Author's Notes: My most profound thanks to Docmon for an invaluable beta edit. She is amazing.
Of Rowan and Ruin
On a clear spring day, one year after Gimli founded a dwarven colony in Aglarond, Legolas arrived bearing a gift.
"It is a rowan tree," he said, holding the sapling forth.
Blinking in the sunlight and leaning his back against the warm stone of the Deeping Wall, Gimli stared at what appeared to be a bundle of sticks with a few token leaves. "I thought your gardening efforts were confined to Ithilien and Minas Tirith," he said, making no effort to take the tree.
"This is not a gardening effort," Legolas answered. "This is a gesture of good will from the Elves of Ithilien. Among my people, there is a legend that tells of how Yavanna went forth when the world was yet barren and planted a rowan tree. And from that rowan, she culled the seeds that gave rise to all other plants and trees."
"All plants come from the rowan tree?" Gimli said, raising his brow and looking pointedly at first the spindly sapling and then the soft, willowy grass that lined the banks of the Deeping Stream. "Perhaps we have been too long in the sun."
"It is only a legend," Legolas said curtly, the muscles in his jaw bunching. "You have no need to give credence to it, and you have no need to accept the gift. But I would ask that you at least accept the thought behind the gift. For the Silvan Elves, the gift of a rowan tree is a symbol of hope and bounty. They are trees that survive many climes and many circumstances, and such would be my wish for the Dwarves."
Now feeling somewhat chagrined, Gimli reached out and gingerly took the sapling. "My apologies," he said. "I did not mean to give offense. And you have also my thanks, both for the gift and the thought." Looking down, he eyed the tree in his hands and wondered what he was supposed to do with it. It felt small and frail, as though one awkward movement might snap it in twain. A youth's hammer had more substance than this! At length, Gimli looked back to his elven friend and opted for honest confusion. "Legolas, I know nothing of caring for a tree."
"That is no concern," Legolas answered, seemingly mollified. "The tree will care for itself. I had thought to plant it above the Hornburg. There is a broad cutting in the rock above the Deep as well as a trail that runs up to it. When last I walked it, I spied a crevice on the ledge that had a goodly amount of soil. This rowan should do well there."
Gimli frowned. He knew the trail of which Legolas spoke. It snaked its way back and forth across the base of the mountain against which Helm's Deep had been built. From this mountain foundation rose three peaks, known to the Riders as the Thrihyrne, and the trail gouged a path upward toward their steep slopes, ending just below the gorge that separated the southernmost peak from the middle. Here, the trail became a narrow ledge that offered an unobstructed view of the Hornburg, the Hornrock, and the rich vale beyond that was the Deeping Coomb. Gimli had already selected this ledge as a good place for thought and solitude. He had not selected it as a good place for the beginnings of a forest. "Will it be able to take root there? And what of water?"
"It will gather what it needs from the mountain," Legolas assured him. "Snow and soil can both be found on those slopes, and I chose this particular rowan for its ability to thrive where others might falter."
"And what must I do to ensure its survival?" Gimli asked with no small amount of trepidation.
"Naught," Legolas said. "Simply enjoy it."
Gimli looked down again at the sapling in his hands. "You will not censure me if it comes to harm?"
"Only if you take your axe to it," Legolas said. He paused, then, his brow furrowing. "You are not planning to take your axe to it, are you?"
Such a question more than justified the mud that Gimli lobbed at Legolas's head.
Thus the tree was planted, and soon all of Helm's Deep knew of the rowan that sprouted from a crevice high above the Hornburg. When he could escape his duties, Gimli visited it often, marveling at the way its roots delved deep into the mountain side. No single crevice was large enough to provide all the support that the growing sapling might need, but the rowan did not draw strength from a single crevice. It anchored itself in a multitude of gaps and fissures, and after the span of a few years, the roots widened the gaps, allowing additional water and soil to succor the tree. And despite its rocky surroundings, the rowan began to flourish.
"You are quiet today," Gimli murmured, sitting beside the rowan tree and looking out over the hazy plains of the Riddermark. Dust and smoke tinged the air, signs that Rohan's harvest now drew to a close.
"Do you wish for conversation?" Legolas asked. He stood close enough to the edge of the rocky shelf to make Gimli uncomfortable, despite nearly four years of friendship in which he had come to know just how sure-footed his companion was.
"No," Gimli answered, "but I thought perhaps that you did."
Legolas turned toward Gimli, his eyes questioning. "May I ask what prompted that conclusion?"
Gimli dusted off his pants and stood, absently fingering a limb of the rowan tree as he did so. "Because you have no other business here in Aglarond. There are no matters of trade or politics for us to discuss. Indeed, the only matters we have discussed are the canyon winds and Rohan's harvest."
"Perhaps I find the canyon winds refreshing."
"And perhaps you might find similar canyon winds at the feet of the Ephel Duath."
The Elf's eyes narrowed. "Very well, then. I came for the pleasure of your company. I cannot now fathom what prompted me to do such a thing."
But Gimli refused to be baited and instead turned his eyes to the sprawling grasslands beyond Helm's Deep, his heart heavy. "Why did you not go with them?"
"Of whom do you speak?" Legolas asked, but there was a sudden catch in his voice.
"Frodo," Gimli answered, his own voice dropping to a low murmur. "Gandalf. Elrond. The Lady Galadriel. Did they not ask if you wished to accompany them?"
A heavy silence descended during which Legolas folded his arms tightly across his chest and turned away. Gimli did not press him, partly because he did not understand this strange affliction, partly because he had not the faintest idea of how to respond to it, and partly because he was not sure he even wanted an answer. Word had come a month ago that the Ring-bearer had sailed, leaving Middle-earth forever, and Gimli felt a keen sense of loss at the thought that he would never see Frodo again. Gandalf, too, had left them, along with many Elves that Gimli had come to know and respect. He could only thank Mahal that Legolas had not been among them, but the cause of his gratitude was also the cause of his confusion. Legolas had professed his Sea-longing countless times, yet still he lingered. Why?
"They asked," Legolas said at length, his words slow and quiet, "and I considered. But though the Sea calls, there are others here with louder voices. I cannot abandon them. Nor can I abandon the settlement I have begun in Ithilien. Not now. Such an act would betray the trust of those who followed me. But perhaps most compelling of all my reasons," he added, turning back to Gimli with a twinkle in his eyes, "are a handful of mortals—in particular, a certain Dwarf—who would surely come to grief without me."
