It was undoubtedly the most useless map Aragorn had ever seen – and he had seen a lot of maps.
"I cannot believe you are lost in your own city," Legolas said with entirely too much amusement in his voice as he leaned against a stone pillar, watching Aragorn walk slowly around the large map carved into the marble table before them as if perhaps getting a new view of it would help them figure out how on earth to read it.
"It's been my city for all of a week thank-you-very-much," the soon-to-be King of Gondor growled at his friend. "And this area is new, it was not here like this when I served under Ecthelion. Besides, I don't see you helping us navigate. I thought that elves never got lost."
Legolas pushed off of the wall and stood by his friend's side. "We don't, if we know where we are going. But since my only goal is staying with you, I seem to be achieving that very well."
Aragorn grimaced. "Do you realize what a cop-out that is?"
Legolas smiled back with infuriating calm. "Yes. You know, we could have brought a guide..."
"Legolas, I am not even officially the King yet, and my every move is hounded and shadowed by a string of people I don't even know. The last thing I need is to have slipped the guards only to drag some bowing and scraping guide along with us," Aragorn said with mildly exaggerated aggravation.
Legolas chuckled. "I know, being royalty is so hard, isn't it?" The elf prince had to duck his friend's playful smack.
Aragorn gave a last glance at the engraved map and shook his head. "Well this really is no help. It tells you what level things are on, but not how to get between them. I think however, that we want to be going this direction." He pointed south-east.
Legolas nodded slowly. "All right, then we'll try that and hopefully it will prove better than our last attempt. When you said you wanted to show me the sights I did not imagine you wanted to show me the same ones five times..."
Aragorn scowled. To say that the Plaza was confusing was an understatement. A gigantic, sprawling market area that was so large it spread over two different levels of the city, the Plaza was earning its reputation as the best and busiest center of commerce in Gondor. Aragorn had never been here before that he could recall, or if he had, it had been over forty years ago and the face of the city had changed much since then. Considering he had given his newly acquired palace guards the slip, it seemed the best place to go to simply blend into the populace and spend a little time with Legolas before he had to throw himself into preparations for the upcoming coronation.
Legolas had proved to be a wellspring of methods for getting guards to think you were one place while you quietly slipped away somewhere else, and the two of them were free of the palace and out into the city with very little difficulty.
The Plaza was a very interesting place and for a time they had simply wandered amid the shops, watching the people going about their lives and enjoying the feast of sights, sounds and colors. Banners and signs in every color possible flagged shops of all descriptions and sizes, calling attention to the merchants who were selling everything from weapons to sweetmeats. Shops lined the streets on either side and edged countless terraces above and below. The multi-leveled design mirrored the larger design of the over-all city on a smaller scale, cramming six or seven levels of shops into two city levels. Dozens of slanted walkways and stairs led between the various levels at uneven and apparently completely random intervals, which contributed to the beauty, but also the overall navigational nightmare in which the two friends now found themselves ensnared.
When they did not care where they were going, it was easy to simply wander, but now that the sun was slipping down the sky and they were attempting to find the exit that would let them back into the city on the correct side for returning to the Citadel, things were becoming more difficult.
"Look, down there, we want to get down there," Aragorn leaned over a wrought iron railing, pointing down several levels at the bright red banner above a dress-maker's shop that they knew to be on the same level as the gate that they were trying to locate.
"Except that there is no way down to that level from here," Legolas pointed out after a quick scan of the area. "However, it looks like if we go up there," he paused to point at a flight of winding stairs that took them up two levels from their current position, "there is a walkway that will take us down from there to the level above that one, and perhaps from there we can find stairs down to where we actually want to go."
Aragorn shook his head, that was proving typical of this place. "It's insane," he muttered. "You have to go up to go down!"
Legolas nodded in agreement, but they had no other choice, so the two friends dutifully wound their way up the stairs before them until they could begin descending once more. Unfortunately the next walkway they found took them down two levels, not one, so they found themselves below the street they wished to be upon with quickly diminishing patience.
When the next flight of stairs that promised to take them up one level, took them up five without a chance to exit anywhere but the top, frustrations peaked as they found themselves nearly exactly back where they had started.
Legolas shook his head. "This is madness."
Aragorn sighed. "True, but do you have any better ideas?"
Actually, the elf did. Before Aragorn could stop him, Legolas nimbly vaulted the railing they were standing by and dropped down onto the balcony of one of the shops below. Swinging down, he landed cat-like on the railing of that terrace and leaped from there to the street of the level two stories below.
