Water came down from the sky as an endless rain, and Pippin thought if this was simply a twist of fate. Or a cruel game of irony. It seemed so to him. Twice I have left my home, and twice I have been soaked through before this same city. Lights of Bree shone before them like a beckoning wall, distant but there. All the evil memories considering that place departed from Pippin’s mind as he thought of dry clothes, a warm, comfortable bed, and decent supper.
“Do you think we should enter the town?” Aragorn’s voice came through the constant sound of the rain and hooves.
Pippin glanced at Gandalf, to whom the question had been spoken. Could it possible be they haven’t thought about taking refuge in the town? Oh, why did I come along… But Gandalf saved him from further misery.
“I would press on, but the Men and the horses are weary, and we have reached Bree without trouble. We have enough time to spend the night here,” the Wizard concluded, water dripping down his face.
Aragorn nodded, calling out his orders. Men took their places on the line swiftly, yet there was a clear sign of exhaustion in their movements. The rain had started at morning, soon after they had set out from their camp. It had ended at midday, but began again when they had managed to get into some dry clothes. Lucky to them, the Elves hadn’t bothered to change: they had said that the rain would continue later – as it had.
Out of nowhere, making Pippin jump in his place, Elves joined the Men. The wall of rain had hidden their movements around the army for hours now, but they came closer as the Men prepared to enter the town before them. He made out Legolas’ form, wondering briefly how Gimli was feeling. The Dwarf hadn’t changed into dry clothes either – by his own decision rather than the advice of his friend – but the Hobbit couldn’t stop thinking that Gimli had actually believed the Elves. Good for him. And his kinsmen. They did not bother to change either, probably because Gimli didn’t. Dwarven pride or not, it saved them this time. Or at least a one set of clothes. Shuddering, Pippin wondered if any layer of cloth was still actually dry in his pack.
“We shall reach the city soon,” Faramir comforted his companion, shivering himself.
“Good,” Pippin replied, then sat up suddenly. “But where shall we put all these warriors? I mean, there is quite a lot of them, even if we are a small army, but no inn is big enough…”
“I am sure Mithrandir had something in his mind,” Faramir soothed him.
“Or Strider,” Pippin added, remembering their first meeting in the very same city. “Elessar, I mean,” he corrected hastily as he realised his error. Faramir merely chuckled, taking his horse closer to the head of the group.
“Does this blasted rain never end?” Gimli grumbled unhappily on his place behind Legolas. It didn’t matter how he tried to sit or into which way they were riding: the water always poured on him.
“It will, eventually,” Legolas answered. He didn’t look too bothered by the sudden wetness, and Gimli decided the Elf had not even noticed they were all soaked through. “Tomorrow is a new day,” the Prince added. “We shall spend the night in the city, though the rain will end during the evening.”
“Good,” Gimli groaned, shifting. It was already late, he knew. The sky had been dark all day, clouds hanging low even at the moments they were not pouring water on him. For a moment he wondered why to enter Bree at all: if the rain would end, it was all the same. Though he would appreciate a warm fire and a big mug of good ale, if nothing else. “Why do you think Gandalf wanted to pass Bree, before the rain began?” he asked, to keep himself warm.
“I think none of us wants to drag attention,” came another voice from their right side. Dínnor rode into view, wiping his hand over his face, and then to his fully braided hair. Unlike his kinsmen, his hair seemed as good as ever. Even wet, the small braids held their form and stood against the rain almost mockingly. “Army, even one of this size, is out of ordinary on these grounds.”
“True,” Legolas agreed, pushing a free strand of hair off from his cheek. “We must be careful.” He also glanced at Dínnor, and Gimli thought he was seeing the Prince weigh a possibility of changing his braiding as soon as he got his blond mane dry.
“And who would care of our movements?” Gimli pushed. There was silence, only rain and the horses keeping its constant background sound playing. The air seemed to tense up, and the Dwarf realised he had made the wrong question. Or voiced one that none of them wanted to ask, at the moment. “Forget that,” he finally murmured. “I am so cold that thinking of anything else but this cursed rain is a good idea.”
“Nazgûl make nothing on their own,” Dínnor said finally. His dun eyes were hard, directed shamelessly at Legolas. Gimli edged his fingers unconsciously closer to his axe. “The one behind this has enough power to raise them, and control them. To a goal we do not know.”
“Gandalf will give us answers when he reaches them himself,” Legolas replied, his face turned away from his friend. His eyes were hidden from both of his companions as he stared at the town before them.
Have it your way, Dínnor’s eyes seemed to say. He opened his mouth, but then looked at his side, finding Thalión there. The other Cousin shook his silver head, making Dínnor swallow his pride. With a snort, Dínnor spurred his horse forward.
“Do not mind him,” Thalión quipped. “This weather makes us all edgy, and he is easy to lose his temper.”
