatches he will need urgently." The man gave his elven friend a small grin. "Someone will have to deliver them, won't they?"

"Yes," Celylith answered gloomily, but followed Aragorn over to the three Rivendell elves. "And I am sure my father will find the perfect candidate for that job – and believe me, that candidate will not be me."

Aragorn laughed and told him to try and be a bit more positive, something that earned him a scathing look that would nearly have set his hair ablaze. They closed the distance between them and the small group of elves that had gathered around the twins and Glorfindel, and had just greeted each other when two more elves entered the courtyard, both of which Aragorn recognised immediately.

On first glance, they looked much alike, tall and with blond hair, but that impression did not last long as the two elves came closer. Aragorn sighed as he looked at Legolas and the other elf. The two of them were slowly walking into their direction, their horses trailing behind them. Both animals were already loaded with packs and provisions, but while Rashwe looked his usual, evil self, the other elf's horse looked dispirited and sad.

Aragorn sighed again, this time a little louder. Legolas and Anardir didn't look much happier either, even though there was an almost content air surrounding the golden haired warrior that Legolas lacked completely. Hithrawyn had been right, Aragorn realised. Anardir may have been healed in body, but there had been nothing that could have been done for his spirit. The decision to leave these shores came not easily to most Silvan elves, but for Anardir it seemed to have been easy after what happened.

The two elves walked past the small group of people gathered around Aragorn and the others, paying them no heed. The man shared a quick look with his brothers and turned back to Celylith, grasping his left hand. The silver haired elf merely smiled at him and nodded, and a few quietly spoken words of farewell later Aragorn, the twins and Glorfindel followed the two elves, making their way past the guards and through the gates. They stopped just in front of the large stone doors when they saw that Legolas and Anardir had stopped as well, some sixty feet in front of them.

Legolas didn't seem to notice that the three elves and the human had followed them, so concentrated was he on the emotionless face of the elf next to him. He only realised that they had left the courtyard behind when they stopped, and he reached out and grasped the golden haired elf's arm, a pleading expression in his eyes.
"It is not too late yet, my friend. Don't do this, please."

Anardir slowly turned to look at him, an almost amused expression on his face.
"You are talking as if I went into certain doom, my lord. I am merely walking a path so many of our people have taken already."

"You don't have to leave," Legolas shook his head stubbornly. "Ever since we met you told me how much you love these lands. Do you want to leave our home already, now before the time has come?"

"My time has come," Anardir stressed quietly. "I have loved these lands, you are right, my friend. But where I used to see beauty, I see pain and darkness. The trees I have loved my entire life seem sinister and forbidding, and our home is empty and cheerless. It is as if light and all colours have drained from the world. There is nothing for me here, not anymore."

"You are wrong," the elven prince shook his head once more. "Your friends are here for you, and we always will be. That is the grief talking, Anardir, not you. Wait a few years, and you will begin to heal."

"Maybe," the other elf nodded calmly, the despair and emptiness that was filling his eyes lessening a bit for a moment. "I thank you for your words, my lord, but you do not understand. Galalith is dead. He will not be coming back, not now and not in a few years. I watched him die, I held him in my arms as he bled to death and there was nothing I could do, nothing at all. I cannot stay here."

"He wouldn't have wanted you to follow him, Anardir," Legolas said insistently. "He wouldn't have wanted you to leave as well."

"No." A ghost of a smile appeared on the blond elf's face. "He did not. He made me swear that I wouldn't follow him." He looked up, firm determination in his eyes. "And I will honour that promise. I will not follow him to the Halls of Mandos, but I will wait in Valinor until Námo sees it fit to release him from his dwelling. And when that finally happens, I will be there to welcome him back."

"That may not happen for many years, maybe even ages to come," Legolas said gently. "You do not have to go now, Anardir."

"Yes," Anardir nodded his head, "Yes, I do. They are calling to me, Legolas. I cannot refuse them any longer."

"Who is, my friend?" the fair haired prince asked, obviously confused. "What are you talking about?"

"The gulls, my prince," the other elf explained with a far-away look in his eyes, as if he could hear the birds right now. "They are calling to me, day and night. I have to go."

