Disclaimer: I actually own something, for once: Droin is mine, all mine. The rest, sadly, still belongs to Tolkien.
A/N: I had to take a break from my ongoing ficcies to deal with this bunny. Thanks as ever to Stephanie for beta and this time for a title as well.
No, no, you've got it all wrong. My Lord's not a bad person. He's just been through a lot. War changes people, you know. Before the war, I can remember Gimli was as pleasant a dwarf as you could hope to meet. Why, I remember when we were both banned from going to the Quest to Erebor with our fathers, when Kili and Fili who were barely older than us were allowed to go--Gimli just squared his shoulders and said that someday he would have travels and adventures even greater than this, and win greater honor for the Dwarves than Thorin and his company. And he certainly did, didn't he?
Oh, my name is Droin, son of Dwalin. Yes, I'm in charge of things here in Aglarond while Gimli is away. Gimli is my cousin, you see. We grew up together.
Well--to be honest with you, I don't have an exact date for when he's coming back. Oh, no, nothing's wrong. He's just...
Well, that's a question with a long, interesting answer. And the answer goes back to the first question you asked, too. It's a grand story, if you've the time to hear it.
Well then! Have yourself a seat. You know, I imagine, that when the war ended my Lord was granted Aglarond as a reward for his bravery and deeds in the Fellowship of the Ring. Yes, of course you know that, I'm sorry to go back over it. It's just that's when the trouble really started, it wasn't something that happened here. When Gimli came to Erebor to ask some of our dwarves to come away with him, he was already very much changed. Darker, somehow--less cheerful than he had been. There was sometimes a sick look in his eyes when he thought no one was watching, and he didn't seem to have any energy anymore.
Well, we all chalked it up to the war at first--at least I know I did. He would not speak of what he had seen in Khazad-dum, and for a while I thought that was what had darkened him. But only for a while. Because, you see, a dwarf can shake something like that off after a few years. True, we do take our history and our territory very seriously, and yes, Gimli had lost kin in Moria. But in front of him was the best thing to cure a dwarf of such maladies--work. Work to be done, caves to be explored, gems to be carved. And it all belonged to him. Yet he was not happy.
And because of his position, Gimli was not allowed to deal with his grief in solitude, as a dwarf will always prefer to do. Quite soon Gimli began to be irritable and unforgiving in his dealings with the dwarves who were helping him to build Aglarond. Dwarves who had been his closest friends before the Quest. It was clear to all of us that something had changed him drastically, and it wasn't long before the rumors began to fly. Rumors that even you, a stranger not of our kin, have heard and asked me about. See?
Well, after a while the general consensus became this: Gimli had both found and then lost his love in the course of the War. Now, coming from a dwarf that means more than it would if we were speaking about one of your kind. Men, as I understand it, somehow find it in themselves to love and loose and then love again, sometimes several times over. Yes?
Well. Not so with dwarves. We are each made to love one and only one other person--and if that person should die, we shall walk in grief for the rest of our days. Most of us came to believe that was what had happened to Gimli. You must understand that by that time no one would have dared get close enough to him to actually ask; but he did seem to be grieving.
As I said, Gimli was dear to me before the war; and it seemed to me that the death of his love would be the only thing that could account for the changes in his heart. But gradually, as the years wore away and I kept an eye on him, I began to slightly alter my theory.
Gimli's a very important dwarf, you understand; as important a dwarf as you'll find to this side of the mountains. And he has friends all over the place from his adventures in the Ring War; so naturally he's always receiving letters from every part of Middle-Earth. King Eomer doesn't bother to write to him, of course; he just rides down to Aglarond whenever he has something he wants to discuss. But Gimli hears from our kin in Erebor regularly, and of course four or five times a year a whole passel of letters will show up from the Shire, bless it. And Lord Gimli's always pleased when the letters come, and more likely than not he'll read them right at the table and share the stories from home or the little anecdotes of the hobbits with us. And then the King in Gondor himself writes to Gimli at least once a month, and it certainly never bothers him.
But once or twice a year a letter will show up that comes from Ithilien, and it's different. When Gimli sees a messenger from Ithilien he gets very quiet, and he takes the letter gently like it's something fragile or sacred. Then he takes it into private to read it, and as sure as rain follows clouds he'll be in a fog for a few weeks after they come. A sad mood, not a mean one. And while he'll often tell us exactly what's in some of the other letters or at least a part of it, I never heard a word from him about Ithilien.
