Legolas had not thought to send word ahead to the palace of his coming, for his plan was to stay no longer than a day. His plans were thwarted, however, when he found his father not at home. Galion informed him that the King had taken to wandering the woods in recent months, and might not return for several days.
Legolas departed that same hour, intent to find his father. The King's 'secret place' was the first place he looked and he was unsurprised to find his father staring out over the falls. Legolas emerged from the shadow of the trees. He was certain his boots made no noise, but his father turned to greet him as if Legolas had called his name. Thranduil greeted his son with a nod and Legolas reciprocated with a bow and an apologetic smile. He had no wish to interrupt his father's privacy.
"I was looking for you," said Legolas, though that fact was rather obvious to them both.
"And you found me," Thranduil replied. "How goes Ithilien?"
"The trees have returned, and the meadowlarks," said Legolas, "but it will be a time before the forest has fully regrown."
Thranduil nodded. "And there will be time, thanks to you."
"We all played our part," Legolas replied. It was not out of modesty that he said so, nor was he shy of accolades well-earned. He merely refused to diminish his own people's sacrifices. Legolas might have been the only elf to march on the black gate with Aragorn, but there were so many others who died defending their home against Sauron's forces. Without their noble sacrifices, there would have been no wood for Legolas to return home to.
Thranduil accepted Legolas' addendum with a nod and beckoned for his son to join him on the stone ledge. Legolas came to stand beside his father. Then he took a step farther and looked down into the roiling foam as he had so many years before as a small child. Only this time, his father felt no urgency to take him by the hand. The cliff was as high as it was back then, perhaps even higher now after all the time the water had to carve away the earth.
"It has been a long time since we stood here together," said Legolas.
"It has," Thranduil nodded, "and it will be our last."
Legolas returned his attention to his father. He should not have been as surprised as he was to hear him say so. "You have felt the call of the sea?"
"I have," Thranduil admitted, "for a long time now. I merely chose to ignore it. I am stubborn that way."
"I never noticed," Legolas quipped. His gaze passed over the falls, landing on a sprig of wildflowers more or less marking the spot where his grandfather's ashes were once spread. "So you have come to say goodbye?"
"I came to remember," Thranduil corrected him.
Legolas shifted his gaze to his father, his eyes betrayed some confusion, a wordless questioning which Thranduil endeavored to answer.
"Your mother stood right there," he gestured to the very spot. He could almost see her now, hear her speaking to him. "She told me I would see them again across the sea – my father and cousin. There was no doubt in her mind. She was certain of it."
"Does that comfort you?" Legolas asked.
"It terrifies me," he replied.
Why, indeed? It had taken some time for Thranduil to puzzle that answer out. "Because eternity without her is unthinkable. I would rather fade here in this forest that I love than dwell in Valinor forever without her."
Legolas thought awhile on his father's dilemma. He understood his fear well enough, but it was a fear he himself had long ago set aside. "I do not know if it will ease your mind, but I believe she awaits you there."
Legolas knew the answer almost instantly, for he watched the tension in his father's eyes and frame ease by the smallest measure. The fact that Legolas could note the change at all spoke to the impact of his words. His father's expression, ever stoic, softened slightly, and the smile that graced his face reached his eyes. It was a rare sight, one Legolas had taken for granted as a small child. He hoped now it was a sign of hope for days to come.
"And what will you do?" Thranduil asked amid his son's reverie.
Legolas thought of Ithilien and the dwarf who awaited him back at his father's palace. "I still have a few adventures left in me. Gimli and I are headed to Dorwinion. You and he share the same taste in wine."
"I will never understand your fondness for that dwarf," said Thranduil, though for his son's sake, he did his best to restrain his exasperation.
Legolas merely shrugged, allowing his father's old grudge against the dwarves to rest. "Will you do something for me?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Tell mother I will see her soon."
"Of course," Thranduil replied. "Anything else?"
"Yes." Legolas hesitated a moment before he added. "If you see Tauriel..." he began, but was unable to complete the thought aloud. His father finished it for him.
"I will tell her to await you."
"Thank you." Legolas glanced up to the sky, marking the sun's position. "The hour grows late. I left Gimli at the palace in Galion's care. I must return before the dwarf wears out his welcome."
