The Stars of Harad

Chapter 8

by Cassia and Siobhan

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As Legolas approached the outskirts of the town the heavens broke open. What started as gentle rain quickly turned into a torrential downpour and the setting sun was hidden behind storm clouds. Pulling the hood low to protect his face, Legolas made his way through the muddy streets towards the nearest Inn.

Rinevat was not a pretty town, even when not masked by a thick curtain of rain. Nightfall and the storm had driven most people inside, but there were still a number of cloaked and hooded shapes hurrying about their business on the darkened streets. Rinevat was politely called a trading post town, but everyone knew it was a favorite gathering place for smugglers, slavers, bounty-hunters, flesh-peddlers and anyone else who had high ambitions and low morals.

The Drunken Goblin was the city’s largest Inn and public house, and also the scene for much of the doings that went on in Rinevat. Legolas had no way of knowing that, but Aragorn had taught him that when looking for anything in a human city, the seediest Inn or Pub was usually the best place to start. So it was that Legolas found himself pushing his way through the peeling red and gold painted doors of the Drunken Goblin and wondering at its name. You would never find an elf naming an establishment that they actually wanted people to visit anything so vulgar, but he had learned that humans had an odd sense of humor about the uncouth and right now that was the least of his worries.

The instant he entered the establishment and left the rain outside, the noise and the smell and the blast of sheer unfamiliarity hit the elf’s senses. Loud music was being played somewhere in the dimly lit, smoky room and people were shouting out orders, talking, laughing and arguing all at once. The cacophony of stench was just about as bad as that of sound. It seemed that everyone here was right at home and operating in surroundings that were comfortable and familiar to them. Everyone except the elf who was trying desperately to fight the urge to duck back out into the rain.

Legolas realized that he had frozen in the doorway and quickly forced himself to start moving again. Choosing a small, empty table in a quieter corner of the huge tavern he sat down and took another deep breath, only to nearly choke on the thick air of the place. Legolas grinned ironically to himself. This was pathetic and it was turning out to be much harder than he had thought. He had a lot more respect for the way Aragorn navigated these situations now.

One of the serving girls made her way over to him and Legolas wondered how she had even noticed in all this chaos that they had a new patron. But he supposed she was used to it.

"What’ll it be, honey?" the woman asked in a hurry-up-I’m-busy kind of voice that clashed with her fake hospitality. Legolas tried to ignore the amount of clothing that the young lady wasn’t wearing. He was glad that his hood was still down over his face, he was probably flushing. Elf women never dressed like that.

"Give me a house brew," Legolas played it safe, not sure what else would be considered normal for a place like this.

The woman squinted slightly and did a double take, as if trying to see his face better, but then shrugged and nodded when the hood proved to utterly hamper her efforts. "All right, comin’ up."

Legolas pressed his lips into a tight line as she walked away, mentally kicking himself. He was going to have to do something about his voice. It was much lighter and more musical than was ordinary for a man.

His drink was brought to him several minutes later and he just nodded his thanks, which the woman barely stopped to notice. Wrapping his fingers around the large stein he sipped at the amber liquid, trying to calm the apprehension in his stomach. He had never felt quite this out of place before and wondered if this was what Aragorn had to deal with at times being a human around elves. He hoped his people had never made the young ranger this uncomfortable... but thinking back to Aragorn’s first visit to Mirkwood he supposed they had. He was glad that at least some things in the world had changed for the good and not only the ill these past few years.

Legolas’ grip on the mug tightened. He knew he could do this if he just stopped looking at everything that was unfamiliar and focused on his goal. He was letting this place toss him; he couldn’t do that. He had to remember everything he’d ever seen Aragorn do in this kind of situation and then just trust himself to figure it out from there. Forcing himself to relax a little he settled back in his seat and began watching the other patrons. The elf was a fairly good imitator and, if he watched long enough, he could pick up the gestures and mannerisms of the people around him.

