Winner of the 2005Flame of Arnor Awards for Best Friendship fic!
Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me...in case you didn't already know, that is...okay, welcome back to Middle-earth—for a short time, at least...
Summary: We have heard tell that Legolas took Gimli Glóin's son with him because of their great friendship, greater than any that has been between Elf and Dwarf. If this is true, then it is strange indeed: that a Dwarf should be willing to leave Middle-earth for any love...And yet, where bonds this strong exist, all things are possible. Now at last, more can be said of this matter...
(Expansion on Appendix A)
"I suppose you'll be leaving soon," Gimli said quietly.
Legolas looked at his friend, but the dwarf was staring at the bier, studiously avoiding his eyes.
"Now that there's, well, not much to hold you here any more..."
Legolas had to swallow hard before he could find voice to speak, and then it caught in his throat. "I can stay for a...little longer..." his voice trailed off in sadness unspeakable. The elves had ever watched the other races pass and die, but Legolas had never had much personal experience with it. Now, he had all too much. First Éomer, then lighthearted Merry and Pippin had been bowed, and at last conquered, by age. Now Aragorn, too, had given up his life to time. All that was left of their Fellowship in Middle-earth were he and Gimli...and Gimli, too, was aging. They both did their best to ignore it, finding it one of the very few topics that they could not discuss, even with banter and insults. But no matter how hard they pretended it wasn't happening, time was catching up to the dwarf as well.
Legolas could not bear the thought of a world without his friend. Gimli was the only one left now, and the one that he could least think of losing. It is the curse and gift of elves that they must watch those they know die in eyeblinks, for they do not age. Legolas suddenly found that he was more appreciative of the curse this was than ever. He looked over at Arwen, standing, head bowed, next to her son and daughters.
The choice of Luthien had to sit especially hard on her now, that Aragorn was dead. It had been so short a time they had had to spend together! Not short as mortals reckon it—Aragorn had lived a phenomenal age among humans—but to the elves, it was unbearably brief.
Legolas had not known Arwen long for elves and they had spent little enough time together at first. But as the years drew on, the two elves found themselves drawn to each other. No others of their people were as close to mortals as they were. Indeed, they were closer to their short-lived friends than to their own kind; Arwen's had gone across the Sea, and Legolas spent little time in Mirkwood, where memories of old slights between elves and dwarves were hard to root out entirely. It was no surprise that the two had sought each other out for comfort. They watched, unchanging, as their friends grew old and gray, comforting one another with both words and silence. Unspoken between them, however, were their different fates; Arwen would at last meet her end in Middle-earth, doomed to walk apart from her people forever. Legolas, whose heart had been the Sea's since that fateful day he first heard the gulls, would eventually leave like so many others to travel to the Undying Lands.
Here, though, in Middle-earth, there was far too much death. Arwen, Legolas could see, was practically numb. Tears poured silently down her cheeks, but her face was a mask of stone. She stood a little apart from her children, silently staring at Gondor's former king. Her son, Eldarion, would be the next in the Telcontar line, but Arwen would not be there to see him rule, Legolas suddenly realized. Gondor had nothing for her now. The question was, did anywhere in Middle-earth? Lórien was a silent, empty shadow, and Imladris was no longer her father's home. Her brothers had likewise departed, never to be seen again in mortal lands. Her only family were her mortal children, and though she loved them, Minas Tirith would be too painful a place to remain, lost among humans.
It seemed as if Gondor, too, suspected that their beloved Queen would soon be leaving them. For every tearful glance directed at their king, another went to the silent figure in black standing next to him. Legolas started to go to her to offer what comfort he could, but stopped. There was nothing he could say that would ease her heart now. She had made her choice years past, and as she had had the sweet, so now must she endure the bitter. His presence would bring her nothing but pain now; he would be leaving soon across the Sea, and she would be here alone, to await the ending of her days.
Legolas sighed deeply, wishing that for the elves, there could be endings that were happy. For all that his people could be joyful and merry, they were a sad people, especially now, in their fading years. It would not be long before the elves passed from Middle-earth forever, leaving it to the mortals who would slowly forget them with their quickly changing lives.
And what of the dwarves? Would they remain among men, or would they, too, leave the human realms, disappearing within their caves and caverns? Legolas would never ask, for that would mean acknowledging that someday he and Gimli would part. For all that dwarves were long-lived, they were mortal, and Gimli's life would end. Legolas shivered; the thought of the world without his friend in it was cold and bleak. Even Valinor, when he pictured it, seemed somehow empty. He had spent such a little portion of his long years with the dwarf by his side, but now he could hardly imagine life without him. How could even the Undying Lands hold joy when they did not have Gimli in them?
