Chapter 6. The Lost are Found
Filled with mounting despair and becoming increasingly concerned for Legolas’s safety, the two kings and the dwarf quickly returned to the dock where the boats were moored and made final preparations to depart. Aragorn was handing the fresh supplies to Gimli and Thranduil to stow on board their boats when two young fishermen stopped behind him, arguing loudly.
“You were the only one to see it. As the Captain said, it was dark and your eyes were deceiving you!” declared the elder of the two.
“I would expect you, my brother, to believe me! It was definitely an elven boat, just like those,” argued the younger sibling, as he pointed to the grey craft in which Thranduil and Gimli stood, their attention fixed not so much on the fishermen, as on the subject of their argument. Aragorn turned swiftly to face the youths, and was immediately recognized as the King, even though he was attired in ranger’s clothing. Thranduil was not the only one who was possessed of power and majesty.
“You Majesty please forgive us if we caused any offense,” said the elder brother as they both bowed respectfully to the King.
“You have given no offense; in fact you may have given me cause for great hope. Where did you see this elven craft?” he asked the youth who had claimed to have seen the boat.
“Stranded on some rocks at the mouth of the Anduin, Your Majesty,” he replied, unable to resist a smirk of triumph at his older brother. The King obviously believed his tale.
“How is it that you alone claim to have seen it?” asked Gimli, not willing to allow himself hope lest the sighting come to naught. The youth looked reluctant to speak, but his brother was not.
“It is the first time my brother has sailed into the open sea, and he was leaning over the rail relieving his stomach of its contents,” he said scornfully.
“A common occurrence for first time sea farers, if I am not mistaken,” commented Aragorn. His words were gentle and sympathetic towards the youth, but there was no mistaking the rebuke in the steely glare with which he favoured the elder brother.
“It was when I looked up that I saw the boat, wedged between the rocks,” explained the emboldened younger brother.
“Aragorn, we must make haste. If the boat is grounded, then Legolas may indeed be injured,” said Thranduil speaking for the first time. Gimli and Aragorn exchanged a smile of amusement as the brothers gazed in open mouthed wonder at the majestic elf who spoke in such a familiar manner to the King. Aragorn nodded his agreement.
“I thank you for your information, please accept a small reward for your aid,” Aragorn said as he reached into an inner pocket and took out two coins, giving one to each of the youths.
“Come, Thranduil! Gimli! This is the news we have been waiting to hear! Now that we know where to find Legolas, I will ask that we be given the use of a ship. We will reach the Bay of Belfalas much quicker under sail, for we will be able to travel by night as well as day,” he exclaimed.
The harbour master readily acquiesced to the King’s request and offered the use of his own ship, proudly proclaiming it to be the swiftest ship that sailed, having never yet been defeated in the annual races. Thranduil’s suggestion that the young man and his brother be asked to accompany them, to assist in the search, was met with approval and soon the ship was making best speed downriver, its white sails filled with the strong winds from the north.
“I can understand why you requested the one who spotted the boat to accompany us, but why the elder as well?” asked Aragorn as he and Thranduil stood at the bow of the swiftly moving ship. It was early morning on the third day of their voyage and the gulls overhead heralded their approach to the wide estuary where Anduin met the sea.
“You of all people should appreciate giving the younger brother the chance to prove his elder sibling to be in error,” replied Thranduil, his eyes alight with a mischief borne of his relief that they would soon find his son. Aragorn laughed heartily knowing exactly to whom Thranduil was referring… the sons of Elrond, and his foster son.
“But how do you know of this?” he asked the King of Mirkwood, his curiosity piqued for as far as he was aware, neither Thranduil nor Legolas had brothers.
“Not all the messages that passed between Imladris and Mirkwood were concerned with the fight against the Shadow. Elrond and I often compared our approach to fatherhood, and the trials of raising sons,” admitted Thranduil. Aragorn was dumbfounded. He had never suspected that such information was contained in letters he had most likely delivered himself on one or two occasions.
“Your son and my foster brothers were past their majority and already skilled warriors when I was born. I find it difficult to imagine them as troublesome youths, but yes, you are correct. It was always a pleasure to prove Elladan or Elrohir, or even both, wrong,” conceded Aragorn. The man and the elder elf stood side by side in a brief moment of silent camaraderie, before Thranduil spoke again, changing the subject.
“I wish you to know why I do not forbid, although I disapprove of, the friendship that binds Legolas to you. Long after your days are ended he will still grieve for you… and Gimli,” he added as an after thought, the Dwarf was mortal too, after all. “The thought of seeing him suffer so is unbearable to me for I know full well the toll grief takes on an elvish spirit, especially one as loving as his. Yet despite my fears, Legolas must follow his heart if he is to find happiness, and in that I will not interfere,” he said as he stared out across the river, hiding his unshed tears of grief from Aragorn.