Aragorn leaned over the railing, looking down at the elf who was smiling smugly below.
"Well, are you coming?" the elf prince called up to his friend.
Aragorn shook his head. "I think I'll take the stairs," he said, selecting yet another tortuous route that would hopefully get him where he was going.
"Suit yourself," Legolas shrugged before shinnying over the rail he was on and hopping lightly into the courtyard of the next shop beyond.
"Legolas, stop it!" Aragorn called after him as the elf continued to short-cut his trip in that fashion. "You're not supposed to do that, you'll get in trouble!"
"Then I guess I'll have to have the King get me out of trouble again, when he catches up," Legolas called back. The elf was through trying to navigate the confusing Plaza by human rules.
"Hey, you, come down from there, it's not safe. Did you hear me? You're not allowed to do that sir!" a voice from somewhere ahead told Aragorn that some of the city guard had apparently noticed the elf's antics. They would never catch Legolas, but having his best friend lead the city patrol on a wild chase through the market Plaza was not something Aragorn had anticipated for today. He had better get down there... except, the only way down was up... two levels up. He moaned and took the stairs two at a time. Finally he found a stairway leading down to where the sounds of commotion and clamor were now coming from. He took one look at the five flights of stairs, all heading straight down, and knew there had to be a better, faster way.
Giving up on propriety when another series of crashing sounds from below alerted him that the guards were probably driving themselves insane chasing after Legolas, the ranger hopped up onto the wide banister that ran the length of the stairs. Remaining on his feet, but crouching down for better balance, the ranger slid down the smooth marble railing on the slick soles of his well-worn boots, making the bottom very swiftly.
The fact that he nearly ran into a soldier at the bottom almost ruined the usefulness of making a speedier decent, but not quite.
The guard, already edgy because of the on going chase, attempted to apprehend the latest apparent hooligan who was creating a safety hazard in the Plaza. Aragorn considered simply running, but he knew that was only going to create more chaos.
Attempts to explain his behavior however, were not well-received by the guards who were quickly congregating on the location. Somehow, while dressed in his extremely well-worn ranger garb and having been caught sliding down banisters, telling these men who had never laid eyes on him before, that he was their King, was not going over too well.
All the guards started when Legolas dropped down beside Aragorn, having seen what was going on. Once he saw that Aragorn was unwilling to escape, the elf suffered the guards to take him as well, since he would not leave his friend alone in this situation. The pair was placed under arrest almost immediately.
Legolas thought it was all very amusing, although Aragorn was significantly less impressed with their current circumstances.
"This is definitely all your fault," the King of Gondor hissed between his teeth as they were put in irons and the guards began escorting them away. "Do you have any idea how long it is going to take me to live this down?"
"Probably longer than you will live," Legolas responded, trying his best not to laugh. "But look on the bright side; at least we will now be able to find our way out of the Plaza."
Aragorn shrugged, he supposed his friend was right after a fashion. "I suppose, although I had not anticipated it being in chains..." he muttered, causing Legolas to laugh again.
Both friends expected the situation to be cleared up rather quickly, but such was not to be the case. The two friends were escorted to the local prison for that section of the city and placed in the cell usually used to accommodate those who were drunk and disturbing the peace until they were sober once more. Considering that this rather disreputable looking man was claiming to be the king of Gondor, the soldiers could assume nothing other than that he was either drunk, or not quite right in the head. They did not know what to make of Legolas, but intended to hold him anyway for the night, as was the usual policy for this kind of thing.
Now that he found himself in a large cell with half a dozen drunk or slightly insane humans, Legolas was beginning to find the situation less humorous.
"Stop pacing," Aragorn told him after a few minutes. The ranger had taken a seat in the back corner of the cell, pulling his coat around him and resting his arms on his knees. If they weren't getting out of here until tomorrow, then they would just have to wait and hope that the kingdom didn't fall into too much panic and chaos before then.
Legolas scowled, but came and sat down next to Aragorn, carefully stepping over the large man who was snoring loudly in the middle of the floor.
"This place reeks," the elf prince commented disdainfully, covering his nose for a moment. One of the bedraggled, inebriated men who were wondering around the cell sat down next to Legolas and Aragorn and tried to lean against the elf. The man looked and smelled like he had been sleeping in a pig pen and Legolas shoved him away. The drunk did not seem perturbed and contentedly laid on the snoring man for a pillow instead.
Pushing back tighter into the corner and puling up closer next to Aragorn, Legolas looked warily around in case there were any other smelly, stray humans that wanted to use him for a headrest.
