Epilogue: To Honor Wishes
I knelt beside the gentle flow of the icy spring, rinsing the dirt from my hands as I absently listened to Gimli's tale of masonry work in Gondor. He spoke animatedly about the great works of his kindred in helping to restore the White City, but stonework had never been the favored realm of most Elven craftsmanship and held little interest for me in particular.
"Are ye well, Legolas?" Gimli suddenly asked.
Shaking myself from my thoughts, I realized Gimli had fallen silent for some time before rousing me with his latest question.
"I am well, my friend," I assured him, forcing a smile that I feared lacked any conviction.
"How goes the colony?" he asked, gesturing back through the forest where the unseen buildings of the colony were congregated. The elves of the colony worked busily to finish more housing for the influx of elves moving to resettle in North Ithilien. But in deference to Gimli's unexpected visit, I had chosen to instead replant saplings that had been sent by my father from Eryn Lasgalen to replant the woods of Ithilien, hoping that Gimli would feel he had the privacy to say that which had brought him unheralded to my colony.
"The colony is well. Growing larger than I had imagined as those elves not yet ready to leave for Valinor resettle here," I absently answered, standing to inspect the saplings I had planted near the stream. So much of the forest in North Ithilien had been burned and cut down before and during the War. And what had not burned we were steadily working to see thrive and become healthy once more.
I looked again at the last sapling. I knew that so close to water, the saplings were nearly certain to thrive, but I spoke softly to them in Silvan, encouraging them to put forth their roots and drink deeply.
"Good. Ver'a good," Gimli nodded.
He watched in silence as I inspected the young saplings, his mind obviously intent upon something he wished to say. I could have probed his thoughts for his intentions—for strangely, the gift of mind reading granted from our binding had endured though my mate had not—but I had never come to enjoy the skill and had over the years perfected locking that power away, preferring the quiet of my own mind. I had no envy for the childhood I could imagine my love had been forced to endure because of her burdened skills.
I shook myself from such distracting thoughts of my lost love, returning my attention to the dwarf before me.
"Speak your mind, friend-Gimli, censor not words between such friends as we and speak that which your heart so struggles with," I at last told the dwarf.
He harrumphed loudly, but soon did begin speaking his mind.
"We worry 'bout you, Legolas. Most especially Aragorn an' I. He says ye've not entered the White City yourself since we all departed after his coronation an' wedding. Ye send yer elves to help with restorin' the city, but do'na yourself leave the woods of North Ithilien. It's not healthy, Legolas, to so wholly cut yourself off from yer friends an' bury yourself in work. Had I to guess, I would say none of these elves have the gumption to tell you you're working yourself too hard an' leaving yourself no time for enjoyment. That's not what the Lass would have wanted. She'd of told you herself that the life you're slaving yourself at be no kind of life to live."
I turned away from my friend's admonitions.
"Yet I am keeping my promise to her, my friend," I whispered, though I could not face the dwarf's knowing stare. "I am honoring her wishes that I remain in Ithilien and build the colony she foresaw, and there is much work left to be done to complete her vision."
"Ye know you don'na have to build it all at once, my friend. You be using that as an excuse to remain in these woods lickin' yer wounds. The Lass wouldn'na wanted that," he said, stepping in front of me again, his face grave and the pain as clear in his eyes as it was in my own.
"I need to be in these woods," I finally confessed to my friend, realizing he might understand it in a way none of the elves of the colony could. They had not known and loved my wife as Gimli had. "When I walk under these boughs, I can remember the short times we were allowed to walk beneath this very canopy together. Even on our march into those cursed, dark lands, she would take my hand, smile at me, and the problems and worries I harbored in my heart would melt away. We were happy here under the branches of these trees, in a way I knew not was possible. "
I shook my head and stepped closer to one of the tall beech trees, standing between its great spreading roots. It had been badly scorched and nearly destroyed by the Orcs, but I had spent the past three years carefully tending it and pouring my healing powers into the tree, trying by sheer force of will to coax it back to health.
Gimli followed my movements, but held his tongue as I tried to word my thoughts.
"Beneath this very tree," I finally told the dwarf, unashamed of the tears I knew he would hear in my voice, "She and I once stopped on our march into that terrible place. We snuck away nearly every night of that march, and walked beneath the trees of this forest, simply talking, as well as loving each other. But beneath this very tree, she gave to me such trust, and smiled at me with unparalleled happiness as she looked up at me and told me she loved me. She was not given to voicing those words often, though I know she felt them, and my heart carefully marked each time she voiced those precious words. And beneath this tree, she let a piece of her tortured past slip away, and gave her trust and herself to me as she never had before."
