“How are you, Legolas?” My Father asks me as I sink into the chair opposite him still dusty from the road.
How do I answer that?
Do I say I am tired, not only from my travel but from life itself? Do I tell him of my pleasure in seeing him, how I miss him when we are apart, but already—only a day into our separation—I miss my family more.
Do I say I am weary, broken, heartsick, from this perpetual grief that eats me up from inside out, relentlessly? This grief with no end.
In the end I choose the easy option.
“I am well, Father.”
And the look he gives me is one of pure disbelief. There is no hiding anything from him.
Still he does not take the bait. He chooses to ignore my blatant lie . . . This time.
“I suppose you are wondering why I called you here,” he says casually leaning over to shuffle through some of the papers upon his desk.
He is right. I am. It is not so long since I was last here and there is nothing I can think of that would have necessitated him calling me back so soon.
“I am going on a visit to the Noldor.” He continues, “I need your company.”
“The Noldor? Which Noldor?” This place is literally crawling with them.
“Galadriel? Why do you need me with you to visit her?” Galadriel; however powerful she was in Arda—and she most surely was—is not particularly important here.
“Because she likes you Legolas.” He says but there is ever the most slightest pause and his eyes dart away from me .. . Only for a second, but it makes me nervous. What is he hiding?
“You know we do not get on,” he continues, “You will break the ice.”
This is rubbish. He can do better than this.
“We are not in Arda now, Father! And you do not need me to protect you from Galadriel, as if you ever did. It has been years now you and Celeborn have worked together.”
“She has asked for you, Legolas.” He says with a sigh, suddenly weary in the face of my truculence. “And there is no reason for me to decline her request. Is it so difficult for you to accompany me?”
Yes, I want to say, yes it is difficult for me to be away from those I love who keep me standing, to face one so knowing as Galadriel and hide my despair. Yes it is too much to ask.
But I do not for to confess to that would open up hours of cross examination from him. Instead I shrug my shoulders and admit defeat.
“If you wish it.”
I do not have the energy to fight.
Galadriel waits to meet us on our arrival—always so formal—and Celeborn. They stand in the courtyard alongside another; a man I do not know. He is tall, and as we get closer I can see he is one who has seen the light of the trees for he shines with the luminosity they all have. I can feel his power from miles away. He is Galadriel magnified a hundred times and he looks like her too. There is only one person he could possibly be.
I turn to my Father.
“Why did you not tell me he was here!”
For how dare he surprise me with this.
“Since when am I accountable for whoever Galadriel may invite to her household—for which family member she has visiting?” He snaps. He seems no happier about this than I. “You think I can see into the future now . . . As she can? I tell you, Legolas, I cannot!”
I am silent. We are almost upon them and there is no time to argue.
I stagger though it; the greetings and introductions. So badly thrown by the unexpectedness of it all my grief is buried beneath confusion. There is no need for me to hide it from Galadriel’s prying eyes. Not that I could anyway.
His voice, when he speaks, holds more power than I have ever heard from one man. It is soft, smooth, gorgeous, as is he.
“Greetings Son of Oropher,” he says to my father. “Child of Doriath. I had the honour of knowing your Father. I can see him in your eyes.”
“Finrod.” Father bows his head. “My Father held you in high regard.”
Then the brother of Galadriel turns his eyes to me. They strip me to the bone.
“My son, Legolas.” I hear my father say. It is as well he says it for I cannot reply myself.
I am overcome by a strange desire to shake his hand. That bizarre mannish ritual driven in to me through all the years of Aragorn’s court. Why do I think of that now? He will not understand it. He will think me odd . . . As they all do. I catch myself at the last moment and bow my head. It is a relief to be out of that gaze.
“The one who brought us the dwarf.” He replies.
They all hate that, the Tirion Noldor, the Vanya, they resent my bringing Gimli to these shores. Galadriel understood it. To the rest of them I am to be forever judged by it.
I care not. I would do it again.
