Thanks go to Thorongirl for nominating this fic for the 2008 MEFAs. :) I didn't win, but it doesn't matter too much because I didn't expect to win—too many authors out there who are much better than I am at writing/plotting/etc. Maybe next year…

Warning:There are battle scenes near the end of this chapter. PG-13 rated for violence and angst. Not to mention I hate writing action/battle scenes—my brain tries to process everything happening at once…and I just wanted to die.

A/N: Do you really want my apologizes for why this took so long?

I didn't think so. It would cover a page. :) It boils down to the fact that RealLife hates me. The other reason is that I'm getting caught up in FFVII fandom.

Thanks go to Wendwriter for beta-ing.


Chapter Ten: The Journey

Once they were out of Lothlórien and well on their way, both mounted on a horse, Estel ventured to ask a question. "Haldir," he began, "Could I ask you something?"

"Yes."

A pause. "How long will it take us to catch up?"

"It would depend on our speed, but I think we can in less than three days."

No answer.

"Estel?"

The youth fidgeted with a strand of his hair. "Nothing," he murmured. "It's nothing."

Haldir knew better, but he decided to let it slide. The child was probably trying to think up of a good excuse. But what sort of probable excuse could be given when you are being stared down and lectured? Elrond had years of experience bringing up his children. Really, Estel should have learned by now that his father was not one to be fooled so easily.

"Did you tell anyone else of our departure?"

The elf did not turn around as he spoke. "My brother."

"And will he—"

"Mostly likely. By morning I think that all of Lothlórien will know you have gone."

A soft exhalation made him turn around. "I do not think anyone will prevent us from leaving, though. They know I am with you," he said.

"You hold such a high position," Estel asked, his eyes wide, "that they would trust in your word implicitly?"

He laughed. "I would not think it that high," he replied, "But some others apparently do."

"Oh."

Silence fell between them. It must be near midnight, Estel thought, rubbing his eyes with one hand. Now that the excitement was behind, the motion of the horse was making him sleepy. He half-heartedly covered a yawn.

The companion grinned, hearing the slight sounds. In a matter of moments, the boy would be asleep. He slowed his mount, gradually coming to a stop.

Estel jerked up. "Why have we stopped?" he groggily asked.

Haldir simply dismounted, and motioned for him to move forward. "I would not have you falling off and breaking your neck," he said.

"I won't."

"Really?"

He glared at Haldir. "Fine, fine." He shifted forward, and waited for Haldir to mount back up again. The elf did so, easing himself up behind the other. With a light kick of heels, they continued on their journey.

Estel did not bother to hide his second yawn. He rested his head against that of the mare's. As much as he did not wish to admit it, he was tired. An arm encircled his waist, preventing him from moving.

"I will wake you when we stop," came Haldir's soft voice. "Trust me. I will not let you will not fall."

"Mm…" His head drooped forward as he succumbed to sleep.

:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:

He awoke to the feeling of moisture upon his face, tickling his nose. Blinking, he sleepily swiped at his face. But soon his face was wet again. Then he realized that his face was not the only thing wet.

Estel shivered, fully awake by now. He shook his head and glanced upwards. "When did it start raining?" he asked.

"An hour ago," Haldir replied, tucking his cloak tighter about his frame and hunching forward. "Are you all right?"

"Fine," The youth curled in, yanking his own covering securely about his shoulders. He tugged at the hood until all that he could see was the mane of the horse. "How long have we traveled?"

"Five hours," The elf answered him.

So little! Estel hid his frustration and said nothing.

They spoke little during the next hour of travel. Estel nodded off a few times, but the rain kept him up. By the time dawn had come and the rain finally stopped, he was feeling less than agreeable. The miserable conditions, combined with the thoughts that his father was going to kill him, did nothing to improve his mood.

"Do you wish to stop and rest?" Haldir questioned.

"Nay." He shook his head.

"Are you quite sure?"

"Yes, I am." Estel leant forward a bit more, moving away from his companion. He sighed.

"What troubles you?"

"Nothing."