"Indeed," Thranduil replied. He stepped closer to embrace his son, holding him longer than he had in many years. Legolas did not try to pull away from the embrace first as he had in his youth. He gave his father all the time he wanted. At last Thranduil freed him. "Farewell, my son, and remember, my heart goes ever with you."
"And mine with you," Legolas replied, and with a final bow, father and son parted.
Thranduil stood at the ship's bow. He had not moved, nor turned his gaze from the white shore since it first came into view. They would land soon, and centuries of waiting would be over. He did not yet know whether his arrival would be a blessing or a curse.
Thranduil raised his hand and rested it lightly on the mithril crown he wore. He lifted it from his head to examine it, tracing twisted vines cradling small stones. He wondered what it meant now, to wear this crown when Greenwood and Middle-earth lay behind him. He was not a king anymore, not really. The thought gave him pause, and no small amount of comfort. He felt a weight lift, far greater than the value of the mithril the crown bore. It had been so long since Thranduil Oropherion was nothing more than a young lord walking amongst betters, so long ago it felt like a dream.
He would live that dream again.
It was not until this moment that he acknowledged how greatly he longed for that freedom. To be Thranduil again…
Thranduil felt rather than heard his steward approach.
Galion stepped up to the railing, but his gaze fell to the crown in his king's hands. He had a firm notion of what thoughts swirled through the ellon's head now. "Your father dreamt of a kingdom of his own from the time of his youth. You had no choice in the matter."
"I will no longer be a king once I step on that shore."
Galion shook his head. "You will always be a king to your people. It matters not what shore you stand on or whether your father awaits us on the dock."
"And what will you do if Oropher awaits us there?" Thranduil asked.
"How do you mean?" Galion asked.
"My father will want you back," Thranduil replied. "Will you abandon my house for his?"
Galion chuckled quietly at his king's question. "I have a little time yet to decide."
"An hour, at least," Thranduil said.
Thranduil continued watching the shoreline. As they approached, the mountains rose up to meet the sky. A city came into view, a dock lined with boats of many makes and sizes. There was a party awaiting his ship. Word of him had been sent ahead a few weeks earlier. As the ship drew nearer the people began to come into focus. Silver hair blowing in the breeze captured his attention first. There were many with a similar hue to Thranduil's, but two tall figures stood out. He strained his eyes to make out their faces, but it was not until the ship closed in on the dock that he became sure of who they were.
Thranduil shut his eyes and breathed deep before opening them again, assuring himself he was not mistaken. There were others beside them, smaller figures with blond and silver hair, and one much darker.
Thranduil locked eyes with her as well as he could with the boat rocking on the waves. He did not want to blink this time lest the face disappear. He felt his heart speed up, straining as it had on the day he nearly lost Legolas. He felt unsteady as the shipmen lowered the ramp for him to disembark. He must have looked as unbalanced as he felt, for a hand came to rest on his back and a whisper reassured him.
"It is not a mirage. I see them, too."
Ten steps, ten little steps and he was on the dock. A second later she was in his arms. His senses reeled as the scent of lavender washed over him. His arms held the memory of her form, pressed close, her head tucked perfectly beneath his chin. He could feel her heartbeat, her breath against his neck. He closed his eyes and sent up a silent prayer that she was real.
"My love," she whispered.
And at the sound of her voice the defenses he erected to protect his fragile heart began to break. His grip upon her tightened and he could not hold back his tears.
Thranduil's knees threatened to buckle as his heart flooded with emotion. The walls meant to restrain them were shattered by the rushing tide. But before Thranduil's body could give way, he felt strong arms envelop him and Caladhel both. Thranduil did not have to open his eyes to know who held him now.
Oropher's strength steadied him. He rested his forehead against Thranduil's as he had countless times before, and in that small gesture, Thranduil knew a peace deeper than any he had felt since time immemorial. He held onto that moment as long as he could before opening his eyes. Oropher smiled at him heartily, that same smile Beleth and Iordor had talked about so often. It was a gesture Thranduil returned. The corners of his mouth crept upward, for his eyes alone could not fully convey his joy.
A/N: Continue reading about life in Valinor in my short story collection, Upon the White Shores.
If anyone is interested in having a hand-bound hardcover of this story, a lovely fan had one commissioned by Robin's Egg Bindery. I don't know what the cost is to purchase one, but the book binder will make additional copies upon request. Just google the artist name. It should come up.