Settling Old Scores by Aeärwen|
Summary: Haldir discovers that dwarven memories can be just as long as elven ones.
“‘A dwarf!’ said Haldir. ‘That is not well. We have not had dealings with the Dwarves since the Dark Days. They are not permitted in our land. I cannot allow him to pass.’” FoTR - Lothlórien
Gimli stroked his beard, smoothing some of its bristling length back in where it had pulled slightly from its tethering belt at his waist. Already the wages of time were beginning to make themselves known through the myriad silver threads that wove through the dark chestnut. Even his knees had begun to ache slightly in the mornings when the air was chilled as the outside Rohirric winter penetrated into the sanctuary of rock and crystal that he’d made his home for long years.
Sighing, he leaned forward and reached for the tankard of ale that sat safely beyond the documents scattered across his desk. He settled back into the comfortable cushions of the sturdy chair and sighed yet again before taking a long, refreshing draught of the brew. This was his job now – pushing paper and making decisions about the labors of others, rather than being down there at the mine face or forge himself, getting his hands dirty. With the arrival of so many to the grandeur that was the Glittering Caves had come responsibilities and duties for its lord that were far from his ideal. Even now, the document that had held his attention for the better part of the evening, the inventory of the kitchens and larders and what was estimated to be needed in the near future to keep them functioning at peak efficiency to feed his people, stared dolefully and silently back at him.
Now he understood why it was that Aragorn would, from time to time, throw off the mantle of High King of Gondor and Arnor – much to the amused distraction of his wife and family and utter frustration and despair of his counselors and guards – and slip out of the White City in the worn and honorable cloak of a Northern Ranger. He himself also had a secret retreat, one a little closer to home than Aragorn’s. A small personal forge in a relatively quiet and unnoticed corner of one of the deeper channels of the cavern was where he quietly created the gifts of beauty that he bestowed liberally on his friends and others deemed worthy. Even now, the lure of the flame and bellows called softly to him to abandon paper and quill for the glowing rivers of molten metal to be worked and fashioned into designs he ever carried about in his mind.
“There are messages for you,” announced Tholi, a young Dwarf whose beard had only recently grown long enough to be braided and clipped with the copper beads of an apprentice. Tholi had impressed Gimli with his quick-thinking during negotiations with the Men of Helm’s Deep over the past five years for provender and leathers for making garments in trade for chains of the native gold and mithril newly discovered within the caves as well as worked crystals. Gimli secretly believed that Éomer King of Rohan had as much of a soft spot for the talented, dedicated and very young assistant as he himself did, a fact that had aided in the quality of contract terms between Rohan and the Glittering Caves as a vassal realm under Rohan’s watch.
Gimli grunted as he set the tankard back down on the desk – again making certain that it was safely away from documents whose ruin would mean days or weeks of agonizing effort to replace – and accepted the packet of even more paper wrapped in the black and silver ribbon of the King’s Messengers. His eyes brightened, however, as he caught sight of the writing on the top letter. Legolas had written!
Already distracted, Gimli waved Tholi away as he tore at the black ribbon to get to the letter from his former Brother in Arms. Legolas had been away for nearly three years now, taking a well-earned respite from his efforts in Ithilien and the lordship of his own new colony of elven kinsmen to visit the Northern Realms in relaxed elven leisure. With the healing of Ithilien progressing as well as it was, he’d decided to take the time to renew his relationships with others dear to him – his father, the sons of Elrond and Glorfindel, Celeborn, several of the Northern Rangers that had been in Aragorn’s Grey Company, and even a few of his reclusive Avari kin.
He’d written sporadically over the course of that time, each letter a wealth of insight into his pointy-eared friend’s mind and the welfare of others Gimli cared about almost as much as Legolas did. Perhaps this would contain word from the Shire, which had been one of the stops Legolas had mentioned he’d be making on this trip. It had been long since he’d heard of Samwise and his ever-expanding family.
Again he reached out for his tankard, only this time it hesitated on the journey from desk to lip as Gimli’s eyes took in the news from the Elf – and then was thumped back down on the desk without mind to spillage when the Dwarf gave a whoop.
