1. Chapter One
A little way down the hill -- as far as a Dwarf would come when walking for six or seven minutes in leisure -- and away from the place where the Elves had spread their pavilion, Gimli sat leaning against the bole of a great mallorn-tree.
He had come here to think in silence and smoke in peace. But now his pipe lay loosely in his hand, forgotten for the moment. Lost in thought he stared ahead, breathing in the fairness of Lórien instead of the smoke of burning pipe-weed.
The Golden Wood did not leave him untouched, and he wondered if Durin had felt the same many years ago. He did not stand in awe as much as he had in Moria, but the wooden columns of Lothlórien moved his heart to the same degree, if not in the same way, as had the pillars of the city of the Dwarrowdelf.
Thinking of the realm of the Dwarves at last, his mind at once brought forth memories of Balin's tomb, of their battle, and of Gandalf's fall.
But he was startled from the beginnings of his first true mourning by a group of Elves passing him. They talked softly among themselves, but when they noticed the Dwarf they halted and fell silent. Then one of them spoke again and the others laughed and although Gimli did not understand their Elvish tongue he understood the mocking tone.
Hurt pierced his heart which in this moment had not been guarded as was his habit among strangers. And Gimli cast his hood over his face to hide his pain from the scoffers.
Earlier his grief had only just been at the edges of his perception. It now welled up inside of him as irresistible as the ocean's tide. Gimli's mind was flooded with injury and loss, and for a long while he could do nothing but endure.
Then suddenly a soft, pale hand covered his own.
Gimli startled and reached for his axe before he recognized the owner of the hand. He felt fortunate that he had left the weapon next to his couch in their pavilion, for it was Galadriel herself kneeling beside him on the grass.
"My lady," gasped the Dwarf and made as if to rise.
But the Elf-lady smiled at him and shook her head. "Do not trouble yourself. I would speak to you as a friend." When Gimli would not relax she gently admonished: "You are supposed to rest and heal."
"It is not right," said Gimli stubbornly, "to sit lazily on the ground in the presence of the Lady of the Golden Wood."
"Should we not see eye to eye? You are of Durin's line," reminded Galadriel. "Among your people you are considered a Lord yourself, are you not?" Her gaze was stern and queenly now.
"I am," said Gimli. "And Glóin and his cousin made sure to instill some manners in this Dwarf according to his station! They would think it wrong that you kneel next to me. And I am not so weak that I have to lie on my back for days to recover my strength from a journey." But he leant back against the tree then, looking at her calmly, almost boldly, and his bearing was not without pride.
The Lady laughed merrily at this.
For a moment they were silent, smiling at each other, but then Galadriel sighed. "And yet it comes as a surprise when someone looks upon you as his equal. Prince to Prince, or Lady to Lord."
Gimli lowered his eyes, not of embarrassment, but because he did not wish for her to see his anger. As soon as he thought this, he remembered their first meeting, however, and at once he felt foolish, for the Lady would already know of his tumult. Though he wondered why she would lay her finger on the wound.
"I felt the pain, the insult," said Galadriel, as if in answer to his thoughts. "I was aware of the moment when purity of grief turned bitter, turned inside, against yourself, instead of outside, to be purged. It called me to your side."
Gimli looked up once more and met her gaze. He thought there was pity in her eyes.
"It is not meant for you, but for them," said the Lady, before he could turn away.
"They took me unaware," admitted Gimli at length.
Galadriel nodded. "You found beauty in this land, and you opened your heart to it."
"As any Dwarf would do."
"Yes. But when you let beauty into your heart, sadness followed." She took his hand in both of hers.
"That is the way of things. I am not ashamed of tears." Gimli shrugged. "Although..."
"... you would not share them with those who mock you, had you the choice."
Gimli did not answer, but in the twighlight, under the mallorn-tree, he once again felt as if looking into the heart of a friend instead of an enemy.
"'Tis a pity that those who seek and value beauty more than any others cannot recognize it in each other."
"Will not," said Gimli. But when he saw her tender smile he blushed.
"You are the exception, it seems," said Galadriel. "And my Lord may have it aright. Our friendship may be a sign that better days are at hand."
At last she rose and turned to leave. Then she spoke some final words: "Remember Aule and Yavanna, Glóin's son! Let their example be the hope for our peoples."
