Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belong to Tolkien. I promise to return these characters as they were when I am done. Sue me and you will get nothing. Except my thesaurus. But don't sue me. I like my thesaurus.
A/N: This story is an attempt to fill some blanks that were left in Return of the King (at least I felt there were blanks). This preamble is written to set the mood and later chapters will focus on events that are specifically detailed by Tolkien. I have taken some very small liberties where I felt it helped (e.g., did they travel by night or by day? --who cares did they ride at full gallop all the way? -- I say no you get the gist.) . So with that said please read, and don't forget to tell me your thoughts.
Cry of the Gull
A Single Pure Note
The lithe creature flitted on the wind, swooping and diving. It's motion was unique, halting. One moment it was poised, still as an object, frozen in mid-air by nothing but the wind rising beneath it. The next, it would break its repose, coasting upward or downward with a simple gesture of its wings, speed coursing it to where it had not been before.
He froze, transfixed, watching in horror and fascination as this magnificent creature played in the air above him.
He had been riding for a long day and the road before him had been all he had noticed ere then. The landscape about him was desolate, plain, unchanging. The fellows of his company were the only points of interest about him as rolling hills of tall grass stretched out around them. Conversation had grown thin and focus had been placed on the unforeseen that lay ahead. Nothing was there to see save the confusion of dark masses that formed on the horizon about and behind them. And that held no purpose for him. It pursued their trail but it did not pursue them and thus it did not frighten him. It had been a long ride and not much had changed in the course of this travel. So the discovery of the single bird startled him.
And now it was too late 'too late!' He had promised himself he would be prepared for this. How could he have been caught so off-guard? He raised his hands to his ears, attempting to shut out the piercing wail that escaped the throat of the gull. 'Too late! Too late!' He sucked in his breath, waiting for the inevitable pain to course through his head.
Instead there was nothing. Nothing. No pain. No body. No sense of being. No beginning nor end. Spinning. Whirling. Emptiness. Vertigo pulled him through a groundless world. He had no point to fix on to regain his composure. Light crossed his vision but the shapes it formed had no meaning to him. He floated in a vacuum, unaware of direction or time or place. He seemed to remain there infinitely until all memory of who he was or where he had been disappeared from him. And then the rush of what came hurled him back to earth. He winced at the magnitude of it.
Surging power unquestionable strength crushing roaring deafening and unrelenting. Yet caressing tranquil playfulgentle and lulling.
Released from a limbo of nothingness, the multitude of sensations swept through him and sent him off balance. Shocked at the flurry of it, he stumbled. He gasped, inhaling oxygen into his lungs as if he were taking in his very first breath. His chest ached as he drew in the scented air and his head whirled at the sheer ecstasy of breathing again. His memory of time and place before him faded and he fought the confusion that now abounded him. 'What has happened to me?'
Somehow, somehow he had been transported to this place. He shook his head, trying to recollect his arrival. He searched to remember what had pushed him into this new plain. He found no answers. The smells and sounds about him were intoxicating and he had trouble focusing on all but the tiniest minutiae. He felt himself slipping into them.
He pulled himself back. 'This is not right,' he told himself again. 'Why can I not remember?' He closed his eyes to the world around him. Yet in doing so, he found that every detail sharpened itself by the mere absence of sight.
Then, as if by a greater power, he relaxed and his edginess passed. He laughed as the world about him became more and more alive. Opening his eyes, he sought out light and shadow, taste, smell, sound, touch; he relinquished himself to the sensations that emerged from the scenery around him.
Water lapped beneath him and he felt the waves buoying him with each caress of the shore. Foam bubbled on the sand where he stood and receded showing the infinite patterns of changing granules moved by their wake. Rivulets were created where the tide ripped clean and were filled and drained as the water poured itself back into the sea, repeating itself again and again as the waves surged inland.
He noted the colors of the waves. Colors. Had he ever seen so many? He held his breath as the waves glowed in infinite hues: blue, green, amber, cream. All presented themselves in their glorious array as water broke into transparent rows of wave upon wave. A spectrum rode through the water. 'So like jewels,' he thought, 'catching and refracting the light.'
He tasted salt on his lips and marveled at its existence there, that just by breathing it settled itself into him. The smell of it wrapped about him and carried itself on the breeze. He felt the air licking his skin and hair, and was tickled by its tug at his clothing, loosening tendrils of his mane.
