A/N: Here it is, the final chapter! My thanks to all readers for your criticism and encouragement for this tale! For my Potterverse readers, my next project is to finish International Magical Co-operation before July 21!
Chapter Five: Of a Great Friendship
Gimli had expected to find the elf returning to the halls now that his niece was under control, and when he spied the figure kneeling in the dirt of the gray, burnt patch of forest, he was not quite certain that it was his friend. For Legolas was even more filthy than he had been when the tree had fallen on them, and his stance was slumped in a manner that Gimli had never observed in him before.
Nevertheless, at the sound of the dwarf's voice, Legolas looked up and smiled. "Well met again, my friend."
He held out his hand, and Gimli walked over to take it, although it surprised him when the elf did not rise. "Not so much this time, I fear. I am deeply sorry for your family's troubles," Gimli told him.
Legolas closed his eyes and sighed. "You did all you could, Gimli. And I am grateful for the truth you brought, and the generosity of it, given the slight done to you."
"I've endured slights from elves before," he said mildly, and was gratified to see Legolas smile again, albeit sheepishly. "Think no more of me with regard to this incident. In so foul a mess as Lorben wrought, I can claim no pain to be avenged."
"Aye, there are enough thinking on vengeance," Legolas muttered.
"She returned to the halls without any struggle," Gimli said delicately, hoping to cheer him.
Legolas nodded. "She is restored to sense, although I cannot say she is restored to herself. I know not what my father and lord will decide in light of these developments. She is sick in heart and mind, yet she cannot be allowed to command the king's halls in this state." His face was bleak. "Would that I could help her."
"I'm a stranger to these halls but for you, elf, yet I would speak with resolution that you've already been of help." The elf winced at that and looked away. Gimli sighed. He despised knowing that these events that had brought his friend such pain had been brought about by dwarves. Although he knew Legolas held no blame for him for Silivren's shaky sanity and his people's losses, it cast a pall over their plans for friendship between their races. No amends could be made for all the deaths and sorrows that their people had caused each other, he was beginning to fear.
So many old wounds…
Still, there was at least one old debt that he could settle. He cleared his throat hesitantly. "Elf, I…I learnt something else when we questioned Lorben."
Legolas looked at him in alarm then. "What?"
"Naught else concerning the battle," Gimli hastened to assure him, and Legolas sighed in relief. Stupid. He shook his head at himself. "I know that your path crossed with Lorben's, many years ago."
A heavier sigh was his answer. "Aye, it did. Even as Galithil's crossed with your Sháin's, and Elunen's with…"
"Yes, that was the name." Legolas smiled sadly at him. "Fear not, Gimli, I harbor no grudge toward any of your people for the actions of the few—not anymore." He grimaced, as did the dwarf. "And the legacy of that meeting lingers fair in the minds of many, as Galithil's honor of your kinsman's gift should show."
"I am glad a fair gem may remind some of your people of us," said Gimli, kneeling before Legolas. With the elf seated low upon the ground thus, the two of them were, for once, eye to eye. "And another reason I have come here, my friend, is to bestow another gem to its rightful owner."
With that, Gimli removed the ring from his right hand, the black pearl winking darkly in the sunlight that filtered down through the smoky air, and held it out before him.
For a moment, Legolas did not move. Then, slowly, the elf raised his hand and took the ring, staring at it with a look of utter disbelief. His eyes raised from it to Gimli's, seeking, questioning…
"It was my father's gift to me, the day I was chosen to join the Fellowship," Gimli explained, answering the questions that his friend could not seem to find breath to ask. "Before that, it was gifted to my father from Dáin, in tribute for staying behind when so many left Erebor for Moria. The king told him that Naldin had brought it back from the first expedition. Naldin's father told us when we questioned Lorben how the black pearl came to be in their company's possession. I sought at once to return it to you. Had I known its history in Rivendell, however strange we were once to each other, I would have given it over then, without a thought."
The elf still said nothing. His gaze flitted down to the pearl in his hand, then back to Gimli's face, then to the pearl again, emotions more naked in his eyes than Gimli had ever imagined. Then Legolas closed his fist around the gem and pressed it to his forehead, shuddering hard and squeezing his eyes closed. It struck Gimli in a rush of dismay that his friend was weeping. He awkwardly put a hand on the elf's shoulder, and Legolas seized it with his free hand and wept still harder.