“I am no elf, but I understand what you are saying, and I thank you for your honesty. That you continue to disapprove is a disappointment, but know that I honor and cherish the friendship Legolas and I share, and will continue to do so until my last breath,” vowed Aragorn.
“Look, over there, I see the boat!” Thranduil suddenly shouted, forestalling further conversation as he placed an arm around Aragorn’s shoulders and turned him to face the western shore.
“I am afraid your elvish eyes are far keener than mine. I think I see a small grey speck on the riverbank, but I am not certain,” replied Aragorn, squinting to see just that much.
“I am. Come, let us wake Gimli and make ready to go ashore,” said Thranduil eagerly.
Legolas was dreaming. He was walking along the sandy shore, singing a song whose words dared the siren call of the sea to try and take him. Fearlessly he allowed the gentle tug of the waves to pull him forward, trusting that Aragorn and Gimli, who stood on either side of him, would pull him back. The sea, defeated by the bonds of friendship suddenly released its hold, and the three fell back on the sand in a laughing tangle of arms and legs.
“Legolas, wake up!” a beloved voice whispered in his ear. His eyes slowly regained focus; for he dearly wished to see his Adar whose hand he felt gently shaking him awake.
“Adar! Aragorn! Gimli! I am so pleased to see you all,” he exclaimed happily, sitting up so that he could also see his friends. For a brief moment he thought he might be dreaming, but that fear vanished in the wake of Gimli’s tirade.
“How dare you lay there, sleeping like a babe while for days we searched the banks of the Anduin for the foolish elf who has disappeared while looking for a TREE!” shouted Gimli in the gruff tone of voice he used to hide his deepest feelings. Legolas easily recognized it as such, and knew that a humble apology would calm his friend’s ire, but he was not prepared to let him off too lightly.
“I do apologize most sincerely for causing you to worry, dear Gimli. It was certainly most inconsiderate of me to break my ankle and allow myself to be knocked unconscious while my boat was swept away by the Anduin,” said Legolas with just enough sarcasm to silence any further protest from his friend. “It must have been a difficult time for you all,” he added more apologetically for the benefit of Thranduil and Aragorn.
“It was a most distressing time,” agreed Thranduil as Legolas limped over to accept the comfort of his father’s strong, yet tender embrace, before moving on to clasp Aragorn’s arm in the greeting of warriors, as was their habit. Thranduil frowned slightly as Aragorn then gently traced his fingers across Legolas’s brow, and down the side of his face, stopping beneath his chin and lifting it so that he could look into the elf’s eyes. The elder elf quickly realized that although the touch appeared to be quite intimate to an onlooker, Aragorn was merely assessing the state of Legolas’s head injury.
“Your bruising is well healed, and you have no concussion,” he said letting his fingers linger for a moment longer than necessary before he finally let his hand fall to his side. Legolas made no objection to the gesture of affection, and allowed his eyes to show it was returned.
“But I notice you still have a slight limp. Sit down and let me examine your ankle, mellon nin,” ordered the healer in Aragorn. Legolas complied, and allowed him to proceed, knowing it would be a waste of time to refuse. “You say this happened over a week ago?”
“As far as I can recall, although Gwael set it only a few days ago,” replied Legolas, wincing as strong fingers explored the injury.
“Who?” asked Thranduil as he recognized the name from a time in his past.
“I will explain later, after Aragorn has finished,” replied Legolas, wondering just how much of the tale he should tell the others. All of it, except for the mention of Thranduil, he decided, out of respect for his Adar’s privacy.
“Well, in that case it should have healed properly by now, but I see fresh bruising,” said Aragorn with concern as he expertly replaced the bandage.
“Ai, I can feel that the bone has mended, but I did over exert myself a little yesterday,” explained Legolas, earning himself another snort of disgust from Gimli.
“And how did you manage to do something as foolish as that?” the dwarf asked in his usual irascible manner.
“In fact it was the result of a foolhardy act,” agreed Legolas, who then proceed to explained how it came to be that he injured his ankle while searching for Gwael. The mention of the mysterious old man sparked several more questions from his rescuers, and Legolas took some time to tell them about his encounter with the sea. He spoke of how Gwael had helped him overcome the sea longing, if only until there were no longer ties of friendship binding him to Middle Earth. Aragorn and Gimli were deeply moved by his commitment to them and both tried to hug him at once, causing all three to fall back in a tangled heap, just as they had in his dream, Legolas realized.
“You did not happen to see the white haired old man on your journey here?” he asked when they had recovered their dignity. A soft sigh of resignation escaped his lips as they each shook their heads in response.
“Perhaps Aragorn and Gimli can be prevailed upon to make a final search before we return to the ship?” suggested Thranduil. Sensing that the King wished to speak with his son in private, Aragorn and Gimli readily agreed to do as he asked.
