Disclaimer: The world belongs to Tolkien, the words alone are mine.
A/N: Thanks to Claudia for the beta.
The damp chill of the cavern air was surprisingly welcome after the summer heat of Rohan's plains.
He'd spent the day across the green fields outside the glittering caves, running. Following the trails of rabbits across the hills, keeping pace with the path of an eagle across the sky, chasing shadows.
The eagle had been of the ordinary type, not one of Gwaihir's people, but courteous enough. He'd spoken of great winds and tall places, and Legolas had run with him until the breath left him, until the rhythm of his own feet on the ground subsumed everything else, matched the rhythm of his heartbeat, tum-dum-di-tum.
He'd run from dawn until sunset, and it had almost taken the longing from him. But as soon as he stopped, he'd smelt it. The soft salt-taint on the wind blowing in from the sea. He remembered his mother's saying: All streams lead to the ocean, and laughed at how he'd never known how true it was.
He'd come back because there was nowhere else to go. No place to be safe from the ache; no chant or song, no incantation, no herb or potion, no healing spell could release him. The sea had woven tendrils around his heart, and now it sought to pull him in.
It was strange, but that infuriating Dwarf could almost make him forget. Nothing else would; in his Father's halls he felt like a stranger, born anew with the cry of the gulls. No longer Legolas, though yet Thranduilion. But the smell of ale and the laughter of his friend eased the pain somewhat.
The great hall was sumptuously carved, but he noticed not. A cave was a cave was a cave, as much as Gimli might try to convince him otherwise. A shy Dwarf-lad (or indeed, a Dwarf-lady, for he still could not tell the difference) told him that the Lord was at council, and busy.
Busy! Busy scoffing ale with the rest of his fellows, no doubt: Legolas had been to one or two Dwarven 'councils' before. No matter. He had rooms supplied; Gimli had been most careful to give him quarters near the surface, where natural light yet filtered in. Legolas had begun to suspect that Dwarf knew more about Elves then he let on.
But he did not head for his rooms. A passage caught his eye; he changed direction, heading down into the caves. Down, and west – he had always known which way was west before, but had never been as aware of it, almost painfully aware of every step closer to the shore – and then turning northwards, the passage levelling out.
He'd not been here before. It was silent, none of the Naugol in sight, and for a moment he considered backing away. Then he took three more steps, rounded the corner, ducking his head through an entrance not made for Elven-folk, and stopped dead.
The carven gems were as beautiful as everywhere else, the very walls of the cavern works of art. But that was not what had caught his attention. There were figures wrought in stone; Dwarves, lining the walls, each in battle-gear, wielding an axe, head held high, proud. And in the centre…
The dwarf stood tall, one arm resting upon a great axe of mithril, the other curled about a babe. He crept closer. The beard was long and crept down, and the bare-faced child reached up, curled one tiny fist into it. The child's eyes were closed, and the mother – for he realised now that she was the mother – had her eyelids half shut, regarding her child. At peace. Her hair and beard braided with mithril ornaments, her bearing that of a queen. The beard wound down about the legs, down to the feet – artistic license, he supposed, and as he crouched down he saw writing at the base of the statue.
It was in Khuzdul, he realised after a few moments. He traced his fingers along the writing, wondering what it said.
"It says: To the Memory of Bain, wife of Gimli, and Glim, son of Gimli, son of Gloin. Rest in the arms of Mahal, Great Smith who made you."
He whirled, wondering. He'd been so lost in thought that he had not heard the other approach. Gimli smiled grimly, a smile which did not reach his eyes.
"If any other but I had found you here, Elf, you would have been in trouble."
"And if any other but you had tried to best me, Dwarf, they would have found trouble in return." He paused, uncertain. "I am sorry. I did not know."
"It is well. What harm can come to them now?"
Legolas turned back to the statue, frowning. "Is it true then?"
"Is what true?"
"What they say. That Dwarves, when they die, turn back to the stone from which Aulë made them."
Gimli laughed. "You Elves. You believe strange things. No, I made this, that my wife and child might be remembered in all honour. Do Elves not do such things?"
"We remember with song." Legolas replied. He still regarded the statue, somewhat confused. "We do not make these… these likenesses. It is a strange custom, Gimli."
"So says the Elf," was the gruff reply. "Dwarves do not live forever, friend Elf. What you say with song, we say with stone, that it may live on after we are gone. Songs will fade; stone remains strong. That is the way of Dwarves."
Legolas considered this. The ways of Dwarves were strange indeed, but honourable enough. "Friend Gimli?"
It was hard to think of the right words. "Would you mind terribly if I was to remember you in song?"
The Dwarf looked startled for a second. "Remember me however you would wish, Elf." He laughed. "Besides, I would not trust to your skill with stone." Wrapping one stocky arm around Legolas, he half-dragged him towards the exit.
"Come on then. It is nearing dinner-time, and I require food and ale, and good company!"
Bain still smiled down upon her child, and watched them go.