The Choice

Chapter 24

"Ready Hasufel." Legolas' voice rang through the stone stable of the Hornburg. The young boys scurried from their post, startled, not having heard the elf's approach. They began rummaging through all the piled up equipment to find suitable tack. There had not been much time or workers to sort the mess.

"That won't be necessary. I need no tack." She called from behind, halting their movements as they gave her strange looks. They knew the elf went bareback, but from a human, or what they believed one, seemed a foreign concept. Though even if she had been human still, she had always preferred the freedom she felt riding bareback gave both her and her mount. Legolas just ignored her, and nodded for them to do as she asked.

One of the older lads, led the stocky chestnut to where they stood, keeping a wary eye on Evelyn, which she was not blind to. She gave the boy a polite thank you and took the lead from him. To her right she saw a small mounting block and made her way to it, speaking softly in Sindarin to the stallion, who nickered and bumped her hip playfully. She held her breath as the sudden jarring sent a small pain up her side. This may be harder than she had anticipated.

Evelyn was keenly aware of the prince's eyes upon her, watching her every move, no doubt he would tell Aragorn if he felt her unfit. She knew to, that mounting would be difficult with her stiff and aching muscles. She would just have to suck it up and hide it to the best of her ability.

Hasufel stood patiently, a back leg cocked as he rested. With a deep breath, Evelyn swung onto his broad back, doing everything she could to hide the grimace that threatened to appear on her face. It hurt much worse than she thought, but at least she had braced herself for it. Every muscle seemed to pull with the effort, but she did it. However, the pain was worth it, for she could ride alone, without being tense from the presence of the Mirkwood Prince.

"Follow me." Legolas spoke, bringing her back to reality. She nudged Hasufel slightly and he obligingly moved forward at a leisurely pace behind the elf.

He lead them to a small circular ring, clearly built to warm up the horses, however, it had seen its better days. Then again, in the middle of a fortress designed to hold a siege, what could she expect?

"Take him through his paces." Came the lazy command of the elf soon after she entered the ring, bristling her nerves, but she only nodded and did as she was told.

His movement was smooth and compact, very different from Zenith's large floaty strides. Though it hurt, she slowly felt her muscles begin to relax as the stallion's movement stretched her tight muscles. She found the stallion no trouble at all. He had been well trained. With just the slightest shift of her position, he would switch gaits and leads. Evelyn found herself in a trance; much like would often happen when she would ride, it was only Legolas informing her it was time to depart that broke her revere. Patting the horse affectionately on the neck, she nodded a grudging consent.

After a rather ungraceful dismount, she brushed off her clothing, glad to see Éowyn's riding habit had stayed mostly clean, only a few bits of dust and hay dirtied it.

"Can I not brush him out? He needs a cool down." she asked, as they turned to leave the horse in the grooms care.

The elf did not respond, he gave her a pointed look, clearly reminding her she could not be out alone and she was on his time. She gave a defeated sigh. Quickly she composed herself, straightening her back; she answered herself, "Right, I need to get packed for the trip." Evelyn hopped she had covered her blunder enough, but she was sure the elf saw right through her. She was just glad he chose to keep quiet and continue to lead their way back to the great hall. She wanted to keep what little pride she had left.

When they arrived back, the room was a flurry of activity. People were rushing back and forth, packing all there needed gear for the journeys ahead. The company was still at the table, though this time they had their own packs near them ready to leave. They looked up, noticing their arrival. Aragorn raised his eyebrows in question to Legolas, who nodded, saying, "She is fit to ride." Aragorn gave her a small smile and nod, and then went quickly back to his work.

Looking around, she saw an empty chair near the great table, excused herself from Legolas' care, and made to sit down. Surely, she thought, she would be allowed to sit here, there were plenty of her companions around to keep an 'eye' on her.

Legolas, however, followed close on her heels. Looking down at her he spoke quietly, "You should pack while there is still some time left."

A sharp stab of pain hit her then. She felt her heart clench as the realization hit her. She had nothing to pack. Her pack had been with her in the dungeons, and had been crushed under the rubble. The last shards of her previous life were now gone. What did she have left to hold on to now? When she had solitude, she would often look at her photographs and think of happy times in her old life. It was one of the few times she would find peace. Now would she ever know peace again? Evelyn felt the lump rising in her throat and forced it back down. She could not cry here, not now, especially not in front of the Elf prince, who was now giving her an odd unreadable stare.

