Friends to the End

Fourth Age 121

Legolas sat quietly in the chair that for many years now had been deemed his. It was remarkably comfortable for an object carved from stone, but then, the dwarves were nothing if not masters of the medium. Legolas was shown to the chair the first time he visited the Glittering Caves. Of all the important work to be done – for Rohan, for Gondor, for the dwarves of Aglarond – the chair had come before it all. It was designed specifically for him. No dwarf could sit upon it comfortably. It was sculpted by Gimli's nephew Gimrin, based on Gimli's own design. Legolas recalled the way the young dwarf puffed up the first time he sat upon it and offered his praise.

But that was long ago, as dwarves measured time. Young Gimrin was balding now and had a full beard flecked with gray. He was older today than Gimli was when he and Legolas began their journey to Mordor. And Gimli – he was older, too.

Legolas' gaze wandered skyward, his attention drawn by the cave's glittering ceiling. Aglarond reminded him greatly of his childhood in Limrond. He felt strangely at home here, despite the geometric lines of the pillars and the harsh sound of Khuzdul echoing through the halls. The glittering of the caves had also captured Gimli's heart when he first saw them during the siege of Helm's Deep. After the war, and with Rohan's blessing, Gimli led his people to build a home here.

Legolas' eyes drifted to a carving on one of the many pillars. The face looked oddly familiar, but he could not name its owner. Legolas cast his mind back across the ages, recalling the faces of every dwarf he ever met. There were many. The pillar bore the face of a Durin, to be sure, but he could not recall which one.

Legolas would not usually permit his attention to stray in this fashion, but Gimli and Gimrin were quarreling again, as they so often did. He could hear their words but was no longer paying heed to their argument. Only now and then did their conversation break through his wandering thoughts.

"Patience!" Gimli shouted, slamming his tankard on the table to imbue the word with greater force.

That single word drew Legolas' gaze back to his friend. Gimli was doing his best to contain his frustration. Following his outburst, the old dwarf huffed and continued conversing in a more even tone, fatherly, in an attempt to offer the younger dwarf his wisdom.

Gimli's rebuke continued to echo in Legolas' mind, drawing forth old memories. Patience! Perhaps it was the word itself, the tone of the elder instructing the younger, or the glittering of the cave walls. Whatever the cause, for the briefest of moments, Legolas stood again before his father as Greenwood's King shared some wisdom of his own regarding dwarves and patience.

"Their kingdom will not last."

For centuries, Legolas was heartened by the memory of those words. They held within them the promise that his mother's jewels would one day be reclaimed. That he might see his mother again upon a distant shore. In more recent years, his father's words had begun to haunt him, for they held within them the bitter truth of mortality.

Legolas' gaze returned to the dwarves seated across the table. Each one took his turn to pontificate while the other drank his beer. They were so much alike in form and manner that it would have been easy to mistake Gimrin for Gimli's son, and in a practical sense, he was. Gimrin's father died in the war, and afterward, Gimli stepped in to aid his sister in raising him. Now Gimrin was heir to all Gimli had built here in Aglarond.

"In a few short years, he will be gone. His son will be gone. And his son's son."

"What would you advise, Legolas?"

At the sound of his name Legolas' attention returned, disoriented, to the present. He had no idea what Gimrin's question referred to. The two dwarves stared at him, expectantly. Legolas braced himself, knowing his next few words would disappoint them both.

"Forgive me, my friend," said Legolas to Gimrin. "I was not following your argument. My mind was elsewhere."

"You, too, now?" Gimrin huffed. "Ridiculous, the pair of you! I could get better counsel from a cave troll."

"Mind your tongue there, laddie. Legolas owes you no counsel. What advice he gives, he gives freely – or not at all."

Gimrin, chastened, nodded once in deference to Legolas. "My apologies, Master Elf."

"Your apology is appreciated, Gimrin, but unnecessary. It was rude of me to allow my focus to stray. If you have need of my advice, I will of course do my best to aid you."

"It is no great matter," said Gimrin as he rose from his seat. "I will come to a decision myself."

The younger dwarf finished off the last of his beer, gave his uncle a quick bow, and departed.

