Another LOTR fanfic! This one, however, is full-length. And WARNING: This will be slightly AU. Some reader discretion is advised for this one. On the rating scale, I imagine it would be T, or PG-13.

Vicissitudes: (n) 1. unexpected changes in life

LOTR (c) J.R.R.T

Beta Reader: Bobadoo and my older brother

FEEDBACK PLEASE!! Comments like "Good!" are okay, but I really want to hear your thoughts. What did you like? What did you find kinda weird? Were the characters in character? Are any of my OCs leaning towards Mary-Sue-ism? And begging for updates tends to make me not want to update. :P


A battered party of elven warriors wound their way through the imposing trees of Mirkwood. Their clothes were torn and stained with the blood of orcs, spiders, wargs, and their own silvery-red blood. Dejection and grief emanated from the patrol as they carried those too wounded to walk on their own and the dead back to the Elvenking's realm. Two elves kept their senses tingling, listening for any sign of approaching enemies.

King Thranduil had sent the patrol down south to a small outpost near the Mountains of Mirkwood to eliminate what had been reported as "a band of orcs and wargs. There are not very many now, but assuredly, the numbers will go up." Several young warriors who had returned from a trading venture with the men of Esgaroth had volunteered to go within the hour. Lead by Thranduil's youngest son, Prince Legolas, the war party had departed with a determined air, certain they would return before too long. They were wrong.

While the wood-elves had been busy defending their borders from the forces of Dol Guldur, the Necromancer's power had spread farther then most of the Eldar had thought. A large section of the great forest which had not too long ago been light and green was now dark and oppressing. The war party had had to fight an entire nest of spiders and a roaming band of orcs before crossing their intended prey. By this time, several elves had been cut down and the rest were still recuperating. The number of the enemy had risen since the scout had reported. Though they fought with a vengeance, the fact that they were outnumbered began to show and they were forced to retreat.

Now, yet another section of their home was under the Necromancer's control.

As the elves neared the outskirts of the dwellings of their people, one or two of the elves saw them and the burdens they carried and turned away, anguish on their faces.

One silver-haired elleth gracefully jumped out of an oak, hopeful eyes scanning the returning elves for her brother. Her eyes widened with shock, head shaking in silent denial when her gaze found his pale, lifeless face.


King Thranduil thrummed his fingers on the wooden tabletop impatiently as he listened to the voices of the men of Dorwinion laud their items they had brought to trade with him, suppressing a strong desire to stand and shout at the traders to simply state the price they desired for their goods. Needless to say, it was very dull to be cooped up in this room all day long with various traders from various settlements, all trying to get the final price in their favor. Especially when they prattled on and on like this, over-exaggerating the quality of whatever it was they traded with him. Thranduil conveniently overlooked the fact that his elves did the exact same thing when they traded with men or dwarves.

He allowed some of his frustration to show on his face and the spindly merchant who had been giving a lengthy account of the superior quality of the soil in his area and the careful care in which everything regarding the grapes and making of wine was done hastily finished.

At last,Thranduil thought wryly. He opened his mouth to start the negotiations when the door abruptly banged open. All heads at the table instantly swiveled to see who was interrupting. Thranduil glowered; whoever it was had better have a good reason for disrupting the meeting.

His daughter Princess Merillas entered, acknowledging the hasty bows of the elves and men with a dip of her silvery-gold head. Thranduil felt his pulse quicken slightly; if Merillas was interrupting, she had important information or news. She strode purposefully towards him, meeting his cold expression with a look of urgency in her eyes. She gave the men a faint nod as she walked, but when she reached Thranduil, completely disregarded them. The elleth leaned down and spoke in a soft whisper only elven ears would hear.

"Forgive me for interrupting, my lord, but Prince Legolas' patrol has returned and Captain Morlin thinks you should come. He says it is urgent, but would not tell me why."

Thranduil kept his emotions masked by narrowing his eyes slightly, even though he was inventing logical reasons for this in his head. "Very well. Complete these negotiations for me, will you?"

She gave an almost imperceptible nod. "Yes, my king."

