Decision, Chapter 8:
Thranduil of Mirkwood was, in cases of formal Trials, expected to look every inch the King of Mirkwood, from his mithril circlet--the fancy one--to his polished leather boots, and everything in between. Only his dresser knew that he had bathed with the costliest and rarest of soaps, used the hair wash he did not even like, and the skin lotion he liked even less. He even had the hairdresser he usually chased away braid his hair into a pattern that would be difficult to undo once the occasion for all this fussing was over with.
His robes were green, pearlescent white, silver, and gold, and thank the Valar comfortable, except for the metal belt with the intricate chainwork hanging from it at his waist. And the jewelry. Thranduil loved jewels, unset. But that was a far cry from loving to wear the heavy brooches and armbands and rings he now found himself glaring at. His dresser had even polished them carefully after they were put on him, to remove any fingerprints. He felt encased in garb just for show, and the worst part was that he could not fidget at all, even tap his feet, because everyone would see it if he did it.
All this infernal fuss with his appearance had gone on after Thranduil had signed all the documents and made all the decrees to get everything set up for the formal session to commence promptly 2 hours past the noon peak of the sun. Normally something this solemn would be held in the evening and take all night. But given the circumstances, Thranduil was a little worried that it might last that long even if it started at two hours past noon. So he had rushed things.
He had also sent food and fresh clothes down to Legolas and Gimli, and suggested strongly that bathing and grooming would be wise, and told them in his note what time things would happen, and knew that Legolas would already tell Gimli the general order by adding the phrase, "all the infernal trimmings". Infernal, fumed Thranduil, seemed to be his word for the day. In truth, he was worried how this would go.
At precisely two hours past the noon sun, Thranduil realized another thing: the robes were heavy. He dragged them gracefully into the main hall, where everyone who had to attend was sitting on chairs around a circular raised platform, at the head of which was Thranduil's throne, freshly polished, with new trees put on either side. He almost snarled at the trees, for they had even had their leaves polished. Why did everything have to shine so much just to have a trial where hopefully his people would spend their mental energy listening to what was said rather than gawking at all the new glitter everywhere?
He took his chair, after accepting the bows of the nobles and those who would help conduct the assembly. It was tricky to sit so that those chains on the belt fell just right-- if they fell wrong, they outlined his, well, more private area, and that was not what he wanted, so he had to make sure his layers of tunics fell just right as well. He finally tweaked them--gracefully, of course, and everything cooperated nicely. He hoped this was a portent.
Silence held for the expected two minutes, and then he called out, "Let the prisoner and hostile witness be brought forth."
The heavy doors swung open, reveiling the five elves and one dwarf, who apparently - not only apparently but actually - had been waiting in this formation for several minutes at least. First Gimli, and then, several steps behind, Legolas entered the hall, both flanked by two guards. Much effort had gone into trying to make the Dwarf's appearance look agreeable to the Elven eye. He wore simple garb, rather light compared to his usual travel outfit, and of course no mail, his hair and beard were carefully washed and combed - something that not even Legolas had been allowed to help with, and even braided in places.
Legolas himself looked every inch the prince he was, even without jewellery, heavy robes, or his ceremonial dagger. His tunic and boots were of the best quality, and of the same colour as Thranduil's, and his hair braided in the traditional style, even if in a more modest way. That had been the idea, to display his status, but also some modestly.
The moment the first two guards with Gimlil reached the point where they stopped in front of the dais, the others stopped as well, so that Legolas was now standing in the middle of the room. They all bowed, after which the guards withdrew several steps.
Now the protocol asked that they both stayed where they were, quiet until spoken to - and Legolas should wait until called forward. This he did for a long enough moment to show that he knew of the rules and therefore fully understood what he was doing when he bowed once more, this time first to Thranduil and then the whole assembly before closing the distance between himself and Gimli with slow but deliberate steps, until he stood right next to his friend - but only for a moment, for then he went down on one knee and stayed there.
Gimli felt all the ponderous weight of this ceremony as he stepped into the huge chamber and followed the procedures until he was up on the dais, and had bowed to King Thranduil. He was startled deeply when Legolas moved over toward him and went down on one knee. "Get up, Lad! Ye canna get as short as me--oh!" He grew red in the face from embarrassment and went down on one knee too. "Your majesty," he said, bowing his head again, and wishing he were back in the dungeon.
