REGARDING THE RAFFLE/CONTEST: Oh man, so I actually had to change it. The thing is, while I was writing the special chapter, I realized that I had to stop because there would be spoilers, and I really, really don't want to have to be more careful when I write. So my good friend Kevin (thanks, Kevin, you aggressive pizza, you) chose the winner(s?), and if you get my PM, congrats. The details will be there. If you didn't, well, that's okay, as well. You still get an update.

"Oh, Cyrulan, where on earth have you been for a month?" you may cry with despair. Or apathy.

Well, friends, I was asleep and being an absolute sloth. However, I saw an HD released photo of Thranduil with his manly diadem (just kidding, it's a tiara, folks) and dressed in armor. What a motivator, I'm just gonna say. Is it hot in here, or is that just Smaug's breath, because damn.

Disclaimer: I am merely a humble pupil under the tutelage of Professor Tolkien's legacy. That is, I own none of his canonical works.

The two men could not help but marvel at the tall, slim barrier that stood between them and the Halls of the Elven King Thranduil. Cirion had been welcomed to many majestic places throughout Middle Earth, but none could compare to the ethereal atmosphere that emanated the underground palace. Though time did not stand still like the other realms that were influenced by the magic of the Three Rings, the air spoke of a certain aura that was gained only through its many years of existence.

As for Cirion's guide Thorongil, he appreciated the grand entrance as any traveler would. Although it did not speak to his soul as Imladris did, for Lord Elrond's domain, indeed, had long been the dwelling of his heart, he was not any less awed by the Realm. After all, never before had he set foot in King Thranduil's territory.

Cirion's grey eyes shifted to the falling water right beside the palace entrance as it joined to flow with the river. By this point, however, his attention was taken by the two Elves covered in dark mail and armor, guarded and wary upon being made aware of the strangers' appearance. Their hold on their weapons tightened, and it was enough to make him feel uneasy.

As his light eyes shifted to his companion, however, Cirion noticed that Thorongil was ever so calm and humbling. Despite his evident strength and stature, he never failed to adjust his customs to the people. The Gondorian could not help but applaud Thengel for allying with such a wise man.

Still, he could not help but wonder about his companion. There was a mystery that clouded the tall man, rugged and ever so sincere in all that he did. And yet, even with such a veil, Cirion somehow knew that the man that stood beside him was fated to fulfill the role of something greater than a mere ranger.

Thorongil stepped before the two guards with Cirion close behind him. Inclining his head, he brought a dirtied, rough hand to his breast and greeted them in the custom of the Elves. Although they did not return the action, their eyes, the only part of them exposed through the heavy armor, told them of only good will.

"Gi suilon," he said in the tongue of the Elven kind. "I am Thorongil, a friend of the Elven kind and a servant under the House of Eorl. My companion Cirion and I have business with the Elven King that rules these halls."

Cirion, who did not understand a single word that was spoken, remained silent. He was aware of the similarity the Elven language had with the tongue spoken in the White City, but the segregation between the lands was truly enough to make the words seem foreign to him.

"Another mortal who speaks in the tongue of our kin, but in the accent so similar to the one carried by those of the Western Lands," said the Elf guard that was positioned by the door's left side. His covered face was turned to the men, but his wary eyes were gazing to the side towards his companion.

Cirion's eyes shifted to Thorongil in question. Noticing the blatant stare his companion sent him, his guide said informatively in a quiet whisper, "They refer to Areth."

Cirion had to refrain himself from exhaling a great sigh of relief. He suddenly found that a great weight of his shoulders, a burden that he carried ever since he had learned of Gildhel's decision, had lightened. He could breathe easier knowing that Areth had made it safely.

"What are they saying?" he said in the same hushed voice.

Instead of answering, Thorongil turned back to the guards of Mirkwood. His eyes narrowed slightly, for they, too, spoke in quiet voices—far too quiet for his mortal ears to catch. While he was used to the suspicion in which strangers usually regarded him with, the caution exerted by the protectors of the Forest certainly matched the attitude taken by the Galadhrim archers.

