Disclaimer: Not mine, especially the few lines taken from The Hobbit and RotK. Credit freely given to JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling. Quote about the sea courtesy of Jacques-Yves Cousteau - also not me.
Summary: The white gulls had not stopped calling to Legolas since that fateful day, and the sea-longing in his blood continues to grow ever stronger. But King Thranduil is determined to keep his son in Greenwood for as long as possible. His answer comes in the form of an unexpected child, one who comes to pull on Legolas' heart more powerfully than the call of the Sea ever could.
Warning: Pairings will be Legolas/Harry. There is also no reference to the wizarding world whatsoever here. Okay, I added the word acromantula to the LotR world, but otherwise nothing. I would say it's an AU in regards to Harry's character, but I doubt that's the proper term to use in a crossover fic. I am utterly ignorant of what to call it, admittedly, though my lovely beta Dragonb8 says it's a mashup. So I'll go with that.
Special thanks to Dragonb8 for beta'ing! I am in her debt. ^^
Note: Haerelion means 'distant star'.
The Pull of Heart and Tide
It was the end of the Third Age and the beginning of the Fourth.
Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel, Gandalf, Frodo, and Bilbo had all departed for the Undying Lands on the Last Ship from Middle Earth. Legolas, son of King Thranduil, would have been among them if not for his father and his duties as son and prince. But having recently awakened the dormant sea-longing in his Sindarin blood, it was really only a matter of time and formality before he would follow in their wake.
So parting with his friends and comrades five years after the end of the war, Legolas finally picked up his feet and made his way back home to Mirkwood, now Greenwood, to confront his father on matters pulling most ardently at his heart.
He had been gone only a handful of years, little more than a hiccup in the reckoning of the Elves, yet it was the longest stretch of time Legolas had ever been away from the green woods of his home. As such, upon his return he naturally expected a celebration at the least, knowing his father to be endearingly over-affectionate in the affairs of his only son.
Yet his return to Greenwood turned out to be far different from what Legolas had expected. His homecoming, it would seem, was not the only thing to be celebrated by his people. For while Legolas was away with the Fellowship, putting an end to Sauron's reign of terror once and for all with the destruction of the One Ring, an elven child had been born.
A child that was fated to change the course of time and tide, as Legolas knew it.
Legolas looked down at the roughly six month old, elven child sleeping peacefully in his cradle. With his raven hair and pale, moonlit skin, it was assumed by all that he was a Silvan Elf, though no one could be quite certain. For though the birth of an elven child is a rare and wonderful, auspicious event, celebrated from its very conception, this child's welcome into the Elven Community was also marked by sadness and shrouded in mystery.
"He was brought to the Halls by the eagles," King Thranduil informed Legolas as his son continued to stare down at the child. "We suspect his parents were killed, though we can't be sure for none of the other elven realms have any knowledge of his conception or birth. It's all quite the enigma at the moment."
"What is his name?" Legolas asked, tilting his head to the side to regard the child with a curious, compassionate stare. Legolas had grown up without one parent, but he was lucky enough to have his father. This child was without both parents; a tragedy of no small measure.
He still had yet to hold, let alone touch the child for fear of harming something so small and so delicate – something that must be protected at all costs. Legolas himself was the last elven child in Greenwood and he had not encountered any other elven children since. He wouldn't know how to even begin to properly hold a baby.
His father, however, put an end to that tentativeness as he answered, "Haerelion; a bright star to herald in a bright new age," and then picked up the sleeping child and laid him firmly in Legolas' arms. Making sure he was cradling his head up and that his arms were positioned properly, Thranduil stayed close for a moment before stepping back and looking at Legolas in satisfaction.
"He has no family and no one to care for him." Thranduil hesitated for a moment, but Legolas hardly noticed as his whole attention was now fixated on the babe in his arms.
Legolas distantly listened to his father while his eyes swept softly over the tiny face relaxed in sleep, the small hands curled at Haerelion's side, into his body, and down to the tiny toes that flexed and wiggled against the soft fabric of Legolas' tunic.
"It has been so long since you were a child, and I thought... it would be lovely to hear the sounds of a child's laughter again, its cries and small feet running through these hallowed halls once more." Thranduil looked at his son for a moment and smiled at the sweet picture playing out in front of him before forging on, "I know he will never be a brother to you, but I want you to help look after him, all the same, as if he were; help me raise him as an Elf of Greenwood, and, even... well, perhaps even a Prince of Greenwood."
Legolas looked up at that, startled. He was his father's only son, born little less than a year before his mother departed for the Undying Lands. Was his father wanting for another child?
"But he is not Sindar," Legolas said dumbly, knowing that anyone with eyes could see that he did not carry the trademark fair hair or have the traditional square facial structure, Haerelion's face was much more oval in shape and his hair as dark as a raven's wing. But only the Sindar folk had ruled in Middle Earth. And why would his father, a rigid traditionalist if there ever was one, change convention for one small child?
"No," his father answered heavily, his face crossed with an unreadable expression, and Legolas got the feeling he wasn't just agreeing with the heritage of the child. "But," he paused, and a look of such love and amazement on his face created a whole new demeanour on the old king, "He is such a beautiful child. Much as you were," the king said softly, lost in memory. "And his eyes, Legolas. Elven poets can do them no justice," he insisted, reaching up to caress the child's head gently, "they are bright stars fell from the heavens; I can hear the earth and trees telling me yet that this child will be special."
Legolas gazed back down on the child and for the first time wished to wake him from his slumber, just to see these wondrous jewels that had his father so taken.
"Also," Thranduil added, bringing his son out of his current reverie with a hard, regret-laden voice that held more than just a hint of fear, "I know about the prophecy, Legolas."
Every inch of Legolas froze. If it weren't for the child in his arms moving in discomfort from the sudden wariness in the air and the palpable sorrow and guilt festering between father and son, he would have fled where he stood.
The prophecy. Legolas breathed in deeply and sighed, his mind running a mile a minute while he did his best to gently sway the child back to a restful sleep in his arms. He'd not had the heart to tell his father yet about his experience as one of the Nine Walkers; he was hoping he'd have more time to ease his father into it. And he had planned to save his foretold death sentence for the end.
