Gimli sighed and stared moodily into his tankard. This, of all occasions, should be a happy day--but he could not get into the spirit of things. Today, the long wait for Lord Faramir and Lady Eowyn was finally over. This morning they had been wed in the Golden Hall amongst much rejoicing from both their peoples. And though the happy couple had long since retired, the party held on their behalf was raging on into the night. And yet Gimli, of a people who certainly knew how to enjoy a bit of music and a good pint of ale, was morose.
There were too many memories here. It had been the same when he had gone with Aragorn to escort the hobbits back to their home last fall. The whole journey had been difficult for them all, of course, thinking of those members of their Fellowship who were not with them this time. But when they had arrived at Edoras, Gimli had felt his heart seize up in pain. The last time he had ridden through those gates, it had been on a horse no dwarf should have been riding, clinging desperately to the body of an Elf in front of him--clinging to Legolas.
Edoras had been hard, and Helm's Deep a few days later had been torture. Gimli had not visited the Glittering Caves, though the offer had been made to him. Instead, he had stood on the damaged Deeping Wall, looking out over the battle-scarred fields and letting tears fall, still, after all these months. Where are you? his mind kept crying. You were supposed to be here. What happened to you?
The battle of Helm's Deep had been the last anyone had seen of Legolas. Gimli knew the others thought him dead, and yet he couldn't quite believe it. Something in his heart told him it wasn't so--and yet he couldn't be sure if that wasn't just because he wanted it to be false so desperately. Legolas had become his best friend in Lorien, and by the time they reached the gates of Helm's Deep Gimli had begun to admit to himself that he was feeling considerably more than friendship for that particular elf. He had wanted to say something to him after the battle, if they both survived. Something to show Legolas how much he cared. He wanted to take Legolas into the caves with him and show the elf what made Gimli's heart beat, show him everything.
And then the elf had disappeared.
One minute Gimli had been shouting his orc-tally over his shoulder to his companion, and the next the tide of battle had swept them away from each other. It had never occurred to Gimli that it might be the last he saw of his friend; he knew Legolas was a superior warrior to most of those there, those who had survived the battle. But when he made his way out of the Glittering Caves at the end of the battle, Legolas was not at Aragorn's side as he had expected him to be. Nor was he with Theoden King. Both of them said they had thought Legolas was with Gimli. Gimli had searched frantically among the surviving soldiers, gone through the camp of the injured where Legolas was no doubt helping out--but there was nothing. Then, fear seizing his heart, he had spent hours amongst the bodies, searching for one with hair like captured sunlight and delicately pointed ears, perhaps with a shattered bow of Lorien across its back. He had been thorough; not one body went to the pit without his checking it first. If his friend, if his heart, was dead he wanted to be sure. Legolas had not been buried in the death-pit.
And yet he did not appear. Gandalf went so far as to ask the Huorns if they had caught sight of an elf within their forest, but the answer was negative. Aragorn counseled Gimli that they could not wait for Legolas, that they must ride with Theoden's men to Isengard. And Gimli went, with a heavy heart, but fully convinced that when they returned they would find a cheekily laughing elf waiting for them--perhaps with a broken leg that had slowed him--chiding them for having an adventure without him and smiling his special smile at Gimli. But elf there was none. Legolas had vanished as though he had never been; as though he had quite suddenly and completely faded away, not even leaving his body behind; as though he had been a dream.
All through the war, Gimli had thought somehow if they could defeat Sauron, Legolas would come back to him. Without really analyzing his own belief he had assumed that when the war was over, they would be reunited and all would be explained. But that deadline, too, had passed, and slowly Gimli had come to the realization that wherever his elf was, he would most likely not be coming back. Realized it, but not yet accepted it.
Aragorn must have noticed Gimli's dark mood, for he was making his way towards Gimli through the crowd. Gimli had chosen a somewhat secluded table in a corner, away from the general merrymaking, and it was taking the popular King of Gondor some effort to make his way through the throng. The long delay in this marriage--the betrothal had become official in August and it was now nearly April--had been largely because of the need of the peoples of both Gondor and Rohan to have a large, formal festival, and as such Faramir had begged Aragorn to perform the wedding ceremony for them. Eowyn had added her pleas and Aragorn had relented, and now he was suffering the consequences--everyone wanting to stop him and tell him what a wonderful job he had done. Finally, though, he managed to politely shake his way free and land with a thump next to Gimli.
