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Big thanks and hugs to Voirrey, my beta.
While watching the white shores and green land of Valinor that were closer and closer, a smile appeared on Gimli's wrinkled face. He thought that he had really had a lot of luck in his life – all his wishes came true. He saw Middle-earth freed from Sauron. He lived to see the prosperity of the kingdom of Erebor, as well as growth of completely new dwarf-colony – the one in Glittering caves, of which he became the master. He saw renewed Gondor and Rohan, and he lived in an age of peace and prosperity. His life was enriched by wonderful friendships with members of the Fellowship, and now, near the end of his life, he didn't have to part with his best friend: when Legolas sailed West, Gimli got the privilege of going with him.
Almost all wishes, corrected Gimli. He didn't see Moria in the hands of his people again, which was the dream of every dwarf in Middle-earth. Yet, he thought he shouldn't be unsatisfied; he considered himself very lucky for living in the time of Sauron's fall and Aragorn's rule. So many more good things happened to him than to the countless before him – and not just dwarves, but including the members of other peoples too.
Now, in his sunset time, his hair and beard were almost completely white. He got tired much quicker than he once did, his sight worsened, and he sometimes felt pain in his joints. He knew his days were near the end. However, he was completely serene. Yes, he was happy and satisfied – regardless of Moria.
The first day in Valinor passed, then a week, and one more. Now and then he went for short walks, mostly accompanied by Legolas. He had to admit that the land of the Valar made a strong impression on him. The air here was more fragrant than even in Ithilien in spring; the leaves were greener than even those in Lothlorien; stars shone brighter than anywhere in Middle-earth; even water... he stopped, not wanting to acknowledge at first. But if he had to be completely honest, he'd have to say that water was more beautiful than even Kheled-zaram.
But I'll never tell them that.
He slept very peacefully – better than ever. When he remembered friends no longer alive, it was always the most beautiful memories that came back to him, eliciting a smile. When he felt sorrow for a moment, because of his loss, right after that new happy memories would spring in front of his eyes, supressing sadness. The same thing happened to Legolas. Is that the famous healing effect of this land?, dwarf wondered. But he didn't bother looking for an answer and analysing it – he just enjoyed each day.
Everything was in its place.
Almost everything. Because, during one walk through Tirion, when he noticed a big relief depicting the Spring of Arda on one palace, he realized he did have one more wish – one that he wasn't even aware before coming to Valinor.
Impossible, was the next thought. I have to be satisfied with all the blessings I got and not ask too much.
He noticed that Legolas was observing him attentively, and he wasn't sure how much of his thoughts reflected on his face. But the elf just smiled and, as they continued walking, started to talk about the history of this part of Tirion. Gimli didn't listen very carefully – he was still preoccupied by his own thoughts.
When he went to bed that night, his yearning became even stronger.
A few more days passed, all of them similar to the previous ones. Then came a period in which he didn't see Legolas for three days. He spent them very quietly – mainly in a deck-chair in the garden of the house; he and Legolas have lived in the house of Elrond and Celebrian since they arrived. The house was big and there were plenty of rooms, so each of them got a big chamber for himself.
And then, on the fourth day at dawn, he was awoken by knocking at the door. Having opened his eyes, he saw light through the window, but it looked like the sun hadn't risen yet; it was very early. Grumbling a little, unkempt and sleepy, Gimli slowly headed to the door. There was Legolas, dressed in travelling clothes – quite obviously ready to go somewhere this very moment. The elf smiled cryptically and seemed to be in a great mood.
"Good morning, my friend. Get packed. We are going on a journey," said Legolas. He didn't reveal any more than that, except that it could last about three weeks. "Maybe even a little longer, depending on a situation. Take enough luggage," he added.
When Gimli finished packing, they got out into the big courtyard where Gimli saw a carriage with two horses. It was small: next to the coachman's seat there was enough room for just one more passenger. It was open, but judging by a folded down hood at the rear, the seats could obviously be covered in case of rain.
Watching it, the dwarf frowned.
"What, you think I'm too old to ride?"
