After the war ended and Gimli and I traveled to those places we had promised one another to visit, we then, not yet tired of roving, resolved to go east past the mountains of Mordor and explore those wild lands. There we encountered orcs and goblins aplenty, slaying them as we found them and so doing our duty to make the world more hospitable. Thus we justified our rambling even knowing that our parents and our people were wondering when we'd return to our responsibilities.
As our path took us further and further from home, we talked of ourselves and our people, sharing stories and trading words in each of our languages until we could almost understand one another, except that Gimli complained that all elvish ran together and he could never tell where one word ended and the other began. By the time we reached the mountains far to the east and south, beyond the great desert, I was sure that I'd learned almost everything there was to know about him. I was to find such was not the case.
We'd stopped at a tiny keep squatting under the lee of a cliff. Had it been up to me, we'd have avoided such places but Gimli was in the mood for ale. Strangers were welcomed as a curiosity and I bartered stories and Gimli a bit of smoke leaf for drink and supper.
While speaking of nothing in particular I turned to my companion and noted a number of silver hairs in his beard. "Gimli, you are getting old," I remarked. And then, teasing, "Do you think it's time for you to look for a wife?"
Gimli smiled and said to me, "A dwarf will love but one person in their lifetime and I already love."
I turned my head to stare and he did the same. My incomprehension was met with his own. "The Lady Galadriel," he said at last, stunned by my ignorance.
"She's married!" I blurted out, amused, still not believing. I knew that he had some feeling for her but to expend his one dwarvish love on a queen among elves? Absurd.
Gimli waved his hand, troubled not at all. "So she is married," he repeated. "What does that matter to me? Galadriel isn't a jewel. That is a different kind of love. This is the one, true love. I don't need to touch or possess her."
I pondered this a moment, gazing askance at my companion. I'd heard things about dwarves before but never gave it much thought. One never knows what is true and what isn't and I had no desire to find out until now. "And you can never love another?" I was incredulous.
"Never," he answered serenely.
"Not even in another time, another world?"
By now he was used to what he accused me of 'perverse elven philosophizing' and answered without question, "No. In all worlds, in all times, every Gimli will love every Galadriel without fail and never another. Why is-"
I ought to have let him continue but I had something in mind. My forward motion and wagging finger interrupted his thought. "Tonight I will sleep," I said, leaning across the table and smirking at my joke. "And I will dream of a Gimli who does not love Galadriel. And then he will exist."
Dwarves do not like teasing and so elves delight in teasing dwarves above all others, yet I was sorry to have done so just then. Instead of amusingly irritated, Gimli looked alarmed and then deeply troubled. I waited for a reply and got none.
"How tiresome that must be!" I exclaimed, remembering how, when we were children, my companions and I chased one another around and around, each in turn, love sick and heartbroken perpetually until, at last, we matured and tired of the game. We were too young for real love. I imagined something like that, feeling the dread of being unloved by your beloved forever.
Gimli shook his head. "Not at all. There is nothing better than to know, with every beat of your heart, whom you will love forever. I know it matters not a whit to you, silly, frivolous thing that you are, but it means a great deal to me that you do not dream me being in love with any but Galadriel."
He was in earnest so I said that I would not and went back to investigating what the men here pass as food. I didn't sleep that night but sat in the window and gazed at the heavens turning overhead. Gimli would be little more than a child were he of my race and yet in the matter of love he seemed eternally older than I. What might it be like? The repulsion I had felt at first trickled away. Wistfully I thought of love certain as the tide. A young elf's love is a spring's bloom, quick to flower, quick to fade. Elves marry and bear children because they are very good friends and they are absolutely true to one another for the same reason. Lust only lasts a little while. They do not then part ways as humans do. Perhaps, I thought, a dwarf's eternal love and the love of friends are really one and the same. I saw again the light in his eyes that had not been there before. No, it's very different.
I then recalled my father and how his voice grew soft when speaking of my mother and my childhood. Perhaps elves do feel such a love, but not I, not yet, even though I am old enough to be a dwarf's great, great grandfather and many of my friends were already married.
We left early that morning, he on his pony and I on my horse, traveling south with no destination and no more intention than exploring the wide world. Gentle slopes of short turf and heather swept down toward a wall of slender, pale aspens where fire had come through and killed the pines. I listened to the sound of leaves and continued puzzling through the nature of dwarves. What was once repellent to me had now become a curiosity and this new revelation was more curious than most. As I pondered I began to feel slack and lazy, disinclined to do much but muse.
On the third day Gimli stopped his pony and turned full around to glare and growl, "What is wrong with you?"
