Summary: It was meant to be an innocuous riding trip through familiar territory, but then things began to happen. Characters: Legolas, Aragorn and Thranduil

Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Calenlass. (I can't believe I forgot this. *blushes* Sorry, Cal! Just goes to show you shouldn't post while half asleep.)

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: I am just playing in Tolkien's wonderful world.


Of Healers

Somewhere Between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains

Aragorn tried to get to his feet. He fell back with a soft groan. There was not a part of him that did not ache. In all his lessons in healing, he had never been as conscious of the number of muscles in the human body as he was now, when every last one of his was screaming in agony.

"I do not believe I can stand," he rasped.

"I do not believe you can, either," came the response. "I do not know why you even tried. Foolish Man!" There was brief silence, followed by a scuffling sound, a muffled thump, and a rude word in Sindarin.

"Legolas?" Aragorn asked in alarm. "What happened? Are you injured?"

"Certainly not," the Elf replied. From his tone, you might have thought that he had never even seen the inside of a Healing Ward. "Iwas not the one staring vaguely into the distance instead of watching what an Orc was doing right before his eyes –"

"I was not staring vaguely into the distance!"

"Oh, I am so sorry. Forgive the error. Of course you were not. You were staring into the distance with great fascination, because counting the number of apple-blossoms on that tree over there is far more important than the scimitar that is being brandished an inch from your nose."

"That is an apple tree?" Aragorn asked, squinting.

"Can you not tell?"

"I am not a mad forest-dwelling Elf, am I? At that distance a tree is a tree. Where are you?"

"Here," Legolas said, appearing in Aragorn's field of vision. "I was picking up all the medical supplies you scattered when it finally dawned on you that there were Yrchalmost upon us and some defensive swordsmanship was in order." He dropped to the ground beside his friend. "What are your injuries?"

"I am fine," Aragorn said, smirking. At Legolas' look of appalled disbelief, he added, "Well, no, I am not fine in the least, but for the next half-hour I am going to pretend to be fine and make your attempts to disprove my assertion far more difficult than they need be. Then perhaps the next time youare injured, you will admit it at once and save everyone trouble."

"Estel!"


Eryn Galen, Several Centuries Ago

"Be careful," the elleth repeated anxiously. "It is the first time you are taking him out by yourself."

"Do not worry, Lindariel," Thranduil said, laughing at his wife's expression. "If I am capable of administering the realm, I am certainly capable of keeping an Elfling safe on a short trip into the forest."

"We are speaking of the same Elfling?"

"Why are you so worried? He normally complains that I am the one who does not let him do anything he enjoys!"

"You are a fool who thinks my son – my son – can hurt himself climbing trees in the garden. I am a sensible Elf who knows that there are dangers in the forest. You can treat this as a test. If you bring Legolas back to me undamaged and whole, I may – may – consider letting you take him riding alone again. If one hair on my son's head is harmed, you will answer for it."

"He is my son, too!"

"Yes, but you are incompetent."

Thranduil scowled.

"Considering how much faith you have in my ability as a parent, I am surprised you are not coming with us to supervise."

His wife smiled at him.

"You get so little time with Legolas, meleth. He will enjoy going riding with you. Just be careful. That child is more than a handful. He will want to run off to look at everything that interests him, and you are utterly incapable of refusing him anything."

"I am capable of refusing him!"

"When was the last time you did it?"

"That is beside the point," Thranduil said with dignity. "I have not had cause to refuse him before. I could do it easily if I wanted to. Really."


Somewhere Between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains

Aragorn bit back a cry of pain. Legolas, who had been stitching a gash in his arm, looked at him apologetically.

"I am sorry. It has been some time since I have been called on to dispense battlefield medication. I am almost finished – this is the last one. Then you can get some rest and I will set up camp. We should be safe enough here for some time."

Aragorn only nodded. Legolas, a little alarmed by his uncharacteristic compliance, frowned down at him.

"Is there something you have not told me about?"

