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Last Grey Ship, The: 2. Chapter Two
and twin to the newborn day was the month of March. Brilliant gold capped
the frosty crown of Mindolluin, washing them to ruddy rose, and in the low
fields lambs frolicked at play. Yet within the city all hearts turned but
one way, towards a humble westward gate in the wall of the sixth circle.
Seldom ever did that gate open, and sorrowful were the twisting ways
beyond. For there beneath the mountain's stony flank lay Rath Dínen, the
Silent Street, and along it stood the mansions of the great dead of Gondor.
Kings and nobles, lords and princes slept here, and at last also rested
the two gallant hobbits, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrine Took. Here
would pass Aragorn, son of Arathorn, the last of the great Kings of the
Elder Days, and thence he should not return a living man.
In the house given them for lodgings, Legolas swept his grey cloak about
his shoulders and laid a hand to the door. Gimli, however, stood with his
feet planted square on the floor, and did not move.
"Let the dead keep the dead," he announced. "My heart holds remembrance of
a living man, and I would keep it so."
"But he is not yet gone from us," Legolas said. "There is still a little
"And what more is there for us? Will you say farewell until there is no
breath left to speak it?" Gimli spoke as if in anger, but other emotions
often mask themselves so, and his tone then gentled. "There are those who
love him more than even us, and to them this day belongs. Here I shall
wait, until the bells tell me he has gone."
Distress marked itself clearly on the Elf's smooth brow, but he saw the
grievous truth in Gimli's words. Slowly he sank down upon an open window
ledge, and turned his face towards the quiet city beyond. There they
waited, in a silent room where a breeze brushed the window coverings aside
and brought a moist promise of rain. Anon the Sun hid her face behind a
soft floss of cloud, and the mighty ribbon of the Anduin was slowly hidden
behind the drawing of a misty veil.
As the morning waned the streets began to whisper with the soft tread of
the people. Not to duty nor market did they come, but hither to the
winding streets upon which their King had passed. They gathered on its
curbs and waited, although to what purpose most could not say. The quiet
assemblage grew and waited more, as the mist crept from the river and
veiled from sight even Mindolluin's lofty, rugged crest. At last Gimli
arose and Legolas went with him, passing down into that shadowless white
morning to join the hushed throngs lining the avenue. Then from the towers
spoke the peal of a single bell. Its deep, iron resonance lingered and
shivered among the shrouded stones ere the next slow strike came. Even as
a heart beats deepest, the bell struck, each toll shuddering into the
silent bones of the city, and the very breath of the people was stilled.
Up from the Silent Street he came, he who would now be King. As he walked
he bore in his arms the winged white crown of Gondor and with it the
ancient scepter of Arnor. Like the wind comes up the river in a rushing of
many leaves, so the mourning of Minas Tirith swept through her streets,
until one thought that Eldarion drew sorrow with him as heavy train. Many
there were who wept unashamed, whether maid or man-at-arms, for few now
living remembered a day when Ellesar the King had not reigned, his
influence as constant as the Sun and Stars. The mist became a light rain
which blessed the far fields, and also laved faces already made wet with
lamenting. Neither left nor right did Elessar's heir look, for the tokens
he bore spoke beyond all words. Two who watched found their message to be
bitter as swords in the dark, and the stroke of it drove deeper than death.
As the prince passed, Gimli fell to his knees on the hard stones, and the
storm of his anguish broke like thunders upon the high peaks. For Legolas
there was only silence, though the blade of his grief pierced so keenly
that his hands sought, unbidden, as if for a hidden wound.
Thus ended Aragorn, son of Arathorn, last of the Númenoreans, having given
up his life as was the gift of his kind, and so passing into mystery before
the strength of manhood and kingship withered from his grasp. Thus, too,
ended a Fellowship which would be sung of even after their Age had died all
away, and after legends had forgotten that living beings and not gods had
done such deeds.
