Many Thanks -
To CaptainoGondor, for Beta reading, support, compliments and love.
To Jeanne, for encouragement and interest, and generally being a sweetheart.
To Agt. Spooky for positive feedback and ego boosting.
To Lisa C. Williams for much help and info on such diverse things as the lifespan of the House of Stewards, and the weather in the Undying Lands.
To Magic Rat and everyone on the Axe and Bow Yahoo Group for great discussions and lots of laughs!
Author's Note: Sarah told me she appreciated that the story featured an elderly Gimli. So I told her my inspiration, I thought you might like to know too.
It was inspired by this quote from John Rhys-Davies -
"There is a lovely thing that in a way we couldn't do
because we have Ian Holm's character going off on that
last boat. But in the book at the end, [you have this]
eternal and young and youthful Legolas and ... this very
aged dwarf with white hair and they take him off on
the boat as well."
And listening to 'Into The West' from the soundtrack. I imagined it being Legolas singing to Gimli as they sail. And out of those images this came
Night is falling,
You've come to journey's end.
- Into The West
(Lyrics by Fran Walsh)
Legolas slept, and he dreamed of a tomb. Upon it was written -
'Legolas Thranduilion, Prince of Eryn Lassgalen, Lord of Ithilien, Last of the Nine Walkers, and all that is left of the Fellowship of the Ring.'
Suddenly all of his memories were blown away in a great gust of wind, like so many papers, portraits and dust. And the tomb was empty. It crumbled and fell into the sea. A white gull cried.
He awoke with a start. He brought his hands to his face and felt tears on his cheeks. His breath came in rough gasps.
"Legolas?" Gimli called from his bed across the room.
"I'm well, Gimli." the Elf responded, calming his breathing. "Go back to sleep."
But, of course, Gimli had already thrown off his covers and was making his way across the room. In earlier years his gait would have been quicker and perhaps a bit steadier, but never more determined. "Elves sleep little enough, when what they do take is disturbed by nightmares, something's amiss, laddie." He reached Legolas' bed and reached up to wipe a tear from his friend's face. "It's all right. This has been a difficult week for us all." He said gently.
"I ..." Legolas began, but found he couldn't speak further, else he would begin to sob. He nodded.
"It will be easier after tomorrow, once we've put him to rest." Gimli patted the Elf's shoulder.
But it wouldn't be. Legolas could not control the sobs that broke loose then. How could Gimli understand? Before he became one of the Fellowship, Legolas had never seen death. Now it seemed as if it was all around him, stalking his dearest friends and taking them away from him, one by one. And who would be next but Gimli, his most beloved. Then what would he do? Sail to Valinor? Why? To endure eternity without those he most cherished? For what reason?
"Ach, now," Gimli said, sitting on the bed and pulling Legolas into his arms. "That's better. That's a lad. Let go of it now. What have I always told you? Grief is to be released, not kept in and hoarded as if it were precious, like silver and jewels. Tears wash away pain. If you swallow them, they'll only strangle you. I'll never understand your pointy-eared ways!" Gimli gave a long-suffering sigh.
Legolas laid his head down on Gimli's shoulder and allowed himself to be held while his body shook and cried out his grief, seemingly of its own accord. Gimli spoke to him, sometimes softly, sometimes gruffly, but continuously. Legolas took comfort in his friend's voice, though he didn't register the words themselves. It was as if he was in some sort of limbo, aware of his body, yet not in control of it.
He thought of Gimli wailing in sorrow at his cousin Balin's tomb. He wished so often that he'd truly understood then what the Dwarf was feeling, that he'd laid a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, as Boromir had. He remembered Boromir holding Gimli back, when he furiously insisted on going back into Moria after Gandalf. Legolas hadn't understood that anger then. He was in such confusion over what it even meant that Gandalf had died as it was, that he could hardly respond when Aragorn called his name. He understood the anger now. The denial. The compulsion to DO something when a loved one is lost.
He remembered seeing Boromir, dead. He couldn't believe it. Literally. It was just beyond his reckoning to lose two such friends so quickly. How could they simply die? He understood being wounded, of course, he was a warrior. But to be wounded so badly that you just stopped living? The concept was so foreign, so horrible, he couldn't accept it. But he knew he wanted to DO something for Boromir. He couldn't abide just leaving him there, exposed, and among those foul Orcs who had taken his life. So they had put him into a boat and given him to the care of Anduin.
Legolas had always thought burial was a fitting way to honor the bodies of the deceased. Few Elves died, but when they did they were buried so that their bodies would nourish the trees. His Grandadar, Oropher, had died at the Battle of the Last Alliance, and his body had been brought back to Mirkwood and buried beneath a lindon tree. That was before Legolas was born. When Gilrain, Aragorn's mother, had died in Rivendell, Lord Elrond had buried her and set up a memorial statue, so her son could still see her, as human memories are not as vivid, nor as enduring as Elven ones. Legolas had never known her, so he'd never given any thought to her body. But he'd wondered, when Paladin Took, the 19th Thain and Pippin's father, had died and they'd laid him to rest under the earth, if the river wasn't a better way. Legolas knew the way of the earth. Leaves fall and disintegrate. They lay upon the earth and insects crawl on them. Worms eat their way through them. The rain and snow break them down until they are part of the mud. He couldn't bear thinking of these things happening to poor little Pippin, and then to Merry, as this was the Hobbit way. But Thain Paladin had a resting place. There was a stone there, to say who he was, what he'd done, to keep his memory alive. His children and grandchildren had a place to go and remember him. Perhaps that was better. Legolas wasn't sure.