The other guard's voice rose from its secretive whisper, and though his words were spoken directly while looking at his companion, it was evident that he wanted the men to hear what he had to say, as well.

"Perhaps it would not be wise to welcome these mortals into the House of the Elven King," he said, switching his tongue from Sindarin to Westron. "We must take caution, as Lord Melhros told us."

"You are a fool, Aldurin, if you believe that these mortals would be here if the Prince and his guards had not allowed them leave."

"O-oh, of course," he said, seeming sheepish. By the way he carried himself, it did not take much deduction to conclude that he was fairly new on duty. His nervousness brought his tongue to change once again to something more familiar, and he spoke in Sindarin. Addressing Thorongil he inclined his head stiffly and said, "Goheno nin. I will show you the way to King Thranduil."

The gates opened, allowing a narrow entryway. The guard entered first, leading the way, and Thorongil followed soon after with Cirion close behind.

Thorongil kept his grey eyes forward, though he took a note of the route and passages, storing the memory for later use. Cirion, who walked beside him now that the steps became wider, saw the calmness that claimed his guide's features and could not help but wonder how he was able to withhold the awe from such beauty.

Cirion wondered if this was how Areth felt upon her first welcome within the Underground Palace. Had she also marveled at the Halls' beauty despite the weariness from exhaustion? Did she attempt to trace the distant pathways that winded around the palace? Had her breath been taken away by the sheer tranquility that seemed to drape the realm like a light blanket?

Despite Thorongil's claim that they were there with the intention of seeking the Elven King, their true business was with Areth. The matter of affairs was of a professional nature, but as they were friends, it did not stop Cirion from feeling a warm elation upon seeing the traveler beyond harm's reach.

From a distance, Thorongil saw a great throne in the heart of the room, and he had thought that the Elven guard would lead them through the winding passage towards it. Upon further inspection, however, he realized that the seat was vacant.

As if reading his mind, the guard looked sideways and said in heavily accented Westron, "My King is not expecting you. You will be led to his study."

It seemed to take hours before they finally reached their destination. The wide halls seemed vast and perpetual, turning like the untamed life of an undisturbed forest. The weariness from the travel had finally caught onto Cirion, and when the Elf declared that they had reached their destination, he could not help but feel thankful.

The guard requested that the men stay by the entrance whilst he explained the situation to their King. And so, they had no other choice but to wait in silence.

The door was left slightly ajar, and through the open slit, they were able to hear the quiet, respectful tone of their Elven companion. When another foreign voice spoke to reply, Cirion could instantly tell that it belonged to the realm's leader. Having been in Thengel's presence far too long than he could say, he did not mistake the absolute authority and command held by even a simple whisper. There was no mistaking a figure of authority.

Cirion turned his head slightly to the side to peek inside the study, and though he could see the guard clearly, his head inclined before his liege, he could only spy long hair of gold, not much unlike Areth's, and a tall, lithe figure draped in fine green silk to match the season.

It was whilst the guard was speaking did the King suddenly turn his head to the door, inadvertently locking his cerulean eyes, shadowed and naturally cautious, with grey. Cirion felt himself start, but then regained his composure and straightened.

Lifting a jewel-adorned hand, pale and lithe, he motioned for them to step forward and, in a voice filled with quiet authority, said, "Enter."

Thorongil placed his hand against his breast, preparing to introduce himself, but before he could, the King spoke again.

"Would it be correct to assume that you are acquaintances of Areth?" he said. Although his tone and face remained impassive, retaining his wary nature, his bright blue eyes withheld his feeling of interest.

"Yes, my Lord," Cirion answered with a small inclination of his head.

The Elven King's eyes narrowed, and he stayed quiet for a mere moment. Tilting his head to the side in slight, he regarded the two mortals with hard scrutiny before saying, "My guards would not have allowed you to pass through to touch an inch of the northern domain if you held any sort of ill intent for my people and those under my protection."

Thranduil turned, and with a small motion with his long fingers, he wordlessly commanded them to take a seat on the plush chairs. He took a seat on the lone chair before them, his position lax but retaining grace.

