9. In the Wind from the Sea
In the Wind from the Sea
Dôr Ararych, F.A. 18, Nénimë [February]
The Prince of Ithilien contemplated the small group gathered with him around the great oak table; his Mistress of Horse, Elboron his son, and a blond horse-lord, Eádwine, come on behalf of his master Béodred of Rohan. The stone house which Gimli the Dwarf had designed and constructed for Rowanna and Legolas a few years earlier was warm despite the Nénimë chill; a much more comfortable place to discuss the lease of a stud horse from the Eastfold than the open paddock, or Rowanna's old wooden cabin, would have been, Faramir admitted to himself. And now that, as Elboron kindly points out, I officially have my first grey hairs, I can surely insist on a little comfort!
Legolas himself was not present – and indeed, Faramir gathered, had not been seen at Dôr Ararych for several weeks.
"He's off planting tree-seedlings," Rowanna had explained with a roll of her eyes; "you know how it has been at Stirring the last few years! Ever since he judged that the soil was clean enough along the Ithilduin to begin replanting there…" She smiled. "He'll come when he will, and go when he will between here and the Elves' settlement, as he ever does. If he needs me – or I him – we soon know." One day, the Steward had reflected, I'm going to summon up the courage to ask her whether she really does talk to trees…
"So, my friends," Faramir leant his elbows on the table and marked items off on his fingers, "we would appear to have agreement: firstly, on the loan of Hengist for a month in late spring or early summer, with his being put to the mares Mistress Rowanna shall select. Secondly, on Hengist's care and stabling, given that Eádwine has walked the meadows and the stables with Rowanna this morning and, Master Eádwine, you are entirely satisfied with our provision?"
"Aye, my lord," the Rohir rumbled in his heavily accented Westron. "'Tis true he is used to roaming across half the Eastfold in Master Béodred's herds, so he'll find life a little different here, but your river-meadows will more than content him!"
"So will our mares, I think you'll find!" Rowanna pointed out, fine lines crinkling around her eyes as she smiled. She was in her perennial jerkin and breeches, though Faramir noticed that her thick black hair was swept up with a little more care than usual above her long tanned neck, rather than tumbling out of its braid. Didn't she once say that Béodred had hoped to marry her before the Ring War? he found himself wondering. Perhaps even our Mistress of Horse has a little vanity after all, and wants a good report of her carried back by Eádwine…
Eádwine was saying something further, but Rowanna suddenly looked distracted; she caught her breath while Eádwine was mid-sentence, and her gaze wandered to the window which looked out towards the forest. Then she shook her head as though to clear it, and the Steward resumed:
"It only remains then, I think, to discuss the fee –"
He got no further; for there was a burst of subdued murmuring in the hallway outside and one of the maids who kept house for Rowanna entered. On her heels was a figure who caused Eádwine's clear blue eyes to widen; a tall slender Wood-elf clad in mingled shades of brown and green that seemed to shift and change as he moved, as though he would blend into the very forest. His dark hair was fastened in countless tiny braids caught up in a knot above the quiver and short bow he bore on his back, and over his cheekbones scrolled the fine lines of a Greenwood marchwarden's tattoos. Faramir noted with relief that eighteen-year-old Elboron, brought to sit in on this discussion as an early step in his education on the government of Ithilien, had the grace and courtesy not to stare.
The Wood-elf – that's Galathil, realised Faramir – dipped his head briefly to the Steward and spoke urgently to Rowanna in lilting tones full of strange clicks and liquid sounds. Faramir had never managed to pronounce a word of Nandorin properly, and it had no books of lore he could study; but over years of interested eavesdropping on Legolas' folk, he had learned to understand a little, at least of those words closest to the Grey Tongue, and he thought he caught "Laeglass" and something that sounded like the word for "sea". That isn't good! It must be years since the Wood-elves last had to come for her thus – A moment later his guess seemed confirmed, for Rowanna paled, halfway out of her seat even as she spoke tensely in Sindarin.
