Many Meetings

Disclaimer: I don't even pretend to own Legolas or any of the rest of these characters, only the situations they find themselves in.

I was in the middle of archery practice when Finrod caught up with me. To elven sight the tops of the oak trees prove wonderful targets and following arrows gave me a reason to explore the forest.

"Legolas," Finrod called up into the beautiful maple where I perched, extricating an arrow. I jumped lightly down and greeted him with the customary gesture. Beginning with my hand over my heart, promising to keep any secrets told to me, I swept an open palm toward Finrod, offering friendship and help when needed. Finrod reciprocated the gesture while continuing his message. "Your father wishes to speak with you. He says there is work which you in your far-wandering may know to accomplish, for all other attempts have been in vain."

I nodded and we rode off to answer the call of the king.

As prince of the Woodland Realm, I had immediate access to the throne room. Thranduil, my father, is a hand taller than most of the wood-elves and sitting on his carved oak throne in robes of red and gold with a wreath of autumn leaves in his hair, he looked one of the princes of the light elves, those who sang in the immortal lands and battled Morgoth, the Dark Strife of the Elder Days. Looking at him I could well believe that he had fought before Barad-dur and seen the defeat of Sauron. I lowered my head in respect and gestured greeting. He nodded acknowledgement, but did not return the gesture for the king keeps no secrets and the friendship of the wood-elves comes at a price.

"You wander too far, Legolas, my son," he said renewing the debate we had argued for centuries.

"There is no harm in new paths where the stars shine," I answered.

"You forget that this is no longer Greenwood the Great, but has become the Forest of Shadow."

"All the more reason to search it out," I countered. "The Shadow cannot abide the coming of light."

"There are no light-elves left in Middle-earth save the White Lady, as you well know," he reminded me. "No where is the power of the Eldar strong enough to counter the Shadow unless it is in the realms Lorien and Imladris." He rose and placed his hands on my shoulders. His eyes keen as any arrow loosed their worrisome burdens into my soul. "You no longer live under Galadriel, and never have you felt the sway of Elrond Halfelven. The Shadow is perilous to you, even fostered as you were by one of the Wisest."

"Father we have not the Doom of Men!" I cried in despair at his concern for one who could not die. "For good or ill we belong to Ea and cannot leave the circles of this world. Though we may be parted for a time, the Sundering Seas cannot forever separate those for whom all paths still run straight. No matter how far any of us wanders we must again meet for the Vala offer safe passage and harbor to all the Eldar. If we do not sail to the undying lands where the Shadow cannot go, we can at least help rid this Middle-earth of it, and that we cannot do by saying to the World that Is, 'Be otherwise!'"

Suddenly my father laughed. "I cannot doubt that my son has courage, and I have long known that he is far-sighted. Though I do not like your great travels, you may have knowledge enough to get straight answers from a group of travelers caught attacking groups of our people out in the woods."

"What Men would lie to the Eldar?" I asked.

"They are not Men, but Dwarves, and they do not lie so much as they do not tell their full purpose. I wish to know where they are going and why, for Dwarves have not traveled through the forest since they fled the Dragon. Find out for me what business takes thirteen Dwarves back to the Lonely Mountain."

I nodded my understanding of the request and again gesture the promise of secrecy and help. With an open palm of blessing and guard for me, my father dismissed me. Once out of sight I began to rail myself for being caught like this. My father used my own travels as a way to keep me here, for I could not in honor go far of expose myself to unnecessary danger while I had a task to complete. My footfalls were as heavy as the tramp of Men and my eyes were fixed unseeingly forward as I entered a narrow corridor. I brushed against something and moved on without a thought.

"Oh, forgive me." The soft, sweet voice came from beside me. A little confused, I turned full circle and found myself quite alone. Still fuming from my audience with my father, I dismissed the noise as a thought he had sent my way. A short way down one of the side passages I accosted the warden of the dungeons.

"Bring the first dwarf captured to me. I want to question the one Dwarf who does not know the others are here."

The warden nodded gestured and set off upon his errand in the same lumbering pace with which he did everything. I continued to my rooms. My father's palace is really a series of caves nestled in the Gray Mountains. As a child, my nurse told me stories about how the Dwarves and Elves labored together in their building, and I believe her. They are certainly too great for either kindred to delve now. It is my good fortune to have rooms with actual windows, but I gave the stunning view of the canopy no thought as I rummaged through my bedchamber for suitably regal attire to question this guest. Though I did not change out of my soft blue-green hunting cloths, I did throw a voluminous lavender robe over my head and pulled out a late-summer garland of ripe berries. Ready for anything, I strode into the antechamber and took my seat on the carved maple dais at the head of the room. "Send in the Dwarf," I instructed.

