At last they crossed the bridge into Osgiliath, and Elessar did not don his cloak or hood. He rode through the rebuilt city to the shouts and adoration of his people, offering his fair wishes to them one last time, though they did not yet know this. Legolas watched as his friend kissed the forehead of an infant handed up to him in the saddle. As Elessar murmured a blessing on the child in the ancient tongue of his own people, Legolas knew how sorely the King would be missed, and how much he was loved.
After midday they left Osgiliath and turned toward Minas Tirith, passing through the gates of the Pelennor. The stains of the long-ago battle had been cleansed by the Queen's arts, and the fields were fair and alive with growth. At last they arrived at the gates of the City, long ago rebuilt by the fine craft of the Dwarves. Leaving their horses, but declining the watch captain's offer of an escort, they walked slowly upwards through the winding streets of the busy, vibrant capital. Elessar paused to speak with people that beckoned him, and offered them his greetings and well-wishes. As he had in Osgiliath, Legolas watched, and was grieved, for he knew this would be the last time his friend made this journey.
At some length they reached the Citadel, and there stood the White Tower, and the King's House behind it. As they entered the main hall, Legolas knew that word must have come ahead, because many of Elessar's family were gathered. Eldarion was there with Fíriel his wife, and so was Eldacar, their son, now twenty-six years old, and their daughter, Nimloth, yet a girl of twenty-two years. Eldarion's sisters, Ivorwen and Calimë, waited also, but their sons, grown to manhood, were not in Gondor now, but on journeys to other parts of the realm. But Ivorwen's daughter Rían was there, and so was her husband, and their young son, Estel ? Elessar's first great-grandchild.
But Legolas's attention was not for them, even as he smiled in greeting, because his eyes were fixed on the Queen. She was as ever beautiful, but her eyes were sad as she greeted them.
Elessar approached the Queen and kissed her, then he murmured quietly, and she nodded in response. He then moved among his children and his grandchildren, speaking with each of them in turn. Wishing to accord them privacy, Legolas withdrew to the courtyard. Watching the sun fall, he willed his grief to subside, but it would not.
"Legolas!" He turned as a voice called out to him, and he saw the Queen approach.
He went to her, and took her hands in his, and kissed them. "My lady Arwen."
As he looked at her, her eyes filled with tears, and she embraced him, and he held her as she spoke in their native tongue. "My dear friend. It is all I can do to be brave for him, and for my children and the young ones, but I know not how long I can hold back the sorrow that fills my heart."
He closed his eyes, and held her, and said nothing, for he knew his words could offer no comfort. His arm slipped tightly around her shoulders, and they walked a while around the darkening courtyard. "I knew this day would come," she whispered, "but I knew not how hard it would be to let him go...and to face what must follow."
"He fears for you," Legolas said.
She shook her head. "I fear not death," she said. "For even now, could I repent, I would not go to Valinor without him." She watched a banner flutter in the light breeze, its White Tree reflecting the moonlight. "I believe that we shall be together ever after in the realm of Men's spirits, but my heart is full of sorrow for all that we must first relinquish."
He held her again, and whispered, "I shall stay here, my lady, for as long as you might wish."
The Queen released his embrace and tried a faint smile. "For that I thank you, our dear friend."
Then they both turned, hearing the sound of footsteps. With an escort of the watch, they saw two tall figures approach, and the Queen ran towards them and embraced them, for she recognized her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, who were also Elessar's foster brothers. Legolas was glad they had reached Minas Tirith in time to bid their brother farewell, and to offer their sister what solace they might.
Their arms around their sister, the twins approached, and Legolas greeted them warmly as the Queen dismissed their escort. She had not sent word of the reason for her urgent summons, but upon seeing her face, the Queen's brothers knew her terrible sadness, and she quietly told them of Elessar's intent. Elladan and Elrohir, who had known Elessar nearly his entire life, shared their sister's sadness and grief.
Together they walked back toward the King's House, but Legolas tarried, not wishing to intrude, until the Queen took his hand and led him inside. Elessar was there, lifting young Estel high into the air, and all were laughing. When Elessar saw Elrond's sons, he kissed the child and handed him to his mother, then he embraced his brothers.
