"You don't want to go that way."
The nobleman in the blue surcoat reined his horse to a stop and glanced about for the source of the voice. "Who's there?" he called.
Out from the bushes stepped the speaker: a tall Elf wearing nondescript greyish clothing and carrying a long stick. He had a smudge of dirt across his face and bits of vegetation in his hair and looked, on the whole, unremarkable.
"Oh," said the nobleman, who clearly had been expecting something more. Usually people who said ominous things like 'you don't want to go that way' were more impressive. Or at least had the air of being the sort of people one might want to obey. "Why don't I want to go that way?"
"Because," said the unremarkable Elf, "this road leads straight to Thangorodrim."
The nobleman sighed in an irritable kind of way. "Yes," he said, "I know. That's where I happen to be going. Thank you for your warning. Now if you don't mind..."
The unremarkable Elf did mind, though, and he stepped right out into the road. "But you can't go there! Nobody goes there! The last person who went there... well... You don't want to know. My cousin's son's friend said-"
"Fascinating," interrupted the nobleman. "However, you are mistaken in your belief that nobody goes to Thangorodrim, because, as I said, I happen to be going there right now. And I must also challenge your assumption that I can't go there." He threw back his head, shook out his long, black plaits, and said, with a haughty air of finality, "Watch me." And with that, he took off at a trot down the road.
"But but!" said the grey Elf, jogging after him. "But! It's a terrible, cursed place! Nobody ever comes back from there!"
"Of course not," sneered the nobleman. "According to you, nobody ever goes there, so it is therefore only logical that nobody comes back. One who has never gone can never come back!"
"But why are you even going?!"
"I am on a very important quest. I am in search of my cousin, who is a prisoner there. I need to save him in order to bring peace to the realm. You see, he is the King."
The unremarkable grey Elf stumbled to a stop, gaping at the hind end of the nobleman's horse as it disappeared into the distance. Two thoughts ran through his head. The first was that he shouldn't have bothered trying to warn the nobleman in the first place, because, when he thought about it, he didn't particularly care what happened to such a stupid individual. The second was that if the King needed saving, this was probably something he should get on. The nobleman in the blue surcoat looked more as if he were suited to rescuing wine from cellars than kings from Thangorodrim, and would probably do a poor job of it.
"Looks like it's up to me," the Elf muttered. He scrambled his way back through the bushes to the clearing where he had left his horse, and whistled loudly. "Oi! You! Time to go! Quit stuffing yourself with grass; we need to save the King!"
The horse turned his long head to the Elf with an expression of pure contempt. "We?" he asked.
"Shut up, Horse," said the Elf, climbing up onto the horse's back. "I don't need any of your smart-ass comments today."
"Oh no," said the horse. "What you need is a good, hard-"
The Elf gave the horse a particularly vicious kick, and then they were off.
The Elf paused to listen, but, as usual, there was no reply. He slid down from the horse's back and walked a few steps to distance himself from the horse's loud breathing, then listened as hard as he could. Still nothing.
"How odd," grumped the horse. "No King. I really expected to find him wandering around out here, too."
"Shut your stupid grass hole," said the Elf. "THINGOL!" Frustrated, he picked up a stone and threw it as hard as he could against a nearby cliff. They had been searching for hours with no luck, and now it was starting to get dark. "Look," he told the horse in his most reasonable voice. "That fellow I saw on the road said very clearly that the King was here. And he looked like the kind of fellow who would know what he's talking about. He was wearing a fancy outfit and everything."
The horse snorted, but kept any replies to himself.
"Therefore," the Elf stressed, "our King Thingol has somehow been captured, and we need to rescue him. Imagine how it would look if one of those weird foreigners got to him before we did. We'd never live it down. Now come on. We'll look over this way a while, and if we don't find him in an hour, we'll call it a night and start out fresh tomorrow morning."
"That's the most intelligent thing you've said all day," said the horse. "Except the part about an hour. Let's just call it a night now and-"
The Elf gave the horse a scathing look. "This is our national pride at stake! Don't you care?"
"No," said the horse. "I'm a horse."
"And that's the most intelligent thing you've said all day," muttered the Elf. "Come on. Just a little farther."
He led the way around some inconveniently placed boulders, toward a narrow pass between two sheer cliff faces. It looked as if the pass had been recently used. Small deposits of some unmentionable substance littered the rocky ground.
