Genre: Vignette, Character study
Summary: Legolas ponders the mortality of his friends
Written for Lord of the Rings Secret Santa 2015 for hogwartsjaguar
“Fly, you fools!”
And then he was gone.
That was the first, the one that hit me hardest at the time. Since then there have been many more but it was that moment, that singular moment, when the truth struck home like the punch of an arrow through flesh – Mortality. I only vaguely understood what it meant in my youth. I had seen few mortals before my travels and those were Dúnedain Rangers, possessed of hearty constitution and long life. It was only when I journeyed with the Fellowship I began to understand its true nature.
Mortality is called the Gift of Men, yet I did not understand how it could be so. What was the purpose of building a life, of accumulating glory and accomplishments, only to lose everything through death? I thought surely Eru's plan had been corrupted in the music even as his lands had been scarred by Morgoth.
I wandered the woods of Lothlórien that night, listening to the laments sung from the treetops by the strange Elves of that realm. The paean told of Gandalf’s deeds, of his wisdom and strength, but I wanted to shout at them that they were wrong. It was not deeds or wisdom that defined the old man in my eyes. It was his optimism, his ability to bring out the good in others and his perseverance in seeking that good. Nor did he did hesitate when the time came to sacrifice himself, to ensure the success of the quest. I thought with shame how he fought the creature alone, even though all of us together could not have defeated the shadow beast of Morgoth.
After Gandalf’s fall I looked to my friends with new eyes. They all seemed suddenly fragile and precious to me. It isn’t like I didn’t know how dangerous the quest was, but to think that any of my companions might meet the ultimate fate and be lost forever was insupportable. Gimli was strong and stubborn but rash. Aragorn was brave and fearless but welcomed risk like a brother. Boromir relied too much on himself and not enough on the strength of others. And the Hobbits, the poor little fellows, were resilient but naïve about the evils of the world.
Any of them might be struck down at any moment by an orc weapon, a servant of Morgoth, or even an accident such as might befall anyone in the wild. Of course I might also meet a similar fate, but I would be renewed and healed in Aman where I would remain until the ending of the world. Death was a finality for them, a matter of mere inconvenience for me.
One night when we were a few days within the wood I stood over Gimli and watched him sleep, thinking with some amusement of his shock should he wake to find me there. Yet I didn’t want to lose a minute with him, even though he was insensible at the time. His chest rose and fell, his breathing even. At one point he reached up to scratch his nose and turned over. I tried to imagine what it would feel like if I should lose him and I simply could not. My mind refused to even entertain the possibility.
The next morning he was in a jovial mood, cracking jokes over breakfast and that’s when I felt the tears prick my eyes and was forced to excuse myself. I grieved for all the years our races nurtured a mutual animosity. So much time lost we could have been cooperating, learning from each other. It made me appreciate our friendship all the more. The thought that one day this friendship would cease was abhorrent to me.
Within the safety of the wood I began to strengthen my spirit for the dark days ahead. I knew not what to expect but I wanted to be prepared should the unthinkable happen. When we left Lothlórien I expected our path to take us to Mordor where we would face Sauron’s minions and the mountain of fire, but fate took me on a different journey.
When Boromir was killed I mourned for what might have been had the Ring not worked its evil upon him. He was a noble man, but one driven to madness by desperation and Sauron's malicious will. From the moment he left the Golden Wood his doom was sealed. I always thought if Gandalf had not fallen he could have saved Boromir from his despair, but perhaps the flaw in the man was too deep. I do not know yet the thought haunts me still.
When Merry and Pippin were taken and the Fellowship broken I was sick at heart at the thought of their inevitable demise. Frodo and Sam wandering the wilderness alone brought more dark imaginings. There is no more helpless feeling than being unable to protect those we love.
Gandalf’s return was both a shock and delight. I realized then I had misjudged him, that he was a creature immortal as I. Yet the joy at his return did not completely remove the blemish upon my spirit at his loss. I felt this again when we fought at Helm’s Deep and I lost sight of Gimli. I was terrified he had been killed. Yet my elation at finding him alive later that night did not lessen my earlier anguish.
It was then I understood that what each loss takes from us is never returned, the spirit is never healed. I reflected on the lives of the Wise, who had lived much longer than myself, seen more heartbreak than I could comprehend, and the burden of immortality was revealed to me in that moment. Those who linger must bear the loss and the memories, the sorrow of what might have been. One must live an Age or more to truly feel that burden but I did not know it then. All I knew is that it hurt deeply, in a way I had never been hurt up to that point in my life.
After the war, I tried to heal my spirit with the colony at Ithilien. For a time I was happy, building and planning and working with my fellows in the beautiful lands at the threshold of Mordor. Our collective efforts restored the land, brought back what erosion and neglect had stripped away. It was a good feeling to stand on a flet and watch Anor rise over the green, tree covered hills and crystal streams. Yet in my heart I knew all our work would someday fade and be forgotten. The others, so quick to make their homes in Ithilien when the land needed their help began to feel the pull of the Havens as keenly as myself when it no longer required their protection and stewardship. Slowly the colonists drifted away to the woods or to the sea. The few who remained began to fade in spirit and I felt myself doing the same. So when Aragorn died, and sweet Arwen followed shortly after, I knew I could no longer remain.
The sea longing grew stronger within me at each loss and my dreams began to turn to a place without the death and decay that surrounded me in Middle-earth. I would sail, but I would not sail alone. Gimli agreed to come as well, whether for his love of adventure or for love of me I don’t know, but I built my own boat and we sailed to Aman, leaving death behind but also knowingly, willingly, carrying one last heartbreak with me.
That is why I am here now, and why I am telling this story. Last night, with me at his bedside, Gimli drew his last mortal breath. The part of me that left with him is beyond recall. but I relinquish it gladly in exchange for the joy that lingers in having known him, the gratitude of bearing witness to his life and death, the privilege of safeguarding his memory in my heart.
Mortality is called the Gift of Men, and while I now believe it to be true I also believe the gift is not only theirs but ours as well. Our Elvish lives are immeasurably enriched by our friendship with mortals. Their passionate, tumultuous, brief existence reminds us that life is not life without the courage to let go, to embrace change, to enjoy small moments of bliss and, most importantly, to never, ever forget.