Chapter 30 – Return of the King
Traumatised. That was the only word Aragorn could think of when he looked at Legolas.
After watching the Eye fall, and crumble in to nothing but dust, Aragorn had frozen in shock as the Army of Mordor fell in to the Earth, as great chasms opened up. His elation at finally ending the War had quickly been replaced with a consuming anxiety and fear over Frodo. Gandalf had swept past him, shouting something over his shoulder about eagles, but Aragorn had not listened. He had already started searching for the Elf he considered his brother. He knew that Seraphina had been here, and hoped that Legolas had found her; had saved her.
Eventually, after talking with what seemed all the survivors of the Army of the West, he had found them…and almost wished he hadn't. The sight that greeted him was not one he wanted to see, and it almost broke his heart. His hand had automatically clutched Arwen's pendant, his longing and love for her filling him as he gazed down.
Legolas was kneeling on the ground, clutching Seraphina's motionless body to him, their blades discarded around them. Anguished cries ripped from his throat as he cuddled her to his chest, rocking slightly. Tears of his own had slipped down Aragorn's cheeks, but he brushed them away; he had to remain strong. He had to help them now. After all, they had given up everything to help him.
"Mistress Healer. I am – "
Aragorn was cut off by the Healer, a tired smile on her face.
"Yes, Sire. You are here to see Seraphina. Would you like to be shown the way, or do you know it yourself?"
Aragorn grinned slightly, before nodding, walking towards Seraphina's room. He had visited her every single day as she lay in her sick bed.
A week had passed since the battle, and Minis Tirith was slowly getting back to her feet. He had been busy, offering aid and advice when needed, as well as spending a large amount of time visiting the Healing Houses – an alarming number of his close friends had ended up in the Houses. Gimli and he spent alternating days with Legolas, making sure that the grief-stricken Elf was never alone.
Frodo and Sam had returned with Gandalf, the eagles depositing them right by the gates. They had been rushed inside, and the two Hobbits were healing, although Frodo had been close to death.
Éowyn was going from strength to strength after her encounter with the Witch King; Aragorn was confident she would make a full recovery. He himself had helped to heal her, administering a potent mixture containing Athelas. She had been entertained through her recovery by none other than Faramir, and it was clear to all the two were besotted.
As Aragorn reached Seraphina's door, he took a deep breath, steeling himself. He stepped inside, nodding to Halina, who had been in charge of Seraphina's healing since she had arrived. She nodded back, and cast a pointed look at the Elf sitting by the bed. With another loaded look at Aragorn, she curtsied slightly and left the room.
Legolas did not meet his friend's eyes as he watched over his partner. Aragorn cast an eye over the Elven Queen.
Her face was pale, fine cuts on her face scabbed over. Her breathing was shallow, and laboured, as though something heavy were on her chest. Halina had tended to her wounds, and then checked the children, forcing an agitated and distraught Legolas out of the room. As far as Halina could tell, they seemed to be unharmed, but the grim look on her face told them that they would have to wait until they were born to see if they would make it. They had been through a lot of strain, despite the best effort of their mother.
Although Seraphina had not suffered too much physically (apart from the large gash on her back, which Halina had covered in salve and bandaged), it was clear that she had been all but destroyed mentally. Sauron's hold on her had been like iron and when He had fallen, He had started dragging Seraphina down with Him. Only Legolas' intervention had saved her from being completely lost, but the Mirkwood Prince was distraught, scared and confused as to why she was in this coma.
"I almost killed her."
Legolas' quiet voice filled the room, shaking slightly. Aragorn did not reply for a moment, simply watching Seraphina.
"Aye, but you did not. She is still alive."
Aragorn finally answered, his dark gaze landing on the Elf's face. Legolas ran a hand through his hair, suddenly springing to his feet and pacing the room. Aragorn could see just how gaunt his brother had become; how his clothes hung off him; how the purple shadows under his eyes never seemed to go. He spent every minute by Seraphina's bed, always watching, always waiting.
