AN: This is a continuation of a series of stories titled Interrupted Journeys. Parts One through Four have already been posted. It should not be necessary to read those parts of the series to understand this story, though you might understand the characters a bit better if you did.

This part of the story is set in Legolas's childhood, when he is 35, during a time when the Shadow is spreading quickly in Mirkwood.

Any Sindarin used is translated at the end of each chapter.

I hope you enjoy this part of Interrupted Journeys.

Chapter One

Third Age 1975

Legolas's heart beat so loudly as he silently followed the tracks of a large buck, that he wondered if the others around him could hear it. The buck was close. The earth around its tracks was loose and soft, so freshly disturbed that it had not yet begun to settle. The buck's musky scent carried on the gentle breeze that stirred the leaves around him. Legolas gripped his bow tightly. A glance to his right told him that Galithil was also following a fresh trail, a short distance away. Like his cousin, Galithil moved slowly and soundlessly, scanning the brush around him intently.

Legolas focused on the trail he was following. There was a small clearing directly ahead. He would have to be careful to make sure he did not give away his presence while crossing it. He slowed his pace and proceeded forward in a crouched position. The forest opened up and warm sunlight streamed down upon him as he crawled to the edge of the clearing. When he reached it, he froze. Behind him, his father and their guard, Conuion, stopped dead as well. On the far side of the clearing, a leafless branch appeared to dance above the thick undergrowth on the forest floor--the antlers of a large buck. The animal was unconcernedly browsing amongst the berries of an early-bearing dewberry bush. Legolas fit an arrow against his bowstring and watched the buck. Its tail was towards him. That was not an angle that afforded Legolas a killing shot. After a moment, it turned slightly, the better to reach another branch of berries. Legolas raised his bow slightly, anticipating the buck turning just a bit more. Then, its ears flashed forward, towards the north, and the buck danced around, head held high, tail flipped up, searching its surroundings nervously. It had heard Galithil and Aradunnon.

"You have a clean shot, ion nin."

The words whispered in Legolas's ear were barely a breath of wind. Legolas lifted his bow, drew and aimed at a spot above the deer's foreleg and below its shoulder. After only a slight hesitation, he loosed his arrow and a second later the frightened deer bolted into the forest, crashing wildly through the undergrowth. Legolas heard Galithil groan and recognized the sound of another deer joining the buck to flee.

Shouldering their bows, Thranduil and Legolas stood as one and rushed to the spot the deer had occupied. After dashing forward a few steps, Thranduil held back, allowing his son to search the ground. Legolas could not help but grin when his father's tense posture betrayed that he was nearly as excited as his son. With effort, Legolas turned his attention to the task at hand. After a moment, he darted a few feet into the brush and picked up an arrow. It was stained with a red, frothy substance.

"It passed through the buck's lungs," Legolas said, so pleased that he was a little breathless. He looked to his father for confirmation.

Thranduil nodded with a broad smile. "That will be a very quick kill. An outstanding shot, ion nin," he said, putting an arm around his son's shoulders.

Legolas felt as if he might burst from pride and excitement.

"Clean that arrow," Thranduil continued, "and then we will go find your deer. We should not have far to look. Did you pay attention to the direction he fled?"

Legolas nodded and gestured towards the north. Unable to restrain himself, he stepped into the undergrowth even as he wiped down the arrow, scanning for the deer's blood trail, anxious to find his first kill.

*~*~*

Galithil strode through the deepening shadows. His mind was supposed to be on gathering medicinal plants. That was, after all, the task they had been assigned today after lessons. Instead, his thoughts were fixed on finding a deer. He did not truly resent that Legolas had been the first amongst them to kill a deer, even if he was younger. But Galithil had come so close to finally killing one himself on that hunt, that he was practically obsessed with it now.

For that reason, he watched Berior and Brethil from the corner of his eye. They walked a few paces to his left, following the light tracks of a small deer, possibly a doe, that had recently passed this way. Berior bent closer and closer to the ground in the increasing darkness in an effort not to lose the trail. At his shoulder, Brethil scanned the forest in front of them, hoping to spot the deer before it spotted them. Several steps behind them loped Anastor and Noruil. They looked around in all directions as they walked, trying, in an exaggerated manner, to give an impression of supreme aloofness. But Galithil did not miss how tightly they gripped the bows hanging by their sides, so he knew they were still angry that Berior had insisted on taking the lead tracking the deer after they had lost its trail for the second time.

On Galithil's right, and lagging even further behind than Anastor and Noruil, were Legolas and Maidhien. They were following quietly, having been 'shushed' several times already, but Galithil had heard them stop and sigh and whisper together on multiple occasions. Fortunately, the clearing he had suggested they investigate was near by. It had a thick growth of yarrow, the last time Galithil had come out this far. He hoped the deer they were tracking would be in sight of it, because he knew he had no hope at all of persuading Legolas and Maidhien to continue deeper into the forest, no matter what he promised the next clearing held.

"There!" Legolas called. His voice seemed unusually loud in the silence that surrounded them. "And look at all the yarrow!" he exclaimed, trotting into the clearing. He knelt on the ground and laid his bow down next to him. Pulling his knife from his belt, he began cutting the fern-like leaves of a yarrow plant. "I cannot deny that finding this much yarrow makes it worth it to come out this far," he said, with a glance at his cousin.

