The Stronger Call

A Stronger Call

This story was inspired by the wonderful poem "The Sea Longing" by Calenlass Greenleaf. Thanks for the inspiration, Cal!

Rated: K

Summary: Legolas hears a call he cannot resist. And he gives in. Perhaps slightly AU.

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or places. The beginning of this story, up until "who need you" (first four paragraphs, i.e. entire first scene without the last two) is copied from the book.

Note: This story was written for Teitho Challenge "The Sea, The Sea!" It won second place. Thanks to everyone who read and voted!

And now Legolas fell silent, while the others talked, and he looked out against the sun, and as he gazed he saw white sea-birds beating up the River.

"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 had 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 hearts 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 under elm."

"Say not so!" said Gimli. "There are countless things still to see in Middle-earth, and great works to do. But if all the fair folk take to the Havens, it will be a duller world for those who are doomed to stay."

"Dull and dreary indeed!" said Merry: "You must not go to the Havens, Legolas. There will always be some folk, big or little, and even a few wise dwarves like Gimli, who need you."

Legolas said nothing and gazed sadly at the Hobbits and the Dwarf. 'No, my friends,' he thought. 'I will not leave you. Not yet. Even if it pains me to stay, fear not. I will stay with you to the end. With all of you."

The Hobbits continued chatting lively, but Legolas heard them not, until someone mentioned The Path of the Dead. Merry and Pippin were curious, but Gimli seemed reluctant to say more. The memories of horror were still fresh in the Dwarf's mind, and they were filled with too much shame he wished to forget. So Legolas came to his aid and started the tale, thankful that something had taken his mind off of the fateful cry.

Legolas awoke with a start. The words still sounded in his mind, loud and clear as if they had been spoken yesterday. And yet, years had passed. Years of emptiness, years devoid of hope, happiness, or light.

The elf sat on the bed and held his head in his hands, gently massaging his temples. Years ago it had been easy to believe that he would be able to stay. But he had not known that it would get worse. So terribly worse. He had not expected the icy fingers that would curl around his heart and squeeze it will full force, neither had he expected the great weight that would settle on his chest, pinning him down, making him suffocate.

The gulls were far away now, but he could still hear them. So many nights had he stayed sleepless, staring at the night sky, afraid of what dreams could bring him. But he could also hear them during the day, when he was least prepared. Often he would make his friends worry when in the middle of a conversation he would suddenly grow quiet, his eyes bearing a faraway look, and his face turned west. Valar, he did not want to frighten them! He did not wish them to worry over him. But they knew. No matter how hard he tried to hide it, they always knew.

Once Aragorn had asked him to tell him about the sea-longing, hoping that talking would relief his friend's burden, and that if he understood it better, he would be able to help. And then Legolas had been surprised to realize that he was unable to tell anyone how it felt. Although it never left him, he was unable to describe it.

Perhaps the best word to summarize his emotions was 'bittersweet'. The cry of the gulls was the most beautiful, and yet the most horrible sound that he had heart during his entire long life. It made his heart sing… and break at the same time. He felt himself overwhelmed with beauty so strong that his soul would melt under its weight, and yet it was a beauty he could never touch, he could never feel. He just knew that it was there – this wondrous world that he could not see, these flowers he could not smell, these birds he could not hear. Beyond the Sea.

'I wonder if this is how it feels if you are in love with someone you can never have,' he sometimes asked himself. 'Seeing the fair face in your mind, your heart is overjoyed with so much beauty. And yet, knowing that you can never touch the smooth skin, that you can never sink into the deep eyes.'

But he could. He could follow his heart's desire and sail. Legolas brushed a stay tear and stood up. And then he walked, forward and forward, not knowing where he was headed. He finally stopped in front of a tall tree, grabbed a lower branch and nimbly jumped up. Within seconds, he was sitting on the highest branch, gazing at the stars.

