A/N: Warning for mild language and non-graphic adult themes
This story was written over a year ago for the Teitho Contest "First Line" challenge. I hesitated to post this fic since it is very different from anything else I've written, but I wanted to see if I could pull off this type of humor. I guess it's up to you whether I succeeded or not.
The required first line was: "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
I Have an Idea
It seemed like a good idea at the time. To him—not to me. "We need to get through this territory and meet with Maldor," he said. "You will be in danger of being recognized," he said. "I have an idea," he said. The pity is I never said anything; I was too stunned to say anything and now it is too late.
It is now several days since he had his idea and I am not happy. For one thing, I do not like sleeping on the ground; it is not what I am accustomed to. I like a bed with a little give to it. Thus I was in a very bad mood when I sat up in my musty bedroll this morning (I am also accustomed to being rather cleaner than I am at present). When I began to braid my hair he sought to help me, murmuring "Let me, fair one." I knocked his hands away and tried to kill him with a glance. If he thinks such teasing will turn me up sweet, he has another thing coming! I swiftly formed my long hair into a coronet by taking two heavy braids that swept down each side of my head from temple to nape, and overlapping and fastening the ends securely. He had planned another full day of travel and I wanted my hair to remain tidy. He wisely kept silent while I cooked a scanty meal to break our fast. He took that time to sharpen his sword, but though I normally find the sound of that simple warrior's task soothing, this morning it made my teeth itch in irritation. Finally he spoke, and with six wonderful words swept away my foul mood. "I obtained two horses last night."
Thank Elbereth! I am fitter than most but even I am foot-sore after league upon weary league of journeying. As I finished packing our tiny camp he led the horses out of cover and handed the bridle of the smaller one to me. It was a nondescript nag, cow-hocked but probably sound enough for a few days at least. I tied on my pack and bedroll and prepared to mount but he stopped me with a hand on my arm. I raised my brows and he said with a little hesitation, "Since you will be riding, do you not feel you might – that is – you would be more comfortable if – you might need –" At this point he made a crude movement, cupping his hands before his chest. " – need more support?"
I gasped with outrage but he was right, damn him. I yanked my one and only piece of spare linen from my pack and thrust out my hand impatiently for his belt knife. I stalked away toward some bushes and tried not to imagine his wide grin behind me. I cut and tore wide bands from my drawers, then bared myself to the waist. I added more bands atop the one already wrapped tightly around my body just below my armpits, and tied off the loose ends with a vicious jerk. I dressed again quickly, shaking out my skirts with a harsh flapping. With no sign of my usual grace (there is no point in being falsely modest; everyone says I am graceful) I strode back to my horse and without a glance at him I mounted and set out. At this point my anger was such that I cared neither what direction we traveled nor whether my 'friend' accompanied me or not.
He had the sense to catch up quickly and turn us in the right direction, all without speaking. If he had said one word I would have abandoned him on the spot. As we trotted along I was forced to admit that I was more comfortable than I would have been, and I am ashamed to say that it just made me angrier with him.
By mid-day he had begun to look rather hang-dog and I decided to relent just a little and broke the long silence. "Tell me, what are your plans for this evening?"
He smiled with relief and spoke eagerly, "We will arrive at the town by dusk if we can maintain this pace. I will get us rooms at an inn and then I will try to contact the one we are seeking. Hopefully we will not have to wait more than a day or two for him to join us. With luck, this entire episode will be over with and forgotten by the end of the week."
He was trying to placate me with that last statement and I succumbed to the warmth in his eyes as I always do, often against my better judgment. "Have you selected names for us?"
"Yes, I will be Amiel and you will be Galadwen."
"Very well. I suppose we had better start using them now so that we make no mistakes tonight."
We continued riding through the afternoon with sufficient rest periods to keep the mediocre horseflesh sound. When we crested the hill that allowed us our first look at the village that was our goal, Amiel turned to me with trepidation. I gazed back in non-comprehension until he pointed and whispered, "Your face."
"What about it?"
Amiel took a deep breath. "You need to fix it—repair it; it has been a long day. Do whatever it is women do – it is a mystery to me, as many times as I have seen it done."
"So I am not at my best, am I? You never seem to pass up an opportunity to provoke me!" I rummaged in my pack again and brought out a small pouch. I took a tiny jar and from it applied crimson to the lips that frowned at Amiel. Another jar produced a blue powder that I spread on each eyelid and a flat box provided a lampblack paste for my eyelashes. I gestured for Amiel's sword and when it was—gingerly—presented hilt first, I wrenched it away and used the blade to examine the results of the 'repairs'. I licked one finger to removed a smudge of lampblack, and then pursed and rubbed my lips together. "That will have to do. I have never spent hours on my appearance and will not start now, regardless of how much paint you urge upon me."
