The Hunting Trip
Epilogue: Revelations

"Not much further, Gimli!" Legolas announced to his Dwarven companion, his long gait giving him the advantage of covering the ground ahead of them in quicker time. He was urging his friend on and as he did, he noted there was barely any sign of a limp left in his stride, and that his steps were taken without pain. Legolas smiled. It felt good to walk about so freely, even if done so in this locale. Merrily, he directed their way to his friend, his feet lightly touching ground on the pavement of the city streets.

Despite his disdain for city life, the brisk evening air of autumn felt fair in his lungs. The cool temperatures only seemed to invigorate him as the visage of the city settling into night's peace made his heart feel good.

Minas Tirith was golden. The setting sun painted the sky in shades of rose, peach and honey, turning the reflective white walls of Minas Tirith golden as the fiery ball kissed the horizon before passing into the west.' Legolas gave a final farewell to Anor for having bestowed her fair beauty upon them again even as he welcomed the milky appearance of Ithil, already rising in the sapphire skies to the Southwest. The colors of the sky were mirrored in the shadows, rich indigo and cobalt, hiding in the doorways and alleys as they cut into the avenue on which they walked. Indeed, it was a marvelous night.

"Why the rush, Elf?" Gimli huffed in protest, struggling to keep up with the pace Legolas struck. "For an immortal , you should hardly feel compelled to get anywhere with such haste. It is wasted on you."

Legolas laughed, not realizing until then that he had been moving at such a clipped pace, and he modestly slowed his steps so that the Dwarf might catch up with him. He was feeling especially buoyant on this eve, and he was in a fair mood to jest. Thus he replied in a teasing voice, "Perhaps this is true for a creature as long-lived as you, but I have much to accomplish yet in this age. I cannot spend it lumbering in slow strides."

Gimli raced forward on his stout legs, shaking his head and looking with serious contemplation at his friend. To that Legolas merely laughed, "Such mirth!" the Dwarf frowned. "What makes you so merry?"

Legolas frowned, his brow furrowing in disappointment. "Gimli! Were you not at the same gathering as I just this afternoon at the palace?" the Elf asked incredulously.

Gimli smirked and it became suddenly apparent the Dwarf had been jesting it turn. "Yes, yes, Elf. I was there and I heard. And a happier bit of news it could not be."

"Indeed," Legolas laughed. He knew Gimli to use any bit of gossip as an excuse to celebrate. However it had been the Elf's suggestion to do so tonight.

"But you cannot tell me you were not already aware of the queen's condition? " Gimli egged on eyeing the Elf with a knowing glance. "Elven wisdom being all you proclaim it to be, I would have expected you to have known the moment the blessed event occurred."

Legolas knew his brow furrowed as he considered this. His mood dimmed slightly at the thought, and the reminder of those dark days late in summer cast a small shadow of hesitance over his current actions. "I suppose I did," he began, frowning as he thought about it. "I was unable to feel anything for their happy news as I was more caught up in self-pity at the time. My mood has lifted much since then, though," he remarked brightly, knowing that what he was about to do was meant to further aid him in removing any remaining doubt.

Gimli stopped where he stood, pulling the Elf to a halt as he did. He stared at the Elf, almost gulping on air. "You do not mean to tell me . . . You cannot mean to say . . . Legolas, was this baby conceived on that ill-fated hunting trip?"

The Elf laughed, his momentary plunder into retrospective mood wiped away with the Dwarf's expression of shock. "That holiday was not entirely an ill-conceived notion, Dwarf. As you can see something of good was begat there. Were I to guess, I would venture it occurred whence they were trapped in that cave."

Mouth agape, Gimli seemed caught in the gossipy undercurrent of this speculation. "Not even after the fact, but before. Say it is not so!" the Dwarf gasped in disbelief.

Legolas laughed, shaking his head as he resumed his steps. Seconds later, the Dwarf was matching his pace. However, Gimli seemed to have donned a quizzical expression. Speaking in a far softer voice than was typical of the Dwarf, as if he feared they might be heard, Gimli hesitantly asked, "You do not think Aragorn and Arwen would ever tell the youngling of his conception, do you?"

Now it was Legolas' turn to be mortified. "Ai! Elbereth Gilthoniel! And give the child nightmares? I think not!"

The Dwarf laughed in amusement at the Elf's expression and he nodded as if they had found a point of agreement." But tell me Legolas, if you knew -,"

Gimli's speech was cut short as Legolas came to a sudden halt, nearly tripping Gimli as he did.

"Why do you stop, Elf?" Gimli's voice grumbleed as he grabbed the Elf's arm to regain his balance.

