Disclaimer: This story is written in Tolkien's magical world, which is not mine and never will be. It is written purely for fun and no money is made from it.
Summary: When Legolas heard the cry of the gulls the sea-longing awoke in his heart that would not be stilled. But the Sons of Elrond also stood upon that shore and gazed into the West, and of what they felt we know nothing.
A/N: I find the question of the choice of the Half-Elven fascinating and just had to write this. I promise I have not abandoned Walking into Darkness. The next chapter is on its way.
As usual I have to thank Sphinx for all her help with this. You continue to astonish me with your knowledge of Tolkien's world.
A Distant Shore
'Look!' he cried. 'Gulls! They are flying far inland. A wonder they are to me and a trouble to my heart. Never in all my life have I met them, until we came to Pelargir, and there I heard them crying in the air as we rode to the battle of the ships. Then I stood still, forgetting war in Middle-earth; for their wailing voices spoke to me of the sea. The Sea! Alas! I have not yet beheld it. But deep in the heart of all my kindred lies the sea-longing, which it is perilous to stir. Alas for the gulls! No peace shall I have again under beech or elm.'
The Return of the King
The battle was over. Black smoke curled in the air from the burned hulk far out in the river, but the noises of war had died to a whisper that was carried off by the wind. Rangers now manned the Black Fleet and the horde of the dead had departed, leaving the spoils of victory to the living. And in the stillness and silence of the aftermath a flock of sea birds took wing, wheeling high above the heads of men, and they called out their raucous displeasure as they flew to the sea.
Legolas froze where he stood, words dying on his lips, and he lifted his face to the sky just as he had in that moment he first heard the cry of the gulls as they rode into battle. Gimli's gaze followed his friend's, staring into the clouds as though he feared some enemy was about to ascend from above, so stricken was the Elf's expression. But he saw nothing to alarm him, nor heard any sound to grieve him, for he was not of the First Born and the call was not for him.
And farther away, alone among the rocks, two others stood motionless as the sound seared through them and brought turmoil to their souls. But for them the agony was the different, for their hearts were divided in their fate and no clear path lay before their feet.
'Do you feel it also?' Elladan asked of his twin, as the crying of the gulls faded away.
'I do,' Elrohir answered, his voice troubled and distant. 'I feel the lapping of the waves on a distant shore, and the spray of salt upon my face. Yet there is no urgency in me to answer its call, perhaps rather a gentle tugging of my heart towards a future I can claim or turn aside from at will.'
'It should not be so.'
'No, it should not. Look at Legolas. To him this sound brings a pain and a joy that we cannot share, and I do not wish to know what that might mean.'
Elladan sighed. 'To me it seems that however hard I try, the choice we face cannot be ignored. And this is but another reminder of the bitterness of our fate. We are Elf-kind and yet the Elvenhome is beyond our sight. I know I may take the Straight Path and walk it's fair shores but there is an uneasiness in me when I look to that road and I wish it were not so.'
'Aye, it would be easier then,' Elrohir agreed sadly, 'to feel the call of the sea and know that one day I must answer. But we are doomed to the choice our father faced and until that choice is made there will be no peace for us. But I believe that did we but choose to go, the way would be open and welcoming and all our fears laid to rest.'
Elladan laughed, but there was little humour in the sound. 'You do not reassure me, brother. For that choice is the very thing that I fear and the choosing will be long and hard. Relief will not come swiftly to us.' He shook his head, turning his back on the grey waters and blocking out the contention in his heart but as he did so he caught sight of Legolas, standing alone and gazing out to the West. And suddenly he knew that all the turmoil he felt could not compare to the grief that had been stirred in the soul of his woodland friend and he knew a moment of gladness that he would not have to endure what was unendurable.
'Would it be so,' Elrohir wondered, still gazing at the great river as if in his mind he could see the grey vastness of the sea beyond, 'if we had no mortal ties to this land?'
'But mortal ties we have, brother, and I could not wish it otherwise.'
'Ah, I did not mean to say so, only that perhaps our choice would not appear so harsh if a love of Middle Earth was all that we would bear away into memory when our ship sets to sail.'
He turned and Elladan followed his gaze to where their foster-brother rested on the shore, dark hair whipped into tangles by the salty breeze. He smiled. 'Ties of blood bind tight, do they not? Yet family we have on either side of this divide, and our choosing is not between them. Though we may shy away from it, it is another question altogether that we face. A choice between the doom of the two races of which we were born. Do we answer our Elven heritage and take to the ships, or is the call of mortality too strong to deny? For I feel its call, and it is tied to this land we love. Middle Earth is changing, and that change grows swifter every passing year. The time of immortal things is done, and the eyes of our Elven kindred look ever more often to the sea. Those whose home lies far away make ready to depart, yet still we debate the feelings in our hearts to which we can put no name.'
'We have changed.'
'Yet we always knew we were different.'
Elrohir laughed. 'Our thoughts run in circles, brother. Always we have borne the blood of Men in our veins, yet for centuries that blood lay dormant, even all the years we walked with the Dunedain. I feel it now, but that was not so, until . . .'