High above the ground Legolas sat nestled in the cradle of some intertwining branches. He had chosen this tree for its height and because it stood a little apart from the paths and stairs of Caras Galadhon, so he could let the voices of the Elves and his companions fade into the background of his mind, but still hear it should someone call his name.
He had felt the need for silent contemplation. It was therefore not to his liking when he noticed the distinctive noises of the only Dwarf in Lothlórien approaching. As luck would have it Gimli chose the same tree to sit under and smoke his dreadful weed.
Soon the Elf saw, however, that Gimli did not concentrate on this act which ordinarily would have been celebrated like the most serious ritual.
He had begun to wonder if the Dwarf had fallen asleep under his tree, which would then offer the opportunity for Legolas to escape unnoticed, when some of his kinsmen wandered by. And he watched as they stared and laughed and Gimli hid his face.
The Prince of Mirkwood became angry then, and he marvelled at this. But although only moments before he himself had been annoyed at Gimli's intrusion, Legolas did not like it that others mocked his companion.
He wondered at this proprietary thinking. For why would he claim the sole right to tease the Dwarf, or quarrel with him?
Ere he came to a decision, he noticed the tall, white figure of the Lady Galadriel, gliding soundlessly across the grass. She halted, and he was sure that she sent a swift glance towards him, before kneeling down next to Gimli and reaching for his hand.
Legolas listened carefully then while the Elf-lady and the Dwarf spoke of beauty and grief, insult and nobility. And it seemed that part of her speech was directed at him.
After her parting words he sat still for a while. His heart pounded in his throat and his ears rang. Vaguely he could recall a similar feeling, when his mother had still dwelled in Middle-earth and had looked upon him with sadness over something he had done.
In Thranduil's halls Legolas had heard a rumour once about some thing they called the Mirror of Galadriel, and now he wondered if it had just been held up to his face.
He liked not what he had seen.
Surely he was not so cruel! He had not laughed in the face of Gimli's grief. And he *had* seen beauty in the great city of the Dwarves.
But he had not spoken of it to Gimli.
Swiftly he climbed down a little way and then sprang from the tree to land lightly in front of the Dwarf.
Gimli had shrouded himself in his hood once more, but since Legolas had not tried to be silent, the Dwarf had heard the sounds of his descent.
Gimli scowled at the Elf, for it was clear that his meeting with the Lady had had a witness.
Legolas for his part felt no shame for listening, yet he found no words now that he stood face to face with his companion. So eager had he been to speak, he had not made a plan on how to begin this conversation. And in his uncertainty perhaps he held himself too proudly.
Looking at the silent figure of the Prince, Gimli was determined not to show any further sign of weakness. And so they stared at each other in seeming defiance, until at last Legolas could no longer suppress the growing mirth at both their 'stiff necks'.
"I am sure," said the Elf to the glowering Dwarf, "that Glóin had to threaten his son with the flat side of his axe more than once while teaching him courteous behaviour."
A part of Gimli wished to remain annoyed at the Elf, but he found that he was not so unyielding to the irresistible twinkle in Legolas' eyes. He snorted. "True.
"And how many times were you sent to your sleep without a song, because of getting caught at sneaking into forbidden chambers or spying on secret conversations?"
Busying himself with refilling his pipe and lighting up, he watched from the corner of his eyes as Legolas smiled and slowly lowered himself to his knees. His gaze narrowed at the deliberate movement and he squinted at his companion through the curl of smoke between them.
Expecting another jest, he was surprised when Legolas said: "I wonder what you see when you try to pierce me with those dark eyes of yours."
Gimli knew not how to respond to this, for he realized that in truth he had not consciously dwelled overly much on this member of the Fellowship -- apart from reflexively answering to any perceived insult.
He thought he saw the same awareness grow in Legolas' eyes. "I have to ask myself if the graver insult may not be the dismissal of another person as simply unimportant, while at the same time taking him for granted in battle and in keeping watch and other such things," said Gimli.
Admiration filled Legolas' heart for Gimli's strength in admitting to his errors despite his own pain. It grew yet when the Dwarf sat up straight, adding: "I wish to thank you for saving my life in the Chamber of Mazarbul."
"And I would tell you that I am sorry for your loss," answered Legolas.
At length they looked upon each other openly and frankly for the first time. Each felt clearly the importance of this moment, but when Gimli made as if to stand, the Elf halted him and clasped his arm. "Please, do not perform one of your bows, Master Dwarf," begged Legolas.
