Hey, this is the same story as previously posted, but for the sake of several readers who have told me they enjoy re-reading my fics, I have posted it with far fewer chapters to make it easier. It also has some additional proof-reading, so if you're reading for the first time, I suggest this version. So we've got lots of H/C, action/adventure, good dialogue, and I'm told, an original plot. Hope you'll give it a shot. Anyway, enjoy, and please review.


 Middle Earth is a land full of fantasy, magic, and assortments of different folk ranging from Elves, to Dwarves, to Men and Hobbits. Countless adventures have been had in this land, only the smallest fraction of which are ever known or told. This is one of those stories, told in its entirety. Take it as you will.

The Stone of Malinya

By Robinyj

 The rider halted his horse suddenly as he reached the boundaries of Gondor's territory and took a moment to take in the sight of the fair city, rebuilt even stronger and more magnificent than before the Great War. It had been several years since his last visit and much had changed, but to him it felt like a very short time; for time itself had an entirely different meaning to this cloaked rider.

 He sat tall on his horse, using no saddle or bridle to control the animal, just the touch of his hand and the sound of his voice. His fair golden hair could barely be seen beneath the hood that protected him. Normally the cloak would not have been necessary at all, but the winds had been unnaturally strong lately and he found dust and leaves constantly marring his vision.

 It had been a long trip but he was not weary as others might have been. He felt very much at home in the forests, far from any houses or any other living thing, save the animals which also made their homes in the trees. With this being the case, to him the journey had been peaceful and calm. But now, as he looked upon the great city, with scores of men making their way through the streets, and the heavily guarded walls, he wondered what could be so important that the King of Gondor had summoned him to come with the utmost urgency.

 I suppose I shall find out soon enough. He thought to himself as he realized he would reach the great halls in only a few hours.

 Legolas reached up and pulled the hood from his face, finding the wind had died down sufficiently, and gazed hard at the city before him. With his keen Elven sight he attempted to piece together a picture of what Gondor was like under normal circumstances, so he would know what to expect when he arrived. But the most he could see past the great walls were several roof tops and the occasional dot of a person walking along the streets. Knowing he would not be able to get a better view anywhere else, he decided it was time to make his way into the city. Aragorn had sent for him, requesting he come as swiftly as possible and he had no intentions of making his friend wait any longer than necessary.

 Urging his horse forward once more he headed for Gondor's gates. Nearly two hours later he reached the entrance to the city, riding up fast and smooth. The guards were immediately alert and asked his name and business; everyone who entered Gondor had to be checked out thoroughly for there were enemies everywhere. But Legolas was a known friend of the King, and remained one of the only Elves to grace the fair city, so when he drew back his hood once more and announced himself as Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of Mirkwood, he was granted immediate access.

 "Of course. King Elessar awaits your arrival," The guard said, he seemed a bit puzzled, but gave no explanation why as he continued, "He is currently in the high reaches of the tower, I shall call you a guide."

 "That shan't be necessary. I can find it myself," Legolas replied insistently.

 It must have seemed strange for a prince to be riding on his own, with no escort, and in fact it was. Hardly ever did Legolas leave his kingdom without some sort of company with him, but for some reason he felt he should take on this journey alone and so he had left swiftly in the night; leaving behind the Elves that were meant to accompany him and making his way on his own. Sometimes it felt good to just be by one's self, and not weighted down with the responsibilities and pressures of being royalty. For that reason Legolas declined when the guards offered to send forth word of his arrival so he may receive a proper welcome. He preferred to be welcomed as any other and so as he entered the streets of Gondor, he dismounted his horse to lead him and lifted his hood once more.

 With his features fairly hidden he gave the appearance of a local to the great city. Elves did not frequent these streets often and so no one was on the look out for one, therefore anyone passing by would think of him as another face in the crowd only. It was rather intriguing to be able to simply observe life for once. Walking through the streets of humans, no one bowing, or gawking as they caught their first glimpse of an actual Elf, and he found he rather liked it.

 There were vendors milling about everywhere, selling varieties of items such as clothing, fruits, vegetables, and even livestock. Most people seemed to know exactly where it was they were heading and focussed entirely on their goal, paying no mind to the fair stranger that walked their streets. Others were simply strolling, having no real destination and taking in the wonder of the city. A few of these people may have noticed the Elf, but no one approached him.

 As he neared the tower he saw that it was heavily guarded, as much as to be expected for a structure in which the King of the land keeps himself. He approached the guards casually, dropping his hood as he did so. The sentries had obviously been told the Elf would be arriving because they did not draw their weapons, but it was clear this was their first encounter with one of the Elder for the surprise on their faces was evident. Realizing he would have to make the first move he decided to introduce himself.

 "I am Legolas Greenleaf of Mirkwood, my presence was requested by Lord Elessar," Legolas said formally as years of royal training had taught him. He remembered to refer to him as Elessar but he would always be known as Aragorn to the Elf.

 The guards accepted this without question and called out for an escort for the Elf-prince. A man of no more than twenty five soon arrived, he was well dressed and Legolas guessed by his manner that this man was high in Aragorn's favor.

 "We've been expecting you, and Lord Elessar wished to see you as soon as you arrived. Please, follow me. Your horse will be given the finest care in our stables if you would allow our stable boy to take him." The man explained who later introduced himself as Harsol.

 Legolas allowed his horse to be taken away, promising the creature he would visit him shortly, and was then led up the tower by Harsol. The walk to the citadel and the following trek up the great stairs took several minutes and Harsol took the opportunity to ask several questions he had obviously been pondering.

 "Have you known Lord Elessar a long time?" He asked.

 Legolas smiled to himself slightly, wondering if the Man knew just how little meaning the words 'long time' had to an Elf. But he replied simply by saying, "A good many years by your standards."

 Harsol nodded, obviously wanting more information but reluctant to ask. Legolas decided to tell him nothing further and instead focussed on the well built structures of Minas Tirith. They were not built in the way of Elf homes and they had no inner shine that made their beauty overly spectacular, but by human standards it was a very finely built city and Legolas had seen many. His attention was brought back to Harsol as he realized they had reached the top of the flight of stairs.

 They were now in an open corridor but there were windows on the left wall. Harsol indicated a door directly ahead of them.

 "Lord Elessar is inside. He is in deep thought about a matter of great importance of which he will not share, and this is where he comes to think. He says the view helps him train his thoughts. Shall I announce your arrival?"

 "No, that's fine. You may go," Legolas bid him to leave and he did so, knowing to follow the orders of royalty of any race.

 Legolas looked at the door and decided against it. He had a much better idea. Aragorn may be King but that didn't mean he shouldn't get his share of surprises every now and then.


 Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

 It was a wonder he didn't make himself dizzy. Aragorn continued pacing the large room as he had been doing for the last hour. Every now and then he would stop and stare out one of the many windows for a few minutes, but always he returned to his pacing. He had sent two messengers from his land three weeks ago, one to Legolas and one to Gimli. Both messengers had returned saying that the two had received the messages but left no reply for the servant to take back. Aragorn was not surprised, his friends never could do anything the easy way.

 He had a quest of which he needed help. Specifically the help of Legolas and Gimli. He felt he needed a Dwarf and an Elf on this mission, and they were the two he trusted most. He knew they would agree to help him if only he asked, but in truth he was hesitant to request Legolas's help, and had debated heavily whether to even send for him. This was not a good quest for an Elf, but he felt without question that he would need one with him. So in the end he had sent for his friend, knowing him to always be up for a challenge.

 Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth.

 His pacing continued. He was not actually nervous or extremely anxious about the deeds that lay before him, but he was in need of serious contemplation and though many people argued, the pacing did help him think. There were so many factors that could go wrong on this quest, but if it succeeded it would be a great day for the Men, Dwarves, and Elves of Middle Earth. Coming to a decision that he had somehow known all along, he decided he would indeed take on the quest to recover what was lost.

 With his new resolve he took a relaxing breath and stopped his pacing. He turned to the northernmost window and looked out; he loved to marvel in the splendour of his city. He was at such great ease as he looked upon Gondor that he very nearly jumped a foot in the air when a golden-haired head suddenly dropped into his line of vision.

 "How about inviting a friend in?" Legolas requested as he hung from the roof, dangling in front of Aragorn. It took a few moments for the King of Gondor to regain his breath and get over the shock of his friend suddenly appearing from nowhere.

 "What are you doing?" He finally asked.

 Knowing he was always welcome, Legolas swung down effortlessly and landed gracefully in front of Aragorn, "I wanted to know whether this new life of royalty was causing you to lose your touch. It seems I was right. What if I had been an assassin intent on killing you?"

 "Then my guards would have shot you when you came within a hundred feet of this place. And do not be so quick to speak of things of which you know not for sure. I think you'll find I'm still quite capable in battle. Do you believe it wrong for me to allow my guard to drop while in the safety of my own kingdom?" Aragorn replied, proving his point.

 "Nay, I do not. I meant to only see if I could get the drop on you. Now, if you will, would you care to explain as to why you have summoned me to your fair city?" Legolas requested. He desperately wished to know the reason he was sent for, the curiosity was driving him insane.

 "It is not only you I have called, but Gimli as well. Though I know not when he may arrive," Aragorn said. He loved seeing his friend's face light up at the thought of seeing the Dwarf once more.

 "Of that I am glad, but I must point out you did not answer my question." Legolas was determined, and would not be sidestepped with news of his friend.

 "Yes, you are correct. I summoned you to ask if you would be willing to accompany me on a quest," Aragorn said, deliberately giving no details just yet.

 "You need only ask. May I ask exactly what it is?" Legolas asked, a million possibilities soaring through his mind.

 Aragorn came a step closer to the Elf and dropped his tone slightly, "Have you ever heard of the Stone of Malinya?"

 Legolas's eyes widened greatly. That possibility had not come to mind. Aragorn now had his complete and undivided attention.


 Before Legolas could ask any questions, and he had a lot of them, Aragorn ushered him from the room, explaining that this was not the best place to talk. They left the tower and made their way to Aragorn's home where they would be more comfortable and could speak without fear of interruption or eavesdropping.

 Looking around the nicely decorated home Legolas noted that it definitely had a woman's touch. That brought another thought to mind, "Where is Arwen?"

 "Visiting her father in Rivendell. She should be back within the week, but I had hoped we would be on our way before then so I fear I shan't see her for some time," Aragorn replied, his eyes down casting drearily with the thought.

 "About this quest," Legolas started, taking a seat on a couch across from where Aragorn sat, "Do you truly believe you know the location of the Stone of Malinya?" The Elf's eyes were wide with wonder, for it would be a great thing indeed if the Stone could be found.

 "Yes. But it is a long tale indeed. I would prefer to only have to tell it once. Can your curiosity be quenched with only the barest of answers until the arrival of Gimli?" Aragorn asked.

 "Of course. But I must ask this: Where do you believe it to be?" Legolas's eyes shone with wonderment, for the Stone of Malinya would be a treasure worth more than a mountain of Mithril, and that was saying a lot.

 "I will tell you and you will probably figure out the rest from my answer. I believe that the Stone resides in the boundaries of the land of Brelan," Aragorn said, his voice sombre and almost regretful.

 "Brelan," Legolas whispered softly. Indeed he could just imagine what the rest of the story was. He did not know a tremendous amount about Brelan, but he knew enough. Aragorn could see the wheels turning in the Elf's mind, piecing together the parts of the puzzle that had gone unsolved for millennia.

 Deciding a subject change was necessary Aragorn said, "You arrived faster than I thought. Did you ride alone?" It was only now that he realized that he had not been forced to go through the endless diplomatic introductions that usually took place when other members of royalty visited.

 Legolas pulled himself from his thoughts and then smiled almost nervously, "I did. My father will not be very happy when I return home but I felt the need to ride here by myself. Sometimes being royalty can be downright boring."

 Aragorn smiled, he had been thinking the same thing a lot lately. He was a ranger at heart, an outdoors man. While he was capable and actually rather good at being king it was not what he craved. And he knew the same to be true of Legolas. The Elf wanted freedom from his responsibilities and from being treated higher than others. How ironic that many people dream of being royalty and having power and these two wished to be freed from it. But life works oddly and they both knew and accepted this.

 "When do you expect Gimli's arrival?" Legolas asked, breaking them both from their thoughts.

 "I do not know. Like yourself he sent back no message," Aragorn said, clearly frustrated with both his friends for making his life that much harder.

 Legolas smiled, it should have occurred to him the Dwarf would do the same thing, "Yes that is very much like Gimli." Then his eyes became unfocussed, as if lost in a memory.

 "Well, the Glittering Caves are not nearly as far from Gondor as Mirkwood so I expect he should arrive shortly."

 Aragorn's reasoning was logical and Legolas was inclined to agree. It was then that Aragorn offered his friend a tour of the city, which he eagerly accepted. A short time later they were walking along the streets of Gondor. Aragorn was doing a wonderful job as tour guide and pointed out all the buildings, explaining part of their history, indicating those that had been reconstructed, and showing special pride in the structures of great importance.

 The city was indeed grand, but Legolas thought it would be more enjoyable with a few less side-long glances his way. The residents of Gondor had never before seen an Elf, unless they had met Legolas himself three years ago during the time of the Great War. For that reason he was patient and forgave them for staring as they did, but still he wished he had not left his hooded cloak in Aragorn's home. He had found the city much more pleasant when no one was paying him any mind.

 It didn't escape his notice that Aragorn seemed slightly less joyful than he could be as well. Glancing back, the reason became obvious. They were being followed by a contingent of half a dozen armed guards. Aragorn was not a man who liked to put the value of his own life above others so clearly to him the guards were unnecessary.

 Who would attack a King within his own walls? Legolas thought to himself. Always when he left Mirkwood his father insisted it was not alone, for there were many evil beings out there, and Elves were not loved by all, but he had always felt safe within the borders of his home. How strange it must be to have to spend everyday with someone standing by your side, watching your back for attack. After some time Aragorn bid them to stop.

 "I believe that is enough for one day. Let us return to my home, it is nearly time for the mid-day meal," Aragorn said as he turned back around to lead them in the opposite direction. They had seen much of the city and at a leisurely pace it would take nearly an hour to return to his home.

 Legolas followed and said, "It is a wonderful city Aragorn, you must take great pride in it, and all you have done."

 "It was a wonderful city long before I came here. I merely strive to maintain its level of excellence," Aragorn replied modestly.

 Before Legolas could say more the sound of great trumpets roared from the gates. Legolas immediately thought they meant danger and reached for his daggers, but it soon became apparent that the tune was meant for joy and welcome. He knew Aragorn had not called for them to be blown so he came to his own conclusion.

 "I believe Gimli has arrived." Legolas smiled, his friend could always make a noticeable entrance. He was not surprised when he saw several flags being raised near the gates, indicating an honored visitor.

 "I was just thinking the same thing. If he had bothered to send word I might even had had the red carpet waiting. Such is only proper with the arrival of one such as Gimli," Aragorn said, obviously amused by the means of the Dwarf's arrival.

 "There might still be time to fetch it." Legolas suggested with a grin.

 Aragorn seemed to think about it for a moment, "No, we will allow him to walk on the streets like us common folk." He said finally, a smile playing on his lips as well.

 "Yes, he will hate that."

 Legolas shielded his eyes with his hand and strained to see across the fields of tall Men, in hopes of seeing his small friend. His face brightened even more as he caught sight of him, "There he is. I would know that beard anywhere."

 "We might as well await him here and escort him ourselves," Aragorn said. It would be pointless to return to his home and wait for Gimli there if he was fast approaching them.

 In only minutes the Dwarf was making his way towards them, a smile on his face as he saw his dear friends. With him were several of Aragorn's guards and four other Dwarves that had obviously accompanied Gimli. The streets were cleared as he drew near and this was obviously how he liked it. As he approached all three bowed, showing their obvious respect for one another.

 "Ah Elf, it is good to see you again." Gimli greeted Legolas as they shook hands firmly.

 "You as well Gimli, it has been far too long since I have visited the Glittering Caves," Legolas replied.

 "It most certainly has. Almost I thought you were avoiding me."

 "You? Never." Legolas smirked with mock indignity.

 Gimli gave him a warning growl but then turned to Aragorn, "Lord Elessar, I was greatly pleased to receive your invitation."

 "If only my summons had been for a simple re-acquaintance. There is a matter of great importance of which I must speak with both of you. But not here. Come, we shall dine together in my home."

 Gimli nodded and bid his companions to follow him as Aragorn led the way.

 Once they reached Aragorn's home, the King politely requested that the three be left alone to discuss their important business. Even the servants were excused from the house. Gimli was rather confused by these actions, but Legolas was not for he knew the importance of the Stone of Malinya. They all gathered around and had a great meal, reminiscing of past adventures while Gimli and Legolas joked to no end, enjoying being in each other's company once more. When at last all food had gone Aragorn led them to the living room, where they could speak comfortably.

 "Now Aragorn, you have left us both in suspense long enough. What is this business all about?" Gimli asked, quite serious in his demand for information.

 "It is a matter of great importance I assure you. I have requested your presence to ask of you a favor. I wish for you both to accompany me on a quest," Aragorn said simply. He would reveal nothing else in case the Dwarf did not accept, but he was almost certain he would.

 "I have followed you to almost the ends of the Earth, what's one more mission? Of course I shall go. Where do we head?" Gimli was actually rather excited about another adventure. Though his home was always exciting, and things were progressing well, a bit of a thrill might do him good.

