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Time's Turnings  by daw the minstrel

Thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this story for me.


8. Dining in Dale

With a silently disapproving Beliond at his back, Legolas pushed the door open and entered what was evidently the common room of the inn. The smell of stale sweat and old dirt that had assaulted him in the marketplace was nearly overpowering inside, mixed as it was with the odors of smoke from the fireplace and onions cooking somewhere nearby.

The room fell suddenly silent, and he was aware of the dozen or so Men who were seated at the scarred wooden tables turning their heads to look at him. As he hesitated, glancing around for some indication of what he should do next, Beliond brushed past him and walked to a high counter behind which a stout Man in an apron stood with his mouth hanging open. “My companion and I would like a room for the night,” Beliond declared.

The Man behind the counter hesitated for a moment, glancing at the other Men in the room. His face impassive, Beliond took a coin out of his belt pouch and tapped it on the counter, and the Man seemed to pull himself together and snapped his mouth shut. “Of course,” he said. “This way.” He put the tankard he had been wiping down on the counter and gestured for them to follow him.

Legolas trailed after Beliond, aware of an itch between his shoulder blades as the Men’s eyes bored into his departing back. They went down a short corridor and then turned to go up a steep flight of stairs. The innkeeper led them down a corridor and flung open a door. “I can let you have this room,” he said. “I’m short on space because the big monthly market is going on.”

Legolas walked into the small room. The sway-backed bed was covered with a coarse but clean blanket. A single straight-backed chair stood next to the washstand. Legolas was determined to see no defect. And in truth, he had slept in rooms as plain as this when he stayed in friends’ cottages around his father’s stronghold. “This will be fine,” he said and flung his pack on the bed, looking defiantly at Beliond, who still stood in the doorway.

The innkeeper nodded. “If you want supper, there’s boiled beef or game pie. I can send it up here if you like.”

“No,” Legolas said quickly, when Beliond opened his mouth to reply. “We will come down.”

The innkeeper hesitated and then shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said and left them.

Beliond closed the door with unnecessary force. “We could at least eat up here,” he snapped. “I do not like the idea of sitting in the common room with Men who are not particularly pleased with Elves just now for reasons that we do not understand.”

“Eating downstairs will give us a better sense of the Men’s mood,” Legolas argued. “Perhaps most of them are willing to be friendly. Besides,” he added with a grin, “I believe you are supposed to be seeing to it that I continue to learn what I need to know as a warrior. Getting to know Men better will further my education.”

Beliond threw his pack on the chair and spat a word that made Legolas’s smile disappear.  “You think this is a joke,” Beliond said. “I tell you it is not, and I doubt if Thranduil would be amused either. You are provoking trouble, Legolas.”

Legolas could feel his temper rising. “I am simply carrying out the task we were assigned to do,” he said through stiff lips. “If you think my eating in an inn is too risky an activity, then you must have small respect for my skills.”

“All young warriors are at risk from unfamiliar dangers!” Beliond cried. “Moreover you know perfectly well that you could be a particularly tempting target if anyone knew who you were, and with that blond hair, you are not difficult to identify.”

“Do not try to tell me that you object to our staying here because I might be identified,” Legolas said heatedly. “What you object to is being anywhere near Men. We are here to find out what is going on in Dale, and I intend to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about its people’s frame of mind.”

He turned and started for the door, but Beliond grasped his arm and shoved his face close to Legolas’s. “Very well. But if I see you taking a single unnecessary risk, I will drag you out of that common room by the scruff of your neck. And if you doubt I will do it, try me.”

Trembling with barely contained fury, Legolas jerked his arm free. His patience was at an end. He was a warrior and he was going to insist on being treated like one. “You are my bodyguard,” he hissed, “and I will not interfere with your doing your job, but you are supposed to guard me while I am acting as a warrior, not wrap me in lamb's wool. And you are neither my commanding officer nor my adar, so I will not be ordered about like an elfling.”

