The forest of Greenwood the Great was stark but beautiful in winter. The leafless trees raised their branches high, silhouetted against the low sun. The air was crisp and cold, and was scented with leaf mould and the distant wisp of wood smoke.
Thranduil had issued an invitation to Elrond and his family to celebrate the mid-winter festival. Lasgalen experienced harsher, more spectacular winters than the temperate valley of Imladris; and Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen had rarely seen snow. Elrond’s party had arrived some two weeks before mid-winter, before the passes over the mountains became impassable from storms.
A week after their arrival, an expedition was arranged; a visit to Esgaroth, or Laketown as the inhabitants called it. A great market was held there, spreading from the town square to the quays and on to barges moored in the central lake. All manner of goods were sold there, leatherwork from Rohan, silver jewellery from Gondor, toys from Dale, and wood carvings from the lakeside villages. Thranduil was quite sure that his guests would never have seen the like before.
Esgaroth was a day’s journey from Lasgalen. The party of elves – Elrond’s family, Thranduil and Legolas, and an escort of warriors – arrived at dusk, just as the lamps were lit around the lakeside. The market continued into the night, and the air was thick with the scent of roasting meat, baking bread, spices, and the sweet smell of sugar confectionary. Flames flickered and danced, reflecting off the water, creating a magical atmosphere. Legolas hovered for some time between two adjacent stalls, finally selecting a silver handled belt knife and choosing a tooled leather scabbard to match it for his father. Finally, laden with purchases, fripperies and sweetmeats, they returned to the house of the Master of Laketown for the night.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Before breakfast, Legolas went to the outskirts of the town, leaning over the railings and looking down into the water. He was joined by Elladan and Elrohir, and together they watched the fishing fleet set off across the lake. The fleet, a flotilla of small, masted boats, sped over the water to the centre of the lake and then spread out, casting their nets wide. The three watched with great interest.
“That looks wonderful!” exclaimed Elrohir. “Imagine being able to fly across the water like that, like a bird!” All three were used to handling rowing boats and negotiating the swift-flowing Bruinen and the Forest River, but the sailing boats and the open lake were totally new to them.
“I wish – ” began Legolas. “I wonder if it would be possible to go out in those boats? What do you think?”
Elladan looked interested. “Do you think we could? Who would we have to ask? Who’s in charge of the fishing fleet?”
Legolas shrugged. “I don’t know. But we could find out!” They made their way back to the Master’s house for breakfast swiftly, formulating plans. When they arrived, Thranduil looked up with a smile.
“Ah, there you are!” he exclaimed. “This is Peneldur, the fish-master. He has a suggestion.”
Peneldur, a short, rotund man, with a remarkably fish-like face, bowed. “My men and I were wondering if the young lords and the little lady would be interested in sailing across the lake today? We have had a good morning’s fishing, so we could take you if you wish? All of you, if you desire.” His gesture included Elrond, Thranduil and Celebrían in the invitation.
Elrond’s eyes were twinkling. “I think that there are some among us who would be delighted.” He turned to Celebrían. “What about you, my dear? Arwen?”
Celebrían shook her head firmly. “Thank you, but no. I recall feeling distinctly unwell when Círdan took me sailing at Mithlond once. I have no wish to experience sea-sickness again. You will have to excuse me.”
Arwen was torn. Sailing sounded wonderful, but she felt disloyal abandoning her mother. Besides, she had seen a pair of silver signet rings the day before, and this would be the ideal opportunity to purchase them, while her brothers were safely out of the way. “Perhaps another time. I have plans for this morning,” she explained.
They all made their way to the quay, where Celebrían and Arwen watched the departure. Peneldur went with Elrond and the twins, while his deputy escorted Thranduil and Legolas. Arwen waved at the departing figures, laughing at the enthusiasm that even her father and Thranduil were displaying.
Celebrían drew her away from the railing. “I am sure they will have a wonderful time. And I believe we deserve a little treat for ourselves. Thranduil tells me that there is a tavern which sells a quite delicious mulled wine. Shall we find it?”
They made their way back towards the market place, trailed by two of Thranduil’s guards, who followed at a discreet distance. Arwen glanced back at them. “Come, join us!” she invited. “Perhaps you would help us find the tavern the King spoke of?”
Elrohir and Elladan sat at the front of their boat, trailing their hands in the water. Peneldur rowed until they came clear of the piers and pillars of the town, away from the shelter of the settlement, and out onto the open lake. He brushed aside their offers to assist. “There is no need – I have been sailing single-handed, and with my crew for very many years!”
