Disclaimer: I still can't lay claim to them.

Summary: Caught in heavy snow, Legolas shows Aragorn the true wonders of Mirkwood in winter.

A/N: This story was written for the Teitho Contest theme: Winter Wonderland.


by White Wolf

Chapter One

Snow covered everything, looking for all the world as if someone had poured out a bowl of sparkling sugar throughout this largest of Arda's forests, belonging to the silvan elves and ruled by the House of Oropher. The only other colors that existed in this world of white were the starkly black trunks of the surrounding trees and the dark gray, snow-leaden clouds in the sky above.

Deep inside this forest trudged two lone figures.

Well to be more accurate, only one of the figures was trudging. He was human, a ranger, and his face was barely visible under the hood of his cloak. which covered his head in an attempt to keep the cold from stealing what warmth his body possessed.

It was with great difficulty that the man was lifting one leg out of the deep snow, pulling himself forward on the sturdy tree branch he was using as a support staff and then putting the leg down a few inches ahead, only to sink again to mid-calf before the process was repeated with the other leg. Lift, pull, move, sink. Lift, pull, move, sink. It was labor-intensive work, but there was no other way of traveling. They had no horses.

The second figure, a tall, golden-haired elf and prince of this land, was walking lightly on top of the snow, leaving so slight an imprint that only the close examination of an experienced tracker could tell that more than one person had passed this way.

The human that was doing the trudging was also the one doing the grumbling. "At this rate, I'll either freeze to death or die of exhaustion long before we reach your father's palace."

The elf, who wore no hood, laughed. "You should have been more careful, Estel, and not lost your snow shoes."

"I did not lose them. I know exactly where they are. I just can't get to them." The man glared up at the elf prince standing slightly above him. He refused to look down. Seeing the elf's feet sitting on top of the snowy surface would only darken further his already dark mood and make him grouse even more, if that was possible.

"I told you to take them off before we crossed those rocks," Legolas reminded his friend. "Snow shoes were not designed for rock climbing."

"I was not rock climbing!" the man declared vehemently.

Legolas laughed again. "You should be thankful that you did not follow them over that cliff. You have been known to take that kind of plunge on occasion."

Aragorn's glare became even more deadly. If looks could kill... "I don't need someone whose feet, in shoes no less, don't even break the crust of the snow, telling me how and where to walk."

"Evidently you do. You, not me, are the one, who lost your snow shoes, and therefore, you, not me, are the one forced to struggle through the snow." Legolas truly felt bad for his friend, but he was stubborn, too, and as long as the ranger was being obstinate, he wasn't about to show the sympathy he felt.

Aragorn merely snorted his derision and continued forcing his way through the white powder. He was determined not to give the elf any more reason to make fun of him, but he was so miserable he couldn't stop himself. "My feet are numb."

To Aragorn's surprise, Legolas didn't laugh nor did he make the kind of remark the ranger was expecting to hear.

"There is a cave not far from here," Legolas said, hoping to ease the man's misery with the promise of shelter, which meant relief from the grinding tedium of walking.

Legolas knew every inch of Mirkwood north of the Old Forest Road and even a few miles south of it. However, the existence of the Shadow that was constantly encroaching on the woodland realm since the building of Dol Guldur prevented Legolas from spending much time in the southern most reaches of the forest, and thus he didn't know it as intimately as he did the north. He pushed aside the pain that that realization always caused in his heart.

"And just when were you going to tell me about this cave?" the ranger asked, looking sideways at the elf, his brow furrowed. He knew the answer before the last word even reached the elf's keen ears.

"When we got closer to it," the elf declared, trying not to grin. He knew exactly what the ranger was thinking. "I was not trying to torment you."

"Of course not," came the grumpy reply from the human. "Do you deny you enjoy seeing me drag myself through all this snow?"

"I do deny it," Legolas declared in his own defense. "It is not my fault you are not an elf and cannot walk on top of the snow." That was a perfectly true statement. So was his next comment. "It is also not my fault that you evidently grouse and grump whenever you lose your snow shoes."

"I have never lost my snow shoes before."

"I am glad to hear it. Then we can thank the Valar it is not becoming a habit. I do not think I want to be around you should it happen again."

Aragorn suddenly took a swing at the elf, who, even without having had any warning, jumped easily out of the way. The ranger, unable to keep his balance with his feet sunk deep in the snow and having let go of the supporting make-shift staff, fell over face first into the tiny frozen crystals. He came up without his hood and looked more like the kind of figure a child builds in the snow than a real human being.

Legolas laughed heartily, pointing at the white flakes hanging from almost every strand of the ranger's loose, shoulder-length hair and at the snow-beard covering his chin. "Grow a longer beard, and you will look like Mithrandir."

"I could sure use his staff about now, " Aragorn mumbled. "This stick you gave me is somewhat less effective than Gandalf's staff would be."

Legolas was not the least offended by the ranger's words. "What I gave you would be quite sufficient, if you knew how to use it properly," he pointed out.

Aragorn was too cold to spend any more time standing around and arguing with the haughty elf, so he just sighed in resignation and moved forward again. "Where is this cave of yours?"

"On the other side of those trees about a quarter of a mile away." Legolas pointed straight ahead toward a group of old oaks bunched together in front of a steep rise.

"A quarter of a mile?" The man groaned at the thought of having to negotiate the deep snow that much farther. "Great."

"That is why I did not tell you about it sooner. I did not wish to hear you complain every step of the way until we reached it."