 "We go to Brelan. Our purpose is long in its explanations but I will not keep you in suspense any longer. We seek the Stone of Malinya," Aragorn waited for Gimli's response, which was much like Legolas's.

 The Dwarf's eyes widened and his mouth gaped, "But that is only a myth."

 "Nay, it is quite real my friend. Though it has been lost for many thousands of years," Legolas said calmly. He was no longer surprised by the object of their quest but still it intrigued him greatly.

 "And you believe it to be in Brelan?" Gimli asked Aragorn, still shocked.

 "Yes. There are many wrongful tales and stories about the Stone of Malinya, so if you wish, I will tell you the tale of its making, in its entirety," Aragorn offered.

 Neither Gimli nor Legolas were sure they knew all the facts about the Stone, just tales and legends passed down, so they nodded for Aragorn to tell all he knew.

 "The stone was created a long time ago, even by your standards Legolas for its age is more than three times your own," Aragorn began, bracing himself for a long tale indeed, "It was created by a great Elf queen who passed from this land long ago, not surprisingly her name was Malinya. They say her beauty was unparalled, even among the Elves, and she had an inner power of which had never, or will ever again, be seen."

 Gimli interrupted then, "Surely she could hold no candle to the Lady Galadriel. For I cannot imagine a more magnificent creature could walk these lands."

 "Yes Gimli, even greater than Galadriel, though I must agree it could not have been by much. But this tale is not about her, it is about the stone. At this time all the lands of Middle Earth were in great turmoil. Races were gathered, and flourishing on their own, but all kept to their own kind, never engaging with one another, except for the occasional battle over land. Dwarves, Elves, and Men all existed in different worlds, never aiding or hindering the other races. This is why our peoples have come to have such different customs and lives. And though our races were good for the most part, there was also evil in the world, and it was banding together."

 "The Elves saw this, for even then they had great wisdom and almost prophetic abilities. They wished to unite the good races of Middle Earth that ruled most of the land. So it was that the Elves, Dwarves, and Men tried to work as one. It was not easy and tensions were always high, for everyone was wary to trust their neighbours. For this reason, Malinya created the Stone which bears her name; it was a token of peace and friendship among our peoples. Also, the Stone was capable of detecting lies and deceit. Knowing that your allies tell the truth is a good basis for friendship. So with the Stone nearby all the races were able to work together. Eventually the evil forces of Middle Earth did band together, as did the forces of good. The Elves, Men, and Dwarves triumphed over the dark forces, and those that were gravely injured in battle were able to be healed by the power of Malinya's Stone."

 "It was then that Middle Earth began to truly flourish. All the races were in a circle of harmony and open friendship, and there was no evil to plague the land. It must have been a splendid time to live. But all good things must come to an end as they say," Aragorn's eyes became clouded with sadness, as if he had actually been alive to see these events and missed them greatly now that they were gone.

 "Exactly what happened?" Legolas asked, though he was almost sure he knew from the legends of his people.

 "The Stone was lost. They say it just disappeared one day, and was assumed stolen but it was never found out by whom. This became the downfall of the land long ago. The Stone was the basis for all friendships, for it ensured only truth among the races but when it disappeared everyone was suspected and friendships failed. Some believed the Elves had reclaimed it for their own since it had been an Elder that created it. Others said it was the Dwarves, who wished to find some way to forge more great stones such as itself. And even more said it was the race of Men, for no reason other than jealousy and greed. And so with the Stone of Malinya's disappearance, almost all allegiances broke and Middle Earth was once more plagued with solitudes and war."

 "Time has healed many wounds but new ones have arisen also. Though your strong friendship has helped greatly, there is still some bad blood between the Elves and Dwarves. There are also many tribes and villages of all races, scattered about the land due to the war. I believe the Stone would unite all the peoples of our homes and bring a great time of joy." Aragorn finished with a sigh. His eyes seemed to stray as he apparently envisioned what the world may be like if the Stone of Malinya was found.

 Legolas and Gimli remained quiet for some time, thinking over all they had been told. Some parts of the stories had been proven true, and more blanks had been filled in so it was easy to get a mental picture of just how spectacular Middle Earth would be.

 "The Stone has been missing for millennia. How is it you think you have now found it? And why in Brelan? I know very little of that place." Gimli admitted, racking his brain for any information about the Men who lived in that territory.

 "It is very far, many will not even travel there for it is a hard journey, and in truth there is not much to see in Brelan. At least, that is what they say," Legolas told him, calling upon his limited knowledge of the area.

 "You are correct, it is very far. It is a land of Men who live past desert and mountain. They live a life of solitude, much as they did back then. According to the tales of old, the Men of Brelan felt they were not fairly treated when the bonds of trust and friendship were made among the races. Hardly any trade was established with them, and no celebrations were ever held at their homes. They also received few visits from any Dwarves or Elves. This led them to believe that they were being ignored and that the rest of Middle Earth thought themselves better than the Brelans. In truth, their land was simply too far for any conventional travel. Friendship was attempted but it was hard, and the Men of Brelan made it no easier. They never ventured far from their own land so did nothing to form bonds of trust, always they expected the other races to come to them," Aragorn explained, very accurately describing the Men of Brelan.

 "Sounds reasonable that they would want the Stone. It would cause the break up of all the races. Everyone would be just as isolated as them. It would have simply been for spite. Why is it only now that they are suspect?" Legolas asked. This quest intrigued him more greatly with every moment and he longed for more information.

 "All races were under suspicion of theft. The trust of the land was completely broken. Brelan seemed no more likely a suspect than any other land," Aragorn spoke at length once more, "It was by complete chance that its possible location was revealed to me. I sent messengers to Brelan in hopes of establishing a trade agreement with them. They have large food storages and fierce warriors, but they are smaller in number than Gondor. I believed they would welcome the chance to join with my kingdom. I was quite correct. The talks went splendidly and they have agreed to establish an agreement with Minas Tirith, I travel in three days to make my way to Brelan to personally conduct the negotiations. But, while my messengers were there, they were reportedly treated very well. The Brelans were so happy to have them there that they even took my men out for a night on the town if you will. Suffice it to say they all had a bit too much to drink and became quite inebriated. Except for one man in my group. He is not the most fun loving of people but I am very grateful for his lack of drink on this night. The Men of Brelan drank so much that they accidentally told of how their ancestors had stolen the Stone and hidden it in their territory. It is not known where apparently, only that it is hidden and well guarded."

 "The ramblings of a drunk only!" Gimli exclaimed, appalled that he had been called all the way from his home for that.

 "I think not. My servant got the exact same story from three different men, at different times of the night. It is the answer that fits together all pieces of this puzzle. Brelan is one of the few lands I can recall that has yet to have a good relationship with any other society in Middle Earth. Surely if any others had stolen the Stone it would have been recovered or at least rumored about long ago. No my friends, there is no doubt in my mind that the Stone of Malinya lies within the land of Brelan," Aragorn said passionately. He was very determined to retrieve this item, no matter the costs it would seem.

 Gimli and Legolas sat in silence once more, both leaning heavily towards definitely going with Aragorn. The King of Gondor watched them both closely, looking for any signs of their thoughts though he knew his friends could prove very hard to read.

 "This seems enough for me. The Stone has been missing for millennia and it would be great to have it recovered. Let us not say that we did not at least try. I will join you on this quest," Legolas said, officially joining with Aragorn now that he knew all the details. Even where they were going. Aragorn worried that the Elf had no idea what awaited him, but in truth Legolas knew all about the Men of Brelan.

 "Thank you my friend. And what of you Gimli?" Aragorn asked, watching the Dwarf who was clearly deep in thought.

 "Is there any particular reason that you need us on this quest?" It was a fair question and Aragorn knew it would be asked eventually.

 "The Stone of Malinya was a token of peace and friendship among the major races of Middle Earth, I feel it only right that at least one member of each race therefore be involved in its retrieval. There are other reasons as well," Aragorn admitted, not immediately exposing what those may be.

 "Such as?" Gimli urged him to continue.

 Aragorn took a deep breath knowing Gimli would not particularly like this next part, "The Men of Brelan were said to have had the strongest relationship with the Dwarves back before the Stone was stolen. I believe they would welcome us greatly, and trust us more, if we had you in our company. My own men mentioned that they appeared to hold Dwarves in high respect in Brelan."

 "As they should," Gimli's chest puffed out at this.

 "Well, they also like the Dwarves for another reason. They believe that they have a common enemy in that they both hold a great dislike for Elves," Aragorn said, waiting for Gimli's reaction. Glancing at Legolas it was clear the Elf had already known this.

 "Not nearly as great as it once was, but I suppose there's still some hard feelings felt in a good many of my people. Why do these people dislike Elves, and how strongly are their feelings?" Gimli questioned. He was beginning to think he really didn't like the idea of Legolas accompanying them on this trip.

 Legolas answered before Aragorn could speak, "It is not known why they hate the Elves. It is said that they themselves know not the reason. But the anger and hatred was there before the Stone was created, which is another reason they felt left out of Middle Earth's societies, they would not trust the Elves no matter what the Stone said."

 "It has been long since anyone visited Brelan before my own messengers set out and they got the impression that the Men of the land still feel the scorns of the bad blood, but it is diluted. For hate is a hard thing to maintain when you know not the reason as to why you are to feel it." Aragorn finished.

 "What is my purpose on this quest, other than to be a representative of my people?" Legolas asked, genuinely curious as to what part he would have to play.

 "You partly answered for me, I do wish an Elf to be present for it was one of your own people who created the Stone. And the keen senses of your kind are always a welcome addition to any quest. But I may also need you to help in discovering the Stone's location. From what my servant has said, the Men of Brelan themselves no longer know where the Stone of Malinya is, for it was hidden long ago. An Elf can sense when the Stone is near, but to what degree I do not know," Aragorn replied.

 "I have heard that Elves can feel when the Stone is nearby. It is said that there are some of my kindred who have spent hundreds of years walking the lands of Middle Earth, hoping to feel the Stone's presence nearby. Some say it instils great warmth in the heart of Elves and others say that a great wave of joy passes through the person, and some say both," Legolas said, further supporting Aragorn's sense of need to bring an Elf along.

 "Either way, I believe your presence will be necessary if we are to find Malinya's Stone," Aragorn said.

 "And is he just to walk into Brelan and announce himself an Elf?" Gimli asked, his tone harsh. He did not wish his friend to go on a quest where he would particularly be in danger.

 "Nay, he shall disguise himself as a Man. It would be simple enough. There have been no Elves in Brelan for many long years, they would never expect one to freely walk into their land after all this time. I am confident that Legolas would be just as safe as any of us." Aragorn assured the Dwarf. He was touched by Gimli's concern for his friend, but Legolas was needed on this mission.

 "Have no fear Elf-friend, I gladly accept the risk," Legolas said to his still grumbling companion.

 "I still do not like it. But this quest is clearly of great importance, not just to you Aragorn, but it would be a great service to all of Middle Earth. To have the free races united in harmony, oh, that is a day I have longed to see." Gimli's voice spoke of his great wish to see that day. His choice was obvious but Aragorn still felt he should ask his burning question.

 "You will accompany us then?"

 "Yes, someone has to keep you two from getting into trouble. And save your sorry hides when you do manage to." Gimli only barely managed to avoid the swipe of Legolas's hand, which was heading straight for the back of his head.

 "It pleases me greatly that you will both join me on the mission. Though we have all done this land a great service already, we shall set out once more and make Middle Earth an even finer home for all," Aragorn said, standing tall as he envisioned the world the Stone would create.

 "We set out in three days to journey to Brelan."

 It would prove to be a very long trip.


 The next few days were a busy time for all three of the friends. Aragorn had many arrangements to make for their trip to Brelan. They were to go under the pretence of establishing a trade agreement with the Men of the land, but their true purpose for this quest was to seek out the Stone of Malinya. Although Aragorn hoped they could somehow accomplish both, if he had to make a choice he would take the Stone and return it to its rightful home.

 Legolas and Gimli spent the three days learning much about Brelan, its customs, beliefs, history and the geography of the land. Though they learned much, the Elf and Dwarf often found themselves wandering about the glorious city and simply chatting, having three years of tales to catch up on. They enjoyed each other's company immensely for they shared one of the strongest bonds of friendship ever established in all of Middle Earth, and the fact that the two races were natural enemies made it that much more amazing of a relationship.

 Gimli talked in length about his home and all that was occurring in the Glittering Caves, regaling his friend with wondrous tales of his people. In exchange Legolas spoke of all the current happenings in Mirkwood and even informed Gimli that he was considering finding some Elves to move with him to Ithilien. The Dwarf loved the idea and gladly offered to help in any way he could if possible.

 Finally on the third day it was time to begin the long journey to Brelan. There would be a dozen men in all on this quest, though only Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas knew of the true reason for their adventure. There was of course the three friends who had been in the great Fellowship of the Ring, and with them they brought nine of Aragorn's personal guards and finest soldiers. Though he wished not for their presence, Aragorn knew that no King should ever ride without his guards close by, for an attack could be in wait around any corner.

 Aragorn also kept his men in the dark as to the true identity of their unknown companion. Although he trusted his soldiers completely, he could not risk any of them accidentally revealing Legolas for what he truly was to the Men of Brelan. He was also sure to instruct them to wear their hoods up as frequently as possible, explaining that it was an ancient tradition when visiting the land of Brelan. This was not true but was done so that Legolas would not seem suspicious being the only one with his hood constantly drawn over his head. These orders were followed without question, for all of the King's men wished for nothing more than to please their lord.

 It would take nearly a month to reach, Miscalanth, the capital city of the land of Brelan, though they were to meet up with an escort that would accompany them in half that time. But they were prepared for the long trip, knowing it was no worse than other quests they had taken before.

 Finally they were ready to depart. They were setting out early so as to move along as quickly as possible. Aragorn sat on his horse, tall and proud in the shimmering light from the sun that was swiftly rising. His black hair fell loose around his shoulders and Anduril, his constant companion, was sheathed at his side. The King's contingent of guards were scattered around him, some were already mounted, while others were checking their packs a final time to ensure nothing was forgotten.

 Gimli and Legolas were a short distance away from the rest of the group, looking over their horse and securing the last of their baggage. Gimli of course could not ride by himself so would be travelling with Legolas, which was what they were used to. Neither minded for it gave them a chance to enjoy each other's company for the length of their journey. While in the city, Legolas had been sure to stay a good distance away from the guards that would be accompanying then, knowing they were not to know he was an Elf.

 That morning he had sat down and prepared himself, knowing this journey would be a great test of his skills; not just on the battle field, but his acting skills as well. He was now supposed to move and behave like a man. It sounded simple enough, after all he spent a fair deal of time around Men, and Aragorn was his closest friend, but it was in fact much more complicated. He had been acting and moving as an Elf for nearly three thousand years, it wasn't easy to change overnight. But for the past three days he had been carefully observing the Men around him and mimicking their movements alone in his room. He had also been perfecting lowering his voice, making it sound fuller and rougher, instead of amazingly and captivatingly pleasant as all Elf voices were.

 So it was, on that morning he undid all his braids and wore his long blonde hair completely down to cover his ears. It worked quite well and he was confident that they wouldn't be seen even without the protection of the cloak, but that didn't mean he wouldn't be wearing that as often as possible. Aragorn had given him several outfits that were distinctly clothes worn only by Men. Now, after slinging his bow on his back and gracefully mounting his horse, he was ready to go. Gimli hefted himself onto the steed as well, having mastered the mounting of horses some time ago, it was the riding that discomforted him mostly.

 "Ready to go Elf?" Gimli asked as he tried to see his friend's face from behind.

 "I'll ask you not to call me that again, it could mean the downfall of this journey," Legolas said, kindly reminding his friend.

 Gimli's face fell and he cursed his foolishness, "Of course, you're right. Won't happen again."

 Legolas nodded, then turned and smiled, "But to answer your question, I am as ready as I will ever be. This will be quite the task, finding the Stone of Malinya and pretending to be a Man. What I did to deserve this quest I will never know."

 "Well, be comforted that you at least are blessed with the finest of company on this trip," Gimli replied, obviously meaning himself.

 "Yes, it is good that Aragorn's going. I do not know what I would do if I didn't have someone along on this trip with whom to have an intelligent conversation with," Legolas said swiftly, not even waiting before their journey had officially started before beginning their game of insulting the other.

 "You wound me terribly, E...."

 "Don't say it. To you and all others I am no longer an Elf," Legolas reprimanded him.

 "I shan't forget, but you best not anger me or I may forget and let myself slip," Gimli said, intending it to sound like a threat.

 Legolas chuckled as they trotted towards Aragorn and the rest of their new company. As they approached Legolas felt eternally grateful that Gimli was riding with him. Having the Dwarf mounted behind him was just the excuse Legolas needed to ride without a saddle. Elves didn't use such things and the few times he had tried one he had hated it, and he could tell the horse did as well.

 Several of the Men shot Legolas strange looks, wondering who this stranger was that rode with them, but their features softened with the sight of Gimli just behind him. The Dwarf had made it a point to get to know his new companions as well as possible before setting out. He had not had much time but he had managed to get to know them each by name and even shared a glass of ale with two or three of the guards.

 Legolas and Gimli trotted up next to Aragorn, both searching the King's face for some sign of what he was thinking or feeling. But as usual they could tell nothing, and his features remained impassive. Aragorn offered his friends an encouraging smile, knowing that emotions always run high at times such as these.