"Of course not. But I well remember how much you dislike riding," he replied.
"All right then," said Gimli reconciliatory. The truth, though, was that his old bones would really revolt if he had to ride for several weeks... but that was another thing that he didn't want to admit aloud.
Elrond and Celebrian supplied them with provisions for the beginning of their journey, and saw them off. Legolas told him that in later days they'd find guesthouses along the way, and they set off.
In the first weeks after arriving to the West, Legolas led him through Tirion and its surroundings; now Gimli supposed that the elf wanted to show him the other parts of this land too. They travelled at a very slow pace, mostly in comfortable silence, and the dwarf had to admit he enjoyed watching the changing scenes along the road. Forests, meadows, little rivers – all was equally beautiful as around Tirion – and one more time he had to agree that everything in Valinor was more beautiful than in Middle-earth. Even Lothlorien, in which everything was more intensive than elsewhere, seemed pale when compared to the colours of this world, and to its air, waters and sky.
Legolas followed the road towards the west, so the mountaintops of the Pelori remained behind them and every day looked smaller in the distance; now the two travellers were mostly surrounded by plains. Some nights they spent in the inns in villages next to the road, and some others they spent under the sky and Varda's stars. Legolas didn't talk much during the journey, but the dwarf noticed his companion smiled a lot – and especially while looking at the stars. The elves are people of stars, he reminded himself, and he understood that watching the stars was as elixir Legolas' soul. They both still grieved for Aragorn; of all the friends from the Fellowship they lost, this loss was still very near, but Valinor slowly healed their wounds.
He wondered if Legolas had some specific goal or simply wanted to know Valinor better himself; since they arrived Legolas has been some sort of a guide for Gimli, but ultimately, he wasn't a native of this land, but also revealed it only now. The difference between the two of them was only that he supposed that Legolas knew well geography of Valinor; Gimli didn't bother with studying maps in advance. And he didn't ask his friend where they were going – it didn't really matter. He simply enjoyed each new day, grateful for happiness he experienced in his old days.
And the yearning awoken a few days ago continued to grow...
When Legolas gazed west on the seventh morning, his eyes shone so bright and his smile was so wide that Gimli just had to react.
He too looked that way, but although it seemed to him that somewhere amidst the vast green plains he saw a few blurred specks of another colours, he wasn't sure if he really saw them or it was just the trick of his mind. On that distance, not even in his youth could his eyes discern much – and now even less.
Legolas didn't answer, but just kept enchantedly staring. Only when the dwarf repeated his question – this time louder, and touched his friend's hand – the elf startled and turned the affection to him. His eyes still glistened.
"You'll soon discover yourself," he said in a low voice, filled with awe. "Let's go."
It turned out that "soon" wasn't an accurate description after all; only after a few hours, when they came relatively close, Gimli's old eyes realized it was a city in front of him. And what a city! As they came closer, he was more and more astonished and his eyes opened wide.
The huge gate was made of gold that shone in the sun. There were palaces so big that whole villages or even small towns could fit in, and no palace of Middle-earth could measure with them in beauty; there were trees so high that they dwarfed even the highest mallorns of Lothlorien; there were fountains as big as the highest waterfalls in Middle-earth. A little further outside the city he noticed a big round flat circular area and around it huge, masterfully carved stone chairs, and next to it a hill. On it, there were two trees. More precisely, that which remained of them, because it was clear they were lifeless: the branches were bare, there were no leaves, and their bark was dark grey, almost black. But still, in spite of that, both trunks and all the branches looked like they were softly glimmering, and Gimli had a feeling that those were not dead dried trees but magnificent marble sculptures whose surface shone in the sun.
Beautiful even in death.
No, he didn't know the details about geography and cities of Valinor, unlike Legolas; and no, he never tried to search for pictures depicting these marvels of ancient times, so that he became acquainted with them that way. But in spite of that, no one had to name this city for him, nor tell him what he was looking at.
