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Gifts of Life  by fileg

There was a sharp knock -- actually, it sounded more like a crew of workmen had decided for some unknown reason to reinforce the door of his room before calling it a very late night.

Merry jumped up, startled, breathing a sigh of relief as he managed to catch a large drip of ink on his hand and cuff instead of on the page he had been laboring over. He scrubbed at it with his handkerchief as he went to answer the summons, which had begun again in earnest, and was either a tremendously strong child or someone’s hard booted foot judging by where the sound was coming from.

He opened the door, and the sudden removing of that obstacle let Gimli’s momentum propel him headlong into the room, spinning in a small circle, trying not to drop either the cloth wrapped box he cradled like a lover in one arm, the mugs he clutched in his other hand, or the small keg of what Merry very much hoped was beer that he held beneath his arm.

“Ahh, good, you are still up,” he growled as he headed for the desk to deposit the keg, stopped himself as he caught sight of the parchment, and turned to deposit it in the window seat, where Merry imagined it was comfortable and happy looking out at the stars while it waited for its new friends to join it. He laughed aloud at the comment; everyone in this wing was probably up now.

“This is an unexpected pleasure,” he said as Gimli crossed to the bed and gently laid the other package safely out of harm’s way. “No one has seen you about for days. We thought you had decided to move in with the blacksmiths.”

The dwarf smiled, a brief flash of white teeth in a russet beard. “Well, I have been busy, lad, as you know. As I would guess you have been yourself. But my little bits of tinkering with air intakes and bellows and the like to further my own work has earned me an unexpected windfall.” He walked back to the window seat and patted the keg lovingly. “It would go down better shared, and you and Pippin and I have an appreciation of the brown gold that Legolas sadly lacks. Are you interested?”

“Pippin should be back soon,” Merry began wistfully, but brightened and held two mugs out toward his friend. “But I don’t imagine it would do much harm if we started without him?”

“Good lad!” Gimli replied, pulling the stopper and carefully pouring. They each breathed deep and took a long pull, followed by an appreciative sigh and a smile that was as much for the company as the nut brown brew.

“What will be built from your beautiful plans?” the dwarf inquired, gesturing with his mug toward the table where Merry had been working.

“Nothing,” Merry smiled, looking lovingly into the liquid gold.

“Aha! Very Dwarven that. We also love to design just for the delight of the idea and the image.”

“Very Elven as well, I think,” Merry replied. “But these are not plans, because they are about the past, not the future. History. And nothing will be made from them, because they set out the design of something that has already been made. A king.”

He led Gimli to the cluttered table and showed him the parchment, corners held down for the moment with books and ink bottles. “Its his genealogy… his family tree,” he mused. “Well, it is just the sort of present a Hobbit would give, I guess. But I wanted… oh, I don’t know. I guess I wanted him to embrace my culture, take us all into his heart. We will all be brothers – “when the king comes home.””

“A very true thought. True indeed.” Gimli flushed for a moment, though his beard and the lamplight hid it well. “It is beautiful, Merry and intricately and carefully wrought. I might make a jeweler out of you if you care to spend some time with my folks. And it will remind him of the days he carried this lineage in his heart, tracing the lines to its fulfillment.”

“His descent, yes.” Merry pushed the big books back and revealed more of the work, its lines and joinings, its crisscrossed patterns like knotwork, its roots and flowers and branches. “But hobbits are concerned with more than just the line from father to son. Men speak of their families as a line – but for us it is more like a web, every strand a life that touched a heart.”

“Hammer and tongs!” Gimli exclaimed, reaching to touch upon the page the intricate weaving that had produced the long-awaited life. “Meriadoc, you said it was a family tree! This is Fangorn Forest! How did you find all these people?”

