1. Cast Away
Thanks to Ramlatch and Falstaff for the betaread. See how long it takes you to guess the mysterious stranger's identity, o my fellow Silmarillion fans...
Addendum: Yes, it's got Legolas innit. It is not a sign of the apocalypse, smart-ass -- this is mainly book!Legolas. Nary a screaming fangirl in sight. ;)
The whisper was quieter than a dislodged pebble, but the dwarf had been my companion long enough to know I would hear him regardless. I was awake at once, eyes refocusing from dreams to reality, but I did not yet move. Gimli's tone spoke of caution, not of danger.
Our campfire had long ago burned out in the chill sea wind and the moon had hidden his face beyond the horizon, but starlight was enough to reveal the source of my comrade's concern. We were not alone. A stranger stood barefoot in the grey sand, still as a statue, staring not at us but at the half-finished boat we'd planned to complete come morning.
He -- or she -- seemed to pose little threat. I could see no sign of sword nor bow, no glint of armor. The wind was clean of the stench of orc; it rippled through ragged roadworn raiment and a threadbare grey cloak, masking the gender of the silent vagabond even from my keen sight. A human derelict, perhaps. One of the unwanted and forgotten.
Behind me Gimli growled deep in his throat, and from long experience I knew he was hefting his axe. He was surprisingly compassionate much of the time, but age had not mellowed his protective streak and his temper had been...frayed, of late. Though the decision to leave had been freely made, it weighed on him...
I raised a hand to stay his wrath and rose to my feet, shaking grit from my leggings and tugging my cloak around my shoulders. The figure did not move as I approached; my feet, though ever silent amid fallen leaves on forested pathways, crunched in the sand. It occurred to me that this stranger must somehow have walked past both Gimli and myself, across this very same sand, without sound enough to wake us!
I slowed, suddenly wary. Still there was no response from the stranger. But for the wind rustling ceaselessly in the rags that hid its face and form, it might have been carved of--
"I thought I was the last."
The voice was low, and male, and might once have been beautiful.
It was also speaking in Quenya.
"I could say the same," I returned carefully, haltingly, in that ancient tongue. It was not the language of my own people, and I was relieved when the stranger acknowledged my woeful Rhovanion accent and switched to Sindarin.
"You are leaving, then?"
I nodded -- the half-built boat spoke for itself -- and stepped closer. Only now did the stranger glance directly at me, and his visage was strange to me. Elven, yes, but of a bloodline I did not know. Dark-haired and grey-eyed...and old. So old that I flinched under the weight of years in that hollow gaze, though his locks were the color of nightfall and his face was as smooth as any of the Firstborn.
He did not miss my reaction, for he was scrutinizing my own features even as I gaped like a child. "You have never been to the Undying Lands," he said, so softly that I could barely hear him over the rolling surf. "Their light is not in your eyes. You were...born here?"
I nodded and switched to the common tongue for Gimli's benefit -- he has rebuked me for speaking over his head on many occasions over the long years. (And for once, I am not making a jest about his height!) "I am Legolas, once of the Greenwood, and this is my friend Gimli of Aglarond. We are both born of the Shadow Lands, aye, but this makes us no less worthy of seeking Aman than any child of the far West."
In such conversations, this has always been the point at which the pair of us must weather ill opinions of our decision. To take a Naugrim to Valinor! Unheard of, shocking, impossible! But Gimli is determined to speak to his people's god Aule, and no opinion shall sway either of us in this matter.
I felt more than heard Gimli draw breath behind me, readying for his customary blistering retort, but the stranger surprised us both by merely nodding wearily. "I am no judge of worth. I wish you well on your journey."
And he turned to go.
"Wait!" I slipped around the boat and caught his arm. It felt terribly thin through his patchwork robe, but there was also strength there. He could have torn loose. He did not. "Will you not stay with us? We have food and drink, and..." I hesitated, uncertain if this was the right thing to say. "And a boat for two is not so very different from a boat for three."
"Aye. We've stocked enough provisions for a dozen," Gimli added gruffly. I glanced over to see that he'd rested the butt of his axe in the sand; when he noticed my regard, he gave a kindly nod. Compassionate beneath the rough manners, as I noted before.
The stranger (was he still thus? yes, for he had not returned my greeting with a name of his own) stood quietly in my grasp for a long moment. Then he turned. I let go. He was very close, his features in shadow under his battered hood, but then he raised those awful eyes to meet mine. Not awful in the way of the Enemy's eye, back in the dark times before his downfall, but awful in the sense that no elf -- nor man nor dwarf, for that matter -- should ever have seen what those eyes must have beheld. Loss, bone-deep guilt, hopeless desire, and above all a great echoing loneliness...
"You are so very young," he breathed. Gimli coughed as if restraining laughter, but the stranger paid him no heed. "Lastborn of the Avari, child of the innocent darkness...you don't know...you don't recognize...you don't understand."