Focusing on first one group, and then another, he slowly scrutinized each table in turn. Once he got used to the clamor and figured out how to tune it out, he was able to overhear much of what anyone was saying if he turned his attention towards them. This proved to be especially useful when about a half-hour later he heard someone at a table nearby mention the word ‘ranger’. Legolas’ ears instantly pricked up and he tried to hear more of the conversation.

A particularly loud conversation going on at a table between he and the party he was trying to listen to made hearing difficult, but he caught stray words like "leave him" and "later" and some names he didn’t recognize. They seemed to be laughing about something, but he couldn’t tell what.

His attention definitely captured, Legolas rose from his seat and made his way over to the crowded bar, taking his mug with him he leaned against the high wood counter with seeming carelessness in order to better overhear what the men who had his interest were saying. From under the shadow of his low hood, the elf took in the four men at the table. Grizzled and travel-worn, they looked like traders. Of what sort their merchandise or trade was, there was no telling. They acted with a callous air but the elf judged that underneath the rough-and-tumble exteriors were calculating minds that were sharper than they let on. One of them, the one with the heavy sealing ring on his left hand, was named Seobryn... he hadn’t been able to catch the others’ names yet.

He was however, able to catch the trail end of someone’s statement and the elf’s hands tightened around his mug, not sure how to take what he heard.

"...not every day you get to kill a ranger."

Several rough men had entered the Inn and were looking for a place at the crowded bar. There was none open and their gaze fell upon a slim figure leaning against a corner of the jammed counter. The stranger’s face was hidden by the hood he wore, and his back was turned almost fully to them, but the hands that wrapped around the mug he was holding were slim and un-callused, leaving the men to believe the stranger to be a youth not yet filled out with age.

Legolas was so intent on the men at the table that he did not notice the newcomers’ approach until one of them clamped a large hand on his shoulder and spun the elf around.

"Hey, kid, go stand somewhere else and let some real men have the bar," the man laughed darkly, shoving the prince back a pace.

Several sets of eyes turned to look at the commotion, lazily interested in if anything would come of it.

Legolas bristled at the fellow’s rudeness. Of course the idea that he was young in comparison to these men was absurd, but he was just about used to humans making that mistaken assumption. His hood had slid back slightly and he went ahead and let it fall to his shoulders so he could fix the interlopers with his most withering glare and so they could see he was not nearly so youthful as they thought, even though he still appeared a young man in their eyes.

"When I see a real man I’ll consider it," the elf said with an icy bite, being sure to lower his voice this time so it did not get him any unwanted stares. "Go find your own place." He turned back to the bar, but never took his senses off the ruffians were still staring at him with rising ire. He doubted they were going to go away with out some persuasion.

He was right.

The fellow who had accosted Legolas before scowled deeply at the rebuff and lunged for the elf.

Legolas was ready for the move and sidestepped easily, catching the man with a quick, hard blow to the base of his skull. The man slumped to the ground immediately unconscious. The ruffian’s two companions did not take kindly to that and rushed the elf a moment later.

Legolas calmly dodged the onslaught of one and dropped his shoulder, ramming it into the stomach of the other, easily flipping the burly man over his back and sending him crashing over the bar. Recovering quickly, the first man to rush him tried to catch Legolas in a headlock, but the prince was simply too fast for him. Dipping out of his grasp faster than the man could comprehend, Legolas left the fellow grasping only air. By this time the second ruffian had pulled himself back over the bar and jumped off of it, tackling Legolas and knocking the elf to the ground beneath his weight.

Legolas recovered fast and got his legs between himself and the man on top of him, quickly flipping the fellow off and sending him flying directly into the table of the men Legolas had been eavesdropping on earlier, sending drinks clattering and sloshing in all directions.

The other man tried to punch the elf, but found his arm caught and twisted behind his back instead, and much to the burly man’s chagrin, he could not wrench free of his slender opponent’s iron grasp no matter how hard he tried. Dragging the man across the room, Legolas somewhat forcefully showed him the door. Returning to the man’s companion who was just getting up from his trip over the table Legolas slid one of the knives out of his quiver in a single motion; leveling it with the man’s throat, he jerked his head at the third man who was still unconscious by the bar. "Get him out of here and don’t bother me again," he commanded coldly. The intensity in the elf’s eyes told the man that he did not want to push this conflict, so he obeyed quickly, muttering dark threats under his breath.

