Quick note concerning the revision: The crux of the story has not been altered, and a surprising amount of the dialogue survived the revision intact and unchanged. But I did add quite a bit of additional dialogue in places as well as correcting grammatical flaws and completely rewriting some of the more awkward bits. I think the setting is also a bit more fleshed out. Anyway, enjoy! Beyond This World Chapter 1: The Death of One
Quick note concerning the revision: The crux of the story has not been altered, and a surprising amount of the dialogue survived the revision intact and unchanged. But I did add quite a bit of additional dialogue in places as well as correcting grammatical flaws and completely rewriting some of the more awkward bits. I think the setting is also a bit more fleshed out. Anyway, enjoy!
Beyond This World
Chapter 1: The Death of One
Banishing the shadows of night with confidence and grace, the morning sun rose swiftly and vibrantly over the land. Grass greener than imagination could make it and fields of flowers rich in color and beauty rippled as light breezes whisked by, carrying on their wake the crisp, fresh smell of the sea. Far inland beyond the mountains, great bells began to chime, heralding the coming of the day and rousing the few that still slumbered. Forests of golden mallorn locked in a perpetual spring rustled with the sheer excitement of life, trembling with the glory and grandeur of Ilúvatar's song as it filled Arda. This paradise was the place known to mortals as the Undying Lands, home to the ageless kingdom of Valinor. It was a haven for the elves as they left Middle Earth, trusting in men to carry on the work they had begun. Since the fall of Númenor, only five mortals had beheld the eternal bliss that rested here, and one of those had been a horse. Merely a glimpse of this wondrous realm was a balm to the weary spirit, and after the defeat of Melkor and the rejection of Sauron's spirit, darkness had never tainted this sacred home.
There was one who watched the flowing sea, but he was oblivious to its beauty. He felt the whispering breezes, but he could not taste of their freshness. The fragrance of flowers did little to lift his sagging spirits, and even the rising sun seemed as a cloud of darkness to him. The bells that tolled in the great city of Valimar went unheard by this Sindarin elf, and as the sun surged over the horizon, he huddled within himself, haunted by a growing shadow of misery and grief that was able to eclipse even the glory of the morning.
Startled by his name, the elf looked up and sighed to see the speaker. Olórin he was known as here, but to Legolas, he would be forever Gandalf and Mithrandir. "I did not hear you approach," the archer said quietly.
"You have been aware of little these past few weeks," Gandalf remarked rather pointedly, moving to the elf's side and joining him in watching the sea. They stood together thus in silence for a minute or so, and then the Maia began to speak again when it became obvious that his comrade had no intention of offering conversation. "Very few of your kind look eastward, Legolas, yet without fail you have been here every morning for several weeks now. Why? What compels you to stand and watch the eastern sky?"
"I look for the sunrise," Legolas answered, his voice no louder than the breeze that played with errant strands of his golden hair.
"Do you indeed?" Gandalf asked. "I suppose that is well enough, but do you see the sunrise, I wonder, when it happens?"
There was yet another brief period of silence, and then Legolas dropped his head, unwilling to meet the other's eyes. "Nay," he murmured. "Nay, I do not see it. I fear that for me, all is dark. Even the sun is lost. I can find no hope in the dawning of the day."
"Elrond told me of his condition. He was here yesterday, was he not?"
"He was," Legolas said shortly, moving away. He did not want to endure this conversation, though he strongly suspected there was no way of avoiding it. Elrond would have spoken to Gandalf and Galadriel both, as well as anyone else that might have inquired. Legolas had actually been expecting someone to come by, but he had hoped that he would have been given more time to collect his scattered emotions before enduring company.
"Elrond reported that his condition worsens," Gandalf called after the elf. "He also reported that you suffer greatly, my friend. I have come to see if there is aught I can do."
"Is there aught that any can do?" Legolas asked bitterly, stopping and once more fixing his eyes eastward out to sea.
"You knew this day would come. You were warned against it."
"And of what use were those warnings?" the elf demanded, rounding on Gandalf with flashing eyes. "How could I have prepared myself against this? Know you of any way? Did not you experience similar feelings when Shadowfax was laid to rest? And did you not also know that his end was bound to come?" Legolas stopped suddenly as though realizing for the first time what he was saying. "I am sorry," he whispered. "I did not guard my tongue and I—"
"It is no matter," Gandalf interrupted gently, knowing all too well what the elf was experiencing. "You are angry and upset. I understand what you face and how at times you seem driven to madness." The wizard stopped, considering whether or not he should continue. "Did Elrond tell you how long?" he eventually asked.
"No sooner than tonight. No later than tomorrow."