"Nonsense! You are quite attractive!" He leered suggestively. "I will be beating off admirers with a stick."
"So long as you do beat them off, I care not what you use. I have no desire to be pawed by some tavern ruffian! Now, if you have had enough sport at my expense, let us go down and get this over with."
The minute we entered the town, suspicious eyes watched us closely. We were strangers and all villages are slow to accept such, even when they bring fat purses and generous custom. Amiel asked for the best inn and was directed churlishly to the Twisted Willow. Finding it easily, we dismounted and tied our horses to iron rings placed in the side of the rickety building. My nostrils flared in distaste. "I can smell the stench of unwashed bodies, sour ale, and vomit from here."
"You are too nice in your notions. I have sung many a rousing song and lifted many a tankard in such places."
A snort was my only reply as I climbed the steps, carefully raising the skirts that threatened to drag on the dirty treads.
"Do not show too much ankle, my dear," chortled Amiel. "I do not want to fight for your honor before I have had my first flagon."
The only reply he received was an increase in the sway of my hips while I walked before him into the inn. He swore under his breath and then growled, "You trollop! You are asking for trouble and we will find enough without your assistance!"
As we tried to move through the crowded, noisy interior of the taproom, Amiel's fears were immediately realized as first one rough hand, then another, reached to squeeze my backside. After repelling the bold suitors, Amiel grabbed my shoulder and hissed, "Get your charms to a table in the back corner and stay there. I will order us something to eat and be there directly."
Minutes later, Amiel slammed two tankards onto the tabletop and growled at a plowboy trying to peer down the front of my tightly fitted jacket. The impertinent lad scuttled off and I gave a sigh of relief. Amiel said morosely, "This has not begun well. We have attracted much more attention than is safe for you. Perhaps this was not such a good idea after all."
To his surprise his I demurred. "Nay, Amiel, this was the best way and I agreed, though I have never been so miserable in my life and that includes when fending off amorous Orcs." I looked about consideringly, "Though it is hard to establish a definitive difference between those Orcs and these men." I gave an artful shudder.
Amiel huffed into his can and then said, "When the barmaid comes, put up your hood again. You have more to fear from women than men. They are more discerning of the details that will give away who you are."
I nodded, my teasing mood gone in an instant. This was not a game we were playing and although he, as ever, referred over and over to my safety, the truth was he would fair little better than I if I were discovered. "I am sorry, Amiel. I will take greater care."
We ate a surprisingly palatable dinner and afterwards I watched Amiel ply his trade. Or at least one of his trades. Leaving me in the dark corner of the room, he began to approach first this one and then that one, speaking sometimes briefly and sometimes at length. He bought a few drinks here and there, though that was not his main technique for finding out what he wanted to know. Mostly he simply looked at people. Something in his eyes invited trust unless the viewer was given over to evil, and we wanted no contact with that sort anyway. Two hours later he returned to me, weariness etched upon his face.
"He is in the village. He does not frequent this tavern – "
"No doubt it is too respectable!"
" - But there are at least three men here who now know there will be silver for them if he comes to speak with me tomorrow."
"Excellent. Now we had best be off to bed."
I rose and he jumped up and slid an arm around my waist. He purred, "So eager, lovely one?"
I put a hand tenderly over his wrist and then pinched a nerve there as I had learned long years ago. His knees buckled as I said sweetly, "How pleased your betrothed will be to hear how you comport yourself when out of her presence!"
For the first time since we started this harebrained scheme he looked disconcerted. Feeling quite satisfied, I went before him up the stairs to the private rooms.
We shared a room, for my safety's sake, and a bed, at my insistence, though he said the floor would do him well enough. This was no time to stand on custom and we had already shared a bedroll during our tramping when the weather was very cold or wet.
The next day we spent resting for we had rarely been able to get enough while on the march to this place. The constant need for watches meant that we each had rested only a few brief hours each night. So we luxuriated in soft linens, featherbeds, and thank the Valar – baths! When we at last made our preparations for what we hoped would happen that night, Amiel was again in a teasing mood. I had sharpened my daggers and laid them out on the bed as I stood in my petticoats by the side of it. I began to put them on while he made commentary at every step. As I strapped the first to the side of my thigh, he tsked tsked about what a dangerous choice that was. "By the time you can get to that one, the game will be well over!"
