Axe & Bow Archive Entry


Hard To Forgive, Hard To Forget

by Laiquendi eire

Disclaimer: Any recognisable characters, places etc. belong to Prof. JRR Tolkien et al., all knowing, all powerful. I am merely borrowing them for a wee while & will return them reasonably unscathed. Anyone else unfortunately belongs to me though I have tried to disown them ! No money is being made from this - as if !

Chapter One: Farewells
Chapter Two: Doubts and Admissions
Chapter Three: Reunions and Introductions
Chapter Four: A Grave Error
Chapter Five: Grieving
Chapter Six: Standing Watch
Chapter Seven: The Challenge
Chapter Eight: Battles and Breakthroughs
Chapter Nine: Ponderings
Chapter Ten: Confessions and Doubts
Chapter Eleven: Eryn Lasgalen
Chapter Twelve: Reunion
Chapter Thirteen: The Painting
Chapter Fourteen: Almond Cakes
Chapter Fifteen: Preparations
Chapter Sixteen: An Understanding
Chapter Seventeen: An Understanding, Part 2
Chapter Eighteen: Beware the Nursemaid
Chapter Nineteen: An Unexpected Request

Chapter One: Farewells

The two unlikely companions made their way steadily north-east through the forests of East Lórien. They travelled unhindered for the woods were peaceful once again now that the dark tower of Dol Guldur lay in ruins. Much damage had been done to the trees and the valiant elves of the Golden Wood had suffered many losses when the servants of Sauron attacked their homeland again and again.

But they did not allow evil to prevail and once the Dark Lord was destroyed they sailed across the Anduin where Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel saw to the tower's destruction. The forests which once echoed the harsh sounds of battle were healing, returning to their former glory and all that could be heard now was musical birdsong, the chattering of squirrels and the steady gentle pounding of hooves.

This lightened the heart of one of the travellers for he was a woodland elf and held a close connection with nature. The elf was Legolas, son of Thranduil, King of Eryn Lasgalen situated in the northern parts of former Mirkwood and he was returning home. It had been many years since he had seen his Father and though time passes differently for an elf, he was still anxious to see how the King and his people fared after their recent battle with darkness under the trees. He had heard that much of the northern forest had been tainted and damaged by fire and he prayed to the Valar to speed their recovery for it was amongst the familiar trees of home that he always felt most at peace and he was looking forward to renewing that feeling.

The War of the Ring had ended, his friend Aragorn had taken his rightful place as King of Gondor and the remainder of the Fellowship had returned home all except his companion that is. For the elf travelled with a dwarf, Gimli son of Glóin. They joined the Fellowship together in Rivendell, much to one another's annoyance and despite themselves their relationship grew from barely concealed contempt to begrudging acceptance to mutual respect and inseparable friendship.

They had spent time together exploring the wonders of Fangorn Forest and though Gimli did so some what reluctantly he knew that in return the elven Prince had promised to visit the glittering caves known as Aglarond with him and Legolas had remained true to his word. Though each companion had tried their best to extol the virtues of their chosen location it was painfully clear that the other could not fully appreciate the true beauty they were being shown.

Legolas had pointed out countless magnificent trees, literally singing their praises all the while recounting fascinating stories he had heard as a young elfling, tales about the mysterious Fangorn and ancient Ents. But to Gimli a tree was a tree, good for shelter and fire wood . Why would anyone want to climb them ?! Surely that is a job best left to the squirrels ! And it was beyond him why any one of sound mind would want to talk to them, what could a tree possibly have to talk about ?! He had said as much to Legolas and they elf replied cryptically, "Many things my friend," as he disappeared again silently making his way amongst the branches.

So the dwarf endured his time in the perilous forest, wary of every sound comforted only by the heavy weight of his axe against his back, until the elf had satisfied his curiosity.

Then they crossed the open plains of Rohan, home of the horse lords and travelled to Helm's Deep to view the Glittering Caves. Here the dwarf was in his element and he could not contain the passion he felt as he walked through the immense caverns, indicating strange and wondrous formations in the rock that had taken an eternity to create.

He pointed out the numerous crystals, gems and ores to be found in the bowels of the mountain, marvelling at how they shone and sparkled in the torch light and he often spent hours staring into the still pools of water hidden deep within the caves, amazed at the reflections they mirrored perfectly.

Unfortunately much of this beauty was lost on the elf, though he could appreciate it on some level it was still just a hole in the ground. It was not natural for an elf, especially a wood elf to spend so much time underground in fact he rarely spent more time than was necessary in his own Father's ornate halls deep inside the mountain .

Elves needed to see the sun and the stars, to hear the song of the trees and keep a close affinity with nature, one could not do this in a dark cave ! And though it reminded him at times of Moria and made him feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable he endured it for the sake of friendship until the dwarf had sated his need to delve in the deep places of the Earth.

Both then returned to Gondor for a time and helped their friend Aragorn, the newly crowned King Elessar to rebuild the city of Minas Tirith. The dwarf shared his extensive knowledge of masonry and the elf tended to the much dilapidated gardens. Now however they were finally returning home and they rode together as always on Arod. They left Gondor with the King and Queen's blessings and thanks.

Each had promised to return in the near future with aid from both their peoples. Gimli would settle in Aglarond with some of the dwarves from Erebor once Minas Tirith had been restored to its former glory. With his Father's permission, Legolas would bring some of the Silvan elves from Eryn Lasgalen and set up a small colony in the forests of Southern Ithilien. The area was once very beautiful and had lots of potential, the trees would do well under the caring hands of the elves.

"Farewell my honoured friends, be safe and try not to get into too much trouble on your journey home," Aragorn cautioned, though it was said with much humour and affection.

"Fear not for me and this pesky elf Aragorn for I will keep us both safe," Gimli stated as he patted his trusty axe, "I have grown accustomed to saving his scrawny hide in fact it keeps me in full employment !"

"That is an unlikely fantasy Master Dwarf," Legolas retorted peering down at his friend, his sapphire blue eyes twinkling with mischief, "but one which I shall permit you to continue for I doubt you will find employment elsewhere, in fact your list of options would be as short and stunted as yourself !"

The dwarf's temper had a short fuse and his face grew redder as he became more outraged .

"Why you prissy, pointed-eared, long-legged son of an orc, why I aught to..."

"Gentlemen, please."
Arwen's soft voice gently interrupted before things got out of hand.

Close friends knew from experience how to handle the two when they engaged in their frequent verbal sparring matches. The weapons of choice consisted of barely veiled insults, challenges at their opponents parentage, abilities in battle, general appearance and of course threats of physical violence, especially from Gimli, though the elf had on one occasion threatened to hog tie the dwarf, shave off his beard and hang him from the branches of the tallest tree in Gondor. That particular threat had kept the dwarf on guard for weeks.

"If you continue with this 'discussion' I fear one of you may end up in the House of Healing ...again," she warned lightly as though she were chastising naughty children, "and I doubt either one of you wants to delay your journey home unnecessarily."

"As ever my Lady you speak with wisdom," said Gimli bowing graciously, "and I for my part shall resist the urge to pound this ungrateful elf into the ground and leave the healers of Minas Tirith to tend to more worthy patients."

But Legolas as usual was quick to reply with a slight impish smile.

"As ever Master Dwarf you set your sights too 'high' for you lack the stature to pound this or any elf into the ground and though I could easily return the favour, there would be no challenge in it for you are already so close to the earth that there would be little pounding required."

The dwarf growled low and swung out with his axe in the direction of the smirking elf but Legolas easily avoided the weapon as he leapt aside in a blurring fluid motion.

"Legolas !" "Gimli !"

The King and Queen groaned together in growing exasperation.

"Will you two PLEASE try to act responsibly, people are watching..." Aragorn pleaded through a tightly clenched jaw as he quickly glanced at the citizens of Gondor whom had gathered to wish the heroes farewell, "and kindly refrain from killing each other while you are in the realm of Gondor for I would not relish writing to your respective fathers explaining the details of your untimely demise."

"Fear not Master Elf," the dwarf consoled solemnly, "for I should carve a tomb stone worthy of your memory."

"I have naught to fear Master Dwarf and rest assured I would compose a lament worthy of your remembrance," the Prince countered with exaggerated flourish.

A small sigh escaped Arwen's lips and Aragorn merely looked to the sky, silently questioning Ilúvatar's wisdom in putting these two together.

A temporary truce was eventually achieved long enough for the pair to mount Arod, then the Royal party waved their friends goodbye at the main gates of the city. As the duo faded from sight the King turned to his beautiful wife and smiled but his eyes held slight apprehension.

"Do not worry my love, you shall soon see them again," she soothed, "they will arrive home safely, they are more than a match for any problems they may encounter on the way."

"Aye," he agreed, "more than a match, assuming they don't kill one another first !"

Chapter Two: Doubts and Admissions

The friends journeyed in the shadow of the White Mountains and made their way to Edoras in Rohan where they were the guests of Éomer's for a time. From there they travelled leisurely over the plains of West Emnet and past Fangorn. They took safe passage across the Anduin near Lórien and were now heading steadily north through the former forests of Mirkwood.

It was a beautiful Summers day, the sun shone warmly through the canopy of trees throwing speckles of light on the thick layer of fallen leaves which carpeted the forest floor. The sky was a magnificent blue and held naught but the barest few whispy white clouds. Millions of leaves in countless shades of green rustled softly in the gentle breeze that made itself known from time to time. The air was fresh and smelled of lavender and rich decaying mulch. All in all it was a glorious day for travelling and a delightful contrast to some of the areas they had previously seen.

Earlier they had ridden through an area of forest now belonging to the Beornings and the Woodmen. Here the forest still showed lingering evidence of its dark past. The trees were ancient and knarled. Their twisted frames bending over as thick vines seemed to strangle the last remaining traces of life from them. High up in their branches hung the tattered remains of countless spider webs, though the foul creatures themselves were nowhere in sight. Many had been slain by Mirkwood's finest warriors during the battle and fire had destroyed dozens of nests, this two pronged onslaught thankfully had a devastating effect on the spider population.

The under growth beneath the smothering canopy was harsh, thorny and full of weeds, very little light made it to the forest floor and the air seemed stale. It reminded Gimli of Fangorn Forest. But they were most fortunate and they passed through without incident.

Soon the friends had left the darker parts of the old forest behind them and were getting closer to the elven King's Halls. They had also passed through pockets of forest damaged by battle and ravaged by fire. Huge ancient oaks, pines and sycamores reduced to ash and blackened stumps. Here the faint smell of smoke had lingered in the air. The forest had paid dearly and it had saddened the elf's heart greatly to see such wanton destruction, such lack of respect for the trees but already visible through the charred debris new saplings could be seen clamouring for the light. The death of the old trees was bringing new life to the forest, their scattered ashes feeding the earth below.

Legolas could only hope that his people had fared better than the trees. Realistically he knew there would be losses, the loss of life in battle was a tragic waste but inevitable and he now feared learning what those losses were. It was possible some of his close friends had fallen and it grieved him greatly that he may never see them again.

As they made their way steadily north they had passed under several occupied talans hidden high up in the trees. Gimli had been unaware of their presence and though the Prince considered the dwarf a good friend it was not his place to point out these secret out-posts as they were part of his father's defensive net-work. The many patrols that ceaselessly protected the borders of his homeland used these talans to store supplies and rest. Legolas knew they were being watched but the silent sentinels remained hidden, had they perceived a threat, things would have gone differently.