The stars. Those shining pools of hope. They used to bring him peace and solace once. Trees used to bring solace. Birds and rabbits, ants and butterflies, mushrooms and flowers, stones and rivers, sun and rain – they all used to bring him solace. But not anymore.

He could hear the song of the forest no more. The only song he heard was the cry of the gulls. And it brought him no peace.

"Legolas!" He looked down at the sound of his name and felt helplessly guilty. Gimli was standing below the tree, looking up worriedly. Why was he awake in the middle of the night? The dwarf had come to visit him in Ithilien, and the entire time Legolas had done nothing but frighten his loyal friend.

The elf sighed and jumped from the tree. Gimli's eyes widened in horror when he saw his friend jump from the great height, but Legolas landed gracefully. For once, he did not comment on how stunned the dwarf looked, and this worried Gimli more than anything else could.

"I am sorry, my friend," the elf said softly, and his voice was laden with unspoken grief.

"You are sorry?" If the dwarf had been worried before, now he was terrified. "For what?"

Legolas bowed his head, unable to meet his friend's gaze, unable to look at the pain his next words were going to cause. "For what I am about to do."

Legolas was standing by the window, gazing westwards. He was so engulfed in what he was looking at that he never heard the soft footsteps behind him. Still he was not startled when a hand gently gripped his forearm. He turned back and smiled at the newly crowned King.

To his surprise and worry Aragorn looked greatly troubled. The man shifted uneasily, unsure how to start. "Legolas," he said softly and hesitated briefly before continuing. "You can never imagine how grateful I am that you stayed with me until the end of the War and after my coronation. I don't know how I would have made it without you, my friend, and for that I thank you. But after Pelargir I can see something different in your eyes, something that pains me greatly. I know what staying here means to you, and I cannot ask you to do this. I will not ask you to stay. Leave if you must, and I will understand."

Aragorn was speaking hastily, the words flowing out of his mouth as if he was in a great hurry to finish this speech and put an end to his ordeal, and obviously it pained him a lot to say that. He gazed fearfully at his friend, anxiously awaiting the answer. He knew that whatever answer Legolas gave, it would fill him with joy and dismay at the same time.

Legolas suppressed a smile. 'Oh, silly human! Don't you know that I would never leave you?' He raised an eyebrow questioningly and said aloud, "Are you trying to chase me away?"

Aragorn's eyes widened and he quickly shook his head, horrified by the notion. "How can you say that? You know that nothing could make me happier than having you here."

"Then I am staying," the elf replied simply, suppressing his smile no more.

The man sighed guiltily and briefly looked away, before his gaze met his friend's once again. "I thank you, but it is a sacrifice I cannot accept. Your pain is too high a price to pay for my happiness."

"No price is too high," Legolas replied fondly, but Aragorn only shook his head.

"I don't want another immortal to suffer because of me! I don't want all the ones that I love dearly to sacrifice themselves because of me!" He admitted his greatest fear.

Legolas gazed at the sad and troubled grey eyes, looking at him, begging him, and smiled gently. Despite the words his friend had spoken, those eyes were telling a different story. 'Please, Legolas,' he could read in those eyes. 'prove to me that I am wrong! Argue with me! Show me that my belief is false! Show me that you can stay, and not suffer. I cannot lose you. I will not bear it.'

The blue elven eyes twinkled merrily and the answer in them was obvious. 'Worry not, my friend, I will. I will argue with you until you the truth has finally entered that thick human head of yours. And the truth is that there is no option for me, but to stay.'

"First of all," he said loudly. "Arwen is not suffering because of you, and neither am I. Second, it seems you think that I am staying here because of your happiness. Well, my friend, I am not." He could not help but chuckle at Aragorn's perplexed expression and continued. "True, your happiness is one of my reasons to stay, but it is not the only one. Yes, it is one of the most important reasons, perhaps even the most important one." He paused and looked his friend in the eyes. "But I am staying for my own happiness as well. I shall find no joy beyond the Sea, knowing that I have left you here." The man tried to interrupt him, but he silenced him. "This is why Arwen is staying too. Her happiness lies here, with you, and nothing awaits her in the Undying Lands, but grief and emptiness. She cannot live without you. And I don't want to live without you. Not yet. Not as long as I can help it."

