The Fourth Age, 120
Legolas smiled as a group of young people rushed by, their laughter filling the air. Setting aside his pen and the letter he had been writing, he stood and went to the balustrade. He took a deep breath, savoring the beauty of the mountainside haven, from the sweet scent of the trees to the sounds of its inhabitants. As if it had been reading his thoughts, a jay landed on his tunic and chirped its greetings. Legolas murmured his own in return, and the jay leapt into flight once more. Legolas watched as it flew away, then stepped out of the pavilion.
Yet "outside" it could not truly be called, for he had never been inside; the rooms and dwellings were neither indoors nor outdoors, not hewn from the earth, but a part of it. The settlement reminded Legolas of both Rivendell and Lothlórien, though it was like to neither, for southern Ithilien was a land entirely its own. Neither a valley nor a lowland forest, the settlement was nestled against the base of Emyn Arnen, the southern highlands, on the east, but it was open to the vista of Anduin and beyond on the west. On the forest floor, wide pavilions, open halls, workshops and gardens had been crafted around the trees. Winding stairs curved around the trunks of some of the taller ones, leading up to flets and dwellings above, cradled between the treetops and the mountainside.
The settlement, which Legolas had named Brethil long ago, was home to the Silvan folk who had followed him from the Wood of Greenleaves after the War of the Ring. The arts of the Elves had been sorely needed in the war-ravaged south, and all that Legolas had seen and done in the War had made him wish, for the first time in his life, to become something other than a warrior. Though he would never refuse the call to arms, should arms be needed, he wished to create, and to build, and to feel the peace of the land healing itself around him. So his father had given him leave to come here, with a score or so of their people, and they had founded Brethil.
Legolas had spent many years leading parties of Elves and Men through Ithilien's forests and highlands, removing the filth, planting seedlings, and nurturing them with song and spirit. He had designed the gardens for the new home of Prince Faramir and Lady Éowyn, which was in the highlands not far from Brethil. Legolas fast became Faramir's good friend, finding easy kinship with the intelligent, compassionate man. He enjoyed Éowyn's company, too, and she was ever curious to hear about the ways of his people, and of their songs and stories. As their son grew to manhood, Legolas taught him many arts.
Legolas's life was busy, and he felt proud of what his people had accomplished. Yet while he was often content, he was not completely at peace. He had never been able to dismiss the sea-call; it was ever present in his heart, and he had begun to feel that it would not be denied much longer. As of late he had spent more time reflecting on the past, remembering the mortal friends who had long since passed on. He had grieved long when Éomer died just a few years before his sister Éowyn, and later Faramir. Though he had delighted in the company of Merry and Pippin when they removed to Gondor in the final years of their lives, their deaths had been sorrowful partings. He knew that such pain was the price of friendship between Men and Elves, yet that knowledge made the loss no easier to bear.
But there was joy, too -- and Elessar and his family had been a great part of it. He and Elessar would visit each other often, and they would talk at length, sharing both counsel and memories of the past. Legolas would walk with Queen Arwen in the hills near Minas Tirith, or on her visits to Ithilien. He knew well their son and heir, Eldarion, and twin daughters, Ivorwen and Calimë. It was difficult for Legolas not to think of them as children, although they were far from childhood now.
Legolas was lifted from his reverie when he saw a young Elf at the settlement's entrance, passing under an archway into the tree-lined garden. "Master Legolas!" he called. "I saw a Man riding hither, and I think it is the King."
Surprised, Legolas approached him. "Truly? That is odd, for there has been no word."
"Truly," the Elf, who was called Earindo, nodded. "He wears a hood and simple cloth, and his horse bears no tokens of royalty. But I have before seen the King, and his manner cannot be mistaken."
Legolas nodded, for he did not doubt Elven perception in such matters. He gave some instructions, and Earindo went to carry them out.
A few moments later, he knew the young Elf had been right, as a horse bearing an unmistakable form rode under the archway. Approaching, he called, "My Lord Elessar!"
The rider drew back his hood, smiling at Legolas from the saddle. "Even in these days of peace, there is still no approaching Elf-lands in surprise, is there, my friend?"
