22. Feasting, Frolicking, and Farewells
Now, the men of Haloel faced the still-tougher business of determining who would rule their small kingdom--and how. An assembly was called in the Great Hall, but when all the men and women were gathered, Aragorn and Legolas exchanged glances. The man and elf rose, attracting the attention of all.
Seeing Legolas’s nod, Aragorn spoke for them both. “Alagion and I feel that the decision of rulership for Haloel should be decided without our presence. It is a matter for her people.”
If nothing else, the cries of protest were gratifying to the two. “We could not have won this without your counsel!” Yalc said, gaining control of the others. “This decisions is just as vital as those during the siege!”
“Aye,” agreed Kartzel. “And we could use the objectivity of ones not from this land.”
“And you shall have it,” Legolas told them. Nodding toward the third foreigner in the room, he said, “Sarovin was with you, guiding you, from the start. If there is one entitled to serve as moderator in this meeting, let it be him.”
The men looked disappointed, but allowed the two to depart. Aragorn and Legolas walked out the castle gates and wandered through the fields to wait out the deliberations. Many of the vines and gardens that were trampled in the fighting had been tied up again, and the debris of the siege had been cleared away. The rebellion had destroyed much of the season’s crop, but if the Halorrim were able to organize effective leadership, they might yet be able to save the rest.
“Leaving them now was a wise decision,” Aragorn remarked as they walked.
Legolas looked at him oddly. “Perhaps.”
Returning the elf’s speculative gaze, the Ranger said, “An internal decision such as this was no place for a foreign Ranger.”
“And certainly not for an elf!” Legolas said with a laugh. But he raised an eyebrow at Aragorn. “Still, Sarovin chose to stay. He is foreign, yet he is a man, and a wise one. Perhaps you should have stayed as well. The men of Haloel would have benefited from your guidance.”
“As soldiers, maybe, but not as a government,” the heir of Isildur replied dismissively. “They need not my counsel anymore.”
“Then why did Sarovin stay?”
The younger Ranger’s eyes followed two gray mockingbirds chasing each other over the tops of the vines. “Sarovin had been wandering the wild for decades before he came to Haloel. Even the last time I met him, he had stayed longer here than any other place.”
Legolas smiled faintly; he had obviously suspected as much. “You think he has chosen to stay?”
“I am nearly certain. But he will have the good sense not to let them elevate him. The Halorrim must look to their own for leadership.”
“Haloel was a province of Gondor once,” the elf commented mildly.
Aragorn turned and noticed the intense stare Legolas was giving him. “Do not be ridiculous.”
Legolas stopped walking. “The men of Gondor are scattered, leaderless. I have seen some of those living closest to Mordor; Sauron’s beasts prey upon them at will because they cannot organize enough to fight. Why do you live in exile, son of Arathorn, when your people need you more than ever?”
“You are the son of Thranduil; do not pretend you know naught of my bloodline,” Aragorn looked away. “You know what role my blood played in the return of the shadow.”
Legolas was silent. Then, in a very strange tone, he said softly, “You are ashamed.” Aragorn did not answer, for it had not been a question. “You are ashamed of who you are, because Isildur’s weakness allowed the spirit of Sauron and the Ring of power to live.”
The revelation of the elven warrior‘s true identity had not silenced all the questions that swam in Aragorn‘s mind about Legolas. One in particular he both wished and feared to know. To look at, he would guess that Legolas was quite young for an elf, certainly much younger than Elrond, probably younger than the twins and Arwen, yet…young was still a relative term. He could not be certain. How personally did Legolas take the weakness of Isildur? There was one way to know… “You were not there at Mount Doom?” the man finally forced himself to ask.
He watched Legolas’s face with combined curiosity and dread. But instead of embittered or doubtful, the elf merely looked startled--and somewhat amused. “Nay,” Legolas replied with a little shake of his head. “I am not that old…not even close,” he added with a wry twist of his mouth. “I know only what I have been told.”
Aragorn smiled himself at the irony. “I can imagine all too well what your elders of Mirkwood told you of Isildur and all his kindred. Why do you not despise me as the other wood elves do?”
There it was again! That shadow of anger and pain in the prince’s eyes…yet it was not directed at Aragorn. After a long and very loud silence, Legolas said, “I have found it better to judge the world by seeing it myself rather than letting others judge it for me.”
Ordinary mortals regarded the calm, aloof demeanor of elves as the true nature of their personality. But Aragorn recognized it as a shield, a shell to hide the intense inner emotions that all elves possessed. One could see past the exterior if one knew where to look. As with mortals, the eyes of elves could be windows to their hearts, and Aragorn needed only to look at the stormy dark eyes of the elven prince to know that he carried a tempest within.
*Still you keep secrets, Legolas of Mirkwood. I have grown in the House of Elrond, beside Elladan and Elrohir, I have loved Arwen--and Glorfindel is hardly mundane, if such a word can describe any of the Eldar. Yet I can safely say that you, son of Thranduil, are by far the most interesting elf I have ever met.*
Before he could think up a means of prying further, Legolas changed the subject. “Who do you think the Halorrim will choose as their lord?”
They walked down to the riverbank and sat there. Aragorn rubbed his chin for a moment before replying, “I wonder if they will decide against a single lord altogether, after their experience with Fompran.”
“True,” Legolas agreed. “They might elect a council, as the villages do. Such a group might serve the Halorrim well.”
Aragorn idly tossed a stone into the water. “If they do choose a single lord, my wager would be on Dersten. He was the best of their fighters.”
