1. The Finest of Vintages
The elf tastes the sample I offer him and wrinkles his nose in disgust. I count to three, reminding myself I need to cater to the Wood-elves’ trade. Without them, I would sell far less wine here in Esgaroth. He is the leader of the small group come to buy from me today, so I must try to be deferential despite his overbearing attitude. When my husband still lived, they were noticeably more polite to him. Apparently, they do not feel the need to treat his widow as decently, despite my inheriting his wine business.
“What kind is this?” he demands.
“It is a dry white wine made from Cascade grapes, crisp and clean,” I reply patiently.
“Too dry and crisp, lady—King Thranduil prefers his wines red, rich and sweet. Have you any more barrels of the wine of Dorwinion? That is His Majesty’s very favorite vintage to serve at feasts, as you well know.”
“I have only four barrels of it in my stock, and they are already bespoken by a merchant here who wishes to celebrate his daughter’s marriage in style, now that the dragon is dead.”
The elf raises an eyebrow—odd how such a little thing can convey such arrogance. “And has this man paid you for them yet?”
I pause for a second. “No, he has not,” I concede reluctantly.
“Then I daresay you can advise him that those with gold in hand purchased them, and that he will have to serve another wine at the wedding feast.”
“Especially since you will be in still more trouble if you cannot replace what the guards drank up—isn’t that right, Galion? Not to mention how those dwarves made rather a fool of you and the guards too,” says one of his companions with droll wit. Galion flushes angrily as I stifle a tiny smile. The story of the dwarves’ escape from the Elvenking’s dungeons has spread, and been a source of mirth for those of us tired of the elves’ stiff-necked pride.
“Well, woman, shall you sell the barrels to us?” he demands.
I look him up and down, making him flush again. “I might,” I say carefully, measuring my words, “but then again, I would be more inclined to do so if you could muster a little courtesy when you ask me.”
“You find me impolite? We can always take our trade elsewhere and spare you our rudeness then,” he snaps.
I open my mouth, on the verge of succumbing to the urge to tell him to be gone, but a smooth voice cuts into the conversation before I can speak.
“Come now, Galion, there is no need to use such harsh language with a lady.”
I turn to the speaker in surprise. He is the one fair-haired elf in the group, with a much younger looking face than his friends as well. He also is the handsomest being I have seen in many a moon, elf or man, with brilliant blue-grey eyes. My age does not prevent my heart from beating a touch faster as he bows his head to me. I tell myself not to be a silly goose and return the salute. He gives me a charming smile as he speaks again; I am glad to see Galion beating a rapid retreat from us.
“Surely, mistress, there is some way we can resolve matters to our mutual benefit. You wish to sell wine, and we wish to buy. I understand that you must please your other customers, but we are the ones who buy the largest numbers of barrels from you each month. I have no desire to end our connection with you because of some unnecessary high-handedness.” He smiles afresh; I begin to suspect he is deliberately seeking to cozen me, but decide to play along for the time being.
“And I thank you for that, my kind sir. But the merchant is an old friend of my late husband’s, and not easily disappointed. I should hate to end my friendship with him over this, merely to satisfy another customer’s passing whims and worries.” I wait to see how he answers that.
“Too true, but I can assure you that my father’s passion for Dorwinion wine is no idle fancy, and that we will pay you very well if you sell it to us,” he says with studied casualness.
I stare at him. “Your father?” I ask, startled.
He gives me another bow, far more sweeping than the first. “Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood, at your service, lady. King Thranduil is indeed my adar, and it would make him very happy to drink your wine—he has always thought highly of the quality of your goods, I promise you.”
I am astonished, for I did not imagine that the King’s own son would come to Esgaroth on such an errand, though I have heard something of him from the younger women here, so I ought not to be surprised at it. I had dismissed their sighs over his looks as girls’ vaporings, but I can see now they were not exaggerating. I give myself another mental shake, for I am too old to let my head be turned by anyone’s pretty face, elven prince or not—I have a business to run, after all. I cock my head and think for a moment.
“It might be possible,” I say slowly, “to compromise by selling you two barrels of the Dorwinion, and keeping the other two for my friend. I could then guarantee you the very first selection from my new shipment.”
“And that is due when?”
“In two weeks.”
He is silent, and then says, “That will suit, I believe . . . it is not likely we will drink both barrels before then. What is your price?”
“Ninety gold pieces for each, for it is a rare wine and difficult to obtain.”
“So I have been told before. Fair enough.” He motions to Galion, who hands him a bulging purse. He pulls out the coins without a murmur, placing them in my hands firmly. I slide them into my placket, ignoring the weight. He gestures at some of the barrels of Cascade wine and clears his throat delicately.
“As a further favor to me, might you consider including one or two of these in the price for the others? Unlike my adar, I do enjoy white wines.”
“I don’t know . . .” I say dubiously. “That would be quite a favor, for I normally get thirty gold pieces a barrel for them.”
“Ten pieces each, perhaps?” His smile is even more dazzling than earlier, and I finally capitulate, worn out by the effort to resist his charm.
“Very well, that would be fine.”
He gives me the additional coins, and then all the elves, including Prince Legolas, roll the barrels down the dock to the raft they sailed along the lakeshore. I watch as they lash them to the boards with rope, arranging them to balance the load. The prince says something inaudible to the others, and hurries back to me.
“I thank you profusely, mistress. I shall be returning in two weeks to conduct more business with you.” He takes my hand and bows again; I blush like a fool.
“I look forward to selling wine to you again, Your Highness,” I say, ducking my head to mask my burning cheeks.
He bounds onto the raft, and they cast off, pushing with long poles. I admire the ripple of muscles in Prince Legolas’ back, and find myself hoping he does return soon. I may have silvered hair and a plump body, but even an old widow can dream, can’t she?
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.