A death sentence that had already been triggered:
Legolas Greenleaf, long under tree,
In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
They were dark words foretelling of Legolas' departure from Middle Earth forever. And having only just returned from the Grey Havens, Mithlond, less than a month ago, it was too soon to put such heavy words on his father's already burdened shoulders. No father should ever have to bear such a fate for his son.
Now was meant to be a time of celebration and joy for Haerelion's birth and welcome to Greenwood, as well as Legolas' return, and the end of the War five years ago.
"Lady Galadriel sent word of warning before her departure, and I am glad she did." Thranduil gazed steadily at his son and swallowed thickly. "I know I cannot keep you here once the call of the sea has been awakened in your blood. But I would have you stay with me for as long a time as I can stretch from Eru."
Thranduil laid a hand on Legolas' shoulder and let his gaze trace fondly over Legolas' face as though trying to memorise every detail and hold everything that was Legolas in his mind.
"Be a part of this family for Haerelion. Stand by me, my son, and help me raise this child, at least until he reaches maturity and is able to fend for himself."
Legolas wished he had a hand free to staunch the glistening liquid building up in his eyes. But though he now knew that this child was being used as a bargaining tool for his father to keep him here in Middle Earth that much longer, he also had no desire to let the child go. His decision was made for him the moment his father had laid Haerelion in his arms. He knew without a doubt that he would fight the Valar themselves to see this child grow up and ensure that he was there for him every step of the way.
An elf took one hundred years before they reached full maturity and wouldn't grow anymore. One hundred years was a long time for an elf whose heart was pining for the Sea, but Legolas also had a feeling that the years would end up passing in the blink of an eye where this child was concerned.
"Yes, my Lord, I will stay and care for the child." Legolas finally looked up into his father's eyes and smiled. "He will make a fine prince for Greenwood, Father."
Legolas' sights were no longer set on building an elven community by the River Anduin, he was now committed to spending his remaining years on Middle Earth caring for this elven babe. Oh the wonders of Middle Earth he would show this child, the possibilities seemed endless yet, even with the knowledge that he only had a hundred years to live.
6 years later
"Legolas, Legolas," Haerelion's breathless voice called up to him from the base of the ancient elm tree, followed by the sound of hurried feet and hands scrambling to find purchase on the smooth bark of the trunk. From up in his talan, where he had been pouring over a set of scrolls for a bit of light reading, Legolas looked up as he heard Haerelion's approach.
Quickly setting his scrolls aside, Legolas settled himself back in his chair and waited until he saw the crown of black hair push its way up through the opening in the floor, by the trunk, followed by the excited, smiling face of Greenwood's youngest elf.
Like a flash of lightning, Haerelion darted to Legolas' side the moment he was in the talan and began digging something out of his pockets.
The young elf came just up to Legolas' waist now, but he was not yet so big that Legolas could no longer pick him up and set him on his lap when he came calling, which is precisely what he did the moment Haerelion found what he was looking for and proceeded to attempt to hide it from view in his clutched fists.
Legolas smiled at the pure, childish excitement radiating in the bright green eyes that put the newborn leaf to shame, which were suddenly turned toward him.
"What wind has spurred your feet to fly to my side so swiftly?" Legolas inquired, dropping a tender kiss on the child's forehead.
Haerelion titled his head up to look at Legolas once the older elf had pulled back. "I have a surprise for you!" he exclaimed theatrically, leaning forward until the crown of his head was almost touching Legolas' chin.
"For me?" Legolas asked, feigning surprise as he picked Haerelion up again and adjusted him to a more comfortable position in his lap. "What have I done to deserve such a treat?"
Haerelion shook his head with a smile. "You don't know what it is yet, so how can you tell if you'll like it?"
Legolas reached up and stroked a hand through Haerelion's long, black hair, which was once again loose from his running. Legolas turned the younger one's head and made to gather some of the top pieces of hair on either side and plait them away from Haerelion's eyes and out of his face, doing so without thought as it had become a daily, necessary habit each time Haerelion arrived.
"You coming to visit me is always enough of a treat, of course," he said easily as his fingers deftly finished tying up Haerelion's hair in a matter of seconds.
Haerelion turned his head back to Legolas when the older elf was done. "I see you every day, and spend most nights here," he pointed out with a thoughtful, bemused look on his face.
Legolas lowered his voice to whisper conspiratorially, "Which means I am one lucky elf to get such a treat every day." His hand once again brushed the silken waterfall of hair tumbling over the child's shoulder and looked expectantly into his eyes. "Now, what have you got to show me?"
A wide grin that threatened to break his face in two spread over Haerelion's lips. He held his head high and his breath deep in his lungs with an air of anticipation before thrusting his hands open before him and declaring, "This!"
Nestled neatly in his palms was a silver crafted scallop shell, and right atop it, in the middle, was a small, rough-hewn wooden starfish that looked to have been attached rather crudely as Legolas could see the clumps of glue holding it together and still drying. Haerelion had attached a piece of twine to the edges of the base of the shell and used it to sling the piece around Legolas' neck to rest against his chest as a necklace.
"I found another of Adar's rooms! I think he moved some things since the last time he came here, but he doesn't know I've found this new one yet, so I thought it would be best to take only one thing at a time. I shall look through it again later and see if I can find more to sneak away, if you like."
Legolas smiled at the child's bravery and sweet nature. Haerelion was of course referring to the fact that King Thranduil, in an attempt to convince his son to stay in Middle Earth, had hidden all things related to the sea from him in many different little rooms within his network of caves and halls. Not that there were many such treasures in Greenwood, but the few there were he kept buried and scattered. There was an unspoken law in place as well that no items of the sea be allowed past the Greenwood borders.
Legolas knew that folk had little reason to worry, as seldom few had anything to do with the sea. It was the men who came to visit Greenwood, usually with the intent of using its vast library and maintaining good relations with the king, that were the problem. Every nautical item that passed the entrance to the king's halls was immediately confiscated and spirited away to a hidden locale.
But their little Haerelion was nothing if not an energetic child looking for a challenging adventure to colour his days, as well as remarkably resourceful as an elf.
And though mature as any elf his age would be, Haerelion still did not completely understand the nature of Legolas' sea-longing, nor the motives behind Thranduil's rule. In pure childish fashion, he took it to mean just that, a longing for the sea and the sea alone, of which he was more than happy to help Legolas soothe with gifts of shells, jars of sand, and sea-softened rocks he had found in said secret rooms. He understood at least that Legolas could not go to the sea now, which was why he was determined to bring the sea to Legolas.
