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Subject: Departure

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Date Posted: 21:00:38 03/29/03 Sat

Harion's pace slowed to a shuffle as he entered the palace stableyard. Suddenly, this didn't seem like such a good idea. The yard was nearly deserted except for a few horses standing patiently by the stable entrance. They were pack animals, fully loaded, breathing out clouds of steam in the crisp, wintery air. The palace loomed tall and grey against the sparkling white snow. Nature's way of proving that the "White" city was not so perfect after all. Harion gazed around for Lady Aryante, hoping she'd suddenly emerge from the stables and reassure him that he should be here. No such luck. The only person to emerge was a tall man with long blonde hair. Harion watched as he adjusted a few straps, then stood quietly petting the nearest horse tenderly, his eyes fixed on the door to the palace.
Harion glanced behind him, back towards the main city. He could still run, this wasn't compulsary. But running wouldn't solve anything. It certainly wouldn't give his family anything to eat. He took a deep breath and started forward towards the horses, desperately trying to control the churning in his stomach.
The man heard him coming and turned gracefully. For the first time, Harion noticed his ears and a new wave of unease washed over him. This must be the elven prince. Now he not only had to explain his presence to a stranger, but to royalty, and to an elf!, a fairytale being. Could things get any worse?

Legolas looked at him keenly, approving of what he saw. The young man seemed in awe of his surroundings, nervous even, but possessed about him an air of resolute determination that would stand him in good stead on the journey. Calloused hands and the subtle swelling of muscle under his shirt showed that he was used to hard work. He stood a mere couple of fingerlengths shorter than himself, but was built a little stockier whilst still retaining the slenderness of youth. Still, the boy approached him as if fearing to be shot down for daring to enter his presence. Legolas hastened to put him at his ease."It is a fair morning is it not?" he said lightly, "Good weather for riding. We should make good ground today.I would not be mistaken in assuming that you are the one Lady Aryante tells me to accompany us? Forgive me, but I do not recall your name. My mind has been somewhat occupied with...other subjects. I am Legolas."

"H..Harion" he stammered. "My name.. I mean..." He gulped, took a deep breath and tried again.
"I'm Harion, pleased to meet you, Sir." Legolas smiled, trying not to show his amusement too much. The lad would probably be more at ease if he felt he was doing something useful.
"Would you mind checking the packs on these animals?" Legolas asked, gesturing towards the horses. "I wouldn't want them to be under too much strain, or for anything to fall off."
It was unnecessary, He had already checked them earlier. But Harion wouldn't know that and it might break the ice slightly.
Harion moved greatfully over to the nearest horse, pleased to be able to hide his flaming face against the horses smooth flank. He passed nimble fingers over the tack and reigns, checking it was neither too loose, nor too tight. The horse was a beautiful animal, a much better breed than the scraggy bag of bones they'd had at home. Harion moved cheerfully onto the next horse, his fears practically forgotten. Legolas stood carefully out of his way, one eye still glued on the door to the palace, the other watching, satisfied. He did seem to know quite a lot about horses. This arrangement would probably work quite well.

Harion stood in front of one of the horses, quietly making friends, stroking its velvety nose.
"Do they have names?" he asked, trying to make up for his first blunders by starting a conversation.

The elf smiled easily. "Mine is Alalme - the elm. He has its spirit. The bay over there is ridden by Lady Aryante and I believe his name is Telkontar. The mare..." his eyes unfocused briefly "...she says she answers to Seima. It means she is gentle. The pack horses are unnamed, but you may change that if you wish. They are yours to care for." As an afterthought, he asked, "Do you shoot a bow?"

