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"Gimli, I have an idea."
He could not remember when he had first heard the Elf say those words or at what time point hearing that phrase had first brought a twinge of misgiving.
It was long ago, of that he was sure.
Gimli had moved from initial misgiving to exasperation and then eventually to anticipation. He never knew quite where those words would take them—the dark depths of Mirkwood, the vineyards of Dorwinion, the recovering vistas of Ithilien or the blasted Marshes beyond. There was no question they always led to something. Not always something good but always something memorable.
An unexpected rockslide. A nest of spiders. White water rapids in a swiftly deteriorating boat. Fugitive goblins in the foothills of the Misty Mountains.
Roaming the woods of Legolas' youth. Sleeping under the stars near Lake Evendim. A trip to the Old Forest with Merry and Pippin.
Those words had never failed to take him on some form of adventure-his best friend at his side, the sun on their faces, the wind in their hair, the rolling gait of whatever horse Legolas had adopted this time carrying them forward. Some of the best memories of his life were made on those expeditions together.
Anticipation had ultimately turned to expectation that never was fulfilled. It had been years now since Gimli had heard those words cross Legolas' lips and he found himself missing them. Other than his now infrequent trips to Ithilien and Minas Tirith and Legolas' own even rarer forays to Aglarond or the revitalized Greenwood, they did not travel as they had before.
He suspected Legolas was coddling him, deferring to his advancing years and the discomfort in his hips and back that came with age and from too many years on horseback. He had been quite ready to call the Elf on it; to incite one of their verbal sparring matches, the ones that brought color to Legolas' face and that mischievous sparkle to his green eyes. Those exchanges brought great enjoyment to Gimli but it would not do for Legolas to know that.
He had been prepared to rile the Elf up, as he usually did, but Gimli held his words back on this visit to Minas Tirith. Something had changed. Legolas was holding himself with a tension that Gimli had not seen in him in years. Aragorn's not-so-gentle teasing of the Elf did nothing to lessen it. This was likely not the right time for Gimli to aggravate him as well.
He sat back and observed. It was a skill that he had honed through his years of contact with the volatile Elf and reticent Man and it had served him well. He just had to watch and wait; an answer would come to him. And if it didn't—he also had learned quite well how to provoke one.
But it never came to that. Searching for a quiet place to smoke, Gimli came upon the King in Arwen's gardens. It was unusual to find Aragorn unattended in the middle of the day, seemingly at leisure. Gimli was sure he had heard Legolas mention something about a council meeting that morning.
"Have you escaped your courtiers to hide in Arwen's garden, Aragorn?" Gimli asked, as he drew near his friend.
"You have found me out, Gimli." Aragorn smiled down at the dwarf and Gimli felt the familiar weight of Aragorn's hand on his shoulder. "No, the council meeting has ended and Eldarion has graciously relieved me of the thankless job of soothing the ones who found my words disagreeable."
"It is hard to believe that little boy who used to hang upside down on these very tree branches above us is now a staid Prince of the realm and proud father of his own rambunctious children. The years have flown past," Gimli said fondly.
"That they have," Aragorn agreed but something in his tone made Gimli glance at him sharply.
"You have much to be proud of, Aragorn. The rebirth of this kingdom, this city, the peace throughout the lands, that capable son of yours and your wise and spirited daughters," Gimli said to him.
Aragorn's hand gripped Gimli's shoulder. "And good friends who have stood by my side and made this happen." Aragorn narrowed his eyes at his old friend. "And may have contributed to how 'spirited' my children are," he added.
Gimli grunted. "That is all the Elf! It is thanks to me and that lovely wife of yours that they have any steadiness or sense at all."
"The tower incident?" Aragorn queried, one eyebrow raised.
"The stable debacle?"
"You know if there are horses involved it is Legolas," Gimli retorted.
"The tunnel expedition?"
Gimli coughed. "It would have been just fine if Legolas hadn't meddled. He has no head for being underground. It is one of his many failings." He darted a look at Aragorn and grumbled at the broad grin he saw on his old friend's face.
"Fine," Gimli said. "Perhaps I misjudged a few times. Dwarven children are hardier and follow instruction far better than your unruly lot."
"Were you not telling me how wonderful they all are just moments ago?"
