A/N: So, here it is: Chapter 19 and last. *A long one again* *g* The story finally *has* come to its end, but I may tell you that I already work on the "alternative ending"…. only two chapters are written so far, but I at least want to write some others before I'll post it on ff.net. – 'cause I'm still not convinced if I'll ever finish it. And I wouldn't post just a part of an unfinished story – I don't think that that would be fair to any reader.
As you'll see soon, this chapter is called "The Gray Havens" and one year is supposed to have passed since "The King is coming home." I hope that you'll like it – and that I haven't forgotten anyone whose thoughts about Aragorn and the future of Middle-earth might be interesting. I tried to write it in a kind of different style than the chapters before, but I don't know if I have managed…. It just should be written a little more distant…. you'll see why.
Finally, I want to thank all of my reviewers. Each single word encouraged me to go on, and often your critics were helpful and I appreciated them a lot. If I were able to, I'd hug you all, especially those who have left so many reviews that I don't know how to thank them. I guess that it would be best to review all of their stories, and in the coming weeks I'll try that…. but I can't promise that I'll be as fast as I want to be. So it might take a long time to find my reviews for your stories…..
So, thank you: Goddess Morrigan, stacey, Nili, zinc5, Alyce, LT, Abigail da Jedi, Cailinn *g* (thanks for… you know), Mona, whit, alawa (you encouraged me greatly), Whitney, AJ Matthews, willie, S, Elenil, singe aliene, Julia (huge, huge thanks and I hope we'll continue to write each other….), aralondwen (I'd still like to read the story you once told me about), Lady MR, Kara Angelle, Lita of Jupiter, arynetrek, Snitter in Rivendell (you truly reviewed each chapter…wow….thanks….great), Lady Winter (you were great!), Miss Pennyworth (thanks for all those great reviews), Durheled (thanks for your encouragement), dshael, Araphel, insane one, dictionaire, dark angel
I hope I haven't forgotten anyone… if so, you must know that I'm incredibly sorry about that!
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. (But this time I wrote one song myself – it's not good, I know. The one about Elessar, I mean…*g*)
Enjoy! The last chapter of "Alda mi mornië – Tree in the Darkness"!!!
The Gray Havens
Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam, Gimli and Legolas, Gandalf and Faramir, Celeborn and Galadriel, Elrond and Arwen.
They all had gathered at the Gray Havens, a white ship waiting on the shore to leave Middle-earth and sail westward to Valinor, beyond the end of the world and where time ceased to exist. Its sails were blown by the wind, waves rolling onto the sandy bank.
Spring had come and gone again, the fair sun of the summer had shone on Middle-earth and now the cool winds of the early fall were blowing across the countries. Nine months had passed since the night when Gandalf and Legolas had looked upon the burning torches at the White Tower in Minas Tirith, and many things had happened in the meantime. Great wailing had arisen among the Lords of Men, and the people had mourned for Aragorn. In honor he had been buried side by side with his ancestors and his grave was visited frequently. The Gondorians had not even seen their king once, but they felt for him as if he had been their ruler for many decades. A white tree flowered above his tomb and it blossomed during the entire year.
But now the Third Age was finally over and the last of the High Elves were about to leave Middle-earth. Their time was lost and Men were ruling over the lands. The Fair Kindred knew that it would do no good if they would linger east the Sea any longer, fate was now in the hands of the Weaker Race. But they had come to trust them to handle things well, and they left Middle-earth with peace in their hearts. The newly chosen king of Gondor and Arnor had proved wise and his decisions had shown that he would care for the country and the people dwelling there.
Faramir, son of Denethor, had become king. In a cold February night Gandalf had returned from Rivendell to Minas Tirith and had asked him if he wanted to bear the crown of Gondor. At first the young man had been stunned, but after many explanations from Gandalf he had agreed. Faramir the First was loved by his people and a close friendship with Éomer of Rohan had improved the relation between the two kingdoms even more. The king was respected by all Men, and the Hobbits were pleased about Gandalf's decision: In the war they had come to like the son of Denethor and as long as he let them live their own life, they would honor him. The Elves had silently questioned the wizard's choice, but they had come to terms with it after he had told them that Arwen, whom he had asked first, had refused to become Queen of Gondor.
Indeed, Gandalf had talked to her about this matter, but she had rejected it at once. The fair daughter of Elrond had merely said 'Either Queen with him, but never without him'.
Aragorn's death had broken her heart.
After Gandalf had told her about her beloved's death she had locked herself in her chamber for several days, and no one had been able to catch sight of her in this time. She had grieved deeply, and her mourning was not overcome yet. Even now, standing at the shores of the Gray Havens, her face was a waxen mask with a frozen expression of total indifference written on it. No emotion was displayed on her features and never had one seen her with tears in her eyes. She had not cried openly, but her joyful nature was gone, and since the last January no one had caught her smiling. She had separated herself from this world, being there physically but her soul dwelt on memories, and before her inner eye Aragorn was still with her, walking in the gardens of Rivendell, or kissing her between the flowers on the slopes of Cerin Amroth. Nothing mattered anymore, and there had been moments in which she had wished herself dead as well. Maybe she would then meet Aragorn again, or at least she would not have to think about him anymore.
The fairest of her people had lost her fire, and no one had yet been able to rekindle it.
Gandalf sighed softly. She would now depart from Middle-earth, together with her father, Celeborn, Galadriel, Frodo and the wizard himself. Legolas had chosen to stay for a while, he had not yet become tired of the lands east of the Sea. But the entire Fellowship save Boromir, whose boat was said to have been seen floating in the Sea, had come to the Gray Havens to say good-bye to Gandalf and whose who departed with him.
This soft mutter made the wizard turn his head to his right and there Pippin, Merry and Sam stood. The three had taken each other's hands, and tears were streaming down their faces. None of them understood why Frodo had to leave with the Elves, and why they could not accompany him. Together they had been through such great ordeals, but now when peace had finally settled, they were torn apart: Frodo went to the west and they had to remain in Middle-earth, living their every-day life without any interruptions.