Beliond went rigid and seemed to be struggling for breath. “I will protect you whether you like it or not,” he finally forced out. Legolas yanked the door open and strode down the hall to the stairway, knowing with a secret satisfaction that Beliond had little choice but to follow him.

He ran lightly down the stairs, entered the common room, and after a second’s hesitation, took a seat at a table next to the wall, aware again of everyone’s eyes upon him. As Legolas had expected, Beliond came in right behind him and sank into the chair across from him, his mouth set in a thin line and his body tense.

Legolas refused to meet his eyes. He was still fuming over Beliond’s highhandedness. He had watched Maltanaur during this trip, and he knew that his brother’s guard did not order him around as Beliond had tried to order Legolas. Instead, Maltanaur let Eilian go about his business, albeit keeping a watchful eye on everyone around them while he did it. Beliond usually did that when Legolas was on patrol too, but this new setting seemed to have rattled him, and Legolas was sick of the resulting fuss.

The innkeeper approached and stood silently next to the table. Legolas looked at him, wondering what he wanted. Beliond sighed. “Some of the game pie,” he said, and the innkeeper nodded and turned to Legolas, with an inquiring look on his face. That was it, Legolas realized, embarrassed at his slowness. The innkeeper was asking what they wanted to be served.

“I will have the game pie too,” Legolas said. “And some wine.”

The innkeeper had started away but now stopped for an uncertain moment. “I have only ale.”

To Legolas’s irritation, he could feel himself flushing a little. “Ale will be fine.” The innkeeper glanced at Beliond, who nodded resignedly.

“That should add to your education,” Beliond muttered and turned in his chair to lean against the wall and survey the room. At least he had relaxed a little, Legolas thought. He hated to admit it, but he already felt a little guilty about speaking so sharply to Beliond. He still thought that the restrictions his keeper had tried to impose were so narrow that they would have kept him from doing his job as a warrior, but he knew that Beliond acted out of genuine concern for him as well as out of an effort to meet his own obligations as a bodyguard.

Legolas too leaned against the wall and skimmed his eyes quickly over the people at the other tables. He was curious, but he thought it would be rude to stare; moreover, he knew that his gaze was likely to make the Men uncomfortable if he left it on any one person for too long. While he and Beliond had been talking to the innkeeper, most of the Men had returned to their conversations, darting only an occasional look toward where Legolas and Beliond sat. The room had become more crowded while they were upstairs, he noted.

As he swept his eyes over the room, he suddenly became aware of a new presence at a table on the other side of the room. Dwarves, he realized in surprise, and had time to notice that they were looking at him in the same way he was looking at them before he quickly turned away.

He found Beliond watching him with a look of sour amusement that brought back all his annoyance. He frowned. “They seem placid enough,” he snapped, “or do you see someone brandishing a weapon in our direction?”

“Watch your mouth,” Beliond growled and then fell silent as the innkeeper returned carrying a tray with two plates of food and two mugs of what was presumably ale. He put the food and drink on the table and walked away.

Feeling Beliond’s eyes upon him, Legolas picked up the mug, sniffed at its contents, and took a cautious swallow. To his dismay, it took all his self-control to keep from spitting it out again. His tongue curled around the bitter liquid, and he knew from the little snort that Beliond gave that he had been unable to keep his reaction from showing in his face. Beliond took a drink. “Ale takes some getting used to.”

Stung, Legolas took another sip. “I think I could acquire a taste for this,” he lied. Beliond smiled slightly and began to eat the game pie. Legolas turned his attention to the food too and found that it was good. That should not have surprised him, he supposed. The common room was now full, and that would presumably not be the case unless the inn had something to offer. Or at least, most of the common room was full. The two tables closest to Legolas and Beliond were still empty, he noted. Whatever was going on in Dale was making the Men leery of Elves, although they were tolerating Legolas’s and Beliond’s presence well enough. They just did not seem to want to sit near them.

