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White Lisianthus

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The curtains parted. Light
coming in. Moonlight, then sunlight.
Not changing because time was passing
but because the one moment had many aspects.

White lisianthus in a chipped vase.
Sounds of the wind. Sound
of lapping water. And hours passing, the white sails
luminous, the boat rocking at anchor.

Motion not yet channeled in time.
The curtains shifting or stirring; the moment
shimmering, a hand moving
backward, then forward. Silence. And then

one word, a name. And then another word:
again, again. And time
salvaged, like a pulse between
stillness and change. Late afternoon. The soon to be lost

becoming a memory; the mind closing around it. The room
claimed again, as a possession. Sunlight,
then moonlight. The eyes glazed over with tears.
And then the moon fading, the white sails flexing.

 

—Louise Glück, Island

 

 

 

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WHITE LISIANTHUS

 

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The curtains parted. Light
coming in. Moonlight, then sunlight.
Not changing because time was passing
but because the one moment had many aspects.

 

___

 

Legolas cast open the thick curtains that had enshrouded the room in its unyielding darkness and, in the same elf-nimble movements of hand, released the catches of the window frame. He was rewarded with an immediate rush of air that swept through the previously breathless space and with pale beams of moonlight that pooled in the gaze of the aged king, who observed from the bed, seeming frail to the Elf's ever vigorous, ever youthful gaze. 

"I suppose that I shall never understand you Men," he said, lightly, as he remained perched at the windowsill for a moment. "Sleeping in darkness when you could be drinking in the light of Ithil.”

How many times had Legolas made that comment to him in their long years together? Were it not for the unbearable pall of truth that hung over the long stretches of silence, it could have been any other moment: the Elf appeared the same as he ever had, his fair face eternally vernal, positioned at the window with his gaze tilted up to the sky. He could be merely visiting for some trivial purpose; not here at the behest of a dying king.

Still, the once vital Ranger humored the Elf, offering him a laugh, though he had scarcely the energy or the breath. At the sound of his rattled exhalation, Legolas tore his gaze away from the night sky to assess the man. The lines around Aragorn's eyes seemed to him as though they had deepened overnight, for the woodland prince was still unable to measure time as mortals did.

The Elf frowned.

If Aragorn had gone from Brother-in-Arms to King to Father to Deathbed in scarcely a breath of eternity, how could he trust that Aragorn would not now leave him at any given moment? So he knelt for a moment beside the king, taking his old hands in his own, stilling his heartbreak as he felt Aragorn's grasp trembling beyond his control.

Then Legolas was gone with the first beams of sunlight that lit up the room, that cast Aragorn's aged face into stark relief.

 

___

White lisianthus in a chipped vase.
Sounds of the wind. Sound
of lapping water. And hours passing, the white sails
luminous, the boat rocking at anchor.

 

___

 

Emerging gradually from his dreamless sleep, the first things that came into Aragorn's view were the white lisianthus that Legolas had left beside his bed. The vase in which the prince had placed the blossoms was chipped at the top, with a crack that ran across nearly the entire length of the clay, and the man could only imagine where Legolas had found it — for that matter, the man could only imagine where or how the wood-elf had found these flowers that bloomed only in summer. 

He turned his gaze to the window but the space which Legolas normally occupied was empty. The curtains fluttered conspicuously in the afternoon breeze, a southern wind that brought with it the salty air and distant sounds of gulls.

 The sea-longing had taken him again, then.

He would be at the harbor with the daughter of Imrahil, surveying the strength of their fleet, running his slender hands along the creaking wood of the ships as the water lapped at their rocking sides, walking along the rocky shore with his face tilted ever to the east, as though he could not bear to even imagine those white shores beyond the sea and yet also could not tear himself away. He would be lost for hours in the torment of sea-longing that, but for his love of Aragorn, would have wholly claimed his heart long ago.

 He heard a snore, suddenly, and realized that Gimli had fallen asleep sitting in a chair at the other side of the king. He had roused himself with the sound and had caught Aragorn’s southern gaze.

