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The Green Knight  by Le Rouret


            Lord Eradan glared up at the Elf, shaking with wrath; however he soon realized Legolas had the advantage over him and dropped his eyes.

            “So you are Legolas of Mirkwood!” he snarled.  “The son of the barbaric Elven King of the north.  I suppose it were foolish of me to expect my men to curtail you.”

            “They did as best they could,” said Legolas; “blame them not for that!  It is irrelevant, though; such considerations are beyond them at present.”  He pressed the tip of Oropher’s sword into the sweating flesh of the man’s neck.  “And now, my Lord Eradan of Linhir, you shall turn with your back to me, and proceed down this dark corridor, so that I may see what it is you guard in here.”

            “And if I do not?” sneered Eradan.

            Legolas shrugged.  “It matters not to me; I have killed enough mortals today that one more is not likely to affect my conscience.”  He paused and looked keenly at the man, and then realization dawned upon him.  “But I see what is in your mind, Eradan of Linhir; I read it in your very eyes,” he said.  “You do not fear death by the sword, but humiliation and hanging, and I tell you I shall not slay you, but bring you before my friend Elessar, so that you may reap what you have sown:  destruction of fortune; devastation of honor; death in ignominy.  To hang you by your fat neck above the walls of the city is even then more than you deserve.”

            Eradan turned quite white at his words, and his hands trembled.  “I had heard the folk of the haunted wood were wild and cruel,” he said, his voice quivering, “but I knew not the full extent of their malice!  You know me not; why is it you hate me so?  For I see it in your face; fair though you be you are fell and terrible to look upon!”

            “Shall I give you my reasons in alphabetical order or in chronological?” asked Legolas dryly.  “Nay; it would take too much time – your evils are too diverse.  I shall simply tell you this last one – Kaimelas my friend has been pierced through with one of your men’s arrows – shall I not feel anger against you for that?”

            “Such are the fortunes of war,” said Eradan desperately.

            “This was not war,” said Legolas firmly, “and he was not fortunate.  Turn!”

            “He should never have been struck down had he not joined the march against my men,” protested the fat man.

            “He should never have been constrained to march against them had your men not run like ravening wolves through the farmsteads and meads of Elessar’s people,” Legolas retorted.

            “I am rich!” cried Eradan, making one last despairing plea.  “Release me now and I shall give you all the gold you desire!”

            “Why should I desire gold?” asked Legolas.  “I have already more than I could comfortably spend in my lifetime.  Besides you cannot buy innocence with money; the men that have perished by means of your actions will never return from Mandos to the circle of this earth, no matter how many coins and gems you distribute.  You have left behind you widowed farmer’s wives and orphaned children to face the harsh cold winter of their empty fortunes alone.  Now go!”

            Reluctantly Eradan turned from the Elf, and feeling the press of the sword upon his back moved with frustrating slowness into the darkness of the cave.  Legolas followed him, careful to keep the tip of the sword against him, and cast about the dimness for some other sign of habitation.  He could smell the heavy and overripe scent of the fat man in front of him, and the damp chill seeping from the stone around him; also he could hear rapid and hoarse breathing in the gloom, echoing off the walls hollowly; however there was no scrape of feet on stone, nor susurration of cloth as though someone were leaning against one of the walls.  All he could hear was the breathing, quick and anxious, resonating through the damp cold cave.

            At a bend in the passageway Eradan broke away and tried to run; however Legolas had expected this and sprang after him, striking him upon the head with the pommel of his sword.  The man fell heavily to the floor and lay still.  Grasping him by the ankle Legolas dragged him back down the passageway toward the sound of breathing, his sword at ready.

            However when he gained the inner chamber he saw, by the light of a guttering candle set in a cleft in the wall, two figures bound with ropes and gagged with dirty cloths, trussed like branded calves and lying upon the floor.  One was a man, his richly decorated robe torn and muddy, lying still and white; the other was a maid, crouching fearfully against the wall, dark eyes wide with terror.  Looking quickly about the room Legolas saw it was empty save for bundles cast in another rough corner; he released his hold upon the fat man’s ankle, sheathed his sword and drew his knife.  Stepping up to her he said,

            “Lady Dirhael, I suppose?  Well met, though I imagine you might wish the circumstances to be a little more auspicious.”

            She cringed back against the wall as he reached for her, for she could see naught in the dimness but a tall dark form, with bright eyes glittering down at her.  But he laid no hand on her save to loosen the cloth about her face so that she could speak.

            “Who are you?” she cried, her voice shrill with fear.