Both father and son, however, understood that it was not so much a calling to live in the sea or by the sea, as a ceaseless pull to finish the journey his ancestors had started ages ago to sail west to Valinor, 'the Blessed Realm'. However, the term sea-longing and all that it symbolised was also known to wake up a deeper love of the sea than most elves possessed. Even being by the salty air would ease the ache in his heart, but ultimately it would drive him ever closer to his final journey into the West.
But Haerelion was still young and naïve in the ways of the world, let alone the secrets within the bloodlines of the Sindar elves, and Legolas did not plan on explaining any of this to Haerelion any time soon.
"I whittled this myself," Haerelion said, pointing to the starfish on Legolas' chest. "It didn't look right just as a silver piece for some reason. It needed a bit of Greenwood as well, so I carved it from a branch on the old fell beech outside the archway in the kitchen."
Legolas nodded, he knew the one Haerelion was referring to, and he did agree that the wooden starfish did add that final touch to an otherwise simple piece. And yet it was still simple and humble in the way it mixed Legolas' two loves perfectly, Greenwood and the sea. The fact that it was Haerelion who had made it and given it to him made it all the more special and perfect. Legolas would wear it proudly, and told Haerelion as much.
"Or you can place it on a branch underneath the talan when you are here and take it off whenever you go out, especially to see Adar, that way I can always tell whether you're home or not!"
Legolas nodded in agreement, more than willing to participate in whatever idea Haerelion had. It warmed his heart that the young elf saw Legolas' place as his own personal playhouse where he could escape from the watchful eyes of Adar and the servants and just have fun. Legolas was more than happy to provide that hideaway, knowing all too well what it was like growing up as the only child in Greenwood, in the confines of the Halls.
As it was, in many ways he considered his talan to be Haerelion's too, Haerelion having 'helped' him build the tree house a year ago. It seemed that after finding out what other treasures and mysteries Middle Earth had to offer, he could no longer confine himself in his adar's cavernous tunnels either, which was why he more than understood Haerelion's penchant for spending half his time here with Legolas.
Legolas picked up the shell and traced his finger over the wooden carving, humming as he did so.
Haerelion squirmed in his lap and pointed out the starfish, laying his finger next to Legolas'. "I had seen one of those in one of the books in the library Adar had hidden and I tried to make it look like the one in the picture, but it was kind of hard." He slumped his shoulders, a pout coming to form on his face as he looked at his less than perfect handiwork.
"It's perfect," Legolas argued firmly, leaving no room for rebuttal. "You are too sweet to me." He smiled, resting another kiss on the child's forehead.
Haerelion shook his head fervently, the light of excitement returning to his eyes. "You're my best friend, Legolas. I would do anything for you," he exclaimed adamantly with the youthful exuberance only a child could give.
It was amazing, Legolas thought, that one so young had captured his heart so easily and completely. There was little doubt in his mind that Haerelion was one of the most important people in his life, sharing that title with only his father and members of the Fellowship. And it seemed inconceivable not having the child in his life.
"You are my best friend as well, Haerelion." Legolas smiled softly, carding a hand through his hair like his father used to do for him when he was younger.
Haerelion's eyes went wide with disbelief. "Really," he asked, "Are you sure? What about the dwarf, Gimli, who you went travelling with through Middle Earth? Or King Elessar, who you visit in Gondor? You've known them much longer, and even went to war with them." He said it as though the act of going to war together decided everything and Legolas was mad for thinking differently, which brought forth an amused chuckle from Legolas at his naïve assurance of the stark black and white rules of the world. Or, in Haerelion's case, everything was green or not green.
"They must be more important than me," he finished, putting his small hands on Legolas' stomach and leaning forward as though trying to push the lie out of Legolas before it went any further.
Legolas shook his head and took the boy's hands and cupping them between both of his own. He recalled the last – and only – time Gimli had visited him in Greenwood, given Greenwood's usual 'warm' welcoming of dwarves. Haerelion had made himself scarce while Legolas showed the dwarf around his home while doing his best to avoid as many of its inhabitants as possible.
Haerelion had seemed almost threatened by Gimli and his presence. It was this and this alone that stayed Legolas from joining Gimli on his next venture to Lothlórien, knowing already that Haerelion would choose not to join them as Legolas had originally hoped. Legolas thought he might understand why now.
"No," Legolas said firmly, "Gimli and Aragorn are like brothers to me, and we do have a very deep bond of friendship that I cherish dearly, but you will always come first."
"Always?" Haerelion asked tentatively, reaching out and curling his hands into fists again to grasp the front of Legolas' tunic, holding fast. "You'll always be my best friend?"
"Illumë," Legolas promised. And though he knew he still planned to leave once Haerelion reached maturity, he did not hesitate to make that promise and did not let his thoughts linger on it for too long. (Q. Always)
"Now that you mention it, though, I was just writing a letter to Aragorn in reply to his last missive. He has asked me to come and visit and would like to meet you as well. Will you accompany me to Gondor? It is beautiful to behold any time of the year, though especially in the spring. And Lady Arwen thinks you'll get along splendidly with their son Eldarion, who's only a couple years younger than you."
Legolas knew then that he had solved the problem when instead of shying away and begging off travelling from Greenwood with random excuses, Haerelion jumped on the opportunity and immediately asked when they would leave.
"We will talk to father in the morning. That is, if you plan on staying here tonight?"
"Of course," Haerelion said as though it had already been long decided. He hopped down from Legolas' lap and made his way over to the entrance in the floor. "I took some pastries and fresh fish from the stream for our meal tonight." Haerelion kneeled down and reached below. "I got your favourite," he said, though Legolas was sure that meant Haerelion's favourite which Legolas happened to enjoy as well.
"Perfect," Legolas said, clapping his hands in preparation as Haerelion's head re-emerged, his hands clutching a small basket filled with delicious smells that already had Legolas' mouth watering.
He had not been planning a heavy meal, maybe an apple and a bit of bread. But at the sight and smell of the food, Legolas was suddenly famished.
Working flawlessly together as they'd had much practise doing since Legolas moved to his own talan, the two prepared dinner and settled down for a nice, fun evening together.
