Legolas tarried a few days longer in Minas Tirith, wishing farewell to his friends, and finally to Eldarion and his family. He lifted young Estel into the air, as his great-grandfather had just days ago, and felt a twinge of regret that he would not know the fine man this child would become.
But the call would no longer be denied, and at last Legolas took his leave. Eldarion rode out of the City with him, past the Pelennor to the river, and there they said farewell. "We will miss you, Master Legolas," said the King.
Legolas could not help but smile; as Elrond had always been "Master Elrond" to Elessar, even once he was crowned king, so he would always be "Master Legolas" to Elessar's son. "I will miss you as well, my friend, and were it not for the longing in my heart, I would stay yet awhile."
Eldarion nodded. "I know." He looked back at Minas Tirith. "I grieve still for both my parents. I miss their companionship and their counsel terribly. Yet soon there will be things I must do."
Legolas reached out and clasped the King's arm, as he had so often clasped his father's. "You are a worthy successor to him, Eldarion. You do not know this yet in your heart, but I do not need the foresight of my people to know it is true."
Eldarion smiled at him then, and for a moment Legolas saw Elessar's eyes flickering behind his son's. "I wish you a fair journey, Master Legolas. Namárië!" He turned his horse and headed back toward his City. Legolas watched for a moment as he rode away, Minas Tirith towering in the distance, its white stone glistening in the midday sun. Bidding the City and all he knew there a final farewell, Legolas turned south.
By the time Gimli met him in Belfalas, their small ship was built and ready to sail. Legolas had never apprenticed with shipbuilders, indeed, he had never built any kind of boat, and he had not known how he was going to accomplish this task. But the knowledge somehow came to him, and he knew what materials he needed and how they must be put together. When it was finished, he took the ship into the bay and tested it, and taught himself how to handle keel and sail.
"Are you sure this thing is seaworthy?" the old Dwarf grumped at him. If there was one thing Gimli liked less than a journey on horseback, it was a journey in a boat.
Legolas lifted an eyebrow. "Quite, Gimli. I've been out in the bay twice, and there's neither a leak in the hull nor a tear in the sail."
Gimli humphed and hawed but finally made his way aboard, and at last all was ready.
"So, this is it, lad." Gimli said as Legolas was about to release the lines holding them to the shore. Holding them to Middle-earth.
"Aye, my friend, it is. Are you ready to go?" This had to be Gimli's choice; if he changed his mind and wanted to live out his life among his kin, in his beloved Glittering Caves, then Legolas would take him back there himself.
Gimli paused for a moment, and then barked, "Well, of course! What are we waiting for? I've been waiting for this day for a hundred twenty years! Let's get going!"
Legolas smiled then, and slipped the lines. They sailed out of the bay, and turned west. As the sun warmed his skin and the wind rippled through he hair, he felt some of the heaviness of the grief for his friends begin to lift, his sadness swirling up and out of his heart and into the air.
They stayed the course west for many leagues, but the weather was fair and the seas were calm, and the journey was not a trial. Without warning, as a gentle wave crested the ship upwards, they left the water and were carried on a cushion of air for a time into a mist, and then their ship was gently put down on the sea again.
Gimli gasped when they were lifted out of the water, but Legolas said, "Do not fear, my friend, for we have found the Straight Road, and our journey is nearing its end."
As the mist began to clear, they saw the land ahead of them, and this time they both gasped: unimaginably tall cliffs, and an isle before them, and Legolas knew this was the Lonely Isle, Tol Eressëa. This was their destination, for no mortal could go further into the Undying Lands.
Legolas found the bay with ease, but for the first time he felt a flutter of trepidation, as he did not know what to expect. Yet he need not have worried, for as their ship neared shore, he saw several figures waiting for them. Leaping out of the ship, he pulled it to shore. He felt light-headed for a moment, as if he might fall, and then he knew the feeling for what it was: the sea-longing had finally been lifted from his heart. It had been a weight for so long, and he had grown so accustomed to its presence that its absence was almost painful for a moment. Then it faded, and disappeared.
He was home.
Seeing the Elves waiting for them, he lifted Gimli down from the prow. Standing closest to the ship was the Lady Galadriel, and Gimli's face lit up as he saw her. She kissed Legolas's forehead. "Welcome to the Undying Lands, Legolas Greenleaf," she bid him quietly, but his eyes had already turned toward those waiting behind her, and he could only nod his thanks, barely noticing as Galadriel took Gimli's hand in welcome.