Twirling an arrow in his fingertips, the elf considered that. “Perhaps,” he murmured. They were quite accurate, Aragorn’s words, and yet… “Perhaps not.”
Rising again, Aragorn gazed around the valley with a worried frown. “Where have our horses gone?”
Legolas rose and pointed. “I see them. They graze on the hill there, north.”
“How fares your mount?”
“Well,” Legolas replied, his eyes darkening further with angry memory. Lanthir had recovered from the wounds inflicted by Vrall, but the cruelty still made his rider’s blood boil. “The Halorrim treated his wounds with great skill, yet he remains still more skittish towards men.”
“Pariedor suffered the same,” said Aragorn, feeling a surge of ire himself. “But he too is healed.” The Ranger squinted in the direction Legolas had pointed, but though his eyes ached, he could not see the two horses. The elf and man heard someone approaching. It was a boy, bearing a message from the castle. “The people have chosen their new lord, Masters. He shall be announced at the feast tonight.”
“Hm. Very mysterious.” The two friends walked back up the bank, heading east towards the castle. “This should be interesting.”
What foodstuffs the Halorrim had lost in the siege, they replaced with the supplies captured from the camp. So there was little need for stinginess at the feast to celebrate the new rulership of Haloel. Most of the people were aleady seated at the tables in the Great Hall, but Aragorn and Legolas were asked to wait.
“His Lordship wishes to welcome you properly,” they were told. When all the others, including Sarovin, had entered the Hall, the herald turned to them. “Now it is time.” As the doors of the Hall opened, he announced, “My lords! Strider of the Dúnedain and Alagion of Mirkwood!”
Elf and Ranger exchanged a quick grin as they walked into the great room. Long tables spanned its length, and it seemed that every man, woman, and child of Haloel was present, craning their necks for a view of the heroes. Great platters of meats, breads, fruits, cakes, and sweetmeats adorned the tables among numerous flagons of wine. Closer to the front of the room sat the many men who had fought for Haloel’s freedom--now the uniformed soldiers of Haloel’s guard. At the very front, beneath a silk canopy, sat another table. The greatness of the chairs bespoke the rank of those who sat there. Two were vacant. In one place of obvious esteem, but not the highest, sat Sarovin. In another sat Dersten, and beside him Niradam, his wife.
The man at the center of the table (occupying the greatest chair) rose to greet them, followed by the others. “You are most welcome, honored warriors.”
Not bothering to hide their smiles, Aragorn and Legolas bowed in unison. “You are most gracious, my lord.”
From behind them, the herald announced, “I present Yalc, son of Raln, Lord of Haloel!”
Beside the young lord, the Lady of Haloel, Enilosa, gestured to the two vacant chairs. “Pray, be seated, Strider and Alagion.”
The Halorrim responded with great applause and praise as the elf and Ranger took their places among the leaders of Haloel. As the feast commenced, more introductions were made. Aragorn and Legolas were presented to Castellan Dersten, captain of the official guard, and Kartzel, official representative of Haloel’s farmers and winemakers. And then there was Sarovin, Lord Yalc’s advisor and representative of Haloel in foreign matters.
“There, my lord,” Legolas said to Yalc. “You did not need our help to choose a wise leadership.”
Dressed in robes of fine green linen and velvet, his blonde curls neat upon his head, Yalc nonetheless had not lost the youth of his light brown eyes. Although at the moment, he seemed slightly bewildered. “I wish I had your confidence, Master L--Alagion.”
Dersten waved a dismissive hand. “Heed the elf’s wise words, my friend; you’re the best of us all.”
“I would have preferred Dersten in this too-exalted position,” Yalc confessed to the others with a smile.
“Nonsense. I’m a fighter, not a thinker! If there’s anything we learned from Fompran, it’s that we need wisdom in our leaders.”
Yalc smiled good-naturedly and signaled for the guests to dine. Then when all were occupied with food, he leaned over to the elf and murmured, “I suspect it was a choice based more upon my loss of worth as a farmer, friend Legolas. For I cannot imagine why one might consider me ‘wise.’”
“Wisdom is in the eyes of the beholders, Lord of Haloel,” Legolas replied softly. “And be assured, I have long counted you the wisest of all these.”
“And the wisdom of an elven warrior is of a great weight indeed,” Lady Enilosa put in quietly, her dark eyes twinkling.
Legolas gazed past Yalc at her, and suspected she too knew who he was. Judging by Yalc’s rather startled expression, the man had not told her. *The Lady misses little,* thought the elf. *Both rulers of Haloel shall be of great service to their people.*
His musings were interrupted by a question from Kartzel. “Have you tasted Haloel wine before, Master Elf?”
Before Legolas could reply, Dersten slapped the new wine minister on the back. “Of course he has, you lout! He’s from Mirkwood! All the elves drink our wines, and none more than his King Thranduil. Am I right, Master Alagion?”
Aragorn shot Legolas an anxious look, but the elf smiled amiably. “It is said that Haloel wine is the elven king’s favorite. I have had it on occasion. It is always a fine vintage.”
The Halorrim exchanged approving looks. “Mirkwood has not traded with us for centuries,” remarked Niradam. “Do you save it for special occasions only, then?”
“Just so,” Legolas replied, inclining his head to her.
With a twinkle in his gray eyes that instantly put Legolas on his guard, Aragorn said lightly, “Either that or it is too potent for them to drink on ordinary occasions.”
The great roar of laughter that swept the Hall drowned out any protestations the elf made. Wiping tears from his eyes, Yalc teased, “Is that the case, Master Elf?”
