In the days following the coronation, they continued their exploration of the city, until they knew it pretty well from top to bottom, and the city knew them: the mismatched pair from the King's fellowship, whose like had not been seen within the walls even by the very eldest of citizens. They were of course made welcome wherever they went, but the people were mainly busy with the repair of the lower level and the ravaged lands within the Rammas Echor, and they felt, before they were made to feel, that the welcome might wear thin.
'This is a strange time,' said Legolas; 'The King has come into his own, and yet it is not the new beginning that we all looked for. He waits, we all wait, in a space between the old and the new.'
'And waits for what?' asked the dwarf; 'Gandalf seems to know something, but says nothing.'
'The White Tree is dead in the Fountain Court. A new sapling must be found.'
'That means searching, not waiting, surely?'
'Well, both: I do not know more.'
'If our help were needed, it would have been asked for,' said Gimli. 'We must seek our own employment.'
'Strange, is it not, that we find it hard to enjoy rest now we have it?'
'Rest turns to idleness after a while. A dwarf cannot keep holiday forever.'
'No, idleness does not suit you, or me.'
'I never heard that elves were much inclined to toil,' said Gimli, with a sidelong glance of deliberate mischief.
Legolas almost snapped back at him:
'We have our crafts and our necessities of life to attend to, but make no parade of industry!'
He looked right and left along the broad stone-paved street, where a hundred little signs of neglect could be detected in almost all the buildings: the very stones of the city showed the fatigue of the long conflict, and continued:
'I and my people could make this a fairer place: I hope we will. But the time for that is not yet.'
'And I see everywhere work that my hands would do or direct.'
Gimli stepped up onto the broad ledge of the parapet and looked down on the lower levels, to where the city walls swept round to meet the steep rocky face of the mountain and the space for building was narrow and often dark. It seemed from the appearance of the quarter that the inhabitants were of the poorer classes.
'There is still damage untended below, close by the mountain, yet people seem busy everywhere but there.' Legolas leaned over to see.
'It seems a dark place, so close to the foot of the mountain, even in summer. Those look like dwellings of the poorer folk. But see, there are people -- a few: women mainly, and children.'
He looked more carefully, shading his eyes with one hand, a familiar gesture from the days of the Quest, and went on:
'Yes, I see some damage there: the great stones from the war engines have broken the roofs of the houses, there, at the end of the street, though the nearer part seems unharmed.'
'And the women and children are there in the ruins of their homes? This is dangerous.'
'Yes, and I see only one or two old men; none of the bands that work elsewhere under masters.'
'Then here is work for a dwarf's hand and eye. I shall go down, before ruin is made worse by unskilled searching.'
'I shall go with you, my friend -- maybe there is work for me too.'
Gimli's response was a faint snort of disbelief, but he jumped down from the fire-step without further remark, and started off along the street -- in the wrong direction, as it seemed to Legolas, if he wished to descend from the fourth level, where they now stood, to the first. As he was about to speak, Gimli turned abruptly to his right, and disappeared into the wall. Legolas sprang forward, and saw that the reason for the vanishing was nothing more than a narrow opening in the parapet, leading to a steep stair that ran back down within the thickness of the high wall.
Gimli was descending rapidly into a deeply shadowed tunnel between the tall buildings of Minas Tirith, and was soon out of sight again as the steps turned between smooth blank walls.
Legolas followed him down and blinked in the sudden gloom, then looked up to be sure that there was still bright sunlight above -- with the near- inevitable result that he missed his footing and would have fallen if the way had not been so narrow that he could brace his hands against the walls. But he uttered a little startled exclamation as he stumbled, and the sound echoed between the stones and soon brought Gimli leaping back up around the corner.
'Legolas? What is it?'
'I looked up at the sky and almost fell.'
'Looked at the sky? Addle-pated elf! Save your star-gazing for the night time!'
And though his words were ungentle, the sound of his deep voice was not. Legolas looked up again, but not until he stood on the small landing at the turn.
'This is a strange place, like being underground in the light of day. Are there many of these ways in the city? I had not seen them.'
'There are several in each level that I have seen -- they follow the bones of the mountain: one may travel more quickly than by taking the roads all around.'
'Descent will be quick enough;' said the elf; 'and an easy way to break one's neck!'
'Then take more care and forget the skies for a moment. Come on.'
Legolas followed him round the turn, then, after a short descent, another, and saw the tall narrow cleft of light that led out between the houses onto the third level.
The pair had grown used to turning heads as they went about the city, but their sudden appearance in the street caused more of a stir than usual, enough to make them feel rather uncomfortable, but Gimli quickly located the entry to the next alley, and they were gone again.
Legolas remarked that these ways would have presented a great danger had the enemy come within the city, but Gimli had already seen that, set into the walls at intervals, were large blocks of stone made to be dislodged to close the narrow ways at need, and pointed out the places where a lever would be thrust to do the job.
'And I wonder at you, master Elf, that you say this, when two or three of your folk, with the of shortest your forest bows, could hold such a stair against an army as long as you had arrows, even without the stones.'
'All these stone walls turn my brain, friend Gimli. Though they are white, and the sun shines, it is dark here.'
'No darker than under the boughs of your forest.'
'No -- yes -- but still the stone is strange to me.'
This stair turned among the buildings in much the same way as the other, sometimes being an a complete tunnel, and they soon emerged into full sunlight on the broad street of the second level, with the flank of the mountain looming ever higher on their left, and the road to Rohan winding away below.
The street was deserted, and looking around they saw that many of the buildings seemed to be storehouses, and were either disused, or closed up as the city made holiday. When they looked over the outer wall, they saw clearly that the number of damaged buildings was quite small, for the main attack had been at the gate of the city, and the high tide of assault had washed up to this place last and fallen back first. But a few people searched there disconsolately among the rubble, looking for their belongings.
'As I said, there is danger here! See the old fellow in the straw hat? Will he risk his neck for a few sticks of furniture? The King is making provision against all this -- will they not go and receive it?'
Gimli hurried to the next stairway and started down, his quick firm steps echoing between the walls. The steps were clear to the bottom, save for a few fallen chips of stone, but dwarf and elf emerged into a dismal scene of dust and rubble, and the lingering smell of the enemy's fires.
The little group of the labouring folk of Minas Tirith turned from their work in surprise at the sudden apparition, though the two were quickly recognised and made welcome. Then Gimli set about putting his stonecraft to use in the service of the people, examining the damage to see what might be done to clear the mess without danger.
Coming to the first house, the home of a widow with two small sons who clung to her skirts, he stooped under the broken doorway, looking for a way to help the woman find a few things to take to the house of the neighbour who was sheltering her. Legolas started to follow him, but was turned back at once.
'Come in when I say, not before, please;' Gimli said firmly.
He turned to study the fallen stones and beams in silence, looking for a way to the less damaged parts at the back of the house, against the rock, where the widow hoped to find a few things still fit for use to help out her neighbour's stores. He moved a stone here, a splintered beam there, quiet, strong and scarcely stirring the dust, and a way cleared before him. Then he called Legolas in:
'This is no work for such hands as yours, but since you would come, take this timber here, and when I raise the end of the lintel, put it here, against the pillar, and we shall have a doorway that will stand.' Legolas did as Gimli asked, and soon the woman could come in, curtseying her thanks to the 'two lords' at every other word.
Gimli watched carefully until she and her friends had removed what they needed, then moved to the next place. He brushed dust from his hands, saying:
'We are not dressed for this work. It would be better to return to the guest house and come down again. But I can still look to see what needs to be done.'
He walked to and fro along the street, almost to where it ended at the foot of the mountain, where one of the many springs of Mindolluin fell into a public well. He continued, peering in through broken windows and under slanting door jambs, until suddenly he was aware that Legolas, so light of foot, had climbed up onto the ruins of the most severely damaged place and was walking along the jagged top of a broken wall, looking over into the wreckage beyond.
The dwarf was immediately incensed by such carelessness, and called to him sharply to come down. Legolas turned quickly back, almost running along the wall top, startled by the note of alarm in Gimli's voice into realising the risk he courted.
Even as he jumped lightly down to Gimli, half the wall fell in behind him with a huge smother of white dust, and a crash that was as nothing to the roar with which Gimli berated his folly as the stones rattled into stillness and the dust began to settle. The dwarf was so furious that he burst into a tirade in his own fierce language, and none who heard it failed to understand, without knowing a single word; but the mother who stood by also heard in her heart the sound of an anxious love.
Legolas recoiled a couple of paces as Gimli concluded in the Common Speech with a stinging:
'If you can do nothing useful, do nothing!'
The elf recovering his wits snapped back:
'Yes, if your voice does not bring the whole mountain down upon us!'
As they glared combatively at each other amid the falling dust, the smaller child, frightened by the noise and raised voices, began to cry loudly. The mother hugged him, then looked up at Legolas:
'Don't mind what your friend says, Sir,' she said shyly; '-- I scold my little ones much the same when they give me a fright!'
Then curtseying nervously towards Gimli she added:
'Begging your pardon, Sir, but he frightened me too, running on the wall like that.'
'And you were right to be frightened!' Gimli replied in a sort of conciliatory growl; '-- We meant to help...'
'Oh you have helped, Sir, you have!'
'But I think now we should leave, and I shall return tomorrow better prepared...'
He turned back towards Legolas:
'Which will doubtless mean without you.'
Legolas said nothing, knowing he had been at fault, but favoured the dwarf with a rebellious look. When they started back up the steps, Gimli stood aside, letting Legolas pass, and muttering into his dusty beard
'Must I have you under my eye all the time? Addle-pated elf!'
While another part of his mind said There are worse sights to gaze upon. He followed the graceful green-clad figure, and chuckled suddenly to himself at the woman's words, and then thought Yes, I feel that he is like a child in the world of stone, and he is dear to me.
When they reached the second level, it was still deserted and so quiet that they could hear a faint sound of running water somewhere nearby, which made them mindful of the dust on their hands and faces and in their throats. Side by side once more they crossed the smooth white-paved street and tried to find the source of the trickling sound.
The steps which would take them up to the next level opened a little way to their left on the far side of the street, a dark fissure between two shuttered buildings; but almost opposite the entrance from which they had emerged was an iron gate set in a carved archway. Beyond the curved tracery of the grille they could see marble steps that seemed to lead to a terrace above a row of broad, low arches, all firmly closed with heavy wooden doors. The tops of a few small trees and a festoon of bright- leaved creeper hinted at a garden beyond the high wall, and the sound of water seemed to come from the gateway.
Legolas looked up at the greenery with interest:
'The city needs more of that.'
'And could have it;' said Gimli; 'there are many good springs, like the one we hear now, bringing water through the rock from the snows of Mindolluin, enough for men and gardens.'
'Let us see if those who dwell here will allow us to drink from their spring;' said the elf. Reaching the gate, he looked through and saw that the water they heard ran in little falls in a channel down the left side of the stair and then disappeared underground just inside the gate.
Next they saw that the gate was not locked, nor even bolted, but stood slightly ajar -- yet it did not seem to offer a welcome, and their eyes took in what their hearts had already guessed; that this was the gate of one of the many empty houses of Minas Tirith. Legolas pushed the gate and it swung inwards with a long grating squeal. Small plants and grasses were growing at the edges of the steps, and dead leaves lay in the angles.
'There is none here to give or deny;' said Gimli; 'I am sorry to see it: this work is good, both the stone and the iron.'
'And these ferns have been carefully set by the waterway.'
Legolas stooped and dipped his hands into the water in the narrow channel.
'Ah! It is cold! The snows of Mindolluin truly.'
He shook his hands and the bright drops flew sparkling in the sunshine. Then he went down on one knee beside the channel, splashed water over his face, and drank from cupped hands. Gimli stood and watched him for a moment, still angered by his carelessness and caught again by his quiet grace. Then he too stepped forward and knelt by the streamlet to wash his hands and face and drink the cool, pure water.
When they stood again in the noonday sunshine that streamed over the high wall above the gate, Legolas said:
'Your beard shines with diamonds, friend Gimli, and snows of Mindolluin are the mine'
Gimli glanced down at the rainbow sparkles that mingled with the plaster dust on his carefully braided beard and felt again the elf's strange ability to shake him with anger and delight.
'A fine pair of vagabonds we must look, smothered with dust and seeking water as if we were homeless;' he growled; 'Diamonds indeed!'
But he could not forbear a smile, and Legolas smiled in return, but would not meet his eyes for long.
Then Gimli looked around again at the place they were in, and saw that on the right of the small paved square where they stood was a narrow door with a little shuttered window beside it -- a gatekeeper's lodge in better days. A rusting iron sconce was set above the archway on the inside, and a bracket that might have carried a bell, but of the bell and a chain or lever to ring it there was no sign.
On the left rose a mossy, fern-tufted wall, partly of the rock of Mindolluin, partly of masonry, the side of another building set against the mountain, but the right-hand wall of the stair was of smooth dressed blocks, the side of the terrace they had guessed at from the street. The marble stairs, well-proportioned and wide enough for three to walk abreast, ran up to a second gate of iron scrollwork. Elf and dwarf looked at each other, and silently agreed to go up.
The second gate was latched but also unlocked, and opened in the northeast corner of a courtyard, larger than they had expected to find, warm and bright with the sun. On the left, a little way inside the gate, the water of the spring fell from a fissure, above the height of the elf's head, in the wall of living rock, and cascaded into a marble basin from which the overflow ran down beside the stair. There seemed to be no sound in the whole city but the gentle music of falling water. The courtyard breathed a secret peace. The two intruders heard no challenge and now expected none. They stood and gazed around. The place must have been a pleasant dwelling, and that not long ago. On their left, the eastern wall of the court was of rock, topped by the walls of adjacent buildings; facing them on the south, and built, as they soon discovered, partly into the rock of the mountain side, was a range of rooms, fronted by a narrow verandah and roofed with red tiles. Above the tiles rose the rock and then the stone of the third level parapet. The west and north sides of the court held the rest of the house, fronted with the verandah that sheltered doors and windows, and where the north range met the stairway a second arch led back along the end of the building to the terrace overlooking the street.
Legolas turned that way first, and they looked down over the roadway to the first level below.
The terrace plants in their tubs and troughs were surviving but the soil was drying in the early summer heat. Legolas touched the leaves anxiously and felt the soil.
'They all need water.'
'Send for Master Samwise. He might be glad to tend this place.'
'I know he would, but so should I.'
There was a wistful note in Legolas' voice as he looked at the plants and shrubs, and Gimli watched him thoughtfully.
They explored the whole house, and found every room unlocked but all apparently in good order, even to pieces of furniture and hangings in some of the rooms.
'This has not been empty long,' said Gimli; 'Only a matter of months.'
In the north range of the building, opening onto the terrace above the street, they found the principal rooms: nearest the entrance gate was a very large living room, with windows flanking doors to courtyard and terrace; next, through an interior connecting door, a smaller room with windows to the terrace only; then through another interior door, the main bedchamber, with a tall window facing north onto the terrace and a smaller one west to the side of the mountain. This room also had its own door to the courtyard, under the verandah. Behind the bedchamber, on the western side, were four more rooms, the first another bedroom with a bed still in it, all rather dark, with the verandah shading the doors and windows on one side, and the mountains looming beyond the windows opposite, above the roofs of the few other buildings that completed the sloping street which ended at the mountain face, like the one below. The southern side of the court, built against the wall of the level above, held the long kitchen, a washroom, storerooms and a privy.
Gimli pottered about, examining details of stone, wood and metalwork, seeing for the first time the inside of a house that had belonged, he guessed, to the merchant class of Gondor. Suddenly he realised that Legolas had found where the garden tools were kept, had discovered a watering can, and was busy taking care of the plants and the small trees in their troughs. Gimli stepped out from the shade of the verandah and watched him. He was so absorbed in his work that it was some time before he noticed the dwarf.
'Maybe the people will return,' said Legolas; 'or new owners found, probably soon, now the war is over. It will not take much to keep the plants well till then.'
'Your hands will be best to tend them, and 'tis a pleasant place surely. It should not stand empty long.' Legolas stood still in the middle of the courtyard, watering can in hand.
'For the first time, I think I could live, for a while at least, in this city of stone.'
'But the halls of your father are stone of the mountain -- how is this different?'
'I know: yet they feel like the forest, and this does not.'
'Elves!' said Gimli softly.
Legolas' grey eyes flashed.
'You were glad to stay among the trees of Lorien.'
'True,' said Gimli; 'Though Lorien is like no other forest. And I could live here also, among these strong rocks. And our help could still be of use below; so why not remove here? It wants but little to make it habitable again. A dwarf can keep holiday only for so long! Ach! Nonsense! We are guests in a fine house. It would be discourtesy...'
His words trailed into silence as he wondered why he suddenly wished to leave the companionable house and work in this lonely corner of the city.
Legolas resumed his tending of the plants, for it grieved him to see the little trees wilting in their urns. There should be green things growing, either to welcome the return of those who had lived here before, or to offer a greeting to someone made homeless by the burning in the Pelennor or elsewhere in the city. Now Gimli followed him as though drawn by a magnet, watching as he examined the plants and gave them water. Suddenly Legolas turned to him and said;
'You do not rush in and make my mistakes, dear Gimli. I will not need to scold you for washing the plants away with overmuch water, or any other addle-pated thing!'
'Forgive my harsh words, Legolas. I was glad of your help, though it is not work for hands such as yours, and you frightened me by putting yourself into danger.'
'You were right to scold. I did not realise the danger, and I deserved all you said;' -- he smiled suddenly; -- 'Even if I did not understand a word of it! There, that's done. The plants will be well enough for a while. Shall we go back up?'
They closed all the doors they had opened, and fastened the gates behind them, leaving the empty house to dream in the sunlight, and went back up by the steep ways of the city to the house where they were lodged with their companions. This was a large guest house on the prestigious fifth level, where the owners were glad to receive such distinguished visitors, after recent times that had seen only dwindling trade. When the others came in, they exchanged news of their doings, and Legolas and Gimli described the deserted house in the quiet corner of the city.
Sam said he liked the sound of the place, and wondered who had lived there, whether they might come back; whether someone could go and stay there -- To keep the place alive, so to speak.
'I know where we might ask,' said Pippin; 'There's an Office of Property Records, or some such name. I passed it the other day.'
'Then let's go there -- after luncheon!' said Merry.
'First things first;' said Gimli with a smile.
And so it was that later the same afternoon Pippin found himself leading quite a deputation to the House of Records, Legolas and Gimli bemused to find that the hobbits had somehow decided that the deserted house was meant for them and that matters must be arranged.
And such was the standing of the Fellowship in the city that they could have received all they cared to ask for that the city could by any means grant, or so it seemed.
Pippin soon found the right officials, and it was established that the house was indeed ownerless. The Warden in charge read through the entries in his ledger with a grave face, and though nothing was said, they all guessed at some tragedy of the war. It seemed that this official was empowered to have some of Faramir's household start work on making the dwelling ready the next day, so Legolas and Gimli were swept off again by the hobbits, having contributed barely a dozen words apiece to the proceedings, with Sam making up a shopping list for the next morning's market aloud as they went.
On returning to the guest house, they found that Gandalf and Frodo had come back from their day's conference with the King and the chief men of the city, and so could be told, in differing simultaneous versions, of what had gone on through the day. By the time the deserted house, the falling wall, the stairs, the woman with the two boys, the trees and the spring in the rock had all been thoroughly confused, no-one seemed ready to admit to knowing who had first thought of finding a new home for Legolas and Gimli, though Merry and Pippin chose to maintain that it was Sam, because of his concern for the neglected plants and trees.
By the end of their evening meal, Frodo had laughingly given up any pretence of understanding the tale, and Sam caught Gandalf eyeing the elf and dwarf with what he described to himself as a 'very old-fashioned look'. But Sam sympathised with their wish to work for the good of the city, even while they were honoured guests enjoying a time of rest and recovery, and felt inclined to lend a hand himself.
As the daylight faded, the large ground floor room at the front of the guest house began to fill with visitors, people whom the hobbits had met in the city, calling in after the day's work. Legolas looked at the darkening sky: soon he would walk out to watch the stars from the ramparts of the city, as he had done most nights since their arrival -- but people would insist on talking to him, and he could do no less than respond courteously, while the stars came out and the hall grew noisier and more crowded.
Eventually someone started tuning a fiddle, and the sound was greeted with enthusiasm. In no time at all, an impromptu party was well under way; beer and wine were being ordered, and someone with a tin whistle joined the fiddler. Legolas turned from talking to an off-duty member of the guard to see a woman handing to Gimli a small gittern which the dwarf began to tune, bending his head close to the instrument to be able to hear.
It had not really occurred to him before that the dwarves might like music or make music, despite the song or chant of Moria that Gimli had sung (admittedly in a rather fine voice) for the Fellowship: music was such a distinctively elvish thing. Yet he could see from the way Gimli handled the instrument that it was familiar to him.
Once satisfied with the tuning, the dwarf struck a plangent chord on the metal strings, and as if this was an expected signal, there came a scraping of chair legs on the tiles and a general pushing aside of furniture. Fiddler and whistle-player appeared beside Gimli, and a discussion of repertoire seemed imminent. Gandalf passed behind the elf, making for the door, and Legolas was convinced that he heard a muttering to the effect of 'let battle commence!' before the wizard disappeared. Looking back across the room towards Gimli again, he saw that the dwarf was now ensconced on one of the deep window sills, with the other two musicians on stools set on top of one of the large tables that had been pushed against the wall.
They seemed to have agreed that the fiddler, a man of the city, should lead off, with the other two joining in as they picked up the melody. He clearly made a good choice, for in no time at all a dance had begun which the hobbits and a few men of Rohan who were present soon recognised as a hay, though the people of Minas Tirith had a different name for it. Pippin favoured the elf with this information as Sam and Merry, and even Frodo, went gaily past, weaving through the line down the hall and back again. The Pippin also joined the line, and after a couple of turns up and down, shot off the end with a leap and a screech, which evidently gave the overcrowded line the signal to resolve itself into a circle, or as near a circle as might be, given the shape of the room, which allowed more people to join in, but left little space for anything else.
Legolas rose from his seat and edged towards the door. He saw that Gimli was keeping an eye of the fiddler, and adding an accompaniment to the swirling melody with growing confidence while the whistle-player contributed a counterpoint of rustic virtuosity.
There was high good humour everywhere; a clapping of hands, tapping of feet, laughter and loud voices. The room was growing very warm too: windows were flung open, and the sound of mirth and music floating out into the streets drew more people in. Legolas stood in the arch of the doorway, unnoticed in the shadowy recess, and felt again the sense of stifling and oppression that had come upon him from time to time since he had entered the city. The noise and the heat made things worse, and yet he wished that he did not shrink from such honest, vulgar merriment. He almost wanted to be asked to stay, rather than have it accepted that he would not wish to do so.
He saw one of the men of Rohan, very young and but newly recovered from wounding in the Battle of the Pelennor, and soon tired, leave the hay and climb up to Gimli's window sill. Gimli handed him the gittern, jumped down, and was bundled into the dance by the hobbits.
Legolas fled into the cool street, and strode swiftly away, followed by the strains of another lively dance tune. Before he found a stair to climb higher in the city, he heard a wonderful laugh amid the music -- deep, rich and resonant: it could only be Gimli's. His step faltered and he almost turned back, but the thought of the lamplit heat of the room dissuaded him. A waxing moon sailed among light bars of cloud above the vales of Anduin, and the air of the late spring night was mild and sweet, but Legolas wandered restlessly and the stars were veiled from his eyes by his own reproaches. He climbed to the walkway on the rampart, and leaned on the parapet, looking down over the city, where many lights burned and the sounds of life floated up -- voices, music, domestic animals: but his heart said to him You have shared their travels and danger, fought beside them, kept watch over them or rested under their guard in wild places, and now you feel yourself too much of a lord to share their pleasure.
His hands gripped the edge of the stone, still warm from the day's sunshine. With no dangers now to fill his mind, he felt keenly the fact that he was alone of all his kind in the great stone city of men since the sons of Elrond had departed. Gimli was alone too, yet seemed quite at ease and at home. And that was another trouble: today he himself had spoiled the deepening friendship he had found with Gimli.
Already in the short time of peace they had enjoyed, the dwarf had been about the city in search of tools for stone and metal work, and had found one or two of dwarvish make and a few good pieces from Dale. Apart from the astonishing beard, he looked like a very short but powerful man, and as for the hobbits, Legolas thought with a sudden surge of affection, they could make themselves at home anywhere, -- even on the very edge of ruin, as Gandalf had said.
Then how was it that he could not join in, fit in? He felt it now as a fault in himself, and could not rest, so, finding little pleasure in walking out in the night, he went back down to the house, where the party was still going on, and slipped back in unnoticed. The dancing seemed to have stopped, to be replaced by song; a number of men singing in a sonorous harmony of a kind unknown to him, using the Common Speech, so far as he could tell, though with a very strong accent.
The singers were seamen of the Ethir Anduin, who had come with Aragorn's army on the ships, and their song hummed like sea wind in the cordage. Then another voice joined in the chorus, and Legolas froze with his hand on the banister rail: Gimli's resonant bass, rich and warm, an easy fifth below the lowest of the others, carrying music along like an ocean swell. Even then he could not turn and go into the hall.
Hearing the door open and the music spill out more loudly, he darted up the stairs and went to his room, unheard and unseen. Once in bed he lay stretched flat, hands folded over the end of his breastbone, listening until the party broke up and the house fell silent.
It seemed that the the open-eyed repose of elven kind would never come to him, but he must have slept at last, for suddenly the sky was light, and steps in the street told of another day beginning in Minas Tirith, and voices in the corridor of hobbits in search of breakfast. There was nothing to do but get up and join them -- and find that he was the last to go down. Naturally everyone started telling him what a good evening he had missed, though they did not question that he would always prefer watching the stars to taking part in what Pippin referred to as a 'proper hooley'.
Gimli, between taking bites from an extremely thick slice of brown bread and butter, was exclaiming over three young women from the Pelennor (Who must surely now be homeless, though you would not think it to see them) -- who had shown the company some of their local dances.
'Short skirts, Legolas!' he said; 'And petticoats, so many that a woman of our people would do murder to possess but half the number for feast days! And white stockings, and little backless slippers of embroidered leather, with heels that clack like hammers in our workshops!'
'How could they dance like that, and not have one slipper -- er -- slip?' wondered Merry.
Gandalf decided to make a contribution.
'That's womenfolk;' he said, and started to fill his pipe.
Sam decided that Legolas' face in the middle of all this was 'a picture'.
'I do enjoy a bit of a shindig myself, now and again;' he confided to the elf; 'But I'll allow it's not to everyone's taste.' Then he went on:
'I hope they get your house ready soon, I'd like to see it, but I think we'll be busy today.'
'Of course you shall see it, Sam;' Legolas replied; 'Whenever you like.'
'What will you be doing today, Legolas?' asked Gimli from across the table.
Legolas gave him a blank look.
'I thought we were going down to where we were yesterday.'
'Ah! But you're not dressed for it.'
Then Legolas realised that Gimli was wearing his old clothes from the journey (though not of course his mail coat) while he himself had put on the city clothes he had worn the day before.
'Then I shall change;' he replied shortly.
'Very well,' Gimli snapped back; 'And you'll need gloves --'
He suddenly recalled a pair of gauntlets tucked into the elf's belt during their travels, but rarely worn, even on Barazinbar.
'Have you still those gauntlets?'
'And look you, NO MORE NONSENSE!'
The hobbits exchanged a round of 'here we go again' looks as Legolas jumped up and left. Gimli's only comment was a gruff sort of 'Hmph' as he took an apple from the bowl on the table before departing in his turn.
'What a pair!' said Pippin; 'I thought they were friends now?'
'Oh, they are;' said Sam; 'They just don't quite believe it yet.'
Gandalf blew a couple of approving smoke rings that flew around Sam's head for a whole minute, changing colour as they went.
When Legolas came down from his room again, wearing his old leather breeches, high boots and jerkin, Gimli, waiting for him under the courtyard arch, nodded a grudging approval, shouldered his bundle of stone-working tools, and stalked off. But it seemed to him that elvish beauty only shone the brighter in drab costume, like a fine jewel in a plain setting.
They did not speak until they came down to the second level, and saw people already at work bringing goods to the deserted house. A few words with the grey-haired man in charge assured them that things were being done well, and that their belongings would be brought down from the guest house later. They also learned where they should ask for anything they might require in future.
Leaving the men to their work they went on down to the lowest level. The whole north-western angle of the city still seemed very quiet.
'It is as we have heard;' said Gimli; 'The number of people here is much fallen off from earlier days, and this corner, which must always be darkest, seems to have suffered most.'
They reached the bottom and found a few more people there than on the previous day, still trying to recover things from their homes and workshops. Some of them seemed scarcely seemed to know who had come among them though they looked at the elf in barely-hidden wonder, and listened to whispered explanations from their friends. But people were glad to follow as Gimli organised their work, and told them where they should apply for the assistance that was being made available to all who had suffered in the siege. Legolas took his instructions with the rest, hearing the gruff kindliness in the dwarf's words to the unfortunate folk.
When Gimli had set the women to find baskets in which to carry away rubble to a clear space by the foot of the outer wall, he took Legolas in under the first cracked and leaning doorposts and started work.
Despite his care, there were soon a few falls of stone and an inordinate amount of dust everywhere. Legolas, obediently wearing the gauntlets, fumbled the removal of a large stone block as his long hair fell across his face. Gimli shook his head, muttering 'Elves' under his breath.
'Come here, Legolas, sit down.'
Acknowledging the discovery of more 'elvish nonsense' he obeyed and was surprised when Gimli stepped behind him, drew all his hair back, and quickly worked it into a single braid which he tied with a short leather thong from the store of useful bits and pieces kept in the many pockets of his heavy jerkin. Against the backs of his hands, Gimli felt a sudden warming of the usually cool skin of the elf, and could even see a faint flush of colour in the fair neck, a silent reaction to the reproof he felt.
Gimli secured the ends of the thong and slapped Legolas lightly on the shoulder.
'There, that's more workmanlike!'
'Thank you;' said Legolas quietly, wondering why he had not thought of it himself.
He resumed his work, but Gimli's hands remembered the silken softness of elvish hair all day, whether he grasped broken stone or splintered timber.
The city people worked steadily, not speaking much, even the children helping to carry the smaller rubble away in little rush baskets, hoping to be rewarded by the recovery of a few treasured toys.
At midday the widow and her friend brought bread, cheese, milk and apples; and elf and dwarf sat on stone blocks in the sunshine and shared a meal with the poor folk.
Suddenly the widow's younger son started crying. He had found his favourite toy horse in a bundle of things rescued by his mother, but one of its legs had been broken off.
The mother tried to quiet him, but Gimli, seeing the problem, asked for the toy. The child cried more loudly, frightened by the unfamiliar appearance of the dwarf, but Gimli spoke to him gently, and Legolas wondered at the change in the deep voice that yesterday had seemed like to shake the mountain.
Gimli examined the little wooden horse, then, looking around him, found a piece of timber splintered from one of the house beams. He took a short knife from his tool bag, and set about carving a new leg for the toy. Then he carefully cut off the end of the broken leg and, asking Legolas to hold the toy for him, produced a small boring tool from the bag and made a hole in the wooden body in to which the new leg was soon firmly pegged.
A few more minutes work saw to the finishing, by which time the dwarf was surrounded by a silent circle of fascinated watchers, not the least of whom was Legolas as he saw Gimli's great strength harnessed to such slight work with easy precision, and honoured the kindliness that had moved him to help.
The little boy, tears forgotten, stared in solemn round-eyed wonder at the restoration of his toy, and when his mother prompted him gently to thank the kind dwarf, the child flung his arms around Gimli's neck, kissed his cheek, and then very timidly stroked the dwarf's bushy beard.
Gimli's response was a deep chuckle which sent the startled child running back to his mother, who looked quite dismayed by her son's impudence. But Gimli laughed aloud and said:
'He'll go a long way to see a finer beard, even if it is the worse for dust today!'
Everyone returned to work in a better humour, and by mid-afternoon all but one of the damaged houses had been made safe. It seemed a good time to stop work, go home, and enjoy the rest of the warm summer day. Gimli said nothing further about addle-pated elves, and Legolas felt more at ease.
The little courtyard house now stood silent in the sunshine. Someone had oiled the hinges of the gates; a well-damped fire burned in the kitchen range, and the larder shelves had been stocked.
Looking around more carefully, they realised that water from the spring could be fed through a carefully constructed stone channel with little sluices into cisterns in both the washhouse and the kitchen, a great means of saving the work of filling and carrying pails or jugs. Not only that, there was an iron set-pot, built into the kitchen range, which had been filled, and the water was already well heated. When Gimli discovered this, he took a few more logs from the basket, opened the flue a little and stirred the fire.
'This is all very well contrived;' he said; 'Hot water! Just the thing for the end of a dusty day. I shall take a bath.'
Legolas agreed it was a good idea, but bathing in hot water was not part of a silvan elf's way of life: cold was the only way.
'All the more hot for me;' said Gimli, grinning happily.
And they went off to see the rest of the arrangements while the fire did its work.
All the personal things that had been brought for them from the guest house had been left in the smaller living room, so the first decision had to be who would take which bedroom. Gimli felt obliged to defer to Legolas as a king's son, but Legolas said no. Since elves needed little sleep and often preferred to be outdoors at night, Gimli should have the best room, and he the next. So that was agreed.
The people of the city had been quick and generous in providing the travellers with a choice of new clothes, and someone, they presumed Gandalf, and perhaps the King, had ensured that their work produced appropriate results.
Legolas found a coat of fine emerald velvet, cut in imitation of his archer's gambeson, and decorated with fine silver threadwork.
'I never saw this before, or asked for such a thing, but it looks very well and as if it will fit.'
Gimli bustled around, gathering what he wanted for his bath, and Legolas turned his attention to the trees and other plants in the courtyard and on the terrace. The water he had given them the day before had already worked an improvement and everything was noticeably greener. He carried on his gardening, looking forward to blossoms on the terrace trees in a very few days, and heard Gimli singing softly to himself in his own tongue as he bathed. The dwarvish language, considered by elves to be harsh and unmusical, sounded unexpectedly pleasant, even soothing.
Legolas rinsed his hands in the cold water from the spring, for now he had earth as well as dust on his fingers after pulling weeds from the urns and plant pots. He paused in mid-movement, struck by an odd observation. Like almost all elves, he had grown up believing, without thinking about it, that dwarves must be muddy, grubby creatures since they preferred to dwell underground, and worked at mining and forging, and this common prejudice had continued alongside the daily observation that this was certainly not true of Gimli, and, as he recalled Bilbo's lavishly detailed descriptions of Thorin and his expedition, probably not true of any dwarves. Once freed from the hardship of the quest, Gimli was a fastidious as any elf, and here was he, Legolas, still covered in dust, earth on his hands, while Gimli made haste to bathe.
The elf laughed aloud, scooped water from the basin, and splashed it over his face, then stood still again, blinking water off his eyelashes, and wondering what else there was that he had 'always known' about the dwarves that was simply not so.
'Your turn;' said Gimli.
He had emerged from the house dressed in some sort of rough brown robe with a cord girdle that made him look like an animated sack. He had obviously washed his hair and beard, turning their bright brown colour of autumn oak-leaves almost to black. The effect was so extraordinary that Legolas spluttered with ill-suppressed giggles, and had to pretend it was due to the cold water.
Gimli looked him up and down haughtily, sat on the courtyard bench, and began to comb out his beard. It would soon dry in the afternoon sunshine and warm mild breeze. Legolas retreated to collect his change of clothes, still fighting the impulse to laugh, and returned to take his own bath, filling the wooden tub with cold water from the cistern. But if he did not want water heated by the kitchen fire, the towels Gimli had left warming on the rail before it were welcome afterwards.
When he emerged into the sunshine again, barefoot and wearing only the fine green cloth breeches that matched the velvet coat, he found that Gimli had investigated the larder and set out a meal on the courtyard table: a cold meat pie, fruit, bread, honey and a stone flagon of wine.
The dwarf's hair and beard were resuming their proper colour and bushy amplitude, like autumn leaves in the sunlight, and he looked himself again.
Legolas sat down with his back to the sun, then suddenly stood up and stretched, bending and straightening his arms and rippling all the muscles of his body like a cat and sighing contentedly. Gimli looked up at the tall, strong, pale-skinned form with a dwarf's vision which sees below the surface, and noted the asymmetry of arms, shoulders and torso that marks the experienced archer in his very bones. He also noted, with an odd mixture of feelings, that the long elvish limbs which had once looked so spindly and even awkward now seemed elegant and graceful in their lean smooth strength. It was a change of vision that had been coming on gradually since Moria, until now he could scarcely remember how odd elves had looked to him all his life till then.
Legolas sat down again and thanked his friend for setting out the food. They ate in comfortable silence, with only the gentle music of the spring for company.
'Shall we go up and see the hobbits?' said Gimli after a while: 'No doubt they'll have plenty to tell.'
'If they don't come visiting here first;' answered Legolas, smiling; 'Yes, let's go up.'
He finished his wine and went off to dress, then stopped halfway across the courtyard, turned back, and tidied away the plates and remains of the meal. Gimli just grinned at him, eyes twinkling, and set about restoring the braids of his beard.
By the time they were ready, the sun was sinking and grey clouds were drifting in from the south-west.
'Rain before midnight;' said Legolas, sniffing the air.
They put their grey cloaks on over their new clothes (Gimli's a deep reddish-purple colour with black and gold work in the borders).
At the guest house they found another lively evening already well under way, with music and song, though this time the tables remained down the middle of the long room. Frodo sat in an armchair beside the hearth where logs were laid but not lit, presiding over the scene like the head of a large, noisy but happy family. Legolas and Gimli were warmly welcomed and exchanged tales of the day with the hobbits. Legolas told them of Gimli's kindness to the child and delighted in the telling.
Soon someone called on the dwarf to join the singing of the men of the Ethir again, and Gimli crossed the room to them. There was no doubt that his fine deep voice suited their music well, and their powerful harmonies filled the room.
Legolas found himself fascinated by the dwarf's voice. He thought it was like a voice of stone, but stone warmed by ages in the light of the sun. It seemed he could feel his own chest vibrate in sympathy with the sound, and the sensation so piqued his quick and innocent sensuality that he stepped behind Gimli where he sat on the singers' bench and laid his hands on his shoulders to find out if he could feel the same resonance in the dwarf's strong frame; and indeed he could. Gimli needed only the briefest sideways glance to confirm who touched him, and raised his right hand to lay it over Legolas' as he sang.
The girls from the Pelennor were not there, but there was mirth enough as other singers and musicians took their turn at entertaining the company.
The music grew livelier as more beer and wine were consumed. Two women of the city, tall and dressed in plain blue gowns and starched white kerchiefs, and who looked like sisters, joined the musicians with wordless vocalising, the mouth music of their people, intricate and irresistibly rhythmical, and soon people were dancing in the little floor space available.
Then Sam sent the company into fits of laughter by starting to play the spoons -- laughter that turned to admiration when those who tried to copy him found they could not. Then a piper joined in the din. Gimli had noticed the distinctive movement of his elbow working the bellows, and now laughed aloud to see how Legolas, who had not heard the instrument before, jumped at the sound of drone and chanter; but moments later he was astonished to see that the elf had apparently taken leave of his senses and had not only joined in the confused dancing, but had chosen for himself the only clear surface remaining in the room: the table top.
For one shocked moment, the music faltered; then Pippin uttered a loud yell of encouragement, and Legolas made his way down the full length of the tables in a flurry of delicate leaping steps, travelling from side to side, avoiding all the obstacles of dishes, jugs and goblets, arms outflung in seemingly weightless poise, bright hair rippling.
Then he turned and danced back towards Frodo, who passed a hand over his eyes as if he could not believe what he was seeing, before turning again.
By this time some people were deliberately trying to put things in his way, but they were no match for elvish nimbleness, and the contest ended in victory for the elf, who sprang off the end of the last table having touched not a single plate or cup. Everybody cheered, even Gimli, baffled though he was by this reckless exhibition after the elf had avoided the merrymaking the night before.
When the party started to break up, and they were going home in the first of the rain, Legolas still seemed to be in tearing spirits, and exclaimed softly from time to time 'Samwise!' or 'Spoons!' and occasionally, as a more generalised variation, 'Hobbits!'
After a time Gimli could stand no more of it, and said:
'If I didn't know better, I'd have to say you were drunk!'
Legolas stood still and said nothing for what seemed a very long time, until Gimli felt almost anxious.
'No;' said the elf at last; 'Not with wine, but drunk with music and mirth!'
'Is that what music does to you? It can feel like intoxication, I know.'
'Music has great power over all elves. And that music was like a first taste of strong ale!'
Legolas laughed softly and danced a few noiseless steps along the empty street. Gimli wanted to tell him how beautiful he had looked in the yellow lamplight: a spirit of pure joy, music made visible; but could not find the words, and so they went home, the dwarf to sleep and the elf to sit under the colonnade on the terrace and listen, as he said, to the trees growing as they drank the rain.
The next day dawned fresh and bright after a night of showers.
'That should have laid the dust;' said Gimli, looking out of the bedroom window across the terrace.
Legolas shook one of the long overhanging sprays of creeper and sprinkled him with raindrops.
'It has made all the plants grow wonderfully.' Gimli looked around and saw that it was so: the terrace garden was thick with leaves and blossom.
'I think these plants know they have a wood-elf to care for them now.'
They were surprised to hear the sound of the lower gate opening and closing, and went out into the courtyard to see who would appear. It was Sam, with a large basket and a smug expression.
'Here's a surprise;' said Gimli; '--And a pleasant one.'
'And a present for you;' said Sam, lifting the cloth that covered the basket, to reveal fresh mushrooms. '--I'll even cook them for you, though I can't stay long.'
'Blessed Sam Gamgee!' said Gimli, who had begun to share the hobbits' addiction to mushrooms; '--Where did you get these, so early in the morning?'
'Aha!' said Sam; '--You remember the young ladies from the Pelennor who were up at the house the other day? Well, one of them told me where to look -- and not far from the gate, either, despite all the mess! There were so many that not even a party of hobbits could eat them all.'
Once in the kitchen, Sam built up the fire and started work, and soon a delicious aroma of frying mushrooms floated out into the courtyard. Sam bustled around, finding out where things were kept, setting the table, stirring the mushrooms in the pan. He remembered his own two little pans, carried so far and discarded at the last, and said aloud:
'But it's still a long way home, and with a much better chance of something to cook.'
'What was that, Sam?' asked Gimli, and was told the story of the pans.
The dwarf, saying nothing, resolved to make a new set for Sam.
Legolas thanked Sam as he set the breakfast before them.
'Do you never rest from caring for others, Sam?'
'No more than you two, seemingly;' he replied, looking at their working clothes; '--Though I'll stop long enough to take breakfast with you.'
Before he left, he was given a quick tour of the house and terrace, and said that he must come back to lend a hand with the weeding. He thought that the place was pleasant enough, but a bit near the mountain for his liking.
When he had gone, elf and dwarf sat a little longer enjoying the morning sunshine; then Legolas said:
'You must turn me into a workman again, Gimli;' and swept his hair back over his shoulders.
Only his usual fine top braids were in place.
'Shall I learn to be a less addle-pated elf, do you think?'
'After last night, I'm surprised there's a single thought left in your head, let alone any common sense!' Legolas took the thong that had tied his hair the day before from the pocket of his jerkin and silently handed it back over his shoulder to Gimli. The dwarf drew his friend's long silky locks into a neat close plait, and Legolas became utterly still under his hands, lulled almost to dreaming. Gimli ran his broad right hand over the sleek bright head and down the lustrous pale gold rope of hair, and in his heart he said Thou art fair and brave beyond my words to tell, and my life is safe in thy keeping.
He tied the little leather thong with a neat knot, and Legolas remained motionless before him.
The elf started, as if from sleep.
'You were right, friend Gimli; not a single thought left!'
They went down the stairs to the street, and Legolas paused and said:
'I can smell burning. Wood -- and something else.'
They crossed the street, climbed up to the parapet and looked over, but could see nothing strange. The elf must have caught the smoke from one of the many domestic hearths in the city, or from some workshop. But as they turned towards the entrance to the steps that would take them down to the lower level, they heard a woman's voice cry out shrilly somewhere below, cutting through the noises of the city like a knife. Seconds later there came a rumble and a crash of stone, followed after a moment's silence by a dreadful scream.
The two leaped forward and down the narrow turning steps as fast as they could go, Gimli leading, ever surer-footed on stone even than the elf. When they reached the bottom they saw the widow and the other people of the lower street, either outside, or running towards, the last damaged house, from which rose a cloud of white dust and a trail of darker smoke. An old man was trying to prevent the widow from entering the ruins. Legolas and Gimli ran up to them, and soon discovered that the woman's younger son, the five-year-old whose toy Gimli had mended, had run into the house, which had then collapsed. The widow was crying out that the boy had seen a little dog go into the house and had run in after it, but no one else had seen the animal.
Gimli took charge, and everyone stood back. He climbed over the sill of a vanished window, and started to make his way in.
The fallen stone and timber seemed to have settled firmly, and he called Legolas in after him. They could see no trace of the boy until they came to the half-buried doorway of an inner room at the back of the house, where the smell of smoke was strongest. A little of the roof remained, hanging insecurely above the mass of wreckage. Gimli moved cautiously, squinting through gaps, and caught a glimpse of the red cloth of the boy's coat. There was no sign of movement.
He eyed the stone and timber, and began to move pieces carefully, passing them back to Legolas.
The little group of people waited in the street in a fearful silence, broken only by the mother's sobbing. A few small stones fell rattling and timber creaked. A large stone lintel had fallen across the doorway and jammed fast. Even Gimli's strength could not move it, for there was not room to get a good hold or leverage. The dwarf eyed the narrow gap.
'I cannot pass through, and climbing over the top without preparation will surely bring down the rest of the roof; but you, Legolas, you might.'
The elf looked doubtful, but the mother's cry still sounded in his head in the silence, and he crouched down, though fearful of the weight of stone above him, and found that he could just slide through under the lintel on his stomach where Gimli's barrel-chested frame would not go.
Scratched and dusty, he crawled through into the dark cavity beyond, and quickly saw one little outflung hand under the stone. He touched it and already the fingers seemed chill.
He set to work as fast as he could, but it seemed an age before he uncovered the small body, while Gimli and the menfolk worked together to clear a safer way into the room.
At last the elf held the child in his arms, and the others outside froze in despair, hearing his soft wail of grief when he knew for certain that the boy was dead.
Soon the way was open for him to pass the little corpse to Gimli and then climb from the ruin. So the mother received her dead son from the arms of the dwarf, while the elf followed, tears running unheeded through the dirt on his face.
The woman, now unable even to weep, took the child to her breast while her family gathered round her.
Someone thanked Legolas and Gimli for recovering the body. Gimli made a halting answer, saying that they had worked too slowly. One of the old men said no, why should they have troubled with the ruins of an empty house? Then the little group turned away to the home where the woman was staying, the other boy clinging, shocked and uncomprehending, to his mother's skirts. Elf and dwarf were left alone. Gimli sat down on a stone block and wept. Legolas went down on one knee beside him and took hold of his hands, and only then saw that his own were cut and bleeding, his gloves forgotten in his haste to reach the child.
Gimli touched the elf's hands gently, and his tears fell on them. Legolas bit his lip, fighting his own tears, saying inwardly No words about careless elves today, my friend, or I shall knife you. But Gimli said nothing, for his touch was simply to honour the elf's work to save the child, and his heart was too full of grief for words.
Children are yet more precious than gold to the dwarves, though few of other races understand this. A dwarf without wealth is wretched indeed; one who loses a mate is solitary no matter how wealthy; but one who loses a child is a living desolation, and Gimli could not believe otherwise of men. The two stayed there in the street together for a while, until the ringing of the tower bell recalled them to the world, and they realised that the time was past noon. Gimli spoke at last.
'Still the Shadow lingers. This is a city of victory, of peace -- and the little one dies!'
Legolas shivered in the sunshine and stood up, running his right hand jerkily down the length of his left arm, and repeating the gesture to the other side, trying to wipe from his body the memory of the child's limp form and lolling head.
'Let us go home.'
Gimli got up, and they returned to their quiet sunny courtyard. He poured wine for them from a stone bottle in the larder, but Legolas scarcely tasted his, and went to sit under the leaf-shaded colonnade on the terrace, trying to travel in his mind to the comfort of the greenwood. He did not notice when Gimli got washed, changed his clothes, and went out, closing the iron gates carefully behind him so as not to break his elvish dreams.
Legolas started awake almost two hours later as the dwarf returned and he heard the tread of booted feet in the courtyard. Coming back to reality with an unpleasant jolt, Legolas hurried through the archway and saw Gimli setting something down on the table outside the kitchen.
'Gimli, where have you been?'
Gimli turned at the sound of his voice, surprised to see him still in his old clothes, and quickly realising also that he was in what seemed to the dwarf an unelvish state of distress.
'I have been to see the people below;' he said; '--To find out the time and custom of burial in this place. The old man -- he is the child's great-grandfather -- told me. He seems to me a worthy citizen, and it is a hard fate that he has lived to see this hour of victory and yet lose three generations of the men of his line.'
Legolas stared at him with dark blank eyes, as if he did not understand what he was being told. He saw the dwarf soberly and formally dressed in plain dark brown, with the traditional deep dwarvish hood, and began to grasp what he had been doing. As Legolas stood and stared at him, Gimli continued:
'The child will be buried at the third hour before noon tomorrow. The burial ground lies outside the walls of the city, opposite the very place where he died, though of course the way thither lies through the great gate. The people of their sort commonly use wooden grave markers, but they will have stone if they can get it. Therefore I have chosen this block, fallen from the wall in the battle, and well finished, and will cut it for him now. I have tools for such work. And the people ask that I should come to the burial, and you also, if you will.'
Legolas sat down suddenly on the bench as if his feet would no longer support him, and saw the white marble block that the dwarf had placed on the table.
'Yes, I will go with you;' he answered faintly, then looked up at Gimli; '--We have seen many dead, you and I: both friend and foe, foot soldiers and riders; Theoden the King, Halbarad -- so many -- but this -- there was never death in my heart till now, even when Gandalf fell. I thought there could be no darker time than that, but--'
He could not explain further. Gimli nodded gently.
'Yes, I know. And we could do no more than follow his funeral, though he were a king.'
Gimli went off to his room to put on his working clothes and leather apron again, and find the tools he needed. Legolas sat and looked at the white stone. It was not large, somewhat less than a foot square, and tapered slightly in thickness. The edges and corners were somewhat chipped and uneven, though the surface that lay uppermost was very smooth.
Gimli returned with the leather bag containing the tools he had collected during his days in the city. He also carried a scrap of coarse grey paper, which he tucked under one corner of the stone. He started taking things out of the bag: a leather roll holding chisels; a wooden mallet; and from a pocket of his jerkin a little wooden box that held charcoal sticks. Legolas simply sat and watched, feeling helpless and ignorant, knowing he must rely on the dwarf for guidance now that he had strayed into the dark heart of mortal life.
Gimli sat down facing the light, and set the stone before him, then looked round at Legolas, feeling for his bewilderment. He had a task to do, the elf had none, so:
'Keep thy hands busy and thy mind quiet, sweet elf;' he said gently; '--This will be a long evening's work, into the night. Food and drink would not come amiss.' Legolas seemed to wake up.
