Legolas and Captain Roland: to Khand and Beyond

by Vison/Sheila

1. Legolas on the Road To Khand.  

Once upon a time in the first years of the realm King Elessar of blessed memory, it chanced that the Elf Legolas Greenleaf undertook a great journey. Legolas, though bold and equal to anything, did not travel alone. No, for he was not seeking adventure only, but was undertaking a task for his friend the King. With him he took some men of the Palace guard, among whom were the gallant Captain Roland and Sergeant Daeron, and they began by sailing down Anduin to Sardara in Far Harad, lately devastated by a cataclysmic Earthquake.

In Sardara the travelers from Gondor did what they could to relieve the sufferings of the folk, but when that task was accomplished Legolas and the others went out into the countryside . In this they were joined by men of the Sardaran Cavalry, men chosen by the Duke Askelon, cousin to King Darius.  They rode here and there but found that the folk of the countryside were in need of nothing they could do, so they decided to go on to the Empire of Khand in the East.

Much adventure befell them in the first part of this journey.   But all that is told of in an earlier tale.We are going now along the Great Caravan Road to Khand in the Spring of the year 1437 SR, some days after they left the Blue Kingdom...........

Some days passed after leaving the Blue Kingdom before Legolas Greenleaf was able to put aside the melancholy he carried from that place. He knew that the painful memories would never completely leave him, but he buried them as deep in his heart as he could, and took up his old carefree ways as best he might. The men looked to him to show the way, and while he took on the role of leader reluctantly, he could not now shed it.

The men who rode with him were still the mixed company that had set out from Sardara in February. Some were young and reckless and some were seasoned and wary, but all felt their spirits lift when they were free of Lord Luinil's vale. Captain Roland put his sorrow away and put a brave face on his troubles. Lady Nienna was not more lost to him now than she had ever been, and he began to see that his worship of her had had less to do with love than longing.  That fragile Elven beauty, the sweet sadness in her dark eyes-these had awakened his heart, had made him burn with the desire to protect her from pain. It would always be a sorrow, but time would press it into memory scented with regret, as a pressed flower holds yet some of its perfume.

They rode now through wild country indeed. The Great Caravan Road for some way paralleled the River, now known as the River Ulana. It was become a great river, no longer bound by the walls of the Great Chasm and some leagues nearer its outlet; it was broad and deep and could not be forded safely. Yet the Great Caravan road crossed it and turned somewhat to the North and they rode in expectation of coming to the crossing. They encountered several Westbound caravans, but were unable to learn just where they could cross the Ulana, directions were vague and given in languages none of them understood very well.

Before they had entered the Great Chasm they had ridden across desert, but this land, despite the river, was wilder and more savage. The rocks were stacked up like decks of playing cards and often they had been turned on edge by some unimaginable power. Such vegetation as there was grew close to the ground, for the wind was constant and fierce. And about midday on the fifth day from the Blue Kingdom the sky darkened, the wind grew more savage, and suddenly they were in the midst of a tremendous hailstorm. The hailstones were the size of walnuts, and stung hotly when they struck.

All dismounted quickly and sought what shelter there was.  An overhanging rock offered enough space so they led their horses under it and prepared to wait it out. Never had any of them seen such hail. Within minutes the ground was white, and still it came down. It had become bitterly cold, they could see their breath, and the horses steamed. The men sat with their backs to the rock, but Legolas stood just under the edge of the overhang and watched the furious storm. He was always enchanted by any manifestation of the power of Nature, and never did he seem to feel fear. What had begun wildly grew wilder still, the hailstones became larger and struck so hard they burst apart, and the black sky was rent by great lightnings, and the roar of thunder could be heard even over the sound of the falling ice.

Sergeant Daeron swore and closed his eyes. "This is more storm than I have ever seen, " he said. "I pity anyone caught out in it. We are lucky to have found this overhang."

Doubtful it is that anyone heard him. They sat in stunned silence until finally the storm had passed. The black clouds raced Westward, the Sun returned and the glare of it on the ice was blinding. They looked out on winter it seemed; as far as they could see the ground was fetlock deep in hailstones. Now a white mist rose and they could hear the shifting of the hailstones melting, innumerable little settling noises that gathered themselves into a strange hushing murmur.

