First of all, humble and sincere gratitude must be extended to Docmon, the amazing beta, for her eternal patience and tireless encouragement. She puts up with a lot from me, and I can only say, "Thank you!" Secondly, this story is a quasi-sequel to another story called "Seas of Fate," but it's not strictly necessary to have read the first in order to understand the second. And thirdly, many thanks to all out there who continue to motivate and support me. You are all priceless! Please enjoy!
She was a small ship. Practically a toy when compared with the lofty vessels that dotted the horizon and crowded the busy harbors of Dol Amroth. But her sleight frame was more than compensated by the care that had gone into her construction, and she rocked in her cradle as a gust of wind caught her mast, seemingly weary of the land beneath her and eager to join the larger ships in the frothy waves. Ropes creaked, wood groaned, and as though to soothe her, Legolas put a steadying hand upon her hull, humming softly.
"She seeks the sea," a quiet voice observed. "It is a good omen."
Legolas lowered his hand and backed away from the ship, turning to greet Imrahil as the Prince of Dol Amroth joined him in the shipyards. "She deems herself ready," Legolas said.
"And what of you?"
"I am eager to see if our work will prove fruitful."
The prince gave him a measuring look but said nothing, instead stepping forward and walking slowly around the ship. From time to time, he would pause to lift a hand and knock upon the hull before resuming the inspection, and at length, he completed the circle and joined Legolas once more. "The planking feels sound. You have laid the last of the oakum?"
Legolas nodded, rubbing his hands together. He could still feel the clinging tar and rope fibers. "Your shipmaster himself instructed me," he said. "He wishes to launch her at first light tomorrow."
"Then we shall do so," Imrahil said, but something in his voice seemed reluctant. His narrowed eyes returned to the ship, and he continued to study her closely.
"You do not believe her to be seaworthy?" Legolas ventured after a moment.
"I said not so."
"But you do not agree with the decision to release her from her cradle."
Imrahil's face might have been chiseled from stone. "Again, you credit me with words I did not speak."
"You had no need to speak them," Legolas said evenly.
The Prince of Dol Amroth sighed, but his eyes did not stray from the ship. "How long have you labored here, Legolas?" he asked. "How long since you first asked me to instruct you in shipbuilding?"
"Five years," Imrahil repeated slowly. "And do you remember what I told you about the sea five years ago?"
"That to brave the sea requires both fortune and skill, for the tides are their own master and bow to no other," Legolas said, wondering at the direction of the conversation.
"You remember correctly," Imrahil said. "Fortune and skill. So now we return to my earlier question. You say that your ship deems herself ready, but what of yourself? Can you also be deemed ready? Have you obtained either fortune or skill?"
Legolas blinked, surprised both by the question and by the fact that he had misunderstood it the first time. "I cannot speak for fortune," he said slowly, "but I have learned much skill. I have served on several of your ships, and I have been tutored by your finest captains. I will never claim to be their equal, but I am certainly capable of guiding my little ship about your harbor."
"Indeed?" Imrahil said, his voice challenging. "And what of beyond the harbor?"
Legolas blinked again. "I had not thought to take her beyond the harbor. You advised against it yourself when first I began constructing her. You said she was too small to venture so far."
"Yet still you built her, knowing that she would never taste the freedom of the open waters." Imrahil shook his head and finally turned to meet Legolas's eyes. "You have not crafted a ship, Lord Legolas, but rather a representation of yourself. And a fine representation it is."
A stirring of anger rose in Legolas's heart, but he thrust it down. "I fear, Lord Imrahil, that I do not comprehend your words."
"Yes, you do," Imrahil said wearily as he turned away again. "You comprehend all too well, but it frightens you and thus you choose to ignore me. Skill you have, and skill you will continue to gain. But until you acknowledge that the sea is the master, you will never find fortune. And neither you nor aught that you craft will ever be seaworthy."
"Since our first discussion, I have never disputed that the sea is the master!" Legolas protested.
"But you have!" Imrahil returned. "You come and you labor, but then you leave. You are drawn away by the call of duty and of friendship. Ever these things sound in your heart, and though I do not doubt that the sea also has a voice, it is not the only voice. It is not the only master. And the sea is jealous. It will not allow another to contest it. If I were to give you command of the greatest ship in my fleet and send you forth, you would not return. Fortune would desert you, and the sea would swallow you whole. Upon those waves, there can be no room for regrets. No room for competing masters."
For a long moment, Legolas stared at him, perplexed. He could not deny the truth in Imrahil's words. While the sea-longing was strong and deep, rarely allowing aught in the way of reprieve from its cry, there were stronger forces with deeper roots that drew Legolas back from the waters, and thus he remained in Middle-earth. But why did this now prompt such concern from Imrahil?
Perhaps taking the elf's silence for denial, Imrahil turned to him and continued, his voice becoming earnest. "Legolas, you must understand your own limitations. You cannot sail. Not yet. Not to the West and not even out of the harbor. Not until the sea overcomes all that anchors you here. As for when that will be, only you can discern, but until such time, you must accept that the sea will not find you worthy. The temptation to venture further and further from the shore will be great, for you have learned the needed skills. But you will destroy any hope you have of fortune so long as you have masters other than the sea."
"You agreed to instruct me in this when I came to you five years ago," Legolas pointed out, his confusion growing.
"So I did, but I misjudged your readiness. When first you asked, I had thought that your sea-longing was indeed the master. It was only later that I recognized how it competed against your other duties."
