Author's Notes: This little tale is brought to you courtesy of a challenge over at HASA. Under the Quickies Qtr 4, 2003, challenge, one of the options was to write about a shipwright and his apprentice in Dol Amroth. The specifications were that the story could be no less than one page, no more than four, and had to be a continuous scene from a single point of view. And so this story was born. It came rather quickly, and I'm not entirely satisfied that it meets the exact constraints of the challenge insofar as a shipwright and an apprentice are concerned, but I like it.
Anyway, this is set probably ten years or so after the War of the Ring for anybody who cares to make a note of such things. The characters should be familiar to anyone who has read the books. Also, I've gone out on a limb and stuck this thing in first person. I'm not sure why since I usually shy away from that style, so if anyone has any comments or critiques, feel free to voice them. And with that, I'll leave you to enjoy.
It was early in the early morning when Legolas came to me.
I was already up and about, savoring a few precious moments of reflection and solitude ere the day could sweep me away into the pettier concerns of rule. I had gone to look at the sea, gazing out from the parapets of Dol Amroth. The sun was just breaking over the eastern horizon, and its light trickled down upon the waters as they moved back and forth against the shore in a ceaseless dance. I frequently became lost in the pounding rhythm of the tides, and this particular morning was no exception. As I watched, the yearning rose within me to throw away all I had accomplished and earned in favor of setting sail upon the sea, never again to be burdened with the constraints of my office. This desire was both a blessing and a curse of my blood, and I fought with it often. But it seemed particularly strong on this day, and I remember wondering if a passing guard would have to summon me back to my duties.
Then Legolas came.
He never told me how he escaped the eyes of the guards upon the walls or why he failed to announce his presence, and I never asked. But I was certainly surprised to see him. His presence shook from me all thoughts of the sea and of sailing, and when he joined me upon the ramparts, it took several moments for me to voice a suitable greeting. I do not now remember what I said to him when I finally broke my silence, but I do remember that I was unable to finish. He turned to face me, and I was unable to go on.
I beheld yearning and sorrow in his ageless gaze such as I had never before seen. His eyes appeared almost as those of one fevered, though I knew that this could not be the case. Deep within their storm-gray depths, I saw the tearing and rending of a soul along with a desperate plea for help. Moreover, it was a hopeless plea, as though he knew that what he sought could not be given. A rolling cloud of grief seemed to be surging to the forefront, bringing darkness where there should have been light and life. He seemed as one lost in the vast waters of the ocean with no expectation of rescue. The emotions expressed were so powerful and so near that I found myself taking a step back, struggling for control. He chose that moment to release me from his gaze and turn his eyes seaward, an expression of terrible longing falling upon his face.
"Legolas?" I questioned gently, realizing that now was not the time for titles or formalities.
"Imrahil," he said quietly, and a note of hesitation seemed to creep into his voice. "I…I have come to request your aid."
"You have come alone," I observed, glancing about and noting we were the only two upon the ramparts with the exception of a few guards.
"Yes," he murmured. "None know that I am here."
Surprise claimed me. "None? Dol Amroth is no short distance from Ithilien. Surely your people will fear for you if you are gone for such a long time."
"They believe me to be in Rohan," Legolas said, his voice no louder than a whisper as he gazed upon the sea. "And that was my intended destination, but along the way…" He trailed off, unable to continue.
"You heard the gulls," I guessed.
He nodded. "I heard the gulls," he sighed. "And I was forced to come." He glanced at me, and in his elven eyes I read a silent plea for my silence on this matter.
"Word of your presence will not extend beyond these walls," I promised him. He was afraid to be here, and I could not say I blamed him. Had Aragorn or Gimli known of his visit, they would have expressed great concern and sought to interfere. But I knew better, for we were of a kind. Even though I could not hear it as clearly as he could, the sea called to both of us, and when the sea calls, it must be answered. He did not need sympathy; he needed understanding. That was something I could give.
The relief on his face was a balm to my spirit, and then he nodded and looked away, turning back toward the crashing surf. "I seek learning," he said after a brief stretch of silence.
"About the sea?" I asked.
He nodded. "I would learn to master it."
In spite of myself, I could not quite halt the bubble of laughter that rose up at this idea. Hearing this noise, Legolas turned to me in confusion, his eyes momentarily losing their look of desperation. "One cannot master the sea, my friend," I explained, firmly schooling my mirth and reminding myself that he had known only rivers and streams. "The sea is its own master. One can, however, learn to endure it. But it must never be forgotten that the sea holds sway in the end."
Legolas seemed puzzled by this and he frowned, his piercing eyes studying my face. "Yet is it not said that your ships are masters of the tides?"
