Dwarves and Elves
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The Day Before: 1. The Day Before
There are several acknowledgements I need to make, but I'll do that at the bottom. However, here I must dedicate this story to the memory of Mrs. King, a teacher who instilled in me a love of both reading and writing. More importantly, though, she lived each day to its fullest. And with that, I'll leave you to (hopefully) enjoy.
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Time is a strange thing.
Ever it moves, persistent as a river in its wandering search for the Sea. And ever we move upon it, drawn toward a final day that is beyond even the sight of the Elves. But as I once explained to Frodo and Samwise, this river of time is not the same for all. Some brave the center, rushing forward to meet their fate with open arms and reckless speed. Others linger near the shores, tarrying in shaded pools where the currents are slow and quiet. Little choice do we have as to where or how our ship will sail; we can but endure the waters we are given. And at times these waters are difficult, for I am among those who drift about the shoals. Many are they who flit past me, moving so quickly that if I look away for but a moment, I turn back to find them gone forever.
Gone like this day will soon be gone.
The sun is low in the west, and already I feel the chill of evening as it washes over the steppes of Rhûn. It will be a cold night, and a silent one. The air is choked with tension. We have come here with the combined forces of many armies, and tomorrow we go to war. In anticipation of this, we have used this day for needed preparation, yet now the men in our companies are weary of it. Their eyes are restless and impatient, and they chafe for both the coming of night and the battle that is to follow. They look for the close of the day.
But for me, the day has passed too quickly. The hours poured through my hands as water through a sieve, and ere long, the light was fading. Fell deeds now loom but a night's sleep away, and soon more lives will be swept from my view, never to be seen again. Gone like the day. Like time.
Like the waters rushing toward the Sea…
Once, I did not dwell overmuch on this. It was the lot of mortals to die, after all, and I felt no need to examine the subject further. I saw enough of mortals to be content with their fate. Indeed, at times I felt I saw too much. My father's realm was not as Lothlórien or Imladris, where the river of time all but stopped and its currents were naught more than a wisp of memory. In Greenwood—or Mirkwood, as it was then called—time's waters were harsh and unforgiving. Too often were my kinsmen flung into the rapids and dashed against the stones. Too often did sudden floods tear us from calmer waters and hurl us into paths we did not know. Such was the fate of those who served my father, and sharing in that fate, I counted myself fortunate that I knew little of mortals. My own world held so much turmoil. How could any hope to survive a world of even swifter torrents where life concluded almost as it began?
Then I met a dwarf.
I had known other mortals ere I knew Gimli. Some had proven to be worthy companions and allies. Some I even accounted friends, as far as I understood the term. But it was Gimli who showed me how limited that understanding was. Gimli forced me to look at sights I had never seen. Listen to sounds I had never heard. Consider thoughts I had never known. And because of these efforts, I have ventured into currents of time that have no place for me. Because of these efforts, I have tasted the speed and fury of a mortal life.
Of course, my brief glimpses into mortality are but pale imitations of what Gimli experiences every day. A part of me is still mired in the reeds along the banks and will forever remain so. But swift currents have claimed the rest. My eyes stay upon Gimli as he is flung forward through time, and because I watch so intently, I am pulled along with him. The call of the Sea dwindles before the rush of wind and water, and life begins anew, pounding through my blood and drowning the sound of besetting fates. It is a heady tonic. A potent wine. I often wonder how mortals can withstand the exhilaration that drives their lives, but then I am reminded that it is all they know. Sometimes I wish that it was all I knew.
I have been told by many that this should frighten me. That I have bound myself too closely to those whose lives are counted in years rather than Ages. And perhaps they are right. The waters I now sail will lead me to grief. There is no avoiding that, and I would be wise to fear what lies ahead. But my choices are my own, and my destiny I concede to none. What fear I might have for my own fate is swallowed by the tides of a friendship the likes of which I have never known among my own kin. I will not abandon that, and I will not fear what that friendship may cost me.
It is what that friendship may cost others that frightens me.