Aragorn was about to protest, but the elf only pressed a finger against his lips. "Speak not, my friend, I do not wish to listen to any more of the nonsense you are going to say. But look at me and tell me the truth. You wish me to stay, do you not?"

A somewhat guilty smile spread over the king's lips, and his eyes sparkled with tears of relief. "Yes, Legolas," he breathed. "I wish you to stay. You can never imagine how much I wish you to stay."

"Then trouble yourself no further," the elf said determinedly and grasped his shoulders, making their eyes lock. "I will not sail. I will stay with you to the very end."

And he had meant it. Valar knew, he had meant to stay. And yet, here he was, standing on the white shore, the Sea gently washing his feet and the gulls crying above him. Behind him was a ship, large and magnificent, a ship built to travel across the Sea. Many of the Ithilien elves had chosen to sail on that day, and they had already boarded, patiently waiting for him. But Legolas could not bring himself to turn towards the ship. He could not tear his anguished gaze from the three figures standing before him.

One was a man, tall and well-build. A frown of sorrow marred his handsome face, and his silver eyes were shining with conflicting emotions. Disbelief and grief were battling with reason and acceptance, and the second seemed to have no chances to win. The strong wind was blowing locks of dark hair into his stormy eyes, but he had neither the strength, nor the will to brush them away. It seemed as if all his strength had left him and was going to sail away on that beautiful ship waiting at the Havens.

One was an elf, slender and fair. Her grey eyes were filled with compassion and understanding, and yet, they held a trace of pain. Her head was slightly bowed, as if she was overcome by emotion, as she watched a dear friend sail where she would never follow. Could never follow.

One was a dwarf, short and sturdy. His face was averted to the side, and he was careful that the elf would not see his eyes. However, it was obvious what he would find there. His shoulders were slumped in grief, and his fists were tightly clenched.

Legolas took a step closer to them, but felt as if a hand had gripped his throat and squeezed it tightly. He could not speak.

"Years ago I said that I would not try to keep you here," Aragorn said, and it was painfully evident that speaking was not easy for him either, "and to that I hold. Thank you for staying with me until now, Legolas. I… I hope you know what your company meant to me." The man trusted his voice no more and simply bowed his head, closing his eyes shut.

"I am sorry," Legolas finally managed to whisper. "I told you I would have stayed with you to the end. I gave you false hope, and I was unable to hold to my word." He paused to swallow the lump in his throat and reached forward to lift the man's chin. "Estel, it breaks my heart to see the pain I have caused you."

Aragorn reached up and grasped the hand still touching his face. "I never though you could have resisted until the end," he admitted with a sad smile. "I never thought you could have resisted as long as you did. But I am glad that you did. I treasure every single moment I spent with you, and as long as I draw breath, you will not be forgotten. And now I am grateful that you chose to follow your heart, mellon nîn, instead of staying here for my sake."

'No, not my heart, my friend,' Legolas though sadly. 'These cursed gulls, this is what I listened to! My heart told me to stay, to stay here with you.' But he did not speak. He knew that his voice would betray him. All he could do was let himself be pulled into a long and lingering embrace. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to sink into the touch of his dear friend he was seeing for the very last time. And when he finally pulled away, he could hold his tears back no longer.

He took a step to his right and tried to smile at Arwen, but failed miserably. She lifted her hand and touched his cheek affectionately. "I see guilt in your eyes, Legolas," she said softly. "There is no need. I understand you completely. You have no choice. You are not to blame."

