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Seam of Stone

by hossgal

[Story Headers]

32: A psalm of David, Maschil

1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered

2 Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

3 When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.

4 For day and night my hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.

5 I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity I have not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

6 For this shall every one that is godly may pray unto thee n a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.

7 Thou are my hiding place: thou shalt preserve me from trouble, thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.

8 I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with my eye.

9 Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding; whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near to thee.

10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trustesth in the LORD, mercy shall compass him about.

11 Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, ye uprightous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.

Edoras, midnoon, the third day after the battle of Helm's Deep

Early afternoon sun drenched Theoden's city in light - golden as the thatch on the Great Hall, golden as a guesting cup, golden as the glory of ages past. So late in winter, the clear sky had no heat to shed, but the amber light was more pleasant than dank shadow, and the faces of the Riders of Rohan turned towards the sun.

Gimli son of Gloin sat against the foundation of the upper storehouse and cast his eye over the city, as still and quiet as she ever became. Two days had passed since Gandalf rode away, bound for the White City of Gondor. He had taken young Peregrine with him astride Shadowfax, a horse of a line that had long served the kings of Rohan. Gimli had heard the idle talk swirling around the firepits and drink-bowls - even on the back on of Shadowfax, it would be another day before Gandalf reached Miras Tirith. None could say how long after that events would begin to unravel. War was a tremor rumbling through the earth - distant yet, but unmistakable.

Edoras had been a beehive of activity for a day and a night - armorers at work, stores replenished, harnesses mended. Now it was as if the city had drawn a great breath and lain itself down, like an engraver in the midst of marking a delicate silverplate, who found his eyes sliding closed and his attention wandering. In an hour, perhaps two, Edoras would be bustling again with movement and purpose. But for now, all beneath Gimli's eyes was light and quiet.

The smiths had thrown open the forge-house doors. Only a single iron-crafter worked, a slow steady tattoo of a hammer shaping a coal-gold sword. The smith himself stood in the entryway of the forge. Elbows and hammer moved out of darkness and into light and back again. On the wall, the guards were frankly loafing, basking in the welcome light. A single hawk soared half a league beyond the walls, a black line moving over the sky.

The wind poured off the mountains in great gusts, still, and the flutter of banners was loud in the spaces between hammer blows. The sound of wind was an unending song in Edoras - a voice that never ceased from speaking, whispering strange words on the edge of hearing. Sometimes Gimli thought he heard half a phrase in Dwarvish, or mistook the wind for Legolas, speaking softly in the tongue of his own people.

A whetstone lay unused in one of Gimli's hands, a dagger in the other. The worked stone was cold against his back. Above the rock footing, the rough wooden wall did little to trap the sun's heat, keeping the air cool in his corner of shadow. Below his seat the jumbled buildings and stone paths had all gone to wheat-tone in the sunlight. Gimli leaned his head back against the poles behind him, careful to keep his eyes on the city below him, so that all in his sight was light.

The storeshed's pole wall was not complete. If Gimli but turned his head, there would be a crack and the pale linen of a borrowed shirt as Legolas leaned back against the inner wall. Beyond him would be a thicker shadow. The murmured words were too low to be distinguished, even if they were not interrupted by the rattle of belts and the creak of leather.

One of the wall watch called to another, a friendly halloo, without alarm, tinged with laughter. Behind Gimli, a low murmur in Elvish faded in a sigh, overridden at the last by another voice, this one deeper, rasping.

A dark stain swept across the lower tiers - the single hawk, come between Edoras and the sun. Gimli blinked and the stain disappeared.

Like every structure of Edoras, the wall Gimli leaned against was all at once old, older, and more recent - hundreds of years and thousands of lives spent within close quarters left their mark upon their dwelling places. The depths of Erebor had been much the same - main corridors straight as a shaft of moonlight while the side passages curved and twisted back upon themselves like a metal shaving. Short-passes, un-used doors, and shallow chambers waited at every turn.

Gimli supposed every place that housed generations would be so. The golden wood of Galadriel had such hidden chambers as well - hollows, thickets, leaf-lined bowers. At first, the pathways had left him bewildered and confused. One turning had seemed much as the next, and in many places the branches overhead shut away the sun. All about was thick with the scent of leaf mold. One could sit within the curve of a great root just off the main path and be beyond the sight of any passers by. Three more steps might take one beyond a leafy veil, to a hollow where two lovers, discreet in their discourse, might pass the hours by.

