Disclaimer: Tolkien's characters are still his. I claim the rest.

Summary: Legolas believes there's a higher purpose to the sea voyage he and Aragorn undertake, and the elf is willing to risk unleashing the sea longing to accomplish that purpose.


TO RISK IT ALL

by White Wolf

Chapter One

Legolas stood still and silent in the small forest, but it was not the trees that occupied his attention. Though they offered their soothing song to him, his mind remained troubled.

Aragorn, his long-time friend, had met up with him barely an hour ago, and told him that word had reached him of a fever that had struck the rangers he was already planning to visit at a small, isolated outpost to the east of the coastal town of Planmoth.

Mountains that ran to the sea stood between the town and the outpost, so Aragorn had decided to go the quicker and straighter route by sea to check on his friends and give whatever aid they might require. Going around the mountains would have added almost a week to the journey and might well cost the lives of some of the rangers needing help.

Word of the fever and the decision to sail had happened after Aragorn had sent word to Legolas and asked the elf to join him on what the man had originally believed would be a leisurely trip to see old friends.

An argument had erupted immediately after the news was delivered. Legolas was determined to go with Aragorn, but the ranger had been vehement in his refusal to let the elf set foot anywhere near the sea.

Legolas sighed deeply and then turned around to face the man who he heard coming up behind him.

One look at Legolas's face told Aragorn that the time he had given the elf to be by himself and think about the repercussions of his determination to accompany him hadn't changed his mind one bit. "You cannot go, Legolas."

The Prince of Mirkwood stood defiantly and stared at the ranger. If ever there was a time to point out his royal rank, something Legolas never did, it was now. "I am a prince. I am not used to being told what I can and cannot do by anyone other than my father."

Aragorn stood his ground. "You can flout your position all you like, but it matters not. You are not going, and that's the end of it."

"Hardly," Legolas shot back.

The two friends, a mere two feet apart, glared at one another. It was a close bet as to whom would laugh first, although the subject matter was anything but laughable.

Being one of the few humans in Middle-earth who could withstand the piercing gaze of an elf, Aragorn didn't turn away or even blink. "It won't work."

"I know," the elf admitted, though he didn't alter his withering glare one bit.

"Are we now going to just stand and stare at each other while neither gives in?" the man asked, trying not to let his lips twitch.

"I can outlast you, human," was the expected answer to his question. When a mortal goes up against an immortal in the time game, the result is a foregone conclusion.

Finally, Aragorn sighed. "I'm serious, Legolas. You cannot go near that town. If you were to hear the gulls' call, and I don't see how you could avoid it, simply because you're with me, I would never forgive myself."

Now it was Legolas's turn to sigh. "Do you know me so little, Estel?" He paused to let the words sink in. "How long have we known each other?"

"Forty years, give or take."

"And in all that time, have you ever known me to make decisions I did not choose to make?"

"Well," the ranger began, "there was that one time..."

"Estel, be serious." And taking his own advice, Legolas continued in a tone that discouraged any further attempts at humor. "I do as I see fit. In this case, it is to go with you on that ship to the ranger outpost."

"You can go around and meet me there. We..."

"No," the elf interrupted. "I will not meet you. I will go with you. You cannot really stop me, you know." Legolas shrugged. "After all, it is not your ship. You are only a passenger."

"I think you'll find that the captain of that ship will do as I ask. I am paying him very well." Those words were quickly deflated, when Aragorn saw the look on Legolas's face. He wouldn't put it past the elf to swim after the ship and board when it was too late to turn back.

Aragorn shook his head. "You aren't going to make this easy, are you?"

"I am simply going to accompany my friend on a sea journey. Whether it turns out to be easy or hard depends on the friend."

After forty years of friendship with this stubborn and incredibly loyal elf, Aragorn was used to having the archer twist his logic around to put the outcome on whoever he was arguing with. It was amusing when it was done to others, especially those that deserved it, but it was frustrating when it was directed at him.

Legolas was not unmindful of the genuine concern he knew Aragorn had. The man feared that if the elf went near the sea, he would be stricken with the sea longing and soon succumb to the overwhelming need to sail to Valinor. It terrified him that he could lose this cherished friend forever. But Legolas had the undeniable feeling that sailing with Aragorn now, whatever the consequences to himself, was something he must do. He couldn't explain it, even to himself. He just knew that something bad would happen if he didn't go with Aragorn, and it had nothing to do with the rangers. If that included sailing, then so be it.