I am silent as we eat, despite my Father’s glowering, disapproving stares in my direction. I let their conversation flow over me like a river. It is rude I suppose but they say nothing I have any interest in any how. I am tired of feigning happiness. I have no interest in small talk; I never really have.
They give up in the end—trying to engage me—and Finrod, ( Findaràto as they call him,) does not even begin to try.
I leave them to it afterwards and walk away, out onto the balcony to look over Galadriel’s perfectly manicured garden. How does she bear it . . . All this perfection, after the wild beauty that was Lothlorien?
I rest my head against the cool stone of the pillar. If Gimli were here he would tell me of its beauty, Aragorn would be searching for a moment to escape, to run away and smoke his pipeweed. He hated gatherings such as this. Why do I think of them? I do not want to . . . It brings me no joy. I wish my small boy were here to distract me with his chatter and childish excitement, but he is far away, safe at home with his mother.
“May I join you?”
It is the silky smoothness of that voice of power.
“Forgive me, I am not the best of company this evening My Lord.” It is the closest I dare get to saying no.
It gets me nowhere.
“No matter.” He shrugs his shoulders and just like that he dismisses my paltry protest. “Shall we sit?”
What choice do I have?
What choice have I ever had?
He continues without waiting for a reply from me.
“I have been meaning to seek you out for some time,” he says as I trail forlornly behind him towards the small chairs and table that look out over the garden. “I have been most derelict in my duty and I apologise. Time got away from me.”
“Why would you seek me out?” Astonishment overrides my disinterest. Why would he even think of me?
“Because of the dwarf,” he smiles, as if it is plainly obvious.
So here it comes. I have long been expecting formal censure for that. When we first arrived I thought it lay around every corner, then I went to Tirion and they said nothing. They frowned about it and shook their heads but said nothing to me. I assumed Galadriel had interceded on my behalf for she loved Gimli. Now it has caught up with me—obviously.
But no . . .
“I had forgotten the joy of their company.” He says, “That stoicism, their solid steadfastness, the obsession with stone and the treasures it holds. Their determination; the excitement of another point of view, a different way of looking at the world, their love of a good argument. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to recapture that, if only for a short time.”
I am astounded he has summed up my Gimli so accurately. . . And how?
“Did you meet him?” I lean forward in my chair with surprise.
“Of course!” His smile is wide. “How could I miss that opportunity? I met him several times, did he not tell you?”
Too late I remember he was the King of Nargothrond. If ever an elf knew of dwarves it was he. But why did Gimli keep him secret?
“He did not tell me.”
I am sad about that.
He leans back in his chair, legs crossed, hand dangling casually over the armrest and he spins a ring upon his finger. It glints in the sun, that is why it catches my eye.
And the world stops.
I have seen that ring before. It sat upon the hand of my friend all the years that I knew him. How many times did I tease him of it? how often did I see him sit and fiddle with it just as this King of the First Age does now?
I feel sick. For the briefest of moments it is as if Aragorn sits before me. My head spins, and I stare.
“Is anything wrong?”
When I blink he is leaning towards me, the hand; with that traitorous ring, rests upon my arm.
“I am sorry,” the words fight their way through the sludge memory has made of my mind. “I thought I saw . . . For a moment . . . Your ring, I thought I knew it.”
It is of course, an illusion. A trap laid by grief. It is not the same ring.
“The ring of Barahir.” I add lamely.
“You mean the ring I gave Barahir.” He replies.
Of course. Legolas, you fool, I chide myself. Still this is not that ring.
“Foolish of me,” I say. “I know it is not the same.”
“No it is I who is foolish.” He frowns and he pulls it off his finger. “You knew one who wore it, the one they call Elessar. I should have known it may distress you.” And he slips it into a pocket as my heart pounds.
“But it is not the same.” I repeat it. “I made an error. The ring of Barahir is in Arda.” I need that to be true.
“The ring of Barahir is here.” He says softly. “My nephews brought it with them. A gift, from the King of Men, Eldarion was his name. A sign, at the sailing of the last ship, the bond between the House of Finrod and the House Of Beor was fulfilled.”