They lingered in the City, while things were done that necessity and custom
declared for the passing of great kings. There would be a new king
crowned, in the due passing of days, and all matters of governing would be
discussed at length, in chambers deep within the city. The Lady Arwen
would surely meet with ministers and counselors as well, as her son
prepared himself for the throne. Lords from all parts of the realm would
soon come to pledge anew their fealty and obedience, and ambassadors from
afar would bring tidings of their good will. Meanwhile banners were flown
and dirges played, and minstrels sang of the King's greatness. To Legolas
and Gimli, however, the songs almost spoke of a stranger, much removed from
the man they had known. For though he had been mighty in his rule and
terrible in battle, so too he had been their beloved friend.
"I wish I could stop looking," Gimli said.
"Looking for what?" Legolas asked, and then he caught himself on the
razored edge of his own silent reply. Just that morning he had paused at a
certain turn of the street, and stood several heartbeats until he realized
who it was he waited for.
All the city moved in one direction or another, in grieving and preparation
at once. Yet Gimli and Legolas found themselves standing with empty hands
and soon felt very much forgotten. Only they could not cast aside entirely
the old loyalties of their hearts, and so they waited until a servant found
them on the third day.
"The Lady awaits you," he said, and they followed.
He led them to the private halls of the family, and thence to chambers
where not even they had trod before. Here the servant tapped an oaken
door, then opened it, bid them to enter, and slipped away.
Within the chamber a bank of candles glowed, and a long curtain drifted
from an open window, spilling sunlight in a wavering pool upon the floor.
Near the window a slender figure sat, the rich fall of her dark hair washed
in soft light and shadow. Lady Arwen, wife of a great King, daughter of
Elrond Lord of Rivendell, and yet never had she seemed so small and alone.
They drew near on hushed feet, for she did not turn to greet them.
She was aware of their presence, however, and said softly, "Forgive me that
I have not turned my thoughts to you sooner."
"Nay, Lady," Legolas replied. "Your cares are many, and the hospitality of
your people has kept us well."
"Nonetheless, I have misused the blessing of your friendship." She turned,
then, and they were stilled by the fullness of her gaze upon them.
"Please, rest yourselves at ease."
They seated themselves on cushions at her bidding, but dared not speak, for
the Lady Arwen was much changed. Although her Elven beauty remained
untouched by the passing of time, where once the brilliance of stars had
shone in her eyes, there lay only lusterlessness, like water beneath ice
that never knows the Sun. Where once the silvered shimmer of twilight had
clung about her as a fragrant mist, now only shadows filled the sweet
curves of her face.
"I have news which may bring some small comfort for you," she said. "Two
of our most honored now rest beside the King. It was his wish that Merry
and Pippin, beloved among hobbits, should be moved to sleep there at his
"That is indeed well," Gimli said. "An unsurpassed honor, and none more
A moment passed, and they saw her hands move upon a smallish, cloth-wrapped
parcel in her lap. Fragile those fingers seemed, as if turned from finest
glass. She directed her gaze once more to the window, but her sight passed
far beyond them to some bleak, unfathomable distance.
"I took the cup of Lúthien knowing well, or so I thought, the draught I
would drink. But now I have come to the dregs at last, and they are bitter
upon my tongue." She sighed a frail breath that would have scarcely
disturbed goose-down. "I see neither Sun nor Moon, and all the stars have
"Gondor and Arnor still remain," Gimli said, although the words came like
ill-fitting tools to his hands. "Your son and daughters as well, and all
who know you love you."
Her hands gently turned the wrapped thing she held. "Then let them love my
Now her fingers worked carefully in the silken folds, and light fell upon
the object cradled therein like sunlight ablaze in new leaves. A great
green gem was revealed, set in the embrace of a silver eagle, wings
outstretched, and for an instant they ceased breathing.
"Elessar," Legolas whispered, and so it was.