"Oh, ew," said the horse. "Let's go the other way."
"No. This proves that there are orcs nearby. We must be getting close. This is a good sign!"
"You think it's a good sign that we're about to step in orc sh-"
The Elf suddenly held up his hand. "Quiet. Listen. Did you hear that?"
For once, the horse obeyed, falling silent and pricking up his ears.
Very far away, carried on the wind, was what sounded like a plaintive voice.
"There!" said the Elf. "I heard a voice!"
The horse was momentarily too astounded to say anything snide.
"Quick! Follow me!" Leading the way, the Elf ran through the pass, careful not to tread on any orc leavings. The farther he went, the clearer the voice grew.
"Is anyone there?" it called. "Anyone? Can you hear me?"
"Yes!" the Elf hollered in reply. "Don't move! We're coming!" He leapt over a scrubby little shrub and burst out into a wide valley, the horse fast on his heels. "Where are you?"
"Up here!" cried the voice. It sounded very near now.
The Elf looked up and, to his considerable surprise, saw what looked like a very thin, very filthy person hanging from a wall of sheer rock directly to his left. He rubbed his eyes to make certain he was seeing things correctly. Normally, bodies did not hang suspended halfway up cliffs, but there this one was, fastened up there by a single manacle about his right wrist.
"Is that King Thingol?" asked the horse.
Squinting, the Elf tried to examine the individual stuck to the cliffside, but to no avail. This fellow was simply too dirty to tell what colour he was. He mostly looked like a large clump of mud.
"Oh thank the stars," said the Elf on the cliff. "You've come to rescue me!"
"Yes, sir!" said the Elf on the ground. "My name is Haldir, and I am a soldier of Doriath! I swear on my honour that I will get you down from there!"
"How?" asked the horse.
"Er," said Haldir the Elf. "I hadn't quite thought of that yet."
"Please hurry!" cried the Elf on the cliff. "I've been here a long time and it's not exactly the most comfortable position! My entire arm has gone numb!"
"If he's been up there so long, you'd think he'd be used to it by now," muttered the horse. And for once, Haldir had to agree with him.
"You keep him entertained while I think of a rescue plan," said Haldir.
"I don't know. Sing a song. Kings like songs."
With a sigh, the horse trudged to the base of the cliff, while Haldir dug frantically through his pack for anything that might be of use. He had a pot, a spoon, a large lump of inedible taffy, six interesting stones he'd picked up on his travels, a crude map of Doriath, two arrows with tattered fletching, something that looked like it had once been bread, a handful of spare boot laces, and a long coil of rope. He chucked everything but the rope onto the ground and looked up at the cliff, trying to gauge its height. At its base, the horse had started an off-key rendition of what may have been a popular folk song called 'Give Me a Fish for Tea-Time'.
"By the grace of Elbereth, hurry!" called the Elf on the cliff. "I'm beginning to have fevered hallucinations that your horse can sing!"
"That's absurd!" Haldir answered back. "He has a terrible voice and can't carry a tune to save his life!" Knotting the rope into a lasso as he went, he joined the horse at the base of the cliff. "Now, listen carefully!" he hollered up. "I am going to throw you a rope! Loop it around the manacle fixing you to the rock, and I'll climb up and try to free you!"
It took a few tries and an equal number of swear words, but at last the filthy Elf on the cliff managed to secure the rope about the manacle on his wrist. "Try it now!" he called down.
Haldir gave the rope a good tug. It seemed strong enough. He tied the rope's other end about the horse's middle to pull it taut and keep it from swaying, and then began to climb.
"Are you sure this will work?" the filthy Elf asked. "It seems a little precarious."
"No," said Haldir, "but we have to try, haven't we?"
He climbed the rope easily enough, but when he reached the top, two new problems presented themselves. Primarily, that the manacle looked very secure, but also, and even more irritating, that Haldir was unable to even attempt to open it when he needed to keep hold of the rope. He tried hanging by one hand, then the other, then one hand and one crooked knee, and was eventually forced to dangle upside-down by his knees in a very awkward position that cramped his buttocks in order to have both hands free to examine the locking mechanism. What he discovered gave rise to the third and worst problem of all.
"Ehm," he said lightly. "Funny thing here... It appears to be... that is, it looks as if it might be... uh... magic."
