Chapter 3. The Search Begins.
The elves of Ithilien had not been idle as they awaited the arrival of their king and his companions from Minas Tirith, and preparations for the search were well underway. The captain of the Rangers had offered the willing assistance of his men, and several groups made up of both elves and rangers had already left to search the riverbanks and the forest to the north.
Although it was agreed that Legolas had likely gone south in search of the ancient tree, it was not a certainty and Tathar knew that his king would accept nothing less than a thorough search. He had also readied the remaining two boats in anticipation that Aragorn and Gimli would wish to do likewise.
Hearing the sound of horses approaching, Tathar took a moment to silently ask the Valar to watch over his friend before returning to the glade where he would meet the new arrivals.
“Welcome to Ithilien, King Thranduil, King Elessar, friend Gimli,” said Tathar, placing his hand on his heart and bowing respectfully in the formal manner of greeting.
“Thank you Tathar,” said Thranduil, returning the gesture and smiling warmly as he nodded a polite acknowledgement to the other elves who had come to the glade to greet him.
“Where is everyone else, surely the others are also eager to welcome their king?” Gimli asked with just a hint of sarcasm, as he cast a quick glance about him.
“Already continuing the search for my son, I suspect,” replied Thranduil coldly. Tathar nodded in confirmation of the fact, and sensing the discord between his king and the dwarf, quickly intervened.
“Ai, Gimli, I see you are as good as your word and have convinced Aragorn to help us in the search for our missing friend,” Tathar said clapping him affectionately on the back.
“In fact, he required no convincing, I merely passed on the ill news, and his concern for Legolas moved him to join the search. However, I will take credit for his choice of attire. It was I who suggested that the clothing he wore as a Ranger would be more appropriate for hunting our elusive prey, than his royal finery,” replied Gimli, his lighthearted words and reference to Legolas hiding his deep concern, and evoking a smile of sympathy from Tathar, but a look of ill concealed rage from Thranduil, who thought the dwarf was being disrespectful.
“And it still sits well on him, despite his years away from the wilds!” declared Tathar, laughing merrily at the glare of mock indignation he received from Aragorn. “Welcome, King of Gondor, it has been far too long since last you visited with us,” the elf said as he drew the man into a brotherly embrace which was returned with the same enthusiasm. Thranduil raised a single eyebrow at the display; apparently Legolas was not the only elf in Ithilien who had befriended the man.
“It most certainly has, but I wish that the reason for my visit was simply to attend one of your feasts, rather than the need to find my friend,” said Aragorn ruefully.
“He will be found, if he does not simply return of his own accord, and then we most definitely will treat you to a feast,” said the elf with a determined optimism that eased the weight on Aragorn’s mind.
“Then am I to understand that there has been no news regarding Legolas since I last spoke with you?” Thranduil asked the one who had journeyed to meet him with the news several days previously. He had known the young elf all his life and was well able to read the concern in his eyes as Tathar shook his head.
“It grieves me that he has not yet been located, but I have since learned from the captain of the Rangers that he may have headed downriver towards Pelargir,” he replied.
“To the sea?” asked Aragorn in a shocked whisper, as he suddenly questioned his certainty that Legolas would have at least bid him farewell had he decided to sail to Valinor.
“Nay, just as far as the forest on the western shore, where it is rumored a very ancient tree is to be found,” the elf explained.
“A TREE! He has taken off on his own to speak with a TREE! I thought he had already met every tree in Middle Earth during our wanderings. That insane Elf, how dare he be so inconsiderate as to cause us worry over such a thing! Just wait until I see him!” An enraged Gimli blustered. Aragorn and Tathar exchanged an amused glance at the dwarf’s indignation.
“How dare you speak of my son in that manner, Dwarf!” thundered the voice of a decidedly not amused Thranduil, his eyes flashing with anger as he moved to stand before Gimli. “Apologize at once for your insult!” he demanded.
“I do not think… " Aragorn began to say, his intention to defend Gimli dying on his lips as Thranduil’s angry glare, and the warning touch of Tathar’s hand on his arm silenced him.
“Legolas would not consider my words an insult,” stated Gimli defiantly, his proud stance showing he was not intimidated by the formidable Woodland King.
“Do you dare to suggest that I do not know my own son’s mind?” asked Thranduil with the soft whisper of steel in his voice.
“I am sure you do, but you obviously know little of his affections for his friends, or theirs for him,” replied Gimli. It was a truth Thranduil could not deny, but one he was not prepared to admit openly.
“I know that his friendships with mortals can only bring grief,” he said coldly.
“That may be so, but do not doubt that Legolas is well aware of the risks to his heart, yet he willingly accepts our love and friendship, as we accept his,” said Aragorn stepping between the two antagonists, unable to keep his silence any longer.
“This ‘discussion’ is achieving nothing but a delay in finding the elf we all love,” said Tathar with the voice of reason. He was already tired of the bickering and silently vowed to make Legolas pay dearly for leaving him to act as intermediary. “I have the last two boats ready, for I assume you and Gimli will wish to head south,” he said to Aragorn, his assumption that Thranduil would not be joining them dismissed out of hand by the king’s next words.
“They can take one, and I will take the other,” stated Thranduil, making it plain he had every intention of joining the search.
“Would you not prefer to remain here with me, should Legolas return, Your Majesty?” asked Tathar, deciding to use a more formal manner of speech as a gentle reminder of proper behavior, which Thranduil accepted, and calmed his anger.
