The characters belong to Professor Tolkien, I'm only playing with them.

The Bitter Cup
By Sharon Wells

~~~ 'Aragorn tried to comfort her, saying: "Yet there may be a light beyond the darkness; and if so, I would have you see it and be glad."' ~~~
J. R. R. Tolkien, "The Lord of the Rings; The Return of the King"

Dressed in black and grey for the occasion, Legolas stood quietly beside his friends. The years had not touched the Elf nor dimmed his fair features, yet the mortals around him had all aged. No other except Arwen had been untouched by time. Sadly, Legolas sighed has he blue gaze moved over the assembly.

Gimli, his red beard now showing more white than rust, wept openly. It was the way of his people, Legolas knew, to show their emotions so freely. Gimli had grown very close to both Pippin and Merry while he lived in Minas Tirith.

Turning his head slightly, Legolas looked at Arwen. Queen, she dressed regally in a black and wine colored velvet, he head up, her spine straight. His eyes met hers and he saw there a light of fear. Merry was only the first of the Fellowship to die since Elessar had become King, but he would not be the last. She knew this, Legolas thought, and the tears that fell from her wide blue eyes were not just for Merry.

King Éomer had died some years earlier, and before his death he had sent requesting that Merry see him one last time. Master Merry and Thain Pippin both came to be with the King before his passing. "Master Meriadoc, you will never be forgotten in Rohan," King Éomer had said, his voice softened by memory of the young Hobbit he had met that day so long ago at Isengard's broken gates. "It has been my honor to know you. You have served my Uncle and me, and all of Rohan with your bravery and humor, your generosity of spirit and your kindness."

King Éomer passed away three weeks after the Hobbits arrived. He had lived a long and prosperous life, and his son, who inherited the almost Elven looks of his fair mother and the true character of his father, took up the crown vowing to following in Éomer's footsteps as a friend of Gondor and upholder of the Oath of Éorl. Éowyn was too frail to attend the funeral, and she passed away while sitting in the garden she had so lovingly tended for many years in Ithilien. Within two years, Faramir had also passed, yet another loss to those who had helped shape the birth of the Fourth Age.

The two elderly Hobbits had remained in Minas Tirith after Éomer's death, always willing to attend festivals and give speeches. They had also live to see the passing of Faramir and Éowyn.

Now, looking at Arwen, the Legolas' compassionate heart clenched. He fought the impulse to turn away. She continued to meet his gaze and for a moment the two communicated mind to mind. He knew her deep grief, the dreaded anticipation of the day she would see her husband go into the arms of death and leave her behind.

~"You have your children,"~ Legolas' mind whispered to hers, but he knew they could not replace her love for Aragorn.

"He left behind many children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Thain Peregrin said to those gathered, his own cheeks wet with tears. Aged now, the enthusiasm for life and adventure was tempered in Pippin.

Five of Merry's children and three grandchildren had come from the Shire for the memorial. His distinctive chin and piercing eyes were obvious in each. They stood beside Pippin, no longer in grief, for Merry had died some weeks ago. Pride shown in their faces this day as they looked at the carved marble likeness of Merry lying atop a white sarcophagus.

Pippin continued to speak, "His memory will not die. The family of Samwise Gamgee has carried on Bilbo Baggins' tradition of writing everything down in a book." He looked at Gimli who stood closest to him. "None of the Fellowship will be forgotten. Not Boromir, either. It's all written there for the generations who come after us to see."

The King nodded slowly. "We, too, keep such records, Pippin. The towers of Minas Tirith are filled with such annals and volumes." His gaze met the Halfling's. "Is it not so, my Lady?"

Arwen nodded. "It is so."

Elessar's hand reached down to touch his wife's. Silently, Legolas watched him take Arwen's hand. ~"He feels your sorrow and knows why this memorial to Meriadoc Brandybuck is so painful for you. The blood of Numenor runs strong in him, he has many years yet, my Lady."~

She inclined her head acknowledging his message, her hand grasping Elessar's more firmly, as if her touching him could induce him to stay with her longer. Already his hair was streaked with grey and his beard more so, yet he was still strong and vital, a powerful King and a caring father. Standing beside her, he looked handsome and wise. Elessar did not need a crown to proclaim his royalty; his very presence spoke of it.

~"I do not know how to bear this,"~ Arwen's mind called to Legolas.

The Elf turned away from her. He had no words to comfort her. His gaze fell upon Pippin, his curly hair grey, his movements slowed by age. He would be next among the survivors of the Fellowship, Legolas suddenly knew. ~"Many shall die before Elessar is ready to leave his people, leave you,"~ Legolas told Arwen. She looked up at him. ~"Many."~


The following winter, Pippin passed away in his sleep and he was laid in honor beside his closest friend, Merry in Rath Dínen among the great of Gondor. The King held a banquet in his honor, for Pippin had been fond of food and drink until the day he died. There were many tales told of how he had said this, or did that, and despite their grief at his passing, there was laughter, too.