"Anardir," Legolas began carefully, "You have never before heard the cry of a gull, my friend. You have never been to the Sea."

"And yet they are calling to me … curious, is it not?"


"Just let me go," the golden haired elf begged softly. "I do not wish to go with your disapproval, my lord, even though I will if I have to. I know you do not understand, at least not yet, but I cannot stay here, and nothing you or anyone else can say will change anything."

Legolas closed his eyes for a second and took a deep breath, and when he opened them again all defiance seemed to have disappeared, replaced by a deep, all-encompassing sadness.

"No," he shook his head, "I do not understand, but that doesn't matter. I wish you wouldn't go, but…" He trailed off and grasped the other's hand again with a small, forced smile. "Safe journey, my friend. I will see you again."

"Yes," Anardir nodded, obviously relieved. "You will, my lord." He gave the sky a quick look and turned to his horse, mounting it quickly. "I have to leave now. It is a long journey, and I wish to reach the Pass of Caradhras before the goblins realise that spring is arriving and leave their holes."

"At least accompany us to Rivendell," Legolas tried a last time. "You can travel to the Grey Havens from there. It will be much quicker, and safer."

Anardir smiled softly, the far-away expression in his eyes intensifying again.
"Thank you, my prince, but I wish to make this journey alone. Besides, I have never before laid eyes on the fair woods of Lothlórien, and I would like to do so before I leave."

Legolas bowed his head and finally nodded.
"I understand."

Anardir nodded back and was about to turn his horse around when he seemed to remember something, and he reached out and placed a hand on his prince's shoulder, causing him to look up at him.
"There is one last thing, my lord," he said softly. "Before he … died, Galalith asked me to relay two messages for him."

"Anardir, please," Legolas shook his head. "I do not think…"

"One," Anardir went on, undeterred by the tormented expression on the other's face, "was for his parents, speaking of his love for them, and the other was for you." He blinked quickly to get rid of the tears that appeared in his eyes at the memory. "He asked me to tell you that he did not regret his choice and that he died gladly if it meant that he could save you."

Legolas merely shook his head wordlessly, bright tears glistening in his eyes as well now, and Anardir tightened his grip on his shoulder.

"My lord." Legolas didn't react, and so he said softly, „Legolas." The elven prince slowly looked up to meet his serious eyes. "He died for you, Legolas. Not for your title, not for your rank, but for you. He didn't ask me to relay that message to his lord or his prince, he asked me to relay it to his friend. He made a choice, and he did not regret it, not even in the end."

The fair haired prince swallowed thickly and nodded, apparently not trusting his voice sufficiently to speak, and so Anardir smiled again and squeezed the other elf's shoulder.
"Now I have said everything there is to say, I think, and kept all the promises I gave him. I bid you farewell, my friend," he bowed to Legolas. "We will see each other again, one day, in the Blessed Realm where none of this pain will matter."

"Yes," Legolas nodded, his eyes still gleaming brightly. "We will, one day. Good-bye, Anardir."

"Good-bye, Legolas," the other elf simply said, and a moment later he had turned his horse and spurred it on. It did not take long for him to disappear in the distance, but even after he had long passed out of sight Legolas remained where he was, staring after the golden haired elf with a blank expression on his face.

The elven prince was so distracted by his thoughts that he didn't realise Aragorn was standing next to him until the man softly touched his arm, and so he nearly would have jumped as Aragorn's fingers wrapped themselves around his forearm.

The elf's head turned sharply to the right, but he relaxed quickly when he saw who had approached him without him even realising.
"Estel," he acknowledged the other's presence.

"Come, my friend," Aragorn told him gently. "We need to leave. I doubt my father will be pleased if we delay our arrival even more."

Legolas didn't even seem to have heard his words, for he only turned back to the spot where Anardir had stood not too long ago, sadness and despair warring on his face.
"Why, Aragorn?" he simply asked. "Why did he have to go?"

"I don't know, mellon nín," Aragorn told the elf, a dark, sad undertone in his voice. He had asked himself the same thing many times in the past, had asked himself why the people he considered his family would leave him one day to pass into the West, and no matter how much he had thought about it, he hadn't found an answer. "I really don't know."

