Disclaimer: I claim no rights to any of these characters, places, etc. They are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien. No profit was made from this tale, and no infringement was intended. This was done purely for entertainment purposes.

A/N: Last chapter, and they should come back to as you know them. I hope I haven't made Aragorn too grim. I always felt there was a growing mood change in him from book to book, and in RotK he seemed more distanced from his friends than ever. I just thought I would consider that as I wrote this chapter.

Cry of the Gull

Chapter 7
Winds of Change

"Bring that light closer so I can see."

Legolas' brow furrowed at the sound as his eyes fluttered open. He quickly squeezed them shut again as a glaring light flashed before him rendering him blind. The lantern was drawn back and he again attempted to open his eyes as his sight slowly regained itself. However with his returned vision came comprehension of his condition and he quickly became agitated as he realized he was surrounded by faces. He also noticed he was laying on the hard ground. A wave of embarrassment hit him at being the located in such an odd place and being the object of such scrutiny. He struggled to get up and winced as a stab of pain surged into his left arm and shoulder.

A gentle hand pushed him down. "Not so fast," a familiar voice said. Looking up, Legolas saw the haggard but handsome face of Strider at his side. "I have not completed my examination yet," the Ranger said with a slight smile.

They were gathered in the middle of a dirt road. Legolas recognized the site of battle and reoriented himself through the sound of men calling out and weapons being resheathed as horse hooves thumped on the dirt and grass. The night was black and the contrast of it to the light in the arc of the lamp made it difficult to see beyond the circle. Legolas turned his face to the darkness to try to catch sight of his last foe. Lying face down some fifty paces off was the body of the savage Legolas had overtaken. The elf thought on the battle with the giant and he thought of Aragorn and his oblivion to his own peril. He looked into the king's face again and realized the Ranger did not know. 'He is safe then,' the elf thought.

A pair of eyes peered over the Ranger's shoulder and a deep voice asked, "Is he awake yet?"

Aragorn glanced over his shoulder and replied, "Yes, he is Master Dwarf."

Running past the many spectators, Gimli pushed his way to the elf's side and Legolas found himself greeted by the searching eyes of the dwarf. Seeing for himself that his friend was well, Gimli beamed and said, "I am glad to see you still live. You gave me quite a fright."

The Ranger took the lamp being offered and placed it near Legolas' head as he dismissed the man who carried it. Noticing the others milling about, the Dunadan leader said, "Thank you, friends. I think we may handle this from here."

Sensing the need for privacy, the standing men quickly disbursed, and Legolas sighed quietly to himself as he was left only to Aragorn and Gimli.

The Ranger scanned the elf's body and then began his review. He looked into the elf's eyes, checking to see if his pupils were equally sized and reacting to the light. He placed two fingers at the base of his patient's throat as he monitored a pulse. The Dúnedan then helped his patient into a sitting position as the elven prince stifled a groan. The Ranger lightly probed the elf's head and neck, and then he lightly touched the skewed shoulder, pausing at the flinch of pain that erupted from the point of contact. Gingerly, he took the elf's left elbow and tried to maneuver it into a raised position. He was greeted with a sharp cry of pain and tightly sealed elven eyes. Aragorn gave his friend a moment to recuperate before speaking. He looked into Legolas' pained face with a practiced stare.

"Your shoulder is dislocated," Aragorn announced.

The elf looked pleased. 'It is a minor wound.' Legolas sighed relief. His arm was not funtioning. This had troubled him greatly, though his face had not belied it. He relaxed as his tension withdrew. But then he jerked upright as he felt renewed embarrassment come to him. 'It is a minor wound! I fell over a trivial injury!' His face reddened at the humiliation and he struggled to quickly get to his feet.

Again, Aragorn's hand pushed him back down. "It will be easier if you remain seated," he said as he came around to the elf's back. "This is going to hurt."

Legolas momentarily swallowed his pride and nodded his acknowledgement to the healer.

Aragorn gently lifted the elf's left arm. "Ready?" he asked, and when the elf nodded again he quickly pulled the arm and shoulder back into their right position.

Legolas' ashen complexion grew a shade paler as he gasped, closing his eyes to the stabbing pain. Inside his head, his ears rang and a wave of nausea passed over him. He wavered for a moment, caught between consciousness and twilight world, and then he regained his composure. The sparks flashing before his shut eyes cleared gradually and he opened them again.

After a minute passed and he saw the elf's color returning, the Ranger stood. Leaning in to grasp Legolas' good arm, Aragorn helped the elf to a standing position. Gimli sprang up to aid him, bracing himself in case he needed to catch the prince, but stood back a pace when he saw the elf on his own steady legs.

