Author's Note--This one is for Féadan, list-master of Henneth-Annûn.
The storm had lasted three days, an eternity of crashing black water, shrieking waves and undulating, oily-dark or nacreous-pale sea serpents. Gimli, having tried to weather it below at first only to find himself being tossed about like the bean in a baby's rattle, had ended by chaining himself to the mast after helping Legolas lash himself to the tiller. When the seas had finally calmed, he had literally crawled below decks to seek his soggy bed, consigning his soul to Aulë for the hundreth time in recent memory as a sensible precaution first. When he woke, he swung his legs over the bed--only to set them down in water that rose over his ankles. The resulting bellow could be heard above deck.
"LEGOLAS! Who built this ship? The lowest bidder?"
Legolas peered down into the hold, his clothing and hair so rimed with salt that their true color could not be distinguished. Of course, that was true of his hair most of the time anyway, so it was not overly disturbing.
"Why, I did, Gimli!" he declared, much more cheerful now that the sky was clearing with the coming of morning. At the foot of the ladder, the dwarf stared up at him, age-rheumed eyes wide in appalled horror.
"You did? You did not tell me that! I thought some of those nice lads from Edellhond came up the river and made it for you! Or that that Cirdan fellow sent it down to you."
Legolas laughed merrily. "Oh no, friend Gimli--the Edhellond elves left for the West long ago! And it would take far too long to get a ship from Cirdan. My sweet Minnow was built in Ithilien by my own hand, as is fitting."
If possible, the dwarf's look of horror increased. "Your own hand? The Wood-Elf hand? The never-built-a-boat-or-anything-else-for-that-matter hand?" To the elf's puzzlement and irritation, Gimli suddenly drew a dagger and cut three slashes into the riser of the stairs, close to the water and one above the other. He then looked up at Legolas almost pleadingly.
"Tell me you had some help from a shipwright, any shipwright?"
"Not even a human one from the Harlond?"
"Then a shipwright left you some plans, and you followed them?"
"You made a practice model first? And tested it in the River?"
"Nay, Gimli. That is not how it is done."
"Then how in the name of the Maker is it done?"
Legolas sat down in the hatchway, his legs dangling down the stairs, and smiled comfortingly at his irascible companion.
"I took logs from trees that had fallen in the forest of their own accord, seasoned and dedicated to this task by invocations to Yavanna and to Ulmo. Then I simply cut away the parts that weren't the ship, and fastened the rest together." His voice was positively chirpy.
"Surely you jest, Legolas!"
Gimli looked at the riser. There were now only two slashes. He turned and sloshed a way back into the hold, poked about a bit, then returned. His brows drew down, he glowered up at the elf, and when he spoke again, his voice had the Dwarvish burr that only manifested when he was very upset.
"Apparrrrrrrrently, Ulmo was not impressed with your invocations or your fastenings, Captain Elf. I dinna think she can take much more."
Legolas, when shown the riser, was dismayed. He retreated back up onto the deck, to return a moment later helpfully proffering a delicate silver bucket graven with leaves and with an intricately chased bail. Gimli snorted, ignored it, turned and plodded back into the depths of the hold. Feeling a bit injured, the elf came down the ladder to find him grumbling under his breath, and fishing about in the rising water for a crowbar, which he eventually retrieved. The dwarf then turned his attention to a large crate, tall as himself, which he had insisted upon bringing with him. He had carefully lashed it into the cargo space, and it had survived the storm unscathed, but now he attacked the crate, prying at it feverishly with the crowbar.
"Fortunately for you, Sir Elf," he muttered as he worked, "Master Glóin did not raise stupid sons."
"Gimli, you must be careful! You are past the age where such exertions are healthy! Do have a care!" Legolas pleaded, trying to calm his friend. But Gimli did not listen.
"Legolas, have you ever considered....." he panted as he worked, "....that maybe you aren't supposed to get to Valinor? That maybe the lot of you Elves are just compelled to build boats and sail cheerfully over the edge of the world? That maybe.....just maybe.....Lady Galadriel had a good reason for warning you away from the Sea with that silly poem of hers? That it meant to stay away from the Sea because you were going to die if you didn't, you tree-hugging nit?"
Gravely offended, Legolas nonetheless started helping to pull boards away from the end of the crate as they finally splintered under the dwarf's onslaught. "You should not say such things, Gimli! The Valar have ever loved us! Why would they wish us harm?"
"Because the Valar are probably arse-deep in Elves by now! All those Elves they got in the First Age.....if those Elves have all been having little baby Elves, and the baby Elves have been having more baby Elves in their turn.....and so forth and so on........and no one is dying........the place is probably packed with Elves, all cheek by jowl! They don't need any more, so they just let you lot keep thinking you are sailing over to join them, no one ever comes back and no one is ever the wiser!"
"You speak blasphemy!" Legolas cried, angered and dismayed, and turned to leave. Gimli reached into the depths of the crate, withdrew a strange tube made of hide with metal fittings upon the end of it, and pressed it into his hand.
"Take that with you when you go," he commanded, "and drape the end of it over the side up top. And see that you do not pinch or snag it!" Legolas glared at him, but did as the dwarf bade, noticing that the tube was very long and that it uncoiled behind him as he mounted the stairs and gained the deck once more. After angling the end over the edge of the ship as he had been instructed, Elven curiosity overrode his anger, and he returned below deck to find the Dwarf tinkering with a device the like of which he had never seen, and could not fathom the use of.