“Foolish, flittering Wood-Elf,” he muttered, masking his own sorrow in the growl of his voice. “One moment he was perched at the window, overgrown bird that he is, waiting for you to wake up, and the next moment he was gone. What an absurd thing for him to be doing, leaping from windows in citadels, you’d think the flighty creature would have learned enough decorum by now to use doors like any other — ”

“Gimli,” said Aragorn, gently, interrupting the dwarf’s tirade.

 But the Lord of the Glittering Caves would not let up. He had exhausted himself with his efforts to explain mortality to the son of the Elvenking. He had tried to relate to him the ache of old bones, the fatigue of will, and he had reached the end of his understanding and patience with the strange elf who had claimed both dwarf and man alike as life companions and yet could not accept their inevitable, and even welcome, end.

 “No, Aragorn, not this time! That foolish elf is going to be the death of me — or the death of himself! He’s shown not a hint of care for his own health since we received your missive, since he — ”

 This time the dwarf cut himself off, realizing too late his own blundering words.

 “Since he discovered that I am dying,” finished Aragorn, having understood what his old friend had intended to say. His gaze returned to the open window where he had last seen the archer. “I know.”

 Then the weight of sorrow pressed in on his old body, sorrow for his dearest friend, sorrow for his bride, and his eyelids were closing again, embracing him in those long stretches of sleep that readied him for the end.

 

___


Motion not yet channeled in time.
The curtains shifting or stirring; the moment
shimmering, a hand moving
backward, then forward. Silence. And then

 

___

 

When Aragorn woke up again, it was night and Arwen was beside him, her face wet with tears, her kisses light as breath upon his brow. As she saw his eyes open, dulled in the confusion of that space between sleep and waking, she knelt down and pressed the side of her temple against his. 

“Legolas has returned,” she said.

And it was a testament of her love to the man and to Legolas that she took her leave, allowing him to have the room alone with the companion that he had named Brother, that he had named Uncle to their son, that he had named Lord of Ithilien.

Legolas was perched at the window, as always, where the curtains shifted and stirred in the light sea breeze. This moment could just as well be the same as it had been those few nights ago, except that his eyes were now turned away from the sky, were now bright and wet with grief as his gaze finally beheld the man as he was, and not as once he had been. He lifted a slender hand to brush away the tears from his face.

 He said nothing this time: made no quips, no pleas, did not try to bait Aragorn into the banter that could allow him to pretend that nothing had changed. For now he could no longer pretend that the end was not coming for them. He could no longer pretend that that end was not near.

Silence. And then —


___

 

one word, a name. And then another word:
again, again. And time
salvaged, like a pulse between
stillness and change. Late afternoon. The soon to be lost

 

___

 


“Estel.”

Legolas's ever steady voice now trembled with emotion in those two short and final syllables; his breath caught in his throat at the childhood name of the man that he had not used since the ranger had taken up the title of Elessar. Aragorn tilted his face up to the elf, but, unlike Legolas, did not have the strength to brush away the tears that unashamedly wet his face.

The prince lowered himself down from the window, the gauzy fabric of the curtains barely stirring amidst his agile movements, and suddenly he was there, beside the king, his fingertips touching his face where the tears had fallen.

The sunlight that poured into the room was that heavy light of late afternoon, barely able to carry its own weight, pooling thickly upon the skin of the two: Mortal and Immortal, each ancient in their own way.

In these last days, the king was ever cold and he welcomed the tangible warmth that sank into his body. Upon Legolas, however, the cumbrous afternoon light fell unkindly: pressing down against his ever sprightly posture, leading his every footstep to fall with a weight that was unlike the nimble wood-elf.

“Let us go breathe the fresh air together,” said Legolas, finally, one hand still clasping the face of the old ranger with featherlight touch. With this thought, the prince seemed to be cheered, as though the sunlight could give back to the king what the long years had taken.

He reached one lithe hand over the mortal, pulling aside the blankets, then slipped his arms beneath the man’s body and began to raise him out of the bed. He steadied the king on his feet, then turned retrieve the staff that Aragorn now used to aid him in his walking.

