Chapter 9. Journey’s End
“Legolas, what say we cut our adventure short and return home after we have paid our respects to Oromë in his Halls?” Gimli suggested as he helped the Elf weigh anchor.
“Are you too weary to continue?” asked Legolas feigning innocence of the real motive for Gimli’s suggestion This was not the first time such a change in plans had been mentioned, and Legolas knew full well that it was Gimli’s curiosity, not his ailing health that was the cause of his sudden desire to return to dry land.
Ever since Legolas had admitted to being in love, the Dwarf had spent almost every waking moment asking him endless questions about Lilieth, and he obviously eagerly anticipated meeting the maid who had captured his friend’s heart.
“Nay, but since you told me that it was Elladan who introduced you to your fair maid, it occurs to me that perhaps she might fall for his charms in your absence.”
“I have no cause to be jealous or to fear I will lose my love to him or anyone else. You forget that I also mentioned that Lilieth already rejected his suit. Even if she did not love me as she does, she would not turn to Elladan.” Legolas laughed reassuringly.
“There’s always Elrohir.” Gimli persisted with a mischievous wink.
“Who happens to be very fond of the younger sister of Haldir’s wife,” Legolas told him, the gleam in his eye the only hint that he was about to tease his friend once more. “I think that perhaps it is as well that I found Lilieth on my own, for if you intended to assist Nana in her matchmaking, I am sorry to say that your knowledge of the state of affairs between the unwed Elves is so severely lacking that you would never find me a wife.”
“Well, that is to be expected since I do not spend my nights merrymaking until dawn. But surely you miss her?” asked Gimli, trying a different approach.
“Ai,” replied the Elf wistfully, his features softening as he thought of his love. He did miss her, more than words could say. He longed for her sweet kisses and to hear the silvery sound of her soft laughter. “We will visit Oromë’s woods then perhaps it will indeed be time to go home.”
The foliage high above their heads rustled softly, offering a wordless welcome as Legolas and Gimli wandered with Oromë along the meandering path that lead to the Vala’s Hall. The Dwarf was not certain whether he heard both his and Legolas’s names being whispered once, but something was faintly brushing his mind and there was no doubt he sensed the friendliness of the trees as the travellers passed them by. He cast a sideways glance at his two companions and felt his heart fill with joy at the look of wonder and pure bliss that enhanced the younger Elf’s fair features as he all but danced among the trees, singing his reply. Never before had he seen Legolas so radiantly happy.
“I know that as a Wood Elf you love nature as I do, but you seem delighted beyond measure to walk in my woods,” Oromë said with some surprise to Legolas who reluctantly turned his attention and smiling eyes away from the trees to respond to the Vala.
“My heart sings with happiness, for my spirit is once again one with the forest.” In response to Oromë’s questioning look, he explained further. “After I heard the white gulls cry at Pelargir, the call of the sea stole my love for the woodlands from my heart and I lamented the loss.”
“If you felt so melancholy, you certainly fooled me most of the time. I believe you happily spoke to every tree in Arda during the course of our travels, even those dark, angry ones in Fangorn,” grumbled Gimli with feigned annoyance.
“And you also became the leader of the Elves in Ithilien, rather than answer the call to come home,” said a puzzled Oromë.
“I remained in Ithilien for other reasons as well, but I was never truly content to be there, and both longed for and dreaded the day I would finally sail.” Legolas said as he looked to the Vala for his understanding. Oromë smiled sadly knowing the Elf was speaking of the mortal King he had loved so well, and not wishing to cause Legolas any further grief he turned his attention to the Dwarf.
“And what of Treebeard himself, Master Dwarf? Did you not find the Ent to be more than a little interesting?” he asked. Legolas spoke before Gimli had a chance to reply.
“Treebeard is the only being in Middle-earth who takes longer to tell a tale than does my dear friend Gimli,” Legolas teased, unable to remain melancholy in such a pleasant surrounding.
“Naturally Legolas found him to be fascinating, and I will admit that for a tree, or whatever he is, the creature was entertaining, not to mention a welcome ally once he finally decided to deal with Isengard,” Gimli replied with a deceptively quick movement that was meant to result in a playful shove in the back. Legolas was swifter however and he nimbly avoided his friend’s outstretched hand and leapt into the branches of a tree, promptly disappearing from view. Gimli had barely time to roll his eyes in exasperation at the Elf’s mercurial behaviour when Legolas dropped lightly in front of them both, with concern dimming the brightness of his eyes.
“There is an echo of evil in these woods that chills my blood. It reminds me of Mirkwood,” he stated.
“That is not surprising. What you feel is that which you spent most of your adult life fighting, is it not?” Oromë asked as he stopped walking and sat cross legged on the grass of the small clearing they had just entered, gesturing for the others to do likewise. He and Legolas had both noticed the Dwarf was moving rather slowly and by mutual agreement they chose to rest, giving the Gimli no chance to object as he would likely have done.
“Ai.” Legolas nodded. The darkness that hovered dimly in his mind was indeed reminiscent of that which had slowly invaded his forest home.
