Red Sky at Night
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or any of the Celtic blessings or lullabies. (And the time some were written or produced does NOT denote the time of this story. I'm just using them because I love them, so bear with me and set your historical accuracies aside, if you would.) I also want it said here that what little geographical and cartographical knowledge of Arda I use is taken from The Atlas of Middle-Earth: Revised Edition par Karen Wynn Fonstad. Bless her for the magnificent work she put together!
Summary: Haerelion, Gandalf, and Legolas have been searching all over the Undying Lands trying to find out the secrets to Haerelion's past. How can he do magic? How did he come to be in Greenwood? And who were his parents? Just when all hope seems lost, Gandalf makes a suggestion to lands never ventured to before. Can the trio sail past the borders of the Undying Lands, through the Void, and find the last piece of Almaren where Eru is believed to still live? And more importantly, will it give Haerelion the answers he so desperately seeks? [Third and last instalment to The Pull of Heart and Tide trilogy]
Note 1:For those not familiar with the phrase referred to in the title, I'll deign to elucidate a bit here. Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Basically, good weather if there's a red sky at night, but storm's a coming if you see a red sky in the morning. For further clarification and scientific jargon, see my notes at the end of the story.
Note 2: The name Hurlee is pronounced /her-ley/ and it means 'sea-tide'.
Red Sky at Night
Lil Peverell, neé MacEvins stepped out of the back door of her cottage, clutching a small bundle of blankets closely to her chest. Softly shutting the heavy wooden door behind her, she quickly blocked out all light from the candles within. Only the brilliance of the waning moon above, currently covered by a thin layer of clouds, provided any source of illumination for the woman as she pressed her bundle tighter into her bosom and stole into the night.
The nocturnal crickets, cicadas, and owls greeted her with their familiar serenade, not pausing for a moment as she passed their resting places through the tall grass and climbed up the lush green hills, strewn with patches of purple heather and thistle. It was less than an hour's walk from her home if she set a fast pace, and she needed to be fast lest her husband James find her and the baby missing too soon and come out after them. He had just closed his eyes for the night after a hearty dinner and a filling draught of cider when Lil knew her chance had come.
Wrapping the baby Hurlee in his wool blanket, Lil crept over the hills and towards the edge of the wildwood ahead. She had an old iron horseshoe and nail wrapped in a light cloth next to her trusty 10 and a quarter inch willow wand stowed in the pocket of her dress, though she prayed she would not find cause to use it as she knew faeries hated when magic was used against them. Nonetheless, it still paid to be cautious and prepared, just in case James was right and her fears were nothing more than silly superstitions.
But despite her husband brushing aside her fears, Lil had known from the moment her son was born, when she had wrapped her arms around him for the very first time, feeling the inexplicable joy that only a mother could ever know, that her child was not of this world.
She would admit that they were a bit of an unorthodox family to begin with; revolutionary really. Her husband was a sailor from Britain, born of a family that had a long heritage at sea. The fact that he was from Britain was enough to ostracize Lil from the rest of her family and village, yet she loved him with all her heart, and she hoped that as a couple they would somehow be able to overcome this loss as well. But even after four years of secret courtship and three of being married, Lil was hesitant to admit that James still did not understand the ways of her people. Nor did he comprehend what set their child apart as different.
But Lil had seen it from the first loving gaze she'd bestowed upon her bairn. She knew that her Hurley belonged to the Aos Sí, the People of the Mounds. His eyes were her emerald green, but deeper and brighter somehow; radiant. His skin glowed with an inner light even when the sky was black and no starlight could be seen above. His hair was a silky black that seemed to grow faster than normal for a child, not at all like James' messy mane. And the tips of his ears had a distinctive point to them that put all her doubts to rest. Her child, an unexplainable miracle, whom she had carried for ten months, did not belong to this world. And though she wept to give him up, she understood that her task had only been to bear him and give him life; a blessing from the Aos Sí themselves, no doubt. Now it was her duty to hand him over to the Sí, for he would find no lasting warmth against her breast, and he would never find peace in his heart in Éire.
This realm was not to be his.
Midway through their journey, Hurlee began to stir in her hold and fuss softly, as if he knew he was being taken away for the last time, never to return home to his parents. Lil's hear broke as she cooed at her child, rocking him in her hold, and softly began singing him a lullaby.
"Over in the valley, many years ago,
My mother sang a song to me in tones so sweet and low.
Just a simple little ditty in her good ole Irish way,
And I'd give the world if she could sing that song for me today
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Hush now don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, That's an Irish lullaby.
Oft in dreams I wander, to that cot again.
I feel her arms a-hugging me as when she held me then.
And I hear her voice a-humming to me as in days of yore,
When she used to rock me fast asleep outside our cottage door.
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Hush now don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, That's an Irish lullaby.
Oh, I can hear that music; I can hear that song,
Filling me with memories of a mother's love so strong.Its melody still haunts me these many years gone by
Until the day I die.
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, Hush now don't you cry!
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, That's an Irish lullaby."
Lil pressed another kiss to Hurlee's head, once more breathing in his scent as she fought to keep the tears at bay. She hoped he would one day remember that song, and how she would always sing it to him, and know that she had loved him very much. She hoped he would not forget her, even if all he remembered was her voice, or the warmth of her arms. She wanted her baby to know that he always had his mother's love.
It was nigh midnight when Lil overtook the final hill and she caught sight of the luminescent faery ring in the distant.
Just as she was coming down the final slope, the clouds overhead dispersed into thin wisps and the full brilliance of the moon shone down on the small clearing ahead. Surrounding an old hawthorn tree that held a dark archway in the bark at its base from where the faeries came through, was a ring of wild mushrooms and daisies.
Stealing herself for what she was about to do, Lil closed her eyes and pressed a lingering kiss to the top of Hurlee's head, while taking a deep breath through her nose and breathing in the scent of her child. He was her child, no matter what Fate had in store for him. Perhaps he belonged to the Tuatha Dé Danann, perhaps he was one of the Fair Folk, or perhaps he was destined for a life beyond her imaginings. She had to trust in the gods that her son would be in good hands.
