Dwarves and Elves
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Undying Lands: 1. Chapter One
A noise from across the room caught his attention. He placed the book lying open on his lap, ignored for hours, onto the small table beside his chair, and rose to approach the bed from where the noise had issued. Gimli, restless in slumber, caught in the dreams that plague mortal sleep. Legolas stood beside the bend and studied the sleeping form in the light of the dying fire. His dear friend, once hale and full of life, was now marked with the signs of age. The hair of his head and beard, although still thick and flowing, was no longer the rich red of his younger days; it shone now with the starkness of bright white. The skin of his face was lined, and his hands showed the spots of age upon them. No longer did those hands have the strength to wield an axe, no longer did that body leap into danger without a hint of hesitation. His back was bowed, and his steps slow. Legolas sighed, and laid a hand on Gimli's forehead. The time was coming when they would be parted forever. Gimli would leave the circles of this world, as all mortals were fated to do, and Legolas would be alone.
The dwarf was ill, an event that was occurring more frequently as time went on. This time when Lord Elrond had come to tend him, there was sympathy in his eyes as he had turned to leave. A strong hand had gripped Legolas' shoulder as he had stood on the threshold of the home he shared with Gimli, and when he had lifted his gaze to those wise eyes, he had seen understanding in Lord Elrond's face. Like all those that had lived through the war of the ring and its aftermath, Elrond too had lost much.
"It is some time away still, though it will seem but a fleeting moment in time as we elves measure it," he said, "Remember, Legolas, that he is old, older than one of his kin should ever be, due to his time in the Undying Lands. His life has been full and rich, and he has achieved many things. You must not begrudge him his rest. Prepare yourself, my friend."
Legolas had nodded, but had said nothing. He and Gimli had seen the passing of many friends; Éomer King, Merry, Pippin, Faramir, the Lady Éowyn. King Elessar and his Queen. Finally, amid the beauty of the Undying Lands, the death of Frodo and, a few hours later, faithful Samwise, who died holding his master's hand. Each time, memories of happy days passed were shared, goodbyes were said. Now, as he stood looking down at Gimli's sleeping form, he wondered how it would ever be possible to prepare himself for this. To say goodbye to this dwarf, who at first had seemed abrasive, arrogant, annoying, even ridiculous to his prejudiced eyes, but yet had turned out to be fiercely loyal, compassionate, fearless and peerless in battle, and the most dear friend Legolas had ever had.
Legolas lifted his hand from Gimli's brow, and looked around the room. It was filled with reminders of their life together. The first item that caught his eye was on the small table beside the bed. At first glance it seemed to be a paper weight, a simple orb of crystal set into a base of mithril. A closer inspection revealed the crystal's secret however; three golden hairs, plaited together and twisted into a knot for safekeeping during many leagues of travel and toil. The gift from the Lady of the Golden Wood to Gimli the dwarf, cementing their friendship forever. Indeed, that Lady still visited often, and they had spent many a pleasant afternoon in her company. Gimli was as enamoured of her today as the first day they had met.
His eyes turned then from the crystal orb to a small chest on the floor next to the bedside table. Legolas knelt to open the chest, smiling to himself; there were many treasures kept here, he knew. Lying on top as he opened the lid was a pair of leather gauntlets, and his breath caught. The gauntlets were finely made, and bore the image of a white horse at full gallop, tail bannered, mane flying in the breeze, red nostrils flared. Suddenly Legolas was taken back to a time many years ago, when he and Gimli had been visiting Edoras on their way to Ithilien after an extended stay in Eryn Lasgalen. Éomer and Gimli had become fast friends after their initial awkward introduction, finding common ground in their love of fighting and all things involving war. Each recognised the fierce warrior in the other, and their competitive spirit was always highest when they were in the others company. Legolas remembered many nights where the ale flowed like the swift waters of the Anduin while Éomer and Gimli regaled each other with stories of battles fought, enemies vanquished and injuries sustained. Often nights such as those ended with both King and dwarf in various stages of undress, each attempting to prove himself the owner of the most gruesome battle scars, while Legolas and any others present merely laughed and shook their heads.
One such night had ended in a slightly more perilous way, however. Gimli had been boasting about the axe throwing skills of the dwarves, as was his wont. Éomer, in one of his more argumentative moods, had proclaimed loudly that he was certain that axe throwing took no more skill than the Rohirric children's game of throwing horseshoes into a bucket from five steps away. Legolas had closed his eyes and sighed as Gimli bristled.
"We will see about that, Horse-Master," he said through clenched teeth, "I challenge thee, to an axe throwing contest on the morrow. Do you accept?"
Éomer leapt from his seat. "I accept!" he said merrily, eyes alight and dancing at the prospect of some sport. "What will be the wager?" His eyes glinted mischievously. "You can have a horse if you wish."
Gimli snorted. "I have no wish to take from you something of so high a value Éomer, since the prize will be so easily won." It was Éomer's turn to snort then. "Those gauntlets on that table yonder will suffice."
"Very well, if that is what you wish. What will you surrender to me if I win, Master dwarf?"
Gimli laughed, long and loud. "In the unlikely event that happens, my Lord King, you may have my axe, since I would then be no longer worthy of it."
Éomer refrained from any retort in response to Gimli's comments, so full of ale and enthusiasm for the challenge was he. He simply grinned, and said one word.
Legolas smiled. The gauntlets had been won, Gimli's prowess with the axe remained unchallenged, and poor Gamling had almost lost his nose by standing too close to the post that his King was aiming for. That had taken years off Gamling's already long life, Legolas was sure of it. Gimli did not get the chance to bask in his glory for too long, however. Legolas knew that somewhere in Edoras there was a pair of throwing axes of the finest quality available at the time, extracted from the dwarf after, of all things, a horse race, which to his credit Gimli had courageously participated in. Alas, the first water jump had proven to be his undoing, and when he surfaced coughing and spluttering to find Éomer on dry land beside him helpless with laughter, he accepted the proffered hand and promptly dragged the King in with him. At this point Queen Lothiriel had chosen to step in, admonishing them both for their behaviour, and threatening to banish them to the children's nursery for the night if that was how they were going to behave.
As he laid the gauntlets back down into the chest, another noise from the bed startled Legolas from his memories. Gimli was stirring, so Legolas got up and went to him. The dwarf was again restless with dreams, but had still not woken. Legolas mopped his brow gently with a damp cloth, then sat down on the bed and took Gimli's hand in his own. He brought the well loved hand to his forehead, sending a silent prayer to the Valar that they would give him the strength to survive the day that would come all too soon.
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