The shock reverberated all the way down to his toes, just as if he had slammed his axe against a wall of granite in a fit of temper. Not that he would ever do such a thing to his beloved axe.
Gimli’s gaze darted around the large, deeply delved cavern, glancing over tubes and packages and cylinders variously lying, sitting and standing atop the many waist-high tables precisely placed around the room. “You mean to tell me there is no magic?”
“Of course there is magic,” the wizard harrumphed in his usual manner, flicking a spell at the Fëanorian lamps lining the high walls so they began to glow softly. “But it is a magic that you, too, can wield.” He doused the staff that had lit their way down the steep, spiraling stairs and left it leaning in a corner. “Come,” he beckoned, moving to the nearest table. “All it requires is a bit of imagination and a little education. You already know most of the compounds used in the mixtures and I have seen bits and pieces of the jewelry you have crafted. I have no doubt you will excel at this as well.”
The dwarf’s mouth dropped open. Gandalf did not hand out compliments will-you-nil-you.
“With Aragorn crowned, and a new tree growing, my auspices are no longer needed. I do not wish this skill to die with my departure and you have both the patience and the dexterity. But if you do not wish to learn, I will seek an apprentice elsewhere,” the wizard said, as he began to roll a new tube.
Gimli ventured closer.
“Ahhh,” Gandalf noted as his companion approached. “The tables will have to be lowered, I suppose, but I will see to that when I have handed the operation off to you. For now—” he spoke a word and a sturdy, three-legged stool appeared, “this will have to do.” The master eyed his new apprentice, then the table and the stool again, spoke another word and gracefully waved his hand.
Gimli took it to mean ‘climb aboard’ and did. It put him at exactly waist-height to the table. From this new vantage point, he noted the innumerable plates and dishes and bowls holding various substances, many of which he could immediately identify. He recognized carbon and sulfur, and paired with them a white, crystallized powder. These were set apart from the more common minerals he was familiar with: magnesium, phosphorus and sodium, and a number of calcium salts. These he knew, too, from his own smelting, could add color to various mixtures.
Gandalf was measuring and pouring from these various containers, into the tube he had just rolled out of thick, heavy paper. “There are various formulas for certain kinds of flame, or brilliance and color, but you will want to experiment on your own after you’ve made a few yourself.” He leaned over the table, stretching to reach a bowl of finely ground copper and a slender reed. Tapping the reed in the bowl, he stoppered the end with a finger, then released the contents of the reed into the top of his tube. “It’s all in how they are packed.”
In time, the tube was capped with another crimped bit of paper, a length of candlewick trailing through a hole punched in the center, and fastened around the sides with a thick trail of honey that Gimli knew, when dry, would make a plausible seal.
Gandalf packed several more, explaining steps, and the ingredients required to make a variety of effects, as his hands mixed and poured and stirred by rote. There were recipes, he noted, but slanting a glance at the Norgoth’s avid face thought it unlikely Gimli would have need of them.
“While it is an exacting science, I find the pleasure of it, and even the tediousness, relaxing.” The old wizard laughed. “I did my best scheming down here.” He glanced again at the dwarf, a smile adding even more crinkles to the aged face. “I will miss it.” From a mysterious pocket in his robe, Gandalf withdrew a large, iron key, placing it on the table in front of his friend. “All who knew the secret of this place are gone. You may choose to keep it thus, or share as you please.”
“But you never told anyone?” Gimli spoke for the first time, as he took the thick sheet of paper the wizard passed over and began creasing it into a rectangle.
“Oh some knew, on and off, throughout the course of my sojourn here in Middle-earth. But few, my friend, or it would have lost its mystique.”
“Aye.” Gimli nodded, hands busy too, as his mind imagined the various gifts he could give his friends.
“I wish this wedding to be a grand celebration, in the style of the old kings.”
“Aye,” Gimli said again. “You wish to impress Aragorn’s strength and power upon the visitors who will come from far and near.”
“That, too, though my dearer wish is that they will recognize the renewal his victory has wrought.”
Gimli hopped down from his stool to move it around the table, the better to reach the elements he required. “You mean your victory,” he said complacently.
“Nay, I mean Aragorn’s victory. His first battle was hard fought and was years in the fomenting.”
“But you maneuvered us all, rather like chess pieces.”
“I may have helped to set up the board, Gimli, but after that, I only poked and prodded as necessary. Neither was any maneuvered against their will.” The old man was silent for a moment, even his hands stilling as he contemplated.
“Each of you bears your own scars from the ordeal; Frodo and Aragorn, though, will carry them the longest. Aragorn will not lay down the burden of this kingdom he did not want, and yet will lead, for several life times of men. In winning, Aragorn has both gained and lost much.”
“With his lady by his side, perhaps he will find the fit better than he expects,” the dwarf suggested, weighing out a measure of powdered antimony.
Gandalf glanced across the table consideringly. “You are more perceptive than I had imagined, friend Gimli. I believe you are correct; the crown will not weigh so heavily when it is shared.”
Behind his beard, Gimli’s lips twitched; twice in the short span of an hour he had been on the receiving end of accolades. It was probably a good thing the wizard was bound for home soon, as there were those who believed dwarven conceit was already legendary.
“At last!” Pippin shouted jubilantly. “She comes, Aragorn! Arwen comes!”
“Sit down, Pip!” Merry tugged at the bright tunic adorning the enthusiastic hobbit. “You’re making a scene.”
“Stop!” Pippin danced away from the maligning fingers.
“You will pull it out of shape.” He was very proud of his wedding finery and wore it much like a peacock displaying his plumage for a mate. “Over here, Arwen! Over here!”