'Yes, surely. I'll see to it.'
It had not needed the long days of the Quest, when all had shared duties, to rid him of any ideas of what was or was not fitting for him to do; his years in the defence of Mirkwood had already seen to that, for all who fought the enemy had to be able to survive unaided at need. He turned and went into the kitchen, put more wood in the stove, set a pot of water to boil, and looked through the store of simple fare provided by the city; bread, cured meat, cheese, apples, honey, butter -- all good and plentiful; and a stock of dried herbs and other things for infusion, left by Sam when he brought the mushrooms. Legolas sniffed the various packages, and the scent of blackberries from one of them filled his mind with memories of happy days in the greenwood, tending the trees, or hunting deer with his kinsmen along the eaves of the forest. He set the packet by the stove, and prepared the platters while the water boiled.
He heard the occasional clink of metal as Gimli made ready for his work, and then, unexpectedly, the sound of the dwarf's deep voice, singing very softly in his own tongue a few staves of a strange tune. The song was quiet, yet rich and full, and the sound seemed to fall around the elf like a velvet mantle, and to speak of beauty growing out of darkness. Legolas stood spellbound for a long moment, but the song soon ceased, and he stepped out into the evening sunlight again with a platter of food and an earthen cup of the fragrant infusion for Gimli, who breathed the sweet vapour and said:
'What is this? The scent alone cheers my heart.'
'It is the scent of the wildwood as summer moves to autumn;' said Legolas; '--A gift from Master Samwise.'
'Tell me, Legolas, how do they count wisdom in that strange land of the Shire, if one such as he is named only half wise?'
'I cannot tell;' said the elf; '--Unless his naming was over-hasty, and never put right: or maybe it is a protection against pride.'
'Ah, that last I could believe, for he is protected.'
Gimli sipped the blackberry brew and smiled.
'My thanks to you, Legolas. This is just what I needed for inspiration.'
Legolas brought his own food and sat at the other side of the table. Gimli ate bread and honey, and just looked at the stone, touching the surface lightly from time to time. Legolas watched.
Then the dwarf took a deep breath, pushed the wooden platter aside and smoothed out the piece of grey paper. He laid it beside the stone, fixed a charcoal stick into a brass holder, and began to set out his work on the white surface of the stone. Now Legolas could see that the paper had the boy's name and his father's written on it in elvish characters.
Gimli's marking out seemed to consist of just a few very light lines and points, placing the shape of the names. At the lower right of the stone he marked something else, that the elf did not recognise, but he did not speak, and simply watched and waited. Gimli went over the work again, putting in more detail, wiping some of the marks away with a scrap of rough leather and correcting them. At last he selected a chisel, took up his mallet, and began to cut the stone. He worked steadily, the light double strokes falling with surprising speed and regularity, and gradually the shapes of elvish letters formed, cut cleanly into the stone.
'These letters are not easy to work;' he said, pausing to brush aside some dust and fine stone chips; '--Dwarf runes are better for carving, with straighter lines.'
Legolas nodded. It was not something he had ever considered, but it seemed to make sense.
From time to time Gimli would select a different chisel to suit the shape he was cutting, and Legolas started to look at the tools, seeing the various widths and angles of the edges, picking them up and comparing them; but Gimli found the movement of elvish hands at the edge of his vision distracting and said quietly:
'Don't fidget;' as if he were addressing some inattentive dwarf apprentice.
Legolas sat still, elbows on the table, chin resting on the backs of his interlaced fingers.
Gimli worked on, and the stone walls of the little courtyard house echoed with a silvery sound. The sun was sinking, and soon the great mountain cast its shadow over the city. The work was not half done. The dwarf laid down his tools, clenching and stretching his powerful hands.
'Now I need lamps, but it is not good to work through the change of light; so, another cup of that brew of Sam's, and let us see how many lamps or candles are in the house. Hmm. I must move and work in the kitchen; moths will fly into the flames out here.'
Legolas had already noticed a number of lamps on a shelf at the far end of the long kitchen, opposite the stove.
'I think you will have light enough;' he said; '--I'll see what I can find.'
Soon the room glowed with the warm light of thick wax candles, burning with steady flames in their glass shields. These were lamps meant for the main rooms of the house, made of fine crystal that gave a good light. Gimli seemed pleased when he brought in the stone, and asked Legolas to move only one of the lamps he had hung from the hooks set in the beams of the low ceiling.
When he started work again, Legolas sat as before and watched. Until now, he had only seen Gimli sharpen axe blades, knives or arrow heads, cut wood or repair other gear of war and travel: no, not only that; he had played the gittern with evident skill the other evening; and now the blunt-tipped fingers guided a chisel that cut letters in stone like a clean pen-stroke. How did he place and weight the innumerable little blows to form those clear and flowing lines? The art of stone cutting, which had seemed to be revealing itself to him, dissolved back into greater mystery.
Legolas leaned closer, then started back as a tiny flying stone chip stung his left eye. He raised a hand automatically, but Gimli said 'NO!' loudly enough to stop him, stood up quickly and walked around the table. He turned the elf's face toward the nearest lamp with one hand under his chin and then gently lifted the lid of the left eye which now streamed with tears. Legolas did not blink, and was utterly astonished when Gimli, having examined the eye carefully, suddenly drew very close, darted out the tip of his tongue -- and the piercing sting of the stone was gone. Gimli spat out the sharp and dangerous splinter, and grinned broadly at the look on the elf's face.
''Tis an ancient trick of miners and stone-cutters;' he said; '--Even the lightest fingers may be too heavy, and sight is too precious. Bathe your eye with the waters of the spring, and it will be better in minutes.'
'Thank you. I am sorry. Everything I do is a trouble to you, just more elvish nonsense.'
Gimli stared at him, hands on hips, deliberately exaggerating the dwarvish attitude.
'Now that IS nonsense. Such things happen all the time, so no more of it. Go and bathe your eye, then keep me company again. I may need your advice.' The last words were a surprise, so Legolas did as he was bidden without a word. Soon Gimli's mallet and chisel sounded again, and the dwarf smiled a little as he worked, even though it was hard to cut the flowing lines of the letters cleanly -- the elf's skin so soft, the fine bone beneath, smooth and strong -- it was pleasure simply to be near him and work without speaking. Legolas came back and resumed his place. By midnight the letters were done.
Gimli turned the stone about, examining each shape in the fall of the lamplight.
'It is not so well done, I fear; not ill, but not well.'
To Legolas' eyes, the deeply incised letters appeared as clear as fine penmanship, and he said so.
'Thank you, my friend. Yes, it is not ill done. But now comes the last mile, if you will help me.'
'Help you? How? We have some stonecraft in the greenwood, but not like this.'
'It is not stonecraft that I look for, Legolas, but your eye that sees the beauty of growing things. Come, sit here on the bench beside me, and see what I would cut in this space on the stone.'
Legolas moved closer to the dwarf and looked at the faint charcoal lines to which he pointed with one blunt finger, the squarish nail white with stone dust. At first the elf could not make out what the lines were intended to show, and glanced round to see Gimli watching him anxiously. He looked back, knowing it was important not to ask 'What is it?' and suddenly saw the answer, an answer that pierced his heart strangely with tenderness for the dwarf: he had outlined a small cluster of niphredil, such as he had seen springing from the forest floor in Lórien, mingling the frail nodding heads with closed buds that looked like tears falling for the dead child. Legolas looked back at him, lips parting with his soft intake of breath.
'Ah! Niphredil! How wisely you choose. The blossoms seem to weep.'
'Then I have drawn them well?'
He sounded eager for reassurance, and went on:
'There was so much to see in the Golden Wood, so much to learn, to remember, and all strange to my eyes. Look closely now, and tell me where memory has failed, where I have gone astray, before I begin to cut, for it cannot be put right but by starting afresh, and it is now past midnight. Here, take the charcoal and correct my work as you will.'
He offered the charcoal stick in its little brass holder, and Legolas took it automatically, but when he looked at the stone again he felt a surge of dismay. He could find no fault, but even if he had, felt no certainty of being able to correct it. If he said so, would Gimli believe him, or think it elvish condescension? How was it that a dwarf could make an elf feel so inadequate?
'I have no skill to alter what you have done;' he said, laying down the charcoal; '--Your memory does not deceive you. Your song called the flowers from the stone -- they will grow when you strike.'
Gimli's sharp breath and sudden straightening of the back shocked him. The deep-set eyes flashed with unexpected anger and suspicion.
'You understood the song? Where did you learn our language, elf?'
Legolas' shoulders drooped. He shook his head, uttering a soft dejected 'No!
'I did not know one word, but the meaning seemed to enter my heart.'
The yellow lamplight glittered and swam in a haze of tears, and he looked away, trying to hide his weakness from Gimli's keen gaze.
'Legolas, forgive me!'
The deep voice was soft again:
'I wound your gentleness with old suspicions that should never come between us.' His work-hardened right hand reached out and curved against the elf's cheek. A light sweep of the thumb brushed tears from silken gold-brown lashes.
'You judge my work kindly, and this is how I repay you! It is as I said: still shadows linger, even in our minds. Forgive me.'
Legolas could not speak, but leaned his face against Gimli's hand, raising his own left hand to cover the dwarf's, then drew it away so that he could place a kiss in the dusty palm.
'Ach! Sweet forgiveness! May it bless my work.'
The candles in the crystal lamps were starting to burn down and flicker. Recovering his composure, Legolas stood up.
'Without light there will be no work.' He went to the store cupboards to find more candles, while Gimli laid out the tools he would need to carve the flowers.
Soon the light strokes of the mallet, and the ringing of steel on stone, began again, and Legolas sat silent and still, watching as before. Inch by inch the fine leaf-blades, slender stems and nodding heads of niphredil grew on the face of the white stone block, until Legolas fancied that he saw them sway in the soft breeze of Lórien if a candle flame leapt or sank.
At last Gimli sat back from his work and stretched, then wiped the surface of the stone with the flat of his hand. The film of dust removed, the plant forms stood out, pure and graceful. Legolas rose to look, leaning lightly over Gimli's shoulder.
'Surely that is well done, whatever you say of the letters. Truly, I think these stone flowers stir as if they lived.'
Gimli twisted on the bench to look up at him.
Gimli drew a deep breath, released it slowly, and seemed satisfied. Then he took up yet another chisel from the collection laid out neatly on the leather roll, and worked quickly round the edge of the stone, taking out the chips and cracks.
'There! I have not the time or the means to polish it, but the surface is fair enough to serve. And it is more than three hours past midnight.'
In fact the sky was already growing light with the early dawn of summer. Legolas reached out and touched the stone, tracing the lettering and the flowers with his fingertips. Gimli watched with a smile that was hidden by his thick moustache. He was now satisfied that he had done his best in the circumstances, but for the elf there was no such comfort. He felt the silence of the night all around them, the city at rest under the watchful eyes of the guards; and down below, somewhere in the shadows, a house of death, where an old man and his grandson's widow kept vigil beside one more lost hope of Gondor.
Legolas stood up behind the dwarf, pressing his folded hands to his chest in an odd, awkward gesture, as if he felt some pain.
'You have a gift to bring, Gimli, that will please them in days to come, when the first sorrow is past. You understand mortal grief. What can I do?'
Gimli rose and looked at him, seeing the grey eyes dark and wide in wondering pain.
'You will come with me to the burial. You will look like a king's son. And the memory of your beauty and your sorrow will comfort them also as the years pass.' Legolas gazed at him doubtfully, wanting to believe him, and bowed his head slowly.
'And now I must rest;' said the dwarf: '--But first the hands must be busy again and quiet the mind. Do you see to the fire and put out the lamps, while I tidy my tools.'
Legolas moved to comply, glancing round all the time at the swift neatness of the dwarf as he put away the tools of his magical craft and swept up the dust and fragments of stone. Soon there was nothing on the table but the stone block, the leather tool roll, and the mallet, side by side, and the wooden platters with the remains of their meal. The last two lamps on the ceiling hooks shed a soft light. Legolas picked up the platters and moved towards the workbench by the sink, and Gimli reached out and took the last apple as he passed.
Dwarves! thought the elf with a sudden lifting of the spirits, As bad as hobbits if there's food uneaten.
A moment later an extraordinary sound stopped him in his tracks: a loud crunch like a blow struck in battle, hideous in the silence where only a faint crackle from the fire in the stove could be heard.
Legolas turned swiftly, to see Gimli offering him half of the apple. He had simply twisted it in two between his hands, down through the core, having caught his smile and guessed his thought.
'Hungry as a hobbit, eh, Master Elf? Well, share it -- it is juicy and sweet. But what troubles you?'
Legolas set down the plates and took the half apple. It was indeed juicy.
'It was the noise. It sounded like, like--'
He did not want to bring such memories into the quiet house.
'Ach! So it did! Elvish ears are so keen. I am sorry.'
Legolas dismissed the matter with a little wave of his hand, and took a bite of apple. Gimli licked juice from his fingers before turning his attention to his half of the fruit.
'There are good orchards somewhere hereabouts;' said the elf.
'Or there were;' said Gimli; '--After all that has happened, I fear there will be much replanting needed -- work for your folk, perhaps?'
'Yes indeed. Some of us have skill with orchard trees, some with the woodland sort. There will be work for all in the new age.'
'And a good thing too! But I have had enough of work for today. Will you take down a lamp for me? My arm will not reach so far!'
Legolas took the nearest lamp down from its hook with an easy stretch, while Gimli put his tools in his bag, slung it over his shoulder and picked up the stone. They walked side by side across the courtyard under a pale sky from which night was already fading, and Legolas opened the door to the dwarf's room under the shadow of the verandah. He went in and set the lamp on the table, then returned to the kitchen to take down the other lamp for himself while Gimli prepared for bed.
As soon as he was out in the courtyard and alone, Legolas felt the sorrow of the day return with new force. He could not stay out with the stars, even for what remained of the night, nor did he want to be alone under a roof of stone. The events of the day had disturbed his elvish certainties, and he would find no rest in the familiar paths of waking dreams.
With sudden unthinking resolve, he darted into the room he had chosen as his and opened the cedarwood chest at the foot of the bed. As much by touch as by sight, he found a soft white robe folded away at the bottom, flung off his clothes, put on the robe and shook his hair out of its working braid, and then, taking his lamp, padded barefoot along the verandah and whisked into Gimli's room before the dwarf returned from washing away the last dust of his labours in the back kitchen.
Gimli saw the light beyond his half-open door as soon as he stepped into the courtyard and hesitated, puzzled, then hurried across and stopped again, amazed, a couple of steps inside the room, by the tall white figure, lamp in hand, that faced him framed by the dimly glowing window.
For a long moment they stared at each other. Gimli felt compelled to say something.
'Will you walk out to view the stars like that?'
'No, this is for rest.'
Gimli sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed, unable to believe what was happening. Legolas had turned and was closing the curtain.
'Will you even shut out the stars?'
The wooden rings clashed faintly on the curtain pole and Legolas turned back to face him across the flame of the little lamp.
'Tonight I would shut out earth and stars, shut out all but thee.'
Gimli heard grief and loneliness in the soft elvish voice, the voice of an immortal who had held death in his arms and felt mortal despair for the first time. But he could only gaze and whisper:
'Thy beauty leaves me breathless.'
'Then I will hide it from thee;' said Legolas, unsmiling, and stepped forward.
So Gimli saw his fate come towards him on slim pale feet, scarcely less white than the robe that rippled and clung between the long legs of the elf as he walked.
Legolas put his candle on the wall bracket, lifted the bedclothes, and slid into the bed, where he lay stretched flat on his back and covered to his chin. Gimli still sat, astonished, yet not too much so to turn round and look down at the elf, who looked back with a pleading intensity. Gimli understood that this was not the moment to admire elvish beauty, nor the time to fear any elvish distaste for the sight of a naked dwarf. He took off his rough brown robe, let it fall to the floor, and put on his plain dwarvish nightshirt. Legolas just stared with the same expression, until Gimli lay beside him. Then his eyes closed slowly and opened again. Gimli thrust his left arm gently under the elf's neck, and felt the slim strong body creep timidly against him like a frightened child's.
'Hands of a dwarf, hold me. You bring beauty out of the darkness of stone. Help me to mortal sleep out of my elvish wakefulness. Let me share your nightly death and learn to wake again.'
The very strangeness of the words alarmed him and shocked his mind away from awakening desire. He had heard tales enough of what might happen if an elf came to one's bed (not that such tales ever said anything about elves and dwarves -- the other party was always a mortal) but, true or untrue, none of them resembled what was happening now, so he drew Legolas closer, in the bend of his arm, until the elf's head rested on his shoulder, against his thick beard. He laid his other arm gently round the strangely cool body, and held him firmly.
The elf seemed to be shivering slightly, trembling like a poplar leaf in a faint breeze. It was only the merest fine tremor, but from deep within his body, as disturbing as the first warning vibrations in the heart of a mountain when the work of the miners goes awry. Gimli did not fully understand, but he knew that the death of the child had been to Legolas as the ill-aimed stroke of the miner's pick.
How can this be? he thought; Here is no new knowledge, that men die, by many causes, at any age. Does he grieve so because it is a child?
He could not decide what to say, and instead stroked Legolas' back slowly, fingers aware of the archer's powerful muscles under the thin stuff of the gown. Legolas sighed, and his breathing seemed to slow a little. After a while Gimli asked softly:
'What is it that ails you, my friend? What is there here to harm the fair folk?'
For a moment it seemed that the elf would not reply, but then he put his arm around Gimli and started to speak in a low murmur, so quietly that Gimli was never sure that he had heard everything aright.
'I see mortal life pass by me, so swift, so frail, so often beautiful, so full of invention and courage; but it is like the waters of Nimrodel flowing through my hands. I cannot hold a moment of it. It is out reach, through a veil, in a mirror, the life of mortals that springs and dies and springs again and is new -- and all I know of it is the child, dead under the stones, and I feel that I am left behind by the stream, with a dead dream in my hand, in a world where there is nothing new, because it is immortal. I want to sleep and wake again, and be made new. The old man and the mother, they will not die, though the child did, will they?'
'Sometimes people do die, of grief and pain;' said Gimli; '--But mostly no, they will not die till their time comes.'
'They will sleep, and wake again, and a new day will come and bring its comfort.'
'Most like, if not soon. New grief has an open eye, Legolas, and the sleep you speak of does not come at bidding.'
'Yet how often have we seen those who have lost their friends and kin in battle fall into sleep and rise next day to fight again. And it must be so for all mortals, for they prosper and grow as we do not, despite all the weakness we see in them. I seem to see that their strength is in their frailty, and that makes me afraid for the life of my kind.'
Gimli was both deeply astonished and alarmed, and thought he had misheard, or misunderstood. Could Legolas truly be saying that the life of mortals might in some way surpass that of the elves? It was surely an idea that had never been entertained by an elf before, or by any other. He did not feel equal to questioning now, when he needed rest, yet the elf's words made a clear picture in his mind of one left behind by the river of life, and it was a picture that filled him with dismay, for he lived in that river of change, loss and renewal, and like others before him had wished to leave it and dwell on the unchanging shore.
He raised his hand and gently stroked Legolas' head, and caressed the angle of his brow and temple with a broad, hard-skinned thumb. Almost at once he felt the special stillness that gripped the elf at a touch to his head or hair. Maybe this was the way to give him the sleep he craved, and escape from perplexing ideas and arguments in the dead hours of the night.
Warily, he allowed himself to enjoy the form of the skull under his hand, the fine smooth hair, the delicate-seeming skin.
The candles flared and burned out, sending drifts of smoke into the warm air. Gimli's dwarvish sense of thrift reproved him for neglect, while another inner voice asked What are candles, when he seeks comfort from you?
In the darkness he seemed to hear the elf's breathing more clearly, and realised that it had slowed to a gentle rhythm of rest. Maybe he will have forgotten all this by morning he thought, and fell asleep in his turn, his hand laid protectively on Legolas' head.
Morning found them still close together, and Gimli woke first, despite the closed curtains, for dwarves need no bells or daylight to mark the passing hours, being born with a sense of time suited to life underground. He was very surprised that Legolas did not wake as soon as he stirred, having quickly learned during the journey that the Elf's wakefulness was an unfailing safeguard through the weariest night. He rose cautiously and opened the curtains, thinking that the daylight would rouse Legolas gently, and set about preparing for the day.
Legolas was still asleep when Gimli went to the kitchen to mend the fire and prepare breakfast, and while he was busy there the gate clanked and Sam appeared with his basket and an offering of further treasure from the dewy fields of Pelennor.
Gimli stepped to the kitchen door to greet the Hobbit, then catching a glimpse of white looked suddenly past him across the courtyard, so that Sam turned instinctively and looked too, and saw Legolas standing in the doorway of Gimli's room in his long robe, one hand on the door jamb, beautiful, dishevelled and seeming so stunned with sleep as to be unsteady on his feet. Sam turned back towards Gimli with an expression more like a grin of triumph than the shock the Dwarf expected.
Gimli found his voice:
'It's a long story, and it ends with a funeral this morning.'
Now Legolas was crossing the courtyard, looking more wakeful with every step.
'Good morning, Sam. Have you been out early with your lady friends?'
Sam laughed, delighted by the Elf's composure.
'On my own, I'm afraid! I was too early for lady friends, not too early for mushrooms.'
'And nothing will keep a Hobbit from his mushrooms!' Legolas sat down on the courtyard bench and picked a large mushroom from the basket that Sam had set on the table.
'Splendid! Thank you, Sam.'
He put the succulent fungus back, then pressed one hand to his forehead and ran it back over his hair. 'Mortal sleep; darkness; I don't know -- but peace, yes, peace.'
The others watched him, wondering. Sam guessed that they had shared a bed, but not for the usual reason. Maybe that would happen later.
'A bath will wake you', said Gimli.
Legolas stood up and stretched his long arms with his catlike grace, then seemed to tense with the return of memory.
'The boy! When--?'
'Time enough' said Gimli, gently; 'I said, we must look like lords, for him. Go and make ready. Sam and I will see to the breakfast.'
'A boy? What boy?' asked Sam, as Legolas moved away.
'Give me a hand in the kitchen and I'll tell you.' When Sam had heard the story, he wished he could accompany his friends, for he had a Hobbit's strong desire to do the right thing in such circumstances, but he had to go with Frodo to a meeting with Faramir before the hour of the burial.
Gimli brought the stone from his room and set it on the table for Sam to see. Sam thoroughly approved of his having taken time to discover what was usual for a burial among the common folk of Minas Tirith, and of the use of his special skill in making the grave marker.
Back in the kitchen, he could hear Legolas in the further room beyond the curtained arch, and lifted the wooden cover of the setpot to check the contents. It was well filled with pleasantly steaming water. Sam was surprised.
'I refilled it last night' said Gimli; 'But he doesn't care for hot water.'
'Ugh!' said Sam, with a mock shiver; 'Even on a sunny morning like this I wouldn't say no to hot water. Hobbits love hot baths -- Bilbo made a song about it.'
'I doubt if even that would persuade an Elf,' laughed Gimli.
Sam turned his attention to the pan of frying mushrooms and the kettle. Gimli set the table.
'Will you have breakfast with us, Sam? Second breakfast?' Gimli added, with a deep friendly chuckle.
'Second, as you rightly guess; and yes, thank you very much.'
Legolas pushed aside the heavy red-brown curtain and came into the kitchen, his hair sleek and damp, with all the braids out. Sam thought suddenly that the long straight white robe, which he took to be some sort of elvish nightgown, gave him an odd resemblance to Galadriel, and wondered if Gimli thought so too. This morning he was thinking quickly enough not to put the idea into words.
Legolas said: 'I don't know why it should be, but things seem to smell better when Sam does the cooking.'
Gimli uttered a kind of disparaging snort.
'No offence to your cooking, my friend! But Sam's smells better than anyone's.'
'That's very kind, I'm sure' said Sam; 'But I dare say you wouldn't have to go far in this city to find better, if you cared to look.'
Breakfast over, Sam hurried off back to Frodo, and the grey-haired chamberlain from Faramir's household appeared to see to what was needed about the house that day. If he thought that there was anything eccentric, or worse, in their choosing to remove to this place together, neither word nor manner betrayed it.
With orders for the day given, they were alone again, looking at each other across the kitchen table. 'What did Sam think?' Legolas asked abruptly, and saw Gimli smile.
'Many things, some right and some wrong; but he was pleased, I could see it in his face. I told him what happened to the child, showed him the stone.'
'Sam is one of a kind, I think. Pleased!'
'Not quite one of a kind, I would say. Remember that Merry and Pippin helped to install us here before we could say a word against it. Sam will be reporting back!'
The look on Legolas' face was worth a little embarrassment.
'But look you, Legolas, we cannot sit longer. It is proper to go down to the house to join the funeral there, so we must get ready.'
The Elf, who had seemed to be drifting into a dreamlike state, woke up again and blinked at Gimli, the sorrow of the day returning to his face. He went out into the courtyard and started combing his hair in the sunshine to dry it, while Gimli returned to his room and chose a tunic of fine velvet, of an indigo colour like a thundercloud, with silver borders, as fit for the occasion. With black breeches and boots, and a heavy black leather belt richly ornamented with silver, the effect was sombre and dignified. When he had combed and rebraided his beard to his satisfaction, he undid his thick plait of red-brown hair and spread it into a shining bushy mantle over his shoulders, thinking it unlikely that anyone would understand that this represented dwarvish formality: braided hair, as distinct from a braided beard, being for everyday wear, for work, for war, travel or sleep. Then he took up his grey cloak and also his old travelling pack, to carry the stone, and went to find Legolas.
Legolas was still in his room, opening his pack to take out something wrapped in soft dark cloth. He did not know why he had carried it all the way from Rivendell, where he had worn it last, a useless piece of finery -- until now: his favourite circlet of silver leaves. He must ask Gimli if it would be right to wear it.
He glanced out of the window just as the Dwarf, having put his cloak and bag down on the table, turned around to look for him. As Gimli stood there in the sunshine, Legolas felt his heart stop at the sight of the noble figure before him, and then leap painfully against his ribs. All the grandeur of the Dwarf's ancient, stoical, misunderstood race seemed to shine around him.
Legolas' hands shook and the silver circlet almost fell to the floor. He gripped it firmly, forcing himself back to calm, but whispering to himself: 'Every day I see him for the first time!'
He took a few deep breaths, opened the door and went out. This was not the moment to confess his feelings, any more than last night had been for him to hear Gimli's words of love.
Gimli looked him up and down as he approached. His forest green garments were as rich and dark as the Dwarf's blue, set off by silver embroidery and a white shirt of the finest linen. The silver circlet caught the Dwarf's eye immediately.
'Should I wear this?' Legolas asked, holding it out to Gimli.
'Yes. You are a king's son and should let it be seen.' He turned the fine silver around with skilled fingers. 'This was not made for you.'
It was a statement, not a question.
'No, I had it from my father, and he from his.'
'I see that would be so. This is ancient work, Dwarf's work, too. I see the name of one Nain marked here: but there have been many of that name among our people, and I cannot tell which it should be.'
He looked up at Legolas again.
'Ah, that is what kept you, putting more braids in your hair to stop the circlet cutting. Would you sit down, please?'
He laid the circlet on the table. Legolas sat on the bench and Gimli put his hands lightly around the Elf's head, thumbs almost touching in the middle of his forehead. Then he took the circlet up again and passed it between his hands, running them out from the centre to the two open ends.
'Hmm. This deserves careful work. But for now...'
Legolas watched, but could not understand exactly what reshaping the Dwarf's powerful hands sought to perform. He could not see that anything was happening to the band of finely-wrought silver leaves, but when Gimli slipped it into place on his brow he felt the difference immediately.
Gimli smiled at the look on his face.
'That will do for today, will it not? I can make the final corrections later.'
He inspected the narrow braids of the Elf's bright hair, all formed with the usual elvish four strands, and made sure that they were arranged in the same way on each side of his head, some under and some flowing over the circlet. Legolas felt again, more strongly than ever, the strange effect of Gimli's hands on his hair. Blood and breath seemed to stop, waiting, waiting... He must speak of it soon, or one day he would surely fall to the ground senseless, and how Gimli would feel if that happened he dared not imagine.
He realised that Gimli was speaking to him, as he slid the carved stone into his pack.
'I said, it is time to go. I think we should wear the Lady's cloaks.'
Content to be guided by Gimli's understanding of what was proper, Legolas fetched his grey cloak from his room and put it on. Gimli had slung his pack across his shoulder, so that it hung by his side, concealed under the cloak.
They went down to the first level, and saw the little party of friends and neighbours assembling, waiting for the bereaved family. They were greeted with grave bows and few words, and Legolas saw that Gimli had learned the customs of the people well, for everyone, man, woman and child, was dressed in the best they had, under plain cloaks. His embroideries and silver circlet were no more or less correct than their homespun.
Soon the house door was opened, and the widowed mother, her white kerchief now changed for black, came out with her surviving son, followed by some female relations. Then came her grandfather, and after him two younger men, bearing the child's coffin between them on a plain wooden bier. All the people waiting in the street drew their hoods up over their heads, and Legolas and Gimli did the same as they took their places at the end of the little procession. The grandfather led the way, followed by the two with the coffin, then the mother and son, then the rest of the family, and friends in their proper order, and lastly the two strangers, who kept their eyes on the people in front of them, but were nevertheless aware that some of those whom they passed in the street noticed their presence despite the concealing cloaks of the Galadhrim.
It was a long slow walk, round half the circumference of the city to the ruined gate, and then back again outside the walls to the burial ground close by the foot of the mountain.
The Keepers of the Tombs led them to the freshly-dug grave, and the simple ceremony of farewell began. Some of the women sobbed aloud; the dark trees rustled, and the quietly spoken words were partly lost to the hearing of Elf and Dwarf, and soon the little coffin was lowered from sight and the first earth cast into the grave by the mother. Legolas wondered at her tearful dignity, and her curtsey to the Keepers which an Elf princess could scarcely have bettered for pride and grace.
Then he saw the old grandfather look across at Gimli, and with a nod and a gesture of his hand indicate that it was time for him to present the stone. As the Dwarf stepped forward there was only the merest stir, as if the company had been told beforehand what would happen.
Gimli carried the stone in both hands, having slid it from the bag during the ceremony, and offered it to the mother, who gazed earnestly into his craggy face before looking down and laying one hand on the carved name in acceptance and blessing. Then the Keepers took the stone and placed it at the head of the grave -- but the freshest among many new graves -- and all was over. The mourners put back their hoods, and the procession walked back in order as before. This time there was no mistaking two of the king's companions among the common people, and the tale made its way about the city.
Legolas wondered what they should do when they reached the house where the widow was staying, but Gimli had acquired some knowledge.
'Only the family and closest friends will go in; he whispered; 'Then someone will bring out glasses of a particular drink for the rest of us, and when that has been taken, we may depart.'
The drink, served in very small thick glasses by an elderly woman, was a strange herbal concoction of a dark brown colour -- bitter, strongly alcoholic and fiercely warming. When everyone had drunk, the mother appeared in the doorway and said: 'I thank you for your friendship.' All those outside bowed to her, she went back into the house, and the old woman followed with her tray of empty glasses and closed the door. The friends and neighbours dispersed quietly, bowing to the two companions with few words. Legolas and Gimli climbed the long steep steps to their house on the next level, while Mindolluin rolled a wave of chilly air down from snow-capped heights. It seemed a fitting comment from the great mountain.
They stood in the courtyard and looked at each other. Duty done, they had come to a hollow time, a blank. It was already past noon. Gimli saw the Elf's face pale and cold in the sunlight, despite the ritual drink.
'Time for some wine, I think.'
Legolas followed him into the kitchen and sat at the end of the table nearest the fire. Gimli looked at him sideways. It was the first time he had seen Legolas show any sign of feeling cold -- even on Caradhras he had been unconcerned: underground in Moria he had not shivered, but now -- Gimli chose a strong red wine and filled two large glasses. As he gave one to Legolas their hands touched: the Elf really was cold, his strange elven flesh reflecting his state of mind. All the years he has lived, and this still shocks him, thought Gimli, with admiring tenderness, finding it wonderful that time had not dulled or hardened him. Legolas took a deep draught of the wine, and in the space of a few heartbeats it seemed that a faint ghost of its ruby colour glowed through his skin. Gimli raised his glass in a silent toast to his friend, and drank. The stove ticked and rustled faintly as ashes settled within, and quiet warmth surrounded them.
'Alone again' said Gimli.
'What? No, don't say alone: together.'
'That's what I meant, just us. And is that what you want, the two of us, together?'
'Yes! Or why are we here at all?' Legolas leaned forward, across the table: 'We have come so far, by strange paths' he went on; 'Always drawing closer. I do not want this to end...'
Then he paused, as if his own words had surprised him, and Gimli could see the pulse in the side of his throat.
'It must end, or change' said the Dwarf gruffly; 'We know there is work to be done, in this new age, in a kingdom reborn; we know what we would do and where. We should begin with the city, you and I, so the end might be delayed. And after that -- then we would have, if all goes well, Aglarond and Ithilien -- far enough apart, yet peace need not divide us, if we will otherwise.'
'Your words comfort me. We will be together, even when apart. We have shared so much, it cannot end.'
'Cannot? War and danger brought us together. With that gone, what will hold us?'
'Do you trust me no longer? One moment you speak comfort, and the next...'
'Trust? Yes, I trust even where I do not understand, yet I dare not believe that one of your kind would choose to be with me when peace sets you free.'
'What?' Legolas shook his head rapidly, as if he had dived under water and come up unable to hear, then suddenly understanding.
'Oh, foolish Dwarf! I am not 'my kind'! I am not "Elves"! as you say in your disparaging voice. I am I, Legolas; and I see you with my own sight, not the sight of my people. I beheld you this morning, out there in the court, your hair spun out of copper, bronze and gold, your robe like a storm cloud edged with silver by the sun, and it was I that was left breathless! Does not your own pride tell you that you are splendid? Will you always fear that the false judgements of the Elves may be true?'
Gimli stared in wonder, hearing this sudden tirade, and Legolas saw a deeper colour flush his ruddy cheeks, and the dark eyes dropped shyly from his gaze.
'I have no pride before you.'
'Now we change places and YOU talk nonsense! I want to see your dwarvish pride shine out, for it is true, true, and our elvish ideas mistaken.'
Gimli drew a deep breath, fighting the shock and delight of what he was hearing.
'Is it not all words? he growled; '--If to love beauty and gather it is greed, we are greedy; if to keep what we have is grasping, we are so; if it is jealousy to guard the beauty we love from those who would despoil it, yes, we are jealous!'
Then suddenly he laughed: 'But that an Elf should so change his mind is wonderful, and you are wonderful.' He stood up slowly, gazing at the Elf, and said in his deepest, softest voice: 'And a Dwarf loves what is rare and wonderful!'
Legolas set his glass down unsteadily, spilling a few dark drops of wine, and stood too, as if compelled to follow Gimli, and they simply stepped close and embraced. Legolas let his cheek rest against the top of Gimli's head, and, feeling the Dwarf's powerful arms clasped around him, trembled violently and whispered against the luxuriant springy hair: 'Gimli Glóin's son, take me to your bed again' he hesitated and laughed shakily -- 'before I fall over!' Gimli's first reaction was a tightening of his grip and a deep chuckle. Then he drew back, took up his wineglass and the flagon, indicating with a jerk of the head that Legolas should bring his glass, and turned to lead the way.
They crossed the courtyard in a dazed silence, Legolas with one arm around the Dwarf's shoulders, clinging for support as his head swam with something stronger than wine.
Once in the room, Gimli set glass and flagon on the chest beside the bed and, suddenly mindful of the possibility of unexpected visitors, recalled that he had seen a wooden bar for the door -- somewhere. He glanced impatiently round the room, spotted it leaning up in a corner, and hastily grabbed it and dropped it into place.
When he looked around, he saw that Legolas was sitting on the far side of the bed -- 'his' side already -- his dark green tunic gone, bending to take off his fine leather boots. He looked back over his shoulder at Gimli, aware of the barring of the door, and teasingly said: 'You forgot the other one!'
It was true; Gimli had forgotten for the moment, because the wall hangings covered it, the door to the smaller of the two living rooms. He did not pause in pulling off his fine indigo velvet, but concluded the action by flinging the garment at Legolas' head, and skidding across the tiles with a scrape of boot studs to bolt the inner door. Legolas struggled with the folds of heavy dark stuff for a moment, laughing, shook it off, and had slithered out of his breeches and braies by the time Gimli returned to find him sitting by the pillow wearing only his fine white shirt, legs curled gracefully sideways under him. Gimli dragged his boots off and knelt on the bed facing the Elf, then slowly reached out and touched his cheek. Legolas drew a sharp breath and seemed unable to release it for a strangely long moment. 'Thy touch stills me as the stoat's eye stills the rabbit.'
Gimli started back.
'That is a cruel comparison!'
But then, seeing from the Elf's face that it was not meant so, and catching the glint of the silver oak leaf, token of the greenwood, that hung on its fine chain below the delicate hollow of his throat, teasingly said: 'Or dost thou wish I would bite thee?'
And, suiting action to the words, pounced on Legolas, pushing him down onto the pillows, kissing him with open mouth. For a little while longer, Legolas lay mesmerised by the new sensation of bearded lips caressing him, moving from neck to jaw to mouth, but as lips and tongues met, and the last shreds of conscious thought melted away like morning mist, it was not strangeness that enchanted him, but familiarity. The memory of riding together on the grey horse swept over him, and the heat and scent of Gimli's body welcomed him to a place that was already home.
He wrapped his arms around Gimli, pulling him closer, clutching the thick mane of bright hair and returning kiss for kiss. Then all Gimli's years of loneliness overwhelmed him and there was nothing in the world but his blinding desire for the beautiful being whose words spoke of love, whose body offered comfort, while the Elf's lithe form leapt under him like a landed fish in response to his fierce instinctive movements. Legolas was just aware of Gimli struggling out of his breeches and kicking them aside before falling upon him again as the storm of desire swept through him. Legolas arched against him in reply, taut and strong as his own war bow, and as swiftly released. But Gimli's words of passion turned to weeping, and Legolas felt hot tears on his face and neck, and began to wonder, as his own breathing steadied, what old wounds opened and bled in the Dwarf's heart. He rolled gently away, sat up, and with a graceful cross-armed gesture grasped the hem of his sweat-soaked shirt, drew it up over his head and let it drop onto the bed rail before settling back close to Gimli, stroking his hair and thick-muscled back.
Gimli's breath also grew quieter, and he nuzzled against Legolas' neck, eyes closed, tasting the salty sweat on the Elf's skin, while his broad right hand wandered slowly down Legolas' side, pausing and exploring, sliding across his firm belly and down to the soft bush of fine gold curls, and then stopping suddenly at a dismaying discovery of something that had gone unnoticed in the confusion of passion. Gimli started back and sat up with a violent surge of movement.
'What elvish mockery is this? You dare to tempt my desire when you are cold?'
The furious rumble of his voice shocked Legolas out of his contented drowsiness, utterly bewildered. His expression was enough to check Gimli's angry fear of humiliation until understanding dawned in the Elf's face, and he too sat up, saying: 'Peace, peace, dearest friend! Did you not know--? Let me speak, and if there is any mockery, then take thine axe to my neck and I will deserve it.'
Gimli sank back warily, confused and suspicious, but Legolas looked and sounded to be in earnest.
'Did I not know what?'
To his utter amazement, Legolas gave way to a sudden fit of disgraceful, captivating elvish giggles, which ceased before he could grow angry again: somehow, the startling silliness was oddly reassuring, as if Legolas were laughing at himself.
'Not you? Not anyone?' Legolas exclaimed; -- 'Is this knowledge so old it has become a secret?'
'Now you are talking in riddles!'
'Forgive me. I would not hurt you, by word or deed. I understand your anger and am ashamed to have caused it. I will explain.'
Gimli drew the covers over his cooling body, and gazed up at the Elf, trying to read his face. What was he about to learn? He had never heard any tales of deficiencies among the Elves, yet there was strange and conflicting evidence before him now.
Legolas sat up with his feet tucked sideways under him again, a slight frown creasing his broad forehead and drawing his straight golden-brown eyebrows almost into a single line. Then his face cleared as he decided where to begin.
'While you were at Imladris, did you see any Elf children?'
This was not in the least what Gimli had expected. 'No: but would I know one if I saw one?'
'Yes: an Elf child is clearly a child. And in my father's lands, when you came with the traders, or in the Golden Wood?'
'No; unless Elves hide their children from the eyes of others.'
'They do not, for there are none to hide. Gimli, you know I have lived in Middle-earth many lives of your people, more than a thousand and threescore years, and yet I am among the late-born of our kind. Our time here is coming to an end, and that end has long been upon us, and therefore we, the last born, do not breed, and our bodies sleep, as we say. Though we feel love and desire, we do not show it in making seed as you do, as men do. Sometimes, I must tell you, we may not even look as if we are aroused when in truth we are, and so you think me cold when I am not. And yet I think you felt my pleasure, in all but that--'
'And you thought I knew?'
'I thought it was common knowledge that while the older Elves still seem awake in the body, the younger are not; but it must have been forgotten. So please believe I meant no mockery; but if you think otherwise, then take your axe, for I would rather not live than wound you so.'
Then Gimli saw that he spoke the truth, and though that shocked him, it was the thought of the axe that made him shudder, conjuring a hideous vision of fair flesh torn and bright hair bloodied.
'Don't say these things! My axe will always be ready only to defend you and will never harm. I understand a little better now. It is what you feel that matters. How could I think you would deceive me at such a time? I must get used to your -- peculiarity!'
Legolas smiled back, and bent down to kiss him under a falling curtain of fine gold.
'If I give you the chance!'
'I shall make the chance. Lie down!'
'Oh! Orders now!'
But he complied nonetheless.
'What you have said grieves me, Legolas, yet you are so fair to my eyes, brave and skilful, and I find no fault in the essence of you, whatever may be the fate of your body.'
To his amazement he saw tears welling in the Elf's grey eyes.
'I have been mocked for it before now.'
'That I can well imagine! And I accused you of mockery. Forgive me, Legolas.'
'There is nothing to forgive. I should have spoken sooner, but I was swept away by your dwarvish strength and beauty.'
'Swept away? You? And I thought that I--'
'Did I not tell you, there in the kitchen? Today I saw you, truly SAW YOU, and my heart was changed, or I understood it at last! I had begun to love you as a friend in Lorien, when we shared our griefs and our wonder at the Golden Wood, and afterwards as a comrade in arms--'
Gimli interrupted him, touching his lips lightly with one finger: 'No, not begun in Lorien! Was it not your hand that plucked me from Balin's tomb, from certain death? Doubtless I would have slain many orcs, but to what end? No, that is love, to risk yourself for another, whom you may not even like: that I call love.'
Legolas turned to face him more squarely: 'Is that the dwarves' description of love?'
'What? You think we have just one description?'
He tempered the abruptness of his words by stroking Legolas' cheek lightly with the backs of his fingers, and the Elf felt the slight prickle of the hirsute caress spread a delightful tingling through his skin. Gimli went on: 'No Dwarf would disagree, though all would have something to add.'
'And in the end it is a mystery, you and I, that it can be. And yet it is so, as if I have been waiting for you all my life.'
'Yes, dear Elf, I feel it too.'
He moved closer to Legolas.
'But is it not something forbidden?'
Legolas laughed, a bright, clear, ringing laugh. 'Forbidden? Elves are not much given to forbidding, and especially not to forbidding love. But not even Elves will forbid what they cannot imagine!'
Then Gimli laughed too.
'Fair one, I cannot but think there is a dwarvish strain in you -- that was so reasonable, it is worthy of a Dwarf!'
'Then maybe we are not so different after all!' Gimli laughed again, then Legolas saw his expression darken.
'Maybe we are yet more like than you think' he said slowly, as the thought came to him that he should return Legolas' revelation with one of his own: 'I shall have no more offspring than you.'
'But you -- there is no flaw in your body!'
'As for that, no, but there is in my fate. Maybe you know this, or maybe not, but our kind may choose a mate but once, and if we find none, or having found we lose, or desire one we cannot have, then we must be solitary all our days. And it was my fate to find and to lose.'
'Is that why you wept, before, as we joined?'
'I wept? Then, yes. I will tell you, one day. Not now. Now I have you--'
'Are we destined to console each other?' asked Legolas; -- 'Already you seem not to mind my lateborn fate; but I, how should I comfort you for what you have lost?'
'You are here, Legolas; you lie beside me, and show no distaste--'
Now Legolas interrupted him: 'Surely you are the most forgetful Dwarf that ever was! Have I not told you, or must I remind you every hour? You are beautiful to me, strange but beautiful, in heart and body, and the more so for what you have told me. And you forget another thing: the lady Galadriel did not scorn your request. Shall I think less of you?'
Gimli drew a deep sighing breath and relaxed.
'Wise Elf! You speak the one name that calms my doubts. Sweet name, on sweet lips.'
He kissed the Elf tenderly, and leaned on his elbow, gazing in admiration at the soft glow of translucent skin and the fine bluish tracery of veins.
A smile warmed Legolas' voice. 'A mineral comparison, I think; something from your vision of Aglarond. Well, I shall see for myself one day, as I promised, and in the meantime take it as a compliment!'
'Ach! Vanity!' Gimli teased him, kissing the smiling lips again.
Then he let the trail of kisses wander down Legolas' sleek-muscled torso, bushy braids of beard stroking and tickling, until curiosity got the better of him. 'So this has been happening for a long time? And affects the women too?'
'A long time in the years of Middle-earth. And yes, the fading takes all alike. That would be part of the reason for the Lady Arwen's choice: not only to share the life of the King and then die, rather than live on alone. She could not truly be his wife, bear his children, without giving up the life of the Elves, and becoming mortal.'
Gimli lay still between the Elf's long legs, head now pillowed on his belly, curiosity forgotten, and wondered at what he was told; only to find that to him as a mortal being (albeit one who would not follow the way of Men out of the world) it came as little surprise: the price of the endless newness of the life of Men is death. Such knowledge is born into all mortals, much as they resent and resist it. How could any Elf but the exceptional Arwen both understand and act upon that? And another thought came to him, a different understanding of Legolas' grief at the death of the child. He almost said it aloud, but better judgement prevailed over dwarvish outspokenness. His thoughts began to drift sleepily, and he felt Legolas' hands gently playing with his hair, moving more and more slowly, until both slept, lost in the moment, without thought or fear for the future.
By the time they woke again, the afternoon sun was well down the sky, and the mountain's great shadow had started to roll across the northern quarter of the city, cooling the air a little. They looked at each other with a moment of shy surprise, hardly comprehending what had happened, or on what road they had taken their first steps.
Legolas stretched elegantly, then drew up one foot and ran it down along Gimli's leg.
'Hairy monster!' he chuckled affectionately; 'You feel as if you are clothed even with nothing on. And warm, so warm. It must be the heat of your forge fires that has passed into your blood.'
'It may be so' said the Dwarf; 'And you are like polished marble beside me, cool as your forest springs -- or bare as an egg, according to whether we are trading compliments or insults!'
Expecting some reaction to this, Gimli sat up quickly as he spoke, only to have Legolas snatch up his shirt from the bedhead and wrap it round him, covering his face with the soft stuff that smelled of their mingled sweat, so that he nearly lost his balance and fell off the bed.
Once he had disentangled himself, they enjoyed a real romp, full of laughter and mischievous tickling caresses, ending in a breathless embrace and a tangle of bedclothes. Legolas struggled back to his pillow and lay panting and smiling with eyes half shut. Gimli remembered the wine, refilled his glass and drank deeply, then waved the flagon before the Elf's face. Legolas sat up, snatched the flagon, and drank from it in a most unelvish manner, even spilling a few drops which ran down his chin and onto his chest, before Gimli grabbed it back to prevent further disaster to the wine -- but then he turned his attention to removing the red stains from fair skin with light fluttering strokes of his hot tongue. When that was done, Legolas rolled over, sighing with contentment, and Gimli saw how his long fine hair stuck damply to his back.
'Legolas, I don't believe I ever saw you sweat, on the chase or in battle, but now--'
He reached out and lifted the clinging strands gently.
'Then I was not heated by a furnace of a Dwarf! And a cool forest spring would be very welcome now.'
'You have the waters of Mindolluin no further off than the courtyard, if you wish to take a chill (though no doubt Elves never suffer such things!) but I would prefer the hot water from the kitchen.'
Legolas rolled back and looked at him with a happy grin.
'Shall we agree to compromise on 'warm'?'
'That will suit well enough in this weather' Gimli replied, smiling in return; 'I think we may have started on many compromises!
He sprang out of bed and began to tidy his scattered clothes, then took his brown robe from the peg by the door and put it on, provoking a fresh fit of giggles from Legolas.
'Well?' He pretended an outraged dwarvish glare.
'It looks... it looks... oh, never mind, I think I like it!'
Gimli bounced back onto the bed, landing on his knees with a thump that nearly threw Legolas out at the other side.
'Like it? You'd better!'
He maintained the pretence of a growl for a moment, then sat back, looking down at the smiling Elf. 'Legolas, what are we doing? How can I feel so happy if it's wrong? -- Wrong? It should be impossible...'
'This is not wrong. New, strange, difficult -- maybe; but not wrong. I won't believe that.'
'Thank you, Legolas. I will forget my fears and enjoy this gift you have given me.'
He stooped and kissed the silver oak leaf that had slid on its chain to lie against the warm pulse beating in the Elf's neck. Legolas' hands caressed his back through the coarse stuff of the brown robe. Gimli sat up and sighed.
'Should we go up and see the others? They will notice our absence.'
Legolas laughed softly.
'And might come looking! Or perhaps not -- remember you said that Sam thought we were lovers already? But yes, let's take a bath and go.'
Bathing turned out to be such a pleasant occupation that they found themselves lighting the lamps before every task, including the drying of hair in front of the kitchen fire, re-braiding Gimli's beard, and so forth, was done. By the time they were dressed again, in brighter colours than those chosen for the morning, it was almost dark outside and cool air was rolling steadily down the mountain into their quarter of the city. They put on their grey cloaks and set off up the winding alleys and steps to the great guest house.
As they had expected, there was another noisy and cheerful gathering in progress, even larger than before, large enough to spill out from the big main dining hall into the courtyard beyond the double arch of the entrance. Lamps and torches lit the scene, and the air was much warmer than in the lower levels. Music and singing mingled with all the talk and laughter, and the new arrivals received a warm welcome.
It was soon clear that people had been attracted by stories of a mad Elf dancing on the tables, as well as by the general prospect of a lively evening. For a moment Gimli feared that Legolas would take flight into lordly isolation again, but some musicians in the courtyard struck up a vigorous measure, and his eyes glittered with the spell of it, promising more elvish madness to come. But the Elf had no thought now of leaving Gimli's presence: his distaste for the noisy merrymaking of men (and Hobbits) was as if it had never been.
While the pair were telling Frodo and Sam about the events of the morning, there came a clattering of wooden clogs and a chattering of female voices under the archway, and the Pelennor girls appeared, each with a little reticule of intricately netted yarn in which she carried her dancing slippers.
Merry and Pippin materialised from somewhere within the house as soon as the girls appeared, and Gimli realised that there were more girls, younger girls, Hobbit-sized girls, in fact, than had been in the original group. There seemed to be much introducing of younger sisters going on, and the Hobbits escorted the party to the rear of the courtyard, where Gandalf was sitting, to leave their outdoor clogs safely behind his chair when they changed into their colourful embroidered leather slippers.
