Legolas was tired, but it was more than just a physical weariness, his soul and heart ached with fatigue from taking in so much unprovoked hatred. He could sense the loathing directed toward him from all directions and for his life he could not understand it. The Men of Brelan had been kind to him, treated him as a companion and even risked their lives for him before they knew him to be an Elf. Now that they knew the truth it appeared as though several wanted to cut his throat themselves. At this point he wished only to rest, but beyond that he wanted to speak to these men, try to understand their extreme dislike and change their opinions of his people. But now was not the time, his betrayal was too fresh in their minds, so he accepted their hatred for the time being and tried to steady himself for the next few hours.

 It was too dark and late to continue to Miscalanth so they had decided to make camp at the rebels' hideout for the night. All around the field men were settling in for the night. Several torches burned every few yards or so. Since there were so many of them (almost thirty rebels and more than two dozen of Sorinth's men, including Aragorn and his companions) they had decided to separate the sleeping arrangements. The rebels were all ushered into the house and locked inside. Several guards were posted at each exit and were to be relieved at intervals during the night. As for the Brelan men, they were all comfortable sleeping in the outdoors for the night and were unpacking their bedrolls.

 Across the field Legolas could see Aragorn speaking adamantly to Gimli, his voice hushed. Legolas could have heard them if he wished but instead watched the Brelan Men around him and made it seem as though he wasn't. Many of them were busy handling the last few rebels or tending to their horses but they were all aware of him. Many even stared at him outright, rebel and guard alike, their eyes filled with contempt. Three men stood almost directly behind him, his guards. Though they were ensuring he didn't escape somehow, they also appeared reluctant to come very close to him.

 Legolas wondered what lies these men had heard of his kind to make such feelings in them. He was unsure how long he could handle their malice boring into his soul. It was a great relief to him when Aragorn finally approached, for even though the Man did not wear a cheery expression he and Gimli were the only ones for miles who no longer hated him on principle alone.

 Aragorn stepped to him and saw the guards come in closer. With a single glare he deflected them all away from earshot; the King of Men was not in the mood to deal with their prejudice. He turned back to Legolas, his gaze softening.

 "How do you fare my friend?" Aragorn asked. He was tired that much was clear. It was the weariness of a man with too much burden on his shoulders and nothing to do with it.

 Legolas, leaning rather casually against a tree with his arms crossed over his chest, only said, "I am as well as can be expected." Aragorn was silent for a moment then sighed deeply. He closed his eyes and suddenly struck a nearby tree as hard as he could as he exhaled. Legolas barely blinked, "You are not pleased with this?"

 "Of course I am not pleased. This is wrong Legolas. It's all so very wrong, can you not see that? First the Stone is lost and everything, all of this, is for nothing. But worst of all the treatment you have received thus far is atrocious. They seem to think of you as nothing more than an untrustworthy criminal. You have rights, just as they do; you're a free, living being who does not deserve to be treated in this manner!" Aragorn fumed, now kicking the base of the tree.

 "They do not see it that way," Legolas explained calmly, appreciating his friend's sentiment.

 "How can you just be idle like this? Why do you not stand up for yourself? Speak to these men!" Aragorn pleaded, struggling to find some semblance of logic to the entire situation, but what he did not yet understand was that hatred and prejudice were illogical things that can not be easily understood unless experienced first hand.

 "Sadly I have grown accustomed to such treatment and know how to handle it to some degree. I received much the same greeting upon my first visit to the Dwarf lands with Gimli, despite his protests of our friendship," Legolas replied. His voice remained even and emotionless despite the swirl of feelings flowing through him, and on the surface it seemed as though he was unphased by the matter.

 "Even so, do you not wish to talk to these men? Explain to them who you really are? What your people truly are?" Aragorn asked, still grasping at understanding.

 Legolas shook his head sadly, "I am weary Aragorn, and have not the strength to persuade them at this time for their feelings of betrayal are fresh in their minds. These men are deaf to all pleas I may have. Besides, even if I did convince them and showed them the wrong of their ways I would still have an entire nation to persuade. Nay, I will save my words for Lord Vecery. If his mind can be changed about my kind, then his people will not be far behind."

 Aragorn seemed to accept this as he turned his gaze to the ground, as though deep in thought. "That is most likely our best course of action. It just seems so wrong." Aragorn sighed as he noticed the guards slowly drawing closer once more.

 "I did not say that it wasn't." Legolas pointed out. Aragorn turned as he saw the elf's attention shift to something behind him. Sorinth approached, his stride full of purpose as he left a meeting with several of his guards. His voice was still tinged with anger when he spoke but Aragorn understood that his anger came only from their betrayal and withdrawal of the truth rather than Legolas's actual identity. In fact, Sorinth's fury seemed to be directed more to Aragorn than Legolas, lending Aragorn to hope that the captain could play a very important role in Legolas's future in this land.

 "There has been much discussion as to what to do with you for the night," Sorinth announced. Legolas met the man's gaze, appreciating being spoken to directly instead of about.

 "And what decision has been made?" Legolas enquired, still leaning against the tree.

 "I have decided to leave that to you," Sorinth replied.

 Legolas looked away for a moment; it was not a hard choice. His options were clearly the house or the outdoors for the evening. He knew he would not survive the night with the rebels and the moon was beautiful that night.

 "I will stay out here, if it pleases you." Legolas answered.

 Sorinth nodded, "That was what I thought. But if you are to stay out here you must be bound for the night."

 Aragorn responded before Legolas had the chance, "That won't be necessary, I assure you."

 Sorinth's gaze hardened as he turned to Aragorn, "And what assurances can you give me?"

 "I will take responsibility for him. You have my word that he will do nothing," Aragorn replied.

 "Your word means very little to me at this moment Lord Elessar. You should feel most lucky that you are not facing the same charges as your friend, I could easily have both you and Gimli arrested for hiding his identity," Sorinth explained, then his eyes softened as he looked to Legolas, "It is not my choice to be made. The Men are very unsettled by this development and there will be unrest among them if measures are not taken against you."

 Legolas understood completely and though he did not like it, replied, "I will allow the bonds, I ask only that I be allowed to spend the night with my friends."

 "That I will allow. If you please…" Sorinth motioned for Legolas to extend his arms. The elf sighed but pushed himself away from the tree and held out his wrists. Sorinth seemed reluctant but tied his hands together dutifully. He left a long piece of the cord out as slack and tied this end to a high, sturdy branch. Aragorn fumed and was unable to watch, despite Legolas's agreement. As for the elf, though he disliked the rope, and felt somewhat foolish, he was more saddened than angered by it. Saddened that these men despised him enough to make it necessary.

 "I suggest you get some rest; tomorrow will undoubtedly prove to be a very long day," Sorinth said uncomfortably when he was done.

 Legolas leaned back against the tree, shaking his head as he stared at his bound hands. If only they knew how easily he could escape if he so wished. But if it made the Men feel better and curved their anger for the time he would endure the bindings. Sorinth then began to walk away but Aragorn quickly stopped him, his movements crisp with barely contained rage.

 "Sorinth, may I have a word with you?" Aragorn requested curtly. Sorinth was unsurprised by his tone and nodded.

 "Of course. Come, I am eager to hear this explanation of yours," Sorinth said, his voice holding a hint of scepticism.

 Aragorn went with Sorinth to a private corner to speak and shot Legolas a quick look assuring he would be back shortly. The elf waved him off unenthusiastically. When they were a fair distance away he sunk down the base of the tree to sit on the ground. Willing himself to relax and forget the trouble he was currently in, Legolas set his gaze on the bright moon above him and finally rested.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|

 Aragorn pulled Sorinth into a dark corner to speak, checking every direction around them to ensure no one was close enough to hear their speech. Sorinth wondered what the King needed to be so secretive of; everyone already knew the elf's identity.

 "Sorinth, I must ask you to stop this immediately. All of this. Legolas's treatment is unjust, for he has done nothing to you or your people," Aragorn said.

 Sorinth raised a hand to keep him from saying more, "Lord Elessar I did not agree to speak with you to hear your pleas for the elf. I am doing my best to ensure his proper treatment but my men are furious and I cannot say that they have no right to be. Bad enough we were all lied to, deceived, but by an Elf is the worst offence of all. I need not remind you that they are forbidden in our land for a reason."

 "I care not for the feelings of your men I care about the treatment of my companion. If you despise him so, why do you vouch for his proper treatment?" Aragorn asked, honestly curious.

 Sorinth sighed, unable to hold onto his anger. After a long moment of thought he said, "If he was anyone else, just some man I met on the street or a wandering traveller then I would most likely not show him such courtesy. In Brelan we are taught at a young age that Elves are unnatural and dangerous; never to be trusted. But this one, Legolas you say, I cannot hate him. He has lied to me, true, but I have also spoken with him and detected no deceit in his speech, no dishonour in his voice. He seems a proud creature; in fact he practically bursts with nobility and I cannot hate him for this reason," Sorinth explained, his eyes darting towards the tree where Legolas now slept, his gaze fixed on the moon above. "Not least of all though, he saved my life and that of my King. These are not things easily forgotten. But helping him goes against all I was taught and I am deeply conflicted over it."

 "You should not be. What we are taught may seem right as children but as we grow we should not be afraid to question our own ways. Legolas is a proud being, the proudest I know and honorable. He easily could have escaped you and your men; in truth he did not have to come to Brelan at all, but he chose to stay. He seems to have faith in you and your people that you will realize the truth eventually: that he is not your enemy. But helping him is a question I am surprised you must ask yourself, for when is it wrong to do the right thing?" Aragorn questioned, knowing he had his answer by the look in Sorinth's eyes.

 "It is hard. To put aside one's prejudices and try to see the real being underneath," Sorinth explained.

 Aragorn, attempting to understand for himself offered these words of encouragement, "Never in my life have I seen purer a dislike than that between Elves and Dwarves. For reasons they've mostly forgotten they hate each other like nothing else. Except for two. Though it took a quest to save Middle-Earth to do it, my own companions of Dwarf and Elf kind are the closest friends I know. If these two races were able to put aside their differences do you not think you can do the same?"

 The captain looked unsure but clearly would give the matter some thought. Attempting to change the topic Sorinth asked, "You knew of our laws before you came here, why then did you bring him? What good could have possibly come from bringing an elf past Brelan's borders?"

 Aragorn met the man's gaze. He had been somewhat dreading this explanation. Finally he said, "Have you perhaps heard of the Stone of Malinya?"

 Not surprisingly, Sorinth's eyes widened in shock.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 Gimli sat by the fire, grumbling lowly to himself as he stared deep into the embers. He disliked this entire situation and was trying to figure out some way to change it. Across the field he could see Legolas sitting against his tree alone. The sight angered Gimli when he saw the bonds around his friend's wrists; if he had not seen the elf agree to them he would have skewered any Man that attempted to do such a thing. He had to admit, Legolas's current behaviour was baffling to him, choosing to stay and face outrageous charges than flee, but he knew he must trust his friend's judgment, as much as he disagreed.

 He rose moments later, intent to join Legolas in the moonlight, but as he drew closer he saw that the elf was sleeping peacefully, though it was hard to tell. The dwarf knew that he needed his rest so retreated back to the fire. When his stomach growled he realized he hadn't eaten in quite some time and Legolas for even longer. He knew the elf needed rest but food would help too. He got up once more, this time to make a meal for himself and his friend.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 "That is a myth," Sorinth replied strongly after taking a moment to get over his surprise.

 "Nay, it is quite true," Aragorn said, "I am sorry to say that we had ulterior motives for coming to your country. Though an alliance is our main concern and greatly sought for, we also came to verify a tale we heard. While my men were here rumor was spread that the Stone was here in Brelan. I decided to find out for myself. I knew that a member of each race in Middle-Earth should be present if the Stone was reclaimed and for that reason I brought with me Gimli and Legolas."

 "So the Elf's presence is merely a necessity in your plan to steal from us?" Sorinth accused.

 "We stole nothing. The Stone belongs to all of Middle-Earth, we simply needed to find it. Which we did," Aragorn said cautiously, gouging the man's reaction.

 "You recovered Malinya's Stone?" Sorinth asked and then realization struck him, "The great treasure. The one you could not speak of to Lord Vecery and that Risorine was willing to kill for. It all makes so much sense."

 "I assure you Sorinth I meant no disrespect in my deceptions, but there was little else I could do. I needed Legolas's help to find the Stone, and he did it. Without him it would have remained lost … perhaps it would have been best if it had." Aragorn added sadly.

 "Where is the Stone now?" Sorinth asked, enthused.

 "Lost. Gone. Risorine stole it and took it with him to his death. I doubt it shall be found again in our lifetime." Aragorn reported.

 "Then it would seem your quest was rather pointless." Sorinth pointed out.

 "You need not remind me. Now do you see that we meant no harm in our deceptions, it was only out of necessity that we told you false truths."

 Sorinth was quiet for a moment. "This is much to think over, but I believe I understand your position. I am unsure of how I feel of all this now, but I assure you this: when you are brought before Lord Vecery I will speak for you or at least make sure that you are all fairly heard."

 "I suppose that is all I can ask," Aragorn said, but was disappointed inside. He had hoped for more from this man, for him to fully understand and side with him.

 It was then that a strange feeling overcame the King of Men. He closed his eyes as a chill ran down his spine, and his nerves suddenly became alert, as if he had been startled. His mind was screaming that something was wrong but he knew not what. When he opened his eyes the feeling did not pass but intensified. He looked around, wondering what may have caused the strange sensation. Shock registered on his face as he looked across the field. Sorinth turned as well but was not as surprised.

Legolas was gone.

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 It had been a long day, one of the longest in his immortal existence. A day so filled with pain, torment, loss and hatred that he wanted to do nothing more than forget it. And for this reason as Legolas walked through his dreamscape he allowed nothing to touch him. He had no real sense of being as he strolled through the beautiful forest around him, speaking to the trees and basking in the warm glow of the sun.

 He had no idea that he had died only hours earlier. No clue that all around him were men who despised him and all others like him for no reason. Was unaware that he had held and lost one of the most precious treasures in all of Middle-Earth. No, he would not let these things affect him now. He needed rest, and he wanted to forget.

 But circumstance and his elvish senses would not allow that. Even in his deepest dreams he could sense the thumping of feet as they approached. Believing Aragorn to have returned he pulled himself to awareness to greet him just in time to feel a hand clamp down tightly over his mouth.

 The elf immediately brought up his arms to defend himself but he was unable to lift them as several strong hands gripped his elbows, restraining him. He was then hauled silently to his feet. Legolas struggled as he tried to make sense of the situation. There were more than half a dozen men around him, all Brelan guards and all emanating with long un-channelled anger. Their grips were strong and faces deadly serious as they attempted to overpower him. Legolas's bound hands were useless as he fought to free himself from their grips. He knew this attack could not end well for him, especially if they succeeded in moving him as they seemed to wish. He kicked at one man who was careful not to make a sound as the elf's boot connected with his leg. Then another hand appeared in the elf's hair and as his head was pulled back he could feel cold steel against his skin.

 "Stop struggling or we'll kill you where you stand." The voice threatened and Legolas believed him. Wishing to fight back but knowing he had no chance while bound and weaponless, Legolas ceased his struggles. The man belonging to the voice smirked, "Good. Now let's go." The rope connecting the archer's hands to the tree branch was cut, but his wrists remained bound.

