El stared at the boats in thought, his mind only beginning to welcome the reality that he hadn’t seen or done anything at all for an exceedingly long time. Everything in Middle earth was both new and old, kin and stranger, things to be welcomed and feared all at once.
“I don’t even remember how to row,” El spoke at a whisper.
Elrohir smiled as he and Elladan ferried supplies back and forth from the shore.
“You walked quickly enough. Running is but a skip and a hop beyond it. Your muscles will remember what they must. Just give yourself time.”
“Wouldn’t horses be more…direct?”
“They would,” Elladan replied. “But the roads of this age are not as safe as the ones you remember. Dark things have begun to creep from the shadows. The Enemy is on the move, El. The sea will be safer. Our foes this side of the Misty Mountains have yet to master the water as we have.”
Eldriun nodded. He had spent the better part of the last day reading through the writings that Lord Elrond had prepared for him, so he was only beginning to grasp the state of the world as it was now. Cramming that much history into such a short time period was almost too much. The defeat of Sauron, the betrayal of Man that followed, the vanishing of the Ring, and now there were rumors that the servants of the Enemy were once again plotting ill-designed ends for the Free Peoples.
But his mind continually drifted back to Isildur’s failure. He could never have imagined that Men would have let them down in such a profound way. The powers of the Enemy were truly great, this was without argument, and he had witnessed them firsthand after all. But surely with Sauron defeated the pure of heart would have found a way to overcome.
El’s thoughts were overwrought with questions. Isildur had seemed so strong of will, so well intentioned, of proud line and true birth. How had he come to such despair? Could the Ring truly hold such unreasonable tenacity with its master’s destiny forfeit? Why did Lord Elrond not intervene more directly? Had the Ring planned all of this? Could it react to external forces and influence those around it in the same dark manner as its creator? The portents would certainly point to yes, and that was not a thought he cared to dwell on further.
El broke his mind free of those designs and quickly moved to help with preparations. But quite suddenly, the corner of his eye spotted something amiss. A small figure, present and then not, vanished into the air like a leaf on the wind. But it was far too small for an Elf or Man. A child, perhaps? Or was his mind still so corrupted by the long sleep that he could not longer tell real from not?
Still so close to Rivendell and comforted by its lingering presence, he brushed the incident aside and focused his thoughts on the journey. Their plan was to set out along the Bruinen until it met the Greyflood to the southwest, and from there they would sail all the way to the Great Sea itself. Northward along the coast they would travel then, until they met up with the Gulf of Lune in the north. Inward their path would take from there, past Mithlond and finally to their destination at the docks of Celondim.
Eldriun set a large pack into the rear of one of the boats, turning to walk back up the hill when his foot hit a snag, and before long he began to tumble, crashing to the earth with a thud as his hand gripped the hilt of his sword. The mirthful sound of laughter quickly followed.
Elrohir and Elladan managed a chuckle as well, a certain degree of knowledge written behind the looks on their faces.
“You don’t have to greet all of us that way, Madame Hobbit,” Elrohir claimed.
The voice came from behind them as Eldriun rose, slowly gaining his feet as he wiped a few clumps of dirt from his old armor, now worn again three thousand years after its initial foray into battle.
“Coordination is a vital survival skill. I simply like to know the manner of Elves I am meant to sail across the sea with.”
She appeared as suddenly as she had concealed herself earlier, leaning up against one of the boats with her arms crossed neatly. El’s initial guess at her size was not off the mark. Clearly less than four feet tall, but reasonably stout for her kind, the Hobbit snatched an apple from her pack and quickly bit into it, relishing every last bite as she looked them over. Her eyes were keen, peaking out from strands of brown hair that dangled just below the rim of her dark hood. A burglar, Eldriun thought.
“Is this him, then?”
Eldriun glanced back at the sons of Elrond, pausing briefly as he gradually turned to face her.
“Am I me?” He asked.
“Could you be anyone other than yourself?”
“Sometimes I’d like to be.”
“Ale helps with that, but it’s temporary.”
“In that case I am me, yes, without the needed consumption nearby to make me otherwise.”
“Oh you elves are so fancy, declaring that you are who you are after a bit of small conversation. Your inns must echo of arguments filled with pronouns.”
A laughter emitted from El’s throat before he even had the chance to catch it. He stared at her curiously, his head slightly askew as he heard Elrond’s sons approach them.
“You get used to her, El,” came Elladan’s voice.
“Or you suffer from an episode and retreat into mead and song. Either way, she will be accompanying us to Celondim before venturing off to pursue her own ends,” Elrohir replied.
It was the Hobbit who laughed then, tossing one apple aside and snatching another from the pouch in her jacket.
“You outlasted me once. I don’t know how you lot hold so much ale. It’s not natural and will have to be paid for one day. Mark my words.”
Elrohir grinned as he spoke. “The Grace of the Eldar provides, Madame Hobbit.”