            “The Green Knight,” said Legolas with a merry laugh, “though you may call me Legolas.”

“You are an Elf?” she stammered, eyes wide and wondering.

            “I am indeed,” he said, crouching before her so she could the more clearly descry his face.  “I mean you no ill but am here to help you.  Fear me not; I am your friend.”  Seeing her relax at his words he cut through her bonds and released her.  She sat up rubbing her wrists and watched him as he cut through the ropes that bound her uncle, but did not speak; there was in her face a look of doubt and trepidation.  Then he took some rope from the bundles in the corner and tied Eradan firmly by his hands and feet.  When he had done this he resheathed his knife and sat before her, folding his long bare legs beneath him and resting his chin upon his hands.

            “So here we are!” he said, gray eyes twinkling.  “I am gratified to finally look upon the face of the one called my betrothed.  Though perhaps now you see me you may find my visage too startling to be a comfort to you.”

            “You are truly the Green Knight?” she stammered.

            “I am,” said Legolas. 

            “Yet you did not send me that letter, the letter purporting to plan a tryst between us?”

            “I did not, but I would hazard a guess as who did,” said Legolas, gesturing back to the prone form beside them.  “He has been very busy, has he not?  It seems not a day has gone by without some part of his plot unraveling upon us.”

            “I do not know,” she confessed, looking at Eradan with a shudder; “I do not want to know.  I know not why I am even here.”

            “Do you not?” said Legolas, leaning back upon his hands on the cold stone floor and regarding her with sternness.  “Well, then, my Lady, perhaps you can at least satisfy my curiosity a little bit.  If you do not know why you are here, then tell me, I pray you, how came you hear?”

            “Ah!” she cried, and shuddered, hiding her face in her hands.  “It was terrible, Lord Elf; I and my maid were sitting in the rooms we had at the Bridge Embattled, when in burst a large company of men, armed and clad in mail shirts; knocking my maid aside they put swords to my throat, telling me they would strike me dead if I resisted them; then they bound and gagged me and took me to Lord Eradan in the Tent City.  My uncle was there, also bound and gagged and seated upon a horse; how his eyes burned when he saw that I had been taken as well!”  She shivered, her eyes distant; then shaking herself she continued.  “Then they made me to mount and we rode off out of the gates, knocking down the guards there, and we rode and we rode until I was so weary I thought I would tumble from my horse’s back; finally we came to a deep dell where were camped a great army of men.  I was put in a tent and made to lie upon my face, and my uncle was taken from me; I lay there for over a day, and then I heard horns and the sounds of battle.  I was terribly frightened, for I thought I should be slain along with everyone else; however Lord Eradan came in with sundry men, and they took me up, and these sacks too, and took me to horse to ride with all haste from the scene of the battle.  We rode up into the woods, with the branches whipping and lashing at us as we passed, and as we were bound by our hands my uncle and I could not hold to our horses.  Though I fell not my poor uncle did, and was trampled by one of the soldiers’ horses, and fell insensible; as you can see he has not even yet recovered from this.  And they took us to this cave, and laid us here with the sacks, and as I lay I could hear Lord Eradan telling his men to set up an ambush further back so we would be safe from rescue, and then all was silent.”  At this she sat up, and looked Legolas full in the face; though his visage was stern she found some measure of comfort in it, for she said, “It was silent, Lord Elf, until I heard your voice, clear and cold as a wind from the peaks of Mindolluin, speaking to Lord Eradan, and I was even more afraid because I did not know who you were.”  The Lady Dirhael delivered this account with short and rapid breaths, as though in its recounting it terrified her as much as the actual events.  When she had finished Legolas laid a comforting hand upon her arm.

            “Well, now you know who I am and you know you have naught to fear from me!” he said, though his gray eyes were thoughtful.  “You do not know why you have been taken?  You did not overhear Lord Eradan speaking of his plans, or what he hoped would come to fruition by all this?”

            “He seemed angry only,” said Lady Dirhael thoughtfully, “angry and frightened.  He kept saying Lord Faramir had not the men to mount a successful attack, and that he was certain the Elven King would not come to Gondor’s aid.  It was King Elessar he feared, that he should return upriver before a proper escape could be accomplished.  And he was angry at you, my Lord; often I heard him grumbling about the Green Knight’s unwarranted interference, as though you had no right to intervene in the affairs of the south.”