I simply must tell you this, Gimli, for I’m certain you will enjoy the news as much as I do relating it. While in Imladris, I won a wager with Haldir whose forfeit has put him in the position of traveling with me as my personal guard on the journey back to Ithilien. The details of the wager are irrelevant, however the contest was of such a nature that I have decided that I should visit your realm briefly while he is still in my keeping. We leave Imladris when winter begins to wane, and should show up on your doorstep as the days lengthen toward summer.
I look forward to seeing you again, dear friend, although in consideration of Haldir, it will be a short visit – a day and a night only, I’m afraid. Once I’m assured things are settled in Emyn Arnen, I shall return for a longer visit, I promise.
That must have been some wager, Gimli chuckled long and loud to himself, to have put the arrogant Lórien Marchwarden into the position of personal guard to Legolas, as opposed to being in charge of the defenses of Imladris itself under Celeborn and the sons of Elrond. Gimli had not seen Haldir since the summer of Aragorn’s coronation, and even then had seen very little of him while the High Elves had been in Minas Tirith. It would be interesting indeed to turn the tables on the Galadhrim for his treatment at the very beginning of the Fellowship’s time in Lothlorien. This was a score long in need of settling.
And he would be indebted to Legolas, no doubt, for making the opportunity possible.
Haldir looked around him, glad that the gates of Edoras were already an hour’s gentle lope behind him and yet disconcerted that there was still so little in the way of trees to rest his eyes against. Beside him on the grandson of the grey stallion that had been a gift from the king of this very same, desolate land of Rohan, Legolas took one look at the face of his companion and broke out into musical laughter and then slowed his mount to a walk while he made a great show of ducking and turning to examine his companion from all angles. “What?” Haldir finally demanded when his patience finally dwindled, pulling his ride to a halt.
“I wasn’t certain your shadow hadn’t joined us in our journey,” Legolas grinned cheekily at him. “She’s been within two arms-lengths of you for almost all of yesterday and well into the night.”
“Don’t remind me,” Haldir grunted, his face softening. “Tell me, how was I to know she was Éomer’s granddaughter yester-morn?”
“Maybe by the fact that her gown was something other than homespun wool or coarse linen – or the fact that at her age she actually knew enough Sindarin to understand half of what you said?” Legolas snorted at the memory of a rather embarrassed Haldir returning the child to the arms of an amused Queen Lothíriel – or at least trying to – upon the discovery of the tot’s identity mid-afternoon, after becoming used to having her in constant attendance. “Honestly, Haldir, I begin to wonder if I shouldn’t recommend to Celeborn that he send you out for a season on the fences. Your powers of detection and deduction have slipped of late.”
“Being on the fences would have at least kept me from making wagers after you plied me with all that Dorwinion you brought from Emyn Lasgalen the first night you landed in Imladris,” Haldir admitted sheepishly. “I must have been further into my cups than I thought – or lost my ability to handle the better vintages at greater quantities – to have even thought of challenging...”
Legolas shook his head. “That I doubt. You never did believe that anyone could out-shoot a Galadhrim archer. It was a wager I was more than happy to take up with you. The simple fact is that I knew I would win.”
The Prince of Emyn Lasgalen and Northern Ithilien could be as proud and aloof as any Galadhrim, Haldir had to admit. “You were lucky,” the Lórien elf sniffed, “and the wind came up unexpectedly.”
Legolas threw his head back, and again his musical laughter rang out across the plains of Rohan. “That is the kind of excuse we hear from elflings, mellon nîn, not seasoned warriors or veterans of epic, Age-ending battles.”
“That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it,” Haldir sniffed and then smiled softly. “Still – she was a cute little thing, though, wasn’t she?”
Legolas did a double-take. “Haldir! Have you told Ariel that you’re starting to think of what I’m thinking you’re starting to think of?”
Haldir blinked and thought for a moment, his thoughts warming for a moment at the mention of his wife whom he’d left behind in Imladris for this interesting if rambling journey to Ithilien. “I don’t think I should answer you – as much because I don’t think I entirely followed what you asked as because if I did understand you, it’s none of your business anyway.”