"Where is the justice in this?" Legolas asked tonelessly. "They had nothing to do with all this; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"The men responsible for this have paid, Legolas," Aragorn tried to console his elven friend. "Girion is dead, and so are Reran and Teonvan and all the others. They will never hurt or kill anyone else again, we have made sure of that, my friend, you have made sure of that. The battle is over. They are dead, and we are alive, that is all that matters in the end. You cannot change the past, no matter how much you wish it sometimes."

Legolas merely looked at him, his eyes dark and sad in his face.
"If the battle is over," he said softly, almost in a whisper, "then why do I have the feeling that I have won a battle only to lose the war?"

Aragorn returned the look, the same sadness he saw in his friend's eyes growing in his heart. Realising that there was nothing he could possibly tell the elf to answer his question, he reached out and placed a hand on Legolas' shoulder.
"Come, my friend. Let's go."

Legolas slowly turned his head to look at his human friend, the sadness on his face slowly lessening as he saw the hesitant smile on the man's lips. He felt his own mouth twist into an answering smile even despite the pain and sadness in his heart, and a bit of the heavy weight that had been pressing down on him for the past weeks seemed to fall off his shoulders.

He turned around to give the path Anardir had taken a last, long look before he grasped the ranger's hand that lay on his shoulder, and together they walked back the way they had come.

The End

pen-neth - young one
mellon nín - my friend
edain - humans, men
ada - father (daddy)
ion nín - my son
yéni (pl. of yen) - elvish unit of time, equivalent to 144 years
dúnadan - 'Man of the West', ranger

Well, I hope the ending wasn't TOO depressing. I just didn't want it to be too cheerful; I was really sick of all those "Happy" Happy Ends, if you see what I mean. And good guys are killed too, that happens from time to time. shrugs Other than that, I know that there are loads of question I left unanswered (most likely because I'm evil): Has Asfaloth forgiven Glorfindel? Will Rashwe kill the twins on the journey? What will Elrond say once they get back to Imladris (I mean, IF they get back to Imladris evil grin)? Will they celebrate Estel's birthday once they're there? Will Celylith ever escape his father's clutches to get himself into trouble once more? All these questions and probably a lot of more which I forgot to mention will be answered in the next story - just a little incentive for you to read that one as well! g

Well, now once again to thank a few people:

First, my sister and Jack, for coming up with sadistic, horrible things to do to various elves/rangers/innocent bystanders. I would like to state here and now that it's not ALL my fault, and that they are at least as evil as I am. nods head Most definitely.

Second, all those lovely, wonderful people who asked me to write this story in the first place. It's amazing how much emails saying "Start posting already, woman!" help! Thanks a lot!

Third, the Coca Cola Company for inventing something as wonderful and devious as Diet Coke with Lemon. I am now officially addicted to that stuff, and it has been brought to my attention that I have consumed approximately 272,25 litres of it while writing this story (about 8,25 a chapter). I'm mad, I know. g

And, again, last but not least, all my lovely reviewers! I am not only addicted to Diet Coke, I am also addicted to reviews! I can still not believe how many I got! (rubs eyes incredulously) I loved every single one of them, and your great ideas and - sometimes evil - suggestions really helped me, especially when I got stuck somewhere. I have now even more plot bunnies than before, which I thought hardly possible, and have had to get a second cage in which to keep those vicious little beasts, but it was well worth it. All your reviews were helpful, funny and at times insane - so they continuously made my day! Thank you all VERY, VERY MUCH!!! huggles all reviewers

So, well, this is it, I guess. I hope you enjoyed this little story more than most of the characters - they are weird, aren't they? I most certainly enjoyed writing it!

