1. Gimli's Gift
"Master Gimli, look what I've brought you," Edenost called as he came running up the steps of the west wing of the Palace, rather awkwardly with both hands behind him. The old Dwarf was reposing on a long chair facing a splendid garden full of trees and bushes that seemed to be always in flower. Paths made from an attractive silvery stone arranged in swirling patterns wound through the grounds, fountains trickled refreshing falls of clear water and featuring bronze and marble figures stood here and there, and best of all, beautiful ladies sat about talking, doing needlework, painting, or playing music. One of these was the Queen herself, who sat beneath a tree full of white blossoms, playing a merry tune on the harp as her two-year-old great-granddaughter stood by watching in wide-eyed wonder.
Little Edenost, the son of one of these ladies and of Lord Elrond's son Elladan, darted over the terrace and stopped before the old Dwarf, breathlessly, grinning and holding something behind him.
"Guess what it is," he said. He looked to be about eight years old in man-years, although he was actually about twelve, his straight dark hair slightly wind-blown, his cheeks flushed, his large dark eyes sparkling like black diamonds. "It's HUGE!"
Gimli shut his eyes. Before closing them he glimpsed Elladan in the distance, partially hidden by a bush, and Legolas beside him. He gave no indication he had seen them, however.
"Is it...a bag of gold, then?" he said without opening his eyes.
"Nay," the little boy said with a giggle. "Guess again!"
"Is it a ship with her sails all unfurled and ready to put out to sea?"
"Now how could I hide a ship behind me?" Edenost said with a little pretense at exasperation; he knew the Dwarf was only teasing him. "One more guess."
"I hope 'tisn't another Eagle's child," Gimli said. Radagast, who was now known as Aewendil, had brought over just such a creature recently. It was the biggest chick the Dwarf had ever seen, not to mention the loudest. Its cry had nearly ruptured his eardrum.
"Nay," the boy laughed. "It was bigger than myself. I would be afeared to hold it."
"I'm out of guesses now, I suppose? So what is it?"
"I cannot change it without dropping it, I'm afraid," Edenost said, "so I shall have to show you with my back to you. I hope you don't mind."
With that he turned about, and backed toward the Dwarf, whose eyes grew twice their size at the sight of what the boy held.
It was a large iridescent stone with several cobalt-blue crystals jutting from it, and a cluster of snow-white fluorite spikes coming from beneath the crystals, and tiny chips of gold here and there. In the shaft of sunlight in which the boy stood, the whole thing glittered like water full of sun-sparkles.
"Where did you get such a thing?" Gimli exclaimed, taking it from the boy's hands and setting it between his knees.
"From my uncle Amonost," the child said. "I've been visiting there all morning. Legolas said you would know the name of it. When are you going to come out there with us, Master Gimli? There are ever and ever so many beautiful stones there, you know. And Legolas says there is a cave very like the one you told of, and I am dying to see it, but I wish you to go with us."
"I would be glad to, laddie, when I am feeling more up to it," Gimli said, fingering the gorgeous stone in wonder. "So...it seems Lord Aul? has not forgotten me after all. Look how smooth the stone is, how it shines. It did not come out of the earth so, I am sure."
"Aunt Gloryfall polished it," Edenost informed him. "I asked her how she did it, and she replied that she puts the stones all in a bag and hangs it in a waterfall, and the next day they are all smooth and shiny. But her eyes twinkled all the while, and I think there is something she is not telling me. Ada said a true artist never tells her secrets, so I do not know truly. You must see the wall she made for her garden. It looks like the bottom of the sea, they tell me. She made it with many, many stones such as this. Oh and please do not tell of it. She does not like many people coming to see it. Only a few at a time."
"Now you're rousing my curiosity, laddie," Gimli said, eyes glistening. "So, did your uncle and aunt give you this?"
"Aye, but I wish you to have it," Edenost said. "Do you not like it?"
"It is the most beautiful stone I have ever seen," Gimli said. "But it is a wondrous gift. Would they not want you to have it, and would you not have it yourself?"
"I told them I would give it to you," Edenost said, taking a seat beside the Dwarf on the floor. "I told them how you liked the small stones I showed you, and asked if I might give you this one, and they said of course I might. You should see the path in their garden, it is even better than this one. It has more colors, and looks like stars and flowers and fishes and butterflies and birds all together. And there is a stairway that goes up a cliff, that Uncle Amonost and Uncle Moonrise made. They are both sculptors and stonecutters, you know. It is paved with beautiful stones and shells and glass and mother of pearl also. There are suns and moons and stars and fairies and birds and jewels all over it. And statues of black and white marble all along. Out in the village where the Children of Ulmo live."