As Elessar spoke with them, Eldarion took Legolas aside. In his youth, Eldarion had lived at Brethil for a time, and during those days they had often walked in Ithilien together. Legolas would tell Eldarion of his father's youth and all he had done to defeat the great evil and build this new world. Eldarion also spent much of his time studying with the healers, for he had inherited both the gifts of his father and his grandfather Elrond. From the Elves, the young lord had learned how to put these gifts to great use, and whenever there was need, he would go with his father to the Houses of Healing and aid the wardens as they might.
Now Legolas observed Eldarion's face, which was fairer than his father's, yet bore the same strength. Eldarion was as tall as Elessar, and broad in the shoulder, but his eyes and hair were dark, like his mother, and he wore no beard. His face as yet bore little trace of age, although he was in his ninetieth year. "I am glad you have come, Master Legolas," he said, "for my father would have his friends near him now. Is Master Gimli with you?"
Legolas shook his head, hoping the Dwarf would not delay upon receiving his message. "Not yet, though last night I sent a rider to fetch him here from Henneth Annûn. I hope he will arrive soon." His heart was touched by Eldarion's sad eyes. "Are you all right, my young friend?"
Eldarion offered a wan smile. "I am as well as I could hope to be. I am already grieving for the loss that is to come, for my father, and my mother also. For I know she will not long survive once he is gone." He shook his head sadly. "The blood of old that runs through us has long delayed this day, but it is no less bitter."
Legolas could only nod and offer his friendship, when suddenly he heard a familiar voice outside. "Where's that pointy-eared nuisance? He's had me dragged here on the back of a horse, and I've never been so sore in the --" The voice was drowned out by low laughter from the family members around the room, and with a smile to Eldarion, Legolas turned and hastened out to the courtyard.
"Gimli!" he called.
His friend was quite annoyed, as he had expected. His hair and beard might have grown completely white over the years, and his back might have become more stooped, but his temper was as fell as ever. "Well? What is it? What's so important that I've had to..." Gimli's voice dropped as he saw the shadow that came across Legolas's face. "Legolas?"
Legolas drew a deep breath, aware he could not deliver the news in a manner that would lessen its impact. "Elessar feels that age and infirmity have begun to weigh on him. He has decided to relinquish his life in the manner of the great kings of old, at tomorrow's dawn."
Even as his irritation disappeared, the old Dwarf's shoulders dropped. "Nothing more than arrogance," he muttered. "Why cannot Men permit time to do its own will in such matters?"
Legolas studied Gimli, who appeared to be wavering between anger and sadness. "I think he does what he believes is best, not for himself, but for his family and his kingdom. It is not our place to question their ways, my friend."
With a sigh of resignation, Gimli nodded. "Is he inside?"
"Yes. You should speak with him now." Gimli nodded as they entered, and the family greeted him. Elessar embraced him, and they walked to the other side of the hall and spoke together. The Queen bid the rest of the family to bed, to return after dawn to wish their father farewell. Slowly, the family dispersed. Many of them paused to share words with Legolas, and he felt the weight of their sorrow.
After some time the hall was nearly empty. Elessar stood by the windows talking with Gimli, and across the hall Legolas sat with the Queen and her brothers. Legolas spoke with Elladan and Elrohir, but the Queen was silent. After a time Gimli embraced Elessar, wiped his eyes, and joined the rest. Elessar caught Legolas's eye then, and Legolas went and stood with him near the tall windows at the end of the hall, through which a bright crescent moon shone.
"Thank you for being here," Elessar said simply.
Legolas said, "I told you in Ithilien -- I would not have it any other way."
Elessar asked, "I would ask one last thing of you, my friend. I wish that you and Gimli, my dear friends and the last of our Fellowship here on Middle-earth, would accompany my wife and son with me to the Silent Street."
His throat was tight, and it was difficult to speak, but he nodded and said simply, "I will."
Elessar then clasped his arm and embraced him, and they parted and joined the others. The Queen joined her husband, and their arms wrapped easily around each other. Bidding them good night, she said, "We shall watch the sunrise together, and join you in the morning thereafter."
After taking their leave from Elessar and the Queen, Legolas left the King's House with Gimli and the Queen's brothers, and they were shown to lodgings in the Citadel. But soon after Legolas had thanked the young man who had shown him to his chamber, he departed. He knew he would find little rest that night, for the very air felt heavy with the grief of Elessar's family and friends. So he walked out far onto the embrasure and stood there quietly, keeping silent vigil until at last the sun rose.