Shooting a glare at the sniggering Ranger, Legolas said firmly, “Nay.” The men laughed again at his defensive tone.
“Come, come,” Enilosa chided them. “Alagion is an elf, after all. One would imagine their tolerance for drink far exceeds that of most mortals.”
“ANY mortal, my lady,” Legolas added slyly, grinning at Aragorn at the same time.
The Halorrim roared their appreciation of the jibe. Dersten clapped his hands. “Aye, I doubt a Ranger has much time for drinking, friend Strider. He could easily outlast you.”
“Perhaps, but I would remind him, he is not the first elf whose company I have been graced with, and I can assure you that weapons are not the only skill I have learnt from his race.”
The wine flagons were already circulating freely, and that combined with an abundance of good food made the company quite merry: elf and Rangers included. Kartzel shook his head. “I don’t think there are many men who could drink with an elf. But if there are, we’d find them in a place where wine is a way of life!”
Many of the men pounded their tables in agreement. Aragorn raised his eyebrows at them and jerked his head at Legolas. “I fear, gentlemen, that our immortal friend is somewhat skeptical of your claim. What say you, Alagion, could you hold your own with a wineman of Haloel?”
Mildly, the elf replied, “I know not for sure, good Strider, but I worry that the men of Haloel would have cause to regret it tomorrow if we attempted to find out tonight.”
That did not settle the issue; a collective indignant shout went up from the men, and goblets rose in challenge. By this time, many were yawning, and the children sent out. Now, Enilosa, Niradam, and Relean, Kartzel’s wife, exchanged glances. The Great Hall was briefly silenced as the three women rose in unison. “It appears that you gentlemen intend to continue this debate well into the night,” Enilosa said, “but I think it is time for the ladies of Haloel to retire. Until tomorrow, my lords, we take our leave.”
The other women followed their Lady’s lead, and as they passed through the doors, Niradam heard her husband say, “Now, where were we?”
Enilosa chuckled, “I fear the business of ruling Haloel shall fall to us tomorrow morning, Ladies, for our husbands shall likely be indisposed.”
Her prediction was already coming true. No sooner had the ladies of Haloel departed the room than Yalc called for more food--and even more wine. “It seems you must prove your prowess yet again, Master Elf.”
Legolas did not refuse the offered refill of red wine, but cautioned, “Take care to remember the last time we held a contest between elves and men, my lord.”
Laughter and shouts of challenge were the response, and with a shrug, Legolas rose, beckoning for silence. “Then let us begin this revelry in the proper manner, friends!” He raised his goblet. “I give you Lord Yalc!”
The other men sprang to their feet and joined the toast, “Lord Yalc!” and drank with great gusto.
“Long life and happiness!” toasted Legolas.
“Long life and happiness!” chorused the men.
“Health!” Sarovin added.
“Health!” everyone cried.
“Health and wealth!” corrected Kartzel.
“Health and wealth!”
Aragorn raised his goblet. “Health, wealth, and a steady hand!”
As goblets were refilled, Legolas took a discreet look around. He grinned to himself; many of the men were already flushed and blinking quite a bit. Tonight promised to be frightfully amusing.
Many toasts later…
Aragorn could not recall an occasion when he had imbibed so much, but to his relief, he seemed to be keeping pace with Legolas and the Halorrim. Meaning to say, he was no more befuddled than they seemed to be.
But as it was, Aragorn was beginning to feel very warm, and a little light-headed. Normally, it would take something far more potent to phase him, but the sheer volume tonight was threatening to put him in his cups. But it seemed that Legolas was not entirely unaffected either. “Well, Master Elf, either the reputation of the Eldar as great drinkers is faulty or you are falling short of it.”
Legolas drew himself up with rather theatric indignation, “You are not exactly a model of sobriety yourself, Man of the West!”
“Aye, Master Strider,” Dersten gleefully waggled a finger at the tipsy Ranger. “Your face is a little red!”
Aragorn laughed out loud, “Look who is speaking, friend! You are the color of Lord Fompran’s riding gear!”
“Bwahahahaha!” Sarovin flung himself backward in his chair, howling with laughter and nodding, gesturing at Dersten’s very flushed face.
Legolas (still as fair-faced as ever to the irritation of all) raised his eyebrows and said blithely, “Judging by the sound of that laugh, Master Sarovin is not doing so well himself!”
“Just wait, Alagion, we’ll have you dancing on the tables before the night is out!”
“Not before the rest of you are under the tables!”
“HAH!!!” Yalc attacked one of the platters and brandished a whole carrot at Legolas. “The night is yet young; I challenge you to prove that intimation before dawn!”
“HAH!!!” Legolas now dove for the platter, and in turn attempted to wield a banana in response. “I accept--” unfortunately he squeezed too hard, and with a sound like the squelch of a boot in a mud puddle, the banana disintegrated and emptied its filling all over the prince’s hand. “Oh, ah…”
“SO!! A model of sobriety, are you?!” demanded Aragorn, pointing and directing the laughter of all at the chagrinned elf.
“All right, all right, enough of that nonsense!” Dersten scolded them. “We’ve many yet to be honored with toasts tonight!”
Sarovin slammed the table so hard the dishes shook. “Very true!” He sprang to his feet, knocking over his chair. “My lords! I give you Castellan Dersten!”
Goblets were thrust wildly into the air. “Castellan Dersten!”
“Captain of the guard!”
“First oaf of the army!”
Dersten choked on his wine and stared accusingly about the room. “Who said that?!”