I would love to hear what you think of this story now that it is finished (which is really just another way of saying "Review, please!" g), it's always very helpful if people point out what they liked or didn't like. Okay, so I guess I'll see all of you in two months or so (or even earlier if you count the other little story) when I'll start posting "A
Sea of Troubles", story number - let me think - five. Or six, depends on how you see it. Anyway, it will take place mainly in Rivendell, Celylith might be able to join them after some time, and they won't get into any trouble at all. The title is misleading, really. broad, insincere grin


Additional A/N:

- You can't have him because I say so. I might need him later, and I would like to keep him in an un-squished condition. g And I doubt that they would call it fun - even though Thesieni might. g Glad that the chapter made you happy - but I really think that it's rather frightening that you enjoy watching elves and men bleed. We'll have a bit of Thranduil's reaction later on, even though there won't be any Elrond in this story, sorry. g
Deana - Ah yes, I guess you could say that everyone's hurt. thinks about it I think that's rather accurate. g And I can see that you worry for Legolas. It ... well, kinda showed. g We won't have so many recovering scenes, sorry, I simply didn't have any time to put many of them into this. sheepish smile
Nightmares-Hell - Well, yes, everything must come to an end. Even insane, mad little stories like this one. g It's very nice to hear that you enjoyed it even despite its weirdness, thanks a lot for the review!
Aratfeniel - Healers always make the worst patients, yes! No wonder that Aragorn didn't "realise" that he needed a healer... LOL, yes, Aragorn and Legolas ARE incredibly lucky. If they weren't, they would have died a long time ago. Painful, horrible deaths, at that. g Poor them. evil grin
AngelMouse5 - blushes So you liked the fight, huh? Thanks, that's great to hear, it's always a bit tricky to write them. I am eternally concerned that I might overdo it. I'm also glad that you liked the Glorfindel scene, it somehow refused to be written. shrugs Happens. There won't be any Elrond in this chapter I'm afraid. He'll be in the next story, I swear. I am beginning to miss him myself. g
Elvendancer - winces You were reading the chapter while your sister was opening her presents? You know, if I were her, I would be rather cross with you now... Then again, I'm evil. g Well, you certainly seem to have problems with cars yourselves! And I thought I was bad off! I am very relieved to hear that you don't have any relationship whatsoever with our Chancellor - it would really have freaked me out if you did. Really, really freaked me out. g
CSI3 - Yeah, well, only one chapter left, I'm sorry. I couldn't convince the characters to stay put anymore; they keep trying to escape. I figured I'd end this before they got away for good. g Great you liked the last chapter though, I hope you'll like this one as well!
Firnsarnien - LOL, well, I hope I neither stopped your heart nor caused you to bite your nails too much! I thought about ripping Glamir's skin from his flesh, but it would have taken too long. g But I like the idea with the ox, too. Very ... creative. Yes, that's a nice, neutral word for it. g I am glad you approve of Celylith's condition though. I am indeed a bit cautious whenever the CLF is concerned - after all, you guys ARE vicious... Oh, and there will be a sequel, most definitely, but it won't be about Sangwar and Co. I doubt I'll ever use them again, but I might. Who knows. Thanks very very much for all your reviews! huggles
TrustingFriendship - Yeah, you're right, they would have deserved to die a lot more slowly. But since I'm not a heartless or cruel person... stop laughing! glared darkly Well, it would have taken too much time, I admit it. g
Bookworm, .303 - LOL, I don't think that they can think in a relatively normal manner at all! I am glad to hear that you liked the story, and yes, I am planning a sequel. Don't cry, please. g
Strider's Girl - All good things come to an end sometime, I'm afraid. Besides, I really have to end it now - I am getting threatening letters from Elrond and Thranduil, and also from Celythramir. They are not too pleased with me at the moment... g Good luck with your exams - and believe me, you don't want me to sit them for you! I could do Latin, Greek, History and maybe German, but other than that... Nah, believe me, it's better this way. huggles Good luck!
