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In Sequent Toil

Title: In Sequent Toil
Characters: Legolas, Gimli, Haldir, Celeborn
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/Adventure




AN: This was written for a challenge on the "When Darkness Beckons" Yahoo Group. It had to contain six specific elements, i.e. 1. Getting locked out of a hotel room 2. Cell phone that is slowly dying 3. Faded photographs 4. A map of the US 5. Car with half a tank of gas 6. Wallet with only $5.00. I took these and made an LOTR story out of them to make it a sort of double challenge.

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Legolas stood outside the dubious-looking inn at the center of Bree, debating whether to go inside. The sign said, "The Prancing Pony" and clearly both the sign and the inn had seen better days. Legolas knew this was the inn where Aragorn, as he was known in those days, had met with Frodo at the beginning of the great quest but that had been long ago, and the village saw little through traffic in these days of peace. Although Bree was still home to the races of both Hobbits and Men, no Elves lived here, though a dwindling number of them were still seen on rare occasions as they passed through the village on their way to the Grey Havens.

The thought of the Havens filled Legolas with the sea longing he felt whenever he was forced to travel to its brink and he shook off the feeling with difficulty. Even now he imagined he could smell a salt tang in the smoky air, though he had not been near the sea in over a fortnight. A man brushed past him and swept into the inn and Legolas sighed, knowing he had to make a decision soon. He would have preferred to travel straight through but his horse had thrown two shoes, forcing him to stop and hope the village had a proper blacksmith.

The problem for Legolas was not the less-than-savory look of the inn - he had stayed in worse places - but rather the stir the presence of an Elf caused in these small villages. The looks, the whispers, the inevitable slurs or over-friendly claps on the back from smelly, drunken Men and tipsy Hobbits. Legolas sighed, looking around the square for an alternative and finding none.

There was nothing for it he decided at last; he would have to spend at least one night here.

Legolas entered, the hood of his cloak pulled up to hide his pointed ears, and picked his way through the crowd to the bar where the jovial innkeeper was engaged in some light banter with a customer. Edging his way closer, he waited patiently for the two to finish their conversation so he could ask about a room.

As he waited, he glanced around, noticing two men at a nearby table with their heads close together, speaking low. His elven hearing picked up their conversation easily and though he did not mean to listen in, he could not help but follow the whispered thread.

"...got it off a mariner Elf outside Annúminas who swore he had brought it from Eldamar. Dying from a mortal wound he was. He made me take it, made me promise to get it to Lothlórien. Said it was a knowledge of the Valar not meant for Middle Earth, but that Lord Celeborn - whoever he is - must have it. I've been trying ever since to find an Elf as will take it but they're all nearly gone now and the few I've spoken to have treated me like I was crazy, just stare at me with those eyes, shake their heads and turn away. Been trying for two years now with no luck. If you could take it to King Elessar, maybe he could find a way. I don't know what else to do."

"It's true I'm on my way to Gondor," the other man said, "but I'm not likely to get an audience with the king. How do you know this thing is real anyway?"

Legolas, hearing the two familiar names in the man's speech, was so intent on the conversation he did not notice the innkeeper was speaking to him. Finally a touch upon his arm turned his attention to the man behind the bar.

"I said can I help you, lad?" the man was saying. "I can see you're a stranger here. You want a drink or a room or both?"

He paused as Legolas turned, for when he saw his face the innkeeper knew he was looking upon an Elf. Legolas, his mind still on the whispered conversation, stared at the man for a beat or two before answering, causing the innkeeper to shift uncomfortably, wringing his rag in his hands as he awaited the Elf's reply.

Finally he gave the man slight smile, "Both, if you please." he said politely and the innkeeper let out the breath he'd been holding and nodded, now all business.

"Of course, of course." he said, producing a bottle of wine that looked like it might have been behind the bar since the First Age. Legolas waved it away before the man could open it.

"Ale will do, thank you." he said, and the innkeeper brightened and relaxed, as though welcoming a regular customer.

