Chapter 10: That First Step
~~~Chapter 10: That First Step~~~
The morning the Fellowship departed was misty and heavy with unspoken regrets. Wesley stood with the Elves, grey cloak drawn tightly around his shoulders. It was not the morning chill he attempted to ward off, but the bone-deep feeling of loss.
They were leaving, and he was staying behind.
He watched as Boromir tightened his sword belt; Sam repacked his satchel once again; Legolas sharpened a blade before sliding it back into its sheath. Ordinary, everyday activities. It was a facsimile of the activities his companions had undergone each morning before Wesley’s walk with the Hobbits. He’d watched Sam fuss with his pack dozens of times. The fastidious gardener would make sure everyone was well-fed, if nothing else.
Wesley’s breath caught. Who knew if he’d ever see them again? If he’d hear Pippin’s bright chatter or Merry’s sharp retorts? He had no idea if these companions would disappear into the mist with nary a backward glance, and he would be left with an-- albeit increasingly defrosting-- stiffly formal elf and a rusty dwarven axe.
As if reading his thoughts, Pippin appeared by his side, tugging on his tunic. “Wish you could come with us.”
He smiled down at the Hobbit. “Me too, but I would just slow you down.”
“No, you wouldn’t!” Pippin protested, but his face was grim. Even unspoken, they both knew how things would turn out. Wesley wasn’t one of their band: he was an accidental traveler, pulled along on their ride. He knew more about their plight than they realized, courtesy of his conversations with Haldir.
The elf never came out and said that the dark burden weighing down Frodo was a ring of power, but the way they all danced around the significance of the cloud of depression following the party was enough to guarantee it. Wes could see the way its seductive call affected them, and he knew who was behind the current crisis. But he had no place in their fight. They had been given a task, one they did not feel appropriate to share with him. As much as that hurt, he understood.
So he stood beside a stoic elf he’d never seen before, one who was holding gifts of lembas bread and fresh water in sturdy skins. Wes grasped the arm of each member of that little band as they passed his way and wished them Godspeed, not that they knew what he was saying. When he came to Boromir, however, he didn’t let go immediately. The two men surveyed each other across an ever-narrowing gap of experiences and exchanged smiles.
“You’ll be fine here; the elves will take care of you,” Boromir said. He frowned a bit and snuck a glance over his shoulder at the filling boats.
“And you’ll be fine as well,” Wesley replied. “Keep my words in mind when you travel, my friend.”
The Man nodded. “It has been enlightening.”
“Indeed.” Wes released his friend. “And we both know how empty these assurances are. Men of action do not need the platitudes.”
At that, Boromir chuckled. “Die well, my friend. We can afford ill else.”
The man of Gondor seemed to want to add more, but changed his mind. He shook his shaggy head and added, “Keep your axe clean and your head out of trouble. You know how tricksy these elven folks can be.”
Wesley chuckled and responded, “No more so than my friends at home. We were always skipping from disaster to disaster.”
“And then you landed here.” Boromir smoothed his over-tunic. “And for my part, I’m glad to have met you.” He nodded one last time and joined Merry and Pippin in the low boat.
The former watcher stood on the bank of the river wearing strange clothes and listening to strange words as the elves wished the Fellowship well. Their words were lyrical, music and charm in vocalization, and he experienced a flash of longing to learn it. One by one, the elves slipped back through the trees.
The graceful boats drifted further down stream, eventually becoming totally obscured by the trailing mists. Long after they were gone from sight, he heard Pippin and Merry arguing about some point of pipe-weed discussion, set against the background splashes of oars in water. Still Wesley stood, straining his eyes, until a soft hand on his elbow made him turn.
Galadriel stood near, the overwhelming force of her presence buffeting him like a warm breeze. She gazed out across the River Celebrant, blue eyes unfocused. Wesley wondered what she saw in the mist: the future, the past, or the soul-crushing now. They remained together for a while, standing in silence.
Eventually the sun climbed higher, driving the remaining mist away. Sparkles of light filtered through the leaves, shimmering on the water. A bucolic vision, much as Wesley imagined pastoral England to be in past times. He almost expected Robin Hood and his Merry Band of Thieves to burst from the trees in hot pursuit of some lumpy landlord.
But the far bank remained peaceful, free from roaming brigands and other figments of imagination. Wesley was old enough to have forgotten whimsy, or had it beaten out of him by well-meaning Watchers. There was no room for could-bes or would-have-beens in his old world. Maybe he could find room for them now.
Wesley sighed deeply, shoulders slumping. It was not meant to be.