A soft chuckle. "You make a horrible liar, Estel Elrondion."

"Thank you," A poke in his neck made him jerk upright. "What?" he asked, trying to ignore the feelings of annoyance.

"Tell me what troubles you," Haldir repeated his former question.

Estel rubbed the back of his neck. "Many things," he finally answered.

"Do you wish you had stayed in Lothlórien?"

"A little," he admitted, "But if I had stayed, I would have regretted not coming." He sighed heavily. "Why is it that I sometimes feel I am being pulled in to different directions?" Lately, those feelings had been happening more often. It probably was what got him into trouble.

"There are days when decisions to make, and days when they are not. It happens to everyone."

"That os not a proper answer."

"Is it not?" Estel turned to see Haldir quirk an eyebrow at him. "I have told the same to others."

Estel snort and replied with a quote, "Do not go to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes." (1)

Haldir laughed at this, "You have lived too long among the Eldar. You know our ways well."

"Apparently, not well enough," The boy flicked his damp hair out of his face, wishing he had something to dry it with. He did not share in the laughter. "The only people who will understand Elves are the Elves themselves. No one, not even a child of Men who has lived with them for most of life, will truly understand them."

The Lothlórien elf smiled, resting a hand on Estel's shoulder. "I think you understand more than you think you do."

"Try telling that to my brothers," The other muttered, though he was rather delighted with the compliment. "They will never admit that. And Ada—" he shrugged.

Thinking about his father reminded him that he needed to come up with an excuse. He suppressed a groan. Somehow, he did not think that saying "I think I will be needed" or "I had to return" would appease his father's disapproval at all.

"Estel?" Haldir's voice broke his dark thoughts.

"Yes?"

"When do your brothers come back from the trip?"

"Um…" he thought for a moment. "Sometime during the summer, if my memory is not wrong." He pushed his hood away from his face, breathing in the cool morning air.

"Do they know?"

"I think not. That is, unless my father told them without telling me that he did." he replied. "I wish they were here, or with Ada at least." he rubbed his fingers together, trying to warm them. "But I wish more that they had been present when Ada had been gone. So many things could have been avoided." He still partially felt that he might have been able to prevent the recent happenings in his home.

"But they are not," Haldir said. "Estel, you really should stop blaming yourself."

"So everyone tells me," The boy gloomily replied, watching the sun as it rose higher over the plains.

"You should listen, then." The elf told him. "Do not think that you are the only one with such feelings."

"You speak as if you have experience in this matter."

"Mayhap," was all that the elf said.

"Are you willing to speak of them?"

"Perhaps later."

"Why not now?" Estel resisted the urge to rub the small of back; he still was not quite used to sitting astride for so long. "There is little to do, except talk."

Haldir laughed. "Very well. A story, tithen pen."

Estel rolled his eyes at, but smiled as he listened to Haldir speak. His voice was soft and light, like all elven voices. Though he spoke fluent Sindarin, there were hints of the accent that came from being a Silvan (2) elf. It was different from what Estel was used to hearing, but he found he liked it.

His thoughts drifted from Haldir's voice to the story the elf was telling, and he was glad that there was some distraction from the rather bleak land they were passing through.

:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:

Their journey was uneventful for the most part, until the day they caught up with Elrond and the others.

The meeting with his father had been quite as bad as Estel had expected. The half elf, predictably, had scolded him for disobeying and being out in the rain. Estel had stood silently, waiting until the tirade had ended.

He was quite surprised when his father turned on Haldir and scolded him for letting Estel leave. The boy had to hide his grin. However, his father had seen the grin, and lectured him some more.

What made it all the more embarrassing was that his father had scolded him in front of the company. As least they had been polite enough not to stare.

After Elrond had made sure Estel was well, he had his son mount up on his horse, though Estel had protested. Apparently, Elrond was not finished in his lecture. When Erestor had mildly told Elrond he thought the latter was perhaps overreacting, Elrond had said something that made Erestor glare and stop talking for the rest of the day's travel.

