The Joy of One by Legolass|
Summary: As Aragorn celebrates his birthday, Legolas ponders on his friend’s happiness, and remembers where his own truly lies.
"Happy Birthday, King Elessar! May you have many more, my lord!"
The roomful of men and women erupts into cheers, and Aragorn – smiling graciously – is presented with a large, creamy cake, just like I have seen it done several times before since I made Ithilien my home.
As I watch yet another celebration of one’s day of birth that Humans so fondly observe each year, I smile.
Happy Birthday, Aragorn, my friend. May you indeed have many, many more.
After many years of residence among Men and close acquaintance with them, I am no longer surprised by their customs, or by the fact that Aragorn and Arwen – even with their elvish background and blood – have learnt to observe the tradition as well, out of respect for the people whom they have come to rule.
This evening’s celebration is no different, unless it is even more vibrant with color, movement and noise, and more richly endowed with food and drink than usual. For it is a party thrown by his Steward and Councilors, to mark the 100th birthday of the King of Gondor – a very ripe age for most of Humankind, an age at which dexterity would be fragile at best, and memory only a vague mist of shifting images. But for King Elessar Telcontar, descendant of the Númenórean kings of old, a century marks the prime of his long life: an age of happiness and fulfillment, with a beautiful Queen at his side; a bright-eyed, intelligent son and heir; and a peaceful, thriving kingdom restored to its former glory.
I study Aragorn from where I sit in quiet observation on the wide sill of a bay window, and I note with satisfaction the smile on his kingly face. Years of close friendship tell me he cannot be overly excited about the flourish and fanfare, but I know he is appreciative of the spirit in which it was created. I swell with pride as his people lavish him with sincere, exultant praise and drink to his continued health and happiness. I see him place his own goblet against his lips, and then he hesitates. From across the room, from where he is flanked by the Evenstar and his Steward, where he is surrounded by laughing Men, his sea-grey eyes seek and find mine. As they have done countless times before, our thoughts touch, and he does not have to hear my voice to understand what I am saying to him as I, too, make my dedication:
"To your happiness, mellon nin."
A look of satisfaction sits on his countenance now as he smiles and drains his goblet.
More cheers draw his attention back to the group of Men as a large rectangular object, wrapped in soft cloth, is brought in and placed before him. I see a curious look appear on his face, and he waits patiently while they unwrap it.
"A gift from us, Sire," said one of his Councilors. "We commissioned someone to have it done a few months ago, in honor of your long, noble lineage."
I hear Aragorn gasp as his eyes fall upon the gift, but several people quickly surround it, and it is hidden from me. I hear them gasping in delight and admiration as well, turning to one another to remark on the fine quality of the work.
"Legolas!" I hear my name being called, and I recognize Aragorn’s voice. "Legolas!" he calls again, and I get up to walk towards the group.
Some people part to let me approach the King, and I see him studying the gift, with awe and wistfulness sitting softly on his face and parted lips. When he raises his head and notices me, his smile brightens, and he beckons me near. "Come, mellon nin," he says, his eyes shining. "You will like this."
Aragorn motions his head towards the gift, and I turn my attention to it. Fleetingly, I note that it is a painting, done on canvas and mounted on a large wooden frame. I move closer for a better look.
And now I understand why Aragorn gasped earlier, for my eyes are greeted by a splendid portrayal of the Greatest Mariner of the Ages: Eärendil, ancestor of Aragorn, a commanding figure standing at the helm of his ship. His face is set towards a magnificent twilight sky, graced with stars that cast a shimmering radiance on his features and illuminate the vessel with a silver glow. His hair flows behind him like a banner of pride in the wind. One hand rests calmly on the wood of his ship; the other is stretched toward the Sea: a watery mirror that seems to ripple even on the stillness of canvas. And in the eyes of the Mariner, in his quiet smile, is seen the serene elation of one who has found his Home.
I find myself speechless at the vision. I feel a hand on my shoulder and turn to see Aragorn’s sea-grey eyes locked with mine, exchanging unspoken yet voluble emotions.
"It is beautiful," I whisper at last. "It is breathtaking." I turn my eyes back to the vision, and I say to myself – only to myself: It is the Sea.
Once again, a keen ache – a familiar companion – sears though me, within me, and I hide it quickly. I would not have Aragorn notice it, and indeed he does not, for the focus of his bright eyes is still the painting.
His hand remains on my shoulder, however, letting the love we share surge through his touch. I know he is overwhelmed by the gift, and I know he is sharing his happiness with me.
His happiness is why I am here. Still here, in Arda. Not on the Sea, and not across its wide, wide expanse.