“Fear not; you are not set adrift with nary a purpose to be found.” The elven Lady touched Wesley’s stubbly cheek with a smooth, pale hand. “It is a sad day, to be sure, but do not think your tale is over. It is just beginning, but perhaps not in the manner which you expected.”
“How do you stay behind when you know in your bones that you could make a difference? This is not my world, not my fight, but how can I do nothing?”
For a moment, Galadriel said nothing. “You have been granted a sight that few mortals have seen.”
“The mirror in the water?”
“Indeed. You have seen the possibilities.”
“But how does that change things? What can one man do to alter the world?”
“The fate of the entire land of Men rests in the hands of one small Hobbit, so I hope for all our sakes that one man can indeed alter the future.” Her silky hair floated on an early morning breeze, tendrils curling around Wesley’s shoulders.
Wesley was shocked. He had put together some of the events driving the current pilgrimage of that unique band of Men, Elves and Dwarves, but to have it confirmed was alarming. He made as if to speak but couldn’t find the words. Galadriel seemed to think there was something important in his visions, but for the life of him he couldn’t decipher what he was supposed to do.
The scenes of Angel, Gunn, Fred and his father seemed rather ridiculously inapplicable to the current situation. That left only the scenes of battle and death and the golden-haired woman. He could almost feel the heat of the blood and gore around him- smell the stench of ruptured intestines and despoiled corpses. He shook himself to clear his head.
Unbidden the vision of the woman rose again. She was glorious in her rage, full of a fire that reminded him of Faith, before her betrayal. She moved with the grace of a fighter, but still her eyes burned with thwarted ambition that made Lilah look like a petty schoolgirl. Wesley thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
Galadriel gave a small, secret smile and shook her head. She touched his cheek again and he leaned towards her, relishing the contact. She smelled of sun-warmed wildflowers and bright, sweet wine. A heartbeat later, she turned and slid back through the trees.
He watched her go with eyes envious of her calm assurance. His face was schooled in serious lines, but inside, Wesley’s stomach was doing flips. His last contacts with the humans in this strange world were sailing to an uncertain doom. He was a man alone.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
From his place behind the trunk of a golden mallorn, Haldir observed his charge. Wesley was facing away, gazing out over the rippling waters. Though the river was little more than an overly ambitious stream at this point, eventually it would reach the Nimroden river and eventually empty into the Anduin. That broad body of water flowed through Osgiliath in Gondor.
He wondered if this wayward Man would ever find himself in that fallen stronghold of the greatest of Men. He had never been to Minas Tirith himself, but he had overheard the son of the Steward of Gondor natter on about the beauty of the white towers often enough. As far as Haldir was concerned, nothing could rival the beauty of the Golden Wood.
Initially, he’d resisted Celeborn’s request to help acclimate the Man, but the more he got to know him, the more curious he became. Galadriel seemed to think he was important, and what Galadriel wanted, Celeborn was happy to oblige.
Wesley was an enigma of a certainty but one that Haldir was beginning to enjoy. Once he got past the initial distaste of dealing with an unlooked-for burden, Haldir thought this situation could work towards his advantage. Wesley had a fire about him, a sense of duty that the Warden could relate to, and which he felt compelled to engage. If he was feeling positive, he would have to admit it was a nice break from running patrols to de-infest an wandering Orcs.
The golden-haired elf stepped forward, slinging his bow to his hand with ease. “It is too early to be brooding.”
Wesley turned, shoulders stiff. “I am not … brooding.”
Haldir chuckled. “Whatever you say. I think I could use some exercise and it would be a shame to waste such a beautiful morning.”
Wesley looked unconvinced, but curious. “What sort of exercise?”
“I’ve seen your axe and I know it must have come from Moria. If you are to remain here in Caras Galadhon you should learn some of our ways, our weapons, not to mention our language. You must have noticed that the elves do not speak the Common Tongue, Westron, the language of your companions.”
Wesley nodded, now intrigued. He took a few steps from the edge of the river and began to follow Haldir through the trees. The elf was pleased with himself; he knew how much Wesley loved languages and learning.
“We speak Sindarin, one of the languages of the elves. I am sure you will have no problem learning it,” Haldir said. “Shall we begin? The name for that axe you are so fond of is hathol.”
“Hathol,” Wesley echoed, pushing aside a tree branch.
Haldir led the way back to a more populated clearing. His initial inclination-- to challenge Wesley’s skill with a blade and skill with languages at the same time-- was proving to be fortuitous. If he had to play babysitter, at least it was to someone who could provide a smidgeon of intellectual stimulation. Besides, there was something in the intensity of Wesley’s response that was decidedly encouraging.
He could hear Wesley behind him, softly muttering, “Axe is hathol.”
~~~~End Chapter 10~~~