The whispered words seemed to be torn from the very fabric of his languishing soul, and Gandalf winced to hear such grief from an elf. It was all the more stark and despairing when contrasted with the surrounding beauty of the Undying Lands, and the darkness that had drawn itself over Legolas now seemed to draw itself over Aman.
"At the moment he sleeps, else I would not be here. But I was in need of fresh air and room to think," Legolas continued with a mournful sigh. "His pain is little, but he is so weak. So very weak. I do not remember ever seeing him thus. It is as though he accepts what will…" The elf trailed off, unable to say more.
"Perhaps he does accept it," Gandalf said, hesitantly placing a hand on Legolas's shoulder. "And why not? It will come upon him sooner or later. Why not now? He has lived a long life. Longer, in fact, than any of his kindred save Durin the Deathless. He has seen sights never intended to be seen by mortal eyes. He has fought hard against the darkness and won great renown. And now at the end of his labors, he wishes to rest. Is that so difficult to understand?"
"Yes," the elf said stubbornly, almost childishly, and Gandalf was reminded of the young prince who had first set out from Rivendell in a Fellowship of nine so many years ago.
"He cannot live forever." It was not the kindest thing to say, but Legolas needed to hear it. Nay, not just hear it, for he has heard it already. He must understand it.
"I know," Legolas whispered. The elf's tone of voice said otherwise, but Gandalf didn't feel like repeating himself. He doubted it would do any good anyway. "I must return to him," the elf said, interrupting the Maia's thoughts. "He may be waking."
"And even if he is not, every moment you spend with him is now precious," Gandalf observed.
"Every moment I have ever spent with him is precious," Legolas answered sharply as he turned and walked away.
Watching the elf go, Gandalf could not help but wince. Legolas's feet dragged as he climbed the bluffs running along the shore and started for a small dwelling that rested among the foothills of the Pelori Mountains, the range that covered the eastern coast of Aman. With a shake of his head, the Maia sighed heavily. Four mortal deaths had darkened Valinor since the beginning of the Fourth Age. Bilbo had been the first, and years later he had been followed by Frodo and Sam, dying within an hour of one another. Shadowfax had joined them a month later, and now it appeared that the fifth mortal to behold the elven homelands since the fall of Númenor was about to pass away.
Deciding there was nothing else that could be done here, Gandalf turned and started back to Valimar. Gimli's impending death was affecting them all in some way or another, but the great majority of the elves were not overly concerned for the dwarf. His was the doom of all mortals, and most saw little reason for great grief when confronting the inevitable. Instead, much of Valinor had turned their anxiety toward Legolas. And well they might, for the elf was already mourning and Gimli yet lived. Storing every detail he had observed during his brief conversation with the elf, Gandalf attempted to construct what he would say to Elrond and Galadriel when they asked of Legolas and Gimli. It would not be a comforting report, and Gandalf tried to turn his thoughts another direction. But he could not. They seemed constantly drawn to a small dwelling at the base of the mountains where a mortal dwarf had lived in peace for nearly three hundred years not far from the forests where his best friend, an immortal elf, had dwelt in bliss with others of his Race. But it seemed that all those years were now coming to an abrupt and crashing end. With dark thoughts crowding his mind, Gandalf hastened his steps toward Valimar. There was much to be discussed.
Tired. So tired. Every movement was aching weariness. The pain was gone now, but the exhaustion persisted like a ruthless Warg on the trail of desired prey. Even the simple act of opening his eyes had become a cruel, arduous process. Better to lie still and wait for a time that was almost come. It was easier that way.
But then again, maybe he could open his eyes. Before long, he would be separated from Legolas, this time permanently. He could not part with his friend without looking upon him at least one last time. Besides, what was a bit of effort now compared to all he had endured in his life? Yes, he would converse with his friend. To do otherwise would be to betray their friendship, and he would sooner renounce his lineage than abandon Legolas when there remained left to them so little time.
His resolve set, the dwarf now summoned what waning energy remained in his weakening body and concentrated on opening his eyes. Moving at the pace of a hobbit that has eaten far too much, he eventually accomplished the feat and also managed to send the elf a reassuring smile. "Gimli, son of Glóin, at your service," he whispered with fading breath.
"Legolas, son of Thranduil, at the service of you and your family," Legolas responded with a sorrowful laugh. He reached for the dwarf's hand and took it in his own, marveling at the mortal process of aging that had stripped the proud dwarven warrior of all his strength. "I watched the sunrise this morning," he said quietly.
"And did you find new hope?" Gimli asked faintly, following what had now become a painfully familiar line of conversation.
"Not today," the elf murmured with a weary shake of his head. "Perhaps tomorrow."
