Sail Away. Sail Away...
And the ship's come round
And she's waiting at the harbour
Be prepared to get on board
I never knew that the light of ages
Breaks the way before us
Sail away. Sail away…The Ship. C & R MacDonald.
‘It is the last spring,’ Tindómë thought. ‘Well, the last here. And who knows – maybe it’s always summer in the Undying Lands…’
Actually Glorfindel, when closely questioned one day in Imladris, had said that there were
seasons there, and things weren’t really completely undying. Trees grew and fell, crops grew and withered if not harvested, and animals were born and died… unless, he had added, things had changed since his youth. Tindómë had tried not to imagine how long ago that must have been as such things still gave her headaches!
This spring could not be stopped, or even slowed down; trees were unfurling new leaves and, in the glades beneath them where the Elves had slowly healed the earth, bluebells were now in flower. It was, Tindómë thought, the very weather in which an aging dwarf might set out from Aglarond hoping that it wouldn’t rain, and the sunshine would stop his knees hurting.
She had, therefore, set herself the task of preparing Gimli’s cottage for his last stay. Much though she still wished for vacuum cleaners, and the Laundromat, clearing out all the dust that had blown in over the winter, and putting bedding and linen out to air, at least kept her busy. And, somehow, being busy was better than simply enjoying the sunshine.
Others seemed to agree with her. Heavy winter cloaks were being washed prior to packing them, shutters thrown open, cottages cleaned… even though the occupants would soon be leaving.
The ship was complete. Cabin space and storage space were being sorted out, and the name Legolas had chosen was carved into her stern; ‘Heart of Eryn Ithil’, as she was made from the forest and carried its people. The Telerin shipwright had been joined by a couple of sailors from The Havens, sent by Círdan who clearly did not want there to be any possibility of two of the Nine Walkers getting lost at sea.
Tindómë wondered what they would do with the ship when they got there – but even the sailors seemed a bit unsure. She imagined it becoming a sort of floating hotel like the Queen Mary
– or maybe it would be, like, Legolas’ private yacht. It amused her, and kept her mind from any more serious worries.
Anyway, Legolas had left plans to show what, and who, would go where on board; and Tindómë was quite glad to find that her small family of four had a cabin to themselves, with lots of room for all the trunks containing folios of paintings, and drawings, that were to be given to Arwen’s family. All Tindómë could hope now was that Rumil was right, and Haldirin would return from Eryn Lasgalen to take up his place in their cabin.
It was another two weeks before Gimli arrived with all his possessions contained in two small trunks. Very heavy trunks.
“Tools,” he said, waving at one. “I’m not old enough, yet, to live out my years without ever working metal again.”
Next he nodded towards the other one. “Clean clothes…” he said, and then grinned at Tindómë before continuing “and mithril and gems. That’s what they’d expect a dwarf to carry – why disappoint them, eh, lass? There may well be things that the lad or I, or you and yours, will need to finance there – and mithril and gems should be a fairly well understood currency…”
She smiled – he was right about the expectations, she thought – and right, too, that some sort of financing might be required, if only to enable them to build the dwarf a forge of his own.
Once settled into his cottage Gimli went to have a look at the ship. He was to share Legolas’ cabin; there was a low bunk that he might easily get into. He walked all around the vessel, Tindómë and Ithilienne at hand, muttering about wood, and fragility, and foolishness when they didn’t know how far the trip was… Tindómë recognised that he was simply worrying about the whole enterprise in general. To be honest, so was she – the whole ‘not knowing what to expect at all once they left the mouth of the Anduin’ thing was… scary.
Ithilienne, however, was whispering to her mother, “Naneth – do you really think Gimli thinks it would work to build a ship of metal? It would sink!”
And it occurred to Tindómë, not for the first time, how different was her daughter’s upbringing from her own. Easiest, too, not to explain ships like the Queen Mary
, or the USS Nimitz
, but she would tell Gimli about them; he would understand, and enjoy the possibilities of building a metal ship. It might help distract both of them.
