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Date Posted: 22:03:49 05/07/03 Wed
Harion was silent for a moment, reflecting. What must it be like to experience that? To see the people you cared about die, and know that you would never follow them?
The silence was broken as Aryante broke quickly through the undergrowth. She was panting slightly, concern in her eyes.
"There's someone coming," she called softly as soon as she was within hearing distance. Legolas was on his feet in an instant. Alert. Listening.
Aryante entered the clearing properly and tried to catch her breath. She glanced through the trees, just beginning to glow with an orange sunset. "Of course, it may just be a local person." she commented. "But I thought it best to give advanced warning, just in case."
Harion rose to his feet and caught his horse by the reins. He stood silently, listening to the evening song of birds. He couldn't hear anything else. He looked towards Legolas for guidance.
Legolas fingered his bow uneasily. Part of him wanted to clear the signs of the camp and lie in wait. The rest told him he was being more cautious than necessary. They were still many miles from Mirkwood, it was unlikely that the same danger would have spread this far south.
His sharp ears caught a noise and he held up a hand in warning, eyes were fixed on the bend in the long path they had journeyed down. The others held their breath as he listened for a few moments, then relaxed.
"The hooves are too heavy to be a swift runner. It must be a farmer heading home for the night. 'Tis little to worry about. He will not trouble us." The tone of his voice showed very clearly what would happen if he did.
Harion gazed down the long road, as far as he could see. He still couldn't hear anything, yet Legolas had already identified them. He smiled slightly and started to remove the horses bridle. The creature deserved some freedom overnight.
The atmosphere within the camp remained tense until the horses hooves became loud enough for even Harion to hear. At last, the heavy farm horse clomped around the bend, the cart was full of local produce, and the farmer walked by its side, tugging the reins when necessary.
Harion's face lit up when he saw the farmer.
"He's local" he commented. "I know him, he owns a farm a few miles from us. On the border of these woods, if I remember rightly." He chewed his lip thoughtfully. "Shall I go and greet him?" he asked. Legolas' face tensed but he nodded slightly and stepped back, allowing Harion to head down the track.
"Harion!" The old farmer gave a toothless grin and clapped his arm around him. "How are you lad? Getting rich yet? My wife was talking to your sister the other day. Told us all about your adventures." Harion smiled
"I'm fine, how are things here."
"Oh not good lad, not good." He pointed at the laden cart. "Prices are worse than ever. That's the stuff I couldn't sell today. And there's been another raid - over by Greenwater." Harion shuddered. Greenwater was too close to home for comfort.
"and...my family?" he asked at last. The farmer stopped walking and gave Harion a puzzled look.
"Aren't you going to them now? they could tell you better than I can." Harion shook his head.
"I can't see them now. I've got...another mission to see to first.... Are they alright?"
The farmer took off his hat and scratched his head awkardly.
"My missus said things were not good." he said at last. Harion swallowed. If the public view of events looked bleak, then the truth would be even worse.
"Tell me" he managed to croak.
"Well, your father has taken a turn for the worse, he's got a fever apparantly. And Lord Dernam sent his soldiers there a few days ago. He won't wait any longer for the rent. He wants it now in cash... or other things."
Harion turned his head away sharply, aware of the stinging in his eye. He'd been dreading this final demand for months. Lord Dernam's private army was totally illegal, but there was no one who cared with enough authority to stop him. He had squeezed every last penny out of his tennents, those who couldn't pay were often discovered barely breathing at the side of the road. Harion had only seen him once. He and Lirna had gone to beg for more time to gather the money, to no avail. Lord Dernam had sat in his throne-like chair, surrounded by his solidiers. He was a small fat, little man, whose eyes glittered darkly in the huge, sweaty mounds of flesh. He had laughed in Harion's face, oggling Lirna all the time. They had left in a hurry with the soldiers on their tail, when Harion turned down Lord Dernam's offer. To cancel the debt - in return for Lirna as a mistress. It didn't take much imagination to work out the terms of payment labled as "other things"
Harion choked a farewell and made his way back to the camp. He tried to keep his face hidden as he strode over to the pack horses.
"I'm going to water..." he trailed off and started to lead them towards the stream. He needed time to think. Alone.
Legolas and Aryante watched him go. "He is troubled," Aryante commented gently. "But...less so about you than he was before, I think. Did you speak to him?"
"Uma," nodded the elf, "Though I know not yet what good it will have done. I did not wish to tell him, but it is more important than he realises that this rift is healed. 'Tis hard enough to do battle as it is, more so if there is mistrust amongst allies."
"So what more will you do now."
"The only thing I can. Place my trust in him. On the morrow I shall begin to train him to fight properly. We shall see where that leads us." He smiled. "Mayhap I shall make him so tired, he will not have the strength to grieve."
Aryante looked at him sharply. She laughed lightly, shaking her head. "You are a wicked creature, Legolas."
The elf laughed, showing a rare display of mirth. "Not you too, Aryante. Not when I have just had to work so hard to convince the poor boy I do not plan to kill him in his sleep. You will undo all my good work..."
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