Chapter One - Encounters
In the time after the destruction of the One Ring, peace slowly returned to Middle-Earth. The people banded together to restore the damages done to their lands. The hearts and minds of Man and the other Races were at peace, accepting the changes brought to their world. All were at peace, that is, except those that had been part of the Fellowship of the Ring.
In particular, the mind of Legolas Greenleaf.
The Time of the Elves had come and gone, their leaders deciding to journey to the Grey Havens and leave the land for Man to do as it pleased. Yet Legolas wished not to go. He knew that he should go and be with his people, where he belonged, but in his heart he felt the need to stay.
The elf sighed, leaning his head back against the bark of the tree he was sitting under. The wind blew in the branches, making a soothing sound. His pale blue eyes watched the limbs of the great tree sway; his blonde hair brushing his face as the breeze lifted their ends. He had spoken to both his father and Elrond concerning the matter, and both had agreed that Legolas should do as he wished, despite the fact that being the only remaining Elf would surely cast him into the shadows of man's anger or even their hatred.
Legolas smiled. Man was so strange at times. They could never decide whether they were happy or upset with one thing or another. They had such complex beliefs and ways of life that many elves had refused to have anything to do with them. Yet he knew that remaining behind would be troublesome. If he stayed until the ends of his days, who knew what he would see or how men would react to him then?
The Elves do not leave for a few more years, he thought, standing up. He grabbed a low-hanging branch and flipped up into the foliage higher and higher until he was in the very top of the tree, looking out across the landscape of Mirkwood, at the world that was his home. Perhaps there is still time to decide, he thought, his eyes gleaming with determination.
"Legolas!" a deep yet aged voice called from the ground below. The Elven prince rose from his place in the tree and jumped down, landing in front of the one calling him.
"Yes, Gandalf?" he said as he straightened.
The wizard smiled. "Your father has told me that you are troubled, my young friend."
Legolas dropped his gaze, feeling embarrassed that Gandalf knew of his dilemma. "Yes, I am troubled," he said, rubbing the back of his neck self-consciously. "I do not know whether I should go with my people to the Grey Havens or stay here."
"Stay here?" Gandalf chuckled. "Why would you want to stay?"
"There lies the problem," the elf sighed, leaning against the tree. He crossed his arms over his chest and look into the wizard's aged face. "I do not know why, but I feel the need to stay here. It might be that I am just restlessness from being confined in these lands for so long," he motioned to the forest around them, "yet I know it goes deeper than just that. Much deeper."
Gandalf nodded. "To choose between the mind and the heart is near impossible and very frustrating, is it not?"
"That it is!" laughed Legolas. "I was thinking, though. There is still time before we depart for the Grey Haven, isn't there?"
He nodded. "Elrond and I were discussing that. He and I shall be the last to leave, taking Bilbo and Frodo with us. That will be no later than Bilbo's 130th birthday, for we do not think he will live long past that, yet there is the possibility that we shall depart sooner."
"Bilbo and Frodo?" questioned Legolas, amazed. "They are coming? Why?"
Gandalf bowed his head a bit. "Because they carried the Ring."
Legolas nodded slowly, understanding. "His 130th birthday? That is a few years away."
"Indeed. Legolas, may I offer some advice?"
The Elf nodded, eager to have someone else's input on his predicament.
"Then here it is: You say you thought at first that it was restlessness? Then leave Mirkwood. Leave this land and travel the rest of Middle-Earth for the remaining years you have left. Your heart might just be yearning for another adventure."
Legolas pondered the White Wizard's words briefly. "There is truth in what you say, Gandalf." He stroked his chin thoughtfully. "I do not deny that I have wished to journey the land once again. This time without such a heavy burden to carry." A faraway expression slipped onto his fair face as he stared through the branches of the tree, to the blue sky. "To have one more adventure..." A smile broke his face, "There, now! I sound much like old Bilbo, don't I?"
"Think on it," said Gandalf, patting his friend's shoulder before turning to leave. "Then decide."
As he walked away, Gandalf hid a smile behind his thick grizzled beard. To have one more adventure... "Who knows?" he said to himself. "You just might find the adventure that you never thought was possible..."