Inwardly, Gimli felt as though he had just uncovered a rich vein of mithril, but outwardly, he schooled his face into a look of indignation. "We would come to grief without you, would we? Perhaps I should remind a certain Elf of the grief he caused when he asked a certain Dwarf to join him last year in searching the Dead Marshes for orcs. And perhaps I should also remind him of how he still owes me a pair of boots!"
Legolas laughed, and some of the shadows faded from his eyes. "Then allow me to remind you of how I saved your axe from the quagmire at the expense of my quiver."
"As the entire disaster was of your own making, saving my axe does not annul your debt to my feet," Gimli returned.
The Elf smiled and shook his head. "I will see what can be done," he answered, which meant that he would forget about it by the next day. Elves were like that, but at the moment, Gimli was content with the fact that Legolas had not sailed and that there would be a next day.
He leaned backed against the mountainside, ducking as the rowan tree caught on his hair and beard. "Your gift is doing well," he observed, batting thin branches away.
"So, too, are your people," Legolas said. "Their numbers swell. I am surprised you convinced so many of them to come. It was my understanding that Dwarves are reluctant to create new homes."
"We are. The call of heritage holds us close to our ancient strongholds. But as you have already observed, sometimes there are stronger voices."
"And Aglarond is one such voice?"
"Perhaps," Gimli mused. "Or perhaps there are those who would see us thrive one last time ere we are worn away."
Years passed, and the rowan grew, sending forth many branches as its roots continued to dig deep into the mountain. In the spring, its flowers were as tiny snowflakes bobbing gently above the Hornburg, and in the fall, its leaves gleamed golden as they danced and twisted in the wind. For Gimli, the tree became a sanctuary of sorts. Even if he had not the time for the steep trek up toward the Thrihyrne, he could still look up and see the lone rowan. All in Helm's Deep could, and all drew strength from the tree that clung to the mountain. Even the winter storms could not harm it, for it was both sheltered and rooted by rock. And as the tree grew, so grew the dwarven colony of Aglarond.
"Your people are busy," Legolas remarked, watching the wains exit the gates of Helm's Deep and descend down into the Deeping Coomb. His golden hair gleamed in the sunlight, and his breath came in misty puffs as the chill of the spring morning fought the warming of the day.
"As I should be," Gimli said, making no effort to be subtle about wanting to return to his duties. He was still uncertain as to how Legolas had persuaded him to climb the trail to the rowan tree. He had far too much to do. Aragorn had requested the aid of many dwarven craftsmen in an attempt to restore Osgiliath, and their absence was making it difficult to meet the trade expectations of Meduseld, Minas Tirith, Belfalas, Lebennin, Dale, Erebor, the Shire, and even parts of Rhûn and Harad. The departing wagons were bound for Dol Amroth, some of their contents having been completed only late the previous evening thanks to the efforts of frantic smiths in the forges. The wains would arrive several days late, which was more than could be said for the shipments bound for the Iron Hills. Those wains were not yet assembled, and they should have started north a week ago. If only Gimli had returned from the Lonely Mountain sooner…
If only he could put to rest the memories of his father's death…
"Were I to allow you to be as busy as you feel you should be, then I would see nothing of you and my visit here would be wasted," Legolas said, neatly breaking into Gimli's thoughts. "Moreover, it is tradition that we visit the rowan."
Gimli sighed and looked at the tree, knowing he was proving to be an ill host but having neither the time nor the energy to apologize for it. His recent trip to the Lonely Mountain weighed heavily upon him, and when he had naught to distract his mind, his thoughts wandered back to Erebor where his father now lay entombed in the Hall of Durin's Kin. He had stood vigil over the departed for as long as his responsibilities would permit, and then he had all but fled, hurrying back to Aglarond before grief could overtake him completely. "Is our business here concluded?" he asked. "I have much yet to accomplish, and the morning wanes."
"The morning has barely begun, and your obligations can wait. I will not allow haste to cheapen our tradition of visiting the rowan."
"Sometimes tradition must give way to obligation," Gimli said, looking pointedly at the trail that would return them to Helm's Deep. But the moment he finished speaking, a strange feeling of uncertainty arose. Blinking at this sudden shift in mood, Gimli turned back to Legolas and immediately found the source of the change. Legolas's face might have been chiseled from stone, but his eyes flickered in a way that Gimli had come to recognize as unease. "Legolas?" Gimli questioned, frowning.
The Elf pressed his lips together in a thin line. "You speak of tradition and obligation," he said, and his voice seemed strained. "That is, in fact, why I have come."
Suddenly suspicious, Gimli studied Legolas carefully. "I thought you came as part of Eowyn's retinue."
"Her desire to see her brother provided an opportunity I could not overlook," Legolas said. "It was an easy thing to offer my company on the journey, especially since Faramir was needed in Osgiliath and could not accompany her himself. But had Eowyn not wished to journey to Rohan, I would have come alone. For your welfare, I could do no less."
Over the years, Gimli had learned that the amount of time it took Legolas to state his purpose was directly related to how unsettling that purpose was. This knowledge, coupled with the fact that Legolas looked decidedly anxious, informed Gimli that if he wanted to resume his responsibilities in the near future, he would have to force Legolas to come to the point. "Then if it is not for Eowyn, why are you here? And do not say it is simply to visit me! There is more to this than that."
Doubt flooded the Elf's face. "You have not yet guessed? I know somewhat of dwarven tradition in these matters, but…" He trailed off, his jaw tight.
"Of what dwarven tradition do you speak, and in what matters?" Gimli demanded, but his heart had begun to pound within his chest.
"Perhaps I am too bold in this," Legolas murmured, and he turned away from Gimli to cast his eyes outward over Rohan. "I thought that with your mother in the Lonely Mountain, you might wish for… No," he said, shaking his head sharply and making as though to leave. "I presume overmuch. My apologies. It was not my intention to—"
"Hold," Gimli whispered, closing his eyes against a sudden flood of tears. "You have yet to answer me. Of what dwarven tradition do you speak?"
Silence hung heavy in the air, as dauntless and imposing as the mountains, and then in a voice that sounded as though it came from a great distance, Legolas answered, "I speak of those traditions regarding grief and mourning."
Gimli's throat seemed to close. It was with great effort that he choked out his next words. "And what do you know of such things?"
Again, Legolas paused before answering. "I know that when grieving, a Dwarf is succored by his brothers, sisters, parents, and children, if they are able. But if they are unable, or if the Dwarf finds himself without kin, then he grieves alone." The sound of supple leather moving upon rock came to Gimli's ears, a reminder that Legolas could never fully silence his footfalls upon stone. That he could not blend with the rock as he could with the forest. "Again, perhaps I am too bold," Legolas said, his voice closer now. "I am not family, and I am certainly no Dwarf. But if you would allow it, I would mourn Glóin with you."
