11. The Sky Sprinkled With Diamonds

Inglor, who had an eye for predicting the weather, came to Thranduil one day when the trees were budding and new green shoots were springing from the ground. "The time has come, my Lord," he said. "I think that we will see seven, perhaps ten days of fair weather. If the settlers wish to reach Ithilien before high summer comes, they should start their journey soon."

Thranduil's stomach jolted, but he managed to remain outwardly calm, and even smiled. "Thank you, Inglor," he said, surprised to hear his own voice coming out so evenly. "I will inform Legolas immediately."

"He is at the target range right now," Inglor replied. "I will send him in directly."

Legolas arrived in short order, stripping off his gloves as he entered the Great Hall. "Greetings, Ada," he said. "Inglor said that you wished to speak with me."

Thranduil nodded. "He has decided that the weather will hold for several days. If you are going to begin your journey this year, you must begin it very soon."

For a moment, Legolas stood still, considering information that seemed to have come as a surprise to him. Then a broad smile lit his face. "That is wonderful news, Ada!" he cried. "I will spread the word immediately. We will depart three days from now." He threw his arms around Thranduil, and Thranduil held him tightly, suddenly unable to make his arms release his son.

"Three days," he murmured. "If that is all the time that I have left with you, then let us make the most of it."

The settlers did not have many things to take with them to Ithilien, so they were able to pack quickly and with little fuss. Friends and relatives agreed to care for the tree houses left behind until there should be new families in need of places to live. The major part of the settlers' work involved loading wagons with dried and wrapped meat, fruit, and waybread, plants, building materials, and tools. Legolas placed his sprouting apple seedlings in the wagons, but he was not the only one who had nurtured plants over the winter. Arasiel looked at the array of pots in one wagon and laughed.

"One would hardly think that we are going to a place that already blooms with fruit and flowers," she said. "We will bring with us enough seedlings to make a desert grow green again."

"How would you know?" Neldorín teased her. "You have never seen a desert."

"For that," she answered, "you may finish packing our household. And do not forget Faron's new tin cup. It would hardly do to lose such a beautiful gift, and from a Dwarf, no less."

Neldorín snorted. "If I were to lose that cup, Faron would cry piteously enough to break both our hearts, Dwarf gift or no Dwarf gift. I will pack it with the utmost care."

Nearby, Thônion tied his and Saelind's clothes into bundles that a horse could carry. Merilin did the same with her clothes and Doronrîn's. Beleghir and Tinwen rolled bedding.

"Are you sure that you will not change your mind and come with us?" Saelind asked her brother. "I am sure that the King would allow it, even now."

Beleghir shook his head. "No. Tinwen has already moved far away from one home. I would not tear her away just as she has become accustomed to this one."

Saelind sighed and turned to Tinwen. "It is a shame. I have barely begun to get to know you as a sister."

"We may still write to each other," Tinwen replied. "And there has been so much discussion of establishing regular trade routes between Eryn Lasgalen and Ithilien. Surely we will be able to visit each other."

"And we will all return for the wedding," Doronrîn declared. She had regained much of her old spark and vigor since she had made her decision to leave Eryn Lasgalen. Several young couples had approached Doronrîn independently to tell her how glad they were that the settlement's most experienced midwife would be coming to Ithilien with them. Doronrîn's eyes sparkled when she thought of the babies that she would welcome into the new settlement. Both Saelind and Beleghir rejoiced to see their mother returning to life again. All the fuss of packing and the dismay at their impending separation seemed unimportant when they saw Doronrîn's newfound pleasure in life.

Legolas dreamed of the sea that night, and his cries once again brought Thranduil hurrying to his chamber. Although Legolas had not had nearly as many nightmares since he had made the decision to leave Eryn Lasgalen, the ones that he did have were as severe as ever. Thranduil held Legolas and sang to him, but something troubled his heart beyond the immediate sight of his son in distress. "Who will care for you when these dreams come to you on your journey, or in Ithilien?" he asked.

"My dreams are not so terrifying when I travel," Legolas replied sleepily. "The Road has its own dangers that are real enough without the need for nightmares."

"That is a fine way to reassure your worried Ada. And what of Ithilien? It is so close to the Sea, perhaps the dreams will worsen."