Legolas decided to journey through the lands of Middle-Earth as Gandalf had suggested, promising his father he would either be back before they departed for the Grey Havens or send word that he would remain behind. The day before he left, he went to talk to Gandalf. The wizard had already gone, leaving behind a small package for Legolas that had a note attached to it. It read:
If you are reading this then you have decided to depart for one last adventure and I am no longer in Mirkwood. To you I leave this: a gift that will aid you in case you come across any trouble that you find yourself unable to get out of. Do not open it or it will not work. Also, you should beware of the Orcs that are still alive and roaming the land. Though master less and driven out of their homelands, they still bare grudges against Elves. Beware of them; do not come into contact with any if you can help it.
Legolas went, heading for the large areas of land that was not fully inhabited yet. Days past as he continued on his way, stopping only in the dead of night to rest and never interfering with anyone if he could help it. Upon a few occasions he ran into a few surviving groups of Orcs but he managed to avoid being seen by them. It was on such an occasion that his journey took an abrupt change.
On the occasion in which he could not avoid a fight with the putrid creatures.
He had been walking through the forest on a trail that ran through the middle of it when his keen hearing had picked up the Orcs' noisy trampling through the underbrush. He leapt up into the shelter of a nearby tree, cocking an arrow in his bow just in case. It was not long before a company of ten plus Orcs came into his line of sight. They were shouting among themselves, making wild gestures both down the trail and then back the way they had came. Legolas managed to pick out a couple of words through their rambled sentences. They were looking for someone, someone they had lost some time ago. One of the Orcs stopped, raising his foul head and looking through the trees. Legolas stiffened as the Orc locked eyes with his.
Before it could give the warning, Legolas fired his arrow, striking the Orc in the forehead. His cover blown, Legolas dropped from the tree and fired another arrow, taking down another Orc just as they began to charge him. He managed to slay another five before they got within range for their clubs to be of some use to them. He grimaced, knowing he would have to resort to using his long knife if he wanted to get out of this alive. His hand reached for the hilt-
A shrill scream filled the air, the source from behind the Orcs. The remaining creatures stopped for some reason Legolas could not fathom and turned to see what it was. Legolas spared a glance. The battered form of a person standing unsteadily on their feet a ways away met him, causing him to stare for a second. The Orcs suddenly roared then dove upon the person.
"Look out!" shouted Legolas, already pulling his long knife out of its sheath, driving it into the back of the closest Orc to him. A cracking sound reached his ears and he saw that the person was armed with a whip. The person reared back and snapped their weapon forward, the end wrapping around the neck of one of the Orcs. They pulled back, then snapped it forwards again, sending the Orc crashing into two others. Legolas ran his blade through the throat of another, making himself concentrate on defeating the Orcs.
For several moments the two fought the Orcs until they alone stood. Legolas turned his gaze to the person, who swayed on their feet as if dizzy. "Are you all right?" he asked, making his way to them.
Their head snapped up, showing dull, hazy red eyes behind thick, tangled sandy-blonde hair. Legolas stepped back, shocked. It was a young woman, he realized. She was clad in a simple gray dress that hung on her thin frame to her knees. Her whip was around her arm to keep from trailing on the ground. As he studied her, he saw that she was covered in cuts and bruises, old as well as fresh. Her skin was ashen and she had the look of one who had been without proper food for a long time. A large gash that ran from her shoulder, crossing her side to her back splashed blood on her clothes.
"A-Are you all right?" he asked again.
Her eyes narrowed as she studied him, as if wondering what he was. Then, her eyes widened. "ELF!" she screamed, terror in her voice and eyes. She started to back away swiftly, but stumbled, slamming into the ground.
"Wait!" he said, running up to her. He laid a hand on her shoulder to help her up.
"NO!" she screamed, her whip snapping out and slashing his right cheek open. "Stay away! Stay away!" she shouted, trying to get as far from him as she could. He could see that her legs were not working and she was slowing down, showing she was about to collapse from exhaustion.
"I will not harm you," he said gently, trying to calm her down, grimacing when the cut on his cheek flared with pain.
"Stay away! Stay away!" she still shouted, then she said something low and raspy, making a sign with her hand before falling against the trunk of a great oak tree in a boneless heap.