Once Gimrin was gone, Legolas turned his attention to Gimli. "I am sorry, my friend. I should not have allowed myself to become distracted amidst our conversation."

Gimli dismissed his apology with a wave of his hand. "Where did you wander off to?" he asked.

"An old memory," Legolas replied.

"Of what, may I ask?"

Legolas framed his answer carefully, so as not to insult Gimli's kin. "Of my father, and a lesson he taught me about dwarves."

Gimli knew better than to ask what wisdom Legolas' father shared. While the woodland king was always polite when Gimli visited, he could not quite hide his disdain for his son's dwarven friends. "Thranduil might not have been my favorite elf," said Gimli, "but I will admit I learned much from him."

This confession surprised Legolas, for he could not identify any specific interaction between Gimli and his father that would warrant such praise. "And what wisdom, pray tell, did you glean from my father?"

Gimli jerked his chin in the direction of the door through which Gimrin had recently passed. "I learned how to raise a son," he said.

Legolas knew his friend spoke in earnest, and wondered how his father would take the sentiment. "I will tell my father you said so, when I see him again."

"Hmm," Gimli nodded once, before returning to the topic they had been discussing before Gimrin interrupted them. "So, tell me, how does Eldarion fare?"

Legolas thought of his most recent conversation with the newly crowned king of men. "As well as expected, for one who has lost both parents in so short a time."

Gimli made some gesture with his hands, a silent prayer to Aulë. "It is a sadness to think upon Lady Arwen's passing," Gimli said, "but mortals die. That is our fate."

"They will be no more than the dust we tread upon our way."

"So it is," Legolas replied, sadly.

Gimli recognized that tone in Legolas' voice immediately. "Is that why you came all this way?" he asked, gruffly.

Legolas shook his head, confused by his companion's question and the tinge of anger behind it. "I came to see my friend," Legolas replied.

Gimli countered by raising both hands and slapping the arms of his chair. "You think I don't know what you are doing?"

Legolas did not know what he had said or done to ignite Gimli's anger, but the dwarf looked about ready to throw an axe at his head. "What am I doing?" Legolas asked.

"You are waiting for me to die!"

Legolas was shocked by Gimli's accusation. He tried to say something to counter it, but the words caught in his throat when he met Gimli's heavily lined eyes.

Those old eyes softened a measure when met with Legolas' pained gaze. Gimli raised a hand to halt any denial Legolas might have conjured. "Don't bother denying it, lad," he added, softly. "I see the sadness in your eyes when you look at me."

Legolas turned away towards the hearth fire, shut his eyes, and breathed deep in an attempt to collect his thoughts. He had not questioned his own motives for this journey before now. Had he convinced himself there was no more to it than to share the tidings of Eldarion? A memory stole its way into his heart as he watched the fire, words his father had once spoken to another. Legolas had thought them cruel at the time, but now he understood the truth of them.

"… one year hence, a hundred years from now…," Legolas whispered.

"What was that?" Gimli asked, not quite able to make out his friend's words.

Legolas turned his attention back to Gimli. "A truth my father once spoke in anger. Mortals die. It is the reason we elves always held ourselves apart from men and dwarves. We cloaked it in arrogance, but in truth, the pain of loss is not a burden our kind were made to endure."

"You should sail," Gimli declared, "before the Valar shut the door to their world."

"There is time yet," Legolas replied.

"Time for what? For you to put me in the ground like Aragorn and Arwen? I won't have it!"

"And I won't have any other elf sing you to Aulë," Legolas countered.

The pair held one another's gaze for a time, each one defiant. Each one wishing the other would give way. Knowing he would not.

At last, Gimli offered a third solution. "Well then, I will have to escort you to Valinor myself!"

Legolas shook his head. "That is not possible. The way is shut to mortals."

Gimli huffed. "If they made an exception for three little hobbits, they can make one for an old dwarf, too."

"The hobbits each bore the ring for a time. And besides, we do not know if they reached the western shore with breath in their lungs. They may have passed from this world before reaching Valinor."

"Then I may pass knowing you set foot on your promised land."