Much later, lying atop the roof of the talan closest to the upper-most branches of the elm, Legolas and Haerelion gazed quietly at the stars. At times like these, with only the music of the crickets for company, it seemed like they were the only two around for miles and miles, and all that existed was the wide expanse of dark sky and bright lights laid out before them.
"Legolas," Haerelion whispered softly, breaking the comfortable silence and immediately garnering the older elf's attention.
Legolas rolled over and propped himself up on his elbows the same time Haerelion did, resting his chin on his palm to look at Haerelion from the side; the young elf, however, stared determinedly straight ahead.
"What is it, Haerelion?" Legolas whispered, reaching up a hand to run it comfortingly down the other's back. "What's wrong?"
Taking in a deep breath, Haerelion said, "There is something else I wanted to tell...show you."
Legolas waited patiently. He wondered what could be so serious that Haerelion wouldn't even look at him to say it.
"Um, you saw Mithrandir using magic, didn't you?" Haerelion had sucked up all the stories about the War of the Rings and the Fellowship from Legolas, especially stories about Mithrandir and his magic, so Legolas was hardly surprised with the question. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, which had Legolas wondering what Haerelion was then leading up to.
"Yes. He did not use his magic often, but when he did, it was magnificent." Legolas smiled indulgingly, knowing how much Haerelion liked the stories of Mithrandir especially.
"Like in Rohan when he saved the king?" Haerelion exclaimed, earlier hesitancy forgotten in the excitement of a story as he leant even closer to Legolas as though in anticipation of another of his famous stories.
"Exactly," Legolas nodded, leaning forward as well until their faces were millimetres apart, and lowering his voice like this information was meant for Haerelion's ears alone, "but he also used his magic for little things sometimes –"
"Like what?" Haerelion asked before the words had finished leaving Legolas' mouth.
"Like starting the fire on a damp night, or lighting our way through Moria," Legolas shuddered at the memories even mentioning the name brought up. Haerelion seemed to sense this, and reached up to put a hand on Legolas' cheek.
"Don't be sad, he came back, didn't he? The Valar sent him back and he helped win the war," Haerelion said soothingly, genuinely caring with a purity only a child can. Legolas smiled again, took Haerelion's hand and kissed the inside of his palm.
"Yes, he did come back," Legolas smiled as Haerelion settled back again to hear the story, "and he performed some of the greatest magic I'd ever seen."
With Haerelion's eyes lit up, Legolas let the suspense build up a bit more before going into the story of how Gandalf had taken Shadowfax, one of the Mearas, rode through Fanghorn, and saved the King of Rohan, a favourite of Haerelion's. But instead of sitting back and letting Legolas continue with his tale, Haerelion stopped him before Legolas had even properly begun and argued, "But you said he did other little things as well. Like what?"
Taken aback, Legolas blinked a couple times, his mouth open in surprise, and sat there staring at Haerelion before he could even begin to recall other such incidences.
"Well, uh, occasionally he would perform simple party tricks to amuse the hobbits when they were feeling particularly downtrodden and homesick. It tended to get smiles even out of Boromir and Gimli, though they would have denied any such thing."
Haerelion visibly sat up straighter. "Really?" An expression of hope flitted across his face, and Legolas doubted he was asking about Gimli and Boromir. But a moment later the look was hidden as Haerelion lowered his head to contemplate the bark beneath him. "Then..." Haerelion trailed off as he rolled over and sat cross-legged, facing Legolas. More than curious, Legolas sat up and did the same. "Did Mithrandir do things like this?"
Legolas watched as Haerelion picked up three small elm fruits, still in their bur covering, and held them all in his open palm.
Haerelion glanced up at Legolas once before looking back down at the fruit. Legolas wondered whether the little elf was going to attempt some slight-of-hand trick or juggling act he had learnt, but what greeted his eyes was a very different kind of trick entirely.
Of seemingly their own volition, the three burs rose into the air above Haerelion's hand and began spinning and twirling and flipping over one another in succession with no set pattern Legolas could see, getting faster and faster by the second.
Absently, in a part of his mind not struck dumb and frozen, Legolas thought that the hobbits might have related a tale of Mithrandir doing a similar trick for the entertainment of the little ones in the Shire. But then his words shrivelled in his throat as the fruits, one by one, turned to water before his eyes and fell into Haerelion's cupped hands, yet not one drop spilled over the edges of his palms or dripped from between his fingers.
After a second or so of staring at the unmoving water, Haerelion opened his hands and let the water fall, which it did in slow motion, as though Haerelion had paused time itself to let the water flow slowly to the ground like sands in an hourglass. And then just as the water touched bark, it changed again. Into a nautilus, which Haerelion proceeded to pick up and present to Legolas.
"Angol," Legolas breathed, taking the shell in his hands and running his fingers along every inch of its surface, looking for any weak points or proof that it had once been liquid. But he found nothing. It was a shell. A real shell. And Legolas would be hard pressed to pick it out as anything but. "How are you doing this?" (Magic)
All elves possessed a form of magic from their deep connection with nature, but it was through said innate bond that it was achieved, allowing them to bend nature to their will somewhat. This...This was something different entirely. The ease with which he changed the very essence of the things in his hands, from solid burs to liquid to a real, hard shell, was incredible, and like nothing Legolas had ever seen before.
Haerelion shrugged, as if he did not see the significance of it in the least. His whole body was much more relaxed than the anxious state it had been in before telling Legolas, as though he had somehow been calmed by the act of magic flowing through his body. "I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "I just think it and it happens."
He looked up at Legolas again, showing the uncertainty and fear that were slowly creeping back into his mien. "I was trying to find a way to get that silver shell for you without Adar noticing. It was up high on the shelf and I couldn't reach it and I knew if I climbed and fell, or hit something someone would come running, so I just reached up my hand and next thing I knew, the shell was falling into it!" As he spoke, his own disbelieving amazement at what he had done shone through as his eyes widened and his mouth curved into a half-formed smile, though the nervous hunch of shoulders was still present.
"It just happened," he said, with all the honest enthusiasm of naivety, and then looked up at Legolas with an open expression on his face, waiting on the older elf's judgment.
Legolas could not think of what to say to that right away, still feeling like his voice and breath had been stolen from him the moment Haerelion had set the burs in the air. But Haerelion seemed to take this silence as rejection, for after a moment he slumped into himself and look down between his crossed legs at his now empty hands. He licked his lips quickly before asking in a quivering voice, "Is that how Mithrandir did it?"
