2. Near to the Sea
"I still say those who prefer horses to feet are daft," Gimli grumbled as he dropped from Faensul’s back. It was the morning of the third day of their travel, and the dwarf was exhausted. They had ridden hard that first evening and night, rested during the second day, ridden again the second night, and now drew nigh unto Dol Amroth, home to Prince Imrahil. Aragorn had counseled that they should become accustomed to activity in the night and rest during sunlight as that would be the way of things once they entered Harad.
Legolas gave Faensul a pat and turned him loose to search for grass and bed. "Were you to have traveled by foot, you would barely be beyond sight of Minas Tirith," the elf said with a slight smile.
"Have you so little respect for the dwarves?" Gimli asked, trying to ease the stiffness from his legs. "We are a hardy folk and can travel with great speed if the need arises."
"But speed is relative," Legolas pointed out. "To those doomed to walk, perhaps dwarves can seem fast. But for those of us who choose to ride, you are snails by comparison, my friend." The elf sighed and moved away from the dwarf, his mood abruptly shifting. "Can you smell it?"
Gimli glanced at his friend curiously, suddenly aware of a underlying tone of sorrow in the elf’s normally cheerful voice. "Pardon?"
"The sea." Legolas’s bright eyes glittered in the light of the rising sun and stared southward with an intensity that made Gimli shiver. "Can you smell it? There is salt in the air and the smell of water. Almost I feel I could touch it."
The dwarf gave himself a mental kick for not having anticipated this development. Ever since the harrowing ride on the Paths of the Dead, even before the destruction of the Ring, the call of the sea had claimed his best friend’s heart. Legolas would mention it now and then, and whenever the subject came up, a strange look of longing and discontentment would cloud the elf’s gray eyes. Gimli had no means of understanding what Legolas was going through, but it frightened him sometimes. Very few things stirred the elf’s emotions for an extended period of time, and the sea was one of these things.
"No, I fear I cannot smell it," Gimli finally answered, though he doubted that Legolas was even aware of him at this point. The elf continued to look toward the south with eyes that could span distances beyond imagining. Gimli wondered if his keen-eyed friend could sea the waters that called to his elven heart. "Legolas?" There was no answer and Gimli knew it was vain to try again. With a heavy sigh, unable to do anything else, the dwarf left Legolas standing there, consumed once more by his desire for the sea.
"You seem to have survived the trip so far," a laughing voice called out to him. Gimli looked up and nodded at Eomer who was eating some kind of waybread.
"It has been an adventure," the dwarf returned, trying to summon a smile. "Elves are strange creatures and elven horses stranger still."
"Smooth his paces seemed to me, though I did not have the pleasure of riding him," Eomer said. "But you have ridden a few horses in your life, Master Dwarf. Tell me what you think of the elf’s new steed."
"I think horses are a poor substitute for one’s own legs," Gimli stated.
"I do not think many here would support that notion, my friend," a new voice said. Dwarf and king turned as Aragorn joined them. He was holding some kind of meat and was devouring it with slow relish, savoring the spicy flavor. Noticing the dwarf’s eyes on his food, Aragorn frowned slightly. "Have you had ought to eat, Gimli?" Gondor’s king asked.
"I partook somewhat while riding, seeing as I had nothing else to do," Gimli answered. "But I will have something more ere long."
"Where is Legolas?" Eomer wondered, realizing that the elf was not at his usual place beside Gimli.
The dwarf grimaced, turned, and indicated the still form of the elf with a nod of his head. "He says he can smell the sea."
Aragorn’s eyes softened and he sighed. "I wondered when we would venture too close for his comfort. I fear he will be in torment until we pass well into Harad. Would that there had been another way to journey."
"Would that he had never heard the gulls," Gimli muttered. "I still remember when he disappeared several years ago and we found him a month later wandering the seashore. He hadn’t realized how long he’d been gone." The dwarf shook his head and studied his elven friend with compassion and sadness. "I feared he had set sail without a word to any of us. It is a fear I still carry with me, and I rejoice every day I can see him here in Middle Earth."
"Yet Middle Earth will lose him one of these days," Aragorn predicted quietly. "He will leave its bounds and sail beyond the reach of mortal man, following in the path of many elves before him."
"But not now," Gimli vowed, watching the elf carefully. "And not soon, if I can help it."
"I will be the first to admit that I do not know much on the subject," Eomer spoke slowly, "but it appears to me that there is little anyone can do. It seems like a disease that cannot be cured, and ever will the longing gnaw at his heart until he submits to its demands and departs from us."
"Verily, it is much like a disease," Aragorn agreed. "And I fear you have it aright, Eomer. He will not be cured until he leaves. And until then, he is doomed to wander in torment." Aragorn fell silent for a moment, lost in thought, and then shook his head slightly. "Well, I shall bid you a good night, or a good morning as the case may be. I must seek sleep while I can. You would be wise to do the same. I have posted guards already, so there is no need to appoint a watch."
"Thank you, Aragorn, and I shall heed your words," Eomer said. "A good rest to you, and to you, too, Gimli."