The bluebells had faded and the columbine was in flower before the message came that those who were returning from Eryn Lasgalen had been sighted. Only when Rumil reassured his wife that he could see both his brother and his son did Tindómë feel something un-knot in her chest.
She hadn’t really thought that Lithôniel’s family would persuade their daughter and daughter-husband to stay, or that Rhîwen would persuade Haldirin to let her uncle sail without him, but she had not been sure.
This would be the last time Tindómë would welcome family home to Eryn Ithil, too. She remembered the first time – when Legolas had led the archers back from war with the Haradrim. That had been a formal welcome; this would not be.
She hugged them all, Haldirin first, then Orophin, Lithôniel, and Legolas last. He looked as if he needed a hug. His skin seemed tauter over his cheek bones, and his eyes looked sad and tired. It was hurting him to leave – but it would kill him, she thought, to stay.
‘Huitho! If I ever meet any of the Valar I might be inclined to tell them it was a real shitty trick to pull on him, considering he’s one of their big heroes,’ she thought, not for the first time. But now the time when she might get the chance was getting closer and closer…
It was the next evening before Tindómë got Legolas to herself. Haldirin had already told her that Rhîwen planned to sail sometime in the next century or two – which must have been a relief to Legolas – at least one member of his family planned to follow him. Probably, Tindómë acknowledged, it was something of a relief to Haldirin, too – there was certainly friendship, if nothing more serious, between the two. Her son had also told her of Legolas’ question about houseless fëar; it confirmed the reasons he had given to herself and Rumil when they wondered why he had asked for Haldirin’s companionship on the trip.
“How are you, atheg?” she asked Legolas. “Really?”
“Not as bad as I had expected, nethig,” he answered – and he really did sound as if he meant it. “I have now at least some
hope that Adar might, eventually, decide to sail.”
“Rhîwen? Will she be enough to make him want to come? I know Haldirin seems to have convinced him that your mother’s fëa is not still there. That must help.”
“Yes… he need have no guilt that he leaves her behind; and he has the possibility of being reunited with her. If she is not houseless in the Greenwood then she must, surely, have gone to Mandos’ Halls and could, already, await us in Aman. Adar and I spoke about many things and he promised me that he no longer refused to consider, eventually, sailing.”
Tindómë had the vague feeling that there was something he wasn’t saying – but he changed the subject, discussing how Gimli looked, and she knew there would be no more conversation about his father - the subject was closed.
Mid-summer. There would be feasting, singing, and dancing. There was little need to keep food back for the winter… There would be a bonfire to jump and everyone, ellyn, ellyth, the settlement’s two elflings, all would jump because all wanted blessings for what they were doing next; be it sailing or remaining. But there would be no ribbons.
Legolas had put it to his people that, for this last celebration in Middle Earth for those who were sailing, it would be good for all to dance with friends and neighbours whether bound or unbound. And they had all agreed, although he would not be surprised if there were still one or two wagers being made tonight – they were, after all, Wood Elves.
Now he was dressed in his celebratory clothing, ready to go amongst these Elves who had followed him here and accepted him as their lord, many of whom were ready to follow him along the straight way – the way of no return no matter what life held there.
He straightened his shoulders. He was
their Lord – he would ensure that life there would be good for them. Time, as Tindómë had once told him, to put on his big boy pants! In more ways than one, he added.
He moved from group to group, as they ate, taking a morsel here, another there, and sipping now and again from the glass he carried with him. Time, eventually, to light the bonfire.
Before he did so he spoke, very briefly. “Wherever we are next midsummer, I promise that I will have a bonfire to light – and I would have as many who want to, to dance around it with me.”
There were cheers and shouts of agreement. He lit the fire.
At mid-winter they had all stood as if they had not wanted to break the spell by dancing – but tonight the music began within minutes of the first flame.