"Gimli, what is this thing? I thought that box of yours was filled with Dwarven mining and crafting implements. That is what you told me."
The dwarf regarded him with grim satisfaction. "And that is exactly what this is, Legolas, a mining implement. A very precious one, like our lights that burn with no flame. Mines do flood at times, and need to have the water removed. That is what this device does, and I see no reason why it should not serve the same purpose equally well in a ship."
Legolas frowned, feeling rather humiliated. "You expected my ship to sink?"
"Nay, not yours in particular. I expect all ships to sink, and thought it best to be prepared. I am too old a dwarf to be learning new tricks like breathing water." Turning back to the device, he began to do all sorts of incomprehensible things; tweaking knobs, pumping bellows, flipping levers and muttering Dwarven phrases that might have been prayers, curses or both. Not surprisingly, Legolas caught the name of Aulë, but someone he'd never heard of before called Murfë was also propitiated.
With a jolt, the odd contraption lurched into a semblance of life, making a steady clanking noise. The strange tube swelled and stiffened, and Legolas, going back up onto the deck, saw water pouring out from the end of the tube back into the sea. He adjusted the sails a bit, and checked the lashing that held the tiller in place and then returned below to find that the water level was dropping, and the dwarf humming, happier than he'd been since the voyage started as he tinkered with the implement.
"'Tis truly a marvelous device, Gimli!" he exclaimed sincerely, his earlier anger forgotten in his amazement at the dwarf's foresight and cleverness.
"Aye, such things are scarce, even among us. You do not want to know what I had to pay for this, Master Elf."
"Whatever the price, it was worth it! Though I confess, I am puzzled--what makes it move?"
"I should not tell you," growled Gimli, "for it is one of the greatest secrets of my people. But since we are probably both going to perish anyway.......the engine is powered by a magic crystal. In your tongue it would be called 'crystal-of-great-power-and-usefulness-which-is-not-as-pretty-as-a-Silmaril-but-is-also-a-lot-less-trouble-as-well'. In the sacred tongue of my forefathers, it is called 'di-lithûm'."
Gimli's mining pump was able to draw ahead of the incoming water, and eventually drained the hold enough that the dwarf was able to effect some repairs, using a dwarven sealant, and a special leathery substance, that when unrolled bore a gruesome resemblance to flayed orc-hide. The Elf wrinkled his nose when he saw Gimli cutting patches out of it, but the dwarf was not apologetic in the least.
"You tan it up and it's waterproof and almost impervious. It is not as if we have herds of blind cave-cows wandering around down there, and at least the orcs are good for something this way!" Knowing that if it had not been for the dwarf, he would have been doing the breast-stroke to Valinor, Legolas held his tongue and his course, and fixed the meals for them both without complaint, while Gimli strove to keep the Sea outside of the ship.
Dwarven stubbornness paid off in time--they made the Straight Road, and eventually came into Tol Eressëa with no further mishaps. There, a certain amount of humiliation awaited both of the friends--Gimli found that his suppositions about certain doom and over-populated Elves were wrong, while Legolas had to endure the snide remarks of some of the Teleri sailors, who suggested that Whale would be a better name than Minnow for his vessel, given the way that it wallowed and spouted.
From Tol Eressëa, they went to Valinor itself, and met many of their old friends again--Gandalf, Elrond, Celeborn and Galadriel all greeted them joyfully, and feasts were held in their honor. Legolas soon made a pleasant home for the two of them upon the forested slopes above Aqualondë; the best of both worlds, he declared, with trees for himself and rocks for Gimli. But not long after he had done so, Legolas encountered a sweet Sindarin maiden who had preceeded him West by several hundred years, but who nonetheless had fond memories of many a forest festival spent in his company.
After a whirlwind courtship, the two were promptly wed and enthusiastically began a big family, unable to overcome their Mirkwood upbringing, where the Elves had uncharacteristically large families because so many of the offspring ended up as spider-food or orc-fodder. When the occasional supercilious Noldor offered snide commentary upon the size of his family, Legolas' answer was always the same: "I have one word for you--Fëanor." That usually shut them up and sent them packing in a hurry.
Gimli, though still welcome at Legolas' house, found himself a bit at loose ends after a time. While not exactly irritable, he was nonetheless past the age where he found Elven toddlers swinging upon the end of his beard to be amusing. And one could only be the villain and play at killing Thingol Greycloak so many times in the cause of fostering childhood creativity before the desire to kill an elf for real overcame one. So he had a small cabin built a short distance away, and more and more, he started keeping to himself, indulging his old love of prospecting upon the steep slopes that surrounded his home. To his astonishment, he found a sizeable vein of the precious di-lithûm, but while the discovery gave him a sense of accomplishment, there was no real use for it--he'd already found the Noldorin smiths to be jealous of their secrets, so he had no intention of showing them his.
Legolas, noticing his detachment, was concerned and rather guilty; he had not intended to bring Gimli to Valinor for him to live out his declining years bored and alone. So he tried to make as much time for his friend as he could, and in truth, the dwarf was a useful excuse to escape the increasingly hectic confines of his home. But Gimli languished the rest of the time, wondering why he had come here at all--until the morning two strange elves showed up at his door.