"What do you mean, 'magic'?" asked the Filthy Elf.
Haldir was glad that the damnable horse was down at the bottom of the cliff out of earshot, or else the filthy Elf would have been on the receiving end of a rather cutting barb just then. "Magic," he repeated. "There's no lock-hole. I mean, key-hole. Or any kind of hole at all. Just a single band of iron all sealed up by magic or something. Possibly a very strong kind of glue, but I think magic. I can't see a seam anywhere."
"Have you looked at the back?"
"As best I can from this angle, yes."
The filthy Elf said a swear word that was just as filthy as he was, if not marginally more so.
"Maybe I can pry-" Haldir began, but before he could even finish his sentence the rope gave a massive shake. He shrieked rather more effeminately than he would have liked to have done, and clung to the filthy Elf's filthy legs.
Three things then seemed to happen all at once. First, the filthy Elf yelped in pain at the extra weight pulling on his shackled wrist. Second, the rope shook wildly again. And third, for one split second, everything felt as if it were weightlessly suspended in mid-air.
And then, just as quickly, Haldir and his filthy charge were falling straight down. They had scarcely time enough to yell before they landed all jumbled together in a heap on top of something large, lumpy, and warm.
"Oh good," gasped the horse. "I think you've killed me."
"I hit my head," groaned the filthy Elf.
"I hit my everything," whimpered Haldir.
"You hit me," said the horse.
"No, I really did hit my head," said the filthy Elf. "I'm imagining that your horse can talk."
"Try hitting it again," Haldir suggested. "You'll be far luckier if you can imagine him shutting up."
"You mean he really can talk?" the filthy Elf asked, his eyes growing wide.
"Yes," said Haldir. "It's a long story."
The filthy Elf stared at him expectantly, but Haldir did not elaborate. Groaning, he heaved himself to his feet. He was a little dizzy and covered in dirt and scrapes, but miraculously had no serious injuries. He wiggled his whole body, and everything appeared to be in good working order. Sore, but working. He glanced about at the pile of Elf, horse, rope, and rock debris in an effort to try to figure out what had just happened. The rope was still attached to the horse at one end and the manacle at the other, though now the manacle was attached not to the cliff but to what looked like a large, disengaged chunk thereof. "Did... did the rock holding the manacle crumble under our combined weight?" he asked.
"Must be all those pies you've been eating," said the horse.
"I have not-" Haldir began, but the horse interrupted him with a snort.
"No, you idiot, I pulled it out! Me! I did it!"
"Oh," said Haldir. He supposed he ought to say 'thank you', but he couldn't quite bring himself to say the words to the horse's smug face. He settled for, "Well, good for you." The horse snarled angrily at him, and he stepped back.
On the ground, the filthy Elf groaned and feebly tried to roll over. He was hindered by the fact that his right wrist was still attached to a large piece of rock, and thus only managed to shift partway onto his side.
It was at this awkward moment that Haldir remembered who he was looking at, and his manners came rushing back at once. "Your Majesty!" he said. He was about to bow when he noticed something wrong. This Elf did not look like Thingol. He was the right length, but up close, even through the layers of grime, mud, filth, and dirt, it was easy to see his hair was not silver. It was, shockingly enough, a bright auburn red colour. The Elf's face was far more angular than the King's, and he was much thinner. Though this, Haldir allowed, could have been due to the fact that he had spent a long time as a prisoner stuck to a cliff. But the ludicrous hair colour alone was enough to ascertain that whoever this person was, he was not Thingol.
Haldir's manners abandoned him at once. "Who the bugger are you?" he demanded.
To his satisfaction, the filthy Elf looked at once surprised, confused, and offended. The fellow stammered for a moment before managing to say, "Why, I'm Maedhros, of course!"
"Who the bugger is Maedhros? I thought you were the King!"
"I am the King!" Maedhros-of-course said angrily. "Who were you expecting? Elu Thingol?!"
Coming from Maedhros in that tone of voice, the suggestion that Thingol might be hidden away somewhere in Thangorodrim suddenly sounded monumentally idiotic. Haldir turned away to hide the flush of embarrassment that rose to his face. "No..." he muttered. "Totally ridiculous... don't be silly... not the least bit... absolutely not..." He realised, with an unpleasant sinking feeling in his gut, that the nobleman he had encountered earlier had not specified which king was being held prisoner. "I suppose you're King of all those Western foreigners, then?" he sighed.