"Hmm." Legolas's head lolled against Thranduil's arm. "Perhaps I will ask Aragorn or Gimli to travel down the Anduin with me. I will behold the Sea myself and learn to swim in it. Perhaps then I will not fear it so much."

Thranduil could only nod in vague agreement. On the surface, it was a sensible idea. But it stirred up a deeper fear in Thranduil's heart. If Legolas traveled to the shore, perhaps the sea-longing would strengthen its grip on him, and it would compel him to leave Middle-earth then and there. Thranduil wished that he could share this worry with Legolas, but now was not the proper time. "Do not swim so far that you drown," he whispered.

"No." Legolas's answer was so soft that Thranduil could barely hear him. "I will not leave you without a farewell, Ada. Never."

"I am glad of that. Sleep well, little mouse." Thranduil rose and drew the blankets over Legolas, tucking them around his shoulders against the lingering chill of the night. He paused, aware that he might never again have the chance to tuck his son into bed. But that was only to be expected, he decided. Children grew up; that was the way of things. He smiled, remembering a conversation he had had with Celeborn a year earlier.

"One can never stop being a parent," he murmured to himself. Then he kissed Legolas and returned to his bed.

The next day was the last before the settlers were to begin their journey. They spent their time on last-minute details – gathering fresh greens to be eaten during the first days of the journey, wandering one more time among familiar trees, spending time with friends and family who would stay behind. Legolas spent part of the day with Heledir's mother. They drank tea, and he told her some of his plans for the settlement in Ithilien.

"We will claim the territory between Dagorlad and the Morgul Road," he said. "It is not a large territory, but there are not many of us. We will hunt in the woods and fish in the streams, and we will help the trees to hear the song of life once more."

"I am sure that you will succeed," Heledir's mother said. "We will miss you, all of you, but it is a great deed that you are going to do. It will require sacrifice, but it is all the greater for that."

"Will you come with us and share in our great deed?"

Heledir's mother shook her head. "No," she said, "though I thank you for asking me. But Heledir, and my husband . . . their bodies still rest here, and I am reluctant to leave this place where I can remember them. I will plant fresh trees on their graves, and I will be content."

"Give my greetings to Heledir when you do so," Legolas said with a smile. "I will miss you on my journey."

"And I will miss you. But I will be glad of the opportunity you have to help set things right in this marred world."

Thranduil spent much of the day with Luindil writing out carefully worded letters of greeting to the new Kings of Gondor and Rohan and to Prince Faramir of Ithilien. He took special care with his letter to King Elessar, for he was not certain how much territory Elessar would claim as part of the reunion of Gondor and Arnor. Thranduil's own maps showed that ancient Arnor had stretched west from the Misty Mountains to the Sea, but he wanted to make sure that Elessar shared his understanding. The last thing that the world needed now was a territory dispute between Elves and Men.

He also included a request that Elessar describe the territorial status of Legolas's settlement in his own words. According to Legolas, Elessar was fully prepared to grant such a colony independence from Gondor's rule, and Gimli had reported that Éomer King would do the same for the Dwarvish colony in Aglarond. "Neither Aragorn nor Éomer are fools," Legolas had said. "They are Kings of Men, and they understand the limits of that power. They would not dream of attempting to rule over Elves or Dwarves."

That was fine, as far as it went. Legolas knew Elessar much better than Thranduil did, and Thranduil's brief impression of the Man had been that he was intelligent and had a proper understanding of authority. However, Thranduil had also been acquainted with Isildur, Elessar's ancestor, and he knew that Men were far less constant than Elves. Where a personal promise would have been enough to secure a pact between two Elvish rulers, Thranduil wanted his contracts with Men written down and preserved.

He and Luindil labored long over that particular passage. The phrasing of formal diplomacy had never been among Thranduil's talents, and it was even more vital than normal now, when there would be no chance of communicating information of such importance in person. Thranduil described what he wanted to say in his usual blunt terms, and Luindil reworked his words with great care to set them in elegant, formal language. Finally, Luindil sat back and read the letter to Elessar out loud.

"It is good," Thranduil said when Luindil finished. "The style is courtly, as befits a newly returned King, and yet I can still recognize my points beneath the politics and the fripperies. We will send that to Gondor along with Legolas."