Merry now also turned his head and met Gandalf's eyes. A sad attempt to smile followed, but it could not conceal the sorrow and pain in his eyes. The wizard as well tried to look more cheerfully, but he also failed.
'Why, Gandalf?' Merry thought, not daring to say it aloud once more, for he knew that the wizard had no answer, either. 'Why do we have to stay behind and leave Frodo after everything we have managed together?'
All of the Hobbits shared more or less the same thoughts. Yes, Frodo had borne the Ring for almost the whole time, but they had accompanied him as far as they had been able to, and without Sam Frodo might never have been able to reach the summit of Mount Doom to throw It away. No one had given them an explanation that truly satisfied them, they merely had to be content with the things being like they were.
Not even Gandalf had spoken to them more than just a few sentences since they had first seen him again after he had left them on the road to the Shire to visit Tom Bombadil. And neither Sam nor Merry and Pippin wanted to asked the Elves about being able to sail with them. All of them they had met before, but they seemed changed: Elrond looked even mightier as he had almost two years ago in Rivendell, yet his eyes were still unreadable and he appeared to conceal something. 'Grief for Aragorn,' Merry supposed, 'at least he was to become his son-in-law.' The Hobbit wiped some of his tears away, a desperate gesture to hide the sorrow he still felt at thinking about their former guide. He never had seen the tortured body of the Man, but the shock in Legolas' and Gimli's eyes after they had returned from keeping a night's watch at Aragorn's side to honor the dead King, had told him enough. Pippin had perceived this either, but the two Hobbits had never talked about it to each other. The wounds were still too fresh, and old scars would only begin to bleed again.
"Aragorn," Merry softly murmured, "and now also Frodo and Gandalf." 'Why cannot stay everything as it was? Why can we not live our life in the Shire in peace, without being troubled by anything? Freedom returned to Middle-earth, yet all who took part to achieve it are leaving! Legolas will soon depart either, and Gimli will go with him, I guess. And then only we three Hobbits will remain! Gandalf leaves, and Elrond. In Arwen there is no light anymore, and the Lady of the Wood and Lord Celeborn abandon Lothlórien, fairest of all lands.'
A soft palm was suddenly laid on his shoulder, and Merry looked up to meet King Faramir's gaze. The young man smiled, and a gentle light was in his eyes.
"Do not fear, my friend," he said in a low voice, almost whispering, "you will not be alone, for the Shire is saved, and there nothing shall be changed. Gondor will not intervene, and you shall keep your own freedom. Yet may I tell you that you may ever come to Minas Tirith if you feel the wish to do so, and you three shall be granted everything you desire. An everlasting friendship between my house and the Halflings shall be begun in these days, and as long as my line will rule, you will be welcomed in the City of Men. Not ever shall you be alone, and if you need aid, you merely need to send a messenger. I know that you think that I cannot replace Aragorn in your hearts, and I do not wish such, for I see that he was special, and that you were close to him, but I shall attempt to handle things in his liking, and friends of his shall be friends of mine. Ever remember this, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrin Took and Samwise Gamgee! Gondor will always welcome you and your children!"
The three Hobbits smiled among their tears, and they felt reassured, for they knew now that they would not be left alone. There would ever be someone who cared for them, and although Faramir was right and he never would be able to take over the place Aragorn had in their hearts, they were fond of him. There was something about that young man that made him alike to the Ranger, and this was not only the dark hair and the eyes of gray. There was more to it: A gentle voice, always finding the right words to calm or rouse when there was the need, and also some manners about Faramir resembled those they had discovered in Aragorn's attitude. Would they not know it better, they had thought Faramir had been raised in Rivendell as well.
Pippin again turned his head to glance at the young king, but Faramir had straightened himself and looked westward over the Sea. A distant expression was in his eyes, although his hand was still lying on Merry's shoulder and the last fall-leaves of the trees were brushing against his head and neck. In this moment he resembled Aragorn more than ever before, and Pippin perceived the same nobility he had discovered in the Ranger. It was almost as if the dead king had come to life again to accompany his foster-father and his beloved Arwen to the shores which lay beyond mortal reach.
'Alas, Aragorn Elessar Telcontar,' the newly chosen King of Gondor mused while gazing out into the west, watching the foam caused by the roaring waves, 'you have left me an office that I never wished to get. Truly, I know that someone has to rule the people of Gondor, and maybe I even was the most likely choice, but I never even wanted to become steward! And now I am King! Alas, I did not get the chance to meet you, but certainly you would have done better. The tales I was told of by anyone who had the luck – I indeed have to say that – to know you, speak of a noble man who cared for his friends more than for himself. You would have become a great King, greater than any of your sires, be it Elendil or any other. The Winged Crown would have better fitter on your head than on mine, and the Scepter of Annúminas now lies in the Silent Houses, the Rath Dínen, since I would not be able to bear it. Sometimes the weight of the Winged Crown is almost crushing me, the wise gaze of Elendil's statue resting on me when I sit on your throne, and it lies heavily on my heart. Alas, Elessar, you have left me a kingdom to guide and I do not feel comfortable with it. For many generations our people have hoped for one of the Kings of Old to return, and when finally the Ring was found again, and Andúril was forged anew, their hearts rejoiced that the reign of the Stewards would finally be ended. Yes, we have only been stewards and although many of us behaved like the kings they were to represent, we have never been of that high line and the blood of Númenor does not run through our veins. Eärendil's line is lost, and his last children are leaving Middle-earth right now: Elrond departs and his daughter with him, and then none of the High-Elves will dwell in Middle-earth any longer. Alas, Elessar, you have ever been our hope, our green tree in the darkness. For all the years it has been there, starting to blossom beautifully in the times of need. Our tree… our tree of hope. But instead of growing fruits, it withered and died, and now there is no one who finds joy in staring at the dead branches. Our tree does not live anymore… and I have become king of Gondor. Truly, I have the respect of all people and they do obey to my orders, but so far I have only led a small battalion of warriors and I do not know how to care for everyone's need and not to forget something important. There are so many things which have to be tended to, so much that has to be looked for… After all, Gondor is a large realm, stretching from the far South to the far North and I ought to be everywhere at the same time. Messengers are coming each single day, concerning me with things of greatest differences and I do not see how to treat them all likewise. All matters are significant, but in most I have no experience and yet, although there are men in Gondor who know about them, I would like to care for them myself. Alas, how greatly do I miss my liberty! I cannot roam through the woods any longer: Gondor cannot lose another king, and there are still Orcs hiding in the forests of Ithilien and they would rejoice in killing the sovereign of Men. Only now I can understand that my father got bitter! When being younger, listening to tales of some older people, I could not believe that he once was a man with joy in his heart and without showing his lust for power so clearly. I thought they would lie to me. Only do I hope that I will not become like he was.'