"Aye," Gimli said, "I have heard tell of it."
"So when are you coming there with me?" Edenost asked.
"Soon, laddie, soon," Gimli said. "It is a long way out there, is it not?"
"Aye, it is," Edenost said. "But Ada and Legolas will take you out on their horses if you like."
Gimli did not like. He had never liked horses to begin with, and after a bad accident which ended his career as a warrior, he liked them even less.
It had been but a month since he had arrived on the Island. The voyage had seemed endless, and he had suffered many aches and pains, as well as sea-sickness. Aewendil, whom he still thought of as Radagast, had brought along many remedies, but they had run out, and Gimli had gotten gout that became agonizing, so that Radagast had invoked the sea-lord, Ulmo. Lord Ulmo had put the Dwarf into a deep sleep for the rest of the voyage, and Lord Elrond ministered to him when they had arrived, so that within a week's time the pain was nearly gone, and in two weeks Gimli was able to hobble about a little, having been confined to a wheelchair for the past two years. Soon he would be able to walk without a limp, the Elf informed him, as long as he did not overdo things, and did as he was bidden.
Now he had a very nice apartment in the west wing of the Palace, simply furnished the way he liked, with a big window overlooking the gardens. He had a servant-lad to bring him his meals and help him bathe if he wished, and the ladies made wonderful music every evening on the terrace when he was retiring, and the food was delicious, and Edenost and other children visited him every day and talked to him by the hour. Here he could gladly abide for all the days he had left.
Legolas' quarters were next to his own, along with the Elf's father, Thranduil. However, the Palace did not suit Legolas nearly so well, and he was in the process of building a house for himself and his father far out in the forest. He had cordially invited Gimli to share it, all the while knowing there was not the slightest chance the Dwarf would do so.
Thranduil was the one thorn in Gimli's side here.
He and the older Elf had never learned to tolerate each other. Gimli found him insufferable, supercilious and overbearing, and could scarcely bear to be in his presence for long at a time. Thranduil was polite enough to the Dwarf, yet there was a falseness about the politeness that grated on Gimli, who concealed his aversion only for Legolas's sake, and spoke of it to no one but Radagast. The sooner the older Elf moved out, the better. Yet he would miss Legolas sorely, even though the younger Elf had assured him that he would visit often. Still, he was away for days at a time, spending his nights in the forest.
Legolas loved building things. After the War of the Ring, he had retired as a warrior and spent his days building dwellings in Ithilien, then in the land once known as Mordor, helping to make it habitable, and Gimli had done his part, chopping wood, making tools, forging nails and hinges and plowshares and suchlike, for as long as he was able. And then Legolas had begun his biggest project, building the little ship that would take them to the Blessed Realm, and he had promised Gimli that if he lived long enough, he would take him along. Gimli liked the water as much as he liked horses, but the thought of seeing the Queen had enabled him to overcome his trepidation,even though he was so old and feeble by the time the ship was completed, he doubted he would survive the journey. Yet thanks to the solicitude of his friends and his own innate toughness, as well as his longing to see the Lady one last time, he had endured.
The Lady walked in her Garden every evening, and Gimli found it enough to be in her mere presence. He would watch her from his window, or from the terrace, sometimes walking with her Lord, and there was a glow about her as she did so, that magnified her beauty tenfold. Gimli had to wonder at himself, almost grateful to Lord Celeborn as he was, when logically he should have hated the Elf-lord with a vengeance. Celeborn was a most gracious host, who saw to the Dwarf's needs and made sure he was comfortable at all times, and never treated him as a burden or an unwelcome guest, and his politeness was never forced or insincere as was Thranduil's. He seemed to genuinely like Gimli, who had considered him rather dull at first, and wondered what the Queen could possibly see in him. Yet now he was beginning to see it, and his liking and respect for the Elf-lord continued to grow.
Elladan and his twin brother Elrohir, together with their wives and Edenost, lived just above Gimli and Legolas, and they spoke of building their own houses also, but did not seem in any hurry to do so. Edenost took to Gimli immediately. The Dwarf was not especially fond of children, but he was more than glad to make an exception for Edenost. In fact he found Elf-children in general to be well mannered, interesting talkers, and impulsively generous, as well as incredibly beautiful to see. Edenost listened to Gimli's tales of his adventures over and over, and brought him many things, including the stones he found so fascinating. And seashells, and bits of sea-glass, and a strange formation one of his cousins had found on the beach, saying it was made by a bolt of lightning striking the sand. The objects sat about Gimli's apartments now, giving it a strange and wondrous appearance, particularly when they caught the evening sunlight through the window.