“They will not find him, although I could wish otherwise,” Thranduil said when the two had disappeared from view. “I have a great deal to thank him for.”
Legolas knew Thranduil was referring not so much to the aid the old man had given to his son’s physical injuries, but to the guidance he had given that helped Legolas deal with his inner conflict.
“Who is he, Adar? He said he had met you once long ago… at Mithlond….?”
“Ai, that is indeed where we met. I was standing on the shore, bidding your naneth farewell when this white haired stranger, with compelling black eyes that seemed to be able to look into the very depths of my soul, walked up and stood beside me. I did not wish for company, for the tears in my eyes reflected the ache in my heart, and I did not want anyone to witness my sorrow,” Thranduil explained.
“Not even me,” said Legolas, understanding at last why he had not been allowed to travel to the Havens to say goodbye.
“Not even you, for your naneth and I agreed there was no need for our endearingly sensitive son to add my sorrow to his, as we both knew you would have done. Anyway, the old man must have sensed my thoughts for although he did not leave me to my misery; neither did he speak until the ship that Círdan had built sailed into the mists that lead to the Straight Road. Then all he said was that I need not fear for her safety, for the gulls that followed the ship would watch over my beloved. He also said that I should rejoice that your naneth had been called home, and that the beauty of Valinor would sustain her until we met again.”
“A strange thing for a man to say, no matter how wise he seems to be, or how much he seems to know about our ways. Is he a man, or an Istar like Gandalf?” asked Legolas.
“I asked Círdan much the same question, but he answered evasively. He told me the stranger’s name was Gwael and that he could be found in Mithlond every time a ship sailed for Valinor, as he had already done for many lives of men. He is definitely not merely an old man, but as for being an Istar… well, even to this day I m not certain,” admitted Thranduil.
“I am sorry, but we found no trace of your mysterious friend Legolas, neither long the stream, nor at the beach,” reported Aragorn as he and Gimli returned to the clearing.
“Are you certain you were not merely imagining him, Legolas? A hard knock on the head can addle your mind, you know,” said Gimli, offering a possible explanation for Gwael.
“Is that the voice of experience speaking?” asked Legolas facetiously. Gimli merely rolled d his eyes in exasperation, for in truth he was pleased to see his friend’s good humour restored, as was Aragorn who laughed out loud at the elf’s remark. Legolas smiled happily and answered Gimli’s question.
“He was real enough. See, he left his blanket and his medicine pouch behind,” said Legolas as he pointed to the objects in question.
“Well he is long gone, so I suggest we return to the ship, for there are many others who are concerned about you. I will send messengers to Ithilien and Minas Tirith as soon as we reach Pelargir, but I suspect this ship will arrive there before they do,” said Aragorn, having decided to sail all the way back to Osgiliath.
“Tathar was not too angry with me, I hope?” asked Legolas as they stopped to inspect the damage to his boat before they rowed out to board the ship. Legolas intended to return as soon as possible and repair it, but wisely decided not to mention it to his friends just yet.
“I think you had best ask him that yourself, although I do believe he entrusted to Aragorn the task of keeping Gimli and I on civil terms,” replied Thranduil. Aragorn said nothing but the slight redness in his cheeks spoke eloquently of his embarrassment, for it was now plain that Thranduil had overheard Tathar’s parting words.
The ship was soon underway, the wind having shifted so that it now blew in from over the sea. Legolas stood alone at the stern, watching with some sorrow as the shining sea gradually grew smaller and smaller until it was just a bright speck on the horizon that vanished completely in the wink of an eye.
“Do you think Gwael will come to bid me farewell should I leave for Valinor?” he asked Thranduil who had come to stand beside his son and place a comforting arm about his shoulders.
“Ai, I think he will, but perhaps you will see him again sooner than you think. Look!” he exclaimed, pointing to the flock of gulls that were circling the ship. The largest gull, who was obviously the leader, swooped down and settled on the rail, staring at Legolas and Thranduil with the strangely familiar, compelling black eyes they had both seen before.
“Ai, Adar you are right. Do you not see the Lórien leaf I gifted him hanging around his neck?” asked Legolas as he slowly approached the sea bird and bowed respectfully. It was indeed the leaf clasp that hung around the bird’s neck on a string of plaited seaweed. Thranduil had seen it too, and also respectfully approached the gull.
“I wish to thank the one who, by the grace of Ilúvatar can take the form of man or bird, for saving my son, and watching over him while he recovered,” Thranduil said humbly.
The gull bowed his head to them both in acknowledgement of the truth, and in the next instant, as if answering some unheard call, the king of the gulls suddenly lifted his wings and rejoined his flock, circling overhead once more as Legolas raised his hand and whispered softly,