Gimli's death nearly killed him; indeed, did kill him for a time. Not for nothing was Estë's garden one of rest, and not for nothing did the maidens of Estë know the arts of preserving a body without fёa. But he could not say where it was he went, save that it was not the Halls of Mandos; and after a year and seven months and two days, he returned, and knew what to do.
This was what was known, of the Children of Ilúvatar. The elves, when they left their hröa, went to the Halls of Mandos, where they might stay and rest. Or, should they so desire, and were judged not unworthy, they might return. Men went, and not even the Valar knew where. But dwarrow went to the Halls of Aulë, which are both part and apart of the Halls of Mandos, and there they remained, waiting for the Second Music.
Well enough. It was odd to go to the Halls of Mandos while still ensconced in hröa, but not forbidden; and, he considered, a great deal of trouble later might have been avoided had a greater one than he remembered that Estë was rest, and Mandos was prison and fortress only for those who attempted unlawfully to leave.
Mandos was there to greet him in the entrance hall, which was surprising to him. Yet he greeted the Vala courteously, as one did a teacher. Only then did he say he was surprised by this turn of events.
"It is surprising," replied Mandos, "only in that of all the ages of Arda and Aman, and all the friendships ever forged between elf and mortal, you are the first to think to walk to these halls."
"I apologize if it is presumption - "
"It is not, but I think that none other among all the peoples of the stars would have thought to make the request even so. Your time among mortals has made you bold."
He thought, then, of the first fortnight he and Gimli spent on the road after the War: of the caves yet unhewn at Aglarond, and of the Forest of Fangorn, and how he almost lost his dwarf before ever having him. He smiled fondly. "My time among mortals has taught me to ask for what I need."
"Do you need him, then?"
"Like trees need the sun," he replied, instantly.
"Well. You understand, of course, that the Halls of Aulë are inhabited only by the Khazâd?"
"Does it matter?"
"Only in that many bear no love for the first children."
He flicked the fingers on his hand, dismissive. "As did I for them, once. I like to think I can outgrow ancient foolishness."
"There are many."
"They are yet fёar, are they not?" he replied. "They have aught to harm me but words, and I - have words of my own."
"You are resolved, then. Good. Many turn back at this hall." At his expression, Mandos added, "Although of you, I think, the testing was unnecessary. Loving one of the Khazâd must have tempered your will beyond all measuring."
He smiled again, but said only, "I have your leave, then? To walk these halls, when I should need?"
"You always need," said Mandos, "as a tree needs the earth. Just remember, young one - there are yet those living in Valinor who love you."
The Halls of Aulë were guarded twice: first, by the servants of Mandos, to prevent any escape, and second, at the other end of a wearyingly long hall, by the Khazâd themselves. He was not entirely sure who they guarded against. Certainly not him, because to the living, the blades of the dead were as mist. What had they to fear?
Yet he halted politely once he was close enough that they could see him, and waited. The challenge was not long in coming.
"An elf?" said one. There were four that he can see easily, and three that he was sure he was not meant to. "Here?"
"I am Legolas Thranduilion, originally of Eryn Lasgalen, but lately of Tol Eressëa. I have come to find my One."
They stared at him, and he carefully let no expression cross his face. It was not often (never) that an elf could challenge the Khazâd in their own tongue. Finally, one said, "You know her name?"
"His, yes - but I will be reassured, before I speak it, that deep names are truely used here."
"Stubborn," said one, in tones of approval.
He said nothing, waiting patiently. They gathered to each other and begin a conversation, which grew louder and more heated.
Finally, one of the ones he wasn't meant to see said, "Strike it. We can't go ask until you give us a name, and you can't expect us to tell you a name!"
"Ah. I had hoped - but I am still an elf - "
"You are alive!" snapped the guard.
He blinked, slowly. "Then would my name be sufficient?"
"To search the entire Halls?"
"I have," says Legolas, "a deep name. It was given to me by the one you name Mahal, shortly after I came upon Tol Eressëa."
This caused another quick, whispered conversation. Finally, the one who had spoken to him first said, "That . . . might work. If your One is in the halls, and he will vouch for you."
Legolas nodded, and said a word. It was really just Legolas, greenleaf, in Khuzdul, except that the green was malachite, and the leaf was dendrite. It was, without a doubt, a deep name; and from their expressions, they were shocked, both that he had it and was willing to share. "If it helps, he is only newly come to these Halls; he died two years and nineteen days ago."
"That is not how it works," said one of the dwarrow, not unkindly. Then she motioned him to sit, on one of the low stone benches, and one of their number went running, and that was really all he could ask at that point.
Elves never needed to sleep much, and since coming to Valinor, he needed less than that. Even so, he settled into peaceful meditation to pass the time before the runner appeared. It took a long time, so long that he might actually have fallen into true sleep, before he heard the noise of dwarf in full armor travelling at speed.
