3: Ab 'Urth: Being Dead Is Hard Work
Legolas felt nothing at first, but somehow the sight of himself impaled on that stupid branch reminded him that he should be feeling something. He managed to gasp out a few words of protest at the pain he was just now experiencing before all went dark, though not silent.
It was a summons that he found he could not ignore, seemingly emanating from his very fëa. Then, he was no longer hanging off a tree below the southern pass of the Ephel Dúath but was now standing before a set of mithril and gold doors that opened silently at his approach. He felt no fear, only curiosity as he stepped across the threshold. Two steps in the doors closed silently behind him and he was in near darkness. There was a dim light that was everywhere and nowhere and the oddness of it all began to impinge on his consciousness. That's when fear began to outweigh the curiosity and he turned back towards the doors only to discover that there weren't any, only a blank wall. He was staring at the wall rather stupidly when someone spoke from behind him.
"Ah, Thranduilion, so nice of you to drop in. I was sure I was going to have an argument on my hands trying to reel you in."
The Voice was almost jovial in tone, though there was an underlying sense of darkness to it that made Legolas not only shiver but actually cringe as he came to several disturbing conclusions. He slowly turned, wishing he had his bow and white-hilted knives but a quick glance showed him that none of his weapons had followed him to... well, wherever this was.
"Now, Legolas, you know perfectly well where you are," the Voice chided.
And when Legolas looked upon the Person who had spoken he knew full well where he was. Before him was one who appeared to be an Elf, but his eyes were too old and knowing for him to be one of the Firstborn. He was seated on a throne that oddly enough reminded Legolas of his adar's throne, though there were obvious differences. For one thing, this throne was carved from stone rather than wood. The Person himself was dressed in somber shades of forest green and silver grey that reminded Legolas of his home in Eryn Lasgalen. His dark hair was elf-braided in a pattern unfamiliar to him and crowned with a wreath of balsam mixed with holly and winterberries. That seemed rather out of character for the Lord of Mandos. Legolas must have shown his surprise because Lord Námo actually smiled.
"It is Yule after all, child," the Vala said with a glint of humor in his eyes.
"I'm dead," was all Legolas could manage to say and he wondered at that. Could the dead suffer shock? Perhaps that was what was wrong with him, he was still in shock. He had the feeling he should be on his knees but in truth he had knelt to only one person in his life, and this Person wasn't he.
Námo's expression turned more sympathetic. "Yes, you are, child, and yes, you are in shock, and no, I don't expect you to kneel to me."
Now Legolas just stared at the Vala with his mouth agape. "How..."
"Neither here nor there, Legolas," the Lord of Mandos said dismissively. "Now, let us begin."
Those words were mildly spoken, but the underlying tone and the dark look in the Vala's eyes unnerved Legolas just enough that he found himself slowly backing away. Not that he got very far as there was the annoying matter of a wall right behind him. Then, to his utter horror, he felt himself sliding into a crouching position with his arms around his knees and then he was weeping, though why he thought he should be weeping he did not know. Only... the fact that he was dead, was that not reason enough?
Námo never moved, sitting there with a patience that would have shamed granite, until Legolas' weeping stilled and he stopped rocking himself. "Are you ready, child?" came the soft question and the compassion that he heard in Námo's voice was enough to calm the elf and bring him to a sense of himself. Yes, he was ready. Was he not a prince and a warrior? Had he not faced the minions of the Enemy all these long years of his life? Young he might be in the eyes of his people, yet he was not without wisdom, courage or fortitude. He was dead. Simple as that. Time to move on.
"Indeed," Námo said with a slight grin. "I do have other appointments you know. You're not the only person who's died today."
That sounded so like his adar, well, except for the dead part, but really... Legolas felt himself smiling as he stood up and squared his shoulders. "I am ready, my lord," he said softly with as much dignity as he could muster, remembering that dead though he might be he was still a Prince of Eryn Lasgalen.
Námo nodded approvingly and gestured for Legolas to step closer to the throne, which he did with just the slightest hesitation. "So tell me, Thranduilion," Námo asked with a faint smile on his lips, "whatever were you thinking, getting yourself impaled on a tree branch of all things?"
Legolas felt himself stiffen at the implied insult and then felt himself going red in embarrassment. "It's not something I planned, lord," he replied.
"No," Námo agreed, "the manner of one's death usually isn't something one plans in advance. I'm sure your adar will not find it as amusing as I do, though."
"M-my adar?" Legolas gave the Lord of Mandos a quizzical look, not sure where this was going. He hoped his adar would be upset that he died, not in the manner of his death, embarrassing as it was. Maybe Aragorn would... er... shade the truth a bit for his friend's sake. He sighed.
Námo meanwhile was studying the young elf before him. He saw one who had much potential to lead the way in the distant future to help bridge the gap between the Firstborn and their estranged brethren among the Secondborn. Even now, that estrangement was widening in spite of Aragorn and Arwen. Once those two were dead the estrangement would continue until future generations of humans would scoff at the existence of any rational species but their own. Legolas Thranduilion was poised to help heal that rift however this all turned out.
