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Beyond This World: 2. The Choice of the Other
Chapter 2: The Choice of the Other
It had been almost three days since Gimli’s death. On the evening of the first day, after much coaxing, Legolas had finally relinquished the body into the care of Elrond and Gandalf. Having done that, he abruptly vanished and had not been seen since. Searchers were dispatched, but there was no sign of the Legolas anywhere in Valinor. All waited in vain, hoping for some sign of his return, but the funeral and the burial could not be put off after the end of the second day. And so Gimli had been laid to rest next to the mounds where four other mortals lay, a cairn of stone covering his body. Three hobbits and one horse already slept beneath Arda, and now a dwarf joined them. Gimli had made many friends during his long years in the Undying Lands, and they had all come for a last glance and a final farewell. But the dwarf’s greatest friend had been conspicuous by his absence, and all the hosts of Aman wondered what this might mean.
Now, only hours after Gimli had finally been laid to rest, Gandalf sat outside a small stone house that lay devoid of life but rife with memories. Gimli’s passing was affecting him as it was affecting others, but the Maia’s greatest concerns lay not with the deceased but with his friend, who, hopefully, still remained in the land of the living. All attempts to find Legolas had been pitifully unsuccessful, especially given the fact that the trackers were all elves, and the Maia could only wonder what had become of him. Darkness still lingered over the Undying Lands, and the only being that could be responsible for this was the son of Thranduil. Legolas had to be found and found quickly, or Gandalf feared what the consequences might be.
The predawn darkness lay thick on the land this morning as though awaiting some great and terrible event. The air from the sea seemed stagnant. The fragrance of the flowers was sour. The beauty of the forests and the mountains had dimmed. Even the great bells of Valimar, bells that had tolled since the creation of Arda and had forever called the elves to Valinor, seemed harsh and dull. Death had come to the Undying Lands, and death lingered still.
A soft sigh startled the Maia and he leaped in surprise, swinging around to discover the object of his thoughts gazing sorrowfully at Gimli’s home. Slightly confused, Gandalf furrowed his brow and studied the prince, searching for some way to read his intentions and his emotions through his manner. "Legolas?"
The elf did not respond to his name. It was as though Gandalf did not exist. For that matter, nothing seemed to exist except for the house that Gimli had built nearly three hundred years ago. Legolas had aided in its construction, laughing at the dwarf’s need to have a home more stable than the trees where the elf lived. To this, Gimli had replied that stability was a foreign concept to elves as their minds were too flighty to grasp its meaning. Gandalf smiled as he remembered that conversation. It had been like so many other conversations between the two. Ever had they sparred and parried with words, but beneath it all ran a deep affection and friendship. Both knew how far the other could be pushed, and both knew which insults were acceptable in jest and which were offensive. They knew one another better than anyone had a right to know another individual. And most importantly of all, they accepted each other and gloried in their differences, making their friendship a truly unique one.
Gandalf abruptly shook his head, dislodging himself from memories. Legolas was still standing completely motionless, transfixed by the sight of Gimli’s home, and Gandalf had still not been able to rouse the elf from his stupor. Moving carefully toward the prince, Gandalf eased behind him and gingerly placed a hand on his shoulder.
Legolas didn’t move.
With gentle pressure, Gandalf endeavored to turn the elf from the building. He was met by solid resistance and a surprising strength that belied Legolas’s haggard frame. Tightening his jaw, Gandalf pulled harder, and in the end, Legolas stumbled and turned, reaching out helplessly and clutching at the wizard for support.
"We missed you at the funeral, Legolas," Gandalf said without prelude, bracing himself and holding the elf up as he sagged against the Maia. "I was certain that you would return for it. Where have you been?"
For a moment and an eternity, Legolas stared at Gandalf dumbly as though he could not comprehend what had been said. And then he blinked and seemed to gather himself, but this did not reassure Gandalf. What had previously been a blank stare became a sea of torment and anguish. The elf’s gray eyes were dull and cloudy, and his face twisted as a terrible grief boiled upward from an immortal heart. With a choking cry, Legolas fell against the other remaining member of the Fellowship, shuddering as sobs tore from his throat and tears flooded his eyes.
"Come, my friend," Gandalf said gently, now forced to completely support the staggering elf. He moved them toward a bench hewn of stone that stood a short distance away from the house. "You need rest. If I am not mistaken, you have neither eaten nor slept in days."
