A/N: I wrote this story a few years ago for the fanzine Nenya. Now I'm posting it here. It stands alone, and is not related to any of my previous stories (although you might spy a hint of a reference back to a scene from In the Deep Places if you squint).
Disclaimer: This is a derivative work of fan fiction written out of love for the world and characters created by JRR Tolkien. All familiar characters and settings are the property of the Tolkien Estate and New Line Cinema. No money is made from their use here, and no disrespect is intended.
Of Cabbages and Kings
"The time has come," the Walrus said, "to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings."
- Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter
September 20, 1421. Shire Reckoning.
The last pages are for you, Sam.
But why? What could he add to the memoirs of the Ring-bearer? The Ring-bearers, he should say. Mr. Bilbo had begun it – properly, that is – this record of the Shire and its folk, and the Ring and the Travelers and all the lords and ladies and the Elves. What could he add to that?
The last pages . . .
Already the book was nearly done before him. Bilbo's spidery script had given way to Frodo's firm hand, and now that too was ended, and the parchment caught on the rough edges of his fingers as he grasped the quill. There was dirt under his fingernails. He tried to clean them, scraping the underside of his nails one against the other, but the quill shaft bent and a drop of ink fell onto the open page. "Stupid!" he cried, and reached to blot it with his paper, but it seeped away into the textured page, a black stain that smeared under his fingers.
With an oath Sam stabbed the quill into the inkpot and stood up, scraping his chair back over the wooden floor. He couldn't do this. Mr. Frodo should have known that, should have known that he would botch it, and why should he do it anyway? Frodo could complete it. He nearly had already, and it wanted just a little finishing up, to make it proper like, and Frodo could do that when he returned from Rivendell. When he returned. The stained page blurred before him, and Sam turned away, rubbing the sudden tears from his eyes.
The last . . .
This was wrong. His breath came short and fast as his throat tightened. This was wrong, and he had to get out. He fled the cluttered study, the piled books and maps and parchment. It was Mr. Frodo's study, not his. Mr. Bilbo had intended it to be Frodo's. Not Sam's. Never Sam's. Whatever Frodo might say, Bag End was his. The Red Book was his. He would finish it, when he returned. And he would return. He would.
Sam hurried through the familiar hall to the entranceway. He pulled the green door open and burst out onto the step. There he stopped and stood for a long moment, breathing deeply. Gradually the constriction of his chest eased. The autumn roses were in bloom, and their sweet fragrance mixed with the fresh scent of cut hay from the fields and the smoky tang of the leaf burnings.
He looked out, over the garden that was fading now as autumn crept on, past the low mounds of New Row with the grass waving high around the chimneys, towards the fields that sloped away to the edge of the woods, riotous in hues of gold and red.
The last . . .
His breath hitched in his chest, and he clenched his hands. A rider was coming up the long road from the wood. He could make out the white horse as it trotted easily along the smooth path, the flash of gold as the sun gleamed on the rider's hair. Though he could not see at this distance, he knew that the horse moved at the command of the rider's voice and touch, unencumbered by saddle or bridle. And he knew that the rider could see him, far more clearly. Tea, he thought distantly. I must put the kettle on. And there'll be biscuits in the tin; Rosie made some yesterday. I should have them with honey and apples from the orchard.
But he stood still, and watched as the horse and rider crossed the bridge, passed the new mill and turned up the path to Bag End Under Hill. I should get Rosie from the Gaffer's; she and Elanor ought not to miss this. And Master Merry, and Pippin as well.
A small group of Hobbit lads and lasses were following the rider, he saw now, but they ducked away and hid shyly when the Elf turned to speak to them. Frodo will be so happy. He'll want to say goodbye.
But he cut that thought short. His body was numb, and his heart pounded in his ears.
The last . . .
He could hear the steady clop of the horse's hooves now, crisp in the autumn air. It had been a dry summer, and the road was firm and level. The rider came 'round the final curve and stopped before the gate. He swung lightly from the stallion's back and patted his neck, seeming to speak to him. The horse nickered and began to crop the grass along the side of the road.
The Elf leaped over the gate and came up the path, stopping just far enough away so that Sam didn't have to crane his neck to look up at him. It was a long moment before Sam could speak. "You've come," he said.
Legolas smiled. "It is the last, Master Samwise," he said. "I could do no less."
June 26, 1419. Minas Tirith, Gondor.
It was spring in Minas Tirith. Sam walked slowly from the small house that had been given to the Fellowship, up through the marketplace in the sixth circle. Morning birds sang in the eaves of the houses and market stalls packed closely along the winding cobbled street. The richest of Gondor's nobility lived here, and their fine houses were now mended, the devastation of the War only hinted at in patchwork seams of new stone that stood out starkly white in the pale light of dawn.
Those in the lower circles were not so lucky, Sam knew. Many of the houses there still had gaping holes in roof and walls, for they had borne the worst of the siege. But spring had come, and with it warm weather for working in fields and quarries. Again and again he had heard it, in the weeks since the War ended: "The King will rebuild the gates and all the houses – he's bringing Dwarves, you know, a Dwarf for every house!" "The King signed a treaty with the Corsairs: we'll have fresh fish every week; and thirty pieces of gold for every household." "The King is planting the Pelennor with seed he got from the Elves. Come harvest, we won't have storage enough for it all!"
Sam didn't know if Strider had done any of these things, but it really didn't matter. He was confident that Aragorn could do them all, and more besides. Sam firmly believed that the Ranger turned King was the wisest and most noble person in Middle-earth, save perhaps for the Lady Galadriel, and for Mr. Frodo. And the people of Gondor seemed to share his opinion. Elessar had given them hope. For now, that was enough.
But it did little for the immediate needs of the people. The War together with a long winter had depleted Gondor's supplies, and aid from Rohan and the Elves and Dwarves could not come fast enough. The narrow street was crowded with early-rising maids and servants of the rich houses, together with folk from the lower circles, but they milled about with empty baskets, and Sam could hear discontented grumblings as he passed. He had hoped to get a young chicken and perhaps some mushrooms for Frodo's breakfast. But the merchants' counters were nearly bare, and though Sam stood on tiptoe to see over the butcher's block, the pullets were thin and stringy with hardly enough meat to satisfy a Man's appetite, let alone a household with four Hobbits.
Disappointed, Sam continued up the street toward the citadel. He would have to borrow a bit from the King's stores again. He was on friendly terms with the head kitchener: a huge Man with a red face and a pleasant habit of pressing generous shares of whatever might be in the making – leg of lamb, sweet potatoes, after dinner cakes, rolls – upon his visitors to take home. Sam had tried to thank him, but the Man seemed surprised by this and had bowed low. "Anything for one of the Walkers, Master Samwise," he had said, which made Sam blush.
