Best By Far
By Nieriel Raina
Year 36 4th Age
Legolas sipped his wine and watched his friend from the corner of his eye. The dwarf was acting strangely: not meeting his eyes when they spoke, shuffling his feet and nervously fidgeting with his mug of ale. Legolas turned his gaze back to the stars, marveling at their beauty. For two thousand years he had lived under their silver light, finding peace in their song.
But tonight his heart was in turmoil due to the restlessness of his friend. Something caused Gimli distress and Legolas feared the dwarf had bad news.
The evening had started normal enough, if living through the celebrations in honor of his second millennia could be considered normal. He could not ignore the occasion or spend it simply in the familiar company of those dearest to him. Tathar, his Lord Warden, would never allow him to get away with that, and so Legolas had endured the many guests, the songs and dances of his people, the jests and posturing among Gondor's lords, and the teasing from his friends.
It was not until they slipped away to find some quiet in his talan that Gimli had begun to act strangely. As they stood on the balcony looking up through the tree's branches, he cast another concerned look at the dwarf. "Gimli, is all well with you?"
"Fine, fine. Nice night, don't you think?" the dwarf rumbled without looking up.
Legolas raised a brow as he glanced down at his friend. Gimli? Making note of the weather? Something was up; he was sure of it! "Yes, the weather was quite conducive to the celebrations. Too bad it did not rain."
"True, tr… What?" The dwarf swung his head upward with a frown. "Rain? Why would you wish rain for your begetting celebration?"
Smirking, Legolas chuckled. "Because then I would not be forced to dance with all the starry-eyed maidens who wish to become the Lady of Asgarnen!"
Gimli snorted. "A wife would be good for you, you flighty elf! Settle you down, fuss over you, take care of you…"
"In other words, she would order me around, make sure I ate, would not let me wear dirty shoes in the house…."
The dwarf stared at his clean boots and shook his head. "You never have dirt on your shoes, so what's the problem?"
The problem was that Gimli was acting strangely, but it had never been their custom to just come right out with anything. Besides, he was annoyed with those pushing him to take a wife.
"I cannot focus on such things with the sea ever calling to me. Besides, I have never understood the creatures. Strange they are. They are paraded before me, batting their eyes… Why do they do that anyway? It makes them appear to have something in their eye. One can see much more clearly if they do not blink so much."
With a harrumph, Gimli inclined his head. "I do not understand that in females either. Even dwarf-women do that sometimes. I always thought they were clearing the dust from their eyes after working in the mines. Perhaps, the elf-maidens do it to clear all that tree dust from their eyes?"
"If it were the pollen, Gimli, then we would need to blink rapidly as well, but I've watched them carefully, and they only do it around us males."
"I can stand the eye batting more than I can the giggling. Seems most of them tittered all night. No wonder you slipped up here when you got the chance."
"Hmm.." Legolas agreed, sipping his wine once more.
"Lancaeriel does not giggle, however. Or bat her eyes. Have you noticed?"
Legolas glanced up, hoping the dwarf was not hinting what he thought he might be hinting. "Lancaeriel spent the evening speaking to Tathar, probably about fishing, or did you not notice how close they sit, or how he looks at her?"
Gimli snorted. "Tathar is besotted, I will give you that, but I do not think she feels the same way. I think she is truly interested in fishing."
Legolas chuckled, for he thought the same. They fell back into a comfortable silence, and Legolas was relieved to note Gimli seemed more himself.
"What I do enjoy about such celebrations," he added, "are the gifts. It is always interesting to see what people will bring me and this year was the best by far."
Gimli began that shuffling and fidgeting again, now muttering under his breath as well. He cleared his throat and suddenly asked, "So you like the gifts? What was your favorite this year?"
"Definitely the sword from my father. It belonged to my grandfather. Adar would never even let me touch it until I was well past my first millennia. I was so surprised when Tathar presented it to me. When my family sailed West, I did not consider they would miss this particular begetting day. I still cannot fathom that he sent a gift for Tathar to hold until this day, let alone that he would gift me that sword."
Gimli harrumphed again. "It is a nice sword."
"I liked your gift as well, Gimli. The fountain is beautifully carved…" he trailed off as Gimli ducked his head and rubbed something in his pocket that Legolas had not noticed before. "Gimli are you sure you are well? You are acting most strangely."
The dwarf glanced up looking almost sheepish. His smile was more of a grimace. "You liked the fountain?"
"I liked the fountain."