"I stop because we have come to our destination," Legolas answered with a shrug.

"Here? This is where you would have us go to celebrate the king and queen's good fortune?" the Dwarf asked in surprise.

Legolas looked up, gazing at the rustic sign. The words, 'Sleeping Dragon' were emblazoned upon the slab of wood swinging above the door. Carved letters were painted and a rather comical version of what a dragon might appear to look like was nestled about them. The squeaking sound of hooks chafing against the iron sign post was grating to his ears, and a wave of apprehension suddenly made the Elf shudder. How easy it would be to simply turn back.

Yet Legolas was determined to see this through.

Working up his nerve, he said in a tone that hid the deep apprehension he truly felt as he lightly chuckled, "I would not think you would object, Master Dwarf. After all, was it not you who introduced me to this establishment of fine refreshment on a cheery summer's eve not so very long ago?"

Gimli harrumphed, looking up at the sign then back at the Elf before answering with a wary tone. "Exactly the reason why I would never expect you to cross that threshold again," Gimli retorted, frowning. "Your last sojourn here did not turn out so well for you -- if you will recall."

"I do recall - at least most of it I do - and that is just the reason I choose to come here yet again. The last time we partook of the hospitality of this place, it was before we departed with our friends on that ill-fated journey. Now our friends return with good tidings to bear. Seeing that their happy situation was the result of that not-so-pleasant holiday, and I think it is fitting we should renew our acquaintance with this tavern, if for no other reason than to say that we have concluded where we began, and to put it past us." He paused, sighing, and said almost to himself. "And I think it is time that I owned up to 'thissuch' and all that has come since."

Gimli sighed a hesitant breath, then asked in a voice that could not hide his underlying feelings of concern, "Do you think that is prudent, friend?"

Legolas felt his jaw tighten as he grimly watched the sign swing in the night breeze with a rusty groan. It was a foreboding place to him, but he knew were he to find the last of his recovery he needed to cross that threshold. "Indeed I do," he said at last.

The Dwarf shrugged, appearing as if he did not quite agree; but he did not voice it. "Very well, Elf. Let us go forward then," he said.

The door opened on noisy hinges, and a wave of heat escaped the abode as the pair stepped over the threshold. The roar of celebration blasted in the Elf's ears, and he nearly cringed at the noise. A smoky haze hung in the air, and Legolas felt his eyes sting for the murky residue that clouded his sight once inside. It was plain to see that the tavern was as crowded and raucous now as it had been on the night of the city's prior celebration. Word of the queen's good news seemed to have traveled, and the festivities surrounding such happy rumors appeared to have already begun. Legolas wondered how long the city's citizens might not milk the opportunity to celebrate this event. Based upon what he knew of Aragorn's people, their jubilation might last for some time. Still, it was the first night of the news, and the Elf too was in the mood to join them. Warily, perhaps, but ready to take on the task.

Mal, the innkeeper, was in his element. As he looked up to note their arrival, a cheery smile spread over his red face as he hustled from the far side of the tavern to greet his new guests. And just as before, his arms were spread wide in greeting.

"Gimli! Legless!" he shouted, as if they were intimate friends. "Good to have you gents with us on this fine eve! Enter! Enter! Let us find you a place to sit!" The words barely passed his lips as a table in the center of the room cleared with a glance in that direction. It seemed that word of the Elf and Dwarf's friendship with the royal couple was common knowledge among these folk. Eyes lit up among the people as their identities were relayed and whispered about the room.

A prodding hand guided them to the table, pushing them through the masses as chairs rolled aside to part a way for them. With a quick swipe of the wooden surface (washed down, as Legolas noted, with what looked to be the same stained rag from their first visit), Mal waved them into their seats, eagerly looking upon them with uncontained joy and anticipation.

"I would gather you gents have been up to the palace long enough to hear the blessed tidings? 'Tis a wonderful thing, is it not? Gondor's to have an heir. The people could not be prouder!"

"Good tidings indeed!" Gimli confirmed, and Legolas nodded and smiled, laughing almost at the bursting smile on the innkeeper's face. One would think the tavern owner was the proud father, so gleeful did he appear. Somehow though, Legolas suspected that as happy as Mal was, it was partly due to the boost in patronage this night brought him.

The barkeep looked at them attentively. "The usual then, gents?" he asked, winking at Legolas with an amused smile.

"No. I will have -" Legolas began.

"Aye, Mal. Bring us the usual," Gimli interrupted, eyeing the Elf with a look of chagrin.

"For my friend, perhaps, but I would prefer something more to my usual tastes. I will have a goblet of wine, if you have it," Legolas asserted. The grim expression on Gimli's face told him what his companion thought of the Elf's preferred choice.