He looked down at his friend, and saw the wet trickle of tears in his thick beard. He briefly laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. Gimli nodded slightly in acknowledgment, and the elf removed his hand. He would never mention the tears, either; dwarves were a stoic race, and crying at the age-inspired, willingly chosen death of a Man would not be fitting in their culture. But then, Gimli was hardly a normal dwarf. For one thing, he consorted with elves. Indeed, his heart had been given to the Lady of Light, Galadriel, long-departed herself across the Sea.
The Sea, the Sea...it called to him always. The gentle, alluring murmur was a constant voice whispering through his thoughts. Now it was far stronger, as if with Aragorn's death it knew one of the strongest ties holding him still to Middle-earth had vanished. And yet, despite the almost painful pull, he could not yet leave. He could not depart while Gimli yet...
The elf silenced his thoughts. He would not allow them to take that track. Not even here, mourning Aragorn's death, would he let himself think of Gimli's. He could not. It hurt too much even to contemplate; the inevitable severing from his friend was like a wound waiting to fall. He did not know how Arwen could bear this unending separation...but then, he did know. He has seen the love she and Aragorn had, he knew the bond between them. And for bonds that strong, one is willing to do anything. Even give up Valinor to dwell a few short years in Middle-earth, never to see one's family again, even unto the breaking of the world.
Even resist the call of the Sea, and stay a while.
The once-sparkling fields around Minas Tirith were dull today, and the sky seemed dead and cheerless. The city was quiet, still mourning for their departed king...and their departed queen.
Arwen had left some hours ago, after bidding a brief farewell. But it was obvious that her heart was not in the good-byes. She had made too many good-byes, too many final farewells, and now no more could touch her. Her daughters had hugged her tearfully; her son, the newly-crowned king, had had to swallow his own urge to weep. It was clear that, although she spoke to them, she had already departed. When Aragorn left, so did the hold of Gondor on Arwen. Deep and endless was the sorrow in her eyes, a sorrow more intense than mortals would ever know. The light had gone out of the Evenstar, and she had left the White City for the shadowed, faded trees of darkened Lothlórien.
Gimli and Legolas had watched her ride away, along with nearly everyone else in the city. She had gone alone, but no one feared for her. Arwen was ended; she had simply not yet laid down. Somehow, everyone knew that none would bother her in her journey. In truth, few knew where she was bound, aside from her children. Legolas had told Gimli her destination, although the dwarf had not seen them exchange words. Perhaps in those long conversations they had shared those last few years, watching time pass without them, they had discussed it. Or perhaps, as an elf, Legolas simply knew where Arwen would go to depart the world.
Gimli did not know what had changed, but the two elves had only nodded to one another, something strange in their eyes, then Arwen had turned and left. It was rare that Gimli could not tell immediately what mood his friend was in, and he did not like not knowing what that strange expression in their eyes had been. But Legolas had been silent, and Gimli sensed that this was not a silence to be broken.
And so they had stood, long after everyone else had departed, on the high walls of Minas Tirith, watching nothing over the ramparts. They had neither spoken nor moved, and the citizens of Gondor whispered about their silent vigil. They had not spoken because they could not. There was nothing to say. Nothing, at least, that they could bear to say. Legolas had said nothing more about the Sea and departing since the funeral, and Gimli was afraid to broach the subject. And so the two friends stood, together but apart, lost in their own sad, shadowed thoughts.
They might have stood there long into the night had they not been interrupted. Gimli started slightly when he heard a voice beside them. Eldarion, new king of Gondor, now bereft of parents, had joined them on the walls.
"I greet you, friends." Eldarion had been, for a time, confused over what to call them. When he was a child, they had been beloved uncles, taking him out for adventures and travels, teaching him archery and axes, horses and honor, compassion and contemplation, and, most importantly, friendship. As he grew, though, they did not change. And while to refer to the Lord Legolas and Lord Gimli as "uncle," when he was neither Silvan elf nor mountain dwarf had seemed only natural when he was young, it did not seem right, somehow, for a grown man—heir to the kingdom of Gondor, no less—to do so. And yet, he had known them from birth, they had helped to raise him into the man he now was. He could not be so formal as to call them "lord" all the time. Finally, the serious young man had brought the question to them. Exchanging a quick glance that warned the other not to laugh, the two had—carefully restraining mirth—told him that he need not bother with titles of any sort. Unless they were among certain company, they did not even refer to the king as such, simply calling him Aragorn—or Wingfoot and Strider, when teasing. His son did not need to stand on ceremony with them; they were friends.
