The Giving Game
In Middle Earth, it is a known fact that elves are quite distant from other races. With their unending lives, unnatural grace and beauty, and impressive battle skills, they unfortunately consider themselves to be above all the other races, a rather hard notion to dispute in their eyes.
Which was why it was so unusual of an occurrence to see an elf, who happened to be traveling through a human settlement with the rest of his kin, stop at the sight of a rotten-cored human trying to haggle more money from a very outraged dwarf.
Now, this dwarf had lost everything he ever owned for he was a former dwarf of Erebor, a kingdom that has been lost for nearly five years.
And what five years it has been! The dwarves of once a great city has now been reduced to homeless nomads who wander from place to place for work. Work that is scarce and hard to come by, since the directed mistrust for dwarves rage strong in men's eyes.
So much to the crowd's shock, the elf did not pass by the spectacle and instead approached the man, polite as can be, and paid the man's ridiculous price himself. The dwarf was equally shocked, baffled, and quite insulted by the idea of an elf helping him. Whether out of want or pity, he did not know. He did not like it, nor did he trust the honest action.
The elf, who whether didn't take note of such mixed reactions or simply didn't care, ignored the observers. He instead directed his attention to the dwarf and asked if there was anything he could be of service. His offer was so sincere that the dwarf hesitated briefly at the query, for the pack he was carrying was quite heavy after a hard day's of work at the smithies. He shifted and the elf immediately noticed the movement. Without further or due, the elf carefully lifted the pack, not staggering at all from the weight, and asked where he was headed with a still calm and kind tone so unlike the coldness the dwarf was used to receiving from others.
Having no choice but to answer since not doing so will be construed as rude, the elf and dwarf walked side by side towards the dwarf's unoccupied, makeshift home. The elf did not comment on how the place seemed to cave inward as if ready to fall apart any minute, or how small the place was, barely habitable for any living being.
The dwarf was given back his pack, which he put on the table inside his house before stepping out again, expecting the quite peculiar elf to leave. His expectations were thwarted once again when the elf offered to eat dinner together, since it was evening and the dwarf clearly needed the extra nutrition.
Again, the dwarf was suspicious. But somewhere along the line, he was also curious about the seemingly generous elf's reasons. So he agreed, though every part of him screamed against it, self-disgusted with himself when his stomach eagerly growled at the thought of food.
So off they went, the dwarf watching the elf's every move. He was intent and determined to uncover the elf's secrets, to wait out the elf's patience.
However, patience is never a strong suite for a dwarf and the shorter being finally demanded for an explanation as he ate his second meal that the elf had insisted onto him.
The elf startled at the enquiry, big crystal blue eyes blinking at him in such a humane way that it was surreal, before giving a small smile.
"Ah, I was waiting for you to finally ask. I did not think it would take this long however." The elf said in an amused, musical voice. The dwarf bristled.
"Well you certainly are not forthcoming. Out with it, or I shall leave." The dwarf growled out.
"Very well, master dwarf." The elf said amiably. "I must warn you though, that it is quite a long story."
So the elf spoke, explaining how he had lived since the first age, that he was a warrior who had fought during Sauron's highest peak of power. How the war against the evil had destroyed many lives, elves and men and dwarves alike. His tone turned dark when he spoke of the horrors of war, how so many innocent lives had been lost not just in the battles, but afterwards. The times after the war had been hard, the losses uncountable. Families had been ripped apart, many never to be reunited again.
The elf paused before quietly saying he had been separated from his kin at one point after the war, the elves scattered and him unable to find his brothers and sisters in the whole mess. He ended up in a ravaged, human town not unlike where they are now, and how he had been starving and injured in the streets with no one willing to help him.
He had nearly lost the will to live, he said grimly. He at the time thought his family was dead, that he would never find his way back to his kin with how weak and starving he was. He honestly thought he was going to die.
Just when death was about to embrace him, a rather poor old man found him and took him into his home.
The elf smiled wryly at the dwarf across from him and admitted that he had been guarded and very confused over the man's actions, for the man would gain nothing if he aided him. Especially since the man apparently had a wife and two children he had to take care of as well.
"And just like you, master dwarf, I had questioned the man's motives. What I received instead was a rather long winded story as I am giving you right now."
The elf idly twirled his cup, eyes faraway as the endless midnight sky outside.
"The man began his story of a homeless human orphan. The orphan had been abandoned on the streets left to die, cold and hungry and owning nothing except for the clothes on his back. He stole from others for a living and was beaten many times for it. Life was not kind on the boy and the boy became wary and cynical because of it.
"One day, a caravan of dwarves were passing by town, weary warriors looking for a brief place to stay. The child saw his opportunity at the dwarves' arrival and tried to steal from one of them. He failed in his attempt to do so and was caught by the dwarf he tried to rob. The boy thought the dwarf would punish or at worst kill him on the spot."
The elf smiled, mirth dancing in his eyes.
"Instead, the dwarf offered his warm fur coat and money poach, even though he had little to give as well."
"Now, the boy was instantly wary of the rather generous gift and said, 'Why are you helping me? What can you gain from this?'"
The elf's smile twisted into something more sad and bitter. The dwarf noticed how the elf suddenly looked his age, thousands of years slumping down on his shoulders and making him look like a rather tragic figure.
When the elf spoke up again, his voice was soft and full of sorrow.
"It's a sad world we live in, don't you agree master dwarf? For a child to be so unused to compassion when it is an elder's job, regardless of race, to look out for the next generation..." he shook his head and heaved a great sigh. "One must wonder where we went wrong."