What signified this pearl? he wondered, but could not bring himself to ask. For he knew that Legolas would not fawn over any trinket, however fair or rare, for its own monetary worth. And it was clear that to the elf, the black pearl had been of great worth indeed. Knowing this sent anger bursting anew through Gimli toward Lorben, imagining Legolas's anguish when the pearl had been taken from him.
All at once, Legolas looked up, and through his tears attempted to offer the ring back to Gimli. "You need not make this as amends, Gimli. I would have you keep it—"
"Never," the dwarf snapped, and forced Legolas's fist closed around the ring and its treasure. "I'll hear none of it, elf. You'd not care for any bauble as you do for this, and one day I'll demand to know its story from you. But you were parted from it in dishonor by a dwarf, and no dwarf can ever wear it with honor."
No longer weeping, but his eyes still full, Legolas gave a soft laugh. "Oh, you are wrong in that, Gimli, son of Glóin. Entirely wrong. I fear it will be some time before I can speak its tale to you, but be assured, there would be no greater honor than for you to wear it." But he opened his fist and looked at it again, and Gimli firmly pushed his hand away.
"You would honor me more by accepting it, in that case. If not as proper recompense, then as a gift befitting our friendship."
Then to his surprised consternation, Gimli found himself seized by the elf in an embrace as fierce as any that the dwarf might share with one of his own kin. He hesitated, but then returned it, and found himself not as discomfited as he'd expected.
"Come, elf, what would your kin say if they saw you like this?"
Legolas laughed, but pulled away, wiping his eyes and only succeeding in smudging his dirty face. "My kin have seen me worse, dwarf." He opened his hand and looked at the pearl ring again, a look of wonder and wistful sorrow on his face. "I must tell you the story you ask for," he murmured. "And soon."
"Hold your peace if you wish. We've plenty of time," Gimli pointed out.
The elf eyed him. "To hear such words from a dwarf!"
But that old merriment was back in Legolas's eyes, and Gimli was too glad of it to be truly offended. Legolas went on, "I have told you before that you begin to sound like an elf!"
"And I'll certainly not bother cheering you up again, in that case!" Gimli retorted, but he could muster no gruffness to it. "After enough time with me, elf, you may find a liking for caves!"
The dubious look he got in return set them both laughing. But then Legolas turned serious, "I may rightly doubt that, my friend. Yet I fear I have thoughts just now that may be better suited for mortals." He looked down at the pearl ring in his hand, and Gimli saw the shadow of many sorrows and memories in his eyes, despite the soft smile.
The elf nodded. Gimli met his gaze, and Legolas smiled, serene again. In fact, it seemed to Gimli that his friend was now serene as he had not been since the earliest months when the Fellowship had begun to recognize the extent of Middle Earth's peril. Legolas explained, "I remind myself to honor every moment of every day I have in your company. As is fitting for the company of all great friends."
Two days later…
A company of Eryn Lasgalen's guards had assembled at the bridge at dawn, to escort Silivren, daughter of Berensul, and the Crown Prince and Princess of the realm from the wood, across the Misty Mountains to Imladris.
"Are you and Faron not returning to Imladris?" Legolas asked Galithil as he noted his friends' failure to join the group.
"In time, we shall return," Galithil said quietly, her eyes on the travelers. "But we thought it unwise to go with this party." Legolas sighed, knowing her reasoning and admitting it wise. "And after all our home has suffered, I wished to join in its defense until the kingdom is healed."
Legolas smiled and gripped her shoulder. "The kingdom is glad of your defense, kinswoman. I know the depth of your loyalty." Galithil smiled sadly as Faron took her free hand. Then she hastily stepped back and nodded to him. "My lord."
Turning toward the bridge, Legolas found the elven king joining them and bowed. "Father. Is all well?"
Thranduil nodded, and they stepped away from the others. "She comes directly with her parents. They will stay with her at least initially."
The day after the disastrous audience, the elven king had again addressed his granddaughter, but this time alone, in his study. Berensul and Eirien had been called to join them after a time, but Legolas knew naught of what had transpired. "There was no declaration made," he said delicately, half-hoping, half-fearing to hear Thranduil's decision.
"There shall be none," his father replied, watching the doors of the halls. None but those skilled at observing his moods would guess at Thranduil's sorrow. "She is ill enough; I dare not add to it the humiliation of publicly stripping her of rank."
Legolas was somewhat relieved, but knew that Silivren's conduct would not have gone entirely unpunished, so he waited for the king to continue.
