All throughout the remainder of the journey to Aragorn's campsite, the constant feeling of being watched did not cease for Legolas. He still had not told the man of his thoughts, for the man in turn had not asked.
Through the spaces between the branches of the oaks above, Legolas could see that the sky's hue was a variety of colours now, ranging from the lightest shades of violet to the deeper tones of orange, with the deep orange sun slowly sinking beyond the horizon.
He snapped out of his observation of the sky when he heard Aragorn's quiet mutterings, causing the elf to chuckle softly to himself. Aragorn seemed oblivious.
"Should be a bit further… where is that tree…"
Legolas was about to relieve Aragorn of his misery by asking if he was lost, but before he could ask the question, Aragorn had twisted in his saddle to face the elf who was just behind him on his left.
Legolas blinked, pretending that he had not heard the mutterings, but instead had been taking in his surroundings. "Hmm?"
"Can you see an old fallen tree anywhere?" Aragorn asked, his eyes now scanning the wood that was darker than earlier.
Slightly confused by this question, Legolas also allowed his eyes to search the surroundings. Although his elven eyes were keener and sharper sighted than Aragorn's, it did not make seeing through the shade of the trees in the evening light any easier.
Finally, his eyes did land on a fallen tree in the distance of about four hundred metres away. Though, to say it was fallen may have been the wrong choice of words. It looked as though it had literally been wrenched from the ground; the trunk had a mark running down it, and its root's fanned out on the bottom half of the moss-covered tree. To pull this from the ground must have been done by something of great strength. It must have been big, too, he thought.
"Yes," he spoke quietly as he nodded his head in the direction, mystified and slightly wary of the circumstances. "It is not too far from here. Though, Estel, I do not think it wise for us to get too close, it has bee-"
"Oh, it will be fine," Aragorn said with a wave of his hand. The indignant look on Legolas' face seemed to contradict this statement. "Honestly, mellon-nin, do you really think I would take us somewhere potentially dangerous?"
Legolas did not reply but merely arched an eyebrow as an unspoken answer, causing Aragorn to give a tilt and nod of the head, showing that that question really did not need answering.
Before an answer could be given, however, Aragorn urged his horse on in the direction Legolas had nodded to, and was soon followed by his elven companion.
As they rode, Legolas tried to rationalise his thoughts. Maybe Aragorn was right. The tree was covered in moss, and had surely been like that for quite a few years now. Although, evil does have an awful tendency of living for longer than a few years…
As they rode past the fallen -or discarded- tree, it turned out that the mark running down its great trunk was a tear, like a split. No sooner had they past it, Aragorn suddenly changed course to the left, away from the leaf-scattered floor, to the slightly more overgrown area.
Looking down at some of the plants beneath them, Legolas frowned when he caught sight of a somewhat more familiar one. "Estel, is that-"
"Athelas, yes," Aragorn said with a smile. "It is supposed to be fairly common in this part of the wood. I might have to pick some more before we leave."
Legolas nodded at the information, and suddenly let out a small chuckle as a thought dawned on him. "It makes a change to see it growing," he laughed.
Aragorn laughed too. "As opposed to it being used on us? Definitely!"
Legolas continued to laugh as he looked out in front of them, but his laughter quickly died in his throat as apprehension and dread kicked in.
"Estel!" he hissed. "Daro!"
Aragorn pulled his horse's reins to a stop immediately as Legolas had done, and straightaway went for his sword, having learnt long ago that Legolas' instincts often proved accurate. "Man cenich?" he whispered urgently.
"There is something big out there," Legolas spoke quietly, his eyes not leaving the sight he could see. Valar, they could have heard us miles off! "Three large figures. Estel, I think they may be trolls!"
To Legolas' absolute surprise, Aragorn relaxed on the horse besides him, and allowed his hand to move away from his sheathed sword. To add to Legolas' total bewilderment, Aragorn continued walking his steed forward, as though the elf had not just spoken.
"Estel!" Legolas hissed loudly. "Have you lost your mind? Daro!"
Aragorn laughed, but did not turn around. "Legolas, mellon-nin, do you remember a certain hobbit and group of dwarves that came to Rivendell and Mirkwood about nine years ago?" he asked, resuming his usual tone.
Legolas blinked. How was that even relevant right now? And why was he bringing up dwarves? He has gone completely mad…
"Estel, I do not think that is – oh," Legolas broke off, a slight red tinge of embarrassment creeping up his cheeks and the tips of his ears. "Bilbo and the trolls…" he muttered as Aragorn started to laugh.
How could he have been so… dense? The woods they were in were called the Trollshaws, the trees rejoiced the passing of an evil, yet mourned the fact that they still remained, and Aragorn had continued on despite his warning.
