Longing for Adventure By Robinyj69 Rating: PG-13 Disclaimer: I do not own the characters in this story, and I am making no money. Summary: Legolas is visited by Gandalf and the fellowship is forced to reassemble when a dark evil is after them all. Feedback: Appreciated and can be sent to robinyj69@yahoo.ca Archive: Yes, go ahead, just drop me a line and tell me where it's going. Setting: About a month or so after the Ring's destroyed. A/N - This is NOT a romance!!!!!! Why so many peeps are writing Legolas romances I'll never know! Please don't flame me if I get some facts wrong, this is Middle Earth remember, anything can happen.

This story has already been posted a long time ago, but looking back I realized that 14 chapters is a lot to go through, and clicking through chapters has always been a big pet peeve of mine. So I'm reposting the story, in its entirety in one chapter, if ff.net will let me. A lot of peeps have told me they like coming back and re-reading this story every now and then, so this is to make it easier for them. And for those of you who may be reading this for the first time, enjoy.

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Longing for Adventure



Mirkwood. A beautiful Elven land ruled by King Thranduil. In the garden of the king's home sat an Elf of royal blood. Not the king himself, but his son, and prince, Legolas Greenleaf. He sat high atop one of the many trees, deep in thought. The Elf was remembering all the amazing, and some, horrible things he had seen during his great adventure while a part of the fellowship. He had returned home only a month ago and there had been a great celebration for many feared the worst had happened to the prince since he had been gone for over half a year. But now that he returned to Mirkwood, and the initial joy of being home had worn off, he had to admit, he longed for some excitement of any kind. He never thought he would be one to seek danger and journeys into the far world, but after his perilous quest he found it impossible to return to his everyday life.

Life in Mirkwood continued as it always did; nothing exciting or extremely out of the ordinary had happened in the past month that he had been home, and Legolas found himself getting restless. He was still being taught the ways to be a fine ruler for his people for when his time came, but since Elves were immortal it could be centuries before he was forced to take the throne. So, he was bored and longed for anything to occupy his time, perhaps an adventure. Not something as dangerous and undescribably important as the fellowship had been, but something to keep his wits sharp, and his bow true.

It was on this morning, as he sat thinking these thoughts, that it seemed as though his wish was granted. A handmaiden entered the garden, calling his name.

"Legolas! Prince Legolas, your company is requested by the king!" The handmaiden, Loret, was forced to walk through the immense garden shouting towards the treetops for several minutes, for when Prince Legolas wished to be alone, it was near impossible to find him.

Legolas sighed and jumped down from his tree, landing silently behind Loret. "May I ask what my father wishes of me?" He asked, startling the handmaiden, who hadn't noticed his descent from the tree.

"I'm not entirely sure my lord. But he called for you shortly after the arrival of an odd visitor. He was veiled in gray and rode the finest steed I've ever seen." Loret told him.

Legolas's eyes brightened, "Gandalf." He gasped in pleasant surprise, then ran towards the palace as fast as his Elf legs would carry him. Perhaps an adventure I have found.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Legolas rushed into his father's chambers, forgetting to knock in his excitement. He scanned the room and his smile somehow brightened even more as he found that the visitor was indeed Gandalf. The look of dread and seriousness on the wizard's features dampened his initial joy though, even as Gandalf tried to cover up his emotions.

"Gandalf! It is good to see you my friend, although I must admit, it has not been long since we parted company." Legolas told the old man as he embraced him affectionately.

"No, it has not. But I have missed your company as well my friend." Gandalf said, returning the hug.

"Gandalf has travelled far to speak to you." Thranduil said.

"Tell me, why does thou darken my doorstep so soon after our great adventure? Do you bring news of the our small friends and of Gondor?" Legolas questioned the wizard light-heartedly.

Gandalf's expression grew slightly darker, "There is much I must speak to you of, and it cannot wait. Sit, it is a long and dreadful tale I must tell you. We are all in danger you see, all of us who took it upon ourselves to be a part of the fellowship. Although we said we knew and understood the risks, nothing could have prepared us for, and no one could have foreseen what lay before us."

"What has happened?" Legolas ventured to ask warily.

Gandalf's gaze fixed suddenly on Thranduil, Legolas's father, "If it would be possible your highness, I wish to have words with your young prince in private." Gandalf said politely.

Thranduil seemed a little surprised, but conceded and left the room with a nod of his head.

"Now, tell me what is so important that you have come this far to tell me in person." Legolas requested.

Gandalf's gaze lowered momentarily. He looked up again, a resolute look on his face as he met Legolas's stare. "It has not been long since the defeat of Sauron, but I have come to warn you of another evil, not as great, but just as deadly. It comes for the fellowship."

"Explain yourself Gandalf." Legolas said, not demanding but with a yearning for more information.

"When Sauron found out the location of the One Ring, he believed it only a matter of time before he would rise once more; his followers believed this also. So it was, that a great evil, long forgotten and deeply buried, began to rise again as it was called by Saruman. These creatures of darkness are called Mesteagues. Stronger than orcs, and they may walk in sunlight unharmed. Also, to be pierced by the claws of a Mesteauge means almost certain death to most creatures, for the wounds caused by their weapons and claws heal slowly, at an almost imperceivable rate and sometimes never at all." Gandalf told him, then paused to collect his thoughts and allow this to be absorbed by Legolas.

"Why are these creatures after us?" Legolas asked, although he felt almost certain he knew the answer.

"The Mesteagues were summoned from a dark sleep to serve Sauron. Now they have risen and their master has not, this does not please them. They blame the fellowship and those who were in it and have vowed revenge. We must stop this new evil before it spreads among the lands. All armies are weakened and defenses easily breached due to war that has thankfully ended. The Mesteagues will grow more in number and consume this land, if we do not stop them."

"How? What are we to do?" Legolas was anxious to hear their next course of action.

"I have called together the other members of our company, and we are all to meet at Rivendell in a week's time. Our strategy is this; The Mesteagues follow under one leader, though even he would have bowed at the feet of Sauron. Their leader, known as Richastas, is extremely powerful but he does have a weakness. If his heart is pierced, by blade or bow, he will die and his followers will die with him. But his heart is so small, it is near impossible to hit and he is always guarded by his minions and has himself heavily armored. It is Richastas we will have to defeat if victory is what we wish." Gandalf told the Elf, a weariness in his voice. Obviously he had hoped for a time of peace to regain his strength before having to face a new evil.

"Defeat him we shall. For no armor is impenetrable, and our strength of will shall not be broken. We will find victory." Legolas said with conviction. "Where does this new enemy take refuge?"

Gandalf sighed heavily, "In the south-east. The mountains of Murenya. There are many dark and deep caves within the mountain face that the Mesteagues can hide in. It is a long and hard journey, but no more so than our last trek into the dangers of this land. Until Richastas is defeated and killed the Mesteagues will continue to flourish. For until he perishes more Mesteagues will rise, no matter how many we may be able to defeat. Fortunately for us, although stronger than orcs, they are killed the same way. Ax or sword or bow may be their downfall in battle." Gandalf explained.

"Very well. It seems time is of the essence. When do we ride?" Legolas asked as he stood up since it was obvious Gandalf had told all he needed to say.

"As soon as possible, at dawn. For it is growing late, and my bones are weary from my travels." Gandalf rose with him and headed towards the door with Legolas.

"As unwelcoming as the circumstances may be, I will be glad to see the rest of the company at any rate. I have missed Gimli's quarrelling and the Hobbits' merry sense of humor and good will." Legolas said, a smile playing across his features.

"I feel the same way. I take my leave now, I know you have much to prepare. 'Til the dawn, when we ride." Gandalf nodded his departure.

"'Til the dawn." Legolas replied, bowing his head as well as Gandalf was escorted down the hall to his chambers by a hand-maiden.

Legolas leaned against the door as he closed it and sighed deeply. He had wanted adventure and he had definitely found it, but was his heart truly ready? And were his people? They had been greatly distressed by his leave the last time he departed to forth on a great journey. But there was nothing to be done now, if he did not go with Gandalf to stop this evil, the evil would find him, and Mirkwood with him. He would not let the dark and unpure creatures taint his home. He steadied himself and mentally thought of all he needed to prepare. First things first, he needed to tell his father.

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The next morning Legolas and Gandalf were up with the sun. They ate their breakfast and then readied their steeds for the long ride to Rivendell. Legolas was pleased that his father encouraged his leaving. Though Thranduil wished his son did not have to go, he understood his reasons as they were explained to him and wished Legolas luck on his ventures.

Legolas's own emotions were in deep turmoil as he prepared his horse, Elygor, for their journey. He was excited to be exploring the unknown once again, and greatly anticipated seeing his friends. Yet he felt his father's, and his people's, pain at him leaving. He had asked his father not to announce his departure until he was able to put many miles between them; a farewell gathering of his people would only slow him down. He also wasn't totally looking forward to witnessing the atrocities of battle once more. Then of course there was the fact that this new evil was apparently targeting them specifically, and according to Gandalf could find them wherever they rode although he hadn't explained how. All these things combined greatly weighed on Legolas's heart but he pushed them aside, knowing he must be strong for their quest.

"You have all you need?" Gandalf asked, breaking Legolas's train of thought.

"Yes. Let us go and meet with our friends." Gandalf nodded in agreement and they were off.

So it was that Legolas, on Elygor, and Gandalf, on Shadowfax, rode to Rivendell, and rode hard. Though Shadowfax was forced to go below his limits.

"Only half speed Shadowfax," Gandalf told his steed, "For you are far swifter than any other horse and we are to escort this Elf, not leave him behind." Shadowfax did as was asked of him and for five nights they rode without incident.

It was a pleasant trip; a quiet trip, almost too much so. It was as if any area of the forest that they entered was prepared for a huge and disastrous event. And somehow, Legolas had a feeling that after they left an area of woods, the trees would breath again and the animals relax once more. On the fifth day Legolas and Gandalf were travelling through a particularly dense area of forest, so thick that they were forced to dismount and lead the horses by reigns.

"Have the others of our company already been contacted?" Legolas asked as he ducked an overhanging branch.

"Yes, the others have been summoned. Gimli was sent for first and all has been explained to him, I suspect he's already arrived. Aragorn knew already of the Mesteagues before I reached him and should be arriving in Rivendell shortly. As for our Hobbit friends, I escorted them there myself. I couldn't chance them venturing alone to the Elven land to be at the Mesteagues' mercy if attacked. I went to the Shire and gathered them, then made my way to Mirkwood. They have been enjoying the Elves' hospitality for over a week now." Gandalf smiled as he pictured the humorous half-lings eating to their heart's delight and regailing the entire population with stories of their adventures.

"Good. I wanted not to wait for their arrivals. I assume we will be on our way almost immediately, after we have reaquainted ourselves." Legolas enquired, wanting to know their time frame against this evil.

"Yes. There will be little time for pleasantries I'm afraid. Time is short. We will make our way to Murenya as soon as our course is decided." Gandalf explained.

The next day they arrived at Rivendell.

Elrond was awaiting their arrival with open arms. "Greetings Gandalf, Legolas. Long we have been waiting. Come, you will drink and eat with your friends and then you may discuss this important business of yours."

"Greetings to you as well, Elrond. But this business cannot wait and should not be undermined in its importance." Gandalf pointed out.

"Surely, Gandalf, we may enjoy one meal with our company, free of worries and full of cheer, before we delve into battle strategies. The future is sure to be filled with much dread and weariness. Let us enjoy this time together." Legolas pleaded as they were escorted to the great hall.

The deep concentrated look that Gandalf had been sporting since his return finally disappeared as he agreed with the Elf. "Yes. You are right. Let us take this chance to gather and talk once more."

Legolas smiled as they reached the immense doors leading to the hall. They were pushed open and the fellowship was officially reunited. Waiting in the large room were Aragorn, Gimli, Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and Merry; now with the addition of Legolas and Gandalf they were complete.

"Gandalf!" Frodo exclaimed as he ran forth and embraced the wizard.

"Barely two weeks I have been gone my boy, surely you haven't missed me so terribly." Frodo released the old man, but was still grinning broadly.

"And Legolas. It is good to see you as well." Frodo shook the Elf's hand rather enthusiastically.

"Greetings to you Frodo." Legolas returned the handshake.

"Never could be on time could you?" Gimli mocked Legolas in good humor.

Legolas smiled at his friend, "We aren't late." He pointed out kindly.

"Ah, but you aren't early either. Two days I've been waiting." Gimli grumbled.

"And during that time I'm sure you have not allowed yourself to delight in the pleasantries of Elf life." Legolas chided. Gimli crossed his arms and said nothing. Legolas turned his attention to Aragorn.

"And you Aragorn, how do you fair? I hope all is well."

"As well as can be hoped my friend." Aragorn replied, shaking Legolas's hand as well.

"Good to hear."

Merry and Pippin raced up to be recognized, "So, how did it feel to return home?" Merry asked.

"Yes, you must have missed Mirkwood. Been having parties and festivities to celebrate your arrival?" Pippin asked.

Legolas laughed and clapped them each on the shoulder, "Perhaps at first it was good to be home. But I must admit, I found life becoming rather boring without the likes of you two around." Merry and Pippin grinned at this but then their attention was soon drawn to the dining hall as they saw handmaidens bring in great trays of food.

"Uh, yes. Well, it seems it's time to eat. Must be off. Come on." Merry urged Pippin.

"Oh yes. Mustn't let the food get cold." Pippin chirped in. They both ran ahead and entered the dining room not waiting for the others. Jumping swiftly into their seats, they readied their plates and their stomachs.

"Not even the near destruction of all of Middle Earth can change their appetite." Gimli said, as they made their way to the hall a bit more slowly.

"Not true, Gimli. Why after we returned home I saw them eat only *four* meals a day for an entire week. Didn't last long of course." Sam chuckled slightly, as did the others.

So it was that they all ate in companionship, the fellowship of eight. There was good food, great tales, and fine company; all had a wonderful time, and they all managed, for a short time, to push their thoughts of the Mesteagues to the back of their minds.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But as the company feasted, safe and content in Rivendell, the dark evil they were to destroy was preparing for them.

Richastas was the leader of the Mesteagues. He was like them in appearance, black skin, eyes and hair, claws sharp enough to slice through metal, and long spiny legs. The only differences were Richastas's greater size, he towered more than twelve feet tall, and that his only weakness was his heart. Even his minions cowered in fear at his feet, as did any creature that saw him; that was as it should be. He had slept soundly for millenium, intending to rest for as long as possible to regain his full strength. As it was, three millenia ago he had been defeated greatly, by a force of goodness on Middle Earth; defeated but not destroyed. He had taken his time in his rest, his strength would have been greater than Sauron's eventually if his slumber had gone uninterrupted.

But Saruman had awakened him, knowing he was not yet strong enough to defeat Sauron, so he and his Mesteague warriors would be forced to follow him. It had taken two months to fully awaken Richastas and his minions, by that time Sauron was gone and the ring was destroyed. In truth Richastas wanted the ring for himself and he was furious about its destruction. He also couldn't go back to his sleep now, he wasn't tired anymore. But with Sauron gone he could rule Middle Earth, even without the ring. He decided that first, he must destroy the fellowship, the ones that had defeated Sauron.

Only after they were defeated would he emerge from the mountains. With the armies of this land so weak, it would be an easy victory. He summoned forth his two generals, two particularly large and deadly Mesteagues who had served him well.

"You are my greatest generals so I give you this task," Richastas's voice was deep and gravelly, "Find the company that destroyed the Ring of Power. There are eight of them; a Wizard, a Dwarf, a Man, an Elf, and four Hobbits. Do not underestimate them due to their numbers, they are strong and fierce warriors. I want them killed, or brought here alive. Do not worry yourselves with stealth for the Elf will feel your approach no matter how discreet. Go now, and destroy my enemies. But remember this, you are my best generals but that does not mean you cannot be replaced." Richastas warned as he sent them away. They were to take half of the Mesteagues that were already risen, the other half stayed to guard their master, although he hardly needed it.

It would not be long before the fellowship was destroyed and he ruled Middle Earth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As the food disappeared from everyone's plates, the talk grew less cheerful and soon it was time to discuss the true reason they were all joined together.

"Have you ever seen a Mesteague, Gandalf?" Frodo enquired.

"No, my boy. I am not that old. But I fear they will not be hard to recognize once we encounter them." Gandalf replied.

"What course are we to take to reach the Mountains of Murenya?" Legolas asked.

"We travel first to Lorien then we must pass through the Brown Lands until we reach the outskirts of Dagorland. That is where we shall find the Mountains of Murenya." Aragorn explained.

"A well thought course." Gimli nodded as he patted his full stomach.

"A long journey as well." Legolas noted.

"That it is. I gather it will take little more than four weeks to reach Dagorland." Aragorn said, his heart heavy with the thought of another adventure so soon.

"A month!" Pippin exclaimed.

"And then a month back." Merry added.

"Two months away from the Shire." Pippin sighed loudly.

"Don't be so glum my friends. We will get home, and then have even more wonderful tales to tell everyone whence we return." Frodo tried to assure his friends, although he partially felt the same way.

"It's amazing that everyone in the Shire actually envies us." Sam said glumly.

"Let us speak of these things at a later time. It is growing darker out and I say that we must get our rest. We leave early in the morning." Gandalf rose from his seat and took his leave.

"Good night my friends. Sleep well and do not trouble your dreams with thoughts of these Mesteagues." Legolas suggested as the rest of the company departed the table and headed to their rooms.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning everyone awoke quite rested, for there was always a sound sleep to be found within the walls of Rivendell. They each readied a pack of provisions and said good-bye to the kind Elves of Rivendell.

"A safe journey to all of you." Elrond bid them, as they left his kingdom.

"We shall try, but we cannot make any promises." Aragorn called back.

They left on foot, and carried their weapons proudly. Gimli with his sharpened ax, Aragorn with his blade ready, Legolas his bow and full quiver, Gandalf with his staff, and each Hobbit with their short sword. Gandalf was forced to leave Shadowfax behind, but he let him loose over the valleys where he could run free until his return. So it was that they made their way to Lorien.

They talked and made good time through their travels, having fair weather and only slightly harder terrain to cover. On the day marking a week of travels, they were making their way along the banks of the river Oladra.

"Tell me Gandalf, do these Mesteagues move with great stealth or will we be able to hear their approach and prepare for attack?" Gimli asked as they walked.

"Mesteagues are able to move with the wind and make no sound whatsoever. They would attack and kill you before you knew of their presence. It is lucky that we have Legolas with us." Gandalf replied smiling at his Elf companion.

Legolas's head turned at mention of his name, "Why is that?" He enquired.

"Did I tell you not?" Gandalf seemed shocked he'd forgotten. "Elves can sense Mesteagues, long before they are in sight. Although you've never encountered one, you will undoubtedly recognize their presence."

"What will I sense?"

"I hear it is as though a dark hand chills your spine, so much so it causes a shudder throughout your being. The darkness of the Mesteagues affects the natural light of an Elf, even from a far distance." Gandalf explained.

"I see. I shall be sure to warn you if I feel such a thing." Legolas was deep in thought now, and mentally telling himself he must not ignore any sensations of darkness he may get.

"It is much appreciated by all of us." Gandalf told him.

"I feel I must warn you Legolas," Aragorn's voice held a hint of worry and danger, "The Mesteagues know of this ability of the Elves to sense them. Be wary in battle for they may target you more so than the rest of us for it." He warned.

Legolas nodded in understanding, "Have no fear, I shall be sure to watch myself."

"I have your back in any case, my friend." Gimli said, weilding his ax for emphasis.

"Thank you Gimli. But let us not forget our small friends. Though these Hobbits have proven themselves worthy in battle, they are still small and we must watch over them." Legolas pointed out.

"Just like an Elf not to think of himself." Gimli groused.

"Is it time for lunch yet?" Pippin asked suddenly as he felt his stomach growl slightly.

"Always it is time for lunch to you two," Gandalf sighed, "But yes. We shall eat and rest now."

Merry grinned and his eyes headed towards the beach longingly. It looked cool and peaceful, a wonderful spot to eat. "Come Pippin, I'll beat you to the water's edge."

"Not today, or any other." Pippin replied, taking off quickly after Merry.

"The shore does seem a lovely spot to eat." Frodo commented.

"Well, let's follow them. No reason they should have all the fun." Sam said as he and Frodo followed after them, with the rest of the company following.

They ate a good meal and rested for some time on the sand. Merry and Pippin started a game of who could skip the most stones in the water, which Sam and Frodo soon joined. Pippin was thrilled when he managed seven skips; two more than anyone else. That was until Gandalf picked up a stone and skipped it ten times.

"Beginner's luck." Pippin growled under his breath.

"And perhaps a spot of magic." Merry added.

"Well, with the end of your game I feel we should be off." Aragorn called out as he came back from scouting the road ahead, "We have several hours still 'til night falls."

Everyone gathered their things and were soon on their way.

When it grew dark the company found a sheltered area to set up camp. It was a large valley with trees on all sides. The fire blazed and everyone sat around it, talking of what friends will and laughing heartily. Legolas was in the middle of a tale when the first strike began.

" .. And I do believe I saw Gimli get distracted by ..." Legolas stopped suddenly and his body shuddered, as if he felt a sudden chill. He looked up and locked eyes with Gandalf, confirming the wizard's fears.

"Mesteagues. They're coming." Legolas announced, reaching for his bow and scanning the area intently.

"How far?" Aragorn asked, his hand going for the hilt of his sword.

"I'm not sure. But they're getting closer." Legolas replied.

"Are we just going to wait here then?" Pippin enquired, getting a bit edgy.

"No. Put out the fire, we shall lay in wait in the trees, better to fight there than in the open." Gandalf instructed. Merry and Pippin put out the fire and Frodo and Sam collected their things as the others stood guard, weapons ready.

"Come, into the forest we must go." Gandalf urged them. They all followed him and found an adequate place to hide. The sense of darkness in Legolas's heart increased and he shuddered once more. Aragorn and Gandalf noticed this and frowned, but said nothing.

Ten minutes passed in silence. Then from across the valley they saw it, almost like a black cloud covering the land. Mesteagues, at least a hundred of them, rushing into the valley. Their long black legs carried them swiftly. They were beings of total darkness, nothing but black. Their hands were claws and spikes covered their bodies and though they stood as men, they shrieked like banshees.

The company tensed in preparation. It was obvious that the Mesteagues knew exactly where the company was as they headed directly for the area in the woods that they hid themselves. Since they knew their position already, Legolas saw no reason not to attack first. He moved out from behind the tree he had been hiding and began to shoot his arrows as soon as the Mesteagues were within range. His arrows rang out, strong and true, he sometimes he even shot two at once, downing twice as many enemies with one pull of his bow. Gimli came up behind him, obviously prepared for battle.

"Shall we continue with our game? I suggest you hurry, although you won last time I already hold ten kills over you." Legolas smirked as Gimli realized he was right.

"I'll show you how it's done." Gimli replied as he stepped forward to meet the approaching storm of Mesteagues. The next few moments were a blur of battle. Gimli swung his ax and killed many of the Mesteagues, but they were strong and it sometimes took two strikes. Aragorn wielded his blade well, taking out many of their enemies. A good number fell even before they reached the fellowship, as they were riddled with arrows from Legolas's bow. Gandalf struck out as well, with bolts of magic destroying the Mesteagues. The four Hobbits stood behind their four companions, weapons drawn. Luckily their friends were mighty warriors and only two Mesteagues got past them. The Hobbits, working as one, took care of both.

Gimli struck out at an enemy, wounding but not killing it. Sensing a presence behind him, he ducked and the Mesteague at his back killed the one he had been fighting. Gimli turned swiftly and killed that one as well.

Aragorn fought well. As his blade plunged into a Mesteague another attacked from the side, pushing him roughly into a tree. Aragorn recovered quickly and moved as the creature went to attack again. He slammed its head into the tree before striking the killing blow. He withdrew his blade again and it moved in a perfect arc, slicing through a Mesteague that had appeared at his side. Knowing one approached from behind he plunged his sword backwards without turning and skewered his enemy.

Legolas's arm was a blur as he pulled arrows from his quiver faster than the eye could follow. Many Mesteagues converged on him but he fired at them with practiced ease and lashed out with his daggers at those who came too close to shoot. He chanced to see a glimmer of movement in the corner of his eye and turned to see a Mesteague sneaking up behind the unsuspecting Hobbits. He re-aimed his bow swiftly and called out:

"Get down!" The Hobbits immediately ducked as the arrow flew over their heads and struck the Mesteague behind them, killing it where it stood.

Frodo smiled gratefully at Legolas and then he paled, "Legolas watch out!" Frodo shouted.

Legolas turned but didn't have time to raise his bow as the Mesteague hit him. They both fell to the ground and the Elf's weapon flew from his grasp. He couldn't reach his daggers so tried to kick the creature off him, but it was too big and too strong. The Mesteague raised its clawed hand and lashed out, aiming for Legolas's head. The prince raised his arm to protect himself and the claws slashed his fore-arms. Legolas gritted his teeth against the pain and continued to try and kick the creature off. The Mesteague pulled back to strike once more, but the blow never came. The Mesteague suddenly fell dead to the ground, an ax protruding from its back.

Legolas pushed the dead Mesteague off him and tried to pull himself to his feet. "Must be careful around these beasts. Are you hurt my friend?" Gimli asked as he pulled his ax from the Mesteague's back. Legolas looked around and saw all the dark creatures had been killed.

He cradled his left arm gingerly, "I have had worse, though I fear my aim may suffer the most." He admitted.

The four Hobbits quickly recovered from the shock of the battle and ran over to the pair, "We won!" Merry announced, pleasantly surprised.

"Legolas you're hurt!" Frodo exclaimed when he saw the cuts on the Elf's arm.

"T'is but a scratch. It is of no worry." He tried to assure them. Gandalf and Aragorn had been inspecting the bodies of the Mesteagues in an effort to better understand their enemy, when they heard Frodo speak of the Elf's injury and came over immediately to see for themselves.

"You may not worry about it, but I will." Gandalf said, examining the wound, "Sit. Aragorn, will you go into the forest and search for a Trilista plant and bring me the leaves?"

"Of course. I'll return shortly." Aragorn fled into the forest. Gandalf leaned Legolas against a tree and took a cloth offered as a bandage by Sam. He looked at the arm again then pressed the cloth against it to stop the bloodflow; there were three long slashes that stretched along the base of the arm, just below the elbow.

"You're lucky. These cuts are not too deep. They will heal slowly, but they will heal. Does it hurt much?" Gandalf enquired.

"It's not unbearable." Legolas replied, twisting his arm to take a look at the cuts himself.

"Do you think they'll be more?" Pippin asked, as he picked up Legolas's bow which had landed several feet away.

"Probably not tonight. But that's not the end of them." Gandalf replied pressing against the bandage slightly harder.

"Tell me Gimli, how many kills did you have? I counted myself at twenty- seven." Legolas said, a small smile passing his lips.

"Twenty-two only. T'was an unfair advantage, you started early." Gimli complained.

"You have to be swift if you wish to survive in this land." Legolas countered. He leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes. Although the cuts were not deep they stung his soul, or so it felt. The blackness of these creatures seemed to steal his strength and affect his very spirit, weakening the light within him. It was an unpleasant and disconcerting feeling.

Aragorn returned then, with the plant Gandalf requested, "I was fortunate, there was some nearby."

"Thank you." Gandalf took the plant and removed the bandage from the Elf's arm. He split open the leaves so the aloe inside would ooze out and moved to apply it to the wound. "This will sting." Gandalf warned. Legolas nodded and then hissed in pain as the plant was applied. Gandalf replaced the bandage so it would hold the leaves there and cover the cuts then moved away.

"It should heal, give it time."

"Thank you Gandalf." Legolas said, getting up and taking his bow from Pippin.

"Let us put some distance between us and this place and then we will rest." Aragorn suggested. Everyone gathered their things and prepared to move on. First though they all assisted in retrieving several of Legolas's arrows from the dead Mesteagues. He would not be able to replenish his quiver until they reached Lorien and it was still several days away.

"These Mesteagues have thick skin. Many of these arrows are broken and cannot be used again." Legolas grumbled as he pulled yet another unsalvageable arrow from a Mesteague.

"That they do, it sometimes took three swings of my ax before they fell." Gimli added.

"Perhaps you are merely losing your touch." Legolas jested as he placed the recovered arrows in his quiver.

"Watch your tongue, I am not the one who was injured, Greenleaf." Gimli pointed out.

"You speak of things of which I had no control." Legolas said. "Besides, it does not hurt terribly and the arm is still usable."

"I am glad." Gimli said honestly.

"We must be moving. We have all received little rest this night and we must find shelter to keep ourselves in." Aragorn called out.

"And a place to eat." Merry added, running up to him.

"Yes, that too." Aragorn smiled and then began to lead the way.

They shouldered their packs, checked their weapons and were on their way. They somehow felt slightly more at ease. Perhaps it was because they had had their first encounter with their new enemy and found them not to be invincible, but faulted like themselves and defeated with little effort. Or it may have been the knowledge that together they could accomplish anything, if they were strong and worked as one they would not fail. Whatever the reason they made their way with lighter hearts.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Everyone was at alert as they continued on their journey, through the dark forest with Gandalf's staff as their only light. They didn't like traveling at night when it wasn't necessary but they wished to put some ground between the valley, now filled with dead Mesteagues, and themselves. They walked for about an hour before it was decided to rest.

