"...gems and crystals and veins of precious ore glint in the polished walls; and the light glows through folded marbles, shell-like, translucent as the living hands of Queen Galadriel." From Gimli's description of Aglarond, The Two Towers, III 8, The Road to Isengard

Bridges of Stone

Gimli stopped his steady trudge through the narrow tunnel and turned, raising his torch higher to better see the path behind him. Once again, Legolas had paused some yards back to peer closely at the stone. He had told the blasted elf to stay close. There were many tunnels to these caves, and he had no mind to waste time backtracking when Legolas got lost. Some time before, Gimli had found him gaping directly above himself into the darkness. What caught the elf's attention the dwarf could not guess, but Gimli was running out of patience for his leisurely pace. At this rate of travel, with the true sight still some way ahead, they would see it in a matter of years.

Once sure Legolas was indeed following him, Gimli continued, running his hand along the wall. He did not have such high expectations as to think the rock would be of interest to the elf, but that was all there was for the moment. Stone to their right, to their left, below their feet, and above their heads. He sighed with appreciation. It was comforting to be surrounded by solid, trustworthy rock. Comfort was likely not what Legolas felt, but he grew weary of trying to decipher the infuriating elf.

He had been truly excited to bring his friend to see the Glittering Caves, but while Legolas had readily agreed to the excursion, he had been quiet throughout their ride, rarely speaking except in response to Gimli. This contemplative mood baffled Gimli, and he soon became unsure of why he was so intent on showing this place to the elf. It was after all, made entirely of stone. Not a tree or leaf in sight. Not even his favored stars. Perhaps Legolas had submitted to this trek only to negotiate Gimli's agreement to go to Fangorn. It could be that Legolas was not interested in the cave at all.

Legolas's continued reticence began to irritate Gimli. Unable to carry on a one-sided conversation, he soon stopped trying, and left to his own thoughts, he began to question more than the wisdom of this journey. By the time they reached Helm's Deep, Gimli had nearly concluded that no elf and dwarf could form a lasting friendship. It was not in their nature, not after so many centuries of animosity.

He is, after all, an elf, Gimli thought. Strange, flighty creatures. I'll never understand them. What was I thinking? Bringing an elf to a cave! If he doesn't drive me mad, I'll – well, perhaps I'll show him the way out. Where is he now?

"Come, Legolas, I told you not to get lost."

"Yes, Gimli, I am right behind you."

Gimli suppressed a low growl and the urge to jump at the elf's apparently sudden proximity. Was it too much to ask that the elf make some noise once in while, so he knew he was there? In the dim light he was sure he could see Legolas smile. The arrogant – He cut off his thought abruptly and continued forward in silence.

Gimli was some distance ahead when he emerged into the main chamber, and much of his frustration dissipated at once. He smiled to see the wondrous sight of Aglarond once more, and he let go of any concerns for what Legolas would think or feel or whether he was lost somewhere. The beauty of this place was enough reason to clamber and squeeze through tunnel and stone. The shining walls and ceiling were like no other cave he had seen. This space was truly a magnificent work of nature in Middle-earth.

Gimli turned as Legolas appeared below a sea of stars revealed in no sky the elf had ever known. The dwarf watched as wonder grew in Legolas's face and the contradictions of youth and innocence in the ageless elf reminded Gimli of what had intrigued him about his friend in the first place.

Legolas slowed as he walked out into the cavernous space, standing entirely still for long moments. Gimli noticed then the elf's eyes. They always did have a shine to them he found hard to explain, but that glimmer seemed intensified now. He glanced up at the ceiling of the cavern just as Legolas was doing, taking in the minerals embedded in the rock and reflecting the torchlight he held. Then he realized that Legolas's eyes were reflecting the light coming off the veins of ore and crystal. It was as beautiful a sight as the gem-encrusted ceiling he had been so eager to share with his friend, and he had a sudden vision of Elves with gems for eyes. Did Elves see themselves this way? He thought to tell Legolas how his eyes looked under the glitter of the cave, but what words would he use? And how would he understand what he could not see? Besides, in trying to express such a strange thought, he might sound as flighty as an Elf. No, this was something he would keep to himself.

