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Disclaimer: This story is non-profit and written for purely entertainment purposes. All recognized characters and places are property of J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema.
~ Chapter 15: Two If By Sea ~
It was on rare occasion, following the battle of Helm’s Deep, that Éomer of Rohan was absent from Aragorn Elessar’s side. Aragorn had won the Horsemaster’s respect at a time when Éomer thought the world offered only hopelessness and the bitter taste of defeat. Yet Aragorn had proved him wrong, and it was a feat Éomer never failed to remember. He was fiercely devoted to the King—a man he considered Friend, Brother, Teacher, and Liege. Perhaps there were those within Rohan who quietly mocked him as “Elessar’s Shadow,” but Éomer took no notice. There would always be those who were complainers by nature, and as it was, there was little to complain about in the realm. Éomer’s loyalties were ardent, his intentions and beliefs straightforward and never wavering. If a simpering few wished to mock him, the Horsemaster reasoned, then so be it.
Thus, when Aragorn bade him return to Edoras, Éomer did so.
The King of the Rohirrim did not, however, depart without protest. When Aragorn claimed a large entourage would draw too much attention, Éomer offered to replace the young guard Bergil and go in the other’s stead. When Aragorn spoke of Rohan’s vulnerability without her king, Éomer merely snorted and pointed out that aside from a Mearas invasion, Rohan faced little threat.
But Aragorn was adamant in his decision—Éomer was not to join this quest. And Éomer, going against his better judgment, had watched as Aragorn and his mismatched company parted over the emerald plains.
Lothíriel was surprised to find her husband returned, seeming to have brought back a foul mood with him. “Éomer?” She stopped short upon entering the Golden Hall, the couple’s young son Elfwine toddling gleefully at her skirts. “Why have you not gone with King Elessar?”
Éomer’s brow furrowed in displeasure, a slight flush of anger coloring his face. He leaned back in his chair and drummed his fingertips upon the armrest. “He requested I not join him, though I know not why. And I respected his wishes.” Éomer balled his hand into a fist and frowned. “I should have accompanied him nonetheless,” he flatly declared. “I have half a mind to follow him yet.”
Scooping the babbling child into her arms, Lothíriel approached her husband with a gentle smile. She was fine-boned and raven-haired, after her father Imrahil. At first glance, many would think her large eyes and slender, pale frame a sure indication of frailty. Compared to the robust build of the Rohirrim, she was even more delicate. However, despite all outward appearances, Lothíriel daughter of Imrahil and Queen of Rohan possessed an infinite well of strength. She was the calm and soothing steel behind Éomer’s fire and fury.
“I do not think Elessar meant to cause hurt,” she said, knowing her husband to be stung by Aragorn’s dismissal. “And I know I speak for Elfwine as well as myself when I say there are those who are happy to see you home.”
Elfwine, babbling cheerfully and thoroughly immersed within his own world, reached for his father’s golden hair. Éomer absently toyed with the boy’s chubby fist. “You and the little one never stray from my thoughts when I am abroad.”
“I know.” Lothíriel smiled down at her husband, idly running slim fingers through his flaxen hair. The golden locks had always held a fascination for her. Along with his blue eyes, it had been Éomer’s blonde hair that immediately captivated her. Perhaps it was because she found the coloration so unusual, having never traveled beyond her father’s realm—she was not certain.
Éomer closed his eyes and sighed in contentment. Lothíriel knew he found the gesture soothing. “Your sister’s husband sends a letter,” she said, drawing back her hand and bouncing Elfwine on one hip as the child began to squirm.
Éomer, head resting comfortably against the chair back, cracked one eye open. “It was sent by Faramir and not Éowyn? Are you certain?”
Lothíriel nodded, then bent down to release Elfwine as the child’s squirming became coupled with loud protests. “Yes, I am positive. It seems a man from foreign lands has been detained—though I cannot tell you more, as I did not have time to read the letter in its entirety.” She reached to her waist and pulled a travel-stained letter from her sash. Smoothing it, she handed the parchment to Éomer.
Éomer glanced at the paper before casting his wife a look of slight bemusement. “I was not aware you had taken an interest to politics.”
Lothíriel absently redirected Elfwine away from the table leg he was about to veer into. “Éowyn readily participates in the affairs of Ithilien,” she replied. “Surely you have no objections.”