"We will stop here for a few hours and try to get what sleep we may, and then start off again two hours after the sun rises." Aragorn announced.

The four Hobbits immediately collapsed and were soon sound asleep. Legolas agreed to take first watch since he needed little to no rest, and was able to sense the Mesteagues before anyone else. Gandalf, Gimli, and Aragorn were soon asleep as well, though they all rested lightly in case something may disturb their senses.

Legolas was left alone, but he was in the forest so felt somehow at home. He stood watch while he checked his bow and arrows and later in the night replaced the bandage on his arm. Gandalf had been correct, the wound was healing extremely slow. Normally Elves healed rather quickly yet the slash marks on his arms seemed as apparent as before. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind and continued his watch. Two hours later the sun rose, but his company did not. They were all weary from their encounter with the Mesteagues so they all rested soundly. It was not long before Aragorn awoke though. He got up and checked his pack, being sure not to disturb anyone, and then moved to sit next to Legolas, who was leaning against a tree. The Elf seemed deep in thought about a matter and Aragorn was curious as to what it was.

"Do you sense something?" Aragorn asked.

"No, I feel no Mesteagues approaching. I was merely thinking." Aragorn gave him a look to continue, "It disturbs me that these Mesteagues can find our location so easily. I was wondering how it is they know where we are." Legolas admitted, not completely rousing from his troubled thoughts.

"I believe they follow the smell of the Ring." Aragorn told him as he leaned back against the tree as well.

"That's ridiculous my friend. The Ring is long destroyed." Legolas smiled, clearly brushing away the suggestion.

"Destroyed, yes. Long, no. It has been barely two months since the Ring's destruction, hard to believe I know. But the Ring was the greatest source of dark power ever to come to this land, and each of us, whether we'll admit it or not, was tempted and corrupted by the Ring somehow. We were all near it, for a length of time. I've no doubt that its power lingers to this day, and these creatures, the Mesteagues, have a keen nose for smelling dark power, so they smell us. I fear these creatures hunt us due to the very thing that we destroyed." Aragorn explained. He had obviously given the matter much thought as well.

Legolas thought about it a moment then met Aragorn's gaze, "You are probably right, it seems a reasonable theory."

"It disturbs me as well, but there is little we can do about it. Now, I hate to wake our companions from their slumber but we must be on our way." Aragorn said, getting up and dusting the dirt from his tunic.

"But wake them we must, for if we allowed these Hobbits to arise on their own I fear we shall be here for many nights." Legolas replied, rising as well.

"I have no quarrell with you on that matter." Aragorn said, moving to wake their small friends. "Come Pippin, we must be off."

"Not without breakfast." Pippin grumbled, not yet fully awake.

"Then second breakfast." Merry added sleepily. Aragorn smiled and eventually got them all roused. They ate their breakfast (no second breakfast though), and were on their way once more.

For three days they travelled, always wary of their new enemy and always watching the shadows in the night. But Legolas had no sense of nearby Mesteagues, although sometimes he felt a small chill down his spine, he never felt the overpowering darkness on his soul. As the days went on the company became more and more watchful, expecting another attack shortly, but none came and on the fourth day, they reached Lorien.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Deep in the dark caves of the Mountains of Murenya, Richastas was not pleased. Before him stood only one of his generals, he had just been informed the other was dead.

"So, you've failed?" Richastas growled menacingly.

His remaining general cowered in fear, "Your other general ordered me back, he said he could take care of them all himself and took half the men with him. I watched from afar. The warriors fought off the attack with practiced ease, I believe they are stronger than we thought. Your general was killed, downed by the Dwarf's ax. I do not think that hand to hand combat is the best way to fight these enemies." The general couldn't believe he'd actually spoken his opinion, but it was done now.

"Defeated half your men with ease you say? And there were no casualities to their number?" The general nodded, "Yes, there are other and more effective ways to fight an enemy. Where are they now?"

"They have made their way to Lorien. I have two scouts watching them, they know to keep far enough away as not to give themselves away to the Elf." The Mesteague explained.

"I have new orders for you. If you fail in this do not bother coming back." Richastas hissed. "For it is a fate far worse than death that I would give you."

"What are your plans, my lord?" The general asked, his voice quivering slightly.

"Have you ever heard the phrase, divide and conquer?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The company of friends walked through the woods of Lorien, a sense of deja vu passing through them all. They were for the most part elated to be returning to Lorien, except for Gimli, he understood his feelings quite well.

"I do not see why we must stop here. We could pass around this place easily enough." Gimli said, his voice hindering on a complaining tone.

"We need to rest, even for a short while. We cannot be expected to go through this journey with no peace, or time to rest our weary bones, already this journey is taking longer than I first thought." Aragorn explained.

"Besides, it is long since I have seen the Lady Galadriel, I will be glad to see her once more." Gandalf told them as they walked through the woods.

"You just do not like that the Elves can sneak up on you so easily, Gimli." Frodo pointed out.

"They were lucky last time, they won't catch me offguard again." Gimli's chest puffed out with pride as his eyes watched the trees.

"Ah, so you must have known that they've been following us for a hundred paces already?" Legolas grinned. The Dwarf scanned the woods intently, trying to spot any Elves.

"You try to trick me," Gimli laughed, "There are no Elves following us."

Legolas moved his head to indicate that Gimli should turn around. The Dwarf turned to see an Elf leaning casually against a tree ahead of them. He was as all Elves were, long fair hair, bright green eyes and clothing the color of the forest.

"We are indeed here, Dwarf," The Elf said to Gimli, then turned to Legolas, "I must say you have keen senses friend, few of our own kind could have noticed our presence in these woods." The Elf seemed impressed.

"Was only by luck." Legolas told him.

"I think probably not. Now who are you travellers who dare to enter these woods?" The Elf asked.

"I am Gandalf, and I believe you will find we are friends of the Lady Galadriel, I dare say she is probably expecting us." Gandalf replied, moving his arms to indicate the entire group.

"Yes, she is. I had to be sure you were the right people, although I doubt there are many companies such as your own. Come, we will take you to the Queen." The still nameless Elf told them.

"We?" Gimli asked, only seeing the one Elf. Legolas indicated he should turn around once more; there were half a dozen more Elves standing behind them. "Oh, I see." Gimli said as they were lead away.



They were brought to see the Queen as soon as they entered the great palace. She was as beautiful as ever, with her long blond hair reaching far past her shoulders, and her soft blue eyes that were all knowing and all seeing. She sat on her throne and summoned them all forward.

"Welcome back to Lorien, though it has not been long since your last visit. I know why you have come, and what you seek to destroy." Queen Galadriel said as welcome. "You are weary from your long trek and wish to rest within our walls." It was a statement, not a question.

"We do your highness. We wish to stay no more than three days though, and want only to rest, then we will be on our way." Aragorn explained.

"Of course. It shall be granted." She looked upon them all and her eyes saddened, "So much danger in your lives, and future. Much hardship you have suffered. You will have sanctuary from your worries in my home."

"We thank you." Frodo bowed appropriately and the Queen smiled at him.

"Gandalf, there is much we have to speak of." Galadriel said to the wizard.

"That we do. I look forward to it." Gandalf replied. They were then led from the Throne room and brought to chambers to rest.

They spent three days in Lorien, enjoying their hospitality, food, and warm beds. Gandalf and Aragorn spent much of their time looking over maps and discussing all that each knew about the Mesteagues. Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Sam mostly enjoyed each other's company and drank ale and relaxed, pretending for a time they weren't on another perilous journey.

On the second day Legolas was curious if his arm would cause him any trouble if they were to run into their enemy once more. He picked up his bow and found a field that was clearly meant for archery. He strung his bow and shot off an arrow at a tree a good distance away. He was disappointed when, although he managed to hit the tree, his aim was off by at least four centimetres of where he had meant to hit. He took aim again and missed the target by the same distance on the other side. He was dismayed his injury had caused such a drastic change in his aim.

"This will not do," He muttered to himself, shaking his head, "Before I always hit the center and could split my own arrows. What good am I against these Mesteagues if I do not strike them?"

Legolas strung his weapon several more times and found himself getting closer to his intended targets but he was still much too far off for his liking. He was beginning to get frustrated and shot several arrows without aiming to ward off some of that frustration. He pulled back too far and grimaced in pain as it pulled on the wounded arm.

"You are hurt."

Legolas spun around to find Lady Galadriel standing behind him, "It is nothing." He said hurriedly.

"Yet it is something. It affects your aim and that does not settle well with you." She remarked.

"No, it does not." The Elven-prince admitted.

"Come with me." She bid him to follow as she entered the palace. He did as was asked and walked with her until they reached a room of herbs and plants. The Queen knew exactly what she needed and headed directly to a cabinet on the wall and removed a small jar.

"Give me your arm." She requested. He held out his arm and she removed the bandage. Legolas was somewhat surprised to see hardly any improvement on the cuts at all, it was as if they refused to heal. Lady Galadriel opened the jar and took out a handful of the substance inside, it was a dust of some sort, most likely a ground up root. She sprinkled it over his arm and then moved to a large plant nearby and plucked off two of its leaves and placed them over the cuts.

"Hold them there for a few moments." She instructed. Legolas did so, even though he wasn't familiar with any of the plants used; he knew little about healing. He waited until she nodded that he should remove the plants then did so.

"That's amazing!" He exclaimed as he saw the dark red lines beginning to diminish; already he could see the wound healing and closing in on itself.

"In several hours it will be completely healed." She told him.

"The pain is gone as well. I thank you." He said solemnly as he looked her in the eye and then turned his gaze back to his arm.

She gently reached out and took his bow from him, she appeared to be inspecting it. It was a strong bow, curved just right and the string was pulled tight; of course it had to be a fine bow by her standards, it was the Queen who gave it to him

"I see you have kept your gift." Galadriel said, still looking over the finely constructed weapon.

"Yes, it has served me well and slain many enemies." He replied, it was merely a fact though, there was no boasting in his tone or pride in his voice, he spoke only the truth.

"Here, take it now. Let us see if your aim is now true." She suggested, handing back the bow. He took it and swiftly pulled a shaft from his quiver. There was an open window in the room and a tree just beyond that. He aimed and let loose his arrow. It cut through the air swiftly and planted itself deep in the tree's bark, exactly on target. Just to be sure though Legolas reloaded his bow and shot again; the arrow soared through the window and split the shaft of the arrow before it.

"It seems my aim is as true as can be hoped." Legolas grinned. It had been a weight on his heart that he may somehow put the company in danger because his aim was faulted, now he was at much greater ease.

"I am pleased. Now, I ask you to follow me once more. There is one more thing I wish to show you." The Queen beckoned. Legolas was never one to disappoint and he followed her. She led him through the great halls, whose beauty can't even be attempted to be described, then through the gardens until they reached a stone building. It was not like the other structures in Lorien for Legolas felt only cold come from its walls, no warmth such as that, that he always felt around the houses of this Elven land.

"What is this place?" He asked quietly as his gaze wandered around its wall, trying to discern the great difference from this building and all the others.

"This is our armory. Where we keep the weapons of our people. The tower is cold because weapons never bring warmth, and although sometimes necessary, they are used only for destruction and death." She answered, her voice saddened.

"Why do you bring me here?" Legolas asked, not knowing what he could need at this place.

"I will show you." She led him inside. The huge stone doors opened to reveal shelves and shelves of swords, shields, helmets and armor. There were axes strewn along the wall, along with an assortment of fine bows, many looked much like Legolas's own. Galadriel moved along the rows until she reached a stack of quivers.

"For you brave prince. These are the strongest arrows you could hope to have, they will penetrate armor and not break upon the strong skin of the Mesteagues." She told him.

He took the quiver and inspected the arrows, they were of fine craftsmanship and Legolas believed that they indeed would not break. "Thank you again my lady. You give so much to myself and my comrades, and I have nothing to show my gratitude."

"You have a sharp mind and a stout heart. Your bravery shines as brightly as your very soul, these gifts are but small trinkets compared to how your goodness warms my heart."

Legolas lowered his eyes at the compliment, feeling unworthy of such praise, "I do only what is my duty."

"You are modest too." She commented, a soft smile touching her lips. "There is one more thing I wish to give to you." Legolas was about to object but she silenced him before he spoke. Queen Galadriel walked to a cabinet on the far wall and opened it, revealing the contents to be a single arrow.

"This is the strongest arrow known to be made. It can penetrate armor as hard as dragon scales and will not break. Keep it with you, I feel you may need it for this arrow is as strong and true as the person who wields it." She explained and handed it to him.

He looked at it, wondering how he would deserve such a gift. He was about to refuse, not willing to take anymore from her but realized that he may in fact need such a thing on their journey. He placed it in his quiver, along with the other arrows he had been given and placed them on his back.

"You have my gratitude. For all you have done, for all of us." He spoke from the heart and she smiled at him.

"I have done nothing, it is you and your companions who should be thanked, by all of the inhabitants of Middle Earth. Now go and see your company. Be with them while you can." He bowed as he left her and went to find his fellowship; his friends.

~~~~~~~~~

The company was saddened when their three day rest in Lorien came to an end, Gimli especially would miss the kind Elves who offered such wonderful hospitality. They left the beautiful forests rested and clear minded, which is a good way to go on with any journey. The Elves bid them a heartfelt good-bye and wished them the best of luck.

Now, three days they'd been gone from Lorien, they walked where there was no path to lead them, and made their way to the Mountains of Murenya.

"How much longer until we reach these dreadful mountains?" Merry asked, clearly weary with their quest.

"A week and a half more until we come to their base. When we arrive we must find the leader of the Mesteagues, Richastas. Once he has been killed his followers will soon follow, for Richastas feeds the Mesteagues the life force on which they survive." Aragorn told him.

"That makes me worry even more. For if I were a Mesteague and my life depended on the life of my leader, I know I would fight all the more fiercely to protect him at all costs." Frodo commented. He looked down at his feet and kicked several stones as they walked along the unfrequented trails of the forest.

"You speak wisely, for I fear the same thing. But we shall be victorious, I do not believe that any of our company know how to fail. Least of all you, young Hobbit." Legolas praised Frodo kindly. Frodo smiled at him in return.

Pippin, who had been walking some ways ahead of the rest, alongside Gimli, came running back down the road, "Gandalf! Mountains. Up ahead, with caves. Are they the ones we seek?" He asked, thinking they may have somehow came upon their target more swiftly than thought possible.

"No young Took, those are the Mountains of Teril. We shall walk along their base for several days but they are not what we seek." Gandalf explained and Pippin's face fell.

"Oh. Well I found a lovely spot to rest, best I've seen in days. It would be smart to make good use of it." Pippin told the group.

Gandalf looked at the sky to check the time, "Very well, but we must not rest too long. We still have far to go."

Pippin smiled and led them to the spot he had found, it was indeed wonderful. They sat under the shade of several huge trees which sat atop a small hill. From the hill you could see almost the entire mountain stretch and it was beautiful, with its swirling snow-covered tops and rocky formation. They ate and drank, enjoying the break in their journey. The four Hobbits ate quickly and then went to explore their surroundings, while the others spoke of less enjoyable things such as how best to battle the Mesteagues.

After a few minutes Aragorn realized he had not heard the Hobbits for some time. He began to scan the area looking for the Half-lings and spotted them at the base of the mountain. They were venturing into a large cave, obviously intent on seeing what was inside.

"Be careful you four," Aragorn called out, "There may be Orcs in there. They were known to have gone into hiding in several mountains after Sauron's defeat."

The Hobbits stepped back considerably at the mention of Orcs, but even that could not completely kill their curiousity as they remained just outside the cave entrance.

"Hobbits are admirable creatures but their ways may someday get them killed." Aragorn said affectionately, glancing down at the Hobbits once more.

"Fear not, I shall go and watch over them." Legolas told him, rising and taking his bow with him.

"Thank you my friend, for it will put my heart at greater ease." Aragorn replied. Legolas nodded his head in reply and made his way down the hill. Half-way down he noticed the Hobbits once more starting to venture into the cave.

"What did Aragorn just tell you?" He warned kindly as he approached them.

"We're just looking." Pippin called back.

Legolas stopped suddenly, not having yet reached the cave, and looked around the area intently. He had felt a chill down his spine, not nearly as intense as the first time he had encountered the Mesteagues but a chill none-the-less. The Elf's sharp eyes caught movement above him; as he looked up his eyes widened in shock. There were three Mesteagues perched atop a jumble of heavy boulders that were just above the cave entrance. They smiled down at him evilly, a look of pure hatred and malicious delight, and then pushed the heaviest of the boulders away with ease. It began to fall, taking many larger rocks with it causing a full scale avalanche of stone. An avalanche that was heading directly for the unsuspecting Hobbits' heads.

"Look out!" Legolas yelled, and then ran down the hill with all his Elven speed. He reached the Hobbits just as the first rocks fell and gathered the small creatures in his arms; he had no time to reverse his momentum and back away from the cave, so his only option was straight ahead. With one mighty push and burst of speed he brought them into the cave in an attempt to avoid the rockslide. He pushed the Hobbits ahead of him, into the darkness, but didn't move himself fast enough as the back of his head was hit by a large stone, causing him to fall to his knees. The Hobbits being the clever and kind folk they were rushed back to help him. Merry and Pippin grabbed one arm while Sam and Frodo took the other, and they pulled the Elf out of harm's way and further into the cave just as a barrage of rocks landed where the young prince had fallen.

The four Hobbits and the Elf watched helplessly as the rocks tumbled down in front of them, completely blocking off the entrance to the cave. When the sound of the rushing boulders ceased, everyone looked around, realizing they were now in total darkness.

"What happened?" Sam asked, rising to his feet.

"Mesteagues," Legolas replied, rising as well, "They pushed the rocks down, I believe they meant to crush you. Are you all well?"

"I think we're fine." Frodo told him.

"Speak for yourself. We were all nearly crushed by an avalanche, by the thing's trying to kill us and now we're stuck in this cave with no way out!" Pippin exclaimed quickly becoming panicked.

Legolas moved to the entrance and pushed against the rocks, they wouldn't budge and one could only guess how long it could take to get out. "We won't be getting back out that way I'm afraid. And I'll ask you not to shout, do I have to remind you that there very well may be Orcs living here?" Legolas said, turning back around to face his companions.

"Orcs? We're doomed. We'll never get out of here. We're trapped in a mountain of Orcs." Merry was soon becoming as panicked as Pippin.

"Calm down, both of you. We will get out here, and all of us shall be fine." Legolas tried to assure them, but it didn't help them much when he grimaced in pain and clutched the back of his head. His skull was beginning to throb where the rock had hit him and he could feel a bump forming.

"Are you okay?" Frodo asked concerned.

"Yes, do not worry. I was only grazed, but the blow disoriented me momentarily." Legolas replied.

Suddenly they heard shouts from the other side of the rock-door. They were the voices of their companions, worried and rushed.

"Legolas! Frodo! Sam! Can you hear me?!" Aragorn yelled, trying to project his voice through the rockface. They had all seen the boulders fall but had been too far to do anything, but after the dust cleared they had killed the Mesteagues that had collapsed the mountain so they could not report back to their leader. Now they all rushed to the blocked off entrance to discover what became of their friends.

"Aragorn, we are here!" Legolas shouted back, moving closer to the rocks.

"Is everyone safe?" Aragorn asked, he was clearly worried.

"Safe!? No, we're not safe. We're trapped in a cave which may have Orcs living in it! Do you think we're .."

"Shut up Pippin." Merry ordered, placing his hand over his friend's mouth. "We are unharmed!" He called in answer to Aragorn's question.

"We will get you out as swiftly as our limbs will allow." Gimli promised. The Dwarf could be heard already working on clearing the entrance.

"I fear it shant be enough! These stones are large indeed and there is too many! If they are even possible of being moved it may take days which we do not have!" Legolas cried out. His heart was heavy to admit it but he did not think they would be able to leave this mountain the same way they came in and that was a thought he did not like, for caves were no friend of an Elf.

"Don't be a fool of an Elf, we are getting you out!" Gimli said once again, this time his voice was determined and not to be argued with.

"Legolas is correct, Gimli son of Gloin." Gandalf said, low enough though that it would be for the Dwarf's ears only, "We cannot free them for there is too much in our way. Even if we could it would take time we cannot spare, for Richastas grows stronger everyday."

"You wish us to leave them in there and go on our way?" Gimli was shocked at the suggestion, for he would never leave a friend behind.

"They can travel through the caves, they reach all the way to the otherside of the mountain. And I daresay it would be faster than digging them out." Aragorn told them. He too didn't like to leave them where they were, but there was little that could be done.

Legolas had been listening to the entire conversation with his keen Elf ears, while the Hobbits prodded him for information on what was being said. "It is decided then! We shall not slow the progress of this mission! We will journey through the mountain and perhaps meet you when we come round to the otherside." Legolas shouted.

"I do not like this course of action." Gimli admitted. He looked down at the ground in thought, he knew the most logical thing would be to meet them later on once they had made their way through the mountain, but he felt he was abandoning his friend and the Hobbits if he did so.

"Feel free to come in here and try to stop us if you like." Legolas shouted, attempting to lighten the situation a bit.

"We did not agree to walk through this mountain." Pippin said to Legolas, he wasn't sure he liked their current course of action.

The Elf then said kindly to the Hobbit, "How long do you think it would take to move all these rocks if we do not travel through the tunnels?"

Pippin looked over the clutter of rock, it was huge and the boulders immense, "Probably a week." He replied.

"Do any of you have your packs?" Legolas asked of all the Hobbits.

"I have mine." Sam announced, but he was the only one.

"Well then," Legolas said to Pippin now, "We have enough food for probably three days. It would take about that time to get through this mountain, for it is not that great, but a week or more before we were dug out. Which do you prefer, Pip?"

"We go through the mountain." Pippin agreed, finally seeing the logic.

Legolas smiled and then shouted again to lift his voice through the rocks, "We will be on our way then! Be safe friends, and be wary these lands are dangerous!"

"You as well Legolas, and watch over our small companions!" Aragorn yelled back, his heart heavy with this seperation of their numbers. "I hope it is the right thing we do." He added under his breath.

"They will be fine. Now we must go, for they have the shorter route to reach the other side of Teril." Gandalf pointed out.

"Come, we must start on our way through this mountain. I know it is not the direction we thought we would head after our rest, but it is where we must go none-the-less." Legolas said to the Hobbits as he encouraged them along. As the Elf led the way through the tunnels the four half-lings were comforted by the fact that they could see Legolas in this pitch blackness, despite the fact that they couldn't see each other.

"And be watchful for a torch of some kind, I like not this dreadful black." Sam added, cursing the darkness.

After they had been walking for several minutes Sam ran up alongside the Elf and studied his skin, wondering how it was that he should glow. "Uh, Legolas," Sam started, "How is it that we can see you?"

"I'm an Elf." Legolas replied, as if that was answer enough. The Elf squinted his eyes to try and see in the dark cave but it wasn't helping much.

Merry ran up alongside him as well, "That doesn't really answer the question."

Legolas smiled at his friends who he could make out only slightly in the dark, even with his keen eyes, "All Elves are surrounded by a light, similar to that of a glowing moon. It is why Queen Galadriel is sometimes referred to as 'The Lady of the Light.'"

"Ohhh. Our very own Elf-torch." Pippin quipped as they continued walking down the dark halls of the tunnel.

Legolas chuckled softly at this, "I suppose so."

Frodo's foot hit something heavy and he bent down to see what it was, "Why would there be a mining ax in a cave?" He wondered as he picked it up. Sam took it from him to look at it as best he could.

"I think it's a Dwarf design." The Hobbit announced.

"Ow! There's another over here." Merry called, as he picked up the ax he had accidently kicked.

Legolas moved to inspect the walls and realized they were not a natural formation, but had been dug into place, "I fear the fates have some twisted sense of humor." The Elf said. The Hobbits gave him odd looks, not knowing what he meant.

"These are no caves by nature made, they are Dwarf mines, long abandoned." Legolas announced then indicated they should feel the walls for themselves.

"You must be joking." Merry hoped, desperately. None of them had fond memories of their trip through the Mines of Moria and they worried all mines may hold the same fate.

"No, he's right," Frodo agreed as he felt along the walls, "These are mines."

"We're doomed." Pippin sighed and sat down, resting his elbows on his knees in a perfect pouting gesture.

"We are not doomed, get up. Just because they are mines does not make this place any more dangerous than we first thought. This is not Moria, it is most likely that this place simply outlasted its usefulness to the Dwarves and they abandoned it." Legolas explained gently. He did not like caves himself, the confines they created were almost torture for a Wood-Elf such as himself, but he knew he would have to be strong for these Hobbits if they were to get through the mines safely and meet with the others.

Pippin thought about it a moment but then nodded his agreement, stood back up, and sighed, "Lead the way then Elf-torch."

Legolas smiled but then his gaze became one of concern as he looked to Frodo, "I fear I may not be the only source of light." He whispered.

All eyes turned to Frodo, who slowly pulled out his blade, Sting. It was glowing bright blue.

"Orcs."

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I've changed my mind Legolas, I want to go back." Pippin announced, more nervousness than fear in his voice.

"Shhh, we can't go back, the others have already gone on their way, we'd just be sitting in a dead end waiting for the Orcs to find us." Legolas told him softly, "We may be able to avoid them though, these mines are most likely vast and we know not how many there are. It could be very few as far as we know."

"I thought Orcs liked to travel in packs." Merry said, also hinting that he wanted to leave.

"They do. Let us hope it is a small pack. Follow me and be quiet." Legolas warned as he led the way through the tunnels. The Hobbits followed looking around them constantly. Frodo's blade still shone blue indicating the closeness of the Orcs but beyond that it gave no hint as to their location. Legolas stopped and indicated to the four friends to do the same. He listened closely to the sounds around him and up ahead he believed he saw light. It was not natural light, but he was sure he saw the faintest glimmers of it.

"Stay here. I shall be back in a moment." Legolas told the Hobbits as he headed away.

"Wait, where are you going?" Frodo asked.

"I'm going to scout ahead. I will be back shortly." The Elf promised and then left the Hobbits and travelled up the dark corridor.

He soon found that he had been correct, there was light. It was coming from torches burning in the passage ahead of him. He slowly made his way forward, making no sound. He was now sure he heard voices in the passage way, not voices really, more like snarls and roars of anger, the sound of Orcs. They were undoubtedly directly ahead of him now, Legolas crept up stealthily and hid behind a rock then peered out.

The mines had been just one long corridor until this point but here Legolas saw that the layout changed. The path they followed turned into a hollowed out room, with the floor sunken into the ground twenty feet down or so. The room was somewhat similar to a gigantic bowl, the floor was low and there was a walkway all the way around the top, much like a rim. Inside the bowl section of the area two torches burned and cast shadows everywhere, but they provided enough light for Legolas to see into the pit. There was thirty or forty Orcs in the immense room, they fought over food that had been caught earlier that night, or they fought with each other for no reason. Some sharpened weapons and others simply wielded them. They were clearly Orcs now lost; they had no purpose without Sauron. No, it should be said that they had a purpose, destruction, mayhem, and death, they just now had no leader to instruct them as to where and who to attack.

Having seen enough, Legolas backed away as silently as he came and returned to where he had left the Hobbits.

"Well, what is it?" Sam asked impatiently.

"Orcs, right? We're all going to die?" Pippin added as he fidgeted in the dark hallway.

"Yes, it is Orcs. But we shall not die here." Legolas said sternly, "There is around forty of them I believe and I saw no other passages to lead around them."

"Oh, but we aren't going die?" Merry's sarcastic comments really weren't needed. Legolas already hated this entire situation; he didn't like caves in the first place, they were far too confining, but add Orcs into the equation and he downright despised this dilemma. It wasn't just discomfort though, he felt the captivity of the caves draining him and he continually tried to picture that they were simply walking through a dark woods.

"We will all be fine. If you can be quiet and keep yourselves unseen I believe we will get through this." Legolas told them of the layout of the room and how if they walked along the rim they could go unnoticed and make it to the other side safely. "It is easy enough. Walk slowly as to not draw attention to your movements and make no sounds, you will be fine. Now follow me." He instructed. They all followed wordlessly, they had put their trust in this Elf and he only hoped they would he was deserving of their faith.

They reached the room and Legolas indicated the walkway they were to take. "You must go one at a time, if you stay close enough to the wall there is a chance they shant see you at all. Who shall go first?" He asked.

"Why don't you go first? We will follow shortly." Pippin said.

"No, I must go last. I am the most likely to be seen so must pass with speed. I shall remain on this side until you are all safely across the room." Legolas explained.

"I will go first." Frodo volunteered, knowing it should be him somehow. Legolas nodded and the Hobbit moved away from the group and then to the edge of the room. He was still in the cover of the rocks but one more step and he would be in the open. He looked back at his friends and gave a comforting smile and stepped out from behind the rock.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gandalf, Gimli, and Aragorn began the long trek around the mountain, but their hearts were heavy for the lack of cheerful banter from the Hobbits and the absence of the kind heart of the Wood Elf. The mountain was of a small variety, and there was a nearby pass the would allow them to reach the other side swiftly, so if they were quick in their step they would be able to reach the cave's end at almost the same time as their friends inside the mountain. But even as they climbed over rocks they could not help but feel a slight pang of regret at the thought that they had abandoned their companions.

"Remember, we must be alert at all times and keep our wits about us. With Legolas trapped within Teril we have no way of detecting the Mesteagues' approach." Gandalf pointed out as they walked. Aragorn and Gimli heeded this warning well and were hard to be caught off-guard. They trekked through the mountain until a few hours past nightfall, the whole time their minds were laced with concern and regret, then it was decided they all needed to rest for a short time. They ate and built a fire of which they never strayed far from, and took turns keeping watch.

Aragorn sat by the fire, his blade ready at his side, as he stared out into the night, watchful for any movements in the shadows. As hard as he tried to keep his attention focused on his task he could not keep his mind from wandering back to his companions trapped within the mountain on which he walked. He silently prayed he had been wrong earlier about the possibility of Orcs.

His attention was brought back to reality when he caught movement in the dark. It was hard to notice but he was almost certain he had seen the shadowy darkness ahead of him shift in color. As if it grew even darker. He unsheathed his sword and held it at ready and moved to wake his companions.

"Gandalf, Gimli, rise both of you for I feel we have unwanted guests." Aragorn said in a hushed whisper as he shook them awake.

Gandalf looked out deep into the shadows as he stood up and caught sight of the same thing that Aragorn had seen. The shadows grew darker and the only thing Gandalf could think of that was darker than shadows was Mesteagues.

"They may come from all sides, be ready." Gandalf warned. Just as the words were uttered from his mouth they were attacked!

From all around them came a swarm of Mesteagues, they rushed at them with great speed and the warriors scarcely had time to draw their weapons. The battle was now engaged and it grew immediately fierce. Aragorn plunged his sword into the hearts of the Mesteagues with exact precision, never using anymore time than necessary to dispatch each new opponent. He lifted his sword high and brought it down swiftly on an approaching Mesteauge driving it through the shoulder and across the chest, easily killing it. He knew there was one behind him and kicked it in the midsection as he pulled his sword loose and swung it around, freeing the Mesteague of its head. The dark creatures snarled in rage, they had obviously hoped for surprise to be on their side but the company had been prepared.

Gimli's ax swung through the darkness, with all the strength of the Dwarf behind it. His movements were choppy, with little grace, but they got the job done as the piles of slain Mesteauges around him continued to build. The mighty ax plunged forward, burying itself deeply in the chest of a dark beast, but their skin was hard indeed and Gimli could not pull the ax back out immediately. This moment's hesitation was what the Mesteagues had waited for. One ran forth at Gimli's side, intent on the kill, but the Dwarf lowered himself and flew the creature over his back, pulled his weapon free and killed his enemy that now lay on the ground. He pulled his ax free once more and moved on to his next victim.

The battle lasted for near half an hour, the bodies of countless Mesteagues littered the ground, none of them would draw another breath in this world. Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf were all exhausted but still they fought, their cunning and speed in battle was remarkable and they felled all their enemies with minimal injuries to themselves. Aragorn suffered a blow to the head which he thought may cloud his vision for several days but was otherwise fine. Gimli pained only in his hands for his fists ached from long weilding his ax and his knuckles were sore from impacting against the rough skin of the Mesteagues. Gandalf had no visible injuries on his person, the only way to know he had even fought were the tears and shreds in his clothes. Aragorn killed the last of the Mesteagues and then allowed his weary body to drop to the ground as he breathed heavily. They had won, this time, but he feared that with each attack there would be more and more Mesteagues to fight off, and truly they had missed the presence of Legolas and his arrows. Normally the Elf would have kept back many enemies even before the fight was engaged, and could always be trusted to strike an enemy that came too near and without him the fight had been much more difficult and much too close for Aragorn's liking.

Gandalf looked out into the black of night as he tried to find his breath and regain his strength. He sensed there were more Mesteagues in the darkness, watching but not instructed to fight. There was little to be done about them though so he turned back to his companions.

"I doubt we shall be getting any more rest tonight. Let us recover from this battle and then be on our way once more, dawn is in but one hour," Gandalf said as he picked up his staff, "But please, let us move from this place and rest just over that hill."

The sight of the dozens of bodies of dead Mesteagues was enough to chill their blood and they all agreed. Together they moved up the hill and once reaching the other side settled to rest for an hour before the sun rose.

"I hope Legolas and the Hobbits are doing better than us." Gimli said, looking towards the mountain as if trying to see through the rock to his friends.

"Have we fared badly, Gimli? We have faced an enemy in battle and come out victorious, I say we did quite well." Aragorn replied from the rock on which he sat.

"I do not argue you with you there, but if our companions have engaged in battle while travelling through the caves I fear the outcome would not be as pleasant as our own." Gimli admitted grimly, his concern for his friend all but being announced.

"Have faith in Legolas and the Hobbits. Though they are small they have proven to be quite remarkable folk and have a tendency to get themselves out of tight situations quite well." Gandalf said. An odd look suddenly gleamed in his eye and it was obvious he was remembering some amusing memories about his Hobbit friends. He too hoped they were well.

At the dawn they set forth again, their goal to find their friends and reunite.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

"You have failed?" Richastas's voice boomed through the dark cavern, deep and furious.

"There was nothing I could have done my Lord, I followed your instructions exactly. The Elf and the Hobbits were trapped within the mountain and all my forces converged on the remaining three. They were simply too strong, they defeated the entire troupe of soldiers you sent me. The defeat was not so easy for them this time though, they were fatigued by the end and I believe another assault will fall them." The general explained, shivering slightly as he hoped to avoid his master's wrath, although he was doubtful.

"Yes, another attack would seem the next course of action. Of course if you had accomplished the mission I sent you on it wouldn't be necessary! It shall take me several days to raise more soldiers as to the numbers we'll need. As for you, I do not accept failure." Richastas growled and beckoned to two of his guards to drag the general away, "Kill him any way you wish, make it painful."

"Please master! Give me another chance." The general pleaded as he was taken away.

"One chance only." Richastas laughed joylessly and summoned forth another Mesteague of great strength, "You are my new general. Do not fail me as the others have."

The Mesteague bowed low, "Of course my lord."

"I shall have orders for you in a day's time. See that no one disturbs me until then." Richastas ordered and sent the general away. "These creatures are proving to be more trouble than I had thought. But it won't be long, I doubt the Elf and the small ones will survive their journey through the mountains anyway."