"Have you any cousins, Master Gimli?" Edenost had asked him once, recently.
"I'm sure as I have, laddie," Gimli said thoughtfully, after a startled moment. "Although I've not seen them in well over a hundred years. I dare say most are dead. I cannot even remember the last time I saw any Dwarves, at that."
He sighed, his throat tightening a little. The little boy looked at him with sympathetic eyes.
"I've thousands of cousins," he said. "In Middle-earth I had some, but I did not see them often either. Here on the Island, I have so many cousins, it will take me a hundred years to learn all their names. Think of it, Master Dwarf--I am an Elf, and yet I am related to Hobbits, Men, Elves, Maiar, and the Children of Ulmo! I am the great-grandson of Frodo Baggins! And I may even be related to Sauron! Have you ever known anyone so connected?"
"Nay, I have not," Gimli said, and he had to chuckle. "You are indeed connected, laddie. Now I am the only Dwarf on the Island, and the only mortal. And I might add, the only ugly one. So I am not connected at all."
"You are connected to me," Edenost pointed out. "We both like stones, do we not? And we are friends. Friends are the best connectors of all, even more than cousins."
Gimli could only smile then. "You are wise beyond your years, Master Edenost," he said. "Aye, we are connected, at that. For as long as my time here endures...and that will not be long, I think."
He regretted this last, when he saw the look in the boy's lustrous eyes. Such a beautiful laddie--as how could he be otherwise, with the parents he had!
"You are not leaving us?" Edenost said in dismay. "But we just got here! Will you be gone, like my Grandfather Greenjade, the first day?"
"Not so soon as that," Gimli said softly, his gnarled hand going involuntarily to the place where the crystal pendant lay. "But I am old, laddie. I must enjoy all the days I have left, in this place, surrounded by beauty and kindness abounding."
"And you are not ugly," Edenost assured him. "Ugly is as ugly does. That's what Grandmother Meleth said, and she knows."
Now Gimli was curious to see the caves and the garden wall, yet did not feel ready.
And once more, he felt his new-found strength beginning to wane.
It was one evening when he saw the Lady walking in the garden with her Lord once more. And he felt a most acute ache inside him. It was the first such spasm he had felt since he had come to the Island.
Perhaps it was no longer enough to be in her mere presence. Perhaps his time was coming sooner than he had expected.
It was not the first time that thought had occurred to him, but he had told himself that when it came, it would come, and he would be ready to let it take him, as he was ready to let sleep take him in the night. He could only hope that it would be as gentle as the white hands of sleep, and the golden chords of the Queen's harp, and the fragrance of the wisteria hanging over the terrace. And that it would quell this ache as Lord Ulmo's touch had quelled the knives of pain that had cut into his feet and legs.
The following day, Edenost had come to him as usual after his lessons, saying, "Master Dwarf, can you keep a secret?"
"Aye laddie, I can," the Dwarf sighed, not really hearing the words. He could see the Lady in her garden once more, speaking with her daughter and granddaughter, and with Edenost's mother and aunt and grandmother, of what, he had no idea.
"I'm building you a house," the boy said in a peculiarly confiding way. "Just as Legolas is building a house for his father."
"Are you, laddie?" Gimli heard his words then, and sat up with a bit of a start.
"I'm building you one also," Edenost said. "So you must not leave us yet. You must remain long enough to see your house."
Gimli was silent, just looking at the boy.
"Where are you building it?" he said at last, just to have something to say.
"I shan't tell you yet," said Edenost with a little mysterious smile. "That will be a surprise. But you will like it."
"I'm sure I will, at that," Gimli said and an answering smile spread over his face like a sunrise, and the ache inside of him subsided.
"So you will stay?" Edenost persisted.
"If the Powers so will it, I shall," Gimli said. "At least long enough to see your house."
"Your house," the lad corrected him with a smile. "It will be a wonderful house. I wish you to see it."
Edenost spoke of the house from time to time, things like, "Two of the walls are almost finished. But it will be a while until I can put a roof on it. It takes longer to build a house than I thought. Uncle Amonost gave me many blocks of marble to use, but I will need so much more. I hope he will take me to the quarry someday, but it is so far away."
And Gimli smiled sadly at such speeches, yet thought of dying less and less. He would have to try to hold on long enough to see the house.
And one day, he finally was able and willing to go out to the sea-village, best known as Frodo's Cove.
"You won't have to go on a horse, Master Gimli," Edenost told him very importantly. "Come with us. You'll see."