Above all else, she was sure that they would at least take him to the Otherworld, to someplace he belonged. Someplace she couldn't follow. But she had to have faith. Nothing else could ease her mind once her son's fate was out of her hands, when he would soon be far from her reach.
Closing the remaining distance, she stopped briefly with her toe next to the biggest mushroom, which was a deep red under the white moonlight, and then began to circle the ring. Once, twice, three times... Upon crossing the toadstool the ninth time, she stopped in her tracks and involuntarily stumbled back a step as her eyes alighted upon the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.
Fiercely handsome creatures of stately, ethereal beauty, dressed in robes of flowing white danced gaily around inside the ring. Lil sucked in a quick breath as her gaze absorbed the stunning beings. Childhood stories and beliefs had not nearly prepared her for the fascination that poured from her at such a sight. In the logical part of her mind, she remembered that they could be just as terrible and hideous as they were beautiful if their homes were threatened or they themselves were wrongly exposed, but she easily brushed those dangers aside a moment later in favour of watching, unhindered, the entrancing spectacle in front of her. Never had she seen such strikingly gorgeous men and women; so unearthly, so cheerful, completely untouched by the cares of the world.
Strains of melodious music reached her ears seconds later, accompanied by the light footfalls of the dancers that fell in time with the cheerful rhythm. The melody came from some type of instrument that she could neither see nor identify by sound, for it was beyond anything she had ever heard produced by human hands. And it was teasingly alluring. How desperately she wanted to enter and dance the night away among the Fair Folk til morning light shone.
But just as she lifted her foot to move forward, Hurlee shifted in her hold and she felt her mind jolt back to the present and the task at hand. As she gathered her wits about her once more, she reminded herself of the warnings of her people, cautioning her from the time she was a young child of entering into such frivolity of the Sí Folk. Even her time at Hogwarts and learning more about the magical world had not disabused her of the cold warning that still chilled her heart.
He that enters a faery ring
Bring naught but strain and strife;
Enter here and dance til weary
First blush, just dust remains
But the Sí were also a race that prized their children above all else, and Lil was sure they would recognise Hurlee as their own. They would take care of him and raise him in a world in which he would feel at home, where he would be happy.
Taking a deep breath of the night air and securing Hurlee more tightly to her chest, Lil reached into her pocket and unwrapped the horseshoe, bringing it up to her lips and kissing it for luck before throwing it right atop the toadstool she had used as her counting mark to break the dance and garner the attention of the Aos Sí.
The music came to an abrupt halt and the dancing stopped, all bodies turning and eyes shifting to regard the small mortal that dared disturb their merriment.
"Pardon me, Fair Ones," she said in a clear and reverent voice. "May love and laughter light your days, and warm your heart and home. May peace and plenty bless your world with joy that long endures. May all life's passing seasons bring the best to you and yours."
The Aos Sí considered her carefully, their gaze scanning up and down and taking in every inch of her as though measuring her in some way. Finally, after several moments of silence had passed, in which Lil stood as perfectly still as possible, while doing her best not to freeze up so that she would be able to reach for her wand quickly enough should the need arise, the tall male Sí closest to her stepped back and swept his arms to the side, inviting her into the circle.
She knew that she was walking a fine line here between risking offence by refusing them and showing proper respect so they would deign to take her child, care for him, and love him as he should be loved and cared for. Lil took a tentative step forward and carefully lowered Hurlee down for the Fair Folk to see the face of her child. A face that, until this moment, she had not realised how truly similar it was to theirs.
Her breath caught in her throat as she looked at their expectant expressions, which were quickly turning curious and hungry as they eyed the child in her arms. Doubts started forming in her mind, wondering if she was in fact doing what was best for Hurlee. Perhaps she and James could raise him properly on their own, and he could find happiness here regardless. She would be a good mother, she knew she loved her son above all else.
Then, one of the women stepped forward, pushing the male aside, and smiled gently at Lil, beckoning her to continue. Her face showed much more warmth and understanding. And with that one look, her fears and doubts vanished and her conviction was resolved. She was doing the right thing. This was the right course for her child, her Hurlee.
Taking a deep, fortifying breath, Lil began the second part of her entreaty.
"Bless this child and bless this night, of new beginnings.
Smile upon this babe with love, protection, and guidance.
Teach this little one to follow in your footsteps, and to live life in the ways of your People.
"I leave his fate to you," she intoned solemnly, clutching at her son, her entire body trembling violently, as she slowly offered him forward to the female Sí that had shown her a face of kindness and understanding. "Please," she choked, unable to say anymore.
The lady Sí gestured behind her and a second later, a shorter, diminutive woman with a small, pointed face, eyes like glittering jewels, and delicate wings on her back moved forward and offered the lady a small, roughhewn wooden bowl filled with some kind of silvery liquid. The lady took the bowl and offered it to Lil, nodding to her to give it to Hurlee.
Lil hesitated for a breath before slowly reaching forward, grasping the tip of the bowl in her quivering hands, and offering it to Hurlee's lips. The child drank it eagerly, sipping at the contents greedily as though it was his mother's milk until the entire bowl had been drained dry. Lil watched her son's face anxiously for any changes, but Hurlee just looked up at her with blinking, bright green eyes that shone even brighter in the moonlight. He opened his mouth as if asking for more and closed his tiny fists around the fingers that held him, while her other hand lovingly stroked the top of his head. With tears in her voice and a sad smile on her face, she began to sing to him one last time.
"Lay down your head and I'll sing you a lullabyBack to the years of loo-li lai-layAnd I'll sing you to sleep and I'll sing you tomorrowBless you with love for the road that you go.
May you sail fair to the far fields of fortuneWith diamonds and pearls at your head and your feetAnd may you need never to banish misfortuneMay you find kindness in all that you meet.
May there always be angels to watch over youTo guide you each step of the wayTo guard you and keep you safe from all harmLoo-li, loo-li, lai-lay
May you bring love and may you bring happinessBe loved in return to the end of your daysNow fall off to sleep, I'm not meaning to keep youI'll just sit for a while and sing loo-li, lai-lay
"Be safe, my love," she whispered to him, a lump obstructing her throat as she tried to impart her last blessing on her beloved son. "You will always be the child of my body and heart, no matter where you reside. My only wish is for you to you grow up strong and healthy, and for you to be happy above all else." With a final kiss to the top of his soft, silky head, Lil Peverell closed her eyes and passed her child into the waiting hands of the Aos Sí.