It was not Gimli, he saw when he opened his eyes.
"Apologies for the wait," said the new dwarf. "We have found him, and he sends a message." A parchment was held out to him; it fizzed against his fingers when he first took it. He broke the seal to find the letter in Cirth script, and read it quickly, feeling a smile form upon his face.
Then he came to the end, and found his anger kindled. "I may not see my One, though we have both come to the Halls of Aulë, having exchanged deep names?"
"It is an unusual situation," said the newcomer delicately. "There's almost a battle going on right now, honestly. The forefathers are three and three on whether it may even be done, and Durin is alive right now and cannot tell the idiots it's already been done and they should stop making a wall between One and One."
"You seem to stand close by my side," observed Legolas.
"You would probably know me as Narvi of Khazâd-dûm," said the newcomer. "I have reason to hope for a particular outcome in this, if Celebrimbor is - has been freed of the Halls of Mandos. Of course I offered to take the note, and since it is well-known that I can tolerate the strangenesses of elves . . . " He held out his hands, an eloquent gesture. "And you are strange, Thranduilion Legolas."
"I am told I am the only elf to ever consider coming here," agreed Legolas. "But to be turned back!"
"As I see it," commented Narvi, "you have some choices. You can wait; even the life of Durin is not endless, and you are an elf. You may enter these halls anyway, but - "
"I know dwarrow fortresses," said Legolas. "I'd never find him."
Narvi shrugged. "You might ask aid of your Valar."
Legolas frowned. "Mandos, at least, will not give it. He warned me of the stubbornness of the dead."
"Already gave me a deep name."
"Yes, I heard, Dendritic-malachite." Then Narvi's face gentled. "And last, you might seek to remind your kin that walking these halls is not forbidden."
"Celebrimbor?" said Legolas, wryly.
"Any who were in Hollin," suggested Narvi. "There was friendship, at that time."
"I must at least write a letter in return," said Legolas.
"I brought pen and parchment," assured Narvi.
So his first visit to the Halls of Aulë ended - not in abject failure, but not in success. Still, rightly had Mithrandir, here called Olόrin, said that hope was sustenance more important than bread and water.
He went to the Halls of Mandos, and sought Celebrimbor. Narvi hadn't been wrong that there were others, but he did not even know their names, and besides, he didn't begrudge even a new friend his aid.
Celebrimbor was in Mandos, and was surprised to see him, but greeted him courteously enough before asking who he was and why he'd come. The telling of it took nearly no time at all - my beloved is a dwarf, in the Halls of Aulë, and for the mistrust the dwarrow have for elves I am not allowed in - and perhaps he could gain introductions to dwarf-friends of Eregion who have gone out of the Halls of Mandos.
The Ñoldor prince sat back, and said, "Of course I will. I do not know of many who have, though. Most who stayed in Middle-Earth after the Fall of Beleriand did so because the Doom of Mandos still bound us to the East, and even three ages of the world are not enough to wipe the blood of kinslaying from our hands."
"You regret it?"
"I regretted it while I was doing it," said Celebrimbor bitterly. "What does that matter? I still did it."
"Did you ever ask forgiveness?"
"After the fall of Morgoth. I was given a measure of peace, and yet - the West was denied. I went to Eregion."
Legolas snickered, and Celebrimbor looked askance of him. "In Middle-Earth, among the Men of Rohan, the law for a thief is this: he must return all that he has stolen, and one-fifth besides, and then his name is clear."
"What did you steal from the Valar?"
"Anyway," said Legolas. "I have a letter here from Narvi. He greatly desires to see you again; but failing that, after I go to meet the dwarf-friends of Eregion, I will return to the Halls of Aulë."
"You have time to bide a while?" asked Celebrimbor.
"I can stay," said Legolas.
Celebrimbor had not lied when he said that precious few of the Ñoldor who had founded Eregion had gone forth from the Halls of Mandos. But that kingdom had stood for eight hundred years, and only in the first century could most of the inhabitants have been accounted as Ñoldor who had crossed the Belegaer. The rest had been craftsmen, and entirely helpless against the armies of Sauron when they attacked; and they had long since left Mandos.
They'd built a colony in the south, on the borders between the Pastures of Yavanna and the Woods of Oromë; they called it Telerys, and they welcomed him with joyful song. For a while, he refreshed himself in the warm sun and glad breeze of that gentle land. It was not good to spend too much time among the dead.
Then he began to search for the recipients of the letters he bore. Most were astonished and more than astonished to learn that, while the denizens of Mandos might not pass into the Halls of Aulë, not so were the living forbidden. Many were ready to set off that very night, to see friends thought long lost. Legolas counselled that only a few go at a time, so as not to overwhelm the Khazâd; for never before now had the elves gone to visit.
