Parting Gift

by Menel

Chapter 2. By the Falls of Nimrodel

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Eldarion stood outside the Dwarf's chamber and knocked loudly. Despite his enthusiasm the night before, Gimli had never been known for his early rising habits.

"During the Quest," Legolas had told him, "Gimli would sleep like the dead. He was the only one among us who could fall asleep at any time and at any place. His snoring alone would have kept the Orcs at bay."

Eldarion had laughed at his lover's description, but had no doubt that quite a bit of truth lay behind it. Gimli's snoring was infamous. Even his father had commented on it. The Prince chuckled to himself as he continued to rap on the door.

"Gimli?" he called. "We shall have to wolf our breakfast if you delay us any longer!"

The Man listened as the Dwarf's heavy footsteps came towards him and the door was suddenly flung open.

"Wolf our breakfast?" Gimli bellowed disbelievingly. "Dwarves do *not* wolf. I did not think Princes' *wolfed* either."

"Well, one must rise to the occasion," the youth replied with a grin. Too much time spent with Legolas and Gimli had ensured that the Prince had also become adept at their light banter.

The Dwarf glowered in response. He had woken up in a foul mood, thanks to the obscene hour the three of them had agreed to depart the previous eve. He was about to storm past the Prince when a slight cough from the Man stopped him. He looked up at the human who was discreetly pointing at the Dwarf's mail shirt. Puzzled, Gimli looked down and discovered that he was wearing his mail shirt backwards!

Dwarvish curses filled the air as Eldarion followed his short companion to the breakfast hall, while Gimli adjusted his shirt along the way, refusing to accept any help from the Man.

The two friends entered the airy breakfast hall a few moments later. Sunlight was beginning to stream through the windows, casting a light glow on the elegantly carved tables and chairs. Eldarion walked among the numerous tables still marveling at the architecture of the Elven city. The breakfast hall was as wide and as long as any the Prince had seen built by men upon the ground. Yet, in Caras Galadhon, the trees were so great that such halls and houses, which were fit for the noblest of men, sat easily amidst the enveloping branches of the mallorn trees. The very structure of the Elven buildings ensured that the trees remained completely unharmed. Eldarion was reminded of this as he walked by one of the thick branches that went through the hall.

The Man and the Dwarf made their way through the hall to where they could see Hrethil sitting at a table with two other Elves. With their identical silveren manes and their backs to the Prince, Eldarion could not tell who Hrethil's companions were. Hrethil smiled and lifted his hand in greeting when he saw his friends approach. Eldarion returned the wave, but the smile on his face fell slightly when one of the Elves turned around.

"Good morning, Eldarion," Rúmil said warmly. "And a good morning to you too, Gimli son of Glóin. I am impressed by your assiduous rising habits. They are befitting an Elf."

"Why, thank you, Rúmil," Gimli replied graciously as he sat down. "I, too, am impressed to see you here at such an early hour. At last you are showing signs of your Elvish heritage."

Rúmil bit back a cutting reply, instead turning his attention to the Man beside the Dwarf.

"Eldarion," he said, addressing the Prince. "Have you met Narwarán?" he asked, indicating his Elven companion.

"No," the Prince answered. "We have not had the pleasure."

"The pleasure is mine," Narwarán said, extending his hand in what he knew to be the customary greeting among humans.

Eldarion shook the Elf's hand trying to place any prejudices aside. Narwarán's eyes were bright and friendly, his handshake warm and reassuring. The Elf had a soothing presence about him and he made Eldarion feel a little more at ease, despite being in the company of Rúmil.

"It is fortunate that I *am* an early riser," Narwarán continued, effortlessly erasing the slight tension created from Rúmil and Gimli's exchange, "for I encountered Hrethil upon stepping out of my chamber this morning and he told me of your planned excursion to Nimrodel today. I must admit, I was quite excited to hear about it, for I too would like to visit the fair falls one last time before I leave these lands." He paused and looked at the Prince carefully, as though he were hoping for some sort of response.

"You are most welcome to join us," Eldarion said, knowing that the offer was sincere the moment it left his lips. It was with some dismay that the Prince realized that etiquette required him to make the same offer to Narwarán's companion. "As are you, Rúmil," he added, with a forced smile.