He took the Dwarf by the hand and hauled him eagerly along the hallway, where his father and Uncle Elrohir waited on the front steps.
And there Gimli got the surprise of his life. There, perched on the rail, was a magnificent sea-bird.
"Get on her back," the boy said radiantly. The Dwarf could only stand there gawking. The bird was huge--an albatross it was surely, only larger. "She won't let you fall off. She's the Lady Elwing, you know. She can be a bird when she likes. You know the story?"
"Aye, I know the story," Gimli could only stammer. "But..."
"Let me help you," Edenost said. And before Gimli even knew how it happened, he was seated on back of the beautiful bird, with Edenost in front. "Hold on!"
Gimli scarcely needed to be told. He clutched at the white feathers, half expecting them to come off in his hands, but they remained marvelously intact. And the bird took flight, not suddenly and jarringly, but with one soft motion, hardly noticeable, and they were in the air.
Gimli did not dare to look down. As long as he only looked straight ahead, it was as if he were merely floating along, as if the bird were on water. And soon, his fear disappeared as though it had never been, and he had a strange feeling of oneness with the bird, almost as if he were the bird itself. He felt glowing and alive and totally calm, and the jewel about his throat felt warm and throbbing, as though it were a second heart, imparting strength and purity and sweet, sweet peace.
And before he knew it, they were there.
The visit to the Cove remained in Gimli's mind long after it was over. Once he had wondered why the Children of Ulmo would live on land rather than in the sea from whence they had come, but as he looked over the village, he knew why. There was that connection, which they could not know so well beneath the water, the lack of separation, the feeling of being a part of what everything was. The richness of it all, the warmth, the sunlight, the links...the fellowship. Who would not wish to stay here?
And although it would be his only visit to the Cove, he would always recall that connection, the silver web holding all, the waterfalls smoothing out all roughness and revealing the true incredible beauty beneath, the cliffs raising all closer and closer to the all-encompassing blueness above.
Legolas came one evening and said the frame of his house was almost finished. His father came up close behind him and looked straight at the Dwarf, who landed with an abrupt halt. He had not seen Thranduil in weeks, and had hoped the older Elf had left the Palace for all time and would not be returning even for a visit.
And Gimli quite lost his connection. Odd how fragile it could be, as one look from cold eyes could sever it.
There it was, that ache once more.
They Elves left next day, to continue the building of their house, and Edenost brought more stones.
And Gimli thought once more of death. Of the stairway in the cove, reaching up and up with its intricate mosaics formed of lapis and agate and mother of pearl and jade and quartz, those suns and moons and stars and auroras, and wondered if his feet were ready to feel those creations under them, to mount that stair and scale it to the Infinite, the One, the End. He felt more than ready.
Then Edenost came running to him, all excited, and Gimli thought, He has finished building the house? I hope it, then I can go.
"Master Gimli!" he called. "Come and see! I've a new cousin!"
And Elladan and Elrohir assisted Gimli up the stairs to the apartments above his own. He had never been upstairs in the Palace before. And they found Lord Elrond and his wife Celebrian holding their newest grandchild.
"Her name is Arwen Undomniel," Edenost said glowingly. "After her aunt. The Evenstar."
"She looks so much like her, it is uncanny," Lady Celebrian said. "It is like having her back again." And she took from her throat the pendant Gimli remembered so well, the one Frodo Baggins had worn, and laid it about the neck of her granddaughter. "This should be yours now, little one," she whispered.
And Gimli knew the feeling of lostness as he never had before, in all this intoxicating foundness.
Perhaps it would be tonight.
Would his father, his mother, all his cousins, that he had seen and not seen, be there? Would there be glory, and would there be stones?
Yet things continued, with the new babe being shown about, acquiring satellites by the moment, and Gimli was nearly forgotten, save by Edenost.
"Why are you sad, Master Dwarf?" the little boy asked him a few days later.
Gimli did not even see fit to say he was not sad. Yet he did not think he could bring himself to explain why he was so. Perhaps Edenost did not even want to know why. He was only asking in order to let Gimli know he was aware of his sadness.
"You'll not be leaving us?" the boy asked poignantly. And Gimli shook his head, wordless and alone. "I've not finished your house. It takes a long time to build one. Master Legolas said so, and he is right."
Gimli looked at him sharply. Perhaps the lad was building a house, at that. Strange things happened when he was about, after all.
"This house," the Dwarf said. "Is someone helping you to build it?"
"Aye," Edenost said nodding. "A little lad like me could scarcely do it all by himself. But I do it mostly."
"I see," Gimli said, and spoke no more that day.