A tentative hand came to rest upon Gimli's shoulder, and he could feel the tension that laced the grip. But the tension in Gimli's own body eased, and before he knew what he was doing, he reached up and clasped the Elf's hand tightly. It was true that Legolas was neither Dwarf nor kin, but in Gimli's mind, the Elf's friendship had earned him a privilege almost never granted to those outside the dwarven race. "My thanks," Gimli whispered, and his voice shook. "I would be greatly comforted."
In silence, Gimli had mourned Gandalf the Grey. In silence, he had mourned Boromir. In silence he had mourned Balin, Óin, and Ori. But in great, choking sobs, he mourned his father, and as he crumpled to the ground, Legolas knelt with him, holding him fast in arms that did not yield.
It was Otin, Gimli's chief architect, who first noticed the trickle of dirt streaming down the Thrihyrne. Gimli was not surprised; Otin seemed to constantly look for such things. Together, the two found the rowan tree to be responsible. Its roots had opened large cracks in the mountain, and parts of the rock were now breaking off and mixing with windblown soil. Additional wear from water and ice had created even more cracks to hold this soil, and Gimli's thoughts went back to the legend that Legolas had shared concerning the first rowan tree. By contrast, Otin wondered—rather loudly—if rock crumbling into soil was a good thing. Gimli smiled at him and pointed out that soil could bring forth life. Otin answered with dark mutterings about stability and support, but said little else.
Climbing the rowan trail after sundown while inebriated was not the wisest thing Gimli had ever done. Some part of him recognized this, but this same part also recognized that the rest of Gimli would not realize his predicament until the following morning when he would be faced with both a downward climb and a pounding headache. So this small part of him kept quiet and watched with bemusement as the world spun away in dizzying but pleasant circles.
"To the lances of Rohan and the strength of the Dwarves!" Legolas cried, raising the wineskin that he had spirited away from the festivities.
Gimli grinned and raised his own stolen flagon of ale. "To the swords of Gondor and the bows of the Elves!" he returned.
They both drank deeply, and below them, the singing and merriment of Helm's Deep rang throughout the canyons. The Westfold was safe again from the threat of a Dunland invasion and probably would be for many years given Dunland's grievous losses in the battles against Rohan and Aglarond. The added force of an elven and mannish contingent from Gondor only served to strengthen the message that Dunland's raiding would not be tolerated.
"We should have done this long ago," Gimli mused, staring into his ale.
Legolas blinked at him. "We did. It has been nigh unto thirty years since we planted the rowan, and we have often climbed to this ledge since then."
"No! I meant Dunland. We should not have waited so long to attack."
"Their raiding was hard to discern," Legolas pointed out. "It required the bulk of the past year to prove that it was indeed Dunland who was responsible and not brigands in the hills."
Gimli grunted, feeling a bit too drunk to argue. Instead, he moved toward the edge of the rocky shelf and looked down upon Helm's Deep, smiling at the lights and the music. "A dance is underway," he observed.
Legolas joined him on the ledge, his legs not as steady as usual. "And a stirring dance it is. I know of few others who can celebrate as the Rohirrim can."
"What of the Elves?"
"If you speak of the woodland folk, then they would be among the few," Legolas said airily.
Gimli raised his brow at that, placed the flagon against his lips, and took a long, noisy drink.
The Dwarf smiled and tottered away from the edge, moving toward the rowan tree. "How can the Elves claim to be such a festive folk if they cannot endure a little slurping?" he asked, sitting down and leaning against the tree's trunk.
"Because we do not include slurping in our festivities," Legolas answered, following Gimli and easing down next to him.
"And yet you claim there is just as much celebration," Gimli shook his head. "I do not believe this to be possible."
"Then I will have to educate you," Legolas said, taking a long—and silent—drink from his wineskin before tipping his head back against the rowan.
Gimli waited a moment. "I am not impressed," he said at length.
"I am not educating you now!" Legolas answered, his voice sleepy. "The grandeur of my people's celebrations might cast aspersions on the celebration now enjoyed by the Rohirrim."
"How very noble of you," Gimli said, doing his drunken best to make certain that there was plenty of sarcasm in his tone. They said nothing more for a time, drinking occasionally and listening to the sounds of laughter and joy drifting up from the party below. The voices of Men, Elves, and Dwarves could all be heard, and Gimli smiled at that until a strange and somewhat disturbing thought came to him. He frowned, struggling to sift this thought with a mind slowed by ale. "Legolas?"
"Why are we not down there with them?"
The Elf had closed his eyes, but he opened them now and his brow furrowed. "Do you wish to descend?"
Gimli considered the question. "No," he said, and some of his mind cleared as concern edged its way in. "Should I?"
Legolas shook his head. "I do not know."
"Do you wish to descend?"
Again, the Elf shook his head. "No. I am content here, and the wind is crisp tonight. It is enough."
They were silent after that, each lost in thought. Gimli felt that there was some significance to the fact that they had abandoned the party in favor of their ledge beneath the rowan tree, but his sluggish mind could not forge an answer to the puzzle. Eventually, his eyes closed and he began to doze. Strong canyon winds were beginning to blow, and the rustling of the rowan tree lulled him further. Then another voice joined the sound of wind and rowan, and Gimli slipped further away as Legolas began to sing a low, whispering song.
But just before dreams overtook him completely, a part of Gimli's mind translated some of the elven song and came up with the word for "Sea."
Not many years after noting the trickle of dirt, Otin noted that the tree seemed to be knotting and twisting in a strange fashion. Once this was brought to his attention, Gimli marveled that neither he nor Legolas had seen it earlier. It was a slow process, but its effects were beginning to show in the distortion of branches and the tight curl of creeping roots. The clefts in the rock made by those roots grew too wide to hold the dirt that collected around the tree, and the trickle down the mountainside grew larger. When Legolas next came to visit, Gimli showed him the problem, but the Elf had no solution. He merely stated that he had not expected the tree to grow so large so quickly and that he hoped it would be able to withstand its own strength. Gimli hoped so, also, for he had begun to sense that the rock around the rowan was becoming unstable.
A Dwarf's two hundredth birthday was a day of great rejoicing. It marked the Dwarf's advancement to the status of an Elder, a rank traditionally entitled to respect, renown, and a theoretical absence of criticism from younger Dwarves. That last benefit was not always realized; Gimli himself had often questioned the Elders when it came to various political matters, and given his friendship with a certain Elf, he had no doubt but what he would receive similar treatment from the growing number of more suspiciously minded youth.