 The hand clamped over Legolas's mouth was never removed as a dozen strong arms forced him deeper into the woods and away from the campsite. Fury burned in the eyes of the men around him and to Legolas their intentions were clear; if it were up to them he would not live through the night. They pulled and dragged him through the forest quickly, being careful not to make a sound and never give the elf a chance to escape. As they reached a small clearing the knife was finally removed from Legolas's throat and he was pushed roughly to the ground. He landed on all fours and saw a pair of legs appear in front of him. He knew he had only one chance.

 Acting on instinct Legolas reached out and pulled the man's legs out from under him, causing him to fall hard on his back. The elf then jumped to his feet and struck another man with his bound fists, but before he could do more he was flying forward and then landed on the ground once more, moaning in pain. A Brelan guard stood behind him, triumphantly holding the thick branch he had used to strike the warrior across the shoulder blades. As Legolas tried to rise wearily the man stepped forward and struck him once more, sending him back to the ground and knocking the wind from his lungs.

 "Stay down Elf. You should know when you've been beaten." The man mocked as the others all gathered around their victim.

 "I told you they were treacherous, they even fight dirty." Commented the man Legolas had tripped.

 Legolas gasped for air as he attempted to rise once more, determined not to stay below these men. He was kicked hard in the ribs for his effort and fell to the ground once more, this time on his back.

 "Unnatural, lying creatures. Don't you know you're not welcome here?" Another voice taunted and then struck him hard in the ribs once more. "Well, you know now I suppose."

 "It's not as though an elf would have any regard for the laws of others anyway. They have no respect for other races. Just think of themselves as high and mighty; above the rest of us they are." This man reached down to pull Legolas slightly off the ground, then struck him hard across the temple. The elf hit the ground silently, dazed but determined not to lower himself to respond to these men's insults. Then again, he couldn't speak if he wished as another kick stole the air from his lungs once more. The taunts and assaults got worse from there as the group tightened around him, and the men could no longer wait to get their shot at the defenceless archer. They were all around him now, pounding on him mercilessly; circling him, taunting him, kicking and striking him. He was bleeding badly in several places and was very shortly bruised from head to toe. And he had done nothing to them. Nothing at all but exist to walk through their land. It was pointless, but hate is a powerful and dangerous weapon that does inexplicable things.

 Legolas attempted to protect himself from their ruthless assaults. He brought his bound arms over his head but most of their kicks were aimed toward his ribcage and back. When he did finally get his arms around his torso to protect his battered ribs one of the men struck him hard in the face, sending him rolling onto his back and then stomach. The men backed away then, all smiling and seeming very satisfied with themselves. But Legolas was not going to let them win easily. Though he could sense unconsciousness was not far away, he attempted to rise once more; he managed to pull himself up to his elbows before the man with the branch struck him once more across the back. Legolas fell to the ground and listened to them laugh. He was unsure which hurt more; their laughter or their attacks.

 "Look at that; elves do bleed."

 "They aren't so tough. You just have to know how to handle them."

 "Guess that'll show him who's really high and mighty around here."

 Legolas laid on the ground and said nothing.

 "What's the matter elf, have nothing to say?"

 "What would he say? There's no denying that his kind are lying, murdering, deceitful, untrustworthy creatures? There is little more he could say about them."

 "Still, I thought the elf might want to say a few words. Tell us all about ourselves; probably try to explain how we're the dirty, lying, disgusting ones. Isn't that right elf?" Another hard kick to the ribcage.

 "Legolas."

 "It does speak. What was that?"

 The elf lifted his head and met the man's gaze. His swollen eyes were masked with blood but they were also defiant and noble as he gasped, "My name … is Legolas."

 The man's smile faded as he could not hold the elf's gaze for long and Legolas's will proved to be stronger than his own. The elf's tired eyes returned to the ground when the man looked away. His head was quickly jerked upwards though as the angry guard grabbed his hair, pulled him onto his knees and placed a knife to his throat.

 "I don't care what your name is. I only care about what you are, and that happens to be a filthy, lying, worthless elf, which makes you less than nothing." The man's voice was hushed as he spoke through gritted teeth and several cheers of agreement erupted from behind him. Smirking, the man ran the knife slowly across Legolas's throat, tauntingly. The steel did not draw blood but Legolas was unable to take in the large gasps of air his lungs ached for in fear that he would slit his own throat. Instead he waited for the knife to be taken away, trying to have faith that these men had some goodness and logic within them and would not kill him in cold blood. Looking at the man's eyes the elf was unsure if his faith was warranted and it was then that he began to question his trust in the goodness of Men.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 "Legolas." Aragorn called out as he jogged toward the tree where he had left his friend. He was silently hoping the elf had simply decided to sleep within the tree's branches, but such was not the case. There was no sign of the elf and Aragorn found himself wondering how long he had left him by himself.

 "So much for your word Lord Elessar, your dear elf has run away," Sorinth said, almost as if kicking himself for believing Aragorn's words about the goodness of elves. If the king could not show him the elf had not broken his word than his speech had been for nothing.

 "He did not." Aragorn assured him as he inspected the ground around the tree, "There was a struggle here. And look, this rope was cut by a knife. Legolas had no such weapon that could cut it so cleanly. Clearly he was taken." Looking around, it was clear that several of Sorinth's men were missing.

 Just then Gimli came forward, running, a perplexed look on his face. "Aragorn, I just had the strangest sensation … where is Legolas?"

 "That is what we are attempting to find out. Bring me that torch." Aragorn ordered and Gimli gladly retrieved it. The former ranger used the light to follow the trail left in the dirt, though it would have been obvious to almost anyone. "He was dragged away, by your men most likely." Aragorn reported, his eyes accusing as they turned to Sorinth.

 "Your men? What is the meaning of this, I thought he was to be taken to Miscalanth." Gimli was outraged and ready to pounce on anyone. Sorinth was sure to be careful with his words.

 "They did not have my permission or blessing if this is so. It is also possible that he simply attempted escape and they took chase after him. But come, we will see what this is all about for ourselves," Sorinth said, making a show of leading the way to find him.

 "I fear I already know," Aragorn said as he followed the trail with a much more urgent step, Gimli not far behind.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

Legolas held the guard's gaze, unwilling to show fear or any other emotion that may lead this man to believe he had beaten or broken him. It was clear from the man's eyes that he would soon be overpowered by his hatred and anger, which was only being fuelled by Legolas's unwavering glare. The steel bit in deeper, and Legolas felt blood trickling down his neck. The guard sneered and the proud elf knew that the hatred in the man could not be stopped.

 Suddenly there was an animalistic cry from behind and the knife was gone as the Man was tackled to the ground.

 Gimli reached the site before Aragorn and Sorinth and saw what was happening. Quick as lightning he emerged from the tree line, enraged as he had never been before. Racing into the clearing with a mighty battle cry he leapt upon his friend's attacker, flying through the air and tackling the guard to the ground. All around him the Brelan guards were so surprised by his appearance that they did nothing to help their co-conspirator. The guard landed with a hard thud that knocked the air from his lungs, but Gimli was not done. As these men saw only hatred when they looked at Legolas, Gimli saw only hatred when he looked at them. Once, twice, then three times his fists pounded into the face of the guard. He then moved to his feet and kicked the man hard in the ribs several times.

 One of the guards approached, not to attack the warrior but to restrain him, but Gimli would have none of it. He laid the guard out flat with several powerful punches to the stomach and then a knee to the face when he was doubled over. It seemed the Dwarf was so sick of the hatred of these men that he was willing to beat it out of them. He threw his arms in the air and coaxed the guards on, daring them to attack him. None took a step forward; a prepared, armed warrior was apparently too much for them.

 With a guttural growl Gimli grabbed the first guard by the collar of his shirt and lifted his near limp form to eye level. With unmatched intensity in his eyes, Gimli whispered, "If you ever, ever come near him again you will find yourself in pieces on the forest floor. Pieces hewn by my axe!"

 "Gimli, that's enough!" The voice of Sorinth sounded suddenly from behind.

 The dwarf never even turned, "It will never be enough." Then he tossed the man back to the ground and walked away from him disgustedly, towards his injured friend.

 Aragorn was kneeling on the ground next to Legolas, also seething. One hand was placed comfortingly on Legolas's back, but the other gripped tightly around the hilt of his sword. He had also laid out several of the guards, unable to hold back his rage, but had yet to draw Anduril from its sheath. Legolas lay unmoving on his side, coughing and gasping for breath. His lungs were starved for oxygen but every breath was excruciating due to his shattered ribs.

 "What is the meaning of this?" Sorinth asked, his voice also angry.

 The guards responded unhesitant, "The prisoner attempted to escape. We stopped him."

 "You lying snivelling brutes! How dare you lie on top of all this? Look what you did to him, and for nothing. You call him the savage, untrustworthy race, when you are the ones that are little better than Orcs!" Gimli exclaimed. Several of the men stepped forward to this. Gimli just hefted his axe, not backing down. "Oh do come closer. I am eager to part all of you with your heads."

 "Gimli, stop this now. All of you stop, that's an order!" Sorinth announced, putting as much authority into his voice as he could muster. "And you should all know that this outrage will not go unpunished."

 "The prisoner was trying to escape. We did what was necessary." The guard reiterated, and from the sound of his voice it was clear he believed it.

 "Well, it's good that the eight of you were able to take him down so easily. Against so few it must have been quite the struggle," Aragorn commented bitterly from the ground.

 Sorinth shot him a look that indicated he wasn't helping. "Please, Lord Elessar, I will handle this. All of you get back to camp, you will be dealt with and reprimanded severely upon our return to Miscalanth."

 Aragorn accepted this and hoped it to be true. Then he turned his attention to the bloodied body before him. Legolas had regained his breath but was coughing harshly and his body shuddered with the pain it caused. Finally, when the coughing fit ended he had lost all his strength and his body went limp. Aragorn's first action was to cut the binds from his friend's hands. It had been wrong to agree to them in the first place; with his hands free Legolas may at least have been able to defend himself.

"Reprimanded? Over an elf?" A guard asked behind him, disgusted that such a creature's well-being was held in higher regard than his position as an officer.

 "Yes, for the elf, and for disobeying a direct order from your captain, which is an offence worthy of court-martial. So now I suggest you all do as I said or your charges will be doubled." Sorinth's voice was stern and inflexible. Slowly, grumbling, the men left the field, more angry than before and still very unsatisfied.

 When they were gone Sorinth sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "None of them should expect to be employed when we arrive home." Then he approached the trio still on the ground to enquire about his 'prisoner'.

 "How is he?" Sorinth asked as he knelt beside them, taking in the elf's haggard appearance. Legolas coughed harshly just then, and his whole body shuddered. The elf's hands clutched tightly at his ribcage, trying to alleviate the pain the coughing caused. It was clear several of his fingers were broken by their stillness and slight trembling. When the hacking coughs passed Legolas took a final deep breath and then rested his head against the ground, attempting to gain some comfort from the coolness of the earth.

 "Clearly he is not well," was all the effort Aragorn would spend on the captain as he checked over Legolas's injuries. He undid the elf's blood soaked tunic to better see the damage the guards had done. It was quickly apparent that the blood was mostly coming from the gash on Legolas's side that had been reopened, worse than before. Aragorn removed his cloak and tore off a strip to use as a makeshift bandage. He needed someone to keep pressure on the wound while he continued ascertaining Legolas's injuries and looked for Gimli. Unfortunately the dwarf was several feet away, pacing as if he was on guard, despite the departure of the men. He looked to Sorinth for aid.

 "Here, take this. Keep pressure on that wound until I have time to care for it." Aragorn ordered the captain and he thankfully did as asked, though somewhat tentatively.

 Legolas coughed again and then spoke with some effort, "I did nothing to them." The statement was not made in attempt to clear his name, but to voice his confusion. He clearly did not understand what fuelled these men on in such a way, and was desperately looking for some reason for it. Aragorn sighed, not knowing any and heard Gimli mumble several curses under his breath not too far away.

 "I know my friend, I know. I do not understand their actions either, and doubt I ever shall. They're gone now, so just rest," Aragorn said quietly, placing a hand on the elf's shoulder for comfort. Legolas did not respond for several moments; he simply looked into the blue sky of the night and stared intently at the moon, as if dissecting its layers in an attempt to find the answers to his questions. When he finally turned back to Aragorn the man felt a shudder pass through him. The elf's eyes had turned cold and dark; there was no spark of joy visible anywhere in their depths, Aragorn saw only disappointment, anger and pain. He was so taken back by the look he almost didn't notice when Legolas began to rise.

 "I have no need of rest, I am quite well." The 'prisoner' stated strongly as he attempted to rise, slowly. It was not hard for Aragorn to take his arm and force him back to the ground.

 "I will decide if you are well, and only I." The man stated, just as firmly as his friend. It was a testament to Legolas's true fatigue and well-being when he submitted without further objection.

 Aragorn moved his gaze upward, noting a long gash on the elf's cheek and one badly swollen eye. The ranger noticed that his eyes were glazed and unfocussed, meaning Legolas either had a concussion or was still in considerable pain. With a second thought he sadly realized it may be both. One arm was clutched tightly to the elf's chest and Aragorn could see that two of the fingers were broken on the right hand, most likely from when he had attempted to shield his head from his attackers.

 Reaching out slowly, Aragorn pulled the hand away from Legolas's chest and inspected it. The second and third fingers were broken and bent at unnatural angles. They both knew they would have to be set and then wrapped. No words were needed as Legolas took a deep breath, closed his eyes and nodded. Gritting his teeth, Aragorn skilfully set the bones as quickly as possible. Legolas inhaled sharply as the bones snapped into place and then his breathe came in heavy with exertion as Aragorn wrapped the fingers with cloth in an attempt to keep them immobile.

 After he finished the temporary wrap, Aragorn moved on to the worse injuries. Legolas's chest already showed signs of horrible bruising and Aragorn had to find out if the ribs were broken or not. "Try not to move, this will hurt." He warned. Legolas nodded and closed his eyes once more.

 Aragorn moved his hands down the ribcage, exerting only as much pressure as needed. There appeared to be no broken bones on the right side. Legolas winced but said nothing. Moving to the left side Aragorn felt the bones shift at the slightest pressure. As he moved lower Legolas let out a low moan and his back arched as he attempted to escape the pain.

 "I'm sorry my friend," Aragorn apologized immediately.

 "It's all right. I am fine." Legolas lied through gritted teeth. The bones weren't just broken but shattered in several places. Aragorn noticed as well. He sighed, knowing there was little he could do here. He had Sorinth remove the bandage a moment and saw the bleeding had at least slowed at Legolas's side, but that was the only good news. Looking up he saw Gimli now stood closer to them. He looked down sadly on his dear friend but said nothing and came no closer. Aragorn decided he would have to deal with him later, but he was sure he already knew what was on his friend's mind.

 "We'll have to get him back to camp." He announced, indicating Legolas, "Can you walk at all?"

