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42. The Falls of Rauros
Wynne’s vision was cut to a minimum by her hood, which she had pulled up as far as possible. Incessant rain poured down for the third day in a row and on top of that, it was cold and windy, despite it now being past Mid-Year. Mid-Year’s Day had been yesterday, a supposedly festive occasion, but in this weather nobody had felt like throwing parties. Instead it had passed rather unnoticed, with the only remarkable event being their reaching the Gates of Argonath.
She had been looking forward to see the famous Pillars for the first time, but even this had been a slight disappointment. The low-hanging clouds covered Isildur’s and Anárion’s heads, giving the kings of old a decapitated look. The monument was impressive anyway, of course, and it was hard to fathom that humans were once able to build something so enormous. The statues’ bases were carved out of the very rock itself, and in a seamless transition they grew up to reach at least fifty yards above the top of the mountain.
When Wynne peered through the fog over her shoulder, she could still see their contours, as if the kings were following her on the journey. It was not the Argonath she had turned after, however, it was a certain golden-haired elf. Legolas gave her a slight smile in return and then looked away.
What was he up to? It had been several days since the misfortune in the lake, and it almost seemed like he was avoiding her. But why? Was he angry because she insisted on his telling about the Fellowship? But surely he was not one to hold a grudge like that.
She had almost instantly regretted asking him, noticing how uncomfortable it made him. It had really been a bad time and place for that sort of personal talk, with everybody else listening. In consequence, she was fairly certain Legolas had omitted a great deal of the story, probably the parts that were the cause of his unease.
This was another reason to have a heart-to-heart, so she could ask him to elaborate. Somehow she had a notion he needed that.
Wynne remembered well how she herself had felt, after each time she encountered danger. The sleeplessness that had followed, fear overcoming her at night. How her heart would pound every time she was reminded of the incident. Talking with Legolas afterwards had helped every time.
Who had Legolas talked with, after his frightening experiences? Nobody, she suspected.
She hoped to get an opportunity to speak with him soon, and until then she just had to be patient. It was not easy in this bleak weather, though! Heavy rain whipped her face, hurting her eyes, and beside her Sidra’s youngest wailed pitifully. A tiring, enervating moan that had gone on for hours at end.
Wynne understood why her friend had brought the child, but right now she badly regretted the necessity. Unfortunately she would need to have at least one such herself. She looked forward to making it, but not having to endure its noise.
In the afternoon, an increasing, rumbling sound told them they neared the Falls of Rauros, another famous sight. The rain was finally subsiding, and Thranduil informed them they would make camp above the falls. Hopefully Wynne would get the chance to see at least one of the attractions of the Anduin clearly.
The river widened considerably here, with a barren island in its middle, but since their last unfortunate lake experience nobody wanted to make camp close by it. Instead they found a good spot on a rounded hilltop with a view both over the lake and the spectacular falls. It had stopped raining entirely now, but above the waterfall was a perpetual mist, reflecting the afternoon light in rainbow colors.
The Falls were huge. The sheer drop was a hundred yards or more, and the water cascaded down it with intimidating force. The rumbling escalated to a deafening roar as they came close.
Below, the Anduin continued its route to Minas Tirith, which lay somewhere beyond the southern horizon. The river grew increasingly wide along the way, fed by a delta of many smaller tributaries from Rohan in the west. A vast area stretched out to the east, where the part closest to the river must be the Marsh of Nindalf and further east the Dead Marshes – but they looked nothing like wetlands anymore.
Wynne almost gaped, awestruck at the unfolding sight.
All across the plains, straight channels had been dug in a checkered pattern, leading away the excess water and creating acre upon acre of dry, fertile fields and neat orchards. The area was busy; everywhere she looked, ant-sized people, horses and carts scurried about on unknown errands. As if this was not enough, an enormous wooden structure had been built beside the Falls, and in it, Wynne saw a large boat being elevated by means of an intricate web of ropes and pulleys.
“This certainly has changed since me and Nugu last passed through here!” Sidra had to bellow to be heard over the sound of the cascading water.
“Do you know why they are lifting the boat?” Wynne asked Thranduil.
He bent forward to speak close to hear ear. “King Elessar wishes to establish a shipping trade route to Rohan and the Elvish realms. I assume this is how he plans to travel against the current.”
She looked back, now the boat was almost up. The lifting contraption ended by the lake, close to their vantage point.
“Go and talk to them,” Thranduil ordered Galion. “Ask if King Éomer is down there, and prepare them for our arrival tomorrow. Mention there will be an uruk-hai coming, and that he is not to be touched.”
The guard nodded curtly and had his gelding canter down to the shore.