The dwarf thought of Erebor, and how the elves of Mirkwood refused to give aid to the dwarves or to even give supplies or a place to stay until the dwarves recuperated properly. He thought of how many children Thranduil denied when he did this act of cruelty.
Aye, the dwarf thought to himself. Where indeed.
The elf cleared his throat and seemed to shake himself out of his self-reverie, continuing on the old man's story.
"The dwarf, who perceived the child's reluctance, cleverly deployed a way to get the child to agree."
'I do not want anything young one. For do you not know? I am playing a game.'
'A game?' the child repeated. Interested, for no child can resist a challenge.
'Yes, the Giving Game.'
'What's that?' the child asked.
'Well, the game starts when a person does an act of kindness to someone who needs it. It does not have to be an elaborate or excessive, but small, for even the smallest of actions can make a world of difference to someone. And you only do the kind act, if you have the other swear they'll also do the same to another. And then that person will do some kind act to another as well and the chain continues until everybody has been at least helped by one person.'
"The boy was astounded by such an idea of a game and felt excitement rise up on his chest at the thought of a better world where everyone helps one another instead of being selfish. So, quite determinedly, the boy takes the kind dwarf's gifts and swears he will play this game. The dwarf laughs, great belly shaking with his firey red beard shining under the warm sunlight, and says he hopes to one day see the fruition of the boy's efforts."
"After the dwarf left the town, the boy decisively stops stealing since it would be quite counterproductive to the game if he did. Much to the boy's luck, he ends up helping a man by unloading his cart of goat milk and had refused to be given payment for his deed. Instead, the boy insisted that the only payment he required was for the man to also do an act of kindness to another, regardless of who it was or what they were, and that he would give the same message that the boy was giving him. The man was puzzled by the odd request but agreed to do so."
"The man then travelled to the next town and happened to help an elderly woman carrying her groceries to her door and also told her to do one act of kindness as his reward. The old woman then in turn helped a dwarven child find his parents again and gave the message to all three of them. The dwarves found themselves fighting off orcs away from an elven patrol passing through and said the same. And so on and so forth, the game continued until the bonds of the races became quite strong, strong enough that they felt united when fighting alongside one another at the War of Wrath, which marked the end of the first age."
The elf stopped, voice becoming soft at his next words.
"When the old man finished his narrative, he gave me a quiet smile full of rare benevolence and wisdom that I felt young in the face of it. He said that the boy in the story was him."
The elf shook his head, the awe on his face reflecting the dwarf's at the tale.
"I will never know if the innocent game is the cause of us winning the war, for if the bonds had not been strong that day, then all would've been surely lost. But whether or not it did does not change the fact how amazing the notion is that one small act of kindness from a dwarf which saved a child's soul changed so many other fates as well, including mine. No matter how many centuries have passed, I still remember this story and how it saved my life."
"So you see, master dwarf, if that dwarf hadn't helped that boy, then the boy who is the old man would never have saved me. I would've died that day, forgotten and having lost all hope. And if I had survived even without the old man's help, I would not appreciate the fact that I have lived. I would not be sitting across from you thinking we are equals and probably would've looked upon you and others with misplaced, arrogant disdain."
"... Why did you really help me? Did you do it because you feel as if you owe the dwarves a debt?" the dwarf finally responded after the elf's long spiel. The elf chuckled.
"No. To be honest, I'm not quite sure. I saw that you needed help and couldn't help but remember the lesson the old man taught me and could not keep silent."
Suddenly, the elf's eyes lit up brighter than the twinkling stars, as if some dawning thought has struck him.
"Perhaps, I did what I did in order to continue the Giving Game. I feel it is appropriate that a dwarf should once again continue the game he started."
The elf leaned in, a dare written on his sharp features.
"Well master dwarf? Will you indulge an old, strange elf to play this game?"
The dwarf couldn't help but snort at the way the elf described himself and puffed out his chest pompously. His proud actions were mostly in jest though, as the dwarf felt more familiar with the elf than before. He felt there was a strange kinship between them, as strange as the notion was. For after listening to the elf's story, he was now quite convinced that this indeed strange elf was genuine in his request and was quite different from anyone he has ever met.
Idly, he speculated to himself about the old alliance between the elves and dwarves. A crying shame, he thought to himself. For he could not see much difference between himself and the elf in front of him. The old bitterness against the elves of Mirkwood that had clung to his heart untangled themselves away, disappearing in the face of the moving account the elf just provided.
Besides, no dwarf would want to be outdone by an elf in any game or contest.
"You insult me by implying I would not, for a dwarf never leaves his work unfinished." He replied.
The elf laughed.
Both fell into silence, meals finished and already taken by the servers. When both paid and left the establishment, the dwarf reflected upon the elf's story and wondered if the dwarf in the story realized what influence he left behind even after thousands of years.
How it was his actions that saved a boy's humanity and countless of others. How it influenced an elf to change the mold that has been enforced on him and turned him into a decent sort. How it changed the dwarf's own view of the world and how it convinced him that not everyone is self-seeking and that kindness still existed in this lonely world.
Soon enough, the two beings opposite in everything from height to character shook hands and said farewell to one another, the elf satisfied to have imparted some wisdom and the dwarf determined to keep his promise.
Such an occurrence is astonishing, considered impossible even. Yet the two parted as friends, both happier and glad to have met the other. The stars winked in approval, being the only witnesses to have seen the event transpire.
And it all started with a bit of kindness, and the Giving Game.
Please review on the way out.
Note: I was inspired to write this when I watched this video on YouTube from TheCorpfa. Seriously, watch it. It's beautiful. The title literally says it'll change your life and I agree with it completely.