Much thanks to Unnamed Element for her stirling beta work pushing me to improve this in all the areas I knew were sloppy!
It is not hard to know where to look for Legolas when you have mislaid him in Minas Tirith as I have done today. If he has ever disappeared on his own, Arwen's Garden is where you will find him.
Legolas planted it years ago, not long after she first arrived, when I was still finding my feet in kingship. There was a garden here beforehand, one my people had cultivated perfectly for Arwen when they heard a queen would be arriving. It was well manicured, immaculate and beautiful; a carefully planned and crafted gift to welcome her to Gondor. An oasis of peace arising from the centre of the war battered city.
Then Legolas saw it and he tore all their perfection apart.
He made it his mission to grow her a silvan wilderness. It took years until he had the green chaos of vines and flowers and trees just right. Despite his hours of toil it did not look cultivated in the least but instead, untamed and chaotic, as if it had always been there, random plants springing up from where their seeds had fallen. Hours and hours he spent working in that garden every time he came to Minas Tirith, growing an unrestrained wilderness while my people looked on in astonishment. I would come in search of him—yearning for his company as I do now—only to find him knee deep in mud, humming silvan nonsense while my guards stood and watched him, disbelief written all over their faces.
But, oh, how Arwen has loved it.
Still I think, perhaps, the garden was not just for Arwen but also for him. A sanctuary he could retreat to when the mannish clamour of my city grew too loud. When our oddities confused him and he became frustrated with our differences, longing for some peace, the garden was where you could always find him.
As I search, I know it is where I will find him today.
Although I was raised by Elves, amongst elves, still I am not one. I cannot sense the fëar of others as they do. I must rely upon my eyes, my ears, my senses to guess how others are feeling. That is harder with every passing year as those very senses begin to fail me but on this day it is easy. I know the moment I lay eyes on him that Legolas is miserable—but that is hardly an achievement—I knew that before I even came looking for him. He is wretched and despairing and I am the cause. I am not surprised to see his unhappiness, but I am surprised to see he is alone. There are many who love him fiercely and none of them are here.
He sits beneath one of his beloved trees, leaning against it, head tilted towards the sky. I wonder as I watch, does he listen to the trees, or, as he has done more and more often lately, does he search the sky for the gulls? I should sit beside him—I would have in the past—but it is a long way down to the ground, and even further to struggle back to my feet. I can no longer drop down to his side as I used to. Instead I sit upon the bench nearest to him and when he says nothing I know it is I who must begin this hardest of conversations and so I gather my courage with deep slow breaths, the cool of the stone bench behind me spreading a wave of calm I desperately need across my back.
"You are alone? Where are the others?"
"I have driven them away," he says with a bitter edge, "with my disagreeable personality. I did not wish for company anyway."
Oh, Legolas does indeed have a temper and it is a vicious one. It seems incongruous at times with his lightness, the sun that shines from within him. Something he has inherited from his majestic father and his volatile grandfather, it can flare when you least expect, and it leaves you reeling, (as I have found out many times in the past to my cost). I do not want these hours tainted with any touch of it, and so I move to rise, to leave him—I will try again later when he is calmer.
"I will go then—" I am about to say more when he cuts across me:
"Not you, you fool." There is a catch to his voice as he speaks. "Your company will be desirable."
And so I sit, and I indicate the space beside me.
"Will you join me?"
It is with a sigh he hauls himself to his feet heavily, without any of his usual grace. While I have aged during these long years I have known him, Legolas has remained the same. He looks exactly as he did when I first met him all those years ago in Imladris. He has lost none of his agility and seems not so much as a single day older. I cannot help but smile as I remember that first proper meeting so long ago . . . But Legolas sees that brief grin and—as so often happens, even after all these years—I confuse him.
"You would smile, today of all days?" His beautiful, smooth, youthful face creases with a frown of disapproval.
"I was remembering when I first met you properly. When we first spoke, outside of angry words thrown across a council meeting. Do you remember? You had just insulted a certain dwarf, I believe."
A cloud sweeps across his face, and those immaculate features blend into a look of such sorrow. Instead of cheering him as I wished—as the memories of the past do for me—he is melancholy.
A heavy silence descends upon us then. It weighs upon me, daring me to break it, suffocating any grain of joy the memory may have bought me.
