A Tale from the Wilderland by KyMahalei|
Summary: In which Tamara receives a gift to hold in her hand, and Legolas receives a gift to hold in his heart.
Disclaimer: My thanks to Tolkien. I own neither the places nor the characters, save for the folk of the village.
Maldora, my friend. Best wishes for midwinter blessings. Thank you so much for closing the door tightly. I’m afraid the wood has warped a bit, which can make it difficult to latch. Are you here for a wine tasting, or is there something else I can help you with? Here, here don’t stay standing. Let me take your cloak and come and sit by the fire. We have several fine wines that might meet with your approval. My Pappy has a new mulled wine that will warm even the coldest guest.
I am Tamara, daughter in the house of Truste. Our village is not so grand as Lake Town, but you have no doubt heard that we have the very best of the Dorwinion wines to offer you. Let me get some samples for you to try. I can also get one of my brothers if you like, although I must tell you I have been sampling wine since I was three and I can identify every drop of wine bottled by my father since. Come, now. These first wines I will show you are best served with a meal. I’ve got some fine aged cheese and bread here that will serve you well.
There. What say you? Can you taste the ripeness of the grapes in this? There is a robust fruitiness that is just a shade of being too sweet to serve with meals. It will favor most game, although I might suggest a darker wine for the richer meats. Take a slice of cheese, now. Doesn’t that blend in well with the flavor of the wine? Oh I am sorry, I didn’t mean for my ring to dangle in your face like that. I got this ring from Legolas, a friend from the Elvin realm.
Ha, you look at me as though I tease you, but I do not. It was given me many years ago by the Lord Prince of Mirkwood. No, it is not a fairytale, though it seemed like one at the time. Here, let me pour you a full goblet of this lighter wine and keep you company whilst you savor the flavor. Let me tell you the story and you can decide for yourself the truth of my words. Take up the cup now, and I will begin.
The sky arched blue and warm over the meadows and woodlands near the village. Its open expanses were marred only by wisps of white clouds and the sporadic flights of sparrows and songbirds. The Celduin River creased the edges of the meadows and terraced grape fields, making a slow wide meander in its course. The quiet of the morning rested lightly upon the land, even the village was quiet, save for the snapping of the laundry as it was put on the line, and the occasional fussing of the chickens as they scratched for their breakfast. The men and older children were rounding out a morning of labor in the vineyards. The very youngest children were napping or slung close to the bodies of their mothers as they worked.
Tamara, Dolne and Mika had not yet crossed ten summers. They were not yet old enough to work daily with the vines, but they were far too old to be held. They gathered in a wide nest of tall grass that had been stomped into submission by older siblings. It was Dolne’s young voice that disrupted the quiet.
“I am so supposed to be the elf!” he cried, stamping his foot for emphasis, “Elves are always boys and I am the boy here.
“No, you are wrong,” protested Tamara, “My Mam says there are both boys and girl elves, else how could they have babies?” She held a worn rag doll close to her chest.
“An elf baby?” echoed Mika, the youngest by several years, her brown eyes growing wide, “Oh, Tamara, wouldn’t that be lovely?”
Dolne saw the play with his two friends slipping towards another boring game of playing house. “Let me be the elf,” he bantered quickly, “Tamara can be the wine mistress and Mika, you can be the mam peering through the curtains.”
“Can I please hold your baby?” asked Mika her older sister in her most grown up voice. Tamara relented.
“I get to wear the lordly coat,” Tamara said, pretending to put said article around her shoulders with a flourish. “And I get a pad and quill. And,” Tamara said with a grand gesture, I get to hold the tray of golden wine tasting cups.”
A look of jealousy flickered across Mika’s face. “They aren’t really gold,” she protested.
“But they are made of glass.” Retorted Tamara firmly. “Dolne, Dolne are you ready?”
But Dolne’s eyes had turned to something else. He was standing at the edge of the trampled grass looking far across the field to where the road lay. Two figures on horseback could be seen working their way along the road. Even at his young age, Dolne knew the gait of all of the horses in the village, and the magnificent beasts drawing closer were certainly not local. The riders were also markedly different that the sturdy folk of the village. Sunlight gleamed off the golden hair of one, a marked contrast to the dark hair of his companion.
“Elves,” breathed Dolne. “Tamara, they have come!”
From the distance he stood, Dolne could not see the faces of the elvin folk, nor the delighted smile that graced the fairest of them. He could just barely hear their voices tumbling musically into one another as they spoke.
Tamara stood behind Dolne and watched the elves approach. “Quickly, Dolne. I know of a way that we can watch the tasting ceremony if you are willing. Mika, you can come too, if you can be quiet.” The three scrambled from their nest and took a back way to Tamara and Mika’s house which was built snugly behind the tasting parlor. Tamara’s mother had just finished hanging the wash on a clothesline strung across the tiny courtyard behind the house. The children paused, waiting for the woman’s back to be turned, then scurried inside and up the stairs.
