1. The Way Home
Set after ‘The Return of the King’. ‘Then Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf.’ I’ve always wondered: was Legolas present when Aragorn died, and how and when did Legolas know that permission was granted for Gimli to sail to Valinor with him? This short story is my attempt to fill in the gaps.
They kept a sad vigil outside the House of the Kings in the Silent Street. The royal advisors, friends and members of the King’s household sat quietly in the courtyard. The King had spoken to his beloved friends, each in turn, before entering the House. Within, awaiting the end with her Lord was Arwen Undómiel and her children.
The too familiar feelings of grief and loss threatened to overwhelm him, and Legolas’ eyes filled with compassion for the Queen, and sorrow in the bitter knowledge that his friend was leaving this world, never to be seen again. These were the last moments of a great man, and though he had witnessed it many times in the past, still he could not fathom the finality of death. Not for the first time did he wonder where the spirits of men went after their bodies died. Did they go on to some other existence beyond the ken of the Elves? Not even Elrond or Celeborn had known the answer to that. Indeed, only Ilúvatar knew the ultimate fate of men, but that did not stop Legolas’ curiosity. And now he sorely wished he knew the answer, if only to reassure himself that Elessar would continue on in some fashion. It seemed so wrong that his beloved friend would be taken from him. Ruefully, Legolas reflected that death was most cruel to those left behind. He would carry on, until the end of days, without the cherished friendship of his dearest human friend.
How Arwen must be suffering! She had shared her mortal life with Aragorn for 120 years. Scarcely a blink of the eye to the Elves, yet the Lady had made her decision to remain with the man she loved, and so accepted the gift of mortality, a choice she and her twin brothers were given due to their parentage. He knew she was not yet ready to leave her life behind and in the brief span of years that passed since the dawn of the Fourth Age, she seemed not to have aged in the eyes of mortal men. But Legolas had seen the signs that the passing years marked upon her being and he grieved that Elrond’s daughter would die, like Lúthien before her, and be lost to all Elven kind.
Gimli stirred beside him, rousing Legolas from his preoccupation. Soon, only Gimli and he would remain of the Fellowship of the Ring. The stalwart Dwarf was still hale and hearty, though advancing in years. Legolas would not allow himself to follow the path his pensive thoughts were leading him. Gimli was his closest friend, a brother in spirit in a way other Elves could not understand. Strange, how he and Gimli had begun their association barely tolerating each other’s presence. Now, they were scarcely to be seen, one without the other. Legolas had chosen to remain in Middle-earth despite the agonizing call of the Sea, because of the love he bore for Gimli and his mortal friends. He recalled how Merry had entreated him not to go to the Havens, saying that there would always be “some folk, big or little, and even a few wise dwarves like Gimli, who need you.” ¹ He had not hastened to the Grey Havens to take a ship across the Sundering Seas, instead he focused his energy on building an Elven colony in Ithilien. However, there did not pass a day when he did not hear the cry of the gull within his heart.
He sighed audibly and Gimli laid a hand on his forearm in unspoken support. He smiled at his friend who responded with a sympathetic nod before speaking. ‘The years passed so quickly for the hobbits and Aragorn,’ said Gimli quietly.
‘Indeed, friend Gimli. It has been many years since dear Merry and Pippin left us, yet it seems as if only yesterday they visited with us. Do you recall?’ he asked, turning to Gimli and smiling.
‘How could I not? They ate me out of hearth and cave! They devoured your portions as well, Legolas!’ teased his friend, slapping his back. Legolas was glad for the verbal distractions. Gimli always knew how ease his mind whenever he grew too solemn. His smile widened.
‘And glad I was to let them, Gimli. For what Elf could partake of such hearty fare when enclosed within a hole in the ground?’ quipped Legolas.
‘Hole?! How can you say that? The Glittering Caves are a sight to behold. You fell silent the first time you beheld their splendor with me!’ protested the Dwarf, his beard fairly bristling.
‘I was silent because I could think of naught to say that would not offend you, Gimli!’ replied Legolas, laughing a little.
Gimli huffed, his eyebrows twitching. It was a familiar dance. They delighted in teasing and insulting one another. Their long years of association gave them both plenty of fodder for such games. But they both could not keep their eyes from straying to the closed doors, behind which lay their dying friend and just as suddenly as it began, the game ended. He tore his gaze away from the doors when Gimli began to speak.
‘Boromir, Éomer, Merry, Pippin, Faramir, Éowyn. . . they are all gone now,’ said Gimli quietly. ‘What about the Ring-bearers? Do you think they still live, Legolas?’ Legolas gave his friend a small smile, and shrugged almost imperceptibly.