And it was nine months after his arrival that he began, once more, to think of leaving.
Winter was coming.
Yet it did not come. There was no winter here.
Gimli wished there could be a winter. It was the time of leaving, of peace, of stasis and sleep.
He was glad not to be an Elf. He no longer minded it that he was the only Dwarf here, that he had not youth nor beauty nor outer strength, nor ability to create beautiful things, nor boundless stores of tales to tell. In his heart there was a winter, and that was how he wished it.
And the shadow of Thranduil fell upon him, and the cold eyes burned into his, accusing, knowing, executing. I know your thoughts. I know your heart. I know your evil. I know your lies. The Lady knows them too. You think your thoughts are pure as the crystal that hangs about your throat? She knows better. As do we all.
Gimli blinked as if looking at the sun, rather than raising his own eyes in defiance. Ugly is as ugly does.
And then a voice spoke directly behind him in unspeakable sweetness and mercy.
"Master Gimli," it said, "I've finished your house. Come and see!"
And Gimli raised his head, and brought both feet to the floor.
"Well," he said, "what are we waiting for?"
And the shadow vanished.
"Come this way," the boy said, clutching at the withered hand. "It's not far. Are you terribly tired? My ada can carry you."
"Nay, I'm all right, laddie," Gimli said, with scarcely a glance behind him. Elladan and Elrohir and Legolas were there, he knew. There were others, but he did not know which ones.
And they climbed the path behind the Palace courtyard, behind the stables and other outbuildings, into a little grove of evergreen trees. Gimli felt his knees grow soft, yet was determined not to give way--whatever the lad wished to show him, he would keep on his own feet, at least until after...
And then he could leave.
But he had to see, first.
"We're almost there," Edenost said. No one else spoke.
He led the Dwarf a little further until they came to a stand of flowering bushes, where the path seemed to end.
"This house," Gimli said, "can others see it besides ourselves?"
"Oh yes," Edenost assured him with great importance. "And they'll not laugh."
Gimli thought he heard a giggle, and he almost looked back, even though it seemed to come from behind the bushes.
"It's right around here," the boy said. "I put it up so you would not have to stoop down to see it."
"That's good," Gimli said. He was nearly out of breath.
"You may sit when you see it," Edenost said. "Likely you will anyway."
Gimli was at the point of asking if he might do so there and then, when Edenost pulled him further along.
"Close your eyes, Master Dwarf," he said with face aglow.
Gimli blinked for a moment, for it seemed there was a white sheet hanging before him. He was so dizzy, he was not sure. Yet he managed to keep his feet, and to close his eyes.
He heard a soft whispering, and then some music playing from a small distance, as on a flute, with a silvery harp accompanying. Then there was a rustling sound, more stifled giggles, and then Edenost's voice saying, "Open them now."
And Gimli opened his eyes. There stood the house.
He did not sit down.
It was about three feet high, a sand castle it was--and yet not, but something more permanent. Its walls were actually made of marble blocks, and of other things as well: stones, beautifully cut and polished, dozens and dozens of them, jasper, tourmaline, fluorite glowing softly in the afternoon sun, opals of black and green and blue and pink and gold and scarlet, agates, intricately layered in every imaginable color, quartz crystals, sapphire, onyx, jade, moonstone, peridot, amethyst, tiger-eye, chalcedony and chrysoprase, and many, many others, whose names Gimli did not know even in Dwarvish. The roof was covered with them as well, several crystals set upon it, and there were windows as well, and a marble door with the words SPEAK FRIEND AND ENTER etched in gold.
It was all set on a small wooden platform covered with a white cloth, similar to the makeshift curtain that had concealed it from his view. There was even a terrace in back, made of a marble slab. And upon it sat a small doll made to look like a Dwarf...one with white hair and braided beard like his own, with little brown button eyes like his own, a large nose like his own, and clothing like his own.
All that was missing was the pendant about his neck.
"Mistress Lyrien made that," Edenost said, very softly, as if imparting a secret. "The lady with the red hair. Did you ever see an Elf with red hair before, Master Gimli? There are many of them here. Well, not so many, but, well, many."
Gimli was absolutely speechless.
Yet after a seemingly endless moment, he was able to say, also very softly, "You...you made this all yourself, laddie?"
"Well, not ALL myself," Edenost said. "I had some help."
And he turned his head gravely and looked up, and so did Gimli.
There stood Thranduil, casting no shadow now, and there was no coldness in his eyes, no lie, no condemnation, nothing but light, language, fire and life. It was as if every stone in the house were inside of them, genuine and connected and absolutely unique.