The great Elfstone itself, which Galadriel Queen of Elves had given to her
daughter, and which passed thence to Arwen, her granddaughter. Amid the
dark days of Sauron's threat, it had been Arwen's request that Galadriel
let the Elfstone pass to Aragorn, to light their hopes until all was
fulfilled, or all was ashes. None had seen it since except it was in
Aragorn's possession, ever a potent symbol of his birthright. Gimli found
himself with a hand pressed to his bearded mouth, to stifle the cry
"I know my beloved spoke to you," she said. "And his wishes are bound to
Lightly her fingers traced the smooth, verdant face of the stone, a touch
as delicate as if upon a lover's lips. "Legolas Greenleaf, dear friend of
my Lord and myself, I now ask only one kindness."
"Speak it," he said.
Then her gaze turned to him, deep with sadness so keen he was stricken
"Take this," she said. "Take it, and keep it with you." Swiftly she
touched the stone to her lips, then bent gently as a lily falling, and
placed the precious thing in Legolas's startled hands. "Bear it upon the
grey ship that will carry you into the West, and let it be our remembrance
Gimli first found speech, saying, "Lady, it belongs to your children, your
daughters, even as it was your mother's before you."
"Nay, dear Gimli, it does not," she said, and the sadness of all the ages
lay upon her. "It belongs to a world that has passed."
Legolas held the Elfstone as one who thinks to be burned, and in her eyes
he saw at last the terrible distance yawning between them. For him there
remained the promise of all the Firstborn, the welcome of the Undying Lands
and a ship to carry him, when at last the world weighed too heavily upon
him. Yet for her, who had lived years equal to countless lives of men
before he was even born, there would be no ship. By her heart's choice she
was lost to her Elven people, lost beyond all hope of healing or reunion,
in this world or beyond. Though knowledge of her chosen doom had been with
him long, its fruition came now unlooked-for, and he felt as if he teetered
at the brink of a bottomless abyss.
Arwen arose in a silken whisper of skirts and slippers. She turned away
from the window, towards the candles glimmering across the room, and the
light cast her face as if it were carved in alabaster stone, beautiful, but
cold and without life left in it.
"Arwen Evenstar I have been, but now I must pass into Night. Perhaps it
shall be as my beloved said, that beyond the circles of the world is more
than memory. Blessed shall be the hour of my leaving."
"Leave?" Gimli sputtered. "Where are you going?"
"To Lothlorien," she said, and walked to gaze into the candles' glowing
hearts. "To Cerin Amroth, if I am permitted."
"But none live there now," Legolas protested, as both he and Gimli stood.
"Even Celeborn has passed on to Imladris, and the Golden Wood is silent
these many seasons."
Her head bowed in candlelight, briefly crowning her in softest gold.
"Nonetheless, hither I shall go."
"Very well," said Gimli. "When do we leave?"
"I go alone, dear Gimli."
"Alone!" Gimli's eyes nearly started from his head. "Lady, you cannot!
The season is still early, the road is long and treacherous, and a Queen
does not simply -."
"I can, and I shall." She turned swiftly, ere their further objections
found voice. "Contest me not in this, if you bear me any least love."
Then her manner softened and she drifted near, gazing upon them kindly.
The fingers of one hand she lightly touched upon Legolas's shoulder, and
she looked deeply into the eyes of her husband's friend, her kinsman, he
who would be last of all her people from whom she parted. In the Elven
tongue she spoke, and that as softly as the current lifting the curtains
"Wilt thou remember us, Legolas Thranduilion, on the blessed shores of Tol
Cupping the precious token in his hands, Legolas found his reply, though it
came with great pain from the cracking of his heart.
"There I shall sing of thee, Lady Undómiel, and of Elessar who was King, so
that none shall forget so long as the world remains."
"Then I thank thee, and call thee blesséd."
For Gimli she had only the touch of her hand upon his bowed head, as it
were in benediction. Then she went from that room silently as frost flees
the sun, and passed thence forever from their sight.