"I could not stop him," Legolas whispered into the folds of Gandalf’s robe. "I tried. I tried everything, but I could not stop him."
"No, you could not. There are some things over which we have no control," Gandalf answered quietly, easing the elf down onto the bench and waiting patiently as the grieving prince wept against the Maia’s shoulder. He began rubbing the elf’s back, and sighed in relieve as he felt Legolas relax slightly beneath his touch. After several minutes, the sobs began to subside, and Gandalf gently extricated himself from Legolas’s clutching grasp. Removing his cloak, he wrapped it around the shivering elf and forced him to lie down. "Rest a moment, my friend. I will return shortly. And if you even think of moving from this spot, Legolas, son of Thranduil, you will regret it."
Legolas made no answer but curled into a tight ball and closed his eyes, pulling the borrowed cloak around his body as though it could shield him from the harsh realities he faced. With a sigh and a shake of his head, Gandalf turned and went quickly to the house, making a quick but successful search in the pantry. There was a bit of bread left and some dried meat that was still good. There was also a flask of Legolas’s favorite wine in one cupboard, and Gandalf swiftly gathered all and hurried back to the elf.
To his relief, Legolas was still there, but to his dismay, the elf was once again completely unresponsive to the outside world. He shivered and moaned as though in great pain, but no words of the wizard could rouse him. Rubbing his brow and attempting to quell a rising feeling of frustration, Gandalf grimaced and sat next to the shaking prince. Pouring a bit of the wine into a cup that he’d brought, he lifted Legolas’s head and placed the rim of the goblet against the elf’s lips. As the sweet wine began to pour, Legolas reflexively opened his mouth and swallowed. The wine continued to flow, and it seemed as though Legolas slowly came back to himself. His tear-filled eyes became clearer and Gandalf found that he no longer had to support the elf’s head.
When the cup had been drained, Gandalf withdrew it and watched Legolas expectantly. The elf lay quiet for a moment and then sat up slowly, pausing once to steady himself.
"If you are hungry, I have gathered breakfast for us," Gandalf said quietly, placing a hand on the elf’s shoulder.
"I am not hungry," Legolas whispered, brushing at his eyes and straightening.
"Then will you watch the dawn with me?" Gandalf asked, hoping he was doing the right thing. "You may find new hope this time."
"I have watched the dawn twice since he left," Legolas said bitterly, shaking off the wizard’s hand. "It has brought me no hope." Discarding the cloak, he stood and moved away, walking as though in a dream.
"Then will you at least speak with me?" Gandalf said, his frustration becoming greater with each passing moment.
Legolas stopped, but he did not turn around. "Of what would you speak?" he asked, his voice cold and his posture rigid.
"You already know the answer to that," Gandalf said, rising and moving to the elf’s side. "But perhaps I should rephrase my question. Will you listen to me?"
"I have always listened to you," Legolas said quietly.
"You have listened to no one these past few weeks," Gandalf countered. "You have been deaf to me, to Galadriel, to Elrond, and even to Gimli. Grief has made you hard of hearing and even harder of understanding. Can you tell me now, Legolas, whether or not you are ready to listen?"
"To what?" the elf snapped, turning and advancing on the startled Maia. "What have you to say that I do not already know? And how shall saying it again change what has already happened?" Gray eyes flashed as dark as gathering storm clouds, but beneath the anger lay a river of churning, seething despair that was eating away at the elf’s soul and poisoning his thoughts. Gandalf felt his breath catch at this glimpse into Legolas’s mind, but just as quickly as it came, it was gone. The elf blinked and his eyes faded into a dull gray that was painfully at odds with their usual brightness. "Leave," Legolas whispered quietly, his voice soft and sad. He sounded as though one who had lost his way and despaired of ever finding the road home. "Leave, Mithrandir. You can do nothing more here." And with that he turned, walking eastward and fixing his eyes on the sea.
But Gandalf was not about to lose the elf this time. Hurrying after him, he fell into step beside him and sighed in partial relief when Legolas did not try to turn away or increase the pace. "Even if you are not willing to listen, I think you must," the Maia said, watching the elf closely. "You bring darkness to the Undying Lands, and you stand on the brink of a perilous decision. At least indulge me as a friend, Legolas. You claim you have always listened to me. Let that not change now."
"Speak, then, since you do not seem inclined to leave me," Legolas said harshly, stopping and folding his arms across his chest.
