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The White Gulls are Crying

Legolas woke to a grey, pre-dawn light filtering through the heavy canvas of Aragorn's tent. Close by he heard breathing which he recognised as the Ranger's – no, the King's! he reminded himself – and unmistakably Dwarven snores. Blinking, he rubbed eyes unused to being sticky with sleep; it must be years, if not yιni, since I've slept like that. He winced a little as, pushing himself up into a sitting position, he took all his weight momentarily on his arm; I'd forgotten that – how did I get it?...

Frowning, he tried to think back, but discovered that much of the previous day – I assume it was yesterday! was a blur. Sleeping without dreams did that for you, he remembered from previous occasions; you were wont to wake almost as befogged as when you lay down. He flexed the arm experimentally, then cautiously unwound the bandage. As he had hoped, overnight the wound had knitted, scabbed over and then healed; the dried blood came away with the bandage to show little more than faintly pink new skin beneath. He made a fist once or twice, then nodded. 'Twill serve. I could draw bow today, if need be.

But need, it seemed, there was none; the Pelennor lay quiet, and since tents had been pitched and his companions gone to sleep in them, none of which Legolas recalled happening, then clearly the field was theirs. Stepping lightly around the prone bodies – the sons of Elrond as well as Aragorn and Gimli, he noted – he silently unlaced the tent flaps just far enough to slide outside.

He had thought to bathe his face and gritty eyes in the dew, but had reckoned without the effects of several days of siege and battle – lush and green the Pelennor might once have been, but now it was little better than a sea of mud. Through the thick drifts of mist still rising from the ground he glimpsed the wreckage of catapults and rams, piles of corpses smoking where they must have been set alight the previous night, and everywhere ash, blood and bare earth. Legolas grimaced. Every green and growing thing for miles around. Such a price.

The sky was paling, and a wide band of pink and gold lay above the dark line of the mountains to the east; high white clouds were drifting towards them in a clean breeze. A good day to begin again. He stretched luxuriously as a cat, breathing deeply; then craned his neck upwards. High above, a small white curved shape danced on the air, keening a long repeating cry. Legolas gasped as though winded, as simultaneous delight and pain shot through him with the force of a blade – and remembered.

The longing had passed, and he had mastered himself again, by the time stirrings began behind him in the tent. Ducking back through the flaps, he was hailed by Gimli.

"First up, Legolas? Do Elves sleep better with their eyes closed?..."

"I feel new-made, friend Gimli, I assure you." In more ways than one! he thought ruefully.

"How does the arm?"

"Well enough – see." He extended it for inspection. Gimli merely grunted.

"I knew it. I said to Mistress Rowanna last night that by morning you'd barely see it - "

"Rowanna?" Legolas jumped. "Rowanna is here? You've seen her? Where – how was she?..."

"As grimy and weary and bloodied as the rest of us, but from battle's aftermath instead of the battle itself," chimed in Elladan, looking up from rolling his bedding. "She'd been helping in the Houses of Healing, and Aragorn and I sent her down here in the small hours to find Elrohir for us..."

"Why did none of you tell me?" Legolas demanded.

"Firstly, friend Greenleaf," drawled Elrohir with one eyebrow arched, "because you were asleep, and frankly short of the fall of Sauron himself I doubt any news would have roused you. Secondly, because we have only just woken up. And thirdly, because we thought that news of the horse-lady, along with Hobbits and shield-maidens and other unlikely inhabitants of the Houses of Healing, would wait until after breakfast -"

"Peace, Elrohir." Aragorn, stretching long limbs in his turn, made his way to the door of the tent and clapped Legolas on the uninjured shoulder. "Rowanna is indeed to be found in the Houses – asleep herself, I would hope, as she was when I looked in on her and her mother just as I left an hour or two ago. And so are Merry and Pippin, the lady Ιowyn and for aught I know Mithrandir too, though somehow I doubt he is sleeping."

"He most certainly is not!" boomed a familiar voice, as the tent-flap was lifted aside by the tip of the wizard's staff. "Well met, friends. Aragorn, you and I must talk -"

"Indeed we must, and others with us. If it please you and Gimli to go up to the City shortly to visit our friends, Legolas, you could do me a service; find the Lord Imrahil and request that he come down to us, with Ιomer, as soon as may be."

And so it was that but a short time later - "for there's no breakfast to be had but lembas," Gimli had pointed out, "and we may as well eat that as we walk -" Elf and Dwarf were picking their way through the wreckage around the Great Gate and upwards into the City's bright morning.

They discharged their commission to Prince Imrahil – a fair lord indeed! thought Legolas, and a mortal with Elvish blood in his veins! I knew not that such a thing had been outside Master Elrond's line – and came at last to the Houses, high above the plain, before the middle morning. Yet clearly they had not been the only ones early abroad; for the steward of the Houses charged with dealing with the long stream of visitors and petitioners at the door made enquiries, and told them that the periannath were both awake, had breakfasted early - "and most heartily!" and were even now taking a turn with their pipeweed in the gardens below. Gimli turned at once in the direction indicated, but Legolas hung back.