"No, Elfling. I am just a little tired." He looked up at Legolas' concerned face with a smile. He had long ago accepted the fact that the Elf-prince, not accustomed to the company of Men as his foster-brothers were, would react, where Aragorn was concerned, to the lightest scratch with as much alarm as an arrow through a lung might deserve. "The injuries are only painful, not life-threatening. I will be fine."

"Are you certain?"

"I would not deceive you in this, Legolas. I promise you, all I need is rest."

Legolas nodded and returned his attention to the wound he had been stitching. He had done this for his fellow-warriors countless times, but he had never felt the kind of terror that made it nearly impossible to keep his hands steady as he worked. Every time he bound one of Aragorn's injuries, it seemed to bring their inevitable parting closer.

"I am finished," he said after a minute. "Here – drink this."

Aragorn sniffed at the cup that was held out to him, and would have laughed if he had not known that doing so would make his ribs ache.

"You think to slip that into me as though you are offering me a cooling drink? I thought you had more sense, Elfling."

"It will do you good to sleep."

"What if more Orcs come?"

"You have just proven your ineptitude as a watcher –"

"I let my attention slip only because I knew you were there and you would know if danger approached!"

"And I am here now. You need rest."

Aragorn studied the Elf's face for a moment. The expression in the blue eyes was one he knew very well, and did not like to see.

"I will drink it." Legolas smiled at him gratefully, and he added, "On one condition, Elfling."

"What?"

"You will not feel guilty about this. This was not your fault. You are right about one thing: I was not paying as much attention as I ought to have done."

"But I was – and I saw them. I should have done something."

"You warned me, and you shot them."

"Not all of them."

"You had barely a minute before they were on us. Not even you are that fast with the bow, Legolas. Nobody could be. You cannot blame yourself for not being able to kill three Orcs with each arrow."

"But –"

"Legolas, for once you will cease being stubborn and accept the fundamental fact that you are not the root cause of everything unpleasant that happens to me in your presence, or I will not drink that potion."

"I can force it down your throat – I could do that even if you were at full strength."

"You can," Aragorn agreed. "But you know and I know that you will not do anything of the kind. I am being perfectly clear, Legolas. I do not know why you are having such trouble seeing my point. This is not your fault."

"But –"

"I mean what I say. Until you accept that, I am not drinking one drop of that. I am not going to take the risk of you moping by yourself while I am in a drug-induced stupor."

Legolas sighed.

"I cannot induce you to be reasonable?"

"No."

"Very well."

"Very well what?"

"Very well, I agree with you."

"Say it, Legolas, or I will not drink."

Legolas scowled at him and growled, "Very well, I agree. I will not blame myself. This is not my fault. I could have done nothing to prevent it."

"That's my Elfling," Aragorn said, taking the cup from his friend with a grin. "Now you cannot change your mind."


Eryn Galen, Several Centuries Ago

"Be careful!" Thranduil said, for what seemed like the thousandth time in the past hour. The only response he got was a high childish giggle from above. "Thank the Valar Lindariel talked me out of letting him bring his own pony," he muttered. Then he called, "Legolas, where are you?"

"Here, Ada!" his son called back, the sound coming at least five yards away from where he had heard Legolas last.

"Do not move so fast, tithen pen! Come down!"

"But the trees are enjoying my company, Ada." This time Legolas' voice seemed closer.

"I would enjoy your company as well, Legolas. The trees never lack for your companionship, but I have so little time with you. Will you not ride with me now?"

There was a rustling sound, a shriek of laughter, and then, with a thump, Legolas landed on his rear on the ground in front of Thranduil. The Elven-king's horse, which was used to the child's antics by now, merely snorted and stepped away in a resigned manner.

"Do not do that, Legolas," Thranduil gasped. "At least not until you are old enough to be certain of falling on your feet. You might get hurt." He bent over to swing Legolas up onto the horse before him. "If you get hurt, Nana will kill me, and then she will forbid me from ever taking you riding again." He put one arm around the Elfling in a grip that was gentle but firm.

