They are nothing like each other.
They are the cold light of the moon, and the fiery burn of the sun. They are the sound of pure voices ringing upon a soft breeze, and the deep chanting within the bowels of the earth. They are lightning-quick and graceful pivots, and steel shod boots planted firmly in the ground.
They are Elf and Dwarf, and nothing can breach the abyss of nothingness between them – a chasm filled with the bitter fury of centuries, the deep hatred of two peoples: one unwilling to forgive, the other unable to forget.
Thus did their quest begin – with an icy chill that threatened to freeze any who stood between the two creatures. They spoke not a word to each other, one scouting in front, and the other plodding along behind, with the cheerful hobbits. They set up their bed rolls on the opposite sides of the fire, shooting each other a frozen stare, before deigning to settle into a watchful sleep. For orcs could come in the night, wargs or trolls or any of the hundred other fell creatures that might prevent them from reaching their final destination.
And also, they thought privately, smug in their certain knowledge of the other. One could never truly trust a/an elf/dwarf not to ply some trickery in the dead of the night, when the honest folk should be sleeping.
And so they remained, the tense air threatening to snuff the low embers out. It was not till the moon had reached its highest peak, and the stars had fully come out, that their careful, regulated breathing had settled into an honest sleep.
One’s eyes finally closed, breath escaping in a deep grumble as he surrendered to the gentle caress of slumber. The other’s eyes remained open, yet they glazed over, luminous under the reflected star shine – for such was the way of elves in deep repose.
For all their watchfulness, neither sleeper heard the soft chuckle of the old man in a tall, pointed hat. They did not stir at his restless movements, nor saw the gentle spiral of smoke which dissipated into nothingness – but not before it had coalesced into two figures: one short and stout, the other slender and lithe. The smoke-creatures held out a hand to each other; and thus, was the chasm between them finally vanquished.
Aye, the two were opposites in every way – except in the only way in which it truly mattered.
“I go to find the sun!”
With a gay laugh, the fleet-footed being raced across the smooth, unbroken snow with barely a footprint left behind to remark upon his passing. From where the stout creature with fiery locks stood, sunk deep into the churned and muddy snow with the exasperated hobbits, he paused in his backbreaking work to glower at the joyful elf.
How unlike each other they were! They could not have been more Opposite, had they tried – no matter what the blasted Ranger and Wizard muttered to each other. The Elf, clearly, was a heartless, flighty creature who would not deign to spare a thought to the rest of the Fellowship. He lifted no hand to help the smaller, more vulnerable members; he was damnably cheerful when there was no good reason to be; he caroused and sang to the stars when he should have been planning or sleeping. No, the Dwarf thought, lips firming into a hard, disapproving line as he extended a hand to little Pippin. We could not have been more different, had we tried to be.
The Dwarf, the Elf thought in turn, nose upturned, barely concealing a veneer of disgust. Was a disquieting, unnatural creature. He was stout and lumpy, too boisterous, too loud – almost always grumbling and smoking his pipeweed (a foul habit which he had yet to train Estel out of). He mumbled incessantly in Khudzul whenever he (mistakenly) believed that he was out of earshot; his movements were sudden and uncoordinated, nothing like the liquid, graceful movement of the Elves. He was the embodiment of Dwarfishness – and hence, stood on exactly the opposite end of the spectrum from himself.
And then, there was nothing but the harsh rasp of steel against steel. Grunts and snarls and howls of pain as dazzling blades slipped through intricate defences; cries of victory and moans of defeat; the music of the battlefield.
They were both wonders to behold. The Elf’s twin blades spun in a fury, decimating everything in its path, silver knives flashing and twirling in the weak light that only shone at the end of each day. Fair hair glinted under the sun, blue eyes narrowed in intense concentration as the Elf became a whirling tornado of stabs and swipes, a snarl etched permanently upon his face. He jumped into the air, spinning round mid-jump, before firing a precise arrow into the back of an orc’s skull.