Legolas laughed and all joined him.  Such a fury of noise and storm, so soon blowing over, and to end with this soft whispering! After taking their midday meal they rode on, and soon they were sober enough. No growing thing was left unharmed, and they saw a number of dead beasts as well. The air was still cold, despite the Sun, for the cold seemed to seep upwards against the rule of nature and all were glad when finally the ice was gone.

In these regions the darkness fell quickly. There were no long twilight hours such as there were in the North, and as the Sun neared the horizon they made camp while it was still daylight. Often they did not put up tents, but this night they did, and as well most of them put their saddle blankets over their bedroll. Legolas seemed never to feel the cold, but even he sat close to the cheerful fire, holding his hands out to the warmth. His face bore its usual expression of serenity, but his eyes held as always that look of calm alertness. The horses stamped their feet, the flames crackled, some nightbird called.

Captain Roland busied himself with writing one of his letters to his brother Ronceval in Minas Tirith. He wondered what Ron made of it all, or for that matter, what King Elessar thought of the reports Legolas had sent. They had rather exceeded their original intent of surveying the damage done to the countryside of Far Harad by the great Earthquake, but none of them was ready to turn around and ride homeward on the Great Caravan road. Their intention now was to make Khand, and its capital city on the shores of the Eastern Sea.

None in this party had ever been so far to the East, not even Sergeant Axelder of the Sardaran Cavalry, There was little known in either Sardara or Gondor about Khand, but there were plenty of wild folk stories and old wives' tales. One in especial made the men laugh and that was the notion held by some that there were no women in Khand.  Captain Roland had seen the queer little Ambassador from Khand who had been at King Elessar's court the Fall before, but that poor man, Amsat Khan, had died in the great Influensa epidemic of January. True enough that he brought no women with him, but Sergeant Axelder maintained that he did not doubt that Amsat Khan and all the other men of Khand were got and born in the usual fashion, and that Khand was as likely to be full of beautiful women as any other land.

Khand is where the Tea comes from, they knew. And the fabulous Tea cups that Lord Luinil had served it in. The Land of Tea and Spices. But here on the barren plateau above the River Ulana there was no perfume of exotic spices, there were no Princes dressed in scarlet and gold, nothing but the night wind and the white stars above.

Chapter 2:  

Near Midday the next day they came to the place where the Great Caravan Road crossed the River Ulana. Here was no ford, but a ferry.

It fell out that the loaded ferry was coming toward them from the opposite shore and they watched as the heavily laden vessel crossed the great river. It was drawn by ropes attached to it fore and aft, and the ropes ran through pulleys attached to posts on each shore; mules walked in endless circles to move the ferry.  The clumsy craft drew up to the landing spot and then the whole of the end of it fell open to make a gangway.

Men led Dromedaries and horses ashore, and up the steep bank to the place where Legolas and the men waited. The ungainly dromedaries grunted and wheezed and the men shouted and ran beside them to get them moving, but all the drovers stared at Legolas sitting upon his grey horse, his fair hair lifted by the river breeze.  The Khandians drew up a space beyond and sat on their heels in the shade of their beasts.

Meantime Sergeant Axelder rode down to the ferry landing and engaged in some parley with the ferryman. He turned, waving Legolas and the others on and they led their horses up the gangway onto the ferry.

"Three gold Rabats is his price," Axelder said.  "I think it a high price to pay for being put in danger of drowning, but we wish to cross and that is his fee."

Sergeant Daeron opened his pocketbook and counted out the coins and handed them to the ferryman.  He took them warily, each one was examined carefully by his one good eye, each coin was bitten by his evil-looking teeth. His other, wandering, eye seemed to follow Legolas as he stuffed the coins into the purse he wore around his neck.  He muttered something, and made a sign with his right hand, as if he was dropping something in the water. But when he saw that he had been observed, he did something even stranger.  He drew out the purse again, picked out one of the gold Rabats, and dropped it into the river.

Legolas moved nearer to Sergeant Axelder. "What a curious thing, Sergeant. Did you see that?" he asked.

Axelder nodded and said, his voice low, "He was making an offering of some kind. Maybe these folk here think the River is a god, or somewhat of that nature."

"So I thought," Legolas said.  "But you saw that the first time he dropped nothing?"