There were certain advantages to fame, he admitted to himself, as the guards at the courtyard entrance bowed and stood back to let him enter. And it was a fool who left windblown apples on the ground to rot, as the Gaffer said.
All the same, Sam would be glad when the time came for them to return to the Shire. Frodo had been pale and shaky these past few weeks, and to Sam's mind all the healers in Gondor could not compare with a good night's sleep at home in Bag End. Also there was the vision he had seen in the Lady's mirror: of the Gaffer turned out of Bagshot Row, and the trees along the byway cut down. Those things might not have happened, as the Lady had said, but then again they might have, and there was only one way to find out. And aside from all of that, Merry and Pippin seemed to be getting far too much enjoyment from their new status as "Lords of the Halflings," something that Sam was certain was not good for them.
He was halfway to the citadel when he saw something that made him pause. The ancient, withered tree was gone. Sam had first noticed it after Strider's coronation, a dead hulk that seemed out of place in the smooth lawn and carefully trimmed hedges of the palace courtyard. Now it was gone, and there was a small white sapling in its place. Someone was kneeling next to it, silhouetted in the early morning light.
Curiosity killed the cat, his Gaffer would say, but Sam couldn't help taking a closer look. He crossed the lawn, his bare feet marking the dew-silvered grass. Hobbit-silent by nature, Sam made no noise that he could hear, but the figure by the tree turned at his approach, and he saw that it was Legolas.
Sam hesitated, not wishing to disturb him. But the Elf smiled at him, and emboldened by this Sam came slowly forward. He stopped near the steps leading up to the tree and surreptitiously rubbed one foot behind his other calf, trying to wipe the damp grass and earth from his toes.
"Good morning, Master Samwise," Legolas said. "You are up early."
Sam shrugged, a bit shyly. "A body gets used to it," he said. "I was always the first one up at home, to get breakfast ready and the like. And, begging your pardon, but it seems I'm not the only one."
Legolas smiled, his eyes twinkling. "A hazard of our current living situation, I fear. I thought it best to escape before Gimli's snores brought the house down on top of us."
That surprised a laugh from Sam, and he covered his mouth with his hand. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the strange friendship that the Elf and Dwarf had developed. It seemed that they were constantly sniping at each other, yet if anyone else criticized one of them the other would immediately leap to his defense. He had asked Strider about it at one of the banquets after the coronation, and the Man had shrugged and said that he didn't understand it either, but it was best to just let them have at it and try to stay out of the way. King Éomer, who was sitting nearby, had heartily seconded this opinion.
Legolas sobered. Looking back at the small tree, he said softly, "In any case I would not have slept last night. This is the first, Master Samwise, and I would bear witness to it."
"The first?" Sam frowned, looking from the Elf to the sapling in puzzlement.
Legolas ran his long fingers through the soft earth around the tree's roots. "It is the beginning of the end," he murmured, his eyes distant, as though he were looking beyond the sapling, at something that Sam could not see. "Or rather, the beginning was when the Fellowship left Imladris, or perhaps before that, when Bilbo took the Ring, or when Gollum found It. But this is the first. It is the first sign that the dominion of Men is at hand, and the time of the Elves is over. The Elven Rings are fading, and the Third Age of Middle-earth is coming to an end."
"Oh." Sam hesitated. "I thought it was a tree."
Legolas laughed, seeming to come back to himself. "It is that as well, Master Samwise. A scion of Telperion, the Eldest of Trees. Aragorn brought it here yesterday, and we planted it before the dawn."
Sam blinked, not entirely sure how to respond to that. "Well, that's good then," he said finally. "I had wondered, I mean, why they kept that old one here. Dead and all, it didn't seem fitting for a King's garden. Or a steward's, I guess it was."
Legolas watched him with eyebrows raised, a faint smile playing over his lips. "I suppose," he said after a moment, "that many customs of Men and Elves must seem strange to other folk. Gimli has told me as much on frequent occasion."
"Oh, no," Sam said hurriedly, "that is, not Elves, I mean. I wouldn't know nothing about them, begging your pardon, and I wouldn't put myself forward-like to judge them. But Big Folk, you know, are . . . well, different than we're used to. Not in a bad way," he added, for Legolas had tilted his head, regarding him quizzically. "But it's like Strider, carrying that broken sword around with him. I figure it was symbolic and all, but it didn't seem real practical."
Legolas laughed, a sound bright as sunlight sparkling on water. "No, that was not very practical. Truly I tried to tell him as much, over the years, but he can be impossibly stubborn. Granted that Lord Elrond gave him the Shards of Narsil as his birthright upon coming of age, but why he felt he had to carry them with him everywhere after that . . ."
Sam could not help laughing as well. The knot in his stomach relaxed, and without thinking much about it he sat down on the steps of the White Tree's dais. He watched curiously while Legolas continued to work the earth about the tree roots and the rising sun stretched their shadows out over the courtyard lawn.
He debated with himself, working up the courage to ask – and likely make a mess of it too, botherin' an Elf. You never open your mouth, Samwise Gamgee, 'cept to put your foot in it – but finally he could stay silent no longer. "What are you doing?"
Legolas did not look up. "I am aerating the soil, Master Gardener. It is heavy with loam and ancient earth from the old tree's bed. The first cannot dwell only in the dark shadows of the past."
"Oh." How was it, Sam thought, that when you asked a simple question of an Elf you always ended up with a lot more questions than you had to begin with? He cast about for something intelligent to say. "Do you want a trowel? I think I've got one, back in the house."
Legolas shook his head. "Thank you, Master Samwise. I am nearly finished." He sat back on his heels, absently rubbing the dirt from his fingers. "It is good to feel the earth again," he said. "Long has it been since I had leisure to tend growing things, save to defend them with blade and bow. I had almost forgotten what it was like."
I can't recall . . . no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower . . .
Sam shivered. Legolas looked at him with concern. "Are you all right, Samwise?"
Sam drew a deep breath, trying to steady himself. That's over. It's gone, and It won't ever come back. But beyond the green hills the plain of Gorgoroth stretched black and reeking, and the Mountain of Fire still burned. "I'm fine," he said. "It was just a chill."
