Summary: JRR Tolkien said that of the members of the Fellowship, Legolas did the least. But what would have happened had he declined the quest? The butterfly flaps its wings . . . AU, MovieVerse, rated PG-13.

Disclaimer: This is a work of derivative fiction based on the characters and world of JRR Tolkien. I merely borrow them for a time, for my own enjoyment and, I hope, that of my readers. I am making no money from this endeavor. Beta reader for this story is IgnobleBard., with special thanks to the members of The Garden of Ithilien and Lizard Council writing groups.

The Last Temptation of Legolas Thranduilion

Chapter One: The Council of Elrond

"Oh, when I was in love with you
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they'll say that I
Am quite myself again."

A.E. Houseman, 'A Shropshire Lad'

"I will take it! I will take it!" The loud arguments died down as all in Elrond's council chamber turned to the dark-haired halfling, astonished. "I will take the Ring to Mordor. Though-- I do not know the way."

The Ithron, Mithrandir, closed his aged eyes as if in momentary pain. Even an accomplished chess master might spare a moment of pity for one of his game pieces, it seemed. "I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear," he said, placing reassuring hands on the hobbit's shoulders.

"If by my life or death, if I can protect you, I will." Aragorn stepped forward to kneel at the feet of Bilbo's young kinsman. "You have my sword."

As he heard these brave, noble words, Legolas Thranduilion's heart seemed to pause in its eternal beat. 'Oh, no, Estel -- no!'

So this was to be his strange fate, Legolas mused; born with the vision, seen in the week before his coming of age, of a green leaf withered upon its branch by an early frost, and sealed years later with the solemn promise to a beloved lady to protect her son. The hour of his doom had come upon him at last, and this was the form it would take.

The man from the south -- Boromir of Gondor, was it? -- had spoken true for all his brusqueness. One did not simply walk into Mordor. One went to Mordor with huge armies, and even in the midst of those huge armies, one fought and died upon the barren plain before the Gates. Legolas knew this only too well.

He knew it was his turn to speak now, offering his service, fulfilling his old vow to Aragorn's mother, and yet the spit had dried in his throat and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He recalled his father's troubled words to him before sending him out on this mission to Rivendell to deliver woeful news: I see you, on a barren plain with ash for earth and a sky like lead. It is a place I know all too well. And then your face turns into that of Oropher, standing on that same plain.

If Legolas followed Aragorn now, it would be to Mordor, to stand before the Black Gate, perhaps at the very spot where his grandsire had died. And that quest would mean the end of his life.

"You don't have to do this, you know."

"I beg your pardon?" With the natural suspiciousness of Thranduil Oropherion's son, Legolas turned and found himself staring into the face of a strange elf clad in russet and gold. He bristled. Who was this person to be offering him advice?

This elf's hair was black and his eyes were a strange pale amber hue. How odd! Legolas had never seen elven eyes of that color, but he was unfamiliar with the Golodhrim enough to suppose that he might have missed such things before. Many folk had come to Elrond's Council: Men, Elves from Cirdan's and Gildor Inglorion's people, and even a group of Dwarves from Dain's Halls in the Lonely Mountain east of Mirkwood. Remembering the unpleasantness of eighty years past, Legolas kept as far away from these Naugrim as was decently polite, although he had just now come close to a face to face shouting match with the most vocal of them, an auburn-bearded hot-head who had been fool enough to try to smite the One Ring with his neighbor's axe.

"I said, you do not have to do this." The strange elf twisted where he stood and leaned in close, his voice beguiling and kept low for intimacy. "You looked as if you were about speak and join in on this perilous errand. How much more can be expected of you? How many times have you risked your life for Isildur's Heir, son of Thranduil? You have no need to shirk your duty to your father to follow Aragorn now."

"I made a promise," Legolas said. His wariness lulled by those oddly hypnotic eyes, he did not even pause to wonder how this handsome stranger knew him or his business. "I do not take such things lightly."

"You made a promise to a lady," said the amber-eyed elf, his honeyed tone faintly compassionate. "But how long must that obligation to her hold? She spurned you, son. She died years ago -- with the name of her husband on her lips. What do you owe her now?"

Legolas furrowed his brow in consternation. Splendid! He had long ago resigned himself to the fact that most of the folk at Rivendell had been aware of his hopeless infatuation for the Lady Gilraen, but had total strangers learned of this too? He could not help a mental wince at the cold assessment of the outcome. Spurned indeed! Gilraen had done it out of kindness; he'd had that from the lady's own lips at the end, but it stung nonetheless. She had known of his feelings for her, and she had dismissed him as she might a foolish child holding out a crumpled flower to a great queen.

He looked about the Council area, which seemed to have become oddly quiet; those gathered having stilled their discourse in the aftermath of Aragorn's pledge. Even the dust motes seemed to hang suspended in the golden light. Legolas blinked hard and watched a leaf resume its drifting fall to the earth. At least, for a miracle, none of the others seemed to be paying attention to his whispered conversation with this stranger.

"Do not trouble yourself with the affairs of Mortals, young Thranduilion," the elf continued. "The continued existence of this Ring of Power is an old matter between Elrond and the line of Elendil. Let them deal with it. You have done more than enough in the service of your father's realm, and indeed, rumors of war from the east say that you will be needed there again, and soon. The Valar themselves could ask no more of you."

The stranger spoke the truth. Legolas looked at Aragorn and felt a moment of doubt. Despite Thranduil's parting words to him, giving him leave to follow his own judgment in how best to further the security of the people of Mirkwood, he knew it would break his father's heart to learn that he had set off on some foredoomed mission that must almost certainly mean his death. He shook his head and drew breath to speak, only to hear the silence broken before he could utter a word.

"You have my aid, such as I can give."

This was an Elven voice, but not one of the great lords such as Glorfindel or the sons of Elrond. Legolas turned to identify the speaker: an elf by the name of Indavir, whom he had met only in passing on earlier visits to the House of Elrond. Legolas knew little of him, save only to wonder how the hapless fellow had managed to earn himself the nonsensical nickname of 'Figwit.' And yet this Indavir seemed to have some courage about him.

"And my axe!" came a deep voice.

Legolas pursed his lips, trying to school his features into princely serenity, although he realized that to observers he must look as if he had smelled something bad. He could have sworn that the Nogoth accompanied those words with a snide glance directly at him.

Legolas looked at the stranger beside him and shrugged as the Gondorian added offers of his own assistance to the growing chorus. Frodo Baggins seemed to be well set for bodyguards, and truly, Legolas would not have been happy to share a long journey with a Dwarf -- especially the son of one that Thranduil had been forced to imprison not so long ago. He barely paid attention as three more of the halflings appeared out of nowhere and rushed forward demanding to be included in the quest.

"You see?" said his strange companion with an almost catlike smile. "You may go with an easy heart. You are not needed. You never were."

And so, on the first day of the eleventh month of the year 3018, Third Age of the Sun, Legolas and his retinue rode out from Rivendell, his mission to deliver the news of Gollum's escape discharged. The members of the group now coming to be known as the Nine Walkers would tarry for some time yet in the House of Elrond, making preparations for their journey south, but the Mirkwood delegation had not that luxury if they wished to traverse the Old Pass above Imladris before the first snows made the crossing impossible. When Aragorn's party would depart, he did not know, but it was no longer his concern. Legolas Thranduilion was going home.

Author's Note: This story is loosely based on Nikos Kazantzakis' novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. It is primarily MovieVerse with some book elements to make the plot work. All quotes from the movie and book belong to their respective copyholders.