Crippled Raven - Yes, she's fine. I've never been in a car accident, and I really hope I won't be either. They would take my license faster than you could say "But it's not my fault!" g Great to hear that you liked the fight scenes, and I put the humour in there because ... well, I guess it's because I can't keep my mouth shut. these things just pop into my head, there's nothign I can do, really... g LOL, yes, you could say that killing Girion was a consolation prize, at least kind of. Sound a bit evil though. g I love Robin Hood too. I loved Morgan Freeman - Azeem was his name, I think. shrugs I can't remember, it's been AGES since I've last seen it. And I know what you mean, about needing time to wake up. I have the same problem. huggles Thanks for all your long reviews!
- Interesting name, really! g You must be the only person I know who hates holidays, btw. But if I had no internet during the holidays, I just might come to dislike them too. Your car has a hole in the door? Well, that's not very nice either! Our car is a total loss. Good thing we're insured. g Well, I hope you'll enjoy this last chapter as well, thanks a lot for the review!
Sadie Elfgirl - Well, to describe their condition as "fine and dandy" just might stretch it a bit, but I guess you're right. They're all alive, so they really shouldn't complain. g LOL, I can just imagine Glorfindel and his Things a proper Elf Lord never does - list. A bit like the Rules of Acquisition in Star Trek... g I don't really know if there are so many fluffy moments in here, but I think so. At least a few. g But I DO know that Thranduil will be making an appearance, so that's something I guess. g
Bailey - Uhm, yes, it means that you have to wait for the next chapter. I am very sorry about that. Well, at least a bit sorry. evil grin I couldn't agree with you more, btw: Aragorn is exceedingly stupid. Ah well, it's not his fault, I think. g It's all in the genes.
LegolasGreenleafGil-Estel - I know Kent. Kent is really lovely. I love Canterbury, it's a lovely town. And Sandwich is nice too. giggles I still snicker when I see that name. Don't tell me, I know I'm silly. g I'm sorry I didn't get this out early - do you really want to ask your father to print this? I mean, here on my computer it's 627 pages - and that's with A/N and all that. Your poor printer. g
Falling Star - LOL, it's nice to hear that you liked that line. I laughed myself when I wrote it. Okay, so I didn't laugh, but I snickered, or at least grinned broadly. pats her back Now, now, don't cry. Yes, this story will be over after this chapter, and I won't have time to start the next one, and it won't be here before mid-August or something, but... Falling Star starts to sob What? What did I say? g No, j/k. I'm sure you'll manage. g
Chip - Ah, so Dale is your alter ego. I have one of them myself, now I understand what you mean. They can be quite annoying - but one wouldn't want to live without them, right? Hmm, so you like black? I don't like pink either, but I don't like black too much. Red is great, and blue and dark green. shrugs I'm really into colours this year, huh? g And your reason for reviewing twice is a very nice one indeed! Go on! g And I like Metallica too. Most of the time, it really depends on my mood. But I have to admit that your idea about Legolas and the others is rather ... interesting. Mad, but interesting. g
Alariel - Well, yes, I had to allow Glorfindel to have a little conversation with one of the bad guys. He had really been depressed, and had even started crying once or twice. shrugs I couldn't stand it. Yes, Celylith would LOVE to have a dragon, I think. He's mad, after all. g
Marbienl - July 13th was your birthday, wasn't it? I seem to remember something like that... So, if everything goes accroding to plan (which it never does), I'll be able to post the first chapter of that story on your birthday. So, touch wood! And I always try not to make everything too black and white. I didn't want the townspeople to be too good. Would have been boring. g LOL, I don't think that there were mosquitoes in this part of ME - otherwise Aragorn and Legolas would have contracted Malaria a long time ago... g I don't know if Wilwarin will return in the next story (or at all, that is) but I haven't abandoned the idea completely yet. So there is still hope! g So, thank you very much for all your (weird) reviews! huggles
Celebdil-galad Tinlaure - Yes, Legolas will have some trouble with Celylith, no doubt about that. Poor elf prince. g And don't worry, everything will be nice and peaceful - for this chapter, that is. I am not saying anything about the next story... g
Shauna - Don't be sad. The next story will be here before you know it - in about 1 1/2 or 2 months, that is. evil grin See? It's not so bad. And I hope you didn't really die. I would hate to kill one of my reviewers like that. g And don't worry: The last chapter IS horribly long.