"Go you on, Gimli; I would have news first of Rowanna. Give my greeting to Merry and Pippin, and say I will join you in a little while..."

In fact it was sooner than he had hoped when he arrived in the garden, to the Hobbits' cries of delight and enthusiastic waving of pipestems; for on being directed to one Mistress Ioreth for information on Rowanna's whereabouts, he was nearly drowned in a flood of extraneous explanation from which he managed to extract that yes, the lady Rowanna was within, was awake ("but recently, for the poor lady like many here worked her fingers to the bone all night, and I know it was near dawn before she got any rest at all"), but that she was with her mother, who had herself only awakened that morning from a faint or death-sleep that had lasted near a week. "So I know she'll not want to be disturbed, my lord Elf, forgive me – she'd barely had time this morning to find enough water to wash her face and beg a change of clothes from the laundry, when Lady Mνranna began to stir, and thus far she's refused to leave her mother while she's waking. Wait you in the gardens, my lord, and I'll let my lady know, when she's ready to see anyone, that you're there..."

And with that, for the time being, Legolas had to be content.

The Hobbits, reunited with Gimli, were in fine fettle, and their cheerful chatter and demands to hear every detail of the Three Hunters' chase across Gondor took care of the rest of the morning; yet Legolas felt oddly detached, as though only half of him were there on the greensward spinning them tales and singing to them of the Sea, while the rest floated bodiless on the high air with the mournful cry of the gulls, watching himself from afar. I am not what I was! How can I make them understand?.. it hurts...

But in the end even the Hobbits, Merry especially, wearied of talk and prepared to return indoors. "I'm for a smithy, if such a thing is still at work in the City," declared Gimli, "for my axe is notched, and I must have it to an anvil. Come you, Legolas?"

"Not yet awhile." The Elf turned a little on the wall where he sat cross-legged gazing down the Anduin. "I would sit a little longer up here in the wind under this blue sky; you go, and later I will find you."

He was still sitting thus, not very many minutes later, when he felt the change in the air behind him and turned; his heart leapt, and contracted painfully, in the same moment. Rowanna was pale, with great black shadows beneath her eyes. She's so thin! as Elladan said she was at first all those long months ago in Rivendell, before - Then he could no longer hold still, leaping from the wall as she broke into a run and threw her arms around him.

"Legolas! O Legolas, it's so good to see you here and whole! At least – your arm?...

"Mended, as Gimli told you." He pushed up the sleeve of his spare tunic to show her the trace of the scar. "Otherwise, that hug would have had me wincing, I can assure you! Come, tell me your tale, all your news – how fares your mother?..."

He drew her down beside him atop the wall, and they talked and talked as the sun passed its zenith above the glittering river to the south. Her ride from Rohan, his battle at Helm's Deep, her finding of Mνranna, the Paths of the Dead -

"Which night was that?" Her eyes widened suddenly. Legolas thought back.

"Six nights ago, if I do not miss my count." Rowanna reckoned on her own fingers, then gasped. "It was you! I knew it was – I was talking late with Mother the evening of the day I found her, and we spoke of you, and – I saw it, I felt it, just for an instant, the darkness and the cold and the endless whispers of the dead..."

"Be glad it was only an instant, then, mellonen." He took her hand and turned it over, tracing the lines of her palm as though trying to read the riddle in them. "For they were some of the longest and for Gimli, I fear, the hardest hours that -"

It came again, and he was lost.
The wailing cry that danced away down the wind, closer this time in the heights of the City as though he could reach out and grasp it and be borne away on those soaring white wings; to the sunrise dancing on the waves, the flecks of the foam, the slap of salt water against the bows, ai! Elbereth, I cannot, it hurts...

The surf was roaring in his ears and the sun glittered on the swell, he was blinded and deafened; but somewhere a faint pressure tugged at him and a familiar voice came insistently from very far off:

"Legolas? Legolas, look at me. Look at me!"

The voice would not let him go; he struggled, concentrated, and a face he knew and which went with the voice swam back into focus, eyes huge and dark with alarm, holding him. There were hands cradling his face, pulling him to look at her.

"Do you hear me? That's good, stay with me now. Listen, Legolas, it's me, it's Rowanna -"

His pent-up breath escaped in one shuddering gasp and he clung to her as though he were drowning, burying his face in her hair to inhale great gulps of her faint scents of earth and hay and woodsmoke, driving away the unbearable sharp tang of salt and water. The pain and the longing ebbed and he collapsed against her shoulder, breathing hard.

"Legolas? What was that?..."

"Don't – let go –"

"I won't, I've got you – but what –" Then she broke off, and he felt a shock run through her. "The Sea. It's the Sea, isn't it?..."

He knew shock in his turn; he drew back enough to look at her, amazed. "How did you..."

"Gimli said something last night, about your having been strange ever since Pelargir – but I was too tired to work it out – and Bilbo told me once, about the Sea-longing of the Grey-elves. And just now – it was the gulls, wasn't it? No – don't look up!" She was drawing his head down to her again, would not let his gaze turn back to the sky. "They're still up there, let's get you within doors."