 "Are you both ready?" He asked.

 Legolas nodded and Gimli said, "We're ready for anything, be they Orcs or Elves, let's be off."

 The Elf and Man smiled at their friend's enthusiasm and nodded. Aragorn turned his steed and yelled out to his company, "Come Men, we're off to Brelan. It is a long journey but hopefully we shall return with the friendship of our neighbours. Ride on!"

 That was how they left Gondor. With the flag of the great city flapping behind them they rode away from the tall, sturdy walls and into the foreign territories of Brelan. It was unknown what would await them, but all new discoveries were, for the most part, welcomed.


 They rode all day, covering a good many leagues for they rode the finest steeds in the kingdom of Gondor. The horses of Legolas and Aragorn stayed side by side, but as was custom, the King rode in the middle of his group of guards to protect himself. But on this first day it was unnecessary, the sun was shining brightly, the birds sang cheerfully, and no ill wind blew through the trees. They were able to continue on their way uninterrupted the entire day. The three friends talked quietly amongst themselves during the times they were not forcing their horses forward with speed. Stories were exchanged and good jests told. Gimli and Aragorn also spoke with many of the guards, but Legolas remained silent for the most part. He was still wary about passing as a Man and did not wish to prove himself as otherwise by saying something foolish in his speech.

 The Stone of Malinya was never far from the minds of the three friends, but even so they allowed themselves to enjoy the beauty of the forests that they travelled through. There were paths of their own making for several more days travel but eventually they would reach the land where new trails would have to be made, connecting Brelan to Gondor if the negotiations went well. But that was still more than a week away, so they would not worry about it now.

 Just as the sun was dropping from sight they found a large clearing that would serve well as camp for the night. A large fire was built, so large that it would need plenty of wood to sustain it for the night. As it was about to be decided which of the Men would be sent to fetch the wood, Legolas quickly stood and offered to get it himself. He volunteered his dear Elf friend for the job as well.

 "Come Gimli, it will not take long," Legolas bid his friend to come along. Their conversations had been greatly limited the entire day since they could speak not of the Stone or of anything that may link Legolas to being an Elf, so the Dwarf swiftly took the opportunity to speak with his friend alone.

 Gimli picked up his ax and followed after Legolas into the woods, "Wait my friend, I am coming." He came running up to the Elf, muttering something about long legs and rushing everywhere they went.

 "We should gather as much wood as we can carry," Legolas said as he bent down retrieve a few nearby pieces.

 Gimli did the same and then looked back, deciding they were a fair enough distance from the camp to speak freely, "So, how was your first day as a Man?"

 Legolas actually smiled, "Not too bad, if I do say so. Though in truth there was not much to it on this day. We were riding only, and I can do that well enough without drawing any suspicion. But I am starting to feel this ruse may work."

 "Good, you make a fine Man as far as my own eyes can tell. From here I would think you no different from them, those clothes do make you look odd. Your normal grace in your movements seems even notched down." Gimli pointed out as he watched his friend gather more wood.

 "It is not your eyes alone. These clothes are uncomfortable to say the least, much too heavy. I feel absolutely weighted down in these boots. It is one of the few discomforts of all this." It was true, though Aragorn had gotten him the lightest ones he could find, the footwear was much too heavy for his liking. Walking over a small patch of mud he could see his footprints were much deeper than usual, but he supposed that could only help with the illusion of being a Man. "I fear it may prove to be a long journey indeed."

 "Well, on the ride home I don't see why it would be necessary to keep your disguise. Once we are out of Brelan and have the Stone, you can go back to being the same old Stupid Elf, we know and love." Gimli smirked at his own joke, and ducked a small branch heading for his head. He was getting quite good at avoiding the blows Legolas continually aimed for his skull. In return the Dwarf hurled his own piece of wood in Legolas's direction, which the Elf caught with ease.

 "Gimli, you may draw comfort from the fact that I shall never, ever, stoop so low as to impersonate a Dwarf. Why, the sheer mechanics of it are simply mind boggling," Legolas said, placing the branch on his pile of wood.

 "You'd make a terrible Dwarf in any case. You've no appreciation for fine craftsmanship, you like nature far too much, and your hair is far too long, Salogel." This time he didn't see it coming and the branch struck Gimli squarely on the side of the head.

 "Don't call me that if it is not necessary."

 Gimli nodded in understanding, "You're far too short tempered as well." He said, rubbing his temple.

 This brought a great chuckle from Legolas, the irony of being called short tempered by a Dwarf, was far too funny.

 "Indeed you are right," He said when his laughing died down, "So let us take up the wood we have gathered and return to camp. I shall need to at least feign sleep if I am to appear as a Man, I heard one of the guards mention it had been a tiring day."

 Gimli added one last log to his pile and agreed. Together they went back to camp, joking and arguing the entire way.


 Aragorn sat in his tent looking over several maps of the region. The messengers he had sent forth to make the initial meeting with Brelan had made copies of their course, and the Men of the land had been kind enough to supply several maps of the territory from their point of view. He was now using both maps to make a more efficient and complete one.

 He looked up as the flap of his tent was drawn open and the Captain of his guards popped his head in. Risorine was his name, he had dark brown hair that reached his ears, and eyes as gray as the clouds in a storm. He was of above average build and stood at the same height of Aragorn, which was quite tall. The Lord of Minas Tirith motioned for him to come in and wondered what it was the Captain wished of him.

 "What can I do for you Risorine?" Aragorn asked as the Man stood at attention before him.

 "I wish to speak to you about our companions," Risorine replied, never dropping his guard.

 Aragorn knew this would be coming eventually and was prepared for it, "Very well. Sit down and relax. Tell me what is on your mind."

 Risorine did as he was told and sat across from his Lord. He had protected this Man for three years, but sadly still did not know him very well. For some reason he had never been able to make the bond of close friendship with his King, and though there was trust, he knew it could be much stronger.

 "I understand the reason the Dwarf, Gimli, accompanies us. It will greatly lighten the hearts of the Men of Brelan and we will be welcomed greatly, but this Salogel, I do not understand why he rides with us. I've seen him speak to both you and Gimli in great length but of yet he has yet to have any conversation with the Men of your guard so we know nothing about him. I was curious as to the purpose of his presence here," Risorine always was one to get straight to the point, and now that his mind was open he felt a small touch of relief. Of course, Salogel was actually Legolas. If his real name was known he would be pointed out clearly, as the Elf that had been a part of the Fellowship of the Ring. The false name was necessary though all three of the friends hated it.

 "Salogel is a close friend of mine, and has been for many years. He is very closely in touch with nature and his surroundings, even more so than myself, and will be of great help in dealing with all unfamiliar surroundings we may encounter. He is also well trained and skilled in many fields which would probably seem useless on this trip, but I prefer to be prepared for anything. And, as well as being one of the greatest fighters I've ever known, he is a great judge of character, I wish to know his impressions of the Men of Brelan. Suffice it to say, I wish him here and I assure you he will be of great use," Aragorn said, his tone implied that he was not one to be argued with over this.

 Risorine nodded, "I understand, Lord Elessar." But it was clear he did not fully accept it yet. There was nothing Aragorn could do about that for now, but he suspected the Man's attitude would change. Legolas had a kind soul and all that knew him spoke fondly of him, Aragorn had no doubt that it would be only a short time before the Elf won the friendship of his guards. That is, as soon as he spoke to them.

 Risorine stood, bowed and began to leave when Aragorn called out, "I trust him as much as I do any Man, even myself. For a King that is saying a lot. Treat him with the highest respect Risorine."

 The Captain of the guards said nothing, merely inclined his head and then left. Aragorn had a sudden feeling of worry. He truly wished he knew better what kind of man his Captain was. It pained him that he did not truly know the person who protected him day in and day out, but Aragorn had never found the time to build a true friendship with the guard. Or perhaps the truth was he had not even tried. When the Man was present Aragorn acknowledged him and treated him with the highest respect, but he had never divulged any secrets to the Captain, or told him of any weight that was bearing on his shoulders

 He was loved by his people, and said to be a great king, but he was loathe to admit he barely knew the people he saw each day. He decided he would have to remedy that problem. As soon as the Stone of Malinya was found that is. With this decision made, he turned his attention back to the maps before him.


 Risorine walked out of Aragorn's tent disappointed. He had received none of the answers he had been searching for, in fact more questions than ever arose in his mind. Still he knew nothing about this stranger that rode with them. He knew not where he was from, or what events lay in his past. In fact, other than his name he knew absolutely nothing about Salogel.

 Perhaps I could find out more from the Man himself. Risorine thought to himself. Glancing around the camp he realized that the Man in question was nowhere in sight. He hurriedly walked around, peering into corners that Legolas could be hiding himself in, but he found no trace of him. Not wishing to draw suspicion by asking the whereabouts of the stranger, Risorine continued walking about the camp with his eyes tuned sharply to locating the Man.

 Finally he caught sight of Legolas returning from the woods with the Dwarf, Gimli. Each held an armful of logs, clearly for the fire.

 Why would those two have gone off by themselves? Surely only one is needed to merely collect firewood. He thought to himself. It seemed obvious to him that the two had been discussing something in private, it would have been their only chance all day. Though he did not truly know either of them it was obvious to him that they were friends. It was clear in the way they spoke, and their great ease while in each other's presence.

 Questions and partial answers whirled through the Captain's mind. What would they need to have discussed in private? What are they hiding? Do they have other reasons for going on this journey? Does Lord Elessar know of this?

 He had no real answers, but his suspicious mind filled in many blanks, mostly in the negative form. He watched the two friends all night, for they never strayed far from the other's side. They seemed to be keeping themselves away from the group as much as possible.

 This was for the benefit of Legolas, so he would not be near the others too often and there would be fewer chances of him being exposed, but Risorine had no way of knowing that. When it grew late, all turned in for some much deserved sleep. Legolas set up his bed as far from the rest as possible while still being in the camp. Gimli was close by but to Risorine it seemed that the distance was the Man's idea. Legolas went to sleep with his back to the others and his hood still drawn over his head.

 He's an odd one, he is. I'll have to keep my eye on him.


 Risorine had taken the last watch before dawn and was now sitting at the edge of the camp, enjoying the sight of the sun rising above the clouds. He knew they should be off as swiftly as possible and strode into the camp to wake the others. With noiseless steps he walked to where the others were sleeping. Having slept on the very edge of the camp, Legolas was the first one he came to. He did not like this Man, he was clearly in his Lord's favor and his skills were valued above his own. Risorine had hoped that he could use this quest to finally impress the king, who never seemed to take notice of him. But Aragorn spent all his time with this stranger and the Dwarf, and that did not sit well with the captain. Risorine pushed these thoughts from his mind, knowing it was not the time for them.

 He was surprised when he kneeled down to wake the Man and found his eyes already open, though he appeared not awake. His eyes were half-lidded but unfocussed and unmoving, as if he were seeing nothing. His initial shock was so great that he even gasped slightly at the sight, as odd as it was.

 The sound of Risorine's astonishment woke Legolas and he blinked rapidly as he left his dreamstate. He immediately looked up and made eye contact with the captain of the guards, who was recovering from his surprise and covering it up quite well.

 "Good morning," Legolas said, then looked up at the sun, "Time to get up already, I suppose."

 Risorine smiled, though it didn't reach his eyes, "Yes, I'm afraid it is. We have to be moving, there is yet far to go." With that he rose and moved to wake the rest of the men. He wondered if he hadn't just imagined the emptiness in the eyes of Legolas, and also questioned whether he had truly seen the sight at all. One's eyes could play awful tricks in the early mornings. He shook his head, dismissing the event entirely and roused the rest of the company.

 Legolas sighed, thankful that the Man had apparently not been observing him.

 I shall have to try this sleeping with closed eyes. He thought to himself as he sat up and stretched. The day looked like it would be fair indeed, the sun was shining and all the woods seemed filled with calm and comfort. Of course, the calm was being broken by the incredibly loud snoring of Gimli beside him.

 How did I sleep through that? Legolas wondered as he took in the deeply sleeping form of his friend. It was for the best that they had slept far from the others for no one would have received any sleep otherwise. Shooting out a too heavily booted foot, Legolas nudged Gimli, attempting to wake him.

 "Wake up my friend, the sun has risen without us," Legolas said as he used a bit more force in his attempts to rouse the Dwarf.

 For his part, Gimli snorted, rolled over, and continued his snoring. Legolas chuckled and reached out to shake his shoulder, "Gimli, wake up," The Elf bid once more. Still the Dwarf did not leave his slumber.

 With a sigh Legolas stood, leaned over Gimli and shouted, "Gimli, the Glittering Caves are being invaded by Orcs! We are under attack!"

 Startled beyond comprehension, Gimli awoke, grabbed the nearest weapon he could find, which happened to be a frying pan, jumped to his feet and swung the cookware like an ax.

 "Orcs? Where? I'll chop them limb from limb!" Gimli half growled, half muttered, still partially asleep.

 "I shall greatly enjoy watching them flee from your deadly frying pan," Legolas said from his side, greatly amused by the sight of the Dwarf fighting imaginary foes.

 Gimli finally seemed to take in his surroundings and glared daggers at the Elf, "A simple 'wake up' would have been sufficient." He grumbled.

 "But not nearly as effective, or entertaining. And I did try several times, but I could not be heard above your snoring." Legolas stated, rather matter-of-factly.

 "Go sleep in a tree." Gimli grumbled, not yet alert enough to come up with an adequate comeback.

 "I would if I could my friend. Come, there is a stream nearby where we may wash up before we eat," Legolas motioned for him to follow as he led the way to the promised water.

 When they were feeling refreshed, and Gimli much more awake and able to form respectable insults, they made their way back to camp where breakfast awaited them. Legolas thought he saw Risorine staring at him from the corner of his eye, but when he met the Man's gaze he quickly looked away, and did not stare again. They ate their breakfast and were ready to set out once more, but first Aragorn summoned Gimli and Legolas to his tent so they could speak privately before they moved out for the day.

 "Well my friend, how are you fairing as a Man?" Aragorn asked, after instructing his guards to ready the horses so they could talk without fear of listeners.

 "In truth I thought you should tell me. Being a Man, I considered you the best to judge my character," Legolas replied, hoping that he had done all he was supposed to.

 "I have found no faults in your ruse as of yet. But I cannot always watch you for that would seem suspicious. You do seem to be pulling it off quite well though." Aragorn praised him.

 "Hardly any difference I can see," Gimli said, "He seems just as much a Man as you or your guards. Though mostly you Aragorn, for you yourself have Elvish qualities, though few can aptly point them out."

 "Yes, I am aware. But now that I know that you are comfortable in your disguise I wish to speak of other things," Aragorn said, changing the topic.

 "Comfortable is a matter of opinion. These clothes are wretched." Legolas muttered under his breath, though the others caught the meaning of his words.

 "As I was saying, it will take nearly a month to reach Brelan, perhaps less if the fine weather holds, but in two weeks we are to meet with our escort. It shall be a small group of Men from Brelan, a half dozen or so. They will guide us into Miscalanth, Brelan's capital city, and be our introduction as well when we arrive. I know few of the customs of Brelan, so we shall have to play it by ear when we arrive I'm afraid." Aragorn told his friends.

 "Most of that job lies on your shoulders, I believe. As the leader of this company all diplomatic situations and customs are your responsibility to attend, are they not?" Gimli pointed out, then quickly added, "But we shall be glad to help in any way we can."

 "Much appreciated friends," Aragorn said, and after a short pause spoke again, "As well, you should know that Risorine is wary of you Legolas. He is a man who likes to know all about his situation and those around him. You are a wild card that he knows nothing about and that does not bode well with him. Perhaps you should speak with him if you get the chance, prove your good intentions and loyalty."

 Legolas nodded, "I will see what I can do."

 "Won't do you any good. If he doesn't like you now, your lack of wit will surely turn him off even more," Gimli said, jesting lightly with his friend.

 "Perhaps you could dazzle him with your remarkable skills with a frying pan, then." Legolas suggested, a twinkling in his eye as well.

 "Peace you two. As much as I enjoy your childish bickering, we must be on our way. Brelan, and the Stone, await us," Aragorn said, nudging them to the doorway.

 They joined the group and swiftly mounted their steeds. Another day of travel was before them, and it proved to be a fine day for it. But despite the fair weather Risorine's face was dark as he glared at Legolas, who sat tall and proud on his horse, trotting next to Aragorn, unaware. There was something odd about him, he just couldn't decide what it was.


 They day went by swiftly as they travelled. The sun continued to bask them in its warm rays and the company enjoyed a peaceful ride for several hours. They stopped to eat their mid-day meal and then were quickly off once more. Currently, they travelled through the forests just outside Gondor's boundaries.

 After they ate, the group set out once more, not stopping again until an hour before sunset. They had reached the edge of a small cliff in the terrain where the forest stopped and then began once more at the bottom of the slope. It was not by any means a hard climb, or would not have been if the company consisted of only men, but the horses made it a somewhat difficult pass in the journey. There was a small walkway where the horses could climb down, one by one, escorted by their rider. It was somewhat steep but it was the only option for the horses could not go down the sheer rockface, and it would take several hours to get around the cliff. Too long for Aragorn's liking. It would take some effort to get the animals down the slope, and the company was already tired from their day of travels, so it was decided to not descend the cliff until the morrow.

