Author Notes: This is the most daring story post I've ever done. Forgive me if I misspell place names or have to toy with the formatting. I am, however, not sorry for the story. Warnings for some blood and suicide ideation in future parts.
Samwise Gamgee glanced back at Imiladris longingly. The sun was just starting to rise over the last homely house. It glinted off the pale rooftops and pavilions, and shone on the river. The foam of the water sparkled and roiled in the morning mists.
Sam felt someone pat is shoulder. He looked beside him, expecting to see a sympathetic fellow hobbit. He looked up to see Legolas smile sadly at him. For a moment, the hobbit considered the elf. Legolas rarely spoke a word. He mostly sang, which suited his desire for Elvish music well, but at other times Sam felt he was "standoffish," as his Gaffer used to say.
Sam could think of no retaliation to the elf's comfort, but the hobbit was soon distracted by the trail. Mountains arose quickly on the path away from the valley. The rocks on the outskirts of the last homely house became more frequent the farther they traveled. The hobbits had to keep their wits about them to dodge or shuffle over stones upon the road.
Merry and Pippin were already discussing breakfast.
"Maybe if we can find any mushrooms we could make a sauce for the dried pork." Pippin chirped.
"I haven't seen any mushrooms after all the time in Rivendell, I don't think they grow out here, Pip." Merry mumbled.
"They grow everywhere, Merry," Pippin scooted onto a particularly large rock, "Something must be eating them before we find them, or we aren't looking hard enough." Pippen stumbled off the rock, bumping into Gimli. The dwarf hastily grabbed his arm and steadied the youngest hobbit.
Gandalf was ahead of the group, watching them catch up. His longer stride made him faster among the rocks. The breeze ruffled his gray beard and threatened to tear his hat off. He grumbled, brushing his grizzled gray hair out of his eyes.
He first spotted the chatting hobbits surrounding the dwarf. Then came Boromir, son of Denethor, walking behind the pack horse, or pony. Aragorn came second to last. He smiled at Gandalf warmly when he caught his eye.
Legolas brought up the rear guard. His face was fair this morning and he kept his eyes on the road. His skin looked bleached in the morning light. It was subtle, but Gandalf had often been around elves and could see the nuances in Elven complexion. He knew he was not the only one who noticed this. Aragorn kept on shooting glances back at Legolas as they traveled.
Perhaps the Elf had stayed indoors overlong in Rivendell. Valar knows, there had been enough political discussions and formalities going on to keep anyone indoors for long stretches of time.
Gandalf fell into step with the company as they came upon him. The morning of their departure was quiet, excepting the antics of hobbits. Gandalf could not help but be satisfied with their beginning, though it came many seasons too late. Winter was a disaster in the making they would feel ere long. Still, in such jolly company, the packs seemed lighter and the sun more merry. The wizard enjoyed the freshness of the day.
"There's nothing like a warm meal at night." Sam sighed happily, "and it is enjoyed even more with good company."
"You presume all of us are good company by saying so, " said Legolas, eyeing the dwarf.
"I am better company than you any day of the age, master elf." Gimli snapped, "You barely talk and you pick at your food like a squirrel. You think that because you are an elf, that you are too good to be with the likes of us."
"At least I am not a quarrelsome dwarf who stinks of tobacco leaf. Your intelligence has no merits. Your diminished brain has not the capacity for thinking up good conversation. "
Gimli glared at the elf who sat furthest from the campfire, leaning against a log. The company camped and supped tonight after a week of travel. Legolas and Gimli were ever at odds with each other. Sometimes their insults were weak, other times vicious. Legolas would often become the cruelest more quickly. The hobbits stared wide eyed at the usually peaceful elf. All through Rivendell they witnessed the elves to be kind and wise; at their worst they had been stern or prideful.
Legolas used demeaning insults the longer the game went on. Aragorn watched the spectacle without interfering. He too was seemingly puzzled by Legolas's poisonous words. The ranger observed from his place beside Gandalf.
"If we speak of dimwits, let us not forget the harebrained elves. Ever the elves of Mirkwood are forced to sacrifice their lives for a king with a greed for jewels."
Legolas rose, features twisting. The suddenness startled the hobbits so badly that Sam actually fell backwards.