It is for his happiness that I have not sailed to the West. It is for his happiness that I have resisted the pull of a deep desire on my heart, though it haunts my waking hours and weaves itself into my elvish dreams at night. It is for his happiness that I have held my own at arm’s length – nay, greater than arm’s length – lest I be tempted to give in too soon.
The lure is strong, for there is a different, other-worldly kind of appeal in the sound of the water and in the flow of the tides that shall take me to Elven-home one day…
It was a joy awakened in me by the sound of a sea gull’s call near the end of the Quest, just as the Lady of the Golden Wood had said it would. My heart took wing, borne on the wailing notes of the plaintive cry, and I forgot war in Middle-earth, forgot my weariness, forgot strife and pain, forgot even the beeches and elms under which I had run since the days of my childhood.
Aye, I forgot them all…
But I could not, would not, forget my friend Estel.
And it was to grant his request that I shut my ears to the call of the Sea. I shut my ears and my heart the moment he asked Gimli and me to return to Gondor, to aid in rebuilding his City and his kingdom. Those were his parting words to us as the Dwarf and I prepared to return to our homes through Fangorn.
"Remember to come back with the help you promised," he reminded us, and unseen by all save my own eyes, a glimmer of hope and pleading shone in his grey ones as they met mine. He was now King of Gondor and the Northern Realm – strong, masterful, bowed to, respected and feared. But his sensitive heart would still need his friends of old, and his plea reached out to me – as tangible and as trusting as a child’s hand.
There was no way that I could have refused him. He needed me. He would not say it then, but I knew it: he needed me.
That thought stayed with me as I rode through Fangorn and admired its trees, and as I journeyed home to see my father and my kin. It remained with me as I embraced the woods of my birth and rejoiced in the victory over Dol Guldur. And the thought did not leave me even when my mind resounded again and again with the wailing of the gulls at Pelargir that had stirred the perilous Sea-longing in me.
What a conflict, what a battle, what a struggle. Far West, in a green country beneath a swift sunrise, lay Elven-home and the joyful end of my labors. In Middle-earth and a City of white stone, lay his.
Or so I thought.
Months later, when I brought some of my kin south to restore Ithilien to its green birthright, I was greeted by the warmth of Aragorn’s unchecked gratitude upon my return to his City.
A year and a half later, I was held in an embrace of pure ecstasy when he sought me to share the news of his firstborn.
Countless times, my heart bled with him as the new king turned to me with his deepest thoughts in times of tribulation.
And often, we would share the thrill of an exhilarating ride, or merely sit in silence to watch a sunrise or sunset, needing no words to speak our deepest feelings. Our silence itself was poetry.
It was in that manner, on those occasions when Aragorn’s heart was laid bare to me, that a voice of elven wisdom whispered to me time and again. It told me that our true happiness – Aragorn’s and mine – lay not in a shining Land of Light nor a grand City of Stone, not in eternal sunshine nor the richness of changing seasons – but in the love and purity of our friendship, and in the steadfastness of each other’s company.
Those were the times when his words "Remember to return" rang in my mind louder than the voices of the gulls at Pelargir, and the power of his plea became stronger than the tides of the Deep. His simple, heartfelt need of my friendship cut into my soul deeper than any torment from the Sea-longing.
Nay, I could not leave him.
And so I cast aside my journey to a yet untasted happiness, that he might still keep the joy of friendship he already knew.
As I turn my head to look upon Aragorn now – a strong, regal, but ultimately mortal, being – I remember all too clearly and sadly that my days will stretch far beyond his 100th birthday, but his will be too few to be spent in sorrow and loss. For the remainder of his life, therefore, I will remain by his side, so that he will not taste the bitterness of a farewell I know he will loathe. I will not rob him of my presence that he silently asks for in humility.
I return my gaze to the painting, to the Sea that beckons to me, to the sky that veils a waiting Land beyond, to the ship that promises safe delivery – and I think of sea gulls that would bid my body take flight with them.
Yet… where my heart should be rent in two – where it should bleed in a battle between a desire to leave for Valinor and the silent plea of a Man for my presence in Arda – I find no conflict. There is no hesitation. No regret.
So, let the gulls cry in their plaintiveness, let the sea sigh and sing to me! But for the next hundred years or more, I will place my comfort in the palm of the friend I love, I will feel contentment in the ease of his smile, and I will find my solace in the peace of his human heart.
I take a deep breath and turn back to Aragorn, giving him the most heartfelt smile I can carve with my lips, before I embrace him warmly.
On this, your birthday, Estel, I wish for you all the happiness your heart can hold.
At this celebration of your birth, I renew my vow of love and loyalty to you. For as long as you remain in Middle-earth, I will; and I shall seek no other place but by your side. For as long as you live, I shall have need of no other bliss but yours. Your happiness, my friend of friends, shall be my own.
And the joy of one will be enough for us both.