None confessed, and then Yalc sprang to his feet. “I give you Kartzel, the Wine Minister!”
“To the Wine Minister!”
“To the Wine Monster!”
“The Wine Mister!”
“The Wine Minstrel!”
“The Wine Spinster!”
“WHAT?! Now wait just a sodding minute!”
“Sotting is right!”
“I said ‘sodding,’ you moron!”
If Aragorn had been as observant as usual, he would have noticed that Legolas was now growing flushed and laughing quite helplessly at the exchange. “Wait a moment,” the elf protested, nearly knocking his goblet over. “Aren’t we supposed to be toasting Lord Yalc?”
Yalc jumped up (knocking his chair over) “Why should you get to have all the fun!? To Dersten!”
“To Dersten and Kartzel!”
“To Kartzel and Dersten!”
“To both of ‘em together!”
“To Sarovin, the Lord’s Visor!”
“That’s AD visor, schtupid!”
“To Yalc’s wife!”
“Yeah, to Niradam!”
This time Dersten spit his wine right out. “Now WAIT just a minute!” He brandished a large drumstick and began waggling it vigorously at Yalc, splattering gravy everywhere. “Just beclause yer the lord of Hawowell now doesin mean you can have my wife!”
“What makes ya think he hasn’t already?” someone said.
“Now JUST a minute!” Yalc jumped up (knocking his chair over yet again). “I am a man of under! There is nothing between me and your wife, Kartzel--Dersten--whoever is married to Niradam!”
Kartzel sleepily raised his head from the table, raising a hand, “Uh, that would be me!”
Dersten jumped up again, “Now WAIT a mimint! Everbody stop trying to claim my wife! You cand have her! She is MY wife! We are lawflully married and I am her hubband and she is my wife! Karzell is married to Releeeennn, Yalc is married to…to…whatsername….did I mention that Niradam is MY wife?!”
“Yes yes yes, don’t get your bifurcated leg coverings in a twist!” Legolas said in disgust.
All activity at the table ceased. Aragorn spoke for them all when he turned incredulously to the elf and said, simply, “What?!”
“Come on, we’re not making any pwogwess here!” Sarovin said, gesturing vigorously for more wine. “If he can come up with a statement like bliffergated leg--somethings, he’s way too sober! So, Master Elf, I’m sure you can sip with the best of them, but can you toss?”
“Ahhhhhh!” all the company scrambled to refill their goblets. Legolas was not about to be branded a coward, and he and Aragorn filled theirs right to the brim (neither managing to avoid spilling.)
Yalc splashed his too much and was obliged to drain the rest of it and refill it again. When he rose, the new Lord of Haloel found himself quite unsteady on his feet. He lofted his goblet and declared, “To good food!”
“To good company!”
“To women in haylofts!”
“Kartzel, behave yourself!”
“One can be married and still enjoy oneself!”
“Have you seen his wife? I’d enjoy myself!”
“Now WAIT a minute--”
“Do NOT start that again!” Aragorn exclaimed, hurling a chunk of bread that bounced of Kartzel’s brow.
Kartzel looked up. “I think the ceiling’s falling in!”
“Pay attention!” Yalc ordered, banging the table. “Bottoms up!”
“That means drink the whole glass, you stupid wood elf!”
“Oh.” Legolas eyed the full goblet.
Aragorn grinned wickedly at him. “What’s wrong, friend, you can sip but not slug?”
“Go on, Alagion, down in one gulp!”
“In this I think Strider will match him!”
“We shall see!”
“On the count of three, friends!” Sarovin ordered, and all eyes were focused on elf and Ranger. “Onnnnne…twoooooo…” there was a long pause, “…was I saying something?”
“NOW!!!” several of the others yelled at once, and Legolas and Aragorn began gulping their wine in earnest. Eyes watering, faces flushed, they swilled while the men shouted encouragement.
As it happened, both elf and man lowered their goblets from their mouths at the exact same time (they also had equally-stained upper lips, giving each the appearance of a red moustache.) The Halorrim looked eagerly from one to the other. Aragorn’s eyes were still watering and he was trying in vain to control his coughs, but he nodded firmly when one of the others inquired after his health. “And what of you, Master Alagion?” asked Yalc.
Legolas, to Aragorn’s utter disgust, appeared barely phased. His eyes had stopped watering and he was not coughing. In fact, Aragorn was convinced that the elf hadn’t been affected at all until Legolas opened his mouth. “Well…” it came out as a squeak worthy of an irritated mouse.
The entire place erupted into guffaws as Legolas cursed furiously--then the elf decided the only cure was more wine, and the flagons went around again. Whatever satisfaction Aragorn had derived from Legolas’s embarrassing little reaction was lost by the fact that he was growing too dizzy to sit up straight (or what his loopy senses perceived as straight at the time.) To the eyes of the others, the younger Ranger was already slumped well down in his chair, and he had not noticed that his elbows had dropped below the tabletop.
“Slo, Mashter Owf,” Kartzel was saying, blinking rapidly. “Whaddaya s’pose would happen if we had a shooting contest in here ride now?”
Legolas regarded the drunk man solemnly for a moment, then threw his head back and burst into a peal of laughter. “Ai! I wouldn--I wouldna--I don’t recommend it, Master Karzel; we’d kill someone!” He raised one eyebrow and grinned at Aragorn. “On the other hand, I think Strider’s already dead!”