"Do you blame Aragorn for being here?"
The question caught Legolas off-guard and it took him a moment to register what was being asked him. "Blame? Why would I blame him for my own stupidity?"
"Well, it's a legitimate question, child," the Vala replied reasonably. "Most people are quick to blame others for getting killed. I needed to know what your feelings towards your own death were. All part of the process, you see."
"Not really," Legolas said with a shake of his head.
"Well, neither here nor there," Námo admitted. "Now, my next question is..."
"Er.. excuse me," Legolas interjected somewhat hesitantly.
"Yes?" Námo's expression was totally unreadable to the elf.
"It's just that... um... are you sure this is how a... er... Judgment is supposed to go?"
For a very long moment there was a very pregnant silence. Finally, the Lord of Mandos spoke, his voice like silk over iron. "Well, every Judgment is different, as unique as the individual undergoing it," Námo conceded. "Is there something about this particular Judgment that doesn't meet with your approval?"
Now Legolas was totally at a loss. He stared at the Lord of Mandos feeling suddenly lightheaded. He had to swallow a couple of times before he could answer. "It's just that I... well, I thought it would be more... er... terrifying."
"Ah..." Námo said, something dark glittering behind his eyes that made Legolas wish he had never opened his mouth. Why was he complaining about his Judgment? As these things went, his adar's interrogations whenever he had committed some minor offense as an elfling were more frightening than this. "Child," the Vala said softly, "you have not yet begun to appreciate the terror you are about to experience."
He gestured and Legolas was suddenly kneeling before the Doomsman's throne, his head held firmly between Námo's hands. The Lord of Mandos looked down at him and the sadness mingled with compassion that Legolas saw in his eyes made him gasp and then he suddenly knew what true terror was when Námo bent down and kissed him on the forehead with the gentleness of a lover. He stiffened, his eyes going wide as suddenly doors in his mind he never knew existed opened and his entire life lay before him — all of it.
He thought he screamed then, but was never sure afterwards. He stopped seeing anything but what his mind showed him, his mind and Lord Námo, for the Vala was ever there beside him, guiding him, questioning him, and the questions were absolutely brutal in their clarity and his answers were perforce equally brutal in their simplicity and truthfulness. He thought he started weeping at one point and even struggled out of Námo's hold when a particularly vicious memory concerning betrayal and loss reared it's ugly head and he found himself cowering against the throne, clutching at Námo's feet as if to an anchor. Námo said nothing, merely reaching down and placing a hand gently on the elf's head, lending him his strength to get through this worst memory, a memory Legolas had studiously forgotten for several centuries.
Eventually, the final memory, the one detailing his last moments in Life, passed before him and then there was nothing. He opened eyes he never knew he had closed to find himself huddled at Námo's feet like some favorite hound and slowly, achingly, he rose to a sitting position. He felt weak, wrung out, and his thoughts now were hard to pin down. He also found it hard to focus on anything for very long. He felt, rather than saw, Námo rise from his throne and he forced himself to look up. Námo had stepped away and was now looking down at him, his expression again unreadable.
"Was that terrifying enough for you, Thranduilion?" he asked dispassionately and Legolas could only nod. That of course was a mistake because suddenly everything started to spin. He moaned as he slid sideways, barely registering the fact that the Lord of Mandos had stooped down and lifted him gently into his arms.
"I think it's time for you to rest," Námo said, and Legolas felt himself being lowered upon a couch that had not been there before. Soon a light blanket was being pulled over him and he resisted a yawn. "You've had a rather busy day of it," Námo said as he knelt beside the couch and brushed a hand through Legolas' hair. Námo smiled encouragingly at him and Legolas felt warm and comforted as he felt himself drifting. "Sleep now, child, and when you awaken all will be different," Námo murmured. Legolas gave another yawn and snuggled further into the blanket and closed his eyes. "Yes," the Vala whispered as he leaned over and kissed the ellon softly on the cheek, "all will be different indeed..."
Legolas came to himself to find that he was lying on the floor of the solar. His head was in Arwen's lap and a blanket had been thrown over his body. Arwen was softly brushing a hand through his hair. He looked up at her and she smiled. "Welcome back, mellon nîn," she whispered.
He attempted to move then but someone pushed him back down and he saw that Glorfindel was kneeling beside him. "You are well, child?" he asked solicitously.
The Silvan prince wasn't sure how to answer that just yet. He allowed his eyes to roam and saw that both Aragorn and Faramir were sitting on the windowseat, their expressions ones of concern mingled with relief. Éowyn, he noticed was nowhere in sight but then he felt someone kneeling at his head and rolling his eyes he saw the Princess of Ithilien handing Glorfindel a goblet.
"Arwen and I will hold him up," she was saying to the elf, "while you give him some wine."