"Aye," Axelder laughed. "But you saw that his hand was empty. He knew you saw.  I think the coin in the river had something to do with you, Legolas." Axelder went on, "Do you remember how the sight of those Elf ears of yours worked on the folk of the Mines? Maybe there is another evil Elf lord in the river."

Legolas laughed. "Nay, Sergeant.  Elves do not live in the water, not that I ever heard. Like as not he thought I saw him cheat the River, that's all."

When they reached the far shore they saw that there were still many Dromedaries and Horses to be taken across.  Sergeant Daeron counted 50 packhorses and dromedaries, and over a dozen men on horseback.; it would take another two crossings at least to get that many beasts and men to the other side. As they rode up the bank they saw the splendid gear of three horses in particular and one of those riders moved forward to greet them.

He put up his hand and smiled at Legolas and the two Sergeants.  He said something, smiling,  his voice friendly, and waited for a reply.

Axelder shrugged and said, "I cannot make it out. Perhaps he will understand me-"

But the man shook his head, laughing. He gestured to the other two horses dressed as his was. As they came up, it was seen that there were women riding them, although their faces and hair were covered with scarves. Their robes were rich and trimmed with masses of gold braid, and their hands, which could be seen, were heavily be-ringed. As had been true with the nomad's daughter Larissa, their lovely dark eyes were enticing above their veils, it was easy to imagine their beauty. Upon seeing Legolas their eyes widened and they spoke to their companion excitedly, their voices charming and musical, but not a word could anyone with Legolas understand.

They moved off, and rode down onto the ferry, looking back over their shoulders as they reached the gangway.  Meanwhile Trooper Ephaz and Trooper Gardaz finished retying the packhorses and remounted, and they all took to the Road.

Within two hours of riding the nature of the countryside changed from savage desolation to grassland studded here and there with clumps of trees. They were riding Northeast, away from the River Ulana, and now and again they crossed streams flowing South to join it. It was rich grazing country and just now in the full bounty of the late spring. The road was straight and well used, but there was no one else on it.

Though it was early, they stopped and made camp by a stream overhung with willows. The horses were unpacked and offsaddled and put on long pickets. Ephaz, ever the careful horsemaster, ran his hands over all the horses and tended to their feet. The other men groomed the horses and cleaned their gear, sprawling on the lawn that sloped down to the stream.

Gardaz dug out his fishing pole. "I fancy some trout for dinner," he said. "Did anyone else nabble one of that Blue Lord's fishing poles?"

Anborn had, and they two moved upstream a bit. The other men stripped and bathed in the clear water and washed out some of their linen. A few took the opportunity to shave, as well, heating water in the camp kettles and taking turns at the one looking glass hung on a tree trunk. The air was warm and soft, birds could be heard in the branches overhead. Soon trout were frying over the campfire. Legolas sat on his haunches tending to the trout, using one of his long knives to turn them when needed. Sergeant Daeron, who was a capital cook, mixed up some of the bread he called bannock, and baked it in his spider.

They sat long after their dinner, telling tales by the fire. Now again some of the doings of the Blue Kingdom were discussed, but at first neither Capain Roland nor Legolas took part. They sat somewhat apart, both writing by the firelight. Legolas was done sooner than Roland, and he wrapped his journal up and put it in his saddlebag, then joined the men.

They kept watch, as always, turn and turn about. Nothing happened to disturb the night. The next morning they were on the road early. Still damp clothes were draped over the packhorses, drying in the morning sun.

All that day they rode without a sight of anyone, but just as they were thinking of stopping they came upon a hamlet beside the road, and one building was evidently an Inn. They did not wish to stay at an Inn, but they knew they had better ask where they might be allowed to set up camp. And all were looking forward to some ale, and perhaps learning somewhat of what lay ahead of them.

The place was small, but the folk in the road were prosperous looking, and the houses and byres were sturdily built and well kept. A great sow with a dozen piglets wandered across the road, and a couple of dogs ran barking beside the horses. Two women were gossiping over a bit of fence, and the Innkeeper was sitting on the stone step of his inn with a mug of ale in his hand.