Faramir closed his eyes, a green tree suddenly appearing in his mind. The young man shivered in the cold western breeze, but when he strained his ears, he thought that he could hear the song his people had sung at Elessar's funeral. The cries of many men and women were in the wind, lingering in the world, and would not cease.
Defeater of Sauron
So noble, so great.
You died in the shadow,
In your heart mere despair.
You cared for the people,
Whose King you were.
Savior of Middle-earth.
You withstood the Lord
In a prison so dark.
A will, stronger than pain,
Was in your heart.
Heir of Kings,
Raised by the Fair,
Hope for mortal Men.
Your life was devoted to us,
And your death fulfilled your Quest.
Victor against darkness.
Your tale shall live on,
A praise in song,
Passed on from father to son.
You never shall die,
Your breath shall live on in the eternal wind.
Faramir faintly shook his head. These words had only come too true. Everywhere in Gondor and Minas Tirith people were still mourning for Elessar like they had known him for many years, like he had been their king for decades. They grieved deeply for someone they did not even know, had not seen him for one single time. Knowing him to be descended from Elendil and being the rightful king of Gondor was enough for them.
Many tears had been shed on that cold December day, when Elessar's body had been buried next to the greatest of his sires. A tree had been planted above his grave, almost at once it had started to blossom. White were its blooms, and the remnants of the Fellowship were reminded of the beautiful niphredil growing in Lothlórien, in the gardens of the Lady Galadriel. The resemblance was almost overwhelming, and Frodo had wept at Aragorn's tomb, remembering the ease and tenderness he had felt in the Man while walking on the gentle hill of Cerin Amroth.
Frodo had already entered the ship, he was no longer able to stand the sight of his friends standing lonely on the shore, weeping. He himself was crying, either. It hurt to leave them behind, although he knew that he would not find peace in Middle-earth anymore, the wounds he had taken in the fight against Sauron were too painful and everlasting to be ever overcome. Each 13th of March and each 6th of October he was ill and the Black Shadow, that was defeated, seemed to reappear to cloud Frodo's mind. The Ring and the fight for it against Gollum at the crater of Orodruin had taken away his cheerfulness, and he could not find joy even in the green meadows of the Shire. Sometimes it felt as if the poison of Shelob was still cursing through his veins, and the wound he had received on Weathertop would never heal completely. Not even Elrond had managed to cure him, the use of athelas had been in vain.
The Hobbit sighed. Sam was more than a brother to him, Merry and Pippin were as close as friends could be, and deeply in his heart he wanted them to accompany him although he understood that it was impossible. He stood at the ship's railing and looked across the Sea. There was no horizon, only water and waves, and no clouds gathered in the west, but far away gentle mists veiled one's sight. The Elves did not want to have other people – mortals – be able to see Valinor, the Undying Lands where many of the Fair Kindred had already sailed. Many of the very proud and many of the very fair. Celebrian, wife of Elrond and mother of Arwen, had been dwelling there for more than five hundred years now, and her husband longed to see her again. He had merely stayed in Middle-earth for he knew that fate demanded him to remain. Otherwise Aragorn might have been slain long ere he had grown to manhood, or he might never have learned to fight in the Elvish way which had been useful on his long and perilous journeys through entire Middle-earth.
Frodo's smile was grim. While he had sought to destroy the Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, Aragorn had been suffering cruelly only hours away. He had not known it, and neither had Sam, but still he wished that he could have helped his friend. Or at least might have brought to him the tidings of the defeat of Sauron.
'He did not know it,' the Hobbit realized suddenly. 'He died without knowing that Sauron had lost. Alas, alas, his death must have been pure despair!'
Gandalf had merely told the Hobbits that Aragorn's life had ended in anguish, more about that the wizard had not managed to utter. Frodo recalled that Gandalf had acted strangely after he had returned from Mordor, and Legolas as well had not been his normal self. Both had hardly spoken, and if, then only the most necessary things, and both had also sought solitude. They had not liked to be disturbed, and had almost gotten angry if another had dared to interrupt their thoughts.
Yet, as far as Frodo had seen now, the wizard and the Elf had retained their former behavior, and he was relieved by that. Never had he tried to imagine what things had been able to influence the two so much that they lost their stoic composure. He was only certain that it must be beyond his own imagination, and he had seen a lot on this journey from the Shire to Mordor!
Again Frodo shook his head faintly, cocking it to his right. There, standing in the shadow of the blown sails, he caught sight of two other figures leaning at the railing, looking out over the Sea. Both were tall, and their clothes seemed to be of pure white. The wind made their hair stream, and then Frodo knew: Gold were one's locks, and the other's hair fell silver, yet mingled with a hint of gold, on his shoulders: Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, who had forsaken Lothlórien, and went over the Sea to meet their daughter again. Their age had passed, and they knew that they could not linger in Middle-earth anymore. The Three Rings of the Elves had lost their power, and their bearers were drawn towards Valinor. On Galadriel's finger there glinted Nenya, wrought of mithril, and Elrond had Vilya, mightiest of the Three, in his keeping. And for the first time Frodo had ever seen, Gandalf showed his Ring openly: Narya the Great and the stone upon it was as red as fire. He had received it from Círdan who had thought it to be of more use to the wizard than to himself. But now the three Rings of the Elves would pass over the Sea, and since the One and the Seven and the Nine were destroyed none would remain in Middle-earth any longer.