As Thalión also moved forward, Gimli was sure he felt an air of nervousness pass. “You will have to tell us, soon,” the Dwarf said to the Elf before him, his right hand now laid on Legolas’ thigh. “I do not know what it is that you are hiding, but it is important. In some way.”
Legolas tensed, the nervousness returning. “Do not make me lie to you, Gimli. I worship silence over that.”
Gimli frowned, trying to catch an undertone in the other’s voice. Read something, an unsaid message. But he found none, despite the Elf’s desire to keep his silence about the matters that bothered him. I only fear that at some point, possibly very soon, your nightmares will become ours, Gimli lamented. He did understand Legolas’ reluctance to speak, however. If it had been him, it would have been even more difficult for anyone to approach him with the topic. But would it be so, if I had been through all that Legolas lately has? If I would know what he does. He glanced at the Elf again. This is more than stubbornness: we have worked that out between each other. If it would be merely his Elven pride, I or Aragorn would have been able to talk with him already. But no. It is something else. Something… Only then he noticed Rafél beside them, the guardian moving a little closer. The brown eyes met his shortly, making the Dwarf wonder if the Eldar saw right through him, to his thoughts. Legolas shifted, and Rafél broke the eye-contact, moving forward until he was beside the Prince.
Gimli tilted his head, the frown increasing. What did Rafél know? Or more likely, how much did he guess? He had known Legolas all his life, so it was probable he could read much of the younger Elf, even if verbal information was cut off between them. Or maybe he knows. They seem closer than some days ago. But it also may be an after-effect of the Nazgûl’s attack, and the work Rafél did to bring Legolas back to light. I imagine that could be enough to make them closer… He sat back, unhappy. He knew nothing, and it was eating him from within. Not because he wanted knowledge: he was worried for his friend – his best friend and dearest companion – but had no way to help him as long as Legolas’ thoughts remained as his own. Maybe Gandalf will speak with him, when we reach Rivendell. It would be absurd if Legolas’ troubles had nothing to do with this new, raising darkness. He had no time to think more of that as the front of the army reached the city-gates, and they all stilled to be allowed in.
It took some proper convincing before the Gate-keeper allowed them in. The Man look frightened and pale as the Men of Gondor and Rohan rode past him. Without a further signal, Elves drew up their hoods and kept close to the Men, trying to fight off all curiosity the people of Bree might have: Elves were not regular visitors here.
If any enemy wished to hear of their movements, this was a perfect moment for spies. Keeping a sharp eye on the few people milling on the muddy, dark streets, Aragorn guided his force inside the gates. He had counselled with Gandalf before and they had decided to rent an empty barn or another building like that to provide the men shelter. They all deserved a good night’s sleep in a warm place, fresh food, and dry clothes.
When he turned Roheryn back to counsel his captains, Aragorn had never been so happy about the rain. He wore clothes that spoke nothing of his royal state, and wet and muddy traveller would hardly be taken as a King. He had no desire to enter the city with banners and ringing of trumpets. Here, he once more felt like a Ranger. Strider had woken up. “Faramir, stay with Gandalf. He will take…” he glanced at the Elves meaningfully. “Well, you will spend a night in some inn. Irolas, you come with me to find a place for the rest of the Men.” He halted and looked around. When he met Éomer’s eyes, he beckoned the Rohirrim closer. “Will you take your riders and follow me? There are some empty barns not far from here.”
Éomer nodded, helping Merry down from his horse.
“Are you not coming to rest with us?” the Hobbit asked alarmed. Both Kings laughed at him.
“Of course, but we shall see for the needs of our men, first,” Aragorn explained softly and then rode forward, soldiers following him.
A group of Men watched the warriors pass in the shadows of a dark building across the street, their eyes glued on the apparent leaders. When all that could be seen had been watched, they exchanged looks, and drew back to the darkness.
“What do you think? Where shall we sleep?” Pippin pondered as he and Faramir also dismounted, joining Merry on the ground. “Not that even a barn sounds good… It will be dry, at least,” he made a face, glancing at the sky.
“Come, you three!” came Gandalf’s voice through the darkening evening. “Let us not linger in the rain. I have got my share of it,” he muttered, and then led Shadowfax on, leaning heavily on his staff. He looked nothing but an old, weary Man, worn from long travel in bad weather.
It was a surprise to some – and a good one of that – when they ended up at the door of The Prancing Pony. Hobbits gave out a joyous shout and almost tumbled in on one go, but they were held back for a moment. A stable-boy came around a corner after Faramir went for a search of him, clearly unhappy about entering the rain. After their horses were safely on the stables – Elves took care of their own mounts – the wet and muddy group entered The Pony.
It had hardly changed after their last visit, years ago.
Elves looked around anxiously, trying to picture every detail at once. Only the Twins had visited this place, and even that was years ago, when they had accompanied Strider on his journeys. Lórien Elves seemed to be greatly amazed by the place, their eyes wide and shining in the dimness. This was nothing they were used to.