I, too, stopped.
"Not a remark," he exclaimed, "on this bird or that beast as you've never seen. Nor endless waxing on the trees here, or what unpleasant gossip they might be spreading about me. But this," he held up a finger, "this is what is most troubling. Not a song in three days. Not even humming. My ears are ringing in my skull with the silence of it. Are you dying?"
I gave a little laugh. "I am only thinking!"
His answer was a look-terse but a little too long. He was worried.
I laughed again at his worries and walked on.
That night I slept and dreamed and woke full of guilt and feeling sick in the pit of my stomach. I'd done precisely as Gimli had asked me not to. While we toasted bits of rabbit over the breakfast coals I said apologetically, "I dreamed of you with another."
He was less angry than I though he would be. "With whom?" he asked.
"I believe it was a dwarf."
He gave me a funny look, as though the answer were a strange one. I suppose it was. Whom else would it be if not a dwarf?
He asked, "Did I have any children?"
I told him that I did not know and he sighed. "Never having sons will have been my only regret."
The idea of Gimli with sons was strangely unsettling and I silenced myself.
The unease in my stomach did not leave me as we traveled on but grew until I was trembling. Having never felt sickness I was perplexed more than frightened. Knowing plants that could be poisonous to man and animal, I wondered then if there were something in this strange country poisonous to elves. I hadn't eaten anything unknown to me. The small morsel I managed to swallow at the keep was terrible, truly, but not enough to be deadly.
Still, I grew worse as the days progressed, from mere discomfort to intense disquiet. I was not in physical pain yet I was in a deep misery. Gimli's flippant question about the untimely end of my life was beginning to feel like a portend. When he stopped again he did not need to ask if something was wrong.
"The land here may be evil," I murmured as I slid from Khelek's pale back. "It's like nothing I've felt."
"Your horse does not think so, and he will complain at a mere whiff of moral ambiguity."
Gimli rarely made jokes and when he did they always caught me off guard. I gave a delighted but whimpering laugh. He lead me to a bed of soft moss and bade me sit while he watered the animals. I must have dozed; when I came around there were flames dancing in front of me. Gimli had built a fire and was staring at me across it.
Khelek knickered to get my attention and Gimli was on his feet with his ax in hand. Dwarves can move remarkably fast when they've a mind to.
"You were right," said he, "there's something-"
"No," I interrupted, knowing the language of my horse, "it is my people."
They slid from the trees like pale deer, silent, gazing with china eyes. I had never seen an elf with blue eyes before or since. Their tongue, when it reached my ears, was my own but of a strange dialect I did not recognize.
"You are safe here," they said to me and when Gimli glowered and bristled I told him to lower his weapon. He did so grudgingly. The shy people came forward then, not smiling but with such a peaceful air that I knew we were in no danger. They touched my face and throat and Gimli stood back to give them room, still gripping his ax and frowning. He may have come to trust me and my kin, but strange elves, never.
Their homes were beautiful and sleek, nestled in the slender aspens. I was welcomed as the prince that I was and put to bed until the king, then hunting in the deeper pines, could visit me. He was doe-eyed, soft. Nimthond was his name. He and his attendants greeted me formally, standing around my bed, white and slim as the trees. Gimli was a shaggy and unwelcome boar amongst groomed deer and knew it but he stayed as well, obstinately seated by my headboard with arms crossed and hackles raised.
"Have you seen the ocean?" was the first meaningful question Nimthond asked of me and I did not know the purpose of it nor how to answer.
"No," I said, blinking. "Why?"
He explained. "Further south is a bay leading on to the southern ocean. Had you visited the shore, I might believe you were suffering a desire to leave for Valinor. Sometimes our young people, those who have not lived long enough to establish roots, will grow very ill with it until they must leave or fade away. It is rare but known among those of us who live near the water."
One of his daughters, only just out of childhood, turned to her father with wide eyes. "Could he have glimpsed the southern sea coming over the mountains?"
"Yes, Dearheart, that is possible, had they taken the high pass."
I was in terror, then, that I should have seen it- a bright glimmer of distant water I mistook for a sunspot, but enough that I must sail away or suffer this heart-sickness. Surely this was what Galadriel had warned me of. Would my father come? Or would I sail alone with strangers, huddled and shaking, until I reached that further shore?
Nimthond had other questions: whether I'd befallen some terrible hardship, if my spouse had been murdered, why I was travelling so far from home and with a dwarf. They suspected him, member of a suspicious and ugly race that he was, of being the cause of my illness. I insisted otherwise, returning to the first.