"And to you and your family," the dwarf replied absently, his eyes still on the elf.
Eomer and Aragorn exchanged concerned looks, but realizing they could do nothing, they left the dwarf to his own devices. The sun rose further into the sky and most of the host sought such beds as could be contrived, but still Legolas looked to the sea. And Gimli continued to watch his friend until he felt the grasping hand of sleep creeping over his mind. He struggled against its grip, but he realized he could not hold out for long against such a relentless foe. With this bitter knowledge directing his actions, the dwarf moved to lie down behind the silent, motionless elf, hoping that maybe his presence would help to anchor the prince in Middle Earth. If Legolas noticed him, he gave no sign, and Gimli knew he could do nothing more.
"I don’t think you can hear me, Legolas," he whispered as he closed his eyes and abandoned reality for dreams, "but I must tell you this. Remember that you are wanted and needed here in Middle Earth. I would not have you leave me, nor would Aragorn have you leave us. There is still much to be done and much to see, and there is no one else I would rather have by my side. No one! Not even another dwarf!" And having said this, Gimli gave in to the onslaught of sleep. His breathing became deep and steady, and the cares of the day—or in this case the night—were banished to dark, forgetful places.
But had Gimli managed to stay awake a moment longer, he might have been comforted, for after a few minutes, a bright elven gaze turned his direction. Considering the dwarf who now lay sleeping, the owner of that gaze shook his head wearily. This friendship worked both ways, and there was no one else, including other elves, that Legolas would rather have beside him on journeys or merely joining him for dinner and a bit of friendly banter. And their friendship ran deep enough that it overcame the ever-present longing for the sea. Well, for now anyway.
"U-gwannathan ir deridh," the elf sighed, speaking softly in his own tongue. "Dan i aer cad enni ui, meldirn. I aer cad enni ui."
* * * *
When sunset came again, Aragorn roused all who slept. Gimli rose reluctantly, aware of a stiffness in his joints from the rigorous riding of the previous night. Legolas had not slept nor did he seem in any way affected by it or by the long hours they had already put into the trail. And for the dwarf’s sake, this evening he even refrained from speaking of the sea, though it was obvious that the sea was continually on his mind. Still, Gimli appreciated the elf’s effort on his behalf and took heart that Legolas had not wholly forgotten his comrades.
"Did you enjoy your rest?" the elf asked as Gimli rubbed sleep from his eyes.
More than you enjoyed yours, I daresay, the dwarf thought. "I would have enjoyed it more if I could have had a few additional hours in which to sleep," he said aloud, hoping to lure Legolas into friendly banter.
Legolas smiled, touched by the gesture. He was well aware of what the dwarf was attempting to do, and though he did not feel up to it, he decided to humor Gimli for the moment. "Is that why dwarves are able to endure the depths of their caves? Have they nothing to do but sleep?"
Gimli could easily see that Legolas’s heart was not in the jest, but he took it as a hopeful sign that the elf was even willing to make an attempt. "It seems to me that sleep is more useful than the endless songs you weave about the trees and the stars," he retorted, watching the elf’s face closely.
"Perhaps." Legolas looked away, unconsciously turning his gaze south toward the sea. "I will go and seek Faensul. Doubtless Aragorn will wish to continue the journey soon." And with that, the elf walked away, his normally light feet dragging slightly.
Gimli’s spirits fell as Legolas abandoned the game and the dwarf to search for the horse. With a frustrated sigh, he turned away and stalked toward Aragorn who stood watching the preparations of the others in the moonlight.
"What troubles you, Gimli?" the king asked, though he felt he already knew the answer.
"It will grow worse as we go south, won’t it?" the dwarf asked.
"Most likely. Where is he?"
"He has gone to find Faensul. He will return shortly."
Aragorn nodded, glancing at the preparations of his men once more before turning his full attention back to the dwarf. "It bothers you, doesn’t it? It is a thing you cannot understand and are powerless to alter. And someday it may take him from us. And when that day comes, there is nothing that can be done to stop the forces at work in his heart."
"What drives him?" Gimli demanded. "What drives that elf to long for the sea? Is not Ithilien fair enough for him? Does he not have enough of his kindred for company? Is our friendship so barren that he must seek other lands?"
"I think, Gimli, that our friendship, and perhaps yours specifically, is one of the few things holding him here," Aragorn said gently. "I am surprised he has not already left, and he must value his mortal friends greatly. I have seen the longing for the sea in other Sindarin elves, and it is a grievous hurt to them until they surrender to its commands. He may not show it, but the sea is always in his heart. And when that sea is within reach, he can no longer hide the desire from those around him."
"Your words bring me no comfort," Gimli sighed. "I would that he had never heard the gulls as we rode to save Gondor. The Paths of the Dead they are still called, but other names I could give them now. Pain and sundering come to mind."
"What is done cannot be undone," Aragorn said. "Would you that we had never taken that road and so left Gondor to be burned?"
"No. Yes. Perhaps. In truth, I cannot say. I know only that my friend suffers greatly and that no act of mine can aid him. Nor can I help him bear his suffering as I have no understanding of what he faces."