He remembered that he had also spoken to Bilbo briefly during the hobbit's 'stay' in Mirkwood, and the then young hobbit had told him of the troll incident. He had spoken about it with the twins and Elrond when Aragorn was ten… Legolas shook his head and scolded himself mentally as he rode onwards, trying to ignore Aragorn's shaking shoulders in front of him that were evidently a result of him trying to stifle his laughter. Foolish elf, you are a warrior – a prince! You should know to put logic and reasoning before actions!
A slapping sound followed by a harsh Sindarin curse turned Legolas' scowl into a look of amusement, before he let out a small laugh.
"There is a branch there, Estel," Legolas said, trying to keep his face straight as Aragorn glared at the elf.
"Laugh it up, elf," Aragorn growled. Rarely, his pride could be worse than Legolas'.
The elf raised his eyebrows and wore an expression of feigned hurt. "As if I would do that?" Legolas grinned. "Equal?"
Aragorn ran over this proposal in his head before nodding. "Equal."
As Aragorn looked away, Legolas suddenly whipped his head around to look behind them, the familiar feeling of being watched rising again. He squinted, but found that he could see no person… or thing.
Turning back round, Legolas just caught sight of Aragorn rubbing his red forehead with the back of his hand, whilst the red that had risen in his cheeks died down.
Suppressing the urge to laugh, Legolas thought it best to change conversation… for now.
"So where is it that you propose we camp for the night?" he asked, as the shuddering feeling of being watched died down.
Aragorn thought for a moment, before nodding his head in the direction of the trolls. "We could set up camp by the feet of the trolls if you want." He ignored the sceptical look on Legolas' face and continued regardless. "They will provide some shelter should it start to rain."
Legolas did not answer, but instead sighed. Although he did not mind the rain, he knew that Aragorn would end up catching a cold should he have no shelter. Or hypothermia knowing that man, Legolas thought.
Both man and elf were silent as they approached the trolls, each lost in their thoughts as they glanced up at the stone beings, trapped for an eternity in their rock-strewn prison.
Two of the trolls were pointing towards the middle, presumably where Bilbo and the dwarves had once been, their great chubby fingers an extension of large arms attached to an even bigger body.
One of the pointing trolls was sat down, whilst the other was neither sitting nor standing, but half-risen, its heavy body leaning on the other arm.
The weather and nine years had taken its toll on the faces of the trolls, now weather beaten and stained. Even the sunlight had failed to lighten the darkened glares on their faces. Their sneers were wide, whilst the eyes held their look of anger that would sty from this age to the next.
Legolas smiled as he dismounted his horse in the small clearing by the feet of the trolls. The third troll had their body facing where Bilbo and the dwarves would have been, but its head was locked in a turn towards the east, its stone eyes portraying anger mingled with confusion and fear.
"Funny is it not?" Legolas asked softly, his eyes never leaving the eyes of the troll. "That for all of their lives they would have eluded the sunlight, and yet now they must endure it until weather and time destroys them…"
Both man and elf were silent for a few minutes more, walking around the great stones, until finally, Aragorn spoke.
"Interesting place," he murmured. He tore his eyes away from the angry eyes of the sitting troll and glanced at Legolas, who was looking at the moss and plants that crept up the bodies of the trolls. The man clapped his hands together. "So, what do you think?"
Legolas straightened his back and smiled. "Like you said, it is… interesting. A good place to camp for the night. And," he said, with twinkles in his eyes. "The trees are friendly and welcoming, and the night sky can be seen through the large gaps in the higher boughs."
Aragorn rolled his eyes. "Only an elf could comment on the stars and the fact that they can see the stars."
Legolas laughed as he led the horses to a small glade with grass, whilst Aragorn began picking up some of the twigs and bits of wood lying on the floor to start a small fire.
A rather loud burp sounded from one of the beings laying besides the small campfire.
"Estel, that is disgusting, you know that?"
A chuckle escaped the man, who patted his stomach before letting out another rich belch. Aragorn did not have to look at his friend who was also lying on his back beside him to know that he was being glared at.
"Your ada won't be impressed, knowing that you are starting to develop the mannerisms of a dwarf," Legolas lightly chastised, though it did not particularly bother him.
Aragorn gave a small snort, once again proving Legolas correct. "Please, you cannot tell me that elves don't burp."
Legolas pondered over this for a second, trying to word his retort in a way that would bode well for the elves. "It's not that we do not burp, but if we have too, it is either discreetly, or we just… don't," he finished, rather lamely.
They fell into a comfortable silence; their stomachs full with rabbit Legolas had managed to shoot, as man and elf watched the night sky slowly light up with distant stars, and the moon bathe the world in its silver glow. The small fire in front of them emitted an orange glow that cast shadows upon the still figures of the stone trolls, watching for eternity the small flames as they licked the air.
