Chapter 4 Bittersweet
Gimli prided himself on the fact that over the years his visits to Ithilien had given him a keen eye for spotting the almost invisible telain that were homes to Legolas and his friends, thus he knew that they had already passed many on their way to Elisiel’s dwelling place. Whilst there was no question that he would be staying with Legolas and his mother as a welcome guest and friend, the thought of sleeping so far above ground made Gimli nervous and he briefly considered asking Legolas to help him build a small shelter beneath the trees, much like the one that the Elf had provided him with for his stays in Ithilien. However, for tonight there was no way of avoiding Elisiel’s hospitality and just as Gimli had resigned himself to accepting the inevitable, he found that they had arrived at their destination. The Dwarf breathed such loud sigh of relief when he saw Elisiel’s home was not a talan but a single story dwelling deep within a grove of trees, that he caused Legolas to laugh and Elisiel to raise her eyebrow in query.
“Gimli has never become accustomed to telain,” explained Legolas as they entered the house. His words may have been diplomatic but the smirk on his face as he delivered them spoke eloquently of his intent to tease the Dwarf.
“Despite your best efforts to convince him otherwise, if I am not mistaken,” she replied with amusement, well able to imagine what must have transpired between the stubborn son she knew so well, and his no doubt equally stubborn friend. Legolas nodded and placed his arm around his Nana’s shoulders, drawing her close for a moment of shared affection.
“Forgive my boldness, Elisiel but I am surprised you live on the ground,” he said unable to hide his delight from his voice. “I was given to believe, by my most trustworthy companion here, that all Wood elves preferred the lofty heights,” he added with just a hint of friendly sarcasm.
“Many, but not all as you can plainly see. I love the trees, but have a fondness for the plants and flowers that carpet the forest floor, and I enjoy being able to wandering among them whenever the mood takes me,” she explained.
Gimli understood more clearly when, after a short tour of the house, he realised that rather than windows, every room, including the one that was to be his, had archways that lead into the forest. He took advantage of that fact when, after an hour or so of restless tossing and turning and finding sleep eluded him, he stepped outside into the stillness of the night. There was a small stone bench near the archway that looked like an inviting place to sit while he smoked his pipe and tried to relax. Apparently he was not the only restless soul this night, for his thoughts were disturbed by a slightly exaggerated coughing as Legolas joined his friend, sitting beneath a tree that was a ‘safe’ distance from the objectionable smoke.
“I never will understand why you prefer that acrid smoke to the pleasant aroma of the forest,” said Legolas as he inhaled deeply of the sweetly scented air that was more potent than that of the forests of Middle-earth. Valinor was even more wondrous than he had imagined, and his senses were so heightened that he did not wish to sleep lest he miss enjoying even a single moment in his new home.
“So tell me, Legolas, is Valinor as you expected it to be?” Asked Gimli as he continued to puff on his pipe. Even had he not been able to see the flush of excitement on his friend’s face, he would have still easily discerned his friend’s joy was the cause for his wakefulness.
“It is even more lovely and wondrous than I ever imagined. It is as if I have found the place where my heart and soul truly will be at peace,” the Elf sighed with contentment.
“I am glad for you, my friend, but perhaps some of the pleasure comes from being reunited with your lovely mother,” suggested Gimli. The strong bond between Thranduil and his son was obvious even to the Dwarf, but even more special to his eyes was that between mother and son. Legolas’s face lit with a brilliant smile.
“I am so glad you and Nana have taken a liking to each other,” he told his friend, his face radiant with love as he thought of Elisiel. “But what of you, Gimli? Do you regret leaving Aglarond to come here with me? Coming alone to a land of the Elves?” he asked, voicing the unspoken concerns he was sure his friend must have felt.
“I would have been alone had I stayed behind,” replied Gimli softly in a heartfelt expression of his love and affection for his dearest friend that surprised Legolas. The friendship between the two had grown stronger and deeper over the years, and both were aware of how the other felt, but this was the first time the Dwarf had spoken in such a manner.