"Gimli..." Legolas began to plead but was silenced once again by a raised hand.

"It is decided," Gimli declared. "One final adventure. Now go find us a ship. I hear there are still a few elves living on the coast."

"Are you certain?" Legolas asked.

"You think I would prefer Gimrin weep over my corpse?"

An unlooked for smile tugged at the edge of Legolas' mouth. "No. I do not," he replied, while trying to maintain a somber tone.

"There is your answer," Gimli said. "Go now, before I am too old to complete the journey. With any luck, I shall gaze once more upon the Lady of Light before I die."

The small ship bearing Legolas and Gimli sailed smoothly across the calm waters. The elves who prepared the ship for them were doubtful the Valar would let the pair pass. Several old friends of Legolas warned him not to risk the Valar's wrath. Legolas, for his part, brushed their concerns aside and gave them not a moment's consideration. It was true he had no notion of how this journey would end, but the peace Legolas felt in his soul was proof enough that there was no danger ahead.

"The winds have been with us," said Gimli. "No storms upon the sea. A good sign, wouldn't you say?"

Legolas agreed. "One would suppose if my letter was met with disapproval, that we would face choppier seas."

"Do you expect your father will meet you at the dock?" Gimli asked.

"If he received word of me in time," Legolas replied.

"Are you nervous?"

Legolas looked down at his companion as he adjusted one of the sails. "Shouldn't I be asking you that question?"

Gimli shook his head. "My life is ending, laddie, whether they turn me away or not. Your life has only just begun."

Legolas finished securing the rope, before taking a seat beside Gimli. He laid a hand on the old dwarf's shoulder. "Thank you for taking this final journey with me. I have known many elves and men and dwarves through the long years of my life, but I have never had a truer friend."

"Nor I," said Gimli. "Nor I."

There was no mistaking his father's form, even at a distance. As the boat drew nearer to shore, Legolas' heart leapt at the sight of him, and of the elleth who stood at his side. Legolas could barely contain his swell of joy. He swept onto the dock and closed the space between them quickly, having momentarily forgotten the boat and its remaining passenger.

Before his mother could speak words to greet him, he took her in his arms. She was just as he remembered her in face and form. Their embrace, however, was foreign, for Legolas stood taller than his mother now, and she felt more delicate in his arms than his childhood memory recalled.

Legolas felt his father's arms embrace them both, and they stayed that way until Legolas was sure they would not vanish if he withdrew.

Stepping back, he lifted his hands to cradle his mother's face, one he had not seen in thousands of years. "I missed you," Legolas told her.

"And I, you," Caladhel replied.

Legolas turned to his father, who stood at his mother's side, smiling. Smiling. Thranduil's eyes were alight with a measure of joy brighter than Legolas could ever recall.

"You have been missed, too, my son," said Thranduil, and the expression on his face left no room for Legolas to doubt it.

"I am pleased to see you well, father," said Legolas, "and relieved that our hopes for Valinor were not misplaced."

"I have had more than one hope restored upon reaching this shore," said Thranduil.

Here his father's gaze drifted downward and Legolas noted for the first time a tiny face buried in the folds of his mother's skirts. The girl, of no more than ten summers, looked up at him, while clutching the hem of his father's robe. She had his father's pale eyes, his mother's dark hair and a curious expression upon her face.

"I am Legolas," he said to the child.

"I know," she replied, boldly. "You are my brother."

"Indeed. And what is your name?"

The child stepped forward, releasing her hold on their father's robe. "Ada named me Aerlinn, but Nana has not given me a name yet. She said she will when I am grown."

"Naneth has not named me yet, either," he told her.

"Why not?"

Legolas glanced briefly at his mother and smiled. He did not need to be told that now was not the appropriate time for that story. "I was still a child when she departed Middle-earth," he said, truthfully.

"Why did you not come to Valinor with her?" Aerlinn asked.

"It was not my time yet," he replied.

Aerlinn mulled over his answer for half a moment, before a flash of excitement lit her face. "But you are here now, so she can name you, and I can help!" The last, Aerlinn added with great enthusiasm.

