Author: Mirrordance

Title: Exile

Summary: An elf is exiled as a suspect to his own brother's murder.  A young king goes out into the Wild.  Two warriors cross paths and embark on a common adventure as one seeks to escape his past and the other to reclaim it.  How Aragorn and Legolas met.


* * *

Western Outskirts of Mirkwood


* * *

      The two riders pulled their horses from their carefree trot to an easy halt along the banks of a shallow river.  From the near distance they heard the roar of a fierce waterfall, though here against the shallows, the sounds of water maneuvering across the multitude of rocks that peppered its rippled surface was predominant and soothing.  It filled that part of the forest with its calming melody, accompanied by the rustle of the waning, rusted leaves with the first of winter's breezes.

      One of the riders—a dark featured human with burning eyes—dismounted first, and assisted his companion, an old man, from his steed.

      "Thank you, Strider," the old man smiled, lending youth and fire to his wise eyes and weathered face.

      The younger man smiled back, and it tamed his curious, predator's eyes.  "I shall refill the skins.  And our horses can rest awhile."

      "I must admit," said the old man, "The road was long and hard and I fear I may need some resting of my own.  I'm quite tired."
      "It seldom ever seems so, Gandalf," said Strider, securing the horses upon a nearby tree and removing his packs from the saddle and laying them on the ground.  He did the same with Gandalf's horse, and took the water skins from the packs, before squatting next to the water's edge and filling them.

      Three, two, one.

      It was at this moment that a blur of a form descended upon his horse from the tree it was tied to, slashed at the ropes that held it in place in one breath, and flew away with it in the next.

      Wide-eyed, Strider dropped the skins to the ground, and ran towards Gandalf's horse, neighing and agitated from the theft of its companion.

      "I'll be back shortly," Strider told the old man, his quick fingers deftly untying the ropes that secured the horse to the tree, just before he vanished in a spur of movement and the fading, harsh pounding of horse's hooves in hot pursuit.

      The old man stooped to gather the filled water skins, then sat down against a tree and contemplatively lit his pipe.

      "Happy hunting, Strider," he murmured to himself, smiling slightly.

* * *

      Legolas looked over his shoulder to find the strangely adept human gaining on him.  Annoyed, he murmured at his stolen horse to move more quickly.  It neighed disapprovingly in response; it was almost as strange as its human master, uniquely intelligent and exceptionally loyal for a steed.  Elves found little trouble wooing horses, but this one had a hard head and seemed intent on following no one other than its master.  It took Legolas all his charm and skill in handling to have even gotten this far, and it was almost too much to ask for this horse to move more quickly and evade and betray its own master.

      "Halt!" the human yelled, and Legolas of course ignored him.

      ~Halt!~ the human yelled again, this time in the elf's own tongue, and it piqued even more at his curiosity, this strange human who spoke his language.

      In moments, the human was riding harshly directly alongside him, their legs almost touching.  Legolas' brows furrowed in confusion when the human spoke in a fluent string of Elvish, trying to calm his horse and get him to stop and disobey the thief.

      "Hya!" Legolas exclaimed, pushing the horse harder, urging him forward.  But the human matched him pace by pace, jump by jump as their horses rode alongside each other, dodging branches, leaping over gaps on the ground and over fallen logs.

      "Leave me be!" Legolas yelled to his pursuer, frustrated when it became apparent that he would not be able to shake him free anytime soon, and the horses were tiring from the fierce ride.

      "Isn't that too much to ask," the human exclaimed breathlessly, disbelieving, "from someone you had just stolen from?!"

      It was, and the observation was almost absurdly funny, so the elf didn't bother to retort anything back.  Instead, Legolas glanced at the rider to get a better look at him.  His sight rested upon the human's face in time to see his eyes widen in surprise.

      "Branch!" the human yelled, and he and the elf stooped low upon their own horses, missing a low-hanging branch by a hair.  It could have killed them on impact, riding at the mad pace that they did.

      The elf looked behind him at the close call, and was puzzled over why the human would warn him about the danger, it being that he was supposedly just a lowly thief.  It was in the middle of this contemplation that he felt the impact of the man in question against his body, the human diving towards him from his horse, and the two of them landing hard on the ground at a roll with the force of his assault.