"I…wanted to. I wanted to put her out of her pain, to relieve her suffering."
Aragorn stopped his friend, placing both hands on his shoulders, forcing the Elf to meet his eyes.
"It is natural. If the one you love is in agony, you seek to take that pain away. Do not torture yourself with what could have happened. She is here. She is healing."
Legolas shrugged away from him, eyes focusing back on Seraphina. He could see everything happening again in his mind: the light glinting off his blade as it dived towards her chest; the tip just grazing her as he drove it in to the ground instead as she gasped. He had almost killed his beloved, and if she had not made a noise…he would have been left with nothing.
Legolas had been convinced that the only way to save Seraphina was to kill her. Sauron had her tight in His clutches and would not let go. What could he do? All the time he had been battling against her, he had been searching for ways to save her that did not involve harming her, but his exhausted mind had drawn a blank each and every time.
When Legolas had over-powered her, the pleading in her eyes had almost shattered his resolve. She had begged him, and he had followed what he thought to be her last wishes, trying to ignore the way his heart was breaking. He did not know how he had avoided her in time. Part of it was Seraphina gasping, as if coming up for air after being underwater. The other part was as if something had knocked his hand, pushing the blade to the side. Legolas did not understand it, and he did not really want to. All that he knew was that, between the begging of his loved one and the agony and heartbreak pounding through his veins, he had almost killed her.
Letting out a frustrated cry, he clutched the end of the bed, staring intently at Seraphina, starting slightly as Aragorn moved to stand beside him. The two brothers watched the woman, each asking themselves the same question: why would she not wake?
I blinked slowly, turning in a circle. All around me…was nothing. Just emptiness. I stood still, confused. Was I dead? The last thing I remembered was Legolas plunging his sword down, and Sauron screaming in my head. Then everything went dark. At the thought of Legolas, panic filled me. Where was he? I began running, not knowing where to go, calling out his name.
"He is not here."
I stopped at the sound of the voice. I turned to see an Elf watching me. He was tall, and quite broad by Elven standards. His grey eyes reminded me of Haldir, as did his golden hair, which was braided back from his face. He was dressed in robes that signalled his importance. Something about his face seemed familiar but every time I thought on it, his name slipped away.
"Where is he?"
I sounded desperate, forgetting all rules of decorum. I stepped forward, silently pleading with the Elf.
"He is waiting for you. As is Estel."
I frowned at the mention of Aragorn's childhood name. He must be worried sick about my….I did not know how to explain it. All I knew was that he should be focusing on helping his people and that I needed to return to Legolas.
"Waiting where? I must find them!"
He chuckled softly, and laid a comforting hand on my shoulder. Strangely, I did not flinch away; it felt natural. We stared at each other for a moment and then he spoke, finally explaining where I was.
"You are not dead, but you are not quite alive, either. You are in the In-Between. Your soul is deciding whether to stay within your body or re-unite with Eru."
I furrowed my brows, feeling panicky. I sighed in frustration, looking around at the emptiness, not knowing what to say. The Elf stood silently, patiently waiting for me to speak. I turned to him, but a movement over his shoulder caught my eye. I watched in amazement as two Elflings ran around, chasing each other. Their laughter echoed faintly in my eyes as they raced off, wide grins etched on their faces, forms disappearing.
"They are what could be and what will be if you return to your body. They depend on you."
I suddenly realised what I had seen: they had been my children. The children I was currently carrying. I looked down at my abdomen, caressing it gently. Intense sadness filled me as I came to another realisation.
"They have been touched by Sauron. They will be tainted with His evil. How can I bring them in to this world, knowing they will be shunned and outcast?"
The Elf shook his head, looking amused. I felt anger rising in me; what was so funny about Sauron taking my children from me?
"He may have touched them with Darkness, but you and their father will show them only love and Light. It will overcome any evil that may linger within them."