~~~~~~~~~~

Frodo moved along the narrow walkway as fast as he dared, his breathing was low and his eyes darted frantically towards the Orcs. He did not think they would see him, he was cloaked in dark clothing, his body was hunched down low and he was careful to make no sound. If he dared he could raise his head and see several of the miserable creatures, but he did not dare and continued across the ledge.

Sam, Merry, and Pippin watched Frodo with baited breath and prayed the Orcs would continue to remain oblivious to their presence. Legolas watched Frodo as well, but he also watched the Orcs and had his bow notched and ready. If they saw the Hobbit he was ready to distract them from him immediately.

Frodo crept along, focussed only on being quiet and reaching the other side. Nearly there, nearly there .. He repeated over and over in his head. It was not long before he reached the other side safely and quickly ducked behind a large rock to safety. Legolas and the Hobbits released the breath they'd been holding.

"Didn't look so hard did it?" Legolas asked the Hobbits softly. Sam agreed to go next, followed by Merry and then Pippin. They all crossed safely over to the other side without incident, except for Pippin. The young Took had hit an unseen rock which fell down the ledge; he immediately dropped to the ground and stayed that way for several minutes until it was quite apparent that the Orcs had not noticed he was there. Throughout the entire crossings the Orcs continued their fighting and preparing of weapons which they rarely had use of anymore.

Legolas smiled as all his companions made it safely to the next hall and waited for him. He took a deep breath and moved himself to be as small as possible. With a final check of his bow he took off across the room with all his Elven speed.

If the Orcs had noticed him, then all they had seen was a blur and had dismissed it, for as he reached the Hobbits and their hiding place, the dark creatures made no indications that they had seen the group. The friends smiled at one another and Legolas beckoned them to follow him as he headed into the next set of tunnels; away from the Orcs.

The Hobbits followed him happily, then disaster struck! Merry was in such a hurry to leave the dreadful place he did not notice that Pippin was standing on the edge of his cloak. When Meriadoc moved to follow the others he was pulled back by his unmoving cloak and Pippin fell to the ground with a thud as the garment was pulled out from underneath his foot. Both Hobbits cringed and raced to get out of the room, but it was too late; the Orcs had heard them and saw their retreating figures leave the room.

"Fresh meat! Get them!" A lead Orc billowed as he clambered to climb the ladder leading out of the room. The remaining Orcs were close behind, all had a predatory glare in their eyes and an unquenchable hunger in their beings. It had been a long time since they had had real prey, they would not let them escape.

Legolas looked back and saw the Hobbits trip too late. He turned to the Orcs now heading in their direction and in one fluid movement he picked the Hobbits off the ground, threw them behind him and pulled out his bow.

"Run!" He ordered unnecessarily as the Hobbits moved down the mine shaft as swiftly as possible. Legolas shot two arrows at a time, killing the first two Orcs, then chased after his companions. He looked up and noticed several unsturdy rocks above the doorway. He notched another arrow and fired; glad now that he had taken the gift from Queen Galadriel. He watched as the doorway was littered with rocks, but the Orcs would move them quickly. The Elf turned back and headed after the Hobbits, catching up with them swiftly.

"What did you do?" Sam asked quickly, not sparing much breath.

"I slowed them down, but not much. We must hurry." Legolas replied. He easily could have passed the Hobbits but kept his pace slow so he would remain behind them; his bow was held ready in case any Orcs snuck up behind them, but the Elf knew they could not outrun the creatures and needed a place to hide. Even as they ran down the corridors of the mines he could hear the Orcs' footsteps behind them, they had a good lead but it wouldn't last as they had already gotten through the rocks.

"Keep going." Legolas encouraged the half-lings as he swept his eyes over the layout of the tunnels. Up ahead he saw something that he thought could be of use. It was a ledge cut into the rock face, it did not extend over the corridor, but made up a small burrow in the upper wall on which one could sit or stand. Looking behind him he knew the Orcs were close behind but probably racing to catch them and wouldn't look in such a place.

Legolas reached out and grabbed the shoulders of Sam and Pippin, "Stop. Up there, quickly." He instructed pointing to the ledge. He jumped up himself and then reached down and took the hands of Merry and Pippin and pulled them up, and did the same for Frodo and Sam. It was a good spot to hide and the Hobbits crept back against the wall, knowing they would not be seen. Legolas turned to the four of them and said in rushed tones, "You all stay here. I'll draw them away."

Before the Hobbits could protest he had jumped off the ledge and shot an arrow down the corridor then took off running. The Half-lings wished to stop him but they would never catch up with the Elf. It was good luck they didn't give chase though, for only seconds after the Elf disappeared a horde of Orcs rushed by, directly underneath the ledge on which the Hobbits sat.

None of the Hobbits moved, but watched in horror as the seemingly never- ending stream of Orcs passed them. From further up the hall they could hear the screams of Orcs as they were killed and the barely audible twang of a bow being shot. When all the Orcs disappeared from sight, Sam, Frodo, Merry and Pippin all stuck their heads out from the ledge and peered towards the end of the mine shaft, but nothing could be seen. Still the cries of the dark beasts were heard, but there was no longer any sound of the Elf's bow.

"Hurry, we must go help him." Frodo insisted, jumping down from the ledge. He glanced up the dark corridor then turned back to his friends. They hesitated only slightly, since Legolas himself had told them not to move, but their need to help and find out what happened to the Elf overcame that hesitation and drew them to make their way up the mineshaft. The Half-lings rounded a corner and saw a light up ahead, clearly one of the Orcs had been smart enough to grab a torch to help in pursuit of their prey. They moved closer and stopped as Sam nearly tripped over the body of a dead enemy, they looked up once more and realized they could see the fight clearly now.

Legolas was fighting hard, in a passage way with only slightly more room than the rest of the tunnels. The area was too confined for arrows to be of much use so the Elf lashed out at the Orcs with his daggers, all his Elven speed and grace behind them. Legolas was always one to hold his own in battle and he had already killed over half of the Orcs that pursued them. There was still twenty or so left though, each one pushing to try and get a clear shot at the Elf in battle, not knowing they were merely pushing forward to die earlier than necessary. The Orcs had been prepared to subdue whomever it was they found lurking in their caves, but now that they had discovered the intruder to be an Elf they fought fiercely, for their hatred of Elves ran deep.

Legolas's movements were flawless as he slashed and cut Orc after Orc; the Elf moved with unparalled grace and the fight seemed more like a bloody dance than a life or death battle. His daggers swept through the air until they hit flesh and then ripped through it. A downward swipe of his wrist and another enemy fell. His arm flew high over his head to come down with amazing precision against the heart of an Orc. A quick duck of a blade and then an upwards thrust took care of another. But no dance is flawless and surely no battle is even close to being so. As Legolas plunged his dagger into a mail-clad chest he was hit sharply in the side by the body of an Orc, and then thrown into a corner of the cave. But the wall was not smooth and his body collided heavily with a rock, jutting out from the wall. The Elf cried out only slightly, though his ribs screamed at the assault, he took a deep breath and continued battling.

The small utterance from the Elf was all the encouragement the Hobbits needed; they had been so caught up in the sight of Legolas fighting so fluently that they had momentarily forgotten the purpose of rushing into the hall. It was now clear though, they must help their friend. With a battle cry that seemed misplaced, even to their own ears, the four Hobbits ran ahead and engaged the Orcs. Their enemy had not expected an attack from behind and so were completely unprepared. The friends broke into pairs of attack, Sam and Frodo slicing at the back of one Orc while Merry and Pippin leapt onto the back of another and allowed their swords to plunge deep. The next Orc turned to see what had happened behind him and received a double piercing of his stomach by Frodo and Sam.

Legolas allowed the smallest of smiles to cross his face as he saw the Hobbits engage the Orcs, and overcome them. It truly was remarkable what these little folk were possible of. So much heart for ones so small. He did not allow his thoughts to linger long on this though and immediately returned his attention to the battle he fought.

Frodo moved to attack an Orc but was backhanded savagely by the evil creature, and thrown into a wall getting the wind knocked from his lungs. His attacker turned to finish off the Hobbit but received a sword in the back, courtesy of Sam.

"Are you alright, Mister Frodo?" Sam asked as he helped him to his feet.

Frodo took in a deep breath and replied, "Fine, not even a scratch."

All around them the battle died slowly. Merry and Pippin had subdued a great number of Orcs and delved their swords into the body of one last attacker before the battle finished. Legolas continued fighting strongly, his daggers bringing death to all that came in his way. Finally he dispatched the last of their enemies with a knife thrust to the heart. He allowed the body to fall to the ground and then stood for several moments, drawing deep breaths, daggers unsheathed and at his side, as he took in the scene. He smiled at the Hobbits and moved to speak but before he could his face changed to shock. The Elf raised his arm and took aim seemingly directly at Merry and Pippin. The two friends closed their eyes as Legolas threw the knife strongly, directly over their heads. They opened their eyes and turned to see a now dead Orc behind them, the Elf knife embedded deep in its throat.

"Uh, thanks." Merry said a few seconds later, getting over the shock. Legolas smiled in reply and nodded his head to them.

"Well that was easy enough." Pippin remarked as he looked around the room and drew in a steadying breath.

"You've got an odd meaning of the word 'easy'." Sam replied, clearly not agreeing.

"Uh, could we please be on our way? I do not wish to stick around here any longer than necessary." Merry announced as he worked his way across the room of dead Orcs.

"You're right Merry, we should be off," Legolas agreed as he moved about the room, taking his dagger from the Orc's chest and retrieving as many arrows as possible, "We have much farther to go and we shall have to hope that these were the only Orcs to be found in the Mountains of Teril." Legolas took hold of an arrow and pulled hard to free it, when it finally came loose he stumbled back and grimaced slightly in pain as he favored his right ribs.

"You're hurt my friend." Frodo exclaimed as he approached the Elf.

Legolas shook his head and brushed off the concern, "I shall be fine, we must go."

"Legolas let me see." Frodo insisted, not wanting the Elf to continue on so quickly if he was truly injured.

"It is nothing. But if you insist on checking for yourself, you will do it elsewhere. I wish to leave this area, it is nothing but death." Legolas grimaced as he looked over the bodies of dead Orcs. Frodo nodded his agreement and they made their way back into the tunnels, now lightened by the torches taken from the Orcs. When they were a fair distance away the Hobbits refused to go any further until Legolas consented to resting for a moment, for his own sake.

"You Hobbits are troublesome folk." The Elf commented half-heartedly as he was forced to consent and sat on the floor, trying hard not to let the pain show. Frodo moved to his side and gingerly began to lift Legolas's shirt to better see the injury.

"I told you it's fine." Legolas insisted again.

Frodo simply huffed, "I'll believe that when I see it." And lifted the shirt higher to expose the Elf's chest. Frodo downcast his eyes at the sight, it was clearly something and the Hobbit thought it must be paining the prince greatly. Legolas's ribs were bruised badly and already starting to turn various shades of blue, yellow and brown; and sitting this close Frodo could detect a certain rasp in the Elf's breathing. Frodo's eyes lifted to meet Legolas's, the prince's gaze said that he knew what the Hobbit was thinking and he was right.

"I know, it is not pretty but there is nothing to be done. We must move on." Legolas painstakingly pulled himself to his feet and picked up the torch to lead the way. Frodo shook his head as if in disagreement of something, but said nothing.

The Hobbits got up to follow and Pippin couldn't help but comment, "He's still an Elf-torch."

Legolas pretended not to hear, but smiled gently. As they rounded the corner he couldn't help but hope that the caves of Teril held no more adventures for them but he somehow doubted it.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Legolas sat up quickly, rushing into the land of the waking as he gasped for the breath that the nightmare had stolen from his lungs; he had drifted off only an hour ago but already the dreams returned. After their encounter with the Orcs, the Elf and four Hobbits had continued their journey through the mountain until a time they thought to be around nightfall. A break off of the tunnels to form a small room served as their rest area and they had all slept briefly. After his turn to keep watch Legolas had fallen into a restless sleep disturbed by dreams filled with small spaces, Orcs, and unending darkness. The Elf saw himself running through a blackness that he perceived as a cave, he was trying to get out but could find no way to do so. There was no light, no exits, just dark.

Several times he awoke suddenly, in hopes of freeing himself from the dream's clutches. What was most horrifying though was that there was no way to truly free himself, for when he woke up he was forced to face the fact that his nightmares were reality and he was trapped within darkness. This time when he woke up, he knew he would not be sleeping again that night, and probably not again until they left the inside of the mountain. He made a note to himself that he would keep watch at night until they left, that would allow the Hobbits more rest and he would be fine without any sleep for two or three days. Never did Legolas think he would someday wish himself to be a Hobbit but as he sat there now he couldn't help but notice how soundly the Half-lings slept. He remembered that the Hobbits actually built their homes within hillsides so were faring quite well under these conditions.

As Legolas looked over the sleeping forms of the Merry, Pippin, and Sam he suddenly felt a horrible chill down his spine. He realized that this time it was not the dreams that had awoken him, but the unsettling presence of Mesteagues nearby; a lot of them. He shivered once more at the thought as he sat up and leaned against the wall with his arms wrapped around him for warmth. Suddenly he felt very cold.

"Legolas, are you well?" The voice of Frodo surprised him; the Elf had forgotten it was the Hobbit's turn to keep watch.

"Yes, I am fine, but I fear for our friends. I sense Mesteagues nearby, a large number of them. Doubtless they will find our companions." Legolas explained as he rubbed his hands along his arms for warmth; the chill of the Mesteagues was discomforting and the Elf couldn't help but think that a bad situation had just gotten worse.

"That I did not wish to hear. I don't like to fight but I wish I was with them now, perhaps to lend a hand." Frodo commented in hushed tones so he wouldn't wake the others as he moved to sit beside the Elf.

"As do I. My bow is of little use if I am not at my friends' side to aid in battle. But there is nothing to be done, so nothing is what we must do." Legolas replied, a reluctant acceptance in his voice. "You should get some rest. I shall keep watch for the rest of the night."

"Are you sure? You've already been on guard once this evening." Frodo was tired and wished to sleep but not if he would be stealing rest away from the Elf.

"Do not worry, rest now for I am hesitant to enter the realm of sleep once more in case my dreams return. These dreadful caves are affecting me in waking and also haunt my sleep so I will find no peace this evening." Legolas explained as he continued rubbing his arms; the chill refused to leave his body and froze him from the inside out.

"Very well, but I will not sleep long. We have to keep moving." Frodo left Legolas's side and moved next to his sleeping companions and laid down to close his weary eyes.

Legolas waited until all of the Hobbits were asleep and then hauled himself to his feet. He winced slightly as he pulled against his sore ribs and he lifted his tunic to see the wound for himself. A large portion of the right side of his chest was bruised badly and it didn't appear to be getting any better. As the day had wore on simply breathing had become a chore as pain raked through his senses; he did not think the ribs were broken but they were badly bruised. What confused the Elf was the slow progress on which they healed, normally Elves healed quickly but as the day continued he had found the pain getting only worse. His thoughts were brought back to the Mesteagues; Gandalf had said that wounds inflicted by them healed extremely slow such as the slashes he had suffered on his arm, he wondered if that earlier injury could have slowed down the rate in which all of his wounds healed.

But there was no way to know for sure so Legolas banished the thoughts from his mind. He walked to the entrance of the small room in which they stayed and settled down on the floor, intending to keep watch from there. For several hours he merely watched, with his keen ears and eyes on alert but he heard nothing. As time passed the chill in his being died down slowly until it was no more, either the Mesteagues had left the area or they had all been slaughtered. Eventually it was time to wake his fellow travellers. It took a few minutes, and several tries but they were soon all awake and ready to be on their way.

"How much longer do you think it will take to get through these mines?" Pippin asked Legolas shortly after they had started on their journey once again.

"Two more days I believe, perhaps less if we are quick." Legolas told him as he continued trying to see in the darkness. The torch they had aquired the day before from the Orcs was long since burnt out and they found no others as they walked.

"Personally I'm hoping for less." Sam said as he followed close behind.

"As we all are, Sam." Frodo added.

They walked through the tunnels all day without incident, except for Pippin who kept running into walls, and they eventually allowed themselves to relax slightly and begin to believe that there truly were no more Orcs to be found in the Mountains of Teril. They spoke only when necessary for the dreariness of the caves slaughtered all attempts at a real conversation. The surrounding dark and silence was enough to drive a soul mad; the black continued on forever and the lack of noise was painful to their ears. But still they continued on, not allowing the dark to win and beating back the silence with occasional chatter. When they felt it to be nightfall they found a spot to rest once more and Legolas kept watch the entire night. He knew his dreams would be far worse this evening if he attempted sleep so did not try and told the Hobbits as much.

The night again passed without incident, no sound or sight of anything, and when they awoke they again began to trek through the mountain that had been their home for several days. All were hopeful this would be their last night inside the tunnels and they would soon see the light of day once more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gimli, Aragorn and Gandalf walked through the mountain passes in the mid- day sun, completely unaware that their friends below their feet were waking only now and starting their day. The terrain was somewhat rocky but not impossible in its climbing and they found they were making good time; they had put in a full day of travels the day before and no Mesteagues attacked in the night.

"Do you know where it is that we shall meet our friends as they emerge from the caves?" Gimli asked Aragorn since he seemed to have some knowledge of the tunnels that they did not.

"Yes, I know the area vaguely. If I remember correctly we should be able to reach there before nightfall. I think Legolas and the Hobbits should be leaving the tunnels about the same time as our arrival, unless they've been slowed for some reason." Aragorn replied. He didn't need to speak aloud what he thought may slow them down, they were all worried about the possibility of Orcs living within the mountain and only hoped their friends had somehow avoided them if they were indeed there.

The three travellers were only mildly rested as all had gotten little sleep due to their troubled thoughts of their friends. They had also been ready for another attack by the Mesteague, although now they relaxed somewhat for they did not feel that their new enemy would be bold enough to attack in daylight.

They walked all day until at last Aragorn announced, "The tunnel's end should be just around this bend. We may reunite with the rest of our company shortly."

Gandalf and Gimli were pleased to hear it and all of them quickened their step.

"I hope to find them all safely, I ...." Aragorn stopped his train of thought as they reached the top of the hill and looked about. All three of them saw the same thing and felt the same barrage of emotions rip through them. Aragorn had been correct about the time and location and the three were pleased to find that Legolas, Merry, Pippin, Sam and Frodo had all made their way out of the mountain. But the state in which they found their friends in left Aragorn, Gimli and Gandalf in shocked silence.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

After several more hours of walking Legolas began to sniff the air curiously, as if he was unwilling to believe what he smelled.

"What is it Legolas?" Pippin asked when he noticed the Elf's curious behaviour.

"I believe the air is becoming fresher. Not nearly as stale as what I've been forced to breath the past two days." Legolas replied. He closed his eyes as he took in a huge breath and smiled, "I feel we may come to the end of this journey shortly."

"And not a moment too soon." Frodo commented. And in truth it wasn't. The four Hobbits had noticed over the past two days that their 'Elf-torch' was gradually becoming dimmer, as if the darkness of the caves was slowly stealing away the Elf's inner light. They all smiled as they saw the glow around Legolas become slightly stronger as he smelt the fresh air of the outdoors. But then the glow seemed to grow stronger still, but now it was more like there was a light shining on the Elf, instead of shining from within.

Legolas must have noticed this as well because he turned around and looked intently at the Hobbits, then his features changed to one of shock and he quickly pulled his bow free from his back.

"Frodo." Legolas indicated the Hobbit should look down and as he did so he soon found the source of the light. Sting was once more shining blue.

"Oh, no." Pippin squeaked as he looked about him frantically.

"Why now? Out of all the times to run into Orcs, why now?" Merry asked as he pulled his sword from its sheath.

"Perhaps we can make our way out of these mines before we run into them. How close are we to the end?" Sam asked the Elf who was watching the corridor ahead of them closely.

"Another half of an hour perhaps." Legolas answered without diverting away his attention.

"Well, let's go then. No time to waste, have to get out of here, don't want to get eaten and all that." Pippin urged them all forward.

"If you indeed don't wish to be eaten then be quiet." Sam hushed the Took, who downcast his eyes and silenced himself.

Legolas began to lead the way once more, now with his bow at the ready. They were all as silent as possible but that didn't help them much. As they continued to make their way through the tunnels they soon came to a fork in the passages where the mines veered off in two directions.

"Which way do we go?" Merry asked when they stopped. Very few times had the tunnels split apart and luck had led them this far as to what direction to go when they did.

Legolas studied them a moment but before he could reply his attention snapped to the left tunnel. There were several roars of anger from that direction and then a light from a flame appeared, clearly outlining the forms of several Orcs coming in their direction.

"We go right." Legolas announced and ushered the Hobbits silently to the right tunnel. The Elf listened closely but heard nothing to indicate that the Orcs were following, or had heard them. Legolas still remained behind his friends with an arrow notched and ready in case of attack.

The four Hobbits ran down the corridors as fast as they dared in the dark; they soon found they could smell the difference in the air and it was a sweet smell indeed. Suddenly they were brought to a halt; in the passage ahead of them loomed two huge Orcs, who immediately spotted them.

"Intruders." One Orc pointed out.

"Fresh meat." Said the other, almost drooling.

The Orcs growled and attacked, both thinking it would be an easy kill and that they were lucky to have found actual prey within their mountain. But they didn't notice the Elf that appeared directly behind the Hobbits. Legolas fired the arrow already in his bow; it landed with perfect precision in the heart of one of their attackers. He strung another arrow and was about to shoot but Merry and Pippin beat him to it. The two Hobbits raced forward and slashed at the Orc from opposite sides. It did not fall right away but a quick upward thrust from Merry felled the horrid beast for good and it dropped dead to the floor.

The Hobbits squared their shoulders in pride of their accomplishment, but they didn't get to revel for too long in their pride. A great echo of roars came from the corridor behind them. The other Orcs had heard the cries of their kin and were rushing to investigate the cause and from the sounds of it there were a great many of the creatures, all intent on death and destruction.

"I believe that is our cue to leave." Frodo exclaimed as they raced down the corridors again. The air was getting fresher now with every step, but the Orcs were getting closer as well. Legolas remained behind them still and thankfully he saw no sign of their pursuers, though he could hear them clearly.

The Hobbits hesitated slightly as they suddenly came to another crossroads in their path, only this time there were three directions in which they could go. Merry and Pippin immediately started to go left, for no other reason than that it seemed to be as good a direction as any.

"Wait!" Legolas yelled, stopping the Hobbits in their tracks. He smelled the air for only a moment and then pointed to the tunnel farthest to the right where the air was freshest, "Go that way."

The Hobbits did so without question, but now the Orcs were almost on top of them. Legolas shot back several arrows, downing the lead Orcs. The Elf seriously hoped it was daylight outside but he had no way of knowing for he had lost all relative sense of time while in the caves. The group turned a corner suddenly and he came upon the most beautiful sight he thought he had ever seen.

Sunlight, bright and brilliant beamed outside, almost within his grasp, the smell of the leaves and plants floated in, and a large tree swayed in the wind just outside the exit to the horribly dark tunnels. The Hobbits saw it as well and were just as elated as they ran forward.

