CHAPTER XLVI ~ TO VALINOR AND HOME
Two months of hard labour had been productive indeed and Legolas soon had the ship he long desired. It was a handsome sloop with a smooth, dove-grey exterior and billowing white sails. Legolas had been far from idle during its construction as every day he studied with the sailors and learned how to master a ship’s rigging and how to harness the fierce wind alone.
When all was finally ready, and the lonesome vessel waited patiently in the deep harbour, a grand sendoff was ordered by King Eldarion, and everyone near and far in the kingdom gathered for this historic launching ceremony.
High above in the crowded streets, a tiny girl of five years climbed nimbly onto her grandfather’s shoulders which afforded a much better view of the bustling workers, the beautiful, but vaguely sad King Legolas, and the “Mithryn of Mirkwood”. Looking up at her, the kindly, old man saw in her eyes all the wonder of youth, and smiled, recalling how so very long ago he had gazed at the world with that same wonder and innocence. “Remember this, little widget, for none will scarcely believe you when you’re my age. Only fancy that you’ll be able to tell your grandchildren that you saw the very last elf sail to Valinor!”
“Is it very far, Grandfather?” asked the child, not taking her wide eyes off the sailors loading the ship with supplies.
“Who’s to say?” the old man replied. “No mortal knows, dearie, and none ever shall. Legend tells that time between here and there is different, somehow; like magic. So, far and near is all the same. However, little widget, none know for sure save those who have travelled there.”
Legolas, meanwhile, had been on the ship’s deck directing the cargo bearers to various locations. When all was loaded, Legolas stepped back down the gangplank to say his final farewell. He waved to the cheering crowd, many of whom were well known to him after his long years in Ithilien. Eldarion waited on the dock along with his sisters and Gimli.
Extending his hand, and grasping Legolas’ forearm, Eldarion smiled, but there was a great sadness in his eyes that was unmistakable. This indeed was the end of an era, never to be seen again, and all there knew it. The Fellowship of the Ring was no more, but all lived on in the hearts of those who knew them, and people still talked of Frodo and his plight, and visited the rooms where his infamous Sting was kept, and gingerly touched the still-gleaming shirt of mithril. Children were told of the heroic efforts of each member of the renowned Fellowship of the One Ring, and their unwavering friendship. Many times throughout the years, a child, full of awe, would approach Gimli or Legolas and ask sheepishly, “Did you really help destroy the Ring?” It was, indeed, the end of an era, for once Legolas left, only Gimli would be there to answer the youngsters questions, and his days were numbered.
“How does one say goodbye forever,” Eldarion said, “to a friend so dear? It is very difficult. . .” He paused to regain control of his voice. “May the Valar give you smooth sailing, Legolas, and may the winds carry you swiftly to your beloved.”
“Thank you, my friend,” Legolas replied fervently. He then embraced each of Aragorn’s daughters, whispering elvish words of parting and blessings to them. At last, he turned to Gimli.
“You are resolved to leave then?” Gimli said, his voice deep and cracking with age.
“Aye, my dear friend,” Legolas replied, “it is time. Are you certain that you will not change your mind and come with me? It is a very long journey for one to be travelling alone.”
“Nay, I think not,” Gimli said. “Boats and I do not go well together.”
“As you wish, but know that I shall miss you, my friend, and that I shall never forget you,” Legolas said, kneeling down and embracing the wrinkled, elderly dwarf. Gimli let out a great sob, and full-heartedly blew his nose.
Returning to the ship, Legolas drew back the plank; Eldarion then untied the ropes and threw them aboard. Loud cheers and calls of farewell were shouted from all gathered as the boat began to move slowly away from the dock. Legolas was busy letting down the sails when a thunderous bang was heard at the ship’s stern. Turning, he saw Gimli sprawled across the grey ship’s deck Rushing to him, Legolas clasped his old friend’s arm and helped him to his feet. “Why, Gimli! I am so happy! I had thought you would not sail!”
“Well,” Gimli replied, “I could not let you face danger alone in this empty expanse. Besides, the thought of perhaps seeing the Lady Galadriel again was enough to tempt me.”
“Ah, now the truth emerges! Fear not, Gimli! When we reach Valinor, you will certainly see the fair Lady again, I assure you. Now, I must finish releasing the sails. Pray, do sit down,” Legolas said, waving his hand to the stern of the ship which had been richly furnished with long chairs, soft blankets and cushions, and laid out especially for a star-gazing elf.
Gimli began to walk toward the inviting settee, but the movement of the ship under his feet made him suddenly wish he had not been so hasty. “Legolas,” he called out, “we must go back! I fear I have left something upon the deck.”
“What is it?” Legolas replied, concernedly.
Gimli burped and his faced turned a shade of green. “My stomach. . .”
Legolas laughed and walked his friend to the stern where Gimli was thankful to sit down. “Do not worry, Gimli. You will enjoy it much more once you have found your sea-legs, I assure you.”
“I do not think Dwarves have sea-legs,” Gimli grumbled as the boat swayed back and forth.
