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Interrupted Journeys: Part 7 The course of love  by elliska

Chapter 3: Good choices and not so good ones

"He is going to make me, Galithil," Maidhien repeated for what seemed to Legolas to be the hundredth time. Despite the repetition, Legolas could not find it in his heart to be annoyed with her. She was truly upset and she had been all day without any sign of improvement.

Maidhien had caught up to them while they were still on the Path heading for the forest border. They rode slowly at Galithil's insistence, in case she tried to follow them. No one but Galithil had really believed she would pursue them straight down the Path, but he was right. They were breaking camp the morning after their departure when she came running into the camp and flung herself into Galithil's arms, sobbing something about how her father intended to send her to live with cousins in a village far in the southwestern corner of the realm. That threat had dominated their conversation their entire ride that day.

"He cannot seriously intend to force you to do something so dangerous," Galithil countered. "It is too dangerous for a young elleth that far south."

Legolas clenched his jaw in an effort to remain silent. He had abandoned trying to reason with Galithil and Maidhien at least three rounds of this debate ago. It was fruitless and he refused to be drawn into it again.

"Yes, he could be serious," Anastor and Noruil replied in unison. They were still determined to make Galithil see their version of reason.

"The King would never allow it," Galithil responded, sounding just as reassuring as he had the first time he said this.

"The King is not going to interfere in a family's personal affairs," Anastor replied.

In the first round of the debate, it was Colloth that quietly made this statement. It elicited a sob from Maidhien and a black look from Galithil that stunned Legolas. Galithil had to know that Colloth was right. Thranduil would never tell a father how to manage his own daughter, much less if that father were Dannenion.

"I told you," Anastor continued, "the best thing to do at this point is to just pretend to obey adar's demand that you stop courting and wait. When you are both of age, you can marry regardless of what he says."

"Galithil already told you the King will not allow us to marry without adar's permission," Maidhien shot back. Her voice was hoarse from arguing.

"So, when you come of age, marry anyway, with or without permission. Or move away and get married," Noruil replied with exasperation. Then he rolled his eyes dramatically skyward and threw his arms in the air. "Oh, but wait, Galithil cannot do that because he has responsibilities." Noruil cast a disgusted glare at Galithil and Maidhien. "He either loves you or he loves his 'responsibilities,' Maidhien, he has to choose," he concluded harshly.

Every time the argument came to this point again, Galithil turned to Maidhien, who was riding behind him on his horse. He kissed her cheek and whispered something into her ear. What he was whispering, Legolas desperately wanted to know. Where Maidhien was concerned, Galithil was completely unpredictable. Legolas would not put it past him for a second to do exactly what Noruil was suggesting. He would not put it past Galithil to do it right now. Legolas glanced at Colloth. The guard looked grim. No doubt he had the same concerns.

"That is idiotic, Noruil," Eirienil intervened. Again.

Legolas had originally made this part of the argument. Eirienil took it up once Legolas had grown tired of it. He enjoyed hearing her argue it better anyway. Since she was an elleth, she enjoyed immunity from being punched, so she had the freedom to use the words that Legolas had truly wanted to use, like 'idiotic,' but had to refrain from using in the interest of not dragging the debate down to a full-fledged fight.

"Oh my, look at that!" Aewen exclaimed in an awed voice, interrupting Eirienil's reasons why Galithil could not be expected to simply run away with Maidhien. Aewen was pointing east, ahead of them, down the Path.

Legolas turned his attention in the direction she was pointing and his mouth nearly fell open. In front of them, only a few dozen feet in front of them, was...nothing. Not a single tree, not even a sapling. Just long shafts of sunlight shining on grass. Tall grass, waving gently in the breeze. And not a few dozen feet of grass, like the Green in front of the stronghold.  The grass stretched out before him as far as he could see. And that was all the way to the horizon! They had arrived at the edge of the forest. Legolas looked around himself with a bit of a start. How could he have failed to notice how close they were to the border? The trees were so much younger and thinner here. He tensed involuntarily and quietly cursed his lack of attention. He had been so focused on Galithil, Maidhien and pointless arguments that he had not given a moment's thought to what he intended to say to the Men he had come to negotiate with. Before he could regret that too deeply, two warriors, armed with bows and swords, jumped down from one of the larger trees spanning the Path, landing so close to Legolas and his cousins that Legolas's horse skittered nervously to the side.