“Look here,” said Tamara breathlessly as she reached the top of the stairs. She lay on her stomach on the landing. If she was careful she could lift her head and shoulders and peer down into the great room below. “If we are quiet we can see everything that happens, but nobody can see us.”
“Your mam will see us if she comes this way,” protested Dolne, following Tamara’s example.
“She will be needed as hostess,” said Tamara reassuringly. “Here Mika, lie on your belly and set your baby down here.”
It seemed an eternity before Tamara heard her mam rush into the back door. She could hear the heavy bolt being set into place. There was a pause, then a sturdy knock on the great front door. Tamara heard her father moving in the office, but it was her mam who hurried to the door, adjusting her apron and smoothing her dark hair as she went. The heavy door creaked open slowly. The three children lifted their heads as far as they dared. Mam’s figure filled the entrance to the cloak room.
“Welcome my lords,” said Mam deferentially, moving gracefully through a deep curtsy. “Won’t you come in?”
The children heard the sounds of welcome and of cloaks being removed.
“Set your bows here, “ said Mam, “You may leave your other weapons here as well, at your discretion.”
“Thank you, lady, “ said a gentle voice, “my knives rest best where they are.”
Dolne glanced at Tamara as the great oaken bolt was set across the front door. “Watch,” she mouthed to Dolne, hiding her own uneasiness. She had not known that this was to be a private session. Closed tastings were for only the best of her father’s customers. Great quantities of wine to be sold meant great riches would be exchanged, and her father went out of his way to secure the house and shop for such occasions. Tamara chewed nervously on her lower lip. It would not go well for her if they were caught.
Finally, Mam moved aside, allowing the two elves entrance. The children’s eyes widened in amazement at the two graceful figures that moved into the room. They were so tall and beautiful. The one was of fair complexion , with shining hair that shimmered between silver and gold. His eyes travelled around the room as he entered, but did not falter as they skimmed the balcony where the children lay. His eyes sparkled in their blueness, his face held a look of pleasantness, neither a smile nor a frown graced his lips. His tunic was simple, of deep forest green with fine gold filigree tracing graceful patterns along the front and sleeves. The back of the tunic could not be seen, for the elf carried two ivory handled knives in sheaths between his shoulder blades. His companion was no less striking. His hair was darker, though the light filtering in through the glass in the great room windows drew out subtle rainbows of deep blue and red gold within. He did not wear the knives as the first elf did, and his countenance was more open, less guarded. His eyes also traced their way around the room, but his gaze swept along the walls, lined with bottles and bottles of the finest of the Dorwinion wines. A ghost of a smile teased at his mouth, and his gray eyes crinkled with pleasure. It was he who spoke first.
“Mae govannen, good day, Amelda. The last twenty years have been kind to you. Your father never did have that son?”
“No, Lord Galion,” said Mam, lowering her eyes, “Pappy knew I loved the business, so after I married Truste he trained us both to carry on.”
“You are like your great grandmother in that way,” said the elf smiling. Dolne and Tamara looked sharply at one another. It was well known that the elves visited only once every twenty years a month before midsummer, but this elf sounded like he had been here many times before. How old did elves get to be?
“I will remind you that I am no lord,’ Galion was saying to Mam, “but allow me to present my lord Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of Mirkwood.”
Mam curtsied again, and Prince Legolas bowed.
“Would it please you to be seated?” asked Mam formally, gesturing to two comfortable chairs with a small table between. “Allow me to get you some refreshment and fetch the master.”
As Galion and Legolas seated themselves, Mam walked to the shelves that lined the side wall of the great room. She took down the rosewood tray and two real glasses. The real glasses were nearly priceless in the community, and only the most valuable customers were invited to drink from them.
“What pleases you to begin, my lords?” asked Amelda
Galion gave her a dazzling smile. “A small glass of your choosing,” he said graciously, then looked at his companion, realizing that the prince should have spoken first.
“That will be fine,” said Legolas.
“Let me offer you a sample of this,” suggested Mam, “five years old, and smooth and rich.” She filled the two glasses expertly, and quickly assembled a small plate of cheese and bread. That delivered, she left the room.
“Decorum dictates that we enjoy this glass of wine in solitude,” Galion informed the prince, speaking quietly, “and then Master Truste will arrive to begin the tasting.”
“Does decorum dictate that we are locked in until we strike a bargain?” asked Legolas, “the thought unsettles me.”
“Relax, Legolas, I’ve been here dozens of times. Customs change, but we have always bartered well for the very finest produce of the Dorwinion vineyards. Now take a minute to enjoy this. Sip the wine slowly and let it lace across your tongue.”
