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5. Learning to Trust
The Men busied themselves around the camp, cleaning and repairing their gear while they had the chance. At one point, Berioger left the camp site and came back with several herbs that he set carefully to one side, evidently planning to use them on his patient. Sarelad performed the unpleasant task of dragging the Orc bodies into the woods and performing some sort of rudimentary burial. It was well into the afternoon before the wounded Man moaned and stirred. His companions were near him in an instant, easing him to a half-sitting position and offering him water. He blinked and looked around him. His gaze came to rest on Legolas and Turgon who had sat up and were observing him in silence. “Am I imagining two Elves?” he asked weakly. “Are they a product of my head wound?”
“No, they’re real enough. Does your head ache?” Berioger asked as he examined the gash on Aragost’s head.
Aragost closed his eyes again. “As if there were dwarves inside trying to kick their way out.”
Berioger chuckled. “I’ll make you some tea that will help,” he promised, and put a pan of water over the fire. The wounded Man lay quietly with his eyes shut again. When the water was hot, Berioger selected from among his herbs and dropped the leaves into the water to steep.
Legolas had been watching the Men closely, looking for any weakness that might be useful later. When Berioger picked up the herb, he could not prevent himself from sucking in his breath sharply. Turgon had evidently seen the same thing he had, for he was now looking at the pan of steeping leaves with wide eyes. After a few moments, Berioger picked up the pan and drained the tea carefully into a cup. Legolas could restrain himself no longer.
“No!” he cried. Berioger and Sarelad turned to look at him in surprise, and even Aragost cracked his eyes open to regard him. “That is naeth weed,” he said. “It is poisonous to Elves and to every other creature that I know of, so it probably will not do your friend any good either. Although,” he added arrogantly, “it probably will cure his headache.”
Berioger and Sarelad looked at one another and then at the intact pieces of the herb. “I have never heard of naeth weed,” said Berioger doubtfully, “It looks like aracanath.”
“No,” said Legolas firmly. “They say that naeth weed grows only in Mirkwood. It looks like aracanath, but it is not. The leaves are too large. And do you not see the lines on the underside?” The Men inspected the herb more closely. Berioger, looking shaken, turned suddenly and flung the tea away into the woods. He turned to Legolas.
“Thank you,” he said.
Legolas nodded and then said hesitantly, “I have aracanath in my pack.” Sarelad looked surprised for a moment but then picked up one of the Elven packs and turned questioningly to Legolas. “That is Turgon’s pack,” he said, “but he has it too. It is wrapped in a packet that is probably on top. He had his healing packet out when we tended to your friend.” He stressed this last trying to evoke some guilt from the Men, but they were too busy to react. Turgon growled under his breath when the Men began pawing through his pack, but they ignored him. They located the healing packet, sorted through the herbs, and found what they were looking for. Sarelad scrubbed out the pan thoroughly and set about heating more water. The Men made the tea and again drained it into a cup. Then Berioger roused Aragost and carefully fed him the tea. The wounded Man seemed to drop immediately back to sleep.
The Men then began a whispered conversation that was quite audible to Legolas’s sharp Elven ears. He translated for Turgon under his breath.
“We should unbind them,” said Berioger. “They tended Aragost’s wounds and prevented us from harming him. It isn’t right to keep them like this. They have shown no enmity.”
“Except for the dagger at Aragost’s throat,” Sarelad reminded him
“He never would have used it,” Berioger argued. “Did you not hear the quaver in his voice? He was trying to bluff us out of hiding.”
“And if we free them, they will bring more of their kind. You know we were warned that Wood-Elves were an unfriendly bunch, and the blond has a mouth on him that seems to bear out the warning.”
“He is ill-mannered,” sighed Berioger, “but he looks to be about the same age as my son, and he’s the same way. It means nothing.”
Turgon smiled nastily at Legolas. “You should have let them drink the tea,” he murmured. Legolas snorted inelegantly.
Berioger approached them. “If you will promise not to try to escape,” he said, “I will untie you.”
Legolas translated this offer for Turgon, and then the two of them weighed it in silence. “You must let us speak to one another,” Legolas said finally. Berioger nodded and moved away to give them privacy, and although the move was unnecessary given his inability to understand Sindarin, the Elves still appreciated the politeness. “What do you think?” Legolas asked Turgon.
“I am getting very tired of being bound,” admitted Turgon. “I do not do very well when I am required to sit still.”
“If we promise, then we cannot escape,” Legolas reasoned aloud. “But if we do not promise, then we will stay bound and probably will not be able to escape anyway. And I do not think that they will harm us, or they would have done so already. I think that they intend to let us go eventually, so perhaps escape is not necessary anyway.” Turgon nodded approvingly. The possibility of being untied had increased his impatience with their bonds. Legolas looked at Berioger. “We promise that we will not try to escape,” he said in Westron.