Legolas and Aragorn did not speak, but merely enjoyed the presence of each other as they left each other to their own thoughts. For many years now, camping out like this was something that had become a regular occurrence, a way to escape life for but a day, whether Legolas needed a break from his princely responsibilities and constant patrols, or if Aragorn just wanted to camp out somewhere with his best friend, his brother.
Out of the corner of his eye, Legolas saw Aragorn raise an arm and point at the brightest star visible in the sky, its home besides the moon.
"That is Éarendil isn't it?" he asked.
Legolas smiled slightly. Ever since Estel had been very young, the mortal had always shown an interest in the night sky and its many beacons of light. When Legolas would visit Imladris, the elf would often sit outside with Estel until past the boys bed time, showing him the stars and answering the many questions that Estel always managed to somehow ask with one small lungful of air. One of the stars Estel had always liked the most was Earendil's, unknowing at that age of the great Mariner's history, and how it connected with Estel's own.
"Aye," came the soft reply. "The Mariner, the Blessed and the Bright, sailing his ship Vingilot through the night sky with a Silmaril shining bright upon his brow."
Aragorn relaxed even more with the soft voice of his elven companion, comforted with the knowledge that a great elf guided them all. Unbeknown to him, the great Mariner was in fact one of his ancestors – a secret kept from him until his twentieth birthday that was fast approaching.
"I don't know why," Aragorn spoke in wonder. "But I always feel safe whenever I look at Earendil's star. Apart from you, my brothers, ada and Glorfindel, I always feel that he is up there lighting the way when I don't know what to do, almost like a guardian. I feel some sort of connection that can't possible be real." He sighed, and Legolas could sense the man beside him relax. "It's silly, isn't it?" Aragorn questioned.
Legolas kept his gaze upon the bright star above them, and smiled sadly. "No, no it isn't. Just because a connection may not be physical, or even seem possible, does not mean that it is not there. There are many bonds that exist, but might not seem real. My Elven kind has a strong connection with Arda, though to mortals that may seem equally impossible. It is not about the physicality of something that makes it real; it's about how we feel when near the other part of the bond that would make it complete and strong; the emotions felt and what we believe."
Aragorn turned his head to look at his immortal friend, whose eyes remained fixed upon the stars, a bright twinkle evident in the blue orbs. Aragorn turned his head back, so that he was once again facing the stars.
"How can a bond between Arda and an elf seem impossible?" he wondered out loud. "It is as clear as anything. You elves feel and are a part of the earth. You feel its anger, its joy, and its hurt."
Legolas let out a soft laugh. "Aye, obvious it may be, but you're view may be considered biased in the world of men." Aragorn faced him again, a questioning look on his face. "You grew up with elves, after all."
Silence followed, as both man and elf left each other to their own thoughts.
"I wish I was an elf. Or even half elven, like ada," Aragorn said, wistfully. Legolas said nothing, as his sad smile faltered ever so slightly at the thought of his friend.
He knew that the nineteen year old mortal besides him had no idea that his future had been decided by his ancestors when Isildur took the ring and the line of Kings fell, and that the salvation of men rested on his shoulders as he would rise up to become the King of Gondor and Arnor. Even with the comment that Estel had just made, he knew that the man was unaware of how partly true that was, that he was descended also from Earendil, father of Elrond and Elros.
A quiet sigh left Legolas as he pondered on how his friend would react. Would Estel, soon to be Aragorn, believe that he, the twins, Elrond and Glorfindel had betrayed him, by hiding his true identity from him? Would he be grateful and take the unfair burden upon his shoulders, or would he deny it all, and not leave to go with the rangers?
Legolas was not worried about Aragorn for when he was to join the rangers, he could have survived out in the wild even when he was seventeen; from the countless camping and hunting trips he had gone on with the twins and Legolas. Yes, Legolas thought, Estel would be fine.
His smile disappeared even more when another thought struck. Yes, being out in the wild would be dangerous, but because of who he was would make it even more so. He will probably be safer than you sometimes are, Legolas told himself. True, being the crowned prince of Mirkwood, only son and child to King Thranduil and by having the darkness continue to overshadow his home, this had put him in unimaginable danger many times – because people knew who he was. Only the elves, and a few of the rangers knew now, not forgetting Mithrandir.
Legolas snapped out of his thoughts as a soft snore issued from his friend besides him. He sat up with an amused smile and stretched his long legs. Standing up, he lightly walked over to the packs hidden away in the shadows of one of the troll's legs, and pulled out a cloak. He put the packs carefully back, and went back to Aragorn. Gently, he spread the cloak over the young man and stood over him, looking down at the soon-to-be rangers face.