            “Well, as your uncle has been taken as well perhaps his conversation may be more enlightening,” sighed Legolas, and taking Orodreth’s head into his lap he began to stroke the man’s face, singing softly as he did so.  Lady Dirhael watched him apprehensively, gazing into her uncle’s still white face and now and again flicking her eyes up to study the Elf’s features.  After a few moments Lord Orodreth groaned and stirred, and opening his eyes looked up at the inverted face above him, and frowned.

            “Who are you?” he whispered through cracked and bloodied lips.

            “Legolas of Mirkwood, the son of the Elven King,” said Legolas with a smile.

            “You did not tell me you were a prince!” cried Dirhael in consternation.

            “It is difficult to be regal under such circumstances,” said Legolas wryly, “especially as I am not clad in any rich raiment but am dirty and blood-splattered, and also much disheveled from my endeavors.”
            “He is also the Green Knight, Uncle,” said Dirhael, reaching forward to touch Lord Orodreth’s face.  “He has struck down Lord Eradan and is here to rescue us.”

            “And when you have sufficiently recovered I have many questions to ask you,” said Legolas, “and not I only, but Faramir too I am sure, and when King Elessar returns you shall be interrogated yet again, until you are tired of repeating yourself.  Lady Dirhael, is there a skin of water in this cavern?”

            “I do not know,” the girl confessed.  “I have seen no one save ourselves since we were placed here.”

            “Take your uncle’s head then,” said the Elf, “and I shall search some out.  I am sure Lord Orodreth is very thirsty.”  Laying the man’s head in his niece’s lap he rose and searched the chamber, opening boxes and sacks and making little noises of disgust as he did so.  At last he came back with a skin of water and some bread wrapped in a cloth.  “Lord Eradan did not intend to depart with naught to comfort him in his exile, I see,” he said, opening the skin and setting it to Lord Orodreth’s lips.  “That is quite a abundance of gold he has secreted here.  Drink a little, I beg you, my Lord, and when you feel you have recovered enough to talk I hope you will be good enough to clear some of this mystery up, that has surrounded the entire Tournament and so impeded my pleasure in combat.  And you also, Lady Dirhael, drink and eat and be strengthened; for though we shall be joined here ere long by our friends I know not if it shall be before nightfall, and I am sure you are hungry.”

            So Orodreth and his charge ate and drank, and felt vigor return to their limbs, and after a time Lord Orodreth felt so much better as to sit up a bit, though he was still quite pale and felt sickly.  The Green Knight waited upon them as gently and courteously as though he were the host in a marble hall and were clad in his white doublet and circlet, seeing to the serving of portions of fine ragouts and rich wine.  From time to time he noticed the two mortals looking at him in amazement, unsure of their circumstances, and he would smile at them and urge them to rest and be comforted, reassuring them their trials were over.  Finally Legolas put the skin and the bread away, and sitting cross-legged before them he said:

            “Now, my Lord, I have sundry queries to put to you, that I hope you shall be able to answer!  But before we go much further allow me to tell you that I am in the confidences both of Lord Faramir and of King Elessar, and indeed have been their friends for some years, so that you may not feel diffident in disclosing any tender secrets to my ears.”

            “I am so far beholden to you as to make such considerations unnecessary,” said Orodreth weakly.  “But I shall tell you all I can.”

            “Good!” said Legolas.  “First of all, when did you first suspect Eradan of treason, and when did Lord Egalmoth take you into his confidence?”

            “Eradan of Linhir has been the thorn in my side for many years,” sighed Orodreth sadly.  “Ever smiling, ever gracious, yet beneath that benevolent façade avaricious and resolute!  I know I am not a popular man, for I have had need to do things in my own lands that have seemed to other lords as harsh or pitiless, but what could I have done?  These past twenty years have been hard on we who hold lands down the Anduin; the corsairs and the Haradrim harry our merchant vessels and make off with all our goods and we are beggared.  In such circumstances it is more prudent to withhold both information and trade from one’s neighbors, for one can never know who will capitulate to the enemies of Gondor, and who will remain loyal.  So I did my trade in secret, forswearing the company of others in my fear, and ever Eradan pestered me for partnership, harassing my seneschal and bribing my guards until I was forced to withdraw completely and place my interests in foreign lands.  He of course was lauded by his neighbors for his generosity and open-handedness, for he gave great feasts and parties and drew all to his side with his blithe and merry ways, so convincing the poorer knights and lords to fall in with his schemes.  But Baldor of Lossarnach and various others knew the secret machinations of his plans, so we resisted him, though that did nothing to increase our popularity in the region, for Eradan in his liberality had become well-loved, and therefore well-trusted.