In the effort to rise, Aragorn leaned in close to the elf and said softly, as if he could read his friend's thoughts, "Do not push yourself too hard. Your swoon was not a design of weakness. You received a fierce blow that sent your body into shock. You are lucky you were not harmed more."

Legolas' eyes expressed his thanks, both for diminishing his personal beratement and for treating his wound. He squeezed his friend's supporting arm. Standing fully on his own, he tested his shoulder by delicately rolling it, wincing slightly at the tautness of his swollen muscles. He began to feel pinpricks of life tingling through his arm and fingertips and a smile lightly crossed his lips at the return of sensation.

"It will be tender for a day or two. I recommend sleep while you can get it. I do not suppose I could convince you to let me fashion a sling," Aragorn asked, already knowing the answer.

"No, thank you. This will be sufficient," Legolas answered. Gimli smiled at him for his renewed abilities.

His work done here, the Ranger stepped away, but then stopped. An ache had been growing in him over the last several days and he thought perhaps he may now remedy it. The concern he had been feeling for Legolas had not abated with the elf's return to his senses. He was puzzled by Legolas' injuryit was not a wound typical of battle. He could not say it aloud but he worried that a misstep of sorts had caused Legolas' injury. If this were true, he owed it to himself to know for he would have need to guard himself and the elf against it in future endeavors. He turned back and looked hard to see if signs of cuivëar existed on the elf's face. Guilt rekindled itself in the Ranger's chest for his role to the elf's conceivably diminished state. He said in an inquisitive voice, "Legolas, my curiosity is piqued. I see no slain foes about you, yet you were sundered by a mighty rival. Tell me, how did you receive this injury?"

Legolas hesitated to answer. He saw again the battle–the giant–his friend's distraction, unaware of the danger. His heart wavered on what to say. Could he tell the Ranger of his near fatality, for surely Strider would not allow a short answer of appeasement. He would probe until he could see the scene himself. Something within Legolas told him it would not be wise to share this information. His answer was confirmed when he looked at Gimli's face.

Legolas and Gimli exchanged glances. As if reading each others thoughts, they both recognized that the truth would not do good here, their reasoning that of warrior logic. To tell Aragorn the truth would be to reveal to him his moment of vulnerability at the hands of the savage attackers–that the Dunadan had nearly been overthrown. Legolas had seen that tact taken before and dreaded the results it brought. Experience on the field had proved this true on numerous occasions–many a fine warrior he knew had been overcome by their own self-doubt when a weakness was revealed. The better fighter was one who let his body answer to his practiced skills, his mind unhindered by self-consciousness. When a warrior hesitated, checking his strategy and moves, it was a only a matter of time before he would fail. Legolas did not doubt Aragorn would be grateful to have his life spared, but he was also sure there would be some shame involved on the Ranger's part for not being able to protect himself alone. Though he would not show it outwardly, it would gnaw at him, deep inside. And while Aragorn had saved Legolas' life countless times, and Legolas had done the same in turn, neither had readily acknowledged that fact or discussed it or made a tally of favors to reciprocate those deeds. Legolas did not want to start now and he could think of nothing worse he wanted his friend to endure. The pair, Legolas and Gimli, had they spoken, would most certainly agree that such knowledge could damage the friendship between the man and the elf. With their eyes, the elf and dwarf made a silent vow not to tell.

But now the pressure was on Legolas. The elf held his breath. He was caught ill-prepared and his brain hunted for a speedy response. He had only two choices: hedge or lie.

Legolas hedged. "It matters not how the injury occurred," he said as he fixed a passive smile and spoke casually. "It is minor and elves heal quickly. I expect I will be fine by the morrow." He began to walk past the Ranger as he bent to replace his long knife in its harness. If he could have continued to walk away, he would have.

But Aragorn would not be sidetracked and stayed at the elf's side. He said in a joking way, to keep the mood light, "That would be a fine answer if I had asked how you will fair, but I did not." Turning serious again he said, "How did you received your injury, Legolas?"

The elf looked away distractedly, searching the landscape for something lost. He tried again, "Have you seen my dagger?"

Aragorn would not be deterred and his alarm grew as he misread the elf's attempts to flee him. He followed Legolas to the place where the knife lay and continued his questioning. "Legolas, I have concern for your well-being. Please tell me," he said in a gentle voice, grasping the elf's good arm to stop him from moving away again.

Legolas felt unbalaced. He was trapped. Left with no other choice but to lie, his mouth sputtered. He had no idea what to say. Untruths did not come easily to him. He struggled for words, his mouth knotted and he felt a stammering falsity rising to his lips. "II fell."