"As you wish," he smiled and set a tankard of the inn's signature ale before his unusual guest. He laid a key on the bar and nodded toward a flight of stairs at the back. "Enjoy the common room as long as you like and when you're ready it'll be the third door down on the right." the innkeeper said. "You need anything just ask for me, William Butterbur."

Legolas nodded and turned away, looking for the men he had heard talking. To his disappointment they were now gone. He took a table in the back where he could watch the room without being disturbed and sipped his ale, thinking of what little he had heard of the men's conversation, 'knowledge of the Valar', 'Lord Celeborn'. Legolas did not know whether the powerful Elf Lord remained in Middle Earth, but the man had said an Elf died trying to get this object to him. Perhaps the man was simply mad, Legolas thought, or inventing a story for a weary evening. Still, he had sounded sincere enough. After an hour or so of drinking the strong ale, Legolas was beginning to find the increasing noise level of the other patrons tedious and decided to go to his room.

He stood, discovering to his surprise that the drink was stronger than he had realized when he downed so much of it. Making his way to the stairs he managed to carry himself steadily, though his head was spinning a bit. He went up to the second floor and down the hall, stopping before the third door on the right. Searching his pockets for the key, he swayed a bit as he brought it forth and stuck it in the lock. Turning it produced no results and he tried again before the futility of the action reached his brain. Frowning, he looked up and down the hallway to see if anyone was watching and, embarrassed, turned and tried the key in the door behind him, the third on the left. The key turned and he entered with a sigh of relief.

Taking off his cloak, he poured some water from the pitcher beside the bed into the basin and splashed it on his face, trying to rid himself of the buzz the drink had given him. The action did not entirely succeed and, with the weariness of travel and drink catching up to him at last, he stripped himself to his leggings and fell upon the bed.

How long he had lain in reverie he knew not but a noise close by, too close, woke him instantly and he sprang to his feet to see the man from the table downstairs staring at him in surprise and fear. Equally surprised to see the man, Legolas stared back at him, his fierce warrior eyes piercing the mortal's quailing heart.

"Forgive me, my lord," the man quavered, "but you are in my room I think."

"Impossible." Legolas stated flatly. "The key I was given fit this room."

"Begging your pardon, my lord," the man tried again, "my key fits this room as well."

Legolas blinked at him uncomprehendingly as he slowly registered what the man was saying. Then he realized he was looking at the man who had made the remarkable claim of having... something he needed to get to Lord Celeborn.

If he had been himself, Legolas would have been a bit more tactful, but as it was he simply blurted out, "I overheard you downstairs. You have an object you need to get to Lothlórien, do you not?"

The man stared at him, thunderstruck. "How do you know about that?" he snapped, suddenly wary. "I've found nary a single Elf interested in my tale and now you, a stranger, ask about it? Who are you?"

Legolas realized the sight he must present standing there in only his leggings with his hair rumpled and his eyes bloodshot from drink. Silently cursing himself for his carelessness, he snatched up and donned his tunic.

"I am Legolas, one of the nine walkers of the War of the Ring. I overheard your conversation while standing at the bar. Forgive me for not introducing myself properly." He made a slight bow. "You spoke of both King Elessar and Lord Celeborn, both of who are known to me. Perhaps I can deliver the object you protect."

The man thought this over for a moment, comparing what he had heard of the Elf of the nine with the Elf he saw now before him. After a moment, relief broke across his features and he closed the door to the room and again dropped his voice to a whisper.

"The Elf as gave me this died to protect it. He staggered into my camp in the woods, shot through with arrows. Said he'd been killed by other Elves and pressed this thing into my hand. Are you sure you're willing to take it?"

"What could be of such value that this Elf would give his life for it?" Legolas mused aloud. "What sort of object is it?"

"It's a piece of parchment, a map," the man said. "I'll tell you no more until you tell me if you'll take it to Lothlórien."

Legolas considered the man's words. A hidden knowledge that Elves would kill to secret, something Lord Celeborn must have. If he remained in Middle Earth, Celeborn would certainly be the only one who would know what to do with such a map, Legolas was certain the Elf who had died was right about that.

"Aye, I'll take it." Legolas said. "But if Elves are looking for it, assassin Elves, how is it you are still alive?"

