Chapter 5. Changes
Tiny, foaming wavelets unceasingly chased each other along the shore, soothingly caressing Legolas’s ankles as he stood in the shallows. The water was quite cold and although it eased the ache of his injury, after a time he turned his back on the sea and sought the warmth of the white sands. The beach sloped gently uphill until it reached the foot of the dunes that ringed the cove and Legolas chose a spot, close to the foot of the ‘Sandy Mountains’ as he named them in a moment of whimsy, to spend the night. For the first time in many months, the burden from his heart was lifted and his thoughts were untroubled and as he settled himself comfortably on the shifting sands. The slight rise afforded him both a view of the whispering sea, and the shining stars that watched over it, making his contentment complete.
As beautiful as he had found the sea to be at night, it was even more so by day. The constantly moving water took on the soft pink hue of Anor’s awakening, changing slowly to reflect the brilliant blue of the sky as dawn broke. Pale pink turned to sparkles of shining white as Anor rose higher in the sky and the bright light of the new day danced on the waves making the blue waters shimmer. Gulls wheeled overhead, their loud cries echoing the softly spoken words of the sea that Legolas felt in his heart, the words that told him of the beauty of Valinor, beauty that he had but to take sail to see for himself. Once again he felt the desperate longing to do so, but this time he gathered his strength of will to resist the temptation, for in his mind’s eye he saw Aragorn and Gimli, both grief stricken and standing before him, barring his way to the ship he intended to board. Although he felt his heart torn between his two choices, he made the one he had always known he would, even though he had only just admitted it to himself the night before. His love for the Man and the Dwarf was so strong that he willingly allowed the hands of his friends to hold him back.
Shaking slightly from his ordeal, but relieved that he had at last gained control over his distracting affliction, Legolas decided it was well past time he returned to the campsite. As he stood, he tested his injured ankle and was relieved to feel that the pain had all but gone, and the break had healed enough to allow him to place a little weight on it. The injury was still quite tender, however and he realized that he would still need to use the walking stick for a few days more. Making his way slowly back to the clearing by the river, he contemplated the direction he should take to seek aid, for he felt that he was now healed enough to travel.
He needed to return to his home and his friends and alleviate the concern and worry he knew they would be feeling at his disappearance. Thranduil had certainly arrived in Ithilien by now, and Legolas hoped that Tathar would forgive him for leaving him to deal with both the King of Mirkwood and the no doubt distraught, Gimli.
With a hint of his usual sense of humour, he wondered whether it might not be wiser to follow the coastline to Dol Amroth, which lay around the headland he could see in the distance, rather than fight his way through the undergrowth on the banks of the Anduin in an attempt to return to Ithilien. Prince Imrahil would surely offer him refuge!
His light mood followed him back at the campsite, but quickly vanished as he found all that remained of the fire was nothing but palely glowing embers, and except for his medicine pouch and blanket, there was no sign of Gwael anywhere. Seeing no real cause to worry for the moment, Legolas merely assumed he had gone fishing for their breakfast again, and set about rekindling the fire and collecting some fresh water from the small stream that branched from the Anduin, to boil for the herb tea they both enjoyed. He had seen no sign of the old man, and wondered if perhaps he had found a new fishing spot.
As the morning wore on, Legolas became increasingly concerned as to why Gwael had not returned and fearing that some misadventure had befallen his friend, the elf decided to search further upstream for him.
Thranduil effortlessly heaved his boat onto the rocky shore where Aragorn had decided they should spend the night, and as he did so his eye was caught by the barest glint of metal amongst the reeds that grew in the shallows. He moved the greenery aside to take a closer look at the object, and was filled with a sense of dread as it revealed itself to be an arrow; the distinctive fletching leaving no doubt that it belonged to Legolas. It was the first sign, albeit an ominous one to Thranduil’s way of thinking, which confirmed that his son had in fact traveled south.
“Aragorn, Gimli, I have found something!” he shouted to the others who were busy collecting wood for the fire. He handed the arrow to Aragorn, who studied it for a few moments, allowing himself a small smile of relief.
“The arrowhead has not even a scratch on it, it has not been used,” he said as he handed the arrow back to Thranduil who laid it across his palm as he tested the weight.
“Ai, so I noticed. I presume Legolas was not under attack when he lost this arrow, but the shaft is far heavier than it was when it was first made. I fear it has been in the water for many days and has simply been carried here by the current,” said Thranduil.