'What are the Lord and the Lady thinking?' Frodo wondered, for a minute forgetting his own grief. 'For thousands of years have they dwelt in Middle-earth. They have seen all the changes, felt the power of their people diminishing while Men grew more and more powerful. But now they leave. What will become of Lothlórien, I wonder. The Lord and the Lady themselves were the trees, the grass, and the water. The land is nothing without them, for each being lived on their breath. Alas, the birds will cease to sing, and the Mellyrn will die. Elanor and niphredil will bloom no more east of the Sea. And yet, they are leaving…'
Suddenly feeling the intense eyes of the Lady burning on his skin, the Hobbit turned his head, only to catch her looking at him. A gentle twinkle was in her blue depths, but only for an instant, ere she slowly averted her gaze again to stare across the Sea as if wanting to penetrate the mists veiling Valinor.
Deeply did she inhale the autumn breeze playing with her hair. Her husband's white robes were brushing against her hands lying on the railing, and looking at him, she gently covered his fingers with her own. He met her gaze, a loving smile on his lips, only to turn his hand and enclose her smaller fingers. Softly his thumb stroked over her cold skin, making her shiver under his touch. Warmth was seeping through her, warmth coming from someone of whom she knew that he would never leave her, no matter what lay ahead of them. It had been difficult for him to abandon Lothlórien, but he had not even questioned her why she wanted to go. Ever had he sensed her needs, and although he never had borne a Ring of Power, he had felt that the Three Keepers had to pass over the Sea and depart from Middle-earth. In his mind he had not even toyed with the thought to stay.
"I amar prestar aen. Han mathon ne nen. Han mathon ne chae. A han nostron ned wilith."
Galadriel's soft whisper was almost inaudible, the wind carrying away the words, yet Celeborn could guess what his wife had meant to say.
"The world is changed," he repeated. "I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air." A short pause followed. "I do so either," he added then, quietly as well.
Not even glancing at him Galadriel did not reply to this, and so Celeborn fell silent either. The wind was howling in their ears, yet never so cruel as it had in the autumn before – when the Black Breath had prepared for its final assault, but neither so gentle like it had sounded in Lothlórien. There the wind had sung, not howled – unlike here. Even the Gray Havens had not remained unscathed and Elves who had departed centuries ago had been able to listen to harps being played during the crossing, and the water carrying the ship had told tales of the Undying Lands.
'The world has changed,' Galadriel thought once more, a silver tear appearing in her eye, 'I can feel it. So deeply. The wind has ceased to sing, its soft murmur disappeared in the time. It cannot talk anymore. Its howl brings coldness and fear. Even my Lord shivers in the breeze. Lord Celeborn, whitest among the white. I can feel his warmth as he is standing beside me, enclosing my hand. His right lying on the railing, supporting himself more than ever before. He senses it either, he said. Even in Lothlórien, where the Mellyrn still flower, has the wind become silent, and the water has not spoken to us for long. With Dol Guldur assaulting the Golden Wood our land has lost its spirit, and since the Three have lost their power, I cannot give it back. For the first time in many thousand years will the upcoming spring bring no new elanor and niphredil, and the flowers on Cerin Amroth will wither and die. The Mellyrn will not lose their leaves, and no golden shimmer will cover the ground, singing in soft voices when Elves tread the hidden paths.'
A tender squeeze of Celeborn's fingers almost startled Galadriel. Lifting her head quickly, she was met by her husband's soft gaze. The Elf, however, merely inclined his head to his right, indicating Galadriel to look there. A hint of sadness stood in his blue depths.
A lone figure was just going aboard, as well clad in shining white. The last of those who would depart over the Sea left the shores of Middle-earth, a ring of red fire on his hand.
"Mithrandir," Celeborn murmured, feeling his wife nod as she was standing in front of him, his arms wrapped around her waist, her head leaning against his shoulder. For long had they not shared such intimacy, the upcoming evil in the east had created an unfamiliar distance between them.
"Fate has hurt him," Galadriel sighed. "The death of the King of Men has cast a shadow upon his heart, and it will not yield. I fear, that even Valinor may not make him forget the pain. His suffering has been too great."
The wizard's white cloak was streaming with the wind, as was his beard. Somehow he did no longer look like the powerful Istari he was, the might which had surfaced during the war was gone again. Greater than ever he resembled an old Man, bent by age and misery of a long, hard life.
Staring at his remaining friends, Gandalf gripped the railing of the ship, his knuckles turning white. To create freedom in Middle-earth had been his task, and he had fulfilled that, but nevertheless could his heart not be glad. It refused to leave the new king and Men behind, deeming that they would be in need of guidance of wisdom for long decades or centuries. But his mind told him that he had to go. The last of the Eldar left the East, and Círdan would finally depart from the shores where he had dwelt for long millennia. Ever had the wise Elf said that he would take the last ship, and now he was ready to go. If Gandalf would not leave with him, he would be doomed to remain in Middle-earth until the world would be broken at the end of time.
'And still,' a quiet voice spoke in the Istari's mind, 'you would prefer to stay in the East until some generation of Men would have perished, reassuring that the legacy of the Firstborn would not be lost, vanished out of memory. The life-span of mortals too short to remember things which have happened mere centuries ago, events in the past are forgotten easily. Merely tales remind them of the great battle at the feet of Orodruin, and even these are blurred, parts are missing. In the minds of Elrond and Celeborn you would be able to read each second of these long years the siege of Mordor lasted! Only memory can prevent from repeating the same mistakes, and there will come a time when Sauron will not be remembered anymore, making the same events happening again: Once more will evil men or spirits arise, treason and fear will be spread, and people will die fighting against each other. And then there will be only Men, none of the Eldar remains and the Valar will send the Istari no more. Being on their own, mortals have to keep freedom, refuse malice. Alas, a little guidance would be of great use! Yet I cannot stay here, the Valar are calling me into the West!
Indeed I would feel better when there would be one king of longer life than Faramir, living in the way of the Elves. The Eldar had had a long time to learn, and they have become wise. Those who have survived the First and Second Age have come to treasure liberty, teaching their children in the old ways. Alas, there should have been more Elf-friends among Men! The Dúnedain are a mere shadow of their old might and power, the only one who was of pure Númenorean blood, resembling Elendil as if the old king himself had returned from death, raised by the Elves, is dead and his body is lying in the cold earth of Minas Tirith while his spirit has departed from Middle-earth and cannot be found anymore. Mandos' halls are not open for mortal Men, and only Elves walk there under the light of the Silmaril after their death in battle.'