“Shall we book in, change clothes, and have a nice, solid supper before going to bed?” Gimli questioned, shaking his cloak back. He knew Dwarves were known customers here – at least when compared to Elves – and he had nothing to hide from the public. “A big, steamy pint of beer,” he murmured dreamily, rubbing his cold hands together eagerly. Merry and Pippin also nodded, looking up at Gandalf expectantly.
“That sounds like a plan,” Gandalf smiled, and made his way towards a Man who had just appeared from the Common Room. “Barliman Butterbur,” he greeted. The short, fat Man stopped short, his eyes going wide. He stared at the Wizard, then at the Hobbits, to the Dwarves, and last to the tall, slender beings still hooded, almost missing Faramir entirely.
“Gandalf? Master Gandalf?! It had been a long time! Welcome, welcome! A… strange group you bring with you,” Butterbur smiled, glancing at the Elves again. “Evening, little masters,” he greeted the Hobbits instead as the Elves turned to look back at him in return, their invisible stares unnerving.
“Hello, Mr. Butterbur,” Pippin said with a bright smile. “It has been a long time, indeed.”
At that moment, Aragorn and Éomer entered, shedding of their cloaks to get rid of most of the water hanging on them. Faramir rose an eyebrow, turning to meet his Lord. “That was swift,” he said, meaning the housing of the soldiers, leaving the title off with some difficulty. But he knew better than to address his King properly here.
“We were lucky,” Éomer grinned, nudging Aragorn’s side. “Strider here knew the right place – and the right sum of money,” he ended, shaking his head.
Aragorn smirked, then nodded at Butterbur. “Good evening, Barliman,” he greeted the Man.
Butterbur went even more still than before – which was very unbecoming of him – staring at the Ranger in front of him. But it was no Ranger. He was no longer merely “Strider”, a Man with dark appearance and eyes full of secrets and knowledge of dark things. He was a King. That was what Butterbur remembered, from his last talk with the Hobbits and Gandalf, years ago. But Aragorn looked very unlike from a King at the moment. “My- my Lord,” the inn-keeper stammered, but halted when Aragorn lifted his hand warningly.
“Strider, to you,” the King smiled, setting the smaller Man into ease. He took a look around to see if anyone had heard. “There is no reason for titles here.”
Butterbur seemed to understand – or at least did as told. “Will you stay the night? How many rooms shall it be? It is lucky, for there are many rooms empty at the moment…”
Gandalf turned to look back at his companions, counting in his head. “We stay only tonight,” he said absently. “Our horses are already taken to the stables.” His eyes moved over the group. “I think we go with as few rooms as we can.” His companions nodded. “Normal rooms should be enough: Hobbits shall share a bed. We shall go with –” He halted again as Haldir spoke up on his own language. “Ah, four rooms it is,” he nodded.
Barliman eyed the group but did not argue. “I will show you to your rooms,” he offered.
“What did he say?” Merry asked as he walked beside Legolas, glancing at Haldir.
“He said that his group will join the Men in the barn,” Legolas replied. “Lórien Elves will take the watch tonight, though I think my other kinsmen will join to them eventually.”
“Watch? Here? And in the rain?” Pippin questioned, shivering of the mere thought.
Legolas smiled. “We Elves do not see the rain as hazardous as you do. And it will end in a few hours.” The Hobbits looked at him doubtingly, but were smart enough to leave the arguing for other beings – like Dwarves.
After Butterbur had escorted them to their rooms he made a hasty departure, eyeing the Elves with both interest and fear. Even if the Firstborns were still hooded, it made little to disguise their immortal appearance. “Well, Aragorn, you take the Hobbits. Legolas and Rafél may share your room,” Gandalf raised his voice. “Dwarves will go with Faramir and Éomer. I will rest with the Rivendell Elves,” he changed looks with Glorfindel. “Rest of the Elves will invade the fourth room,” he said with a smile tugging the corner of his lips. “However much time you will spend there.”
“Some of us are in a need of rest,” Asthaldo smiled, making a fake yawn. “I could use a few hours,” he confessed, making his kinsmen laugh.
“I will be satisfied with some hot food in front of me,” Elrohir quipped, and opened the door of his room, peeking in. He turned back to looked at his twin. “It seems we are sharing a bed.”
“I’ll sleep beside the wall,” Elladan said immediately.
“Why always you?”
“Because I am older.”
Elrohir stuck out his tongue as he was pushed inside by Glorfindel. “We shall eat in our rooms tonight,” Gandalf called out as he also disappeared to the room. “Try to avoid going out, and at least do not do so alone,” he said mostly to the mortals. The others nodded and then took their advice and went to see for their own quarters, anxious for dry clothes, food, and rest.