 "Aye, I told you I am fine. Just …… give me a moment." Legolas slowly rolled onto his side and stayed that way for several moments as he took in several large breaths to steady himself. When he was ready he pushed himself onto his elbows and began to rise. Aragorn helped him then, grabbing an arm and pulling him to his feet. As the elf leaned on him for support Aragorn threw the arm over his shoulders. Very slowly they made their first steps back to camp. Sorinth walked ahead of them, constantly looking back at the duo, while Gimli sullenly stayed at the back of the group.

 The dark of the night made it hard to see their path clearly and as they reached a hilly area Sorinth turned to the man and elf and warned, "Be careful here. Take your time."

 Legolas gritted his teeth to bite back an angry retort to the man as he continued the daunting task of putting one foot in front of the other. Sorinth noticed this and seemed confused by the reaction, so simply continued on and said nothing more until they reached camp. Legolas's anger confused the man but Aragorn understood completely. The comment had sounded slightly demeaning from the captain, though it had not meant to be, and Legolas's pride was already stinging from having to accept help at all. He did not need to be patronized by the captain of the men who attacked him, especially not now.

 They eventually made it back to the rebels' base, having to only stop once as Legolas nearly collapsed from another coughing fit.

 Upon their arrival Aragorn helped Legolas to a nearby tree. The elf released a relieved sigh as he leaned against the comforting bark of the tree and lowered himself to the ground. Aragorn and Gimli immediately began tending to their friend; it was clear from their efficiency that they had all cared for one another many times during their friendship. Suddenly feeling very out of place Sorinth excused himself, remarking that he had to speak to his men immediately.

 "Gimli, could you fetch me water and bandages? A torch as well, if you could," Aragorn requested calmly.

 "Of course," Gimli responded and then was gone.

 Looking into Legolas's eyes, Aragorn noticed they were still slightly glazed, "How many fingers do you see?" He asked.

 "Three," Legolas replied curtly and correctly, "Now leave me be." He ordered dejectedly as he laid his head against the trunk behind him.

 "That is something you know I will not do." Aragorn responded, turning to look for Gimli.

 "I do not need your help Aragorn, I am well. Now go, and find your rest while you can for tomorrow will be a long day," Legolas said, irritation clear in his voice. Then he coughed and clutched at his ribs once more. Aragorn frowned.

 "Let me look at those again." He requested as he moved in closer. Legolas pulled away and then seemed to erupt.

 "I said leave Aragorn! I do not need or want your help; I don't want you here. I just want to be alone! Do you understand me? Leave me in peace or leave me in shambles I care not, but just leave." The intensity and sadness within Legolas was pouring out, but he soon lost steam and dropped his head in his good hand, "Please, just leave me alone. By the Valar go away." He requested softly, unable to meet his friend's eye.

 Aragorn was shocked and torn by the words. His friend was hurting terribly, in form and mind, but he could do nothing to help. He knew his words would do little to comfort his friend at this point, he was struggling through so much pain and hatred, and the only way that Legolas was offering to let him help, was to leave. Leave him alone to work through his own emotions and feelings, to discover for himself how he felt before sharing it with others. Only when he understood his own mind could Legolas co-exist with the rest of the world. Suffering himself, and very confused, Aragorn rose, patting Legolas's shoulder as he did so, his way of indicating he would be back. Then he walked away, did not turn back, and left the elf, cursing his own kind as he went.

 As he walked away, slowly and deliberately, Gimli approached, arms laden with the items he'd requested. Seeing Aragorn he stopped and then looked to Legolas, alone, with his head hung low between his arms crossed over his knees, and asked, "What are you ……?"

 Aragorn had no words to explain. All he knew to do was place a hand on Gimli's shoulder and lead him away, "Leave him be for now. He suffers from more than we can see and I know not how to help him."

 "He does not need to be alone now Aragorn. I know naught of what goes on in his head, but that much I know for certain," Gimli said with conviction.

 "With his own mouth he told me of his wishes and I believe him. He does not want us with him now, trust me." Aragorn pleaded, still stinging from the elf's words.

 "I do trust you lad, but I will not believe it until I hear it from Legolas himself." Gimli announced. He dropped his burden of bandages and then stomped purposefully towards the tree the elf lounged under. When he was halfway to his destination, Legolas looked up and Gimli stopped as he saw the fire in the elf's gaze. It yelled at him to leave, to let him be alone in his suffering and in his thoughts, and Gimli was tempted to do so. It seemed Aragorn was right; Legolas did not want him there. But he still had not been *told* to go away.

 With his resolved hardened he began forward once more, until he was beside the elf still glaring at him. Gimli's features softened as he met his friend's gaze and he saw Legolas's do the same. The fire gradually died away and Gimli slowly sat down beside him. Legolas shook his head in disbelief at the Dwarf's audacity and a joyless shadow of a smile passed over his face as he turned from his friend and dropped his head into his arms once more.

 Gimli shifted, making himself comfortable as he too leaned against the great bulk of the tree. No words had been said between the two, but Gimli knew that even though he was not entirely welcome, he would be tolerated for the time being. The dwarf wanted to do more for his friend, talk to him, or at least see to his injuries, but clearly Legolas wanted neither. He had to be satisfied with himself in knowing that at least his friend was no longer alone.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 Aragorn watched Gimli approach the elf and was not surprised when he was stopped dead in his tracks by a single look from their friend. There were emotions and thoughts swirling through Legolas right now that neither of them had any hope of understanding, but Legolas was trying to. Aragorn knew any attempts to understand the hatred, anger, and malice of the men around them would most likely not go well, but at least in time Legolas would be able to sort through his own emotions and decide how he felt about the situation and how to respond to it. He just wished he had been allowed to care for him first. He knew the elf was in considerable pain but was too proud to admit it.

 Hearing footsteps behind him, Aragorn turned to see Sorinth approaching.

 "How does he fare?" The captain asked. Aragorn appreciated the sincerity in his voice.

 "He refuses to let us help him actually. He's very proud and very stubborn at times, sometimes overly so," Aragorn replied, not delving into the deeper reasons for Legolas's need for privacy.

 "I know." And somehow Aragorn thought he did.

 As they talked another guard approached them from behind, almost skulking. Sorinth turned to him sharply when he heard him, recognizing him as one of the men from the attack.

 His voice laced with disgust, the man asked, "Captain, should the prisoner not be tied? What if he should attempt to escape once more?"

 The guard never got to hear Sorinth's reply for he suddenly found himself falling to the ground, after having been struck hard across the jaw by Aragorn. The guard looked up from his sprawled position, shocked. Aragorn loomed over him, anger sketched on his face and his fingers twitching, as if he was resisting the urge to strike him again. Looking to Sorinth, the guard hoped his captain would defend him somehow, reprimand Aragorn for striking him, but he saw only the same anger etched onto Sorinth's face.

 "Get some rest," Sorinth said, turning back around. "And tell the others not to worry themselves about the 'prisoner', they've all done far enough already."

 The guard wanted to protest, his soul yelled at him to strike back at this man, but looking at Aragorn he knew he would stand no chance. The king was a warrior, plain and simple. The guard was little more than a boy, who simply thought himself a man. Dropping his head, almost sulking, the guard returned to his friends.

 "I am sorry for their intolerance, Lord Elessar," Sorinth said when he was gone, "You were right. Things should not be this way."

 "It will be difficult to change their minds. Legolas seems to think that it is only Lord Vecery he need convince of his good intentions in this land, though that would absolve him of any crime, it would not negate the hate felt towards elves in your country," Aragorn commented.

 "He will have a hard battle before him indeed if he thinks he alone can change my lord's mind on the matter of elves. He despises them, unjustly, as do most of my people. I suppose we can only hope that Legolas's earlier interactions with the king will change his mind. And he will not forget that he saved his life, for I will remind him if I must," Sorinth replied, his voice firm with resolve on the matter.

 Aragorn nodded but then realized that Gimli had not yet returned. When he turned to search him out he was surprised to see the Dwarf sitting quietly beside Legolas. The elf had apparently not moved since Aragorn left him and Gimli was watching him with a concerned gaze, yet he said nothing. Aragorn wondered at this strange behaviour. Though he had known Legolas longer and shared just as strong a bond of friendship with him, he had been forbidden from the elf's company, yet he tolerated Gimli. They were not laughing or joking for certain, but the dwarf had not been ordered away. Perhaps Legolas had simply not had the strength to request him to leave. Or perhaps it was something else.

 Still pondering the situation he turned away from the two, hoping some privacy would allow them to talk freely. Sorinth bid him goodnight just then and suggested he get some rest as well. Aragorn returned to his own campsite for the night and decided to attempt to sleep. Not too far away he could hear several of the guards on duty, no words were clear but they were laughing and he recognized their voices as those of the Men that attacked Legolas. He felt his anger build inside him once more at the audacity of these Men. What cruel, malicious feelings must they have within them to treat a living being in such a way? A being that had done nothing to them and posed no threat in any way. Hearing them laugh once more, Aragorn wondered how Legolas could ever be expected to trust humans again.

 But he was human.

 Aragorn sat up at the realization.

 After being raised by elves he admittedly sometimes forgot, but Aragorn was as human as any man in camp with him that night.

 "Could it be for this reason that Legolas sent me away?" Aragorn pondered aloud. Looking through the camp of people he could just make out his two friends, still beneath the base of the tree. Legolas had still not moved and Gimli sat upright, very alert, with his arms crossed, as though on guard duty. Aragorn supposed he was in a way.

 Should it not be I sitting there with him, offering whatever comfort the companionship of a friend can give? He thought to himself as he watched the two.

 Laying back down he couldn't help but wonder if the elf had lost so much faith in Men that he no longer trusted his closest friend.

That is absurd. Legolas is too wise a person to allow several unfortunate encounters with men to decide his feelings toward the entire race.

 Though Aragorn knew this to be true, he also knew that such prejudices could be felt on lower levels of thought. Legolas may still believe that he trusts Men, Aragorn especially, but in a dire matter he would undoubtedly have little faith in a human, simply because of past experiences. And he could not be blamed for this. As he laid thinking, Aragorn could come up with no way to help this situation, to prove to Legolas that not all Men are like those he had met. In fact most were far different; they were loyal and good. But how to show him this? He could only hope that Lord Vecery would prove to be one of the good, like Sorinth, and help in changing Legolas's mind.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 Gimli was deep in thought as he sat beside his friend, watching him and keeping watch on him. No man would near this tree, lest it be Aragorn, or lest he be willing to meet with the dwarf's axe. It angered him to his core what had been done to his friend. After willingly following all of the foolish laws of these Men, they had attacked and beaten him without cause. It made his blood boil in such a manner that he had to try hard not to think about it in order to keep himself calm.

 The elf had still not let him treat his injuries in any way, in fact had not moved at all in the last hour. Gimli wondered if he was asleep, but he doubted it somehow. Knowing he was awake, the Dwarf wished Legolas would speak to him; explain to him what he was thinking, so he could help, or at least assure him that he was well physically. Yet the elf said nothing. But Gimli waited, allowing his friend to speak in his own time, or perhaps never at all, whatever he wished.

 "Aragorn was the first Man I ever met."

 Gimli turned as the voice suddenly emitted from beneath the crossed arms of Legolas, just loud enough to be heard. There was a short silence and Gimli almost spoke, to urge the elf on further, but worried anything he said may stop all communication between them. But Legolas continued on his own a few moments later.

 "There had never been Men in Mirkwood, but on a visit to Rivendell I was introduced to the adopted son of Elrond. Though raised by elves he was very much a Man, there was no way to hide the fact. Over the years we became friends and I wondered if all Men were as he: noble, brave, and courageous. Then there was Boromir, who was a good Man at heart I know, but temptation stole him from us, and in truth I expected more from someone of such high stature. And indeed I did think to myself that Boromir had been an exception, that most men could be as Aragorn. I must laugh now at my folly of thought. And now in these last few weeks I have met more Men than I can remember, seen more faces than I wish to recall and of them all I am challenged to call to mind one redeeming quality among them. Anything to give me cause to respect their people. With all the anger, hatred and cowardice I have seen, I must worry about the future of the race of Men. I worry for them and all that will follow."

 Gimli sat stunned, having never heard such bitterness on the elf's graceful tongue. Legolas's views on Men had been changed forever, that much was certain, but it seemed to Gimli that his friend was asking him to prove him wrong. To explain to him that Men were really good and there were reasons behind their actions, but Gimli could think of little to say. When he did speak, he said,

 "I too have met few Men in my years, and have also noted how Aragorn seems to be the rare exception among them who are brave and valiant, but that does not mean they don't exist. Though they are not here, I am confident that for every Man filled with rage and hatred, there are a dozen more in Miscalanth or Minas Tirith who are pure of heart and true in spirit. The men around us have made the greatest impact, for when we picture the race of Men we may well think of them, but we also must force ourselves to remember the others not like them, who have made, what should be, just as strong an impression. Though many are no longer with us, that is only because their courage brought them to their deaths in the Great War as they defended their homes and lives. The Riders of Rohan, Aragorn's Dunedain, and the valiant army of Minas Tirith, these are not Men we should forget exist simply because they love instead of hate. Remember the good in Men my friend, for it is there. And if you damn the entire lot for their faults and their bad apples, you may find yourself not so different from these men around us as you think."

 "I do not think I can trust them, not after all I have seen. I know there is good, but how are we to find it? How are you able to know which of them are good and which are evil?" Legolas asked, seemingly deeply confused.

 "You must have faith I suppose. Faith in your own judgment of character and, as hard as it may be, faith in Men. I think perhaps they may surprise you, in more ways than one."

 Gimli held his breath, waiting for his friend's reaction, hoping there would be one. Had he even made a dent? Could Legolas's mind be changed? Then finally the elf moved. Slowly stretching out his legs he lifted his head and turned to the Dwarf; his eyes sparkled with something Gimli could not identify in the moonlight. He thought it may be reluctant acceptance. Then Legolas nodded, as if he had finally made a great decision that he had been pondering for some time, and the corners of his mouth turned up slightly as he smiled.

 "Thank you my friend, for your loyalty and your aid in understanding this matter. It is clear that there are no simple answers, for the situation is direly complex. I fear I will always be wary of them from this point, but Men at least do deserve a chance, for there is good in them, somewhere, even if it may be hard to find," Legolas said, leaning casually back against the tree. Gimli smiled; oddly proud of his friend and the decision he'd made. Having one crisis seemingly over he took in the elf's appearance and didn't like what he saw. There was dried blood on his forehead from a wound that had probably already healed, his ribs were broken and were yet to be set, and such exhaustion was written on his features he was amazed the elf was still alert enough to speak and think.

 "Now that you have made up your mind on this matter, do you perhaps wish to clean yourself up?" Gimli asked, clearly making it Legolas's choice. The elf nodded and Gimli wordlessly rose to his feet and gathered up the materials he had found earlier. The torch still burned and Aragorn had left the water and bandages close by in case they were needed. Also in the pile was a change of clothes for Legolas. Dropping down beside the elf once more he placed all these things out. Legolas took a cloth, wet it, and began to clean the blood off his face and arms. He grimaced when he touched his eye, though not as bad it had been it was still swollen and sore. When he was done Gimli handed him the change of clothes which he gratefully took.