But then, when King Eomer felt his death was near, he called for Merry, to see him again, and Pippin traveled with him to Rohan. After the death of Eomer, the Hobbits had traveled with Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, back to Gondor, and stayed there until their deaths. So they were laid to rest in small coffins of stone which were set in the Hallows of Gondor.
Each death had taken it's toll on the Elf. He had grieved each friend, and every one got more difficult. But this terrible drawn out mourning ritual for Aragorn, King Elessar rather, was becoming unendurable. There had been an announcement the day of his death. Then a day of private mourning. Then public mourning. Then a day of Memorial, and finally, tomorrow would be the funeral. It was finally coming to an end. Almost. Legolas knew something Gimli didn't. He knew that the next death wouldn't be long in coming. As Aragorn had laid down, and given in to his mortality, so would Arwen. She had given up her immortality for love, and now she would follow him into death, and wherever that may lead. She would follow them all, where Legolas couldn't go.
His throat hurt. He could feel Gimli's fingers carding through his hair. He took a deep breath, lifted his head, wiped his eyes and realized he was exhausted. He rested his forehead against the Dwarf's.
"Hannon le, Gimli, mellon nin." He said softly.
"Hmph," Gimli acknowledged the thanks. In truth, he understood enough Sindarin to get by very well, but he'd never admit it. It was in deference to the Elf's present emotional state that he didn't upbraid Legolas for speaking 'that ridiculous sing-song prattle' to him. He pushed Legolas back and looked into his eyes. "Elf, you need ..." He began seriously, then faltered.
"Need what, Dwarf?" Legolas asked.
But Gimli seemed to have decided against whatever he'd been about to say. "Wine!" He answered, but it was obviously not his original thought. He got up from the bed, shouting orders, "Turn around and sit up."
Legolas obeyed, rearranging his bed clothes. He watched as Gimli poured wine for them and brought the cups back to the bed.
"Here," Gimli thrust a cup into Legolas' hand, and kept one for himself. "Drink that down, it'll help you sleep." He drained his own.
Legolas obeyed. He was thirsty, and too tired to do much else.
"Good!" Gimli took the cup the minute it left Legolas' lips and set it on the window ledge. "Now lie back," he put his hand on the Elf's chest and pushed his friend down, thus negating any opportunity for argument. "CLOSE your eyes," he very lightly brushed his fingers down the Elf's eyelids, conscious, as always, of how rough and calloused axe wielding had made his hands, and how they must feel to the Elf's petal soft skin. "And SLEEP!" The Dwarf turned his back on his friend, emphasizing that he'd said his last word on the subject, and crawled back under his own covers.
Legolas smiled over at Gimli, who pretended not to see it, and then, as ordered, he slept.
Legolas was wakened the next morning by birdsong and sunshine. The day was beautiful. He looked over at Gimli who still slept. He'd always been a bit of a snorer, and it used to be somewhat irritating to Legolas. In the last few years, however, the Dwarf moved less in his sleep, and the dull roar was a reassuring testament that he still drew breath.
Legolas got up, walked into the adjoining chamber and checked the temperature of the bath water. He'd filled the wooden tub the night before with clean water from the spring, and let the water sit overnight. Extreme temperatures didn't bother the Elf, but Gimli couldn't abide cold water.
'Still a bit cool,' he thought. He took a copper pot and filled it from the tub. Walking back into the bed chamber to set the pot over the fire, Gimli spoke.
"The page boys have brought in all of your frills and frippery, lad." He indicted Legolas' princely circlet and robes.
The Elf looked at the smooth fabric and fingered the freshly polished mithril. A frown wrinkled his brow. "Arwen must have had them come and get these yesterday. I wouldn't have bothered them over it. I intended to take care of it myself."
"More likely Eldarion, taking care of his old uncles." Gimli held up the large gold beads that adorned his hair and beard for formal occasions. They too had been polished.
Legolas offered a small smile, "Yes, I suppose so. He would remember such a thing."
"Aye, He's always been a considerate child. He'll be a good king." The Dwarf stretched, his bones popped in their joints.
"A nice soak will do you good." Legolas said, adding rose petals and lavender to the simmering water.
"That's enough of that," Gimli directed him. "I don't need to spend the day smelling like an Elf's garden!"
Legolas sighed, but left the rest of the flowers whole and returned them to their vase. He unbraided his hair while he waited for the water to boil.
Gimli looked out the window. "Terrible day for a funeral."
"You'd rather have the procession in the wet and cold?" Legolas enquired.
Gimli wasn't much in the mood either to explain, or to be baited. "The water's gone to boil, Elf."
