He was cold now.
Even though the forest finally bloomed with green leaves and beautiful flowers and the sun shone through the boughs, he always felt as cold as the never ending night. It seeped into his body and soul like poison, a deep dark curse that all his eternal years had brought upon him, and he could not stop it. There was nothing that could pull him from this abyss. All the lights of his hope were fading.
But at last, he welcomed it. It would not be long to fight anymore. His whole life he had been battling with his foes, unseen or otherwise, those that wielded deadly weapons or those that lingered in his memory, and soon, he could let them all go. He did not have to wage his war for much more time. It would be a blessing to be able to forget everything, to feel numb to its pains after so costly an existence.
He stood at the front gate now, his peaceful realm nothing more than a blur to his eyes anymore. He could see the emeralds in the canopies, rich with colour since the outside darkness had vanished, and sense the serene humming of the trees but it was all he could find the strength to conjure up. The weight of immortality weighed heavy upon his endurance and he allowed it to better him, the effects of old wounds coming to the fore. It would not be long until all was black. But he did not care; there was nothing more he wished to see. All he wished for had disappeared, slain on battlefields, lost somewhere in the circles of the world, withered with despair, far away over the distant sea... He had seen too much. Yet of some things, he had seen too little.
The rushing of the water below the bridge he stood upon was far too loud in his ears. It reminded him of that great ocean which had taken away the last of his joy. He wondered often how he fared, if he had found tranquility in that most beautiful of lands. Legolas. He spoke his name often in the darkness, wishing that their sundering was merely a nightmare. But it was the bitter truth, and he was selfish to yearn for his presence by his side. He recalled his euphoria to leave, the excitement he had felt. Thranduil had tried to hold on to him too much but no matter how hard he had grasped, he had slipped through his fingers.
He had to let him go. Just as he had had to let go to everything else that passed before him, ephemeral pleasures that weren't for him to keep. His father, his mother, his wife, his son, and now, his people, passing West and following Legolas.
It was so cold. And with every elf that departed this world, it got colder.
He would be alone soon. For nearly all had gone.
A sudden touch on his arm drew him out of his troubled reveries. For a moment, he thought he was back again, somehow having returned for him. But it wasn't him - it never was. It was Galion who now stood there, his expression clouded but from his eyes, sorrowful and pleading. Thranduil knew what his question would be before he spoke it.
"My king, will you not come with us?"
Thranduil paused before answering, though what he would say had been decided long ago. He looked blankly from Galion and back to the green kingdom before him, shaking his head. "No," he said simply. "I cannot. My father established this realm, forsaking the land over the sea, and it is here that I will remain. This is where I belong."
"My lord..." There was a fragility to Galion's voice as if it would soon break and shatter. Thranduil could feel him hesitating at his side, wanting to say the words that had been swarming in the king's head for centuries. When they came, they stung deep once again. "What of your son? He will be waiting for you."
Thranduil could feel his heart beginning to freeze, the ice spreading fast within him. He ached at its pull. But still he denied Galion. "He is better without me," he whispered at last, admitting the harsh truth that had been taunting him for so many lonely years. "He told me this once. I did nothing but hold him back. I tried too hard to protect him, to keep the darkness from him...and now it falls on me. I will bear it alone."
A quiet sound from Galion was all Thranduil needed to hear to know his tears now fell. "My lord, he was young then. He did not know of the world. He did not know what you truly did for him. You must go to him."
"No." Thranduil sighed. The words felt like venom, tainting his lips but he had to speak them. He had to withstand their agonising wisdom. "He left and he is free now. I will shadow him no longer. That is his life across the sea. And this is mine. We were parted from the very beginning."
Galion sobbed and tried again to speak, but this time, nothing came. Thranduil felt him gently touch his hand and then drop to his knees. The soft sensation of his lips softly glanced his skin as he was forced to bid him farewell. "It pains me to leave," he finally murmured. "But my kin call me. I will remember you always, King Thranduil of Eryn Lasgalen."
"There is no reason to recall my memory, Galion," Thranduil replied as the form of the butler rose before him. "For it will soon fade into the earth and the trees. You will be remembering nothing, only a distant shadow."
Galion could not respond. He merely bowed his head and tried to wipe away his tears. Thranduil raised a hand to put it upon his shoulder but he found he only touched air as his friend began to walk away. A quiet farewell came from him and then he disappeared across the bridge, joining the slowly dwindling group of elves amongst the trees. Thranduil remained with his arm outstretched, watching their faceless shapes move further and further away from him. They soon blended into the woods, venturing once more along the forest paths. For a fleeting moment, Thranduil imagined he saw a dash of golden hair, a radiant young elf trailing after them. He went to call his name. But then the dream was gone, and he awoke to cold solitude.