Forcing himself upright with an effort, Aragorn pointed a finger right into the elf’s face. “Nod quide yet! And I’ve outlashted plenty of peoples so far!” He gestured limply around the Hall, and it was true; more than half of the men were passed out on table and floor.
“Very true; you’re doing admirrarably well, Striper!” Yalc said, clapping the Ranger on the back. Then his face changed, and he observed, “Wish I could say the same for myself,” right before toppling back into his seat, dead to the world.
Legolas was practically shrieking with laughter. “Striper! He called you Striper! I’m gonna call you Striper!”
Aragorn folded his arms and scowled fiercely at the elf. “If you even thing aboud id I’m gonna box your ears!”
“Fah! You’re so drung you couldin find my ears!” Legolas said with a loud snort. He raised a hand with a flourish, “How many fingers am I holdin up?”
Without looking, Aragorn replied, “Seventeen!”
“Fourteen!” guessed Kartzel.
“One?” offered Dersten.
“Mrmph,” said Sarovin without lifting his head from where it rested on the crook of his elbow.
“Close enough,” Legolas said.
Just then there was a knock on the door. One of the heralds entered timidly. “Ah, my lords…” his eyes were incredulous as he took in the unconscious or nearly-there bodies scattered about the Great Hall. “Lady Enilosa is enquiring after her husband.”
The remaining survivors at the head table exchanged looks. “Well, THERE he is!” Aragorn said dramatically. Leaping upon the table, he declared with a great sweeping gesture, “My lords and ladies, I give you the Lord of Haloel!”
His feet on the table, his arms draped past the rests, his head lolling back with his mouth wide open, Yalc responded as though on cue.
He began to snore.
The servant nodded hastily and left even faster. For some reason, Aragorn decided that was worthy of another toast and jumped down, refilling goblets. “Long life and appleness!”
“Ear ear!” The goblets were downed with gusto, the remaining drinkers congratulating themselves at still being in the game.
Everyone looked around. “Who was that?”
“That you, Leg--ah, I mean Alagion?”
“Of course not! Elves don’t hiccup!” Hic!
Aragorn thumped the table and turned a level (or not) stare at Legolas. “I think that was you.”
Resting an elbow on the table and plunking his chin onto his hand, the elf replied, “Don’ be ridickilous, Striper--HIC!”
“Bwaahhaaaa!!” Dersten and Kartzel gleefully pointed. “It’s the owf! It’s the owf!”
“Here, lemme help!” Kartzel offered, and dealt Legolas a fierce slap on the back that nearly smashed the elf into the table. “Did thad work?”
“Ooooh, yes, thank you, Kartzel. Who needs unbroken ribs anyway?”
“Hah!” Aragorn jumped onto his chair. “Not so invinslible as you think you are, eh, Elf? Can’t even keep from gedding the higgups--whaaaa!!!” As top-heavy as he felt by then, the Ranger’s balance failed and he and his chair toppled over with a great crash.
With a yelp of alarm, Legolas, Kartzel, and Dersten scrambled over toppled chairs and drunken bodies to the pile of arms, legs, and chair that was Aragorn. “A Elbweth,” Legolas remarked. “That’s the end of him! Does that mean I win?”
“Not so fast, not so fast!” Kartzel exclaimed. “We’re still here!” He grabbed a half-full goblet and downed the whole thing in a few gulps. That proved one gulp too many for the wineman, and he simply keeled over on the spot.
Legolas and Dersten watched him gravely. With a heavy sigh, Dersten remarked, “That’s one against the owf. Dunno if I like those odds. So. Now what?”
The elf regarded the room full of drunk carcasses. “I sup--sup--guess it wouldn’ be very fidding for the ladies to find us this way in the morning.”
Dersten wrinkled his nose. “That means we’ve got to get everyone to bed! Ourselves!”
With a shrug, Legolas replied, “You got the glory, you gotta take the little heartaches that go with it.”
Most of the men--with sufficient prodding and cold water--roused enough to walk to their quarters on their own. Yalc had to be carried. A few buckets awoke Aragorn and Sarovin, and Legolas said, “Come on, you lazy mortals, up!”
“Is it morning already?” Sarovin grumbled.
Legolas laughed and turned to shake Aragorn awake. “On your feet, Dúnadan! You can’t lie here all night!”
“Be off!” the younger Ranger exclaimed, waving his arms drunkenly to shoo the elf away.
Grinning at Dersten, the prince began slapping Aragorn’s cheeks and did not desist until the man staggered to his feet. “Awake, you sotted mortal! Do not tell me you’re too feeble to make it to your chamber!”
Aragorn shoved him back. “Feeble, eh? I’ll show you--ooooh!” He staggered dangerously and both Legolas and Dersten were forced to grab him.
“Better get him out of here,” the Castellan advised, and slung Sarovin’s arm over his shoulder. Legolas did likewise with Aragorn, and so the four staggered, laughing hysterically, from the Great Hall. Halfway there, Aragorn began singing, and soon they formed a drunken quartet as they lurched into walls and tripped over their own (and each other’s) feet.
“Ah, here we are!” Dersten stumbled into a closed door and held Sarovin up with one arm while fumbling at the door handle with the other. At last the door opened, and the two men lurched inside with a crash.
“Put him down gently!” Legolas giggled.
There was a loud thud and a grunt in response, then Dersten stumbled back out, laughing. “I’ll w-w-wager he won’t stir until afternoon! Come!” The man grabbed Aragorn’s other arm. “Let’s get this one to bed!” They both laughed as Aragorn mumbled something unintelligible in response. “I must congratulate you, Master Owf! You outlasted both Rangers and most of our people!”