Well, it wasn't too hard for me to figure out. Everyone talked about Gimli having lost his love in the war, and I guess up till then I'd always assumed that implied she'd died. But I started to wonder: what if this mystery person wasn't dead? What if she lived in Ithilien?
It didn't make any sense at first. If they loved each other so much, why didn't this mystery person come to Aglarond? Or why didn't Gimli go to Ithilien? At first I thought there might have been some kind of scandal, but that train of thought didn't hold salt with this dwarf for very long. A mere scandal wouldn't stop Gimli from being with the one he loved; I know him better than to think that. And this person obviously didn't hate Gimli, if she was bothering to write to him. But after a while it hit me: there's a big difference between liking someone enough to write to them once or twice a year and loving them as your mate. Gimli was probably one of those dwarves who had fallen in love with someone that would not have him. It happens sometimes, though it's not exactly common. I think Mahal intended for us to have our love returned, knowing that we're a small race to begin with and can't really afford to have half the population or more pining away for someone they can't have. And besides, there's enough trials and tribulations for a dwarf in this world without adding unrequited love to the--
Where was I? Oh, yes. So I realized that Gimli's love probably considered him a friend, but no more. I didn't know whether this mystery person knew of my Lord's affection for her or not, but it didn't really matter. My compassion for Gimli expanded infinitely. Having shared a love with someone you know is gone is one thing; pining for someone you know will never return your love is quite another. I think the first would be easier.
And yes, knowing or at least guessing what I now did made me think kinder of Gimli. I have known other dwarves who have lost or been denied love, but this--this must have been a special case, to cast the cousin I loved into such despair. It seemed unjust to me, that someone who had accomplished so much and showed such bravery should be dealt such a bitter fate. Whoever this person was, I cursed her. I had idolized Gimli when we were growing up together in Erebor, and now there was little I could do to ease his pain. All I could think of was to try and make it so that Gimli had to interact with the over-curious hoards he had come to despise as little as possible. I started taking over many of his social duties as Lord of the Glittering Caves, and Gimli retreated further and further into his work and himself, apparently content to live and grieve alone.Then, this one night. Oh, this one night.
Gimli had, as usual, secluded himself in his rooms the night the Elf came riding up. Already this was strange; I had been there since the founding of Aglarond, then six years ago, and I could swear to you that an Elf had never set foot in it before. But this Elf was an anomaly in and of himself. He might have been beautiful once, but he was very ill--pale, and thin, with a vacant look in his eyes.
Now, don't be like that. Of course I know that all elves have pale skin compared to Dwarves. It wasn't like I'd never seen one before, we used to trade with some of Thranduil's folk in Dale. I can more than tell the difference between a sick Elf and a healthy one, and this Elf was--well, don't be ridiculous! Of course Elves can get sick. I know they're immortal, but if they're unhappy enough they can become as sick as any of the rest of us. I know what I saw; this Elf was ill.
Do you want to hear this story or not?
Very well, then. The Elf was ill. I cannot impress upon you enough how important that is; it will all make sense later. The guard who had greeted him brought him to me, and I asked him what business he had in Aglarond. Well, I don't think he really even saw me--he was pretty far gone by that time. He said that Lord Gimli was a friend of his and he'd come to visit.
No, I didn't really question it at the time. True, an Elf claiming friendship with a Dwarf was more than a little odd--but I knew there had been an Elf in the Fellowship, and that some of Elrond's folk had come down for the final stages of the War. Stranger things have happened in these days.
I tried to get the visitor to go to a room and rest the night--to be honest, I thought that he might keel over right there in the grand hall. I didn't know how resilient his kind were back then. He just kept shaking his head and repeating that he wanted to see Gimli, and eventually I shrugged and led him to my Lord's quarters. Most folk would want a bath and a meal first after traveling such a long way, but who am I to question the ways of other races?
But the minute Gimli opened his door, I knew I'd made a mistake. Don't ask me to describe the expression on his face; I couldn't do it if my life depended on it.
The Elf? Well--he looked like a child showing his father his first cut gem, wondering if he'd done right. Oh, Mahal, that doesn't even come close. I knew I couldn't describe it right. Let's just say that about fifteen emotions went over both of their faces and I don't think I could put a name to one of them. Then the Elf says, "Gimli, please let me in?" Like that, with his voice all quiet and making it a question at the end. And Gimli took a few steps back and the Elf went into the room.
I knew enough to shut the door behind them.