Half the Inn was now staring openly at Legolas as he re-sheathed his blade and straightened his over-coat. The elf calmly leveled the gawkers with a steady, penetrating stare that seemed to say there was no more to see here and they’d better mind their own business if they knew what was good for them. Normalcy swiftly returned as everyone went back to whatever they had been doing before the ruckus. Legolas slapped a few coins down on the counter to pay for the bottles that had been broken when the man went over the bar before the Innkeeper even had a chance to complain and then made his way to where Seobryn and his companions were re-seating themselves after having jumped to their feet when they found their table suddenly decorated by a flying body.

"Sorry about that," the elf righted an overturned ale pint with carefully calculated carelessness. Actually he wasn’t sorry at all, because he now had a unique opportunity to interact with these men without appearing to be nosey. "I seemed to have misjudged the trajectory a little. I’ll pay for the lost drinks."

Chadoc glared at the elf slightly as he sopped spilt ale from the front of his shirt with a ragged handkerchief, but Seobryn laughed, due in no small part to his companion’s chagrin.

The trader clapped Legolas on the shoulder. "No harm done, I’d say that show was worth a few spilt ales, but come, won’t you join us for a round? I’d like to know how a young fellow like you learned to fight like that."

Legolas accepted the chair offered him as new drinks were brought. He shrugged. "You learn what you have to to survive." He decided not to correct these men about his age, he knew that to humans he looked no older than his early twenties and there was no use trying to explain that which could not be explained without revealing his true identity, which was out of the question. Besides, the younger they thought him, the less guarded they would be.

"Seobryn," the trader extended his hand in greeting, introducing himself and then his companions. "Malk, Vavon, and the," he chuckled "uh, soppy fellow is Chadoc."

Legolas accepted his hand. "Tyndel," he returned the greeting with an alias he chose on the spot. It was a humanized adaptation of an elvish nickname his mother had had for him when he was young, and simply meant ‘golden haired’.

"Well, Tyndel, you sure can move when you want to," Seobryn took a long drag from his mug, he had already had quite a bit this evening and it made him pleasant and chatty. "You a hunter?" he eyed the bow and quiver on the elf’s back.

Legolas inclined his head slightly. "I hunt many things," he said cryptically, sipping at his own drink.

"Ah," Malk nodded knowingly. "A for-hire then?"

Legolas just shrugged in a non-committal manner as if he chose not to divulge any more details, since he wasn’t entirely sure what they were talking about. "What about you? Traders I’d guess."

"True enough," Seobryn nodded. "On the return stretch of a run. Heading down into southern Harad. And you?"

Legolas tipped his head a little to the side, considering his words. "Between jobs. Looking for someone who needs a quick hand or a fast bow."

Seobryn fell silent for a few moments, but seemed to be sizing Legolas up. "You interested in traveling at all?"

Legolas grinned somewhat ruefully. "I don’t wish to stay around here if that’s what you mean."

The men at the table chuckled. Conversation turned to other things and Legolas was glad for the attention to turn away from himself for a while. He didn’t talk much, but he was an appreciative listener, which the slightly inebriated men found more enjoyable at any rate, as they had many stories to tell.

The talk turned to hunting exploits and the men’s egos waxed large as their boasts grew bigger. Legolas mostly listened, but when called on had plenty of his own exploits to recount, and they were actually true.

"So, Tyndel, you’re a professional," Vavon turned to Legolas. "What would you say was the hardest thing you ever hunted?"

Legolas sipped thoughtfully at his drink, he was still on his first mug, but none of the other men, now several rounds in, had noticed. "A ranger," he said after a moment, dropping the word intentionally. It was also true, but he didn’t bother to mention that it had been part of a game, or that the ranger had been his friend.

Chuckles and murmurs rounded the table. "Unusual game, did you catch him?" Seobryn seemed particularly interested.