Legolas nodded, "Only just, though." He moved behind Gimli to take out the long braid in his hair, while the Dwarf dealt with his beard.
"Have you given thought to returning to Ithilien?" Gimli asked him.
"I haven't. I'll go if you wish, but I think we should stay for a few more days." Legolas finished with Gimli's hair and went to get the boiling water.
"It makes me no difference," Gimli shrugged out of his night shirt and followed the Elf.
Legolas poured the boiling water into the tub and stirred it with his hand. "It's an even temperature, Master Dwarf."
Gimli grunted and approached the tub, after testing the water himself he nodded his approval. Legolas put one hand at Gimli's waist and offered the Dwarf his other arm, which Gimli used to push himself over the side of the tub. They both knew of course that the largest share of the work was done by Legolas, lifting the Dwarf up at the hip, but the motion was choreographed to let Gimli keep his pride. Too many battles and too many winters had long ago stolen much of the flexibility from Gimli's muscles and joints, and they had discovered three years before that his sturdy Dwarven bones were far more prone to break and longer to mend than in his youth. Worse, they now kept the memory of every ache and pain and gave Gimli many unwanted reminders.
"Aaaaahhh," Gimli sighed contentedly as he sank beneath the water.
Legolas grinned from behind him. As Gimli relaxed, Legolas scrubbed his friend's back and washed his hair, two chores that had become increasingly difficult for Gimli. Axe wielding took its toll on the shoulders, and Gimli's had decided their days of raising the arms above the head had come to an end.
After he had rinsed Gimli's hair, Legolas stepped into the other end of the tub and performed his own ablutions, hoping he could somehow wash away the memory of his nightmare as well. Once finished, he exited the tub and rubbed himself dry with one of the many towels which had been so thoughtfully piled in the room, undoubtedly also at Eldarion's request.
Gimli watched as Legolas sat to brush and braid his golden hair. He was, at times, envious of the Elf's enduring youth, jealous of his still flexible body and unfailing senses, not to mention his eternal Elven beauty. Certainly there were days that Gimli would give anything to be the Dwarf he was sixty years ago. But mostly he took comfort in his body's signs that his work was almost finished, his mine nearly tapped out, his war soon won. He knew that the time would come for him to leave this realm and join his ancestors to live as the beloved of Mahal in eternal bliss. There was no reason to fear this new stage of existence, and, had he never met Legolas, it would never have been an occasion for much sadness either, for every Dwarf he knew or ever had known would surely be there, if not to greet him when he entered, then he would greet them as they entered.
But now, he regretted that he would be leaving Legolas alone, to an unknown fate. Though Thranduil was Sindarin, Legolas had lived as a Wood Elf, and had never been to the Undying Lands. Most wood Elves simply stayed in Middle-earth, but Legolas had heard the gull's cry and so he was stricken with the sea longing, and staying indefinitely wasn't an option for him. Even staying this long had pained him. Gimli had seen it in his face when he would sit for long periods, staring out toward the sea. Would Legolas spend a lonely eternity in the West among strange Elves who regarded the place as home? But certainly the Elves would take him in, befriend him and comfort him and make him one of their own - wouldn't they? Ah, but Galadriel would be there, and surely the Lady of Light would not allow Legolas to wander alone and be sad.
"Gimli, what thought has your brow so furrowed?" Legolas roused him from his reverie.
"I was just wondering, why it is you braid your hair so differently for funerals than you usually do. Is it a mourning braid?" Gimli answered, not wishing to reveal his true thought, and to be honest, he had been curious.
Legolas laughed softly. "No, we Elves have too little experience with death to devise a mourning braid. The truth is," Legolas lowered his voice, " it keeps the circlet from falling off."
Gimli laughed as well. "I see, the secrets of royalty, eh?"
"Shhh!" Legolas admonished him. "Never tell!"
"Upon my word," Gimli promised. "But now I feel I am becoming well and truly waterlogged." He stood and Legolas was instantly at his side, helping him from the tub and wrapping him in a towel to ward off chill.
Gimli was then bustled to a rug before the fire, where Legolas had placed the remaining stack of towels while the Dwarf was deep in thought. Gimli took one up and rubbed at his beard, while Legolas briskly dried his hair. That done, Legolas brought Gimli's clothing to him. As Gimli worked his way into his leggings, Legolas took up his own and dressed. He sat then before a polished mirror and set his circlet upon his brow, then finished the braiding he had started earlier. That finished, he went back to the fire to help Gimli with his boots. Then it was the Dwarf's turn before the mirror.
He passed one comb back to Legolas, who stood behind him, and took up the other for himself. He tamed the snarls of his moustache and beard while his friend did the same with his hair.
"Legolas, do you remember the first time you braided my hair?" Gimli asked, and the Elf laughed in answer. "I wondered what was taking so long."
"Well I knew what it was supposed to look like, but I'd never made such a thick braid before! It was unnatural to my fingers!"
"It looked like I had some huge fishbone hanging down my back!" Gimli roared at the memory.