"All right. I'm coming." She continued to Faramir, still in the Grey Tongue: "My lord Steward, I must ask your pardon, Legolas needs me –"
"Go," the Steward assured her quickly. "If there is anything we can do, only ask – and send us word, when you can… "
Rowanna nodded, said something swift and apologetic to the startled Eádwine in Rohirric and was gone, boots ringing on the slate floor of the hallway.
"Forgive the disruption, Master Eádwine," Faramir went on, switching from long practice back into his most diplomatic mode, "Mistress Rowanna is needed urgently elsewhere. Fortunately, she and I have already had some debate about the value we would place upon the services of Hengist; so I think we may nonetheless proceed to discussion of the stud fee…"
Rowanna, meanwhile, had hastily saddled the first available of her mounts. Riding with Galathil south and eastwards into the woods of Ithilien as fast as the terrain would permit, she kept a watchful eye for tree-roots and boulders even as she strained not to force the horse to a gallop. Hold on, beloved – I'm coming…
As they drew closer to the Elves' settlement she began to sense the sound of the surf; at first a whisper, then a steady repeating hiss. By the time Galathil dismounted and said urgently "Enel'da", and led her on foot into the denser woodland, it was roaring in her ears and she could smell the salt on the wind as Legolas smelt it, feel the undertow pulling, pulling…
Another figure in green and brown melted out of the trees and embraced her gratefully. "You're here! At last…"
"I'm sorry, Taurlaegel, I came as soon as I could –"
"We feared we might need you, this morning, when we smelt the wind turning to the south-west," Taurlaegel told her as he guided her through the trees. "So we were ready. But he's far gone – it's a while now since we've seen him thus…"
"Where is he?" Rowanna looked around anxiously as the Wood-elf drew to a halt. Taurlaegel gestured overhead.
"He's up there."
Rowanna grimaced. "He could at least have found a talan!.."
"Believe me, we were just glad he was aloft," Taurlaegel said firmly. "If he'd been on the ground and able to get to a horse, I'd wager he'd be at the Harlond by now, and you flying to reach him before he could take ship for the coastlands! Falastir and Rumion are up there, making sure he doesn't try to come down..."
She shuddered. "There's no way I can reach even those lower branches, though. Can you get a rope-ladder up?"
"Already done," Taurlaegel assured her. He made a whistling call, and a moment later the promised ladder descended, the Elf catching it and pegging it down so that she could climb more easily; she tucked her cloak into her belt and went up.
It's just as well I've had twenty years' practice at tree-climbing! Rowanna reflected as she reached the top of the ladder and swung her leg over the branch. When first I came to Ithilien I'd have been risking my neck if I'd tried this...
"Can you get to us?" came Falastir's lilting tones from somewhere to her right. As her eyes grew accustomed to the shifting patterns of sunlight and shadow, she saw him crouched on another branch; and curled in its fork against the trunk, pressed tightly against the bark, was the huddled form of Legolas. She caught her breath; he's so far away, there's almost nothing left. Taurlaegel was right, he's a long way gone...
"Yes, I think so – argh!" She had almost slipped; quickly Rumion descended and walked easily along the limb towards her, reaching out a hand. With his help, she worked her way along the branch. As she reached the fork where Legolas was huddled, Rumion crouched for a moment to make sure she could sit securely, then reached up and pulled himself one-handed on to a higher branch, out of her way. She wedged herself as close to Legolas as she could, wrapping both arms around his body from behind, resting her cheek against his. He did not stir, and he was very cold.
"I'm here, beloved," she whispered in his ear. "I'm here – come back now…"
She reached out through their embrace, with all her senses, trying to find him. At first there was only the roaring of the sea in her mind's ear, punctuated by the high keening cries of gulls and the whipping of the wind; she saw the expanse of water, the vastness of the horizon, felt the loneliness and the power and the endless repeating call of "Come…. Come…"
Come back, she insisted, over and over. Come back to Ithilien; to the woods and the meadows and the sunlight on the leaves, the scents of herb and flower and woodsmoke and earth. Come back to your friends, and your people, and me…
Then she sensed him; turned away from her, in mind as well as in body, fixated on the endless ebb and flow of the great grey water. But he was aware of her now, she could tell, and she held him tighter yet and went on murmuring to him.
