No, I did not disappear, nor did the earth open up and swallow me. I spent one month abroad and was after that drowning in work. Now, finally, things are getting back to normal and I can finally write and post again!
My apologies for letting you wait. There is something like a story traffic-jam in my head and this little story has won the fight for first place - "Sleigh Ride" will be next (sorry, Markie, I hope you´ll enjoy this story, too).
Thanks to San for editing ((hugs)).
Here is my take on how Legolas and Aragorn (or rather: Estel at the time) met. This story is AU and has some references to my stories "Ravens" and "Hidden Truths" but can certainly be read on its own.
All reviews are welcome, as always.
Disclaimer: Still not mine, I wished they were...
Arrivals in the dark
"When will they be here?"
The question was by far not as innocent as it sounded, for the young human who uttered it was well aware that its tenth repetition during the evening meal would try even elven patience. The collective sigh that answered him alerted him to the fact that his family's willingness to play along was running thin, but had not expired yet.
It was Elladan, the elder of his twin brothers, who answered him this time. "We cannot tell, Estel. The snow has come early this fall, but we are sure that the travelling party has passed the mountains in time. Even so, the snow will slow them down on their way here. How much so, we do not know."
The dark-haired boy frowned at the answer, his brow furrowing in frustration. "That is just what Elrohir said a few moments ago," he complained, shooting the younger twin a look that was just as accusing as the one he had fixed Elladan with.
"Aye, my son", Elrond intervened sternly, "for no news has come in the short time you allowed to pass between your inquiries. Rest assured that you will be amongst the first to know once any fresh information reaches us..."
A low chuckle interrupted the elven Lord´s explanation, which surely would have gone on with an advice for the boy not to ask the question again, and very possibly some threats regarding the possibility of the child ignoring the order - again. All eyes turned towards the blond elf who sat at the lower head of the table, facing Elrond along its length.
"You might as well reveal your secret, mellon-nin", Glorfindel urged with a smile, "For the early snow surely was no coincidence. I have harboured the assumption that you had a hand in the unlikely weather ever since I heard who was in the travelling party." Turning towards the human child, the elven warrior lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Your ada is a bit frightened for the peace within these halls, Estel. I suspect the snow is his doing..."
"Fárea, meldo-nya!" /Enough, my friend!/ Elrond interfered, having to raise his voice to be heard amongst the laughter that rang through the hall, but the damage had already been done. The boy had jumped up from his chair, completely forgetting his normally quite acceptable table manners, and ran the few steps towards his foster father with a beaming face, tugging the elf´s tunic excitedly.
"You do not need get angry with Lord Glorfindel", Estel advised his father, well aware that Elrond usually used the language of Quenya only when he did not want the child to understand. The boy had been quite attuned to the tone the words had been said in, too. "Can you really make it snow, Ada? Can you make it snow in here? Please?"
Elrond shot his laughing friend a glare that had little edge, accompanied as it was by the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. Turning to the child who impatiently jumped up and down at his side, he explained: "No, my son, I cannot make it snow. And neither can I make the sun show its face and warm us. That is left to higher forces than me." The young face that looked up at him screwed up in thought, and doubt clearly showed in his eyes at the thought of higher forces than his elven ada.
Even so, Estel accepted the answer to enquire into the second interesting statement Glorfindel had made. "Who is it then that you are afraid of?" he asked, the doubt in his voice deepening at the assumption of Elrond being frightened of anything. "Is an orc coming, too?" Now fear crept into the child's voice and Elrond swept him into his arms in a comforting hug.
"Nonsense, child", the elf chided gently, "and you well know that any orc who gets too close to you will regret it dearly. Glorfindel was certainly referring to Legolas - a young elf I´m distinctly unafraid of."
"Are you, Ada?" Elladan smiled widely as if recalling something. "Last time he left I remember you muttering something that sounded like, "Blessed be the Valar"."
Still holding his human son to his chest, Elrond laughed at these words. "I was merely asking for a safe journey for our young friend, my son. Legolas is quite harmless by himself, it is his company to you two -", he fixed his twins with a piercing glare, "- that turns him into the source of mischief that causes so much racket."
Estel lifted his head from his father's shoulder with an eager smile. "I cannot wait to meet Legolas! When will he be here?"
The elves around the table fell silent as one, eyebrows shooting upwards.
"Well", Glorfindel broke the silence, "at least I managed to double the span of time."
Later that night, Elrond sat beside Estel´s bed and watched with a smile as the boy fought the drooping eyelids that betrayed how tired he really was. The child was securely tugged beneath several blankets, and flames danced within the fireplace, turning the room into a cosy haven for the young human.
"I´m tired", Estel murmured, surprising Elrond until he went on with a yawn, "of waiting for Legolas. Is it true that he can shoot a strawberry from my head at two hundred feet a distance?" The elf shook his head, silently pledging to have a long talk to his twin sons before answering: "It is true that Legolas is excellent with a bow, my son, yet I advice against any experiments involving your head." After a moment's pause he added: "Or any other part of your body." Raising three eleven children had taught him to be cautious, and having raised Estel for four years now had only underlined his caution.
"Hmm", Estel mumbled, his eyes closing, "could ask Elladan for his head..." The child fell asleep to his foster father's silent laughter.
