Elrond hung back for a while, studying the solitary figure of the elf that sat on virtually the very edge of the world, one leg dangling over the cliff edge and golden hair trailing lazily in the breeze, gazing steadily eastward. He should have known that he would find Legolas in a place like this – that in all of Valinor, the object of his search would find the one place that was almost bleak in its wild solitude in which to hide in plain sight. The soft grass that seemed to cover every other square inch of the island at the edge of the Blessed Lands had thinned to bare rock as it had neared the sea at this spot, as if the foliage knew better than to detract from the majesty of the cliffs that fell to the churning sea far below. The sky above was curtained with pale mist that swirled in the breeze up and away from the spray flying high where rock was pounded eternally by the sea. The roar of the action of waves on rocks was shattered occasionally by the raucous calls of the seagulls that floated far above, riding the thermal air currents up and down as if without effort.
He had been worried about Legolas from the moment he'd heard that the last of the valiant mortals to have been granted the grace to spend their last days on the edge of the Blessed Lands had finally passed beyond the circles of the World. He had long suspected that this latest blow would be more difficult for the elven prince than all that had come before, for Legolas had done what no other of the Eldar had done before him – none other, that is, save he himself to a lesser extent. Legolas had completely given over his care and love into the keeping of mortals, even here in the Undying Lands; and now that Gimli was gone, he faced an Eternity filled with nothing but the unending agony of the loss of those mortals which would threaten his very being unless he could learn to move beyond the grief. The Eldar kept their distance from the Second-born for good reason, and not just a sense of superiority.
Gimli and Legolas, unlikely brothers of the heart as close as any blood siblings, had settled on Tol Eressëa near where Galadriel and some of her folk had decided to make their homes – where an aged Gimli could once more rest his eyes occasionally on the face of the Lady of the Wood who had stolen his heart so long ago. It was close enough to the Elrond's halls to visit occasionally, but far enough away that the time between visits could slip by without note in the Elvish way if care wasn't taken. When word of the death of Gimli had come to him from Galadriel herself, Elrond had sent word back that Legolas would be welcome to take a respite in the recreated Imladris. His message had received no answer, and Legolas hadn't come. Days had become weeks, weeks had become months, and finally a carefully worded plea had come from Legolas' mother that had spurred the healer in Elrond into action. Here, now, he could see the reason behind her concern; and it was nothing less than what he had feared.
Legolas was fading. Elrond could not miss the subtle pall of decline that had settled around the golden archer's shoulders like a heavy cloak. White-knuckled and surprisingly aged-looking hands clutched one knee to Legolas' chest as he stared into the east. His face remained smooth, but had become as stony as the precipice on which he sat. The youthful exuberance and energy that had always made the young ellon glow just a little brighter than his older peers was now nearly extinguished. Elrond knew that if something were not done now to counter the fast-moving fading process, this would likely be his last visit to the son of Thranduil.
He moved forward slowly, neither seeking to hide his approach nor announce it until the soft leather sole of his slipper ground pebbles against the bedrock of the cliff itself. If he hadn't been watching closely, he would have missed the subtle shift in attention as Legolas noted his approach without acknowledging his presence. Legolas didn't speak, didn't beckon him to approach further nor bid him leave, so Elrond continued to walk up to the edge of the cliff. Grateful that he'd abandoned his usual robes in favor of leggings and tunic, he seated himself close by and shifted until he was as comfortable as he could be on a seat of rough stone, his own feet dangling over the edge of the island. Finally, he trained his gaze out across the sea.
"Does it help, do you think?" he asked in a gentle voice that neither approved nor chided Legolas for anything, absently fingering aside a tendril of his long, black hair that the breeze had capriciously wrapped over his nose.
Legolas let the silence that he had worn like a comfortable cloak resettle around him for a bit before answering, his voice brittle from disuse. "Not really," he replied, "but the setting suits my mood of late."
"No doubt." Elrond allowed himself a small nod. "Sometimes," he began again in almost a tone of reminiscing, "it is good to know that one has found such a solitary place that if one wanted to throw oneself from the heights and thereby gain entrance to Mandos' Halls, there would generally be none close enough to object or impede." He felt rather than saw Legolas turn from the eastern horizon for a small moment in surprise before the ellon gave a small nod in response and returned to his previous pose.
The silence grew oppressive before Legolas deigned to speak again. "How do you bear it?" The question was breathless, as if it had escaped before Legolas could rein it in. "How do you bear being torn from those you love best until the world ends?"
Elrond trained his silver eyes on the agonized face of the ellon next to him. "That depends, penneth. Do you speak of those who have gone where we cannot follow until the breaking of the World because that was as Ilúvatar intended, or do you rather speak of those who remain beyond this sea in Arda, beyond our call and yet still capable of rejoining us at any time except for their own stubbornness?"