Harion didn't answer for a second, he was too busy allowing the last sentence to sink in. The elf could talk to the animals? The mare had told him her name? as if she had the right to choose what she was called? as if she was a free spirit?
He stepped back from the horse, almost in awe. As far as he was concerned, horses were useful, but dumb animals. The idea that they had intelligent thoughts and opinions unnerved him slightly. Then again, he had known that this trip was going to be full of new experiences, not all of them to his liking.
He turned his attention back to the last question.
"Err, no. Not really, not enough to rely on. I mean... I can normally hit a deer accurately enough to bring it down, but I can't kill it. The only weapon I'm really comfortable with is a staff... or a knife. Even my sword skills are rusty, I haven't needed to use one for a long time." He paused, realizing that this made him sound like a liability, especially next to the elf, stories of his fighting had seeped down to the tavern.
"I'd really like to learn... if someone could teach me."
"There will be plenty of time for that on the journey. We have a long way to travel. In the meantime..." Legolas paused, selecting first a short-bladed dagger from a pack and handing it to the still startled boy, then holding up several swords against him until he found one that seemed satisfactory. "Crossbow or long?" A smile quirked at the corner of his mouth. "And you can stop looking at the horses like that as well. They don't understand."
"Uh... longbow please." Harion took the previously offered sword, whilst he waited for the bow, and felt its weight carefully. It felt strange to hold one properly again. It had been many years since he had last fought in battle. This was different though. There would always be a difference when you had the freedom to choose to fight, with your choice of master, against your choice of enemy. Very different.
"Is the Lady Aryante joining us?" he asked at last.
"She should be here shortly. There are a few hard-to-find herbs that she would have before we left. She said she would not be long." Arrows and a quiver were found and handed over whilst he watched the young man's handling of the weapon. "Let me see you fire it." Harion fitted an arrow onto the string and gently tested the tension on the string. "What shall I aim for?" he asked
"The tree?" Legolas suggested, gesturing towards a tree near the palace wall. The circumference was about the same as a mans waist. He watched the lad's positioning. Very primitive, certainly not using the bow to its best advantage. Harion pulled back the arrow fetch until it was level with his cheek. The strain was terrific, his arms were aching after a few seconds. He released the arrow and watched it shoot across the courtyard, just grazing the tree before hitting the wall behind. He lowered the bow and tried to control his embarrassment.
"If the Orcs are fat, I'll be alright" he tried to joke. He didn't feel like laughing. He had just proved his inability to use a bow in front of one of the best archers ever.
"It'll take practise" was all Legolas replied. Silence fell between them again.
One of the horses snorted and stamped impatiently. Harion looked at it cautiously. Was it laughing at his abysmal archery as well? Perhaps it later would share conversations with the elf behind his back. It was no good, he had to know for certain. He turned back to the elf.
"The horses... They can't really talk...can they?"
"Not as you do, no. They do not communicate in words as such, more in images and feelings. If you speak to them they will not understand the words, but they can grasp your meaning through your tone of voice and the emotions that they perceive in you. For elves it is different - we think half in this way ourselves, so the link is more readily available. When she tells me her name, she is actually conveying an image of her personality. That is what makes her who she is, not any label bestowed upon her. Does that answer your question?"He smiled suddenly. "Right now, they wonder why you have so much stone-stillness in you. You need flow-of-water."
"Stone? Water?"
"Your body is rigid like stone. It is why the arrow missed. When you learn to move your limbs fluidly, like water, the arrow will flow too. It is all connected. Clear your mind, and relax. When you have mastered that, we can begin to work on your technique." A movement by the door caught his eye and he broke off. "Lady Aryante."The elf crossed to her and bowed gracefully, taking the pack she carried from her hands. "You have everything you need?"
"Yes." He nodded and went to one of the ponies, deftly stowing the new provisions amongst its packs.
The lady herself turned to the boy and smiled. "Harion, welcome. How do you fare this morning?"
"Very well thank you Ma'am" he nodded a reply. He was still busy thinking about water and stone. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. He was probably too rigid, it was just the idea of horses suggesting tips that made him uncomfortable.
"I'm glad to hear it" Aryante smiled. "Are we ready to set off?" she glanced over the waiting horses
"It seems that everything is in order" She turned and mounted her horse gracefully. "Shall we start?"
Legolas' jaw tightened and he nodded shortly. "One moment."
He ran swiftly with light steps over to the tree and stooped to retrieve the arrow, returning it to Harion. "Always collect them. You never know when the extra arrow will make the difference between life or death. No chances where we're going." Harion took the arrow and placed it back in the quiver. He could sense the slight rebuke in Legolas' voice. Or perhaps it was apprehension?
"And where is that?" Aryante asked Legolas quietly.
He looked down suddenly and swallowed. "Mirkwood."
"Oh Legolas..." she murmured in sympathy.
Harion kept silent, but stored up the information. Mirkwood was a hazy name in his memory. He knew that it lay further north than home. Perhaps they would pass through familiar territory. However, Mirkwood obviously meant a lot more to the elf.

With a shake of his blonde hair Legolas seemed to recover himself. "'Tis probably nothing. If there were trouble, my father would have sent for me. But I do not like to think of such foes in my homeland. A shadow may now be upon the woods, but they are still my home. They should be free." Resolution entered his eyes. "They will be free."

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