Legolas turned and was surprised to see the Orcs still behind them, for they feared sunlight and would not approach it, but they apparently intended to chase their prey as far as possible. The Elf shot back a few more arrows but still more foul creatures came to replace the ones he killed. He turned back around and could sense sunlight, feel the wind. In a few moments he would be free of this awful place that caused him nightmares. His bruised and battered ribs screamed in pain as he ran but he ignored it for they were almost free.

Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo raced to the tunnel's end, knowing that Legolas was keeping the Orcs back, all they had to do was reach the end and they would be safe. Just a few more steps and .....

They stopped! All four of them, stopped at the end of the tunnel no more than a inch from the air. The Hobbits stared downward as they stood on the edge of the mine. They sighed in frustration when they found themselves, not on level ground, but on a sheer cliff at least fifty feet up with nothing but hard rocks down below them. They looked at each other in hopes that someone would have an idea on what to do, but all faces came up blank. They turned back around and saw Legolas coming up quickly behind them. He was obviously puzzled as to why they had stopped but as he drew closer the problem became quite apparent.

"Well, that's lovely." Merry said sarcastically as he looked down the cliff once more. They couldn't climb down for the rockface was too sheer for the Hobbits to scale and that would take time they didn't have as they Orcs drew closer.

Legolas fired back another arrow and realized they had only one choice, "We must jump."

"Are you crazy? Or just eager to become a permanent addition to that rock?" Pippin questioned him, he was about to comment further but there was no time.

"Just trust me and JUMP!" Legolas yelled. The Hobbits took a deep breath but did as they were told and leapt off the cliff, with Legolas quick to follow. An Orc hand appeared just as they left the lip of the tunnel and grabbed nothing but air.

They were free from the Orcs and the caves, but were at the mercy of the open air.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So it was that Gimli, Aragorn and Gandalf walked over the hill to find their companions only seconds after they had made their mad jump off the cliff. When the three looked about them and saw their friends they were puzzled and shocked, but they soon recovered and began to laugh! It was a hearty, good humored sound that emanated from deep within themselves. Sam and Pippin did not find the situation the least bit funny, but then again they were the ones stuck in a tree!

When they jumped off the cliff they had been lucky enough to land in a rather large tree but, unlike Legolas, the landing was quite ungraceful for the poor Hobbits. The limbs of the tree were thin, yet strong, but the Hobbits had been left hanging rather perilously from the branches with no way to pull themselves up for the tree held not enough room to sit comfortably. Legolas, who landed flawlessly within the branches and walked among the limbs of the tree as if they were solid ground, helped each of the Hobbits down in turn. Frodo and Merry were already safely on the ground, but Sam and Pippin were still hanging from the higher branches of the tree. Legolas had just reached Pippin to help him down, when Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf arrived.

The sight they had arrived to see was Merry and Frodo pulling leaves and twigs from their mass of curly hair, Sam dangling from a branch with his legs flailing uselessly, and Legolas coming down the tree with a Hobbit on his back, his face changing from shades of red onto blue as Pippin held on so tight he cut off the Elf's air. It was all rather humorous when taken in at one time.

"Gandalf!" Frodo exclaimed in shock, "I don't see what's so funny."

"Look again, my boy." Gandalf replied, his laughing finally dying down. Frodo looked up at Sam, then Legolas who was peeling Pippin off his back as they reached the ground safely.

"Perhaps it is." Frodo admitted grinning.

"I'm going to fall, my grip's slipping." Sam announced from atop the tree. Legolas could see he was slipping rapidly, and he didn't think he could get up the tree and reach him before he fell.

Before the Elf could call out to him, Sam lost his hold on the branch and began to fall. The wind rushed past him and he clenched his eyes shut as he prepared for the landing that would assuredly break his neck or worse. Legolas ran and stood beneath the tree, catching the Hobbit before he hit the ground. As Sam landed in his arms Legolas was forced to bite his tongue against the pain that threatened to seize him as his ribs throbbed. The Elf placed the Hobbit on the ground and instinctively wrapped an arm around his battered ribs.

"Do you wish to explain what all that was about?" Gimli asked as he, Gandalf and Aragorn came down to join the others, completing the fellowship once more.

"We had some Orc trouble." Frodo replied as he brushed himself off.

"A *lot* of Orc trouble. Oh, and we had some cave trouble, some light trouble, some sleep trouble, and did I mention a *lot* of Orc trouble?" Pippin exclaimed frantically.

"It sounds as though you had quite an adventure. I am eager to hear of it." Aragorn said to the Hobbits. They all smiled at the thought of telling the tale, Hobbits were renowned storytellers and loved sharing stories.

"Oh, well then where to begin? Well first of all it was very dark, even our Elf-torch didn't help much against this darkness. That is it was dark until Sting started shining blue indicating the arrival of Orcs. And don't forget that ..." Merry was cut off in the middle of his tale by Gandalf.

"Easy, Merry. This sounds the kind of tale to be told around a period of rest, when there is time for such things. Right now, if you're all well after your adventure we should be on our way, for we have lost several days time." Gandalf told the group. He looked over them all and they appeared well enough, but his keen eyes hadn't missed the way the Elf flinched when he stopped Sam's fall from the tree.

"I think we are all eager to get as far away from this mountain as possible. Let us be off." Legolas encouraged, re-slinging his bow on his back and walking over to Gimli. He was anxious to speak to his friend and wondered if they had indeed encountered the Mesteagues he had felt the night before.

"It is good to see you well my friend." Legolas greeted the Dwarf.

"My heart is greatly eased at your safe return also." Gimli replied, obvious relief in his voice. The Dwarf clapped Legolas on the back in friendship and the Elf struggled not to flinch as the contact jarred his ribs. He looked at his friend and saw a mischievous glint in Gimli's eyes.

"What is it you are thinking about, Gimli?" Legolas asked curiously.

Gimli smiled as if trying to hold back a laugh, "Elf-torch?"

Legolas moaned, knowing it was indeed going to be a long tale to tell.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was a great relief for the entire company when the fellowship was reunited once more. Legolas and the Hobbits were basking in the joy of breathing fresh air and having the sun's golden rays warm their skin; they had been in the caves far too long for their liking so were taking a few moments to enjoy the things in life most people take for granted. Aragorn, Gimli and Gandalf were also greatly relieved to have their companions back with them alive and well.

The group currently relaxed in the shade of several large trees. They had decided that it had already been quite a trying day so it was agreed to spend some time relating to each other the tales of what happened while they were apart. The Hobbits all took turns telling different parts of the story of their adventure in the mines, sometimes they finished each others sentences or added a bit of information that the other forgot, but eventually they got through the story. Legolas sat high above the others, in the branches of the tree under which they sat, he listened to the story with a smile as the Hobbits continually exaggerated a great many things, such as the size and number of the Orcs they had slain. Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf listened intently, asking few questions since the Half-lings were such sticklers for details there was not much missing in the tale.

Frodo was telling the part about their first encounter with the Orcs while in the mines and Legolas was grateful that he left out the part about his injury, it would only make the others worry needlessly. Besides, his ribs seemed to finally be getting better, they at least weren't getting any worse.

After the Hobbits finished the tale Aragorn spoke only briefly of their encounter with the Mesteagues. He added no lavish details of battle, unlike his small friends, he spoke only the barest facts; that they were attacked by a good number of Mesteagues and they fought them off. Sometime during the conversation Legolas's mind drifted into the wind, his thoughts became completely engulfed by the beauty of the land and he seemed to notice it all for the first time. The cool breeze flowing through the trees passed over him, cooling his skin and rustling his golden hair; the smells of the grass, the rocks and the running water were like an intoxicating perfume and the perfect balance of greens, blues, and yellows throughout the land was enough to take his breath away. Too long he had been locked up in that mountain for the beauty of the land to seem so new and fresh to him. As he sat high in the tree thinking these thoughts he lost all track of time, and found he had completely tuned out the conversation of his friends below for he had no idea how long Gimli had been calling his name.

"Legolas! We are to be off! Get down here, Elf-torch!" Gimli yelled, breaking him from his thoughts. The Elf sighed in despair, never would he live down that nickname, least not to the Dwarf.

"My apologies," Legolas said to the group as he silently jumped down from the tree, "I was lost in thought."

"It happens to everyone. Now we must be moving on. We have still a week until we reach the Mountains of Murenya." Gandalf pointed out. As they set out once more, they seemed to veer into a formation without conscious thought, with Aragorn and Gimli at the front, the Hobbits following after, Gandalf behind them and at the very rear came Legolas, now a few steps behind. The Elf lingered back, allowing the others to lead the way as he continued to take in nature and all its beauty. Very shortly he became engulfed with the sights once more and almost didn't notice when Gandalf came back a few steps and walked beside him.

"Quite an adventure you had within the Mountains of Teril." The wizard commented.

"Yes, and not one I wish to relive anytime in the near future." Legolas replied. They walked side by side with the rest of the group just out of earshot.

"How did you hurt yourself?" Gandalf lowered his voice even more when he asked this.

Legolas sighed and replied, just as softly, "Our first battle with the Orcs. The wound is painful only when pressure is applied, but it is slow to heal and that worries me. I believe it is because of my earlier encounter with the Mesteagues."

Gandalf seemed to think about this then nodded his head in approval of the theory, "Did you tell our small companions of your injury?"

"Frodo knows, at his own insistence, the others are unaware. I doubt though that the injury will slow me, it should be healed by the time we reach Murenya." Legolas told him, no doubt in his voice.

"And until then?" Gandalf questioned, his eyebrow quirked slightly.

"It is not unbearable, I will be fine." Legolas answered curtly, obviously wanting the conversation to either end or switch topics.

"Of that I've no doubt. But do take it easy, I'm sure the time spent in those caves has done you no good." Gandalf said and then quickened his step to move back behind the Hobbits.

As they all continued on their journey they were completely unaware of the dark eyes that watched them. Legolas was once more embellishing in the warmth of the sun and the other oddities of nature, so when a slight tingle went through his spine it barely registered in his mind that he had even felt it and so he did not pay it the attention it greatly deserved.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Mesteague bowed low to his master as he entered the dark chambers that served as Richastas's quarters.

"What do you have to report?" Richastas asked impatiently.

The scout straightened and replied, "The Hobbits and the Elf all survived their trek through the Mountains of Teril and the fellowship is rejoined once more. None of the company show any signs of injury from the attack by our forces or the encounter with the Orcs. But I did hear the wizard and Elf talking about the Elf being injured, though he moved with no pain."

"They all survived!" Richastas couldn't believe his ears; was this fellowship invincible? Richastas was then hit with some rather disturbing thoughts. This fellowship comes for me because they know I am after them. It seems nothing can stop them. Obviously head to head combat is of no use. But he banished the thoughts from his mind and regained his former confidence.

"Are we to attack, my lord?" The general asked.

"No. We shall wait until they draw nearer and attack them on our own ground where we will have the advantage." Richastas was deep in thought about the best way to deal with his enemies. "Perhaps we shall make their arrival to Murenya a little more difficult as well."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As strange and unexpected, but welcomed, as it was the fellowship was given the wonderful gift of travelling for an entire week with no incidents worthy of mentioning. No Orcs, no Mesteagues, no weapons drawn. It was a rare treat indeed, the entire company together, bonding in friendship in other ways than the heat of battle. They shared stories and songs at night and the greater part of the day was spent in companionable silence, the kind of quiet when you know words are not necessary, you simply need to be there. They were all still alert for Mesteagues and attack and but the quiet did them good.

It was seven glorious days of Merry and Pippin asking and hoping for a second breakfast, of Frodo and Sam laughing together and speaking of times and things they dare not mention in the Shire. There was of course lots of Legolas and Gimli fighting constantly but always in good humor and friendship, there was also plenty of Aragorn and Gandalf brooding about their quest and its success but they were also caught in the infrequent jest and good humor. It was a good week for all, and they couldn't help but hope that it somehow wouldn't end.

On their seventh day of peace, they were all resting in a glade enjoying the sun and the day before them. The four Hobbits had ventured to the edge of the valley where several large apple trees stood tall and proud. The sweet smell of the apples filled the air and the Half-lings licked their lips at the sight of the nicely ripe fruit. But alas, Hobbits' tree climbing abilities are practically non-existent and it seemed as though all the best apples were at the top, and the trees were very high. Merry, not willing to risk breaking his neck, beckoned Legolas over to help them.

"Legolas! Could you lend a Hobbit a hand, or a bow as it may be?" Merry called out to the Elf. Legolas jogged over shortly to see what it was the Hobbits wanted.

"Don't those apples look delicious?" Pippin asked, a mischievous glint in his eye.

"Yes." Legolas replied, knowing what they were getting at.

"Glad we agree, then. Now, would you do us dear old Hobbits a great service, because we don't ask for much, and shoot down a few of those delectable treats?" Merry requested, a pleading look in his eyes.

Legolas looked down at the Hobbit, a somewhat hard look on his face, "Merry, I shall not waste arrows that may very well save your life, shooting down fruit." The Elf smiled though as Merry downcast his eyes, and his voice softened as he continued, "But I shall be glad to go up there and gather some for you."

The Hobbits all immediately brightened and thanked the Elf who was up the tree in a flash. Legolas reached the top swiftly and began filling the Hobbits' sack with the luscious apples, then he plucked a very fine one for himself and was about to start back down when he chanced to look along the landscape and stopped in shock. Just beyond the hill that they were to pass over shortly, lay the Mountains of Murenya. He could see them quite clearly from his viewpoint and he shivered in an attempt to fight back the chill that had been creeping through his spine for the past several days. The mountains loomed ahead of them, perilous even to the eyes. They were darker than Mount Doom itself in that this mountain had no pits of firey magma to give it even an ounce of life, just darkness. The range appeared quite dead as if purposely isolating itself from the rest of the beautiful land surrounding it, and the dark caverns and jagged rock edges seemed to scream of evil and trouble lying in wait within.

Legolas climbed down the tree and absently passed the Hobbits their apples, his gaze still fixed on the direction of Murenya. It permeated with evil and the Elf couldn't hold back another chill from running down his spine. The four Half-lings delved greedily into their sack, enjoying their newest feast. Frodo looked up and noticed the far off look in Legolas's eyes.

"What's wrong?" Frodo asked. The heads of the other Hobbits immediately snapped to attention, their ears were quick to listen if there may be bad things approaching.

"The Mountains of Murenya, they're just over that ridge. We shall be able to see them shortly." Legolas replied and then broke his gaze from the mountains and met the eyes of the Hobbits, "It does not look like a place one would wish to visit."

The Hobbits had guessed as much about Murenya but to actually hear it from the Elf's mouth chilled their blood. The apples seemed of little concern now but still they munched on them as they all walked back over to where Gimli, Aragorn and Gandalf sat.

"We are soon to reach the mountains." Legolas reported as he sat beside the three.

"I had thought we should be approaching them soon." Aragorn said, "But though we can see them it is still a three day walk until we reach their base."

"Are we to be off then?" Merry asked.

"Yes, we still have far to go. Come my friends." Gandalf beckoned as he rose and straightened his robes.

So they set out once more and it was not long before they passed over the last hill which hid the mountains from their view. When they reached the top of the ridge they stood silently for several moments, taking in the sight that was Murenya. The Hobbits were shocked by the sheer size of it, for this mountain greatly rivalled Mount Doom and they wondered how they had not seen it before when it almost reached the clouds. Gandalf and Aragorn merely studied Murenya for evil and dark forces, for they had seen the mountain before so were not as taken aback as their companions. Gimli stared at the great beast of nature and thought that he was glad they would not be scaling it, for it seemed an impossible climb. The Dwarf also noticed the shiver from his Elf friend, but Legolas's face was neutral and gave away no feelings.

"So, that's where we're headed is it?" Pippin asked, his voice going slightly higher.

"Indeed young Took, that is Murenya." Gandalf told the Hobbit, his voice filling with respect for the mountain.

"It is a beast if ever I saw one." Gimli commented.

"That it is. Now, we best be on our way." Aragorn suggested. He led the way and they all followed, each step drawing them closer to the monsterous mountain ahead of them, which grew larger as they walked.

They trekked for several hours, never fully tearing their gaze from their target. It was on this day that they came upon the River Mostiga. The black water raged with white rapids and the current was strong enough to pull away the finest swimmer. The water was deep and dark, though several large boulders jutted out, breaking the flow of the rapids and making it all the more dangerous.

"How are we to cross?" Sam asked when they reached the edge of the water. They had no boats, there were not enough visible rocks to use to jump across and they certainly couldn't swim.

"There's a bridge a short ways up-river. It should be this way." They all followed Aragorn without question, they had complete confidence and faith in the Ranger and he soon brought them upon the promised bridge.

None were too eager to use this new crossing though, the boards seemed old and worn and the ropes holding it up were weather-beaten. The bridge hung only a few feet from the water and swayed perilously when a large gust of wind came through.

"You must be joking." Merry asked Aragorn hopefully, "You won't be getting me across that thing."

"I assure you it's quite safe, looks can be greatly deceiving you know." Aragorn replied as he led them closer to the river.

Legolas volunteered to go first, knowing his Elven feet would be the least likely to fell the bridge. He walked across the planks and when he reached the halfway point he jumped up several times.

"It seems sturdy enough." Legolas called out to the others and then crossed safely to the other side.

"Well then, you have the assurances of an Elf. Just watch your step and you shall be fine." Gandalf assured the Hobbits as he started across the bridge. Merry and Pippin followed immediately after the wizard, with Aragorn a few steps behind them; Gimli followed next with Sam and Frodo after him. The bridge was quite long and they all walked across slowly as Legolas waited patiently on the other side.

Legolas suddenly went to full alert as he felt a chill throughout his being, and this time he recognized it well.

"Hurry, all of you. Mesteagues draw near!" Legolas shouted, urging them forward.

A snapping sound assaulted the Elf's ears, it was the only warning they received as the ropes on the other side of the river completely snapped! As the bridge plunged into the river, taking its occupants with it, Legolas looked over in time to see a black blur run from the other side; a Mesteague had cut the ropes. But he had no time to dwell on the beast as his friends were plunged into the icy cold waters of the river.

Gandalf had managed to reach the other side safely and grabbed the hands of Merry and Pippin before they fell to the same fates as their companions. Aragorn swam well and had been close to the river's edge when the bridge broke; he grabbed the sinking Dwarf who was being weighed down by his armor and ax, and managed to pull them away from the worst of the rapids with the help of some nearby rocks. Merry, Pippin and Gandalf rushed to the shore to help them out of the relentless waters as they reached the shore.

Meanwhile Sam and Frodo were not faring terribly well. Frodo called out for help as he and Sam were pulled along the rapids. Frodo could swim for the most part, but Sam could not, and the raging waters kept either from reaching the river's edge and it was obvious they would not be able to keep themselves afloat for long. Without hesitation Legolas leapt into the icy river after the Hobbits; he was a strong swimmer and was using the current to his advantage so soon reached the two.

"Hold on." The Elf ordered as each latched onto an arm. He began to make his way back across and they were slowly reaching the other side, but while they tried to cross, the river pulled them downstream quickly. Legolas was so focussed on his goal that he failed to notice the immense boulder directly in their path. Too late he turned and saw they were about to collide with it, he only barely had time to twist his body so the Hobbits would not be crushed by the gigantic rock. They hit the boulder full force, with Legolas taking most of the impact, he tried to hold it back but the Elf let out an anguished cry as his already injured ribs slammed into the unforgiving stone.

His breath was stolen from his lungs and his body screamed at the punishment but he somehow forced that from his mind and focussed on the two shivering Hobbits he protected in his arms. Legolas managed to keep them pressed against the rock so they would go no further down-river; he peered over his shoulder and saw the boulder they hit was large, but flat and slanted, so much so that the Hobbits could sit on it easily enough.

"Frodo, Sam," Legolas gasped out, his voice as pained as his body, "Try to climb onto the rock."

The Hobbits did as they were told and both reached out and grasped the boulder unsteadily and tried to pull themselves onto it. Legolas gave them a helpful push from below and soon they both sat safely on the rock, dripping and shivering but unharmed. The Elf braced himself against the stone, trying not be washed away. The cold didn't affect him, so if he could stay with the Hobbits he would be alright, though his ribs pained him to no end he at least found himself regaining his breath.

"Legolas, Sam, Frodo, hold on!" Aragorn called out. The other members of their company had run down the coast as they were being swept away and now stood ready to get them to safety. Aragorn was dripping wet and must have been freezing but still he cared only for the others. The son of Arathorn took a rope from Pippin's pack and tied a small stone to the end to make sure it would weigh enough to reach the others. The rope was thrown out into the river towards the rock, Legolas grabbed it swiftly and gave it the Hobbits instructing them to tie it about themselves. When both Hobbits felt certain they would not fall from the rope Legolas moved away from the boulder and clutched the line further up, not bothering to tie himself, he held on as tightly as possible.

"Pull hard!" Aragorn instructed those on the riverbed as they pulled in the line. It took many pulls and all their strength but eventually the two Hobbits and Elf were hauled onto the safety of dry land.

Legolas tried to stand but immediately fell to his knees clutching his side painfully. As Merry, Pippin, and Gandalf saw to Frodo and Sam, wrapping them in blankets and rushing them from the riverside, Aragorn and Gimli approached Legolas.

"How badly are you hurt my friend?" The Dwarf asked as he approached and saw the pain clearly etched on the Elf's face.

Before Legolas could reply Aragorn cut him off, "He hit that boulder head on. Stand slowly Legolas, for your ribs could be broken or worse." The Man and the Dwarf helped Legolas to his feet and sat him under a tree where he could rest and still see the sun's rays. A blanket was wrapped around him mostly to dry him off since Elves are hardly affected by the cold.

"Take off your tunic, we must check your injury." Aragorn insisted as he gathered some wood for a fire. The cold may have no influence on Elves but himself, Gimli and the Hobbits were freezing.

"It is nothing, give me just a moment to catch my breath." Legolas requested as he sank back against the tree.

Aragorn left the fire to be built by Gandalf and moved to the Elf's side, "They may be broken my friend, you must let me see."

Legolas had little choice, the concern in Aragorn's eyes was so intense that he was forced to comply. He painstakingly removed his tunic, and his ribs were completely exposed. Aragorn knew enough about healing and injuries to know that the bruises that marked Legolas's ribs, and most of his chest, were not caused just by the incident in the river.

"These bruises are not fresh, they are old by perhaps days." Aragorn told the Elf, though he undoubtedly already knew.

"Over a week actually, they're slow to heal and I doubt this has helped." Legolas said, deciding the truth was the only way to go in this case.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Aragorn asked sternly. He was mad at his friend for not telling him and also at himself for not noticing such an obvious injury.

"There was nothing you could have done except worry." Legolas replied, a matter of fact tone to his voice.

Aragorn said nothing and decided instead to check the injury for himself. He pushed gently against each rib, probing for breaks in the bone, Legolas tried to hold back his cry of pain but as Aragorn reached the last rib he couldn't help but gasp as the pain became more than he could bear. None of his ribs were broken, but they were all badly bruised and Aragorn thought the last one was cracked.

"If your healing has slowed I have no idea how long it may take for this to get better. I shall wrap the ribs for now and then go find some roots to help with the pain." Aragorn said as he started to bandage the Elf's chest.

"Thank you my friend." Legolas said to Aragorn, meaning it fully.

Alas, Aragorn could not stay mad at the Elf, he probably would have done the same thing in his place, "Rest now, stay near the fire." Aragorn smiled and then took out into the woods to find the needed roots.

Gimli came over, having heard the conversation between the two (completely by accident of course), and helped Legolas to his feet once more. His soaked golden hair clung to his face, and each step was painful but they made it to the fire with the others.

"Thank-you Legolas. You saved our lives." Sam stated when the Elf sat beside him.

"Yes, our deepest gratitudes." The shivering Frodo added from across the fire.

"I am glad only that you are well." Legolas replied. He then attempted to dry his hair with the blanket around his shoulders, when he moved the Hobbits could clearly see the bruises and taped ribs.

"Are you well though?" Merry asked as he took in the dark bruises.

Legolas looked down and quickly recovered himself with the blanket, "I will be fine, and you should not worry yourselves for Elves heal quickly."

"Except for you." Gandalf pointed out as he sucked on his pipe.

Legolas downcast his eyes, "Yes, as of late. But it's not that bad and the pain not too great." He tried to assure the others.

Gimli did not look convinced and purposely elbowed his friend lightly. Legolas gasped in pain and unconsciously cradled his side, "Of course it isn't." The Dwarf frowned for it was clear the Elf was in pain, but he now said nothing.

It was late in the day already so it was decided to spend the night around the fire so they could all be warm once more. The Hobbits all huddled close and eventually fell into a deep sleep. Gimli and Aragorn stayed close to the fire as well, having changed into something dry, and Gandalf sat on a large rock on look out for the first few hours. Legolas stayed close to the warmth of the flames as well, for even though the cold of the water did not bother him he was chilled from within. This close to the Mountains of Murenya he could not relieve himself of the shivers that passed through his very being, they also didn't help his bruised ribs any. The roots Aragorn had gathered helped only slightly and the cold racking his body was making the flames of pain in his chest stand out that much more. It proved to be an extremely long night for the Elf as he tried for hours to find warmth and a refuge from the pain he was in, but no relief came and he suffered in silence as to not worry his friends further.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The sun shone brightly upon the company as another new day began. The Hobbits stretched lazily and immediately began breakfast, they had all slept soundly after their dip in the river and they were just happy to be warm and dry. Aragorn and Gandalf kept a close eye on their surroundings; nothing escaped their watchful gaze while they were on the look out for the evil forces of Murenya. Gimli kept a close eye on Legolas the entire morning, until finally the Elf assured him that he was fine and asked him to be more mindful of their surroundings than his condition. After that Gimli had backed off slightly, but still glanced in Legolas's direction frequently. Legolas for his part tried to act as if he wasn't injured at all, which was quite a task. He slung his bow across his back and had to make a conscious effort not to flinch at the movement.

After everyone was fed and the sun was a good height in the sky they headed off once more. They were still three days from Murenya's base, though the mountain could always be seen in the distance, so the ground was still flat and made it an easy enough journey. Legolas walked at the back of the group, he didn't wish to walk in the lead and know that his friends behind him were watching him and worrying about his well being. He moved at a steady pace but without his natural grace and fluidity; his ribs still hurt, though he found they had improved a great deal in just one night, and the increasing cold in his bones kept him from lightening his step.

Gandalf and Legolas had talked and both agreed that the reason Legolas's healing had been slowed in the first place was because of the wound he had received earlier in their journey from the Mesteague. Gandalf had explained that all Mesteagues have a type of venom on their claws and teeth that slows all healing down greatly, that was why most people died from Mesteague wounds, even minor ones. Legolas had been lucky to have the Lady Galadriel heal his arm for him but Gandalf suspected that the venom was still in his system, slowing all his healing. But as he lifted his tunic, Legolas could see an obvious improvement in the bruises marking his chest.

Perhaps the venom is wearing off finally. Legolas thought with a smile, then jogged to catch up with the others who had gone ahead.

The day once again passed without incident, there were no Mesteague attacks but the Elf could feel that they were fast approaching their enemy. With every step he took Legolas could feel the chill of the evil creatures grow stronger. As they walked he wrapped his arms around himself, trying to keep in as much warmth as he could. The others merely thought he was cradling his injured ribs so made no comment about it. At times he was able to find a semblance of warmth within himself, but at other times the cold became so bad his teeth started to chatter.

That night they once more built a fire and all sat around it, wary for Mesteagues or whatever else may attack them. Legolas got as close to the fire as possible without making the others suspicious. He was thankful they watched him for signs of pain he may be in, not for the cold that was plaguing his body.

"Legolas, come here. Your ribs must be rewrapped." Aragorn said as he rummaged in his bag for more bandages. Legolas reluctantly moved away from the fire, not that its warmth had been helping, and sat beside Aragorn beneath a tree while trying to hold back the cold. He was able to remove his tunic with much greater ease than the night before and Aragorn seemed pleasantly surprised when he saw the bruises had faded considerably.

"You're healing well. By the looks of it you should be near one hundred percent by tomorrow evening." Aragorn reported, more than a touch of relief in his voice.

"I hope so. I've felt stronger all day, I believe the Mesteague venom is wearing off." Legolas told him as his ribs were rebandaged.

"I'm pleased that you'll be well soon, I did not want you entering Murenya injured." Legolas was then hit with a blast of inner cold and he couldn't hold back the shiver down his spine. Aragorn looked at him with great concern.

Legolas shook it off and said, "I may be healing but I am not completely better." He hoped Aragorn would think he had shuddered in pain. The Elf wanted to be strong for his friends, it would not be right for him to complain about a discomforting chill. The Ranger studied him for a moment and then nodded and finished up with the bandages.

Several hours later, Gandalf and Aragorn sat apart from the rest of the company, in deep discussion.

"We will reach the mountains the day after tomorrow. Do you think we will be able to defeat this evil head on in battle?" Aragorn asked as he looked out into the darkness.

"There is little choice. If we were to wait for Richastas and his followers to emerge from Murenya on their own, there would then be too many and they would be too strong an army to be defeated by anyone. We must attack now before that happens. The battle must be brought to them." Gandalf replied, no hint of doubt in his voice as to their course of action.

