The king is dying.
Rumor ran quickly through the lands, and at its coming, many wept. Few or none were there among mortals who could now recall the days before the return of the king, and though his son was deemed a good man and worthy successor, still, the death of Elessar would be a loss hard to bear.
In Lothlórien, the few Elves who remained turned to each other and nodded gravely.
"What will happen to the queen? Did she not choose mortality to be with him?" asked Melpomaen.
"We will simply have to wait and see. Like Lúthien, I would think she will have the choice of when to depart. She spent much time here, as well as at her father's house in Imladris – she may wish to see Lórien again before she accepts her fate," said his companion Haldir.
"It is our duty to be here for Celebrían's daughter, should she come." Lórindol spoke with the authority of the eldest among them. "We have stayed all these years because we would not suffer our land to be abandoned, not while the king and queen lived. We will abide yet a little time more, until Undómiel is gone."
That winter the snows and rains fell abundantly across all of the king's realms, and the sun hid herself behind the clouds.
The king is dead.
Slow came the word now, as if tongues were reluctant to give voice to grief. Hard upon its heels came the one whom they had half-expected, the widowed queen.
They discussed whether they should greet her, care for her. She moved as if untouched by the world around. After conferring together, it was decided that they would leave her to herself, unless she sought them out. The king – and thus the queen – had known that there were still Elves in Lórien, and if she wished for aid or friendship, she would seek it. Melpomaen was not happy with the decision, but he acquiesced to the will of the rest.
Arwen gave no sign that she knew she was watched, though they left her food – the last store of lembas, leaf-wrapped and still fresh after sixscore years. As spring turned to summer, summer to autumn, they saw her wander through neglected Caras Galadon, spending many days and nights in the garden where the Lady Galadriel's mirror had been. She traveled through the woods to the Nimrodel and slept upon its banks. At last, as winter drew nigh, she returned and dwelt near Cerin Amroth, among the silver trunks and under the golden leaves of the mellyrn.
Then it was that Elladan and Elrohir arrived, riding from Imladris to see their sister one final time. Seeking her first among her children in Minas Tirith, they had been delayed there for some weeks.
"Where is she?" Elrohir spoke for both of them, when Lórindol greeted them.
"She is not far, but I do not think she would welcome visitors – not even you. See for yourselves. Her whole being is turned inward, and we have not ventured to disturb her silence. Haldir will show you," said Lórindol.
The twins came back, chastened. "We will wait," said Elladan. "I do not think that it will be long. And what is time to us?"
When the last of the leaves was falling, they saw Arwen rise and make her way slowly to the crown of the hill, to the center of the double circle of trees there, white boles and silver alternating. There, in the chill starlight, she laid herself down and gave a great sigh.
For a day they waited, in respect. Then her brothers dug her grave, and raised the mound above it.
At Arwen's grave, a score, no more, of mourners stood. Elladan and Elrohir leaned together in their grief, and one by one each Elf present came to murmur words of condolence.
Last to do so were Haldir and Melpomaen.
"For her only did we wait. Now we too shall depart," Haldir told her brothers.
"The Golden Wood must fade," said Elladan, resigned. Elrohir nodded agreement, adding, "Galadriel told me that in the West, Yavanna herself planted the first mallorn. I will like to see that; sad will be the land where no mallorn grows."
"That is true. I am glad you tell me that the mellyrn thrive in the West, for I would have missed living among them. Will you leave with Lord Celeborn, from the Grey Havens?"
"Yes. And your people?"
"Word has come that Legolas builds a ship in Ithilien. Our few folk will join him, now that there is no reason for us to stay."
They journeyed south. As long as Lórien remained in sight, many of them turned to look back at it – Haldir not least among them, though Melpomaen kept his face resolutely forward.
Legolas's face broke into a smile when he saw the Elves of Lothlórien arrive to share his journey. A few of his own folk were traveling, but most had elected to stay longer in the fragrant woods of Ithilen. Someday they would follow.
Stumping around the nearly-completed ship, Gimli nodded to Haldir. "A good day to you, Master Elf. I am assured you will not need to bind my eyes this time."