 He painstakingly removed his tunic and Gimli saw the true damage done to him for the first time. The elf's entire chest and back were covered in deep purple bruises, obscenely noticeable against the natural pale skin. Most were scattered and random, in the crescent arch of a boot, but others had melded together into masses of discoloration, mostly around the ribs and lower back. Gimli tried not to stare but could only imagine the pain that must be involved in every movement his friend made. Knowing the elf could not stand to see a look of pity on the dwarf's face, he quickly replaced it with anger at his mistreatment.

 He remembered that Aragorn had said several of the elf's ribs were broken. Though the Elder healed quickly Gimli knew they would not yet be fully healed, or properly unless they were set.

 "Do you wish me to get Aragorn to assist you with ……" He held out the bandages futilely.

 Legolas shook his head, "Nay, let him rest. It is a simple matter, for the bones mend themselves as I rest. While I was deep in thought I could feel them mostly set themselves, a simple wrap should keep them in place well enough." So with some aid from Gimli the elf's bruised, broken ribs were bandaged and set. Legolas was attempting to downplay the injury by mentioning his quick healing, hoping his friend would believe the hurt was nothing, but in fact it pained him greatly and it was hard to keep his features steady as his ribs were painfully wrapped.

 When all was done he lay back down, perfectly comfortable under the boughs of the tree for the night. Gimli had brought with him a bedroll from the camp and made do. Legolas knew it was only a few hours until sunrise, and then they would set out for Miscalanth, but a few hours was all he needed, for even that much rest would do wonders for his fatigued body.

 "Sleep now my friend, tomorrow will be …… interesting," Gimli said, his eyes downcast in thought.

 "I fear far too interesting," Legolas said and then slid effortlessly into sleep. The last time he allowed himself the luxury of rest in this camp he had been attacked, but he slept easily with Gimli beside him, for even if he feigned rest he knew the Dwarf would get no sleep that night. As he had done for several hours already, Gimli sat up straight and alert, watching over the camp for any movement towards them. Legolas appreciated his watchfulness more than he could express and promised to pay him back for it, perhaps let him win a few arguments. It was with these surprisingly happy thoughts that Legolas drifted into the abyss of sleep and remained for several hours.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

The morning came quickly and the sun beamed brightly onto the campsite that was filled with little more than dark moods and feelings. Beneath a large tree off to the side of the camp a lone elf slept fitfully, but was awakened as the first rays of light struck his skin. Legolas actually smiled upon seeing the bright morning, but as he moved and pain ignited through him, his smile faded and he remembered the circumstances he was in. He was being held prisoner by men who had rescued him only hours before, and then decided they hated him enough to beat him mercilessly, and now he would return to their city to face judgment for his existence. Just your normal day in Middle-Earth.

 What shocked Legolas at the moment was the pain that ravaged his body. He had thought that after several hours of rest his injuries would have mended slightly, but instead he found himself sorer than before, and his injured muscles stiff from unuse. In fact every movement was agony, especially for his destroyed ribs. Clearly his injuries were worse than he originally thought. Sitting up slowly the elf turned to the snoring form beside him and smiled slightly. He knew Gimli had not meant to fall asleep, had undoubtedly fought it very hard, but the dwarf was almost as exhausted as the elf had been, and needed far more rest than the former.

 With a slight nudge he was able to remove his friend from his state of rest. With a start Gimli sat up and looked around frantically, searching for what had woken him. When he looked at Legolas he was met with a raised eyebrow.

 Gimli chuckled embarrassedly, "I bet you think I was sleeping," Legolas nodded. "Well, I fooled you nicely then." The Dwarf said smugly as he sat back and crossed his arms.

 "Just inspecting your eyelids then, were you?" Legolas asked sceptically, knowing the dwarf would not admit to falling asleep. He was supposed to have guarded his friend and even now felt horrible for drifting off.

 "Exactly," Gimli grumbled, rising to his feet. Legolas let the topic drop as he also rose, albeit more slowly. A hand was offered to him by Gimli, who studied him closely, but Legolas refused, determined to stand on his own power. With one arm wrapped around his ribcage and the other pushed against the tree for support, he finally managed to rise on his own. Each movement brought about a new sensation of agony, each of which pounded into Legolas's ears louder than his own heartbeat. He took a trial step forward and was rewarded with a blinding pain down his lower back that caused his legs to become weak; he breathed deeply to steady himself but this only caused his ribs to protest and he soon fell back against the tree once more. Gimli was at his side immediately, offering aid that was not wanted.

 "Perhaps you should rest while I find Aragorn," Gimli suggested timidly.

 "No," Legolas responded a tad too quick and too harsh, "I am fine." To prove his point the elf pushed away from the tree, making a show of no longer needing its support as he took a step forward once more and managed to stay upright. Gimli huffed, but did not argue with his friend.

 Noises began to drift towards them and it became clear that the rest of the camp was awake as well. In fact several pairs of suspicious eyes were already staring in their direction. Legolas sighed, not surprised. What did surprise him was when one of the guards broke away from the others and approached the two. Gimli grumbled at his approach, but Legolas was more curious than wary of the single Man.

"We are leaving soon. Get ready," The man said simply, his cold eyes sweeping over Legolas and Gimli alike. The dwarf straightened considerably and glared in return, more fiercely than any other could, while Legolas simply met the man's gaze, his own eyes penetrating and unyielding. Unprepared for the assault of such strong wills the guard quickly broke the contact and marched away, his steps heavy with anger.

 "I must admit, I am having a hard time making friends here in Brelan," Legolas complained dramatically. Gimli appreciated his friend's attempt to lighten the mood of what would surely be a dreary day so replied;

 "Who needs new friends when you have me?" The dwarf asked, all smiles.

 Legolas just shook his head ruefully and suggested, "Let us go find Aragorn."

 "Aye, we should. This day may bring about many things, and it would be best if we face them all together," Gimli said, and Legolas offered him one of the few sincere smiles he had shown in days.

 Together the two strode through the camp, receiving many hate-filled glares but being approached by no one. Sorinth had ensured there would be no more incidents within the camp for his men respected him, but even more they feared a court martial, so the two friends walked safely through the guards preparing for the ride back to Miscalanth. It did not take long to find Aragorn in the field where the horses had been kept for the night. He was adjusting Hasufel's reins and saddle, with Jarinel close by. When the horse suddenly took off from his side Aragorn turned to see the cause and was not surprised to see the creature racing up to meet Legolas as his dear rider entered the field. Legolas smiled and stroked the horse's mane while Gimli backed away in discomfort. The finger's of the elf's other hand were still wrapped and immobile, but it did not escape Aragorn's notice how the hand lingered near the tightly wrapped ribcage.

 "Good morning my friends, though I fear it shall not be as good a day, for any of us," Aragorn said when they approached.

 "The day could not be worse than the night," Legolas pointed out softly, his voice still bitter. Though the prince had resolved his feelings somewhat towards Men as a whole, it did not negate the fact that he had been attacked and injured by the Brelan men and his pride demanded justice. He still wished revenge against the men who had harmed him, but he restrained himself in the knowledge that any violence or retribution on his part would simply bring about more hate and distrust, which he did not need. But to him the matter was not yet settled.

 "I hope your words prove true, for I know we will have quite an interesting time of things once we arrive in Miscalanth," Aragorn replied. Looking slightly uncomfortable he then asked, "Legolas, may I speak to you a moment?" casting an apologetic glance Gimli's way afterwards.

 "Of course," Legolas replied, also eager to speak to the man. Gimli took the hint and excused himself, mumbling something about breakfast. When he was gone Aragorn turned to Legolas and the elf saw hurt and confusion in the Man's eyes. He sighed, knowing himself to be the cause.

 Avoiding the true subject for the moment Aragorn asked, "How are you healing?"

 "I am well Aragorn. This you could have asked me with Gimli present," The elf pointed out, not wishing to dance about the subject.

Aragorn nodded and finally, getting right to the point, asked, "Legolas, do you trust me?"

 The elf was taken aback by the hesitation and doubt in the strong warrior, and felt truly guilty for his treatment of him the night before. This must have shown on his face for Aragorn quickly continued, "I will understand any answer you give, truly, but I must now."

"Does this question arise from the fact that I forbid you near me yet allowed Gimli to stay?" Legolas asked softly, ensuring he kept continuous eye contact with the Man to convey the truth in his response. Aragorn nodded. Legolas dropped his gaze for a moment and seemed to think over his response. When he lifted his head, he stated quite boldly, "Aragorn, you smell."

 The King of Men was unsure how to reply to this, but Legolas continued on swiftly.

 "Like a Man that is. I do not know if you are aware but each race has their own distinct scent, Men not least of all. And in wake of what has happened over these past days I must admit that I find the scent of a Man, any Man, quite unsettling and it makes me wary. I do trust you Aragorn, with my life and with all that I care about, but last night, as much as you may have wished to, you could have offered me no comfort. Unfortunately I find myself becoming tense and alert at the approach of any Man, and I am unsure if I can keep myself from doing so," Legolas admitted. The look of understanding on Aragorn's face told him that the King knew he still trusted him, but a different look passed over him at his last words.

 "Do not, be sorry that is," Aragorn told him, "While you remain in Brelan it is undoubtedly best for you to be on your guard. Even I must admit that I do not know what will happen once we reach Miscalanth."

 "Nor do I, but there is little we can do now, except overcome all obstacles as they appear," Legolas said wisely, his words lighter than what he truly felt in his heart. With that said he turned from his friend and gave his dear companion Jarinel the attention he was craving. The horse snickered in delight to have his rider back, but sensed something was wrong. He poked him gently in the head in question.

 "My evening was less than enjoyable I am afraid. I am merely sore, it is nothing." Legolas promised the beast as he continued to stroke his mane. Jarinel didn't believe him but was just happy to see him once more. Abruptly he dropped down to his two front feet, eager for Legolas to mount him so they could be on their way. The elf smiled once more.

 "Soon my friend, we will be off shortly. First I must find Gimli once more," The horse snorted but rose in understanding as the elf went off to search for his missing dwarf.

 As Aragorn watched the exchange he was glad to see Legolas well enough to walk, though it was clear he was still in pain, and was especially pleased to see him smiling. But he could not help worrying about the safety of his friend and what would happen when they reached Miscalanth. From what he had heard, Lord Vecery had about as much patience for elves as his guards, which did not bode well. But the King had seemed wise and compassionate; Aragorn could only hope he could see reason.

 But across the camp, only hatred lived, with reason nowhere in sight. Tolson watched Legolas maliciously, disgusted that his kind were anywhere near Brelan. Bad enough he walked among them for so long, but now, now he, Tolson, one of the King's guards, had been punished for attempting to rid the world of the creature, and the prisoner was allowed to walk freely among them. Not able to take it anymore Tolson stomped toward his captain, Sorinth, who seemed to be becoming less and less popular among his men.

 "Captain, I can tolerate this no longer," Tolson announced, assuming the captain would already know what he spoke of.

 "What is wrong now Tolson? Your horse still not like you?" Sorinth asked, completely uninterested.

 "No …….….."

 "Your watch partner snore too loudly?"

 "No …….….."

 "Your shoes too tight then?"

 "No captain," Tolson fumed at his captain's complete indifference to his plight, "it is our so called prisoner. He is to be taken to Miscalanth to be sentenced and jailed, and yet he walks among the camp as free as the rest of us, with no guard and no restraint."

 Sorinth finally turned from his saddlebag to face the guard. He was so young, but so angry. The captain's eyes burned with hardly controlled rage, "He walks freely because of you Tolson. Due to the actions of yourself and the others, he can barely walk as is clear to me at least. If he should try to escape, or harm anyone of this company, then I will take full responsibility. And as for what shall happen once we reach Miscalanth, that is not your matter to decide; it is only for the wisdom of our King to rule upon. So I would greatly appreciate it if you stopped passing judgment in this matter."

 The anger etched on Tolson's face expressed how he felt, but he could not voice these feelings to his superior without even worse repercussions to his position, "Permission to speak freely, *sir*."

 "Denied," Sorinth replied without hesitation, "Help with the prisoners and get your things ready, we'll be leaving soon."

 Tolson twitched in anger and indignation, but could do nothing. Hands clenching, he stomped away from his captain, knowing that his words could not be right. Elves were evil, and had to be disposed of. As he marched away he almost didn't notice that he was approaching the person in question. The elf walked slowly and seemed to be looking for something as he strolled through the camp. Knowing he could do nothing to him with so many close by and Sorinth behind him, Tolson satisfied himself with sticking out his foot as he passed, intent on tripping the creature. What he did not count on was Legolas's quick senses and far stronger legs. Easily seeing the outstretched appendage, Legolas stepped over it with one foot, but with the other he kicked him discreetly in the shin bone, slamming the man's leg into the elf's front foot. Surprised, Tolson easily lost his balance and ended up sprawled on his back, in front of everyone, while the elf nonchalantly walked away.

 Fuming, Tolson pulled himself to his feet and decided once and for all that elves had to be evil.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 Legolas shook his head as he walked away. That attempt to harm him had actually been quite poor, but he felt no sympathy for the young guard he had tripped. Perhaps it would teach him to leave him be, but it would most likely just make him angrier than he had been. Knowing there was nothing he could do to remedy the situation the elf simply continued his search for Gimli, all too aware of the increased stares in his direction.

 He did not have to search long for his friend appeared suddenly, arms laden with what was clearly a breakfast for two.

 "Ah, there you are. Here, you must keep up your strength," Gimli said, handing Legolas the tray he had brought him. The elf took it reluctantly and took a bite of a soft fruit which he chewed slowly, his sore jaw protesting.

 "Thank you my friend, but we are moving out soon," Legolas explained, turning to lead the way back to the field where their mounts grazed. He finished off the fruit but ate nothing else on the plate. Gimli followed behind, not pleased. They reached the field once more and Legolas shared one of the fruits with Jarinel, who was only too happy about the present.

 All those that would be leaving with them were ready and mounted. Most of the guards were staying behind to watch over the captured rebels until proper transport could be arranged to bring them to Miscalanth. For now Sorinth had to report in to Lord Vecery, and with him would go two other guards, Aragorn, Gimli, and their 'prisoner'.

 Aragorn was already atop Hasufel and watched his friends return. Gimli was walking protectively close to Legolas, who tried not to notice as he spoke quietly with Jarinel. What Aragorn noticed most though was Legolas's walk, he had no grace in his slow step, only agony. It was clear he was still in a great deal of pain; Aragorn knew he should not even be up and about. The King winced in sympathy when his friend took a deep breath and then mounted the great white horse in a single leap, but then pitched forward slightly, a look of intense pain etched into his features due to the sharp movement. Legolas stayed that way for several moments, angry that his injuries plagued him so. Trotting Hasufel closer, Aragorn made no comment, knowing it would not be well received, and instead spoke to the hovering dwarf.

 "Gimli, if you are still wary of Jarinel then Hasufel would not object to your company," Aragorn said invitingly, hoping the warrior would receive the implied message. Gimli turned from Legolas, who he was about to yell at to have his ribs re-bandaged, and was about to refuse Aragorn's offer when he saw the compelling look in the Man's eye. His gaze darting up towards the elf once more, it was clear he understood. Though he wished to ride with his friend in order to keep an eye on him, it would do more harm than good. With the elf's condition as it was having another passenger behind him for the ride would do nothing to improve his health.