"I would like that very much…." Legolas meant to say more, but Aerlinn's attention moved swiftly to another topic. She lifted her arm and pointed a tiny finger in the direction of the dock.

"Who is that?" she asked.

All at once, Legolas was reminded of the dwarf he left waiting on the boat. Turning back to the dock, he saw a pair of sea guards aiding Gimli. "That is my friend. Would you like to meet him?"

Aerlinn nodded enthusiastically, and without a word, took hold of Legolas' hand and marched full ahead, dragging Legolas behind her. Legolas glanced at his parents, who followed along after them.

By the time they reached him Gimli stood on the dock. He swayed unsteadily, leaning heavily on his walking ax. Legolas took his friend's free arm to steady him.

Gimli greeted the former king of Greenwood as he'd always done, with a short, curt nod. Thranduil returned this greeting in kind, but Legolas was surprised by the kindly expression on his father's face as he beheld the grizzled old dwarf.

"Lord Gimli, I thank you for bringing my son home to me," Thranduil said, and it was clear to both Legolas and Gimli that his appreciation was sincere.

Gimli elbowed Legolas in the gut with enough force to demonstrate his long-standing frustration with his friend. Legolas, in response, moved his free hand to his side to counter any future blow, knowing more could come at any time.

"The sentimental fool was waiting for me to die!" Gimli declared, indignant. "I thought to get him here a bit sooner."

"I appreciate your efforts in persuading him," Thranduil replied.

The dwarf huffed and nodded, before turning his attention to the two ellith in Thranduil's company.

Legolas nodded toward his mother. "Gimli, I would like you to meet my mother, Lady Caladhel."

Caladhel stepped forward. "Lord Gimli, it is so good to meet you."

"Just Gimli, please."

Legolas felt his friend's stance shift and immediately freed his arm. Gimli abandoned the steadiness of Legolas's hold and instead held his hand out to Caladhel. She took his proffered hand and Gilmi bowed, placing a kiss upon hers. Legolas was amused by his friend's show of gallantry. It was not his usual way of interacting with elves. Legolas did his best to hold his friend steady without undermining his dwarvish pride. It was no simple task, but Legolas ensured that Gimli was able to right himself and took hold of his arm once more when he was ready.

"And I am more than pleased to meet you, Lady Caladhel," Gimli stated. "I understand I owe you my life."

"How is that?" Caladhel asked.

Another elbow struck Legolas in the gut, but this time it was more cordial. "Legolas tells me he came by his skill with a bow through you. I managed to grow old and fat thanks to his marksmanship."

"I am glad to hear it," Caladhel replied.

Gimli nodded his thanks once more, before he turned his attention to his smallest attendant. Gimli had seen many things in his long life, but he had never seen an elf child before. He was as fascinated by the sight of her as she so obviously was with him.

"And who is this?" Gimli asked her.

The child stepped forward and bowed. "I am Aerlinn. Are you a hobbit?"

Gimli chuckled. "No, child. I am a dwarf. My name is Gimli."

Aerlinn stepped closer to Gimli. She reached out a hand to his ax handle and glanced back at his face to see if he would protest. When Gimli nodded, she set a finger on the handle, tracing the geometric form of the weave.

Once satisfied with her exploration of the strange design, Aerlinn returned her attention to Gimli. "Are there more of you?" she asked.

"There are whole cities of us in Middle-earth."

"Are they coming to Valinor, too?"

Gimli shook his head. "I am afraid not. I am the only dwarf you are likely to meet."

"Why did you leave Middle-earth? Did you not like it there?"

"I liked it very much."

"Then why did you leave?" Aerlinn asked.

Gimli huffed before shifting his gaze to Legolas' face. Aerlinn followed the direction of his attention, and she, too, fixed her gaze on Legolas.

"Because, your brother needed me," Gimli explained, and after, he leaned down a little lower, to more closely meet Aerlinn's face. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Now, I must ask a promise of you, young Aerlinn."

Aerlinn was intrigued by his words and stepped closer. No one but her mother and father had ever asked her for a promise before. She lowered the volume of her own voice in kind. "What promise?"