Once again Sergeant Axelder did the talking. The innkeeper spoke some Haradlin, enough to welcome them. He stared somewhat at Captain Roland and the other Guardsmen from Minas Tirith, and a little more at Legolas, but it was his business to sell ale to travellers and he was not about to be rude.  They were able to camp on the greensward behind the inn, and picket their horses there, too, and soon their evening camp was laid out.

"What say you," Sergeant Daeron said, "shall we try the ale in this place? Play off the dust of the road?"

Sergeant Axelder nodded. "I am fair parched, friend Daeron.  Let us set a couple of these lads to guard duty, and then we'll have that innkeeper open his tap."

It was nearly dark in the taproom, but their eyes adjusted to the dim light soon enough. The innkeeper drew mugs for all and indicated that the first round was on the house.

"Ah," Ephaz said, after a draining half his ale in one swallow. "That goes down a treat, doesn't it?"

Legolas  nodded. "It is good ale, indeed. A pleasant room, too." He leaned back on the bench and looked around appreciatively. "Look you at those hangings, Roland. They are very fine, are they not?"

Roland peered at the picture nearest him.  "It is needlework, Legolas, and as good as any I have seen.  Let's see, what is this? Yes. A man on a horse, and a maiden picking flowers.....yes....look at the butterflies, how neatly they are done. It puts me in mind of the tale of Luthien and Beren."

"You look at pictures? My daughter make," the innkeeper said, in halting Westron.

"They are lovely," Roland said.  

The innkeeper shrugged. "Yes, she clever with fingers, my girl. So. Now, gentlemen. My girl, she sew. My wife, she cook. You eat here?"

"What say you, men?" Legolas asked. "Shall we have our dinner in here?"

It was decided to do so, and it proved to be a happy choice. The landlord's wife put a good meal before them, very welcome after days of camp cookery. As they sat about after, over another round or two of ale, the locals began to come in. They kept to one side of the room, not unfriendly exactly, but not too forthcoming. Travelers were no novelty here.  As always, Legolas drew all eyes, but soon enough they were caught up in their own concerns.

Captain Roland wandered about the room and spent some time gazing at another picure on the far wall. Sergeant Axelder came up to see what fascinated him so, and saw that the picture was in three panels, and each panel told a tale. The first one showed two maidens swimming, and beside them a great fish, and on the fish's back was a man with a three-pronged spear in his hand. The maidens were lovely, and they were naked, but where their legs should have been they had fish's tails. Roland smiled and said, "I should like to meet one of those maidens, I think. But I reckon they would be as slippery as a fish, eh?"

Axelder laughed. "Aye, very likely. This is an old tale, Captain, of the maidens who live in the sea-kingdom. We have it in Sardara, too, and sailors at the docks swear to have seen these water-women."

"Are not sailors famous for their tales?" Roland said. "And here, you see, in this panel, the great dragon spewing fire, and a the poor knight in danger of more than just a bit of scorching."

Sergeant Axelder leaned closer. "And in the tower? A maiden, simpering. Did those maidens never think of sticking a spear into the dragon on their own account?" He took Roland's mug. "Here, Captain. Let me get you another."

Roland peered at the third panel. Here was a knight ahorse, a maiden riding pillion. They were racing ahead of a great many legged monster in the form of an enormous spider. The spider had most natural looking golden eyes gleaming with malice, her jointed legs ending in vicious claws. The knight had his noble gaze fixed on the road ahead, but the maiden was looking back at the spider and she managed both to simper and look terrified. Roland smiled. This was an old tale in Gondor, too.

Two weeks of easy riding through the pleasant weather brought them to the city of Haikan on the 10th of June in the year 1437 SR.  The Great Caravan road met the Cheechako River and then followed it to the coast, where the sprawling city sat several leagues upriver from the Sea. The men of Gondor and Far Harad both called this water the Eastern Sea, but to the folk of Khand it was the Cerula, or Ocean.....

From the journal of Captain Roland, Guardsman of Minas Tirith, 10 June 1437 SR.....

We came upon the city Haikan near midday.  For several days we have seen much river traffic of small Boats, and we passed through a number of fishing villages. But as we drew near the City proper the river banks became like sloughs, it is easy to see the Road must often be flooded if there is high water. At about this Point the road turned somewhat to the North onto drier land, so that we came down into the city from that direction.