Legolas let out a frustrated breath. From what he could see of her injuries, she needed medical attention fast. He reached over to pick her up. A whistling sound ran through his ears, making him jerk back from her. Before his shocked eyes, he saw the roots of the tree move out of their place in the ground and formed a barrier between the girl and himself. Just as he was about to draw his blade to cut it down, the branches of the tree sprang out, catching his arms and twisting around them, holding him fast. Some of the branches encircled his neck, leaving just enough room so he could breathe easily. More roots rose up, fastening his feet to the ground. He struggled in vain for the tree's hold was strong and unbreakable. He saw some more roots wrap around his bow and knife, yanking them out of his possession and pulling them away from him.
LEAVE THE CHILD BE, ELVEN PRINCE... came the whispering voice of the great oak. DO NOT FORCE OUR HAND...
Legolas strained against the branches to free his arms. "She is in need of help," he said through gritted teeth, slipping into his native tongue unconsciously.
A hush befell the tree before it said, WE OBEY OUR MASTER'S WORDS, ELVEN PRINCE... ALL WAYS...
Puzzled by the response and seeing that he would not be freed until the tree allowed it, Legolas stopped struggling. He shifted his gaze from the bonds that held him to the girl. She was still visible through the gaps in the roots. He frowned, squinting his eyes against the sunlight glaring down in them, as he looked at the whip she held more closely. The design was familiar to him, as if he had seen one like it before. When it hit him, he gasped, eyes widening. It was an Orc whip. But where could she have found one? Orcs were not ones who let their belongings be taken, especially one that they were so fond of using.
The roots suddenly glowed a soft green color, disrupting his vision. He managed to see through the light and saw that the ends of the roots were around the gash on her side, the light flowing into it. Legolas could not help but feel a bit worried; the gash was deep and already infected a bit. The brief fight with the Orcs seemed to have reopened it.
THE CHILD WILL LIVE... the tree reassured him. DO NOT WORRY... The roots began to recede back into the ground from around the girl, yet the ones that held Legolas remained still. DO NOT UPSET THE CHILD... WE DO NOT KNOW HOW SHE WILL REACT...
He said nothing, as the girl was beginning to stir. She groaned, her brow creasing as she rolled onto one side, curling into a ball. Her hand went to the gash then her eyes opened wide when she felt the blood on her. She jerked up, wincing at the pain. He started to say something, but shut his mouth, the tree's warning keeping him at bay.
The girl pushed her bangs out of her eyes as she stood. When she saw Legolas, bound by the branches and roots of the tree, she stiffened, backing away. "Wh-who are you?" she stammered, her whip unwrapping and hanging loose in her hand.
"I am Legolas Greenleaf, my lady," he said slowly. He was surprised to find that her eyes were now bright red like a burning fire, not dull like red dirt as they had first appeared to be.
"Who sent you?" she shouted, coming to life before him. Her eyes narrowed and her small mouth pulled back in a snarl. "Was it Saruman or his Orcs? So help me, I will not be taken again. I will not let any more of your cursed kind have their way with me!"
"Wait!" cried Legolas, feeling the branches around his neck tighten their hold. "No one sent me! I am on my own way, not someone else's! I am not after you!"
"How am I to trust you!" she shot back. "You're an Elf!" she spat the word out like it was something foul to her. "Elves are far worse than Orcs!"
Rage enflamed Legolas. How dare she compare him to an Orc! Who was she that thought she had the right to even conceive such a thought! If only his arms were free-
Something broke through the red-hot anger. Her breathing had suddenly changed, hitching with every inhale of breath. It was then he saw that though she tried to appear as fierce as her words, the girl was still swaying on her feet. Her limbs were trembling and her eyes were shining with unshed tears. Her snarl was strained, as if it took all her strength just to keep it on her face. Legolas felt ashamed. "I mean you no harm," he said gently.
His soft words caused her to stop, her face becoming like that of a frightened child. "Yo-you don't?" she stumbled over her words.
"No. I am traveling on my own, under no one's orders," he said again.
"You're...on your own?" she said wearily, her gaze moving to circle the area around them as if expecting someone to come out.
"Yes. Please, I will do no harm. If you are the one that the tree is listening to, then would yo-"
A mirroring cut was slashed into his left cheek. The girl snapped her whip back behind her as she growled, "Did I ask! Hold your tongue or else I shall strike your eyes next time!" The branches around his neck once again tightened.