Legolas froze. I understand you completely. Of course she did. Of course Arwen understood him; Arwen, who would never be able to sail; Arwen, who would one day be the last elf in Middle-earth. True, it was not so hard for her. As a peredhel she was given the choice to stay or sail. But he was given none. He had to leave sooner or later as Middle-earth belonged to the Elves no more. And still, he could imagine that she sometimes wished to sail. Not only was her father across the Sea, but also her beloved mother, whom she had not seen in such a long time. When the two had parted, Arwen had not known that she would never see her mother again.

"How do you do it?" He asked before he could stop himself. "You will never be able to go. How do you face the grief?"

To his greatest surprise, the pain in Arwen's eyes disappeared almost completely, and was replaced by peace and happiness. Her gaze drifted towards Aragorn, who did not seem to be listening to them, but instead was gazing at a seagull in wonder and anger, perhaps even hatred. This strange creature had caused him more harm that it would ever know. She smiled. "There is a stronger call, that keeps me here," she answered. "While I have Estel, there will be no grief for me in Middle-earth."

Legolas smiled in understanding and nodded. "For that I am glad." His eyes then turned toward the dwarf, who was still looking away.

"Gimli, we have discussed this before," he started. "You said you were willing to come with me, and once I arrive I will ask for you to be permitted. Never before has a dwarf been allowed to the Undying Lands, but I am sure that the Lady Galadriel will support me, and her word is greatly respected. Stay here as long as you must, and you can sail with the other elves who still remain in Ithilien." Gimli was still looking away, and Legolas knelt in front of him. "We might still meet, my friend. Do not despair."

Gimli could not look up. No matter how fiercely he blinked, he could not clear the moisture from his eyes. Legolas could not see him like that!

His intentions, however, were plain to the elf. 'Ah, my friend!' Legolas thought sadly. 'Haven't you realized that your tears cannot make me think less of you? Nothing can. The time when you had to prove to be my superior is long past. There is no superiority among friends!' How he wished to speak these words, but when he opened his mouth, he could not find his voice.

Unable to stand the grief anymore, Legolas gazed at them for a last time and turned around. He walked forward hastily and boarded the ship.

And then he sailed.

The trio gazed after the ship, no one able to look away. Soon Legolas' figure was no longer visible, and the vessel had turned into a dark dot on the horizon. When it disappeared completely, Aragorn turned around and without saying a word rushed into the forest. Arwen looked sadly after him, but let him go. Gimli's gaze remained fixed at the Sea, as if he had not even noticed that the ship has disappeared from sight. After a while Arwen left quietly, trying not to disturb the dwarf although at this moment the short being would not have noticed if twenty trolls had passed him by. Soon Gimli stood alone on the shore.

He did not know how long he had been there, but when the Sun set and the sky began to darken, he finally turned around and without conscious thought walked to the nearest tree. He gazed up and sighed. Legolas had always found such beauty in trees, a beauty he had failed to understand. 'I never even tried, did I?' He thought sadly. 'Well, better late than never!' With a look of firm determination, Gimli stretched up his hands, trying to grasp the lowest branch, but it was too high for his reach. The dwarf grunted in frustration and jumped up, but it was still too high. Pushing away his despair, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to concentrate. He had to put all of his strength in one single jump.

On his next try, his right hand grasped the branch, while his left arm hung loosely in the air. Gimli swallowed and tried to pull himself up, finally managing to hold the branch with his left hand as well. How was the elf doing this? Every time he watched Legolas climb a tree it seemed so easy!

He had progress, but still no success. So far he was hanging off one of the lowest branches, his feet dangling in the air. Tightening his grip, Gimli swung his feet back and forth, finally making them reach another branch. Still maintaining his hold, he pushed himself off of the second branch and his feet landed on the one he was holding. Closing his eyes, Gimli stood up from his crouching position and immediately pressed his palms and his forehead against the trunk. When he opened them, he could not resist the urge to tremble.

He was so high up! He didn't even know how to get back down!