Putting the shell down gently at his side, Legolas leant forward and scooped Haerelion up in his arms, holding him against his chest and offering him the only assurance he could give at the moment. "I do not know. Mithrandir did rarely use his magic, and I had never seen anything so amazing as that before."
"Why did he not use his magic often?" Haerelion clung to Legolas, resting his head on the blonde's shoulder, still tense, even as Legolas carded his fingers through his fine black hair.
"I," Legolas took a breath to steady himself, still reeling from the shock and trying to answer all of Haerelion's questions and give the boy the approval and attention he desired, while working the puzzle of events out in his head. "I believe he said that relying on it too much was not good. I'm not sure why exactly; I never thought to ask him."
"So I should stop?" Haerelion asked in a whisper so faint that only an elf would have ever been able to hear it. Luckily, Legolas was an elf.
Not stopping in his ministrations on Haerelion's hair, Legolas pushed the boy back from him a bit to run his other hand down the side of Haerelion's face. "You should do whatever feels right."
Legolas breathed a sigh of relief when Haerelion seemed to take comfort in his words and nodded.
"But how am I able to do that?" Haerelion pointed to the shell by Legolas' thigh. "Elves can't do that," he said with conviction. "Am I not an elf?" He looked at Legolas as though he expected the older elf to have all the answers. Legolas felt his heart break, just a little, knowing that he didn't.
But there was one thing he knew that he could share with Haerelion that might ease his mind for now. As Haerelion was an orphan whose parents were unknown, Legolas would admit that anything could be possible, but he was also sure that Haerelion was an elf, whether full-blooded, half, or even a quarter, it didn't matter. He was an elf and he held a dear place in Legolas' heart.
"Have you ever heard the story of Elwë and Melian?" He said finally in lieu of a direct answer.
Haerelion shook his head. "Who were they?"
"The Elven High-King who became enchanted and fell in love with a beautiful Maia."
"Like Mithrandir," Legolas lowered his voice further in dramatic effect.
It had the exact reaction he was expecting. Haerelion's eyes widened, if possibly, more in excitement. Holding his breath, he bounced in Legolas' hold and cried, "Tell it, oh please, tell it!"
Chuckling quietly, Legolas tightened his hold on the child, reassured that nothing was wrong with him and he was safe. Legolas decided to put his worries aside for the moment and share with Haerelion this piece of history that had both elves and magic. Perhaps Lady Arwen, being a direct descendent of the legendary Lúthien, daughter of Elwë and Melian, might know more.
"It was the First Age," Legolas began, "and Elwë had just returned from the Valinor, back to Middle Earth to fetch the Teleri Elves..."
9 years later
"I don't want to ride Arod with you this time, Legolas. Please," Haerelion entreated plaintively. They were making their way to the stables, their adar just a few steps behind them, here to see them off.
"I'm more than old enough to be riding my own horse, and Celephind is more than up for the journey. He's not had a good run in so long."
Legolas threw a patronisingly sympathetic smile at him over his shoulder as he draped his pack over Arod's back. The smell of the horses and the stables rose up to greet him. "You know it is not my decision, Haerelion." He nodded to their adar who had just entered the stables, long robes of deep green and silver dragging along the straw-covered floor, and Haerelion made a beeline towards the older elf.
"Ada," he pleaded, eyes wide and face dropped in childish exasperation like he couldn't believe they were even considering making him ride with Legolas. He was 15, for all that was blessed in the Valinor!
The king regarded his son with stern eyes for several moments. "And what if something should happen on the road?" He asked, though Legolas could tell he was just teasing the young man at this point.
"We won't get separated," Haerelion rolled his eyes, "I'll stay close to Legolas' side and fight with my sword and magic while Legolas fights with his bow and knives," he said in a well-rehearsed voice as though the answer was the most obvious thing in the world.
The king frowned for a moment. "You let Legolas take the lead. And don't rely on your magic too much, you know that worries me." Though Thranduil was not opposed to Haerelion using his magic, he was still wary of Haerelion teaching himself something so dangerous with no guidance. But since there was no Istari around in Middle Earth anymore who could help, there was little he could do to stop the boy from practising his Eru-given talent. At the same time, he was incredibly proud of his son and was never short of praise when Haerelion came to him after having mastered some impressive new skill or technique.
Magic was strong in Haerelion; Legolas would speculate that the young elf could surpass Lúthien herself in power, and beauty. In Legolas' opinion, having seen him grow, Haerelion was surely created after the very star for which he was named, and what a bright and shining star he was. Legolas now had no doubt of his father's words when he had first set Haerelion in his arms, this boy was going to be great.
It was this constantly growing skill and talent Haerelion showed that had earned him his second name, or his amilessë. Though normally given by the mother and a bit later in life, Legolas, seeing Haerelion's progress and astonishing skill and maturity, had taken it upon himself to bestow Haerelion with the name Elingollor, Starmage, in honour of his strength in magic and status as a wizard.
It was a name he knew Haerelion cherished greatly, though few had the privilege of being so close to the young prince to use it besides Legolas and their father.
"And stay on the road, at all times," Thranduil continued, giving off a list of rules that Haerelion and Legolas both were plenty familiar with.
Haerelion just nodded placatingly to Thranduil and stood eager at attention, awaiting his father's final words with fingers crossed behind his back.
Legolas knew it would be cruel to make him wait much longer.
Relenting with a smile, Thranduil conceded, "Yes, I think you are old enough to ride your own horse. But only because it is just to the Shire. Admirable hobbits," he said to no one in particular, eyes shining as he rubbed his thumb absently underneath his chin, "not like those pesky dwarves," Thranduil muttered darkly. But only Legolas heard him and forcibly busied himself in helping Haerelion prepare Celephind to prevent another argument from breaking out. If a few minutes later he bade his father a colder farewell than normal, no one seemed to notice.
And not long after, Legolas and Haerelion were passing through the gates of the city, heading west.
"We're not really just going to visit the hobbits, are we?" Haerelion asked under his breath, mindful of the small guard detail a mile behind them. "I mean, I do want to meet Merry, Pippin, and Samwise, but hobbits can hardly be expected to be all that entertaining for several months." Haerelion shook his head like Legolas couldn't possibly argue with him on this.