After they all had changed, food was brought to them. Hobbits wished to go down for a pint of beer and were soon accompanied by the Men, the Dwarves, and Gandalf. Elves remained in their rooms, either not daring to enter the Common Room or wishing to have a short moment of rest before the night’s watch.
In their room, Rafél checked his weapons before setting them down beside his belongings. Legolas sat on a bed, eyes distant, rocking back and forth. His ears picked the noises from the Common Room, and out from the streets. The rain had ended some minutes ago, only an occasional drop from a drain pipe hitting the windowsill. It was already dark, the night fallen, the few candles of the room giving the air a glowing, golden atmosphere. It was soothing, in a way, after all they had been through. Yet some insist to keep a watch, he snorted. He understood Haldir – respected the elder – but still doubted any enemy would hit them here. They can easily wait until we leave Bree again, tomorrow. Only threat we face here is a drunken fight in the Common Room, he smiled. He had no doubt the Dwarves would get involved, if such an opportunity presented itself. Luckily they had Aragorn and Gandalf with them.
The bed shifted and Legolas snapped out of his thoughts. The tension in his body vanished immediately as he felt Rafél’s hands in his hair, opening the braids and combing through the damp strands. The Prince closed his eyes, bowing his head. This had been a daily ritual when he was a child, after his mother’s death. Something Rafél had adapted quickly, and did without complaint every time an opportunity presented itself. Legolas smiled to himself. He hasn’t done this for years. Yet it doesn’t feel ridiculous at all, nor offending.
Rafél halted when he was done, golden hair falling freely over Legolas’ shoulders. His fingers traced the smooth strands, pondering if he should braid them. It was Legolas’ task, naturally, and it could have been taken as an insult if he did it without permission.
Legolas turned his face so he saw the Elf behind him from the corner of his eyes. Rafél’s own, almost completely white hair hung loose like his, catching the light of the candles. Reaching out, Legolas tugged a small strand of his guardian’s silken hair, smile still playing upon his lips. “Go ahead,” he noted the other’s uncertainty, “I don’t mind.” His voice was low, yet he knew Rafél’s sharp ears would catch it without a problem. He kept playing with the other’s hair as Rafél nodded and gathered his hair in his hands.
“Could you please-?” Rafél asked, amused. Legolas let go of the hair reluctantly, allowing the other to get up and find something to tie his hair with. Instead of searching Legolas’ pack, Rafél went to his own and sought some of his own leather straps.
Legolas couldn’t hide the proud smile on his face as Rafél braided his hair. It was a small sign, but as an Elf, Legolas took that as a grand gesture. Having his hair bound with his guardian’s straps… Guardian is just a word, he mocked himself. In your heart you consider him as more, so why not to say it out loud? Maybe he was not ready for that yet, Legolas decided as Rafél tugged one of his braids, playfully indicating he was finished. Legolas traced his hair, fingers touching the binding leather tenderly. Then he laughed sharply. “They will notice, the Cousins,” he chuckled. He turned to look at Rafél again.
The elder bowed his head, his eyes refusing to meet Legolas’. He knew that Thalión would remain silent of their changed relationship, but this was a sign the others would see as well, if they took time to notice. “Should I take them off?” he asked, defeat in his voice.
“Don’t you dare,” Legolas voice was soft, even if his eyes blazed. His fingers still hovered over one of the ties. “I have a right to wear them, do I not? A right you granted me…”
Rafél lifted his head and smiled. “A right? I would merely call it… borrowing items?”
“I consider it more than that,” the Prince answered with a secretive smile. His eyes grew serious, however, his expression soon following. Uncertainty sat still deep in him, refusing to let go easily. “Are you regretting? Have you changed your mind?” I would not blame you if you had.
Rafél drew him into his arms quicker than Legolas could react, pressing their bodies together. “You dare to ask that?Question my oath? Do you not listen to your heart? Do you not hear how my fëa sings with yours?” His dark eyes bore into Legolas’. “I cannot change the way my heart feels. I deny it, I perish. Regretting my words to you would be the same as downfall of my entire existence. No, Legolas, I do not regret. I do not wish to… alter anything.” He pressed their foreheads together, his breath mingling with Legolas’. “As wrong as my feelings are, you welcome them. And that is enough for me. Knowing that you are happy.”
Legolas knew several ways to answer to that, but they heard sounds from the corridor. Breaking the embrace reluctantly, Legolas sat back only some moments before the door was opened and the Hobbits rushed in, silent Aragorn after them. The Man’s grey eyes scanned the Elves for a moment, but he went to his bed wordlessly, taking of his boots with a heavy sigh.
“The beer was as excellent as ever,” Merry smiled, jumping to the bed he shared with his cousin. “You should have come and joined us!”
“There wasn’t even too much folk around,” Pippin added with a nod.