And like the mines of his people and the forest of the elves, Edoras was a maze of passages and corridors, even though nearly all were open to the sky. For every way that was straight and stone-paved, there was another that climbed thrice man-height in four strides, loose gravel and bare dirt. Excepting the Great Hall itself, the dwellings were storehouses, were workshops, were granaries, were kinefolds and armories. Spare gear and tools hung from every rafter, and every outer wall supported a shed or lean-to. Dusty, now, many of them, and likely emptier than they had been at the start of winter. The sacks of tubers were flat, and the extra skins of grain long since poured into bins closer to the stables.

Plow harnesses and tilling tools would make for a thorny rest, but an elven cloak of Lorien could make a bed anywhere.

A knot of Men at the north gate drew Gimli's eye. The gate guard leaned over the inner rail, casting his voice to a figure pale as the moon, with hair as golden as the sun. Below, the Lady Eowyn shaded her eyes as she looked upward. She called something back to the guard, her voice clear and piping. From this great distance, his words could not be made out, but the shake of his head and the motion of his arm were clear. Eowyn's arm flashed and the guard made a respectful salute in return.

Gimli watched as Eowyn followed the pointing hand of the gate guard. The path took her across the swale below the Great Hall and from there behind the gate-ward storehouse, out of Gimli's line of sight. She reappeared in due course, kicking at her skirts as she climbed the path to the armory. The metalsmith at the door set aside his hammer and listened to Eowyn's question. The edge of the door hid his face, but the sun was bright on his hands as he pointed back across the width of the City. The stables, Gimli guessed, full of grooms and stall-tenders, even with much of the Rohan herd in the fields close on Edoras's walls.

If she goes on as she has, Gimli thought,soon the whole of Edoras will know that the Lady Eowyn searches for Lord Aragorn, and can not find him.

As Eowyn turned to go, the smith reached again for the hammer. Gimli watched the smith set his feet and grasp again the metal he had been shaping. The song of the hammer settled in Gimli's heart.

Perhaps the Lady Eowyn would stay in the stables, or tarry there for a time, amongst the great beasts. Then Gimli might leave his post, and go down to the forge. Then there would be nothing for Eowyn to find, here in a blind cul de sac between the uppermost longhouse and the western wall. Far better to be there, fireside, where sparks danced like the very stars of night and steam rose like a river mist off the quenching trough. Far better, aye - better still to never have had the twin cables of duty and wanderlust bind him to this quest.

His father had been right to warn him. And he had been a fool twice over to ignore the warning. Sink a new shaft, there is no telling beforehand the pockets and malaises you may find on the way. Sometimes the quest felt like that - a dream he was lost in, brought upon by too much foul air in some profitless pit. His hand closed tightly on the whetstone. He had three hairs from the golden locks of Galadriel. That had been real. He had scars, on skin that had been unmarked a season past. It was no dream.

He realized he was listening to the murmurs behind him, and began stroking the blade on the whetstone again. A steady rhythm, slow and even. It did not drown out the voices, nor the other sounds.

In Lorien, they had not been silent, either. But then the grief of Gandalf's passing had been fresh upon them all. The hobbits had slept for three days without waking, huddled together like cordwood. Gimli himself had spent long hours sitting on a rock shelf above an arm-wide pool, watching, waiting for a twig or stem to touch the smooth mirror of its surface. Boromir had gone off alone for hours, and returned with false joviality and a face stained with weeping. There was no accounting for the cravings of a heart sick with mourning.

This was not the same.

A flash of sunlight on the stable's painted panels and the groaning of hinges heralded the opening of the great doors. One of the horsemen led out three grey horses, coats shining like mithril. After a moment, a young foal, all spindly legs and enormous knees, ran after them, kicking his heels. A late foal. Or early. Out of season. Unnatural. Gimli knew nothing of horses, but had seen herds of forest ponies in early summer, half a dozen mares with younglings nuzzling their flanks. This was not a season of new things.

Eowyn came out from the stable then, and set her hands against the doors to push them to. That task done, she set her hands on her hips and surveyed her city. It put Gimli in mind of a master engraver, looking about her workroom for a mis-laid steel awl, considering where to look again. Only no crafter that Gimli had ever seen had worn her hair so long, so tangled.

Shading her eyes, Eowyn turned and looked upslope. Almost instantly, she found him.

Gandalf had done that - had known the instant a watcher's eyes had rested upon him. Had known as well the right words to comfort, to encourage, to challenge. He had known how to balance the need of the quest against the fragility of those mortals chosen to carry out its demands.