Now, he thought, to start the dancing. He walked purposefully towards Tindómë’s family, but this time he went to Ithilienne.
“For my last celebration in Ithilien it is only right that my partner is the elleth who will carry the name into the West,” he said clearly, before holding out his hand.
Then, as he drew her towards himself, he added quietly “Although I would have asked you no matter what your parents had called you.”
Her smile lit up her whole being, as she moved into the clearing with him. This time, as the dance came to an end, he leant towards her and, rather than kissing her and offering her a ribbon, touched his forehead to hers and stood like that for a little.
It felt very right, he thought, as others began to dance around them.
As the night went on he danced with every elleth left – even the youngest elfling. As the first light of day tinged the sky he sought out Ithilienne and asked her to dance again. As they walked, fingers just touching, to the middle of the dancers, Legolas let himself simply be – no attempt to hold himself back from her as he had done these past ten or fifteen years.
He remembered Tindómë saying she had been very conscious of where Rumil’s skin touched hers, right from the first, but much less so with Orophin, or with Legolas himself. He had understood the theory. Now that he allowed himself to, he could feel that slight tingle. Ithilienne said nothing, and neither did he, but as they danced her hroar fitted itself to his easily. There was, he thought, a definite hint of the desires of the body; but this was not the night to consider doing anything more about those desires than enjoy them for themselves.
As the dance ended, however, Ithilienne reached up and brought his head down the four or five inches to hers so that their lips met. It was a sweet kiss, a gentle kiss, and Legolas could feel it from the soles of his feet. It was not a long kiss. Ithilienne placed her hand on his arm and they walked towards Gimli. Nothing had happened between them that had not happened at the last few solstice celebrations – and yet there was a sense of promise.
Legolas wondered how to acknowledge what he was sure she had felt, too. Fine for Adar to say “Talk to the elleth…” but he had not given Legolas any clue as to what to say! Then, just before they were within Gimli’s earshot, Ithilienne spoke almost as if she was answering a question he had not been able to form.
“I would like to go starlight bathing with you, Legolas Thranduilion, but not just yet. I wonder if the Elves of the West bathe in the sea by starlight?”
A week later Legolas was still wondering about his father’s advice to ‘talk to her parents’. There was nothing tangible to talk about. He had kissed their daughter. He had done the same thing at midsummer before, and at midwinter, just as he had kissed many other ellyth in his life – and more than one mortal. It was not as if he had asked Ithilienne to go starlight bathing with him; after all, he thought with a slight smile, he already knew what her answer would be. He had not even asked her to walk in the quiet forest with him; his only conversation with her, since the solstice celebration, had been to accept some breakfast from her when he had called to talk to her father.
He sought out Gimli to take his mind off this puzzle.
The dwarf was sitting in the sunshine outside his cottage, deep in thought. “Ah, lad,” he welcomed Legolas, “I was just thinking of you.”
Legolas sat down and waited. After a minute or two his friend continued talking.
“I don’t think I will need a large forge where we are going.”
‘Well,’ thought Legolas, ‘if that is a thought about me the connection is not immediately obvious!’
“No,” Gimli went on, “I think more a workshop for small craftings like your betrothal rings – and your wedding rings, if you would honour me by letting me craft them for you. Even though, with the lass being so young, I don’t suppose I’ll live to see the day. But I would like to think of you having them ready – and thinking of me.”
Legolas tried hard to stop his jaw dropping. Gimli laughed, a deep, throaty chuckle, and then spoke again.
“Mithril wedding rings are most prized amongst my own folk. Would they suit?”
“Uh… wedding rings?” Legolas finally stuttered.
“And jewellery for her,” Gimli continued calmly, looking as if he was greatly enjoying the conversation. “Emeralds would be very suitable, with you being a prince of wood elves, and they would suit her colouring very well, wouldn’t you say?”
They certainly would, but… “Am I that obvious, old friend?” Legolas asked.