"I've heard the gulls," I said through chattering teeth. "The sea birds. My heart has not truly been at rest since."
The looks in their eyes as they conferred with one another were not pleasant and I knew what they were saying without having to hear it.
"You may stay here," Nimthond told me, "And if it becomes too much to bear there is a port only three days' journey from here by river. We will deliver you to it and you may take passage on one of our ships."
The promise of passage, meant to be comforting, made my heart turn to ice. They left shortly after and I made Gimli go with them. When the door closed I turned my head toward my pillow and wept.
A slight fever was all that ailed me physically but I suffered anguish like a deep wound. Elves have grieved themselves into spirits and now I understood how it could be. I felt the sea tugging, tugging and I had nothing to hold me. My blood beat on the shores of my body and I heard it as ocean waves. They beckoned ceaselessly, curling their white hands over and over. I dreamed that the water rose up and up the hills and valleys to claim me. In another I was a seagull with a broken wing and hurled myself to my death in the churning surf rather than stay upon the shore. I craved for the chill of that embrace, for my body was too warm.
The white elves came and went as wraiths, noiseless because the fever had stopped my ears. They seemed insubstantial, like so much sea foam. Because of my pride I forbade Gimli from visiting me and he stayed away until one evening I came out of my dreams to rough hands like pumice patting me awake. He had a jug of water for me.
"You must be surprised to find me like this," I said, taking the jug. I was deeply ashamed of being seen in such a state and uncharacteristically churlish. I knew that I looked terrible.
Looking back now I see that my words were nonsense but I think Gimli understood my meaning by what I didn't say. Dwarves are accustomed to surly attitudes and his response was gentle for the sake of my vanity. "Often things are made more beautiful by being fragile. Elves were made to be beautiful."
That Gimli should love anything fragile made me snort. Furthermore, the accusation of my being fragile after we traveled so long and fought so hard together wounded me. Had I not kept pace with him through our game? I lost by one only! Could I have survived the war had I been so frail? I thought he, of all dwarves, should know better by now.
He guessed at the nature of my thoughts and said, "Diamonds can cut through anything, yet they will shatter when dropped. Perhaps your people are like that. The right kind of pressure will make anything or anyone break."
I didn't want to shatter and suppressed a sudden chill. "If I am a diamond, what does that make you?"
"I should say a stone. Granite. That is, we dwarves, all of us, are granite. Individuals would be one of various makes. I, myself, I believe I would have a lot of hornblende and even a bit of biotite." His face grew serious and he stroked his beard. "Very dark. Might I contain some beryl? Ah, perhaps just a hint of sphene. ...But perhaps we don't get to decide for ourselves," he added hurriedly, aware that he had been going deeper into the subject than he had first intended.
"No, go on," I said, and was rewarded with an hours-long speech on the matter of granite and the precise composition of every dwarf in his acquaintance. It soothed me to hear him and I began to drowse.
"Gimli," I murmured. "Ondo. You are a people of the earth. Sing to me the songs of this place that I might forget the sea."
He saw how much I desired it so Gimli sang the low, slow, deep-throated songs of his kind. The rumbling thrum shook the rafters and drowned out the sound of waves rushing in my ear.
The song lasted only a little while before he stopped, his face knitted with thought. "Legolas," he said, and I recalled that it had been a long time since he called me by name, we'd traveled so long alone together. "What lies beneath the sea?"
"Sand" I answered. "Stone. And after that, nothing."
"It couldn't be nothing," he objected. "Even endless caverns have bottoms. And beneath that is stone. Beneath lakes lies stone."
"Perhaps that is the case," I said, uncertain where this was going.
"Indeed. Beneath the sea lies stone. What you miss is just the top little bit, surrounded by water. And so all lands are truly one. The earth beneath the sea is useless to your folk yet it has always been and, could we find dwarves enough, we could tunnel to your western shore."
The idea was impious, exciting, stomach-wrenching. Sweat sprung to my brow. I must have grown ten shades more pale because Gimli started up as though to get help.
"Don't go." I raised a hand to stop him. "You've merely startled me. Sing me something else."
He sang of deep places, dark caverns safe from tide and sand and wind, places so old and untouched that I should ever forget that there was an ocean. After he'd finished singing and I sent him away for the night I remained in those caves. Knowing I should find my answers there, I willingly slipped into a trance state. My body slowed to match the rhythms of the stones and I joined the world's dreaming.
A long tunnel stretched before me and aft, threaded through with long bones of gold and silver that lighted my way. Though afraid, I walked on until the cavern opened up into a vaulted space higher, even, than the roof of Mirkwood. What I mistook for bones were the roots of twin trees that trailed up to the ceiling above.