Her displeasure at being left to deal with the traders showed in the slight bunching of her jaw muscles. He gave her a small smile; no one in Mirkwood's royal family enjoyed this part of being ruler. Straightening, Merillas faced the men and put her hands on the table decisively as Thranduil rose. "Well, gentlemen, my liege lord has kingly duties to attend to at the moment. You will have to be content with me now."

The elvenking noticed looks of curiosity shot his way and smirks as the men scrutinized Merillas, no doubt thinking they would get deals extremely in their favor with her in charge. All of the traders and elves in the room stood and bowed as their king left.

Once the door closed behind him, the king lengthened his stride, concern thrumming through him. The elves in his path swiftly stepped aside and bowed, waiting respectfully until he had passed before raising their heads and continuing on their way. Thranduil did not even acknowledge them as thoughts vied for attention.

Perhaps Prince Legolas has found more massive spider nests…

Perhaps Dol Guldur's offense is lessening…? No…

Perhaps Legolas is injured?

With this sentiment in mind, Thranduil sped up even more, weaving his way through the halls to the main door to the palace. He all but threw the doors open to enter the courtyard. Near the innermost flets, a large group of elves gathered. He made for them and nearly shouted with relief when a golden head emerged from the crowd and made for him, grey eyes quite clearly masking some intense emotion.

Thranduil slowed and asked as his son stopped a few feet away, relief coursing through his veins that Legolas was uninjured. In fact, not even a hair was out of place.

"What happened, Legolas?"

His son gave him a half-puzzled, half-dreading look. He took a deep breath and stared at his father in the eye, using the familiar way of address as his father had. "Father…I am Celeblas, not Legolas. Legolas is…"

Thranduil felt like banging his head against the wall. His two sons looks so much alike, everyone had trouble telling them apart. Except when they talked that is, for Celeblas' voice was deeper than his brother's. The elvenking noticed that Celeblas was eyeing him with barely concealed apprehension and that his eyes were very bright, even for an elf.

"What is it, Celeblas? Where is…"

Just then, two elves backed out of the crowd, carrying a stretcher towards Thranduil. A sickening feeling started to grow as he quickly put together the facts and came to a conclusion. He barely felt Celeblas' comforting hand on his shoulder when he saw Legolas on the stretcher, cold, pale, lifeless, with bloody wounds on his body and a smashed skull. Blood obliterated his features. The ground seemed to swoop under him as his stomach dropped. Thranduil clenched his fists, frozen in disbelief as he stared at Legolas.

This cannot be happening. This is just a nightmare. Itcannotbe real!

But it was real. His son was dead.

He was unaware that Celeblas' hand on his shoulder was trembling with scarcely controlled grief. He was unaware of the sympathetic and tear-filled gazes of his people. He was unaware of Captain Morlin and several elves of Legolas' patrol telling him what had happened. All he could see was Legolas' bloody, pain-filled face.

My son is dead. No. No. Nonononono!

A cry of anguish tore itself from his lips as the sun peeked over the treetops.

Chapter One

2952, Third Age. Ten years later….

Aragorn cast an exasperated glance at the ominous clouds overhead and grumpily pulled the hood of his cloak over his head. He was not having a good day. Or week, for that matter. A few days ago in the Weather Hills, he had wearily stumbled into a deep, spacious, and dark cave with his horse after a hard day's travel, looking forward to a good night's rest. As he was ensuring the safety of the cave, he had discovered a short tunnel which led to a small cavern. Inside the cavern was a group of five goblins. He had instantly unsheathed his sword and attacked, but they had been alerted of his presence by the clatter of his horse's hooves and were more than ready for him.

He had managed to emerge from the fight victorious, but not unharmed. The goblins had not been very inept fighters, but one of them had managed to give him a nasty cut on his left thigh. Thankfully, the blade had not been poisoned. As he had bound the wound, he frowned in unease. Goblins had not been seen around this country for many years and it was very disturbing to find them there.

The few folk he saw as he left the Hills and went towards the Midgewater Marshes had given him dark looks and hurried on their way. Few trusted Rangers in these lands; their grim and rugged appearance along with the fact that they were always armed did not vouch kindly for them.

