- Chapter 13 / Epilogue -
The stars shone coldly high above, almost unnaturally bright in the clear sky. I knew none of their names, nor cared for them; but I remembered someone who used to seek out their advice, and find comfort in their distant light. Where is he now? I wondered. Why has he not come?
I had been waiting for a long time. Where had my proverbial patience gone, my faith in my own resilience of temper? They had vanished, long since worn out by the wait, by the countless days of gazing to the horizon in hopes of seeing a lone rider hurrying towards Edoras to fulfil a promise. Legolas was alive, I knew it. Those of our soldiers who had taken part in the Morannon battle had recounted with awe his numerous kills and his safe return to Minas Tirith with Gimli. A month had passed, then another, and another, and still I kept coming to my solitary vantage point to gaze to the horizon like a lovestruck fool.
Now I walked through the night, a lone silhouette in the firelight that poured from the windows and the wide open doors of the palace. To an onlooker I would have seemed just another merrymaker seeking some fresh air before diving back into the celebration – a respite between a mug of ale and a song, perhaps. But I was much more – and much less – than that.
The sound of my quiet steps on stone, the cold air and the immense silence of the plains cleared my mind of any ordinary, restless thoughts, and brought back shards of memories, instants that could have been but never blossomed into anything more than promises. Voices whispered in the night, stars shone with the light of disincarnate eyes. The images and sensations filled my head, never leaving a place for the bright colours and sounds of the feast; nor did my heart want to open a door to all that rejoicing. What I carried within me was much more precious, and at the same time much more insubstantial. It was my past that I held close between hands curled together to protect it, like a butterfly or a candle so swift to be swept away by the wind. It was the gathering of revolved moments that I preferred to the living, breathing people on the other side of the wall.
I had been sad, and I had been bitter in my disappointment, watching other couples and happy maids with a cynical eye, thinking that they, too, would know my pain someday. I had prowled the shadows, like before, but now wearing my bitterness as a banner rather than rags, like one of those never-wed, foul-tempered old hags that I used to mock in my younger years.
I knew I was doing myself no service. My friends had long abandoned their attempts to make me finally release what belonged to the past and stop waiting. I ate, slept and worked just like before – my days were therefore not in danger, and they eventually stopped worrying so much. It will pass, they would say, and I knew they were right. This had perhaps been the most painful thing to realize – that for all my love for Legolas, my inconstant, mortal heart would eventually overcome my desire to remember in its will to heal. Already the memories faded, and where I once had carried the brightness of Legolas' smile in all its glory, his shining eyes and blinding grace, now simply dwelt the memory of something heart-warming and beautiful.
Though the night was by no means cold, I wrapped my arms around me, listening for a while to the boisterous life raging so close to me, so striking in its intensity in comparison to the silence of the plains. Somewhere in the distance, the thumping of horse's hooves neared the city, though the rider had still some distance to cover. I spared a thought for the poor man - no doubt a messenger of yet another Marshall or distant King sent to congratulate Éomer King on his wedding day. Such envoys had been riding in and out of Edoras all day long; a journey under the merciless, summer sun could not have been a pleasure, and I hoped he would find more than carcasses and empty kegs upon his arrival. He, too, deserved to celebrate.
Suddenly I longed to be out there, to ride under the might sky alone, to face and embrace the welcoming immensity of the fields of grass. I desired the freedom, the oblivion brought by such a run – and it had been months since I had yearned to be free from everything, forging my own chains day after day. In the darkness of the night, I smiled. Yes, I was healing – slowly but surely, and against my will. In a way it felt like a betrayal, to let go of my love in this way; but life was stronger, and my heart sought to close those scars left by Legolas' words and touches.
The gates creaked, greetings exchanged in a hurry between guards and messenger, and soon the clip-clop of hooves on the stones of the road died away. I noticed that the feast was nearing to an end – the music had grown nostalgic, the shouts for more ale had made themselves scarce. Soon the Hall would empty, the crowd of merrymakers leaving behind them a field of desolation and a foul stench.
Soon I, too, would retreat to rest and, though I felt no tiredness, I knew I would sleep well. I had found some peace at last, in realizing that not all in me had died with Legolas' desertion. And I rejoiced when I understood that I harboured no ill feelings against him, only the fondest of memories and the hope he would be well and happy.
Footsteps shuffled on stone as someone walked out of the Hall. I sighed, loath to encounter some over-merry drunkard in want of company, or worse – someone like Osred or Ceolwulf, whom inebriation rendered cruel and deaf to supplication. I stepped back into the shadows, hoping that ale and the darkness would play in my favour and lead the unwelcome wanderer past my hiding spot. And, as the sound died away, I breathed with relief.