Not yet, beloved; it shall not have you yet awhile, against your will and your heart. The Sea will still be there when you choose to go, when you deem it time, when at last, as you promised, you tell me farewell. Not yet; come back…
He heard her, she knew; she wanted to rock him in her arms, but dared not disturb her precarious balance on the branch, so she simply went on holding him and whispering. She could feel the storm of his emotions now as he began to open to her; the yearning for the Sea, the longing to give in and be pulled away by the tide forever, colliding and clashing like an opposing current with the aching physical need for the woods, the trees, the land he had made his own; the need for her.
At last, he shifted a little; enough to turn his head and bury his face in her neck with a great shuddering gasp. She held him to her, stroked the gleaming fall of hair; let him take in the scent of her skin with its hints of sweet hay and leather and, yes, she thought, even the mucking-out I did this morning. Anything but the west wind and the salt and the tang of the Sea! Gradually his deep breaths steadied; he was warmer now and his heartbeat, which had been so faint and then as he turned back to her had hammered in his chest, was slowing.
"How is it with you, my love?" she asked softly.
"I… it's… ebbing," he muttered into her shoulder. "Don't – let go…"
"I won't. You know I never let go."
Slowly he began to relax into her embrace. She could hear birds beginning to go to roost, now; the sun had set and there was bluish twilight beneath the trees. Rowanna became aware that she had not moved for hours, and that one of her legs, wedged into the fork of the tree, was badly cramped.
"Legolas, can you move? Could you stand?"
"Yes, meleth, I think so. Why?"
"Because if I don't get off this branch soon I shall be completely numb, and I don't know whether you're up to carrying me!"
To her relief, he chuckled shakily.
"Then we must get you down at once! Is that Falastir above? – your aid, meldiren?"
The Wood-elf dropped easily on to their branch, helping Rowanna shift enough for Legolas to get up. She got back down to earth with the help of the rope-ladder; Legolas spurned it, but Rowanna noticed how closely Falastir watched him descend from branch to branch and slide down the trunk. Stretching her aching arms and legs, she turned to find Taurlaegel at her elbow.
"My thanks, my lady. All our thanks."
Rowanna shook her head. "You know I need him as much as you do! I only hope there never comes a day –" She bit off the thought, but she knew Taurlaegel could finish it himself.
"I'll stay here tonight," she said, glad to turn to practicalities. "Can you send word for me to Dôr Ararych? And if the Steward has already left when the messenger gets there, then on to Emyn Arnen, to let him know all is well?"
Taurlaegel nodded. "At once. I've already asked someone to see to your talan. There's a fire going and supper cooking – will you and Legolas eat with us?"
She shook her head. "I'd rather we were quiet together for a while – but he ought to eat; and I'll confess I'm ravenous! Could you send something up to the talan? We might come down to the fire later, but for now he should rest…"
Wrapping an arm firmly around Legolas, she led him through the trees, skirting the open clearing where the Wood-elves met in the evenings to share food and fire, to the great cedar which sheltered their talan. As the settlement had grown over the last few years, Legolas' folk had constructed both communal telain for meeting and for crafts, and private ones for those who preferred not simply to sleep and live in the branches of the trees themselves; while the communal telain were open to all, the private ones were sacrosanct, and none would be disturbed there – least of all Legolas and Rowanna – except in direst need.
They slowly climbed the spiral stair which wound upwards around the cedar's trunk. As they stepped on to the platform Rowanna saw that as Taurlaegel had promised, the talan was ready for them; someone had unrolled the padded mats which could be used either to sit or to sleep on and spread the coverlets over them, let down the embroidered hangings which served as curtains if desired, and set tinder and flint ready by the oil-filled lanterns. The small woodburning stove Gimli had designed for the talan had been lit, making a welcome haven of warmth enclosed by the hangings. They even left some wine...