The nearest of the two warriors reached to soothe the horse, stroking its velvety nose, while looking between Legolas and Galithil, the other children and finally, Tulus and Colloth. There he paused, one eyebrow raised, obviously expecting, from the only adults present, some explanation for the arrival of nine children at the forest border.

Tulus returned his gaze blandly. "The King has asked Lord Legolas to interrupt his hunt for the festival in order to negotiate with the spice traders for the payment they are demanding," he said.

That inspired the warriors to stand a little straighter and look back at Legolas sharply. The one patting Legolas's horse removed his hand from its nose.

Legolas had no idea what to say as the warriors' studied him silently, but he felt he should say something just to make them stop staring at him. Perhaps showing him where the Men are would be a good idea, he thought, and he drew a breath to ask them to do that.

At the same time, the warrior that had been patting his horse seemed to recover himself. "We can show you where the traders are camped, my lord," he said, offering Legolas a bow before turning towards the forest border. The second warrior also bowed and followed his comrade.

From the corner of his eyes, Legolas saw Anastor roll his eyes.

Legolas could not remember ever being addressed in that manner. And he was certain no one had ever bowed to him before. He could not deny that both gestures caught him by surprise and he did not need Anastor making the situation more difficult. At least neither Anastor nor Noruil had groaned or made some other comment out loud. He looked towards Galithil while trying to ignore the fact that his heart was beating a little faster. His cousin was whispering something to Maidhien. She slid off his horse and he caressed her cheek before turning and nodding to Legolas. Legolas smiled gratefully at him. He did not care to speak to the Men alone.

"Stay here and stay together. Do not go far out onto the plain. It is not safe," Colloth was admonishing the other children. He mostly directed himself to Anastor and Noruil, but he did glance at Berior, Brethil and especially Aewen. She was still staring at the treeless land in front of them. Legolas wished he had time to enjoy the sight with her, but he did not. Instead, he and Galithil urged their horses to follow the warriors. Tulus and Colloth were directly behind them.

As they rode, the Men's camp quickly came into view. Legolas felt Tulus looking at him intently. A glance back at him gave Legolas the impression that his guard was debating something with himself. He appeared to want to say something, but was hesitant.

Colloth suddenly cut his horse behind Galithil's and rode up between Legolas and his cousin. "Do not show the Men the gold until they have shown us the goods we are trading for and you are certain they have brought the proper amount," he whispered with no preamble what-so-ever.

Legolas's hand automatically reached to cover the pouch on his belt. He nodded.

That was all the invitation Tulus needed. He guided his horse to Legolas's other side. "And do not give them the gold until we have at least begun loading the goods onto our horses," he added, also in a low whisper. "If they want to see it, show them the bag, but do not hold it where they could reach it. If they want the coins emptied from the bag so they can see them, give them to Colloth or to me."

Again, Legolas nodded.

"You and Galithil stay on your horses," Colloth whispered. "And when it comes time, ask one of those two warriors to load the goods onto our horses."

This was making Legolas even more nervous. "These are men that nana deals with regularly, Colloth. They are not dangerous."

Colloth fixed him with a stern glare. "It is less likely they will recognize that you are children if you stay on your horses," he explained. "And we do not know it is the same man. It is not normal for him to demand payment in advance. Perhaps he has died and we are now dealing with his son. If it is the man's son, we know nothing about him. So be cautious."

Legolas frowned at that and looked to Colloth. "Have you ever gone with nana to meet with this man? Will you recognize whether it is him or his son?"

Colloth nodded. "I have been in the Great Hall when he came to bring her samples. I will know him."

"Good," Legolas replied.

They were close enough now to the Men's camp that they had been noticed. Three men stood and watched their approach.

"The one to the left is the man the Queen trades with," Colloth whispered quickly, before they came too close. "I do not know the other two."

Legolas studied the man on the left and then the two men with him. They were both younger, or at least they had considerably less white hair than the first man. The one in the middle might look enough like the older man to be related to him, but it was difficult to tell for certain under their beards. The man standing to the right was definitely not related to the other two, however. His skin was darker and his hair blacker. He was from the far east, near Rhun, Legolas realized with a start. He reflexively fingered the sheath of the knife on his belt and wished that he had his bow in his hand rather than with the quiver on his back.