Merry’s eyes lit as he saw his friend’s admiration. “When I was healing, there was little to do but sit in the gardens and read… and worry. I was getting a little tired of the one book I had found, and feeling very left behind, until I discovered that Faramir was equally anxious and bored. I suggested we trade books… but in fact we ended up trading much more. Conversation, to start with, and stories. He would make a good hobbit himself, he has the knack of seeing connections. One afternoon I was explaining to him how Pippin and I are related, and related to Frodo. Well, this bores most big people, you know... but not him! He listened to it all, and then he told me the story of Arvedui, and how he tried to claim the throne of Gondor when Ondoher and his sons died.. and how much it will mean to Minas Tirith, knowing that Strider is the heir of Anarion as well as of Isildur. Arvedui was a direct descendant of Isildur, and his wife, Fíriel, was the only surviving child of Ondoher…”

Merry paused, laughing. “Well, I am sure that is more than you really want to know. But Faramir told me there had been a document made at the time that traced out the connections while Gondor decided what to do. That was where I got the idea. And he made sure I was given access to the library. So…” he shrugged.

Gimli drained his cup and went to set it by the keg. “Merry,” he said quietly, “There is more to your design than something that has already been made. There is hope for the future. What I have been doing – well, traditionally, it must be made in secret. But now that I am finished… would you like to see what I have wrought?”

“Indeed!” said Merry eagerly. “I have been longing for a glimpse, but I thought I would have to wait for the day.”

He lifted the little keg down to the floor and settled in the window seat while Gimli went to carefully unwrap the package he had placed upon the bed. He returned, handing Merry a beautifully carved box, an inlaid vine of athelas running around a cleverly hinged lid. Merry ran his finger over the smooth surface and gave a low whistle of appreciation. “In all our travels, I have seen no work finer than this,” he whispered, and the dwarf made a pleased rumble deep in his throat.

Lifting the lid, he was amazed to find a carved couple – not dolls, not toys, no- - sculptures would be closer to it. Every feature, every detail was perfectly placed with a craftsman’s eye. Merry was mesmerized by the flow of their black and silver robes, the delicate fingers of their hands, the light in their painted eyes. Each wore a tiny faceted star upon their brow, gleaming in the flickering lamplight of the room.

“Gimli, ” he murmured, nearly speechless. “How beautiful… how real they are!”

The dwarf made a noise that was part acknowledgement of the compliment and part clearing of the throat to begin a story. Merry had drawn stories out of each of the fellowship as they traveled, and his ears perked in delight as he recognized the sound.

“I too felt the desire you spoke of – to share the traditions of my home and people, to acknowledge that sense of family we grew into on our road.” He reached out a finger to stroke one of the figures, and Merry was taken with amazement that hands that wrapped so easily around the haft of an axe could also turn to such delicate work.

“Like your charts, this is a way we remember our history, and also how we reach with hope toward the future. It is not so much a physical gift as a wish…” Merry could see the light gleam in his friend’s eyes as he spoke.

“When two of my people marry – which happens all too rarely now - their fathers work together to fashion a carving like this - but of a khazâd, of course. It is our way of remembering that we were fashioned just so, by the hand of Aulë, even before the firstborn awoke. But it is also a plea to Ilúvatar, to remember his compassion in granting the dwarves life, and grant life to another – it is a wish for a child.”

He sighed, and Merry was filled with his sadness and longing. Hobbit children were plentiful, but still every one was considered a gift. The long years of the future must seem strange to those who saw their own time drawing to a close.

“I have both honored and broken my traditions by carving these,” Gimli continued. “Our friend and his bride are not of the race of stone. But he is king of the city of stone, and my wish is no less fervent – that they be granted the joy of the future. “There is still great room in Arda for many that might rejoice in it…”

He closed the lid, and carried the box back to the bed, and wrapped it again in its fine cloth covering.

Coming back to the window and nodding to Merry to hold their mugs, he poured them another round. “We always carve a male,” he admitted, “as Aulë did, and as hope for an heir. But I have often wondered if Aulë had also carved our race seven mothers if we would have seen more Dwarven women born. I thought it best not to take the chance. Do you think that was brash?”

“No,” Merry replied. “I think it was thoughtful and heartfelt.”

“Hmmm,” the dwarf replied, and they sat for a while in thought and appreciation of liquid gold.

Then Merry held up his mug, and Gimli clinked his roughly against it. “Here’s to life, then,” the hobbit said. “The past and the future.”

“The dream and the plan,” the dwarf replied and they drained their mugs and smiled.



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