Chapter 7. By the Valar.
The peace and tranquillity of the Blessed Realm remained undisturbed for there were no foes to be fought or battles to be won, unless one happened to be a participant in the fierce rivalry induced by the occasional archery tournament. So it was that determined as he was to win again, as well as for the pleasure he derived from the sport, Legolas could often be found engaged in target practice. The large open grassland that the archer had chosen as a practice field was bordered on one side by a stream that collected into a pool shaded by the canopy of many ancient yet friendly trees, and was deep enough for bathing after several hours’ practice with the bow. It was beneath one of these trees that Gimli was sitting, with pipe in hand, his back resting against the rough bark as he watched the former warrior through half closed eyes.
“I hear Haldir is highly favoured to win the Midsummer tournament this year, perhaps I should wager against you this time,” commented Gimli with a wicked grin, knowing that the Elf would rise to the bait.
“If you are in a mood to lose, then please do so, but do not forget that I won by three clear shots last year. Haldir has lost his edge,” retorted Legolas without missing a target as he spoke. The archer had lost none of his skill even though it had been many decades since he last nocked an arrow in defence of his home or his kin.
“Perhaps he has for he has been occupied with other pursuits in recent times, but now that he has a lovely wife who will likely reward him in a most appropriate manner if he wins, I venture to suggest he will be trying so hard to impress her, as well as avenge his loss to you. It appears to me that the outcome is definitely swinging in his favour.”
Legolas glared at his friend then proved his prowess by shooting several arrows in rapid succession, each hitting the most distant target directly in the centre. Gimli offered a nonchalant shrug and appeared to be totally unimpressed by the display as he continued his teasing.
“Of course you could always even the odds by taking a wife of your own,” replied Gimli with a positively evil smirk as Legolas sighed wearily with frustration at the turn the conversation was taking and actually missed a shot.
“My dear Gimli, how could I possibly ask any fair maid for her hand when I know she will have to endure such impolite teasing from my closest friend?” the archer enquired with exasperation as he moved off to collect his arrows.
The early afternoon sun enfolded the Dwarf in a warm embrace, and as he had been inclined to do of late, he slowly drifted into a restful sleep. Legolas sat beside him examining his arrows trying to ignore the loud snores that indicted his friend was deep in slumber. Legolas was concerned that Gimli had become far less energetic over the last few years but until now his mind had refused to admit what his eyes could so plainly see as he studied the Dwarf’s aging features more closely for few moments.
When had his hair and beard turned so grey? And were those wrinkles around his eyes even deeper? Fingers of fear gripped Legolas’s heart as he recognised the sign of a mortal who was ageing. I will lose him to the Halls of Waiting soon, he thought sadly as a shadow fell across his inner light and memories of his final parting with Aragorn filled his eyes with tears of grief. Legolas remained sitting quietly by Gimli’s side, lost in his melancholy thoughts until his friend awoke.
“Have you finished your practice for the day?” asked the Dwarf as he looked around and faced the Elf sitting next to him. The still unshed tears made Legolas’s eyes shine more brightly than usual and his apparent sorrow caused Gimli to ask a different question. “Is there something amiss my friend?”
“Nay, I was just thinking about Aragorn,” replied the Elf with a sad smile as he spoke his friend’s name.
“And of how the passing of time is showing its mark on my face as it did on his?” enquired the Dwarf, understanding the words that remained unspoken. Legolas nodded.
“Humph, my hair may more closely resemble the colour of Gandalf’s, and I admit to requiring a little more rest, but I still have many good years left to me,” said Gimli reassuringly. Legolas’s raised eyebrows spoke eloquently of his scepticism but he kept his thoughts to himself as Gimli continued speaking. “As a matter of fact just this morning I was thinking that it was high time I did something energetic to overcome my recent lethargy. What say you? Shall we pack some lembas and water and explore Valinor together as we did Middle-earth so long ago?”
“I say that would be an excellent idea,” agreed Legolas who was more than willing to indulge his friend’s whim, for already the aging Dwarf suddenly looked so much younger at the prospect of another adventure. “Although, as I recall, you voiced a strong objection to the very idea on our journey here,” he teased.
“It was not the exploring I objected to, but the frequent stops you are certain to insist upon so that you can speak with the trees. You know I can not hear them, and one sided conversations are rarely interesting,” replied Gimli with a shrug.
“Ai, then this is a day for celebration, for at last friend Gimli has admitted that trees *can* speak!” Legolas declared merrily to the surrounding forest, laughing with delight at the ruddy hue that coloured the slightly embarrassed Dwarf’s cheeks. A gentle rumble sounding much like distant thunder filled the clearing and a confused Gimli looked to the cloudless sky only to find there was no storm in sight.
“Hear our voices Gimli, elf friend.”
“What was that? Have I unwittingly invoked the Valar’s wrath?” the Dwarf asked warily. Ever mindful and a little fearful of the spirits who also dwelt Valinor, he could have sworn he heard his name being whispered on the breeze. Legolas knew the sound for what it was and could not contain his mirth and several moments elapsed before he was able to offer a coherent reply.