 Now, with still an hour of good daylight, the Men enjoyed themselves as they relaxed in the sun. Stories were being told, and their supper was being well prepared. Risorine and two of the other guards decided to take the time to practice their skills with their weapons. Slinging his bow on his back, the captain of the guard looked back to the camp and spotted Legolas and Gimli talking casually, and chuckling occasionally.

 Perhaps this rest is just the chance I need to learn more of our companion. Risorine thought as he observed the two.

 Then he shouted, "Salogel!" And waited for a response.

 It took Legolas a moment to realize someone had just called his name, and he turned seconds later, hoping they didn't notice his slow response to the unaccustomed title. He saw Risorine looking at him and it was clear the Man had called him. Legolas said nothing but clearly gave him a 'What is it?' look.

 "The bow is your weapon of choice is it not? Would you like to accompany us for some practice? Perhaps we may even have a competition of sorts." Risorine suggested, voicing his words from across the camp for all to hear. Legolas did not reply immediately and Risorine took the chance to add, "If you fear defeat you need not come."

 Legolas was not truly insulted by this, he was almost three thousand years old, far too mature and wise to be lured to anger by such a childish comment, but he knew a Man would not turn down this challenge. Aragorn had also told him to speak to Risorine if he got the chance, he had not done so yet, and this could prove to be his opportunity. Picking up his bow he replied as he believed a Man would, whose pride had been insulted.

 "I back down from no challenge. We shall see who the finer archer is," Legolas said, brushing past Risorine.

 The Man seemed amused by this and quickly followed, Gimli was not far behind either, "This I must see." The Dwarf muttered as he lagged behind to watch the show. Very slowly the rest of the guards followed as well, though they watched from a distance. A competition was always a source of great entertainment, and all were curious about this stranger's skills as well.

 The four archers found an open area nearby with few trees that were close together. It was a fine spot to practice and better their skills.

 Looking about, Legolas decided to allow Risorine to be in charge of the situation, "What is to be our target then?"

 Risorine scanned the area, trying to decide what would be best for their target, when he spotted a large tree some distance away. It would not be an impossible shot, but somewhat longer than most practice lengths. Near the center of the tree, on the side facing the company, were several rings in the trunk that formed an almost perfect circle. The tree could not have been a better choice.

 "There," Risorine pointed to the tree, "That tree. The rings shall be the target, closest to the center wins."

 "As it should be," Legolas replied, then stepped back, clearly offering first shot to the guards. He did this for two reasons, to offer Risorine a show of respect in hopes of earning his friendship, and to observe how the Men shot their bows. He had never truly watched them before, and hoped it was no different than his own way, though he could not see how it could be.

 Risorine nodded in acceptance of Legolas's offer and tilted his head to the other two guards. The first guard strung his bow, aimed, and released. There was an audible twang and a crunch as the arrow fitted itself into the tree bark. Behind the group a small round of applause emitted from the watching guards and Gimli. The arrow had landed on the target, though far from the middle. It was an impressive shot, for a human.

 The guard smiled triumphantly, for just the tree was a hard target, but to hit a ring as well was quite an achievement.

 "Nice shot," Legolas said truthfully.

 Risorine indicated the next guard, "Your turn."

 The second guard notched his bow as well, and aimed down the shaft. Another twang and a second arrow was now embedded in the tree's bark; this one only slightly closer than the first. The circle consisted of about twenty rings, and this arrow had penetrated the twelfth or thirteenth from the center, while the first arrow had hit only the nineteenth or so. The applause was somewhat louder this time and the guard smiled gratefully, much as his friend had.

 Risorine was next, he cockily stepped up to the shooting plateau and tried to see the tree better, then smiled, "Well done my friend." He then lifted his own weapon, aimed, and fired. From his stance Legolas could tell the Man was skilled with the bow so he was not surprised when the arrow hit the third or fourth ring; almost the very center.

 The applause was great, and the Men were proud of their captain. Risorine laughed for a victory he had not yet won and then turned to Legolas saying, "You will be hard pressed to defeat that shot."

 Legolas took a look at the arrow and then at the Man who was smiling triumphantly. The Elf did not like Risorine, he was too cocksure and thought himself better than others. Legolas decided to toy with him for the moment. He allowed his face to look as though he was unsure and hesitant to shoot. This caused Risorine to chuckle even more, furthering Legolas's dislike of him.

 "If you don't wish to try then you may forfeit, claiming me the winner." Legolas was once more passive to this, not caring what the Men thought and knowing himself to be the better archer. But he had decided to knock Risorine down a few notches.

 "No, I shall at least try to best your shot," Legolas said, purposely hesitant.

 The Elf took the shooter's position, appearing reluctant and unsure the entire time. He drew an arrow and notched it in his bow. It was by far the finest weapon of them all, for it was the very gift from Galadriel that he refused to leave behind. Looking down the shaft he aimed carefully, then lifted his head, as if unsure of his own vision. Risorine laughed at his uncertainty, not knowing it to be a ruse. Legolas was trying to decide exactly how close to hit, but he finally decided that if this Man could hit the third ring, then it would not be entirely impossible for a Man to strike the very center.

 With this thought Legolas's features hardened, and he was suddenly the picture of confidence, as he stood there calmly. He aimed and launched his arrow. It soared noiselessly through the air and struck the target, right on center. He smiled to himself, satisfied in the shot.

 There was a moment of shocked silence and then loud applause burst from the crowd. All the guards and Gimli clapped and a few cheered, for it was indeed a beautiful shot. Legolas smiled modestly and the other two guards even came and clapped him on the back, congratulating him. His smile fell however when he looked to Risorine and saw the Man was clearly impressed, but very opposed to showing it. He did not clap or show any signs that he would later on. His fists were clenched and his jaw shut tight. Without a word the Man practically stomped away, shooting Legolas a dirty glare just before he disappeared behind a tree.

 Legolas sighed, Perhaps that was not the best way to earn his friendship. He thought to himself.


 The night passed and went with no event, as did the following day. The horses were escorted safely down the cliff and they were able to head out once more. They were now on the third day of their journey. Still the sun shone brightly and all hoped the fair weather would hold up for it was making the trip very pleasant indeed. Aragorn had spoken with Legolas in length the night before, telling him not to worry about Risorine, explaining that the Man would get over the loss quickly. The Elf accepted this and even considered offering a rematch and intentionally losing, but he decided that Risorine would probably not agree and Legolas was hesitant to ask. Every now and then he would see Risorine glaring at him from across camp, or while they were riding. It was becoming somewhat disturbing and Legolas wished to resolve their differences, but every time he approached the captain either his glare would deepen into deadly, or he would move away.

 Stubborn, foolish Men, Legolas thought to himself as this behaviour continued for a second day.

 Three days passed without incident, the weather held up, they were making good time to Brelan, and finally Risorine seemed to be forgetting about the archery competition earlier in the week. Aragorn could understand the Man's feelings and tried to explain to Legolas that he felt embarrassed to have been beaten. The Elf argued there was no shame in being beaten by someone who was better than you, but Aragorn explained that the feeling still existed. For a captain especially does not like to be bested before his own men. Legolas knew not how to amend his deeds, he wished to be in good favor with this Man, despite his current dislike for him, but no ideas of redemption were coming to mind.

 On an evening, nearly a week into their journey, they set up camp deep in the forest, where the trees stood close together. The sun had only just set. Risorine sat across from the fire, deep in thought. He had yet to seize an opportunity to impress his lord and make his mark in the king's eye. The captain wanted nothing more than to receive some form of praise or acknowledgement for a job well done, something he had yet to receive while in Aragorn's service. And as the journey continued Lord Elessar spoke more and more with the Dwarf and the stranger, seemingly forgetting the existence of his men altogether. Risorine's contempt for 'Salogel' grew more and more each day as Aragorn took notice of him and continually ignored the captain. Strangely enough he felt no ill emotions towards Gimli, though the Dwarf took just as much of the Lord's time. Perhaps it was because Gimli had not defeated Risorine in a match of skills before his own men, who were to respect and follow him.

 Risorine pulled himself from his thoughts and looked across the camp to see Aragorn and the stranger deep in conversation about some matter, away from the rest of the group. He felt his anger rise even more and searched for another sight to keep his attention. Gimli sat not too far away, sharpening his ax and strangely out of the conversation between Lord and Elf. Risorine decided that this may be his chance to learn more about the stranger whom Aragorn so highly favored, for it was one of the first times he had seen Gimli and Legolas separated in any way. Making up his mind he rose from the log he was using as a bench and came up behind the Dwarf, tapping him on the shoulder.

 "We are in need of firewood. Would you assist me, for your ax may be of use." Risorine requested politely.

 Gimli looked up at the Man, and with only the shortest moment of thought replied, "Of course I'll come along. For it is dark and none should wander alone," In truth Gimli was hoping to speak to this human and perhaps persuade him into giving Legolas a chance at his friendship, for he had seen the evil glares Risorine had been giving his friend since being bested in archery. The Dwarf hefted his ax over his shoulder and followed Risorine, who carried with him a torch, into the dark woods.

 There were few branches or larger pieces of wood on the ground so Gimli hacked off a few limbs from some trees, looking for the ones that seemed dying almost and brittle for he would never harm a healthy tree. Risorine scoured the ground as well, but his heart wasn't truly in the task, conversation had been on his list of activities.

 "You and Salogel seem to be very close. Did you meet before this quest?" Risorine asked, trying to sound casual.

 Gimli thought about his answer carefully, "Ay, we did. It was on a different journey, several years ago which even now I cannot speak of."

 "A finished tale that yet cannot be told, it must be a great story indeed," Risorine said, still prodding for information.

 "It is, and even if I were to tell you it would most likely take many long nights," Gimli replied, finding another branch for his pile. "But it was during a time of which I do not like to speak." He explained, hoping the man would drop the subject.

 "And Lord Elessar, when did you meet him?"

 "On the same quest. It was how we all came to know one another. Full of danger and excitement it was." Gimli's eyes suddenly became clouded, as he remembered the great deeds done in the fellowship and all involved.

 "This journey must seem very boring to you then," Risorine said, deciding to change topics for the time.

 "Perhaps, but I have a feeling it will probably be a harder task than we imagine," Gimli said, his thoughts drifting back to the Stone of Malinya, their true purpose.

 "So, Salogel, what is he like? I feel I don't know the Man well," Risorine turned away from Gimli now, appearing to look as though he didn't truly care about the answer and was making only idle conversation. His torch flickered and cast playful shadows through the woods, enough to trick anyone's eye.

 "He is a good Man." If you can call him that. "The finest I know in fact. He is brave and kind, but tends to let his actions speak above his words," Gimli said, he wanted to get this Man to give Legolas a chance at friendship and ease his wariness, but also did not wish to give away any information that may not be necessary.

 "I see ..." It was clear the guard wished to say more but was interrupted by a sudden howling coming from deep within the forest. Both stopped and looked hard into the woods for any sign of what caused the deep throated call, though they had an idea of what the source was.

 "Are there Wargs in these woods?" Gimli asked, kicking himself for not pondering about it earlier.

 "Not usually, but we are a greater distance from the gates of Minas Tirith than I have ever been; I do not know this region well." Risorine answered truthfully. He cast his torch forward but could see no movements in the trees.

 Another blood curdling howl in the distance, only this time the call was answered by a closer body. They listened together for another moment, but no more calls were heard. They were unsure if that was good or bad.

 "I suggest we head back to camp," Gimli said, showing no fear, only caution.

 Luckily Risorine was inclined to agree, and nodded. Still they looked into the black woods but neither's sight was good enough to see the blazing eyes that watched them from behind the dark trees.


 Aragorn and Legolas stood near the edges of the camp, deep in discussion, and oblivious to the departure of Gimli and Risorine.

 "Your ruse is going perfectly Legolas, from a distance I cannot tell the difference from you or one of my own men. And they all seem to have gotten over their initial suspicion of you, except for Risorine," Aragorn said, his voice dropping slightly at the mention of the captain.

 "I know. He avoids me at all costs and refuses to speak with me. I wonder if I greatly wounded his pride in our little competition, or if he has other reasons for doing so," Legolas said, hoping Aragorn would have an answer for the Man's behaviour.

 "I do not know. But I hope he does not keep up this foolishness all the way to Brelan," Aragorn replied, then seemed to remember the reason he had called his friend forth, "There was another matter of which I wished to speak with you. I probably should have mentioned it before."

 "Speak of what it is then, for all of us suffer from lapses of memory from time to time," Legolas said, waiting to hear this news.

 "It is a warning only, but one you and Gimli both should know. There are chances that Wargs make their homes in these woods. Though few ever make their way to Gondor it is not unheard of, and some believe their favorite hunting grounds is deep in these very forests," Aragorn told him seriously.

 "Wargs are a danger, but nothing we have not faced before. Though we may be a prime target as we walk openly through the forest," Legolas said, even now looking over the trees intently.

 "Those were my thoughts as well. I would ask you to keep your keen eyes and ears open to any signs of danger or attack," Aragorn requested, knowing the Elf's senses to be finer than three of his Men's combined.

 "Of course. I shall be sure to stay alert," Legolas replied, putting Aragorn's heart at a greater ease.

 With their talk concluded they left each other's side, with Aragorn retreating to his tent and Legolas going off in search of Gimli. He was surprised when he did not see the Dwarf in the immediate vicinity. He didn't see him anywhere for that matter. Legolas approached the fire and asked one of the guards if they had seen Gimli.

 "Yes, he went off with Risorine a few minutes ago. I believe they were going off to fetch firewood." The Man replied.

 Legolas nodded and thanked him, suddenly feeling uneasy, though he could not place the reason. Logically he knew that Gimli and Risorine could both take care of themselves, and that retrieving firewood was a nightly task that proved no danger, but he could not shake the feeling that he should follow them. Perhaps it was the unease he always felt around the captain of the guards, or the talk he had only just finished with Aragorn about the danger of Wargs that caused these feelings, but whatever the reason he knew his instincts to be right more often than not. And right now they were telling him to follow the pair.

 Decided, Legolas picked up his bow and made his way to the edge of the forest, intent on finding his two companions. He had barely gone three steps into the dark woods when a sharp howling could be heard from afar, followed by a quick reply. Legolas quickened his pace, running now, for the feeling of dread in his heart had just increased ten fold.


 Risorine and Gimli started to make their way back to camp, but halted after only a few feet. A deep growl emitted from behind the two, quickly followed by another that sounded to be in front of them somewhere. The forest was very dark, and the light of the torch offered little illumination, so nothing could be seen but a few trees around them. They both abandoned their piles of wood and drew their weapons, Risorine his sword and Gimli his ax.

 Another growl, this time from their left.

Neither showed any fear for they were both seasoned warriors, only discipline and caution.

 "You ever go Warg hunting?" Gimli asked softly as they moved in more of a back-to-back position.

 "Several times, but never large packs. It was mostly scattered outcasts and the such," Risorine replied, not tearing his gaze from the black woods.

 "Well, this should be interesting then."

 Before Risorine could make a reply the air was filled with the sound of a loud twanging. He felt more than saw the arrow that passed no more than an inch before his face. This caused him to panic somewhat and he felt his breath coming in faster.

 "Since when do Wargs have arrows?" The Man asked, now worried and frustrated as anyone would be when facing an unknown enemy.

 Gimli had heard the arrow fly through the air but he had also heard its landing, and it did not sound as though it had struck tree or ground, but flesh. He looked to where he thought the arrow would have hit, but could see nothing.

 "I don't believe that arrow was intended for you," Gimli said, and motioned for Risorine to aim the torch to their right. He did so and was surprised, though Gimli was not, to see the body of a dead Warg. The arrow had pierced its throat. The growls became louder now and a few snaps of teeth could be heard as well.

 Suddenly a dark body jumped at them from a tree, though it appeared lightless and made no sound in its landing. It stood before them, but they could make out no features in the dark. Risorine pointed his sword at him even as he moved the torch to offer them some light.

 "If it had been intended for you, I assure you, you would be dead," Legolas said matter-of-factly, as he stepped closer.

 Risorine's face immediately changed from caution to what could only be called contempt. He was about to speak, but was cut off as their new foe finally decided to attack.

 Wargs shot out from all directions, snarling, growling, and showing off their massive teeth. Their lean, black bodies moved with great speed and their massive paws were strong enough to knock down the tallest Man. The three companions did not back down though, despite the overwhelming odds. Gimli sliced off many heads and took out a great number of the dark beasts, while Risorine wielded his sword with the might of any Man, impaling and slicing all that came within his reach. Legolas used his bow for as long as he could, but soon the Wargs grew too great in numbers, and came too close for it to be very effective, so he switched to the knives he kept in his belt. At first the three were able to fight nearly side by side, but as the battle drew on, chaos began to reign down and the companions were slowly separated.

 Risorine spun around, avoiding a Warg that had been about to pounce on him, and he plunged his sword deep in the beast's back. He turned again, swinging his weapon as he did so, and caught another Warg in the throat, killing it as well. To his left, and unseen, a large enemy jumped at him, taking the Man offguard. He fell under the beast's assault, hitting the ground with a thud. The Warg snapped his teeth and went for Risorine's neck but the Man surprised him with his own strength and flung the creature off, then quickly chopped off its head.