Gimli stepped closer beside me, and I felt his strong hand on my arm, offering me his silent support as I gathered myself.
"When I am away from the cacophony of the colony, my heart can better hear her voice and recall her smile and her touch. When I am alone under these trees, I can still feel her—" I lightly touched the center of my chest, "—here. As though her fëa yet exists and a piece still dwells within my own," I told my friend.
"Ye don'na think she's yet alive, do you, Lad?" Gimli asked, the incredulity evident in his expression and voice.
I turned away again.
"Lad, we looked for days for the Lass's body. Long after the army retreated those lands did you an' I walk them lookin' for sign of the Lass. All we found were her weapons, pack, an' cloak. You can'na think she still walks these lands an' has been for these past years, do you, Legolas?"
"What happened to her body, Gimli?" I angrily returned, turning to face him. "I should have had her body at the least to burry and to mourn over."
"I can'na say," Gimli admitted. "The Lass was'na from our world, Lad, perhaps it is the way of her people not to leave bodies behind."
I looked away, my anger quickly deflated.
"Do you really believe the Lass could yet live an' hadn'a found ye yet?"
"No," I grudgingly admitted. "I do not yet believe that she lives." But the words tasted of bitter ash to pass my lips.
"I know ye wish to be close to the Lass's memory. I kin understand that better than the others," Gimli said. "But don'na shut your friends out, Lad. Let us be of help to ye. An' don'na be workin' yourself quite so hard. Even this dwarf kin see the shadows under yer eyes an' the weight you've lost. It's not healthy."
My eyes pressed shut at the admonishing. "I know, my friend. I know."
We stood silently by the stream for some time, and how I wished that water could wash away the burning ache in my heart and ease my grief.
But I knew not even time would wash away the trails and valleys of grief etched in my fëa.
For several hours, Gimli and I worked silently side by side to tend the saplings, the dwarf even helping to plant a few.
"Never heard of before," he grumbled as we finished and went to wash the soil from our hands. "A dwarf up to his elbows in dirt, an' not lookin' for no gems, but plantin' a tree. Ha! Thank Aulë there be none of my kin to see."
I chuckled as we knelt by the water. "Perhaps you shall find such work to your liking and plant gardens at Aglarond."
"Not likely," the dwarf darkly laughed. "I'll leave such pursuits to you elves an' any others with such fondness for growing things."
He said something else, but my ears pricked at hearing a noise coming from beyond the other bank of the stream. Stepping lightly, I turned and lifted my bow, nocking an arrow as I considered how an Orc could have somehow slipped past the sentries into the forest. Gimli followed me and hefted his axe as well.
But my hold on the arrow eased as I felt a tingling, almost burning sensation in my chest, causing me to rub at the sensation.
But I ignored Gimli and focused on the sensation, feeling a sense of confusion suddenly emanate from it. It added to my own, yet I knew it was not mine.
The word fell in a desperate plea from my lips, and when I looked up across the stream, I saw a woman step lightly from the cover of the trees, her drawn features staring curiously at the rushing water. She was dressed in the clothes I had last seen her in, yet they were clean and unmarked, and her hair was loose and unfettered, but her visage somehow slightly different from the one that had been seared into my heart and mind. How often had my dreams portrayed this breathtaking figure? And how often had I woken and had the dream so cruelly torn away?
"Elaina?" I repeated in a choked appeal, and the tantalizing illusion looked up, clearly startled by my presence, and turning to stare across the distance at us.
"By Aulë!" Gimli gasped. And I knew then that Elaina was not another tantalizing dream, even if my mind still could not comprehend the entirety of this possibility.
My bow and arrow fell heedlessly from my fingertips as I jumped into the stream, carelessly wading and splashing through the thigh-deep icy water to reach her, and praying the image would not fade before I could reach it.
But as I got within a few feet of her, her stare suddenly broke and she jumped nervously back, her eyes darting about as her arms wrapped tightly around her midsection, her muscles tight and quivering in fear. Tears welled in my eyes to see her shaking so. What had happened to the fierce maiden who had broken my nose and quipped astonishing threats at me upon our first unexpected meeting, regardless of her terror for my likeness to her feared kin?
I forced myself to stop and give her space. "Elaina," I called softly again, the name I'd been loath to even think now falling happily from my lips, despite her changed and frightened manner.
Her brows drew together. "No one ever calls me that."
My heart clenched, but I forged on. "Ever have I called you thus. Do you not recall me? I am your husband, Legolas."