Still failing to see what beauty Legolas found in this, but terribly missing his friend, he lowered himself until he was seating on the branch, his back pressed against the trunk. He had hoped to climb much higher, but this was definitely the limit of his abilities. Gimli took a deep breath of the clear evening air and let the sea breeze caress his face.

And, for the first time, he admitted to himself that his friendship with Legolas had changed him. In much more ways than making him climb a tree.

Legolas was looking at his friends until they disappeared. Then suddenly his knees buckled under him and he fell on the deck with a sigh. He had hoped that the longing would go away once he had boarded on the ship, but, on the contrary, the feeling of emptiness had only increased.

The elf closed eyes and his rubbed his forehead with his palm, trying to get rid of his unpleasant thoughts. But as he did, he was aware of a dull pain in his chest. Legolas frowned. Perhaps he would feel better when they reached Valinor, but as it was, his condition was worse than before he had left.

The Sea was vast and of a beautiful rich blue color. As far as he could see there was only water, playing around in magnificent waves. He had never seen waves so huge before. It was a breathtaking view – no doubt about it. The waves sang with voices deep and wondrous. Legolas straightened and leaned over the water, letting the wind caress his face. Somehow, the Sea spoke to him in a way the trees could not. And then, suddenly, he felt at home. More at home than he had ever felt in any forest.

But if he was truly at home, why did this feeling of emptiness refuse to go away? He felt some strange peace spread over his senses, but at the same time he was missing something, something important. The icy fingers around his heart were tighter than ever, and the weight on his chest was even heavier than before, making him suffocate.

'Perhaps it is guilt that makes me feel so,' he thought regretfully. And indeed he felt guilty. He had caused his friends so much hurt, so much sorrow! They loved him dearly, and how had he repaid them? By breaking their hearts and abandoning them! True, he was a foul friend. He could not erase from his memory the sound of Aragorn's broken voice when they had parted. What right did he have to do this to his friend? Shouldn't he have stayed for the man's sake if not for his own? Would it have been such a great sacrifice to make? And Gimli – the dwarf had even refused to look at him! Hiding his tears, no doubt.

Legolas had the sudden urge to rush to the elf standing by the rudder and call him to turn back, but quickly managed to regain control over himself. His decision to sail was not lightly made, and neither was it rash or impulsive. He had seriously thought about sailing for years, and although it pained him to leave, he knew that he had no other choice.

And yet, at last he had followed the call, but the promises of peace and happiness the gulls had called to him had not been fulfilled. Legolas heard a soft sound above him and looked up. Three gulls were flying in a circle above the ship.

One of them opened its beak, and he tensed reflexively. Legolas braced himself to hear this familiar wailing sound he knew so well, the sound he loved and loathed with a passion, the sound that had robbed him of his friends, that had robbed him of the peace he could feel among the trees. To his surprise, the sound that left the gull's beak was completely different from the well-known call.

This sound was painfully wonderful… and painfully familiar. It filled his heart with longing and with grief. It sounded as something he had heard so many times, and yet could not place it in his memories. It was coming from a distant time and place, so distant that it was almost forgotten. He wanted to touch this sound, to let it drown him into its depths, and yet he knew that it was lost to him forever. Once the gull closed its beak he would never again hear it. And yet, he wanted to. It made him feel as if he was missing something. And then it daunted on him. Memories came back to him from a sea of long forgotten past. And then he knew.

It sounded like Aragorn's laughter.

He blinked in wonder and stared at the gull. But then another one opened its beak. This time Legolas needed less time to identify what it sounded like. Gimli's voice when he was bantering with him.

The elf rubbed his eyes, as if to make sure that he wasn't dreaming. But he was not. The voices were as real as the wooden deck below his feet and the light breeze on his face.

He felt on the floor with a cry and tightly pressed his hands over his ears, trying to block the sounds. But this only made them louder and clearer.

The third and last gull cried. It was Aragorn's voice again, but not filled with joy and laughter as the first time. It was broken and heavy with sorrow. Like Aragorn's voice when they had parted.