Legolas was silent again for a few moments. "They are not easy prey. I have yet to meet someone who could honestly claim to have succeeded," was his round-about answer. The truth was the game had come to a draw, but Legolas was directly angling this line of conversation, hoping to play on the men’s egos and find out what exactly their association with rangers was.

Seobryn shrugged, feeling very full of himself because of the elf’s words. "Aw, they’re not so tough. Got me two of them not so very long ago," he boasted with a smirk. "Very near here actually."

"Really?" Legolas arched an eyebrow, attempting to keep a cool, disinterested attitude. "I would be very interested in how that was accomplished. My experience with them leads me to believe they are very difficult folk."

"Oh they’re wily ones they are, some of the worst," with such an impressed audience, and the opportunity to gloat about success where someone else had failed, Seobryn was ready to work this into one of his best stories. "You gotta beat them up here," he tapped his finger against his temple. "You gotta outsmart and out-maneuver ‘em."

Of course the real truth that any success they had had was mostly due to luck and superior numbers was not mentioned.

Legolas nodded as if impressed. "But I thought you were traders. What interested you in hunting rangers?"

"Well we wasn’t really interested in them..." Seobryn hedged slightly, not about to go too far down that road. He knew what could and couldn’t be talked about, even when bragging. "It was an... incidental pleasure you might say. They got too nosy and troublesome for their own good and we had to take care of them."

"May have caught ‘em all right but cracking ‘em was a different story..." Chadoc muttered, not at all fond of the way that Seobryn was taking full credit for something he had not played a major role in.

Seobryn elbowed him sharply. "It’s true they’re a little close if they don’t want to talk, but what do you expect? Them rangers, they’re like, part elf or some other fiendish critter. They ain’t hardly human, boy," Seobryn shook his head sagely at Legolas. "I was surprised to see that they actually bleed red."

"Oh and we saw a lot of that," Vavon chuckled uncouthly.

"Not enough in my opinion," Chadoc muttered, shaking his head.

Legolas’ knuckles tightened around his mug and his chest burned, but with sheer willpower, he kept a calm, only half-interested look on his face. "Really? You killed them then?"

"Not quite," Seobryn wavered his hand from side to side. "One of ‘em died on account of being more stubborn than was good for him," he said somewhat darkly. "But the other..." the trader smiled to himself. "Well let’s just say he’s found a new vocation in life."

The other men at the table laughed, except for Chadoc, who was in a bad mood this evening. He scowled disapprovingly. "Still woulda been better to kill him," he mumbled. "Leaving him with Rhuddryn is more risky than it’s worth."

"Oh shut up, Chadoc," Seobryn was tired of his companion’s constant harping on the subject. They had left the young ranger behind, still in Rhuddryn’s care, rather than risk bringing him north again where someone might recognize him, but after all this time Seobryn felt fairly certain that there was no danger of the young man’s memory ever coming back. "He’s mine and I’ll do with him what I like. Like that baby harpian we caught that one time, you remember that? Ever crossed a full grown harpian Tyndel? Let me tell you, they’re nasty! Well one day outside of Yuluk, we..."

Seobryn launched into another story and Legolas pretended to be listening, but his mind was still stuck and whirling on the information he had learned. Two rangers. Captured near here. Near where Aragorn’s coat had been mysteriously abandoned. One was dead; one was a captive somewhere, with some man named Rhuddryn. Was Aragorn one of the two? It seemed almost certain. But which one? The one who was alive and a prisoner, or the one who was dead? The thought made Legolas’ heart twist painfully in his chest.

He had to know. He had to find out where the ranger who was still alive was. He had to try to save him, whether he was Aragorn or... or not. The elf’s stomach knotted tightly, making him feel ill.

Somehow the elf managed to nod and laugh in the right places, managed to act like nothing was out of the ordinary although he remembered almost nothing of the conversation after that. A short while later Seobryn and his companions rose to take their leave.