"These are the ones that will pay us?" the older man called in Westron to the warriors as they entered the camp. He stepped forward to stand in front of their campfire, taking a closer look at the four riders. When his gaze fell on Legolas and Galithil, he looked at first surprised and then concerned. "You're kin to Queen Lindomiel herself, I'd wager," he said, pointing a finger first at Legolas and then at Galithil. "Queen Lindomiel never sent me her kin to pay me before."

"You have never tried to alter an established bargain with the Queen before," Legolas replied softly. "She does not normally pay you until you have delivered all your goods."

The man frowned. "Well, first time for many things then, isn't it?" He paused, again looking from Legolas to Galithil to Colloth and Tulus, who had stopped side to side with their charges. Legolas could think of nothing to say in response to the man's comment, so he said nothing. The man shifted his weight from foot to foot. "You going to pay me or not?" he finally asked after a moment's silence.

"You were to have brought one half of the full order of salt. Three sacks? Is that correct?" Legolas asked, intending to ask to see it, as Colloth had advised, before discussing the payment. He had had no time to think about this transaction before arriving. He was going to stick to what little advice he had now.

The man nodded readily. He gestured to the dark man, who strode over to their cart. He threw open the flaps that covered the cart to reveal three sacks, all the size that Legolas knew they should be. The dark man drew his knife, cut the tie on one of the bags and reached into it, pulling out a handful of salt. He offered it to one of the elven warriors. That warrior took it and tasted it. Making a bit of a face, he nodded to Legolas.

"Exactly as we promised," the older man said, smiling in what he clearly thought was a friendly manner. The problem was, he had very few teeth. "My payment?" he repeated, still smiling and now holding out his hand.

Legolas remembered Tulus's advice to not give the man the gold until he had turned over the salt. But the dark man still stood between the warriors and the salt. His knife was still unsheathed and in his hand.


Still, he had been shown the salt. It was fair to show them their payment, he determined, so he reached to untie the purse on his belt. "The King has agreed to pay you for the delivery of three bags of salt," he explained, showing them the pouch, but not offering it to them. "I have half the agreed upon payment with me. You will receive the rest when you deliver the rest of the salt."

The two younger men spoke swiftly to the older one in the language spoken by many of the merchants in Esgaroth. Legolas did not speak that language well, but he knew enough to recognize both men were clamoring that they needed full payment. The older man hissed at them. The younger man that might have been his son quieted down instantly. Probably his son, Legolas thought. The dark man also quieted, but he glared aggressively at Legolas.

"Unfortunately," the older man began, still smiling, "we will need the full payment. Without it we cannot give you the salt."

Legolas's heart raced a bit faster. He had truly hoped the men would simply be satisfied with the half payment. He really had no idea what to say now. His father had said to tell the men to take their salt back to Esgaroth if they would not accept half payment for half delivery, but it did not seem to be a good idea to simply tell them that immediately and walk away. After all, Hallion had said to try to get the men to agree to the half payment since they needed the salt after the festival. Legolas had spent most of the night before they left the stronghold thinking about how to explain this side trip to Aewen. He had spent last night and all day today talking about Galithil and Maidhien's problems. Unfortunately, he had given no time to thinking about this problem.

The men continued to look at Legolas.

Legolas could also feel the gazes of his cousin and guards.

His mind raced. He considered just repeating that he was only authorized to give them half payment, just to stall for time, but that response seemed to only emphasize their stalemate. How would his father or Hallion handle this? He tried to think of some similar transaction he had seen either of them manage in the Great Hall.

"Why should we pay for goods that we have not yet received?" he finally asked. Oftentimes both his father and Hallion tried to show people how their position was unreasonable by asking them to explain it. And asking for full payment for half delivery seemed unreasonable to Legolas.

The smile on the old man's face faded and was replaced with a scowl. "We have to have the full payment. We have to have it," he answered, sounding a bit desperate. "I have brought my salt to the Woodland Realm for 30 years. And my father did the same for 30 years before me. And his father before him. Have we ever delivered poor quality goods? Or shorted you? Or failed to bring your goods on time? Surely we are trustworthy. This time we are asking for full payment in advance."

