4. Beneath the Sun
The days they had spent walking the white paths beneath the glorious golden boughs of the mallorn trees were gone, the nights spent sweetly under the starlit skies which seemed somehow closer, nearer to the touch than any skies beyond the grace of that elven land were past. All of it was behind them now and would belong to them again only in their dearest, deepest dreams. They had left the Golden Wood. It had seemed to them as they dipped their paddles into the water and drove their boats into the stream that Lorien was slipping away, like a bright ship masted with enchanted trees, sailing on to forgotten shores, while they sat helpless upon the margin of the grey and leafless world. Even as they strained to catch the last glimpse of the elvish haven the Silverlode passed out into the currents of the Great River and their boats turned and began to speed southward. The river swept round a bend and the banks rose upon either side, and the light of Lorien was hidden. The travellers turned now their faces to the journey; the sun was before them, and their eyes were dazzled, for all were filled with tears. Despite the ache of their departure, each had vowed within their hearts to continue on and see the quest to its end, but none left that fair shore without regrets, without a backward glance at the joy they left behind.
That had been nearly two days ago and the dull grey hours passed without event. The stream flowed without a sound and no voice of bird broke the silence. Bare woods stalked along either bank, and they could not see any glimpse of the lands behind. It was as if the outside world did not exist, that in stepping from the dream that was Lothlorien they lingered still in a maddening half-sleep. They could do naught but sit and let the river take them and wait for what might lie in store. At first they strove with song and speech to keep the fair enchantment of the land they left behind alive in their hearts and in their minds, but ever they felt it slipping from them, the peace they had found there now quelled by the uncertainty and fear of the road which lay beyond.
Celeborn had given them the gift of light boats and in such they travelled, Frodo with Sam and Aragorn, Merry and Pippin with Boromir, and Gimli with Legolas. The three vessels skimmed their way down the Anduin and bore them steadily along their route south. They crouched within the subtle little canoes and let the current sweep them along as leaves tossed and taken by the stream. During the first day, the forest rose up from the banks of the river still, and they were surrounded by the tall, grey trees, standing as sentinels to shield them from unfriendly eyes as they passed. Now they travelled further and the trees began to grow sparser and more ragged, the land less secure. The forest was gradually giving way to what would become The Wold, a bleak and barren countryside through which the Anduin meandered listlessly, biding its time ere the roar and the rush took it over the heights of Rauros and off to find the sea.
Frodo watched the failing trees slide silently past them on either shore and sighed. Sam was asleep, curled up tightly upon the floor of the boat. Aragorn had not spoken for some time; his eyes were vague and he seemed distant. Frodo noticed that his fingers hovered often at the emerald brooch at his throat and he did not wish to intrude upon his reflections. The Company had been silent for much of their journey upon the water this day, and any attempt at conversation proved fruitless as each were content to be lost in their own thoughts for much of the time.
Frodo found this hard to bear and he was restless; he wished to be doing anything but simply sitting quietly and letting the river deliver him to his fate. The boats given to them by the Galadhrim rode upon the water smoother than any other could, and yet this afternoon he felt every ripple roll beneath him and his stomach protested another day bobbing upon the current rather than walking upon dry land. Miserably, he wondered which would conquer him first, the pangs in his stomach or the pangs in his heart. He felt the loss of Lorien almost as deeply as any longing he felt in quiet times for the Shire; it was as if he were leaving home all over again.
He lips were dry from the wind and the sun beating down upon him, and he absently rummaged through his pack at his feet for his water flask. He came up instead with the phial given to him by Galadriel and he lifted it. The light sparkled within and Frodo tipped it gently in his hands, watching the clear water inside flow and swirl against the crystal glass.
He stared long within its depth until the shimmering light made him blink. He listened to the faint gurgle of the river fretting among the tree-roots and driftwood near the shore and he murmured:
Sing us yet more of Earendil the wandering,
Chant us a lay of his white-oared ship.
More marvellous-cunning than mortal man's pondering,
Foamily musical out of the deep.*
From over his shoulder came an answering voice, so soft he thought it at first to simply be the words inside his head.
Sing us a tale of immortal sea-yearning
The Eldar once made ere the change of the light,
Weaving a winelike spell, and a burning
Wonder of spray and the odours of night.
Frodo turned to find Legolas guiding his boat steadily near to his. Gimli lay resting before him, his back resting against the curve of the bow with strong arms crossed over his stout chest, his cloak wrapped over him, breathing lustily as he slept in the sun's rays.
The elf lifted his eyes from the phial cupped in Frodo's hands to the hobbit's face.
"T'is truly a fair gift, Frodo," Legolas said. "The very light of the stars shines within your palm." The elf stayed the sweeping strokes of his paddle and he propped an elbow upon his knee, his chin upon his hand.