I nodded, hope settling in my chest. Sauron's hold over me had been broken and I would show them the goodness in this world. Legolas would be everything to them as Elrond was to me. I thought on Elrond for a moment: was he still in Middle Earth? Or had he sailed for Valinor?
He had been a good father to me, loving and patient…but I had betrayed him by not heeding his warnings. I swallowed heavily as my thought train turned to Arwen.
I was older than she was, and as such, had not bonded as well with her, but she was still my sister. She held the heart of one of my closest friends and I only hoped she had been kept safe from the Darkness that had crept across Middle Earth. Elrond had surely sent her to Valinor; if he could not keep one daughter safe, he would most certainly keep the other safe.
A thought occurred to me: I did not know the Elf beside me, yet his gentle words both calmed and reassured me. I should be panicking and confused, yet I was feeling more relaxed than I had ever been, and I could think clearly for the first time in a long while. I turned to him, and paused before I spoke, the feeling of knowing him from somewhere stronger than ever.
"Thank you for your words, but I do not know who you are. May I ask your name?"
The Elf observed me for a moment, before a sad smile lifted his lips. He gently took my hands in his, bringing them in to his chest.
"You know me, my child. You know who I am."
My breath caught and I struggled to comprehend what my heart was telling me. No. This could not be. Why would he meet me? Why?"
My voice was barely more than a whisper, hoarse and broken, but he heard me. He nodded and I embraced him, tears streaming down my cheeks. His arms wrapped round me, cocooning me in a warm cage. I sobbed in to his chest, letting my buried grief and pain pour out. He stroked my hair, clutching me tighter to him. I felt his own tears drop on to my head as we both clung on, reluctant to let each other go.
"Why did you come here? You could have let me to figure it out on my own. It is what I deserve."
My voice was muffled as I spoke in to his robes. I was almost afraid to hear his answer. A few beats passed and I was worried he was not going to speak but then he did, and the whole story came out.
"When you and Haldir were born, a prophecy also came in to existence. It told that the child of Gil-galad would turn to the Dark, and destroy everything. Your mother wanted you both thrown in to the wilderness, but I would not allow it. She…was emotional, at the time. I knew that I had to give both of you up, but it broke my heart. We did not know which would turn, or even if you would turn, and so we decided to separate you. Haldir went with Lady Galadriel, and you with Lord Elrond; both of them were close friends. Your true heritage was kept a secret, and would have remained that way for the rest of your lives…but you ventured to Mordor. I did not want to believe it when I saw you on the battle-field, but my heart told me that you were my daughter. I had to stop you. And I did. You regained your sanity and your Light after my death; allowed Legolas to save you. You accepted your responsibilities and found Haldir. You became the daughter I wanted you to be. I have watched over you these years, and have seen what you have accomplished. I am proud of you, sell."
I pulled back, astonished. He smile down at me, love radiating from him.
"How…how can you forgive me? I killed you!"
My voice rose to a shriek, and Father cupped my face in his hands.
"My death was the only way to stop your descent in to madness. I had accepted that long before the battle. I know of the guilt you have carried. Let it go."
Fresh tears leaked from the corners of my eyes at the acceptance and gentle understanding of my Father. He had sacrificed himself to save me, the daughter he had spent only a short time with.
"Haldir. Is he with you?"
Father nodded, a bright smile suddenly lighting up his face. An answering smile of my own pulled at my lips.
"Indeed. He is adjusting to the Halls. The Music can be a little daunting at first, but Eru would not have taken him if He did not believe that Haldir was ready. It is good to see my son after all these years."
I nodded, suddenly shy. I looked down at my feet, unsurprised to see them bare.
"Could you give him a message from me? Could you tell him that I love him, and his nephews or nieces will be told of him? He will not be forgotten."
Father nodded, his grin growing wider. A haunting melody suddenly filled the emptiness and I started, looking around wildly for the source.
"I must leave, henig. You cannot come with me. Your place is with the living. You have fought too hard to lose now. Eru knows this. Cuio vae. Ú-firo i laiss e-guil lîn."