He bit back a sharp reply, knowing the answer to his question. So, the tree was listening to her after all. But how? What power did she have over it that could move its deep roots from their place in the earth?
The girl started to say something, but stopped, turning around and looking up at the tree. A few moments passed before she glanced back at Legolas, question and fear flickering through her face. "If...if I let you go," she said at length, "will...will you swear that you will not come near me?"
Slightly perplexed at the question, Legolas took a second to collect his thoughts before saying, "I swear I will not approach you."
"You do?" she stressed, facing him. Her apprehension was obviously displayed in her voice, her fear as well in the way that she wrung her hands over and over again.
He nodded his reply. The girl appeared as if she did not trust him, yet she murmured something under her breath, making a sign with her hand. The branches and roots slackened before releasing him. He straightened, rubbing his bruised neck. He looked up at the girl. She was backing away from him, her hand gingerly touching the gash on her side. She stopped only when she was against the trunk of the tree. Concerned for her health made him frown upon seeing the wound bleeding anew. "Are you all right?" he asked, motioning to her side.
Her eyes flashed. "It's none of your concern!" she shouted. "Besides, why do you care?" She sniffed, and then turned her head away from him.
"I care because the wound has not stopped bleeding though the tree has healed the infection." Legolas reached for his bow but realized both that and his knife were away from him, close to the base of the tree. The girl saw this and flicked her free hand out. The tree's roots shifted, grabbing the bow and knife, then moved to him, laying the weapons on the ground by his feet. "Thank you," he said, bowing before he picked them up.
"I don't want your thanks. Just leave."
Her cold words did little to faze him. He sheathed his knife and adjusted his bow in his grip before he turned to leave. He stopped, a thought dawning on him. He swung his pack off his back and opened it, rummaging through it for what he sought.
"Wh-what are you doing?" the girl asked, her hand tightening on her whip.
"Just leaving these," said Legolas, setting the items on the ground. He rose, meeting her red orbs. "I hope you get better, my lady," he said, smiling, before taking his leave.
The words fell on deaf ears. The girl stared at what he had placed on the ground: clean bandages and a small bottle of healing medicine. She stared at his back as he got further and further away. "Why?" she breathed. Her strength finally gave out and she fell to her knees. With shaking hands, she gathered up the items. "Why give me these?"
The branches of the oak quivered. A hissing whispered from the roots as wisps of black fog curled around the trunk from behind it. Within the fog, two golden yellow eyes gleamed in the sunlight towards the girl crouched in front of it. A deep, guttural growl sounded, yet it was soft as if the creature wasn't as threatening as it seemed.
"Yes," said the girl, looking in the direction he had left. "Follow him. Closely, yet do not be seen."
The dark, smoky bar did little to ease Legolas' mind. It had been two weeks since the incident with the Orcs, in that time he had had five confrontations, two or three of them involving an Uruk-Hai as well. The sudden appearance of so many Orcs in such a short time made him very edgy, expecting another batch whenever he turned his back. He shook his head, taking another drink from the mug in front of him. He was aware of the stares he was getting from many of the patrons, who were a little curious as to why he had his hood and cloak around him even in the heat that the roaring fireplace produced. He ignored them, knowing that the sooner he got out of the bar the better.
A small hissing sound made him jerk his head up to face the source. Nothing, just people. He frowned, wondering if he was still hearing things. Ever since he had crossed paths with that strange girl, he kept hearing things. Mostly there was a weird hissing sound like then, but also the plants around him would shake and rustle as he passed as if in a breeze; but there would be no wind.
"That's what I heard!" exclaimed a particularly loud patron, catching Legolas' attention. "Swarmed his farm and destroyed everything, that they did!"
"What I can't understand," replied another, "is why these cursed creatures still exist? Shouldn't they all be gone?"
"'S not that easy," responded an accented voice. "These creatures 'ere breed for centuries! They're not just gonna disappear like tha'!"
"Still," said the first, "why're they tearing up the fields and attacking innocent people? I heard that they killed this one young girl yet left her sisters alone. Pretty little thing she was. The most beautiful hair I ever saw. Long and the color of golden sand."