I do not know how to begin and in the end—just as it feels almost unbearable—he breaks it for me.
"I cannot do this, Aragorn!" he cries. "It is too much you ask of me. I have followed you all these years. I have done all I can to support you, but I cannot do this."
"You can." I lay a hand upon his arm to calm him as I speak. "You can do this. It is time to let go, Legolas. It is the right time."
He flinches at my touch and pulls his arm away as if the very feel of my well-worn skin upon his, that is so silky smooth, gives him pain.
"It will never be the right time! It does not have to be now, Aragorn. It does not have to be now."
This is not the first time we have discussed this. We have gone over and over this during the last few days. But, as patient as I am and as hard as I try to make him understand, he will not hear me. And he does not hear me now.
"I am tired, Legolas, and I do not want to stay any longer."
"There are people who love you here!"
He speaks of himself, and truly he is the one I worry for most when I go. Arwen will follow me. Our separation will be but a brief one. My son, my glorious son, is a man now. He will be a fine King. My people are safe in his hands and he is ready for the challenges that lay ahead of him. My daughters are safe and happy, wed to good men who cherish them.
I have many friends who have gone ahead of me into this unknown . . . Faramir, Eomer . . . The possibility of reunion with them all awaits me . . . And perhaps I will see my own father? The thought of that, too, gives me a thrill.
But Legolas will be left behind, bewildered, uncomprehending and grieving—he cannot understand my need to move on. His life stretches out ahead of him—forever—unchanged. How can he possibly grasp this most final part of my mortality?
"You are tired also, Legolas," I try again. "You have struggled to stay with me for so long. I know the sea is irresistible to you now. I know it is all you can hear—I see it on your face, day in, day out. You should not be here, and I will set you free."
"I do not ask to be freed. I do not want it!"
"There are those you love waiting for you on the other side," I say gently in the face of his belligerence. There is a life of joy for you there if you will only take it. This is the right thing, Legolas, and you will survive this. Trust me."
But his mouth is set in a firm line of resistance and I wonder, not for the first time, why. Why does he so stubbornly refuse to seek those I know he loves?
"I have trusted you with my life," he says, and it is true. "I have trusted you when I would trust no other. Right to the very Gates of Mordor I have followed you and believed in you, but I cannot trust you in this."
He is right for he has been my most faithful friend, and I have always known wherever I might go he would have my back. But he cannot follow me now, and it tears us apart.
"You need to sail." How many times have I told him this in these last few years? It seems innumerable, but as much as I pressurise, he resists.
"I do not want to!" It is an explosive denial and he glares at me, daring me to reply with the arguments he has heard so many times before.
I have spent hours—days—pleading with him to leave us. I cannot bear to watch another day as he struggles to remain, despite the gulls that call him so loudly. He suffers . . . It is my fault . . . And I will let it continue no longer. And so I decided, if I cannot get him to go then I will be the one to leave him.
One of us must end this for Legolas' sake. He will not go and so . . . It seems that one is fated to be me.
When I am gone there will be nothing to hold him here . . . He will be free to sail on the waves, free to rediscover the Legolas I once knew, free to live. Gimli will get him there, I know, for he has promised me. He will do everything possible to ensure this stubborn elf head across the sea when I am gone.
Legolas' words cut across my thoughts. "You should not be here, Aragorn. If you are set on this, and I know now I cannot change your mind, your family waits for you. You should be with them tonight of all nights, not sitting here with me."
He is right, they do wait for me and I do want to be with them, but they understand why I am here, with him.
"Come with me." I stand then, with more purpose than I feel, and hold out a hand. "Come with me now."
With all my heart I want him to take that hand I offer him, to clasp it in friendship one last time and follow me to the safety of the many here who worry for him.
"You need to be with your family, Aragorn, and I am not that."
"You are my brother." I say it softly and he knows it is true. "Come, Legolas. We will go to my study and have supper together one last time. Gimli can smoke his pipeweed and we will share memories to warm our hearts on this cold night."
"I do not want memories!" He slaps down my offer with a cutting aggression which makes me flinch. His voice echoing its grief around the glade. "I am crushed by the weight of them. They do me no good! Do you not understand? Memories bring me pain."
