1. A Concerto in Minor Chords
A Concerto in Minor Chords
…the third movement
Minas Tirith at sunset
The wind gusting down Mount Mindolluin keened around the edges of Ecthelion's tower, whistling an appropriately eerie melody on this afternoon of the first day of March, in the year one hundred and twenty of the Fourth Age.
At the uttermost top of the White Tower's gleaming façade, the same wind caught in the folds of a grey cloak, clasped by a green and silver wrought leaf at the throat of a tall figure leaning upon his hands on the parapet. Its machinations largely unnoticed, the wind tangled flurrying fingers in the long strands of bright hair, alternately whipping it across unseeing eyes or teasing it back over broad shoulders to flare like a signal fire.
He had closed his ears to the sound, but he could still feel the reverberations of the bells beneath his feet, tolling continuously since the moment the king had closed his eyes in the long sleep of men.
It was done; this thing he had dreaded for far too long, yet far too short a time.
Earlier in the day…
The prod at the small of his back caught him so unexpectedly, Legolas whirled, centuries of instinct streaking his hand up to snatch at the bow he had not carried for two generations of men.
"Get a hold of yourself," the dwarf hissed, the sound barely a breath between his clenched teeth so the trio ahead did not hear.
Legolas swung back around, ignoring the Norgoth as if he had not spoken, likely infuriating the dwarf, but he did not care. Gimli was doing his best to treat this like just another morning walk around the city, much as they had been wont to do when Aragon had first been crowned.
This morning it was anything but one of their meandering getting-to-know-the-city tours. Their steps were purposeful, each echo of the cobblestones to booted footstep striking the elf's heart like a hammer blow. Soon those footsteps would cease. Soon the silver-streaked, dark head would rest upon a cushion of stone. Soon the mithril-colored eyes would close in a last, long sleep. Soon this mortal would be gone beyond the Circles of this World.
Legolas was not minded to stifle his grief. If his face betrayed the turmoil in his breast, so be it. He would not try to compose his mourning visage.
His experience of time had been forever altered by close companionship with mortals, but this morning its properties baffled him. A single glance stretched for an eternity, while the sands in the hour glass poured so swiftly the measure must surely have been substantially underweighted.
Time pushed against his chest so he moved as though against a strong tide, the burden of it pressed so heavily upon his spirit that no amount of internal or external chastisement could square his shoulders or lift his head.
He did catch up though, so they walked together, the last remnant of the Fellowship flanking the king's lady and their tall, grey-eyed son. Gimli beside Eldarion, Legolas, as always, at Aragorn's side, the royal family, hands tightly clasped, between the pair.
Gondor knew its history. The dwarven carving of a new tomb at the end of Rath Dinen had not gone unnoticed. Rumor and speculation had been rife for weeks and Aragorn, for the first and last time in his reign, had refused to bow to the will of his people and had chosen instead, the back ways, leading them through alleys and lanes even Legolas, who knew the city like the palm of his hand, had rarely seen.
Whether by design or chance, Aragorn was guiding them the long way around to the sixth circle gate, the Steward's Door that could be opened only by the Lord of the City or those who attended in the Houses of the Dead.
A league off, over on the broad thoroughfare marking the center of the city, the folk of Minas Tirith lined the streets as the king's ceremonial guard, their horses hooves muffled by sacking, paced a silent funereal procession through the thunderously quiet streets.
The passing of a king could not be done in secret.
The farewells had all been made; public, private and personal. Aragorn's decision stated and restated many times over his long reign, his philosophy such a part of the Telcontar family that no one thought to gainsay this choice.
No one, that is, but the elf. Aragorn had remained gently, but firmly true to his course.
Legolas, surely the most patient human to have walked Arda Marred in centuries - at least by his own estimation - was torn by conflicting desires. One part of him was cheering – Aye! Take the long way; inspect every building, turn over every rock and stone, stop and make long lists of things to be done. Perhaps, he thought, somewhere along the way you will find the will to live on.
While the other side of his mind was screaming at their convoluted path, knowing the man would not change his mind, wanting it over and done with so the dreaded finality of this day would at last be behind him.
The sundering of his heart was making him ill.