By the time she opened her eyes once more, they were gone. The music had been silenced, the eldritch lights extinguished, and the air had gone distinctly cold. Only the darkness of night, with the moon having been covered once more by the clouds, and the hooting of a distant owl remained. She wistfully entertained the notion of hearing the distant sound of a tolling bell far off, like it was ringing somewhere in the back of her memory. And as the deep ringing faded, the realisation of all she had sacrificed in that moment sunk in her heart sharply.
Her child now forever lost to her, Lil Peverell started her long journey back home.
Haerelion stood atop a sea cliff on the westward most point of the Pelóri Mountains and surveyed the crashing waves below. His thoughts were buzzing frantically in his head as though he were housing an entire beehive between his ears. Despite his patience, his increased control on his magic Legolas' support, and Gandalf's guidance, Haerelion was getting more and more frustrated as the months passed.
It had been almost five years since he and Legolas had landed upon the shores of the Valinor to start a new life in the Undying Lands. Five years since he'd been practising under Gandalf's tutelage and becoming a seriously powerful Istar in his own right. Five years since he'd started visiting the Lords of the Valinor, across all the lands, looking for the answers to his parentage and his past. And five years had so far come to naught. He was no more the wiser of his family origins or how he had come to be brought to King Thranduil's Halls than he had been when he'd first arrived. Five years ago.
And it was frustrating. No, it was disappointing.
Legolas knew how he felt. Though he was generally able to hide it well from others, there was no longer anything he was capable of hiding from Legolas. He had feared when he'd first started apprenticing under Gandalf that he and Legolas were drifting apart. They were separated for such long stretches of time, and Haerelion had been torn. Follow his magic and the desire in his heart to find the clues to his past, or stay with Legolas all day and try to ignore the longings that clawed at him from within.
He had been selfish, or so he'd thought, and followed Gandalf and started the quest to find the identity of his parents, leaving Legolas in the lurch, all the while knowing how much he was hurting his husband. It had begun to slowly kill them both; Haerelion not able to concentrate and perform as well as he should have when his heart was not fully in the magic, and his Legolas retreating deeper and deeper into himself from the loneliness of Haerelion's absence. Haerelion had never been so grateful as when Legolas saw the answer to their problems and proved his loyalty and dedication to Haerelion in the process. It had been so simple, but it had meant the world to Haerelion.
Legolas had joined Haerelion in his quest, staying by his side, patiently watching, and silently encouraging Haerelion as he attempted new feats of magic under Gandalf's instruction. And his support had never faltered since. It had ultimately brought them closer, more than Haerelion had previously conceived possible, and despite the big question that was his past, constantly looming in his mind, Haerelion couldn't be happier. But that did not stop him from being frustrated at his lack of information after so long a time.
The couple had been away from their talan in the Woods of Oromë for six months now, not that any of them were complaining. In that time, the trio had trekked all across the Valinor, learning new bits of magic, new history of the Undying Lands, and meeting with all the Valar and Valier.
Haerelion blew out an explosive sigh that was lost in the shrieking gale and hung his head despairingly.
"Do not be so despondent, melanin," Legolas' voice spoke in his ear moments later, accompanied by his warm arms coming to wrap around Haerelion's waist and pull the younger elf's body into his own. "We will find the answers you seek soon. I can feel it in my blood." (My love)
Turning his head, his hopelessness being replaced by shock and curiosity, he looked up at Legolas in surprise. "You never mentioned that before. Or are you just trying to humour me so I will quit frowning?" he asked with a rueful grin that did not quite reach his eyes.
"No," Legolas answered solemnly, "It is what I truly feel. And that belief is getting stronger and stronger in my heart as the days pass. We will uncover your past soon. I just know it."
"But we've gone everywhere we could possibly go!" Haerelion cried, throwing his hands up in the air and stepping away from Legolas to stand closer to the edge. "We have met with all the Exalted Ones, including Lord Irmo, Oromë, Aulë, Tulkas, Ulmo, Lórien, and even Manwë! We have spoken at length with Queens Varda, Yavanna, Nienna, Estë, Vairë, Vána, and Nessa. The only one we have not seen is Mandos, and that's because we are not dead, and thus not allowed into his borders!" he exclaimed in exhausted exasperation. "I don't understand how you can hold onto any form of hope when all possible avenues have been closed to us. There is nowhere left to go, and you ask why I despair?" Haerelion refused to face Legolas and stared dejectedly out onto the ocean scape ahead of him, attempting to let the crash of the waves and the screeching of the wind drown out the keening lament of his soul that would not be appeased.
"Or perhaps we haven't been looking far enough."
Both elves turned in surprise as the elderly wizard Gandalf climbed up to where they stood, a mysterious smile decorating his face as he looked challengingly at Haerelion, who glared stubbornly back.
"I will not allow you to falsely raise up my hopes another time Gandalf, only to be disappointed. We might as well turn back now. There is nothing left to be found here." They were at the end of the Lands of the Valar, facing the Ekkaia, the Encircling Seas, having reached the tip of Helcaraxe in the north and gone down past the Pastures of the Yavanna in the south. Haerelion did not see how they could possibly travel any farther. And he didn't appreciate the joke Gandalf was trying to make of him.
But Gandalf just continued to smile and beckoned Legolas and Haerelion to follow him back down the cliff side. "Come back to camp and sit for a spell. We have much to discuss."
An hour later, the trio were seated closely around a roaring fire, built for Gandalf's benefit in this biting cold, and as dusk began to fall over the lands, Gandalf stared down at his lap, seemingly gathering his thoughts.
"What do you know of the lands of Arda beyond that of Middle Earth and the Valinor?" Gandalf began, looking closely at Haerelion, and then Legolas for several seconds, getting negative responses from the pair. He nodded. "As I thought.
"What do you think lies past the Ekkai? Is Arda round, where if you go far enough you will reach the far side of Middle Earth, or is it flat?"
"It's round," Haerelion said with a tentative nod, the same time as Legolas declared it to be flat. The two elves exchanged surprised looks, followed by playful glares, even as they frowned thoughtfully at the question.