The dwarf grunted, unable to raise the energy for a better response. Closing his eyes, he relaxed back into the silky sheets and warm blankets in which Legolas had cocooned him the night before, but he kept his hold on the prince's hand, letting him know that he was still conscious by maintaining a faint pressure. In his current condition, it was the best he could do for the elf.
"Gandalf joined me by the sea," Legolas continued, now practiced in the art of the monologue since Gimli rarely had the energy to speak with his friend. "Apparently Elrond told him of his visit yesterday. I suspect he has told most of Valimar by now, as well. Gandalf wondered if there was aught he could do. I wish I could have given him an answer, but I fear I cannot give what I do not have."
The elf paused and brushed back an errant strand of golden hair that dangled in his face. He had changed little over the years, and if anything was different, it was his eyes. They were older now, filled with wisdom and experience and touched with a deep sadness that comes only to elves who befriend too many mortals and are then forced to watch as those mortals eventually wither and die. But as far as physical appearances went, he was the same elf that had set out from Mirkwood on a trip to Rivendell, bearing tidings that Gollum had escaped and that the elves of his father's kingdom had been attacked.
Gimli, on the other hand, had changed much. His fine beard was completely white, as was the hair on his head. Wrinkles cragged his face, and his deep-set eyes seemed almost sunken. Five years ago, he had discovered that he could no longer wield his axe. It had been a depressing time for both elf and dwarf, but Gimli had recovered first, practically insisting that Legolas also recover or risk dragging them both into his elven mire of misery and despair. But Gimli would not recover from this. Nothing could stop this, and Legolas was nearly beside himself with frustration and anger as the end drew near. At this point, the elf would gladly throw his own immortality to the wind if it would buy Gimli even one more day of healthy life.
"The mountains were beautiful this morning," Legolas eventually continued, dimly hoping to draw some kind of reaction from his aged companion. "Perhaps tomorrow you can rise early and see them. I think you would have greatly enjoyed the sight, Gimli. The peaks glistened as though made of many gems, and the sun was golden on the snowfields. Verily, I was reminded of Aglarond as I watched. Indeed, to you and your strange kind, the sight might have been akin to paradise."
"But still you found no hope," Gimli sighed.
Legolas blinked and studied the dwarf. "Nay. Nay, I did not. Do you find hope in this?"
"Think on it, Master Elf," Gimli murmured weakly. "A glorious sunrise meant to be enjoyed by a dwarf. A farewell gift from the morning. A promise of great joy to come beyond this world. How does this not give you hope for me?"
"I look for hope that you will remain with me," Legolas said sharply, almost harshly.
"But such hopes are vain," the dwarf said, opening his eyes and struggling to muster his strength so that he might help Legolas confront an unpleasant truth. "I can no more remain here than you can embrace the moon. You clutch at the impossible, my friend, and despair when you cannot reach it." A smile played at the corners of his mouth as he continued. "But perhaps that is true of all elves. Ever they reach too high and ever they fall. Better to be a dwarf. We are firmly rooted to the ground."
"Stunted, you mean," Legolas said, allowing himself a bitter laugh.
"All the better to duck stray elven arrows."
"Elven arrows do not stray."
"Oh?" Gimli raised one white eyebrow. "I seem to remember a camping trip in Hollin during which—"
"You were delusional that trip," Legolas interrupted quickly. "It was but a figment of your imagination."
The dwarf chuckled. "And I suppose I also imagined the throbbing pain in my lower leg that persisted for several weeks."
"Purely your imagination," Legolas confirmed with a sad smile, thinking back on that unfortunate incident. It had been the first, last, and only time in his life that the elf had lost complete track of direction. He'd been so certain that the camp had been behind him, and when he'd heard rustling in the distant brush and remembered the warning that Elrohir had given concerning the trolls that had wandered east of Rivendell…
"I remember that you wearied my ears with apologies," Gimli whispered. "Of course, that was before you started denying that it ever happened. By the time we returned to Minas Tirith, Aragorn could not decide whom to believe."
"He never did make up his mind on the subject," Legolas said quietly.
"Oh, I think he did," Gimli said. "On his deathbed, it was one of the questions he asked me. An odd question, but one that had puzzled him greatly. And invoking my honor as a dwarf, I swore to him that you shot me on that camping trip. He died knowing the truth. Your reputation as an archer has been forever soiled, I am afraid."
Legolas made no answer, his thoughts dwelling on the words deathbed and died. Aragorn's death had been devastating for the elf, and it was the realization that all the mortals around him would someday die and leave him in further grief that had finally pushed Legolas to depart over the sea. He was endlessly grateful that the Valar had received Gimli, and even more grateful that Gimli had consented to come in the first place.