The day dawned bright and clear, inappropriately, or so it seemed to Legolas. The sun's light did nothing to dispel his sadness as he turned back toward the King's House. He slipped inside quietly, and Elessar was already there, wearing a tunic of rich blue. His crown and scepter were on a table nearby, ready to be taken with them to the Silent Street.
The Queen looked as beautiful as ever, but her eyes reflected her sorrow. Many of the royal family were there also, and Elessar embraced each of them. He spoke to them softly, taking his leave of each of his daughters, and his grandchildren, and Elrond's sons, his foster brothers. At last he picked up Estel, his great-grandson, and kissed the child's forehead. Legolas heard Elessar whisper the words of an ancient blessing for peace and happiness.
After the City's first bell had rung, those who were to accompany the King to the Silent Street followed him, Legolas behind Elessar and the Queen, and Eldarion and Gimli. They passed through the closed door, and finally they reached the House of the Kings. Through the door to the inner chamber, Elessar saw the bed that had been laid out for him, and without wavering he went inside and lay down. Gimli went to him first, and Legolas saw the shadow of a smile cross Elessar's face as they spoke. Gimli grasped Elessar's hand and clasped it against his, and then Gimli left the chamber.
Legolas went in after, and he took Elessar's hand as he knelt beside the bed. But the wisdom of his people failed him, and he knew not what to say. Elessar finally spoke, and told him, "Do not grieve for me, dear friend. For I believe not that the circles of this world will keep us parted forever. The One will reunite His children when the time has come." He smiled at Legolas with great love and warmth, his face reflecting sadness, but not fear or despair.
Legolas resisted the tears that threatened, as he did not wish for Elessar to see them. He leaned forward to kiss his friend's forehead, whispering in his own tongue, "May the One speed you on your journey, dear friend."
"May the grace of the Valar protect you on yours, and may their fair land bring you peace." Elessar replied. He raised Legolas's hand to his lips and kissed it, and their eyes met. All the years of their friendship lay between them in that moment, filled with memories of triumph and defeat, valor and courage, but most of all great fellowship, and deep trust and love. Legolas at last released his friend's hand as he stood, and there were no further words, only a final look between them as Legolas left the chamber. Eldarion and the Queen then entered, and the doors were closed behind them.
The weight of loss had never in his life felt heavier or more grievous, and as he leaned against the cool stone wall, the tears he had denied in his friend's presence fell silently. He felt Gimli's strong hand on his shoulder and was grateful for it. He blinked his tears away as he saw Eldarion return, holding the crown of Gondor and the scepter of Arnor. Elessar's son looked bereft, as a boy despite all his years, and Legolas held him then, and Gimli thereafter.
Legolas did not know how much time had passed when the doors finally opened again. The Queen emerged, and the light was gone from her eyes, and Legolas knew his friend had passed from the world. Eldarion went to his mother and held her, and Gimli no longer restrained his tears. His hand over his heart, Legolas murmured, "Hiro hon hîdh ab 'wanath,"(1) asking the powers of the world to help his friend find peace after death.
The Queen spoke quietly to a waiting servant, and he departed. Legolas went to the Queen and embraced her, but even as he did, he knew he could offer no solace. Her hands were cold, and her face was gray, and Legolas knew she would not long endure.
Once news of King Elessar's death was cried out in the streets, the entire City went into mourning, its populace bereft. Yet Elessar had left instruction that he wished for there to be no period of mourning, but that his son should ascend to the throne at once. So riders went out immediately to every corner of the realm, and the free lands within, and to the allied kingdoms, with word that the great King Elessar had passed away, and the coronation of his son would take place forthwith.
Nonetheless, it would require a fortnight to permit travel to Minas Tirith from lands so far away. However unofficial, the interim was a period of mourning, during which there was an outpouring of the people's love for their departed king, the like of which had never been known before. Elessar's people traveled from all over the realm to see him one last time as he lay in state. While Legolas heard of the great beauty that was revealed in his body, he did not witness it himself, wishing only to remember his friend as he had been while he still walked in the world.