“I’ve had wine before, Galion,” protested Legolas,
“But a wine tasting is an amazing experience. First you must swirl the wine a bit and hold the glass to the light thus to see if there be any offending sediment in it. You inhale the air above the wine so, to savor and determine the nuances of the aroma, and to prepare your tongue for the experience of tasting. Then you sip, allowing the sweetness of the wine to find the tip of your tongue, and the fruitiness to be found along the ridges or sides of the tongue. Then you –“
“This is obviously your expertise and not mine,” countered Legolas dryly, “I shall be glad to follow your lead, Lord Galion.” Both elves chuckled at the title. Galion was wine steward of the Halls of the Elvenking in Mirkwood and had no aspirations to be lord of anything. “With luck we will conclude negotiations in a single session. I do not mind visiting the world of Men for a short time, but I will be glad to see this done and turn our sights homeward.”
“I’m afraid I don’t share your aversion to Men,” sighed Galion, who had hoped for several days of sampling Dorwin’s finest.
Legolas smiled ruefully, “I harbor no ill will, Galion, but I agree with my father when I say that they are a temperamental lot, and are best kept at a distance.”
The children watched the conversation with rapt attention, drawn to the beauty of the tone and cadence.
“I like the music of their language,” whispered Dolne as quietly as he could.
“The fair one doesn’t look very happy,” commented Tamara in response.
“They didn’t bring a baby,” sighed Marta, not to be left out.
There was a stirring in the hallway, and the children quieted. Truste entered, followed by his wife. He was indeed wearing the lordly coat, a beautiful but ancient article of finely spun wool. Its dark bodice was trimmed with silver piping, and several buttons made of silver graced the front. Truste was a little tall for the coat, but Tamara thought that he looked quite fine in it. She was proud of her Pappy, and eager to see how he would ply his trade.
It would take many words and much time to record all that transpired over the rest of that long morning and into the early afternoon, and the children began to regret their decision to spy upon the session. Mika was compliant and did not stir; in fact she napped for several of the hours of negotiations. Tamara was tempted several times to confess her transgression, but was stopped by the thought of the punishment she would receive if she were caught. Dolne found himself entranced by the whole experience. He had never seen a tasting before and was mesmerized by all that the elves said and did. He did not stir and would gladly have stayed all night if such was required of him.
As it was, afternoon was well underway before the session was drawing to a close. More than a dozen bottles had been open for Galion’s willing perusal. He and Truste had thoroughly enjoyed discussing the finer points of Dorwinion vintage. Legolas had not spoken much nor partaken of much of the wine; if Galion was falling under the heady influence of the drink, well, it was to a good cause. For himself, he thought it wise to keep his own head clear.
The threat of a midsummer thunderstorm had dimmed the light from the windows, so Amelda had lit several lamps. She had been busy for most of the session fetching different bottles for her husband, keeping the plate filled with cheese and bread, and offering occasional words of insight or encouragement.
Tamara was starting to doze herself when Galion stood suddenly and unwrapped a wide belt from around his waist. The tasting was over and it was time to discuss payment. Tamara felt Marta stir beside her. Both girls gazed down upon the scene as Galion carefully set the belt on the table and unfolded the cloth.
A handful of beautifully cut jewel stones, some red, some blue and some crystal clear glimmered in the lamplight. There were several matching brooches, too, with deep green stones set in gold and worked by elvin craftsmen into things of beauty. By far the most beautiful was a ring fashioned of gold and trimmed with a shiny silver metal of a brilliant luminescence that could only be mithril. The children, of course, did not know the true value of the ring, but they were not immune to the call of its beauty.
Truste was drawn to the beauty of the ring as well. He paused in his banter as he considered the piece.
“May I hold it?” he asked, humbly. Galrion nodded and gingerly, Truste lifted the ring and set it upon his palm. “It is a thing of beauty.”
“We are negotiating twenty years of the best Dorwinion wine, “ Galion reminded his host, “Though that one piece is worth twice the others put together, I included it for your consideration.”
“It is a magnificent ring,” whispered Amelda, admiring its beauty as it rested in her husband’s hand. “But we could never sell such a thing for income. There is none in these parts who could afford to pay for it.”
Truste smiled at his wife. “It would not be for selling, my Amelda. Here, let me see if it would fit on your finger. Tenderly, he grasped his wife’s hand and slid the ring onto the middle finger. It fit perfectly. Amelda smiled and looked at her husband. “Your thoughtfulness is noted, husband,” she said with a smile as she took the ring from her finger, setting it back with the other things. “Now we must look to business.”
Suddenly, Legolas rose from his place, swiftly unsheathing his knives as he did so. “Put those jewels away, Galion. We are done here.”
“Legolas, what is it?” asked Galion, quickly folding the jewels into the belt.
“Is it your custom, master Truste, to have spies watching our negotiations?” Legolas’ voice was low and even.
Truste looked at the prince in shocked confusion, “There are no spies, my lord, the doors are locked and none have entered since you came this morning.” he stammered.