With a brave smile she finally replied, "I have nothing left to me to pack."

Legolas paused, seeming unsure of what to say for a moment, and then he nodded and turned on his heels to become lost among the throng of people, leaving Evelyn to become lost in her own thoughts.

She tried, as hard as she could to bring the pictures back in her mind, but became increasingly distressed as she found it harder than before without their presence for guidance. Her memories were blurred with the present and all seemingly out of place. Try as hard as she might none of the images were as clear as they once were. Would all her previous memories fade then? Would anything of her past be left to her? Or would it all fade away, leaving her with nothing to hold on to when the nightmares come? And she knew they would come, they always did.

Evelyn jumped as she felt something heavy land in her lap, her focusing back to the present. Looking down she was startled to see a medium sized soft leather pack sitting in her lap. It was not her pack, so where had it come from? Then she noted the familiar green breeches of Legolas in front of her. Raising her gaze, she found herself looking into his blue orbs, their depths unreadable.

"What is this?" She questioned her confusion clear.

"I thought that much was fairly obvious, it is a traveling pack." Legolas replied, his voice smooth with the snide remark.

Evelyn pursed her lips, "Yes, I can see that. However, where did it come from? Mine was destroyed."

"Yes, you informed me it was no longer in your possession, which is why I have given you a new one."

Her brows creased in further confusion, creating small wrinkles in her forehead. He found her thought process highly intriguing. He could practically see the different thoughts running through her mind from her facial expressions. He could see her gratitude, but also confusion there in her eyes. Those haunting eyes, that could pierce right through you. They still had the tendency to unnerve him.

"But why…?" She began, but Legolas cut her off.

"A simple thank you will do, or do you not want it?" He had known what she was about to ask. She was going to ask him, why he had taken the trouble to make her up a pack when he had his own to make. It was a question he did not know how to answer, and even if he did, he was not sure he would want to inform her. He had gone through more trouble than she even realized. He had gone down to the dungeons to see if there was anything he could retrieve of hers. All that was left intact was an old leather book filled with empty pages. The remains of her very realistic paintings were scattered in the dirt, a single yellow flower blooming between their pieces. Why he was compelled to pick the flower, he did not understand, and it confused him. He found himself pressing the small flower into the back of the book where it would be preserved, and put it in the bottom of the pack. Mulling over his confused and tumbled thoughts, Legolas did not notice the flower matched the flowers shown in the small piece of Evelyn's pictures on the ground beside it.

Evelyn found herself gripping the pack tighter as she replied icily, "I do want it, thank you." As she spoke, she broke the elf's train of thought, as he focused back on her, pushing the other thoughts aside. He did not understand or like how this woman made him feel. He knew it was best to keep his distance, but he found increasingly hard the longer they traveled together. Much to his distaste, he found himself becoming fonder of her, and more protective.

"Very well, let us go." Once again, he turned sharply, leaving her to hustle and catch up.

"You're welcome," she mumbled under her breath for him.

Upon entering the stables, she found most of the company that would travel with them to Isengard were already assembled, save for the King and his nephew. However, she knew they were nearby, for the commotion that was heading towards the stables. Evelyn headed straight for Hasufel, whom the grooms had left untacked, much to her liking. Adjusting her pack, she made to start the strenuous task of mounting the stocky horse as the King and his men entered the stables.

A hand on her arm made her halt her movements as she whipped her head around to see Legolas close behind her. Gooseflesh appeared on her neck where she could feel his warm breath glide across her skin. She held back a shiver.

"Give me your pack."

She gave him a quizzical glance, but complied, wondering what he was up to.

"Now grab his mane and give me your leg."

"What?!" she balked, quickly jumping back into Hasufel's side and earning a sigh from Legolas and a curious glance from Hasufel.

"I am helping you mount, unless you want to go through the pain of doing it yourself again?" He explained, raising an eyebrow at the suspicious woman.

"Oh, right. Yes, well, thank you." She mumbled in replied, ducking her head to hide her blushing cheeks. She felt utterly ridiculous that she had reacted so. She thought she had moved past such reactions, at least with her companions, but it seemed not. Taking a deep breath she did as Legolas instructed.

She felt his strong hands grip her calf tightly as he positioned himself to hoist her up. And with one easy fluid movement, he lifted her easily and left her side after giving back her pack. Evelyn was as confused as ever about his behavior.