Father placed a soft kiss on my forehead, and my eyes closed against the sudden blinding light. When I opened them, he was gone, but I did not feel lonely. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Everything I had been carrying with me – grief, pain, fear, sadness – had dissipated with the knowledge my loved ones were in a place of peace. Now, the time had gone for me to return to Legolas, and thank him once again for saving me.
Halina watched Seraphina, looking for any sign of movement. Aragorn had finally persuaded Legolas to leave the room, and had taken him to stretch his legs, to get some fresh air. The Healer was a little worried the Elf woman had not woken yet, but she knew there was little she could do. She sighed, and went to leave the room, to check on other patients when a cough halted her. She turned to the bed, heart pounding. Her eyes widened as Seraphina's hand clenched on the sheets, and she coughed again. Halina rushed back to the bed side, and placed a hand on her forehead.
"Seraphina. Can you hear me?"
Halina felt a smile spread across her face as the Elf's eyes began fluttering. They opened, and they focused on Halina after a few beats of confusion.
"Halina. Is that you?"
Her voice was croaky, but the Healer did not care. She nodded, feeling tears of joy building up. The Elf smiled weakly in response, and then coughed, the dry sound grating on Halina's ears. Quickly, she filled a goblet with water and helped Seraphina drink it, satisfied at the way she was gulping the liquid quickly.
"How do you feel?"
Halina was bustling around now, checking Seraphina's bandages, and helping her sit up, tucking the sheets more securely around her.
"Like an Oliphaunt fell on me."
Halina chuckled, and was about to say something when the door opened. She knew who it would be; she had grown accustomed to Legolas' light, almost soundless steps. The Elf himself was frozen in the doorway, staring at Seraphina. Halina moved back from the bed, watching the two. After a few beats, Legolas rushed forward, gathering her up in his arms. Halina felt emotion well in her chest, and her thoughts turned to Éomer.
She had not spent much time with him these past two weeks. She had been busy with the influx of wounded, and he had been immersed in Rohan politics – he was now King.
After casting a last look at the Elven couple, who were still in each other's arms, she left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. She wiped away a few stray tears and went off in search of Éomer; she needed to see him.
He was here.
I cried silently in to his shoulder as we embraced. I could not describe the intense emotion welling in my chest, but I could honestly say I was really and truly joyful. I ignored the throbbing of various wounds and pulled back, assessing him. I saw the toll my condition had taken on him, and I bit my lip. He gently cupped my cheek, stroking his thumb over the bruised skin. I leaned in to his touch, revelling in the feeling of his fingers. I had not missed the relieved look in his eyes – he had been genuinely scared that I would die. I felt guilty that I had yet again caused him pain, and I stiffened a little under his touch.
My words came out as a whisper as I flinched away from him, lying down on the bed. He frowned, his beautiful eyes confused and hurt.
"For what? Sauron had you under His spell. Your actions were not your own, and the injuries our friends suffered were not at your hands. Before you blame yourself, Gandalf does not hold any ill will towards you for attacking him. The only thing you may ask forgiveness for is being foolish and putting yourself in harm's way and I forgive you for that. You have done that enough times for me to expect it from you. "
Legolas answered, settling down on the bed next to me. He pulled me closer, stroking my hair. I closed my eyes as a fresh wave of guilt rose in me, and drew away slightly.
"I gave in to the darkness, and once again, you had to save me. I was weak. I put our friend's lives in danger!"
Legolas pulled me closer, and kissed my forehead, reminding me of my meeting with Father. That was one thing I would never be able to tell Legolas. He would never be able to understand, and I hoped that he would never again be in a position where he would be able to understand what I had been through. I did not fully comprehend it myself, but I knew it had given me closure.
"I do not want to speak of it. It is over. Sauron is gone, and He has no influence over you anymore. You are alive, and safe, and so are the children. Frodo and Sam were rescued from Mount Doom and are recovering. We are all safe, Seraphina."
