Interlude in Imladris

Chapter 1: The Ford

by Jay of Lasgalen
December 12, 2002

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T.A. 2951

It was a week after he returned from the tragic mission before Legolas was able to travel to Imladris to see Elladan’s trolls. He had seen Eléntia’s brother again, and Math’rin’s and Elthan’s wives, and had made a complete report to both his father and Mithrandir.  Pavisel, too, was restless and eager to be active again.

Leaving Lasgalen in the capable hands of his second-in-commands, Alfiel and Tirnan, Legolas left early one morning. He rode along the little-used old elf path, which Bilbo and his companions had travelled ten years before, and which Aragorn had used nearly three weeks previously. Bilbo had found the forest very eerie, but did not understand it the way he did. This was one of the oldest parts of Lasgalen, and the trees grew close together. The path he rode had a musty feel, a claustrophobic atmosphere.  Even here, close to home, the shadow was growing nearer. To either side of the path webs could be seen, the strands as thick as ropes. Occasionally the branches shook, as if something heavy lurked there. The light was dim, but his eyes soon became accustomed to it. Far off into the trees thick cobwebs hung and the spiders lurked there, but the path itself was kept clear by the power of the elves. Black squirrels danced among the branches. They were as playful as their red cousins, but more wary – they were often hunted by the handful of men who lived along the western borders, who feared them.

Towards the end of the first day, Legolas came to a river that ran across his path. It flowed swiftly to the north, and the water appeared dark, almost black, in the dim light. This was the Enchanted River, that brought deep sleep to any who touched its waters. Since Bilbo and the Dwarves had travelled the path ten years before, the bridge had been rebuilt, a simple affair of two planks laid side by side across the water. It was wide enough for Pavisel to cross with ease, and he was thankful that his people were no longer so insular with the departure of the shadow, and prepared for travellers to come once again to their realm.

That first night, Legolas rode as long as he could, until it was too dark to see the track before him. He could not light a fire along this path, the flamelight would call forth creatures of the forest who would watch, unseen apart from the reflection in their eyes. Also, there were giant moths, attracted by the firelight, which would incinerate themselves in the flames, filling the air with the stench of their burning wings.

Although the moon must be nearly full, Legolas could see nothing. He halted, ate a brief meal, and slept fitfully for a few hours. As soon as dawn broke and he could see a dim grey glimmer about him, he set off again. The next day seemed even longer. The darkness of the forest to the left and right of him seemed even thicker, cobwebs festooned the trees, and once or twice he glimpsed the scuttle of a thick, hairy leg disappearing. But the path itself remained clear. At last he reached the eaves of the forest.

At the western edge, as Legolas came into clear air again, he breathed a sigh of relief. Being under trees was one thing, but as well, he needed to feel the breeze and see the light of the sun and stars. He continued westward across meadowlands until he reached the River Anduin. He came to the banks of the great river just after nightfall, so halted Pavisel and they rested. There was no moon but stars sprinkled the night. Resting beneath the open sky he felt refreshed, and had no need of sleep. So far, the journey had been uneventful, but away to the north he sensed the weather was changing. It looked like he was due for some heavy rain.

The next day Legolas headed south along the river. The edge of the rainstorm caught him and before long he was soaked. They rode through a downpour. Cold, wet, miserable, he and Pavisel plodded along. The ground was too soft to gallop, so they made slow progress. By nightfall he was drenched. By using dry wood, which he carried for chances such as this, he made a small fire. There was no sign of life in that vast, empty land and there would be nothing foolish enough to be out watching him. At dawn he continued south again towards the ford. It was still raining. Pavisel’s mane and tail were sodden, his legs and golden skin splashed with mud. By midday they reached the ford. Deep at the best of times, now the crossing stones were covered by a raging torrent of water rushing down from the Ered Mithrin. Legolas halted in dismay. To go south to the next pass, Caradhras, would add four weeks to his journey. He could wait for the river to subside, but away to the north the sky was still dark with rain. In the end he gave a deep sigh. There was nothing for it but to take their chances and cross – with the rain that had been falling, it would only get worse.

The crossing stones were invisible beneath the water, so they would have to walk across, rather than ride. Legolas slid down from Pavisel, removed the pack strapped to his own back, securely tied the baggage together, and fastened it to Pavisel. When all was ready, he led Pavisel cautiously into the water, probing with each step for the crossing stones. The chill made him gasp. Straight from the mountains, the water was far colder than he had expected for this time of year, and the force of the current was strong. By the time he was waist deep, he could barely keep his feet, so he moved to Pavisel’s right, where the river pressed him against the horse’s side. He knew the crossing well, having been this way many times in the past, but it had never been this difficult or dangerous. They were about halfway across the ford when Pavisel slipped.

To compensate for the constant pressure of the water trying to force them off the crossing, Legolas and Pavisel had been angling to the right - but had gone too far, off the crossing stones. Suddenly Legolas found himself in much deeper water. The torrent was over his head, and he could not touch the river bottom.  Raging, muddy water filled his eyes and ears, his mouth and nose.  His left hand still gripped Pavisel’s mane, and somehow he was able to pull himself up, gasping for breath, choking, spitting out mouthfuls of dirty water.. Hauling the horse sideways, suddenly he felt the crossing beneath his feet again. Not caring how hard he pulled at Pavisel’s mane, he tugged until the horse’s hooves found some purchase on the stones, and he was able to stand again, trembling.   He took a moment to regain his equilibrium and breath. Then, moving even more cautiously, making sure they were securely on the crossing, they edged forward.

Suddenly his foot, probing beneath the water for the next clapper stone, felt nothing. The stone had been washed away in the flood, and there was nothing there. Pavisel shied uncharacteristically, and Legolas found himself slipping on the wet, slick stones. There was a surge of water and he lost his footing completely. Plunging forward, he lost his grip on Pavisel and was washed helplessly downstream, tumbling like a leaf in the churning waters of the Anduin as it raced towards the far distant sea.

Author’s Note:
    I imagine the ford to be a ‘clapper’ bridge, common on Dartmoor near where I live in Devon, in South West England. It consists of flat slabs of stone (the ‘clappers’), supported on pillars of granite. The pillars are set into the river bed. Although massive, and very heavy, it is possible for the stone slabs to be washed away in floods - I’ve seen it happen. It is a very ancient type of bridge, and could easily be built in Middle Earth.

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