They pulled off their boots as they entered, and Rowanna reached up to unpin her hair, shaking it out over her shoulders with a sigh of relief. Padding barefoot around the edge of the talan, she lit the lanterns one by one, bathing the space in golden light, and reached into the wooden chest which stood in one corner, pulling out and scattering several extra cushions; Legolas sank back on to them and watched her.
"Do you want the roof open or closed, meleth nin?" she asked softly.
"Open, if you'll not be cold? We won't have rain tonight, and – I would rather see the stars..."
The talan's roof-canopy was supported on slender carved pillars at each corner, and extended a foot or so beyond the platform all around, to allow Ithilien's occasional heavy rain to run off harmlessly. But its half-dozen panels of waxed cloth, which fitted perfectly together when in place, could be rolled up individually and tied back to reveal part or all of the sky. Rowanna opened several of the panels, picked up the wine and the two beakers, and eased herself on to the matting at Legolas' side.
"Here, my love; I'm not sure which of us needs this more..."
She passed him a beaker, catching up his hand and kissing his knuckles as she did so, and then took a long relieved draught of her own.
"That's better," she observed, "at least you're warm now! You were – so still, and so cold..."
"And you?" he asked, reaching to stroke her hair where it lay loose down her back. "You must have sat holding me in that cypress for hours."
"I might be stiff in the morning!" Rowanna acknowledged. She rolled her shoulders a couple of times, grimacing. "No – I will be..."
"Let me," Legolas said softly, shifting a little to kneel behind her. He put down his wine-beaker clear of the matting and began to massage her shoulders, then her neck, shifting the wavy mass of her dark hair forward out of his way. Rowanna sighed heavily, arching into the firm pressure of his thumbs.
As he finished and leant forwards to kiss her throat, a voice called softly from below; when Legolas responded, one of the Elves appeared bearing a tray of plates, bread and a lidded bowl of steaming stew.
"Na maer, Legolas?" he enquired hesitantly.
"Na maer, Erymaethor," Legolas assured him. "Avo gosto."
Erymaethor set the tray down, bowed to Rowanna with one hand over his heart, and was gone.
"And now," she said firmly to Legolas as she filled their plates, "you are going to eat! When did you last have anything?"
"I'm... not certain." Legolas frowned. "I don't remember when it began, exactly…" As if I needed proof that under the Sea-longing he's not himself, Rowanna reflected; when else is his memory ever less than perfect?
"Before noon, surely," she observed between mouthfuls, "for Galathil was at Dôr Ararych well before sundown. And Taurlaegel said he'd smelt the wind turning this morning and feared for you."
"They know me better than I do myself," he admitted ruefully. "I was thinking over all the planting we've done this last moon-round, and Falastir and I were up in that cypress mulling over where we should next look to set seedlings, and then…" He tailed off.
"I was thinking, after something I said to Taurlaegel –" She broke off, and he raised a questioning eyebrow. "Your people, here, the colony… What would they do, if you sailed West? What will they do?"
"That, only each of them knows," Legolas said sombrely as he reached for a hunk of the bread. "Remember, my folk are Wood-elven, descended from the Moriquendi who never saw the light of the Trees, never sailed to Valinor; and some are outright Avari. Some, perhaps, might brave the Straight Road with me, or follow behind; a good many, I suspect, will go back to Eryn Lasgalen – to Father." His voice caught for a moment, and Rowanna squeezed his hand. "And some, if they have come to love Ithilien well enough, will stay here – and, at last, fade…"
"Fade?" she asked, puzzled, as she gathered up the empty plates and left the tray at the entrance to the talan.
"Bilbo never taught you of the Fading of the Elves?" Legolas tried to smile, but it was shaky. "Men say that the Firstborn are immortal, and indeed our spirits are so, but… east of the Sea our bodies are not everlasting. A rhaw that is ages old may become tired of life at last, and slowly fade away altogether, so that only the faer remains, a houseless spirit. And with the power of the Three gone from Middle-earth, it may well be that that fading will come all the faster. I know Mithrandir believed it would be so, and Galadriel too…"
In his voice she heard the ache of loss borne and sorrow yet to come; she dropped on the cushions beside him and gathered him into her arms, hugging him fiercely as though love alone could hold back the relentless passing of the Age. He shifted in her embrace, tilting her face up to his.