He spoke softly, catching my gaze. As I looked in to his eyes, I knew the truth in his words. We were finally free. We had won, against impossible odds. Now all that was left to do was rebuild our lives.
A hesitant smile lifted my lips and I leaned in. Legolas met me halfway, and our lips moulded together. He pulled me closer, and I melted against him, as if trying to become one body. My wounds ached but I ignored them as Legolas' hands wound through my hair. All his anxiety and pain and guilt and joy and love poured in to me through the kiss. I poured my emotions out as well, making sure he knew how much I loved him.
We pulled away, both short of breath. Legolas let out a short laugh, and I raised an eyebrow.
"Why is it that whenever we kiss like that, we have been separated or one of us has been near to death?"
I laughed lightly, feeling slightly guilty at his words. He pressed a soft kiss to the top of my head and pulled me close to him, settling down on the bed for a well-earned rest.
Something stirred within me as I snuggled in to Legolas again. It was relief. Never again would we have to look over our shoulders. Never again would we have to fight for our lives.
Middle Earth was saved.
I glanced out at the sea of people, a breeze making the various flags on the parapets flutter. My dress rippled in the soft wind too, and I smoothed it down. It was a pale green, and tailored to my measurements. Silver sandals were on my feet, and a silver and gold circlet sat on my head, thin chains of crystals cascading down from the back. They weaved in to my hair, which had been left free, and it lay in soft waves down my back. I breathed in, glancing up at the sky. It was a beautiful azure, and cloudless. A perfect day to crown the King.
Three weeks had passed since I had woken from my coma. Minis Tirith had been a flurry of activity, preparing for Aragorn's coronation.
I had visited Frodo and Sam after waking, something that Legolas objected to on the grounds I should be resting but I had waved aside his concerns; I needed to see the Hobbits. He had been none too pleased but accompanied me on my errands anyway. The Hobbits were changed, and I almost didn't recognise them. The Ring had poisoned Frodo, but Sam, his faithful Sam, had come to his rescue. The two were inseparable – a bond had been forged that could never be broken. I could see the change most clearly in their eyes, and I felt a happy sadness: they had grown and matured so much, but it had been painful for the both.
Pippin and Merry had bounced back, and were their usual rambunctious selves, save for Merry having a broken arm. I was glad to see they were as close as ever; I was worried their time apart would have weakened their bond, but it remained as strong as it had been from day one. They carried themselves with a new grace and pride, and were no longer dropped their eyes to the floor; they had earned their place amongst the ranks of Men.
Éowyn had almost fully recovered and I was pleased to see that she had found Faramir. They were a good match, and I knew they would be happy together. The gleam had come back in to the Shield-maiden's eyes, and Faramir looked like he was walking on air.
As for Éomer, he had taken to his duties as King of Rohan quickly and with ease. He already had the respect and loyalty of his fellow Rohirrim, so it came as no surprise that the title of King suited him. Rohan was in good hands. His relationship with Halina surprised me. I had assumed it to be no more than a fling; lust and passion on either side, burning out after that one night. I had never been so happy to be wrong. Halina was a kind, generous woman who would keep Éomer's sometimes fiery temper in check, and he in return would remain faithful and loving towards her.
I pulled my thoughts from my friends to the present. Gimli stood beside me, smiling as Aragorn made his way forward. Gandalf stood outside the doors to the throne room, looking every inch the magnificent wizard. I smiled at Aragorn as he came to a stop before Gandalf. The time had come. Gimli stepped forward, handing Gandalf a silver crown. The wizard lifted it high so everyone could see, and then gently placed it on Aragorn's brow. A hush fell over the crowd, and I could feel myself caught up in the anticipation.
"Now come the days of the King. May they be blessed."