But Legolas turned to face him, his bright eyes narrowing as he held Sam in his gaze, and Sam found that he could not look away. Strange to think, how when Legolas had lived with them day by day on the Quest, eating and talking with them and bickering with Gimli, one could almost forget that he was an Elf, much less a Prince. He had seemed only another of the Companions. But now the weight of years uncounted and experience unimagined was full in his eyes as they bore into Sam, and he felt exposed, vulnerable and helpless before that power. He gasped.
The moment passed, and there was only Legolas kneeling before him in his worn hunting tunic, looking as he always had. His eyes no longer pierced, but gazed at Sam with gentle concern. Legolas bowed his head. "Forgive me," he said. "It was not my intent to frighten you, Master Gamgee. It only seemed to me that you are troubled, and I would help you, if I can."
Sam's heart was pounding. He wasn't sure what had just happened, but he felt shaken and weak, as though he had run a league or more in the past few minutes. Was this Elf-magic? "It's all right," he managed. "You – you didn't frighten me, Mr. Legolas. I just . . . that is, I should be getting up to the kitchens. Mr. Frodo needs his breakfast."
He got to his feet, his knees watery. But Legolas laid a long-fingered hand on his shoulder, and he stilled, trembling. "I do not doubt your courage, Samwise," the Elf said gently. "If I caused you no distress then I am glad, but still there is a shadow on your heart. I would not seek more than you would tell, but can you not share this with me?"
Sam stood still, looking down at the tangled hair on his feet for a long moment. Share this with me . . . share what? There was much that he could say, but to what purpose? Talking about it wouldn't change anything. And in any case, he hadn't done anything worth mentioning. It was Mr. Frodo who had carried the burden, Mr. Frodo who now suffered the screaming terrors at night. So often had Sam held him, comforted him when he woke shaking from his nightmares, that he could almost forget his own.
He thought of the things that he could never tell Merry or Pippin, and of some that he could not tell even Frodo. He thought of the burning plain: of long days and nights in murky darkness and thirst, of the stench of the pits, and the horror, and the choice that he had made.
"It was just something Mr. Frodo said, in Mordor," he said finally. "About forgetting the feel of growing things. It was . . . it was bad, that."
Legolas' hand tightened briefly on his shoulder and then released him. "The Shadow was very dark, then," he said. "Even in Gondor I felt it, and many despaired upon the long march to the Morannon."
Sam drew a short breath and turned slowly back to face the Elf. "But you didn't," he said.
Legolas held his gaze for a long moment. "Nor did you, Master Samwise." There was a pause. A cool breeze swept over them, ruffling the sapling's leaves. Legolas bent forward slightly, his bright eyes intent. "Tell me, Sam, why did you go to Mordor?"
Sam blinked. He had not expected that. "Because . . . because I had to, Mr. Legolas. I made a promise."
"A promise." Legolas nodded. "And the Shire, Sam? Your Gaffer, and your family, and the lady waiting for you at home?"
Sam blushed. "Well, yes, of course it was for them as well. Only, well, I guess we didn't quite know what it all meant, in the beginning I mean. I don't reckon folks at home will ever really understand it all, what Mr. Frodo did for them."
"Perhaps not." Legolas' voice was soft. "But that does not change the value of what he did. He bore what no other could, and he journeyed for all of Middle-earth. But you, Sam? For whom did you go?"
"I – I'm not sure what you mean," Sam said. All this talk seemed to be in riddles, and he felt sure that something important was happening, but the meaning slipped away like water through his fingers. "I just thought Frodo needed me, is all. I promised I would go with him."
"You promised," Legolas said. His next words were scarcely audible, as though he spoke only to himself. "For Frodo… and for the folk of the Great Wood… and for love of the Lord of the White Tree." *
Sam stared at him in confusion, but Legolas met his eyes, and smiled. "I think we are much alike, Master Gamgee." Sam blushed harder at that, but Legolas seemed not to notice. "You went to Mordor for Frodo, Sam. I went for Aragorn."
March 15, 1419. The River Anduin, the Great Fleet from Pelargir
The ship's rigging creaked in the growing wind, the great sails straining forward against their bonds, driving them faster than the sweeps could stroke. But still it was not fast enough for Aragorn. He paced the deck at the bow, his hands locked behind his back and his boots thumping a swift, angry rhythm on the hollow boards. Now and again he would pause, and stare up the great river to where a red glow burned beneath the clouds, his face newly lined and shadowed in the graying light before the dawn.
Legolas watched him, but there was little he could say for comfort. Either they would reach Minas Tirith in time, or they would not. In either case there would be an enemy to fight and battle to be won, and Legolas' chief concern at this moment was that Aragorn would make himself so dizzy with his pacing that he would not be able to wield his sword.
"Up with your beard,"** he had said to Gimli, encouraging hope when this morning's wind had yet been beyond the senses of mortals, but neither of his friends had seemed much cheered. In any case the Dwarf had not heeded him, and had gone below instead. He claimed to be checking the hull for leaks, but Legolas rather suspected that his Dwarven friend was seasick. Apparently boats did not agree with Gimli.
The taste of salt was growing stronger. Legolas looked again at Aragorn, who was now visibly clenching his jaw as he paced, and hesitated for a moment. But the wind blew wild and free above, and on it came the tantalizing whisper of salt and spray, and something more: a yearning for something he had never seen. The air upon the deck seemed too thin, the walls of cabin and railings and the press of mortal sailors too close, and he panted, his lungs laboring in swift, shallow gasps. He had to get out. He had to breathe.
He whirled and leaped up to catch the rigging. Never before had he seen a sailing ship, but the ropes came easily to him, and he ran up them, scarcely touching the wooden beams, until he reached the very topmost spar of the great ship's center mast.
Cool, sweet air rushed over him, and he drew it in grateful draughts. The ship rocked in the swells of the river's current, and Legolas felt it shudder as the seasoned wood groaned beneath his hands, he heard the snap of the vast canvas sails and the whine as wet rope stretched. The mast tip swung ten feet or more with every swell. He wrapped his legs around the crossbar to keep from being swept off, and breathed deeply of the wind from the south.
Salt was on the air, but more, there was a feeling beyond his physical senses, a lightness and freedom that stirred within him and spoke to him of that which called to his people from beyond the shores of Middle-earth. It was what he had first felt upon the field of Pelargir, when all turmoil of battle had been swept away and silenced by the cry of the gull. It was the completing chord of Ilúvatar's Harmony, intrinsic to the Song of the Ainur, at one with the deep rhythm of Creation.
It was the song of the sea.
A gull screamed past him, flying up the river far inland, and he turned to track it as it wheeled on black-tipped wings against the red glow to the north. His Elven eyes could see that fire, drawing ever closer, the leap and flicker of flame in a city of stone, the curl of blackened smoke against the sky.