“To me, anyway. But then I know you well; and I was watching you, rather than dancing. The two of you had ‘that look’.” Gimli nodded gently and then went on. “It is a pity I hadn’t realised before I left Aglarond. I wonder if I can get moonstones easily when we get over there, or should I take one last trip to Minas Tirith…?”
As it turned out, Legolas did not have to make any decision about his father’s advice to ‘talk to her parents’.
Only one more day had passed after the unexpected conversation with Gimli. A summer storm sprung up, and the wind through the trees reminded him of the sea. He could not stay outdoors – even now, so close to the time when he would finally sail to the West, he thought he could hear the gulls, wanted to start walking, or grab a small boat and let the current take him down river… As the rain began he escaped to his favourite spot in the Small Hall; he closed the shutters and sat, with his knees drawn up, cradled by the branch and trunk of one of the trees that supported the building.
He had not been there long when the door opened and Tindómë came in, throwing her rain speckled cloak-hood back from her hair, and then, as she took the cloak off, uncovering a small basket.
“Is it bad?” she asked.
“Yes,” he admitted. “I thought that, if my heart knew I was going to go, it would not ache so any more. But, perhaps this will be the last time…”
She sat beside him, and then passed him bread, cheese, and wine.
“Thank you, nethig,” he said.
“Should you still call me that?” Tindómë asked, to Legolas' surprise.
“You would want me to stop?” he asked.
“Well… I thought it might be easier, when we get to the West, if there was no chance of any misunderstanding. No chance anyone would think we were blood relatives. I thought, perhaps, I should go back to calling you gwador.” Her voice was very calm, almost expressionless.
Legolas had a sinking feeling. He was pretty sure where this was leading, and he had not really wanted to go there, not just yet.
“If you insist, nethig – I will try to remember to call you by your given name – but I would be very sad to think you no longer wanted to be my small sister. I will have little enough family when we get to Valinor – but if you no longer want
to be family to me…”
He was surprised to feel tears forming. She must have noticed, as she placed a finger under his chin and turned his face towards hers before she spoke again.
“You have been the best brother I can imagine. But it seems to Rumil and me that perhaps you might not wish anyone to see you as an uncle to Ithilienne.”
“I… I… I do not know what to say, neth… Tindómë.”
“Legolas – I have known you long enough to recognise that your relationship with Ithilienne is not like your relationship with me, or with any of the other ellyth. It’s not like your relationship with Merilwen, or Nilariel, or any of the others who have been born here either. I thought you might be embarrassed by her attempts to flirt with you – but you said not. And you did not look embarrassed to be dancing with her at midsummer…”
Legolas looked at his knees. He felt rather like an elfling caught sneaking cakes off the table before the guests arrived. He was supposed to be Tindómë’s big brother – he should not be giving her worries about her daughter.
The finger under his chin tipped his face upwards so that it became impossible to study the weave of his leggings.
“Don’t worry,” she said, with a slight smile, “I’m not going to shout at you – especially when you are feeling rotten with sea-longing. I might have wanted to shout at you when it first occurred to me that the ‘thing’ between the two of you might not just be all one-sided – but I have a very composed husband… and I’ve calmed down in the two or three years I’ve had to think about it.”
“Two or three years?” he could not prevent himself from asking, surprised.
“More – but Rumil and I only really spoke about it seriously when… when Aragorn died and you began to plan the ship.”
Had it been that
obvious? He had tried so hard to avoid any sign of being attracted to Ithilienne!
“I have not done anything… anything… um…” he could not really think of the right words.
“Atheg! You don’t need to apologise. Ithilienne is an adult and so, even if you had joined with her out on the middle of the dance floor last week, there would have been nothing wrong
She suddenly stopped and for a second her eyes lost focus, then she laughed – “And at least we’d still have been able to reach the food…” **
Then “Oops! I said ‘atheg’...”
