The Grey at the End of the World: 6. The Bride Price

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6. The Bride Price

 Haldar kept the secret. He was deeply troubled at Logi's folly, even tempted to be jealous – for no one till now had come between them as this girl had done!  Yet to betray Logi to their grandfather was unthinkable, so night after night on patrol he argued with his cousin, but in daytime he played unwilling sentry for the lovers.

Privately he thought the woman must be blind; he loved Logi and was used to him, but he could see the difference between him and the barbarian men. They were handsome giants, and the Orc by comparison was all the more ill-favored, like a man rough-hewn in stone. But Freiga gazed on him adoringly, as if Logi were the very pattern of perfection.
 
They no longer met by the spring; too apt to be discovered there, she said. She had begged a place for herself among the girls who herded horses - the warriors' mounts were guarded by boys too young for battle, but the older girls, as being more gentle, had care of the suckling mares. So she was in the pasture from early morn till dusk, and Logi joined her as soon as he woke each afternoon. They sat with arms entwined behind an ancient oak, its trunk broad enough to hide them, and Haldar perched in the branches high above. If anyone came near, he mimicked the warning cry of a jay, and Freiga strolled nonchalantly into the open while Logi dove for cover.

The Elf never spoke to Freiga. He could not like her; in truth, he wished she never had been born, before she so ensnared his cousin! And she on her part stared at him in awe, as if she doubted whether he could be real; indeed, she asked Logi in all seriousness if his friend were of mortal kind, and pouted when he laughed.

"But he's so fair and shining – if you told me his father was the Sun, I would believe you," she protested, and she was not certain Haldar wasn't a minor god, even when Logi reassured her.

"He's just my little brother – fair as an Elf, that's how he got his nickname, but nothing more."


Perhaps it made no difference in the end, that the Commander needed a message brought to the Mayor, and settled on Haldar for his emissary. If it had not been that, it would have been something else; the situation was ripe for tragedy.


"See you stay out of trouble while I'm gone! Can you live without the sight of her three days?" Haldar scolded, but in his heart he agonized, When have I seen him so happy, so full of life? Hang the girl that she will not leave her Tribe – she'd be so good for him, if only -
 
Logi chuckled and shoved him teasingly. "Make it two days, brother, and I'll try."


But the Mayor was not at home, and Haldar had to seek him out in Meadford, where he was overseeing the removal of Hobbits to Tuckborough. It was five nights before the Elf returned to Bridge Fort, and Osta caught him as he rode in the gate and rushed him away to Canohando without giving him time to put his horse in stable.


"Logi is missing." The Commander's voice was clipped, but his eyes gave him away: the grandson who most resembled him was very near his heart. "Captured and slain, probably, but – you know his ways better than anyone. Try and find him, Haldar, in case he is wounded and hiding, unable to get back."

Haldar stood at attention, feeling that if he relaxed a single muscle, he might fall over. "I will find him, Adah. Dead or living, I will find him."


Without warning his commander turned into his great-grandfather, massive arms crushing him against the barrel chest. "Be cautious, Haldar! It gnaws at me, fearing he is alone somewhere, in pain – but take no needless chances. I want you back safe, lad, more than I want his body."


Osta followed Haldar out. "Sleep a little first; you've been all day in saddle. I'll rouse you in an hour or so."


"No, I'll go at once. I couldn't sleep right now for worrying – when I can't stay awake, I'll curl up somewhere. Only make certain they care for my poor Brethil; she had a long run today."


He lost no time in random searching; he made a straight line for the pasture where Logi had been meeting his barbarian.


*****

"No," Freiga repeated, running her forefinger along Logi's browline, from his nose out to his temple. She started again in the middle, noticing how his eyebrows grew together, a single ridge as thick and soft as sable.


"No, you must come and ask my father for me, and give him my bride price."


"How if I give you this?" He reached back impulsively to unclasp the Queen's Jewel he wore, and fastened it round her neck. "There is no greater treasure in all the Shire."


She held it in her hand, marveling, turning it this way and that to catch the light. "How beautiful! But Logi, truly, I cannot leave my Tribe. We are one blood; we are like the bees of one hive – I would die apart from them." She touched his cheek, her fingers light as a butterfly on his skin. "You are different from your people; you are not like your sun-friend who keeps watch for us. Can you not join the Tribe and be my husband?"


He had not been able to stay away from her. For three days he had kept a rein on himself, had slept in the barracks and spent his afternoons shooting arrows at the practice butts, glowering on anyone who came near. But on the fourth day when Haldar did not return, he could bear it no longer. He went to the pasture and she was watching for him, she ran to him with an eagerness that told him more than words how she had missed him – he was giddy with elation and ready to dare anything to bind her to him.


"What is the bride price, then?"


