A/N: This is a brief little piece that was written for the Quickies Qtr. Challenge at HASA. I'm not entirely satisfied with it, so there will most likely be some revision in the future. In the meantime, I'd appreciate any comments, etc. Many thanks!
"We have come to the end of our journey, my friend," the elf said in a lilting, airy voice. The old dwarf stirred reluctantly and cracked open one eye. "Come and see," Legolas urged, barely restraining his excitement. He helped Gimli to his feet and waited patiently for the dwarf to stretch his legs again after his long nap. The clouds that had covered the sky like a gray blanket for the duration of their trip were breaking up into soft fluffs of white, letting the dawn light peek through. As they reached the deck's edge, Gimli peered over the railing and squinted into the growing light for any signs that their destination was nearing at last. As he watched, the fuzzy shapes refined themselves slowly into distinct and recognizable outlines. Soon he could see a pearly beige strand guarded by low cliffs leading up to a broad green plain. White shore birds wheeled overhead, as if in greeting.
Gimli looked up at Legolas and found the elf sporting an alarmingly wide grin. "It is good to see you smile again," he said softly. "I had thought not to so soon after the passing of the king."
Legolas' smile dimmed the smallest bit in response to the memory of that recent grief. "Would that our reunion included him as well," he replied. He fell silent for a few moments as if to honor the thought, but his earlier jollity returned quickly. "But come, we can have no sorrow on this day of joy. Think of the friends who await us!" He was all but jumping in elation at the thought. "A new life, Gimli. A new life for both of us." With that, he sprang updeck to the wheel in order to guide the ship safely toward the shore.
Gimli could not resist the happiness of his friend's words, but he was long past such exuberant displays. "Aye, a new life," he muttered to himself. He did not regret his decision to leave Middle Earth for the unknown, but he wondered mightily just what kind of life he could make for himself so far from kith and kin. What had he been thinking, agreeing to a journey which could easily have gotten him killed and which could still result in some sort of banishment for his audacity? Ah, but he knew the answer to that question. The ghost of her name had whispered in his dreams for over a hundred years now, and he had followed it across the sea. To what end it would lead him, he could not foresee. At least at my age, if this decision was the wrong one, the consequences will not be long-lasting. He laughed then, amused at his own attempts at mirth.
In truth, he was riddled with trepidation, to a degree quite unfitting for a well-respected dwarf. Would he even be allowed to set foot on shore? After all, he had never been a ringbearer, and though his friendship with the elves had grown legendary, he had never heard of mortals being granted such concession out of mere friendship. Even Aragorn, with all he had accomplished, had not been afforded such a luxury, and he was joined to one of elfkind. Gimli shook his head as if to banish these doubts. After all, it's too late now to change my mind. Perhaps the novelty alone will be enough to appease them.
The ship had by now come fully into the harbor and a large wooden pier loomed up before them. Gimli could see a great throng gathered, lining the dock and spilling back onto the land. They shone in the morning sun like tall, dew-tipped flowers. His eyesight not being what it once was, he could make out no individual features and strained to search the faces nearest him. He wondered briefly if they knew who was come, or if an assembly this large was common for every arrival. Legolas deftly steered the drifting ship toward the dock's edge, quickly dropped the anchor over the deck, and very nearly sprinted toward the walkway before the ship had stopped moving.
"Here, you impetuous elfling! You forget your baggage in your haste!" Gimli cried after the running elf. "As much as it pains me to admit it, I will need your assistance to disembark this leaky raft," he declared gruffly. Legolas skidded to a halt and returned to his companion's side.
"My apologies, Master Dwarf. I forget your infirmities," he said with a smile as he helped his friend step onto the ramp he'd lowered to the pier. Gimli hmphed, but took his friend's outstretched hand and climbed on to the plank. Legolas led him carefully until he stepped on to the solid wooden deck, but was immediately swallowed up by elves in greeting. Gimli stood patiently behind the group waiting for Legolas to say his initial hellos, and scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces. He believed himself temporarily - and mercifully - overlooked until he began to notice a few elves the on the edges of the gathering whispering and throwing odd looks his way.
He was about to take the initiative and introduce himself, perhaps explain his unexpected appearance, when he heard Legolas' voice lift above the murmurs. "And I have brought with me a special and most important guest. It is my hope that you will show him as much welcome as you show myself, for his deeds are renowned. I present Master Gimli, Son of Gloin, Lord of the Glittering Caves of Aglarond, and one of the Nine Walkers."