Anger flashed through Gandalf, but he quickly pushed it down, remembering his own mood shortly after the death of Shadowfax, a death that followed so closely on the deaths of Frodo and Sam. And perhaps that was the key to giving Legolas a measure of light and comfort. The elf had survived the passing of the hobbits. If he was reminded of that, perhaps he could find the strength to survive this.
"Legolas, do you recall a time of darkness shortly after you reached the Undying Lands?"
"What of it?"
The sting of irritation came back, but Gandalf firmly schooled himself in patience, painfully aware that he might be the elf’s only hope. "You were there when Sam and Frodo died, were you not?"
"Again, what of it?"
Short, glib responses were not going to accomplish anything, but at the moment, Gandalf realized he should be grateful that Legolas was even willing to speak. Hoping he could somehow break through the dark melancholy that clouded the elf’s mind, he pushed onward, forcing Legolas to remember and forcing him to think of things other than what had happened three days ago. "They died one hour apart," Gandalf said quietly, remembering the events with a sad smile. "And they left peacefully. You spoke with them ere the end, if I remember correctly." He waited for the elf to give him some kind of response, but Legolas just stood there in a stony silence. "What did they say to you?" Gandalf finally asked. "What were their final words of advice?"
For a long while, nothing happened. And then the elf bowed his head, his voice soft, low, and filled with an ageless sadness that tore at Gandalf’s heart just to hear it. "They said that it was time. They said they were ready to leave." Then the elf looked up, a nameless fear and sorrow burning in his eyes. "And they reminded me that I still had Gimli."
Gandalf winced. He’d forgotten the bit about the dwarf, and that was certainly not going to help matters. But it was too late now, and he had no choice but to plough forward as best he could. "What do you think they meant by that?"
"That Gimli would help me through it. And he did." Legolas abruptly turned and resumed walking.
This was not going the way Gandalf had hoped, and he hurried to catch up with the elf. "No, that was not my question. I meant the part concerning time. What do you think they intended by saying that it was time?"
Legolas came to an abrupt stop and shuddered. "He asked me the same thing," the elf whispered, bowing his head as his shoulders began to shake. "Gimli asked me the very same thing before the end, only he spoke of Merry and Pippin. And then he tried to explain it." Legolas shook his head violently, his voice low and broken. "He spoke of weariness and the fading of mortal endurance. He claimed he had tired of life and that he was ready for the next step. He saw death as a door. A way to rest and greater adventures. A gate leading beyond this world and into the next."
"A great step in the song of Ilúvatar," Gandalf murmured quietly. "A step intended for mortals. Not for elves," he added with sharpness. "Elves are bound to Arda."
"Legolas!" Gandalf was close to the end of his temper, and patience had done nothing so far. "Would you dishonor Gimli’s memory by leaving us? He trusted that you would recover. His faith was that you would find your way beyond your grief at his passing. But you are not finding your way, my friend. You are dangerously close to dying yourself. You take no thought for your needs. You do not sleep. You do not eat. You wander listlessly, and all the while, death draws near. Its shadow has been felt by all. You cannot say that you do not feel it."
"I do feel it," Legolas admitted. "And perhaps now I understood what Gimli felt. I weary of life. I weary of death. All the mortals I ever knew are now gone. And I still feel the sorrow of each passing as clearly as if it had happened only moments ago."
"You have felt so for years, and yet you have endured."
"Because there was one mortal left," Legolas said. He looked up and met the wizard’s eyes, and in his glance there was a frightening gleam as though he was coming to a decision. "I had one mortal friend left, and it did not hurt that he was the greatest friend I could have ever asked for. With his presence came hope that not all was forsaken. But now, what is he but a memory? Years from now, he will have been forgotten by all save the elves. No mortal now lives who can remember his greatness. The songs they crafted can never do him justice. How can one cast a spirit so strong into weak and meager words?"
"Which is why you must continue," Gandalf said firmly. "You remember. To you, he is not a ghost of the past but a friend who came to you when times seemed darkest. You alone remember him as such, for it was you who journeyed with him. You mourned together, sang together, laughed together, and wept together."
"Together, you say," Legolas said bitterly. "But that, too, is now a ghost of the past. What of the future, Gandalf? What of that? Shall I now mourn alone, sing alone, laugh alone, and weep alone?"
"You are not alone, Legolas, and if you were not so blinded by your grief you would see that. There are those here who yearn to help you, myself included."