Legolas returned the smile while examining his friend. He was still strong in body and sat upon his horse as one who had done so all his life, proud and tall. His once dark hair was now gray streaked with white, and his face, though still fair to look upon, carried the signs of age. "Not for you, for even in a hood and traveler's cloth, you were at once marked as the King."
Elessar dismounted, more slowly than he would have once, and clasped Legolas's arm, a warm greeting from one warrior to another. "It is good to see you, Legolas." Elessar looked around at the gardens and then up at the trees and clear sky. "And I am pleased to see this place so fair and full of life."
Handing the reins of Elessar's horse to Earindo, Legolas smiled his thanks. Elessar was right -- Brethil was full of life, and not only Elven life. As they walked through the gardens, they saw many young people from Gondor and its southern fiefs, even Rohan and the North, who had come to stay for a time. They came to learn from the Elves, to study healing and learn lore and song, and of the forest, and many crafts. Together, through the long efforts of both the Elves and their mortal students, Ithilien had become fair and beautiful again.
When they were seated in the comfortable pavilion, and refreshment had been brought and taken, Legolas spoke. "Your presence here is always a pleasure, my friend, though it is rare that you arrive alone, and unheralded."
Elessar smiled. "Let us walk, mellon nin,(1) in the woods, as we did long ago."
Legolas nodded as he returned his friend's smile, yet he felt a cloud come over his heart, a shadow of foreboding.
They walked in easy silence, with the ready companionship of friends of long standing. Though their pace was gentler than it might have been in the past, they still covered good distance. As they moved through the forest, Legolas was as ever aware of every tree, every flower, every bird and beast in the forest hills. It was well past midwinter now, and he could taste the first signs of spring in the air. Winters were mild in the south; the trees were green, and the sun was still bright and warm enough for a pleasant walk.
They headed north, taking a gentle path upwards to a clearing from which they could see both the river and the horizon to the west. They sat on the soft green grass, and Elessar finally spoke. "You have done great deeds here, Legolas. Ithilien is clean and fair again, a place of song and beauty, of learning and light."
Legolas smiled. "Deeds worth doing, for this land sorely needed cleansing." He studied his friend for a long moment. "But that is not why you have come."
"No." Elessar's expression still reflected the strength of his younger days, but Legolas detected a sadness he had not seen in a long while. "My time comes to an end, dear friend. Two days from now I shall lay down on the bed prepared for me, and pass beyond this world."
Legolas looked away and paused for breath, for he felt as if his chest had taken a great blow. Although he had known the time of Elessar's death would someday come, he had not known the King intended to relinquish his life in the manner of the great Númenóreans, rather than allow fate to take its own course. Finally, he said, "The grief of those who love you will be terrible to bear." His voice was quiet, almost a whisper. "And their numbers are many. Will you not tarry a while longer, for their love?"
Elessar shook his head. "My son is ready to take his place as king, and I feel the signs of infirmity coming upon me even now. I shall not wait until I am helpless and withered to leave the world, but wish to go while still hale, able to mount a horse and hold a sword. I would have my children and their children remember me as I am." Elessar's eyes met his friend's, and he said with a quiet voice, "My sorrow at parting from them, and my friends, is no less terrible."
Legolas nodded sadly, raising his gaze to the west. His heart was heavy with sadness, yet he knew Elessar had not reached this decision without great care. Legolas could only accept it, despite the sorrow it brought. "And the Queen?" he asked.
Elessar's eyes closed for a moment, and then he spoke softly. "We both knew this day would come, when our debts to fate demanded payment at long last. And as this time has approached, I have wondered if the price is not too high."
"Elessar." Legolas grasped his shoulders and met his eyes. "It was ever her choice, and once made, could not be repented. Nor do I think she would, for she loves you now as much as she did long ago." His eyes closed, and Legolas continued, "Though the price is dear, much has been bought; you have shared a great love together, and your children are strong, and as fair at heart as they are in form. Their heirs will rule this land for many long years."
Elessar merely nodded, drawing a deep breath as he looked to the west. The sun was beginning to set. "My family is strong, and so is the realm, and for this I am pleased. But most of our friends have long passed; Faramir and Éowyn, Éomer, Imrahil, all many years gone now. You and Gimli, and Arwen's brothers, are all that remain of our friends of old, of those who understand all that was suffered, and lost."