But that did not mean that his two hundredth year mark would be anything less than a spectacular event. Pippin, one of many visitors who joined Gimli for the occasion, termed it a "party of special magnificence that dwarfed"—said with a cheeky grin that drew a groan from Merry—"even Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday." Which was high praise coming from a Hobbit, though in truth, Gimli himself was impressed: Cooks throughout the Westfold had turned out a feast the likes of which satisfied even Shire appetites. Guests had arrived from across Middle-earth and filled Helm's Deep to the point where additional lodging was set up in the Deeping Coomb. And the Dwarves had demonstrated the fruits of their efforts to understand Orthanc Fire, putting together a fireworks display that might have amazed even Gandalf.
Yet for all its splendor and all its excitement, Gimli could not quite shake the feeling that something was…wrong.
He said nothing about this strange feeling, though, and went about the business of having an extravagant birthday. Music, dancing, and feasting lasted all day and well into the night. Rosie and Sam were among the many who simply fell asleep at their tables. Aragorn and Eldarion were among the few who managed to stumble off to their quarters before succumbing to exhaustion. But as for Gimli, he found himself increasingly unsettled, and sleep was far from his mind.
"Still awake?" a drunken voice demanded. "We thought you had taken yourself to bed hours ago!"
"And miss my own celebration, Otin?" Gimli answered, clapping his friend on the shoulder. "Never! But perhaps you should take your own counsel. You do not look as though you could tunnel your way out of sand."
"Nonsense," Otin huffed. "But it was not counsel I offered. It was an observation. We have missed you at the tables. Dwalin rolled out several more barrels of drink!"
"And how many of you should I expect to see before the noon hour tomorrow?" Gimli wondered.
Otin grinned. "It may be a quiet morning. But come! There is still drink left, and some of our kindred are gathering for tales."
"In a moment, perhaps," Gimli said, looking around at the many tables arrayed behind the Deeping Wall. "Have you seen Legolas? I thought he had come down to the courtyard, but perhaps I was mistaken."
A look that might have been disapproval crossed Otin's face, but it was quickly hidden. "I saw him not long ago. He told me that he was climbing the trail to the tree."
Gimli nodded, thinking he should have expected no less. There had probably been too much slurping in the Hornburg for Legolas's tastes. "Did he say anything else?"
This time, Otin's expression reflected confusion. "Yes. He said that the wind is crisp tonight." Otin made a show of looking at the banners and pennants atop the walls, all of which hung motionless. "Elven nonsense, I thought it."
But Gimli closed his eyes at the words and groaned. "Elven nonsense, indeed," he sighed, "but not of the kind you think." And with that, he turned away, heading for the mountain trail.
"Gimli?" Otin called after him. "Will you not join us?"
"Perhaps another time," Gimli answered, and then he put aside all thoughts of celebration in order to concentrate on the matter at hand. His feeling that something was wrong suddenly made sense.
The wind is crisp tonight.
It had taken Gimli some time to recognize, but after many years of watching and listening, he had learned that when Legolas felt the pull of the Sea, he frequently spoke of the wind. He did this most often when he did not wish to burden others with his Sea-longing, and those times when he was least subtle—such as when he referred to an absent wind—were those times when he felt the longing most keenly. Gimli still did not understand this strange affliction, but at least now, he knew how to combat it.
Arriving at the top of the trail and pausing a moment to catch his breath, Gimli's sharp eyes searched the darkness and quickly spied the shadow of a figure seated beneath the rowan. "Legolas," he greeted.
"I did not expect to see you here," the Elf said, and his tone was distant.
"As an Elder Dwarf, I am allowed to be unexpected," Gimli answered. He moved toward the Elf and ducked beneath the rowan's lower branches, nudging Legolas aside so that he could sit with his back against the trunk of the tree.
"It is peaceful here," Legolas observed.
Gimli had been wracking his brain for a good distraction from the Sea-longing, and seeing an opportunity in these words, he gave an indignant sniff and said, "By which you mean that my celebration is not a peaceful affair?"
His tactic worked well, surprising a laugh out of Legolas. "Peaceful? Most assuredly not! Indeed, I recant every word I ever said in praise of the Rohirrim's ability to celebrate, or even my own people's. This gathering of yours puts all other gatherings to shame. I fear it will be months ere the good people of the Westfold Vale recover from this event!"
"Months?" Gimli echoed, deciding to take the distraction one step further. "Lothíriel felt they would need only a week."
Legolas laughed again. "Lothíriel sought her bed earlier than did many others. She did not see Eomer and Elfwine engaging in a contest of drinks. Nor did she see the rest of Helm's Deep joining in."
Now it was Gimli's turn to laugh. "Otin believes that only a few will see the morning sun. The rest will wake to find it already in the western sky."
"I do not doubt it," Legolas said. There was a pause and then, "He asked after you."
Gimli blinked. "Who?"
Gimli's brow furrowed. "I spoke with him just ere I found you. He said nothing of needing me."
Legolas turned his head, and beneath the glow of starlight, his eyes gleamed. "Then what did he say?"
"He asked if I wished to join him for tales."
"That, my friend, was why he wished to speak to you."
Wondering if he had indulged in too much drink to follow this conversation, Gimli rubbed his temples. "He needed me to join him in listening to tales?"
The Elf hesitated. "No. Say, rather, that he wished for you to join your kindred. Gimli…" Legolas trailed off, looking unsure of his next words. "Not all of your people respect the keenness of my ears, and I have heard murmurs this night. Murmurs that you spend more time with your guests than you do with your people."
Gimli frowned at that and immediately began to deny the accusation. A Dwarf's two hundredth birthday was, after all, very much a matter of his status amongst his kindred. But then he stopped, thinking through the day's events, and much to his surprise, he found he could not refute the murmurs. They were true. They were true, and he had not realized it. Nor had he recognized the strange looks this had prompted from the other Dwarves. Perhaps there was more to his sense that something was wrong than just an Elf feeling the call of the Sea.
"My apologies," Legolas murmured. "I did not wish to burden you with insult."
"You did not," Gimli said, wondering how he could have acted so during such a momentous step in a Dwarf's life. And yet, how could he have acted otherwise? His ties to friends among his kindred were no longer as strong as his ties to friends among Elves, Men, and Hobbits. And in the case of one particular tie, whose eyes seemed to be growing distant yet again… "Legolas!"