Well, they didn't really come out for a day or so. I don't know how late they stayed up--don't snicker like that, I'm sure they had plenty to talk about--but Gimli certainly wasn't up and directing things the next morning as usual. I didn't see him until about midday, in the kitchen getting a tray of food together. When I asked him what was going on, he just smiled and said he was taking the day off to entertain his guest. He looked happier than I had seen him in a long time and I remember thinking I was glad his friend had made him that way--but I think I knew by then, even if I hadn't really realized that I knew. Did that make sense? Good.
The next time I saw the Elf was the second day he was in Aglarond, only briefly for a second or two across the caverns. I didn't get a good look at him until dinner that night, when he and Gimli finally elected to dine with the rest of us. The Elf sat next to Gimli at the head of the table and Gimli introduced him to us all as his dear friend Legolas--but I knew that "friend" was a euphemism. After all, there isn't really a word in the Westron we were using for two males who are not merely lovers, but lifemates. There's a Khuzdul word, of course, but I can't speak it to you. We don't really use Khuzdul except in ceremonies nowadays anyway. But it should have been clear by the end of the meal to anyone with any wit at all that they were a great deal more than friends.
Now, here is why I made such a big fuss about Legolas having looked so grey and ill when he arrived at Aglarond. If I hadn't been positive that there was only one Elf wandering about the caves, I never would have believed this was the same one. I swear his skin had completely changed colors, from grey to golden--he was practically glowing. And--I suppose it was that he was holding himself differently, as well. Of course he was still as thin as a rail, but Gimli set to work remedying that right away. He kept the Elf's plate full that night and many nights to come, and Legolas showed a healthy interest in his food. By the time he'd been in Aglarond a season he'd put on enough bulk and muscle that you wouldn't want to cross him. But for those first few weeks it was clear that he had suffered just as much from the separation as my Lord--a brisk wind could have blown him over. Or at least Gimli clearly thought so; he handled that Elf like a child, or a very breakable jewel, while they both recovered their strength.
It was really rather soothing, almost pleasant, to watch them interact those first few days. All right, those first few weeks. Well, maybe it took them a few months to settle down, but you tell me honestly you can blame them for being a little over-exuberant and that beer's free. Legolas removed any doubts over his status that night by electing to sit on the ground between Gimli's legs when we all retired for songs and poetry after dinner. Sometimes he would disappear so far back into Gimli's embrace that it looked like Gimli's beard had suddenly turned very smooth and blond. Other times you could tell they weren't really listening to the music--just sitting there, eyes closed, touching each other lightly but constantly as if they couldn't believe the other was really there. Well--I haven't met my love myself, but if and when I do I can only hope it's like that.
Oddly enough, there wasn't any trouble in Aglarond over it. You'd think that an Elf and Dwarf being lovers would have caused a stir, wouldn't you? But I think all the Dwarves in Aglarond knew Gimli and cared about his well-being, and a blind man could have seen the difference after Legolas came. Happiness radiated from Gimli ten times stronger than despair had ever done before. I would swear that Gimli grew taller after Legolas came, not to mention putting on more muscle and in general looking like an all-around healthier Dwarf. But it was his attitude that changed, and never ever again did his inferiors find him unfeeling or too strict. His booming laugh filled the halls of Aglarond like it had done in the halls of Erebor when we were younger. Everyone could see that Gimli was happy, and for that we welcomed Legolas, and thanked him. He fit right in.
Well, he did hit his head on the archways once or twice. But he was remarkably good-natured about it.
What was that?
No, I don't know what caused the separation. It certainly is not my business to ask, if they don't care to discuss it. What matters is that they're happy now, wherever they are. Oh, yes, that's why my Lord isn't here. Legolas swears he doesn't mind living underground, but I don't think Gimli believes him. And at any rate, I don't suppose it is fair to ask Legolas to give up his realm for Gimli's. So they're visiting friends in Gondor now. I'm not really sure which region--could be Ithilien, could be Minas Tirith, could be somewhere else entirely. Like I said, they've friends everywhere. To be completely honest with you, I don't even know if they will come back, much less when. We all love them, but maybe underneath the earth is not the place for an Elf and a Dwarf to live together. Nor is it up amongst the trees. Maybe there is no such place in this Middle-Earth of ours; maybe they will have to create one.
Well, at any rate, if they come back we'll be happy to have them; and if they don't, we'll know that wherever they are they're together and therefore content. I'm sure it won't be an easy road for them, but whatever comes they have my blessing, and I'm sure you'd hear the same if you had happened to ask this story of any other Dwarf in these caverns.
Well! If that's how you feel about it, you can test me on it. We'll wager the next round of drinks on whether you can get one ill word about Legolas or Gimli from any Dwarf here. But I warn you--you will be the one paying at the end of the night.