'What did I tell you, Legolas?' said the Dwarf; 'Short skirts, white stockings, backless slippers -- and PETTICOATS!'
Legolas had certainly never seen costumes like these before: white shifts gathered with drawstrings into ruffles at neck and elbow, black fitted bodices edged with coloured braid, full skirts in a variety of strong colours ('short' meaning the hem a couple of inches below the knee in the case of the younger girls and four or so for the older ones) and of course the mass of white petticoats of a length artfully calculated to show a startling quantity and variety of edging styles just below the edge of the skirt: and once animated by movement... After the first surprise, the Elf thought that he might not be noticed if he did dance on the tables again.
The group of seamen had returned, and greeted Gimli warmly. Flute and fiddle could be heard inside the house, and the crowd seemed to be growing by the minute. There were more musicians in the courtyard tonight, a small band, in fact: another fiddle, flute, whistle, pipes, gittern, drum -- and Sam, now an established specialist on the spoons.
The band launched into a fast and vigorous dance with a four beat rhythm, the melody surging and swirling in intricate lines above the patter of the broad shallow drum, played with a short double-ended stick by a young man with a nimble wrist. It soon appeared that this music was suitable for the favourite Hobbit dance of the Springle-ring, and Merry and Pip quickly set about teaching it to their new ladyfriends. Nor was it long before some enterprising person (Pippin! thought Gimli) had raided the stables and produced a few sets of small harness bells to give the full character of this dance from the distant Shire. In no time at all the girls had picked up the steps, and the petticoats flew and the slipper heels clacked amid the jingling of the bells.
After a number of repeats, the tune changed its beat to triple time, according to the custom of the players, throwing those who did not expect it into uproarious confusion for a while, but the dancing continued in cheerful disorder.
Someone remembered that Gimli had played the gittern rather well, and produced another instrument from somewhere. The Dwarf found a seat between the fishermen and a group from the city, which included the two singing sisters, and Legolas stood behind him, eyes darting round the scene of crowded merrymaking, body swaying slightly in time to the music.
When the band's contribution had hurtled to an end, the piper played alone, a slower tune to give everyone a time to get their breath back, and the city singers ran quietly through a strange piece of 'mouth music' (as they called it) trying to teach Gimli the refrain, because they had heard him sing with the seamen and had admired his voice. Like all who rely on memory before writing to record words, he learned it quickly, though the sounds were strange, and there was no meaning to hold on to; but when the piper finished, and the singers began a humming drone to support the soloist, he was ready to join in, capturing the irregular syncopated rhythms to perfection. He felt Legolas' hands on his shoulders again, learning the music through his body, until another voice, sweet and clear, was added to the refrain along with the Dwarf's softly resonant bass.
In a lull after the singing, Gandalf, holding aloft a large tankard, could be heard declaiming to general approval some verses of which the main drift appeared to be:
He that buys land buys many stones;
He that buys beef buys many bones;
He that buys eggs buys many shells;
But he that buys good ale buys nothing else!
This was greeted by a loud chorus of 'Then bring us in good ale!' -- which was what seemed to be happening in any case.
Gimli laughed aloud with sheer pleasure at the sight of the great wizard so carefree at last; the band struck up a furious reel, and Legolas jumped out to join the dancing, unable to resist any longer. Gimli took up the gittern, and added his chords to the harmony, beating time with a clash of hobnails on the stone paving, punctuating the music with percussive strikes of his fingers on the well-worn soundboard of the instrument, and keeping all the while one eye on the shining hair of the Elf as he threaded his way among the swirling dancers.
The din was terrific, echoing round the tall buildings and high walls, and the still evening air was thick with smoke from the vast quantities of pipeweed being smoked. Gondorian pipeweed came from somewhere in the south, and had been in very short supply lately, but the ending of the war had seen the prompt arrival of merchants with stocks of whatever goods they had been able to preserve for the coming of better times. The Hobbits maintained a preference for Southfarthing weed, but smoked the foreign imports readily enough. They had been surprised to find the habit established here, among the working classes at least, and wondered if Gandalf himself had introduced it on his travels, but no one seemed to know anything of the history of pipeweed in the city.
Pippin whizzed past the Dwarf, arm in arm with a small and vivacious Pelennor girl, and yelled something about a 'proper shindig' before disappearing into the crowd again, and, yes, someone at the far side of the courtyard was trying to persuade Legolas onto the table.
Higher up in the city, Faramir, still not out of convalescence, but weary of resting, put on his cloak and slipped out of the private door of his apartments in the citadel, having heard second-hand rumours of the parties at the companions' lodging, and resolved to see what, if anything, was really going on. As he walked quietly through the almost empty streets and alleys, he soon realised that something was indeed happening, for the sounds floated up clearly on the still air -- music, laughter, talk and song, a clamour of celebration. He climbed up onto the parapet of the level above the guest house, and could see something of the events in the torchlit court far below and hear the powerful resonance of men's voices singing. The men of Ethir Anduin were singing the tale of a seaman's love for his captain's daughter. The voices were somewhat strident, the ensemble ragged and miscellaneous, yet the harmonies were so rich, the tone so strong and thrilling that the very stones of the city seemed to vibrate in sympathy.
He hurried down a steeply-stepped tunnel between the houses, lit only by a few oil lamps, unaware of a tall grey-clad figure not far behind, on the same errand. When he reached the lower street and came to the entrance, the song had given way to the driving rhythm of another dance, and as he was about to step out from under the archway he was almost bowled over by something -- someone -- that flew at head height across the gap between the two tables flanking the entrance. Faramir staggered back and was caught by somebody behind him, somebody very strong, whom he could not see in the shadow of the deep arch when he turned to offer his thanks.
He stepped forward again, and saw that the rumours were true: a wild wood-Elf dancing on the tables, girls and women singing and dancing; musicians from, it seemed, all parts of the kingdom; Gandalf ordering ale and hot pies for all and sundry; a happy, noisy, friendly, overwhelming confusion.
Faramir edged cautiously round the wall, unnoticed in the shadows, and managed to find a seat on a bench in a dark corner. After the quiet of his confinement, first in the Houses of Healing and afterwards in his own rooms, all this resounding joy made him dizzy: so may different songs, dances, melodies; so many voices, accents, dialects -- even other languages. He had never seen, heard, or imagined anything quite like this, and it seemed that he had never before encountered such happiness, for all his life had been lived in the growing shadow of a dreadful enemy, in the house of a grim father.
At once the thought came to him that even in victory Denethor would have disdained this joyfully vulgar surge of life, and Faramir realised that he himself scarcely knew how to be glad, while among this crowd, his own people and all the strangers, was a wealth he had never seen: fiddles and flutes, voices and dancing feet -- all were instruments of joy -- even Sam's spoons! He looked at the little Hobbit, sitting a few tables away, joining in the music with a strange expression on his homely face: the faintly malicious glee of the virtuoso, who makes the difficult look easy, the easy impossible, and can outdo any rival. Faramir smiled in the shadows and felt a little less lonely.
The miscellaneous band, augmented by anyone who felt able to join in, now burst into a popular melody of such headlong gusto and abandon as seemed likely to reduce the gathering to total chaos. Merry, Pippin, and two of the short-skirted girls had taken refuge from the crush on another of the tables, shaking their bells vigorously. Faramir was just able to hear Sam declare to Gandalf that the white petticoat frills were like the petals of the Gaffer's prize carnations. He smiled once again.
Some of the merrymakers were now amusing themselves by building little pyramids of tankards on the tables to challenge the dancing Elf, while others cheered him on. Under the influence of music, he seemed to have thrown all traces of elvish restraint to the winds, but neither missed a beat nor touched one tankard, and, carried along by the vital stream of melody, concluded his progress by leaping higher than ever and executing a compete turn in the air in a manner feared likely by Faramir to bring disaster on himself, or his fellows, or the tables and tankards, or all together -- but the crowd, more alert than they seemed, stood back and made sufficient space for him to alight safely on the pavement in front of Gandalf and Frodo amid general applause, while the music crashed to a sudden, but evidently expected, halt.
Faramir felt happier at the ensuing reduction in noise, and wondered if the party was about to break up; but no, the lull merely allowed the wizard to call for more refreshments, and Faramir watched the beautiful Elf, eyes sparkling with laughter, drinking wine and sharing a joke with Frodo, who was describing his dancing as 'better than my efforts at Bree!' The Elf's long golden hair reminded Faramir keenly of the absent Éowyn, and he sighed and felt his loneliness return. He looked away to find some distraction as the piper started to play a slow reflective melody and the noise in the courtyard subsided further, to a sociable hum and a clatter of mugs and dishes.
His glance fell first on the unusual (to him) and diverting sight of the large Dwarf, who had been one of the King's companions, holding in one hand the gittern he had been playing (Musical dwarves? Yes, he suddenly recalled that instrument-making was one of their crafts, and some dwarvish work lay neglected in store rooms of Minas Tirith, forgotten since the arts of peace fell out of use and favour after the death of his mother) and in the other hand a large mug of foaming ale.
The froth naturally attached itself to the Dwarf's remarkable moustache when he drank, and he licked most of it off afterwards with evident relish, swiping the rest away with his broad hand. Faramir saw that the Elf was now standing in front of the Dwarf, saying something that made the latter smile broadly, showing very white teeth.
Between the recent uproar and his own still uncertain health, Faramir could not remember the name of this unique being, whose bushy mane of hair, as unusual in Gondor as his forked and braided beard, gleamed bright brown and red-gold in the torchlight, almost matching in colour the wood of the instrument he had been playing.
Faramir reflected that he, and his brother, and doubtless many others of their people, had been fighting so long to defend their land that they had forgotten, or never learned, much of what they were protecting -- never learned because their lives had been dedicated to that one task. He stirred uneasily, his body echoing his mental skirting round the bitter question: what if things we thought to defend are there no longer when we return to look for them? And yet, there before him were the Elf and Dwarf, the Hobbits, and most of all his own people, who seemed to have been able to fight and come back to enjoy the peace they had won.
Now he saw that the grey-haired old woman who helped run the guest house was approaching the Dwarf rather shyly, with a worn leather bag in her hands that could only hold a small harp. The courtyard, though crowded as ever, was now relatively quiet, with only the piper playing very softly, and Faramir felt better able to take in the scene around him, and as the Dwarf spoke kindly (to judge by his expression) to the old woman, he became aware of another man sitting in the shadows to his left, in the darkest corner of the court. This was curious: another who wished to see the cheerful gathering and yet keep apart. A quick turn of the shadowy head showed Faramir that his observation had been noted, and a second movement in the next instant seemed to beckon him towards the corner. He hesitated, and another tilt of the head said 'Come'.
While the Dwarf examined the harp, found where the key was hidden in the base, and began to tune it, he left his place and moved towards the dark figure.
The light seemed to fall differently when he reached the furthest bench, and he saw, faintly illuminated, enough of a lean, fine-boned face to recognise his new King. A half-seen gesture invited him to be seated. Aragorn said nothing, but sat watching with his arms resting on the table. Faramir adopted a similar position beside him.
The piper stopped playing now to enjoy his share of the food and drink, and in the lull that followed, one voice began to sing alone, a man's voice, rich and even in tone, raised suddenly in lament in the middle of the feast, recalling all that had lately passed away like the May morning dew.
The man was singing in Westron with an accent that Faramir did not recognise immediately. But when he had picked him out in the uneven light he saw that the singer was one of the remnant of Westfold men, left behind to recover from their wounds when Erkenbrand marched out, who were waiting for King Éomer to return. He was not a young man, with shaggy greying yellow hair cut short, and with thick bushy eyebrows, standing among his comrades, singing one of their own songs, to a slow melody with strange grace-notes and unexpected intervals, odd but beautiful to Gondorian ears.
'The house I was raised in is but a stone on a stone...'
The words spoke for all that had been swept away by the long wars.
Someone brought a fresh torch and stuck it in a wall sconce not far away, and Faramir glancing round saw the King's face more clearly and was shocked by the gleam of tears falling slowly down the weather-beaten cheek, but in the same instant the pain of his own losses awoke and he did not think the grieving strange.
Aragorn caught his glance, and making no attempt to hide or brush away the tears said softly; 'Much will be ended by this new beginning, and the day when Imladris where I was fostered will be no more than a stone on a stone is not far off.'
Faramir gazed at him with little understanding, though he had heard from Gandalf that Aragorn had been brought up by the Elves. The King was speaking again:
'Once Arwen is here, Lord Elrond's work is almost done; in a year or two at most he and his people will take ship into the West and return no more, and with his power gone, his house, great and fair as it is, must fall.'
'It is grief indeed, my lord, to know that the fair folk must leave us when we have scarcely seen them.' He looked across at Legolas, still standing near Gimli and listening to the singer. 'And will this Elf leave us too?'
'Ah! He is of another kindred and will stay longer. It is his wish to bring some of his woodland people south into Ithilien to speed the healing of the land, and to help restore the gardens here in the city.'
'A generous wish' said Faramir, as the song ended amid a rustle and murmur of approval.
Very soon the Westfold men began to sing again, this time in their own 'impenetrable dialect' (as Éowyn had named it) but it seemed clear that this song was more cheerful than the last, with each man singing a declamatory verse in turn above a drone provided by a hurdy-gurdy, and all joining in a lively and rhythmical refrain. Faramir saw the Dwarf resume tuning the harp, and then play softly with his head bowed close to the strings so that only he could hear during the song.
'I am ashamed to say that I have forgotten the name of the noble Dwarf, even though he was kind enough to visit me with his companions when I was in the House of Healing.'
'He is Gimli, son of Glóin, a Dwarf of Erebor, though he was born in Ered Luin in the days of the dragon Smaug. His father was one of the company of Thorin Oakenshield who helped free the northlands of the dragon.'
It seemed that Gimli had now tuned the harp to his satisfaction, for the clear ringing sound of its metal strings joined the harmony of the Westfold chorus. The men's voices, harsh yet tuneful, filled the courtyard and echoed among the buildings. Aragorn tilted his head, listening intently to the words.
'It seems to be about wild goats,' he said doubtfully.
'That could be right. Éowyn says they can be like a plague in parts of the Westfold. So you know the language?'
'I have learned something of many tongues in my years of wandering' Aragorn replied, and smiled inwardly at the way Faramir suddenly sounded as if he had been married to the Lady of Rohan for years.
The song ended with a final loud chorus and was met with warm applause, even though few, apart from the singers and Aragorn, had understood much of it. Gimli was still playing the little harp, to the evident delight of the old landlady, and eventually struck up a measure so odd that more and more of the company turned their attention towards it. The notes rippled light and fast, with swift upward runs like darting flames, and the toe of one dwarvish boot clicked the beat on the flagstones, a rhythm that Faramir found hard to catch. The Elf seemed fascinated too, and stood by Gimli swaying unevenly, as if his whole body were trying to grasp the music. Suddenly it seemed to take hold of him, and as he moved Faramir also picked up the five-count measure -- something he had never heard before.
'Is that dwarvish music?' he asked.
'I think it must be, though I have never heard the like.'
They watched fascinated, as, with remembered and invented steps, the Elf made a circling dance to suit the music, raising his arms high with such grace that the curving movements seemed to flow out through hands and fingers into the air as sparks fly upwards from the flames. The embroidery on his emerald green coat glinted gold in the torchlight, and his calm, absorbed, unsmiling face made him seem lost in the music, a figure of remote enchantment. But the Dwarf's eyes never left him, and gave the tiny signal to warn of the end of the music, and the Elf saw it and finished his dance with a low bow to the musician.
'A strange pair' said Faramir; 'The first of their kindred to be seen in the city in my lifetime.'
'Much longer than that, I think' said Aragorn; 'Yet I trust you will see more of both peoples in future, for Gimli has said that his folk would undertake the forging of new gates for the city, and such works of masonry as may be needed.'
'This is good news indeed. I shall be glad to see the free peoples work together in peace as well as in war.'
Now it seemed that some of those present were calling on the men of Ethir Anduin for a repeat of the sailor's love song. There was a general stirring and movement, and some people seemed to be leaving, but the leader of the seamen gathered his group and again invited Gimli to join them. The Elf went with him as he moved to a bench beside the seamen, having returned the harp to the landlady.
After the liberal serving of ale and the high good humour of the evening, the song began at a greater volume than before, and quickly grew louder, especially when they came to the words: 'For when I'm drinking I am thinking, And wish the skipper's daughter were here.'
This performance was such a success that an encore was called for immediately, and given yet more loudly, with the Dwarf's tremendous voice unrestrained, and the others rising above it as if taking extra strength from the deep notes.
Faramir saw that the Elf was now standing close behind the Dwarf, hands on his shoulders under the rich mane of shining hair, and understood at once that he did so to feel as well as hear that unique voice. His words to Aragorn reflected what the Elf had felt: 'It is as if one should hear a mountain sing!'
The song master was directing some of the men to take each verse of the song alone in turn, and the different voices soared into the night, higher or lower, rougher or sweeter, and the noise of the choruses seemed liable to fetch the mortar from the joints of the masonry with its powerful resonance. Even the Dwarf was given his turn, and got the verse that said:
'I'm so in love, I'll not deny it,
My heart lies smothering in my breast.
It's not for you to let the world know it;
A troubled mind can know no rest.'
He seemed to lean his head right back against the Elf's chest as he sang, and Aragorn smiled in the shadows, wondering if he knew what he was singing, or had merely learned the words by rote, complete with the accent of the men of the Ethir, so that 'know it' sounded more like 'naw et'. Frodo, Sam and Gandalf were exchanging smiling looks with raised eyebrows -- that much the King could see. And he could see the look of shining tenderness the Elf turned on the Dwarf, the easy acceptance of hands on shoulders: that was new, and he was pleased to see it. If Boromir saved the Quest at Parth Galen, he thought, These two saved me. When I had to choose, full of doubt, they followed, when they would have gone after Frodo. I was right, but their faith kept me to it. He smiled again at the pair. Gimli looked as if he meant all the words he was singing, except the 'troubled mind'. There was no sign of that. This friendship had moved on, the seeming opposites united: Elf and Dwarf, both children of the One, the first generation and the adopted ones, ancient and undeniable wrongs set aside at the end of elvendom on earth.
As the final chorus was given one last rousing repeat, Aragorn thought over what he knew about the two. He was aware that Legolas shared the fate of the last-born, who had become a barren stock, though he also knew that it was not unheard of for the last-born to marry; and he knew that Gimli was a Dwarf who had found a mate and lost her: both were therefore suited for the Quest in that they had no wife or family to leave behind. He concluded that they had been destined to find all they needed in each other. He smiled again. Perhaps they were even a sign of promise for the new age.
As the applause for the song subsided, Faramir felt suddenly dizzy and leaned forward, head in hands. Aragorn touched him gently on the shoulder.
'You have stayed long enough, I think.'
'Too long, you should say! Yes, I must go back.'
'And the way seems long. I shall go with you.'
'Thank you, my lord.'
With one hand on his elbow, Aragorn soon steered him round the edge of the courtyard to the archway. Already the band was tuning up again and the proceedings were showing ominous signs of gathering speed as the two paused in the double archway and were aware of others at the far side in the darkness. The Dwarf's voice said:
'Those wretched Hobbits will dance all night!'
'Unless they get up to some other tricks with their ladyfriends!'
'Those girls are little more than children, and the Hobbits are grown men beside them!'
'I was not speaking of the little sisters, my friend. It's the elder ones who find the idea -- or the reality -- of Hobbits -- er -- intriguing.'
There was a mingling of dwarvish and elvish chuckles, and then two dark shapes merged into one. A moment later there was a muffled exclamation and: 'Legolas! What in Middle-earth have you been eating?'
Faramir was aware of the tall man beside him stifling an undignified splutter with his fist and backing hastily to the far wall of the archway. There followed a pause for consideration.
'Oh, a variety of things, all good. Perhaps it was the fish.'
The voices faded a little.
'And I cannot say that ale improves your beard!'
'I don't think they'll ever change -- in some ways!' said Aragorn.
Two shadowy figures moved off down the street.
'Elves! What are you like!' said the Dwarf's voice in the distance.
The words of the Elf's reply were incomprehensible, though the tone of mock reproof was not.
A louder burst of noise propelled the two men towards the dark street, and Faramir breathed more easily away from the crush. Aragorn looked after the retreating figures of Elf and Dwarf.
'Their bed will be a happy one tonight -- when they resolve the matter of the fish!'
His deep voice sounded warm with affection and amusement. Faramir stopped in mid-stride.
'Their--? You mean they are lovers?'
'Oh, yes. But they set their love aside on the Quest, almost unknowing, for the greater love of Middle-earth; and now they are free, and will be happy, I trust.'
Faramir realised that the King saw nothing amiss in such a love, and his mind darted over what he himself knew: some men who seemed to have an outright aversion to women; some, like Boromir, who were courteously indifferent and simply preferred the company of men; some who took things further, to exclusive devotion. In Gondor it was not so much the fact, but rather the character, of such a friendship that counted: was it true, faithful, decorously conducted, or not? Then he arrived at the heart of the matter.
'But Elf and Dwarf?' he said, astonished, for he was not unversed in the lore of past ages.
'Yes! Wonderful, is it not? And good that a new age brings something as new as that! Though no doubt not all will see it in such a light. There will be frowns, anger, and perhaps mockery. But their faith in each other is strong now, and will endure.'
'A new age must bring new ways' said Faramir;'And some will reject the new merely because it is new. But trust earned in battle forges the strongest bonds.'
'You say well, Faramir. And it is not Elf and Dwarf alone who are new here!'
The music and foot-stamping of a furious jig pursued them into the street, interspersed with yells and screeches, some of them clearly uttered by Hobbits.
'Tallywhack and tandem!' Faramir exclaimed suddenly, laughing.
'What language is that?'
'Hobbit language, I suppose. Something Master Meriadoc said when they came to visit me, and things got to such a pitch that my Lady Éowyn turned them all out like a farm wife shooing chickens. He said that his grandmother would be scolding them for "raising tallywhack and tandem"'.
'I never heard even Hobbits use such words before, but no doubt the Bucklanders have their own expressions, and that seems well enough suited to describe the noise in there.'
They walked slowly up the street, followed by the fading sounds of revelry by night. Faramir tried not to think of the long steep climb to the citadel ahead. They passed through the lamplit tunnels in the rock, to the eyes of the few others abroad just two more benighted merrymakers going home in cloaked and hooded anonymity. Eventually, when Faramir stumbled on a broken paving stone, Aragorn's right arm came quickly round him, and was not withdrawn once he was steadied, for the King sensed immediately that the younger man had not yet recovered his full strength. They moved on slowly, in silence, until an owl flew out of a deserted turret, passing low over their heads with a shriek that made them both jump.
'So there are owls in the city still' said Aragorn, with a smiling note in his voice.
Still? thought Faramir How does he know?
He paused in his stride and turned towards Aragorn, still supported in the curve of his arm, but before he could speak, the other said: 'Do you remember? Two young boys watching for owls from a high battlement in the moonlight, when they should have been in bed?'
Then Faramir did remember: two young boys and a tall kindly stranger, a visitor soon gone, but, they had learned, a man once well-regarded by their grandfather Echthelion, if not by their own father.
'Thorongil?' he asked faintly, wondering.
It seemed so long ago, yet would explain so much, explain why he had seemed already to know the King when he was called back from the deadly sleep of his wounding.
'Yes, Thorongil. So you remember.'
Faramir sighed. He remembered a warmth and kindliness in the strange warrior that he had scarcely known from his own father.
'Did Boromir know?'
'No; the question never arose.'
'If he had come home with you, he would have known. He rarely spoke of Thorongil, but I knew he did not forget.'
They moved on slowly.
'Faramir, it was not his fate to come home; it was his part to take a great step on the road to victory and so leave us. Do you truly understand that when he seemed about to fall victim to the power of the Ring, he saved us all from it, and saved himself?'
'How can this be?' asked Faramir.
They had spoken of this before, and yet the darkness that had clouded his mind seemed to have allowed only partial understanding. He knew that his brother had died a hero's death, for he had seen the light around him in the mysterious boat, but the true nature of the victory eluded him.
'By trying to take the Ring, he forced Frodo to action in the nick of time, and that in turn forced me. Any longer delay, and the Ring would either have fallen into the hands of Saruman's orcs, or been revealed at once to the Dark Lord, which would have ended both our Quest and our world. And once the Ring was gone, once Frodo left, Boromir became himself again. Without Boromir, we would most likely all have been brought to nothing: never forget that.'
Their steps halted again. In the cloud-veiled moonlight Faramir saw the King lean towards him, and received a firm kiss on his brow.
'And who can say to how far a shore the elven boat may have borne him?'
They walked on, unnoticed in the shadows. Then the King spoke again: 'You seem very weary, Faramir, and it troubles me.'
'I am weary with idleness, weary with waiting; but it will pass.'
'Weary with waiting! Yes, indeed. Here we are in the slack water between the departing tide of the old age and that of the new which does not yet flow. We have been schooled to action so long that to do nothing is a burden.'
'You speak truly' Faramir replied.
When they came at last to the narrow iron grille and inner wooden door in the wall of the citadel, Faramir took the keys from the leather wallet at his belt, opened the locks, and paused on the threshold, reluctant now to take leave of the one whose very presence seemed to give him strength. Since Aragorn had kissed his brow, he had scarcely felt the length and the steepness of the way home.
'My thanks for your company; he said; 'Alone, I would have fallen, been taken up as a vagabond -- and been severely treated by Gandalf and yourself for risking my health!'
'It is as well that I too was curious concerning the Hobbits' celebrations.'
Faramir could hear the smile in the King's voice in the near-darkness. They stood so close in the narrow gateway that he fancied he could feel a faint brush of warm breath.
'And like you I am weary with waiting,' Aragorn continued; -- 'I would ask you to help me bear that burden a while.'
There was no reply but a brief indrawn gasp.
'Please understand whereof I speak, and say yes or no as your heart guides you. I would have that comfort that warriors may give each other, lying together before or after battle: but I would not have you consent as if to an order.'
Faramir found his voice at last.
'I understand well enough, for I have not lain with another since Boromir went away and I was given his command, for I reasoned as you concerning orders. But I owe you my life, and will not grudge my bed or my body -- and would not even had you never saved me.' He drew back against the side of the deep stone arch, allowing Aragorn to step past him into the little courtyard beyond, while he barred and locked the grille and the thick, iron-banded door, shutting out the last pale glimmer of reflected moonlight from the marble-paved street.
Then they were in a tiny courtyard, filled with the scent of night-blooming flowers and the music of a little fountain. Faramir led Aragorn towards another archway, where the faint light of a small lamp showed clearly in the darkness. The lamp hung by another narrow door which opened onto a winding stair within the thickness of the massive walls, leading to Faramir's apartments. He took the lamp from its bracket and led the way up the stairs in silence until they came to the southeast facing room that was his bedchamber. He took of his cloak and from the lamp lit a couple of the candles that stood ready on a little marble wall shelf by the bed, then blew out the lamp and turned to face Aragorn in calm acceptance. Aragorn stepped close and took him in a gentle embrace, and Faramir slid his arms around the taller man's neck. Their kiss was soft and Faramir knew that this would be no fierce battlefield coupling, to blot out fear or memory. It would be love, though fleeting. But no -- rather the brief celebration of a devotion that would endure. He uttered a little sigh of contentment as a strong hand caressed his head and then moved to unfasten his surcoat. When he was stripped to the waist, Aragorn ran both hands down his sides and said softly:
'Still too thin -- but when you are wed, happiness will put flesh on your bones sooner than feeding.'
Aragorn also noticed the tiny hiss of breath as his fingers passed over the scar of Faramir's wounding, but he said nothing then. By morning he would have determined what salve or remedy he should prepare. Faramir sweated up suddenly under the touch, and Aragorn lifted him in the practised grip that had carried many wounded men to safety after battle, and laid him on the bed. Then he stood back, and with an unhurried neatness that made Faramir smile, removed his own clothes and folded them on the clothes-stool at the foot of the bed. When he stood before Faramir naked, fair skin gilded by the candlelight, the young man's first thought was that like him his King was also too thin, and awaited a like cure.
Then Aragorn turned his attention to removing Faramir's boots and the rest of his clothing, and though his body showed he was ready for their coming encounter, he moved without haste, or shyness, until Faramir was naked, and then sank down beside him, drawing him close until they comforted each other for the weariness of waiting.
Afterwards they slid under the covers and talked softly of hopes and plans for the future, until words gave way to caresses again, and then talked more as the candles burned down.
After a long moment of silence, Aragorn uttered a little short chuckling sound.
'What is it amuses you, dear lord?'
'I was merely wondering what conversation it could be, between yourself and the lady Éowyn, that would encompass the wild goats of Westfold.'
'Oh! Yes, I remember. It was only the second time, I think, that I had been allowed out into the city, and Master Peregrin took me to see the house where the Companions were staying. I was walking with a long staff then -- you'll understand later why I mention it -- Peregrin said it made me look like a wizard. We met the others leaving the house as we came in, and I sat talking with Peregrin on the balcony overlooking the street and watching the comings and goings. Then we saw Éowyn walking along all alone: she had met the others, who had said I was at the house, and had decided to come down. So Peregrin ran and brought her up to the balcony, and the next thing was, we heard the Westfold men marching down from the citadel, where they had just taken leave of you, on their way to the stables to their horses. They were singing a marching song, and Éowyn began to smile and laugh when she heard it. So I asked what song it was, and she said it was one where the men make up scandalous rhymes about their captains, and the better liked the captain, the ruder the verse.'
'I have heard such things' said Aragorn, laughing again.
'Then, as they were passing below, she stood up and hailed them, in a voice like a silver trumpet, and they halted in some disorder -- the Rohirrim are not much given to marching -- and turned and cheered her. Then she was speaking to Marshal Erkenbrand and others in their own tongue for a while, and then one bolder than the rest, seeing me with my stick beside her, spoke in Westron and said "He who marries a lady of Rohan should need no staff", or some such words, which did not sound well, and there was a silence. Then Erkenbrand spoke to the man, who replied in the tongue of Rohan, and I felt the mood change as Erkenbrand called to my lady, and as he spoke, she took the staff from my hand and gave it to Peregrin. Then she took my hand and laid it upon her shoulder, and then spoke in Westron herself and said "Is this what you meant, Wolfram of the wayward tongue? He who marries a lady of Rohan will need no other staff!" Then they all cheered again, and the one called Wolfram looked like a man reprieved from a grievous sentence. I put my arm around her shoulders, and they cheered ever louder, until Erkenbrand brought them to order, and she bade them farewell. They marched off and someone started another song, which made my lady laugh again, and she told me it was a wedding song from the Westfold, that weddings in the Westfold can be very remarkable events, lasting many days in the noble households. And after that we asked and answered many questions about our lands, until we came at length to the wild goats of Westfold: and that was the conversation.'
'It is good to hear of her laughter' Aragorn said; -- 'I hope I may often hear it for myself in days to come.'
'Truly it is a wonder, and all owing to you, that she lives to be my lady of laughter, when once I thought I should never see her smile.'
'I healed her wounds, it is true, but it was you healed her heart.'
Then Aragorn kissed Faramir's brow and thanked him for his generous love, and Faramir said: 'I think you must know it was scarcely unselfish of me to keep you here, when your least touch renews my strength!'
Aragorn laughed softly.
'You are nothing if not honest, dear friend. May you always continue so. Let me tell you that you are not the only one to gain by this. But I think you will also understand that this night must be as a dream that may not come again, to be forgotten at morning, or a memory that is not spoken of.'
'My thoughts had not travelled so far, I confess; but I understand, and I am glad to have this treasure. As for forgetting at will, I cannot promise that, but all that passes here will be a memory folded away at the bottom of my mind, where none but I may come upon it.'
'Folded away! I like those words. At the bottom of your mind! You speak as poetically as any Elf; we shall always be brothers.'
'I could wish for nothing better. And my mother was of the line of Dol Amroth: your comrade Legolas seemed to find something elvish in their prince.'
'True. Then we are kin, if by forgotten lines. Now let us sleep, or we shall be weary again by morning!'
Faramir sat up briefly and pinched out the last candle. In the velvet darkness he enjoyed once more the King's kind words and gentle handling, and then rested nestled like a child in his firm embrace. After a while, Aragorn felt the other's chest heave with a deep sigh.
'Faramir? What troubles you?'
His words trailed off in a breath.
'I understand more about Boromir; but my father, that is different...'
'Yes, my dear Faramir, that is different.'
Now the King's voice was clear and uncompromising, the voice of one who would not offer easy consolation.
'Your father had courage and pride, for which we must honour him. He did not fall under the dominion of the Dark Lord, yet he fell into something as dreadful and dangerous in its own way -- despair, the denial of the life of Arda -- and he would have taken you with him into that darkness: you, and others.'
Faramir was silent for a long time, reflecting on this.
'Even the Hobbits did not despair,' he said at last; -- 'When they had more reason than any of us. That was why they succeeded, by going on, by hoping.'
'I believe that is so.'
'He was always so sure, my father, so certain: that he was right, that he KNEW, better than the rest of us. Now, of course, I understand why. Sure that the line of kings would not return -- yet it was not lost, and here you are...'
He turned in Aragorn's embrace, and slid down, so that his cheek rested against his chest.
'And then he was sure that Stewards could never become Kings; and sure that he WAS king, in all but name. He was sure that Sauron could not be overthrown, but sure that he would never yield...'
'Call nothing sure that has not come to pass,' said Aragorn; -- 'And even then, not the wisest in Middle-earth can foretell all ends.'
There was silence for a while; then Faramir said: 'That must be so, for if all is foretold and ordained, what need is there for our lives?'
Aragorn drew breath to reply, then paused, almost as if he felt the thought forming in Faramir's mind.
'So my father did as he did, because he was sure, because he could see no need for his life -- or for mine.'
'You are wise, my beloved Steward, grown strong in war to live in peace. And Gondor has need of you.'
'Then -- then what will become of his spirit, since he caused his own death?'
'That I cannot say, but I will hope -- as must you, for here is no end, but another beginning.'
Faramir sighed again. He was too tired to think further, and yet felt peace returning to his heart. He woke alone in the brightness of morning, feeling that at last he had come back to life and health. Sitting up, he saw a chair moved aside from its place by the wall, and another memory came to him, of the two young boys, dragging by the hand the kindly stranger who had stayed so briefly in their halls, eager to show of their latest discovery of a 'secret passage'. So the King had used the knowledge gained as 'Thorongil' and sought his own apartments unseen. Then yet another memory revived, dim with sleep: a soft short beard brushed his cheek as a low voice said : Sleep well, gentle warrior! Keep safe your folded dreams, as I will keep mine. If he had made any reply, he could not recall it.
Faramir got up to re-lock the 'secret' door, whistling quietly to himself -- an old habit long left off in the years of darkness -- ready for the new age of his life.
In the house in the lower city, things did not go quite as Aragorn had hoped. Legolas became aware of a change in the quality of Gimli's silence as they walked back down the hill. All the high spirits of the evening seemed to drain out of him and when at last they had left the veiled moonlight of the night and lit the candles in their bedroom, and Legolas began to unfasten the clasps of his emerald tunic, Gimli stood motionless in the middle of the floor.
Legolas turned, drawing breath to question, but Gimli held up his hand in a little warding-off gesture, and he halted, puzzled and suddenly anxious.
'Legolas, I must speak before I touch thee again and forget the whole world.'
Forget the whole world! The words seemed to burn in the Elf's mind.
Gimli backed away and sat down in the armchair at the right of the terrace window. Legolas moved cautiously to the one on the left.
'I told you, did I not, that a Dwarf will take but one mate in a lifetime, or else be solitary?'
'Yes, you did.'
'And I told you that I had my one chance; that I had found and lost.'
'We were betrothed, but her family had to make a journey to the Iron Hills, on the matter of an inheritance. It was winter before they could return, and on the way wolves of the north fell on them, and she was slain, with others of the party, and lies under uncarved stone in a place I do not know.'
'Oh my friend! Then you were never married!'
'Married! No, but' -- (he smiled faintly) -- 'we anticipated matters, as is quite usual. And since then I have followed the way of our people, and had no mate, nor wanted one. Until now. Until tonight. And now my heart wakes, and something impossible has happened. Perhaps it is because you are of another kindred; perhaps it is because this is a new age, I cannot tell. But I think, I fear, I have been given a second chance.'
'Fear?' said Legolas, leaning forward slightly, hands clenching into fists on his knees.
'Fear. For if I touch thee once again, the gift will be given, and it will be as the first should have been, for life. But you Elves may have many loves in your long years, I understand it is your way, and the stubborn and jealous heart of a Dwarf is no burden to lay upon you.'
Legolas looked at him in distress, pierced by his honesty, his further revelation of his grief, and also stung by his fear that an Elf might find utter devotion tiresome. But why should he know otherwise? Each kindred had an ample share of ideas about the other that were simply not so. Legolas took a deep breath.
'What you say of the loves of Elves is true, and yet not all the truth. Some indeed may have many lesser loves, and be content to live so; and some will not. Some will seek one to be their partner for ever, and some will find that one without seeking. And I too fear, I fear, and I hope, that I will be among these last, as my fate finds me.' If he had expected to see Gimli receive this gladly, he was mistaken.
'Say not so, dearest Elf! It would be cruel grief to give such love to one of mortal kind. I would rather leave thee now' (looking as if he might jump up at that moment and go) 'than see an immortal heart so bound -- or else I would have to endure the pain of sharing a doomed love with thee till my death should set thee free.'
Then Legolas sprang from his seat with a speed that lifted the hair from his shoulders, and fell on his knees in front of the Dwarf, covering his face with his hands and bowing his head to the ground.
'Do not speak of leaving me! Whatever I say or do will wound thee, whom I least wish to hurt. I am come to a strange gate, and can go neither forward nor back.'
Gimli looked in amazement at the Elf crouched before him, bright hair spreading over the dark wine-red tiles of the floor. How could one of the firstborn kneel thus to a Dwarf? As his bewildered silence lengthened, Legolas seemed to sink lower still as if in despair.
Then at last Gimli stirred, and slid from his seat to kneel as well, and gently took hold of Legolas' wrists, trying to raise him, and saying silently in his mind, Lady Galadriel, send me strength for two, and the right words for this moment.
Then he spoke softly:
'There is no way now but forward. I hold thy hands and my gift is given, for good or ill, for thee to receive or refuse as thou wilt. But, received or refused, I will not regret it, for all I have shared with thee: hardship on the journey, danger and trust in battle, joy here in this room. Wherever this gate takes us, I will not regret.'
Legolas' hands seemed inert in his, yet the Elf slowly straightened up and faced him, grey eyes silvered with unshed tears. They gazed steadily at each other for a long minute.
'This dark gate will open if we go forward together;' said Legolas; -- 'But where will the way lead us?' Then Gimli thought he heard the words he should say.
'We cannot see the way, for we have yet to shape it, by our own choices.'
Legolas' hands seemed to quiver with returning life, his eyes flashed with a familiar determined look, and he said:
'Then an end to all this -- whatever they say, I will love thee!'
Strangely, he glanced around the room as if surrounded, not by enemies, but by some who would question, and uttered a brief sentence in the elvish tongue, in a louder, defiant tone.
Gimli stared at him.
'What -- what did you say? You spoke in elvish.'
Legolas blinked as if coming out of a dream.
'I told them I follow a star of earth.'
Gimli seemed to understand vaguely what this might mean.
'The guardians of my people. They sense what is happening.'
'And a star of earth?'
'It is an old saying, meaning one who takes a mortal as only mate. Few such are remembered in the stories of the great ones -- the rest are altogether forgotten, taken from distinction.'
'Then so be it, if we are together.'
They put their arms around each other and leaned close, each with his head against the other's shoulder.
'Thy strange gate opens;' said Gimli softly; -- 'Tomorrow will bring us to the other side. Maybe the next gate on the way will be but half-closed.'
Then he rose to his feet, drawing Legolas gently up after him, and turned him around towards the bed.
Suddenly they both felt almost too weary to stand, as if they had run across Rohan again. They undressed in silence and laid their clothes neatly side by side on the chest at the foot of the bed. Gimli put out his candle and lay down, and in a moment Legolas joined him, his elvish beauty adorned only by the silver oak leaf talisman of Mirkwood on its short chain. Then the Elf reached out and extinguished his candle too, and turned towards Gimli, drawing him close with one arm about his waist. Resting his head on the raw-silk mantle of Dwarf hair, he whispered:
'My star shines bright under the mountain, where I never knew such things could be.'
'And I see now that the forest is a mine of treasure more divine than those of earth.'
Legolas drifted towards mortal sleep, easily found now, so close to a mortal beloved. The night breeze stirred faintly through the room.
'A warm bright day tomorrow;' said Legolas, in a different, wakeful sounding voice, only for Gimli to realise seconds later that he was already asleep.
He smiled: Legolas had somehow taught himself a sort of mortal sleep, and his waking was like a mortal's too, but the falling asleep was not quite right yet, being as disconcertingly sudden as the blowing out of a lamp. And now the Elf had defied his 'guardians' -- Gimli did not know who they were: some of the Maiar, perhaps, with a special care for wood Elves -- and could fall asleep so sweetly. But Gimli lay awake for a while, wondering. This finding of a mate was a spiritual matter, but a strangely physical experience. He felt as if all his internal organs were repositioning themselves, and he had no words, except in his own language, to describe what was happening, other than 'the gift is given'. Not 'I give my gift' but 'is given', for that part of a Dwarf's nature is not fully under conscious control -- whence its power. He knew that the giving could be denied: he could have left, still could, at the cost of a terrible effort of will that would greatly shorten his life, but Legolas' anguish at the thought of parting had overruled any impulse to resist the gift. It was done. They were one. He drew the Elf a little closer against his heart, and as the weird turmoil within began to subside, he too slept.
When he woke, early on the promised fine morning, Gimli was alone in the bed, alone in the room. Struggling up through layers of sleep like morning mist in the valley, he became aware that the air was full of birdsong -- no, not simply birdsong -- surely there was a voice, an elvish voice, blended with the sound.
He got out of bed and padded naked across the cool tiles to look out of the window. In the soft morning light he saw Legolas, dressed in his fine white robe, offering breadcrumbs to the birds on his outstretched hands, whistling and singing softly to them as he did so.
Gimli stood with his hands on the windowsill, almost holding his breath for fear of disturbing the enchanting scene.
There must have been more than two dozen little birds, fluttering and chirping around Legolas: sparrows, bluetits, robins were familiar to Gimli, but others were not. They all flew eagerly to the Elf's hands, perching on his fingers to take the crumbs and then darting away. A little wren flew out of one of the terrace trees, alighted on Legolas' right hand, and burst into loud trilling song. The Elf whistled back in a wonderful imitation, and the tiny bird challenged him again.
Gimli watched until a memory of the previous evening returned to him, and he sang as quietly as he could:
'Where the pretty small birds do change their voices, And every moment a different sound.'
Legolas turned towards the window, and some of the birds flew off into the bushes, but the wren kept its place.
Then, moving smoothly and slowly, Legolas began to walk across the terrace, talking and chirruping gently to the bird as he did so. It looked at him with bright little eyes, cocking its head to one side and the other, but stayed on his finger.
Still talking to the bird, Legolas reached the window, and carefully extended his hand towards Gimli, who reached out cautiously in response until their hands were almost touching. Legolas continued speaking to the bird, mixing elvish words and bird sounds, until the wren suddenly hopped from his finger to Gimli's, and uttered the trilling phrases of its song. Legolas saw how the Dwarf's eyes were fixed on the tiny bird, wondering but keen, as if he were recording every detail of its appearance in his mind, as surely as if he were carving it in stone or casting in bronze; and he saw a gentle smile spread over Gimli's craggy features, like spring sunshine on a rocky cliff, as the wren sang again.
Gimli was smiling not only at the trust the Elf could win from wild creatures, but also at the delicate grip of tiny sharp claws and the warmth of the miniature feet which he could feel on the sensitive side of his finger.
Legolas spoke again in elvish, as the wren examined Gimli with jet-bright eyes full of alien intelligence. He thanked the bird for its courtesy, and it trilled again and flew off in a rustling whirr of feathers.
'Thank you, dear friend, that was beautiful,' said Gimli; -- 'One little brown wren -- what a wonder!'
'The earth is full of wonders, is it not? And a little work with a watering can brings them back to the city. You see I have been busy while you slept.'
'Ah! They come not to the city, they come to thee,' Gimli replied.
He could see how well the trees had grown in the short time that Legolas had tended them, and added:
'Soon you will have your own wood within the city.'
'I have to say I love to see things green and growing about any dwelling, fair though the stonework may be.'
Gimli responded with the dwarvish grunt that this sort of remark had always earned, meaning that he was reluctant to concur too readily with elvish opinion; but, seeing the graceful figuring of dark branches, green leaves and white blossoms against the smooth marble walls, he had to say:
'I would not altogether disagree.'
Legolas laughed his clear ringing laugh, and leaned in at the window to kiss Gimli on the brow.
'Then rise, and let us finish what we started below there, to help make this city fair as it should be!' This was the very admonition to set the Dwarf in a bustle, being one never to leave a task unfinished, and they had dressed, breakfasted and set off for their work in what seemed like seconds. As the lower gate clicked shut behind them, Legolas said:
'My friend, we are happy, when there is every reason we should not be so. How can this be?'
Gimli looked up at him sharply, about to make some remark that Elves think too much, but what Legolas said was true.
Instead he replied:
'Sometimes our hearts understand more than we know, dear Elf, and last night's dark gate has opened on a light we have not seen before.'
So they turned back into the moment, and went down to the lower city.
The street was, if possible, quieter than ever. There was no sign of activity. The houses where the widow and her family and friends lived all looked shut up and deserted. Elf and Dwarf wondered if the people were there, but following some tradition of mourning. In fact they were absent, having returned to the burial ground on the second day for the final closing of the grave, according to their custom.
Gimli had brought his tool bag with him, and set it on a stone to open it and select what he might need. Legolas looked around the empty street, which ended with the fountain at the foot of the rock face not far beyond the last of the damaged houses. It was so quiet that the only sound was the cool splashing of water falling from a spout in the rock into the wide marble basin.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a sudden movement. Something, a small animal, seemed to run into the house where the child had died. Legolas remembered some talk of a dog that he had followed, and walked off to take a look while Gimli rummaged in his leather bag.
The Dwarf had just found the wedges he wanted when he was startled by a strange low hissing sound from somewhere behind him. As he turned towards it, it ended in a sort of thump mingled with a cry of pain that could only have been uttered by Legolas. Gimli leapt towards the sound, seeing as he did so a plume of black smoke rise from the ruins and swirl rapidly up across the face of the mountain, thinning to nothing in moments. Even before he had reached the broken doorway, Legolas stumbled out, hands over his face, and fell to his knees in the street. He crouched down, doubled over in a nightmare echo of the way he had knelt before Gimli in the bedroom, and as the Dwarf reached him he saw that his hands and clothes were stained black as if with the smoke that had just gone up.
'Legolas! Legolas! What happened?'
Gimli dropped to his knees, gripping the Elf's shoulders, and he straightened up slowly, lowering his hands, revealing to Gimli's horror, that his face was also blackened and his eyelids swollen almost shut.
'Gimli! I can't see! Something hit me.'
He seemed about to try rubbing his eyes, but Gimli grabbed his hand and stopped him.
'No! No! Come to the fountain! Wash this stuff off quickly!'
He jumped up and helped Legolas to his feet, and half dragged, half carried the dazed Elf to the fountain, guiding his hands to the edge of the basin. Legolas plunged his face into the water, which instantly turned black, blacker that would have seemed possible from the amount of soot on his face. Then with eyes still closed he groped with his hands to find where the water fell from its marble spout, and let the spring run straight onto his face, heedless of the splashes that soaked his clothes.
Gimli watched anxiously, but the pure chilly water did its work well, and after a few minutes bathing the swelling of the eyelids began to go down, and Legolas swayed, gasping for breath and clutching the rim of the basin. Gimli put both arms around him, and he turned, water dripping down his face.
'It's all right, I can see you. Not clearly, but I see you.'
Gimli hugged the bedraggled Elf tightly, tears of relief starting in his own eyes. Now he felt inclined to scold in reaction.
'Bathe your eyes again now, the water has run clear.' Legolas needed no second bidding to feel the soothing touch of cold water on his face again.
'What made you go in like that? What happened?'
'I saw something, an animal, a little black dog, I thought -- went to look. There was something on the floor -- it moved -- then there was a sound, and smoke everywhere, and something knocked me over.'
Gimli guessed what might have happened.
'It must have been one of the enemy's missiles, from the siege, that did not go off at the time. The dog must have disturbed it. How this morgul-stuff lingers! I hope there are no more.'
'It must be so' said Legolas, clutching the marble dizzily; -- 'My sight clears but my head swims.'
He staggered sideways and Gimli caught him and lowered him gently to sit on the ground in the angle where the last house wall met the rock of the mountain. It was a sunny corner at this time of day, and Gimli settled himself with his back against the warm masonry, drawing Legolas close to rest across his chest, supported by the Dwarf's strong arms and raised knees, face half hidden against his beard, hands tucked up in a foetal curl. Legolas was trembling a little with shock, and Gimli held him tightly, stroking his head and making soothing murmurs, hardly knowing what he said. He was beginning to feel the shock himself, now, and also realised that they were quite alone. If Legolas should need more help than he could give, he would have to abandon the Elf to fetch it. But gradually the trembling subsided and Legolas stirred.
'I'd like to bathe my eyes again' he said, but found he could hardly stand unaided.
Gimli helped him the few yards to the fountain, and he bathed his face and hands again. It was strange how strong a stain spread from the remaining soot, clouding the whole basin with its taint, but the swelling of Legolas' eyelids reduced further, leaving the grey eyes bloodshot but able to see.
'I shall have to rest longer before we can go home' he said as they returned to the sunny corner.
'Of course; said Gimli' -- 'It is hardly midmorning yet. Let the sun warm you for a while.'
So Legolas leaned against him and seemed to doze in the sunshine, but time went on, and he did not recover his strength as quickly as Gimli had expected. Towards midday the Dwarf was growing more anxious, and was resolving to leave Legolas and go in search of help. There was still no sign of life in the street, but then, just as he was about to speak to Legolas, help appeared, the very best he could have asked for: Gandalf himself, striding along the street, staff in hand, a light summer mantle of soft blue billowing over shining white.
The wizard swooped down upon the pair, alarmed at the sight of Legolas, questioning, examining. Legolas seemed to revive under his touch, and soon stood up, leaning on Gimli's shoulder.
Apparently satisfied that the Elf's life was not in danger, Gandalf went into the damaged house to see where the incident had happened. Sam, it appeared, had told him something of what the two had been doing, and he had decided to come and see for himself, having a spare moment -- by chance, as it is said.
When he emerged, stepping cautiously over the rubble, he said:
'Whatever work of the enemy that was, it was powerful, yet nothing of it now remains. I have heard no reports of any other such in the city, but those who are working to repair the damage must be warned. But first, let us take Legolas home to rest properly.'
With Gandalf and Gimli to aid him, Legolas climbed the long stair to the next level and then to the courtyard, where they found Sam busy weeding round the trees and bushes in their tubs and troughs, having already dealt with the entrance stairs.
