Title:

I Will Always Return

(formerly known as "The Edge of the World")

Authors :

Celebdil-Galad and Tinlaure

Rated:

PG-13 or T

Summary:

First Legolas was captured, but Aragorn couldn't remain behind. Both are eventually seized and tormented, blindsided by an unthinkable treachery, and doing their best to stave off death and not crack under the abuse. But things get even more complicated when newers plans are made to sell Legolas to a special customer while at the same time keeping Aragorn as an assurance for the Elf's compliance. With no intention of keeping Aragorn alive after the deal is complete, time is priceless if they are to both come out of this alive and return to the homes they had formerly abandoned. If they survive, there is a chance that Rivendell and Mirkwood can be regenerated, if not, they will be no more than a memory, along with their inhabitance. Sequel to "Masquerade".

Disclaimer:

Ay! We have to go through this again! Here goes…Well, we do not own anything from the "Lord of the Rings" or any other work done by J.R.R. Tolkien. However, we have created numerous O.C.'s that we would like to keep as strictly ours. If you want to use then in a fic and ask (as well as receive) permission that's fine but other than that, don't kidnap them, they don't appreciate it and neither do we! LOL We also would like to point out that we are not getting paid to write this piece of work and wouldn't accept any money anyway. It is strictly for the enjoyment of the readers and of course, ourselves. As you read through "I Will Always Return" please try not to be overly critical. If you have something constructive to criticize be our guests but flames are really not worth your time or ours. They don't solve anything.

This is naturally still taking place at the time when Aragorn became fond of using the alias Thorongil in Rohan and Gondor. We have based this story on a few combined parts in the book Two Towers that state Sauron once offered money to the people of Rohan for their black horses and was turned down, thus being forced to commit atrocious raids to capture the animals for his dark uses. This would have happened around this time and off and on until the War of the Ring, as far as we can reckon it.

We have also heard many contradictory things about Thengel and about when his rule began and ended. Some say it ended the year Thorongil retired his alias and returned home, and to Lorien for his visit with Arwen (i.e. –Thengel died). However, other hints have been dropped that during Aragorn's ride in Rohan Théoden was but a small child, and therefore, incapable of claiming the thrown. We tend to follow this line for the story's convenience as well as probability. When Aragorn's ventures were in Rohan, we can find no record. If this is not the case, feel free to kindly tell us, but try to enjoy the story for what it is and excuse the error.

One last theme we would like to address, is that we drop hints of Saruman's twisting nature throughout this whole story. We would only like to explain this once, so please listen. Sharky and Saruman are one in the same! Okay? Okay. Supposedly, during this time, is when he established his home as being at Isengard. Again, if there is an error, we are sorry, please try to tell us and then overlook it for the sake of the story line. ;)

Also, in the creation of this story we purposefully left out the parts about Rivendell, Mirkwood, Thranduil, Elrond, and Lothlorien. However, it has a purpose! Don't burn us yet! (barricades up in closet as a precaution) We thought it would be interesting to almost literally put you in Legolas and Aragorn's ( as well as the twins) shoes so that your emotions should be close to theirs as far as surprise and trauma goes when they actually do return home. We were simply trying to make the story more real, which is why reviews will be very helpful. We would like to know what you think and if you think this little experiment is working.

(sigh) That was a novel in and of itself, yes?


Additional Authors' Notes

You can find the picture for this particular tale on our site, which the URL is on our bio page. This is one in our ever-growing 'Faith, Hope and Love' series.

It includes:

Reflections,

All That's Left of Yesterday,

The Folly of Men

Masquerade

&

Ripples

Please review! Thank you!


I Will Always Return

:0Ї0:

CHAPTER ONE

I'm Your Shadow

:0Ї0:

Green, rich rolling hills barely touched with the golden red light of a setting sun sprang before the friends as they strode into the green country of Rohan, a place of refuge and safety. Legolas inhaled deeply, his lungs absorbing all they could of the rich ambrosia that drifted and filled the air. Sighing, the prince looked at Aragorn with shimmering eyes that hadn't been that jovial in some time. It brought a smile to Aragorn's face.

"I never thought I would see anything this glorious again!" declared the prince, springing forward and feeling the ground beneath his feet absorb the impact with the thick, matted grass.

After being in the desert and cities for months this was a welcome change. Still grinning from ear to ear the Elf began to hum a tune Aragorn did not know and he began to run through the rich grass, brushing its long tops with the tips of his fingers as his spirits rose to heights that made him want to soar with the birds.

Grinning to himself, Aragorn laughed and called out cheerfully, "enjoy yourself Elf, I'll take care of making camp." In all honesty he hadn't felt this splendid in a long time and he breathed deeply of the clean and peaceful air.

Legolas appeared not to hear him, though Aragorn doubted it, and the Elf pranced a few minutes longer without giving any acknowledgement to the ranger's statement. He could still hear the prince singing happily and he actually burst out in laughter as the Elf dropped and rolled and in the deep vegetation.

Sprawled out in the moist grass, Legolas' eyes were almost glazed with pleasure and he closed them, imagining that he was in nothing but peace as he thought the West might be. Healing had been fine in Gondor but people had been curious about an Elf and he hadn't really had time to rest. Even kept secret by the Healers, some how, everyone had found out about the special guest. He had done his best to help Aragorn get his discharge papers as quickly as possible and then, after saying their farewells to the men, the two had left as quickly as possible.

Reopening his bleary orbs, the prince sighed contentedly and stared up at the stars that were peeping out from their hiding places during the day. The purplish-orange color of the sky was just marvelous and he gazed it at for a good ten minutes, allowing his body to relax against the spongy grass that left no footprints even from Aragorn's boots.

"Legolas!" Aragorn called out, laughing as he bounded through the grass to try and find his friend. "I don't want to step on you!" He teased, leaping over the Elf without realizing it. The prince blended in perfectly with the green foliage and a wicked smile began to pull at his lips.

Suddenly Aragorn fell to the ground, Legolas' hand gripping his boot and a guilty grin growing on the Elf's glowing face. Surprise fluttered briefly across Aragorn's features as he understood what Legolas had done and came down, sprawled across the Elf. Legolas tensed for moment, obviously not anticipating the human falling across him but then he just grinned.

