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43. Galion Knows About Wine
The inside of the tent was too moist for comfort. Wynne slept badly, and woke before sunrise. She pulled on some clothes and crawled out, trying to not wake her tentmates.
The past few days she had shared her tent with Sidra and the kids, while Nugu had been invited to share with Thranduil and Legolas, much to everybody’s surprise. The Elvenking sleeping next to an orc! But there was a first time for everything, Wynne figured.
The air outside was humid too, with white swirls of mist covering the fields below.
Wynne spotted a silent figure ahead, tall as a young tree, lithe and strong, standing beside the Falls like an Argonath. He was regarding the flowing water with a faraway look on his beautiful face.
“Wynne,” he acknowledged. As usual, Legolas knew who it was without turning around.
“Legolas… is something wrong?”
“This is where we sent him. Down the waterfall.”
“Boromir?” Wynne remembered from his tale that the Gondor warrior had died near the Anduin.
“Do you miss him?”
“Aye. Despite... “ He did not finish the sentence.
“Want to talk about it?”
He shook his head. Wynne did not press him, that kind of conversation was better suited somewhere more private. Here, the others could wake up at any time.
“Are you avoiding me?” she asked instead.
“Maybe. A little.” He finally tore his eyes from the waterfall and met her gaze, smiling slightly. “Father knows. Again. There is no hiding things from him.”
Wynne sighed. “What shall we do?”
“We wait a little more… until Minas Tirith.”
“I don’t want to wait.” She took a step closer and nestled an arm around him.
“I know.” He looked down at her upturned face, still with that forlorn expression etched on his features. Wynne knew his thoughts remained with his lost friend, and the Fellowship. She stroked his cheek, her heart aching with sympathy.
His eyebrows drew together. “Do not pity me.”
“I’m sad when you are sad.” She smoothed his crested forehead with her fingertip.
He bent down and kissed her then, a feather-light touch on her lips. “Others are waking. I hear them.” He kissed her cheek, and the other. “You must go. Please.”
Wynne nodded and turned away, chest burning, the feeling of his lips lingering like scorch marks on her skin. Never mind Thranduil, she would get him alone for a heart-to-heart as soon as possible.
When they broke camp later that morning, everybody was unusually clean and neat, in their finer tunics and well-brushed hair. For the first time in weeks they would meet other people.
They rode eastward along the ridge to find a less steep way down. According to the men Galion had spoken to yesterday, there would be a road somewhere ahead. Soon they found it, a dirt path ambling down in wide serpentines over a series of terraces. When they came near, they realized the terraces were man-made and cultivated with rows of green, climbing plants.
“This is a vineyard!” exclaimed Thranduil with some surprise, examining the trellises and growing tendrils where small, golden grapes hung in thin clusters. “By the look of it, none too impressive.”
“The vines are young yet, I am sure they will improve in years to come.” Galion plucked an unripe grape, crushed it in his hand and smelled it expertly. “Thaun Môr – hard to grow, but will make a lovely red if prepared well.”
“Trust Galion to know about wine,” snickered Bronedir.
Further down the road, they met the first human, an old man with a donkey cart full of grapevine plants. He stopped dead when they passed by, eyes bulging.
“Good day.” Thranduil gave a slight nod.
“G-g-good day sir!” The man bowed so deep he dropped his straw hat, his wrinkled face beet red. Wynne could feel him stare after them a long time afterwards.
“Well, that went alright I guess,” said Sidra. “At least he didn’t point a pitchfork at my husband.”
“He was probably too struck by the elves’ beauty to even notice.” Wynne winked at Legolas, who smiled briefly in return, before regaining his somber face. He was obviously still sad, brooding over dark memories.
“That is likely,” Thranduil agreed. “Our kind often appear intimidating to mortals.”
“And conceited,” murmured Sidra in Wynne’s ear.
“I heard that.”
The closer they came to the former Marshes, the more people they met; groups of workers, more carts and even the odd horseback rider. It was clear most of them had been forewarned about the company, but still they ogled them rudely, with raised eyebrows, mouths open, whispering their astonishment to each other.
No wonder, too. Here came five impressingly tall and handsome elvish warriors – on Meara horses, no less – their finely sculpted chins held high, and long hair flowing. As if this was not enough to cause wonder, they were followed by a dark-skinned Haradrim woman, a huge uruk-hai and two half orc children. Wynne was the only remotely normal person of their group.