Haikan is a very large city, much spread out. We rode through rich farmland given over to Green crops in such black earth it steamed in the Sun. There were Guardposts on the road just here, and we had to stop and state our business. Axelder managed to do the thing, and we were allowed to pass, I suspect that Word of our coming had reached them before we did, anyway. I wondered somewhat that Legolas did not make himself known here, I think it is his intention to seek admission to the Court of the Emperor. But when I asked him he said he wished to look about himself for a Time first, and that is just like Legolas, he never wishes to act in Haste.

My first impressions are a great jumble. It is so foreign to anything I have ever seen, even in Sardara. The land being very flat makes the city's size hard to gauge, until you realize how long it takes to ride to the Centre. The oldest part of the city is nearest the River, of course, and since it has no harbour, the Sea-going craft come up here for anchorage. We rode slowly through very crowded streets, and few seemed to mark us. Since it had come on to Rain, we all had our hoods up and so Legolas must have seemed like any other traveler to the folk, and no one stared at him.

Sergeant Axelder was of the opinion that we ought to make for the waterfront, he says such places are ever more welcoming than where land-dwellers rule. It is his conviction that Sailors and such folk are more tolerant of Strangers. Since we had no notion of where else we might find lodging, we agreed to follow his Advice.

As we drew near the Water, the horizon showed a forest of masts, and as we rode down the slight incline to the Dock area, we saw that there were indeed scores of ships at anchor. Naught like these have I ever seen, but it is True that I have not seen much in the way of Ships. They sit very high out of the water and they are big, bigger than any three or four ships of Gondor or Far Harad. There seem to be six or seven floors, or Decks as I must properly call them, in each ship and I would guess they are manned by two or three score of Men at least on each. Another thing that much struck me was that there are no Oar-ports, and I suppose that they are not rowed, but depend always on the Winds.

However, we had to find an Inn or Lodging of some kind, and we began to look about us for such a place, the ships and the docks could be seen later. Inns here, as in Minas Tirith, are shown by the signs hanging out front, which is just as well as none of us can read anything in Khandese. Axelder can make out to be understood in talk, but I feel like laughing often, his moustache seems fairly to bristle with the Effort it takes. One Inn stood back some way from the street and from the size and style of it I guessed it to be the Upper sort of place, and since we are not Purse-pinched yet, we decided to go in. There was an Hostler who took charge of the horses, though of course good old Ephaz went along, and the rest of us went up the brick Steps to the entrance.

We went into the place, and since there was no one about Sergeant Daeron rang the bell on the Counter. No one came and so he rang it again. Upon a third ring a woman burst in from another room and she was scolding before she got properly in.

Well, she read us our Sins for quite a space of time, but since we understood not one Word, we stood unprotesting, hoping, or at least I did, that she would run herself out of Breath. She is a plump, motherly looking woman, very comely though well on in years, her white hair spilling out from under a Cap, her roundness enveloped by an apron over a black gown, and her sleeves turned up, showing sturdy, muscular arms. She finally stopped her scolding and stood with her hands on her Hips, regarding us with suspicion and annoyance, and evidently waiting for someone to say something. Axelder stepped forth. Leaving him to arrange matters, the rest of us backed Cowardly away into the open Taproom. No speech was necessary to get Ale, and so we sat at a table facing the Entrance and watched as Axelder tamed the Virago.

It took some time. He came in at last and sat down and wiped his brow.  "Ale!" he said.  "I have had heavy work, men, to get Mother there to let us stay in her House!"

"Why did she scold so?" I asked.

"Oh, she was scrubbing somewhat somewhere or other, I gather, and objected to being taken from her work," Axelder answered. He drew deeply on the Ale and set the mug down and looked about him. "This is a fine place, for a Dockside inn. She keeps things shining, at any rate! Look at those brasses."

"She brews good Ale, too," Sergeant Daeron said. Then he stopped and I turned to see what had drawn his attention.

Two women had come into the taproom. They were as like as Peas in a pod, and though past their first youth, they were both very Beautiful and enough like the Landlady that I knew them for her daughters. They were tall and dark-haired and had somewhat of the features of the folk of Khand that we had seen, although we had truthfully seen few women. They regarded us with interest and came over to our table and both Axelder and Daeron leaped to their feet, as if it had been arranged that they should.............