Legolas chuckled on for a moment at Haldir and whispered to Arod to resume a comfortable pace. Yes, little Miríel, the newest of Elfwine’s children, had indeed been a winsome and delightful discovery for the both of them. Old enough to be steady on her feet and crafty enough to escape her nurse at the least dropping of the venerable Lady’s guard, Miríel had come upon Haldir on the broad veranda surrounding the hall of Meduseld looking out over the landscape very early the first morning they’d been in Edoras and had immediately fallen completely in love with the strange and aloof elven warrior.
Haldir, for all of his noted ferocity and skill as a warrior, proved to be a surprisingly tender and caring elf to any youngling brave enough to get close to him – the very young of any race, evidently. The little princess had had a comfortable perch on the tall elf’s shoulder or on his lap for the next two days while he spun tale after tale for her enjoyment and the enjoyment of all others who gravitated into his sphere. Eventually the warrior had needed to use a soft voice to sing her to sleep beneath the stars when all others had despaired of her ever dropping off in the night, and had even tucked her in himself that last night.
“You have to admit it would be good to see an elfling or two in the world again,” Legolas stated in a soft voice that nevertheless carried easily. “It would be good to see young in a land newly cleansed of Sauron’s evil.”
“Ariel and I are waiting until we all sail,” Haldir announced in solemn tones. “When my lord Celeborn sails, I sail and Ariel comes with me – and we start thinking of elflings after we’re safely in Aman.” He pulled his steed to halt again as Legolas halted Arod and pointed. “What now?”
“There. Helm’s Deep – and the entrance to the Glittering Caves.”
Haldir followed Legolas’ extended thumb across the wide floodplain and up the side of the encroaching mountain to the new-looking construction to the right and behind the rather grey and dour-looking fortress keep. “And you say we’re going to be spending time in the cavern – and for more than just a moment or two?” He shuddered.
“Yes,” Legolas answered calmly, although he understood his companion’s discomfort all too well. No elf really appreciated being kept for any length of time under the weight of a mountain. Even the rooms of the palace dug into the mountain in which he had been raised in Mirkwood had been close enough to the stars that the weight of the mountain didn’t press in noticably. But the Glittering Caves was a dwarven realm completely underground. It had taken the power of a promise to get him to follow Gimli into the caves once the War had ended, only to discover that, as his dwarven brother had told him many times before, beauty wasn’t always something that needed starlight. Haldir, having lived the better part of two Ages of the World in the very parochial environs of Lothlórien, was even less likely to be prepared for the sights he would see later this day.
Then again, after having had years to hear Gimli grumble about “owing” Haldir for his treatment when the Fellowship had arrived in Lothlórien not long after Gandalf’s fall in Moria. He didn’t doubt that the Dwarf would have appreciated the months since his letter arrived to plan a suitable answer to that. What would be for forfeit for being blindfolded, he wondered as he stifled yet another chuckle. The next day or so was going to be VERY interesting!
Legolas had sprung from Arod’s back the moment they drew near enough to the gathering of dwarves to make the action seem appropriate. Haldir dismounted more slowly, giving a nod of approval when a dwarf with bristling black hair and beard took charge of the horses. Gimli strode forward, his leathers pale and studded with crystals in a show of wealth and well-being in the Dwarvish manner. “About time you finally show up, laddie. I was beginning to think you’d forgotten how to get here, and I was almost ready to head back in to enjoy the feast I arranged for your welcome myself.”
“I think, rather, you forget how far it really is from Edoras to here, my friend,” Legolas grinned and then bent to return the embrace of his friend. “And your raiment grows ever more ornate. I take it the recent days have been profitable ones for you and your people?”
“You’ll have to see that for yourself,” Gimli grinned, knowing that Legolas’ appreciation of underground beauty would allow him to truly enjoy the recent discovery of spidery veins of gold and mithril amazingly close to the surface. In time, the hall that would result from that discovery would be a true wonder of artistry and natural beauty. “Time enough for that tomorrow, though.” He released his friend and eyed the tall elf who stood quietly behind Legolas. “It’s an honor to open the gates of our caves to another fine Elf lord,” Gimli boomed loudly and in a jolly tone that easily carried far past his gathered kinsmen and into the cavern behind them.