Aragorn smiled ruefully. "Don't look at me, mellon-nín, I am not the one who got us put in here."
"Well we could have outrun them you know," the elf muttered.
Aragorn shoved his friend lightly. "Legolas!"
There was silence for a few minutes.
"What will you do when we get out?" Legolas broached the silence after a time.
"Do?" Aragorn asked. "Besides go home and make sure everyone knows I'm not dead or abducted or about to cause any major wars by my absence? Nothing. These soldiers are doing their job and I'm glad they are. We were acting like hoodlums you know. Just wait it out, they will let us go eventually."
Legolas didn't really like the answer, but he understood it. "I suppose you have been in a drunk cell before." It was a mild jibe, but a friendly one.
Aragorn nodded. "Yes. But I bet you never have."
"Certainly not!" Legolas shook his head, causing his friend to laugh.
"Well I've never been arrested because my friend was swinging through a shopping plaza like a monkey before either, so I suppose that means we're even and we both did something new."
Legolas grunted. "Aragorn, when was the last time I told you that you take me the most interesting places?"
"Oh no, this one was all your treat my friend," Aragorn shook his head, rejecting culpability for their current predicament.
Legolas had to admit that it was, but not out loud.
After a few hours, or a small eternity, depending on whether you asked Aragorn or Legolas, there was a rattle of keys at the outer door and someone entered the room with the jailer. A tall, white-haired man with a large white staff regarded the occupants of the cage-like cell in the center of the room with piercing eyes.
Aragorn and Legolas jumped immediately to their feet, moving to the front of the cell. "Gandalf!"
The wizard smiled. "Your commander told me," he said slowly to the jailer, ignoring his two friends for the moment. "That there is some crazy man down here claiming to be the King of Gondor and a wild creature that was with him."
"Yes, my lord," the jailer agreed. "These two here. We sent up to the Citadel just to be sure my lord, meaning no disrespect mind you. Of course it's nonsense, but I do appreciate you coming out to look."
Gandalf looked at the ranger and the elf prince with a blank expression, although they who knew him so well could see the merry glint in his eyes when he shook his head. "No, I've never seen either of them before in my life."
The two friends shouted in unison. He was obviously teasing them, but they were not in the mood to spend the night here on a whim.
Gandalf chuckled, low and deep as he was wont to do. "Very well, very well, I do know them. This rather unscrupulous looking character is your King my good fellow, and his companion is the Prince of Mirkwood, although knowing them I doubt very much that they were acting like either..."
The jailer suddenly turned very pale and fumbled for his keys, shaking so much he could barely get the cell door open.
"Y-your majesty, we didn't know, I'm sorry, really, we had no idea..."
Aragorn shook his head, quickly putting the fellow at ease. "You did what I would have expected you to do, no harm has been done. I apologize for our... inconvenient behavior." Here he elbowed Legolas sharply in the ribs.
As Gandalf, Legolas and Aragorn left the jail behind, the wizard could not help a little more mirth at his friends' expense. "This is hardly the first time I have had to bail you two out of jail..." he commented. "That really is not in my job description I hope you realize."
"Yes, and we appreciate it Mithrandir," Legolas said, completely straight-faced. "Aragorn was getting us in trouble again."
"WHAT?" Aragorn stopped walking and rounded on his friend. "I was? I was?! Who was it that decided stairs were a waste of time? I do not believe that was me."
Legolas danced away from his friend who looked ready to do him bodily harm at the moment, laughing despite himself. "Ah, but who was it wanted to give their guards the slip in the first place?"
"You helped," Aragorn pointed out.
"Enough," Gandalf chuckled. "Save your energy for explaining today to everyone else when you get back. There's a Captain Jonath who is very anxious to find you, your highness," he glanced meaningfully at Aragorn. "And I do believe that Gimli will be very interested in where I found you my dear Legolas," he added, before the elf could get too much more enjoyment at his friend's expense.
Legolas' expression soured. "All right, so neither of us are going to live this down for a while," he conceded.
Aragorn nodded. "But... it was fun," he had to admit.
Legolas laughed. "You, my friend, are incredible."
"What, do you not agree?" the human asked in mock surprise.
"Actually, I do," Legolas chuckled. "It was like old times, perhaps the last we shall have for some time now."
Gandalf shook his head. "I don't know about that. Where you two go, trouble follows."
It was too true and they all knew it, so the responding laughter was both rueful, and amused as the friends walked back towards the Citadel.