"I will not get hurt," Legolas said, wriggling into a more comfortable position.

Thranduil shook his head, quelling the urge to kiss the small golden head. Legolas was reaching the age when he felt that such gestures were childish. It had only been a day – they had set out the previous morning – and already he was gaining new respect for Lindariel. How she managed to keep their son from spending his life in the Healing Ward was beyond him: there was not a copse or thicket that they passed that Legolas did not dive into. The idea that there might be dangerous things in the trees seemed never to have occurred to him.

"Are you certain you want to be an archer, Legolas? You would not rather be a healer or – or perhaps a minstrel?"

"I want to be an archer," his son insisted, raising bright eyes to his. "Lord Thorontur says that if I am an archer I can help you defend the kingdom."

"I will have a word with Lord Thorontur," Thranduil grumbled. "Giving you ideas like this… Suppose there were no need to defend the kingdom, Legolas? What would you want to do then?"

"Listen to the trees." Legolas squirmed around and got to his feet on the horse's back so that he could look his father in the eye. Thranduil, biting back an alarmed exclamation, tightened his grip. "Do you not want me to help you defend the kingdom, Ada? Or do you think I will not be very good –"

"I have no doubt you will be a wonderful archer, ion nîn," the Elven-king responded. "I just do not know how I will survive seeing you come home hurt – and if you are a warrior, there will be days when you come home hurt."

"But I will always come home," Legolas said, sitting down again. "I will always come back to you, Ada."

"I hope so, tithen pen."


Somewhere Between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains

Legolas sat with his back to an ancient oak, troubled. His promise to Aragorn notwithstanding, he was finding it very difficult to keep from feeling guilty about what had happened. He had been a warrior centuries longer than his friend had. Whether or not the Man had noticed the Orcs' approach in time to defend himself, he should have stopped them.

He chewed at his under-lip nervously. Aragorn had had a restless sleep, muttering and half-waking several times.

Legolas had been taught how to stitch wounds and splint bones, as all warriors were: in the battle-field there was not always time to wait until the injured could be carried to healers. But beyond the most basic necessities he had learnt nothing. There had never been any need. In any case, none of his father's healers had much experience of mortals.

He wished now that he had taken a few lessons from Lord Elrond. Then he might have known if the slight heat in Aragorn's skin was normal for Men or a sign of infection setting in.

"I wish we were closer to Imladris," he muttered.

His injuries are not life-threatening, Elfling. Do not worry so much.

Legolas jerked. He had not been aware that the tree was paying any attention to him.

How do you know?

Men have passed this way before. Some of them have been injured. This is not the first time there have been dark creatures on this path. I have seen Men injured worse than he is. They have lived. But…

But?Legolas asked in alarm. "But" is not good. Is something wrong?

Not with the Man. Do not worry about him. There are still Orcs and Wargs in the area. I do not think you should be in the open. You might look after yourself, but you cannot look after yourselfandyour friend.

Where can we go? Is there a village nearby?

A village of Men, yes… Not far down this road. Evil creatures seldom venture near it; it is well protected. Can he ride?

I hope so.

With a sigh, Legolas leaned over and shook his friend gently.

"Estel – wake, Estel."

Aragorn groaned, swatting at the Elf's hand and mumbling something that sounded distinctly like a curse before he opened his eyes.

"I thought you were going to let me sleep," he grumbled.

"I was. There are still Orcs here. We must get to safety. You cannot stay in the open now – you cannot defend yourself if we are found. Apparently there is a village –"

"No," Aragorn said sharply, coming suddenly to full awareness. "I know that village. We cannot go there."

Legolas stared at his friend.

"Why not?"

"There is a reason they have managed to keep their village safe all these centuries. They are deeply mistrustful of outsiders, Legolas, and they hate all those not of the race of Men – Elves as much as Orcs. If they realize that you are an Elf they will kill you."