“The honor is mine, Gimli son of Glóin,” Haldir pronounced officiously and bowed with his fist folded against his chest in salute. Had it really be so long ago that he’d escorted this Dwarf into the heart of Elvendom? The sight of the silver threads mixed so liberally in the short and stocky dwarf’s beard had been a shock. Even with the fading of the power of the Elven Rings no longer holding back the seasons in Imladris, time evidently still flowed more gracefully and slowly in Elven lands than it did in mortal realms. “It is good to see you again.”
Gimli doubted that – Haldir’s nervous glances toward the darkness of the entrance to the Glittering Caves more than gave the gracefully polite falsehood away. “And you, Haldir o Lórien.” He smirked to see the haughty elf’s eyebrow rise at his use of the Elvish title. That’s right, you pointy-eared snob, I’ve learned a thing or two from your kin here over the years. “And now, the both of ye, welcome to one of the finest cities of dwarves in Middle Earth! A fine feast awaits you – and my people will be grateful to make their acquaintances of two of our world’s finest warriors.”
Gimli turned and gestured to his people to begin heading back into the caves, waiting until he had almost reached the first hint of shadow himself before turning back to his guests with an uplifted finger. “Oh yes, but that reminds me. I think I owe you a little bit in return for the welcome I received when we met first long ago, Haldir o Lórien.”
Legolas and Haldir both halted, Legolas with a calm expression on his face while Haldir’s eyes widened. “The welcome?” he repeated slowly.
Gimli could almost see the Galadhrim’s mind spinning, remembering exactly what had happened all those years ago – and could tell the moment that he realized what was being referenced. “The lack of it, actually. I see you know now of what I speak, you all having perfect memories…” The Dwarven eyes narrowed. “Dwarven memories are long as well, you know, Master Elf. Your Lord Celeborn apologized for his lack of vision before that first evening was over – you never did, as I remember.”
Haldir looked beyond the Lord of the Glittering Caves to the now almost cold looks he was receiving from the other dwarves. Elven memory of the event recalled being crystal clear, as Gimli had mocked, he knew he was receiving exactly the same kind of welcome now that he himself had tendered all those years ago. “Then I must make amends, Master Gimli, for that appalling lapse of foresight on my part during those dark days.” He glanced at Legolas, and his eyes widened yet again. Not only was the Silvan prince not surprised, but he could see Legolas and Gimli sharing an almost conspiratorial smile. “You knew about this?” he whispered in quick, harsh Sindarin to his traveling companion.
“I had an idea it might be coming,” Legolas answered in the same tongue, although his words were gentle and accepting. “And he has a point – you never did apologize, not in Lothlórien, nor in Minas Tirith later.”
“Did he put you up to this?” Haldir shot back in Sindarin again as he saw Gimli make a motion with his hand which brought forth two other, very stocky and very solid-looking dwarves.
“No, but I anticipated it a bit,” Legolas answered in Westron before turning his attention back to his host. “Be kind to him, Gimli – he’s a little out of practice in dealing with anyone but elves.” He pointedly ignored the glare Haldir blazed at him and stepped forward to join Gimli and his people.
Gimli’s lips barely twitched as he repressed a hearty laugh at the thoroughly discomfited expression on the Galadhrim’s face as he found himself standing alone. He had waited long for this moment, he thoroughly intended to enjoy it. “Blindfold him,” he directed firmly. “He shall not know the way into the depths of the Glittering Caves.”
Haldir’s mouth dropped open, but even as Gimli had given way years ago, he obediently bent down so that those stout dwarves who had answered Gimli’s summons could tie a clean length of soft silk over his eyes. “I trust you will not run me into walls and corners, Master Dwarf,” he stated regally when he again straightened to his full height, now completely blinded.
“Have no fear, laddie,” was the jovial reply from ahead and below. “We dwarves have no designs on putting marks on your delicate elvish skin.”
