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AN: This is set just after the last chapter of Journeys of Discovery. Legolas and his cousins and friends are all around the age of 25. It will have three parts.
River Journeys: Part One
"Aradunnon, before you flee, I need a word with you," Celonhael called as the king's counselors began gathering their materials from the morning meeting.
No one else had yet managed to rise from the table, but Aradunnon was already three long steps towards the door before Celonhael had spoken. He marched off at least a half a dozen more paces before Celonhael had finished his sentence. With an exaggerated sigh, Aradunnon looked over his shoulder and raised an eyebrow, not even bothering to fully face Celonhael, much less return to the table.
Celonhael smiled and shook his head. "I need your leave to request an escort from either the Path Guard or the Capital Guard for the elves taking our trading supplies to Esgaroth. Naturally they will need the escort for the return journey as well, since they will be bringing back the King's wine. His butter and other foodstuffs, as well," he added, "but I think both you and the King will be most concerned with the wine's safe arrival." Celonhael winked at Thranduil, who had unburied himself from his paperwork and turned his attention to his councilor's conversation at the mention of the wine finally coming from Esgaroth.
"Can you tell me why you think the raft elves need an escort for this particular trip to Esgaroth?" Aradunnon asked, turning more fully towards Celonhael with a frown. "They certainly do not normally have any sort of escort."
Celonhael laughed lightly. "Honestly, Aradunnon, what do you do during our meetings? You do not appear to be asleep. Are you composing music or literature in your head? That seems unlikely. Perhaps you are scheming new ways to cheat at the contests on the Green."
Aradunnon suppressed the smile that automatically sprang to his lips in response to that challenge and drew himself up in mock indignation. "I beg your pardon, Celonhael. I do not need to cheat to best you in any of the games on the Green. Perhaps you would like to test that claim tonight?" he retorted, a sharp gleam lighting his eyes at the prospect of a good archery match.
"No, thank you," Celonhael hastily responded, holding up his hands, palms toward Aradunnon, in surrender. "I have little of value left to lose to you. Unless you intend to force me to gamble for your leave to request an escort. I suppose I cannot refuse you, if that is the case." He paused and smiled. "I trust that is not your intent and I may ask one of the guards for the escort? Four warriors should be more than sufficient."
Aradunnon tilted his head to one side and frowned. Save the mischievous glint in his eyes that he could not conceal, he did his best to give every appearance of considering the idea of making Celonhael win the escort in a contest.
Celonhael put his hands on his hips.
"Of course you can request the escort," Aradunnon said, laughing and waving a hand to forestall Thrandui's intervention. "From Dollion, if you please. The Path Guard is a stretched a bit thin already since they are helping to hunt for the patrols' supplies, so I would prefer for the escort to come from the Capital. But truly, why do you feel the raft elves need an escort for this journey?"
Thranduil answered that question, rolling his eyes dramatically towards the leaves carved on the ceiling of the Hall as he spoke. "For the same reason we just spent over half the meeting discussing what provisions we could send to the raft elves' village and to the other villages along the river: the river is flooded. If the river is flooded so badly that it has ruined the supplies of the villages on its banks, surely it must be obvious to you that our trade goods cannot be sent in barrels to Esgaroth. Even if you were not capable of drawing that conclusion yourself, you might have known it because Celonhael told us, only moments ago, at the very end of the meeting, that the supplies we are trading for will be arriving more slowly since they are going overland instead of by river. You heard me dismiss the meeting, but you did not hear Celonhael and I discussing any of that?"
Aradunnon shrugged in the face of his brother's frustration. "Well, I heard the part that was important to me," he replied with a grin. The grin dissolved into open laughter when Thranduil shook his head and turned his attention back to his reading in disgust. Still laughing, Aradunnon offered a sweeping bow to both Celonhael and Thranduil before resuming his march towards the doors of the Great Hall.
"Hopeless," Thranduil muttered in his wake and Celonhael's laughter followed Aradunnon from the Hall.
"Now push the rope back through the loop and pull it tight," Galithil said.