In the space that Legolas’s back was turned, the old king was back on the bed, unable to maintain his balance alone. For a moment, it seemed a joke that Aragorn would have played on him when they had both been younger, and Legolas’s fair elvish face lit up with the memory. Perhaps he had it left in him to pretend a little longer.

“Again?” he asked, referring to aiding the man back up to his feet, but also to pretending together that this was a game.

“Again,” laughed Aragorn, willing to play the game with the elf, the rasping sound of his laughter coming out in long wheezes.

But for Legolas, the soon to be lost was lost already.

 

___

 

becoming a memory; the mind closing around it. The room
claimed again, as a possession. Sunlight,
then moonlight. The eyes glazed over with tears.
And then the moon fading, the white sails flexing.

 

___

 

 

February was cruel in that it was the shortest month. If he had known that the King could have only one more month to live, he would have asked him for April or May, not this shortest measure of the mortal calendar. 

His days alone with the king were gone: he could not ask the Evenstar for any more time when it was surely and truly her right to the last days of her husband. He could not ask Aragorn’s dearest friends, nor his children, not to be with the dying man. So there would be no more leaving the room to breathe the fresh air together, no more bantering between bed and window.

That space had now been claimed for the end. 

Legolas shut his eyes to the world, allowing the man to already become a memory, closing his mind around the image of Aragorn in his youth. Not accepting the harsh lines of his face, those sea-grey eyes that could now barely face the days.

Then the last rays of February’s sunlight fell upon the king, leaving no more room for disbelief. For though his countenance remained noble in the way of the Númenor, his lined face was already greying with death.

 And then it was night again, the pale moonlight trickling in to replace the harsh light of day, and Arwen would be with her husband alone at the hour of their parting.

 So they each said their good-byes, ending last with Gimli and Eldarion.

Then it was Legolas’s turn, his face white and stricken with the finality of their farewells, his eyes bright with tears, his shoulders hunched over on himself as the breaths of the king grew ever fainter and slower.

Finally he knelt beside the king and took his aged hands in his own and this time he did not flinch at the frailty of it all. He kissed the trembling hands, then the brow of the king, his long golden hair falling across the man’s face.

Legolas remained there for moments that he could not have measured, even were these not the last few moments the two would take to the end. His own body trembled now with the weight of his grief, his bright eyes pressed shut against his tears, his hands grasping at Aragorn's hands too tightly, unwilling and unable to let the King traverse those paths where they could never meet again, where the fates of Elves and Men were sundered. 

It was bitter for the elf to say farewell to one who, in his mind, seemed still so young. It was bitter all the more for the elf to look last into the eyes of the man he loved and to realize that Aragorn's gaze was already beyond him, beyond this world, beyond where even Legolas's elven-sight could follow.

He willed the man to feel the words that he could not say, willed the man to see him one last time, grasping his trembling hands ever tighter against this last and final trial of their friendship. The King, with what old strength he could muster so close to the end, grasped those steady elven hands with equal intention, pulled his gaze back to meet the eyes of the one who had tarried in Middle-earth for friendship. 

But he offered no platitudes, for they both knew that there were no words now that could bring comfort to the Elf.

Aragorn felt the brush of Legolas’s hair as he stood, felt the featherlight touch of his fingers across his face, felt the wetness left in the wake of his bitter tears. He felt his hands ache with the absence of Legolas's unrelenting hold. Then the prince was clasping the hands of the queen in comfort, in farewell, and he was gone as the moon faded into dawn that brushed the edges of the room with its luminous presence.

 

In this year on March Ist came at last the Passing of King Elessar. Then Legolas built a grey ship in Ithilien, and sailed down Anduin and so over Sea; and with him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf. And when that ship passed an end was come in Middle-earth of the Fellowship of the Ring.

—Appendix B, J.R.R. Tolkien

 

 

 

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This is the end, isn’t it?
And you are here with me again, listening with me: the sea
no longer torments me; the self
I wished to be is the self I am.

 

—Louise Glück, Meadowlands

 

 

 

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