The air within the crowded armory was close, and overly warm, heavy with the thick, bitter scent of fear.
Legolas stood beside Gimli near a corner of the wall, as men milled about the packed room, collecting the weapons and other gear that they would need to defend the fortress. A futile effort, Legolas thought darkly to himself. They would all be dead before the night was over, and Aragorn, Gimli and himself among them.
Legolas folded his arms across his chest and retreated into his own thoughts. It had been only a few hours before when he had been with Lalaith. He had sat down with his back against a pillar to rest for a moment, but he must have been more weary than he had first thought, and had slipped inadvertently into his dreams. And she had been there. As real to him as in the waking world. The feel of her, her scent, the taste of her kiss still seemed to linger about him as if he had indeed been with her as he had dreamed. Their minds must have been linked somehow. It had been too real to be otherwise. And wherever she was, surely she carried in her mind the same memories he did. He prayed that she did, for though his arms ached to hold her again, he knew he never would. Death had never seemed more close or inescapable as it did now.
Legolas glanced away from his own thoughts for a moment, when he noticed a young man, a child really, no older than twelve or thirteen, struggling with a helmet that was too big for his little head. The look of babyish innocence had not even left the boy's large frightened eyes. He was barely taller than the sheathed sword that had been placed into his reluctant hands. Legolas shook his head to himself. Had that boy been born an Elf, he would be hardly older than a baby, barely tottering about with his plump little thumb still plopped in his mouth. What was such a child doing here, preparing himself to battle orcs twice his size, and ten times stronger? The boy would be slain before he had the chance to lift his weapon!
Legolas glanced darkly away, his eyes stopped at Aragorn who stood beside a rough wooden table, laden with notched and beaten swords that seemed so blunt, that they could not slice raw meat, let alone thick armored orc necks. Aragorn dropped the sword he had been studying with a clatter, and made his way back toward the Elf and Dwarf.
"Farmer, farriers, stable boys." He said in a low tone, glancing about the room, and back at Legolas. "These are no soldiers."
"Most have seen too many winters." Gimli grumbled where he stood by Legolas, leaning over his axe.
"Or too few." Legolas added, turning his eyes away from the boy as the lad, sensing someone's eyes on him, curiously glanced up.
"Look at them." He continued bitterly. "They're frightened. You can see it in their eyes."
As these words escaped his mouth, the low mumbling that had been rustling through the room, died suddenly as all eyes turned to him.
He turned and strode toward a rack of tarnished, beaten shields that looked as if they would crack at one blow, before turning back on Aragorn. "And they should be!" He fumed, changing from the Common Speech to his own tongue. No one in the room but Aragorn would understand his despairing words. "Three hundred," he spat, "against ten thousand?"
Aragorn glanced about, mildly defensive, before he spoke in Legolas' tongue, "They have more hope of defending themselves here than at Edoras-,"
"Aragorn," Legolas viciously shot back as he gave full vent to the feelings that he had kept bottled inside for so long, "They cannot win this fight." He seethed furiously. "They are all going to die!"
"Then I shall die as one of them!" Aragorn cried angrily, now in the Common Tongue, no longer caring that everyone could understand his words as he strode near to the Elf, and eyed Legolas evenly for a long moment. At last, Aragorn broke his gaze, and with a harsh breath of air, turned and marched away. The throng of old men their already bent backs bent even further with the weight of the armor they wore, and beardless children with swords longer than their own arms, parted as he strode past.
Where was he going? Legolas was not finished yet!
"Let him go, lad." He heard Gimli mutter beside him, and felt the Dwarf's hand on his arm, keeping him back even before he realized he had started after Aragorn. "Let him be."
Legolas frowned, and drew in a deep breath as he stared after Aragorn's back that was stiff with anger as the Man retreated. He had never seen his friend so livid as he was now. Perhaps, Legolas scoffed bitterly to himself, it was only because Aragorn was in denial of the truth that Legolas had stated so plainly. But then, as he clenched his jaw, thinking over the words he had just blurted in his thoughtless fury, perhaps Aragorn had a reason to be so angry. Perhaps there was more hope for them, than Legolas could now see. He glanced away as the hum in the room resumed, ignoring the occasional glances of annoyance that were cast in his direction. His eyes shot to the floor as he pictured her as she had been in their dream, flying joyfully over the sand like a sprightly little bird, the blue fabric of her gown catching in the wind about her shapely legs as she ran toward him. He could remember again, the feel of her against him, and once more taste her joyful response to his kiss. Perhaps the Valar had given him that time with her, not as a last fleeting gift, but as a reminder of what he fought for. Of why he should not give up hope.
Legolas had already donned his armor, a light shirt of mail beneath his tunic and jerkin, and leather shoulder guards that would not restrict the movement of his bow arm. But Aragorn had not yet finished strapping on his knifebelt around the leather vest and the thick shirt of chainmail he already wore as Elf came tentatively from behind. Upon a rough hewn table beside the human, his sheathed sword waited, and with a thoughtful twist of his jaw, Legolas picked this up.
As the Man turned, he paused in mild surprise to see the Elf offering the sheathed sword, hilt first, for him to take.
As Aragorn took the weapon from his hands, nodding his thanks, Legolas offered him a slim, contrite smile. "We have trusted you this far. You have not led us astray." He murmured, seeking for a sign of forgiveness in Aragorn's eyes. "Forgive me. I was wrong to despair."
Aragorn offered a gentle shake of his head as he slapped his chest gently with his fist in an elven salute. "There is nothing to forgive, Legolas." Aragorn murmured in softened elvish tones as he grasped Legolas' shoulder.
Legolas clapped his own hand warmly upon the Man's shoulder, his brow knitting with gratitude for his friend's generous heart as a new understanding passed between their eyes.
The sound of mail clinking heavily caught their attention, and Legolas glanced to his right to see Gimli hobble into view, struggling beneath a vast mail shirt, the greater part of it crunched up in his arms against his chest.
"We had time, I'd get this adjusted." He complained, letting the shirt fall, where it crashed about his feet, several inches to spare trailing about him on the ground. Legolas glanced at Aragorn and the two traded a silent, humorous glance.
"It's a little tight across the chest." The Dwarf grumbled, as Legolas and Aragorn indulged him with slight nods.
A sudden distant blast of a horn brought all their heads up at the sound that came echoing down into the cavernous armory, and a surge of excitement rose in Legolas at the welcome sound of an elvish horn blast.
"That is no orc horn!" He exclaimed to the others. And with a tightened grip upon his bow, he darted up the steep stone steps out of the firelit armory, and into the cool air of the cloudy, starless night.