The Elf shook his head sharply. "Again, my apologies. I fear I am poor company. The wind…" He stopped, as though suddenly remembering that Gimli now understood.
"I know," Gimli sighed. "The wind is crisp tonight."
"Yes," Legolas whispered.
There could be only one response to that, and as silence fell between them, Gimli began to hum. It was an old dwarven tune that spoke of earth and deeps. Of foundations and heritage and all the things to which Dwarves clung fast. In this, at least, Gimli still followed his people's traditions. He still knew their songs, for he sung them frequently. The irony was that Legolas also knew the dwarven songs, for he was the one to whom Gimli most often sang. Gimli's kindred feared that that his friendships outside the dwarven realms were enticing him to leave behind the traditions and legacy that bolstered dwarven hearts, but it was Legolas who forced him to remember his heritage. For it was this heritage from which Legolas drew strength to deny the Sea-longing.
And as he continued to hum, Gimli heard the Elf's light tenor join in, adding a lilting counterpoint to the music of rock and stone.
During the early years of King Elfwine's reign, the ledge beneath the rowan tree collapsed. This time, Gimli did not need Otin to alert him to the situation, for Gimli had been standing on the ledge when it gave way. Only by catching hold of the roots that now extended out of the rock did Gimli prevent a fall that would have ended his life. When he was finally pulled to safety, Otin pointed out that he had warned Gimli of impending instability. Gimli said nothing, for he had also been aware of the cracks growing within the rock. He had simply hoped, as Legolas had hoped, that it would be able to withstand its own strength and weight.
It had not.
"What compelled you to step out onto that…I do not even know if it can still be called a ledge!" Legolas exclaimed, his voice laced with anger.
Refusing to be intimidated, Gimli folded his arms and regarded the cliff beneath the rowan that at one point had been a rocky shelf. "It seemed safe enough at the time. And it could still be called a ledge when last I walked on it."
"It was nearly the last you walked on anything!"
"If I had known it was going to collapse, I—"
"You are a Dwarf!" Legolas interrupted heatedly. "Is it not in your nature to anticipate such a collapse?"
Gimli sighed. He had endured a very similar conversation with Otin, though Otin had not waited for Gimli to be pulled back onto safer ground before starting his lecture. While dangling from first the rowan and then a rope, Gimli had been forced to suffer through an enraged recitation of basic safety instructions so rudimentary they could be recited by every beardless youth from the Iron Hills to the Blue Mountains. "My mind was elsewhere that day," he told Legolas.
Unfortunately, the excuse bore as much weight with Legolas as it had with Otin. "You could have fallen to your death! If the roots you clung to had given way—"
"But they did not give way," Gimli pointed out, struggling to keep his voice calm in the face of the other's anger. "I am yet here. The tree is yet here. The only thing that seems to have suffered from the incident is the ledge itself, and that is no great loss. The view is as good from here as it was further on." The set of Legolas's jaw told Gimli that the Elf was still upset, but at least he was no longer shouting. That was progress. "So tell me of Dale's trade council," he said.
"There was much talk of trade," came the curt response.
Gimli sighed. "I am sorry I was on the ledge when it gave way. If it eases your mind, I cannot repeat my actions. There is no more ledge to stand upon." He watched Legolas closely as he spoke, and though the Elf's eyes were still hard, a smile seemed to twitch at the corners of his lips. Gimli took that as a good sign. "Now then," he continued, patting his pockets in the hopes of finding his pipe. "What else can you tell me of the trade council? Or is elven memory too burdened to remember such things?"
"There is naught wrong with my memory," Legolas muttered.
Gimli raised his brow at that. "No? Who was it that suffered a sudden fit of forgetfulness when Thranduil demanded to know why there seemed to be a barrel of Dorwinion missing from the last trade council?"
The anger faded from Legolas's face, and his smile grew as he shook his head. "You were missed, my friend."
"I anticipated as much," Gimli said loftily, earning himself an exasperated look. "But that only tells me what you and others missed. I would know what I missed."
"You apparently did not miss much in the way of excitement, for you were quite adept at making your own," Legolas said, looking at the remnants of the rocky ledge.
"I have admitted my foolishness already!" Gimli said, finding his pipe and moving on to search for Longbottom Leaf. "Now tell me of the council!"
"Surely your merchants reported their dealings."
"And that is all they reported. I would hear what arrangements others negotiated. In particular, I would hear what concessions Thranduil made so as to ensure a steady supply of Dorwinion's wine."
Legolas laughed. "Dorwinion's new trade minister is well aware of how much Greenwood enjoys that wine. The concessions were costly." He paused, and his head canted to one side. "I propose an exchange."
"I thought our exchanges were dealt with at the council," Gimli said absently, wondering if he had left his pipe-weed in his other belt pouch.
"Even so, I would add one more: I will give you a full accounting of the trade council in Dale if you give me the true reason for your absence."
Gimli froze, his quest for pipe-weed forgotten. "Did I not send a missive explaining my absence?" he asked, not daring to meet the Elf's eyes.
"Your chief merchant explained that you were needed here."
"And so I was."
Gimli twisted the empty pipe in his hands. "There was a mistake involving the gate that Elfwine commissioned. I was needed to speedily make other arrangements."
"And Otin could not have handled these other arrangements?"
"It was swifter and easier if we both did."
The feel of a penetrating elven stare seared its way into Gimli's mind, pulling his eyes upward until they were seized by an iron gaze that refused to release its prey. "The true reason, Gimli," Legolas said, his voice low and commanding. "Why did you not come to Dale?"
Gimli's jaw tightened, and for a moment, he considered insisting that Meduseld's gate was the only obstacle. But Legolas was convinced otherwise, and Legolas was probably one of the few who would understand the true reason. Unfortunately, a significant portion of that understanding would be due to the fact that Legolas was part of that reason.
"Would it aid your honesty to know that your dwarven merchants are not as careful in their speech as you might want them to be? And that they still do not respect the keenness of my ears?"
The words were softly spoken, but beneath them, the tone was laced with steel. With effort, Gimli broke away from Legolas's gaze and closed his eyes. "How much do you know already?"
"I know that your traders were able to negotiate better prices from the Lonely Mountain this year. I know that the same holds true for your arrangements with the Iron Hills. And I know that many Dwarves openly friendly to my own folk in Ithilien were absent from the council."
Gimli's jaw clenched, and one hand came up to rub his brow. "It was not my will to send such a delegation, but I have not the power I once did. Many of the younger merchants voted against me, and I could not gainsay their wishes. Nor could I oppose them in this. Not when they are right."