Legolas glanced at Elrond for an instant, his unsettled mood clearly apparent, but then turned away to stare once more out over the sea. "Does it matter?" he answered, scowling.
"Of course it does," Elrond returned his own gaze to the horizon. "Those who have accepted the Gift of Ilúvatar are lost to us; and yet, we knew the separation was coming and were as prepared for it intellectually, more or less, as were they. But when it comes to the kin that we have left behind in Middle-earth, we have only the hope that they too will eventually come West – that only their stubbornness or reluctance to remove themselves from the land and the Second-born, rather than death itself, keeps us apart. It is not knowing whether they have died or faded since we departed or whether they still live that hurts worst, in my opinion – and unfortunately, in my experience, that is a wound that even Ages in Valinor cannot fully heal."
From the small gasp that escaped Legolas, Elrond knew he had indeed pegged the source of the younger ellon's current agony – and it was as Legolas' mother had feared. Legolas was grieving deeply for his now completely lost mortal friends and comrades – eight mortals who had become as a second set of siblings to him – and then his father's continuing refusal to leave Arda had begun to tear at him the moment he no longer had his mortal friends with him to occupy his thoughts and loyalty. The two pains combined were becoming unbearable, and Legolas' health had begun to suffer as a result. Elrond could only shake his head at the wisdom of a mother to know her son so well despite having actually known him for a relatively short time. He returned his gaze to the sea, all of his other senses straining to detect the slightest response from the ellon beside him.
Again the silence between them grew long. Then: "It seems so strange that in a place that has promised healing of the heart, one can still..."
"Grieve?" Elrond shook his head. "It doesn't matter where one is," he stated with a tone of utter certainty overshadowed with a hint of bitterness. "When it seems that the heart is wounded beyond the repair of even the Valar, there is no easy comfort to be had – even in Paradise. It is Time that is required, more than anything, to soothe grief – although the comfort Time gives will be weak and insufficient to the pain for a great while. Inasmuch as we of the Eldar have more than ample amounts of Time, the promise of eventual healing and peace isn't entirely an empty one. It only requires the patience of the one suffering to bear with the Time involved in learning to live without our lost ones until they join with us once more. For us, Time is both savior and torturer, often for the same reasons, almost always at the same time."
Despite the comfort intended by his words, his last statement was still hard to pronounce. Elrond understood all too well the sharp pain of loss as well as the sense of endless emptiness that followed having lost so utterly, being still far too close to his own grief. Estel and Arwen were beyond the circles of the world; and even now he awaited word that his sons had finally boarded a ship that would bring them back into his care, hoping desperately that they would join him here and not follow their sister into a mortal life and eventual death as well. He didn't even want to think of the aching loss of his twin brother to the call of the Second-born, much less the loss of his King to the Enemy or the loss of his wife to the West before he'd finally sought his own healing across the Sundering Sea. Remaining only a mentor and teacher to numberless generations of his brother's kin that he'd succored, nurtured, groomed and yet had to release to the ravages of Mortality had protected him from those losses over the course of nearly an Age, but they had worn at him nonetheless.
Even now, after almost two hundred years in the Undying Lands, it would be all too easy to slip back into that weariness that had nearly been his undoing during his last days in Middle-earth. He watched Legolas turned his gaze back to the horizon in the east, hoping the echoes of his hard-won experience would sink in soon enough to make a difference to one for whom the pain and emptiness was still a fresh agony.
"I don't regret it, though," Legolas blurted finally, almost defensively.
"Learning to see Time as the mortals do," the younger ellon answered. A thumb and forefinger touched as illustration. "They value each individual moment for the treasure that it is in a life where such things are of an unknown yet finite number. They live such short lives, yet fill those lives with such vivid passion and action that they make…" Legolas' words dropped away, his shoulders drooped, and his hand dropped back into his lap. "Nevermind."
"They make the leisurely life of the Eldar seem almost dull and monotonous by comparison?" Elrond continued the thought easily.
Legolas eyes widened in surprise for a moment before he nodded in agreement and returned his gaze to the sea.
"In some ways, penneth, you're right." Elrond considered his options for a long moment and then very carefully placed a comforting hand on the young archer's shoulder. "And that is what makes it all the more painful now, is it not?"
Legolas pivoted and stared at him as if stung.
Elrond shrugged. "I didn't say anything about whether it was right or wrong, Thranduilion – only that a great part of your pain comes from having spent so much time with mortals and learning to treasure each moment in the manner they do that you have forgotten how to exist as an ellon with the longer stretches of Time given us. Time for you, now, stretches before you in mortal fashion, but in an unfathomable and infinite number of those individual moments essentially made meaningless because those whom you love best either are torn from you until the end of the world or stubbornly refuse to fill the moments with their presence here. Worse, you see no end to that state."
The brilliant blue orbs were swimming with tears. "Yes," he whispered almost inaudibly.
