Heart of Earth, Heart of Stone - Chapter Four - A Shadow
"Farewell our brothers! May Mandos's Hall welcome you home. May we meet again after the Last Battle!" The Captain's deep voice intoned the ritual words. He and what was left of his crew were looking to the West, to the shoals that had claimed the lives of those crew members who had been unable to escape the wreckage.
Legolas looked across the small channel that separated them from the mainland. They had wrecked just off of the small island of Himling. Away across the water he could see the mountains of Ered Luin. They were far out of their intended course, they had meant to travel around the southern coast, and up through the Bay of Belfalas, and thus penetrate Gondor from the South. That way was closed to them now.
He whirled away in frustration. This would mean a delay of weeks, if not months, in getting to Gondor, and discovering the purpose of their mission. Even worse, it was fall, and soon winter would claim all of these lands in the North. He also felt a strange sense of urgency, as though time was of the utmost importance. Indeed, if Rohan was on the verge of collapse, time was short.
Not far away, drying off what they had managed to gather from the ship, was all that remained of the ship's crew of twelve, six Elves, Gimli, Haldir, and Jaessa. Jaessa's color was back to normal, much to Legolas's relief, but somehow, she seemed more subdued even than normal. Legolas would have thought that she would have been overjoyed to get off of the ship, even if the means left much to be desired.
"Well? What do you think?" Her quiet words brought him out of his reverie.
"Obviously this necessitates a change of plans," she said calmly. A change of plans? What an understatement! he thought with the exasperation that she always seemed to bring out in him.
"I don't know what would be best," he admitted reluctantly. "Either we can go more or less straight to Gondor, which would involve crossing several mountain ranges, or we can head around them to the south, or north, and take a long way around to get to Gondor."
She tilted her head a little in consideration, though her expression remained impassive. "Why are we going to Gondor?" She asked at last.
"Because that is where the conflict is!" he said, annoyed by her apparent obtuseness. "We are here to aid in that conflict!"
"Are we? I thought that we still had to discover our exact mission." It was amazing to Legolas that such a sweet voice could be so toneless.
"We were told that we had to stop . . ." he stopped, she was right, they weren't told anything except that the true threat was not that which had attacked Gondor.
"Jaessa is right," Haldir spoke, "our first order of business should be to discover what is the true threat."
"I don't think that a power concerned with overtaking a country would be interested in imprisoning my sister. She would be of no possible use in such an undertaking, for she would refuse," Jaessa said, Legolas felt the urge to curse her calm reasoning, at the same time as he had to accept it.
"Very well then, where should we go?" he said, addressing Jaessa, his voice sickly sweet.
She shrugged, "This is your world. You tell me. If you think that it is most important for us to go to Gondor, that is where we shall go."
Instead of being mollified by this concession on her part, he was more irritated than before; however, before he could respond, Gimli broke in.
"We should travel to our peoples in Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain," the Dwarf said practically, which oddly enough irritated Legolas the more. Since when is Gimli practical? he asked himself sullenly.
"And what are you going to do?" Legolas blinked in surprise at Jaessa's question, beginning to suspect that she had damaged her brain when that spar struck her during the storm, but she was addressing the Captain.
"This is not our calling," he said, "We shall make our way down the coast to the Grey Havens, and take ship back to Valinor."
"We shall miss your presence," she said calmly, not protesting that they were needed, which Legolas wanted to do. They needed all the help they could get! "I understand that you cannot concern yourselves where you are not called. Well!" she said standing up, "We should get going. Nothing is aided by our sitting here."
"Nothing but dryer clothes," Haldir said dryly, though he too stood, as did the Captain and the rest of his crew. "Did we decide where we are going?"
"You're coming?" Jaessa asked, sounding surprised, much to Legolas's amazement.
"Of course, I can't let you travel alone with this uncivilized pair!" Haldir joked. Legolas was not amused.
"I beg your pardon Master Elf!" Gimli said, though Legolas was shocked to hear laughter in his gruff voice. "The Lady is quite safe with me!"
Jaessa laughed lightly, "If you will both give me your aid in entering this boat, I would be most grateful!"
The group moved to the two longboats that had been taken from the ship, and quickly loaded the remaining supplies on board, only a little food, and water that they had collected from the stream on the island. Legolas pushed the boat that the four companions were in, and leaped in as the water took it. He and Haldir manned the oars, and as they drew further from the other boat Jaessa waved farewell.
Jaessa trudged up the beach, her eyes scanning the area. Then she turned her attention to scanning the earth below for any nearby settlement. There were a few deer in the trees at the foot of the mountains, and some mountain sheep on the crags, the usual rodent and bird populations, but the nearest settlement was some miles to the south and east.
"There is nothing nearby where we might get horses, or supplies," she said.
"How . . . ?" Legolas started, but then stopped. Inwardly Jaessa chuckled, though she was careful not to let her amusement show. Haldir wasn't quite so reticent as Legolas.
"How do you know?" He asked in curiosity.
"Am I wrong?" she asked, with mock innocence.
"I wouldn't know, it's been over a hundred years since I've been here, things might have changed in that time."
"No you're not wrong," Gimli said, "and you know it. But you did you know?"
Jaessa shrugged lightly, "It is one of my talents."
Gimli obviously wanted to say more, but Legolas interrupted, "Since there is nothing nearby, we might want to get going, and travel as far as possible before dark."
"But in which direction?" Jaessa asked, "Do we go to the settlements to the southeast?"
"We head east, across the mountains, and then across Arnor, north of Emyn Uial."
His answer unsettled her, "There are no settlements there to get supplies, not for many leagues anyway, . . . and . . ." she paused, as she turned her attention that way, at that distance her impressions were faint at best but . . . "I don't like what I feel over there."
She felt their surprised gazes on her, and fought to keep the flush from her cheeks.
"All the more reason to explore it," Legolas said slowly, "There should not be anything . . . worrisome there, Angmar was destroyed by the Last Alliance, long ago. King Elessar, the grandfather of the present king, arranged for many settlers to come repopulate this land. It is probably that which you sense."
Jaessa was unconvinced. "We have not enough food to make the distance to the settlements in that direction."
"And we shall just have to hunt and gather as we go." Legolas continued.
Hunt? Jaessa repeated in her mind, oh dear, I hope they don't expect me to hunt anything. She then became aware of Legolas striding away, and Haldir and Gimli looking at her questioningly. She quickly shouldered her share of the supplies, and followed the Elf who was now disappearing into the trees.
Haldir looked curiously after the departing form of Jaessa, then turned his gaze to the Dwarf who stood by his side. "Do you recall, friend Dwarf, the occasion when I met the Lady Zandra?"
"Yes. As I recall you thought she was evil, or some other such nonsense," Gimli grunted.
"That was because I sensed a shadow about her. Later it was explained to me that the shadow was due to her sufferings, and her grief."
"What about it?" the Dwarf looked up at him curiously.
"I sense the same shadow about Lady Jaessa."