But now Gimli was but hours away from following in the footsteps of Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Sam, Frodo, Bilbo, Boromir, Eomer, Arwen, Faramir, Eowyn, Imrahil, and the hosts of other mortals whom Legolas had befriended and for whom he still grieved. Where was the justice in this? How could such a noble heart cease to beat? How could the gruff, blunt companion that had accompanied Legolas on many a journey and ultimately over the sea simply stop living? Gimli had dedicated his life to fighting the evil that was Sauron and repairing the harms that Sauron and his minions had wrought. And now he was to vanish from the world, remembered only in story and song that were but shallow tributes to his greatness.
How dare he! How dare that dwarf leave him like this! Gimli was his best and dearest friend, the only other being in the whole of Arda in whom he could ultimately confide. He was one of the few warriors Legolas could and would trust implicitly to watch his back in battle. He was a friend who knew the elf's heart better than the elf himself knew it. He was someone who had never been afraid to bluntly tell Legolas when he was being a fool. He knew when the elf needed time alone, and he also knew when that time had passed and the elf needed a friend even if such a friend was not desired. No, not just a friend, Legolas thought, feeling a lump form in his heart. The dwarf had become far more than a friend. It was as though he were an extension of the elf's soul. Legolas could not imagine life without him, and yet that time was fast approaching. How dare he! Did he know what this was going to do to the elf? Did he understand how deeply his death would flay the elf's spirit? Did he realize what Legolas was about to endure?
Startled by the dwarf's breathy shout, Legolas blinked his eyes as though awakening from a deep sleep. He glanced about the dim interior of the dwarf's home and belatedly realized his thoughts had run away with him. Looking back at Gimli, he smiled apologetically.
"Elves," the dwarf grumbled, studying his friend and reading or at least guessing most of the elf's inner turmoil. Gimli sighed. He was weary in both body and mind, but he could not leave Legolas like this. "Do you remember the week that Merry and Pippin died?" the dwarf asked.
Puzzled and concerned by this turn in the conversation, and also by the fact that Gimli was exerting himself when he should be resting, Legolas nodded hesitantly. "I do. It was but five years after the passing of King Eomer."
"Do you remember what they said as they lay in the Houses of Healing under Aragorn's care?"
Searching his memory, Legolas eventually shook his head. The events surrounding that stretch of time were now only a blur to him. His grief had been dark, and for days he had wandered in shadowy dreams, recalling memories of the cheerful, laughing hobbits who had become knights of Rohan and Gondor.
Gimli sighed again and shook his head slightly, wincing at the amount of energy it took him to do that. "It was just before Merry died. He looked over at Pippin and said, 'Life has been good, but I shall be glad of a rest. Don't be long in coming.' And then Merry smiled. Those were his last words, Legolas. The last words he ever uttered. And a few days later, it was Pippin's turn. Do you remember what he said? He said, 'Merry has the right idea. I think it's time for me to take a break, too.' What do you think they meant, my friend? What do their words say to you?"
"I know not what you hope to gain by this riddle," Legolas said quietly. "But for me it holds no answers."
"Are you truly so blind?" Gimli asked. "Legolas, life is a wearying journey for mortals. By its end, we are tired. Death is rest. And beyond death, there comes greater adventures. Death is not an end but a step. A doorway. An escape for those of us who have not the endurance of the elves, for you and your people do not weary of life as mortals do."
"Don't we?" Legolas asked softly with a strange gleam in his eyes. "Are you certain of that? Think you that we do not tire of watching all around us wither and die while we remain unchanged? Think you that we do not tire of the loss of dear friends?"
"I did not mean that, Legolas. I meant that you do not grow weary in age as others do. You still have all the energy and youth that you possessed when first I met you, but for me, all that has been spent and is long gone. I am ready for something different, and I will not refuse death's offer to help me in this."
"You would give up? As simply as that?"
Gimli sighed and closed his eyes, tightening his grip on the elf's hand. "I am tired, Legolas. Tired. You do not know what that means nor will you ever, I think. But I am tired as only mortals can be. Death is rest, and I long for it as I have longed for little else. Please, at least understand that and allow me to depart in peace."
"Gimli…" Legolas's voice broke on the name, and he bent down and buried his face against the dwarf's shaking hand that he held so tightly between his own hands. "I am sorry, elvellon. I cannot understand what you face. I only know what I am about to face, and I fear what it may do to me." He lifted his head and looked at the dwarf. Sensing the elf's gaze, Gimli willed his eyes back open, blinking at the haze that had clouded his vision of late. "You are my best and most trusted friend," Legolas whispered, a strange moisture beginning to blur his sight. "Never has anyone been as close to me as thee. I can tell you anything, and yet I never have a need to. You know my mind and my heart before even I do. How can I replace that? And how can I live without your presence when it was you who stood by my side in both the darkest and the greatest moments known to Middle Earth?"