Hiding a smile, Legolas discretely shook his head. Of course Haerelion would figure out his plan. He didn't know why he bothered trying to surprise his friend any more. "We will be heading south to Rivendell after we visit the Shire."
"To see the twins," Haerelion exclaimed, his eyes lighting up at the thought. "And then?", Haerelion drawled out expectantly.
Legolas let loose a chuckle. "And then even further south towards Gondor to see Aragorn and Arwen."
"That's it?" Haerelion asked, slumping in his seat in disappointment. Though knowing how much he adored Aragorn's whole family and visiting the White City, Legolas did not take offense on his friend's behalf. He knew what Haerelion was hoping for, the boy having been dropping several less-than-discreet hints to Legolas for months now.
Not having the heart to lead him on any longer, Legolas leant sideways on Arod to whisper in Haerelion's ear, "And then to the Glittering Caves beneath Helm's Deep."
"Yes! I knew it!" Haerelion pumped his fist in the air in front of him and then whipped his head around to grin blindingly at Legolas. "The Dwarves. I get to meet the Dwarves!"
Despite their father's continued animosity toward the Dwarves, Haerelion had made up his own mind about them, choosing to follow Legolas' words instead. And though he had shied away from Gimli the last and only time the dwarf had been in Greenwood, Haerelion had been more than eager for the opportunity to make a better impression on the infamous dwarf ever since.
"Master Gimli can teach me how to swing an axe!" Haerelion's hushed declaration had Legolas swinging his head around in alarm.
His surprise tempered just enough for him to choke out, "You want to learn to swing an axe?"
"Of course! And then maybe I can see them at work in the mines. Do you think they'd allow that? Do you think they'd let me help make something?"
"I have no doubt," Legolas said weakly, wondering what he had created, though none the less proud of Haerelion for it.
It was clear by the look on his face that this trip had just altered from being a simple, safe outing to visit some old hobbit friends, to an adventure ever worthy of the name in Haerelion's mind. And it was clear that he couldn't wait a second more to get to their first destination and start it.
"Race you there!" the young lad declared, urging Celephind into a gallop without looking back, giving Legolas no choice but to follow, all the while shaking his head and laughing delightedly as he spurred on his steed. An adventure indeed!
35 years later
It was only midmorning and the surrounding forest was singing with life and movement, the sun above warming the two companions' backs as they rode. But the silence that stretched between them was anything but relaxing. Tense, awkward, and uncomfortable, in fact, so very different from the soft, companionable conversation usually coming from the two.
The muffled sound of the horses' hooves on dried needle beds was all that was heard as they made their way home.
Haerelion and Legolas had been gone for almost six months, most of them spent in the company of Gimli in the Glittering Caves, with its many passages, stairs, hallways, and chambers; its sandy floors and high, domed ceilings that seemed to vault the very heavens, and walls of polished stone set with gems and crystals and veins of ore. Such a sight to behold that even Legolas had been speechless when he'd first visited them with Gimli years ago. But now, after years under Gimli's leadership, they had certainly earned their title as being one of the Great Wonders of the Northern World, if not the entire world. And they had enjoyed their stay immensely, as they always did.
It was lucky that the pair were currently alone. This was mostly due in part to the safe place Middle Earth had become under the reign of its wise rulers, as well as the fact that Haerelion was almost of age, having recently reached 50 summers, and was no longer required by their father to have an escort everywhere. But as it was, no one else would have known what to make of their uneasy silence, so it was just as well.
Legolas chanced another surreptitious glance Haerelion's way. The other was looking straight ahead, ignoring Legolas completely as though he wasn't even there, as he had been doing for the last couple weeks.
There hadn't been anything noticeably odd when they'd left Greenwood at the end of spring, several months earlier. This trip was nothing special or out of the ordinary. But if Legolas was being honest with himself, he would admit that he knew the exact moment that had caused this odd shift in their relationship. He could easily attribute their current problem to the end of their fifth month in Aglarond, where they had been sharing a room near Gimli's personal chambers, as they had done since Legolas' first visit here with Haerelion when he was fifteen. Yet more had changed since then than Legolas seemed to realise.
One month earlier
Legolas had been excited for this trip and had enjoyed the time catching up with his old friend. It was generally impossible to drag the dwarf away from his work, as he continued to lend the aid of the Dwarves to the Men of Rohan and Gondor, forging gates of mithril and steel to replace those destroyed during the War of the Rings. But for his dearest friends, Gimli always made an exception.
And as usual, Haerelion had been enraptured by everything the Dwarves did, and could spend hours watching them at work in the mines, folding metals, and crafting fine swords and armour to meet the high demands of the Free Peoples of Middle Earth.
While Legolas walked the halls and shared his day with Gimli, Haerelion chose to while away his time deep in the mines. Much to Haerelion's delight, the Dwarves there welcomed his presence, and readily entertained him by singing and chanting as they merrily melted, pounded, and grinded away with their tools.
Sitting beside Gwalin, Haerelion soaked in the tales that the dwarves would spin of the Dwarves Awakening, Durin the Deathless, and the famed adventures of their leader, Thorin Stonehelm. And whenever it caught the working dwarves' fancy, they would break out into song, which quickly spread throughout the mines until the throaty words echoed up into the main chamber halls above.
Haerelion smiled and closed his eyes, tapping his feet against the bottom rung of the stool, as Gwalin and Desil began a deep, rumbling melody in rhythm with the clanging of their hammers and picks against stone and mithril.
Like Dwarves of yore made mighty spells,
While hammers fell like ringing bells
We work all day, and singing pray,
For Durin's boon beneath the Helm
For kings of men and elven-lords
There many a gleaming golden hoard
We shape and graft, and light we catch
To hide in gems on hilt and sword
On silver necklaces jewels are strung
The flowering stars, on crowns are hung
Goblets are wrought, and harps of gold sought
In mighty halls where ballads are sung
And thus the mighty halls of Dwarves residing in the Glittering Caves of the White Mountains made the Lonely Mountains look like a time of poverty, for Lord Gimli had created bountiful prosperity in the wake of the first everlasting time of peace on Middle Earth. And though Haerelion had been born after Sauron's defeat, it was clear that he was no less appreciative of all the Dwarves had done. He had heard stories enough from Legolas and company, and could see daily, first hand, the prejudice that still reigned in Greenwood against the Dwarves. It was also clear where the young lad's loyalties lay.