Gimli bowed low at such extensive praise and spoke for all to hear. "At your service, I'm sure."
The murmurs rose again, this time accompanied by the smiling faces of elves who appeared to be quite charmed by the dwarf's brusque but stately manners. Gimli had begun to grow uncomfortable under their merry scrutiny when a rich, deep voice echoed above the noise. "So you have come at last, Lord Gimli. That is well."
The speaker broke smoothly through the elves and his very presence filled the open space around him. He was dressed completely in pristine white and seemed to emit a soothing aura of peace, and of wisdom. Gimli did not at first recognize him, but as he drew near and placed a warm hand on the dwarf's shoulder, his paternal smile and twinkling eyes gave away his identity.
"Gandalf!" Gimli exclaimed. "Is it you? But you look young as a smithy's apprentice!" he said as he stared at the Maia in wide-eyed surprise.
The former Istar laughed then and the sound was silky and musical, a far cry from the throaty sound of his laughter as Gimli had once known it. "Yes, it is I indeed, though most here know me as Olorin."
At this, Gimli forgot all show of elderly dignity and grasped him tightly about the waist. "I am pleased to see you as well. It is quite time," chuckled the wizard, returning the gesture of affection.
"Was I expected then?" wondered the dwarf. "I feared I would be barred from landing and forced to live out my days aboard the shifty vessel that elf loosely names a ship," he said, only half in jest.
"Oh yes, quite expected and most eagerly awaited," replied Olorin. "You have been given a mighty gift and all are happy to extend you welcome. The name of Gimli, Gloin's son, is held in high esteem here. Perhaps even more so than amongst your own people. You, my good dwarf, are quite famous." This news quite surprised the dwarf and secretly pleased him more than he would admit.
The next hour was full of reunion and introduction for him. Elves he had known in Middle Earth were anxious to speak with him again and others he knew of only in song were eager to make his acquaintance as well. He was quite gratified by all the attention, but after an hour had passed without his setting foot on solid earth, he had grown tired and began to wish someone would show him to his new home, or at least a soft bed. The time spent had been merry, but he was no more a youth, and the excitement had left him quite drained. His initial joy at such a warm welcome had also been colored by a sense of disappointment. The one he had longed to see most had not come forth and he felt the loss keenly. It felt, in fact, like something of a rejection. And though he was entirely surrounded by friends and strangers alike, the very atmosphere, the very quality of each breath he drew felt illusory. Transient, like a pleasant but intangible daydream predestined to be struck down by some crashing intrusion. He'd always imagined it would be so, and so it was. All of his daydreams had contained but one theme.
Coming abruptly out of his private thoughts, he heard a voice addressing him. "You are looking unusually pensive, my friend," said Olorin, scrutinizing the dwarf's face closely. "Where do your thoughts turn?"
Gimli sighed heavily before speaking, his voice softening into tender tones uncharacteristic of his normal abrupt manner. "For all these long years I have treasured the memory of our last parting. I've kept it with me always, as safe as the precious gift she once gave me, and I hoped she would recall me fondly as well. It is her face I most wished to greet." His eyes had grown glassy with the memory and he stopped speaking, lost in recollection. After a few moments given wholly to this melancholy, he shook his head to clear it of the mood. "Bah! I've become a sentimental old fool! It comes from spending too much time with these flighty elves, and one in particular!"
The Maia smiled warmly. "There is no need to despair quite yet," he said.
Suddenly, Gimli noticed that the elves around him had stilled and were looking westward, but his stature naturally prevented him from discerning what caught their attention. Slowly the crowd began to sink in on itself and part in front of the dwarf, like the insurgence of a cresting wave. He stood there, alone in the silence, waiting, barely breathing. Time stretched then as he beheld a tall figure walking toward him, clad in opalescent white and radiant in the light of the sun. He could do nothing but stare at her in rapt wonder as she approached, smiling serenely.
"So you have come at last, Lockbearer," she said. "I am pleased."
He dropped to his knees then, overwhelmed to be in her presence once again, his head bowed. "You honor me, my lady. It was the thought of you which called me from my home and all that I loved." He looked up at her then to see her smile widen.
"Your manners have not faded through the years, Child of Aulë. It is I who am honored." She leaned forward to kiss his brow gently.
He looked up into her eyes, returned her smile, and began to weep.