But the gulls cried, and he looked southward and saw them coming: stubby shapes of white and black that flashed around him in a whirl of beating wings. And greater than their cries there was the song, the song of the sea that swelled within him. He felt its pulse in the rhythm of his heart, in the beat of the blood through his veins, and he knew that he was lost.
And it was good. He felt so light, so free from the troubles of Middle-earth, from the threat of this war that had so concerned him. In truth he could not now see why he had cared. It was only a passing darkness, a shadow that was bound to fade, in this Age or the next, in but a few scant lives of Men.
The sea called to him, and that was eternal. He felt as if he could fly to it upon the wings of the gulls, upon the breath of the wind. Tol Eressëa beckoned him, and Aman awaited him, and there would be no hurt there, no grief, for neither pain nor Shadow nor death could touch the blessed shore.
The spray stung his eyes, and the wind whipped the wet strands of his hair about his face, but he did not care. He was soaring, flying in answer to the sea's call, and he spread his arms and laughed for joy, but his voice was swept away and lost in the roar of the wind.
Something rang false. Distantly this filtered to him, as a broken chord in the song that wove around him. The ship was driving north, against the river's current, dragging him away as though to pull the tide from the moon. They were going the wrong way.
It was wrong. The discord was stronger now, growing with every stroke of the oars that took him farther from the sea. He felt it as a knot in his stomach, an ache of longing that could not be filled. They had to go back. They had to change course, turn the ship, turn the sails, take in the sweeps – he was leaping, sliding down the rough-hewn ropes, not feeling the burn of the lines through his hands – his feet struck the deck before he consciously realized what he was going to do.
Blind, deaf to all but the bone-deep call that compelled him, he ran, slipping between the sailors and Dúnedain: Men alien to him, to the world in which he now belonged. They were slow, too slow in their shock to catch him, and he flashed through their midst as an arrow through a thicket. Their cries were meaningless, nonsensical chatter that was drowned by the sea's song. The slick deck narrowed to a thin strip between the main cabin and the rail, and there a barrier loomed: a giant Man who held up thick-corded arms to stop him. Legolas leaped to the side and ran along the slender rail, and was around and past and down again while the Man stood slack-jawed behind him. The deck opened wide again, and there in the stern was the wheel.
Ten feet in diameter it stood, its great spokes silhouetted in the murky light. The sailors who held it were locked in a struggle to keep course along the river, and so never saw the Elf coming. One of them cried out as he seized hold, and another grabbed his arm, but Legolas pivoted, using the Man's own force to draw him off balance and flip him head-over-heels into his companion.
Legolas grasped the wheel, his hands closing naturally over the smooth depressions worn in the giant spokes. He wrenched it hard to port. Shouts went up all over the ship as the vast boom swung 'round, Men scrambling to get out of its way. Legolas strained with all his Elven strength to hold it as the ship groaned and leaned and slowly, slowly began to turn.
"Legolas!" Hard hands gripped his shoulders, wrenching him back, and he whirled with hand raised to strike – and froze.
Aragorn stood before him, wind-swept and scraggly as ever, his clothes spattered with mud and blood and a livid bruise from Pelargir blossoming on his cheek. Aragorn. His eyes were wide, his hands white-knuckled on Legolas' shoulders. Aragorn.
Legolas closed his eyes and drew a shuddering breath. The world swayed and tilted with the rise of the deck beneath his feet, as memory came rushing back and collided with the sea's storm within him. Aragorn. The War. The Ring. A leaf wrought in green and silver, lying beside a trampled path. The sigh of wind-swept grass and Arod's pounding hooves. Gimli's arms locked about his waist as they raced over the fields of Rohan. Frodo. Frodo. Ai, Elbereth, what had he done?
"Legolas?" Aragorn's strong fingers dug into his arms. Legolas was beyond answering. The whirl of images filled him, memories of life and love and battle and centuries beneath Greenwood's eaves, and Middle-earth was his home, and it was not. Aman called him, and the sea's song swirled through him, and he had to go, had to answer, and what tie had duty or oath or home upon him now? Abandon the War, abandon the Quest, abandon Frodo, it did not matter, none of it mattered, and Ai, Elbereth, what had he done?
"Legolas?" Worry was now in that voice, panic skirting at its edge. "Legolas!" Distant pain as he was shaken, limp and unresisting in Aragorn's hands. They sought to draw him away, and a strong shoulder slipped under his to support him, but some sliver of pride remained to him, not yet drowned in the maelstrom of conflicting desire and duty and guilt, and Legolas straightened, lifting his head.
He met the clear grey eyes of the Man, this Ranger who would be King, this mortal who had known him but a scant seventy years, this friend who knew him better than any other. "Aragorn," he whispered. "Aragorn, what have I done?"
Aragorn gave a short laugh as he pulled the Elf farther from the helm, away from the dark looks and grumbles of the Men as they worked to put the ship to rights. "You nearly capsized us for starters, my friend," he said. "And you came close to causing the greatest shipwreck ever seen, turning us straight into the path of the rest of the fleet and nearly concussing half the crew with the boom in the process."
They had reached a quiet corner against the railing, and Legolas clutched it, desperate for some physical contact, some stability as Ennor fractured and spun about him. "No," he gasped. "No, I –" But his throat closed upon the words.
"Legolas?" Gentle now, that voice, in such contrast to its owner's rough appearance. So gentle, so soft, weighted with concern. Legolas gave a low sob of frustration and dug his fingers into the splintered wood of the rail. It pricked his hands, this wood that had seen long voyage and war without time for sanding or polishing. But the pain filtered through a distant haze, and already it seemed unreal, an illusion of the shadow-world around him. Yet Aragorn's voice was clear and real, and Legolas clung to it as to an anchor line against the rising tide.
"Aragorn." It took all his strength of will to form the words, as the fragmented world faded into shades of grey and the gulls screamed overhead. "Estel, the sea."
He heard the Man's sharp intake of breath. He had no hope that he could understand – Aragorn was mortal; more, he was a mortal raised by Noldor. What could he know of the sea-longing as it stirred in a Sindarin heart? But Aragorn pulled him about so that his back was to the rail, and the shock in his voice spoke of knowledge gained from a lifetime in Lord Elrond's halls. "Oh, no. Oh, Legolas . . ."
The haze lifted slightly, and Legolas could see his friend, as if for the first time. Stained and weather beaten, Aragorn's face was haggard and his skin was tinged with grey. He cursed softly in the Silvan tongue – words that Legolas had taught him. "Idiot. Oh, Legolas, how could I be so stupid?"