"Hey, Tyndel," Seobryn turned back after paying for their drinks. "I lost a couple of men coming up here. Wouldn’t mind having somebody fast on their feet around if we run into any more beasts or bandits. If you’re interested you can hook up with us for a while. Pay is fair and you said you wanted to get out of here..." Seobryn shrugged, leaving the offer open.

Legolas considered for a few moments, not having expected this turn of events. "I’ll think about it," he hesitated to commit until he had thought this through a little. His mind was still slightly fogged from the emotions he had been repressing since hearing of his friend’s possible fate and he didn’t want to decide anything on the spot.

Seobryn shrugged again. "Go ahead, but think fast, we’re pulling out in the morning. If you decide to come our camp is just outside town, to the east."

Legolas nodded.

The rain had stopped and Seobryn and his companions took their leave. Legolas left shortly thereafter. He had no desire to remain in the crowded, noisy bar now that he had achieved his objective. Nor did he wish to stay at the inn. He wasn’t sure exactly what he wished to do, but getting some fresh, quiet air, away from smoke, stench and chatter was a good start.

The rain had cleaned the air and left a fresh, crisp smell lingering in the night that helped to clear the elf’s head. The scent of rain was still heavy, and the dry reprieve was most likely a momentary one only. The sky was shrouded in clouds and the light of the moon was all but hidden. The streets were dark save for a handful of lanterns scattered here and there, hanging under the protected eves of a few buildings.

The darkness did not bother the elf, but he was distracted by his own thoughts and his senses were turned inward, not outward. He was trying to decide if he should accept Seobryn’s offer or not. It would not be easy, living with a group of men, traveling with them, working with them, and continuing to pass himself off as one of them. He knew there were a hundred little things that he probably couldn’t even begin to think of which could give him away if he were around them on a regular basis. Plus there was the added strain of knowing that these men might have killed his best friend, and had certainly harmed him at any rate.

However, if he did not go with them, he probably lost his best chance of ever finding Aragorn if the ranger was still alive. He had a name, but without a location, that did him little good. If he accepted Seobryn’s offer of a job, he had the chance to follow the only lead he had and possibly pick up more information. It was dangerous... but Legolas really could see no other option.

A sudden flutter of movement jerked the elf out of his thoughts and plunged him into full alert mode, but it was too late. His attention had been too far diverted and he had lost precious response time.

A hard blow across the back of his head threw the elf forward. Legolas barely caught himself, falling to his hands and knees on the muddy, rain-slicked street. The rough, wet stones tore his palms and his head buzzed painfully as the dark, slick cobbles wavered in front of his eyes. The strike had come dangerously close to knocking him unconscious and the prince’s body reeled, unresponsive to the jumbled commands his mind was screaming at it.

A heavy foot kicked him sharply in the ribs as the elf struggled to regain himself and make the world stop spinning. "We’ll teach you a thing or two about who to cross and who not to cross kid!" a rough voice growled as several sets of hands dragged the prince back to his feet.

A bright flash of lightening and a loud peal of thunder echoed overhead, momentarily adding to the confusion.

Through wavering vision Legolas recognized the three men he had tussled with in the bar earlier. They had brought some friends along with them apparently, for unless his eyes cheated him Legolas saw four other men present that he did not recognize.

A fist slammed into Legolas’ midsection, making him double over as two men twisted his arms tightly behind him. Fiery pain shot up the prince’s arm from his left wrist as the fellow holding him gave it a hard, awkward jerk, bending it back on itself at a dangerously awkward angle. If the man had been only a little stronger, he would have broken the wrist he twisted. A hard blow to the face cut the reeling elf’s lip and blood spilled down his chin.

A rustling patter followed by quickening drops of moisture, almost invisible in the dark, told that the rain had started up again.

Legolas grasped desperately at the edges of his awareness, trying to pull himself together, but the men were giving him no time to recover or react.

"Ooh, be careful, you’ll mess up his pretty-boy face!" one of the brutes sneered, purposefully punching Legolas in the face again. The blood that traced now from Legolas’ nose and mouth mingled with the quickening rain as one of his assailants hammered him in the ribs. The painful, biting hurt in his left wrist intensified as the man holding it twisted his elbow further back.