They allowed their Prince safe passage through the forest and the elf smiled to himself wondering what they had made of his companion, no doubt the dwarf's presence had raised the eyebrows of a warrior or two ! Perhaps he would reveal some of their secret guardians when they got closer to home.

Home. Thoughts of home and the dwarf brought another matter to mind, what would his father's reaction be to his new friend ? But the elf's ponderings were suddenly interrupted.

"If we do not stop soon elf I will lose the power to walk !" the dwarf complained gruffly.

They had been riding for hours and while it had no effect on his eleven companion, Gimli was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and it was wearing on his patience.

"As you wish Master Dwarf," he replied complying with the dwarfs demands, "there is an ideal resting area ahead and the wild life is plentiful here, mayhap we shall have rabbit to feast upon, what say you ?"

"Aye, that sounds good, nothing like a bit of freshly roasted meat to soothe the weary traveller. I have had my fill of salted pork of late, a rabbit will be a welcome change," he answered, the thoughts of a freshly cooked meal already lifting his spirits.

"Then it is settled, we shall make preparations for a fire then I shall hunt us some rabbit."

It would be the first fire they had lit since entering the forest for the nights were not that cold and neither were susceptible if it were and they had brought food provisions with them, however the real reason was that they had simply not wanted to draw attention to themselves. While the risk of being attacked by orcs, spiders and wargs had diminished the treat had not totally disappeared and one does not openly ask for trouble if one can help it.

Soon they entered a beautiful glade surrounded by tall silver birch trees, their white bark dazzling in the late afternoon sun, they resembled the fabled nimbrethil of lost Beleriand. To one side of the glade were the ruined remains of an ancient stone watchtower. Large pieces of carved stone lay scattered on the ground and would make ideal seats while the companions ate. The grass was lush and green and many ferns grew in the shade of the beeches lime green canopy. Wild flowers carpeted the forest floor in stark whites, soft pinks and the occasional shocking red as clusters of poppies poked through the grass. The riders dismounted and removed the necessary supplies then Legolas allowed Arod to roam and graze nearby. The elf picked out an appropriate place to set the fire amongst the scattered stones.

"I will prepare the ground for the fire Gimli and hunt us something to eat, would you gather some wood and dry kindling my friend ?" the elf asked politely.

"Aye," came the brief reply, as the dwarf set off into the wood.

"Oh and Gimli..."

The dwarf paused, glanced to the heavens and released an exaggerated sigh then turned to face the elf giving him a withering look.

"I am not so old as you and my mind is not so feeble that I have forgotten my promise elf, I will not use my axe on living wood !"

The elf smiled apologetically, "Thank you Gimli and don't wander too far my friend," he cautioned.

As the dwarf headed back into the trees his deep grumblings about the craziness of pointy-eared elves and their blasted trees brought light laughter from the elf Prince.

Legolas removed one of his knives from its leather scabbard and began to cut into the earth. He worked until he had almost freed a large sod of earth three-quarters way round, then he flipped it back to rest on the grass. He carefully cleaned his knife and replaced it, a good warrior always took care of his weapons, one of the many lessons learned during his novice training. He then gathered some small pieces of masonry that had broken off the large stones and made a small make-shift wall in the newly exposed earth. All it needed now was the wood so he removed his bow from his back and set off noiselessly into the woods in the opposite direction of his friend. No doubt the dwarf's heavy footfalls were sending potential prey running for cover, it would be pointless to follow him.

He had not travelled far from their rest site when movement in the undergrowth ahead caught his attention and so with the agility he was graced with he leapt effortlessly up into the branches of a near by tree and waited. His keen ears heard the rustling of grass and the pawing of the earth. As he quietly removed an arrow from his quiver two large brown-grey ears made themselves visible. A young hare. Bigger than a rabbit and there would be more than enough meat. It paused and sniffed the air for danger, sensing nothing it went back to its foraging. Legolas set the animal in his sights, gave silent thanks to the Valar for this blessing and released the shaft. It was a clean kill.

The elf jumped nimbly from his hidden perch and collected their meal . He removed the arrow and looked it over with a critical eye, it was still in good condition, after wiping it in the long grass he returned it to his quiver to be used at another time. It was then that he noticed what had grabbed the hare's attention. Wild berries were growing in abundance amongst the undergrowth and so he collected two large hand fulls and carefully tipped them into the quiver.

When he returned to the glade Gimli had already begun to build the fire and was fashioning a wooden spit to cook dinner on.

"Look Master Dwarf to-day we feast on hare !" he exclaimed, holding up the animal for the dwarf to see.

"Nicely done elf ! And not too old either by the looks of it, the meat will be nice and tender, you best skin and clean it and I will get the fire lighting, should be nice and hot by the time you are finished !" the dwarf was getting more and more excited at the prospect of a hot meal and he eagerly removed his flint and set about lighting the fire.

The kindling was good and dry and the sparks soon became dancing amber flames encouraged to life by the dwarf's steady puffs of air. The flames had well and truly established themselves by the time the hare was ready and it wasn't long about cooking on the make-shift spit. They ate their meal in a comfortable silence, then the dwarf's curiosity got the better of him.

"What is this place Master Elf ?" he asked.

"It is called Barad Gleimor (Tower of Echoes), though I do not know if that has always been its name. Long ago it was used as a look out. It was quite tall in its day and gave a clear view above the trees in all directions. I heard it said that on a clear day and elf could see across The Great Sea Belegaer to The Undying Lands though it is most likely a myth. It fell to ruin long before I was born and I have only ever seen it as you see it now, though many of the stones were removed some time ago and taken to my father's halls for other uses."

They lapsed into silence once more and rested contently when both had eaten their fill. As the moments passed the dwarf noticed a look of apprehension on the elf's normally guarded face. Unconsciously he had begun to chew his lower lip, a sure sign of some hidden turmoil for the elf would never knowingly allow his actions to betray him. This continued for a time until finally the dwarf could take no more.

"Enough ! Out with it elf! What is wrong ?" he demanded loudly.

The sudden outburst caught the elf some what by surprise and he looked questioningly at Gimli.

"Excuse me?" he asked, both delicate eyebrows raised in slight confusion.

"I said what is wrong with you elf ? you have done naught but chew your face and stare blankly at the ground this past while. Clearly something is eating that crazed mind of yours, now out with it !" he shouted slapping the wooden handle of his axe that lay across his lap.

"Nay Gimli I am well," he assured unconvincingly.

"Of course you are stubborn elf and one day I shall wed a fair orc maiden and we shall live in the tress !" he growled glaring at the elf who suddenly erupted into a fit of uncontrolled giggles. He rested his hand on the dwarf's shoulder and smiled.

"Ah Gimli you always know how to lift my spirits," but the levity was fleeting and the elf grew serious again taking in a deep breath and releasing a soft sigh he continued, "but you are right my friend my thoughts have been troubled of late, in truth I can not help but wonder how my father will react upon my return."

"Surely he will be glad to see the safe return of his son," the dwarf stated quite matter of factly.

Legolas got up from his stone seat and walked to a nearby birch placing a hand on its mottled bark allowing his connection with the trees to ease his tension.

"I do not doubt this Gimli even though I joined the Fellowship without my father's permission and blessing for there simply was no time but I believe he will understand my decision to go was because of my love of Mirkwood and our people. I would do anything to protect my home even if it meant abandoning my duties there," the elf declared in earnest.

"Thranduil is a fool and a blind fool at that if he does not see the reasons behind your decision to aid Frodo," the dwarf grunted harshly in reply.

"My father is no fool Gimli !" the elf bit back some what sharply, a flash of anger momentarily darkening his bright eyes. Then he sheepishly apologised and returned his gaze to the forest floor.

"I am sorry my friend but you must understand the presence of evil and darkness has been abound in my homeland growing in strength with each passing year since before I was born. Now with the destruction of Sauron and the ring the light will return to Greenwood the Great, in time the forests will heal and it will be a place of beauty once more. But for a long time my father has been hard pressed to keep the evil forces at bay with naught but the skill of our warriors to rely on. Bow and blade protects our realm my friend, we did not have the luxury of magical rings to call upon. As ruler and protector of our people my father can ill afford mistakes of any kind or evasion of duties from anyone, myself included and I respect and understand this. Mistakes and negligence in Mirkwood are unforgiving foes and leave grave consequences in their wake. My father may be many things Gimli but he is no fool."

The dwarf raised his hands and softened his gruff voice in an effort to placate the elven Prince.

"Peace my friend, I meant no offence or disrespect to your father," he offered.

The elf stepped forward from the tree quietly advancing on the dwarf, closing the gap between them before Gimli had time to react or retreat. Legolas stared into the dwarf's dark brown eyes for what felt like an eternity, a sad expression gracing his fine features.

"Oh but you is there my friend, subtle and wily but there none the less, it is in your tone and oft in your words and I can see it your eyes...the betray you Gimli son of Glóin," he returned to his place beside the dwarf and continued, his voice low as though he were weary, "but in truth I can not blame you elvellon, my father's relationship with the children of Aulë has been strained at the best of times and it is this aspect of my return that concerns me."

"You fear your father's reaction to my presence and our friendship," the dwarf stated, understanding now the real reason behind the elf's anxiety.

"Yes Gimli, I fear he may not understand or worse simply refuse to understand how a dwarf and an elf, how you and I could become friends. He has his reasons for this and they may prevent him from keeping and open mind."

"Oh really and what reasons are they ?" the dwarf enquired in a slightly irked tone.

"Reasons that are his own Gimli and his alone to tell my friend." The elf removed his quiver and poured out the fruits he had collected earlier.

"Would you like some berries ?"he asked , skilfully changing the subject as he offered a handful of the juicy red fruits to his friend.

Gimli took a few and popped them all into his mouth, thinking on what had been said as he chewed. He had wondered himself what the Elf King's reaction would be to his appearance in his halls. One thing was for certain he would not be allowing history to repeat itself. This was one dwarf who would not be enjoying the hospitality of Thranduil's dungeons. His father had already endured that particular pleasure and if that tree-hugging, wine-guzzling, jewel-thieving King sought to detain him he would not be taken without a fight. He would swing his axe and gladly knock that pompous, pampered elf down a peg or two, then he would...Gimli stopped his own thoughts in their tracks, Legolas had been right, he did not respect the elf's father. Well if Thranduil was allowed his reasons for animosity well by Durin's axe this dwarf would have his !

Then he made a silent promise to himself that however bad the King's reactions may be he would not allow them to spoil his friendship with his son. The young elf had proved himself to be a skilled fighter time and again despite the lack of a good axe, he was brave, loyal and trustworthy and even if he didn't fully understand all the crazy elf's ways; talking to trees, singing to the stars, sleeping with open eyes and to avoid partaking in a decent bit of pipe-weed is just not normal, he knew he could tolerate these peculiarities and annoying elf habits for the sake of their friendship.

As the dwarf mused one word crept back into his thoughts demanding attention; trustworthy. In his long life Gimli had never believed he would come across an elf worthy of his trust and yet here sitting quietly beside him was such a fabled creature and he marvelled again at the uniqueness of their friendship. But the word would not go away and it pounded against the walls of his mind like a hammer on an anvil.