"You fell?" It did not appear to be an answer that eased the Ranger's mind. "How?"

The elf froze. He did not have a clear answer. His lips mutely tried to find words. "II" He fought to make his brain to work.

But before he could open his mouth again, the dwarf blurted out, "He fell off his horse."

Legolas gasped.

Aragorn wheeled around. So intent was he on Legolas' answer that he did not realize Gimli had followed. The dwarf looked as thrown as the elf, his eyes wide with this mild terror. "He fell off his horse?" the Ranger asked.

The dwarf looked as if he had swallowed his tongue. He only nodded.

The color in Legolas' face drained as a mix of humiliation and indignation overtook him.

Aragorn stood fixed, completely shocked and as appalled at this revelation as Legolas appeared to be. He looked from one to the other, first at the elf's horrified expression, and then to the dwarf's mute stare. At last, the Ranger began to chuckle as he pictured the elf splayed on the ground. The pair's facial expressions solidified in his mind and he recognized the folly of such a sight. He broke into a hearty roar and he lost himself in his amusement. His body rocked in the mirth of his laughter. Regaining himself, he realized the dwarf shared equal concern for his friend, and if there was anything to know, Gimli would not hide it from him. "Very well," he said at last, wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, "keep your secret. But however you did it, I hope it was worth it." Then waving a hand as if to dismiss them, he walked away to find his mount. Joined by several other men serving as his guard, the king and his men galloped away to the shore and their awaiting ship.

With the Ranger gone, Legolas turned his wrath on the dwarf. "Gimli!" he bellowed.

"The words just flew out," the dwarf said in his own defense.

"But Gimli my horse?" Legolas cried pleadingly.

"Should I have said you fell out of a tree?" the dwarf answered.

"You should have said nothing."

"But you were doing that so well yourself."

"You have painted me as an inept rider," the elf said angrily.

"He did not appear to believe it," the dwarf said blithely as if this excused his words.

"Yet still" Legolas said sadly. And then sighing deeply, he shook his head and whistled for Arod to come. The horse winnied its greeting as he galloped forth and stopped to nuzzle his face into his master's chest, as if he too had been fearful for the elf. Legolas forgot himself for a moment and laughed at the steed. Then he said to Gimli, as if all were forgotten, "Come Gimli, let us find our place of rest tonight. I believe a ship awaits us."

Gimli smiled, glad that his rogue tongue could be forgiven. He launched himself onto the back of Arod in the fashion he had adapted since taking up ride with the elf and waited for Legolas to join him. The prince brought himself to the horse's side and paused. A long silence followed. Gimli looked down to see the elf staring at the horse's side. "Legolas?" he asked.

"Gimli" the elf said in a faint voice, his eyes closed as if to shut out something he did not wish to see.

"What is it, Master Elf?" the dwarf asked with trepidation, fear rising in him.

Legolas hesitated, then leaning his forehead into the horse's hide, he said in a muffled voice, "My shoulder it is still tender I cannot mount without aid."

A loud snort escaped the dwarf as his relief sputtered out. He dropped to the ground and cupped his hands as he boosted Legolas to his seat. Legolas glared hard at the dwarf, daring him with his eyes to not make another sound.

The dwarf tried to repress his laugh as he grabbed the proffered good arm and pulled himself back onto the horse. But once mounted, a deep chuckle escaped him and he felt it grow to a full laugh.

Legolas nudged Arod on and reached down to stroke the horse's neck. He sighed a soft word to the animal. By command, the horse bucked his hind legs. Without a tight grip on his companion, the dwarf found himself flying from his seat, and landed in the middle of the dirt road, flat on his back. With justice now served, Gimli's laugh had been silenced and now he could hear the reciprocating mirthful chortle of the elf from his seat on the horse.

*****

Legolas stepped out onto the deck and looked about at the fresh activity that stirred there. Many of the men were below deck, resting still from their injuries and weariness, but Legolas sought out the restorative powers of sun and air. True to his prediction, his body had healed much in the course of one night, and his shoulder pain had diminished to merely a slight ache.

Dawn had come and gone, and the ship had been cast off for their next destination. The air was still and the sky was still clouded, but it did not hold the density of the previous days and Legolas saw a brightening glow in the place where the sun tried to pierce through. His spirits lifted for this new day.

At the rail, as he knew he would be, Aragorn stood. The elf did not doubt that the Ranger had been there to witness their launch at dawn. Standing alone, the lean man gazed out at the waters before them. Legolas walked over to stand at his friend's side. Glancing down, he looked into the deep, lapping river and at the oars that swung in unison propelling the ship against the current. Legolas looked up to his friends profile. Despite a merrier expression worn the night before at the elf's comic situation, Aragorn's face revealed a sadness within him now.