Around him, the breeze whispered through the abandoned realm yet now no words were carried upon it. He did not know how long he spent standing there before the river, feeling the haze beginning to fall over his sight and the numbness embrace him. Soon, he could sense nothing but the dampness of forgotten tears on his cheeks.
He eventually entered his palace for one final time. The gates he left open, a gentle wind blowing fallen, green leaves into the caverns. He stalked their trail as far as he could see them, picking one before it fell into the chasm of the old fortress below and holding it reverently to his chest. It was all he had left now, the last memory of life in the woods. Long ago, he had named his greatest treasure after these leaves in the hope they would turn green again. He had made him a promise that one day, they would walk among the forest when it was full of life. But as the darkness passed and it blossomed in colour once more, his own little leaf hardly returned home to see it.
He never would now. No more was it his home. And no more would the green leaves fall.
Thranduil approached his old throne carefully, only the burning orange lights visible to him through the haze. He suddenly felt weary, his legs trembling and heavy below him. He craved to sit down and rest, to let the years take his body so his spirit could find peace. But he would not stop his journey here. This ancient seat meant nothing now his people had all departed. It would soon rot away with the rest of the kingdom and pass into forgotten lore. In the dominion of men, no one would remember this place. No one would remember the once great and beautiful realm, full of vitality and light, having earned serenity after so many ages of war. For a moment, he could almost hear voices again, echoing through the halls, words of ghosts with imaginary tones.
He listened to them for a while, though he knew they were nothing but illusions. His wife singing in her dulcet melodies, his father showing him the land that would one day be his, his mother laughing sweetly, his son babbling dreamily in his arms. He turned to better hear their whispers but then they were gone, vanished into the air. And it was time for him to go. Time for him to rest.
He laid his empty crown onto the stone floor before his throne and finally began to leave, entering back into his now hollow realm. The well-trodden pathways welcomed him, curving into the heart of the caverns. He walked them without having to see where they led, so well did he know their journey. And he now knew precisely where he wanted to depart to, where he wanted to let the years fall around him. There was no other place more special in these chambers.
Legolas' room was always so full of brightness and joy, even now, centuries after he had left. By the time he reached it, the last glimpse of the world had disappeared from Thranduil's weary eyes but he could still sense the glow as the space opened out into the deep forest. Warmth touched his face for a moment, making peace spill through him and a small smile pull at his lips. He recalled all the times he, his wife and Legolas had spent in this room when Legolas was but a small elfling. He had loved his father then, in the time before his wife had vanished, and had played and giggled in his arms, and then in his mother's. They had been bonded together in the closest of unions. He had thought that, even if the darkness ravaged their land (which it soon would), he would survive as long as he had them beside him.
That had been a long, long time ago. And now, as he stood by Legolas' bed, he felt the air become colder around him again. The gentle breeze waned and his body ached once more. He had never felt more alone in all his lingering years. Everyone had gone. There was nobody, nothing left for him anymore.
He clapped a hand over his mouth as his throat constricted in a loud sob. But now his people had all moved on away, there was no need to hide his tears. So he let them spill, hundreds that had been held back over all his terrible time in this world; tears for the destruction that had been wrought around him, tears for the memory of his father cut down before his eyes, tears for his old home faraway and lost now, tears for his gentle wife who had passed into the unknown, tears for all the people he had failed and tears for his lost, distant son. He felt the deep, unspeakable sorrow overwhelm him and render him senseless. And he allowed it to.
He wanted to leave now. Wanted to fade into nothing and let this all go.
He only realised he had fallen to his knees when he tried to reach for the bed. He felt along the stone floor, feeling all that Legolas had left strewn there, and at last came to touch soft fabric. It gave him something to clutch to as he tried to lift his heavy form from the ground. It was so hard to move, so tiring, so dreadful. All the weight of immortality pressed down upon him.
He fell to the bed as the last remains of strength departed from his body and soul. Trembling all over, he still clutched the little green leaf to his chest, until his hand felt too weak to hold it anymore. And then he merely laid it upon his breast, more beautiful and more special than any herald for a fallen king and father.
He could feel it approaching him now - the end of all things, the flying of his spirit from this wounded life. There was no pain though, nothing to make him afraid. He waited for it patiently and when it eventually came, the ghosts of his fire within being doused and quenched, he felt relief, the closing of an overburdened journey. This was the long-awaited farewell.
In his final moments, he wrestled with the effort to turn his head West, in the direction his last hope had been lost. He could see nothing now; not even the perception of light came to his vision. It had all gone. But in his remaining breath, he summoned up the courage to whisper what he should have said years and years before.
"Cuio mae, iôn-nîn. I need to let you go."