Maidhien did as he instructed and then straightened, hands on her hips, frowning down at the knot she had just made. "That will hold the plank on? Well enough that the raft will hold together? Just that knot?" she asked.
"If you made the knot correctly," Legolas answered, bending down over the raft they were mending to inspect her work.
"She did it properly," Galithil said, sharply enough to cause both Legolas and Berior to look at him with raised eyebrows.
Maidhien smiled at Galithil's defense of her.
Legolas looked quickly back down at the raft. Her smile, when it was directed at Galithil, was overly adoring and sappy. It made Legolas fight not to gag every time he saw it. It also left him with a nearly uncontrollable urge to start singing 'Galithil loves Maidhien,' but he did not want to start a fight today. He wanted to concentrate on repairing their raft, so they would be able to sail it as soon as the river receded from the spring floods.
"Here comes trouble," Berior whispered as Galithl put another plank in place over the cross pieces of the raft.
Maidhien groaned under her breath.
Legolas did not even need to look up to know Maidhien's brother, Anastor, and her cousin, Noruil, were responsible for the footsteps splashing towards them through the mud on the riverbank.
"Here you are!" Anastor panted, coming up along side Legolas. He was glaring at his sister.
Maidhien ignored him and Legolas found himself tensing involuntarily for the inevitable fight that Anastor's arrival always heralded. Before Anastor could pick the fight, Noruil caught up to him.
"Oh! Are you working on your raft?" he asked. His words were garbled. Legolas glanced over at him and saw he was speaking around a mouthful of something. His mouth was so full, in fact, that his cheeks bulged out to the sides.
No manners at all. No surprise there, Legolas thought and looked back at the raft again. "Yes," was his only answer.
"Ours is over there," Noruil continued amid sucking noises. He pointed towards a raft a short distance down the riverbank.
Maidhien had already shown it to Legolas, Galithil and Berior. When they looked at it, Galithil had commented that it would probably float one or two children. On calms waters. That alone was proof to Legolas that Galithil loved Maidhien. Only the fact that he loved her could explain his generous appraisal of that raft. Legolas would have been surprised if it could float itself, much less anything else, even a spider. And he was thinking of normal spiders, not the great spiders that shadowed the forest.
"Do you want to sail our rafts together?" Anastor asked, his voice losing its annoyed edge and adopting an excited tone instead.
Legolas, Galithil and Berior all looked over at him. Legolas wanted to ask him if he had lost his mind, and from the looks on their faces, so did his cousins. "The river is far too fast and high for rafting," he replied instead, with as calm a voice as he could muster. "And maybe you should look over your raft before you sail it. Maidhien showed it to us earlier and I think we noticed a plank or two that could be secured a bit better. Or even replaced."
"And where are we supposed to get rope or planks to mend it? Not everyone can take whatever they want from the stronghold's storerooms," Anastor scoffed.
Legolas leveled a glare on Anastor and drew a breath to correct the idea that he could take whatever he wanted from the store rooms. His father had required him to work for several days helping to gather oak galls and prepare them to be fermented and made into ink in order to earn the privilege of taking the rope he and his cousins were currently using. It had been tedious work. Just like mending the raft was tedious work. Legolas had never seen Anastor work for anything.
But before Legolas could speak, Noruil pulled something from his pocket. "I will trade you a candy for enough rope to fix our raft," he offered, opening the cloth he had pulled from his pocket and showing its contents to Legolas and his cousins. It had four or five pieces of sugar candy left over from the Spring Festival in it. The pieces were broken and no longer recognizable as the animal shapes they had been on the day of the festival, but the sugar candies were unmistakable. That must be what Noruil had stuffed in his mouth--a candy.
Legolas looked from the little sack to Noruil. He appeared truly hopeful that Legolas might agree to the trade. Legolas frowned and bent over the raft they were mending.
"Two candies then," Noruil pressed, holding the candies closer so Legolas could see them better. "You can chose the pieces."