Haldir felt a firm hand on each arm begin to draw him forward, and then a more friendly hand fell gently on his shoulder. “I am here,” Legolas said quietly. Where Haldir might otherwise have rebuffed the reassurance, he welcomed it with a silent nod now. Legolas, for all his youth and mischief, would no more allow him to be injured than he’d been content to see Gimli left behind decades earlier. Legolas had eventually agreed to wear a blindfold himself in solidarity with the rest of the Fellowship, although it looked as if he had no such compunctions this time around.
The sensation of entering the mountain was strange and almost frighteningly physical indeed, and only Haldir’s centuries of inner discipline and knowing Legolas would prevent any serious harm from coming to him kept him from bolting the restraints of dwarven hands, tearing the silk from his eyes and running at full speed back toward the light of the setting sun. Legolas’ hand on his shoulder tightened once, signaling that the Silvan elf understood what was going through his mind and sympathized. Haldir forced himself to breathe slowly, deeply and rhythmically – and to not shake in his boots.
It seemed as if he had walked forever in darkness when Gimli spoke a quiet word in the grinding tongue of his kin, and the hands held him fast and let him know that he was to stop. “And as happened so long ago, eventually permission to enter the Golden Wood was received, and the blindfold was lifted from my eyes so that I might see the wonders in which I walked unaware.” He heard someone short approach him from the front. “Bend down, laddie, so we can remove your blindfold as well.”
He obeyed, and as promised, the silk covering his eyes was carefully removed. He straightened and opened his eyes slowly, blinking in the unexpected brightness of many torches – and then stared, stupefied. Nothing in his centuries in Arda could have ever prepared him for the sight that met his gaze.
The grand scale of the Glittering Caves spread before his dazzled eyes for almost as far as the eye could see, with many nearby pillars made of crystal that had been carefully and lovingly carved and shaped until they caught each and every possible ray of light and scattered it with abandon. Torches blazed, and stairs carved into the living rock at the very edges climbed up to where other, smaller caverns led off in many directions. Here and there on the newly smoothed cavern walls could be seen fine spiderwebbing of gold and silver and mithril in designs that teased elven sensibilities to attempt interpretation. The weight of the mountain was indeed great and hung above him, but the glory of the space revealed beneath the mountain was fair beyond anything he could ever have imagined and made the weight entirely bearable.
Finally he regained his wits enough to look down upon his host, and found Gimli grinning at him from grizzled ear to ear, a fond look in those glinting eyes. “It takes the breath away, does it not, Master Elf? It isn’t ancient trees or starlight, but something to be seen of its own right.”
On his own power Haldir took steps forward into the sparkling, glistening cavern rather than back out of it again. “Indeed, Master Dwarf! If I hadn’t seen this with my own, waking eyes, I’d believe anyone mad to describe it.”
“Just so,” Gimli said in a softer, gentler tone, “In my turn, I found myself in the midst of ancient mallyrn and flowing fountains that refreshed the body and mind, and in the company of such beauty that I find this but a pale substitute.”
Haldir let his gaze drop down to his diminutive host in astonishment at the dwarf’s words, and found Gimli fingering a small crystal gem that hung from a fine mithril chain about the dwarf’s neck. Even through the faceting that made the gem sparkle and catch the light, Haldir could make out the twistings of golden threads that had been caught within. He had indeed forgotten the gift that his Lady of Light had given the dwarven member of the Fellowship, and the sight of those delicate tendrils made him miss his Lady of the Light all the more. Evidently the dwarf had treasured those glowing threads as much as he himself would have – and it took a while for him to refocus his mind on what Gimli said next. “Back then, the elves of Lothlórien shared a treasure in your keeping with me. It is now my turn to share a treasure that has been in my keeping with you – and give you a token with which to remember it.”
With a final, loving glance at the crystal before tucking it once more safely beneath his tunic, Gimli dipped his hand into a fine pouch hanging from his belt and pulled forth yet another fine, mithril chain, from which another jewel dangled. Cunningly worked with mithril, the gem that sparkled gaily was a dainty bow of the Galadhrim with arrow nocked and as if ready to fire. The bowstring of the finest mithril thread, seemed taut and virtually ready to fire its fiery missile.