"Only through the grace of the Valar, I'm sure." the man said. "When he gave it to me, he told me to secret it and get away at once, that his trail was being followed. I took the thing and stuffed it into a hollow in the heel of my boot. I broke camp and took to the wilderness. I made my way through to the city thinking I'd be safer there. And sure enough it was nearly a month before they caught up to me. Three of them there were, dark-haired, darker skin than you, and they sat down with me at a tavern one night, asking questions that sounded casual enough but I knew what they wanted so I kept mum. They could not be sure whether I was the one who had seen their quarry or if he had even talked to me.

They followed me for several days after. I would catch a glimpse of them from the corner of my eye but when I took a good look I never saw them. For the next six months I felt like I was being watched. There was no real evidence of this, just a feeling, but I went about my business as usual and kept that map hidden behind my fireplace. Once or twice I came to my rooms to find my place had been searched but they did not find it. I never told a soul about it and finally the feeling went away. That's when I started making my way to Bree. I knew Elves on their way to the Havens traveled this way sometimes and I hoped to get someone to take it. But all the Elves who come this way never go back, and I could not ask just anyone." The man sighed deeply, "It's been an awful burden, my lord. If you cannot help me, I'll have to destroy it. It's too dangerous to keep much longer."

"I will take this burden from you." Legolas said, laying a kind hand upon the man's shoulder. "And I thank you on behalf of Lord Celeborn for your courage in protecting it this long."

The man, nearly overwhelmed by the Elf's kindness, wiped a tear from his eye. "Thank you, my lord," he said. "I must get it from its hiding place before I can give it to you, but I cannot do so until morning. Will you wait?"

"Of course." Legolas said. "My horse is in need of shoeing so I must have that done at first light. Let me just go get the proper key and I will let you have the room I paid for, since I have slept in this bed."

"No need," the man said, "I will get the key from Butterbur and explain the situation."

He left and Legolas sat down on the bed, thinking on the man's tale, wondering if it could possibly be true. Deciding he would withhold judgment until he saw the thing with his own eyes, Legolas listened for the man's return. He thought to rest himself for only a moment while he waited to hear the footfalls and key in the lock across the hall, but once again weariness overtook him and when next his eyes focused, bright sunlight was streaming through the window.

Legolas went instantly on alert, listening. He could hear noises downstairs but nothing from the corridor outside. Cautiously he slipped across the hall, rapping lightly on the door of the room in which the man was staying. When there was no answer, he tried the handle and found the door unlocked. Carefully pushing the door open, his eyes went wide and his mouth gaped to see the man he had spoken to the night before lying dead in the bed. He did not have to move closer to see with his keen eyes that the man's throat had been cut, there was blood everywhere. The man's sightless eyes stared at the ceiling with a look of surprise that matched the Elf's own.

Just as Legolas began to close the door, the man who had been on the other end of the conversation in the common room the night before - the man on his way to Gondor -came up the stairs.

"You!" the man shouted. "What are you doing there?"

Legolas turned to face him. "There's been a murder." he said. "The man in here is dead."

The man paled and stammered. "I know nothing, he told me nothing. Please, I have a family..." the man trailed off and fell to his knees, his hands raised pleadingly before him.

"I am no killer," Legolas said evenly, taking a step toward the man with his hands at chest level, palms up to show he carried no weapon. Instead of calming, the man began to wail, raising his arms higher to cover his head.

Legolas knew the noise would attract others and he stepped forward and seized the frightened man, dragging him into his room and clamping a hand tightly over his mouth. The man struggled wildly but was no match for the annoyed Elf.

"Listen to me," Legolas said through clenched teeth, "I will not harm you, now be silent!"

Finally the man surrendered, allowing the Elf to take the hand away from his mouth, though his trembling did not cease. When Legolas let him go, he moved as far away as possible, plastering himself into a corner.

"What are you going to do?" the man asked. "I swear I know nothing."

"Your claim would be decidedly more credible if your every statement did not reveal that there is something to be known." Legolas said, exasperated.