 Legolas fought with all his Elven speed and agility on his side. His knives plunged deep into the hearts of many Wargs, always hitting their target. With a great leap he flew over the head of one of the beasts and landed behind it soundlessly, before it could turn, the Elf's dagger was deep in its back. Sensing a body behind him, Legolas spun around and slit the throat of the beast in mid-air, but did not watch as it fell lifeless to the ground.

 Gimli was enjoying himself immensely as he hacked and slashed at the approaching bodies of the Wargs. His ax swung true as always, killing many, and injuring few. Skilled fighters, all three companions were, but sheer numbers can sometimes defeat skill. As the Dwarf plunged his ax in the body of a Warg two more came up from behind, giving the warrior no chance to defend himself. He flew face first into the trunk of a tree, with the creatures' paws still digging into his back. Gimli was momentarily dazed as his head bounced off the hard wood of the tree. When Risorine had approached him, the Dwarf had been preparing for sleep and had not taken with him his iron helmet. Though he could not think clearly, his instincts drove him on.

 With a mighty yell, Gimli threw the Wargs off him before their teeth went in, and swung his ax wide. The blade managed to graze the stomach of one of the beasts, taking him out of the fight, but the other was unscathed. Unfortunately the blow to the head, and the erratic attack, caused the Dwarf to lose his footing, and he felt himself fall to the ground. His vision blurred, and as he tried to rise to his feet, he could only barely make out the dark form of the Warg that got ready to pounce. Gimli had no chance to defend himself, and the Warg would have had him for supper if not for the other dark figure soaring through the air.

 Legolas, seeing his friend in trouble, had raced to his aid. He leapt in the air and knocked the beast off-course and to the ground. They somersaulted together, ending up with Legolas on top, plunging his knife deep in the Warg's heart as they landed. He started to rise, but did not get the chance. He felt a weight land on his back and then sudden and burning pain flared through his left shoulder, so bad that he gritted his teeth against the cry in his throat. He didn't need to look to know that a Warg had its fang buried deep in his shoulder. Pulling his knife free, Legolas elbowed the creature, and then moved and sank his blade in its side. The beast released him and fell dead with a whimper. Legolas's shoulder was on fire but he didn't have time to examine the extent of the damage, there were still a good number of Wargs about them and he knew not the condition of his companions.

 Looking about, he saw no signs of Risorine, though he assumed the Man's general direction when he saw a number of Wargs heading after something. But he did see Gimli, to his left. He was standing and swinging his ax, but his moves were unsteady and he was clearly disoriented for he showed little technique in his movements and his footing was unbalanced to say the least. Movement at his side caught Legolas's eye, it could only be another Warg. He raised his arm, knife in hand, ready to kill the beast as it reached him, but the creature never made it. The sound of a bow being shot echoed through the air, and an arrow suddenly appeared in the Warg's side, felling it where it stood.

 Legolas sighed and turned in the direction the arrow had come from. He was not surprised to see Aragorn standing a few feet away, bow in hand. There was no moon that night, but the king had brought with him the remainder of his guards and several torches, so the lord could be seen quite clearly. The guards were all about now, many of the Wargs fled but the ones that lagged behind were easily taken care of by the Men. The Elf lifted himself from the ground gracefully, being careful not to jar his left arm. Thinking quickly he drew up his cloak once more and made sure his shoulder was covered well to show no sign of injury. He would show the wound to Aragorn later to be tended to but the guards may be suspicious to the speed in which he healed from such an injury, so he kept it covered for now.

 As Aragorn approached him, Legolas moved to Gimli's side. The Dwarf looked very unsteady on his feet and seemed to be trying to make his way to the nearest tree, but he didn't quite make it. The world tilted suddenly in Gimli's vision and he headed towards the ground, slender, but strong arms kept him from falling though.

 Legolas looked down at Gimli as he caught him and then led him to a nearby tree, since the pain in his shoulder kept him from keeping him upright for long. Gimli was still conscious but clearly the blow had dazed him. Aragorn came running towards the two.

 "Are you all right?" The king asked immediately.

 Legolas nodded unenthusiastically as he released Gimli, allowing him to lean fully against the trunk of the tree. The Dwarf gave no reply to the question, he simply groaned and clutched his head. Aragorn knew this was a bad sign and moved next to Gimli and held up several fingers before his face.

 "How many?" Aragorn asked, testing Gimli's vision.

 The Dwarf had no idea, "Some." He guessed, hoping the world would stop spinning and that the doubles of Legolas and Aragorn would disappear soon.

 Aragorn frowned, as did Legolas, "We'll have to get you back to camp. Can you walk?" Aragorn asked.

 Gimli shot him an annoyed look and stood as tall as he could manage, "Course I can, I'm a Dwarf." He valiantly began to walk away from the two, but got only a few steps away before he began to sway. The same arms once more kept him from hitting the ground.

 "Come my friend, a Dwarf you may be, and your skull is thicker than most, but I do not believe you too proud to deny help when it is needed," Legolas said, being careful to phrase his words to not offend his friend or insinuate weakness in any way.

 Thankfully, Gimli nodded and allowed the Elf to help him, at least until the ground stopped tilting beneath him. As they made their way back to camp they passed Risorine speaking with another guard, he was seemingly unharmed except for a gash running across his forehead. He tilted his head in acknowledgment to them but offered no words of greeting, and made no move to speak to them. Legolas thought this was odd behaviour for someone who had just fought with them, it was customary to speak of a battle in length after a victory. Though he in no way meant to start a conversation, he did call out.

 "Well fought, Risorine." He said as they came closer. The Man looked at them (mostly Legolas), lowered his eyes then grunted a response, which could have been an agreement or a dismissal, and moved away.

 Gimli was hard pressed to notice, his head throbbed so badly, but Legolas was baffled by the Man's response, but consoled himself with the fact that he had not seen contempt in his eyes for once. For his own part the Elf's shoulder was paining him so badly he could feel the blood throbbing in his ears, so he was sure to assist Gimli with only his right arm.

 With each step Gimli took it upon himself to walk on his own power a little bit more. His head was throbbing, and his vision blurry, but he was at least beginning to see straight again. Legolas noticed this vast improvement and couldn't hold back a small smirk as he whispered to the Dwarf.

 "I counted myself at twenty kills."

 Gimli looked at his friend and made a grumbling noise, but allowed a smile to grace his lips as well, "I wish I could tell you my number, but I could barely make out the figures I struck, though I do feel it to be somewhere around your count, most likely a little higher."

 Legolas smirked, but left the insult unchallenged, knowing Gimli was not yet up to their strenuous game of wits. When they reached the camp they headed straight for Aragorn's tent, knowing that was where the medical supplies were kept. The son of Arathorn was known to be such a fine healer that it was not thought necessary to bring a professional doctor. Gimli sat down heavily on a chair and grumbled to himself, something about never going anywhere without his helmet, and a headache the size of the Glittering Caves. Legolas chuckled softly as he sat himself down across from Gimli, and then hissed in pain when he sat on his cloak tails, which in turn rubbed against his cut and torn shoulder.

 Gimli watched him suspiciously as he stood and unclipped the brooch that was keeping the cloak on his back. He carefully slid the garment off, revealing the wound entirely. He tried to rotate his shoulder but found it too painful nearly half-way around.

 "I thought I saw you injured, but my eyes were betraying me so badly I was hesitant to bring it up. Is it very painful?" Gimli asked, masking his concern. It was obvious the wound was not life threatening, or greatly debilitating, so he saw no reason to fuss and lecture the Elf about hiding his injuries, which he was often doing. They were both warriors and injuries in battle were always to be expected.

 "Yes, actually. The wound is not large but those Wargs had long fangs that dig deep," Legolas replied, now inspecting the shoulder for himself. The beast hadn't had time to withdraw his teeth, which would have undoubtedly taken a large deal of the Elf's flesh, so it was mostly two deep puncture wounds on each side of his shoulder with long gashes running from each.

 Both turned as Aragorn entered the tent, Legolas had immediately moved to retrieve his cloak but relaxed when he saw the lord was alone. Aragorn had stayed with his men in the woods for awhile, examining the Warg bodies and trying to track the direction they came from. They needed to know all they could about an enemy or danger, in case they came back. He had looked for Risorine to ask the Man what had happened, but could not find his captain close by. Instead he made his way back to camp and was surprised to see not only Gimli injured, but Legolas nursing several large gashes in his shoulder as well.

 Aragorn sighed, knowing his friend was often reluctant to speak of his own injuries, and approached to look over the wound, "And when did you plan to tell me you were hurt?"

 "I had no intention of hiding the injury from you, only your men. They would surely notice the great speed in which I healed from something such as this," Legolas replied truthfully, and then bit back a gasp of pain as Aragorn probed the injured muscle.

 "You're lucky you didn't lose the use of your arm," Aragorn said as he moved to rummage through his pack that held his medicinal herbs and bandages. As he ground up several leaves to make a lotion to fight infection, Legolas removed his tunic painstakingly to make the job easier.

 "How does your head fair, Gimli?" Aragorn asked as he continued grinding the leaves.

 "It's still attached, but at this point I think I'd prefer if it wasn't," Gimli replied, still trying to shake the cobwebs.

 "I have some herbs that should help with the pain, they're in my pack. I'll get them in just a moment, after I take care of our injured Elf," Aragorn said, finishing his mixture and moving to apply it.

 "Watch your tongue Aragorn. For the next few weeks, I am to be a Man as any other. And as I recall, Men are subject to make many mistakes, the least of which are in battle. I was merely playing my part," Legolas said, smirking at his own rebuttal, the smile quickly vanished though and was replaced with shock and a hiss of pain as his shoulder was suddenly assaulted by Aragorn's lotion, which stung badly. "You could have warned me."

 "Sorry, just one of my human mistakes I guess," Aragorn said, smiling as he played on Legolas's own words. The Elf made no reply but Aragorn was sure to be a bit gentler as he applied the rest of the medicine.

 "You fit better into your role than we suspected you would, your own flaws in battle are innumerable," Gimli said, joking now. He had retrieved the herbs himself and was preparing them, hoping they would remove at least a fraction of the pain in his head.

 "I am not the one who was taken by surprise from behind by two Wargs." Legolas countered, easily fitting into their game.

 "No, you are the one that was taken by surprise by only one," Gimli said, surprising Legolas for it was obvious the Elf had thought that his mind would have been too blurry to recall those details.

 "It was only to save your hide that I was ..."

"Enough you two, how you can stand each other I'll never know," Aragorn said mostly to himself as he finished the bandages on Legolas's shoulder, "You are both fit enough for now and should try to get some rest. Unless your head needs some additional care Gimli." Aragorn hadn't actually taken a look at the Dwarf's skull but he shook his head, insisting the herbs would do well to hold him over and that he had had much worse.

 The two friends exited Aragorn's tent, still arguing over who was the worse fighter. After agreeing that they would not be able to settle the issue the two settled down for the night, for both were tired from their battle and injuries. Legolas was sure to sleep on his right shoulder, and Gimli used an extra blanket to make sure his head was properly cushioned.


 Aragorn smiled to himself as he watched his two friends leave, still fighting. Their friendship was mind boggling to say the least, but usually entertaining as well. He didn't pretend to completely understand the connection between the two, but he long since accepted it. Still shaking his head, he turned to his packs and repackaged the herbs he had opened for the tending of Gimli and Legolas. When he finished he called forth one of his guards and told him to fetch Risorine. Shortly afterwards his captain entered, a small bandage on his forehead being the only sign that he had recently battled for his life.

 "Risorine, please sit. I wish to hear all of what transpired in the forest. We would not even have come in search of you if it weren't for Salogel's abrupt departure from camp," Aragorn said. Gimli and Legolas were both injured, though not terribly, and needed their sleep, so he did not wish to ask the tale from them.

 "There is not much to tell my lord," Risorine said, but began the story anyway, "The Dwarf and I were gathering wood when we heard a series of Warg howls in the distance. We both agreed to head back to camp, but we soon found ourselves surrounded by the beasts. An arrow flew by me and killed a Warg that was approaching unseen, and then Salogel jumped out of a tree before us. The Wargs attacked then, and you know how chaotic a battle can be, the Wargs were slain I can tell you that much, but the details are foggy. They did surprise me though, my lord."

 "Who? The Wargs?" Aragorn asked.

 "Nay, Salogel and Gimli. Most Men that I've met, when faced with danger and peril to their own persons, normally think only of themselves, and their own survival. Especially when fighting Wargs, many of the bravest warriors run, even against small numbers. These two backed down in no way. I may be mistaken in this for I was fighting myself, but I believe that they cared not for themselves even, but for the safety of the other. It is a rare trait in any in this time, and is a good way to get yourself killed. It is a weakness in battle," Risorine said.

 "Nay, it is their strength. They are friends Risorine, and find strength in one another, on and off the battlefield. It is without thought that they risk their lives for one another, it is simply impulse," Aragorn explained.

 "They're an enigma." Risorine's eyes lowered as he contemplated his companions.

 Aragorn nodded but the captain did not notice. When he did look up, breaking his own train of thought, he looked slightly ashamed for losing himself in thought as he did.

 "I'm sorry Lord Elessar, my mind is wandering. It is late, perhaps I should turn in." Risorine suggested quickly.

 Aragorn was fast to agree, "Of course. Good night then." Risorine saluted and left.

 Shortly after he left Aragorn went to bed as well, contemplating his captain and his odd line of thinking. Friendship a weakness? That was just not so.


 The sun had been up for several hours by the time Gimli and Legolas awoke the next morning. The night had been long and tiring for both of them so it was not surprising to either of them that they slept longer than usual. Looking about, it was clear they were not the only ones who had overslept as they saw the guards all just beginning to rise as well.

 "Did you sleep well my friend?" Gimli asked as he lifted himself from his bed.

 "Not too badly," Legolas replied, then while stretching he accidentally pulled against his injured shoulder and winced, "Though it may have been a bit more pleasant if this arm would hurry up and heal itself." He indicated his shoulder as he slowly tried to rotate it.

 "Yes, my own head was throbbing so badly I thought I would never find sleep," Gimli said, shaking his head in a vain attempt to ward off the returning headache.

 "Personally I think that blow to the head did you good. I was not awoken once by your snoring during the night, perhaps you have been cured of it," Legolas said, trying to hide the smirk passing over his face.

 Gimli grumbled, it was too early to engage his friend in their battle of wits so he decided to try and distract him until he felt more awake, "Didn't Aragorn want you to see him so he could rewrap your shoulder before we were off?"

 Legolas nodded, but hadn't forgotten, "Yes, I should go see him. I wonder when he awoke." Seeing Gimli had no answer for him, the Elf made his way to Aragorn's tent, leaving his friend behind to grumble about his headache. He crossed the camp quickly, acknowledged the guards and then poked his head into the king's tent.

 Aragorn was packing several things away, knowing they had be on their way once more, but he lifted his head and smiled upon seeing his friend and motioned for him to enter.

 "Good morning, my friend. How is your arm?" Aragorn asked as Legolas took a seat.

 "It does not pain me too badly, other than that I can tell you little," Legolas said honestly, not having had a chance to look over the wound himself.

 "Better let me take a look then," Aragorn took the bandages from his pack and moved closer to his friend. Legolas painstakingly removed his tunic, that being the only way to reach the wound, and then sat patiently as Aragorn looked him over.

 "It seems to be healing nicely. Should only take a few days to heal, perhaps a week." Aragorn reported as he checked the shoulder. It looked much better than it had the night before, although he imagined it must still hurt terribly. He quickly rewrapped the Elf's upper arm and gave him some advice in what to do and not do to speed the healing.

 "What of Gimli? How is his head?" Aragorn asked when he was done.

 "As thick as ever," Legolas said, bringing a smile to Aragorn's face as well as his own, "But he says he still suffers from a headache."

 Aragorn reached into his pack and then threw Legolas a small pouch, he could tell it was filled with herbs, "Tell him to take some of those, he should feel better."

 Legolas nodded and put the pouch in his belt then said, "I best go pack my things, I imagine we will be off soon."

 "Yes, we'll be leaving shortly. Remember to stay on the look-out for more Wargs as we ride, and anything else for that matter. Who knows what unknown creatures may be living in these woods?"

 "Brelan is sure to be a land of mystery and secrets. I shudder to think what else may be awaiting us on this journey," Legolas said then left to find Gimli. He had only gotten halfway across the camp when he spotted Risorine heading towards him, though his destination appeared to be Aragorn's tent.

 "Good morning Risorine," Legolas said, not expecting a response. He could almost feel this Man's animosity towards him.

 "You as well, Salogel," Risorine replied, while plastering an obviously fake smile on his face. He then stopped, clearly indicating he wished to have a word with him. Legolas smiled as non-threateningly as possible and halted as well.

 "I was impressed by your fighting last evening. Well, I shouldn't say that, I was too preoccupied to watch you fight for long, but your timing was impeccable ... or should I say improbable? That was an amazing shot as well, striking an enemy in the dark from twenty yards." Risorine's voice did not speak the same as his words, his tone was sceptical and criticizing. Legolas wondered what this Man was getting at. The only thing he thought he may be implying was that Legolas had somehow known the Wargs would attack.

 "I am sure you would have seen him yourself if you had been facing the other way," Legolas said, then tried to sidestep the Man, who immediately moved in front of his path.

 "Nay, it was pitch black. Nothing could be seen beyond several feet before you," Risorine was correct, it was so dark that it would have been an impossible shot for anyone other than an Elf.

