"She likely will not last the night. She doesn't have any family, does she?"
"No. We don't even have anyone to contact to collect her things when she dies."
"Well it won't be much longer. Is it true that she thinks she is an elf?"
"Sometimes she would wake speaking a foreign tongue. When she started speaking English again, she would start crying, repeating over and over that she was human and not an elf. Her records indicate she's had a similar fantasy since she was in her twenties. After being stuck in a coma for several months, she woke speaking the same language."
"Wow. Was she ever diagnosed with schizophrenia or anything?"
"No. I think she went to a shrink and it helped. She either hid her episodes or was cured for a while."
"Has anyone attempted to translate the gibberish she speaks?"
"Haven't found anyone who recognized the language. I would love to know what she is saying though."
"Me too. Guess she won't be suffering for much longer though."
"No. I doubt she'll wake again."
Thranduil walked through the forests of Greenwood the Great. He often sought solitude amongst the trees these days. His advisors had become intolerable in their unsubtle efforts to push him into marriage. Only Brandorn understood his hesitation. He was the last of Thranduil's commanders from the war, and the only advisor that knew Thranduil had already wed once. But even Brandorn was starting to suggest it was time to move on.
He could not forget. The war had been long and lonely, and every moment of peace was ruined by the thought that he should have his wife by his side. She should have been with him in every fight after the Morannon. Yet as the Alliance had celebrated victory at the Gate, he had only had enough room in his heart to mourn, burning her body before it succumbed to the inevitable decay.
Her death had been motivation to fight, to slaughter every orc and troll that dared get within his reach. But now that his kingdom was at peace—now that there were no orcs to fight—he felt lost. He needed his wife. He needed her guidance. He did not know what to do.
He ignored her voice calling to him. He heard it often, and it only caused him more pain.
"Thranduil," her voice repeated, slightly stronger and louder than the first time.
He stopped, closing his eyes against the torment. Be gone, he commanded in his head. Cease your torment.
"Thranduil, look at me."
Frustrated, he opened his eyes. He expected to see nothing but the forest, perhaps shadows playing tricks on his mind, showing him her silhouette in the bending branches and vines. He had not expected to actually see her standing clearly in front of him, no different than the day she had died.
"Karina," he choked out. "You cannot be here."
"Truthfully, I am not," she said, and her form faded gently before growing strong once more. "I am but an image, a projection of who I was. I asked the Valar for one last chance to see you."
Thranduil approached cautiously. Once in reach, he impulsively tried to touch her face. His fingers passed right through the projection. Agony was mirrored on both their faces.
"The Valar are cruel, to allow me to see you this way and to not let me hold you. After all this time…I need you, Karina. I am lost without you."
"No, you are strong, Thranduil. You do not need me to make you the king you were always meant to be. My part in your life is over."
"I refuse to go on this path you claim lies before me without you by my side," he said fiercely, stepping closer to her image. "I will sail to the Undying Lands unless the Valar return you to me."
"That is not possible," Karina said wearily, and tears began welling in her eyes. "I am nearing the end of my mortal life, Thranduil," Karina whispered softly. "I will soon have my final death. I will pass into the world where all mortal souls go."
"Perhaps not. Perhaps you will join me instead," he said hopefully, his eyes so desperate to believe such a thing that it made her heart tighten in her chest. It was already weak; she was not sure she would survive this emotional encounter. But, perhaps that was best. "Perhaps this time when you die in your world, you will be returned to me as before."
"I do not think that is possible," she said miserably. "I have already been given two passes from death, I do not think even the Valar will give me a third."
"They must. They cannot make us suffer like this. It is too cruel."
"Cruel, yes, but it is the way of things. I am not an Eldar. I am not even of your world, Thranduil. I belong in this one, though my heart has yearned to be with you every moment since we parted."
"You were an Eldar once," Thranduil said reaching out to take her hand but having it close on empty air. The pain reflecting in his eyes as once more he closed his fingers around nothing was too much to bear. Karina closed her eyes, letting the tears flow freely down her cheeks. Thranduil's voice was broken when he continued. "Perhaps they will grant you access to the Halls of Mandos. Perhaps someday you will reawaken and be returned to this world. I need only travel across the sea and wait for you."
"Thranduil," Karina sobbed, desperate to touch him yet unable to do so. "It cannot be. You must move on. It is not my place to be with you. You have suffered long enough. Please, I beg you, find love again. I cannot bear the thought of you living all the long ages of this world alone."
"I cannot love again. You are the only one I will ever love."
"You must. It is your destiny."
"I do not care about my destiny," Thranduil said fiercely, surprising Karina with the venom. "Destiny has done nothing but cause me pain." Karina watched the bitterness fill his eyes, the anger at what he had suffered. His emotions were so volatile, so unguarded. She feared she would break him. She feared he would be lost if she left him now.
"But it also let me love you," she said softly. Thranduil met her eyes, the rage fading from his face. Karina smiled sadly. "I would not change what happened. I care not about the pain, as long as I was able to love you and feel your love in return. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever felt, ever experienced. The end may have been cruel, but the journey was worth it. I would suffer through all the agonies of this life and the next a thousand times if it meant only one day of feeling your love. Do not anguish because it is gone. Rejoice that it happened. Then move past the rage and find peace. I know in your heart you are lonely. You need someone to help you free of this burden you should not have to bear."