The vineyards ended below the hill, superseded by vast orchards. Lemon, orange and apple trees grew in neat rows, still young, yet promising a bountiful harvest when autumn came.
“When I get my own home, I’m having lemon trees,” decided Wynne and breathed in the lovely, fresh scent of the white blossoms and tiny, unripe fruits. “Every guest will be served homemade lemonade.”
“We shall visit you often, then,” said Sidra warmly. “I love lemonade.”
Wynne stifled a sigh. Would she ever have a home of her own, though? Where would she even live? If Thranduil finally accepted her as his son’s bride, customs bid she would move to his palace. There would probably be no orchards there, and no heather meadows either.
A group of riders came cantering up to them, giving Wynne other things to think about. The horses were of a sturdy, common breed, but she still recognized them as Rohirric. A dark brown gelding detached from the others and made halt before Thranduil. The rider looked somewhat official. He was thin, his hands on the reins slender, almost lady-like. The man’s clothes were of good quality, but worn; a black leather vest, rough breeches and knee-high boots, and over his shoulders a folded hood with its tip trailing almost down to the horse’s rump.
“Greetings, King Thranduil. Prince Legolas.” The man bowed to the royals, obviously recognizing them from description, and then to Wynne and Sidra. “My Ladies.”
“Greetings.” Thranduil nodded curtly. “Master…?”
“How impolite of me, my apologies! I am Lyndon, foreman of the Green Valley, as we call these lands nowadays.”
“Ah, King Éomer’s man. Well met, master Lyndon.”
“We have already sent word to the king of your arrival, as per your wish – however, I was instructed earlier that if you came by here, I was to send you onwards to Osgiliath and Prince Faramir’s city residence.”
“Will the king meet us there?”
“He did not see fit to inform me of his plans, but I am sure the prince will know. Oh! This reminds me… I bring word from another of the prince’s guests. A message to you, Prince Legolas.”
Legolas had been regarding the nearby fruit trees dispassionately, and started at the mention of his name. “To me?”
“Yes, sire, from the Lord of the Glittering Caves.”
“Gimli!” His face brightened considerably.
“The Lord Gimli says, wait…” Lyndon fumbled in a leather bag attached to his belt, and pulled out a piece of parchment. He harkled and began: “Tell the laddie to hurry and get his pretty–” He paused, blushing furiously. “Eh, I think you better read the rest for yourself.” The man practically tossed the message to Legolas like it was burning his fingers.
Legolas read silently, his grin growing wider.
“Well, are you not going to let us hear it?” Thranduil tried to peek over his son’s shoulder, but Legolas quickly folded the letter and stowed it away under his tunic.
“He just says to come and meet him in Osgiliath, and he wants to show a bridge and a gate he built. And that he misses me.” Legolas smile waned. “Seeing as you would not allow him to visit me back home, it has been a while.”
“You know I have bad experience with dwarves in my realm.” The king frowned.
“Do you wish to know a little of what we accomplished here?” asked the foreman, smoothly breaking the tense atmosphere.
“It would be my pleasure.” Thranduil smiled politely. Soon Lyndon was giving them detailed descriptions about the fields, crops, previous harvests and all the work they had done.
The road became wider and ever more busy the closer to the Anduin they got. There were several big wooden wheels by the river, spinning rapidly with water flowing through them.
“These are our mills and saws. Water powers them, see? And you already saw the Lift of Rauros, as we call this.” He pointed at the huge tower where the boat had been elevated yesterday.
“This is impressive work,” admitted Thranduil.
“Thank you, sire.” Lyndon beamed like it was he alone who achieved it all. “Now, here starts the Osgiliath Road, which is all new too. You will find that it follows the Anduin for the greater part, and there are several good hostels along the way. It should take you four days or so on horseback.”
They thanked the foreman and bid him farewell. Soon they were on their way, making good speed, the fresh gravel of the road crunching under the horses’ hooves.
Legolas still gazed distractedly at the surroundings, but now a thin smile played on his lips, warming Wynne’s heart. This Gimli was clearly a good friend, and meeting him was probably just what Legolas needed after his bleak mood the past days.
Soon our favorite dwarf will enter the story!
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