It had been after Gandalf had fallen, that Gimli had found the elf's shadow melding with the Ranger's. And then Gandalf had returned, the elf had come apart from the Man. On the Deeping Wall, Gimli had stood shoulder to shoulder with the elf, and found a match for his blade, for his warrior's skill. And then Legolas had met Gimli's challenge again, and stood beside the dwarf in the Shining Cavern.

There the elf had been silent, and still, as he had not been before the Uruk-hai upon the wall. After a time, Gimli had taken Legolas away again, to the bright sky and the wind and yet another journey, following the wizard to the tower at Isengard.

But Gandalf and his piercing eyes were gone again. It had been two days, and Edoras was a small city. So small that a single woman might search it, tower to tomb, in the space of a single hour, and still have time to walk around the city again. And then to go aside to speak kindly to a foreigner, a guest of her House, sitting alone.

There was no waving her off from this distance. Eowyn made her way along the path, disappearing behind a longhouse and reappearing on the other side. She walked with her head up and eyes upon the horizon, sure of the way under her feet.

She took the last slope in a man's long strides, skirt knotted in her fists to let her climb the path unimpeded. Her eyes when they met his were as warm as the sun and they cut the last of the flesh from his bones. An hour before, one the women of the Great Hall had come on some errand with a basket over her arm and her fingers knotted in a sign against the outlander and his curses. He had sent her away with a scowl and a muttering in his own tongue.

Eowyn would sit at his feet and demand he teach her to form the Dwarvish words herself.

"Lady Eowyn!" he called to her, his voice pitched to carry down the slope as she toiled up the last stretch. She smiled at him, full of trust. Gimli felt his heart twist within him.

"My Lord. Have you seen my lord Aragorn?" Her chest heaved with the exertion of the climb, and he thought, she is lovely. Over tall, pale, face like the blank curve of an alabaster bowl, but still comely to his eyes. Aragorn is a fool, he thought, a fool to lust after elven-kind while there was this woman of Man, his own race, Aragorn's for the touch of his hand.

All were fools who lusted after what they could not have.

"Lady, no. I have not seen him for some time. He was at the nooning meal, and at the gate, after."

And after that, he had taken Legolas aside, and spoke in low tones. And Legolas's eyes had been dark with some elvish musing - thoughts twisted back on each other like lie over truth over oath - and when Legolas had touched Gimli's shoulder, there had been no choice in the matter. Gimli had set aside the chain he had been mending and followed.

And once Gimli had scrambled up the path to this corner cul-de-sac, he had not seen Aragorn. Only his hands, in shadow, tangled in sun-bright hair, as it fell forward, making a veil to cover the weakness of a Man who would be King. No more than that.

All the rest of an hour's watch - from the rustle of feet on the floor, to the rasp of sword-calloused hands over bare skin, to the panting gasps and the slap of flesh against flesh - that was all conjecture. A myth built in his mind.

"I have looked - oh, in every corner within the walls, and I cannot find him."

"Lass, I have not him in my belt-pouch. Is there some message I might give to him, if he chances to pass by?"

"No. Yes. Only -" She might twist her hands and look aside, but Gimli knew it for the dissembling it was. She was as set on this path, as sure in her travel, as her feet were upon the flagstones of her uncle's hall.

"My lord dwarf, we call each other friend, do we not? And you name yourself friend to Lord Aragorn?"

"Aye."

"Do you know, then, what is in his heart, what he intends, if it passes that we live to see the end of this war?"

"I do not know all that is in his thoughts, my lady. I am a companion of the road, a shield mate, nothing more. I am not in his counsel."

She was silent, thinking over this, and in that space Gimli thought that the breathing behind him was as loud as a horde of orcs. The wind shifted, and he caught her scent then - horses, oiled leather, the meat cut for the noon meal, old hay, clean linen.

She made as though to crouch at his feet, but he dissuaded her with one hand.

"After the war, if fortune shines upon us all, he will be the king of Gondor and will likely busy himself with the ruling of that land."

"But surely not alone. Hence he must take a wife, a queen, to aid him, stand at his side."

Gimli sighed. "My lady, it may be that he has pledged his troth to another."

He thought her pale, but her face went white then, colorless as the flowers on the tombs of her forefathers. One breath, then another, and his chest swelled as her chin came back up again. He could be as cruel as he liked, but the lady would not turn from her goal on the strength of his worlds. It would only be from her own inclination that Eowyn would leave aside pursuing Isildur's heir. In his heart, he held her against the image of Galadriel, and did not find the lady of Rohan over matched.