"She will return from Imladris when Lord Elrond deems her ready and not before." Thranduil's mouth twisted slightly. "Its effect shall be the same: for that time, however long, she will have no authority in my halls. She goes to Elrond as a pupil."
"How long might she be gone?"
"I know not. Months. Years, perhaps. Until she is restored to herself. At that time, when she returns, I will determine whether she is fit to resume her position in the household."
Legolas nodded, feeling an ache within for all that had transpired. He noticed Gimli further along the riverbank, now speaking with Galithil and Faron, and one of the other warrior captains, Elunen. Elunen, one of the oldest warrioresses in Eryn Lasgalen, had been among the war company when they encountered dwarves in the Misty Mountains so many years before. Legolas recalled that she too had made a dwarf friend. No doubt she and Gimli were speaking of it. He fingered the silver chain now hanging around his neck.
Thranduil had also noticed the dwarf. "You might do well to tell your…friend to remain away for a short time." He gestured to the doors, from which Silivren was expected.
"He knows," said Legolas. "Galithil and Gimli will not be near."
The dwarf and the elf warrioress were true to the promise, and presently, Galithil glanced at the doors and spoke to Gimli. The dwarf nodded, and the small group went briskly down the riverbank until they were no longer within easy sight of the bridge and the departing elves.
The doors to the elven king's halls opened, and Berensul and Eirien came, with their daughter Silivren between them. Legolas watched her approach with great sorrow; she was calm and composed again, but there was no mistaking the shadow that hung over the elf maid. He stayed where he was as his brother's family made their formal farewells to Thranduil, then went to his niece's side as Silivren readied her horse.
Silivren stared at him for a moment, but said nothing, fidgeting with the horse's light pack. Legolas touched her face. "Your people will always look for your return, Silivren of Eryn Lasgalen."
She did not pull away, but the coldness in her eyes pained him as greatly as any wound he had ever suffered in battle. No longer meeting his eyes, she remarked, "I suppose the dwarf remains even as I am cast forth."
"Sili…" he whispered, unable to keep the plea from his voice. "You are not cast forth, nor shall you ever be. I shall look for your return as well."
"I saw your face when he came here again," his niece murmured, staring fixedly at her mount's back. "Your love is given to him as to any of your own people."
He seized her chin and forced her to face him, careful to shield onlookers from view with his back. The bitterness in her eyes was clear, but also the pain. He knew it was the latter that she wished to hide. Without allowing her to turn away again, he whispered fiercely, "My love for you, Niece, is without condition, and there is no fault you can commit that will have you named as anything but beloved in our family. Never forget that."
Her eyes suddenly brimmed, and she pulled away, leaning against the horse. He stroked her hair as she said shakily, "He did not disgrace me as I thought he would. But I do not want to go."
"I fear we have not the skills to heal what ails you," Legolas replied. "But you will not be alone in Imladris. It is your mother's home, after all, and remains a fair land. You will recover better there." She looked at him again, and he added, "We wish nothing for you but recovery."
"Can there be such a thing?" she whispered.
He took both of her hands. "There can be. That I promise you."
"Silivren. Legolas." Berensul looked back at them as he and Eirien mounted. "It is time."
Legolas kissed Silivren upon her brow, then embraced her tightly. "Remember that you remain beloved," he whispered.
She nodded, eyes downcast, and he assisted her onto her horse, although she had not needed such assistance in many years. But he had once done it often when she first learned to ride. She looked down at him then, and it seemed to him—perhaps just a product of imagination and hope—that some of the dark emotion had lifted from her. In time, perhaps, the sorrow and pain too would be gone again.
The elven king came back to them as Legolas bade farewell to his brother and sister in law, and Thranduil took Silivren's hand and kissed it. "Return to us ere long, Granddaughter. For the hearts of all shall call you back home."
With that, the elven king and Legolas stepped aside as the company rode through the burnt forest. Silivren looked back at them for some long moments, as they could see her clearly in the absence of the forest's growth. And yet, Legolas noticed that the ash and smoke had finally cleared, and although the stumps remained black and the ground scarred, the sun now reached the forest floor as it had not done for many years.
Thranduil remained at his youngest son's side until Silivren and her company had disappeared from their sight. As the other elves around them returned to their regular duties, Legolas sighed and closed his eyes. "I am glad of your mercy for her."
"My aim is to heal our people always, surely you know that." The elven king frowned at him. "In sending her to Imladris, it was necessary to confess that I know not what to do for her pain. Nor could we have her here in her state if you are determined to have a dwarven friend as a guest."