Thranduil counted to twenty, silently, and then counted again after Gimli broke the silence and three elves gasped and broke it as well. He sent each of them a slow glance, only to see the tops of three heads, which meant his slow glance had to be held long enough for them to look up and see it. Luckily they did before he got all the way to twenty in his counting, which he had to extend a little anyway, since the third elf had taken a bit long in looking up, only to look back down right away after he saw that the King had scolded him for gasping.
Only then did he stand and approach both Gimli and Legolas. He had to admit his son looked very much the prince, very regal and handsome. Gimli looked...looked like a cleaned up and not so heavily dressed Dwarf, and Thranduil found himself actually wishing Gimli still looked as Gimli as ever, although he realized that this was for the people's benefit. "Rise, Gimli son of Gloin of the race of Dwarves." Why did ceremonies call for things so obvious to nevertheless still be stated? "Rise Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of Mirkwood and friend of Gimli" He waited until they had obeyed, and then turned to the Master of Ceremonies. "Please read the charges against the Dwarf, Gimli."
Legolas made sure that he rose not a moment to soon nor too late and stood tall without seeming arrogant or overly confident. In a setting like this where opinions counted, appearances could turn the tide. He had always smiled and laughed about all the demands and rituals and flashy habits of court life, found it a terrible bore as a child and a nuisance later, but now he was glad that he had learned all the subtleties of how to impress. Thus, nearly every breathe he took was carefully planned and thought through.
He hardly listened to the carefully worded charges - little more than short summary of the previous day's events, for he knew the only important part would be the final few sentences. "... and therefore after careful examination of the evidence and accounts of all that are involved shall determine the truth, guilt or innocense, and pass a just judgement."
There is was. Why did that last sentence never change? Every squirrel in Mirkwood should know it by heart by now. Legolas took a deep breath. And so it began. Gimli would be the first to be questioned, and Legolas hoped that what little instructions and advice concerning the procedures he had been able to give would be enough. What question was to be asked first, however, he did not know.
Thranduil raised a hand and stated formally, "I will declare the sentence in this case." He did not always, for sometimes it was almost a vote. But matters of this importance, he reserved for himself. He turned back to the throne, and realized with a muttered "infernal" that he would have to tweak his robes and hope the belt chain cooperated when he sat down again. He did so, and nothing cooperated, so he broke with tradition and rearranged his tunics until he was satisfied, and then gazed long at Gimli. In a voice as neutral as a windless day with only moderate sunshine, he asked, "Tell us what happened."
Gimli did so, noting without interest that the record keeper from the previous day was keeping track of every point, while another was quickly scribbling every word he said today. When he had finished, he added, "And that is my account, King of Mirkwood."
Thranduil looked over at the record keeper, who officially nodded, indicating that the story told this time deviated not from what had been said yesterday. So Thranduil himself stated the evidence he had seen as he had gone to the scene of the accident. None could fault what he said, for the other two witnesses were there as well. They corroborated, and fell silent again. Now was the heart of the matter. "Gimli, the evidence is unclear, and so I will ask you some questions. The first one is, Do you like Elves?"
Gimli had listened patient as a Dwarf could be, which was actually quite patient. He knew this would be tedious, but where a life lost was involved, he was quite willing to endure any tedium out of respect. And he knew Legolas was going to speak up in his defense, whether he should or not. He did not know what to make of King Thranduil yet, so he simply listened to everything said, and the question asked, and knew it was important he answer fully truthfully. "King Thranduil, had ye asked me that question months back, I would have answered, Nay, I have no love of ye pointy-eared lofty...persons who don't even brew a half-decent ale." It was true, too, as even Legolas knew. "But after seeing Prince Legolas and how he conducted himself in difficult situations, and at first enduring him, then coming to realize I could depend on him, I began to admire him. It was no easy thing! Dwarves are as ingrained against Elves as the reverse is. And what I found reasonable before and was taught since my childhood, I now feel sad about, for it does two races much harm." He paused and sighed deeply, and answered finally. "I like anyone from any good race who isn't so steeped in prejudicial doctrine that they won't like anyone but the ones they are supposed to. So, no, I don't like all Elves, but I don't dislike all Elves either."
"And there were times when our people were not as estranged." Legolas spoke up then fully aware that he was pushing the boundaries of proper behaviour. He knew that he was neither being asked, nor did his words add any new information concerning the death of the guard, but this case would not only be decided on fact, but also to a great part on emotions. Legolas knew how to influence those. "There were times when we not only respected each other, but learned from each other and worked together. The gate of Moria through which we passed during the quest was not built by one Dwarf or one Elf. Neither could have built it alone. And in ages past, were not these very hall originally created by our Dwarven friends?"