Turning from the sunset, I look to the armed encampment in the east. There are reasons for our presence here, but at the moment, those reasons matter little to me. War is war, and death is death. Not all of us shall survive this encounter, and in remembering this, I remember also that for mortals, this is a constant. Life is a journey they cannot survive. From the moment of their conception, death shadows their steps. Yet because they know this, they strive all the more to give their lives meaning, learning and growing at a rate that is nothing short of bewildering to the elven mind. They are driven by the very thing that will ruin them, and as a result of this drive, they bring to their world a light and a fire that the elves will never have.
At least, that is the intended way of things. But for others…for Gimli…some of the fire has been lost. I may look upon the world with new sight, but my dwarven friend is closing his eyes. For even as I watch his journey upon time's rapids, he watches me. He pauses at the sight of still waters against the shore. And questing toward that, he brushes an edge of the silent pool that slows and quiets the elven mind.
Which is something no mortal should ever touch.
It has happened gradually. So gradually that I cannot name a time for its beginning. But I do remember a series of events some years ago in Ithilien that woke in me the first warnings. Gimli had come for what we both hoped would be an extended visit, but urgent matters called him back to Aglarond and he was forced to leave earlier than expected. His departure meant we could not inspect a peculiar vein of rock that Faramir had discovered within the Ephel Dúath. I know that Gimli had been looking forward to the excursion, but when he left, he expressed little regret. Rather, he shrugged and stated that it was an adventure we could save until later. It seemed a harmless enough statement at the time, and I thought nothing of it until it happened again the following year. As before, matters in Aglarond called Gimli away before we could carry out our plans in Ithilien, but once again, there was little regret for lost opportunities. Gimli felt that things could be put off for another visit.
That was when the first of my fears was planted. Ever since, I have watched other incidents with growing concern, and at some point in the long years, the realization came: Gimli's sense of time has been altered. It has become…elven. Though he himself remains in the river's swift currents, moving through time at speeds I can never hope to match, his mind has been drawn into the shoals with me. He no longer feels the pull of fate.
I do not mean to say that he has become complacent. A dwarf could never be idle, and Gimli is as busy as he ever was with projects and travels. But he is no longer driven to complete these things. He is no longer intent upon squeezing from life every moment that a day has to offer. If something remains unfinished, he is content to wait until the next day to finish it. Or the next week. Or the next year. But Gimli is mortal, and there may not be a next day, a next week, or a next year. Each moment he lives could very well be his last. It is a thought that fills me with choking despair, but it is a truth I can no longer deny. This coming battle could strike him down tomorrow, and this current day might be all that remains to him. Yet he will not recognize that! And if he continues on this course, he will never see the darkening skies or rising waters until it is too late!
My fists clench at my sides as the sun dips below the horizon. How swiftly the day passes! How quickly it dies! Time has become such a fleeting thing. This day might have been our last day together ere the end, and already it fades into night.
Yet even if Gimli and I both live to see another nightfall, what then? What if we survive this battle? And the next battle? And the next? What if the day of our parting is far in the distance? It would be no better a prospect for Gimli. A life but partly lived is no life at all, yet Gimli's current nature will not push him to live as mortals are meant to live. It may be that he will remember the brevity of his time here as he grows old, but by then I fear it will be too late. When the tides of age lap against him, his ability to race time will have dwindled, and all that he has yet to do will forever remain undone.
Will he look to me, then? On the day before his last breath, will he ask me why I slowed his mind and stretched his days? Nay, he will not. He will grumble and complain. He will make some remark about elven sensibilities. And then he will turn the failing in upon himself, absolving me of all guilt. He will live out the remainder of his life regretting the fact that he did not do more and feeling the fault was his own. His last moments will be filled with bitterness, and after he is gone, there will be nothing left but ashes and dust and a potential never fully realized.
Behold the price of our friendship.
I am not one to give in to despair, but it fills me now, as vast and deep as the Sea itself. What great injustice did Gimli commit to merit such a punishment? What right had the fates to bring us together without showing us the sacrifice that would be required in the end? It all happened so quickly. So very quickly! The years since the Fellowship are but a brief ripple in the clear waters of elven thought, yet I deem them to be the most valuable years I have ever experienced in my life. And soon they will be gone!