Long had it been since Legolas had seen the land to the East. He still remembered images of it, the long plains and the mountains and the ancient forests far away over the sea, but for most of his life upon Middle Earth, there had been darkness, deep and powerful. His memory had been tainted by it and he could not recall many times that were good and fair. Maybe once, ages past, but ever since then, ever since the falling of the leaves... There had been nothing left for him there. The time of the elves was over, dwindling away under the dominion of Men; that is what many said.
In the land of Valinor, they had found a home. Legolas was a mere babe compared to some who he shared this bounteous abode with. He walked amongst elves who had seen and experienced far more than he could even imagine, who had fought and lived through centuries of strife and had emerged, still blossoming with fortitude, to now rest here. It did not feel real and still, as he turned his face to look upon the distant Pelóri mountains, it seemed as though he existed in some blissful dream. These shores where they settled were their gift; presented after the ages of turmoil and treasured beyond all else.
But, still, rooted in the recesses of his mind, were visions that he could not depart with. He was once born in the boughs of an old wood, millennia ago, under the canopies of sheltering branches. He had grown there, safe in the arms of his mother and father, until one day, his mother was no longer there. She vanished somewhere into the trees and his father had descended into a boundless void of melancholy. Though he'd tried to hide it from his son, Legolas had known and the weight of responsibility became known to him when he was only very young. His father protected him, sheltered him in the confines of the fortress, and hardly allowed the light of the sun outside of the forest to touch his skin.
It had been hard and in his youthful, affected heart, he had begun to resent the elf who had raised him through his childhood. He had felt trapped in the cage of the realm and had longed more than anything to see the world beyond. His father had been old, in his restless mind, and stuck in his aged ways. Legolas had thought that there was no room for that way of logic in his own life. So, as soon as he had been able to, he had forsaken him and attempted to forge his own path in the world. He had shaken the bonds of his father's security and as he had then thought, breathed the fresh air of freedom.
Even as he and Gimli had built their beautiful ship to carry them West, he had believed in the same patterns as in those youthful days. His ties with Thranduil, King of Mirkwood, were nothing more than that; hollow titles and strained politics. He could not remember the last time he had addressed him by anything other than 'my lord' or 'my king'. Their goodbye before Legolas ventured to the Grey Havens had been tense and awkward and the prince had been relieved when it was over.
But now, centuries on from that departure, Legolas had begun to realise the true reason why he had been so relieved to escape from the inevitable farewell. Life in Valinor had opened his eyes, made him consider things that the wounded, burdened world over the sea had blinded him from. And something within him had changed. He felt it every day, he sensed it in every thought he had, he knew it from the depths of his fëa.
There were many there who had faced darkness and despair far greater than that which he had looked upon; seemingly endless night that stretched back to eternity. He had never been wise to the full extent of what had occurred on Arda before his lifetime and suddenly, he was faced with truths that were deeply painful to discover.
His father, for as long as he possibly could, had shielded him from this anguish with all of his power. He had kept it away from him, tried to create a world which didn't feel as harsh and bitter for his only child. Legolas had always felt he was stifling him but now, a far-reaching age on, he understood. The king had done his duty as a father, making a haven from all that he had been through and all that he had seen, so he did not have to.
Legolas ached in every bone and sinew of his body to finally identify such a thing. All of a sudden, he felt a great weight, all the times he had lost with his father, come crashing down upon his shoulders. He remembered how, for a while, he had wanted to retreat away from even Valinor. He spent long days alone, wracked with terrible guilt, blaming himself for all that had, and hadn't, transpired between him and his father, all that had plagued their time together and apart... If Gimli had not been by his side, he did not know what he would have done.
But, with him, he still clung on to hope. For not all of his days with his father had become desolate. There were still ships sailing from the East and one day, he knew he would see Thranduil upon the shores. And then he would run into his arms, as he should have done centuries ago, and tell him, for the first time since his youth, how much he loved him, how much he treasured him, how truly sorry he was to ever have abandoned his care... And he would never let him go. Not ever again, not as long as the stars still shone above and the waves lapped at the beaches.
But now Gimli had gone, his soul finding its way back into the halls of his great fathers, and he could feel the loneliness beginning to seep back into his long days. He had tried to find his mother once, thinking that she had returned from the Halls of Mandos, but she was still lost somewhere in the vast expanse of the world, or in another place he did not know. It was as it ever was - he, alone, surrounded by others but never quite united with them.
Each morning, he would find himself with nothing else to do but to sit upon the long shores and watch the ships sailing in. More came every day now, the last of the elves vanishing from Middle Earth. Surely, it would not be long until he saw his father on one of them, coming with his kin from the green woods. It had been long since he had set foot in them, far away, distant, almost forgotten... He missed them now, missed the memory he still clung on to.