 "Thank you Aragorn, it is greatly appreciated. Though I fear your horse is little better," Gimli replied, making no comment on Legolas's condition or his reasons, he simply grumbled about his unending hatred for horses. The archer of course knew what they were doing, but he also appreciated it. He had not been looking forward to having Gimli riding behind him, and he did not wish to bring up the subject himself.

 Legolas smiled to Aragorn as the Man helped Gimli into the saddle, and it was gladly returned. Sorinth rode up to them then, with their two accompanying guards lagging behind just out of hearing distance; Legolas noticed the guard who had attempted to trip him earlier and his eyes narrowed, as did the young man's.

 "We must head out now, for Lord Vecery will have all of Miscalanth in an uproar if he does not hear from me shortly," He then turned to Legolas, his eyes soft with regret, "You can ride free to Miscalanth, but once we reach the castle of Hileris I am afraid you must be bound once more."

 Legolas did not blame this Man in any way for the precautions he was forced to make, and knew they would do him more good than harm, so stayed Aragorn's protests with a simple glance and replied, "It is well, truly Sorinth. I understand your obligations to your country's laws, even if I do not agree with them."

 Sorinth just nodded, "If there is nothing more, let us ride."

 There was nothing more and so they set out. Legolas leaned forward and whispered in Jarinel's ear; he was rewarded with the smoothest ride possible back to Miscalanth. And so they travelled, slowly through the thick forest, and swiftly over the open plains; a soft trot across the lazy stream and almost a gallop up the impressive hills. Throughout the journey Legolas could feel so many eyes on him; his friends watched him for signs of fatigue or injury, while the Brelan guards watched him with wary suspicion. He tried to ignore both, but found the feel of their gazes unsettling. Only Sorinth did not stare at him, for which he was grateful. The Man looked always straight ahead at the terrain and it was clear he was lost deep in his own thoughts. Somehow the elf knew that even though the Man's gaze was not on him, his thoughts were.

 They rode in silence, with the horses' gallop being the only sound as each wandered in their own thoughts and feelings. The Brelan guards remembered the hatred their parents had taught them, Sorinth remembered the same, but also all he had seen and done with this elf that he could not hate, Aragorn pondered how such hatred could exist, unjustified, Gimli simply wished for it to stop, by any means, not caring about the cause, and Legolas continued to weigh the race of Men, finding the scales extremely unbalanced at the moment.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 The duty guards were beyond elated to see the safe return of their captain, along with the honoured guests of Gondor. The two sentries immediately called others to take the groups' horses and stepped forward to welcome the company home.

 "Sorinth, we began to worry, the King most of all. I see your mission was a success," The first guard commented on seeing Legolas with them. His gaze passed over him quickly, easily recognizing him and taking little notice of the bruises adorning his features, assuming they had been caused by his former captors.

 "What of the rebels? Did you learn anything of them?" The second guard asked.

 "We found their base and I believe we have captured most, if not all of their group," Sorinth replied while dismounting, his voice not holding the excitement one would expect in such a statement.

 "You sound not pleased by this. It is what we have wanted for months," The guard reminded him.

 "It is not the rebels' capture that saddens me friends; there were complications on this journey," Sorinth explained cryptically, meeting Aragorn's gaze briefly as the Man helped Gimli off Hasufel's back.

 "Complications?" The second asked, confused.

 Nearby Legolas freed himself from Jarinel's back just then and landed softly on the ground, biting back the pain involved. Tolson walked by and gave him a slight shove forward as he told the guards,

 "Complications in that the *Man* we were sent to save was no *Man* at all."

 The still perplexed guards turned their attention to Legolas then and finally understood what had been meant.

 "Captain, he's an elf!" The sentry exclaimed in pure shock. Legolas flinched when the look was quickly replaced by anger and malice, aimed towards him.

 "This is impossible," The other noted.

 "Aye, I am quite aware," Sorinth sighed, knowing that he would have much explaining to do, to many different people.

 "He tricked all of us," Tolson continued, "But what else would you expect from an Elf?" The two guards nodded in agreement and understanding.

 Gritting his teeth to keep from lashing out at this Man's ignorance, Legolas turned to Sorinth, "I believe I am ready to see Lord Vecery."

 "Of course. Come with me, oddly enough he is most likely eager to see you at the moment," Sorinth commented as he started into the castle, Legolas, Aragorn and Gimli not far behind.

 "Strange how quickly things can change," Gimli mumbled.

 Then from behind someone cleared their throat loudly, obviously wanting their attention. It was Tolson.

 "Yes?" Sorinth enquired. Tolson said nothing, not wishing to be spoken down to by his captain again, but indicated Legolas and then held out his own hands. It was clear what he meant. Sorinth sighed, hating the laws of his own country. Turning to Legolas he said, "I am sorry, but by law of Lord Vecery you cannot enter the castle unbound."

 "I am well aware. I will tolerate the bonds, at least until I speak with your Lord," Legolas assured him and held out his arms willingly. He was quickly tied once more and the group proceeded into the castle. As they made their way through the long, weaving halls Legolas pondered what Lord Vecery's response to his identity would be and thought of ways he could change the Man's mind about Elves. Beside him Gimli was taking stock of their surroundings, noting the number of guards, locations of exits, etc. If Legolas was found guilty of being an Elf (how could he not?), he knew the penalty was death, and, refusing to let that happen, he was even now formulating an escape plan for all of them.

 They began to ascend a large flight of stairs which Legolas grudgingly moved up much slower than usual. He was maddened that his injuries were proving so debilitating but knew that they were truly quite serious. If he had been home in Mirkwood, or even Gondor, then his friends and family would assuredly not let him leave his bed for a week, until he was completely recovered. He knew he should be resting, not about to argue for his freedom, but in this particular instance all he could do was struggle through the pain as best he could, until there was time to rest.

 They finally reached the top of the stairs and made their way to the throne room where Lord Vecery waited. Winded from the long, gruelling climb up the stairs Legolas continued his slow pace. He suddenly stumbled forward several feet as he was pushed from behind. The elf swung around quickly and saw it was Tolson that had pushed him.

 "Hurry up, we haven't all day," The young guard complained. Legolas had to bite his tongue very hard to keep from hurting the Man. But when he sensed Tolson's hand coming forward to shove him once more, he had no choice but to react. Swinging around faster than he currently thought possible he caught the guard's wrist with his bound hands and squeezed hard. Tolson's face showed astonishment which quickly changed to pain as he tried to pull himself free. But Legolas's grip was strong and he had a point to get across.

 "Let me make something clear to you right now. I have willingly accepted and conceded to your laws out of respect for your country; that does not mean I am under your submission or anyone else's. I suggest you not forget that. If you touch me again I will have no further patience for you and you will find yourself wishing even more so that I had never come to your land," Legolas's voice held such power and conviction that Tolson flinched away from it.

 "Legolas release him, this will not help you," Sorinth pointed out. Tolson looked around at the faces around him and found no one moving to help him. Sorinth, Aragorn and Gimli all watched the exchange calmly, clearly backing the elf, while Tolson's fellow guard actually took a step back in fear of their 'prisoner'.

 His mouth turning up into a smirk, Legolas released the Man and then nonchalantly turned to follow Sorinth once more. Tolson seethed as he cradled his wrist against his chest and wondered if it was possible to grind bones with pure strength. He did not follow the group as they continued on their way, instead, cursing softly, he watched until they disappeared around a corner and then made his way to the healer's.

 When they finally reached the stone doors of the throne room Sorinth suggested, "I should like to speak with him first if you do not mind. He will be delighted to hear of the rebels' capture and I will be sure to mention all you did to assist us. He may then take the news of your true identity with a lighter heart."

Legolas nodded his agreement.

 "I should like to come with you," Aragorn requested. Sorinth nodded, seeing no reason to deny him. As they began to enter the room Legolas took Sorinth's arm.

 "Thank you Sorinth, for all you have done. I know it must not have been easy for you," the elf said sincerely.

 Sorinth just smiled grimly and nodded, "I fear it will not be enough. Wait here for just a moment." And then he and Aragorn entered the chamber, leaving Gimli and Legolas in the hall alone. The two waited silently for a few moments, avoiding the other's eye until finally the dwarf could take it no more.

 "We could leave you know," Gimli suggested suddenly. Legolas just looked at him. "We have been left with no guards and I can easily navigate out of this palace. Many of the guards do not know your true identity, it would be nothing to escape this place," He pleaded with his friend, but it was clear that his words did little.

 Legolas shook his head, "I will not run from this. The Brelans hate me for what I am, not who I am. As a Man I was considered a friend, as an Elf, I am an enemy. I must know the reason for this, and must show them the folly of their ways. Sorinth I have already reached, if I can do the same for Lord Vecery then perhaps there is hope for Brelan."

 "I told you once to have faith in Men, now I fear you have too much. This is a grand risk to take," Gimli pointed out.

 "I know." Legolas smiled and then leaned against the wall, patiently waiting for his audience with the King.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 Aragorn and Sorinth entered the King's chamber without introduction. Lord Vecery was seated on his throne and his face alit with joy to see their return. Forgetting all semblance of ceremony he rose from his chair and embraced Sorinth tightly.

 "It is joyous that you have returned safely. Tell me of your happenings. Did all go as planned?" The lord asked, his voice filled with excitement to hear their tale.

 "Even better than planned, in many ways. We lost several men unfortunately, but we have also captured the rebels, all of them I believe, with the help of Lord Elessar and his companions," Sorinth reported, and felt hope when he saw the old man's eyes light up even more.

 "This is indeed a day for celebration," The king commented, then turned to Aragorn, "And did you get him back?"

 "Yes, we did," Aragorn replied.

 "He is under guard for now, until you make your ruling," Sorinth added softly.

 Lord Vecery looked confused, "Under guard? Do you speak of Salogel or Risorine?"

 "Salogel my lord, or should I say Legolas, as is his true name," Sorinth continued cryptically, offering his king few clear answers.

 "I must admit I am confused, I sent you to retrieve this Man, not arrest him," Lord Vecery said.

 "My point exactly," Aragorn commented. Sorinth shot him a warning glance and continued.

 "That is the problem my lord. I am afraid Legolas is no Man at all. Upon his rescue it was revealed to us that he was indeed an Elf," Sorinth said, sounding apologetic.

 "An elf? No, that's impossible. Isn't it?" The king's voice was soft in shock as he struggled for comprehension. This made no sense at all.

 "It is quite possible, and true. I am sorry for our deceptions but it was I who asked that he accompany me on this journey and I take full responsibility for his presence," Aragorn announced, attempting to lessen the charges that would be brought upon his friend.

 "You knowingly brought an Elf within Brelan's borders, to my very home, while aware of our laws?" Lord Vecery asked, now becoming furious. Aragorn nodded. "Did you also know that the penalty for their presence is death?"

 "Not until I arrived. I knew of your hatred, but not the extent. I must admit it surprised me. How could you hate so much a people you do not even know?" Aragorn questioned the king, infuriating him further.

 "My reasons are my own and I do not need them justified by one so deceitful," Lord Vecery accused.

 "You throw about insults you should aim at yourself. You are the one who did not inform me of Risorine's true identity. If I had known this then none of this would have happened," Aragorn replied spitefully.

 "And you could have gone about your business in Miscalanth, never revealing that you secreted that despicable creature passed our borders," Vecery continued, as if interrogating a prisoner.

 "May I remind you that that 'despicable creature' saved your life not two days ago," Aragorn replied, stopping the Man's rant. The King seemed to be stopped dead at the reminder.

 "My lords you bicker like children, hurling insults and accusations at each other. Let us not forget the matter at hand," Sorinth intervened, being far bolder than his position allowed.

 "The elf is here to cause unrest and chaos in Brelan; his kind have no other purpose," Lord Vecery said at last, struggling to defend his own hatred.

 "Truly? And how many of the Elder have you met before he, who has done nothing but show your country the greatest respect while he has been here?" Aragorn asked, knowing that the king had met no others.

 "Then what is his purpose Lord Elessar? For what reason did you bid him come to Miscalanth?" Lord Vecery asked, knowing he would be able to find some ill will in Aragorn's answer.

 "I needed his help," Aragorn said simply.

 "For what purpose; sabotage, assassination?" Vecery persisted.

 "Surely you must know how preposterous a notion that is; Legolas has saved your life and your captain's, yet you treat him as though he were a criminal. No, worse, for you have not even allowed him to speak his side," Aragorn argued.

 "And what is that? Tell me, what defence can he offer?" It was clear Lord Vecery was sceptical of the elf's motivations.

 After a moment of thought he admitted, "I asked him to come, to aid me in finding the Stone of Malinya,"

 "That is a myth, you risked his life for nothing," The king replied smugly.

 "They found it," Sorinth announced, "It is real."

 Lord Vecery seemed sceptical, "And where is this treasure now?"

 Aragorn hesitated before answering, "It was lost to us. Risorine stole it from me during battle and took the Stone with him when he fell to his death."

 "Then you have little to back your claim," Vecery pointed out.

 "In any case, Legolas's reasons for coming to your land were not immoral. He did as I asked, as a friend; for this I do not think he should be punished," Aragorn said, straightening.

 "Fortunately it is not your opinion that matters in this instance. And what were your plans once the Stone was recovered? Keep it for yourself?" Vecery asked, but he seemed to be quickly tiring of the conversation.

 "Nay, the Stone belongs to all of Middle-Earth. We had hopes of uniting all races and nations with its power, but that will not happen now, and our peoples are on their own to reconcile their differences," Aragorn's voice dropped significantly as he spoke, no longer defending Legolas but losing himself in his own sorrow for a moment.

 "You put me in a hard position Lord Elessar. You ask me to break my own laws and take your word on this matter, bringing forth no proof to aid in my decision," Lord Vecery said after some time.

 "Myself, Gimli and Legolas were the only ones to see the Stone, as did several of the rebels if you would believe their words. I know not of what else I could show you as proof, for the map and scroll were taken from us that spoke of its location and history. All I could offer you was to take you to the chamber where we found the Stone, which is now empty," Aragorn told him, frustrated as he realized he truly had no way of proving they had come for Malinya's stone only.

 "You had best think of something better than that Lord Elessar, for it shows little. If there is nothing else I should know then I ask that you leave me, until I have made a decision on the matter," Lord Vecery said, turning from the two as if the conversation were over.

 "I do not see how there can be a decision to make. How can you hate or judge him for what he has done? For what he is? It is wrong and I am amazed that you cannot see that!" Aragorn exclaimed, unable to hold back his frustrations any longer.

 "Tell me Lord Elessar, if, say an Orc, snuck into your kingdom unnoticed and undetained, left free to wreak whatever havoc it wished, what would you do? If upon its capture it pleaded its innocence, would you have pity on such a creature? Would you not destroy it the first chance you had?" Vecery's argument was compelling and Aragorn had little rebuttal.

 "That is different. An Orc is made for destruction and hatred, it is their sole purpose."

 "And you believe Elves are not? Well we believe differently. I am well versed in the legends of old, even if you are not. For I know where Orcs came from; they were elves once, and that should tell you all you need know," Finished, Lord Vecery sat in his throne.