"That is now. A sign of the profound influence I have had on their flighty tendencies. Mahal only knows how they would have turned out without me to set them straight."
Aragorn laughed out loud at Gimli's words and Gimli felt a warmth in his chest at the sound. He had not heard him laugh like that in a while.
They stood in companionable silence, Gimli puffing steadily on his pipe, as they looked over the terrace to the city below. "Where is Legolas?" Gimli asked. "This is usually where I find him hiding, not you."
Aragorn's face clouded. "He did not seem to find the gardens peaceful today."
That was an odd statement, Gimli thought, narrowing his eyes at Aragorn. This garden was where Legolas always retreated to find peace, solitude and the soothing presence of nature in this city of stone.
Or the tops of the towers, Gimli amended, with a shudder. His years of friendship with Legolas had still not made him at ease with his friend's need to climb to the heights when he wanted to clear his head.
"Is he up on the rooftops again?" Gimli asked Aragorn, turning to scan the stone walls behind them.
"He may be but likely the ones facing south, towards the sea," Aragorn answered softly.
"It is bad today then?" Gimli asked, his own tone lowering. Legolas had found his own path to coming to terms with the sea longing. There were bad days, few and far between anymore, but they still came and the tumult left after sometimes took longer than expected to dissipate.
"It is not as troublesome as it has been," Aragorn said, his eyes firmly directed at the city below.
"What did you quarrel about this time?" Gimli asked wearily. If it was not the sea longing it had to be this. Close as Aragorn and Legolas were—as close as brothers Gimli would say—there still were times recently when their words to each other were as sharp as Legolas' knives. It was unlike the verbal sparring he had with the Elf. There was a deeper bitterness to it he had never fully fathomed.
"It was not a quarrel. Well, not on my part, at least," Aragorn said.
Gimli turned, setting his pipe down on the low wall in front of them. He glared at the taller Man. "Out with it. What happened this time?"
Aragorn sighed and rested his elbows on the wall in front of him, shoulders slumped. "Nothing happened but the conversation I keep trying to have with him that he refuses to accept."
Gimli ran a hand through his beard. This was the old hurt then. The one that cut deeper than the sea longing.
"There is time yet ahead, Aragorn. He knows it is coming. Save your breath for that time. You know it only agitates him when you dwell on it." The silence lengthened between them and Gimli felt a chill despite the warm sunshine. "Aragorn?"
"The time is nearing, Gimli."
What nonsense was this? The man was hale and hearty, granted far grayer and stiffer than before, but weren't they all?
No, they all weren't. The Elf and Arwen both were unchanged, just as they had been all those long years ago. Arwen had come to terms with her decision long ago. She would be devastated when the time came but she had accepted that this day would eventually come when she had accepted Aragon's love and returned it.
Legolas was another story. He had known, as they all had, that the time of sundering would come. But he turned his mind away from it, avoided discussing it and raged against it when he could not ignore it anymore.
It had been worrying Gimli for some time; he knew Aragorn and even Arwen had urged Legolas to sail before it happened, before Aragorn's end came.
Gimli had suggested it himself, once. The response he received had made him reluctant to pursue it again. But perhaps it was time. He had known that even with his Numenorian blood Aragorn was fated to leave them sooner than any of them would like. Gimli had long ago realized he too would outlive his friend. He had been resigned to weathering the storm of Aragorn's passing at the Elf's side.
But what had been gnawing at him, as he grew stiffer himself and his hair and beard faded from gray to white, was that at some point in time he himself would leave Legolas behind for that final journey. And then the Elf would be alone.
Not alone as some would think—he would still have his people, his father, the remnant of the Elven kind still dwelling in Middle Earth. But Legolas was far more tied to the world of mortals than his own kind anymore. Time ran for him as it did for them, his proximity having altered his own perception of it.
The bond the three of them shared—this brotherhood of the heart—there would be no reunion on the far shores for them and that was what was driving Legolas' fury.
Gimli realized with a start that he had not responded to Aragorn's statement. "How near?" he asked, voice low.
"Near enough," Aragorn said, straightening up and turning to face Gimli. "My kingdom is stable. The lands are safe. My son has grown into a man of wisdom and temperance. He is approaching the age I was when my destiny came to me. Eldarion's children are all of age now. It is time to pass the rule to him." His eyes grew soft. "He is ready for it."