Eldarion has sent it back. Elrohir has brought it back . . . And said nothing.
How could he not warn me?
“They did not tell me!” This hurts, it cuts my heart I did not know this.
But he is unmoved.
“Why would they?” He asks me. “It was a gift for me from my nephews from their nephew. Why would they tell you?”
“Because it was Aragorns!”
“It was never his. It was a symbol he carried only for a time. A symbol of my friendship with Men. Perhaps they did not tell you because it was not your right to know? But I am sorry I took you by surprise. I am sorry it hurt you. That is my fault.”
“Can I see it?” Now I know it is real suddenly I am filled with a burning desire to look upon it one more time. Just once.
“Of course.” Smoothly he fishes it out of his pocket and deposits it in my hand.
It is warm and that is unexpected. As I close my fingers around it I can hear its stories. There are a multitude of them. The merest hints of hundreds of spirits clamouring to be heard and through it all I can hear Aragorn. The familiar notes of his song threading their way above the rest.
“You miss him.”
It is a statement not a question and his words jolt me out of my rememberance.
With others I would have denied it but there is no point with him. He can help himself to the truth of my misery any time he wants.
“I know what that is like.” He says.
“ You do not!”
I am sick of people telling me they know my grief.
His eyes blaze with a flame of anger, brief but noticeable and he slaps me down.
“Do not think you are anything special here, child!” His words fall upon me like shards of glass.
I am a father now. It is a long time since I have been referred to as a child.
He reaches out and snatches the ring from my hand, holding it up before me. That mesmerising voice is cool.
“Do you think I gave this, I gave my life for nothing? Do you think I made another damnable oath—I—Findaràto who crossed the ice, who lost my family one by one . . . For nothing?”
I cannot breathe. I cannot even move.
His voice softens then, the cutting edge blurs and fades.
“It was for love” he sighs, “For Men I cared for. Brothers indeed, who are long gone. You are not alone in your loss. Did you not listen when they told you your history? When they told you of my folly?”
In truth I probably did not listen well enough. I was never the best scholar.
“But even Beren—” He continues quietly, the blazing rage dissipating, “—who may well have been only a spoilt selfish boy, even in him I saw the eyes of a friend long gone before. And he was worth saving in the end. For without him, without my love of him there would have been no Elessar for you.” He leans back, arms folded as he eyes me with an uncomfortable stare. “And nothing of your Elrohir, either.”
He is right. His love has enabled my own.
“I am glad then that you loved them.” I say. “I am indebted to you always, but how do you do it? Tell me how you do it, putting one foot after the other ever onward, forever, knowing they are gone and always will be for I can no longer do that.”
And he smiles. His smile is like the sun. I feel it’s warmth on my shoulders.
“Do you know of my brother?” He asks. He is calm now, once again serene, but it seems a strange answer to my question. He laughs as he sees me struggle to remember. How many brothers did Galadriel have?
“Did they teach you nothing small Silvan?”
“They taught me. I did not listen.”
“A mistake, I think.” His laugh is a shower of light. “Shall I fill you in? Aegnor is the one I mean. He loved a mortal woman.”
He has a brother who loved a mortal?
“Is he here?” If he is I should like to meet him.
“He is in the Halls. He was killed in the Battle of the Sudden Flame” His smile slips ever so slightly, “and there he shall remain.”
“Why?” I am indignant on his behalf. “Why should he still be held there? There are others returned to us after far less time. My brother for one. Galadriel has been allowed here. Surely the Doom of the Noldor should no longer be held against him.”
“It is not the doom that holds him there. It is his own choice. He will not live forever here without the one he loves. He refuses to. He is in the Halls until we are reunited with the second-born.”
“Then he will remain there forever for reunited we will never be!”
“Why do you say that?” Finrod leans forward intensely. “Why do you believe it?”
“Because it is true! Our fate is tied to Arda and no one knows the fate of Men but it is not here. The Valar tell us—“
“And what if the Valar do not know? Dare they to know the mind of Eru?”
“What are you saying?” His questions make no sense to me. “What do you want from me?”