"Yes," replied Maedhros, raising his chin. He was probably trying to look haughty, but due to his general level of filthiness and the fact that he was sprawled on the ground and chained to a rock, the pose did not work. He just looked somewhat insane.
"Right," said Haldir. "Can you excuse me a moment?"
Maedhros nodded to indicate that Haldir was excused, and Haldir stepped aside to confer with the horse. "I suppose you heard all that?" he whispered.
"No," said the horse with a roll of the eyes. "My ears suddenly stopped working."
"What should we do?"
"Leave him here. He's funny-looking and he smells."
"Oh, that's rich," said Haldir. "The horse accusing somebody of smelling!"
"Yes, well done, I smell like a horse," said the horse. "I wonder why. He, on the other hand, smells like a pig. If he smelled like an Elf I wouldn't mind, but pig-smell is unacceptable."
Haldir blinked. "What do Elves smell like?"
"Raisins, mostly, with a touch of evergreen." answered the horse.
Haldir didn't bother saying anything to that, both because it was a preposterous statement and because he had no idea how to refute it. "Well, anyhow, what do we do? We can't exactly put him back up on the cliff now that you've gone and broken it. D'you think I should abandon him? Hit him on the head with a rock and stuff him under one of those scrubby shrubs?"
"That would be better than doing something stupid like taking him with us and trying to sell him back to his people for ransom."
"You're right, that's... Wait, what?"
"I said," the horse repeated, "that would be better than-"
"I heard what you said the first time," said Haldir, an excitable tone rising in his voice.
"Then why did you say 'what'?"
Ignoring him, Haldir continued on. He'd just had the most spectacular idea. "I've just had the most spectacular idea! We'll take him with us and sell him back to his people for ransom!" He glanced back toward Maedhros, who was now sitting next to his manacle rock and trying to break it by hitting it with a smaller rock. "I know he doesn't look it, but I bet he's worth a king's ransom! Literally!"
"Now wait a minute," the horse tried, but even though he listed off a good dozen reasons not to attempt to ransom Maedhros, not the least of which was that the Noldor were a very confrontational and war-like people who would just as soon kill them as pay them, Haldir was not listening. Already he was on his way back over to where Maedhros sat.
"Here, let me help," he said, picking up a nearby rock. That particular patch of ground had a surfeit of rocks. He wasn't sure what he was doing, so he just copied Maedhros and banged at the spot where the manacle was bolted.
"I don't suppose you have an iron hammer and a set of chisels, do you?" Maedhros asked.
Haldir, who had no idea what either of those things was, said nothing and smiled pleasantly.
Maedhros raised what was probably an eyebrow, though it was obscured by mud. "I see."
They went back to pounding their rocks.
They camped at the base of the cliff that night. Maedhros complained for nearly three solid hours before he finally fell asleep, whining that his wrist, arm, shoulder, back, neck, bottom, and most other body parts hurt, and that he was cold, and that the rocky ground was hard, until Haldir gave him his bed roll and blanket just to shut him up. He proved to be remarkably delicate for someone who had been rescued from a cliff and whose overall level of filthiness indicated that he had been outside for a very long time.
In the morning, they returned to banging on Maedhros' manacle rock. Even the horse pitched in to help by kicking it with his back feet. He kicked Maedhros twice and Haldir once, though he swore it was an accident each time. But with three workers all banging and kicking, the rock slowly began to chip and crumble. What had started off at the size of a badger was by noon the size of an above-average grouse, and soon thereafter the size of a rabbit's head.
"Good enough," Haldir said once the rock reached rabbit-head size. "You can carry that with you. Let's get out of here."
Maedhros made a great show of cradling his arm that was still attached to the rabbit-head rock and sighing at the immense effort required to lift it.
"Does his Majesty require a sling?" grumbled the horse.
"Oh yes, I think I might," said Maedhros in a very weary and hard-done-by tone.
And so Haldir was required to fashion Maedhros a sling out of the map and the spare boot laces, on account of how the horse did not have opposable thumbs and would have made a muddle of it. Then they set off down the road, with Maedhros riding behind Haldir and moaning and groaning all the way. Haldir had never heard so many things complained about in his entire life. Apparently even the air was substandard.