Legolas would never say a word to his father, but was sure that his adar's plan of raising a second son to take over the Greenwood throne and continue his reign had failed, whether Legolas chose to stay in Middle Earth or not. But that, again, was the crux of their current issue.
It was early in the morning, before sunrise if they had been able to see outside, and Legolas was in the throes of a nightmare of his own making, one that had become uncomfortably familiar over the years. Usually Haerelion's presence when he stayed with Legolas in his talan was enough to keep them at bay, but staying in the belly of a mountain for so long, with only gems and a few windows for bright light was starting to make him feel more than a bit claustrophobic.
Though he cared for Gimli dearly and enjoyed their visits very much, five months in a cave was a very long time with no trees and sunlight for an elf. Legolas knew Haerelion felt it too, but for Legolas it was also a matter of feeling so cut off from the water, despite how close the Anduin was to here.
He didn't know how much longer he could stay in these caves, in Middle Earth even. If he was honest with himself, it was all proving to be too much for Legolas. And the call was getting stronger, especially at times like this, with Legolas becoming even more helpless to resist.
In his dreamscape, Legolas walked along pristine white sand beds with the waves lapping up onto the shore only a couple feet away. All around him, seagulls cried, circled overhead, and scampered around the sand, seemingly without care to Legolas' presence. It was beautiful, to be sure, but the colours were all wrong. Too bright, too surreal.
The sky was a bright turquoise blue, unlike any colour Legolas had ever seen before in the natural world. And the waters were an odd green and deep blue, with a splash of red tainting the waters in places Legolas was afraid to go near.
The cry of the gulls got louder and louder, screeching all around, until suddenly they all took flight, swooped around in a circle, and then made straight for him.
Legolas was frozen into place, knowing he could not outrun them – he was surrounded – and that there was no cover to be offered with miles and miles of sand and water surrounding him all around.
Jerking his head around in surprise, Legolas threw his arms up and squinted through the flocks of birds, sure that he had heard Haerelion's voice. Haerelion had come to drive the birds back!
"Legolas! Legolas, come back. Come back! You're dreaming. You're just dreaming."
Legolas blinked several times and suddenly he was back in the room he and Haerelion shared in Aglarond.
Haerelion's face peered worriedly down at him, pale and frowning deeply as he continued to shake Legolas' shoulders to ensure he was indeed awake.
Legolas took a deep, calming breath, and then slowly lowered his arms and lay his hands gently on Haerelion's shaking ones, pushing him back far enough so that he could sit up. Only once he was sitting upright and his eyes had cleared of the vivid beach scenes and attacking seagulls, did Haerelion breathe a sigh of relief.
Closing his eyes, Legolas willed away the remaining images from his mind and then focused his gaze on their joined fingers resting on the bedspread between them, barely aware of the fact that he had still to release Haerelion's hand from his grip.
After an indeterminate moment of silence where both elves slowly calmed their racing breath, Haerelion broke the stillness to ask, "What visions troubled your mind so?"
Haerelion shifted on the bed next to Legolas and pulled one hand away to lay it on Legolas' knee. "It was like you were possessed. I feared I would not be able to wake you from your nightmare."
Legolas took another deep breath, but hesitated to respond, unsure if he should burden Haerelion with such thoughts. The painful reality was that Legolas' time on Middle Earth was dwindling even as they sat. And he wasn't sure what to do about it.
But Haerelion persisted. "It's me, Legolas. Please tell me," he said gently. "I cannot help you if you insist on keeping me in the dark. It physically hurts me to see you in pain and not able to do anything about it." His hand squeezed Legolas' knee, though it was likely that he was as unaware of his actions as Legolas was that he was squeezing Haerelion's other hand as well.
But it wasn't as simple as Haerelion was trying to make it. Legolas felt guilty for so many reasons. Yet Haerelion was right, it was him. Though Legolas wasn't exactly sure what it all meant exactly. He was his best friend, his closest confidante; a child he had helped raise into a young man. But did that mean that Haerelion no longer needed him? Legolas didn't like to think so. He didn't like to think Haerelion would ever not be in his life, yet that was part of the very problem that was haunting him.
He pushed those thoughts away for later contemplation; Haerelion was starting to lean forward again, looking at him worriedly, waiting for an answer.
"I still hear the call of the white gulls in my dreams," he admitted, looking ashamedly away at the wall. "They speak to me of the Sea! A Sea I have yet to behold."
Several heartbeats passed in an eternity of time, where Legolas suddenly became very much aware of the tense hand in his hold, but he still refused to look away from the wall. Cowardly would never have been a word used to describe Legolas, but in that moment he possessed not one ounce of courage to move his gaze from the wall to meet Haerelion's.
"Oh," Haerelion finally said in a voice that sounded so empty, so defeated. And it made Legolas feel even guiltier. Haerelion was not a naïve, little boy anymore, he knew what that meant, he now understood the sea-longing of his friend. And he was no happier about it than their father, though thankfully much more understanding.
It made it a no less touchy, taboo conversation, though, and Legolas fervently wished he could take the words back and remove the troubled, sorrowed mien from Haerelion's countenance.
Legolas found the strength to look when he felt both of Haerelion's hands being pulled forcibly from his own.
Haerelion leant back and all expression was suddenly wiped from his face. "I see." He hesitated for a second, his eyes scanning the room around them blindly. "Perhaps a trip to the Bay of Belfâlâs before heading ho- back to Greenwood. Would that soothe your soul a bit for now?"
Legolas nodded dumbly, conflicting emotions warring inside of him. His heart cried at the thought of finally seeing the sea. The Sea! But he wasn't sure if doing so would help or make the longing worse. He wanted to stay with Haerelion and be with him as he finished growing, but if he saw the sea finally...
He knew he was hurting Haerelion with the admission that his longing to leave for the West was getting stronger, but the very idea that he would finally be able to see the sea was overwhelming.
Legolas could do little else at the moment but nod.
The next day they were saying their regretful goodbyes to Gimli, who seemed to sense that something was wrong and let them go without protest. They made their way back on the road, but this time they were heading southwest to Anfalas, skirting Minas Tirith for now to get to the sea.
Legolas looked over at his sole riding companion and frowned to feel the cold distance that had formed between them, though they were riding in close proximity due to the narrowed path they were on.