Legolas gazed towards the landing, “There are three on the landing up there. They have been there all day, I believe. Please invite them to come down.”
Amelda put her hand to her mouth, “The children, Truste, they were playing in the field this morning. Could they have slipped in without my notice?”
Tamara had ducked when Legolas had spoken, so she did not see the anger smoldering in her father’s eyes. “Tamara, Dolne and Mika, come now,” said Truste, with just a hint of emphasis on the last word. “I would like to present you to our guests.”
Galion looked at the prince, unsure whether to be alarmed or amused. If Legolas had come to battle ready on account of three Men children, he would be hard put to live it down. On the other hand, if there really were spies…
Galion’s quandary was resolved shortly with the sound of small footsteps on the stair. Sheepishly three younglings came into the room.
Absently, Legolas spun the blades in his hands and set them back in their sheaths. He was relieved to be wrong, but he found little merit in lightening his countenance. The darkening of the sky outside made him feel the closeness of the room all the more. He was decidedly not comfortable being locked in the building with his human hosts, and now the addition of three children to the mix just added to his uneasiness.
Galion had not served in the Elvinking’s house without becoming sensitive to the needs of the royal family. He sensed Legolas’ discomfort and moved at once to allay it. “It has been a long afternoon, Winemaster, and we have travelled far. Perhaps we should resolve these negotiations tomorrow?”
“Of course,” said Truste, his smile stopping short of his eyes. “Perhaps you will come again in the morning?”
Galion bowed acquiescence. Carefully, he folded the cloth and wound the wallet of jewels around his waist. The children watched openmouthed as the adults made their way to the cloakroom.
“My pappy is going to be so angry, “ whispered Tamara, looking very worried indeed, after her father left the room. Dolne could only nod dumbly in agreement. “Maybe it would be better for us not to be here for awhile,” she continued. She stretched her hand out to Mika, who had crawled beneath the table to play. “Come on, Mika, we had best deliver Dolne to his home.”
Mika reached out to grab Tamara’s hand. “I don’t want to go yet. Maybe the elves will be back.”
“They won’t be back today, Mika,” said Dolne, “and they are angry because we were spying on them.”
“I wasn’t spying,” said Mika, “I was taking a nap.”
Dolne thought it best not to argue, but the idea of leaving Tamara to take the blame for their behavior didn’t sit well with him either. His mam was going to go hard on him once she heard about what happened this day. It would go twice as hard on him if he went home and allowed his friend to take the punishment alone. “I’ll stay with you,” he said firmly.
Quickly the children slipped into the back room and lifted the bolt that barred the door. They took a moment to close the door behind themselves, and then they were on their way.
In spite of the fact that it relieved him greatly to be outdoors again, Legolas had second thoughts about his decision to leave almost as soon as they left the house. The smell of rain coming was unmistakable. The clear sky had become misted in gray and several thunderheads were forming on the horizon. Although a steady rain was no more than an inconvenience to a wood elf, the initial downpour could be quite uncomfortable.
Galion looked at the prince. “Let’s go to the stables and see if we can’t stay with the horses until the edge of this weather has passed.” The two elves walked to the town livery and let themselves inside. A young stable boy quickly showed them to the ample stalls where Bergereth and Amindel were waiting. Legolas quickly sat himself on the fence that ran round the stall. Galion was content to sit on a stray bale of hay.
“Well, what did you think of the tasting?” asked Galion at last.
“I think I am glad that you are wine master and I am not. I have a new appreciation for your task, Galion. You must have sampled a full score of wines this afternoon. How many of them will wind up on our tables?”
Galion smiled, “Actually, we take such a large percentage of their business that we shall have most of those wines in the final tally. I was surprised that you did not partake of more of what was offered.”
“I came as a warrior and bodyguard,” replied Legolas, “I did not think it wise to follow you into your cups. Besides, I found the behavior of the humans was too odd for comfort. Tell me, for example, why Truste never drank his own wine? He would simply taste it and then spit it into that large vase.”
Galion laughed, “He had no desire to become drunk with so much business at stake, Legolas. I find that bit revolting too.”
“Which is why you simply drank every sample?” asked Legolas, raising his eyebrows, “Are you sure that your business sense is not impaired?”
“I can hold my wine better than most,” defended Galion, a broad grin gracing his face, “in my line of work, that is a prerequisite.”
“Are you saying you are not at all impaired by the amount of wine you drank today?” asked Legolas, noting for the first time that his friend was seated firmly near the ground.
“Not at all, I’m just saying that my business sense is not impaired. I’ve made this journey often enough that I know exactly what needs to be done, and with your able, although perhaps a bit misguided protection, I feel quite safe enough to thoroughly enjoy all the sensations that drinking good Dorwinion wine has to offer. I may have had a bit more than my usual limit, but at least I did nothing to embarrass myself, eh, Legolas?”