The noise in the room had risen as it grew more crowded. Legolas sipped the ale, flinching again at its bitterness. The Men around them were consuming it at a pace Legolas found amazing. At a table halfway across the room sat two Men whose faces were growing red and voices louder as they drank, so he assumed that they were feeling the ale’s effects. Controlling the look on his face as much as he could, he rolled a mouthful of the ale around on his tongue, testing its potency against the wine to which he had been accustomed since childhood. It was stronger, he decided, so perhaps it was best that he felt no desire to drink much of it. Becoming drunk in a public place in Dale would be neither decorous nor safe, and Legolas had no wish to test Beliond’s assertion that he would drag him from the room if he did anything risky.

Suddenly, a hand touched him lightly on the shoulder, making him jump and reach instinctively for the knife at his belt. He snapped his head around to find a woman standing very close to him, the first woman he had seen in the inn. In his seated position, his eyes were even with her breasts, which were startlingly bare. The neckline of her dress scarcely covered her nipples. He tore his eyes away from the expanse of rounded flesh and fastened his gaze on her face, well aware from the heat he felt that his own face must be scarlet. He tried to stand, but she pressed him back into his chair with a smile.

“Good evening, sweetheart,” she drawled. “Would you like to take a little walk with me?”

“No, he would not,” interrupted Beliond. “Find someone else.”

She looked at him and smiled slowly. “Sonny looks old enough to make his own decision.” She trailed her hand around the back of Legolas’s neck to rest it on his other shoulder. Beliond’s face darkened.

Legolas had no idea why Beliond was upset, but he resented the interference. He was here to learn something that might be useful to Thranduil, and he knew better than to be sidetracked into pleasantries with a woman. Before Beliond could say anything more, he spoke. “Thank you for the invitation, mistress, but I fear I cannot accept it.”

She cocked her head, and he found himself watching in fascination as she ran her tongue over her upper lip. “Are you sure?”

He drew his attention sharply back to the task at hand. “Sadly, yes, I am sure.”

“Ah, well,” she said airily. “Later perhaps. I will be back.” She turned to smile at Beliond, and then, to Legolas’s utter astonishment, she tapped Beliond on the nose before she turned and walked away, her hips swaying.

The Men at a nearby table watched her go. “Going to satisfy your curiosity about Elves, Raena?” one of them called with a laugh.

“Later,” she called back over her shoulder. “Are you worried about comparisons?” And she left the inn accompanied by a scowl from the Man and the laughter of his companions.

Beliond ran his hand over his face, as if wiping traces of the woman away. Then he looked at Legolas, and to Legolas’s surprise, the corner of his mouth quirked in amusement. “Legolas,” he began, stopped, and then finally began again. “Legolas, I suspect that when Thranduil asked me to see to your training, he did not have this in mind, but I feel I should tell you that that woman was offering to exchange sex for money.”

Legolas blinked and then, to his deep annoyance, could feel himself blushing. He had heard that such things happened among Men, but it had simply never occurred to him that that was what the woman was suggesting.

“Do you need me to explain further?” Beliond asked, not unkindly.

“No.” Legolas could think of few things that would be worse.

Beliond nodded and leaned back in his chair to return to watching the room. Legolas lowered his eyes to his meal and waited for his embarrassment to fade. He was only glad that Eilian had not been present to see the exchange. His brother would have laughed himself silly and teased Legolas mercilessly for the foreseeable future. He ate another bite of the game pie, watching Beliond as he did so. His keeper had eaten little. Instead, he constantly scanned the room in a manner that Legolas had seen him use when their patrol encountered some danger. Legolas sighed. Beliond was doing his job as he saw fit, and if he put Men in the same category as Orcs and spiders, there was little Legolas could do to change his mind.

Suddenly, Beliond’s attention focused, and he tensed. Legolas turned swiftly and, about halfway across the room, he saw what he immediately knew was the object of Beliond’s concern. The spice merchant now sat between the two drunken Men that Legolas had noticed earlier, their heads bent together in quiet talk. As Legolas looked, the merchant lifted his head and looked straight at him, his eyes narrow and his face grim. He said something, and the other two Men also looked in their direction. There was no mistaking the hostility in their faces.

“What do you think that is about?” Legolas murmured.