"It did not!" Legolas cuffed the Dwarven ear. He remembered well that day. Gimli had broken his hand when their horse, Arod, stopped abruptly to avoid a low tree branch and threw them. The Dwarf had refused all help at mealtimes and with any other chores, but the Elf knew, when the morning came it would be a different story. Despite all stubbornness and determination, one simply cannot braid with one hand. Finally Gimli had asked, in a typically impolite fashion.
"I suppose it would be beneath an Elf, and a prince at that, to braid the hair of a mere Dwarf?!" He'd demanded.
"You need only ask," Legolas had replied.
"Well, I've asked. What are you standing there for!"
Legolas remembered the hair he'd braided that first time had been the same rich russet brown as when they'd first met. Over the years he'd watched it fade to a sandy strawberry, then a pale gold, finally turning to the silver white beneath his fingers now. He hated it.
"OUCH!" Gimli shouted. "What are you pulling at, pointy ear?!"
"I'm sorry, Gimli," Legolas hastily apologized, genuinely contrite. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
Gimli harrumphed his acceptance of the apology. Legolas finished combing and came around to Gimli's side, where he began braiding one side of the moustache into the four tiny plaits that would eventually flow into the thick braid of the beard.
"I've been thinking. We should stay. We should see Eldarion crowned," Gimli said.
"I felt we should as well. Especially as he'll have no other family elders there."
Gimli stared at Legolas in the mirror. "You're forgetting his mother."
Legolas looked up and sadly met the reflection of Gimli's eyes, held the gaze for a long moment, then returned to his work.
"Will she die soon?" Gimli asked, quietly.
"It is her decision when to lie down, but the light left her eyes as soon as he left her arms. " Legolas slipped a gold bead into the moustache, then went to the other side to repeat the process.
Gimli began where Legolas had stopped, weaving the moustache into the beard in a thick braid. "She'll leave her children?"
"Her 'children' are full grown, and many Elves have died from heartsickness. There isn't a question of it being a choice, any more than it would be a choice for a Dwarf to die from a bodysickness."
A knock at the door interrupted them. "Enter, " Legolas called.
A page boy opened the door and bowed. "I was sent to ask if you needed anything, my lords."
"Nothing, thank you," Gimli answered absently, still pondering the fatal effects of heartsickness on an Elf.
"His Majesty's procession will be leaving directly." The page bowed again and left.
Legolas placed the second bead, and then donned his ornate outer tunic. When Gimli had finished his beard, they left the chamber and went to take their places.
The procession was quickly assembled at the lowest level of the White City. Eldarion was at the head, carrying the king's standard, which was edged in wide blue silk ribbons which hung from each corner and trailed on the ground, denoting sorrow and signifying the death of the king. Gimli walked behind, carrying the crown on the same pillow used for the coronation. Next was Legolas, leading Frea of the line of Brego, Aragorn's last horse. Frea was wearing Aragorn's empty saddle and Legolas was wearing Aragorn's empty scabbard, which was to honor the death of a great warrior. After them were Arwen and her daughters in a litter, followed by the Royal Guard, led by Barahir, grandson of Faramir. They made their way slowly through the gates and up each level, singing a traditional lament. All of Gondor was there, lining the streets, throwing flowers before the procession, and joining it once it passed them. In this way the procession grew larger and larger in length as they neared their destination.
Legolas worried that the route was longer than Gimli's endurance, but the Dwarf waved away any attempts at help, and wouldn't even allow Legolas to finish a whispered suggestion that he might ride in the litter.
At their slow pace it took nearly two hours to reach the sixth circle. Barahir came forward as they approached the Closed Door.
He raised the white rod of his office and called out the ritual words, not used for generations, since the last Numenorian King had given up his life so that his son could rule. "I, Barahir Elboronian, of the House of Hurin, the Steward of Gondor, command the Porter to appear!"
The Porter came from behind his door. "I am the Porter."
"Are you the Keeper of the Keys of Fen Hollin?" Barahir asked.
"I am." The Porter answered.
"Who last passed this door?"
"King Aragorn the Second, Elessar, of the House of Telcontar."
"Open the door that we may honor him!"
The Porter opened the door and the procession continued down the road toward, Rath Dinen, the Silent Street. The tenders of the dead had been at work and the pillars of the balusters were scrubbed and gleaming. Finally they had decended to The Hallows and Eldarion turned toward House of Kings, where Aragorn had lain down on his own slab to die. He was laid in state there for all of his family, friends and subjects to pay their last respects.
Eldarion entered first with his mother and sisters. Then Legolas and Gimli were called to enter. They each honored him according to their own beliefs. Gimli placed a jewel in his hand, so he would not be without beauty. Legolas bowed his head and put his fist to his shoulder in the Elvish sign of honor, and recited a prayer that he would find peace. "Hiro hon hîdh ab 'wanath."
Then they helped their nieces back into their litter and walked with Eldarion and Barahir back to the seventh circle and returned Frea to his stable. Arwen stayed, gazing upon her lover's face, and would not be moved.
The people filed through until nightfall. When all had seen him, he was placed inside his stone coffin by candlelight and the capstone sealed. Arwen was the last to leave him.
That night, Legolas did not sleep. This did not bother Gimli since he had slept the night before. Gimli knew he may not sleep again for a week or more. What did bother Gimli was that he sat all night on a wall of the citadel, looking south toward the sea.