"You speak of greed, son of Gloin, as if your family had not been party to it. Let me remind you-"
Legolas paused, features an ivory white, face going slack.
Aragorn, the mediator and healer, felt his instincts flare with alarm.
"Legolas!" Aragorn rushed to his side, catching his arm. Everyone watched the elf fumble for words.
"What is wrong?" The ranger whispered in Sindarian.
"Nothing. Let me find fresher air." The elf answered in the same language and darted away from the firelight into the darkening woods.
The befuddled company turned to Gandalf, as if waiting for an unspoken signal. The wizard sat smoking, puffing smoke rings. Raised eyebrows were the only response he made to the drama played out before him.
The hobbits, ever resilient to trouble, eventually went back to their own discussions. Frodo sensed the need for a change of mood too. He started discussing elven flowers with Sam.
"When we get back to the Shire, perhaps you could get a patch growing of those star-shaped white flowers, Sam. They were the ones by the dining hall in Rivendell. They were very beautiful."
"Indeed. I admired them too, though I liked the gold ones even better. I shall make sure to get a lot of white ones started. Mayhap I can get them growing by next spring…"
Gimli sat listening, still clenching and unclenching his fists. He took up his pipe after a time and smoked with the vigilant wizard. Gandalf did not speak a word to any of them, though that was hardly a rare occurrence.
Aragorn sat fidgeting with his bedroll and pack until he gave up all pretense of relaxing and disappeared after Legolas. Gandalf watched him leave, face lit eerily in the firelight, drawing at the pipe, still as a specter. His eyes stared off into the distance and into the shadows of the woods.
Aragorn found Legolas sitting on another felled tree in the forest. The wood of the yew was blistered and blackened from a lightning strike. Its ugly pestilence fractured the pale bark, warping and mutilating the tree trunk. Legolas sat silently upon it, picking at the blackened wood, expression inscrutable.
Aragorn pondered to himself why Legolas was ever close to the ground. As soon as anyone turned their back on him in Mirkwood, they would find the elf gone and among the ancient boughs of oaks and cypress trees. He hid in the trees while in Rivendell as well.
Isildur's heir took a seat beside the prince on the mangled tree. Legolas huffed a sigh, but continued to scratch off burnt bark onto the forest floor. The elf's spine was rigid, shoulders tensed. Aragorn waited, looking up at the sky. The southern sky was very clear. Stars glimmered through the inky black curtain, numerous and welcoming.
At long last, Legolas turned to him. His coloring was milky white, his eyes had a glazed appearance. Aragorn studied him quietly, waiting for Legolas to break the silence.
"Have you come to scold me?" Legolas said curiously.
"Scold you? I doubt that would be in my place. Advise, would be a better word."
The elf chuckled weakly and looked down at his feet.
"You worry me." Aragorn decided to be honest.
Legolas whipped his head around and he looked back at him with a furrowed brow, gaze searching his.
"What gives you cause for worry?"
Aragorn held up his hands in a semblance of surrender.
"You are not acting as you usually do, that is all." Aragorn reassured him.
"I always quarrel with Gimli." Legolas murmured, directing his eyes back to the log.
"I have never seen you quarrel like you do lately. Even you and your father never rowed so."
"What business is it of yours should I choose to insult the dwarf?" Legolas hissed.
"I just wish you would tell me what is wrong," the ranger said softly.
Legolas's anger evaporated when he looked at Estel. The ranger still sat, unmoving, mouth tugged in a frown.
"I-I cannot tell you." Legolas grimaced. His shoulders slumped.
Aragorn nodded, as if expecting the answer,
"Is there no one else you can tell? If it weighs on you so, I would feel better that you had someone to confide to."
"There are not many I would tell. Mithrandir might be approachable on the subject. I know not." Legolas drew up his legs and propped his chin on his knees, staring into the distance.
"Then tell him. He shall listen and respond wisely; I have no doubt. Just tell him and you shall not be disappointed." Aragorn patted him on the shoulder and walked back to the campsite, leaving Legolas to think.
Legolas looked up at the stars, still hunched in on himself.
"Alas, mellon nin, if it were only that simple." He whispered in the darkness.