Here he paused to give the information time to sink in. And after letting his gaze drift around the room like in challenge of anyone wanting to meet his eye and contradict him he looked back at Gimli. Had his friend known about this detail in history that had been glossed over for so long that it was almost forgotten? "If someone asked me now whether I liked Dwarves I could not honestly answer 'yes'. But I like one Dwarf, and I know him, and I trust him. If the past two years have taught me anything it is to open my eyes and see, and to judge for myself."
Thranduil let his people murmur amongst themselves for only a half minute before letting everyone know to quiet even the softest of words spoken here and there. He had heard enough to know that both Gimli's and Legolas's words had been heard, and made impact; Whether for good or for bad would have to be seen. "I will speak from my own heart, as our guest and also my Son have." It was purposefully that he did not refer to Gimli as 'the prisoner', for in his mind, it was formality only that he was one.
Thranduil's blue gaze traveled around the hall, stopping to fasten on seemingly random faces, but he kept the individuals equally divided between those most against Dwarves, those most inclined to treat them well, and those very large group who only sought some guidance on what to think. He finally said, "It is much my fault that this rift between two peoples has widened to the degree it has. I know, there is cause on both sides, and it has been perpetuated long, for we are both long-memoried peoples, and take slights and tempers to heart." He had grown visibly approachable as he spoke, while retaining his posture and stance. But few times in memory had he been as he now was before his assembled Elves. "And there was the Menegroth affair." Instantly there were nods and murmurs, and Thranduil glanced quickly at Gimli, to see him looking down at his toes. "But that was long ago." His voice carried with the strength to quiet all. "And this Dwarf was not part of what happened then, any more than any of his kind are. Do I want myself judged by what my forefathers did for ill? Or do I wish to be judged by my own actions?" Again he sought out the gaze of various Elves, balancing his selection and the beliefs held. "I have been a hypocrit. For I have judged others, while demanding not to be judged."
He looked at Legolas then, and asked, "How did you and Gimli befriend each other?"
Legolas thought about it, and it was a difficult question that didn't have a simple answer. It did not have to either, he realized, as long as it was effective. "There was a night when we were hunted by wolves, for hours we heard their voices on the wind, before they finally caught up and we had to fight. We may not have stopped hating each other that night, but we stopped arguing. There were more important things to do than making up new insults. After that, it was gradual. Once the petty disputed were stopped there was room to simply watch, and finally see. When you have to rely on someone with your life, and see his valor time and time again it is hard to hold on to grudges that you never had a reason for in the first place. In Lorien I started to finally really learn, we talked and my perception was changed. Until one day on the plains of Rohan I was fully ready to kill a man if he raised a finger against my friend. That is what he has been ever since: a friend, and a true companion."
Thranduil let this sink in as well, and then asked a vital question. "Do you believe it is possible that Gimli committed murder in Mirkwood, felling an Elf out of hatred or anger?"
"No." Legolas answered his voice even more clear and distinct than it had been before. "Not unless it was in defense of his life, and even then I would have my doubt."
Thranduil turned to Gimli then. "Gimli, were you defending your life?"
Very quietly, Gimli answered, "No, King, I was not."
"Then was it truly an accident?"
"Aye, King, that it was. And I would rather it have been me who died than an Elf of my friend's kind. I will accept your judgment and abide by it, knowing I did no wrong except to let pride send me fishing when I should have been helping build a campfire."
And now there came a pause, and Thranduil looked around at the people. "Elves, what say you? Shall I pass judgment?"
And the murmuring started up slow and then rose, until the single word "Yes" was heard, picked up first by a few and then by many. And Thranduil was heartened to hear much less hatred than he had heard before. It was more of a statement, an answer to the question than a judgment in itself.
"Then I shall do so." Thranduil looked at Gimli, not at Legolas. "Step forward, Gimli son of Gloin, and receive the judgment of the King of Mirkwood, upon the question of your guilt or innocence of the crime of murder."
Legolas held his breathe but refrained from making any move. In this moment, he could not help his friend. Gimli stepped forward, and looked up at the King, his face passive, accepting. He expected the worst.
Thranduil took up his sword, and held it high. "So say I, and so the judgment is. Gimli, of the Dwarven race, I find you guilty of fishing, not murder. Legolas, send for Gimli's clothes, and let this entire affair teach us all something important." The sword was lowered and put back in its ceremonial sheath.
Gimli dropped to his knees and put his face in his hands and wept.