Legolas flushed with discomfort. “There was no way to know that it was children on that landing. I had heard breathing up there when we came in, but I though perhaps it was a dog watching over us. The more I thought about it, the more unlikely that seemed. I had no idea you decided to bring the mithril ring or I would have been on even higher alert.”
Galion laughed, “You didn’t even think children were a possibility? We were among humans, my friend. They always have lots of children and they keep them close at hand.”
“I have no cause to know a great deal about humans,” retorted Legolas, “especially their offspring. They are well enough in their place, but unlike you, I have no cause to become better acquainted with their odd idiosyncrasies.”
“Oh, now you are being too harsh,” pleaded his friend, “You knew that at the end of this journey we would be spending time in a town with humans. Why did you come if you did not want to become better acquainted with Men?”
“I love the travel,” conceded Legolas, “and I am not greatly adverse to humans, but up close they seem so intense and, well different. It is true, too, what they say about the smell.” Legolas wrinkled his nose, “I felt rather trapped when we were locked in with five of them.”
Galion laughed out loud, “I can’t believe this is the Prince of Mirkwood talking. Is this really your first time in a human dwelling?”
Legolas’ silence affirmed that it was.
“Look,” said Galion, knowing that he had touched the limits of propriety, “If you would rest easier, I will not breathe a word of what happened today to anyone. Why don’t we make our way back to the campsite now? It looks as though our thunderstorm is still a ways off, and I’d like to divert to that meadow we passed on the way in and see if we can’t find some meat for supper.”
Legolas finally smiled, “I take you at your word, wine master, but if it is hunting game you are considering, allow me the privilege. In your current condition, you might shoot yourself in the foot.”
Galion just laughed again. In companionable silence the two elves led their horses from the stable and rode from the town.
At first Dolne was content to let Tamara lead them where she may, but as they bypassed his house and then passed the last of the houses in the village, he began to get nervous. “Tamara, where are we going?” he finally asked.
“Well, it’s like this, “explained Tamara, “When my Pappy finds that I have left, he is likely to call for me. If he calls for me and I hear him, then I must obey and come to him. But if I can’t hear him, then I won’t disobey him and it will go easier for me in the end. Trust me. I know my Pappy.”
“I do trust you,“ said Dolne, “I just don’t trust your sideways ideas. How far do you figure we need to walk to get out of earshot?”
“Oh, we have to go pretty far,” said Tamara. “I want to go to the pines and collect some cones for kindling. If I do a favor for Pappy, maybe he won’t get so angry.”
“The pines are on the other side of the river,” protested Dolne, “Do you plan to break the rule about crossing the river alone?”
“I won’t be alone if you come too,” begged Tamara, “besides, it will take both of us to get Mika across.”
They were well on the open road before Dolne thought to ask why Mika even had to come, but by then it seemed like it was too late to go back anyways. They took turns letting Mika ride on their backs and the few miles to the pines were soon traversed. When they got to the river, Dolne gallantly offered to let Mika ride on his back as they crossed the river. It was a good thing that Tamara and Dolne held hands as they crossed, for the water was nearly up to their chests in the middle, and the stones of the riverbed were slick. When they reached the far shore, Dolne carefully set Mika down. Tamara threw herself on the bank with a large groan.
“I am so glad we didn’t drown,” she said emphatically.
“We’d better get those pine cones and get back to town,” said Dolne, who had finally decided that this adventure was not such a good idea. The children began looking around for fallen cones, but to their dismay, there were very few to be found. The great white pines that towered above the children displayed dozens of pinecones in their branches, but only a few could be found amidst the needles on the forest floor.
Carefully, Tamara scanned the dirt around one very large pine with branches that trailed to the ground. She thought she could almost see a cone near the trunk, but when that proved to be no more than a bent stick, she looked up into the branches of the tree, an idea forming in her mind. Without a word, she reached up into the branches and began to climb. Little Mika, ever her sister’s shadow, set Babydoll on the ground and began to climb as well. The tree was young and healthy and the branches were close set and easy to climb. Tamara knew that the pinecones were way up high, so she didn’t bother to look down until she felt the branches begin to get thinner under her hands. When she finally did look down, two things became apparent at once. First, she saw that her little sister was close on her heels. Second, she realized that she was afraid of heights.
“Dolne, Dolne!” cried Tamara, “Help me!”
Dolne had not even realized that Tamara was climbing the tree. It took him a few minutes to locate Tamara well near the top of a huge white pine. When he saw that Mika was up the tree as well, he came near the trunk and looked up.
“What do you want me to do?” he called loudly.
“Don’t come up, “ said Tamara, “You’ll just get stuck like we did. Go back to the village and get my Pappy. Hurry, though. I don’t like it up here.”