"If things ever go badly enough that I can get to this one, I will be very glad to have it!"
As I strapped one to each forearm and tested how quickly they would drop into my hand, he was at least serious in his criticism. "I think hilt first is better. Then the grip falls to your palm and you are less likely to cut yourself."
"No, blade first is best. The blade slides through my fingers and is already presented when the hilt hits my palm. The other way I must turn the blade to my attacker, losing a precious second. And with my reflexes, not to mention skill, there is no danger of my being injured. He managed to watch me place the last two daggers in my boots without comment. I knew that he had been relieved the first time he saw how I was armed and that I knew how to defend myself, skirts and all. It was perhaps a little unorthodox for someone like me, but needs must. I finished dressing, put on my face, and we made our way back to the taproom. With luck our mission would be completed tonight.
We went through the same routine as the night before: I was groped, Amiel was angry, we drank a little, and ate another good supper. Amiel did not leave me to work the room as he had the night before; tonight we would be the ones to be sought out—we hoped. The hours passed slowly and Amiel became very still as he does when worried or before a fight. The crowd around the tap seemed cruder and rowdier than last night and Amiel checked repeatedly that I was seated well into the corner and that I kept my hood up. Suddenly we heard a loud commotion outside the door and then it burst open and a huge man, howling with laughter, easily pushed through the crowded room and demanded whiskey. After drinking a few swigs from a large jug he began to sing bawdy songs with his arms around at least three companions at once. Amiel looked at me meaningfully and I gasped, "Not him!" but Amiel nodded. I began to think of the home that I would never see again, for surely disaster was overtaking us.
After another fifteen minutes of the most hideous, not to mention obscene, caterwalling I had ever heard, the big man began to move around the room, sitting at many of the tables, sometimes for only a few minutes, sometimes for a half an hour. He apparently knew everyone and was welcomed at nearly every table. Only a very intense group betting over some game or other and an old man sitting alone rebuffed him. When he finally made his way to us, he pulled a chair from the next table, spun it around, and straddled it with his arms folded on the back. He hissed, "Who are you?" and my companion replied very quietly, "Amiel and Galadwen." Then Maldor, for so he was, roared as he slapped my friend on the back, "Amiel! Good to see you again, old friend! And you've brought the lovely Galadwen with you! I thank 'ee for bringing her so that I can try my charms again – she refused me last time!"
The stretched ears all around us took this in and I saw men visibly relax. Perhaps this night would not go so badly after all. Maldor scooted his chair closer to me and put back my hood with a hand the size of a small ham. I tried not to flinch as he ran a thumb down my cheek and leered in response to my obvious revulsion. His eyes, pretending lust, suddenly focused in disbelief. He then ignored me and turned to Amiel, saying in an angry whisper, "I cannot believe you brought her with you. Do you know will happen if she is found out? There is no love for her kind here! You must be mad!"
"Galadwen was the only one within a reasonable distance who can tell us if our suspicions are correct. Have you brought it with you?"
"Aye. If it is what we fear, can you get it back to someone who can tell us what to do? We are so infiltrated now that I dare make no move to contact your people or even be seen journeying one step out of my usual rounds. Be careful, every gesture we make tonight will be reported."
"I can carry it with no problem but you must tell us all you know so that Galadwen may judge what you face." As Amiel spoke he pulled a small pouch out of his pocket and dumped the contents on to the scarred surface of the table. Small metal gaming pieces and wooden dice clattered and skittered about.
Maldor turned his chair around and sat again as one who settles in for a night's enjoyment. He and Amiel began to play a game unknown to me, that I saw was being played at three other tables. As they played, they talked softly in between boisterous shouts and exhortations to the dice. I easily played my part: the bored consort, patiently waiting while her man amused himself. But as my eyes glazed and I examined my nails I listened closely to the important exchanges between the two.
"When did you first notice anything?"
"About a year ago. It is very subtle; no great change in behaviors, just a strong-minded person suddenly being a little more open to suggestion, or a harridan becoming a little less shrill." He winked at me. " It centers around those villages that use wells for their water. That is what tipped us off."
"What do you think is the point?"
"Conscripts are down drastically. Young men that would normally be champing at the bit to go and fight anything let alone – " He lowered his voice still more. "- the Darkness, now decide to stay home and plow! It is getting harder to find new recruits and keep up the resistance. Many, previously firmly committed, now say they think we overate the danger. As I say, it is a subtle tactic for when you look at any one individual, what can be said except that he has rethought his position? It is the number of people that are 'rethinking' that worries us."