By evening they reached a stream with a grassy green bank, which everyone who mattered agreed would be a fine place to camp and which Maedhros declared to be 'itchy-looking and a prime spot for a vole infestation'. Haldir didn't bother to dignify that with a response, choosing instead to toss his pack down on the least slanted area of grass and go about making himself a bed out of reeds. He had already abandoned all hope of reclaiming his bedroll and blanket from Maedhros. He had almost finished arranging a wad of dried grass into a reasonable substitute for a pillow when he heard a yell, a splash, and what sounded like a lot of flailing about in the stream.
"He shoved me!" Maedhros wailed. "Haldir! Haldir! Your wretched horse shoved me right into the stream."
"Yeah, horses'll do that," Haldir replied.
The horse merely swished his tail. "He smelled."
"While you're in there, you might want to wash off the mud," Haldir suggested.
For a moment Maedhros looked as if he might refuse out of pure spite, but then, grumbling to himself, turned away and swam off behind some reeds.
"Maybe the rock on his wrist will make him drown?" the horse asked hopefully.
"No," said Haldir. "He's worth a lot of money. We need to keep him alive at least until we find someone to sell him to."
"What if we only let him drown a little bit? Just until he's unconscious?"
Haldir considered that. "Maybe. We'll see."
But Maedhros appeared to be entirely disinterested in drowning, either wholly or partially. He made quite the production of his bathing, singing and splashing and ducking beneath the water to swim, which Haldir thought was rather excessive given how only the top of his head was visible behind the reed bank. He stayed in the water for at least an hour. By the time he finally saw fit to emerge, it was nearly dark, and Haldir had already almost given up on the idea of trying to spy him naked. The horse had somehow built and started a fire.
"How nice to be clean!" Maedhros announced dramatically, whipping his ludicrous red hair about and posing by the fire in a way that showed off his strong profile. He might have looked quite kingly but for the fact that he still had a manacle on his right wrist, attached to a rock the size of a rabbit's head. His shirt, Haldir could now see, was not mud-coloured after all, but a deep blue with green collar and cuffs and some straggling silver embroidery. His trousers, though, really were mud-coloured.
Haldir was a little distressed to learn that, under all the mud, Maedhros was actually a very attractive fellow. Even with the silly hair. He had to look at the ground to stop himself from staring. Coincidentally, he nearly hit Maedhros in the groin while gesturing for him to come sit by the fire.
"Are we having supper tonight?" Maedhros asked.
"Yes," said Haldir. He held up one of the damaged arrows, on the end of which was a small and charred fish."
Maedhros frowned. "It's burnt."
"Would you rather have this one?" Haldir asked, holding up the second arrow, which had speared a small and charred lump of water weeds.
"Fish is fine, thanks," said Maedhros. He quickly grabbed the first arrow.
The horse looked more than content to be eating grass. Haldir was envious.
They encountered no Noldor the next day, nor the day after that. Haldir found this more than a little strange. Usually, Noldor were everywhere in these parts, ruining the landscape with unnecessary towers, organising committees, getting underfoot, and just generally being a nuisance. Maedhros complained incessantly as they searched for somebody to sell him to. Spirits improved somewhat in the afternoon of the second day, though, when Haldir rammed the lump of taffy into Maedhros' mouth, effectively sticking his jaw together and preventing him from speaking.
"Finally!" said the horse. "I can't believe we didn't do that sooner!"
"I can't believe I never did it to you," said Haldir.
Maedhros tried to say something that sounded a little like "Awuuph maawao woh ugaawoo," only angrier, but since this made no sense at all neither Haldir nor the horse cared. That night he acted surlier than usual, so they tied him to a tree to prevent him from escaping. His complaints at this ill treatment were satisfactorily muffled by the mouthful of taffy. As an added perk, Haldir was able to reclaim his bedroll, which pleased him even if it smelled somewhat foreign.
By morning, Maedhros had managed to swallow enough of the taffy that he could pronounce all vowels and most consonants, though exactly what he pronounced does not bear repeating. As a result, he remained tied up on the back of the horse for the day's entirety. By nightfall, he could talk freely again. The majority of his talk centred on the topics of 'Haldir is stupid' and 'the horse should be made into dinner'. Also, 'Haldir runs like a girl', 'Haldir wets the bed', and 'Haldir has a face like Morgoth's behind'.
"Ho ho ho, very mature," Haldir muttered.