“‘Tis not the roll of thunder you hear, or the Valar’s’ voices raised in anger, my dear Gimli. What you hear is the sound of laughter and the whispered words of the trees.” Legolas told him.
“I am no Wood Elf, so how is that possible?” asked Gimli in stunned disbelief.
“Because it is my will,” explained a friendly voice from beyond the edge of the forest. The speaker who appeared to be an Elf who glowed with exquisite beauty, and was dressed in the garb of a Mirkwood warrior stepped from among the trees. There was no doubt in Gimli’s mind that this was one of the Valar and his assumption was confirmed when Legolas bowed respectfully before the newcomer.
“My Lord Oromë, to what do we owe this honour?” he asked, speaking with great reverence as he recognised the Lord of the Forests.
“Well met Legolas Thranduilion and Gimli son of Glóin. I was curious to see for myself the friendship that has developed between one of the Firstborn and a child of Aulë. I would hear more about how such a bond came into being, and of your travels in Middle-earth, for I have a great fondness for that land,” replied Oromë as he settled himself on the grass beside Gimli and Legolas.
After the awe of actually finding themselves in the presence of one of the Valar had diminished, Legolas and Gimli spent the rest of the afternoon regaling Oromë with the tales of their adventures together from their first meeting in Imladris to their journey across the sea. The Valar listened with great interest and asked many questions and soon the others found themselves enjoying his company as much as he seemed to be enjoying theirs.
“It has been far too long since I last heard such an excellent and well told tale. You have a gift for words, as well as stone carving, Master Dwarf,” he said when the story was ended. Even though Legolas had told of his own adventures, it was Gimli who had spoken at great length, as he was wont to do, about their time together.
“Thank you, I am glad someone appreciates my talents instead of accusing me of being ‘long winded’ and speaking with exaggeration,” he said with a pointed glance at Legolas.
“You are an excellent story teller, friend Gimli, but I still believe you use far too many words,” stated Legolas haughtily. Oromë burst out laughing.
“You two banter in much the same manner as Aulë and I do on occasion,” he told them with obvious amusement at the astonished silence his words elicited from them both. “And speaking of my friend reminds me that I did not only seek you out to hear an account of your travels. Legolas, I believe Gimli suggested that that you and he should explore Valinor, and I am here to assure you that Mane welcomes you to do so. I would be pleased to welcome you to my forests, and Aulë invites you to visit him in his Halls. He is as intrigued by this unusual friendship as I am, and would like to meet you,” said Oromë kindly.
“We would be honoured to accept such invitations, my Lord,” said Legolas speaking for them both.
Thranduil and Elisiel also thought Gimli’s suggestion to be an excellent idea, and while Elisiel prepared their travel rations, Thranduil made a quick copy of the map of Valinor that Elrond had given him. When he handed it to Legolas, he drew his son aside to speak in private.
“I am not so certain this is a wise course you have chosen to follow. Have you noticed how easily Gimli tires of late?” he asked without preamble.
“Ai, and he has begun to complain more often of aches and pains when he exerts himself, or whenever he feels the chill of evening,” replied Legolas with concern. He leaned against the comforting of his Adar’s chest as Thranduil placed an arm about his son’s shoulders.
“He is growing old,” said Thranduil gently.
“As I have seen all my mortal friends do. You were right about the pain and grief that I would fill my heart at their loss Adar but I do not regret making Aragorn and Gimli my close friends. After learning to know and love them as I have, I see that my loss would have been far greater had I not done so.”
“So I have come to realise,” admitted Thranduil as he kissed the much loved brow. “So tell me, how long do you expect to be away on this journey of exploration?”
“I can not say. It depends on how Gimli fares for despite his assurances, I do not think he will have the strength to travel very far.” As much as he wished it were not so, Legolas was aware of the Gimli’s diminishing strength, but he respected his friend’s need for privacy and so did not speak of it with the Dwarf.
“Might I make a suggestion?” Legolas nodded. “Use your ship to take you to the places you would visit. I believe there are many coves and safe havens to be found from which you could explore further inland.” Legolas’s face brightened, never feeling more grateful for his Adar’s love and understanding as he did at this moment. The radiant smile vanished in a heartbeat as a shadow of dismay crossed his fair features.
“Ai, Adar, but what of Gimli’s sea sickness?”
“You need only travel short distances by sea, and I am certain Elrond knows of some remedy for the sea sickness,” Thranduil reassured his son, grimacing as he recalled his own experience with the decidedly unpleasant affliction.
Elrond did indeed know of a potion to relieve the discomforts of the condition, and when he spoke privately with the Dwarf he also offered him a salve that would help ease the aches and pains of his stiffening joints as well as a tonic to help invigorate him.
“Thank you, Elrond. Even one as stubborn as I can not deny the changes that time has wrought on my once sturdy body,” said Gimli as he hid the medicines in his travel pack, knowing that the sight of them would only upset Legolas and likely cause him to cancel their plans out of concern for his friend’s ailing health.
“You are welcome, and I trust you will find great pleasure in your travels with Legolas,” replied the elder Elf with a deep sadness.
“I intend to, for you and I both know that my next trip will be to the Halls of Waiting,” said Gimli openly acknowledging that which he knew Elrond had foreseen.