"At least I found you," grumbled the ranger, annoyed once more with the Elven reflexes his friend possessed simply because they were used to his disadvantage. Leaning back against the Elf's chest that rose and fell as the prince breathed, Aragorn sighed. "I could have stomped right on your face!"

Legolas just chuckled. "I think not, Strider. Judging from the way things are, my reflexes were superior to yours."

Aragorn snorted incredulously and sat up, glaring down at his friend, who was smiling contagiously. "Admit it! You never meant for me to fall on you!"

Legolas was too happy to argue and he closed his eyes, breathing deeply once more. "Very well, perhaps I didn't." He crossed his ankles leisurely and put his hands behind his head as Aragorn pushed himself off and brushed his clothes clean with his hands.

"Well, when ever you are finished rolling the grass like an Elfling, camp is set and we should get around a fire when it is dark. Rohan borders Mordor and we had best not forget that," he reminded the prince, who seemed to be only halfway listening.

"You were rolling in the grass yourself," Legolas pointed out with a sloppy grin as a cocked a brow and glanced the human's way. He deliberately chose to ignore the comment considering their proximity to Mordor.

"Because you tripped me," Aragorn argued lightly, unable to resist a small smile.

"And it was funny," snorted the Elf as he tried to contain his laughter and finally lost the battle as a drawn out chuckle nearly sent his body into convulsions.

Aragorn just shook his head; too tired to argue when he knew he was going to lose it anyway. Raising his hands, palms towards the Elf as a sign of surrender he muttered under his breath, "Sindar Elves."

"Clumsy humans," murmured the prince softly as he allowed himself to sink further into the spongy blades, becoming quite comfortable and less willing to move.

It would have been very easy for Aragorn to start up the argument once more and spark a screaming debate but he knew that Elves were not only as merry as children at times but just about as stubborn and he was not in the frame of mind to argue against someone that bull headed right about now. Rolling his eyes, he began to head back towards their camp, looking over his shoulder once to ensure Legolas wasn't sneaking along behind to try some potentially alarming stunt.

Smiling as he realized the Elf was still lying in the grass and singing about times when things were less dark and the stars more bright, Aragorn turned his face back towards the east and to where there camp face. Unfortunately, he could still see Mordor's smoldering darkness and flickering lights of evil flame that couldn't really be called 'light'.

Shuddering as he remembered crossing even closer to that forbidding land to get here and how Legolas had hardly spoken a word and barely dared to breathe so close to the evil influence, Aragorn felt slightly frustrated that he could still see it from here. And he had noticed in his travels that it seemed to be stretching closer and closer to his friends and family, though he was certain it would be another few years at least before Sauron decided to put any plan into action. And even if it wasn't growing, it seemed to follow you some how, like a painting with "shifting" eyes.

Sighing dejectedly as these dark premonitions and thoughts all but ruined this peaceful moment, Aragorn slumped down by the pile of kindling and a few thicker branches he had put together for a merry little fire. Drawing his dagger and a peace of small flint from his boot, the ranger drew the flint quickly in a sweeping motion over the dagger's blade, sharpening it and creating a spark to light the fire with all at once.

He was pleased when the spark landed and caught rather quickly with a crackle and a pop before it began to spread. Little red tongues of flame began to lick at the wood and soon the red flowers of flame ensnared it as well. An eerie glow consumed the darkness in a fairly large circle around it and Aragorn looked up at the stars, lying on his back with his hands behind his head.

He smiled as he saw how bright they were, not wholly touched by the shadow stretching out from Mordor's dark confines. Legolas must be thoroughly enjoying himself. Drawing out his pipe, Aragorn sat up long enough to fill it and light it and then layback again into the naturally supportive and yet giving grass.

He had not been able to do this in a long time.

Closing his eyes, Aragorn drew in a deep puff and let it off into the night air, letting it swirl and dance away to mingle with the thin layer of mist settling all around, dampening the night world.

Before long he heard a soft voice next to him chide gently, "that's a filthy habit, you know."

Cocking an eye brow and raising his head to look at the smiling Elf seated next to him, Aragorn muttered. "Oh, I don't know, I think that getting drunk out of your mind when you are an Elf is a pretty disgusting thing myself."

Legolas just glared at the slur and retorted a bit testily, "I was younger and was dared."

Aragorn rested his head again and blew a puff of smoke before answering; causing the Elf to lie down as well, just to escape it. "No need to take it so personal, Legolas, I said an Elf, not a prince." He couldn't help but chuckle at the indignant look creeping across Legolas' face.

"Well I think smoking has an acquired taste," Legolas answered, idly flicking some grass from his stomach.

"That's because you never tried it," Aragorn prompted, looking side ways towards his friend with a daring grin.

"I have so," the prince lied smoothly, not looking in Aragorn's direction.

"Well then, here," he handed Legolas the pipe before the Elf could have time to respond. "Show me how."

The Elf scowled so darkly Aragorn nearly scooted back a bit, seeing the irritated twinkle become a little stronger. Then Legolas shrugged nonchalantly, "well apparently I don't need to, you already know how." He smiled and tried to hand the pipe back but Aragorn raised his hands in rejection.

"Well then prove to me you can," he challenged, watching as Legolas grinned and shook his head in objection.

"Estel, you are acting like a child," the Elf chided, trying to force the pipe back into the ranger's hands as they withdrew to his pockets. "This is stupid."

"No it isn't," Aragorn differed, his eyes twinkling as the firelight caught them. "If you can do it, prove it and I will leave you alone about it."

Glowering like a soaked cat, Legolas put the end of the pipe in his mouth and threatened around it, "I will kill you for this." His tone was dead and completely serious as he drew in a small breath through the pipe and his mouth, not knowing exactly how this would work but imagining he wouldn't like the results.

His glare only deepened as Aragorn's face glowed with amusement.