"You are all I have ever wanted, Karina," Thranduil said, his shoulders slumping at the weight of her words. "How can I move on? No one will ever be as important as you were to me."
"That will change," Karina said with a knowing smile, though sorrow still shone through. "I have the gift of foresight, you will recall. Do you wish to know why I knew you when we first met? Why I was so intimidated to be in your presence?" Thranduil remained silent, and Karina took that as her invitation to explain. Her face grew serious as she met his eye.
"Darkness will rise again. Sauron has not been defeated, and at the end of this age he will seek to reclaim what was lost, bringing war upon Middle Earth once more. But there is hope. Brave members of each race will join together to face the enemy. Together they will fight back the darkness. While you will face your own battles here, there will be one elf that walks the dangerous path towards Mordor, to help Men push back the tide of war." She smiled again. "Your son."
Thranduil could not speak. It was too much to accept. He stared at Karina for some time, trying to find the words to express the torment of emotions swirling dizzyingly inside.
"My son?" he asked breathlessly. "Did you know this the entire time?"
"Yes. I had hoped-with every fiber of my being-that my purpose as an Adonnen was to bear your son, to raise the prince to be the great warrior he is to become. You will be so proud of him," Karina said through her tears. "I had hoped I would be able to share that pride as his mother, but it was not to be. Some other elf will have that honor."
"I do not want another to have the honor. I want you."
"I am fading," Karina said tiredly. Thranduil grew alarmed as her form did indeed start fading, ghostly outline growing hazy. "My time is done. I have accepted it. I beg you, do not let this final parting consume you. I just wanted to let you know that I have continued loving you since the day I left you. My death will not change that. But I cannot let you continue on in grief. Especially not over me. It breaks my heart."
"Tell me," Thranduil said, watching her closely as her ghost grew ever fainter, her voice weakening. "Did you marry another? Were you able to do as you ask of me? To forget?"
"I never forgot, and I am not asking you to do that either," Karina said sorrowfully. She hesitated, almost lying to him in the hopes that he would see it as permission to let her go. But she could not bring herself to do so, not even with something so important. "There was a man that I could have loved, in another life. He was the one I died saving, the one that led me to you all those years ago. But no, I never married him. My attempts to love him felt so shallow, so superficial. It is not because I did not care for him. I just could not forget how it felt to love you, to have our fëar joined as husband and wife. No love amongst Men is as beautiful as love amongst the Elves."
"Then how can you ask me to let you go?"
"Because it is what is right. Do you truly wish to spend all your years alone? I know how alone you must feel right now, Thranduil. Your family is gone, I am gone. So many friends and comrades lost. You have suffered through sixty years of this torment. Do not make it an eternity."
"No," he admitted gently, closing his eyes against the pain it took to admit it. "No, I do not wish to be alone any longer."
"Then find someone that will be a companion, a friend. That is what you truly need right now. In time, you will love again, and from that love you will have a son. You need an heir, regardless of what your feelings are. Surely you can see that. Let yourself find comfort in another since I am unable to give it to you. You have my permission, and my blessing."
Tears fell from Thranduil's eyes, still closed against her words. He slowly opened them to look at her, the emptiness in his heart seeking to pull her towards him, to fill the chasm in his soul. Yet he knew she was just getting farther away, and this would be the last time he would see her face. He wished he could hold her one last time, to kiss her and to say a proper goodbye.
"I love you, Karina," he said softly. "I always will. No matter if I take a wife and lover, you will always be the one my heart yearns for."
"As mine will always yearn for you," Karina replied. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling her physical body shutting down, letting go of the chains that bound her to that world. She wished to be whole, just for a moment, to be able to touch Thranduil's hand again, to run her fingers over his cheekbones and to kiss him goodbye. Opening her eyes again, she moved towards Thranduil, reaching out for him as she felt the last of her strength leaving her. He reached towards her too, and in a moment of shock, their hands touched. Karina's fingers wrapped around his hand, and she moved towards him eagerly. Their time running short, she pressed her lips to his desperate to feel him again. It was a moment of pure bliss and sorrow, their last moment together, a small gift from the Valar.
But it could not last. Karina felt the life slipping from her, and as she pulled away from Thranduil, she felt her fingers pass through his, no longer tangible.
"Goodbye," she said softly, ghostly tears shimmering in the faint light.
"Farewell, my love, my wife," Thranduil replied, watching her disappear. As her form faded from the air, Thranduil collapsed, sobs wracking his body. He did not care if someone heard, if someone found their king weeping inconsolably on the ground. She was gone, truly lost to him now. He had said goodbye once, but he had held onto the belief that perhaps she would be returned. Now, she was well and truly gone. He was broken, his heart and soul in pieces scattered to the winds. The silence of the forest was interrupted by a heart wrenching cry of anguish, a shriek that echoed of such horrible pain. The forest stilled, listening to the breaking of its king's heart. Karina was gone.
She had been wise in her last moments. She had set him free from the guilt that would follow him should he seek comfort from another. He abhorred the idea, hated the idea of betraying the wife he had been forced to relinquish after so brief a time together. But she was right. His advisors were right. He needed someone to comfort him, to pick up the pieces and to painstakingly help him put them back together. Nevertheless, those cracks would always be there. Nothing could change that now.