Gimli grunted. "He may be ready for it but you do not have any reason to give it up yet."
Aragorn's expression grew more serious. "I am tired, Gimli. I feel my years. I have been given a lifespan many times that of my father, greater years than many of my forebears. I do not take it lightly."
"Then why would you choose to end it now?"
"Perhaps 'now' is too hasty a word. 'Soon' or 'not too long from now' may be more appropriate." Aragorn sighed again. "I want to leave the world as who I am, Gimli, who I have been. Myself. Not a dotard, waited on hand and foot."
Gimli snorted in response.
"I think of Theoden, as he was before Gandalf, of Denethor at his end."
"One was a bitter, broken, despairing old man and the other was under the sorcery of a wizard," Gimli gave Aragorn a stern look. "You are neither of those."
"My son deserves his chance to rule. Before he ages himself and cannot teach his son how to lead men. It is the right thing. I have been given a gift but I do not intend to abuse it to squeeze out my last gasping breaths with Arwen as my nursemaid. I will spare us both that." Aragorn's brows met in a hard line as his forehead creased.
Gimli reluctantly found himself understanding what his friend was saying. He hated to hear it, hated to think it but Aragorn had lived a span longer than any Man in centuries. Unlike his own father, he had watched his children grow, have children of their own. He had spent years of joy with his wife, the love of his life.
It was a good life. If his friend wanted to end it with a good death, if there even was such a thing, Gimli would mourn him but he could not begrudge him his decision. He had been given an unexpected gift of longevity. Aragorn was wise and honorable enough not to take undue advantage of it and retain his dignity, his line and the integrity of his kingdom. He would choose to spare Arwen the pain of having to watch the man she loved dwindle and diminish.
Gimli placed his hand over Aragorn's clenched fist. He looked up at his friend. "I understand," Gimli said. "I do not like it and I wish it were not to be but I understand."
"Now can you make Legolas understand?" Aragorn asked.
Gimli shook his head. "Have you spoken to him like this, Aragorn? As you spoke to me?"
The King grimaced. "You think I have not tried? He does not want to listen and when he actually hears my words he has an argument for all of them." Aragorn rubbed his temples. "As our time grows short I do not want to spend it all in conflict over this." He paused and ran his hand through his hair. "I want to spend time with my friend. As we used to."
"I know he wants the time with you. He craves it, treasures it." It was Gimli's turn to pause and choose his words wisely, as understanding for his Elven friend became clearer to him. "I think he does not want to taint his memories with these talks of yours, Aragorn. He will endure, live on, when we are gone and his memories are all that he will have of us. We have enough memories of difficult and dangerous times. He wants to store up more pleasant ones—ones that will make him smile in remembrance or even laugh—not ones that he will think on with regret."
It had finally clicked for Gimli—why the Elf avoided the subject so strenuously, why he avoided them when the topic came up, withdrawing rather than engaging.
Legolas was filling his memories for his time ahead and he did not want them stained by all this discussion of their parting.
Aragorn and Gimli stood in silence as the birds circled overhead. Gimli had a sudden thought. "When the time comes, Aragorn, you will let us know? You will tell us to come?" he asked.
"I could not bear having you far away. If I can choose my time, rest assured I would never leave without a proper goodbye to my two most faithful and beloved companions," Aragorn assured him.
"Good. That is settled then," Gimli said, crossing his arms and leveling a steely gaze at Aragorn. "You will send word to me first. My distance is the greater and I am a slower traveler than the Elf."
"As you wish, Gimli. It will be easier for Legolas if you arrive before him or at the same time, rather than after."
"My thoughts exactly. But there is more to this, Aragorn. I will put my affairs in order before I come. Farin will take on the lordship of Aglarond and I will come to you." At Aragorn's puzzled look he continued. "There is no point in me returning there, once you are gone. My place will be with Legolas—until he sails. Or rather, to assure that he sails." Gimli gave a rueful smile. "Trust me I shall not likely last too many years after you. I am older but our lifespans do not stretch that long. I will not reach Dwalin's years." He reached out to grasp Aragorn's hand. "I will see the Elf sails before my end. He will go where he can heal and live out his eternity with his people and his memories. I promise you that."