 "Elves are not your enemy, and even if they were the Elder of this land left it long ago and Legolas was not one of them. In fact he is from the farthest borders of Middle-Earth, a prince of Mirkwood. Yet you would hold the actions of his race against him, from a time before his own birth?" Aragorn asked, stepping closer and softening his tone, "You told me once you thought I was lucky to have him as a friend, but what has truly changed that you now wish to condemn him on behalf of all of his kind."

 "You are lucky you are not liable to share in his fate after your deceptions," Vecery reminded the ranger.

 "Speak to him," Aragorn pleaded, "You must know this is wrong. Let him teach you the truth of the Elder, you may be surprised by what you find."

 The King did not speak for several moments, taken aback by the desperate sincerity in Aragorn's words. Finally he turned to Sorinth and asked, "You have spent time with this Legolas, what would you have me do?"

 "If it is my place to say Lord, I would free him unquestionably. I have found him honorable and noble, respectful of all Brelan's laws. He in fact gave himself up willingly when the truth was discovered and I have seen nothing that warrants the prejudices we have been taught go hand in hand with elves. They are different from us, but this we cannot hold against them for it is simply their way. It is nature. I see no reason to punish them for this, no more than we should punish the Oak tree for being different from the Pine," Sorinth said respectfully, though he seemed worried that he had spoken out of place. Aragorn cast him a gracious look and then turned to Lord Vecery, who was in silent contemplation.

 "Bring him before me then," He finally commanded, "I will learn for myself of the Elder."

 Aragorn and Sorinth bowed respectfully and quickly exited the room to retrieve the King's next guest.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

Easily hearing the approaching footsteps Legolas was not surprised when the doors to the throne room opened once more, revealing Aragorn and Sorinth.

"Lord Vecery will see you now," The captain announced as he and Aragorn stepped back into the hall.

 "How did things go?" Gimli asked, having not been able to hear or see anything.

 "Better than I expected. Sorinth spoke graciously on Legolas's behalf and it is clear that Lord Vecery holds his opinion with high respect," Aragorn reported, clapping Sorinth's shoulder.

 "I did no more than I promised, for that I deserve no undue praise," Sorinth replied, then turned to Legolas. "Come, he does not like to be kept waiting."

 Legolas nodded and turned to his friends, a joyless smile on his face, "Wish me luck."

 "Good luck my friend, but you shall not need it. You carry your own luck though I know not where you hide it," Gimli said affectionately.

 "Do not anger or underestimate him. Tell him the truth, I believe that will be enough," Aragorn offered as his only words of support. Legolas took them and then followed Sorinth back into the throne room.

 Lord Vecery sat with his head cupped in one hand, seemingly deep in thought and did not look up when the great doors opened once more. Legolas stepped forward, Sorinth close behind.

 "Good evening Lord Vecery," Legolas said politely, bowing his head. The king looked up and almost did not recognize the figure before him. With his elven features revealed Legolas cast a different aura about him, one which spoke of great power and age. Gone were the everyday, ordinary features of a Man and in their place was not someone who simply existed by chance, but a creature that had been made, created and brought to life with a purpose, with every detail carefully considered and crafted to perfection. It was as if he was from another plane, with eyes that spoke of wisdom and age, but still somehow sparkling with youth. And there was strength. A physical strength that belied the elf's small size, and also a strength of will so pure that it shone. He almost burned with this power; in fact, Lord Vecery noted, the fair hair and skin of the being was casting a light radiance, adding to his etherealness.

 Lord Vecery berated himself as he was floundered by Legolas's appearance, momentarily forgetting the matter at hand. He was to judge this elf and then decide his fate, and despite all he had been taught about this race while growing up, his first thought had been, "From what heavens came a creature of such wonder?"

 He quickly composed himself, ignoring the elf and his captain's odd stares at his reaction, and stepped down from his throne. In only a few steps he was face to face with his prisoner. Being careful not to make contact with the powerful eyes, Vecery took in the bruises on his face, the bound hands and the way he carried himself, as if in considerable pain.

 Looking Legolas over he asked, "You are not going to harm me if I have those removed are you?"

 The captive almost chuckled, "No my lord, I assure you I am quite content with the charges already laid upon me, and do not need the assault of a king added to the list."

 Accepting his words the king turned to Sorinth, "Untie him, then you may leave us."

 Sorinth did as asked and gladly cut Legolas free, then smiling his encouragement silently left the room. After he was gone Legolas stood, rubbing his wrists, waiting for the king to make the first move.

 "I see the rebels were not kind in their treatment of you," Lord Vecery commented, continually pacing around the room and never meeting Legolas's eye.

 "No, they were not but sadly the injuries you see were not caused by the rebels, but by your own guards," Legolas replied, his eyes never leaving the man as he moved.

 "And how did you provoke them into doing such a thing?" The king asked sounding unconcerned.

 Legolas bit back his angry retort and answered, "I did nothing to them. They attacked me for no reason in the middle of the night while I slept."

 "I shall have to speak to them then," Vecery said, his tone flat and void of emotion.

 "Sorinth has said he shall care for the matter," Legolas told him, the heavy feeling of the conversation leaving him.

 "Has he?" Vecery asked, but it was clear he wanted no answer. He finally stopped pacing in front of the elf and said, "I must admit I am at a loss at what I shall do with you."

 "I have broken your law," Legolas said, testing the Man's reaction.

 Vecery just nodded, "Yes, you have, unquestionably. But you have also saved my life."

 "I would have done the same for anyone, I ask no reward for my actions," Legolas said. He knew by saying this he would be dropping his only leverage in the situation but Aragorn had said to tell the Man the truth.

 The king was moved enough to look surprised, then said, "Lord Elessar would have me free you and take your punishment himself."

 Legolas instantly moved forward to protest this action, but Vecery raised a hand before he could, "Do not fear, I would not follow such a course. A man cannot be punished for the crimes of another, it is simply unjust."

 The elf sighed in relief and cursed Aragorn for doing something so foolish, finally understanding why the Man had wished to see Lord Vecery first.

 "Sorinth also believes you should go free," he added.

 Legolas knew this already and simply nodded, "Sorinth is a good man."

 "Yes, he is. The finest I have," Lord Vecery said almost off hand, thinking deeply. "He trusts you as well, that much is clear for he made no protest to his own King being left unguarded while questioning a dangerous prisoner." The king lapsed into silence once more and turned to sit in his throne.

 Not enjoying the silence Legolas took a step forward and drew the Man's gaze, "Lord Vecery, may I ask you a question?"

 At the king's nod he asked, "Why do your people hate me?" Pure confusion laced his voice and it was clear that he was in desperate need of an answer. Lord Vecery even looked shock by the question and when he did not answer right away Legolas continued, "What is it about my kind that you could despise; you have never met another before me? We do not seek to harm you or rule you, we do no damage to your crops or your lives. We simply are, and yet your country despises us."

 "Does hatred need a reason? Can it not simply exist?" Lord Vecery replied, his voice firm but strangely sad.

 "No. It must have reason, it must have substance or there is nothing to fuel it," Legolas argued, quickly becoming frustrated, "My people have done nothing to you, they once helped you."

 At mention of the alliance so many years past Lord Vecery's face grew red with anger and shot from the chair to stand before the elf.

 "That is where you are gravely mistaken Legolas," he spat the name, "The elves betrayed us. We trusted them, with our homes, with our very lives, and they cared enough to let us be slaughtered. It is the reminder of this betrayal that fuels the hatred in Miscalanth. The city square ensures it shall not be forgotten for there stands a monument to all the souls lost in that battle that should have been victory, and instead became massacre."

 "And for this reason all elves are evil in nature?" Legolas asked incredulously, "Every descendant of the Elder should then carry this burden through eternity? If that is what you truly believe then I must have misheard moments ago when you told me 'no Man can be punished for the crimes of another.'" 

 "That is different," Vecery responded unphased.

 "How?"

 The King finally met his gaze, "You are not a Man."

 Legolas sighed in frustration and looked momentarily to the heavens, "Do you not even know the truth of what happened that day?" Legolas asked, his eyes sad for the knowledge that had been kept from this Man. This country.

 "Of course I know, I am King, I know all my country's history. We were betrayed by your kind. They promised to aid us, to help us win our war, and left us to die. We counted on them and they never came," Lord Vecery said fiercely.

 Legolas shut his eyes. Oh Algoral, you know not what you did, he thought. When he opened them he met Vecery's furious gaze.

 "You were betrayed that day by a single elf, one alone in all the thousands. He was your city's chief advisor and he alone promised the aid of his people. Aid they could not with good conscience give. The elf was not right in what he did, he made a promise he could not keep and that did cost lives. But all this hatred, all this fury, over a single elf's unintentional betrayal?" Legolas's heart went out to these people somehow, who did not even properly understand their own past.

 "The ancient tales are right, you are deceitful. You feed me lies you make up as you go," Vecery accused, but Legolas could see that there was doubt in his eyes.

 "I speak the truth as I know it. The elven advisor, his name was Algoral was it not? The one who made such a promise?" Legolas continued, trying to convince the Man.

 "Yes. How do you know this? Lord Elessar said your home was far from here, Mirkwood, that you were not of the Brelan elves," The King accused. He would not be surprised to find the former ranger had lied as well.

 "I am not, but I have been to your archives and was able to read your ancient scrolls. The ones no one living in Brelan can read. They speak of your history and the truth of what happened millennia ago," Legolas told him.

 "Lies!"

 "It is the truth! The elves were not your enemy, but they did not feel it right to take sides in a battle that did not involve them. They could not offer you aid, Algoral disagreed and he made a mistake, a mistake which has haunted Miscalanth for centuries." Legolas was emphatic now, "Lord Vecery, your country has carried this burden of hate for so long its shoulders must be weakening. Let this hatred die, let your people have true peace. Peace in their minds and their souls, for none can be at harmony with themselves while they carry so much hate, unbridled."

 "Even if I were to do this, if I somehow believe you, then what of yourself? Do you feel you are undeserving of punishment? You enter my country under rouse of disguise, you lie to me outright, steal from our archives and then use us to your own means of finding this Stone of Malinya. Should nothing be done of you?" Vecery asked. He thought the elf would claim himself free of all crimes and was surprised when Legolas answered:

 "I did do these things, I broke your laws knowingly, but in this case I believe the possible rewards of my actions were worth the risk. We found the Stone and though it is now lost, with it we could have brought peace to Middle-Earth. Peace to every country, every race. There would be no more war, no more hatred or distrust; the land would be in harmony and there would be balance. It was with this goal in mind that I set out on this quest and decided I would do whatever necessary to make it true. I deceived you, yes, and I am sorry, but you cannot deny that there was no other way to enter your country. And if I am to be punished for this, then so be it, but I do not think you are a Man who would reprimand another for wanting peace."

 "The Stone could truly do this?" For a moment the king forgot his hatred as he was taken in by the passion and sorrow in Legolas's words and he found himself sharing the same dream as the elf.

 "Yes, its power was great. It once united all of Middle-Earth but that time has long since passed and now will never come again. I fear our lands and our people are on their own to make peace," Legolas commented sadly. Both Man and Elf were silent for a long time, lost in their own thoughts and memories. Peace; such a cherished thing but so easily lost, just as the Stone of Malinya had been.

 Finally Lord Vecery pulled himself from his thoughts and faced Legolas, who was now closer to the far wall staring out a window into the busy streets. This is no evil creature, Vecery thought to himself, it is as if the very heavens shine upon him and his words are pure, without restraint or falsehood. How could I condemn a being who feels so deeply? It is as though the lost chance at peace was a dagger to his heart.

 Feeling his gaze upon him Legolas turned to the king, whose eyes had slowly softened with understanding over the course of their talk. Legolas knew he had reached the Man and waited only for the words from his own mouth.

 "I am told you aided in the capture of the rebels," Lord Vecery commented suddenly, clearly wishing the situation elaborated on. Legolas nodded, understanding that the Man needed to know of all that he had done while in Brelan.

 "It was Aragorn and Sorinth who are to be given the most credit. I simply led the way to their camp before they were able to escape, for my eyes can see clearly even on the blackest nights," Legolas replied.

 "That is how you alone spotted the assassins who made an attempt on my life," Lord Vecery concluded. The elf nodded. "It seems you are of many talents Master Elf." The term was not lost to Legolas, it was the only time thus far the King had acknowledged him with any form of true respect. He smiled in gratitude.

 "Many talents indeed," Smiling in return the King suddenly rose from his throne and strode towards the large doors at the end of the room. Opening them wide, he asked the hall's surprised occupants, "Would you all join us for a moment?"

 Sorinth instinctually walked by his King's side upon entry while Aragorn and Gimli made their way closer to Legolas, unasked questions on their lips. Legolas simply smiled at them, indicating all had gone well. Nothing was said until Lord Vecery made his way back to his throne and then turned, addressing them all.

 "I have spoken at great lengths with Legolas and I believe I now see how he has so swayed the mind of my captain. Hatred is a horrible thing, though sometimes justified, but it is clear to me now that hatred must have a reason, and I admittedly have no reason to hate the being before me as I once thought for no one should be punished for the crimes of another. I wish to speak more with each of you but first I feel you must know that you shall all be allowed to leave Brelan, free and unharmed, for it seems to me you have all suffered enough during your stay here."

 The announcement was met with smiles of gratitude and an exuberant "yes!" from an enthusiastic dwarf. Legolas and Aragorn contained themselves slightly better and bowed with humble acceptance.

 "Thank you Lord Vecery, you will not regret this," Aragorn promised, eternally relieved by the announcement. He honestly had not known how he would have reacted if the outcome had been different, if Legolas had been sentenced to death by these people simply for existing.

 "See that I don't," The king replied, but looked at Legolas. The elf smiled assuringly, as if promising the Man he had done the right thing. "I would also invite you to return, but I can not assure you of a festive welcoming from the public."

 "We understand," Legolas said, his voice sounding oddly strained to the King.

 "My lord, if I may, the past few days have been very trying and I'm sure our guests could use some rest," Sorinth suggested.

 "Of course, your rooms are where you left them and at your disposal. We shall meet again at this evening's meal where we can discuss your actions and our future as allies in greater detail," Vecery said in dismissal and sat down in his throne once more as he watched the trio leave. Aragorn placed a hand on Legolas's shoulder in joyous congratulation and Gimli walked slightly ahead of the two, rambling wildly about never having any doubts. The King smiled as they left and then noticed he was not alone. Sorinth stood by his side, having also watched the group leave, a slight grin adorning his face as well.

 "What do you find so entertaining Sorinth?" Vecery asked. He turned as if startled and smiled again.

 "Their friendship, it is very strong. If circumstances had turned out differently they would have fought to the death for each other, of that I am sure," Sorinth commented.

 "From the little I've heard of this adventure you had, they already have."

 Sorinth nodded and then turned to his king quite seriously, "Why did you release him?" he asked, sounding only curious and in no way disappointed.

 "I could not condemn him. I owe him my life," Vecery explained.

 "But there is more to it than that," Sorinth said, knowing he was now prying.

 "Yes there is," Vecery replied, and dropped his head in thought, "He is so very different from all we have been taught elves are. By your own words, he is noble and respectful, a being that seems above others and knows it not. His words held only compassion and truth, as did his eyes, and as hard as I tried, I could not hold onto my hatred for long."

 "Then perhaps we have both been bewitched by the power of the elves, for the same thing happened to me." Sorinth announced.