"Know this," the elf said, his voice hardening and his eyes glinting like the polished steel of a newly forged blade. "There are none here who could take his place. Ours was a friendship forged in the darkest of times. We faced hardship and evil together, and together we were victorious. Who here can say they stood with me as I faced a Balrog, hid from the Nazgul, raced day and night across the country of Rohan in pursuit of two lost comrades, counted Orc heads in Helm’s Deep, faded from the world of men into the Paths of the Dead, and ultimately crossed the sea?"
"Perhaps none can lay claim to all of those," Gandalf said. "But friendship does not have to be born of trials to be of value."
Legolas narrowed his eyes but made no answer, turning instead to gaze at the sea as the rim of the sun began to edge above the horizon. Beside him, Gandalf sighed and shook his head wearily.
"Do you still see no hope, Legolas?"
"I do not look for hope," the elf said quietly. "For me, there is no hope."
"Then for what do you look?"
"I know not. Perhaps a glimpse of Middle Earth."
"Even the eyes of an elf would be hard-pressed to span the sea’s vast distance," Gandalf remarked.
"It matters not. The knowledge of its existence is enough for me," Legolas said a small shiver. "He loved it. As the sea once called to me, the Glittering Caves called forever to him. Even amidst the glory of these lands, he always missed Aglarond."
"Yet he was content here, Legolas. Your friendship was greater to him than all the riches and all the beauty of Middle Earth."
"He was content, but it does not change the fact that he left." The elf shook his head, a trace of amazement and wonder in his eyes. "When he chose to journey to these shores for the sake of our friendship, he gave up his world for me." Legolas blinked and turned to face Gandalf, a tear trailing its way down his cheek. "How can I do any less for him?"
Gandalf stepped back, at a loss for words. The resolve in Legolas’s eyes hardened at the Maia’s hesitation, and Gandalf hastened to change the elf’s mind. "He trusted you to continue," Gandalf said softly, hoping against hope that Gimli’s faith in the elf was not misplaced. "Can you fail him in that? He did not ask it of you, but you know as well as I do that he wanted you to go on. He did not want you to follow in his footsteps. Death is not the destiny of an elf."
Legolas bit his lip and dropped his head. "I know what he would have wanted," he murmured, his voice barely audible above the faint crash of the distant surf. "But I fear that without him beside me, his wish may go unfulfilled."
"Try, Legolas. Try! You have not walked through so many years of darkness only to fail now."
"I’m sorry, Gandalf. I must leave. I…I have need of thought." And saying this, the elf turned and ran, stumbling as he fled blindly from the wizard and eventually vanishing into mists of the early morning.
* * * *
"The shadow deepens," Elrond murmured, standing before a tall, arching window in one of Valimar’s many towers. From afar, he could sense the presence of death lingering just beyond the shores of the Undying Lands. Its taint was felt throughout the kingdom and the rising of the sun did not fully drive the night from Valinor. Darkness lingered, relishing the chance to poison the elven paradise which had previously denied it access for years uncounted.
Beside the half-elf, Galadriel stirred, her eyes distant and searching. "Olórin returns," she observed, marking the halting progress of Gandalf as he made his way to the city of Valimar. "I fear he does not bring good tidings."
"The growing shadows are tidings enough for me," Elrond sighed. "Legolas has still not chosen a course, and the longer he delays, the greater the darkness becomes. If he does not choose his own destiny, then it shall be chosen for him. And I fear the consequences of such an event, both for his sake and for ours."
"But what are his chances, Elrond?" the lady of light asked. "He has lost his dearest friend, a friend who outlived all other mortals and was granted access to this forbidden land by the Valar. Can Legolas find the strength to live beyond this lost friendship?"
"He is a Sindarin elf, but in him is much Silvan blood, and the Silvan elves are more firmly bound to Arda than the Noldor. Because of this, I have more faith in his decision than I would if he were of a nobler lineage."
"And yet as an elf in whom there is much Silvan blood, he is more passionate about the things of Arda, and gives his love and trust more freely than would one of the Noldor," Galadriel argued gently. "He and Gimli were inseparable. Legolas reverenced him, and Gimli in turn reverenced Legolas. Legolas’s Silvan love of Arda transferred itself completely to the dwarf when they left Middle Earth, and his Sindarin heritage made that bond as tight and intense as any he might have forged with the things of the world." Galadriel sighed softly and shook her head. "I fear his ties to Gimli are far stronger than his ties to Arda."