Éomer snorted. “Éowyn is a different matter all together. I believe I shall ban you from spending further time with my sister. Her influence worries me.”
Lothíriel threw back her head and laughed: a deep musical sound her delicate build seemed incapable of.
Éomer grinned. “Do not doubt me, my lady. I shall restrict your political aspirations to Lady of the Sewing Circle should it even cross your mind to pick up a sword.”
“Alas,” Lothíriel replied, curtseying low before her husband, “I am but a feeble woman; I fear the weight of knitting needles far too heavy for my delicate wrists. Nonetheless, it is as my lord commands. I shall perform my newly appointed duty with the utmost—“
“Ah, be gone woman!” Éomer swatted at her with a hearty laugh.
Serene smile gracing her lips, Lothíriel bent down to retrieve Elfwine from under the table. “Then I take my leave of you, my lord.”
Éomer cheerfully waived her and Elfwine off.
“I shall dine with you this evening,” Lothíriel called over her shoulder, kissing Elfwine on the head as he clumsily waved goodbye to his father. “Helfa has begun planning this year’s harvest festival and requested my aid. I expect we shall be done well before the evening meal, though.”
“Mmm.” Éomer nodded absently, concentration bent on the letter in his hand. “Until then, my lady.”
When dusk blanketed the green fields of Rohan, and the last rays of sun turned the Hall a bronzed gold, Lothíriel dined alone.
Pushing her plate aside with a disinterested sigh, she arose and took to wandering the halls. Elfwine was fast asleep when she quietly slipped into his room. She smiled fondly at the child, brushing a few strands of dark hair from his forehead. He possessed her hair coloration and pale skin, though had received his father’s blue eyes. Lothíriel suspected Elfwine would be of the same build as his father—to which she was secretly grateful. Her raven hair and slender frame bore the telltale marks of Elvish blood; the people of Rohan would forever be suspicious. Elfwine’s dark locks set him apart, but he would still bear the sturdy form of the Rohirrim.
Standing by the window, Lothíriel wrapped her arms around herself and gazed out across the darkened plains. Éomer was galloping over those exact plains, charging off to the green forests of Ithilien. Lothiriel was loath to see him go. Without his presence, the rustic nature of Rohan was almost too much to bear.
‘But,’ she could not help thinking, a small shiver traveling down her spine, ‘I am very glad he rides to Lord Faramir, rather than King Elessar.’
* * *
“Greetings, fellow traveler.”
Gimli started and looked up from the fire he was attempting to coax forth. A rugged band of seven Men stood just outside the boulder ring. The Man whom had spoken, a tall and tanned figure with sandy-colored hair, approached with an assertive caution. Gimli’s eyes traveled to his axe, which rested against the fuel pile. Silently cursing his carelessness, the Dwarf wondered how the group managed to come upon him unnoticed.
“It’s a fair wind this evening, is it not?” the stranger spoke again.
Satisfied by the fire’s height, Gimli tossed a few pieces of dried grass and wood to the flames. The fire licked and crackled greedily. Brushing off his hands, Gimli warily moved to his feet.
The Man made pretense of warming his hands before the flames. The rest of his company slowly filed into the campsite. Gimli inched towards his axe, feeling inclined to humor the warnings of his gut. And, as Ris had pointed out, it was growing to be a particularly large gut.
“Tell me,” said the Man, “why does a Dwarf travel alone in these parts?”
“You assume I journey companionless,” Gimli replied. “Now tell me: Why do Corsairs wander the land? I believe your legs are better suited for waves and ship decks.”
The corsair laughed at the Dwarf’s bluntness. It was a hollow sound Gimli found unnerving. And there was something… wrong… about the Man’s sea-colored eyes. Something repulsive and unnatural. “We are but two days’ distance from the Sea. Perhaps,” the corsair said, emitting another short bark of laughter, “we go to visit our mothers.” His men snickered.
Gimli snorted in disgust. “I was not aware your kind had mothers.”
The corsair smiled crookedly before settling himself against a boulder. “There is more truth to that than you know, friend Dwarf.” He peered above and around the boulders, sea-colored eyes searching intently. “Where are these companions of yours? Unless my eyes deceive me, it still appears you travel alone.”
