It had been a long, hard ride from the black stone of Erech to Pelargir.
After the long, dark march through the paths of the dead, and the ride through the night to Erech, it seemed to Legolas that it had been days since he had seen daylight. But after a few hours of fitful rest beneath the stone, dawn finally came.
Legolas awoke, stretching, and blinking sleep from his eyes. Beside him, Elrohir was already awake. He turned to Legolas, and placed one finger against his lips.
“Sshh. Watch this.”
Elrohir had a small pile of tiny stones he had gathered from the surrounding ground, and was carefully throwing them at Elladan, still asleep on the other side of the campfire.
Legolas watched in fascination. As each stone hit Elladan, he twitched. As one hit his face, he raised one hand, and brushed at the irritation.
Elrohir stifled a chuckle, and threw another stone. Elladan’s hand shot out, caught the missile in mid air, and threw it back with fine accuracy. It struck Elrohir squarely on the chest before he could move.
Legolas gave a shout of laughter, quickly stifled as Aragorn turned to him.
Elladan sat up in one smooth movement.
“Good morning, brother. I trust you slept well?” Elrohir asked innocently.
“Very well. But it appears to have been raining.” Elladan held up a handful of stones picked up from his cloak.
Legolas had learned many, many years before not to come between the twins when they were in this mood. While it was safe enough to impartially encourage them both, any hint of him taking sides resulted in them forming a united, unbreakable front, in which he usually came off worst.
Instead, he looked around for a distraction, and saw Gimli, still asleep, wrapped in his elven cloak. Walking over to him, Legolas kicked the huddled bundle, then quickly stepped away.
With a snort and a grunt, Gimli sat bolt upright, already brandishing his axe. When he saw Legolas, standing a safe distance away, grinning, he sighed.
“Blasted elf! I should have known it was you. Can’t you let anyone sleep in peace?”
“It is dawn, you sluggard dwarf! Time to be up. We have yet a long journey ahead of us if we are to arrive in time!”
Many of the Dúnedain were awake now, looking tired and drawn - not so much affected by the long trek of the day before, as by the oppressive presence of the dead. The shades of Dunharrow clustered all around, surrounding the encampment, waiting patiently for the living to take their rest so they could fulfil their oath. The antics of the three elves in their midst lightened the mood of the men, and there were several grins.
After a sketchy
breakfast, the Grey Company set off again, accompanied by their shadowy
companions. Aragorn pushed them hard, allowing only
minimal rest for both the men and their horses.
They rode on throughout that day, and on into the night. After resting for a few brief hours, the long ride continued. Dawn never came that day. Instead, there was a dim, grey twilight that reminded Legolas of an eclipse he had once witnessed. Through all this, Aragorn’s will pushed the Rangers on, despite their terrible weariness.
In the unremitting gloom, day merged into night, and the long, unrelenting ride to Pelargir continued, passing in a blur of weariness. By the fourth day, all the Dúnedain, including Aragorn, were looking grey and drawn, and even Legolas, Elladan and Elrohir were feeling the strain of the long ride. At last, four days after leaving Erech, they came near Pelargir.
Crossing the fields and plains of Lebennin was almost rest in itself. Grasses grew tall there, and flowers blew gently in the breeze. Tall lilies were surrounded by a carpet of tiny golden flowers shaped like bells.
On the long ride, they had already come across men from Umbar and Harad, raiders and allies of Mordor. Most of the men had already fled before them, but a few stood their ground to fight.
Ahead, in the grey light before dawn, the land fell away and the air was scented with the sharp tang of salt.
Legolas nudged Arod to a halt, and drew a deep breath of the cold, sea-tainted breeze. Above them, a high, keening cry sounded. Legolas tensed at the sound of the shrill wail. It seemed to delve deep into his soul, cutting him loose from the tranquillity and peace he had always felt beneath his beloved trees.
Although it was a sound he had never heard before, still he knew instinctively what it was, and Galadriel’s warning abruptly came back to him. Too late, now, to heed the words, too late to rue the path that had led him here. Transfixed by the cry, he gazed upwards at the fleeting white shapes wheeling overhead, his heart soaring to join them.
He did not hear Gimli shouting at him, did not feel the dwarf prodding him in the back, and kicking futilely at Arod. And he did not see the Haradrim warrior riding straight at them, spear raised.
Something, some grain of awareness, wrenched his attention back to the battle, and he suddenly saw the spear, only a handspan away, aimed straight at his face. He jerked backwards, the point of the spear missing him by a fraction of an inch, and the shaft smashed against his head.
Still disorientated, Legolas tumbled from Arod’s back and hit the ground hard. Arod shot forward in fright, with Gimli clutching desperately at his mane. He twisted round precariously, and saw Legolas on the ground, with several of the Corsairs and Haradrim converging on him. Blasted elf! If he got himself killed ...
Gimli hauled on Arod’s mane. "Stop, you stupid horse, STOP!! Arod, turn around, we have to go back!” he bellowed.
He didn’t know whether it was his words, his frantic tugging, or the fact that Arod realised he was missing a rider, but the horse slowed, turned, then raced back the way they had come.
