Disclaimer: I don't own anything that you recognize, J. R. R. Tolkien does.
A few notes before we begin:
- Setting: the story is book-compliant, but does borrow a few elements from the movies as well.
- Story length: 38 chapters (not including the prologue). The story is finished, the review/editing is currently finalized by my wonderful beta, Alfirineth - a woman of great patience and wisdom, whom I'd like to thank for her dedication to this story, and to making me a better writer.
- Update schedule: approx. 1 chapter/week.
"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."
J. R. R. Tolkien, Appendix B to The Lord of the Rings
The ship was finished.
Legolas watched his friend's face as Gimli surveyed his work with a critical eye, squinting at the uneven surface of the hull and the crudely sculpted bow. Legolas smiled as the dwarf huffed and fussed, loath to give his honest opinion about his friend's skill.
"Looks sturdy," he finally declared, scratching his beard, where the red now generously mixed with grey.
Legolas grinned. "It is. Though I must confess this task has humbled me." He picked out a splinter from his palm. "I am a better archer than I am a craftsman."
Gimli's laugh shook his belly as he guffawed: "I dared not say it, my friend, but I agree. He knocked on the wooden hull, listening for the sound it made. "Never liked wood for a material, but stone doesn't float so well."
They dined by the shore that night, in the company of those who had come to bid them farewell: elves from Bar-Lasbelin, too many for Gimli's comfort, yet too few not to remind Legolas of the merry assemblies that used to take place amidst the trees of his father's home. All gathered around the newcomer, baptized Durin in the honor of Gimli's ancestor, and sang both lays of old and songs composed since the War. The flames reflected on the hull of the skiff, glancing off the asperities, casting moving shadows onto the surface as if it were a breathing, moving creature beached on a whim of the powerful waters of the Anduin.
They said their goodbyes under the stars before his people vanished into the woods, and the sun rose on the two of them: elf and dwarf, and all that remained of a once greater fellowship. The river whispered softly on the wide strand of pebbles that rolled in the waves, trading secrets with the willows and alders that grew by the bank, their creeping roots weaving tapestries over hidden stones.
They are leaving, they murmured, waving their branches in regretful acceptance.
"The damn boat's too high," Gimli grunted as he hoisted himself over the gunwale.
Legolas' heart constricted in sadness at the sight of his friend's difficulties. Gimli was old now, and his strength was all but gone, save for in appearance. Though they had lived side by side for decades, Legolas had not paid much attention to the subtle changes that occurred over time: the wrinkles and laugh lines that had multiplied on his friend's weathered face, the dark spots that marred the back of once strong hands. Pains of old age had taken the place of Gimli's former vigor; his back and limbs had started to ache, fingers growing stiff when the weather turned cold. Not that he had ever complained, but Legolas had seen him struggle more with every passing year.
He'd not said anything. Perhaps he had simply refused to acknowledge the fact that his friend was slowly fading away.
As Gimli pulled himself over the gunwale, cursing in Khuzdul and sweating, Legolas had better sense than to intervene. The dwarf's pride remained untouched by time, and his hands still gripped the handle of his axe with, if anything, a determination greater than ever.
"Blame it on my poor construction skills, my friend," Legolas quipped as he pushed the Durin towards the water.
The hull scraped down the shore, rolling on the pebbles, until the current picked it up as easily as a leaf and carried it downriver. Only then did Legolas climb into the skiff, picking up the oars to maneuver their ship away from the white-washed boulders encumbering the banks.
He sat with his back towards the estuary, Gimli's face and the hills of Emyn Arnen for landscape as they made their first yards on water. Between them, the rations were stored on the bottom of the ship, carefully wrapped into mallorn leaves to protect them from the spray: lembas and dried meat, and enough fresh water for the duration of their journey according to Legolas' calculations. Gimli had groused and complained over the absence of beer, earning many a smile from Legolas who still failed to comprehend the dwarves' addiction to liquor. His own father had often indulged in Dorwinion's finest products, yet Legolas had never managed to acquire the taste for alcohol.