“Both of you?” Berioger made sure.
“Yes, we both agree.”
Berioger untied their hands first and made to untie their feet, but they were hastily unknotting the bonds themselves. Turgon flung off the bonds, leapt to his feet, and paced around the clearing, alarming Sarelad, who kept his hand warily on his sword hilt. He was unaccustomed to long hours of immobility and had found their confinement difficult. Legolas rose more slowly and also moved about. “You do not need to be wary,” he told Sarelad. “We have promised, and even unfriendly, ill-mannered Wood-Elves keep their word.” Sarelad flushed with annoyance and turned to check on Aragost, probably to keep himself from doing or saying something he would regret. Legolas recognized the tactic from his dealings with the adults in his own life.
And in an odd kind of way, these Men had temporarily become the adults in his life. During the hours when he and Turgon had been tied up, he had become aware of the confusing fact that he felt safer with the Men around, even when he himself was bound. The previous night’s events had made clear to him that, in coming on this trip, he and Turgon had thrust themselves into a situation that was beyond their ability to handle. These Men were clearly experienced warriors. If more Orcs came, they would have a grasp of tactics and a practiced steadiness in battle that he and Turgon sorely lacked, for all their hours on the training fields.
Now that they were free, his naturally buoyant spirits had risen and his tongue had loosened. His family and teachers would have recognized the mood. Bored with sitting in the camp all day, he looked around for something useful to do. “If you like,” he offered to the Men, “Turgon and I could hunt for some fresh meat for evening meal. There is not much game here, but we have seen rabbits in the woods.”
Sarelad frowned. “Take your bows and go off by yourselves? I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.”
Legolas looked at him steadily. “We have promised that we will not try to escape,” he said again, “and we will not.”
“What about shooting us?” Sarelad asked dryly. “Did you promise not to do that?”
Legolas grinned at him. “Among Elves, that would count as trying to escape,” he said blithely. “Would Men shoot their captors and then return to sit beside them?”
Sarelad snorted at the impertinence. In his opinion, someone should have cuffed this sweet-faced, smart-mouthed youngster around a bit, long before now. Then, he eyed Legolas appraisingly. He had held dealings with Elves before and had always found them honorable, but they had not been Wood-Elves, who sometimes caused even their fellow Elves to roll their eyes. He picked up their bows and hesitated. Putting weapons in these young Elves’s hands implied a degree of trust he was not sure he felt. Still, the two of them had thus far done nothing but good to the Men. They had tended to Aragost and prevented harm with the tea. He took a deep breath and decided to rely on his knowledge of the general high-mindedness of Elves. He handed them their bows.
“How about bringing in some of those black squirrels too?” he asked Legolas. “They seem to be plentiful.”
“I will bring you one if you like,” Legolas said pleasantly, and then he laughed. He and Turgon picked up their quivers and started off into the woods. Within an hour, they were back with four plump rabbits and a squirrel.
Berioger, who was feeding the fire, put out his hand for the game and nodded approvingly. “Good,” he said. “We will spit them and roast them. They will make a change from dried meat.” He set about cooking their evening meal, and the four of them settled in an oddly companionable state to eat it. Legolas and Turgon watched gleefully as Sarelad took one bite of the squirrel, spit it out, and hastened to rinse his mouth from his water skin.
“Why did you not tell me it tasted foul?” he cried.
“You did not ask,” answered Legolas with Elven logic. Sarelad gave him a black look but said nothing. Berioger sniggered.
As they ate, Berioger cautiously began to question Legolas about himself and Turgon. “Do you live near here?”
Legolas considered but could see no harm to answering the question. “We live near the eastern edge of the forest,” he said.
“And what brings you to this part of the woods?”
“We are hunting spiders and Orcs,” Legolas answered, a bit defensively. He knew that he and Turgon would have appeared an odd hunting party to any Elf, but perhaps these Men did not know that. And it was after all the simple truth that they were hunting these creatures.
Berioger raised an eyebrow but said nothing. As a father himself, what he wanted to ask was “Do your families know you’re here?” But he restrained the impulse. He did not know the customs of Wood-Elves. Perhaps they sent their youngsters alone on such hunts routinely. Sarelad had no such inhibitions. “Your people must have gotten tired of your insolence to have let you come out on your own,” he said. Legolas bit his tongue to hold back what this Man would undoubtedly consider a rude reply and thus prove Sarelad correct in his assessment of their manners. The truce between Elves and Men was fragile but pleasant, and he did not wish it to end. He did not translate Sarelad’s remark for Turgon. There was no sense in asking for trouble. And indeed there was something of truth in Sarelad’s observation. They were not supposed to be out here on their own.