Legolas could stand it no more. He rose and rushed down his cabin, away from the Sea and away from the terrible gulls. But he could not escape the calls and they followed him no matter where he went.

When night finally fell, the elf went up the deck once more. He walked forward and forward, not sure where he was going. He finally stopped in front of the highest mast and nimbly climbed up. Within seconds, he was sitting in the crow's nest, gazing at the stars.

The stars. Those shining pools of hope. They used to bring him peace and solace once. But not anymore. The Sea, beautiful and magnificent, now dark under the pale moonlight, could bring him no solace. He could hear the song of the waves no more. All he could hear were his friends' voices. And they brought him no solace.

They spoke of places he would never visit again. Of faces he would never see again. Of lips that would never smile at him again. Of voices, that would never soothe him when he was hurt. Of hands that would never again catch him when he fell.

Legolas was not ready to lose them. Not yet. Not as long as he could help it.

He walked slowly but determinedly towards the dark-haired elf standing by the rudder. "It is a beautiful night, my Prince," the fair being said when Legolas approached him.

The golden-haired elf sighed. He could see no beauty. "I need to go back," he said softly.

The other elf's eyes widened. "My Lord, we cannot return! All of us have heard the Call already. We can stay in Middle-earth no more!"

"I will not make you return with me," he said. "Just go back to the Havens and let me go ashore. Then you may leave. I will follow you when my time has come, but it is not yet so. There are countless things still to see in Middle-earth, and great works to do." He smiled as he repeated Gimli's words from years ago. Yes, countless things to see and do indeed. And he would make sure that he had seen and done them all.

Legolas stepped on the familiar shore and breathed the fresh night air. His friends had all left. He gazed around, but saw nothing.

"Legolas!" He startled and looked in confusion in the direction the voice had come from. At first he could discern nothing among the dark trees, but when he saw who had called him, he stared in stunned disbelief and gaped at the view.

Sweet Eru! What had happened in his absence?! Had they truly returned to Middle-earth, or had the ship taken him to some mad and unknown land, where everything was happening the opposite way from how it was supposed to happen? Was he going to see a horde of elves carrying axes, running to hide in a nearby cave?

What was Gimli doing in a tree?!

"Legolas!" The vision called once again. "Tell me that you are real!"

The elf blinked feeling utterly speechless. He was expected to say that he was real?

After a few seconds of silence, he finally managed to find his voice. "Gimli?" He asked fearfully, still highly doubtful that this strange being was indeed his friend. "What are you doing on that branch?"

Legolas could not believe he had said that. He could not believe he would ever say that. He could not believe he would ever find Gimli sitting on a branch.

The elf was sure he had reached his highest degree of "stunnedfulness", but then Gimli proved him wrong and his answer stunned him even further.

"To be honest, I wanted to climb higher up, but I couldn't. That's why I'm on this branch," the dwarf admitted his defeat and blushed in the darkness.

Legolas blinked a few more times, but then burst into laughter. And tears quickly found their way to his eyes. He did not need to ask why Gimli had done that – he already knew. And it made his heart ache.

"You have come back?" Gimli whispered uncertainly. He desperately needed some reassurance that he was not imagining what he saw.

"Yes, I have." Legolas nodded with a smile. "And I do not mean to leave any time soon."

The dwarf smiled and felt some moisture come to his eyes. "Good. I am glad." This was all he could say for surely his voice would remain steady no further. But on the inside he was screaming in joy.

"I am glad too," Legolas replied truthfully. 'For it is enough to see the smile in your eyes, my friend, to make it worth it,' he added silently. Then he looked around and frowned. "Where are Aragorn and Arwen?"

"I know not," Gimli admitted. "I didn't even notice when they left."

The elf nodded. "I will go find them." He turned, ready to walk away. "Are you coming?"