If the grief of the people was profound, the sorrow of the King's family was tenfold. Yet even as they mourned, Legolas could see their spirits were still kindled within. Despite their sadness, he knew they would live to see joy again -- all save one.
The Queen's grief was so overpowering, so devastating, that she closeted herself away from her children and grandchildren, lest she inflict her suffering on them. Her children were further saddened by this, for they knew their mother would not be with them much longer. But the grief of an Elf could be terrible for mortals to bear, even mortals who bore Elven blood, and after some days they grew to understand that her love for them would not permit their presence.
She would see only Legolas and her brothers, and they each stayed with her in turn, for as long as she would allow. Legolas held her, and tried to warm her, but she was now ever chilled, as if the very heat of her life were draining away. She rarely spoke, and there was no succor he could offer, no words or gestures that would fill the empty spaces in her heart and soul. She would tolerate his presence, or that of one of her brothers, for awhile. But then she would closet herself in her chamber, and see no one, and refuse all food and drink.
On the seventh day after Elessar's death, Legolas sought her brothers. "It will not be long now," Legolas said.
Elladan nodded sadly. "She does not intend otherwise, I think. She will see her son crowned, and then she will bid farewell to her children and leave the City. She wishes to go to Lórien, and walk on the hill where she and Estel bound themselves to each other, and there linger until she is no more."
Elladan's eyes filled with tears, as did his brother's, and Legolas offered what comfort he might. Yet he knew their grief was terrible, the loss of both a beloved brother and a sister coming so fast upon one another. And this was true death, mortal death; there would be no reunion during the days of the world.
Legolas was pained by their sorrow, for he had long shared friendship with Elrond's sons. Their fathers made frequent visits to each other's realms during the Third Age, for the War of the Last Alliance had renewed ties and reformed bonds once sundered. Legolas had taken to the brothers at once upon meeting them, for though they were much older than he, they had much in common as sons of great Elves.
They also shared the affinity of those who felt a terrible anger toward a common foe, for Legolas and the twins had both lost their mothers due to the treachery of Orcs. When Legolas was barely old enough to walk, an Orc raiding party had attacked by surprise while the Elves celebrated an outdoor festival. Away from the safety of Thranduil's subterranean halls, the warriors had fought valiantly, but the children could not be spirited away to safety quickly enough. Legolas's mother had died protecting him, and he was not found until hours later, sobbing and clutching her tunic.
Many years earlier, the twins' mother had been kidnapped and tortured by Orcs, and while they had rescued her, she had been unable to recover her joy in Middle-earth and had sought the Havens. Thus, both Legolas and the sons of Elrond had deeply personal reasons for their fierce hatred of Orcs, and before the War, they would sometimes hunt the foul creatures together in Mirkwood or in the passes of the Misty Mountains. Indeed, it had been on one such sojourn that Legolas had met young Estel.
"And what of the sons of Elrond?" Legolas asked. "Will you seek the West, after your sister leaves the City?"
Elrohir shook his head. "Not yet. We shall stay here in Minas Tirith for a time. Though our sister's grandchildren and their children may be mortal, they have Elven blood, and we would have them learn of Elves from their mother's kin."
For the first time in days, Legolas smiled. "I am glad to hear it, my friends, for Eldarion will surely be glad for your company, and your counsel."
Elladan nodded, but looked at him as if seeing something new. "The sea calls you, Legolas, does it not, and you will be leaving us soon."
Legolas nodded, his eyes turning toward the west. His longing for the sea was growing ever stronger, as if prompted by sadness and grief to tempt him home.
During the next days, representatives from throughout Middle-earth began arriving for the coronation of the new king. King Aldor of Rohan arrived, and he was also kin, for he was uncle to Fíriel, Eldarion's wife, who would soon be his Queen also. Two of Elessar's grandsons returned, for they had heard the news and hurried home. The princes of Arnor, Dol Amroth, Umbar, and the lords of other lands and fiefdoms also journeyed to Minas Tirith, and some of Gimli's kin from Erebor came also to pay their respects to the new king.
Surprising all, though perhaps it should not have, a small party of periannath arrived, led by young Faramir Took the Second, recently Thain of the Shire. His resemblance to the Took whom Legolas and Gimli had known was so uncanny that Gimli spat a mouthful of ale upon first beholding the Hobbit. They became fast friends, and Legolas was pleased to see Gimli smile again.