Then this morning, he had arisen from a deep and restful slumber to find that his horse had run away during the night because of the closeness of a wolf. Aragorn strongly wished he had not bought that skittish equine from a farmer. Though the beast no doubt was having a better life then it had previously.

Now, the Ranger was picking his way through the bewildering Midgewater Marshes and glowering at the black clouds that threatened a thunderstorm.

Aragorn swatted at the midges that were congregating about his person. This only deterred them for a few seconds before they swarmed back onto him. What do they eat when they don't get Ranger? He wondered.

A colorful curse in Quenya escaped his lips when his wounded leg slipped on a wet bunch of reeds and slid into a boggy section of the ground up to the knee. Aragorn swiftly regained his balance and stepped back with his free limb, endeavoring to free his leg. Bolts of pain shot up from his leg, making Aragorn grit his teeth. The young man did his best to lift his leg, but the boggy ground seemed reluctant to relinquish its hold. Arms flailing in an effort to keep the flies and midges away, he shifted his foot to get a better purchase.

And grunted in surprise with the treacherous footing caused it to slid sideways into a similar situation as its fellow foot just as the earth had given up its grasp on it.

Huffing and puffing, he glowered at the ground. He braced his arms on firm ground and pushed against it with all of his strength. A savage smile creased his face when both legs were raised so that the mud was only partway up the shin now. He was about to push again, when an ominous buzzing sounded near his ear. Aragorn turned his head and glared ferociously at the offending fly. When it did not take the warning, he shifted his weight to one arm and slapped at the insect with a war cry, disrupting the midges on his arm in the process.

With narrowed eyes, he watched the fly dart out of the way just in time and retreat somewhat. He growled as he gave two more heaves against the ground, liberating his legs. Aragorn rolled over from his stomach to his back and gave a frustrated sigh. The bugs seemed to disregard the fact that his mood was a good deal fouler than formerly and attacked with a vengeance. He swung both arms about crazily to obtain some relief. The pests backed off somewhat.

Aragorn sat up slowly, grimacing at the sight of his filthy clothes. The makeshift bandage had fresh blood stains on it now too. Grunting, he stood and half-sloshed, half-limped on his way as fast as he could, still fighting a losing battle against the bugs.

Apart from a few stumbles and much back-tracking to find a path through the bewildering terrain, Aragorn managed to make fairly good time. However, by the time night fell, the ranger had resigned himself to the forays made by the creatures for which the marshes were named.

Deciding that the fairly dry area in which he now stood was as good a campsite as he was likely to find here, Aragorn tossed his pack to the ground and glanced up at the rapidly appearing stars, judging the time. Then he threw himself down onto the cold, damp ground, ensuring that he kept one hand on his sword, just in case. Aragorn shifted, trying to make himself comfortable.

Neek-breek. Neek-breek. Neek-breek. Neek-breek. Neek-breek.

Aragorn threw an arm over his eyes and moaned in despair as the evil relatives of the cricket began their nightly serenade. I hate this place.

"Is it too much to ask for some peace?" He inquired of no one in particular. His only answer was the continued neeking and breeking and thunder rumbling in the distance

Before sunrise the next morning, Aragorn was already up and about. The night's rest had given him almost no relief at all and he was almost as tired as he had been when he had gone to sleep. He munched discontentedly on some bread and cheese after checking on his wound. It had finally started to scab over.

According to the maps in Rivendell, it would take most of the day to get through the marshes as he had entered them about noon the previous day. Aragorn was determined to be rid of them as soon as possible though and set off at a brisk pace.

He went through many of the same ordeals and torments of the day before, but by traveling quickly, he was freed of the place by mid-afternoon. Very much relieved, he dug two apples and some cheese out of his pack as he journeyed on blessedly firm, dry, and grassy land.

He had traversed some miles before the clouds that had been threatening and growing more numerous finally released their shower. As the first drops splattered on his nose and about him, the ranger fixed his eyes on the smudged green of Chetwood in the distance and strode on, raising his hood.

As Aragorn walked, he reflected upon his meeting with Halbarad that had sent him this way. The elder ranger had sent him to make certain all was well about Bree and the Shire. Thus far, apart from the goblins in the Hills, it appeared to be so. When Halbarad had first given him the assignment, the new ranger had chewed on his lip and given a considering nod.