Through the gate of Fen Hollen … down the long, winding, walled pathway to Rath Dínen … mounting the shallow steps of the House of Kings … negotiating the maze of marble tombs of kings long gone …
And then, suddenly, or so it had seemed to Legolas, they were standing at the foot of Peregrin Took's effigy. Aragorn reached to tweak Pippin's hairy stone toe.
"Fool of Took." Aragorn smiled fondly upon the Halfling as he repeated Gandalf's oft used epithet. Bowing his head, he fisted a hand to his heart in a last salute and turned to lead them to the chamber newly carved into the mountainside.
Outwardly, age had touched the man but lightly; mithril now threaded the dark locks, the legs that had borne the human through the Dwimorberg were slower it was true, and the hand that had carried the Sword of the West into the battle that had ended Sauron's reign of terror over Middle-earth had difficulty closing around the hilt of a sword.
Legolas had watched Faramir fight this fight, too, but the steward, who shared Númenórean ancestry with the king, had hung on until old age had defeated him. Intellectually, Legolas understood Aragorn's timing; his heart, however, refused to accommodate these truths.
Aragorn had chosen as the faithful forefathers of old, passing the mantle of leadership to his heir in the vast quiet of the empty throne room, with only family in attendance. There would be a coronation ceremony, but the real power, the power of the sword and the office, had already been bestowed. Aragorn would sleep with a blade, but not Andúril; it would pass down through generations to come, and rode already in a sheath at Eldarion's side.
Thirty steps. Thirty steps between Pippin's bier and Aragorn's. Legolas wanted thirty steps more. Ached for thirty minutes more. Desired above all else, thirty years more.
The arching vaults were large and airy, the multiple supporting columns - set well out from the bier - intricately carved with the tale of the reign of Elessar Telcontar and Arwen Evening Star, his elven queen.
Aragorn smiled again, at this last subversive act of the remaining members of the Fellowship. He had desired no monument, for he felt that he had done no more or less than any other individual called to serve a people. History would remember him or not, without laud or laurels.
In this, however, neither Gimli nor Legolas would be swayed, and since Gimli had had the foremanship of the work, they had conspired together. Legolas had written the account and Gimli had had it set into the marble and stone columns, carving the final one - behind the catafalque - himself, with the perfect likenesses of the king and queen walking hand-in-hand down the broad avenue of Minas Tirith on their wedding day.
Aragorn ran his fingers over the granite face of his wife lingeringly. "Your finest work, Gimli," he said with quiet gratitude.
"Aye, it is," the dwarf agreed. "It grieves me that I did not go first; though the satisfaction of besting you one last time almost makes it worth it." Gimli stuck his hands in his belt, his gaze conveying all the words his tongue would not shape. "It would have been far wiser to make me Regent, you know. The elf will not do the job half so well as I would have done."
"Likely you speak the truth," Aragorn assented with a slight twitch of his lips. "But Legolas would not accept the title of Regent, and I expect that you will be there to support him in his role as advisor, Master Gimli."
"Well, that, of course I am quite capable of, even in my dotage." Gimli advanced upon the king, wrapping his arms around the man's waist. "Now then, I understand your choice, Aragorn." He tightened his grip, receiving an equal measure of warmth in return. "But it has worn us all thin as sliced salmon, let us be done with it so that we may be about our mourning," he said, letting go and stepping back abruptly.
"You are wise, my friend, as always." Aragorn turned and held out his arms to his tall, dark-haired son, so alike to him in spirit and mien. "Hold to your purpose and you will not go wrong. You have wisdom, if not great age, and I leave you in the best hands possible. Though these bones be mortal, my is love is eternal, it cannot die so long as you keep it in your heart."
"Your legacy will be honored in my kingdom, Sire." Eldarion 's voice broke as he added in a ragged whisper, "Atarinya, I love you."
"And I you, my son." Aragorn's hand lingered on the dark head as he withdrew gently from his son's fierce embrace, his other hand reaching for Arwen. Their private farewells had been said over and over during a last long night of adoration. "I wish you will reconsider, my love." The words were a mere whisper of sound though they echoed through the vault as he touched his lips to hers.
"That is not your choice," Arwen said equitably and just as quietly, her eyes soft and her hands tender as she stroked the beloved bearded cheeks one last time. "And no argument will sway me. You will be mine for eternity."