Mal gave Legolas a querying blink, as if he had heard the order incorrectly. "You do not want one of those --?"

Legolas cut him off. "Mayhap another time. Tonight, wine is my choice."

Mal gave Gimli an astonished glance, to which the Dwarf sheepishly frowned. "Legolas, why not try-," Gimli began in an earnest whisper.

"Wine," Legolas stated, cutting the Dwarf off before more could be uttered. Then turning to Mal, the Elf cocked an inquisitive brow and said, "You do dispense that beverage here, do you not?"

Mal's pride was obviously hurt by the query. "Good sir," he said, "this tavern brags the widest array of drinks in all the city."

"Good," the Elf said, flashing the innkeeper a winning smile.

Appeased, Mal wiped his hands on his apron as he resumed his eager posture. "I have a fine Elven vintage if that would meet your satisfaction."

"Thank you, yes," Legolas replied, for indeed that would meet his satisfaction. Feeling smug as he glanced at the embarrassed expression painted across Gimli 's face he laughed, noting that the Dwarf would not meet his eyes.

A long minute passed, and Legolas was sated with his pleasure, but he knew it was time to let his friend off the hook. He said, "Did you have a question you were going to ask me before we entered this ?"

Gimli's brow furrowed as he attempted to recall the earlier thought. After a moment it struck him, and he looked rather relieved to have a new topic to discuss. "I would have asked had I not had been tripped up by those lanky tree limbs you call legs. Yes then, Legolas, I do have a question, and I wonder more now than ever as you continue to assert yourself this eve: why is it you now choose to celebrate when you had known all this time that Arwen was with child? Surely you could have guessed that Minas Tirith would be in a festive mood upon release of the king's news? I would think you would want to avoid a crowd."

Legolas chuckled at the long-winded route the Dwarf had come to ask. "My reason is simple. I did not celebrate because Elessar and Arwen chose not to make this revelation until now. I can keep a secret, my friend, and I think they were waiting until Arwen's return to make their announcement," Legolas replied as their drinks were delivered to them.

"Now hold there, Elf. I need to get a fact or two straight here. I understand that perhaps you may have known of Arwen's condition. Arwen obviously knew. But I had attributed that to your being Elves. Somehow it seems the Firstborn can see when a woman is in such a state," Gimli began.

"We hear it, actually," Legolas interjected.

"Hear it?" Gimli queried.

"It is in the Song," the Elf shrugged.

Gimli frowned, appearing uncertain if Legolas was yet pulling his leg or not. He rolled his eyes, then said, "Regardless, you knew of her condition long before the rest of us did. But the king is not an Elf. Are you telling me Aragorn was privy to knowledge of her condition as well?" Gimli asked.

Legolas leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily. The Dwarf seemed to consistently miss the easy openings he left for his friend, and Legolas found this one simply too good to pass up. He continued to chortle as he said, "Gimli, perhaps there is something about Dwarven mating habits I do not know. Then again," Legolas interjected with a look of disgust. "I do not think I wish to know. But in human reproduction, as well as in the Elven equivalent, the father is usually somewhat aware of the, er, action, in which he participates."

Gimli sighed in exasperation as he gave an expression that made it seem he wondered how the Elf could be so dense. "That is not what I mean, Elf, and you are well aware of it! I mean that it seems odd Aragorn would be aware of her state and yet allow his queen to make the journey to Poros and back again with nary a worrying glance. Were she my queen, and I knew her to be with child, I would not let her depart from my sight."

"'Allowed'? 'Were she my queen'? Gimli, you make her sound as if she were a child herself . . . a possession even. I assure you that that is not the case, and I am gladdened to see Aragorn has at last learned his lesson on this," Legolas stated.

"The king has treated his bride in nothing but the most mannerly of ways as far as I can tell," Gimli protested. "I do not know if there is any lesson for which he needed to learn. The lady is treated like a . . . queen," Gimli stated, giving a nod as he drank from the frothy tankard.

Legolas laughed. "No doubt," he agreed, sipping from his cup. "But I think somewhere in his short years, our Aragorn forgot what is most keen in matters of respect. In Elven culture, all are regarded for what they might contribute, and none are discriminated against."

Gimli frowned. "I understand your point, but I would disagree. Were I to know she were in a condition of bearing child, I would hesitate to let her do anything but recline in a waiting position."

