16. Chapter Sixteen
Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But I know one thing that never dies,
The glory of the great deed.
It was over.
And yet it was not.
Darkness was banished, the Enemy was defeated, but Middle-earth was bleeding. The earth seemed infinite saddened and joyful at once. For evil had left its mark, and it was not fully banished. The evil that rested in the hearts of men and dwarves alike still remained and would as long as there was life.
Victory, bittersweet victory.
Men were gathering around Gimli, their faces jubilant and bright. But even so, a shadow of sadness was on their faces, a reminder that many had fallen to see this day come. Too many.
But not Pippin. Gimli found himself smiling, leaning on his blood-trimmed axe for a moment. Not Pippin. The hobbit would remain to spread the sunshine of the Shire, something they all could need.
"Gimli!" a voice called, and his heart was instantly warmed, for he knew that voice. He had known the elf had lived, for he had seen his bright form between the men, but his friend had then vanished to speak to Aragorn.
He turned around to indeed see Legolas walk softly towards him, eyes shining.
"They live. Frodo and Sam live," the Elf said, the sun shining on his blood-streaked hair. A streak of blood was on his face also, and Gimli had to resist the urge to run over and wipe it away.
"They live," Gimli repeated, and his heart leapt once more. The hobbits lived and Legolas lived; and the air was fair and rich. Sadness could wait. It would take its toll when joy diminished and rebuilding came. All that was fair and lost could not be reclaimed.
But fair things still lived in Middle-earth, and Sauron could threaten them no longer. The shadow was gone.
Legolas smiled, halting a mere feet away from the dwarf. They regarded each other in silence, Gimli taking in ever detail so that he might remember it - until he would return to the earth that been home to his kindred. It would be an image to give him peace in death.
Legolas was happy, more happy than Gimli had ever seen the elf, but even so sad as well. None knew the bittersweetness of victory more than the elves.
"A feast shall be hold when they awake," Legolas said after a while. "The King has bid us attend and eat with him."
"Even in my brightest hope, I did not think I would see them again," Gimli said softly. "I am at a loss for words, my friend. What do an Elf say about this day?"
"The Elf is no less at a loss for words," Legolas replied, then closed the distance between them. As the elf bent down and embraced him, Gimli closed his eyes.
"The shadow is gone, nîn meleth," Legolas whispered, resting his head on Gimli's.
They clung to each other as men around them sang and cheered, for at a day like this, even an elf embracing a dwarf caused no stir. Birds sang, bright tones that seemed to shimmer in the air. With the tones a bright voice mixed; the voice of Legolas, bright and strong and signing in his own language.
Gimli felt his friend's chest vibrate with song as he leaned against it, mixing with the steady heartbeat. And though he did not know the words, the song reached into his heart, echoing all the things he felt. Joy, grief, relief, fear, happiness, strain, pain, tension – all that the song spoke of, but most of all remembrance.
The song ended on a barely audible tone, lingering in the air like a streak of silver, hopeful, vibrant and filled with wonder. It reminded Gimli of the sense of wonder he had felt when young, sneaking out to listen to the tales of the elder dwarves. He had hid in the shadows, listening with great apt to the deeds of dwarves now gone, of Khazad-dûm, of gold and mithril and dwarves guarding it, and caves.
And he had longed to see the world. But it had turned out to be a world shrouded in darkness and hostility where beauty had faded. The wonder of the tales had been forgotten in his mind, but not his heart.
He knew not of any songs the dwarves had to echo this, but he had the strangest feeling he could write it. His kindred had forgotten wonder. It was time to reclaim it.
Not Moria. Moria was still a tomb and the air was foul there now. It was best as a memory now, fair and bright in the minds of dwarves. Perhaps one day it would be clean again.
The Glittering Caves. Even as his mind stumbled over it, he knew the path led there. Untarnished beauty, a remembrance of what Middle-earth had been. What better way to honour what had been lost?
He took a deep breath, realising Legolas smelled of blood. It was a sickly sweet smell, tearing into his nostrils. For a moment he wondered if his friend was hurt, then realised he would have seen it. This was blood of the enemies, of what had been, clinging to them both.
The stains could be removed, but the blood would never vanished.
He felt Legolas's hand stroke against his cheek briefly, and he looked up to meet misty blue eyes smiling at him.
"Gimli, son of Glóin," Legolas said softly. "I am glad you are here with me, as the world fades and changes. A great deed we have all done, for Sauron has fallen."
Gimli felt his throat dry up. At least with Sauron to fight, Legolas had had a reason to linger. Would he leave now, sail over the sea and forget his Dwarven lover except for in silent nights, when the ravens would sing?
But Legolas said nothing, merely looked at him with eyes so bright and filled with starlight he wished he could bathe in it forever.
Today, with the Shadow departed, he could almost believe wishes came true.
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