Legolas shook his head. "I do not really like the sugar candies. They are too sweet for me. But we have plenty of rope. Go ahead and take this length of it for your raft," he said, ignoring Galithil and Berior's astonished stares as he gave away an entire coil of rope.
Noruil did not hesitate. With an excited exclamation, and not so much as a thank you, he and Anastor scooped up the rope and rushed over to their raft, splashing mud high into the air as they ran.
Legolas sighed in response to his cousins' continued stares. "If he has saved that candy since the festival," he whispered, "he must really like it. Even two candies do not come close to the value of the rope, so why bother to take something he likes so much. Especially when none of us like the candy that much. We had more rope than we needed anyway."
"We were going to use it to make a rope ladder to our talan," Berior whispered back at him, referring to the planks of wood they had balanced in a tree in Brethil's yard. For special occasions, their parents let them sleep in that talan.
Legolas shrugged. "So we will keep climbing up through the branches. We did that all last summer. No reason why we cannot do it this summer too. And I was the one who did the work to earn the rope," he reminded them when Berior drew a breath to continue arguing, "so it was mine to give away if I want."
"It was really nice of you, Legolas," Maidhien said softly.
That comment turned Galithil's scowl into a begrudging smile. Legolas turned and reached for another plank so Galithil would not see him roll his eyes.
"Wooeeee," a high-pitched voice squealed. It was accompanied by nearly fanatical giggling. The voices traveled by, down river, at an alarming speed, faster than a galloping horse.
Legolas stepped over the rope that dragged swiftly by him in the ankle-deep water on the river bank as the squeals passed. Berior hopped over it as if it were a jump-rope, soaking Legolas's leggings with a splash of water and never taking his eyes off the raft on the river attached to the rope. He answered the excited squeals with a whoop of his own, pumping his fist in the air. Maidhien jumped over the rope too, also facing the river. But she was frowning and twisting a strand of hair around her finger. She startled involuntarily when the rope snapped taut.
"One more time!" Noruil managed to gasp out between giggles. His words were barely audible over the roar of the river and the distance that separated him from its banks.
Maidhien stamped her foot when Anastor nodded eagerly, grabbing the rope that tied their raft to a tree on the banks. He began to haul them back to shore. The river fought him hard, determined to devour the little raft, and the two foolish elves on it, that dared to sail upon it in its wrath.
"Legolas, take that rope away from them and make them stop it before they get hurt!" Maidhien demanded, watching her brother and cousin struggle to haul themselves ashore.
"No!" Berior protested. "Not until I get a chance to ride it once."
"They will never let you ride it, Berior," Galithil countered with a quiet voice. "They only said that they might to tease you. Come help test our raft and forget about it." He was standing on their newly mended raft in the shallow pool they used to swim in as infants. The pool was just deep enough to float the raft, but well protected from the river's current by rocks.
"What they are doing is insane," Legolas added. "Especially on that rotten old raft. You cannot possibly want to do something that stupid."
"Ours is definitely sturdy enough to do it," Berior said. His eyes brightened at the thought. "Maidhien is right. You should take the rope away from them so we can tie it to our own raft and have a ride. Please, Legolas! Just once. It looks like so much fun!"
Maidhien spun around in response to that suggestion. "Please do not do it, Galithil," she begged, her hands clasped together.
"I am not doing that," Galithil responded. "I promise."
"Now I know you love her," Legolas said under his breath, just loudly enough that Galithil could hear him as he climbed onto their raft. He drowned out his cousin's growl of protest by stomping on the planks of the raft under the pretense of testing if they were secure.
"It is safe as long as the raft is strong," Berior argued, unaware of Legolas's jab. "And as long as the rope is well secured to the tree. Anastor and Noruil have done it three times and nothing has happened to them. That is a really fast ride and for a good distance." He pointed up the river to where Anastor and Noruil had been casting off and arched his arm around to where they were now trying to haul out.