"Legolas," the dwarf began. The serious tone combined with the use of his first name snapped the elf's attention.

"Yes Gimli, is something wrong ?" he enquired, his soft voice tinged with concern.

"Nay I merely want to say...that is I must tell you that...what I mean to tell you is...Oh for the love of Mahal !" he sighed frustrated at his inability to express his thoughts and he began fidgeting with the leather wrappings of his axe handle.

His friend was clearly having trouble and the elf grew more concerned causing furrows to appear across his pale brow. The dwarf took in a deep breath, released it slowly and began again.


"Yes Gimli."

"I want you to know that when I spoke at Lord Elrond's council I spoke in anger, my words were said in haste and not meant as a personal slight against you, I hope that..."

"Peace Master Dwarf," the elf understood at once what his friend was referring to and interrupted the unnecessary apology, "what you said in Rivendell you meant at the time and who could blame you for you had no reason to trust an elf especially a Wood elf. Trust must be earned, I know this and I hope that I along with the many elves you met during our quest have helped to sway your thinking on this matter."

"Aye lad more than you know," the dwarf nodded with heartfelt earnest.

"That is good to hear, shall we make a move elvellon ?" the elf enquired.

"Aye," he agreed regretfully, "though my body has no desire to be back on that beast !"

Legolas began to pack up their few supplies. Their meal was over and they had let the fire burn itself out and there were plenty of hours of daylight left before they would have to rest for the night. All going well he would be home some time after mid-day tomorrow. He called for Arod to return, who soon approached looking sated and rested, he had enjoyed the lush green grass nearby. He patted the horse down and told him that their journey was nearly over and that soon he would be able to run with the many elven horses stabled outside his home.

As he secured the last few items to the grey horse he said a silent prayer to Ilúvatar pleading for his father's understanding. After all he had eventually if not reluctantly accepted his friendship with Aragorn even though he had initially held the failings of Isildur against the man like they were his own and was oft prone to dragging up these failings during their many "discussions". Maybe he would learn not to blame Gimli for the actions of other dwarves, just as he himself had learned over time.

Meanwhile Gimli had removed the small stones from the fire and scattered them back amidst the long grass. Then he placed the few remains of the hare into the ground and covered the bones and ashes with the sod. Once he had stomped on it a few times it looked as if the fire had never been there which was the elf's original intent. As they mounted their horse and left the glade behind them only keen elvish eyes would have detected their presence.

Chapter Three: Reunions and Introductions

They continued their steady pace north, the mountains which held the Elven King's halls could be clearly seen in the distance. Legolas expertly guided Arod through a forest of tall beech trees. He knew these path ways like the back of his hand, even the ones that weren't obvious to the eye, he felt confident enough to navigate them in the dead of night but he had long decided to make one final camp before going home, besides the dwarf would adamantly refuse to continue riding through the night. He smiled to himself, tonight he would introduce Gimli to some of Mirkwood's finest warriors.

They made another brief stop near a small natural spring and had some cool water to drink along with the remainder of the elf's berries. Legolas made sure Arod had his fill of the refreshing water then they filled their water skins and set off once again.

"How long do you think it will be before Aragorn will get here ?" the dwarf enquired.

"I expect he will be no more than two days behind us, assuming all goes to plan, why ? Are you anxious to leave my home before you have even arrived ?" the elf asked with mock indignation.

"What ?! No, I was merely curious, no need to get your leggings in a knot ! You elves can be so touchy, tis no wonder you hide yourselves in trees from others, probably faint at the merest insult !" Gimli accused.

"So you did intend to insult my home ?" the elf questioned softly, feigning hurt .

"What ?! Now that is not what I meant and you know it, just like an elf to twist your words and turn them against you when you are simply making conversation, why I even bother when all I get ..." Gimli paused and frowned as he watched the elf's shoulders shudder almost imperceptibly, " are laughing at me aren't you ?" he demanded.

Once he was discovered the elf felt no need to stifle his merriment any longer and filled the air with his musical laughter.

"Oh Gimli my friend you make it so easy, if I am to allow elves to be branded as touchy then you must concede to dwarves being easily duped !" Legolas bargained between giggles.

"Elf I sincerely hope that father of yours is aware of your ruthless negotiating skills, it would do him well to use you when dealing with the men of Lake town !" Gimli advised practically growling at his friend's back, but he could not keep up the charade any longer than the elf and he too succumbed to laughter.

As for Aragorn the elf was reasonably accurate in predicting his imminent arrival. Both Aragorn and Arwen were to follow Legolas and Gimli within days of their departure. There were some small matters of state to settle first and instructions to be left with Faramir during the King's absence. Aragorn knew the young Steward was more than capable of governing in his stead and besides there were many, too many perhaps, counsellors and advisors waiting by to lend support should they be needed. The royal couple were travelling directly to Rivendell. It was there that Arwen would stay and visit her family for a time while her husband travelled with his friends, after which they would all return to Gondor together.

As Anor sank behind the distant horizon, Legolas watched the sky's myriad pallet of colours change and gradually darken. Soon the heavens would be littered with the stars he loved so much and the jewelled light of Eärendil would once again offer hope and courage to all in need. He remained high up in the tree gazing into the heavens until his nose caught the putrid stench of pipe weed wafting up through the tree's branches.

It was a ritual the companions had easily slipped into while travelling together, Legolas would watch the sun set, preferably from a height while Gimli made himself comfortable below and engaged in a bit of pipe smoking.

As the cloud of offensive smoke gathered about him the elf knew it was time to return to his friend below. Before he made his way silently down the tree he apologised to the ancient oak for tainting the air surrounding it, then he began leaping from branch to branch until he landed on the soft earth protecting the tree's roots. The sudden appearance of the elf always caught Gimli by surprise but by now he had mastered the art of schooling his features so that outwardly he appeared almost bored while inside his heart pounded from the sudden burst of adrenaline and his limbs longed to leap into action.

"Well Master Elf I take it all is right with the world and the sun managed to set under your expert guidance once again ?!" the dwarf asked between puffs, teasing his friend in payment for startling his wits.

Legolas cast his friend, what Gimli would rate as, a mild elven glare, the one he usually reserved to demonstrate wordlessly how unamused he was.

"Aye Master Dwarf, all seems quiet and the trees are at peace though like me they do not share your enthusiasm for pipe weed," he replied bluntly.

"Legolas surely you do not expect me to believe these little conservations you have with these blasted trees and now you expect me to extinguish my pipe because the trees do not like it !" Gimli's disbelieving eyes looked up at his friend from beneath unruly bushy eyebrows.

"Believe what you may Master Dwarf," the Prince answered quietly as he sat down beside his friend, "but answer me this, have I ever lied to you before ?"

Poor Gimli found himself at a loss for words, so he merely grumbled under his breath and continued to puff on his beloved pipe. Then he remembered the way the trees seemed to act strangely in Fangorn Forest and how the elf claimed to know what they were feeling and what they were saying to each other and strangely enough he couldn't recall Aragorn disputing any of those claims.

Reluctantly he took one final puff then removed his beloved pipe from his mouth and knocked it gently against the side of his boot, emptying the precious weed onto the forest floor. He sighed loudly as he extinguished the tiny glowing embers to make sure his friend was aware of the seriousness of his sacrifice.

"Happy now ?!" he demanded of the tree as he glared up into the oak's sprawling branches.

Legolas could only smile in appreciation at the dwarf's actions. He could not imagine any other dwarf in all of Arda doing what his friend had just done.

"Thank you my friend...," he said with earnest to his stout companion as he bowed his head in gratitude, "we both thank you," he continued as he gestured to the tree towering above them.

"Tell another soul I did this elf and I will declare you to be insane then I will use this axe of mine to cut every golden hair from your crazed head !" Gimli warned with equal earnest.

"Not a word my friend," the elf promised as his smile grew.

"I'm serious !" Gimli warned again, not liking the elf's light hearted reply.

"Peace Gimli I believe you, not a word I promise," he pledged once more but he could not totally wipe the smile from his face for he knew that there must be several other wood elves carefully concealed in the trees surrounding them, seeing as they were so close to his father's stronghold. He wondered what they would make of such a selfless act coming from a dwarf... for a tree !

Gimli continued to watch his friend suspiciously and watched as his bright eyes twinkled in the growing dark. One word, he thought, just one word elf and you shall know a dwarf's ire.

As the night progressed Ithil climbed high into the twinkling sky and cast the forest in a faint shimmering silver light. Night creatures ventured out to forage for food, large moths and insects filled the air with a cacophony of strange sounds and somewhere out in the dense forest an owl called out to no one in particular.

The friends spoke of many things while Arod rested nearby and Gimli watched as ever with fascination as his friend's aura once again began to steadily glow in the moonlight. It was just one of the many strange things about his friend that was so unique to elves and so foreign to dwarves. And though he was no expert on elves, Mahal forbid, he believed this curious phenomenon was even more pronounced amongst the wood elves for he was certain none of the elves in Imladris shared his friend's level of radiance, unless it is something which can be controlled, he mused ...well use my head as an anvil who would have thought a dwarf could waste so much energy pondering over the peculiar nature of elves. Maybe I will ask Legolas about it someday, he decided.

"Take your rest my friend," the Prince instructed, "we are safe here in these woods, there shall be no need to stand watch this night."

"Nonsense elf we shall operate the watches as normal, no offence but I do not share your feelings of security...," the dwarf countered as he moved to get at his bed roll, " shall take first watch as usual and I shall take second."

"Really Gimli there is no need."

"We are alone elf," he said as if stating the obvious to a child, "and I for one would feel better knowing that at least one of us is awake and alert at all times."

"What makes you think we are alone my friend ?" Legolas enquired as his eyes sparkled with mischief.

Suddenly Gimli began to think his friend had lost his mind, he became quite flustered and started to gesture about wildly.

"There is no one else here that I can see!"

"Ah yes, I forgot, you have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox, but not the eyes and ears of an elf my friend. We have been observed since entering my father's realm, even now we are being watched over," Legolas calmly informed the dwarf.

The look on Gimli's face could not be bought with the finest mithril and it would forever stay in the young Prince's memory. The elf smiled broadly at his stunned friend and gripped him gently on the shoulder.

"Perhaps it is time to meet some of our secret guardians."

Gimli's voice failed him, he could only look up into his friend's dancing eyes and mutter some unintelligible rumblings.

The Prince stood up effortlessly once more and placed his hands to his face and used his fair voice to imitate something that sounded a lot like bird calls. As he tilted his head to the night sky he closed his eyes and concentrated on the sounds coming from the forest. Within seconds his call was answered by a similar bird call coming from just two trees to the left. Gimli jumped up at this, his grip automatically tightening on his sturdy axe, as he realised how close the wood elves had been all along. He honestly had no idea that they had been there.

The Prince's smile brightened even more once his call was answered, he recognised instantly who had replied to his signal. He called again using bird code, inviting his friend to join them.

Without even the barest rustle of leaves an elf suddenly jumped from an oak tree nearby, landing noiselessly and safely on the ground far below.