"Where do you think it is coming from? Who is behind it?"
The barest whisper: "Isengard."
"That is a fair distance from here."
"One must be at a fair distance to be rebellious at all. We are the last of the folk that have spoken him fair while moving against it when we can. The lands around us have all given in to its sway."
As he said this, Maldor slid a small box across the table to me under cover of moving the playing pieces. I placed my hand over it, hiding it completely, and pulled it into my lap. I slid off the tightly fitting top and for a moment simply let my finger hover over the contents. I closed my eyes and extended other, inner, senses. I felt nothing so I cautiously moved my finger until it touched the fine powder within. Again I felt nothing. Very reluctantly I lifted my fingertip to my lips and touched it to my tongue. At once I felt a surge of nausea and a buzzing in my head as Darkness entered my being. I swayed, unable to help showing my reaction, and Amiel's hand closed on my arm like a vise. He looked at me furiously. "You tasted it? Have you taken leave of your senses?!"
I struggled to force a reply through stiff lips. "I will be well—just give me a few minutes. Go back to the game!"
He realized how he looked, half standing and agitated as he was, and he subsided back into his chair. He quickly laughed, picked up the dice, and threw them. Maldor cried out as his pieces were knocked from their winning positions and once again our table merely showed two men amusing themselves and one woman bored to tears.
After my heart stopped racing and I no longer tasted bile in my throat, I whispered from behind a hand that appeared to cover a yawn. "It is some vile poison, charmed in some manner. It is most assuredly of the Dark. We must get it to those we know of. How did you obtain it?"
With face and eyes looking as though he were flirting with me, Maldor explained, "The powder has been found in tiny amounts around the stones or bricks of the wells. We are certain it is being used to poison them. They are careful though, whoever they are, for it took us much time to find it and more time to realize its affects. Do you think they can be overcome?"
Aragorn rattled the dice cup and said quietly, "This is of the deep Dark. I cannot say. We must get this at once to - . And for more than just the sake of your people. Up until now there have only been rumors and 'feelings' that Isengard is no longer flirting with darkness but has made a final choice to be numbered amongst our enemies. This is the proof needed by those on the Council who have urged caution for years in our dealings with him. Thank you, Maldor, this is of great importance."
He grinned and turned away and he and Amiel finished their game. When they had shaken hands over their losses, Maldor rose and made a noisy farewell to Amiel and then turned to me with pure wickedness in his expression. He planted a huge paw behind my head and leaned over and kissed me full on the mouth. With tongue. Only Amiel's hand nearly breaking my wrist kept me from biting that tongue clean out of his disgusting mouth. He finally pulled back and I dropped him with an uppercut, regardless of Amiel's hold. I rarely hit, preferring my daggers when I am forced to defend myself, but the lout asked for it! The tavern went silent and every eye looked our way. Amiel was ready to skin me and I had to acknowledge that I had acted rashly: the man could expose us with a word.
But Maldor was not such a bad sort, at least when he kept his body parts to himself. He laughed heartily from where he half lay on the floor and shouted, "That is my kind of woman! You are a lucky man, Amiel! But no wonder you try to keep her temper sweet!"
I forced myself to smile to show there were no hard feelings and he took himself back to the tapster, calling for more whiskey. The men in the bar laughed and turned back to their pursuits. Amiel and I waited long enough for everyone to forget about us again and then quietly made our way upstairs.
Once in our room I poured a cup of water from the ewer provided to us and stepped to the window. I swished my mouth and spat into the street. Repeatedly. Amiel admonished me, unable to keep a straight face. "Is that any way for a lady to behave—spitting out the window? You would think you came from the back streets!"
"Admit it! You thought it was amusing! You were laughing!" It was hard for me to describe my aversion to what was, after all, only a kiss. But although I have received much mistreatment at the hands of men, Orcs, and others in my life, I had never been touched in such an intimate way. It is not the way of my kin to do so, unless with one's intended spouse. Amiel knew this and I was hurt that he found it amusing. I turned stiffly away and began to undress. He put out a hand toward me, no longer laughing.
"Ah, Galadwen, I am sorry."
I did not turn to face him. "You have not made this easier for me. You have teased and laughed and provoked me at every turn. I do not think I would have treated you so if our places were reversed."