Loud shouts ripped Estel from his peaceful slumber so abruptly that, for a heartbeat, he did not know where he was. Even though he had little memories of living in other places but Imladris, having come into Elrond´s house shortly after his second birthday, he sometimes felt oddly out of place when his sleep was interrupted. He hated that feeling, for it reminded him of something he could not clearly remember. Yet it still frightened him.
This time, however, his fear was quickly forgotten when he understood the shouts that rang up from the yard. "Rochben, rochben anglenno!" /A rider, a rider approaches!/ Quickly, the boy slipped into his boots that waited next to his bed and grabbed his coat before running for the stairs.
A group of elves had already collected by the main gates as they were pulled open. Fresh torched were lit, bathing the yard into flickering light. Snowflakes danced through the light like moths, and, despite his excitement, Estel felt an uncertain fear grip him. Peering past the legs that surrounded him, he made out one of his brothers and squeezed through the elves to seek shelter behind Elrohir´s back.
The younger twin turned when he felt a pair of short arms pull him close. He smiled down at Estel and bent to pick him up. Even though he usually disliked such displays of his childishness in public, the boy did not object but snuggled closer, taking a peek at the gates through the curtain of his brother's dark hair that whipped around the elf's head in the cold wind.
"Are they coming now?" Estel asked, but the question had lost its happy undertone.
"Aye, someone is", Elrohir answered, "And he is in a hurry."
Silence fell, and after a short while the human, too, could hear the frantic beat of hooves onto the road. He shivered against the elf that held him, and Elrohir instinctively tightened his grip, even though most of his concentration was directed at the gates.
The younger twin was glad that, quite obviously, Estel was not fully aware of the implications of a lone rider coming towards Imladris at night. He shortly debated with himself to have the child return to his room, but then dismissed the notion. Whatever had happened, the boy would find out soon, and it was better for him to be with his family as he did.
The snowfall intensified as if it intended blocking the waiting elves´ view, but then the bulk of a dark horse appeared behind the shower of flakes, quickly gaining shape as it approached. The beast's strides were laboured and its rider lay close to its neck, either seeking shelter from the wind or simply holding on in exhaustion. As he neared the gates, though, the rider straightened and blond hair whipped behind him.
The horse slithered to a stop on the snowy cobbles of the yard, breathing heavily, and a shocked whisper travelled through the Rivendell elves.
The elf atop the shaking stallion was covered in fresh snow flakes that slowly turned red in many places, attesting that injuries lay hidden beneath their cold coat. The white face was tinged blue, and the eyes shone with unnatural brightness.
"Legolas!" Elrond exclaimed, rushing towards the elf. His swift movements caused the horse to shy away, snorting, and the Lord slowed his pace, albeit with obvious difficulty. "What has befallen you, pen neth? Where is your party?" The stallion continued his nervous dance, preventing Elrond from getting close enough to touch the injured elf, and for a moment there was no answer.
"Raiders." The word was laced with icy hatred and Legolas raised his head to look at Elrond with a stare that froze the eleven lord. "I ask you for your assistance, my Lord, for four of my group are already lost and many more are wounded. I rode for your help because my horse was the only still standing."
The whispers of the elves rose in volume and Elladan already made for the stables, quietly giving orders as he hurried to retrieve his weapons.
"Raiders?" Elrond asked in obvious distress, "this close to Imladris?"
"They had wisely not crossed into your realm, my Lord, knowing that they would not stand a chance here, but they seem to have wrecked havoc amongst some villages. We came upon them, attempting to help the humans there, but we were purely repaid, for the villagers fled and left us surrounded by the foe..."
The young elf suddenly swayed upon his horse's back and Elrohir, who was standing close, quickly stepped forward and grabbed his friend's arm, steadying him. For once the stallion did not back away, feeling his master's plight. "Easy, mellon-nin", the younger twin soothed quietly, "we will help you. Our riders will come to your people's aid."
Legolas opened the eyes he had closed as dizziness hit him and smiled at Elrohir, yet as his gaze focused, it darkened again and the wounded elf straightened, pulling free. Elrohir looked at him in confusion and then realized that the elf was not staring at him, but at Estel. The child tightened his hold around his brother's neck but did not turn away, his grey eyes meeting the blue ones that scrutinised him.
"It seems that the humans have reached safety before I did." The ice was back in Legolas´ voice and the anger seemed to strengthen him, for he backed his horse away, turning it towards the gate.
"No, Legolas, you do not understand..." Elrond began, but his words were drowned in the neighing of horses and clatter of hooves as Elladan led his warriors into the yard, armed and ready.
Legolas turned towards the older twin, his voice strong as he called out: "Follow me, and make haste!" With these words he dug his heels into his steed's sides, and even though both beast and rider had seemed ready to fall over only moments ago, the stallion neighed in approval and sprang away, taking the lead.
Estel shivered from the look that the foreign elf had given him, and he sniffed unhappily when Elrohir gently pried the boy's arms from his neck and handed him into Elrond´s embrace. The younger twin's horse pranced and neighed, eager to be off behind those that had already left, and the elf had barely touched the animal's mane that it shot off, leaving its rider to straighten as it flew away, hooves barely touching the ground.
Seeing his brothers leave, Estel began to cry in confusion, and Elrond held the boy close, gently stroking his back yet unable to give any orders but those that needed to be given. "Prepare the houses of healing. Light fires and bring sheets. There will soon be wounded to be taken care of."
After these words, not even the gentlest soothing would stop the small child's sobs.