To his relief, he saw Legolas on his feet, but the relief was tempered by dismay as he saw the elf surrounded by several mounted fighters. He was using just his long knife, the bow lying several yards away on the grass, out of reach. He was at an obvious disadvantage, compounded by the fact that Legolas would never harm any of the horses in order to bring the riders down. And yet ...
Gimli watched in disbelief as Legolas’ knife flashed out, slicing at the belly of the nearest horse, then another, and another. His stifled oath changed to a shout of laughter, as with a startled cry the riders slid from the backs of their horses, one ending up beneath the hooves of his steed. The saddles thudded to the ground on top of the riders, the girth straps cleanly cut through. Unencumbered, the horses ran on across the plains.
By the time Gimli reached Legolas, four of the raiders were dead. A fifth fell as he watched. Gimli swung his axe at another, taking the head off a seventh rider on the backswing, and the last two spurred their horses away, fleeing the unequal battle.
Gimli gripped Arod’s mane with one hand, and eyes closed, leaned over as far as he dared, the other hand extended.
“Legolas! Here!” he yelled.
Legolas turned, snatched up his bow, and grabbed Gimli’s wrist. He jumped, twisting in mid-air, and settled into his usual place on Arod’s back in front of Gimli.
“Are you all right? What happened?” Gimli shouted. He was worried, wondering what had caused his friend to be so distracted it had nearly resulted in his death.
Legolas turned. There was a small cut above one eyebrow, and a trickle of blood down his face. He looked, and sounded, shaken.
“I’m fine. Thank you for coming back. It was ...” he trailed off, shaking his head. “I don’t know.”
The remnants of the raiders had fled, fleeing to the haven of their ships at Pelargir. Aragorn’s company pursued them, but when they reached the ends of the plains of Lebennin, they halted for a brief rest. Theirs had been a long, hard ride, and the battle to come, to seize the ships and sail up the Anduin, would be the hardest yet.
Most of the Dúnedain took the opportunity to sleep for a couple of hours. Others were content to rest by the campfires. When he would have followed suit, Legolas found himself the subject of the scrutiny of four hard stares.
He swallowed uncomfortably, his gaze moving from Aragorn to Gimli, Elladan to Elrohir.
“What happened to you?” Elladan asked flatly.
Legolas shifted uneasily. It was difficult to prevaricate when he didn’t know for certain himself what had happened.
“I’m ... not sure.”
“Not sure?” Gimli echoed. “You were so distracted you never saw that Haradrim raider until it was almost too late! You fell off Arod!”
“ ‘Beware of the sea.’ Those were Galadriel’s words. That was the message she sent to you, wasn’t it?” asked Aragorn.
“Yes ... I thought she foretold my death. I heard the gulls ...” Legolas shivered.
“The sea-longing.” said Elrohir softly. “ It lies deep in the hearts of all our kindred. It is perilous to stir.”
“Sea longing? What is that?” Gimli asked.
Legolas was silent. It was not something he wanted to discuss, not until he had had the chance to think about it himself.
“It is the desire, long buried in all the elves, to sail over the sea to the Undying Lands, to Valinor and Eldamar. None can long withstand its call,” Elrohir explained.
“But what does it mean?” demanded Gimli.
Legolas sighed. “It means I shall find no peace in Middle Earth any more, not unless I pass over the sea. But I do not wish to leave! I do not want to leave the forests of Lasgalen, the trees of beech, or elm, or oak. Alas for the wailing of the gulls!”
“Then you will always be torn, never truly happy or content,” said Elladan sadly. “I know. I have seen it enough in our kindred.”
Legolas left them abruptly, walking off into the night. The inner turmoil he felt was unfamiliar, already he could feel something tugging at his heart. When he had first heard the message from Galadriel, the words had seemed dark, and he thought she had spoken openly of his death. Nonetheless, he had never questioned Aragorn’s decision to follow this route, even knowing it would lead to the sea, and the fulfilling of her prophecy.
He had never even considered this alternative interpretation, but now that Elrohir had spoken of it, he knew, beyond doubt, the truth of it. It was scarcely comforting. Death in battle could come at any time, he was a warrior, but this torment was something new.
Far behind him, he could hear Aragorn calling the Grey Company. It was time to ride on, down to the Great River, and the Pelargir estuary. He returned to their encampment, collected Arod, and mounted, waiting for Gimli to join him. Ahead of them lay high, sandy dunes. Beyond that, lay the river, the ships of the Corsairs, yet another battle to gain control of the fleet, and a long voyage up the river to Minas Tirith, with no certain victory when they arrived.
From the top of the dunes Legolas could see the wide black waters of the Anduin, so wide it could be the sea already. Far below were wide mud flats, and a multitude of seabirds on the shore. Overhead were more gulls, wheeling and soaring in the dawn light.
With a sudden laugh, he nudged Arod down the dunes in a shower of sand. He flung out his arms, looking up at the birds, his spirit flying high with them. It was dawn, he could smell the sea, and the cry of the gulls filled his ears.