The oars resisted his pull as the skiff gained speed, gliding over the surface. The smell of algae filled his nostrils, the splash of water covering the gulls' cries and the rustling of the trees ashore. Ithilien was growing further and further away with each stroke, and Legolas welcomed the burn in his muscles as it distracted him from the bittersweet ache inside his heart.
"Slow down, lad," Gimli grunted from his bench. "I'm in no hurry to join your pointy-eared kin in the West." He flicked an invisible speck of dust from the blade of his axe, muttering: "Still don't know how you've roped me into this."
Legolas smiled at his friend's reluctance. It had taken years of persuasion to convince Gimli to sail, Legolas growing more insistent and frantic with every passing year and every new grey hair in his friend's beard. When at last Gimli had agreed, grumbling as always at being thus pestered, he had barely managed to hide his relief. He had already lost so many loved ones that he'd not truly believed that this time he would succeed.
They passed the port of Pelargir, making their way through the bustle of merchant barges and brigs from Dol Amroth – the last sign of civilization they would meet before the end of their journey – before sailing through the twin seagates crowned with watchtowers. Water foamed at their foot, spraying the Durin with a cold mist. When at last the open sea welcomed them, Legolas unfurled the sails, catching the strong wind that would carry them to the Undying Lands.
"You will like it, there," he said, more to himself than to Gimli. And added, in his mind: she would have liked it as well.
His stomach twisted when he remembered the last time he had seen her; yet there would be no happy reunion, Legolas knew that much. Humans were not welcome in Aman.
"I'll take your word on that, laddie." Gimli watched him from beneath bushy eyebrows. His eyes were still keen, and no doubt he had spotted Legolas' sorrow. "I'll miss the mountains," he remarked, glancing behind him where the peaks of Ephel Dúath towered in the background, wrapped in eternal mists. "I'll miss my kin, even if they think I'm mad to sail with an elf."
And what about sailing with a friend? Legolas mused, but didn't speak aloud. It was a running joke between them, ever since the first great battle they'd faced together, under the walls of Helm's Deep.
"Well, you are mad," he smirked. "Maybe I have only brought you along as food, should I run out of lembas?"
Gimli snorted. "You'll break your pretty teeth on all this muscle," he bragged, patting his paunch. "Nay, master elf, I'll eat you before you eat me, and sail into that harbor to tell your gods about it. And if they disagree with my manners, I'll eat them too."
"As I said, you are mad."
Legolas pulled on the tiller, sending the skiff to chase after its own shadow. The wind was favorable, and if the Valar willed it, they would make good distance before nightfall.
"And you, laddie, aren't you going to miss anyone?"
Gimli's voice was gruff but his eyes were kind, surveying Legolas' face with attention. Many a man had been deceived by Gimli's coarse appearance, mistaking roughness for stupidity, and lived to regret it. His friend knew him too well, and expected an answer.
Legolas nodded. "I miss them already. Aragorn, Arwen, my father…."
A bushy eyebrow rose as Gimli expressed his skepticism. "They've been gone a long time, my friend, and I've known you for far too long to believe it." He leaned back in his seat and pulled out his pipe. "So who's it that you yearn for?" He narrowed his eyes at Legolas. "A lass?"
Her heart-shaped face came back to Legolas' mind, where it had dwelt ever since he'd first seen her. Her dark eyes that crinkled at the corners when she smiled and that smooth, copper skin…. When he closed his eyes, Legolas could still smell her scent, otherworldly and maddening.
"She has been gone a long time, too," he muttered, reminiscing.
Gimli puffed on his pipe, in appearance oblivious of Legolas' grief. "It's going to be a long journey, laddie," he said at last. A near-perfect circle of smoke rose towards the cloudy sky and he watched it in satisfaction. "There's never been a better time to share your story."
A.N.: reviews and feedback is appreciated, as is constructive criticism. Liked something? Let me know! Didn't? Same, how else can I improve my writing? Other than that, I hope you enjoy my story.