Legolas' eyes began to water against his will and he pulled the pipe from his mouth, practically tossing it to Aragorn who caught it as he gagged and sputtered, smoke spewing out of his mouth. Finally coughing and rocking back, the Elf managed between gasps for air, "I…said I would…kill you for this." He was slowly getting to his feet, swaying, as he felt a bit light headed.

Aragorn just grabbed his wrists and pulled him back down, shaking his head in mirth when the Elf didn't resist and fell into the grass all but backward. Aragorn just patted his back with a reassuring hand as he inspected his pipe with the other. "A good effort on your part. So Rothinzil never taught you how to smoke?"

Legolas put aside his irritation and laughed a little. "Well, I don't think it ever crossed his mind and now I am sure Helluin has broken him of that habit." He snickered some more and then fell silent, his breathing becoming deep and slow as he began to feel a bit sleepy.

"Well don't worry, we are within a day's journey of your home and you can find that clumsy Elf and ask him yourself," Aragorn pointed out, relaxing beside his friend, who had stretched out on the grass and was idly staring at the heavens and shifting mists.

Realizing Legolas was being abnormally quiet, the human emptied his pipe and staunched the little red embers before returning it to his bag and then asked softly, "Legolas is something wrong?" He sat up and crossed his legs before him, resting his elbows on his knees and placing his chin in his hands, staring curiously at his friend.

A firefly flew and landed gently on Legolas' nose and the prince sat up abruptly, brushing it off. Glancing at Aragorn from the corner of his eye before frowning disconcertedly, the Elf found a way to put into words his fears. "It's been so long since I've been home." He shifted uneasily and then added ashamedly, "I don't know what to expect, really. After all, it's been two and a half years."

Aragorn looked sympathetically at his friend and frowned. He could certainly identify. He hated to even imagine the pain he must have caused his brothers and his adoptive father. It was just unthinkable and he couldn't count the times he had prayed they would understand.

A mutual silence passed between the two friends as they turned things silently over in their heads. It was as though they knew each other's thoughts and though things were left unsaid that was all right, because they didn't need words.

"Well let's try and get some rest for tomorrow," Aragorn suggested softly, closing his eyes and deciding he was too tired and this grass was comfortable enough, his bedroll needn't come out tonight.

Legolas tried to sleep, leaving his eyes open as Elves naturally did, but he could find no rest and shifted uneasily. The ground seemed to be thundering in his ears and he had about a thousand worries pounding through his head. He kept imagining horses and would doze off into a light sleep and then wake with a start.

After hearing the Elf toss, turn and fidget for a half hour, Aragorn raised his head and asked drowsily, "Is something wrong?" Obviously there was but he was far too weary to think of another question that would be subtler and make more sense.

Legolas shook his head miserably and muttered, "I just can't find any rest." And that was putting it rather nicely. He felt provoked by some encroaching evil sneaking through the velvet of the night and that combined with his own personal and perhaps groundless fears was enough to drive him to distraction and get his adrenaline started. Since Harad and the troubles of war his reflexes had been easily tipped off.

"Well obviously," Aragorn muttered dryly. This wasn't abnormal since they had left Minas Tirith and he wasn't surprised when the Elf stretched and stood up a bit wearily, stating a walk might help. Legolas had taken to being alone most nights now and coming back shortly before dawn. And the closer they got to home the worse it had gotten. Aragorn attributed it to Legolas' homecoming anxieties.

Otherwise the prince tossed and turned all night and he had learned that a grumpy ranger kept awake all night was worse in the morning.

"Be careful," Aragorn reminded cautiously, eyeing Legolas as the Elf gathered up his weapons and began out into the tall sea of grass.

Legolas smiled thinly and answered, "of course." But Aragorn could tell that small smile was a cloak Legolas was attempting to use as a ruse to hide his depression and fears. It was no good asking about it because Legolas would go into a case of open denial, which could possibly be worse.

Wading out into the tall vegetation, Legolas walked until he was about twenty yards away and then he stood still for a moment, his eyes wandering to the stars and twinkling brightly with their perfect reflections. Sighing heavily, the Elf dropped to the ground and setting aside his quiver, he lay on his back, concealed from the world.

He knew Aragorn knew he was afraid of returning home, but he didn't want to talk to the ranger about it and in truth, he didn't want to think about it. He had gone out into the wide world to war with Aragorn and thought he had known himself but found out there was a darker side he still didn't understand. It was disconcerting and he felt fear of falling grip his heart, squeezing it. Some nights he wondered if he weren't turning colder and falling from the path that he had always walked in the light. It felt like there was an evil inside him that was eating away at his soul, darkening it.

Aragorn lay in the grass, though he was finding that with Legolas out in the dark rest was not easy in coming if it decided to come at all. They were bordering too close to Mordor for comfort, even though they lay in lush greenery. Unable to rest, the man sat up and looked for Legolas' silhouette against the bright night sky set against the black of the barren land of Mordor.

Sighing, he opened his mouth to call out to the Elf, but closing it, thought better of the idea. If Legolas needed some down time then he wouldn't interfere even though he was feeling rather alone. But he wondered if Legolas had felt alone, lost in his shadow. The Elf had followed him ceaselessly; doing half the deeds he got the undesired credit for. Did Legolas ever feel cold in his shadow?

It was his fault Legolas had been through so much in just three short years. In those tree years many things had changed and he was beginning to wonder if the pain and horror of all they had seen, the destructive side of men at its worst, had warped Legolas' sensitive Elven heart. He was already leery of men and he hoped this hadn't tipped the scales. He had felt Legolas tense under him when he fell on the Elf and it wasn't out of mere surprise.

Legolas was contented walked in the grass, looking up at the stars and their blazing radiance that dazzled the dark sky. Frowning, his sharp Elven ears picked up the sounds of horses and grass crackling beneath feet, but peering out into the thick mists settling on the land and the velvety darkness, he could see nothing.

Experience told him not to pass it off as nothing but he was so tired of being suspicious and everything here seemed so perfect. He could see the first rows of trees from Mirkwood. He was almost home. It would be a cruel twist of fate should some new devilry spring from the grass.

