Evensong

Set in the same non-slash universe as Adagio, Mayflies and Cadenza. About ten years after the events in Cadenza FA 110

L/G A/A ensemble OC's

Legolas and Gimli go on a quest chasing a dream. Old truths are revealed and discord in part of the song of Iluvitar mended.

Chapter 1

Alone, deep underground, Gimli sat down in the multihued dark and inhaled the sweet breath of Thrihyrne. He let his thoughts calm, in tune with the quiet singing of crystal, the murmur of granite. Occasionally a drop of water plinked, the returning echoes defining the cave's dimensions.

A purely dwarven skill, he mused. Legolas had heard nothing but water in this space; saw only the reflection of torchlight. The deep had diminished the elf, even as it enlarged Gimli.

Another drop fell - after a space, another. Gimli let the panic recede, let it ebb away in the ancient rhythm of Aglarond.

Finally he let himself think of the interview he had just endured with the healer, Frior. Gimli had listened, allowing the necessary poking and prodding. He sat impassively as Frior spoke earnestly of the care he was to take; of the restrictions he must place on his activity, his diet, his responsibilities.

On the tide of the healer's words Gimli felt all that he was, slipping away.

When he gathered himself enough to press for reasons, Frior reminded him of the trauma he had suffered at the hands of the cave troll, nearly a dozen years ago. Frior reminded him, unkindly in Gimli's opinion, of the series of head injuries that misfortune and war dealt him over the space of a year, ten years ago, the weakness in his wind that had dogged him since his near drowning. The healer insisted that all those events had taken a toll on his heart. The healer reminded him of the flux last winter, of how it sat on his lungs longer than most. Of the cough that dogged him still when he worked, as a leader should, alongside his people. Of Gimli's recent inability to tolerate large meals and plenty of ale without suffering from indigestion severe enough to drive him to Frior's clinic for relief. Of the chest pain that had alerted the healer to Gimli's distress when Frior had chanced upon his lord, pale and gasping at the top of the flight of stairs Gimli was in the habit of taking two at a time.

Frior had poked a finger into the puffy skin around Gimli's ankles, and then told him that his heart was failing.

In the kindly dark under the mountain Gimli raised his right hand and rested it in the middle of his breast, under the warmth of his beard. After a moment, in the vast silence that cradled him, he could feel his heart, beating as ever, measuring the thread of his life. It seemed as reliable as the living stone around him, and as enduring. But Frior had spoken of damage, of hard old arteries and starved muscles, of the burden of leadership and the stress of work.

Ice slid over his spirit.

This was no fate he would have chosen. Despite these years of peace and plenty always he had seen himself as a warrior; still he expected a warrior's end. Not a creeping loss, a taking away of all that made him worthy, his skill in metalwork, his strength of arms, his endurance

Gimli shut his eyes; the unchanging beauty of Aglarond mocked his mortality.

In the darkness behind his eyelids his imagination showed him a future full of increasing dependency, the burden he would pose to his people, the pity and disgust he would see in the eyes of those he had once led.

Then, unbidden, Legolas' changeless face filled his inner eye. The elf's spirit was still strong, despite the endless draw of the sea. Legolas desired to stay with those he loved in Middle-earth, so he refused his need to sail to the West with stubbornness Gimli found entirely admirable.

Gimli opened his eyes again and looked at the uncaring stone. Thoughts of his friend warmed him.

Gimli fingered the medicine Frior had pressed on him at the end of the consultation. The poor old healer had looked as distraught as Gimli felt – Gimli remembered his insistence. His lord must take the concoction at least thrice daily. Gimli prised out the cork and swallowed the inevitably bitter draught.

After a another space of time Gimli levered himself to his feet and set off at his usual determined pace, back up to the warmth and light of his colony's upper levels. If Frior's medicine acted as he said it would the slope would give him no trouble.

Gimli decided he had better visit Aragorn. Frior was all right with bones, but Aragorn was the man for hearts. Might as well go see the elf as well.

Gimli stumped along grimly, reluctantly tempering his speed to the tightness in his chest and neck.

Perhaps he would visit Legolas first. The elf sometimes had good ideas, and the woods would be peaceful. Please old Frior by taking a holiday, Gliver would manage, good dwarf that one.

Gimli paused at the bottom of the last flight of stairs and wiped the cold sweat from his brow.

Soon, Gimli my boy - he made a mental note to himself - as soon as possible.

ooooo

The fire blazed merrily, and, as the evening drew to a close, Telfaren and Gimli strove to outdo each other by swapping increasingly more florid traveller's tales.

Gleowyn pretended to ignore them both, as she finessed finishing touches on a new latch design, but they were outrageous in their boasting and merry with good company.

Gimli waved the knot of wood he was whittling at Telfaren.

"...So you see laddie, the elf had no time to get out of the way. Up to his neck he was, and I laughed most heartily, until he climbed out. Then I ran!"

Both of them laughed and even Gleowyn smiled at the mischief in the old dwarf's voice.