Legolas gave the Dwarf a disbelieving glare as he shook his head in wonder. "No wonder the female populace of Dwarves is so resistant to bearing young! With treatment like that, why not just lock them in cages and be done with it? Gimli, give the queen credit for being of hardier stock then that and remember that you speak of one of Elfkind. She is not a frail doll. And Arwen is not at a point where her condition is apparent or made to be uncomfortable yet. In fact, as you point out, it is not visible to mortal eyes at all. And so long as she travels with the requisite contingent of guardians, I could see it not as a problem for any among them. More so, her mission was not one taken into riotous zones. She went to Poros as an emissary, and from my understanding she was regaled by the denizens of that land with all due hospitality. The message I was given was that she had a successful mission. Much was gained by her journey," Legolas relayed.

Gimli leaned away, seeming to have tired of this debate. He drank of his mug before shrugging and saying, "And what of Faramir?"

"He was returned to what I presume are the welcoming arms of his wife and family just this morn," Legolas answered, having greeted the steward in their crossed paths of journey. Legolas had answered the summons of the king this morning just as Faramir had received his permission to be relieved of duty. After six weeks away, it appeared Faramir was eager to return home. He too had been made a part of the journey with Arwen, and it had signaled a compromise to the plans offered on their Poros problems so many mornings prior. It had been the king's decision to send both the steward and the queen to show Gondor's commitment to that realm. And despite her early misgivings, Eowyn saw her husband's departure with a brave new light.

"How fares his lady? I hear Kattica is a great aide to Eowyn."

"And so she has been. Given her cloistered life, she and Mattias, and all the Romany for that matter, seem to be taking well to city life," Legolas answered.

"As if Emyn Arnen were a city," the Dwarf muttered. "A small township, perhaps."

"For I, of the woodland realm, it is city enough. For those who live in the quiet of the forest it is as plentiful as a city. They camp in the foothills nearby, and they will winter there, I hear," Legolas replied, "which is well, for I have been told Kattica has been learning much at the lady's hand, and the same for Eowyn in return. And while Eowyn and Kattica have been sharing wisdom of herbal lore and the more studious concerns of the healing houses, the healers of my realm have been paying them visits as well."

"Elves in Emyn Arnen? Dare your folk venture that far?" Gimli said mockingly.

"Be done with you, Dwarf," Legolas scolded while laughing. "It was Aragorn's suggestion that, so long as Elves and men might be dwelling so near, an understanding of the healing techniques among my kind might be of benefit to others."

"And so we see where yet more good has come of our summer respite," Gimli said, as if acknowledging points of accomplishment.

"Eowyn is joyous, for my healers have assured her that her baby is well. They will be at hand, as will Kattica, for the birth," Legolas announced.

"That is assuring," Gimli agreed. "Does motherhood suit Kattica?"

"She was born to it, and Vesawen flourishes under all the attention she garners," Legolas replied.

Gimli smiled. "Good news you bring. Then shall we drink a toast to motherhood?" Gimli asked.

But Legolas frowned. "Say not to 'motherhood', for we have learned giving birth is not exclusive to being a good mother," Legolas answered with a shudder.

"Good point," Gimli agreed, seemingly understanding the Elf's anxious thoughts. "It makes me wonder how Mattias could turn out so well, given to what he was born. Gordash as well."

The Elf nodded. "And yet Curtik did not. I have wondered the same, and in talking to Kattica I have concluded that it all stems from the condition of Bregus at the time she conceived and birthed them. It cannot be confirmed, for Bregus did not live to tell us -,"

"Thank Manw' for that!" the Dwarf interjected.

"-She does not live to tell us how immersed in the Dark Arts she was at that point. But I would speculate that she was more invested when Curtik was born than with the others," Legolas completed.

"Like a diseased woman giving birth to a diseased child," Gimli concluded. "Very well, then what if we drink a toast to women of valor?"

"Much more appropriate, I think," the Elf agreed. And as he said this and began to down his drink, the expected activities of the tavern's great room proceeded, and many of the patrons broke into a song of celebration. There was nothing vulgar or debauching about it; it was simply a merry tune sung obviously for the sake of the queen. Still Legolas felt his insides churn, for he knew it would not be long before the calls for the more scintillating tunes would come. That was a moment Legolas both dreaded and looked forward to meeting.

As if he could read the Elf's discomfort, Gimli said, "We ought to return to the palace. Aragorn will be wondering at our disappearance."

Legolas read his friend well, but negated the offer. "I had told him we were going out for the evening to join his people in celebration," Legolas said, fortifying his resolve by giving argument.

"I expect more of my companions to be arriving tomorrow, though. I would choose to be well-rested before we set out for Ithilien," Gimli countered.

"If the Dwarves come tomorrow, likely they will not arrive in the morn, so you may laze about as you choose come the new day. The night is still young, and we have only had one drink each." Legolas waved to Mal to bring them another round. "Relax and enjoy yourself, Gimli. We are in your element."