Estel sat with his back against a tree, idly dragging his dagger through the dirt next to him. He knew he was sulking, but at the moment he could not have cared less.

He banged his head lightly against the tree, sighing. "I hate Ada's tongue-lashings," he muttered to himself. "They are worse than all his other punishments." He certainly was looking forward to the day he would be an adult.

"Estel?" Glorfindel called out to him. "Come and sit nearer to the fire."

"No, thank you," he replied. "I am fine."

Elrond merely shook his head as he sat down next to Glorfindel. "I told you."

"Stubborn child," The golden-haired elf crossed his leg and unclasped his cloak, pulling it into his lap. "He must have learned it from his brothers."

The peredhel smiled. "Elladan and Elrohir were long past that stage in life when Estel came to live with us," he said, "It is a common thing along adolescents, I fear."

From beneath the shadow of the tree, Estel stared out resentfully. He knew perfectly well his father and Glorfindel were talking about him. Burrowing deeper into his cloak, he scowled a bit more, trying to doze off and not think about how hungry he was.

Something landed near him. Jerking upright, he glanced down to see a piece of wrapped lembas. His eyes darted to the fire and saw Haldir nodded ever-so-slightly to him. Estel returned the nod, tearing tore off a bit of waybread and savoring the taste. He would not mind living on lembas—and miruvor. He sighed, remembering the time he had consumed a large amount of miruvor when he was fifteen. True, the aftereffects had not been pleasant, but he still like the taste of the cordial.

Someone called his name, breaking into his thoughts. He looked up to see his father beckoning to him. Estel resisted the urge to ignore the command as he got to his feet and dragged himself toward the fire, every fiber of his body speaking of reluctance. He sat down near Haldir, as far away as possible from Elrond.

"How long will you continue to act in this manner, Estel?"

He shrugged at the question, eyes staring at the fire and nothing else.

"Sulking is very unbecoming of you."

"I care not," he said, his fingers moving to grasp a small twig.

"Estel." A hint of a warning.

"Well, I honestly don't care." The twig snapped. He tossed it into the fire. He could only take so much lecturing before he lost his temper.

Watching the sparks pop and fly. Haldir moved a little away, eying him cautiously. Was Estel trying to provoke his father?

"Do you wish you had stayed in Lothlórien?"

"Nay!" He looked up sharply at Elrond.

"Then you will not act in this manner, or I will have you sent back."

He stiffened at this. "You would not dare," he managed to get out.

"I would dare," Elrond's voice was quiet. "Now stop acting like a child of ten."

Estel only nodded. His jaw was tight, and his hands were kept busy as he snapped more twigs and threw them into the fire.

The awkward silence lasted several minutes. Then Glorfindel quietly asked something of Gandalf, and it was broken. Estel, glad the attention was off him, ceased his agitated movement, leaning forward to stare at the fire, his head resting on his hand.

The flames flickered and danced, their colors bright and leaving sparks of light in his eyes whenever he looked away. He was suddenly reminded of the Hall of Fire in Rivendell, and felt an urge to be there. His brow furrowed as he drowned himself in a myriad of thoughts, worries, and other more unpleasant things.

It was not that he liked to sulk, or to feel sorry for himself, but when he was tired from lack of sleep and frustrated with the world, there simply was nothing else to do. He did not feel like engaging in a conversation with anyone at the moment…

Before he knew it, his eyes were closing of their own accord, and his head drooped. He glanced up to see his father looking at him. Estel held back a sigh as he moved away from the circle of elves. Stretching out his legs and turning to one side, he sprawled and let his head drop into the crook of his arm as he lied down. He pulled his cloak tightly about him and closed his eyes.

Estel felt hands adjust the cloak, then stroke his hair away from his face. He recognized the touch as Elrond's, and allowed himself a lopsided smile before he turned over and gave into sleep.

:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:

"Elrond, I thought I said you were to take the third watch."

"I am not sleeping tonight."

"Why ever not?" Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. "Estel is not going to run off."

"I know."

"Then you can rest."

"I can hardly rest when I am upset." Elrond folded his arms and pulled his clock tighter about himself.

