Author's Note: Many thanks to Docmon, the all-powerful beta reader who gave this vignette a much-needed edit.
He moves quietly into the early morning darkness, eyes tired and head bowed. A heavy cloak drawn about his shoulders wards off night's lingering chill, but he shivers still as he makes his way toward the western gate of the elven court. His shiver draws the gaze of watchful sentries, but they say nothing, holding their silence as he passes. His coming is expected; the wind is from the south.
The course he takes is a familiar one. He has walked this path before, though never so frequently as in recent years. There was once a time when he could control his dreams. When he could spend an entire night within a single memory. When the murmur of trees was all that blended with the whisper of starlight, and when distant thunder did not call to mind the rumble of waves against the shore.
He pulls his cloak tighter about his shoulders.
At length, Ithilien's trees part before him and a green hill looms tall above. Without pause, he begins to climb. His feet leave a faint trail in the glistening dew, though he makes no imprint on the springy grass, and he marvels that he can walk so lightly when his heart is so heavy. It aches with a constant, relentless pain, and this pain triggers a restlessness in his mind that drives him now to seek the dawn. Sometimes the dawn offers a measure of solace. It is not always the case, but it is the surest remedy he has. And given his condition, he can ill afford to overlook any offering of relief, no matter how small or remote.
Reaching the crest of the hill, he pauses and lifts his face to the sky. He has arrived in good time. A few stars yet linger, but they are fading quickly and rosy hues now spread their blush over scattered clouds. Making his way to a broad, flat rock, he climbs atop it and folds long legs beneath him. Once he is comfortable, he turns his eyes to the west where he looks for the first gleamings of dawn.
As the easternmost of Gondor's holdings, Ithilien should have been the land first touched by the sun, but the shadow of the towering Ephel Dúath ensures that Ithilien is actually among the last to greet the day. It is an irony that he and many others have often considered, and some have even gone so far as to say that it is a parting stroke of the Nameless One against the forests that harbored the illusive Rangers. He is not certain that such a thing can be attributed to Sauron, but regardless of the cause, the result is the same: Any in Ithilien who wish to see the sunrise must look first to the west.
But the west holds far more treasures than just the sun. Behind the dawn and beyond the sight of man, dwarf, and even elf lies a bittersweet promise that he will not always be tied to mortal lands. For in the west, the Straight Path rises from the Bent Sea, and elven ships may take this road to the Blessed Realm. It calls him even now, singing of hope and rest through the voice of waters cresting on the tide. It is an ancient voice. A gentle voice. A voice that has haunted his mind ever since a gull's cry pierced his heart in the fair fields of Lebennin so many years ago…
With a shake of his head, he pulls his thoughts away from the white bird. He focuses instead on the Tower of Ecthelion and the glistening sides of Mount Mindolluin. With elven patience and elven sight, he clears his mind and watches intently as the sky grows paler still.
And then he sees it.
As a spring bringing life to a desert, it pours over the mountain and tumbles swiftly down until the tip of the Tower is caught in a blaze of gold. The light moves on, and the White City proves its name, all but glowing as the dawn stretches further to paint the fields of the Pelennor with colors of green and amber. The ribbon of mist that marks the Anduin sparkles in the morning, and still the light continues, creeping across the river and touching softly upon the eastern shore.
But despite the glory to the west, most of his own land remains dark. The greater part of Ithilien is yet shadowed, and glancing back, he sees that the slopes of the Ethel Dúath are as black as the creatures that prowled their canyons for years uncounted. It will be several long hours ere he can look east for the light. And it will be many long years ere he can look east for the dawn.
He closes his eyes, and his shoulders sag as though beneath a great weight. There are times when the call of the Sea sounds so loudly that he can hear little else, and there are times when the dawn draws his eyes so far to the west that can he see nothing more. A day will come when these bitter lures will be all that remain to him, and on that day, he will depart. Then he will look east for the sun, and morning will rise not from tortured mountains but from the endless Sea. And at that moment, he will be free. Free from the stirrings that plague his heart, and free from the whispers that trouble his dreams. But oh, the price for such freedom! For when the day comes that he may look east toward the dawn, he will also look east toward a land where beloved friends—brothers in all but blood—once lived. And he will remember their names. Their faces. Their words and their laughter. But they will exist in memory only, and the eastern dawn will be darkened by loss, even as the western dawn is now darkened by promise.
But the darkness serves as a reminder that there is also light, and for now, the light he has received is sufficient. Opening his eyes, he looks again to the west, lingering briefly upon Minas Tirith before straining further to the haze of a distant but vibrant green that marks the fields of Rohan. With a whispered a word of thanks for the friends that have caused both his greatest joy and his greatest sorrow, he stands, his shoulders straight once more. The day has begun and he has found strength enough to endure it.
So resolved, he puts his back to the west and turns toward the east, where a pale blue sky stands firmly above a horizon of shadowed peaks.