"It is what a man gives the maiden's father, to buy her from him. Much game for feasting, or – an enemy." She faltered. "It must be paid in blood."


"There's precious little game left in these parts, with all your men out hunting! And your Tribe's enemies are my friends and comrades. Already I am traitor for giving you the Jewel – what would Adah do to me, if he knew?"
His voice was fierce, and she drew back, alarmed. "No, no, my love, my heart – we cannot be enemies, not you and I! Come away with me, Freiga – now, tonight!"
 
But all his persuasion, his arms around her and his earnest pleading, failed to move her. He was her love, her darling, she would have him for her husband – but among her own people. She was a daughter of the Tent Dwellers; their blood ran in her veins, her children would be of the Tribe –
 
He stopped her mouth with kisses, pressing her back against the ground. She didn't fight him, not till he lay atop her; then she struggled, but he was too strong. He knew he was unadept with words; his sword, his bow, spoke for him. Between her legs he would make his argument; he would prove she was no longer of the Tribe, she belonged to him…
 
It was dawn when he woke, and at first he was befuddled. He lay half under a bush on the naked ground, his garments all askew; it was several minutes before he remembered and looked around for Freiga, but she was gone.
 
He dragged himself upright, straightening his clothes. It had been afternoon when he came here, near dark when he took their quarrel into his own hands. How long since she had left him? He thought he remembered covering her with his cloak. He had taken her more than once.
 
It was not his first time. There had been women, when he went to Annuminas for the Summer Races, who for a few coins would let him do as he pleased, but never before had he forced himself on anyone. The memory of her resistance woke something dark in him that had been sleeping. He fingered his shoulder. She had bitten him, not teasing but in earnest; his flesh was ripped and smarting. He smiled, wetting his hand in the dewy grass to wipe the blood away.
 
His blood was a raging torrent; he was bursting with life, ferocious as a wild boar charging. He must have this woman; he would have her! He loved her as he had never loved before; he would die if he did not take her to wife, to bite and claw him through the wild dark hours, to bear him sons. If he must kill, so be it – involuntarily he felt his throat. The Jewel was gone; without it he felt bereft. Adah would not fail to note its absence when he came to morning council.
 
He had burnt his bridge behind him. There was no hope of lying to the Commander. When he was questioned he would have to tell the truth: he had given the treasure to a woman, a barbarian. If he could bring her to the fort with him, make Adah see – his grandfather might forgive him; his own love for Malatara was the stuff of legend.
 
If he could bring her. If she would leave the Tribe to cast her lot with him – but she would not. Why should she come to a beleaguered fortress, why leave the winning side? What hope was there to barricade the Shire against ten thousand enemies?
 
He had never understood Canohando's devotion to the Hobbits. He knew Adah would sacrifice every man of the Guardians, and his own life and even Malatara's, to hold the Shire secure, but it made no sense to Logi. They were such cabbage-headed creatures, poking about with their pumpkins and potatoes, filling the inns with smoke and beery laughter – he had visited the inn at Hobbiton, when Adah was at Bag End conferring with the Mayor. The Hobbits had gone silent when he entered, but after he sat quiet in his corner a while, drinking his ale, they forgot about him. They had gone back to burying their noses in their flagons, cracking jokes that seemed more silly than humorous, and shouting out drinking songs that were memorable only for their stupefying number of verses. 
 
He had asked Adah later why the Shire was so important. Canohando had answered with a long tale of Mordor and some Hobbit he had met there – Frodo, who had meant to cast a magic ring into a volcano but had his finger bitten off instead, and for some reason was a great hero because of it. At the end of the story Logi had been as much in the dark as ever, but too awed by his grandfather to ask more questions. Protecting the Shire was the Guardians' sacred charge, and had been for a thousand years. Logi was content with his life, his training in weapons and woodsmanship with Adah, his fellowship with Haldar. If he didn't entirely grasp the point of it all, it didn't seem to matter.
 
She will not come to Bridge Fort, and why should she? If I want her, I will have to join them.
 
Uncouth, uncivilized, clothed in skins and living in wretched little tents - I would sleep outside, even in winter! he thought disgustedly. But the warriors fascinated him; savage as wolves they seemed, and remembering the muted ferocity he had sensed as he spied on them from the dark, he felt the blood thrumming in his veins. Even the leathern helmets with antlers set in the sides – he wouldn't mind having one of those, and a bearskin over his shoulder for a cloak.
 
It doesn't matter. Only Freiga matters. He tipped back his head to stare into the vault of heaven, and thrust up his arm defiantly. "I will have her! Whatever it cost, even my right arm – as the sky hears me!"
 