Gimli watched intently as the elf approached, he moved with the gait of a predator stalking its prey as he appeared to glide over the forest floor. He was clad in a functional, plain garment made from a strange cloth which appeared to be several colours all at once, greens melted into browns then greys, it made for excellent camouflage. He was heavily armed, on his back he carried a quiver laden with arrows, similar to the ones Legolas had with him until they reached Lothlórien. The quiver also supported twin knife sheaths and a dark wooden bow, a leather belt surrounded his waist and from this he carried a large dagger on each hip.

Gimli thought he caught a glimpse of something else protruding from the tops of each of the soft brown leather boots he wore and in his right hand he carried a long wooden handled spear which resembled the legendary Aiglos (King Gil-galad's spear). It looked capable of cleaving an orc in two, in the right hands it could even do fatal damage to a charging warg and this elf gave the impression that he knew exactly how to use such a formidable weapon.

Gimli noted that he was taller than Legolas by possibly two or three inches, he had long fair hair tied in the warrior braids favoured by his friend and he was much older than any elf he had ever seen before, definitely older than Lord Elrond, but it was the elf's eyes which gripped the dwarf's attention, they resembled the precious emeralds he had mined from the bowels of Erebor before the War of the Ring, they were ancient and fierce and they seemed to pierce his soul, coldly and calmly assessing him in the briefest of glances.

As the elf approached the pair he stopped two paces away and rammed the base of his spear into the soft earth allowing it to stand freely on its own. Then he placed his right hand over his heart and swept it out before him as he bowed low in front of the young Prince.

"Mae govannen Ernil nîn. Nae saian luume," he greeted softly but with much feeling. (Welcome my Prince. It has been too long.)

As he raised his head the warrior and the Prince locked gazes and grasped each other firmly on opposite shoulders. It was plain to Gimli that this older elf meant a great deal to his friend for his eyes shone brightly with much affection and respect. Equally the ancient warrior's eyes flashed with much pride and relief at seeing the young Prince again.

"It gladdens my heart to see you again Sindadur, it is good to be finally home," Legolas greeted in return, "what act of good fortune has allowed us to cross paths my friend ?"

"My patrol and I are returning from our tour of the eastern borders, we have spent the last six months securing the area and eliminating any lingering threats," he explained.

Sindadur then signalled to the members of his patrol which were hidden nearby, the remainder had been tasked with patrolling the perimeter.

It was then that Legolas could clearly make out the smiles of many familiar faces from their revealed positions high above in the tree tops, each warrior bowing their head respectfully as they silently welcomed their Prince home. Gimli watched dumb struck as his friend graciously returned each greeting.

"Our relief arrived last week and we were steadily making our way home when we spotted you and your companion, we have been shadowing you ever since," the warrior paused then smiled teasingly at the younger elf, "it would not look well if our hero Prince survived the throes of Mordor only to come to harm in his own forest."

"It has been many years since I have had need of a nurse maid," the Prince laughed lightly, "though I appreciate the sentiment old man."

The happy reunion was suddenly interrupted by the gruff tones of a slightly irked dwarf.

"Didn't your mother ever teacher you manners elf ?, introduce me !" Gimli demanded of his friend.

The Prince turned at once to face the dwarf and Gimli was surprised at the look of pain that flashed across the young elf's delicate features, while his face seemed to suddenly pale in the moonlight and he could not help but catch the swift movement of the elder warrior as he reacquainted his hand with the deadly looking spear. Sindadur's green orbs burned with anger and insult as they sought to level the dwarf with a fierce glare, as he began to advance on the dwarf he was stopped in his tracks by the Prince's hand.

"Sîdh mellon-nîn. E ú-ista," he quietly informed his old friend. (Peace my friend. He does not know.)

Once Gimli managed to tear his eyes away from Sindadur he looked back to his companion some what confused but the Prince was once again his normal stoic self and all evidence of hurt was washed away as if it had never been there.

Legolas moved to stand beside his burly friend and once again gripped him on the shoulder to show the old warrior that he held no bad feelings towards the dwarf.

"Apologies my good friend, allow me to introduce you, Gimli this is Sindadur, a very close friend of mine, a Captain in my father's guard, an excellent weapons instructor and quite possibly the second best archer in Mirkwood...," the last comment caused the seasoned warrior to raise a sceptical eye brow but Legolas smiled innocently as he continued, "Sindadur before you stands Gimli, son of Glóin, a member of the nine walkers, my close friend and companion and an expert axe wielder."

The warrior bowed respectfully in honour of the great deeds achieved by the Fellowship.

"Welcome to Eryn Lasgalen Master Dwarf, the free peoples of Middle-earth owe much to the Fellowship of the Ring. It is an honour," he stated sincerely yet his burning eyes still displayed traces of anger and warned of trouble should the dwarf speak disrespectfully to his Prince once more.

Gimli kept his voice as neutral as possible as he greeted the border guard in return but any further comment was cut short by the Prince's enquiry.

"How many Sindadur ?" he asked anxiously, without further explanation, for the warrior would know well what he meant.

The older elf's expression became grave and he glanced quickly at the forest floor before staring intently at his Prince.

"In the east forty five, twice as many in the south, ten in the north with several wounded on all sides my Lord."

"One hundred and forty five...," Legolas whispered as his mind tried to comprehend such losses while his wounded heart tried to come to terms with the death of so many fellow warriors, "...and for you my friend, what was the count ?"

Sindadur knew the archer would specifically ask after the welfare of his own patrol as it was the same one the young Prince travelled with when on boarder duty. Legolas had many close friends within the tight knit group, many of whom he had known since he was an elfling and had trained with from the very beginning of his own career as a warrior. People you relied on to watch your back in battle became like family, so he was most reluctant to deliver the sad news to his former student for he knew it would effect the Prince deeply.

The Prince noted his old tutor's hesitance and he braced himself for the answer.

"Please Sindadur, tell me, I have to know," he pleaded, while at the same time he did not think his heart could bear to hear the news of the deaths of any of his close fellow warriors.

"Three," came the hushed reply, as the elder elf's eyes softened and apologised for bearing such ill news.

It felt like an arrow had pierced his chest.

Three, he thought...three of my friends...three elves that shall never again walk under the trees of home and rejoice in their song. He suddenly felt as if he were being crushed under a great weight, grief and guilt washed over him in tempestuous waves. He should have been here, he should never have left with Frodo, his people and his fellow warrior's had needed him at home.

Sindadur watched as emotions flickered across the Prince's face, he had been with the elf his entire life and could read him like an open book. It was painfully clear what was going through the young archers mind. He moved to stand close beside his Prince as he placed a comforting arm over the grief stricken elf's right shoulder.

"Legolas there was nothing that could have been done to prevent this tragedy, you must not blame yourself, you made the right decision to escort the ring-bearer, by doing so you have helped to rid these lands of a great evil, you have helped to make these woods, your home a safer place... You have prevented the loss of many lives my Prince, we are...I am... very proud of you."

These heartfelt words of comfort meant a great deal to Legolas but they did not lessen the pain in his heart nor ease the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach and the worse was yet to come. He looked at Sindadur with fearful eyes that threatened to fill with tears, silently they asked him to reveal the names of the fallen dead while they begged him to say that it was all just a terrible mistake.

"Tathordur...Gildil...and...I am truly sorry my Prince but we lost Galadon also."

Some invisible force had just viciously twisted that arrow in his chest and used it to shred his heart into a million pieces. The names of his dead friends resounded in his mind over and over again blocking out the sounds of the living forest surrounding him. His senses became strangely dulled as the grief and pain gripped him once more and threatened to cruelly strangle his life force from within.

He was vaguely aware of movement around him and it seemed as though both Gimli and Sindadur were speaking to him but he could not hear their concerned words as he started vacantly ahead, seeing nothing except the faces of his dead companions.

"Legolas, ...Legolas," the dwarf called as he tried in vain to get his friend's attention while he shook the stunned elf by the arm.

Sindadur was intrigued by Gimli's show of concern and watched him closely as he became increasingly worried for the young elf.

"All will be well Master Dwarf, our friend has just heard some grievous news, he will soon recover from the initial shock, fear not, he is a most resilient elf," Sindadur informed the troubled dwarf.

The old tutor gripped his former charge by the shoulders and shook him gently until the Prince's eyes gradually began to focus on him.

"Legolas my child listen to me," he instructed gently, "do not lose yourself in this grief, what has happened cannot be undone. Your friends died well defending a home they loved and swore to protect, their sacrifice was not in vain. Their actions saved the lives of many. They fought bravely Legolas and destroyed many of Sauron's foul creatures, you would have been very proud of their deeds."

"I am," came the hushed reply, "but I would much rather tell them in person."

Sindadur nodded his head in agreement and understanding then called out to one of the elves hidden within the branches of a nearby oak.

"Galathil bring me two skins," he ordered.

In moments another similarly clad elf appeared beside them and bowed before his Prince then he offered his Captain two full skins.

"Hannon le Galathil," the old warrior thanked the wood elf, then he offered both Legolas and Gimli a skin each.

"Drink some, it will do you good," he instructed the Prince, "I'll wager it has been some time since you have had the pleasure of tasting Brass (White Heat)."

Then he turned to Gimli.

"Try it Master Dwarf, it may surprise you, you may even like it," he challenged lightly.

The two companions opened the skins and while Legolas drank the offering straight away yet sparingly, the dwarf paused to sniff the skin's contents.

"What is it ?" he asked.

"Just an elvish cordial Master Dwarf, made from some fruits and a few other secret ingredients," Sindadur supplied with a touch of mystery.

It certainly smelled fruity the dwarf thought as he sniffed the container once more, probably just like miruvor, the cordial of Lord Elrond. Not wanting to appear weak in front of this intimidating elf, Gimli took several large swallows of the mystery liquid.

All at once his insides were burning, the sweet drink filled him like liquid fire, he did his utmost best to refrain from coughing and spitting the cordial back out but alas his reflexes got the better of him and lost the battle against the liquid lava. Several smothered coughs escaped while he quickly wiped his teary eyes with his sleeve. Gimli's reaction seemed to momentarily distract Legolas from his despair and the young elf smiled as he began to slap his struggling friend on the back which only opened the flood gates to more coughing.

"I am fine, I'm fine elf leave me be !" he spluttered, "I think some went done the wrong way that is all," he hurriedly declared, trying to salvage his wounded pride.

"It is best taken in small sips my friend," Legolas warned a little to late, "it has quite a kick does it not ?"

Gimli did not trust himself to speak too much just yet so he settled for a growl instead while sensation returned to his tongue.

"My thanks Sindadur, indeed I had forgotten the special qualities of you home brew," the Prince said with a weak smile as he returned the skin to the Captain.

He then turned to Gimli with downcast eyes, he had a difficult request to ask of his friend.

"Gimli my friend I fear I must leave you for a short time, I need to be alone to gather my thoughts for a while, I hope you understand elvellon," he pleaded, then risked a glance at his loyal companion. "Sindadur will see to any of your needs while I am gone."

The dwarf gazed up at his friend's stoic countenance, at a glance it would seem that all was well with him but Gimli knew the elf better than that. He had witnessed the elf in a similar state while the fellowship rested in Lothlórien after the fall of Gandalf. He could see the internal struggle for control, the tenseness in the archer's posture and most obviously the hurt in his expressive sapphire eyes. If the elf needed some time alone to deal with his grief in private then he was not going to deny him, even if it did mean he would be left alone with a bunch of fierce warrior elves he didn't know and didn't trust and who probably felt the exact same way about him.