“Faith,” he says. “Hope, belief, that is what I want to see. Can you give it to me?”
“I do have faith and hope else I would not be here at all but you make no sense. Our fate is clear.”
“Our fate is not clear. I have thought about this over the centuries. I have spoken of it to Andreth, my brothers love— a wise woman of the house of Beor. We spoke often of death . . . And life. She believed Mortals were always destined for immortality. They will sing the second music and we will join them. I am sure of it! Together we will live in Arda renewed. Together. They with their gift of curiosity, we with our gift of memory. Together we will be the new Arda.”
Could he possibly be right?
“The teachings—“ I protest.
“Come from the Valar,” he says “who admit our fate is unknown to them. Why not, Legolas! Why not?”
“You grasp at straws” I tell him. “You wish to see your brother again and you convince yourself you will.”
“I became convinced of this before his death.” He will not be moved.
He is simply desperate, I tell myself, but he is Finrod. What if he is right?
He clasps my face between his hands.
“Is it not glorious?” He asks. “Why do we let the Valar control our fate? It is Eru who made us. It is Eru who loves us. You ask me how you survive your loss. How you move forward day after day? I tell you . . . Because every step you take is a step closer to an Arda Remade. A step closer to them.”
And hope flares in my heart. It flares brightly anew, it consumes me.
What if he is right?
Then I remember Gimli.
“The dwarves. . . They are not Eru’s children. What place for them in your Arda made anew?”
“Eru did not make them, true. But still he loves them. He kept them safe, he found them a place in the tapestry. Why would he take so much care then only to choose now to throw them away?”
He sits back, folds his arms, gives me a look of triumph.
“The dwarf believed.”
“Of course your dwarf.”
“You spoke to Gimli about this and he believed you?”
“He did not hesitate.” He cries, “It fits with what they see.”
“Can it be true?” I murmur for I hardly allow myself to believe it. “Can it really be true?”
“There are those who shake their heads behind my back.” He says, “There are those who say I have lost my mind, especially my Vanya cousins. Finrod has left his commonsense behind in the Halls they say. They call me blasphemous and delusional. But I have spoken to many on Arda, Andreth, your dwarf; it all falls in to place. What say you?”
I say if it were true it is the most glorious thing I have ever heard. I say it is almost worth believing it simply to have some hope. I say, if Gimli believed him who am I to say no?
There is a prickling in my back, uncomfortable enough to force me to turn around and see my Father’s eyes upon me. He and Celeborn both are watching.
And Finrod follows my gaze.
“Celeborn does not believe me. At least he says he does not and yet here I am . . . At his invitation . . . To see you.
“Why would he invite you here for my sake?”
“He told me a friend was worried for his grieving son. He said perhaps my unorthodox views might be of help. He does not believe in offering false hope. He is too honest a man for that. There is a part of him that recognises the truth in my words even if the whole of him cannot.”
So my Father was behind this after all. I should have known.
“You have not given me your answer.” Finrod says firmly. “What is it to be Legolas? Are you one who dares to dream or do you accept the chains the Valar give you? Can you ride the waves of contempt from those who see our life as a dismal path to a dismal end?”
I know my answer. I know it in my heart. I am not afraid of scorn else I would not have brought a dwarf to the shores of Valinor.
“I am the one who runs ahead to find the sun.” I tell him. “I am the light amongst the dark days. I have walked through Moria and the Paths of the Dead without hesitation.
“I am Legolas, son of Thranduil, Lord of Ithilien, Friend of Elessar, Companion of Gimli Gloinson of the Glittering Caves.”
It is a long time since I have described myself thus. It is a long time since I have felt myself to be that elf who skipped across the snow in search of the light. I have questions . . . A multitude, most of all for Gimli. Why did he not tell me he had met this man? Why did he not tell me these ideas if he thought them real?
I will ask him when I see him. . .
When I see him.
“I will meet them again.” I say it aloud as my heart sings and my spirit soars. His words resonate within me and set me free.
One day . . . One day as I did on Caradhras; I will find the sun.