His father he saw next, and Thranduil came to Legolas, and they embraced. "It is good to see you, my son," he said. "My heart is filled with joy that you are here."
Legolas had no words, but held his father for a long moment, until the Elf who had been standing next to Thranduil stepped toward them, a warm smile on her face. She was tall and fair, with bright gray eyes...and his breath caught then, because he recognized her. He left his father's arms, his eyes filling with tears as he went to her and took her hands and kissed them. His heart was pounding so loudly that he could hear it in his ears, and he was utterly unable to form words, instead slipping to his knees before her, his face pressed against her hands as he wept.
She knelt and pulled him into her arms, whispering, "Welcome home, my dear son, welcome home," as she held him tightly. The tears slid down his face as Legolas felt his mother's love and comfort for the first time in many long centuries.
Time lost all meaning for Legolas in the next days. He remained on the Lonely Isle to be near Gimli, and his parents stayed with him. His heart still floating with the joy of seeing his mother again, he was further amazed to see a familiar figure come walking toward them in the forest one day.
"Mithrandir!" Legolas cried, embracing him. "I had not known you would still be here... or rather, that you would still be as you were..."
Mithrandir laughed. "I must admit, I did not know either, but I found this form suits me well, or don't you agree?"
"I do indeed, my old friend."
"You look well, Legolas," he said, appraising his friend and companion. "And if I can steal you away from your parents for awhile, there is much I'd like to hear from you, and some tales I think you might like to hear, too."
Legolas looked at his parents, and they nodded and bid him go with Mithrandir. His mother laughed, "There will be plenty of time for all, dear son. Visit with your old friend." Legolas smiled at her gratefully, squeezing her hand, and as he walked toward Gimli's house with Mithrandir, he saw his parents set off into the woods, their hands tightly clasped together.
Arriving at the comfortable, Dwarf-size house that Galadriel had prepared for him, they found Gimli sitting in the garden with the Lady herself. Legolas had to smile, for it was the most unlikeliest of sights; the tall, beautiful, ever-youthful Elf sitting on a stone bench next to the rough, gray-haired old Dwarf, and both were laughing merrily.
"Gandalf!" Gimli gasped in surprise, leaping from the bench and throwing himself into their old friend's arms.
"Gimli," Mithrandir laughed, returning the embrace. "It is good to see you, old friend."
Smiling, Galadriel rose. "I see that I should let the Fellowship reunite for a time. But I will return, Gimli, dear friend, and we shall speak of many things." Gimli watched her as she departed, and Legolas and Mithrandir shared a smile.
Then they spoke together for many hours, for Mithrandir wished to hear of all that had happened on Middle-earth. Though a creature of spirit, it seemed he had managed to leave part of his heart behind. So Legolas and Gimli told him of all they knew, of all Elessar had accomplished, of the peace and prosperity that his long efforts had brought, and of his children and their children. But they were not the ones to bring the news of Elessar's death, for that had reached the Undying Lands before them, and the Elves had sung many laments for him.
"Word of Elessar's death was hard to hear," Mithrandir said. "Elrond grieves, for Elessar was as a son to him. And Elrond and her mother grieve for Arwen also, for they know her death must follow his."
Legolas only nodded, looking toward the horizon. Then they spoke of other things, and finally Mithrandir told them tales of Frodo and Bilbo, and of Sam. They laughed upon hearing how Varda, Elbereth herself, had come to the Isle to meet Sam, and -- once Sam was able to breathe in her presence -- he had sung Elbereth's song for her.
Mithrandir told them that Frodo had become quite an accomplished scholar, borrowing nearly every book from Tirion's great library, and translating some of them from ancient Elvish to the common tongue. But not all his days were spent in scholarly pursuits, for Yavanna had taken a special interest in Frodo. She would often come visit him, and they would talk together of gardens, and trees, and all things that grow in the earth. Legolas's heart sang to hear that Frodo had found peace, free of the Ring's terrible evil.
Bilbo, as had been expected, had not long survived, Mithrandir told them. But Frodo lived for many years, and he had been overjoyed to see Sam when he at last arrived. They had some years together, renewing their friendship. Frodo learned from Sam of his children, and of all that had happened on Middle-earth, and Frodo showed Sam the many wonders of the Lonely Isle. But Frodo had finally passed away upon reaching the age of ninety-three, and Sam had followed him not long after.
