The first five days away went well. Even with my pack of clothing and food as burden, I was able to move easily through the forest at a good speed, hurrying as I could to put distance between me and the trackers I knew my father would send. I had travelled that route before. But then, I had been with my father's guard. And I had never been beyond the edge of the wood. As night fell on the fifth day, I stepped out from the western eaves of Eryn Galen and looked at the open land before me. In that moment I began to doubt myself. The mountains loomed in the distance, tall and shadowed dark, as a great barrier between me and freedom. They had been a barrier before, in those years before time was reckoned, to the Thindrim who followed Araw to the sea. And they had been a barrier to my father's people travelling from Ossiriand to their new home. Both times they had been overcome. I drew on that thought for strength and courage with every step that drew me closer.
It took me three more days to reach the foothills of the Hithaeglir. Those nights I slept in relative comfort beneath the stars. But the following nights, climbing higher into the rocky passes, comfort proved to be an impossibility. I slept crouched on stone ledges, or huddled at the base of sheer cliff faces amid snow and ice. Spring was still too new to have crept into the mountains. At night the very air froze, and I awoke with frost on my hair and cloak. Every morning, I could feel the cold sinking deeper into my body. I began to feel the bite of the wind more sharply the longer I went without warmth or proper rest. My muscles moved more slowly. Every breath strained.
There was a blizzard one night. Winds howled across flat mountain faces, carrying gusts of hard snowflakes that felt like stinging shards of ice as they whipped against my skin. It hit in the black of night when I, already shivering and ready to collapse to my knees, had no strength remaining to fend off the cold. I could not even stand. I let the wind take hold of my body, and let myself fall, dropping heavily into the snow that drifted so quickly beside my feet. I slumped hard against the mountain rock, but felt nothing. Then I closed my eyes. The thought, "I will die now," crossed my mind, followed by the strangely comforting, "And all is well."
But I awoke not as a houseless spirit. I lived through that night, albeit in a cold and pain-wracked body. Everything was entirely dark and nearly silent. I sat upright. A sickening pain shot through my right arm, which had been pinned beneath me as I lay. I touched it with my left hand, and felt the strange, crooked contour. It was broken. I had fallen, I remembered. I must have broken it in the fall. And now I was in a dark, quiet place. A cave, I thought, as there were walls of rock at my back and left side. I was too relieved by the fact that this place was almost warm to be concerned over exactly where it was. I sat there, not moving, for a long time.
When day came I learned the truth. The sun hitting the mountain face shone brightly, and the thin ceiling of my cave glowed with blue light. I was in a cave of snow. Pushed by the wind, I had fallen behind an outcropping of rock on the mountainside, and the snow had blown in around me to make a small room. The snow itself had saved me from freezing, and was now keeping me warm. But with only one good arm, getting out would be difficult. It took me all of that day to dig a useable tunnel, after which I spent another night in the shelter of the snow cave. Then I set out again westward.
Two separate Elves claim to have found me staggering down the slopes not far north of Imladris. The first, Malaras the scout, said it was early in the afternoon near a stone bridge over a creek. The second, a hunter named Thelegil, said it was just before dusk at the top of the treeline coming into the valley. I only remember two or more strangely accented voices, saying things like, "Hai son, wai got yeh now," and "Bad braik on hehs arm, hai?" Supposedly I was carried back to the House of Elrond, but I remember nothing of it, nor of the next two days. I sat in Elrond's second-best bedroom in a fevered daze, unspeaking and unmoving, or so he tells me.
He knew my name before I told him. Messengers from my father had arrived the day before I was found, having crossed the mountains and overtaken me while I was in the snow cave. It was no accident that I had been found by no fewer than two separate Elves on two separate occasions. Half the Imladren guard had been searching, not only for me but for the prestige and honour afforded him who found Oropher's errant son. The entire valley knew who I was, and where I was hiding. My father's messengers were desperate to get hold of me. But for whatever reason, Elrond would not allow them to do so.