“And you?” Legolas asked. “Are you Woodmen?”
“No,” Berioger answered. “The Woodmen are our distant kin, and we visited them on our way here, but we ourselves are from the other side of the
When they had all finished eating, Sarelad cleaned up while Berioger roused Aragost long enough to feed him some broth that he had prepared from the rabbit carcasses and some more of the aracanath tea. Soon afterwards, they were settling to sleep. Berioger and Sarelad were dividing the watches between them when Legolas offered, “Turgon and I can take two of the watches.” Sarelad scowled and Berioger hesitated, but in the long run, they both acceded to his offer. Legolas drew the first watch and had seen nothing untoward when Sarelad relieved him and sent him to sleep. Thus, in the end, the four of them passed the night more like companions than foes.
When Legolas awakened the next morning, he found that Aragost was finally awake. Legolas lay quietly for a few minutes listening to the conversation between the three Men. Aragost was questioning the other two about the events of the last two days. From the way they deferred to him, Legolas concluded that Aragost was actually the leader of this group of Men. He was questioning the others now about Legolas and Turgon, and Berioger was laying out his rationale for concluding that they were potential allies rather than enemies. Aragost looked thoughtful. “Perhaps they can help us,” he mused. “We could use guides and they are undoubtedly more familiar with this forest than we are.”
Berioger was inspecting Aragost’s wounds again. “You would be better with another day’s rest,” he said, “and even better with two.”
Aragost shook his head and then looked as if he regretted the movement. “We will see,” he said. “Two days is out of the question, but I may have to concede the one.” Legolas considered. The group of elflings who had gone on the woodcraft training trip would have returned in the late afternoon of the previous day. He and Turgon would have been missed and searchers would have set out to look for them, probably this morning, but possibly last evening. That meant that another day’s stay here was safe, but that two days were, indeed, out of the question.
Unless, of course, they wanted to be found. Just after they had fought the Orcs, he would have said that he would welcome a rescue party. But today, things seemed better, and his stomach clenched at the idea of meeting whatever fate awaited him at home. He did not want to think of what his father’s reaction had been when he found out what Legolas had done. That way lay grief and fear. No, a few more days on their own for him and Turgon would be very welcome. Perhaps they would even go with these Men and guide them wherever they were going.
Even as that thought occurred to him, the better part of him knew exactly what he and Turgon should do: They should go home. Their families were undoubtedly worried beyond reason. To stay away was not right. He held that idea in his mind and examined it with as much honesty as he could bring to bear. In misery, he finally drew the only conclusion that he could, one that had, in all truth, been too long in coming. Today he would try to talk some sense into Turgon. He did not think that the task would be an easy one, though. Then he remembered with relief that they had promised the Men they would not try to escape. That meant that any thought of going home had to be postponed anyway. Perhaps by the time the Men moved on, Turgon would be ready to go home.
Sarelad was now helping Aragost to his feet, for the Man wanted to try his strength. Legolas sat up, drawing their attention. Beside him, Turgon too was stirring. Aragost made his way over and, in Westron, said, “It seems I owe you both my thanks for your help with the Orcs and your care for my well being.” Legolas translated for Turgon and then the two of them nodded wordlessly.
Aragost regarded the pair before him thoughtfully. They had the arrow-straight backs and strong shoulders of Elven archers and were clad in the brown and green that he had been told marked the Elves of Mirkwood. The one with the bruise on his face was unexpectedly blond. Aragost had thought that all Wood-Elves were dark, like the blond’s sharp-eyed companion. It was difficult to be certain of age with Elves, but it was clear that these two were not yet fully grown. If they had been Men, he would have judged them to be perhaps fifteen or sixteen. What they were doing out here by themselves, he could not imagine. The Elves he knew were intensely protective of their young.
Switching to Sindarin, he spoke again. “I am Aragost, son of Arahad.”
Both Elves were startled to hear their own language in the mouth of a Man, albeit he spoke it with a strange, rather affected accent. Turgon responded almost automatically with polite correctness. “I am Turgon, son of Vardalan, and this is Legolas, son of Thranduil.” Too late did he feel Legolas’s restraining hand grip his arm and remember that it was perhaps better that these strangers not know whose son Legolas was. The startled look on Aragost’s face told them that he knew very well the significance of the information he had just been given.
He paused for a moment and then bowed to Legolas. “Then I am honored, as well as thankful,” he said. Legolas flushed; as the youngest of three brothers, he was unaccustomed to being treated as his father’s representative. Aragost looked at him thoughtfully for a moment and then turned away. He too had had to learn to be seen as his father’s son.
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