There was a moment of silence, and then rapturous cheers and applause broke out. Aragorn turned to face the crowds, and I joined in, applauding the King. He turned to look at me, and I curtsied, showing him the respect he deserved. His dark eyes found mine, and I felt a grin of pure joy spread across my face. An answering one lit up his face, and I knew then that he had found his place. Despite all his doubts and reservations, he would be the finest King Middle Earth had ever had. I could feel it in my bones. Aragorn let his gaze flick to the crowds, and he drew himself up.
"This day does not belong to one man, but to all. Let us together rebuild this world that we may share in the days of peace."
The crowd cheered even louder at his words. Gimli let out a delighted laugh as white petals from the tree began to fall. Aragorn motioned me forward, and I stepped up. Together, we walked down the path, but I made sure I was a few steps behind; these were his people. Mine had left these shores.
The petals of the White Tree swirled around Aragorn as he walked, contrasting with his raven hair as they settled in it. His people bowed as he passed, and I caught sight of several familiar faces. Éowyn and Faramir. Éomer. A great glow began in my chest to see them all, greeting their King, but knowing that each had a place in his heart.
I couldn't contain the grin as Aragorn met Legolas, and embraced him. Elves stood behind him, and my eyes found Elrond. Shock flashed through me, and then tears sprung up. He had not left. My adoptive father smiled, inclining his head slightly to the two men in front of me. I turned my eyes back, watching as Legolas moved aside so that Aragorn looked to where Elrond stood. My spouse made his way to my side, clasping my hand in his.
He was dressed in his royal finery, a silver crown on his forehead. A glint formed in his eyes as he noticed me looking at him in wonder (he had never looked better), and I knew what it meant. Warmth spread through my lower belly, but I shook my head, sending him a look I hoped was hard; now was not the time. I turned my gaze back to Aragorn and I let out a small gasp.
Arwen stood beside Elrond, her gaze fixated on the King. I looked to Legolas, who gave me a knowing smile. I joined in with the cheers as the two kissed, and I did not care that a tear had rolled down my cheek. For too long, they had been separated. Arwen held my closest friend's heart in her hands, and she had kept it safe, bestowing upon him the greatest gift she could give: her own heart. I knew that she had given up her immortality for him – the necklace he wore signified that. Aragorn deserved happiness, and he would find it with Arwen. They were one person in two bodies, and I could not describe the joy I felt at seeing them reunited at last. I squeezed Legolas' hand, moving closer to him. He squeezed back, he too caught up in the emotion of Aragorn and Arwen's reunion.
We moved off, following Aragorn and Arwen as they moved through their subjects. Near the end of the path, our four Hobbits stood. They were not dressed in cloaks or livery, but in their Shire trousers and weskits. To any other, this would appear rude, but to those that knew them, it meant the world. I watched them over Aragorn's shoulder, delighted to see them all together. Although they had separated in to pairs, the four were close, and they seemed whole again now their little group was back together.
They began to bow to Aragorn and Arwen, their King and Queen, but Aragorn stepped forward, urging them to stand up. Confused, they did as he asked, glancing at each other.
"My friends, you bow to no-one."
He knelt before the Hobbits, and we all followed suit. I heard an echoing rustle and a glance up confirmed my suspicions: the whole of Minis Tirith were bowing down in their honour. I let out a small giggle at their astonished faces, locking eyes with Frodo. I smiled wide at him, and he smiled back, eyes lighting up.
We had all fought hard in this War. We had all lost things dear to us, but the four Hobbits, looking so bewildered, had sacrificed the most. They did not fully understand it, but they had won this War, and no-one was more deserving of honour and respect than these four little people of the Shire.
….It's over, my lovely, beautiful readers. We have come to the end of this ride. It has been absolutely wonderful to write this, and I cannot thank you enough for all your support. I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.
Don't cry too much, because there will be an extra chapter after this. It will tidy up a few things, and won't be as long as this one, but it will help end the story neatly! I love you all so much!
Ada – Father
Sell – Daughter
Henig – My child
Cuio vae. Ú-firo i laiss e-guil lîn – Farwell/Live well. May the leaves of your life never die
Goheno nin – Forgive me