Characters: Legolas and Thranduil
An answer, of sorts, to the question of how Elves feed themselves without farming or raising livestock. Inspired by a discussion of civilization on the HASA group, and the suggested solution of Olorime.
Legolas knew something was up when his King called him to his private chambers. Ever since he was a child nothing good had ever come from a private talk with his “King”. He entered the chamber with an appropriately solemn expression and remained standing while his father sat in his big, comfy chair. Thranduil looked as though he wanted to say something but was unsure how to begin, so Legolas simply waited until he was ready. He knew there was no hurrying Thranduil when it came to the business of the realm.
After a few moments shifting and pondering, the king finally spoke. “As Prince of Mirkwood you have many responsibilities which you have always fulfilled with the utmost integrity. Now that you are of age, there is another responsibility I must demand of you.”
Legolas felt a rush of relief. He knew what was coming and was surprised the talk had not come sooner. This was the “you must marry and produce an heir” speech he’d been expecting for some time. He did think it a bit strange his father had chosen to turn it into an official edict, but Thranduil did like to adhere to the old traditions whenever possible.
“I have already considered the matter, my lord, and there is a maiden I’ve had my eye on these past months. Of course we have only just started getting to know each other so it may be some time before I know how things will progress…”
“What?” Thranduil said, startled. Then he shook his head absent-mindedly. “No, no, this is not the “you must marry and produce an heir speech”. What do we need with more royalty around here anyway? There’s barely enough for you and me to do in our official roles. No, this is the “it’s time you started contributing to the health of the realm” speech.”
“Contributing? In what way? Don’t I already lead the hunts, patrol the borders, train your guards…?”
“All well and good, but the hunts only partially feed our people. We need much more than game to survive.”
“But we have stores of grain, larders full of vegetables and fruits, barrels of wine and ale. What more do we need?”
“Just where do you suppose those items you mention come from?”
Legolas hesitated. “Well,” he said at last, “from farms and orchards and things I suppose.”
“Precisely. Now, let’s take the next step. We live in a forest. Have you ever seen a field around here, when you’re out hunting and guarding the borders and such?
“Uh… no… but I thought…” Thranduil waited for him to continue but Legolas had run out of things to say on the subject. “So how do we… I mean, don’t we barter for those things?”
Thranduil beamed him a smile. “Yes, we barter. Elves don’t sully their hands with plowing and harvesting and tending crops. We’re above all that. Instead, we barter for the goods we need.”
“That is why you have a vault full of white gems,” Legolas said.
“Yes, so I did. Unfortunately, they ran out quite a long time ago.”
“So what do we barter?” Legolas was becoming increasingly confused.
“The only thing we have to offer, besides black squirrel pelts and buckskin,” Thranduil said, which would not have given Legolas pause had he not blushed so deeply when he said it.
Legolas looked at Thranduil incredulously. “Surely you don’t mean…”
“Exactly. You must begin taking on clients from Lake Town and environs beyond in order to keep the goods flowing upriver.”
“So this is what’s been keeping the place together all these years, whoring out your nobles for wine and apples?”
“Hey, apples don’t grow on trees you know!” Thranduil said indignantly. “At least not around here.”
“So we’re in a veritable sea of trees and you never thought of planting an orchard?”
“Of course I’ve thought of it. Where do you suggest I put it? In the part of the forest overrun by spiders or the part of the forest overrun by orcs?”
“So how about the wine and ale? We can’t brew our own?”
“Out of the grapes we don’t cultivate, or the grain we don’t grow?” Thranduil countered.
“But surely other realms don’t shame themselves thus,” Legolas said. “What about Elrond or Galadriel? Can’t you find out how they barter for their commodities?”
“This is how they do it,” Thranduil said. “You’ve been to Imladris. When’s the last time you saw Elrond’s sons?”
“I’ve never seen them, but I thought they spent their time in the wilderness hunting orcs.”
“They do,” Thranduil assured him. “They hunt orcs and they sleep around. Didn’t you say you love the chicken barley soup served at the Last Homely House?”
“Well yes, but…”
“Ever see a rippling field of barley or a chicken in that Belain forsaken valley?”
“Well, no, but…”
“I rest my case,” Thranduil said with a smug look.
“So who besides me is expected to engage in this barter system?” Legolas said sullenly.
“If you were a king you would realize that there are some things one cannot ask of one’s subjects.”
“Wait, so you’ve been the only one doing the nasty with mortals all these years?”
“Well, yes, me and Galion, but he insisted he be included when he found out. He pretends like it’s a sacrifice but, well, you know Galion.”
Legolas nodded. Indeed he did.
“Now that you know you will, of course, be expected to pull your weight as regards to the system. We’re due for another shipment of Dorwinion soon. Believe me, after a week or so of servicing smelly mortals, you’ll need it.”
So many things fell into place now that Legolas knew. The feasting, the song and merriment with no sign of any real work being done. His father’s constant riding forth from the stronghold, probably to meet his clients out in the woods to at least give some appearance of discretion.
“Is this any way to run a civilization?” he groused.
“Whoever said Elves were civilized?” Thranduil shrugged.
Legolas left the king’s chambers with instructions to go hunting the next day. He would, he was told, find a contingent from Lake Town down by the river waiting with some eagerness for his arrival. He was greeted with warm, knowing smiles by the group and entered into the tent of the town’s mayor. As he lay back upon the pallet he did the only thing a prince of the realm of the Greenwood could do: closed his eyes and thought of chicken barley soup.