He was greatly shocked by what he heard and saw, and hastened to make a herbal drink for Legolas, while the Elf washed the last of the sooty stuff from his face, neck and hands, and Gimli brought him his white robe, for his clothes were in need of cleaning too. His hair, still drawn neatly back into a single plait, Dwarf fashion, seemed to have cast off the black powder, and gleamed as bright as ever, but he shook it out and let Gimli brush it for him.
Soon he sat on the courtyard bench in the sunshine, dressed in the soft white robe, enjoying the fragrant infusion Sam had brewed. The others joined him with their cups, and Gandalf though that he was already looking much better.
Suddenly Sam uttered a little exclamation to himself and trotted off to the front terrace, to return shortly with a bunch of leaves in his hand.
'The very thing' he said; -- 'Growing right under our noses, around those flowering bushes -- don't know what they are -- blossoms like cherries -- the very thing, eyewort we call it at home, I'll make it up for you. You can use it as soon as it cools, but it'll be better if you keep the leaves in overnight.'
Off he went to the kitchen again and stirred up the fire to reboil the kettle, while Gandalf heard about the death and funeral of the little boy, and the stone Gimli had cut.
The wizard looked keenly at his two comrades, sitting so close together, each now so ready to praise the other, and smiled gently at the change he saw in them. Soon Sam came out with his potion and a small linen cloth.
'Just wring this out in the liquid and lay it over your eyes for five minutes,' he said -- 'It'll make a difference. The rest is inside, just leave it to infuse till morning.'
Gimli took the bowl and the cloth, and then laid the compress over Legolas' eyelids. He half-turned on the bench so that the Elf could lean comfortably against him.
'Thank you Sam, it feels very soothing. I had not recognised the plant. I must learn more of your Shire herb-lore, if you will teach me.'
'Of course I will, dear Legolas. Whoever planted these pots and things must have known quite a bit -- there's some very useful herbs, for cooking and for medicine -- tucked in around the shrubs and things -- not the way I'd do it, but here it suits.'
Sam raided the store cupboards (cut into the rock that formed the back wall of the kitchen, wonderfully cool for fresh food) and made a meal for them all. He found that today's provisions included fish from the Anduin, and soon the air was filled with sizzling fragrance. Legolas found a better appetite than either Gimli or Gandalf expected, and when Sam and the wizard departed they felt happy to leave the two alone.
Gimli urged Legolas to go to bed early, and they lay close together watching the daylight fade. They spoke little, and as darkness fell, Legolas crept closer, so that Gimli could slide his left arm around him, and seemed to go to sleep. Gimli dozed, sleeping with one eye open, not entirely convinced that all was yet well, and as the night wore on he was aware of Legolas muttering and stirring a little in his sleep, though he did not find this surprising after the day's experiences.
It was three hours after midnight when he started awake as if someone had called him. He seemed to hear a sound echoing, yet all was still -- too still.
The lamp he had left burning, refilled and carefully trimmed, on the bracket at his side of the bed, still gave a soft golden light, but he did not need light to know that Legolas had rolled away from him, and was now lying flat and motionless at the other side of the bed, his breathing slow and faint.
Gimli sat up abruptly, leaned over, grasped the Elf's shoulder and shook him gently, and was frightened by the coldness of his body under the white robe. The shaking had no effect. Gimli shook him again, harder, calling his name bent down and kissed soft cold lips that parted lifelessly under his.
Now their room was a lighted cave of fear in the vast peaceful darkness of the sleeping city, with no help at hand.
Gimli shook the Elf again, more roughly still, calling him again and again, lifting him from his pillow, so that his head fell back like a dead man's until, without warning, he awoke, and clutched at Gimli with both hands, dragging on his hair and gasping as if he were drowning. Gimli held him tightly until he grew calmer, but he remained deadly cold despite the warmth of the Dwarf's body.
'Gimli, where have I been? It was dark, deep and dark, and cold, I'm cold...'
Legolas' voice was faint and faltering.
'It was a dream, dear Legolas, only a dream. You're awake now.'
But he was still anxious. He had never heard the Elf complain so of cold before, and though the night was mild and he had drawn another blanket up over Legolas, still the warmth did not return to his body. He did not even shiver.
Something else must be done.
Then, the way that Legolas had seemed to be trying to escape drowning gave Gimli an inspiration: a hot bath. He knew that Sam had mended and damped the fire and refilled the set-pot. The fire would blaze up quickly, and a hot bath taken by a bright fire was as good a cure for chills as anything that Gimli knew of. He shook Legolas again, but gently.
'You're not getting any warmer. I'm going to stir up the kitchen fire, get you into a hot bath in front of it. I won't be long, fetch you in a minute.'
But as he got out of bed and felt for his slippers, Legolas clutched his arm with unexpected force.
'Don't leave me! The darkness pulls me down!'
The words alarmed him more than the chill pervading the Elf's body.
'All right. Come now.'
He grabbed his brown robe and flung it on, then took his grey Lorien cloak from the back of the door and wrapped it around Legolas as he stood leaning one hand on the footboard of the bed. Then he took the lamp from its bracket, and found that Legolas seemed unable to follow him, so that he had to lead him from the room with one arm around his waist. Gimli was afraid that Legolas would fall before they had crossed the courtyard, but they reached the kitchen safely, and Gimli drew a stool close to the warm stove, and made Legolas sit there while he opened the stove door, pushed back the damper, and added more wood to the quickly brightening blaze.
He lit a few candles, and turned back to see that Legolas was stretching out his hands towards the fire, something he had never before seen the Elf do out of need, but only for sheer pleasure in the warmth of fire. Gimli went through to the bath house and returned carrying the large wooden tub. The weight of it was no problem for dwarvish strength, but the rope handles were placed for a man's reach, which Gimli could only just manage. He put the tub down near the stove and began to fill it from the steaming set-pot, using the large lading can that always stood ready. When the tub was half full, he turned to Legolas.
'Come on now, in you get. It's the best way to warm you.'
Legolas tested the water nervously with his fingertips.
'It's too hot!'
Gimli struggled not to scold him, but added some cold water from the cistern at the other side of the stove. When he had stirred the water around with his hand, Legolas consented to take off the cloak and robe, and stepped into the tub. Gimli was shocked to see a mass of bruises down his right side, dull purplish stains disfiguring his fine pale skin. The upper part of his right arm was bruised as well, and there was a very angry looking mark just above his knee.
'Legolas! You're covered with bruises!'
As the Elf lowered himself into the comforting steaming water he could see easily enough what Gimli meant.
'Ai! yes; it knocked me over, onto the stones. They'll be gone by morning. Ah, this feels better; thank you Gimli, you kind and clever Dwarf! I would never have thought of it.'
Gimli added more hot water cautiously, while Legolas settled deeper, drawing up his knees to do so, and tossing his hair out over the edge of the tub as he leaned back and sank down as far as he could. Gimli went to fetch towels from the linen closet in the next room, and came back to find his beloved Elf basking quite happily in hot water and firelight, and looking much better.
Gimli drew a chair close to the fire and draped the towels over the back to warm them. Then he picked up the lading can again and scooped water from the tub to pour over Legolas' shoulders. Legolas leaned forward to enjoy the sensation, and inevitably the ends of his hair fell into the water. Black streaks immediately appeared on his back and stained the water.
Gimli cried out in horror when he saw it.
'The black soot! It's still in your hair, it's turning the water black like the fountain!'
Legolas jumped up and out of the tub with a wild splashing, pulled a lock of hair forward over his shoulder and looked at it. The pale golden strands gleamed as brightly as ever, but left a black mark on his hand. He dropped to his knees beside the tub, flung all his hair forward, and dipped his head in the water. The result was as dramatic as before: all the water in the tub turned black almost instantly, as if with the strongest dye, while his hair continued to look quite clean.
'The evil influence must be in the soot, not the explosion' said Gimli; -- 'We must wash it all out.' Legolas squeezed the water out of his hair. It was very strange that the black stuff should colour the water so strongly and yet not be visible on the pale golden tresses.
'That must be it. I feel much better already. I must go out to the fountain.; this needs running water.'
'But it's so cold -'
'That will be no matter, now so much of the stuff is gone. I am warmer already.'
Gimli realised that this was true as he wrapped the largest towel he could find around Legolas, took up the lamp, and went out with him to the courtyard spring. There was no doubt that washing to remove the black substance was the right treatment: he was clearly stronger.
It was not very easy to tell by the light of the lamp just when the water ran clear, but at last they were satisfied, and returned to the warmth of the kitchen. While Legolas sat by the bright fire drying his hair, Gimli dragged the heavy tub carefully across the floor to the drain and poured the black water away, then rinsed the tub out with clean water from the cistern. Constantly looking round at the Elf, he refilled the water heater and replaced the lid. There would be hot water ready in the morning. Legolas' hair was drying now but looked tangled.
'Where is your comb? Let me fetch it for you.'
Legolas told him where to find it, and he took a candle and went out. The night was still and mild, faintly scented by blossom. Peace was returning to the little house, and Legolas was sufficiently recovered to smile at the Dwarf in his sack-like robe when he returned with the fine ivory comb.
The kitchen was now very warm, glowing with the light of the fire, lamp and candles at one end, dim and shadowy at the other. Gimli closed the damper to save the fire, and then turned his attention to combing out the Elf's hair, lifting the silken strands high to speed the drying. Slowly pleasure was replacing anxiety. Legolas turned on the stool.
'Want to roast the other side now?' Gimli chuckled, running his fingers through the pale gold locks, both to feel for the wetter parts and to enjoy the sensation.
Legolas drew a deep breath, straightening up as he sat.
'Had I not lain beside you, I would never have wakened; I am sure of it. I owe you my life.' Gimli's hands halted.
'I was falling down into darkness,' the Elf continued; -- 'It was cold and deep. I tried to call you, but I could not hear my own voice. It was like drowning, in something thicker than water, like being buried in the black soot.'
'I heard you call!' Gimli replied; -- 'Though you did not speak. That is what woke me.'
Legolas flung his arms around the Dwarf's stocky body and held him in a crushing embrace, pressing his face against the coarse brown robe, feeling the dwarvish heat beneath.
'You heard me? You heard?'
'My heart heard.'
He stooped and kissed the top of the golden head.
'May our hearts always hear each other, my Legolas.'
They stayed clasped together a little longer, then Gimli resumed his tending of the fine elvish hair, until he was satisfied that it was completely dry.
'There, that's done. Now you must rest.'
'I feel recovered now. The evil was in the black soot and it is gone.'
'Don't argue! It was a great danger, even for the strength of an Elf.'
Gimli moved away and opened one of the rock-cut storage cupboards at the back of the kitchen. Cold air fell out like invisible water -- no need to worry about the freshness of the milk in its red earthen crock. He carried the crock to the stove, measured out two cups of milk into a small pan, and set the pan on the hotplate to heat. Legolas sat and watched him in contented silence. When the milk was nicely warm, Gimli filled the cups and damped the stove.
'Now come and rest.'
Legolas rose obediently, put out the candles and took his cup, while Gimli picked up the lamp, and they went back across the dark courtyard and returned to bed. When they were sitting side by side, leaning on their pillows, Gimli felt they were like naughty Dwarf children holding a midnight feast as they sipped their milk and the weight of the night's events slowly fell from them. When they were ready to put out the lamp, Legolas said softly:
'I do owe you my life. It will not be forgotten.'
'Have we not saved each other often? Let there be no reckoning of debts between us, dearest Elf.'
'No debts, but no forgetting' Legolas answered, sliding down under the covers and gazing solemnly up at Gimli.
Gimli blew out the lamp and settled beside him in the soft darkness. Once again he drew Legolas close to him, feeling his body reassuringly warm again under the white gown. The sky was growing light outside the curtained window, and the little birds were starting to sing in the terrace bushes as the two fell asleep, weary beyond thought or desire, to sleep soundly as the sun rose on another fine day in Minas Tirith.
It was mid morning when Gimli woke again, and his first concern was for Legolas; but the Elf lay turned towards him, in a soft relaxed curl, breathing evenly, and his skin felt comfortably warm (for an Elf) to his cautious touch. Gimli rose quietly, put on his brown robe, and drew the curtain back a little way, so that he could push the window wide open. The little birds hopped and twittered outside.
'Hush little friends, he is sleeping' he said softly, and wondered what his kinsfolk would think of a Dwarf talking to birds.
When he stepped out into the courtyard, the first sight he saw was Gandalf and Sam sitting at the outdoor table, on which reposed Sam's mushroom basket. Gimli closed the bedroom door carefully before he spoke any greeting.
When Gandalf heard what had happened during the night, he seemed quite dismayed, and reproached himself for failing to see the clinging influence of the morgul-stuff.
'But maybe it is only active at night' said Gimli; -- 'It seemed to come on quite suddenly.'
'Well, your idea of the hot bath was certainly the right one,' said the Wizard; -- 'But I should like to see him again as soon as possible, even at the risk of waking him.'
'Do you think we should ask Aragorn to come?' said Sam.
'If there is any sign that the evil remains, I would advise it' Gandalf replied.
So Gimli went back to the bedroom and found Legolas just waking up. He drew back the curtain and announced the visitors as Gandalf appeared at the door. Legolas sat up and assured them that he felt well, only rather tired; but he could not remember exactly what had happened during the dark hours -- even the hot bath was an indistinct recollection.
Gandalf came to the bedside and looked at him closely, not seeming entirely pleased with what he saw. Gimli mentioned the bruising on the Elf's side, which he seemed to have forgotten until it was spoken of. Legolas turned back the bedclothes and drew up his long gown to look for the heavy mark above his knee, and Gimli was very surprised to see that it had faded almost to nothing.
'Elves heal quickly, and bruises are no great matter.'
But he settled himself down in bed again.
Then Gandalf seemed to notice something.
'Turn your head to the right, please, Legolas.'
Gimli and Sam watched anxiously as Legolas turned towards them, and Gandalf moved to look at the left side of the Elf's face.
'There's a mark here' he said, touching the angle of the cheekbone.
Legolas raised his left hand to the place.
'Where? I feel nothing.'
'It's very faint, but something is there that should not be.'
Gimli hurried round to the other side of the bed. The near vision of a Dwarf is as clear as the long sight of elven kind, and in the light of day he found no difficulty in seeing what Gandalf had detected: a mark something like that made by the first great raindrop of a thunder shower in the dust of summer, a rosette shape made of a stippling of minute black dots imprinted in the Elf's skin, like a tattoo of the greatest delicacy, each spot no larger that the point of a fine pin.
'That's very strange' said Gimli; -- 'I never noticed it yesterday.'
He rubbed the mark gently with one fingertip.
'It seems to be imprinted IN the skin.'
'It was a strong blow. It knocked me over' Legolas reminded him.
'Tell me again what happened,' said Gandalf; --'I don't altogether understand what you were doing there in the first place: not, I think, that it has any bearing on the matter.'
'We were trying to help the people in that quarter of the city,' said Gimli; --'And the work was unfinished, because of what happened to the child.'
'Yes, Sam told me about that.'
'Well,' said Legolas; -- 'I looked round to the house where the child was killed, and thought I saw a small dog run in. The elder brother said that the little one had gone in after a dog, though the others said there had been no dog; but then I saw it, or thought I did, and went to look. It seemed to be in the inner room, but when I got near there was a sound like the hissing of a snake, or something more like the spitting of a green or wet log in the fire, only louder, and a black cloud hit me with the force of a heavy club, blinding me and knocking me down onto the stones.'
'I saw the smoke fly up against the mountainside like a swarm of bees,' said Gimli; --'It was not like the smoke from a fire.'
'I don't doubt but any other than an Elf would have died,' said Gandalf; --'That was a strong and a dangerous spell. If the mark does not fade in a day or two, we must ask the King if he will come to you, or take you to him.'
'Surely that will not be necessary. Others have more need of healing than I.'
Sam fetched his infusion of eyewort, now cooled and strained, and laid another compress on Legolas' eyelids, making sure it covered the mark as well. It seemed to make him feel better, and Sam judged that food was called for, though whether it would be breakfast, elevenses or lunch would be hard to say.
By the time Legolas was up and dressed, and the meal prepared and eaten, other visitors had arrived: Merry, Pippin and Frodo himself, all concerned about their companion, and all worried about turning up too early and disturbing his rest. When they saw the Elf apparently his old self again, the hobbits felt reassured, even when they heard of what had happened during the night.
Gimli realised that although it was obvious from his story that he and Legolas were bedfellows, the Hobbits seemed to accept the fact without question, almost without noticing: the welfare of their friends was what mattered to them.
Afterwards the visitors examined the house, courtyard and terrace, admiring the wood panelled walls of the main rooms -- almost as cosy as a Hobbit-hole, if much larger -- but Frodo seemed to feel something strange about the place.
'Do you know who used to live here?' he asked; -- 'How did it come to be left empty?'
No one knew the answer. Frodo looked around, as if he might see some reason, and then said: 'I think you have brought happiness back here, despite the accident to Legolas.'
The visitors stayed and chatted through the afternoon, sitting on the terrace in the sunshine, and since they were there, Gimli felt free to go out into the city in search of something he wanted; but Legolas began to grow restless in his absence, and had to will himself to talk herblore with Sam as the time went on, and feed the little birds with crumbs that Merry and Pippin brought from the kitchen.
At last Gimli came back, carrying a shapeless cloth-wrapped bundle of 'a few useful bits and pieces'. Gandalf noted the Elf's fretful relief at his return, and felt sure he was not as well as he seemed. Sam had cooked and set out another meal, and was helping Gimli tidy up afterwards when he suddenly slapped his hand to his forehead and exclaimed: 'Any more of this, Sam Gamgee, and they can change your name to Butterbur! Gimli! Legolas! I have a letter for you from Faramir, left by the servingman who brought the bread this morning.'
He produced the folded and sealed paper from the inside pocket of his jacket.
'You were asleep when he came, so I kept it for you.' Though it was addressed to both of them, Gimli handed it to Legolas to open it, a touch of unconscious deference that neither seemed to notice. Gandalf smiled as Legolas broke the seal and the two leaned close to read Faramir's clear firm script together. There was a revealing ease in their attitude, old enmity gone, the wizard hoped, for good.
'This is very kind,' said Legolas; -- 'He asks if we would like to visit the palace and see the archives and stores -- there are writings and musical instruments, and works of both dwarves and Elves, long put aside and forgotten, that he thinks should be rediscovered.'
'I would gladly see any work of my people that might be in this place,' said Gimli; -- 'I fancy it would be old work indeed, since none of our kind have been here in living memory.'
Legolas wrote a reply accepting the invitation, ready to be taken back in the morning, and when the visitors had gone he returned to the subject of Gimli's absence and the bundle with which he had returned. Gimli led him to the small room next to their bedroom, and laid out the contents of his bundle on the plain heavy table which was the main item of furniture: a small vice, a number of wooden blocks of different sizes, an oil burner, a couple of little canisters; pliers... Legolas did not know what all the things were, or their uses, even when the Dwarf named them. At least it was clear that he meant to set up a small workshop in this room.
Legolas sat on a stool by the table, looking at the things, and turned as the Dwarf paused beside him.
'You were gone so long,' he said querulously.
Gimli leaned close and kissed him lightly.
'No more than two hours and a half, dear Elf. And you missed me...'
Legolas stroked his beard, and looked up again. Gimli could not refuse another kiss, as the Elf's eyes closed, long lashes dark against his pale skin. Gimli felt the slight movements of the head with which Legolas savoured the soft rasp of moustache against his face, and squeezed the Elf's shoulder in response, half tenderly amused, half worried by the childish anxiety he had shown.
But when Legolas next looked up, his expression was bright and inquisitive as ever.
'And what will you do here, industrious one?'
'I shall start, in the morning, since the light fails now, with your silver circlet of leaves, which was not re-shaped to fit you. And I'll continue with the proper care of my axes and knives; and then, if you wish, your arrowheads. I do not think you need a Dwarf's assistance with your long knives.'
'Ah! There you may be mistaken,' smiled the Elf, much to Gimli's surprise; -- 'I know you have never examined them, but they are of dwarvish steel, and very old. I think you might like to see them properly.'
'Legolas! Thank you.'
Gimli hardly knew what to say at being offered such an honour so unexpectedly. In the days of peace, the knives had been put away in Legolas' room, and carried only occasionally, for ceremony.
'But as for the circlet,' Legolas went on; -- 'It fits very well with what you have already done.'
'Well enough, maybe. But now I have the means to complete the work, and see to the bits of damage, so that you will be able to wear it all day if you wish, without putting enough extra braids in your hair to make an arming cap!'
Legolas smiled at him again.
'Very well; I bow to your judgement.'
Then his bright expression clouded over once more, and he moved his neck and shoulders as if they felt stiff.
'You look tired now,' said Gimli (still not fully understanding how unnatural this was in an Elf) -- 'It will take more than a day to recover from what has happened to you, so, early to bed!'
Legolas was not too tired to respond cheekily:
'Only if you come too!'
But Gimli could see that it would be a night for rest, so he simply put one arm around the Elf's waist and led him through the curtained doorway to the bedroom. Legolas began to prepare for bed without protest, though he had been up barely half the day.
Gimli went across to the kitchen, savouring the sweet scent of the evening air in the courtyard. The sky was lightly flecked with little clouds, tinged pink on the western side -- surely another fine day in prospect. He set milk to heat while he washed, and then returned to the bedroom. Legolas had pushed his pillows up, and was sitting leaning against them as if he had been expecting Gimli to bring the warm drinks.
Before he got into bed, Gimli lit the small lamp on the bracket at his side of the bed.
'Just in case' he said.
'It won't happen again. Please don't be anxious, dear friend.'
'You thought you were well last night.'
'Truly I feel better, believe me.'
'I do believe you, fair one, but better may not yet be well, so I shall still take care.'
They smiled at eachother across the rims of their cups.
The soothing drink finished, they slid down between the smooth linen sheets. Tonight Legolas had left off his white gown, which was a good sign. Once again Gimli slipped his left arm under the Elf's neck and drew him closer.
'This time, don't move away. I want to know what's happening to you all the time.'
'Dwarves are so possessive!'
'Now who's addressing a public meeting?'
Legolas responded by burrowing down under Gimli's beard and biting gently at the nearest nipple.
'That milk was supposed to help you sleep, not wake you up!'
'You'll get nothing from there.'
A strong arm slid round the Dwarf's waist and held him tight.
'I seek mortal sleep again tonight. I'm not afraid of the blackness now. What remains in my face will fade, I'm sure.'
'If not, I'll take you to Aragorn, as Gandalf said.'
'There'll be no need.'
Legolas argued no more, but settled himself comfortably beside Gimli and was soon asleep.
They awoke to bright sunlight and birdsong, and smiled at each other: an untroubled night. They celebrated with a gentle kiss. Then Gimli propped himself up on his elbow and looked intently at the Elf's face. Was it imagination, or did he look a little thinner, paler? He thought he saw some change, though the bright eyes smiled happily up at him. He looked at the fine black stippled mark on the fair cheek: it had not faded. Had it been set there as a beauty spot to adorn that elegant bone structure (supposing Elves were given to such things) it might have been a subtle work of art, but he knew it was something of a very different kind.
Legolas understood the gaze and raised his hand to touch the spot, but still felt nothing.
'Now you doubt,' said Legolas, sensing anxiety; -- 'I say I am well, but you do not think so, even now.'
'No, dearest Elf, I do not think so. You are not a child, to be protected from doubt. I have shared your bed but a few nights, yet I have loved you longer, I think, than even I know, and I say you are not yet well.'
This time Legolas did not argue: Gimli's words carried too much conviction.
'That spot must be where the main force of the blast hit you,' he went on; -- 'If you heard the hissing sound, or saw smoke, and put your hands up...'
Legolas matched action to the words, and sure enough, the stippled mark fell in the angle between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. Gimli spoke again: 'I wonder would Sam's herblore have a recipe for a poultice to draw out those grains of powder?'
'Since it troubles you so, we shall ask, and I shall see for myself if there is anything growing in the plantpots that might serve -- wood Elves are not quite without knowledge of these matters!'
As on the previous day, he seemed to grow stronger as the day progressed, and himself decided to take another bath and wash his hair again, in case any sign of the black stuff had been missed in the uncertainty of lamplight.
Gimli thought this a good idea and helped prepare the bath, but before he got in, drew him over to the window and examined his skin carefully in the bright morning light, especially down the left side, and also his hands, neck and ear -- anywhere that had not been covered by clothing. Apart from the mark on his left cheek, there was no obvious sign of the black powder stippling. Gimli was just about to express his relief when Legolas said in an odd voice: 'Are the goods in order? Will you bargain?'
Gimli started back, alarmed. He guessed at once that something had made Legolas see himself for sale, perhaps in the slave markets of the Haradrim, and for a moment could say nothing, recalling at the same time elvish belief in the mercenary nature of dwarves. They glared at eachother, adversaries again, the Dwarf in his unbecoming brown robe, the Elf naked. Gimli took a couple of deep breaths
'I would not bargain for thy safety. No price would be too high. I would give my life.'
Legolas stared with wide dark eyes, still seeing strange visions, until suddenly the affronted gaze was softened by a rim of welling tears, and he answered:
'What would life and safety be to me without thee?'
He touched his face again.
'It is the shadow that does this.'
Then he wrapped his long arms about Gimli's neck and hid his face against the Dwarf's hair.
'There must be more of that poison about me still. Did you find nothing?'
'No, nothing more, nothing. It seems those little black spots have power enough.'
'Forgive me, Gimli, for such cruel words. I seemed to see...'
'I can guess what you saw. Visions of how Sauron's people might have treated you, or how he would have you think of the Dwarves. But it is all his lies, lingering yet, and you must see with your own sight, not this vision from the wreck of Mordor.'
Legolas held him tightly.
'The picture fades; it is gone. But is that how this new age will be? The great enemy departed, while fragments of his work remain, strewn about to catch the unwary?'
Gimli drew back a little in his embrace and looked at him, frowning.
'An ominous thought, Legolas, and yet one that does not surprise. There can be no end to vigilance: that much I believe. But, to be practical, if there is more of that stuff about you, it is hidden in your hair; so, let us try. Only the water will show it.'
Legolas knelt down on the thick rush mat by the tub, and leaned right over, dipping his hair into the water. Gimli took up a wooden scoop, and carefully poured water over the back of the Elf's head, making sure he reached all the fine hairs on the nape of his neck. Legolas was not surprised by his exclamation.
'Ach! Yes! It is here, right down on your neck, on the left side.'
He poured more water, and Legolas saw the ink-like stain run down and spread, much fainter than before, but still there. They emptied the water into the drain, and put more in the tub, but the black stain still showed, and another full tub was needed to clear it.
Once dressed, they had breakfast sitting out in the sunshine at the courtyard table, and the little birds came hopping around to take the crumbs. Legolas whistled to them, imitating their calls, and some came and perched on his hands again while Gimli sat still and enjoyed the sight of the Elf and his little woodland friends until visitors began to arrive. First came Frodo and Sam, then Merry and Pippin; then young Bergil, looking for Pippin for some boyish plot he would not reveal; then the man from the Steward's household, delivering provisions and collecting laundry; then Gandalf, coming to check on Legolas' progress.
When Gandalf appeared, Legolas, barefoot and wearing only shirt and breeches, was wandering around with Sam, still carrying a small plate of apple slices, the last of his breakfast, and discussing the various plants that were growing in the tubs and pots or in the crevices of the eastern wall. Gandalf could see that the Elf was clearly improving, but felt that something should be done to remove the unwanted 'tattoo'.
He sent Sam off to market to look for certain local herbs that he knew of, and also offered to take a message to the King. Gimli was all for this, full of anxiety despite the obvious improvement in Legolas' health and spirits, but still the Elf would not hear of it, insisting that the King had more important demands on his time. Privately he blamed himself for his misfortune, and even wished that Gimli would acknowledge it and call him addle-pated Elf again, or worse if he wished; or better still, something so dreadful in Dwarvish that no one would dare to ask for a translation. His anger at himself for the distress he had caused to the Dwarf now troubled him more than the injury.
Eventually Sam returned, having got what was wanted, with the help of the energetic Bergil, so Hobbit and and wizard set to work in the kitchen to make up the poultice. Gimli hovered, watching, and Legolas sat rather glumly at the table, feeling less and less worthy of the love and care that was devoted to him. Sam followed Gandalf's instructions for blending and heating the herbs, and crumbled some bread to carry the infusion.
'If it's got to smell bad to do good, this one's a winner!' Sam exclaimed, stirring the murky-looking stuff in a small pan. 'Hammer and tongs!' said Gimli, catching a whiff of it, and adding a few words in Khuzdul that made Gandalf look round sharply. Legolas seemed not to notice this bit of byplay, which worried Gimli more that the smell.
Eventually the breadcrumb mass, soaked in the greenish liquid and wrapped in a napkin, was ready to be applied to the Elf's face. It was uncomfortably hot to begin with, but he held it in place patiently until it had cooled. The result was disappointing: very few of the black specks seemed to have been drawn out of his skin.
'I think it will be worth persevering,' said Gandalf; -- 'This is not something to be brushed off lightly. I doubt whether any but an Elf would have survived the blast.'
He noticed that Legolas seemed to brighten at this; the Elf was feeling glad that he had gone into the ruin ahead of Gimli. This strange new alliance was likely to prove strong.
'Maybe tomorrow we shall walk out of the city for a while,' said Gimli; -- 'If Sam can find mushrooms, there must be some green places that have escaped ruin, and it will do you good to go there.'
Legolas smiled across the table at him as they sat eating the rabbit stew Sam had made for them. 'Yes, I should be glad to be outside the city for a while.'
Yet when evening came, Gimli could see the shadow returning, if with less force than before, and wondered how long it might last. Would the Elf be doomed to suffer it for the rest of his time in Middle-earth, all because of his love for a stubborn Dwarf, who would be meddling and looking for work, when he might have been living the life of an honoured guest?
He pushed his empty plate aside, making a little angry grumbling sound in his throat without being aware of it.
'Gimli! What ails you?'
He returned to the world with a start. Wide grey eyes stared at him anxiously. He reached across the table and laid his hands over the Elf's.
'It is my fault, this that has befallen you. Why did I go down there, dragging you after me? There was no need -- just my conceit that I could do what was wanted.'
Legolas raised the Dwarf's hands and kissed them, thinking carefully about his reply. He had no wish to belittle dwarvish strength, but he did believe what Gandalf had said about the device of Mordor.
'Your fault? Your conceit? They needed your help, and you gave it. Dragged me after you? Your kind heart drew me, and that I would freely follow, anywhere. And did you not hear what Mithrandir said, that the blast would have killed any but an Elf? We cannot doubt him. It was my fate to be there to take it, so that no worse should come about. I only grieve that I have caused you pain and sorrow -- but that will end, believe me.'
Gimli breathed a loud sigh.
'Praise or blame, it seems that now we must share! So be it.'
Legolas released his hands and stood up, smiling.
'So be it! Let us share the tidying of these dishes, and then you shall keep me from darkness, tonight and every night.'
So they went to their bed while it was still daylight, and the Elf did not need his white gown, having a 'furnace of a Dwarf' to warm him. Once again he chose mortal sleep, and rested peacefully all night. Yet though he remembered no dreams of darkness, in the morning it was clear that he was still not fully recovered, and once Gimli had risen he put on the white gown and returned to bed while the Dwarf made up another poultice with what was left of the wizard's medicine. Once again it seemed to have little effect, apart from reddening the side of Legolas' face for a while. But he got up, and seemed well enough. Nothing more was said about going out of the city.
The usual visitors came, and then other people who had heard about the accident: the old landlady, and one of the tall sisters, followed by two of Sam's favourite Pelennor girls, complete with a gift of mushrooms. The Elf was positively holding court on the terrace in the sunshine, and Gimli too, in spite of his attempts to retire into the background, received his full share of attention.
No sooner had the first visitors gone about their business than more feet were heard on the marble steps, and unfamiliar voices. Gimli went through the archway to see who was coming, as a woman's voice said: '...but this house, of all places!'
A man replied: 'Hush! How would they know?'
The iron gate was pushed open, and the old man from the lower city stepped into the courtyard, followed by the widow and her remaining son.
They exchanged grave and formal greetings with Gimli, who then led them round to the terrace where Legolas was now sitting alone in front of the bedroom window, under the blossoming shrubs and creepers. Of the Hobbits only Sam remained, but he was busy in the kitchen, as usual, happy to experiment in cooking unfamiliar foods.
Legolas rose to greet the little family, and they bowed nervously, still hesitant in the presence of this legendary being who had entered their lives at such a painful time. Shyly, the widow presented a small basket of flat cakes of a pale yellow colour, speckled with chopped herbs. The scent that rose from them was like that of the funeral drink -- sharp and bitter, a formality, not a delicacy. Gimli guessed that at this point they should offer something in return. He suggested tea, which, from the old man's nod, was appropriate, though it was politely declined.
Then the old man looked at the child, who had remained half-hidden behind his mother's long black skirt, and the little boy stepped forward, clutching something in his right hand, nervous but determined. He approached Legolas, who went down on one knee to meet him.
'I'm sorry you were hurt, sir,' said the boy, almost in a whisper; -- 'And thank you for trying to rescue my brother. I've brought something for you.'
He held out his hand, and gave the Elf his little brother's toy horse, the one Gimli had mended.
Legolas said: 'Thank you, that is a kindly gift.'
His voice was almost as faint as the child's and Gimli did not need to see his face to know that he was moved to tears. The Dwarf felt his own eyes sting, and blinked hard to clear them. Then he saw that Legolas had placed the little horse carefully beside the basket of cakes on the table, and was unfastening the clasp on the chain that held his silver oak leaf.
'This comes from the Greenwood far away in the North,' he said; -- 'And it will find a good home here with such a brave young man of Gondor.'
The mother and great-grandfather looked quite shocked at the gift, but were too courteous to protest. Legolas caught their reaction and said gently: 'It is no more dear to me than the horse to your little one.'
Then, clasping the chain about the boy's neck, he kissed him on the brow and stood up again with an air of finality.
With a last exchange of thanks and good wishes, the three took their leave, and Gimli escorted them down to the gate. As he turned back up the stairs he heard the child's clear voice saying: 'Mother, the pretty Elf was crying.'
'I'm sure Elves are as kind-hearted as anyone, dear. He knows how sad this time is for us.'
When Gimli returned to the terrace, he found Legolas sitting with his eyes closed, hands in his lap, holding the toy horse. Gimli sat down on the bench beside him, and after a few seconds Legolas put the toy back on the table, turned and clung to him without a word, hiding his face against the Dwarf's neck. Gimli held him in a firm embrace for several minutes, then gently stroked his hair, trying to draw him out of the dark mood. Eventually he breathed a deep sigh and lifted his head, which allowed Gimli to kiss the traces of tears from his eyelashes. Already one corner of the Dwarf's mind was busy devising a gift to replace the oak leaf -- a mallorn leaf, that's what it should be.
Sam appeared on the terrace to say that he was going back up to the guest house, and that everything was ready for their evening meal, whenever they chose to take it. Then he hurried off, followed by their thanks.
'Is there a lock for that gate?' Legolas asked as it clanged shut behind the departing Hobbit.
'Keep the visitors at bay, eh? I don't know. Could take a look in that porter's lodge place -- haven't been in yet. Come on, let's see.'
He had to put out his hand and draw Legolas after him to persuade him to move.
When they reached the foot of the steps, now cleared of weeds and swept by Sam, they found that the gatekeeper's door was not locked. Once Gimli had groped around in the gloom and removed the iron bar, the shutters opened with a squeak of rusty hinges, and daylight illuminated a little square stone chamber with a tiny fireplace and no furniture but an old chair and a shelf below the window. On the shelf reposed the lock, key, bell and chain for the main gate.
'Well, well! Here's a find,' said Gimli; -- 'Someone meant to return.'
He tried the lock, and it worked well enough, having been protected from the weather.
'Let's give Sam a surprise in the morning!'
He picked up the bell and went outside to look up at the hook above the gatekeeper's window. It was well beyond his reach, but not beyond that of the Elf.
The bell was attached by a freely-moving ring to one end of a short iron bar or lever with a hole in the middle and a length of chain fixed to the other end. Once the bar was on the hook, and the chain passed through the hole in the masonry beside the arch, they had a working doorbell, with a pleasant note, and a gate they could lock. Gimli promptly locked it and put the key back inside the lodge. They smiled at each other, though Legolas' eyes were still full of sadness.
The little stream splashed gently down its stony course beside the steps as they walked back up and returned to sit on the terrace again in the warm afternoon light. Some of the little birds were fluttering and chirping in the bushes, catching insects. Legolas sat down on the wooden bench and gazed at the toy horse on the table, seeming to drift quickly into an elvish waking dream, so that Gimli found he could watch him unnoticed.
Is it usual for an Elf to be so distressed by the death of a mortal? he wondered. Is it because this was so young a child? What IS usual with Elves? What do I know about them? I only know this one -- and Galadriel, but she is not like other Elves -- and about this one I know a few things well and others not at all. But he is my fate, and I cannot turn back. My warrior prince, the best comrade in arms I could wish for; mad dancing Wood-elf; bird-charmer; love who has given me back my life. My dear, passionate Elf! What have I done to you, to bind you to a mortal love? Even though you are willing? Nearly got you killed, leading you into Dwarf's work! How could I live if you had died of it?
His thoughts wandered on, until it occurred to him to wonder what dealings Legolas had had, in his long years, with the race of men. Leaders and traders of Esgaroth and Dale, the Beornings and Woodmen, and of course the Rangers, remnant of the Dunedain... And before that? It seemed inconceivable that Legolas had been alive throughout all the history of Gondor, and through years of Khazad-dum that were remote story to the Dwarf. He had known Mirkwood before the return of the Shadow. And yet he looked young: as one of the late-born, last-born of his kind in truth, he was young, for an Elf. Dammit, he even FELT young: that long, lithe body pressed against him in the oblivion of pleasure, in tenderness, companionship or repose, was a young body. Could an Elf feel the difference? Feel, for instance, as Gimli had done, once the weeks of preparation in Rivendell had made him well enough acquainted with the Hobbits to greet them with a hug, that Frodo was significantly older than the others?
That brought back another memory -- saying farewell to Bilbo. The aged Hobbit had embraced him just before he parted from his father, and Gimli had been shocked by the brittle stiffness of Bilbo's bony frame. It seemed that the sort of vigorous hug any Dwarf would expect could hurt the Hobbit, crack his fragile ribs. Glóin, moments later, was a Dwarf in his prime in comparison. And Gimli knew that his own body, vigorous and powerful as it was, felt much older than the Elf's. Did Legolas know that, or was it a sense Elves had not developed?
In that case, this Elf was in danger of learning, soon enough. Gimli approached the idea warily. Time would pass and leave its mark. But they had their hope, which he would scarcely consider, fearing to wear it out with presumption; keeping it stored away, like a vial of precious essence, not to be unstoppered for mere curiosity, lest at the time of need its virue should have faded.
The sun was slowly sinking, and Gimli became aware of a coolness in the soft breeze that stirred the blue pansies and tiny narcissi in the terrace planters. He knew that Legolas was not yet free of the morgul-stuff and must not get cold. He shook his mind free of wandering questions and moved to stand up.
It was enough to rouse Legolas, who blinked and smiled at the Dwarf as he returned from his mysterious refuge of the mind.
'Where do you go when you leave me like that?' Gimli asked quietly, then thought better of it:
'No, don't tell me; I don't suppose I'd understand if you did. Just keep coming back.'
Legolas leaned forward and kissed him.
'I'll always come back.'
'And I must learn to be less greedy, not try to keep you like a bird in a cage.'
'Do you so? But what is a cage? A dwelling one did not choose. But I have chosen.'
Gimli felt his heart give a birdlike flutter in his chest. He could only reach out and clasp the large fine hands in gratitude for the mysterious gift of love.
'Come inside. You are still not quite well, and the evening air grows chill.'
Legolas touched the mark on his face.
'It must be this. I never truly felt cold before.'
He took up the little horse and the basket of funeral cakes in their black-edged cloth.
'Let us see what Sam has left for us.'
For another night Gimli slept as lightly as ever on the quest, as if enemies might break in at any moment; yet the enemy was already there, sunk into Legolas' skin like a parasite, kept at bay only by light, warmth and love. Again the Elf slept like a mortal, seeming to draw strength from it, safe in his usual place within the curve of Gimli's left arm, against the steady beat of his strong heart.
No bad dreams, no creeping chill, disturbed them; only the bell, when Sam arrived and found himself locked out.
Gimli scrambled out of bed, flung on the brown robe, and hurried to let Sam in.
'Bit of a surprise,' said the Hobbit; -- 'But I can see why you'd do it.'
Before long he felt that perhaps he should install himself as gatekeeper, as more visitors began to arrive: Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Gandalf, of course, but not all at once, and all inclined to try the bell, even when the gate was open. The old seaman who acted as songmaster to the men of Ethir Anduin came to bid farewell to Gimli before the group sailed back downriver to their homes; the younger of the two singing sisters came, bearing a gift of salad stuff from her city garden, and fresh eggs laid by her city hens; the piper came, with a stone flagon of ale; and Faramir himself appeared, to see if his people had everything in order, and to renew his invitation.
Sam served endless brews of tea, everybody talked at once, Legolas furtively fed some of the funeral cakes to the birds, and Gimli got into a fret because he could not set up his workshop and attend to the silver circlet or go out in search of materials for the mallorn leaf pendant he wished to make.
It was late afternoon by the time everyone had gone, Sam being the last. Legolas had already taken refuge in the bedroom, and was lying on the bed, having taken off his boots and stockings, looking out of the leaf-framed window at the clear blue sky beyond.
'I must have missed the blackthorn,' he said wistfully; -- 'If they have blackthorn in this land.'
Gimli remembered the woodlands of the north, their fringes adorned with clouds of tiny white flowers like springtime snow. Yes, here in this southern land that time must surely be over, if the plant grew here at all. And in his mind he saw cunning work, sprays of oxidised silver, petals of white shell with stamens of gold wire; slips of green jade for the first tiny leaves -- a springtime coronet to adorn the bright hair of his Elf. He could make it, if only these confounded visitors would stay away. The place was becoming as busy as their former lodgings.Would they have to take to the mountain side for peace and quiet?
He took off his boots, stockings and jerkin, and lay down beside Legolas to rest for a while, leaning back on the luxurious pile of pillows. Legolas sat up and spread the Dwarf's hair out over the white linen, admiring the shades of copper, bronze and autumn leaves: it seemed there were scarcely two hairs of the same colour, all blended into the rich red-brown, shot with gold. Gimli lay still and allowed himself to be arranged according to elvish artistry.
'Most beautiful Dwarf,' said Legolas at last, and lay down again in his accustomed place, pale gold tresses mingling with the brown.
They dozed, forgetting to lock the gate, which allowed the last visitor of the day to enter unnoticed....
The King had heard by now something of what had happened in the lower city. He had heard the rumours that the wild wood Elf had disappeared, along with the Dwarf who sang and played the harp. Having made a few enquiries, he resolved to find out more for himself and so, when the day's business was done, he once more put on his grey cloak of Lórien, his chosen incognito, and stepped out into the bright evening.
He found the courtyard house readily enough, and, seeing the gate ajar, walked in. There was no sound but of water and the chirping birds, backed by the general murmur of a city concluding its day's work.
Aragorn looked around the courtyard, but saw and heard no sign of life. Then he noticed the archway to the terrace, and strolled back, taking in everything, simply interested in learning more about his city. He walked quietly along the terrace, glancing in at the windows: the large main room, sparsely furnished, with its own door to the terrace; a smaller room, in the middle of which was a large table, cluttered with a mass of objects that looked more like the contents of a workshop than of a home; another window -- a bedroom -- a vision of love and peace. He halted, smiling, and prepared to slip away, but the two within had sensed his shadow at the window. Two heads rustled up from the pillows, two pairs of eyes recognised him instantly.
'Elessar!' cried Legolas softly.
'Aragorn!' said Gimli; -- 'Come in by the door on your left there, through the rooms.'
He jumped up to open the curtain and the inner doors. Well, no need now to persuade Legolas to seek help from the King -- the King had come of his own accord, and, it was soon clear, with the thought of seeing if help were needed. Gimli took his grey cloak and hung it up behind the door while Aragorn sat down in an armchair to hear their story.
When he had heard it all, he looked carefully at the mark on Legolas' face and touched it lightly.
'Yes, there is still something here that should not be; I feel some dark force, faint, but dark.'
He brushed his fingertips over the mark in a circular motion, and Legolas exclaimed:
'Ah! I felt something! As if it moved.'
Aragorn looked at his finger: a couple of tiny grains were visible on the tip.
'Your touch does more than Gandalf's poultice' said Gimli.
Then he brought the ewer and basin from the wash-stand, set the basin down on the bed, and poured a little water over Aragorn's outstretched hand. The water showed black as it fell into the basin, despite the minute size of the black specks.
The King drew a sharp breath of surprise.
'A strong spell indeed!'
'Plain water seems to be the way to take off the effect' said Gimli.
'If it came from the fires of the Mountain, that should be the way to undo it.'
Gimli gave him a towel to dry his hand, and he resumed the treatment, working in spirals which visibly drew the black spots together and then out onto his fingers. At last Legolas' cheek was unblemished as before, and the basin was more than half full of black water. Gimli took the basin and set it outside the courtyard door, to be emptied later. Legolas thanked the King warmly, surprised by how different he felt now the black grains were gone. He also saw that the healing had taxed Aragorn's strength, which made him realise the danger he had been in.
'I am sorry to be such a burden to you, my lord, when there are so many who need your help.'
'Many indeed' the King replied; -- 'But they are mending now, and I could not neglect one of our fellowship. You should have sent word to me sooner. That was worse than it looked.'
'It is not only dwarves who are stubborn, lord,' said Gimli; -- 'He would not hear of troubling you.'
'No doubt that was also the action of the stuff, to keep its hold. Otherwise you would have known that your illness would trouble me more.'
Legolas bowed his head in agreement, and patted the bed.
'Will you rest for a while? And we will lock the gate.'
Aragorn agreed, took off his black and silver surcoat, and sat down on the edge of the bed. Legolas knelt and drew off his boots as Gimli went down to the gate.
'Do not make yourself my servant, dear Elf.'
'I am proud to be your servant,' Legolas replied.
Aragorn stretched himself out on the bed, flat on his back as they had seen him lie when exhausted by the chase across Rohan, hands folded left over right on the buckle of his belt, still ready to draw the sword he no longer needed to wear. Legolas sat down on the edge of the bed beside him and he shifted to the middle. When Gimli returned, Elf and Dwarf looked at each other and in silent agreement settled one either side of the King.
'A last time of fellowship,' said Aragorn
'No, not last,' said the Elf; -- 'We mean to return, both of us, as we have said. We shall be part of the fellowship of your kingdom.'
'And I, and all the kingdom, will be glad of it.'
'The fellowship is part of us now,' said Gimli; -- 'It may change, but not end.'
'Thank you, my friends.'
He closed his eyes, and was soon asleep. Elf and Dwarf lay quietly, watching him: the fine strong features, so familiar yet so changed, power and peace underlying the weariness of the moment.
'Now his new quest begins,' Legolas whispered.
'The crown may seem almost as much a burden as leading the Fellowship of the Ring, as the years pass,' Gimli responded in sudden speculation.
'If all goes as we wish, we shall take our share, you and I, small though it may be, beside his.'
'Willingly,' said the Dwarf.
They lay still, thinking and wondering. They had learned little enough from the envoys who had come in haste from Erebor, Dale, Mirkwood and Lórien, for the crowning of King Elessar, and returned as swiftly to spread the news. They would have to go back to their own people, for a while, to tell their story of the Quest, to hear the tale of war, victory and loss, and then to begin the shaping of their new ways.
So many steps to take, so many new gates before them to be tried, to be opened. They could only go forward, together even when apart, in trust and love, on the road that must make its own end; and if the distant future was dark and doubtful, the nearer time to come was alarming. The very presence of the King drew their minds to it: here in Gondor they would be accepted, for their very strangeness, but elsewhere, at home...that might prove to be another matter. Only time would tell.
Aragorn slept for almost an hour, motionless between his two companions, and then slowly woke, in a room still bright with evening light. He said that he was much refreshed, and indeed looked it; and there was no doubting the change in Legolas.
'Shall we see the wild Elf dancing again?' Aragorn asked with a smile.
'You saw me?'
'I heard some tales, from Sam among others. He seemed to think that the music of our people was making you quite mad!'
'You know how Elves love music and dancing! But that was music such as I never heard before, instruments I never saw before -- enchanting!'
'You looked as if you might turn into music,' said Gimli; -- 'And fly away altogether! When I played the old fire-music, I did wonder what you might make of it, but it was perfection!'
'I KNEW it was fire music!' the Elf cried, delighted; -- 'I could tell.'
Aragorn looked from one to the other, smiling at their pleasure.
'But dancing on the tables?' he asked
Legolas looked only faintly embarrassed.
'I do not know the dances of Gondor, so could not dance WITH the people; nor was there room to dance AMONG them -- so I chose the only uncumbered space!'
The King smiled more widely still.
'That sounds very...reasonable!'
They all knew he meant 'dwarvish', and laughed.
'But you were there?' said the Elf.
'Yes, in the darkest corner of the courtyard, hidden by my grey cloak. Faramir was there too, as it happens. You almost knocked him over, Legolas, jumping from one table to another across the entry.'
'And he still invited us to visit the archives in the citadel,' said Legolas; -- 'I should have added an apology to my letter.'
'I think no apology will be needed. He has said to me that so much of the life of this land has been neglected through the wars that he would be glad of help to restore it.'
'We shall give whatever help we can,' said Gimli; -- 'From what I have seen already, there is much work of my folk unrecognised in the city, and I would hope to see more in the houses of the Kings and the Stewards.'
Legolas offered the King a cup of one of Sam's herbal mixtures before he left them, and he was pleased to accept the refreshment. They went across to the kitchen, and then sat outside to enjoy the fragrant brew. Aragorn looked at his two companions thoughtfully.
'I see how things stand between you,' he said; -- 'And I tell you now that you have my protection always. Yet doubtless you will often come where words spoken here have little force.'
'It can hardly be otherwise,' said Legolas; -- 'But we have chosen our way.'
'And I -- we -- have the Gift of Galadriel,' said Gimli; -- 'I believe its power cannot be known till it is needed.'
'There has been no such gift in all the Ages,' said Aragorn; -- 'It may be that the Lady's protection will reach further than mine, even though she will leave these shores.'
Then, thinking of healers and the powerful, Gimli asked:
'How is it that you could draw out the black poison, when Gandalf could not?'
'Could not?' said the King; -- 'Did not, certainly: for his work is done, his powers no more for the service of Middle-earth. What is done from now on must be done by Men.'
Struck by his stern tone, Legolas said:
'Then will Gandalf depart also?'
'He will, dear Elf.'
'Alas, the change of the world will be greater than I thought. And so you spend your time in council with him while you may.'
Aragorn smiled at him.
'Departure is not desertion, Legolas.'
When Aragorn had gone, they locked the gate and went back up the steps. Legolas was feeling sufficiently well to have recovered from the confirmation that Gandalf would not remain long in Middle-earth.
'Sam said he had left some food ready,' said Legolas; -- 'I think I'm hungry.'
'I hope you are. I hope you're back to normal now.'
'What's normal for a mad dancing Elf?' came the laughing response.