"You have a great heart, Gimli," Aragorn said quietly. "And I think you do aid him, though you may not see it. Your presence, as a reminder of why he tarries, brings comfort to him. He knows that he does not suffer for naught. Go now. He approaches and he will need your strength as we draw closer to the sea. We will reach Dol Amroth by morning and I fear the cry of the gulls will be hard on his ears."
Gimli looked around and quickly caught sight of Legolas walking toward him. If such an action could be ascribed to an elf, Gimli would have said that he was trudging. The normal spring in his step was gone, and the sparkle in his eyes that could bring mirth to an entire forest was dim and vague. Sensing his master’s mood, even Faensul was somber and quiet this evening. The proud arch of his neck did not seem so proud, and he watched Legolas closely as though looking for ways to break through the elf’s melancholy.
"He walks as though one who prepares for a funeral," a voice whispered behind the dwarf and king. Eomer stepped forward and eyed the elf critically. "Should we send him across Anduin and ask him to wait for us on the borders of Harad? I fear what taking him closer to the sea will do."
"He would not go," Aragorn answered. "It would be an affront to his pride, and he would refuse to leave us. In any case, it would be unwise to send one rider, or two if Gimli goes with him, so close to such a dangerous country."
"He will endure this," Gimli said firmly. "And I will help him. But I would that we journey quickly into Harad, for the longer we tarry by the sea, the worse he will grow until he is aware of nothing but the cry of the gulls." And with that, the dwarf moved forward toward the elf who had stopped and was regarding them all with suspicion and a bit of irritation. "How fares your horse?" Gimli asked, hoping to divert the elf’s attention.
"I do not desire your pity," Legolas said testily, a flash of anger appearing briefly in his eyes.
"Oh?" Gimli grasped madly for suitable responses to that. "Then perhaps you would better appreciate my condescension? For how else shall a dwarf regard an elf?"
It was a long shot and Gimli knew it, but he had an intuitive feeling that insults were better than awkward words of comfort at this point in time. Hardly daring to breathe, he watched anxiously as Legolas regarded him through narrowed, stormy eyes. At long last, the corners of the elf’s mouth started to twitch though the rest of his face remained stern and uncompromising. Gimli heaved a silent sigh of relief.
"How shall a dwarf regard an elf?" Legolas echoed, and now his eyes lightened somewhat, though shadows still lurked. "With homage and worship, if that dwarf possesses a modicum of intelligence."
"Worship? You have done nothing to prove you worthy of worship, my friend," Gimli snorted. "What good is singing in the trees? We dwarves are the builders of nations and the forgers of fine metal. How shall elves compete with that?"
Legolas was prevented from responding when a clear trumpet rang out, signaling that the ride was about to begin and the company should mount. Faensul tossed his head at the call, eager to be off and prove his paces to the other horses. Gimli moved to the stallion’s side and Legolas aided him in mounting before leaping onto the horse himself. By now accustomed to the procedure, Faensul trotted swiftly to Aragorn’s side and stopped, waiting for the signal to move out.
"And so another day as baggage begins," Gimli sighed.
"And thus we see how the mighty builder of nations and forger of fine metal is fallen," Legolas laughed.
"Watch what you say, Master Elf, for this baggage has an axe."
"A most unsuitable weapon for baggage. Perhaps you had best let me handle it."
"You? Legolas, I have seen you try to wield my axe and I still laugh to think of it. You were a greater danger to yourself than to anyone else."
"I merely followed your example," the elf answered. The dwarf harrumphed and Legolas smiled. Glancing over at Aragorn, Legolas could see him laughing slightly at the interchange between elf and dwarf. "Are we ready to depart, my liege?" he asked.
"Perhaps a moment more," Aragorn answered. "Some of the Rohirrim are rearranging their saddle bags."
With a nod, the elf turned his eyes southward. Once more, he could sense the presence of the sea, and he could dimly see a great field of blue in the far distance. But now, a more immediate presence sat behind him, and Legolas could feel concern and fear emanating from his friend. In a strange way it was a comfort, and the elf felt his need to sea the great waters on the horizon diminish in the wake of the dwarf’s powerful friendship. "Gimli?"
"Yes?" Gimli sounded anxious, as well he might be. Legolas could feel himself slipping back into his earlier depression.
A moment of silence, and then one of dwarf’s hands that clutched tightly at the elf’s tunic moved to his shoulder and rested there for a moment. "You are welcome, my friend."
Faensul moved restlessly beneath them and Gimli quickly grabbed for Legolas’s tunic again, fearful of falling from the tall horse. Legolas laughed, though his laugh seemed filled with pain, and then he turned to Aragorn who was watching the activities of the Rohirrim closely. Finally, all seemed in readiness. Turning Arnor around, Aragorn raised his hand and cried aloud. The company set off with a flurry of hooves, galloping swiftly southward and passing as shadows into the warm, summer night.
* * * *
U-gwannathan ir deridh. Dan i aer cad enni ui, meldirn. I aer cad enni ui—I will not depart while you remain. But the sea calls me always, my friend. The sea calls me always.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.