Legolas nodded, recalling his own memories of their lost friends just before Elessar had arrived. Perhaps, he thought, it was only natural for those preparing to depart to reflect on all they have loved and lost. For Elessar's decision had set his own course, and Legolas knew that he would, at last, answer the sea-call. Then he thought again of the Queen, who had long ago sacrificed that grace. "I will stay with her awhile, and aid her in any way I am able."
"Thank you, my friend." Legolas felt Elessar's gaze. "But you shall not stay long after."
Legolas met his eyes, wondering how he could know what Legolas had only just accepted. "I love Middle-earth. But my days here have been waning since I felt the first call of the sea, as Lady Galadriel warned long ago. It is a weight on my heart, and I shall not be able to bear it much longer. After..." He drew a breath, unwilling to give voice to the thought. "Once I have done all that I might for your Queen, and witness your son into his reign, we shall depart into the West."
"We?" Elessar asked. "Are some of your folk here sailing as well?"
Legolas almost regretted his words, but he knew in his heart that Elessar would not begrudge this. "It came to me in a dream from the Lady that Gimli should sail with me, and see her again as he has long desired, and enjoy what is left of his days in the Undying Lands. How she obtained this grace for him, I do not know, but I trust my dream is truth and not mere wish."
For the first time since he arrived, Elessar's smile was broad. He clasped Legolas's hand in his own. "I am happy for you, my friend, and for Gimli. Is he with his people at the Glittering Caves now?"
Legolas shook his head. Despite having reached a great age for one of his kind, Gimli continued to roam all over Gondor and Rohan, supervising the rebuilding works of the Dwarves. "No, he is at Henneth Annûn, working in the caves there. I know he would see you once more, or be ever grieved. If I were to send a fast rider to bear him to Minas Tirith...?"
Elessar nodded, looking west again as the sun slipped behind the horizon. "Would you return to the City with me?"
"I would not have it any other way." Legolas stood and offered an arm to help Elessar stand, which he gratefully took. Once standing, Legolas did not at once release his friend. "Those in the West, Elessar, they shall hear of all that has come to pass, of all you have done, should the wind not have borne tidings to them. Songs of your deeds will be heard evermore, and those who love you shall be proud."
Elessar pulled him into an embrace, and Legolas felt the heaviness of his friend's heart, and his own. Without words, they parted and began the walk toward Brethil. Twilight lasted not long in the south, and darkness was fast approaching, though Legolas was confident in their path.
As they walked, Elessar asked, "What will become of Brethil once you have departed?"
"Brethil will endure without me. Those who followed me here are content, and Artanis is an able leader, wise and skilled in many arts. Though the Eldar of ancient times have now gone, there will be Elves in Middle-earth for many years yet. Here, and in the Wood of Greenleaves, and in East Lórien."
Elessar nodded. "I am glad for this, for Middle-earth would be a far sadder place, should all your people leave. But you deserve the peace of the Undying Lands, Legolas; you have done far more than your just part in shaping the world for this age." Legolas smiled at his friend, but said naught, for his feelings about his departure were many, and too much to inflict on a friend preparing to face a future of far less certainty.
Thus Elessar and Legolas returned to Brethil, and Legolas dispatched a messenger to bear Gimli from Henneth Annûn to Minas Tirith. Unwilling to spread rumor of what was to come, he did not give the messenger any tidings, but only bid him tell Gimli that he must come without delay. He knew his friend the Dwarf would be aggrieved at the fast journey on horseback, yet missing the farewell of Elessar would be far worse.
Once that errand was undertaken, they prepared to leave early the next day. Then Elessar slept, but Legolas found he was loathe to leave his friend, and kept quiet vigil near him through the night. He slipped away in the hour before dawn, when he sensed Elessar was beginning to wake. Together they walked in the forest again, and watched the sunrise.
They left soon after returning from their walk, but traveled at an easy pace, taking time to enjoy the beauty of Ithilien in late summer. They spoke of the years long past, and of friends departed, and shared songs of the ancient times. Legolas laughed and enjoyed the company, even as he mourned it as their last journey together.
(1) My friend