With those words the song ended, and the room grew quiet with the absence of music. The rumble of voices was jarring, and there were others who noted it and cried out for more song. "Who will sing for his keep?" came the call.

"I will," launched a voice from the corner.

"Ah, sit down, Finnelar. You couldn't warble a note if you grew feathers and laid an egg!"

Raucous laughter followed.

"What of Morvil? He can sing!"

"Aye! Someone scrape him off the floor that we might hear a tune."

Another rumble of dissonance came then.

"Bergan can do it if ye'll buy him a drink."

"What say you Bergan?"

"I'llse doo et," the drunkard rose and then collapsed. Without missing a beat the next call went out.

"Gimli, then."

"Aye, Gimli!"

"Gimli! Gimli!"

Legolas smiled expectantly. It was as he expected, and with a smile he turned to his friend and said, "Your element, Master Dwarf."

Yet Gimli seemed to be of another mind, and he was shaking his head as he stood and turned to those of the room. Holding up his hands to silence the crowd he said, "Thank you! Thank you! I appreciate the sentiment, but not tonight."

"Ah, Gimli, come sing one!" a cry begged out, but the Dwarf would not be swayed.

Shaking his head to negate the wish, he said, "Nay. Not this time. I would choose to have a quiet evening with my friend, if you will." And then he sat.

But the crowd would not be appeased. In a heartbeat they started calling out for yet another to entertain them.

"What of the Elf then?"

"Aye! He has a fair voice!"

"And a clever tongue! He sings a good song!"

"What was his name again?"

"Legless!"

"Aye, that was it! Let us hear from Legless!"

"Aye! Legless!"

"Legless! Legless!"

It was the moment Legolas had been waiting for, as he had known it would come. And just as Gimli had done, he stood and held up his hands, shaking his head. Slowly the crowd quieted enough that he might speak.

"Please," he began, and his voice stuck in his throat. So many eyes were turned on him and he felt his face going red. "Do not ask this . . ."

A round of disappointed hisses and moans circulated the room, and he was drowned out for what else he might say.

"Augh, but who else might we get?"

"He has the best voice here, too."

"He sang a bawdy tune 'afore," came the muttered cries. But none heard the words he had continued to speak in the overriding tumble of words that crisscrossed his speech.

He took a moment trying to decide if it was worth trying again. He took the risk of being humiliated in this endeavor, and he knew he played with a part of his soul. Yet he knew what he was doing. "DO NOT ASK THIS OF ME," he exclaimed loudly enough that he might be heard over their voices. Immediately the room went silent.

He felt the blush sweeping over his cheeks, but he worked past the rattling thunder within his chest. Gimli looked mortified as their eyes met but Legolas pressed on, forcing the words to croak out. "Do not ask this of me," he eyed them, "for my name is not 'Legless'."

There was a moment of silence, and then . . .

"What did he say there?"

"He says his name's not Legless."

"It's not? You said it was."

"That's what I heard him called."

The Elf smiled, silencing them with just the cast of his eyes. "My name is Legolas. Legolas. However, you may call me Greenleaf if that name is too difficult to get about your tongue. And if you would but ask Legolas, Greenleaf, I might be willing to oblige with a song."

"Greenleaf. Aye, that's fitting!"

"Much better then that Legless name."

"Legless. 'T made no sense to me, but who am I to question these Elven folk and their names?"

"Would you sing us a song, Master Greenleaf?" Legolas' eyes turned to the female voice. It was the barmaid who had hung off Gimli in their last encounter in this barroom, only this time her eyes were fixed only on the Elf. "Would you sing a song for me?" she asked with a sigh.

The echo came up, the request repeated in a chorus of polite voices. Legolas smiled shyly. Across the table, Gimli was shaking his head, saying something, and the Elf leaned in that he might hear what was said over the rumbling of voices in the room. "You need not do this, Elf. Do not let them coerce you into something you do not wish to do," he warned.

Legolas gave his friend a faint smile, appreciating all that of which the Dwarf was trying to save him, but Legolas knew he did not want to be saved. Further, he appreciated that Gimli was not actively seeking rescue. He gave the Dwarf a knowing nod, smiled, and then rose. He knew his mind.

Turning back to the crowd, he found his voice again. "I would like to sing -"

"Sing us a bawdy song, Greenleaf!"

"Give us that song you sang before!"

Legolas laughed nervously, then began again. "I would like to sing you a song of Elven lore. It is a song of love unrequited and it is a tale most fitting the lady's request on this eve," he said as he nodded to the barmaid. She looked as if she might swoon, but he opted not to note it. She was Gimli's lady, after all. And then he began.