Now, though, Gimli thought Eldarion looked even more unsure and anxious than he had years ago when raising that question. A knot tied in the dwarf's gut as he wondered what the boy—man, really, but it was hard for Gimli not to think of him as the child he had been—was going to ask them this time. He had a sinking suspicion that it would have something to do with the subject they had avoided discussing between themselves so carefully for many years.
Eldarion continued, and Gimli's heart sunk lower. "I was wondering...my friends..." it was difficult for the man to say. He shifted on his feet, and could not meet their eyes. He looked away, across the fields over which his mother had so recently departed forever. Whether that association made it easier or harder for him to continue, the dwarf could not say, but it seemed to force the words from his mouth. "How long the two of you would be staying. You are, of course, always welcome here, and for as long as you wish it. I was just...curious...as to your intentions..." He trailed off, and looked back at them.
Or rather, he looked at Legolas. While he said "my friends," and "the two of you," he was not talking to Gimli. He was talking to the elf. He was wondering if, now that the bond his father had had with him had been extinguished, Legolas too would be departing Middle-earth. Gimli held his breath, both dreading and impatient to hear his friend's answer.
Legolas was silent a moment, and his eyes were hooded. When he replied, it was as if he were already speaking to them from a great distance. "We will stay, for...some time yet."
It was not an answer, but Eldarion accepted it, perhaps not wanting to press for more details. Gimli, at any rate, was not comforted. Elves have little concept of time's flow, and although Legolas had of necessity become more aware of it than his kinsmen, he was still rather vague in its measurements. "Some time" could well be a hundred years or more, or it could be less than a month. Eldarion's questions might have been handled, but the anxious knot in the dwarf's chest had not been soothed. He still feared that his friend would soon leave him—and he also feared that he would not.
Alone in his room, long after night had fallen, Gimli was still awake. He stood in the darkness, staring out the window at the twinkling mithril of the stars in the black sky. In his hand, he held three fine strands of gold, carefully encased in a small crystal vessel of such delicacy and beauty that it had to be one of the crowning artistic achievements of the Age. The dwarf was troubled, and the normally soothing golden hairs were doing nothing to ease his heart. It was almost as if they increased his fears, but he found he could not put them down.
Gimli had not spoken to anyone of his troubles, for he could hardly articulate them to himself. He knew that he was terrified of Legolas leaving, going across the Sea, while he could only watch and wave goodbye. What would be left on Middle-earth after his friend had gone? The joys of it would have all gone out. But the dwarf was equally frightened that the elf would tarry, not wanting to leave him. He was afraid that Legolas would stay, fighting the Sea's pull, simply for him. He did not want to put his friend through that. And Gimli had a deeper fear: age. He was growing older, he knew. Eventually, he would weaken, his sight would dull, his reflexes would deteriorate. Legolas would stay ever-young, already quicker than the dwarf, while he would slow more and more. Watching the concern and worry in his friend's deep eyes as he watched the dwarf slowly fade and grow old would cleave Gimli's heart in two. Legolas would not be able to bear watching Gimli slowly die; but no more could Gimli bear to watch the pain in his friend's eyes as that happened.
Almost the dwarf regretted his long survival. A quick death at the hand of some evil creature would perhaps have been better. He would have missed every day, but at least Legolas would not have to go through watching death slowly take him. The elf would have been overwrought had Gimli fallen during one of the conflicts, but Gimli thought he would have been able to handle that better than death by age. Legolas was a warrior, as were his people; they knew how to go on when friends fell in battle. But elves could not handle the slow death of time. They were unaccustomed to it, and they had no way to fight against it. It was as much a reality for them as for the mortals they watched rise and fall so briefly, but it was far more bitter for the elves to loose someone to time than it was for mortals to do the same. When one has lived a long time, it is less of a regret when they finally lie down forever. But to the elves, the longest lives of mortals are a brief flutter in the wind.
He cursed silently; whatever choice was made there would be pain. Gimli cursed mortality and immortality in one breath, unsure at that moment which he hated more. He knew that what he hated the most were those blasted gulls...but the pain was there, whatever he blamed for it. Gimli had never desired to live forever, but suddenly, he found that death was hardly acceptable. It was not that he had changed his opinion on the subject; everyone dies, and dwarves accept this.