Gandalf ignored both their answers and continued without pause. "And if so, what would you reach if you ventured out farther to the West?"
Legolas opened his mouth as if to speak, but shut it a moment later, a pensive look of confusion on his face. At his side, Haerelion pursed his lips tightly together and looked down at his intertwined fingers in contemplation, choosing not to speak for the moment until he had something of real substance to share and a more definitive idea to better coalesce his thoughts.
Finally, after the minutes of silence had stretched long enough, with only the loud crackles and pops of the fire breaking the silence of the night, whereupon neither elf seemed ready to provide a conclusive reply, Gandalf garnered their attention once again by gruffly clearing his throat.
"You are both right, in a sense. Past the Ekkai, there is Kúma, the Void. And to those who can venture that far, there is no end to the world." He stopped to let that statement resonate in the cold air around them.
Haerelion instinctively moved even closer to Legolas in response, curling his leg around Legolas' and overlapping their thighs as he moulded himself into the older elf's side. The Void. He wasn't sure why, but he thought it sounded particularly menacing... daunting. He felt his heart settle down a bit as Legolas instantly wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled them even closer together.
"The Void," Haerelion finally questioned softly, urging Gandalf to continue.
The old Istar nodded. "Yes. And beyond that," he paused again, always one to draw out the suspense until his listeners were at the very edge of their seats, "Beyond that is rumoured to be pieces of Almaren that had floated away over time, still left from when Melkor destroyed it in the First Age. And," Gandalf paused dramatically, a twinkle in his dark grey eyes as he surveyed them conspiratorially, "it is believed by some to be the place where Eru still reigns."
Blinking frantically, his heart caught in his throat, Haerelion reached up and grabbed onto Legolas' hand, squeezing it tightly until he was sure he must have caught off all blood flow, and then some. Legolas squeezed him even tighter to his side, but said nothing. Neither had taken their eyes off Gandalf yet.
"Almaren," the youngest elf whispered quietly. "Truly? How could that be? Why have we not...?"
"The journey has never been made hitherto," Gandalf said, answering Haerelion's unfinished question. "The Valar and Valier's place is in the Undying Lands now, watching over their Children in Valinor and Middle Earth. The Elves, the First Born of Ilúvatar, awoken by the waters of Cuiviénen, have always been at home on either Middle Earth or the Valinor, have known no other home, and have never had the need to travel beyond. There has never been a need. As for those old enough to miss their old home, to long for the way things used to be, they also know that too much has been destroyed to ever go back."
"So why do you bring this up then if there is truly nothing there?" Legolas asked, his clear voice providing a calming balm to Haerelion's rapidly beating heart. "What can we hope to find there if it is no longer inhabitable?"
"I did not say that," Gandalf re-joined, a slight chuckle in his voice. "But even if there is no one there any longer, it is still a mystery. And as we have exhausted all avenues within the Valinor, as Haerelion has already pointed out, why not explore and see if there is anything of worth to find? What more do we have to lose?"
Haerelion fisted the hand not holding onto Legolas' and pressed his fingers to his lips. His eyes, downcast, slid out of focus as they stared unseeingly onto the base of the fire, blurring the blues and deep oranges of the flickering flame that licked playfully at the large grey stones keeping it contained within the pit. He wondered whether Gandalf wasn't just spurring them on some wild goose chase, or if his idea could possibly hold any merit. His old mentor was right, though; what else did they have to lose? This was their last option. It was follow this lead, a fool's chase no doubt, or go home and live with the fact that he would never know from where he had come.
As he thought about it, he realised that there really was no further discussion needed; he had made up his mind the moment Gandalf insinuated there was more beyond the edge of the Valinor.
Raising his head, he met both his husband and Gandalf's expectant gazes and said, "Alright. Let us see what lies beyond the Void."
They didn't have time to retrieve their red cedar schooner from the other side of the Valinor, but luckily Haerelion was much more skilled in his magic after so many years under Gandalf's tutelage, and he and Legolas knew more than most about the sea after their initial crossing of the Belegaer alone. So among the three of them, with the help of magic, they were able to construct a sturdy sea vessel in less than a month's time. And before they knew it, they were ready to set sail.
A small gaff cutter with a fin keel, narrow but deep, made of larch from the surrounding forest was just big enough for the three of them. It wasn't nearly as comfortable, nor of the same quality as Legolas and Haerelion's schooner, which was made with painstaking care and dedication over the years leading up to their departure, but it was still superiorly made. More importantly, after soaking for several days, with the added help of magic, to allow the wood to take in water, swell up, and close in the final cracks, their ship was ready for the rough waters ahead.
Just like over five years ago, when Haerelion and Legolas had pushed off from the shores of Middle Earth, leaving behind their friends and family forevermore, the three now set off from the shores of the Valinor to destinations unknown. No fanfare accompanied their departure this time, and none of them looked back as they set sail. Though secretly, Haerelion wondered how dangerous this journey truly would be; what Gandalf might not have told them, and if they ever would return to see the shores of the Valinor again. Elves were immortal, yes, but not completely invulnerable. And the three of them were the first to venture beyond into the void ever since Almaren had been lost to the Undying Lands and the Valar. Surely they were being foolhardy to dare take such a risk into the unknown. And Haerelion was truly being irreconcilably selfish for allowing his mate and teacher to follow him on this reckless mission.
Divining his thoughts as easily as ever, Legolas came up to stand closer to Haerelion as the younger elf and Gandalf continued to feed wind to the sails and swiftly put more and more distance between their ship and the coastline.
Leaning down to whisper in his ear, as though not to break his concentration from the task, Legolas said softly, "You worry yourself over things that will likely never come to pass."
Haerelion did not look away from the sails as he answered just as quietly, "You do not know that for sure. Our path is being forged as we sail, and we cannot possibly know what lays ahead, or if this mission will even bear fruit, let alone if we will have the ability to come back should we ever come to find this lost island Gandalf insists is still out there."
"Are you doubting my word?" Gandalf's voice boomed loudly in comparison to their soft whispers, yet it was not as jarring as it could have been for his tone was tempered by a light-hearted amusement in reaction to Haerelion's reservations.