"Of course I understand Legolas, you go and do what you need to do my friend, do not worry about me I shall be fine here," he assured his friend.

"Thank you Gimli," the Prince bowed his head then turned to his old tutor, "I shall not go far Sindadur, there will be no need to follow, I will return at dawn."

He glanced once more at is dwarven friend, smiled, then began walking away from their camp and gradually disappeared from sight as even his luminescence was swallowed up by the forest.

Once the Prince was out of plain sight Sindadur gave Galathil his spear then he freed his bow from his quiver and began to follow the Prince.

"What do you think you're doing Master Elf ?" Gimli questioned, unable to hide the suspicion from his gruff voice.

"I am about to follow him Master Dwarf, what does it look like ?" the warrior answered caustically.

"He did not request your company elf !" Gimli retorted angrily, pointing at the warrior.

"I have yet to obey any order from him which I feel compromises his security dwarf and I am not about to start this night, especially when grief has dulled his senses so."

The warrior's voice was cold and threatening and Gimli knew instantly that this elf was unaccustomed to having his actions questioned. Sindadur turned once more and silently headed out into the forest after Legolas.

"I shall come with you !" Gimli shouted after him and made to move.

"Do not be ridiculous," came the harsh reply.

The old warrior had not even looked back at the dwarf and continued on his way.

"Why you..." Gimli began, furiously.

"Peace Master Gimli, please stay here," pleaded Galathil, "he has the Prince's best interests at heart as I am sure you do too but if you are to follow...well... sounds travel easily in the dead of night," he reasoned with the dwarf as diplomatically as he could, "...the Prince would hear you coming and we both know he needs to deal with the deaths of his friends."

Gimli eyed the young elf who was doing his best to make him see sense. He was as physically different to Legolas as the sun is to the moon. He appeared quite shorter than most elves he had encountered and yet still towered over the dwarf, his long wavy hair was black as night and his gentle eyes resembled twinkling grey granite. He was handsome, as are all elves it would seem but his face was marred by a faint scar which travelled from his high forehead to his left cheek and left an unusual gap in his left eyebrow. As with Sindadur the elf was armed to the teeth but he carried coils of fine elven rope on each hip instead of daggers. Gimli knew the elf was right, Legolas could hear him coming a mile away in the midst of day never mind in the dead of night. He decided it would be best if he waited here after all but still he did not appreciate the superior attitude of the Captain and he wouldn't be long about telling him so on his return.

"Very well, though it does not please me I shall remain here," Gimli stated loudly as he pounded the earth with the shaft of his axe.

Galathil bowed in thanks then called out to some of the other members of the patrol.

"Alatalad, Tirdil, Luinorn."

Three fair elves made their soundless approach to Galathil. They all glanced at the dwarf and gave courteous nods of greeting, yet Gimli detected their lack of warmth and knew the greetings had been little more than formalities and so he nodded wordlessly in return.

"We are to stay here this night, the Prince shall not return until dawn. Alatalad set up camp and get a fire going, have Mithmor help you, Tirdil notify the scouts of our situation then organise the watch, Luinorn take Farothel with you and hunt some fresh game for the morning meal."

The young Lieutenant efficiently organised the members of the patrol and arranged for several more tasks to be seen to, as was the custom when their Captain was otherwise engaged. The role was still quite new to him as it had been previously been occupied by the Prince's best friend Galadon but he performed it capably despite his youth. All three warriors nodded then turned to carry out their duties. Within moments the area was awash with eerily silent activity as the various elves performed their assigned tasks. Galathil and Gimli looked on in silence while camp preparations were quickly and efficiently carried out. Finally the young warrior broke the silence...

"Would you care to take your rest now Master Dwarf ?" Galathil asked Gimli, "the area is quite secure I can assure you, it would be a shame to waste the few remaining hours of darkness."

"May hap I shall Master elf but first tell me of these friends of Legolas," the dwarf requested.

Galathil looked warily at Gimli.

"What is it you wish to hear ? Is it not enough to know that they are dead ?" he asked as a hint of iciness crept into his tone.

"I mean no disrespect Master elf , I am merely concerned for my friend. It seems as though he was very close to those that were slain," Gimli explained calmly, not wanting to upset the elf any further, after all he seemed to be the only hospitable one here.

The young Lieutenant took a moment to study the dwarf, gazing at him intently. Gimli forced himself not to look away while Galathil came to a decision. The elf looked deep into the eyes of his Prince's friend and saw nothing but genuine sincerity and deep concern. The son of Thranduil had always been a good judge of character, if this dwarf was his friend then Galathil would accept him also, he just hoped he was not over stepping any boundaries by discussing his Prince's relationship with the dead members of his patrol. Decision made he asked Gimli to follow him over to the steadily growing camp fire.

"Here Master Dwarf sit down and we shall speak," Galathil gestured to a place by the fire then he offered the dwarf some elvish way bread who took it graciously.

Galathil sat down by the dwarf and stared a while at the burning flames as if considering how much he should reveal. Gimli said naught, he merely waited until the elf was ready to speak, until that time he watched the reflections of the amber flames dance across the elf's serious countenance. Finally...

"As you have already guessed my Prince knew the warriors very well, when on boarder duty he travels with this very patrol. We are all extremely close, like brothers if you will. Battle and violent skirmishes create close bonds. But the Prince knew these elves long before his warrior days...especially Galadon. They grew up together, he was the son of one of the King's advisors. They shared many adventures and got into trouble together numerous times when they were elflings or so I am told," he added with a slight smile.

Gimli also smiled, he suspected someone as wilful and daring as Legolas was destined to be trouble as a youth.

"It is possible you met Galadon Master Dwarf for he travelled to Imladris with the Prince and was present at Lord Elrond's council," the elf informed Gimli.

Gimli was not about to tell the Lieutenant that he had paid little heed to the other elves present at the council once he discovered the son of his father's jail keeper was there.

"Aye it is possible," he agreed timidly.

"They were virtually inseparable and travelled everywhere together. I remember Galadon when he returned home, he was both furious and anxious over the Prince's decision to journey with the ring bearer. It was the first time they were to be separated since they met in childhood. I know Galadon missed him terribly."

Gimli suspected the same was true of his companion. Although Legolas had never mentioned his warrior friends in keeping with his quiet and private nature, Gimli knew his friend was capable of deep emotion and potent feelings.

"How did he die ?" the dwarf asked tentatively.

Pain flashed across the young Lieutenant's face as he recalled the all too clear memory of what happened to his fellow warrior.

"It was during the long battle under the trees. Our borders were attacked regularly by Sauron's servants and allies. The forests were being burned, we were stationed in the east repelling the advance of the hoards of foul creatures. During one skirmish an archer named Gildil was hit by an orc arrow and fell from his tree. Galadon was nearest to him and saw it happen, without a care for his own safety he jumped from his own concealed position to offer aid. As he was dragging Gildil to safety he too was hit but the wound he received was more grievous and he died within moments. Tragically Gildil did not recover from his wounds,... the dark poison was too great," he hissed angrily, "Tathordur was cut down by an orc scimitar almost two weeks later. Thankfully we had no further losses, though many others died elsewhere."

"Aye Master Elf the losses were great amongst all the peoples of Middle-earth. I saw many men of Gondor and Rohan cut down in battle and worse still women and children. Even my own kin in Khazad-dûm did not escape evil's wrath. It has been a time of great sacrifice and suffering and it shall not be soon forgotten," Gimli declared sadly.

Galathil nodded wordlessly in agreement.

As the pair sat quietly by the crackling fire two elves appeared with a freshly killed wild boar. One began to construct a spit while the other skilfully skinned and cleaned the carcass.

"A successful hunt Luinorn, my thanks to you and Farothel, we shall all dine well at day break, it has been some time since we have all eaten so well," Galathil praised the members of his patrol.

With in moments the boar was roasting on the spit, its heavenly scent made Gimli's mouth water, it would be difficult to sleep while such culinary delights were being prepared, not that he didn't appreciate Legolas' hare but that was real meat on the bone.

Chapter Four: A Grave Error

Gimli soon felt a heaviness in his eye lids, sleep was soon going to get the better of him but before he gave into it there was one other little matter niggling at the back of his mind and he suspected this Galathil may be able to shed some light on the problem.

"Where is Legolas' mother ?" he asked quietly.

The question came from out of the blue and took the Lieutenant completely by surprise, once recovered from the shock, anger took over with the swiftness of a hawk on the wind.

"What business is it of yours dwarf ?" the elf demanded sharply as his frame of mind changed yet again.

Gimli suspected his enquiry would be a difficult one for the elf to hear yet he was taken aback by the elf's vehemence. Absently he thought how easy it was for these creatures to change their disposition tenfold in the blink of an eye. But he pressed on despite Galathil's response and he did his best to explain his reasons for asking.

"I do not ask out of mere flippant curiosity Master Elf... though it is hard for me to admit it, I fear I may have caused my friend harm earlier," he sighed gravely, "I made an off hand comment about his mother and both he and that brusque Captain of yours reacted rather badly to it, though in different ways I might add."

"What did you say ?" the young warrior asked worriedly as he glared at the dwarf with barely concealed anger in his dark eyes.

Gimli's attention was suddenly rooted to the scattered leaves covering the forest floor between his large boots. Eventually he recounted his words to the elf.

"I asked him if his mother had not taught him any manners," he muttered, yet the admission was clearly heard by the warrior beside him.

"Tis a wonder Sindadur did not cleave you in two Master Dwarf," he informed the dwarf, "you are most fortunate to be alive this night."

"I believe he was about to," Gimli admitted softly, "but Legolas held him back and spoke to him in the grey tongue, I know not what he said. Please, tell me of his mother."

"Queen Aranalph is dead Master Dwarf," Galathil stated bluntly.

Once more the dwarf was forced to hang his head in shame, how could he have been so foolish, true, he had never heard of a Queen of Mirkwood before, not in passing conversation at least. In his father's halls there was only one royal member of Mirkwood that warranted discussion and none of it was favourable. At the time he was simply not interested in learning any more about elves than was necessary. The less dealings he had with the creatures the better but now his attitude had changed greatly and he had hurt his closest friend with his ignorance.

"I have made a grave error," he sighed heavily once more, shaking his head, "tell me Master Elf what foul deed or creature robbed my friend of his mother ?"

Suddenly Gimli was aware that every elf in the vicinity was staring at him none too kindly. He felt extremely uncomfortable as he nervously gripped the handle of his axe.

"I feel it is best you cease with your questions Master Dwarf before they get you into serious trouble," Galathil warned in a disturbingly calm tone as his irate eyes surveyed the camp, "take your rest now while you can," he insisted and got up to leave.

"Please," Gimli called out, "tell me or I shall ask him myself when he returns," he bluffed. Seriously he did not think he could mention the incident to Legolas for quite some time, he would have to pick a suitable moment in private to apologise to his friend for his carelessness.

Galathil was torn between protecting his Prince from further hurt by the dwarf's pesky questions and his reluctance to reveal such private information. Finally his concern for Legolas won over. He returned to the dwarf's side and glared down at him.