For his part, Aragorn knew he couldn't really prevent Legolas from boarding that ship and facing whatever came as a result. With a heavy sigh, the ranger said, "We sail at dawn."

After looking deep into Aragorn's eyes for verification of those words, Legolas nodded. "I will be ready."

"I have no doubt." Aragorn knew that Legolas suspected the ranger would try to trick him, if he could. However, the time for trickery and misleading words had passed, and they both knew that the elf's decision to accompany the ranger on this sea voyage was set.

The two friends made camp near the edge of the forest, preferring to complete their journey to Planmoth early enough the next morning to arrive at the ship before dawn.

x x x x x

Just as a bright pink color began to spread across the eastern sky, Legolas and Aragorn entered the town and headed for the small harbor where two ships rocked gently at anchor.

The wharf was old. The wood was worn, bleached by sun, sea and wind, but it was obviously sturdy nonetheless. It was the larger of the two moored vessels, the Sea Spirit, that the elf and ranger walked toward.

An older man, short, stocky and almost as weathered as the dock, stood next to the plank that linked the mottled brown ship to the shore.

"You be Thorongil?" the seaman asked.

"I am," Aragorn replied easily, giving the man a nod.

The older man frowned slightly. "I thought you were traveling alone."

Aragorn forced a smile. "Captain Rummel, I presume?" When the other man offered his own nod, Aragorn continued. "My friend here has never been on board a ship before. He wanted to accompany me, if that is all right." Had he and Legolas not settled the matter already, the ranger would have wished for the captain to say no. For his friend's sake, he wasn't too sure he didn't.

The captain eyed the tall stranger, who wore his hood up over his head, hiding most of his face. What was visible was shadowed and hard to distinguish. Captain Rummel shrugged. "As long as he pays, I got no objection."

The matter was truly settled now.

While Aragorn dug into an inner pocket of his tunic and handed the man several coins, he noted that the captain's appraisal of Legolas was one of open curiosity. It wasn't surprising, since the presence of any hooded figure would naturally add a touch of mystery, especially one with a longbow and a quiver full of arrows on his back.

Used to spinning tales about Legolas's various disguises to hide the fact he was an elf, Aragorn said smoothly, "His skin is sensitive to the sun." He doubted it would fully satisfy the captain's curiosity, but he knew that this man wouldn't be making the extra money he did, if he got too nosey regarding his passengers. In truth, he would take whoever could pay for their passage and ask no questions. Well, none other than to inquire, "He got a name?"

"Lasgalen," Aragorn replied, though he knew Captain Rummel would never know the true meaning of that name, because, despite the seaman's wide travels, the ranger didn't think he would know Sindarin.

"Well, Thorongil, you and Lasgalen can go aboard. We'll set sail immediately. You got any other baggage?"

"No, Captain. We have nothing but these packs."

Rummel swept his hand upward, ushering his two passengers onto the plank to take their places on the ship.

As the crew began the tasks that would get them underway, Legolas and Aragorn walked to the railing near the starboard bow to stay out of the way of the sailors performing their duties.

Legolas looked at the ranger pointedly. "Thorongil?" he questioned.

"I dredged that name up, because I didn't think anyone on this ship would know it."

The elf laughed. "I seriously doubt anyone on this ship would know any of the myriad of names you have been known by. And Lasgalen?"

"Why not? It seems perfectly appropriate to me, not that anyone would know the name Legolas, either." The grin on the ranger's face showed just how proud he was of himself.

Legolas just rolled his eyes, though no one, not even Aragorn, could see the gesture.

As the ship made its way out through the little harbor and then out into the open sea, Legolas stood at the rail and stared upward. "There are no gulls," he said softly in a voice that was hard to interpret.

Aragorn looked at the elf. Was he happy or sorry that the gulls were not flying overhead? Surely Legolas was glad that the sea longing had not been awakened. 'What am I thinking? Of course, he's glad.' Yet, Aragorn couldn't help thinking that Legolas had to be wondering what it would be like to actually hear the gulls.