"Haldir smells," said Maedhros
"Don't worry," the horse said to Haldir in one of his rare moments of amicability. "You only smell like an Elf."
That reassurance hardly made him feel better. He had never liked raisins.
"What?" asked Maedhros as Haldir glared at him. "I'm only stating my opinions. I'm entitled to think whatever I like. And at least I'm honest. You have to admire that. Honesty is a good quality in a person, and especially in a king. Would anyone want a lying, deceitful king? No, of course not. So really you should be praising me right now for being such an upstanding individual of good character. And by the way, those leggings make you look fat. Aren't you glad I told you? Otherwise you might never have known and continued wearing them under the delusion that they conceal your excessively curvaceous bottom."
"I have runner's muscles!" Haldir snapped.
"More like pie-eater's padding," said the horse.
"Good one," said Maedhros, and he and the horse would have high-fived each other in that moment, if only the horse had hands.
"Sorry," the horse whispered to Haldir. "I couldn't resist."
Haldir turned up his chin and looked the other way.
"But aren't you glad I told you?" Maedhros pushed.
"No," said Haldir, "because you're only saying it to try to annoy me. And it won't work."
"What would work?"
"Nothing?" Maedhros asked. "Really?"
"Really. I'm impervious to your blathering. Go ahead. Try your worst."
A large grin spread across Maedhros' face, and Haldir suddenly had a horrible feeling in his gut that whatever came next would be fantastically unpleasant.
"Haldir," Maedhros cooed, "you know I only say these things because I care."
"No, you say them because you're a jackass."
"A caring jackass. Listen. You really are a nice fellow, Haldir. I'm glad we're friends."
Completely taken aback, Haldir could only blink and stutter. "But... what... fr... that... guh..."
"And I didn't really mean what I said about you having a face like Morgoth's behind. That was just teasing. You're actually quite attractive and certainly better looking than any part of Morgoth."
Haldir had no idea what to say to that, so he sensibly turned red and tried to hide his face down the front of his shirt.
"Now, the leggings do make you look fat, but only because your behind is so perfectly rounded. Perfectly. I could compose a poem about it. In fact," he exclaimed, snapping his fingers, "that's exactly what I'll do! I'll compose a poem about you."
"Please don't," Haldir whimpered.
"Trust me. It'll be phenomenal. Listen to this!" And he began to recite in a loud, ringing voice that made Haldir cringe:
O, soldier brave of Doriath
Standing firm fore Morgoth's wrath
Hair of silver, eyes of grey
Tight-fit garb that's... uh... also grey
Taut buttocks straining in thy trews
Which I would dearly like to-
"That's enough!" Haldir cried shrilly. "Enough! Enough! My bottom is not an appropriate subject for your terrible poems!"
"Fair enough," said Maedhros. "What about good poems?"
"Good poems about his buttocks are absolutely fair game," said the horse, nodding. "I would love to hear one."
"What about a poem about the landscape?" Haldir asked in desperation. "Landscape poems are nice!"
"Oh, very well. Landscape it is." And he began:
Majestic lies the river bright
A silver snake in sun's gold light
It carves a furrow cross the land
As if its guide were Eru's hand
'Round forests vast and meadows wide
The east from west it does divide
Through rolling hills with aspens sparse
In gentle curves like Haldir's-
Unsurprisingly, Haldir hit him squarely in the mouth before he could speak the final word.
"Hey!" said the horse. "I liked that one!"
"Critics!" huffed Maedhros as he cupped his lip to contain the blood.
"No more poems!" Haldir demanded.
"What about sonnets?" asked Maedhros.
Haldir had no idea what rondeaus were, but for good measure he still said, "No!"
"Well, you're no fun."
"No," Haldir agreed. "I'm not."
Maedhros shook his head. "It's a good thing you're pretty, otherwise you'd get no action at all."
The next day was even worse, as Maedhros progressed from teasing into what Haldir considered to be full-out antagonism of an inappropriate nature. "Haldir," he said.
Haldir ignored him.
"Haldir. Haldir. Hey, Haldir. Haldir!"
"What?" Haldir snapped.
"You have something stuck to your bum."
At once, Haldir craned his neck and curved his back as far as it would go, straining to see his bottom. Even with both hands he could feel nothing, but he wouldn't put it above Maedhros to have stuck something embarrassing on there. "What? What is it? I can't find anything."