"They are not really his people," Aragorn replied, frowning. "Our Wood Elf is more Silvan than Sindar, despite his father's blood. Few Sindar sail and even fewer of the Silvan kind will be found across the sea. I do not know if the Silvans in Mandos' Halls choose to return to their bodies as the others do—it is not something I ever thought to ask Elrond, before he sailed."
"Then perhaps that is another reason he is reluctant to go," Gimli said. "But never you mind, I will get him there, if I have to build the ship myself and tie him to the mast before sending him off!"
Aragorn laughed and put his hands on Gimli's shoulders. "You put my heart at ease, my friend. I do not know why I did not unburden myself to you sooner. If there is anyone who can sort our Elf it is you!"
The summons had finally come. Gimli bumped and bounced in the wagon all the way from Aglarond to Minas Tirith, periodically muttering imprecations directed at his distant friends, more often than not in Sindarin. The ones Legolas had taught him were far more creatively insulting that the ones he came up with on his own.
He had settled his affairs, as he had promised Aragorn, just a few short years before. He had left Aglarond for good.
They had made it through Aragorn's last days, with laughter found amidst the sorrow of his imminent passing. Legolas was subdued and withdrawn, his grief palpable but his concern for Arwen, Eldarion and the girls outweighing all for now.
When it was done, after Arwen had left the city with her twin brothers as her only companions on her final journey in this life, Legolas and Gimli had made their way to Ithilien.
Ithilien was not as easy for Gimli as it had once been. Too stiff to climb into the flets, his joints creaked and popped even when he walked on the ground. "It is all that running and horseback riding you made me do in my youth," he fussed at Legolas. "Dwarven joints are not made for such nonsense."
Legolas housed him in the low hall he had built for visitors long ago. Gimli was surprised that Legolas chose to stay there with him, abandoning his own accommodations in the trees to be near Gimli.
In a quiet moment after dinner one evening, weeks after their solemn return from Minas Tirith, Legolas asked how long Gimli was willing to stay with him in Ithilien.
Gimli put his hand over his friend's and gripped it tightly. "I have no plans to go back to Aglarond, Legolas, unless you chase me away. My place is here with you."
There was a flash of confusion then a sudden brightness came into the Elf's eyes at Gimli's words, although his comment seemed to belie it. "You must not do that for me, Gimli. Those are your people and you cannot neglect your duties for me. I am fine."
"You are my friend," Gimli said. "I have lived a good life in the Blue Mountains, in Erebor, in my caves at Aglarond. But my truest friend is at my side and I will not leave you now. Not yet."
The 'not yet' lingered between them and Gimli could tell that it had not been the best choice of words. He watched the light fade from his friend's eyes and his gaze grew distant.
Well, if he had put his foot in it already he may as well keep going, Gimli decided. He squeezed Legolas' hand again. "You know I will not be around forever, my friend. I come from a hardy race, far hardier than your fragile sort. But even we Dwarves have only a finite time on this earth and my time will come. But until it time comes or you sail, I will be at your side. If you will have me."
"I cannot sail while you are still here, Gimli. Do not be absurd. I will not leave you. My fate is to have all of you leave me."
Gimli had known this and he felt now what Aragorn had experienced before him. But he also understood it far better than he had previously. The Elf was going to make it hard on himself; it was what he did best, after all.
"You are determined to make things difficult for yourself," Gimli snapped, hoping his tone would rouse the Elf to some sort of reply.
"I have said it for years, Gimli. I assumed you were listening. If we are going to be sundered I am not the one who will do it. I will not leave you. You will leave me. I do not like it, I do not agree with it but there is nothing I can do to change it." Legolas' face softened as he continued to speak. "But what I can do is stay until the end. So, give me that at least. The time to spend with one I care about."
"And who will care for you when I am gone? Will you go back to the forest of your youth? Will you let your father take care of you, as he was wished? Or will you finally sail, as you have been meant to do for years?"
That got a scoff from the Elf. "I do not need anyone 'taking care of me', Gimli." He huffed a breath of air out before continuing. "You seem to forget how long I managed to survive on my own without you hovering over me." He glared at Gimli as he spoke. "You know I cannot go back to the Greenwood. The forest is too far from the sea." He lowered his voice and spoke almost to himself. "I cannot be too close but I also cannot be too far away anymore, not for long." He raised his eyes to Gimli again. "The sea longing has touched me and its taint distresses my father. He had not ever thought to go West but my fate has altered his plans now as well."