Confusion began to give way to anger. "You have also consented to launch my ship tomorrow."
"I am not one to leave a task unfinished," Imrahil said. "But afterwards, I beg that you leave the sea behind until you are truly worthy of it. I will not deny you passage. The ship is yours to do with as you please, and I cannot gainsay that. Yet even so, I would ask you to let it lie. Go back to those who truly rule your heart until they rule no longer. Then, and only then, should you return."
The prince's words were soft, but steel lay beneath the tone. It was a plea, a warning, and a command, and Legolas's anger warred against the concern in Imrahil's eyes. "Then for what purpose have I labored here?" he demanded.
There was a pause, and when Imrahil answered, his voice was gentle. "I had thought to ask you."
Legolas pressed his lips into a firm line and closed his eyes, attempting to make sense of his feelings. "Why have you not spoken of this before?"
"As I said earlier, I was unaware of your intent. In some respects, I still am." A hand fell upon Legolas's shoulder, and he opened his eyes to find Imrahil watching him closely. "Understand that I speak now on behalf of your welfare. I have come to call you friend and thus in good conscience could not remain silent. You tread a dangerous path, one with which my family is familiar." There was a pause, and then, "What do you know of Amroth?"
The question surprised Legolas, but it also managed to draw his mind away from his confusion. "You forget that you speak to the son of Thranduil," he said. "When Amdír and Oropher were killed in the Battle of Dagorlad, Amroth and Thranduil became the rulers of Lothlórien and Greenwood. After Gil-galad was slain, they were the last elves in Middle-earth to claim the title of king. My father spoke often of Amroth when I was young."
Imrahil's eyes widened slightly and he released his hold on the elf's shoulder. "You knew him?"
"Nay," Legolas denied with a shake of his head. "I was conceived shortly after he was lost."
"But you know the tale of Amroth and Nimrodel?"
"Every elf east of the Misty Mountains knows the tale of Amroth and Nimrodel," Legolas said, his voice softening as memories of music in twilight glades filled his mind. "Even in the northern fastness of Greenwood, songs are still sung of that loss."
"Then perhaps you know more of the tale than I," Imrahil said, and he turned now to the sea as it began to take on the colors of the sinking sun. "But if you will permit me, I would share with you the legend as it is told in the lore of my people. It is said that after Amroth and Nimrodel plighted their troth, they sought a land of peace, for Nimrodel would only wed if such a land could be found. To this end, Amroth left his people and took Nimrodel into the realm of Gondor. But there was great unrest in the land, and Amroth and Nimrodel became separated. Hopeful that she would seek the Havens in Belfalas, Amroth made his way there and joined a small group of elves who had managed to obtain one seaworthy ship. They intended to sail ere the autumn winds made the sea too dangerous, but such was Amroth's grief at the thought of leaving Nimrodel behind that the company tarried far longer than was safe. Then one night, a storm forced the ship loose from its moors, and when morning dawned, Amroth woke to discover that they were far from shore. He dove into the sea against all efforts to prevent him, and those aboard the ship could only watch as he battled tides that pulled him further and further from land. He was never again seen in Middle-earth."
"I have heard many versions of the tale," Legolas said, watching Imrahil closely. "I am familiar with this one."
"Then you will understand the lesson that we in Belfalas take from it," Imrahil said, returning the elf's sharp look with one of his own. "If you seek the sea, you cannot also seek the land. The waters will take you whither they will, and to war against them is a fool's errand. The farther you venture, the stronger the winds blow until all moorings break and you are swept away. If this is your intent, so be it. But if, like Amroth, you seek to tarry, then there is no place for you on those waters."
The warning in Imrahil's tone was unmistakable, and it was now accompanied by an undercurrent of fear. Legolas had no defense against that. His own safety aside, he could not pursue his present course if his actions were to be the cause of grief for his friends. They were the reason he tarried, after all, and while his heart might be torn, theirs need not be. Not on his behalf, at least.
Closing his eyes, he bowed his head and shivered as the southern breeze blew over him. "What would you have me do?"
"Just as I have asked," Imrahil said quietly. "Send your ship forth tomorrow. Sail the harbor. But afterwards, do not seek the sea. Not until the sea is all you seek."
A small, bitter smile found its way onto Legolas's face as he slowly looked up. He focused upon the gray ship that rocked in her cradle, small but beautiful with elegant lines and a swift, sure hull. He saw her eagerness and the long months in which he had labored. But now he saw also her failings and the futility of his efforts. His desire to remain in Middle-earth had stunted her growth and thwarted her abilities. She would never race the great ships. She would never find the Straight Path that led beyond the Circles of the World. She was a token gesture. Nothing more. A ploy to assuage a dangerous yearning. "Then my ship is not seaworthy after all," he murmured.
"No. In that, she but follows her captain, as all good ships do." Imrahil's hand returned to Legolas's shoulder, and he squeezed tightly. "And for that, my friend, I am grateful."
Legolas's smile became less bitter, but he said nothing. What was there to say? Forcing his eyes away from his ship, he instead turned to the harbor, listening to the calling gulls and watching the ships upon the horizon as sea and sky played out their myriad colors beneath the setting sun.
One day, he would follow that sun. One day, he would seek the West. But until then, he would hold himself worthy of friendship instead of the sea. That would be his master. So resolved, he anchored his heart and drew his mind back from the circling gulls. He would follow them soon enough, but for now, the sea would have to wait.