Summary: When Legolas took leave of his father, gathered those of his people willing, and relocated to Ithilien, he did so with the thought that he could heal the broken land, reseed the forests and bring beauty once again to Gondor. Instead he finds different seeds must first be planted, and that the true beauty of Ithilien will be the merging of the peoples themselves.

Seeds of Hope

"Be well, my son. May the forest be blessed by your hands."

Legolas gripped his father's arm one last time and looked into his eyes, feeling his throat constrict with emotion. This leave taking was more difficult than he could have imagined. His time for this world was short, by the measure of his people. How many more times would he see his family? But to remain in the land of his birth, so far from the call of the gulls, was unthinkable. And he had promised Aragorn he would return and bring with him those of his folk willing to help rebuild the forests and gardens of Ithilien. He longed to see those once fair lands healed of the taint of Mordor.

"And may Eryn Lasgalen be blessed by yours, Adar."

With the formal words spoken, the more personal ones said behind closed doors away from the prying eyes of the gathered elves, Legolas mounted the silver stallion his father had gifted him with as the new Lord of the soon to be elven colony in Ithilien. He lifted his hand and spoke softly to the horse, and the stallion whirled and set out, leading the way before the group traveling south. With them traveled the gifts of the Elves of Eryn Lasgalen, seeds and seedlings to replant the tainted slopes of the Ephel Dúath and the lands that lie between the Mountains of Shadow and the River Anduin.

But it had not gone as Legolas had imagined and was far from easy. Once they arrived in Gondor, they had to first rid the land of the remaining orcs hiding in the crevices of the mountains. With a heavy heart, Legolas had the seeds and seedlings placed in the care of a few within the safe confines of the newly rebuilt Emyn Arnen. Faramir and his people had been hard at work in the months before the Elves arrival, and it was with not a little wariness on both sides that the Elves made their home in the corrupted Garden of Gondor.

"Welcome, Legolas!"

Faramir's greeting warmed his heart, but he saw the looks exchanged, the curiosity but haughtiness on the faces of his own people, and the glances of envy and fear from the men. He had come with such hopes to create a place of beauty for the children of Aragorn: that here in the forests seen from the towers of the White City, some touch of the Elves would remain long after he had sailed into the West. But the reception was not what he'd hoped for, and it became soon apparent that there was much work to do besides purging the land itself if they were to live side by side as not just reluctant neighbors, but cherished friends.

And so shortly after their arrival, Legolas approached Faramir with the idea to combine their patrols, forming an alliance in routing the last traces of evil from the lands. Those first patrols did not go as well as hoped and both Legolas and Faramir were both disheartened. But they agreed that trust was not built overnight, and the variance in fighting styles and strategy caused confusion as well as much verbal sparring and not a few scuffles among the two races. They could only hope that time and close proximity would bring about the mutual respect needed between their peoples.

And so Legolas was taken off guard when a patrol returned with the elven contingent, four warriors in all, bound and showing signs of having suffered physical violence at the hands of the men who should have seen them as comrades in arms.

"What is the meaning of this?" he asked, striding towards his men.

"Stay back!" Captain Dorlas commanded, his hand resting on his sword hilt. Several of the Men stepped between Legolas and his warriors. "These elves," he spat the word, "are charged with murder!"

Aghast, Legolas gaped at the man. Had his intentions to rebuild this land been misplaced? Had his hopes been too high? The differences between them too great?

"My lord, we did nothing wrong!" one of his own men, Talniben, called, and was immediately struck in the face by one of his captors. Legolas' anger flared and he took another step forward, only to have the Men draw swords.

"Silence!" the captain barked. "Lord Faramir will be the one to hear these charges, not some elven princeling from the north!"

Seething, Legolas agreed, helpless to free his warriors when they were so greatly outnumbered by the numerous men at arms. His own people were spread thin in an attempt to mingle them as much as possible in the hopes of bonds of friendship forming. It would seem his hopes had been in vain! He spun on his heel and followed Dorlas and his entourage to the Great Hall.

As soon as they entered the structure, they were met by the scent of rushes, sweet and freshly laid, mingling with the odor of newly hewn oak, marking the newness of the building. Faramir stood from where he sat at a table with several other captains discussing the latest raids on the mountain caves were the latest sign of orc had been discovered.

"What is the meaning of this?" Faramir strode forward, his confusion and concern evident in his expression.

"That is what I asked," Legolas said, barely constraining his ire at the mistreatment of his people.

"I told you these Elves were nothing but trouble, my lord!" Captain Dorlas pointed at the bound elven warriors. "They killed men in the wood! We saw them with our own eyes!"

Legolas felt his eyes widen at the charge. But Faramir, stepped closer, his brows drawing down in an expression of thought. "Why would Elves kill Men?"

"Because they think they are better than we are!" one man burst out. "Always so haughty and looking down their noses at us!"

Taken back, Legolas wondered if the quiet manner of his people was being interpreted as condescension. Or perhaps some of them had treated the men with some arrogance. Legolas had seen it and perhaps it was inevitable that his people, so long lived, would see themselves as higher than a younger race. But Legolas had hoped in time they would come to respect one another. Form bonds of friendship and trust. The gulf between them was greater than he had thought when he had set out on this endeavor.