Dolne didn’t wait to hear more. Quickly he ran to the river and hurried across, almost swimming in his haste. From her perch high in the tree, Tamara could see Dolne’s tiny figure as he ran towards the town. Coming from the distance Tamara could also see two horses with elvin riders approaching. They grew closer and closer as she watched.
“I think we left the stables too soon.” commented Legolas as they rode towards the camp. Thunder rumbled again behind them. He invited his mount to trot and then canter. If they could make the pines before the rain began, they might stay dry beneath their boughs. They did not slow until they got to the river, then allowed the horses their heads to get across the water without slipping. They dismounted swiftly.
Without a word, Galion set about starting a small fire in the fire ring. Legolas saw to the horses, then butchered the fat coney he had caught in the meadow. He wasn’t sure that the weather would hold long enough to make stew, but even cooked on a spit, fresh coney was better than lembas on a rainy night. Looking to the west across the river, the elves could see a great canopy of thunderheads assembling, with curtains of rain falling beneath them. Legolas grinned in anticipation. He loved the feel of a good storm, especially when in the company of the graceful white pines. Galion smiled, too, although with the wine still coursing through his veins, he was thinking more of the sleep that awaited him after supper.
Tamara didn’t know how much longer she could hold on. She had nearly cried out in fear when the two elves had ridden up on their horses. She knew that spying on them was wrong, but she had no idea that they would follow her here. For what? What kind of punishment were they set to give her? And neither her mam or pappy were nearby to help. Carefully, Tamara eased herself down to the branches where Mika was resting. Gently, she held her little sister in her arms and whispered “Be quiet.” Mika watched her big sister with solemn wide eyes. Tamara looked down from her perch again. The elves were not talking, and this made Tamara even more nervous because it allowed her imagination to run wild. Elves were strange beings, not even human. Why were they here? What would they do if they found two little girls hiding, no, spying on them from the tree?
Legolas and Galion made short work of the coney, washing it down with water from their waterskins. The rain began to fall just as they were finishing their meal. Licking the last of the juices from his thumb and forefinger, Legolas rose and made his way further under the boughs of one of the great trees to be better sheltered from the rain. An odd bundle caught his eye.
“Galion, look at this,” said Legolas, handing the bundle to the winemaster.
Galion took the bundle from Legolas, and smiled. “How did a doll come to be here?” he asked. This looks like the one that that little girl was holding earlier today.” He handed the doll back to Legolas. “Keep it, as a reminder of your first visit to a human dwelling.”
Legolas looked up into the tree beside him and caught sight of the two children perched high in the branches.
“Our time with humans is not over yet,” he said to Galion. “I think that they are still spying on us.” With that the prince began to climb to the children.
Tamara was terrified and clung to her sister. Who knew what would happen when the angry elf came close? She could hear him moving swiftly from branch to branch.
“I am sorry!” she yelled out finally, before he could get to close. “I didn’t mean to spy on you. I just wanted to see what you looked like.”
The elf didn’t slow his pace, but continued to draw near.
“Please, I’m sorry,” she bit her lower lip to keep from crying.
Legolas climbed to the branch beside where Tamara and Mika were sitting. He looked more perplexed than angry. “Apology accepted, penneth, but what are you doing in this tree?”
“I don’t know,” said Tamara honestly, “I just wanted to see what elves really looked like and then you caught us and Pappy is going to be so mad and I thought he would like some pine cones to keep him from getting really really mad and…” her voice trailed off as she realized that she was talking directly to one of the legendary fair folk. “I am sorry,” she said again in a very small voice.
“I am sorry,” echoed Mika’s little voice.
Legolas looked at both of them with unabashed curiosity. Finally, he shook his head, as though to clear it of confusion, “Let’s get you down from this tree, penneth, and then you can tell me how pine cones can avert a father’s anger. --It may be something I would find useful,” he added under his breath.
It took more than a few minutes to get the children safely down. The sun was setting and the wind had picked up, driving the drenching rain deep into the branches of the pine tree, making handholds and footholds quite slippery. Galion was good enough to climb up and help. He was largely responsible for guiding Tamara down one precarious branch at a time. Legolas finally managed to coax Mika into wrapping her arms around his neck. He descended with the small child clinging tightly.
When they stood at last on the forest floor, Legolas knelt to get a good look at the children. They were wet and shivering. The campfire was sputtering in the downpour, and was too far away for warmth. Wordlessly, he invited them to sit in the shelter of the tree. Galion wound up sitting with his back against the tree trunk, holding Tamara wrapped in his cloak in his lap, while little Mika sat with Legolas, all but lost in the folds of his travelling cloak, leaning in close to him for warmth. Holding a human child so near to his heart was a new experience for the prince, but not entirely unwelcome. She was heavy for her size (Ai, but she had almost unbalanced him on the way down the tree!). As she snuggled into his arms, and moved her head so that she could listen to his heart, Legolas felt a wave of protectiveness wash over him. He could not help but smile.