Aragorn kissed her forehead before she turned within the circle of his broad hands and stepped away. Without looking back, she grasped the hand of her son, then swayed gracefully to scoop up the hand of the dwarf as well, the drape of her black velvet train shushing across the marble floor as she led them away.
Aragorn stepped back, hitching a hip upon the stone bier as though it were his desk, or the arm of that piece of state furniture he so seldom sat directly upon. He had thoroughly disliked the formality of the throne and used it far more often as a footstool or a convenient prop for his sword than as a chair from which jurisprudence was practiced. As often as not, petitioners had found him sitting on the bottom step to hear their appeals.
In Annúminas, he had refused to allow a throne to be built at all, preferring, to the consternation of aides and supplicants alike, to conduct the business of the reunited realms from his office.
The court would likely retreat there when the official mourning period was over, Legolas thought now, in an attempt to distract himself from the moment.
"Eldarion will not wish to stay here long," Aragorn said, as if reading the elf's thoughts. He clasped his hands over his knee, easing further back upon his couch of stone to rest a booted heel on the edge.
He was dressed very simply, in his Ranger garb once again. Across the foot of the bier lay the king's robes of state, along with a sword and a crown.
Legolas understood he was to robe the king for his final dénouement. "You planned this too?"
"I asked, rather, for this time alone."
"She has you for eternity." The bitter taste of betrayal further soured his stomach. His head might reckon the untruth of the feeling, but his heart hurt beyond any understanding.
Aragorn stretched out a hand and Legolas was powerless to resist; without volition, his feet moved his body forward.
"Your hands are cold," the king remarked, shifting to accommodate their new position, looking down as he chafed the one he held between his own warm palms.
By the time the man looked up, Legolas had mastered the pain, had even managed to array the muscles of his face into their habitual impassive expression, though he knew his eyes gave him away.
His hands were cold because he had never in his life been so terrified. He had faced orcs and wargs and spiders, Uruk-hai, goblins, and trolls, and once, a balrog. He had expected, and been required, to bury friends and family lost in battle. Had believed for many years his fate would be decided by the turning - or not - of arrow, axe, sword, lance or pike. He had known real fear, but it had been as nothing compared to the terror clawing at his sanity as he looked down into the eyes of the one human who had touched his heart in a way no other had managed to do.
He had once, long ago, made a half-hearted attempt to discover the science behind the ancient Númenórean practice of willing one's own death, but there had been little in the historical records and he had not tried very hard to uncover the mystery. It had been too difficult to imagine these final moments.
He knew though, that in an hour, two at the most, the hands now holding his own would be cold as the stone surrounding them. The grey eyes forever closed. The sculpted lips hard as rock.
His elven composure decamped. Tears he had sworn he would not shed began to trickle down his cheeks and no force of nature could dry up the flow or turn their course as they baptized the age-worn hands clasped warmly around his trembling fingers.
"She has always known, meleth nîn."
"Aye, but I have confessed it was never a one-sided infatuation. I do not believe I ever told you how terribly jealous I was of your ease with the Even Star? When first I saw the pair of you together, I was certain you were the one for whom she held me at arm's length." Aragorn sighed. "How ironic that you both have deigned to allow me into your lives."
"We allowed nothing; both Arwen and I followed the dictates of our hearts. Elves do not fight fate as mortals do. It is you who allowed us into your life, not the other way around. And Arwen who allowed me to stay."
Almost, the surprise writ so plainly on the ranger's face lit a smile inside the elf, but it would not kindle. "I have known Arwen for many centuries. I would not keep such a thing from her, even were it within my power to do so."
He had told her of his desire long before he had known of her interest in the Númenórean prince; though, he thought now, perhaps in his yearning he had willfully ignored the initial signs of her interest. They had long been close, their parents hoping for a match, and he had never held secrets from her. She had listened and offered quiet compassion when he had disclosed the torment of unrequited ardor and never once told him Aragorn had declared himself in a moonlit garden in his twentieth year.
Years later, she had listened to the story of the bond forged out of fear and exhaustion and a moment's need, had smiled calmly at the tale of the protracted dance with dalliance that had grown into so much more. But had failed to share her own growing affection for the mortal.
She had, however, sought him out first, even before sharing the news of the betrothal at Cerin Amroth with her family. There had been no further discussion between them, though the parameters had been set.
