Disclaimer: Middle-earth and its inhabitants belong to J.R.R Tolkien. This is for fun, no copyright infringement is intended.
According to Appendix B in "The Return of the King" King Elessar rides north in the year 1436 of Shire Reckoning, and meets his Hobbit friends at the Brandywine Bridge. Other friends have set out to follow but even with Sauron gone Middle-earth remains a sometimes dangerous place...
- Somewhere in Hollin
Rain was falling gently, shrouding the distant Misty Mountains from view and slowly but steadily making its way through the leaves of the trees surrounding the small clearing. It was a soft rain, neither warm nor cold, more a spray than a heavy downpour but all the more likely to soak any plant or animal or late traveller through and through. The light was fading, greying under the high but thick clouds while night was approaching swiftly.
Two animals were standing in the insufficient shelter of the trees, two horses without saddle or rein.
One was a grey young stallion, slowly turning white. His build a bit too light for the taste of most men but the fire of his spirit, burning visibly in his bright, dark eyes was more than compensation for what he lacked in height. Even now he could hardly stand still but moved restlessly back and forth, taking a few morsels of grass here, some there as if he could not decide what might please him more, always eager for new experiences. Shaking his wet mane that drops of water flew everywhere he playfully dug the heavily scented earth with his hooves.
The other was a sturdy pony, brown and black with a thick head. Although a stallion too this one seemed almost rooted to the earth, resting in itself. His dark nose calmly and patiently parted the long green grass to pick the tastiest pieces, not the least concerned about his slow process. If he moved it was but one calculated step at a time and always aiming to reach his goal with ease and leisure rather than excited rashness. Rain soaked his short summer fur and long tail but he bore it quietly, ignoring the inconvenience of water dripping from his belly and down to the ground.
Several trees away from the unlikely, yet perfectly content pair sat a second one, in the shelter of a high beech with a thick, wide crown.
One was an elf, fair beyond measure, leaning his back against the rough bark of the tree. His legs were pulled up slightly, a travelling cloak draped over and around his long, graceful limbs like a small tent. Keen eyes, old eyes were looking out into the gathering mist and rain. A white-handled knife was hanging from a low branch while a great unstrung bow and a quiver full of arrows were set against the trunk, put aside but within easy reach if its owner desired to take them up.
A heavy axe was propped upon a saddle beside the bow, its master the other part of the strange pair under the tree. Sturdy and bearded the dwarf sat between the parted legs of his fair companion, only his face visible above the tent the elf's cloak created. His back was resting against the elf's chest, his head lying just beneath his shoulder. Solemn, deep-set eyes were watching the approaching darkness that crept through the high trunks around them.
It was all silent in the wet forest. A silence filled with the gentle sound of rain, water dripping from swinging leaves, small animals bustling through the undergrowth and birds settling for the night. A twig broke every now and then under the hooves of horse or pony or the rope securing one of each animal's front leg to a picket might swish softly across wet grass while their jaws never stopped their regular, grinding movements.
"I would never have thought it'll end like this."
The dwarf's voice was calm, composed although a little rough as if it pained him to take enough breath to form the words. Against his deep rumble the elf's voice seemed even more fair, even more melodic than usual.
"Don't talk like that, Gimli. Dwarven hearts are strong."
A ghost of a smile flickered across Gimli's bearded face. Under the cover of the cloak his rough, work-worn hands touched the graceful arms that held him tightly, arms that had wielded bow and arrow so deathly only a few hours ago.
"Well said, Legolas. But we both know strength is sometimes not enough."
Legolas made no reply. Gimli's grip tightened a bit though it was a far cry from his usual crushing powers. A far cry from the mighty swings the axe had made earlier that day with its blade covered in blood.
"Elf," he said softly, "I am mortal. You know it is my fate to die one day."
"But not this day. Not this night." Wild, yet quiet resolve was in Legolas's words. "I will not accept it."
Gimli sighed then grimaced at the spasm of pain that shot through his body. Legolas's long-fingered hand pressed a little harder against the bandage wrapped around the Dwarf's broad chest as if he could take away the other one's suffering. The same long-fingered hand that had steadily guided the white-handled knife as it cut searchingly deeper into living flesh, bringing tears to both their eyes.
It was some time until either of them spoke again. Night had fallen nearly completely by now, the horses barely more than shadows in the dark. And once more it was Gimli who broke the silence.
"You accepted my death the moment we became friends, Legolas. We both accepted the possibility of the other one's death considering the circumstances. Why, we were about to leave the shelter of fair Lothlórien to depart for Mordor then we were following a pack of Orcs, three companions all alone against many foes. And we knew, we anticipated the battles ahead."
"Yet we survived," the elf answered firmly, "Helm's Deep, the Pelennor Fields, the Gates of Mordor. Although I will admit you gave me quite a fright during the battle of the Hornburg when you were suddenly gone, driven away from the stronghold and into the Glittering Caves. But we came through. We will now."
"Aye, those were battles to sing of for generations, weren't they?" Gimli smiled again then grew serious once more and his tone gentle. "I don't mind leaving like Middle-earth like this rather than dying slowly of old age and weakness. It is a good death for a warrior after all; I just didn't expect it to come so soon."
The murmur of the rain was soothing, calming.
"We promised Aragorn we would be present when he gives Samwise his gift," Legolas whispered finally.
"Aye, that we did." Gimli's hand still rested on that of his fair companion. "But not all promises can be kept. You know that."
The elf was silent.
"I will not say don't mourn, elf, because I know it would be against your nature. But I WILL say don't despair."
Legolas closed his eyes.
Gimli stared out into the night although his eyes could no longer penetrate the darkness. He could feel the first drops of water from the leaves above on his upturned face. A peace and quiet filled him as he had seldom experienced in his life and a lopsided smile tugged at the corner of his mouth at the thought that he would find it not in the beauty of a cave or in front of the anvil but in a forest or rather in the presence of one special elf.
"Will you sing for me, Legolas?"
The elf behind him drew a shuddering breath as he lifted his fair face, gazing upwards as if he could see the endless magnificence of the stars beyond the veil of clouds. And then he started to sing; gently, softly, his voice blending with the falling rain, dancing with it in its eternal circle.
The horse and pony lifted their heads as they heard the song, the birds in the trees sighed sadly as they wondered at its beauty while all the small and not so small creatures of the forest stopped what they were doing and listened, and even the trees seemed to fall silent as long as the silver voice of the immortal being mingled with the crystal melody of the rain.
Long sang Legolas. The old lays he had learned from his father's people, some of them composed in the splendour of Doriath others found under the green treetops of Eryn Galen, of Greenwood the Great, long before its name had been changed to Mirkwood, long before it had been renamed Eryn Lasgalen, the Wood of Greenleaves. Long he sang as he used to sing in the dark nights of the Fellowship, travelling south through this very lands, and when he finally fell silent again he still listened to the song of the rain and forest and remembered a time when he had found peace and contentment not under green leaves and not on the bank of a clear stream but in a glittering cave or rather in the presence of one special dwarf.
Pressing his hand more firmly over the burning heat of the gruesome wound where the arrow of the bandit had pierced his friend's chest so close, so dreadfully close to the heart he listened to Gimli's laboured breathing as the dwarf slept, his head rolled to the side. And concentrating on the slow but steady drumbeat under his palm he looked out again into the night.
"Dwarven hearts are strong," he whispered softly to the stars he could not see. "Dwarven hearts are strong."
And they were.