Tamara was not so restful. She kept looking at Legolas and trying to look at Galion. Finally, she sighed and said in a very small voice, “What are you going to do with me?”
Galion and Legolas stared at her, “It is not a crime to climb a tree,” said Galion finally, “although I do wonder why you were there.”
Tamara sighed. These elves sounded just like ordinary grownups. “I’m hungry,” she said, hoping to avert more questioning.
Legolas smiled knowingly. “And why were you in the tree, penneth?
Tamara looked Legolas in the eye, almost as though she were sizing him up. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, “My name isn’t Penneth, its Tamara, and I wasn’t hiding in the tree, I was looking for pinecones because they make good kindling and they burn in colors sometimes. My pappy likes them and I thought if I brought some home he wouldn’t be so angry with me for looking at you today. I was going to tell you I was up in the tree,” she paused for a breath and continued in a quieter voice, “but you were so grumpy earlier today that I was afraid.”
Galion snorted a laugh, and Legolas looked at the child in surprised amazement. He had been called many things during his long life. Grumpy was not one of them.
The silence grew long between them. Finally Legolas spoke, as though to one small and fragile, “I am sorry I frightened you, Tamara. Penneth means young one in my language, and I did not mean to offend you. “
Tamara bequeathed Legolas a broad and happy grin. “I am glad to hear that,” she sighed, “because I have so many questions to ask you.”
Caught once more off guard, Legolas had to laugh. This human child was intriguing. “We aren’t going anywhere until this rain lets up,” he said, “What are your questions?” As Tamara began talking, Legolas wrapped his arms around Mika and held her close. Her thumb had found her mouth and she was sleeping soundly. He found himself rocking the child gently without even thinking about it.
For the next hour or so, as the storm raged, Tamara had the undivided attention of two of the firstborn. Questions were asked and answered, and whenever the elves thought that Tamara’s questions were abating, the child drew a deep breath and began anew. Legolas and Galion had to laugh more than once at the antics of the youngling. She was so earnest in her efforts to know more.
“Is the rain going to stop soon?” Tamara finally asked, “because it isn’t so fun any more being wet.”
“I think the worst of the rain is over,” said Galion.
“But I think that we will see more rain night tonight,” finished Legolas, “and I think that the river has become quite swollen while we’ve been talking.” He turned his to peer into the darkness towards the river, “Galion, someone is coming along the other bank.” Quickly, Legolas transferred his sleeping bundle to Galion and moved to retrieve his bow and grab an arrow from the quiver that lay beside it. In a single moment the arrow was notched and ready for action, but he held his ground until he could discern what lurked on the other bank.
Two torches drew to the edge of the ford. Truste and Dolne’s frighted faces could be seen in the flickering light. Dolne’s father was there as well.
“Tamara! Mika!” called Truste aiming his voice high into the trees, “Tamara, can you hear me?” Much of his voice was lost as it carried over the raging water.
Tamara stood and ran to the shore, “Here I am Pappy! Here I am! Galion and Legolas got me and Mika down from the tree and now I can say young one in Elvish. Please don’t be mad at me Pappy, I, I just wanted to make you happy.” Tamara began crying, so relieved was she to see her father.
Legolas reached an arm around Tamara to keep her from going into the water. “I am afraid the water is too high for safety,” he called to Truste.
“Do you have horses?” asked Truste.
Legolas shook his head, “For now, the water is too high for them as well. If you like, we will stay here for the night with your children. We can bring them home to you in the morning, when the water has slowed.”
The miserable group on the far shore looked at one another. There really wasn’t much else to be done. Slowly they turned and began slogging their way back to town. Truste stopped and called out, “Tamara, you keep an eye on Mika. And don’t you make any trouble for our guests, or there will be trouble enough for you when you get home.”
Tamara nodded, even though she knew her father couldn’t see her.
Galion chuckled as Legolas returned to the dry circle under the trees, “You realize, don’t you, that you just volunteered to parent two Human children for the whole night?” he said.
“I did what had to be done,” retorted the prince, scowling. But he reached for Mika again as he sat down.
After a time the rain abated and Galion was able to get a small fire going with kindling from beneath the great pines. Mika woke up and the children drew near the fire for warmth. Tamara had finally run out of questions and a comfortable silence surrounded the four.
“Tamara?” said Mika finally, “I’m hungry.”
“So am I,” said Tamara, “but you have to wait ‘till morning. We didn’t bring any food with us.”
“I have food,” offered Legolas, “it’s in my pack.” Quickly he crossed the campsite and pulled open his travelling pack. Reaching inside he pulled out a small bag with a mixture of nuts and dried berries. “Here, try this, “he said, offering the mixture to Mika.
Mika looked at the fruit and nuts suspiciously. “Here Mika, I’ll try some first,” said Tamara, taking a small amount from Legolas’ hand. She chewed the nuts and berries thoughtfully. “It’s good, but not so good as Mam’s fruitbread.” Mollified, Mika willingly took a handful of her own.
