And the sky full of stars: Part XVII
by: Jen

The day dawned. They took to their horses at day break and began the slow ride along the borders of the forest. They rode close enough to the edge of the woods to hear the winds rustle the leaves, but not close enough to be within grasp of a branch or limb. They rode slowly, saying little, stopping often for Legolas to study the ground or to listen to the wind. For long minutes he would stand and stare into the leafy branches. It was tedious work, and as the hours dragged on, their worry for Gimli grew. By days end, Legolas admitted that he could feel no presence, evil or otherwise, nearby. In a fit of impatience, Elesia yelled at the top of her voice, "TREEBEARD!!!!!!" The birds flew into the air and for a moment Legolas believed he heard something deep within the woods. But the forest settled back into silence and they moved on. They kept up their slow search long past sundown, until the last light of the sun had vanished.

As the moon began to rise, the winds shifted and blew down cold gusts from the mountains. The nights were getting colder. Elves needed little protection against the elements. Sun, rain, or snow, bothered them little and they were as happy in the cold as they were in the depths of summer. Elesia, however, was not an elf and was gathering branches at the edge of the wood.

"Do not." Legolas said. "I fear to enrage the Ents anymore than need be."

Elesia sat down beside him. He handed her a lembas. She unwrapped it and nibbled at the wafer. Its flavor was beyond describing. In one bite she would swear it both sweet and salty, both flaky and moist. As most things elvish, it was a puzzle. Legolas patrolled the area, while she lay down to sleep. The wind blew across the plains and she shivered, mentally cursing the Ents that pulled the Elvish cloak from her shoulders. After surveying the area around them, Legolas could sense no danger and returned to the camp. He lay on the ground and stare up at the sky and drifted off to sleep. Dreams overtook them.

The sea spread out before Legolas. He stared long at the waters. It was a sight that spoke to him like no other. The sea demanded his attention, engulfing all of his senses at once. The roar of the waves. The distinct smell of the salt water. The spray of the sea as it hit his face. And the horizon, so endless. But even with his elvish sight he could not see nor guess what the lands of Valinor held.

As he stare out at he water, snow began to fall. He reached out a hand, catching a few flakes in his palm. In all his dreams of the sea, there had never been any with snowfall. Confused, he looked along the beach. Elesia was sitting in the sand, her knees pull up to her chest, as she stared out at the water. Trembling.

Legolas woke and looked over at her. Elesia was still asleep. She was curled in a tight ball, shivering in the cold. Legolas cursed himself under his breath and approached her.

He walked over and sat down beside her. She awoke. "Is something wrong?" she asked, looking around warily.

"Yes." Legolas said. "You are freezing."

"Is that all?" she said and yawned. "I thought it something important…like orcs or Ents or whatever manner of creature wishes to attack us next."

"Cold can harm as easily as an arrow." Legolas said.

"Do not worry yourself." Elesia said, and closed her eyes. But Legolas was insistent.

"Since you have been deprived of your cloak, I shall take its place." Legolas said.

She looked at him, trying to decide whether to be amused or infuriated. But in his eyes she saw true concern and worry.

He sighed. "I could do nothing to save Gimli, but I will not stand by and let the cold claim you. I forget how fragile life is for those who are not elves." Legolas said.

"I suppose you would be a more comfortable bed than the hard ground," Elesia said, as she scoot over beside him.

A look of satisfaction spread across his face and he held his arms open for her. She hesitated only a moment, before she settled into his embrace, her head fitting nicely into the crook of his shoulder. The cold wind blew and she shivered as he wrapped his arms more closely around her. The heat from his body warmed her and slowly she relaxed. Though it was not easy. She was all too aware of his body against hers. She could feel gentle rise and fall of his chest. His slow even breaths. The strength in his arms as they held her. And a comforting smell of earth and sky that she could only describe as elvish. She opened her eyes briefly to adjust her position and noticed his unclosed eyes. She stare at them for a long time.

"What bothers you?" he asked.

"It is… nothing." She said.

"Do not lie. Am I not as comfortable as you had hoped?" He asked, amused.

"No.. you are quite comfortable. It is foolish." She said.

"Nothing you could say would be foolish." Legolas said, looking down at her.

"It is your eyes." She finally admitted. "I can not sleep, feeling you stare at me all night."

Legolas held back a laugh.

"With that, I am afraid I can not help you. It would be like asking you not to breath for the rest of the evening. . . . . Besides, I can think of no better view to fall asleep to than your face." He gazed long into her eyes.

He touched her face, tracing the line of her jaw with his hand, and tucked a piece of stray hair behind her ear. His fingers followed the soft contours of her ear. She shivered at the touch and reached up to take his hand in hers. Their fingers intertwined.

"This was all that saved me from madness when we were caught within the roots." Elesia said, as she squeezed his hand gently.