The man fell silent and Legolas sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I did not kill the man in that room. I found him dead just before you arrived. However, I heard part of your conversation last night so I know he was trying to give you something. Do you know what it was and if he had it in his room?"

"If you overheard, then you know I refused him." the man said nervously, "So why do you hold me prisoner and question me? Why were you in his room this morning if you were not seeking it? He told me the Elves would kill for this thing."

"I am not one of those Elves." Legolas explained. "And I did not refuse him when he asked me to accept the burden of transporting it."

The man looked uncertain for a moment, then relaxed a bit in relief. "I believe you when you say you are neither an assassin nor a murderer," he said, "for if you were either I would be dead now, I'm certain. But I cannot help you. He did not tell me what he had and I do not know where he kept it."

"If you believe my story and if you believed his, will you give me time to search the room before you raise the alarm? Perhaps one mystery can be solved."

"I will give you one hour." the man said, "If he is not discovered before then, I will tell Butterbur to check his room."

Legolas let the man out and, finding no others about, slipped quietly into the man's room. He checked the bloody body with a light but thorough touch, searched his boots - which had no hollow heel, his bed, and finally the room itself. He could find nothing on the man but a few personal belongings and a search of the room turned up no hidden holes, loose floorboards, or false bottoms in the dresser. Finally, he was forced to give up.

He hated to leave the inn with a mystery nagging at him and without having a clue where to search for the elusive map, but he knew he could not now linger. He had to get away from the village before questions were raised that would surely delay his journey back to Gondor. If the man had the map, it was certainly long gone by now and Legolas had no idea where to find it. The assassins had obviously found what they were looking for and, though it galled Legolas to admit it, the mystery must remain unsolved.

Taking up his bow, quiver, and other travel items, Legolas donned his cloak and went downstairs. With apologies to Butterbur, he declined an offer of breakfast, taking only a slice of bread and jam as he left. He headed directly to the stables, found the smith, and got him started shoeing his horse.

Legolas waited within the stable, the hood of his cloak pulled up as the horse was readied. He did not want to be seen out on the streets or be recognized as an Elf by any other of this village. He retrieved his empty saddlebag from the wall and filled it with his belongings: a change of clothes, a silver flint box, a dagger, and several packages of lembas. By the time he had everything squared away, the smith was done. Legolas asked him the price.

"That'll be seven farthings." the blacksmith said and Legolas reached into his purse, only to discover, to his dismay, that he carried only five.

"I - I seem to be without the proper funds." Legolas apologized. "Will you take five? It is all I have."

The blacksmith stared at him coldly. "No money, no horse." he said and turned to lead the horse back into its stall.

Legolas bit his lip, trying to decide his next course of action. As he debated what to do, he saw a shadow at the edge of a door and heard a "phfft" sound and the blacksmith fell dead upon the straw, an Elven knife in his back.

His course now decided for him, Legolas leapt lightly onto his horse's back and kicked it into a gallop, nearly running down the Elf that had appeared in the door, bow drawn. The horse burst from the wide doors and into the open air, warm with the scents of sunshine and wood smoke, and Legolas bent low over the horse's neck as an arrow sang past his ear. He tore down the road from the village, the hairs on the back of his neck rising as he heard an Elvish shout. He chanced a look behind him and saw three figures, hooded and cloaked as he, pulling their horses into position to be mounted. He turned his face forward again and urged more speed from his mount, scattering fowl, dogs, and people alike in his headlong dash from Bree.

He did not slow until the town was well behind him, his pursuers not having closed enough to catch sight of him. Why were these Elves chasing him, he wondered? Did they know of his conversation with the man? They must know or they would not have shown up at the stables. The fact that he did not have the map was apparently no protection from these Elves. If he had spoken to the man about it, his life was forfeit. He could only assume they had already paid a visit to the other man as well. Legolas had not seen him again before he left the inn.

He rode on, not slowing until he reached a bend in the road. After he rounded the bend, he slowed his horse and urged him off the road and into the wilderness. He halted the horse and took a brief moment to scatter leaves over the trail to make it difficult for his pursuers to know exactly where he had left the road. Mounting again, he rode on through the dense stand of trees, as swiftly as possible, which was none too fast as the way was muddy and filled with underbrush that made slow going for a horse. As he pressed on he found himself going slower and slower until he was finally forced to dismount and walk.