Legolas shook his head, pushing back against the rail, struggling to speak. But Aragorn broke away from him, his hands clenching into fists. "She told us! 'Beware of the sea!' But I was so blind, so stupid! I didn't even consider that –"
The call faded slightly in the wake of Aragorn's raw fury. Colors swam before Legolas' eyes, and his voice came weakly, but it came. "Aragorn, what are you –"
"The Paths of the Dead! Valar, I saw it in his palantír! He might have been leading me all the time, and I was so arrogant, I didn't think! Elbereth, 'the cry of the gull on the shore'! How could I be so stupid?"
Legolas stared at him. Only once before had he heard Aragorn speak with such doubt, such self-loathing in his voice. But he had passed that test, and the Ring was far from them now. He took a step forward, and the deck was solid beneath his feet, the world clear about him as he focused on his friend. "Aragorn, stop. Think for a moment."
Aragorn whirled to face him, his hands pushing the hair back from his forehead. "Think? Valar, Legolas, if I had been thinking you would not be here! I would have sent you on with Théoden before I brought you within a hundred leagues of the sea!"
The longing was pushed back, still strong but bearable now as a trickle of annoyance ran through him. "'Brought me'? Aragorn, I would challenge you to have stopped me! King of Men you may yet one day be – but you do not command me."
Aragorn met his eyes, and in that moment he seemed vulnerable, as Legolas had rarely seen him. Aragorn was afraid. "I would, though," he whispered. "I would keep you safe, Legolas. I could not bear to lose you."
Legolas breathed out sharply. Beloved idiot, he thought, but before he could say anything a deep voice rang from the prow of the ship. "Aragorn! We're here! Legolas! We're here! Durin's beard, where are you? You'll miss the battle if you don't hurry up!"
The ship was suddenly alive with the clank of metal and thump of wood, Men's voices shouting orders, the hiss of the anchors running through their ports and the whoosh and thud as sails lowered. As if awakening from a dream, Legolas saw that day was full upon them. The air was thick with smoky haze.
Men turned toward them, waiting for orders, but Aragorn yet hesitated. Legolas looked past him, to where the broken pilings stood ranked upon the shoreline, the half-ruined port stretching toward the low roar of flame in the distance. Small black figures scuttled between the shells of houses.
Orcs had claimed the town of Men. Beyond them Minas Tirith burned. And beyond that there stretched the fields of Rohan, and the forests of Fangorn and Lothlórien, and Eryn Galen. And beneath his feet the river flowed, and behind him the sea stretched into the uttermost West, and there would be no war there, no hurt or pain or grief. But before him Aragorn stood, and fear was in his eyes.
He had given so much, this Man. Through the years Legolas had seen him grow from stripling youth to weathered Ranger, seen him bear the slights and scorn of other Men, even those protected by the Dúnedain. And still the light of nobility shone in him, and strength of will and honor greater than in any Man Legolas had ever known.
And now there was fear. Fear in this Man who was named for hope; who had resisted all the trials and temptations of the Enemy; who only days before faced the Dark Lord himself, and vanquished him. Legolas had stood guard, and watched, all through that dark night as Aragorn fought his silent battle. He had felt the crushing horror of Sauron's power in the palantír, and the bitter struggle of Aragorn's resistance. Yet never had he doubted the result, for he knew his friend's strength.
But Aragorn was drawn and shaken, exhausted as Legolas had rarely seen him. The Elf half-raised his hand, as if to touch the weathered planes of the Man's face. I could not bear to lose you. And what, Legolas wondered, of himself? Was he then to stay, to bear the loss that Aragorn could not? Already this twice beloved Elf-friend had changed so much, had grown worn and weary with the cares of but a few passing decades. Legolas had seen the knowledge in Arwen's eyes as time grew precious, hoarded and shared between them, parceled in the look and touch and voice of this mortal whom they both loved.
He knew then that there was no choice. In truth there never had been. It was not duty that compelled him, nor oath, nor even home. It was love.
Legolas lowered his hand and grasped Aragorn's wrist in the warrior's clasp. "Go," he said. "They need you."
Aragorn returned the grip, holding him tightly. "And you?" he asked.
Legolas took a long breath. In that moment the worlds hung balanced, and he felt again the pure longing, the joy of the sea's song untainted. He looked into the troubled eyes of this mortal Man, and spoke the words that set his fate. "Your friends are with you, Aragorn," he said. "I am with you."
Always, he added silently, and the world tilted and he felt himself firmly set in Middle-earth, and the sweet longing of the sea changed in that moment to aching grief. A gull screamed overhead and the sound cut him like a knife's blade, and he gasped. But Aragorn was watching him still, so Legolas smiled grimly and said, "Go. If we tarry longer, Gimli will leave no Orcs for us."
Aragorn returned his smile and drew him close in a swift, fierce embrace. When he broke away the years seemed less heavy upon him, and his eyes were clear, free of doubt or fear. He called to the Men, and with a roar they answered him, and the planks shuddered under their feet as they rushed to the shore. And though the gulls cried and wheeled away from the battle, back down the river toward the sea, Legolas stayed at Aragorn's side, and he did not look back.
June 26, 1419. Minas Tirith, Gondor.
"For Aragorn?" Sam sounded uncertain.
Legolas was still for a long moment. "For many things," he said at last. "But for Aragorn most of all." He drew a slow breath. "From the time of our first awakening, the Elves were bound to Middle-earth. For the Sindar, even the Valar's call could not break that bond, though the longing never fades."
He cupped the damp earth between his hands, but hardly saw it. "Well do I know the toll Sauron exacted from the people of Greenwood. I would have gone to the Gates, if only to bear witness for my kin slain at Dagorlad. I would have brought honor to Eryn Galen, if it were in my power, and welcomed my death, if in dying I could strike against Him." His voice trailed off as he said this, truths that he had never before voiced aloud. His people, his home . . . he would have died for them. At one time, he had thought that was enough.
He closed his eyes. "But even all of this would not have kept me from despair."
There was a pause. Then Sam said quietly, as though unsure of himself, "Well, no. It wouldn't, would it?"
Legolas opened his eyes. The Hobbit met his gaze and then glanced away. He spoke slowly, as if feeling the words out for the first time. "I mean, it all seemed so far away, home and all, when we were there, in Mordor, I mean. Sometimes it felt like the Shire was . . . was just a place on the map, someplace I'd heard of, but didn't have no real memory of. Almost like it was a dream, if you follow me."