A silence fell, each lost in grim thoughts, and so they remained until a door behind them was pushed open and Gandalf stepped through. "I found Legolas," he said quietly without prelude when the two glanced back at him. "He grows weaker."
"He is still so young, and to face such a decision…" Galadriel murmured, trailing off as she considered the elf.
"Young he might be, but he has seen more darkness than many elves twice his age," Elrond reminded her. "He has faced difficult decisions before. He tarried long on Middle Earth once the call of the sea had stirred in his heart."
"But will he tarry now?" Gandalf wondered. "I wish I had an answer to that. My words with him were dark and I gained no significant insight from our brief conversation." The Maia closed his eyes and leaned against a white pillar, shaking his head slightly. "He is torn. He does not wish to stay, but he is afraid to leave."
"Afraid?" Elrond queried.
"Afraid of failing the dwarf. Gimli would not have wanted him to mourn to the point of death. Legolas knows that well, but he cannot help himself. For him, the world is dark and the way unclear. And I fear it will be so until he chooses a road."
"But if he does not choose soon, the way shall be chosen for him," Elrond pointed out, repeating for Gandalf what he had already told Galadriel. "He will cease to eat and he will cease to sleep. Every breath shall be weariness until the thought of drawing another throws him even further into despair."
"What you say is true, and it has already begun," Gandalf said quietly. "I managed to give him some wine this morning, but he took no food and it was obvious that he has taken no sleep. We parted because he ran, but had I wished to, it would not have been difficult to overtake him. He could not see the path before him, and he stumbled much as he fled."
"I would not have him waste away," Galadriel whispered, closing her eyes and casting her thoughts toward Legolas in the hopes that she might somehow comfort him, but Legolas could not be reached. "For his efforts in the War of the Ring, he deserves so much more than a fading end. Even were he to choose death voluntarily, it would be better than the creeping weariness he now endures."
"But it seems as though he can choose neither death nor life," Elrond sighed. "Perhaps he does not even realize the choice that lies before him. And in this it seems we cannot help him. Remember his words and deeds as Gimli was dying. Legolas would not listen then. He will not listen now. He is too blinded and overcome with grief to heed the counsel of others."
"Elrond has it aright," Gandalf said wearily. "Cold as stone he seemed to me this morning. At times his anger flashed, breaking through his grief as lightning might burst through a cloud, but then it was gone, leaving only agony and destruction in its wake. He grieves mightily, and when that grief is released, it is released as a flood of emotions. But once under control, he becomes again a blank wall that none may touch. Counsel cannot breech his guards. Wisdom cannot pierce his grief. For perhaps the first time in his life, Legolas is truly alone. Whatever guidance he finds, he must come by it himself."
"And so we wait," Galadriel said quietly, turning back to the window and looking eastward with far-seeing eyes.
"And while we wait, the shadow grows," Elrond murmured. "May the Valar aid him, for I fear we can do no more."
* * * *
Legolas could not say how far or how long he had wandered after fleeing Gandalf’s presence. He eventually became aware of the passage of time when the sun set behind the mountains, but he did not comprehend what this passage of time meant. Instead, he continued to wander, caring not where his feet took him so long as he did not have to control their movements. His mind swam in a sea of grief and pain as memories of the dwarf sprang to life. Conversations that now seemed as though they had happened in another lifetime surfaced, and Legolas lived through their moments with a sorrow and a despair the likes of which he had never before known.
If I were to have been born an elf, what kind of elf would I have been?
A poor one.
Jealous, Legolas? Afraid that I might have made a better elf than you?
You grasp at straws, son of Glóin. You are hardly a proper dwarf. I shudder to think what you might have been as an elf.
Not a proper dwarf?! Master Elf, I will have you know that I am accounted a great and hardy dwarf among my people!
"You were accounted a great and hardy dwarf among my people as well, Gimli," Legolas whispered to the darkness. "And you would have made a most interesting elf. I wish now that it had been so."
The darkness did not answer him, but its shadows seemed to coil around his shivering frame and the night grew colder. But Legolas took no notice. He was lost in his mind and his grief, heedless of the outside world. The surrounding forest of golden mallorn might have been a barren wasteland for all that Legolas cared.
Trees! Trees are useful for firewood if you are cold.
Trees are life, Gimli, and as such they are reverenced by the elves.
And are stars also life? For you seem to reverence them as well.