"Just your certainty in all this," Haerelion answered, turning to his master in all seriousness. "But I appreciate the commitment in helping me find the answers I seek to my past."
"You are most welcome," Gandalf nodded in return with an indulging smile. "It was about time something more exciting happened around here anyway. To be perfectly honest," he blustered through his beard, "I was beginning to get a little tired of all you elves with your gossip and laziness." Haerelion glared lightly, pretending to look offended by Gandalf's overgeneralised remark. "You've given me a reason to have an adventure," the old Istar declared, "and for that I thank you. Now all we have to make sure is that we make it back alive."
Haerelion's shoulders slumped as he deadpanned, "Thank you so much. That was exactly what I wanted to hear."
Gandalf's deep answering chuckles leapt away onto the winds and disappeared with the crash of the waves on the hull.
It had been almost a month since their voyage began and things were not going nearly as well as they had hoped. At the moment, the sea was calm, almost deceptively so. It went rather well with the eerie feeling in the air that had been spreading steadily over the three travellers these past few days, giving them the odd impression that time had been put on pause. Or perhaps they had passed some type of boundary where time no longer had any reign or meaning.
The wind had died long ago, both natural and magical, leaving their ship floating quietly atop the unmoving waters under a deep grey sky that allowed little light to break through. No magical light penetrated more than a foot in any direction, and no matter how many times Haerelion and Gandalf tried to call the winds and waves to their aid, nothing came. In fact, with the water reflecting the skies above, it was like the entire world had gone dark and three sailors were left venturing out into nothingness. No birds graced the skies above and no animals stirred the waters below; at least none that they were aware of.
The last seven days had been ones of endless dusk. Seven days of jumping at every slight creak and thump they made. Seven days of overwhelming silence with no one willing to voice the worries of despair eating slowly away at them. Haerelion did not want to admit defeat so soon, but there was no denying the fact that he felt stuck, like the waters, winds, and helm had been taken out of his control and he had no way of regaining that power.
In fact, between the lack of any kind of movement and the unnerving silence, Haerelion half expected a hole to appear beneath their ship at any moment and suck them in. It was, after all, called The Void for good reason. And if it weren't for the firm feeling of wood beneath their feet, canvas sails passing under their hands, and strong braided ropes in their grips, chaffing away at their skin, they would have been forced to assume the worst; that the world had fallen away one night while they slept, leaving them hanging in this odd, dark limbo forever.
"Do you think we shall ever come to see the end of this?" Legolas asked softly at Haerelion's side, the two having stayed close together, even on a ship so small, ever since the sun had abandoned them. Through an unspoken agreement, none of them had spoken above a whisper in those seven days, scared to breech the mysterious silence or whatever presence lay beyond the boundaries of their vessel that was keeping this part of the world in darkness.
Haerelion silently shrugged in response, knowing that even if Legolas could not see it, they were close enough that the other elf could feel the movements of his body and understand. Honestly, there was nothing he could say at this point that would be of any help.
"You and Gandalf say you have tried every possible spell you can think of to combat this perplexing stillness and make more headway in the stagnant waters below," Legolas pressed, though they had had this conversation between the three of them multiple times over the past several days, all with varying degrees of failure and mounting frustration. "You are sure there is no other aid magic can lend us in this hour?"
Haerelion wanted to shake his head and find a way to put Legolas' nagging to rest once and for all. He wanted to say that yes, he was absolutely sure nothing else could be done. That if Gandalf, who had centuries more experience on him, could find no answers, then what good did Legolas think Haerelion could do?
But he held his tongue.
Something in his gut, an odd instinctual notion that he couldn't quite shake, said otherwise. That there was a solution waiting just beyond his grasp; a solution he needed to find, especially due to the fact that it was his need to find information about his past that was putting all three of them in danger. But regardless, something told him that there was more he could do, more he was expected to do; something which Gandalf could not.
The only problem was, he had not the first clue of what that could possibly be. And time was running out.
Though all three of them were immortal, they were quickly running out of food and supplies, not to mention the unnatural stifling quality of the air around them that seemed to be suffocating them as they lay in wait. And like Haerelion had mentioned before, who knew what would happen if they were to die on the edge of the world itself? Did the Valar still hold sway so far beyond the borders of Aman? Or would their souls just be lost into the Void with no one any the wiser? In addition to all that was an added tension in the group that had not previously existed; a restlessness and unease that had everyone on edge.
It was only this knowledge and forced patience coupled with Haerelion's own frustration at himself for not figuring out the answer that was seemingly on the tip of his tongue that prevented him from telling Legolas off for asking so ridiculous a question that he well knew the answer to.
So instead, he reached down and threaded his fingers with Legolas', choosing to ignore the initial stiff resistance he felt before Legolas allowed himself to be moulded to Haerelion's whim. After all, addressing the edginess everyone was feeling only served to increase his guilt and add to the queasy feeling in his stomach.
Squeezing Legolas' hand tightly and feeling an answering squeeze in return, Haerelion tried to draw comfort and inspiration from his love. He knew the answer he sought would not be borne from any of Gandalf's teachings; something told him it was innate to his own magic. Whatever made him different from the Istari of this world was what he had to rely on now. What that was, though, he didn't yet know.
Sensing his heightened distress, Legolas put his own frustration aside for the moment and pulled Haerelion closer into himself, resting his head against Haerelion's, where he laid a small kiss on his crown. A small surge of warmth flamed in Haerelion's core, comforting him just as Legolas had designed. It was just what he needed in that moment to help him think straight.
And then a piece clicked into place.
'Just what he needed.' That was it! As simple as that. And suddenly he knew just what power he held. He just had to ask for it.
First, and foremost, they needed light. The normal spells both he and Gandalf had tried so far had not worked beyond providing a dim glow and a small bit of reprieve to allow them to see their meals each day. But perhaps he, Haerelion, had been going about it in the wrong way. Maybe it wasn't some complicated Maiar spell they needed at all, but a simple request.
He didn't know for sure if it would work, but closing his eyes, he called forth his magic from his core with only one thought in mind. Waiting a moment to assure that he had enough power behind the word, he tightened his grip on Legolas' hand, opened his eyes, and cried out, "Light!"