"There is a remedy of sorts," Elrond began and then lifted his hands in a defensive move as Legolas' stare mutated from agony to an incredulity that bordered on derision. "Not a complete cure, mind you, but a way to perhaps re-learn to give the many moments of your life a little more meaning in a more Elven fashion. An antidote to fading, if you will…"
Legolas sniffed and dashed the tears from his eyes and cheeks in an almost angry gesture. "What antidote is that?"
Elrond raised a skeptical eyebrow in a gesture he'd used very effectively on his own sons for millennia to draw forth a reluctant truth. "Are you so certain you want to hear it? The word from those around you who care for you is that you have given up on life – that you are setting yourself up to fade, and quickly too."
"If I fade, I will never see my father again," Legolas stated softly, his tone bleak. "I don't dare."
"In that, you are in grave error, penneth." Elrond shook his head. "You do dare. Already you fade visibly to those of us who know you well."
"My mother," the archer guessed with a sigh of resignation.
"Yes, although I must share in her opinions," Elrond admitted easily, almost relieved that Legolas could see the truth to some extent. Perhaps there was still hope to be had.
Legolas sighed. "What antidote?" he asked again, his voice more steady than at any point in the entire exchange so far.
"You must find a way to do at least one thing you've never ever done before ere each day is finished – and you must tell someone about the experience the next day even as you search for yet another new thing to do. You must do this every day without fail."
Legolas shook his head, snorted and then returned his gaze to the far horizon. "That's your idea of an antidote?"
"When you're as old as I am, penneth, finding something completely new to do each and every day will seem far less of a joke than you might think," Elrond responded seriously. "To continue to do so past the barrier of a week will tax any immortal's creativity. For one as young as you, the task won't seem quite so difficult at first – but it WILL become difficult very quickly, penneth, I promise you. But, if you persist, one day you'll realize that the many moments you've spent searching for and doing something new and different each day haven't been quite as empty or meaningless as you might have thought them to be – or that in the process, you may have found something else in which to find a joy and fulfillment that allows you to let go of the need to treasure each and every moment in mortal fashion." He gazed evenly into the stunned face. "But it will take Time and patience to accomplish that end, just as it took Time and patience for you to learn to see life in a mortal way."
Elrond pushed himself to his feet and brushed the dust of the rocky precipice from the suede leggings. "Few Eldar would have it in them to take such a challenge and meet it, and I would not blame you for refusing to try. Whatever you decide, you should know that there will be a place for you in my halls should you want it, for however long you might want it." He followed Legolas' gaze one last time to the far eastern horizon. "But I tell you truthfully now, as one who has grieved, that sitting for endless hours staring at a horizon that will never grow closer will not bring your father West to you any faster – nor my sons to me. They will come when they finally choose to come, IF they finally choose to come. The friends and family we have lost to Ilúvatar's Gift will remain lost to us until the world is unmade – lost to us except in our memories, which keeps them close in a different way when we allow it. But here and now, WE have our own choices to make about our own lives." He bowed in Legolas' direction. "I have every confidence that you will choose well, Legolas Thranduilion."
Legolas inclined his head and then watched as Elrond – Lord of an Imladris so like and yet unlike the one before it – walked back toward the line of trees that stood a mere hundred yards or so from the cliff's edge. Eventually the sounds of the ocean at his feet drew his eyes back to the horizon, and he gazed out thoughtfully over the broad expanse, going over all that had been said.
"Something new every day," he repeated to himself in a whisper. "EVERY day?"
Even now, thinking on it, it was hard to conceive of an action he'd not done at least once before. Legolas' eyes narrowed. Certainly it couldn't be that hard, could it? His head swiveled, and he gazed at the place where Elrond had vanished into the trees. Elrond had made the challenge – was he up to meeting it? Did he even want to?
Slowly, Legolas pushed himself to his feet and brushed the dust from his clothing. He gave the all too familiar eastern horizon a final glance before turning for the rapidly vanishing traces of the Elven Lord who had gone before him. Elrond was right – he WAS fading. And the antidote, while apparently so very simple, would prove to be far from easy, if his mind having yet to figure out a single new thing to do THAT day was any indication.
No matter. He'd show Elrond that he could meet that challenge. He was a scion of Eryn Lasgalen – the son of the infamous Elvenking – and more than the equal to any Noldor challenge! He'd never be able to meet his father and look him in the eye if he didn't prove himself – if he continued to let himself fade.
Perhaps a trip to visit Elrond's home for the first time in over three years wouldn't be such a bad idea. Surprising Elrond in his lair – now THAT would be something he'd never done! He'd still have to think of something new to do today, but it was a start.
With a small smile on his lips from the memory of a light-hearted competition with Gimli a lifetime ago, Legolas stepped forward into the trees – heading home.
ellon - elf (masc.)
penneth - young one