“What is fruitbread?” asked Legolas.
“You would like it,” declared Tamara. “It’s made of flour and sugar and butter with lots of dried fruit. We only get it at midwinter because sugar is so dear. What else do you have in your pack? Could you please show me? I have never seen an Elvin pack before, and I would really like to know.” Tamara looked up at the elf with a well practiced look of pleading in her eyes. “Please?”
“Very well, penneth,” said Legolas, trying not to smile, Ai, but this youngster was more curious than an elfling! “I will show you what I travel with if you will tell me more about your midwinter celebration.”
So the evening was spent with sharing of stories and self. Tamara and Mika learned how to say thank you in the Elvin tongue, and Legolas and Galion learned a counting game called sticks that was played with the fingers. Tamara even talked Legolas into climbing the tree once again to find pinecones to throw into the fire. Laughter laced the evening. Tamara sang a few midwinter songs for the elves and they returned the favor by singing some of the midsummer dancing tunes. Tamara and Mika could not help but stand up and try a comical dance together when they heard the melody, and the exercise served them well. By the time the evening drew to a close, both girls were dry and exhausted. Galion and Legolas gladly gave up their bedrolls to the children. They stood watch together for the rest of the night.
When Mika and Tamara rose the next morning, they found a breakfast of grilled fish awaiting them. At first, Mika would not taste the fish, but Tamara made her sit on a log and broke the fish into tiny bits. “Here, Mika. I’ll be the mommy bird and feed you little bites.” Bit by bit the fish disappeared into her sister’s mouth.
Legloas watched the interaction as he rolled up his bedroll. He was struck at how gentle and loving Tamara could be.
Tamara didn’t take time for much breakfast herself. She ate a few quick bites then offered to help break camp. She turned out to be a good worker, moving the fire ring stones back down to the shore where they had been found, hauling the packs to the horses and keeping out of the way as Bergereth and Amindel were gotten ready for travel.
The level of the water had subsided considerably from its crest the night before. Galion mounted and Legolas handed Mika up to him. He easily swung Tamara up onto his horse, then mounted behind her. The massive horses moved swiftly into the river, and Tamara could feel Amindel’s muscles ripple beneath her as he struggled across the deepest part of the water.
They arrived home shortly enough, to find Truste and Amelda ready to set out to fetch the girls. Galion took the horses to the stables while Amelda knelt and drew her daughters close to her heart, welcoming them home. “I was so worried about you,” she declared to Tamara finally.
“You shouldn’t have worried,” said Tamara, grasping Legolas hand, pulling him close to her side. “It was good that I got to spend time with Legolas,” she said, smiling broadly, “he is really my new best friend.”
Tamara and Mika stayed close by their parents as the trade was concluded that morning, although Mika asked to be held in Legolas’ lap one more time. Galion spread out the jewels once again and the trading grew animated as Truste related the merits of his wine while Galion responded with the merits of the crafts he had brought. He was not adverse to sample a bit more of Truste’s finest as the morning progressed. At the end, all three of the brooches and nearly a dozen of the cut stones had been traded away, and almost all that was left was the mithril ring.
Finally, Legolas kissed Mika on the brow and set her down. He picked up the ring and considered it for a moment. “Tamara?” he said finally, indicated that she should come to his side. “Would you keep this for me until I come again?”
Tamara met his eyes with wide eyed wonder, but her tongue was not stilled, “Oh, Legolas,” she breathed, “I would love to!” and she threw herself into his arms, hugging him fiercely. “I will miss you so,” she declared.
Legolas hesitated only a moment before returning the hug, “and I will miss you, penneth.” Keeping one arm securely wrapped around Tamara’s shoulders, he carefully placed the ring on her right middle finger.
“I think it is too big,” said Tamara sadly.
“That’s not a problem,” said Legolas. He stood and walked to the entrance where he pulled three threads from the hem of his Elvin cloak. Legolas returned to Tamara where he deftly braided the threads into a necklace. Stringing the ring onto the necklace before tying it off, he placed the ring securely around Tamara’s neck.
Tamara fingered the ring as it hung against her chest. “It is so beautiful, Legolas. I will keep it until you return. Will it really be twenty years?”
Legolas looked down and smiled, “Yes, penneth. I will see you then.”
Tamara wasn’t able to trail the elves all the way to the stables as she would have liked. She did hear one final exchange before her father called her home.
“So you don’t dislike all humans any more, eh, Legolas?” asked Galion.
“Well, I will allow that there might be a human worth knowing every now and again.” mused Legolas with a smile.
“That is enough for now, my prince. That is enough for now.”
“Ah, well, that is my story, true or no, I leave it with you. Look, now, your cup is empty and there is no cheese left on your plate. Let me refill both for you, then I will fetch my father. Linger with us as long as you like.