"About what are they right?"
"That if we wish to trade with our own people, we must be seen to favor them. The Dwarves are dwindling, Legolas. There are so few of us now. Some have even spoken of sealing our halls to all outsiders. It is felt that the world of Men erodes our heritage, and as our heritage erodes, so do we. Dwarves do not endure change easily, and there is now great suspicion amongst the younger generation. They cling to the old traditions. The old alliances. The old enemies."
"Is this also how you feel?"
Unable to read the tone in the other's voice, Gimli opened his eyes and sneaked a glance at Legolas. But the Elf was no longer watching him. Rather, his gaze had turned north and east, and he had a look about him that said his thoughts were flowing south along the rivers. "The Dwarves are not the people we once were," Gimli confessed softly. "This I know, and this I have known for many years. But I do not believe it to be the work of Men or Elves or any other creature that walks beneath the sun. Rather, I think our time nears its end."
"Then we are of an accord," Legolas murmured, "for I feel as you do. The Elves are both dwindling and fading, few in number and reluctant in spirit. And it is thought by some that avoiding the influence of Men might slow our decline. Had my father not requested my presence, I do not think my own advisors would have allowed me to attend the council." He was silent for a moment and then, almost as an afterthought, added, "There were some in Minas Tirith who were also against my going."
Gimli blinked at that. "Why?"
"I represent too many competing interests. Do I speak for Ithilien? And if so, do I speak for the Elves or for Faramir? Or perhaps, as a friend of the King, I speak for Gondor. Or for Greenwood. Or for Thranduil. Or even for you."
That sparked a bristle on Gimli's part. "You have never spoken for me!"
Legolas raised a brow. "We stand together on many disputed matters."
"Yes, on matters that are of mutual interest to both Ithilien and Aglarond!" Gimli returned heatedly.
"On some matters, yes. On others…" Legolas shook his head. "There are whisperings that perhaps you unduly influence me. That when I speak, I but convey the will of the Dwarves."
Gimli stared at him. "Have any of these whisperers been privy to one of our arguments?"
A smile ghosted across Legolas's face. "I can only assume that they have not. Nevertheless, they petitioned Aragorn to find some task that would keep me in Gondor. He refused them, but he is also aware of the dwindling Dwarves and fading Elves."
"And what has he to say on the matter?"
"He is undecided. There is strength in our unity, but there is merit in the argument that perhaps it would be easier if those attending future trade councils were truer representatives of their realms." Legolas shook his head, his face sober. "Many of my people are beginning to agree with this view. Some even believe that we should restrict our associations with Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits, and I fear there is little I can do to convince them otherwise. We are fading quickly, and as Imrahil was wont to say, one does not fight the tide."
"And if this tide should ask that you sever your ties with others altogether?" Gimli demanded, alarmed by both his friend's resignation and the reference to the Sea. "Would you seek to appease it in all things?"
"No," Legolas said softly, "I would not." His eyes darkened. "But my realm might."
Gimli felt his heart sink somewhere into his stomach, yet at the same time, his will hardened. "Then we must be stronger than our people," he vowed solemnly.
Legolas's expression seemed weary, and he looked at Gimli for a long moment before bending down and scooping up a handful of dirt that had once been rock. "Even strength cannot outlast time."
To that, Gimli had no answer.
The rowan continued to grow, but it was now a strange and gnarled thing. It clung to the mountain even as it destroyed the rock, and though the rock sought to provide it with soil, the flow of dirt down into Helm's Deep ensured that the tree had less and less mountain to cling to. The rowan's years were coming to a close, and with despair, Gimli realized that there was naught he could do to save it.
Faramir's death came shortly after the aging King Elfwine asked for a new arrangement with regards to Ithilien's annual purchase of Rohirrim horses. The funeral brought the negotiations to a halt, but afterward, Legolas volunteered to travel to Rohan and renew the talks on Ithilien's behalf, thereby giving Elboron a chance to better acquaint himself with the duties charged to the Steward of Gondor. Gimli merely shook his head when this news reached him. Elboron knew very well what was expected of the Steward and had been taking on a fair number of the Steward's duties in recent years.
But Legolas's arrival in Rohan meant that Gimli did not have to seek him out in Ithilien, which made the Dwarf's task easier. Trusting Otin with the management of Aglarond, Gimli saddled a pony and went to Edoras. He said very little during his stay, but when the negotiations were concluded, he invited Legolas to return with him to Helm's Deep. They arrived late in the evening, and Legolas immediately went to his chambers, claiming weariness from a long journey. Gimli let him go, but after he retired to his own rooms, he kept watch by his windows until sometime in the early morning, he spied a glimmer of gold on the trail to the rowan tree.
The guards at Aglarond's entrance gave him a pair of sidelong looks as he left the caves, but Gimli did not pause to glare them into submission. Their skeptical eyes would watch him with or without his censure. Besides, he had not the time for such trivialities. A mournful Elf awaited his presence, and mournful Elves did not wait patiently.
He made no secret of his coming. It had been many years since he had last caught Legolas unawares. But though his footsteps were surely a loud plod of sturdy boots up a rocky incline, when he reached the top, Legolas gave no sign that he knew of Gimli's presence.
Gimli was not surprised. He had succored Legolas in grief before and knew the battle that lay before him. "Legolas," he said quietly.
The Elf stiffened but made no other movement. "I do not wish for company," he said, his voice filled with an ageless, elven fury that might cause even Aragorn to pause.
Fortunately, Gimli was not Aragorn. "Perhaps you do not wish for others' company," he said, "but I know that you wish for mine."
Legolas turned his head at that, his eyes dark and flinty. "You presume much."
"Nay, I do not. In fact, I presume very little. If you had no wish for my company, you would not have come to Rohan. You would not have come to Aglarond. And you would not have climbed the trail to the rowan," Gimli reasoned, forcing himself to meet Legolas's burning gaze. He had weathered his share of elven glares, but when Legolas mourned, it was as if all that Gimli had learned in enduring such looks was forgotten.
"I came to Rohan out of duty. I came to Aglarond at your request."
"And coming to the rowan tree?" Gimli asked.
The Elf's eyes narrowed. "I wished to hear the wind."
The words were spoken knowing that Gimli understood their significance. That he understood the reference to the Sea-longing and Legolas's growing desire to answer it. The words were intended to hurt, and they did. They hurt very much, but Gimli was anchored by the knowledge that the harder Legolas fought, the greater his need. "And what does the wind say to you?" he asked Legolas.