"There are fewer of us left, Master Elf," Gimli said as the two walked to their guest rooms in the Palace that night. "The younger races do not live as long as we Dwarves or the Dunadan." He looked sideways at his companion, who had been unusually quiet all evening. "What is bothering you, my old friend?"

Legolas stopped and met the Dwarf's dark brown gaze, yet said nothing.
They continued down the corridor toward Gimli's door and stopped before it. Standing there, Legolas faced his friend. "I have not had mortal friends until Aragorn," Legolas told Gimli, though the Dwarf already knew this. "It is difficult for me to see them leaving us." His hand reached down to gently squeez the Dwarf's broad shoulder. "I am going to build a ship."

Gimli knew there was more behind his friend's words. "What would you need a ship for?" Gimli asked, yet he knew the Sea Longing had touched Legolas years before and the Elf fought daily not to answer its call.

"I would have you come with me when I sail," Legolas' vivid blue gaze touched Gimli's heart. "I have given Aragorn my word, I will not leave while he still leaves. There will be nothing to hold me here then, except for you my friend. You were a member of our Fellowship and without you, the quest would have failed. The Valar will allow you to enter the Undying Lands, of this I am sure."

Gimli's eyes widened at the thought. Such a thing was unheard of, yet Legolas seemed sure. "How could you know such a thing?"

In answer, Legolas put a hand over his heart. "Just as I am certain the sun will rise upon the morrow, I know this, Gimli son of Gloin. Will you sail with me?"

"It would mean leaving all my kin," Gimli spoke thoughtfully.

"So would death."

The Dwarf's head shot up and he locked eyes with the Elf. "Would I really be allowed?" He saw the certainty in Legolas' eyes. Gimli reached an arm out and linked it with his friend's. "Then we shall go together, just as we went together to explore Fangorn."

"And the Glittering Caves," Legolas added. "It will be another adventure we can share."

They exchanged smiles, then Gimli said, "If I am going to leave, one way or the other, I'd better start writing to my kin or they'll be arguing over my holdings for years to come."

With a brief laugh, the Dwarf entered his chamber, still mumbling to himself and Legolas heard him say, "But then I'll get to see the Lady Galadriel again! Oh, what an honor," before he continued down the hall to his own chamber.

Legolas visited Gimli, King Elessar and Queen Arwen often in Minas Tirith and came to know the couples grandchildren and great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Yet always he worked on his ship and the people of Osgiliath and all of Ithillien spoke of the beauty of the vessel. Like all things Elven, it was built with loving attention to detail. Wherever something artistic could be worked into the design, it was. Legolas had asked some of the Elfmaids who had migrated to Ithillien to weave him sails. They were finally done, yet Legolas did not leave, for he had promised Aragorn to stay with him until the King was ready to leave Middle Earth.

One warm March afternoon Legolas came to speak to Aragorn in his study. The sun's light poured like honey through the windows, casting the room into shades of gold and brown. King Elessar stood staring out the window, looking down upon the blue ribbon of the River Anduin as it wound its way south. He sensed the Elf's presence, even though Legolas had made no sound as he entered.

"We have been friends a very long time by the years of men," he said, turning to face Legolas.

The Elf held his face impassive, but he was struck suddenly by how much silver was in his friend's hair and beard. Fine lines had turned his friend into a dignified old man. Wordlessly, Legolas went and grasped arms with Aragorn.

"I was remembering the time we sat in council at Rivendell." There was a touch of humor in Aragorn's voice. "You had brought news that seemed evil."

"The loss of Gollum."

The King nodded. "Yet, if he had not escaped, our entire quest would have failed."

"And I would not have been in Rivendell in time to join it." Legolas smiled, remembering quite clearly the annoyed look on Gimli's face when the two had sat facing each other discussing the fate of the ring.

With a sigh, Aragorn released Legolas' arms and went to sit in a comfortable chair, gesturing his friend to another. Legolas preferred to stand, but sat so that he and his friend would be level eye to eye.

"I have seen your ship. She is quite lovely," Aragorn told him. "Nicer than any of the ships of my Kingdom. Then again, she is an Elven ship, so I would not expect anything less."

"I built her after the designs of Eärendil's ship. She is small and fast." Legolas said.

"I remember the mural on the wall in Rivendell." Aragorn trailed off. "They are all gone now, my friend. Elrond left years ago. Eventually Elrohir and Elladan left with Celeborn. My foster family sailed leaving Arwen all alone."

