Disclaimer: LOTR belongs to the creative genius of JRR Tolkien, not me.
Chapter 35 A Final Farewell
Gradually the graceful form of a small swan ship came into being in the haven in the now deserted Ithilien, and as he admired the elegant craft designed by Círdan, Legolas silently thanked Thranduil for the months he and Tathar had been forced to spend learning something of boat building from the River Elves. He marvelled that what had been a punishment so long ago was now a boon, and he wondered if the Valar had played a part in his destiny, just as they had in Gimli's. Gwael's assurance that the Dwarf was expected in Valinor still amazed him, and he laughed merrily as he recalled the utter astonishment on Thranduil's face when he had been informed of the news.
"You must have been dreaming, Legolas! None other than Elves are permitted to walk on the shores of the Blessed Realm," Thranduil had stated, convinced he was right although he was no lore master.
"I also thought it was a dream at first, borne of my grief on feeling Aragorn's passing, but Gwael was so insistent that I dare not refuse to do as he says. I am still bound in friendship to Gimli and I cannot describe the joy and the weight that is lifted from my heart knowing he will be sailing with me. My control is all but gone now and if I do not leave soon, I will surely fade."
"Ai, I see that unhappiness fills your spirit and dulls the shine of your eyes," admitted Thranduil as he held his arms out, offering his son an affectionate embrace. Legolas moved unhesitatingly into the strong arms, and rested his head on Thranduil's chest the better to hear the beat of his Adar's heart.
"Yet there is one thing that would still give me joy," he said as he stood back and gazed into eyes that were a mirror of his own. Thranduil instinctively knew what his son would ask and allowed him to voice the words even though his reply would be painful for Legolas to hear.
"Please come with me," implored Legolas as he took his Adar's hands and kissed them as he had done as a child. Thranduil had never before been able to resist such a desperate plea, but Legolas was no longer a child and would have to accept refusal.
"I am so desperately sorry that I can not sail with you, Legolas. I have ties that bind me here, just as strongly as those you had and I am not ready, nor able to leave just yet. Please understand that it breaks my heart to deny you, but know that I will miss you, and will yearn to be reunited with you and my beloved Elisiel in years to come."
"I do understand, Adar, but I had to ask, Nana would never have forgiven me had I not," he said with a hint of amusement.
"Ai, it would not do for you to land on Valinor's shores only to face your Nana's wrath," he agreed. "But I would be wary of her nonetheless my son, for you know how she likes to match make. Elisiel has had plenty of time to prepare a list of elf maidens she deems suitable for marriage." Legolas could not help but nod his agreement and groan with displeasure at that prospect.
"Perhaps I should reconsider, and let Gimli sail on his own," he said with mock seriousness. Both Adar and son laughed at the jest that served to relive the emotional strain and allowed them to enjoy their last days together in their normal easy going manner.
Legolas was so lost in the memory of their bittersweet parting that he did not hear Gimli's approach, and started when the Dwarf shouted his name. His friend had just returned from saying his final farewells to his kin in Aglarond and now both were free to leave.
"Where have you been, Legolas? I have never seen you sleep while standing before," teased Gimli.
"I was not sleeping, but I can do so whilst standing if I wish," retorted Legolas.
"Then you were simply ignoring me, I have been trying to attract your attention for several minutes," grumbled the Dwarf.
"Nay, I was not ignoring you, I was thinking and did not hear you approach!"
"You will never live that admission down, Elf! I can hardly wait to tell Tathar, 'did not hear me approach' indeed!" Gimli chuckled wickedly. Legolas sighed but accepted the barb with good humour.
"Then the sooner we finish the ship, the sooner you can see to my embarrassment," he reminded his friend.
Finally the work was complete, and in the twilight hour, the grey ship bearing the Dwarf and the last Elf from Ithilien sailed gracefully towards the Straight Road, lead by a flock of gulls. None noted their passing or the lone white gull who cried a joyous farewell as he circled the ship once, then winged his way north to comfort the King of Eryn Lasgalen.
A melancholy silence shrouded the two elder Elves as they ceased their wandering and settled beneath the shade of the ancient tree, each lost in their own thoughts yet grateful for the presence of the other. The soft whispering of the rustling leaves that accompanied the vibrant song of the living creatures of the forest had once filled their hearts with joy but was now a bittersweet lament and their eyes met in sorrowful understanding as they mourned for that which had faded. Their love for Arda had diminished even as had the light of those few Elves who refused the call to travel home. Both realised that their time in Middle-earth was at an end, and although it had been hard to watch their loved ones leave over the years, neither had regretted the decision to stay.
"Do you not find it surprising that Ithilien remains green and vibrant even though Legolas and the others have long since left these shores?" Thranduil asked his companion.
"Nay, the forest and the kingdom of which it is part are symbols of the birth of the Age of Men, and upon reflection I suspect the Valar always intended Legolas to be the one to restore it," Celeborn replied, nodding his head as if he was agreeing with his own thoughts.
"At the beginning of the Quest, Elrond hinted at a greater plan than even he could see, so perhaps you have the right of it, but what of us? Are we to remain here and fade, even as Lothlórien and Greenwood do, or will we also return home, leaving Ithilien as our legacy?" asked Thranduil, broaching the subject that they spoke of most often of late and had yet to resolve.
"We both feel the fading of the strong ties that bound us to this land and the forests we love, that is why I willingly left East Lórien to live in Imladris with my grandsons. I do not miss the trees as much as I imagined I would, and except for you, none of my kin or loved ones remain. Elladan and Elrohir have left for the Havens and I find my heart increasingly yearns for the warmth of my Lady's arms, and the loving smiles of my family and friends."
"You are lonely, mellon nin, as am I."
It was the first time Thranduil had admitted how he really felt even to himself and with the simple words came the realisation that he had finally decided to answer the call to come home. Celeborn easily sensed the meaning behind them as well.
"I came to tell you that I have made my choice and thus to bid you farewell, but I see I should be asking you to sail with me. Will you?" Celeborn was surprised to see Thranduil slowly nod his head.
"Ai, there are no longer any ties to keep me here."
"I would never have believed that you would leave Eryn Lasgalen!" Thranduil laughed softly at the astonishment on his friend's face.
"Celeborn, for almost three millennia I watched my realm fall to darkness although my brave warriors fought desperately to keep it at bay. Once the Ring was destroyed, returning the forest to its former glory was our victory celebration and I have spent long years delighting in every moment, in every new leaf that grows, in every small creature that has returned to live among the trees. It fills my heart with joy that those who wish never to leave can now dance with carefree abandon under the stars, or roam through the woods, singing and laughing without fear of attack. However, for all the happiness I find in that achievement, there is still emptiness in my spirit that can only be filled by the living presence of the ones I love. I too, need to feel my Lady's arms once more, to hold her as we see the brilliant smile of the child of our love. Ai, I will sail home with you."
The last note of song fades and dies on the breeze,
Such sweet voices will be heard no more.
A soft sigh of sadness rustles the leaves;
The starlight ones have sailed from this shore.