            “When Elessar was crowned and the Haradrim beaten back Eradan began to suffer losses heavily; as I had placed my interests elsewhere I was comfortable, but Baldor being at Pelargir had lost much arable land to the devastating battles that surrounded him and he was nearly beggared by the plundering corsairs.  I knew Eradan desired greatly to have Baldor upon his side, for his ports were extensive and he refused to sell to any not loyal to the king, and it was for that reason I agreed to give my charge in marriage to Hallas his son – “ here he fixed his niece with a steely glance “ – so that Baldor’s holdings would be strengthened through her dowry and he might be better able to resist Eradan’s pleas.”  At this Dirhael blushed deeply and looked down at her hands, which were clasped in her lap.

            “How was it, I wonder, that Elessar knew nothing of this, and kept him on his Privy Council?” asked Legolas.

            “Ah!” said Orodreth smiling.  “Eradan is very cunning, and excels at making people trust him; also he slandered Baldor and me mercilessly, so that we had no defense against his plotting; all believed Eradan and mistrusted us.  But not long ago, directly after the Tournament was announced, Lord Egalmoth came to us, and disclosed to us his fears and deep suspicions of his fellow councilor, saying he had chanced to look into the books and saw that Lord Eradan was keeping two sets – one he showed to the king and the councilors, and another, truer account, that reflected his depredations.”

            “He has embezzled all this then?” asked Legolas, gesturing to the sacks of gold.

            “Aye, and more beside; Egalmoth did tell me Eradan has been sending boats up the Gilrain to a cache on the islands there.  He is of Lamedon, you see; he has a mansion at Calembel.”

            “I know Calembel,” said Legolas.  “I have been there.  A rich town though overshadowed with fear of the Dead.”

            “It is not only the Dead they fear!” said Orodreth.  “Eradan has the face of a blithe and merry man but beneath it all he is hard and greedy.  It is even said he slew his own wife in order to secure her lands for himself, though this is base rumor only and I have heard naught to substantiate it.”

            “So what did you and Lord Egalmoth do?” asked Legolas.

            “We decided to play at his own game, putting on dissembling faces to all, and making up to him, in the hopes of discovering his goals,” said Orodreth, “but his plans were too far advanced for us, and when we saw he began to disrupt the Tournament to distract Lord Faramir from his plotting we knew we had run out of time.  Egalmoth’s spies began to disappear, and my own guards vanished, and then the letter to you, my niece, came purporting to dismantle the ties I had forged with Baldor – “

            “I did not know, Uncle,” the maid protested.

            “You behaved infamously,” said Orodreth sternly.  “And worse I had to feign approval, to make Eradan think Baldor and I had fallen out.  Poor Hallas!  It is too late I am sure to mend that particular bridge you have burnt, my niece, but when I see Baldor I shall apologize to him myself, and so shall you.  Anyway, Prince Legolas, when Egalmoth did tell me of your father’s generous loan to so strengthen the Pelargir, I rejoiced, for I knew I would be able to return my custom to my own lands as they would now be safe; but he warned me that Eradan panicked, knowing a new fleet would dismantle his plans completely, and from that moment on his thoughts were upon the defamation of the Green Knight, and how he could prevent those monies from coming into the war chests.  For once a deposit has been made a full account must needs be disclosed, and Eradan would have had difficulty explaining the gaps in the tally.”

            “I feared me it was my presence was the catalyst that drove him to these desperate acts,” sighed Legolas pensively, resting his chin upon his knees.  “Alas for Herion of Pelargir!  Had Eradan feared me less that knight need not have perished.”  He thought for a moment, his bright eyes fixed upon a spot on the floor.  “Is this the extent of his army then?”

            “It is,” said Orodreth; “I overheard him speaking to one of his captains concerning this.  They were filled with anxiety that their southern allies should be defeated by the king and they be left, pressed north away from their holdings, with nary an ally to see their safe passage to Linhir.  I did not see much of the battle, your highness; is it true then that Lord Faramir came upon Eradan’s forces upon three sides, and crushed them between them?”

            “We did, to the best of our abilities,” said Legolas.  “It is over now, I am sure, unless there remain some few rogue dissidents that have escaped our net, as Eradan tried to escape.  But we have him now – “  Legolas glanced over at the still figure of the fat man, trussed up like a pig, with a certain measure of satisfaction.  “And such is the configuration of this cave that I may defend us in it for some time.  I am certain that is why he chose it in the first place.”  He thought for a moment, then said, “And when did Eradan discover you two knew of his nefarious acts?  When did he strike?”

