It was a poignant scream uttered from the sky, a call so enchanting that I could not help but look up. Unlike the call of the Nazgūl, which was piercing and could be felt icy-cold, this was different, warmer. It was a bird's cry, that much I gathered, but the species was entirely foreign to me. There was something mysterious, almost wise, about this screech, as if its sounder knew of secrets long forgotten, long hidden. So I looked up, staring directly into the glossy, obsidian eyes of the white dervish skimming the blue skies above me. Its body was pure white, as if made of snow. Its wings were gray, tipped with black. A beak of pale golden hue shone in the sunlight, open as it repeated its striking demand.
"Legolas," I heard my name being called from the heavens above. “Legolas, look…”
The reality of what was happening around me melted into oblivion: I was aboard a ship of Pelargir, the Dead having swept through and cleansed this city and its vessels of the filth of Sauron, bound for the Pelennor Fields. Shouts could be heard from Aragorn to the other men, and they responded. Apart from this and the gull, the only sound was that of the ships cutting cleanly through the waters of the river Anduin.
I felt as if I were being pulled into a trance, falling deeper and deeper into this strange, tiny fiend's mesmerizing gaze. On and on it circled overhead, its gliding wings furthering my enchantment: I was lost in the white and gray circle it wove in the sky. My senses heightened in this unusual experience.
What was stronger than the bird’s call and my rapt attention to it was the ache that I began to feel in my heart. Something had lain dormant in me, something that had never emerged before now. I felt that it was primal, ancient, an obligation I could not deny. It made me restless, impatient almost. I did not like this feeling, nor how it was controlling me, for we Elves have command over our spirits in a manner unlike Men. I felt helpless, vulnerable even, something I had rarely experienced before.
Another cry from above, a laugh, almost: “Oh, Prince, none can quell the Sea-longing once it has been awoken! Those more powerful than you have tried and failed, so what hope do you have in denying it? No, you shall have no peace until you sail!”
The bird swooped then, heading directly towards me, and as it neared I swung at it, afraid of what those words meant. The fowl cackled at me from its lofty position.
“Young Prince, look; look at what lies in store for you across the Sea when you sail,” this feathered fiend said. “I have seen it, and it is indeed a miracle to behold!”
I saw a vision of a glittering white shore; beyond it there lay an emerald land underneath an azure sky, girdled by tall mountains. On their peaks the purest snow glittered in the sunlight. There was an air of tranquility and contentment, and my heart ached even more. I knew that I would know no worry, sadness, nor despair in that fair land. It shone with a hallowed light, and I realized that great Powers protected it. There was no need for war there as here in Ennorath (Middle-earth). I could finally lay down my bow without any fear. I suddenly became weary of all the fighting I have done to defend my father’s kingdom, had done as a member of the Fellowship, and would certainly do in the coming days. I only hoped to survive so that I could sail to this awaiting paradise.
I know not for how long I stood, transfixed, as this marvelous sight swam before my eyes. It could have been minutes, hours, or even an Age—I did not want to lose it. I did not even know if what appeared before me was a mirage, or if I was in a dream.
“What do you say now, Thranduilion?” the bird cried, and I felt its feathers brush my face. “Do you like what you see? Do you wish to go there, to Valinor?”
Ai, Valinor! This bird had bewitched me into catching a glimpse and feel of it! Memories of myself as an elfling, sitting on Ada’s knee as he told me tales of the Elder Days, of those who had gone to that hallowed land, and of those who returned. I recall his describing to me some of our kin who had wandered close to the Sea, and afterwards had been possessed with the yearning to go West. They no longer found any pleasure in their home. At that young age, I did not comprehend this. But now I did, painfully and inexplicably—I would not rest until I went West as well. I smiled forlornly, sadly, at what I had told Ada:
“Ada, how can an Elf want to leave the trees and forests? How can a bird make someone want to go to a place they had never seen?”
My father, ever patient, delighted at my words, replied, “It is said that something still remains of the Music of Eru in the Sea, and that the Lord of the Waters, Ulmo, plays this theme in the depths of his home. It echoes upwards, carried by the waves. There are small birds that live by the Sea, and it is they who cast a spell on the unsuspecting Elf.”