"Legolas," she repeated, seeming to slowly taste the word, my name coming out in that familiar accent she had always flavored it with. Her gaze suddenly softened as she nodded once. "Yes. I remember."
I stepped forward again, only for her to mirror the action by stepping back, fear returning to her eyes as they darted about nervously for an escape.
"I would never harm you," I whispered, my heart tearing to see such wild fear in her eyes. What had happened to my love? Had my fierce warrior maiden finally been broken, and how had so astonishing a thought occurred?
She drew a deep breath and seemed to steady herself. "I'm sorry. I know you wouldn't," she whispered. And as I waited, she bravely stepped closer and lightly placed her hand on my chest. "Legolas," she whispered, that once again familiar accent lilting in her voice.
My eyes closed at the wonderful sensation of her touch—even just her hand—and soon I felt her arms around my waist and her head press against my chest as she embraced me.
I wished to crush her there into the safety of my body, but forced my arms to only loosely encircle her, careful that she would not feel trapped.
"Am I dreaming?" I whispered against her hair as I smoothed my hand down its silky length.
"If this is a dream, I hope I don't wake up from it again," she whispered back, like me, seeming afraid to lift her voice and shatter this moment, whether it was dream or reality.
"Where have you been?" I whispered once more against her hair, breathing in the intoxicatingly familiar and fresh scent of her. I could have been content to merely hold her for all time, but I yet yearned for answers.
"My world," she answered in a breathless whisper.
She shook her head, the loose waves of her red curls dancing across my arm at her back. "Please," she begged, "can we just stand here a little longer? I'm so afraid this will become another dream, and you'll vanish again."
My arms tightened involuntarily around her at the utterly broken and lost emotion in her cadence, but she was unafraid of my movement and tightened her own arms, readily sinking into my body.
I felt tears soak through my tunic, though she gave no physical sign of shedding them, and I knew my own were wetting her glossy hair.
"Is that really you, Lassie?" Gimli drew out in a quiet voice, and we both turned to see that Gimli had wadded across the stream as well, the water reaching so high on him, that most of his beard was sodden with water.
As I watched Elaina's face, I witnessed her warily assessing him before visible steeling herself once more and holding a hand out to the dwarf as she answered, "Yeah, it's really me."
Gimli eagerly took her hand and then stepped forward to wrap his strong arms around her torso, crushing her in his own embrace. Our friend could not see, but I witnessed her face fall into panic as she stopped breathing, her eyes frantically darting about once more.
I pressed my hand to her cheek. "You are safe, Elaina-love. You are safe here."
She began breathing at my words and jerked her head once in a nod, awkwardly returning Gimli's hug.
The dwarf stepped away when he sensed her discomfort. "By Aulë, Lass, how is such a thing possible?" Tears ran steadily down his cheeks to disappear into the reddish whiskers of his beard.
"They sent me back because I couldn't die here. I had to die where I was born. They said I couldn't die here. They sent me back to that place, and I—I thought it had all been a cruel dream when I woke up in that cave again, and then I just gave up."
"'They?'" I repeated, her words making little sense. "Who? And to what cave?" Though I had a sinking feeling I knew the place she spoke of with such fear.
"Mandos and Vairë. They kept telling me that I couldn't die here, I wasn't supposed to be here, then they finally sent me back, and I thought that was the end. I thought it was the end of the story. But it wasn't. There was more to the story."
I pushed back to look down at her at the mention of those great Valar, pushing away the rest of her story and grasping what I could comprehend. "They spoke to you?"
"Yeah, kept waltzing in and out of my dreams. And when I woke up back in that prison again, I thought it had all been a tortuous dream. Like the ones I used to have, the ones where I'd never really escaped North Korea and had been there all along. And it took a long time, but I finally remembered that being here had been real." She chuckled a dark laugh. "Though I had a little help remembering."
"How?" I pressed, still trying to piece together her strange words and inconceivable story.
And she pulled the necklace Galadriel had once given her from her tunic displaying it on her open palm. "She said it would help me remember. I wore it for a long time after I was returned to my world before I even realized it was still there." She looked away. "And by then I almost didn't want to remember, even the good things." She shrugged as though it did not matter, but the stiffness in her shoulders belied her. "In the end, it didn't matter, and I finally died," she continued.
"Died? I do not understand. How long were you in that place?"
She kept her eyes averted, refusing to meet my gaze. "How much time has passed here?"
"More than three years, Lass," Gimli quickly answered.