"Friend, I wish I could just hide myself in a corner as you do," he said, only half-sincere. "Hand me some ale."
Gimli quirked an eyebrow at him. "Are you sure you can handle dwarven ale?"
Aragorn pretended to look affronted. "I will not deign to respond to that."
Gimli passed him the ale tankard. Aragorn poured some for himself and then glanced around, taking in their relative privacy--only two other men were seated at the long table, and both seemed to be deeply into their cups. "Why haven't you joined the festivities, Gimli?" he inquired lightly.
"I have a hard time feeling festive in this place," Gimli replied, feeling no need to hide what he was going through.
"Why is that?"
Gimli answered with one word. "Legolas."
Aragorn's face was a picture of compassion. "You still miss him."
"I canna help but wonder where he is now," Gimli said softly. "What he's going through. I will never feel right until I know what happened to him in this place."
Aragorn's expression was shifting towards concern. "Surely," he said, "you do not still hold out hope that Legolas lives?"
Gimli stared at him, as surprised by Aragorn's doubt as Aragorn was by his faith. "Aye."
Aragorn's brow furrowed, and he set down the tankard. He knitted his fingers together on his lap, looking rather like one who has just been asked to explain the facts of life to a child. "Gimli," he began, and then stopped, apparently unsure of what to say. Or rather, how to say it. Gimli knew what he wanted to say.
"Aragorn, if there had been a body," he said desperately. "If I had seen his body I could believe it. But I can't. Something tells me it isn't so."
"Often our desires can lead us astray," Aragorn said gently. He had adopted his gentle King-of-Gondor voice, the one that said he knew better than you and would guide those lesser mortals along. It had become an irritating habit since he had taken the throne--and come to think of it, a bit before then as well. "But surely you must know by now."
"No," Gimli said firmly. "I don't know. Something could have happened to him. He could have been injured," he rushed on, aware he was babbling but unable to stop.
"Then why has he not shown himself to us?"
"It could have been too severe for him to move, he could have taken shelter somewhere--"
"Gimli, an injury so severe would have eventually killed him. If it had not he would have found his way back to us by now. Face it, my friend. Legolas is gone."
"He could have been captured," Gimli pressed on frantically, unable to admit to the sense of what Aragorn said.
"But no one escaped from that battle. Gimli," Aragorn exclaimed, laying a hand on his friend's. He waited until Gimli met his eyes, then said clearly, "Legolas is dead. You must accept that."
"I know what you're saying, Aragorn, and I admit you have sense on your side. But my heart tells me he is still living."
Aragorn regarded him levelly and seriously for a moment. "I understand such feelings, Gimli," he said gravely after a while, "but your heart has reason to lie to you in this matter."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I know you were close to him," Aragorn said patiently. "I know how much you cared for him." No, Aragorn, you don't, Gimli thought. "He was my friend too. But we have to accept the facts."
Gimli nodded, unwilling to continue the conversation. Aragorn patted him on the shoulder, in an annoyingly paternal fashion. "I know you'll manage to get over it," he said. "Look at Faramir. He lost his whole family in the war but he's moving on."
"I get the point, Aragorn," Gimli said with steel in his voice.
Aragorn seemed to realize he had been pushing the dwarf too far. He nodded. "Well, I'm off to bed then," he said with a sigh. "Presuming I can sneak out." Gimli offered half a smile in response to the jest. "I'll see you in the morning?" Gimli nodded, and Aragorn left.
Gimli stared into the depths of his mug of ale, absently stroking his finger over a rough spot on the handle. He was just drunk enough to wonder morosely if Aragorn was right, if he was letting his love for Legolas misguide him.
But right or wrong, it doesn't matter, he realized with sudden clarity. I am a dwarf; I will never love another all my life. If there is the slightest possibility he is still alive somewhere, I owe it to him and to myself to find him. I will not rest until I know.
Gimli was startled out of his sudden firm resolve by a heavy body landing next to his on the bench--much heavier than Aragorn's. He looked up and found that one of the men who had been sitting nearby had come to join him. "Here," said the man without preamble, "I couldn't help overhearin' yer conversation with the King."
"I most sincerely believe that you could," Gimli rumbled. The man spoke with a harsh country accent and had the look of a thief about him. He reeked of alcohol and dirt.
"But I did here ye," the man insisted. "And I think I may know where yer friend is. What's it worth to you to find out?"