She nodded in return, leaping into the boat and setting her large feet upon one of the planks. Eldriun could not miss the slight patch of hair adoring the tops of them.
“We should be off then. Let’s not give anyone here time to question who they really are before we set off. We might end up miles from our current destination.”
Eldriun bowed to her with a smile. “By your leave, my lady.”
“I’m a lady, gents, did you hear that? Let’s see what he says after a few days at sea.”
Without hesitation, the sons of Elrond scurried past him and to the second boat. El glared at them for a moment, chuckling to himself as he reluctantly approached the Hobbit and removed the sword and scabbard from his belt. He set them down into the boat with a clunk, the gentle rocking of the water undulating beneath the wood. He hesitated for a moment, self doubt gripping him.
“Are you experienced at…”
“Oh don’t mind me, Master Elf. You should be rowing anyway, with me being such a lady and all,” she chirped with a smile.
Eldriun sighed and seated himself at the boat’s center. The long road of memory was behind, an uncertain future ahead. With Elrohir and Elladan’s boat in the lead, they set off, the waters of the Bruinen sparkling in the cool sunlight. The air was filled with the sounds of spring, the swarm of birds and insects serenading them off to a prosperous journey.
As with all other endeavors, the remembrance of how to navigate the water returned to Eldriun with little effort. So after several hours of traveling in silence with his new companion, he decided to break it.
“I never caught the pleasure of your name.”
“Kai, if you please.”
“And mine is Eldriun,” he quickly responded. “Is Kai a common name for a Hobbit?”
“I doubt it. But it serves well as a nickname.”
“Is your given name some sort of secret?”
“Depends on who’s asking.”
El glanced off to the blur that had become the passing trees, deciding not to push the issue further. “So…you asked the sons of Elrond of me as if you knew who I was, which I find curious given my circumstances.”
She shrugged, her countenance a mystery.
“It’s not often you hear tell of anyone awakening after a thousand year sleep.”
“Three thousand, actually.” The words still held an air of unreality to them. Sometimes Eldriun felt the need to say them aloud unprovoked, as if the repetition of the words would somehow make the truth more palatable.
Her eyes were thoughtful. “Where does one start after being absent for so long?”
“When I figure that out I’ll let you know.”
Kai started for a moment, the first time he had ever seen her hesitate since they met.
“Do you remember anything? From when you were…asleep?”
“Unpleasant dreams, mostly.”
“But who bathed you?”
El nearly coughed. “Excuse me?”
“You were asleep for three thousand years, surely someone must have bathed you during that time.”
“It’s a legitimate question. Details matter, and all. Can’t let a body just rot in bed for thousands of years without keeping it clean. Surest way to disease, my friend.”
Eldriun laughed once again, in spite of himself.
“I’ll be sure to ask Lord Elrond the next time I see him.”
Her smile was the tiniest bit devilish. “I would like to be present for that.”
“I’ll be sure to send a letter.”
He shook his head. Elrond’s writings had contained some details of Hobbit history. But not a single sentence therein had prepared him for the experience of talking to one. El could not help but broach the subject.
“Are all your kind so….”
Kai reached into her jacket then, the angle of her body revealing a number of daggers concealed within. Removing one of them along with a sharpener, she quickly began to sheer at its edges. As he watched her, Eldriun realized that it would not surprise him in the least if this Hobbit could handle herself in a fight.
“Words are like sticks, my Mum always used to say. When put together they can build you a roof to shield from the rain, but hold them in your hand and you can crack them in two.”
It was El’s turn to shrug. “Meaning…”
“They’re every bit as powerful as they are worthless. Know what they can do and what they can’t, Master Elf…and the less you trouble yourself over them the better.”
El nodded, his arms heaving back and forth as their boat soldiered on, the river becoming slightly more energetic as they approached the Greyflood.
“Sounds like quite the family.”
She remained silent for a beat. “Once, maybe.”
The tinge of regret in her voice was much more familiar to him, but he left the conversation there for now, his attention fading back to the task at hand. As they sailed on, the calm trappings of the river eventually gave way to faint disruptions of the waking sea. The air smelled of sumac and winterberry here, the bite of cool ocean water forming a thin blanket of mist as it clashed with the warm air above.
The evening heaved a sigh of moonlight, bending its will to an oncoming night that was darker than most, the sky appearing to be nothing more than a template for the stars to display their wonder.
The two elements of air wrestled like stallions as the parties turned north along the shore, the war of temperatures giving way to visions of deformity on the vistas beyond. As the warm air was battled back even higher into the sky, it became difficult to tell where the trembling sea began and the horizon ended. With a gentle prodding, the Belegaer welcomed them unto its embrace as the second leg of their journey began.
Seagulls danced above the rims of their vessels, and as they progressed the water began to churn around their boats in a neverending cascade of life. All the while the sea whispered tales of midsummer in years gone by.