Leading his horse through the forest, Legolas tried to decide his best course. He remembered what Aragorn had told him about how he had trekked through the wilds with the Hobbits in tow, the way he had led them, the path he had followed. Legolas decided he could do worse than to follow Strider's path so he began to look for landmarks Aragorn had told him of long ago. Fortunately Elves have excellent memories and he soon felt comfortable enough with his direction to again pick up speed. He traveled the rest of the day and into the night. As the darkness deepened around him, the horse began to have more difficulty with the terrain, fearing as it did the noises of nocturnal animals and the very real possibility of stumbling, not having the sharp eyes of its master.

At last they came to a boggy patch and the horse halted and would not be moved. Legolas tired to lead it from the spongy soil to more solid ground but the horse's back foot caught at the uneven edge and it stumbled, giving a small huff of dissatisfaction, causing Legolas to also stumble forward. At the same moment an arrow missed his head by barely an inch and he was forced to abandon his unfortunate mount who had taken the arrow in one of its rolling eyes.

The horse fell to its knees and Legolas only had time to snatch his bag from the saddle as another arrow came even closer. Forced to leave his own bow and quiver behind, Legolas scrambled quickly through the trees, thankful for their cover as he sought to escape the enemy he could not see. He ran, dodging thick trunks and low branches, crashing through the underbrush much louder than he intended, unable to hear the sounds of his Elven pursuers.

Spying a tangle of loose roots at the base of a tree, his keen Wood Elf eyes saw a hollow there and instantly calculated its size compared to his. With a desperate lunge, he dove into the space, the tree's roots moving to cover him as he huddled within. It was several long moments before he heard the tread of Elven feet, so light even he almost could not detect them. The soft sounds lingered, encircling his hiding place in an ever expanding circuit as his pursuers sought him out. Legolas could not risk looking through the tightly knit roots to get a better look at them.

All through the night Legolas did not move. He dared not do so, not even to take a sip from his waterskin or chance a bite of lembas as he sat in the earthen dark, waiting to make sure the searchers had moved on. He wished he had found the man's map he thought ruefully. At least he would then know the secret before he was driven to the Halls of Mandos by the assassins. Sighing softly, he let himself drift into reverie, knowing he would need all his strength and wits before his journey was over.

The next morning, Legolas found upon waking that a feeling of dread was upon him. He heard nothing but he continued to keep still and a little after midday he again heard the feather-light footfalls of the Elves. They searched the area once more, and again Legolas was forced to spend the night in the hollow of the tree. For four days and nights he remained, with no food or drink, within his hideaway. On the fifth day, having heard no sounds at all the day before and having had no evil feelings, Legolas decided it was safe to leave his sanctuary. Silently thanking the tree, who moved its roots aside to allow him egress, he slipped from the hollow and set off through the woods.

The day had turned cold and rain clouds gathered above the canopy of the trees, shouldering past each other like shoppers hastening through a busy market. Legolas pulled up the hood of his cloak as the first drops began to fall and was soon walking through small rivers of mud as the light rain became a fierce downpour. He continued to walk lightly along, neither slipping nor sinking in the thick mud, hoping the rain would aid his escape by drowning out evidence of his passing. When the rain stopped, Legolas climbed into the branches of a large oak tree, positioning himself so he could see the ground below.

Realizing he still had not eaten, he took a healthy swig from his waterskin and then opened his saddlebag, searching for a packet of lembas. Something at the bottom of the bag, all but hidden within a fold where the stitching had been pulled away, caught his eye. It was a corner of parchment. He took another quick look and listen then he tuned into his inner voice for any sign of an ominous feeling. Finding everything safe, he carefully pulled the parchment forth and began to unfold it, seeing that it was, indeed, a map of some sort, much folded and creased with droplets of blood dotting it here and there.