"I can't tell. It's shiny, though."
"Where? I can't feel..."
"Hm," said Maedhros. "How odd."
"What's odd? Is it still there?" He had twisted himself so far around that his skin hurt, but found nothing at all.
"It's just odd. I could have sworn there was something shiny and reflective stuck to your bum, because for a moment there I could see myself in your trousers."
At that, both Maedhros and the horse burst out in wild, howling laughter. Haldir stood still as a stone, slowly turning red with fury as he decided which one to punch in the eye first.
"I'm sorry," Maedhros gasped. "Sorry! Couldn't help..." It took him a full minute to catch his breath and stop laughing, and another full minute for the snickering to subside to a reasonable level. "Sorry. Sorry, Haldir. Sorry."
"I'll sorry you..." Haldir threatened under his breath, though he couldn't quite think of anything painful enough to do to Maedhros just yet.
"Sorry," Maedhros said again. "I shouldn't tease you about your clothes. They're really not bad. Very functional. The bottoms are a bit tight, but maybe that's the style in Doriath?"
"Yes," Haldir answered through clenched teeth. "It is."
"The top is nice, though. Very becoming." He paused, smiling in a friendly sort of way.
Haldir glowered at him for a moment before muttering a grudging 'thank you'.
"You're welcome," said Maedhros. And then nothing further. Amazingly enough, he rode on in silence for several minutes before adding, in a flippantly conversational tone, "Of course, if I were on top I'd be coming, too."
That evening, Haldir snatched his map back and wrote on the reverse side with a burnt stick:
FOR SALE: FOREIGN KING. TWO GOLD CROWNS OR BEST OFFER.
There were no Noldor to be had anywhere, it seemed. They travelled all of the following day without seeing a single one. They did, in early afternoon, happen across a farmer who offered to trade a chicken for Maedhros in the absence of two gold crowns, but Haldir was forced to decline on account of how he was somewhat afraid of birds. Sharp beaks and glassy little eyes made him nervous.
By evening, both he and the horse were sorry they had turned the farmer away. Chickens did not crack wise remarks about personal areas of Haldir's anatomy, and, what's more, chickens were edible. This thought in particular put Haldir in a dark mood after scrounging for supper and being forced to return to the campsite with only a single quail egg and a large handful of mushrooms. Maedhros opened his mouth, looking as if he were about to complain about the pitiful food selection. Haldir pre-emptively growled and patted his sheathed hunting knife.
"Is that a knife under your hand?" Maedhros asked warily.
"Yes," said Haldir.
"Too bad. I was hoping you were just happy to see me."
Before Haldir even realised what he was doing, he had let out an echoing bellow of fury and launched himself directly at Maedhros. He had no plan and no thought of what might happen; all that mattered was beating on Maedhros as soon as possible, as many times as possible, and causing as much damage as possible. He pummelled with his fists and jabbed with his feet and, for good measure, tried to bite anything that came within biting range. Consequently, he ended up with a mouthful of red hair. Maedhros ended up with an eyeful of knuckles.
"Get off me, you crazy bastard!" yelled Maedhros, to which Haldir replied by throttling him. Maedhros grabbed a fistful of Haldir's hair in an effort to twist his head to the side, but Haldir managed to squirm around and pin Maedhros' hands to the ground.
"Apologise!" Haldir demanded.
"Never!" cried Maedhros, and he writhed wildly, freeing one hand long enough to smack Haldir across the side of the head.
The two of them fought and scratched and gouged and strangled, rolling each over the other in a struggle for dominance. Until Maedhros accidentally bit Haldir's lip. The two of them froze, looking at each other, quite shocked.
"Um," said Haldir.
"Oh," said Maedhros. Awkwardly enough, he was on top at that point, with one of his knees wedged firmly between Haldir's thighs.
If Haldir were forced, under threat of torture, to describe what happened next, he would have been unable to do so. To the best of his recollection, one moment they were staring uncertainly at one another. The next, Haldir's arms encircled Maedhros' neck, Maedhros' hands were all over Haldir's body (with that infernal rabbit-head shackle rock prodding him in uncomfortable places), and each was kissing the other with the sort of passion that's usually only described in soppy, romantic stories. Again, they rolled over and over, but at least they were no longer trying to maim each other.