Aragorn saw Legolas looking at him from the corner of his eye. He was glad the elf had drawn near and that he was spared a moment more before he must put on the mantle of responsibility. He watched now the slow progress their craft made and despair filled him that he could do nothing to make their travel speedier. He felt defeat was nearing, and dark somberness fell on him. The mirth he had had at Legolas and Gimli's antics the night before had lifted him. He hoped now that the accompaniment of his friend would help again to lighten his mood. Quiet moments of reflection between the friends had been growing rare and he missed the elf's companionship. The fault was greatly his own he knew–he had been too much inside himself of late and he knew that he had not been much of a friend to Legolas during his dawning of cuivëar. His thoughts had been preoccupied with the need to fight the evil hand of Sauron. It was an immense burden and he wished for some reprieve of it.

He looked over to Legolas' face and wondered now how his friend had been managing. His concern of last night still lingered. He would like to know what effect the sea-longing had had on his friend and if he could help. He searched to see if the elf's disposition had been maimed by it. Finding the words to ask, he said softly, "How do you fair, Legolas?"

Legolas thought about the question. It was simple and easily malleable to interpretation. But reading his friend's face, he understood the implied meaning. His first impulse was to dodge the inquiry, as was his custom, but then he remembered Elladan's words and considered the truth of the matter to his own well-being. Seeing also his friend's sorrow, Legolas decided evading the question would just cause further grief. Aragorn seemed in need of solace and a companion, and his question seemed genuine. The elf said, "I do not know for which you ask, the injury to my shoulder of last night or the injury to my heart as of yesterday, but for either, my answer is the same: I do not suffer much."

"Does it haunt you? The cuivëar?" the Ranger asked with concern.

"Yes, but it is less unsettling to me now. It has become a constant, as if it has always been there, and at times I am almost able to forget," the elf answered as if listening again to the sound. "I still long for it, yet I am not pressed for it as I had been."

Studying Aragorn's face, he hoped that this would diminish some of his friend's agony. From his distance on the vessel, the elf had been watching the man and could not help noting the flurry of direction and specification that sought out the exiled king's attention. 'There are so many distractions,' he thought. From the moment they had boarded the dark, twin masted ship, Aragorn had been occupied. There was the need to assemble the delegations of men from the Gondor field onto the fleet of the tall ships about them. Supplies had to be procured. Horses loaded. Slaves freed. Oarsmen made ready. And so on, a ceaseless list of things to be done, orders to be given, lieutenants to speak to. Of course, there were the other Rangers to consider as well. Many injuries had there been among them, but thankfully, all had been minor, as his had been, and no man had died. But that did not mean the death of Boromir did not still linger in Aragorn's mind. Quietly, the elf also knew the king deeply regretted his own passing into the cuivëar. 'Such heaviness there is here,' he had thought as his eyes had sought out his friend. Legolas knew that if he was going to lean on his friends for support, he should offer them the same. And now he saw his friend in need. He said, "And how do you fair, Aragorn?"

The Ranger smiled wryly at the question, but in equal measure, answered honestly and sadly. "I fear I suffer much, Legolas. Look at us now. This may all have been in vain. For all we have gained, and lost, in one day, we lose to time. Our travel is hastened and I fear Minas Tirith will fall before we can do more. My heart quails," he said as he cast his eyes down.

Legolas searched for a response to give to his friend's lament. He raised his head to the breaking clouds as wisps of sun poked through and he closed his eyes. Drawing upon his elven senses, he listened for the far away sound of the winds that stirred high in the stratosphere. He heard their voice and listened for the direction of their call. He smiled knowingly and said, "It is wise to have an elf for a friend, for I think I may bring you some joy." Gazing fondly at the Ranger again, Legolas said, "Fortune is with us still, Aragorn, and she sends tidings from the south. The winds are changing. May all of Mordor be fearful, for we shall see Minas Tirith ere the next dawn."

Aragorn closed his eyes, attempting to sense what the elf had, but shook his head at his own shortcoming as he opened them again. However, a smile lit his face as he had no reason to doubt the elf's prediction, and he relaxed slightly with the news.

Pondering Aragorn's mood, Legolas chose to continue. "Estel, there is much that bodes within you. The weight of your position is large. Yet I think your misery is more than fear for what may come. What troubles you still?"

Aragorn sighed. "My intentions are good, for if it were my doing I would see freedom and prosperity reign in Arnor. Those that we go to fight would see torment there. My thoughts have been locked on saving all who wish to remain free."

"Your goal is noble, friend," Legolas answered gently.