"It is said by some, but never by us," I answered, leaning against the ramparts. "Our ships are skillfully crafted, that cannot be denied. And I would fain boast that our ships are unmatched upon the open waters. But they are not masters, nor are the men that command them. They merely know how to ride the waves."
The elf seemed to think about this for a moment. "Then are you as the Rohirrim?" he asked. "They do not hold mastery over their horses. Is it the same with the sea?"
I shook my head. "Nay. The Rohirrim work in partnership with their mounts, but the sea partners with none. The sea is beholden to none." I paused, struggling to find words to describe this to one who had never braved the vast waters. "I suppose," I said at length, "that the sea could be likened to fate."
Legolas frowned, and I could see him considering this analogy. "How so?"
"Some would argue that we can master our fate," I said, "and that we can control the direction of our life. But it is my opinion that those who say such things have never tried to alter their course. There are too many factors and influences that might change our path. For example, we cannot control those we befriend or those we anger. We cannot control our loved ones and families. Every creature is an agent unto himself, free to act and also free to be acted upon. Thus, fate is never entirely in our hands but rather becomes a creation of the forces and people that surround us. Those who are successful in life become so through a combination of chance and talent. Sailing the sea is much the same. A great deal of fortune is involved, and the rest is left to skill. But never is there mastery, and those who believe otherwise walk a perilous road."
Legolas looked at me for a long moment, his gray eyes becoming pools of thought in the first light of dawn, and it struck me just how very elven he was. Not that I had previously been unaware of his nature. On the contrary, I challenge any being to stand in Legolas's presence and deny the fact that he is an elf. But so often do we as his friends forget what that truly means. We acknowledge his striking appearance, his keen senses, his grace and stealth, and his unmatched skill with the bow. Yet we forget that these are but outward expressions. We forget that his mind, his thoughts, and his nature are elven. His methods and motivations are wholly foreign, even to those of us with elven blood in our veins. We may think we understand his actions, but we can really only catch a glimpse of what he intends. Men can never truly comprehend the ways of the immortal Eldar, and I was very much aware of that as I gazed back into those intense eyes that seemed to pierce all barriers and yet betrayed nothing of themselves.
Then he blinked and released me from a gaze that had been so enveloping that I staggered in shock when he turned away. "Fortune and skill, you say," he said softly, and in his voice was quiet reflection as he once again gazed at the sea. "Such things can indeed guide us along the road of fate." Legolas paused then and turned toward back to me, his eyes once again capturing my complete attention. "I would learn how fortune and skill might guide us upon the waves of the sea, if you would consent to teach me. And I would learn what tools I need to aid my skill. I…I would learn to build a ship."
And so we had come to it. Somehow I knew that this was what Legolas had sought from the beginning, but an elven delight in the dance of words had prevented him from coming straight to the point. Not that I cared, for I also enjoyed the interplay of conversation. Moreover, I felt that Legolas had needed to speak. And I felt he had needed to listen.
But now there was the matter of his request to address. I could certainly teach him to build a ship, but was it right that I should do so? I knew that he desired to remain here in Middle-earth for the time being, but I also knew that the sea called him loudly. Would this call increase with the knowledge of how to escape? And if so, would Legolas continue to resist the summons until he lost his own mind? But even as I pondered these things, I was reminded of my own words. Legolas was not the sole master of his own fate, but he possessed the skills to guide it. He had honed these skills for centuries, and it was not for me to judge him. An errant hand on the helm could upset the intended course, and if an error was to be made, it was best made by the one who knew the ship.
"Come, then," I said after a moment of silence, and I placed a hand upon his shoulder, turning him away from the sea and toward the keep. "I will teach you. We shall breakfast together and then we shall proceed to the docks. But I warn you that you may have to take several more trips to Rohan ere we are through, as you will not learn all you need in a single day. The task you set before yourself is not an easy one, my friend."
"Perhaps not," Legolas said, "but it is necessary. You are right. Fate has set me on this path, and I must learn to ride rather than to control. And as fortune may or may not be mine, I will not begrudge myself the skills I need."
I smiled, pleased that my words were valued enough to be turned and given back to me. "Then you will make a good student. I only hope I am as good a teacher."
"You have already taught me much," Legolas said, and he put a hand on my arm, squeezing gently and revealing subtle strength within graceful fingers. "Thank you."
"The pleasure is mine," I answered quietly. "But now let us go, for time is also very much like the sea. It waits for no one."
He nodded and I led the way down from the ramparts and into the keep. The crashing of the waves against the shore was left behind, but it continued in our hearts. Fate had set us on this path, and the sea would forever call to both of us. It remained to be seen now whether we would have the skill and the fortune to ride out the waves.