'Until Arathorn,' Elladan finished quietly. For generations they had kept company with the Rangers of the North, but from all except Arathorn they had kept a cautious distance, refusing to allow acquaintances to become friends, much less cherished as family. What it was about that one man that had caused them to take him to their hearts they did not know, for they had done so unwittingly. Perhaps long years of loneliness since the loss of their mother had finally caused the twins' reserve to crack and admit another into the guarded circle of their affections, but it was a friendship that was repaid in blood. For Arathorn had been slain by orcs, and left not only a young wife and infant son in the throes of grief, but two Elven warriors forced to face a loss they could barely comprehend. Bitter was their first taste of mortality, but it had stirred in them that which had been sleeping all the years of their lives. Reeling from the death of a friend they had transferred their affections to his young son, and did not realise that in doing so they were fuelling the fire of their own mortality. Such emotional reaction was not inherent in their Elven lineage, though deep ran the love of the Eldar for all things living, rather they acted after the manner of mortals, seeking respite from their pain in the embodiment of its cause; for Aragorn was but one new life in the cycle of birth and death, hope and grief, that was unending in the world of Men.
Elven-wise, they had loved like mortals. And that love might claim them yet.
* * *
Weary yet triumphant Aragorn rested on the beach in sight of his captured fleet, and let the breeze blown in from the sea tease his hair and refresh his soul. He had struggled so long against the darkness, fighting for every step as he led his shadow army to the fulfilment of their oath, and now he wished only a moment to relax away from the watchful stares of his companions. And as he lay propped against a boulder the exhaustion he had denied out of need claimed him at last and he slipped into a doze.
Conscious thought dissolved into dreamless rest, cradled by the unnatural quiet only the aftermath of battle could bring. He drifted away, comforted and succoured and content to let sleep take him where it would, when a touch on his arm startled him back to himself. Aragorn opened his eyes to see Gimli standing before him and one look at his face told him something was amiss. Mutely the Dwarf gestured towards his friend and Aragorn turned to see Legolas staring blindly into the sun. Alarmed though uncertain he forced the last cobwebs of sleep from his mind and rose unsteadily to his feet, moving swiftly to the Elf.
Legolas made no sign that he heard his approach, nor did he move when Aragorn reached his side. The ranger paused, unsure of his best course, and gazed searchingly into the upturned face beside him. And then he understood.
For as Aragorn looked at Legolas he beheld in his face what he had until then seen only as a reflection in the eyes of his Elven father in those moments when his thoughts turned to the West. And he perceived in his friend, in that one unguarded instant, the full force of the sea-longing unleashed and knew that the call had stirred the Elf's blood to reach for home.
He placed a gentle hand on a shoulder that quivered beneath his touch, and slowly Legolas turned his eyes from the sky as though waking from a dream.
'So did the Lady tell me,' he whispered. 'And I did not understand. Of the sea I know naught, for I have seen it not, and of the land beyond only legends. Yet the longing for it is like a poison curling through my blood for which the only cure is surrender.' His voice cracked, strained with grief, and for a moment Aragorn imagined he could see tears in his stormy eyes. 'The trees of my home fade in my memory, Aragorn, though I have walked beneath their eaves a thousand years and more. And though the love that I bear Middle Earth will never change, all that binds me to this land will diminish until nothing remains of my time here, not even you, my friend. And when all that went before is gone, what lies ahead is still a mystery. For my people are yet strangers to Aman.'
He fell silent, and Aragorn looked away, for he knew the Elf did not wish for him to see his grief. His eyes sought out his brothers, standing back from the water, and he searched their faces with growing unease. Dreading to see the same pain mirrored in their grey eyes, he saw instead something that made his heart ache even more. He saw the shadow of death.
* * *
The twins watched as Aragorn stood by his friend and saw the cloud that fell across his face as Legolas spoke.
'He knows,' Elladan murmured, and when his foster-brother turned his gaze upon them he wished to hide his face for he found himself suddenly ashamed. He did not want any other save his twin to understand his confusion, nor what such confusion meant. He had been raised with the certain knowledge that one day he would leave these shores, for there had been no ties strong enough to supplant the one he felt for his people, no love greater than he bore for his family until he had extended that love to a mortal. Now two whom he loved would die, and death would take them from him the way it would not take an Elf. His heart was torn in half and he could not keep that grief from his eyes.
'He knows,' Elrohir agreed sadly. And he lowered his eyes.
Elladan caught back a sob. 'I did not want Estel to see this, not now, not ever. He knows it is for him that we waver, and he will blame himself.'
'No, he will understand.'
But Elrohir's words lacked conviction and his brother could draw no comfort from them, for Elladan feared the Aragorn would indeed understand far too well and there could be no denying the truth. If not for him they would not be faced with this choice. If not for him their Elven blood would have triumphed over their human heritage. Yet if not for Aragorn their lives would never have been enriched by the emotional fulfilment only the short lives of mortals could bring. Elladan could only hope he would understand this as well as he understood his role in their final choice.
For the love of a mortal they might, in time, relinquish their grace to grow old and die in the land they loved, and with those they cared so much for. And if that choice would bring grief to their father and mother, they needed to believe it might also bring comfort to those with whom they would spend the rest of their mortal lives. Because if it did not then it would truly be a tragedy.
Slowly he raised his eyes and looked full into the face of his foster-brother. Aragorn gazed back sadly though he made no move to cross the distance between them, and Elladan saw his own torment reflected in this eyes. Then, just as he thought he could bear the contact no longer, a smile graced the ranger's sombre face and he dipped his head in silent acknowledgement of the depths of his family's love for him. Elladan felt a wave of grateful relief sweep through him.
'Yes, Elrohir,' he answered his twin with a lighter heart. 'I believe he will understand.'