"You are an elf, Legolas," Gimli murmured. "And as an elf, you will move on. I am but a mortal, a small moment in a life that will last until Ilúvatar's song dies. I should not matter that much to you."
"Truly?" Legolas demanded, and Gimli flinched to hear the horror and rage in his friend's voice. "Is that how I seem to you? An immortal who sniffs at the memory of a departed friend and continues the next day as though it was all but a fleeting moment?!"
"I did not mean it that way," Gimli sighed. "I only hoped to give you a perspective on things. It seems I have failed." The dwarf allowed his eyes to flutter shut, and he felt Legolas stiffen and clutch tighter at his hand. "I remember when I first met you," Gimli said quietly. "I thought I knew all that I needed to of elves. I was burdened by the hatred of my people for your kind. To the dwarves, the elves are arrogant, spiteful, whimsical, and weak. A fading people who cannot adjust to the times." Gimli cracked one eye open and smiled slightly. "They are not all that wrong, you know. Elven arrogance was the first obstacle to our friendship. And spiteful? You keep your grudges long, Legolas. The elves have long memories. Whimsical? I have pulled you out of more flights of fancy than I can begin to count. And as far as Middle Earth is concerned, the remaining elves are a rustic and a fading people. But weak?" Gimli's smile broadened and he shook his head slightly. "Never. I have seen you endure hardships that would ruin a dwarf. I have seen you battle monsters and demons that would flay a man. I have seen you take the hardest blow and strike back a moment later with the speed of a wizard and the tenacity of a hobbit. My arrogant, spiteful, whimsical, fading friend, you were the greatest adventure of my life, and I thank you for it."
Legolas smiled wanly through his tears and shook his head. "Nay, dear friend. The adventure was equally mine, and for the part you played in my life, you have my eternal gratitude."
Gimli returned the smile and moved as though to say more, but he had exhausted his energy and could no longer keep his eyes open. The elf watched sadly and helplessly as heavy lids fell shut and labored breathing deepened. With a sigh, the dwarf slipped into a heavy sleep that seemed more like death than rest.
And heedless of the struggle that went on in a small stone dwelling on Aman, the sun journeyed across the sky and eventually dipped toward the western horizon, a cruel reminder that even Valinor was not completely immune to the passage of time. And during the long, trying hours of daylight, Legolas sat at Gimli's side, clutching the dwarf's hand tightly. He silently begged, pleaded, and demanded that Gimli remain here in the Undying Lands, but somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew his cries were vain. The dwarf's time drew near, and nothing in all of Arda could prevent what was coming. Feeling the tears beginning to build once more, Legolas shifted his chair closer to the bedside and rested his head on his arm. He fixed his eyes on the rise and fall of Gimli's chest, fearing that each breath would be the last one. He had no thought for food, rest, or any other needs. They were irritations he could do without.
And so the sun eventually set, casting long shadows through the windows and drawing a darkness over the land that mirrored the growing darkness in the elf's heart.
With a start, the elf jerked awake. The room was dark and the outside world slept in a peaceful silence. Furious with himself for having fallen asleep—though in truth he had not slept for almost a week—he looked immediately to Gimli, terrified that the dwarf had passed away during the night. But his fears were allayed when he saw the dwarf's eyes sparkling at him in the darkness.
"You were sleeping, weren't you?" Gimli asked with a hint of a smile.
"Sleeping?" The elf stretched and sat up, easing the kinks out of his spine. "I fear I was. My apologies."
"No, I am sorry for waking you. I was uncertain, though. If you elves would sleep with your eyes closed like any normal creature…" The dwarf shifted slightly. "What time is it, Legolas?"
The elf stood, wincing slightly when he felt his back pop. "Close to dawn," he said quietly, glancing out the window.
Gimli nodded, closing his eyes. "I…I thought maybe I would take you up on your suggestion."
"From yesterday," the dwarf clarified. "You said the mountains were beautiful at sunrise. I'd like to see that. I would like to watch the sun rise over the sea." One last time, he added to himself, though he did not say it out loud. An argument was the last thing he wanted today.
"Then see it you shall," Legolas said, a spark of hope entering his voice. "You will not be disappointed, my friend. And perhaps the sun will grant you some of her strength."
"Perhaps," Gimli whispered, not having the heart to douse the elf's excitement. "How shall we manage this?"
"Take no thought for it," Legolas instructed. "I shall arrange everything. Until then, rest. I promise that I will not be long."