"Are you sure you should not be resting?" she murmured as his fingers tangled in her hair and his other hand slid under her linen shirt.
"No!" he insisted between kisses. "I – need you – need this…"
Then he abandoned speech entirely, and told her wordlessly with mouth and hands; hold me, beloved, anchor me, ground me even against the pull of the Sea…
All the gossip of Rohan or Gondor she had ever heard suggested that the more urgent a Man's passion, the quicker it was usually all over. Not so, she had found over the years, being with an Elf; the greater their desire, often, the longer the two of them would take to accomplish it, revelling in every moment and every inch. Slowly, as the lanterns burned down, she reclaimed him from the Sea's call; slowly he rooted himself once again, in Ithilien, in Middle-earth, in her. At last they lay spent in each other's arms, gazing through the canopy at the stars.
"You came back," she murmured, feeling the steady rise and fall of his chest under her cheek. His hold on her tightened.
"You brought me back."
"I knew… it must have taken you unawares; that you did not will to go. If you'd decided it was time…"
"Then, as I always promised, I would have said goodbye." She felt the warmth of his love and desire enfolding her. "You were right. I would not yield to it – even had I reached the very shores of the Sea I would not have yielded to it till I had kept that promise; and yet I could not turn back… not until you came."
"I'll always come. That I promise you. I love you."
"And I you…"
His voice was a whisper, and moments later Rowanna realised he had drifted into dream. No – not dream; for shifting on to an elbow she discovered his eyes had closed. He truly is exhausted. I only ever saw him do that twice before, and one of those was on the Pelennor, in Aragorn's tent, after the siege. So long ago – before either of us knew…
She drew the covers up around his shoulders, and curled up with her head once again on his shoulder, listening to the steady beat of his heart. For once, meleth nin, it seems I am going to guard your dreams. Sleep well.
But she was also too weary to lie awake long, and the Elves on watch through the night passed around and over the talan without disturbing her; she and Legolas slept undisturbed till dawn broke over Ithilien.
Grateful thanks to curiouswombat for invaluable comma policing.
Dôr Ararych – Place of Noble Horses: the Steward's stud farm between Cormallen and Emyn Arnen run by Rowanna.
Ithilduin: my renaming of the Morgulduin, the stream which flowed southwestwards out of the Ephel Dúath through North Ithilien into the Anduin. It seems likely that, as Gondor slowly reclaimed Ithilien from the ravages of the Enemy, the hated names associated with Sauron's rule would have been changed back too; and since the Morgulduin took its name from the watchtower of Minas Morgul, and that tower had originally been Minas Ithil, the logical Gondorian name for the stream ought to be the Ithilduin.
Enel'da – semi-invented Nandorin. According to Ardalambion, enel meant "in the middle" or "between", so this is intended to mean something like "through here". Whether the Wood-elves would actually have spoken Nandorin by the late Third and early Fourth Age is debatable; Tolkien said in Unfinished Tales that "By the end of the Third Age, the Silvan tongues had probably ceased to be spoken in the two regions that had importance at the time of the War of the Ring: Lórien and the realm of Thranduil in northern Mirkwood. All that survived of them in the records was a few words and several names of persons and places." However, I'm using that "probably" as my get-out clause, as I like the idea of at least some of Thranduil's people, wary of outsiders as they seem to have been, continuing to speak Nandorin; and perhaps, given that Sindarin was spoken by many Gondorrim, those who came south with Legolas might have used the Silvan tongue when they did not want others to understand them…
talan – platform for sleeping/living on (as used by the Galadhrim in Lothlórien)
meldiren - my [male] friend
Na maer – "all well" (literally, "it is good")
Avo gosto – "don't worry" (literally, "do not fear")
rhaw – body
faer – spirit
meleth nin – my love
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.