'I dread to think!' Gimli teased him, and they went across to the kitchen to enjoy the cold supper prepared by the kindly Hobbit.
They strolled back across the courtyard as the stars were coming out, taking their stone jar of golden wine with them. Gimli raised his glass in a silent toast to the jewels shining in the blue wall of night, then turned to Legolas and said;
'Your hair is star-colour, fair one.'
'Thank you, my Dwarf-poet. Your words are gems.'
Once in the room, they lounged on the bed, sipping wine and enjoying their freedom from the shadow that had clouded the last few days. Suddenly Legolas said;
'What?' Gimli wondered what new elvish whimsy this might be.
'Feet. I was thinking, when Elessar lay here, and I looked at our feet, that was what I first noticed -- no, what first surprised me, about you: that you have beautiful feet.'
'It would be hard not to think of feet, when there's a long and hard way to walk!' said the Dwarf, glancing over a jumble of memories of rock, grass, snow and chilly streams as he looked down at his own feet: straight toes, strong arches, unblemished skin, and well-defined ankles.
'Yes,' said Legolas; -- 'Beautiful feet, inside those great heavy boots.'
'Of course; it is the pride of our craftsmen that it should be so.'
'Of course! Like the rest of your unmarked dwarvish hide that you keep so carefully wrapped under all those layers -- except today, when you've taken to shirt sleeves for once.'
As Legolas teased him, he stroked one long, narrow, pale-skinned foot against Gimli's squarish ruddy-brown one.
'How odd!' said the Elf.
'Well, if you'd never seen an Elf or a Dwarf before, which one would you say lived mostly undergound, and which out in the forest in daylight?'
Gimli stared at their feet for a moment, the laughed aloud.
'You're right! It is odd. Would you believe -- no doubt you would -- that's what I thought when I first saw Elves -- like something growing in the dark, long and thin and pale! Now, change the words, change the vision -- tall, slender, fair as moonlight!'
'And you? What did I think of you? No, the words are not mine, but Boromir's. 'Moss-covered boulders' he said, not kindly. I laughed, not kindly, either.'
Gimli snorted: sauce for the goose, after all.
'There are comparisons a Dwarf would like less!'
'But now I know better,' Legolas went on; -- 'Yet you are still a rock, a rock with a velvet skin -- see -- here...'
He reached out and with one finger lightly touched the inside of Gimli's left elbow, where the skin creased in the angle over the steely tendon, making the contrast of hard and soft plain to see, inviting exploration. He felt the Dwarf quiver slightly at the touch, and ran his hand slowly down the powerful forearm, brushing over the abundant brown hair. Then he moved his hand back again, under the rolled-up shirt sleeve, enjoying the feel of sleek soft skin over the swell of hard biceps. Then, with startling speed, he was kneeling astride Gimli's hips and reaching under his beard to unfasten his shirt.
Now it was Gimli's turn to be the mesmerised rabbit. He simply lay and wondered at the sparkling mischief in the Elf's face, relieved and enthralled by the transformation.
Legolas pushed the thick braids aside, and noticed the fine blackwork on the neckband and placket of the Dwarf's shirt for the first time.
'All this fine embroidery, hidden under a forest of beard!'
'And we favour whitework for best!'
'Even harder to see!'
'Then I must study you more closely!'
He bent down until their noses were almost touching, then planted a kiss between the Dwarf's brows before turning his attention back to the shirt, easing it out from under the waistband of his breeches, then sliding his hands up underneath, over the delightfully furry chest, feeling the heat and the heartbeat.
Gimli shifted instinctively, pushing up between the Elf's thighs, wanting Legolas to feel his arousal, unconcerned by the possible absence of a similar response from the wayward elvish body, since he was already learning to read a number of other signs. Legolas moved back far enough to let Gimli sit up and have his shirt peeled off over his head. Legolas buried his face in the garment for a long moment before draping it over the bedhead as Gimli lay down again. Legolas simply sat and looked at him with a lazy half smile for what seemed like minutes, before stooping to kiss him once more: a long, lingering kiss, with a sweet and gentle exploration of tongues. How quickly the strange newness of all this was becoming familiar, necessary. Gimli felt his pulse quicken, and his chest heaved for breath. He did not want things to happen too quickly, but his body had other ideas.
'I'm not going to be -- very good at this,' he said faintly, as Legolas sat up; -- 'I haven't your -- experience.'
Legolas shook his head and laid a finger lightly on the bearded lips.
'If I were looking for "experience", no doubt I could find it in this city: and there would surely be some who would like to add an Elf to the notches on the bedpost! But I don't want "experience", I want you, my prince of Dwarves, brown as hazelnut in the forest!'
Then he folded himself down again onto Gimli's chest, fine hair falling and veiling, to whisper between kisses:
'And have you had no one, since you lost your beloved?'
It seemed a mystery to him, that one should live so.
'No other woman, though I have been twice with men of my own kind,' the Dwarf confessed gruffly; -- 'And they meant little enough.'
'Ah, brave one!'
The Elf's tenderness soothed him, and he ran his hands over the strong back, still learning the shape of Legolas' body.
'There's nothing brave about it: it's just the way we are.'
Legolas sat up and looked at him steadily: just the way he was, born to endure. Then he saw Gimli's gaze wander down to the fastening of his dark green breeches. The Dwarf smiled and plucked lightly at the lacing.
'Tell me something: is all this an invitation, a provocation, or an outright challenge?'
Legolas laughed aloud.
'Is that how it looks to you? A challenge? Well, all I can say is, it's just the way our clothes are made. And besides, you know better now; you know that what's inside is -- unpredictable!'
'But Elves are always unpredictable!' Gimli laughed in reply.
He was learning to appreciate that.
'But what about you?' said Legolas; -- 'These dwarvish breeches, so baggy and pleated ... but then, you've got plenty to hide!'
And before Gimli knew what was happening, his waistband was untied and breeches and drawers stripped off and flung aside in a whirl of elvish speed and dexterity, and Legolas had slithered down his body to take that 'so much to hide' into the soft heat of his mouth. After an instant of shock, delight invaded the Dwarf's body, his world exploded and he never could remember what the Elf did next. He could only recall waking up some time later, with a naked Elf as his covering. The room was almost dark; the challenge of the breeches had evidently been met, and they embarked on another journey of discovery by touch that ended with them locked together in bliss.
Just before midnight, Legolas made another of his weather prophecies -- Rain by morning -- and abruptly fell asleep, tucked close once more to Gimli's left side. Gimli soon followed, smiling in the darkness
Not a thought left, in his head or mine.
Cooler air woke them in the morning, drifting through the open window, stirring softly over uncovered bodies.
'Right again, Elf! It's raining. How fresh the world smells!'
Legolas sprang awake more quickly than usual, the proof, if any were needed, of the completeness of Aragorn's cure. He left the bed and crossed to the window, giving Gimli ample time to admire the strong supple length of him, the neat rounded backside, the waist-length hair still sticking in places to the damp of last night's exertions. Legolas leaned his hands on the windowsill and breathed deeply, smelling the air, listening to the grateful song of green life drinking in the rain. The rocks too, in the great mountain, spoke to him in a chorus of tiny voices from all the crevices of stone and the plants that grew there.
'Gimli! Come and hear the mountains drink the rain!'
Hear the mountains? Gimli got up and stepped across the cool floor to stand by Legolas, thinking He'll be out there naked in the rain like a plant himself in two minutes, and no doubt I'll be with him! Legolas' right arm went round him and drew him close, and for a while they stood at the window watching the soft light rain that veiled the mountains and the broad valley, while clear drops gathered on the house eaves and the foliage of the terrace plants. Water fell and gleamed everywhere.
'Come on, let's go out there!'
'I knew it! Elvish madness! Do you have to be watered like a tree to live?'
But he followed the Elf through the two rooms and out onto the terrace. Outside, he looked warily up and around, and guessed that it would take a very keen-eyed watcher high in the city to see them, for the front terrace was less overlooked than the courtyard. Legolas laughed softly, understanding, and raised his hands and face to welcome the rain.
The birds hopped and twittered in the bushes, scattering raindrops and petals, and beyond that Gimli too could hear the song of the earth, welcoming the belated spring that now spread its mantle of flower-embroidered green over the world in the wake of the departed shadow. It was beautiful, but none the less somewhat too elvish for him. He shivered briefly.
'I'd prefer a warm bath!'
Legolas smiled at him.
'I'd expect to see steam rising from you, furnace of a Dwarf!'
He started to move, but Gimli darted off, back through the main room, across the courtyard and into the warmth of the kitchen, with the Elf in amused pursuit. Gimli opened the flue that heated the boiler and stirred the fire before adding more logs from the basket.
'You may bathe in the spring if you wish, my Legolas, but I will have hot water.'
'Nay, since you have stood in the rain with me, I shall share the heated water with you, wash your wonderful hair, and dry it by the fire.'
'You Elves really are fascinated by hair, are you not?' said Gimli, running his fingers into the roots at the back of his head and thinking that a wash would do no harm.
'For once I'll forgive you for addressing me like a public meeting!' said Legolas in smiling reproof; -- 'For you are right, we do love beautiful hair, and value it above almost any physical beauty. And if all dwarves have hair like yours, I cannot understand why no Elf has noticed! Why, the hair alone should convince an Elf that dwarves are fair to behold.'
'The eye sees what the mind commands, my Legolas, and few of any kindred can turn things the other way about at will. Those who truly see what lies before them seem to me few enough in any people.' While Legolas thought about this, Gimli lifted the lid off the setpot, releasing a cloud of steam.
'Aha! Water enough, and hot enough.'
He went to fetch a bucket from the room that served as bath house and wash house, bustling throught the curtained opening.
'Does spring rain turn a Dwarf into a naked philosopher?'
'As to that, I cannot say; but I can say that if a naked Elf wants a warm bath, he would do well to share the fetching of the water!'
So Legolas laughed again, and Gimli knew that his fair friend was himself once more, and smiled to see him busy filling the wooden buckets with hot water.
Bathing each other proved so enjoyable that they had scarcely finished when the bell rang. Gimli looked for his robe, realised it was still in the bedroom, and fled round the courtyard under the shelter of the verandah to get it, closely followed by Legolas, who collapsed on the bed laughing at the comic spectacle they created, groping for his white gown.
Gimli grabbed his brown robe, flung it on, found his slippers and hurried off. Now he had to leave the shelter of the verandah, but the rain had almost stopped. There was Sam at the gate, Sam very apologetic for turning up too early.
'No, no, Sam; you are not early, we were dawdling.'
Sam pushed back the hood of his grey cloak.
'Looks like it will be fine in an hour or so: plenty of time for breakfast.'
So the three enjoyed breakfast together, and Sam learned how Aragorn had appeared unasked, and removed the last of the black grains from Legolas' face where the poultices had failed. Sam was so delighted that he flung his arms around Legolas as he sat at the table and kissed him on the cheek. Once the meal was over, he hurried off again to tell the others the news.
The weather was clearing, as Sam had expected, so the two went off to dress and decide what to do with the day. When they emerged after careful study of what Minas Tirith had provided for them, they made an amusing discovery: instead of the greens he usually favoured, Legolas had chosen a rich deep brown, with simple decoration in lighter tones, while Gimli appeared in dark forest green, against which his hair and beard looked more than ever like autumn leaves in the sunlight. They admired each other unreservedly, and praised the skill of those who had provided the clothes, instructed, they felt sure, by Gandalf and perhaps the King as well, but it was some time before they noticed how they had exchanged their accustomed colours.
While the last of the rain cleared away, Gimli turned his attention to the Elf's silver circlet. Legolas brought it into the improvised workshop, and sat watching attentively as the Dwarf's powerful hands wielded a small mallet with a suede-covered head to gently re-form some of the fine leaf shapes over a leather-padded block. The work required pauses for trial fittings, and long moments when the Dwarf's hands encircled Legolas' head, learning the exact shape of the skull. Eventually Gimli seemed satisfied, and asked Legolas to wear the circlet for a while to be sure of the fit. He saw that Legolas kept looking out of the window, staring into the green distance as the clouds lifted. He tidied the tools on the table.
'Now, let us go out and look for your blackthorn. The seasons are late this year, so, who knows what we may find.'
Legolas turned to him with a smile that lit the room and made his heart jump.
'Yes! I long to be out in the growing world again.'
'First, boots,' said Gimli.
He took up a greasy-looking wooden jar and a rag from a corner of the old table.
'The grass will be wet out there,' he went on; -- 'Sit down a moment, please.'
Legolas sat on the wooden bench under the window, and Gimli, kneeling before him, opened the jar, dipped the rag into the tallow mixture within, and set to work, carefully greasing the Elf's fine brown leather boots, working the protective film into the seams and creases. Legolas wriggled his toes in response, and laughed softly as Gimli's strong hands worked over his feet.
'That feels -- good!'
'Do Elves have enjoy a touch to their feet as much at to their hair?'
'Well, that would -- er -- take in all possibilities!'
Gimli shook his head, smiling at this 'elvish nonsense', then turned his attention to his own boots, and soon was ready to set off.
'Better take our cloaks,' said Legolas; -- 'I think there will be showers.'
'I'll take your word for it, my elvish weatherbird. You are generally right about such things.'
Cloaks collected, they were about to leave when Gimli said: 'Will you wear your circlet to walk out?'
'Ah! I had forgotten I was still wearing it. You have reshaped it well.'
Legolas took off the band of silver leaves and put it away in his chest in the bedroom.
'You should have something more to hold it than that cloth; it needs its own casket to keep it from damage in future. I'll make you one later.'
Legolas saw the sense of that, and thanked him with a warm hug, and then they set out through the rain-refreshed city.
When they came down to the gate, Gimli stopped to take a good look at the damage, which was plain to see now that most of the rubble had been cleared away, and he spent some time talking to the officials and the craftsmen working there. Legolas followed, watching and listening, fascinated as always by the unexpected agility of the Dwarf, the lightness, certainty and speed with which he moved over the broken stonework, always knowing where to step or leap, understanding in a moment what would hold and what might give way.
After his tour of inspection, he came hopping back down the jagged remains of the gateway tower to stand beside the Elf, and said:
'The northern side looks well enough, but on the south I fear that something has shifted deep in the foundations: not by much, but you can see it there.'
He pointed, but it was not until he led Legolas up to the wall and guided his hand to the right place that the Elf could feel, rather than see, a slight misalignment of the great stone blocks. It seemed that the south tower had started forward from the curtain wall.
'There must be some fault in the rock below,' Gimli said; -- 'And the blows of Grond have disturbed it. All this should come down and be dug out before rebuilding. The fault may need bridging many feet down. The master mason doesn't like the idea, but I can tell that he fears I may be right. The Chief Surveyor is not convinced -- but there's time to deal with it -- no enemy at the gates now.'
'The city will need you, and your kin, child of Durin's race, I think -- I hope; as I hope it will need me.'
Then they walked out down the broad ramp that carried the road out of the city, and turned away left, following at first the northwest path that they had taken to the burial ground, and then turning off across the undulating meadows that rolled towards the rocky feet of the mountains.
The assault of Mordor had passed only briefly over these parts, and already it was possible to walk in peace with few signs to recall the horrors of the siege.
Before they had gone two miles, they came suddenly on a hidden dell, rimmed with small trees, and a half-circle of blackthorn bushes, all clothed in white with scarcely a fleck of green. Legolas stopped, enchanted, savouring the sweet, fresh, rain-washed air in slow deep breaths, and gazing unblinking at the clouds of tiny white blossoms adorning the fine twigs. Then he stepped slowly forward, seeming to drift along the line of bushes, bending close to catch the faint elusive scent. Gimli stood quietly and watched him, at home again in his own world, leaving scarcely a footprint on the rain-jewelled grass, and murmuring a little song of rain and growth under his breath.
And Gimli marvelled, suddenly afraid to believe that this was his chosen one, his mysterious second chance, the one fated to claim him. He did not know how it could be, and yet it was so, if neither yet understood what it might mean.
Then Legolas looked round at him, and the look called him to come and see the blossoms, so he crossed the dell, treading carefully, and quite unaware that all the hours and miles of travelling with the Elf had subtly reshaped his body, stretching and loosening his thick muscles, so that he now walked with a longer and lighter step than before, and Legolas could change his flowing gait to match without taking thought.
Now he walked quietly up to stand by Legolas and admire the little white flowers with their golden centres. Legolas watched him take hold of a spray and turn it about, to see how the flowers grew and how the leaf buds and thorns were set. Then the Dwarf took a small knife from the pouch at his belt, slid it from its sheath, and carefully cut a twig with a few blossoms. Then he turned to Legolas, reaching up the hand that held the blossom, to draw his head down. Legolas understood, and stooped to let Gimli tuck the spray into the braid above his ear, hooking the carefully chosen thorn into the sleek shining strands of pale gold.
Another spray followed, and another: three at last on each side. Gimli put the knife away and stepped back to admire his handiwork. Legolas tried to read the expression in his dark eyes.
'Are you thinking you could make something like this?'
'I am, and I could. The blossoms belong on the trees, though they are fair enough to adorn your beauty.'
'It is no wonder Galadriel honoured you, Gimli Elf-friend. You speak as Elf and Dwarf in one breath.'
Then his expression changed, and he said:
'Wonder what, Legolas?'
'My father -- what would he think of such work? He loves precious work, almost as much as living things.'
'Ach!' Gimli snorted at the mention of Thranduil, his father's old enemy; -- 'For work such as these blossoms, it is not the use of precious stones that counts, but skill in the making.'
'Truly I think there is an elvish strain in you!'
'And maybe a dwarvish one in you!'
Legolas laughed softly, a sound as sweet as the spring rain.
Gimli went on:
'It is as I said, a matter of seeing what truly is. No doubt I do not see your father truly.'
'Maybe even I do not,' said Legolas thoughtfully; -- 'I wonder.'
'But would you like to have a springtime crown that you could wear without breaking a single twig?'
'Yes, my dearest Elf-friend, that I would.'
'Then you shall have it, as soon as I can find in the city what is needful for the work.'
They walked slowly on, gazing at all around them. It seemed that this part of the land within the Rammas Echor had been kept for grazing and forestry rather than cultivation, for it had an air of wildness about it that pleased Legolas greatly, and made him feel more at home than at any time since he came to the city.
The uneven ground began to slope down before them as they wandered northwards, forming a small valley. A faint sound of running water came from no great distance among the trees, which grew more thickly in this place. Through the thinly clad birches, hazels and larches, Legolas caught sight of a large mass of much darker green: a grove of fine, tall, wide-spreading live-oaks, grander than almost any his northern woods had to show. He ran forward with a little cry of delight.
'Look at these, Gimli! Here is a sight I could not show you in the Greenwood: live-oaks, an entire grove! What majesty! And all, I think, unharmed.'
Gimli followed him, realising that the trees were unlike anything he had seen that day.
'Yes; evergreen oaks. That's what they are. The Hobbits call them holly-oaks, and here they are holm-oaks, but they are all the same trees. I saw some in Ithilien -- there must be many there -- but these are very fine. Though we have some such at home, I see that they favour these more southern parts.'
By this time they were under the spreading boughs, darkly canopied with narrow, tough-looking dark green leaves, the ground beneath soft and dry, well sheltered. Legolas walked around, touching the trunks and branches, listening to the rustling leaves, sensing the age of the grand and solemn trees.
'They have grown here through many lives of men; some more than four hundred years.'
'Two lifetimes of my kindred' said Gimli.
In the shadow of the dark, dense foliage, he felt strangely at home. 'These are most curious trees,' he said; -- 'I might be among the pillars of a mountain hall that yet rustles and stirs. There is something almost dwarvish about your live-oaks!'
Legolas smiled at him, his pale face seeming to glow softly in the shade.
'Now that IS strange! And yet I seem to understand. Ah! We found this place at the right moment.'
Rain pattered suddenly on the dark canopy above them, not heavily enough to fall through. Legolas spread his cloak on the leaf litter between the roots of one massive oak, and sat down, leaning against the trunk. The grey-brown bark, heavily fissures in squarish shapes, made a subtle background for his elvish beauty, and the white blossoms of the blackthorn seemed faintly luminous in the greenish gloom. Gimli stood for a long minute, taking in the scene before him. Legolas held out his hands in invitation.
'Will you be content to stand and stare?'
'I do not tire of looking on you.'
Legolas' gaze flickered downwards in an odd shyness, and Gimli moved to sit beside him, close to the mighty tree. They looked out through the grove at the towering whiteness of the city, dappled with fleeting cloud shadows. Legolas murmured something in his own tongue, and Gimli caught the name of Boromir among the words.
'What was that?'
'I said that Boromir's shining city still shines, because of him.'
'That's true,' said Gimli; -- 'I hope the King will see to it that he is remembered.'
'I think we need have no fear on that account. Elessar gives honour where it is due.'
'Yes; and I think these people make memorials to their great ones, from what I have seen about the city.'
'Indeed they do: but I have heard it said that the decay of Gondor, and of Numenor before it, came about in part by overmuch brooding on past glories.'
'Neither the dead nor the living should be forgotten,' said Gimli; -- 'Yet at times I wonder how this land of men may think of us.'
'They think us strange, as old tales abroad in the light of day: they may grow used to us in time!'
'And others, I think, may not do so.'
'That is hard to say,' answered Legolas seriously; -- 'Among us, the late-born, it is not unknown for man and man, or maid and maid, to give their love to each other; and if the love be true, it will be honoured.'
'And with us, also, it is accepted, if not very common, that since our women are few, a man may take another as his life partner. Some of our finest craftsmen have been so, and few can tell the work of one from that of the other. Such people may be greatly respected.' Legolas leaned closer to him.
'That is beautiful, my friend. I had never heard that of the Dwarves; but now I know there is much I have not heard.'
'Yet having said that,' Gimli went on, with something of a sigh; -- 'It will matter more in the eyes of our kindred that we are Elf and Dwarf than that we are man and man.'
'I fear you have the truth of it there; it is another dark gate we must pass when we come to it: no doubt more than once -- a gate of the unheard-of.'
'Unheard-of? I wonder. Did you not see the name of Narvi beside that of Celebrimbor on the wondrous doors of Moria that are no more? Where else is there another such thing? Friends they must have been, if not after our fashion.'
Legolas turned a bright gaze upon him.
'It must be so: we are not altogether alone.'
'Who can say? The doors, as I believe, are gone, and only shreds of tales remain among our people. We must make our own way when we return home, and I can only guess at what may happen. But I would not bring shame or sorrow on you, not for all the world; I would sooner return to my solitude, and wear out my life in work, as I once determined. I would sooner die than cause you pain.'
Legolas shifted to face him squarely, and laid his hands on the Dwarf's shoulders.
'That solitude has darkened your mind to melancholy, my Gimli. Do not speak of such things again; do not think them, even. For I tell you that to lose you would be the greatest pain of all to me, and rather than sail into the West and live with memory, I would choose to die. We have the power -- I have the power, if grief is too great, to leave the body and go to the Halls of Mandos to await the End. So speak no more of this; for if there is shame, we will not feel it: it will be only in the minds of those who cannot understand the compass of love.'
'And who should understand that better than my folk, the adopted ones?' said Gimli; -- 'Yet I doubt that many will see things so!'
But the proud shining eyes of the Elf kindled an answering fire in Gimli's heart: he would not fail his fair one. He drew Legolas close to kiss him. Then he said:
'Whatever comes after, we only live NOW, Elf or Dwarf. So let us live, under these dark leaves with their elvish grey lining. Surely the forest floor is a fit bed for a wood Elf?'
Legolas laughed aloud.
'Surely!' he replied.
Then he pushed Gimli gently back into the hollow between the tree roots and settled lightly on top of him, kissing and caressing. Gimli held him tightly, and felt the Elf's strange body grow warmer, flushed with the gentle heat that showed his arousal, whether or not he experienced the response of the flesh. They twined together on the outspread cloak, and Gimli felt the Elf's hand slide under his tunic and inside the folds that concealed the opening of his breeches. After that, the inexperienced Dwarf scarcely knew what was happening, as clever fingers coaxed and steadied him for longer than he would have thought possible, until the canopy of leave seemed to whirl above his head, and he learned of love in the greenwood.
When he had recovered his breath, he managed to say:
'Amazing Elf! I never felt that before!'
Legolas responded with a happy chuckle, then said, more soberly:
'No, but how should you? You told me you had only two partners since you lost your beloved...'
'And one time I was drunk and don't remember,' Gimli admitted gruffly, and then said with a smile that Legolas could hear; -- 'But now I can learn from you. You must know so much!'
Rather to his surprise, he felt the Elf's chest rise and fall in a deep sigh.
'And some things I would be glad to forget.'
The words were clearly heartfelt. Gimli began to wonder. He had seen a few men in the city looking at Legolas with expressions of unspeakable speculation. Someone at some time must have carried speculation into action.
'If I ever do anything by mistake to remind you, tell me at once. I'll always respect your boundaries, sweet one. Don't let me hurt you through ignorance -- and I am ignorant in these matters.'
It was dawning on him as he spoke that he had been so lost in his own pleasure that he did not know whether Legolas had shared it fully or not. He raised himself on one elbow and gazed tenderly at his partner, then lightly stroked his flushed cheek, feeling the unusual warmth of the soft skin. No, already he had learned enough to know that the Elf still awaited the height of his enjoyment.
In a moment of inspiration he took hold of one of the braids of his beard, and used the free end like a soft brush to stroke Legolas' cheek and ear. The reaction was swift and left little to be desired. Delighted giggles gave way to little gasps of pleasure until the Elf wrapped his arms and legs around Gimli and pulled him close for a final wild kiss before he sank back shuddering, eyes shut and chest heaving.
When the Elf's grip relaxed, Gimli sat up and looked at him, lying in a graceful sprawl, fine hair spread in disarray over the grey stuff of the cloak. Somehow the blackthorn sprays had stayed more or less put in his braids, which only added to the charm of his appearance. Gimli watched fascinated as the soft rose-agate flush faded from the Elf's skin, which gradually resumed its opaque ivory pallor. How strange and lovely, thought the Dwarf, and settled close beside him, laying one warm broad hand protectively over the bulge of wayward manhood: What can it matter to us, this last-born strangeness? Neither he nor I is the loser by this, for he seems to feel all he should. But his dwarvish reason was busily at work, trying to make sense of things, beginning to suspect that what was happening to the elves might be a transformation rather than an ending.
Legolas placed one hand over Gimli's.
'Thank you' he said in a soft husky voice; -- 'Thank you for understanding so quickly and so well. You help me forget the ones who did not.'
Gimli sensed dimly a long vista of elven years tinged with imperfect love, disappointment, even hurt. Was it strange that behind their gift of brilliant joy Elves often radiated a deep sadness? And little as he knew of Elves in general, Gimli still felt sure of this. Then he saw Legolas' long dark eyelashes spiky with tears, and leaned close to kiss away the sadness.
Slowly they returned to the world, realised that the rain no longer pattered on the hard dark leaves of the evergreen oaks, that a robin was singing somewhere nearby. They sat up and blinked as if waking from a dream.
Gimli reached out to straighten Legolas' coronet of blackthorn sprays, and then they stood up, shook themselves into some sort of order, brushed the dead leaves from the back of Legolas' cloak, and looked at their surroundings again.
'How far to the mountain, do you think?' asked Gimli.
Legolas looked through the trees.
'No more that half a mile before it grows steep,' he said; -- 'And I can hear a stream at the end of this slope. Shall we go and see?'
'Yes. And we could follow the stream upward, see where it rises.'
Outside the shelter of the oak grove the grass was laden with glittering water drops that scattered and fell as they walked. Scents both strange and familiar rose from the plants they trod on or brushed against, and Gimli could see that his silvan comrade grew happier with every step, taking in all the new sights, sounds and scents of the country, while the Dwarf himself thought that he saw with new eyes, not looking now only for things to be turned to use or profit, or as models for craft, but wishing to see what was before him, whether familiar or not, simply for what it was, for its own beauty, after the manner of the Elves.
Soon they could see the line of trees and bushes that marked the course of the stream. It turned out to run in a stony gully, not easy to follow at the waterside, so they turned along the top of the bank towards the mountains, now so close that the towering snow-topped peaks were hidden by the lower slopes and ridges.
The ground rose more and more steeply, the bare rocks more numerous, the grass thinner and wirier, and walking became a scrambling climb. 'It is good to do this for pleasure, not to pursue or be pursued,' said Gimli, leaping up a slope of large white rocks that led to a rough shelf on the mountain side.
A few large juniper bushes grew among the tussocky grass.
They stopped to survey the prospect before them: the wide vale of Anduin, with the enclosed lands of the Pelennor and the silver-blue gleam of the river; the forests of distant Ithilien, and the hazy mountains beyond, all dappled with cloud shadows, and here and there a swiftly flying shower, driven by the wind from the south-west. Looking south towards the city, they were surprised to see how high they had climbed: only the Tower of Echthelion reared above the spot where they now stood, proud and shining white in the spring sunshine, with the long black and silver banners of the king streaming in the wind.
'A fair realm,' said Legolas; -- 'From this distance all seems harmony, yet we know that the signs of war are still everywhere below us.'
'That is the truth of it, dear Elf, harmony and discord together; both visions are true.'
'This is a new age, and harmony will prevail.'
'For a time, no doubt, but these are mortal lands, where nothing is sure but change.'
'Gloomy Dwarf! Change must be for the better!'
'And shall be, while I have any say in the matter.'
They stood for a while side by side, scanning the wide vista, and at last Gimli said:
'I think I could spend all my days walking through Middle-earth, to see what may be seen, if you would walk beside me. Yet doubtless in all your years you have seen so much there will be little left to tempt you.'
'Now there you are mistaken, my friend. Most of my life has been taken up with guarding our kingdom against the Shadow. I believe I know little more of Middle-earth than you, perhaps less, as I recall you said you were a Dwarf of many travels, having seen the three peaks of the Misty Mountains before the Quest, which I had not. I have never been further west than Imladris, while you, I think, know the lands as far as Ered Luin.'
'Indeed I do, for I was born there, and lived there until Smaug was slain and Erebor freed.'
'Then shall we agree, that when our work in Gondor is done, or at least set well in hand, to take to the roads again, in search of Middle-earth and its wonders?'
'Why, Legolas! Do you forget so soon?' Gimli teased him; -- 'Have I not already your promise to come with me to Aglarond, and you mine to see the Forest of Fangorn? Yes, surely I agree. Dwarves have ever been travellers, and we have a time of peace before us, more certain than has been these many ages.
But at this moment, there is something little better than a precipice before us. As we go towards the city, the mountain grows ever steeper, and we must go back to go down, or fall headlong, or else stick to the rock as the spiders of Mirkwood to the trees!'
'I hope that the spiders you heard of from your father and from Bilbo are gone, since Celeborn crossed the Anduin to meet my father; but you are right, we must go back. Minas Tirith stands where it does because none may come down to the city save by falling! But look, I can see our courtyard and terrace, greener than any other in that quarter of the city.'
'And so it should be, having your care.'
But, though it was no more that a mile away now, Gimli was not certain that he could make it out. Legolas stood below him on the steep slope and put his arm around the Dwarf, trying to point so that Gimli could sight along his finger. This was not a great success, and they almost overbalanced into the fall that Gimli had warned of. He grabbed at the nearest thing to save himself, and found he was clutching a small gnarled juniper bush laden with berries. He sat down on the wiry grass beside it, thinking but not saying Elvish nonsense! then, realising what was in his hand, plucked a couple of the white-bloomed purple berries and crushed them between his fingers, then smelled the sharp aromatic scent.
Legolas watched with interest.
'Fine berries and plentiful' said Gimli; -- 'Surely the folk hereabout must have the art of distilling? I wonder that no one has yet offered me a drink of gin!'
'Gin?' said Legolas; -- 'Do Dwarves drink gin? I know the Woodmen and Northmen brew it and drink it, and the Beornings also.'
'We Dwarves will drink gin as often as we can get it, you may be sure! And doubtless more freely than is wise. But the folk would not know that here, since I have met none in the city that has seen a Dwarf before.'
Legolas was still chuckling at the thought of Dwarves enjoying gin. 'But you are fond of ale, and also brandy,' he said; -- 'or so I have heard.'
'You have heard rightly enough,' Gimli replied with a grin; -- 'as craftsmen and workers in dangerous places, we may not take to drink often, but, well, our feasts are another matter!'
'Enough to make even your stone-hard heads ache, I guess! So, let us go back and see what may be found in the city.'
Going down proved harder than climbing up, and they were surprised by the length of time it took to retrace their steps past the oak grove and thence to the track leading back towards the city. It was late afternoon when they reached their courtyard again, to be greeted by an unmistakable smell of cooking, and a note from Sam, tucked under the salt pot in the middle of the kitchen table, which read:
'Dear Both, Sorry I missed you. Rabbit stew on the stove, will be even better tomorrow if you don't need it tonight. Faramir's footman said not to forget about tomorrow. See you later, S. Gamgee.' Gimli lifted the lid of the stew pot.
'I fear we must deny this dinner its chance to improve!'
The evening light was still bright in the sky when they finally wandered across the courtyard to the bedroom. A few birds were singing somewhere among the city's trees, and they stood at the window looking out at the shadowy mountain side where they had climbed earlier.
'These are wonderful mountains,' said Gimli; -- 'Could there be within them more caverns like Aglarond to be discovered?'
'I hope not, or I might never see you again.'
'Then perhaps I should not look!'
As they prepared for bed, Legolas began to sing softly to himself, not the sort of ornamented elvish monody that seemed to be favoured for serious songs (and sounded strangely formless to Gimli's ears), or the simple melodic kind with a verse and refrain, but yet another kind of song, which the Dwarf eventually decided his people would call 'through-composed'.
After singing it once, Legolas turned it into the Common Speech, and Gimli guessed that the evening chorus of the birds had reminded him of it, because the words made imitations of birdsong, with a charming ending, like the repeated pipings that woke them in the morning.
Oh sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet!
Oh sweet, as sweet as ere ever!
From strains so sweet, from strains so sweet,
Sweet birds deprive us never, Sweet birds deprive us never!
Gimli listened delighted as the Elf's clear voice rose and then sank gently into silence.
'Now I could wish for the old lady's harp to play for you; or maybe it would go better to the viol, though that is not an instrument I play well.'
'Who knows what you may find in the citadel tomorrow?' said Legolas; -- 'I should love to hear you play in the quiet of this room.'
'Yet I think that music sends you quite mad, dear Elf' said Gimli, admiring once again the lean and powerful body sliding between the sheets; -- 'And I would not have you dancing on the ceiling any time I might take up the harp!'
Legolas smiled at him as he too climbed into bed.
'That depends on the kind of music. And the music of men and dwarves seems to me mad music, stronger than the strongest wines of Dorwinion at my father's feasts!'
'Mad or not, I shall need no lullaby tonight,' said Gimli; -- 'Now that I know you are well again.'
'Then come here and lie as you did before, between my legs with your head on my belly' said the Elf, sliding up his pillows.
'You'll get cold, with no covers for your arms and shoulders, unless you mean to stifle me. You have not been long enough recovered.'
'Shall I be cold, with a Dwarf for a coverlet?' he replied, laughing; -- 'Untie your braid and spread your hair over me again.
Gimli was not convinced.
'At least put on your gown.'
'No, I do not want even that between you and me, and it is too long to fold up.'
'Ah! Then take my nightshirt. It should serve to keep your shoulders warm.'
Gimli fished it out from under his pillows, and Legolas agreed to put it on, sniffing the scent of the Dwarf in the fabric as he did so. It was just big enough, since Dwarves favour baggy shirts, though the sleeves were very short.
Satisfied that Legolas would have some covering, Gimli moved to the place he had been offered and wriggled into position, tucking his left shoulder up between Legolas' thighs, letting the Elf enjoy the sensation of Dwarf hair spreading across his stomach, hips and groin. He settled the covers around his own shoulders, felt Legolas' hands in his hair, and so they lay contentedly until morning.
Once again they woke to the sound of rain.
'You didn't say anything about this last night, weatherbird,' said Gimli
'No, because I knew it would be the same as yesterday. Good growing weather,' he added with relish.
'Mountain weather,' said Gimli; -- 'Rain morning and evening, and sunshine in between.'
After breakfast they hurried up through the levels of the city until they came to the gates of the citadel, where they found that Gandalf had arrived just before them. Once admitted by the gatekeepers they stood within the shelter of the barbican and shook the rain from their grey cloaks. Very soon Faramir arrived by a side door and greeted them warmly before leading them off by the way he had come. Legolas soon felt rather unsure of his whereabouts among the stone stairs and passageways, so much larger and more complex than his home in Mirkwood, but Gimli realised that they were being led back along the side of the great rock spur towards the mountain, to an area that was partly built on, and partly cut into, the spur. All the stone work in this place was of the best; the doorways and arches adorned with carving, the doors themselves and all the metalwork carefully finished with simple, strong shapes and designs. Gimli looked keenly around at everything, making noises of approval.
Legolas could see in the decoration echoes of forms he knew from his own home and from Rivendell: this work came from a time when Elves and men were close in understanding.
When they reached the small hall where the Chief Archivist awaited them, and introductions had been made, Gandalf said:
'The King has given permission for you to see something of the greatest importance, and I believe that not even Faramir has seen it, though he has lived near it all his life.'
The Archivist then ushered them into a small room lit only by a single window of thick greenish glass. There were tall cupboards with locked doors all round the walls, and in the centre a single table with a flat box of brass-bound wood upon in. The old Archivist took a small key from a chain attached to his belt and unlocked the case. Gandalf raised the lid, to reveal a single sheet of yellowed parchment covered with bold, firm-looking writing. Faramir, Legolas and Gimli gathered round, though even the Elf found it very hard to read.
'I think I can guess what this is,' said Gimli; -- 'Though I cannot read it.'
'I should think you can,' said Gandalf; -- 'This is the document in Isildur's hand that describes the One Ring.'
Faramir recoiled visibly, then leaned forward again, and Gandalf pointed out the main parts of the writing.
'And this is what you were looking for, when my father let you come down here?'
'I was looking for what this told me: I did not KNOW for certain that this very thing existed.'
'And my father did?'
'Quite possibly: I am not certain. Though not knowing the other end of the story, so to speak, it would have told him little he did not know already.'
Faramir looked closely at the ancient brittle page.
'And after so long, both are gone, the Ring and its maker, and the world is freed from evil!'
Elf, Dwarf and wizard looked at each other over the man's bowed head, and exchanged their doubts in silence, while Gandalf's look warned that this was not the moment to speak their own thoughts on the future of evil in Middle-earth.
The Steward straightened up.
'There must be other treasures here, unknown, forgotten or kept hidden. Now at last we will have peace to learn our own lore.'
'A worthy ambition,' said Gandalf; -- 'But I think that you intended to see other things today?'
'Of course,' said Faramir; -- 'My apologies. We must go on to the music rooms.'
Then he explained how it came about that he knew of Gimli's musical ability, and said how much he felt his own ignorance of the arts of peace, and wished to see them restored.
'And I can tell you,' said Gandalf, as they were led through endless cluttered rooms and passages; -- 'That such arts will shortly be called for, at celebrations which I will ask you not to mention to others as yet. It would be well to see something of the glory of Gondor revived for such an event.'
His companions looked at each other and wondered.
'There is as yet no Queen in Gondor,' said the wizard.
'Ah! I understand,' said Legolas. -- 'A Queen there will be, and you and I have beheld her, friend Gimli.'
'Then a welcome there must be, with all the art and splendour this city can provide. But when shall this be?'
'Soon enough,' replied Gandalf; -- 'The sign is still awaited, but it will be given. Only be patient. There is a little time to learn what may suit such an occasion. And other great ones will be here,' he added, with a meaningful look directed particularly at Gimli.
The Dwarf stopped in mid-stride and stared up at him.
'Not -- not the Lady?'
'And why not? Since the mother of her whom we await is long gone into the West, shall not her grandmother come? But no doubt I have said too much. Do not speak of it yet a while.'
Faramir was somewhat mystified, but Legolas smiled at the expressions on the Dwarf's face as he realised he would see Galadriel again soon. One of Sam's ridiculous Hobbit phrases came to his mind: 'struck all of a heap!' Then his thoughts suddenly took a more serious turn. It would surely not take her long to see what had happened between the two of them, and then what would she think, or say, or do? He carefully avoided Gimli's eye, guessing that his thoughts must move soon on the same lines.
Catching sight on a shelf of some volumes whose titles he could read, Legolas stopped to take one down and look at it. A cloud of dust flew out, prompting apologies from the Archivist.
'Many of our people went into war service, and some will not return.'
The dust made Legolas sneeze, much to Gimli's amusement, and the party moved on once he had replaced the book.
'My father wished all these things to be preserved, but he allowed us little time to learn what was here,' said Faramir regretfully.
The Archivist led the way down a winding stair to a circular hall lit by a high light-shaft cut through the rock, and as they reached the bottom steps another old man emerged from one of the many doors opening into the hall. He was the Keeper of Music, and ushered them into a warren of stone chambers filled with an amazing disorder of cupboards, chests, shelves and objects stacked, covered and uncovered, from floor to ceiling: the physical record of many centuries of the life of Gondor. Even Faramir was astonished.
'I do not remember this! And we used to think we had explored every corner. I mean Boromir and myself.'
'There are many ways and corners here,' said the old musician. -- 'You might easily forget which door you had tried between one visit and the next. And doubtless also things have changed since you last had the leisure to come here, my lord.'
'That is certainly true,' said Faramir, turning around on the spot to take in the clutter of documents and instrument cases that filled the place.
Gimli needed no second invitation to start rummaging, finding viols, flutes, harps, and exclaiming over anything of dwarvish make. A pile of manuscripts cascaded to the floor as he opened a tall cupboard, and everyone grabbed at the sliding, fluttering sheets. 'And what are these?'
They were covered with what did not seem to be ordinary writing.
'These are music sheets, sir,' said the Keeper
'Yes, written music.'
'Durin's beard! I never heard of such a thing!' cried the Dwarf, turning to Faramir; -- 'Your people can write music down on paper?'
'Yes indeed, some can.'
'So what is this?'
He picked up a sheet at random and waved it before the steward.
'I regret I cannot tell you. Reading this notation is a skill I have not learned.'
This was almost too much for the Dwarf to grasp: that a people should have so strange an art as the capturing of music in lines upon paper, and yet one their leaders be ignorant of it.
'There are those here who can read all the styles of writing you may find,' said the Keeper politely; -- 'I have some skill myself.'
He selected a page from the disorderly heap and sang through a short melody in a quiet but tuneful voice, pointing to the notes as he went along. Legolas watched, and listened fascinated to the torrent of questions with which Gimli plied the old man about the manuscripts. He seemed especially concerned that the fixing of music on paper would take away the freedom of performers to treat music in the way he thought usual.
'Not necessarily,' said the old man; -- 'This is just a guide and an aid to memory.'
'Hmm!' said the Dwarf, doubtfully.
Among his people, and anywhere else that he knew of, written signs were MEANT to fix things permanently.
He opened yet another cupboard, to be greeted by an immensely long, thinnish object, with a large bulbous swelling at one end, all thickly wrapped in a dusty yellowish blanket.
'What's this?' he exclaimed, reaching out for the thing, both eagerly and carefully.
'Nobody says "What's this?" in that tone of voice unless he has a very good idea of what it is' said Gandalf, smiling.
With the help of the Keeper, Gimli took the strange bundle from the store and laid it on top of a table covered with books and papers, and began to unwrap it.
There emerged from the dusty bundle one of the strangest instruments Legolas had ever seen; the body of it looked like a sort of large lute, but the neck was as long as Gimli was tall, or longer: in fact it was two necks in one, a normal one set into the extra-long one. 'What on earth is that?' asked the Elf, feeling inclined to laugh, a typically elvish reaction to odd proportions.
'A theorbo,' said the Keeper.
'We would call it an archlute, a great favourite of mine,' said Gimli, in an awed voice, touching and turning it gently; -- 'With all its strings. It seems to be sound and whole -- perfect in fact. This is Dwarf's work, sure enough, lord Faramir, and fine, very fine.'
He plucked the strings lightly, tapped the soundboard. Everyone could hear the sweetness of its resonance. Though badly out of tune, the extraordinary instrument seemed to be coming to life under his hands. The others gathered round the Dwarf as he cautiously began to retune the remarkable thing. The sound soon lured a couple of other men out of some corner or other, and they leaned in a doorway, fascinated by what was happening.
After some time, Gimli was satisfied with the tuning. When he lifted the archlute from the table and rested the body on the toe of his boot to check the broad support strap, the scrolled end with the tuning pegs for the long sympathetic strings reached above his head, a bizarre sight indeed, and Legolas had trouble keeping a straight face.
It seemed the very last thing for a Dwarf to play, but once the Keeper had helped Gimli sling the strap around his shoulder to support the instrument and the Dwarf had settled himself on a stool, he was clearly quite at home.
Very softly, he began to strum a series of chords in a gentle lilting rhythm, and then to sing quietly, as if he were conversing with the instrument, questioning it, finding out about it. Legolas forgot all thoughts of laughter and listened, suddenly enchanted. Surely Galadriel herself would love such music.
Gimli stopped playing, unhooked the strap, and made a few more adjustments to the tuning. Then he started looking very closely at the instrument, all over, searching for something.
'This is Dwarf's work, I know, but I cannot see the maker's mark. Surely no-one would leave so fine a piece unsigned.'
Eventually he found it, a small runic mark carved on the back of the top scroll, a name he did not know, in a very ancient style.
'I cannot believe it is so old! We have not made the letters in this way for centuries. It must have come from Khazad-dûm in the great days! And it has been well cared-for ever since.'
He bowed to the Keeper.
'I very much regret, my lord, that its history is unknown to us, though it could well be that it is written among the scrolls and papers that have lain here unread for so long.'
Gimli fastened the strap again, and Legolas moved closer, the better to see and hear the magic of dwarvish art. Gimli resumed his careful exploration of the instrument, and finally handed it to Legolas, who was further astonished by its extremely light weight.
'Just hold it, Legolas, and feel how it quivers in response even to a quiet voice nearby: that is a sign of the finest workmanship.'
The Elf held the instrument in both hands, and realised instantly that it seemed more like a living thing than a work of craft. Small wonder that Gimli admired it so.
Eventually Gimli said:
'If your store rooms hold a finer instrument than this, lord Faramir, it will be a treasure indeed.'
Reluctantly he laid the archlute aside, and joined in the investigation of harps, viols, flutes, shawms, and a sackbut ('trombone' said Faramir) from which the Dwarf drew a loud melodious flourish of resounding golden notes that brought a small shower of dust and dead moths from the rafters, before declaring that this was an instrument which he had never learned to play.
Legolas discovered a little stack of books full of elvish songs and was soon lost in study, for, like most of his Silvan kindred, he was fonder of song than of instrumental music.
Faramir meanwhile was discussing with the Archivist and Keepers a plan for proposing to the King that the Company of Court Music should be revived. This ancient part of the royal household of Gondor had been largely pensioned off by Denethor, with the exception of the military musicians (including harpists and praise-singers) and a few administrators, but Faramir now discovered, with a sense of something like dismay, as well as pleasure, that those musicians too old for military service, and any interested lads too young, had quietly continued to meet and rehearse in private homes, keeping the traditions and skills alive against the coming of better times. To augment their numbers and spread their knowledge, they had also begun to teach women and girls to an extent that had not been usual in the past, and had discovered a new wealth of talent in the city.
While a part of Faramir's thought reflected sadly on the destructive side of his father's protection, another part was glad to see how quickly much that he had believed lost might spring back to life, and he was soon deep in discussion with the Keepers and Gandalf about preparations for the coming events.
After several minutes they were aware of someone singing -- two voices singing, in fact, a duet of high and low, Elf and Dwarf: for Legolas had found in one of the books an old song that he knew and was teaching it to Gimli, who had then taken up the amazing archlute again and begun to improvise an accompaniment. Everyone stopped talking to listen to the new harmony of elven and dwarvish voices as they tried to find a balance of sound that would do justice to both.
'I'm not sure about this,' said Gimli at the end of one verse; -- 'My voice blends well enough with the voices of men, but I cannot match yours for clarity -- we seem like oil and water, and that doesn't make for good music. I would rather play for you to dance.'
Legolas agreed reluctantly, but said that perhaps a different kind of song would work better -- after all, the melody they had tried was elvish and made for Elves' voices. Gimli said no doubt there was something in that.
Then Faramir, remembering the evening at the guesthouse, asked:
'What was that music you played on the old lady's harp, Gimli? I never heard the like.' Gimli smiled:
'I am sure you did not. That was Dwarves' music, "Flames of the Forge", and any Dwarf who learns music, which is most of us, has to play it on whichever instrument he favours.'
He played the asymmetrical opening chords, at the same time thinking:
What's come over me, telling these things to others? I'll be teaching Legolas Khuzdul next!
But he started to play the dance of the flames, and saw the music take hold of Legolas just as it had done before, and make him sway gently to its rhythm even though there was no space in the cluttered room for dancing.
A small audience had materialised by now, and all applauded as Gimli finished playing, intrigued by the strange music and impressed by the Dwarf's skill. Faramir even said he would ask the King if the archlute could be given to Gimli, but Gimli was firmly against removing the instrument from the surroundings that had preserved it for so long.
'It should not be taken from here until it has been completely re-strung (these strings are much worn and will not last a deal longer) and has been played regularly for some time. Taking it out and down to our house could destroy it. But I thank you for the thought, my lord.'
The Chief Keeper of Music expressed his approval of Gimli's words -- it was clear that the Dwarf was rising in his estimation with each passing minute -- and invited him to come and play the instrument whenever he wished. Gimli promised to do so, thinking of the coming of Galadriel. He must revive his skills for the Lady.
Faramir then invited his guests to take their midday meal with him, and they went up into his quarters, high above the city and enjoyed a pleasant meal and conversation with the young lord who would be their master under the King in years to come, and with the wizard whose guidance had brought them to this time of hope.
Faramir had more questions to ask than he could put in order, but he often returned to Boromir, still striving to understand what had happened to his brother.
'If Boromir had brought the Ring here...' he began, but Gandalf interrupted him.
'There is no "if" about it! You do not quite understand, and neither did he, till the last minute. He wanted to use the power of the Ring, or thought he did, but if he had taken it, that wish alone would have ensured disaster, for the Ring in fact wanted to use him. Firstly, he would no longer have been willing to give it up, even to his father: Bilbo remains the only one to have resigned it voluntarily -- even Frodo did not at the end -- he could not come between Smeagol and his destiny, though he intended to destroy it and believed he would! Then, secondly, his mind and the whereabouts of the Ring would have been instantly revealed to Sauron, who would have lost no time in taking it from him by force, with results we may be glad we do not need to imagine.
'I have to say that if Denethor thought that his son would bring the Ring here and freely give it to him, even HE did not truly understand its nature. But I say to you again, Faramir, that your brother died victorious, and heard the King tell him so.'
A clearer understanding began to calm Faramir's thoughts about his brother, and the talk turned to happier things before they parted and Elf and Dwarf returned to their home.
Over the following days, Legolas began to see more of Gimli the artist and craftsman, as he set about making the promised springtime crown of blackthorn sprays. The Dwarf's creative spirit simmered with frustration as he decided what he wanted to do but did not have his familiar tools and materials to hand; not only that, the mere fact of embarking on an original task of making seemed to spark new ideas, and by the end of two days Gimli's mind was full of pictures of cunningly wrought flower headdresses.