“But it is also possible that Legolas chose to spend the night on this bank,” suggested Gimli optimistically.
“Indeed it is, and perhaps there are other clues nearby,” agreed Aragorn, abandoning his search for firewood in favour of seeking further signs of his friend. Gimli and Thranduil joined him and after several hours, all they had found were a few more unused arrows, and Legolas’s water logged travel pack. That the elf had not been there was obvious, and their fear for his safety increased as Aragorn was forced to conclude from their findings that the boat had capsized, likely in the storm.
“Well, it is an elven craft, built by Legolas himself and if his boasting is to be believed, it would not have sunk,” stated Gimli as the speculation continued during their meal. Aragorn smiled at the jest, and looked warily to Thranduil, whose countenance was disapproving, but for the gleam of amusement in his eyes.
“It is no idle claim, you were told the truth, Gimli,” replied Thranduil, using the Dwarf’s name for the first time in a friendly manner. He had come to know that Gimli meant no insult or disrespect, and that his lightly spoken words were simply his way of dealing with his despair.
“And at least we can be certain we are headed in the right direction,” added an astounded Aragorn, referring not only to their search, but also to the mellowing of the animosity between Gimli and Thranduil. He wondered what Legolas would make of the change! “Tomorrow we will reach Pelargir, where will stop and make enquires.”
“Aye, there was a fierce storm along Anduin several days ago, King Elessar, but I am sorry to say there has been no report of any elven boat being washed ashore,” said the harbour master apologetically as he and Aragorn sat enjoying a tankard of ale aboard the man’s ship. Thranduil and Gimli had been invited to join them, but preferred to spend the time wandering among about the docks, questioning as many sailors and fishermen as possible. Gimli was well known as one of the Nine Walkers, and so was Legolas, or so Gimli had believed until he and Thranduil had shared more than a few amused glances as the King of Mirkwood was mistaken for his son.
“Well, your features are very similar, and most men know nothing of elves, other than the fact that your kind are ageless,” Gimli commented to the elder elf after the first few cases of mistaken identity.
“And can you see any difference, Gimli?” asked Thranduil, more than a little curious to know what the Dwarf saw.
“Aye, the light of youthfulness shines clearly in Legolas’s eyes.”
“What do you see in mine?” Thranduil asked, looking Gimli directly in the eye. The dwarf returned the stare unflinchingly.
“A joy of living not unlike your son’s but tempered by ageless wisdom and overshadowed by the concern of a loving father for his son,” answered Gimli. Thranduil offered the barest smile and nodded agreement at the dwarf’s perceptiveness.
“Your affection for Legolas runs deep does it not, Gimli?” asked Thranduil.
“Aye, as does Aragorn’s,” replied Gimli, inclining his head towards the man who was walking in their direction.
“I am afraid I have learned nothing, other than the storm Legolas was caught in was unusually ferocious, and a small craft such as Legolas’s could easily have been carried swiftly towards the sea on the strong currents,” said the subject of Gimli’s conversation as he approached.
“Then we must continue our search without delay,” said Thranduil.
Legolas had found no trail to follow, but had nevertheless spent the rest of the day searching for the old man. He refused to heed his inner sense that told him he was alone, that no living creature other than the trees and plants were within the boundaries of his perception. It was only the encroaching darkness that forced him to return to the grassy clearing.
The injured elf had foolishly long since discarded the walking stick because it hindered his movements through the undergrowth, and was now suffering the consequences of his actions. Without the support of the staff, he had trodden too heavily on his injured ankle and it had begun to ache again. Legolas briefly considered seeking the soothing waters of the sea to ease his pain, thinking that maybe Gwael awaited him on the beach. He did not really believe it to be so, for he somehow felt that the stranger had mysteriously disappeared of his own free will.
The short distance to the cove seemed more like several leagues to the weary elf, so he decided to use the cool waters of the Anduin instead to relieve his pain. Once it had diminished, Legolas walked carefully back to the camp and relit the fire that had died completely after being neglected all day. He brewed himself some tea, using the leaves that he had taken the time to collect during his search and sipped it slowly, enjoying the comforting feeling of the warm liquid as it traveled through him. He was not really hungry, but would likely be in the morning, so he quickly built a small wooden fish trap, and placed it in the river, near the boat.
With one last hopeless search around the clearing, Legolas lay beneath the tree and drifted into his dreams.