"It is something miraculous that you have both kept this secret from me," Aragorn observed tartly, though his hands continued their tender ministrations upon the elf's, for he had gathered up Legolas' other hand as well.
"You have not long to regret this. We have done well."
Aragorn's smile was luminescent as he let go of one hand to trace the curve of cheek he knew so intimately. To feather a finger through the long lashes drooping now over eyes stark with fear, to touch the tender eyelids he had kissed countless times. He drew the blond head down to do so once more.
"Aye; you have done well," he agreed wryly. Aragorn rested his forehead against the elf's. "If you will let me, I would like to give you one last thing." He slipped his fingers through Legolas' right hand and drew their joined hands down to his heart. "I want you to feel what I'm feeling, will you open to me? Will you let me in?"
He met no resistance as he allowed the healer's essence to expand into both of them, though it was something of shock to realize he met no resistance because his bright warrior faced an enemy that could not be overcome.
Legolas had known defeat only as a setback, never as victory, and in this - neither fight nor flight would serve. On this field, there was no recourse but surrender.
"With no mentor to tutor me in the nuances of how to do this thing, I have had to rely on instinct. Listen … do you hear it?" Aragorn waited the length of thirty heartbeats. "Do you hear it?" he repeated, voice low but urgent. "My song is no longer fading. If anything, it is growing richer … fuller … deepening and broadening as it joins again with the music of the Ainulindalë. This is what has been filling my mind these last weeks, calling to me, calling me home, Legolas. Do you feel how I can no longer resist it? I must answer the call. It is time …….. can you feel how it is for me?"
Legolas drew in a long, deep breath and held it for a moment, before letting it out on a broken sigh. "Aye, I feel it," he admitted. He felt too, the radiant warmth of his own fire reflected back at him where he had tried so hard to augment that failing song. And the sanctuary of unconditional love that surrounded his surrendered heart.
"Is this what you feel when the sea calls to you?"
Startled, Legolas drew back just far enough to stare into the silver eyes. "It is … very similar … though it has never been quite so … importunate."
"Then I release you from your promise. I cannot ask of you, something I cannot even do myself."
"Nay, Aragorn! I do not … it is not … it is not the same…."
"It is," Aragorn soothed, palming the elf's cheek. "It is and I understand that now. I knew I asked too much err I extracted the promise, but I was mad with a kind of fatal fear that drove me to demand things I had no right to ask."
"Do not … take this from me … it is the last piece of you I may hold onto yet awhile."
Aragorn clasped his arms loosely around the lean middle, leaning into the wall of muscle caging the wildly beating heart. Legolas' arms instinctively circled the broad shoulders, one hand coming up to brush through the silver-threaded locks.
For thirty seconds more, elf and mortal remained locked in that embrace encompassing both body and soul.
"No foresight has warned me of what lies ahead, but there is no fear upon me now; that madness passed quickly."
The truth of the avowal was as an enveloping blanket, wrapping them both inside Aragorn's calm certainty. And for a moment, as the heartbeat of time slowed and stretched, Legolas' own fear calmed.
"They say Mandos knows where in the Mansions of the Dead, or beyond the Encircling Sea, mortals await the ending of the world. If the Doomsman of the Valar is kind, perhaps we will meet again. It is said, too, that the Second born will have some part in the renewal of Arda. If that is so, then no doubt we will meet again. I do not know what the future holds beyond this parting, but I would have you know that the love I bear for you will not fade even after the light fades from these mortal eyes."
That aged hand, with far too much strength, Legolas thought, to give up yet, wrapped around the back of his neck, drawing him down. There was no force in the hold, and he went willingly into the caress, desiring another thirty seconds more here as the end drew nearer and nearer.
As was its habit, his fëa rose up the moment the cool, dry lips touched his own. Tongues mated in a dance that must surely have been sung into being by the Valar, entwining their individual harmonies in that song wholly their own.
Because he could, Aragorn plucked a note lightly here and there, composing a new melody that would root tenderly in the elf's heart, to be discovered later when the overmastering pain subsided and Legolas could hear it over the thundering fear that drove his heartbeat now.
He moved their joined hands over the elf's heart and very gently drew back from the consummation of lips and tongue. "It is time."