And here in Valmar lived Aule... and maybe... maybe... his wish, the one he deemed impossible and pretentious, could come true now... maybe. He shivered. Then he lifted his eyes to Legolas and discovered he was smiling.
"Your wish will soon come true," said the elf.
Gimli was left speechless. How does he know...?
"It wasn't difficult to guess, my friend," explained Legolas, still smiling. "After all, I also got the wish to see the Valar when we arrived in Valinor. I believe that all the elves feel the same. And for your people, meeting one particular Vala has even deeper meaning. I know you well, and I felt your wish as soon as it crossed your mind."
Ah well, the intuition of the elves at work. So, Legolas did read his mind on the very first day, and coming here was no mere wandering and sightseeing. And the period in which he was absent was obviously spent for planning and preparing. Gimli nodded.
"Thank you," he said in a low voice.
Your wish will soon come true, he repeated Legolas' words in his head, his heart quivering. He would see Aule. In an instant, he forgot all the weariness of his age. He was full of strength, and suddenly, very impatient.
"Why are we standing here? Let's hurry!"
From up close, the gate looked even bigger and more dazzling. When they entered, Gimli continued to admire the splendid facades and magnificent architecture, and it took him a while to realize that it was quite crowded in the city – all around there were many elves whom, enthralled with observing beauties, he didn't even notice at first. He directed his attention on them, and realized he attracted many gazes. Of course, he was the first and the only dwarf ever to arrive to Valinor; but here, unlike in Middle-earth where the elves sometimes observed him with suspicion or even mistrust, in the eyes of the passers-by he saw only curiosity.
Some of the elves were blond-haired, some dark-haired. And some... he looked more carefully. Some of them were quite taller than the average, more gracious, and there was light in their eyes.
"The Maiar," he heard Legolas' voice, and nodded. Turning attention to him, Gimli noticed that the elf was equally enchanted by looking everything around them. Legolas is here for the first time too, the dwarf reminded himself again, and although his excitement was of a different kind, this was a special experience for him too.
They continued to go through the city and passed by many impressive houses. Knowing where they were, knowing that his wish was about to be fulfilled, every time they were in front of a building that was bigger and more beautiful than the others Gimli would excitedly hope that they had arrived. Like, for example, when he saw big halls whose roofs were supported by treetops.
"Is this it?"
"Orome's halls," answered Legolas.
Or when they were in front of a big castle with a high tower next to it.
"Are we there now?" Will I finally see Aule?!
"Tulkas' house," came the new explanation.
Finally, they arrived at a forest. Here Legolas stopped, stepped down from their carriage and asked Gimli to join him in front of the entrance.
"In this forest there are several trees of every tree that exists on Arda. No single species is left out," said the elf, his lips forming a smile, and looked at him.
At first, Gimli was not impressed. Yes, the trees were important to the elves, but he was a dwarf and didn't care much about them. Why did Legolas bring him here? And what was so important in the fact that here were all the species that existed?
The elf still observed him, his face amused, and it even seemed that there was a hint of challenge in his eyes.
They were in the city of the Valar. The Valar were responsible for all that existed... which included the trees. And the trees were... He remembered. They were the work of Yavanna. And she was Aule's wife.
"Oh," was all that he uttered when he realized.
"Yes. Inside this forest is Yavanna's and Aule's home," confirmed Legolas.
For a moment, he couldn't breathe and he felt like his legs couldn't hold him any more. Is it really possible that he, Gimli son of Gloin, quite an ordinary dwarf of Erebor, will see the father of their people?
He recollected himself and stepped into the forest, following the path through it. With every step his excitement grew and his heart beat quicker. He didn't notice the trees – neither big nor small, neither ordinary ones nor the most exotic. He just paced, quickly and vigorously as in his youth. He wasn't tired any more and didn't feel a single trace of any ailment that used to trouble him lately.
Finally they came to the wide grassy clearing, in the middle of which there was a big stony building. Based on what he was able to see – because it was partially overgrown by climbing plants, which was undoubtedly Yavanna's deed – it seemed to him it was quite simple and without decorations, with smooth walls.