"And you, Greenleaf?" asked a wood-shaper. "For you have told us that your love walks those halls, and you are not entirely without motive."
"I will stay here a time," replied Legolas. "I am still new-come to Valinor, and these pastures are a marvel to me."
It was weeks, even by horse and elf-road, to the Halls, and weeks again returning; and he settled in to the flets by day and walked the pastures by night, and learned new songs, and didn't worry overmuch.
Thus he was surprised, one evening, after having thanked his hosts of the day and descended the tree, to find a young mallorn-tree. It had not been there the previous evening, but now it seemed to have been growing there for decades at least. He paused, and then said, "Greetings, my lady Kementári."
The tree stood up, revealing itself to be closer in form and nature to the Onodrim. "Greetings, young one. Will you walk with me?"
"I am honored," said Legolas, and meant it.
They walked for several hours, through the woods and gardens. Legolas was becoming more accustomed to these wonders, but still sang in wonderment at many things; and since his lady was near, asked her questions, and received answers. It was well past midnight before Legolas noted that he would have to turn back to make the woods and friendly flets before daybreak, and that as she must know such, she was clearly leading him elsewhere.
He shrugged to himself, and kept walking.
It was very nearly dawn before they emerged onto a hill, tall enough to see the green pastures for some distance around, and the Pelóri in the East. On its crown there was a single massive tree, which Legolas climbed immediately. This wouldn't be an unpleasant place to spend the day.
"I find myself wondering," said Yavanna, suddenly, "what should give one as young as you such courage."
"Is it courage to follow my beloved teacher in her land?" asked Legolas. "I am quite safe."
"Mm. And to seek out the judge?"
"I am not entirely innocent, and my flaws are my own; but I had rather be told and repair them than remain ignorant."
"To speak to the craftsman of the rings of the laws of Men?"
"I was making a point, or trying to."
"What if he was meant to come to that conclusion on his own?"
"It has been seven thousand years," said Legolas. "Even if it was not my place, I could not see him in his penance and feel nothing. I could not let it stand; even Morgoth was only imprisoned three ages, and he did not repent."
"Your compassion does you credit."
"If I am wrong, tell me."
"You are . . . different. Different than any Eldar who ever walked beneath the stars, or in the light of the Trees, or beneath the Sun and the Moon. Something new is come among the Eldar, but it is a thing comprising love which knows no bounds, and we can raise no hand against it. Yet we will be watching."
He laughed, and then said, "I have been watched before, and by one who bore me and all of Arda unending malice. It will be a pleasant change, to have other eyes upon me."
The laughter of Yavanna was like that of all green and growing things: silent, and joyful, and deafening. "Sleep, little one," she said, fondly.
When he woke, he was again in Telerys, with the elves from Eregion. He went down from the flet to join in their song, and it was just time to begin the first meal when the sound of riders at ease reached them. It was the travelers to Mandos, returning, and a new song was raised to them.
Only once the horses were turned free and the elves were fed did they begin to tell their tales. On the whole, they brought surprising good news: they could not be allowed freely into the Halls of Aulë, where deep names were used. Well, they had taken letters along. But the Khazâd of Khazâd-dûm of the Second Age could go wherever they wished, in the Halls of Aulë, and so when they wished to go to the entrance hall, none could stop them.
"It is a large hall," said Curulaer, a musician.
"I remember," said Legolas. "Is it a hall of meeting?"
"Is it now," said Curulaer with no small satisfaction. "We have letters here; it seems that half of Khazâd-dûm wishes to see old friends. And no small number for you, Legolas."
This was an understatement. The parchment of the dead had little real weight, and yet nearly half of a horse was laden only with missives. For the most part, they were letters of thanks, from dwarrow dead long before his birth. Even ones whose friends of old had not visited yet - even they had cause for gladness, and told him of it. Then there was one from Narvi, asking him if Celebrimbor was yet in Mandos. Finally, one from Gimli.
The next day, he and what seemed to be half of Telerys rode out. In truth, Legolas was not sad, for it was a pleasant journey in company. He shared his stories with the craftselves of Telerys, and they in turn taught him simple skills. The whole column sang on the road.
Again this time Mandos met him in the hall. "You surprise me, little one."
At this Mandos smiled. "No, perhaps not. Never before have so many come here of their own wills."
"And is a thing wrong because it has never been done before?"
"Indeed not." And he motioned them all to pass within.
The long hall, the entrance of Aulë, had been grand and somber the last time his footsteps had passed this way. Now it was grand and in the midst of construction, as only dwarrow could. A runner had gone off at the moment of their arrival, and all of them were invited to sit in what might have been a pavilion, if not inside. Legolas smiled.
He was still smiling, a span later, when Gimli said, "Trust you, Dendritic-malachite, to react to failure to see one dwarf in friendship by releasing on us a plague of all elves to ever have borne us love."
"Hello, mellon-nin," said Legolas.