"You want me to wander throughout all of the Shire and surrounding country, stopping frequently and listening to the locals talk?"

A grin had tugged on the corners of Halbarad's grim mouth. "Yes, listen to the locals talk, but there is no need to zigzag all over the country. I have found that hobbits of the Shire visit Bree often. If you stop at one of Bree's inns, sit in a shadowy corner, and listen carefully, you'll hear the information you need. The Bree-folk are friendly and love to talk, as do the Shire hobbits. If anything noteworthy occurred, they'll tell you and greatly exaggerate the tale too. You just need to find out what's true and what's not, Aragorn. Now go get some sleep; you'll need it."

The rain was pouring down now in sheets. In the distance, blue chain lightning flashed followed several seconds later by the deep rumble of thunder. Aragorn pulled the cloak tighter around his body as a blast of cold wind fought to tear it from him.

"The only good thing about this," the Dunadan told himself, "is that it's washing away some of the grime on my clothes."

Nevertheless, by the time he reached the tree covering of Chetwood several hours later, he was soaked to the skin. The thunder and lightning had ceased some time ago, but the rain persisted, albeit not as heavily.

Aragorn rubbed a hand across his face tiredly. It had to be about nine o'clock at night by now and his last decent sleep had been over a week ago. He took some food out of his pack, deciding to continue for one more hour before calling it a day.

He hoped to reach the inn of the Prancing Pony by nightfall the following day by taking the most direct paths. Although there were other inns in the town, Halbarad had strongly suggested the Prancing Pony. According to him, it had good quality ale, so lots of townsfolk went there. Halbarad had also spoken in what amounted to praise coming from him, of the innkeeper. A grin threatened Aragorn's face, because according to Halabard, "Barney" was fat, ruddy, cheerful, and forgetful of all that did not involve the care of his guests or inn. Also, "If not for customers shouting his name at him, I doubt he'd remember it! All the Butterburs I've met had that vice."

Aragorn breathed in the rain-scented air pleasurably. A yawn forced its way out of his mouth. Deciding it was high time to rein in his musings and get some sleep; he put his things beside on old oak tree and sat with his back against it, eyelids heavy. He fell asleep almost immediately, something Elladan and Elrohir constantly called uncanny, while droplets fell about him.

The next dawn, the ranger awoke in a much better mood, helped along by the fact it had stopped raining sometime during the night. After a heartier breakfast than he had had the day before, he set off at a brisk pace; his wound completely scabbed over by now.

As he strode along the paths and began to encounter fellow travelers, he noticed that they gave him dark and suspicious looks and gave him as wide a berth as possible without going off the road.

A few scattered dwellings of those who wished to keep as far away from the towns of Bree, Archet, Combe, and Staddle as they could appeared at far distances from each other. In one of the yards, three hobbit children were playing gleefully. Aragorn watched them with amusement until they spotted him. Instantly, their fun ceased and they backed away several steps, watching him with fear in their wide, innocent eyes.

One of the little girls hid behind her older brother and Aragorn's sharp ears caught her soft question. "Is the evil ranger going to hurt us, Will?"

Will squeezed his sister's hand in reassurance. "Of course not. 'E wouldn't dare with Mummy and Dad 'ome."

Those words, coupled with the terror in the children's eyes, hurt him more than he cared to admit. He lowered his gaze and quickened his pace, the hobbits' conversation rebounding about his head.

"How many people do ya think 'e's killed?"

"More 'n you or I could count, I warrant."

"Why does he wear such a dark cloak?"

"To disappear quickly after wrong doings."

"Did you see his cold eyes?"

"Yes, made me shiver they did."

Aragorn bit his lip, even more keenly aware of the actions of the passer-bys now. He was glad of the deep shadows his hood cast on his face so that they could not see the pain their reactions caused.

The woodlands became more tamed and he began to see fields stretching over acres. The blue sky was spotted with grey clouds and chilling breezes played with the ends of his cloak. Anar sank into the west, making Aragorn squint his eyes against the blinding light.