“I doubt either of them would have enjoyed it,” Aragorn said from his place, laying flat on his back on the mattress. His eyes turned to gaze at Legolas again. “How do you feel?”
“Not like scouting tonight,” Legolas answered, throwing a quick look at his guardian which was missed by none. “And I doubt I would be allowed to join them, anyway.” He did not sound too disappointed, and Rafél tried to hide his martyr expression of being blamed again.
Aragorn merely nodded, smiling. “I agree. There is enough watches for all of us in the future. Let us sleep tonight.”
Everyone agreed, Hobbits already yawning and crawling under sheets. There was some quiet chatting for a while, but soon the cousins fell asleep, exhausted by the long travel. Rafél got up to put out the candles, making his way easily in the darkness. Aragorn turned to his side and was asleep in a minute. In the other rooms, people were no doubt following the example of their room.
Legolas lay down on his bed, staring at the darkness. His ears still picked random sounds from the streets outside. He more heard than saw Rafél moving around the room. Maybe his guardian would keep a watch all night. It wouldn’t have surprised Legolas at all.
Instead of staying up, Rafél headed back to bed. He hesitated for a moment, but then slipped on Legolas’ other side, pulling a light blanket up on both of them. Under the cover, his hands sought Legolas’ body and drew the younger Elf close, his fingers petting the other’s hair. With a sigh, Legolas relaxed against him, nudging shamelessly closer. A few minutes later, Legolas fell asleep – eyes closed, as was his wont nowadays. An alarming sign, but they all had got used to it by now. Rafél stayed awake, keeping up the steady, slow movement of his fingers, caressing the other’s pale hair, face and neck. Should a nightmare come, he would be ready to soothe it down.
Roughly an hour later the door of the room was opened. Rafél’s head shot up immediately, his senses waking him from his light sleep. Dínnor stood in the doorway, looking at their direction. His hand motioned Rafél to get up, his movements anxious. There were people behind him, though Rafél couldn’t see who.
Releasing himself from Legolas’ hold, Rafél sat up on the bed. The Prince woke immediately, his eyes narrowing in the darkness. “Sleep,” Rafél soothed, pushing the other down. “I will be right back.” Legolas relaxed on the bed, shifting to look at the door. He pushed up on one elbow as he saw Dínnor, alarmed. “Sleep,” Rafél hushed again, this time on his feet. His hand brushed against the side of Legolas’ face, signalling the other to do as was told. Reluctantly, Legolas laid back down, drawing the blanket over his body.
Rafél slipped out of the door, finding all three Cousins waiting for him. Thalión was leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest, seemingly unhappy. Asthaldo stood away from both his elders, and Dínnor was a storm-sign. Forcing back a groan, Rafél raised an eyebrow for his disturbers. “What is it? Have Haldir and his brothers encountered something?”
“Nay,” Thalión replied, almost spitting out the word. He glared at Dínnor.
Rafél looked from one Cousin to another, trying to read the origin of their problem.
“We need to speak. Now.” Dínnor’s voice was firm.
Rafél remembered it from earlier that day, when they rode towards Bree. This is about Legolas, he realised immediately and braced himself.
Dínnor saw the reaction, no doubt, and his eyes darkened. “You know something. I would ask this from Legolas himself – as I have done many times now – but as he will not speak…”
“You turn to me?” Rafél tried to sound as if being in disbelief.
“This is no game you are playing,” Dínnor continued. “Speaking the name of Sauron is never a game.” Even Thalión looked up at this. Rafél shifted uncomfortably. “We spoke, long before reaching the Shire. Maybe it was merely the feel of Nazgûl. Maybe. But I do not dare to believe in that anymore. The darkness in him did not pass when Mithrandir drew it out. There is something, deep inside. Waiting. Watching. Corrupting.” With each syllable, Dínnor put more weight on his words. “You know that.” Dun eyes were glued at Rafél.
Rafél turned his face away, smiling to himself as he saw Khai and Ithika walking closer to them. “We haven’t spoken about those things. He is not ready for it yet. He will be, but I do not dare to push him.” He turned to look back at Dínnor. “He will speak with Gandalf, eventually. When we reach Rivendell. That is the time given to him, to gather himself. There… Well, Gandalf knows. He was not sent here in vain.”
“We are only worried of Legolas,” Khai said softly, looking from one Sinda to another. “How are we supposed to help him when we do not know what is broken?”
“How is he supposed to tell you something he does not know himself?” Rafél shot back. It was closest to the truth he could get. Everyone fell silent, heads bowed. None tried to answer back, to make Rafél say more. They all had to accept that was the full truth.
A sudden thump and a strangled shout from the room where the said Elf was still sleeping made them all spring up in action. After a moment of shock, they all turned towards the door and entered, dreading what they might find.