Young, innocent, and naļve, I puffed out my small chest, trying to impress my father, whom I regarded as the strongest and most formidable Elf and king in all of Arda. “Do not worry, Ada; I will not be tricked by a bird! Nothing could ever keep me from my forest home!”
I felt then something changing in the memory, something that had not occurred. Ada looked at me, tears in his eyes, embracing me tightly to his bosom. Except I was no longer an elfling; I was grown. I swallowed hard, realizing that my emotions had been conveyed to him, and that he knew I would not stay as I had promised.
These images, the one of Valinor, and this memory-connection to Ada, were slipping away, and I reached out with a startled and angry cry, trying to bring Valinor back, to bathe in the solace it offered. But it was to no avail, and soon my eyes beheld again the reality in which I was. Pelennor’s fields loomed ahead, and my heart sank with the grim knowledge that more fighting awaited. The ache in my chest doubled, and the restlessness and impatience returned anew, now with more intensity.
I looked up, as I now knew I would continue to do for many years, but the gull was gone, and I cursed it, ruing what it had awoken in me.
“Come back, you devil! Come back and change this feeling!” I shouted into the wind, knowing that I had been abandoned to the misery I felt, that the gull had brought upon me.
A strong hand clamped down onto my shoulder, catching me off guard, and I turned, my bow arched, to find Aragorn’s surprised gray eyes staring at me curiously.
“Mellon nīn, it is I,” he said gently, sensing my disturbance. “What happened? Your shouting caught my attention.”
My torturer returned then, saying, “But until your bond dies, you are bound here. Do not fret, Legolas Thranduilion, for you will find peace in the end. I will lead you there.”
The pain in my heart lessened, and the burning of my soul, as well. I knew that I would not sail until the man before me breathed his last, for my love for him was strong. Already the agony was lessened by his mere presence, and I felt more at ease.
I smiled, breathing in slowly to regain my composure, “It is nothing, mellon nīn, merely a voice on the wind I heard. It is simply a gull, nothing more. Avo ‘osto (worry/fear not).”
Aragorn did not speak, glancing at me mysteriously, and I wondered then if all his knowledge about the Elves included our Sea-longing. A shadow of concern passed across his fair features, but it quickly vanished, replaced by a warm smile.
“Well, then, come mellon nīn, and do not let the gulls indulge you in your flights of fancy,” he laughed, and I knew that he understood the change that had come over me.
For all that I had imagined might happen to me while on the Quest, this unforeseen encounter with the gull was not anticipated. My mind wandered to my home, where I had spent endless centuries fighting a darkness unending. And now, under strange skies, in a distant land, I still fought the same evil. In my ignorance, before the glimpse of the bliss awaiting me, I had welcomed the peace I thought I would find upon returning home.
But now, knowing what lay beyond the Sea, I realized this was a lie. For how could there ever be peace here, in a land marred by strife and turmoil? Even as I gazed now, from the deck of a Pelargirin ship, I felt that I was no longer part of this world. How could my heart rest here, in a land where even the colors seemed dimmer, the air fouler—a mere whisper of the joyous wonder I had beheld before?
This is what the Lady Galadriel had warned me of, and her words came back to me:
Legolas Greenleaf long under tree.
In joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea!
If thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore,
Thy heart shall then rest in the forest no more.
She had known what would transpire; she knew because this longing dwelt within her soul as well, as she had been borne into this land from across the Sea. Was she whom the gull referred to? It did not matter, though. My elfling promise to Ada would be broken—I hope he will understand. This is something that cannot be explained. As Ada told me centuries ago, the gull does indeed cast an unbreakable spell, and I had wandered into its cunning trap, unsuspecting indeed.
That accursed gull has set me on a most surprising journey, but until the last bond tying me here is severed, I will remain glancing ever upwards in search of my feathered little fiend, hoping he will grant me one more glimpse of bliss.
I am merely borrowing Tolkien's creation. Italicized text from Return of the King book. Council of Elrond website referenced for use of Elvish words. Many thanks to my beta Crackers.