beyond the western stars

It was the one hundred twentieth year of the Fourth Age and of the Nine only three lived yet. Merry and Pippin lay in the House of Kings; Frodo and Gandalf had long since gone to the West; Aragorn was old and dying, having lost must of the splendor of his youth; Gimli had grown stouter and greyer; and fair Legolas was just as beautiful as he had always been.

Gimli thought it was really rather unfair. Legolas could probably still run from Amon Hen to Fangorn without breaking a sweat. Gimli got winded climbing up ramps to the deck of Legolas' almost finished ship. He wasn't that old, but he'd probably had too many quaffs and too many good meals and spent too long standing before a forge. He still had years yet and maybe he should leave his forge in the Glittering Caves more often to make sure the world knew that.

He stood, for a moment, and leaned against the mast to catch his breath. The wind brought him the scent of Mallorn and sawdust and the fresh, growing smell he associated with Legolas and, above and through and beneath everything else the bitter tang of the sea. He thought he could hear seagulls crying.

Legolas sat upon the prow, resting his chin upon his bended knees. He stared West and Gimli thought that perhaps his elven friend could actually see the Undying Lands. He adjusted his belt, coughed into his beard, and took a deep breath. He'd killed his last orc many, many years ago, fought his last major battle too long ago to remember. He was a warrior, a hero, a courageous dwarf. He would rather walk the Paths of the Dead than talk to Legolas right now. But he had to, so he stuck his hands into his belt and stumped over to the elf.

"Gimli," Legolas said. His hair blew everywhere in the teasing breeze and it whipped against Gimli's face.

"He wants to see you," Gimli said. "He wants to say good-bye."

"I know." Legolas sighed and ducked his head further into the crook of his knees. He was silent for so long that Gimli began to wonder if perhaps this was a tacit dismissal. Well. He was a dwarf. He wasn't going to leave until Legolas said something more, explained why he had avoided Minas Tirith these past six months, avoided saying farewell to the ailing king. He coughed again and began the Secret Dwarf Elf-Dealing Tactic Number 1: Displaying the Long Hair. Legolas had revealed the elvish obsession with long hair one night long, long ago; possibly during their trek through Fangorn, when they lay on the moss and stared at the stars and spoke of things. He hadn't believed that hair was a turn on for elves until he had started to comb his hair out and seen the way Legolas was memorized by the slow movement of his stubby fingers through the silken kinks of his beard.

He had yet to lose an argument using this particular tactic. And so he unplaited his braids and ran his fingers through his silvered hair with studied nonchalance. He watched the elf out of the corner of his eyes, watched as Legolas completely failed to notice Gimli's artful display of his natural assets. Beneath his beard he frowned.

This was apparently quite serious.

"He's dying," Gimli said suddenly. "He'll go to the House of Kings within a few days. Why have you abandoned him?"

"Because I don't understand!" Legolas' hand clenched tightly and he looked lost and angry at the same time. "I don't understand death, I don't understand why he has to die, why Arwen has to die. Why you have to die." He sighed and tears made his green eyes shine like precious gems. "I don't understand anything."

"Aragorn will die because he is a Man and Men die. Arwen will die because she has thrown in her lot with the race of Men. And I will die because I was questioned to death by a selfish elf who would rather sulk than be a comfort to his mortal friends." Gimli grunted and removed his hands from his hair. "But you'll be gone long before my final day. Your ship is almost done. The West calls you."

And once Aragorn is gone there will be nothing to hold you here, he thought, but he didn't speak his mind.

"Yes," Legolas said and he laughed a bitter, mocking laugh. "Yes, I look to the West, to the Sindar and those who have left before me. Always West. Middle-Earth is dead to me; even the mighty trees of Fangorn interest me not. I, a Silvan." He laughed again and Gimli wondered if perhaps time had not passed Legolas complete by. "I have no home here," he sighed. "My heart is too heavy."

"It's called grief," Gimli said. "It's something that we mortals experience."

"I know. I have mourned before."

"But never for one you loved." Blunt as always. But he was a dwarf and dwarves had no real use for pretty words or convoluted speech. Not like the elves, at any rate.

"Yes," Legolas whispered into the wind. "It hurts, Gimli."

Gimli blinked and coughed and thought about the idiocy of elves in general and this one in particular. They were such children! Children who played with fire and never understood why they always got burned. Legolas was older than Gimli's grandfather's grandfather and he was still young. So damned young.

"The pain," Gimli began, meaning to give the elf the same advice his father had given him when Balin had gone to reclaim Moira--that time would heal his wounded heart, bank the fires that burned so bright within him, brighter than any forge. But these would be hollow words for the ageless elf, who kept all his hurts and pains as fresh as the day they had been inflicted. "I'm sorry," he said instead.

"I've seen too much. I'm not an elf anymore." Soft words. Sad words, and Gimli tried to understand. But he couldn't. "Will they want me?"

"You could stay. You could be...mortal."

For an eternity, Gimli thought that Legolas would say yes. But then his eyes grew distant and he turned away from the West. He hummed like a bowstring drawn tense, then suddenly collapsed on himself, the string snapped.

"He's dead." Legolas stood abruptly, rising up and up like a Mallorn sapling. "I should. I must finish." He cast about, picking up a hammer and putting it down in one smooth movement. He was lost and he looked it. "The West," he mumbled. "I. The West."

Gimli stood too; slower, of course, and with a great deal more creaking and groaning. The wind whipped his beard about, tangling the silken strands. If he hurried he could be back at his forge by nightfall. His men should have a report on the new shaft, on whether or not his instincts were correct and there was a seam of mithril waiting for him in the darkness. He had projects left moldering and. He was not a young man. It wouldn't be long until he returned to the rock that had birthed him and served him and supported him.

He was not a young man. He couldn't drop his life and run off to chase an elf and a dream like he had before.

But he had never been sensible about Legolas.

"Bloody elves," he muttered into his beard and stooped slowly to grab the discarded hammer. "Can't take care of themselves."


Gimli glared at Legolas, uncomfortable as always when trying to speak of anything beyond battle and rock. "You don't think I'm going to let you sail off to the West in something you built, do you? Probably sink like a stone before you get it past the breakwater."

Legolas smiled.

the fics