      Yelping at the pain of the impact and caught by surprise over the maneuver and its complete and utter madness, Legolas was soon bested, the human straddling him against the ground.  Both of them were breathless and aching, but they held each other's glare coolly.

      "Why bother saving me from the branch," asked Legolas wryly, breaking the taut silence, "If you were planning on breaking my neck anyway?"
      "You were distracted shortly after," Strider replied, sharing the elf's dry humor with his dancing but cautious eyes, "I merely took advantage of an opportune instant."

      Legolas turned his head towards the direction from which they came.  The pounding of the horse hooves were vanishing in the near distance.

      "Now you lost two horses instead of one," he pointed out, "you should have just let me take it."
      "They know their way back to me," the human said confidently, eyeing the elf, measuring, "If you wanted a ride so badly, perhaps you should have just asked."

      "Can I have your horse then?" Legolas asked, pretending to be obtusely naïve.

      "No," laughed the human, surprised at the other's audacity, "I meant asked for a ride or some such thing."

      They held each other's gazes for a moment more, before the human sighed and rose to his feet, stepping back from the elf and offering him his hand to rise as well.  Gamely, Legolas took it, but instead of using it to pull himself up, he pulled the human down and swung at his long legs, effectively tripping him and sending him crashing to the floor.

      Strider grunted in dismay at the impact of his back to the ground, but he chuckled and said, "You're pretty petty for an elf."

      Legolas sneered at him—also very much unlike an elf!--and gained his feet on his own.  He hesitated a moment before offering the human his hand to aid him in turn.

      "Of course you're suspicious," sighed Strider, taking the proffered hand and rising, "You know what they say, you shouldn't do to others what you do not want them to do to yourself."

      Legolas pulled his hand away from the human's warm, wide and rough palms.  These were the hands of a warrior, he noted, and the long sword fastened to his side was also an indication of the same, for he carried it casually and comfortably.  He looked strong, and steady, but also light of heart. His eyes were wise but humorous, one among his multitude of curious contradictions that made for one of the most intriguing beings the elf, for all his thousands of years of living, had ever come upon.

      Strider was measuring the thief as well, finding that he had a grace and beauty that was exceptional, even for an elf.  There was even something strangely noble and familiar about him, though Strider attributed this to the fact that in more ways than one, most elves did tend to look alike.  He was lavishly attired as they oft were, with the colors of his layered tunics a salute to the woodlands, except his garb seemed earthier, older, much-used.  He had an intricate bow and a quiver healthily stocked behind him, and a pair of sheathed daggers, complimenting his warrior's stance.  Unlike his kin, however, he had restless, intense eyes that defied the usual complacency of the elves, and Strider had come upon a lot of them to know.  Perhaps he was young, Strider reasoned, though his eyes also held a wisdom that defied youth.

      "My name is Strider," the human said.

      "I know, I heard the old man call you thus," the elf said, seeing little point in the introduction if they were soon to part ways.  Besides, he was suddenly embarrassed at the civility, for he had, after all, just finished attempting to steal from the man.  He took to punishment better than kindness, because it was easier to comprehend.  Hurriedly, he looked about him.  "Well.  I suppose I'd best get going."
      "Perhaps you are going our way," said Strider, "You may want to ride with us awhile."
      "You don't have horses any more than I," pointed out Legolas.

      "I did say they would find their way back to me, did I not?" asked Strider, "I promise they will.  And then we can all ride off to where we are all going."

      "I wouldn't count on them returning to you," Legolas said coolly, finding a direction he desired and began to step towards it, "These woods are wide and winding, not to mention filled with creatures of ill-will.  They will most likely be lost or killed.  I would know."

      Strider detected some aching bitterness there that begged for prodding and all at once dared it and vowed to spurn it.  So he held his tongue instead.

      "Your way back would be towards that road," Legolas said coolly, though it was obvious he said so because he felt guilty and responsible for the misfortune he now shared with the human, pointing towards the opposite of the direction he meant to go.  Strider wondered if it was intentional.

      "I know to follow our horse tracks," Strider said, "but thank you for the advice."

      "I wouldn't rely on them," said the elf, "the first of the snow will fall in a few hours and we rode long and hard such that it may take you more the better part of a day to walk back to where you had left your old friend."

      He began to walk away, the human watching his back curiously, and even with more interest when he heard the elf say "I'm sorry" quietly and belatedly, before vanishing into the wood.