My first fanfic.

Disclaimer: All characters, events and places in my story that can be found in Tolkien's books are his; I am merely borrowing them. Everything else has sprung from my own imagination, or has been inspired by other writers' stories. To all these writers, I express my thanks.

This disclaimer applies to every chapter in this story.


The greatest of kings can be overwhlemed by the weight of responsibility. The greatest of friendships can be threatened by an unexpected challenge emerging from the shadows of the past. Aragorn and Legolas face both trials.


Legolas found himself hovering in the air above everyone at the Council. It seemed he could see the tops of the tall trees of Imladris and the gossamer woven on the bushes surrounding the porch where the Council was being held. In the distance, the ford of Bruinen sang a mournful song.

But Legolas only had eyes for the members of the Council.

He saw Elrond, lord of Imladris, Galdor of the Havens, Erestor and Glorfindel and the other elves of Imladris, elven light in their features, looking tall and regal even when they were seated; he saw the Istari Mithrandir with a grave look in his wizened eyes, half-hidden beneath thick eyebrows, his lips unsmiling behind the white beard; there, too, were the hobbit Bilbo Baggins who had visited Mirkwood long ago, and Frodo his nephew, looking entranced and bewildered with what was going on; and there was the hobbit Sam with his curly brown mop of hair, hidden behind a bush, hoping to hear but not be seen.

Legolas' eyes fell on Gloin, his son Gimli and their fellow dwarves, seated with their stout legs apart and their thick beards hanging in between, looking impatient. Boromir, too, he saw, broad-shouldered Man of Gondor, with a grim expression.

Another Man was there: Aragorn, dark, dour Ranger of the North; heir of Isildur; future King of Gondor. Legolas' eyes rested on the serious face that hid a thousand emotions, and he felt only a sense of love and loyalty for this Man.

His eyes moved again and finally alighted on… himself, sent here by his father Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, with a message for Lord Elrond. He was sitting next to elves in green and brown who had accompanied him from the Realm.

No one saw him but he could see them all. For some reason, he was not surprised that he could see himself, as if it was the most natural thing to be able to look at himself from a distance. But he had been through this before… had he not? He knew exactly what would transpire next. They had been talking about the creature Gollum, who was desperately trying to seek and reclaim the One Ring of the Dark Lord that had been in his greedy little hands before he lost it to Bilbo, and how Aragorn and Mithrandir had captured the creature and left him in the hands of the elves of Mirkwood, who were asked to keep him captive .

"Alas! Alas!" Legolas heard his seated self cry, turning every face in the Council to where he was seated. In his face there was great distress. "The tidings that I was sent to bring must now be told. They are not good, but only here have I learnt how evil they may seem to this company." Everyone's attention was riveted on him now. It seemed like embarrassment was written all over his face as he declared to the whole group, "Smeagol, who is now called Gollum, has escaped."

There were loud gasps from almost everyone. Floating above them, Legolas watched as the elves exchanged looks and spoke quietly with furrowed brows; the dwarves sat up straighter, casting smug looks at the elves. Boromir looked curious, Mithrandir pursed his lips and Lord Elrond stared at Legolas without blinking. But Legolas focused on the look of dismay painted on the face of Aragorn, the Man for whom Legolas held only the highest regard, even hovering at a distance above him.

"Escaped?" cried the Ranger, looking incredulously at the seated Legolas. "That is ill news, indeed. We shall all rue it bitterly, I fear." Then came the line Legolas hated: "How came the folk of Thranduil to fail in their trust?"

There it was again, the accusing tone of the future King of Gondor thrown in the direction of the Mirkwood prince. Legolas, floating above, felt his seated self both wince with pain at the harsh words and bristle at the bluntness of the question, nay – it was not a question, it was a blatant pronouncement of utter disappointment in the elves of Mirkwood. He saw himself try to explain that they had not foreseen the cunning of Sauron, who had orchestrated Gollum's escape through an orc attack that left the creature's guards slain or taken.

Can you not understand? Legolas found himself empathizing with his seated self at the Council. We did not ask for the care of Gollum. You brought him to us and asked us to keep him, and we did even though we wearied of the task. You did not tell us why it was so important to lock him up, we did not even know he was called Gollum – you told us his name was Smeagol. We did not know his part in the tale of the One Ring. We merely took pity on him, having shut him up in dark dungeons. Yes, dwarf Gloin, we locked you up too, but only for a few weeks, and we would not have kept you in the dark for long either. Smeagol had been in the dungeon for almost a year! The orcs must have watched our movements as we took him out each day. They planned the attack.

And have you forgotten? My friends – elves I knew and liked and was close to – were killed or brought away, no doubt to the South, to be tortured by the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. They died because Smeagol, Gollum, was there, at your bidding. My friends, my kin, died doing their duty.

Floating above everyone, Legolas tried to lend a voice, but could not. His self at the Council continued to tell them that they tried to find the creature, going further and further into the forest south of their realm. "But ere long, it escaped our skill, and we dared not continue the hunt; for we were drawing nigh to Dol Guldur, and that is still a very evil place, we do not go that way."

Aragorn did not look placated. But Mithrandir said, "Well, well, he is gone," adding that they had no time to look for him now; since he had escaped, Gollum would do what he would. But the foresight of the Istari pressed him to remind the Council, "he may yet play a part that neither he nor Sauron have foreseen."

Yes, yes, he did, Legolas wanted to shout out as he hovered above the group. I've been through the Quest, to the end. If Gollum had not been alive at the Cracks of Doom, he would not have taken the Ring from Frodo. Frodo was already overcome, he refused to throw the Ring into the consuming fire; Gollum, in his greed, took it and gloated and in his careless joy, blindly stepped over the edge and fell into the river of fire. Ask Sam, he saw it! Aragorn, Mithrandir, Frodo – you know this! There was a reason why Gollum lived – destiny knew.

No one heard him as he hovered above them. No one paid attention to him. Except for Aragorn, heir of Isildur. Slowly, almost eerily, the Man slowly turned his face up to fix steely grey eyes on him, and his face was at once dark with rage and bitter with disappointment. The future King of Gondor sent a message to him, with his mind rather than his voice: "But you failed. No matter the outcome, you failed to keep Gollum though I entrusted him to you. I entrusted him to you."

Then – without understanding why, it seemed like this had happened a hundred times before – Legolas felt his frustration turn to shame. Deep shame and disgrace. Aye, I concede. Aye, I have let you down. My respect and loyalty for you knows no bounds, but I have let you down. I wish I could turn back Time and make things different. We would not have brought Gollum out into the sunshine, we would not have let him climb the trees, we would not have let him be snatched from our hands.

But there was no turning back.

The Man now used his voice, enunciating the words over and over again, and the words turned into a spear of fire which he hurled at Legolas:

How came the folk of Thranduil to fail in their trust? The folk of Thranduil… fail in their trust, fail in their trust, fail, fail, fail…

The burning spear, moving slowly and in a blur, came closer and closer toward him, and Legolas, with a cry of anguish, fled, pulling away higher and higher. All of a sudden, he stopped in mid-air and started to fall. Faster and faster he fell, and he tried to grasp at something, but there was nothing… nothing. Faster and faster and faster…