Aragorn jerked as he sat on the ground, feeling it vibrate under his palms in methodical way. He had felt this feeling before, many times, and here of all places he knew he shouldn't be surprised. There were horses, many galloping nearly in step with one another. But why they were out this late at night was beyond him and he frowned disconcertedly.

Once more he thought of calling to Legolas, this time as a warning. But if his friend was hidden from view and if this was a danger, then he wouldn't reveal him no matter how much he wanted him by his side. Shaking his head, there was no question in his mind that his small fire had been what had gravitated the riders here. He had let go of his habit of wariness too easily and should have known better.

Reaching to his side, Aragorn grasped his sword hilt lightly, trying to keep himself from tensing up and wasting energy. His gray eyes caught the firelight and glittered like silver, as he looked from their corners, not moving. He wasn't sure if these riders knew he was aware of them or not but if they didn't it gave him a small advantage.

As the riders pulled up into the firelight, almost without Aragorn realizing they were about to do so, the ranger sprang up, brandishing his sword in one swift motion and taking no more chances. War had taught him well and he knew that one small mistake could cost you more than you had to give. Glaring indignantly at the men on the snorting and pawing horses, the ranger kept his silence.

The attire of the riders was that of clothing customary to the Rohirrim. He took in the tassels of white horse hair on two of the rider's helmets and the richly plated gold helmet of another, who was looking practically through him with a set of clear but suspicious gray eyes. These were no thieves or vagabonds, but Riders of the Mark and well regarded ones at that. Relinquishing his sword as a sign of peace, sheathing it, he held his hands up, palms towards the riders.

Continuing to remain quiet, he was wise enough to know it was better for them to speak first. They were about as proud as the Elves.

"What do you seek in our lands under cover of night?" asked one of the riders with a white horse tail in his helmet's top, a brilliant white crest that flowed in the breeze. The dark incredulity of his voice could not be mistaken for anything else except maybe contempt.

Usually they were not this one edge and Aragorn wondered what had provoked them to such suspicion.

Speaking slowly and keeping his hands raised, being as peaceable as possible, Aragorn gave a short answer. "I am traveling home from Gondor and must cross your lands." His voice was respectful but tense.

The rider said nothing at first, but looked to the man in the gold plated helmet with images of silver as well as a white horse tail. They all seemed to exchange cold and curious glances before the officer answered sternly. "What deeds brought you to Gondor?"

Aragorn felt the barb of the interrogation and did his best to remain humble for the moment. "I helped in the defeat of the Haradrim." He decided this answer was better than no answer and it was the truth anyway, whatever they chose to believe.

Their grim expressions didn't change and in fact, seemed to be carved in stone.

Things were suddenly interrupted as a commotion behind them pulled everyone's attention away from the cornered ranger and the grave situation. But it didn't mean that anything had improved.

An indignant but muffled grunt made Aragorn wince as he realized they had managed to collect Legolas. He was being jerked and shoved between the horses and was cast disdainfully into the firelight, a small red line at his throat, dangerously close to the jugular showing exactly the manner of his capture. A small amount of blood trickled down the prince's neck, staining his light colored undershirt with a bit of dark red.

His breathing and the way his hands were subconsciously against this stomach showed he had been roughed up before they had managed to temporarily subdue him and Aragorn felt an unexpected anger towards these people. Legolas might not have received such harsh treatment were he not an Elf; even though to their credit Aragorn had to admit that if he hadn't been so stubborn he might have been a little better off as well.

The anger blazing in Legolas' blue eyes as they caught the orange flame of the small fire was hot and fierce. The way his hair was tussled slightly on his head showed where his quiver had been yanked over his head and his weapons confiscated. Aragorn was surprised the men had achieved this so easily and he stared at the Elf hard for a second, assessing him for anymore serious injuries. Finding none, the ranger remained puzzled.

Aragorn jerked slightly as he felt the cold tickle of a spear beside his ear; just below his temple and his eyes followed the other spears leveled for his head, but were concentrating strongly on Legolas. The Elf didn't even flinch as one of the razor sharp spearheads tickled under his ear and brushed under his chin, nearly creating another crimson line. But his angered eyes became a little more virulent and his lips pressed themselves into a thin line as he did when he was angered.

The two scouts who had apparently been accountable for Legolas' capture and man handling crept between the horses, one clutching a wounded and bloodied arm to his chest and kindling death in his eyes. The second one just glared, holding Legolas' confiscated weapons and sporting a blackening eye.

"Well this gets more interesting," said the Rohirrim officer who had done the interrogating moments earlier. "Men, we are in the presence of an Elf." He allowed his spear to travel and flick the slender tips of Legolas' ears lightly, making the Elf withdraw at the abrupt movement.

The esteemed rider in the golden helm silenced the others with a raised hand and rode more into the circle of dim firelight. His gray eyes trained themselves on the Elf in question and he half smiled and shook his head in disbelief. "And the folk traveling through our land becomes stranger…tell me, did He send you here Himself, Elf?"

Legolas narrowed his eyes and answered thickly. "And just who do you think sent me?" None of this was making any sense but it never did because the truth never mattered. He was an Elf and seemed to garner suspicion any time he left one of the Elven Realms. Frustration seethed from his lithe form and his hands clenched so the fingernails bit slightly into the skin of his palm. Aragorn started to move protectively closer to his friend but was stopped by a spear nipping at his throat.

Aragorn finally decided he had seen enough and he was not going to stand for this needless prejudice and prodding. He could tell that Legolas was getting angry and he didn't want his friend to get hurt. Gritting his teeth and steeling his eyes, the ranger pushed aside the cold prick of the spears, shoving himself between Legolas and the venerated rider. "Enough is enough!" he shouted at all the men, irritated. "I am Thorongil and this Elf is my companion. Long have we labored for the good of Gondor and all Middle Earth!"

The men seemed taken aback, though Aragorn wasn't sure if was a good thing or not and he stayed firmly by his friend's side. The determined and wrathful glower he was shooting everyone in turn made the Riders of the Mark uncomfortable and they shifted their gaze to look anywhere but at the bristling ranger.