Legolas tilted his head, resting it on the back of his chair. "I will sail when you are gone, Gimli. There will be nothing to hold me here. It will likely be long before Ada finds himself able to leave his wood but I will see him on the other side, some day." The intensity of his gaze focused on Gimli. "But with you, my friend, I only have this time."
The days grew longer as spring came but Gimli found even the coming of the warmth did not relieve the increasing stiffness in his legs nor did it lessen the slowness and heaviness that was descending on him. It would not be long. A few years, perhaps—that was likely all they had left together.
Somehow, he had to get this Elf to prepare. It was time to push, harder than he ever had before.
"How will you know what to do when the time comes?" Gimli asked abruptly, one morning at breakfast.
"How will I know to do what, Gimli?" Legolas asked, a perplexed expression on his face. His hand paused as he reached for his glass.
"How will you know how to build a ship? You are a flighty forest sprite—you know nothing of the sea, of ships, of sailing."
A slim eyebrow arched at him from across the table and a hard, green stare met his own. "I know more of boats than you," Legolas said. "Having lived my whole life by a river and a lake."
It was Gimli's turn to scoff. "I have lived by that same river and same lake. Those are boats, not ships. That kind of knowledge will not help you cross an ocean."
They glared at each other over the plate of honeycakes that lay between them. Gimli could see Legolas clench and unclench his fist before he spoke again. "Have you forgotten the trip we took to visit Cirdan?" the Elf asked, the airiness of his tone not matching the heat of his gaze.
Gimli growled. "As if I could forget!"
That had been another one of those 'idea' incidents. Legolas had insisted on visiting Mithlond, so that he could learn how to properly build a ship from the experts there. Neither of them had quite realized what effect the exposure to the sea, the ships themselves and the harbor where Elves had made their westward journey for centuries would have on Legolas.
Gimli doubted how much ship-building lore Legolas had absorbed on that escapade; the sea-longing had gripped him with a ferocity Gimli had not seen in him before or since. They were fortunate that Cirdan was not only skilled in ship building but in the effects of the sea-longing as well.
"I am surprised you can recall any of that trip," Gimli said.
"You underestimate me," Legolas replied. "My memory is complete. I remember Cirdan's words. I spent time with the ship-wrights. I read books in the library."
Gimli snorted. "You were as addled as I have ever seen you and likely still are if you think library books will help you build a ship when you have no idea what you are doing."
"I learned plenty," Legolas enunciated every syllable of his emphatic response, his knuckles whitening as they gripped his glass. He kept his stare fixed on Gimli and then stood. "I will see you this evening," he said curtly, as he left the room.
Their conversation gave Gimli something to think about though. The sea-longing had almost overcome his friend at Mithlond and Gimli had truly, for the first time, feared that Legolas would take ship during their brief stay there. But somehow, between Gimli's frantic verbal onslaughts and Cirdan's gentle words, the Elf had soldiered on and was able to withstand the pull of the sea.
Maybe there was something to that idea. Maybe this was the push he needed for the Elf. It was not a kind objective, or a fair thing to do to a friend. It was certainly not a suggestion Legolas would appreciate—in fact he would likely be very angry if he knew Gimli's reasoning. But if the sea-longing could be awakened again, as it had in Mithlond . . . it might be enough to make him go this time. He had been so close at the Havens and it had tormented Gimli. Now, he really needed Legolas to leave and he could think of no better way to accomplish it than this.
Gimli recognized he could never convince Legolas to return to Mithlond. He would see right through that. Besides the trip was too long—far too long for Gimli. He knew he could not make a journey of that magnitude now. Not anymore.
He sorted through his options and decided an excursion to Dol Amroth would do. They had skilled ship-wrights there—Gondor's best.
It took quite a bit of convincing. Gimli attempted various indirect approaches—voicing his desire for a change of scenery, a need for fresh air, a change of pace—all of which were met with suggestions by his companion that avoided the place Gimli most wanted him to go.
With the Elf being so stubborn Gimli had to resort to taking a gamble. He would have to try to goad him into it.