But they would not demand his arm; even as he hurled his challenge, he was sure of that. He was a powerful warrior in his own right; he would be worth having. He turned his back on Bridge Fort and the Shire, striking out for the wilds. Blood, she said the price was. Let him start with a fat deer over his shoulder to carry into their camp. That would be a fair beginning.
 
*****
 
It took two days. The barbarians had hunted out the nearby territory; it came to Logi that the attack could not be postponed much longer, for how much provision could they be carrying with them? But this was his own country; he knew coverts that a stranger would never find, and he killed his deer at last, a fine doe. His grandfather would have lashed him with contempt, to take a doe this time of year when she likely had a fawn in the bush, but Logi closed his ears to the imagined scolding. The fawn would starve, and that was not his problem.
 
It was dusk when he came to the camp, and even his great strength was taxed at carrying the deer so far. Sweat ran down his forehead into his eyes, stinging them with salt, and he set one foot before the other doggedly, taking no trouble to walk silently or to slip past their watchmen. He strode unhindered right into the camp, and so amazed the sentries that he had an instant to stare around him, before they fell on him and knocked him to the ground, taking away his weapons.
 
They brought him to a chieftain lounging before his tent, surrounded by warriors with parlous faces; it appeared that Logi's coming had interrupted a council. But the chieftain smiled on him with seeming pleasure, although his eyes were hard as river pebbles.
 
"A guest!" he said. "From the fortress that lies across the Road – have I got that right?"
 
The voice was guttural, the accent hard to understand, but Logi inclined his head. Both his arms were pinioned, a warrior on either side of him, but he stood erect and met the chief's eyes boldly. He wanted entrance to this Tribe; he wanted one of its women – he must show himself worthy.
 
"I bring you a gift, O Chief. Doubtless even now your men prepare it for the fire."
 
The chieftain laughed gratingly. "A gift, is it?" He nodded at Logi's captors to loose his arms. "Sit down, Greyface, and tell me why you honor me with gifts."
 
Logi sat cross-legged on the ground, his back very straight. "Game is scarce," he said.
 
The man smiled all the wider. "And so you bring us meat, that we do not hunger! You have a great sense of hospitality, soldier of the fort, more than all your comrades. Is it a free gift, or do you desire some return?"
 
Logi schooled his face to friendliness, returning smile for smile, while his heart bumped coldly in his chest. He did not like this man; something about the chieftain turned his stomach, like a fish left dead and white at river's edge after spring thaw. Dead and stinking. With an effort he fought down his revulsion.
 
"The women of your Tribe are very fair."
 
The men standing behind the chief began to grin, but the headman nodded solemnly. "Our women are fair and strong, mothers of many sons. Do you not have such women among your own people?"
 
"There is one more fair than all the rest," said Logi.
 
"There is always one more fair, to a man's eye. Do you see her here, soldier?"
 
Logi had been glancing about surreptitiously; now he looked openly. "I do not see her," he said at last. "Her name is Freiga."
 
"You have had speech with her."
 
When Logi nodded, the man leaned forward so his fetid breath was warm in the Orc's face. "I think you have had more than words with that filly. She returned two nights ago long after her companions, with a strange ornament around her neck. We guard the honor of our women, Greyface."
 
"Her honor is safe with me, Grandfather. I would have her to wife. I brought you the deer for bride price."
 
The man laughed full in his face, and those around him roared their mirth, slapping each other's backs.
 
"You do not value our women high enough. A man does not hunt alone to pay the bride-price; he takes all his brothers and his father's brothers with him, to kill meat for the whole camp. For the price of one deer you may kiss the tip of her little finger – but I take oath you have done more than that already."
 
Logi raised his chin arrogantly. "I have no brothers to hunt with me, O Chief. Name what price you will accept." He thought, or I will steal her out from underneath your nose, but had wisdom enough not to say it.


"I think you know the price," the chieftain said. "Will you ride with us, bleed and die with us, against your kinsmen? We do not give our women away to strangers; you must be one of us."


"Give me Freiga, and I will be one with you, against the Guardians." The words came cold as iron from Logi's mouth; grief snatched at his breath, to swear away Haldar and his grandfather, but his voice was steady.


"You must seal that vow with death, this very night, to one of your own people." The chief got to his feet; standing, he was a head taller than Logi. "When you have killed, I myself will bind you to the girl."


"I will bring you his head in proof." Logi turned away, anxious to return to the fort and do it, to have the terrible deed behind him. And then she would be his. Once the price was paid, he would be free to enjoy the love for which he would desecrate every other loyalty. But before he could take a step, his arms were caught and forced behind his back.


"Not so fast," the chieftain purred. "There is no need for you to go; we have a captive here already, taken this morning creeping round our camp. His death is the bride price."


