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Tell This Mortal
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How Legolas Gained His Shipcraft

Leaving Gimli at the tavern, I dashed around the people who stood – at a respectful distance – near the blackened signpost. When I was aboard the Elwing again I thanked Legolas for his timely warning. “That lightning strike was maybe the closest I have been to death! How did you know? Gimli said you might tell me. Or if you wish, show me the ship first. We can talk later at the tavern while it rains.”

“I will show you the ship first, but there is no hurry. It will not rain for an hour,” he said with the same assurance he had announced his name.

We viewed the ship. I knew a fair amount about shipbuilding and sailing and I thought it odd there was no sign of charts. Well, Elves must steer by the stars. I saw no sign of oars either; it was a sailing vessel only. Such ships are common around Sea Fair - lesser merchants use them - but they are usually not so large as thirty-six by twelve.

“And they crew four at least, and stay close to the coasts, at that. And all this decking!”

“The size and the decking are for the comfort of the Dwarf,” said Legolas. “He fears the sea, and he is very old for his kind. We call it ‘ingem’ which means years-sick. Do not mention it but he is so sick with years that he may die during the voyage. A strange fate for a Dwarf. We must leave on the next tide after the storm passes, which I think will be dawn tomorrow.”

“There is a tide shortly after dawn,” I said. “You have started your provisioning?” I saw a keg or two in a corner, along with a few leather pouches and a small basket of apples.

“We have finished provisioning.”

Small crew, slim provisions, - your maiden voyage will be short, I thought. I longed to ask his destination. Most customers discussed their plans freely, but when they did not, I did not ask. Also, I had Gimli’s warning in mind. I meant to say nothing that might trouble the Elf.

Next I saw a leaf-carved chest, large enough to hold the Dwarf and more. “This contains my most prized possessions,” Legolas said, smiling for once. He took out a beautifully crafted longbow. “The bow of Galadriel from the Ring War,” he said.

I know good work when I see it, and this was of the highest quality.

Finally I had a look down below and over the sides. “I see you constructed the hull shell-first.”

“Of course. The planks are fitted together with a thousand tenons and mortices, or more. We pegged it well. When we launched it into the Anduin, the water swelled the wood to as tight as it can fit.”

“You display a high level of ship craft for one who has lived mostly in the forest. Where did you come by this skill?”

“I saw Cirdan when I went Inner.” I looked at him blankly. “It is the Unseen world of the Elves, our dreams. Visions, you would call them. We see them when we take repose. When we go on the Olórë Mallë.”

“That does not explain as much as you might think,” I said.

He smiled again. “Gimli has been after me to tell more of Elvish lore. If you like, I can try to show you the Path of Dreams. I did so with Aragorn once. Will you take my hand?”

To learn Elvish lore, and from the Elvish companion of the Ringbearer! Of course I took his hand, and I may say that his attempt to show me the Path of Dreams was successful.

He remained standing. But I sensed in him a letting go or a relaxing. I had heard of the strange sleep of the Elves and watched his eyes carefully. They stayed open, but the round black centers seemed to lengthen. As for me, I tingled with warmth. The storm’s breezes felt soothing. Then my head went very strange, as if I had drunk a glass of good wine after tasting the summer mushrooms. My thoughts seemed to be swirling in a vortex – and suddenly I was in another place. And another body.

A far western harbor was my home. I was old; ancient. I was an Elf, and my name was Cirdan. I knew everything there was to know about ships and seas. Ulmo Lord of Waters was my friend, and Ossë, my teacher. I was a teacher myself, and here was my pupil. We worked together at my shipyard for a long-year, or more. He was of the Sindar, who are descended from my people the Teleri, and his name was Legolas.

As we built ship after ship, I saw that the calad was about me; that is the light that comes from us when we most closely approach the fulfillment of our beings. Healers show it when they heal, sometimes. For me, it was laying my hands on the wood for ships.

The scene changed and I was no longer at the harbor; I was in an ocean of trees. So this is a forest, I thought, looking up through dappled light and hearing birdsong like no gull’s call. I was no Elf, but rather a Mortal girl of sixteen and strangely, I was also Aerlinn of Sea Fair. I wore someone’s borrowed clothes: a short shirt and a kind of wrapped, divided skirt. Before me stood Legolas as he must have been in his early youth. He bore a longbow on his back, an elegant quiver of arrows, and two white-handled longknives. He leaned toward me. I heard his voice inside my head: Do not love me. I am not lucky in love. Every woman who has loved me, or whom I have loved, is dead.

Once again the scene changed. Now I was Legolas, standing on the deck of my ship Elwing. Mostly I watched the gulls and yearned to follow them out to sea. But when the storm approached, Ossë let me take its measure. I saw its passing tomorrow morning and when it threatened Gimli and the sail maker, I gave warning.

Then I was myself again, for Legolas loosed my hand. With a feeling like turning a child’s somersault, I came ….


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