"You have teased right back! What do you call this?" and he sashayed around the room with one hand on his hip, waggling his behind.
"Only a fair retaliation! And I – " I broke off, appalled, as I actually heard a catch in my voice. That was all I needed. To prove my weakness with tears. Too late; he had heard it as well. He came around to face me and I saw concern and yes, the love that he had felt for me since we first met. Before he could speak I hurried to explain. "I am tired. It has been a hard week and more than a little stressful. But we can leave tomorrow and soon it will be over. Pay me no mind."
"You are too generous, as always, with my faults and they are many. I am sorry I have made this harder for you. I am terribly worried about you being here and I suppose I jest to keep from thinking of it. Please forgive me; you have heard my last jape, at least until you are safe and your own again."
I nodded and touched his cheek briefly, then lay down on our bed. I was so very tired. I do not think I have found any other situation so exhausting, and we have been in many that might have cost us our lives. He covered me with a blanket and then began to sing softly. I smiled and at length began to relax, soothed into the land of dreams.
The next morning we paid our shot and then headed away from the village. As we rode into the open plains my heart felt as though it was freed from a tight cage and I drew my first deep, deep breath in what seemed like forever. My companion smiled, knowing how I rejoiced to be away from the stinking confines of the village, and we rode together in perfect amity.
Three days later we reached the wood from whence we began this adventure. From this point on we would have forested land to travel and we felt it would be safe for me to drop my disguise. Even so, Amiel, or Aragorn as I could once again call him, was still tense and urged me to transform as quickly as possible so that we could move on. I told him in no uncertain terms that I would bathe; we had chosen this particular spot to hide our gear because of the nearby river.
I climbed the tree where I had hidden my pack and weapons and sighed with sensuous pleasure when my knives once more fit snugly in my palms. I twirled them for a few moments to help me feel more like myself. Then I tied everything together again and returned to the ground. While Aragorn looked on with sympathy I removed the hated clothing I had worn for over a week. The jacket, the shirt, the petticoats, the skirts, and finally the despised bands that secured two apples to my chest. Aragorn had sliced the tops off so they would lay in position better and the open flesh had begun to decay. I hurled them from me and Aragorn did not so much as snicker. He told me he would bury the clothing as an extra precaution while I bathed.
In naught but my skin I ran for the stream, unfastening the thick braids that had hidden my pointed ears as I went. I plunged into the water and Aragorn soon joined me although with none of the horseplay he often indulged in. Instead he stroked some distance away from me and left me in heavenly solitude. I love him—he is my sworn brother—but he had been afraid to leave me alone for one moment this past fortnight and that, too, had fretted me. As best I could I washed the walnut extract from my hair, knowing most of it would have to wear away over time. Next I scrubbed the remaining paint from my face. Ah! I was Legolas again!
Very soon we were on our way home. We abandoned the horses as they were ridden out and we could go faster in the dense forest without them. I carried the tiny box with its deadly contents within my jerkin, though my skin prickled at being in such close contact with the Dark. I loped easily in my leggings and boots, reveling in the freedom I had regained. We spoke little, saving our breath for running. We had at least been well rested and well fed while we were forced to stay in the village, so for now we stopped neither for meals nor sleep. We wanted to be home!
One week later we were at last in territory where being an elf was not a death sentence or worse. Another month saw us descending the cliff path into Imladris. I presented the box to Lord Elrond and he at once felt a troubling with his heightened sensitivities. He was very impressed that we had been able to retrieve it and turned immediately to his workroom to investigate the dangerous powder.
That night at the dinner held in celebration of our safe return, the family obviously expected us to tell a fine tale. They had many questions, mostly about how the powder was obtained by Maldor and how I was able to travel safely into and out of such dangerous territory. I looked with apprehension at Aragorn, knowing that only a few brief words would lay me open to an elven lifetime of harassment as the twins leaned forward, encouraging their human brother to begin and "leave nothing out."
My friend smiled warmly at me and I felt guilty for thinking, even for a moment, that he would expose me before his family. He shrugged and said, "I told him to keep his hood up."
"You WHAT?" "How could you be so irresponsible!" "Do you have any idea what might have happened to him, to both of you?" "Elbereth! One gust of wind and he would have been discovered!"
As the storm broke upon poor Aragorn, I tried to break in and finally managed to get everyone's attention. Elrond asked me, frowning very darkly indeed, "Am I to assume you acquiesced in this farcical plan?"
I looked unflinchingly into the eyes of the Lord of the Valley. "It seemed a good idea at the time."