I hardly expect a dwarf to understand. You spend so much time delving for treasures that you do not see the glories that surround you. You are as moles—ever digging, ever searching, and ever blinded to the wonders of Middle Earth.
And you are as moths—fluttering between so many wonders that you can never appreciate one for all its worth because another comes to steal your attention.
"I appreciated your worth, my friend," Legolas murmured, vaguely aware that he was yet again weeping. "Never did another wonder take your place. Never will another wonder take your place." And as he said this, the shadows around him grew even darker, ensnaring the elf and tightening their hold on the Undying Lands.
You cannot go!
I cannot stay.
Why?! Explain this to me!
Gimli, you could never understand. It is not a thing I can readily put into words. But I must go!
And leave everything behind?
My friend, I—
Were you waiting only for Aragorn’s death? Was he the only thing that bound you to Middle Earth? Does our friendship mean that little?
NO! By the Valar, no! Our friendship was what kept me here. But now…Gimli, I cannot sit by and watch as mortals fade and perish. I have to leave. And the sea! I have denied its call for so long, and I weary of pushing it to the back of my mind. You cannot understand and I do not ask you to do so, but…
I must go, Gimli. Please do not ask me to tarry. I cannot.
"And despite my request, you followed me to the ship, begging and threatening the entire way," Legolas remembered. "Much as I begged and threatened you these last few weeks." The elf stopped and looked around. He was slightly surprised by his surroundings, but in a way, he realized that he’d expected it. His wandering feet had led him to five mounds, one of them set apart from the other four by the fact that it was covered in stones. In the dim starlight above, they glowed slightly, nestled as they were beneath green ferns and drooping mallorn boughs.
Contrary to the beliefs of the rest of Valinor, Legolas had actually been present when Gimli was laid to rest. He watched from afar, hidden in a copse of trees and veiled by what had now become a perpetual shadow. He had started forward once when they began to raise the carin, but then he’d stopped, unable to comprehend the magnitude of what was happening. The finality of it all. And it still eluded him to some extent.
Kneeling reverently next to the newest grave, he traced his hand over the smooth stones that had been laid in place and shuddered, spilling tears onto the mound. A gray stone marker carved with elven and dwarven runes lay at the head, and Legolas moved to its side, leaning against it and burying his face in his arms.
For several hours, Legolas wept, caught in a sea of memories that would not release his grieving mind. The darkness closed around him, tightening its grasp and drawing him further into sorrow and grief. The elf shivered as the shadows began to claim him and pressed himself firmly against the marker at the head of Gimli’s grave, painfully conscious of the fact that the one being who might have been able to pull him from the darkness now lay buried beneath the ground.
Eventually, exhausted by his grief, Legolas moved away from the stone marker and stretched out beside the grave on his stomach, resting his upper body on the mound and pillowing his head on his arms. "Gimli," he groaned, wishing with all his might that he would wake and find this to be naught but a dream. But he wished in vain and the dark night continued, reaching out with its cold hand to clutch at the heart and soul of the grieving elf. Legolas felt his will crumple before it, and it seemed that he fell into a deep chasm from which there could never be any escape.
I have seen you endure hardships that would ruin a dwarf. I have seen you battle monsters and demons that would flay a man. I have seen you take the hardest blow and strike back a moment later with the speed of a wizard and the tenacity of a hobbit. My arrogant, spiteful, whimsical, fading friend, you were the greatest adventure of my life, and I thank you for it.
Legolas froze as Gimli’s words came to him as though spoken from the grave. Breaking through the shadows and the darkness, it was as though a light appeared where no light had thought to come. Shaking, trembling with what was happening, Legolas slowly raised his head and for the first time beheld the coils of death that ensnared him. They fed off his weariness, drank from his grief, and gloried in his misery.
He saw death as a door. A way to rest and greater adventures. A gate leading beyond this world and into the next.
A great step in the song of Ilúvatar. A step intended for mortals. Not for elves.
Remembering his own words to Gandalf and Gandalf’s response, Legolas managed to shrug off some of the darkness. In a way, the wizard was right. This death, the death that even now sought to steal his breath, was not intended for elves. This wasting, sucking, leeching death was a thing of evil and despair. And with this realization, Legolas suddenly came to himself and broke free at last from the darkness that had chained his soul. For the first time, he saw clearly the choice that lay before him. There were but two paths for him to choose, and once the choice was made, there would be no turning back. He could remain in Arda and live in the Undying Lands until the end of Ilúvatar’s song. Or he could leave Arda and journey beyond this world, an uncertain road but one that might lead him to his lost friends and companions. The latter choice was death, but it was not the dark death that preyed on the weak. It was a death by his own will and a road of light, free from weariness.