“I have no idea,” said Beliond. “But we are leaving.”

He started to rise, but it was immediately obvious that they were too late. The two Men seated with the merchant had both risen and were walking toward them with their hands in their belts and their elbows out in a stance meant to make them look larger and more menacing. Legolas recognized it.  The novice masters had stood in much the same way when they were delivering a scolding meant to pin their charges’ ears back.  The effect was spoiled, however, when the Man on the left stumbled and lurched against a Man at another table.

“Watch what you’re doing!” the seated Man said irritably. The drunken Man swore, righted himself, and started toward Legolas and Beliond again.

Legolas tensed. Unless he and Beliond took to their heels, they were going to have to talk to these Men. He glanced at Beliond and, to his relief, saw that he was tense but once again seated. A hasty retreat would have been ignominious. Besides, assuming they could avoid an actual fight, they might learn something by talking to these Men. The last few minutes had hardened the suspicions that Legolas had felt in the marketplace. Whatever was going on here, the spice merchant was at the center of it, although he was still seated, watching events unfold from a safe distance. The Men at the table the drunken one had bumped were also watching, aware that some sort of trouble was brewing.

The two Men loomed over Beliond and Legolas. Automatically, Legolas noted the knives in their belts, the greater steadiness of the Man on the right, the hard muscles in the arms of the Man on the left. Anxious not to look threatening, he stayed seated but shifted his weight forward a little so that he could be on his feet in a heartbeat. He knew his knife was ready to be drawn because he had touched it when the woman approached, but he did not think he would need to use it: Those confronting them were Men and they were drunk. Still a brawl in the inn would help neither the relationship between Thranduil and Bram, nor Legolas’s argument that Beliond should trust his judgment more. He had time to think fleetingly that Thranduil and Eilian would likely be most unhappy with him too. Throw in Ithilden, and his whole family would be upset with him.

The drunker of the two Men spoke first, bending close to Legolas, so that Legolas had to work hard not to react to the stench of ale on his breath. “Stay away from our women, Elf!”

Legolas blinked. “To what are you referring?” he asked stiffly.

The drunker Man reeled a little, groping for an answer, but his companion leapt to his rescue. “He is talking about you coming here to bed our women. It’s unnatural, it is, and we’re not going to stand for it!” He reached to grab Legolas’s tunic, but Legolas clamped his hand on the Man’s wrist and held it a few inches away from him. From the corner of his eye, he could see Beliond rising and bending the drunker Man’s arm behind him in one smooth movement.

“You’re hurting me,” the Man whined.

“I am just making sure that no one loses their head,” Beliond said pleasantly.

Legolas was aware of the room growing silent, as Men watched in breathless anticipation. The innkeeper hurried toward them.

“We have no intention of bedding your women,” Legolas told the two Men.

“He is lying,” said a voice from some distance away, the spice merchant’s Legolas suddenly realized. “You heard Raena. The blond one is meeting her later.” An uneasy murmur came from the other Men in the room, and several chairs scraped back from tables as people evidently stood and began moving toward them.

“She was teasing,” Legolas said steadily, holding the gaze of the Man whose wrist he gripped. “We have no interest in your women.” His pulse was quickening. Were they really going to have to fight the Men in this room?

“He is probably telling the truth,” said a gruff voice, and Legolas shifted his gaze just enough to see one of the Dwarves standing behind the drunker Man. “Elves have always seemed to me to be uninterested in sex. This one probably could not bed your woman if he wanted to.”

Legolas puzzled over that for a moment. The Dwarf had vouched for his truthfulness, but he felt vaguely and wrongly insulted. If he wanted to bed a woman, of course he would be able to, but the point was that he did not want to.

“Elves do not bed random women,” Beliond said exasperatedly, saving Legolas the trouble of explaining. Beliond glared at the Dwarf, who smiled nastily back.

The innkeeper had reached Beliond’s side. “I’ll have no fighting in my common room,” he declared in a voice that rang with authority.