Legolas' eyes shot to the ones speaking at the mention of the girl's hair color. Golden sand? Long? An image of the girl he had encountered appeared in his mind. Yes, her hair was the same. An involuntary twitch of pain shot through his cheeks, remembering the cuts the girl had inflicted. The wounds had long ago healed, the faintest hint of scarring left in their wake.
"But why did they kill her and not her sisters?" asked one of the men at the table.
"How should I know?"
"'Tis a real shame, though. She was a beauty. And the clearest of brown eyes..."
Legolas let out the breath he did not even know he had been holding. So it was not she. The Wood-Elf found it strange that even now he was thinking of her. There was something about her that interested him. How she had managed to help in defeating a large group of Orcs when she was injured was one thing, but that whip of hers was another. She handled it as if it was a part of her, yet he wondered how she had managed to get a hold of it and how she learned to use it. As strange as it sounded, the way she handled it was that of an Orc. Legolas chuckled, thinking, I must be going insane, comparing that girl at an Orc.
As he thought the words, the girl's harsh voice echoed in his mind. 'Elves are far worse than Orcs!' She had spoken the words with such a hate it made him somewhat nervous. His sharp eyes had not missed the strange, murderous gleam in her eye as she had struck him for a second time. He knew too well that she would have made good on her promise to slash his eyes. Why did she have such an enraged hate for his kind?
That girl is definitely a mystery, he thought as he downed the last of his drink. One I don't think I will ever find the answers to. He left the money for his drink on the table and made his way out of the bar, feeling many eyes following him out. The chilled, late afternoon air met him as he departed the bar. On reflex he closed his cloak around him. I need to get as much ground covered as I can, he thought as he headed outside the village.
He swiftly left, avoiding bumping into the villagers as they returned home from a long day's work. He managed to get out without incident and continued at a slower pace. He let out a relieved breath, letting his hood fall back. He shook his head, his hair freeing itself and falling down.
As the sun fell, leaving the moon and stars in its wake, Legolas felt a sudden chill. He paused, eyes darting around. His ears picked up what sounded like strained breathing coming from his right. His hand went for his bow.
"No reason for that, now!"
Legolas spun as soon as the first words were spoken; arrow aimed at the branches of the tree beside him at the one who spoke.
"Whoa! You're good! Better than I thought!" exclaimed the youthful boy sitting up in the branches. He looked down at Legolas through a mass of thick, light brown hair, grinning as he laughed at his words. His golden eyes glinted, reflecting flecks of red and green in them. "You must be a skilled archer, huh?" he asked, standing up on the branch with surprising balance. "Bet you fought in a lot of battles, the way you handled that, I mean! Did you fight in the Great War? Huh? Did you?"
Legolas, seeing he would cause no harm however annoying he was, lowered his bow but kept the arrow in, just in case. "Who are you? And why are you are here so late?"
The boy's face remained as it was for a moment, before it shifted, becoming mature. His eyes dulled, the previous shine of youth exiting from them, replaced by the shadow of wisdom. His mouth, once curved in a mischievous grin, turned down, becoming sober, vague. "I am the One That Seeks," he spoke, his voice also seeming to have aged.
Legolas felt something stir in his heart. A feeling spread through him, a tingling sensation that made him anxious, but for what he did not know. "What do you seek?" he asked.
"I seek the One That Wanders."
Again, something moved within the young Elf. "For what purpose?" he spoke without realizing.
The boy lowered one hand, palm facing the Elf. Legolas stepped back. The boy's wrist and arm was slashed as if by a blade. Welts and bruises covered it as well. "To heal the One That is Scarred..." he spoke softly, tilting his head to the side, holding Legolas with his intense gaze. Flame suddenly erupted and spread from his arm to his whole body, then burst, disappearing along with the aforementioned injuries. "...and the One That is Dying." He raised his head back up, then said, "Go, Master Elf. They are coming...they have already taken you..."
The boy disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.
Legolas reeled as if he had been punched. His heart clenched in his chest. He raised a hand over it, wincing as throbbed. "What is going on?" he gasped to the forest around him.
From all directions, foul voices rose on the wind. The Wood-Elf froze briefly before reloading his bow, recognizing the danger. The wind carried the words to him. His eyes narrowed with hate at what they were.
The language was of Mordor.