The elf turned to his friend, who looked about ready to try another swing at him. He smiled and said cheerily, "I will go start a fire and warm the cave for us. Call if you need me." With that the elf took off running, leaving a shocked and sputtering human in his wake.

"I'm going to strangle that elf one of these days." Those words were greeted with snow flakes that started drifting down from the thick clouds overhead. Aragorn looked up with narrowed eyes and a sour expression. He then jerked his hood back over his head and trudged on, muttering under his breath.

A dozen difficult steps later and the snow began falling so hard it obliterated everything and only the years he had spent growing up in the company of elves and being exposed to their unerring sense of direction kept the man moving in a straight line.

x x x x x

Some time later, after working his way through the oak trees, a dark shape appeared through the driving snow directly in front of the ranger, and he knew it had to be the cave Legolas had spoken of. He headed straight for it.

When he reached the entrance, he threw his staff down and stamped his feet several times to dislodge the excess snow that was clinging to his boots.

Near the rear of the fifteen-foot deep cave Legolas was feeding a handful of pieces of wood one at a time into the fire he had built. He made sure that each piece had caught before adding the next. He didn't want to overwhelm the tiny blaze before it had time to grow larger and brighter.

Soon flames were licking greedily at the wood. Both a golden glow and a welcoming warmth spread out to encompass the small cave.

Legolas smiled, as he looked up from his task, when Aragorn entered. He had actually heard the man's approach long before he reached the cave. "I see you made it."

"No thanks to you," the man grumbled unhappily, as he ran his hands through his hair, squeezing out the wet snow and then shaking his head like a dog.

Legolas let out an audible sigh. "I am sorry I did not stay to hold your hand, Estel. I just thought a nice warm fire waiting for you would be more beneficial. I guess I was wrong." The elf's voice was soft and apologetic, indicative of a deep hurt. He tuned his head away before the ranger could see the grin that was threatening to spread across his face.

Legolas's words hit their intended mark. Aragorn moved to the fire and knelt down beside the elf, rubbing his hands vigorously together before holding his palms out toward the flames. "No, I'm the one who is sorry. Forgive me, Legolas. What you did was very thoughtful. I'm just cold and wet and tired, not to mention hungry." Before a reply could come, the ranger continued. "As you said, it's not your fault that I can't walk on snow. And I do tend to grumble when I'm miserable. However, I shouldn't take my troubles out on you."

Aragorn's apology was so heartfelt that Legolas hesitated to tell the man he had said what he did in jest. He didn't want the ranger to feel foolish. Yet he knew he couldn't let his friend go on feeling guilty, either. There was only one thing he could do: apologize himself. "I am the one who should ask for forgiveness. I should have helped you, not made light of your hardship in the snow." The elf grinned. "Of course, losing your snow shoes was entirely your doing."

Aragon took another swing at the elf, and this time his swat connected lightly with his friend's shoulder.

The mood had been effectively lightened, as the two friends looked at each other and burst out laughing.

x x x x x

By the time night had fallen and the world outside was slumbering under its heavy coating of snow, the two friends in the cave had finished their meager evening meal of lembas and water. They had eaten the last of their dried meat the day before.

Aragorn wanted to light up his pipe, but in the close confines of the cave, he knew the smoke would bother Legolas. For that reason he didn't even mention it, knowing the elf would tell him to go ahead and light up. They were each always willing to sacrifice for the other.

The cave entrance was large enough so that cold air continually blew into it and only close proximity to the flames of the fire kept the human ranger reasonably warm.

Aragorn's hair had dried by now but his boots, because they were made of thick leather, were still somewhat wet. The ranger had taken them off and lain them down with the inside facing the fire. His socks he kept on, but his feet were as close to the flames as he dared put them. He looked forward to going to sleep with warm, dry feet.

Legolas got up and went to a pile of wood that lay in a corner of the cave behind a small outcropping of rock.

Aragorn followed him with his eyes. "Did you gather that wood before I got here?" the ranger inquired, knowing the elf would have had plenty of time to do that but wondering how he had found any that was dry enough to burn without filling the cave with wood smoke.

"No." Legolas answered, as he brought back several small branches and slid a couple into the flames, setting two more aside for later. "It is kept here for anyone that uses this cave and needs a fire. It is usually members of one of our patrols. In the case of a storm, there is not always dry wood available, so whoever burns the wood has to replace it before they leave, ready for the next one who comes here."

Aragorn smiled and nodded. "Warriors think alike. The rangers have a similar rule for places like this in the wild that we frequent for shelter. We also leave some water, if there's no stream or lake nearby. It's a courtesy we must all share."

"Aye. We have to look out for each other. We are all in this battle together." He didn't have to explain what battle he was talking about.

The two friends fell silent for a while, each thinking of the fierce fighting that went on between the free peoples of Middle-earth and the evil that wanted to corrupt or subdue them.

Legolas and Aragorn looked at each other and smiled. "Enough dark thoughts," the elf declared.

"Agreed," the ranger replied.

Their conversation easily turned to more pleasant things and continued until an hour later, when Aragorn bid his friend goodnight, wrapped himself in his cloak and lay down with his feet snugly inside his dry boots. He was soon sound asleep.

Once the ranger had drifted into his dreams, Legolas smiled. He had hit upon an idea and was anxious to implement it. He quietly left the cave, gathered what he needed from the forest outside and returned a little while later.

After adding more dry wood to the fire, the elf sat down and began his project, sure he would have it finished in time for him to also travel the path of dreams before morning dawned, and they would have to continue their journey.