It was a decent ride. The length of rope Legolas had given them was long. He regretted giving it to them now. When they got hurt, and they certainly would, they were going to claim it was his fault for giving them the rope. That was exactly the type of logic they tended to use. It would not be so bad if they had at least used some of the rope to mend their raft. But Anastor had almost immediately thought of the idea of using the rope to secure the raft to a tree and then dragging it upstream as far as the rope would allow for a swift ride down the river's current. It was only by the mercy of Ulmo that the raft was still in one piece.
Legolas stopped stomping on the raft and looked at it. It was very sturdy. He followed the length of rope in the water with his eyes back to the tree root Anastor had tied it to. It looked secure. And the rope was newly made--strong. He could not deny that a small part of him really wanted to try that ride every bit as much as Berior did. He could not decide if he was happy or irritated that Maidhien had won that promise not to try it from Galithil.
Then, still watching the rope, his breath caught in his throat.
He leapt off the raft and into the water. "Grab It! Wrap it around something else! Fast!" he yelled, puling hard at the rope and trying to get enough slack to wrap it around a tree root sticking up from the water. But the river would not grant him any favors. The rope remained tight as a bow string between the tree and raft. Legolas kept pulling at it anyway.
Berior and Maidhien stared at him in confusion, but a horrified 'oh no!' signified that Galithil had seen the same thing Legolas had: the rope was sawing back and forth across a rock on the bank as Anastor pulled on it and the river pulled on the raft. A sharp rock, apparently. Sharp enough to have frayed the rope. It was about to break.
No sooner had Galithil jumped off their raft and grabbed the rope then it snapped with a sharp twang.
The river immediately claimed it's prize. The rope pulled through Legolas's hands fast enough that he dropped it involuntarily with a pained cry. Anastor and Noruil's alarmed shouts for help drew his attention from his bloodied fingers back to the emergency at hand. Berior had figured out what was happening and, in vain, jumped on the rope with both feet. It swept him onto his backside as it pulled away from shore. Maidhien chased after it, unable to to catch it up. Then Legolas froze. Galithil had the rope wrapped around his lower arm, he was allowing it to pull him forward to the edge of the pool as he wrapped it again and again, more securely.
"Galithil, let it go," Legolas yelled. Too late. He watched, barely able to breath, as Galithil planted both his feet on one of the rocks that bordered the pool and leaned back, obviously intending to brace himself and hold the raft back from the raging river. Instead, he was pulled without the slightest pause, over the rocks and into the river.
"Let it go!" Legolas repeated, grabbing the spare rope they had left after making repairs and running to the edge of the pool. He threw the rope upstream from Galithil. "Grab it and I will pull you in," he shouted.
But Galithil did not reach for the rope. It was all he could do to keep his head above water as he was pulled along behind Anastor and Noruil's raft.
Legolas looked at Anastor and Noruil on the raft. "Pull him in!" he shouted, but he immediately knew there was no hope that they would hear him over the roaring river. And no hope of them being able to do it, even if they could hear him. They were crouched down, clinging to the raft as it was battered against rocks while being pulled down the river. They could not possibly help Galithil. They could barely help themselves.
"What shall we do? What shall we do?" Berior whispered. "He will drown for certain."
Maidhien loosed a strangled cry.
"Get the poles. We are going after him," Legolas ordered, pointing to the poles they used to steer the raft, which were leaning on a tree.
Berior sprinted up the bank for the poles.
"No, you will all be killed," Maidhien cried. She tried to pull Legolas's raft towards the shore even as Legolas was pushing it from the pool and into the open river.
"We have to try to help Galithil or he will certainly be killed," Legolas said, shoving her back. "And your brother and cousin did not even have poles with them. They need help too."
Maidhien ignored him and lurched forward again, making another grab for the raft.
Legolas grasped her by the shoulders. "Run and go get our parents. Get help. Tell someone what has happened and get help," he demanded, shaking her, as Berior jumped up on the raft with a pole in each hand.
Maidhien stared at Legolas for a long moment, her brow puckered and jaw set. Then, without a word, she pulled away from him and ran as fast as she could in the direction of the Green, her skirts flying up around her knees as she disappeared amongst the trees.
Legolas and Berior exchanged a grim look as they poled the raft into the current.
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