"Queen Aranalph died in child birth Master Dwarf," he seethed, "she died bringing the Prince into this world and never had the pleasure of knowing her son, so you see she could not have taught him manners, though you dare to question the etiquette of the royal house of Mirkwood."

The Lieutenant paused a moment to compose himself.

"Speak of this to no one dwarf !" he warned then turned abruptly and left Gimli alone in his growing misery.

Chapter Five: Grieving

The Prince of Eryn Lasgalen walked blindly through the moon lit forests of his homeland. He stared vacantly ahead, lost in thought while his sure footed feet carried him over the leaf littered earth.

He was not sure how long he had continued in this manner, time had escaped him, but for some reason he found himself coming to a halt before a large oak tree whose branches were heavily laden with perfectly formed leaves, the symbol of his father's house. He reached up and touched one of the leaves, rubbing the green pliable shape between his fingers. So full of life, he thought, still young, still growing, still part of nature's great song but all too soon it will become brittle, its colour will change to burnt amber and with the coming of winter it will fall, leaving the tree which gave it life, to return to the ground and rot.

Just like my friends, he thought miserably as he leaned heavily against the rough bark of the ancient tree.

Part of him just wanted to sink to the ground and sit here at the base of the great oak while he grieved but his instincts would not allow it. He knew he would be vulnerable and open, better to remain hidden, better to be up high, his instincts whispered.

So with more effort than usual, he vaulted up into the branches above where he would be safe and concealed, hidden from prying eyes, free to grieve in solitude.

He sat there in silence, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees, unaware of the slight rocking motion that had taken over his lithe frame. The faces of his friends flittered across his mind's eye while he remembered when he had seen them last.

With Thathordur and Gildil, it was at home in Eryn Lasgalen. He remembered wishing them and several other members of the patrol farewell in the court yard outside the stables just before he had set off with Galadon and Aradae to Imladris for Lord Elrond's council.

They had teased him mercilessly over the mission, loudly proclaiming that he was only going to avoid their next patrol duty, which was due to last at least eight months. They laughed saying that he was too soft, too accustomed to clean sheets and a warm cosy bed.

He smiled weakly at the fond memory, for it was all that he had and the pain pierced him once more knowing that there would never be any new memories to smile at.

But the worst parting memory was that of his best friend, Galadon.

After the council was over Galadon had been furious with Legolas for volunteering to go with the ring bearer. He did not want the Prince to go unless he could go also and watch out for him. But that decision was not his to make. Lord Elrond had chosen the nine walkers, no one else was permitted to go.

Galadon had used every trick in the book to get him to return home. He mentioned the King, he spoke about his responsibilities in Mirkwood, he even tried to use their friendship but Legolas was adamant in his choice and would not be deterred.

"But why does it have to be you ?" Galadon demanded harshly as he tried to hide the fear in his voice. He did not want Legolas to go on this hazardous mission alone and he feared for his friend's safety.

"I want to do this Galadon, please is not for personal glory that I go my friend, you know this but some one has to represent the race of elves and is it not a good thing that some one from our home shall do so ?" Legolas tried to reason with his agitated friend.

"Yes, wonderful," he answered sarcastically, "but why does it have to be you ? And why can I not go with you ?"

The Prince sighed and rubbed his forehead in growing frustration, he wondered how he was ever going to get his friend to see sense.

"Galadon I am to go with the ring bearer, my decision is made, I am only glad that Lord Elrond has allowed me to do this. If my bow can help the Fellowship in any way then they may have it and I shall do my best to protect them, with my life if I must..."

But his friend interrupted the sincere declaration. "That is exactly the attitude I am afraid of Legolas, I would not have you risk your life for these people.."

"I risk my life for the safety of Arda, my friend," the Prince clarified with a slight edge in his voice, "just as we risk it for Mirkwood every time we go out on a patrol."

He sighed heavily once more, this is not how he would wish to part company with his friend, especially if things were to go badly. The Prince was under no illusions, this mission would be perilous.

He gripped his fellow warrior by the shoulders and looked him in the eye.

"This Fellowship goes to destroy the one ring Galadon, I know where it will take us, I know how dangerous it may be but I still go gladly. Of course your company would be appreciated but the decision of the council is final and I stand by it. Besides I have a request to ask of you my friend."

"You have but to ask my Prince," Galadon replied.

Legolas knew by his friend's tone that he was finally coming around to accepting his decision but by using his title, Galadon was also letting him know that he was still annoyed over the matter. Legolas smiled faintly at the reply.

"I need you to explain my decision to go to the King, he will most likely look upon my reasoning unfavourably.."

"You think ?!"

"He will come around eventually my friend, just as you will...tell him...tell him I love him and that I would never do anything to dishonour our house or our home."

Galadon nodded, he would do his best to explain matters to the King. Then the two friends hugged each other in farewell.

"Do not be angry with me for too long my friend," Legolas pleaded lightly while the companions broke their holds on one another.

"I shall see what I can do but I promise nothing Prince of Mirkwood, we may still need to settle this argument when you return."

And with that parting comment Galadon and Aradae mounted their horses and departed for home leaving their Prince behind.

The memory of their leave-taking in Imladris was as clear in his mind as if it had happened only yesterday. He truly wished they had parted on better terms and he prayed that his friend had forgiven him before he...before he died.

He felt once more the bitter anguish build up deep inside him, demanding release. It twisted his gut in a knot, it suffocated his lungs, it gripped his heart and squeezed and burned in his throat until it finally burst out in a bitter tormented cry.

It was then that the tears finally began to fall, sliver drops of sorrow making their way steadily down his face until they too fell to their silent demise. The tremors in his limbs became more noticeable now and the rocking more pronounced as he openly wept for his lost friends. Even the very mood of the forest surrounding him seemed to change as the trees sensed the grief of the first born. He wept till he could weep no more and afterwards he felt drained and empty as if a part of him was missing and could never be replaced.

It was then that he began to sing his lament, a homage to the fallen. The sorrowful tones filled the night air while the elf's lilting voice soared over the trees. The ancient song seemed to calm his soul and ease his spirit while he sang. When it was over he rubbed his face and dried his red eyes as best he could.

"Hiro hyn hîdh ab'wanath. Namarie mellyn-nîn," he whispered to the stars. (Let them find peace after death. Farewell my friends.)

Chapter Six: Standing Watch

Sindadur tracked the young Prince through the dense forest with ease. The slight disturbances in the ground would have been almost impossible for even an experienced ranger to detect but to an elf like Sindadur they signalled out to him like beacons.

The fact that these minute traces of the Prince's passing existed at all were only added proof of how distracted he was by the death of his close companions. The old warrior had made the right decision in following him.

All too soon he caught up on the younger elf and was content to stand guard a short distance away. He watched as his old student paused by an enormous oak tree and reached out to touch its foliage, shortly after he slumped against its ample girth. It appeared to Sindadur as if the Prince was about to sink to the ground, heedless of his exposed position. If he does, I shall haul him up into that tree by his own ears, the warrior thought, I have instructed him better than that. But for the moment the younger elf's ears were safe as the elder elf watched his former student take cover within the tree's branches.

Once Legolas was nestled in the protective boughs of the oak, he too leap soundlessly into a nearby tree and waited with the patience of one for whom time has no meaning. Sindadur listened to the surrounding forest for any sounds of approaching danger. He concentrated on the song of the trees which would warn him of any perceived threat and he noted the young owl perched in the tree to the east, its actions would also alert him of danger, all while his eyes fixed themselves on the ancient oak to the north of his position.

It did not take long for the peaceful silence of the night to be shattered as a heart wrenching cry filled the rapidly cooling air. The young owl, startled by the sudden noise, took flight while it screeched in distress.

The sorrowful sound triggered within Sindadur renewed pain as grief over the tragic loss resurfaced again. He always saw the younger warriors under his charge as the sons and daughters he was never blessed with. It made him extra diligent with their training and earned him the reputation of being the toughest tutor in the service. But his harsh methods and gruelling exercises always paid off. His patrol had the lowest casualty rate of any other in the entire service and injuries were always only minor ones because his students learned early not to take foolish risks or they would bring his wrath down upon them and that was infinitely more painful and long lasting.

However many of the other tutors saw his closeness as a potential weakness and at times like this he was inclined to agree, for it meant he felt the anguish of their loss all the more.

He listened in respectful silence while the young Prince wept his heart out for those he had loved and lost and he tried to offer small comfort to the surrounding trees which were growing increasingly concerned for the wood elf in their midst.

He did not think little of the archer for expressing his grief in this manner, he did not see it as a sign of weakness for he too had wept openly during the burial service for the fallen warriors.

In truth he would have been more concerned had Legolas been unable to grieve properly for his friends as the stoic Prince was notorious for bottling up his emotions, even as an elfling he would refuse to cry in public. In fact in the near three millennia that he had known him the tutor could only recall one time Legolas had openly shed tears before others but that reaction had been sparked by a unique personal tragedy, one which nearly shattered the Royal House of Mirkwood.

Eventually the well of tears dried up and the weeping stopped only to be replaced by a lament for fallen comrades and for the next few moments Sindadur found himself captured by Legolas' sorrowful tones. He was unaware the young warrior had been granted such a gift and he gave thanks to the Valar that he had been witness to this very private moment, it would be one not soon forgotten.

In the mean time he would remain here with his Prince and wait until the young elf was ready to return to the camp.

In the distance Gimli tossed about restlessly under his bed roll trying to find sleep but his mind kept tormenting him with the words he had spoken so casually to his friend. Then something grabbed his attention, he thought he heard singing. Soon the soothing tones of an elvish song were floating on a gentle breeze through the camp. It reminded him of the lament which had lulled him to sleep in Lothlorien and within moments this new song had worked a similar magic as the troubled dwarf began to drift off into a deep peaceful slumber.

Chapter Seven: The Challenge

The Prince of Mirkwood sat with his head tilted to the heavens while he gazed at the pin pricks of light scattered across the dark velvet night sky.

He would find no rest this night even though he had purged some of the grief from his system, his troubled mind would not be still. Nor could he find peace in simple reverie so he settled for staring at the familiar stars and watched while their burning brilliance gradually diminished and faded like spent candles with the approach of dawn.

The steadily brightening horizon heralded the waking of Anor and with her appearance the sky became a swirling palette of pinks, oranges and violets. It was a sight the elf would never tire of no matter how many times he witnessed it, for each sun rise was unique in its own subtle way, just as each day was different. And this day was more unusual than most.

This day found him aware of his friends demise.

This day found him struggling to deal with his grief.

This day would see him home.

This day he would see his father again.

It was time to leave.

Without further thought Legolas leapt gracefully to the ground, abandoning the security of the ancient oak. Placing a smooth palm on the coarse bark, he whispered thanks to the tree for supplying him with a safe haven for the night.

"All right, you can come out now," he called out to the seemingly empty trees. His request was met with silence.

"I know you are there my friend, hiding, standing guard. I may yet be young but I am not stupid Sindadur, you agreed to my request for privacy last night without argument," he explained with a slight teasing tone, "you are becoming frighteningly predictable old man."