The elf prince doubled over, only kept on his feet by the men holding his arms. Legolas steeled his jaw as his senses and responses began to come back to him. This had gone quite far enough. The rain was making everything slick and slippery and Legolas waited for the right moment, taking a deep breath and keeping his head down as a rough hand grabbed the front of his overcoat, preparing to jerk him back up right again.

Moving faster than his assailants thought possible for an injured ‘young man’, Legolas brought his head up quickly, causing the back of his skull to connect solidly with the jaw of the man standing over him. Twisting hard first one way, and then the other, Legolas slid his arms away from his captors, the men’s fingers slipping and sliding without effect on the wet leather sleeves as they attempted to hang onto him.

Kicking out hard, Legolas’ foot caught someone in the knee. The man fell with a howl of pain and did not rise again. Several of the men pulled daggers or short swords from their belts; they wanted blood and intended to have it. Legolas drew his own knives, ignoring the fiery ache in his strained wrist as the rain intensified into another torrent, obscuring vision and making everything dangerously slick.

The men lunged him all at once and Legolas was hard pressed to keep up with them for several moments. He didn’t even have time for conscious thought, only movement as he twisted, turned, jabbed, sliced and kicked. The cobbles were slick with rain and mud and his boots slipped treacherously as he spun to fend off the man behind him, while trying to duck and evade the others coming at him from the side. Landing on one knee, he ducked under a swipe aimed for his neck, but could not avoid a thrust that cut through the right shoulder of his coat and tunic, drawing blood.

Pushing back the pain, Legolas rolled with the blow and dodged another, one of his blades finding home in the flesh of an attacker’s neck. Drawing his weapon clear again Legolas spun to face the next closest threat. The fight was much shorter than it felt, but most of it passed in a blur of rain, sharpened steel and blood. When Legolas finally realized that no one was attacking him anymore, six of the seven ruffians lay in the darkened street either dead or unconscious and one must have run away.

Legolas staggered slightly, the fierce ache of his injuries catching up with him all at once. Re-sheathing his knives somewhat clumsily, he hurried away. It would never do to get stuck here because of this. One man at least had escaped and that would only mean trouble for him he was certain. It was more than time to leave Rinevat far behind.

Once he had lost himself well in the back streets on the outskirts of town, the elf had to stop for a moment, leaning against a crumbling wet brick wall and holding his injured shoulder as he sought to bring his ragged breathing under control. He hadn’t noticed before, but his hood was down and the rain was pelting his already drenched hair and turban, making it cling to his face and running in rivulets down his collar, wetting the tunic underneath.

Turning his closed eyes towards the heavens, Legolas let the cool rain wash the blood from his face and sooth the fire of the bruises that would form there. His fingers knotted in the slick wet leather sleeve below the gash in his shoulder as his breathing slowly calmed and returned to normal.

This was exactly why he didn’t want to have to have more to do with men than he had to. Things always turned out badly; they were so unpredictable and easily run by pride, greed or just sheer malice. There was no need for the blood that had been spilt back there. There was no need for the violence that had been done. What was it all for? A place at the bar of some seedy inn on the backside of nowhere? Were six men really dead because of that? Some of them hadn’t even been involved in the initial conflict. It just did not make sense to Legolas’ mind. It was so wasteful, so crude.

How could he ever hope to pass himself off indefinitely as one of them? How could he play the part when he could not begin to fathom how their minds worked?

These were the questions that plagued his thoughts. This was the reason why Seobryn’s offer... why it... it... Legolas clenched his eyelids tightly against the patter of the rain, forcing himself to stop reasoning around the subject and be honest with himself about his hesitations. Why it frightened him.

Legolas let his breath out in a soft hiss through his teeth. He was a warrior, he was a prince, he was an elf! He was not afraid of anything... but he was afraid of this. Afraid that he would fail; fail Aragorn, fail the trust that Elladan and Elrohir had placed in him, fail Lord Elrond by not bringing his youngest son home to him, fail his own father by being too weak and frightened to even be worthy of being called his son.