"I know. I find myself in doubt only because of our strength and our numbers." Aragorn admitted and his gaze wandered to the other members of the fellowship. "It is true there is great will and determination within all of us, but will that alone be enough to defeat Richastas?"

"You have not enough faith in our group, Aragorn. The Hobbits have undoubtedly proven by now that they should never be underestimated in battle or wit, under any circumstances. You have seen Gimli's power in battle and the sheer skill he holds with his ax, he can defend himself and hold back an army, or so it seems sometimes. As for Legolas, well the Elves are remarkable creatures as you know, his injury is healing nicely and he will undoubtedly be at top form when we reach Murenya. I should not worry about them, for they are all strong and fierce warriors when the need be." Gandalf said with pride and respect then he smiled as he also watched over their friends.

All the company slept soundly, except for Legolas who woke up several times with deep chills, and in the morning they packed up quickly to once more be on their way. A quick check showed that Legolas was indeed healing at almost his normal rate again as the bruises were practically gone and the bandages were no longer necessary. It was a great relief to everyone and Legolas himself for he did not like his friends to be worried, least of all about him. So they marched onward to Murenya once more, and now that he was better no one paid Legolas any mind when he walked at the back of the group, that was his usual position afterall.

The Hobbits chatted as they walked, though all their conversations had an underlying tone of dread and there was no real joy to be found as they worried about what their encounter with the Mesteagues may result in. Gandalf and Aragorn walked at the front, with their senses at full alert for danger, and Gimli was only a few steps behind, his ax thrown over his shoulder in case it should be needed.

Legolas tried to act like his normal self as the day progressed, but he was getting even colder with each passing minute. He resisted the urge to try and warm himself, knowing it would do no good; it was the darkness of the Mesteagues that did this to him. But even every previous encounter with the Mesteagues combined had not been near this bad. The Elf had no doubts as to what the cause of the bitter cold within him was. The Mesteague leader Richastas fed the life force that his followers needed to survive; if he was not around there would be no Mesteagues at all. With that in mind Legolas felt certain that the darkness in Richastas's soul and the cold in his heart was exponentially greater than that of the Mesteagues, and those feelings came off the dark leader in waves; waves that struck Legolas and chilled his bones. Gandalf had explained that the darkness of the Mesteagues affects an Elf's natural light and inner warmth, he had just never expected himself to be affected this badly.

But now Legolas shivered and his teeth chattered insanely, so far he had managed to compose himself if any of the company looked his way but he knew he would soon be so bad that he would not be able to cover it up; in truth though he did not think he could get much worse. He was very wrong.

That night they set up camp early to rest for an extra few hours. They knew tomorrow they would reach Murenya and would need all the strength they could muster. They also built a rather large fire for the night was much colder than most, and not just to Legolas. Merry and Pippin stood on watch a fair distance away from the rest the company. Legolas could tell they were not enjoying being on guard, and he was finding it hard to keep himself from shivering around the others so he decided to relieve them of duty.

The Elf came up behind the two, and startled them when he spoke, "Anything to report?"

Merry and Pippin jumped since they hadn't heard Legolas approach, "No, there's nothing out there but trees and rocks." Merry said.

"Then again we could be wrong. I don't think we're the best ones to keep watch, we didn't even hear *you* coming. You could have killed us where we stand and we never would have seen you." Pippin added.

Legolas grinned and unconsciously rubbed his arms, trying to fight back the cold, "In that case why don't you two go sit by the fire and get some rest. I shall keep watch the rest of the night, Elves need little sleep and I daresay my hearing and sight are better than yours."

The two Hobbits smiled and accepted his offer graciously, anxious to get by the fire and have something to eat.

"Come and get us if you get too tired though. It is our responsibility." Merry called back as they both raced down the hillside.

"Of course." Legolas replied, then collapsed on the closest rock. He was pleased beyond measure that his ribs had healed completely, he did not think he could take this dreadful cold and the pain of bruised ribs. Still though the cold clung to the Elf, like a frozen blanket he couldn't shed, only it froze him from the inside out. The chill he felt was deep and penetrating and he knew he could not escape it.

Best to try and ignore it. He decided as he attempted to focus completely on the task at hand. Not even a grain of sand blowing in the wind would have escaped Legolas's gaze that evening; he allowed himself to become completely engulfed by his surroundings so that he noticed every detail, every leaf, every blade of grass, even every breeze that floated by. He was so caught up in his watch he didn't realize he'd allowed his body to rest and was shivering madly, with his teeth chattering together uncontrollably. Just as he realized he was shaking a blanket dropped around his shoulders. He turned around to see Frodo behind him, a cloak drawn tightly about his shoulders. Legolas looked at the blanket and gave the Hobbit a questioning look.

"You looked cold." Frodo explained as he sat on the rock beside the Elf. "I thought Elves weren't affected by the weather."

"We aren't usually." Legolas replied, he wasn't going to lie to his friend, but he didn't see any reason not to side step the truth.

"Well it is dreadfully cold." Frodo said.

You don't know the half of it. Legolas thought as he tried to control the shaking of his body.

"You seem somewhat pale as well. Perhaps it is another side effect of the Mesteague venom." Frodo continued. He seemed pleased when Legolas's shaking stopped. He thought it was due to the blanket he had provided and Legolas was not about to tell him otherwise.

"Perhaps." Legolas nodded.

"Gandalf says we will reach Murenya tomorrow," Frodo said, trying to make conversation as he drew his cloak about him tigher.

"Yes, I know. I am not entirely sure how I feel about that. I will be glad when this journey is over but I am not particularly anxious about fulfilling this particular deed." Legolas replied without facing Frodo. He was still looking deep into the shadows for any sign of their enemy.

"I felt the same way as I neared Mount Doom. I just kept telling myself that it had to be done, and afterwards I could meet up with my friends and then return to the Shire for a nice long rest. I dare say it worked." Frodo said, a small grin marking the corners of his mouth.

"It is a good thing too. I suppose I shall simply have to keep telling myself the same thing, but I shall change a few of the details." Legolas said. At that moment a chill wind swept through the camp and the Hobbit shivered, drawing his cloak tight about him.

"You should return to the fire and get some rest." Legolas suggested, knowing the cold Frodo helped could at least be stopped by a fire.

"All right. Come down as well if you get too cold." Frodo insisted as he stepped down from the rock.

"I will, and thank you for the blanket." Legolas said and watched the Hobbit return to the fireside. He kept the blanket to give the illusion that it was needed and hoped that Frodo was the only one that had noticed he was shivering. Aragorn, Gimli and Gandalf would undoubtedly know that it would take much more than the chill of the night air to cause an Elf to shiver so and would then come to see what was wrong. Legolas saw no reason to tell them, they would only worry and there was nothing to be done; turning back was not an option and as they drew nearer to the mountains he would continue to feel the cold around him. So he sat in silence and kept up his watch.

"What was that about?" Gimli asked Frodo as he returned to the fireside.

"We were talking about our quest. It is heavy on all our minds and it's good to get some thoughts off your mind every now and then." Frodo replied as he cast his hands above the fire to warm them.

"Do you have many worries about this journey, master Frodo?" Sam enquired, his concern for his best friend obvious.

Frodo smiled at Sam's worrysome ways, he always fretted over Frodo's feelings so. "I have some, but I feel much more confident about this quest than our last. Knowing that the fate of its success does not rest solely on my shoulders is a great comfort, as well is the thought that I am with my most trusted friends."

All around the fire were silent and they enjoyed an intense moment of contentment to simply be sitting, in the middle of nowhere with dear companions. Everyone's heart was warmed with the thought of the bond they all shared and they soon settled in for the night and slept very soundly.

The next morning the sun's rays beamed down on them all, but still Legolas could feel no warmth. He remained silent though, and he kept a safe distance away from the rest of the group while they gathered their things. They set off towards Murenya with heavy hearts, knowing today would be the day they reached the base and would face the Mesteagues. Legolas made sure to walk at the end once more and kept himself distanced from the group as they walked.

They had been travelling for only an hour when Frodo and Sam heard a rustling and a thud behind them, shortly after they had turned a sharp corner in their path.

"What was that?" Frodo asked as he turned around.

Sam remembered that Legolas had been walking behind them, "Legolas, are you okay?" Both Hobbits ran back around the corner before there was time enough for an answer. They stopped short when they saw the condition that their Elf friend was in.

Legolas couldn't take it anymore, the cold was too much to bear. He was on his knees, his body hunched over with his arms wrapped securely around him and his head dropped so that his chin touched his chest. He was shivering uncontrollably and his teeth chattered so loud the Hobbits could hear them from a few feet away. When Legolas had reached the turn in the path he had felt a massive surge of evil and darkness that stole from him the last bit of warmth he had been able to maintain. Now he kneeled on the ground, feeling such a cold that he had never felt before and never imagined possible.

Sam and Frodo ran to his side; it was obvious he was freezing though they had no idea why. But whether they had explanations or not they were going to help their friend.

"Legolas, what's wrong?" Frodo asked as Sam pulled a blanket from his pack and placed it on Legolas's shaking form.

"So c..cold." Legolas stuttered. All he felt was cold and at the moment he thought that was all he had ever felt for he could remember no time in his life when he had been warm. He had no memories of hot days, and the flames of fire, and the warmth of the sun's rays, he couldn't think of anything outside of the cold that gripped his heart. It was painful he was so cold, like the pain of frostbite, only there had been no snow. Nothing to chill his body except the immeasurable evil being emitted from within the Mountains of Murenya.

Frodo and Sam didn't know what to do, they could think of no reason for their friend to be shivering so and it seemed painfully obvious that the cold was much further than skin deep. They both turned as the rest of the fellowship came around the corner, they had backtracked when they noticed the absence of three of its members.

"What's happened to him?" Aragorn asked as he knelt in front of Legolas.

"C..cold." Legolas said again through chattering teeth. He couldn't wrap his mind around his surroundings, he could concentrate only on the cold and on trying to fight it and gain back some warmth.

Merry and Pippin pulled blankets from their packs as well and offered them onto the Elf's shoulders, but still his shivering didn't cease. Gandalf sighed deeply as the others crowded around Legolas.

"What's wrong with him?" Aragorn asked again, only this time to Gandalf, as he and Gimli took Legolas by the shoulders and moved him to lean against a large boulder. Merry adjusted some of the blankets that the Hobbits had placed on the Elf.

"That won't help him I'm afraid," Gandalf said to Merry, a deep weariness and dread in his voice.

"Why not? Look at him, he's freezing!" Pippin exclaimed gesturing wildly to the form now sitting on the ground.

"He freezes from within." Aragorn whispered as he took in Legolas's condition.

"Don't speak in riddles Aragorn. Freezes from within? What do you mean?" Gimli demanded to know.

"We are nearing Murenya and as we get closer, to Legolas the cold will only get worse. He was able to sense the Mesteagues because they caused a chill within him as their darkness attacked his inner light. Now we draw nearer to Richastas, the source of the Mesteague's life force and the darkness is much greater. I'm afraid our friend can feel this evil and it is numbing him inside. The only way to rid him of this cold he feels is to get him away from this place, or destroy the creature that causes it." Gandalf explained, he was sympathetic of the Elf's plight and couldn't believed he had not realized earlier that this could happen.

Aragorn shook his head in frustration then knelt in front of Legolas once more, "Why did you not tell us?"

"Wasn't s..s..so bad ..b...b..before." Legolas managed to say.

Aragorn sighed; he knew the truth was most likely that Legolas hadn't wanted to slow them down, or show any weakness in front of everyone and make them worry, but he didn't say anything. He just clasped the Elf- prince's shoulder fondly and said, "You have great strength my friend. Rest now, save your energy."

As the Hobbits and Gimli fussed over Legolas, trying to think of some way to warm him, Aragorn and Gandalf moved away from the group to speak in private.

"We can ask no more of Legolas on this journey. The cold he feels would only worsen as we continue and I shall not allow that." Aragorn's voice was strong and not to be argued with, luckily Gandalf felt the same way.

"No, he has done his best but we shant bring him any further. It would probably be best to take him away from the mountain, we can't leave him like this." Gandalf added as he glanced back to his shaking friend.

"Someone will have to take him while the rest of us continue to Murenya." Aragorn finally decided after some moments of thought.

"That would be wise." Gandalf agreed, then lowered his head and sighed in frustration, "I suppose it's best that we should find out now, only two hours from our entrance, I shudder to think what would have happened if we had entered the mountain with Legolas in this state. How could I not have seen this? It was obvious the Elf was not well."

"He fooled all of us. He mentioned nothing of it and hid it well. I just hope we haven't taken him too far." Aragorn replied. Gandalf nodded and they both returned to the group.

"Legolas, we ...." Aragorn started but Legolas cut him off.

"I may be f...freezing, but m...my hearing's j...just f...f..fine. I h...h..heard all." Legolas wished for some way to stop the cold, or lessen it somehow, but he couldn't no matter how hard he tried.

"Damn Elven ears." Gimli groused, "What is it you were to say Aragorn, for those of us who didn't hear."

"We must continue on to Murenya, if we do not stop this evil now we never will." Aragorn knelt and faced the Elf, "Legolas my friend, you can go no further and we would not ask it of you. You are strong and brave but your arrows cannot fight this cold that entraps you."

"I f..fear you s..s..speak the truth." Legolas stuttered. He did not wish to leave his companions to fight Richastas without him but he knew that in his current state he would be more of a burden than a help. He felt frozen, absolutely frozen, as if trapped in a block of ice. His mind was slow in taking in thoughts and what was being said and done around him, and his movements were just as delayed. He could not block the relentless cold from his mind and he knew that would be his downfall.

Aragorn frowned in despair for his friend was suffering and he couldn't stop it, unless he brought Legolas away from this place but he knew that he would be needed to defeat Richastas and the Mesteagues.

"Someone must accompany him away from this mountain. It will do him no good to stay here and he will get better as he moves farther away." Gandalf said to the group. Legolas wanted to argue that they should leave him there and continue on together, but he found himself without the strength and his mind was unable to form the necessary words.

Merry and Pippin immediately shot their hands into the air. They wished dearly to help their companion against this affliction and though they were not cowards and would gladly fight hard in battle, they knew they were needed far less than the others.

"We'll escort him." Merry announced, looking at Pippin to make sure he agreed.

"Oh yes, he's safe in our hands. We'll take good care of him." Pippin promised, raising his head high.

The others smiled at the two Hobbits' enthusiasm and agreed they could lead Legolas away from Murenya and stay with him until they returned.

"And we *will* return." Aragorn promised the three as they prepared to part company.

"We know. Best to hurry on your way now. Got evil to kill and all that." Pippin urged them along.

"Yes, we most certainly do young Took." Gandalf pulled Pippin closer and whispered in his ear, "Take care of him, get him as far from here as you can." Pippin nodded in understanding.

They waved each other off with heavy hearts, it pained them all to seperate once more for they seemed destined to never go through an entire journey together.

"Come Legolas, let's get away from this dreadful place." Merry said leading the way. Legolas was shaking worse than ever and the Hobbits wondered how it was they hadn't noticed this before. The Elf allowed himself to be led and decided to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other, rather than the cold pouring through his being.



"They'll be fine." Sam tried to assure Frodo as the Hobbit kept turning around every few seconds to look at the retreating backs of their friends.

"I know, but still I worry." Frodo admitted, then set his sights ahead of him and not behind. They would reunite when this was all over and spend company as friends once more.

So it was that Legolas, Merry and Pippin headed away from Murenya while Aragorn, Gandalf, Gimli, Sam and Frodo headed towards the mountain. The fellowship was split once more and they could only hope to be brought together when this adventure was over.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"The fellowship approaches my lord, but they are not whole. Two of the Hobbits and the Elf are not with them." A Mesteague reported to his master.

Richastas actually seemed pleased that his enemies were drawing near, "Let them come."

"We are not to attack?" The Mesteague dared to ask.

"No, not yet." Richastas thought he was being very clever. He was sure that all the obstacles and attacks he had set up for the fellowship so far would have drained them and made them weary with travel so he thought they would be hardly any challenge at all now. What he didn't know was that the company of friends grew stronger through their hardships together and that every attack simply prepared them even more for anything Richastas may throw at them.

"As you wish." The Mesteague bowed out and left, not daring to argue with Richastas's judgment.

"Yes. If they are eager to die, then let them come."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Richastas summoned his general to him only an hour or so after he had been informed of the closeness of the fellowship to his lair. He had gotten an idea and he wanted it put into action immediately.

"You wished to see me my lord." The general bowed low, knowing any other gesture would mean certain death.

"I've changed my mind. You reported that only half of the fellowship were making their way here. I believe that they should all be together for their deaths. Send out a troop to gather the Elf and the two Hobbits and bring them to me." Richastas ordered, his deep voice giving away his delight at the idea of the fellowship's death.

"It will be done immediately." The general promised and bowed low again.

"Good, now go quickly. I believe you know the price of failure." Richastas pointed to a ledge in the room where the severed head of his former general sat. The Mesteague gulped and nodded then bowed low as it left the room.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry and Pippin escorted their Elf friend away from the mountains of Murenya as fast as Legolas could manage. There were no words spoken between the group; Legolas's mind was occupied on the unforgiving cold that only he could feel and the Hobbits were both lost in deep thoughts of worry about their companions that still headed to the deep caverns within the great mountain that now lay behind them.

Neither Merry or Pippin wished to leave their companions but both of them felt an obligation to Legolas. He had undoubtedly been the only reason that they had all made it through the caverns of Orcs safely and had saved all their lives several times. The Hobbits needed to repay Legolas somehow and show their appreciation for all his courageous deeds. The least they could do was travel with him and try to free him from the wretched cold that claimed his body.

Legolas was still shivering badly. Now that everyone knew of the cold he had no reason to try and hold back the convulsions that racked his body, and he no longer had the energy to do so anyway. Merry walked a few steps ahead of him while Pippin remained a few steps behind, each keeping an eye on their surroundings when they could pull themselves from their thoughts. The Elf hardly noticed them though, there was nothing beyond the cold and nothing behind it. There was no past, present or future, just unimaginable cold. Several times he stumbled but the Hobbits were always there to help him along and he was grateful for their friendship during those moments that his thinking was partially clear.

They continued walking for an hour, their thoughts never wandering far from the other members of the fellowship, and very slowly Legolas started to improve. He was still shaking but not as badly and he could stop his teeth from chattering if he really needed to. When they reached the second hour of their trek away from Murenya the Elf was able to find some small semblance of warmth and he clung to it tightly, relishing in the slight withdrawal of the cold, though it was still very much there.

"Perhaps we should rest for awhile, if you feel well enough Legolas." Merry suggested when they reached a beautiful field. The Hobbit didn't completely understand this inner cold business and thought a small break while sitting in the sun's rays would do the Elf good.

"I am feeling much better actually. The cold still remains but finally it is bearable." Legolas said as he sat down on the grass. He tried very hard to keep from shivering but wasn't completely successful, he still felt entrapped within ice. And even if the outer layer of the ice melted the cold still stung his skin and froze his body.

Pippin's gaze was once more drawn to the mountain that lay behind them and he sighed heavily, "The others will be reaching the mountain soon I suppose."

"Yes, Gandalf did say they had only a few hours until they made it to the base." Merry added as he too stared at the dark mass of stones and rock.

"They enter danger without us and I feel it is my fault that we are not there to aid our companions." Legolas said as he looked away from the mountains and instead into the sun whose rays could not warm his skin.

"Don't think that. You did your best and I dare say it's more than I would have been able to bear, or anyone else for that matter. I hate the cold and I couldn't stand a chill in my being that wouldn't be quenched." Merry told the Elf in all seriousness and with a deep respect.

"Indeed, you are strong Legolas. To have never before experienced such cold and suffer as silently as you did. I for one would have been whining and complaining to all who would listen had I been feeling such a thing." Pippin added as he tore his gaze away from Murenya.

Legolas chuckled softly and then shivered, "I thank you for your kind words. I just hope our friends return to us safely."

"They will, Aragorn promised and he's not one to break a promise lightly." Merry said. Legolas nodded but gave no reply.

They all sat in silence, staring at the sun or glancing towards the peaks of Murenya until finally Legolas spoke:

"It occurs to me that we should reach the River Mostiga in little more than a day."

"Don't remind me," Pippin said, "I like not to think about that river. Very nearly we were all killed."

"Yes, I recall." Legolas said humorlessly, "But what plagues my mind is that we shall be nearing it soon, and I can't help but wonder how it is we shall cross it."

"We'll just....." Merry's face fell as he realized what Legolas meant. The bridge they had travelled was broken beyond repair, there were no other crossings that Aragorn mentioned and the waters were far too rough to be crossed by boat.

"Well, I suppose we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it." Pippin said and received dark glares from his companions, "Figuratively speaking of course."

Merry and Legolas sighed deeply and looked back towards Murenya; they seemed unable to pull their gaze from the mountain for long. It was decided that they must keep moving and they pulled together their belongings and set out once more. They soon reached a small hill and knew they would be able to see the river from the top though it was still a fair distance away.

Legolas wished to be with his companions on the mountain but knew he could not go near it, so he contented himself with moving away from it. He longed to feel warm again, or at least not nearly as cold as the ice currently wrapped around his bones. He suddenly shivered greatly but it was lost among the non-stop shaking of his body. At no fault of the Elf though, he should have paid the chill the attention it deserved. Perhaps then he would have spotted the great number of dark eyes that watched them from just over the ridge they were about to pass.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Meanwhile, Aragorn, Giml, Gandalf, Sam and Frodo slowly approached the Mountain of Murenya. They could clearly see the caves they would have to use in order to enter the mountain, but they were still far enough away as to not be spotted by any Mesteague scouts. Currently they were all crouched low beneath an overhanging rock ledge that hid them well. Aragorn had explained the plan and it was simple enough in theory but would prove challenging in practice. Night would fall shortly so they were to wait until the cover of darkness. They were going to approach with as much speed as possible and make their way, not to the obvious cave openings in front but to the farside of Murenya where Aragorn knew of a passage-way long hidden, one he hoped the Mesteagues hadn't discovered. It would be a tight fit but he believed they could all use the entrance to slip into the mountain unnoticed.

Richastas would be somewhere near the center of the network of caves, so they would use stealth to get as deep into the mountain as possible without being noticed. If necessary though they were to risk all should a chance to kill Richastas arrive, Aragorn explained.

"His evil is great and his power even more so." Aragorn said to the group as they sat in wait for the sun to go down and end the day.

"We shall not let you down, or the rest of Middle Earth. This darkness will be stopped here and now." Gimli pledged, lifting his ax for emphasis.

"I hope so as well. Remember to keep your senses sharp and be on the lookout for Mesteagues. We have no way of detecting their approach without our Elf companion." Gandalf said to the group.

"Won't the Mesteagues smell us coming? They always knew where we were before." Sam pointed out.

"No, they won't know we are there unless we are seen. They trail us by scent but in this place the smell of their leader and the evil he creates greatly overpowers that smell so we may go undetected." Gandalf explained.

They had all settled into comfortable positions against the rockface and as they waited patiently all their thoughts returned to their friends who now headed in the opposite direction.

"Do you think Legolas will be all right?" Frodo asked as his gaze wandered down the mountainside.

"Yes, I believe he shall recover swiftly as he gets away from this place and the darkness within it." Gandalf replied, his thoughts were also deeply troubled by the seperation of their group.

"Well I can only imagine what he must have felt this entire journey. I'm no Elf but even I can feel the evil that dwells here; I shudder to think what it was like for Legolas." Sam said, rubbing his arms to try and ward off the sensation.

"Elves are sensitive creatures indeed, and I do not envy our friend for his experience. But he is far from here now so we should not worry ourselves." Aragorn said as he checked his blade and other provisions.

"I will be as focussed as anyone in regards to our quest, but nothing can keep me from worrying about Legolas's well being while we are parted." Gimli stated.

"Well said son of Gloin, but we must at least try to banish such thoughts for the time being. It has grown adequately dark and I feel we must be on our way. It will take little more than an hour to reach the entrance I spoke of." Aragorn explained as he sheathed his sword and stood to indicate they must leave.

The rest of the company followed and gathered up only the supplies that were absolutely necessary, they then started on their quest once more. For over an hour they climbed up the northern slope of Murenya's base, the cave entrance that they seeked was not far up the mountain, but a great distance around it. It took time for the group to climb around the area while trying to hard not to be seen, though none of them saw or heard anything to indicate nearby Mesteagues.

Aragorn led the way and together they clambered over rock, stone, bush, and dirt. It was a rather hard climb but eventually they found what they seeked.

"Hold. The cave is just up ahead." Aragorn said, indicating a slight bend in their path. They made their way around the corner and Aragorn smiled when he saw the pile of rocks that lay seemingly undisturbed.

"They have not found it. Help me clear the entrance if you will." Aragorn requested as he started to move the stones away from their path. Aragorn and Gimli took care of the larger rocks while the Hobbits moved the smaller ones. Gandalf acted as a supervisor of some sorts, but was actually on the lookout for their enemy who could attack at any time. Eventually they cleared all the stones. Aragorn lit a torch and leaned into the cave, peering around. There were rather old cobwebs nearby and no fresh foot prints to indicate that anyone had been in the passage-way recently.

"All seems clear." He announced. The entrance was rather small, but it depended on who you took into consideration was going in. The Hobbits and the Dwarf had no trouble at all getting through the entrance and Aragorn and Gandalf took only slightly longer to squeeze themselves in. They were all inside shortly enough and together they stood staring down the long passage. Aragorn held the only torch and they were to put it out as soon they reached an area residing with Mesteagues. These parts of the tunnels were long and narrow enough for only the two Hobbits to walk side by side. The ceiling held jagged stones that looked as though they would fall at any moment and the ground was hard, harder than most and loud when walked on. They had reached the beginning of the end of their journey. In Richastas's own lair they now stood. It permeated with evil and stank of Mesteagues, but they had made it together, for the most part.

"Never did I wish to venture into a cave again, least of all so soon after our adventures with the Orcs." Frodo said as they took their first tentative steps forward.

"Me neither. And now we are even without our Elf-torch." Sam added as he followed behind.

"I for one am glad Legolas is not here with us now. If he was suffering badly from being so close to this evil before I fear that him standing with us in these caves may very well be the death of him." Gandalf said softly, a touch of sadness and regret hinting in his voice.

"But Elves are immortal. He could not die." Frodo said, shocked by the remark.

"I wish Elves could live forever, for they are wonderful folk, but they can be killed I'm afraid. There are several ways of which I will not discuss now." Aragorn said, his voice just below a whisper indicating they shouldn't be talking at all.

No one spoke after that and they ventured in silence, further into Richastas's lair. Into the heart of evil.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Legolas, Merry and Pippin made their way over the small hill, knowing each step greater distanced themselves from their friends. Their hearts were still heavy with a worry that would not be satisfied until they met with their companions once more. The sun began to set but could still be seen on the horizon and the small group decided to travel until the light was all but gone.

Legolas wondered why he was shivering so badly. He had started to feel slightly better, somewhat less cold, but now the warmth he had gathered seemed to be slipping from his grasp. As hard as he tried to reclaim it though, it was diminishing quickly. The Elf was baffled as to the reason, for they were leaving Murenya behind them and he should have started to feel warmer some time ago. Realization struck suddenly and he stopped and shot to full attention, looking over every inch of his surroundings.

Merry and Pippin noticed this immediately and Merry asked, "What's wrong?"

"I believe M..mesteagues are n..nearby." The shivering had gotten worse and Legolas stuttered his words once more.

The Hobbits visibly paled and looked around as well, not seeing anything out of the ordinary.

"What do we do?" Pippin asked, unsheathing his sword as he spoke. Merry did the same.

Legolas removed his bow from his back and pulled an arrow from his quiver. He closed his eyes and searched deep inside his soul, in his very heart, for an inner light that glowed in all Elves. He looked deep inside himself and found his light, using all his remaining energy he intensified it by sheer will and fought back the cold, making it bearable once more. He breathed a sigh of relief and opened his eyes with a new determination set to his face.

"I do not believe the choice is ours to make." Legolas commented. He aimed his bow high and let loose his arrow over the ridge. There was an ear- piercing scream as the Elf killed a Mesteague that had been lying in wait. With that shot the battle was joined!

Mesteagues, dozens of them, ran over the hill. Their fury was great and their speed even greater. Legolas shot as many as he could as they approached while Merry and Pippin stood back to back, prepared to defend themselves. The Mesteagues converged on them, they had no plan of battle, no strategy in their moves, they just attacked! Merry and Pippin both killed several of the beasts, but more kept coming and coming. Legolas's bow quickly became useless for there were too many, and they were too close so he was forced to use his daggers. He could feel the cold creeping back up his spine but he ignored it and focussed on his enemy.

"Legolas, there's too many!" Merry shouted over the battle ground as his sword plunged into the leg of a Mesteague. He was right. They were being attacked on all sides and the three had no real chance to defend themselves.