Kathleen LaCorneille - Yeah, you're right, they DID miss quite a bit. Poor twins. I must assure you that I am not joking, however. I couldn't go on and on and on and on, could I? It's better to end this now while it's still somewhat interesting. nods I am sorry though, 'cause we won't see so much about the birthday per se. I guess they will celebrate it properly once they get back to Rivendell. Oh, and it's perfectly alright that you wanted to see Glamir dead. I wasn't all that fond of him myself. g And I don't speak a word of French (well, other than Merci and all that really obvious stuff) since I learned Greek in school instead, but I think what you wanted to say is 'well done'. Well, thank you! g I hope your exams will go well! huggles And I'm very sorry for not updating sooner, really! It was just not possible. I hope the waiting won't kill you, I really do! I'm sure you'll manage. reassuring smile
Iccle Fairy - Well, as long as you liked the ending, I don't care if you loved or hated it. g I am glad you refrained from sending me a rude email with dwarven insults, btw. It's always a bit disconcerting. g Don't be too sad, btw - the next story is coming soon! "Soon" being a relative term... evil grin
CrazyLOTRfan - I am sorry for upsetting you. At least a bit, really. I may be evil, but I'm not completely heartless, after all. g LOL, I am sure Caellan would be happy about that award of yours. No kidding, I'm sure he'd really be happy, stupid as he was. g Congrats! No more braces! I never had a fixed pair or whatever you may call them, something for which I was very grateful. Thank you so very much for all your reviews! You are most definitely my insanest Canadian reviewer! huggles
SeventhSpanishAngel12 - Don't hurt your computer. It's most likely FF.net's fault. No, I don't know that for sure, but it's usually their fault. They hate me, you know - and everyone else, I think. g You're right, of course, Thranduil will be far too happy to have them back to yell at them. That doesn't mean that Elrond won't be upset - but that's a story for another day. Or rather, another story. g
Tychen - Well, it might be wrong to express satisfaction about their death, but understandable nontheless, I think. I didn't like them myself, and that means quite a lot, considering I created them. g You're right, Elrond won't be very pleased if they get back home. Thankfully that won't be in the next story. ducks sharp objects You're not so thankful, I take it? Why ever not? g You guys are really weird sometimes...
Grumpy - LOL, thanks! Glad you liked "the death by candlestick". g There's another little Estel-Glorfindel scene in here; I hope you'll like it as well. I think people write far too few scenes about those two. huggles them Poor them.
Crystal-Rose15 - Finally! If I say that, most people just look at me and say something about how blue Frodo's eyes are. I mean, so what?! He doesn't have a neck! smiles sheepishly I never liked him all that much, not even in the books. And I'm completely sure that you'll survive. It is, after all, only a story, isn't it? g Yes, that's from Monty Python - you have to love them! I LOVE the Ministry of Silly Walks! giggles I hope you got your laundry before it flew away, and thanks a lot for all your reviews!
Jazmin3 Firewing - nods carefully Yes, they're all dead. Quite so, actually. Hmm, you'll see what happens to Laenro, and it's nice to see that someone likes Halyo. I like him too, so that's two of us. g You like a guy? Well, mate, that happens to all of us! Most girls and even some boys. g I am just waiting for the day my sister's gay friend and she will be interested in the same boy - that should be interesting! blinks Okay, that was totally off-topic. Sorry. g I didn't actually see Venus, it happened at 5 am or something like that, and that's definitely too early for me. Besides, I'm not that interested in planets. g Not even Venus.
Alasse Tiwele - I really thought it was obvious that Súliat was Saruman. I'm sorry if it didn't become clear until now, but come on, how many powerful lords that begin with "S" can there be in this part of ME? Not all that many, I'd reckon... And I meant that all the main bad guys were dead. Sangwar and Halyo aren't exactly key characters, besides, I like them. g