Logi's mouth went dry. Captured here? Someone come searching for him when he did not return? He let them pull him through the camp to its very center, where an open space had been left with tent circles all around it. Torches mounted on tall poles surrounded the area. There should by rights have been a campfire in the middle; instead there was a wooden stake, and someone bound to it.


Haldar.


The Elf struggled weakly, trying to break free, when he caught sight of Logi. "I did not betray you!" he cried. He was naked, and even in the torchlight Logi could see the marks of the whip. His eyes were blacked and there was caked blood on his forehead.
 
"He speaks the truth," the chieftain said. "We thought to have him lead us to you, but he is very stubborn. Yet in the end there was no need, was there, Greyface? You got the taste of honey in your mouth and came to ask for more. Now you must pay for your pleasure."
 
Logi was silent, his throat squeezed shut as he saw how Haldar sagged against his bonds, as if without their support he would have fallen. A great heap of dry brush was piled around him, nearly to the hips. A pile of cut logs stood ready to one side.
 
 The chieftain bared his teeth, wolf-like. "He is bound and ready. You would have the woman? You have but to light the fire and dance around it."
 
"And what if I will not?"
 
The chieftain laughed as if it were a good joke. "Then we will cut him loose, and we will strip you bare as he is. If you can fight your way out of the camp without garment or weapon, you may go; we will not pursue you."
 
"Water, give me water," Haldar rasped. Logi saw how he braced himself against the stake, trying to stand firm on trembling legs, readying himself to fight when Logi said the word. He was near collapse; he would never fight his way clear. If they loosed him he would be cut down before he took three steps.


There was a cry, quickly muffled, outside the ring of torches, and Logi looked that way. Freiga stood with her hands pressed up against her mouth, an older woman gripping her by the shoulders as if to hold her back. Across the space between them he met her eyes, huge and dark with fear.
 
He heard his own words from afar, as if someone else had spoken.
 
"I will pay." He stepped forward, averting his gaze from the stake, and someone thrust a burning brand at him.
 
"Logi!" That was Haldar, shrill with horror.
 
"You would die anyway! Why should we both perish?" Logi made himself look into Haldar's bloodless face as he plunged the fire deep into the kindling. "Die bravely, brother!"
 
The flame caught and spread. Haldar writhed away, but the fire followed him, and the men nearby caught up pieces of wood and piled them on the blaze, which grew in intensity and leaped around him. He screamed.
 
The chieftain had taken Logi by the arm as soon as he dropped the torch, dragging him into a slow shuffle around the stake, warriors carrying spears and swords falling in line behind them. They had started a low, rumbling chant that made the hairs rise on the back of the Orc's neck. Then Haldar screamed, and Logi broke away, snatching a sword from the hand of the man behind him.
 
"Die!" he shrieked, and plunged into the fire, driving his blade home under his cousin's ribs. Haldar gave a groaning cry, falling against his ropes, and Logi dodged back, his front hair singed and an angry burn running the length of his arm. Men charged at him from every side, but he held them off.
 
"Light the fire and dance – that was the price!" His sword whirled in a deadly arc, now before him, now on either side, and the warriors drew back. "Dance with me, if you dare!"
 
Alone, twisting this way and that lest anyone come behind him, he pranced around the fire. It leaped higher and higher, those nearby feeding it from the heap of wood, but there were no more cries of anguish. Only the roar of flames disturbed the silence, and the tramp of feet on hard ground as one man after another joined Logi, stamping and turning, thrusting with their weapons at invisible foes. When the flames began to slacken, when the pile of logs was gone, Logi left the circle and went to stand by Freiga.
 
"Dance with me," he ordered.
 
She raised her hands and with quick fingers unplaited her hair, shaking it out over her shoulders like a veil. Then she drew a short dagger and held it in her hand, linking her other arm with his. He led her back into the circle, and together they danced around the dying fire, the sword in his right hand and the dagger in her left, their free arms intertwined.
 
The warriors backed away, and the chieftain began a steady pounding with the butt of his spear against the ground. Others took up the rhythm, and a wordless chant swelled in the darkness.
 
For long and long they danced, until even the coals of the death-fire had darkened and the only light came from a pallid moon. Then Freiga led Logi away to the edge of the circle, and the warriors let them through. She brought him to a tent on the far side of the camp, not the one where he had seen her first, and after they were inside, she let fall the flap that covered the entrance.
 
But when morning came, while Logi was yet sleeping, the chieftain had Haldar's clothes and weapons retrieved from the warriors who had taken them in plunder, and he gave them to a messenger to be carried to the Bridge.
 
"Keep your distance – throw them down and shout. Tell them how the Grey One lit the fire. His own people will hunt him down, if they are men."
  

 


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.

Story Information

Author: jodancingtree

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/07/06

Original Post: 06/22/05

Go to The Grey at the End of the World overview

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