He then continued plainly, "The way from Gondor to the haven of Mirkwood Forest is a perilous task in itself. Your business must indeed hold great importance if you would dare enter without the protection of one native to these lands."

Cirion's eyes narrowed slightly, almost imperceptibly if the King's keen eyes had not been intent on observing their every move, and he sent a subtle glanced to Thorongil, who only held his eyes with the same calm. He did not recall ever stating that they were from Gondor, and he was almost certain that Thorongil had not, either. Thorongil had introduced himself as a servant of the House of Eorl, after all.

The King's blue eyes lit slightly—whether from amusement of from the soft amber light of the room, Cirion did not know. His gaze turned solemn quickly. Resting his chin on his closed hand, he said, "I understand that your affairs remain to be your own, so I shall not press you any further. However, I make it my business when my realm is involved in any way. You did not travel here in the hopes to exchanges pleasantries with me."

"That is correct," Cirion said. "We humbly ask of you to grant us leave about your realm, my Lord."

"My, how quick you are to dismiss niceties," the King said dryly, impassively.

Cirion closed his eyes and inclined his head humbly. "I mean no disrespect, my Lord, but I do not want to waste any more of either of our time."

"I would not regard travelers with the most trusting eye," Thranduil said warily. Tilting his head, his blue eyes, cold and calculating, he continued, "But Areth did mention your name to me before."

Cirion and Thorongil glanced at one another. It was not often that the wandering horse rider would trust anyone beyond her small circle of companions. The extent of her trust in the King was questionable, but if he could get her to converse beyond mere pleasantries, it was evident that she held him in high regard.

Even so, it did not seem as if he trusted them any more than necessary. If anything, he seemed to merely tolerate them. It was understandable, however, as it was the King's responsibility to watch over his people.

"Tell me more of your purpose here," said King Thranduil. He rested his leg over the other before curling his index finger on his chin. The edge of his lip twitched slightly. "Though I did assure that I would not press you, I had hoped that you would tell me enough to prove that your affairs do not disrupt my intention of keeping my kingdom safe."

"I can assure you that we only intend to talk to Areth," said Thorongil with sincerity. "And once our business is finished, we will tarry no longer. We will not impose any further on your hospitality."

Thranduil regarded him coolly with half-lidded eyes, seeming to be contemplative. In reality, he would not have turned them away. After all, his trust in Areth extended to her friends—to a certain limit, that is— for it seemed that she was far less likely to trust than he was. However, Thranduil feared that whatever business these men brought would inevitably take Areth from his Halls.

The King frowned at the thought—it was a very momentary, passing thing, but Cirion was quick to see it. He had done all he could to convince the horse rider to stay, but he knew he could do no more. If she chose to leave, then he had no power to stop her.

But he would not stop himself from wishing that she would stay.

King Thranduil stood from his seat, and the two men soon stood, as well. Regarding them with the same even look in his eyes, he said, "I welcome you to the Elven Haven of Mirkwood, Thorongil and Cirion of Gondor."

Both mortals placed their palms on their chests and bowed in respect, and Thorongil said, "Le fael, Melda Tar."

Now that the formalities were out of the way, they would surely be given the time to talk to Areth.

As if reading his mind, the King said, "You must be keen to see Areth once again. However, I regret to inform you that she is away at the present."

Cirion's brow furrowed at this. Surely, she was not so careless, especially since she was well aware of the dangers. After all, the purpose that Gildhel sent her there was for the regards of her safety.

"Where is she?" he questioned with evident worry. His voice echoed about the enclosed space of Thranduil's study, and Thorongil placed a rough hand on the other man's shoulder to calm him.

"She is no prisoner here. She does as she will with no interference from me," said Thranduil coolly. Though, despite the façade, his eyes hid away his evident worry for the wanderer. Feigning nonchalance, he said, "But now, I imagine that your travel has left you weary."

Nodding at the Elven guard that led the visitors in, he changed tongues and said, "Please lead our visitors to the guest hall, Aldurin. Accommodate them to their needs."

Aldurin inclined his head in respect before motioning for the two men to follow.

Cirion looked as if he had more to say, but decided against it upon the tighter grip Thorongil had on his shoulder. There would be a time for this, he seemed to say.

