Disclaimer: Professor Tolkien's characters don't belong to me; I just get to think about them day and night.

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THE PEOPLE OF THE STARS

"Much evil must befall a country before it wholly forgets the Elves, if once they dwelt there." 'The Ring Goes South', The Fellowship of the Ring

It had been a very long journey for the Lord of Aglarond, but Legolas wished his company, and so he had come. The Elf had said very little about their destination, and they rode far eastward into lands still only sparsely settled. Legolas had seemed very eager to reach the Sea of Rhûn, but to Gimli's surprise, when they finally reached it they did not tarry long at its shores, but rode steadily onwards toward a long range of mountains.

As they rode, he gazed at the monotonous landscape, and sighed. The ground was low and marsh-like, and crossed with many small rivers -- offering few areas of solid, comforting rock. However, he felt more secure as they finally neared the mountains, and was cheered to think that they could not possibly ride any farther east.

Legolas called a halt at the foot of the hills, and Gimli looked about in approval. They had come to a glade of surprising beauty, green and flower-strewn, where springs of fresh water formed small, clear pools. They dismounted, and Legolas walked about slowly, murmuring soft words to several massive trees that stood nearby.

"Speak, Legolas," Gimli said at last. "Why are we here?"

"Gimli," Legolas said quietly, "if you could stand in the very spot where Durin awoke for the first time, would you go there?"

Gimli frowned. "I always planned to visit Mount Gundabad with my father, but Orcs infested the area, blast them. I'm far too old now to even attempt such a trip. This is my last great journey."

"Save one," Legolas smiled.

"Aye, lad. Save one." Gimli peered into his friend's face, which was alight with wonder. "What is it? Where have you brought us?"

"How old are these hills?" Legolas asked suddenly.

Gimli ran a practiced eye over the weathered rocks, and realized that he could not even begin to guess the age of this place. He slowly took in the ancient trees, and the way his friend was standing, almost as if he was afraid to touch anything, including the ground.

"Legolas, is this where..."

"I believe this is all that remains of..." Legolas found he could barely speak the word. "Cuiviénen."

"I have heard the name," Gimli said gravely. "How did you find it?"

"The maps."

Gimli nodded. Aragorn had collected maps from envoys, and sent out his own expeditions to the eastern borders of his realm. He had heard that Legolas spent much time poring over them.

"The Sea of Rhûn is but a fragment of a vast inland sea that once existed, about which my folk still sing," Legolas related. "I was taught that far to the east, between that sea and a ridge of mountains, the Elves were first awakened. When I saw this isolated area of green on the maps, far from any settlements, I knew I had to see for myself. I needed to know... to feel..." He stood tall, a light kindled in his eyes. "This is the place; I am certain of it."

"I am honored," Gimli said, bowing slightly. He went off to set up camp.

Legolas stood quietly, gazing back westward, one hand resting lightly upon a small bush that seemed to quiver at his touch. He wanted to memorize every tree, every whisper of wind, every impression. Here had stood the first of his race... those to whom Middle-earth had been bathed ever and only in starlight. When he reached the Blessed Realm – assuming he could – he would speak with those of the First Ones who yet lived. He would tell them that the Awakening Place, even now, still faintly echoed with their presence.

"I will tell them I found you," he whispered to the wind, the grass, the tumbled stones and ancient trees. He bent to touch a flower, overcome by emotions he could not even name.

That night, while Gimli lay wrapped in sleep at the foot of the solid hills, Legolas walked far out onto the marshy plain that had once been a bay in the Sea of Helcar. No Elf had been here in countless millennia, and perhaps none would ever walk here again. Eventually he stopped, lay down on his back, and closed his eyes. He breathed deeply, his hands palms-down on the ground, anchoring himself to the earth before opening his eyes to the stars that glittered fiercely overhead. It was thus that the Elves began, in wonder and silence; when there was as yet no language, no names, no history. No Sea longing.

"I am coming," he whispered to those who awaited him.

END

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Author notes: The Silmarillion states that "to Cuiviénen there is no returning." But I like to think that even after all the changes of the world, a forgotten remnant might still exist.

The location of Durin's awakening (if known) would be a closely-guarded secret; but by this time in their lives, I doubt Gimli would hesitate to share the information with Legolas.