I do not understand for memories to me are as rays of sunlight on a dreary day.
"Want do you want then?" I ask softly, for if there is something I can do to help him I will do it.
For a the briefest of seconds a smile flits across his face. It is fleeting, so very nearly not there at all but in those few seconds I glimpse it he is transformed. His light spills out to warm me.
"I want to ride with you on the Pelennor, the wind in our hair as we evade your guards; I want to run across the fields of Rohan, evil snapping at our heels as we search for our friends. You, Gimli and I, the Three Hunters. I want that, Aragorn."
"Ah, Legolas," I place my hand softly on his shoulder with sad regret for I yearn for those days, those memories, as much as he. "I cannot give you that. I am that man no longer. I have become too old for Orc-chasing."
"And I am still the same," he says sadly.
And there is our problem.
He will not come with me into the warmth of my family who love him, but neither can I leave him here all alone.
"I will send Gimli," I say, " if you insist on staying here. I will tell him you did not mean whatever it was you said to make him leave you, for I know you did not."
I know too that Gimli would only have left him here because he thought, at the time, it was better for Legolas. He will be back soon enough in any case, whether I call him or not. He will not stray far from Legolas tonight.
"Yes," he says softly, "I did not mean it. My mouth ran away from me . . . As it does . . ."
Oh, it does. Our friendship has not always been easy. There are many times we have misunderstood one another but still we endure. Still there has been the jewel that is our bond at the centre of our storms which drives us to strive harder, to keep trying to overcome whatever it is that divides us.
I need to tell him. Tomorrow I will be leaving him forever and so perhaps this will be our last time alone. Tomorrow will be all with ritual and pageantry, and there may be no chance for quiet conversation, and then I will be gone . . . I need to let him know how important he has been, although I know he knows it, I still have to say it.
But how? What words do you use to sum up a friendship such as ours? They are all of them lacking,
And I have hardly begun at all when I stumble to a halt.
I have kept my grief at his loss buried deep. I have had to. For while I am sure this is the right decision, right for him and right for me . . . While I am certain in my heart it is time for me to go, if I bought that grief out into the light I would not succeed—I am about to lose him for eternity. After tomorrow, there is no more Legolas for me.
And as I gaze down upon him where he still sits, shoulders slumped in misery—as I search my mind for words worthy enough to describe the love I hold for him—that grief reaches up from its hiding place and strangles me. Suddenly I am awash with it—I drown in it—and my face is wet with tears.
"Legolas, I want to say—" I try again, but I cannot finish. In this, my most important goodbye, I am unable to go on . . .
And he reaches out for me, in the midst of his own distress he comforts me, just as he has always done. My right hand man, my greatest supporter.
"I know, Aragorn," he says, and he touches my calloused hand with his own slender youthful one. "I know what it is you want to say. You do not have to say it. I know it in my heart."
In silence we gaze at each other. I memorise his face, every look, every feature, and lock it away to carry with me wherever I may go. I will hold his beauty and light next to my heart always and I wonder if he does the same?
Tomorrow, Legolas will be still and calm. He will lock this grief away behind his mask, he will stand beside my son, my wife, my family and keep them upright. He will play his part, and no one watching him will know; no-one will see the pain there is written upon his face in this moment. It is for me alone to truly know.
"Tomorrow then," I place a hand upon his shoulder before I go, as I have done so many times before, as if this is a goodnight like any other, but it is not . . . This one is the very last.
"Tomorrow, Aragorn," he replies, his beautiful voice breaking like the shattering of glass as he says it, for he knows it too. Tomorrow is all that is left to us.
I miss him already. I miss him with all my heart, but I have been missing him for years now. Not the Legolas who sits before me, tired, weary and exhausted from years of resisting the call of the sea. Oh no, it is the bright, mischievious Legolas I miss. The Legolas who ran ahead of us across the snow as if he had not a care in the world, laughing at us as he went; the Legolas who arrived in Imladris all those years ago, wide-eyed, young and naive. . . That flighty, volatile, mercurial Legolas with his sense of fun.
I lost that Legolas years ago.
And so now I let my friend go. I give him room to leave and find that old Legolas again, somewhere over the sea.
I give him the greatest gift I have to give.
I walk away.