Legolas wished he had spent at least a small amount of time in the library looking at this trader's record with the Woodland Realm so he could know if any of those claims were true. Not that it would matter if they were. "The King never pays for goods before they are delivered," Legolas responded, trying to sound reasonable. "If you need the gold quickly, perhaps the best solution is to bring the second half of the shipment more quickly. We can pay you for it as soon as you can bring it." That much Legolas did know. Salt was a vital commodity that had to be purchased with coins. His father always made sure to reserve enough coins to pay for a standard quantity of it every year.

"More quickly? Are you fool?" The dark man exclaimed. "Do you have any idea how far we travel to bring you this salt?"

The older man snapped at him to be silent. "I cannot bring you the rest of this order any faster than we agreed upon. And I cannot bring it at all unless you give me full payment now," he said to Legolas. His tone was final.

Legolas sighed. "And you will not give us this half of the shipment for half of the payment?"

The man shook his head.

"Then it seems we cannot reach an agreement." He knew he sounded openly disappointed and he truly was. He feared his father, and certainly his mother, would be as well. But there was nothing for it. He did not see a way the man could be convinced. He began to turn his horse.

"Wait!" the older man called, taking a step towards them. The younger man was looking at him, nearly panicked and clearly desperate. The dark man looked angry. "You cannot mean to send us on our way with nothing. My family has traded with you for three generations. You cannot do this to us."

Legolas frowned. "And we would continue to trade with you, but we will not pay for goods you have not delivered. That is the King's decision."

"Then let me talk to the Queen. She is who I have always done business with. She will not turn us away," the man pleaded.

For a brief moment Legolas wondered who would win if his mother truly decided to fight his father on an issue such as this, but he certainly knew better than to give the men any hope that strategy would work, regardless. "I have told you the options you have: accept the half payment and, if you want the rest of your payment sooner, bring the rest of the shipment sooner. That is all there is to discuss."

"But we cannot even get home without the full payment!" the younger man exclaimed, also taking a step towards them.

The older man hissed at him to be quiet.

"Not a statement that shows great promise for delivery of the rest of the salt if the King were foolish enough to give full payment now," one of the warriors muttered under his breath in Sindarin.

Legolas agreed with him. "What does that mean?" he asked, none-the-less.

The older man glared at the younger one. "My cart is broken," he spat without looking at Legolas. "The front axle is splitting. There. You know it now. I've bound it up to hold it together as long as I could to make it here and the wainwright in Laketown wants more gold than I have to repair it. If you don't give me the full payment, I can't pay for the repair of my cart. And if I can't repair the the cart, there will be no more salt trade for my son and I. Worse, I'll have to sell one of my horses to pay Kadril his wages, because I don't have what I owe him now either." 

Legolas could not deny he pitied the man. And he wondered for a moment if that argument might move his father. He was certain it would win his mother over, but she did not control the treasury. As he silently pondered if he should advise the men to wait for him to speak further with his father, he heard Eirienil hurriedly translating what the man had said into Sindarin for their friends. When she translated the part about the split axle, he heard Brethil reply that was serious damage, not to be trifled with. Hearing that, he turned and looked at his friend. Then he looked back at the old man.

"Your axle is split?" he asked. "And all you want is to repair it?"

The man snorted bitterly. "Yes, that's all I need. Enough coins to pay the wainwright."

"How badly is it damaged?" Legolas asked, peering at the wagon.

"The wainwright said I'd need to replace the entire axle. He said it would take him near a month to get the wood and carve it out to fix it."

Legolas scowled.

"Sounds like a thief to me," Galithil said quietly in Sindarin.

"Me too," Legolas replied in kind. Then he jumped off his horse. Tulus followed suit immediately and it was obvious the guard could barely restrain himself from grabbing Legolas to pull him back to his horse when he strode between the old man and the dark man to have a closer look at the wagon. "Brethil, come here for a moment," he called, waving his friend over as he walked.