“Nay, Tathar, I believe as you do that my son would have been unable to resist the lure of finding such a tree. I will accompany Aragorn and Gimli, for although I know of the ranger’s skills as a woodsman, elvish eyesight and hearing might prove to be equally as necessary,” he said, surprising them all with his compliment and his renewed spirit of cooperation, indicating to all his concern for his son. “Please show me to the haven, we have wasted too much time already.”
“I agree. Your presence and your skills are indeed welcome, King Thranduil,” said Aragorn sincerely, glaring darkly at Gimli who grunted his disapproval.
“Aragorn, a word if I may,” asked Tatar, drawing his friend aside as Thranduil and Gimli settled themselves in separate boats.
“What troubles you?” Aragorn asked, sensing the elf was worried.
“I need to warn you that Legolas has not been himself of late, the call of the sea is weighing heavily on his heart. He refused to ask one of us to go with him, and I fear that his distraction may have lead to his disappearance,” he told Aragorn.
“I assume Thranduil is well aware of this?” asked a now very alarmed Aragorn.
“Of course, contrary to Gimli’s opinion, the king knows his son very well. It was his concern for Legolas that brought him here in the first place, and now with the added worry of his son’s disappearance… well… I think you will find Thranduil more difficult than usual,” said Tathar. “I just wanted to apologize in advance for the trouble you can expect from the King and Gimli, if their recent behavior is any indication. It would have been much easier had Thranduil decided to stay behind,” said the elf.
“Gimli is also suffering from fear and worry over Legolas, and you are not responsible for their behavior. Let your heart be at ease, it is well within my capabilities do deal with such animosity, I have done so before,” he chuckled reassuringly. “Besides, if they become too annoying, I will simply take one of the boats and continue the search alone, leaving them to argue who should take the other,” he told the elf with a mischievous wink. Tathar half believed he would do just that, and sighed with relief that he was to remain in Ithilien.
The two elven boats moved slowly down the stream, the distance between them close enough to allow further planning of the search. According to what little information Tathar had been able to give them, the tree was at least one day’s journey south by river, and it was agreed that since there were already several groups searching the forest to the south of the settlement, it would be wiser for the three to travel further downstream, stopping to seek any sign of Legolas at each of the small stony beaches on the western bank.
The first day’s search continued until the darkness of night made seeing impossible and it was a disheartened company that made camp that night. After a brief meal, Gimli and Aragorn lit their pipes, causing Thranduil to seek refuge some distance away.
“You do not like the smell of pipeweed, Thranduil?” asked Aragorn his manner friendly and inviting some light conversation.
“I do not understand why you wish to fill your lungs with smoke when the evening air is clean and fresh,” admitted Thranduil as he climbed easily onto the lower branch of one of the trees that bordered the campsite, settling himself against the trunk as he gazed into the night sky. As he did so, both Aragorn and Gimli were reminded very much of their missing friend, and even though the distance between was short, Gimli was startled to realize just how much alike in appearance Legolas and Thranduil actually were.
“Your son is of the same opinion for I have heard that comment from Legolas on many occasions,” Gimli told Thranduil as he blew a puff of smoke into the air. “He also seeks the solace of the trees whenever a pipe is lit,” he added with a genuinely friendly smile in an attempt to ease some of the tension between them. It was a decision the dwarf had reached as they had traveled downriver, made not because he had taken a sudden liking to the elder elf, but because it would please Legolas if they could at least be civil towards one another.
Both Gimli and Aragorn had not failed to notice how intently Thranduil scanned the shore for any sign of his son, nor had they failed to notice the worry filled eyes that were much like those of their friend. Their companion was no longer the King who disapproved of his son’s choice of friends, but instead he had become the loving father who was concerned for his son’s well being.
“Do you still sense his presence?” Aragorn asked Thranduil after a long silence.
“Ai, it is as before, but now I am hearing something else,” he added as he closed his eyes in concentration for a few moments.
“What is it?” asked Aragorn, judging by Thranduil’s relaxed posture that it was good news.
“I hear the whisper of an ancient voice on the breeze, the words are in a language I do not understand, but I am certain it is the tree Legolas was seeking,” he replied his eyes bright with delight at his discovery.
“Is it close by?” asked Aragorn, also relieved at the pleasing revelation.
“It is not here, but further down the river, possibly only a few hours distant. I suggest you both rest now, for we should be ready to leave at dawn’s first light,” said Thranduil, who did not need, nor require sleep.
As Aragorn and Gimli drifted into slumber, they could have sworn it was the soft, sweet voice of Legolas, rather than his father that they could hear singing praises to the stars.
Later the next day, their joyful anticipation at finding the tree, and hopefully Legolas soon faded into despair as they saw no sign of their friend on the rocky shore where they landed the boats. Aragorn’s tracking skills told him it was likely several centuries, if not longer since anyone had used the pathway he finally found and their disappointment was compounded when, despite his best efforts, Thranduil was unable to understand the voice of the ancient tree.
“I sense only that the ancient one is curious about us, that we are the first beings he has seen in many long years,” said Thranduil, confirming Aragorn’s findings as he removed his hand from the gnarled trunk, and bowed respectfully to the tree, as Gimli had seen Legolas do many times during their stay in Fangorn.
“Then Legolas did not reach his goal,” stated Gimli as they made their way back to the boats to take a short break before heading further south.
“No, but I see the signs of a recent storm, perhaps he sought refuge elsewhere,” said Aragorn, who had been carefully searching the shore for any clue, no matter how small.
“We have no choice but to continue on,” said Thranduil. The others nodded agreement, and soon the ancient tree, and the hope they had felt at finding it, lay far behind them.