The next day, Legolas privately asked Arwen if he might have a very old pair of Gondorian vambraces which Aragorn kept in a wooden box by his bed.
"Boromir's vambraces?" She smiled. "Of course, they should be yours. They should be always with a member of the fellowship."
"Hannon le, Arwen Undomiel." Legolas took the box gratefully.
"It is a long time since I have been called that. " She smiled. "I am no longer the evenstar of our people ... your people. "
"You won't stay long in Middle-earth, will you?" Legolas asked.
"No. I am going to return to Lothlorian, and then I will lie down, as my love has done."
"I will escort you." He took her hand.
She smiled fondly but shook her head. "Thank you for your kindness, but I would prefer that you not. I should like to farewell you here, then say goodbye to my children, then return to the golden wood with only my memories of Aragorn for company. In the silence, I can still feel his presence near me. "
"And what will you do, Legolas?" She brushed a strand of hair behind a pointed ear.
"Gimli and I will return to Ithilien. I'm sure he'll wish to travel to Aglarond soon, before the cold weather comes."
"Yes, but, you won't stay in Middle-earth?" She asked, knowing the pain of the sea-longing was already in her friend.
"I... I must stay with Gimli." He said, then paused for a long moment. "Then, after ... I suppose I'll sail. " he said sadly.
"You must, Greenleaf. You cannot resist the sea-longing forever. The pain only increases."
He nodded, not looking at her.
She took a deep breath. "When you do, could you please tell my Ada that I was happy. That we were happy together, and that I have no regrets."
She turned away and took a small book out of her drawer. "Will you take this to him?"
He took the book and untied its lacings. It held sketches of herself, Aragorn, and their children. Legolas smiled. "I'll be honored to take him such a precious gift."
"Hannon le, Legolas Thranduillion." She placed her palm on his cheek.
He returned the affection, then bowed to her and returned to his rooms.
Gimli was resting when he entered. "What is that you have?"
Legolas handed him the box. "Something from long ago."
Gimli opened the box and took out the vambraces. "Oh ..." tears welled in his eyes. "Boromir was a good man."
"Yes, " Legolas agreed. "A man of honor and compassion. He was a brave warrior as well."
"I still remember when we came upon him and Aragorn. I can see it like it was yesterday." Gimli sniffed and wiped his eyes.
Legolas sat down on the bed. "I couldn't believe it. I just ... could not believe it was happening."
Gimli patted his leg. Legolas took his hand. They sat in silence for some time, lost in memory.
"Do you ever think that we could have fought harder to get to him after the horn sounded?" Gimli asked.
"Yes, but I know we couldn't, Gimli. We were outnumbered, and the Orcs weren't going to stand aside as we ran past. I know we did our best." Legolas said. He put his hand on Gimli's cheek and looked into the Dwarf's deep brown eyes. "My memory is different than yours, as you once reminded me. It does not change or fade. I remember it as it was. We fought with all our might. The grief is something we feel because we loved him. But I will not have you feel guilt, Dwarf. That is a lie your mind is telling you. You are blameless."
"Aye, I suppose you're right." Gimli said.
Legolas took the vambraces and turned them over in his hands thoughtfully. "Gimli, do you know if Men find it disrespectful to move the bones of the dead once they've been put to rest?"
The Dwarf looked at him strangely. "What are you thinking of?"
"I wonder if it would be possible to place Merry and Pippin beside Aragorn, or would that be improper?"
Gimli thought, a slight smile on his face. "That's a grand idea, laddie."
"I shall ask Eldarion then."
The Hobbits' beds were moved, and a crystal case containing the cloven horn of Boromir was placed there as well. And the story of the Nine Walkers was inscribed on a small stone, for later generations to read.
Gimli stood before it, nodding in approval. "Yes. Well done, Legolas. It is a fitting tribute."
Legolas smiled, "But it was Eldarion and his troops who did the work."
"Ach," Gimli dismissed the fact. "It was you who thought of it." He walked around the stone beds, with the likenesses of Merry, Pippin and Aragorn carved into black onyx atop them. "I wonder, should we leave something of our own here as well?"
"Just as... well, as mementos." Gimli said. "We were walkers as well."
"As were Frodo, Sam and Gandalf, but they have nothing here."
"Perhaps they should."
"What would you leave then?" Legolas asked.
Gimli sighed. "I've been thinking of late that perhaps it is time for me to lay down my axe."
Legolas started. That was not a thing said lightly by a Dwarf. "Your axe, Gimli?"
Gimli looked up at his friend and smiled fondly. "Let us be truthful, Elf. We both know it's been a few years since I could properly swing it. And now I can hardly lift it."
"But, even so - Gimli, it's your AXE!"
"Can you think of a better place to lie it down?"
Legolas held his tongue. Against all reason he didn't want Gimli to lie it down at all.
Gimli saw the Elf's dismay. "Well, perhaps I'll sleep on it. There may be something better I could leave."
Legolas calmed somewhat at that. He looked out toward the sky. "We'll be expected at the dining hall soon."