“We have no desire to fight with your other guests,” Legolas said loudly, trying to salvage the situation. “We think of the Men of Dale as our friends.” He could see several Men hovering close by, their faces avid with excitement or puckered in worry.

The innkeeper snapped his fingers at two of the Men, and a little reluctantly, they answered his summons. “See to it that Laeth and Gwelin get home,” he said, indicating the drunken Men. Immediately, the tension in the room eased. To Legolas, it seemed as if most of those present were relieved.

The more sober of the two Men who had challenged them – Gwelin, evidently – frowned and jerked his wrist from Legolas’s loosened grasp. He must have wanted to stay in the innkeeper’s good graces because he made no argument about leaving. “I can get myself home and Laeth too,” he declared. He reached for his friend’s arm, and Beliond released the Man. Without looking around, Gwelin helped Laeth from the common room. The two Men the innkeeper had summoned looked inquiringly at him, but he shook his head, and they returned to their abandoned mugs of ale. The other Men slowly resumed their seats too, averting their eyes from Legolas and Beliond, but still clearly aware of them. The spice merchant watched them for a moment over the rim of his tankard, then got up and casually moved to sit with a group of three Men at another table.

“I’m sorry,” the innkeeper said, “but I have to ask you two to leave too. You can still stay the night, but I want no trouble, and that means you need to stay out of the common room.”

Legolas stood and glanced at Beliond, expecting he would want to leave immediately, but Beliond paused. “Who is the Man in the blue tunic?” he asked the innkeeper. “The one facing us.”

The innkeeper looked over his shoulder. “His name is Acild. He is a spice merchant.” The innkeeper gestured toward the door, urging them out of the room, but Beliond held his ground.

“Has he lived in Dale long?” asked Beliond.

The innkeeper shrugged. “No. A year or two perhaps, but his brother has lived here much longer. He is an assistant to one of the king’s advisors. And now I must ask you to leave.” He made shooing motions, herding them toward the door, and Beliond gave way, leading Legolas out of the room.

Neither one of them spoke as they made their way down the hall and up the stairs to their room. Beliond stood out of the way to admit Legolas and then shut the door firmly behind him. “Get your pack. We are not staying here. There is a back door at the end of the hallway downstairs. We will leave that way.”

Legolas nodded. Thirty years as a warrior had taught him not to remain in a position that the enemy had discovered. Staying here would be stupid when the spice merchant, not to mention Laeth and Gwelin, knew where they were. “We were fortunate the Dwarf spoke up for our truthfulness,” Legolas said. “I wonder why he decided to help us.” He had inherited a great deal of his father’s suspicion of Dwarves.

Beliond snorted. “I suspect he meant to insult rather than help, but I expect the Dwarves want the iron trade to continue as much as we do.”

They slipped silently down the stairway, turning right rather than left at the bottom. From behind him, Legolas suddenly heard the spice merchant’s voice saying, “But what are they doing here? That’s what I’d like to know.” Ahead of him, he could see Beliond’s head jerk around and caught a glimpse of his keeper’s alert expression.

“We need to tell Eilian about him and his brother,” Beliond murmured. Legolas nodded, and they made their way outside, into what turned out to be the inn’s stable yard. Beliond stopped there. “We could go and find Eilian right now,” he said, considering their options, “but I hate to do that. He is probably at table with the king, and interrupting them would cause a fuss, particularly since all we can offer him is our suspicion.”

“Eilian will need proof,” Legolas worried. An idea struck him. “We should search the spice shop now,” he said excitedly, “while we know the merchant is in the inn.”

Beliond stiffened. “No,” he said immediately.

“Be reasonable,” Legolas cried and then bit his lip when Beliond gestured for him to keep his voice down. “Be reasonable,” Legolas repeated softly. “We came here to find out why the Men of Dale are suspicious of us, and we have a chance to do that. It is our duty to go, and we cannot avoid it just because you are worried that I will be in danger! Are you going to let me be a warrior or not?” As soon as the question was out of his mouth, he knew it was one that he had wanted to ask for a long time. He waited to hear the answer.