"Did you ever feel this alone, Aragorn?" he quietly asked his missing friend, taking comfort in momentarily pretending that they were together, as they had been on so many adventures in the past, and that he was not all alone in this place. "Like the fate of that which you held most dear hung on your shoulders and you weren’t sure you could handle it?"

Then Legolas laughed at his own question. Of course his friend would have known the feeling very well. After all, it was he, not Legolas upon whom it was foretold that the fate of the entire world of men would hang. It was no wonder the ranger wasn’t always sure he wanted that responsibility. The elf smiled slightly, despite his split lip.

"The further I walk in the world of men, the better I understand you, mellon nín." He took another deep breath. "I will find you Aragorn," he promised the darkness. "If you still draw breath on this earth I will find you, wherever you are and whatever it takes. And if you have already passed beyond the Halls of Mandos, then I swear I will avenge you, or I will die in the quest." The invisible stars where his only witness, but the elf knew his oath would bind him to the destiny he had chosen and release him only in either success or death. He would have it no other way.

The rain did not slacken and his injuries still throbbed, but Legolas felt better. Indecision and hesitation were behind him. He could not fail because it was simply not an option. Therefore he was just going to have to forge ahead and trust that Ilúvatar would watch over those who willingly plunged in over their head for a good cause.

Legolas flipped his hood back up, over his head once more, although he was by now so wet it really didn’t matter. His wrist flared painfully at the simple motion and he knew he needed to rest for a little while and let his body start dealing with the hurts it had taken.

Taking such shelter as he could where several intersecting buildings created a bit of a wind and rain break, Legolas pulled Aragorn’s coat tightly around him and slowly slid himself into a half-sleep state to allow his body to start recovering. He had a long road ahead of him. 


The rain had abated by morning and the sun rose in a nearly cloudless sky.

Rosy dawn was spreading slowly over the rain-slicked landscape as Legolas made his way out of town, heading east.

Seobryn’s men had just finished breaking up camp and were preparing to set out. The elder trader looked up when the elf arrived. He smiled. "Almost thought you were going to turn us down lad... what happened to you?"

Bruises had formed across Legolas’ mouth and right cheekbone. He had bound up his shoulder wound, but there was no hiding the torn coat or the bloodstain on the cloth beneath. Legolas had more hurts that were not readily apparent to the eye, but you would not have known it by watching him. He had learned a long time ago how to move so that no one could tell you were in pain. That was something his uncle had taught him... had quite literally beaten into him actually, but it had been useful at other times since.

Legolas shrugged, his movements weren’t hampered, although he certainly felt stiff. "The men in the bar could hold a very violent grudge apparently. They brought a few of their friends in on it with them. They thought they deserved to be paid back for their humiliation in blood."

Seobryn chuckled. "Well I guess they did! So what happened?"

Legolas lightly rubbed his mending split lip with his fingertips. "They’re dead," was all he said.

"All of them?" Seobryn’s eyebrows went up; he couldn’t quite let it go at that.

"Six out of seven," Legolas said with forced carelessness. "So, you said you were heading to Southern Harad... that’s quite a distance from here, isn’t it?"

Vavon laughed outright. "Let me guess, you want to be as far away from here by nightfall as possible?"

Legolas inclined his head slightly. "I don’t like trouble if it can be avoided. Do you still want me?" he leveled his gaze at Seobryn. He somehow got the feeling that far from changing the human’s mind, this exploit actually made him more desirable to the shady trader.

Seobryn just smiled. "I like what you’re made of, kid. I think we’ll get on just fine. Chadoc, make room on one of the pack animals for Tyndel’s gear. Everyone, prepare to move out!"

Legolas secured his bedroll and small pack to the back of the mule he was directed toward. The sun had just finally broken the horizon when they started off, heading south with the rising sun on their left. Heading deep into a land that Legolas had never seen, with men that the elf did not trust, to find a friend he was not sure was there...

The elf took a deep breath. He had a feeling he was delving into either one of the biggest adventures, or the biggest disasters, of his life.

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