Legolas, tears still seeping, touched his free fingers to those lips. "Go with the gods, meleth nîn. May the stars shine upon you wherever you sail and Elbereth light your way."
"And upon you also when you sail."
In silence, they arose, and Legolas arrayed the King of the Reunited Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor in the robes of state, placing upon his head the circlet of office he had worn so infrequently.
In silence, Aragorn accepted the strength of Legolas' arm to lay himself down upon the marble coffin.
In silence, Legolas arrayed the folds of the robe and put into Elessar's hands the sword Estel had forged in Rivendell with no foreknowledge of its role in his future.
In silence, he splayed his own hand over the courageous heart that slowed bit by bit. And in silence, the elf bent and touched his lips to the man's.
Legolas breathed in that last breath and held it; that at least was his until the end of time. Beneath his feet, the stone reverberated as the bells began to toll and the tears continued to roll unhindered and unashamed down his cheeks.
He kept to his post until the first of the mourners could be heard entering at the beginning of Silent Street, then passed unseen out of the mountain and made his way to the Tower of Ecthelion, where for a time at least, he could be alone with his grief.
He heard the slow, methodical footsteps well below on the winding stairs and gently released the painful memories. They were too raw to be embraced yet, though someday they would be cherished remembrances. Those last moments as Aragorn's clasp had tightened briefly before relaxing, the grey eyes closing as the barest hint of a smile touched the well-loved lips.
Arwen must have felt him slip away for within moments the bells had begun their endless tolling. They would ring until this day had passed into the next and not ring again either in joy or mourning for a full year.
He did not turn when the door of Aragorn's study swung out and the heavy footsteps halted in the arched doorway that gave access to the parapet-surrounded portico atop the tower.
"The wind shrieks fit to make a dragon's teeth itch up here, Master Elf. Come down now and be among company." The Lord of the Glittering Caves wrapped a matching elven cloak around his aged body, shivering as the wind plucked at his grey beard.
"I desire no company." Legolas kept his face to the wind; it scoured the tears from his cheeks.
"Legolas…" Gimli entreated. He knew, deep in his heart, no argument he could muster would turn the elf's single-mindedness. He knew, too, it could be days before thirst or hunger, or any other human need might drive the stubborn creature to abandon his vigil; but he had to try. "Aragorn would not want you to grieve alone like this."
The dwarf saw the long, slender fingers stretch involuntarily wide where they lay flat atop the stone. Moving to the elf's side, he dared to cover the extended digits with his own calloused hand, and felt the deep shudders Legolas was trying to suppress.
"Nor is there any reason to conceal your tears, laddie. Ai, they be soul cleansers in times such as this. Come, share them that others might not be shamed by their own."
Legolas squeezed his eyelids shut - to no avail. His voice when he spoke again, was raw, stripped of its musical quality. "I have shared always, Gimli. My grief, at least, is my own. Leave me to it."
The elf withdrew his hand from beneath the Norgoth's, folding his arms over his chest, though his feet remained planted firmly in the same place on the hewn granite of the tower floor. There was no need to look in order to see the troubled eyes the dwarf trained on him.
"Lean on Gimli, he will gladly bear the weight, for sorrow rests lighter on dwarves than men and elves." The whisper of the quiet voice coming out of darkness ghosted across his memory. Legolas flicked it away like an irritating swamp gnat. He needed no one to lean on, neither dwarf nor man. He welcomed the pain clenching like talons around his heart, piercing so that he bled, freely, the tears he had held back for far too long.
"You had best promise me you will do nothing rash if I leave you up here alone."
Legolas turned his head slowly. "What are you contemplating, Master Dwarf?"
"One death too many, Master Elf. Though it is not I contemplating such a dastardly deed." Gimli squared off to the elf and crossed his own arms over his chest. "I know something of what you feel," he said softly, knowing he would be heard despite the shrieking wind, "for I would feel the same if ever you were lost to me."
Teeth clenched briefly before the elf made an effort to unlock his jaw. "The Gift of Men!" Legolas uttered wearily. "The curse of those who love them." Glittering green eyes met sylvan brown. "I would not do that to you, elvellon." Though Gimli would leave him, too, sooner rather than later. He turned away, back to the mountain that had stood through the Ages and would remain until the final sundering of the world. It could not heal his broken heart, but its unendingness soothed the ragged edges in a way nothing else could touch at the moment.