There were few who noted the doings of one Dwarf and a single Elf, in a
city brim-full with both mourning and making kings. Only one Guardsman
vaguely remembered seeing Legolas walking the lower road near the gate. So
Gimli followed. Passing from the city he trudged between the sleeping
hedges and down a rutted lane, until at last he struck a path that swept up
and through a small glade. There he turned aside, and followed the dim
track upwards, until ash and beech raised their smooth boles and barren
limbs to spread their thin lattice-work overhead. His steps were muted by
the thick litter of moist grey leaves, as Spring had yet to raise the sap
from drowsy roots.
After a time the brown, leafy path curved up one last slope, and the trees
fell away, revealing a precipice that overlooked the mighty breast of the
Anduin River. There a broad shoulder of stone stood forth high above the
flood, a doorsill opening upon a vast sweep of space and misty distance.
Out upon its brow rested a solitary person, Legolas, alone with the River
and his thoughts. He sat with his knees drawn close, and as Gimli came
near, he saw also the curved ends of Legolas's bow, which was held against
his chest. Galadriel's bow, gifted in that other time during the darkening
of the world, yet the cunning of Elven craftsmanship was such that it
remained strong and swift, needing only ordinary care and the occasional
Even at this height, the chill, moist breath of the River exhaled upon
their faces, and the muffled rush of its voice teased their ears. Gimli
stood silently for a time, looking outward across the bare-bristled tops of
sleeping trees and on to the far, sun-dappled fields. Below them the
Anduin shone like a broad band of silver, ere it curved from sight and
away. A thin cry reached him, piercing and sad, and he saw white gulls
beating inland above the water. Finally Legolas spoke, although without
turning his head.
"We are all that's left, Gimli."
Gimli was not sure if Elves wept as others did, shedding tears that burned
and tasted bitterly of salt on the lips. But the anguish written on his
friend's fair face was clear as if an arrow stood forth from his chest.
"It would seem so," Gimli replied, and memory rushed upon him like a spill
of heavy books.
Frodo the Ring Bearer had sought his peace and healing lo, these many
decades past, and with him had gone Gandalf, their great counselor and
friend. In the fullness of his days faithful Samwise, too, had sailed
into the West. Elrond and Galadriel had long years since left their lands
in the keeping of others, and even Celeborn had at last abandoned
Lothlorien, to spend his waning days with the sons of Elrond in Rivendell.
Gallant Eomer of Rohan had joined his forefathers over half a century ago.
Merry and Pippin had found their final honor here in Gondor, resting at
last among sleeping kings. Now the greatest of these had lain himself to
sleep, and his beloved queen would flee into solitary exile, and the world
was grown ever so much larger and full of echoes. Suddenly the roster of
goodbyes weighed like a great stone upon his shoulders. Gimli bent his
knees and sat heavily.
Whither Legolas's silent musings flew was an enigma, for they seemed to
have little more direction than a flight of sparrows. His next words
caught Gimli by surprise.
"Do you still carry the lady's favor, Lock-bearer?"
"I do." Gimli swatted his chest a solid blow, where truly was kept a
golden tress of the Lady Galadriel's hair. "Next to my heart, along with
the memory of her beauty, shining like white gems cast into a silver sky."
A smile turned the corners of Legolas's mouth, and the blush crept warmly
into Gimli's cheeks. Even now remembrance of Lothlorien's Lady of the Wood
had the power to move him, and to make him feel delightfully foolish upon
Then he let his hand drop, and sighed. Below them in the empty space of
the River's airs, the gulls keened thinly once more. Legolas grew very
still listening. A chill touched Gimli that had naught to do with the cool
sun of early March. Nor was he warmed, when his friend spoke again.
"I was watching the river, when you came. This very rock we sit upon has
stood since the breaking of the world, and all the while the Anduin flows
to the Sea. Does the river grieve for what passes and does not come back?