 Vecery chuckled softly, "Perhaps."

 Feeling the conversation was over Sorinth began to leave, knowing there was much to be done around the castle. Just as he reached the doors Lord Vecery gave him one final order.

 "Oh, and Sorinth see that the guards that attacked him are no longer in my service by the hour's end. And ensure they will find no work in this city above that of a stable boy's assistant."

 Sorinth gladly took on the order, bowed in acquiescence, and left the chamber as Lord Vecery strode to stare out the window once more, still contemplating the truth about elves and all that had just happened.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|

 Gimli could not stop smiling as the group left the king's chamber, triumphant. They had somehow avoided catastrophe once more and he wondered briefly just how thin they had run their supply of luck these past few days.

 Once the doors shut behind them the dwarf turned to Legolas and asked, "What in Valar's name did you say to that Man? From what we had been told he despises your kind more than you do pipeweed."

 Legolas's eyes sparkled mischievously as he replied simply, "I merely told him the truth, as Aragorn suggested."

 Beside him Aragorn made an uncharacteristic huff, drawing the attention of both, "It is unfortunate we had not tried it sooner, we may have saved ourselves a great deal of trouble."

 "Well what you call trouble, I call adventure," Gimli remarked. "Looking back it has all been quite exhilarating."

 "If that is the case, then Gimli you may keep your adventure and have any that passes my way as well, at least for the time being," Legolas promised, then turned to Aragorn. "As for the truth, I fear Lord Vecery would not have listened if it were brought to him sooner. Sometimes even truth cannot bring about reason; he had to discover for himself what we already knew."

 "And what is that? That Elves aren't worth their salt in battle?" Gimli joked good-naturedly.

 "Gimli, I have defeated you time and time again in battle, must I truly beat you once more before you will admit to who is the better fighter?" Legolas asked, easily taking the jibe.

"I suppose you shall," Gimli remarked, still walking slightly ahead of the two. Legolas appeared about to reply but he had momentarily forgotten about his weakened condition and it suddenly caught up with him. His body strained beyond its limits, he stumbled slightly when he caught his foot on a slight incline of the floor. He was able to stay upright but slammed into the nearest wall, easily losing his breath as pain crashed through him, from his bruised shoulders to his broken ribs. A loud gasp escaped him and thankfully Aragorn reached his side and steadied him before he dropped to the ground.

 "I am fine," Legolas announced in a quick breath, attempting to deflect any help or sympathy he may receive. Aragorn and Gimli shared a brief look of concern and understanding, then, when he knew he would stay upright, Aragorn released his friend's arm and slowly backed away.

 Closing his eyes briefly and taking a deep breath as he waited for the pain to pass, Legolas straightened and made a show of stepping away from the wall on his own power.

 "I believe these last few days have taken a toll on us all. We should each retire to our rooms for some rest." The suggestion was made by Aragorn but clearly directed towards all of them. The cheerful mood of the group had quickly disappeared at the reminder of the hatred and cruelty shown to them in this country. Gimli nodded in agreement, as did Legolas who had to fight down the urge wrap an arm around his ribcage.

 "I believe our quarters are just around this hallway," Gimli offered, leading the way and deliberately keeping the pace slow.

 Legolas and Aragorn followed, with the Man staying close to the Elf's side. No words were shared for long moments. Hating that this country's loathing had ruined their minor victory Aragorn finally broke the silence by pointing out, "The quarrel between you two is foolish you know."

 The surprised and curious glances he received from his friends was enough to prompt him on; he shrugged his shoulders casually, "Everyone knows Men are the most superior warriors on the battlefields."

 With identical outcries of denial from his companions, Aragorn had successfully re-established the argument, which continued heatedly until they reached their quarters.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 It was only when their rooms were in sight that the friends realized how exhausted they truly were. The last few days had been filled with nothing but worries, pain, attacks and more worries on top of that and none of them had received any true sleep since the Stone had been found. Legolas immediately started for his room, silently eager to rest and give his wounds time to heal but he found Aragorn was directly on his heels. He turned around to face the Man and gave him an inquisitive look.

 "I will not keep you from your rest Legolas but I do wish to properly look over your injuries, if only briefly." Aragorn requested, sincere and professional. The proud elf bit back his retort of being fine, knowing that his friends knew differently. With a reluctant nod he opened the door and allowed him access into his room.

 "Very well."

 When they entered the room Legolas sat upon the bed and removed his tunic so Aragorn could cut away the old bandages. The Man somehow managed not to flinch or show any expression of pity as he saw the extent of the elf's injuries. The night before the bruising had been fresh and hardly noticeable in the darkness, but during the last few hours they had darkened fully, which Aragorn knew they must do before they healed, but the contusions created a horrible collage of pain across Legolas's bare chest and he felt his anger rise again unbidden.

 "Are you healing well?" The man asked as he reapplied the bandages to his friend's ribcage. The bruises he could nothing for, but at least he could slightly care for the broken bones.

 "Yes, I should be well in a day or so," Legolas replied exaggerating slightly. He then undid the wrapping on his broken fingers and flexed them, finding they worked quite well now. Aragorn nodded as he finished up the wrapping and tried to ignore the gasp of pain from his patient, knowing any sympathy he offered would not be taken well by the elf's pride. When he was done he quickly mixed a cup of water with several herbs from his pack and forced the elf to drink it, insisting it would help with the pain.

 "Thank you my friend," Legolas said sincerely afterwards, attempting to show his appreciation for all that had been done for him over these past few days.

 "It is my pleasure Legolas. Now get some rest, and save your strength," Aragorn instructed, falling back into the role of a healer.

 "That had been my plan until you insisted I undergo your ministrations," Legolas pointed out.

 "Well it was a good plan while it lasted. I will retire now as well for these past days have been tiring," Aragorn explained as he approached the door.

 "More so than many would believe," Legolas commented, "Good night."

 "Actually, I believe it is still close to morning," Aragorn pointed out with a smile and then was gone.

 Legolas smiled as well and then slowly lowered himself onto the bed, breathing a long sigh of relief. Almost instantly he fell into a deep slumber, deeper than his dreamscape, into a sleep where there were no images or feelings, just a neutral void that brought no pain and allowed his body to rest completely. While in such a state he would heal quickly and hopefully regain his strength. After so many days being injured and tired, it was good to finally rest.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~

 Aragorn sat silently by Legolas's bed, his expression full of concern as he dipped his cloth in the water beside him and then gently placed it on the elf's forehead. Legolas awoke at his touch, confused and unsteady from too much sleep.

 "Aragorn what are you …"

 "Rest my friend, you are running a fever," Aragorn explained curtly, hoping his friend would fall back into his slumber.

 Legolas looked out the window and noticed the sun had disappeared, "How long have I been asleep?"

 "Since just before mid-day, after your speech with Lord Vecery. It is now well into the night, morning comes in a few hours." Aragorn replied, removing the cloth from his forehead. He had been worried that the elf's abused body would be susceptible to fever and attempted to fight it off with the use of his herbal remedies but that had failed. When he had awoken late that afternoon from his own needed rest he had found Legolas in the deepest of sleeps with the highest of fevers and had stayed by his side since.

 "I do not need a nurse maid Aragorn, you should rest as well," Legolas admonished him.

 Aragorn shook his head, "I have already rested well, unlike yourself. Here, sit up and try to eat something."

 Suddenly feeling hungry Legolas did as asked and gratefully took the plate Aragorn offered. While he ate the meal he became frustrated to discover that he was almost as weak as he had been when he first laid down, with the fever stealing his energy, but at least his bones were mending and his bruises were quickly fading, as well as the pain they brought.

 When he ate as much as he could for the time being he laid back down, feeling a strong weariness in his bones.

 "Sleep my friend, all will be well in time," Aragorn assured him as he began to fall into sleep once more.

 "How can you be so sure?" Legolas asked even as his consciousness slipped away.

 Aragorn smiled as if the answer should be as obvious as day, "Have you not noticed Legolas? Through all our adventures and all the obstacles we go through, everything is always alright in the end."

 Legolas did not disagree as sleep claimed him.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|

 The night was filled with strange dreams of lost treasures and delusions that caused the elf to thrash wildly in his sleep. Aragorn and Gimli stayed with him constantly with Sorinth and Lord Vecery even stopping by to check on his health. Legolas's fever began to rise rapidly at mid-day, and he mumbled silently in Elvish as his delirious mind plagued him with images and memories. Gimli was confused that the elf had fallen ill, having never known Legolas to be sick before. Aragorn explained that it was very rare and most likely due to the poison Legolas had been exposed to earlier in their journey; it was still quite fresh in his system and undoubtedly had some effect on the elf's immunity to illness.

 Aragorn constantly spoke to their friend in his delirium; he calmed him and cared for him as only one accustomed to the Elder could. It was under his care that the fever finally broke later that evening.

 "He will be fine," Aragorn told a relieved Gimli. "I think at last he can start to heal from all that has happened."

 "I hope so Aragorn, I truly do" was all Gimli said on the matter.

 The three stayed in Brelan for several more days. Legolas was forcibly bed-ridden for a day by Gimli and Aragorn to recover his strength, but after that he was free to walk the halls and gardens of the palace which he could be seen frequently doing. The garden was in bloom with flowers lining the walkways and a pristine fountain at its center. Its beauty could not match that of any Elven garden but it was tranquil enough that Legolas could lose himself to his thoughts and during his many hours there he came to terms with all that had happened, and tried to decide upon his true feelings of Men and of prejudice.

 After he was assured of his friend's health Aragorn spent many hours with Lord Vecery, discussing the still possible alliance between their lands. Though it would not be easy due to the distance it seemed the two countries would be able to compliment each other, and at the very least not be enemies.

 Gimli found Brelan enjoyable after his tension eased away from their tiring adventures. Most of the public was still quite fond of the Dwarf and enjoyed hearing his tales, which he never tired of telling. During the day he would feast with the local townsfolk and at night he would usually seek out Legolas and they would talk for many hours.

 Strangely enough Miscalanth returned to normal quite quickly. As the rebels were found and jailed the town became a more joyous, carefree place to live. The king continued with his duties and the town folk continued on with their lives. There was no outcry for the death of the Elf that had entered their kingdom, in fact there was no one speaking of Elves at all. It seemed that Lord Vecery, with all the power his position allowed had somehow managed to keep Legolas's identity hidden from the rest of Brelan, but as the days passed Aragorn had a feeling they should leave before word somehow got out.

 It was not until their last night in Brelan that the three companions met together on Aragorn's balcony. For a time they silently watched the sun set beyond the horizon but eventually they spoke and their speech was heavy with its burden. They discussed the hatred of Brelan, forced out of Legolas what had truly happened during his time with the rebels, they spoke of hope for Brelan and its people and finally they breached the subject that none had wished to truly speak of, the Stone of Malinya.

 "Its beauty was incredible," Aragorn remarked, remembering the inner shine of the Stone that had put the passing sunset to shame.

 "Aye, it was truly a remarkable treasure, in sight and in power," Gimli added.

 "I wish only that we could have shared that beauty, that power. We did our best I know," Aragorn said at length, "and none are to blame but Risorine for its loss, but I cannot help but feel that we have robbed Middle-Earth of its only chance for lasting peace. And that would have been such an incredible thing to see, to live in."

 "But would it not have been tainted?" Legolas asked, speaking openly about the Stone for the first time.

 Not understanding what he meant, Aragorn asked, "How could peace be tainted?"

 Legolas shrugged as if he did not know but replied, "I cannot remove the words of the Elves of this land from my mind. They hid the Stone because they did not approve of its use. They said, 'Peace and love should be something shared willingly, without help, not forced upon races by the power of the Elves.' After careful thought, I cannot help but agree with them. Peace is best when it comes naturally."

 "But is peace not desirable, no matter what the cause?" Gimli asked, not sure he agreed with his friend.

 "Not always. What if peace only came through destruction? Two countries go to war, the only way for peace is either a truce between the countries or the annihilation of the enemy." Aragorn said, following what Legolas meant. "Though war is never sought, in the end, peace arises. But if two countries are at war, if they have a conflict that cannot be sorted out, then the Stone could bring a peace to these countries that they may not agree to."

 "Exactly. Though it may not be desirable every country and race must be free to do things their own way, live their lives as they will. Is it really our decision to make whether or not to force peace on people, if they are not yet ready or willing to accept it?" Legolas asked, but his voice implied that he still wasn't sure as to the actual answer.

 "Perhaps it is not for us to decide, but it would have been nice to be given the option, Gimli said, after some thought.

 "Yes Gimli, but peace by natural means somehow feels more fulfilling. For example, I have a feeling that eventually no Elf shall have to fear entering Brelan's borders, but it shall take time. Time, trust, and faith." Legolas pointed out, "It seems clear to me that peace is something you have to fight for, or at least work for. True and lasting peace cannot be granted on a magical whim."

 Aragorn was silent. He had never thought of the situation in that way. Perhaps the Elves had had a point, and the Stone's loss was more a blessing than a curse. After all, their time here looking for it had brought only pain and suffering to everyone that knew of its existence. Even though he wasn't sure of everything yet, the thought did help to ease his heart from the loss.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|

 Aragorn and his company rose with the morning sun the next day. By the time they had broken their fast the horses were laden with their baggage and the final farewells were being said. As Aragorn's guards mounted and prepared to move out, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli stood together before the King of Brelan.

 "Your visit has been most interesting Lord Elessar. We owe you a debt of gratitude for your aid in capturing the rebels that have plagued our city for these past years," Lord Vecery said sincerely in their parting.

 "It was our pleasure, we are glad we could be of assistance. Hopefully we shall meet again in the not too distant future," Aragorn bid him. The older Man smiled and inclined his head in agreement, then turned to elf at his side.

 "And you I owe my life, as well as my gratitude for shedding the truth about our past. I believe in time my country can be taught to see the folly of their ways, and I will do all I can to ensure it." Legolas was pleased by the sincerity in the Man's voice.

 "That is my great hope as well," the elf replied just as sincerely.

 Addressing the entire group now the King said, "I look forward to the day of all of your returns, for as long as I reign you will be welcome in Brelan."

 "Thank you Lord Vecery," Gimli replied. Just then Sorinth trotted over on his own steed.

 "We must move out shortly," He informed them sounding apologetic. The group nodded, bowed one final time in reverence to Lord Vecery and then turned to mount up.

 Legolas looked through the crowd of horses and was not hard pressed to spot Jarinel struggling against the stable keeper who was trying to keep him steady. Knowing what a handful the horse could be he jogged forward to calm the beast until he saw just who the stable keeper was. Legolas's wounds had healed days ago so the elf walked with no pain or appearance of injury. With this in mind he casually approached Jarinel, a smirk playing at his lips.

 "Greetings Tolson," Legolas said exuberantly, surprising the former guard turned stable boy. Tolson spun around, having not heard his approach, and his face showed clear contempt. "How is your wrist?" Legolas asked, sounding mock concerned.

 The Man knew the question was really a taunt and replied with his own smirk, "It is fine. How is your … everything?" Practically every part of Legolas's body had been injured in some way after the assault by Tolson and his friends.