‘Truly, I cannot say, Gimli,’ he replied. Legolas fell silent as he remembered the gentle hobbits. Frodo, Bilbo and Sam were granted a reward of sorts. They, alone of mortal kind, were allowed to live in the Undying Lands for however many years remained to them, to be healed of the weariness of the world and the affliction of the soul that the One Ring bestowed on those who bore it. But they must have long since passed away, he thought. And one day, I shall see their final resting places on the Lonely Isle.
Legolas’ thoughts jumped from the hobbits to Aragorn and he could no longer keep his eyes from the House of the Kings. He waited with a morbid sense of anticipation. Gimli fell silent and looked at him, the brown eyes reflecting the pain Legolas felt. They sat side by side, waiting for word. Dreading it. Knowing it would come soon. It seemed the entire city was holding its breath, waiting for the departure of the King.
Gimli started when the doors opened and Legolas looked up but it was only Eldarion and his sisters. The heir held the winged crown of Gondor and the Scepter of Arnor. The friends rose as Aragorn’s son approached. Eldarion embraced Legolas and Gimli a long moment before leading his sisters away. Legolas’ memories arose within his mind, as fresh as the day they occurred. Eldarion was the young prince, eagerly begging him for archery lessons. Or to recount the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Or to share the tales of the Eldar with the curious heir of Gondor and Arnor Reunited. Then the memories came more swiftly, he was running with Aragorn and Gimli on the plains of Rohan, hunting the uruk-hai. Standing by Aragorn’s side upon the walls of Helm’s Deep. Singing at Arwen and Aragorn’s wedding. Rejoicing with them at the birth of their son. Indeed, memories came upon him faster and faster, sweeping him along as they unfolded within his consciousness. All too soon, he was brought back to the present. He blinked as he hoarded the treasured memories away, suppressing the emotion that threatened to tear apart his composure. Later, he thought, in the privacy of his own chambers, he would sing a lament for his friend, the last of the Númenoreans. ²
The doors to the House of the Kings opened again and a lonely figure appeared. Arwen, bereft of light and seeming a shadow of herself, stepped out into the street. Tears flowed down her pale cheeks. Her sorrow was palpable and none could bear to gaze upon her countenance for long, save Legolas. Gimli lowered his head and wept quietly. Legolas pushed aside his own grief and came to the Queen.
‘My Lady,’ he said with compassion.
Arwen looked at him with haunted eyes. He reached out and brushed her tears away, repressing his surprise at the fragile feel of her skin. Arwen was like some gossamer creation, so delicate that the merest touch could shatter her.
‘He is gone, Legolas. And I am lost. Bitter is the gift I have accepted and until this hour, I did not know the price of it. What assurances have I that my Lord and I will be reunited? None! Estel told me not to despair, that there is more than memory beyond the circles of the world. But I cannot see it, Legolas,’ said Arwen sadly. ‘Memories are all that I have left, what more is there now for me?’
‘It is said among some, that men will join in the Second Music of the Ainur.³ Arwen Half-elven, you were granted a gift that some would envy. You are no longer tied to Arda and will travel to whatever fate the One has decreed for men. Perhaps Aragorn wanted you to live for that day and not dwell in memory alone,’ he offered.
‘Perhaps. It is hope that you wish me to hold on to, is it not? But my hope is gone now,’ she said. Arwen turned towards him and took his hand into her cold ones. ‘Will you take your final leave of my Lord?’ asked the Queen, straightening her shoulders.
Legolas could think of no further words of comfort for Arwen, and so he bowed low and signaled to Gimli. Arwen released his hand and reached up to caress his face. He answered in kind and in this way, said goodbye. Then he and Gimli entered the House of the Kings and looked upon the still form of Elessar Telcontar. The two friends gazed in wonder at the King. It seemed that all the years had fallen away and Aragorn was the shining glory of his house, youthful and handsome. But Legolas could see that the spark of life was gone. Farewell, my friend. You will always live in my memories, for I cannot follow.
He and Gimli stood by Aragorn’s bier for many hours as the people filed in to gaze their last upon their King. When the friends finally emerged, they were told that Arwen had forsaken the city and left for the lonely woods of Lothlórien.
Aragorn was laid to rest and the beds of Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took were brought beside the King. The people mourned but in the wondrous ways of mortal men, they emerged from their grief and looked towards their future. Eldarion would be a wise ruler and the people gradually adapted to their loss and though they loved him before, now they fully embraced the Son of Aragorn.