Gimli looked askance at him, but although Legolas wore a smile on his face there was also great seriousness underneath, and the Elf's gaze went to his hand where it rested on Gimli's elbow.
Understanding dawned then, and Gimli mirrored the gesture, firmly gripping Legolas' forearm. It was the warriors' clasp of Men, and it seemed fitting somehow that his companion had chosen neither something he believed to be Dwarvish behaviour nor an Elven custom to offer a sign of friendship and more.
When they released each other, Legolas settled against the tree at Gimli's side with a sigh. "The Lady told us that the Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Let us hope that we have done our part here to ensure that the Company remains true."
"I believe the Lady made sure of us by coming here and speaking the right words at the right time, when we both were willing to listen," said Gimli. "She is truly very wise."
Legolas looked at him and raised a brow. "You were very bold, son of Glóin. And you seem to have caught her favour. What will the Lord Celeborn say?"
"Legolas!" sputtered the Dwarf.
But the Elf teased him further: "She spoke to you of Aule and Yavanna, of all things. I know not what to think of it. Gimli, my friend, you are to be envied!" He laughed as colour rose in Gimli's face, but it was a kind laugh, and the Dwarf took no offence.
"If you listened as carefully as I am sure you did, then you know very well that she spoke of our peoples."
Legolas fell silent then, but he thought to himself that it had been an interesting symbol to choose. It seemed not too far-fetched, for Aule was considered the Father of the Dwarves, and Yavanna's love for her trees and all growing things was legendary and made a good example for the Elves. Still, their love for each other in spite of their vast differences and through all times and hardships was too intimate a feeling to compare to the respect and friendship that their peoples were supposed to discover anew.
"What did they say?" asked Gimli, interrupting his train of thought.
Legolas could not suppress a wince. "Why do you ask me to repeat their words and through them the insult done to you? I do not wish to cause you pain, now that we have reached an understanding at last."
"If I am to learn to judge your kin not as a whole, but to see instead each individual for his or her own worth, then I would know not only the Lady's fair words, or yours, but also the words of those who laugh at me while we risk our lives so that they may sing to the stars for some more years to come."
"Gimli..." Legolas closed his eyes as if trying to keep out the truth of the words.
But Gimli was unrelenting, so the Elf gave in at last. "They wondered why you made a face as though you had just bitten into a sour grape." Legolas stared blindly ahead. "They asked if the fumes from your pipe were poisonous."
The Dwarf pondered this for several minutes, until Legolas could no longer take the silence. "Forgive me for speaking these words," cried he.
"I demanded them from you," said Gimli absently. "And there is no more anger in me, for I have to wonder if it be a blessing or a curse to live such a long life without having learned to recognize the face of grief..." Then he turned to the Elf. "You called me 'friend'. Then you best become accustomed to such words while the Fellowship remains, and should we survive this Quest and be companions in the future."
"A revolting lesson. I shall not learn it!"
Gimli chuckled. "I have never seen a swifter change of heart. I feel old of a sudden, although my years are only a drop in time compared to the span of your life."
"Yet you are not wrong," said Legolas. "I am but a sapling in his spring next to the great beech-tree of my father, whose roots reach deeply into the earth. But I beg you not to think of our friendship as a passing fancy in my heart!"
"I said not so," answered Gimli. "And I do not believe so. I wished only to lighten the mood, for repeating those words seemed to hurt you more than me."
"You speak the truth, even if you may not know its entirety." Growing restless, Legolas rose. "For an elf to utter such ugliness knowingly, is a wound as dark and as painful as one to the body."
Gimli stood also. "You just solved another riddle for me. I had wondered if they were aware that thoughtless words might lessen their fairness in the eyes of others. But no matter." He emptied his pipe and tucked it into his waistcoat. "Let us forget about them now!"
"Yes. I have a great need to wander beneath the golden leaves of Lórien," said Legolas, opening his arms wide as though trying to encompass all their surroundings, "to breathe the sweet air of this wood, and to fill myself to the brim with its wonders! Will you come with me?"
"I will." Gimli indicated the path before them. "Lead on!" And then grinning, because he could not help himself, he bowed.
NOTES: In The Two Towers Gimli mentions that he lost his pipe in Moria or before, so his smoking in Lórien is actually a bit AU... Also, I am still not completely sure how much the peoples in the Third Age of Middle-earth truly know about the Valar, but for my "universe" it seemed fitting. And I wasn't able to resist the story of Aule and Yavanna...