"Tell me... does it help to look upon it? Gimli did grieve that Lorien would become nothing more than a memory for him, though I fear I do not understand mortal dreams nor the nature of your memories and why this should make him so sad. Yet I see the same sorrow in your eyes. Is it even thus for you?" Legolas's brow furrowed and he tentatively asked, "Are mortal memories so fragile? Are they so fleeting that you would forget even such as Lorien?"
Frodo smiled at the quizzical expression upon the elf's fair face, pleased to have someone willing to talk to him, then he forced a solemn expression. He nodded.
"Yes. I suppose we will forget, Legolas. In time, Lorien will be nothing more to us than a recollection of light upon leaves, snatches of words and vague faces. It will not happen all at once, for something as marvelous as Lorien is not an easy thing to forget, but it will happen. We live so short a space in Middle-earth, Legolas, compared to your people, and I think... I think maybe we are rather worn by the passing of time as a hill is worn away by the wind, whereas the elves are like mountains and the wind of time tears at you so much more slowly. Or so it seems to me, from what I can guess."
Frodo dissembled a little. He had pondered the essence of elves with Bilbo, sitting before the fire at Bag End, but it was quite another thing to be discussing it with an elf sitting there beside him.
"In your mind, people and places live on for so much longer because time does not take them from you as swiftly;" Frodo told him. "For us, even those things we hold most dearly in our hearts do fade all too soon. I cannot now recall the sound of my father's voice or my mother's hands, though I thought once that I would always remember."
Legolas was silent. He lowered his head for a moment to stare at the water which lapped at the side of the boats, his strange elvish eyes thoughtful, then he looked again to the hobbit. "Forgive me my ignorance, Frodo," he said finally. "I have been told such before, and I knew that change and growth is not in all things and places alike, but this.... I cannot guess what it must be like for those whom the running years o'ertake so easily. I find continually, to my shame, that I know so little about you. Only as I travel with you all do I begin to understand what it must mean to be mortal."
Frodo laughed at the sympathetic tone of the elf's voice. "It is not so bad, Legolas! It all depends upon one's perspective. I find it hard to fathom how the elves could live thousands of years without becoming wretchedly bored by all that goes on around them."
Their conversation was interrupted by a particularly loud snore which emanated from Gimli. The elf cast a fond, withering look at the dwarf sleeping before him. "Never fear of that," he said with a wry smile. "When one is in danger of believing one has seen all that there is to see, always there is something unexpected waiting around the corner."
Frodo held up the phial and let the sunlight sparkle through the glass, casting rainbows over his arms and face. "I hope only that the unexpected does not prove more than we can handle." Frodo bit his lip, and lowered his voice. "Legolas.... Does he follow us still?
Aragorn roused himself at this and exchanged a knowing look with the elf, then turned to Frodo. "Ah! So you know about our little footpad, do you? He padded after us all through Moria and right down to Nimrodel. Legolas and I have tried once or twice to catch him, but he is slyer than a fox and slippery as a fish. I have seen neither hide nor hair of him since we left the Golden Wood, however."
"Nor have I," Legolas murmured. "Though I fear he is not so easily left behind, Frodo. But we are not unaware of him, if that has caused you worry. Your companions are more astute than that, I would hope, or you should have done well to leave us back in Rivendell! I promise you I shall keep sharp eyes out for your shadow."
"Aragorn!" Boromir called from far up ahead. He and the younger hobbits had kept their boat at the forefront, skimming down the river at the lead. Most of the Company were not all that eager to hurry southward despite the dullness of the days; they dreaded the decision they must ultimately make and had no desire to hasten towards the perils that lay beyond, whichever course they took in the end. Yet Boromir was the first to awaken when morning graced the sky and ever he pressed his vessel a little ahead upon the river's current, and each night he was the last to succumb to Aragorn's urgings to stop and camp. Now they had fallen behind the pace set by the son of Denethor once more, and their companion beckoned to them to close the gap.
Aragorn stretched stiffly and buried a yawn with the back of his hand, then reached for his oar. Frodo tucked away the phial once more, carefully padding it amongst his shirts in his pack. As Aragorn dipped the paddle into the flowing river, the Ranger sang:
Who now can tell, and what harp can accompany
With melodies strange enough, rich enough tunes,
Pale with the magic of cavernous harmony,
Loud with shore-music of beaches and dunes,
How slender his boat; of what glimmering timber;
How her sails were all silvern and taper her mast,
And silver her throat with foam and her limber
Flanks as she swanlike floated past!
Legolas flicked his vessel forward to match Aragorn's sudden surge of speed and they raced to catch Boromir. Aragorn chuckled and tried to keep up, but the elf's voice echoed back as he coursed easily past them.
The song I can sing is but shreds one remembers
Of golden imaginings fashioned in sleep,
A whispering tale told by the withering embers
Of old things far off that but few hearts do keep.
Frodo gripped the sides of their little boat, envying Sam his ability to sleep through almost anything, and he wondered if Earendil had ever gotten seasick.
*Excerpts from Tolkien's "The Bidding of the Minstrel fom the Lay of Earendil", The Book of Lost Tales 2, pp 270-271.
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.