"Perhaps you should knock him out, Glorfindel." Haldir suggested, slipping his dagger into its sheath, having just finished sharpening it.

"It is impetuous of you to suggest that, Haldir," Gandalf told him. The wizard was sitting some distance away, smoking. "For you are not one of his advisors."

"Does that mean I can?" Erestor muttered. He was still less than happy about Elrond's threat.

"Well, I may take you both of you up on that," Glorfindel said, standing up.

"You will not, Glorfindel." Elrond told him, sitting up straighter as the golden-haired elf walked towards him. "As your Lord, I would not allow that."

Glorfindel chuckled softly as this, but refrained from saying anything more. He sat down next to Elrond. "You need your rest, Elrond," he said in a more serious tone of voice. "for we must be prepared for whatever has taken over Imladris."

Elrond made a noncommittal sound, lost in thoughts.

So much had transpired in such a short time.

He only hoped all would be well in the end.

Gazing up at the clouded night sky, he could make out Gil-Estel, shining as steadily as ever. The sight was calming, he let out his breath slowly.

Whatever ill came out of this, the Valar would always see fit to bring good fate to counteract it.

:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:

"Estel. Estel, awaken!"

Vigorous shaking brought him out of a deep sleep. He groaned. "Ai, 'Dan, it's too early," he ground out. "Go bother 'Roh."

"Estel!" More shaking. Someone roughly jerked his cloak aside.

The voice was that of his father. Blearily, the boy sat up, "What—"

"Shh," Elrond bent forward, still crouched next to his son. "Do not speak so loudly."

Confused, he looked about them. "What's wrong?" he whispered. Then he realized how silent the forest had become. "Orcs?"

"Nay. Wargs."

He swallowed, and swiftly rose to his feet. He was about to draw his dagger, but Elrond's hand on his stopped him. He immediately felt annoyed. "Ada, I can—"

"Not this time," The elf lord interrupted him. "It is far too dangerous. Now go climb into the tree and stay up there until I give you leave."

"But I—"

"No."

"But—"

"Do not argue with me." He pushed him to the trunk of the tree. "Go, now."

Estel bit his tongue hard to keep the questions and retorts away. He pulled himself up into the tree, making sure he had a good spot to see everything.

Left behind like a small child—again. Why they not see I don not need to be protected this way?

Gandalf was building the fire up again; the rest of the elves had drawn their weapons and were standing in a circle around the fire.

Estel peered wildly about the dark forest, trying to see through the gloom of darkness.

He heard the wargs before he saw them.

Growls. The crack of twigs and plant life.

Then the yellow eyes that glowed with hunger and malice began appearing. He tried to count but lost track after twelve pairs of eyes.

The wargs encircled the elves. None of them moved. It was as if each group were waiting for the other to make the first move.

Estel wondered why they did not hurry up. He reached a shaky hand up to push his hair away from his face.

Finally, one of the wargs leapt towards the group, the rest of the pack following.

He heard the distinct sound of bowstrings, then the yelps of several wargs. From the sparse light of the fire he saw Glorfindel abandoning his bow for his sword, slashing at one of the creatures. The others followed suit.

The place seemed thick with wargs. The scent of their coat was unpleasant, and the sounds of their jaws snapping were frightful.

Yet Estel still wished he was down below. He knew he could help…

Making up his mind, the boy clambered down, hiding behind the tree. He held his dagger in one hand, the other tightened into a fist. His heart beat faster as he stepped away from the tree.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Haldir go down underneath two wargs. Without thinking too much, he ran over and brought his blade down, aiming for the neck. His blow was a little off, but it distracted the warg, making it howl and rear up. Estel stepped back and stabbed it again, not missing this time.

Haldir threw the other warg off himself. "What are you doing?" he gasped out. "Get away from here! You're supposed—"

"No!" The boy ran off before the elf could say anymore.

The elf cursed, kicked the dead warg, and ran after Estel.

Estel darted away, feeling pleased with himself. He had just killed a warg. They weren't so—

He skidded to a halt when he came face-to-face with a warg. The beast lowered its head, eyes gleaming and mouth dripping.