"We must trust that she will return soon," Thranduil called with the same even tone he used, his voice echoing. However, it did not make his words any less sincere. Perhaps this was the most heart-felt he would ever be in their presence.

Cirion paused for a moment, turning back to hear what more the King had to say. However, King Thranduil was already facing the opposite direction, and his ears were met with only the light tinkle of crystal against crystal as he filled an empty glass with wine.

The longer she stayed in the company of the Elves, the more Areth began to understand their trick in retaining the lightness of their footing whilst walking. Grace, of course, seemed to be something innate with the Elven kind, but it did not mean that it was a feat beyond the grasp of mere mortals.

While Areth possessed the weight that made it easier for her to hide the muffled sounds of her footsteps, she found that it was not enough to make herself undetectable when in the presence of an Elf. Even with the deliberate attempt of maintaining a quiet disposition, Ernil always seemed to know whenever she was near.

Unfortunately, there was simply no escaping the Elven kind's keen hearing. However, in the face of distraction, Areth found that they often overlooked the slightest of sounds, especially when it was near to undetectable.

That was how she found herself touching the Elven King's doorframe before Thranduil, who had yet to be aware of her presence.

Areth smiled slightly as she crossed her arms, careful to remain unnoticed. She never once saw the Elven King bombarded by nothing but piles of paperwork, but, apparently, even such mundane tasks were not beneath him. Indeed, his bright blue eyes roamed across the piece of parchment with such attention that she almost laughed.

At the moment, she was contented to simply see him. Areth had been away for perhaps a little more than ten days, and yet, she could not help but feel such elation at once again returning to the Elven realm that grew on her in such a short amount of time.

But, perhaps such happiness did not come only from seeing the Underground Palace, but also because Areth once again had a chance to see those that she held dearly to her heart. The top of her head gently resting against the doorframe and her green eyes softened.

The silk wrap that was usually draped about Thranduil's arms and shoulders was carelessly thrown over the back on the chair he sat on. His hair, golden and shining against the quiet amber light, remained controlled with only a few wisps touching the side of his face. He muttered softly to himself from time to time in what Areth assumed was Sindarin, though she could understand none of it, while his pale hand, bare of any rings, lightly touched the side of his face. Areth was almost hesitant to take his attention away from his work, especially since he seemed so invested.

And so she took another moment. Her virescent eyes glazed. Oh, but he was handsome. His bright cerulean eyes, ever so similar to the stars that they loved so much, held wisdom and were windows that kept the fire that he so carefully hid. Fair in features like all other Elves, but with the possession of something that made him quite uniquely-

Areth closed her eyes and gently bit the inside of lip. Her thoughts were becoming far too dangerous.

She cleared her throat softly, retaining her small smile. The small noise broke the silence that draped over the room like a veil. Thranduil's blue eyes were quick to snap upwards.

And suddenly, his hard gaze, shadowed and controlled, was lost, and in its place was a softer look of fondness and surprise. But beneath the light emotions present in his eyes, the weight of worry that he felt since her departure suddenly evaporated upon seeing her unharmed. The King slowly rose from his seat, completely turning away from his duty, and simply allowed himself a sincere smile.

It caused the small smile on Areth's lips to widen as she moved towards him. It never ceased to amaze her how heartfelt and rare those were.

Lifting his arm, Thranduil had his palm turned upwards, silently asking for Areth to take his hand. Her forest eyes shifted to his open palm before she tugged on the tips of her fingers, successfully slipping her hands from the confining leather, and clasping her palm with his.

It was an act of friendship, and nothing more.

It was a greeting that they often shared whenever Areth returned from a short trip beyond the Elven King's borders. Despite the silence, the small joining of their hands spoke of things that were otherwise ineffable if said in words—the warmth of his hand spoke of his gladness of a safe journey, the gentle caress of his calloused fingertips told of a quiet welcome. However, none could ever compare to the words that his blue eyes, luminescent and containing the brightness of the jewels that he was so fond of, depicted. It was an undeniable happiness that she had once again returned to him.