He felt he was all things at once and his body had no limits. He bounded in the water, riding freely upon the waves, diving to great depths without hesitation. He rose above and into the air, sailing in the wind as if he were in a dream. He swooped down low and danced in the bubbles drifting out of the deep aqua masses of water crashing on the shore. He coasted with the tide feeling his body pulled in varying directions as he relaxed to it. He drifted with the sand becoming an infinite surface to be molded and remolded by the waves. Joy filled him as he took it all in, rocking him to his soul.
A sound broke his thoughts and he wondered that he had not sensed it before. A song. A simple melody at first. It started out slowly, softly, barely a whisper. Yet his senses were heightened and he found he could follow it. The sound grew as he gave it attention and he marveled at its intricacy. At first it was just a simple, pure note. Then it became two and then a third and a melody began to form. The rhythm of waves chorused in and more notes joined into the emerging foray. As he focused on this lingering melody, it grew with more and more intensity. Notes joined other notes to create a greater song, building, building as more flitting harmonies intertwined. And in the end, he thought there could be nothing more perfect – it was an orchestration of all things. Symphonies danced all about him and he could not tell where their source began or ended. He only knew it was the most magnificent sound he had ever heard and a sob rose in his throat at the unrestrained beauty of it.
He gazed up at the cloudless sky and closed his eyes to the warmth of the sun. Happiness filled his heart and he knew he had never felt such joy before. 'Thank you,' he whispered. Light passed through his shut lids and a red glow filled his eyes mirroring the flush of heat he felt on his face as the music filled his head, his heart, his being.
A shadow passed his eyes, darting smoothly. He felt the quick contrast of its shade to the vigor of the sun and he opened his eyes to see what it was that had cast it. In his vision flew a single bird.
The music stopped.
His heart raced. 'No!' he cried. An ache rose in his chest as the disappearance of the sound took him away. He felt himself being ripped and agony coursed his veins. A part of him was leaving. His soul, his light! 'No!' An emptiness filled the space. All his senses reeled away. He sobbed at the loss, thrashing about, frantically, searching for a way to bring it back. The world left him. A void now remained that sucked life from all around him. It grew and filled, changing everything to a dull, lifeless gray. All reality was now cloaked in a haze. His perceptions dimmed as the breeze which had stroked his face was gone, replaced by a stifling stillness.
A dim sound rose, barely audible. "Legolas."
Flat. Empty. It meant nothing.
His vision settled on a field of brown grass before him. The sky above was dusky, ambling with masses of deep, burly clouds. He winced at the ugliness of this scene. He staggered at his transport to this despair. He felt himself rocking backward awkwardly, losing balance. He was about to fall.
Something took his shoulder and righted him.
Again, a sound was heard. Clearer, slightly louder now. "Legolas!"
He looked up at the sound and saw it had a face. Piercing gray eyes and dark flowing hair. Pale, luminous skin. A man. No, not a man. Something else, a word that escaped him. The bearer was a stranger to him. He fought the foreigners attempt to engage him. 'He thinks I am familiar?'
Words, almost invisible, were being spoken to him, their meaning hidden by his inability to comprehend. The stranger began to shake him. He did not fight. He looked about and saw there were more here. To his side rode another. Again, not a man, much in appearance to the first, but taller. A gray steed hammered its hoof beneath him. Riding at the rear sat a squat man, shorter in stature but with great girth. This stranger was bearded and clothed in a heavy suit of metal. He too was speaking, a look on his deep-set face that betrayed something. 'Concern?' Further off, a fourth man reared up on a dark horse. A dark mantle lay upon him, dark as his features and his appearance was scruffy and tired, as if heavily burdened. The eyes of him were the same penetrating gray as the gathering clouds and they stared without malice. There was something familiar in this person.
He recoiled. A wave of memory flooded in. 'Legolas!' That name was his own. He looked wildly about, recognizing what had seemed foreign to him only moments before. Confusion filled him. He fought to regain the memories, seeking a way to go back to that other place. He could not stay here. He had to get away. Panic overtook him.
He heard a cry, a hollow wail and looked up to see a lone gull, swooping in the wind. A sigh released itself from him. 'Of course!' He felt himself drifting again, waiting for the music, the note, to come and carry him away.
Something grabbed him, shaking him, dragging him down to the reality about him through penetrating fingers as they dug into his arms. He pulled back, wishing only to be aloft with the bird. But the fingers tightened and he could not release himself from them.
"No," he cried aloud.