"Excellent," Luindil replied. "And now, I suggest that we stop working. Outside, the sun is beginning to set for the last evening that Legolas will be in this forest. I know that you wish to spend this evening with him."

Thranduil nodded. "I do. I asked Galion to prepare a special dinner this evening to celebrate our farewell. Will you join us at table tonight? I think it would mean a great deal to Legolas if you were there as well."

A slow smile spread over Luindil's face. "I am honored, King Thranduil," he said softly. "Of course, I will dine with you tonight, if you wish it."

"Good. Then let us go together and collect the child."

Luindil laughed at that. "He is no longer a child, King Thranduil. He leaves this forest fully grown, one of the Nine Walkers, and soon to be a Lord in his own right."

"That is true," Thranduil said. "And that is what the rest of the world will see when they look upon him. But here, deep in my heart, he will always be the little child whose hands I held as he learned to toddle in the Great Hall."

The woods were unusually quiet that night. No Elves sang or made merry in the trees, for most of them had gone to bed early. The settlers would leave before dawn, and most of the remaining Elves would also wake then to see them off.

They assembled at the edge of the forest in the grey twilight just before dawn. The sleepy horses stamped and blew. Parents and children bade each other farewell, and grandparents cuddled babies for the last time. Celebwen exchanged small wooden charms with her friends, tokens of friendship and farewell. Saelind and Beleghir embraced tightly, and then Doronrîn kissed her son farewell. "Do not worry about me," she said. "I have made my choice, and I have chosen the new life that awaits me in Ithilien. I look forward to my future with an open heart. You and Tinwen should do the same."

Beleghir smiled through his tears. "Yes, Nana."

At the edge of the gathering, Legolas stood with his father and Luindil. Luindil embraced him first. "Farewell, little one," he said. "I will miss you."

"What will you do with yourself, now that you will not need to correct my behavior?" Legolas asked mischievously.

"I will correct your father's, of course," Luindil answered, and both Thranduil and Legolas laughed. Then Thranduil took Legolas into his arms and held him for a long time.

"You will make the House of Oropher proud," Thranduil said, in a suspiciously husky voice. "Ithilien will bloom again and become the fairest garden in the world under your stewardship. But do not forget that you will always have a home here. I will welcome you with joy whenever you wish to return."

"You do not seem so troubled as the last time we parted, Ada," Legolas said. "But this time, I am moving away permanently."

"But you are doing so under very different circumstances," Thranduil pointed out. "The last time we parted, it was under a cloud of pain and shadow. Now, you are leaving with joy and hope in your heart, and that makes all the difference in the world."

"I will miss you, Ada."

"You will have many wonderful new adventures in the south. One day, I look forward to sitting with you on the shores of Aman and hearing you tell me all about them."

Legolas raised an eyebrow at that remark. "On the shores of Aman? You cannot be thinking of leaving Middle-earth, Ada."

Thranduil laughed. "Not for many years, perhaps centuries. But eventually, I think I will go. Perhaps I will sail with you, or perhaps I will linger behind for a while. I do not know. But whatever I choose, it will not be for a long time."

"Good," Legolas said. "I would not wish to return to Eryn Lasgalen for a visit and find that you had left."

"That will not happen," Thranduil assured him. "But the sun is rising. If anyone is leaving, it should be you."

"Farewell, Ada."

"Farewell, my little mouse."

With that, Legolas turned and mounted his horse. The other settlers, seeing this, said their last farewells and prepared to depart. Thranduil climbed on a box and surveyed the assembled crowd.

"Go with words of peace and blessing upon you," he told them. "May your road be straight and safe, and may it lead you in the end to the fulfillment of your hearts' desires. As much as you intend to heal the land to which you travel, do not forget to allow it to heal you as well. Every one of you seeks something in that new land that you lack here. Do not be afraid to find what you seek, and accept the joy from it. Go now in peace, and know that you will always be welcome whenever you should choose to return."

The settlers, who numbered a third of the Wood-elves' total numbers, cheered. Legolas looked back, checking one last time to ensure that everyone was ready. Then, he urged his horse forward, and the company moved out. The remaining Elves stood by the road and watched them go, and they remained standing for a long time, until the last of the settlers had vanished from sight.

After a few moments, Thranduil turned and looked for Luindil and Inglor. "Let us return to the delvings," he said. "We must begin to discuss how we will rotate the patrols so that all may have time to plant their spring gardens." So the Elves dispersed and returned to the settlement.

