The Last Grey Ship
Sorrow rose then like a mighty tide within, but Gimli bowed his head though it choked him, and spoke not. He could not ask what selfishness might demand, for his love for this oldest friend was greater even than his love for himself. Legolas would sail into the West, and that right soon, and Gimli would remain to attend his own days and his own people, until even the long lives of Dwarven-kind ended and he, too, must die as all mortal things of Middle Earth.
“Ai, Gimli, I have so loved the world,” Legolas cried. “If I looked now upon the fullness of Spring, when the forests were singing and friends awaited me in the greenwood, I should be torn to my very depths. But Elessar is gone and his Lady is lost, and I fear that I will never know Spring again.”
Courage Gimli found, and he spoke. “Do they not have Spring, in the Blessed Realm?”
“Spring, and summer, and never the frost of winter,” Legolas replied, and bowed his head. “Neither withered leaf nor faded bloom, nor partings ever more.”
“Then when shall you sail?”
“Soon,” Legolas whispered, lifting his gaze to Westward once more. “Before the grief of the world drowns me.”
“Well, then.” Gimli braced his hands on the stone, and heaved himself to his feet, for he had wearied of craning his neck to look up at an already-tall Elf. “It seems you have some packing to do. Come, my stomach wants proper attention, and we have a long road tomorrow.”
The Dwarf turned, and with all compassion and an aching heart he met and held his friend’s sorrowful gaze. Legolas shifted his hands upon Galadriel’s bow, ere he spoke.
“Gimli, I cannot – how shall I part from you?”
“Best to do it sooner, when I can appreciate the sentiment. It would do me precious little favor if you spoke only to the slab marking my tomb.”
Yet it seemed the strange turns of Elvish thought were again at work, and the distress of it was plain on Legolas’ face. “If you could see the Lady Galadriel . . . if you could return to her the gift she gave, would you do it?”
“Would I?” Gimli cried, and then scowled sternly. “Do not offer what is not yours to give, Master Elf.”
“Not mine,” Legolas replied. “But perhaps from the Lady who once granted you the favor of her affections.”
“You speak in riddles, my friend. Be plain, for my belly grows impatient.”
“I speak of ships, Gimli. A grey ship I shall build at Ithilien and sail down this great water, until at last I will gaze upon the wide breast of the Sea!” A fey excitement seemed to have seized him, and Legolas spoke in a hurried rush. “The Straight Road will be clear to me, Gimli. There need be no fear of either shipwreck or upset, nor shall we be lost, for there is but one route to sail.”
Confusion now tumbled Gimli’s poor wit entirely, and he squinted up at his friend. “You have gone from riddles to prattling, Legolas. Pray make sense, before you lose me in the wilderness of your words, never mind the Sea.”
“Gimli, come with me.”
There were no gulls. No wind. Just the hushed rumble of the Anduin far below.
“Come with you.”
“No Dwarf will ever set foot on those shores.” The absurdity of the thought for that instant overrode even the upset of separation. “No Dwarf, if he has any sense, will even set foot on a ship! Your little cockleshell would be dashed to the bottom of the deep ere we lost sight of land, if I were in it! You speak foolishness.”
“Nay, Gimli, I do not.” Legolas abruptly dropped to one knee, his bow clasped tight, and his eyes grew bright as sword points. “You of all Dwarves are named Elf-friend, and you are the last of the great Fellowship in this realm. The tales of your deeds bring you honor such as no Dwarf has known. You were beloved friend of Elessar the King. You are favored of the Lady Galadriel, which not even Durin could have imagined. I will plead for you there, Gimli, even to Manwë himself, if I must. I and Galadriel and Mithrandir, and all in that place who know your worth. The Lady has no small power, or Elrond either, and I shall add all the strength that is in my heart -.”
Then Legolas caught himself, and his tone gentled as he damped his fervor to a lower flame. “Gimli, I see I thrust a great quandary upon you, and you cannot answer now. But do not refuse now, either, I beseech you.”