 "Oh, I am quite well," Legolas said cheerfully. He still had not received his retribution from that attack. Lashing out suddenly the elf struck the Man straight across the jaw, never giving him a chance to defend himself. It was a knock out shot and Tolson landed bonelessly on the ground, unconscious. Legolas shook his knuckles out, feeling very satisfied, "Quite well indeed."

 Gimli walked up then, gave his friend a curious glance then saw who he had struck. A true chuckle escaped the Dwarf's lips when he saw the unconscious Man, then he clapped his friend on the shoulder in congratulations and in an attempt to get him mounted and on his way.

 "Do you feel better?" The dwarf asked unnecessarily.

 "Yes," Legolas smiled brightly, took a final look at his unimpressive opponent and then leapt gracefully onto Jarinel's back. Gimli was up shortly afterwards and the two trotted off to join the others near the far gate.

 Aragorn had seen all that happened and when they approached gave Legolas a questioning glare. The elf merely shrugged and replied, "I do not need everyone in Brelan to welcome me back."

 "No, I suppose not," Aragorn admitted and made no more of the matter. Sorinth came up beside them.

 "If you are ready we should be off," He suggested and no one disagreed. The large group set out, away from Miscalanth and started the long journey back to Gondor, which they hoped held fewer surprises than before. Sorinth and his Men would accompany the group for several days, ensuring they were well on their way and in the right direction, and then return to Miscalanth. Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas were pleased to spend several more days with the Man and had been assured that the guards that accompanied them had no personal quarrels against Elves that he knew of. Either way, Aragorn's guard greatly outnumbered Sorinth's in this instance so there was little worry for Legolas's safety from their escort.

 The weather was good that day, a beautiful sunny sky was all that could be seen through the lush green treetops and birds and other wildlife were everywhere. It was a perfect day to travel. And travel they did. They made good time for the first few days with the group interacting well and the weather holding nicely. At night they all talked and joked around the fire, and during the day they talked and joked while riding. All together the entire environment was very relaxed, with the foreigners eager and happy to head home and the guards pleased with having such an easy assignment. The memory and pain of the past week seemed to leave everyone for the time as they enjoyed their journey.

 Legolas had been most pleased with their progress. Now that his identity was no longer a secret he could walk and speak freely, without fear of discovery, and he found no hostility in any of his companions. His friends treated him as always, Aragorn's guards were quite used to Elven company so paid him no extra mind, and Sorinth had indeed picked his Men well for none seemed too overly worried about what he truly was. Surprised at first, but otherwise uncaring. Legolas even found himself getting along quite well with them. Though he knew he would always have dark memories of Brelan, memories and feelings he could not banish, he soon thought that he may also have some good ones as well. He may also have some new friends, which he would greatly cherish.

 It was on the fifth day of their journey, early in the morning, that Legolas found himself pulled from his thoughts by a soft and impatient whinnying beside him. Turning around he found Jarinel pawing playfully at the ground. It was clear he was eager to continue on, enjoying galloping along with his master, but they were not to set out for several hours more.

 "Calm down Jarinel. We are not to leave for some time yet," Legolas told the horse apologetically. Jarinel neighed in dismay. The elf chuckled, "Very well, I will take you for a short ride to the southern valley we passed last night, but no more." The horse was all too pleased and leaped in joy. Smiling, Legolas mounted him, told Aragorn of his destination and then was gone.

~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|~|

 The camp had been packed away and the Brelan men were ready to leave the company and return home, confident the group would be able to return to Minas Tirith safely from their current location. The men of Brelan were all mounted and saying their final good-byes and Gimli was reminded of their departure of Miscalanth only days before. He and Aragorn stood before Sorinth, wishing him luck in all his prospects.

 "It has been an honor to know both of you, for I have learned much from you all, about friendship and loyalty, as well as hatred," Sorinth said, almost smiling and shaking both their hands.

 "I have enjoyed our time together as well, Brelan is lucky to have men such as you," Aragorn told him.

 "Aye, a few more of your sort would have been a great help to us indeed," Gimli replied, also knowing he would miss the man that had helped them so much.

 "Warriors such as yourselves I fear need no one else to aid them, but thank you," Sorinth said then looked around sadly. "Where is Legolas, I had wished to say good-bye to him as well."

 Aragorn once more pushed down the worry he had felt for some time, "I do not know, he left several hours ago with Jarinel and has yet to return."

 "We really must be going, perhaps you could tell him … well, just tell him it has been an honor, truly. I have never known another such as him." Sorinth remarked. Aragorn smiled, nodded, and Gimli pointed behind them.

 "Ah, it seems you shall have to tell him yourself, here he comes."

 Indeed Legolas was returning proudly on Jarinel's back, smiling widely at the sight of his friends. He was also soaking wet.

 "What in Valar's name happened to you?" Gimli asked when the elf approached and dismounted.

 Legolas looked at himself, as if just noticing his soggy state, "Oh, Jarinel found a river and insisted I join him for a swim." He explained as he patted down the horse's damp hair.

 Aragorn chuckled and shook his head, glad to see his friend back in good spirits after so long being lost in dark thoughts. Gimli just mumbled 'crazy elf' and said no more on the matter.

 "We lost track of time," Legolas continued then turned to Sorinth, "You are leaving us then?"

 "Aye, I must return to my King for there is much to be done about these rebels, thanks to you all."

 "I understand. It has been an honor to know you Sorinth, thank you for all you have done, and all I know you will do in the future. Perhaps someday our paths will cross again," Legolas proposed, shaking the Man's hand.

 "One can only hope. And thank you, for teaching us the true ways of the Eldar. It is a lesson I will be sure to spread and teach," Sorinth assured them.

 "Of that I have no doubt," Legolas replied, meaning it fully.

 Sorinth said a final good-bye, mounted his steed along with his Men and then set off. After a few yards he stopped, turned to the three companions and saluted, then he was gone, the last remnant of Brelan removed from their lives.

 "I wonder if we shall see him again," Gimli pondered aloud.

 "He is probably wondering the same of us," Aragorn responded.

 "There is no way to know now, but I should like to come back some day and see if Brelan truly can change their ways and attitudes," Gimli said.

 "It would be interesting indeed, I should like to join you on that quest," Aragorn offered, which Gimli gladly accepted. Legolas stood silently beside them, staring at the deserted road leading to Miscalanth with a small smile on his face.

 "What of you Master Elf, would you return to this land to discover its fate?" Gimli asked.

 Legolas turned to them, an almost knowing look on his face, "I have no need to come back. Brelan will have peace, for they will not wish to hold onto an unfueled hate if not necessary. No my friends, I think Brelan will be quite fine on its own. But I will still accompany you if you so wish to return."

 "You seem extremely sure about Brelan's fate," Gimli commented, somewhat surprised by the elf's comments.

 Legolas smirked, "Elvish intuition, something a dwarf would have no hope in comprehending."

 "If that is true the reason is most likely because it makes no sense at all, as does everything of Elvish nature," Gimli retorted.

 Aragorn rolled his eyes, knowing the coming fight would be long and quite amusing. Taking their shoulders he turned them both forcibly around, away from Brelan.

 "Come my friends, you may finish this discussion once we are home," Aragorn suggested. And that is just what they did. They went home, happily and better friends and people than when they set out.

The end.

Want a little more?????? Well you're in luck cause if this was a DVD you would have just reached the Deleted Scenes section. After I finished this story I thought of another ending I liked a lot, so I wrote it and made it for a little special something. If you liked the way the story ended, then don't bother, it's only a little thing. But the One Ring was a little thing and look what it did.

Either way, thanks for reading. I worked really hard on this fic, so please review, tell me what you think, what you liked and how I can improve. I can take criticism quite well I think.

Robinyj

The Stone of Malinya: Deleted Scene (Takes place in the final chapter, right after Legolas leaves the group with Jarinel.)

Legolas breathed in deeply, enjoying the fresh smell of the forest and catching the faint scent of water nearby. He and Jarinel were galloping through an open valley, with no true destination, just for the sensation of flying that came with the great speeds the horse was capable of. Technically they were supposed to be helping their companions prepare to set out on their own back to Gondor, since their Brelan escort was returning home, but it had been some time since the two had been able to roam aimlessly through the forest and they gladly took hold of the opportunity. Legolas knew that though Jarinel would take some time to tire, the sun's warm rays that day had to be uncomfortable for the horse.

 "I believe there is water nearby my friend, should we go in search of it?" Legolas asked. Jarinel clearly responded in the positive when he brought himself up on two legs with a short whinny. The elf smiled and pushed him ahead.

 They trotted through the woods for only a short time before they came to a calm river that cut the forest in two. Jarinel neighed in delight and shot forward, eager to not only drink but jump into the refreshing water. Just before he reached the shore Legolas removed himself from his back, not feeling it necessary to get soaked just yet. Jarinel splashed in the water happily, kicking up large waves in an attempt to get the elf wet as well. For his part the archer was content to watch the horse have its fun for now, they still had some time until they had to return to the campsite after all. But Jarinel had other ideas. Trotting out of the water the horse stood before his master and shook out his mane, making Legolas laugh as droplets of water cascaded over him from head to toe.

 "Very well, I will join you," he finally conceded when the horse did not stop. Jarinel began to happily head back to the water while Legolas removed his weapons and placed them carefully on the ground, he then undid his boots and began to remove his tunic when Jarinel became impatient. Grabbing the elf's sleeve with his jaws the horse bodily dragged him towards the water. Legolas was too busy laughing to really protest and quickly found himself waist deep in the river.

 "I hope you are quite happy now," Legolas remarked as he stood up. Jarinel splashed him once more to show him he was. Now fully soaked the elf knew he would have to play along and began to swim away, out of the horse's reach.

 "You shall have to do better than that if …" Legolas did not finish his thought as a strange feeling suddenly came over him. It was a great mixture of joy and warmth, and though he was enjoying himself with Jarinel he knew that was not the cause. He realized it was a feeling he had felt before.

 "No, that is impossible," He tried to tell himself, but it was all too possible. If this river was connected to the one near the rebels' base it was extremely possible, even likely. A sense of hope and dread filling him, he decided he had to know for sure. Legolas took a deep breath and disappeared below the water's surface.

 The river was clean and shallow at this junction, as well as calm; the current was of no worry to him. He swam near the bottom, his sharp gaze taking in every detail of the riverbed. Eventually he had to come up for air, but he quickly dove down again, intent to follow the strange feeling. Again he found nothing.

 When he dove for the third time he went slightly farther upstream and found a bed of rocks along the bottom. He pushed himself forward and was almost blinded by his discovery. There, trapped between two large stones and shining with all its intensity was the Stone of Malinya.

 Legolas almost gasped and pulled a small amount of water into his lungs. Needing to resurface quickly he made a powerful final stroke and reached the Stone. Grasping it tightly he made his way to the surface once more. Coughing slightly he swam back to the shore he had long ago left behind and, ignoring the still playful horse, trudged to the shallow water. He did not even make it to dry land, instead he just sat near the river's edge, in water deep enough to reach his knees while sitting, and stared at the Stone of Malinya.

 "Its beauty is greater than I remembered," the elf whispered as he gazed into its depth. Despite the fall it had taken and punishment it must have suffered while in the water, the Stone was still perfect, uncracked and smooth as crystal. From inside the same light glowed its myriad of beautiful colors, overpowering most people's thoughts with its beauty. But now the question Legolas had to answer was what to do with it.

 "It cannot be by chance alone that the Stone came to me," Legolas knew and wondered what reason the fates would have for taunting him with such a gift. If it had been Aragorn or Gimli the answer would be simple, take the Stone and bring peace to the lands forever. But Legolas had begun to think differently of the Stone. He had told Aragorn that peace that came naturally was the best kind of all, and he believed that. The Stone of Malinya was powerful but he now began to think the Elves of old had been arrogant to create such a power that could bring peace to wherever they wished it. To have harmony in the land there must be effort and struggle put forth, and it is through that struggle that lives are bettered and relationships strengthened. If there is no struggle, how can there be any true reward?

 At this point and time Legolas did not even believe that the Stone was needed anywhere in Middle-Earth. The Enemy was destroyed, Elves and Dwarves were beginning to trust each other once more, though many of the Eldar were leaving for the Gray Havens, and Gondor stood strong as a nation of Men, with no enemies in all directions. Even Brelan was now free from controversy, having succeeded in stopping the rebels that plagued them, and having learned the truth about elves and their past. For what purpose could the Stone be used in this time, where peace and amity were managing on their own?

 "Well, it makes a lovely decoration," Legolas finally decided. And he knew what he must do. The lands of Middle-Earth were not in chaos, they were in harmony. The lands and the races had fought hard and earned the calm in which they lived, and the elf truly believed that the knowledge and return of Malinya's Stone would only cause controversy and pain once more, as it had done in Brelan.

 He could not return this treasure to the people of Middle-Earth, he could not even tell Aragorn or any one else of its recovery. The Stone had great power, but even it could not control the battles that may be fought over it.

 And as Legolas thought these thoughts, decided his course of action, the Stone was feeling everything he was. Having been cured by it, holding it as he now did connected him directly to its power, and when his hands began to tingle he looked directly into its core. A light beam emerged and caught him directly in the eyes, blinding in its intensity, but the elf did not flinch or turn away, instead he somehow understood that he had to look deeper. And the deeper he looked the more he saw.

 He saw a land that he instinctually knew to be Brelan, and as he looked closer he could see the Castle of Hileris, and sitting on the King's throne was not Lord Vecery, but a Man of just as wise an age who cast a familiar face. It was Sorinth, many years from now, ruling Miscalanth in his final years. Around the king were advisors, captains of the guard, counselors from the senate, tax collectors from the treasury, and elves. Dressed in fine robes as only honoured visitors would wear, the unknown Eldar bowed to Sorinth, who returned the gesture and invited them to sit with him in a place of honor. As the image pulled away Legolas could see that throughout Brelan there was peace and happiness.

 The image pulled away farther and Legolas saw more; Middle-Earth, all of it. And it was beautiful. There was no war, no hatred and no hunger. Everything was as it should be, everyone was content, everywhere there was peace.

 The pictures faded but their impressions in Legolas would last a lifetime. The Stone's power was greater than any of them had thought, for it had the power to see the very future, which it had shown him. And as the visions blurred away Legolas knew that the Stone had done exactly what was necessary. Legolas had thought that Aragorn, Gimli and himself had been responsible for the peace in Brelan, the rebels' capture and the diminished hatred of elves, but he now understood that it had been the Stone, the object they had come searching for that put all the events into motion. It had had a plan all along, and now that plan was finished.

 As Malinya's Stone withdrew their connection, he knew that its work was done. The light from its core began to fade and the surface hardened and became cold until eventually Legolas held only a rock. Nothing more.

 A smile graced his features; he understood now that the Stone had had a greater plan all along, as preposterous as that sounded. In the end there was peace, natural and well earned, and it would remain for some time. Chuckling softly Legolas took a final look at the rock he now held and threw it back into the water, watching as it sunk to the bottom until a time when it was perhaps needed again. He rose from the water, taking no notice of his damp state and whistled for Jarinel. It was time to return to his friends, his family, and leave Brelan to reach its fate on its own.

 The elf rode back to camp, his smile never fading, knowing that he must never tell anyone of what he saw or did, but knew that he would take great comfort from it for some time. How could one not be comforted by peace, after all?

The end (really)

Hope you liked it.