A sudden shiver surprising him Gandalf sighed, longing for the warm light of the summer-sun. Middle-earth had been dark and cold for too long. Truly, the last year had been a distant image of the days of old – ere Morgoth and Sauron had tried to achieve rule over the world, but yet the Istari was suddenly looking forward to the eternal beauty of Valinor beyond the circles of the world. He had to admit that he had become tired, the fight against Sauron had taken its toll.
'The Undying Lands might heal my pain,' he thought. 'Maybe I will even be able to forget there. The malice in Barad-Dûr has taken away my strength, and since the Three Rings are fading, I am fading either. I cannot regain my power, it has been lost in Sauron's breath.'
The wizard straightened himself, the image of a broken old man dwindling. Having made his decision, although it truly had not been one, he felt better, was at peace with himself. Men could not continue rely on the immortal, the times had changed and the departing should not linger further in the east. Their ages had passed, and they did not belong to Middle-earth anymore. A shadow of a smile crossed the Istari's face. There would be summer in Valinor.
Turning his head, he caught sight of Legolas' blond hair swaying in the breeze. A slightly troubled expression lay on the Elf's fair features, yet he had decided to remain in Middle-earth. He did not need Círdan to pass over the Sea when his time would finally have come, he would build himself a ship and would sail down the Anduin until he reached the ocean in the far south. Gandalf slightly shook his head. Legolas was not yet ready to leave Middle-earth: A far too great place in his heart still belonged to the lands in the east to be able to forsake it. It sang with the birds in the trees, and with the trees themselves. Legolas would not be glad in Valinor, ever would his heart call him to the east.
Slowly the tall Elf lifted his right hand as he was standing next to Gimli who seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. A silent good-bye for the wizard, whom he had ever respected and loved as a friend. Calling some last words was not necessary, they understand themselves without speaking – their fear for Aragorn had made them close. Also raising his hand, Gandalf turned and went to the back of the ship, disappearing out of Legolas' sight.
'I wonder when I will see him again,' passed through the Elf's mind as he was watching the wizard. 'In Valinor time is said to run differently, and the years do not change as they do in Middle-earth. We both will not be the same when we will meet once more. I deem he will be high among the Elf-lords, whereas I will merely by one of the last ever coming to the shores of the Undying Lands, never having been there before, so very unlike to the Lady Galadriel who is greatly respected among the Eldar.'
He gazed into the far west, but even his keen eyes were not able to penetrate the mists veiling the horizon, unifying earth and water and sky, coloring everything with a watery gray as if the mist itself was water and the water itself was mist. To any other it had just looked as if storm clouds were gathering there, distant, yet near.
'The circles of the world end there,' Legolas mused, 'the ocean bends with the earth, but the ship will sail straight on, and thus it will leave Middle-earth and its waters, its air, its smell. Somewhere behind there must be eternal summer, peace between the Valar and Ilúvatar's elder children.
Men are not gifted with this,' came into his mind, 'they die and their souls depart to places we do not know of, the tales of old never speaking of them. I cannot believe that they just disappear, they as well have to go somewhere where that which they had been in their lives remains and lives on. A being so full of compassionate feelings like Aragorn cannot just vanish with the wind, leaving no trace behind. Even a withering flower does not simply disappear, a voice that has once spoken words is not lost. I will not believe that everything that was Aragorn is lying in the Silent Houses of Minas Tirith. His soul cannot be lost, it has to remain somewhere where only those who are akin can accompany him. Ilúvatar unified our two peoples in life, and separates us after our time in Middle-earth has passed. Not an easy thing to bear for those who have become brethren in heart.'
The Elf sighed softly. Aragorn's loss was still weighing heavily on him. The night he had spent watching over the man's body together with Gandalf had brought calm to his soul as if he had been able to make up for not having been at Aragorn's side when the man had drawn his last breath, yet he was not able to forget the pain his friend had had to go through.
'May Ilúvatar find a way to unify our two peoples, somewhere, beyond the circles of the world, there where times ceases to exist. For long have we labored in the fight against the Enemy, suffering in a battle which had seemed to have no light at the end, but while we survived to see a world without malice and darkness, your only reward was a cruel death without having anyone at your side. So many thoughts passed through my mind in that night I was watching your dead body, mesmerizing your features to create an everlasting image in my soul when you were finally gone. It was dark in the Silent Houses, only two torches standing at either side of your head cast a golden shimmer on your skin. You looked kingly, so regal. A man born to lead his people into a better future. And yet you were dead, the stillness of death had captured your limbs and they lay in eternal quietness. No breath escaped your lips, the only sound came from Gandalf's and mine. It was so loud in that darkness. And each of us felt alone with you, sharing thoughts that had not been uttered before our last parting so many days earlier. I felt close to you in that night, as if there had never been a physical barrier between our souls. Something that had had to be you seemed to float in the room, making the silence comfortable. Everything was solemn, and the pain of your torture appeared to have fallen off you, creating an image of a peacefully sleeping man. It was a good night that helped me to overcome my grief, for I learned that death could return freedom to tormented souls. I had seen dead Men before, and their faces had shown the agony of their last minutes while they had tried to get the arrow out of their chests. Death was cruel and full of anguish, I thought, and I did not lose that opinion until we had brought your body to Minas Tirith. There – as if you had sensed that you were at home at last – your features softened, losing the expression of relief that had ever reminded of your agony. Others might not even have noticed, to me it was a visible change easing the weight upon my shoulders. I was able to overcome my sorrow since I had something of you to remember that was not the picture of a battered and bruised body, but one of peace and freedom. If Ilúvatar indeed gave Men a place where to go after they have left Middle-earth, I am certain that you are now high among your sires, sitting on a golden throne next to Elendil, wisdom guiding your judgment about matters of importance. May it be so, my friend, may it be so…'
Legolas sighed softly, his thoughts trailing off into the far west to greet the birds and the wind out there. He stirred slightly, putting his left hand on Gimli's shoulder, steadying his friend who had made a little movement against Legolas' side. A silent gesture of comfort like the Dwarf had offered frequently during the past year when Legolas had been overwhelmed with the memories of Barad-Dûr and a broken Aragorn.