Galithil nodded, kneeling a few feet away from him. He let the pack he carried slide from his shoulders and he placed it on the ground between them. "Nestoreth will be very pleased that we found the wild ginger and all this yarrow too," he said with a virtuous tone. He opened the pack so he and Legolas could toss their cuttings into it, drew his knife from its sheath and began cutting leaves. But his eyes never left the forest as he searched for any sign of movement that might betray the deer's location.

"If you are not interested in hunting..." Berior hissed in a whisper, stalking past them along the edge of the clearing.

"Which is utterly unbelievable," Brethil interjected.

"Then at least respect those of us who are and be quiet," Berior finished.

"Sorry," Legolas replied in a loud whisper. He laughed quietly when Berior thrust his hand out behind him, palm facing Legolas, trying to wave him to silence.

Maidhien plopped down next to Galithil as he cut yarrow leaves and played with the straps of the pack.

"What does the yarrow do?" she asked, not bothering to lower her voice. That earned her a 'shush' as Berior and Brethil continued to follow the deer's trail to the far side of the clearing.

"It is like the wild ginger--it helps break the fever caused by the orc's poisoned arrows and blades. But it is even better because it also helps stop the bleeding that some of the poisons cause," Galithil whispered. "And there have been so many orc attacks this year, that Nestoreth has used up all of the yarrow in the garden that she can cut. So finding some wild yarrow is going to make her very happy."

"At least someone will be happy with us then," Maidhien said under her breath. "Our adars certainly will not be so pleased. It will be well after evening meal before we get home."

"It does seem to be dark awfully early," Legolas commented. "Even the clearing is rather dark." He hurriedly cut several more yarrow stalks. "I would wager we are half way through the territory of the Western Patrol..."

"And you give me a hard time for exaggerating," Galithil scoffed.

Legolas grinned at him, but continued speaking, raising his voice to drown his cousin's interruption. "We should head home. If we leave right now, we might make evening meal if we run all the way back to the stronghold."

Berior and Brethil stopped, now well beyond the clearing, and scowled at Legolas. "Easy for you to say that we should give up now. You already killed a deer." They turned back around and continued following the hoof prints in the failing light.

Legolas frowned.

Galithil looked between Legolas and his cousins, Anastor and Noruil. Then he carefully scanned the forest on the far side of the clearing one last time. Seeing nothing, he quietly released a long sigh. They were not going to find this deer. If they raced home, the amount of medicinal plants they would return with might be enough to assuage their fathers' wrath. It was time to give in to Legolas, as much as he regretted it.

"We have cut enough for Nestoreth to use for now," Galithil said, standing and wiping off his knife. He saw Legolas roll his eyes and knew his excuse of finding the yarrow had not fooled his cousin a bit. "And we can tell her this is here, since there is plenty more to cut. But Maidhien and Legolas are right. We should go back."

Maidhien eagerly stood. She hefted the full pack and began closing it up hurriedly.

"Be careful! Those are valuable!" Galithil exclaimed. He pulled the pack away from her, scooped up the plants that had spilled and fastened it properly.

Maidhien glared at him and then spun on her heels to walk back in the direction of the Elf Path. But she paused after only one step and studied the trees.

Berior, Brethil, Anastor and Noruil, on the other hand, did not stop following the deer. In fact, in the time it had taken Galithil to fasten the pack, they had walked out of sight amid the shadows of the trees.

"We will have to go after them," Galithil said, stepping into the shadows and hoping against hope that the few more paces this would buy him would be enough to spot the deer.

Legolas sighed, but tugged on Maidhien's sleeve for her to follow.

Maidhien tore her eyes from the trees and hurried after them. "We are going to be in so much trouble," she said, not bothering to whisper.

Legolas, Galithil and Maidhien silently jogged into the trees and their friends quickly came into view in the dim light. Galithil heard Legolas draw a breath, undoubtedly to call to them and insist they turn around. Before he could speak, there came a rustling noise that everyone heard--even Berior, Brethil, Anastor and Noruil, who were still a good distance away, froze at the sound. Galithil frowned. The forest must be playing tricks on him. The noise sounded as if it were coming from the trees, but as soon as he thought that, he saw a flash of white and heard another rustling directly in front of him. It was the deer!

Galithil stifled a groan as he watched Berior, Brethil, Anastor and Noruil draw their bows and take aim. He could not take a shot because his cousins stood between him and the deer. The doe was facing them directly, eyes wide. Galithil scowled. With the deer facing them, none of his cousins had a shot they were skilled enough to make. He considered whether he should say something. His father had lectured him long and hard about being certain he had a killing shot before he released an arrow--so long and hard, that Galithil was almost willing to frighten the deer and ruin their shot rather than see the deer merely wounded. He heard Legolas suck in a sharp breath next to him and assumed he was about to say something himself.

Rather than hearing Legolas's voice, Galithil jumped when a scream split the silence around him instead.

"Run!" Maidhien yelled.

Galithil whirled around automatically to see what Maidhien was screaming about. As he spun, Legolas's elbow poked him in the nose. His cousin had his bow at full draw and was aiming into the trees. Galithil gaped at that for a moment, blinking when it registered that Legolas's hands were shaking so hard he could barely keeping his arrow against his bow string.

In the background, Galithil heard the doe crash though the undergrowth and he heard Maidhien following it, whimpering. But his eyes were fixed on the trees where Legolas aimed his bow.

"Ssss," hissed a dark form. "They look tender."

"Young and sweet," another said, rustling towards them on eight spindly legs.

*~*~*

Ion nin -- My son