Remember the dawn. Though you do not see it, there is hope. Hope for beyond this world.
Legolas smiled slightly, remembering some the dwarf’s last words. Gimli had known. Ultimately, he had known what Legolas would do. But why should that surprise the elf? The dwarf had always seemed to know what Legolas was about to do long before the prince himself was aware of it. And how could he disappoint such a friend? His smile growing and a measure of peace finally settling in his heart, Legolas relaxed and looked eastward, searching for the dawn as light began to glow along the horizon. And as he looked, hope flared in his elven heart while darkness was driven back.
"I come," the elf whispered, contentment settling over him and grief fading away. "Wait for me yet a while longer, my brother, for I am coming."
Thus the sun rose, swift and glorious as ever, on the undying shores of Valinor. And as its light touched his pale skin, an elf made his decision. With a grateful smile for the wondrous friendship with which he had been gifted and the final wisdom imparted by a dying dwarf, Legolas released his hold on the world and prepared to journey beyond.
* * * *
Elrond found him an hour after sunrise.
Walking in silent thought and pondering what the shadow’s abrupt departure might mean, the half-elf’s steps had gradually led him to the site of five graves. Before the dwarf’s death, he had often come here to think and contemplate. The memories of the mortals he had met and befriended had always given him a measure of solace and comfort. So it was quite natural that on this day, confused by the sudden absence of darkness, Elrond journeyed to this hallowed place.
Entering the glade where the mounds were kept and tended, he did not see Legolas at first. It was only after taking a few more steps forward that his sharp eyes spotted the elf. He froze, unsure of what to gather from the scene. It appeared as though Legolas slept, his head resting on Gimli’s grave and a smile of bliss spread across his peaceful face. But something about him said otherwise. His eyes were unblinking, and there was no light in their gray depths. Feeling a twinge of fear while at the same time realizing that this was not totally unexpected, Elrond rushed forward. Kneeling beside the still elf, it did not take him long to realize what had happened. With a sorrowful sigh for this new loss, Elrond bowed his head and closed Legolas’s eyes.
They buried him next to Gimli. As in life, so in death were they together, side by side. And all of Valinor marveled that a mortal friendship could cause an elf to break with Arda. But it was not a surprise for some, and in the end, three remained by this newest grave in silence, comforted by the presence of the others.
"He chose his fate," Gandalf said at last, breaking the stillness that had fallen over them. "Death did not claim him. He claimed death. In the end, he triumphed over the darkness."
"And perhaps this is for the best," Galadriel murmured, closing her eyes and listening to the talk of the trees and grasses around her. "There is a greatness in the song of life that was not there before. It is a greatness born of an unlikely friendship."
"A friendship that was not destined to end in this world," Elrond murmured. "Nor was the tale that bound these two together. When they journeyed to these shores, an end came in Middle Earth. The last of the Fellowship had departed its boundaries. And now the same has come to the Undying Lands, save for you, Olórin."
"And I fear I am bound to Arda in a way the others were not. They are no longer constrained by this world," Gandalf said, smiling sadly as he recalled memories of an unlikely band of nine that set out from Rivendell bearing the fate of the free world. "And mayhap they will gather together in the song beyond, bound for all eternity."
"It is strange that out of a great evil, a great friendship was forged," Elrond said quietly, speaking as though to himself. "Elf, dwarf, men, and hobbits. Their fates collided in the last years of the Third Age, and together they overcame."
"And together they journey on," Galadriel said, turning her eyes to the sun overhead and smiling as its rays shone golden on her hair. "And even from afar, they are woven into this world, lending their friendship and their courage."
And with Galadriel’s words, the three bearers of the Elven rings fell silent once more, listening as whispers in the breeze and rustles in the grass rejoiced for a broken Fellowship that was at last made whole again.
The tale is now told in Valinor of how eight friends, bound by fate, were reunited that day and set by Ilúvatar himself to watch and maintain the glorious song of life, for their friendship, greater than any Arda had ever seen, could not be broken. Beyond this world, it continued. And made whole once more by the arrival of elf and dwarf, the companions passed into the eternities together, never again to be sundered. Never again to be broken. A Fellowship forged in darkness that endured until the end of time.
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