The face that spoke forced itself into his vision. And now he remembered. Elrohir. Brethren elf from Imladris. A companion on this journey. 'Of course. Of course.' He could remember everything now. They had been riding on the plains of Lebennin, closing in on their fated destination in Pelargir. A rising force of specters had been gathering with them as they rode. This was their quest. 'The Paths of the Dead.' Yes, now he remembered. They had taken this route from the gates at Dunharrow, through the mountain paths and down onto the plains. The mass of awakened souls gathered about them at the call of the returning king and men had fled in their wake. A few brave men had joined them, though, and there was rumor that more would follow after the passing of the companies' gray shadow. Their mission was grim, unheralded and surely deadly as their numbers were marginally small. Legolas grimaced, tensing as his memory returned and the dread of this last onset hit him. He found himself torn as his heart ached for the memory it held of that other place.
Gazing at Elrohir, he started to speak. Tears began to form in his eyes. "How.?" A thousand unasked questions filled that space. Elrohir returned his gaze, looking tenderly at the young elf. No words passed between them. Yet Legolas knew that his friend perceived the question along with his fear and wavering indecision. And Legolas knew in that fleet moment that Elrohir had somehow, in his own dreams, journeyed to that same landscape surrounded by sound. All was conveyed through their searching eyes.
Legolas was struck with awe. 'How has he managed it? And there too Elladan?' He glanced now at the other elf, reading the same thoughts in him. 'They appear so unscathed.'
Elrohir embraced his despairing friend and softly said in Sindarin. "It is in all our race, Legolas. We cannot flee it."
Feeling the beginnings of the younger elf's quaking sob, he went on. "You will survive this. You will. You must. There is still great need for you in this world."
Drawing back lightly, he looked deeply into Legolas' eyes, "My brother and I too endure it. We do it as best we can as we were born with it, as all Noldor are. We learn to carry it from early on. We accept it as a part of our being. It is part of our melancholy." Then embracing Legolas again, he whispered softly into the fair-haired elf's ear, his voice traced with sorrow, "And now you bear it too. But you are Sindar. It will be very hard as the lust is greater in your kind. Let us help you. Elladan and I see your agony. It is very grave and we understand it. We wish to give you comfort and will guide you if you should choose."
He paused now, allowing Legolas to reflect on what he was saying. His voice grew grim, "But for now, Legolas, you must heed me. We cannot linger in this place for long. The echoes here will corrupt you if we tarry and your choice will become all the harder still. There is danger ahead and you must find a way to devote yourself that! Our camp is ahead. We should go there and try to recuperate what we can."
Legolas nodded as if he understood though in reality he did not truly. He could not yet perceive his choices. He knew only that his heart cried as if broken and he longed to go back to that secret place. For a last time he looked up at the gull, further out on the horizon, returning to its home, echoing cries as more birds joined it in its mirth. The music. He could almost hear it.
The trance was broken as the silent man who had taken up the rear reeled his horse about. He rushed his steed forward, driving it into a gallop, steering him away from this party and on to join the rest of their host.
"Aragorn?" Legolas cried out. But his friend was already beyond his voice.
Then turning back to his companions, he noticed the dwarf sitting behind Elladan, as if for the first time. It was an odd pairing, Gimli and Elladan. In better times, it would be comic but Legolas wondered at it now. 'Much has happened. The details have escaped me. I must somehow pull myself together,' he told himself. Legolas read the mute stare of his dark friend and saw that it had beheld his anguish. It was unlike Gimli to pass no words. 'He is afraid for me.' Legolas forced a smile, slight, tinted with despair, but enough to lighten the spirit of his friend.
Legolas felt weary. His weight shifted and he realized at once Arod's presence. He cursed himself for not recognizing that the horse had been there all along. Another detail missed. He shook his head. 'What else have I missed?' He could see that he had been greatly harmed by this day and wondered if he could ever regain himself wholly. The world still seemed to be tinted in an awkward color.
At the edge of Legolas's awareness, a single pure noted played. He grew aware of it, and pushed it away from his mind. He recognized that it had the power to pull him back. The birds, now gone, were no longer needed to render him under its spell. He wavered in his thoughts.
He needed help, but it was not in his nature to ask. The note came louder now and he knew he had to fight to break its power. Gathering his strength, Legolas spoke. His voice came out weakly, drowned out by the rising pitch of the note. "Friends, aid me please. Take me away from this place. Our skills are needed on the road ahead and I fear my will falters here." It took everything within him to say it and Legolas felt drained at the effort. But he knew he was in the right company to let the words pass and allowed himself to offer this shortcoming. He silently prayed that his setback would be temporary at best.
Without further words, the four riders set off at a gallop that quickened steadily. Elrohir and Elladan rode on either side of Arod lest Legolas, in his lessened state, should fall from his mount. Paying heed to time and place, they matched the speed previously marked by their leader, and hastened to catch the rest of their company. They could no longer be delayed in this place.