Legolas shrugged.

"That is a risk I must take, then. You need to be in a safer place than this. Besides, they might have healers in a village. I will be happier if a healer who knows something of mortals has seen your injuries."

"Legolas –"

"You are running a fever. I do not understand these Mannish maladies of yours. If Lord Elrond were here –"

"Legolas –"

"Or even Feredir or Calathiel, really. They have both studied with your father and they know something of these things –"

"Legolas!"

"What, Estel?"

"We are not going. You do not understand. If they know you are an Elf, they really will kill you as soon as look at you. I could not live with myself if that happened. You cannot take the risk. We will stay here."

Legolas grinned.

"One skillful Elven warrior with centuries of experience, one ragged and injured Man. Which of us do you think will get his way, mellon nîn?"


Eryn Galen, Several Centuries Ago

"Legolas, no! Look out!"

Even as Thranduil shouted, and heard the trees echo his warning, he knew it was too late. Legolas looked up, but by that time the wolf had already jumped. Its jaws closed around the Elfling's arm as it knocked him over, his squeal barely audible over its loud growl.

Thranduil drew his bow, but he did not dare shoot. Legolas had run several yards ahead of the horse. At that distance, the Elven-king was not sure that he could avoid hitting his son.

Drawing in a deep breath, he aimed for a point over a foot above the wolf's head, hoping to scare it away. It did not react to the first arrow. The second, slightly lower, made it look up, but it was only at the third that the animal decided that its prey was not worth having long, sharp objects fly incessantly in its direction. With a snort, it disappeared into the undergrowth.

Legolas was not moving.

His heart in his throat, Thranduil galloped the distance and was off his horse before it had even stopped, on his knees beside his son.

"Legolas!" He turned the Elfling over carefully, grimacing at the sight of blood on the small tunic. "Legolas, can you hear me?" Thranduil realized his voice was shaking. The sight of Legolas' half-closed eyes and unresponsive face did nothing to calm his nerves. "Legolas, tithen pen, say something!"

Legolas stirred, blinking a few times and finally opening his eyes.

"Ada?"

"Yes, Legolas, I am here. You will be fine. Let me get you off the road, and then I will see to your injuries." He picked his son up and got to his feet. Normally he would have loved the feeling of the small arms wrapping themselves around his neck. Now it just made him quicken his stride.


Somewhere Between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains

"And remember," Aragorn went on, "when we get there, you give a copper to the stable boy – a copper, Legolas, not a silver penny – and tell him to look after the horses well. That is all. Then go straight into the tavern and –"

"Is this what you call resting?" Legolas demanded. "You are clearly terrible at it."

"I am riding with you, am I not?" Aragorn responded, turning his head slightly to look at his friend. "If I were not resting, I would be riding by myself, on my horse, not in front of you like a child."

"Oh, go back to sleep, Estel."

"I do not want to sleep until we are safely in the inn. I do not want to wake up and find that you have given yourself away by greeting the stable boy in the name of your Elven-lord –"

"I shall do nothing of the kind –"

"Or asked for vintage Dorwinion –"

"I thought Men had Dorwinion. I distinctly remember Galion telling me that."

"This is why I cannot let you handle this on your own. Taverns and inns in wayside villages do not have Dorwinion! We are nearly there, Elfling. Pay attention. When we go inside, tell the innkeeper that we need a room. If you will stop for a moment, I will explain the coins –"

"We are not stopping!"


Eryn Galen, Several Centuries Ago

Thranduil laid Legolas down as gently as he could, his state of near-panic not improved by the Elfling's half-closed eyes.

"Legolas?" Legolas opened his eyes, although his gaze seemed unfocused. "Legolas, I must check your injuries. I am going to undo your tunic. Tell me if I do anything that hurts you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Ada."

"You will be fine, I promise." Thranduil started to undo the tunic, fumbling at the clasps with shaking hands. "I am so sorry, Legolas. I do not know how I let it get so close to you. I – can you raise your arm? Just a little, tithen pen. I will help you."