Legolas nodded slowly. "And having once awakened, you can find no further comfort in it." He paused for a long moment, studying the small being before him. "Frodo was very fortunate to have you with him, Sam."
Sam shifted uncomfortably, but Legolas continued. "He has awakened, I deem, to far more than he should ever have had to know. Whether he can find peace in the dream again, I do not know."
Sam frowned. "But that's . . . that's not quite right, begging your pardon, Mr. Legolas. The Shire, Bag End: it isn't a dream. I just meant, that's the way it felt, when things were so black and all. But we'll be going home again soon. Mr. Frodo will be all right then."
"Will he?" Legolas' voice was gentle. "For his sake, I hope that you are right, Samwise. It is more than he should have to bear, to give up his home and the ones he loves." He fell silent, and reached out to brush his fingertips lightly over the slender tree's trunk. "This is the first," he murmured. "Soon the Elven Rings will leave Middle-earth, and the Age we have known will be at an end." He glanced at Sam and said, "Then I will come to the Shire, Master Gamgee, and we shall see. At the last, I will come."
September 20, 1421. The Shire.
There was a mistake. Legolas was wrong: it wasn't time yet. "The last" – Sam didn't know what that meant. Frodo was going to Rivendell, true, but he was coming back again soon – soon, he was, he was. It was a mistake, some Elvish mystery, it had nothing to do with Frodo or Sam or the Shire, and what did it matter which Age you called it, they would endure, nothing was changing, he was wrong, it was all a mistake!
Sam opened his mouth to tell Legolas this, but the words that came out were quite different. He looked up at the Elf and said, "Frodo is leaving."
As if the act of saying it had released something within him, his knees buckled, and he swayed violently. Legolas dropped swiftly to one knee and caught him, the Elf's arms folding around him and holding him close as dry sobs shook his body. There were no tears. Sam was beyond them, and the tearing gasps burned like fire in his chest. "He's leaving. He's leaving. He's leaving."
Legolas said nothing, but held him against his chest, rocking gently as the grief ran its course. Finally Sam stilled, shuddering, and for a time they remained thus in silence.
Slowly Sam came back to himself, became aware of the birdsong that flitted around them, the leather of the Elf's tunic crushed under his cheek, the autumn roses' fragrance mixed with a scent like summer rain. Legolas' hair was tickling his nose.
He moved back, and the Elf released him, but remained there, kneeling on the garden path. Sam hardly dared look at him. What must Legolas think of him? What would Elanor think if she saw her father like this, being comforted like a child? What would Rosie say?
But Legolas only watched him, and there was no scorn, no condemnation in the Elf's clear gaze. "It is all right, Samwise," he said gently.
Sam shook his head, struggling for control. "No, it isn't," he said. "It's not all right. Nothing's all right. Don't you understand? He's leaving. Mr. Frodo's leaving."
"I know." Legolas sighed. "It is the last, and all the world is changing. Even in Ithilien I felt it. The Ring-bearers are leaving Middle-earth."
"But why?" Sam turned away, his hands clenching as he stared unseeing over the faded garden. "He's been ill, I know. He just needs – rest. He drives himself too hard, I've told him again and again, he has to take care of himself, he can't expect to –"
"Sam," Legolas broke in. "Frodo cannot –"
"But this is his home!" Sam cried. He broke off, staring at Legolas, his chest heaving. "How can he leave his home? How can he leave Bag End, and Mr. Merry, and Mr. Pippin, and Rosie and Elanor and –" he stopped, breathing hard. His pulse was pounding in his temples. "How can he leave us?" he whispered.
Legolas bowed his head. His lithe form was rigid, quivering slightly with some violently suppressed emotion. "He does not wish to," he said. His musical voice was low and strained with grief. "What hurt Frodo bears may be healed across the sea, but to be parted forever from those he loves . . . that is a wound from which he may never recover."
"Then why go?" Sam asked. He felt weak, beyond grief or anger, left only with simple wonder. "If this is his home, and he wants to stay, why is he going?"
Legolas raised his head slowly, and his eyes were steeped in such pain that Sam caught his breath. "Because he must," the Elf whispered. "If ever he is to be healed, he must. Have you ever heard the cry of the gulls, Samwise?"
Sam shook his head.
"No," Legolas said. "No. But I have." His slender shoulders moved as he drew breath. "I would hope that you do hear them one day, Samwise, for they are beautiful. They are beautiful," he repeated, as if to remind himself of a truth forgotten. "They cut the sky with bladed wings, and their cries are like the clarion ring of freedom, calling you home, to peace. Though all the world I love be broken away beneath me, I would not have forgone hearing them, even now."
Now the tears stung Sam's eyes, and he blinked to clear them. His throat was choked so that he could hardly speak. "But this is Frodo's home."
"It is," Legolas said. His eyes were very dark as they looked into Sam's, and his voice was almost pleading. It was as if he were seeking some understanding, or forgiveness. "And the friendship he bears you is enough to tear him apart, for he loves you, Sam, as you love him. But the Valar have called him, and he cannot find peace here any longer. For his sake, you must let him go."
Sam closed his eyes. He was trembling. "I can't."
"Samwise, you must –"
"No!" Sam shouted. He threw out an arm, as if to ward off the Elf's words. "I can't!" He stared at Legolas, breathing hard, his heart pounding. "Don't you understand? I made a promise."
"But the Quest –"
"A promise," Sam repeated. There was a roaring in his ears, and golden afternoon dimmed before his eyes. The soft air seemed too hot to breathe, and a black reek was in his nostrils. "And I broke it. I left him."
The wind had whipped stinging sand about them, as he knelt there with his master's body. The blackened earth had scorched his feet, and his tears had dried in the searing wind, and he had taken It. He had taken It, and broken his word, and left Frodo there alone. And It had been horrible, hard and heavy and sick with malice about his neck, but hadn't he . . . hadn't some part of him . . .?
"No." Legolas' voice was firm, cutting clear and strong as a white blade through the shadows. "You did not. What choice you made, Samwise, was for the sake of the Quest. It was for the sake of us all."
Sam's vision cleared, and he was again in his own garden, and the birds were singing. "But it wasn't," his voice cracked. "It wasn't for me to go putting myself up like that and taking It from him. My place was with him. I should have stayed with him."