"If they wished to kill us, living so close to us, we would all be dead now," Faramir pointed out. "I have seen their skill with bow and knife. If they wished to take this land for themselves, as some of you have speculated, it would have been taken in the first month of their arrival!" Faramir words were rewarded with stunned silence, his respect for the Elves' skills astounding his captains and even Legolas himself. "So I ask again, why would Elves kill Men?" He turned his attention to the four bound warriors. "What say you? Do you deny killing Men in Ithilien?"

Talniben, the highest ranking of the warriors spoke. "We do not deny killing the men, Lord Faramir, but it was not murder."

"They were simple settlers!" Dorlas asserted. "Men from Gondor building new lives in the forest!"

Legolas knew better. Faramir would as well. Any man from Gondor wishing to settle these lands must first present himself to Faramir. After swearing fealty, he was brought into the walls of Emyn Arnen and assigned quarters. Only a fool would settle in the woods with the darkness still lingering under the eaves of the Ephel Dúath! Simple farmers and woodsmen would be easy prey for the bands of orcs desperate to survive.

"They were not settlers, my lord!" Talniben's quiet voice contrasted greatly with the brash voice of Dorlas. "The men had dark hearts and would have killed us and Dorlas' men if we had not acted. The Captain did not see the two with arrows ready to fly upon our patrol, but we saw and we acted," Talniben's voice began to rise, his ire fighting with his quiet nature. "And now we stand accused of murder when instead Captain Dorlas should be thanking us!" Legolas wished the bitter twist of arrogance had not tainted his warrior's speech, but he understood. Such was the way of the Silvan folk.

"Peace, Talniben," Legolas bid him.

"Thank you?" Dorlas asked. "For what? Not putting arrows in our backs as well?" The other Men of the patrol raised their voices in agreement, drawing even some of the captains in the room into speaking their own doubts.

"Silence," Faramir commanded. A hush fell over the room. "Lord Legolas and I will ride out with as Dorlas and Talniben and see where this incident took place. Until then, these Elves will be set free of their bonds, and held in a room with food and drink. No harm shall come to them."

It took a few hours to sort out the details, but in the end, the evidence proved the Elves' words to be true. The crags of the Ephel Dúath were not just infested with orcs or the occasional troll, but also dark Men whose hearts had been corrupted by the evil of Mordor. As they approached the place where the bodies had been left, they found a group of about eight dirty men greedily going through the dead men's possessions.

"Halt you!" Faramir called, drawing his sword, even as Legolas nocked an arrow to the string of his bow.

The lack of fear on the gapped tooth smiling faces caused a shiver to ghost down Legolas' spine. Their confidence was misplaced. Six mounted and armed men were easily a greater match than the eight they were facing. Unless…

The whistle of an arrow. An elven cry of anger. The thud of flesh upon flesh then a gasp of pain, followed by the thump of both falling from their horses. Legolas released his first arrow along with four others in rapid succession, bringing down the other men who had remained hidden as guards in the shadows of the trees. Faramir and his two guards that had accompanied them took down four of the six others. Two turned tail and ran, and Faramir sent one of the guards after them with orders to take them alive if possible.

It was over hardly before it had begun, and Legolas turned his attention to Talniben and Dorlas, both on the ground. Talniben crouched before Dorlas, eyeing the arrow in the man's shoulder. An arrow that would have been embedded in his heart if Talniben had not acted and knocked the captain off the horse.

Talniben looked up at Legolas as he approached. "The arrow has only gone through the flesh and comes out under his arm. It should pose no risk to his life."

Dorlas sat with a pained but stunned expression on his face. "Why did you do that?" He asked.

"The arrow would have killed you if I had not." Talniben answered.

"After what I did and said, you should have wanted me dead." The man's shame was evident in the way he spoke, his eyes downcast.

"No one deserves to die because of an error in judgment." Then to Legolas' surprise, Talniben grinned. "Punished perhaps, and I would say that an arrow wound is punishment enough!"

Legolas glanced to Faramir who had come close to listen to the exchange. They shared a secret smile, a smile of hope, that from this confrontation the seeds of trust could be sewn. With care and time, they might yet reap a worthy harvest.

Dorlas' lips tilted upwards slightly. "You are a strange being, elf."

"Nay, it is you Men who are strange."

"I say you are both strange," Legolas added with a small smile. "Our ways are different, but our motives are similar. Perhaps from this encounter we might learn to accept our differences as just that, differences, not proof that one is right or another wrong. Then we might forge a mighty alliance and together sweep the taint from this land, side by side."

"That is well said, Legolas." Faramir agreed.

Talniben and Dorlas looked at each other a moment, then nodded.

Over the next months, the Elves and Men worked together. The story of Talniben's heroism spreading through the Men of Emyn Arnen, changing the way they viewed the Elves. And Legolas' people took note of the change in Talniben, for surely the strange friendship that formed between Talniben and Dorlas led to others reaching out in friendship and trust.

Corpses from the war were burned. Twisted trees were reasoned with, elven voices pleading for the plants to turn their attention to the sun and not cleave to Shadow. Those that heeded were pruned and tended by loving hands. Those that remained rooted in darkness were removed, their wood providing building material for new homes for both Elves and Men alike.

Slowly, the land was cleansed. And nearly a year after their arrival, Legolas finally found himself breaking ground and planting the seedlings they had brought with them. The plants took root and grew, the trees shooting up, even as newly formed families sprouted.

And as the years passed, Legolas realized that the seeds and seedlings he had brought with him with such hope had not brought the true beauty to Ithilien. It had been seeds of trust between two very different races that changed the land, making it a home, where the laughter of children of both Elves and Men rang side by side.