He reached the gate to Bree as Anar started to set with subtle pinks and oranges. Aragorn paused to admire the tinted clouds before knocking on the gate. Though, he studied the wall enclosing most of the town, I could easily climb over this if I wanted to.

Minutes ticked by with no sign of the gate opening anytime soon. Aragorn knocked harder, listening intently for the gatekeeper. A door banged and heavy footsteps rang on the street. The sound of a latch being lifted was followed by the opening of the gates by a chubby old man who smelt strongly of beer, onions, and cheese. Aragorn had to stop himself from wrinkling his nose in disgust as the smell assailed his nostrils. When the gatekeeper saw it was a ranger he had kept waiting, he stepped aside quickly. Aragorn nodded to him as he passed and out of the corner of his eye, saw him visibly shudder before closing the door.

Thoughts of a real bed coupled with those of a good, hot supper filled the ranger's mind as he walked through the streets. The townspeople were finishing up their work for the day and heading home. A few men lingered where they were, no doubt intending to go drinking. Their stares made his skin itch with discomfort.

From the open door of a blacksmith's shop came a rough voice. "Where're you goin' in such a hurry, Longshanks?"

The comment was swiftly followed by a scolding female voice. "Sssh, Dave, don't anger a ranger!"

The few folk Aragorn asked for directions from gave them tersely. As he looked after the retreating back of one such person, he wondered for the hundredth time that day what they held against rangers. Halbarad said they welcomed elves, dwarves, fellow men and fellow hobbits with open arms, why not rangers?

The sight of the swinging sign with its white prancing horse hanging in front of a fairly large inn with firelight shining in the windows, the sound of merry voices, and tempting odors was a welcome sight indeed. Without a moment's hesitation, he pushed open the door as someone began singing.

The room was had a good number of people in it, all eating, drinking, and having a good time. Servants dashed to and fro with tankards and food on wooden trays. A roaring fire on the far wall and torched in iron brackets cast flickering orange light on the room. At some tables, dwarves conversed with each other or shared news with the locals. Hobbits of the Shire spoke of small happenings or listened eagerly to others at others. The Bree folk paid attention to all and exchanged their news as well. No one noticed the ranger, whose dark cloak melded with the shadows.

Aragorn went to the long, narrow counter where he presumed guests signed in and reached for a small silver bell to ring for the innkeeper. A fat man with a perpetually smiling face saw him and called out as he went from table to table. "Just a moment, sir, if ya please! I'll be right with you!"

Leaving the bell untouched, Aragorn studied his surroundings until the man appeared in front of him, setting a tray on the counter and beaming at Aragorn. "Barnabas Butturbur, at you service! And what can I do for you, ranger?"

The young man was surprised that Barnabas had not flinched away from him, but he hid it. "A room for one night and some supper would be much appreciated."

"Ah, yes," the innkeeper drew a pad of paper and quill pen out of his pocket, "and would ye like an upstairs or downstairs room?"

"Downstairs." Aragorn said immediately, noticing that Barnabas handwriting was practically illegible and his spelling horrendous.

Barnabas nodded several times. "Very well, Trotter! Durgo will show you to it!" Turning aside, he yelled off the left. "Hi, Durgo! Show this gentleman his room!"

Putting his pad back in his pocket, Barnabas beamed once more at the ranger as shouts for more ale arouse. "Well, enjoy your stay, Trotter!"

Aragorn bristled at being called Trotter. But he curbed his irritation long enough to ask the innkeeper a question that had been bouncing about his mind since the beginning of their conversation. "I thought all here were suspicious of rangers?"

Picking up his tray, Barnabas winked at him. "Most are. But me? I don't care who 'tis wanting lodging at my inn so long as they pay for it!"

He rushed away just as a young hobbit appeared in front of Aragorn. "Right this way, sir!"

Durgo hurriedly led the man through the room and a straight hallway with minimal talk. Aragorn kept pace with him easily. He made a sharp right and stopped in front of the first door they came across, opening it swiftly. "Your room, sir!"