After Rafél had left the room, Legolas tried to go back to sleep. He could hear the voices outside, arguing. Dínnor was near to snapping, he could tell, his infamous temper making itself known. He couldn’t fight the warm rush of relief as Rafél stood for him, protecting him. He hadn’t been sure if his guardian would do so, but the knowledge of that he was not alone made his feel safe. Guarded.
There was a sudden, scraping sound from the window. Legolas opened his eyes slightly, and to his shock he found the window being opened, five figures climbing in. Men, he could tell, even in the non-existent light. He drew completely still, pretending to be sleeping. The intruders took him as a woman, not having a clear view on his face, and that was their mistake. As they moved past Legolas’ bed, moving close to Aragorn’s. “The King,” came a silent whisper from one of the Men.
The Elf sprang up.
One knife he had in the bed. The other he could find among his belongings. The first Man he encountered had no time to protect himself as he fell to the ground, shout of pain escaping him as Legolas’ arm contacted with his head. The others turned to face the attacker, and at that moment the door was opened, Rafél and Dínnor halting to evaluate the situation.
Everything froze for a second.
The Men made a mad dash towards the window, understanding they were caught.
Aragorn woke up with a jerk, Hobbits following him in suit with shocked shouts.
Legolas moved to block the path of the escaping attackers, bringing down two of the Men and leaving them to be taken care of by the others. Two Men were making their way out of the window, practically jumping through it to escape. Legolas’ entry to the outside air was more graceful, his eyes immediately finding the escaping Men who climbed down and jumped to the ground. They had two more companions waiting, none of them staying to see out the fight.
Legolas took a route by the roofs, easily tracking the Men. His hunt took him away from the inn, and soon the Men noticed they were being pursued. With curses, they ran faster. The slanting, uneven surfaces of the roofs were slippery from rain, but Legolas managed to keep up with the Men – to a certain point. The buildings were leaning close to each other on the area where the Men escaped, leaving the ground to darkness. Cursing softly, Legolas descended to a muddy street, making his way onwards silently. His senses played on their edges, trying to track the Men now lost from his sight. A gasp, an intake of breath, a beating of heart…
Legolas did not expect a scream.
Crouching even lower, body tense and alert, Legolas gazed to the darkness, waiting his eyes to adapt. Another scream came form ahead of him. There was sound of a body falling to the ground. Legolas moved forward, eyes now moving to a small alley on his left. He smelled blood. Sensed death. Knife firmly in his hold, he advanced the mouth of the alley.
Three Men lay on the ground, visibly dead. Deeper in the shadows, a shape was holding up the fourth Man, the body jerking in death-convulsions. With a strange sound, the shape drew back from the body and cast it to the side. Legolas’ eyes followed the now dead Man, then moved back to the shape. Instead of moving to him – like the “shape” could have done at the instant Legolas looked away – it still hang back in the darkness, glowing eyes tracing the Prince’s form.
Legolas smiled, tucking the knife into his belt. There was no warmth in his expression. “I would have preferred them alive,” he said with a hurt voice. Smell of death was strong in his nostrils.
“I prefer them dead,” the one in the darkness snorted, moving forward. “Well, dead at one point. There is always the fun in catching a prey.” Sharp teeth flashed in the lonely ray of light coming from the sky above. The teeth were covered with something red and glistering.
Legolas knew exactly where the colour had come from, and it made him cringe. He looked at the bodies again. “This will be a mess,” he muttered.
“They know my name,” the low, raspy voice laughed. “And they will make up a nice hunt for me. Bad thing being, I am here no longer when they get themselves up and encouraged enough to do anything.” He looked down at the Men as well. “They said nasty things of you,” he snarled, kicking one stiffening corpse “I thought to teach them some manners.”
Legolas looked up, but smiled no longer. “That was hardly a necessary lesson, Thaíly. Now they have no chance to learn of their mistake.”
The half-vampire shrugged. “That is not my problem.”
Legolas sighed, backing away from the nearest corpse. He felt as if the smell was clinging into him, and it made him feel sick. “What are you doing here?”
“Catching up with you,” Thaíly answered. “I have news. You sent me out to get those, remember?”
Legolas snorted absently.
Thaíly cocked his head. “The enemy is waiting. They are anxious. Something is about to happen. A lot has happened since our little chat in Rivendell,” he said darkly, eyeing Legolas up and down. “Do you have any sense in yourself?” he finally asked. “In such troubles you have got yourself in, since Rivendell.”
Legolas looked up, his eyes hard. “I make what I see right. What of the enemy?”
“They speak of the White Rider. They speak of the Black Riders. And…” Thaíly halted, for the first time unsure. “I am not sure. Someone is leading them. But the information I have gained is contradictory. None seems to be sure what is going on. And they speak of East. Of Men, from East. I have a feeling they do not mean Gondorians, even if they made a sure thing of Ithilien Elves.” Another pointed look was directed at Legolas. Sniffing the air, Thaíly came closer, his dark gaze remaining on Legolas all the time. “Whatever the White Rider is about to do, he has better to do it quick. But he might be too late already.” Black eyes gazed at Legolas intently.