Sailing down the Anduin, Legolas recalled the journey up this river with his companions so many years before when the battle for the Ring was still being fought. Now they travelled in a ship all his own, sailing away from Middle Earth forever. He watched the land pass, and stored it all in his memory: every tree, every rock, every mountain, every thatched cottage in the fields. He was glad to be leaving, of course. It is what his heart had wanted since he first felt the call of the sea at that very spot all those many years ago. Strange that the years did not feel long, and yet so much had happened during them. Middle Earth, he knew, was no longer his home. The future, the sea, was his last great adventure!
“Gimli, look!” Legolas called as he steered the sloop smoothly round a bend and the great, wide ocean could clearly be seen in front of them. Gimli raised his perspiring, slightly green face and stared into the abyss. “Why, there is nothing!” he said, hiccoughing and turning slightly more green.
“Not yet, but we still have a ways to sail.”
“Which direction do we turn?” Gimli said, laying back down and feeling slightly better. “South? North?”
Legolas thought a moment. “Why, I do not know.”
Rising sharply, Gimli echoed, “You do not know? Have you no idea how to get to Valinor?”
“Why no, Gimli. The only one who knows how to get there is Cirdan, the Shipwright. Just because I’m an elf, does not mean I know how to sail there.”
“But we could sail for years and never find it! How did you expect to find it?”
“The wind will show us the way.”
“The wind!” Gimli grumbled under his breath, hiccoughing again. “These Elves with their stargazing and their wind! There are many winds!” he shouted. “And all blow in different directions!”
For three weeks the companions journeyed onward, neither knowing whether, indeed, the wind was sailing them in the right direction or into disaster. Even with Legolas’s keen eyes atop of the ship’s loftiest perch, no land could be seen. Only ocean.
Gimli declared Legolas mad and urged their return to Ithilien, but Legolas was confident that Valinor would be found, and that they would prove victorious once more as in all the other adventures that came before.
After the fourth week of sailing, with neither land nor hope in site, a dawn came that brought forth no feeling of day, for no sun rose and the dark heavens above them grumbled angrily. Proclaiming it to be a sign, Gimli begged Legolas to turn back, but Legolas knew that such omens bode an impending storm that could not be outraced.
“There is naught for it, Gimli,” Legolas said, quickly preparing the rigging as he had learned for such incoming weather. “You must seek shelter below.”
“In that coffin where I shall, with all certainty, drown?!” Gimli shouted as the sky opened up above them, pelting them with rain. “You must think me mad, Elf!”
Gimli remained on deck, but appeared much worse the wear for his trouble. The massive waves carried their little ship to and fro, and Gimli felt each wave with increased nausea in his stomach. More than once did he have to lean his head overboard so not to befoul the deck.
Wave after enormous wave battered down upon the tiny vessel as though mercilessly attempting to swallow it whole. It was with disbelieving eyes that Legolas saw Gimli washed away right in front of him. One moment the little Dwarf sat holding a rope fast, and the next moment, the sea came crashing down upon them, and Gimli was gone!
Legolas abandoned the wheel and ran to the railing. “Gimli! Gimli!” but no reply could be heard. Suddenly he saw a small hand reach up out of the frothy white water, and without a moment’s hesitation, Legolas dove into the watery abyss, swimming with all his might toward his friend.
Choking and coughing, Gimli could not speak, but did not fight Legolas as he swept him onto his back, and with much strenuous determination, swam back to the ship and climbed back up the slippery rope trailing in the water.
“Are you alright, Gimli? You have not drowned?” Legolas said as he heaved for breath and laid his friend down upon the deck.
“Nay,” Gimli choked, but it pained him too much to speak for his lungs ached with cold and water.
Legolas did not press for a reply, but promptly tied the loose rope around Gimli’s waist. “I should have done this in the beginning.”
Gimli made no argument; instead, he instantly wrapped his hands around the rigging so as not to be swept off again and thought, regretfully, that Dwarves were never meant to die this way. Yearnings of deep, dry caves, stone monuments, and mourning friends filled his thoughts while the angry sea tossed the boat about at will.
Returning to the steering wheel, Legolas pushed his unruly, clinging hair away from his face, and struggled to keep the boat afloat while the storm guided them where it would. The wind howled and lashed the brave craft relentlessly through the night, but it was fashioned with stout lumber by knowing hands, and would not break. Strong arms, unyielding body, and every bit of Legolas’s strength were needed to steer through those walls of churning water.
Slowly, the storm subsided. The wind eased, and the waves became calm once more. The sky gradually cleared, and the sun bathed them again in luxurious warmth. One hell, however, they quickly learned, would be replaced with another. As the sun grew hotter, the wind died and left the ship stranded in a desert sea with no motion.
Gimli retreated to the shade upon deck, and Legolas brought him a flask of warm water from below. “Give me an enemy to which I can slay with my axe, and I’ll be happy. Or rocks, Elf. Give me Moria. Give me something real against which I may wield my hammer. A Dwarf cannot smite the air, cannot smite the sea. Three days ago we would have given our right arms for the wind to cease howling, and now we would give our left arms if it would but start up again!”