"Ada?"

"Yes?"

"Why are you so… upset?"

The question made Thranduil laugh despite himself.

"If you are going to be an archer, Legolas, you had best get used to seeing me upset." He pulled his son's tunic off, paling at the sight of the deep cuts the wolf's teeth and claws had made on the Elfling's arm and chest. "You have to see the healers… But I should clean and stitch these first. It will be a long ride home." He sighed. "This will hurt. I would give you something to put you to sleep, but I do not know how much an Elfling needs and I cannot risk giving you too much."

Beyond a hiss and a soft sob, Legolas did not react when Thranduil cleaned his cuts. When he was finished, he found that his hands were trembling far too much to thread the needle. He had tended to fellow-warriors before, even to his father, but nothing could have prepared him for the sight of his son's blood.

With a curse, he thrust the needle into its case and reached out to lay a hand on Legolas' head.

"I am sorry, Legolas. I wanted you to enjoy this trip, not…"

"Ada –"

"I… I do not know what to do."

To Thranduil's shock, the voice that answered him was that of an adult and spoke in the Common Speech of Men.

"Perhaps I can help you, Master Elf."


Somewhere Between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains

"The one with the falcon," Aragorn said patiently, watching Legolas as he stood by the window sorting through his coinage. "That, and a few coppers."

"None of these coins has a falcon on it," Legolas protested. "There is just that strange-looking sparrow."

"That is the falcon."

"That cannot be a falcon. You do not know the one I mean, Estel. It has an odd beak – but decidedly not the beak of any bird of prey – and the angle of its wings is –"

"That is a falcon, Legolas. Honestly, I do not know how your father has endured you all these centuries! Here we are, stuck in a village whose inhabitants will kill you as soon as look at you if they realize you are an Elf, and youstand there quibbling about the accuracy of the casting on coins. I am surprised you did not just tell them who you were and save them the trouble of guessing!"

The Elf scowled at his friend, although the expression was belied by the anxiety with which he prodded at the fire.

"Are you comfortable?"

"For the last time, Elfling, yes." Aragorn eyed his friend with a mixture of amusement and frustration. "You have memorized the names of the coins; now sit down. You will not help anybody by exhausting yourself."

"Elves cannot exhaust themselves."

"Can Elves be knocked out by hard objects flung by infuriated Men?"

"Estel!" Legolas protested, laughing. "You could never hit me. Your aim is appalling." He sat on the edge of the bed. "I am so sorry, gwador nîn. I should have –"

"You should have stayed in Mirkwood and I should have stayed in Rivendell! That way we would never have met and I would not now be attempting to explain to you that everything unpleasant that happens in Middle-earth is not your fault." He reached for Legolas' shoulder with his good hand. "Please, mellon nîn. I cannot rest when you are this upset."

"I am not upset."

"You are shaking."

"I was scared."

"I will be fine."

"I will believe that when the healer says it." Legolas sighed. "I wish you would keep yourself safe. What if something like this had happened when I was not with you?"

"Believe me, Legolas, I do not let my attention wander while I am in dangerous territory unless I am accompanied by a valiant Elven warrior whom I am happy to trust with my life." He squeezed his friend's shoulder. "Now cheer up before the healer comes. That melancholy what-will-I-do-with-my-endless-centuries expression does far more to mark you as an Elf than even those pointed ears."

Legolas grinned.

"The innkeeper thought I was a Man."

"No, Elfling. The innkeeper knew I was a Man, and he thought you were my brother. If you had come by yourself, you would have been found out in minutes."

Before Legolas could say anything, there was a knock at the door. He pulled his hood up over his head and went to answer it.


Eryn Galen, Several Centuries Ago

"I do not know who you are," the Man said. "Subjects of the Elven-king in this forest, I suppose. I am a healer. I have never worked on an Elf before, but I have heard that they are not very different. I can help the child."

Thranduil stared. His first instinct was to refuse to allow the stranger anywhere near his son.