"Then what are we waiting for!" Gimli clapped his friend on the hip and started toward dining hall at what was, for him, a quick pace.
It was not until the next afternoon that Gimli broached the subject again. "Well, Elf, I've been thinking," he announced, as they walked the path through Arwen's gardens.
"Oh?" Legolas answered, sounding almost preoccupied.
"Yes, I think I'll leave my crystal at the tribute, the one containing the Lady Galadriel's hair."
"NO!" Legolas answered, much louder than he had intended. "I mean, Gimli, you said that's to be a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood. What good would that be in Gondor?"
"Aye, laddie, you're right. I suppose I should leave it to the Mountain."
"Why must you leave it anywhere?"
Gimli could hear real distress in Legolas' voice, and, looking up, saw it in his face as well. "Come, let's sit a moment." He led the way to a cushioned wooden bench. "Do you know how long we've known each other?"
"One hundred and twenty-one Firith seasons."
"Yes, and we've grown far beyond fellow warriors, haven't we?"
"Even beyond mere friendship, wouldn't you say?"
"I have great love for you, Gimli." Legolas put his hands to Gimli's cheeks. "You are in my heart."
Gimli covered Legolas' hands with his own. "And you are in mine." He smiled. "So we must stop dancing around the subject of my death."
"Gimli, please." Legolas dropped his hands and looked away.
"And we must talk about your going to the West." Gimli continued, over the Elf's protest.
Legolas turned back and looked into Gimli's eyes. "I'm not leaving you, Gimli son of Gloin, as I have told you before!"
"You must! If you stay to mourn me you may weaken with the grief, and you will be unable to sail! And then you will remain here, longing, forever!"
"Or I will die." Legolas said quietly.
"NO!" Gimli pounded his fist on the bench. "You are not MEANT to and you WILL NOT!"
Legolas dropped to his knees and took Gimli by the shoulders. "I will grieve your loss whether I sail before you die or after. But I will not leave knowing I could have had one more day with you or even one more hour! How could I Gimli, mellon nin? Could you do it to me?"
Gimli was taken aback at the question. To be honest, he hadn't put himself in the Elf's place, as he realized now he should have, before he made the suggestion. Because the answer was the same. Gimli reached out with his wrinkled hands and wiped away Legolas' tears, while his own coursed down his cheeks. "No, Greenleaf, I could not. And I will not ask you again."
Legolas embraced him, and for a long time they remained there, rocking slightly, silently crying out their despair at their impossible situation.
Time passed and Gimli's throat began to hurt. He cleared it, then coughed and began looking for a handkerchief to wipe his eyes. Legolas pressed one into his hand and he nodded his thanks. Legolas rubbed his own tears away with his fist and took a few deep breaths.
"I could do with a pint of ale, " Gimli said, rising from the bench. Legolas stood and gave his mute assent. As Gimli walked by Legolas's side to the kitchens, he was troubled by his friend's silence. But he sensed that speaking wouldn't help. He reached over and took the Elf's hand in his own. The firm grip comforted Legolas and when Gimli looked up he was gifted with a small smile.
"Ah, come here," Gimli said softly, motioning for Legolas to bend closer to him, which he obligingly did. Gimli wiped the back of his hand across Legolas' still damp cheeks and tsked at the redness encircling the bright blue eyes. "If I look anything like you, perhaps we'd best have a bit of a wash before we inflict ourselves on the scullery staff, eh?"
Legolas smiled wide at that. "Am I so hideous?"
"Your eyes are red as wine."
"Nearly as bad as yours then."
"Oh? We shall see." Gimli changed direction and walked to their rooms instead. He had not released Legolas's hand, nor did the Elf pull away.
Once they were back in their quarters, Legolas rinsed his face, then went to retrieve ale and wine from the kitchen while Gimli erased the tell-tale signs of grief.
When Legolas returned Gimli was holding the leather book Arwen had given him.
"What is this?" he asked.
Legolas put the ale and wine down on a small table. "Arwen gave it to me, for Lord Elrond. It's sketches of his children and grandchildren."
"I see. For when you sail," Gimli said.
"Yes." Legolas answered quietly. He poured the ale into a cup and handed it to Gimli. He no longer had the stomach for any wine.
Gimli took the cup and had a long drink. "Ahh, the brewers of Gondor - almost as good as Dwarves they are!"
"I'm sure they'd be flattered to hear it." Legolas laughed.
"As well they should be." Gimli sat in a cushioned chair and put his feet up on silk covered hassock, both of which had been placed in the room especially for him. He was quiet for a while, and Legolas wondered if he was going to nap. Just as he was about to ask if Gimli would rather lie in the bed, the Dwarf spoke again. "I wonder, laddie, if you'd do something similar for me?"
"Similar to what?"
"To what you are doing for the Lady Arwen."
"You want me to take something to Lord Elrond?" Legolas asked incredulously.
"No, don't be daft. To the Lady Galadriel."
"Ah. Love poems, perhaps?" Legolas teased him.
"Ach," Gimli scowled at him. "I can't leave it to you. Silly princeling."
Legolas burst out in laughter, "You already said that!"