As requested, it was the same song he had sung before, but it was not. Whereas before he had felt compelled to manipulate the tune in order to do what might please the crowd, now he felt compelled to do what was correct in his mind. The choice of the music suited him, for the song was sad, and stirring and lovely, but he sang it more to cleanse his heart of the dissatisfaction he had allowed to take hold of him those few months back. Somehow it felt a weakness had been allowed; a gap in his soul had let this failure overcome him. He was here to set it right. He would reveal what he was without apology or shame.

He sang. He sang with his heart lifted as the words melded with his soul and the melody was one that matched the emotional reach of the song. Far cleverer was the song sung in its true form as he revealed it now, for he was moved by the haunting lilt of the notes and choked by the trembling delicacy of the words. He closed his eyes, chasing away the faces that watched him and could scorn him, no longer caring what might bring their pleasure or discontent. He was free of them, and he sang to appease his heart. He sang for the joy of hearing the tune mesh into Iluvatar's Song. He sang for the surety he felt.

Sadly, it had to end, and with the last notes fall, Legolas knew he must face their judgment. He paused for a moment, wondering if he had it within him to face their opinions. And then he opened his eyes.

Not a soul spoke. The room was dead quiet. No one dared speak, and Legolas was uncertain as to what this meant.

And then finally a voice interrupted the roaring emptiness. It was Mal who graced the room with his words, and he seemed to be of one mind with the crowd, for to what he uttered none objected or countered with words of their own. He spoke for them all.

"Please, Legolas, sir?" the man hesitantly pleaded. "Would you - could you sing yet another?"

Legolas looked into the man's eyes and he could see tears gathered there. And then he gazed about the room and he realized there were many who shared the depth of this sentiment. And more. He could see that they realized how fleeting his offering to them was. It was as if they understood just how unique and precious what he gave them could be, and the awakening in their eyes would be with them for the rest of their lives. He had touched them, and they were grateful. But they would not be greedy. They would ask of him only so long as he was willing to give, but they would ask just the same. They would not force it of him, for they had learned, as had he, and they knew what he gave them was so much better this way. His way.

Legolas smiled then. He was cured. He knew what he chose was the right course to follow, for he had many lives yet to touch and his work was not yet done.

And then he opened his mouth and he sang them yet another song.

The End

A/N: Many Thanks and Random Thoughts

First, I need to thank those who have volunteered their time as beta readers to this story. It really was a commitment on the part of these four ladies to do so, but through them I came to see I really needed their help. I would be very hesitant to go without a beta reader again. They showed me many ways in which I might improve my skills and I will always be grateful for their help. Thank you to M.N.Theis, JastaElf, Nosila, and most especially Nilmandra (what a great person!). Each did a wonderful job, and each did it for nothing more than my thanks. How I wish I had another way to pay them beyond just these words.

I also wish to acknowledge the following people who contributed to this story by offering their comments, critiques, encouragement and insights. Please forgive me if I have forgotten anyone. This story has been a year and a half in the making, and a name or two (specifically those who emailed me as my server won't allow me to keep things that long) may have slipped through the cracks.