That named, 'Thorongil' carried a lot of weight in their land. Anyone who hadn't heard of Thorongil and his victories deeds must have been living under a rock all their life. The golden helmed rider slipped his helmet from his head and nodded in respect for the captain of which the wind seemed to bear legend to. After his helm was removed in a sign of peace the other Riders followed his example, though somewhat grudgingly, and removed their spear points from the pair before them, simultaneously placing the large shafts at their sides.

Though Aragorn relaxed, Legolas remained stiffened and still leveled these men with a suspicious scowl, obviously thinking this was only a reprieve and Aragorn couldn't blame him. Aragorn placed a hand on Legolas' shoulder, giving him an assuring squeeze but Legolas rotated his shoulder coldly to remove his friend's grip. He wasn't angry with Aragorn, but the ranger was going to get a taste of his ill mood nonetheless. Right now, the Elf didn't want a human touching him, friend or not.

"Captain Thorongil," the head of the Riders exclaimed in serene reverence. "Your reputation precedes you." In a friendly gesture he dismounted before introducing himself as kindly as possible. "I am King Thengel, lord of Rohan and her people."

If Aragorn hadn't been concentrating on the situation and perturbed by Legolas' coldness he would have dropped his jaw in surprise. All the same he blinked disbelievingly before he gave a curt nod in reverence and replied almost breathlessly, "greetings, your majesty."

Turning to Legolas, preparing to make proper introductions, there was an odd silence as Aragorn wondered if Legolas wanted his real name used or at least his position withheld. These people were not evil but Legolas enjoyed his secrecy and judging from the cold and contemptuous look on his face he was already not on good terms with these men.

Deciding that he could anger Legolas either way, Aragorn gestured towards Legolas with a sweep of his arm, stepping aside so they could get a clear view of the Elf. "And this is my companion, Legolas Greenleaf of the Woodland Realm." He sighed inwardly; as he seemed to sense Legolas growing colder and his glow became slightly less bright though you could only tell if you knew him well.

The uninjured scout grudgingly handed Legolas back his weapons at a stern look from his liege. It was obvious that he wished to ram Legolas through with one of his own knives.

Thengel nodded to the Elf, who gave a small nod in return, knowing that would be what Aragorn would have wished and what was expected of him but he grudged it in his heart. He didn't trust these men, though he knew that if Aragorn seemed to trust them that should be enough. But his wounds from the past had rent deep scars on his heart and it was difficult to pour all his trust into something he hadn't confirmed himself. The cut on his throat smarted and he almost brought his hand up to see how much blood had trickled from it.

None of this was lost on Aragorn though Thengel seemed clueless and he asked, "How went the campaign in the south?" He was trying to be less cold and Aragorn decided that he could be cordial if all differences were set aside and they were all enemies of the One Enemy.

Aragorn frowned at the dark memories and then answered tiredly, unable to keep his sorrow out of his voice. "We had victory, nothing more." Legolas suddenly seemed sorrowful beside him and his guarded glance dropped to one of momentary pain that flickered across his face.

"Why do you not speak, Legolas?" Thengel asked, a bit warily, watching the Elf curiously as all the men were. They were not very trusting in the Elves and all had never set eyes on one before save the two dark-haired twins who hardly seemed like Elves at all at times.

Legolas' cold front immediately returned and his eyes edged with ice, fighting with his pride to do what Aragorn expected and be sociable to these people that had just knocked the wind out of him and taken his weapons without cause. He would have never attacked them if they hadn't stalked and attacked him first.

"I have nothing to say, your majesty," Legolas replied politely, refining his preferred answer just a little for show. "Captain Thorongil put things quite well and summed things up nicely, my lord." He cast a careful glance quickly at Aragorn before resuming eye contact with the Lord of Rohan.

Now it was Aragorn's turn to be annoyed. Legolas knew he hated to be called 'captain' and he had thought that title had been retired months ago. With that title came so much responsibility and attention, just like now and he withered a little inside as he realized what his destiny could bring. To be King he would be even more in the spotlight with more power –power he did not want and responsibility that would be like a millstone around his neck. There was no doubt that their little misadventure in Harad had been a milestone in his life, a real eye opener to the uglier part of power.

Legolas stepping inconspicuously on his foot to get his attention pulled Aragorn out of his thoughts.

"Captain Thorongil, would you care to ride to Edoras with us?" Thengel ventured cautiously, obviously fearing a negative response. His gray eyes bored into Aragorn's and he waited patiently for an answer.

"May I ask why?" the ranger replied warily, his eyes becoming slightly flinty. He had not seen his family in three years. He was tired and he feared another lengthy campaign. But if even the King of Rohan was abroad then there must be something big in the works and if they needed aid he couldn't very easily let his conscience rest and walk away.

Legolas felt dismay flood his heart but he concealed it with flinty eyes and an unfaltering gaze. He wanted to go home! His home, his father, his room, was all just a day away in the forest! This was the most frustrating thing in living memory and half of him wanted to scream, 'No! This isn't fair!' so that it echoed off the hills and rang in everyone's ears.

Thengel stiffened slightly, still not sure if he should trust these two. After all, what way was there to prove that this was Thorongil? And he had never trusted an Elf in his life, though that was mostly credited to the fact he had never been presented with a chance. "Captain, there are strange things abroad," he answered, obviously feeling like he had nothing to lose. "We were offered larges sums of currency for any black horses we could send to Mordor."

Aragorn visibly started and stared at the king inquiringly. What in all of Middle Earth would Sauron want with black horses?

Thengel continued once he had Aragorn undivided attention seconds later. "We refused the offer of course, but the Dark Lord has been incised to raids now, which his underlings make frequently. They take both slaves and horses." Crinkling his somewhat aged forehead, the King of Rohan sighed tiredly. "We would appreciate your help. We have already lost too many women and children."

Aragorn could feel Legolas looking at him darkly, obviously not approving of this new commission and wanting to get home as soon as possible. But Aragorn's thoughts drifted back to Harad and the children he had seen there and the devastation of those people. If he could prevent it here then that's what he had to do. Shrugging off the judgmental glare of Legolas, Aragorn nodded slowly.