In front of a big door with an arch and almost ten meters high there were two chairs, and in them two tall beings. They seemed to be absorbed in a conversation, not noticing the two small figures who were coming closer. One of them had a long golden hair and wore a green dress, and another, in tunic and trousers as grey as the rocks, had dark brown hair and long curly beard. Gimli walked as if spell-bound, almost not breathing and not taking his gaze off him.
When they came close, the two Valar finally turned their heads towards them, and then both the elf and the dwarf bowed low. After a few moments later they rose, but Gimli's head remained bowed. His eyes were closed, he held his breath, and he had the feeling that his heart would burst out of the chest. Even before he dared to look at the father of all the dwarves, he thought that even being so close surpassed even the craziest expectations.
"Welcome to Valmar and our home, Legolas son of Thranduil and Gimli son of Gloin. We've been expecting you," a melodic female voice was heard. Gimli shivered, for he had never heard a voice like that before. It encompassed echo of all the birdsongs of Arda, power of roar of all the beasts, and the murmur of all the leaves – all at once. He finally mustered his courage and lifted his head, and looked at Yavanna.
"Thank you," said Legolas with reverence, and his reply reminded Gimli of his manners. Smitten by the moment, he was completely speechless.
"T-thank you", he managed to stammer.
How do they know our names? How did they know we were coming?, crossed his mind in that moment, but in the next he realized the questions were silly. The beings in front of him were the Valar. They simple knew things.
Finally, he turned to Aule.
He met the Vala's gaze, and again – he didn't know how many times it happened that day – was left without a breath. Aule's eyes, so dark brown that they were almost black, were windows to the whole world – the one his people loved so much – to the depths of Arda. In Aule's eyes he read the whole history of the world: the forming of its foundations, and then of the mountains, plains, rocks, gems and everything – and not just that he saw those images, but he had a feeling that he had been there with Aule, as if he had travelled through all the eons and distances. Then he blinked and found himself in the present moment again; he looked the Vala in the eyes – and in them felt strength that could move mountains. And warmth also... and love.
This is my father.
He sank to his knees and lowered his head to the ground, and remained like that. His eyes filled with tears. If it weren't for him, my whole people wouldn't exist.
"Rise, Gimli son of Gloin," spoke Aule, and his voice, although low, had the strength of unbreakable rocks.
Gimli obeyed and slowly rose. His legs were still a little shaky.
"For many thousands of years I haven't been close to any of my children," continued the Vala. "So this visit gives me great joy."
"I..." started Gimli, finally having found his voice, "I am deeply honoured to be here in front of you, master."
"Master? No!" exclaimed Aule and then laughed, and Gimli thought his laughter sounded like an avalanche of rocks. "I never wanted to be anybody's master. I am just a teacher." For a few moments he observed the dwarf. "During all the ages of Arda I watched all my children and I am proud of many of you, and you are one of the most important. Yes, I know of your contribution in the great quest that ended the Third age of Arda." The Vala then turned to Legolas. "I know of your contribution too, Legolas son of Thranduil, as well as of the others."
Next to him Yavanna nodded in agreement.
"During the many millennia my only students were the Noldor, here in Valinor," continued Aule. "I cannot complain, they are great students – curious, diligent, and eager to learn. But finally being able to teach one of my own children... that is great."
The last sentence suggested more meetings. Hearing that, Gimli was overwhelmed with emotions – excitement, gratitude, love.
"I would love that very much, teacher," he said, using Aule's own word. "This encounter represents a dream-come-true for any dwarf... and if I could meet you again and learn from you, I'd be overjoyed".
Yes, his father was all he imagined – magnificent, generous, loving, unique... and more than that.
"Well then, for the beginning, I invite you to see the forges and workshops of my home," he smiled. "I believe that your friend would rather stay outside and visit the forest with my wife..." he stopped, and both the Valie and the elf smiled back. He was right, of course. "So, my child, follow me..."
As he walked behind the maker of his people towards the door of the great palace, Gimli smiled and his heart quivered. Yes, now he could really say that absolutely all his wishes came true.
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