Haldir’s hands nearly shook as he took the gem, and then he dropped to a knee with a bowed head. “Master Dwarf, I am most sincerely sorry for my behavior during the Dark Days when you and your company came to Lothlórien. I should have seen, from the nature of the company in which you traveled, that you were no enemy against which I needed to stand. I beg your pardon for the tardiness of this apology, which by rights should have come before the setting of the sun that day.”
Gimli reached out and grasped the elf’s hands and tugged. “Rise, Haldir. The slate between us now stands clean and empty. Your apology’s accepted, and the incident that caused it is now cast out from memory past the edge of the world.” The dwarf gave a sharp clap of his hands. “Now, we have a feast to attend, do we not?” Laughing, the dwarves streamed in the general direction of the vast assembly hall that had been prepared to receive honored guests.
Haldir’s eyes met those of Legolas, who looked on the exchange with a peaceful gaze of contentment. “And you, mellon nîn, I thank for bringing me here.”
Legolas’ face split open into a wide smile. “My pleasure, mellon nîn.”
Haldir had been silent for nearly the entire morning they had spent on horseback, and Legolas knew better than to interrupt the Galadhrim’s train of thought. The preceding day had been filled with wonders of the newest dwarven realm – from standing a safe distance back from the huge, furnace-like forges from which had earlier come the shining mithril daggers that now hung from both the Marchwarden’s and the Silvan prince’s belt to tracing the gold and mithril filaments through solid rock down a corridor that sparkled in the light of torches with more of the same, to studying the delicate balance mechanism that controlled the massive doorway to the outside world and marveling at the genius behind the design.
Just a few hours earlier, just before the last celebrating dwarves had finally stumbled off to their beds, Haldir had joined in a drinking song at last. Once Legolas and Gimli had translated it and taught him the pronunciation, he had joined in the chorus as loudly and merrily as the rest – then and laughed his own sparkling laugh at the sly wording in all the right places.
He was glad, however, to be back out in the sunlight again, in the fresh air again; but he would forever find his opinions of the Naugrim and their realms other than completely oppressive. The Glittering Caves had altered his definition of beauty forever, and he would remember the stolid, boisterous and jolly Gimli, son of Glóin, very fondly long after he had passed across the Sundering Seas.
He glanced over at Legolas, finding his companion once more grinning at him with yet another mischievous twinkle in his eye. Remembering what else had happened over the course of the previous day, he growled over at him, “Don’t say it.”
Legolas’ eyes widened, and he threw up his hands and shook his head innocently. “I didn’t say anything, did I?” He settled and then tossed his companion another twinkling grin. “Still – she was cute too, don’t you think?”
The ridiculousness of the entire situation, now doubled, made Haldir’s lips twitch, and then the Galadhrim started chuckling as well. “I don’t understand it at all.”
“I do,” Legolas chimed immediately. “They see through your mask, Haldir, as if looking through a glass. You will be a very good father someday.”
And Legolas’ elven memory revisited the sight that had been his for the better part of the previous day, when Gimli’s youngest neice Fili had discovered the astonishingly tall elf and begun following him shyly that afternoon, eventually to be carefully lifted up, studied, and her soft black peach-fuzz of a beard nuzzled and tickled. The very tiny dwarf tot had then been perched on a tall shoulder to the amazement and envy of the other dwarf children, who clamored about elven feet and nearly tripped the graceful warrior several times. After the evening meal, Haldir had been virtually covered in dwarflings who listened in spell-bound silence as he told them the story of Eärendil and Elwing. And once more, the singing of a sweet elven lay had been required to send another youngling to sleep when all else had failed.
Haldir met Legolas’ gaze evenly. “If I said I’ll think about it, would you drop the subject?” When Legolas just continued to grin at him, he grumbled, “All right – all right! I’ll think about it – and talk to Ariel. Satisfied?”
Musical elven laughter rang across the plains of Rohan once more.
“And the Dwarf, hearing the names given in his own ancient tongue, looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding.” FoTR, The Mirror of Galadriel