"I will do what I can," his voice was soft and sounded absorbed in thought. He felt Legolas stiffen but didn't have time to talk to his friend as Thengel delivered instructions for Aragorn and Legolas' own good.

"Go to the village of Snowbourn, there you can get horses. Tell them I sent you and you will get no trouble, I promise," he assured before mounting his white stallion and replacing his helm back to his head. Looking at his riders, he waited patiently until they were all mounted. The two scouts on the ground glared daggers at Legolas and the one clutching his arm to his chest had death in his eyes.

"Where is Snowbourn, my lord?" Aragorn asked quickly, afraid Thengel would ride off and he would have no idea which direction to.

"West, near Edoras where you can meet us," Thengel replied brusquely. Turning his attention to his men he shouted so they could all hear, "we go west to Edoras!" His heels hit against his horse's sides and they riders all galloped past while the scouts spread apart and went off into the deep grasses.

"They will be trouble," Legolas tilted his head in the direction of the scouts. His eyes were narrowed and even though the men had left if was obvious he wasn't going to relax easily. "Estel," he addressed his friend who was cleaning up their camp as swiftly as possible. "We can't do this."

"Who said anything about 'we'?" questioned the man matter-of-factly, not even looking at the Elf walking by his side as he went about collecting pans, weapons and his pipe all littered about on the ground.

"Well you aren't going to do this by yourself are you?" Legolas asked incredulously, the cutting edge in his voice not mistakable for anything else.

"Legolas, if you want to, go home. It will only take you a day and you have been through much my friend," Aragorn reminded as he stood up and seeing Legolas fussing with the twisted straps of his quiver as he slipped it back over his head, helped straighten them.

The Elf pulled away and Aragorn leaned back on his heels, feeling slightly hurt by his friend's cold behavior but allowing the Elf to have his space. "You never even asked me how I felt about all of this," snapped the prince in response to Aragorn's confused expression.

"I never knew you wanted me to!" Aragorn retorted defensively. "You don't have to come with me if you don't want to! Why don't you just go home?" The last remark was meant to sting and Aragorn backed it up with a hurting glare.

"No!" Legolas barked at the ranger, shaking his head. "I can't let you do this one your own! What if something happened?" he protested, becoming more flustered by the minute. He wasn't sure what he wanted right now. He just felt jaded, confused and hurting.

"Legolas, I am grown in the years of my own people! I can look after myself!" Aragorn argued blatantly back. "I don't need you all of the time!"

The man instantly regretted his words when he saw the hurt flood into Legolas' eyes, not covered up with ice just long enough that it could burn the ranger's heart. The Elf remained firm in his commitment to his friend and said quietly, "I am coming with you, Strider."

Aragorn sighed and then protested adamantly. "No, you are not! You are going home! You can tell my father what has transpired."

Legolas smiled thinly. "How are you going to make me leave? Exactly, you can't," he said when he saw Aragorn cross his arms in frustration and snort in defeat. "And Elrond would not be thrilled about this news. I am homesick, not suicidal."

"So you are coming?" Aragorn finally realized what he had really known all along: it was no use arguing with a headstrong Elf.

"I am coming," the Elf affirmed, his smile fading as he looked wistfully over his shoulder at the beginnings of Mirkwood that he could barely see in the dark. For those who did not possess Elven eyesight they were hidden from view.

"Well then you can pack your own things!" teased the ranger, trying to lighten the dark and forbidding mood that had settled on them.

Legolas chuckled dryly. "Yes, I don't think I want you putting anything in my pack again. Have you ever heard of folding or perhaps rolling a bed roll or cloak?" A grin spread across his face as Aragorn scowled.

"My method is effective," he answered simply, sitting on the ground, cramming things into his own pack only being careful with his long stemmed pipe.

"No," Legolas objected. "It's not."

"Yes. It is."

Sighing, Legolas decided against appraising the human further. "I am not even going to argue this time. Bull headed ranger."

:0Ї0:

There were lights from Snowbourn flickering in the distance; Legolas' sharp Elven eyes saw them and alerted Aragorn who acknowledged them with a nod. They were nearing their destination. The man sighed and stopped decidedly, turning and looking back at the Elf who was frowning in confusion and had inclined his head to the side, blonde hair covering his shoulder in the process.

"Legolas, now is your last chance," the ranger said softly, drawing closer to his friend so their voices were hushed to whispers.

Legolas narrowed his eyes and his crumpled face expressed the twinge of pain he felt inside. "Aragorn, what do you mean?" he asked curiously, mildly confused.

Aragorn grabbed Legolas' arm and squeezed it in camaraderie, his clear silver eyes locked in Legolas' expressive blue ones. "This is your last chance to turn back. Once we get there, if you leave you could attract some unwanted attention. As you said, those scouts will be trouble but they will be less if they can't find a reason to harm you."

"What are you saying?" Legolas' whisper was adamant. "I will not enter my home unless you are with me, safe and sound." He pulled free of Aragorn's grip, irritated and glared at the ranger as he stepped back a pace. Shaking his head, Legolas balked, "no. I can't leave you."

"Legolas you are homesick! It hurts seeing you this way, all right? It hurts a lot every day. Do you think I am blind? You have hardly slept and eating has become a rarity as well! You are beginning to frighten me," Aragorn finished accusingly, with anxiety and pain reflected in his orbs as they softened. "I don't want to lose you."

Legolas smiled encouragingly, trying to dispel his friend's fears and end this argument. "You can't lose me."

Aragorn didn't smile back and sucked his lips against his teeth before he answered, remembering things he wished he could forget. "Legolas do you remember Astroggen and Sygul? You came within a fraction of an inch of losing your life! If I had been seconds later-"

"But you were right on time," Legolas cut him off tersely, trying to side step the man so they could continue on. He didn't want to talk about Sygul; it was the past and the quicker it was pushed behind the better.

Aragorn wasn't so easily deterred and he grabbed Legolas' shoulder, shoving the Elf forcefully back a step. "Look here you Sindarin Elf!" he spat the insult. "How many times do you think that will be allowed in a lifetime? To be directly on time, not behind and not early?"