“I would not have you stop calling me your brother in that way,” Legolas said. “I do not want our relationship to change – unless you are very angry with me about Ithilienne.”
“There’s no point in being angry, is there?” Tindómë spoke quietly, almost sadly. “It’s not as if I ever wanted you that way myself – that was never ever part of things, was it? And, as my beloved says, it is what it is. If you and Ithilienne are meant to be, you’re meant to be. And,” she added, “whatever happened between the two of you, during the dancing last week, she is much happier – and it reminded me of how I felt when Rumil avoided me when we were in Minas Tirith back when I first… arrived.”
Legolas remembered – although, to be honest, it had only occurred to him whilst he was in Eryn Lasgalen that his behaviour might be affecting Ithilienne the same way. Then he had felt torn between upsetting the mother or the daughter.
“So, yeah,” the mother in question continued, “and when I thought about it, it’s not as if you’re absolutely ancient or anything – it’s not like it was Glorfindel – you’ve not had to wait as long for her, if the two of you do end up together, as Rumil did for me or Lithôniel did for Orophin – Rumil and I – we’ll deal. No – it was more that I thought it might be difficult for you, because of Ithilienne, if people in the west thought you and I were blood kin.”
Legolas felt as if he was suddenly lighter – he had not realised just what a weight there had been on his fëa worrying that Tindómë might be unhappy that he was attracted to her daughter. He sat up straight and smiled at her, remembering his father’s words.
“Nethig, everyone who knows us knows our relationship – and the most important beings of all know exactly
how unrelated we are. And if any jumped-up Noldorin lordling wants to make a fool of himself over something which is not his affair…”
“Go us!” Tindómë said. “We’ll just confuse them all totally and then laugh at them. If we can deal, they can. There is so an up-side too, you know. Rumil pointed out to me that, if you and Ithilienne do find your fëar winding together in the music, then at least your wife will be someone I like, not the daughter of ‘some jumped up Noldorin lordling’!”
(**In “Starlight Bathing” – Tindómë says “I’d have been ready if you’d stripped my dress off of me and joined with me in the middle of the dance floor at my party!”
And Rumil answers “Ah, but then people would have had to step over us to reach the food, meleth…”
It was the last night. Tomorrow the ship would slip her moorings and they would be on their way.
Tindómë and Rumil lay together bodies as closely entwined as it was possible to be – drawing strength and comfort from each other. Outside others were sitting in the warm night air, singing, but the occasional soft giggle or cry of passion drifted in through the open windows. Tindómë let her mind drift into sleep but she knew Rumil would stay awake, remembering every minute.
The last morning. Orophin arrived almost as soon as Tindómë and Rumil left their bed, and the brothers carefully took the bed apart – then went to Orophin’s home to do the same thing. They had worked together to carve the beds for their binding nights, and would take them with them.
The last of the personal belongings were being packed, only those things already gifted to those who would not leave just yet would be left behind.
Now came the last time she would climb down the stairs from their home – the home where they had made those binding vows, the home where Haldirin and Ithilienne had been born… Tindómë straightened her shoulders and held her head up – she tried not to cry – it would upset Rumil who walked beside her, and Legolas who waited below.
She could not hold the tears back – but she was not the only one – even Galanthir’s eyes were suspiciously bright as he joined them on the walk down to the river and helped put everything into their cabins.
And then it was a first. The first time Tindómë had been on the ship as the gangplank was pulled up and the mooring ropes were untied. There was a slight breeze blowing down the river – the Valar seemed to be helping them on their way. The Telerin sailors, and their able Silvan assistants, slowly raised the sails and, as they did so, Legolas went to the ship’s stern. As everyone watched he unfolded the silk he had been carrying; it caught the wind and unfurled.
Anyone on the banks of the Anduin as the ship glided past would have seen that each of the great white sails was decorated with a great tree below a silver moon – the device of Ithilien. And there would be no doubt, when they reached their destination, who this ship bore into the west; at her stern flew a banner of rich green, embroidered with gold oak leaves – the mark of the Royal house of Eryn Lasgalen.