Legolas laughed out loud and nearly knocked them all into the wall. “Of COURSE I did! Wait, we’re here!”
It took the elf several tries to get the latch open, but at last the two hauled the Ranger into his quarters. They unceremoniously deposited Aragorn on his bed, then tiptoed (loudly) from the room. “Well,” Legolas observed, leaning heavily against the wall and grinning broadly, “Seems you and I were the only ones to survive the night!”
“You’ve proven your prowress, sir, make no mistake!” Dersten agreed, clapping the elf on the back so hard that he nearly knocked him over. “A good night to you!”
Legolas stumbled, giggling to himself, to his own chamber. “I win!” he crowed, and collapsed onto the bed, fully clothed.
The next day…
Aragorn did not stir until well after noon, and only then because the angle of the sun cast an agonizing beam right through the window onto his face. Heaving a groan, he rolled over to escape it--and landed on the floor. With a savage curse, he forced his eyes open. He felt as though the front of his skull had been beaten with a meat mallet, along with the brains within. His eyes felt gritty, his mouth felt like cotton, and no amount of water on his face could relieve the sensation that his entire head was made of sludge.
Forcing himself to wash and put on fresh clothes, the Ranger supposed he could not immure himself in his chamber all day (no matter how badly he desired to.) *Be a man, Estel, it is your own fault. Your bravado got the better of your good sense, trying to drink with an elf and winemen of Haloel.*
There was no escaping the amusement the others were probably going to have at his expense. So with a half-sigh, half-groan, the heir of Isildur shoved the door open and trudged into the corridor. He ducked to escape the light coming from an outer window, thinking, *I will show me face outside my room, but cave trolls could not drag me outside this building before the sun goes down!*
A door thudded open nearby and Aragorn winced at the noise. Out staggered Haloel’s newly-appointed Castellan, his garments rumpled, his hair unkempt, and his eyes almost as bloodshot as Aragorn’s. Seeing the Ranger, Dersten grumbled hoarsely, “This is a fine start to the government, wouldn’t you say?”
Aragorn started to nod, and had to grab the wall, for even that small motion set his head spinning and his stomach protesting violently. “Not just the government,” he croaked.
If Dersten looked sympathetic, Aragorn could not tell, for he was too busy trying to keep himself upright and his stomach from sloshing. But the other man did offer a steadying hand, and then said, “Ah, well, we’d best get the day started. At least all the others will be facing the music as well.”
“Thank the Valar for that,” Aragorn groaned.
As Dersten predicted, the Great Hall was full of late-rising Halorrim, all of whom were decidedly the worse for a night’s drinking. There was very little food being eaten--most of the men just stared at it as though it were the essence of evil. Aragorn and Dersten took their places at the head table with the equally-afflicted Sarovin, Kartzel, and Yalc. When a servant offered them a platter of sausage, the entire company turned green, and Yalc waved it hastily away. Burying his face in his arms, the young lord groaned, “I think that was my wife’s idea of a joke.”
Kartzel grunted in agreement, “Of all the foods I wouldn’t want after a night of drunken revelry, sausage is definitely the most nauseating.” He got a round of groans and curses from the others for even mentioning it by name.^
Sarovin roused himself enough to ask, “Where’s Alagion?”
Aragorn looked around before putting his head down again. “No idea. Perhaps even his elvish tolerance for wine could not handle last night. Ooohh…”
In spite of their misery, most of the men smiled. “Nice thought, that Haloel wine could exceed an elf’s capacity. Now THAT would make today far easier to endure!” proclaimed Dersten.
Just then the sound of singing floated through a window. Many of the men moaned and covered their ears, but Aragorn cursed savagely. Among the voices of many of the ladies of Haloel, he clearly discerned the voice of Legolas, raised in merry song. “Curse him and his elvish stamina! He’s been up for hours!”
The door of the Great Hall opened. Mockingly. And there stood Legolas, as bright and alert as ever, his dark eyes twinkling with amusement as he took in the sorry sight. “Ah, you’re all up at last!”
Then he had to close the door quickly to avoid being pelted by a rain of rolls, sausages, and fruit thrown by spiteful and hung-over men. Through the nearly-closed door, a disgustingly smug elvish voice declared, “Being a winner, I give you all a good morrow, gentlemen!” The men all cursed as the sound of laughter faded down the hall.
“A plague on that pointy-eared tree squirrel!” someone muttered. All the others just voiced their agreement by groaning.
By evening, the men of Haloel had recovered sufficiently to get down to business, though most of them were still a little foggy-headed. All the ladies had been greatly amused when Legolas had risen that morning, appearing none the worse for wear while the rest of the men had yet to budge. Actually, in all fairness, Legolas could not claim to have been completely unaffected. He’d slept far later than usual; on a normal day, the elf would have been up at dawn. And for the first half of the day at least, he had to admit that he’d felt a little…off.
Still, he had been nowhere near as incapacitated as the mortals, and had enjoyed more than his share of laughs at their expense when they had finally dragged their carcasses from bed. *I warned them they would regret it today if they tried to out-drink me!*
At the moment, they were seated in the Great Hall where Lord Yalc was preparing to pronounce his judgement on the loyalist soldiers who had been taken prisoner in the battle. Yalc too looked much-improved since Legolas had seen him last, and sat straight and dignified in the seat of Haloel.
Beside Legolas, the heir of Isildur also seemed somewhat more in the land of the living, though he kept glaring at the prince--who delighted in smiling right back at him. “You’re lucky the rest of us were in no condition to fight, or you’d be dead by now,” Aragorn growled.