For a few seconds nothing happened as Haerelion waited in tense silence, while the other two looked at him in confusion, no doubt wondering what he had meant to accomplish with that outburst.
And then, the world around them burst back into colour.
The light blue of a midday sky accompanied by a burning sun spread rapidly above them. Below and around them, the waves began to lighten and sparkle in endless movement, brightening to an exotic cerulean colour under their awestruck gazes. The pale grey of the sails and the deep brown of the ship shone once more and reflected brightly under the sun, flooding their widened pupils with the unexpected light after such total darkness, causing all three males to quickly close their watering eyes in pain.
Clutching the side of the gunnel, Haerelion squeezed his eyelids shut while panting at the price his effective bit of magic had taken. It was not too large a price, at least nothing he was not used to from the strenuously draining exercises he performed under Gandalf's tutelage, but he was still reeling from the shock of his success, nonetheless.
It was then that he noticed it was still unnervingly silent. But he didn't have much time to ponder that, for no sooner was he able to stand upright and open his eyes of his own volition, Gandalf was already storming his way over to him, breaking the silence as he demanded what Haerelion had done.
"I- I'm not sure," Haerelion faltered, shaking his head as the world seemed to spin around him in all its newly re-coloured glory with every chromatic shade and gradation known to the elven eye barraging his senses. "I guess I just relied on the intrinsic parts of my magic." He hesitated to tell Gandalf that he had deliberately gone against every rule the old Istar had ever taught him on spell work, and had gone with what he felt was right. He had brought forth his magic and called for light, as simple as that, doing the exact thing Gandalf had cautioned him against as being dangerous for an Istar's magic to call blindly on the elements like that without setting any kind of boundaries in place for personal safety and mental stability.
But even though Haerelion tried to keep those thoughts to himself, Gandalf was not known as the wisest of his order for nothing. He stared down at Haerelion as though he knew exactly what secrets Haerelion was trying to hide, his gaze seeming to bore into the young elf's skull and root out the answers with force without ever saying a word.
"I just called upon my magic," Haerelion admitted finally, feeling powerless to prevent the words from spilling forth.
"And?" Gandalf pressed, his hands gripping his staff tightly with building suspension.
Haerelion curled his lower lip under his teeth and tried to stop himself from telling Gandalf exactly what he didn't want to hear. But even with Legolas' help, pressing against him from behind in silent support, it was a losing game.
"I just asked and the world lit up again," he finally pushed out in false cheer, while silently wondering why he was still afraid of Gandalf's rules when his method had clearly worked. Especially considering that nothing else Gandalf had tried had done anything, and time had clearly been running out, coupled with tempers running high and patience running thin.
"Haerelion Elingollor, of all the stupid, foolish –"
"But it worked," Legolas cut in, interrupting Gandalf before he could begin his full rant. He stopped the old Istar in his tracks as Gandalf looked up in surprise that anyone had dared speak against his wisdom. "It was dark for so long that we thought we would never see the end – even your magic was no match for it – and Haerelion was able to return the light to us in his own way," he said, reaching up to place a hand on Haerelion's shoulder. "I care not how it happened, but I do not see the point in berating him when he should be praised for his ingenuity and the miracle he has managed to create." Turning Haerelion to face him, Legolas lowered his voice to speak to his husband personally. "And for that I am truly grateful," he said solemnly before bending down the short distance to show Haerelion his gratitude with his lips.
"Harrumph," Gandalf grunted. "Yes, yes, that is all well and good," he admonished as soon as the two broke apart. "But the fact remains that he did something extremely dangerous that could have gotten him killed."
"I don't think so," Haerelion murmured pensively.
"What was that?" Gandalf asked incredulously, bending his head to be sure he had heard correctly.
"I said," Haerelion repeated with only a bit more confidence than before, suddenly feeling the need to defend his actions, even if he still didn't quite understand them. "I don't think it was dangerous. I don't think my magic works the same as yours, Gandalf." Pivoting on the spot, he looked out over the ocean scape before him and away from his audience to avoid their respectively surprised and outraged looks. "And I'll show you."
Building the magic in his core once again, Haerelion spread his arms to indicate the space around them, and spoke once more.
Like a wad of cotton they had not even been previously aware of was removed from their ears, the sound of the waves crashing, the wind pounding in the sails, and the wooden deck creaking underfoot blasted like a symphony. Three pairs of hands flew to their ears as they did their best to muffle the sudden burst of sound assaulting their eardrums.
"And then there was music once more," Haerelion muttered as he cautiously removed his hands from his ears and turned back to the other two. But just as he'd caught sight of Gandalf's shocked, yet still clearly disapproving face and Legolas' amazed and appreciative one, he got whiplash as he turned back around to face the bow once more.
Less than a distance of 100 knots away to his elven eye, Haerelion could see white cliffs jutting out in the middle of the sea and rising high above into the obscurity of the clouds and fog surrounding it. As he stood staring in awe and anticipation, another piece clicked into place as the images before him began to make sense in his mind.
"I think we're almost there."
Gandalf's lecture was put on hold for the moment, and Haerelion hoped he would come to forget it altogether, as the three companions turned their attentions to look disbelievingly out at the approaching lands. Well, Gandalf attempted to, at least, as his sight did not reach that far.
Legolas, who had been taking in his fill, quickly turned to Haerelion with a wide, anticipatory smile, the excitement of adventure lighting up his eyes once more. Haerelion returned his elation with an answering grin, feeling lighter than he had in weeks.
Hope had returned to his heart.
Neither elf noticed the victorious look shining on Gandalf's face as he kept his gaze glued to the direction in which the mysterious isle lay, but suffice it to say, they were all more than a little relieved that land was in sight.
Haerelion was the first to fully return to his senses and wipe the look of awe off his face in order to fully focus anew. Calling the other two back, the trio began to prepare to disembark and find a safe place to dock without getting torn to pieces by the jagged rocks ahead.
"I think I can do this," Haerelion said softly, his eyes looking out calculatingly at the fog surrounding the treacherous terrain.
Legolas and Gandalf quieted at his declaration.