Acacea
AliciA
AlishaB
Alivyan
Alliwantisanelfforchristmas
Araquen Estel Princess and Hope of Gondor
Aria7
Artemisa
Arwyn
Asha
Bainpeth
Barmy-the-elf
Bill-the-Pony
BlueTigerCat
Bryn bnw
Capn Jak Sparrow
CartDi
Cat6
Cattaria
Cheryl
Chris
Clouds of Violet
Daemon Empress
Dark-of-Stars
Daw the minstrel
Deana
Dinfaniel
DismalDay
E
EarlGrey
Enigma Jade
Eldar Wannabe
Elenora1
ElfLady
Elfling
Elwen
Elvenesse
EtceteraKit
Faery Tragedy
Firsarnien
Fliewatuet
French Pony
Furius
Gabrielle Lawson
Galena
Ghostfox1
Grace
Grey Lady Bast
Guardgirl12
Gwyn
Halogatomon
Hobbitch
Hobbits_live
IceAngel7
Insane Muse
Irena
Iverson
Jack
JastaElf
Jay of Lasgalen
Jedimasterteo
Jedi's Honor Bound Witch
Joannawrites
Jocelyn
Jon
Karina
Katherine the Great
Kayleigh-talitha
KitKatGirl
KrystalB2003
Lady M
Lady V
Lamiel
LAXGirl
Le Rouret
Legolas lover
Lembas7
Len
Lirienel
Lisette
Littlefish
Lizlego
Lossefalme
LOTR Fath
LOTR Lover
Lotrmatrixstarwarsfan
Luinthien
Lyn
Mahari
Manicgirl
Mari
marry
Mastermind
Mea1
Mer
Mercredi
MeShelley
Miralas
Miss V-KC
M.N.Theis
MotherNature
Mymiriel
Myra the Archer
Nancing Elf
Nebride
Nightwing
Nikara
Nilmandra
None
Nosila
Oregon
Orlysangel122
Petite Hikarie
Pippin-n-legolas
Pharaearwen
Princess ArWen of sMirkwood
~Psychopomp~
Puter Patty
Raider-K
RainyDayz
Rala
Ranger Elrohir
Ria
Ribbetfrog
Rogue Solus
Satine 19
Scoop K
Seana SerpentOwl
Shaan Lien
Shakes
Shalemni
Shezuil
Shlee Verde
Sigil Galen
Sirith
Snicklepop
Snitter in Rivendell
Sofia
SpaceVixenX
Starlight 10
Stephanie
Sugar
Surreal13
Susie
Susie82
Sylvia1
T
Tamara
Tapetum Lucidum
Tara
Thalia Weaver
The Dancing Gypsy
The Karenator
The Wannabe Dwarf
The Wyrmieness
ThunderaTiger
TigerLily713
Tintalle1
Toyou
TreeHugger
Voodoodoo
Voodoo Reader
Violet
Well duh...
Westielab
Wingul-Nimue reborn
WeasleyTwinsLover1112
Witchmaster
Ziggy
Ziggy3

Thank you everyone who helped me by voicing your desire to see this story go on! I know there were some who felt it went on way too long. I apologize for that. Originally, this was going to be a little summer project. That was two summers ago. However, if it helps, I did follow my outline.

A few people commented on my choice of the Romany people. One person even asked if I was Romany. I can answer that as 'no', though I do know those people traveled through the woods behind my grandfather's house on an occasion or two when I was a child. I remember being intrigued, and a little frightened by them. As I came to learn more about them, I decided to use the Romany for this story because of their history. They have roots on nearly every continent of the planet and they are as old as Christian times. Call me odd, but I could see a group of nomadic travelers with a name that translates to mean "the people" existing in Middle-earth.

Here's a little more on the real Romany and what I have done to them for the sake of this story.

Linguistic experts would have a field day trying to catalogue the whole of the Romany language, as their dialect and common phrasing is significantly different from one country group to the next. It would be easier to say that there is a different version of Romany depending on which country you are looking into rather than saying there is one Romany tongue. Making this even more complex, the Romany people tend not to chronicle their own language. Words are passed on in spoken form, not written, and often the same phrase or word might be found spelled and voiced in several different ways even within the same country culture. Needless to say, my use of the Romany language in this story is limited to what I could find, which was truly a mishmosh of various regional phrases. Some of it I just had to make up. The rest is combined Arabic, Hebrew, Romanian, etc. versions of the language. My apologies. My Romany speech must read as gibberish.

The Romany believe in witchcraft and mysticism, and I thought that fit nicely into Tolkien's world too, which of course is a place where Wizards, Sorcerers, the Dead, Magical Rings, Trees of Light, etc, already have a place. Actually, in the grand scheme of what Tolkien created, I thought a group of gypsies might be a rather tame gathering. However, I ultimately wanted to show what might happen were our heroes to encounter a horror that was actually of human make. Okay, enhanced human make. I know no humans that wield power such as this. However, in Middle-earth . . . well, we know it happens all the time in Middle-earth.

Romany healers are known as 'witches' and to be a witch is to hold a powerful position within the tribe, but not so powerful as the eldest male, unless of course, the eldest male is also a witch. Knowing that, you can see why Mattias thought he was dead meat when Bala took power.

Hair charms and other amulets/talismans are common devices of fortune and blessing among these people. A lot of effort is put into what outsiders might see as jewelry, but is considered among those people as a fortification against the spirits and evils guiding the other worlds. The beads are usually hand carved and painted, and wishes or 'spells' are put upon them. The Romany are rarely seen without these adornments.

They also have many ways of reading fortunes, including using stones as described in the early chapters (though the answers I had Bregus find were far more detailed than what a gypsy might read in a real stone tossing session).

Because of the Romany belief in witchcraft, I took the liberty of combining their view on mysticism and tied it into some of the more common information of general sorcery and mysticism available in the libraries and bookstores. My research into common magical spells shows some witches do believe that Protected Places exist, but the form that I gave it in this story was an exaggeration of my own make. The means of creating one was based on what I knew of magical spells calling the elements of earth, wind, fire and water for assistance. Henneth-AnnĊ¸n seemed to fit well with those requirements.