After a moment of mere silence, Thranduil sighed and pulled Areth to the vacant seats by the bookshelf. While he had quietly urged her to sit, he remained standing, content on slightly leaning against the side of the arm rest of her couch. Areth barely felt it when he placed his hand on her shoulder.

"You certainly took your time," he finally said. His voice retained its usual tone of dismissal and authority, but his touch assured her of his gentler meaning. It was as if he had said, You were beginning to worry me.

Thranduil had to refrain himself from asking her where she was. It was her business alone, and he had to trust that she would share it if she thought it necessary. While his words could be taken as a mere statement, it was evidently a form of silent prodding.

She lifted her hand, but then hesitated. As if making a decision, she rested her palm on the back of his hand. Areth tilted her chin upwards and said, "I did say that I would return before the feast."

It was clear that she did not wish to speak of it. And he would accept that—for now, at least.

Thranduil's expression suddenly turned deadpanned as he said, "Indeed. Three hours before the feast."

Areth could do nothing else but smile with sheepishness. Yes, she had arrived later than she anticipated. However, there was a matter of great urgency that she needed to deal with very quickly.

Thranduil sighed rather histrionically in an exasperated manner before a smile broke onto his face. Patting her shoulder, he pulled his hand from beneath hers and took a seat before her. His legs crossed and he regarded her with bright eyes, inscrutable and contemplative. Though the smile did not leave his face, Areth could feel solemnity emanate from him.

She almost asked him if anything was the matter. However, she merely waited for him to speak first.

The King crossed his legs and his star-like eyes regarded her with no trace of humor. Appearing to have a proper grasp of his thoughts, he interlaced his fingers before him and said slowly, curiously, "I've had the pleasure of meeting two of your acquaintances."

Upon hearing this bit of information, Areth's eyes closed and she exhaled a rather weary sigh. Though she knew it wasn't possible under King Thranduil commanded the strict guard, a part of her hoped that her brother somehow had not found a way to penetrate Mirkwood's defense. In a more likely scenario, she sincerely hoped that none of her friends had come for her, for she knew that the news they brought would not be one of well tidings.

Thranduil almost laughed at the expression on his friend's face. "You don't seem very happy."

"That is because I am not," she said with a small frown. Leaning forwards, she continued, "I assume that they are still here."

"Of course they are," Thranduil said in a subtle scoffing manner, "I would not have turned them away. They claimed to have business with you."

"Then it is as I feared," the King heard her whisper to herself. In a louder lilt that was meant to be heard, she said, "Will you tell me their names?"

Thranduil tried to keep his expression light and free of worry. Still, he could not deny that her reaction was not as he expected. "Wouldn't you rather see them yourself?"

"Our meeting will be inevitable if they, too, are attending the feast. I would rather wait."

"Perhaps you simply prefer my company over theirs," he said in jest, though retaining his solemn mask, as he reclined slightly on his seat.

Areth disguised her sudden laugh as a light scoff as she turned away to cover her mouth. She did not bother giving him an answer. Instead, her green eyes became brightened with inquiry when she asked, "Were there any more attacks whilst I was away?"

At this, the somberness and command that only the Elven King of Mirkwood possessed replaced his lighthearted attitude. His cerulean eyes, bright and jesting, darkened, and the light of the Eldar shone within them, reflecting the sadness and knowledge that came from a long life. When he spoke, his voice lowered with such solemnity.

"No," he said, shaking his head, "However, my guards remain diligent. It is evident that these destructive creatures have made no plans to leave any time soon without finishing their task."

Thranduil's eyes narrowed, and though his jewel-like eyes were not glancing at her with a hidden accusation—not like the light eyes of Melhros, whose gaze was like ice—but with an emotion that spoke of his concern for his subjects and for… her.

"What is happening, Mîrdómiel?"

What are you not telling me?

Areth's eyes closed, and for once, she was unable to hold his gaze. She was suddenly reminded of the heavy weight on her shoulders—the same one she felt when she saw the injury on Ernil's shoulder. Her brow furrowed, and it was then she knew that she could not hide forever.

She could prolong the inevitable no longer, and she knew that she would have to leave soon.