“And I would have missed your company more than I can say,” replied Legolas as he moved to sit beside his friend and placed a friendly hand on his shoulder. Gimli accepted the gesture, then, feeling a little self conscious, he laughed and patted Legolas’s knee.
“Besides laddie, it is not such a bad place, and I have been treated well, and of course someone has to keep you from disturbing the Valar when you decide to go exploring,” he said, reverting back to his usual teasing banter. Wrapped in a blanket of comradeship, they sat together for a while in companionable silence until Gimli yawned loudly and they bid each other good night.
Anor had long since chased Ithil from the sky before Gimli and Legolas joined Elisiel for a late morning meal in her private garden. All three were in a leisurely mood and spent the morning in relaxed conversation that was made even more enjoyable by the playful banter between the younger Elf and the Dwarf. Although they discussed the many ways in which they might spend their time, at the moment, nothing seemed more appealing than simply sitting in the garden enjoying each other’s company. The unexpected arrival of Olórin added even more to their pleasure, and after the merriment due to several more tall tales being told finally faded into relaxed silence, he offered the reason for his visit.
“I do not wish to cause either of you pain,” he said to Legolas and Gimli, “but should you wish to pay your respects to the Ring bearers who are no more, I will show you to their resting place.”
“Ai, it is fitting that we do so,” agreed Legolas, his heart suddenly filled with sadness, he had been very fond of the carefree Shire folk, and as proud of their valour as Aragorn had been.
“Indeed we must,” nodded Gimli, his mood also now more sombre.
Legolas and Gimli exchanged a sad smile when they reached the memorials to the Hobbits that were to be found beneath the talan that Sam had finally built. There was nothing too elaborate about the three simple headstones, other than an amazingly accurate portrait of each of the Hobbits carved beneath names that were written in elvish runes. Legolas bowed his head and placed his hand over his heart as he whispered the words of farewell while Gimli stood solid as stone and silently said a final goodbye to his friends.
“Frodo chose the style of dear old Bilbo’s headstone,” said Olórin softly.
“And ‘tis fine work the stone carver has wrought, much better than I would have expected from an Elf,” said Gimli, in an attempt to jest despite that fact that his gruff voice was filled with sorrow. Olórin smiled, but Legolas made no response and when they looked at the Elf, they saw his tears were falling freely. In a totally unexpected reaction, he knelt and held Gimli close as if he suddenly just realised his friend was mortal.
“Every one has gone, dear Gimli,” he whispered through his tears. “The Hobbits, Boromir, and Aragorn… there is only you and I left… and one day… you will… I will be alone. Even here in Valinor I can not escape my grief.” The Dwarf was uncertain how to respond, but despite his uneasiness at having the Elf sobbing on his shoulder, he did not release him. Olórin placed a comforting hand on Legolas’s shoulder and spoke softly to him.
“The melodies in Ilúvatar’s song are not all joyful, but you should be glad that you have heard them. Grieve for them as I know you must, but do not tarnish your memories of your mortal friends with sorrow,” he advised.
“I have not done with teasing you yet, Master Elf. Nor have I yet helped your mother find you a suitable wife. I am going nowhere until I have done so!” Gimli declared with such determination that Legolas could not help but attempt a smile.
“Then indeed you will be here a long time if that is your goal!” he stated indignantly, yet giving the Dwarf a final hug before releasing him. As they made their way back to the house, a thought suddenly occurred to Gimli.
“Gandalf, did Master Samwise finally finish the book?”
“Ai and he brought a copy with him that now resides in Elrond’s library. I will take you to visit him tomorrow if you wish,” offered the Istar. “But for now, there is another legacy that Samwise left, that I wish to show you. It will certainly interest you, Gimli,” he added mysteriously. They walked a short distance further from the headstones and found themselves in a small clearing in the centre of which was a small garden plot. As they both recognised the plants that grew there, Gimli’s eyes grew wide with delight and Legolas groaned with dismay.
“Longbottom leaf!” shouted the Dwarf happily.