Aragorn was right to suspect that Legolas was curious about the sea longing and what it would feel like to hear the gulls. He knew it would change his life forever, and he didn't really want that.

The elf shook his head and decided it was definitely lucky the seagulls were not in evidence today. He was curious, yes, but he knew that once the desire to sail West had stirred in his heart, he could not take it back. If only he could hear their cries and not be affected. No, that couldn't happen, so it was best not to dwell on what could not be.

Even though it would take only six hours to make the journey to the departure point, Aragorn had gone ahead and paid for a cabin. Now that Legolas was with him and in need of keeping his identity as an elf a secret, the ranger was glad that he had.

"Let's go below," the ranger suggested. "There have been a number of stares aimed your way, and I think it best we get out of sight until it's time to disembark."

"We have a cabin?"

"Indeed we do."

Agreeing with the man's logic, and now knowing they had a private room to themselves, Legolas grinned.

Aragorn turned and began making his way aft to where the captain stood on the on the quarter deck of the Sea Spirit. "Where is our cabin, Captain?"

"Down the stairs to the end of the hall. Last door on the right."

"Thank you."

Legolas and Aragorn could feel the eyes of the captain and most of the crew burning into their backs as they moved toward the door at the top of the narrow staircase. Even though the hall was empty, neither of them could completely relax until they had closed the door to their cabin.

The room was small, containing a tiny desk and chair, two beds much too short and narrow to be very comfortable, a shelf above each bed and one floor to ceiling cabinet, presumable for holding clothes.

Aragorn laughed. "I guess it's lucky we aren't making an overnight journey." He eyed the beds, which would never allow him or Legolas to lie flat and straighten their legs out. "These beds were made for hobbits."

"You are not planning on sleeping," Legolas stated, then added, "Are you?"

"Well, I did have a notion to stretch out and rest a bit. But I've changed my mind." The man sat down on the side of the bed in the far corner, though the word far hardly fit.

Unbeknownst to either elf or ranger, as they relaxed in their cabin, one of the crew was standing by the port railing and glaring at the door the two had disappeared behind moments ago. The look in his eyes was one of pure hatred.

"Thorongil." The man spat the word and made a face as if it had left a bitter taste in his mouth. "You will pay for what you did in Gondor."

The crewman soon noticed that the captain, who did not tolerate laziness, was watching him. He turned back to his task of untangling a spare halyard, wrapping it around his hand and elbow to form a layered circle and then slipping the circle over one of the unused belaying pins along the rail. All the while he fumed.

x x x x x

Midway through the six-hour journey, Aragorn said, "I'm thirsty."

Legolas had to laugh at the sudden announcement. "Your water skin is right there in your pack."

The ranger grinned. "I don't see why we should use up our water, when we should be able to get some from the captain's supply. We're paying him enough."

The ranger stood up and walked toward the door to the little cabin. He put his hand on the handle and then turned around to face Legolas. "Don't leave here. There's no need to risk discovery if it isn't warranted."

The elf ignored the fact that he was again being told what to do. This time, however, he took no umbrage. He simply nodded his intention to follow the 'command'.

Still grinning, Aragorn left the elf to himself and headed up to the deck.

He never made it.

At the foot of the steps leading to the deck above, a belaying pin came down on the back of Aragorn's head, sending him crashing to the wooden floor.

Groggy but not completely unconscious, he was aware that strong hands had gripped him, lifting his upper body, and were now dragging him along the floor. He felt himself being turned around a corner and then dropped unceremoniously. This was followed by the sound of a door being kicked shut. "Legolas?" he asked, thinking it was the elf who must have pulled him back into their cabin.

"Don't know who you're askin' about, but I ain't him." The voice that spoke those words was gruff and none too kind.

Aragorn reached up and rubbed the back of his head where a knot had formed. He was glad that he didn't feel any blood on his fingers. He sat up slowly and blinked several times in an effort to clear his bleary vision. Gradually, it did clear, and he was able to focus on the source of the voice. "Are you the one who hit me?" Anger had crept into his voice, though he tried to hold it back until he knew exactly who it was who he should be angry at.

"You bet I am," came the reply from the man who stood over him, arms crossed over his chest. "That blow to the head is the least of what I plan to do to you."

TBC