Having no other option, Gimli gave in to the elf's commands and drifted into a light doze, a state of awareness that had more or less become the norm for him. He was vaguely aware that Legolas was actively doing something around him, but he was too weary to bother with finding out what. Still, he was quietly amused. Elven enthusiasm had never failed to amaze him, and the simplest tasks became great feats if an elf deemed them worthy of consideration. The act of preparing a banquet or feast was nothing less than the most arduous of labors if left to the elves. They were perfectionists to a fault, and when they decided to take an interest in doing something, it was done thoroughly, properly, and flawlessly.
True to his word, it was not long before Legolas's soft voice was sounding in the dwarf's ear. "Gimli? Gimli, all is prepared if you feel ready."
The dwarf concentrated and managed to get his eyes open. It was a daunting task but not yet an impossible one. And looking into Legolas's bright, gray eyes, a sliver of energy crept back into the dwarf's aged form. "A dwarf is always ready," he murmured. "Let us watch the dawn."
Wrapping a host of blankets firmly around the dwarf, Legolas slipped one arm beneath Gimli's shoulders and the other arm beneath his legs. A moment later, Gimli felt himself lifted, and then he was cradled securely against the prince's lean body. Several years ago, this act would have cost both elf and dwarf dearly, one in strength and the other in pride. But Gimli's body had wasted away until he weighed little more than a small hobbit, and Gimli himself had finally learned to accept the fact that he was no longer strong enough to move himself about. Carrying the dwarf was still awkward for both Legolas and Gimli and as such it was rarely done, but when it did occur, it was not the painful experience that it had once been.
Resting his head on Legolas's shoulder, Gimli closed his eyes and surrendered himself to the ride. The elf was very gentle, and at times, it seemed to the dwarf as though he hovered on a breeze. Then fresh air laced with the smell of water and salt touched his cheek, and the illusion grew stronger. A slight wind whispered through his white beard, teasing it into a swaying dance as it swirled and rose.
At length, Gimli felt himself descending, and he opened his eyes to find that Legolas was lowering him onto a bed made of grasses and leaves. Blankets and pillows gathered from his room had already been set in place to cushion his weary frame, and he sank into this newly created couch with a grateful sigh. "Thank you," he whispered as Legolas moved back.
"Think nothing of it," the elf answered, sitting down next to the dwarf and turning his attention to the east. The sky was tinged with pink and purple, and faint wisps of clouds drifted along the horizon. Reflecting the sky's light, the sea began to glow with the vibrant colors of the dawn. "Soon," Legolas murmured, watching the coming sunrise with a smile. "It will be soon."
"Very soon," Gimli sighed, speaking of more than the dawn.
"Look east first," Legolas said. "Watch the sky until the sun first appears beyond the edge of the sea. Then look to the mountains. It is then that you will see them sparkle as Aglarond."
"It will be a beautiful sight, indeed. Would you permit us to join you?"
If he'd had the energy, Gimli would have jumped and cried aloud. Legolas scrambled hurriedly to his feet, berating himself for not hearing the stealthy approach of the new arrivals, and bowed low. "Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel. You honor us with your presence."
"Such honors are deserved by two of the famous Fellowship," Galadriel responded with a small laugh. Her golden hair was caught back in a simple braid and her white gown might have belonged to a young maid, but her face and her eyes were ageless as the ocean itself, a mixture of sadness and merriment, wisdom and youth. "Be seated, Legolas. And do not trouble to bestir yourself, Gimli, son of Glóin."
"In any case, I do not think you could rise even if you so desired it," Elrond said quietly, his face touched with sadness. His dark hair was loose and his blue robe was deep as midnight. He sat comfortably next to Gimli's bed and ran a sharp eye over the dwarf. "I wish I had better news for you," he said at length.
"It may not seem it to you, but that is wonderful news," Gimli answered with as much breath as he could manage.
"Ah, I see you already have company," a new voice observed. "I wonder if I would be intruding or if one more might be welcome."
Legolas smiled at the same time his heart sank. "Come, Mithrandir. Join us here. We are awaiting the dawn." But the elf's previously bright spirits were steadily falling to new lows. It was no accident that Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf were here together this morning. They were waiting for something, and Legolas had the unsavory feeling that he knew what that something was.
"There," Elrond whispered, pointing to the sea. "Behold the rising of the sun. See how the colors dance and sing before it, welcoming this new morning."
"And so comes another day of hopes and dreams," Galadriel added. "For with each dawn, a new day is born. And with that day come both beginnings and endings. Together they are a cycle, for there cannot be a beginning without an end and there cannot be an end without a beginning. That is the way of the song we live. As one melody falls, another rises to takes its place, and so the order of things is created, both in this life and also beyond the circles of this world."
