Ten years ago, just before Father died and left me the shop, I went down to the sea with my young man. I had known him since childhood and he was a sailor, about to leave for Umbar. We took his boat and sailed to tiny Tol Gwing, that is Spindrift Island in our speech. It was the most perfect Midsummer I can recall. We had sung Remembrance with the other townsfolk at dawn, tossing roses and ashes into the waves, and then the day was ours. For loveliness that day could have been Arda Unmarred: the sea, the sky, the trees and scented air. That night we had the starriest of canopies to swear love under, ablaze with diamond chips and golden whorls. And swear love we did, in a dusky grove near the crashing surf. It was the best day of my life.
It bodes ill to experience perfection twice in a lifetime.
The quay is a long stone platform built parallel to the beach. Gimli and I had left the boardwalk and were crossing the sand, approaching the quay. Only one ship was moored there. Its very construction was a delight to the eyes. My sails were there and rigged: the long rectangular main sail and atop it, a smaller triangular sail. The main sail had broad, deep blue stripes alternating with white, and the top sail was all blue save for a spray of white stars. The dye came all the way from Harad. The customer wanted the best of materials. And they were. I was proud to see my sails on such a pleasing ship. Even the name, and the script it was writ in, was beautiful: “Elwing.” Gimli and I used the short ladder to climb aboard.
He was there, my Elven customer whose name I already knew well.
He stood with his back to us, one sandaled foot on a railing. For a moment I thought he was limned in pale light, but lighting is uncertain just before a storm. I could not discern what kept him from the common courtesy of saying hello. Then I noticed a pair of gulls flying overhead, the most ordinary sight imaginable. He was watching the gulls. When they were gone he turned to us, and I looked upon what could not be: a tall, slender youth of about twenty or so, with three-thousand-year-old eyes.
Thus I lost interest in ships, gulls, Gimli, and all else. Oh, I continued to hear, feel, and sense the life of the waterfront whirling about me. Nath shouted to the men of Meren-sûl. A gust of wind blew my hair and bellied the sails. My tongue tasted salt. Thunder rumbled, Gimli grumbled, and at the still center of my focus was this face, this face, this unbelievable face. No wonder the old tales call them Fair Folk. I was looking at the most beautiful face I had ever seen or ever would, man or woman, and in this face was that pair of extraordinary eyes.
Sea Fair’s town square has a pretty fountain of white stone. The bottom of the pool is painted blue-grey. The Elf’s eyes were as clear as the water in that fountain and they were full of a pain so profound that I found myself looking his body over for bleeding wounds.
Noticing my attention, he put the expression away as if he had taken out a winter shirt by error and replaced it with a summer shirt. He seemed past being merry, but would be polite.
“I am Legolas of the northern Greenwood, lately of Ithilien,” he said. “Welcome and thank you, Aerlinn, for the sails.”
“They will last you through many voyages,” I said.
The pain came back into his eyes and he gave me a strange look. But all he said was, “Allow me to show you the ship. Gimli, will you come?”
“No. Soon I will see as much of the ship as I care to, and now my bones are calling for a rest. If you will spare Aerlinn for a moment, she can take me to that tavern over there and say a good word to the ale master.”
“Gladly,” I replied, and we left the ship.
I lost no time. “What ails him?”
“He wants, that is he needs two things. The gaining of one precludes the other forever, and he has delayed the choice for as long as he can. It is driving him mad.”
“Well, what does he need? Quickly!” We were off the quay now and walking on the sand.
“He needs to make this sea voyage, and to not make it. He needs, the way those who love wine too much need their wine. You have guessed that he and I were companions of the Ringbearer? Then you have heard how, at the end, Frodo was not able to cast the ring away; he needed it. That is how Legolas needs.”
“He does not want to go?”
“No. Believe me, he desires to stay in his Greenwood, near his father, although that will not make him happy. But it makes no difference what he desires. His need overrides all. He has been resisting it for a hundred and twenty years, ever since the first time he heard that curséd gull. While Aragorn and Arwen lived they gave him some comfort, but now they are gone and his ability to resist is done. When Legolas goes, he will leave a piece of his heart behind for every gust of wind that fills the sails. Do not say I said so, but he is so sick with grief that he may die of it on the voyage.”
Gimli’s words fascinated me. I burned to ask where they were going, and why Legolas must choose this way or that, if neither staying nor sailing would bring him peace. But we had reached the signpost before the tavern. Overhead, lightning flashed in the sky. Thunder followed at once.
Many strangers come through Sea Fair: merchants, messengers, sailors, traders, and all sorts of footloose wanderers called by the sea. To help them find the right destination, or avoid the wrong ones, Mayor Harald had a signpost built. It directed folks to the quays, piers, shipyards, town square, and the road out of town. Harald gave the work to his wife’s brother, who did a proper job of it. Gimli even now was reading the signs with interest and with ease, for Harald’s brother-by-marriage had been no taller than a Dwarf.
Suddenly I realized that I towered over everything near me.
My hair stirred, as if it wanted to leave my head. The sky darkened markedly.
Just then I heard a shout; it was Legolas. “Aerlinn! Move away! Move! Now!” He was fairly bellowing.
I grasped Gimli’s hand and dragged him to the tavern door. We tumbled through. An instant later the most gigantic sound split the air, so powerful that the tavern walls shuddered. It was like a mountain exploding. I screamed, for indeed I smelled smoke. I thought an earthquake had struck.
But it was lightning striking the signpost, splitting it lengthwise, and scarring the splintered remains with black scars. It would have been I, save for Legolas.
“How did he know?” I gasped. "Can he see beyond?"
“Go ask him, girl, if you dare go back to the ship. He may tell you. For myself, I will wait here by the window. I will have some ale and try not to remember that soon I will be out on those wild waves. Give Legolas thanks that his foresight saved your life, and remember: do not add to his cares.”
“Not for the world,” I said shakily. I sped back across the beach to Legolas and his grey ship. My fate grew nearer.