"Perhaps this 'old man' should teach you how to show more respect for your elders," Sindadur warned lightly as he revealed his position in the waking woods, "perhaps this 'old man' should use his staff to knock you down a notch or two with some moves that you would no doubt find frighteningly 'unpredictable'!"

Legolas smiled as his former tutor revealed himself, then laughed softly at the warrior's scolding tone.

"Why Sindadur, that sounds like a challenge my friend but I would like to point out that you are regretfully without your staff," the young warrior stated with mock disappointment as he made his way over to his friend's side.

"Well my Prince that can easily be remedied, if on the morrow your courage has not fled you, I shall meet you at the training grounds and we shall see this challenge to its end, an end which I fear shall be all too 'predictable'."

It was obvious to Legolas that Sindadur was claiming victory before the bout had even commenced but if he was to be completely honest with himself he could not fault the older warrior for his confidence, after all Legolas had yet to beat his former tutor !

He smiled again contently, the playful banter was helping to lift some of the shadow from his heart. Without out warning he gripped the Captain in a firm embrace, an embrace which was equally and eagerly returned.

"Hannon-le mellon-nîn," Legolas whispered softly. (Thank you my friend)

Sindaur understood completely what he was been thanked for, to him it was not a burden to watch over his Prince while he grieved nor did he mind offering some form of distraction to lighten the young elf's mood, he would gladly do more if he could.

"Amin sinta thaliolle Ernil-nîn, pân natha mae, usi...nan'thentenn...le ú-erui," Sindadur offered back in comfort. (I know your strength my Prince, all will be well, not yet...but are not alone.)

Legolas nodded silently in understanding then broke the soothing hold.

"I take it you are ready to return to the camp," the Captain deduced.

"Yes, I am ready, I am eager to see my see my father," Legolas declared with new found strength.

With that the two warriors began to head back to the rest of the patrol as the new dawn broke and the song of the waking birds filled the still moist air.

"How does he fare Sindadur ?" the young elf probed his friend anxiously for information as they walked amongst the trees.

"He is well your Highness but it was most difficult to begin with. I do not think that it was because the King totally disagreed with your decision to go with the ring-bearer, he was merely deeply concerned over your safety," the warrior's voice became a soft whisper as he continued, "He could not endure your loss also Legolas... he may be King but he is also a father."

The Prince grimaced at this revelation, he expected the news would hit his father hard but he could not help but feel a little guilty now over the unnecessary worry he had brought to his father...

His dour thoughts were distracted once more by his companions observation.

"Something smells nice, I think we might actually be having a decent meal this morning, let us hope it is to the taste of your friend," Sindadur stated and the false concern was not lost on the younger elf.

"Do not judge him too harshly my friend, you have yet to get to know him," he encouraged, "do not come to the same hasty and erroneous conclusions that I was guilty of."

The warrior allowed a small snort of derision to escape from behind his mask of calm.

"First impressions are usually the right ones, are they not ?" he challenged.

The Prince chuckled lightly.

"You will learn my friend, that Gimli is the exception to the rule in many instances."

"We shall see, I shall give this stunted creature the benefit of the doubt... but not even you shall be able to hold me back should he speak so poorly of the Royal House again," the Captain advised seriously.

He took his duties to heart and had pledged his life to protect the Royal family, to Sindadur defending their honour was no less important. And he would not have a dwarf speak ill of any member of the or dead.

"Gimli's comment was not meant to hurt or to truly offend, it is his way, in fact it has become 'our' way...I have grown accustomed to his insults and he to mine, they make up a large portion of our conversations !" Legolas admitted, laughing lightly.

The old warrior frowned at this bizarre admission, this strange friendship that his Prince had engaged in was going to be very interesting to observe.

All to soon their time alone was over for in the near distance they could make out the movements of the other wood elves as they organised the morning meal and carried out their various duties.

Continuing to walk side by side with the Captain, Legolas took a couple of deep calming breaths then headed towards the activity.

Chapter Eight: Battles and Breakthroughs

As Legolas crossed the perimeter of the camp he spotted Gimli sitting between the exposed roots of a large tree at the far side of the glade. He wondered if the dwarf was aware that his chosen position placed him as far from the wood elves as possible without leaving the safety of numbers. The dwarf was busy securing his tightly packed bedroll to his leather back pack and neither heard or saw the elf's stealthy approach.

"Did you sleep well friend Gimli ?" the Prince asked quietly while gazing down at his distracted companion.

The dwarf was momentarily startled by the seemingly disembodied sounds of the elf's musical voice but he recovered quickly and stood up some what stiffly as he nodded to his friend in greeting.

"Aye...well enough...and you ?" he ventured warily.

"Sleep eluded me elvellon but I am none the worse for its absence," Legolas assured softly.

Gimli nodded wordlessly once more in understanding and passed no further comment on the matter. He still felt a little awkward and self conscious in the elf's company and decided he would speak privately with Legolas soon and apologise to him. He disliked this feeling of unease between them, even if it was all one sided, he would not leave such important matters unattended for long. He also had not honestly expected his friend to find peaceful rest so soon after receiving the grievous news from Sindadur. As his thoughts momentarily turned to the self assured elf, Gimli's eyes diligently sought out the Captain. He soon marked the old warrior's position at the far side of the camp listening to Galathil, the young Lieutenant, his gaze hardening as his eyes narrowed in distain.

It seemed as though the seasoned warrior sensed the dwarf's scrutiny as he too glanced across the clearing to the dwarf's location.

Eyes locked in a battle of wills.

Legolas easily noted Gimli's stiffening posture just as his keen elven ears detected the sound of leather protesting as it was forced to stretch over the dwarf's tightly clenching fists. He suspected he knew what had brought about this sudden change in his friend's manner but still he glanced over his shoulder to confirm his suspicion.

Sure enough Sindadur's unwavering stare was directed at the dwarf. The iciness held within those piercing eyes would have surely cooled the molten fires of Mount Doom itself.

So much for the benefit of the doubt, Legolas inwardly sighed.

He placed a pale hand on the dwarf's shoulder in order to get his attention but Gimli would not be distracted from this particular battle, his pride was at stake.

Seeing no alternative the young elf simply shifted his position until he was standing directly in front the determined dwarf.

Gimli blinked as his eyes were suddenly forced to focus on the silver belt buckle before him. Annoyed that the contest had been interrupted he began to push his friend to the side.

"Legolas get out of the way, I am busy !" he growled while trying to move the wiry elf, but his friend seemed to have sprung roots from his toes and was firmly anchored to the ground.

"Busy ?" the elf's incredulous eyes widened and twinkled with humour, "Busy doing what may I ask ?" but his query was left unanswered.

With an exasperated sigh Gimli shifted his own position to seek out his opponent once more but to his disappointment the Captain had moved off elsewhere and was directing activities around the camp. He decided to direct his glare up at his friend.

"Do not seek to enter into a staring competition with me my friend," Legolas warned lightly, "I have learned from the very best."

In his time Legolas had witnessed his father shatter the confidence and resolve of many an emissary from various realms during trade negotiations with a simple look, a look which he could maintain indefinitely or at least until things went in Mirkwood's favour.

Knowing the elf was probably right Gimli relented and turned around to fetch his pack. The string of colourful curses muttered under the dwarf's breath were, Legolas thought, most creative.

"You know you will probably find you have more in common with Sindadur than not, friend Gimli," the Prince advised, unable to keep the humour from colouring his tones.

"Now who's being insulting !" Gimli accused as he spun around, pointing a leather clad finger at his friend. "That so full of his own importance tis a wonder those scrawny legs of his can bear the burden !"

"Please Gimli give it a chance, you will find he is...".

"Rude, condescending, bad-mannered, devious, pompus, arrogant..." the dwarf interrupted, his dark eyes daring the Prince to prove him wrong.

"I'll wager you thought the very same of me when we first met my friend," Legolas challenged in return.

Realising he had been caught out, Gimli countered, "Why Legolas how could you think such a thing ?" he asked, feigning hurt, "...when we first met I held you in much lower regard."

"Ah my friend you are in fine form this morning !" the elf laughed, "have you eaten yet ?" he asked between the chuckles.

"Nay Master elf, I was waiting for your return but now that you are here I am most eager to partake," he bellowed rubbing his hands together.

The thoughts of a good meal were enough to momentarily distract the burly dwarf from his silent confrontation with the older warrior and his need to clear things with his archer friend.

"Then come, let us join the others," the young elf suggested.

The two friends made their way over to the dying campfire to where the boar carcass was being divided up. They were welcomed by the other elves who had gathered around the spit awaiting their portion before relieving the other warriors on guard. Their Captain was busy elsewhere taking reports from scouts.

Legolas spoke softly with the other wood elves, to some in Westron and to others in Sindarin for not all were well versed in the language of men.

In an effort to relieve any tension he introduced them all to Gimli and made a point about telling them of his many brave deeds while they sat down comfortably on the grass and broke their fast.

With the telling of each tale Gimli proceeded to steadily rise in each warrior's estimation. It would seem that this was one dwarf who could win their respect, any dwarf who seemed to be as eager to get his axe wet with the blood of foul orcs was a fierce and worthy warrior indeed.

It was a small breakthrough, the Prince thought, but then even the mightiest oak must begin its journey as a little acorn.

Chapter Nine: Ponderings

The camp was cleared with precise elven efficiency and each wood elf did their best to make sure the area did not suffer as a result of their brief stay, such being the level of respect they held for the trees and woodland creatures. By the time the party was ready to leave for home, the clearing was left as they had first found it.

Many of the warriors that had spent time with Gimli during the night and following morning were now gone. It was now their duty to scout ahead, secure the perimeter and guard the rear. They had been replaced by a small group of new elves just at the end of breakfast.

They greeted their Prince warmly and cast several curious glances at his stout companion. But once again Legolas made a show of introducing Gimli and extolled his brave deeds to all the new elves, from his efforts the warriors could easily deduce that this dwarf was very important to their Prince and so like the others, they accepted Gimli's presence in their precious woods. By now Gimli believed he had been introduced to everyone, in fact he couldn't recall being formally introduced to so many elves in his entire life. His head was spinning with a multitude of strange sounding names. To be honest he found all elvish names a little odd, not that he was about to reveal that particular opinion to his friend...well not just yet...maybe later, he would save it for one of their frequent "discussions".

He appreciated the efforts his elevn friend had made to make him feel more comfortable amongst the strong, silent warriors. As he observed them he could not help but mark how different these strange elves were from the ones he had come across in Imladris.

These wood elves were a real mystery. Their pale countenances revealed nothing and were totally devoid of emotion. One had to look to their piercing eyes for any hint of what was going on inside behind the calm exteriors.

Gimli knew they were suspicious and wary of him, but then their people's history together did not run smoothly and dealings had been kept to an absolute minimum, therefore he found that he could not fault them for their reactions.

But he found their collective silence strange, dwarves by their very nature were loud beings. All dwarves spoke loudly, it was a habit one developed when working in the mines, to be heard over the clamour of dozens and dozens of swinging pick axes impacting against stone, one needed to bellow stridently. Yet these elves seemed to deem noise as offensive. As he pondered further on the matter it suddenly came to him why.

Their silence is one of their greatest weapons.

When used in conjunction with their stealth abilities and archery skills, this disturbing stillness allows them to creep up on any enemy and dispatch them from above before they realise they are dead.