Rúmil's own silken smile grew wider as he also accepted the Prince's offer.

"Well," he said as he stood up, "Narwarán and I must pack some belongings for the day's journey. Shall we meet you by the fountain in half an hour?"

"Half an hour it is," Eldarion said firmly. He visibly relaxed once the Elves departed and noticed that Hrethil was looking at him with some concern.

"I am sorry for putting you in such a position," the Elf said hurriedly, "but Narwarán is a dear and trustworthy friend. I did not think you would mind. . ."

"It's all right, Hrethil," the Prince assured his friend. "I do not mind."

The Elf still looked unhappy. "Rúmil was a surprise," he said bluntly, knowing the Prince's feelings towards the Guardian's brother, as well as Rúmil's own mischievous nature. But then his face brightened. "Do not worry. Narwarán and I shall keep him in line."

"And if you don't," the Dwarf spoke up in between mouthfuls of bread, "I shall be there to exercise some Dwarven diplomacy."

Eldarion laughed, knowing that Dwarven diplomacy often involved the brandishing of an axe.

~*~*~*~

Half an hour later the five companions set out from the Elven city. By now, the sun was high in the sky and the warmth from her rays was a welcome contrast to the cool, crisp autumn air. A deep fosse surrounded the city of Caras Galadhon and around its great green walls the travelers walked along the outer road paved with white stones. They headed from the city's southern gates to the north, where the falls of Nimrodel lay.

For the most part they walked in silence, enjoying the sounds of nature. Even Gimli had discovered that he could appreciate the lovely trill of a bird among the trees. The path through the wood was smooth and unfettered, allowing Hrethil, the designated leader of their expedition, to set a brisk but manageable pace. Behind him came the Man and the Dwarf, with Rúmil and Narwarán bringing up the rear.

By mid-morning they had reached the fast-flowing Celebrant. Gimli looked at the river skeptically, remembering a time when he had been forced to cross it with the aid of two ropes as a makeshift bridge.

"We no longer have makeshift bridges," Narwarán reassured him. "Since the defeat of The Enemy, it was decided that it was safe enough to build a proper bridge once more," he explained as the company crossed the aforementioned bridge.

"Ah, but what Narwarán does not tell you, in all his modesty," Rúmil added, "is that he happens to be the one responsible for the construction of the bridge."

Narwarán blushed at the other Elf's revelation. "It is true," he admitted shyly. "My skill lies not so much with weapons and war, but with engineering and architecture. I love to build and create things."

"It is a fine bridge," Gimli commented, when they had reached the other side, "sturdy and strong with all the hallmarks of Elvish craftsmanship and beauty."

Narwarán appeared to look at the Dwarf with new eyes. "You are truly worthy of your name as Elf-friend, Master Dwarf," he said admiringly, "for few have praised the bridge with such eloquence and heartfelt words."

"I merely state what I see," Gimli said, though their unspoken exchange of smiles had surely forged a new friendship.

"Well, this is a good place for a short rest," Hrethil told the others as he put down his small pack. "We have just left the Naith of Lórien," he explained to Eldarion, as the others also settled down on the west bank of Celebrant.

"The Naith?" the Prince repeated, pulling out his flask of water and taking a refreshing drink.

"The Naith is the land that lies like a spearhead between the arms of Celebrant, or Silverlode as it is known to your people, and the great river Anduin. During the rise of the Shadow, few strangers were allowed to enter the Naith. This area was heavily guarded by many unseen patrols."

"Aye," Gimli agreed. "The tales told among my people was that Lórien was a secret place of terrible hidden power. Many feared to cross its boundaries, for we believed that the enchantress of the silveren Wood would bewitch all who looked upon her, so that under her spell, none would ever be heard from again." Gimli laughed suddenly. "Of course, those tales were true!" he exclaimed. "In their own way. For, you see, when I met the Lady Galadriel, she enchanted me with her beauty, compassion and wisdom, and I knew then that no evil or stain lay upon Lórien, save for that brought by those from the outside world."

All fell into silent reflection at the Dwarf's words until, at length, Hrethil spoke again.