Her eyes slid past him to the lean-to door, but she could have been staring at Fangor's high peak, so distant were her eyes. Gimli held his breath. It would have taken no more than a word, a probing glance, and he would have been on his knees before her, blurting out the truth. He would have told her everything, begged her to forgive him for his part in the duplicity.

Her gaze dropped. He followed her eyes to stare at her embroidered slippers, now dusty and ruined from her search. A twitch of her skirt covered them again.

"Would a queen of the southlands have dust on her shoes?" There was a wry smile on her face, a smile that did not meet her eyes.

"My lady, I do not know. I think not -" She might have cried out, but he pressed on, refusing to meet her eyes. "I think the queens of the southland do not know the ways of the sword, either." He dared to look at her then, and found her smile as blinding as the sun.

"My lord dwarf, thank you. Tell my lord Aragorn that I seek him, if he chances here." She turned away, hands loose and empty.

Gimli let her go without a word of farewell.

When she had made the last turn and gone from sight, Gimli took out his pouch of pipeweed. Focusing only on his hands, he loaded the pipe, struck a spark against the stone foundation, and when it was burning well, took a deep breath of the sweet smoke. He said, "She is gone."

The sun was still bright on the rooftops and the plain beyond, but Gimli watched only his hands, cradling the fragile clay cup. When he leaned back into the shadow, the fire glowed faintly within the bowl. The withe door's lower edge dragged across the ground as it was pulled open. Gimli did not look up.

Aragorn's scent was rank with unwashed Man, sweat stained leather, and musk. But that was only to the nose of a dwarf. He brushed past Gimli without a word, long legs taking him down the same path Eowyn had chosen.

Men were short-sighted, short-lived. Blind and numb to a great many things. They might never notice.

He smoked the pipe down to ash, still feeling the weight of his frown between his eyes. Another day until Gandalf reached Minas Tirith. Who knew, after that, when some signal would come. It could be days.

He did not want to spend days like this. Behind him, the withe door scraped shut.

"There are deeds," he said, around the pipe stem, "that become a King among his people." He pitched his voice to carry. "Things which would grant the doer fame, give his words power among the councils of the Free Peoples."

Behind him, a faint sigh. Gimli went on. "And then there are tasks no friend should ask of another, so much do they darken the heart."

"Aragorn is not yet King. The threat of the Shadow lies heavy on him. I do not begrudge him comfort."

It had little of the sound of comfort. The coupling had the sound of need, of the lusts that accompanied a blood-fight - nothing of celebration and all of conquest. Gimli bit his pipe and held his tongue.

Legolas's feet made a whisper on the earth. He sank down beside Gimli, shoulder to the dwarf's knee. Ever so slow, he bent his head to lean against Gimli and let tangled strands of golden hair fall on Gimli's greave. Gimli set his hand to rest on Legolas's.

"I am glad that you are here."

"He is a fool. Let me talk to the lad, knock some sense into his over-full head."

"No."

"Legolas -"

"I say, no. There are things greater here than a friend's slight or a missed word of courtesy." He shifted and reached up one hand to catch Gimli's fingers. "Have you not heard, my friend? This age is ending, and mayhap Middle Earth with it."

Gimli squeezed the hand grasping his. All things end, he thought to say, all things save the Vallar themselves. Even the mountains fall.

But Legolas was elven-kind, and not mortal, so Gimli only lifted his eyes again to the bright sky. The breeze stirred his beard, flowed cool on his face.

Faintly the wind brought Eowyn's voice, greeting Aragorn. A gust whistled through the withes, but it had nothing of the sound of voices.

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Fandom:  Lord of the Rings
Title:  Seam of Stone
Author:  hossgal   [email]
Details:  Standalone  |  R  |  20k  |  08/21/05
Characters:  Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, Eowyn
Pairings:  Withheld
Summary:  "There was no accounting for the cravings of a heart sick with mourning."
Notes:  Pairings withheld. Written for musesfool's Psalmfic challenge. Spoilers for the whole trilogy, meld of book and movie verse.
Disclaimer/Other:  Written for musesfool's Psalmfic challenge. I drew Psalm 32 (KJV). Thanks to Searose, SE Parsons, and Florastuart for betaing. All errors remain mine. And thanks to Vic, as always, for getting me to write in this fandom at all. This is a work of fanfiction, I do not own the characters and no money is being made.

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