A chest-high, shabbily clad Dwarf stormed into the room. Sweeping off a sky-blue, silver-tasseled hood he bowed and waved it before his knees. I, in return, stiffly gestured offers of friendship and help. Niceties over, the Dwarf replaced his hood, crossed his arms before his chest and glared challenges at me. I began formally, "I am Legolas Greenleaf, son of the King Thranduil. Who are you?"

The Dwarf drew himself up to his full height. "I am Thorin Oakensheild, son of Thrain, son of Thror, and though it be discourteous I will not offer you my service nor that of my family for I am here against my will."

"Yet you and you people willfully and repeatedly attacked my folk in the woods." I accused.

"And well we might for your people were feasting and had no thought for starving travelers."

"Why were you traveling through the woods?" I pressed on.

"I told you we were starving and wished some morsel from Elves who had plenty."

"Surely the road would have carried you through the forest to the full tables of Esgaroth sooner," I suggested.

"There was a road," he admitted, "but our rations could not carry us through the woods so we left it seeking food."

"But why were you even on the road? There is nothing beyond Mirkwood for your folk."

Thorin shut his mouth resolutely. The coals in his eyes flared to life, daring me to wrest the answer from him. My line of questioning gave way before those eyes. "Have you any family, Thorin Oakensheild?"

"I have named to you what family I had. It is enough that I know the names of my longfathers before me." That answer forced me to concede defeat. He would not tell me the purpose of their journey. I called the warden.

"I have finished my dialogue with this good Dwarf. Escort him back to his room . . ." I paused, "unless he is willing to reveal where his path was to lead him in the end." Stony silence informed me that there would be no such knowledge forthcoming. I gestured farewell and Thorin was led away.

I found all of the Dwarves equally reticent. Some would give me nothing but cold silence and hard stares. However, there was one who was more amiable.

"I am Legolas Greenleaf, son of the king. Who are you?"

"Gloin," he answered simply.

"Have you any family Golin?

"A wife and son. She would fain have let me go. He would fain have been left behind. But here I am and they are safe in the Blue Mountains, far from the harassment of Elves." I smiled at the accusation.

"How old is your son and what is he like that he would rather brave the harassment of Elves than be separated from his father?"

"Gimli is sixty-two and too young for this venture. Still, he is of the kind which would have gone young or old, weak or strong, gay or sad, a lone follower if not taken with the group." Pride glowed in Gloin's voice. "Do not deceive yourself, Master Elf, it is not for love of me that Gimli would have gone, but for love of adventure and love of the Lonely Mountain of which he has only heard."

"So you were going to the Lonely Mountain, did you not fear the Dragon?" Gloin's jaw dropped and his eyes bulged as he realized he had said too much. With almost a regretful sigh, he refused to answer the question, but continued to speak of his son.

"Wherever we would fare, Gimli wishes to see those places which are dear to our folk. He would look upon the Lonely Mountain though that place be a thousand leagues from our path and the Dragon ten times more fell. Gimli loves adventure and though I plead with him to remain in safety, he ever and again sallies forth in exploration. One day he will find something so grand that all Dwarves shall make a pilgrimage to see it, because he goes where others dare not." I laughed to hear myself described as a Dwarf.

"You should talk with my father, Gloin, for I am much like your Gimli. I am glad that we talked, even if neither of us won our goal in the end."

Gloin bowed Dwarf-fashion and left, the last of the Dwarves. Unhurriedly I rose and doffed the long, trailing robe and finery of a prince. Then I called on my father.

"They will tell me nothing more than their names," I reported, "but I do not doubt that their destination is the Lonely Mountain."

"That I knew. What I wish to know is how they mean to defeat the Dragon."

"Perhaps the fourteenth will tell us," I suggested.

A question rose in my father's eyes. "Only thirteen were taken."

"Only thirteen were taken," I agreed, "but there is a fourteenth. Thirteen is an unlucky number for Dwarves, while fourteen is twice seven, their best and luckiest. On such a great expedition, there will be fourteen."

Thranduil nodded. "Very well, find me this fourteenth."