"It saddens my heart to leave these woods which have been my only home," he said. "But nor could I bear to stay among these silveren eaves and watch the glory of Lothlórien fade into the dusk of its twilight hour. For you are right, Master Dwarf," he said heavily, "that no evil or stain lay upon Lórien during the time of the Lord and the Lady. But now that she has gone West, we have diminished in her wake. Where once ancient things lived and breathed among us, all we have left now are their memories, which in time shall also be forgotten, for we live in a vanishing world."

"Enough!" Rúmil cried. "Would you have us all wallowing in the depths of depression before we reach Nimrodel?" he accused Hrethil. "That is hardly the greeting I envisioned for the lovely falls."

Hrethil grinned sheepishly. "You are right, Rúmil," he said. "Forgive me, everyone," he apologized as he stood up. "My thoughts grow darker and my heart is torn as the day for departure draws near. But now is not the time for that," he reprimanded himself. "It is a glorious day. Let our hearts be light and our conversation merry."

"And let us be off!" Rúmil declared, slinging his light pack once more. He did not like to dwell on serious matters that cut deeply inside. For Rúmil, despite his playful tricks and jokes, was also leaving Lothlórien with a heavy heart.

The other companions stood up and followed suit, and the company headed into the woods once more.

~*~*~*~

Eldarion fell into an easy step beside Narwarán as they walked, and the Man and Elf found themselves discussing the differences in architecture between Minas Tirith and Lothlórien. The Elf held a great admiration for the White City and its many tiered levels. Each level was constructed in such a way that should it be breached during times of war, the next level would be able to hold the line of defense.

"A true melding of architectural beauty and strategic design," Narwarán had complimented.

The Prince thanked the Elf in return, feeling pride in his beautiful city. But he was most curious to learn about the other Elven kingdoms. Were they the same as Lothlórien?

Narwarán had laughed at the question, but his laughter was gentle, not one of reproach. Each Elven kingdom was different, the Elf explained. Not only in style and architecture, but also in the temperament of its people. He went on to describe the hidden valley of Imladris, with its sweeping archways and lush gardens. Rivendell had once been a safe haven for all the races, where one came to seek shelter and protection. It was the most cosmopolitan and free-thinking of the Elven kingdoms. By contrast, Lothlórien was the most traditional in both mind and custom.

"And what of Greenwood?" Eldarion asked, his curiosity overcoming him.

"Greenwood the Great," Narwarán repeated, with a thoughtful half- smile. "I have always had immense respect for the Wood Elves," he said, "although some of my kin have looked down upon them as a crude and rustic race. They have survived for millennia on the merit of their own skill and resources without the power of an Elven ring to protect and sustain them. It is no wonder then," he continued, "that in our twilight years, their kingdom still flourishes in the deepest part of the forest. Although some may judge Thranduil harshly, none can deny that he has always had the best interests of his people at heart."

"He is a force to be reckoned with," Eldarion said, more to himself than to the Elf walking beside him.

"That he is," Narwarán agreed. "But you shall face him with courage and you will not be alone," he added with a sideways reference to the Man's relationship with Legolas.

The Prince smiled and nodded his head, but chose to remain silent.

"I have strayed from the topic," Narwarán said lightly, "for we were discussing Elven architecture and the kingdom of Thranduil is a fascinating city indeed, for it is crafted almost entirely from stone."

"Stone?" Eldarion repeated in surprise.

"Yes," Narwarán answered. "Their city is well-concealed upon the ground. The Silvan Elves love their great trees so much that they constructed their city in the earth in great caverns and halls made of living stone."

"In the earth? But I thought Elves did not like dark places."

"That is all perfectly true," Narwarán assured him. "But Thranduil's palace is not some dark cavern in the ground. Although one enters through hidden torch-lit passageways, one emerges into fresh clean air and a starry night, for the city is not very deep." The Elf paused in his effort to make the human understand. "It is spacious and sprawling and one feels as though they are living within Mother Nature herself. Everything is alive." Narwarán looked up to see the Man's slightly puzzled expression. "It is difficult to explain to one who has not seen it," he said at last. "But I am sure Legolas will have you journey there with him."

"Yes," the Prince agreed, wondering when that day would be.

"Do you hear that?" Narwarán asked suddenly, grasping the Man's arm. They both stopped to listen.