“Are you saying there are ugly spiders in these beautiful woods?” Gimli asked as he unconsciously reached for the battle axe that was safely in board the ship, not on his back. Neither he nor Legolas had needed to bear weapons since leaving Ithilien for no danger lurked in the Blessed Realm.
“There once was a similar evil lurking in the darkness of the thickest parts of these woods, but Ungoliant was far more fearsome and deadly than her descendants that invaded Thranduil’s realm,” he said as he watched horrified realisation dawn on Legolas’s face.
“Ungoliant!” whispered the Elf with a mixture of fear and awe. Gimli’s eyes widened, for even the Dwarves had heard of the giant spider from which Shelob and those wickedly cruel, yet clever creatures of Mirkwood had eventually sprung.
“Do you wish to see it?” asked Oromë as if it was of little interest. Legolas and Gimli exchanged a glance and were of the same mind on the subject. Both had had enough of dark places and evil creatures.
“Nay,” they replied in unison. The clearing was filled with the silvery laughter of the highly amused Vala.
“I must say I am surprised to find your Halls on the ground rather than swaying precariously in the trees as the Elves commonly favour,” Gimli commented when they finally arrived at the Vala’s abode that was actually built around living trees. They accepted the invitation to enter and were soon settled in comfortable armchairs that were placed around a small table that bore some light refreshments.
“Oh, I have a talan as well, but only use it when I wish to hide from Aulë or Olórin,” the Vala explained with a smile in his eyes that told his words were only spoken in jest.
“How does one *hide* from Olórin?” Legolas asked in astonishment as he and Gimli exchanged a meaningful glance at the seemingly impossible notion. Over the long years they had known Olórin, both had become well accustomed to the wizard’s unlooked for presence.
“Usually not very successfully,” admitted Oromë with a wry grin that elicited laughter from the Elf and Dwarf.
“Indeed, he has always appeared to us whenever and wherever he chooses, both here and in Middle-earth,” added Gimli.
In fact the next time the Dwarf saw Gandalf, the white haired old man was gently shaking his shoulder as he tried to rouse him from a deep sleep. It took the Dwarf several minutes to focus his eyes, and when his vision finally cleared, he could not help but gasp at the sight before him.
Legolas knelt before the Hobbit’s graves, and the tears that flowed freely from his sorrow filled eyes were being tenderly wiped away by an elf maid whose beauty Gimli was forced to admit, rivalled that of the Lady Galadriel. ‘That ids obviously Lilieth,’ he thought to himself as he watched the maid take Legolas in her arms and hold him as only a lover could.
“What has upset you so, Legolas?” Gimli asked as he moved towards his friend, not really surprised when there was no reply from the distraught Elf. As he looked around the clearing, he noticed many of his stone working friends were there as well, singing a sweet yet mournful lament that reminded him of the one the Galadhrim had sung for Gandalf.
“Who do they mourn, Gandalf?” he asked the wizard, who had move up to stand beside him so that he could place a comforting hand on the Dwarf’s shoulder.
“Someone they grew to love dearly,” whispered Olórin. As Gimli turned to face his friend he was astounded to see that the voice came not from an old man, but a being of exquisite elven beauty who shone with an inner light as radiant as mithril in moonlight.
“Ai, this is how the Elves… and those who are on the path to the Halls of Waiting… see me,” he said in reply to the unspoken question. Gimli was shocked into silence as he slowly understood the true meaning of the words.
“Are you saying I am no longer living?” he finally managed to ask, as he held his hands up and carefully inspected them. Aside from feeling a little cold, they seemed no different and certainly not ghostly as he would have expected. Olórin smiled slightly at the Dwarf’s disbelief and nodded sadly. “When did I die? And if I am truly dead, how is it we are witnessing what I can only imagine is my wake?” Gimli demanded harshly as fear of what awaited him welled in his heart.
“Your soul was called to join your kin in the Halls of Waiting just as your journey with Legolas ended and the ship passed through the entrance to the harbour. Knowing how deep the bond of love and friendship is between you and Legolas, and at Aulë’s request, no less, Oromë entreated me to approach Námo to allow you to delay your final journey for a few moments. We knew you would not find rest until you were assured Legolas would not be alone, and as you can see for yourself, he is not.”
“Lilieth is lovely, and even in his sorrow I can see how much Legolas loves her. I am very happy for him, and grateful to the Valar for their compassion,” said Gimli unable to smile as he was overwhelmed by sadness.
“What still troubles you?”
“Aside from being dead, you mean?” It was a weak attempt at his usual humour yet it served to bring a hint of a smile to Gimli’s lips. “I would have liked a chance to bid my friend farewell.”
“Perhaps that is possible but only with action rather than with words,” Olórin told the Dwarf. Gimli was confused for a moment, but suddenly it was as if a fog lifted from his mind and he knew exactly what to do.
Legolas placed an affectionate kiss on his love’s brow and taking her hand stood to follow the others who were now leaving the glade. He looked up sharply as the trees whispered a final farewell to Gimli as if the Dwarf had just passed beneath them, yet he was even more startled to sense a well known presence by his side, clasping his arm in a strong warrior’s grip that vanished as quickly as it had appeared, leaving a feeling of peace and love in his heart, and a locket containing three golden hairs in the palm of his hand.