The boy held his dagger out in front of him.

Stop shaking! He forced his hand to grip his weapon tighter. Sweat beaded on his forehead, but he barely paid it any attention…

The warg leapt forward, faster than Estel expected. He felt the creature land on him, driving him to the ground and knocking the breath out of him. No! His mind screamed at him. The boy wildly flailed an arm, attempting to slash its muzzle. The warg growled, snapping its fangs dangerously closed to his face.

Claws gouged at his face. Estel shut his eyes and mouth.

He kicked frantically—

—someone was calling his name—

A sharp pain on his arm nearly made him scream and drop his dagger. He grit his teeth, kicking harder, stabbing blindly—

The dagger plunged into something soft, and then he felt something heavy drop on top of him.

"Ugh…" He shoved the dead warg aside, panting as he stood up. His arm hurt, and scratches on his face stung. He forced his leg to move. There were still wargs…

He was knocked over as a warg jumped on his back. His chin hit the ground hard, and he accidently bit down on his lower lip. It started to bleed.

Estel hardly noticed it. He was trying to wriggle away as he heard the growls and snapping of teeth close to his neck. Awkwardly, he flung his hand backward, trying to injure the warg.

His hair fell in his face and mixed with the salty taste of blood in his mouth as he struggled.

He cried out suddenly when something cut into his shoulder, this pain more intense than his other injuries. Fear spurring him, he somehow managed to twist around and fling the warg away from him.

Estel pushed himself up on his knees, one hand supporting him. The warg was coming back, leaping—

With a desperate shout, he got his feet under him and with the last of his strength threw the dagger straight into the gaping mouth of the warg.

He collapsed before he saw the warg fall dead, Elrond's voice the last thing he heard.

:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:

Voice filtered into his mind. They were sharp and loud, making him groan and move away. But something or someone held him down. He struggled.

"Estel, hold still!"

His eyes flew open to meet his father's gaze. Worry and relief were in that gaze. "Ada?" he mumbled, blinking. "What…the wargs…"

"The last few ran off."

He was going to ask more, but the renewed pain in his arm and shoulder made him wince and exhale sharply. "Ai!" Estel felt a hand grip his good shoulder.

"We are nearly done."

"We?" he let his eyes rotated a bit further to see in was Gandalf who was bandaging his shoulder. His head was in Elrond's lap, he realized. "Was anyone else hurt?"

"Scratch and bites wounds like yours." Elrond told him. "Especially you."

"Oh."

Elrond caught his chin as he was about to look away. "I told you to stay up in the tree, Estel," he said.

"I wanted to help." Even after he had killed three wargs, his father still did not change his thinking. "And I did!"

"That is not the point." The peredhel shook his head. "You disobeyed me, for the second time."

"But—"

"What do you want me to do? You were supposed to stay in Lothlórien until the entire matter was resolved. You ignored my command and came here. Then, when I told you stay up in the tree, you joined the battle and nearly got yourself killed." Elrond was not shouting, but his low tone of voice had a far more frightening effect. "What do you want me to do with you?"

His throat had closed, his mind a blank. He sat up slowly, hugging his arm to his chest and avoiding his father's gaze.

"Answer me."

Estel swallowed. "I don't know," he choked out. "It's not that I wanted to disobey you—" He stopped and corrected himself. "—I mean, yes, I disobey, but not because I wanted to make you angry. I—I wanted to—" The boy searched for the right words. "I am sixteen. I am not some mindless child." His breath came out ragged. "I wanted to prove that." Swallowing, he tried to say what he felt. "I…wanted to be like you."

The clearing was silent. Estel glanced about; the elves had scattered, their backs turned on the scene. Gandalf had also moved away, but was openly watching him. I'm the center of attention—again. He grimaced at this. His injuries hurt, and he pressed his good hand over them in an attempt to make the pain subside. He knew he should say something, but the words were against his pride…he glanced up at his father.

Elrond's expression was unreadable.