Brethil did not move for a long moment. Then, after a hard shove from both Eirienil and Maidhien, he trotted from the forest edge to the men's camp, skirting around behind Legolas and Galithil's horses to avoid coming too close to either of the younger men. He stared at the older one for a moment before tearing his gaze away from him and focusing on Legolas.

"What?" he asked in Sindarin. "My adar would not like this at all, Legolas."

Legolas shook his head dismissively. "Have a look at that axle. Could your adar fix it?"

Brethil leaned over a bit and peeked under the wagon. Then, after checking to make sure the younger men were not too close and that the guards and warriors were being especially attentive--they were--he knelt down and crawled part way under the wagon for a better look. Then he stood back up and faced Legolas. "I could fix that, Legolas," he said, brushing dried grass and dirt from his leggings. "It is the most basic sort of axle and pinion. I learned to make those when I first started working for my adar."

Legolas allowed himself a slight smile. "So, it would not be fair to ask for this entire bag of gold to fix that," he asked, jingling the pouch he had tied back to his belt.

Brethil loosed a scoffing laugh. "My adar would replace that axle in exchange for a couple rabbits. It is simple work," he said.

"Well these men are ready to pay twice this amount of gold to replace that axle," Legolas retorted, "So ask for a little more than a rabbit."

Brethil's eyes widened. "Are you serious? You want my adar to fix that for them?" Brethil shook his head slightly. "I do not know...I mean, the King does not allow us to trade with foreigners... I mean, how would adar get the axle to measure it and pull off its caps to use on the new one. And what would adar do with gold anyway?"

"Can you take the axle off that wagon?" Legolas asked. "If you can, then it can be delivered to your adar for measurement. The King will not object to him doing this work for the men," I hope, Legoals silently added. "And you do not have to ask for gold, but if you did, your adar could purchase some new, metal chisels like the ones you were telling us a few days ago were finally wearing out."

Brethil still hesitated.

"If I can give these men an alternative way to get their wagon fixed," Legolas pressed, "they might give us the salt. We need the salt to cure the spare meat after the festival, Brethil. That meat goes to the warriors. Surely your adar will not mind doing this under those circumstances."  

"Of course he would not," Brethil agreed readily. "But how much gold would buy some chisels? How much should I ask for?"

That, Legolas had no idea. He glanced at Tulus and Colloth.

"I saw Lord Aradunnon buy two fine knives in Esgaroth for three coins once," Colloth said, "There is more metal in chisels, but it is not as finely worked. If these men were willing to pay the wainwright a sack of coins for the axle, they should be relieved to hear a price of five coins from us. And that should surely be a good start for the chisels, at least."

Brethil nodded. "Then tell them adar will fix their axle for five coins," he said, frowning a little. Then he smirked at Legolas. "And a rabbit," he tacked on.

Legolas grinned at him and then turned back to the old man, who had been watching he and Brethil talk, looking back and forth between them. "This is my friend Brethil," he said. "His father is the master woodwright in the Woodland Realm. The woodwright the King employs. Brethil is his apprentice. He says he can remove your axle and take it to his father. His father will replace it in exchange for five gold coins."

The old man blinked. "How could he do that for so little when the wainwright in Laketown wants so much?" he asked with obvious disbelief.

"Brethil says that replacing that axle is work he learned to do in the beginning of his apprenticeship," Legolas explained. "He said it is quite easy. Of course, he has been an apprentice for his father for around 25 years now, so perhaps he has more experience than the apprentices of your wainwright in Laketown." Legolas doubted the wainwright in Laketown had been practicing for 25 years, and he knew the old man would know that too. Such a length of experience--nothing to an Elf--was impressive to Men, he knew. "If you accept the half payment for the half delivery of salt, minus the five coins Brethil has asked for, we will fix your wagon and you can keep the rest of the gold you are receiving from us."

The old man appeared to be very tempted. "I do not know anything about your woodwright," he said out loud, looking between Brethil and his wagon. "But elves! How can elves not do a good job? But for so little? How could you even afford the wood much less the workmanship?" He looked at Legolas. "What will the new axle be made of?"

Legolas translated that question to Sindarin for Brethil.

"Oak, of course," Brethil answered, and Legolas translated that back for the man.

"Oak!" he exclaimed "The wainwright only promised me hickory! How can you give me oak for so little?"