"I say we go to Dol Amroth," Gimli said, as they watched the sunset. He was puffing on his pipe thoughtfully but making quite sure his smoke rings drifted towards Legolas. It would make the request for fresh air more appealing.
"What?" Legolas said. "Why would you suggest going there?"
"I want to see the sea again."
"You never wanted to see the sea in the first place. You never wanted to go to Mithlond. I thought you saw enough of the sea there."
"I did not want to go to Mithlond because of you, you ridiculous creature," Gimli pointed out. "I was always curious about it, when I lived in the Blue Mountains, but I never got a chance to go there before we left for Erebor."
"So why do you want me to accompany you to the sea now?" Legolas asked suspiciously, leaning towards Gimli then pulling back hurriedly as a smoke ring wafted his way. He waved at it ineffectually before speaking again. "You have been doing your best to keep me away from the sea for how many years?"
The perplexed expression on the Elf's face made Gimli want to laugh but this was not the right time. This conversation was too important.
"Because I have finally realized after all these years with you that you are a stubborn, hard-headed fool who will listen to no one."
"You are just realizing that now?" Legolas said. "I thought that was your first impression of me."
"Stop distracting me. My first impression of you was that you were a flighty, empty headed sprite," Gimli retorted. "That one hasn't changed much, come to think of it," he muttered.
Legolas made a sound of protest but Gimli kept going. "I am going to make sure you know what to do when I am gone," he said bluntly. "You need to know how to build a ship." Gimli chose to ignore the eye roll and snort his words elicited. "Whether it brings the sea-longing back or makes you miserable while you are there concerns me not," he continued. "At least you will get some accurate information in your head to help you."
"Gimli, I truly think you must be ill or your advanced years are getting to you. I should have Ithilwen examine you. Your wits are addled. Did we not already have this conversation?" Legolas frowned at him. "Did I not tell you I recall what I learned at Mithlond with unquestionable accuracy?" He gave the dwarf a wary look. "You are genuinely recommending we take a trip to the sea?"
"I am," Gimli said stoutly.
"He has lost his mind," Legolas muttered to himself, loud enough to make sure Gimli heard him. "I really thought he had more sense than this. I am sorry I never asked Gloin if he had dropped him on his head when he was a child. It would explain much."
Gimli graciously overlooked the gross insults being directed his way. "If you have such perfect recall then why not prove it to me? Let us go to Dol Amroth and see how your learning holds up with the experts there."
"You cannot be serious."
"I have never been more serious in my life," Gimli replied.
Legolas snorted again. "That is not a hard feat to exceed."
They quarreled about it in the weeks that followed, as spring turned into summer and the weather grew uncomfortably hot—for a dwarf. The breezes in Ithilien stilled and the brief showers only made the heat more oppressive.
"I'd wager it is breezy by the sea," said Gimli.
"The heat does not affect me," Legolas responded airily.
"Well, it affects me."
"I believe it is your choice to be here?"
"It most certainly is," Gimli said. "It is my choice to be here and it is my choice to say I will be going to Dol Amroth to escape this blasted heat. You can do what you like." Gimli tried to match the Elf's airy tone.
"By yourself?" Legolas exclaimed.
"If I must. I had thought you would be a better host than this. Hosts usually accommodate their guest's requests."
"You have been troublesome to me since I first met you. Little did I expect that you would grow more troublesome as you aged," Legolas complained.
"It's likely the years of proximity to you that has caused it," Gimli said, shaking his head regretfully.
That earned him a glare.
"Fine," Legolas said, slamming his goblet down. "You want to go to the sea, we will go to the sea." His frosty gaze lit on Gimli. "I cannot say how it will affect me, however I have full confidence that what I learned from Cirdan is more than adequate. If I must now prove that to you on the docks of Dol Amroth, then so be it." He narrowed his gaze at the dwarf. "I am sure it will take me no more than a day to prove my point."
"As you wish," Gimli replied. "If there is a breeze I might want to stay longer. Seems silly to make the effort to only spend one day."
It took them a few days to organize themselves. Then, like old times, they were on their way, just the two of them. The difference this time was that they traveled by cart. Gimli's horseback riding days were long behind him.
The leisurely pace of the cart let them enjoy the scenery and their time together. Until they heard the gulls and then Gimli saw the change in his friend's face. A part of him was overwhelmed with guilt at what he was doing to Legolas and what he had set in motion.