"I swear you have multiple personalities." She muttered to herself about the elf prince.

"What are these multiple personalities I suffer from?" he asked stopping Arod next to the chestnut, a smirk on his face knowing her had caught her whispering behind his back.

She cursed herself inwardly for speaking aloud, even though it was true. He could be caring, even if distant, and then cold and severe the next moment. Looking at him, her face still flushed she replied, "Nothing I am going to explain." And she turned to the others and asked Hasufel to walk on to follow.

Their first day of travel had been uneventful, which Evelyn was thankful for, the last thing she wanted was to run into more trouble. They had ridden most of the day at a leisurely pace and now were stopping to take rest for the night. The sun was sinking low in the sky send streaks of purple and pink through the wispy clouds overhead against the navy sky.

She was much too tired to fix up her small area of the clearing, instead she leaned against Hasufel's warm side and he lay on the ground. The fire, at least, was still close enough to offer some warmth. Her body felt abused, she could barely remember feeling so stiff and achy, except maybe on their journey to Edoras. At one point, she had thought to move closer to the group, but Théoden had brought extra soldiers with him that now had congregated by its warmth. She no longer felt the stifling fear around men she once did, however, they still made her tense and alert, and right now, she just wanted rest. If anything should come near that posed a threat, the stallion at her back would know before her.

Evelyn knew that sleep was a joke, too much plagued her mind, but just lying on the ground listening to the crackle of the flames helped relax her just a tiny bit.

"You should get sleep while you can." The familiar voice spoke above her head. This time at least, she did not jump at the sound. She merely just opened her eyes and looked up at the elf.

She about lying and saying she had been almost asleep before his interruption, though she knew he would know she was lying. So instead, she sighed, telling the truth, "I would not find sleep here even if I tried."

Legolas looked at the woman before him. She seemed calm and relaxed, not like her normally tense self. Since the battle, he had seen her become much more at ease around men. Though he imagined healing them at such a close proximity, as she had, would help alleviate fears. However, outward appearance, he knew, could be deceiving. When Evelyn tried, she could hide much behind her wall. Mayhap that was all she was doing now.

"These men will not hurt you."

She smiled and looked away, facing the north. "It is not the men that keep me awake." She replied.

Legolas, finding his curiosity piqued, made to sit down adjacent to her. At the same time, Aragorn had made his way over to check on her. He too sat down in front of her, giving her a small smile of encouragement.

"What then is it, which plagues your mind?" Legolas asked her.

"Isengard, My Lord, and the wizard that awaits us there."

"You have nothing to fear of the wizard." Legolas replied, trying to calm her worries.

Looking at him, she regarded him with her ice blue eyes, seeing the truth in them. She did have to worry about Saruman. "Yes I do, we all know it. Just by being what I am, puts me at risk. No, not just me everyone. What I am was enough to sway King Théoden, even for only a short time. He believed I could save his people. He would do whatever it took to keep his people safe. I do not hold what he did against him." She paused, looking at neither of the men before her, knowing they were watching her intently. "Saruman, however, is not kind. He will covet me should he find out what I am. I would be a great weapon for him. So, yes, I do have reason to fear our journey and what lies at its end."

"We will protect you." Aragorn stated frankly.

At the same time Legolas responded, "I shall let no harm come to you."

"Do not make promises you cannot keep. Even ones made for all the right reasons can be broken, even if not on purpose. Should we run into trouble, no one can guarantee anyone's safety."

They all fell into silence then, no one having much else they could had to Evelyn's last words, knowing full well they were true. Evelyn closed her eyes again, taking in a deep breath of the night air. She wished now that the night would pass quickly. The sooner their journey was over the better.

Legolas watched as she lay perfectly still, save her rhythmic breathing. His response to her fear still echoing in his mind, 'I shall let no harm come to you.' He knew what he said was true, but he also knew that the others would also do the same, as Aragorn had said. So why then, had he too not said 'we?' had either she or Aragorn noted his slip up? If Evelyn had, she did not mention it, but what of the ranger? Many long years they have been friends. If there was anyone who knew Legolas better than himself, it was Aragorn. He turned his gaze to the Dúnedain. Aragorn, however, was still looking at the woman, his expression solemn. Legolas thoughts shifted again, mirroring the rangers. 'What would become of her?'

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