"I see you have not changed your habits," whispered a voice into my ear.
I shrieked, lunging away and almost running into the stone wall, but a pair of strong arms caught me, pulling me into the moonlight.
"Let me go!!" I hissed, wrenching my arms free from his grasp; and as I turned around, seething, I was met by a pair of wide blue eyes. The shadows had grown darker inside their depths, the lines on his ageless face etched just a little deeper; but still I recognized him at once with all my being. From my heart to the very tips of my fingers, everything in me yearned to touch him and be proven that he was real.
"Morwrei… I would never hurt you." His voice was a whisper; he was standing before me, an arm's reach away; but he made no move to close that distance.
Liar! Where were you when I withered away, waiting? The thought crossed my mind like a flash of lightening. Laying a hand on my chest, I felt the wild hammering of my heart, like a bird throwing itself over and over again against the bars of its cage. I would have expected it to beat with joy upon out reunion; but I was still shaking with fright.
I gaped at him. "Legolas?! What… What are you doing here?" The words spilled from my lips before I could stop them.
He frowned, and the ghost of a smile that had been playing on his lips vanished. "Had I not given you my word?" he said softly. "Or have you lost your faith in me?"
I bit my lip. Why was I not overjoyed, as I should have been? Where was that sweet emotion that I used to awaken within me at the mere thought of seeing him standing before me once again? Legolas had returned, true to his word; he had come back for me, and for me only. But all I found was confusion and fear. I could feel the all too familiar pull towards him, the chaos in my mind where peace had reigned but moments away.
Just an instant earlier I had been free. No ties had held me back in my past, no memories tugged at my heartstrings. I had surrendered that which I had held so dear, letting it slip away in a breath of relief… And fate had washed it all back to my feet; taunting, tempting.
I did not want to ache again.
"It has been months," I said, my voice breaking. "I had thought you had changed your mind."
Even under the meagre light of the moon I saw his jaw tighten.
"I gave you my word," he repeated sadly. "I gave you my heart, Morwrei, left it in your keeping. And you thought I had forgotten it here?"
His words struck true, and yet I felt anger well up in my chest. Had he expected me to lay my life aside, to fold my hands in my lap and wait patiently until he returned?
"You asked for no promises," I replied.
A silver eyebrow rose. "And yet you promised," he reminded me. "What has changed, Morwrei? Why are we strangers now?"
I hung my head. Cold, bitter grief was swelling in my chest, crushing my heart. Why could I find no words to tell him how devotedly I had waited? Why could I not say how I had loved him – and loved him still, how the mere sight of him standing there had awoken all those unspeakable, silly dreams? Too long had I dreamt of this moment, and too glorious had I painted it in my mind. But now that all was over and the victorious had returned home, all that was left was two broken, bitter souls.
I could see the expectation that had held his stance so proud crumbling. Suddenly he seemed old, and so very lonely. His eyes were hungry, his face thinner and more stern than I remembered. War had been kind to neither of us.
"I do not know. Perhaps that is what we always were," I whispered through the tears that spilled from my eyes.
In that moment, I would have given everything I had ever possessed and relived whatever pain I had ever felt to have him reach out and close the abyss that was growing between us. The dying noise of the feast seemed to mock us, laughing at our shattered dreams.
"Do you want me to leave?" he muttered. "One word from you and I will never bother you again." His face twisted into a mask of agony. "I will do anything. Do not think about me, think about you. Anything… I do not want you to cry."
"I want you to stay." I was reaching out to pick up the pieces, careless about cutting myself in the process. Hesitantly I took a step towards him, then another, until I could feel his warmth on my skin. "I want you to come back to me as you promised. I want you to love me as I love you." I reached out and touched his face with my fingertips. "Come back to me, Legolas."
I welcomed his embrace, linking my arms behind his back and pulling him closer, squeezing until I was certain I had hurt him and tried to let go; but he only held me tighter, breathing into my hair, his heartbeat slowing against my cheek.
"I have come for you," he whispered, his breath tickling my ear.
Letting the fabric soak up my tears of joy, I replied into his tunic: "I knew you would."
A. N.: So, the epilogue. I am not a fan of describing the "happily ever after", I'd rather leave you guys imagine it. But I have to say that I am somewhat sad to see this story finished: I have grown very fond of Morwrei and, of all my stories, her relationship with Legolas is the most elaborate (I am usually a fan of the "love-at-first-sight" concept :P). I find myself hoping that she will speak to me again after this, and that I will find myself writing a sequel - but I cannot promise anything to you guys, alas.
Many, many thanks to all of you readers and reviewers. You are a great motivator! Farewell!