 "I assure you it was pure luck. I chanced to see the light from your torch reflected in the creature's eyes." Legolas offered as an explanation.

 "Well, a fine shot none-the-less." Risorine walked away then, still not dropping his friendly facade. As he passed him, Risorine patted Legolas roughly on the shoulder. The Elf hissed softly in pain and instinctively dropped his shoulder to avoid any further contact, then continued walking. After he had gone several feet he turned to see Risorine still heading for Aragorn's tent, clearly unsurprised by the Elf's reaction to his touch.

 You know more than you let on. Legolas thought to himself as he massaged the torn muscle, trying to alleviate the pain. With a sigh he headed over to Gimli to help with the packing of their belongings.

 "How's your shoulder?" Gimli asked, looking up from his pack as he heard his friend approach.

 "Worse than it was a few moments ago," Legolas said, rotating his arm, "I believe Risorine is aware of my injury, though he said nothing of it. I do not understand this Man at all, I have done nothing to him yet he continues to dislike me. It is very likely I even saved his life last night."

 "That may not have been a good idea," Gimli said, mostly to himself.

 "Pardon me? You do not think his life was worth saving?"

 "Nay, that is not what I meant. I meant only that Men do not like it being said, whether true or not, that they needed help against an enemy, no matter how strong. He is most likely insulted that you felt the need to come to our aid at all," Gimli said, searching for the right words to explain what he thought may be going on with the Man.

 "Next time I believe I shall let the Wargs have him." Legolas grumbled beneath his breath as he crossed his arms.

 "He would mostly likely give them indigestion. But this is not uncustomary behaviour for Men, they tend to be very independent and hesitant to ask for help."

 "You are most likely right my friend, I have observed this of Men also. Well there is little to be done now, we should ready Jarinel," Legolas said, abruptly changing the topic. Gimli agreed and they quickly packed their belongings and readied their steed.

 The day passed quickly after that. Lord Elessar and his company of guards, a Dwarf, and a hidden Elf, moved swiftly through the forest, wishing to reach Brelan's capital as swiftly as possible. They did not linger to observe any of the surrounding scenery, or take unnecessary breaks in their riding.

 Aragorn was frequently looking back to the map made by the men he sent earlier to Brelan, and was pleased with their progress. He conversed with Gimli and Legolas whenever he got the chance, enjoying the opportunity to catch up with his friends whom he hadn't seen in nearly three years. Several times the king of Men noticed that Risorine shot the trio odd glares, and there was something in the Man's eyes that Aragorn could not quite identify. There was severe dislike, but sadly Aragorn knew that that was aimed for Legolas, but there was something else. Longing perhaps, but that made little sense, and also sadness. It was a puzzle Aragorn could not solve at the moment, but he hoped he could work it out eventually.

 The night was as peaceful as the day had been. Look-outs were now set up to watch for Wargs but there were no sightings the entire evening. After a hearty meal, everyone slept soundly until the morning.

 The next three days passed as such. There was generally fine weather, a few light showers of rain throughout the entire second day, but it was more refreshing than bothersome. They were making good time, and there was not a single sighting of Wargs. The men were all in a fine mood as the journey went smoothly, apart from Risorine who was caught glaring in Legolas's direction several times.

 It wasn't until the third evening that Aragorn finally found the answer he had been looking for. He sat around the fire with his Men, listening to tales of battle, and some of humor, and even telling a few himself. It was a luxury he took only on journeys, for as royalty, conversing with servants and guards was thought of as somewhat demeaning. Despite Aragorn's thoughts otherwise he kept up that tradition around his senate and council. But here he was free to joke and get to know his men as he wished, and he wished it very much. Risorine was in the middle of a story of a battle he had taken part in, and all listened intently. A detail of the Man's story ignited a memory in Legolas of a similar, but very humorous situation, which he and Aragorn had both witnessed. He whispered this to Aragorn, not to be secretive but mostly because it was in a way, Elvish humor, and the King immediately erupted with laughter as he recalled the event as well.

 Risorine had just finished his tale, and it had been quite serious in its telling, when Lord Elessar laughed so heartily. He fumed, for it was clear that 'Salogel' was the reason for this outburst, and he came to the conclusion that the 'Man' had mocked him in some way that the King found hilarious. But he was also mad that he had not been able to entertain his Lord in such a manner, for it was clear that Aragorn was very comfortable with both their strange companions.

 Aragorn looked to Risorine and only then recognized the emotion he had seen in his captain's eyes the past few days. It was jealousy. It finally occurred to the King of Men that Risorine was greatly jealous of Legolas's close friendship with him, there was a bond between the two that the Lord and captain had never been able to establish, therefore never became friends and never achieved true comfort around one another. Risorine longed for his King's approval and to be noticed for his service. Aragorn realised that to Risorine it must appear as though Legolas appeared from nowhere and immediately stole the King's attention, which was not true. It was simply that the captain wished to be trusted and confided in, in a manner of friendship which Aragorn had yet to offer. Not being able to achieve this, Risorine was taking his frustration out on Legolas, who clearly had a strong relationship with the king.

 I wonder if you fear as well that Legolas will take your place. Aragorn thought to himself, but he would not ask the question. It was now clear what ailed his captain, and it was a disease that had no cure.

 Soon after, Risorine excused himself and went to bed. Everyone else followed shortly, though the evening had been fun they still had to ride again in the morning. They were after all scheduled to meet up with the escort from Brelan in three days time.


 Not again. Legolas sighed as he awoke once more to the inhumanly loud snoring of Gimli.

 His head must be healed.

The Elf looked up and was thankful it was morning, knowing he would never be able to sleep once more now. He smiled and looked about him, wondering if there was a way to awaken his friend as humorously as he had a few mornings before. He suddenly had an idea, but his joke was ruined before it even started. Just as he was reaching for a nearby canister of water to shower Gimli with, the Man in charge of breakfast dropped several of his pans, causing a loud enough bang to wake the Dwarf up.

 Legolas quickly replaced the water and feigned innocence.

 Now both awake, the two leisurely prepared for the day, knowing that they were not setting out until late this morning. They had made good time the past few days and were being allowed a small respite from their hard riding.

 Aragorn left his tent, stretching contently. He had slept well and was pleased with their progress so far. They were ahead of schedule and that meant they would be able to find the Stone of Malinya sooner than expected. His dreams had lately been filled with visions of what Middle Earth would be like if they succeeded; and the dreams were grand indeed. He only hoped he would see them come true. His eyes scoured the camp and he quickly spotted Legolas and Gimli enjoying their breakfast, and joking quietly. Both had healed nicely from their injuries sustained three nights ago in the Warg attack. Gimli had stopped mentioning his headache some time ago, and Legolas's shoulder was close to healed. Although he never spoke of it, Aragorn was sure to continue to change the bandages frequently and saw that the wound was closed but was most likely still healing underneath. Thankfully the Elf had not needed to fire his bow since his injury; Aragorn was sure that any stress on the shoulder would undo all the healing and tear open the wound once more.

 Seeing that they were done their meal, Aragorn strode up the duo, "Salogel, might I have a word with you? In private?"

 Legolas nodded, knowing that Aragorn must have wished to speak about the Stone of Malinya, or something Elvish. He told Gimli he would be back shortly, and then he and Aragorn headed towards the edges of the camp, but didn't stop there. They continued on, into the forest. Aragorn's guards began to follow but he ordered them to stay and pack the supplies and promised they would not go far. When they were sure they were out of earshot and that no one was following them they felt it was safe to speak freely.

 "We will meet up with our escort in a few days. How do you feel about your disguise? Do you think you shall pass as a Man?" Aragorn asked seriously. If they were to go through with this journey, he had to be sure of all variables and of his friend's safety.

 "I do not believe any of your Men are suspect to my true identity, I do not see how the Men of Brelan would see through my disguise. I cannot foresee any problems until we reach Miscalanth, and once we arrive I assure you I will show the utmost caution. I am ready for this quest Aragorn, I have not been spending all my time perfecting my human traits to turn back now," Legolas replied, voicing his confidence in his disguise.

 Aragorn had been almost certain of what Legolas would say, but he needed to hear it himself. Now that he knew that the Elf felt comfortable with his ruse, he could proceed to Brelan with a lighter heart. The two continued walking, discussing the legend of the Stone and what little was known of Brelan and it was not long before they found they had wandered quite far.

 "I fear I may have accidentally lied to my men when I said we would not go far. I am unsure as to the distance we covered," Aragorn said when they finally stopped. They suddenly found themselves at the top of a large cliff, it was quite high and the rockface sheer, but the view was spectacular. It was fortunate that they came to the cliff, for if not they would have kept on with their stroll through the trees without regard for time or distance covered.

 Standing on the edge of the cliff they both marvelled at the splendour of the land.

 "An impressive kingdom. It stretches far," Legolas commented as he took in the sight.

 "Yes, very peaceful," Aragorn said. Legolas turned suddenly, hearing footsteps and low voices around them. Aragorn could not hear them but could tell by the Elf's body language that it was not his guards who approached.

 Legolas's eyes widened in shocked recognition as a sound filled the air, and he swiftly grabbed Aragorn by the shoulders and pushed him to the ground, "Down!" An arrow soared above them, only inches from their heads.

 "This land is not as peaceful as it may seem," Legolas said, drawing his bow and notching an arrow. He did not shoot though, the voices and footsteps had stopped so he listened closely to discern in which direction he should fire. Aragorn drew his sword and moved to ready as well. He couldn't help but wonder who was attacking them; they were miles from any area of civilization. He was forced from his thoughts when an arrow flew towards him, which he barely sidestepped.

 Seeing where the arrow had been launched, Legolas released his own arrow, hoping his aim could be true with his injury. He immediately flinched as his shoulder was pulled terribly, but smiled triumphantly when he heard a yelp come from the woods. Still their attackers did not show themselves though.

 "Show your faces!" Aragorn demanded, eager to take a shot at these new adversaries who dared to shoot at a King. The only response he received was another arrow directed towards him, but this one headed for his feet and he was forced to step back to avoid being struck. Unfortunately he had not stayed completely alert of his surroundings and as he stepped back his foot caught a piece of unsturdy rock on the very edge of the cliff on which they stood. The rock came loose and crumbled beneath his weight, causing him to lose his balance and send him spiralling off the cliff face. He waved his arms in a desperate attempt to right himself, but it was no good, he was falling, fast.

 "Aragorn!" Legolas shouted and dropped his bow. With his great speed he turned, dropped to the ground, and clasped Aragorn's wrist tightly just before he fell from reach. Aragorn gripped the wrist in return and tried to find some foothold to haul himself back up, but there was nothing in reach. The Elf cried out softly as the weight of the Man caused his shoulder to buckle and his wound to reopen painfully. The arm had been hurting for several days but this pain was intense. He didn't know how long his grip would last but he knew it would have to or his friend would be lost.

 Unfortunately, with the Elf laying on his stomach keeping his friend from falling to his death, and Aragorn hanging perilously, only one hand away from the fatal plunge, there was no one to keep back their attackers. The two were far too occupied with their immediate dilemma to worry about them.

 "Aragorn ... can you ... climb up?" Legolas grinded his teeth against the pain in his shoulder as he watched Aragorn try to find some way to get back up; currently the Elf's grasp was still the only thing keeping him from falling.

 "I'm trying," Aragorn said, concentrating on finding footholds.

 Legolas could hear footsteps behind him but couldn't be bothered to turn and see who they belonged to. A soft but sturdy voice suddenly sounded from behind them.

 "I am Sorinth, and you are intruders to the land of Brelan."

 Legolas turned his head and found himself looking down the shaft of an arrow aimed directly at his head.

 Turning slightly farther, Legolas could clearly see the arrow's owner. He was a Man of average height with brown hair that reached his ears and appeared only a few years younger than Aragorn. His eyes were the color of storm clouds, gray but with a fierceness hidden underneath and he wore the uniform of a soldier, green with light blue stripes running down the arms.

 The Elf barely gave him a second glance and immediately turned his attention to Aragorn once more. Showing no regard whatsoever for this stranger, Legolas shifted his body and stretched out his other arm as well, desperately trying to get a hold of his friend. The Man, Sorinth he had called himself, took a tiny step back when he did this, but made no move to help.

 Legolas latched onto Aragorn's arm tightly when he was finally able to shift himself into the Elf's grasp. He now had a firm hold on his friend but if he was going to pull him up it would have to be solely through the strength of his legs, which would not have been an enormous problem regularly but there was nothing around that Legolas could use as an anchor to keep himself from falling as well. He did break himself from his thoughts for a moment and shot the Man beside him a deathly glare, suddenly growing annoyed by his presence.

 "You have two choices, either back away before I am forced to shoot you with your own bow, or help me." Legolas held Sorinth's gaze, having obviously startled the Man with his words, but he saw in his eyes a discipline that came from training and a hard resolve to stick by one's values.

 "I will help," With the smallest sigh the Man put down his bow and then knelt beside the Elf, taking hold of Aragorn's arm and thankfully relieving Legolas's left shoulder of the stress of his weight.

 "Pull together on three," Legolas instructed and was glad that the Man simply nodded, "One, two, three." Working as one the two were able to pull Aragorn back to stable ground with only minor difficulty. The King gasped for air for a moment, exerted by the adrenaline rush accompanying the near-death experience, but momentarily stood and brushed himself off.

 Their attacker, Sorinth, was picking up his bow but also looking them over intently. Legolas was doing the same, his eyes never straying from the Man as he moved about. Aragorn noticed that the Elf was clearly favoring his left shoulder and knew that the wound had been aggravated and reopened.

 I shall have to tend to it later. Aragorn thought and then turned his attention to Sorinth. He was now watching Legolas as he picked up his own weapon, which he had thoughtlessly flung to the ground upon seeing Aragorn fall.

 "What are you doing in Brelan?" Sorinth asked, still studying the two.

 Legolas looked him over a final time and then turned to Aragorn, ignoring the question, "Are you well?"

 Aragorn nodded, knowing he should not ask the same thing of his friend, "Only slightly winded, but next time let's take the stairs." Legolas chuckled and agreed.

 "What are you doing in Brelan?" Sorinth demanded now, and restrung his bow.

  Legolas turned to him, somewhat agitated and said, "Is this how you treat all the guests you invite to your land?"

 "No, only the intruders," Sorinth replied curtly, then lowered his weapon as he took a step back and motioned behind him. Half a dozen men slowly came from the woods, weapons in hand, and all dressed in the same green uniform.

 "Friends of yours?" Legolas asked, quirking an eyebrow.

 "My men. I am their leader, Sorinth, as I've said. And you have yet to answer my question."

 "But we did answer," Aragorn said before Legolas could reply, "We are invited guests to this land. I am Lord Elessar of Gondor."

 Sorinth had the grace to look embarrassed but quickly covered it up. He was smart enough to know to challenge a claim such as this. "I suppose you have proof of this. I have seen few Kings of great lands that travel without a large escort."

 "I do. You and your men came across us just after we left the rest of my company. They camp directly through the woods in which we just travelled through." Legolas quickly whispered to Aragorn that he could hear his men approaching, "In fact they should be upon us any moment now."

 As if on cue the bellowing voice of Risorine suddenly called out, "Lord Elessar?" It was clear the captain and guards were in search of the two friends, and that made them wonder just how long they had been gone.

 "Here Risorine!" Aragorn called out, watching as Sorinth ordered his men to lower their weapons, not wishing to start a conflict.

 Risorine, Gimli, and several guards appeared from the forest and cast a curious and surprised glance towards the Brelan Men.

 "My lord?" Risorine looked to Aragorn for confirmation that this situation was not hostile.

 "It is all right Risorine. There was simply a misunderstanding," Aragorn assured his captain. Then Sorinth nodded almost imperceptibly towards Risorine, and oddly enough the Man returned the gesture just as swiftly.

 Gimli strode over and stood next to Legolas, both standing tall and watching over the situation. The Dwarf couldn't help but elbow Legolas and ask, "Can't you go anywhere without getting into trouble?"

 The Elf smiled and replied, "Which one of us had to be rescued from Wargs a few nights ago?"

 "Rescued? Why you merely leant a hand, I assure you I had the situation completely under control," Gimli said, easily brushing off the 'rescue' comment. Both were quiet then as Sorinth and Aragorn spoke to one another.

 "A Dwarf? If you are indeed who you say you will be greatly welcomed to this land. I assume you have the invitation token, if you truly are King Elessar," Sorinth said, sheathing his sword. He was now fairly certain that this Man was who he said, but he still needed to see the friendship token and hear the words of peace. Gimli puffed out his chest slightly upon hearing the Man's words, confirming that Dwarves were thought of very highly in these parts.

 "Of course." Aragorn reached into a pouch attached to his belt that he had been wearing throughout the trip to ensure its safety, and pulled out a small golden apple. The ornament had been given to his company that he sent to Brelan months before and he was to return it to prove he was who he said and speak their words of greetings. He held the apple out to Sorinth.

 "Lesque nils de Shama." Welcome to the land of Brelan. Sorinth said formally, taking the apple.

 "Resa mos terut." It's an honor to be here. Aragorn replied, then both bowed as officially as they spoke.

 Sorinth smiled, knowing for sure that Aragorn was who he said as he recited the customary Brelan greeting in their own tongue, and returned the gift given to his servants.

 "I am pleased that you have made it safely to our land. And I apologize for our actions; we were not expecting you for several more days," Sorinth explained as everyone began to relax.