Here, too, stood Gimli, a pick over his shoulder. He had made the tunnel, himself.
I awoke to a trembling weight on my chest and when I moved the person, for person it was, started up like a frightened animal.
"LEGOLAS!" he exclaimed in Gimli's voice. It could be no other yet I did not recognize him. Where once a proud mantle of beard hung now there was just a ragged fur. He clasped a piece of parchment to his chest as though it were a magic talisman and his face was white.
"GIMLI!" I gasped in kind, staring.
"You're not dead!" he choked and then I saw the tracks of tears on his cheeks.
"No!" I said, almost shouting, incredulous. "What happened to you?"
"You had died! I cut off my beard in mourning."
I shook my head, still groggy.
After a pause, he added, "I came to see you and you were still as death! You did not breathe, your heart did not beat! How could you live now?"
"I was in a trance," I explained. "The body slows. What is that paper?"
"A letter to my father. Telling him that I was leaving Middle Earth."
I marveled. "To-to see Galadriel?"
"To take you to Valinor!"
"But Gimli," I replied. "Had I died, my spirit would go to Valinor. There I would be once more clothed in living flesh just as I am now."
"BAH!" he exclaimed in exasperation and threw his hands up in the air, turning away.
"Gimli, wait! Where is it? Your beard."
"Where is my beard? It is to be burned!"
"Give it to me," I said, leaping out of bed. He protested but I was already feeling better and told him so. We rescued his beard from a cooking fire and I took it outside.
"It is not as though we can once again attach it to my face," he objected. "I've sheared it off for nothing!"
"Your knife," I demanded, holding out a hand. He gave it to me and I twisted up my own hair like a rope, cutting it close and even. He gasped when he saw me do this but was too late to stop me. I wadded it all up together, his hair and mine, and cast it to the wind, up into the branches of the pale trees to hang like moss for the animals to take.
Then I grasped Gimli by the hands and danced around him in a circle. "It was just as you said!" I exclaimed. "All land is one. My roots stretch under the sea and twine with those of Telperion and Laurelin! They are not dead, but underground!"
"Who is that? You are making me dizzy," he complained.
"I do not go to Valinor!" I said, smiling. "Not now. I will live here until I choose to go."
"Here?" Gimli asked and his face fell.
"In Middle Earth," I explained. "Not here at this place. Come, let us walk under the trees."
So we walked and I once again delighted in things that grew in the good, rich earth. Something moved me to laughter and Gimli looked up at me.
"By the iron hammers of Dwaine, it's good to hear you laughing again. What is it about this time?"
"I was thinking," I said, "that somewhere a bird is building a nest of our hair."
"Gold and red brass. But what is funny about a nest?"
Like so many things I found amusing, he did not understand. Neither could I explain to him the pleasure I felt that this should be so. Tilting my head back, I observed the deep blue of the sky beyond the trees. "A robin, I should think."
Gimli shook his head. "Not the robin song. You sing that every time we see one of those damned-"
But I was already singing the one-hundred-forty-seventh ballad of spring. My voice was rough with disuse and not as clear as it used to be. Still, I sang. Gimli pretended to be exasperated. I know secretly he was as pleased as I.
"Gimli, sing," I pleaded between verses. "You know the words. I've sung them to you a thousand times at least."
He declined, claiming his voice too rough and deep for birdsong; that such music was meant for elves to make. I asked him to sing something dwarvish but he refused that as well, with so many listening. Never had I suspected Gimli of self-consciousness. Now that I was well, he meant to remain silent and let me do the singing for both of us. No amount of pestering would change his mind. Dwarves are stubborn!
Several days later I was almost wholly recovered. It was time we went home and so we gathered food for our journey, sought out our horses, and returned north and west.
I would one day go to the ocean and sail across it to Valinor but knew in my heart that it could wait. Whereas before I was adrift, now I felt that other land through my feet, through the bones of the earth, and understood the separation to be no more than illusion. Not even water truly parted me from that place. Gimli showed me that. Only he, a child of the deep earth, could have done so.
He also showed me that, indeed, there is nothing better than to know, with every beat of your heart, whom you love forever. Since my journey I have not once heard of a dwarf cutting off his beard for any reason and I suspect that there is no such custom. I never asked. Neither, as I found out later, do dwarves commonly feel such a love as Gimli described. They do covet their women as they covet jewels, jealously guarding them against rivals. What I initially took to be a habit of his race turned out to be a peculiarity of Gimli alone. Never mind. Beauty defies logic and love does not explain itself even when we beg to understand.