“That’s Your Majesty to you,” Sam said blithely, popping up as well. “Over here, Your Majesty!” he shouted, waving both arms above his head.
Fortunately most of the folk crowding the greensward in the courtyard of The White Tree were already seated, leaving the bobbing hobbits clearly visible.
Aragorn rose as his wife approached, holding out a hand.
“M’lady.” He bowed deeply as she set her fingers in his.
“While the accommodations are not the best, the company could not be better.”
A roar went up as he straightened from his bow, eschewing her fingers, and bent again to kiss her lips lingeringly.
Her arms crept around his shoulders and Legolas, reclining on one arm on the blanket already, reached up to tug the hem of Aragorn’s tunic. “Get a bedchamber!”
This generated another roar in the immediate vicinity of the royal couple and a rippling stir of further laughter as the witticism was passed from blanket to blanket.
Aragorn smacked at the irritating hand, only breaking the kiss because he knew the evening could not continue until they collected themselves and brought their attention to bear on the planned event.
Gandalf’s grand finale to the wedding revelry.
Arwen reached up to remove the jeweled tiara holding the silver veil in place on her dark head and kicked off her shoes, allowing her new husband to hand her down to a seat on the blanket. “Thank you, m’lord.” She had had to wade through a sea of humanity to reach the royal oasis where the members of the Fellowship had gathered after a repairing lease to rest from the day’s festivities.
The marriage, and ceremonial crowning of Gondor’s new queen, had been elegantly simple, as was Her Majesty.
“Oh am I glad to be done with that piece of finery!” she laughed, tossing the tiara down upon the blanket as Gimli arranged her long train so it would not impede her rising again. “Thank you, kind sir. My lord has requested the privilege of removing this gown, or I would have changed into something simpler.”
The elf’s unselfconscious earthy chuckle set the tone for the rest of the party, who all joined in with hearty guffaws, though Frodo only smiled.
“We have been inundated with every imaginable source of pleasure – except that which we truly wish for,” Aragorn stated drily, making himself comfortable beside his wife.
“A few moments only, when set against the long measure of mortal years since the betrothal,” Legolas said, winking at the new queen.
Aragorn borrowed the wizard’s harrumph as his wife leaned back against his chest, resting her head in the crook of his neck. A grin blossomed as she whispered something in his ear and he waved a royal hand. “Let the entertainment begin!”
On cue, a rainbow of sparkles lit the night sky beyond the point of the greensward, followed by the percussive boom of the explosion. Like dancing fireflies, the sparks floated gently toward earth, trailing wisps of smoke in their wake.
The crowd hushed briefly.
Burst of stars showered down, as magical and grand as
Varda’s first stars must have appeared to the elves of Cuiviénen. Moons appeared and were swallowed by comets trailing long tails of fire. Brilliant pinwheels lit the sky so night became day again, while fingers of flame stretched long and longer painting the brilliance with hues that echoed the green of pools in Aglarond, the blue of a periwinkle, purples and lavenders seen only at dusk and dawn, and the crimson reds of the parrots imported from Far Harad.
The ooo’s and ahhh’s broke into cries of delight as an image appeared of a round, green door and eaves overhanging windows just peeking from their earthen walls.
“Mr. Bilbo’s house,” Sam shouted gleefully. “It’s Mr. Bilbo’s house!” Because it would always be Mr. Bilbo’s house that Frodo lived in.
Frodo clutched convulsively at his chest, even as he laughed delightedly along with the rest.
A beautifully blossoming tree appeared in the fading image of the round, green door.
“And the party tree!” Sam jumped up to join Merry and Pippin, dragging Frodo up too, to dance a ring around the jovial royal couple.
“It is Hobbiton’s most renowned places,” Aragorn called to the crowd.
There was a collective sigh of pleasure and then the sky began to rain a dragon’s hoard, glittering gold tumbling down upon the heads of the throng reaching up hands to grasp the elusive treasure. Only to draw back with gasps of surprise as a dragon appeared to burst from the mountain, swooping down and around as if in pursuit of his purloined pleasure.
Silence descended over the crowd again, the silence of the awestruck, as the story of Middle-earth’s all-consuming struggle against evil was writ large upon the night canvas.
A map grew larger and larger, and a tall mountain appeared toward the top of it. A red book opened and upon its glowing pages, an ink quill began to scribe lines.
A sinuously curving river marked the passage of time and then the waterfalls of Rivendell poured over their shelves and symbols of the Fellowship began to march over their heads; an elaborate hunting horn caused them all to sigh, a bow so beautifully rendered that Legolas sat straight up as if to reach for it, and an axe that had Gimli crowing with pleasure, a glowing staff raised in a fist rendered so elegantly one could trace each knuckle of the gnarled old hand, and a green dragon sipping from a foaming flagon of ale that brought forth a roar of enchantment.
The ale faded and the dragon circled once and flew through the center of a huge golden ring that plummeted toward a flowing river of fire, out of which blossomed a great, tumultuous wellspring of flowers that shone with the implication of a new earth reborn from the fires of doom.
As night reclaimed its ascendancy, leaving only the scent of smoke and reawakened memories in the wake of the brilliant palette of pictures, awe reclaimed a short contemplative space before wild, uproarious cheering once more exploded the darkness. The multitude, led by the king and queen, swarmed to their feet with huzzahs and hurrahs for the wizard that had run tame in their city for their entire lifetimes.
Still seated, the sorcerer’s apprentice leaned back on his hands, hiding a secret smile behind his luxuriantly oiled beard as he absorbed the unaware adulation and contemplated magic in all its many forms.
This has been a work of transformative fan fiction. All characters and settings belong to the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien; the story itself is the intellectual property of the author. No copyright infringement has been perpetrated for financial gain.