 "I would have made the same assumptions in your place. As for the time of our arrival, I must admit that baffles me as well. I had not thought we would be reaching the rendezvous for three more days," Aragorn admitted, fully understanding the Man's actions.

 Sorinth nodded and then spoke loudly, clearly addressing his men, "It is Lord Elessar! He has spoken our words and greeted us honourably. It is now our duty to escort him safely to our King in Miscalanth."

 Aragorn accepted this and then indicated the way to their camp, "We must first return to our camp to fetch the rest of my men and our belongings."

 "Of course," Sorinth said, motioning for Aragorn to lead the way.

 Aragorn and Sorinth walked side by side back to camp, with Risorine not far behind, eyeing the newcomers warily. The Men of Gondor and Brelan began mingling at once and followed behind their leaders, and Gimli and Legolas strode at the end of the group.

 Legolas slung his bow over his shoulder and winced involuntary as the action pulled at the injury. Gimli noticed this and frowned.

 "Why do I have the feeling I missed something interesting?" The Dwarf asked, quirking an eyebrow.

 Legolas chuckled softly and said, "Let us just say that the Men of Brelan made a memorable first impression and leave it at that."

 "Did you run into any difficulties on your journey?" Sorinth asked Aragorn as they walked to the King's camp. It was a good distance away so they were making idle chatter as they travelled through the splendid forest.

 "The weather was fine and enjoyable. A pack of Wargs was our only excitement, and they were easily taken care of," Aragorn replied.

 "Wargs are a bit of a problem around these parts but there are less and less as you get closer to Miscalanth. I take it your men sustained no injuries," Sorinth said, edging the tiniest hint of concern into his voice.

 "They all came out unscathed, but we were much more wary after that," Aragorn said, making a point not to mention Gimli and Legolas's injuries.

 They arrived at the camp swiftly and when Aragorn and his men had packed their belongings, they then had formal introductions. Aragorn and Sorinth stood before one another, each with their men lined up behind them. Gimli was introduced last so as to keep the Men of Brelan guessing as to the reason for the Dwarf's presence, Aragorn also made sure to skim over Legolas just as quickly as his guards, not wishing to draw attention to the Elf. His earlier instructions were followed to the letter and all his men kept their hoods drawn up as they were told to. The Men of Gondor assumed this was an unspoken tradition of Brelan so thought nothing of it, while the Men of Brelan thought it must be a tradition in the land of Minas Tirith so made no mention of it either, just as Aragorn had hoped.

 After everyone was formally introduced they were on their way once more, their group now increased from twelve to nineteen.


 The day passed quickly enough with all the Men getting to know one another, forging friendships quickly with the Men they would be travelling with for the next two weeks. Legolas made it a point to stay away from the group as often as possible, a few of the Men of Brelan thought this was odd behaviour but Aragorn's guards assured them that, that was how he had been acting the entire journey, and it wasn't due to their company.

 Gimli quickly became a favorite of the Men of Brelan, they enjoyed his stories greatly and had a wonderful time jesting with the delightful and witty Dwarf. Of course Gimli couldn't help but allow all this attention to affect his pride at least a little, maybe a lot.

 Sorinth and Aragorn hit it off immediately, finding a nearly instant bond of friendship between them, despite their odd initial introduction. The Men traded tales of their respective lands and Sorinth taught Aragorn many of the traditions and customs of Brelan. For this the King of Gondor was forever thankful, for he hated entering a culture whose customs he didn't know, he felt it disrespectful.

 Then there was Risorine. He spoke with the several of the new Men, but continually watched the two who were in charge of their mission. To most it would seem as though he were suspicious of these Men, Sorinth especially, but the truth was he was writhing with jealousy and annoyance. Once more a newcomer had entered the picture and immediately stolen his Lord's attention. It was bad enough that he had not been around when Aragorn was ambushed, but now his attacker had quickly become his latest confidant. The captain was beginning to think he did not fit in with Aragorn at all and idly wondered if the King of Brelan needed a bodyguard. But at least his focus was finally drawn from Legolas.

 Man and Elf sat in the King's tent once more that evening, much the same as they had three nights before with Aragorn rummaging through his bag for bandages and Legolas slowly removing his tunic. There had been no time throughout the day in which the Elf had been able to take care of his wounded shoulder and now he was feeling the effects. The entire day had been painful as every bump on the road had jarred his arm worse, but he gritted his teeth and suffered through it, refusing to let a few Warg bites expose his disguise.

 Aragorn sighed as he sat next to his friend and looked over the wound, it had definitely been reopened and had been bleeding all day, and, the King knew, probably had been very painful. It had been healing nicely but now nearly all the damage was redone as the stress on the shoulder had been too great.

 "This is never going to heal if you don't rest it," Aragorn reprimanded Legolas, mostly out of habit since he could hardly blame the Elf for being the cause of the injury.

 "Do not make it a point to fall off any more cliffs and you shall not have to worry," Legolas countered easily, then hissed a breath as Aragorn slowly began rotating the shoulder.

 "I believe you've strained the muscle as well as reopening the wound," Aragorn said, sounding much like the healer he sometimes was.

 "I would not be surprised; you are much heavier than you look."

 "Thank you for the helping hand, you know it is greatly appreciated," Aragorn said as gratefully as he could, "There is a little else I can do. You must try not to strain yourself anymore though."

 "I will be sure to get enough sleep and clean off my plate as well," Legolas said, mocking his friend for his concern over an injury that was annoying at the most.

 "Yes, do that too," Aragorn replied chuckling. He then left the tent and walked out into the night and began gazing at the stars while Legolas took a moment to put on his shirt and straighten out his appearance.

 They set up camp late for they wished to travel as far as possible in the light of day, so by the time the fire was built that night the stars could already be seen clearly in the night sky. A large fire was built and almost all gathered around it, some were posted to be on the lookout for Wargs, but with so large a group the chance of attack was low. Sorinth was talking with his own men and Aragorn was standing near the edge of the clearing, gazing into the night sky. Risorine saw this and thought it was a good opportunity to speak with his Lord, but just as he stood to walk over Legolas appeared suddenly from nowhere and they began talking immediately. Risorine didn't think he could take this for much longer, but he sighed and sat down once more, knowing he could speak to Aragorn later. Risorine's actions did not go unnoticed by Sorinth though and the Man frowned deeply.

 Derist, one of the Brelan Men, had been strolling around the edges of the camp when he heard the odd speech. He looked around and saw two men further along the path; normally he would have just let them be but something drew him nearer. His stealth talents had always been extraordinary and he crept a little closer to the two without being detected. As he approached he could clearly see one of the Men was Lord Elessar. Now he definitely knew he should not be listening to this conversation, not that he understood any of it. But the words captivated him and he had to continue listening.

 "Mithril an nauth." Mithril for your thoughts. The other man said. Derist was soon able to identify him as Salogel, though he had to admit he had paid little attention to the 'Man'.

 Aragorn smiled and replied, "Brelan avorn anglenna." Brelan quickly approaches.

 "A si im nauth lend an ha." And here I thought we were travelling to it. Salogel said, brightening the King's smile even further. Derist had no way of knowing what was being said but had clearly heard the word 'Brelan', so listened to the rest of the conversation in case they switched back to Common Speech. They did not though and he was able to make out nothing more of their conversation, except what he thought had been the word "Malinya", but he was sure he was wrong. The Stone of Malinya was long since lost and he quickly pushed that thought to the back of his mind.

 Legolas and Aragorn stood looking up at the night sky and talking quietly, in Elvish. There was no real reason for doing so other than that they knew no one was around and it had been some time since either had spoken in the magical language.

 "Why does the thought of Brelan distress you?" Legolas asked, kicking a rock absently.

 "Brelan brings me no true distress, it is my thoughts of finding Malinya's stone that weigh me down. I worry that we will not be able to find it, or that it may not exist at all. My dreams have been filled with visions of finding the Stone, and the peace it would bring. My heart is set on these dreams and I fear it may break if they do not come to life." Aragorn admitted with a soft sigh.

 Legolas did not reply for a few moments and then said, "Middle Earth has survived through much, and it will continue to thrive whether we find the Stone or not. As for your worry, in all my years of experience I can tell you this, it does you no good. Especially when you have no control over what is yet to come. I would advise you to push it from your mind, but I know you well son of Arathorn. You will continue to ponder and doubt until the day we reach Miscalanth, so until then know that I will always be here if you need to talk."

 "Thank you my friend. You're right, I worry needlessly. I believe that meeting with our escort has unnerved me. We must have gone much faster than we believed to have arrived three days early." As he spoke, Aragorn turned and began to head back to the camp, and Legolas followed in stride.

 "I like to think of it as taking three days more off our quest, and the length of time until we can return the Stone safely to the inhabitants of Middle Earth," Legolas said, speaking his last Elvish sentence for many days as they re-entered the camp.

 Derist walked away from his hiding place, wishing he could have understood the strange conversation, but also somehow grateful that he had had a chance to hear it at all. When he saw Lord Elessar and Salogel enter the camp and then begin to settle in for the night, he finally followed and joined the group as well. He immediately sought out Sorinth, wishing for someone to speak to right away.

 "Captain, may I speak with you a moment?" Derist asked when he finally found Sorinth readying a few things for the morning.

 "Of course Derist, what is it?" Sorinth said, curious as to what could need his attention at so late an hour.

 "Does Gondor have its own language?" Derist asked, unsure of how much he should admit to at this point.

 "I'm not sure, I've never asked. But I would assume it does, as all great kingdoms should. Why?"

 "A piece of conversation I heard only, between Lord Elessar and Salogel, I believe his name was. I couldn't understand what they were saying, it was unlike any speech I've ever heard. Musical almost. Gondor is privileged to have such a beautiful language." Derist seemed to become lost in thought as he remembered the sound of the Elvish tongue.

 "Is that all?" Sorinth asked, breaking his man from his thoughts.

 "Yes sir, I was just curious. I better turn in for the night." Sorinth nodded his approval and Derist quickly sped away.

 Sorinth found his eyes drifting through the camp, searching until he found his target. There, sitting by the fire talking quietly with Gimli, was Salogel. Sorinth suddenly realized that though he had been introduced there had been no true explanation as to the presence of Salogel. He had been alone with the Lord and that conveyed a position of importance, and he was clearly not one of Aragorn's guards, so what was this Man doing on this journey? Sorinth didn't know at this time, but he planned to find out.

 The next day passed quickly and consisted of riding, eating, and resting, as did the day after that. The weather was amazingly good, and all knew their luck would soon dwindle but until then they enjoyed the warm rays of the sun and the slight breeze on their skin. Legolas did a fabulous job of keeping his identity a secret and skillfully dodged any questions he did not feel entirely comfortable with. He was glad to find that Risorine no longer shot him looks of hatred as they rode, but he was disheartened when he noticed that Sorinth glanced at him oddly from time to time. Another mystery to unravel. His shoulder was healing as well and it would be at a hundred percent in two days or so, thanks to Aragorn's administrations.

 Gimli was getting along nicely with the Men of Brelan and on occasion even rode with several of them instead of with Legolas. The Elf didn't mind, in fact he preferred riding alone, and Gimli talking to their escort took any attention off himself.

 Aragorn and Sorinth spoke often and always rode side by side, with Risorine shortly behind of course. All couldn't have gone better for those first three days that the two companies spent together, but on the fourth day, things began to go a little downhill, at least for our members of the fellowship.

 On this, the fourth day of their journey with their Brelan escort, they were also accompanied by a series of short rain showers that ranged from sleet to slight drizzle. The sun didn't come out once and all were beginning to find themselves in a foul mood due to the cold and wetness of it all. After a gloomy and uneventful day of riding the rain began to let out until it was almost non-existent, knowing it may not last long the company made camp beneath a large collection of wide branched trees that would deflect as much rain as possible. Emotions were flaring and moods were bad, at least until a fire was built. After everyone was fed and warmed the mood became much cheerier especially since the rain had stopped.

 Aragorn sat by Sorinth, away from the rest of the Men, and talked about their common interest of the land of Brelan.

 "So, you have both a large standing army and a plentiful supply of crops. Brelan sounds like a wonderful place, tell me of your judicial system." Aragorn requested, yearning for more information about their hosts.

 "Practically non-existent really. There is crime, and there are guards and watchmen to prevent it, but we've never had any serious problems with the crime rate. We have very strict punishments for those caught and found guilty of crimes and that more than sends the message that crime doesn't pay in Brelan," Sorinth replied, his voice edging near proud. Aragorn was not surprised by this, he had found out much about this Man in the past few days, least of which was that he was a good man, but could be ruthless when necessary. His battle stories conveyed that he showed no mercy to his enemies and felt they deserved any fate they received.

 They spoke for awhile longer, comparing the resources of Brelan and Gondor and finding that their kingdoms had much they could offer each other. It didn't take long for both Men to get extremely caught up in the conversation, and it wasn't until Aragorn felt himself being watched that he looked around the camp to find the reason. He found the source immediately; Risorine.

 The Lord of Gondor mentally sighed and chastised himself for breaking his own promise. He had assured himself that he would talk to Risorine and find out what was on his mind, he knew he needed to form a stronger bond with the Man who guarded his life, and yet in the last three days he couldn't think of a time he had even talked to Risorine. Aragorn felt a pang of guilt that he knew he deserved. What was done was done, he knew, but he also re-promised himself that he would talk to his Captain very soon.

 "Tell me about Salogel." Sorinth requested suddenly, breaking Aragorn from his train of thoughts. The question took him by surprise as it had nothing to do with their previous topic, but he had been preparing an answer, just as he had with Risorine.

 "What do you wish to know?" Aragorn asked, then allowed his gaze to wander to Legolas, who sat on watch away from the group.

 "It's clear that you're friends, that much was obvious by our first meeting, but I was curious as to why he is on this journey with you. He's clearly no guard, and does not seem to be a guide of any sort," Sorinth said, clarifying his reasons.

 "He is a close friend of mine; I have known him for many years. He is a wonderful tracker and has a bond with nature such as you've never seen. I find him useful to have on all journeys, but it was him who wished to go on this particular one. He has a great interest in the cultures of all people and wanted greatly to see Brelan, so I allowed him to come," Aragorn replied casually.

 If he has such an interest in our culture why does he never speak to any of the Men? Sorinth thought, but kept it to himself. He then quickly changed the subject, pushing his curiosity to the back of his mind.

 Legolas sat by himself, lounging against the trunk of a tree as he took his turn on watch. Normally he would have wished to be with the group and join in the discussions and fun but on this journey he was perfectly content to be by himself for the moment. Any talk with anyone other than Aragorn or Gimli caused him great unease, not just for fear of revealing himself, but also because he had little true experience dealing with humans. Aragorn was one of his dearest friends of course, but although human in all accounts, the Man knew what it was to be like and around Elves so Legolas enjoyed his company greatly. Gimli was his best friend and he also found it easy to speak with the Dwarf about anything, and banter with him for long hours, but Men, that was new to him. They seemed almost crude when they dropped their masks of obedience that they took up when they guarded their king. He had lived in Mirkwood all his life and never before had been out of the company of his own kind for so long, except while in the fellowship but that was under far different circumstances.

 So, not feeling the least put off that he was not in the company of Men, Legolas sat by himself, studying his bow and arrows while keeping his eyes and ears alert all the while. His gaze wandered over to the campfire eventually as he wondered what Gimli was doing. Oddly enough, just then his name was called out by his friend.

 The fire blazed brightly as the Men of Brelan, Gondor, and the lone Dwarf, sat around it, sharing tales of battle and humor. Gimli was currently telling one of his more impressive tales; the battle of Helm's Deep. He did not give a preceding story explaining what the situation had been, for that would have taken too long, and he was reluctant to talk about the quest of the ring with the Men who knew nothing about it. So he kept the finer details to himself and said only that there was a good reason for the battle. Of course, Dwarves were known to have a tendency of embellishment in their tales, especially of battle, but this story was mostly told in its entirety for it was an amazing one no matter what, and little needed to be added.

 "The Orcs kept coming and coming, you couldn't turn around without a black snarling face marring your vision, but we all battled on. My ax served me well in that battle as I sliced at the Orcs, neck after neck was severed from the bodies of which they were attached. The fight raged on for hours, there was no time for rest for that would mean your death ..." Gimli was interrupted by one of the men of Gondor.

 "How many did you slay? Surely you kept track."

 "Of course I did. It was some time ago now though," Gimli said, searching his mind for the number of enemies killed. Knowing he would never be able to remember he called out:

 "Salogel!" Legolas turned as his false name was called and looked at Gimli expectantly from his place at watch, "What was your count of Orc kills at Helm's Deep?"

 "Forty-one!" Legolas called back without a moment's hesitation, then added, "One more than yourself." It wasn't true, but he was curious to find out if Gimli remembered or not.

 Gimli gruffed slightly under his breath, "That's a lie my friend, and you know it. My own count was forty-two!"

 Legolas brushed it off with a casual wave of his arm, "As you wish." And then leaned back against his tree once more.

 "We played a game based on who could gather more kills of their enemy, I knew I had beaten him by one. Now, where was I?" Gimli was eager to continue his tale but was interrupted once more by one of the Brelan Men.

 "Salogel was at this battle as well?"

 "I dare say yes, he fought beside me at all times, just as strong and courageously as any Man before him. You've seen his skill with the bow, I assure you any Orc he took aim at was dead before he notched his arrow," Gimli replied, his voice conveying his conviction about the matter.