The swelling buds on a little may tree on the terrace conjured a vision of Éowyn crowned with hawthorn blossom, creamy-white amid green leaves. Other images formed as he saw glowing stars of blue beside the courtyard fountain and stairway cascade: forget-me-nots for Galadriel, and something that he thought of as the Gondor speedwell, from the flower it most resembled, for Arwen.
But first, the blackthorn for Legolas. To find silver of the right quality, gold wire, green jade and fine white shell, and all the tools he would need, and the right potions to pickle and colour the silver, Gimli scoured the markets and workshops of the city, aided by some or all of the hobbits and the tireless Bergil, living at a fever pitch of joy since his father had been made commander of Faramir's guard.
The party, however constituted, whirled about the city, gaining an great reputation for madness, and eventually finding what the Dwarf needed for his work. Frequently Legolas felt that he was being dragged along in the wake of a force he did not fully understand: the crafts of his people were mainly of a practical nature, despite his father's love of rich finery.
Even when he spoke of herb-lore with Sam, it was clear that there was a world of difference between the Hobbit's gardening and the Elf's tending of the wild, and when it came to acquiring goods, he found that hobbits, dwarves and men all shared a fondness for haggling and bargaining that was at odds with the more absolute ideas of Elves, even after all their long years of dealing with the other peoples. He found the bargaining utterly perverse, since many were ready to give freely to members of the King's Fellowship, and the process showed a ridiculous tendency work backwards, which irritated him greatly at first, but ended by reducing him to unseemly mirth whenever Dwarf or Hobbit tried to persuade a seller to take more rather than less.
When the mad dash of buying was over and Gimli started work in earnest in his improvised workshop, there was time to sit down and reflect a little on what he was finding out. He would sit quietly by the table and watch the Dwarf at work, hammering silver, heating or filing it; polishing, drilling tiny holes for wire attachments of incredible fineness... though the fumes caused by heating the weird concoctions that turned the silver twigs to blackthorn drove him out into the fresh air, and the sound of the scraper that formed the slices of white shell into translucent flower petals set his teeth on edge.
Gimli worked long hours, slowed by unfamiliar tools, even toiling into the night, once he had obtained the right type of lamp crystal and fine oil to give a strong enough light.
Slowly the sprays took shape and blossomed, each tiny flower with its yellow centre and stamens, each twig different from the others, until all six lay completed on the old oak table, and the Elf had to admit he could scarcely fault the imitation of life.
Then came the final touch: instead of leaving the sprays to be worn individually, Gimli formed them into a sort of open-ended coronet by fixing them to a fine stiff gold band, the colour of Legolas' hair, that could be concealed in wear to give the illusion of separate clusters of blossom. There were even a few raindrops of crystal on the white petals, in memory of that showery day in the foothills of the mountain.
Legolas watched the exquisite gift take shape, the first visible token of their love, and marvelled at the skill of the maker, the harmony of hand and eye working the transformation of materials, and at the same time puzzled over the force of the drive to create. It must be, he thought, the spirit of Aulë himself that burns in his children. They had another beginning; they alone of the speaking peoples did not learn their language of the Elves; they are like and unlike, and will always be a mystery, even this one who is dearer to me than all who dwell in Middle-earth. A mystery -- one who can make such things as were never seen before, as his people were made, in the deeps of time.
And this imitation of the fleeting beauty of nature in a durable form? Why do that? Is it the brevity of their lives that drives dwarves and men to such work, to hold the moment because they have so little time to look at things in bloom?
The Elf seemed to feel a cold hand grip his heart -- a heart given for ever to one who would grow old and die, unless -- unless...
He hardly dared to look ahead or hope; he must do as Gimli said and seemed to do: live now, live in the moment, make it all-encompassing by leaving off the elvish wandering of thought to and fro across time as if it were a landscape to be traversed in any direction, crossed and recrossed at will, while to the Dwarf time was a rolling stream, that would never flow backwards.
A final filing of a sharp-edged piece of shell and the work was done. Legolas returned from his thoughts to see Gimli turning the circlet between his hands, inspecting it one last time. The crystal raindrops winked in the clear white light of the lamp.
Gimli stood up and walked round to where the Elf sat.
'It is done. What think you?'
He sounded gruff and matter-of-fact as ever, but Legolas knew enough now to recognise a warmer colour in his ruddy cheeks, a slight uncertainty in his glance: he had worked as well as he knew, but would it be good enough for his Elf? This lack of confidence where he was concerned both touched and worried Legolas, and it seemed to be getting worse, not better, as their intimacy grew. He wanted the opposite to happen, and could not see how to bring it about.
He took the circlet from Gimli's hands and studied it in completion for the first time, then raised his eyes to meet the Dwarf's with an expression full of love and wonder.
'Only one who sees clearly could do this,' he said, remembering words spoken some time before, and heard Gimli utter a relieved sigh, as if he had been holding his breath awaiting the verdict.
'Put it on for me please, dear Gimli.'
Gimli took the circlet and, lifting the back braid of the Elf's hair, slid the thin gold band, no more than a broad flattened wire, round his head and let the braid fall back over it before tucking the curved ends out of sight under the narrow side braids. The blackthorn sprays, three at each side, now seemed to rest in his shining hair as the real ones had done, stuck into the braids in a casual springtime adornment.
Gimli fussed over the adjustment of the band, making sure it was hidden, and Legolas moved restlessly, impatient to see the effect in the looking-glass in the bedroom.
'Fidgety Elf! What has become of the stoat and the rabbit now?' Gimli teased him gently.
And Legolas realised with surprise that Gimli's touch no longer stunned him as before.
'It was because I could not admit how much I wanted your touch; but now I know -- and so do you.'
He felt Gimli's kiss on the top of his head, and pushed gently upwards in response, like a stroked cat.
'Well now, come and admire your reflection.'
Gimli took up his bright lamp and led the way into the bedroom. When Legolas stood before the glass, he saw how well the Dwarf's skill had succeeded, and saw his own smile of delight reflected in Gimli's face.
'It is a wonder!' said Legolas, and turned to thank his lover with a long kiss.
'You are the inspiration. Without you I would never see the flowers.'
Once in bed, with the circlet resting on the console table below the small window that faced the mountains, Legolas devoted long minutes to massaging Gimli's neck and shoulders, where the heavy muscles had tensed with hours of concentration on the fine and delicate work. The knots were soon smoothed away by the archer's strong fingers, and Gimli was almost purring with contentment by the time Legolas undid his thick braid and combed it out with his fingers. Gimli sighed and relaxed on his pillows. Tonight the massage would not send him straight to sleep: tonight he would take pleasure with his beautiful Elf.
Legolas wore his blackthorn chaplet regularly thereafter in that unique month of May and the days that followed at the dawn of a new age. It attracted so much admiration that Gimli was in danger of being forced into business as a jeweller and had to exercise the greatest firmness and courtesy in refusing commissions. At the same time, however, he was planning in his mind gifts for the three great ladies and looking out for what he would need, while also finding time to visit the court musicians.
The group which had sprung to life again like poppies in new-turned earth had been granted the use of a fine panelled hall in the palace for practice, and Gimli became a regular member. The Keeper of Music had obtained a complete new set of strings for the archlute, and would let no one fit them but the Dwarf himself.
Legolas went with him everywhere, quiet and self-effacing, a sort of golden shadow to the energetic Dwarf, who knew himself to be a master of many arts and crafts among the people of Gondor and conducted himself with a corresponding authority. Legolas watched and admired, and loved to see him shine, realising with gladness that many people there saw the Dwarf with something approaching his vision, and hoped that Gimli would be responsible for a change for the better in the attitudes of Men towards the Dwarves.
For some days Gimli and his band of helpers searched the city for materials, tools, and crucially, a workshop, suitable for the enamel work he now wanted to do, and at last found, through a chain of reference and recommendation, and aged craftsman named Bergthor, living in a tiny room off a courtyard on the first level of the city, in the furthest south-west quarter, about as far from their house at it was possible to go. A tunnel straight through the spur of the mountain, said the Dwarf, would be a great convenience to the city! Bergthor had a workshop on the floor above his room, and because of his advanced age and physical frailty made but little use of it. When eventually a friend from the craft guild to which he belonged brought Gimli, accompanied by Legolas, to meet the old man, the Dwarf was able to find what he wanted.
Initially the old man was almost overwhelmed by the appearance of two of the King's companions in his poor home, and it seemed for a time that he might turn them away in sheer confusion and embarrassment, but once his fellow craftsman had persuaded him to let Gimli see the workshop, and Bergthor had realised that the Dwarf was a craftsman too, the talk turned to rent and matters progressed, for the old man was barely able to support himself and relied frequently on his family and his Trade Guild.
Legolas clinched the deal by kneeling before Bergthor to allow him to see at close quarters the blackthorn circlet which his failing sight had taken at first for real flowers. The old man, marvelling at the beauty of both work and wearer, soon agreed terms for Gimli to use his workshop, and the pair quickly found themselves with new friends in the city among the family and neighbours of Bergthor.
The days passed swiftly between workshop, music room and the public places of Minas Tirith, with occasional visits to court. Elf and Dwarf were on increasingly good terms with all parts of society, though Legolas did tend to glaze over if Gimli became involved in some intensely sensible discussion of drainage and refuse disposal with an Assistant Clerk of the Works. His reward for this was a brief lecture on the central importance of drains to a numerous settled civilisation.
'A well-constituted society,' said the Dwarf, over the evening meal (prepared and served on this occasion by Sam, who listened with amusement) -- 'must make provision for all aspects of nature. Drains, and earth closets, night-soil collectors, chamber-lye for the dyers, and so forth, may remind us that there's nothing lower than nature, but she still goes as high as heaven.'
This remark put a different smile on Sam's face, and drew a sort of bewildered agreement from the Elf: wood Elves and 'numerous settled civilisation' do not mix, or not for long, and while Gimli worked in Bergthor's workshop, Legolas would often go out of the city, sometimes with one or other of the hobbits, sometimes alone, to escape from the confining walls of stone; but he always went to the music room, and sometimes sang with the court musicians, or played a small harp, the only instrument he had ever learned. His singing was especially admired by the musicians, and he found that his voice would blend well with those of the men and women trained in the courtly singing style of Gondor -- blend much more readily than with those of the visitors to the guesthouse. He even felt envious of Gimli, who could use his 'velvet' tone in courtly song and a louder, more strident voice with the folk singers.
One day he had to take the small harp down to Gimli's rented workshop to have some of the tuning pegs fixed because they had started to slip, and found the old craftsman Bergthor unwell and feeling unable even to climb the outside stairs to the workshop. The Elf therefore sat with him in his neat, cramped little room while Gimli worked on the harp up above, and listened to the old man's memories of past years in the city and the gathering of shadows that he had never thought to see lifted in his lifetime.
Bergthor showed Legolas the few pieces of his work that he most treasured, including enamelled jewellery made for his wife who had died more than twenty years earlier. Legolas turned the delicate pieces, glowing with light and colour, in his hands and felt the love that had inspired them, seeing in the old man's face the same force that drove Gimli to create beauty from cold metal and gemstones of the earth for him. Surely all the kindreds of the earth should live together in greater friendship from now on: despite all differences, they had so much in common.
Legolas listened to the old craftsman's slow and rambling talk until Gimli brought the repaired harp down to him, and when he had struck a few chords to try it, he saw that the man would love to hear its music, so he stayed and played quietly, elvish tunes or his own improvisations, while Bergthor dozed on his narrow bed. The sounds floated faintly up through the stone floor of the workshop to Gimli's ears as he laboured at his self-appointed tasks, and his heart was filled with tenderness for the Elf who treated the old man so kindly.
Some time later, Bergthor's daughter arrived with two of her children, bringing food for the old man. They were all very shy of Legolas to begin with, but grew less wary as they saw that the old man regarded him as a friend. Legolas soon understood the concern in the daughter's heart, and felt the chill of mortality as he looked at the signs of age and the approaching end.
In all his long years, he had never been close at any time to a mortal so near to natural death. Many of the Dunedain whom he had known had met their deaths early in battle -- but that was also the fate of some Elves. He had never witnessed the advance of change and decay like this, and believed he could see a difference from day to day of their brief acquaintance. He even tried not to see it, though his innate compassion drew him back to the old man who seemed to enjoy his company.
Now he retreated politely from the little room, to let the woman tend her father, and sat down on the steps outside in the sunshine, which seemed veiled by a chill cloud in his mind. He waited for Gimli to finish his day's work, and call on Bergthor to say that although he wished to rent the workshop for at least another two weeks, he would not be back for a couple of days as he was needed to help the Keepers of Music with instrument repairs.
The Dwarf was pleased with the progress of his flower crowns and talked cheerfully as they walked home. Legolas tried to respond as he usually did, and thought he had managed quite well, but Gimli said as they ate their supper:
'Stone walls and workshops do not suit you, dear Legolas. I think it will end by making you ill. We must go out into the green world tomorrow: at least you must. Perhaps Sam or Merry would go with you if I cannot.'
'I would rather stay with you, and I enjoy the music.'
'Then we shall go the next day,' Gimli promised. -- 'Now come to bed.'
Though Gimli felt tired, more by concentration than physical work, he responded readily to the Elf's lovemaking, and fell into a deep sleep afterwards with Legolas pressed close to his side; but part of his mind seemed to keep working, recognising something strained in the Elf's manner, and he woke in the deep darkness of the second hour after midnight with his anxiety already well developed. Legolas had moved away from him, but he could sense the tension in his outstretched body and hear the over-controlled shallow breathing.
The Elf started. He had been too preoccupied to notice that Gimli had woken up.
'Legolas, what ails you? Is the black spell returning? Would you rather be out of the city?'
Legolas stirred uneasily.
'No, no; it is not the spell.'
'Yet it is something.'
Gimli sat up and reached for his little tinder box on the chest by the bed. He struck a spark and lit his candle. Now he could see Legolas lying flat on his back, unable to disguise the sadness in his face.
'Tell me, dear one, what is it that grieves you? If it is not the black spell or the city, is it Master Bergthor? Ah! I see that I strike nearer home. Is it not so?'
'He is dying, is he not?' asked Legolas faintly.
'I think he has not long to live'; Gimli replied; -- 'It may be weeks or months, but he is ninety years old, and that is a great age among men who are not of the blood of Numenor.'
'So he is as he is through age alone?'
'Yes; I believe he has no particular illness.'
Legolas shivered, thinking of the failing strength, the watery eyes, the gnarled hands loosing their skill. And time alone did that. 'You have never really seen this, have you, old age? Never lived close enough to men to know...'
Then a further suspicion dawned: or to dwarves.
'Or to dwarves?'
'No! I did not mean that! I have seen your father, and others: they are not like this man. It is my own ignorance of the world I must live in the future -- how can I bear it?'
Gimli had learned something of the tales that told of the Elves' reactions when they first discovered Men, the Followers, and understood from this and from what Legolas had said earlier about the life of mortals that the Elf was experiencing his own version of this shock.
Deliberately, he spoke in his most dwarvish manner.
'Now listen, Elf! I'm not at my best at this hour of the morning, but at least I have rested, and I know that you are awake and miserable, and I will not leave you thus.'
Legolas lay staring up at him with wide dark eyes, hands knotted together on his chest.
'The compassion you feel for these mortals does credit to your gentle heart, but do not let it grow into useless sorrow. You cannot change their lives by it -- but you could change ours!'
Now he saw that he was winning Legolas' attention.
'You could spoil what we have by this grieving over what might be but is not yet. Truly I believe that you could bring about what you fear. The Lady said many things to me that I heard only in my mind. I did not understand clearly, and therefore fear that I do not remember well; yet some things become plainer as time goes on.
I know she suggested that with the Ring I might go back to Khazad-dum and make it great again, but I replied that not even the Dwarves can cross the same river twice. Then afterward, when she had given me the lock, she told me that the gift would be greater if both were strong. I thought then that she was telling me not to divide it between the halls of my kindred, as I imagined I might, meaning by 'both' myself and the gift. But now I think she foresaw what would befall us, and meant that her gift would aid us, you and me, all the better if we are strong in our own bond.
To me she promised only new ways, strange ways, to be trodden one step at a time, with no turning back. To you she showed dark, half-closed gates; and yet the same thing is true for both of us. If I seek to descry the end of my road, I will fall into the pit that lies before my next step; if you fear that your last gate will not open, when you do not yet know where it lies, you will hardly pass the first.'
He laid one hand on Legolas' clenched fists, and felt him relax a little.
'Do not darken your heart with grief for what you cannot change. Men must take their own way out of the world which we cannot follow. But I believe what the Lady said. I believe that what MAY be WILL be, if we make it so.'
'If we make it so! I will need all your strength for this, beloved Gimli.'
'As I will need yours, beloved Elf.'
Legolas' hands uncurled and clasped Gimli's.
'Then we will make it so.'
'We will make it so;' echoed the Dwarf, and bowed his head to kiss the sweet lips that promised. Legolas sighed.
'I must grow accustomed to the world of mortal men, for we have long years of work before us here.'
'We have, and you will. Fear not.'
Gimli turned and blew out the candle.
'This will not be resolved by talking away even the whole of one night. Come close and sleep, and tomorrow we shall do tomorrow's task, and do it well. That shall be our way.'
Legolas moved to lay his head on Gimli's shoulder, while the strong left arm slid under his neck and clasped him. With his cheek against the bushy side of Gimli's beard, he heard the Dwarf's steady heartbeat and felt his spirit soothed.
Gimli was aware of a slight warming of the cool elvish limbs twined about him, and knew that Legolas' trouble was fading away into sleep. He pressed a kiss against soft hair in the darkness.
'Sweet dreams, sweet Elf.'
A gentle murmur came back:
'I need no dreams now I have you.'
The next day's work went well, up in the music rooms. Legolas soon learned to help Gimli with re-stringing the instruments, using skills he already had from bowmaking, and leaving the tuning and testing to the Dwarf. Nevertheless there was work for another half day before the court musicians could start serious preparation for the further celebrations that would come. But once that work was done, Gimli kept his promise to go out into the green world again, and the two left the city and wandered off across the countryside to which normal life was already returning.
Flocks and herds that had been driven south or into the hills were gradually coming back to their pastures, and the ruined homes and farm buildings were being worked on by all who could be spared to help. This time, however, Elf and Dwarf did not join in, but sought out the quieter places in the foothill and walked among the woodlands, watching spring make haste into summer.
Suddenly Gimli noticed among the hawthorns laden with blossom like snow a single tree clothed in deep pink, rich as any rose, and turned towards it.
'What is this tree, Legolas? It smells like may, but I never saw such a may-tree before.'
The small, gnarled old tree drooped its flower-laden branches towards the earth, and Legolas smiled to see the Dwarf as he stood holding a spray and leaning close to it, first smelling the perfume, then peering at the flowers and comparing them with the creamy white ones on the next tree.
'It is a red hawthorn, Gimli. They are not common, but they do grow in Mirkwood and all over the northlands.'
'And next you will tell me that I never saw them because I never looked, but kept my dwarvish nose to the earth, and perhaps you would be right; but now I look and now I see, and am glad that I began my work with the crown of Arwen, because now I shall make pink may blossom for Éowyn, since she stands alone among women as this tree among its fellows.'
Then he took his little sharp knife and cut a good spray from the branch to carry home for study.
The next thing he remarked upon was the sharp greenish ochre colour of the young oak leaves that were now veiling the dark branches, as he realised that he could recognise these trees at a distance, marvelling at the brilliant colouring of the tender leaves when seen against the light of the clear sky.
He caught the sound of Legolas' soft affectionate laughter at his enthusiasm, and said:
'I must seem as ridiculous and ignorant to you as ever any Dwarf did to elven king, to have lived so long on earth and not know what spring is like!'
Legolas' expression changed in an instant to great seriousness.
'Ridiculous? Never! And this spring is like none other that I have known, for I see it with you. And it is a gift beyond price to see again for the first time something so well known and loved. You make the world strange again.'
Gimli turned to face him squarely, with a very dwarvish look. It took him a couple of seconds to work out what it was he had heard. Then his expression changed to the warm gentleness that had first started to work its magic when Legolas had seen him try to comfort the hobbits in Lórien.
'Only an Elf could say a thing like that, or even manage to think it; he said, smiling.'
Legolas looked at him gravely.
'Perhaps only an Elf would need to think it.'
'Crazy Elf! One minute you laugh at me, and the next you seem ready to cry for the same reason. No wonder my grandmother would call us 'flighty as Elves' when we tried her patience!'
That made Legolas smile again at an imagined vision of the young mischievous Gimli and his little friends and relations.
'Tell me about your grandmother, and whom you mean by "us", and anything you think an ignorant Elf should know but never troubled to learn.'
And so Gimli told him tales of his childhood in far Ered Luin, in between discoveries of the springtime world as they walked, until evening sent them back to the city and their peaceful home. The city jackdaws were flying back to their nests with soft chonking cries, and Gimli eyed the neglected roofs and turrets where the birds had made their roosts with dark suspicion.
'I don't know what the winters are like here, but I should think a half-decent gale would bring some of that down about our ears. There is work everywhere I look!'
'And I should think you are not the only one who knows it!'
'Too full of my own importance, am I?'
'You reshape my words as quickly as you did my silver circlet, but not to such good effect! Cunning Dwarf!'
They laughed, and once within the gate of the courtyard house, joined hands as they went up the steps to supper, bath and bed.
In the morning, Gimli woke early, eager to study his red hawthorn spray before returning to his rented workshop. Legolas lay beside him, awake and watching him with a gentle smile.
'You were frowning in your sleep, Gimli. What was troubling you?' Gimli stretched, feeling not at all troubled.
'I can't say that I remember -- wondering how best to make that pinkish red of the hawthorn blossom, no doubt.'
'Do you not remember your dreams?'
'No, not always.'
'Strange. And I believe men do not either.'
'Well, no time for dreaming now. Time to get up and set to work.'
'Industrious dwarf! Will you not take time to enjoy the world and the day?'
'But I enjoy my work, you idle Elf, and work enjoyed means a day enjoyed, and the treasures of the world also.'
So they laughed at each other, and agreed to differ, with a kiss more enjoyable than work or idleness.
When Gimli went to collect his tools for the day after breakfast, he heard Legolas on the terrace, whistling to the birds again, and looked out to see him scatter crumbs for them and then turn his attention to the plants. He started swiping greenfly from tender shoots with his fingers and an unexpected air of relish. Gimli grinned to himself, and that's the wood Elf who looked as if he never knew anything about the lower end of nature! Funny how you don't always know what it is you do know when you get into a new situation. He leaned out of the window.
'Will you come to Master Bergthor's today, or have you enough to do with the trees here?'
'I'll come with you,' Legolas replied, with a smile that put a spring into Gimli's step.
He had more than half expected to hear that the elf would prefer to avoid the old craftsman's company if he could.
As they walked off through the busy streets, Legolas said: 'The short life of men is not one dark gate to me but many, I fear, and perhaps I must pass one such each day until we reach our end.'
'Things are little different for mortals', Gimli told him.
When they reached Bergthor's home, they found that both had been mistaken. The old man was neither so near death as Legolas had believed, nor had he been free from illness. He had taken a chill when they last saw him, but was now much better, sitting in the sunshine outside his door in an old wicker chair, and talking to friends and neighbours coming and going across the court.
He welcomed his two visitors gladly, and Legolas stayed talking with him once Gimli had gone up to the workshop, for the thought had come to him, as they walked among the people, that he could learn from this old citizen many things about the life of this kingdom of which he was now a part, things concerning the daily life of the folk that he would never discover in the councils of the great.
As May wore on, they fell into a pattern of work, between the Musicians' Hall and the jeweller's loft, often taking their lunch with the old man, sitting on the stone steps beside his chair and enjoying the surprises Sam would provide for them, neatly wrapped in a blue-striped linen cloth.
They wondered at first at Sam's insistence on cooking and preparing food for them, but soon concluded that it was not entirely disinterested, and that they were on the receiving end of series of Hobbit experiments in food. Since the return of the King, things were looking up in the markets of Minas Tirith. It seemed that supplies of goods improved almost daily in quantity, quality and variety, and Sam missed no chance to investigate (though he could be heard from time to time asking himself what the Gaffer would say to him buying such stuff). Soon he was the favourite of shopkeepers and stallholders across the city, and any of his friends who showed an interest would be asked to try some novelty. Somehow his native Hobbit sense ensured that the failures were few, though people were frequently regaled with dishes whose names Sam had forgotten, or meant nothing if he did recall them.
Legolas and Gimli seemed to spend half their lunch times in fits of laughter, trying to guess what it was they had been given that day ("chicken's lips and snail's elbows" was judged to be one of Legolas' better guesses). Even old Bergthor could not always help when offered a taste, but he was happily proud of his eccentric new friends, and loud in his praise of the Dwarf's skill and the Elf's courtesy. Some of the others who lived or worked in the court lost their shyness of the strangers, and would stop to join in the conversation now and again.
Sometimes Legolas would go out of the city to bring fresh flowers for Gimli to study, and startled all who saw him with the speed of his passing: elven fleetness was something no one in Minas Tirith but the King and his companions had ever witnessed.
The Dwarf's work was going well, and from time to time the soft rumble of his deep voice could be heard in song -- the velvet-toned song of finding and making. If this happened while Legolas was with Master Bergthor, the Elf would lose track of what he was saying or hearing, and pause, spellbound by Gimli's song. He was dismayed to find that Bergthor could not hear the quiet voice from the workshop above, and had to apologise for his inattention, saying that Elves were liable to be strongly affected by all kinds of music, and Bergthor seemed to be happy to forgive him for that.
On another morning, Gimli, having spent most of the previous evening grinding and refining the blue pigment for the next day's work of enamelling the forget-me-nots for Galadriel's crown, found, when halfway round the city, that he had left the precious packet behind. He suddenly stopped and felt the pockets of his jerkin -- that outrageous object that Legolas said was more a portable storehouse than a garment, and largely responsible for his initial impression that the Dwarf was as broad as he was long -- and uttered a dwarvish curse.
Once Legolas understood what was wrong, he ran swiftly off to fetch the packet, darting like the wind between the startled people of the city.
Gimli climbed up from the roadway onto the defensive parapet of the Second Level and sat down in a sunny embrasure to await the return of the Elf. He thought about the changes he had seen in the city, even in the short time he had been there.
Merchants from the nearer parts of Harad were already starting to appear; spices and fine woods, and other things, such as he might use for his work, were becoming available, if in small quantities and at understandably high prices, and the city would have to find the means to pay for them.
While it was true that there would be gold and other treasure to be recovered from Orthanc in the near future (and perhaps from other strongholds of the Enemy too) which would help with building and rebuilding in the Kingdom, more would be needed. His thoughts turned to Aglarond, where he had had a first glimpse of what seemed like limitless beauty, but not, from what he had seen, of a kind that could be turned to use and profit for Men or Dwarves. But the Glittering Caves were only one part of the Ered Nimrais: what else might there be hidden away within that great mountain range? And those places might be his to command, when the Kings of Gondor and Rohan had agreed matters to their satisfaction.
Already he felt a jealous care for those wonderful caverns. Gain there must be, to keep the lifeblood trade of kingdoms flowing; but despoiling there would not be, while he had any say in the matter. Those underground halls, full of beauty, should be tended as carefully as any wheatfield or orchard, and should bear their fruit of mineral wealth year after year, like any well-managed farm of green fields under the sun.
While he was considering this and looking out towards the river, the voices of a small group of men walking to their work caught his ear.
'Who, or what, was that, that passed us, running like a wild hare back there?'
'That was an Elf, Master Shoesmith, THE Elf, the King's companion, for there is no other in the city, as you would know if your nose were less often in your beer mug!'
'And is it a he-Elf or a she-Elf, if you know so much, for one could hardly tell by that glimpse?'
'Why, it's a he-Elf, you dullard! A warrior and a king's son out of the north. Are you deaf as well as blind?'
'Well, he or she, such a creature fills the eye nicely. And if that's an Elf-prince, I shall be glad to set eyes on their wenches!'
'And not just your eyes, if I know you! You like 'em best when you can't tell if it's he or she till you get your hands on 'em!'
Gimli glared at them unnoticed, lip curling in furious distaste, and leapt down from his place to challenge their disrespectful words.
These are the people he fought to save! he thought. Or some of them, and then he growled loudly:
'Watch your words, masters, when you speak of the fair folk!'
The men halted abruptly and looked round in some alarm. There were no other people close enough to them to have been heard speaking at that moment, but Gimli saw with puzzlement that they did not see him. In fact only one of them gave so much as a glance in his direction, eyes screwed up against the sunlight; and Gimli then realised than when he left his warm seat on the parapet he had moved into the shadow of the wall and was hidden by its blackness before the bright light of the morning sun. His moustache twitched as he smiled, thinking that a warning from an invisible presence might be more effective than anything short of an onslaught with his battleaxe, and so he stood still and held his peace, while the men looked nervously at one another, and then in unspoken agreement scurried away.
Gimli folded his arms with a satisfied 'Hmph!' and resumed his seat on the stonework for another minute or two.
Legolas soon came racing back with the packet of blue powder, and Gimli had to admit that he had seen as yet no one in the city whose beauty equalled that of the Elf. And he recalled what Legolas had said about 'an Elf as another notch on the bedpost' and wondered what exactly lay behind those words, what encounter with Men in the vanished kingdoms of the north.
He bounded down from his vantage point, thanked Legolas for his kindness, and walked on with him towards Bergthor's workshop. They did not see the idle workmen again, and Gimli wondered if they would ever work out what had happened. But what rankled most was the way they had spoken of Legolas as 'it'. Of course he was not human, any more than Gimli himself, but to hear one of the fair folk so called angered him deeply, and he hoped that all who thought thus would learn better, and quickly, when they found themselves with a half-elven Queen.
When Legolas was not with him in the workshop, Gimli spent his time crafting the mallorn leaf to replace the oak talisman given to the widow's son. Gimli knew that the Elf felt its absence from the way his hand would stray to place where it had rested, probably, thought the Dwarf, for many lifetimes of his kind.
That thought would stop him short whenever some unexpected matter brought it home to him afresh. He began to think that he felt it with such shock because Legolas himself made so little of it; and when he had spoken of a second chance to see spring for the first time, it had seemed once again that his elven years were somehow a burden in a mortal world. So he worked on the leaf, made of gilded silver and green enamel with a crystal dewdrop in the central vein, and hid the piece away whenever Legolas was about. He finished it one day when the Elf announced that he would be off on a hunting expedition with Sam and young Bergil.
He seemed determined to make a mystery of it, but Gimli turned very dwarvish and refused to rise to the bait, assuming from the choice of company that the hunt would be conducted through the markets of the city: but in this he was mistaken; for when the hunting party returned in the evening to the Dwarf (who was waiting impatiently to present his finished gift) they had with them nothing more remarkable than a smallish wooden box with a number of little holes roughly bored through the lid. It was also clear that the tireless Elf had almost run the energetic young boy and the travel-hardened Hobbit off their feet, for they had been out in the groves and fields all day, and were now returned in triumph with a box full of leaves and... ladybirds... almost three dozen ladybirds! Ladybirds of various sizes, colours and numbers of spots!
Legolas laughed aloud at the look on Gimli's face when this treasure was revealed. He was quite baffled by this new piece of, as he thought, elvish whimsy, and only the bewitching charm of the Elf's delight in the day's capture prevented him from making acid comments. He let himself be persuaded to look closely at these living, moving jewels, and eventually gathered that they had been rounded up to aid Legolas in his war on the greenfly that were feasting on the plants in the courtyard and terrace.
'Gardener's friends they are, Gimli,' said Sam; -'That's well known among Shire folk as well as Elves.'
Gimli had a sudden feeling that Middle-earth was not one world but many, and that it was possible, in fact quite easy, to find that he had stepped from one to another without warning. Horses, cattle, goats, dogs for guarding and hunting, farm cats and miller's cats... they were useful animals, all in their way friends of men: but friends with insects? That was a new idea. He followed Legolas and Sam around as they released the bright and decorative bugs onto the plants most in need of care, fascinated almost against his will by the knowledge, skill and love of living, growing things shared by these two disparate beings.
Bergil soon went home, fearful of a scolding from his mother for being away so long, and Sam stayed only until he had prepared a few things for the evening meal. Gimli saw him off and locked the gate, hurrying back to find the Elf a picture of domesticity, cutting bread and setting out the salad stuff that Sam had washed.
They ate in companionable silence, simply glad to be together again, and as soon as the meal was over, dishes washed and put away, they strolled across the courtyard to their bedroom. It was not late, and the evenings were now so light that star-opening was still a couple of hours away. Legolas no longer wandered at night as he had done when they first came to the city. Evening and morning he was content to watch the stars from the courtyard or terrace, and would sleep or rest all night by Gimli's side.
As soon as the door was closed behind them, Legolas took Gimli in his arms, stooping his head for a long kiss after a day spent apart. The warmth and scent of the Dwarf engulfed him -- an earthy spiciness, mingled with leather and the strange smells of the workshop from his clothes. It wrapped him in a sense of homecoming, then swiftly vanished below the conscious perception of even sharp elvish senses. At the same time Gimli nuzzled close to the Elf, savouring his sweet woodland tang of green growing things, finding the same sense of comfort and home.
'I love your smell,' Legolas murmured against his hair; --'But it seems to vanish so quickly. I don't understand.'
Gimli thought for a moment, then suddenly remembered something from his long ago experience of love.
'I think it happens when you MATCH someone; when there's no conflict...'
'There's no conflict between us, but "match"? We are so unlike...'
'Well then, FIT, like two parts of a whole; you're the other part of me. So that's why; just as you don't know your own scent.'
'Yes, we fit!'
Legolas' chin rested comfortably on the top of Gimli's head now, as the Dwarf's arms wrapped tightly round him. Then Gimli said: 'While you were out hunting wild insects, I have not been idle. Would you like to see?'
'Yes, of course. Have you finished one of your crowns?'
'No, not yet. Something else.'
Gimli began to unfasten the clasps of Legolas' jacket. The Elf guessed that the something would be for him, but said nothing, and took the hint to undress, and when he sat naked on the edge of the bed Gimli, still clothed but now barefoot, brought out from one of the pockets of his jerkin the little box of dark polished wood that held the mallorn leaf, and presented it solemnly.
Legolas took the box and slowly opened it, and Gimli watched with joy the brightening of his face as he saw the gift revealed and then lifted it by its chain from the black velvet bed. When he had done turning it about to admire it, he said: 'Crafty one! No wonder you have let me run wild in the meadows or gossip with Master Bergthor when I might have been your apprentice! You know you could chain me to your side with a word, yet I never felt you wished me away.'
Gimli smiled at the fair teasing face.
'I never wished you away but for your own sake, so you never felt it.'
Legolas set the box down and held the pendant out to Gimli.
'Once you put this about my neck, you must seal the clasp, so that it shall not come off again. Can you do that?'
'Why, yes. But I know that if you do not wish to take it off, you never will. Your love will keep it fast.'
'Yes, my Gimli; but I would have it so, for the sake of the hand that made it, and the love of the Lady.'
'Do you not recall what Aragorn said about casting away treasure at need?'
'I do: and I say not that there will never be need so great I would cast away this treasure. But the oak leaf was freely given, and so will this never be.'
Gimli hesitated, holding the ends of the chain ready to clasp about the ivory-skinned neck as Legolas lifted his hair in both hands in readiness. Doubts about the future fell over them like a shadow for moment.
'Put it on, please.'
Legolas looked steadily into the dark eyes of the Dwarf.
'Put it on! My heart has left the greenwood as surely as my talisman is gone from me. I live in a new world now.'
Slowly Gimli moved forward and fastened the chain around Legolas' neck, catching his sweet scent again as he leaned close. Legolas let his hair fall, and touched the green and gold leaf to find out how it lay, just below the pit of his throat, just as the silver oak leaf had done. He drew a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh, then moved suddenly, to stretch himself out on the dark green coverlet, arms spread, inviting, clad in nothing but the green leaf and his own beauty.
Gimli leaned over him and ran a trail of kisses down his chest, which inevitably caused a lot of delightful tickling from the beard, before shedding his clothes and joining him on the bed.
The gift of the leaf had proved to be a more serious matter than he had expected, bringing questions of what they might have to face in the future, but now Gimli caressed the Elf gently, running his warm, work hardened hand down the smooth flank and hip, stroking and admiring. Legolas lay quite still and smiled at him under half-closed lashes. Already Gimli knew a lot more about the Elf, about the behaviour of his mysterious body, and had found, with surprise that he soon realised was misplaced, that the quietness of the Elf's responses was not a measure of the strength of his feelings; that the simplest touches, or even words alone, could rouse him to bliss; and that the focus of pleasure was sometimes in the expected place and sometimes diffused through the whole of his body while his manhood seemed to sleep.
Now that he was coming to understand what he saw and felt, Gimli could read the signs: Legolas' skin would grow gradually warmer, and the pale, even, opaque ivory colouring would change to a subtle, glowing, almost translucent rose-agate tint, revealing delicate bluish veins, and would fade slowly back to ivory after satisfaction. Gimli began to think that Legolas and those of his kind who suffered the fate of the late-born were not so much losers by the unpredictable sleep of the flesh as one might imagine. Something else was being given to them instead, or so it seemed to him. He let his hair trail across the Elf's face and chest, always sure to please him, and saw the fair rosy colouring begin to rise. It was a sight of such enchanting beauty that at times his own desire would be forgotten for a while until he had taken his fill of watching the Elf's pleasure.
But this time Legolas was saying: 'With me, please, together!'
He drew Gimli close, strong fingers sweeping down his spine, legs twining about him, tongue searching in every kiss. Simply knowing the force of his desire was enough to send Gimli over the edge, and they rolled together in the sparkling darkness of love's delight. Eventually Legolas rose and fetched a cloth from the wash-stand. Gimli gave a little yelp of surprise at the cold damp touch on his belly, then smiled up at the Elf leaning over him, the leaf pendant swinging gently. They slid under the covers and curled together as the daylight faded. Gimli touched the pendant lightly.
'Should I have asked you first? It was more than just an adornment, was it not?'
'Somewhat more, yes; not so important as the circlet of leaves -- I could not give that away.'
'But your father will be angry?'
'Hmm. Displeased, possibly, no more.'
'He'll be angry about me!'
'No doubt of that!'
But Legolas laughed and went on: 'He has a cousin, in Lindon, who was his heir, until I was born. And now, I have been offered a place in Ithilien, as well as a home in your heart. And even so, how long will the Greenwood have room for an elven king, now the age of Men begins? All will yet be well. But your father, Gimli?'
'Ach! I do not think of it! Things will go as they will. If he pursues me with his axe, I shall fight him. Yet I say wait and see. Meeting trouble halfway makes it certain.'
'You sound so calm -- I love that.'
'What use in being anything else?'
Legolas snuggled against him, head on his shoulder.
'Can those Elves who once had children have them no longer?'
'That's so. Elves have always been able to choose when to conceive, but now they cannot. It is part of the fading.'
He was surprised to hear Gimli stifle what seemed like a snort of mirth.
'But that is only reasonable! Since elves do not naturally die -- yes, I know very many of your kind have been slain or taken by the Enemy -- but, if things had gone as they were surely planned there must come a time when they will not naturally be born, otherwise...'
He paused, hoping Legolas would grasp his meaning before he had to say anything unacceptable: and to his lasting credit the Elf suddenly saw things in a new light: 'Otherwise we would be more like rabbits in Sam's cabbage patch!'
Gimli gave a shout of relieved laughter. That was putting it far more strongly than he would ever have dared.
'So that is why you find my late-born body neither maimed nor ridiculous; it is 'reasonable'!'
'Well, yes; you are as you must be, though perhaps the change in your senses should not have happened until you left Middle-earth.'
Legolas was silent for a while. Clearly he had never considered matters in this way, which surprised Gimli, but when he spoke, he had evidently been thinking of the 'rabbits in a cabbage patch' aspect of things.
'You spoke of the Elves who have died in Middle-earth; but did you know that such may be given new bodies, if Namo will and they will, and so continue their lives in the Blessed Realm? And one at least has returned into Middle-earth: Glorfindel whom you saw in the House of Elrond. Your dwarvish reason is not so wide of the mark, I think, though some of our number were lost to the Enemy long ago in other ways, and none can tell their end...'
Gimli understood that he was thinking of the origin of the Orcs, and could say nothing on the matter.
'Legolas, the more I know of you, and the more my "dwarvish reason" tries to understand you, the more you are a mystery -- enough to keep the most inquisitive Dwarf happy all his days!'
Then Gimli saw Legolas' expression change to a piercing earnest.
'And you accept me, late-born, a mystery, and love me as I am.'
'That I do, my Elf. You said it yourself, you are you: Legolas; you cannot be other than you are, and that "you" I love.'
'My gentle Gimli! Now I know what I have long sought: one to love me just as I am.'
Gimli turned a little and looked at him.
'How could anyone love you, except as you are? Can love be otherwise?'
'Oh, Gimli, how can I explain? Yes, as you have guessed, I have loved before: once, I believed, truly. But I was deceived, or, as I now think, I deceived myself. '
Gimli listened in alarmed silence, wondering what he might hear next. 'He was a Man, a mortal, a great warrior from a kingdom long vanished, and I but a young Elf. He was of the blood of Numenor, not unlike Elessar in appearance, but most unlike in heart and mind. He was fierce, proud and, alas, cruel, yet a skilful warrior who scarcely knew the name of fear, and was highly honoured in his land. I understand now that I met in him a shadow, faint yet still dangerous, of that power by which Sauron deceived his forebears and made them his followers in Numenor; a power sprung from that of the Enemy who caused the fall of the Noldor in Aman.
'He was ungentle from the first, mocking my elvish nature if I complained of hurt, envying and angered by elvish length of life. I would not let myself see that he was one to crush what he could not enjoy.
'I went with him after a feast -- he had taken too much wine, and was rough and boastful, and I soon began to fear that he had despised me even while he desired, but I would not believe it, until he took me, roughly and unprepared. It was violation, but I had consented, and I did not die. Instead I found my anger, and I found my strength; I threw him across the room and fled. I may have dashed his brains out against the wall, I do not know. I returned to my own people. I never saw or heard of him again, and, whatever befell, he is dead many generations of men and his land forgotten.'
Though he had spoken with almost exaggerated elvish calm, Legolas now seemed breathless with the memory of his struggle and escape. Before Gimli could speak, he went on: 'Elves heal quickly in the body, but other wounds last longer. My father and my friends asked no more than I was willing to tell. Those were grievous times. Pain and sorrow were no strangers. to any of us. But now it is you, Gimli, who bring me to recovery.'
Then he slipped into the tender formality of address reserved for the deepest feelings: 'When I came to thee chilled to the bone by the death of the child, I saw thee look on me with desire, and put it aside out of very love and kindness towards me. Thou art the first that looked, and saw, and understood, and held me as an equal. And now thou knowest more of me than any has known, and wouldst not change me. Thou dost love and desire and yet wilt let me be.'
'I can do no other, fair one. Thou hast given me a gift unheard of, that a Dwarf should find a second mate. I cannot think to fault one who bestowed this treasure: it would come close to rejecting the gift.'
'This binds me closer to thee alone,' said Legolas, -- 'My star of earth, I will follow thee.'
'And I tell thee, Legolas, that in the Northern tongue wherein we take our names, mine does indeed mean "Star".'
Gimli felt, rather than saw, the Elf sit up suddenly in the near darkness, and could just discern the pale face gazing down at him. Legolas laid one hand on the Dwarf's chest.
'This was meant to be,' he said softly, and sank back down against Gimli's side. -- 'This was meant to be; my star.'
Gimli's arms closed round him, and he lay close, murmuring 'Meant to be' several times more until he fell asleep.
Gimli lay awake for some time, feeling the Elf's soft breathing against his shoulder, and wondering at the sad tale that his tenderness had drawn forth. He resolved to do all in his power to heal the old wounds of the wonderful being whose trust had set him free from his own prison of loneliness, and then reflected that Legolas too could 'let him be': he had asked no question concerning his true dwarvish name and, he thought, never would.
The next morning also heralded another fine warm day, and Gimli heard the sound of soft elvish singing mingled once more with the chirping of birds. He sat up to see better through the window, and there was Legolas with his birds, wearing nothing but the green and gold leaf, his skin dappled with sunlight and shadow, a silvan Elf in his element.
Gimli gazed contentedly for a while, then called softly: 'Good morning, wild one!'
Legolas turned, smiling, said goodbye to the birds, sprang onto the bench before the window, and then dived forwards, landing with his hands on the sill, and swung his legs around sideways, to alight on the red tiled floor, soft-footed and sure as a cat. Gimli laughed aloud in delight at the unexpected flash of long pale limbs and streaming hair. Legolas beamed back at him.
'Good morning, sleepy one!'
'You seem happy this morning, dear Elf.'
'Happy? Indeed I am.'
He bounded onto the bed and knelt looking down at Gimli. His hand went to the mallorn leaf pendant.
'Will you seal the chain?'
Legolas smiled at him, eyes sparkling. He was irresistible. 'Oh, very well!'
Gimli slid out of bed with a pretence of dwarvish grumpiness and crossed to the inner door. Legolas looked at his broad strong back, half hidden by the tangled spread of his hair. Instead of following the custom of keeping his hair in a loose braid at night, Gimli often released it because he knew how Legolas delighted to see the shining mantle spread over the pillow. It meant more work in the morning, but the Elf was always willing to help with that.
Now Legolas watched him walk through to the other room, and found beauty in his compact dwarvish strength, and then wondered at the change in his ideas: the elvish notion of beauty was no longer absolute.
Gimli returned with a couple of small tools, cutters and pliers, in his hand, and found Legolas lying flat on the bed, still with the leaf on its chain about his neck. Gimli held out his hand.
'May I have the chain, please?'
'But I want you to fix it.'
'Crazy Elf! First I must take off the clasp.'
Legolas worked the chain round his neck and unfastened it. Gimli removed the clasp, but it seemed that Legolas was determined to stay on the bed to have the chain secured. He looked so quiet, happy and trusting, that Gimli could do nothing but humour him, and climbing onto the bed, knelt astride his chest to slip the chain back around the slim strong neck.
Legolas lay perfectly still, watching Gimli's concentration on the miniature work with half-closed eyes. It took only moments to complete, the pliers almost hidden in the large powerful hands that had such precise control.. Gimli passed the chain between his fingers: he could feel only a tiny irregularity where he had joined the links.
'There!' he said, -- 'You and your mallorn leaf are joined for ever!'
'Thank you,' said Legolas softly, as Gimli bent down to kiss him under a tent of rather tangled red-brown hair.
Then Gimli sat back and laughed aloud: 'Had any Dwarf ever such a work-bench as this?'
And he stroked Legolas' chest with admiring gentleness. Legolas' whole body shook with answering mirth, and mischievous fingers crept out to hold and squeeze the soft weight between the Dwarf's parted thighs.
'Ach! Now don't start that. I shall need a steady hand all day to work the little blue speedwell for Arwen's crown, and your love is too strong for me to take in the morning.'
Legolas drew his hand away with an air of innocence.
'I was only going to say that I do not mind my 'peculiarity' so much, now that I know you can always grow big enough for two!'
'Saucy Elf! Save it for tonight!'
'Gladly,' said Legolas, suddenly growing more serious; -- 'I thanked you last night for setting your regard for me before your own desire. And now I see you put your regard for yourself and your craft before your desire also, and I love you the more for that. I have not known such a thing before.'
'You have not known Dwarves before,' said Gimli; -- 'And we are not like Men. It is their short lives that drives them so. They must breed, and quickly, for the sake of their race, and so they will couple, even where they cannot breed.'
'More dwarvish reason!' said Legolas; -- 'How glad am I to have you, who will give at night what is denied in the morning, and all with equal love. Now let me bath you and wash your beautiful hair, so that you shall look as splendid as the work you do.'
'Best of all elves! You understand as if you were of my own kind. A plague on old memories that keep our peoples apart! I accept your offer of a bath -- so it be a warm one, even on a morning such as this! For I must keep on with my work. Gandalf grows more portentous by the day -- the crowns will be needed soon.'
Once Gimli was engrossed in his work in Bergthor's attic, Legolas talked to the old man for a while, and then went off about the city. From the moment he had learned of the meaning of Gimli's name, a memory of something seen in earlier explorations had been promising to return, but was still eluding him: a memory of something in a small dark shop as they searched the city for what Gimli had needed. Something -- where had it been? Something that had given back the light of the sun like a star in darkness at the opening of a door -- a star of earth -- but what had it been, and where?
He decided to see if he could find the Hobbits and Bergil to help him retrace his steps for, rather to his dismay, he still tended to lose himself in the city at times, especially in the broader parts of the lower levels, which were a maze of courts and alleys running back off the main streets. He found Merry, Pippin and Bergil sitting in the sunshine in the inner court of the guest house, eating apples and deciding what to do next.
They were delighted to see him, and eager to help when he had shown them the mallorn leaf pendant and tried to explain what it was that he sought.
They set out promptly, but soon found that they could not agree on their memories of where they had been, with or without Gimli, when they had searched the markets and workshops for the tools and materials he had wanted. In the end they let Bergil lead the way to the most likely parts of the city, much as they had done before, but it was late afternoon before they came at last to a hidden court in the soth-east part of the third level, tucked away beyond a deep narrow arch.
'I remember this place now;' said Bergil; -- 'We passed it several times before we decided to look in. There's a big court in here, with goldsmiths' shops.'
They turned in under the shadowed entrance, and then Legolas too recalled the place. He did not like it much, thinking the walls too high and close, and yet he felt that at last they were on the right path: and so it proved, for, as the little party crowded into a small, dim-windowed shop displaying a few jewels on dusty velvet, the sunlight woke a flash of fire on a shelf behind the counter, and Legolas hoped he had found what he was seeking.
The merchant, or craftsman (perhaps he was both) recognised his important visitors, which occasioned a formal exchange of courtesies before Legolas embarked on the business of the visit and asked to see the fiery gem on the shelf. The man lifted it down carefully and blew some of the dust off the black velvet on which it rested in a small wooden box.
'This is a fire opal, sir, cabochon-cut, unusual, a good size, and, as you see, a very fine colour.'
When Legolas knew what the stone was, he was convinced it was the right one for Gimli, and made little attempt at bargaining for it. The dealer, however, had been wary in naming his price, not wishing to gain a bad reputation with the King's friends, so the conclusion was fair enough to both sides, and Legolas carried the stone off in triumph.
Once he had parted, with many words of thanks, from the Hobbits and Bergil, he returned to the house and put the stone in the top drawer of the chest at his side of the bed before setting out around the city to Bergthor's workshop. The old man was not at home, and Legolas guessed he would be visiting his daughter. He ran lightly up the stone stairs, carrying something else he had bought on his expedition round the city: two stone bottles of gin, to answer the question that the juniper bushes had prompted Gimli to ask.
Gimli greeted him warmly when he tapped on the workshop door and showed his findings. Now the Elf would not be questioned further about his day's doings and would not need to hide anything. Gimli inspected the labels on the bottles with interest, and with Legolas' help deciphered the Gondorian characters: 'Forester's Gin' and 'City Distillers'.
'Well done, my friend. We'll see if this equals the work of our northern Woodmen. But first, see the flowers I have worked for Arwen -- they are small and I must make more yet. The work is slow, but tell me how you think it goes.'