Suzi9 - LOL, yes, I can see that you signed in. Well done! huggles Great to see you! I was really beginning to miss you - I thought you had lost interest or had been buried under papers and college work... I'm very flattered that you're planning to annoy me, btw. Thanks a lot! I feel very loved indeed. g Dammit, I really missed nameless bad guys 1, 78 and 17? I knew there was something I had missed... Thanks for telling me. takes up large sword If you'll excuse me for a moment... screams of pain can be heard Okay, thanks for waiting. Got them. I am not planning to kill Cendan after all, but would be extremely grateful for a few Gaelic curses. I have only seen a few names and words, and I think it's a very beautiful language. Not quite as beautiful as Ancient Greek, but a close second. WAY prettier than English - or German, for that matter, but that isn't too hard. g blinks I ... see. Mittens. Whatever you say, mate. g Oh, and I never said I was sociable. I am in fact misanthropist, I think it's because I study History. All that changes are the names and means of destruction, that's all. shakes head sadly Well, thanks for the stars and the cookies, and thanks VERY MUCH for all your (insane) reviews! huggles Take care!
Cosmic Castaway - Uhm, I didn't get it. Thanks for explaining, but I still don't get it since I haven't seen Princess Bride - was it a movie? I have heard about it, I think. That's something, right? g I did indeed like your grenade. It was very nice and round and shiny - until it exploded, that is of course... g It's nice to hear that you liked the story so much, thanks a lot! So you're The Voice, huh? Just what medication are you on? g
Karone Evertree - Yeah, Thesieni is indeed a little bit like Hithrawyn. Not quite as close to madness, but I'm sure that would change if Legolas and Co. would only stay a while longer. g And I think too that we should give the twins the benefit of the doubt. They most likely did realise that they missed something. g
Iverson - Hey! You! I know you! Great to see you! huggles I missed you, I really did. It's very nice to 'see' you again. And with so many nice compliments in tow, too! Thanks! blushes But there wasn't THAT much violence in here! Uhm, yes, well, maybe there was... sheepish smile You're right, I will probably miss Teonvan - a little bit, that is. Not much, because he really WAS evil. It's very nice to hear that you're still enjoying this, thanks a lot for the review!
Galadhriel Vornionien - Yes, don't worry, you will discover the fate of the poor Anardir. I can't guarantee that you will like it though... But I didn't forget about him, never fear. (Anardir: Oh, isn't that nice? sarcasm) There will really be only this one chapter, I hope I managed to wrap everything (or most of it) up to your satisfaction! And you may of course borrow Celylith if you want to. Just put him in the disclaimer, then you can do whatever you want with him. Uhm, that didn't really come out right. I meant that you can use him in whichever way you want as long as you don't kill him. blushes Just ignore me, will you? Sorry for not updating soone, as I said: I was busy. Or locked out. Or both. g
Zinnith - So it was ch. 10, huh? Anyway, great to 'see' you again! huggles It's nice to know that you still like it. I thought you had despaired of my insane little story - which wouldn't have surprised me at all. g I agree with you though: It's a crime that they cut Glorfindel out of the movies - not to mention the twins. Sometimes I really hate PJ... It's nice to hear that you like Oswald Spalding. He's adorable, isn't he? huggles ox And I think you're right: Even if you took Aragorn's sword and knives and all that, he'd still find a way to get hurt. He's hopeless, that one... shakes head sadly LOL, a gerbil, huh? Well, I'll ask him - I'm sure he'd be interested. I don't think I have ever seen a gerbil, but I don't think they would get along with our cats. Otherwise I would take one myself... g
Lady Lunas - blushes Well, thank you! It's the most flattering compliment I can think of, thanks a lot! It's great to hear that you've been enjoying my "series" - if you can call it a series. I am sorry though; Elrond won't be in this story. There was really no way I could have put him into this chapter, but I promise he'll be in the next story - naturally, since it will be taking place in Rivendell. g Once again, thanks a lot for the review! I hope you'll enjoy this chapter as well!
Isadora2 - Ah ja. Das ist doch mal wieder typisch. Sich Ewigkeiten nicht melden, sich in London einen faulen Lenz machen, leckere Sachen wie Mint Sauce oder Bovril haufenweise verschlingen, und dann auch noch Ansprueche stellen?? Also WIRKLICH!! g Keine Angst, j/k. Nett, dich mal wieder zu sehen, auch wenn du ganz leicht aufgeregt zu sein scheinst. fieses Grinsen Warum nur, wundere ich mich... g Keine Angst, hier ist das letzt Kapitel, suesse Traeume!

I know this is getting old, but thanks a lot for all your reviews! They really cheered me up, amused and helped me to no end! Thank you very, very much! huggles all reviewers