He looked about the room in satisfaction. A bed, some chairs, a wardrobe, and a table consisted of the furniture. A window was on the far wall, a small fireplace was built into the left wall, and a few unlit torches in brackets lined the walls. The hobbit went to the fireplace and deftly coaxed a flame to catch on the pile of timber.

Durgo stood and turned to him. "Is there any other way I can help you, sir?"

Aragorn shook his head. "No, thank you, Durgo."

At the dismissal, the hobbit darted out the door. Aragorn remained where he was, staring at the door in thought for several minutes before taking off his pack and throwing it onto the bed. He took two of the torches and lit them from the fire before replacing them in their previous locations. The man punched the mattress of the bed and grinned. No sleeping on the cold hard ground tonight!

The ranger wondered what his foster father and foster brothers were doing now in Rivendell. And Arwen, as well.


A dreamy smile crossed his face at the thought of the beautiful daughter of Elrond. She was the fairest elf maiden he had ever seen. Her voice fell like crystal notes of music when she had first talked to him. He recalled having called her Tinuviel and how she had laughingly accepted his proud declaration of his lineage and his mother's and Elrond's warnings. The smile faded. He hoped he would not have to wait many years before becoming king, but his heart told him he would have to.

And meanwhile, people gave him spiteful names like Trotter.

He changed into a cleaner outfit, and then went to see to his grumbling stomach.


With a sigh of contentment, Aragorn pushed back his chair and leaned back. Though not as flavorful as elven fare, the food was definitely better than what he had been eating in the Wilds. He lit his pipe and put his feet on the table. Elrond would have been very disapproving if he had seen him.

The ranger observed the space from his position in a shadowy corner. Thus far, he had not heard anything that might be a cause for concern. He puffed away on his pipe happily.

A billow of dark cloth caught his eye and he glanced towards the door to the inn. A tall, lithe figure stood there, features concealed by the shadows cast by his hood. Barnabas went over to him, asking how he could help him. The figure responded in a voice too soft to be heard by Aragorn. The innkeeper shook his head and gestured towards Aragorn. Faint light on the newcomer's face showed the thin white line of his pressed together lips. Steel eyes scrutinized the ranger before he answered what had apparently been a question from Barnabas. The innkeeper nodded and snapped his fingers before hurrying away.

The person turned to Aragorn's corner and strode through the room with the grace of a panther. Aragorn's eyes caught the flash of light on steel beneath his cloak. The ranger dropped one hand to his belt, ensuring that his sword was in a position to be drawn. People moved out of the newcomer's way hastily as his bright eyes fixed on the ranger, sending shivers down the man's spine and goose bumps running up and down his arms. The person stopped in front of Aragorn's table. Aragorn's muscles tensed, ready for a confrontation. Striving to appear nonchalant, he lowered the pipe from his mouth. "May I help you?"

A low melodious voice with a thick Silvan accent emitted from the hood. "May I sit here since all other tables have groups of people at them?"

Aragorn nodded tersely, somewhat surprised to hear an elven voice. "Very well."

He eyed the elf with caution as he sat down. The elf ignored his gaze and lowered his hood, revealing a fair face with grey eyes and a head of coppery hair. The Silva raised an eyebrow as the man continued to stare. "Yes?"

"You're a Wood Elf?" The question burst out.

The elf raised his eyebrow higher. "And you're a ranger."

Feeling foolish, he blew out a puff of smoke and watched it drift upwards. His companion made an expression of displeasure and twisted away. Barnabas appeared with a small tankard before Aragorn could open his mouth again.

"Here's your wine, Master Elf!"

The elf accepted the wine graciously and Barnabas rushed on to his next customers. He took a long slow sip and leaned back in satisfaction.

A Wood Elf from Mirkwood. He probably knew the twins' good friend Prince Legolas then. Aragorn decided to get some information about Legolas' welfare for his "brothers". It had been almost a year since he had left Rivendell and he was sure they would appreciate news of their friend along with his other tales when he returned. Aragorn took his feet off the table and put them on the floor, his chair slamming back onto four legs. "Sir, I'd like to ask-"

He hesitated as the elf faced him with a cocked head. "Do you know Prince Legolas?"

His companion's lips quirked and a queer gleam entered his eye. "I did."