What Gimli did not accept, however, was the pain that this would cause his friend. If he could have lived forever to spare Legolas his death, he would have done so. He thought about simply throwing the elf in a boat and sending him out to the blasted Sea, but it was only a brief moment of rashness. He knew that option would still be bitter, for both of them. Perhaps even more so for Legolas than Gimli, for the elf would have to live without ever knowing his friend's fate. It would be a constant trouble to him, the dwarf knew, that not knowing. Legolas did not do well with ignorance, especially when it came to the state of his friends. Never learning how Gimli finally met his end would not sit well with the elf...but neither would being there while it happened.
Gimli cursed again, although this time he did not know what he was directing his anger at. Whatever power it was, probably, that had apparently decreed that the elves could not ever be simply happy. Life, death, neither worked out well in the End, not for elves, at least. Mortals could live happy lives; they were bound to end in sorrow, but even that sorrow was fleeting, for to mortals, all things ended. To the elves, all things simply passed, and they went on, mourning what was lost long after others had forgotten it. Gimli did not care if he was forgotten or remembered, but he did not want to be a never-healed wound on his friend's heart.
He glanced down at the fine golden strands that seemed to shimmer mournfully in the moonlight. He looked up at the round, silver orb, and glared at it. He knew that out there somewhere, probably peaceful in their nests or lofts or whatever they slept in, the horrid gulls were resting. A star seemed to twist in the distance, far out to the West, as if drawing his attention. The dwarf, deciding that the West was the last place he wanted to watch tonight, looked back down at the delicate gold in his hands, and his face softened. A slight smile crept into the corners of his mouth, and he nodded sharply once, as if satisfied. He carefully tucked the small crystal back into his jacket pocket, and turned to go to sleep.
Gimli had come to his decision.
When the sun's rays cast their first pink glow on the white walls of Minas Tirith, they also brushed the pale head of a tall elf on the parapet. It was impossible to say when he had come there in the night, or if he had perhaps stood there since the previous day. It did not seem as if he had moved since he watched Arwen depart the city. He was staring at the sun on the fields, but he did not see it. His gaze was far away, on the distant Sea. The sunrise on the waving grasses gave the impression of shifting waves, and his sharp ears seemed to pick out the distant cry of gulls.
Distracted as he was, Legolas's elvish senses watched with the corner of his mind not occupied with the call of the Sea. He was not, therefore, caught off guard when his friend climbed up to join him. He was, however, taken aback when Gimli spoke.
"What are you doing?"
Legolas started and looked down at his friend. "I beg pardon, Master Dwarf?"
Gimli shook his head, as if his meaning should have been self-evident even to the slowest cave troll. "Dawdling about," he explained shortly. "I know elves are poor with actually getting things done, being flighty creatures who are always distracted by stars or trees or foolish things like that. But I see no point to sit around when we ought to get to work."
Legolas tilted his head, thinking that perhaps a new angle might somehow make things clearer. "I know that dwarves have little skill with words, but perhaps you could attempt to dredge out enough with which to form a coherent thought—if that is possible for dwarves to do?"
Gimli scowled up at the tall elf. "Building our ship, of course," he said gruffly.
Legolas blinked, now completely confused.
Gimli sighed. "Well, building a ship should be quite an undertaking, especially for an elf and a dwarf who have never done so before, but that's all the more reason to get started, don't you think? Unless you plan for us to walk to Valinor?"
Gimli was quite satisfied with his accomplishment; the last time the elf had been at a loss for words had been many years ago, many lives ago, after visiting the Glittering Caves. For an elf to be speechless twice in less than a millenia was remarkable; that the same person had managed to do such was a rare feat indeed.
The waves of the Anduin gently rocked the small gray ship. The sunlight caught the fine sails, making them glow golden in the late afternoon. The sun also flashed on the silver winged crown upon a dark head. It glinted in the eyes of the man wearing the crown as well, glimmering on waiting tears.
There was only a small group there for the launch of the ship; the king of Gondor and his eternal guard, along with the dark-haired princesses of Gondor. The two travelers had few close friends left in Middle-earth, and had no family there to see them off. Glóin was long-since dead, and neither Thranduil nor any of his kin were there; they knew that eventually they would meet again in the Undying Lands.
But they did not want ceremony or pageantry to mark their departure. Had they been able to simply leave, they would have done so, but such would not have been fair to the children of Gondor they had been so close to. They made their farewells to the tearful princesses, who then pulled back with the guard to wait while their brother said a last good-bye to the two who had nearly been as parents to him. "My friends," he said, voice raspy, and embraced them.