In stark contrast, the Dwarf was still. A rock in the middle of the flowing, ebbing waters of battle. Enemies and friends alike parted around him; his feet were planted solidly into the blood-stained ground, a snarl on his features, beard all but bristling in indignant fury at his previously peaceful campsite being encroached upon.
The Elf sneered; the Dwarf bristled. How Opposite the other was, they thought with calm certainty that was born out of hundreds of years of mistrust and hatred. How unlike the other! They were as the sun and the moon; never able to co-exist, and would never become friends.
“You would die before your stroke fell!”
And then suddenly, they were not Opposites any longer. For in the startled glance each exchanged, they caught a myriad of unformed, unfinished thoughts in each other’s eyes. Like minnows within still lakes – so many things they did not understand about each other.
But they had learned enough, in that brief glance, to understand this: there was honour, and loyalty, and courage yet, within their tired, desperate bodies. A common goal to see this quest to the end – faithless is he who would say farewell when the road darkens – a startled realisation of the tentative friendship that had crept upon them like slavers in the night.
An apt description – for were not they bound now, by something stronger than steel links and chains? They had been baptised by fire and blood and death, forged by trials and heartache and loss, and now, here they stood. No longer apart, for suddenly, there were bridges to the other side of the chasm, the abyss slowly receding. No longer faceless to each other, no longer elf and dwarf, but Legolas and Gimli.
But still, they turned away from each other, silent upon the long ride to the smoking corpses. Each lost in their troubled thoughts, in their desperate prayers winging ahead upon the wind. To Eru and Mahal, empty but for a single, fierce plea – let us find them alive.
And thus the floodgates had been opened. The mighty dam cracked, the walls broached by siege; they were Opposites still, they grimly held on to the belief. But perhaps, perhaps… not that Opposite any longer.
As fresh and salt water would mix, so too, did Legolas’ and Gimli’s personalities. The waters became brackish, became something new and unique – similarly, the elf became less elf-like, and the dwarf became less dwarf-like.
Perhaps there never was, and never would be a greater friendship between dwarves and elves with the likeness of Narvi and Celebrimbor, but Legolas’ and Gimli’s would come pretty damn close.
The elf claimed that he had domesticated the dwarf – taught him the beauty of tree and shrub, of an immortal’s love of cold starlight, pure and radiant as it fell upon their upturned faces. He was taught the joy of a raindrop, the fierceness of a beat of a sparrow’s wing. The sweetness of laments, the sorrow in joy; the ache of long years ahead, without an end in sight.
The dwarf, in turn, claimed that he had grounded the elf – who was more than a little too flighty for his liking. He was taught the beauty of deep, still pools, with nary a whisper of air to jolt to mirrored waters. The joy of deep chants and fiery forges, the pride in craftsmanship and the beads earned in hair and beard alike. The love of pure jewels, flawlessly cut and polished to perfection.
But there were other things that were not meant to be taught. Secrets of their races, which they still clutched close to their hearts, unable to bear the thought of them released into the hands of one not of their race.
Even if the creature in question was not entirely Opposite; the waters had mixed too much to be separated into fresh and salt water once more. They were… more. And at the same time, less, than they once were. No longer wholly Elf and Dwarf – no longer the individuals who had fit flawlessly into the moulds that their ancestors had carved out for them. Exceptions to everything that had learnt from cradle, from the time they could walk. It was too late for them to be separated; Legolas had learnt too much from Gimli, and Gimli from Legolas.
Their destinies had twined together. Once parallel, proceeding in opposite directions (their paths would never have met) – till they converged at the Council in Imladris (they would have diverged, eventually) – and then slowly, achingly slowly, the threads of their paths were knitted together into a beautiful tapestry of vivid, painful colours (and then it was too late to turn back).
They were no longer Opposites, two armies facing off on the eve of the battle. No longer were they simply Elf and Dwarf, stunted and tall, flighty and grounded, stars and earth, mortal and immortal.
To put it quite simply, they were something – Other.