"My apologies, Master Dwarf, but it was necessary then."
Gimli snorted. "Perhaps."
"I am surprised that you travel with us," Melpomaen said. "I did not know that Dwarves could do so."
"Legolas obtained this grace for me, that we need not be parted; he could no longer remain in Middle-earth, now that King Elessar is gone. Did you know the king, yourself?"
"We met in Imladris," answered Melpomaen, "but I would not say I knew him well."
"Only a little," said Haldir.
The Dwarf's eyes misted over. Legolas put a gentle hand on his shoulder. "I would dare say there was never another such king among Men. 'Tis a shame."
"'Tis a gift," Legolas reminded him. "You will receive it too, someday, though longer now than if you were to stay." He looked at Haldir and Melpomaen. "Gifts may be difficult to accept, sometimes."
"Aye, lad," said Gimli gruffly. "I know. To accept your gift I must leave my people behind, just as did Arwen."
"For us the pain of grief at such a loss is rare," mused Haldir. "Though I knew the queen more by reputation than in person, she was still the Evenstar of our people – and with her passing comes the end of all our days here."
On loëndë, the day of midsummer, they embarked on the grey ship. Down the Anduin it drifted, sails reefed, guided by oars. When they reached the mouth of the river, with one accord they agreed to follow the coastline around the cape of Andrast and up to Harlindon, before turning west to sail the Straight Road.
"Are you afraid?" Gimli asked Haldir.
"That is not the word I would have chosen; apprehensive, rather. I imagine we all are – are you not?"
"Of course." Gimli took a deep breath. "I may be closer to you Elves than any other Dwarf has ever been, but that does not mean I entirely relish living among you alone until the end of my days."
Overhearing, Legolas said, "Mithrandir will be there, Gimli, though I would be surprised if either Frodo or Sam still lives. You will not be wholly alone. Moreover Valinor will be unfamiliar to the rest of us also. I look forward to encountering Oromë, myself, and I suppose you hope to meet Aulë?"
"Meeting Mahal was one reason I agreed to travel with you, yes," Gimli admitted. "Most of all I would like to see the Lady Galadriel again, and tell her that I have treasured her gift for all these years." His hand went to the leather pouch on his belt. "Whom do you hope to see, Haldir? Melpomaen?"
Melpomaen shrugged. "My parents. They left Middle-earth many, many years ago, long before the king returned."
"I don't really know," said Haldir. "We have given up the life we knew, but in return for what we do not know. I suppose this is how Elessar and Arwen must have felt? To relinquish so much that is beloved, believing that they will be joined together again somewhere, somehow. We cannot follow them – it is not in our nature – but this journey is a fitting memorial, that we also leave all our past for an unknown future."
At long last they passed through the Shadowy Seas and reached Tol Eressëa, and came to the haven of Avallónë. They could see the peak of Taniquetil shining white in the dawn.
"Elendil said, and Elessar after him, Et Eärello Endorenna utúlien. Sinome maruvan ar Hildinyar tenn' Ambar-metta. (1) They could not abide in Middle-earth forever, being mortal, though their heirs will. And we who loved the king could not remain either, now that he is gone, and the Evenstar as well. So for us it is the opposite – from Middle-earth to Valinor we have come, and here we will remain," said Legolas. He clasped Gimli's hand. "Now is the War of the Ring truly ended indeed, and here we may be healed of any hurts that still linger."
"Nor need we part from those we love," said Haldir, standing together with Melpomaen. "Those who were lost to us once, we will again find, and there need be no more partings to cause grief – Master Gimli, save for yours."
Gimli bowed. "May I say, Haldir, that I would never expected to hear such words from you after our first meeting. Silver are the tongues of the Elves, when they choose! When it comes to be my time to depart, I may miss you almost as much as Legolas."
One by one the travelers disembarked from the ship, onto the white strands, and breathed in the air of the Undying Lands for the first time. A new day was begun.
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Story notes: This story is dedicated to Wídfara's memory, in the hope that a ship did bear her across the sea.
Chapter end notes: (1) "Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come. In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world." Spoken by Aragorn in the chapter "The Steward and the King."