Then Legolas waved Gimli over and took from his friend another silken banner – dark grey, embroidered with dwarven runes in threads of mithril, it was the banner of the Lord of the Glittering Caves.
‘Yes!’ thought Tindómë, ‘We are totally not going to sidle in and hope nobody notices, for sure!’
Voices began to sing around her. Rumil stood behind her and held her to him. Somewhere she could make out Haldirin’s voice, and Ithilienne came and stood beside her, resting her head on Tindómë’s shoulder. No-one looked back.
There was the first meal on board, and then the first night. Most of the elves stayed on the decks; the soft singing went on all through the hours of darkness, as the ship continued on down the river.
No sign was seen of Gimli above deck after he had added his banner to his friend’s – and Legolas said he had asked for no-one to come to him in their cabin – he was embarrassed by infirmity. Another first, Tindómë commented to her family – the first dwarf ever to be sea-sick. Well, except that they were still on the river. But in the second evening Legolas took a small bowl of soup into the cabin, and Rumil said there were no more sounds of retching…
On the third morning Gimli joined Tindómë as she sat up on deck. He looked pale.
“How long do you think this journey is going to take, lass?” he asked.
“I think we might get to the sea today, and then… well I just don’t know. I’m kind of expecting weeks rather than an hour or two, though.”
“I don’t think I’ll live that long,” Gimli muttered.
Legolas joined them – his hair catching the breeze his eyes shining – he looked as glowing with health as Gimli looked ill.
“I have been up the rigging,” he began.
‘You and every elf on the ship, atheg,’ Tindómë thought. In fact it was a good thing there was plenty of stuff in the holds to act as ballast or the weight of elves in the rigging might have overturned the ship. Probably best, though, not to say so in front of Gimli in case it made him even more worried!
Legolas was still speaking. “We are coming to the mouth of the river soon – the sea is before us.”
“Oh good,” said Gimli, his voice dripping sarcasm.
Yet, somehow, by the time the mouth of the river was visible even at deck level Legolas had persuaded Gimli to come forward, to the bow, because the salt-air would be good for his constitution, and helped him to his feet. Tindómë took the dwarf’s other arm, to help balance him, and was aware of both Haldirin and Ithilienne hovering somewhere behind in case further assistance was required.
As they reached the bow gulls circled above them and the movement of the ship changed as the first wave of an incoming tide lifted her. Almost automatically Gimli’s hand reached for the crystal that he wore around his neck…
And when, later, Legolas and Tindómë saw Rumil’s picture of the moment both remembered that shared dream that had set them off on this journey; “We could hear the gulls, see the open sea ahead, feel the breeze behind us, and we knew where we were going. And we both saw you, with your keepsake of the Lady Galadriel held in your hand, as you looked with us towards the West…”
The roll of the wind
As we sail across the water
The roll of the sea
As we're taken through the night
The dimming lamp of day
Leaves the crimson foam and spray
Across the face of the mighty Atlantic
In this cradle we found love
In our lifetimes we were broken
By the spirit we were turned
Here we touched the hope divine
And in the rapture and the charm
Came the tranquil and the calm
On the rage of the mighty Atlantic
The brightness of the lights
As they stretch across the water
The excitement of the night
As we're carried through the seas
There's a welcome lies in store
The strongest arms I've ever known
In the homes of the mighty Atlantic
For the roll it is gentle
As the waves, they guide you over
Full new moon across the stern flag
Our different worlds in constant motionThe Mighty Atlantic. C & R McDonald.
The moments when they first reach the shores of the West are described in the Epilogue to In The Winter Garden.
Disclaimer: Many of the characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only, and all rights remain with the estate of JRR Tolkien. (And Joss Whedon if he is at all bothered that Tindómë once spent a short time in his care...)