"I know how you must feel," the man said. "I would not be pleased about letting someone I did not know tend to one of my children. But I can help. I have healed young ones before. I know what they need."

Thranduil glanced at his son, whose eyes were beginning to lose focus.

"I can help him, Master Elf," the man urged. "Please, let me do this. I do not like seeing the child in pain."

Reluctantly, Thranduil nodded.

"Is there anything I can do?"

"I will give him a sleeping drug now. There is another plant that might help him later. I do not know what you would call it. It is small, with spiny leaves and purple and white flowers."

"I know the one you mean. It grows nearby." The Elf looked back at his son, biting his lip. "But I do not want to leave him."

"I will give him the drug now. He will not even know you are gone."

"If he wakes up and finds me missing…" After a moment's hesitation, Thranduil dropped to his knees by Legolas' side. "Can you listen to me for a moment, ion nîn?" he said, switching back to Sindarin. "I am going away for a few minutes –"

The Elfling's eyes widened.

"Leaving?"

"I will return at once, Legolas. I am only going to get something to help you. This man will stay with you until I return. He is a healer. Do as he tells you." He squeezed his son's hand. "Will you be all right?"

"Yes, Ada."

Thranduil smiled at his son, patted the golden head, and turned to the strange man again.

"He does not speak your language," he told the man. "I do not know if you speak the Elven tongue –"

"No, but you need not worry, Master Elf. The little one and I will understand each other. I am very fond of children."

"You are sure he will be all right if I leave? He is very young. He has never been alone among strangers before. I do not want him to think I am abandoning him –"

"He will be fine."

Thranduil reached surreptitiously behind his back for the tree trunk.

Tell me if he wakes, or if he seems upset that I have gone, or if he seems scared of the mortal, or if the mortal seems to be threatening him, or if –

Go! the tree said in exasperation. We are watching over the Elfling. You may not trust the Man, but at least trust us.


Somewhere Between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains

"This was never done by a wolf," the healer said. "Not even one of that terrible breed that lives in the mountains. What happened? Brigands?"

"Orcs," Legolas said.

"Aye." The healer nodded. "Their scimitars might cause damage like this. I do not believe there is cause for concern. None of his wounds appears infected. He will heal, given enough time. You will have to stay here for a few days."

"A few days?" Aragorn protested. "But – no – we cannot. We must leave in the morning."

"We must do nothing of the kind," Legolas said firmly. "I will tell you what must happen: you must rest. I have more of those sleeping herbs left – it is safe to give him a sleeping potion?" he asked the healer. "It is the only way to keep him from trying to get up."

"Just see if I ever help you sneak out of the Healing Wards again," Aragorn grumbled.

The healer laughed.

"Perfectly safe. In fact, I recommend it. Make sure he eats something first. I will give him something to lower his fever. It appears to be a consequence of the injuries. It should abate by tomorrow. I will return in the morning to check his wounds." He patted Legolas' shoulder. "Do not worry. He will be fine."

"You see?" Aragorn said as the healer left. "Even he thinks there is no cause for worry. Foolish Elf!"

"He does not know you," Legolas growled.

"When will you believe I am fine?"

"When you can shoot straight," Legolas responded with a sudden, wicked grin.

Aragorn laughed.

"The way you define 'shoot straight', Elfling, you will be spending the next few decades thinking I am still suffering the ill-effects of this Orc attack."

"You see? You admit it! You will be suffering the ill-effects for years."

"When I am King of Gondor, I will have you thrown in the dungeons until you admit that you are an unreasonable child."


Eryn Galen, Several Centuries Ago

It took Thranduil longer than he expected to find the plant the man had requested. When he finally returned, Legolas was just beginning to stir.

"You are here," the man said, looking up with a smile. "Good. I did not expect him to wake so soon – apparently it does not have as strong an effect on Elves. I have stitched his wounds. I do not think there will be a problem, but you should take him to your own healers as soon as you can."

