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9. Being Helpful
Wynne woke early the next morning, and since nobody was up, she prepared breakfast. She was tired of lembas, and figured it was her time to provide food today. She unpacked her utensils and made sweetened oatmeal porridge and hot mint tea, and poured some round, hardtack crackers on a metal plate.
The smell of food got the elves moving, and pretty soon Wynne was joined by the whole company. Most of them looked tired and delicate, obviously hungover.
“Oi, Nodi, you had the last watch, how come you are not up?” Bronedir gave his brother a shove.
“Can you keep your voice down?” Nodir looked sour. “It was nearly morning, I figured I could rest a little.”
“This will not do, we are on a serious mission. No more drinking for now.” If Thranduil felt ill he did not show it.
“Aw, I never got a chance to try the sugar beet wine,” Galion complained.
“Trust me, you are happier without it.” Legolas had dark lines under his blue eyes, but strangely enough it did not make him any less good-looking.
Wynne distributed the simple breakfast among the elves, they all had their own plates and mugs. Despite their condition, they ate with fairly good appetite and complimented Wynne on the pleasant variation in diet.
“I have not had tea in ages,” said Legolas, blowing on his mug. “I traveled in company of hobbits some years ago, and early in our journey they would make it every afternoon. I do not think they used peppermint, however.”
“It’s a Rohirrim speciality. It makes your breath nice.” Wynne had missed having tea yesterday, it was such an integrated part of her morning ritual.
“If you drink fire water often, I suppose you need it.” He grinned.
“How was it to travel with the Hobbit?” asked Wynne. “What was he like?” Everybody had heard the story of that small, rare creature who had carried Sauron’s evil Ring and destroyed it in the fires of Mordor. Wynne knew that Legolas had been part of the Fellowship which escorted Frodo Baggins some of the way.
“He was brave and dutiful, and most of the time very serious. The One Ring burdened him so heavily. It tortured him.” Legolas’ beautiful face had darkened considerably, all traces of mirth gone. Wynne had never seen him this somber before.
He was quiet a moment, then seemed to compose himself and smiled weakly. “Frodo got his reward in the end. He now lives out his days across the sea, in the Undying Lands.” He had an almost longing tone in his voice.
That day, they rode in a south-western direction. Thranduil explained that they would criss-cross forward and back from between the Anduin and one day’s ride east, until they had covered as much of the western Brown Lands as possible and cleansed it of orcs entirely. It was no use to continue further east, that far away from the river the ground was so dry it was impossible for anyone to live, even orcs.
In time they would reach Emyn Muil, the southern mountains, and repeat the procedure there.
Meanwhile, small parties consisting of Southern Rangers and men from Gondor, were on similar missions more southward. They were tidying up Ithilien and Harondor, lands which had belonged to Gondor before, and that king Aragorn Elessar meant to unite once again.
Thranduil’s party would probably meet up with those other groups later in the summer, in the area formerly known as the Dead Marshes. King Éomer of Rohan had had his men working there a long time, digging out trenches and canals, draining it from its foul, haunted waters. Already a large part had been turned into fertile farmlands.
“What of Mordor?” Wynne asked. Still, ten years after the War, the last home of Sauron was desolate and uninhabited.
“I am afraid Mordor will never be entirely rid of the Dark Lord’s poison,” Thranduil said. “When Mount Doom erupted, as a consequence of the One Ring’s destruction, polluted lava and ashes spread out and covered the plains. Even orcs still hesitate to enter Mordor.”
They kept travelling all day, without seeing anything more interesting than grass. No animals, and thankfully no orcs or other foul creatures either. The elves seemed much more comfortable on their steeds now, and even Thranduil and his head-strong stallion had seemingly come to some sort of understanding. The king allowed the Meara to walk slow and graze every hour or so, and in return the horse had ceased his bucking and sudden halts. Legolas and Stelpa for their part, were increasingly attuned. The mare seemed almost like an extension of her rider’s body, like they had become one being. It was unusual to see a non Rohirric horse-rider pair so well matched.
After a few hours Wynne’s leg wound was rather sore and tender, which annoyed her. It was located in the worst place possible, on a spot that rubbed against Vatna’s flank with every step. That stupid orc! If it must stab her, it could have chosen someplace less important, like an arm or a foot. The fright from yesterday was slowly converting into irritation.
At sunset a glittering of water in the distance told them they had come back to the river at last. Wynne was glad to be able to restock all the water skins and let the horses drink their fill. They could manage a few days with only the water they had packed, but not much more.
The elves were equally satisfied, and had not even time to set up the camp before they stood waist deep in the river, happily splashing their faces and washing their long hair.
Wynne joined them, this time with no second thoughts about seducing anyone. She was just as pleased as them, and even swam a little despite the coldness. It was lovely to get rid of all dust and grit from two days of riding in dry grass.
When she came back to the shore, Nodir had caught a huge trout to everybody’s delight. He had shot it with his bow, which certainly was a most unusual fishing technique.
It was nearly dark when they finally had erected the tents and got a fire going. They shared the fish, which Bronedir had prepared deliciously well. The skin was crisp, with just a pinch of salt, and the rosy inside juicy and savory. For vegetables Wynne had pulled up some reed roots and boiled them. They did not taste very much, but were nutritious and filling.
Wynne volunteered to clean the dishes afterwards, lately she had started to feel she needed to do more for the company. The elves took all the nightly watches and would do all the fighting, and Wynne did not like to feel useless.
Legolas moved to follow her.
“I can manage this, no worries,” she protested.
“Just to be on the safe side,” he said. “There might be dangers lurking by.”
Wynne shuddered and made no more objections then, although she doubted there would be monsters this close to Rohan. Surely the Rohan border patrols would have taken care of that?
Legolas sat on a stone and began to braid his golden hair, now dry after the wash, while Wynne worked on the greasy plates with a bar of soap. Warm water would have made it easier, but it felt like too much trouble to heat it.
Wynne’s hair kept falling in her face, and she cast a longing glance on Legolas newly made braids. He usually wore one small fishtail braid on each temple, and one larger that held part of his hair together on the back of his head. It looked both nice and functional. Too bad she sucked at braiding her own hair. However hard she tried, the result always was a tousled mess.
“I wish I could make braids like that, I hate it when my hair blows into my eyes. Maybe I should just cut it real short.”
“Nay, you must not do that.” Legolas looked shocked. “Short hair on a Lady, that is unheard of.”
“I know. It would be very practical though.”
“If… If you would not mind… um. I could plait it for you?”
“Really? I would love that.” Wynne wondered why he looked so conscious. He had touched her bare thigh yesterday, but this was just hair.
Elves were strange creatures.
I hope you liked some Wynne-Legolas quality time. And more is coming! :)
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