Legolas fought down a shiver that made its way up his spine. “I am well,” he said, trying to annoy the other. To answer an unsaid question. But to his surprise, Thaíly shook his head. “I am not?” he smiled.
Thaíly came even closer, pressing their chests together. Legolas was almost able to feel the sharp teeth scraping his neck as the other breathed him in. “Some darkness is not visible, and lies within…”
The murmuring voice sounded almost terrifying, and Legolas forced himself away, anger surfacing. “When I need your opinion, I will ask for it.”
Thaíly seemed to consider this. “You have never known… what lies inside.”
Legolas looked at the taller being, trying to understand.
“What is forgotten can’t be remembered,” Thaíly continued, more to himself than to the Elf before him. “Maybe better so,” he sneered, concentrating upon Legolas again. “But be careful. There is still something inside you, and what has been sleeping will soon… wake.”
Legolas nodded, even if unable to tell if the two things were the same or entirely separate statements. “Where are you heading now?” Thaíly waited silently, and Legolas saw his opening. “We know of the enemy, and will keep an eye on that. What worries me most is…”
“The Nine,” Thaíly helped him.
“Yes. Track down the Nine, and follow their movements. I don’t want to be surprised by them again.” Legolas drew in a long, calming breathe. His eyes were hard, equally meeting those of the dark being before him.
Thaíly nodded, turning to leave. There were sounds from the street, people coming closer.
“Just one more thing,” Legolas said suddenly, making Thaíly halt and turn back. “There is a tenth with the Nine. There is something in him that I cannot make out… Be careful with him.” His eyes were serious as his voice grew troubled. “He is darker than the others, and his power… Nazgûl are not a thing to play with,” he ended sternly.
Thaíly smiled and bowed slightly, eyeing the street behind Legolas. Instead of taking his leave, he walked back to the Prince and bent down to kiss his neck. “Remember your own warnings,” he whispered to the pointed ear. “I will be closer, this time.” Then he drew away, his eyes directed at the space behind Legolas.
Feeling another pair of eyes upon his back, Legolas turned around. His eyes did not meet Rafél’s as the other Elf stared at Thaíly instead. Cousins hovered at his side, uncertain what to do. The tension in the air was almost palpable. Slowly, with a one last look at the dark being, Legolas made his way to his kinsmen. “Let’s go,” he whispered at Rafél, his hand resting on the other’s arm for a moment. Then he walked away, Cousins following him.
Rafél did not follow, however. He signalled the Cousins to take Legolas back to the inn, and then stepped into the alley.
“I should –” Thaíly began.
“I know. But you won’t.” There was a cool smile on the pale lips as Rafél countered the other’s stare. “He is ordering you around again, is he? How do you let that happen?” he made a tsking sound.
Thaíly smiled almost sweetly. “You would not understand. But it does not matter.” There was silence for a moment. “I think I should congratulate you. Or kill you. But he is alive, still. Keep him that way.”
“I intent to.”
“Good. Because only one of us wishes to see the day to come when I come to get your life as a compensation of his,” Thaíly purred. He turned to leave, but then looked back as if remembering something important. “You might ponder, while I am gone, why he asked me to search the Ten instead of the Nine.” Then he was gone, like a shadow in the night.
Rafél stared at the dead Men and wondered for a moment if he was meant to lie among them. But the fate had a funny sense of humour. And Thaíly, if any, was an unreliable, unpredictable tool of destiny. He promised death of my next failure, last time we met. It seems I am either forgiven, or he was in too much of a hurry to carry out his word. Gazing at the narrow strip of the sky that was visible between the buildings, he took a long, deep breathe, calming himself.
“Why he asked me to search Ten instead of Nine.”
Thaíly’s words haunted Rafél’s mind as he returned to the others, but he gave no sign of his thoughts to them. He would speak with Legolas, later. And this time, there would be no barriers between them. He wanted the truth.
A new morning opened misty and pale, but the Elves predicted a good day to travel. The full company housed in The Prancing Pony was gathered into the Common Room for breakfast, earlier than most of the people of the city even considered waking. Elves were no longer hiding themselves, tired of pretence. After all, the room was empty at this hour. Barliman Butterbur and his staff were the only ones awake – though they made enough of staring for an entire city.
“What happened last night?” Gimli finally voiced the question that had been hanging over the silent group for long minutes.
Cousins changed pointed looks, Aragorn shifted uncomfortably beside Legolas who stared hard at his food, while his guardian stared at him from the opposite side of the table.
“Someone made a move on Aragorn,” Asthaldo explained.
“They attacked our room,” Merry exclaimed.
“Through the window!” Pippin added.