And so, instead, Areth opened her eyes and locked eyes with Thranduil, and said, "Not tonight." The horse rider smiled a wan smile and said, "You once promised to tell a tale regarding King Thingol. Do you recall?"

"It is unfortunate that I never bothered to learn the language of the Elven kind," Cirion sighed, rubbing a rough hand across his forehead.

Upon cleaning themselves to be presentable for Nost na Lothion, the men of Gondor were introduced as guests of the Elven King. And though they were treated with the nothing but respect, there was an undeniable silence that spoke of the caution when regarding outsiders. These were a people that evidently lived by isolation.

"It would be of no use to you here, my friend," said Thorongil as he took a sip of wine. Deeming it far too strong for the tongue of mortal men, he grimaced, coughing slightly as he set the glass down on the vacant table they stood by. Once he wiped his mouth lightly with a cloth, his grey eyes observed the Elves that surrounded them and he said, "King Thranduil's people are ever so wary of outsiders. You will not get many conversations here."

"I suppose we would be regarded with more suspicion had Areth not mentioned our names to the Elven King," he said. "Still, I feel chilled just by standing still," Cirion muttered, observing the rather discreet, wary glances shown their way and the distant mutters.

"How theatric," a light voice uttered, much too feminine and high to be Thorongil, spoke from behind them. Suddenly, gentle hands touched their shoulders. They recognized the familiar dryness, and they knew at once whom they belonged to.

"It certainly took you long enough," said Thorongil, who simply raised a brow at her. "I heard that you had arrived hours before the feast even started. It certainly would have been enough time to look for us."

"I apologize if I was not so very keen to receive ill news so soon after my return," Areth said, retaining dryly, as she idly crossed her arms. Suddenly, her green eyes narrowed as she regarded Thorongil fully. Humming slightly, she said, "You clean up well, my friend."

The edge of Thorongil's lip twitched, and he inclined his head in silent thanks. Cirion gave him little chance to reply, however, for he spoke first.

"Perhaps we should continue to matters of urgency."

Their faces turned solemn at once.

Thorongil turned to Areth and said quietly, "Do you know of a place where we can speak freely?"

"Such a place does not exist," she uttered in a mere whisper, forcing the men to pay closer attention to her words, "A council leader is keen for my departure and finds it necessary to trail my every move. I daresay that it is safer to speak here amidst the merry din and chatter."

Cirion warily glanced behind him, noting King Thranduil's people who were concerned only with their merrymaking and fine wines.

"We do not know how far the ears of the Elvish folk reaches," he said.

"Not many are familiar with the speech of the horse riders," said Areth, reverting to the language of her ancestors. Only then was she able to raise her voice back again to normal volume. "Should anyone hear our words, if would be hard to follow such a conversation without understanding."

Thorongil's eyes were half-lidded, but they were not trained on his companions. His attention seemed to be caught by something beyond Cirion's shoulder.

"The Elven King's eyes follow you, Areth," he said to her, his tongue accented against Rohirric. There was a bit of question in his voice.

Cirion daren't look behind him in fear of being indiscreet. Instead, he said, "I never expected for you to have grown so close to the realm's ruler."

Unlike the other man, Cirion spoke with the ease and fluidity of that was akin to the horse riders.

"That's no concern of yours, Cirion," she said, though not unkindly.

Taking the time to turn the conversation to more serious matters, Thorongil's features turned grave as he said, "We have little time to waste. You are in danger here, Areth."

"I've know that since my arrival, my friend. Fengel dared to sully the line of Eorl by allying with such evil men. I think Gildhel underestimated the extent of his father's power beyond Rohan."

"Why did you stay, then? It would have been wiser had you left."

Areth opened her mouth to speak, but she suddenly found that she had nothing to say.

Pausing, her bright green eyes involuntarily glanced to the side with something indescribable in her eyes. Cirion missed it the subtle movement, but when the other man found the subject of her momentary stare, Thorongil's brow furrowed when something clicked in his mind. He recognized that stare, though he usually saw it in his own eyes.