Once they arrived however, it seemed his fears were baseless, for Legolas was far more in control than he had been at Mithlond.
He was effortlessly pleasant to the Prince of Dol Amroth as they were shown to their stately quarters in the palace. The Prince offered to show them around the harbor the next morning.
That too went without incident. Legolas' exchange with the shipwrights was unexpectedly lucid and shockingly erudite on the subject. Gimli was pleasantly surprised at the knowledge Legolas had retained, considering the state he had been in at the time. It seemed Elven memory functioned even in a muddled state. Legolas asked pertinent questions, provided salient comments and overall behaved in a far more clear-headed manner than Gimli had expected, more at ease in his proximity to the sea than Gimli had ever witnessed previously.
Except for the moments when Gimli caught a glimpse of the muscles clenching in Legolas' jaw. It was then he realized just how tightly his friend was exerting control over himself.
Legolas, as if to prove a point, proposed they stay another night. He had received a grudging commendation from Gimli on his apparent grasp of the information and Legolas had responded with the offer to stay as an apparent peace offering between them.
It was at dinner that night that the thought came to Gimli. "Legolas, what if you build your ship while we are here? Not that you are going to sail it right away," he said, as he caught the grimace that crossed the Elf's face at his words. "I am not saying that. I know you will want to argue with me but we are here. We have no other pressing concerns. You seem to be tolerating it remarkably well. What if you just build it now with the shipwrights? Then it is ready, whenever you may need it."
Legolas had opened his mouth to protest but no words came out. Instead a fond look came over him and he said wonderingly "Why Gimli, I really must have a physician sort you out. That is perhaps the most sensible thing I have ever heard you say."
Fortunately, the bread rolls were at Gimli's end of the table so it took no effort to fling one squarely at the Elf's laughing face. He dodged it, of course, his reflexes being what they were but it still gave Gimli satisfaction to have done it.
Legolas threw himself into the project. Day by day the little ship took shape. Gimli would stroll down to the dry-dock during the day to watch the progress. Legolas proudly pointed out all the innovations, modifications and alterations he had commissioned, to make it his own. Gimli noted the shipwrights were looking far wearier than when they had first agreed to this project. The Elf did have that effect on people.
But with time his iron self-control and ability to distract himself began to falter, the sea capturing him again at last. Gimli could hear him pacing restlessly at night. He would find Legolas perched on a tower wall in the morning, looking weary.
Gimli discovered him on the balcony, the night of the heavy storm—the rain pouring down Legolas' face as he let himself be caught up in the song of the sea, the waves crashing in the distance as the shoreline flickered with the lightning.
They might have overstayed their welcome. The ship was built. It would be ready. It would stay in Dol Amroth, cared for by those who helped him build it, until he needed it.
Gimli had pushed and he had finally gotten something in return other than harsh words. It was time to take Legolas back to Ithilien.
When Gimli gently suggested over dinner that it was time for him to depart the Elf disagreed. "I do not think I am ready to do that."
"I know you are not ready to sail—you have told me so yourself. But the ship is now built and will be waiting for you when you are ready. It is time we returned to your forest."
"No, Gimli. That is not what I meant. I mean I am not ready to go back to Ithilien." Light flashed in those green eyes and then came the words Gimli had not heard in years. He felt a thrill run through him, a growing wave of excitement as Legolas said "Gimli, I have an idea."
He could not turn down the chance for a last adventure with his friend, by far their most daring one.
That was why Gimli found himself gingerly making his way aboard Legolas' ship. His gait was slow and he walked carefully, aware of the gentle rock of the vessel even as it was anchored at the dock. He had Legolas' arm to hold and the Elf kept him steady. In moments, he was comfortably seated at the prow as the Elf checked his provisions one last time and completed a final survey of the ship before casting off.
Gimli had not expected to enjoy the sea spray that hit his face, the salt of it crusting in his beard. He had not anticipated the exhilaration he felt as the wind caught their sails and they flew across the water. The sun warmed his back and the breeze cooled his skin. A broad grin creased Gimli's face as he turned to look back at his friend, navigating their course from the stern of the ship. He met Legolas' eyes and saw the sparkle that had not been there for years. Gimli let out a roar of laughter at the sight. He had missed this.