A bird called from a branch nearby and Legolas all but jumped from his perch in surprise, hastily stuffing the parchment back into its hiding place within his bag. He decided he would have to feel much safer before he chanced a look at the object of his doom. Cursing the man for secreting the thing within his bag, he decided if he was to carry it to Lothlórien, he must first try to get a message to Elessar in case he did not win through. Someone had to know this map existed and that anyone who possessed it was in danger.

Pulling a leather pouch from his pocket, he took out the object within and removed it from the bit of silken cloth that held it. It was a round stone, as clear as polished quartz, which fit into the palm of his hand. Before sailing to the Undying Lands, Gandalf had gifted the remaining members of the nine with these small stones which acted a bit like palantirs. With them they could contact each other in case of dire need. He said the words over it, as the old wizard had instructed, and waited to see if any would answer. A dim light began to glow within the stone and after a long moment, he saw the familiar furry face of the Dwarf swirl into view within.

"Who's there?" Gimli said gruffly. "Is it you, laddie? My eyes aren't what they used to be."

Legolas could see him squinting hard into the stone, trying to see his friend's face.

"Aye," he said very softly. "Gimli, I need your help, you must get word to King Elessar."

"Sing what?" the Dwarf said, confused. "Speak up, you silly Elf, I can't hear ye."

'Ears of a fox,' Legolas thought with a smile, 'Apparently his ears are not what they used to be either.' Despite the seriousness of his situation, the memory of the look on Gimli's face when he found himself surrounded never failed to give him a chuckle. He had never let the Dwarf forget that remark.

"Gimli, I can speak no louder," Legolas whispered desperately. "Can you get a message to Gondor?"

"Gondor? Aye, what message."

The mist within the stone began to swirl and Gimli's face broke up.

"Gimli!" Legolas hissed. "Can you hear me?"

But the mist swirled away and slowly died and the stone went a smoky grey.

Legolas said the words again but this time they had no effect. He tried three times more before he gave up and returned the stone to the pouch. He wondered if the stone had lost its power or if the distance was too great. Either way he was on his own it seemed. For the next few minutes he sat upon the branch watching and listening. When the rain began to lessen to a light drizzle, he climbed down from the tree and set off again, adjusting his course to take him to Lothlórien instead of Gondor.

He made it through the woods without incident and was able to keep his waterskin full from the many streams swollen by the rain. Though he could not hunt without his bow, he found a variety of local plants which were edible and, combined with the lembas, kept hunger at bay.

When he came to open country he paused, reluctant to leave the cover and protection of the trees. But he had to press on and so he stepped from beneath the branches and began to run lightly along. He traveled by day and night, eating and drinking on the run, taking a roundabout course to foil his pursuers. When he again came to a small stand of trees, he took shelter there, climbing up to the topmost branches to check the terrain. As he looked off to the west, he saw a movement in the distance, figures that were little more than green specks against the green grasses of the plains. All his cunning and endurance had bought him less than a day's time, he realized. Wearily he climbed down and set off again.

His travels took him past Weathertop but there was no reason to go to Rivendell, all the Elves there had moved on. Legolas kept up his pace until he could do so no more. His lembas was running low; he had not found water upon the grassy plains for days and was forced to stake out his cloak at night to catch the mouthful of dew that gathered there. His only consolation was that his hunters must also halt sometime, for they were Elves as he and must also have sustenance and rest their bodies.

Sitting upon the ground, the high grass over his head, he decided to have a look at the map at last. Carefully removing it from his pouch, he opened it and looked upon the secret of the Valar. The map showed Aman and Eldamar but in the space to the west of the westernmost part of the world the map showed another large land mass. The oddly shaped land was broken into smaller sections, like the pieces of a quilt, with names in a strange tongue Legolas could not decipher. The only thing he could make out was the name of the land, scrawled in an unnatural hand upon the parchment: US. Legolas knew not what the word might mean in the strange tongue but knew the word in Westron was a reference to a group of people.

So this was what these Elves were so desperate to get back! The hidden knowledge was that Middle Earth and the lands of the West were not the edge of this world as all believed. The thought made Legolas' mind reel. What sort of folk might dwell there? What strange languages and ways did they have? Did Melkor know of this place? For if he did, what havoc might he wreak upon the people there, as he had in Middle Earth?