"This place is familiar to me, somehow," he confessed with no small amount of doubt in his tone. It wasn't so much the sense that he'd been here before, but that he knew where he was all the same. That he belonged here in a way, and...and... He wasn't really sure.
He didn't voice any of these crazy thoughts, though, instead repeating, "I'll take the helm and moor us safely." He paused. "I promise."
Legolas and Gandalf just looked at him with blank expressions for several moments. Finally, Legolas smiled a bit bemusedly and nodded at the helm, indicating Haerelion to take it away. Gandalf took a bit longer to relinquish control, but eventually he mirrored Legolas' actions, and Haerelion stepped forward, somewhat hesitantly, placing his hands on the polished wood.
Centring himself with a deep breath, taking in the salty air and all the smells that had returned with the light and sound, Haerelion let his instincts guide him for the third time that day. Concentrating, and relying on his intuitive magic, some patience, and the thankful silence from the other two, Haerelion flung out his hands in a wide, slow arc and cried, "Wind."
Before their eyes, the thick fog ahead was blown away in a strong gust of wind. It cleared to reveal exactly what they had feared; small, narrow spaces between sharp, jagged rocks jutting out from the ocean floor that shined brightly under the high sun, nearly blinding them a second time that day.
Haerelion narrowed his eyes at the challenge ahead, noting the wind had begun to pick and was pushing them faster to their destination.
"Trim the sails," he ordered, satisfied when Legolas acted quickly in response and they began to eventually slow down.
Then, using his experience from crossing the Belegaer half a decade ago, he was able to expertly navigate the rocky shoals and dock them in a small, relatively calm inlet by an opening within the face of the cliff.
After dropping anchor, grabbing their bags, and stepping off onto the first bit of land they'd seen in a good month's time, their sea legs were a little shaky on such solid ground at first. But Legolas and Haerelion swiftly regained their footing and began the arduous climb up the white cliff face, all the way to the top to see what awaited them.
The climb seemed endless.
The air was arid, the sun still high and beating on the back of their necks, and the glare of the white stone was almost painful. What's more, the journey was made all the longer by Gandalf, who while surprisingly nimble and agile for an old man, did indeed use his staff for more than just show and strictly magical purposes. Legolas had to physically take Haerelion's hand and drag him back several times to keep the younger elf from bounding ahead in his excitement.
He was so close; he could just feel it! And no amount of climbing was going to dampen his spirits. He bit his tongue just short of telling his two companions to hurry up, but that didn't keep him from being any less antsy and anxious to get there as soon as possible. He felt like a child again, coming just short of whingeing and stamping his foot at Gandalf to get a move on!
When they were finally nearing the top, Haerelion lost all pretence and rushed forward, eager to get there first and see what there was to be seen.
It was a sea of sand, as infinite as the sea at their backs down below. And it looked pristine; completely untouched, as though not one soul had ever traversed these lands.
Haerelion stood at the top of the cliff on the edge of it all, several paces above Gandalf and Legolas who had yet to make it, and just stared out. A low, braying call came from above, shifting his attentions for a moment as he saw three albatrosses circling in the sky. They had not seen a seagull, or any other animals in the sky or sea, since before they had crossed into the Void. Yet here were three beautiful specimens of dark grey, black, and pure white plumage, flying before him.
Putting that odd piece of information away for later, Haerelion turned his attention back to the sand laid out around him. The fine, white grains were bathed in a light pink, reflecting the sky in its beautiful purple and pink colours, streaked and smudged in swirls across the canvas above. Haerelion felt like he was lost in some kind of dream, as such an idea held more verisimilitude than the fact that their current situation was actually reality. It was just too beautiful, even for an elf to behold.
Realising that he was beginning to sound like Legolas, waxing poetry about the sea and sky, Haerelion turned back to look for his companions only to see Legolas cresting the top.
"Ai! It is like a dream I once had in the Glimmering Caves," Legolas cried as soon as he came abreast of Haerelion, his hand immediately going to squeeze his husband's shoulder as though to prove to himself that he was not dreaming this time as well. "Endless sand with blood red skies and birds flocking above. Only the gentle lapping of the waves is missing. And," he lowered his voice nervously so only Haerelion would be able to hear, "I hope nothing attacks us this time before we make it out."
Haerelion shot his mate a bemused look, wondering where these strange words of being attacked were coming from. However, he did concede the point that it was a very surreal scene they had come upon, and let Legolas know that he would not let anything attack him up here without giving back as good a fight. No one and nothing would be allowed to hurt his Legolas. At that point, Gandalf finally reached the top, a little out of breath and bent over taking a short rest, distracting Legolas long enough from retorting dryly to Haerelion's chivalrous, if not teasing, remarks.
Reaching into his pack, Haerelion retrieved his canteen and offered it to his mentor, who took it gratefully. Haerelion and Legolas were no more out of breath than when they had started the climb, but knew enough to be patient and wait while Gandalf regained his strength. After several moments had passed for them to catch their collective breaths, physically and figuratively, respectively, Haerelion made a move to forge ahead and the other two were thankfully quick to follow.
They trekked for hours upon hours across an endless stretch of sand, seeing no end in sight, not even sure what they were looking for to begin with. The white grains were hot against their feet, seeping through the thin leather of their shoes, but not too hot as to become unbearable. The only real problem was the endless stream of granules that were constantly making their way into their shoes and rubbing against their skin. It was almost enough of a nuisance to take them off, but Haerelion refrained somehow, knowing it would be worse if he took them off now.
All three travellers remained quiet throughout the trek, eyes forward bound, waiting for something, anything to happen. Up ahead, the albatrosses followed their progress, acting like silent guides to wherever world's end would take them. Had they even made it to Almaren, or was this another place entirely? Haerelion could only hope they would find the answers he sought soon.
It was closing on the end of the day when the long awaited moment finally came: an end to the sand.
Haerelion stopped in his tracks as his feet passed over the last of the hot grains of sand to stand among tall, cool fields of green grass. As he breathed out a sigh of relief, pausing a moment to peer out at yet another endless terrain of green, the air in front of him rippled like a wall of heat and an entire city suddenly appeared before of his eyes.
This was it. They had actually done it. They'd reached the lost city of Almaren!