I flew to the stables. It felt like years rather than days since I'd last ridden. The groom brought out Melendur, my horse. He was dancing and straining against his soft, leather lead-rope. I calmed him with a touch and remove his harness, feeling the powerful muscles quivering in anticipation under my hand. I caressed his mane and nose and spoke to him softly.

"Melendur, faithful friend, we're going to look for someone. Thirteen Dwarves we have, but there is a fourteenth in the forest. We go in search of the lucky number."

"Ah-Ah-ACHOO!" I spun, dragging the blunt edge of my bright, silver hunting knife waist-high to a Man and neck-high to a Dwarf, ready to instantly reverse the blade should my silent visitor prove perilous. My blade found nothing. Neither did my eyes. I jumped back as a bright red handkerchief materielised near my knee and began a leisurely descent to the ground. "Oh, do excuse me," the voice came from the same place as the handkerchief, "I really am so clumsy." As the voice was speaking the handkerchief at my feet vanished. It was a strain on even my eyes, but at last I made out the faint outline of a waist-high creature. His hair formed a curly, disordered mop on his head and covered his unshod feet far better than any boots of mine. The barest glint on his finger showed he wore a ring. I almost laughed at myself for believing there was any danger.

"Who are you, stranger?" I asked using a variant of stranger that roughly translated to "Unknown friend."

"Forgive me, good sir, I am impolite as well as clumsy." He sketched out a half-bow. "Bilbo Baggins of the Shire at your service."

I gestured greetings. "Legolas Thrandulion."

"Ah," Bilbo replied. "I greet you, son of Thranduil. A star shines on the hour of our meeting." The last phrase was in imperfect, but understandable Elvish.

Now I laughed in earnest. "I cannot see your eyes, Bilbo of the Shire, but I know the light of an elf-friend shines in them." I mounted Melendur and held my hand down to Bilbo. "If you wish to talk more, you will have to come with me." The unseen hand grasped mine and I pulled Bilbo up in front of me.

The gates of the palace are magic, they opened of their own accord to let me out and closed behind me. "You must be tired of caves," I commented to my invisible companion.

"I've had my fill of them, yes. Although, I must say your caves are infinitely more comfortable than the last bunch of caverns, though not nearly as useful."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, for one thing, I'm stuck here. The gates won't open for an invisible hobbit. Is there another entrance?"

I thought for a while. "We trade with the Men of Dale; the river-gate is usually open."

"A river?" the sweet voice squeaked, "What –"

The question was stolen from his lips as I pulled Melendur up sharply to watch a Man striding purposefully through the woods. He was travel-worn and drooping as he walked, but his pace did not suffer any sign of weariness. I urged Melendur to pursuit.

"Dunadan! Dunadan!" I cried recognizing the traveler for a northern Ranger. "What news from the west, Dunadan? What have you seen?"

The Ranger turned a kingly, preoccupied face to me. "I have seen the sunrise over Dor Guldor and the stars shine through the mists of Mirkwood."

His cryptic answer did not phase me. "Have you seen any Dwarves? We found thirteen of a party on such an important errand that I know there is another."

That brought the Ranger into the present. He shook his head. "I have seen only the creatures of the forest," he said.

I searched the rest of the day and could learn nothing of any Dwarf in the woods. In the end, I returned home empty handed.

"If you want, you can get down here in the forest rather than going back to the caves," I offered to Bilbo before entering the gates.

"No," he declined. "I have things to do in the caves although I have found this trip useful." I didn't figure out what he meant until a week later, when the Dwarves escaped.

That bit of news did not please my father.

"Do you not understand?" he roared at me. "They would have needed to share the treasure of the Lonely Mountain with us to buy their freedom!"

"Why do we need their treasure?" I asked quietly. "Why do we need soft, yellow metal and bright, dead stones when silver is common?"

Thranduil's glare redoubled. "Too long and far have you wandered and forgotten your home. The men of Dale require gold and of that we have little." I could say nothing to prevent a muster of Elves from leaving three days later in pursuit of the thirteen Dwarves.

"In your care I leave the whole of Mirkwood," the king told me as he rode out, "may she teach you your duty as I cannot." Without waiting for a reply, he rode off.

"May Elbereth protect you," I whispered at my father's swiftly retreating back, "and teach you again to love the world beyond the mists."

I followed the army on foot for a while, wanting to lose myself in the forest Like I used to be able to do. I followed for half the day until my lengthening shadow warned me to be turning for home; the forest at night is not to be dared alone. Earendil was just venturing into the sky when I reached my own safe harbor. Finrod found me at the gates.