"No, I –"

"No, that's foolish, you need the green earth – wait, I know." She took both his hands in hers and slid down from the wall, drawing him with her. "Come on – I saw it on my way down through the garden..."

'It' was an evergreen hedge which divided the garden about half way down its length, clearly of long standing, for it was feet deep; cut into its thickness at intervals, roofed over by the hedge itself, were little alcoves or hollows, a stone bench set in each. It looked southwards as the garden wall did, out over Anduin and towards Lebennin – but it closed off the sky above, and the thick green stems muffled sound from without. As they both sank onto a bench he took a deep grateful breath of the resiny scent of the plants, and felt the pounding of his heart subsiding.

"Tell me." Rowanna still had firm hold of both his hands. "If you can, if you will –"

"You were right, and Gimli too, though he knew not what it meant. It was at Pelargir; a great harbour upriver from the mouths of Anduin. We rode to seize the fleet of the Haradrim, to bring the Men of the southlands of Gondor to the defence of the White City. And as we drew near... it is an estuary, the River smells salt, and on its banks the gulls cry, and their calls pierced me like knives..."

"But – Aragorn! He surely knows of the sea-longing, he was brought up by Elves! How could he make you do it? How –"

"He did no such thing!" Even in his shaken state, indignation on his friend's behalf flared for a moment. "He made sure I knew whither we rode, and the risk; and for his sake and Middle-earth's, I would not have held back. And it was risk, not certainty, for we never came to the Sea itself."

"But then why –"

"Galadriel foresaw it." He could not hold back a brief, bitter laugh. "Dark were her words indeed! She sent them me through Mithrandir; 'If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore, Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.' And so it proved; the cry of the gull was enough!.."

"Bilbo said..." Rowanna was frowning. "...'once woken, it can never be assuaged...' but then..." Her hands tightened suddenly on his. "Legolas – what will you do? What can you do?"

"I know not." He shook his head, recalling his earlier frustration. "Merry, and Pippin, and Gimli – they were trying to cheer me out of it, as though it were naught but a melancholy mood, as though I could choose! As though all were not now changed forever!"

"Longing for the Sea," Rowanna murmured, "and yet – you are a Wood-elf in your heart, I saw that often enough in Rivendell, for all you may be Grey-elf by your blood." He could hear the strain in her voice as he felt it in his own. "It will tear you in two! I saw it in your face – the joy and the pain intermingled, pulling you two different ways..."

She was chafing his hands now, and he felt the warmth of her sympathy as though it flowed into him. I know not how a mortal woman can, but she understands! At least in part...

"Did you expect it? If the Lady Galadriel had not spoken – would you have known?..."

"I should have." He shifted his weight a little and turned back to gaze out down the River as he gathered his thoughts, feeling her turn along with him. "I know my lineage back beyond my father's father; the Sea-longing is a legend of our house, a part of our history. And yet... For an Age and more ours has been the Woodland Realm; the longing slumbers deep, and none has awoken it for a generation. For the green leaves was I named! And among them I thought to dwell for ever, and now..." Rowanna reached for his hand once more, and only when she gently uncurled his clenched fist did he realise his nails had deeply marked his own palm. "Wood-elf or Grey-elf? Which am I? I cannot be both!"

"Aragorn said to me once that it was not an easy fate, to belong to more than one people," Rowanna said softly, "and that there might be a hard choice to make, in the end. He did not speak of those for whom there might be no choosing." She sighed. "But then – perhaps there will be no choice for any of us! In these days when all hangs by a thread..."

"True enough." To his own surprise, he felt a wry smile come to his face. "Is that your best comfort, mellonen? That I should not fret over my own fate, since for all I know it will be out of my hands and in those of the Captains of the West – or the Dark Lord?"

"I didn't mean - !" She flushed, until something in his face must have shown that he teased her – upon which she punched him lightly in the shoulder, he let out a mock yelp of anguish, and she was apologising all over again when she realised it was the other arm which bore the fading scar, and broke into such an outraged expression that first he, and then she, dissolved into helpless laughter. That laugh! All those dark moments when I longed to hear it, to know there was still joy in the world...

She leant back against the green alcove, sighing, and wiped her eyes. "Is that better?"

"Strange though it might seem to be laughing on the brink of the abyss, and much though I fear the Warden of the Houses might diagnose a disorder of the mind – yes, it is." He rose, stepped from the alcove and stretched, shaking his head at her look of alarm. "Truly – fear not, for the moment I am well enough. Besides, I can smell the wind shifting, which means those infernal birds will be gone. Come –" he took her hands, drawing her to her feet – "I must track down whatever blacksmiths may be in the City and find Gimli, and get us both to Aragorn to hear the outcome of his councils. May I look in upon your mother before I go? I should like to wish her well."

"She was on the verge of sleep again when I left her," Rowanna warned, "but yes, come."

"On one condition – that you scout ahead for me and make sure Mistress Ioreth – was that the good lady's name? - is not by! I think on the whole I would prefer the battlefield..."

Laughing again, they left the prospect of Anduin and Lebennin behind them, and wandered with joined hands back up to the Houses.


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