"I know," Gimli grinned, embarrassed, "I knew as soon as it passed my lips."
Legolas poured more ale for Gimli and some wine for himself. "I won, then."
"Only by a slip of my tongue, never by your own skill."
Legolas shook his head. "You never let me have an uncontested victory."
"And you don't contest mine?"
"Well ..." Legolas waved that off with his wine glass.
Gimli rolled his eyes and drank his ale. Of course he truly loved having an argument of insults with his friend. They'd refined it to a high art. They each had their sore points, which the other knew and stayed away from. Actual racial epithets which had arisen in Sindarin and Khuzdul never passed their lips. Legolas refrained from mentioning the ravages of Gimli's advancing age. Gimli would rather cut out his tongue than mention Legolas's worsening sea longing. But everything else was fair game. Gimli wondered idly with whom Legolas would fight when he was gone. He'd never heard Legolas bicker with another Elf. He couldn't imagine Elrond, Celeborn or Galadriel doing such a thing. Gandalf, though, Gandalf would be there. That made him feel better.
"What will you do then?" Legolas asked interrupting Gimli's thoughts.
"You said you cannot entrust it to me, so how will you get it to your Lady, hmm? Deliver it yourself?"
"Perhaps I will!" Gimli set his mug of ale down decisively.
"Oh yes, especially as you enjoy sailing so much," Legolas chuckled.
Gimli traced a pattern on his mug with his finger as he spoke. "I've wondered, Elf, how will you sail, when you must. Lady Arwen says the last ship has gone."
"It has indeed. But I shall build a new one for myself."
"You? Build something?" Gimli gave a full belly laugh.
"Yes!" Legolas answered, affronted. "Are you implying I am incapable of constructing a ship?"
"I've barely seen you build an appetite, much less a ship!" Gimli's mirth, aided by more ale, continued.
"That only shows your ignorance of my many skills, Master Dwarf. I've built watercraft since I was an elfling, and sailed them upon the Forest River."
"I hardly think a river barge is akin to a sailing ship, Legolas."
"I did not build river barges!"
"No ... coracles."
"Coracles? Do those have sails?"
"I have a feeling you'll find yourself swimming to the West, Prince Elf. And I do not intend to have my personal missive presented to the Beautiful Lady by soggy messenger, much the worse for wear."
"You are, without doubt, the most impossible Dwarf ever to breathe free air, Gimli Gloin's son!"
"You still haven't said how you do intend to transport this message."
Gimli quieted. "Hmmm ... " He sat thinking for several long moments. Finally he cleared his throat in a decisive manner. "There's nothing for it. I'll have to go with you."
"What?" Legolas nearly choked on his wine.
"Of course, I WILL be overseeing the construction of the boat."
Legolas came and knelt before his friend. "Gimli, melleth, you are not serious."
"I am very serious indeed, Legolas."
"But Gimli, I cannot assure your return, In fact I can almost certainly assure that you will not!"
Gimli reached forward and smoothed the lines from the Elf's forehead. "I know."
"No," Legolas shook his head. "You do not understand. Gimli ..." Legolas sighed and stood, facing away from Gimli. "Gimli, I cannot say how long the trip will be. I do not know ... Gimli, if you go, you will not have any more time. You will never see Aglarond again, don't you see?!"
"Yes, Legolas." Gimli answered calmly. "I do see. I'll die there. And it doesn't trouble me. It is the answer. I can die anywhere. This way I'll know you arrived safely. And I'll be able to see My Lady. And we needn't part from each other a moment sooner than need be."
Legolas bit his lip, anguish and indecision clouding the blue of his eyes. Then at once he returned to Gimli and laid his head in the Dwarf's lap. His eyes were again filled with tears. "Oh Gimli, Mellon-mir, I know I should argue, but I cannot."
"Of course not," Gimli stroked the soft golden tresses. "Because you know I am right, as always."
"As always," Legolas laughed.
"So we are agreed?"
"We are. We shall sail together."
"We should begin construction on the morrow."
Legolas raised his head. "We cannot do that. I must return to Ithilien, I have responsibilities to my people, and I have farewells to make. I will build the ship there, with nimbrethil, the proper wood. Wouldn't you like to see Aglarond once more and tell your family that you are leaving?"
"Yes, of course, you are right."
"As always." Legolas added.
The next day, Arwen left for Lothlorien. Legolas and Gimli bid her farewell at the highest gate of the city, then left her to travel the lower levels alone with her children. Gimli followed Legolas as he walked to the stables to check on his horse, Lingaladh. In truth, he was their horse, but Gimli held that he would no more claim a horse than a warg. Yet Legolas noted some affection between the two none the less.
Gimli was resting on a stack of hay bales while Legolas gave the horse a good currying when the Elf suddenly seemed to collapse against Lingaladh's flank, and the brush dropped from his hands. Gimli rose immediately and seized Legolas' arm. "Sit, quickly, I'll not be able to lift you if you fall!"