"May your rule long endure," Legolas said quietly, "and may it be as blessed as that of him whom you follow."
Gimli's eyes shone with tears. "You'll make us proud, lad," he said gruffly. Legolas nodded, both of them certain of their faith in him.
"Fare you both well," Eldarion whispered, smiling through his tears.
"And you as well, Son of Aragorn," Legolas replied as he and Gimli stepped onto the ship.
The sunlight shone with golden fire on the sails of the ship, and on the staggered heights of those who stood upon its deck. A long, thin arm was lifted briefly in farewell, and the moorings were cast away. The eyes of none of the House of Telcontar were dry that day as they watched the last of the Fellowship of the Ring finally and forever depart Middle-earth. The light glimmered long on the sails as the children of Aragorn and Arwen watched it slowly slip away on the water, then it sparkled and was lost.
They stood long, watching the empty waves, then turned as one and slowly returned to Gondor, feeling as if an Age had ended. For these now-grown children who had never known their grandfather or great-grandmother, Legolas and Gimli had signified, for them, the last of the Age of the War of the Ring. When they left Middle-earth, something went with them that they would never have again. With joyous, tearful eyes and sad smiles, they left the banks of the Anduin behind and returned to Gondor.
Legolas's far-seeing eyes stared long at the vanished shore, watching his last view of Middle-earth. Gimli, however, had lost sight of it miles ago. He had turned his attention to the other side of the ship, looking towards the West. Legolas at last turned away as the world fell into the distance, and he walked over to stand by his friend. "You will not see it for some time, Master Dwarf," he informed his friend with a smile.
Gimli glared up at him. "I'm fully aware of that, Master Elf. But while some of us have been busy feeling nostalgic, the rest of us have been keeping our attention in the direction we're sailing. Someone needs to be aware of what we're heading towards, lest we run aground or tip the boat over."
Legolas's smile vanished into a perfectly neutral expression. "As we are in the hands of such a capable sailor, I saw no need to involve myself in the steering of the ship."
Gimli harrumphed and turned away, obviously choosing to end the conversation before it got any sillier than it already had. The two of them stared at the empty sea for a time in companionable silence. The gentle breeze seemed to carry a sweet fragrance, and the faint sound of singing. There was rain on the distant horizon, waiting with the far-off dawn, but the silver drops would be gentle and uplifting when they reached them. One could almost imagine the white shores on the other side of the pale gray cloud...
"Gimli," Legolas's soft voice broke the silence with trepidation. Gimli stared at the waves ahead of him, waiting while his friend decided on his words. "If you wish, we still can turn back. Should you desire to return to Middle-earth, I would gladly wait a time before I make my own journey."
Gimli raised an eyebrow. "Think you that I go because I could not bear to be at last relieved of your foolish, flighty company? Would your friendship be enough to tear a sensible dwarf from the soil of Middle-earth?" He snorted in disbelief. "Nay, I go to see the fairest thing that ever was in Middle-earth, long ago departed. I go to see the Lady Galadriel, my friend, not you. Personally, I cannot wait to be saved at last from your annoying presence. You are merely lucky that I put up with your foolishness in order to journey to see the Lady once more. There is nothing else about your company to recommend it to intelligent persons." Gimli grinned slyly up at his friend, thinking that a healthy bit of humor was just the thing to shake off this unwelcome disposition that had come over him.
Legolas, however, was not in the mood for banter. The elf was in a serious frame of mind, and wanted a serious answer. "One does not depart from Valinor. If you have any reservations—"
Gimli shook his head and smiled, interrupting the elf. "If I had reservations, I long ago sorted them out. Nay, my friend, I fear that you will have to endure my presence for a time yet."
Legolas at last relaxed. "Good," he said quietly. "I would not wish to journey without you."
"Without my level head to keep your mind from wandering away with the stars, you'd never make it there," Gimli insisted stoutly. "I couldn't let your flighty elvish self get lost on the way. Someone has to look after you and make certain you don't do anything foolish."
Legolas laughed. "I can think of few things as foolish as bringing a dwarf to Valinor."
Gimli snorted. "I can think of few things as foolish as a dwarf desiring to go there among you ridiculous elves," he answered.
Legolas put a hand on the dwarf's shoulder. "I am glad you're with me, elvellon," he said gently.
"So am I," Gimli replied softly. "So am I."