            “It was after Lord Faramir made the announcement that the Elven King was coming down the River to us,” said Orodreth.  “At that time Egalmoth looked into Eradan’s face and saw he knew why King Thranduil had come, though he feigned ignorance; then Egalmoth knew as well, and knew you for what you were – not a Man of Dale, but an Elf of Mirkwood.  And then he lost his nerve, for when Egalmoth came to me to tell me what was about to come to pass, and to warn me that our enemy would certainly bolt in terror, Eradan himself appeared with his men, imploring our friendship; when we instead asserted our loyalty to Elessar he ordered his men to bind and take us.  At that time poor Targil came in, for he was ever one of our closest confidants; seeing how we were beset he drew his sword, and Egalmoth drew his own; we fought as well as we could but were outnumbered.  The last I remember is seeing Targil slain upon the tent floor, and three soldiers assailing Egalmoth; then I was struck and all went black for me.  When I awoke I was bound and gagged, and Eradan was with his men planning his escape.”

            “Why was Lady Dirhael taken as well?  To secure your silence?”

            “Perhaps,” said Orodreth, “though I suspect he sought to buttress his holdings further by using us two, to secure lands to the south where he would be safe.”  He looked uneasily at his niece, who to Legolas’ amusement seemed to not have understood the implications of this and merely looked back and forth between them with an expression of bewilderment upon her face.  Legolas tipped him a wink and smiled, and Orodreth smiled back at him.

            “Well, you are both safe now,” he said, “and I shall see to it that Lady Dirhael is brought unharmed and secure to her own house, where she can go about finishing the items in her wedding chests.  For it would be a great pity to have so fair a maid kept lonely and unattached; I am sure you will be able to find some strange lord or knight willing to take her now.  Why there is a knight – an older man to be sure, fifty at least, and with a mole upon the tip of his nose – who is seeking a young and hale wife; perhaps now that Hallas has been freed your niece will do!”  At Dirhael’s exclamation of dismay Legolas gave Orodreth another surreptitious wink, and Orodreth laughed weakly.

            The three fell silent, the two mortals looking with scarcely concealed wonder at the slim white form of the Elf seated before them, his fair face pensive.  Then Legolas turned his head, as though listening for something; after a moment he said:

            “The sun has set and the stars are out; it is dark without and dark within now.  Lady Dirhael, you and I must find some cloths to make a pallet for you and your uncle to sleep upon, and I shall keep watch over you while you rest.  I do not think we need to look for any more company for at least a few hours, for Malbeth and Galás will only just be starting down the spur to Lord Faramir.  When they arrive I shall wake you, and then we may begin the happy task of bringing this traitor before Elessar for judgment.”

            He and the maid arose, and finding various bits of cloth and rags made a small bed in the corner; gently Legolas aided Orodreth to lie thereupon, and when he covered him against the chill of the cave the man said:  “I have yet another thing to confess to you, Prince Legolas.”

            “And what may that be?” asked the Green Knight, sitting back on his heels and looking down at him.

            “Egalmoth both feared and resented you, for you were not a knight of Gondor,” said Orodreth unhappily.  “Oft times he would rage to me that it were unfair to allow a foreign knight to so trample the pride of Minas Tirith.  But ere he died he knew you for who you were, and grudgingly said to me he hoped you would prevail, for the support of an Elven King would serve to help and sustain the kingdom of Gondor, and we could ill afford to turn such an ally into an enemy through our bias.  So you must know, O Green Knight, that though at first Egalmoth did dislike you and begrudge your might, in the end he turned, and had he not perished would have been your staunch friend and ally.”

            “Then I am all the more sorry to have never met him,” said Legolas, “and all the more filled with wrath at this traitor here – “ he nudged the still form of Eradan with his foot “—for denying me the pleasure of convening with so firm and tenacious a man.  King Elessar shall miss his council indeed.”

            “Is it true that the king returns victorious from his battle upon the Pelargir?” asked Dirhael as she lay down beside her uncle.

            “It is,” said Legolas rising to his feet.  “He will come back bringing Imrahil of Dol Amroth and Baldor of Lossarnach with him in his vanguard.  And as we speak Lord Faramir and my Lord Father secure the steps of Amon Din, nurturing and succoring its people.  Sleep now, and without fear!  Your nightmare is ended, and you shall awake to a bright and merry morn.  Sleep!  I shall watch over you.”  So Lord Orodreth and his niece fell asleep, with the image imprinted upon their drowsy eyes of a slim tall figure illuminated in a white glow that stood guard over them, and they knew the Green Knight though denuded of his magnificent armour was their champion and would protect them from all harm. 

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