His heart soared at the thought of meeting his father again. He craved to tell him all that he never had, all that he should have centuries and centuries ago. He felt overburdened with failure and solitude now and craved to let that all go.
Finally, a warm morning, out on the distant waves, he saw the ships once more. Their swanlike forms broke the horizon and drifted, as graceful as actual birds across the sea towards him; many of them, large and full with familiar elves. His body tensed in anticipation, witnessing the one moment he had been waiting for, pinning his long years of last hope on. Despite his apprehension, he smiled broadly for the first time in centuries, wanting to raise his hands and wave them at the company approaching. At the prow of one of them, he could see Galion, his father's butler and his own close friend, suddenly taking notice of him and greeting him with a amiable gesture. But, even from this distance, Legolas could not help realising that there were tears in his dark eyes.
Still, his head was spinning as the first ship touched the beach. Elves he had not seen for far too long began to alight onto the sands and he ran to meet them, feeling as if he were a lost soul finally finding glimpses of life again. They smiled back at him, addressing their prince with gentle statements of joy, but none stayed long, vanishing off the shores and back into the land they had long heard tales of.
Legolas was left with their dwindling numbers, eyes frantic every time another ship landed. But his father still did not appear; and gradually, the amount of boats waned. His breathing increased, whether in excitement or fear he could not tell, but he tried to stay calm. He did not usually feel such great, swift surges of emotion. The world was already beginning to turn around him.
At last, Galion's vessel touched the coastland. He rushed, as fast as his feet could fly, across to him and drew him into a crushing embrace. The butler seemed shocked but responded comfortingly, cradling his head against his shoulder. "Mellon-nîn..." Legolas murmured. "I have missed you."
But, even as Galion replied in similar sentiments to him, he glanced past him and scanned his tense gaze across the crew departing from the ship. It was one of the last of the flotilla coming over and there were not many left on the waves. His father - where was he? He was not on this boat, he had not already arrived, he surely couldn't be at the rear of the group... Legolas' heart clenched painfully. He could feel himself beginning to shake before he even realised what was happening.
"Galion," he said, staring into his friend's eyes. Again he noticed the glossiness of them, tears and tears unshed within. "Where is my father?"
At this, Galion bowed his head. He appeared to sob and tremble and Legolas knew the answer before he even had to speak it. He began to back away, hand pressed over his mouth, head pounding. Oh Valar, no...It could not be. His father, his father... Time suddenly felt as if it was slowing down, all the years before him and behind him stretched to terrible eternity. He felt cold, infinitely so.
"Legolas, I am sorry. Truly, I am so sorry," Galion finally said, raising his sorrowful gaze. "He said he had to leave you. He said you would fare better without his presence. I tried - I tried so very hard to convince him otherwise but... He did not listen. I am sorry, Legolas. This pains me too vastly..."
Legolas wanted to scream. He stumbled, looking for something to clutch onto, and Galion held him up, though his own strength was weary. "No...no...please, no..." he found himself muttering. "Valar, no..."
Yet his prayers would not be answered now. He had brought this upon himself, he had abandoned and isolated his father through his own audacity and disobedience as a child and younger elf. He had never embraced him since his youth, never respected his presence, never appreciated everything he had done for him... Never told him how much he loved him...
Tears fell endlessly from his tired eyes. He sobbed loudly, willing the pain in his throat as punishment for what he had wrought, and his legs began to buckle, unable to keep him upright. Not caring who saw, he collapsed to his knees, body spasming with remorseless misery. He was vaguely aware of Galion bending to wrap his arms about him but mostly, he felt the stabbing ice in his heart, strangling him from the inside out, and the burning in his mouth as he shouted his guilt to the morning sky.
His father...gone forever. He had left him behind, turning his back and sailing across the sea to never see him again. All those years he had lost - he would never recover them, he would never repair the damage done. They were sundered for all infinity. Without ever saying how much he loved him...
Legolas did not know how long he spent crouched on the sand; he did not care. Everything centred around his father, nothing more than a passing memory now, a legend to be told in days to come. Soon, the earth would forget about him, bury his image in the changing of the world. He would be a ghost, far across the sea...
Days turned into nights turned into weeks for Legolas. He could not feel, could not sense any more and all that moved around him did so as if in a glass bubble, only visions and pictures without depth. Often, he returned to the shores, where even Círdan had crossed now, and stared out to the distant horizon, clutching his arms to his chest and trying to believe he was still in his father's embrace. But it was only an illusion; all his life had turned into. He was always alone, never to have the warmth of someone at his side again...
Before he left the beach, he would utter one thing to the waves, voice nothing more than a muted whisper. He would look East, far away over this terrible sea, and sigh, not even realising he was crying any longer. "Farewell, ada," he muttered, a bitter grief at his lips. "I should have never let you go."