"It sounds like singing," Eldarion said.

"It is the voice of Nimrodel!" Hrethil called excitedly from the front. "Here, by our left," he said, gesturing with his hands, "is the stream of Nimrodel. We shall follow its course and it will lead us directly to the falls. Come!" he called once more. "Soon we shall rest and soothe our tired feet in Nimrodel's healing water."

The company picked up their pace as their goal drew nearer and soon they were resting their feet in the clear, cool water of Nimrodel. Eldarion had taken a moment to admire the beauty of the falls when they first came into view. They were not as grand or majestic as the Falls of Rauros, but that was to be expected, for Nimrodel was but a tiny stream compared to the great river Anduin. Still, Nimrodel had its own quiet majesty and the rainbow that fell on its cascading water drew the travelers in with its beauty. But most importantly, the voice of Nimrodel could be heard singing sweetly in the gentle rush of water.

It was by the falls of Nimrodel that the company took their lunch with much laughter and light conversation. It was just as Hrethil had described and Eldarion could feel the peace and music of the falls infusing him. Sated and content, the Man rested his back against the broad trunk of a tree.

After a short rest, Gimli decided to exercise the Prince's habit of taking a walk at the end of a meal. Hrethil decided to join the Dwarf, and the two went off in search of "unusual rock formations" that Hrethil believed were near the falls. The Prince chose to remain behind, enjoying the voice of Nimrodel, which was gently lulling him to sleep. Narwarán was near the Man, sketching on a piece of parchment that he had pulled out from his pack. Rúmil lay upon a large, flat moss- covered rock near the bank of the stream, watching his two remaining companions with interest. In his hand, he absently twirled a silveren elanor flower. Things had become too quiet for his liking, and in the tranquil mid-afternoon, another wicked plan was beginning to form in his mind. He shifted restlessly on his side and propped his head on his left hand, his eyes never leaving the relaxed form of the Prince.

"Princeling!" he called out. Eldarion's eyes fluttered open. "Are you in the mood for some sport?"

"What sort of sport?" the Prince asked warily.

"Well," Rúmil began thoughtfully, "I have heard of your exceptional skills as a warrior. And I have seen for myself your mastery of our craft. You must truly take after your father. Perhaps you would do me the honor of some friendly sparring?"

"What would we spar with?" Eldarion asked carefully, "for although I have my sword, I believe that you have not brought one with you."

"That is true," the Elf replied, nodding his head. "But I am never without my long blades and the same is true of Narwarán, who, I'm sure, would be more than happy to lend his pair to you." Rúmil looked at the other Elf for confirmation.

A look of distress was starting to creep into Narwarán's eyes. He did not like the sound of this challenge. But before he could speak, Eldarion stood up and strode over to him.

"Would you lend me your blades?" he asked the Elf.

"Eldarion-" Narwarán began, but the Prince cut him off.

"I will take very good care of them," the Man said, and dropping his voice, added, "and will ensure that our friendly sparring does not go too far."

Narwarán consented, but it was still with great misgivings that he pulled out his twin blades and handed them to the mortal Prince.

Eldarion turned the finely crafted blades in his hands, adjusting to their size and weight. They were lighter than he had anticipated, but the edges gleamed silver in the sunlight, leaving no doubt as to the keenness of their cut. When the Man turned around, Rúmil had already slipped off his rock and had picked up his own Elvish blades.

The two opponents stood circling one another by the bank of Nimrodel. Eldarion knew that he was already at a disadvantage for he was not accustomed to this manner of fighting, however his own pride had refused to back down in the face of this arrogant and presumptuous Elf. With grim determination he sought to remember the times he had seen Legolas fight with expert ease using his own twin blades and adapt that style of fighting to his own.

In a sudden swift movement, Rúmil made the first move. The Prince was taken by surprise, but was just quick enough to deflect the blow and launch his own strike. The light-footed Elf danced away, expecting the reaction. The two competitors proved to be well matched. The Elf's speed and experience was offset by the Man's quick analysis of any given situation and his adaptation of the Elf's own fighting methods.