Legolas turned to offer a shout of encouragement but never got the words out of his mouth. He was hit hard from behind and he stumbled forward, losing his balance. A few moments later a heavy, blunt object struck him at the back of the head. At that moment Legolas's surroundings became darkness and his world faded to black.

~~~~~~~~~~~

After taking a few minutes to replace several of the larger stones, so the cave entrance wouldn't be spotted, the remaining members of the fellowship ventured forth into Murenya. The caves were wretchedly dark and the pure black walls seemed to soak up all light. Every footstep the group took echoed for what seemed an eternity, and every second seemed like minutes. No words were spoken between the company as they slowly made their way through the caves. They walked for only a dozen or more minutes down the first hallway before they came to a section that was blocked off by a pile of rocks.

"What's that?" Frodo asked, his voice just under a whisper.

"When last I came here I found this entrance and did not want it to be discovered by any others. I blocked off the opening in the mountain face as well as this one. It is by great luck that the Mesteagues have not found it." Aragorn explained. He passed the torch to Sam and began removing the rocks. Together the group cleared the entrance swiftly and they were able to see into the dark halls of the Mesteagues' lair.

It was just as dark as the hall in which they stood, but the floor did not seem as loud when walked on. There were clear indications that someone had been by this area a short time ago, but they had obviously paid the tunnel no mind. The walls and floor seemed to vibrate slightly beneath their feet, and the company thought there was a voice that went with the movement of the floor. It was almost as if the ground were speaking in a low whisper, more like a murmuring without real words than anything else. The air was stale and they cringed as the overwhelmingly repulsive smell of Mesteagues filled their nostrils. Aragorn immediately put out his torch so as not to be seen should any of their enemies approach. The small group replaced the rocks once again, knowing that if they were to leave here alive they would not have to use the secret passage but could leave by more appropriate means, such as the larger entrances at the front of the mountain. The halls were wider than they had expected, with room enough for three to walk side by side.

They took their first steps into the mountain, with Aragorn in front, Gimli behind him, then Sam and Frodo, with Gandalf bringing up the rear of the group. They spoke not a word to one another, and ventured silently into Murenya one step at a time. Several torches were mounted at random intervals, providing just enough light for the group to see by. The highest levels of caution were used by the company and they took no chances. All corners were waited behind in case the sound of Mesteagues drew near, and they moved with little haste so as not to miss any creatures that may be hiding in the shadows. After half an hour of silent journey they had still encountered no enemies, though they could all sense and smell that the Mesteagues were nearby.

Finally the silence was broken when Frodo asked softly, "Aragorn, how is it you know which direction to take?"

Aragorn stopped and lowered himself to speak to the Hobbit directly, "I have been through these tunnels before and it is not a visit I would be soon to forget for my mind does not allow it. Trust me when I say that I know where we head."

Frodo nodded, his eyes telling all that needed to be said; he completely trusted Aragorn and would follow him where he went.

Aragorn led the way once more and again stopped when they reached a turn in the corridor. He leaned against the wall and listened. His face hardened and it was clear to all that he heard something on the other side. Crouching down low, he turned to the group and bid them to make no noise, he then peered around the corner for only the briefest of moments. He motioned for the his companions to back up and they did so without question. Standing at full alert, with his sword pulled and ready, Aragorn waited.

Seconds later a lone Mesteague turned the corner. Before he could even shout a cry of alarm Aragorn had wrapped his arm around the creature's head and covered his mouth, he then plunged his sword deep into the Mesteague's back. The beast cried out but his voice was muffled by Aragorn. The son of Arathorn pulled his sword free and caught the limp body of the Mesteague as it fell lifeless into his arms. Wordlessly he pulled the creature further back to a darker section of tunnel, with Gimli picking up the Mesteague's legs so they wouldn't drag. They left the body in a forgotten corner, the first of many that would fall beneath them.

"Let's be off." Aragorn bid them softly as he moved to lead the way once more. The group followed without question, blindly walking into corridors that would hold only death and destruction.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry and Pippin couldn't help but feel a horrible sense of deja vu as the Mesteagues had overtaken them. Though they fought strong and bravely, the two Hobbits were simply no match for the great mass of creatures that attacked. At the moment they were both conscious, though Pippin was suffering from a blow to the head that he had sustained while trying to escape their enemy's grasp and there was already dark bruising apparent on his cheek. They knew it was best to remain motionless while they were carried away, closer and closer to the dark mountain where evil waited for them. They were keeping in check a great fear as they imagined what may happen to them when they reached Murenya, but they found some hope in the memories of their escape from the Orcs who had captured them in much the same way only two months before.

Though the two worried for themselves and their friends who ventured to Murenya, their thoughts were also plagued with deep worry for Legolas who remained unmoving. They had been forced to watch in horror as the Elf was taken down by a large Mesteague and knocked unconscious, and both had worried that he would be killed. But they were able to sigh in partial relief as the Elf was harmed no further and was now being carried like themselves. Undoubtedly they were being taken to the mountain to be placed at the feet of Richastas himself.

The Mesteagues moved with haste across the fields, wishing to return to their master as soon as possible to be rewarded for their deed. To them the capture of the three was a great accomplishment, as all their other attempts to kill the fellowship had failed. They were determined not to let their leader down this time and they were careful to never give their victims a chance to escape. The Mesteagues did not travel close together, but spread out over a large area. The three who carried Merry, Pippin, and Legolas moved together, with another half a dozen Mesteagues close by, but the rest of the dark creatures were spread out randomly across the entire field width. This was the way they travelled in which they covered more land, and could find intruders in hiding, and this way if their prisoners ran there would be Mesteagues in all directions to stop them from escaping.

Merry's thoughts were currently centered on possible plans of escape, though he saw little hope of that with so many Mesteagues about and their numbers being so small. But still he kept his mind focussed on the possibility of it, for he did not wish to let his thoughts wander to more unpleasant things such as what should happen to them when they arrived at the mountain. Movement to his left caught his eye and he turned to see Legolas stirring; it was clear he would wake up shortly as his head began to loll from side to side. Merry didn't know whether to be happy or not, several times the Elf had gotten them out of near impossible situations but the Hobbit feared even Legolas could not defeat such a great number of enemies. But Legolas was never one to say die.

Even as his mind barely entered the realm of the awake Legolas knew something was wrong. His head hurt terribly and his body was moving, though his feet were not. He was currently strung over the shoulder of a rather large Mesteague and he knew that was not a good place to be. Before he could take in the situation fully, his body swung into action. He kicked out and struck the creature carrying him hard in the chest; the Mesteague did not expect the move and dropped the Elf as he stumbled back. Legolas stood on his feet shakily and prepared to attack again but the cold struck out once more.

He withdrew into himself as he finally acknowledged the chill which entrapped him so completely. When he had awoken he had not taken the time to notice it as he acted immediately, but now he felt the cold all too well. It was as bad as it had been at its worst, causing his body shiver and his teeth to chatter. His very soul felt as if it was entrapped in ice and he knew there was no escape. He tried to push the feeling back as he looked up at his enemies.

The Mesteague he had struck had recovered and was charging at Legolas, who also saw a great number more of the creatures nearby. He noted that two carried Merry and Pippin under their arms. Looking at his friends in that state he was moved to act, the memories of Emyn Muil still sharp in his mind. He had been unable to save the Hobbits then, but he must at least try to help them now. Pushing down the cold somehow he blocked the swing of the Mesteague heading for his head, and struck the beast hard across the jaw, knocking him to the ground. Turning behind him Legolas kicked at another creature and ducked a punch from the next. Quickly though he began to see this plan would not work; there were far too many creatures to defeat alone and he was without his bow or daggers. But Legolas would not give up this fight and he prepared to strike at another approaching Mesteague. But just as he pulled back for the hit he faltered as suddenly an intense wave of cold struck him, even worse than before. He could not block this deep feeling of being frozen from within and as the cold hit he found he could not follow through with his attack.

"Legolas run!" Merry chanced to shout, hoping his friend could somehow escape these creatures.

But it was of no use. Legolas had neither the strength, nor the presence of mind to run, the penetrating cold kept all thoughts and actions impossible. An attacking Mesteague plowed down the Elf from behind, knocking the wind from Legolas's lungs. He tried to kick out at the creature once more but found himself pinned down by the Mesteague and several of its companions.

Merry and Pippin clenched their eyes shut as the Elf fell beneath the beasts, knowing escape was now impossible and nothing good could from this attempt to run.

Several of the Mesteagues landed a few punches on Legolas's face and chest as they held him down, re-injuring his newly healed ribs. As he gasped for breath they released him, knowing he would not be getting up right away. The head Mesteague, Richastas's personal general, came forward and kicked the Elf in his damaged rib-cage. Legolas tried to breathe but no air would come and it was long seconds before he felt fresh oxygen in his lungs. But during all this he still could not pull his thoughts from the terrible, unforgiving cold that still caused him to shiver even as he was being overtaken by the Mesteagues.

As Legolas lay on his stomach, gasping for air and shivering with cold, the Mesteague general kneeled before. The creature reached out and grabbed a handful of Legolas's golden hair, wrenching back the Elf's head so he could see him clearly.

"You tremble in fear, as you should." The general's sadistic smile increased as the shudders of Legolas's body worsened. He had no way to know of the great cold that actually caused the shivering, he cared only that he instilled fear in the Elf's heart. "That was a stupid thing to do and you shall pay for it when you are brought before Richastas." The Mesteague's voice was shrill and wreaked havoc on the Elf's ears.

Legolas could give no reply as he still gasped for breath and fought against the shivering of his body. The general seemed to grow bored and threw the Elf's head back, releasing his hair. Legolas fell on his back as he hit the hard ground, now looking up into the twisted spikes and darkness that made up the Mesteagues. The general pulled his foot back and delivered a kick to the temple of the Elf, sending him once more into unconsciousness.

One of the Mesteagues bent down to pick up the fallen Elf, but the general pushed him away and said, "I will take this one myself. You are careless and nearly he escaped. Richastas will hear of this." The general snarled and the other Mesteague crept back, not wishing to face his master's wrath. The general picked up Legolas and slung him over his shoulder effortlessly. "Now move, all of you. We are to return at once."

The Mesteagues all headed out once more, with their three enemies captured with no real chance of escape. The creatures were very confident that their master would be pleased and the dark beings smiled devilishly as they thought of what would happen to their prisoners when they reached their mountain home once more.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Frodo and Sam were both disturbed to be returning to the darkness of tunnels, with their stale air, and compact hallways, but they both kept their feelings to themselves, knowing they were not to talk and should simply be focussed on completing their mission. Richastas was an evil that could be destroyed at the moment, but if they were to wait and allow him to grow more powerful and build large his armies, then Middle Earth would surely be doomed and they would quickly fall beneath his wrath. So it was that perhaps the fate of all the lives of the residents of Middle Earth rested on the shoulders of the fellowship that now made their way through the long, dark passages in the Mountains of Murenya.

Still Aragorn led the company around bends and passages, never faltering in his step but always being cautious as to their movements. To the small Hobbits the darkness seemed endless as they entered a section of the caves that was cut off from all sources of light. Gandalf didn't dare provide them with any illumination from his staff for fear of drawing Mesteagues so they walked in darkness.

After several minutes they still had no light of which to see by and they all became restless of the dark. Aragorn halted suddenly; there was something about this area that he should remember, but at the moment what it was slipped his grasp. He lowered his head and tried to think back to his visit to these tunnels and imagine what it was he was not to forget.

Gimli, who walked after Aragorn but not directly behind him, didn't notice the Ranger's absence in the dark and assumed he still lead the group. The Dwarf walked ahead several steps, oblivious to the danger he was in.

In his mind, Aragorn could finally picture what it was he had forgotten and even now he kicked himself for allowing his mind to forget. He looked down as Frodo bumped into his leg and he realized in horror that Gimli had passed him in the dark.

"Wait!" Aragorn said in a low whisper but in such a voice that must be listened to. He rushed ahead and could sense Gimli almost directly in front of him.

"What's wron...." Gimli was cut off as he began to lose his balance. It was impossible to be seen in the dark but in the passage-way ahead of them there was no floor to be walked on. Instead there was only a deep pit, dug deep into the ground with immense spikes littering the bottom. Gimli had stopped only a step away from falling straight in, and he now stood on the edge, waving his arms in an attempt to regain his balance and not drop to his death.

Aragorn moved fast and grabbed the Dwarf around the waist and pulled him away from the pit's edge. Together they stumbled to the ground, both thinking that that encounter had been far too close for comfort.

"That's what's wrong." Aragorn said as he got up then turned to face the group, "In just a few steps, the floor disappears and forms a pit whose bottom you do not wish to reach. If memory serves me correctly there is a ledge around the chasm, wide enough for us to use to go around. I shall lead."

At this point it was decided that the most minimal of light could be risked by way of Gandalf's staff. Gimli, Sam, and Frodo all peered curiously down into the dark pit and shuddered at the sight of skulls and bones of warriors long since killed by the deadly trap. They found the ledge easily and all used a cautious step to be sure not to fall into the chasm that had claimed so many already. Once across they breathed a sigh of relief, but Aragorn assured them that now that they had passed the well laid trap they would undoubtedly find themselves deep in the heart of the Mesteague's home.

But still they continued onward, showing no fear of what may lie ahead. More tense minutes passed and light returned to the caves by way of hanging torches. The tunnel went straight for some time but eventually they could see a section of passages ahead of them that clearly split into several directions. Not only that, but also in the next corridor they could hear the shrill voices of Mesteagues. It didn't sound as though there were a great number of the beasts, but there was at least a dozen and the company knew the next few steps must be taken with great wariness.

They had not thought they could make it through the tunnels without running into Mesteagues, on the contrary they felt quite fortunate to have gotten this far with so little trouble, but feelings were still mixed as they were about to face the creatures on their own ground. But they were prepared for this and all stood ready for the fight that would soon be engaged.

At Aragorn's signal Gandalf spread his arms, calling forth a chilled wind which targeted the torches that hung from the ceiling and extinguished every flame. The halls were now enshrouded in total darkness. The Mesteagues shouted in confusion and could be heard stumbling about. Out of darkness, the company attacked! Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf, Sam, and Frodo all rushed forward into the corridor, weapons drawn and ready. The Mesteagues never knew where the attack came from and none escaped as the group slashed and stabbed at all that was moving. They flanked through the corridors, making sure to keep away from each other so as not to wound a companion in battle.

The Mesteagues screamed in pain and others ran about looking for a way of escape. They knew not who attacked them, or how many there may be and the company fought ferociously. No one was spared from Aragorn's sword, which struck strong killing blows, or Gimli's ax that hacked at the creatures, killing many beasts. Sam and Frodo both fought strong and bravely for people of their stature and worked together the best they could in the dark passages. Sooner than it seemed the battle was over, and Gandalf restored the light to the passages. None of the company sustained any injuries and the floor was littered with the bodies of dead Mesteagues. They had won this battle, but there was still a war to fight.

"Bravely fought, all of you. But there is no time to rest, we must be off." Gandalf said. Aragorn nodded in agreement and led the way once more. They immediately fell into their formation and followed wordlessly. There was still far to go.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Mesteague general was beyond nervous as he stood outside the entrance to his master's chambers. He could hardly be blamed for what had happened, it wasn't his fault in the least since he had been away from the mountain the entire time, but still he would be punished for his men's misdeeds. Swallowing back the lump in his throat the general entered the room and bowed low as he was faced with the pure mass of evil that was Richastas.

"What do you have to report?" Richastas's deep voice asked, seemingly penetrating every fibre of the Mesteague's being.

"We were successful in our mission. We have captured our prey as you requested and they are unharmed, though the Elf is incapacitated the Hobbits are well enough. They are being held just outside and shall be brought forth at your order." The general replied, hoping that the good news of his success might, just might make him worthy enough to live through this day.

"What of the rest of the fellowship? Where are they now?" Richastas never gave praise to his minions, only orders which were to be followed to the T.

The Mesteague hesitated, not wishing to tell his leader the dreadful news, "Their location is unknown. They passed around the mountain rather swiftly and kept themselves well hidden. They were lost from sight when they began to scale the northern slope. I have several troops scouring the area, there are no entrances along that side so they must be somewhere on the base. I promise you they will be found."

Richastas was not happy, and the deep grumbling from the back of his throat proved it, "You have lost them?! The only ones who have any chance in all of Middle Earth of somehow stopping me and you have let them slip through your fingers?!" The dark lord was fuming and did not mind letting anyone know.

"Yes, my lord. But I assure they will be found with the utmost haste." The general stammered over his words trying to recover but one look in his master's eyes and he knew what would come.

"They will be found, but you shall not live to see it!" Richastas summoned forth several of his minions who took hold of the general, "Kill him. Show no mercy and then bring me his second-in-command."

The general knew he was doomed when he heard the fellowship had been lost and he did not fight when the guards led him away. Richastas watched as they took him and smiled sadistically as he heard the general's shouts of pain from the next room. The Mesteague second-in-command entered the chamber and bowed.

"You are my new general. Do not disappoint me." Richastas's eyes moved towards the doorway to where his former general still screamed in agony. The new general was not even phased, he simply stood tall and proud.

"I shall not fail you." The Mesteague promised.

"I doubt that, but you shall get your chance. Now bring me the Hobbits and Elf. Let us find out what this fellowship is truly made of."

~~~~~~~~~~~

Legolas lay unmoving on the cold floor for what seemed like hours; he was awake by the barest definition of the word, but he was unseeing and unhearing of all around him. Merry and Pippin were beyond worry about their friend. They had been thrown into the dark room nearly an hour ago, after a long trip up the mountainside and through the tunnels they eventually found themselves deep in the heart of the Mountain of Murenya. The room was free of all windows and there was only one door to leave and enter through, which was heavily guarded by several Mesteagues.

Legolas had laid completely still for nearly half an hour while the two Hobbits huddled against the wall and urged him to wake up. What worried them most was not the shivering, that was to be expected as they were brought within the mountain; no, what worried the Hobbits was the fact that the glow around Legolas that had been so bright in the Caves of Teril, could barely be seen now, and it continued to fade as more time passed. They had breathed a sigh of relief when he had finally opened his eyes, but the result was not what they had expected.

The Elf shook terribly, ten times worse than before, and though his eyes were open they were glazed over and it was clear he was seeing nothing as he gave no reaction whatsoever when Merry and Pippin waved their hands and snapped their fingers directly in front of his face. He just laid there, not flinching or moving as the Hobbits shouted in his ear and shook him in an attempt to get any sort of reaction at all. Nothing worked, he didn't even blink. It was clear Legolas was trapped within himself and couldn't find a way out.

Legolas, for his part, did feel and see everything his small friends did to try and rouse him, he was simply unable to get his body or mind to react in any way. He was trapped in ice, ice so cold that it couldn't be described. He was the epitome of cold as his body shivered violently and his mind slowly shut down. His very soul felt numb and every inch of his body, inside and out, was as though it had crystalized into ice.

He was sure that if he should try to move his body would crack and crumble onto the floor as flakes of ice. But he could not move, could not even think of moving, he could only lay there as he froze. There was nothing that the cold could be described to, for all other colds are caused from without, and can be blocked somehow and the body rewarmed; this cold surged from within and was relentless in its overtaking of the Elf's body. It couldn't be blocked in any way, it couldn't be made less, his body couldn't be warmed, it simply had to be accepted. And Legolas had to try and survive through it until the evil that caused it, that was so close now, was destroyed.

Richastas was close indeed. Far too close for the trio's good. One had only to go down the corridor directly ahead, take a left and you would be at the immense room that served as the Dark Creature's chambers. That was, if one could get past the hoards of guards that surrounded the area. It was Richastas, that was now so near, that caused the unimaginable cold within Legolas's being. His life force was so dark and so powerful that it ripped through the Elf and dimmed his inner light, freezing him beyond imaginable comparison. Richastas was pure evil, there was no doubt, but unlike other evils he radiated waves of his power, sending life to his Mesteague minions, it was these waves of immense darkness and bitter cold that touched an Elf's soul.

To many Elves just being within the Mountains of Murenya with this great evil would have ended their lives. The cold would have been too much to bear and the pain and grief of feeling no warmth in their lives would have been their demise. But Legolas was young, as Elves go, and had yet to see all he wished, and live as long as he liked so he was able to hold on to some semblance of conscious thought, deep in the recesses of his own mind. He refused to give in to this evil and hatred, he had lived through too much to die now. So he would hold on and not allow this evil to dimish the tiny spark of life he still held close.

Merry and Pippin sat together, beside the shivering Elf. In an attempt to keep their minds off what their fate may be, and to try and disspell their fear, the two Hobbits talked non-stop to Legolas, even though he never said anything they kept up his part of the conversation quite well. They had no idea what was going to happen to them, or what may have happened to their companions that had ventured to Murenya on their own and they worried for them deeply. But worrying never helped anything, and there was no way to help their friends now, but they thought they may be able to help pull Legolas away from his inner turmoil. Together, Merry and Pippin reasoned that if they talked to him he may be able to hear them and focus on their voices somehow, and not the terrible cold which trapped him. They didn't really know what else to do, so they talked, and they talked, and they talked.

"You should have seen this party. It was wonderful, cakes, and ale, and dances. Half the Shire was there." Merry said enthusiastically.

"Oh yes. One hundred and eleven, I do hope I can grow to be that old and look as good as Bilbo." Pippin added. For nearly half an hour they had been talking to the Elf, but still there was no change in his condition.

Merry sighed and moved closer to Legolas and said, "I do wish you'd say something. It's very rude not to answer when someone's speaking to you, especially for as long as we have."

"It's not going to work Merry. Whatever's wrong with him, I don't think it's going to be helped by talking." Pippin told him, though his heart was heavy to admit it.

"I believe you're right, but there's little else we can do." Merry replied, his eyes downcasting sadly.

Legolas could hear his friends though, and longed to reply and tell them he was still there and that everything would be all right. But he couldn't. He was trapped within walls of ice in his own mind. He mentally screamed for release and pounded against the cold but nothing he did would release him. It was tearing at his heart seeing the Hobbits in such a state and being unable to help them in any way. After searching deep within his soul Legolas had managed to touch, and then grasp his Elven spark of life*. That spark held within it all that made him an Elf, his kindness, love, understanding, forgiveness, wisdom, determination, and strength. He held onto the tiny flame, knowing it was the only thing keeping him alive so close to such evil. The spark would not go out, Legolas was determined to keep it alive and guarded it with all his being, never allowing the cold and darkness to touch it and destroy its purity. After awhile though he found the spark beginning to brighten.

He thought back to his memories of his home in Mirkwood, and remembered all the joy and love he felt there, from everything; from the trees, the flowers and all the Elven people. He looked inside himself and found his own love for all creatures, and thought of his wonderful friendship, with Aragorn, all the Hobbits and Gimli, son of Gloin. And still his spark brightened. As he thought of all his quarrels and jests with Gimli, Elf- friend, his spark flourished even more. The flame began to build and it fought back the cold. Legolas could feel the walls of cold decrease, and while he could not destroy the cold with his flame of love and life, he could hold it back.

Merry sighed in despair as he sat on the cold floor of the dark room that served as their cell. It was a horrid place to be but the Hobbits would gladly stay there for weeks rather than have to face the evil master that dwelt within the walls of Murenya. As Merry sat there, silently willing Legolas to do anything he was suddenly granted his wish.

"He blinked!" Merry announced happily, jumping to his feet.

"Really?" Pippin did the same and joined Merry by the Elf's side.

"Legolas, can hear me?" Merry asked hopefully as he moved so as to be directly in Legolas's vision.

Legolas blinked again, then again. He suddenly took in a deep breath and his eyes moved about, scanning the area and his surroundings. The Hobbits were thrilled when they realized that he was glowing much stronger now as well. His eyes focussed on the two Hobbits and he managed a half-smile.

"M...m..erry? P..p..pippin?" Legolas looked at the two in amazement, he had thought he would never speak to them again. His body was still racked with cold and his words were stuttered by his chattering teeth, but he was alert and with them again.

"Your favorite Hobbits, at your service. Though I'm afraid we don't have much to offer at the moment." Pippin said drearily as he looked about the room. "We are glad you're awake."

Legolas took in the dark, bare room and the Mesteagues which were clearly just outside the door, these things only served to confirm his fears that they were indeed within Murenya's walls. "Your f...f..riendship is enough, for y..y..our concern warms my heart and helps me fight this c..c..cold I feel."

Merry and Pippin helped Legolas sit up as he leaned back against the wall.

"About that. What happened to you? You had Pippin deathly worried!" Merry exclaimed as he recalled the fear that had clutched his heart as the Elf lay unconscious.

"Me!?" Pippin looked at Merry in mock anger and received a look that clearly told him to drop the subject.

"I..i..t is hard to explain, and I f...f.eel I do not quite understand it myself. P..p...perhaps at a later date I will be able to t..t..tell you what happened." Legolas stuttered. He tried hard to stop his teeth from chattering but it was impossible. He was too close to the darkness of the beast, Richastas.

"I understand. You must conserve your strength anyway, there is no way of telling what fate awaits us." Merry said as his eyes wandered to the door which was the only exit from their prison.

"D..did you note any way of escape we may use, w...w..when they brought us h..here?" Legolas asked as he scanned the room looking for ways out.

"No, I saw nothing. The tunnels were dreadfully dark and we have spent, must be near an hour in this cell." Pippin replied hesitantly. He had lost all track of time and had no way of knowing how close to the true hour it was.

"We sh..shall have to wait until an o...opportunity presents itself then." Legolas tried to emit an air of confidence in his voice but it was near impossible with his teeth chattering so badly. But still the Hobbits smiled at the effort.

A loud clang could be heard from the hall, and suddenly the door burst open. Four extremely large Mesteagues entered, none looking very happy. They approached the trio and prepared to take them away. Each Hobbit was picked up by one of the Mesteagues while the other two each grabbed an arm of the Elf. The three friends were in no position to fight back, and they could clearly see more guards waiting in the corridor anyway, so allowed themselves to be taken without a fight. Legolas kept his eyes and ears sharp as he took in everything about their surroundings, looking for some way of escape, however small. But alas, he neither saw nor heard anything that could indicate escape would be possible.

Merry and Pippin really didn't enjoy being carried around like sacks of potatoes but they knew the Mesteagues didn't care, so kept their mouths shut. The three were not brought far, after only a short trip down the hallway they had reached their destination. The massive door leading to the room was opened and a Mesteague walked out proudly. Richastas's newest general.

"Bring the prisoners inside." He ordered the Mesteagues that held the three; noticing the panicked faces on the Hobbits' faces and Legolas's apparent trembling he added, "You should feel honored. You get to meet our great leader, Lord Richastas. He has great plans for you, and your friends." The general smirked and led the way inside.

With no choice in the matter, Merry, Pippin, and Legolas were brought in after him. They were to meet Richastas and it was him who would decide their fate.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

An hour after their first battle within the walls of Murenya, Aragorn, Gimli, Gandalf, Sam, and Frodo had already encountered the Mesteagues on three more occasions. They used the same strategy every time, attacking their unsuspecting enemy in the dark, and so far had sustained no injuries to their company. Things were going as well as could be hoped, each encounter they had had included no more than two dozen Mesteagues, an easily overcome number with a group as strong as themselves. With each strike they grew more and confident in their eventual triumph, and even closer to Richastas.

Together now, they walked cautiously through the poorly lit halls of Murenya, always wary of attack and ready for battle. Sam and Frodo tried to hide their discomfort that came with being in the dark passages, but were somewhat unsuccessful and all knew that they longed to be anywhere but in the tunnels. Gimli felt quite at home, though he did not enjoy or welcome the evil of this place, he was quite accustomed to being underground. But his mind was plagued with other thoughts, thoughts of worry for his friend, Legolas, who was not with them. The Dwarf cared deeply for his friend and couldn't help the unwelcome thoughts that passed through his mind.

Aragorn moved with great stealth and caution, as well as amazing confidence as to their direction. He seemed to know exactly where Richastas would be and led them well through the passages. It appeared as though he wasn't phased at all by the dark corridors of the tunnels, and that gave the rest of the company great strength. Gandalf was unreadable in his feelings, he showed no fear, and though he walked with caution no one could tell what the wizard was thinking or how he felt.

So they continued in silence. Talking only when necessary, and sometimes not even then. They would often use hand signals to get their message across so as to make no noise at all. They eventually reached another area that was filled with a great number of Mesteagues. Aragorn stopped them and signalled for all to make their weapons ready. As always Gandalf extinguished all sources of light, and then the company attacked. These Mesteagues were slightly more disciplined than the creatures they had faced so far, and didn't immediately panic as the darkness fell. Instead they stood ready to fight, but the fellowship had the advantage of surprise.

The Mesteagues were felled, one by one, though the battle took longer than usual due to the size and strength of their opponents. At one point Frodo suffered a blow to the head as he was shoved roughly into the wall, but Sam was close by and struck out at his master's assailant with fierce determination. It was long minutes before all their enemies were struck down, and everyone was exhausted by the time Gandalf returned the light to the dark passages. The floor was covered with the bodies of the Mesteagues, but they were too fatigued to take notice now.

"Please, Aragorn let us take a brief rest. We can not hope to overtake this entire mountain without allowing time to regain our strength." Frodo pleaded as he rubbed the bump on his head and sat against the wall.

"You speak wisely, for I feel the dreariness in myself as well. We will stop for a little while." Aragorn resheathed his sword and looked about the room. It was unlike any area of the mountain they had yet encountered, it was rather large and there were tables and machinery set about everywhere, all with dark tools and sharp weapons strewn about them.

"What is this place?" Gimli asked as he picked up some of the weapons to inspect them.

"I believe it's their armory. They're preparing for a great assault on Middle Earth." Aragorn replied as he too looked over the craftsmanship of the weapons.