"That you will look after your brother when I am gone," Gimli replied.

"Why?" she asked. "Are you going somewhere?"

"I have one more adventure before me, young Aerlinn, and I wish to be sure Legolas will have someone to keep him out of trouble when I am gone."

Aerlinn smiled and nodded. "I will. I promise."

"Thank you, lass," Gimli replied. He stood tall as he was and nodded to Lady Caladhel.

Caladhel understood the dwarf's wordless request. She took her daughter by the hand. "Come along now, darling. There are others who wish to greet Gimli. We will meet your brother later at the feast."

"Farewell, Gimli." Aerlinn waved to the dwarf as she was escorted away.

"Farewell to you, little lady," said Gimli and he nodded the same to Caladhel and Thranduil before they departed.

The former King and Queen of Greenwood descended the boat ramp arm on arm. They parted, briefly, to allow another to ascend. The light that haloed her form was even brighter than the old dwarf recalled.

"Lady Galadriel," Gimli's own joy at the sight of her shone in his eyes and he bowed to her as best he could.

"Lord Gimli."

"You are, if possible, even more radiant upon this shore than the other!" Gimli exclaimed.

Galadriel smiled at his compliment and reached out her hand to cradle his worn face. "And to meet you once again, my friend, brings my heart much joy."

Legolas could not tell which flustered Gimli more, the lady calling him 'friend', or the touch of her hand on his cheek. He blushed a deep crimson, and removing his hand once more from Legolas' arm, pulled a chain out from beneath his robes, withdrawing with it an item Legolas had spied only a time or two before.

"I have waited long to give this to you," Gimli pulled the chain over his head, and laid the jewel it bore in the palm of the Lady's hand. "I believe your Lord Celeborn might appreciate it, should he be willing to suffer the more angular dwarven design."

It was a pendant with a clear stone containing three strands of hair braided in an intricate design.

Galadriel marveled at her gift returned now to her keeping. The tremble in Galadriel's voice when she spoke belied the depth of her emotion. "It is beautiful," she said. "Thank you." The lady bent low and kissed Gimli's forehead and when she stood tall once more her eyes brimmed with tears. "May Aulë be with you."

"And the rest, with you, my Lady."

Galadriel nodded once to Gimli and turned her gaze briefly to Legolas, before turning to depart. The pair waited by the boat for Galadriel and the others to proceed to Olwë's palace. Legolas knew Gimli well enough to know he did not wish for an audience. When the Lady passed over the hill, out of sight, Gimli stepped forward.

"It is time, laddie." Gimli's gaze swept over the sand and out across the sea. He could not see Middle-earth from this shore, but he knew it was out there, somewhere, beyond the veil. "To think that we made it this far!"

"I know. It amazes me, too, sometimes." Legolas took a firm hold on his friend's arm and helped him descend the stairs.

Gimli kept his eyes on the boards in front of him, taking one careful step at a time. "There were moments where one of us might have fallen," he added, "if the other had not been at his side."

Legolas squeezed Gimli's arm a little tighter. "Many moments," he added.

They reached the final stair, one step more, and they would stand on the shore. Gimli ceased his forward momentum and looked up at Legolas pained' face. The elf's gaze was fixed on the sand before them.

They had stood in this same place before, together, many times before. It would be the last time for both of them.

"I took this journey to see you home, and I have," said Gimli. "My only regret is that I must ask you to do the same for me now."

Legolas' attention moved from the sand to Gimli's face. He had promised Gimli he would save his tears for after. "Side-by-side, with a friend," Legolas said, a memory of that distant battlefield echoing in his mind.

Gimli elbowed Legolas one last time, hard enough to make the elf laugh. "Make sure they serve beer at my funeral!"

"I will see to it," Legolas said.

Gimli's grip on Legolas' arm tightened for a moment before he planted the hilt of his ax on the sand. They descended the final stair. It marked the end of a friendship for both, and the beginning of two new adventures.

A/N: Aren't they the sweetest! I would adore a TV show about Legolas and Gimli's post-war adventures. Also, I wanted Legolas to meet his baby sister.

Aerlinn: sea song