Gimli shortly lifted his head to look into Legolas' eyes, but the Elf had already averted his gaze once more, and continued to stare across the Sea. A hint of a grim smile appeared on the Dwarf's face, only to vanish again after seconds. The friendship between Legolas and him had only deepened in the past year, and, although he would never have admitted it, he was glad that the Elf was not yet ready to forsake Middle-earth. He would have missed his friend greatly.
'If someone had told me before the Council of Elrond that I once would actually think about an Elf in a friendly way, I would have slain him with my axe. And now…' Another smile on Gimli's features, softer and even more concealed.
'And now I am called Gimli Elf-friend among my people, and although they think it to be strange, they do not even object to me showing Legolas the secret ways of delving, and telling him of our own ancient lore. I, however, have also learned a lot from him and his people, may they act strangely sometimes. Never would I have believed that an Elf was actually able to mourn for fallen comrades, even less for Men, but I have seen it to be different now: Legolas has long been grieving for Aragorn, just as I have done, and even Elrond's wise eyes do still betray his sorrow for the death of his foster-son. It has been a hard year for everyone who had known Aragorn, a year in which every day told that he had still lived the year before.'
Again Gimli moved slightly, gripping the axe he always had with him, and felt Legolas' hand reassuringly tighten on his shoulder
"A hard year indeed," he murmured softly, causing the Elf to lower his gaze. Not having intended to disturb his friend's thoughts, the Dwarf shook his head apologetically.
'Minas Tirith has become splendid once more,' he thought, recalling the White City on the knee of Mount Mindolluin, 'the walls are gleaming in dazzling white, and the craft of my kin has shaped the stones in the way most beautiful to any being's eyes. And yet, the city is missing the rightful king for whom it has been waiting for so many long centuries. The Númenorean spirit has not returned, and its last blood has been spilt in the dark chambers of Barad-Dûr. The stones seem to feel it, and they mourn. Many of my kin have told me of the sorrow in the rocks, the wailing which arises when a shaping hand touches them. 'The stones have needed him as much as the people,' Dori said once, and I guess that he is right. Our lore tells that something which has seen the spirit of the Elves or that of Númenor cannot forget it again, and ever it will long for its return. For many centuries the Kings of Men dwelt in the White City.
And now the stones feel like a huge tomb for the rightful heir of Isildur. They buried him next to his sires, far away from the North where he had roamed through in his youth. A tombstone with golden letters is everything that remains of him. 'Elessar', they wrote on it. An unfamiliar name, only adding to the others he traveled under, used as a mask, gave him a different personality. Now a king's, and yet I believe that he would have chosen 'Aragorn', or the one the Elves gave him, although it looks as if I cannot remember that one.'
"Estel", a voice suddenly seemed to say within his head. "'Estel', which is 'hope'".
Surprised Gimli lifted his head, not having noticed at all that he had been staring at the ground. "Estel", the voice repeated, yet it appeared not to be an audible word, rather a mere whisper in his mind, uttered by a thought. Absently the Dwarf felt the wind cooling his face, heard it blowing into the white sails, and only then he realized.
The moment of departing had come. The Elvish ship would finally leave the shores of Middle-earth, taking with it the last of the High-Elves, and Gandalf the White, greatest among the Istari. At his side, Gimli heard the Hobbits sobbing, Legolas only dug his nails into the Dwarf's skin.
'Do you regret that you are not with them?' Gimli shivered.
Water was rolling on the sandy ground, a bird cried high in the air, distant. The eastern wind was caught in the large sails, and as they flapped, Gimli finally saw the source of the whisper in his mind: Arwen.
She was standing at the very front of the ship, her silken dress streaming with the wind, gazing into the far west, unseeing. Behind her, almost hidden in the shadows, waited her father, an expression of greatest sorrow marring his Elvish face.
He looked as if he wanted to close the gap between his daughter and him with a few steps, and yet he hesitated. The distance was just a few meters, and still so much more. A year of grief and pain and anguish stood between them, a year in which Arwen had not been able to turn to her father to share her sorrow, a year in which Elrond had not been able to come near his daughter, neither to hold her nor to tell her of his own grief. He had hardly spoken to her since that dreadful night Gandalf had arrived in Rivendell with the tidings of Aragorn's cruel death.