Legolas smiled at him. "There are many oaks in the Woodland Realm," he answered.

The old man burst into laughter. "Well, I suppose you are right about that! We have a deal," he said, offering Legolas his hand.

Legolas grasped the old man's forearm to shake on the deal and breathed a quiet sigh of relief, as he did.

*~*~*

Legolas laid on his back and tried to rest, ignoring Galithil's conversation with Colloth, Tulus, Anastor and Maidhien. Since their business at the border was concluded, Colloth had been trying to persuade Maidhien to return to her father's cottage. She refused to go, so he was now trying to persuade either Anastor or Galithil to take her. That conversation had dominated the ride to their camp, so Legolas had little opportunity to determine whether Aewen was still angry with him. And now that the Men were behind him, Aewen was all Legolas cared about.

He suspected she was a least a little angry. He had had to stay with Brethil the entire time it took him to remove the axle from the men's wagon. And it took him longer than he expected because, he said, the load in the wagon was improperly distributed. The men insisted that it was not--that it was just as they always loaded it. And that prompted Brethil to comment that it was not too surprising that their axle had broken. Legolas did not bother to translate that observation. But in the ensuing delay, Legolas noted that Aewen thoroughly explored the forest border, talked with several of the warriors stationed there and then settled against a tree to wait impatiently. To be fair, Anastor, Noruil, Berior, Maidhien and Eirienil had done exactly the same thing. But it was only Aewen that Legolas was concerned about. Perhaps tomorrow he would finally be able to spend some time with her.

He tried to clear his mind by focusing on the steady breathing of his cousins and friends sleeping around him. Better that then Galithil and Colloth. Slowly, he began to slip into oblivion.

He was almost asleep when someone lightly brushed his hair with their hand. Legolas loosed an annoyed groan and tried to focus his gaze. If someone wanted to awaken him, why not just shake him? When he saw who it was, his mouth fell open involuntarily. Aewen was leaning over him, so close her hair tickled his face and neck. He drew a breath to ask what she was doing.

Before he could speak, she laid a finger softly across his lips. "Be quiet. I do not want to awaken the entire camp," she whispered.

Legolas tried to breath, but found he could not, at least not quietly or normally. He took her hand in his and drew it away from his lips. "What do you want to do then?" he found himself whispering back to her as he held her hand.

She smiled at him. "Let's go away from the fire and talk for a while before we go to sleep. I have not had a chance to speak to you all day," she responded, leaning back and pulling Legolas's hand.

He rolled to sit up and look around himself. Colloth, Tulus, Galithil, Anastor and Maidhien still had their heads together several dozen paces away from opposite side of the campfire. All his other cousins and friends were indeed in their bedrolls, sleeping.

Aewen stood and tugged at his hand, pulling him up  with her and towards the far side of the camp from the guards. Legolas allowed her to guide them a short distance away, until they were only very dimly lit by the fire. Then he leaned against a broad tree trunk and started to slide down it to sit.

"Sit with me here," he invited and his heart raced with anticipation. There was no reason for her to have awakened him when everyone else was asleep unless...well, unless she was indeed not angry with him, at least.

But she did not join him. Instead, still holding his hand, she continued to pull at it. "Let's go just a little further into the forest," she begged. "Where they cannot see us."

Legolas frowned. "I cannot do that, Aewen. Not without telling Tulus where we are going..."

Her brows drew together in a bit of a pout and she took a step closer to him. "Legolas, they have been talking to Maidhien and Galithil for hours," she whispered. "They are going to be talking to them for hours. They will never notice if we are gone for just bit. And nothing will happen. At least not anything that concerns your guards," she added, now smiling and leaning closer to him still. "I would like just a few moments out of their sight. Surely that is not too much to ask for?"

She was standing so close to him that Legolas could have kissed her there and then. He wanted to slip into the forest with her. Very much.

"Please, Legolas," she pleaded. "We never have any time to speak privately."

As she said that, she raised her free hand--she still used the other to hold one of his--and touched his face lightly.

"Come just a little further from the fire. They will never know," she whispered again, taking a step away from him into the forest.

Legolas followed.

*~*~*

Adar/ada -- father/dad

Naneth/nana--mother/mum

elleth/ellyth--Female elf/elves





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