Gimli cleared his throat and shuffled his feet, which made Legolas even more suspicious that something was disturbing the dwarf.
"The fountain was a gift from Aglarond, not just me," the dwarf said.
Legolas smiled. "A gift from the dwarves…which means mostly from you, my friend. Surely, you were the one who designed it! It has flowers and a tree."
Gimli's answer was another harrumph.
The noise began to annoy Legolas. He thought of smacking the dwarf on the back of the head, but then he would never learn why Gimli was troubled.
Could it be he worried that Legolas did not truly like the gift? Or maybe the fact it was not from Gimli alone made the dwarf feel self-conscious. His other close friends had given him personal gifts, such as the book on healing herbs Aragorn had delivered wrapped in green silk – a testament to the man's wife, he would wager, since Aragorn had never given him anything wrapped to look pretty before. And Faramir had presented him with a young pup, adorned with a red bow courtesy of Eowyn. Legolas looked forward to training the hound. He would make a fine addition to his new kennels.
"I have not given you my gift yet," Gimli blurted out.
The sudden declaration startled him from his thoughts, then the words sank in. "But you gave me the fountain, and I like the fountain. I like it very well!"
To his surprise, Gimli chuckled. "I'm glad you like the fountain, Legolas. But I hope you like…."
The dwarf swallowed hard, then reached into a pocket to pull out a small wrapped parcel. Unlike his book from Aragorn, this gift was encased in a plain, soft linen cloth and tied with a fine cord – nothing overly decorative in the wrapping. Dwarves thought the gift itself should be the thing of beauty. "Here," Gimli muttered as he shoved the thing into Legolas's hands.
The gift was small and somewhat heavy for its size. Legolas guessed it must be about six inches tall. It felt like a small statue. He did not find statues overly exciting, so maybe this explained why Gimli was so nervous?
"Go on, open it." The dwarf prodded.
Legolas untied the cord and unfolded the linen from around the object. He had been correct. The gift was a small statue, only…
Legolas gasped as it sparkled in the starlight. It appeared to be plated with mithril! Standing it upright, he realized the likeness was that of an elf-maiden. As he turned the statue to see her features, he nearly dropped it. Shock hit him hard as he struggled to breathe.
Gimli harrumphed again. "Suppose you do not like it then."
"Like it?" Legolas whispered. "Gimli, how? Where?"
A lump formed in his throat and his heart thundered in his chest. What he held in his hands was the likeness of his deceased mother. It looked so real, so like her that tears filled his eyes and slipped unheeded down his cheeks.
"Drat it all!" Gimli rumbled. "I knew you would not like it. I do not know why I made it. Must have had a loss of my senses. Been spending too much time with you elves and your sentimental natures."
With force of will, Legolas tore his gaze from the image of his beloved mother to look in awe at his friend. "You made this? But how?"
"Do you remember many years ago, when I visited the Lonely Mountain — the time Aragorn asked you to change your plans of traveling with me to work on that treaty?"
"Well, I travelled to Eryn Lasgalen instead."
A sudden thought dawned on him. "Aragorn did not need me for that treaty. You just wanted to be rid of me!"
Gimli nodded. "Your father suggested I, um, come without you. He showed me many paintings of your mother. I sketched them from all angles so I could do the statue of her. I knew it would take some time to get it just right, and your father suggested to me before he sailed that I should save it for this particular begetting day, so that is what I did."
Legolas felt his heart skip a beat as what Gimli said sunk in. "My father helped you in this?" he said incredulously.
"Aye. But he seemed to think you would like it. I should have known it would only stir painful memories. Forgive me, Legolas." Gimli reached to take the statue back.
Legolas stepped back, drawing the gift to his heart.
"You mistake my reaction, Gimli." His voice cracked and he blinked the renewed tears from his eyes. "This is the best… You have no idea what this means to me. I will cherish your gift forever."
Gimli's hand sank back to his side. "You like it then?"
"Very much," Legolas managed to whisper as he looked again at his gift. "Thank you, Gimli."
Another harrumph, but this time Legolas smiled.
"You're welcome, elf."
: - :
Asgarnen – 'rushing water' – Legolas' colony in Ithilien.
A/N – This story falls in the Undying Friendship Series in which Legolas was born in the year 1058 of the 3rd Age. His mother was killed in 1088 after the Shadow fell on Eryn Galen. As elves celebrate their begetting (conception) rather than their birthday, Legolas is actually only 1999. Elves consider that year in utero as a year alive. A great idea, I think!