'Not that I needed those tidings,' Elrond thought pained. 'I had suspected it before and yet I have not told my Undómiel. I feared that it might break her, and still I knew that I would not be able to hide the truth forever. Mithrandir would have come sooner or later. My daughter, so much pain staining her soul… You have loved him for so long, your heart rejoicing when his smile was seen in Imladris after weeks and years of absence. Ever have you been waiting for him, and he ever came back, save from his last journey which should have been the one that brought you together. I feel my own fault weighing on my heart, so heavy, so dark. I forbid him to marry her, to be with her, until he was king, and he did not even object to this task I laid upon his shoulders. He was mortal, and yet had he acted like my own kin in each matter. Why did I not allow him to have her? For he was her light, and in her heart no Elven prince could compare to him. Why did I wait that she would eventually choose another, an Elf? For I must have known that she would never do so. Her heart belonged to him, wholly, and it still does. No beautiful tree in Imladris, no laughter of any friend, no merry song coming from her brothers' mouths could return joy to her eyes. The softness and tenderness have vanished, an indifferent gaze has replaced them. Never has she accused me of sending him away, of burdening him with a seemingly impossible task, and yet does she blame me. I can see it when she is looking at me, even when others say that her eyes betray nothing of any feeling she might have. And also Elladan and Elrohir have gone silent, their easy smile that had returned four centuries after their mother had departed over the Sea has disappeared again, and they do only whisper when they speak to me. Why are they afraid? Do they not know that I feel as great a pain as they do? Aragorn was my son! He had been living under the roofs of Imladris as a son of my flesh and blood for eighteen years, for his whole youth! And only when he learned of Arathorn being his father, he stopped calling me so. For I know that he did it, although he hardly ever addressed me with any other name than 'Lord'. How often would I have liked to shed tears about my son's fate? Many nights did I spend in his room, sitting on his abandoned bed, and thought about the years he had slept there, about the years that should have come: When I would have gone over the Sea, knowing that my son and my daughter shared the Crown of Gondor. If I had been able to, I would have wept when I found a cracked dagger lying next to your bed in the first night I sat in your room. 'Broken like your body,' I thought, and I deemed me lucky to have not seen you once more after your death. I had needed centuries to overcome the look in my wife's eyes after she had returned from the Orcs' hidings. Empty and soulless had she stared at me, and right now I receive the same gaze from my daughter. Do you know that I am pained as well? Or do you forget it in the haze of your tears? Alas, I do not blame you. Your loss is greater as mine, as your love for him is deeper. You would have forsaken your immortality just to be with him for a short mortal life, and even with him having a long life-span just as his ancestors, he might have been slain after a twinkle of time in your Elvish eyes. Would have a life of two hundred and more years been more than a twinkle of time? I do not know, and on one side I am glad that you did not have to find out. Alas, my son, from the moment your mother brought you to Imladris I knew that you would have to die once, that I would lose you – after a short time in my eyes, even if you had outlived all of your race. But never did I imagine that I would feel as great a pain as I do now. Ever have I lived with the thought of your death, and now, after you have finally departed, I wish that I would not have to bear the sorrow it has caused. And, alas, I would never wish any father to watch his child suffering as mine does right now, and has done so for the whole year. My beloved Arwen…'
The noble Elf sighed audibly, never noticing that his eyes bore an expression of such sadness as they had never done before – not even after Celebrian had left Middle-Earth.
"Arwen," he murmured softly, not knowing how to express his feelings differently. And yet, his daughter remained unapproachable. Elrond's eyes were transfixed on her as she was standing on the railing of the ship, looking out into the far, far west. Her silken dress, her hair – so dark – was streaming with the cold wind, creating an aura of distance. She did not want anyone to invade this, her only wish was to be left alone with her grief. A lost figure, which could not shed the tears she terribly wanted to cry.
Only her brothers had managed to slightly lift her spirits in the departing year, but now they remained on the shores of Middle-earth – they had chosen to live their life together with the Dúnedain, forsaking the immortality waiting for them in Valinor. And Arwen went over the Sea together with her father, but only since she had not been able to stand the sight of the beauty in Imladris, the green valleys, the secret paths she had treaded with Aragorn. Maybe Valinor would bring her heart freedom and peace, for it was said that nothing evil had stained the Undying Lands since the day Fëanor had slain a great part of the Teleri dwelling in Alqualonde.
"Arwen," Elrond murmured once more, the distance between him and his daughter suddenly crushing his heart, and yet, she did not move. Did not even show that she had heard her father's quiet plea for returning to him.
And then, he turned, leaving her alone in her grief, as he had done frequently since the fateful January morning Gandalf had come back to Imladris.
Arwen, however, despite her seemingly impassiveness, had noticed her father waiting in the shadow of the great sail, had heard him whispering her name with desperation in his voice. And yet, she could not close the distance between them. Too many things had happened in the last year, and although she did not consciously blame her father – loving him too much to hurt him on her free will, she did not want to be comforted by him. There was no one who could give her the comfort she needed so anxiously. For months Arwen had only said the most necessary things, shutting herself from her family. Aragorn's death had destroyed something in her heart that could not have been brought back until now. It seemed, as if the most important parts of her feelings were just gone: Joy and laughter, the simple feeling of loving and being loved. Nothing of these had remained, and a terrible emptiness had replaced them. It was as if her heart had gone numb, choosing to cease to feel. In the first days after Gandalf had gently tried to tell her of her betrothed's fate, she had just refused to accept, and those days had been the only ones in which she had been able to feel at all. There had been confusion and rejection, yet already blurred by a subconscious knowing, followed by sorrow and grief. Later, there had only been memories, and those had hurt most. These glad hours were gone and would never return.
'The stars flowered in the sky, the leaves of the Mellyrn reflecting their warm light, when we plighted our troths in Lothlórien,' she recalled, the reminiscing of that moment re-awakening the pain in her heart.
'Never will I see his gentle smile again, never again will I look into his gray eyes and forget the surroundings. Alas, Estel, where did you go? Why can I not be with you? For almost seventy years I have accompanied you in my thoughts, and now we are separated beyond the end of the world. The old tales do not speak of reunifying our people after yours has died and mine has departed over the Sea. They do not speak of bringing together what belongs to each other, and so I remain behind, lost and forgotten. I cling to the memories, although they hurt, but they are the only way to stay alive. Otherwise, without remembering you in each waking and sleeping moment, my soul would have died, and a dead body would be treading the valleys of my home.
But now I will take your picture and my memories to the stars above, that they will live there until the world is shattered and a new one will be born without the evil traces of the elder. Only then the eternal remnants of Middle-earth will forget the things they suffered in their lives, and gladness will return to their hearts. Yet I understand that this time will only come when even the youngest of the Elves living right now will have become old, and their never-graying hair will have turned to white. For now, however, I have only memories. Memories of moments which seem unimportant in the long lives of my people, yet I have treasured them as if I knew that I should never forget them.
I can see the sparkle in your eyes after you spotted me standing on a white balcony, watching the forests, waiting for you to return from a journey, long and perilous. It spoke of love, mingled with soft laughter, a promise to wait for me forever lying underneath. Alas, Estel, I do miss you so much, for you were the light in my life, my star in the black night of the Unnamed's shadow.
Ever since we had met in the gardens of Imladris, I have been waiting for you, and the years of your absence seemed to hardly pass. I, who have lived an entire age, felt each summer lasting centuries, and when you finally graced the green meadows with your return, time began to fly as fast as Shadowfax runs over the barren plains of Rohan. Your hands have always felt so warm on my skin, your mere touch comforting me, relieving me of any sorrow I might have had.