Casting wide, innocent eyes at the Ranger, Legolas protested, “I did warn you all, did I not? I warned you that none of you could meet my capacity!”
“One day I’ll see you in this state, and laugh at your suffering!”^
“Hah! Do not excite anticipation, Dunadan. There is not a mortal on the face of the earth who could drink me under the table!”^
A bell rang, signaling Lord Yalc’s readiness to begin. Only about thirty of Fompran’s soldier’s had been taken alive; the rest were dead or fled. Under the watchful gaze of Castellan Dersten, the guards led the prisoners before Lord Yalc. The young lord regarded them, his brown eyes thoughtful. “The families of the men lost to your forces think I should execute you all. For those deaths, the lost homes and livelihoods Haloel suffered, I would be well within my rights to do it.”
The soldiers exchanged anxious glances. Legolas, Aragorn, and the Halorrim observed Yalc as he deliberated their fate. Yalc’s eyes briefly met Legolas’s, and the elf smiled ever so slightly. He suspected he knew what the Lord of Haloel’s decision would be.
The young man spoke again. “All the same, I know you were acting under the orders of your superiors. They may have been highly unjust orders, but the decisions were theirs, not yours.” Gazing upon each of the men in turn, he continued, “So I will not order your deaths. I will not begin my rule here as the previous lord ended it: with bloodshed. Therefore the sentence of death is commuted. But,” his eyes narrowed, “nor will I permit the troubles you brought upon our people to go unpunished.”
The soldiers looked at each other. Yalc rose and proclaimed, “Haloel and her people are beginning a new life. But you shall not be a part of it. You shall all be escorted separately, with rations and gear, beyond our borders, and released. Any who attempt to return to Haloel or trouble our people shall receive the death sentence. If you are wise, you shall seek refuge elsewhere.” Nodding to Dersten, the lord of Haloel ordered, “Take them away. See that they are out of Haloel before sundown.”
Legolas and Aragorn exchanged a grin. The Halorrim had chosen well. After the soldiers had been removed, Dersten ordered, “Bring out the last prisoner!”
From outside the door, nasal cries of “Get your hands off me, peasants!” could be heard. Legolas covered his mouth to hide his laughter. The doors opened, and three guards hauled the loudly-protesting ex-lord Fompran into the Great Hall. When they halted him before Lord Yalc, the fat man cried, “Release me at once! I am the rightful Lord of Haloel, and I demand--”
“Be silent, Fompran, or I shall order you gagged!” Yalc snapped. One of the guards cuffed Fompran for good measure. Rising, Yalc gazed at the former lord with undisguised contempt. “You may have been ruler of Haloel by birthright, but your abuse of your power showed you unfit for the position.”
His face almost purple, Fompran screeched, “Who are you to question my methods, farmer?!”
One of the guards moved to strike him, but Yalc motioned the man back. Legolas noted with interest how automatically the guard obeyed the new lord. Yalc leaned across the table and said in a steely voice, “I was a citizen of Haloel then, entitled to have my voice heard. But you would not hear us. Now I am Lord of Haloel, and I shall decide what punishment those ‘methods’ of yours merit.”
“You’ve no right to judge--mmph!” this time the threat of gagging Fompran was carried out.
Calmly, Yalc said, “The wishes and needs of your people went unheard, Fompran. But I shall not make that mistake. Now your fate is in their hands.” Turning his gaze to the assembled Halorrim, the Lord announced, “This man’s decisions led to much suffering for all of you. In this case, I shall carry out whatever sentence you desire. If you seek his death, you shall have it. If you call for mercy, he shall have it. Take him back to his cell while his people decide his fate.” Squirming and grunting, Fompran was hauled out.
Yalc sat down and beckoned for the Halorrim to speak. One woman rose to speak first. “My husband is dead because of that man. An eye for an eye, I say, execute him!”
“Death’s too good for him!”
“What other punishment is there?”
“Lock him up forever!”
“I don’t want him in Haloel! And I sure don’t want us to have to feed him!”
“We could banish him, too.”
“Ha! I’d like to see him try to walk to another kingdom!”
A young man rose and said, “Lord Yalc is right; we should not begin our new life by shedding blood. Exile would be good enough for him.”
“Think he’d go?”
“Fompran’s a coward; he’d take any sentence if death was the only alternative.”
“Shall we vote on it then, Lord Yalc?”
The Lord inclined his head. “If that is how you wish to settle the matter, we shall have a show of hands. What shall the choices be?”
“Exile or death!” Judging by the cries of agreement, those seemed to be the only two options any wished to consider.
Yalc nodded. “Very well. Sarovin, if you would tally the score? The vote shall be for exile, or for death, or neither, if you choose not to participate at all.” The people nodded in turn. “All those who desire a sentence of death for Fompran, raise your hands.”
A few dozen hands went up and were duly counted by Sarovin. “All those who wish a sentence of exile, raise your hands.” This time there was a clear majority. Legolas and Aragorn noticed with interest that there seemed little rancor from those who had voted for the harsher punishment. Yalc maintained a neutral expression, but Legolas suspected he was much more at ease with this decision. “Bring in the prisoner, Dersten.”
Fompran was glaring daggers around him when the guards dragged him back in. Yalc stood up. “Your people have pronounced sentence, Fompran. You are to be exiled. Perhaps it is more merciful than you deserve, but such is their will. You shall be escorted beyond our lands, and released, to make your way wherever you choose, but never return here again.”