They came to rest right in front of the horse. There was another pause, even more uncomfortable than before.
"Er," said the horse, "I think I'll go... over there for a while." He gestured with his head vaguely to the south-east.
Both Haldir and Maedhros nodded. "Good idea," said Haldir.
"Yes," said Maedhros. "Over there. I hear the view is stunning over there."
Ducking his head and very obviously trying not to see anything, the horse went over there. Haldir and Maedhros continued rolling until they were hidden from view by a patch of brambles. By that time, they were frantically clawing at each other's clothing. Haldir was undressed within moments, but Maedhros, owing to the manacle and rock still attached to his wrist, had some trouble with the narrow cuff of his shirt. Luckily, both he and Haldir were in too much of a frenzy to care. They left the shirt attached to his hand, dangling in the dirt.
Getting dressed again in the awkward mood that followed was a sight more difficult. Somehow, Haldir's shirt had been flung, inside-out, on top of the bramble bush, and Maedhros' trousers had a bee in them. Each of them was missing a shoe.
"Are you done yet?" they heard the horse call from over there.
"Yes!" Haldir answered. He spied his other shoe in the middle of a large clump of grass, but Maedhros' was still missing.
"Are you dressed?"
"Almost!" called Maedhros.
"There," said Haldir, pointing at Maedhros' other shoe, which was wedged partway down a marmot hole.
"Look!" said the horse, coming around to see them. He sounded more than a little excited. "Look what I found!"
The horse was not alone. Walking alongside him was the very same blue-surcoated nobleman that Haldir had met on the road to Thangorodrim.
Maedhros froze in the act of putting on his shoes. Blinking, he teetered on one foot for a moment. "...Finno?" he asked.
And then the air was suddenly filled with the sound of rapid conversation in a language that neither Haldir nor the horse understood, which sounded a lot like la-la-la. What Maedhros and the nobleman were saying was a complete mystery, but they seemed to say it very effectively, at great speed and with enormous hand gestures.
"Is he going to pay the ransom?" asked Haldir, pointing to the nobleman with his chin.
Looking somewhat uncomfortable, the horse pawed at the grass. "Well, here's the thing. I was so relieved to finally find somebody to take that complainer off our backs that I agreed to... er... hand him over for free."
"You did what?" screeched Haldir.
"I'm going to assume you heard me perfectly well the first time and are only asking 'what' out of sheer disbelief," said the horse.
"Damn right I heard you the first time!" yelled Haldir. "How could you do that? He was worth two gold crowns!"
"Or best offer."
"You know that's total nonsense! Nobody ever accepts less than the asking price!"
"Well, on the plus side, at least we're rid of him!" the horse said cheerfully.
Haldir responded with a withering scowl. He would have said something too foul to repeat, if only the nobleman in the blue surcoat hadn't tapped him on the shoulder just then.
"I suppose I ought to thank you," the nobleman said pompously. "You saved the life of my cousin the King. How very brave you must have been."
"Yeah, I was brave and all that," said Haldir. "Unfortunately, I think my horse may have misunderstood something. See, we planned to ransom Maedhros back to you for two gold crowns."
"Ah!" said the nobleman, and he laughed a silvery, aristocratic laugh. "Lovely, lovely. Yes, I imagine you would try to do such a thing. But, hmm, here's the problem."
Haldir looked at him warily. "What's that?"
"Well," said the nobleman, "the problem is that I've just kidnapped you. So, technically speaking, you are now the one being held for ransom."
"That's ridiculous!" shouted Haldir. "Since when have you-"
The nobleman interrupted by drawing his sword and holding it level with Haldir's neck. "Please don't make me actually injure you. This surcoat is made of a high quality velveteen, and I'd be absolutely beside myself if you got bloodstains on it."
"Oh," Haldir said. "Right. I see."
They rode off south, back toward Doriath, where Haldir had the unpleasant feeling the nobleman in blue would try to sell him back to Thingol. Maedhros was riding on Haldir's horse, the nobleman was riding on his own horse, and Haldir ran along behind them, tied up with the very length of rope he had used to rescue Maedhros from the cliff. Around his neck hung a particularly embarrassing sign that Maedhros had written:
FOR SALE: SINDARIN RUBE. ONE SILVER CROWN OR BEST OFFER.
All Haldir could think, as they made their way along the road, was, Thingol will never forgive me for letting this happen again.