At Gimli's request, Mithrandir brought them to the place of honor where the three Hobbits were buried, side by side. It was a beautiful garden, surrounded by trees and overlooking the sea. Legolas knew there was no need to whisper his people's invocation for the dead, for he had no doubt they had found peace.
Sadly, it was not long before they returned to the garden to bury one more friend, for Gimli died before two more years had passed. Legolas was with him at the end, and so was Galadriel, and Mithrandir. He had insisted his bed be moved out into the garden, grumbling at the same time. "Hrmph. You know you've spent too much time with pointy ears when you wish to spend your dying days among a bunch of flowers and trees." Then he quickly added, to Galadriel, "Oh, not you! Couldn't spend too much time with you, my Lady." But Galadriel only smiled at him, and
helped him into his bed.
The Elves used their best arts to offer him comfort, and their friend suffered little pain, but he knew when the time for farewells had come. He told Legolas, "I am proud to have been your friend, Master Elf."
Legolas smiled, pressing his hand over Gimli's. "I am proud to have been yours, Master Dwarf." And ever shall be, he thought, but did not say aloud.
But not long after, Gimli's breathing grew labored, and Legolas and Mithrandir stepped away, allowing the Lady Galadriel to speak with him one last time. They knew their friend had breathed his last when her head fell, and she whispered words of mourning.
The next day, they buried him in the garden next to the Hobbits, and Legolas felt the weight of grief upon his heart once more. Mithrandir looked into his eyes and saw his pain, then put his arm around Legolas's shoulders as they walked together.
"I know you will miss him greatly, my friend."
Legolas stopped walking, and sat down on the grass, and Mithrandir sat beside him.
"How did you do it, Mithrandir?" Legolas looked at him, his eyes clouded with sadness, for it all seemed to come flooding back in a moment. He grieved for Elessar and Arwen, Merry and Pippin, Faramir and Éowyn, Frodo and Sam, all the friends that had been lost to him these past years. "How did you walk among them for so many long centuries, and grow to care for them so much, only to see them die?"
Mithrandir looked at him with his cool blue eyes, filled with compassion. "There is no answer, my dear Legolas, to that question. It is our doom to remain while the world exists, and theirs to leave it. We can only trust that the One is merciful, and just, and would not separate His children without reason. And perhaps," Mithrandir said, echoing the words Elessar had said to him not long before, "We shall all be together again one day."
Legolas nodded, and breathed deeply, willing the sadness away from his heart.
Mithrandir stood and offered a hand to his friend. "Come, Legolas," he said briskly. "I think it is time for you to leave the Lonely Isle for a time, and to come to Valinor."
So Legolas went, and he found it to be a place of many marvels, not the least of which were the Elves themselves, so many of them out of story and song. He settled in Alqualondë, where his parents dwelt. There he met his forbearers, among them his grandfather Oropher, who had fallen in the War of the Last Alliance, and many aunts and uncles and cousins of varying degree, nearly all of whom had sought the West long before his birth.
He traveled with Galadriel for a time, and met many of her kin, the great of the Noldor: her gentle father Finarfin; her uncle Fingolfin, who had challenged Morgoth himself to single combat; the great Gil-galad, Galadriel's cousin and leader of the Last Alliance; her dear brother Finrod, who gave Barahir his ring and later died saving Beren. And so many others, all heroes of the ancient days of Middle-earth. Talking with them and hearing their tales was like something out of a dream, and even as it happened, Legolas could barely believe it. He was yet more astonished to learn that his own deeds as part of the Fellowship had been given song here, that he and his friends were a legend of their own.
His sadness lightened after a while, yet it lingered. After a time, Mithrandir brought him to the Gardens of Lórien, and Nienna, the Lady of Tears, came and sat with him. They spoke for many days, and Legolas learned much from her, of grief and mourning, of pity and compassion. And of hope. In time his understanding grew, and he began to find peace with the One's destiny for him, and for his friends.
One day soon after he came to the Gardens alone, watching the sky as he thought of his talks with Nienna.
"It is beautiful here, isn't it?"