For neither I nor this stone can slow the ages, nor turn them aside. We
can only endure, as all passes beyond us. Even the stones shall change,
while the doom of the Elves is to continue. And now I am heir to even more
sadness, for I must carry the Elfstone as proof that all the things we
wrought are done, and with Men alone lies dominion of the world."
Alas, the art of the Dwarves lay in the skill of their hands, not their
words, and so Gimli remained unhappily silent. The mercurial moods of
Elves were often beyond his grasping, anyhow, and he only hoped that, as in
other times, this melancholy would also pass. And in truth, Legolas again
looked over his shoulder, and sunlight touched his eyes.
"You at least are my comfort, Gimli. If stone endures, so always has your
"And my good sense. It is that damp and chilly, here, and I am hungry.
Come with me back to the city, and we'll roust a fat cook from his
Legolas stirred, but then settled, and Gimli sighed. One did not slow an
Elf when he was hasty, nor rush him when he was listless, and oft it was a
trial to wait for either temper to pass.
"We'll leave tomorrow, I should think," Gimli said. "It's too late to
begin travel today."
"Yes," Legolas answered.
The gulls cried once more, and his attention swept outward, seeking their
flight. Bright and keen his eyes were, but whatever they saw was beyond
the vision of Dwarves, and his profile fixed unerringly whence the River
faded to westward. Disliking this mood upon his friend, Gimli sought to
distract him with trifles.
"An early start, mind you. The days have been entirely too burdensome, and
there is much I should attend to at home. Tonight, I wish a good meal, a
good cup, and a good rest."
"I, too, wish rest," Legolas replied. "But I fear I shall not find it."
Then he sighed, ere his glance sought his friend once more. "Tomorrow's
dawn, then," Legolas said. "I shall see you safely to your halls, and then
I will see my own folk in Ithilien."
Still he sat, and Gimli was patient, and at least the infernal gulls had
flown themselves off somewhere out of sight or hearing.
"I am weary, Gimli," Legolas said suddenly. "Weary with partings and
farewells, until it seems the very world dies around me."
Towards the West he still faced, and his hands flexed upon Galadriel's bow.
There the Anduin vanished in the land and the land vanished into haze, and
beyond even Elven-sight rumbled the ceaseless billows of the Sea.
"I think," he said. "That I shall make but one last journey."
And Gimli knew, though it broke his heart as a frost shatters stone, that
they faced one more farewell, and that the most grievous of all. But
better this, Gimli's loyalty whispered, than to ask this dearest of
comrades to linger until he stood over another grave. As Aragorn had
asked, each must seek his own way to peace.
"Then we shall go together," he declared stoutly. "At least as far as the
shore. I have never seen the Sea. I am told the waves break upon the very
bones of the earth, and the oldest stones stand bare to see. Even the
broken lands from the ancient battles of Melkor and the Valar, they say,
lie thrust up from the floor of the deep waters. It will be something to
tell the younger ones, when I get back."
Glancing sidelong at Legolas's pensive face, he added, "That is, if you
wish company on the road."
"I wish your company," said Legolas softly. "On all roads."
Of a sudden he stood, unfolding from passiveness to full height in a
flowing move that made Gimli's knees ache to watch. There seemed nothing
to warrant this action, and indeed Legolas then closed his eyes for a long
moment. Warily Gimli looked for gulls, but saw none.
Glancing up again, he now saw Legolas's eyes were open and his face
abruptly set in fierce lines. A quick hand dipped for an arrow, and as
swiftly he pressed the bow to full draw. Mouth tight, he held his aim on
some point in infinity. Then with a snapping whir the arrow fled. It
lifted in flight far out over the bare trees below, arcing slowly down and
spiraling smaller until it was lost to any but perhaps Elven eyes. For an
instant Legolas held his position in follow-through, then let the great bow
sag in his hand.
Quietly he said, "I have loosed my last arrow on these shores.":
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