By the trunk of a mallorn tree Narwarán stood and watched the fight with growing concern. This was clearly more than a game to both competitors, and although no blood had yet been drawn, it was only a matter of time. The two adversaries were beginning to perspire from their exertions, and just as Narwarán thought the Prince would be the first to fade, a slicing arc from one of the Man's blades cut the Elf on the arm.

Eldarion looked at the Elf in complete shock as Rúmil clutched the bleeding gash on his arm.

"I'm sorry!" he apologized. "I didn't mean to- "

The Prince did not have a chance to finish his explanation for Rúmil lost all control and dived into the Man, his combined weight and velocity pinning the larger human onto the ground. A savage gleam was in his eye as he held the sharpened blade to the Prince's throat, just deep enough to draw a trickle of blood.

"Stop! Stop it!" Narwarán cried as he rushed forward. He was vaguely aware of heavy footsteps behind him as a panting Gimli burst through the foliage, following the swift-footed Hrethil.

"What is happening here?" Hrethil demanded.

"Rúmil, please put the knife down," Narwarán pleaded, kneeling beside the outraged Elf. "You have both gone too far. This must end. Now."

Rúmil looked at his Elven companion, the flash in his eyes causing Narwarán to shiver. Rúmil was a formidable enemy and Narwarán wondered how things could have fallen out between the Elf and the Man.

"Let him go," the Dwarf said severely, his hand on the haft of his axe.

"This is no concern of yours, Elf-friend," Rúmil replied icily.

Gimli bristled at the remark, but Hrethil answered in his place.

"But it is mine," the young Elf said, with no trace of fear in his voice. "I am the leader of this group and I am ordering you to put your weapon down."

"You dare to speak to me with such impertinence?" Rúmil exclaimed, standing up and carelessly releasing the Prince.

"And you dare to go back on your word?" Hrethil challenged. "You promised me that you would cause no trouble today, Rúmil. Is this your idea of maintaining the peace?"

Rúmil looked as though he wished to say something else, but instead he held his tongue and regarded the Man at his feet. Eldarion had propped himself on one arm, his other hand wiping away the blood from the cut on his neck.

Silently, the Elf held out his hand to help the Man up. The Prince looked at the Elf warily before accepting his assistance. They stood facing one another for a moment, but no apology passed between them. Rúmil glanced down at his now blood stained hand and became aware of the sting from the wound on his arm.

"Let me take care of that," Narwarán offered, taking the other Elf by the arm. He was surprised when Rúmil offered no resistance and allowed himself to be lead away.

Eldarion watched as Narwarán set to bathing and bandaging the wound. It was deeper than he originally thought and blood was flowing more freely now. With a heavy sigh he turned away and walked towards his own belongings, sitting beside them heavily.

Hrethil picked up Narwarán's discarded blades and cleaned the blood from them. He looked up at the overcast sky. It appeared as though Arien also disapproved of the match between the Elf and the Man and now refused to shine upon their party.

"It is getting late," Hrethil announced. "We shall have to spend the night here, for should we start back now, we would arrive at the city well past dusk. I would rather not travel at night."

The others agreed, though Rúmil remained silent and stared blankly in front of him. After a light supper, the Elf disappeared into the high branches of a flet and was not heard from again. Narwarán stayed close to him, worried at his friend's unusual reticence.

Hrethil remained by the low burning fire to keep the Man and the Dwarf company, doing his best to discuss trivial matters that would keep their minds off the incident that took place earlier that afternoon. But after a while he could feel the tiredness start to creep into his limbs and he bade his companions a good night, also climbing into a nearby flet to take his rest.

"It is time I also turned in," Gimli told Eldarion once they were alone. "But I shall be sleeping upon the ground. It is safe enough to do so and I do not like those flets," he added with disdain as he began arranging his makeshift bed for the night.

"Afraid that you will roll off them during your sleep?" the Prince chided.

"More than you could ever know," the Dwarf replied, settling down under his warm blanket. "Good night, Eldarion."

"Good night, Gimli."

As the Prince lay down, he discovered how very tired he was. The voice of Nimrodel continued to carry over the falls, singing her sweet lullaby to the resting visitors by her shore. The last thought in Eldarion's mind before sleep claimed him, was the realization that this was the first night he would lay his head down to rest without Legolas by his side.

 

Chapter 1