The caravan of settlers from Eryn Lasgalen marched steadily forward. A stiff breeze blew, but the day was clear and sunny. They sang as they went, or chattered amongst themselves in small groups. By nightfall, they had reached the southern tip of the Long Lake, and they camped there for the night, fishing and gathering greens from the lakeshore so as to stretch their supply of traveling food.

They set out again early in the morning, traveling south along the Celduin and taking advantage of the supply of fresh-running water. Towards evening, they skirted the base of the Mountains of Mirkwood and camped beneath the trees. The third day of travel brought them out of the forest again. They followed its edge to guide them south, as they would do for many days after that.

Towards noon of the third day, the Elvish settlers noticed a cloud of dust on the horizon. Legolas, traveling at the front of the caravan, increased their speed, and they soon caught up to another group of travelers. These were Dwarves from Erebor, riding on ponies. Gimli himself led their company.

Neldorín and Arasiel had been riding with Legolas, switching Faron back and forth between their horses. At the moment, Faron was riding with Arasiel. When he saw the Dwarves, he began to twist and squirm in his mother's arms. "Dwarves!" he cried. "Look, Nana, Dwarves! Look, Ada!"

"Yes, little one," Arasiel said. "They are Dwarves, and they are traveling south to live just as we are doing."

Gesturing for the others to stay behind, Legolas galloped ahead to the head of the Dwarves' column. "Hi, Gimli!" he called.

Gimli turned, and then reined his pony to a halt. The rest of the Dwarves stopped as well and stared as the Elves rode up beside them. Legolas looked back and signaled to Neldorín and Arasiel, and they advanced to his side.

"Well met, my friend!" Gimli was saying. "So the time has come for both of us to keep our promises to Aragorn."

"Indeed it has," Legolas replied. "We will be traveling the same road for many days. Would your folk object if we kept our companies in sight?"

"I do not think so," Gimli said. "These are Dwarves who have agreed to live inside a realm of Men. They are quite open to new experiences. May I assume the same about your folk?"

Legolas smiled. "To some extent. I do not propose that we mingle the companies too soon, unless all are willing."

"Agreed."

Faron could keep still no longer. He leaned over as far as Arasiel's grip on his body would allow and pointed. "Gimli!" he cried happily.

Gimli's face split in a broad grin. "Well, well, well! Who do we have here? If it is not my little friend Faron, son of Neldorín!" He maneuvered his pony close to Arasiel's horse so that Faron could lean down and rub noses with him. "Oof!" he cried, as Faron's hands inevitably found their way into his beard.

Arasiel disentangled her son from the Dwarf and nodded politely to Gimli, who removed his hood grandly. Neldorín smiled his approval of this courtesy to his lady and child.

The Elves and the Dwarves rode side by side for the rest of the day, and made camp near each other that evening. That night, although they were weary from much traveling, few of the Elves could sleep. Instead, they stood together in the open grassland and looked up into the sky, entranced by the unbroken view of the stars.

"It is a good sign for our journey," Legolas told Gimli. "Elbereth herself lights our way."

"I had always thought that it was Aulë, sprinkling diamonds to guide the Dwarves along the road to their final destination," Gimli shot back.

Legolas grinned. "Perhaps Elves may follow a diamond path as well, Gimli Elf-friend."

"Why not? A new Age is dawning, and many strange things will come to pass in these latter days."

So they sat together under the stars and spoke for a long time, sharing their dreams of the future. As always, they would press forward again with the dawn, allowing its light to lead them forward to the lands that awaited them.

END

Afterword

Many thanks to everyone who has read and enjoyed this story. For me, it was primarily a gap-filler, a way to explore how and why the Elves I've placed in Ithilien after the War got there. Along the way, many more issues crept in.

I think that the idea to have Legolas dance in the Masque came from a comment that JastaElf left on one of my earlier stories. It rattled around in my brain for a while and finally came out here. So, thank you to Jasta for that wonderful thought. For other aspects of the story, I drew on some of my own experiences moving a thousand miles away from home after graduating from college. It was a thrilling experience, but not without its scary moments.

So, thanks for coming along on what I used to think of as the "Elves with PTSD story." I'll see you later!