Legolas came to the bench and looked carefully at the little glowing flowers of translucent blue enamel. Some already had their centres and leaves, and were mounted on wires of black-patinated silver, ready to be added to the circlet. Legolas marvelled again at the delicacy of the Dwarf's work, and could see in imagination the blossoms glowing against Arwen's midnight tresses.
'This will be a rare gift indeed, Gimli. This craft will set your name with the great ones of old, for in it I see both elvish and dwarvish skills mingled. And you are not yet come into the realm of Aglarond, where yet greater things surely await you.'
'Gracious Elf, to speak so kindly when the work is but half done. Yet truly I have great hopes of it.'
Legolas watched him tidy the room and make sure no spark remained in the little kiln where he fired his enamels. It could be dangerous if neglected, and he had no wish to bring harm on the old craftsman whose workshop was proving so valuable to him.
At last they locked the door and went home through the city which still bustled with life in the early evening. Many folk now greeted them with words and bows, friendly strangers, forerunners of the new age, but Gimli thought he noticed some eyes following Legolas with expressions he did not care for overmuch. Was it imagination, fired by the words overheard earlier, was it dwarvish jealousy, or did he truly glimpse orkish desires that covet beauty out of spite?
Legolas, however, seemed untroubled, and answered all who spoke or bowed with simple elvish grace, and Gimli was glad to see him honoured.
As they reached their gate, the music of the falling water welcomed and gladdened them, and Legolas paused on the steps and stooped to dip his fingers into the shallow cascade of cool water flowing down over the stones, while Gimli looked again at the bright colours of the forget-me-nots which he must try to capture for Galadriel as soon as Arwen's speedwells were done. Eowyn's red hawthorn now resided safely in the carved oak cupboard in the small room, but suitable caskets would be needed for all the circlets: perhaps Legolas and the Hobbits could help find such things in the city... Dwarves thrive on work, but Gimli knew that there was not much time to spare, and the court musicians still had tasks for him. Neither was he greatly minded to work by night as well as by day, when the love of his Elf awaited him in the dark-panelled quiet of their chamber.
When they had washed the grime of the day from their hands and faces, they went to the kitchen to see what might make an evening meal, and found mutton chops, potatoes and plenty of green leafy vegetables -- and of course there was the gin to be sampled while things cooked. Legolas undid the wire that held the bottle stoppers as Gimli stirred the fire and got pans and dishes ready, and poured out two small glasses of gin, one from each bottle. It happened that he gave Gimli the Foresters' and took the City brand himself. Gimli hung his nose over the glass with a dwarvishly loud sniff that made Legolas laugh.
'Hmm! Smells good.'
Legolas sniffed at his, and wrinkled his nose with much less enthusiasm while Gimli tried a sip.
'Aha! Excellent stuff. Clearly there is some skill in Gondor!' said the Dwarf.
Legolas tried his.
'This is disgusting! I should think they do better in Dunland!'
'Really? Let me try.'
They exchanged glasses. Gimli sniffed and tutted. Legolas smiled at the fresh wild fragrance of the Foresters' brew. Gimli tried a taste, spluttered and spat.
'Who ever sold you this was a swindler!'
'It was a wine merchant on the Fourth Level; a large place with a busy tavern next door.'
'They should be pilloried for this. I've a mind to go and tell them what I think.'
'Very well, but not just now. Shouldn't you put the potatoes in the pan?'
Gimli flung them in, and set about making a start on some gravy. Then he tipped the remainder of the City stuff back into the bottle and took a more generous tot from the Foresters'. They drank to each other's health while Gimli rehearsed a few choice words for the City Distillers.
And so it was that when Sam turned up to see if he could give a hand with anything he found a pair of giggling incompetents and a dinner in serious disarray, lamb chops still lying neglected on the board. There was a strong scent of juniper in the air, and Sam was promptly invited to join in the sampling. He soon reached the same verdict on the merits of the drinks as the Elf and Dwarf, but was more concerned about the meal, lifting the pan lid and prodding the potatoes with a fork.
'What in the Shire is this? Crispy mash and slicing gravy, and the meat not started!'
Legolas and Gimli shook with laughter, leaning against eachother on the kitchen bench, faces creased with mirth so infectious that Sam had to stop scolding and join in. He was delighted to see and hear them like this, two so different and so united, the Dwarf's deep rumbling laugh and the Elf's clear silvery ripple blending to fill the kitchen with life and happiness bright as flame.
Sam dashed into action, grinning, trying to save the gravy with a furious onslaught with the birch twig whisk, knowing how much Gimli liked a rich gravy with his meat and potatoes.
'That stuff must be strong as well as tasty, to judge by the state of you,' said Sam, once the rescue of the gravy seemed certain. He did not get a very sensible answer: just more laughter and the offer of another glass for himself.
'There's plenty left,' said Gimli, shaking the bottle to make an estimate.
It seemed they had not drunk much at all, and were intoxicated as much by laughter at Gimli's choice terms of abuse for the wine merchant as by the gin, but Sam, thinking that they really were drunk, tried the bottle himself, and tipped it to pour out another taster, finding when he did so that there was more left than he had expected.
'It must be VERY strong,' he laughed, glad for their gladness. While Gimli and Legolas joked and chatted and leaned together on the bench, Sam set about the chops, dropping some lard into a flat pan to fry them. Then before the other two knew what he was doing, he had sloshed a generous quantity of City gin into the pan and, juggling the fire damper so that flames licked up when he shifted the hotplate, he tilted the pan and the spirit caught fire, sending a sheet of yellow flame up under the chimney hood with a loud 'whoosh'.
Legolas uttered a wordless exclamation and Gimli cried: 'Durin's beard!'
Legolas said: 'Even Durin's beard would not last long in that! And surely Sam has no eyebrows left.'
'What sort of cooking is that, Master Samwise? I never heard that there were volcanoes in the Shire for Hobbits to cook on -- or do you keep tame dragons now?'
Sam turned round with a broad smile, showing at the same time that his eyebrows were perfectly safe.
'It's flame cooking. Good for sealing juicy meats like this.'
The two got up and stood beside him to observe this novel process, as he flipped the chops over and the last of the spirit blazed up.
'There's plenty more in the jar,' he said; -- 'You can try it yourselves another day.'
'I'll leave all works of fire to Gimli,' said the Elf affectionately.
Sam added a few seasonings to the sauce, rinsed the greens, and set them ready to cook as soon as the pan of water came to the boil. Legolas stirred himself to set the table, and Sam saw how he would touch Gimli's shoulder as he passed.
'Think you can boil the greens all right?' asked Sam, deciding that he had a final errand to run for Frodo and could not stay to dinner if invited.
'I'll leave the green stuff to Legolas,' said Gimli; 'I'd be sure to boil it to death.'
'Don't you dare! Them's good greens.'
'I'll take care of them, Sam,' said Legolas, smiling, and Sam wondered at how readily the Elf had adopted the ways of other peoples, especially since they had been in the city. Maybe it was just something Eves could do when they chose, and he would go back to more elvish ways among his own kind.
Sam had heard from Merry and Pippin of the hunt for the fiery stone, and concluded that it had not yet been presented, or it would surely have been shown off by the Dwarf. He wondered if it was being kept as a treat for after dinner, and smiled again as he hurried away, leaving the pair to enjoy their meal together.
Gimli put the stopper firmly back in the bottle of City gin.
'Perhaps I should keep it for lighting fires!'
He sipped some more of the other drink appreciatively. Legolas also took a little, and said: 'This captures the scent of juniper and herbs almost as well as the Woodmen's brew, and I am content with the scent alone.'
He closed his eyes and was transported in memory back to the mountain side where Gimli had noticed the juniper bush. Gimli put the two bottles away in one of the rock-cut cupboards, and they finished their meal and prepared for bed, Gimli emerging from the back kitchen in his dull brown dwarvish robe which still made Legolas smile. They crossed the courtyard in the fading light, and looked up at the first stars together.
'You have shown me the beauty of stars in the sky,' said Gimli, -- 'And soon I shall show you the stars beneath the earth in Aglarond.'
'Aha!' said the Elf, -- 'Maybe I am learning of such things already! Come now and see. I am no more idle than you.'
Gimli guessed that this was a reference to his secret making of the mallorn leaf, and allowed Legolas to draw him quickly into the bedroom.
'What elvish mischief have you been up to? Hunting wild butterflies to adorn our chamber?'
Legolas shook his head, smiling, and to Gimli's surprise, closed the curtains and set about lighting all the candles in the room. Gimli took off his brown robe, fully aware of the Elf's opinion of it, and seated himself on the bed, much as Legolas had done the night before. Once satisfied with the light, Legolas went to the chest at the bedside while Gimli studiously looked the other way until Legolas stood before him with something concealed between his hands.
'I have no skill in making,' he said; -- 'But I am a hunter, and here is what I have caught today.'
He laid the little wooden box in Gimli's hand, and the Dwarf felt its tiny weight and then opened it slowly. The look on his face as he saw the fire that shone within was all that Legolas had hoped for. Gimli took the stone between thumb and finger and held it up, understanding now the reason for all the light.
'Oh, marvellous! A fire opal, a flame from the very forge of Mahal! I have never seen the like! You are a mighty hunter indeed. How did you find it?'
Gimli's words fell over each other in his amazement, and Legolas smiled.
'Dare I say that you were as close to it as I, not long ago, in a little dark shop at the end of a long court, one day when we sought what you needed for your enamelling. It shone a flame at me, but I think it hid itself from you until it was wanted. Merry and Pippin and Bergil helped me find it again: a star of earth, for you, my star.'
Gimli's thanks for the gift were mostly wordless, and lasted until many of the candles were burned out.
At length they lay still in the darkening room.
'When I said save it for tonight, I thought only of your love; but it is that love that makes the stone, rare as it is, truly precious.'
Legolas responded with a contented murmuring sound. Then on a sudden impulse, Gimli sat up and did what he had never done before, even in their tenderest moments. He undid the ties that held the twin braids of his beard and shook free the long wavy tresses.
Legolas raised himself quickly on his elbow. He, and the rest of the Fellowship, had learned very early that no Dwarf would willingly be seen with an unbraided beard except by his closest intimates. The practicalities of washing and grooming were the only acceptable excuses.
Gimli leaned back on his pillows, seeing that Legolas understood, and smiled gently, turning a little to draw the Elf back into his embrace. Legolas buried his face in the luxuriant waves of dwarf hair, and then said:
'You are an endless mine of treasure!'
'That you alone may find.'
Now Gimli was growing drowsy, but the smell of a guttering candle disturbed him, and he stirred and grumbled.
'Ssh! I'll snuff the candles,' said Legolas, and rose quietly to put out all but the one by the bed and open the curtains.
Gimli watched through half-closed eyes, relaxed and content, but noticed how Legolas made sure that the casement bar was securely fixed.
'I sense a weather prophecy coming on,' he smiled.
'Yes, rain and wind out of the south-west soon.'
'Why do you foretell the weather at night?'
'It is my spirit turning back to the wild world, preparing for rest.'
'And do all Elves do that?'
'All the Silvan folk, certainly.'
Then Legolas returned, a dim golden form glowing in the light of the single candle, and lay down again. Softly he stroked the outspread beard.
'Tell me, Gimli, whether I understand dwarvish ways aright. I do not mean to hurt by asking, but' -- (he lifted the the wavy skeins of hair and let them slide over his fingers) -- 'THIS, had things gone otherwise, only your bride would have seen?'
Gimli smiled at him in the dim light.
'There is no hurt now, Legolas; only the memory of it. You understand well.'
'And I think -- may I venture -- that a Dwarf's beard has a language of its own?'
Gimli smiled again, sleepiness disappearing, delighted by this bold, loving curiosity.
'You are the wisest Elf that ever was! A language of beards: yes indeed. Well, whether you have guessed or reasoned, you are right so far, and I, I shall go against our customs and the habit of a lifetime, to keep you right!'
Legolas stroked and kissed the beard in reply.
'You are so dear to me, my Elf, that I bestow on you the right to unbind my beard in our chamber when you will. Dwarvish custom does not DEMAND it when two lie together, but only then may it be done.' Legolas could not suppress a quiver of excitement at this, and thanked Gimli tenderly.
'Ah! I know I will love this -- though I may be forced to rise an hour earlier in the morning to comb and rebraid it!'
'Already you see the wisdom of making the unbraiding a choice only!'
They laughed together, and Legolas pretended to be tying knots in the springy hair. Then he said: 'Now I remember something, though I gave it no thought at the time. At the Council in Rivendell, you, and all the other Dwarves, had your beards dressed quite differently, with only small braids...' Legolas sounded puzzled; Gimli was impressed by the way he recalled something that had not seemed important at the time, and was now feeling wakeful enough to explain.
'That's right, Legolas, small braids, but quite elaborate.'
'Yes, with gold bindings, I remember that, but with part of the beard left free.'
'That's right. Such styles are used for occasions that are important, formal even, but call for openness and honesty. That's what the unbound beard means; truth, no secrets, peace, friendship, love, even holiday.'
Legolas nodded slowly.
'So you braid your beard in the plain fork for work, for every day; and you always did it closer before a battle... '
'Right again!' said Gimli; -- 'And if a trading party turns up with their beards braided really close and tight, you may be sure they mean to drive a hard bargain!'
Legolas laughed again.
'The more I learn of your folk, the more there is to learn. Yet I think I have learned enough to know that I must not speak of this to any but you.'
'Ah, my Legolas! I think you learn faster than some young Dwarves I remember. But even unspoken, you may still find it useful knowledge.'
'That I may!' said Legolas happily as the last candle guttered towards extinction.
He snuggled closer to Gimli, and stroked his beard again, delighting in the rich waves formed by near-permanent braiding.
Gimli yawned suddenly.
'Ah, forgive me, I have tired you with talking. It is late, and you still have work to do.'
'I would rather be tired by you than rested and alone, fair one. But now I shall sleep, and dream of how I may set your wondrous gift of the star of earth.'
'Your gift to me is no less, though it is you that wears it.' Legolas' hand curled gently among the tresses of Gimli's beard and he was soon aware that the Dwarf slept.
His own mind drifted towards elvish reverie, filled with the sweet joy of the night, the bold generosity of his noble Dwarf... and even in that loving moment, elvish mischief summoned an image of Gimli in his dreary sack of a robe, and Legolas found himself smiling in the dark.
This would never do. One day he would surely laugh at the wrong moment and cause offence. He must do something -- find a new robe that would please the Dwarf and suit his character. What would be best? He considered carefully. Keep the plain shape and style -- nothing wrong with that. It was the colour and the coarse stiffish stuff that gave the effect of a barley sack with what Sam would have called a 'bit o' band' tied round the middle. But that same shape in a finer, more flowing fabric would look perfectly well. And the colour -- that would make all the difference. The colour... Legolas settled at once on green, a dark forest green, like holly leaves, perhaps. He could picture Gimli's hair and beard set off to perfection against such a green. Or green as dark as pine trees in winter: that would be sober enough for any Dwarf, but also rich and handsome. He would speak to Faramir's Chamberlain the next day.
Then he thought again. The dark green should be silk, for warmer weather, but for winter, what? And he saw the shining hair spread against creamy white; fine undyed wool, soft and warm... And something strange began to happen. In his waking scheming dream he seemed to see himself standing in a darkened chamber in the twilight. It was not a room he recognised, and yet he felt that he knew it. He was aware of wood panelled walls and ceiling, a large bed, wide and low, and a pale shape in the dusk, which he knew at once was the white woollen robe, hanging somewhere on a peg. He, or the figure of himself in the vision, turned and looked away from the bed and the robe, and saw tall windows opening onto a balcony with a timber rail; beyond that lay a wide dim prospect over wooded land sloping down and down to a broad misty vale almost lost in shadow; and, further off still, the snow-tipped peaks of great mountians glowed faintly in the last light of the sunset beyond. Then he knew that he was looking out over the Vale of Anduin towards the White Mountains, from a room he would one day share with Gimli, a room in a house not yet built, high on the steep slopes of North Ithilien.
His thought returned to the present, to Gimli now sleeping soundly beside him, and he smiled again in the dark. He would order those new robes, keep the white one back for a while; and he would build that house in Ithilien. Already he seemed to have a picture of it in his mind, a sort of sketch, complete yet indistinct, without detail, for he had seen only one room of it in his reverie, and that in near darkness. Now he would try to go back and look again. He turned onto his back, gazed at the stars outside the windows and let his mind drift.
They woke early, to gusty winds and low clouds heralding some rougher weather to come. Gimli admired his fire opal again by daylight, and thanked the Elf with many more kisses and loving words. They decided that a bath would do no harm after last night's exertions, and Gimli made up the kitchen fire, filled the kettle and set it on the stove. Then while he wandered off to the privy Legolas prepared the bath.
'There, all ready,' he said as the Dwarf returned.
Gimli hung up the brown robe on one of the wooden pegs on the back wall, kicked off his leather slippers, and stepped quickly into the tub, only to leap out again, splashing and cursing.
'Hammer and tongs! I have not yet turned into an Elf! I will not freeze my balls off when there's hot water in plenty next door!'
Legolas turned from hanging up his own robe, genuinely surprised. He thought he had got the water was quite warm enough -- much warmer than he would have had it. He started to apologise, but Gimli charged at him with a growl, catching him with one arm behind the knees and the other around his back, scooping him off the ground. He made no attempt to resist or escape, and was swiftly dumped the the bath with a huge splash and a snort of 'Khazad ai-menu!'
It was the messiest, merriest bathing session, and the tiled floor was soon swimming with water and very slippery, so that the fun came to an abrupt end when Gimli skidded into the leg of the old oak table near the window, banging his knee and pushing the table against the wall with a surprsingly loud hollow boom. Though the blow scarcely left a mark, Legolas was full of concern and contrition, and Gimli was soon rewarded by the sight of a naked Elf lugging pails of hot water from the kitchen to refill the bath for him.
At last they sat in the kitchen, drying their hair, and eating oatcakes and honey with sweet-scented fruit tea for breakfast while the blustery showers Legolas had foretold raced up the valley and across the city.
Gimli let Legolas comb and braid his hair and beard, the 'mistake' with the bathwater forgotten. It was a great pleasure to the Elf to handle the heavy tresses and admire the fine crimp, running the length of every hair, that produced the distinctive fullnes and texture. Legolas wove the thick back braid, then turned his attention to the beard and the long flowing ends of the moustaches, forming the latter into braids of four strands, elvish style, before making each into one of the three parts of the beard's twin forks. When Gimli realised what he had done, he kissed the nimble fingers and then, in his turn, worked three-strand dwarf-style braids into the Elf's fine straight silken locks. Then they looked at eachother and smiled, ready for another day.
While Gimli returned to his hired workshop to continue the slow and difficult work of enamelling the small flower-shapes, Legolas tended the plants in the courtyard and on the terrace. The ladybirds seemed to have taken to their new homes well enough, and were starting to control the greenfly. Afterwards he walked up to the citaldel and arranged with the Chamberlain for the making of the new robes for Gimli. It still seemed that nothing was too much trouble if a member of the Fellowship requested it.
And so the days went on, from May to June. The blossoms fell from the thorn trees and the berries began to set. Gimli's work still progressed slowly, as he came to the forget-me-nots for the circlet of Galadriel. He struggled to capture accurately the tiny dark centre of each flower, the golden eye with its narrow white surround, and the clear, bright fiery blue of the petals. He grew weary with the concentration needed for the miniature work, and old Bergthor urged Legolas to make sure that Gimli took enough rest.
Legolas did his best, but found it hard to oppose dwarvish determination when carried to the point of outright obstinacy. The Elf stayed longer in the workshop now, mostly just watching, but he was often called upon to try the circlet as the flowers were added, so that Gimli could study their arrangement. He would also massage the Dwarf's neck and shoulders, trying to soothe the tension that made the fine work harder and risked spoiling it altogether. Then an evening came when Gimli's eyes looked so red and sore from poring over minute detail amid the fumes of the workshop that Legolas gave up persuasion and started giving orders.
'Tomorrow you will come out of the city with me, and rest your eyes on green and growing things, on clouds and distances.'
Gimli opened his mouth to protest, but the Elf laid a finger on his lips to silence him, then leaned close to kiss the inflamed eyelids very softly.
'A day's rest will do as much as good as two of toil;' he said; -- 'For now you make errors through very weariness, and have it all to do over.'
Legolas stood tall and looked at him so sternly and yet so kindly that Gimli swallowed his protests, admitted the truth of the Elf's words, and went down to tell Bergthor not to expect him the next day. Then he went home with Legolas through the city, his devotion to his work still fighting a rearguard action against common sense. Once back in their quiet house, Legolas set out a simple meal of bread, cheese and fruit, with a refreshing herbal infusion that filled the kitchen with a delightful scent, and, while Gimli sat and slowly sipped the brew, darted out to the terrace and returned with somehing he had remembered: a bunch of the leaves from which Sam had made a potion for the eyes. Soon he had a bowlful in preparation. When they had finished their meal, be brought the bowl to the table, took a napkin from the linen cupboard, and used it to bathe Gimli's eyes with the lukewarm liquid. The he sat sideways on the bench next to the Dwarf, and got him to lean back against his chest. He dipped the cloth in the solution again, wrung it out and laid it over Gimli's eyelids, then wrapped his long arms about the stocky body, and held him for long minutes while the healing herb did its work. Slowly Gimli relaxed in the firm embrace, feeling an occasional soft kiss on his hair. He folded his hands over the Elf's encircling arms, and almost fell asleep.
'We haven't spent an evening with the others for a long time,' he said eventually; -- 'They'll think we're hiding.'
He felt Legolas' body stiffen behind him.
'Dear Legolas! That wasn't meant seriously. I know we cannot hide, and wouldn't try. Let's go up and see them tonight, if you will.'
'But you are tired.'
'I'm much better now. Your treatment is working. You're a wise Elf, Legolas. I could have worked myself to a standstill without you to make me see sense. It's something we do from time to time. We should see our friends, and be seen together.'
Legolas refreshed the compress and laid it over Gimli's eyes again. 'Very well, we shall go, when this has worked a little longer.'
He put his arms around the Dwarf once more, and Gimli settled back with a sigh of contentment.
'I have my mallorn leaf, and you will have your earth-star, but, if you talk of being seen together, might we have rings, to be worn always, as a sign that any could read?'
Gimli turned and straightened up suddenly, taking the cloth from his eyes.
'Why of course! Fool of a Dwarf that I am, to be making gifts for ladies and neglect such tokens. We must have rings, silver rings, yours with my name, mine with yours: is that not the right way? I would sooner use mithril, but there is none to be found here. Ach! Fool of a Dwarf!'
'No, do not blame yourself. We do not NEED rings to bind us, and time to make the circlets is short; but when you spoke of being seen...'
'Rings we shall have,' said Gimli. -- 'That is work I can do here, in the small room. A change of task from the enamel work will be a rest for me.'
'So that is the trick? It is easier to get a Dwarf to change his work than to stop it!'
'Well, of course, dear Elf! But now let us go and see our friends, before they forget us.'
Legolas looked closely at Gimli's eyes, and saw that the infusion had already produced an improvement.
'I'll leave this to develop overnight, as Sam said, and you can use some more when we come back, and in the morning.'
Legolas tidied the kitchen, telling Gimli to sit and rest, and then they set out for the guest house as the sky faded from the rich blue of day to the turquoise, amethyst and thin yellow of evening. They found the house quiet on this occasion. Gandalf was sitting with the Hobbits on the balcony that ran along the street front of the building, facing northeast across the vast enclosure of the Pelennor and the distant river.
'A lovely evening,' Sam was saying as the two arrived. -- 'I hope they're having weather like this in the Shire.'
'Are you feeling homesick, Sam?' Frodo started to ask, but the mood was cheered by the arrival of the Elf and Dwarf.
The balcony held a number of wicker chairs, small tables, and a couple of wooden settles. Legolas and Gimli seated themselves side by side on one of the latter, and Gandalf smiled as he noticed how nowadays they seemed to take the same position whenever he saw them, whether walking or sitting: Elf on the left, Dwarf on his right, and reasoned that this came from the way they had fought together, axeman and archer defending each other.
Sam bustled off to fetch drinks for them as everyone started to exchange their day's news, and soon returned with a goblet of wine for Legolas and a mug of ale for Gimli. When Legolas had tasted the wine, he leaned forward to set the goblet on the table, and the movement allowed the mallorn leaf pendant to swing out of the open neck of his shirt. Sam noticed it immediately.
'You've changed your oak leaf for a mallorn, Legolas.'
'Yes indeed; or rather Gimli has changed it. He made it for me.'
'It looks beautiful -- just as I remember the mallorn leaves. You're very clever, Gimli. And did you lose the oak leaf in the fighting?'
'No; I gave it in an exchange of gifts with a brave child of Gondor -- the boy whose brother was killed.'
'Oh, I see. That was awful -- just when everyone would be thinking it was all finished.'
Gandalf joined in.
'Sauron and the Ring may be finished, but the evil that has been abroad in Middle-earth since the coming of Morgoth is still bere -- diminished (in some ways), dispersed -- but still here.'
'You're so cheerful, Gandalf!' said Pippin.
'I remind you, that later you may not be taken by surprise. But don't let it spoil our pleasant evening. I have not seen Gimli's work before, Legolas; may I take a closer look?'
The Elf got up and moved closer to Gandalf, who reached out a gnarled hand to lift the enamelled leaf.
'The link is a swivel,' said Legolas; -- 'I can show the green side or the gold.'
'The dewdrop is beautiful,' said Gandalf; -- 'An excellent piece of work.'
'Wait till you see what else this wonderful Dwarf has done,' Legolas replied. -- 'Oh, but you see some of it now.'
He touched the blackthorn sprays that adorned his hair.
'What?' cried Frodo; -- 'I thought those were real.'
'The blackthorn blossoms have fallen, and the sloes are setting,' Legolas said; -- 'But these I have always.'
Carefully he removed the circlet, and it was passed round for admiration, while Legolas told the story of its making, gazing at the Dwarf with bright loving eyes as he did so, and going on to speak of the other flower crowns that Gimli was devising.
'You shall see them all when they are done,' said Gimli; -- 'But let me show you something else -- though some of you know of it already.'
He reached into the inside pocket of his tunic (though it looked rather as if he were fishing something out of his beard) and produced a little leather bag, secured with a drawstring, from which he let the fire opal slip into the broad palm of his left hand.
'See what my friend has found for me! These Elves will keep me busy, I think. I have the lock of Galadriel to set, and now this! A rare and wonderful stone. See the flame in its heart, bright as Durin's forge! And Legolas tells me that I passed it by without seeing, while he did not.'
'Strange things are happening these days,' smiled Gandalf.
'What will you make with it?' asked Sam.
'Well now, that I have yet to decide. It is not the hardest of stones, so perhaps not a ring, but I will turn my mind to that when the crowns are done.'
When everyone had seen the stone he put it away again, next to the lock of Galadriel's hair, and turned to help Legolas replace his blackthorn. The others all saw how gently and skilfully he arranged the Elf's hair to hide the thin gold band. When the two sat again on their seat, Legolas laid his right arm along the backrest, so that his hand touched Gimli's hair. Gimli leaned back, enjoying his ale.
'Things seem quiet here tonight.'
'A party every night is too much of a good thing,' said Frodo; -- 'Even for Hobbits.'
'Hmm,' said Gimli. -- 'When I've finished the crowns, we must have a party at our house.'
Everyone thought this a good idea, and the Hobbits were keen to start planning the menu right away.
'But I cannot tell yet when that will be,' said the Dwarf; -- 'The blue of the forget-me-nots is giving trouble. I don't always get that bright, chalky look, and anything the least bit dull or muddy is useless. I've had such a job with it that Legolas has ordered me to take a day's holiday tomorrow -- can't say I'll be sorry.'
Legolas smiled at him affectionately.
'I never knew such a one for work!'
The arm along the seat back moved to hug the Dwarf's broad shoulders, and Hobbits all smiled at the sight, glad to see them so at ease together.
They sat and talked as the summer evening faded. The cries of owls floated from the city turrets, and Legolas said: 'There are bats about tonight. It's the first time I've heard them.'
'You can hear bats?' said Pippin; -- 'Some young Hobbits say they can, but I've never heard them.'
'Yes, I can hear them. Very high pitched sounds.'
'You Elves are full of surprises,' said Gimli, this time feeling that the public meeting mode of address was justified.
Suddenly a couple of bats swooped near enough to be seen, proving that elvish senses were indeed better tuned to the world than those of others.
'There seem to be more birds about in the city than when we first came,' said Frodo; -- 'We've seen swallows, house martins, sparrows, as well as the pigeons and doves that the people keep, and all sorts of birds I don't know.'
Everyone had noticed the same thing: the Hobbits, being country people, were particularly alert to country sights within the unfamiliar city.
'All good signs,' said Gandalf, puffing his pipe till it glowed.
'You should see Legolas with the birds,' said Gimli; -- 'He whistles to them and they'll come and take crumbs from his hand and perch on his fingers. Only the other day he got a little wren to jump from his hand to mine, if you'll believe it! We Dwarves were not made with a great liking for wild creatures, despite the love between our Master and Yavanna, and I never heard of such a thing happening to a Dwarf before, but there it was -- so strange to me -- such a tiny thing, with eyes like beads of jet and legs as thin as drawn wires, yet I felt the warmth of those little claws on my finger. Such life, in such a little space: bone and sinew, blood, its scaly skin -- so small, so perfect! And the feathers! Brown! How many words are there for "brown"? Not enough for the colours of the smallest birds.'
'Russet, tawny, fallow, -- er pipeweed-colour...' said Pippin.
'Rust, mud, chestnut, ginger, cinnamon...' said Sam, mentally moving from garden to kitchen.
'Fawn, dun, bay...' said Merry, thinking of the horses of Rohan.
'Umber, ochre, sepia, tan, madder, buff...' added Frodo.
'That's good,' said Gimli; -- 'Very good; but it was as if I'd never seen a wren before, not truly SEEN one. They were just little brown birds with big voices! It's Legolas, you know, he makes things look -- new!'
There was a pause as the others took this in with assorted 'ohs' and 'ahs' of acknowledgement; and Gandalf said; 'Yes; that is the gift of one dweller in Middle-earth to another, even when they are not of different kindreds.'
'And you do it too,' said Legolas; -- 'Your words alone have persuaded me that I must visit the Glittering Caves. You have persuaded me that I was born in a cave, lived in caves in my father's halls in the Mountains of Mirkwood -- and somehow never noticed that they were caves at all -- none of us did -- do. Isn't that ridiculous?'
He spread his long hands in a 'beats me' gesture, and everyone laughed, but Gimli looked round at him with an expression both gentle and admiring. It was a startling admission for and Elf to make, and he was not about to crow over it. He patted Legolas' knee reassuringly.
'There are worse things to be than ridiculous,' he said; -- 'But it is not ridiculous to change the way you look at things: everything in the world seems to be changing these days, and often for the better.'
'That's what we did it for,' said Frodo; -- 'To change things.'
Everyone looked at him in respectful silence for a moment. 'I didn't put that very well,' said Gimli; -- 'I'm sorry, Frodo. What I meant was, that even things I wouldn't expect to change, are changing.'
'That's how it will seem to many people,' said Gandalf; -- 'A great burden is still being lifted from the world, and though as I said, evil, or the possibility of evil, is so woven in to the fabric of the world that it will never be removed, the destruction of the Ring was not an end but a beginning. Much is still to happen, and there will always be work to do.'
'That should keep Gimli happy,' said Legolas with a smile.
'Yes, so long as there's good ale like this when work is done!' said the Dwarf, taking another draught from his mug. Then a moment later he started to sing quietly, holding up the mug.
'And when I'm in my grave and dead,
And all my sorrows are past and fled,
Transform me then into a fish,
And let me swim in jug of this!'
The young Hobbits laughed aloud. This was the sort of song they liked, and one they had not heard before. But Legolas heard the tune rather than the words.
'Does all dwarvish music go in five counts?'
'No indeed, not all; but perhaps we have more such than other folk. Yet I think that is not a dwarvish song. I have heard tell it was learned of the Men of Dale in the days before Smaug, and they still sing something very like it today.'
'Five counts?' said Frodo; -- 'Is that so?'
Gimli sang some more of his drinking song, and sure enough, Legolas was right. The five counts gave the rather slow tune a sort of lurching motion that suited the subject well enough. Then the talk wandered off to past and possible future parties, and Gimli began to nod, his chin sinking slowly down onto his chest.
Sam looked into the beer mug.
'Must be strong,' he said; -- 'He hasn't even finished it.'
Legolas squeezed Gimli's shoulder gently to rouse him.
'What? Oh, I beg your pardon. So rude of me!'
Gimli struggled back to wakefulness.
'Finish your drink,' said Legolas; -- 'Then we'll go.'
'Yes, very well, perhaps we should. I'm more tired than I thought -- or else that ale is very strong! It's been a pleasant evening. I'm glad we came up.'
The others wished them goodnight, and a happy day's holiday to follow. They leaned over the balustrade watching the two walk away, dark shapes in the dim white street.
Gandalf leaned back in his wicker armchair with a faint creak. 'Well, you crafty Hobbits, are you pleased with the results of your scheming?'
'Scheming? Who? Us?' said Pippin.
'That wasn't a scheme,' said Merry; -- 'More of an inspiration, on the spur of the moment. Anyway, Sam said something about looking after the plants first.'
'And they told us about the house,' said Sam in self-defence; -- 'And they never tried to stop us.'
'Well, however it happened, it seems to suit them,' said Frodo mildly.
'Very true,' said Gandalf; -- 'And I hope it means that all Elves and Dwarves may have a chance to leave their old quarrels behind and end their Age of the world as friends.'
'End?' cried Sam in alarm.
'Yes, my dear Samwise. It is my belief that the reign of King Elessar may well see the last of the Elves you love so much. Their years here are drawing to an end, their great work is done, and the last rebels have reached the end of their exile. Even one so great as Galadriel owes her release to you, the Hobbits, at the last, and is glad that the long years of struggle are over.'
'Well, if you put it like that...' said Sam reluctantly, recalling Galadriel's words by the Mirror; -- 'But we'll see them again, won't we?'
'Indeed you shall. I do not mean that they will vanish overnight. But I do mean that the time of the Firstborn is ending, and that this new age will be the beginning of the Ages of Men in Middle-earth.'
As he walked down through the shadowed ways of the city, Gimli suddenly halted and exclaimed: 'Pans!'
Legolas stopped as well.
'What was that?'
'Pans! I said I'd make new ones for Sam, did I not? How long ago? And it had gone clean out of my mind.'
'That's because so many other things have been getting in!' smiled Legolas as they walked on again. -- 'Will it take long?'
'No, not once I have found the right mild steel that can be shaped by hammering. Hmm -- I think I know where to ask; or maybe Bergthor could help, though it's not his line of work. I'll be about it tomorrow!'
'Ha! No, not tomorrow. You agreed to rest!'
'So I did. But I can think out the details, and then the work will go quicker.'
Legolas laughed and shook his head, thinking that being unable to work on something, anything, must be the greatest misfortune a Dwarf could suffer.
In the morning Gimli awoke early, feeling well refreshed, and found that Legolas had risen earlier still, for the Elf was already in the kitchen and had made a few cakes of lembas, which were baking on the griddle and filling the room with a delicious scent.
'There are no mallorn leaves here to wrap them, but since this is just a day's walking for pleasure, a linen cloth will serve.'
'We shall reach the very top of the mountain with such food!' said Gimli.
'Ah! These will not be so good as the lembas of the Golden Wood,' Legolas replied; -- 'But good enough, none the less.'
When they set out, Legolas took his bow and a dozen arrows, for he missed his archery.
'You did go out to the butts once or twice while I was working, did you not?' Gimli asked as they walked along.
'Yes, a few times,' answered the Elf; -- 'But...'
'But you outshot them all, and would not be seen to set yourself up over them.'
'I cannot say "all" for I have not shot against all, but you have hit it well enough.'
'Then we must go up the mountain, well away from all folk, and find you some hard targets.'
As they went towards the gate, they passed various traders opening up their shops and stalls, and in one place a man was setting out walking sticks and staffs. Gimli's eye fell upon a stout blackthorn with a knobbly handle and a good ferrule. It proved to be the right length for him, so he promptly bought it.
'It was waiting for you,' said the trader, which Gimli took to be a polite way of saying that he had been unable to sell it because it was too short for most men in the city.
As they went on their way again, Gimli swung the stick and said: 'It still feels strange to walk out unarmed. I feel more at home with this.'
'If we are to go up the mountain, it may prove more use than an axe!' When they came to the great gateway, now cleared of all rubble, Gimli looked up at the south tower and frowned: 'It has shifted further!'
'Do you think so?'
'I'm sure of it.'
The Dwarf walked around, looking up at the high stone walls from different angles. Then suddenly he turned his attention to the white marble paving on which they stood, and Legolas quickly realised what had caught his attention. The gaps between the slabs were no longer close and regular: a distinct dark line was visible across the width of the roadway.
'I don't recall seeing that before,' said the Dwarf.
'Had it been there, you would have seen it,' said Legolas; -- 'It looks as if the ground is opening.'
'I fear it may be doing exactly that.'
Gimli walked around again, and tapped the paving stones with his new stick in various places, but formed no definite idea of what was happening. There was no one among the morning bustle with whom to discuss the matter, so they went on their way, but Gimli resolved to speak to Faramir or even the King himself about the tower as soon as possible. If it did not present an immediate danger, it was highly likely that the rebuilding of the gate would be more difficult than had first appeared.
Legolas found that he was beginning to understand something of Gimli's way of looking at the world. He thought that if there was some weakness in the earth beneath the tower, signs might perhaps be found outside the walls as well as inside.
They moved down the approach ramp side by side, both looking at the paved way beneath their feet (as well as they could among the morning traffic) and both together saw the slight flaw, on the right hand or southern side, where three or four paving slabs seemed to have tilted a little, as if they had been forced against their neighbours. They turned to eachother and drew breath to speak at the same moment. Legolas made a 'you first' gesture of such clarity that Gimli felt for one dislocated moment as if he were conversing with a fellow Dwarf in iglishmêk sign language, but realised at once that it was also a common, almost instinctive movement, and not peculiar to Dwarves.
'You think this may be another sign, Legolas?'
'Do you? I am only guessing.'
'Well, you begin to guess like a Dwarf. I think it is.'
Gimli moved on down the broad ramp, and looked back towards the city and the gaping hole in the wall where the gate had been, eyeing the south tower and the ground before it, estimating angles and distances.
'Will it fall?' asked Legolas, coming to stand beside him.
'If it does not, it should be pulled down. It will be better built afresh than repaired. But today is our holiday, and it will stand a while yet!'
So they went out and took much the same way as on their earlier expedition, except that this time they crossed the stream beyond the oak grove, and made straight for the mountain side.
'Every day more life returns to the kingdom,' said Gimli; -- 'I do not recall the swifts and swallows flying the last time we came out.'
'That might have been because of the wind and weather; but you are right, more life returns.'
They went on through the bright morning, until walking became climbing, as they moved northward and westward along the lower slopes of the mountains, pausing now and again to look out at the wide lands about them, green and fair in the sunshine. The great river gleamed in the distance, and the forests of Ithilien rose rich and dark beyond, fading towards the mountains that ringed Moria. They looked eastwards, and tried to imagine the dreadful place of Frodo's and Sam's description, now lying empty and barren yet free in the clear air of day.
Already light, wind and rain would have begun their long work of healing, and any smoke and vapour from the dying volcano were not longer visible in Gondor, even from the height on which the two now stood.
They followed one of Mindolluin's many noisy rushing streams steadily upwards, Gimli feeling glad of his blackthorn stick as the way grew steeper, until they came to a broad shelf on the mountainside.
'Now Legolas, are you far enough from habitation to practise your shooting in safety?'
Legolas eyed the long, narrowish sloping area of rough grass, gorse, juniper bushes and scattered white rocks.
'I think this will do very well.'
'And what shall you use for a target?'
'An old dishcloth from the kitchen will serve, when I have made up a base of dry grass,' he said, taking the greyish object from a pocket of his gambeson. -- 'And a gorse bush will hold it.'
He began to pluck large handfulls of the longest grasses, and twist them quickly into a thick sort of rope. Gimli fished in one of the pockets of his jerkin, brought out a neat coil of thin twine, and handed it over silently. Legolas thanked him with a smile, and worked on, with Gimli helping by bringing more bundles of grass to bind together, so that he soon had a useful target, no more than a foot across, but of a good thickness.
He looked around for a suitable place to fix his mark, and Gimli sat down on the grass while the Elf ran off to a large gorse bush a couple of hundred yards away, hooked his makeshift target onto a branch, and then pinned the old cloth to the grass target with a few long thorns.. Gimli simply sat and admired the light swift stride, and wondered how he had managed to keep pace on the run across Rohan. Legolas returned, took up his bow and braced it for stringing with the quick action that Gimli delighted to see, trapping the long stave between instep and thigh, fixing the string, and sending the first arrow on its way to the target in one smooth flowing movement of elvish grace, economy and power.
The Elf shot a dozen arrows without pausing, each one striking the target and quickly shredding it.
'I think you have little need to practise,' said Gimli.
'No more than you have to work at your hammering and shaping.'
'Hmph!' Gimli grunted assent.
Legolas loosed the remaining arrows, all with the same speed and accuracy as before.
'At home we practise with moving targets as well -- discs of wood or plaited withies that can be thrown into the air or across a forest glade. But for that you need several people, to throw the targets and mark the fall of arrows, and so on.'
Legolas unstrung the bow and laid it on the grass beside Gimli before racing off to retrieve his arrows. Gimli enjoyed the sight of his speed and grace, his bright hair flying as he leaped over the rocks and small bushes. Then the bow drew his eye as it rested on the ground; a self bow of mallorn wood, the stave now lying straight but subtly tapered, with horn nocks and a dark glossy string, the longbow of Galadriel, as long as the Elf was tall.
He touched the smooth wood lightly as Legolas came running back with the arrows, and wondered how it would feel to use a bow like this. Suddenly the Elf stood before him.
'Would you like to try it?'
'Well, I was wondering -- but it's too long for me.'
'Not very practical, I agree, but if you hold it across, you could try it. You have seen me shoot so at times.'
That was true enough.
'Very well; I should like to try. We Dwarves can be very curious!'
Legolas laughed, took up the bow and strung it again for him, and when the Dwarf took it he said: 'Why, it is no more too long for you than the archlute, and you are master of that.'
Gimli smiled his thanks for the compliement, though he knew that the excessive size of the archlute was appearance rather than reality, and tried drawing the bow in the position suggested. Legolas was surprised to see that, despite its unsuitable length, the Dwarf was well up to the heavy pull, and drew it, as far as his physique permitted, more easily than some of Faramir's Rangers of Ithilien whom he had allowed to try it on the Archery Fields south of the city gate. He handed Gimli an arrow.
'We shall make an archer of you yet!'
'Dwarves do use bows at need,' Gimli said; -- 'Though they are not best suited for underground.'
He could not draw to the full length of the arrow, yet it flew well enough, though short of the target. Gimli blinked at the light coloured mark, which seemed very far away.
'I feel like a mole in the sunlight,' he grumbled suddenly.
Though he had discovered early in the Quest that Legolas could see much better than he at a distance, leaving Dwarf delvings for the open air had never troubled him before.
'The change will do your eyes good,' said Legolas.
'Well, I don't know about that, but if a change is as good as a rest, as Sam often tells us, then maybe so.'
Legolas went haring off again to retrieve the arrow and move the target to a more suitable distance., and then Gimli shot a couple more arrows, which went rather wide; yet it seemed that things further off were becoming clearer, and he found he was enjoying the attempt at an unfamiliar skill.
When Legolas returned with the arrows, he shot again, with improving effect.
'We who dwell so much underground have little need of the long sight of the Elves, yet it seems I can find something of it now.'
'You need not see every detail of your target to be able to hit it,' said Legolas; -- 'Seeing and aiming are not the same. With a bow that suited you properly, I think you would do well. Perhaps we may find one in the city, though I think the balance of size and weight might be hard to hit. Or I could make one for you, if you wish it,' he added shyly.
'You could make a bow?'
'Yes indeed, we all can -- must -- be able to make a usable bow out of anything in times of danger; but some of us are bowyers by calling.' Gimli reached out and grasped the Elf's hand.
'A bow made by these hands would be a treasure indeed.'
'Then you shall have one; and we shall change places in the workshop for a while.'
Legolas laughed with delight at the idea, raised Gimli's hand to his lips, and kissed each finger in turn.
'Now, shoot again, and show me how you improve.'
'Nay, I could shoot at random all day for the joy of seeing you run to fetch the arrows!'
'If you shoot wide, then YOU must run, Master Dwarf! And stretch your eyes to mark the fall of the arrows. If you lose them you must make new ones for me.'
'Cunning Elf! You find a sure way to improve my aim.'
Gimli laughed, feeling free and content in this forester's world in he way he would once not even have wished for. His next arrow pierced the target, and the next. He needed only practice with the right bow to develop his natural ability.
Legolas was about to go for the arrows when Gimli stopped him and ran off, bounding nimbly over the uneven ground, and it was then, seeing him at a distance, that Legolas realised the change in him. It was not only that he had become used to dwarvish ways or the 'dwarvish racket' that Bilbo had once complained about; Gimli did indeed move differently now, more lightly; he was becoming, very slightly, elvish.
Legolas stared at the bright world, shocked. What had he begun, by laying the burden of his love upon one of so different a kindred? Would it end by dividing Gimli from his own people? And what of himself? Would he too change, become dwarvish, so that they would be two of a new kind, alone in Middle-earth? Already he could look at the stone walls of the city with less of his first dislike and a little understanding of what a Dwarf might look out for. Would he end by taking an interest in drains?
Suddenly he felt his face stretch into a grin. Was it so bad to be different, to be new? Gimli's own father had said in Imladris that all enemies of the Enemy should unite. Well, they had done that with a vengeance.
He was still smiling as Gimli came leaping back with the arrows.
'There! I have not missed one.'
He looked and sounded happy: lively, interested and happy. Legolas felt his spirits lift. Gimli's dark, deep set eyes twinkled with amusement as he counted the arrows over again, to be sure.
'Why should I not be a Dwarf-bowman as well as axe-wielder? That way I may deal with any Orcs that still plague the earth, far off as well as near.'
Legolas laughed aloud, delighted.
'Reasonable Dwarf! That is excellent sense; for it is surely not reasonable to think that all such evils have left the earth at one stroke.'
They spent some time longer taking turns at shooting, and Gimli's improved further, till the tatters of the cloth on the target were fit to blow away in the wind.
Then Legolas took his makeshift target from the branch and dismantled it, carefully undoing the twine, which he gave back to Gimli, before thrusting the loosened grasses into the gorse bush, to make a nest for some wild bird or small animal. Even the shreds of cloth might serve to keep a mouse warm.
Now that the day was past noon, they took their rest by a little sparkling stream that descended from the snows high above. They ate some of the small lembas cakes and drank the stream water. Then Gimli looked at the longbow again, especially the string.
'What is this made of? Is it really Elf hair?'
'Indeed it is. The black sort is much favoured, being very strong. And it does not stretch when properly spun.'
'Is that why Elves grow their hair so long, to make bowstrings?'
'No; rather the other way about. The hair is used for bowstrings because it is so long. Elves hardly ever cut their hair. But we do make bowstrings from flax thread and the Lorien Elves use hithlain as well.'
'Dwarves do not cut their hair either; and certainly never the beards!'
Legolas moved closer to the Dwarf, and stroked that fascinating beard, feeling the furry texture of the loose hair and the firm smoothness of the braids.
'And what of sparks from the forge? Have they never singed this wondrous pelt?'
'Accidents do happen!' said Gimli; -- 'But not often. We have our high leather aprons, of course, and for casting and other dangerous work we still use steel masks such as aided our folk against the fire-drakes in the great wars of old.'
'That is well,' said Legolas.
Then he moved closer still, and nuzzled his face against the beard, holding Gimli tight, while he stroked the Elf's smooth hair, so cool and fine, so unlike Dwarf hair. They rested together, quiet and content in the noonday sun. Gimli leaned back against the grassy bank. All he could hear was the gentle splash of the stream, the whisper of the breeze through the grasses, and from time to time the trills and whistles of a few mountain birds.
Soft high clouds drifted slowly by, and a warm haze veiled the view of the valley and the dark woodland of Ithilien in the distance. Legolas lay across his friend's breast, eyes closed, the warmth of the 'wondrous pelt' under his cheek and of the sun on his back. This was peace and plenty, and he savoured every minute of a time that must soon end, hoarding memories for colder days to come. When at last they stirred and sat up, he asked Gimli if his eyes felt better for the time outdoors, and turned the Dwarf's face towards the sun with a cool palm against his cheek.
'Yes, much better. And I have never thought to take such a rest before. I must be turning elvish! Is that possible? Shall we grow more like each other, think you? Though I would not wish you to change.'
Legolas was surprised to hear his own thought echoed.
'I believe I have changed, though it is not something you could see. Was I not looking for the same signs around the South Tower as you?'
'Yes, true. Such a change would not mar your beauty, and can only improve your brains!'
Legolas pushed him over in response to this, saying: 'Dwarvish impudence!'
Then he held Gimli's arms to the ground and leaned down to kiss his eyelids, delighting in the sensation of thick, soft, curly eyelashes against his lips. Gimli guessed it from the lightness of the touch, and fluttered his lashes in response. Legolas gave a little moan of pleasure, and in moments they were lost in passionate embraces on the springy mountain turf.
Afterwards they washed in the chilly water of the mountain stream, then sat still again., Gimli on a little hummock of grass with Legolas between his feet, using his knees like chair arms. Gimli gripped the slim body gently between his hard-muscled thighs, and Legolas leaned back contentedly against him.
'You are hard as stone, warm as fire, clothed in living velvet and fur! Your body matches the mysteries of your dwarvish heart: grim and tender, patient and fierce; maker and slayer.'
The Elf crooned his words of love softly and dreamily, while Gimli enjoyed doing what Legolas liked to do: resting his chin on the other's head, feeling the shape of the elvish skull against his jaw and throat.
'Why did this not happen before? In Lórien, when you took me about with you? That was the place for peace and love, and surely I loved you then, for you saved me in Moria.'
'Why? Yes, I have wondered too, and I think maybe it was because we still had more to learn, about each other, about ourselves; but perhaps also it was because we had other work to do, something more important than us.'
'Aye, the Quest. You are right, it was our duty. And I think that even then, even after the death, as we thought, of Gandalf, we -- I at least, I cannot speak for all -- still did not truly realise the greatness of the task, not until we had left Lórien '
'Maybe Galadriel herself saw to it that we should put nothing before the Quest! And I feel also that we were given only the burdens we were ready to bear. To have loved you as I do now would have been too much for me, I think. I am not saying this well, but I feel I have come to you step by step, from mistrust to respect, friendship and love.'
'Then it has always been as we said, the night we made our declaration: step by step, one gate at a time, and -- oh!'
Legolas felt the sudden startle run through the Dwarf's body.
'Oh, I could not have borne it, had we been as we are now, before we passed the Paths of the Dead! You did not see my shame, and I am glad. I would have turned back, run mad, died alone in the dark like the one whose bones we saw, rather than have you see me as I was then.'
Legolas moved abruptly, turning about so that he knelt facing Gimli.
'What are you saying? You DID pass through! I saw nothing to be counted shame.'