"Doubtless we are nearing the center of the mountain, and should soon reach Richastas's lair." Gandalf told the group.

"That is not an encounter I look forward to." Frodo remarked from his place on the floor.

"Nor do any of us, but it is not something we can avoid." Aragorn replied, placing the weapons back on the table.

Gimli was not yet finished though and continued moving from table to table, inspecting each tool and weapon the Mesteagues had made. Something on a far table across the room caught his eye. Every workstation carried the same tools and machinery and made the same kind of weapon, and all equipment used was black as pitch. But on a far table the Dwarf could just make out a weapon of a slightly different color. As he drew nearer to the table he could better see the weapon, and his blood ran chill as he made out what it was. He prayed to himself that it was not what he thought, but somehow he knew it would be. Bursting into a run he raced across the room and picked up the object; the one weapon in the room that was different from all the others.

"Oh, no." He muttered under his breath, sorrow, worry, and fear all being expressed.

"What is it Gimli?" Aragorn asked as he came over to see what could effect the Dwarf in such a way.

"I fear the worst for our friends, Aragorn. My heart tells me they are not dead but I have no way of which to know the truth." Gimli turned to face the Man and held before him the weapon, "Behold, Legolas's bow."

Aragorn stopped and stared at the bow that Gimli held, shock written all over his face. It was indeed the Elf's weapon, only Lothlorien could have made such fine a bow and they all recognized it as Legolas's own.

"It cannot be." Aragorn whispered, but he knew it could and it was.

Frodo and Sam approached now and also stared at the bow, and their minds became filled with horrible premonitions of what happened to their companions. Looking past the Dwarf, Sam saw something else that caused a shiver down his spine.

Sam pulled on Frodo's sleeve and pointed to a spot behind Gimli, "On the table. Merry and Pippin's swords."

Frodo didn't wish to see the swords, believing that if he didn't see them they weren't really there, which would mean their friends hadn't been captured by the Mesteagues, or worse, been killed. But he knew he must look, and as he followed Sam's finger he did indeed see the weapons of the two Hobbits.

"So they're dead?" Frodo's voice was below a whisper as he asked the question they all dreaded to hear.

"We have no proof of that. Until I find the body of my friend I will not give up on Legolas, or the young Hobbits." Gimli stated strongly, and all knew it to be true.

"True we have no proof of their deaths, but we have nothing to indicate our friends live either," Aragorn replied, his voice was weary and his face showed lines of worry and doubt, "What was I thinking sending them out alone?" He berated himself, clearly putting the blame on his own shoulders for any harm that may have come to Legolas, Merry, and Pippin.

"It is no fault of yours, Aragorn. None of us could have foreseen this. We all underestimated the Mesteagues' speed and cunning, and even I did not think they would be able to catch our companions, or know of their leaving. But clearly I was mistaken." Gandalf said as he finally ripped his gaze away from the bow that Gimli clutched like a lifeline.

Aragorn lowered his head, deep in thought, "We have no way of knowing what happened to them, but if they were captured they were most likely brought to Richastas which is where we head anyway. So come now, we are to continue on, but with greater haste. We have no way of knowing how long the dark creature has held them and I will not make them wait a second too long for our arrival."

"Yes, let us be off now and find our friends. I will chop out this Richastas's heart with my ax if need be." Gimli said; he placed Legolas's bow upon his back, clearly intent on returning it when they found the Elf. He then searched over the table he had found it on and soon picked up Legolas's quiver as well; there were still several arrows in it so Gimli took that as well. Sam and Frodo each took one of the swords; they would find Merry and Pippin and return them in all haste.

The company moved on again, out of the armory and into the dark caves. Their hearts were weighted down with worry over their friends, and all suspected the worst somehow, though none of them voiced their thoughts. If their friends were dead they would avenge their deaths with all the fury of Middle Earth, and none involved in the ending of their lives would live to tell of it. But until then they all clung to the hope that their companions lived, and it was simply a matter of finding them in time.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The first thing Legolas could feel as they were brought to Richastas was pure, dark, and unfathomable evil! The room was shadowed to such an extent that he doubted he would have been able to see anything were he not an Elf. The only light came from a single torch, burning faintly on the far wall. It was a simple area, much like all the others except for its immense size and the huge throne that sat at the front of the room. The Mesteagues forced Legolas, Merry, and Pippin towards the throne, when they reached it they were released and dropped to their knees and forced to bow, just as the Mesteagues did. To the three is seemed an odd thing to do though, there was no one in the huge chair after all.

Then Legolas raised his eyes and looked closer. The throne was encased in shadows and darkness; the torch was just far enough across the room so that no light touched the chair, but Legolas could tell something was there. Richastas stepped forward.

He didn't move through the shadows, or against them, but with the darkness, and it seemed to follow his every move. The Mesteague leader towered over the three at nearly twelve feet tall, and the Hobbits suddenly felt even smaller than usual. He was complete darkness, his skin and patches of hair were pitch black, as were the spikes that protruded from his body. The spikes varied in size, some were short and grouped together, others were long and threatening such as his great shoulder blades; but they were all deathly sharp. He was like a walking shadow of death, his body was black as were his teeth and hands. In fact the only way to distinguish him from the darkness was by his glowing red eyes, that burned like fire. He looked down at the friends and the red pupils intensified.

Legolas, Merry, and Pippin were no longer being held by the Mesteagues around them, but still they could not move. They stared at Richastas as he loomed over them and could not tear their eyes away. Pippin thought that he looked looked like a balrog, if it were only darkness and not fire. Merry couldn't form a coherent thought, he lost himself in the penetrating fire eyes of the Mesteague leader, but he did know that he should be afraid. Legolas was kept in place by the tightening grip of the cold that was once more trying to claim him. He forced himself to fight it back though and retain his spark, he would not withdraw into himself and leave Merry and Pippin to face this evil alone, though he still could not hold back the shivering of his body. He closed his eyes and looked within himself once more, finding his inner light and attempting to strengthen it.

"The mighty fellowship. The ones who destroyed the Ring of Power, we meet at last." Richastas's deep, threatening voice did nothing to help the fear the held tight to Merry and Pippin.

"Y..you know, w..we weren't actually inv..volved in the Ring's destruction." Pippin pointed out stammering slightly. But it was no fault of the Hobbit that he felt such fear, for there were little more than a handful of beings in all of Middle Earth who could have come face to face with Richastas and not cowered in fear.

Richastas growled from within the back of his throat and Pippin immediately shut up and downcast his eyes. The Mesteague leader then focussed on Legolas and something akin to a smile passed over his face.

"You at least are sensible, Elf. You cower in fear before the dark lord." Richastas's voice held a hint of pride and satisfaction at the thought that he made Legolas tremble so.

Legolas opened his eyes and lifted his head, having rekindled his inner spark, and looked Richastas directly in the eye. There was no fear to be found in the Elf's gaze, only sheer determination and a will that would not be broken. That was not what Richastas had wanted.

"You have no fear? You will soon enough." Richastas hissed. He obviously had plans for the three and they would not be to the trio's liking. "But why do you shiver so?" The dark creature smiled cruelly once more as he realized the Elf's plight. "Your heart is frozen. The cold of my being effects your own. It is only a matter of time before the cold and dark overtake you."

Legolas would not let that happen and kept his teeth from chattering long enough to state strongly, "I shall not be overtaken by your darkness. I do not fear you and as long as I cling to life I shall fight against you and I promise this, all of Middle Earth will do the same. You shall not win, for evil never does."

Legolas had barely gotten the words of out of his mouth before he hit the floor face first, as he was struck hard from behind by one of the Mesteagues.

"No one speaks to our master that way." The Mesteague snarled as he pulled his leg back and struck the Elf again, this time in the stomach. Legolas gasped for breath and was glad he was healing quickly once more. He would not hurt for long and thankfully he had yet to be cut by any Mesteague claws so there was no venom in his veins. He looked over to Merry and Pippin and saw that they were being ignored by Richastas and most of the Mesteagues; that was what he wanted for if the dark creatures were focussed on him they would pay no mind to the Hobbits and he would do anything to keep them from harm.

Richastas kneeled down to better observe the Elf and then lowered his voice to a sinister whisper and said, "You do not know the meaning of evil. Nor cold or darkness for that matter. Perhaps you should like a taste."

Legolas didn't completely understand what he meant, for nothing could be worse than the cold that overtook him at the moment. Richastas could see the confusion in the Elf's eyes and smirked, then Legolas felt it.

The dark wave crept forward and struck the Elf. And as his very soul was seemingly ripped away, he screamed! It was a mixture of pain, denial, and gut wrenching agony that seemed to go on forever.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The company walked through the silent corridors of Murenya swiftly, they still checked around all corners and were cautious of an attack, but now they had to race against time. Every second they wasted was time added to the period that Legolas, Merry, and Pippin were held by Richastas. None would entertain the thoughts that their friends may be dead, it was not a possibility in their minds. For if they were to even consider it they may lose themselves to grief and worry. As they turned a corner the group suddenly halted dead in their tracks and a great fear swept through everyone's heart; Sam and Frodo covered their ears as to block it out, but still they could hear it.

The silence was shattered by a heart-stopping scream that filled the dark passages and reverberated off of every wall. It was a sound of torment and pain that assaulted the ears of the company and threatened to bring tears to their eyes. After long seconds, nearly half a minute, the scream ended and became only an echo in the caves. But still it rang out, loud and clear within the minds of the company.

"My god." Aragorn muttered under his breath, shock and horror evident in his voice.

"Please don't tell me that was who it sounded like to me." Sam pleaded as he looked at each member of their group, hoping they had heard differently than him. But they had all heard the same scream, and it would ring out in their nightmares for many days.

"If it sounded like Legolas to you, then I fear you're correct." Gandalf said drearily, his voice just above a whisper.

"What if we're too late?" Frodo asked suddenly.

"We aren't. But we may be if we linger here for any longer." Gimli announced, "Come, all of you. We do our friends no good standing about like statues." And as he said this, he charged ahead through the corridors.

"Gimli is right. We must hurry for we cannot be far now." Aragorn led them again, following the direction he believed to have heard the dreadful roar that would haunt his dreams.

The company moved with great speed now, winding through the halls swiftly. But even as they tried to focus on their surroundings and the battle that was sure to come, they were torn by unsure hearts. There was no way to know if the scream had come from their Elf friend or not, and in some ways they hoped it had not. Though they wished to find their friends it was obvious whomever the shrill cry came from they were in great agony and suffering, and the company was not eager to find their companions in such a state. But still that was where they were headed, if it was their friends who were trapped within Murenya they would free them and hunt down those who caused them pain. Such was the bond that had formed between these eight companions.

As they rushed on, they soon came to an even darker section of tunnels. The light was quickly becoming scarce and the dark harder to see by and Gimli found himself wishing for Legolas's eyesight to help him in the search for his friend. After only minutes Aragorn halted them, bidding them to listen closely. They all did so and could clearly hear the sound of Mesteagues mingling about, only a short ways ahead in the tunnel. A good number of Mesteagues in fact.

"There is no time to forge a plan. I have no doubt our friends lie beyond these guards. Our focus is only to get past them, from there we will make a plan and search then for our companions." Aragorn explained as they readied themselves for another fight.

"Aragorn, I fear you forget our true reason for this quest. Our main concern is Richastas, for if him we do not slay then there is no hope for Middle Earth, and that includes Legolas, Merry, and Pippin." Gandalf pointed out; his wisdom none to be questioned.

"Indeed you are correct, and I have not forgotten but my heart tells me we shall find them with Richastas, so my goals are one in the same." Aragorn replied, his eyes were lit with determination and a certain impatience to just be standing about. Though he was a man of noble blood he cared deeply for all he knew and loved and would risk anything for them; knowing his friends were in such danger was tearing away at his heart.

"We will not forget why we're here. But let us hurry, for I do not wish time to run short." Frodo said, his voice smaller than his tall companions', but he spoke with reason and a good heart.

Aragorn and Gandalf met eyes and nodded, course of action set. Moving as one, the group took off down the hallway, they stopped at a sharp turn in the corridor and waited. Aragorn peered into the room and saw that the number of Mesteagues was indeed great, and he hoped they would be able to overcome such an obstacle. But he was also sure that the creatures were guards, the first they had encountered. And he believed that if there was only one thing in this entire mountain that the Mesteagues wished to guard, it would be their leader and life-giver, Richastas.

He turned back to his company, the ones who he had stood by for so long. An odd assortment they must have seemed when all together. Four Hobbits, venturing far from their homes, such merry and small creatures compared to whom they travelled with. A man of the noblest blood, but who preferred to be among nature and be treated as an equal. A wizard, undoubtedly the strongest in the land, spending his time with not the wise and powerful but the more simple creatures of Middle Earth. And last an Elf and a Dwarf, the most unlikely pair, but it could not be denied that their friendship was one of the strongest of their land and would be broken at no costs. And they had indeed been through much, as you already know, and still more they would go through together. Through their struggles they grew stronger and closer, and this was simply another struggle of which to pass.

Aragorn smiled grimly with these thoughts, but banished them from his mind and refocussed on the task at hand. With a silent gesture he motioned for his friends to prepare themselves. Unsheathing his own blade, Anduril, he held it ready and with another motion of his hand he urged them forward.

With a roar of beings who know what it is they must do and are determined to do so, the group charged forward into the hall. The Mesteagues were shocked to say the least by the sudden and grand arrival of the company and were taken quite offguard. Each of the warriors fought with all their might and their determination was behind each swing of their weapon. Some Mesteagues screeched in surprise, and perhaps for back-up, for they did not know that most of their companions within the mountain had already fallen to the company. But several Mesteagues did emerge from behind the large door in the hallway, and they immediately helped in the battle.

Aragorn's sword struck out at his enemies, making sure to waste no thrusts of his blade he ensured that each swipe killed a Mesteague with a single blow. He swung wide, slicing a creature across its stomach; another rushed at him and he moved out of the way, causing the Mesteague to strike one of its companions that had been sneaking up behind Aragorn. The second Mesteague was killed by the blade of the first, and the first was killed by the sword of Aragorn.

Gimli wielded his ax with practised ease and all that crossed his path were downed by the unstoppable blade. Being a creature of small stature he was able to duck many of the attacks and then hit his opponent with a blow that was very much unexpected in its strength. His ax flew through the air with perfect precision; he struck a Mesteague in the chest, burying his blade deep, as he pulled it out he used the momentum and struck another foul beast to his left. The dying creature took a swing at the Gimli, but the Dwarf ducked and instead the Mesteague struck air and then fell and died.

Sam and Frodo worked well together. When either one was in trouble they were swiftly helped by the other. Frodo dodged the claws of a Mesteague by crawling beneath the creature's legs. The beast watched the Hobbit crawl away and when he lifted his head he lost it to the blade of Sam. Frodo then jumped to his feet and he and Sam stood back to back, neither allowing the other to be struck from behind. They were ignored by most of the Mesteagues though who were focussed mainly on the larger members of the company who were killing many foes.

The Mesteagues screamed in pain and death soon followed as the fellowship's blades continued hitting their marks. It was a battle zone, plain and simple. There was blood and death everywhere, but the company had yet to suffer any injuries. They fought strong and bravely, never backing down and shortly the fight became much more to their liking as the number of Mesteagues decreased.

The battle was then interrupted, and everything stopped for the briefest of moments as all eyes travelled to the large door in front of which they fought. Another mind-bending, heart-breaking, ear-splitting, scream came from behind the doors and the company feared the source was once more their dear Elf friend, Legolas. The momentary distraction was had by all as the shrill cry of pain and torment was not one to be ignored, but all beings soon freed themselves from their thoughts and focussed on the battle once more.

But the warriors for the good of Middle Earth could not banish the thoughts of their friends behind those doors, least of all Gimli who was worried deeply for his dearest friend. The Dwarf was determined to give Legolas a horrible lecture about making him worry so, but first he must find him and he meant to do just that. Seeing that the rest of the company clearly had the situation in hand, and the number of enemies had grown greatly fewer, he headed for the doors that must have held his friend behind them. Running across the room of battle and jumping over the bodies of his foes, Gimli reached the doors and pushed them open; entering Richastas's lair. Then stopped.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Darkness.

Cold.

That's all that there was. All there had ever been. All that he could ever have in the future. If you believe that darkness and cold have an ending, and there has to be a point where the cold became its coldest and the dark its darkest, then you are dearly mistaken, as Legolas found out. The darkness was forever and grew only worse. He could find no sign of his Elven spark, nor did he have the strength or sense of mind to search for it. The cold was everywhere and everything, intensifying along with the darkness around him. It was the blackest of blacks within the Elf's being and as cold as the heart of Richastas himself. Black ice. That was all Legolas could think of to describe what he was now. He was no longer an Elf, no longer alive, no longer feeling, he was just black ice.

Knowing how the darkness of his being affected Legolas, Richastas had unleashed his true power for a short time, allowing all his black energy and cold of heart to hit the Elf like a massive tidal wave. The shock and pain of taking in so much darkness and evil caused Legolas to shout out in pure agony as he felt his soul being washed away and replaced by the nothing that made up the evil master. His spark of light that he had been grasping so tightly was completely ripped away from him and extinguished, joining the darkness. Thankfully, Richastas could only unleash his full power for a short time, or risk weakening himself and he would not do that. But for the few seconds that he let loose all his evil, Legolas had known what truly made up Richastas and he wasn't sure he could ever feel warmth or light again, the evil had been so overwhelming.

Finally Richastas's darkness was reigned back in and Legolas returned to a state of cold that he partially welcomed, for it in no ways compared to the unending torrent of darkness and cold to which he had just been exposed. He lay on the floor, shivering as before but now his breath came out in deep rasps as he gasped to regain the air lost to him by the cold. He was curled into a tight ball with his arms wrapped protectively around his head and his eyes clenched shut. Now that the assault was over Legolas searched his soul for his spark, his being. A great feared gripped him when he could not find it, there was only cold and darkness. But then, from the shadows he saw it. The smallest of lights, like the twinkling of a star on the blackest night. He reached for it, and it was so far, but he fought through the dark and cold, the black ice, and reached the spark. It was weakened, but it still shone.

"Legolas?" Merry took the chance of creeping towards the shivering Elf, his concern overpowering his fear of angering Richastas. A quick shake of the Elf's shoulder offered no immediate response. Merry and Pippin shared a fearful glance with one another, neither knowing what had happened to their friend. All they knew was that Legolas had been generally well one moment and the next he had collapsed to the floor screaming, and now he lay silent and shivering.

Legolas clutched his spark close to him and tried to forget the inifinite cold that had invaded him. It was a difficult task with the still bitter and almost unbearable ice that still attacked him, but he could see the worried face of Merry and that urged him to recover from this near deadly blow.

Merry and Pippin's hearts soared with relief as Legolas slowly lowered his arms from his face. His breathing was still erratic and his body shook terribly, but he managed to lift his head and meet Richastas's gaze. There was still no fear in Legolas's eyes, in fact the dark master was sure he saw defiance in his stare, as if the Elf was daring him to try and break his will. It was a challenge that angered Richastas, but it was one he accepted.

"I am unharmed Merry." Legolas said softly to the Hobbit that sat by his side, never ripping his gaze away from the Mesteague leader who sat tall in his throne across the room.

"But not for long. None go against the great lord Richastas, and that is a lesson you will quickly learn." Richastas's voice told that he was angered and that he had something brewing in his mind. Merry and Pippin shrank back at the words, but Legolas never faltered in his gaze.

He summoned forth two out of the dozen guards that stood in the chamber but before he could give them their orders there was a roar from outside the immense doors that drew everyone's attention. They could hear the sound of metal clashing against metal and the shrill cry of Mesteagues, either in great pain or dying. None knew what was going on but Legolas, Merry, and Pippin had a hopeful guess.

Aragorn and the others, they've come. I only hope they walk not into their doom. Pippin thought to himself as looked towards the door, hoping to see his friends.

"See what's going on out there! Now!" Richastas ordered half his guards. They swiftly bowed and left the room, immediately joining in the battle outside.

The distraction was what the three had been waiting for and though they didn't know if they could escape Richastas himself, they felt they at least had a chance against half a dozen Mesteagues.

Legolas leapt off the floor and sprung to his feet, pushing the cold down somehow. He struck a nearby Mesteague hard across the jaw and snatched the creature's sword when it stumbled. The Elf swiftly ran the Mesteague through with his own weapon and then turned to his next opponent behind him. The two swords clanged against one another and Legolas could tell the Mesteague was stronger but he would not give up. Feigning left he quickly changed directions and struck the creature on its right side, striking hard he nearly cut the Mesteague in two.

Merry and Pippin were ready when Legolas jumped up. Following his lead they both sprang to their feet, Merry kicked the closest Mesteague hard in the shin while Pippin stole his blade and plunged it into the beast's chest.

Half his remaining guards had just been felled by these three prisoners and Richastas was not happy. Rising to his feet but not moving away from it he called out, "Stop them, or you will all be sent back to the firepits from which you came!"

Legolas tried to fight down the cold but it was quickly starting to overpower him once more. Richastas's general suddenly came forth and attacked the Elf. Legolas held him back for a few moments but the cold would not be ignored. A sudden intense wave of evil hit and he faltered in his step. The Mesteague took advantage of this immediately. Grabbing Legolas's arm, the general forced the sword from his hand and in one fluid movement he spun the Elf around so his arm was wrenched painfully behind his back in the Mesteague's grip. The general obviously knew the weaknesses of Elves because then, with his free arm, the Mesteague pressed hard against the back of Legolas's neck directly against the most painful pressure point in the Elf's body. Knowing he had hit the right spot the general pressed against the point as hard as he could.

Legolas knew of the Elf pressure points but had never had them used against him in such a way. The pain was sudden and piercing as the Mesteague had known it would be. He screamed unwillingly as more pressure was applied to his neck and suddenly black spots dotted his vision.

The sound of battle outside the great doors could still be heard, but it was ignored by all. For there was a battle going on in the chamber as well.

Merry and Pippin stopped fighting and turned to Legolas as he screamed in pain. The Hobbits ran forward to help their friend trapped in the general's clutches but should not have dropped their guard. Behind them two Mesteagues approached and grabbed them before they reached the Elf. Holding them tightly the Hobbits could only dangle their legs as the Mesteagues lifted them off the ground and held them. The Mesteagues easily could have killed them but did not since Richastas had not given orders that he wished them dead.

Richastas's general finally released Legolas and the Elf fell to his knees, no longer able to take the horrible mixture of pain and cold he knelt unmoving and gasping for air as he waited for the pain to pass. The general looked to Richastas for orders and the dark master just nodded his head in approval and gave permission to continue. A twisted smile passed over the Mesteague's face as he picked up the sword Legolas had dropped and raised it high above his head. Merry and Pippin watched in silent horror as the general did this and then wordlessly the sword began to fall, heading straight for the neck of the shivering Elf beneath the general's feet.

Before the sword could fall though the massive doors burst open and Gimli rushed in, battle-ready with his ax in hand. The Mesteague's blade never finished its descent, as the general turned to see who the intruder was. Gimli stopped as he looked over the situation he found himself in.

Merry and Pippin were in the grasp of two Mesteagues but appeared unharmed, a dark throne sat near the end of the room and its occupant was surely Richastas himself, and his dearest friend knelt defenseless on the floor, shivering and about to be decapitated by a Mesteague. Without hesitation Gimli threw his ax across the room with deadly precision. With a cry of shock and pain the distracted general fell to the ground lifeless as the ax imbedded itself deep in his chest.

Merry kicked the Mesteague that held him hard in the stomach and Pippin bit his captor in the arm, and both were freed as the creatures yelped in pain. The Hobbits scampered away quickly, each picking up a discarded sword as they did so, and raced to Gimli. The Dwarf ran into the room, followed swiftly by Frodo, Sam, Aragorn and Gandalf, none of whom suffered any injuries so far. Several Mesteagues followed after them as well, the battle in the hall had not finished it was just moved into Richastas's chamber. The fellowship was reunited once more, held together in battle. Now the real fight would begin.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aragorn had been fighting hard in the hallway when he had seen Gimli enter Richastas's chambers. He knew it was a mistake to go in there alone, even if their friends were in danger, so he quickly called the other members of the company to follow him immediately. Aragorn, Gandalf, Sam, and Frodo rushed through the doors only moments after the Dwarf, a group of Mesteagues not far behind. As he entered the room Aragorn's heart soared, and he momentarily forgot they were in the middle of a battle when he saw Merry and Pippin running across the room towards him seemingly unharmed. He had been worried beyond measure that they would find their companions gravely injured or perhaps worse, but seeing his small friends moving so swiftly he felt a new surge of hope for their quest.

But that hope was quickly snatched away from him as his eyes continued to roam his surroundings and his gaze landed on Legolas. The Elf was sprawled on the floor, unmoving except for the deep shudders that racked his body. Gimli was swiftly making his way to Legolas's side and Aragorn wished for nothing but to do the same, but to do so could mean their downfall so he was forced to continue battling. With every ounce of strength he had, he pulled his gaze from his fallen friend and focussed on a Mesteague directly in his sights. Raising his sword high Aragorn struck the creature and with one fierce swing ended his life as he freed the creature from its head. Sensing someone behind him, he ducked low and felt a hard blade just miss his head. Swinging back around he plunged his sword deep in the Mesteague's belly. Not bothering to watch the creature fall to the ground he surveyed the room once more, seeking his friends but he was unable to get a clear view of anyone as another wave of Mesteagues attacked.

Aragorn, Gandalf, Sam, Frodo, Merry, and Pippin all fought hard against the Mesteagues, killing many of the dark beasts as they attempted to protect their leader. Though a few of the foul creatures would enter the room every few moments, the company had gotten through the larger portion of Richastas's forces and they were still fighting strong. The Hobbits did not get the grand reunion they had hoped for, but each of the four had shared a relieved smile before engaging in the battle and they were now fighting back-to-back. The chamber soon became a war zone, the bodies of dead Mesteagues covered the floor, along with the black blood of the dark beasts. The fellowship soon began to feel the drain of battle, but it was strongly ignored. They all knew they must continue on and defeat the dark evil within the Mountain of Murenya.

As the company fought back the slowly decreasing number of Mesteagues, Gimli raced to Legolas's side. The Dwarf hacked at a Mesteague that got in his way, hitting it high in the leg, wounding but not killing it. Gimli didn't have time to finish the job, he needed to get to his friend. Several more long strides and he reached Legolas's side, then he immediately fell to his knees to check on the Elf that was sprawled on the floor. Gimli removed the bow and quiver from his back, mostly so they didn't get in his way any more than they had, and placed them on the floor next to Legolas. He reached out and shook the Elf's shoulder, hoping for some response.

"Wake up my friend, this is a dreadful place to decide to fall asleep." Gimli said, his voice echoing his great concern. Though his shivering didn't abate any, the Dwarf was rewarded as his friend took in a deep, raspy breath and opened his eyes. He immediately withdrew into himself slightly as the shock of awakening hit and the cold returned. Legolas met Gimli's gaze and the smallest smile graced his tired face; his friends had come as he knew they would. Gimli smiled in return and couldn't help but get in a sly comment to commemorate the reunion.

"You had us worried Elf. What have you to say for yourself?"

Legolas looked up at him and replied quickly, "L..look out!"

Gimli swung around without hesitation and slammed his ax's blade into the side of a Mesteague that had been sneaking up behind him. "Thanks for the warning." Gimli said over his shoulder to Legolas as he stood ready for attack.

"L..least I could do." Legolas replied. He tried to lift himself from the floor but found he was completely drained of all his energy and couldn't even pull himself to a sitting position. The adrenaline surge he had managed when the battle outside had erupted was now worn off, and he was using all his remaining strength trying to fight off the terrible cold he felt within.

Gimli plunged his ax deep in the chest of a Mesteague, then ducked the blade of another. He kicked the impaled creature off his weapon then swung around and sliced into the other's stomach, felling the dark beast swiftly. Having no opponent at the moment the Dwarf looked about the room to assess their situation. All the members of their company were unharmed and fighting strong against the still dwindling number of Mesteagues. No more reinforcements came to assist the black creatures and that made Gimli believe that they had already defeated the greater portion of Richastas's forces. What made him worry though was the dark master himself. The battle had been raging for several minutes already and still Richastas just sat on his throne, tall and silent, watching the fight, seemingly unimpressed.

Though they were winning, there were still many Mesteagues left and Gimli did not think it wise for Legolas to remain in the middle of the battle while defenceless. Turning back to his friend the Dwarf could tell that the Elf was struggling to get to his feet and fight back the great shudders of his body, but he was making slow progress and could not even get to his knees. Gimli took hold of one of Legolas's hands and pulled him to his feet, he then moved to support the Elf by slinging his friend's arm over his shoulder. Though their sizes were hardly compatible the two managed to move several feet across the room. Gimli planned to deposit his friend in some dark corner of the room where he would be out of sight and hopefully out of danger, but that was not to be so.

"W...what t..took you so l...long?" Legolas couldn't help but ask, a small smile wrapping around his chattering teeth as he argued with his friend.

Gimli huffed loudly, half from the insult and half from the strain, "If you think you can battle your way through an entire mountain of enemies any faster, than I'd like to see it." Legolas chuckled but gave no reply and concentrated once more on trying to set one foot in front of the other.