"Yes, but must I sacrifice my friends for the sake of this responsibility? Time and time again, I feel I have done so of late," Aragorn with a pitying voice. "I feel as if I have betrayed you, Legolas. I fear our friendship will slip because I cannot be torn from my cursed duty."

Legolas shook his head in answer. "I am going nowhere, except to follow you, as has been my choice from the start. I think you will be a good king, Aragorn, for you always seek something more in yourself than what is asked of you. Few men have this quality, I have seen. You have compassion, and you are loved for it," the elf said softly.

"Loved by others perhaps, but there is more I would wish of myself," the Dúnedan said darkly.

Legolas sensed they were at the heart of Aragorn's troubles. He spoke now with authority. "Do not fault yourself because you cannot be more than you are. Your friends are still standing. I am still standing. You have foresaken no one and no one is lost to the good of what you do. We shall persevere and we will be stronger in the end for it."

"Will we? Can a friendship remain if it is not tended?" the Ranger asked spitefully.

"Pity does not become you, Estel. I speak of your duty. Your destiny is greater than all this," the elf soberly responded, motioning his arms to encompass himself, "and I will not allow you to suffer for it more. It harms us more than it aids us and there are no lessons to be gained here." Reaching out, he gently touched Aragorn on the shoulder as he smiled and said, "Your friendship is precious to me. If you regard me the same, I beseech you to cease your search in the shadows of the past. For look, the sun is now shining," he said pointing up, "It is time to awaken and greet what is before us."

Aragorn looked up and smiled wanly. Elven wisdom. He understood Legolas' meaning. He had concluded the same himself – it was time to stop looking backward at his regrets. His friend did not bear any blame. For this, a surge of relief washed over him.

He looked back down into the water again. I must move on but how do I do that? Simply, I supposefocus no further than what is before me. Like the paddles in the water,' he thought as he looked upon them, 'one stroke to follow the next until a greater power propels us on. Propels us forward.' He smiled at his thoughts. And for the first time in a many days his shoulders relaxed a little from the weight he carried.

Knowing there was little more he could say, Legolas turned away and walked to the bow of the ship. Seeing the ample roping of the forward mast, he tested it and then began to climb. Guarding his still tender arm, he made his way upward with confident steps until the rope ladder ceased. When he had reached the place where the topmost sail was furled, he stopped and turned back to look at what was left of Pelargir. So much had happened there. Had it only been a day? As if called by the recollection, gulls appeared on the horizon. He watched as they swooped in and about the great ships. As they neared, he could hear the music of the cuivëar as it began to strengthen with their appearance. Legolas was pleased with himself, for he felt he was learning to master the sound. He knew there would be dark days ahead where his battle with the sea-longing would be intense, but the last day had been a good test of the love he held for this place and his friends, and he knew in matters of consequence the sea-longing could be pushed away. As the gulls flew about him, he considered the music, knowing how easy it would be to slip into it again. He knew this sound would always be with him and he knew now that the only way to fight it was to draw his strength from others. Looking down on the deck, he saw Aragorn standing alone at the rail, waiting for his destiny. 'He will be a good king,' he thought.

As the gulls flew about him, a wind began to blow. Legolas laughed.

Turning away from the gusts, Legolas directed himself north to where Minas Tirith would be. He listened again for the music, but this time instead of pushing it back when it became too strong, he moved it to a new place in his mind and began to work it. He followed the notes as he added his own, entwining them into the sound to create a new song, harmonizing with the music.

From the deck below, Aragorn heard Legolas' gentle tenor voice. The elf sang softly in an unfamiliar elven tune that came out as a sweet melody. It was hauntingly beautiful and Aragorn caught his breath as he listened to it. He allowed the music to lift and carry him, and to his ears it seemed to echo the chorus of the wind and of all the sounds of the world.

END.

A/N: I would like to thank all my faithful reviewers. Your words helped me when I thought I was alone. Specifically, I would like to thank Gabriel (I'm not going to look, I'm not going to look, oops, I looked) Lawson. You made me laugh. And more importantly, you inspired me. I can't believe you actually noticed me (gulp). Thank you for the encouragement. Thudera, you are my hero. And you too, Jocelyn. Your own works makes this all look so easy, and it is you I was trying to emulate. I can say after writing this, it is not an easy thing to do. And to everyone else who reviewed, thank you for being so kind. I was a much harsher critic than you were, and you bolstered me to keep this going.

And now I go back to just being an observer of this site for awhile. My family will be happy to see me again and to know I have not become completely nocturnal (there have been many nights when I have been glued to my keyboard into the wee hours).

I will probably be back though. I have some ideas for a new story, but I need to do a little research before I begin. Until then