Beliond stood stock still, breathing heavily. A long moment passed. “Very well,” he finally said. Then, to Legolas’s surprise, he gave a short burst of what sounded like bitter laughter. “It would seem I have no more choice in these things than I have ever had.” He put his hand on Legolas’s shoulder and turned him so that they faced one another squarely. “We will do this my way,” he declared firmly. “I have experience with this sort of mission. You must promise me that you will do as I say.”

Legolas hesitated. “If you will promise that I will be part of the mission, not shoved in some corner to wait it out, then I will promise to follow the plan you devise.”

Beliond drew a deep breath and nodded. “Come,” he said. “We want to do this quickly while the merchant is still safely tucked away.” He moved into the shadows, away from the inn’s windows, and Legolas followed him into the dark street.


“I do not believe we have seen you in Dale before, my lord,” said the queen, nibbling daintily at one of the honeyed figs. She had long, graceful fingers, Eilian noted idly, and neat little white teeth.

“Alas, I have never before had the pleasure of visiting your fair town,” he agreed.

“I have heard that Elves find the towns of Men unpleasant, so perhaps it is not surprising that you have chosen to stay away.”

Eilian smiled at her. She was charming, but she was transparent. Like Bram, seated on Eilian’s other side, she was trying to learn what she could about Eilian and his attitude toward Men. “I have not really chosen to stay away. Indeed, I was happy my adar chose me as his representative for this visit, and I have been to Esgaroth occasionally and enjoyed it. But I spend most of my time captaining a patrol in the southern part of my adar’s realm, so I am not home very often. And then when I am on leave, I usually spend my time with my family.”

“I had not realized you were a warrior,” said Bram. “How are things in the south of Mirkwood?”

Eilian turned to him, sobering slightly, and controlling the annoyance he always felt at the name Men had given his home. “The Shadow deepens.  The trees are dying, and spiders and Orcs grow more common.” He hesitated and then decided to take the opportunity to argue the case his father wanted made. “And that is why we need both iron for weapons and Men for our allies. The Shadow threatens us all.”

Looking thoughtful, Bram dipped his little finger into the dish of sauce that stood between him and Eilian and spread it on the roasted meat on his plate. Although everyone at the table had been doing the same thing since the meal began, Eilian still found it startling. He was eating his own meat unsauced.

“You must see the king infrequently,” Bram said. “I am told that your brother attends Thranduil’s council meetings, but I do not believe you do.”

Eilian stored away the realization that Bram knew an unexpected amount about Thranduil’s council meetings. That would make an interesting little tidbit in his report, he thought, picturing with some amusement Thranduil’s and Ithilden’s reaction to the news. “I do not,” he said and then added, “thank the Valar.”

Bram laughed. “Quite,” he agreed.

Eilian wondered what Bram was trying to discover. Did he perhaps doubt that Eilian was fully in his father’s confidence? As it happened, he was not, but while Eilian knew that Thranduil and Ithilden kept information from him, he did not believe they lied to him. “I am just a captain in my adar’s troops,” he said, trying to be reassuring, “so I do not hear the debates in council, only the results. I have always found that to be sufficient. I am fortunate enough to have trustworthy superiors.”

Bram smiled at him slightly and then waved a servant forward to refill Eilian’s wine cup. “I am told that the Elvenking has an excellent cellar. You must tell me what you think of this wine.”

Eilian took a sip. “It is very good.” He looked down at his plate for a moment. “You said you were worried about my adar’s intentions toward Men, my lord. Would you be willing to tell me why?” If Bram could use the occasion to seek information, so could Eilian.

Bram shrugged. “One hears rumors,” he said vaguely. “Let us not spoil our meal by discussing such distasteful matters.”

Eilian decided not to press. He scanned the room. The lower tables were filled with Bram’s courtiers, many of whom darted occasional curious glances at Eilian. Maltanaur sat among them, giving the appearance of listening to the Man next to him, but keeping the high table in sight at all times. Eilian smothered a grin and turned to talk to the queen again. He might as well enjoy himself.

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