As the little boat reached the open water, it lurched as the wind buffeted it. Then with the slap of rope on wood, the sails billowed, and the boat shot forward like an arrow from a bow, the wind carrying it south, away from the town. With a whoop of exhilaration, Elrohir stood in the prow, Elladan beside him. He lifted his face to the chill breeze as his hair streamed out behind, feeling the spray splashing coldly on his face. The boat sped gracefully across the water, skipping from wave to wave, occasionally dipping this way or that as some waves caught it side-on. Elrohir laughed with delight at this new sensation, and turned to Elladan. His twin had moved back, and sat in the stern, talking to Peneldur and looking up at the sails. Elrohir turned back again, releasing his hold on the gunwale, and shifting his balance easily from foot to foot with the movement of the boat. They soon left Esgaroth far behind. After a while, however, he felt a strange sensation of unease building within him. He frowned, puzzled, but ignored it for the moment, revelling in the speed of their passage. The feeling did not fade, but grew ever stronger, and he turned to his father to mention it to him.
Peneldur had come forward to stand beside him, and nodded towards Elladan. “It seems he’s inherited your mother’s sea-sickness! I don’t think he feels too good.” Elrohir looked back, then made his way to where Elladan, very pale, sat hunched against the side. The instinctive impulse to tease his twin died away as he saw how utterly wretched Elladan looked.
Elladan glanced up. “I’m sorry, El,” he said faintly. “I didn’t mean to spoil the fun.”
“It doesn’t matter. You can’t help it. You must be feeling horrible!” Elrohir put one hand on his brother’s shoulder, and then turned again to the fish-master. “Peneldur, can we go back?”
Elrond seconded the request. “I think we should. I recall how ill your mother felt at Mithlond. But when we get back to Esgaroth you should feel better quite quickly.” He looked down at Elladan. “There is nothing to feel ashamed about,” he added. “These things cannot be helped.”
“But I feel such a fool!” Elladan admitted miserably. He swallowed hard and went even paler as the boat lurched sharply to one side as Peneldur turned it to head back to Esgaroth.
“I think it’s time we were getting back anyhow,” Peneldur explained. “The weather feels wrong. I reckon there’s a storm coming. We get some vicious squalls coming down off the mountain. I hope the rest of the fleet gets back into shelter soon!”
The wind was rising, whipping the surface of the lake into white-capped waves. Sudden sharp gusts caught the sail and shook the boat, rocking it violently from side to side. Elladan gave a faint moan and sank down further into the well of the boat, his head pillowed against his arm.
“Not much longer, El. We should be back at Esgaroth soon,” Elrohir told him quietly. His own enjoyment of the moment had evaporated with his growing sense of Elladan’s discomfort, and the abrupt change in the weather was worrying. Out here on the open lake they were completely at the mercy of the wind, and the darkening sky told of a gathering storm. They had been caught in the open in appalling weather before now, but always before there had been the chance of shelter, and the ground had not heaved and shifted beneath their feet.
The return journey seemed to take forever, and Peneldur was fighting against the wind the whole way. At long last the lights of Esgaroth appeared through the driving rain that had started to fall. As they approached the town, Peneldur dropped the sail, using the momentum of the boat and a few swift strokes of the oars to bring them to berth alongside steps which led upward to the walkway that encircled the town.
With a sigh of relief, Elrond pulled Elladan to his feet and guided him up the steps. Finally on ground which stayed reassuringly still, Elladan began to recover his spirits. “Father? Please don’t tell Arwen about this!” he begged.
“I think she will probably guess, but if not I promise I will say nothing,” Elrond reassured him. “Peneldur, thank you for returning us safely. Are all the boats back in?”
Peneldur looked grim. He had been holding a rapid, terse conversation with some of his sailors, but it seemed they had not had good news. “The storm came down from that mountain very sudden. It hit the boats that went north hard. Several capsized, but we recovered their crews. But some – some are still missing.”
“That is bad news indeed,” said Elrond in sympathy. “How many boats? How many men? Is there any aid we can give you?”
“Three boats. Five crew, including my deputy, Gundor,” Peneldur listed grimly.
“But that’s – ” Elrohir began.
“Aye,” Peneldur confirmed. “That’s the boat the King and his son were on. They’re missing too.”Stories > Next