“Legolas stopped them before any real harm was done,” Aragorn said sternly, his eyes dark. Seemingly he was not happy about the situation. One, he was being surprised – which spoke clearly of the loosened grip of his former skills. Secondly, he had been identified. None of them wished to know what further deeds they would be forced to endure before they left the city.
“They probably recognised the King, and thought about his treasury,” Legolas comforted the Man beside him. He was also trying to calm Faramir, who was more than slightly concerned about the well-being of his Lord. “They will not bother us again.”
“Which is a funny thing,” Gimli said with a low voice, leaning over the table like a one in conspiracy. “As I and my companions went out this morning, the few Men awake spoke of murder. Four Men has been found.” He glanced at the Elves. “They say it was a Blood-sucker. A vampire.”
“They spoke as if such a thing has happened before,” Adír added.
“It has,” Aragorn confirmed, abandoning his food in his interest for gossips. “Years ago. I have seen some of the dead myself.” His eyes flew briefly on Legolas who was eating again. “Dead people appear now and then. Two wounds on their neck,” he explained, placing his fingers on his own neck, above the biggest veins. “Sucked dry, they say.” He shook his head. “Many dark things move in the night. Maybe there is such a creature.” He glanced at Legolas again. “What happened to the Men you hunted? Four, you said to me, was their number.”
Legolas was just about to answer when a group of drunken Men entered the room. Elves looked at them briefly, then away again, loosing interest. This was a very good impression of Men – especially those of Bree.
“What happened to the Men that were left to your room?” Legolas asked in return.
“We let them go,” Elladan laughed. “We found out they were nothing but greedy Men with pictures of coins in their eyes. When they understood their error, they quickly retreated.”
“I am sure they will never approach us again,” the other twin added, and the whole table laughed.
“About the Men you hunted –” Aragorn continued, turning to Legolas, but then stiffened as one of the drunken Men approached their table, leering down at Legolas. “Can we help you?” the King asked icily, hating the intrusion. This worked on Legolas’ profit, who visibly did not wish to speak of the events of his short hunt.
“How much?” the Man slurred, leaning at the end of the table beside Legolas. He was both tall and strongly built, wore worn clothes, and smelled clearly of beer.
“Pardon?” Aragorn asked, puzzled.
“Of this pretty one. How much do you want of him?” the Man asked again, eyeing Legolas boldly. It was clear he had never before seen an Elf in his life.
Aragorn tried not to laugh, understanding the other was completely serious. “My companion is not for sale,” he said dryly. Twins and Cousins were smirking, Legolas look ill-humoured, and the Dwarves were eyeing the Man dangerously. Éomer hid his mouth with his hand, whereas Faramir looked ready to curl up in shame.
“Oh, come now. I’ll give a nice price of him,” the Man insisted, reaching out to pet Legolas’ head.
Before the hand reached its destination, however, Rafél was up from his place and had the Man pinned at the table viciously. Blade flashed in the air, embedding itself to the table – through the drunken Man’s hand. The Man roared in pain and tried to fight his attacker away, but Rafél had enough power to keep him still. “I hope – for your own sake – that this is the last time you propose anything like that, especially with involving any of my kin. One more word,” he hissed as the Man opened his mouth to speak, “and I’ll cut off something more than just your filthy hand.” The threat was enough to make the Man shut his mouth. “Now get away from my sight, and do not ever set an eye on him!” With a swift yank, Rafél drew his knife free from the table, making the Man let out another cry.
The Man stumbled back, clutching his wounded hand against his chest, eyes wide with fear. He was out of the inn swifter than any drunk before him.
Dínnor started to laugh, the others eyeing him sceptically. Legolas stared at the blood running across the table, then up at his guardian who was cleaning his blade. Hobbits sat, quiet and horrified, trying to hide behind Gandalf who’s eyes were serious as they moved between the Prince and his guardian. Dínnor finally controlled himself, shaking his head as Rafél turned calmly at them. “Let us leave this city before he actually kills someone,” the Cousin decided, standing up from his place.
“I readily agree,” Gandalf joined him, other swift to follow. “This will cost us enough,” he marked at Aragorn, who merely grunted.
Legolas stared at Rafél for a long moment, and then nodded his head. There was perhaps a scolding light in his eyes, but more than that, there was frank gratitude. Rafél stretched out his hand, and after a moment of hesitation Legolas took it, letting the other to lead them back to their room to get their belongings. It was indeed better to leave Bree before anything else could happen…
to be continued…
Author’s Notes: Well, there was it! Long, but done. I hope you enjoyed it! Again, review and tell me, either way. I can hardly tell your opinion without reviews, that is.
In the next chapter we shall have a lot of talk. Not a lot of action to come. But answers, perhaps. ;) Those are slowly starting to form, as the tension grows and the enemy is about to present itself.
Stay around, and see what shall happen!
Story Info / Part one…