"If that is all it takes to comfort you, I would have taken your hands in mine long ago." Legolas said.

The wind blew and he pulled her closer and they drifted off to sleep. Legolas woke with the dawn. He look down at Elesia, curled up beside him. Her head was resting on his chest, her fingers gripped the front of his tunic.

He sighed and looked up at the sky. But the sky was not above him. He was beneath a tree. He gently shook Elesia awake and felt her body tense as she gazed at the tree above them.

"So you finally awaken, little masters." A loud almost hollow- sounding voice said.

Legolas stared into the branches gravely and stood up facing the trunk of the tree they were sleeping beneath.

"Treebeard. I must explain." Legolas said.

Elesia realized with a gasp that this was no tree, but an Ent. She gazed into the large expressive eyes.

Treebeard's brows wrinkled in concern. He hooomed and hummmed a long moment as if considering his words. "There is no need for explanations. We have heard Master Gimli's story and it is to be believed."

"Then he is alive?" Legolas said.

"He is at that. And from his mouth comes an ever-hasty string of words demanding our attention. Demanding!!!" Treebeard said this as if it were a great joke. But his voice became grave. "He is much injured. And I regret that. But. . . hmmmm. . . it was to be expected."

"For ones who do not get hasty, you made a swift a judgement on us the other night" Legolas said.

"In the matter of Entwives, we have had long centuries to decide our action," Treebeard said. "You should have come alone. Not carrying a branch from an entwife and waving it like a banner. 'Twas like calling us to battle."

"Forgive us, in our hastiness we did not consider the consequences." Legolas said.

"And I am afraid the consequences are greater than you will imagine. He must be taken to a healer. Perhaps Gandalf?" Treebeard said, and then thought a moment. "No . . . not Gandalf. . .he is no longer here. Hrummm…Hrooom…Things are changing too quickly for one as old as I. It is hard to keep them straight. . . .but a great healer is needed for Master Gimli."

Treebeard looked at Elesia as if seeing her for the first time. He breathed deeply and a smile spread across his large face.

"You have lived long among the Entwives, for I can still smell the blossoms of their flowers within your hair." Treebeard said.

Elesia smiled. "They were as dear to me as my own people."

Treebeard bowed low, extending his branches.

"I shall take you to Master Gimli. And you shall tell me of the Entwives. Were they as beautiful as I remember? For it has been many years since I saw them last, and already their branches were bending towards the ground to tend the smallest of plants." Treebeard said.

Legolas and Elesia climbed atop Treebeards branches and held on. He took giant booming steps through the forest and listened to Elesia as she talked. They walked for some leagues. Treebeard asked questions about the numbers, size, and condition of his beloved Entwives. He wanted to know everything down to the smallest detail of the smallest bud on the smallest tree. And when she had finished talking Treebeard thought a long moment. He looked at Elesia and said,

"You speak of the trees with words better than an elf could use. Even if you are quite hasty in your descriptions." Treebeard said.

He had stopped in a clearing and lowered them to the ground. Gimli lay on the ground. His legs had been splinted with limbs from a sapling and a make-shift stretcher had been woven from many branches and covered in leaves.

Legolas and Elesia rushed to him and saw the extent of his wounds. His legs were splinted but at odd angles which caused Elesia to turn her gaze away quickly.

Gimli grimaced painfully. "So it IS as bad as it feels." Gimli said through gritted teeth. "I tried to get one word out of these Ents but they are all for long explanations and would tell me nothing."

"We must get you to Gondor at once." Legolas said.

"That is easy to say. It will be harder to do." Gimli said.

The horses had followed them into the forest and Legolas attached the stretcher to the horses saddle. The worry was plain to see on Legolas' face, as he ready the horses for travel.

"We must leave at once." Legolas said.

Treebeard watched them sadly. "Always in a hurry." He shook his head at them, and escorted them to the edge of the wood.

"Will you go and find your Entwives?" Elesia asked.

Treebeard thought it over. "That will take some long considerations and planning. But I think eventually we will go."

At the edge of the forest they said their goodbyes.

"We are sorry for the price you paid to bring news of the Entwives to us, Master Gimli." Treebeard said. Gimli said nothing only nodded slightly.

Treebeard considered Legolas a long moment. "The great sea is calling you and yet you keep company with mortals. You are the strangest elf I have ever known."

"And I will take your words as a compliment." Legolas said and bowed.

Treebeard then stared at Elesia. "I am sorry your visit to Fangorn was one filled with terror. Perhaps. . . you will come again." His eyes went from Legolas and then back to Elesia and he altered his words. "or perhaps, your journey lies elsewhere."

Legolas' horse, pulled Gimli's stretcher behind it and their speed was very slow. They turned away from the great forest and towards the great rolling plains and began their long journey to Gondor.

| Part XVIII |
| Index |