Legolas understood why this object must be given to Lord Celeborn. It was as dangerous as the one ring, perhaps even more so. Curious as to whether it was as resistant to destruction as the ring had been, Legolas grasped a bit of one corner and tried to rip it away. The parchment, though seemingly ordinary, would not tear. Though he did not dare subject it to further testing, he had a feeling it would prove as resistant to flame and water as to the strength of an Elf.

He replaced the map within his pouch and, taking a loose thread from his tunic, placed the map within the fold and tied the thread to the loosened stitching, weaving and retightening it so there was no sign of the map. Cautiously he poked his head up over the grasses and was relieved to see he was still alone.

Less than half a day's journey from Lorien, Legolas decided he needed to move on with all speed, but his weary body would not cooperate. He munched the last of the lembas, wishing he had a shot of miruvor to wash it down as he jogged along. When he came to the banks of the Nimrodel, his heart swelled to finally see the river of song and story. Singing softly to himself he crossed over upon the same ropes the Fellowship had used to cross those many years ago. No Elves had met him and he wondered if the borders were patrolled further in during these days of peace or if all the Elves here had sailed.

When he reached the other side he continued on until he saw the golden leaves of the mallorn trees ahead, their beauty undiminished by the loss of Galadriel's protection, though Legolas could feel the difference in the very air surrounding him. The place was beautiful, yes, but the magic was gone, the feeling of Elven power and presence no longer gracing the very air he breathed.

He entered the Golden Wood, feeling the spring-like warmth of the forest surround him, when suddenly, to his horror, two figures with bows drawn stepped from the trees. Legolas did not have to look behind him to know where the other assassin stood.

"Peace, brothers," Legolas said. "I did not know these woods were still forbidden territory."

The two Elves faces were beautiful but hard beneath the hoods of their cloaks as they pulled back slightly on their bowstrings.

"You know what we want." one said. "Give it to us and you need not die this day."

"If you think I have what you seek, why not simply kill me and take it?" he asked.

The two Elves shot glances at each other and at a point behind him and slightly to the left.

"We do not wish to search your dead body for it, but we will if we have to." the Elf sounded less certain now.

"I carry nothing of interest," Legolas tried. "You may search me if you wish."

"On your knees," the Elf on the right said, "hands behind your head."

Legolas assumed the position and the Elf behind him put a knife to his throat as one of the Elves before him began to search the bag. All the while the other Elf did not lower his bow or relax his pull upon the string. Legolas' belongings were dumped upon the ground and the Elf went over everything, even checking his flint box for any secret openings. The bag was turned inside out and the Elf pulled at the loose string.

"This looks like a place where something might have been secreted. Tell us what you've done with it."

"I do not know what you are looking for, but I assure you I have nothing but what you see."

The Elf snorted in disbelief. "Stand up."

They searched his body next, practically stripping him in their efforts to find the map, but even though they touched every part of him in their thoroughness, they did not find anything but the amulet he wore about his neck with a painted picture of his father on one side and of King Elessar in his coronation crown on the other, both faded from much exposure to heat, cold, and dampness.

The Elves were angry that their search turned up nothing, and the one with the knife drew the edge down Legolas' smooth cheek, tracing a thin line of red upon his pale skin.

"Tell us where it is!" he hissed angrily.

Legolas set his features stubbornly. "I know not what you seek."

The Elves bound his hands and marched him to a place deep within the silent woods where they could do their work. They stripped off his tunic, tied him to a tree, and each of them pulled strips of leather, studded with metal, from their traveling bags.

"You will tell us what we want to know, one way or another."

Legolas' eyes widened when he saw the implements of torture. He had heard of Elves subjected to cruel torments, beaten, limbs ripped and torn until their spirits were broken and their bodies bloody shells of flesh. He could imagine Sauron and his minions doing this, but to be treated such by Elves was incomprehensible.

"You must work for the dark powers to do such to your own kind." he gasped softly.

"Who our lord may be is none of your concern, Wood Elf." one of them spat. "You may end your torment before it is begun simply by giving us what we want."