"I know you would not, but had need to remind you of the same." Gimli smoothed down the wisps of silvering beard the wind whipped around. "Well then, I will leave you to freeze your arse off up here alone," he harrumphed.
Legolas turned his head again, a slight smile creasing laugh lines on the otherwise ageless face. "I am missing Mithrandir, too, this day."
Gimli harrumphed again. "He would not have allowed this foolishness."
"But he is not here either. We are the last of the Fellowship, Gimli. The last living testament to the deeds we accomplished. I wonder will we meet Bilbo or Frodo when we sail."
"About that foolishness—"
"Nay, I will not argue with you. It is settled; you agreed. Dwarves do not go back on their word." Resolutely, Legolas turned back to the mountain. He would not allow himself to be drawn into the dwarf's pedantic argument just for the sake of quarreling.
Gimli harrumphed yet again. "Promise me you will not spend the night up here." It hurt to be excluded, but more than that, it hurt deeply that he could offer no surcease from the bright shards of pain so obviously impaling the Greenwood prince. He would have bartered his soul to Morgoth for the ability to afford any easement that might soften the elf's torturous grief. If leaving him alone was all he could do, than he would do so, but not with any grace, for then the elf would think him feckless and uncaring as it was ever their way to poke and prod and push boundaries.
Having won the skirmish, Legolas was inclined to be gracious. "I promise I will not spend the night up here." He was careful to keep any subtle nuance out of his voice.
The dwarf knew him as well as he knew the dwarf, and if allowed, Gimli would harangue him until he had promised to spend the night indoors in a proper repository of rest. Something he had no inclination of doing this night – nor in the foreseeable future. He turned once more to the mountain, unable to maintain the impenetrable elven façade.
Gimli stared at the grey-cloaked back for several long seconds before shuffling forward to grasp the elf's forearm. "Age and that foul climb you forced upon me have worn me to a shade, Master Elf. This body requires rest, but I would that you wake me when you come down."
If he capitulated too easily, the dwarf would see right through his artifice; best to equivocate a little longer. "I will pay my respects to the queen when I come down, Gimli. I may not see you again until morning."
Gimli scowled. "Then I will expect to see you at the queen's table to break our fast."
Legolas inclined his head without committing himself, a fact the dwarf noted but did not pursue. With no imminent Haradrim immolation threatened, he was willing to return to the palace. Perhaps his soothing balm would go over better with the grieving widow, though he had observed her responses closely mirrored the Sylvan's, and not just because they were of a kindred people.
Aragorn had been bound to both immortals by ties of more than mere affection. Gimli well knew Legolas had far more reason to grieve in private than did Arwen, but there were few in the city who reckoned not the closeness of the elf and the king. And no one had begrudged the unfeigned loyalty of the elf. Neither would any begrudge him due process in his grieving.
The dwarf was old friends with the heart-shrinking pain of loss, but he did not feel this as Legolas did. He knew old age rather well and had watched Aragorn make every effort to stem the tide of it on behalf of those he loved. The man had protracted time as though it had been a malleable provision, subject to his will, but he could not control the effects of it. Gimli had watched its weight increase exponentially in the last few weeks. He bore Aragorn no ill will for his choice, and in fact, envied the king no small amount, the ability to choose time and place.
Gimli exhaled gustily. It was difficult to leave, harder still knowing the promises he'd extracted from the dratted elf were as hollow as the giver at the moment. But he could not bring himself to demand more.
Grief had no antidote but time, and the sands of time for an immortal, dripped grain by grain through the hourglass.
Turning, head bowed against the wind, he trudged the short distance back to the heavy oaken door.
The dwarf did not think twice when the opportunity presented itself. On the other side of the room, the key, inserted silently into the outside door, turned, producing a dull clink; Gimli waited. No outraged cry pierced the howling wind, and with a satisfied nod, he slid the article into a deep pocket and began to make his way slowly down the horrid winding staircase.
There would be no bolting this night at least. And tomorrow – if the elf was not too enraged to loose – Gimli would bend his formidable mind to new strategies to occupy his friend until the worst of the grief had eased and the Sylvan's will was his own again.
The dwarf patted the pocket, well satisfied, as he stepped off the last stair.