Elrond was the only one who saw me and, I suspect, the only one who knew exactly where I was being kept. He brought my meals himself (always a large, deep bowl of soup and two brown biscuits) and sat in a nearby chair while I ate, asking question after question. Sometimes he questioned me about my father, but more often he simply asked my opinion on various mundane decisions he had to make. Should he have benches or chairs in his garden? Was fish substantial enough for supper, or should it be veal? Did I think beans would grow well in partial sunlight? Should he have curtains on the window, or was the valance enough? Was the weather likely to improve in time for an outdoor gathering, or should he hold his reception inside? I always answered him truthfully and as best I could. I was afraid not to, the way he stared at me, keeping his eyes fixed on mine as if reading far too deeply into every word I said.
I didn't mind living by Elrond. His questions were preferable to my father's scorn, and he at least answered in return everything I asked of him. He was not married, had no children, and had lived in the valley for over seventeen hundred years. His favourite foods were rabbit stew with onions and sunflower seed bread, he preferred coloured linens to white, liked playing the harp better than he liked practicing with swords, and always slept with many quilts even in the heat of summer because he liked the weight of them. We talked for five days. In that time he told me everything about himself that I wanted to know. But on the morning of the sixth day, he told me of the messengers waiting impatiently to return me to Eryn Galen. He did not ask me if I wanted to go with them, but informed me that as I was now fit enough to travel, even with my arm still in a sling, I would be leaving the next day. "It's taim yeh were on yehr wai, Tharandoel," he said. The Imladrim, I had noticed, always pronounce their vowels in such a way that indicates they have no control over their mouths.
He set my pack at the foot of the bed, filled with fresh provisions and newly washed and mended clothes, and gave me a small smile. Then he left. Whether it was his intention that I should sneak away on my own or not, the opportunity was well marked. I waited only as long as I could bear before dressing, snatching up my things, and making as quick an exit as I could. My room had a balcony, and the balcony had a narrow stair that led down to a path, which ran into the forest behind the house. I was out of sight within minutes. All the way, I could't help but think to myself that even if it had not been Elrond's specific intent for me to escape, he would hardly be surprised when he returned to my room the next morning to find me gone.
The land west of Imladris proved little trouble after my ordeal in the mountains. A problem lay in that I had no idea where I was, where I was going, or which landmarks I should seek. I had no map. But logically, I remembered two things. One, that rivers always flow down from mountains and generally end up in the sea, which lay westward. Two, Mithlond had been built at the western mouth of a river. Therefore I managed to convince myself that if I kept following the river out of Imladris, it would eventually lead me to Círdan. I walked along the riverbank, paying little attention to anything else.
Had I ever learned to tell direction by the stars, I might have noticed that I was heading very far south instead of straight west. But in Eryn Galen, under the thick canopy of trees, astral navigation is a curious but ultimately useless science. As it stood, all the sense of direction I had outside of the woods was that the sun set in the west, and that if I pointed myself toward the setting sun, I would stay on course. On course in a very liberal sense. By following the river, which pointed westward enough for my tastes, my goal of reaching the sea was ultimately accomplished. I lost track of the days I spent walking, but true to my guess, I did find the mouth of that river and the Great Sea into which it spilled. Mithlond, however, was nowhere to be seen. Nor was any other Elven civilisation. As far as I could see, there was nothing.
For the first time since setting off on my journey, I felt very alone. I had come to my goal, and now I had no purpose. I don't remember ever thinking of what I'd do once I reached the sea. Even if I had found Círdan, what would I have done? Built a hut on the sand and become a hermit fisher? Not only did I feel alone, but also stupid. I didn't know how to build a hut on the sand, or even fish for that matter. I knew nothing of how to live outside a forest. There were little aspen and birch bluffs near the beaches, but that was hardly the same. It took me a very short time to realise how much I longed for the safe comfort of Eryn Galen. My father's caves, even complete with my father's scowling face, were a haven compared to the beaches of bare, wind-whipped sand.