Her head again jerked in a nod. "Sounds about right," she whispered.
I pulled her back into my arms, ignoring how stiff she initially was as the knowledge of how long she had suffered sank in. Indeed, it had been longer than her initial torture in that place. Her reactions were now made painfully clear to me, even if much of what she had said was still not.
"It matters not," I whispered aloud. "You are back where you belong."
She finally relaxed against me. "Yes. That's right," she whispered, such relief in her voice. "And They said I could stay this time. For good. I won't be sent back again. I passed Their tests and earned my chance to be here for good."
I leaned back to look at her questioningly. "Test? I do not understand your words."
"They sent me back to that place to prove my worth I guess, though They said that since time was fluid, They didn't know when and where They were sending me back. And I don't know if it was the Valar or who, but after I died, a voice gave me the choice to be reborn here or let my spirit rest, saying I'd earned my choice. But I needed to see you again. I needed to know it hadn't been a dream, so the voice said I could be reborn here and that I could sail with you to Valinor, or if I died, I would meet you there."
My arms crushed her once more to my chest, prayers of thanks in Silvin and Sindarin to the Valar rushing from my lips.
"We shall not be parted again," I gratefully whispered as the realization struck me. "How were you granted passage into the Undying Lands?"
She shrugged, looking down as she nervously fingered the cloth of my tunic. "The voice said I was granted passage because I had no other home. It said even the Valar were sympathetic to those who had no other place to go. And because my spirit, or I guess my fëa would never be at peace without yours, and you would never find peace in Valinor without mine. Because they were bound.
As I pulled back, I finally saw what I had noted was different in her appearance. "Not a scar marks your skin," I said in wonder, tracing the visible and starkly clear skin of her collarbone where a white scar had once laid.
"No, no scars. They offered to take the memories, too, but it was all or nothing, and I couldn't bear the thought of losing the memory of you. Even if you turned out to really be only a dream. And if you weren't, it didn't seem fair for you to be married to a woman who didn't know who you were."
I held her close and continued my prayers to the Valar, willing to offer them anything for this unexpected grace.
"Aragorn will never believe this," Gimli suddenly laughed. "I can'na wait to tell him. An' the hobbits as well. They'll be delighted to hear."
Elaina tensed again. "Maybe we can wait a bit to make a big announcement. I'm just not ready to face a bunch of people."
Eagerly I nodded, thinking I selfishly desired time alone with my love anyway. "It can wait until you are ready to face them. It can all wait. We have much time to reconnect with them."
My heart nearly burst with that revelation. Indeed, we would now have time for all those things, with the assurances of the Valar that she would sail with me or await me in Valinor. And in the interim, we could reconnect with friends I had neglected in her absence.
Never had I dreamed the Valar would grant me so much.
None could say that in the years to come that our lives were perfect or easy, but Elaina and I had never had such foolish thoughts or promises between us.
Her absence from my life had greatly affected and changed her. The time she spent returned to her own world marking her fëa more deeply than her first experiences in that place had. It was years before a carefree smile returned to her lips, and years more before her tense and startled reactions abated. But her nightmares lingered on well beyond much of her other healing. The emotional scarring coursing deeply through her fëa.
Many times, I asked about her absent years, but rarely would she come to speak of her return to her world. Yet, she did eventually come to not dwell so often upon that time. She was forever marked by that period, and never again as she once had been, instead graver at times than before, but in time her mind had mostly healed, and I thanked the Valar for every smile to grace her lips.
Our rows and quarrels were not often, but they were indeed as great as Elaina has once predicted. Yet ever we resolved them together and achieved our moments of happiness again.
Happiness was not ours to ever hold for all time, but we lived on in happiness from that day, until this.
A/N: To be honest, the other story arc ending will always end where I left it. That's just the way that ending is meant to be.
But I do have two or three one-shots planned for Lane after this story arc ending, and perhaps even a sequel, but you guys will have to let me know if you're interested in reading a sequel. There's a poll in my bio page, so please go there and let me know if you're interested in reading more or if you think this story arc has ended where it was meant to as well.
Thanks again a million times over for all your wonderful reviews, encouragements, and kind words. I've been blown away by the response this story received (I don't think any other fanfics I've written in other fandoms have ever so consistently gotten these kinds of long reviews that you guys bless me with) and this trilogy really has been a blast to write. I do feel like I've learned a lot, too, so I hope to take my new knowledge to my original works and one day soon finish them and get them published. You've all been wonderful in helping to teach me what you do and don't enjoy as readers. Thank again for letting me practice on you, lol!