Behind her a cool draught announced the opening of the door. Gleowyn glanced round to see her middle daughter, eight-year-old Aelyn, creeping into the room, all dishevelled curls. The child slid along the wall and paused with her finger in her mouth, eyes the size of doorknobs at the adult hilarity.

"Aelyn?" said Gleowyn. It was unlike the child to disturb them after bedtime. In sooth she looked as if she had been sleeping and had woken. Still, she knew better than to come down so late of an evening.

The men fell silent as they realised the child was in the room and Aelyn looked searchingly at Gimli, then pulled her finger from her mouth long enough to announce.

"Brytta's crying, mother."

Gleowyn and Telfaren sighed simultaneously, and then Gleowyn pushed herself back from her worktable and made for the door, scooping up Aelyn on the way.

"Will you excuse me, Lord Gimli?"

Gimli waved a dismissing hand at Gleowyn and then looked polite enquiry at the child's father when she had gone.

Telfaren shrugged, looking embarrassed. "Ever since Bardor died so suddenly last month he has bad dreams. He loved his Grandda something fierce. Bardor; rest him, used to call the lad his apprentice. We all miss him, truly, it is hard to believe such a hearty man could go, it seemed he would outlast us all."

Telfaren looked into the flames. "Brytta was with him when he dropped." Telfaren's shoulders sagged a little. "Gleowyn feels that he blames himself somehow." Telfaren sighed again. "Children - we do our best to shelter them but life finds them anyway."

Silence seemed the only reply that was respectful so Gimli bent to his carving again, missing his pipe with a passion that surprised him.

'Damn the fates, and life in general,' he thought, not for the first time.

oooo

Gleowyn popped Aelyn back into the bed she shared with her little sister, and then slipped into Brytta's room.

A strained silence greeted her from the pile of blankets in the middle of his bed. Then an involuntary hiccupping sob shook the boy again, causing the shape to hunch even tighter.

Gleowyn sat on the side of the bed and patted gently on the part of the lump she presumed was Brytta's back.

Eventually a skinny arm snaked out of the covers and grabbed her hand, followed shortly after by a rearranging of the covers so that a woebegone face could be seen on the pillow.

"Tell me," said Gleowyn.

"Lord Gimli is going to die. Just like Grandda."

Gleowyn blinked. That was unexpected.

"Well he is very old, Brytta. But I don't think he is going to die soon."

Brytta looked at her, then turned so he could see the moon sailing the sky outside his window.

"He is." The boy's chin trembled and he bit his lip to stop it.

Gleowyn was mystified.

"He looks well enough, Brytta. He's a bit thin, but he seems hale. He told us he had that dreadful flux that took so many folk this winter. Did he say something to you when you were playing this afternoon that scared you so?"

Brytta's glare would have cut wood.

"We were not playing, mother. We were sparring. And he would not say something to scare me he is too honourable. He even picked up little Glynnie to get her away from the axes, and then kissed her hand as if she was a lady, though her nose was runny and she had been playing in the chicken coop, again. It was later, after we finished sparring. He had to sit down so he sent me off with the weapons, and while I was doing that I saw him drink some of that awful medicine that killed Grandda." Brytta's chin got the wobbles again and the boy looked at the ceiling struggling for a second before he could continue. "I will never forget the smell of the stuff. It was the same."

Brytta looked down then, his thick black lashes veiling his eyes. "He didn't know that I was watching through the trellis, and I ran away before he could see me again." A fat tear slid. "Why would he take the stuff that killed Grandda, Mother?"

Gleowyn thought quickly, trying to curb her dismay that her father had kept the secret of his illness from her.

"What did Grandda say to you about the medicine, Brytta?"

"He told me it would keep his heart strong. But it didn't, and I couldn't get it to him in time when he fell. The stupid glass tube broke and it took me too long to get the other one from his room. And he died."

Gleowyn gathered the sobbing boy in her lap and rocked his distress in her arms, blinking back her own betrayal. Her father had known he was sick and had kept it from her? She had thought she had known his every wish. It hurt.

"We cannot know the time of our going, son. Grandda's death was not your fault. The gods called and he went. But lord Gimli is not Grandda, Brytta. Our friend Gimli is dwarf kind, and not young by any reckoning, and we are not healers to know what the same herb does for one kin or another. He is off to see his elf-friend and the great King Aragorn himself. They will look after him. And he will be back sparring with you in a season or two, just you see."

Brytta cuddled closer into her lap, and before long was overcome by sleep. But Gleowyn stayed awake long into the night, and later went down to the parlour to rekindle a candle from a spark on the hearth.

Telfaren was abed and lord Gimli long retired to his lodgings, and for that Gleowyn was grateful.

Long was the letter she wrote to her friend, Legolas Greenleaf, lord of Ithilien, and long was the elf-lord's questioning of the messenger, Telfaren, who had the misfortune to carry it. But Gleowyn was not having another life blighted by the misplaced pride of a loved one. She worried greatly because Gimli was planning to travel alone across the plains, as was his unbreakable habit, and who should bring his medicine should misfortune break a glass vial?

TBC

Rose Sared