He dropped his gaze, fingers digging in his torn sleeve and tugging at the loose thread. "I…" He swallowed. "I'm sorry." He was…a little. There was a part of him that wondered why his father couldn't see his way. "I'll go back to Lothlórien, then."

"Estel."

He looked up.

"I am not going to send you back—" Elrond began.

"You're not?"

"What point would there be in that?" The elf-lord shook his head. "And I'm not going to reprimand you, so you can stop trying to tear the rest of your shirt into shreds." A half-smile.

"What?" he glanced down to see the hole in his shirt was bigger. Sheepishly, he dropped his hand to his side. "And…you won't?"

"No," Elrond said, "I have nothing to say anymore, except that you better listen to me in the future." He fixed the boy with a look.

Estel only nodded. He had feeling that these sort of conversation were far from being over. Until the day he was grown and on his own, he would always be at odds in some regards. "I'll try."

"Good."

"At least he did not promise he would not disobey," Gandalf interjected.

"I don't make promises I can't keep," Estel said, turning his head to look at the wizard. "And I know I won't be able to keep this one."

Gandalf smiled at this. "Fair enough."

Estel returned the smile a bit hesitantly. He jumped a little when Haldir stepped behind him.

"Thank you, Estel."

"For what?" Then he remembered, and he blushed. "It was nothing."

The elf chuckled and ruffled his hair. The boy moved away. He was used to getting this sort of treatment from his brothers, but it did not mean he liked it. "But I still think you should have stayed in the tree."

"And let you become a meal?" he said incredulously.

"Fair enough." Haldir smiled at time before walking away to clean his sword.

Estel watched him go, hiding a yawn.

He felt his father's hand on his shoulder. "You should rest."

"No. There are only a few more hours of nighttime. We should move on." He started to rise, but Elrond held him down.

"You do not make the decisions, Estel." The peredhel looked at him sternly.

"Fine," he heaved a sigh and flopped to the ground. "I suppose I can lie here and stare up at the stars while the rest of you discuss matters you don't want me to hear."

Elrond raised an eyebrow at this. "Iôn…"

"All right." He turned over on his side. "Good night, then." He closed his eyes. Of course he was not going to admit that he was dead-tired… "Could you get my dagger back and clean it? I forgot to—"

"Do not worry. I will see to it."

He felt his father pull a clock over him and press a kiss on his forehead. "Rest…just rest…" (3) The elf's voice softened. "We will run into danger soon enough; there is no need for us to rush…"

Estel half-nodded.

TBC…



Translations:

Ada – endearing form of Adar, which means "father"

Tithen pen – little one

Peredhel – half-elf

Iôn – son


Notes:

(1) From Book One, Chapter III, "Three is Company" of the Fellowship of the Ring.

(2) The Silvan "tongue" was like a dialect of Sindarin, used among elves in Lothlórien and Mirkwood. Evidence of this is given in the chapter in which the Fellowship first encounters the Lothlórien elves. Therefore (Though this is irrelevant to the story), Legolas probably knew three to four languages (Maybe even five or six if he learned Quenya and the Avari language).

(3) Borrowed from Mellon Chronicles, with permission from Cassia.

A/N: Next chapter is titled "Encounters." (Well, duh…the I finally get to that!) It's the last chapter, and there is a warning for those who are squeamish about blood, angst, etc. There is also an AU warning because some may think it so. After the last chapter is an epilogue, and I'm done. Well, there's also the sequel, but I'll save that for later…

A/N #2: I can't promise a faster update. This story is becoming harder to write as it approaches the climax. I know this chapter isn't my best; Wendy pointed out a lot of things that would improve. However, I honestly don't have the heart at the moment to change much; I've taken too long with this story and it's eating away my creativity, and the more I look at this chapter, the more I want to delete it and start from scratch. I'm not going to do that, however, because that would mean taking even longer (Maybe once this story is completed, I'll find the inspiration to give it a full revision). I won't abandon this story until it's finished, though, upon my word as a true Tolkien fan. Thank you those who've stayed with me patiently, prodding me along.