Legolas looked sharply at him. "These events were no fault of Gimli's in any fashion, my lord. He has been beyond the dictates honor and generosity, these past days. Our shared pains were no crime of his." Even as he spoke, he could see Galithil and Gimli returning from the river, obviously having been given the all-clear. Just the sight of the dwarf gladdened his weary heart. "I would have peace between my friends and my kindred."
But Thranduil frowned still more. "Yet your kindred have need of you now, Legolas. With the War ended, will you continue to give your efforts to men and to dwarves when here remain those who are not strangers?"
Legolas sighed, but smiled, fingering the chain at his neck again as Gimli approached. "You still mistake the matter, sire. The ones with whom I have fought and struggled have long not been strangers." He gave Thranduil a sly glance. "Nor shall he ever again be a guest in these halls."
Thranduil stiffened, but dared not respond as Gimli and Galithil reached them. Gimli gestured imperiously at Legolas's neck. "What've you done with it?"
Legolas grinned and pulled the chain free of his collar to show the ring where it hung. Galithil and Faron both gasped as they recognized the pearl, but Gimli huffed. "Granted it's too big for those elf fingers of yours, but dwarves can alter the size of a ring easily enough! Let me fit it to you!"
Pulling it back, Legolas firmly shook his head. "That you shall not, Gimli son of Glóin; it shall stay just as it was when it was given to you. Always." He smiled at Galithil and at Faron, whose eyes were full. "It has long been a token of many great friendships, and shall continue to be so forever. That I refuse to change it is but another token of the honor in which I shall always hold you…elvellon"
All activity in the vicinity ceased. Behind them, King Thranduil actually made a strangled noise, while Faron and Galithil first gaped, then smiled broadly.
Gimli stared at Legolas, having spent enough time among elves and elf-raised Rangers to be aware of the word's meaning. Lowering his voice, he took a step forward and muttered, "What did you say?"
Legolas did not lower his voice; he made certain that those about them could hear. This act needed only one witness, but Legolas meant to make certain that as many of his kin as possible would be so. "I said that I honor you. I said that you are elf-friend, and shall remain thus honored by all my people. And by myself above all." He knelt before the thunderstruck dwarf and smiled. "You have honored me with your faith and friendship in battle and in peace, Gimli, son of Glóin. You have honored the Lady Galadriel in word and deed to all, as well I know. Long have you been deserving to be named elvellon, and thus now at my word, you are Always shall be your right to travel in our lands and enter our halls. And none may ever take that right from you again."
Blinking rapidly, Gimli gripped the elf's shoulder without a word. From the edges of his vision, Legolas could see Galithil and Faron joining hands, with Elunen nodding beside them. He could sense his father's utter disbelief (and dismay) behind them, but cared little for it. Among his kindred, he detected frowns, confusion, even laughter, but also many smiles. In fact, far more smiles than he had expected.
Perhaps the future acceptance for this elvellonwould not be so difficult to obtain after all.
At length, Gimli spoke. "I'm no prince, Elf. But I am ambassador of the dwarves of Lonely Mountain and lord of the Glittering Caves, and as long as I hold those positions, you'll be welcome. I promise you that. Whenever you wish to come."
Sensing the implicit question, Legolas replied, "I should be very happy to go back with you to Erebor, Gimli."
The dwarf grinned. "Hope my people's hospitality can measure up to yours." Legolas almost winced, then realized Gimli was looking at Galithil. "You'll journey with me now, then?"
"Aye." Legolas straightened and dared a glance over his shoulder at his father, who by then looked utterly resigned. "We can ride, or walk if it pleases you."
"You, volunteering to decline a horse?" Gimli exclaimed.
Legolas laughed. "I am well-aware that it is yet a short journey on foot, and perhaps the extra time will be of use. After all, there remains still a fine tale that I have promised to tell you."
Final Author's Note: For those curious about the timeline, this story takes place in autumn after the end of the War of the Ring, Year 3019 of the Third Age (1419 Shire Reckoning.) My fic, Elven Song, takes place in late 3020 to early 3021, after Frodo has resigned office of Mayor but before he leaves Middle Earth. Silivren was allowed to return to Eryn Lasgalen shortly before the events of Elven Song, so she was in Imladris under Elrond's care for about a year. (Recall that Elrond arrives in Gondor near the end of Elven Song.) As for what happened when she got home and learned what had happened to her uncle in Gondor, well…that is fodder for another story!