Gimli seated himself so each corsair was within his line of vision. “Elves are visible to mortal eyes only when they wish to be.”
Mortsdil started, feigning surprise. He already knew the Elf and Dwarf were traveling together. He had seen them in his water-mirror weeks ago. “You travel with Elves?”
“I travel with one Elf,” Gimli replied in irritation.
“Ahh.” Mortsdil nodded sagely before again scanning the encampment. “These are strange times indeed, that an Elf and Dwarf are traveling companions. I am curious: where is this one Elf?”
Gimli bristled. If he knew where Legolas was, he would not have stayed put for three days, nor would he currently be residing in the company of Corsairs. “He comes and goes as he pleases. I expect he will return in a day or so.”
The corsair furrowed his brow but offered no reply. A wary silence settled over the camp.
“He has employed you as a guide, then?”
Gimli’s eyes snapped from the campfire and rested upon the corsair’s face at the unexpected question. “Yes,” the Dwarf replied, deciding his answer not altogether untrue.
After a moment’s hesitation, Mortsdil reached into his vest and brought out a leather pouch. He carelessly tossed it at Gimli. The bag of coins emitted a raspy chink as it came to rest near the Dwarf’s boot.
Gimli narrowed his eyes and regarded the man suspiciously. “Are you in the habit of flinging coins at the feet of all new acquaintances?”
Mortsdil gave a dry chuckle at the Dwarf’s abrasiveness. It was not a pleasant sound. “If they have what I want.”
Gimli’s skin crawled. He had the oddest feeling he should have left the moment the Corsairs arrived. “And what could you possibly want from me, Master Corsair?”
Mortsdil leaned back against the boulder and folded his hands behind his head. He took his time studying the Dwarf, mentally sizing the other up. The fact that the Dwarf boldly met his gaze was intriguing. There was a certain spark in the earth-brown eyes—a wizened attentiveness—that Mortsdil had never before encountered amongst the Dwarf-kind. He pursed his lips. “Whatever he’s paying, I’ll double it.”
“I beg your pardon?”
A second purse was lobbed at Gimli’s feet. “Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll double it,” Mortsdil repeated. “Or rather—you may name the price if you wish. The Elf is carrying something very dear to me. I’ll spare no expense to get it back.”
Gimli rose stiffly, fists clenched in anger. He had never been so insulted in his life. That the corsair would even think Legolas had bought his friendship… By Mahal, if only his axe were at hand! He could see the firelight reflecting cheerfully from its blade. It literally begged to be picked up.
“Well? What say you?” Mortsdil looked to the Dwarf in lazy anticipation. “Do we have a deal?”
Had his temper not flared, Gimli would have most likely played along and catered to the pirate’s fancy. As it was, he was far too incensed by the suggestion of betraying his best friend. A low growl erupted from deep within his barreled chest. “How dare you,” he spat, voice trembling with rage. “How dare you! Not for all the riches of Middle-earth would I abandon my friend to the likes of you. A curse upon you and all your minions!”
In his shock, Mortsdil’s anger was forgotten. He stared at the Dwarf in utter disbelief. “Friend? You call this Elf by the name of ‘friend?’”
“And I would not have it any other way,” the Dwarf hotly declared. “Just as I am honored to carry the title ‘Elvellon.’”
Mortsdil fell silent as the seething Dwarf stomped off to gather his things. This was a most unexpected twist. The Dwarf and Elf were friends? The idea in itself was completely dumbfounding. ‘And yet...’ Mortsdil allowed himself a slight smile as the plan began to take shape. Perhaps this would work out far better than originally hoped.
Gimli fumed as he gathered his remaining supplies. He was leaving—going west towards the Sea in search of Legolas. Never mind the moonless night, or that he had no trail to follow. Anything was better than remaining in the company of those who would attempt to buy his loyalty. He felt tainted.
He brushed past the corsairs as he went to retrieve his axe, making pretense of ignorance while purposely shoving them aside with his stout frame. The salty, flea-bitten beggars would probably sell their own grandmothers if given the chance.
“Tell me, Dwarf: have you ever been aboard a ship?”
Gimli straightened abruptly, tightening his grip on the axe. The gleam in the corsair’s sea-colored eyes was not from the firelight, of this Gimli was certain. “Nay, and I have no desire to.”