Actually, real witchcraft is rather tame in comparison to what literature has portrayed it to be. Most magic is truly a matter of studied herbal remedies and a belief system that focuses on the somewhat magical effects of nature.

I can also tell you that witches do center themselves on whether they are white witches or black witches. As you can guess, white is considered good and black is bad (black witches are seen as using their powers to manipulate and provoke).

Now, onto our characters.

When I conceived this story, I did indeed know that Orlando Bloom had broken his back at an earlier point in his life. It was one of the things that drove me to add that part to the story. I love parallels, you see. And foreshadowing. That's why I had Mal calling him Legless in the beginning of the story, and you will note that Bregus, for most of the tale, had him caught in a spell where he had no use of his legs.

Parallels to real life have a way of popping up though. I did not know when I concocted this story that my husband was going to have major back surgery during the course of writing it. He had spinal fusion done on three vertebrae, in April, right around the same time that our dear Legolas fell from the tree. Some of Legolas' pain was based on what I observed of my husband's agony. Some too was from the memory of a friend who had suffered paralysis due to a broken neck, way back when. She walked again in the end, but not without spending a long time working toward it. For my husband, he is up and about, but it was a long, slow, and tedious recovery, especially those first three months. In my mind Legolas suffered worse harm, but he also recovered much faster than the spousal unit has done. Such is the weakness of mortals! (Can I trade him in on an Elf? No? Bummer!)

Gimli's halberd was a personal joy to write. Originally, I chose it only because I found it to be a ridiculous weapon. Really, I had no idea how it would play out as this story went on. I just thought he would never pick up a bow with Legolas around, thus he needed another weapon with which to hunt. I also thought an axe was an ill-conceived hunting implement. That left the choice of either a sword or the halberd. Were I a Dwarf I might argue setting snares as a means of capturing game though (they aren't exactly stealthy in the woods). Even still, I had fun playing with ways to make the halberd fit.

Again onto parallels, indeed it was intentional to show three women struggling with conceiving children. I can say I have walked the path of all three of our heroines at various points in my life. This story was partly about that, and also about the aftermath of choosing parenting when there clearly isn't an interest in parenting, such as Bregus represented. Though it irritates some of you to think of it, she was a mother too, and though her ambitions were rather extreme, I have seen parents in real life who all but abandon their children for the sake of their own glory. Funny, but they still love their kids, even if they are bad examples of how to love. Actually, they usually don't realize they are bad examples. Usually their children don't turn out quite as whole as Mattias or Gordash either. Ah well, I wanted a happier ending than that.

I really wasn't going to tell what happened to Faramir, but in the end I found I needed to do so for the sake of understanding his agony. So, yes, at last you all know. Faramir was raped. Or something like raped. Is it rape if no one physically touches you? Actually, same question to Legolas, as what happened to him was a mental assault. At least that is what I was trying to imply by having him say, "Do not touch me," just like Faramir had been saying.

As for the rest of the story, I wanted to show what comes of marriage after a time, even for the perfect mates. The "I do" part is just the beginning. After that, the work really begins. A working marriage requires communication, understanding, compromise, and a sense of humor. At least! And that is if it is just the couple one is dealing with. Adding children to the mix makes it even more difficult as expectations start to interfere. And let us not forget in-laws, friends, careers, religious beliefs, goals, lusts, personal interests, money and how those too have an effect. It's just part of co-habitation, and a sampling of what you put up with after the intoxication of romance is past. I think not considering all those points was Bregus' mistake.

Spousal abuse is a very scary topic, and I really didn't get into what attracted Bregus to Bala, though I had that couple figured out a long time back. I didn't go into it though because, A) I couldn't figure out where it best fit, and B) had I written it, I could have spent many a chapter analyzing just them. Yes, it is a sick relationship, but there are many couples in this world who could readily pass for this pair (and no, my marriage is not a model). Abusive relationships feed off of themselves, and as outsiders it is very easy to say, "Why doesn't she/he just leave." It is far more complex than that. In some ways being with an abuser almost like an addiction. There is shame and coercion and control all playing into the mix and the heart of the problem stems from low self-esteem.

I have more I could say, but that would just force me to write another story. Email me if you like, and I'll be happy to dissect this story into shreds, unveiling all the hidden agendas I put into it.

For now, I am done. Thank you again to everyone who read this story and stuck with me. It was a long journey, but now it is time the ride came to an end.

Oh, and don't forget to turn in your safety harnesses as you leave the pavilion.

Best to you all, and have a great day at the rest of the park!

Ithilien