The stubble on Aragorn's face seemed really quite obvious to Legolas tonight – one of the many physical signs that Aragorn really was now a young man. Facial hair had always fascinated the elf, as elves obviously had none, but it sometimes brought about a mixture of unexplained emotions – especially when it concerned the sleeping man in front of him. When he was the same age as the mortal before him, Legolas would still have been but an elfling, and a very young one at that. How many years would pass before the first wisp of grey began to show…?
No, Legolas thought as he shook his fair head. No sombre thoughts tonight. It is not often I am able to come out camping with my brother now. And it will be even less in the not too distant future…
Perhaps it was the sudden feeling of being watched that captured Legolas' attention, or the still silence that hung over the air like a tainted thick mist. Even so, Legolas turned softly on the spot and unconsciously moved his body weight onto the balls of his feet in a practised warrior position. Two slender hands reached towards the white ivory handles and pulled them silently from their sheaths, whilst his eyes remained fixed on the shadows of the trees, the keenness of them searching through the nights veil.
He stepped forward and then took another soft step, his blades before him. He turned his head to look back down at Aragorn and, once assured that he was still sleeping soundly, crept forwards past the warm embers that remained from the fire.
Moving through the shadowed trees, Legolas kept his senses on full alert for any movement or sound that might have occurred in the wood. After walking softly for a minute, he stopped and cocked his head to one side, listening intently to his surroundings. He could have sworn that he heard a soft voice, so quiet even for his elven hearing that it might not have even existed. He slowly pivoted on his feet so that his body was facing the direction of the voice. A small breeze blew through the trees towards him, making a few strands of golden hair dance behind him. The voice seemed to be travelling on it, making the source of whatever it was speaking in the direction he was facing.
As he continued on cautiously, a large dark object began to appear before him. It was only when he reached it he realised it was in fact the old tree that had been ripped out of the ground. The fanned out roots gave the impression of a large clawed hand creeping out of the ground, but Legolas was not fazed.
As he approached the dead tree, he frowned.
Trees do not speak when they are dead…. Perhaps it was merely the living trees song passing through the air on the wind?
The possibility of this was quite high, he thought, as he circled the dead tree, his blades occasionally glinting in the moonlight. A sight on the tree made him frown, as he bent down closer to view something that a mortal may have struggled to see during the night.
Near one of the branches, a long and clean scratch had been impressed into the dead bark. It was evidently fresh, for around the darker border of bark, no jagged edges appeared, and no splinters emerged at different ends, all pointing in diverse directions. Not only that, but the wood beneath the outer layer was considerably lighter, and did not appear weather worn, nor was it covered by fungi or moss.
Legolas narrowed his eyes in contemplation at this strange discovery, and made to progress his observations of the dead tree. As he turned away from the suspicious swipe at the tree, another sight caught his eye.
He frowned, and bent at his knees to examine the shining liquid that glinted in the moonlight at first he had dismissed it as nothing more than a dew drop, but then he remembered that firstly, it had not rained for a few weeks, and secondly, it was not yet early enough for the first of the dew drops to form and appear.
His brow furrowed slightly as he bent down even more to observe it, but he need not have, for his stomach twisted slightly as it turned out to be what he had hoped it would not.
Blood. A single drop of blood. Though, after a few seconds of allowing his eyes to scan the small area, he found some further away, in small groups shining innocently in the moonlight.
He straightened up and looked in the direction it seemed to go – in the east. Tightening his grip around his deadly blades, Legolas' eyes wondered over in the direction of the camp. A small orange dot could be seen, with the larger figures of the trolls surrounding it and the sleeping Aragorn. He hadn't realised just how far out he had come.
Quietly swearing, he sheathed one of his blades, but kept the other in his right hand, ready to use if needs be. It was too dark and too late to wonder any further now, especially seeing as Aragorn was unaware of where the elf had gone. If he had woken up whilst Legolas was gone, the mortal would have no doubt begun searching for the elf, leading to them most probably getting separated – a situation that would be preferably avoidable, Legolas thought, especially seeing as he kept getting that feeling of being watched.
What incident that had occurred at the dead tree, and the circumstances around it would have to wait. He had not sensed anything, nor had he heard anything, so perhaps it was an animal? The blood that was present on the tree was only minimal, therefore whoever, or whatever, was injured could not be badly so.
Before Legolas knew it, the heat from the glowing embers met him, and Aragorn was still sleeping, exactly in the same position Legolas had last seen him, with his snores for company. He quietly took off his quiver, bow and knives, and set them besides where he was going to lie down.
Legolas lay on the ground besides his oblivious mortal friend and rested his head on one of his arms as he looked up at the starry sky, one of his blades still resting in his right hand. He would stay awake this night and allow his senses to indulge in the surroundings, and let him know of any approaching danger.
Sorry this chapter took so long – I have started a full time job, which is very tiring. Next chapter will be posted in the next few weeks. Please review and enjoy : )