Gimli was thankful for the darkness for surely it had at least somewhat concealed the panic on his face. "Umm… you can go, Legolas, I think I will come later."

The fair being turned back and looked at him suspiciously. The truth suddenly daunted on him and he suppressed a chuckle. "Gimli,… can you get off the tree?"

A look of pure outrage appeared on the dwarf's face. "Of course I can, elf! It is a mere tree!"

Legolas folded his arms across his chest and raised an eyebrow in amusement. "Good. I will leave you then." He turned to leave, counting in his head. "One… Two…"

"Legolas!" The call made him turn around, and he could no longer suppress his grin.

"Yes, Gimli?" His voice was sweet as honey.

The dwarf hesitated. "Could you… could you help me get back down?" The voice was no more than a mere whisper, but the elf had no trouble hearing it.

"What did you say, Gimli?" He said in spite of that, unsuccessfully trying to suppress the mirth from his voice. "I am not sure I heard you correctly."

"I said will you please get me off of this blasted tree, you bloody elf!" Gimli shouted.

Legolas laughed heartily. "But of course, my friend, I always gladly offer my assistance to the incapable ones." He walked back and held up his hand.

Gimli sighed inwardly. He would never hear the end of this.

When Arwen saw him, her eyes twinkled with joy and relief, but she did not appear as surprised as he expected her to be. "You heard it, didn't you?" She asked knowingly. He nodded and she smiled. "I secretly hoped that you would." Her brow suddenly creased with concern. "How do you feel now? I mean – the longing."

He sighed. "I can feel it still," he admitted. "And it still hurts. But the pain is not as fresh as it used to be. I would say it is dull – like an old wound that had not yet healed."

"You know that it is a wound that will never heal," Arwen said softly.

"I do," Legolas said. "But I am ready to bear it for the rest of my time here. I know that I am not cured from the sea-longing and never could be. I am like," he paused to think of a proper comparison. "Like a man with an amputated leg. No matter what, his leg can never grow back. But still he can live with this. He can learn to walk with crutches and perform his daily activities. In the same way, I can never be cured. A part of my heart has been cut away, and it is already there – beyond the Sea. But a large part still remains here. True, it hurts, but I believe now that I will be able to live with the pain. And just like a cripple can learn to walk again, although not as fast and steadily as before, I can learn to smile again. I can learn to laugh with my friends and to share their joy. I might not be as happy as before, but it will be enough."

Arwen nodded in understanding. "This is what I hoped to hear. And if you ever feel that the pain is too much to bear, remember that you are not alone. Perhaps neither of us can truly understand you, but we all want to help."

Legolas nodded his thanks and looked around. "Where is Aragorn?" He asked as he saw no sign of his friend.

She sighed sadly. "He ran into the woods shortly after you left. I didn't follow since I thought he needed to have some time alone. But when he did not come back after sunset, I started to worry. I tried to find him, but it is impossible to track a former ranger," she added with a fond smile. "Perhaps you will have better luck than me."

"I will try to find him," Legolas said although he had no idea how to do this. He held little hope that he would be able to track his friend, and the darkness of the night was not helping at all.

Suddenly a gull landed next to him and looked at him expectantly. He froze and braced himself for the cry he knew would be coming, and the pain that would follow. To his surprise, the bird remained silent. It only stood there, looking at him.

And in the darkness Legolas had the strange feeling that the gull's eyes were a familiar shade of grey.

And when the bird rose into the air and flew towards the forest, he could do nothing but follow.

The gull landed on a stone on the ground and tilted its head in curiosity, looking at the man before her. Aragorn seemed completely unaware of the bird's presence, or of the elf coming after it for that matter.

Legolas stopped in his tracks and gazed at his friend's figure, dark under the pale moonlight. The man was sitting on the grass, leaning his back against a tall oak tree. His knees were drawn up to his chest. His head was bowed, and his right hand was fisted in the raven-colored locks. His left hand was clutching the grass next to him so fiercely that his knuckles had turned white. His entire body seemed tense.