A thin line drew between Legolas' dark brows. "And if you had?" he asked. "What then? Frodo was captured by the Orcs. Had you been with him –"
"I would have killed them! I would have –"
"You would have been killed, or captured with him, and the Enemy would have regained the Ring." Legolas' frown deepened. "You know this, Samwise. Frodo himself told us as much, in the Houses of Healing. Why then do you –"
"But he didn't know!" Sam burst out. "When he, when that horrible Shelob – when I took It from him –" He stopped. Taking a deep breath, he said at last, "When I left him, it was wrong. I knew it was wrong, I could feel it, but I did it anyway. And when I took the Ring, I –" He broke off. There was a long pause, while he struggled to speak and Legolas watched him, still and silent as only an Elf could be.
"I wanted It," Sam finished at last. His breath was like a sob. "I left him, I broke my promise, and I wanted It. Some part of me wanted It, and even though I knew it was wrong, I left him anyway. It was so wrong. And now, how can parting from him be right?"
The question hung between them. In the silence Sam could hear the chatter of a squirrel in the hazel thicket, and the sharp scolding cry of a jay. His mouth was dry and his limbs felt weak. He had said it, this awful truth that he had not spoken, had not told anyone, not even Frodo. What would Legolas think of him now?
But when at last he brought himself to meet the Elf's eyes, Legolas smiled at him. "Think you that you were the only one so tempted, Samwise Gamgee?" he asked.
That stopped him for a moment. "I – I don't know," Sam admitted. "No, I . . . I suppose not. That Gollum, and –" He stopped. What had happened in the Crack of Doom was for Frodo to tell, or not, and he would not speak of it.
Legolas nodded. "And Boromir," he said, "and Bilbo, and Isildur, and Aragorn." He paused. "It is not a weakness to be tempted. That was the nature of the Ring. What matters far more, it seems to me, is how you responded to the temptation. And you, Samwise the Brave, resisted It."
Sam stared at the packed earth of the path beneath his feet. "But I didn't think about that," he said. "I just knew I needed to go back to Frodo. That was what it was, not any fine ideas about honor or the Quest or any of the rest of it. I just never should have left him. So you see," he said, lifting his hands, "I can't break my promise. If I let him go, that part of me, that part of me that liked It –"
"Will be defeated, just as it was before," Legolas said firmly. "It was not Frodo that drove it back, Samwise Gamgee, but you yourself." One corner of his mouth lifted in a wry half-smile. "Only the second Ring-bearer," he said, "to give It up willingly."
Sam didn't quite know what to say to that. While he hesitated, Legolas fixed him with a piercing gaze. "I would appreciate it," he said, "if you did not repeat what I am about to say next to the Dwarf."
Sam blinked. "Gimli?" he said. "Oh. All right."
Legolas nodded once. "Good." He took a breath and glanced from side to side as if to ensure that no one was listening. "Elves," he said solemnly, "are not perfect."
Sam snorted in surprise and clamped a hand over his mouth. Legolas smiled and sat back, his eyes dancing. But he swiftly grew more somber, and his gaze was distant when next he spoke. "When first I heard the gulls upon the field of Pelargir, it was as nothing I had heard before. I stood dumb, the battle forgotten, and had Gimli not struck me with his axe-handle I think it likely that I would have fallen to an Orc blade then and there."
He sighed. "Later, on the ship as we sailed to Minas Tirith, I knew. I knew what they would do to me, and still I sought them out. I gave myself up to it, the sea-longing, and I think I went a little mad with it. I do not remember, exactly, but had it not been for Aragorn . . ."
His eyes focused again on Sam, with startling intensity. "You see, Samwise, temptation comes in many forms. I resisted the Ring, and I did not fear the Dead. But show me one sea-gull . . ."
A smile flashed and was gone, like a ray of sunlight between the clouds, and Sam could not help grinning back. But Legolas' next words were hard and cold, and his voice so bitter that it raised the hairs at the back of Sam's neck.
"One sea-gull, and I forgot my duty. Centuries of discipline, of training, of service to my King and people, oaths of honor and kinship, even this land that I love: I forgot them all. I would have forsaken the Quest; I would have abandoned Frodo to his fate and let Minas Tirith burn. I would have let Middle-earth fall to darkness, but for Aragorn."
Legolas' eyes were dark, but Sam could not look away. "You could not leave Frodo, and I could not leave Aragorn. Now tell me, Master Gamgee, which of us is weak?"
Sam swallowed. "I guess . . . I guess we both are, Mr. Legolas. Only –" He hesitated, trying to find the right words. "I don't rightly know that it's a weakness, if you follow me. Maybe it's more our strength. Standing by your friends, that seems more important to me than all these noble ideas about duty and honor and all the rest of it."
Legolas stared at him. Sam blushed. There you go, Samwise Gamgee, putting your foot in it again, makin' speeches when you ought to keep quiet. But Legolas did not seem offended. "Perhaps you are right," he said. "Perhaps for friendship . . ." He was still for a long moment. When at last he spoke his voice was soft, and threaded with such pain that the tears started again in Sam's eyes. "For friendship, I have sworn one oath at least that I cannot break. And for love, I would not wish to do so. The sea is not yet so great that it cannot wait a while."
Sam's heart felt as if it would split in two, and it was a moment before he could speak. But at last he whispered, "For friendship, I would have Frodo healed, and find peace. For love, I would . . ." He couldn't say it. He dashed a hand across his eyes, and his voice cracked as he burst out, "But does it have to be forever? Couldn't Lord Elrond just – just heal him and send him back?"
Legolas opened his arms, and Sam ran to him, and uncaring who might see, or what anyone might think, he threw himself upon the Elf's shoulder as the storm took him. When it had passed, leaving him in gasping sobs and Legolas' tunic quite damp, he found that the Elf was holding him close, one slender hand stroking his hair while Legolas hummed gently beneath his breath.
For a time Sam drifted, numb, upon the soft waves of Elven song. Then Legolas whispered, so quietly that he almost did not hear it, "Perhaps not forever. You are a Ring-bearer and an Elf-friend, Samwise Gamgee, and you have much yet to do in Middle-earth. But . . . perhaps not forever."
September 22, 1482. The Fourth Age of Middle-earth.
The last pages were complete. Their heavy parchment caught the roughened edges of Sam's fingers, thickened now with knuckles swollen by the arthritis that crept on, a little worse with every winter. But today was warm, and the gentle breeze that sighed through the open window carried the fragrance of autumn roses.
The pages rippled backwards under his stiff hands, a story stretching over a century in the telling, as his careful script gave way to Frodo's flowing hand, back to Bilbo's spidery scrawl at the beginning of it all.
Something was different. There was a feeling, a changing, he thought, in the air. It was crisper, sharper somehow, and strange breezes seemed to creep into the empty corners of Bag End Under Hill. He found himself looking through the old maps again, tracing the journey they had made. But more and more he sought the western borders, remembering that last journey with Mr. Frodo, when Merry and Pippin had surprised them at the Havens.