Haerelion couldn't believe it, after a month of sailing, years of travelling around Aman, and a hundred years before that of coming to terms with his magical abilities, he had finally found the one place that could hopefully provide him with the answers he needed.
That is if anyone was even here to answer them.
What was left of the once proud city were crumbling towers of high spired buildings, statues, monuments, temples, roadways, and what once used to be some sort of aqueduct system from the lake in the far distance. All was destroyed and covered in a thick layer of dust that looked as though it had not been touched in millennia.
Not everything was destroyed, however. Some towers still remained standing tall over the ruins of what once was clearly a beautiful city. Most notably, on the far left and right of the city were two towering structures that appeared to be extremely ancient, petrified white trees, twisted and warped in the most beautiful ways as they reached high up into the sky. They looked to be burnt in some parts, but otherwise unharmed, if no longer alive. The one to the left held aloft a large golden sphere that looked rather dull beneath the cloudy skies. The one on the far right of the city was similar except for the fact that it held an equally dulled blue sphere. Of all that remained of the city, these two standing structures were the most untouched; and yet, they seemed the most forlorn. Out of all the damage and decay, they stood proudly like two sad sentinels refusing to leave their post even after all this time.
"It can't be," Legolas breathed into Haerelion's ear as he too stepped through the hidden barrier and looked upon the demolished city with his own eyes. "The Lamps of the Valar!"
Haerelion turned his head at Legolas, wondering if he had heard right. "What?"
Legolas pointed unnecessarily to the two petrified trees in the distance that had just been holding Haerelion's attention. "The Lamps of the Valar, Illuin," he pointed to the one on the right, "and Ormal," he pointed to the one on the left. "Created by Aulë and placed on Middle Earth, where they were said to be destroyed by Melkor in the First Age. This cannot be possible," Legolas declared, shaking his head in disbelief.
"And yet it is," Gandalf asserted, coming up to the duo, only slightly out of breath, and peering far out into the distance at the two impossible pillars of light that should not still be standing, let alone this far away from where they were originally lain.
"Well," Gandalf huffed after the trio had been standing around, staring for several long stretches of silence, "Night is falling once more, and hopefully it will not overstay its welcome this time," he muttered under his breath. "We should make camp and conti–"
His orders were brought to an abrupt halt as their attention was swiftly caught by the sudden illumination of Illuin, the orb changing from a dull blue to a blazing azure that bathed the entire ruins and the three travellers in a soft, eldritch light.
"I, er, I think we should wait on making camp just yet." Nodding his head to the unearthly glow on their right, Haerelion silently waved his hand over his shoulder and continued their trek towards the welcoming light. At this point, he wouldn't be able to stop and rest, even if he tried. Someone or something knew they were here, and he wasn't about to wait til morning to find out who that was.
Once again, Haerelion took the lead and guided his husband and mentor through the silent streets of the deserted city, knowing that with every step he was nearing closer and closer to the softly glowing pinnacle. And from there, hopefully to someone he could talk to, someone with answers. He would not hold out hope that he would be blessed enough to meet with the exalted Eru, but he knew that whoever it was on the other side of that light had to be someone important, someone who knew who he was and how he had come to be sent to Greenwood.
Gandalf had been right in his observation that night was falling, and by the time they had reached the base of the petrified tree, which was marked with an equally white stone etched with the name, Illuin in Elvish, the blue orb was the only source of light left on the entire island. However, once Haerelion reached out and laid a humble hand on the massive stone, the light abruptly went out, and a deep darkness descended upon them.
"Heh, oops," Haerelion apologised, quickly removing his hand from the monument, though it made no difference and the darkness did not lift.
"No matter," Legolas waved it away, coming over to wrap his arms around Haerelion's shoulders. "We have made it this far, which is a vast improvement from where we were just this morning. Let us rest for the night and then see where we need to go in the morning when the sun is once more hanging in the sky."
Haerelion nodded, realising as he did so that he was incredibly tired, his eyelids beginning to droop as he leant back into Legolas' strong hold. "Maybe you're right," he admitted softly, stifling a yawn as soon as he finished speaking. Pulling on Legolas' arm as he hinted to what he wanted from his mate, Haerelion allowed himself to be laid down on the ground as Legolas retrieved a blanket from his bag for them to sleep on. They didn't need any more as they didn't expect to be asleep for long. As soon as first light shone, Haerelion would be up and pushing them to continue their journey once more.
Curling around one another contentedly, both elves began to fall slowly into a resting trance that was the first peaceful slumber they had had in weeks. Haerelion buried his nose into Legolas' shoulder, a smile blooming on his face as he relaxed his body and mind, sinking into dreams that held all the possibilities and promises that awaited them come morning.
End Part 1 of 2
Further clarification:Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. When we see a red sky at night, this means that the setting sun is sending its light through a high concentration of dust particles. This usually indicates high pressure and stable air coming in from the west. Basically, good weather will follow.
A red sunrise reflects the dust particles of a system that has just passed from the west. This indicates that a storm system may be moving to the east. If the morning sky is a deep fiery red, it means a high water content in the atmosphere. So rain is on its way, and possibly storms at sea. Or in other words, bad weather!
Oh, so many notes here:
Hurlee, who is obviously Harry Potter if he was born a few centuries earlier, is Gael from a word for "sea tide".
Lil is an old Celtic name closest to Lily, and as the beginning of this story takes place in the past – hence the name Peverell, not Potter – I wanted to use an older name. Yes, I changed it a bit. Author's prerogative! That's all I'll say.
The faery ring. I messed with that a bit as well. They can be seen as both good luck and bad, though usually bad and that you should stay away from them. I mashed together a few details, with changelings, old faery tales, the Otherworld of the Aos Sí and Tuatha Dé Danann, as well as Lil's differing perceptions from knowing the magical world, and old superstitions and practises to create my own interpretation. Take of it what you will.
I am also taking many liberties regarding Almaren andthe Lamps of the Valar, which I realise are not strictly Tolkien canon. Again, author's prerogative. If this bothers you too much, feel free to cease reading. This is my AU I am creating based off of what information Tolkien has provided of his world. And I must admit, I am having so much fun doing so. :)
Finally, a Happy Easter all who celebrate it this time of the year!
And without further ado, Part 2 is on its way!