Gesturing to his hood, the elf stated. "It would be easier to talk if your face were not hidden by shadow."

Curious as to where this was going, Aragorn obliged and raised his eyebrows. The elf appeared reluctant to start talking. He shot a glance at Aragorn, then stared into his tankard.

Why is he hesitating? What is he hiding? Aragorn frowned, taking a sip of his beer.

"The prince is dead."

Aragorn choked on his drink and set the cup down before he spilled it. He managed to cough out, "What did you say?"

The Silva traced a pattern on the handle of his tankard. "Prince Legolas is dead."

Unable to believe this shocking revelation, Aragorn gave the elf a barrage of questions after recovering himself. "What happened? How did he die? Are you sure it was Legolas? When did this happen?"

His companion gazed into his wine, sadness touching his eyes. "I can only tell you what I know and was told. Prince Legolas had led a patrol to take care of some orcs and wargs near the Mountains of Mirkwood. Apparently, he was separated from his patrol during the fight. They found him afterwards lying on the outskirts of the fight with a broken skull that had killed him instantly. This happened about ten years ago, I think. Every elf in Mirkwood was sorely grieved by his death. He was well loved."

Sorrow filled Aragorn even though he had never met the elf prince. Elladan and Elrohir had told him many tales of the escapades they and the royal triplets of Mirkwood had gotten into when they were elflings. All three had sounded like they had an excellent sense of humor and were wonderful friends and Aragorn had been looking forward to meeting them. But there was one thing in the Wood Elf's account….

"Did they hear anything? It seems like they would have heard his skull crack and a cry of pain, perhaps."

The elf shrugged. "They never told me."

Silence fell over the pair. The inn was emptying by now; it was late. Neither paid much attention to this as they were both lost in thought. The elf continued to stare into his beverage while Aragorn tapped his chin with his fingers, pondering the elf's tale. He tried to think it over carefully, but his sluggish mind refused to work properly. He really needed some rest.

"I'm going to Mirkwood," he said resolutely, deciding he would think this over later. The elf's head snapped up in surprise. "I have to know what really happened." I owe it to Elladan and Elrohir.

He stood and turned to leave, but faced the elf again as a thought struck him. "I am sorry for not having introduced myself earlier. I am Estel of the Dunedain."

His companion dipped his head. "It is a…pleasure to make your acquaintance, Estel. I am Cossidh of the Woodland Realm."

Aragorn retired to his rooms, eagerly looking forward to a good night's sleep. He threw himself on the bed and swiftly fell asleep, not bothering to take off his cloak and boots.

He arose a short time after dawn, much refreshed. He set the rumpled sheets on the bed to rights; they were the only things in the room he had disturbed. Then, grabbing his pack, he left the room.

Butterbur was cleaning tabletops when he entered the room. The chubby man beamed at his guest. "Good mornin', Trotter! Leavin' without breakfast? You know I can arrange a meal for you, if ya like. This mornin' we're having hotcakes with dried fruit and hot butter, porridge—with honey, if ya like-, an' bacon an' eggs-" Aragorn shifted impatiently, "with good, fresh biscuits."

"Thank you, but I'm afraid I have to turn down the offer." Aragorn shot the doorway a meaningful glance.

Taking the hint, Barnabas ambled to the counter, chatting the whole time. Aragorn only listened vaguely as he counted out his coins and paid the innkeeper. With a cheerful "Have a nice day now, Trotter!", he went back to work.

Trotter indeed. He thought indignantly as he stepped out into the strengthening sunlight.

"Ready to go?"

Aragorn started at the voice and whipped around to see Cossidh leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, staring at him with one elegant eyebrow raised. His eyes fell to the pack by the elf's feet.

"I'm going alone."

Cossidh straightened and picked up his pack. "Have you ever been to Mirkwood before?"

Aragorn frowned. "No, but-"

"Then you'll need my help," the Wood Elf cut in smoothly. "I lived in Mirkwood, I know its dangers. Also, you seek to find out more about the prince's death, so it is my duty to accompany you. Besides, I was going back myself, so there's no point in us traveling separately."

He has some good points. "Very well."

Cossidh gave a slight smile. "Shall we go, then?"

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