 "Let's get him over here then. See if he can collaborate this tale of yours. Salogel, come and tell us if this Dwarf speaks the truth or embellishes his tale!" The Man called out to Legolas.

 "Perhaps some other time, I will not put down my watch, but you have my assurances he tells the truth, at least as he sees it," Legolas said, not wishing to join in the conversation. He was having a wonderful time just gazing at the stars and listening to the sounds of the night.

 "You don't want to hear him anyway, horrible story teller he is. As I was saying, it was then that I was separated from Legolas and the others ..."

 "This Legolas you speak of, was he Man or Dwarf?" Another of the Brelan Men asked, causing Gimli to doubt that he would ever get through his tale uninterrupted.

 The Dwarf suddenly wondered if it had been a good idea to mention Legolas in the tale. He had not wanted to leave him out so thought that by putting both Legolas and 'Salogel' in the tale, no one would be the wiser as to the Elf's identity. He was not one to lie outright and he would not do so now either.

 "He's an Elf actually," Gimli said casually, hoping to continue with the story, but the Men of Brelan would have none of it.

 "An Elf! I thought Dwarves and Elves were long enemies." The Men of Brelan seemed absolutely insulted by the mention of an Elf.

 "They were, and sadly still are in most areas, but a few of us have found that some Elves are ... tolerable." Gimli managed to catch Legolas's eye and smiled, knowing he had heard his words.

 "Unlike many Dwarves," Legolas said under his breath and pretended not to hear the conversation.

 "Friends with an Elf, I've never heard such a thing. What would be the point? Treacherous, horrible creatures." The Man from Brelan brushed off the idea, as did all the others.

 "I'll have you know that some of my better friends are Elves. I should take you to see the Lady Galadriel, she would change your mind," Gimli said, anger hinting in his voice, then confidence as he thought of the Queen Elf.

 "Well then my opinion of you Master Dwarf has been greatly flawed. I have heard of Galadriel, Witch of the Woods, she has put you under a spell, so I forgive you your words." The Man continued, not knowing how fragile the ice he walked on was.

 Gimli stood, now furious, "Do not speak of things of which you know nothing. Any Elf would be the superior to a Man such as yourself."

 This angered the Men of Brelan greatly, and they stood now as well. As for the Men of Gondor, they had kept silent but most knew that Elves were wonderful creatures and that their own King loved one greatly, so stood beside the Dwarf, on his side in this matter. Fortunately, before any more words of anger could be thrown, Aragorn and Sorinth appeared and stepped between the two sides.

 "Peace, all of you!" Aragorn shouted. Everyone backed down slightly, and a few had the decency to look away, but Gimli stood his ground as firm as ever. The Lord of Minas Tirith knew better than try to resolve the conflict, so decided breaking it up was the best he could do, "There will be no more of this tonight. It's late, you should all get some sleep."

 None wished to back down but all knew they must, and very slowly they all moved away from the fire and began to settle in for the night. Once the tension had died down Aragorn sighed deeply and ran a hand through his hair.

 "I must apologize for my men, they tend to be headstrong over many matters," Sorinth said.

 Aragorn studied the Man for a moment, hearing only duty in his words, he knew that Sorinth also had ill feelings towards the Elves for he did not truly apologize for their words, only their actions.

 "Do not worry yourself, I'm sure it will not happen again." He said this loud enough so everyone heard, feeling hopeful it would keep tempers in order. Sorinth excused himself, intent on rest as well, leaving Aragorn alone by the fire.

 Knowing he should talk to Legolas, Aragorn walked to the edge of the camp where the Elf had been keeping watch. He briefly wondered if he had heard the conversation.

 More than likely, he seems to hear everything. Aragorn thought to himself. He stopped suddenly as he neared the borders of their camp.

 Legolas was gone.


 Being unable to listen any longer, Legolas had left his post near the end of the argument between Gimli and the Men of Brelan. He greatly appreciated his friend's attempt to stand up for the Elves but knew it was probably useless; he had learned long ago that hate was a hard thing to cure. Though he did wish greatly that he knew the cause of the Men's hatred, there had to be a reason, but he could think of no way of finding out without being suspicious. Perhaps he could get Gimli to enquire, but that would most likely start another fight, and he did not wish that.

 He now found himself much more relaxed as he dangled his feet from the high branches of the tree he had climbed. When the fight had started he had wished greatly to defend his people, and especially the Lady Galadriel, but knew he should not. His only option was to walk away, if he hadn't he was sure he would have joined in the argument, and that could only make matters worse.

 As he sat listening to the murmur of the trees he heard the sound of soft footsteps approaching. Craning his head only slightly he was able to see one of the Men of Brelan walking through the forest beneath him, seemingly looking for something. The rain was still coming down lightly so his hood was drawn, making it impossible for Legolas to see his face. Knowing he couldn't relax with the Man walking around below him, he decided to help him find what he was looking for.

 "Are you searching for something?" Legolas asked, loud enough to be heard clearly over the rain.

 The Man looked up and Legolas was surprised to see that it was Algoral, a Man from Brelan, but the Elf clearly recalled that he had been sitting with the group when the argument broke out. The Man hadn't said anything but had looked saddened by his companions' words and Legolas did not think that he agreed with the other Men of Brelan on the matter of Elves.

 "You actually. May I join you?" Algoral asked kindly.

 Legolas nodded and grabbed the branch above his head, "I will come down." He offered, knowing it would be a hard climb for most humans.

 "Do not bother." The Man began climbing the tree with great skill and was soon sitting on the branch next to Legolas. The Elf was surprised at his abilities, so much so that it was written on his face, "I have been climbing since I was young, it is a pastime of mine, as it must be yours."

 "I see. Did you seek me out to discuss things we may have in common?" Legolas asked lightly, not knowing what he could talk about with this Man.

 "No, I wished to apologize for the behaviour of my companions, they are very narrow-minded sometimes." Algoral said, meeting Legolas's gaze.

 Feeling suddenly uncomfortable Legolas looked away, into the night, "Why would you feel the need to apologize to me?"

 "Because of a theory I have." Algoral moved so swiftly that Legolas never had time to react or defend himself, and he suddenly found himself with his hood pulled back, and his Elven features exposed for the entire world to see.

 Algoral smiled triumphantly as he took in the pointed ears and golden locks of hair, "You're an Elf!"


 Before Algoral could blink Legolas had him pinned against the trunk of the tree, his hand over the Man's mouth and his fore-arm putting just the right amount of pressure on his throat.

 "If you speak of this to anyone I promise they will be the last words you utter." Legolas threatened him seriously, his voice dropping several notches.

 "I will not, I promise. I am very good at keeping secrets, it has just been a long time since I have seen another Elf. Does the rest of your company know?" Algoral asked, not the least bit frightened by Legolas's threat, but it was obvious he knew it would be followed through.

 Legolas released him, made himself comfortable on the branch once more and replied, "Lord Elessar and Gimli only."

 "I see." Algoral moved into his former position on the branch as well.

 "The others must not know," Legolas reiterated.

 "Oh, you should have no fear of that. You see, I myself have a few secrets that require keeping," As he said this Algoral drew back his own hood. "Besides, us Elves have to stick together."

 Legolas turned in surprise, unwilling to believe such a claim, but then smiled. This 'Man', was indeed an Elf like himself. His hair was golden blond but cut much shorter than Legolas's and his ears were as pointed as any's.

 "That was very cruel," Legolas said, smiling good-heartedly and switching to Elvish. He didn't understand why he was here, but Legolas was thrilled beyond joy to see another Elven face.

 Algoral spoke Elvish now as well, "Yes, it was, and I apologize but I had to be sure I was right before I revealed myself needlessly." Algoral explained, but it wasn't necessary, Legolas understood completely.

 "Tell me, what gave me away?"

 "Small things that Men would not tend to notice. First off you looked far too comfortable riding your horse with no reins or saddle, it is something I have had to learn to live with. You also seem extremely uncomfortable all the time, not just when you are around the other Men, but generally uncomfortable as if your own clothes have done you offence," Algoral said.

 "Men's clothes are horrible are they not?" Legolas asked, wondering if it was just him.

 "Wretched, I agree. There was also the strange language that Derist told me of, he said it was musical and I could think of few tongues that could be described that way. And when I noticed you had left during the middle of the Dwarf's argument that pretty much told me all I needed to know." Algoral finished.

 "It would appear my disguise was not as good as I once thought." Legolas mused to himself, though he knew that few of those things could have been helped.

 "Nay, it is well done. All hints were very subtle, it has taken myself nearly two years to perfect my own disguise."

 "Two years? Why have you been with these Men so long? And tell me also where you hail from." Legolas requested kindly.

 "I come from Lothlorien, I believe you know my queen, Galadriel," Algoral said, smiling softly as he remembered her.

 "It would be hard indeed to forget someone as she."

 "Very true. I was sent to Brelan to learn about these Men and why they hate our kind. I believe there should be no prejudices such as this in our world, and hoped to help, if only a little, where I could in the land of Brelan," Algoral said. The sadness in his voice answered Legolas's next question for him.

 "I take it, it has not gone well?"

 "Not exactly. I have changed few minds and found only that hatred can run deeper than I once thought. But at least I found out the cause for their malice towards our people." Algoral pulled up his hood now as the rain became worse.

 "Do not leave me in wonder. Tell me the reason, if you will." Legolas asked.

 "Of course, I am glad to share what I have learned. Long ago the Elves and Men of Brelan lived in peace, in fact they got along wonderfully and often pooled their resources and joined together in their times of need." Algoral spoke at length. "There was one Elf in particular, I could not find out his name, but he was so trusted in the land that he was the Head Advisor to the King in that time, and his opinion was highly valued in all military matters. There came a time when Brelan and the Men of a nearby kingdom started a great battle, it is not even remembered what started it after all these years, but the war was fierce and Brelan was losing badly, all under the instructions of this Elf leading their armies. They were lucky though, they were able to gain the element of surprise in a rather important battle in the war and things began to even out.

 "Then the Elf instructed the armies to meet the enemy at a pass in the mountains for what would be the final battle. He assured them that there would be hundreds of Elven archers waiting for them at the mountain tops to aid Brelan and they believed him. So the day of the battle came and the Men marched proudly, assured that they would win."

 "The Elves never came," Legolas said, filling in the blank when Algoral paused.

 "That is what they say. Brelan won the battle eventually but with a great many casualties, and there had been no Elf in sight. When the survivors of the battle returned to report what had happened the Elf advisor had disappeared, they never saw him again. Now the Men of Brelan have vowed never to trust Elves again, this vow has been twisted into complete hatred and they believe all our kind to be treacherous and conniving. It is a sad thing, truly." Algoral voice dropped to a whisper as he spoke his last few words.

 Legolas thought deeply about all this, fitting it into the puzzle of Brelan. It made sense and he was anxious to hear more, about the land and this mystery Elf.

 Algoral was curious as well though and asked his question first, "You know about my reasons, now tell me of your own. Surely it is not on a whim that you disguised yourself so and joined the company of King Elessar. And am I right in thinking that you are the infamous Legolas of which your Dwarf friend speaks so highly?"

 "You would be correct, I am Legolas but Salogel must remain my name for this journey. I am from Mirkwood. And my reasons for joining this company are complicated to say the least, let us just say that it was Aragorn's wish that I come along and I strongly agreed," Legolas said, and then continued without giving Algoral a chance to interrupt, "We have been gone very long, we should return before anyone misses us."

 Algoral nodded in agreement and readied himself to jump from the tree when Legolas caught his arm. He looked at the other Elf and saw a question burning in his eyes.

 "What is it?" Algoral asked.

 "You have been with these humans for two years. In all that time has no one discovered who you are?" Legolas could not believe that he had been able to hide his identity for so long in a society where Elves were so hated.

 "No, I gave them no opportunity." Algoral smiled, a thought suddenly striking him, "There is something I must show you. It will not take long." He continued when he saw Legolas's questioning gaze, "I assure you, it will make your life as a Man much easier."

 "Very well." Legolas agreed, still slightly suspicious.

 "Wonderful." Algoral said, and reached into a pouch attached to his belt. He poured a small amount of its contents onto his hand, it was a fine powder of some sort that shimmered even in the darkness of the night.

 "Lothron i esgal heb pan dolen." May the veil keep all concealed. Algoral said softly and then blew the dust over Legolas.

 The Elven prince began coughing harshly and he had to grip the tree tightly to keep from falling as his vision began to blur. Shortly afterwards he found he could see nothing at all.


 Aragorn wasn't sure what to do. He knew that the argument between Gimli and the Brelan Men had most likely upset his friend, but it wasn't like Legolas to leave his post so suddenly. He finally decided that he would give the Elf a few minutes by himself and then go in search of him. Of course, there was no way he could be sure to find him, Aragorn knew better than anyone that if Legolas didn't want to be found he would remain hidden indefinitely.

 He sat down by the now deserted fire and stared into the flames. As if their quest had not been complicated enough, now he had the prejudice of the Brelans to deal with. He couldn't understand how the hatred of these people had continued for so long, unprovoked. He guessed it was just another perfect example of the stubbornness of Men. His thoughts slowly drifted towards the Stone of Malinya, and he wondered again if he was right in bringing his friends on this quest, without proof of the Stone's presence.

 Aragorn was so lost in thought that he didn't notice the soft footsteps behind him, for they were mostly drowned out by the light rain. He was slightly startled when a hand fell on his shoulder, breaking him from his thoughts.

 "Legolas, I didn't hear you approach. I was about to go look for you," Aragorn said, glad to see his friend had returned on his own.

 The Elf smiled brightly, but appeared rather anxious about something, "I have been having a rather interesting conversation with Algoral. Come, I have something to show you, and much to tell you."

 Legolas seemed very eager so Aragorn quickly agreed and they made their way to the King's tent. As he walked by, Legolas grabbed Gimli's arm and directed the Dwarf to Aragorn's tent. When all three were together they made sure that no one was nearby and they would not be heard.

 "Now, what is this all about Master Elf?" Gimli demanded, also noticing Legolas's odd behaviour.

 "After I left camp Algoral followed me and we began talking. He knows I am an Elf." Legolas started off.

 "What? How?" Aragorn was almost at a loss for words, he had thought Legolas's disguise was perfect.

 "This ruins everything," Gimli said.

 "Nay, it is much better this way," Legolas said, and received odd looks from his friends, "Algoral is an Elf as well. He has been living with the Men of Brelan for several years."

 "How is that possible? Surely he would be discovered," Aragorn said, just as sceptical as Legolas had been.

 "Not necessarily, he showed me how it was done, and I will show you. I hope it worked," Legolas said, and then drew his hood back from his face. Aragorn and Gimli sat in shocked silence.

 "By the Havens," Aragorn whispered, unbelieving.

 "I take it, it worked then." Legolas smiled.

 "If you were supposed to become a Man, than it worked wonderfully," Gimli said, still in partial shock.

 Indeed the Elf now gave off the perfect likeness of a Man. His golden hair seemed not as ethereal as usual and his skin no longer glowed at all, but what were most amazing were Legolas's ears. They were no longer pointed, instead they were rounded at the top, just as any normal Man. Gimli and Aragorn were shocked beyond words but the Elven prince seemed all too happy with himself.

 "What do you think? Do I pass with my new disguise?" Legolas asked, enjoying his friends' shocked expressions.

 "How is this possible?" Aragorn finally asked.

 "It is an Elvish magic devised by Galadriel herself, or so says Algoral. He says it is how he has stayed hidden all these years. It is called The Mist of Concealment, and before you ask I have no idea how it works," Legolas replied.

 "Does it hurt?" Gimli was still looking closely at the Elf's new ears and couldn't imagine a change like that not being painful.

 "My ears are not actually changed Gimli, they only appear to be. To the touch they are as they always were, the Mist simply conceals them. The concealment process itself is not extremely painful, at first it caused me to cough somewhat harshly but Algoral assures me it gets better with every use. Apparently it lasts only several hours, but it is more than I could have asked for." Legolas's voice relayed a clear relief in his voice, which was only natural for now the matter of his disguise was secure and he almost certainly would never be discovered as an Elf.

 "It is a fine disguise and should make this quest much easier. We must thank Algoral, in private of course. And as shocking as this new development is, you said there was also something you must speak with us about," Aragorn said, prodding the Elf for information.

 "Yes, I have learned why it is the Men of Brelan so dislike the Elves," Legolas said, then proceeded to repeat the tale Algoral had told him. When he was finished he added, "I do not believe that is it all of it, but I am unsure if this Elf simply knows no more is keeping it from me."

 "Either way we should be wary. We know little about Algoral, though he does seem to be an ally you can never be too sure," Gimli said, trying to think back to any time he had spoken with the Elf.

 "Well Legolas, learn as much about him as you can and keep us posted. It would be nice to have another ally on this trip, but he is not to know about our true reasons for this mission until you are sure he is trust-worthy," Aragorn said.

 Legolas nodded in agreement, "I understand, he will know nothing of our true reasons until I am certain. Now I believe we should all get some rest, it has been a day rather full of surprises."

 Everyone agreed and they parted company and then readied for the night. Sleep came over them all quickly as the lull of the soft splattering of rain drops caused them to nod off.

 Gimli grumbled quietly to himself as he drifted off, "Damn Elf, soon he'll be turning himself into a horse."

 Legolas heard this but smiled and said nothing.