One of the guests was of special interest to Legolas, and he had no warning of his arrival: Beleg, his elder brother, and King of the Wood of Greenleaves since their father had departed over the sea some years past. Legolas was truly happy to see his brother, and with the Queen attended to by Elrond's sons, Legolas rode out with Beleg to Ithilien.
Beleg had never been to the south; indeed, he rarely left their home country. "It is truly beautiful here, my brother. Our father would be pleased by the grace our people have brought to this land."
Legolas smiled. "I hope he would." The mention of their father reminded him of the news he had to share with his brother, and he dropped his eyes. "Beleg, I am glad that you have come, for had you not I would soon have journeyed to our home to wish you farewell. The sea beckons, and soon I must answer its call."
His brother's eyes, sad but resigned, met his. "I have long suspected this day approached; on each visit, in each letter, I have expected this news."
Legolas shook his head in wonder. "I have only decided to depart in the days just past, yet those who know me best are the least surprised."
"You have gazed upon the West with longing for many years now," Beleg said. "It is only your bonds of friendship to mortal Men that has kept you here this long, I think. And now the strongest of those has been sundered."
The brothers embraced, and then they walked for a time in the woods surrounding Brethil, talking of many things together. When they returned, Legolas gathered a few possessions and said farewell to those who would not be traveling to Minas Tirith for the coronation.
At last in the saddle and preparing to leave, Legolas looked around one last time. He would miss this place, and remember it always, but it was time. Though he loved the forest and its creatures, they had not been what was holding him to Middle-earth. His brother was right -- his true bonds to this place had been through his friends, and those had been cut by mortality.
He turned and clucked softly to his horse, and with his brother rode back to Minas Tirith.
At midday the next, Eldarion Telcontar became the second King of the Reunited Kingdom and Lord of the Western Lands. At Eldarion's request, Gimli had brought the crown, and Legolas had placed it on his head. Although Gimli was honored to occupy the role Frodo had played at Elessar's coronation, Legolas had at first demurred, protesting that he was no substitute for Mithrandir.
But Eldarion had insisted. "I would have my people remember why this kingdom endures, why we as a people still endure," he said. "And it is because of a great Fellowship that once existed, its members representing all of the free peoples of Middle-earth. You and Master Gimli are the last two members of that Fellowship, and it is right that you should do this."
Hearing his words, Legolas could not deny his request, any more than he could have denied anything to his father. Then he smiled, for his heart knew Eldarion would be a fine king and worthy successor to his friend.
And so Legolas of the Woodland Realm placed the crown on the King's head, and said to him, "May your reign and your kingdom enjoy the blessings of the Valar, and the goodwill of all free people."
The King smiled at him, then he turned and faced his people. In the ancient tongue of the Elves, Eldarion slowly chanted Elendil's promise to forever remain in these lands, then offered a blessing of peace. Legolas could feel the spirits of the people lifting, their grief for their lost king slowly lessening as they offered their love and fealty to his son.
The next day, Legolas spoke with Gimli, and they made their plans to depart. Gimli first needed to return to the Glittering Caves, "To wrap up business," as he said, but Legolas knew the journey was more to wish his friends and kin there farewell, and he did not begrudge Gimli this. They made plans to meet in some weeks' time, and Gimli then departed, after taking leave of his friends in Minas Tirith, including his new friend, Faramir Took.
Others were leaving, as well, and none sooner than Queen Arwen. Her children begged her to stay, but she would not; all she wished was to walk in Lórien once more, alone among the elanor and niphredil. Legolas would have offered to see her there, but her brothers would do so.
Legolas took leave of all three of them with deep sadness. While Queen Arwen was inside with her children, Legolas spoke to her brothers in the courtyard, and they wished each other farewell. Yet this parting did not bring him great sorrow, for he knew they would meet again one day.
But then Queen Arwen came out of the King's House alone, dressed in gray and veiled. They embraced one last time, and she whispered, "Farewell, my friend, and may the Valar protect your journey." She lifted her veil to kiss his forehead, and he felt her tears on his skin, mingled with his own. She then lowered her veil, and with a squeeze of her hand, departed with her brothers, leaving behind a friend with a heavy heart.