Legolas could sense Galadriel spoke not only to Gimli, but the elf discarded her message for she was wrong. There would be no ending this day, for such an end could hold no beginning. Not for Legolas. "Look to the mountains, Gimli," he said, pointedly ignoring Galadriel's words. "Behold one of the many wonders of the Undying Lands."
Knowing that his friend had refused to listen to comfort and knowing that there was nothing he could do to change that, Gimli sighed heavily and looked west toward the towering peaks. It was a sight he'd beheld before, but it never failed to give him chills. And it was a sight he'd not seen for years, for as he'd grown older, his ability to rise with the dawn had been lost. Before him, the snow-capped mountains blazed forth with a golden light, and the streams and waterfalls running down their slopes caught the sun's rays in a multitude of dazzling rainbows that bewildered the eye. The mountains came alive and became as great gems of unimaginable worth. For a moment and an eternity, two elves, one half-elf, one dwarf, and one Maia basked in the glory of the dawn. And then the sun rose higher, the rainbows vanished, and the golden snow became once more a dazzling white.
Gimli smiled, satisfied and at peace. "You spoke truly, Legolas. It was much like the Glittering Caves. Do you remember when you first beheld their wonder?"
"I remember that a certain dwarf deliberately dropped the torch in a puddle of water and left us in the dark for almost an hour while pretending he'd lost the flint and steel to light another one," Legolas answered with a small smile.
"Strange," the dwarf murmured. "I do not remember that. But I do remember someone abandoning me in Fangorn on our first trip there and then reappearing at the last moment to drive back the Huorns."
"The look on your face was one I will carry with me always," Legolas laughed, though his laugh was tinged with sadness.
"You have lived a long and a full life, lock-bearer," Galadriel smiled. "And you have seen much that is forbidden to mortals."
"Yes, thanks to you," Gimli said, his voice lowering to a tone of deep reverence.
"And what else could I have done for one so courteous of speech?" Galadriel laughed lightly. "You were one of the Nine Companions and both Middle Earth and the Undying Lands owe you a great debt. Indeed, what we have granted you is but little compared to your efforts on our behalf." She rose and then knelt before the dwarf, taking his rough hand in her pale one. "A star shone on the hour of our meeting, elvellon, and it shines now on the hour of our parting. Go in peace."
Legolas cried out and surged forward, but Elrond restrained him, pulling him away from Galadriel and Gimli. "Not now," Gandalf whispered, stepping to the struggling elf's side. "In a moment, you will have your chance."
"Were it not for you, I would have enjoyed none of this," Gimli whispered, his eyes locked onto Galadriel's ageless beauty. "And were it not for you, I do not think I would have had the strength or the will to reject my hatred of elves. It is I who owe you, fair lady. And the friendships I have forged because of you are greater in value than any deed of mine."
"It is as I said, dear friend," Galadriel spoke with a soft smile. "The tongue of Gimli is courteous indeed, even as his eyes darken. Know that you have earned a great place in the Ilúvatar's song, and that beyond this world you shall have rest, peace, and the company of lost friends." She rose and released his hand, turning her piercing eyes toward Legolas. "There are others who would bid you farewell, Gimli."
"I think one would instead beg me to stay," the dwarf answered with a strained smile.
Elrond released Legolas, but the elf couldn't seem to move. He stared at the dwarf as though comprehending for the first time what this moment meant. Or perhaps he at last understood that there would be no last-minute rescuer. The rest of the Fellowship save Gandalf and himself had already departed, and now it was Gimli's time. But still, Legolas could neither move nor speak.
Sensing the elf's inability to act, Elrond stepped forward and knelt beside the dwarf. "It has been long since the great Council when we first met, Gimli, son of Glóin. As I recall, you were suspicious of me then."
"All sane beings knew that elves were not to be trusted," Gimli said with a gasping chuckle. "I fear it has been many years since I was accounted a sane being."
Elrond smiled and laughed quietly. "Many years, indeed, and many hardships. You have endured them well, friend dwarf, and I wish you peace and rest." The half-elf glanced at Legolas, beckoning him forward, but still Legolas could not move. With a sigh, Elrond threw a helpless look at Gandalf.
Gandalf tried to lead Legolas toward his friend, but the elf might have been frozen in place. Realizing it would take a different force to stir the prince, the former wizard glanced significantly at Galadriel and then moved toward the dwarf. Kneeling beside Gimli, the Maia placed a gentle hand on the dwarf's brow, smoothing away the lines of age and weariness as he did so. "Our friendship was a great one, Gimli, and always I valued your companionship, brief though our time together might have been," Gandalf whispered. "Your valiance earned you a place in Valinor, and your loyalty now earns you a place of rest. Depart in peace. You accomplished much."
"At the very least, I learned to judge between you and Saruman," Gimli murmured, his energy nearly spent.