Wynne looked back at the farmlands, still hardly believing all this possible. She had thought the Argonath statues were an impressive example of the ingenuity of man, but this achievement almost surpassed those. Only to think, all of this had been built, irrigated and planted in just a few years! Her king had certainly kept his subjects busy.
Watching the miniature people down there, Wynne again thought of ants. It was a good simile. She loved watching the antill behind the stables back home, the busy workers carrying their heavy burdens, effortlessly balancing pine needles several times longer than themselves. Sometimes she would drop a breadcrumb or a dead bug nearby, just to see them pick it up and quickly hide it away inside their mysterious tunnels.
Galion came back.
“They are testing the lift, they said this was the first time they carried a loaded ship up here, and it held. Fascinating! They are hoisting it back down now.”
“What about the Rohan king, is he there?” asked Thranduil impatiently.
“Nay, but I bid them send word to him immediately that we have arrived. His foreman in charge will meet with us tomorrow.”
“Unfortunate, but expected I guess. Not every regent can afford to stay absent from his court for such a prolonged time.” Thranduil looked smug.
Wynne wondered who handled the Woodland realm in his absence. Come to think of it, it was rather strange Thranduil had not let Legolas rule in his stead, since he was the crown prince. Or he could have sent his son alone on the quest, with another guard perhaps, while he stayed behind. Did he not trust Legolas?
After they raised the tents, everybody helped make a fire and prepare supper. Since it was the first clear evening for several days, they had a real, cooked meal. Nodir and Bronedir went fishing and brought back a pike and a basketful of striped perch. Wynne dug up cattail roots and some young shoots, while Sidra baked flat cakes with the last of the meal they had brought from the orc town. There was no need to save their rations any longer, tomorrow they would be back in civilized parts with homesteads and hostels along the way.
It became quite a feast, one of the nicer suppers they had had the entire journey. Even the orclings were happy, especially when Thranduil obliged them with some knee-riding before bedtime.
“He really likes children,” Wynne observed to Legolas.
“They are rare among elves,” replied he. “Those who marry have two elflings, maybe three at the most, and it can take centuries between their births. When I grew up there were none other than me in the Realm.”
He turned away to speak with Nugu then, leaving Wynne with unspoken questions. Why did they have so few children, and, more importantly, how ? Did they just stop doing… it?
But surely… to be wed for perhaps thousands of years, and never…
No, that could not be the case! Or…?
Wynne was rather sure she would like to do such things more than two or three times.
“Who wants fire water?” she asked to get something else to think about. It was Mid-Year after all. Everybody happily accepted except for Nugu who claimed he already had been forced to drink strong spirits to last for a lifetime.
“Finally I get to try the sugar beet wine!” Galion poured a generous amount into his cup.
“Careful,” said Thranduil, giving him a stern look. The warrior blushed all the way to the tip of his ears.
At Wynne’s questioning look, Legolas grinned impishly.
“Why Galion, I believe our Wynne has not heard of your… misfortune that time!”
Galion became even redder and mumbled something inarticulate that sounded vaguely like “not necessary”.
Legolas, of course, could not resist telling all about it. Apparently, some years back, the Elvenking had taken a company of dwarves prisoner. Galion, who was then Thranduil’s butler, had gone down to the wine cellar together with another elf and got himself so drunk he fell asleep. The dwarves used this to sneak out and escape in the empty wine barrels, and later caused great havoc by releasing the dragon Smaug. This in turn lead to the Battle of the Five Armies. Afterwards, Galion had been sacked and assigned the lowest possible position in the Woodland Guard.
“So now you see, Wynne, why we try to keep him away from anything stronger than fruit juice,” said Bronedir.
“We want these peaceful times to last,” agreed Nodir.
“Aye, could not risk another war.” Legolas nodded solemnly.
“I was a terrible butler anyway.” Galion smiled good-naturedly, having overcome most of the embarrassment. “And you have to admit I did well in the Guard. Working my way up to captain, and everything.”
“I have still not forgiven you,” said Thranduil, his face void of emotion except for the tiniest quirk of the lips.
Wynne could not resist. “You have .” She playfully elbowed him in the ribs, feeling bold from the half cup of fire water she had sipped during the elves’ recounting.
The quirk turned into a real, warm smile then. “I have.”
“You old softie you.”
“ Softie ?” His smile vanished.
“But you are. You’re not fooling me.”
Thranduil then did something Wynne almost thought she had imagined when she later recalled it. He laid an arm around her shoulders and hugged her close.
“You are a sweet girl.”
He is a softie. *heart eyes*
So, we are nearing civilization. How will Wynne manage that?
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