There was frank pleading in Legolas’ expression, even as he tried to lessen the weight of his request. However, the great wish of his heart would not be quenched.
“At least give the thought a little time, to see if it grows on you. It would be a reward of peace, for all your great labors in this world.”
Gimli humphed a heavy breath and faced outwards towards the river and distant fields, arms crossed.
“The Lady Galadriel has forgotten she ever knew such a poor creature as I.”
“The Lady holds you in her thought, as always you hold a lock of her hair.”
“I have no legs for boats.”
Legolas stood, watching him carefully. “Then you may sit down.”
“I will be seasick.”
“Nay, you shall not.”
“I will be swallowed up in a great wave and eaten by sea serpents.”
“Not if you stay in the boat.”
Gimli remained with his face turned to the broad sweep of lands below, and it was Legolas’ turn to be patient. Nor do the thoughts of Dwarves turn often in haste, unless great ire is aroused, for their works are most in stone, which defies hurry and rashness. Yet though Gimli’s hands loved most the work he gave them, whether in building or in war, and though he filled his days and years with the unceasing efforts thereof, and neither took a wife nor foster son, there remained one constant. Through all times and all deeds, there remained one most unlikely friend. An Elven prince from the far forests of Mirkwood who, if nothing else, had taught him to love sun and starlight as much as the riches of the deep mountains. He had loved even as Legolas had loved, mourning friends and Fellowship as each passed from them, and yet withal he was richer for it. Now he had been offered one last gift, uncertain and perilous though it may be.
“How long will it take, to build this overdone ferry of yours?”
“I suppose that, by the time all things are in order, the moon will have come ’round its full turning.”
“Hmm,” Gimli rumbled.
Legolas waited and Gimli thought, and at last he spoke.
“Last night the moon was new. When the moon is half-grown, come, and I will give you my answer.”
“I will come,” said Legolas, and his face lit with joy. “I will come, and you will hear me singing before your warriors at the gates open their eyes to see me!”
“I have not said yes,” Gimli warned.
But Legolas saw the smile lurking in his beard, and laughed. “Nor have you said no, and until you do, all nays may become yeas, and all cannots become coulds.”
“And pigs may sprout wings and soar away over the rooftops,” Gimli grumbled, and turned his feet towards the downward path. “Have I ever mentioned that Elves regularly make very little sense?”
“Frequently,” Legolas answered as he followed. “And have I ever mentioned the stiff necks of Dwarves?”
“At every chance.”
The slender boles of the wood gently closed about their fading voices, until once more the deep hush of the River breathed the only sound. In the White City a new King would be crowned, and on the yet-ungreen roads to the north, a Queen would slip away as silently as a doe in the forest. Beginnings and endings converged, much like new green shoots curled from the rotting, blackened leaves of winter. In each there was both peril and promise.
Yet when the rains of early April came to the Vale of the Anduin, among the mists that clung to the River’s breast a clever eye might have seen a single grey ship sailing. A more prudent mind might have reasonably argued that it was merely a trick of the fog drifting from the dripping trees. But to the green paths of the forest never again came Legolas Greenleaf, and the mountain halls of the Dwarves saw Gimli, son of Gloin, nevermore.
Out where the great Sea thundered on the bones of the world the Sun burst forth in glory, and joyously cast aside the rags of spent clouds. Then beyond and to the western rim of the world, the deepening blue glittered as if sown with white gems. One gem, perhaps, winked brilliant green, and bore with it a single sail.
~~ FINIS ~~
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AUTHOR’S NOTE: It is entirely my own plot-device that Legolas carried the Elfstone of Galadriel to the Blessed Realm with him. Such an incident is not any part of Tolkien’s histories of Middle Earth. I have in fact found no mention of the stone’s fate after Aragorn’s death, and so I took this liberty.
Actually, the Lady Arwen simply told me that was what happened . . .