"That you did," Gandalf said with a laugh. "I fear that knowledge will do you little good now, but it was a comfort then to think there were some who knew the difference." Gandalf turned away and, like Elrond, looked expectantly at Legolas.
"Come," a soft voice whispered in the elf's ear, and startled, he turned to find Galadriel at his side. She took his arm, and by her very gentleness, she managed to guide his resisting form forward. At their approach, both Elrond and Gandalf withdrew a respectful distance away, and the sheer magnitude of all that was happening finally claimed the elven prince.
"It is time, Legolas," Galadriel said quietly, now backing away with the others and nodding toward Gimli. "Go to him. Let not this friendship be sundered now."
But despite her words, for time eternal, Legolas stared at Galadriel, his mind and heart refusing to acknowledge the bitter truth. He feared to look at Gimli, hoping and praying that this could all be changed if only he refused to believe in reality.
A throaty whisper behind him destroyed his resolve, and he found himself turning against his will. His eyes filling with tears, Legolas stepped forward and knelt by the side of his greatest friend, taking the dwarf's hand firmly in his own. But still, he could not speak. He could not even meet Gimli's eyes, fearful of seeing the inevitable.
"I wish there could have been another way," Gimli murmured, returning Legolas's grip with feeble strength.
"As do I," Legolas said thickly, struggling vainly to hold back the tears that threatened to fall. Now, more than ever, he had to be strong. He had to impart peace to his friend, and he had to show him that all was well. But all was not well, and the terror clutching the elf's heart was greater than his will. Despite all his efforts to the contrary, Legolas was falling apart emotionally, and he could not forbear from making one last plea. "Can not you tarry, Gimli? Can you not tarry just a little longer?"
The dwarf sighed, his face betraying his sorrow at leaving Legolas in such a state. "You still do not understand, my friend," Gimli whispered, closing his eyes and squeezing the elf's hand. "Nor will you ever, and for that I am sorry. Look after yourself, Legolas. Without me to aid you, you may get into great trouble."
"As I remember it, I was usually getting you out of trouble," the elf replied, his voice cracking and the tears flowing freely now.
"Then view this as a rest for both of us," Gimli said, his voice growing faint. "Remember the dawn. Though you do not see it, there is hope. Hope for beyond this world."
"But what hope is there for this world?" Legolas demanded harshly.
Gimli put the very last of his energy together and managed to open his eyes. He locked onto the elf's gray eyes, finally getting them to meet his own, and tried to answer his friend through a wordless gaze. After a moment though, sensing his efforts were useless, he sighed slightly. There was nothing more he could do for the elf, and his time had come. "Goodbye, my friend." He summoned one last smile, his eyes radiating with the power of a friendship that had given him the strength to leave Middle Earth. "Never did I have a better companion, Legolas, son of Thranduil. Because of you, my life was full and I may now depart in peace." Gimli squeezed Legolas's hand for the final time as his strength failed him completely. "I love you, Legolas. You were, are, and always will be a brother to me. Take care."
And with these last words, the dwarf exhaled. His chest fell, and his body relaxed completely, the sound of his last breath echoing on the wind. Holding his lax hand, Legolas stiffened and watched anxiously for his chest to rise again, but it did not.
Moving next to them, Elrond knelt and gently closed the dwarf's eyes. "It is over, Legolas. He is at peace."
The elf shook his head violently. "No. No! You lie! Gimli! Gimli, wake!"
"Legolas!" It was Gandalf who stepped in, placing both hands on the elf's shaking shoulders and trying to impart a measure of comfort. "Legolas, he is gone. His labors are over and he can rest. He is no longer confined to this world. You should rejoice for him, not sorrow over his passing." The glare Legolas shot Gandalf might have given a Balrog pause for thought, but the Maia would not back down. "Do not mourn overmuch, son of Thranduil," Gandalf said firmly. "The appointed time of his death in Middle Earth was years ago. Be grateful you were favored with his friendship for so long."
But Legolas would not be comforted. Shaking off Gandalf's hands, he moved forward and seized Gimli's still form, drawing him in against his chest and burying his head in the dwarf's silky, white hair. And then he began to weep as he had never wept before, shaking with the force of his tears and shrugging off all attempts to draw him from his sorrows.
And so Valinor marked the passing of Gimli, son of Glóin, the last mortal to behold the Undying Lands. But much to the astonishment of all, the shadow of death did not leave with the departure of the dwarf. Its work was not quite finished, for there was another who lay very close to its realm and the darkness that death brought could not depart until that other chose for himself which course he would follow. It was a decision that held all of Valinor in amazement, for what elf would ever forsake Aman because of a mortal? But then, what dwarf would ever forsake Middle Earth for an immortal?