Aragorn was completely unaware of his surroundings, and jumped startled as a hand was lightly placed on his hair. In a second he was on his feet and his hand was at the hilt of his sword.

Legolas felt the blood freeze in his veins and his eyes clouded with guilt. He had left his friend so overwhelmed with grief that Aragorn had been unaware of the world around him. Even though he had put no effort in approaching the man quietly, on the contrary, he had tried to alert his friend of his presence, Aragorn had never sensed his coming. What if it had not been the elf who had first approached the human? What if it had been a foe instead? What if the man had been attacked? He would have been unable to sense the danger on time!

Terrible images rushed unbidden through his mind. He saw his friend caught by surprise in a terrible assault, unable to offer any resistance. He saw Gimli trying to climb down the tree on his own with no one to help, falling and breaking his neck. He saw Aragorn falling under the knife of a foe he had not sensed in his grief. And he saw himself arriving in Valinor, smiling and content, unaware of what had happened and not caring anymore.

He shook his head in denial. No, this had not happened and never would! Yes, he had left his friends in turmoil when he had sailed, but he had returned.

The elf quickly placed his hand over Aragorn's arm, not only to calm his friend, but also to find some reassurance that none of his terrible visions had come true. "It is me, mellon nîn," he said softly. "It is me."

Aragorn stared forward as if he was seeing a ghost. His expressive stormy eyes were wide and bright with shock and disbelief. Could he dare hope? Or was he seeing only what he wanted to see? "Le-Legolas?!" He whispered.

Legolas smiled sadly and cupped the man's face in his hands, forcing their eyes to meet. He desperately wanted to assure his confused friend that he was real, he was here, and he was not going to leave.

"Yes, Aragorn, it is me," he said. "I sailed, but I came back. And I will not leave you again."

The man was still at a loss. "You came back?" He asked fearfully, afraid that the vision might disappear and his hope might shatter to pieces. The fair being nodded. "And you will not sail again?" Another nod. Aragorn stared at him for another long moment, but then his features broke into a smile, and he felt tears of joy and relief roll down his cheeks. He pulled his friend into a warm embrace. "Never do that again, elf!" His voice, shaken with emotion, was partially muffled by the golden hair.

Finally he pulled back and gazed at Legolas. "Why?" He asked in wonder. "What made you come back? I know how much you ached to leave."

The elf smiled. 'Don't you know, my friend?' He though. 'You called me back. I listened to your call.' He was about to speak his thoughts aloud, but then it happened.

The gull that had led him to Aragorn and that had until know watched the exchange silently, opened its beak. The wailing sound pierced the air, this sound so beautiful and so terrible and powerful at the same time.

Legolas felt his breath hitch at his throat, and he instinctively stared west. His eyes bore a faraway look, and Aragorn was horrified to see a mixture of pain, confusion, and longing on the fair face.

"Legolas?" He whispered worriedly.

At the soft sound of his name the elf looked up. This whisper was laden with so much fear and so much care. He looked at Aragorn, and the sea-blue eyes were clear and untroubled. Yes, this worriedly spoken single word held more power than the cries of all the gulls in Arda.

"Worry not, my friend, I will not listen," he said. "I still hear the Call of the Sea, yes. But I came back because I heard another Call. It bid me to come back and I obeyed for it was much stronger than the call of the Sea."

Aragorn frowned in sincere confusion. He had heard and read much about the Call of the Sea, and he knew what power it held over the fair folk. That something else was stronger was new to him.

"Whose call did you hear?" He asked. "What could be stronger than the Sea?"

The elf smiled. "Friendship, Aragorn. Its Call is stronger than you can imagine."

The man nodded in sudden comprehension and a genuine smile graced his lips. For the first time he knew for certain that Legolas would not sail. The Sea held no power over him

And indeed, against the strength of unbreakable bonds, even the Sea had to admit defeat.

The End