Legolas closed his eyes tightly, mentally preparing himself for what was to come. He opened them and looked at each Elf in turn. "I - know - nothing." he said emphatically.

One of the Elves raised his strips of leather to strike, but before he could land the blow, an arrow from above pierced his heart. The other two Elves looked up into the trees, dropping the leather strips and reaching for their weapons.

"Daro!" the familiar voice above snapped, and they froze in mid-reach.

A group of seven well-armed Lorien Elves stepped from the woods, led by Lord Celeborn himself.

The Elf in the tree above revealed himself by leaping lightly to the ground. It was Haldir.

"You are a most welcome sight!" Legolas cried, as the assassins were bound and guarded by his rescuers.

Haldir smiled. "Did you enjoy getting to see the Nimrodel this time?" he teased.

In response, Legolas broke into a stanza of the song, causing Haldir to shake his head in amusement.

"And what brings you to the Golden Wood, Legolas Thranduilion?" Lord Celeborn asked as he untied Legolas from the tree.

"A matter of great import, my lord," Legolas said with a bow, "one that should be discussed only with you, if you will permit."

The Elves traveled through the woods until they reached Lord Celeborn's sanctuary. Haldir took charge of the assassins as Legolas and the Elf Lord made their way to Celeborn's private rooms.

When they were alone, Legolas was once again struck by how wise and powerful a figure Celeborn presented. Even after all he had been through and had seen in his time in Middle Earth, Legolas felt almost tongue-tied as his host's grey eyes turned upon him.

"What is this matter you wish to discuss?" Celeborn asked in a voice so calm, Legolas was sure he already knew the answer.

"I was given a map, my lord, a map that shows a land beyond Aman. If any in Middle Earth knew of it, this world would be shaken to its foundation."

"But you told the assassins that you possessed no map," Lord Celeborn said. "Where did you hide it?"

Legolas reached to undo the braid at the back of his head, carefully freeing the thong that held it in place. He brought forth the leather which was tightly twisted around the parchment, the color matching so completely that two looked to be of the same material. Unrolling the tightly wound parchment, Legolas presented it to Lord Celeborn.

The Elf Lord gave it a cursory look, and again Legolas was surprised by his lack of reaction.

"This is known to me, Legolas." he said. "There was a secret society of Elves who were set to guard it. I believe the Elves pursuing you stole it and were planning to take it to their lord, a creature so evil he rivals Melkor himself. This map shows the route to reach this other land, a route only the Valar can take. But one of their kin wanted no part of their plan and he took the map and sailed to Middle Earth. He planned to bring it to me but was found out and killed before he could do so. The map cannot be destroyed so there is only one thing to do. It must be returned to its guardians in the Undying Lands."

"Who will take it?" Legolas asked, stunned by Celeborn's words. "Who is left in Middle Earth powerful enough to risk it?"

Lord Celeborn gave him a sad smile. "I have felt the pull of the sea most keenly these past months. I long to see Aman again and to feel Galadriel's touch once more."

**********

And so Legolas found himself standing again at the sea, his journey to the Havens to see Sam leave these same shores half a year ago had come full circle. The great grey ship rose from the mist like the ghost of a sea beast as Lord Celeborn and Haldir made their way up the gangplank.

The last ship to leave Middle Earth carried both its greatest Lord and its greatest secret.

Legolas watched as the ship moved slowly away, keeping vigil until it was out of sight over the horizon. Then he turned away and breathed deeply of the salt air.

'Not yet.' he thought to himself. 'Someday this journey will be mine, but not this day.'

He walked off humming softly to himself and wondering what it would be like to spend the winter within the Glittering Caves.


end

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
malinorne2003
Aug. 4th, 2010 06:22 pm (UTC)
How cleverly you've worked in the challenge elements - the 'mobile phone' was particularly fun to see, and I do have a weak spot for inns. I enjoyed Legolas' adventure very much :-)
ignoblebard
Aug. 7th, 2010 04:48 am (UTC)
I liked writing for this challenge. I just wish I'd had more time to work out some of the kinks, but all in all I'm happy with the story. I'm so glad you commented on it. :-)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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