"A wizard has come," he informed me.

"An Istari here?" I asked searching for the distinguished guest, unaware of the fact that I was speaking High Elvish. "Where?" Finrod jerked his head in the direction of the stables and I tore across the yard to the horse cave.

Melendur nickered a greeting at me, but I only patted his nose, all my attention focused on the poor beast that trembled in the next stall.

Even his black coat could not disguise the film of sweat that covered him. His coat was ragged and his hooves were cracked and bleeding where cruel spikes pinned heavy shoes to his feet. I stroked his nose, noticing the way he spooked when I touched him. The sugar I fed him was accepted with relish and slightly less fear. I closed my eyes and touched foreheads with him.

"Give me your words, my friend," I asked. "What do you want?"

Waves of longing crashed over me. Rest, the creature pleaded. Rest and food and light. I responded with assurances of safety and peace. Murmuring soothingly, I removed the bridle and draped a blanket over the overworked steed.

"Thank you son, this brute has done enough."

A stooped and weathered man peered up at me, gratitude written on a wan face. He looked older than I expected of one of the ageless Istari, and his face bore signs of recent troubles. He leaned heavily on his staff.

"You have done enough yourself, father," I told him. "Lean on my arm; you look weary." The wizard's face brightened as he took my arm, but the gray fatigue in his eyes refused to lift. His skin was frail as autumn leaves and the bones over which it stretched were barely contained within him. For all his frailty, he was heavy as I all-but-carried him into the palace. The smell of bread yeast wafted through the halls, enveloping us. My stomach rumbled a greeting to the welcome scent.

"Your beast was hungry, father," I commented to the sorcerer. "You must be famished." We steered into the kitchens where Fidriel set bowls of thick stew on the table flanking a fresh loaf. We both fell to immediately. The wizard ate quickly, but carefully, so that neither his tattered gray robe nor his equally scraggly beard was besmirched.

"What is your name, father?" I asked, guessing but wishing confirmation.

He gave me a half-smile and dodged the question. "You know it already, Legolas, son of Thranduil, prince of the woodland realm."

"Mithrandir," I whispered. Blue-gray eyes sparkled in confirmation. "Then you can read a riddle for me. I met a Ranger in the woods who claimed to have seen the sunrise over Dor Guldor and the stars through the mists of Mirkwood. Who was he and what did he see?"

The wizard paused as if deciding what to tell. "He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Chief of the Dunedain and the King in exile, and what he saw was the end of the Shadow in the North." The double revelation was a blow that I needed time to understand.

"Dor Guldor is fallen?" I begged, needing to hear the news again.

A slow nod. "It is fallen."

"It is destroyed?"

This time a sad shaking of the head. "No. I fought the Necromancer and conquered, barely, but destroy I could not. Dor Guldor is fallen but the foundation stands. The Ring of the Enemy built it and that survives, though where I know not. The Enemy is conquered but still he lives, though where I know not."

I nodded accepting the limits of even the greatest Istari. "These are strange times, Mithrandir. Thirteen Dwarves are found but the fourteenth is no where. A Halfling of the Shire walks out of legend into the waking world. The Enemy is the Necromancer and Dor Guldor is fallen. Such days I have never seen, though my father has."

"You found the Dwarves?" It was Mithrandir's turn to be excited.

I nodded. "Thirteen we found, but the fourteenth has vanished."

Mithrandir's eyes glinted in laughter. "The fourteenth, young prince, is the Halfling of legend. I trust Bilbo has proved himself useful?"

"Aye," I moaned, everything coming clear in a rush, "The Dwarves escaped three days ago because of him. My father left today in pursuit."

Mithrandir rose clasping his staff. "Then I must leave tomorrow. An army of Elves should not be taken lightly."

"Ride Melendur," I offered. "He will take you to the Lonely Mountain before my father."

Mithrandir clasped my hand in thanks and farewell. "An Elvish price offers aid to Dwarves? Strange days indeed Legolas, and stranger to come. There will be much to do once the Dragon is defeated and there is once again a King under the Mountain. The World is changing, Legolas, and the Races of the World must change with it."

"If strange days are coming, and change, then I will meet them," I vowed. "I will not sit back and listen to the Old Songs when the New Songs are being made. Remember me, Mithrandir. I will fight the Shadow with you yet."

A searching look crossed the wizard's eyes before he answered. "Yes, yes I have no doubt of that now."