Legolas traveled back to his realm in Ithilien and Gimli had accompanied him. The friends were seldom apart now and cleaved to each other as if fearing to be separated. But how could he tell the Dwarf that with each passing day that he remained on these shores, his longing grew? He yearned to sail, yet Gimli still lived. How could he leave his friend behind? Since Elessar’s passing, he had struggled with the increasing call of the Sea. The ancient desire for Eldamar could no longer be ignored but he hid his suffering from Gimli, or so he thought.
Winter arrived and word came that the Lady Arwen died alone in Cerin Amroth and Legolas grieved for Elrond’s daughter. It seemed to him that all the world was changing, the woods were growing silent and the creatures of Arda forgot how to speak to each other. The Elves had departed in waves at the end of the Third Age and Legolas knew that those that chose to remain would eventually fade away as foreseen by the Lady Galadriel. But this could not be his path.
Legolas sat in his talan after the evening meal with Gimli. He wrinkled his nose as a puff of smoke wafted its way to his sensitive nose. He had long ago accepted every quirk of the Dwarf’s, except this habit of inhaling the noxious fumes from burning, dried weeds.
‘Gimli, please leave off smoking for one evening,’ he said, surprised at the irritation in his own voice.
‘Is that a note of annoyance, Legolas? Are you going to launch into another long-winded discourse on how unpleasant you find the art of smoking?’ began Gimli with amusement.
‘No. I just. . . I do not find that I have much patience for banter this evening, friend Gimli,’ said Legolas, standing up gracefully.
Gimli looked at him, plainly concerned. ‘What is it, Legolas? You have been even more quiet than is your wont this evening.’
Legolas gave him an awkward smile, unable to proceed. He needed to broach the subject, yet he did not know how to begin.
‘Something is troubling you, my friend,’ prompted Gimli, coming to stand beside him, the pipe forgotten.
‘Yes,’ replied Legolas.
‘You hear it again, do you not?’ inquired his friend. The Dwarf looked at him with compassion.
‘I always hear it, Gimli. Since that day I first beheld the flying gull and heard its cry. I have never been able to forget it,’ he said, unable to hide the pain in his voice.
‘Then why have you remained?’ asked Gimli softly.
‘Would you have me speak plainly?’ he asked. Legolas fixed his friend with his clear gaze, and Gimli heaved a great sigh before putting out his pipe. The Son of Glóin stood before him, shifting his weight awkwardly between his sturdy legs and then nodded. ‘Then you should know that as long as you live, I shall not leave these lands.’
An expression of extreme embarrassment flickered across Gimli’s features. The Dwarf quickly cleared his throat in an effort to hide his reaction but Legolas knew well how to read the subtle physical cues of his friend.
‘I suppose I have always known that, Legolas,’ began his friend. ‘At first, I was pleased, although I know not why, you exasperate me so at times!’ finished the Dwarf with a teasing grin.
Legolas laughed. Gimli could never get through a serious conversation without slipping in a barb here and there.
Gimli chuckled and then continued, turning serious. ‘I treasure our friendship. My relations have never understood how I could befriend an Elf, and the Son of Thranduil at that! What can I say, that you do not already know? The span of my years is yet long, many more turns of the Sun will I see before I die. You cannot continue to wait. I do not wish to see you suffering, Legolas. I will not be the cause of any more pain. You should go.’
‘I cannot!’ he cried. ‘I have lost so many friends, would you have me leave you before your time, and rob us both of the remaining years of our friendship? No. I cannot, Gimli, though I suffer. Gladly will I endure. . . until the end.’
Legolas turned sorrow filled eyes upon his friend and Gimli had no answer for him. They had spoken of this before, but never so openly. He wished he had not brought up the subject even though he had wanted desperately to hear Gimli tell him he could leave. Was he asking for permission? If so, Gimli had granted it. Yet he could not accept it. He would wait, though his nights were no longer restful. The call burned within his breast and even in waking dreams he could see nothing but the Sea and the cry of the gull sounded in his ears always.
A white, winged form passed before his eyes. He watched it dip its feathered limbs, diving and climbing on the breeze. The smell of the salt in the air seemed to pierce his soul with a need so acute, that he felt he would die. The waves crashed upon the grey shores and Legolas watched the foam dancing on the sand. The gull cried again and he looked up.
‘Come! Come!’ it seemed to say to him.
‘Son of Thranduil,’ said the Lady of Light.
Legolas turned slowly and watched Galadriel approach him through the waves. He placed a hand to his heart and bowed.
‘I dream,’ he whispered.
‘Yes,’ she replied, coming up to stand before him. She glowed, the strength of her fëa blazing forth brightly and Legolas gazed in wonder at her beauty.