Folding his arms pompously, Fompran snarled, “And who’s going to stop me.”
“I am!” snapped Dersten, drawing his sword and resting the tip below the man’s chin.
Fompran gulped. Yalc smiled slightly. “The choice is entirely yours, Fompran. Exile, or death.”
Fompran’s eyes darted from Yalc to Dersten to Sarovin to the rest of the Halorrim. Even the most dense person could see that the threat was not made idly. The fat man gulped again, which everyone correctly took to mean he had chosen exile. Lord Yalc smiled again. “Dersten, escort our former lord out of our lands.”
“With pleasure, my lord!” Fompran was hustled out amid the gleeful jeers of his former subjects.
A week or two later…
Now came a parting much less looked forward to by the Halorrim. Yalc, Dersten, and Sarovin saw to it that Legolas and Aragorn had all the provisions and gear they would need, but on the day they were to depart, the leaders of Haloel made one last appeal to the travelers to change their minds.
In the privacy of Yalc’s study, the friends talked. “I had accepted that Master Legolas would have to leave us in time,” Yalc said. “But surely you might tarry a little longer,” he addressed Aragorn. “Haloel would greatly benefit from your leadership, my lord.”
Aragorn was obviously discomfited by Yalc and Dersten’s knowledge of his true identity. “I’m but an heir in exile, friend, I hardly rate that title.”
Yalc sighed inwardly, wishing he could think of a way to persuade the son of Arathorn to stay. The young lord of Haloel felt equally unprepared for the government of his people, but when called by them, he had not refused. Surely the rightful king of Gondor would feel some sense of duty during these uncertain times. Why then did he wander the wild when his people--all of them--needed him?
Sarovin was less adamant than the other two, but he said carefully, “There is much you could teach these people, Aragorn.”
His tone regretful, but firm, the Ranger replied, “Perhaps, or perhaps not so much as they would like to think. To build a strong province under its own rule, you are more than capable, Yalc. You know your people’s craft and trade, and you have their trust and faith. You do not need my help.”
Legolas remained quiet through much of the conversation, but listened with thoughtful gray eyes. Yalc wondered (as always) what was going on in that elf’s head. So many times, the young man had come across the prince standing alone upon the wall, his face turned eastward. Yet among company, Legolas’s bright eyes betrayed little of his mind. When Sarovin had learned of “Alagion’s” true identity, the ex-Ranger had laughed out loud, saying, “Now that explains a great many things!”
To Yalc, it only added to the mystery. Were all elves so inscrutable? Or was this Prince Legolas somehow different from others of his race? *I suppose until I have met another elf, it shall remain a mystery.*
But as for the other problem, no amount of persuading could convince Aragorn to remain in Haloel. After noon, the Ranger brought the discussion to a close. “I know you wish to argue further, my friends, but the road is long, and I should like to make a start before sunset.”
Exchanging resigned glances, Yalc, Dersten, and Sarovin rose. “Then we wish you a safe journey, Aragorn and Legolas,” said Yalc. “You have been true friends to us all. Come, we shall see you to the gates.”
It seemed that all of Haloel turned out to see their foreign heroes off. At the gates, the elf and Ranger clasped arms with Yalc, Dersten, Kartzel, and Sarovin in turn, then mounted their horses. “Farewell, Strider and Alagion!” Yalc declared (with a barely-perceptible wink.) “You shall always be welcome in Haloel!”
Waving to the Lord of Haloel, his council, and his cheering people, Aragorn and Legolas rode out of the castle gates and into the hills. The Halorrim watched until the two travelers were out of sight. “I hope they come back some day,” Kartzel said.
Yalc smiled. “Whether they come here again or no, somehow I don’t think that’s the last time we’ll be hearing of that particular elf and Ranger.”
The elf and Ranger in question rode until they were close to Haloel’s northern border, where the rolling hills began changing to the steeper foothills of the Misty Mountains. There they made camp upon an open hilltop as the sun set. Bringing some food to their campfire, Aragorn seated himself beside Legolas. “So, Master Elf, what do you intend to do now?”
“Do?” Legolas looked at the Ranger in confusion.
Aragorn grinned, “Well, you are hardly in my debt anymore. You are free to return home if you wish.”
The elf blinked, then chuckled. He had obviously become so used to being in Aragorn’s company that he had given the matter of his destination beyond Haloel little thought. A flicker of indecision--and doubt--showed in the prince’s bright eyes. Turning his gaze to the dark plains that stretched eastward beyond the hills, Legolas asked, “What do you intend to do?”
*Still being evasive--or perhaps you truly don’t know.* “I am returning home, to Rivendell. It has been some time since I have seen my father and brothers. I’ve no doubt you are welcome in the House of Elrond,” he added on impulse. *Since the longer we travel together, the better my chance of learning what drove you from Mirkwood, my friend.*
It pleased--but did not surprise--the Ranger when Legolas looked back at him and said, “I had no particular destination in mind, and I should be glad to see Imladris again.” With a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, the elf added, “So if you can bear to travel with me a little longer, I will accompany you.”
Aragorn laughed. “I will endure it somehow.” They both chuckled. Handing Legolas his share of meat, bread, and fruit for their dinner, Aragorn asked, “Are you well acquainted with my fa--that is, Lord Elrond?”
Legolas nodded. “I have often seen him on his visits to Mirkwood, and when I was last in Imladris.” Something in the elf’s tone told Aragorn that the prince was speaking to himself as well as his companion when Legolas murmured, “I should be glad to meet Lord Elrond again.”
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.