"It would not have. Do not misunderstand me," Areth intervened hastily, stiffly, before shifting her eyes to her two companions, "King Thranduil was willing to provide safety, and I accepted. That is all."

"I'm afraid that is not enough," Cirion said somberly, his expression grave. Despite the fact that they were the only ones who understood the words they exchanged, his voice lowered, and Areth had to lean forwards to hear clearly. "Ceadda and his men were attacked only ten days past. None made it alive."

Ten days. That was about the same time that Areth decided to stay in Mirkwood.

Her heart clenched with the unpleasantness that had been familiar to her as of late. If only she had been on her way to Gondor as she had previously planned. Perhaps if she had not been so selfish, perhaps-

But now was not the time to dwell on their losses. Arranging her features to a quiet calm, Areth crossed her arms over her chest. It was evident that Thorongil and Cirion did not allow their emotions to compromise their duty.

"Fengel has become more daring now that he acquired allies who are not afraid to exert brute strength," Thorongil said, "His command is stretching to Gondor, and if this continues any longer, I do not doubt that Lord Ecthelion will have no other choice but to break the pact of old sworn between the two dominions.

"What do you suggest we do?"

"We must prepare to strike."

"Do not be foolish, Cirion," said Thorongil, his dark brow furrowing, "We cannot afford to be rash. At the present, we are no match when we are so few in numbers."

"Thorongil is right. We must think of this rationally. Did Gildhel say anything regarding the matter?"

"He refuses to until he sees you," said Cirion. Leaning forward slightly so that his words did not go beyond their small circle, he uttered lowly, "There is a traitor amidst our ranks."

Areth's eyes narrowed. "Then this traitor that you speak of—he was the one that pointed Linden and his Dunlending henchmen in my direction."

Cirion's eyes widened and Thorongil exhaled a great, weary breath. His fear was not misplaced, evidently. Fengel's informer seemed to be closer to the higher ranks than they anticipated if he was quick enough to speak of Areth's hiding location.

"Linden is here?"

"How ever did you get past him? He remains to be very meticulous in his duty as a captain."

"He is. I spoke to him," Areth said simply. Her lips pressed together for a moment before she dismissed the subject of her brother, "But never mind that. Fengel is doing all in his power to terminate our forces. For now, we have no other choice but to remain in hiding."

"And allow him to kill us all one at a time?"

"At the present, we have little other options," she said with forced calm.

"It is as you say," Thorongil agreed with a short nod. "If we are reduced to take such action, we can do nothing else but return to Lord Gildhel at once."

Areth closed her eyes and allowed herself to simply breathe—to let her mind settle, to let her emotions rest from the great whirlpool of guilt of causing the meaningless deaths of her subordinates, anger at the head of Rohan's throne for his tyrannical rule, sadness at parting with the only place she ever wanted to remain, and perhaps longing for a life that did not involve so much hate and cruelty…

Areth turned her head to look at Thranduil.

She watched his tall figure as he spoke to the members of his court. She watched as his pale lips parted when he spoke, and how his handsome face showed the passion of his thoughts with merely the simplest change. There was so much more to that man than a mere façade. Her green eyes, so akin to the spring forest, did not leave him even when he turned his head and caught her gaze, for he gave her a simple, very subtle smile that was meant for no one else to see.

Areth could do nothing else but return it.

Perhaps it was safe to admit to herself that it would not be his Palace that she would miss the most.

But, unfortunately, this peace that Areth felt in this wonderful place with this strange Elven King—it was all but a passing thing.

Who's Thorongil? That's right, you guessed it. It's Aragorn. Oh yes.

So if you guys don't like my writing style, well, sob sob, I apologize, but y'know, I ain't no J.K. Rowling. My words will repeat because thesaurus is for squares (kidding, kidding, I use it, too), my sentences will be long because I can be overly fastidious, etc. Just, laying it out there. Coming out clean, people.

But hey, thanks for reading! Don't hesitate to drop by that review box and drop me a heart or PM me for some exchanged pleasantries and conversations.

And, y'know. Stay gorgeous…? I guess? Every one of you that've read Tales is, just, wow. Thank you so much for choosing to spend your time here.