‘But my words will stay with you, Legolas Greenleaf, when you wake. Long have you tarried here in Middle-earth, child of the forest. You have earned your rest, we await you in Valinor,’ said Galadriel. She raised her hand when Legolas made to speak. ‘I know what you would say. Your friendship with Elessar and Gimli has kept you here. Now Elessar has passed beyond, to freedom as Ilúvatar has designed from the very beginning. Still, you remain because you will not leave Gimli behind.’
‘Just so, my Lady. I cannot bear the thought of leaving him, yet I ache most terribly. Every moment I remain here tears at my heart, and so I am torn,’ said Legolas meeting the Lady’s serene gaze with anguished eyes.
‘Walk with me, Legolas,’ was her only reply. Legolas was confused but acquiesced. They seemed to glide along the shoreline while the Sea continued to beckon to him. Finally, Galadriel broke the silence.
‘Do you recall my gift to Gimli?’
Legolas smiled in fond remembrance. ‘Yes, you gifted him with three strands of your hair. He set them in crystal and wears them next to his heart always. His devotion to you is unending, my Lady.’
‘I think his love for you is just as great, Legolas. He will follow where you lead.’
‘But he cannot follow where I wish to go!’ cried Legolas. He turned from Galadriel to stare out over the Sea. The crashing of the waves grew strangely quiet and all that could now be heard was the gentle lapping of waves.
‘He can, if he is allowed passage on the Straight Road,’ she said finally.
‘What?’ he breathed. He was incredulous. Hope began to grow and he swallowed down his excitement.
‘I have entreated Manwë to grant Gimli, elf-friend and servant of Galadriel, to be allowed passage to Valinor. You may take Gimli with you, if he so desires,’ replied Galadriel smiling at him beatifically.
‘He can sail with me?’ cried Legolas. His heart soared but then uncertainty crept into his thoughts. ‘But will he come with me and leave his people behind, to dwell with me in Elvenhome? Will he be welcomed there?’ Legolas’ thoughts crowded and chased each other through his mind. In circles, his questions led him from a state of euphoria to one of doubt and back again.
Galadriel pressed her fingers against his lips, stopping the flood of questions. She held his face and looked long into his eyes, her own seeming to peer deep into his soul.
‘Do not doubt, Legolas Thrandulion. In your heart, you know that Gimli will not refuse. Rest easy, young one, for I have touched his mind this evening and he waits for you to speak,’ said Galadriel, letting fall her hands and gliding away from him.
Legolas watched as the Lady of Light shimmered, her form seeming to dissolve and merge with the Sea. A gull cried overhead and Legolas awoke.
The two friends walked, for the last time, amongst the wooded glades of Ithilien. The land was made beautiful by the efforts of his people and for many years, Legolas had been happy here. But his heart no longer ran under the boughs of the trees, his blood no longer listened to the voices of the wood, but harkened only to the song of the Sea.
And so Legolas asked his great friend, Gimli, if he would accompany him to the Undying Lands. Then the Dwarf told him of his dream, wherein the Lady Galadriel had spoken to him and bade him welcome. And Gimli so loved his Elven friend and the Lady of Light, that he agreed to leave all that he had known to accompany Legolas across the Sea.
Then Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and Gimli sat beside him as the ship pierced the veil separating the Straight Road from Arda Marred. The way home was now clear and Elf and Dwarf looked not behind, but ahead, towards the distant shore.
¹ from the chapter ‘The Last Debate’, The Return of the King, page 183, Ballantine paperback edition, 1981
² Aragorn refers to himself as the “last of the Númenoreans” in Appendix A, The Return of the King, page 427, Ballantine paperback edition, 1981
³ Tolkien wrote in the chapter ‘Of the Beginning of Days’, The Silmarillion, “yet of old the Valar declared to the Elves in Valinor (my emphasis) that Men shall join in the Second Music of the Ainur; whereas Ilúvatar has not revealed what he purposes for the Elves after the World’s end, and Melkor has not discovered it.” I would guess that since Legolas had never been to Valinor, he did not know that Men had such a transcendent fate.
Compare this with Robert Foster’s statement in his book The Complete Guide to Middle-earth, page 152-153, Ballantine paperback edition, 1979, “the fate of the Elves is bound to Eä, and they cannot leave the Circles of the World until the End, when they will join with the Ainur (and perhaps Men) in the Second Music before the throne of Ilúvatar.
My personal belief now, as it relates to possibilities in Tolkien’s world, is that Men and Elves will eventually be brought together sometime in the unimaginably distant future. The Second Music (a second “creation”, if you will) will be sung and the discordant notes introduced by Melkor in the Ainulindalë will be no more.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.