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15
To the Crossroads

Written for the "X like excruciating exertions on the way to the X on the mouldering map" prompt for the 2007 B2MEM prompt. Didn't think this one would get me, till I remembered a throwaway line in Ultimatums.


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To The Crossroads

“Page one hundred forty-five,” Loranos hiccupped, his swarthy countenance rosy with wine-flush. “Can’t be done.” An unsteady finger pointed to the illustration of a man and a woman copulating upon a horse at full gallop. Pelargir’s premier brothel, the Drunkard’s Dream’s copy of The Garden of Love was one of the finest in Gondor, surpassed only by that owned by the royal house of Dol Amroth.

The royal heir of that house disagreed, his eyes bright with the almost manic light they got when he had had too much to drink. “I could do it. With the right horse. And the right partner.” Murmurs arose from the ladies of the establishment and their customers. Several were clustered around the book with Loranos and Imrahil, which had served, as it often did, as the subject of much discussion and hilarity that evening.

Loranos roared with laughter. “I’ve got two hundred gold that says you can’t, Imrahil!”

The Heir to Dol Amroth tossed the last of his wine back with practiced efficiency. “And I have two hundred that says I can! Set the terms.”

Loranos blinked. “You’re serious?” Imrahil nodded. More murmuring, then one of the ladies moved to a side table to bring another book over-the brothel’s wager book. Her trade name was Ellandir and her red hair owed more to artifice than any Northern blood, but the brain beneath it was more than keen. She set the book on the table, one of the other girls brought her quill and ink and she began to write in a neat, concise hand, speaking aloud as she did so.

“The bettors are Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and Captain Loranos of the Stormcrow. The terms of the wager are that Prince Imrahil will accomplish the carnal act depicted upon page one hundred forty-five of the copy of The Garden of Love belonging to the Drunkard’s Dream. If he does, then Captain Loranos will pay him two hundred gold. If he fails, then he will pay Captain Loranos the same amount. Gold pieces to be standard Gondorian trade weight. Horse and partner to be of the Prince’s choosing?” She looked inquiringly at the two men, who both nodded. “Duration of the act and location it is to be performed in have yet to be decided. Gentlemen?”

“I’m not doing it in the town square, Loranos,” the young Prince said. “We’ll need some running room to accomplish this. And some privacy.” The sea captain frowned.

“I am not so familiar with the city as all that. Ladies, what do you suggest?” There was some muted conversation among the courtesans, then one of the younger ladies left the room. When she returned a few moments later, she had in her hands a rather musty old map of Pelargir and its environs, which she unfolded and set upon the table next to the books. They looked the map over for a few moments, then Imrahil’s finger snaked along the thin line that indicated an outlying country road.

“That looks good.”

“That is a good choice, my lord,” the map-bearer agreed. “It is not much used and see, it continues out of the city to that crossroads there.” The sea-captain looked at the road and the map key to judge the distance and nodded.

“All right then, how does this sound? Imrahil and his chosen lady start here,” and he indicated a point upon the road just outside of the city limits, “and they go all the way to the crossroads. He stays on the horse and she stays on him the whole time, or I win the wager.”

“Bareback or with saddle?” Ellandir asked. Loranos snorted.

“The man’s a Swan Knight! And I’m wagering two hundred gold! Bareback, of course.”

“The picture is bareback in any event,” Tolan, one of Pelargir’s richest burghers pointed out. There was nodding and agreement among his fellows.

Ellandir made the appropriate notation in the wager book “The Prince’s ride of love to start on the outskirts of the town and continue to the crossroads. The horse is to be bareback. The time the wager is to take place, gentlemen?”

Imrahil and the sea captain looked at each other for a moment. “Will tomorrow evening suit you, Captain?” the young prince asked. Loranos nodded.

“Will you be able to find a young lady to partner you by then?”

The Heir to Dol Amroth looked across the room to see a vision gliding towards him. Callia, Pelargir’s most notorious dancer/courtesan, did not work out of the Drunkard’s Dream, for she was an independent, but she had danced there that night. Arriving at his side, she drew his head down so that she might whisper in his ear.

“I will do it, Imrahil, for half the gold.” Imrahil looked down at her, very pleased, for she had been the first person he had thought of. Small and slender, and much stronger than she looked, with an unerring sense of balance. “Done, my lady,” he murmured to her. “And done!” he said aloud to Loranos. The room erupted in cheering.

Too late, he thought to look to the corner, where his bodyguard/oath brother Andrahar sat, quietly watching the festivities. The Haradrim’s face was impassive. Perhaps I will not be taken to task this time! Imrahil was relieved, for Andrahar was not usually reticent about expressing his opinion of Imrahil’s wilder adventures.

But later that night, on the way back to the inn, the Prince discovered there was to be a reckoning after all.

“It has long been established that you have no care for your own reputation or that of your house,” came Andrahar’s deep voice quietly as they walked. “But you might at least have a care for mine. The man reflects upon the master, and the master upon the man, ‘tis said.”

“’Twas just a bit of harmless fun, Andra,” Imrahil said defensively.

“’Harmless fun’? I think not. You are going to publicly fornicate in front of most of Pelargir’s upper class wastrels. For an insignificant amount of gold. This tendency of yours to whore yourself out at every opportunity grows tiresome. And how do you think your father would feel, should he ever learn of this? Do you honestly believe he will think you lend luster to Dol Amroth’s reputation with such acts?”

“Are you going to tell him?” the Prince knew he sounded like a seven-year-old, but he could not help himself. The wine was souring in his stomach, and he was beginning to realize what a fool he’d been.

“No. I would not pain Prince Adrahil for the world. And I hope he does not hear of this from some other source.”

“I cannot go back on the wager.”

“Indeed you cannot. But do you think it wise to keep putting yourself in situations where, no matter what you do, your honor suffers?” It was definitely a rhetorical question, and Imrahil did not answer it. Upon arriving back at the inn, Andrahar did as he always did in a strange place and preceded Imrahil into the chambers, allowing the Prince to enter only after he had thoroughly examined the rooms for any possible intruders. He muttered softly under his breath in Haradric as he did so.

“If you have more to say then say it!” Imrahil growled, stung. His oath-brother spun on his heel to face him.

“Very well then. I was just reflecting upon a passage from the Precepts, which states-’Unfortunate is the man with a fool for a master’.” Giving Imrahil one last trenchant look of disgust, he went into his adjoining chamber and closed the door.

The Heir to Dol Amroth stared at the closed door, dismayed. What had begun as wine-inspired braggadocio now looked in the cold light of morning to be a embarrassing ordeal to be endured. And Andrahar would be insufferable for at least a week-he usually was when he became this annoyed. A memory of one of his previous gaffes came to Imrahil then, and what Andrahar had said about that.

“You do not think! You never think!” Not for the first time, the Prince wondered if it wouldn’t just be easier to grow up and act his age. It was a resolution he’d made before, then disregarded, but this time felt different. Andrahar was nearing the end of his patience, and Imrahil knew all too well that if provoked sufficiently, he would leave Dol Amroth. Leaving Imrahil rudderless… Impetuous fool he might be at times, but he knew all too well the value of Andrahar’s friendship. With a sigh, he began to prepare for bed. There was a long day before him before his long night. Making up with Andrahar would be at least as difficult as committing a carnal act better suited to acrobats! He was definitely going to need his rest.

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