“Aye, it is hot,” Legolas said as he sipped the water. It was warm, and failed to refresh his dry throat despite it being wet. “I fear the storm has carried us off the normal wind path, but as I do not know where Valinor is for certain, I cannot make an appropriate assumption.”
Gimli merely shook his wearied head. No longer could he make objections for there was no way of knowing the return route to Ithilien and Middle Earth. They would sail on and on until either their deaths, or until the Undying Lands had at last been reached.
Legolas noticed his friend’s suffering, and said, “Fear not. Let us see what the morrow brings.”
Gimli nodded and, closing his eyes, attempted sleep. He would go on to dream of mountains; cool, dark passageways; and family long dead. He would dream of gold and gems and riches in newly discovered mines that he and Legolas would share equally. He slept soundly and peacefully as the sun set into the west.
Legolas stared at it and thought back to other sunsets that he had witnessed in his long lifetime. This was different from all the others, merely because of the glorious way its golden rays sparkled off the sea so as to seem that the whole heavens were exploding with light.
How unfair of me, he thought reproachfully, to have dragged poor Gimli into this fray without disclosing my lack of knowledge of the route to Valinor. It was not just. And Mithryn! How long she has had to wait for me, and still she must wait longer, or perhaps forever if such a storm befalls us again, or if our wind does not return. How unkind I have been to her!
He gripped the wooden railing and stared out into the void of naught but water and sky and said, “I am close Mithryn. I am so close! How I am trying to return to you. I but need wind for my sails and I come to you!”
He lowered his head down to the rail in beaten surrender, but lo! At first small and rather insignificant, and steadily growing until a gentle sound overhead compelled him to gaze upward. The topmost flag, the flag of the King of Eryn Lasgalan, far from lying limp and dead, was now waving merrily with new vigor and energy. Legolas, likewise revitalized, sprinted about, lowering the sails and catching the wind.
“Gimli! Gimli! Awake! The wind! The wind has come! We have set sail again!”
Gimli awoke with a snort out of his very profitable dream, but was quite pleased to find the sun setting and the cool breath of air blowing on his face once more. “Now that is more like it! Ha! Ha! And you would have had us forsaken, disbeliever!”
Legolas laughed and, trustfully letting go of the wheel, allowed the wind to guide them towards the deep burning glow of the setting sun.
Night enveloped them like a silent blanket and Legolas was once again comforted by the sight of stars glistening and sparkling in the sky like gems in the Glittering Caves. Commenting on the brilliant night sky, himself, Gimli was reminded of his dream, and both laughed and joked heartily of such silly things until it was quite late, and Gimli was snoring loudly again in sleep.
No sleep was to be had for Legolas, for too cheerful was he, and too excited in spirits. He kept recalling the timeliness of the wind saving them from their stationary snare. Could it have been a gift from the Valar? His heart for a moment thought it could have been Mithryn, but the whisper was quickly hushed. He still did not know if he would find her living or dead in Valinor. Shooing such evil thoughts from his blithe humour, he smiled confidently, letting the current take them where it wanted.
Morning dawned, and with it a misty veil hovered upon the water. Soon, however, the sky was bright and clear, and looked promising for fine sailing weather. He hoped that, perhaps, with very good luck, Valinor could be reached in another day or two. Still the wind blew, and Legolas thrived having it wash over him, blowing through his hair, and cooly caressing his face.
Slowly, what appeared as a mist on the far horizon began to clear, and for a moment, he thought perhaps his eyes were playing tricks on him. Was that land ahead? No, surely it could not be! It was not Middle Earth, was it? As they sailed ever closer, he could see a land green with lush forests and mountains. The legendary violet-grey cliffs ahead were unmistakable, and his heart beat with increasing rapidity hoping that what he saw would be true. They had done it! They had reached Valinor!
“Gimli! We did it! Come! Come and see!”
Gimli awoke with a start, but rushed to the bow, rubbing his eyes.
His breath caught in his throat; Legolas could not speak. The faint sounds of a familiar song of joyous welcome grew louder as more and more voices joined in. He surveyed the land as far as his keen Elven eyes could see, and he was startled when a spark caught his eye. Elves! Elves were gathering upon the cliffs watching their arrival! He gasped. There! There, in the very centre, was a lady of flaming red hair whom he would recognize anywhere. Mithryn! She had done it! She had survived and was waiting for him! Beside her he could just make out another figure with fiery hair who had a remarkable resemblance to himself, he thought. Culúril! Far from the small boy to whom he had said farewell so long ago, Culúril now stood tall and proud like a true Elf. A tear shimmered down his face as he experienced a happiness unlike any before.
“Gimli,” Legolas whispered, “I am home.”
A/N: I would like to give the most sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to review my story. Even those of you who read it, enjoyed it, but did not review, maybe not knowing what to say, I thank you too. The experience of writing this was life altering. I am very proud of all my hard work, and I feel touched that so many people through the years (yes, it is years, scarily enough) have been touched by it too. Thank you so much, all of you, from the bottom of my heart. Please take a moment, this final time, and let me know that you appreciated it too. Thank you,