Legolas had not gone with them. It was not yet his time, he said, and slipped away before Frodo had set out. But Sam wondered, when Merry and Pippin came riding up, laughing and crying at once, if the Elf had not had business elsewhere.
Sam was restless. That was it. His legs felt twitchy, and he caught up his old walking stick and was halfway to the open door before he stopped and set it down again. Rosie would say he was being an old fool. But Rosie was gone.
He would not think about that. Instead he wandered back to the study, and stood looking down at the heavy book that lay upon the desk, its cover worn but still intact. The binding had cracked and been repaired, and the pages were not as stiff as they had once been. He turned it slowly to the end, and looked at the very last few pages. There was room, he thought, for a little more.
With a little effort he pulled the chair back, its legs scraping over the wooden floor. He sat, a careful movement, lowering himself as far as his creaking knees would permit, and then the final drop and grunt onto the cushion. When this was accomplished he paused, collecting himself for the next task. In the distance, clear upon the smoke-spiced air, he thought he heard the coming clop of a horse's hooves.
He trimmed a quill with careful precision and opened the inkbottle, a sharp twinge running up his arm as he pried the cork loose. The hoof-beats had stopped. He listened, but though his ears were sharp as ever he did not hear footsteps. Ah well, he thought, the door is open.
He loaded the quill and held it over the open page. Much of it had been filled already with the small activities of the Shire, his long years as Mayor, the births and lives and marriages of the Travelers' children. All were grown now; all were gone on to families of their own. Merry and Pippin had been talking lately of making another journey, back to see Rohan again, and Gondor. He liked the idea of traveling again.
The birds in the garden were making an amazing racket. He took a deep breath. It is time, he thought. And with firm strokes he wrote, 1482. Death of Mistress Rose, wife of Master Samwise, on Mid-year's Day. He hesitated, wanting to say more. He thought about her eyes and her smile, and the way her mouth would quirk when he had done something foolish, letting the children have blackberry pie for breakfast, and she was trying not to laugh at him. He had held her hand, felt the paper-thin skin beneath his own, and he had kissed her, and told her that he would come soon. And the corner of her mouth had quirked. "Don't be foolish, Sam," she had said. "There's time enough for that later. Now you have things left to attend to."
There is time enough. I would like to see the Elves again. His pack had been ready by the door for the past two weeks. He dipped his quill again and wrote, On September 22 Master Samwise rides out from Bag End. He thought to say more, but stopped. That was for Elanor, now. He carefully blotted the last lines and then closed the book.
There was a faint scraping in the doorway behind him, and he smiled. Deliberate, he thought. Without looking around he said, "You've come."
"It is time, Master Gamgee," Legolas replied. "I could do no less."
They rode through the golden afternoon, along green avenues shaded by the trees that Sam had planted so long ago. Legolas often sang as they traveled, reminding Sam of the journey with the Fellowship, when Gimli had asked if it were some weakness of the species that made Elves chirp continually like the birds.
But as the days passed, and each evening's setting sun stretched their shadows out behind them, Legolas sang less often, and finally they rode in silence. It was on the third day after they had left Tower Hills, where Sam gave Elanor the Red Book, that Legolas halted in the middle of the road.
Sam rode a few paces farther before he realized that the Elf had stopped. He pulled his pony's rein, twisting about to see what was wrong. The pony snorted and turned, tossing its head, but Legolas did not seem to notice. He stood as if stricken, there beside his great horse, and the freshening breeze swept back long tendrils of his hair.
"Can you hear it?" he whispered.
"Hear what?" Sam asked.
"The sea." Legolas closed his eyes. "The song of the sea."
Sam didn't know what to say. He was silent while the Elf stood motionless, his face turned toward the West and his lips parted as if to drink in something that only he could hear. When at last Legolas opened his eyes again they were dark and full of such longing that Sam felt it as an ache in his own heart.
"I can go no farther," Legolas said. "Forgive me, Samwise. I thought . . . I had thought that I was stronger than this."
Sam hesitated. It might only make it worse, but still he had to offer. "You could come with me," he suggested timidly. "Frodo would –"
Legolas smiled, but in it there was such pain that the words locked in Sam's throat. "My family will follow me, one day," he said. "And Ennor live on in song and memory, most beloved in Sindarin hearts. But to leave Aragorn . . ." He stopped and swallowed hard.
"Shall the moon then leave the earth," he whispered, "and the stars leave Varda's cloak to wander free?" He shook his head. "Nay. Gimli may yet one day win favor in the West, and seek the treasure he desires beyond the gems beneath the earth. But Aragorn will stay."
He looked into Sam's eyes, and Sam looking back saw that Legolas had not changed since first Sam had seen him at the Council sixty years and more ago. Legolas was as strong and beautiful as he had been that day, his lithe body still clad in hunting green, his quiver and knives strapped at his back together with the great bow of Galadriel. He stood, immortality captured in eternal youth while the world aged and changed around him.
"Some partings are forever, Sam," he said. "But when I part from Aragorn, it will not be by my choosing."
Sam blinked hard, and on impulse he grasped his saddle and swung stiffly down from the pony's back. He staggered upon landing, and Legolas dropped down and caught him. But as Sam held him close he felt the Elf shake, and he thought that this was not so much for his comfort as for Legolas'.
"You'll come," he said fiercely. "One day, you'll come, and we will see you there."
Legolas took him by the shoulders and held him back, and Sam saw the tears shining in his eyes as he smiled. "Elvellon," he said. "Perhaps. I know not what fate may bring, nor how long the Gift may be withheld from you in the Undying Lands. But one day, perhaps."
One day. In a month, a life, a hundred years of Men. Legolas had said that once, making light of the longing, and not even Aragorn knew what that deception had cost him.
One day Aragorn would die, and the sea's call would be answered. But it was not this day, and Legolas would not wish it to be, not though the pain should tear him apart. He lifted Sam up and set the old hobbit gently on his pony. Círdan awaited him, and Merry and Pippin would come to see him keep his promise and join his master again.
Legolas stood still and watched as Sam journeyed at last beyond even Elven sight. And in the beat of his heart he felt the eternal pulse of the sea, and on the wind he heard the crying of the gulls.
"But when King Elessar gave up his life Legolas followed at last the desire of his heart and sailed over sea."
– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
* J.R.R. Tolkien, "The Last Debate," The Return of the King
Coming in 2013: The Gloaming, an original novel by Lamiel. In a world ruled by monsters, you have to be a monster to survive.