There was silence and the two looked at one another. "And I," Aragorn said slowly, "I shall be leaving her, too."

Legolas nodded. He had known in his heart that this would be their last meeting. "Gimli and I have been packed and ready to sail. We awaited only your word."

"Yes. I know." The King smiled sadly. "Poor Gimli, if he could only have gone when he was young. I'm afraid the voyage may be hard on him."

Legolas laughed. "You do not know him, my friend. He is still that young fiery Dwarf we both took an instant dislike to at Rivendell."

"And we both found to be the most worthy of companions," Aragorn added.

"He is waiting for your call, for he would speak to you in private," Legolas told him. There was a long silence. "I don't know how to say good-bye, Estel."

"You haven't called me that in years."

"It is your old name. Sometimes we Elves tend to remember the past very clearly. I still remember when we called you Estel. Now they all call you Elessar. In my heart, you are still Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Ranger of the North. Strider."

"No one has called Aragorn for a very long time." Aragorn looked at his friend. "I know it is hard to say good-bye, but I prefer you remembering me like this."

"That is the blessing and the curse of my kind," Legolas told him. "Our memories never fade. I will take my memory of you into the Undying Lands and cherish it until the end of the world."

Aragorn looked down to see he held Legolas' hand in his own. He hadn't realized he had taken it. "And I shall take my memory of our journeys, our arguments, our beloved friendship with me to the realm where mortals go when they leave this Middle Earth." Aragorn raised his gaze and saw that Legolas, whom he had never see cry, had silent tears upon his fair face.

"Do not grieve, or I shall start," Aragorn begged him.

"My heart breaks at the thought of our parting, yet the Sea calls louder by the day. I shall to bearing with me such great happiness in knowing you. Your friendship has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, Aragorn."

"And yours, mine," the Man said, grasping his friend's hand more firmly. "I send with you my blessings and my hope that you find nothing but joy in your new life."

Legolas bowed his head, unable to find words. At last he spoke. "Perhaps, when Illuvatar stops singing his song and the world is undone, our two lights will find one another again." He lifted his head again to meet his friend's gaze. "Until that time, may your light shine true and may your forefathers greet you with great joy when you enter their halls."

The two stood and hugged one another one last time. Legolas could feel the mortality of his friend and it saddened him. With a heavy sigh, he left Aragorn standing in the golden sunlight.

That night the Elven boat left Osgilath with only two passengers. It sailed down the Anduin toward the sea. That same night the vision that Arwen had had so many years before came true. After bidding all his friends and children good-bye, Elessar laid himself down and died. There was much grieving and lamentations, yet Arwen knew only the unending pain in her own heart.

The world, for Arwen's grieving heart, had no spring or summer. She wandered like one lost through the Palace, her eyes seeing only the past as she tasted the bitterness of her grief. When winter came, she left Minas Tirith, bidding her children and their children good-bye. She traveled on a gray mare and rode north towards Lothlorien, following the river until the Emyn Muil forced her further west.

Eventually Arwen came to the fork in the river where the Silverlode joined Anduin, and she rode up until she reached a natural ford. There she released her horse and continued on foot into what had once been the protected realm of Lothlorien. Much had changed since the Lady Galadriel sailed into Westerness. The golden light which had always touched the woods no longer shined upon its leaves and trees.

She found her way to Cerin Amroth where she and Estel had pledged their love. Using her cloak, she made a bed for herself in the fallen leaves amidst the flowering elanor.

Arwen laid down and starred off into the past, her eyes seeing over and over again young Estel coming to her, a smile upon his face, his long brown hair flowing in the wind. She could no longer cry. There were no tears left in her, only an aching longing to be Estel again.

Looking up, Arwen watched the stars far above in the black canopy of night. Somewhere up there Eärendil sailed bearing the light of the Silmaril. As she stared, barely breathing, the night sky slowly faded. Beyond her feet, toward the east, the sky lightened. Pale pink and gold, the morning crept upon her and she released a long pent up sigh.

Then the light changed. Arwen looked toward the rising sun. The light was great, yet she could stare at it without harming her eyes. She felt a sudden lightness. An anticipation. Sitting half-up, she gazed toward the sun. Someone was coming from the light with long, sure steps. She knew that walk. She rose easily to her feet, her lips parting in wonder as Estel, young, handsome, and smiling came to her again, his hands held out.

She moved toward him in wonder, putting both her hands into his, unsure if he were real or a phantom.

Estel's laugh echoed in her heart. "I am as real as you, my love. Forever my love. Come with me. This is no longer our world."

She did not look back to see her body upon the bed of leaves, but walked forward into the light with her love and she was glad.