Glorfindel nodded and in seconds Legolas felt himself being raised far enough that he could accept the goblet, welcoming the wine warming both his hröa and fëa. He noticed that his throat felt raw when he swallowed and wondered if he'd been screaming. When he had had his fill, they laid him back. Glorfindel gave him a penetrating look. "What do you remember?" he asked and Legolas was surprised at the directness of the question, but answered just as directly.
"Everything," he said, "my entire life. I remember it all."
Glorfindel raised an eyebrow. "Hmm... interesting."
"What? What's interesting?" Legolas demanded as he attempted to sit up. This time no one stopped him and with a little help from the others he found himself sitting in a chair beside the grate, welcoming the warmth of the fire even as he had welcomed the wine.
Glorfindel took the chair next to him. "Remembering one's Judgment rarely involves remembering one's entire life," he explained. "That is something that happens over time and I think some memories never resurface for some reason. But you are a rather unique case, my friend," he added with a smile. "I think remembering your Judgment was meant to be the key to unlocking the rest of your memories."
Legolas studied his friends, seeing the love and concern in their eyes, and found he had to look away. For a while no one spoke, the others willing to wait for Legolas to speak first. "It was... terrifying," he finally admitted in a whisper.
"Yes, I imagine it was," Glorfindel conceded with a knowing smile. "Judgment usually is, though I suspect yours wasn't quite as painful as mine, not being a rebel Noldo."
"Painful enough, I assure you," Legolas said with some heat.
"But now it's over," Arwen interjected.
But Legolas shook his head. "One thing is missing."
"What is that?" Aragorn asked from the windowseat.
Legolas gave his friend a piercing look. "The truth of how you rescued me."
Aragorn stared at the elf for several minutes before nodding. "When you have rested somewhat from this ordeal, I will tell you about a rather special game of chess that I played with the Lord of Mandos."
Legolas nodded, satisfied, and was about to make another comment to Glorfindel when the door to the solar slammed open and, turning, they all saw Gimli standing there, snow-covered with his favorite axe in his hand. His eyes blazed with frustration and weariness and Legolas wondered if the stupid dwarf had run all the way from Aglarond. Before anyone could utter a word, Gimli strode into the room with a 'Hrumph' and stood belligerently before them.
"Now then, what's this I hear about my elf dying?" he demanded glaring at them all. "He doesn't look dead to me."
"His elf?" Aragorn whispered loudly to Faramir who was grinning widely. "I thought Legolas was my elf."
At that Legolas started laughing, suddenly glad that he was there to be anyone's elf. He caught Glorfindel's eye and the Reborn Balrog-slayer nodded knowingly and soon everyone, except Gimli who was demanding to be let in on the joke, was laughing as well.
Well after midnight, Legolas sat once again in the windowseat of the solar all alone, for everyone else had finally retired. He had promised them, especially Glorfindel and Gimli, that he would not stay up all night, and in truth he was actually looking forward to sleeping in his bed. He was not sleepy yet, and so he stared out the window, looking at the stars shining cold and brilliant in the night sky, thinking about his Judgment and what he had endured . Suppressing a yawn as he drew the red robe around him, he came to the conclusion that being dead was hard work. He would much rather be alive.
That was his last thought as sleep overtook him.
Lord Námo, sitting on his throne from within his Halls, looked out towards Middle-earth and saw Thranduilion nestle further into his robe and smiled. Legolas would come to Aman one day but not by way of Mandos.
"Was his death a mistake, then?" Vairë asked him.
Námo looked at his spouse standing next to him and gave her a smile reserved only for her and she returned that smile with one of her own. He held out his hand and she settled on his lap, idly brushing her fingers through his hair, now bare of wreath or crown. He held her in his embrace, gently stroking her thigh.
"No death is a mistake, my love," he said quietly, "but I knew that Legolas was not meant to remain here in Mandos."
"Rather a unique situation, then," Vairë stated. "I wonder what the purpose was?"
"Perhaps its only purpose was to teach young Thranduilion to watch where he's going," Námo responded with a wicked smile. "Getting skewered by a tree branch... he's never going to live that down, you know."
Vairë laughed lightly. "Poor ellon," she said. "He's such a dear." She reached down and gave her spouse a less than chaste kiss. For a time neither was interested in continuing the conversation, but finally Vairë pulled away just enough to lay her head on Námo's shoulder. "He's going to be so lost when Gimli dies."
"Yes," Námo conceded. "That, of course, cannot be helped, but I think there will be those here in Aman who will help him through the darkness."
Vairë sat up and gazed deeply into her lover's amaranthine eyes. "Including you?" she asked softly.
Námo nodded solemnly. "Including me." Then he smiled again, a smile she had come to recognize as a sign of mischief. "Perhaps I'll challenge him to a game of chess."
Their laughter was loud and long and the denizens of Mandos stopped their play for a while to revel in the joy of it.
All words are Quenya.
Fëa: Soul, spirit.
Note: The chapter title is taken from Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies: The First Elegy:
"...And being dead is hard work
and full of retrieval before one can gradually feel
a trace of eternity..."