Thranduil nodded.

"I – I do not know how to thank you –"

"Do not try, Master Elf," the man said, smiling. "I am a father. I know how terrifying it can be to see a child hurt. I could not have lived with myself if I had not offered you aid." Legolas stirred again, and he added, "See to your son. He will want you when he wakes. I expect he will have no memory of this encounter later – he has been unconscious through most of it."

"Can I pick him up?"

"It should do no harm if you are careful."

Thranduil bent and scooped Legolas up gently. The Elfling's eyes flickered open. Thranduil hummed a snatch of a lullaby. Legolas' fist closed around a handful of his father's tunic as he snuggled up to his shoulder and dozed off.

Thranduil supported his son with one arm, reaching out with the other to grasp the man's hand.

"Thank you. I do not know if I will ever meet you again – it is unlikely, because my wife will probably kill me when she sees him." He paused, reached up to his throat, and disengaged a gold brooch, engraved with the symbol of Greenwood, that hung from the clasp of his cloak. "I cannot hope to repay you for what you have done for my son, but perhaps you will keep this as a token of my gratitude."

The man took the brooch Thranduil held out, but his eyes stayed on the Elf's.

"Many things are said about your Elven-king," he said abruptly. "There was a time when I did not know what to believe, but… The child would not trust you this much if you were as cold and unfeeling as the stories say." Thranduil stared, and the man smiled. "Take care of him, Your Majesty. Goodbye."


Somewhere Between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains

The healer rewrapped the bandages around Aragorn's wounds, looking from the drowsy man to the hooded figure hovering anxiously beside the bed.

"He is healing much faster than I expected. He should be fit to travel soon, but I would let him sleep the day out. The rest is clearly doing him good. I do not think you will need me again, but send someone for me if he gets worse. I doubt it will be necessary."

Legolas nodded.

"Thank you."

The man got to his feet and began putting his things back in his belt pouch. It slipped suddenly from his fingers, spilling its contents onto the floorboards. With an annoyed exclamation, he knelt to pick it up.

"Let me help you," Legolas offered, walking around to the other side of the bed. When he got there, a glint of gold among the small packages of herbs and the rolls of bandages caught his eye. He stopped short, staring, his fingers going unconsciously to the clasp of his cloak.

Aragorn, leaning over to see what had caught his friend's attention, spotted the object as well. He came to full wakefulness at once, quickly seizing the jug from the bedside table to use as a weapon if the man should show any signs of threatening Legolas.

"You can put that down," the man said, finally getting his possessions together. "I mean him no harm." He got to his feet. "If I were going to give you away, Master Elf, I would have done so last night."

Legolas lowered his hand, although Aragorn did not put the jug down.

"Where did you get that?"

"It has been in my family for generations – for centuries, by some accounts. It is said that one of my forefathers met an Elf in the forest and helped him in his hour of need, and was given this as a mark of the Elf's gratitude. I do not know if the story is true, but I have been told by those who have travelled that the engraving is the sigil of the Elven-king of Mirkwood." He looked at Legolas. "Truly, Master Elf, I mean you no harm. Many in this village hate your race, but I am not one of them. I would advise you to take off your brooch, though."

Legolas nodded slowly.

"I did not imagine that anyone would recognize it." He undid the brooch, paused, and placed it in the man's hands. The man looked at him in surprise. "Perhaps you have use for another one… as a token of my gratitude for what you have done for my brother."

Several minutes later, after the healer had gone, Aragorn turned to Legolas.

"Whom did he meet?"

"I do not know," Legolas said, shaking his head. "One of the lords: no other would be wearing that. Thorontur or Arbellason, perhaps. I will have to ask Ada."


Sindarin Translations

Yrch – Orcs

Elleth – Female Elf

Ada – Dad/Daddy

Tithen pen – Little one

Nana – Mum/Mummy

Mellon nîn – My friend

Gwador nîn – My (sworn) brother

Ion nîn – My son


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