‘Especially with the likes of you,’ he added mentally.
Mortsdil smiled disarmingly. Gimli growled and was instantly on his guard.
“I did not ask you if you wished to go.”
The ragged band encircled the Dwarf, gold earrings and eyes dancing maliciously. Gimli brandished his axe. “I have never gutted a pirate before. Tell me; is it anything like a fish?”
Several curved blades and gruesome looking hooks appeared within the corsairs’ hands. Gimli tensed. He was going to cleave them all to bits.
Mortsdil’s cold smile widened. “When we capture the Elf, he’ll take the punishment for any of my men you hurt tonight.” He watched the Dwarf falter ever so slightly. “Come now, be a good Dwarf. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for the death of your…friend… now would you? …Elvellon?”
One half of Gimli wanted to rip Mortsdil’s throat out, while the other side immediately sought to protect Legolas. ‘Mayhap I can do both?’
It was worth a try.
* * *
Legolas blinked. Cold droplets, a mixture of rain and seawater, fell lightly upon his face. Dashing rainwater from his eyes, the Elf took stock of his surroundings. 'Where am I?'
The wet sand was soft and yielding beneath his boots. And the Sea… The Sea! It stretched out before him further than his eyes could follow: a rolling, supple mass of blue and green. Sunlight glinted silver off wave crests. The surf crashed gently upon the shore, foaming and frothing as it danced up the sand and withdrew in breathy hiss. Salty wind blustered recklessly across the beach. Gulls, glimmering white in the sun and keening wistfully on the briny air, called to him from above.
Legolas sank to his knees in euphoric bliss, heedless of the wet sand and nipping waves. ‘Ai the Sea! Ever shall I be content to simply rest amidst the sand and waves.’ How long he remained kneeling before the waters he could not say—it might have been an hour, perhaps an eternity.
A sharp nudge from behind nearly sent him sprawling. The Elf twisted in irritation, angered at being so disrupted. The stallion Findalen gave him a second nudge.
“Cease your prodding and leave me be.”
The horse flared his nostrils before giving Legolas a look akin to that of disgust. Legolas did not care. He did not even remember riding the horse towards the Sea. Turning his gaze back to the endless waves, the Elf allowed the Sea’s glorious call to engulf him. ‘I shall build a ship, and journey with those who wish to follow across the waves to Elvenhome.’
Water splashed against his chest. He shivered in delight. The Sea was pulling him; he could feel it. It begged him to journey further into the waters, promising to reveal secrets and wonders no other soul knew of. Legolas smiled at the incessant tugging. Perhaps he could float all the way to Valinor… float all the way to the depths of the Sea.
'To the depths of the Sea? I do not wish to--' An icy wave crashed over Legolas' head. Choking on saltwater and suddenly extremely aware of the unfamiliar weight in the pouch about his waist, the Elf attempted to stand upright. A second wave engulfed him. How had he managed to wander so far out into the waters?
The unfamiliar weight grew heavier. The Sea grew more insistent and vicious. Legolas struggled wildly, horrified to discover his feet no longer struck sandy bottom.
Memories returned in jumbled fragments. ‘The stone! Ai, Gimli!’ Where was the Dwarf?
“GIMLI!” The Elf roared, battling against the undertow with every ounce of strength. Unless some ill had befallen the Dwarf, he would not have left Legolas’ side. He must find Gimli. Gimli was in trouble.
A wall of blue and green reared and swelled behind him. Legolas paddled furiously towards the swiftly disappearing shore. The Sea heaved, sucking him into her watery clutches. Down came the wall in an icy fist of salt and turquoise. Legolas was borne tumbling into the depths after it.
* * *
~ The End. ~
No, wait! I’m kidding! KIDDING. But boy, you should have seen the look on your face… *is promptly smacked by own conscience and several random viewers* Geez, at least I didn’t say, “And they all lived happily ever after.” Can’t hit me this time, I’m already headed towards the hills. *swept up by Nazgûl #5 and carried off into the sunset—which looks suspiciously like the burning fires of Mordor*
Nazgûl #5, he’s so dreeeeeamy… *snicker*
Man am I going to get some serious karmic backlash for this one.
* * *
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