Legolas looked indignant and irritated by the shove and glared at his friend. "Well how many times do you think we will be in those circumstances again?" he retorted, causing Aragorn to pause as he thought of a come back.

Unable to think of an opposing argument, Aragorn just glared caustically. "You are going to get yourself killed." His voice was flat and Legolas just sighed.

Legolas was about to side step the ranger, not making a reply when he stiffened and crouched low to the ground, pulling the ranger after him. The Elf's eyes darted, looking around them intently.

"Legolas, this isn't funny," Aragorn muttered from half under his friend. "Just because you were losing the argument…" he accused darkly.

Legolas stopped his surveying just long enough to scowl witheringly at the ranger. "It isn't supposed to be funny. Shhh…" he put his finger to his lips and then crouched lower, pressing his ear to the ground for a moment before jerking his head up in alarm. "Yrch!"

Aragorn stared at Legolas' wide eyes in disbelief. "Are you sure?" he asked shortly, hoping that there might be some mistake.

Legolas nodded earnestly. "The ground groans beneath their hated feet," he confirmed, glancing pointedly at the grass beneath them and then back up, scanning the horizon line and the darkened plain about them but to no avail. Their adversaries were well hidden by the dark and thick mists so that Legolas and Aragorn were at a great disadvantage.

Not having any other option with his friend still crushing half down upon him, Aragorn pressed his ear to the earth and listened intently, identifying Legolas' findings as being correct and he sighed unenthusiastically. This was just not fair that trouble should find them so soon! Legolas was still unmoved and Aragorn cast a withering glare up at the Elf. "Would it trouble you too much to get up?" he hissed irritably.

Legolas shifted over without much thought mumbling a hasty, "sorry."

His attention was devoted to seeking out their hidden foes, and he reached back to grab his bow and an arrow, following the guideline of always being prepared. Knitting his brows, Legolas tried to ignore the cold sweat dotting his forehead and beginning to trickle down slowly, starting from his temples.

Aragorn had his hand on his sword hilt, keeping a lose grip on it, but fully prepared to wield it with only a split second's warning. His palms were slippery from perspiration and he felt his stomach tying itself into what felt like a series of tight and twisted knots of ice. "Where are they?" Aragorn asked in the lowest whisper possible knowing Legolas could here it.

"If I knew…" Legolas left his remark unfinished, trusting Aragorn to fill in the blanks and his hands tightened on his bow and its string was pulled a bit tauter. Blinking, Legolas tried to shove aside the cold feeling chasing up and down his spine. His concentration kept breaking as memories resurfaced and flashed through his mind, plaguing his thought with interruption.

Suddenly he rolled over and rolled on top of Aragorn pressing him to the ground, not caring whether he bruised the man in the process or not. The human was about to make an ornery remark when just where the Elf had been laying a warg rushed past, its claws leaving deep rents in the grass, severing the tangled lengthy blades.

Aragorn grabbed Legolas' shoulders and rolled the Elf off the other side of him, getting protectively between his friend and the unexpected adversary. Legolas gave a cry and narrowed his eyes angrily, casting Aragorn an exasperated scowl. He appreciated the concern, but he would prefer that Aragorn stay out of harm's way.

The arrow of his bow loosed with a snapping twang and the warg fell as its high-pitched yelp shattered the serenity of the night. And then all hell broke lose.

Legolas and Aragorn were on their feet in minutes but their attackers were already swarmed between them so that Legolas and Aragorn couldn't even see each other.

The orcs were black and easily hidden in the darkness if they held still. Legolas drove his knife into one behind him with a twirl and little effort before he was forced to use both of the twin knives to ward off a blow from a scimitar. There was the hollow clang of metal on metal and a jolt throbbed up Legolas' arms from the force of the attack, causing him to cringe slightly.

Not even fazed, the Elf used his foot to kick the orc back and then stabbed swiftly, catching the creature in the neck and without waiting to see if it was dead, proceeded to drive one of the knives through the mail of another. It cut through easily enough, but there was a wicked screech as the metals scrapped and caught against each other, which was soon followed by a routed cry from the orc as it collapsed.

The orcs pressed in closer and Legolas sighed in his mind. He wasn't given the slightest reprieve and the onslaught was getting continually worse, thicker and more determined.

Aragorn found himself fighting with about the same difficulty but without the Elven agility or endurance. He was in his prime but these Uruks were uncommonly large and vicious. He was blocking a blow or running one of the foul beasts through more than he was breathing, which was becoming quite frequent in and of itself.

Legolas was about to step backwards when he felt something hot up rush up his body, an explosion of heat and he remained standing where he was, mild confusion crossing his face. He was tempted to turn around and see what it was but he was sure it was meant to be a distraction and Legolas determined to keep himself focused on blocking blows.

However, when smoke began to choke him there was no doubt in his mind that it was a fire, caught on the dead grasses beneath his feet and it was spreading. He could feel the flames growing around his ankles and he stepped forward, deeper into the fray just as the orcs wanted.

As the fire curved around him, creating a semi-circle, it caught his eyes, making them look fierce and glitter with his hatred for the ruined and evil race. He reached back for his bow as the orcs backed off a little from the heat that the Elf was able to endure slightly longer. But the heat of the blaze had warped the bowstring and it was unable to take the pressure of being pulled back and released.

Notching an arrow faster than the orcs could see, Legolas drew back the string to begin his rapid succession of firing but he never got the chance.

There was a harsh swooshing sound like something cutting through the air and Legolas became vaguely aware his bowstring had snapped before he was struck full in the face and nearly staggered back in intense pain as a welt swelled across his face. His hands relinquished their hold on his bow as they immediately went his face, tracing the welt gingerly and in disbelief. Snapping a bowstring was a rarity for any Elf and Legolas was no less shocked than anyone else would be. Opening both of his eyes, he knew he was lucky he could still see.

But it wasn't time to count his blessings just yet.

Seeing their vantage point in the stunned Elf, the orcs sprang into action, trying to make good use of this Elf's misfortune.