Weakly Legolas stumbled backwards, to the bales Gimli had just vacated, and dropped onto them with a low moan. Gimli fetched water and a cloth. He put a few leaves of pipeweed into the water, then crushed a pod of the Moondrop plant, used for fever, into the bowl. Then he dipped the cloth and bathed his friend's face with the mixture. The sea longing had first manifested in Legolas as a near obsession with the West; the Elf had found himself constantly being pulled toward the sea, mentally and physically. He managed to conquer that and it settled into a general discomfort and restlessness. He called upon his indomitable spirit and will, pushed the irritation to the back of his mind and stilled himself so he could continue his life normally. That was when the nightmares began, and there was no way to quiet them. But the longing hadn't surrendered the Elf's waking life. No, it only lay in wait to visit yet one more horror upon its victim.
The first time he'd seen the sea longing affect Legolas in the form of a physical attack, Gimli nearly panicked, not knowing how to cope with an Elf who was suddenly incoherent and had the muscle control of a rag doll. To his everlasting chagrin, he had simply called "Legolas? Legolas?" and slapped his friend's face until the attack passed. But after three years of trial and error he'd found a few remedies which seemed to help. And he kept what had worked ever close to hand.
Legolas mumbled random phrases in Sindarin. "I must ... I cannot ... Why? ... peace ... never any peace ... Release me! ...cannot stay ... cannot go ... cannot breathe ..."
"Legolas!" Gimli demanded. "Legolas Thranduilion! Look at me!" He tried to call the Elf back, but he could see it was too soon. The attacks varied, but over time they had gradually become longer and held Legolas deeper in thrall. Gimli pushed Legolas down into a more comfortable position and continued wiping the damp cloth over his face, neck and hands. "Soon, princeling, I promise this will all be over soon."
During the hour that Gimli sat with Legolas he considered going to find someone to help him carry the Elf back to their rooms. He knew that Eldarion or Barahir would certainly leave any task they were at and make all haste to help him. But surely Eldarion would like some time alone to contemplate his future reign and his life without his parents. And Barahir, being the temporary ruler until the coronation, certainly had important business to see to. But even if he did not, Legolas would not appreciate either young man seeing him in this condition, much as he loved them. He had made his wishes on the subject known to Gimli many times. This was not a thing to be shared.
So Gimli waited.
Once Legolas quieted, Gimli put down his bowl and cloth. He took the Elf's shoulders and shook him, hard. "Legolas Thranduilion!" He shouted, harshly. The clear blue eyes fixed on him. "Better!" Gimli took Legolas' hands and slapped them, with no little force. Legolas never even blinked. Gimli then rained smacks upon his legs and arms. "Come on, now, come back. This is more than enough lying about." Legolas slowly began to react, like one waking from a dream. Gimli called his name once more and smote him a heavy blow across his face which whipped his head to the right. Legolas gasped and his eyelids fluttered. He turned back to look at Gimli. Gimli raised his hand to repeat his action. Legolas blocked it weakly with his own.
"Daro, Gimli, saes, daro."
"Can you stand?" Gimli asked.
"All right. Not yet, though. Let me put these things away." Gimli got up, emptied the bowl and wrung out the cloth then replaced them where he'd found them. Then he returned to Legolas and pulled one of the Elf's arms around his shoulders. "Up with you then."
Together they got him to his feet. "Come now, we're not far from our room."
Legolas began to sing, softly but plaintively.
"The leaf falls, the sea calls.
The sun shines, the sea pines.
The buds bloom, the sea looms.
The frost comes, the sea thrums.
I can smell the salt sea air," he said.
"I'm sure you can," Gimli answered, leading the way to the palace with one arm around Legolas's waist.
You have captured a Wood Elf's feä.
Far from my home you tempt me.
Westward ever my eyes see.
Why will you never leave me be?
It hurts. It hurts my mind, like a thirst that cannot be quenched."
"I know, Laddie. It's all right. You'll have relief soon." Gimli assured him, patting his back.
No longer in forests shall I roam.
But I despair of the sea foam."
Gimli had gotten Legolas to their room and into bed. "Hush now and rest." He sat on the hassock to remove the Elf's boots. "Perhaps I'll brew you a pot of rose hip tea, eh? How does that sound?" Gimli removed the leggings and tunic.
"I am a stranger to Aman.
Your shores will hold no one from my land.
Moriquendi was I born.
Now from my people am I torn.
I do feel rather weary, Gimli."
"I know, Greenleaf, I know." He pulled a soft white night shirt over the Elf's head. "Lie back now."
be with me when I sail.
I shan't regret hearing the gull's wail.
I had to follow without fail.
And joyously ended we that tale.
Rose hip tea?"
"Aye, you heard that did you?" Gimli smiled at his friend. "Yes. I'll make some." He pulled the thick coverlet up to his friend's chin. He knew Legolas would be off in some Elven dream, or perhaps even asleep before the tea was done, but he put a kettle on the fire nonetheless.
Gimli was quite tired himself from all the exertion, and once the tea was steeping, he lay down on his own bed. But he found he couldn't sleep.
He fetched a map from their belongings and laid it out on a table. He spent the next hour or so tracing out the journey they would need to make before they could sail.
Mellon-mir - Friend-mine
nimbrethil - silver birch
feä - spirit, soul
daro - stop
saes - please