He had a feeling that he had caused Haerelion more hurt by explaining the problem than he would have if he'd kept his silence. He felt like apologising for awakening the sea-longing in his blood, for burdening Haerelion with his personal demons, and forcing him into a corner until he felt that the only way to help Legolas was to take him away from Greenwood and their friends to see the sea.
But again, Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of Mirkwood, was too cowardly to open his mouth and breach the gap that had opened between them. He wouldn't fool himself by saying it was better this way – he could only imagine that Haerelion was hurting just as much as he himself was – but he also realised that he didn't know what else to do to make this better.
They reached the borders of Anfalas after climbing through the peaks of Pinnach Gelm, and rode for a day through its bare, open lands, lands that still reeked of Saruman's betrayal, before catching sight of the coastline. It was absolutely breath-taking to Legolas. He felt like a large weight had been lifted off his shoulders the moment it had come into view and he'd caught a whiff of the salty air that assaulted him with a cheerful gusto.
Legolas turned to see Haerelion's reaction. Maybe they could at least talk about this. Legolas found it hard to feel any emotion other than relieved and elated so close to the coast.
But one look at Haerelion's face and all Legolas' hopes were dashed in a quick, effortless death. Haerelion was glaring daggers at the white-capped waves splashing onto shore, as though daring them to come any closer. He was looking at the sea as though it had committed some horrendous, unforgivable act for which it could never be pardoned. So different from Legolas' feelings that he suddenly felt even more distanced from the other elf. How could Haerelion possibly hate something that was so dear to Legolas?
They made camp just outside its rocky shores that night, working in tandem from years and years of practise, but their silence was far from companionable.
Legolas spent the following days walking the shore, gazing out across the sea into the west, and contemplating all that he would be leaving behind by sailing to the Valinor, specifically who. But mostly, he spent his days listening to the cries of the white gulls and the cheerful slap of the waves on the rocks.
One cold morning, sitting at the edge of the shore, feet welcoming the incoming tide with its every sweep onto the sands, Legolas began to softly sing a sweet song to the sea.
Silver flow the streams from Celos to EruiIn the green fields of Lebennin!Tall grows the grass there. In the wind from the SeaThe white lilies sway,And the golden bells are shaken of mallos and alfirinIn the green fields of Lebennin,In the wind from the Sea!
Looking down, fascinated by the white foam that caressed his toes, feet, and ankles every few seconds, Legolas finished his song and missed the looks Haerelion was sending him from behind, under the cover of the trees. By the time Legolas got up, his leggings soaked up to his calves, Haerelion had slipped away.
It was almost a week later when Legolas began to wrestle with the idea of going back home to Greenwood. Being here was too much of a temptation, and he'd already promised himself, his father, and Haerelion that he would stay here until Haerelion had reached a hundred summers. He was only halfway there and Legolas knew he could not leave him now.
He wondered if he ever could, and how he would. Yet so close to the sea, he also wondered how he could stay away a moment longer. He wanted to build a ship, carve the wood from the trees off shore with his own two hands, and sail away into that horizon, with nary a care in the world. More than ever he felt like he was being torn in two and there was no third option in sight.
That night, sitting across from one another with the fire crackling and barking loudly between them, Legolas was slowly building up his courage to say the first words spoken in almost a month. But it was Haerelion who once again proved just who was the braver elf between the two of them.
"You should stay here." Haerelion was staring into the fire with a fierce look of concentration on his face. Slowly, he looked up and met Legolas' eyes as he spoke his next words. "You told me years ago of your plans to build an elven community within Ithilien. I could go back to Adar and send some elves who would be interested in living here as well.
"You would be keeping your promise of staying in Middle Earth, but..." he trailed off, his eyes already lowered back to the flames. "You're much happier here. Even as you sit in conflict along the rocks on the shore, there is a weight off your shoulders, and I have never seen you look more at peace." Haerelion swallowed and looked directly into Legolas' gaze with his next words. "You should heed the cry of the gulls."
Haerelion looked away and fell into silence. Legolas thought he'd said more than enough already anyway. His message was clear.
Legolas wouldn't lie, though. He did feel much better here than he had since he'd returned under the beech and elm of Greenwood. Haerelion had got it spot on, it was like part of the burden that had weighed down his soul since first hearing the cry of the gulls in Pelargir had been lifted.
It was something Haerelion, as a Silvan Elf – or so they assumed – couldn't understand. He didn't have the sea-longing in his heart, didn't feel what Legolas felt when he gazed out into the West. And yet, it was Haerelion that held Legolas' tongue, keeping him from agreeing. It was Haerelion who was causing him to pause and think about returning to Greenwood, even though his heart felt at such peace right where it was.
And it was Haerelion that had him shaking his head and refusing his friend's offer to let him stay here until his promise was fulfilled. It was Haerelion pulling him the other way, away from the pull of the sea, and Legolas was letting himself be dragged along.
Legolas swallowed heavily and lifted his head high to gaze across the fire at Haerelion, though the other still wouldn't look up, and said, "I would rather go home to Greenwood with you."
All oxygen seemed to have been sucked up by the fire for both Legolas and Haerelion stopped breathing in that second.
When Haerelion finally looked up, Legolas could see his nostrils flaring, a sure sign he was fighting back tears. The air around him seemed to crackle with the invisible magic that surrounded him whenever Haerelion's emotions got the better of him.
Acting on instinct, Legolas got up and quickly made his way over to Haerelion's side. Wrapping his arm around his friend, Legolas pulled him to his side until he was leaning his entire weight against Legolas. Seconds later, Haerelion lifted his own arms to wrap around Legolas' torso and squeezed, while burying his face into Legolas' chest.
The rest of the night passed in silence with neither elf letting go, not letting up in the slightest. They didn't sleep or even close their eyes. The fire died by the early morning light. By the time the sun had risen in the sky, a brilliant mix of orange, purple, and red, Haerelion was just beginning to stir and move back.
Breaking away to look up into Legolas' eyes, Haerelion spoke the first words in hours. "Are you sure?"
Legolas wasn't sure what took over him then, maybe the vulnerable, worried look in Haerelion's eyes, maybe the tearstains on his face, maybe the soft, desperate whisper of his voice that let Legolas know he was scared to even be asking, but was anyway for Legolas' sake. But Legolas didn't think about why he was doing it. Instead, he just leant in and kissed him.
And Haerelion kissed back.
End of Part 1 of 2