Legolas looked up quickly, as he had not heard anyone approach. "Lord Elrond!" he said as he stood. "I'm sorry, I did not see you there."
"No, indeed," Elrond smiled, waving him back to the grass, and sitting beside him. "It seems that nothing short of an Orc might have disturbed your thoughts, and you are unlikely to find one of those here."
Legolas smiled at Elrond, yet felt slightly unsettled by his sudden presence. "My Lord, I must apologize that I have not paid my respects to you, and to your wife, since I left Eressëa."
Elrond looked at him with clear gray eyes. "I understand why you did not, Legolas, and I could just as deservedly apologize to you for not visiting the Lonely Isle while Gimli still lived. These have been difficult years for us both, I think."
"I am sorry for your grief," he said. "My own sorrow is enough, but I cannot imagine yours."
"No," Elrond said, his eyes clouding. "Few who dwell here can understand the loss of a child beyond the end of this world. One of those who does often walks here, and she has offered great comfort to me, as I understand the Lady Nienna has to you."
Legolas nodded. He knew the other woman Elrond was speaking of was Melian, Lúthien's mother, and Elrond's own distant foremother. He studied Elrond a moment as he never had during the time they had known each other on Middle-earth. It had been so different there; even in moments of repose, the Shadow had never been far from their minds, guiding their thoughts and deeds. Elrond could have left long before he did, seeking the peace of the West instead of resisting the continuing threat.
Yet he had chosen to remain, becoming the protector to generation after generation of young Dúnedain heirs, Elrond's kin through his mortal brother. He harbored them in his home, watching as they grew to maturity, had children of their own, and eventually died. Legolas knew few Men over the centuries had been more dear to Elrond then Elessar. Elrond had been far more than a protector; he had been a father, and Elessar had been a son. How difficult must it have been for them both when Elessar transformed overnight from a beloved foster son to a suitor for the hand of Elrond's only daughter, the person who could take Arwen away from him forever?
Indeed, he could not understand Elrond's grief, yet Elrond seemed to be at peace. Legolas finally said, "I'm certain Mithrandir has told you of Arwen's happiness, and her children, and all that she and Elessar did together."
Nodding, Elrond said, "He has, and I wished to thank you for the many tidings of hope you brought with you. It lightened the hearts of her mother and me." He looked out over the serene gardens. "Of all that she and Elessar did together, of all they have built and renewed, I could not be more proud. Of either of them."
"I saw her, just before she left Minas Tirith," Legolas said, and Elrond's eyes met his, for Legolas had told this to no one. "She was sad, my Lord, but she did not fear for herself, and she did not despair. She believed that she and Elessar would be together again."
"I have faith that she was right," Elrond said. "As you should have faith in the Lady Nienna, and in your own place in the world. Your friends would not want you to grieve forever, Legolas. There is much to do here, and much to learn."
Legolas nodded, and thanked Elrond. They talked for a time of Middle-earth, and Elrond's sons, and shared memories of Elessar and Arwen. Finally, Elrond rose, and they exchanged promises to visit again soon. Elrond said, "Until then, my young friend." He examined Legolas for a long moment. "Do not be afraid to forego the sorrow, Legolas. That which you cherish will stay."
Elrond departed then, but Legolas remained in the Gardens. He focused his thoughts as Nienna had taught him, but he did not try to deny the sadness, or force it away. Instead, he accepted it and sought only peace. As he lay back on the grass, he breathed slowly, inhaling the warm air.
His memories washed over him, but for the first time they felt like a cool waterfall rather than a stormy sea. Without sorrow or grief, he remembered Frodo's grace under an unbearable burden, Sam's unfailing loyalty, and Merry and Pippin's never-ending optimism. He thought of Éomer's wry humor, Faramir's gentle strength, and Éowyn's generosity of spirit. He recalled Gimli's grumpy outward façade, and how it could never hide his kind heart for very long. He thought of Arwen's beauty and empathy, and the courage with which she faced her destiny. And he thought of Elessar, of his strength and compassion. As Legolas remembered the shared moments of their friendship, he felt the calm warmth of his friend's presence there with him.
Though he did not know why or how, the grief lifted that day, but the love he felt for his friends remained, warm and clear in his heart. He knew that love would always stay with him, part of the very essence of who he was. In that fashion, all those he had lost would remain with him also.
His eyes upon on the sky, he basked in the light.