And Gimli with them…
I turn my attention again to the fading light, but now I sense the presence of another. Someone approaches from the camps, and it takes but a moment to name him. I no longer need elven senses to hear his feet or catch his scent of earth and stone. I know Gimli's song almost as well as I know my own, and as he nears me, I feel his arrival in the strands of life that weave their web through all of Arda. He is a steadying presence of both confidence and caution, a curious mix that is fairly typical of all dwarves, though they still claim that elves are the contrary creatures.
"Gimli," I murmur in greeting, sparing him a brief glance ere I turn back to the sunset. It is easier to watch the dying light than to look at Gimli with my thoughts so near the surface.
"Legolas," he answers, and I feel him stop beside me. "The captains are to meet at Aragorn's tent within the hour. Will you join us?"
"I will be there shortly."
Out of the corner of my eye, I see him nod, but he makes no move to leave. We stand together in silence, watching the final moments of the sun, but its descent is now so swift that I must steel myself against an urge to flee.
"You are quiet," Gimli says at length. "Are you in need of distraction?"
At first, I am confused by the question, but then I recognize the hesitation in his voice and realize what he fears. "Nay, my friend," I say, forcing a smile. "Distraction will not be necessary. The Sea is not in my thoughts tonight." Which is a lie, but as lies go, it is a small one. Though always present, the lure of the Sea does not overwhelm me this evening.
"That is well," Gimli says, his voice gruff. "But it is clear that something troubles you. Would you be willing to share what thoughts you have?"
There is nothing of mirth in his question, but even so, I am tempted to laugh. What would Gimli make of my thoughts? Elven fancy, perhaps? Musings that have no place on the eve of war? But what better time to have such musings? I would be ill-advised to entertain these thoughts in the midst of battle, and after the battle, it might be too late. This time is the important time. This day is the only day we have with certainty. But if I were to explain this, would Gimli understand? Or would he dismiss my concerns as he has so many times before?
"My thoughts are of time," I say at length, considering my words and attempting to construct a warning of sorts within them. One that cannot be debated openly but that might be heard all the same. "How swiftly and how slowly it moves," I continue. "It occurs to me that I have never seen the results of your westward expansion in Aglarond. There were not days enough when I was last in Rohan, and now war has come ere I could return to see them. I fear I did not appreciate how little time was given me for my stay. My apologies."
I turn to Gimli, and his eyes meet mine, dark and fathomless as the chasms of Moria. Something flickers within their depths, but I cannot read what it might be. Then it is gone, and Gimli shakes his head. "The fault is not yours. I see no reason for an apology."
"Nevertheless, I offer one. Time is not a kind master. Perhaps we have not given it the respect it deserves."
Gimli frowns, and his faces takes on an expression of frightening intensity. "The respect it deserves? Tell me, Legolas: Would our respect alter time in any way?"
It is my turn to frown. "Nay, but—"
"Then let us save our respect for things that will heed it."
He will not see. He refuses to see. He must know the purpose behind my words, yet he ignores me. And were I to speak plainly, he would refute me. By Elbereth, what must I say to turn this stubborn, intractable dwarf forward again? What must I do to force him back into a mortal sense of time? How can I make him see that the future grows shorter with each day and that his time to act is dwindling into naught?! I stare at him for a long moment, hoping he will see in my face that which I cannot express in my words. Hoping he will hear my unspoken thoughts as he has so many times before.
Meeting my gaze, something once again flashes within his eyes. "Do not trouble yourself about the mines' expansion, Legolas," he says as the last of the sun's light gives way to darkness. "Such adventures can be saved until another year. We have time enough for that."
And I lift my head toward the stars, hoping the wind will dry my tears.
The rest of the acknowledgements: First of all, HUGE thanks go out to Docmon, the amazing beta who caught all kinds of flaws in this story and remains a fountain of endless wisdom. May she enjoy seven square meals a day forever! Beyond that, "The Day Before" was inspired primarily by comments made by JastaElf, Deepsea Dolphin, and Mer, but I'd also like to credit Dawn, Lani, and Narmolanya. They all insisted that more of the story needed to be told. And finally, I'd like to credit Dwimordene, who chimed in with a plotbunny for this story after it was written but before it was posted. Thank you, one and all. I couldn't have done it without your encouragement. ;)
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