As blood was spilt and dark lives were ended, it was becoming increasingly more obvious that the fellowship was going to be the one to win this battle. But Richastas decided that they would not win the war and felt it was time to make his presence felt. Rising to his full height the dark master moved away from his throne and stepped forward only one pace. All others in the room were too busy battling to take any notice, even of an overwhelming force such as himself. This did not please Richastas and he gathered forth only a small portion of his power to draw their attention.

Legolas felt the cold increase and he turned to who he knew to be the source. Richastas stood tall above all others and appeared to be preparing for an attack of some sort, though the Elf knew not what it could be. Gimli turned to follow Legolas's gaze and upon seeing the foul lord standing before his throne he lowered his friend back to the floor and drew his ax.

Aragorn, Gandalf, and the four Hobbits were far too involved in the fight to notice Richastas's movements. Though they were winning, they were also tiring and had to concentrate on conserving energy and still winning the battle. The Hobbits were also slowly being backed away from the others and they struggled to remain near Aragorn and Gandalf for they knew none of them should be seperated.

Richastas looked over the room, and his red eyes glowed brighter as he released but a fraction of his power and bellowed:

"Enough!"

His deep voice echoed throughout the room, bouncing off walls and ears alike. And along with the great boom of Richastas's call, came a great wind that he called forth, swirling with dark power. The immense gust of air swept through the room, coming straight from the dark lord himself, hitting warriors of both good and evil. No one was prepared for the attack so they were unable to defend themselves in any way. All the Mesteagues were pushed back hard and most hit the walls of the room, though they recovered quickly and did not seem surprised by the show of force from their master.

Aragorn, who had been ducking the blade of an opponent when the great wind struck, fell onto his back and proceeded to slide several feet across the floor but remained unharmed. The four Hobbits were the worst off and let out a yelp as the gust actually picked them up off the floor and slammed them into the wall, causing them all to fall to the floor in a great heap. Gimli was weighted down by his ax and heavy armor but still he was pushed back hard and struck a support beam in the room, causing him to drop his weapon. Even Gandalf was taken by surprise and his great white cloak billowed around him as he was forced to withdraw several feet. Legolas, who was already on the ground when the wind swept through, was able to dig his hands and feet into the ground enough so that he merely slid back only a foot or so. The great torrent of air also caused Legolas's bow and quiver to slide across the floor, both of which landed directly in front of the Elf.

It lasted only seconds and when the wind died down a strange silence filled the room. Richastas simply stood there, towering over all and scrutinizing each of his enemies that lay before him. The few remaining Mesteagues seemed to know their master's will, that he would take care of things now, and they all fled from the room as silently as possible. Aragorn shook off the shock of the attack and jumped to his feet immediately, noticing the departure of the dark beasts he focussed completely on Richastas. Gandalf moved to aid the Hobbits who were all stunned from their impact with the wall, but none seriously harmed. Gimli also stood and moved swiftly across the room to retrieve his fallen ax. Now that Richastas's power was unleashed Legolas found he couldn't move for the cold was too overwhelming, so he stayed on the floor shivering, unable to act in any way, hardly able to think.

"You are the mighty fellowship? You are nothing but a mismatched band of outcasts." Richastas chuckled greatly, the laughter was loud and evil in all accounts. None of the company reacted as they waited for Richastas to make the first move. "Well, are you not here to defeat me? Let me see you try for I need some entertainment. I shall even make it a slightly fairer fight." And with that, the dark master's eyes shone bright red once more and he lifted his arms high and tilted back his head. A great roar erupted from his throat and all watched in amazement as he began to slowly decrease in size. His appearance remained the same and his evil just as dark but he shrunk greatly.

After a few moments the roar stopped as Richastas finished his change. He now stood only eight feet tall, perhaps less, a great change from his previous twelve feet in height. He looked around the room expectantly, silently taunting the fellowship to attack. The company was never one to back down from a challenge and they knew that they would probably never get as good a chance to attack the dark master. They shared a glance simultaneously and all nodded in agreement. Suddenly the great fellowship rushed forward as one, a great battle cry within their throats.

Aragorn hit first, his sword drawn and ready to end the dark master's life. Although Richastas had no weapon he was still a fierce and strong fighter and as Aragorn's blade began its swing towards his head, Richastas reached out effortlessly and caught the blade in mid air with his bare hand. A look of uncontained shock crossed over Aragorn's face as he attempted to wrench free his sword but the evil lord simply laughed and tightened his grip. With one pull of his arm Richastas pulled the sword from Aragorn's grasp and threw it far across the room, causing it to embed itself deeply into the far wall. His red eyes glowed and he brought back his arm to strike down Isildur's heir, but the blow never came as Richastas turned around swiftly when a surprising sensation struck him from behind.

"You won't be the one to destroy the fellowship, beast!"

Gimli had come up behind Richastas and struck him hard with his ax, but the dark lord's skin was so strong, almost impenetrable, that the weapon caused no wound and the surface remained unscathed. Richastas turned to face the Dwarf and a mighty laugh escaped his lips.

"You fool! You think you can hurt me so easily?" Gimli moved to strike once more, refusing to give up, but as the blow was struck there was once more no visible injury to the dark lord. Before the Dwarf had a chance to move Richastas grabbed him around the throat and squeezed, keeping any air from reaching his lungs. But the Mesteague leader saw the approaching members of the fellowship and knew they must be dealt with as well and with one mighty throw he launched Gimli across the room, causing him to slide several feet across the floor. He lay there gasping for air and trying to regain his composure as the battle continued.

Trying to draw Richastas's attention Gandalf used his staff and sent a surge of lightning bolts hurtling towards the beast. Richastas sidestepped many of them, showing incredible speed. One did strike him directly in the chest but he barely flinched and the blow seemed to serve only to anger him. With an intense glow of his eyes Richastas sent forth another surge of dark wind, stronger than before and this time aimed for Gandalf only. The great wizard was thrown through the air once more, landing not far from Gimli son of Gloin who was only now rising to his feet.

Aragorn managed to retrieve his sword from the wall, though it was driven deeply into the structure he did pull it free, and he looked back to the fight. Gimli and Gandalf were far from Richastas, as was himself as he had left to reclaim his blade, and he realized with unrestrained horror that Richastas had now set his sights on the four Hobbits that stood huddled together with their swords bravely drawn. The leader of the Mesteagues towered over the small half-lings and an evil smile was plastered on his face as the glow of his eyes intensified again. He was easily more powerful, and much swifter than his enemies and the four friends had no defence against such evil, but they prepared to fight even as Richastas moved to strike what would be a terribly devestating blow. But the strike was never landed and finally Richastas roared in pain as he was assaulted from afar.

"Fight someone of your stature, or do you fear a worthy fight?" Aragorn taunted.

Aragorn, seeing his friends in need of help, had drawn the knife from his boot. Knowing it would not be able to penetrate the dark skin or the heavy armor chestplate he had aimed for the one spot he could see that may be a weak point of the dark master; his eyes. The knife flew through the air, fast and true, and struck Richastas hard in his left eye. The great Mesteague screeched a horrible cry and stumbled back, immediately pulling the dagger from his pupil. All could see this may very well be their only chance and together they attacked once more.

During all this, the entire battle of good and evil that would decide the fate of Middle Earth, Legolas was left unnoticed on the sidelines. And it was a good thing as well, for as his dearest friends fought for their lives and struggled to defeat the great evil, Legolas was completely lost within himself and the great cold ravishing his body. As Richastas released his power in an attempt to strengthen himself for battle, the Elf could feel the waves of dark energy streaming from the evil master. The assault had been too much on his already weakened form and he had slipped into unconsciousness. There he floated, completely unaware of all around him. The black ice had returned and it plagued the Elf, even in what should have been the freedom of sleep.

But suddenly a light invaded the darkness of Legolas's soul. A light he thought was lost forever and would never be able to shine brightly again. But there before him was indeed his Elven spark, and within it he could see images; great images of his past that warmed his heart and fought the cold. How he longed for those times and wished he could free himself from the cold, but he contented to watch the memories before him.

~|~ He and Gimli arguing fiercely but laughing at the same time. The Hobbits rushing into the Council of Elrond much to everyone's surprise. Aragorn smiling at the Hobbits' bickering, one of his too few moments of mirth. Gandalf, standing tall and wise as they set out on their journey with the ring. His home! Mirkwood on the most beautiful of summer days with the leaves covered in dew and glistening in the sun, and the trees, the wonderful trees that spoke to him, were tall and proud in the sunlight. His father was there as well, proudly teaching him to use his bow. ~|~

These images came and went before the Elf, all burning into his heart. He was filled with wonder at the sight, but also a great joy. As he watched the pictures pass by he did not notice the growing strength of his Elven spark. For it was that as he saw the immense love in his life his spark grew with great warmth and light. And as the light grew it overtook the cold, it did not push it back or try to fight it, but it engulfed the darkness and evil and destroyed it with the purity of the Elf's light. From within himself, Legolas could feel a great strength and a warmth that was unlike any other. He held onto it and used it as best he could, and he knew what he had to do.

Legolas awoke then, just as Gandalf was thrown back by the might of Richastas. As he opened his eyes, he could still feel the cold, it couldn't be destroyed, but he could also feel his Elven spark, though not as much as he may like it gave him the strength to move against the bitter chill around him. Looking about him he quickly took in their dire situation and he knew something must be done swiftly. Richastas now stood smaller than before, but he could tell that the dark master was just as dangerous. Gimli and Gandalf laid far across the room and Aragorn was pulling his sword free from the wall, he saw Richastas head towards the Hobbits and he knew nothing good would come of the encounter.

He picked up his bow, vaguely noting how good it felt in his grasp, and quiver which was near empty but for one arrow; it was all he would need. The bow shook in his grasp as he was still shaking from cold, but he ignored it. A shrill cry drew his attention and he looked to see Richastas stumble back, a deep gash across his eye. Legolas knew his friends would take the opportunity to attack and he was right. As they all moved in to fight the dark lord once more, the Elf raced across the room as well intent to help any way he could.

Suddenly Richastas let out a great roar, not in pain but in anger! The Mesteague leader was furious and Legolas could feel him unleashing even more of his dark power. The Elf struggled against the cold, but he fell to one knee as the darkness crept back in.

"I will destroy you all!" Richastas bellowed. Dark energy began to swirl around the room, encircling and entrapping the members of the fellowship; all except Legolas who still went unnoticed and out of Richastas's sight. Aragorn, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Frodo were all lifted off the ground by the evil energy and Legolas could see they were in great pain, though they didn't make a sound. Panic and fear flashed through the Elf's mind as he thought of what would happen to him if he should lose his dearest friends. He would die of grief, there was no doubt. But also, all of Middle Earth would fall to this dark power. Mirkwood would be gone, his people and all others destroyed or enslaved. The beauty of this land would be shattered. He could not allow that to happen! Legolas rose to his feet and stood tall, at his full height, and suddenly he stopped shivering. The cold no longer mattered, nothing did but the safety of his friends. As he watched the dark power surge through the room, voices and faces flew through his mind and he listened to them closely.

As he took out his lone arrow and notched it in his bow, he remembered the beauty of Galadrial and what she had said to him.

~|~ This is the strongest arrow known to be made. It can penetrate armor as hard as dragon scales and will not break. Keep it with you, I feel you may need it for this arrow is as strong and true as the person who wields it. ~|~

He pulled back the arrow, causing the string to go tight and as he took aim, Gandalf's words also flowed through his mind.

~|~ If his heart is pierced, by blade or bow, he will die and his followers will die with him. But his heart is so small, it is near impossible to hit. ~|~

And as his friends were lifted further off the ground, and the dark power around him seemed to grow even stronger, Legolas felt a great power within himself. A power of light and love.

Suddenly Richastas laughed, a cruel sound of someone who believes they have triumphed, and then he bellowed, "You think too highly of yourselves! You believed you were invincible since you were after all the great fellowship of the ring! Did you really think you could defeat me? You fools, I cannot be killed by mortal weapons!"

"Then it shall be an immortal weapon that defeats you! For your time is ended!" Legolas shouted, his voice filled with confidence and nobility.

Richastas was so shocked by the outburst that he lost his concentration and the members of the fellowship dropped to the floor. He turned to see this new speaker and that would prove to be the last thing that the dark lord would ever see for as he turned Legolas let loose his arrow!

The wooden shaft sailed through the air with such speed as not to be measured and all that could be seen was the fastest blur through the wind. Legolas was an Elf of royal blood and his heart was strong and true, as was his aim, and this proved to be the strength behind the arrow. Before he knew what had happened Richastas was struck!

The dark master stumbled back several steps and gasped deeply as the arrow penetrated, not only his armor which was the strongest in the land, but also his thick black skin. He looked down in disbelief to see the weapon lodged deeply in his chest, directly in his heart. For the smallest moment the red fire in Richastas's eyes glowed brighter than ever, but abruptly it faded and became almost black.

Aragorn, Gimli, Gandalf, Merry, Sam, Pippin, and Frodo all watched this amazed and as one their gazes drifted to the shooter of the arrow, Legolas. The Elf stood tall and proud, his bow still clutched before him as he watched the fall of the dark master. There was no amazement or wonder in Legolas's eyes as there was their own, only determination and a knowledge of what must be done. He no longer shook with cold and at that moment, just after his arrow was shot, he glowed brighter than ever before. In fact the power of the light emanating from the Elf was so strong and pure that it lit up the dark chamber and made him appear as one of great strength and power who could be defeated by no one. As he lowered his bow though all attention was returned back to Richastas as a great roar of pain and denial escaped his throat.

A great rumbling seemed to be coming from within Richastas and the walls and floor shook slightly with the sound. Suddenly all were forced to brace themselves as a great wave of energy swept around the room, pushing them back and stealing air from their lungs. But this was just the beginning for after that an immense, swirling cloud of dark energy left Richastas's body. It was the dark power that lived within the Mesteague's master and maintained the creatures' life force. In its raw form such as this it was unrestrained and free to do as it pleased. The dark mist of evil energy swirled around the room and all the fellowship shuddered as the cold of it touched their souls. But it was not interested in the group as a whole; no, the dark power immediately sailed in one direction. Towards the great light that engulfed the room and the one who had destroyed the holder of the black magic, it headed for Legolas.

The darkness swirled around the Elf, attacking his body and soul at the same time. It wanted retribution for the life he had taken, the evil he had destroyed and Legolas had no way of fighting back. He was too utterly exhausted from all that had happened already. So he fell to his knees and the evil swirled through him, hurting him but unable to taint him with its darkness for his heart was too pure. His body became stiff as the darkness continued its assault and he lifted his head to show that his once bright eyes were clouded with a darkness that did not belong in him.

"Legolas, no." Aragorn whispered under his breath as he watched the spectacle take place.

None of the company knew what to do. Their friend was being overtaken by the darkness and they were powerless to do anything. All except Gandalf that is. Raising his staff high it began to glow and he closed his eyes in concentration.

"Power of darkness be destroyed, let you come to the light and seal your fate! Mithrandir commands it!" And as his staff shone even brighter, the darkness swirling around and through the Elf left his body and swarmed to the light. For a moment the glow of the staff faded as the dark circled around it, but the power of the light soon won and the black magic was pulled into the glowing orb and there it stayed never to be released again.

When the darkness had swirled through him, Legolas had ceased to exist. His body became the cold and evil and he was no longer there. It couldn't be fought, for he was but one Elf against the power of pure evil and it had overtaken him. Leaving him as only a shell, he had truly become black ice. But as the darkness was forced away he started to return and the great cold was still overpowering. But when Gandalf pulled the darkness away and sealed it in his staff all the cold left at once. Legolas was exhausted, he had no energy left to even lift his head. But then, as the cold was taken and locked away, the warmth returned. It was wonderful and pure, the light of his being glowed as never before and the absolute beauty of it was amazing. But it was also too much for his weakened body. The sudden change from infinite cold, to undescribable warmth was so overwhelming that it overloaded the Elf's senses and ignited every nerve in his body. As welcome as the light was, it caused more harm than good.

With the evil force of Middle Earth destroyed, and his friends all safe, Legolas knew he could finally rest. And as the shock of the loss of cold and sudden warmth overtook him he fell to the floor, unconsciousness following closely behind.

"Legolas!" Aragorn rushed over to the Elf, reaching his side just as he hit the ground. The other members of the fellowship stood silently for a few moments, not reacting in any way. Gimli and the four Hobbits were in a state of minor shock due to all they had just seen, but as Aragorn ran in front of them they were able to snap themselves out of their trance and return to reality. Once back to normal they followed the Man's lead and raced to Legolas's side. Gandalf was feeling the effects of trapping all that dark energy and was slightly fatigued for the time so made his way across the room at a much slower pace.

Aragorn's heart beat wildly and a prayer went out from his heart as he turned over the pale Elf and reached out to check for a pulse. Legolas, you must be alive. He thought to himself. As his fingers touched his friend's throat, relief such as he'd never known flowed through him. It was weak and erratic but Legolas's heart still beat.

As the other members of the company approached no words were said, but their faces spoke of questions they dare not ask. Aragorn gave them the smallest shadow of a smile, enough to ensure them that their friend lived and would continue to do so.

"Will he be all right?" Frodo asked as he knelt down next to Legolas.

"I cannot say for certain. My hope is that he simply exhausted for I see no injuries." Aragorn moved his hand from the pale throat up to Legolas's forehead. He had expected the Elf to be cool to the touch but as his hand passed over the perfect skin he could feel it was searing hot. "He burns with fever."

"No, not fever. It is the warmth of his body returning. The cold is gone from him and the heat is now overpowering, but he should be fine in time." Gandalf explained, "You were right of one thing though, Aragorn, he is greatly fatigued. I dare say this will be the first sound sleep he has had in days."

All eyes fell on Legolas then and their hearts were comforted as they noted that the Elf's face had no lines of pain or cold, but only warmth and contentment. He was resting comfortably and they somehow knew it would be long before his waking.

Pippin turned suddenly as a sight behind him caught his eye. What he saw momentarily stole his voice, so he reached out and tugged on Gandalf's sleeve to get his attention. The wizard gazed down and Pippin pointed to where he should look. Gandalf didn't seem entirely surprised by the sight but his eyebrows did arc in curiousity as he saw what had startled the Hobbit so.

Behind the group, the body of Richastas lay with Legolas's arrow still protruding from his chest, but he was slowly disappearing before the fellowship's very eyes. At first it was almost imperceptible but after a few moments it was clear that the corpse of the Mesteague leader was fading from existence. The friends watched in silent wonder for over a minute, by which time the body was practically transparent. Another minute passed and Richastas was gone with no sign that he had ever existed, for as he disappeared so did his followers. There was nothing left, no blood, no bodies, just a residual trace of evil in the air and the fellowship found themselves completely alone in the dark chamber.

"Well, that was interesting." Sam said, a bit more than surprised.

"I'll say." Pippin agreed, "What happened, Gandalf?"

Gandalf cleared his throat then replied, "Richastas was the life force of the Mesteagues, without him they cannot live so their fate is forever to be linked to his. As for Richastas, his body was simply a shell for the dark evil he held, without that power within him he has no existence."

Merry cocked his head to the side and asked, "Speaking of that dark evil stuff, why didn't you just do that thing with your staff earlier? Might have saved us a bit of trouble." Merry crossed his arms in front of his chest, slightly pouting.

"I could not. I was unable to lock away the dark power while Richastas still lived for it was trapped within him. When his heart was pierced the evil was released and I could then capture it, not before." Gandalf explained.

Satisfied with Gandalf's answer and believing that Richastas was indeed gone for good, Frodo ventured across the room and approached the spot where the dark master's body had been. It was indeed gone. Bending down slowly, Frodo picked up the lone arrow on the floor, the only remnant of the great battle that was just fought. Staring down at the arrow intently he walked back over to the group.

"It's not broken." He announced as he handed the weapon to Gandalf.

"No, it is as Galadrial said, it did not break, even against the strongest armor and toughest skin." Gandalf examined the arrow for only a moment before turning to Aragorn who still knelt by Legolas's side. The Man had either not noticed or not cared about the disappearance of Richastas and his followers.

"We should be off," Aragorn said, lifting his gaze from his unconscious friend, "He will recover more swiftly if we leave this place."

"Yes, and I don't think any of us fancy dawdling around here any longer than necessary," Pippin pointed out and then shuddered slightly, "Horrible, dreadful place it is."

Everyone agreed vehemently and they wearily made their way to the great doors of the chamber in silence. The four Hobbits were exhausted and dragged their feet slightly, but they were jubilant to be reunited once more and they shared a smile of friendship. Gimli walked close to Aragorn, as the Man gently picked up Legolas and carried him toward the exit to the dark chamber. Gandalf stayed unmoving and turned the Elven arrow over and over in his hands as he watched the others leave. A small smile crept over his face as he observed their most odd group. Nowhere else in all of Middle Earth could you find a company such as themselves, so different, yet sharing so strong a bond to one another. And they had once more proven that together they were an unstoppable force, much to Richastas's dismay.

"My friends." Gandalf called out to the retreating forms to get their attention. They all turned swiftly at the sound of Gandalf's raised voice and they tensed in preparation, believing they were about to receive bad news of some sorts. Gandalf smiled to relieve them of their tensions and said, "You should all be proud of yourselves for your brave deeds. Middle Earth is safe once more and its inhabitants can live in peace, thanks to you."

The group glanced at one another, a smile of triumph passing over all their faces. At that moment they all felt their bonds of friendship strengthen and as the moment passed they turned as one to leave the dark caverns and all the evil it stood for. The fellowship had once more stood against evil and won, and as they walked away from Murenya, they didn't look back.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It took nearly an hour for the company to make their way back through Murenya's winding hallways. Although the trip back was much easier, their hearts were at a greater ease and they had all the light they could wish for from Gandalf's staff now that no Mesteagues patrolled the halls. All still held onto a tendril of concern for Legolas, who had yet to wake or show any signs of life, but Aragorn assured them all that he was merely resting and then added that his temperature had dropped greatly as well.

After an hour of walking through the dark passages within the mountain, the fellowship came to the outside world once more. All sighed greatly and then took in a great breath of fresh air as they looked about them. They were pleasantly surprised to discover that it was the early hours of the morning as they exitted and the sun was just rising over the horizon. The friends stood in awe of the great sight of the sun lifting itself high above all else and cascading the sky with a beautiful collage of yellows, reds, and purples.

The weeks of travel and hardship weighed heavily on them all and a great joy swept over them as they stood together, enjoying a simple sunrise, knowing that their homes were once more safe. But they were extremely tired and found a spot to set up camp only half an hour away from the mountain base. Although they wished to be away from the great rockface as soon as possible, they were simply too tired to go very far and Legolas could not be carried a great distance by the already weakened troupe.

They found no trouble resting in the light of day, in fact quite the opposite. The Hobbits cuddled into their beds and allowed the warmth of the sun's rays to lull them to sleep. Gimli, Aragorn, and Gandalf agreed to take turns keeping watch, though they hardly thought it was now necessary to be onguard, they knew it was better safe than sorry. Aragorn volunteered for first watch and as all his companions fell into a sound and fitful slumber, he found himself struggling to remain awake himself. It took a lot to fatigue him so greatly that he could scarcely keep his eyes open, and he was forced to admit that the days had definitely taken their toll. He even resorted to splashing water on his face, but it did little good. Just as he thought he would succumb to the relentless call of sleep, a rustling behind him caught his attention.

He turned to Legolas, the Elf was tossing in his sleep and Aragorn thought he may be ill. Getting up from his perch, the Ranger placed a hand on his forehead only to find that his temperature was back to normal. Aragorn took this as a good sign and as he pulled his hand away, his friend's eyes flickered open. Legolas still seemed exhausted and the Man thought it was most likely pure willpower that had opened the Elf's eyes. As it was, Legolas's gaze landed on Aragorn and he seemed to take a moment to place his companion.

"Aragorn?" His voice was low and it was obvious he was disoriented.

The Ranger smiled, glad that his friend would was recovering and to assure Legolas that all was well, "Yes, it is me. Rest now, you've had a hard few days."

Legolas nodded and a shadow seemed to pass over his eyes as he recalled exactly what he'd been through. He then looked upwards at the sun and a great joy filled him as he realized he could feel its warmth. Every ray that touched his skin was like a gift from a higher power to the Elf, and he revelled in the feeling of heat and the wonderful absence of cold. Looking away from the sun he met Aragorn's gaze once more.

"We won." Legolas said, it was a statement not a question, and there was a great happiness underlying in his tone.

"Yes we did. You can sleep now, you've done all you need to do." Aragorn assured him. Legolas smiled softly and sunk deep into the pillow and blanket that covered him. He was asleep in moments, though this time it was with his eyes open. Aragorn took that as a good sign, for the only time he knew of that Elves closed their eyes in sleep was when they were ill or resting other than naturally.

Watching Legolas drift back into sleep made him even more tired, but he knew he had to let the others rest. He would simply have to find some way to stay awake for three more hours until Gandalf's watch. He cleaned his sword and sharpened it, not wanting it to become dull from battle, but that took little time and he soon became burdened by sleep once more. He sat on a large rock, with his back leaning against a tree far too comfortably for he soon found the lids of his eyes closing much against his will. As hard as he tried, he couldn't fight it and soon his eyes had shut completely and he was rushed into the land of sleep.

He did not stay there long though, for no more than two minutes later a hand clasped his shoulder, bringing him to full alert. Swinging about, he immediately reached for his sword, but looking up he saw only the face of Gandalf. Relaxing immediately he asked:

"What troubles you my friend? All our companions sleep as if they haven't done so in weeks, and yet you are awake still."

Gandalf took a seat next to the Ranger and replied, "Yes, they all sleep, as should you. I shall keep watch, you need your rest." Aragorn was about to protest but Gandalf cut him off, "I am not as tired as you may believe and I think you should be amazed by the limits of my strength and stamina. Go now and rest, it is well deserved."

Aragorn could not argue, for he had no means of which to do so since he had fallen asleep on watch, so he nodded in consent to the Wizard's words and made his way to rest near his friends. Remembering about their Elf friend he turned back to Gandalf and said:

"Legolas awoke not long ago, I believe he will be fine. Though I am not one to think that these past few days will not have their consequences."

"Yes, I saw he now slept with open eyes. That is a good sign. As for consequences, well only time will tell. Now sleep, you look as though you're dead on your feet." Gandalf insisted, Aragorn listened now and settled in for some much deserved rest.

The entire group was exhausted beyond measure so they slept fitfully the entire day, and did not rouse until after dark. The Hobbits stretched out lazily, feeling quite rested but also rather hungry as they looked about the darkness around them.

"I guess we were a bit more tired than we thought." Frodo said when he noted the darkness of the sky.

"Speak for yourself," Merry said stretching, "I knew I would be sleeping for a good many hours."

Pippin peaked his head out from beneath his blanket and looked at the sky, "It may seem an odd time of day for breakfast, but can we eat?"

"I'm just starting the fire." Sam announced as he threw down some branches. Aragorn, Gimli, and Gandalf were all awake now as well and joined the Hobbits around what would soon be their fire. It did not go unnoticed by any that Legolas was the only one yet to awaken. They all cast worried glances in the Elf's direction but none could bring themselves to wake him for he slept so deeply and seemed so peaceful. After finishing their breakfast they gathered their things, all knew they had to move on. Now that Richastas was gone it was time to return home.

"It breaks my heart to wake him." Frodo said, but they had to call Legolas from sleep for they needed to get going.

"I shall do it." Aragorn volunteered and made his way to the Elf prince's side. But his presence was unnecessary, for at that moment a great yawn echoed throughout the camp and Legolas blinked several times, proving his departure from the realm of sleep.

As Legolas stretched, Gimli smiled and said, "I wager you are well rested considering how long you've been asleep."

"Feeling better yes, but I have not yet received as much rest as I need for I still feel fatigued. But I suppose we have to be on our way." He replied, noting the packed bags of all his companions.

"Yes. It's time to go home." Aragorn said, not just to Legolas, and a great joy passed through them all at the thought of returning to their everyday lives.

"Well then, we should be off." Legolas said, stretching one last time then jumping to his feet. He looked up at the night sky wistfully, he wished for the sun to be up so he could once more bask in the wonderful warmth of her rays, but he would have to settle for the warmth of being safe with his friends. Looking about him he saw his daggers, bow, and quiver all resting in a small pile. He sheathed his blades and placed them on his belt, then picked up his bow and quiver, which held only one arrow. It was the one that had pierced Richastas's heart. He decided he did not wish to think of that just now, and so slung both on his back and gave his friends a nod to indicate he was ready to go. They all agreed and were soon making their way back down the mountain, away from evil and horrid memories, and back to the land and homes they loved so much.

Legolas felt his need for adventure greatly filled and did not think he would be longing for another quest again for a good while, but that was what he had thought last time. This brought a smile to his face that Gimli was quick to notice.

"What do you find so amusing, Elf?" The Dwarf asked as he walked beside his friend.

"I was just thinking how glad I am that this quest is over and how good it will be to get home." Legolas answered, his smile brightening even more.

"Yes, it will be good to get home, but it is a long trek. Who knows what adventures we may find along the way?"

Legolas made no reply, but he feared he knew the answer all too well as a chill ran down his spine.



The End

That's it. This is dedicated to all those great readers who reviewed this fic the first time I posted it. You all are the only reason I kept writing LotR. My other fic, The Stone of Malinya, will be finished as soon as I possibly can.