One of them protected by his mail coat and hair covered thick skin, lunged through the fire, catching the Elf from behind and securing itself to Legolas' back while its arm wrapped around the prince's throat and his other hand squeezed, constricting Legolas' windpipe. Trying to gasp in surprise and throw the orc off, Legolas realized there was no way to rid him of the foul being that was breathing down his neck.

By now the smoke had created a thick haze and was suffocating him with a little help from the orc, whose nails were biting into the soft flesh of his throat. Staggering under the large Uruk's weight as his oxygen deprived muscles weakened; Legolas looked desperately around for Aragorn but was forced to his knees where more orcs pounced on him.

Thrashing madly once the hold on his throat was renounced, Legolas caught one or two in the face with his boots, causing them to retreat back a little. He wriggled halfway free of the mass of ten beasts that had brought him down only to be set upon by another who crushed a rough knife against his throat.

Legolas continued to struggle uselessly until the orc with the threatening knife gave it a fierce press, not taking any chances with the Elf. Legolas winced as he felt it cut slightly deeper into the small cut he had received from the Rohirrim scouts, causing it to smart with a vengeance.

Another orc straddled the helpless Elf, placing his bony knee on the prince's sternum and twisting it, grinding it against the bone.

Not to be defeated, Legolas tried to use his legs to propel the beast backward but an orc soon sat on those pinning him effectively to the ground. His arms were secured by the Uruk on top of his chest and bound mercilessly with tight cords of leather that sliced into the supple skin of his wrists.

Legolas opened his mouth and screamed frantically, "Strider!" But the only thing that could be heard was the roaring of the flames that were nearly on top of them. All voices were drowned out and he was only allowed to call for help once or twice before the orcs weren't willing to chance anything and clamped their course hands over his mouth.

"Keep yer mouth shut, you maggoty Elf!"

Legolas writhed in their clutches but was unable to find a useful vantage point or twist his face free of their filthy paws and claws. The knife was removed from his throat as they prepared to force him to his feet but there was still no chance for escape. For the few moments where he was laying on the ground, Legolas could have sworn by Elbereth he felt it vibrating with hoof beats. But he couldn't hear anything but the fire roaring and the blood rushing in his ears.

Shoving Legolas into the shadows, the orcs prodded him into a run with their scimitars, forcing him to run in the middle of their smothering pack, crushing him between their sweaty bodies.

Aragorn looked around, now that everything was revealed by the firelight. "Legolas!" The roaring of the growing flames and the yowling orcs droned his voice out. But they were not fighting him so hard anymore and then he felt the ground tremble beneath his feet.

Surveying the turmoil around him for the source of the vibrations he saw Thengel and his Riders swarming over the hill at a dead gallop. Obviously they had seen the smoke and the light emitted by the large flames that were starting to devour the grasses.

Quickly stepping side and twisting his body just in time to avoid being trampled, Aragorn watched tiredly and in awe as the Riders crashed into the orcs without slowing down even minutely. The beasts that weren't trampled under the pounding, grinding hooves were skewered upon their spears and swords, and the bowmen shot a few.

"Legolas!" Aragorn screamed for his friend again as a lump tightened his throat. "Legolas!"

The Riders were finishing off the orcs now, and their dying screams and gurgles bounced eerily off the hills in strange imitational ghosts.

Before long the dead lay heaped all around the firelight, the reflection of the orange flame was flickering on their ghastly faces and the battle was finished.

Aragorn walked among the dead, flipping over bodies in disgust with his boot toe, ignoring the black blood that sometimes rushed out and over his boot. His face was crumpled in a dark grimace as he searched in vain for the body of Legolas, though he really was begging the Valar to find his friend his alive.

"Thorongil!" hailed Thengel, steering his horse towards the ranger and riding over at a slow pace, allowing his horse a reprieve.

Aragorn made no answer, hanging his head in disbelief and despair as he stared at the orc bodies piled around him, Elven arrows in their throats. Tears pricked under his eyes…he had told that Elf to go home!

Thengel noticed Aragorn's distress and guiding his horse alongside the ranger, paused it and sat there for a moment in silence. Finally he spoke quietly, "where is the Elf?"

Aragorn knew that Legolas' body had not been found among the carcasses of the orcs and that only left one other alternative. Some of the orcs had gotten away with Legolas in tow while their fellows fought and died.

Aragorn looked up at him jadedly and was about to answer when there was a gurgling cackle to his left and he turned abruptly to see a dying orc grinning wickedly. A deep wound to his chest showed where one of Legolas' twin knives had been driven through his mail and had mortally wounded him. Black blood colored his mouth and Aragorn narrowed his eyes in anger as he saw the thing continuing to smile.

"Your little…friend is going to paymy employersa v-visit," the orc's jovial speech was slurred as death was slowly catching up with him and his consciousness was about to fail him. He struggled to hold it, savoring this moment and the pain in everyone's eyes.

Aragorn forgot how to breathe as the garbled words of the orc sank in and his fears were confirmed. Disgust mingled with sorrow and alarm crossed Thengel's face as he stared wide-eyed at the hideous orc dying at their feet.

Aragorn felt himself going numb, unable to feel how sick he knew he was becoming. Sweat slicked his hands and remembering to draw a breath, the ranger mentally shuddered. Suddenly he felt weak and his face turned a ghastly white as his body's delayed reaction caught up with the events.

If it were men that had captured Legolas things might not have been as horrible, if that were possible. Men were a little more capable of having some shadow of mercy. Orcs were bereft of mercy and they hated Elves with an unmatched passion, remembering what they had once been.

Ashes filled the air as men frantically stomped out the fire and threw dirt on it, trying to prevent it from spreading and soon all was cloaked in darkness again and everyone's faces were hidden. "I told you to go home," Aragorn whispered so low it was inaudible and he squeezed his eyes shut to suppress the hot tears.


TBC...Well, things are already at a bad start, are they not? At least for our heroes...LOL You know what we are going to ask you next (grins)...what think you? Please review! Your feedback is much appreciated! But we don't have to tell you that...LOL!

We are going to try and post every Friday.

And one more note: We have our own yahoo! group now, which you can join by going to our website (on our bio) and scrolling down.