And yet, I did not know real sorrow in those times, I only thought I did. I grieved for each fallen of my father's people during the fight against the Shadow, I beckoned those who wanted to depart to stay, not wanting to lose them. And now you are lost to me, and there remains no one who could take away my pain. Father feels helpless, does not know how to approach me without saying your name. My brothers are hunting with the Dúnedain, trying to slay the last of the surviving Orcs, and they decided to stay behind, making me lose two others of those whom I love.
Sometimes I want to be gifted with being able to cry like the humans, it must be relieving to let the tears flow, wash away the anguishing pain in one's heart. All Elves in Imladris have ceased speaking of you, my Estel. As if you had never been there. And yet have you been their Lord's foster son, having been raised like one of our own people. No one has spoken a word of you, not even your name, in my presence for the whole year. Not even my father. Only casual things were said, as if I was interested in the beautiful red of the flowers in this spring. Everything that had once been so important to me has lost its meaning, and the loveliness of Imladris does not exist anymore – as if it had only been there with your smile awakening it to life.
I do not want to forget you, my Estel, my light. There are times I merely want to scream your name, just to remember the others that you had been there. Maybe they would then realize that nothing can make me lose you, especially not speaking of you. I know that it is said that in Valinor we will forget the pain we suffered in Middle-earth , but does that mean that my memories of you will be wiped out, either? For only the seventy years you lived are filled with pleasant moments, the past summer, however, overshadows my heart. Every time I remember the early sun caressing your face with golden light, your breath stirring the Mellyrn blooms in Lothlórien, I am reminded of your fate and our agony. For I know that your soul and your body suffered, although no one has told me how you really died. Mithrandir merely mentioned that you had been captured by the Orcs and, having been brought to Barad-Dûr, that Legolas and he had found you there. I must admit that I am glad that I was not told anymore, for the pictures in my mind are cruel enough. Blood trickles from the corner of your mouth. Legolas has not been able to speak of the journey through Mordor, but in his eyes I perceived a shadow of the things he saw. A dark shadow. And yet, I would feel better if I had had the chance to kiss your cold lips, to touch your cold skin. But the burial in Minas Tirith refused me this possibility, and I have not even seen your tombstone. I will never see it. What did they write on it? 'Brave and strong in our fight'? 'Uncrowned king of Gondor'? But however honoring those inscriptions are, they could not catch your spirit. You have been so much more than a brave soldier, a crownless king.
Do you know that we have kissed each other only once? I do so. It was a mere brushing of our lips, on the Hill of Cerin Amroth, on a glad Midsummer evening. We both had been looking into the far west, to the Twilight, I stood at your right, your arm having wound around my waist, and we both had spoken our vows. Sadness and joy were rebelling in my heart, I had forsaken immortality and chosen to become your wife. Everything else, however, was so clear in that moment. I felt undying elanor and niphredil under my feet, your fingers gently lying on my side, and I smelt your scent, so fresh and unique. And in this moment I knew that I had made the right decision: I belonged to you, and you belonged to me. Raising my head to look at you, I saw that you had been watching me, a soft smile tugging at the corners of your mouth. Slowly your lips touched mine, your eyes bearing a questioning expression in them. But a slight nod relieved you of your worry, and they fluttered close, a token of utter trust and blissful joy. We did never kiss again. Somehow we felt that it was necessary to wait until we would finally be bonded in marriage. Yet could we not know that this moment would never come.
Estel, you have gone, and I will go now. The shores and lands of Middle-earth will never again perceive any of us treading their paths, watching the skies with the uncountable stars gracing them. The realms of our people will be forgotten, and only legend will tell of the Firstborn roaming through the woods. I do not mind it. My heart has gone numb, and I wonder why I have not died of grief. Could there be greater in any Elven soul? But not even death would relieve my of my sorrow, for I would walk in Mandos' halls, and there death is like life. So I will go to Valinor where my mother is waiting for her husband and her children. But only my father is coming back, for Elladan and Elrohir have remained east of the Sea, and my heart has stayed there, either. Only there Estel was with me, only there we saw the same sun, and marveled at the same stars. Now, however, their light has turned cold and hurting, but I want to feel warmth again. Valinor might bring it, so my body is going over the Sea with leaving my soul behind. I do not know what is expecting me in the Undying Lands – the High Lady has not revealed her secrets – but maybe, my Estel, my beloved, we might meet again, there, where only the stars live and the world has come to its end. There my only hope lies, and to see the day we will be reunified I will live for. Where only the stars live and the world has come to its end…'
A lost figure, standing on the railing of a white ship, went into the West. And never again was such beauty and sadness seen in Middle-earth, east of the Sea where the new age had begun. White birds were circling above her head, cold water splashed on her hands – feeling like bitter rain, and yet she stood unmoving, her eyes trying to veil the mists shielding Valinor. And there she stood until the ones who had remained on the shore could not see her anymore, the white sails disappearing on the horizon, where the ocean met the sky, leaving the circles of the world.
Arwen Undómiel, the Evenstar, had ceased to shine, her light lying beside a cold body in the city of Minas Tirith. And there it lay until the world was shattered, and a new one was born from the ashes of the old.
When the cold of winter comes
Starless night will cover day
In the veiling of the sun
We will walk in bitter rain
But in dreams
I still hear your name
And in dreams
We will meet again
When the seas and mountains fall
And we come, to end of days
In the dark I hear a call
Calling me there
I will go there
And back again
A/N: The End. Truly. *ah, I could cry – miss your reviews already*. So, I hope you all have liked it… I'd appreciate to get to know whether you'd have expected a different last chapter… sadder or less sad….. more about Arwen or Legolas or …. whoever. Oh, yes, and I'd love to get to know which chapter you liked best.
And, I learned that many readers often want to know the chapter the author herself liked best…. so, I like best this last one, for it was a challenge to write in all those different POVs and I –forgive me praising myself- have always loved the images in my mind about Arwen's departure from Middle-earth. I can only hope that I have been able to write it down that you can imagine these scenes as well as I do.
And, if you want to, you can e-mail me at any time!! I'll answer each mail, I promise.