This close, I could now see that his long dark hair was ill-tended, hopelessly matted with smoke and salt wind. His nails were broken and bitten to the quick, but the sudden warmth of his palm on my cheek was gentle. I felt the calluses of both a swordsman and a harper in that fleeting caress, and my wonder grew.
"Sing something for me," he said, and it was both plea and command. "Let me hear an elven voice besides my own one last time, before all are lost to this world."
"You shall hear as many songs as your heart desires in Valinor," I tried to correct him, but those eyes... I nodded and gulped hard. I'd never been nervous to sing before, but I admit my voice quavered as I impulsively gave him a song of the Greenwood, a light merry tune from my impetuous youth.
It was a strange thing, to sing of glen and dale and falling leaves there in the sand of the western shore, the seductive call of the Sea swelling with every beat of my heart, but it seemed to please him. He closed his eyes to listen; when I could recall no more verses and my last note was stolen by the wind, he nodded with satisfaction. Perhaps he smiled, ever so slightly. I cannot say for certain, but I can hope.
"I am glad you did not choose to sing of the Sea," he told me then. "I have heard enough of that...and sung enough of that, as well."
When I started to speak, to offer understanding, he shook his head harshly and would not let me. "No, not for the reasons you assume. I lost something to the Sea a very long time ago...no. That is not strictly true. I gave something to the Sea, something I wanted more than all the stars in the sky and all the blood in my veins. I gave up everything I ever had to possess it...but in the end, I could not have it. I did not deserve it."
His voice had sunk very low again, and I had to lean closer to hear his words. I hoped to learn more of his sad tale, but now he was singing under his breath, very quietly. It was a song I had never heard before, to a tune unlike any ever sung by my forest brethren -- a song of betrayal, and pride, and mighty oaths, and terrible mistakes, and doom, and failure, and death. It was wrought in the first language, and I could only understand one word in four, but every note was laden with the same unbearable regret that the singer wore like a shroud.
I realized then that I was hearing his tale, though I could barely comprehend it. I also feared, with a heavy sinking feeling, that the weight of his guilt had driven this wretched soul mad.
I listened, and I struggled to comprehend, but between his archaic tongue and his halting, whispering voice I fear I lost more than I kept. I do know that he spoke of many brothers -- all lost -- and of a great treasure he'd lost forever because his hands were too drenched with blood to hold it close...
When he was done he fell silent, staring over my shoulder at the endless grey sea, hands clenched into pale-knuckled fists. The salt wind blew cold.
I could think of nothing to say. We elven folk are not immune to pride...nay, I shall call it by its rightful name: arrogance. I'd fancied myself old and wise, a veteran of legendary deeds and a traveler of wide renown. I was already woven into the tapestry of history, already a name of song and myth, quite certain that I understand how the world was meant to be.
However, I had just been dealt a sobering reminder that there'd been earlier days, earlier deeds, other kings and other wars and even greater Enemies. This haunted stranger was a lost drifting fragment of those dark ages, and I could not think how to even begin to comfort him...
Gimli, Elbereth keep his stout sensible heart, stepped into the breach. "If there's one thing both elves and dwarves agree upon," he jovially rumbled into the jagged silence, "it's that one should always reward a good song with a good drink. Good food is never unwelcome, either. And we just so happen to have both in good supply, so why don't you two bards get to work on the morning meal while this ear-weary dwarf rekindles the fire?"
"Morning meal!" I cried. "The night is hardly half gone!"
"I'm awake, you're awake, let us call it morning." He shot me a look from beneath his grizzled brow. "And unless my eyes have failed me, our new friend here needs meat on his scrawny bones even more than you do."
To my astonishment and delight, our grave visitor cracked a ghost of a smile.
"It has been long since I enjoyed the hospitality of the dwarves," he replied, "and glad I am of it. In that your people were ever the wiser -- fire, food, and friendship are among the few constants in this world."
His gaze rose to mine once more. Perhaps I was favored with a glimpse of the man he had once been, for this time I was able to meet his eyes without feeling sick to my stomach. "You are lucky to have all three, young one."
This time Gimli did guffaw, broad and loud. "Too long has it been for me since we last made the acquaintance of anyone old enough to put my elf in his proper place! He's been flaunting airs ever since his elders sailed away, This meeting is well-fated for us all. Fire, food, and friendship it shall be! And come the dawn, we shall finish our task and sail away ourselves."
He clapped us both on the back and firmly steered us to the camp. "Ah, such great sport we shall have when we land on Aman's shore. They won't know what to think, none of them! I doubt even the gods themselves will be prepared to properly welcome such legends as we: Gimli son of Gloin, Legolas son of Thranduil -- and how such a stuffy old goat managed to father a preening peacock such as yourself, 'tis a mystery--"
I merely rolled my eyes. Such baiting was an old game between us.
"--and...hmm...what did you say your name was, friend?"
"Maglor son of Feanor," the stranger said, very softly.
And when the sun rose, he was gone.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.