Chapter 4. Whispering Waves
The pale luminescence of Ithil and the brilliance of the shining jewels of the night had taken possession off the sky when Legolas awoke. As he turned his gaze upwards to the beauty of the stars, he was relieved to discover that his headache and nausea were now nothing but a fading memory, and his sense of balance had been restored. His ankle however was a different matter, and although the pain had diminished to a dull, throbbing ache, the broken bone still felt decidedly uncomfortable.
Putting his discomfort aside in favor of a desire to learn more about his surroundings, Legolas gingerly raised himself into a sitting position, and leant back against the trunk of the small tree beneath which he was resting. Glancing around, he discovered that the tree was actually on the edge of a grassy clearing located on a low rise above the river. The Anduin had been hidden from his sight by several larger trees that grew just beyond the golden shadows of the fire, and from his sitting position he could now clearly see the ripples in the black waters that were caused by the swiftly moving current.
A slight movement to his left caught his eye, and he turned to see Gwael kneeling in front of the fire, cooking the fish he had caught while Legolas slept. Since it appeared that the old man had not yet noticed that he was awake, the elf took the opportunity to study his rescuer with interest. To his eyes, the healer’s face appeared to be just as wrinkled, and his beard and hair just as white as that of any of the old men of Minas Tirith or Osgiliath, but Legolas was certain he was not from those cities. There was a definite aura of mystery surrounding Gwael that he could not explain.
“How are you feeling, Legolas? Are you hungry?” the healer asked without lifting his eyes from his task as he spoke. Legolas shook his head slightly in surprise; he should have suspected that his movements would not go undetected by the old man, if that was all he truly was. The elf had begun to suspect that perhaps the healer was actually an Istar, for he certainly behaved as enigmatically as dear Gandalf had been wont to do.
“My ankle is yet to heal, but otherwise I am well. At least my thoughts are no longer cloudy,” Legolas reported happily for he truly was feeling quite recovered. “And now that you mention it, I am indeed hungry. That fish looks very appetizing, may I have some?” he asked as his stomach growled its agreement that a meal would be most welcome.
“Of course,” replied Gwael, placing the fish on a makeshift plate formed by several thick leaves woven together. He carried the food and two mugs of hot tea over to where Legolas was sitting.
“Has your memory returned?” he asked as they ate. Legolas had intended to be the one to ask the questions and satisfy his own curiosity, but he did not wish to offend Gwael. He thought for a moment and then replied in the affirmative.
“Ai, but before I explain how I came to be injured, may I ask how I come to be this far away from the riverbank?” asked Legolas, deciding it was his turn to question his companion.
“I am not so old and lacking in strength that I can not carry one as light as you over this short a distance,” replied Gwael indignantly.
“Then where is my boat?”
“Its location is a result of an unfortunate circumstance of which you need to be made aware,” Gwael replied with more than a little sympathy as he pointed to the elven boat wedged between the rocks at the river’s edge.
Legolas let out a small cry of dismay, for fingers of moonlight shone through a gaping hole in the side, making the craft impossible to use until repairs could be made, repairs for which he had neither the tools nor the wood on hand and that would have to wait until he could return to Ithilien and collect the needed supplies. If he had traveled as far as he suspected it would be a long journey home unless someone came to his rescue, and he briefly wondered if anyone was even looking for him, laughing out loud at his own foolishness. Of course they would be and, as he thought on it a little longer, he realized that they would also be blaming themselves for not accompanying him.
“What do you find so amusing?” asked Gwael curiously.
“I was just laughing at my unfounded doubts over whether or not my friends would be searching for me. Judging by the waning of Ithil, I have been gone for over a week and they must be extremely worried, especially my father,” replied Legolas, now full of remorse for the worry he knew his disappearance was causing those he loved. It would be a few more days before he could walk without assistance, and that meant he would be stranded in the glade until then. Even with elvish swiftness the journey back to Ithilien would take many days.
“You were expecting a visit from your father, Thranduil I believe he is named?” asked the old man, momentarily stunning Legolas into silence at the unexpected question.
“Ai, but how do you know my father’s name?” asked Legolas when he found himself able to speak once more.
“I met him once, long ago,” Gwael replied nonchalantly.
“When and where?” demanded Legolas a little harshly, becoming annoyed with the man’s evasiveness.
“Our paths crossed briefly at Mithlond, the day your mother sailed West,” Gwael told him. “I witnessed their final embrace before she boarded one of Cirdan’s ships. I recognized who you were immediately when I saw you lying unconscious on the river bank, for your features are much the same as his. There is no mistaking you for other than his son.”
“Adar has never mentioned meeting you at the Havens,” said Legolas, remembering nothing but the sadness and heartache he had experienced as he said farewell to his naneth at the borders of Mirkwood. It had been with great unwillingness that he had agreed to her request to say goodbye there and not at the Havens.
“His heart and mind were with the ship and its precious cargo, not on an old man with whom he exchanged a few words,” explained Gwael, interrupting Legolas’s remembrances and bringing his thoughts back to the present.
“I see,” he said, accepting the explanation. “In answer to your query, as far as I recall, I had set out in search of an ancient tree that I was told grew near Pelargir, and in my haste to find it, I disregarded the danger of an approaching storm. My mind has been in turmoil of late and I became distracted by my thoughts,” he admitted. “I remember falling into the river, and the sound of my ankle breaking as I tried to climb back aboard my boat. The last thing I recall before waking up here was that I slipped and hit my head.”