'Just so!' said Gimli, looking steadily into the clear grey eyes now on a level with his own. -- 'You saw nothing! It was a burden we both were spared -- my disgrace! A Dwarf underground, and terrified beyond reason! The Dead had no business with me, and yet I feared them. Did the Lady protect me? Certain it is that I could not have endured both the terror of the Dead and the shame of of revealing such weakness to you who passed through unscathed.'
'But now you HAVE told me!'
Legolas straightened up, still on his knees, and smiled gently at Gimli, looking into his eyes.
'Truly, I did not understand, and perhaps, as you say, it is well. I could not share your fear, and so might not have aided you. I might even have made matters worse by trying.'
'I feel that also, Legolas. I am glad you agree.'
'But nonetheless, you made the journey, you overcame your fear: there is no shame!'
'Yes, I made the journey, I returned to you. But I fear I could not make it again, though all my heart's desire lay at the end.'
'You cannot make it again, my friend; nor can any one. The Paths remain, but the Dead are gone, gone! And the hollow way will be no more than that -- a way under the mountain, that any may use at need. If we should see it again, it will be but an underground way: dark, but nothing more.'
'I hope it will be long before I see that place again,' said Gimli fervently, -- 'And if I should, I trust you may be proved right.' Legolas leaned up and kissed his brow tenderly.
'Who knows where we may walk in days to come? I would gladly see this fair earth by your side in the years that lie before us. There is work in prospect, yet surely we may look for some reward at times!'
'Well, my Legolas, may we not hope for both work and travel? May we not go about at times at the King's behest to deal with our kindred in other places?'
'Oh, reasonable Dwarf! I must study this art of yours, this reasonableness! It could have its uses.'
'But then I should miss your elvish nonsense!'
Then they both laughed, and sat for a while content to watch the cloud shadows drifting across the wide lands before them. Legolas could see people working in the fields of Pelennor, making haste to save what they could of the ravaged crops, plant anything that might bring a late harvest, repair buildings, walls and fences, all striving to undo the damage of war. Gimli's sight would never be so keen at a distance, and he could not make out all the things Legolas tried to describe to him, but he greatly enjoyed studying what was closer to hand: anything from the seed heads of the mountain grasses to the wings of the little blue butterflies that flittered about restlessly until Legolas' elvish words kept them still long enough for him to see what he wanted.
At last the sun began to sink. Even this long summer day would end.
'We could stay out all night,' said Legolas, -- 'It will be fine and warm.'
'Our friends' tempers may take the place of a thunderstorm if we vanish without a word. All seems safe here, indeed, yet it may not be so. I have no wish to begin by incurring the King's displeasure.'
'Ah! Reason again. You are right. We must go down before the barrier is closed. Yet I feel peace here such as I have not felt since Lórien.'
'Yes... yes; but it was different, too; almost a sleep. We walked and talked and looked as if in a dream, or so it seems to me now.'
'That is the way of the Golden Wood. It is at the heart of things, and yet outside the world.'
Slowly they began to descend from their breezy green shelf on the mountainside, and the fine bars of soft cloud drifting far away in the east glowed with the light of the setting sun. Going down the mountain proved harder than climbing up, and Gimli was glad of his stout blackthorn.
'Shall I see the Golden Wood again?' Gimli wondered aloud, and aswered himself: 'Perhaps, for it lies on our homeward way.'
'But surely you shall see her who is the heart of the heart. She will come to the wedding. Gandalf has hinted as much.'
'He is a master of hints, most of them like the smoke from his pipe! But that Galadriel should come to Arwen's wedding, that is -- reasonable.'
They scrambled down the last steep rocky slopes, among the boulders and slabs of white rocks that gave the Ered Nimrais their name. As the wind dropped to evening stillness, small sounds floated up to them from the fields and the city: cattle lowing, the bark of a dog, a trumpet signaling a change of guard: life going on in Middle-earth.
Deep shadow was spreading in the grove of live-oaks, and the two smiled at eachother in the quiet green gloom, remembering. As they left, Legolas cut a small spray of leaves from a low branch.
'I shall keep this.'
'Have you many such treasures at home?' Gimli asked, smiling.
'A few. Mostly they remind me of things my mother taught me before she sailed.'
'Ah! When you say that, I can see how a brown leaf might be worth more than gold. But will the day come when nothing more remains of me but withered leaves?'
Legolas halted, facing him, and said softly: 'Do not let doubt distress you. It comes and goes like cloudy weather. Did not you say that the end will be as we shape it?'
Gimli rubbed a hand over his face as if clearing away a cobweb he had walked into.
'Forgive me, Legolas. Even a Dwarf may falter on a new road. I could see you, alone, with nothing but the leaves and your memories. Such visions must be part of my burden, trees to whose roots I must lay my axe!'
Many years would pass before he knew that the fleeting vision of a golden-haired Elf alone with a handful of dried leaves and his memories had shown him not Legolas but another.
Legolas tucked the spray of leaves into the top of his quiver, among the arrows.
'I shall have you, and the leaves, and the memory of our days on the mountainside -- for who knows when we may walk this way again?'
He laid his hands on Gimli's shoulders, looking steadily into his eyes.
'I meant the leaves as a memory of this day, nothing more or less. It is I who should ask forgiveness.'
'You are forgiven. I am but a foolish Dwarf. You have brought me joy, yet it is joy like a cliff-edge at times, from which one may fall and be dashed to pieces.'
'Truly I believe that all great joys are such. We shall walk on the heights, and we may stumble, but while we are true we shall not fall.'
He drew Gimli close and held him tightly.
'Furnace of a Dwarf! We must return before the barrier is closed, and seek our joy within the walls, away from cliff-edges!'
They reached the gate just in time and hurried in, but Legolas halted in the paved square, looking down at the flagstones in the fading light.
'It is dusk, and the light grows dim, yet it seems to me that this gap is wider now than it was this morning -- or do I presume too much on seeing in a dwarvish way?'
Gimli looked as well.
'You do not presume, my friend. The gap is wider, though by no more than the width of a grain of wheat -- and it is longer too. See how it reaches almost to the north side of the square? I like this not. I must speak with the Guard Captain.'
Legolas tilted his head, listening.
'Gimli, can you hear -- ?'
Instantly Gimli realised that, in the quiet of the evening, he could.
'Yes; water. An underground stream -- a river, by the sound of it. I begin to understand.'
He turned back to find the captain in charge of the Gate Guard. Soon messengers were hurrying through the city to tell Faramir and the Chief Surveyor of what seemed to be happening, and by the time darkness had fallen, a lamplit council had assembled on the north side of the square.
Plan were produced which confirmed the course of the stream beneath the South Tower. Faramir ordered the tower barred to all, and the adjacent part of the wall likewise. The guard were also to keep people from using the track close to the wall when the barriers were opened in the morning.
When the orders had been given, Legolas heard one of the soldiers saying: 'That'll be why the sergeant's old cat's gone. Stayed all through the fighting, she did, in the top guard room and had her kittens there last week. And now she's gone, and taken the little ones with her -- Sergeant hasn't found her yet, getting really worried. Now it sounds like she'll be all right and it's us that should worry!'
'They know things, animals do,' said a second voice in the shadows.
'He's right,' said Legolas; -- 'They do.'
'Then I too think that the end of the South Tower is not far off,' said Gimli; -- 'Though there is little more to be done about it till daylight.'
They spoke with Faramir and agreed to return early in the morning to see the state of things, and then went home, leaving the guard and some of the Surveyor's men to make sure no one went near the tower. Once in bed they lay spooned together, the Elf's long body curled around the Dwarf. Gimli was soon asleep, the question of the tower set aside until morning, while Legolas travelled back in his mind to his father's halls, and the river that ran under the mountain and out at the water gate. He wanted to search for anything he could recall that might help in dealing with the stream under the tower. The next day was one of great activity at the gate, and sensation throughout the city. The King himself came down, with Prince Imrahil and the chief counsellors; Gandalf, Faramir and many others were there, and the Chief Surveyor and his people came armed with all the available plans and records.
It seemed that the underground stream or river passed under the square roughly from north-west to south-east, turning more sharply southwards thereafter, apparently following the line of the mountains towards Anduin rather than flowing out under the Pelennor.
'Where rivers flow,' said Gimli, -- 'Often there are waters under the earth also, but the two are not always found together. I would like to know more of the course of this stream, but wherever it flows, the tower must come down.'
Some of the officials looked greatly dismayed by this, but the King was ready to discuss the idea. The Chief Surveyor pointed out that there was a way provided to go down into a chamber or tunnel under the square through which the stream flowed. The entrance was in the cellar of a small strongly built stone house, used as a Customs House, in the south-east corner of the square.
'Aha!' said Gimli; -- 'There will be much more to learn underground of how this work was done at the first.'
Aragorn sood ordered a small party to investigate: the Chief Surveyor and his clerk, Faramir, Gandalf, Gimli, a couple of guards to carry extra lanterns; the King himself, and Legolas, who was determined to go where Gimli went, and wished to compare this underground river with his own.
The trap door in the Customs House cellar was very old, very heavy, and had been secured with bolts, locks and chains, all of which had long rusted with disuse and the inevitable dampness. The Surveyor's clerk had all the keys, but they still had to send out for tools so that Gimli could smash one lock off its shackle with a cold chisel and a very heavy hammer before they could get in. It took four men to lift the trap.
Gandalf decided to lead the way, conjuring from the tip of his staff a strong white light which revealed broad stone steps leading down into darkness filled with a loud noise of water. Small wonder that Elf and Dwarf had heard it from above ground.
The steps were of well-cut stone, all part of the rock on which the city was built, which formed both the steps and side walls, but the roof was of masonry, as if an open space had been covered over to form the square.
The stairs opened into a long chamber like an underground wharf with a stone quay. When the investigators stepped out and looked to their left, they could see where the noisy water gushed out of a natural opening in the rock, to race in dark and gleaming turbulence, flecked with white foam, past the smooth damp pavement, and vanish on their right under a low arch of masonry.
Gimli had to raise his voice to tell Legolas that the river channel should have been smoothed to make the water flow more quietly.
'How would you do that?' asked the Elf, interested.
'Cofferdams,' said Gimli succinctly.
The party turned their attention to the archway, walking carefully on the slippery stone. Gandalf held his staff high, and with the light from that and the lanterns they could soon see that there was something amiss about the archway.
It seemed to have been built to strengthen a second natural opening in the rock: rock which, as Gimli saw at once, was of a different kind from that which formed the other end of the chamber. There was evidently a some sort of fault line at the foot of the mountain, and the ancient builders of Minas Anor had decided to work over it to place their gate as they wished. But the second rock was of a less strong and stable kind than the first -- whence the arch.
Gimli hurried forward, expecting to find that the pavement in the chamber would continue, at least as a narrow footway, under the arch to allow inspection or repair, but it did not. Then, looking up, he saw clearly something to give real cause for alarm. Above the stone arch was a black rent in the rock, like a narrow mouth. He pointed, and Gandalf came nearer with his staff. It seemed to the Dwarf that, without yet losing much of its proper form, the arch had dropped downwards, away from the rock it was meant to support. The look on the face of the Surveyor as he saw the hole was the confirmation of the Dwarf's fears, and a downward slope in the paving at the end of the chamber told the same tale.
'We should take a look inside that hole,' said Gimli.
The height of it was a few inches beyond the reach of Legolas' long arms. He looked at Gimli inquiringly, and the Dwarf, setting his back against the wall, linked his strong hands to make a step for the Elf, and lifted him up. He put rather too much effort into it, and almost cracked Legolas' head on the rocky roof.
'Careful, Gimli!' cried Gandalf, as Legolas ducked and laughed, catching hold of the rough edge of the fissure. Soon he was standing on Gimli's shoulders, while Gandalf held his staff up.
'There seems to be quite a large space in here,' said the Elf.
The reverberation of his strong clear voice bore this out. Suddenly he heaved himself up and squeezed through the opening, long legs disappearing with a wriggle and a kick.
A moment later his face appeared out of the darkness, and he reached down a hand to take the lantern held up by one of the guards.
'Mad Elf!' muttered Gimli, half anxious and half envious. -- 'Must think he's a ferret!'
But he had to admit that he would probably not have got through the gap so easily.
Before long Legolas came back and handed down the lantern; then he turned around and slithered out feet first, stepping onto Gimli's shoulders before jumping to the ground.
Everyone trooped back up the stairs and out into the square to hear his report without the background roar of the water.
With the aid of the Surveyor's plans they could see that the archway was the entrance to a tunnel, partly masonry and partly natural, that seemed to extend out under the walls and then continue as the course of the underground stream. From what Legolas had seen in the cavity, it appeared that the far end of the masonry tunnel had suffered a partial collapse, no doubt due to the weight and the shocks of Grond, not severe enough to block the stream, but sufficient to destabilise the ground and the city wall above.
'I felt the rock above me,' said the Elf; -- 'and it seemed to me that it cannot hold for long. It is not strong, and is being crushed by the weight of the work above. I could sense it in the stone.'
'I believe it is as Legolas says,' said Gimli; -- 'Though it may be wise to make another survey before anything is done.' Turning to Legolas, he said:
'You have become as a second pair of eyes to me, my friend, and I scarcely need to look for myself. But it is as I feared,' he went on; -- 'There is great danger here, for this tower will surely fall if it is not pulled down first. And it must be rebuilt from the lowest foundations if Minas Tirith is to have a strong gate again.'
Aragorn listened attentively, wasting no time on thinking how narrowly the city had escaped a massive breach in the defenses.
'That would be a great undertaking, the labour of many hands, for many years. Yet it seems it may well be so. Firstly, then: what must be done that the tower may fall with the least harm? And how shall the city be secured while the new work is in hand? For what that work must be cannot be known until the roots of the tower are laid open.' The party went out down the causeway and looked up at the tall and mighty tower beside the broken gate. Many of the city officials were reluctant to believe that the tower either might or should fall. It looked much as it always had.
Gimli prowled about, tapping the ground here and there with his staff, and sometimes lying down on the ground, the better to hear the voices of rock and hidden waters. Everything he saw and heard persuaded him that the tower would fall.
'Have you sappers in your army here?' he asked Faramir.
'No; we have few with such skill. It is long since our people were able to war against the enemy by those means.'
'Then if it does not fall of itself first, I may need to train up a few of your men to aid me in bringing it down safely. It would take far too long to send for any of my own folk.'
'We must await a decision on that.'
Afterwards Gimli grumbled to Legolas about the fondness of men for talking and debating, and also about the lack of knowledge, even among the most skilled in the city.
'This kingdom has declined further than it knows. Aragorn returned just in time, I think.'
Debates about the tower continued for another day, and things moved only slowly, as people began to accept that the tower might fall.
'How long do you think it could stand?' asked Legolas, when Gimli returned, still grumbling, from another long discussion; -- 'A month? A year?'
'Maybe three or four days,' said the Dwarf.
He had been up to the top of the North Tower and studied it carefully, to get an idea of the weight of stone at the top. He had soon realised that it was much greater than appeared from below. 'Days?' said Legolas, incredulous.
'I'm sure of it, for the more it moves, though by but a little, the next move is so much the easier. See, if you hold a banner on a staff, it is harder to hold it out at an angle than upright, and if the weight is not a mere banner, but the top of a great stone tower... Yet I cannot convince them.'
The look on the Elf's face showed that he needed no more explanation or convincing.
Neither did the tower, for in the early hours of the third morning after Gimli had spoken, the city was awakened by a mighty rumbling crash, and in seconds the tower lay in ruins beside the causeway. Like everyone else, Elf and Dwarf started awake in the faint pre-dawn light, and realised what had happened.
'Well, that's that!' said Gimli, and settled down again. -- 'At this hour there should have been none about to be hurt by it.'
Legolas shook his head, smiling. He could hear the city stirring already as alarm and curiosity got the better of almost everyone, while Gimli curled up on his side, ready to go back to sleep until a more reasonable hour.
Reasonable Dwarf! he thought fondly, and snuggled beside him while the city buzzed with unreasonably early and useless activity.
Soon there was more than enough work for Gimli and everyone to do, clearing and sorting the fallen stone, and planning the work to be done. Then, two days later, after Gandalf and the King had been mysteriously absent for a while, all the Fellowship were summoned to the Fountain Court to see the newly planted sapling, the sign that had been awaited.
They marvelled at the slender young tree, which seemed to grow as they watched. Legolas moved towards it as if drawn by a magnet, scarcely able to take his eyes off it long enough to request with a look permission from the King to lay his hand upon the stem and feel the life of the White Tree flowing strongly under the smooth pale bark. Gimli followed, drawn by the Elf as the Elf by the tree, gazing up at Legolas' face as he smiled with closed eyes, lost in the life of the tree. Then he awoke suddenly, took his comrade's hand, and guided it to the tree, so that they stood for a while with the Elf's hand wrapped over the Dwarf's on the tree stem, and they looked at each other with an understanding that neither could have put into words.
That look was enough to turn even Aragorn's mind away for a moment from his own joyful expectation; and that was so great that its influence spread through the city like the summer breeze, filling everyone with greater hope and vigour.
Afterwards Gimli hurried down to begin work with the men of the city at the ruins of the tower.
'Better to greet those who will come with a great hole and work well set in hand than with a shower of falling stones!' he said, and no one could disagree with that, but even as he worked the Dwarf wished he could be with the musicians or in his workshop, for the finishing touches to his crowns, and to their caskets (works of art in themselves) were still wanting.
At the same time, Legolas was constantly being sought out or sent for by Faramir or by court officials in search of information on the lodging and entertainment of the expected elvish guests. He was bombarded by questions both sensible and trivial concerning the actual and possible likes and dislikes of Elves on any subject imaginable, until he did not know if he was driven to distraction by 'mannish nonsense' or more saddened to know that even here, where the old tongues were spoken and the old lore known, men had been so long sundered from the Eldar as to lose confidence in their knowledge and understanding.
In the evenings, Elf and Dwarf would meet wearily in the quiet of their house, deeply grateful for the kindness and patient energy of Sam, who came and cooked for them and then disappeared promptly and discreetly. As soon as he was gone, Gimli would work for a while on the new pans while Legolas took refuge from the noise of the hammering by which the pans were raised out of flat metal.
For five days and nights it seemed they scarcely rested, for Gimli still had to finish the crowns and their cases in his 'workshop' in the small inner room. Legolas would help him, working late into the night, polishing the fine woods and metal inlays, fitting the white wool padding and velvet linings that would protect the delicate work, or making refreshing tea for Gimli as he toiled over scribing out the channels for the inlays and cutting the brass and silver filigrees. Sometimes the Elf would gather a handful of herbs from the terrace and brew up an infusion to bathe Gimli's eyes; sometimes in the early hours he would make a few sandwiches to sustain the Dwarf through his works. (He had learned this art from Sam, and Gimli was almost certain that when he spoke the word he was saying 'sam-wedges', but was unable to decide whether this was because he thought it was the right name, believing that Sam had invented this form of food preparation, or whether it was an elvish joke, a humorous attempt to recognise Sam's skill.) And when work was over, always he would hold Gimli through their brief hours of sleep, helping him to sound rest and renewed strength for the next day. At last the long-awaited day came, and people lined the ways of the city to see the last great ones of the Elf-kingdoms in Middle-earth ride in. This was not a time of loud music and triumph, but one of quiet wonder, as the legends of the past came to greet the birth of a new Age. The Fellowship waited with the King to receive the visitors, and Gimli saw again the queen whose champion in Middle-earth he would be all his days.
After the formal greetings, the party walked up through the city to the palace. Legolas and Gimli took their places escorting Celeborn and Galadriel, and the lady's eyes flashed approval of the handsome Dwarf, who had chosen to appear in his indigo velvet, now augmented by a deep hood with a silver tassel in the best dwarvish style. Gimli marched proudly at her side and answered her questions about the city and the gate, while she noted the changes in him since he left Lórien, and smiled inwardly with pleasure at what she saw.
The evening was one of rest for the travellers, and the marriage on the next day was a more intimate and quiet ceremony than the coronation. The companions soon understood that this was not an occasion of pure joy for all concerned, but something very grand and serious, and strangely final. Feasts, celebrations and public rejoicing would not even begin until the day after the wedding.
'Now the two lines of Lúthien are reunited;' said Legolas, as he and Gimli returned home from the ceremony; -- 'Elves and Men meet and part for the last time. In all the lands of Men, the new Age has begun, but for the firstborn it is, if not the end, then an ending, the ending of our time in Middle-earth.'
Gimli sat silent on the courtyard bench for a while and gazed at Legolas in his wedding garments: a long surcoat of pale grey-green with silver and green embroidery over a fine tunic and leather breeches of the same shade, and grey boots. He was wearing the silver leaf-circlet of Mirkwood, and seemed to shimmer from head to foot with a soft radiance that made him look more like the great Elf-lords than he had ever done before in Gimli's eyes.
'Gimli, what is it?' asked the Elf, as his silence continued.
Gimli blinked. He had grown so used to his 'everyday' Legolas that to see him now in his princely state was a shock. The Elf had tried hard to draw closer to the mortal world, but now as he spoke of parting he looked so noble and remote that the people of the lower city would surely have failed to recognise their helper, and the little boy the 'pretty Elf' to whom he had given his brother's toy horse. Gimli felt that the Elf was passing beyond his reach.
'You look so different today,' he said hesitantly; -- 'Fair and strange, as if these last weeks have been a dream, and I must wake and find you gone back to your own.'
A pain seemed to grow in his heart, like a fire slow to kindle but strong to burn: surely he must lose this glorious being who had deigned to love him for a while. But Legolas was moving forward, dropping on one knee before him, taking his hands.
'Strange it may be, but no dream, Gimli. Go back to my own? You are my own now. And different? You too are different. Did you not see Galadriel's eyes upon you, admiring my lord of Dwarves? And the others too. Haldir was amazed. He wishes to apologise again for the blindfolding.'
He raised Gimli's hands and kissed them, and went on: 'The union of Elessar and Undomiel is not the only ending that begins this new Age. I have long known that I am the last of my line in Middle-earth, and yet, through you, I find at the end a new beginning, a joining of those who have long kept apart. Another piece of the old evil is undone, a sign of what may be in the new Age, though the paths of Elves and Dwarves may never cross in this way again.'
Gimli sighed, ready to be persuaded, but at the same time a new and unwelcome idea was beginning to form in his mind.
'You -- the Elves -- know that you must leave Middle-earth at some time, and you believe that that time is now very near. We -- the Dwarves -- come like you from the time before Men, but we have no lore to tell us what our end may be. Will Mahal who shaped us gather us all again, to await the end of all things in the halls of our fathers? It has seemed to me that a new age of prosperity would open before us, that we would live and work in new lands alongside the kingdoms of Men. Will this then not be? Must we follow the Eldar out of Middle-earth even as we followed them here?'
'The Elves have no knowledge of that;' said Legolas.
Gimli seemed to change his mood with a physical shake.
'Then maybe it is not for us to know. This is profitless questioning, and not the way to lay my axe to the right tree. I shall change my finery and start on a certain piece of silverwork that you spoke of recently.'
Rings! To be a sign of their bond. Legolas stood up smiling. 'May I watch your work?'
'May? Crazy Elf! Must! Can I do it without you?'
Legolas laughed aloud, and went off to change as well. He returned swiftly, clad only in shirt and breeches, enjoying the smooth coolness of the marble paving under his bare feet.
Gimli noticed at once that the fine white shirt was not of his usual elven style with its neat stand collar; instead he was trying the more voluminous mode of Gondor with a drawstring that produced a ruffled finish at the neck. Even the cuffs had ruffles, which looked, thought Gimli, very well for setting off graceful elvish hands, but were the sort of detail any archer would normally avoid. In the heat of the afternoon, Legolas had tied the drawstring only loosely, so that the shirt neck lay wide, revealing all his throat and most of his collarbones as well. The mallorn leaf pendant on its silver chain lay with the green enamel face outward, glowing richly against Legolas' pale skin.
Gimli stood and stared at him, part startled by the speed with which he had gone and returned, part spellbound by the beauty of his appearance in this simple garb. Legolas smiled, about to make a jesting remark on his tardiness, but the Dwarf's expression stopped him and he changed his words.
'I move like a whirlwind, do I not? So eager to be rid of the finery!'
'Though both are fair, I like the wild Wood-Elf better than the prince;' said Gimli.
'And so do I. No wonder, when I have spent most of my days in the forest, and few at court. Now, let us transform you to match. You are too grand for me now.'
The change was not effected without many gentle touches and caresses, and Legolas insisted on taking off Gimli's boots for him, to stroke the small shapely feet and ankles that had so surprised him in the early days of the Quest.
Once Gimli was dressed as simply as himself, Legolas smiled again and said:
'You know too well that my folk think Dwarves shapeless and ungraceful creatures; but you also know that they are wrong. The trouble is your dwarvish garments. A little less bulk here and there would do you more justice. Those breeches...'
Gimli interrupted him:
'You will NOT get me into breeches like THAT!'
Legolas laughed aloud at his indignation, remembering his words about 'provocation or outright challenge'.
'No, no! Nothing so extreme! Besides, I would not want anyone to -- know so much about you. I would be jealous!'
Gimli felt himself blushing under the Elf's bright appraising glance, even as he laughed. Legolas relented.
'Very well. I will not offend your dwarvish modesty further. Let us look at the silverwork.'
In the small inner room, Gimli started by asking the Elf on which finger he would wear his ring. Legolas chose the third finger of his right hand.
'So your love may speed my arrows and not hinder the string.'
Gimli decided to do the same himself, and then when he came to take the measurements, found a surprise. Despite the very obvious differences between their hands, there was so little between their ring sizes that one would fit either.
Legolas stretched out his right hand, palm forward, and Gimli raised his left to mirror it. Then it was clear that their two palms were alike in breadth, though Gimli's hand was thicker, and the elegant, even delicate, appearance of Legolas' hand was a matter of proportion, due to the length of palm and fingers. Neither would have believed this easily without the evidence of touch and sight.
'Well!' said Gimli.
'Not so different after all;' said Legolas.
They smiled again, and Gimli carried on working for a while, but the evening seemed to be growing hotter rather that cooler, and more humid as well. Clouds rolled up from the south, and the light began to fail.
They locked the gate and went to bed, lying side by side with the covers folded down and just a sheet over them, and with their hands loosely joined.
The King and Queen allowed themselves but three days of seclusion follwing their marriage: no wedding journey into Ithilien for them, as had been the custom in times long past. Such pleasures would have to wait. Meanwhile the city prepared fot the official celebrations, and Gimli divided his days between work at city gate and practice with the court musicians, and in the evenings worked on the rings or on Sam's pans when his eyes grew tired of close work.
Legolas spent much time with the elves of Lórien and Imladris, who wished to hear all he could tell them of the Quest, and Gandalf and the Hobbits were likewise in demand.
Faramir, together with Prince Imrahil, acted as host during this time, and was in his own way as delighted as Sam to be in the company of so many of the highest Elves in Middle-earth. The principal absentee was Thranduil, who had sent with the company of Lórien a message declaring Legolas his representative.
In the early evening of the third day, Gimli went down to the gate to see what progress had been made in clearing fallen masonry from the area which would have to be excavated before the culvert for the underground river could be rebuilt. He saw that the work was being done carefully, if no faster than necessary, and felt satisfied. But there was much to be done before new gates could be considered. Probably it would be necessary to build forges and furnaces outside the city. He had seen nothing within the walls that would be equal to the task, nor was there space to build.
He saw long years of work ahead, hard as any battle, but longer, much longer... and Legolas would be in the city, or not ten leagues off, in Ithilien.
He looked around once more at the heaps of stone, now partly sorted by quality and size. Much would be fit to use again, but more would be needed. And where exactly had the stone come from in the first place? And what was it that had been said about the Woses showing the men of Rohan a forgotten way called the Stone-wain Valley? Would that lead to the source of new stone to match the old? It was something to consider, to find out when Éomer came to take the body of Théoden home.
He looked round again, and halted at the sight of a tall grey-clad figure stepping towards him among the stones. His first thought was of Legolas, but almost at once he saw that the masculine garments clothed the form of the lady Galadriel. He was dimly aware of some other Elves a little way behind her, but had eyes only for the shining presence of her who was to him the fairest of all.
She wore a tunic and surcoat of softly blended greys, reaching a little below the knee, with boots and leggings of the same colours. Gimli had not yet learned that in her youth in the distant West she had been called Nerwen, 'Man-maiden', but knew at this moment that she looked as much a warrior as a queen, and bowed low in greeting, thrilled and a little alarmed by her sudden appearance. Unconsciously he laid his hand over the place where her gift was hidden inside his tunic.
'Greetings, Gimli Elf-friend;' she said with a smile; -- 'It seems I have heard truly, that you do not spend your time in idleness.'
'No indeed, Lady, it is not our way. And I find that the skill and knowledge needed here are stronger in my people than in this city.'
'Then it is well that you were chosen, and are here at the end -- or the beginning.'
She ended on a quizzical note, with a smile and a little lift of her golden brows.
'It is the beginning;' Gimli replied, meeting her eyes.
'I am glad to hear it. Now, tell me what happened here, and how you would hope to mend things.'
Gimli launched readily into an account of all he knew concerning Grond and the destruction of the gate, and soon was regaling the lady Galadriel with an expansive lecture on the fall of the tower and the problem of the underground river.
'So all was not well built in the first place?' she asked.
'Well enough;' answered the Dwarf; -- 'Yet I would say the work smacks of overconfidence.'
'Ah! Numenor!' she responded cryptically.
She seemed very interested in the underground river, and Gimli soon knew from her questions that she had a quick understanding of all he had told her. The Noldo love of craft and making were roused in her by the Dwarf's enthusiasm for his work, and she seemed so young and eager that though he kept telling himself that she REMEMBERED the wonders of the first works of the Elves in Middle-earth, he could not truly believe it.
She even lay down with her ear against a rock, the better to hear the river below, like the blood of the earth flowing. She had kept, or renewed, her delight in the life of Middle-earth, and listened attentively as Gimli spoke lovingly of the great works already devised in his mind to support a new tower above the hidden stream and of the new gates of mithril and steel that would defend the entry to the city.
At last, as they walked about the site, with Galadriel's escort waiting a little way off, they saw Legolas coming out of the city in search of his friend.
'Here is one who has missed you;' said the Lady, smiling again; -- 'And the King tells me that this fortunate Elf owes his life to your love.'
'No more than I owe mine to his, for his deeds in Moria, my lady.'
'Then you are well matched;' she said softly, before Legolas came within hearing, and then turned to greet him warmly.
Once again they walked by her side through the city, and Legolas quickly saw from Gimli's confident manner that they would have little to fear from her. As they reached the second level, she invited them to share an evening meal with herself and Celeborn.
'It will be our last quiet evening for some time, I think;' she added; -- 'A very informal affair. Come up as soon as you are ready.'
Returning afterwards, they spoke scarcely a word as they descended the steep ways of the city in the very last light of the summer evening. Stars were shining in a sky lightly dappled with small clouds that still caught the faint glow of sunset at the crown of the year.
Cressets flared by doorways and courtyard arches. Many people were abroad tonight, in the general mood of celebration. Passers-by greeted each other cheerfully; voices, music and laughter floated through open doors and windows, and over garden walls. But Legolas and Gimli threaded their way quietly through the lively city, too full of mingled thoughts and feelings for much speech yet.
Gimli's mood wavered between dazed euphoria and sadness. He had seen the lord Celeborn greet Legolas as a kinsman, with a formal yet warm embrace, and had then been greatly shocked to receive the same welcome himself, most adroitly managed, he realised later; for Celeborn had turned to him as he waited, a little way behind Legolas, on the step leading down to the little courtyard where Celeborn had been sitting. The the Elf lord had been able to embrace him without awkward stooping from his stately height, and Gimli had begun to understand his acceptance as an 'Elf-friend'.
He could have laughed aloud for joy, and yet had often sensed a melancholy mood in the Elves, who had given the Evenstar of their people to bring light to the new Age of Men. Celeborn and Galadriel would see their daughter again, but Arwen had chosen a sundering way. During the evening, the Dwarf had seemed to find himself constantly the centre of attention, whether the talk turned to the city, the coming festivities, or the blackthorn circlet that Legolas wore. When Celeborn had sent for lamps partway through the meal, the crystal 'raindrops' on the blossoms sparkled and caught Galadriel's eye.
'Does the blackthorn bloom so late in Gondor?' she had asked, and Legolas had replied:
'These blossoms will not fade, for they flowered at the hands of a master of craft.'
Then she had to hear the full tale, though she had learned the bones of it from Aragorn, of what had befallen in the lower city, and how Legolas had feared that the morgul-stuff would keep him from seeing even the last of the blackthorn in bloom. Then she wished to see the sprays of blossom, and was surprised by the band that held them, and would know how it was contrived.
So Legolas asked Gimli to remove it, and show it to the lady and her lord, and those two understood much from the Dwarf's skilled and gentle handling and the Elf's quiet confidence.
Galadriel had taken the open circlet in her hands and turned it about, praising the skill and invention, and asking how the petals and dewdrops had been formed and placed. Gimli had explained, knowing that she would understand all the craftsman's terms he used, and had sensed with surprise how her thought turned away from asking if he had made any other such work. Then he knew how greatly she admired it, and that she would gladly have a like thing for herself; so he too kept his thought from the forget-me-nots now finished and ready, and they seemed to conspire silently together to create a welcome surprise.
As their later talk ranged to and fro over the events of the evening, Gimli returned again to one thing:
'The lord Celeborn received me as a friend!'
'And so you are! A true friend of the Elves. And I hope others of your kin may be so too.'
Gimli wondered how much chance there might be of this, if the Elves were soon to leave, but said nothing, thinking that 'soon' for an Elf might be late enough for other folk.
'So;' said Legolas, as they lay at last curled comfortably together in their now familiar bed; -- 'You have seen your lady again, when once you feared you would not, and were full of lamentation.'
'Aye; for I only knew we were sailing into darkness on that river, and neither we nor even my lady herself had any surety of light to follow -- but we had hope, and hope was enough.'
'And hope we have still;' Legolas said softly against Gimli's hair; -- 'Having been so well received by the great ones.'
'So I believe, dear Elf; yet it troubled me to hear the lady make so much of what you are learning through being with me -- learning to be fitted for what you must do in the world of Men. Surely I have more to learn of you.'
Legolas had noticed his discomfort and how he had tried to turn the conversation, even saying at one point rather drily: 'And I have learned to look on blackthorn with an eye to more than cutting cudgels and walking sticks for trade.'
And again later he had made a more expansive attempt to redress, as he saw it, the balance between them:
'It is a wider and fairer world I live in now, with Legolas to guide me.'
But still he sensed that both lord and lady saw things somewhat otherwise, and now, lying beside Legolas again, he remembered Legolas' words on the the first night they shared a bed, and knew what the great ones meant: that the Elves had kept apart from the other peoples of Middle-earth so long that they could scarcely come together even to say farewell. It was all part of the fading, the dark thread woven into the fabric of Arda from the earliest days, that entangled all dwellers in the realm.
But even at this time of ending, he thought, something new could be found, the gleam of one precious stone at the end of a worked-out seam, the clue to a new vein of the unexpected. And so Celeborn had cast away the ancient grief and grudges that had stung so bitterly at their first meeting; so he himself and Legolas had crossed a divide never bridged before.
Gimli felt his head spin with the strangeness of it: Galadriel attending to his exposition of the problems at the gate; Celeborn welcoming him as a friend; Legolas commended for learning from him.
All he could say was: 'Either I am dreaming, or this is a new world.'
'It is a world renewed;' said Legolas; -- 'Shedding its skin like a snake.'
'Ah! But a snake remains a snake nonetheless. How much has Middle-earth shed with its old skin, I wonder?'
It was a train of thought he could not follow to any useful conclusion. He was simply glad that the new bond of Elf and Dwarf had gained the acceptance he most desired. That one gate had opened quite easily. He was content to lie close to Legolas and sleep.
On the next day, the new life of the kingdom began in earnest. Faramir as Steward escorted the King and Queen on the first of a series of royal progresses which would take place each morning until the pair had seen and been seen by all the people of the city. Later would come journeys further afield, but firstly all those who lived in or were visiting the city would learn to know their new rulers, and travellers from the further regions would return to their own homes with news.
After the progress, the rest of the day might be given over to meeting envoys from other regions and peoples, or leaders of the Guilds and so forth within the city; and the evenings were for dinners and feasts with music and dancing.
Gimli for the time being spent more time on music than on masonry, and was often in the musicians' hall with the court ensemble, preparing for the entertainments. Faramir was full of joy at the revival of the arts his mother had loved, and came as often as he could, to sit quietly in the gallery of the panelled hall and lose himself in listening. Legolas also was a frequent visitor, usually bringing some one or other of the elves from Imladris or Lórien with him, so that when on occasions Gimli joined the court musicians they were already accustomed to the odd sight of a Dwarf with an archlute longer than his own height, and knew how well he could play it.
Gimli kept half an eye on Legolas' scheme to educate his kinsmen, amused yet gratified to see how neatly he carried it off, so that they all thought they were making their own discoveries by chance. Haldir, having heard by now the full story of the pursuit across Rohan, of the Hornburg, the Paths of the Dead and all that had followed, had drastically revised his ideas, if not of Dwarves in general, then of this Dwarf in particular, and had apologised sincerely for the blindfolding episode and become a regular listener in the gallery. Indeed, Gimli soon discovered that Haldir was no mean musician himself, and could wield the bow of a tenor viol as well as the bow with which he had defended the Golden Wood. After this, Gimli had forgotten the touch of resentment he had felt at being 'shown off' to the Elves. Legolas had worked it so well that they did not see things in that light, and so he had decided that he would not.
One night, when they had returned from the noise, crowds and bustle of the day to their quiet house, and were preparing for bed, feeling a little too well-fed after the latest feast, Gimli said:
'You're a very clever, cunning Elf, and I'm not sure I know what I've let myself in for with you!'
Legolas drew his shirt off over his head slowly, and emerged from the folds of fine white stuff with a toss of his long golden mane.
'And what do you mean by that?'
Eyes, mouth and voice all smiled.
'I mean that in a few days you have taught a whole tribe of Elves to do something I think your people have not done for many long years: see a Dwarf as just another living being, not as an outsider at best, or more likely a possible enemy.'
'I didn't try to teach them anything, but I did want them to see you -- see YOU and not whatever it was they thought a Dwarf might be. I never tried to tell anyone anything, unless they asked what happened on the Quest, or our part in the war. I wanted to surprise them into seeing, as you surprised me.'
'As I said, clever and cunning Elf! At first I thought you were just showing off your discovery, but you are too clever for that -- and too kind;' he added, as he saw Legolas'face change; -- 'You'd never do that to me.'
'I knew I would be risking that;' the Elf admitted; -- 'And I felt uneasy at times, but they know of Galadriel's regard for you, and that is a great help.'
Gimli put the last of his things tidy and sat down on the edge of the bed.
'Ah! Galadriel! I believe she would come and work in stone with me to further her understanding. Understanding! That's what it is, her great strength. Will your other Elves match her, and her lord, in that, I wonder, when it dawns on them that you and I will always be together? Will they stop seeing what they have learned or remembered, and look at what is before them now?'
'There is none in Middle-earth to match her, save perhaps Elrond and Gandalf, so, as for that, the answer must be No; yet some I think will come near, and we must be content with that.'
'I will be content if they do not try to persuade you out of our bond.'
'They will soon learn better than to try -- though we must expect that some will. I shall not be persuaded.'
Gimli heard a steely note in the sweet voice, and uttered a little blowing sigh of satisfaction as he slid into bed. He sat up leaning on his pillows, enjoying the last glow of summer evening light beyond the window. Legolas reached over and began to undo the cords of silk and gold that secured the braids of his beard. Gimli took each cord as it was removed and laid it neatly on the small chest by the bed.
'May I try some different braids tomorrow?' asked the Elf.
'Hmm. I don't know that my beard is ready for elvish knitting!'
Legolas'eyes sparkled with mischief.
'Ach! I think I may live to be sorry I said that!'
'Your beard is safe with me!'
Gimli knew he had no reason to doubt it, and kept still until all the fine decorative braids were undone. Once Legolas had spread the beard out to his satisfaction, he buried his face in the thick soft hair and asked, his voice rather muffled:
'Is it true that Dwarf women also have beards?'
There was a moment's silence and then Gimli burst into a roar of laughter that shook the Elf and made his skin tingle as if he had been flung into a hot mineral spring. His ears rang for a second or two, and then he could hear Gimli saying, between splutters of mirth:
'Do your people still believe that old chestnut? It has served us better than any would have thought. So you've never seen a Dwarf woman?'
'No, never;' said Legolas, pulling himself up onto his own pillows, the better to watch Gimli's face.
'And yet I think it possible that you have, once or twice. Our women do not often make long journeys with the trading parties, but shorter ones, such as Erebor to Mirkwood, or Dale and Esgaroth, they do take at times. Perhaps you have seen on occasions youths with short beards, voices not yet broken?'
'Then you still might have seen a Dwarf woman without knowing.'
'And how might that be?' the Elf asked obligingly, sensing a good story to come.
'As to WHY our womenfolk disguise themselves so, you may not find it hard to understand that it is to escape the notice of Men; for when Men heard tell of the skill, the strength, and above all the faithfulness of Dwarf women, some of them wished for Dwarf brides, and would take them -- or try to -- by force since they could not be had any other way. All this was long ago, when our peoples first met, and it was not the Men of the West who did such things. No such things happen now; we go our separate ways, and Men who now live know nothing of it, though we have not forgotten; but our women have not lost their mistrust, and are very wary.
'But to come to the HOW: no doubt a child invented it in play, just as our stories tell. Now, the hair of our women is even longer and more abundant than that of our men. A Dwarf maiden of marriageable age is accounted most beautiful if her unbound hair can clothe her like a robe, perhaps even to her knees. My Zâr (he spoke her name without hesitation, as if Legolas knew it already) had hair like that, and I beheld her in her beauty, robed in black like the night.'
'She must have been fair indeed;' said Legolas, recalling how Lúthien, fairest of all the Elves, had possessed a fabled mantle of black hair.
Thinking back on this moment afterwards, he understood how often Gimli must have thought of telling him about her, even to the point of feeling that he had already done so.
'But imagine if you will;' Gimli went on, still smiling; -- 'A little Dwarf maid with long hair, drawing the ends across her face in imitation of her father's moustache and beard... '
'Oh!' Legolas laughed aloud then. The picture sprang up clear in his mind.
'And then perhaps someone saw this childish game, and saw that with a little skill and a hood drawn close, a Dwarf woman might be made to resemble a Dwarf man! Well enough, at least, to be sure that those who expect a beard, see a beard!'
Legolas laughed again, and drew strands of his own hair across his chin. This sent Gimli off into further peals of rich dwarvish laughter. No Elf could ever make a sound like that, and Legolas found it utterly thrilling in its strangeness. Elves have the most beautiful and varied voices of all speaking peoples, yet Gimli had the most compelling, changeable voice of any individual, of any kindred, that Legolas had heard in all his life.
The harsh battle cry, the bellow of anger, the velvet tone of tenderness in speech or song, the strident sonority of tavern music, the rolling declamation of Durin's Song, the rumbling chuckle, and now this gale of mirth: he would gladly play the bearded Elf to hear the sound again, and already Gimli was moving and reaching up to try the effect. But he shook his head and leaned back, grinning.
'A golden beard might suit you well enough, dear friend, a short, trimmed one, such as the men of Gondor wear; but the trick with braids will not work with your fine elvish silk. It needs a mass of thick hair such as only our Dwarf maidens have.'
His smile faded and his eyes seemed fixed on memory rather than on the Elf before him.
'Yes, she was beautiful, skillful too, a craftmaster.'
His dark gaze turned to Legolas again:
'And if you should come and be received at Erebor, as I trust you will, you may see her likeness and judge for yourself, for one of her brothers has a young daughter who is so like my Zâr, my heart still turns over when I see her, and I think it always will, even now I have you.'
'I hope so;' said Legolas, and laid one hand on Gimli's chest; -- 'It is a great heart, and one love will not drive out the other.'
Gimli covered the Elf's hand with his own.
'My noble Legolas! I said I would tell you about her, one day -- well, it is night, but I will tell you.'
'Yes;' said Legolas; -- 'Tell me all you wish.'
Gimli drew a deep breath, and sighed. He was as sure as he could be that no Dwarf had ever told such a tale to one not of his kindred: he himself had never said much about it to any but his father. He wanted Legolas to know, and the Elf had told him things that no other knew...
'I noticed her first at the Spring Feast, in the year after the fall of Smaug. Her Apprentice Band, as we call it, was nine years behind mine, and as it happened I had no kinsmen among them, so they were not a group I knew well. But one day, there she was, at the feast, in her holiday skirt and petticoats, and her hair braided with gold and ribbons -- more ribbons than gold, I'll tell you about that.
'You'll have realised that our womenfolk dress much like men for everyday wear, and they cover their hair with hoods outdors or scarves at home, so they look quite different on feast days. Some people have been known to walk past their own sister!'
Legolas smiled, trying to imagine the transformation.
'We never decided who saw the other first: we looked, and by the end of the feast, we knew. Then we thought about it, and met, and spoke, and in two days we were sure, and it was time to tell our families.'
Something in the tone of voice added, 'and then the trouble started.'
'I knew very little of her family -- but everyone else seemed to know too much, and none of it good, they said. For her folk were poor -- not that any of us are rich, even now, as Dwarves once counted riches -- but her folk were poor, poor and unlucky. Everything they touched seemed to go awry, if only by a little.
They had not been very long in Ered Luin. They came from the Iron Hills, and I gathered that the worst of their misfortunes seemed to date from the time her grandfather was killed in a tunnel collapse, though some said it went back further than that; and her father too died young, again as the result of some accident -- there were all sorts of vague hints about blame -- and the whole family seemed to struggle. Zâr was the most gifted of them all.
So the upshot of that was, my father's family didn't want anything to do with them: her family (or some of them) called her a fortune hunter, since my father had just come back with his share of Samug's hoard, and that made us both angry, for neither of us had the least idea who the other was when we first saw the spark.'
He paused and sighed again.
'And your father?' said Legolas; -- 'What did he say?'
'Ah! He did what he often does -- he surprised me. He said "Don't listen to those old moaners. Take her away from that ill-fated crew, she's the only one with real talent and a strong spirit. She's a good choice." So it was decided, and we were about to set the day for the wedding, when their fortunes seemed to change. A message came from the Iron Hills, saying that the last member of the family there had died -- a cousin of the grandfather -- and had left his fortune to Zâr's mother and the children, his only relations. And it seemed to be a tidy sum. But the terms of the will were rather odd. The whole family had to go to the Iron Hills together, before they would be able to inherit, even her brothers'children -- the youngest was only a babe in arms.
'They were all for setting off right away: Zâr herself was as bad as any. She wanted to bring a decent dowry -- as any Dwarf maid should -- though she knew I'd take her with none.
'And my father -- he did it again -- surprised me. He said we should marry first, so that I should go with them. He even mentioned going himself. I think now he must have sensed something... But Zâr wouldn't have it: she wanted to bring a dowry she could be proud of, put a stop to the gossips -- and I let her persuade me.
'So they set off, with other travellers going that way. A long journey, as you know, but not one to fear, since Smaug was gone, and the Battle of the Five Armies had put an end to most of the Orcs and Goblins for a while, and the Eagles guarded the High North. They reached Erebor, and went on to the Iron Mountains -- not without some little accidents on the way, always to Zâr's family, or somehow due to them, so it seemed -- but they got there, and their claim was approved by the Elders, and the inheritance paid over. And then, then they had to come back...'
'By this time it was almost winter. They got as far as Erebor without much trouble, and they should have stayed there till spring -- Dain himself said they could stay, invited them to stay, but no, they must press on! Over the High Pass in winter! Of course, there are always some travellers who have to make the journey, but with women and children, when there was no need... even though most of the Orcs were gone, it was still folly. There were others in the party, a few traders, messengers to Ered Luin from the King Under the Mountain, but still...
'They passed beyond Mirkwood, they crossed the Pass, and somewhere on the descent to the Road wolves fell on them out of the cold north, scattered their ponies in the night, and then slew half the party. And of her family all that returned were her mother, one brother (father of the maid I told you of) and the young son of the eldest brother. Two of the merchants died, and one Messenger, saving the baby. Those who lived raised a cairn of the mountain rocks, as is our way in such cases, and so my Zâr lies with the others under uncarved stone, somewhere in the Hithaeglir, I know not exactly where. And it is always in my mind that I must find that place before I die, and make a memorial, or carry home the bones to Ered Luin, to the Deep Hall.'
Legolas held him close, and pondered a while in silence.
'Then we shall seek, and we shall find. We must begin our duty to the King, but he will not grudge us leave once the work is set in hand. We shall use well the years that lie before us: for the Kingdom, and for your lost one.'
Gimli hugged him in return.
'Thank you, my Legolas. I will need your help, I know. And I think you must be wondering how it is that in those first years after the fall of Smaug, when the mountains were safer than they had been for a long time, no one went out to find the cairn.'
Legolas shook his head gently. No such thought had yet entered his mind.
'It will take a little more explaining of our ways to make it clear. I said that when the family left for the Iron Hills, we had not set the date of the wedding. What that means is that Zâr and I had only reached the First Betrothal -- from which either party may withdraw without penalty or shame. It means that the pair believe they are suited and the families have agreed to parley. Then comes the Binding Betrothal, when the date of the wedding is decided, the dowry and gifts settled, and all the other matters, such as where they shall live and work, and so on. If we had passed that stage, I would have had the right to search for her, but because we had not, it was the duty of her younger brother -- who would in any case have been responsible for finding the elder brother and his wife and the other two sons.
'At first I wanted to go, but that would have been wrong, a slight on the surviving brother and the mother, and my father restrained me. But the brother was broken by it all, and it was years before his spirit revived. I shut it away, and bound myself to my work. My father said he had long suspected that some special fate awaited me, but I took no comfort from that then. Only now do I know that he was right. Only now can I speak to you of these things as I have done to no other -- and, Legolas, suddenly I think he will know that you are that fate, and welcome you! Well, we shall see!
'But I have not finished my story. Zâr's mother brought up the child who survived, the third son of the elder brother, and it began to seem that their misfortunes were ended at last, for he has done well and prospered, though they lost some of their treasure in the mountains. My father once said that there must have been something in it that was better lost, and he may have been right, for the younger brother did recover somewhat after a time, and married, and had first a son and then the daughter I told you of; but he died young, and his widow removed from Ered Luin and came with her children to Erebor, and I hope live there now, for the envoys could report no ill that had befallen them in the siege.'
'I hope they are well;' said Legolas earnestly, suddenly eager to meet these Dwarves whose lives had been so twined with Gimli's; -- 'I should like to see them.'
'If I have my way, you shall;' said Gimli, taking hold of the Elf's hands. -- 'And tomorrow, let us avoid the state occasions, if we can, so that I may have time to finish the rings before we have to leave the city. Ach! I have tired myself with talking, but I feel as if I have cast off a heavy weight.'
'A heavy weight indeed;' said Legolas; -- 'I am glad you have let me share it.'
He settled close to Gimli, resting his head on the unbraided beard spread over the Dwarf's chest. Gimli's arm tightened round him, and Legolas knew how much the burden was lightened when he heard a sleepy muttering:
'Do Dwarf women have beards? Only where women are supposed to have beards! Elves!'