Finally, Legolas spoke, eyes still focused above. "I thought much during our journey to this place on what I might find. I took in all around me – tree and grass, brook and cloud – sights I have long treasured. I wondered how this sight would fare compared to those great gifts of Middle-earth. I must admit, dear Gimli, I greatly underestimated what gifts stone could offer."

So that was the reason for his silence! Confounded –

Suddenly, Gimli was brought out of his reverie by a loud joyful laugh. Legolas continued to look about the cavern, laughing as he turned this way and that. The blasted elf is laughing – oh, he is enjoying it. He is pleased with Aglarond! It was truly my fervent hope. This visit to the Cave was made all the more exceptional by a sound the dwarf was sure these stone walls had never heard: an elf's laughter. Gimli felt the last of his frustration melt away with that sound as it echoed off the cave's walls and he smiled with pride. Now he has gifted me with such a unique gift as I will find trouble repaying. Realization came over him then, and his musings of the past day were reduced to nothing. To think, I am friend of an Elf. An Elf! I enjoy his presence, his song, his laughter. Even more so because I brought forth this laughter – with rock! I, Gimli, son of Gloín, have taught an Elf to see beauty in stone. And I see beauty in him here as he laughs with joy. Perhaps it may be so with other Elves and Dwarves. For if we can learn beauty from each other, cannot the rest of our people?

Legolas began turning in circles while he looked about. He was still fascinated with the ceiling most of all, which looked like nothing less than a star-filled night's sky. His laughter escalated before reducing to giggles and soon he dropped himself to the ground, lying back to appreciate the cave.

But they are still the flightiest of creatures! Well, they are certainly not perfect. Why did I wonder at him today when all his actions are strange! True I will never understand him. But it does not diminish our friendship. And he is the finest friend a Dwarf – or any creature – could have.

Legolas sat up suddenly. "Gimli, do you understand? Do–"

"Yes, Legolas," he answered with a patient smile. "I understand." Does he not know his joy shines in his eyes?

"You must understand, Gimli…"

Of course, an Elf must speak even when words are not needed.

He continued from the floor, "There – there is beauty here. Here, in rock. I – I am an Elf! And I have found beauty in rock!" Gimli chuckled at the nonsense his usually eloquent friend was spouting. The smile eased from the elf's face then. "And you have taught me this, my friend."

Gimli's face slowly creased into a larger smile. "Yes, my friend, I did."

"I would, if I may, bring other Elves to see this beauty. And they will see it! And so, they will learn to see beauty in Dwarves, I think." He looked over to his friend. "We can do much for our people here."

"Yes, we can. And we will. Perhaps we may find a way to use these Glittering Caves to bring our people together." Gimli rested a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Are you ready to go then?"

Legolas smiled up at his friend knowingly. "I would stay a while longer, if you would."

Gimli nodded, and took a seat beside him, never revealing how the heart inside him was bursting with joy. He had not admitted to himself how he had hoped Legolas would want to stay, or how much he had hoped the elf would see the beauty of this place and know it for what it was. He looked about and suddenly the beauty of Galadriel came to his mind, as it often did. These gems might be deserving of her presence, perhaps even of her gift.

Suddenly, he was startled by a new sound. When he realized what it was, it was if the Lady herself had become more beautiful before his eyes. He could not have imagined such a thing possible, but as it continued, it seemed as natural as earth itself. For Legolas had begun to sing, and the echo of the tones reverberated and created a second song in perfect harmony with the first. Now, the beauty of the Caves was indeed perfect.

He looked upon his friend as he sang. Yes, there is beauty in the Elves, and not only the Lady of the Wood. The elf's song complemented the beauty of these caves, just as Gimli and Legolas complemented each other in a friendship no Dwarf or Elf had thought possible for centuries.

Perhaps this beauty, in stone, in elf, in the friendship between us, can be the very bridge between our people.