“It seems that a series of rather unfortunate occurrences has led to our meeting,” commented Gwael, as he wandered around the glade, picking up and discarding several fallen branches before finding one with which he was content. He leaned on it heavily to test its strength then handed it to Legolas. “See if you can walk using this as a staff,” he suggested. Legolas took the staff, and after a few attempts managed to take a few steps, that resembled hopping rather than walking. His movements were not graceful, but at least he was no longer confined to his bedroll. “Excellent, now please continue with your tale,” said Gwael.
“I have only myself to blame for my poorly considered plan, I should have asked Gimli or Tathar or perhaps even Aragorn to accompany me,” decided Legolas with the wisdom of hindsight.
“Do not judge yourself so harshly, Legolas. The storm would still have raged, and the mighty Anduin would still have carried your boat swiftly where he willed, regardless in whose company you traveled,” stated Gwael with a certainty that only served to add to Legolas’s disquiet.
“Are you saying our meeting was in some way planned?” asked the elf incredulously.
“I sense you are troubled by the notion, but yes, I believe our paths were destined to cross,” answered the old man honestly
“Why?” asked Legolas warily.
“Rather that tell you, let me show you,” he answered.
Now even more wary and extremely curious, and despite his inner fear of where it would lead, Legolas was compelled to accept the invitation, and with the help of the walking stick that Gwael had found for him, they made their way slowly to the sand hills, with Legolas hopping most of the way to avoid putting undue pressure on his injured ankle. Fortunately they did not need to climb the dunes for keen elvish eyes spied a narrow path leading between two of the smaller sand hills. As they neared their destination, Legolas was mesmerized by the whispering voice of the sea that was growing ever louder, until it became a thunderous roar, seeming to pulse with its own heartbeat and in time with his. As the path fanned out before them onto a wide expanse of sandy beach, he tasted the tangy saltiness with which the warm breath of the air kissed his lips, as he stood still, gazing with wonder at the constantly moving blackness that stretched to the horizon becoming as one with the dark night sky.
“Legolas, come with us!”
The waves seemed to whisper invitingly as they retreated back into the sea after they had broken on the shore. A firm hand on his arm prevented the elf from attempting to follow the sweet voice, which he so dearly desired to do. He glared angrily at Gwael, who was alarmed to see such an intense longing burning in the bright depths of the elf’s eyes.
“Let me go!” hissed Legolas as he vainly tried to pull free of the old man’s grasp.
“No, I can not, it is not yet time for you to go,” said Gwael earnestly.
“What are you saying, can you not hear the waves calling me?” asked Legolas who was quickly becoming distraught. “Why did you bring me here if not to let me go?”
“I brought you here to face your fear, and to help ease your heart of its turmoil,” replied the old man. “Yes the sea is calling to you, but you should listen more closely to your inner voice, are there not others who also call to your heart?” He could easily see lure of the sea was waging a war with the elf, who had remained silent as he tried to resolve his inner conflict.
“Tell me about your friends, tell me about Gimli and Aragorn,” suggested Gwael as he indicated with his hand that Legolas should sit with him on the sand that glowed pearly white in the darkness.
“What do you wish to know,” asked Legolas in a subdued manner.
“Do you love them, do you cherish their friendship?”
“Ai, they are both like brothers to me, especially Gimli,” Legolas replied allowing an affectionate smile to curl his lips as he thought of the Dwarf.
“Do you wish to leave them?” asked Gwael, staring intently into the elf’s eyes.
“Nay, it would cause me much grief were I to do so. I would be taking heartache with me to Valinor,” Legolas said sadly.
“And would it not also greatly grieve them were you to sail to the Undying Lands, leaving them behind? Do they not return your love and friendship in full measure?” asked the healer in an effort to make Legolas recognize that not only his feelings were at stake.
“Of that my heart has no doubt,” agreed Legolas without hesitation.
“Yet since they are both mortal, their days will come to an end in but a short measure of elvish time. Would not the wisest solution to your dilemma be for you to stay in Middle Earth until their days are spent?”
“Ai, even now the sea calls strongly to me, but even stronger are the bonds of friendship of which you speak. For love of the King and the Dwarf I will delay my journey to Valinor,” agreed Legolas, suddenly feeling as if a great weight had been lifted from his
“A wise decision. Shall we return to the campsite?” asked Gwael.
“Nay, I think I would like to stay here tonight and watch the new day dawn over the sea,” said Legolas, smiling serenely as he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply of the sea air.
“As you wish, but I shall return to the camp, for I prefer to sleep in my blankets,” said Gwael, satisfied that Legolas had regained his control.
“Before you go, I wish to thank you most sincerely for healing my injuries, and the turmoil in my heart,” said Legolas as he leaned over to embrace the old man who was still sitting next to him. “I would like you to have this, as a token of my gratitude,” he said handing the old man the treasured leaf clasp that he had been given in Lothlórien.
“I require no payment other than your peace of mind,” said Gwael, who was nevertheless touched by the gesture.
“Then regard it not as a payment, but as a gift,” insisted Legolas, pinning the clasp to the neck of the white woolen cloak the man wore.
“Thank you, this is indeed very generous of you,” said Gwael as he rose and began walking back to the camp. When he reached the entrance to the pathway, he looked back to see Legolas standing ankle deep in the shallows, his face radiant with happiness as he sang softly to the sea.
“Namarie, Legolas,” he whispered as he turned and disappeared between the dunes.