Something flickered in Legolas's stormy eyes. Something hurt and bewildered, and Gimli was reminded that Legolas did not understand death. At least, not death by aging. Death by battle was a much easier concept. Every Elf understood that, for elven history was riddled with it. Elves had fought terrible wars against armies of Balrogs, Dragons, Orcs, and even other Elves. The shadow of first Morgoth and then Sauron had ensured that the Elves had seen more death in battle than any other race, and they understood all too well the horrors that could be summoned by sword, spear, and grief. But mortal death was a puzzle. The idea that a body could simply waste away, struck down by nothing save the forces of time… To them, it was a maddening notion.
"Legolas?" Gimli prompted gently, knowing that the Elf was near his breaking point. "Faramir would not wish you to bear this alone."
Faramir's name seemed to spark something. There was a flash in the back of Legolas's eyes, and for a moment, it seemed as though all of Arda stood still. The wind faded. The stars dimmed. The night withdrew until a Dwarf and an Elf were all that remained. Then Legolas's breath caught. Cracks appeared in his hard gaze, and the cracks widened rapidly. Bursting forth from these cracks, the power of his grief overcame him, and he fell to his knees, trembling beneath its weight.
Gimli stood ready to catch him.
"They are leaving," Legolas hissed, his hands seizing Gimli's arms in a bruising grip. "All of them! The harder I grasp, the faster they slip away!"
Gimli shut his eyes and tightened his hold on Legolas, forcing himself to remain strong. Legolas was not the only one who mourned Faramir's passing, but for Legolas, the grief was harder. The bond between Steward and Elf had been strong. Together, they had pooled their efforts into making Ithilien a realm that was both forest and garden. Together, they had counseled. Together, they had traveled. And together, they had fought hard in Gondor's defense. Theirs was a friendship forged over long years by both fire and peace, and the sundering of this friendship now caused Legolas to shudder violently in Gimli's arms.
Yet even as Gimli struggled to bury his own grief, he could not help but remember other losses: Imrahil. Eowyn. Erkenbrand. Elfhelm. Lothíriel. Merry. Pippin. Samwise. Eomer…
That last had been particularly difficult, for Eomer and Gimli had crafted a friendship not unlike the one between Legolas and Faramir. Even now, Gimli had no clear memory of the dark days that followed Eomer's death. He knew only that in the end, Legolas had come. And much as he now sought to be strong for Legolas, Legolas had been strong for him. Legolas had carved for himself his own rules when it came to grief. Dwarves tended to suffer alone, but Legolas refused to allow that and had comforted and consoled Gimli for many days, at times offering words but more often offering his silent presence.
Gimli could do no less in return.
So they huddled together upon the mountainside, tears drying in the wind, and mourned for those whom they had loved as brothers. The night passed, morning came, and still they did not move. Legolas's grief ran deep, and his strength failed him. At length, exhausted and spent, he allowed Gimli to prop him against the mountainside, and then Gimli sat next to him, one hand upon Legolas's shoulder as the Dwarf both watched and kept watch while the sun rose high into the sky.
"My thanks, elvellon," Legolas whispered, his eyes closed and his face pale.
Gimli shifted, his thoughts troubled, and he wondered over something he wished to ask. It was not an easy question, but he and Legolas had endured too much for difficult matters to be silenced between them. And in spite of their recent loss—and also because of it—Gimli could not forbear. "You never answered me earlier," he said.
Legolas shifted slightly. "Regarding?"
"The wind. What does it say to you?"
At that, Legolas opened his eyes and looked at Gimli, his gaze weary and troubled. "Why do you ask me this?"
"Because I must," Gimli said, squeezing the Elf's shoulder. "It is stronger now, is it not? With every loss, the call becomes clearer. What does it say? What is it you hear?"
There was a long pause, and Legolas turned his face toward the sun. "The gulls," he finally murmured, apparently too tired to evade the Dwarf's question. "The surf. And…a home. A home where I would be welcomed."
Gimli looked away, his own eyes straying toward the entrance to Aglarond. And at long last, he felt he understood. Not completely. Not yet. But he had now an inkling of what the Sea-longing meant to Legolas. And when Legolas began to hum a song of the tide, Gimli hesitated only a moment before quietly joining in.
Neither Gimli nor Legolas was present for the tree's death. They had been called away by another's death and were with Aragorn as he marked his final days. As for the tree, it perished during a fierce storm amidst rain that pounded as hammers against the mountains and winds that threatened to tear the Deeping Coomb asunder. Lightning was the tree's bane, and with one terrible strike, it ripped the rowan loose and flung it to the base of the Thrihyrne in a cascade of gravel and rock. With the help of others, Otin took it and set it aside, guarding it so that one who did not know its history could not mistake it for firewood. When Gimli at last returned from Minas Tirith, Legolas accompanied him, leaving all governance of Ithilien to Elboron, and together Elf and Dwarf buried the rowan at the base of the mountains. Few marked the occasion, for few now marked the rowan's significance. But those who did remember sensed that a change had come…
"It was a good tree," Gimli said.
He and Legolas had climbed the trail to view the site where the rowan had once grown. A light rain was falling, but it was not heavy enough to make the journey dangerous, and Legolas felt that the storm would grow no worse.
The Elf stirred at his side. "A century ago, I would have laughed to hear you say that."
Gimli smiled. "A century ago, I would not have said it. But it was a good tree. It grew for many years and in a difficult place." His smile faded, and he tugged at his beard. "Will you return to Ithilien now?"
A pause. "Where else would I go?"
Gimli's jaw clenched. "I would rather learn that answer from you than from the wind."
The sound that came from Legolas was somewhere between a hiss and a sigh, barely audible over the drum of rain. "I do not wish to speak of the wind."
"Then it must be a strong wind."
A prickling sensation crept over Gimli's skin. Had he not recognized the source as elven anger, he might have feared a lightning strike. "Why do you press this?" Legolas asked, his voice low and ragged. "Can we not stand here and mourn Aragorn as we have mourned others? Why must we talk of the Sea?"
"We do not talk of the Sea," Gimli said, struggling to remain calm. "I talk of the Sea. You have said nothing of either the Sea or the wind for nearly forty years. The last you spoke of it was shortly after Faramir's death."
"And we must make this a tradition?" Legolas demanded, his eyes flashing. "When grief assails us, we must now talk of the Sea?"
"No! We must talk of the Sea because its call has become so loud that when you turn your mind to it, you are deaf to all else!"