It was not until many hours later that the click of that lock registered with the wood elf.
Long after the tide of torch-lit mourners had ceased to cross the spanning bridge. Long after all but the night denizens of the city slept under a blanket of stars so dense the sky showed little darkness. Long after the exhausted House of Telcontar had retreated to their beds to mourn their loss privately. Long, long after the dwarf had sought his own rest.
Only as his hand depressed the latch and the door refused to budge did that dull clink register in the elf's clouded mind. Blinding grief fueled a black haze of fury at the perfidy of the Norgoth. Legolas knew this door of old, knew its strength and the solidity of the lock, but that did not stop him from slamming a shoulder against it; once …twice…a fourth and then a fifth time before the physical pain broke through the unreasoning rage. And as quickly as it had been summoned, the wrath vanished.
His knees buckled. Legolas turned his back to the door and let the weight of his broken heart drag him down …down…down…into the very pits of Thangorodrim. The fire of those long-quenched chasms scorched his boots and singed the ends of the braids he had never quite managed to let go of, but did nothing to melt the ice slowly forming around his heart.
His shoulder hurt, but he drew his knees to his chest, dropped his forehead to rest on them, and closed his eyes. He had waited, impatiently, until he was certain that the last of the king's household had drifted into slumber, knowing the horses waited with equal impatience in the stables in the sixth circle. And then he had waited some more, counting on the belief that the grooms would be long abed as well, so no one would try to stop him, or worse, send someone to follow him.
He'd had every intention of stealing out into the night with both his own horse and the king's, for Aragorn's mount would have reckoned his passing too. An unrestrained gallop might have eased the volcanic pressure that had built in his chest and freed the horses to express their own grief.
The dwarf must have seen through the opacity he had tried so hard to project. Must have known Legolas had every intention of bolting into the night.
Aragorn had released him from his pledge to mentor the new king, but he had promised Eldarion he would be in attendance two days hence, for the coronation. He had given his word, also, to offer solace and comfort to Arwen, if she would let him, during that long night's vigil Aragorn had shared at the pinnacle of the Avenue of Trees in Ithilien not so many weeks ago.
If not for Gimli's treachery, he might have been long gone now, the insanity of grief overriding even his pledged word.
Legolas put his head back against the door. He would have a few choice words for the dwarf in the morning, when the traitor came to let him out, but he would temper those words because he had many Ages yet to live with regret. And failure to keep his given word would have weighed him down far longer than grief. For grief, he was aware, had limits. It was not new to him.
This knife blade's edge of insanity would pass; his heart would mend, though this loss would leave a hollow place forever, for as Aragorn had said, he did not know if their paths would cross ever again. Legolas was an as-yet-unfinished antiphonal piece, his destiny molded and shaped by the music of the Ainur, while Aragorn had been given the gift of shaping his own fate and the last notes of the concerto of that well-lived life had faded into silence hours ago.
Legolas knew this to be true, for when he had finally learned to listen to the music of Arda, to hear his own melody in the majestic symphony that Ilúvatar had caused to be scored in the Deeps of Time, his steps had never faltered.
In the quiet of the study, where the scent of the Ranger lingered on the very air, where his books and charts and treasures bore witness to the elf's silent grief, the little melody Aragorn had so shrewdly embedded among the sharp shards of Legolas' battered and torn heart began to croon its lullaby. It did not magically release the talons of sorrow, but it did soothe and comfort. It did not dry the tears, for there was a tenderness to it that evoked wistfulness as well, but it gave the tears healing properties. It did not quench the driving desire to run as far and as fast as the horses could take him, but it did empower him to resist the need and reclaim for himself the honor he might have ignored in his grief.
It echoed the haunting descant of Aragorn's song, for all life on Arda was a gift of the Song, but the theme intertwined warmth and strength and a love so powerful it reached beyond the Circles of the World, encompassing, embracing, enfolding the elf as though the arms of his beloved yet held him.
It roused sleeping courage and restored a measure of confidence that Ilúvatar in his mercy would not withhold the eternity beyond the ending of the world, no matter the differences in their origins.
Reverie took him gently, beckoning him along untrodden paths of memory where eternities had already been shared in a glance … a word … a touch … and to the certain knowledge that these memories could not be taken from him either … not unto the ending of the world.
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