"And you wish to subject me to that?" Both outrage and betrayal laced the Elf's voice, and his eyes were so dark that they were almost black. "Why? Why would you—"
"Because I have no wish to mourn you!" Gimli snapped, his patience gone. "Because I refuse to stand quietly by and watch as you destroy yourself in resisting what is no longer a choice!"
"And who are you to decide that this is no longer a choice?" Legolas returned, his hands balling into fists at his side. "If I continue to refuse the Sea's call, then it is very much a choice!"
"Why would you make such a choice?"
Legolas raised his brow, raindrops trickling down the sides of his face. "Have you an honest need to ask that question?"
Legolas uttered a sharp oath and looked away. "Over a century ago, I told you that there were a handful of mortals who would surely come to grief without me. Of those mortals, a certain Dwarf yet lives, and for him, I would tarry a while longer."
Had the situation not been so grim, Gimli would have smiled. "It is because of me that you tarry?"
The answer was quiet but firm. "Yes."
Gimli nodded, both pleased and grieved with himself. "Then in truth, you have no choice, for you have given the choice to me."
Legolas's head snapped back toward the Dwarf, water flying from his hair.
"You have just made me responsible for your presence in Middle-earth," Gimli continued before Legolas could say aught. "And if death or madness takes you because you do not sail, then the blame will rest upon my shoulders. Thus I claim the right to refuse that blame, and I say the time for choosing is past!"
"Speak, then!" Legolas challenged angrily. "What do you choose?"
Taking a deep breath, Gimli mustered all the resolve he could. His heart shattered and his voice cracked, but his words were filled with conviction. "You must depart," he answered. "You must heed the call."
Legolas's face went ashen. "Is that truly your wish?"
Gimli clung to his resolve tightly. "Yes. Consider what Aragorn's death is doing to you: You do not eat. You do not sleep. Your hands shake and your voices trembles. I doubt you could bring your bow to a full draw! And much of the time, it as though you do not even recognize where you are or how you came to be there! You lament the dwindling Elves but fail to see how your own spirit fades! Now consider how desperately you wish to give yourself to the Sea. Think you that you can endure its voice? In your condition? I know you, Legolas. I know your limits, and this is beyond them!"
The Elf's face became hard. "Then it seems you still have much to learn."
"I have learned enough!" Gimli shot back, refusing to be dissuaded. "I have learned the power of your grief. I have learned that every time a loved one dies, a part of you dies with them. I have learned that you now spend a good portion of your morning watching the gulls above Ithilien. I have learned that Ithilien itself dwindles. I have learned that the Sea whispers of home and welcome. I have learned that you once built a ship in Dol Amroth. And I have learned that this ship is yet in their harbor!"
Legolas took a step backwards. "How did you… Only Imrahil and the shipmasters knew of—"
"Prince Elphir once spoke of it to Eomer."
His gaze distant, Legolas smiled slightly. "I marvel that it still floats."
"They have cared for it and repaired it as needed," Gimli told him.
Blinking, the Elf shook his head, his eyes becoming sharp. "It matters not. That ship is too small to sail beyond the harbor. When I sail, I will need to build another ship."
"Then by all the forges of Mahal, build one!" Gimli roared. "This cannot continue, Legolas!"
"If I am the reason you tarry, then I can also be the reason you leave!"
"And I say to you that you must leave! I will not have your blood on my hands! You cannot ask that of me!"
"Durin's anvil, you are a stiff-necked elven fool to even think to ask that of me! It would be as if—"
Legolas's shout was so loud that it thundered through the rain and across the mountains, echoing between the canyon walls until all of Arda seemed to be calling the Dwarf's name. Both Legolas and Gimli froze, taken aback by the power of the Elf's outburst, and for a moment, neither could move. Legolas was the first to recover, and when he spoke, his voice was soft but unyielding. "Gimli. I will not leave you alone in Middle-earth."
Blast the Elf, could he not see the danger? Could he not see the risk to himself? Gimli's voice now took on a frantic edge. "I am hardly alone here! I have Aglarond. I have my family and my—"
"No, Gimli. You do not. There was a time years ago when this was true, but it is true no longer. You are a stranger to them."
Rage boiled through Gimli's blood. A stranger? To his own kin? But even as his anger surged, the cold voice of fact cooled his heart. Legolas was right. The Dwarves still listened to him, and to an extent, they still respected him. But they were a failing people, and in defiance of this, they were stepping away from the world around them. And in so doing, they were also stepping away from Gimli, for he could not follow. In a sense, both he and Legolas had become things of the past, clinging to a friendship that had outlived its time.
And with this realization came a solution. A strange and curious solution, the very thought of which made Gimli's stomach knot with uncertainty. But it was a solution, nonetheless, and Gimli was just desperate enough to suggest it. "Then take me with you."
Legolas blinked. "What?"
"Take me with you. If you will not depart while I remain, then so be it. Sail, and I will sail also."
"Frodo sailed," Gimli said, raising his voice over Legolas's objection. "Bilbo sailed. Sam sailed. Can I not do likewise?"
"No! Gimli, they were granted special leave to sail. They were Ring-bearers!"
"And I am an Elf-friend!"
"That is hardly…" Legolas trailed off, his jaw clenching. "The laws of the—"
"What have we to lose?" Gimli demanded. "What would be the consequence?"
"Death," Legolas snapped. "For both of us."
"And the consequence if we do not sail? Death. Again, for both of us. Legolas, you will not endure if you do not sail now. Either your body or your mind will fail. And I am mortal. In the end, there is nothing that will prevent my death. So let us challenge fate on our terms and put our trust in this one, last hope. A fool's hope, perhaps, but we have been fools before. What say you, Legolas? Shall we sail?"
Legolas stared at him. For a moment and an age, Legolas did nothing more than stare. Gimli held his peace, wrestling with the last remnants of his patience, for he knew that this was their only chance. And after many minutes, during which the only sounds were those of wind and rain, Legolas spoke. "This is your decision then? For you are right: The choice is partly yours. Is it indeed your earnest desire to leave these lands?"
Gimli returned the Elf's look steadily. "It is my earnest desire to journey at your side."
Another long moment passed, and then it was as though life returned to Legolas's eyes. The corners of his mouth twitched, and a weariness that had burdened him for years seemed to fall from his face. "It is enough," he said. "We shall sail. Whether we sail to life or ruin, I know not, but whatever our fate, we shall meet it together."
A weight lifted itself from Gimli's chest. "Together," he echoed, smiling. And nestled within the breeze, somewhere behind the patter of rain, Gimli fancied he heard the rustlings of a rowan tree.