Where as noise can give away positions, noise can get people killed, in this respect he could begin to understand their quiet ways, after all they had probably been taught from early on in their warrior careers that silence was paramount for survival.

Even as he thought about it, he recalled Legolas signalling the other elves last night not with words but with bird-like calls, another form of disguise. His friend had probably been conditioned in the very same manner of thinking.

Gimli smiled to himself as he remembered what he had initially thought of the Prince's silent and seemingly distant behaviour. He believed the elf was cold and aloof and more importantly he thought the archer had considered himself superior and above conversing with the other members of the Fellowship. But in time he discovered that this was not the case, Legolas was just a quite and private creature and now he believed that some of the elf's stillness was simply to do with his training as a warrior.

And warriors they most certainly were. The very manner in which they held themselves demonstrated a high state of alertness at all times, even when appearing relaxed. They were as fierce as they were noble and beautiful and their lithe, seemingly fragile frames belied an unexpected hidden strength and ferocity. Any foul creature would rue the day they came across this particular band of warriors, assuming they survived of course.

Gimli could not help but feel small twinges of respect for these elves growing within him, after all it was warriors such as these that his friend had spoke of earlier when he mentioned that his homeland was protected solely by 'bow and blade'.

He wondered if all inhabitants of Mirkwood were so different to the elves in Rivendell. There the elves dressed brightly and decoratively, they spoke often and openly. They would sing light, merry songs to themselves, for no apparent reason. They nurtured a deep love of the arts and adorned their already ornate architecture with equally decorative murals and tapestries.

Gimli could not help but allow his curiosity to be peaked at the thoughts of what Legolas' home would actually look like. He found himself strangely eager to get there.

His private musings were brought to an end as he heard Legolas call out to him.

"Come Gimli, it is time to leave my friend, we shall reach the gates of my father's realm in a matter of hours," the Prince announced, unable to keep the excitement from his voice.

"Coming Master Elf," the dwarf shouted back as he secured his pack to his back. In a matter of hours things are going to get very interesting, he thought.

"We shall be walking the rest of the way Gimli, I hope you do not mind, but it will allow us to keep pace with the others," the Prince informed his friend.

" mean I do not have to sit on that wild beast for the rest of the day ?!" the dwarf exclaimed, "Master Elf this is turning out to be quiet a good day!"

Meanwhile mere miles away, Mirkwood's inhabitants were wide awake and diligently going about their daily tasks, all of which helped the Kingdom to run smoothly.

Their King had also been up before the dawn. For some reason his sleep was disturbed during the early hours and he felt restless and uneasy. Once he had given up all hopes of finding peaceful slumber he made his way out onto his private balcony and watched over his sleeping realm.

There was a whisper on the wind, the trees were trying to tell him something. While he listened, he watched Anor begin her steady climb into the expanse above.

Soon the whispers became clearer and his heart leapt in his chest, a long absent smile brightened his face.

Sweet Elbereth thank you...he is coming son is home.

Chapter Ten: Confessions and Doubts

The elven patrol wove their way steadily through the dense forests surrounding their homeland. They were spanned out amongst the tall majestic trees, some thread lightly on the soft earth below while others travelled in the lush canopy above, hidden and yet each warrior knew instinctively the position of the elf nearest to them. They had formed a large protective circle around their returning Prince. Far enough away to give him and his friend privacy and yet close enough to act instantly should anything happen.

Gimli passed the time trying to guess where the elves were but he had long since given up looking skyward. The elves were too difficult to track under the cover of the thick foliage and his ample neck was beginning to protest.

I had better rest it, he thought, look to my own level while I still can, Mahal knows I will probably spend my entire time in Mirkw...Eryn Lasgalen, he corrected himself, looking up at ridiculously tall creatures !

While the dwarf squinted and strained to catch glimpses of gold and black flowing hair moving silently through the countless tree trunks, Legolas' eyes drank in his surroundings like an elf starved of their beauty for far too long. His heart felt pure joy at the sights surrounding him. He was elated beyond measure that the forests near his home had been spared and were untainted by the foulness of the orcs.

Silently he thanked the Valar for safe guarding his home and these beloved trees, then he solemnly thanked those who had fallen in their defence, "Hannon le mellyn-nîn, govannas vîn gwennen le gwedyr-nîn." (Thank you my friends, we are in your debt my brothers.)

As they followed the winding path leading to the elven stronghold Legolas became aware of his companion's uncharacteristic silence and he decided to probe Gimli on the matter.

"Master Dwarf, I see you have finally been so over come by the beauty of these trees that you have found yourself wanting for words," the elf teased lightly.

The jibe was met by a deep grunt and narrowed glare that somehow managed to convey the fact that the dwarf was neither impressed or amused by his friend's inaccurate observation.

"If you believe that to be true Master Elf then pray bend down and allow me to knock some sense into that thick skull of yours," Gimli offered as he made to reach for the axe holstered to his back.

"Nay Master Dwarf, there is no need," Legolas smiled as he tried to placate his volatile friend, "though I must confess I am curious to know why you have walked in silence this past hour, could it be then, that our silent guardians have made an impression were I have failed ?" he asked, stepping nimbly out of his friend's swinging range just in case.

Gimli sighed, looked up at his friend, then cast his gaze to the forest floor and for the life of him Legolas could not decipher the brief look and that troubled him deeply. All levity gone, the elf moved to his friend's side and placed a slender hand on a broad slumped shoulder.

"Gimli," he asked softly, "what is wrong elvellon ? What have I said ? I did not mean to offend you my friend."

Silence...then a deep intake of shaky breath.

"Gimli, speak to me," the young Prince pleaded, "please what have I said wrong ?"

The stout dwarf came to a halt.
Finally Gimli relented and hesitantly looked up to his friend once more.

Legolas was taken aback by the visible array of emotions flittering across his friend's face despite the masses of unruly auburn hair. More troubling though were the dark emotions burning in his friend's fiery eyes... sadness, regret and a disturbing amount of what looked like fear and guilt.

The elf found himself feeling an alien emotion, something he had not felt since he was an elfling, accidentally trapped in his father's dark wine cellar... panic.

"It is not you that has spoken wrongly my friend but I," Gimli confessed in a voice so hushed Legolas could hardly believe it was coming from his friend's lips.

Thankfully now the elf's panic was quickly replaced by mere confusion.

"Gimli I do not understand," the elf was forced to admit.

"When I spoke of your Mother," the dwarf studied his friend's face and spotted the familiar flash of grief and pain before it was banished once more, "I spoke out of ignorance, I did not know and I caused you pain, for that I am sorry..."

"Gimli, this I already know..." Legolas interrupted.

"Please allow me to finish Legolas, these thoughts have been troubling me.."

"And that is why you have been quiet while we walked," the Prince stated sadly, shaking his head, wishing his friend had not worried so over something that he had already left in the past.

"Yes..., I have been wanting to apologise my friend but we have been rarely left alone and when we were finally left to ourselves I was unsure of what to say...but know this Legolas, I am sorry, it may not be enough for we dwarves have little practice in the art of apologising but I did not mean to cause you pain, I would not knowingly put our friendship in jeopardy."

It suddenly dawned on the young elf why he had caught glimpses of fear in his friend's eye, did he honestly think that he would hold his words against him and allow them to weaken their friendship ? He needed to clear up some matters straight away, he could not allow his friend to harbour such fears and doubts about their friendship. He did not make friends easily and when he did he did not take those relationships lightly or for granted, he had to know that Gimli understood this.

"Gimli my friend...there was no need for you to feel this way, it was not your words that caused me pain but merely the memory of my loss. I know in my heart that you would not knowingly cause me sorrow nor do I expect you to be an expert in the affairs of my family. If it makes you feel better Gimli, I accept your apology but know this son of Gloin, I do not hold your words against you nor have they put our friendship in jeopardy," the Prince declared with as much sincerity as he could muster in order that his friend understand.

He looked into his friend's dark eyes and studied them until he could finally see signs of understanding and watched as the feelings of self recrimination and doubt were replaced with happiness and relief.

"Gimli know that your friendship means a great deal to me..., more than you can know," he admitted softly, "and I will not permit it to be easily torn asunder by misspoken words from you nor by false or harsh words from others. I value it more than that my friend, we have been through much together and who knows what lies ahead. I will need your strength in the coming hours and days elvellon especially should things not go well. I need to know that you will be there. I need to know that when I return to Ithilien and when you return to Aglarond that in the coming years I can still call you friend."

Gimli was deeply moved by the depth of emotion shown by his normally stoic companion. He did indeed feel better knowing that the warrior had accepted his apology and that there were no secreted feelings of ill will.

The Prince's sincere words did much to relieve any doubts Gimli had hidden deep within him that when the elf found himself surrounded once more by his own kind that he may not wish to leave his home and that he might be convinced that their friendship was folly.

And so with an appreciative smile he replied with equal conviction, "My strength you shall have when ever you have need of it, my friendship you shall have till I breath my last breath," then he winked mischievously at the elf, "and after that I shall haunt your days and nights till you are forced to leave these shores to be rid of me !"

The elf's light laughter filled the air. "That is a comforting pledge Master Dwarf...I think."

As previous tensions fled and the two companions enjoyed the light moment, Legolas' head suddenly turned as he caught silent movement to the left of his vision. Knowing instantly it to be another elf, he was not alarmed. Gimli followed his friend's movement and spotted the elf approaching. It was Galathil. The warrior Lieutenant bowed respectfully to his Prince, then approached.

"Apologies my Prince, Sindadur has sent me to see if all is well, he wishes to know do you intend to stop and rest for a while ?"

Legolas smiled inwardly, the old Captain's protective streak was as strong today as the first moment the King charged him with the care of his infant son.

"Nay Galathil, tell Sindadur that all is well, we have no need of rest and we shall continue our journey without further delay," the Prince instructed his fellow warrior.

The Lieutenant bowed once more then turned and disappeared once more into the surrounding trees.

It was hard to miss the look Gimli cast in the direction of the vanishing warrior. No doubt it was directed at Sindadur.

Legolas caught his friend's attention by tapping him on the shoulder, once Gimli had turned Legolas shrugged his own slender shoulders and smiled apologetically.

"Old habits die hard," he explained in his former tutor's defence.

To which the dwarf merely grumbled something unintelligible as he began to walk away, and though the elf could not make out what words were uttered he was under no illusions as to their hidden meanings.

Still smiling he patted Arod on the neck and the two soon caught up on the disgruntled dwarf.

As they walked together Anor had risen high in the clear blue sky, it was approaching mid day. The Prince's excitement grew as he got closer and closer to his home. He could not hold down any one specific emotion for any length of time. Mixed feelings of joy, nervousness, relief, anxiety and anticipation coursed through him like the tumultuous waters of the Forest River during the Tuilë (Spring) thaw.

He looked skyward as he heard the call of a hawk on the wind, he watched as the majestic bird circled their position from high above then made its way to the palace.

So much for the element of surprise, his father had no doubt been made aware of his approach and had sent one of his birds to determine the hour of his son's arrival, he cast an accusing glance at the surrounding trees who simply ignored the silent accusation and continued to welcome him home.

And then all too soon it was upon him. The enormous gates of his father's kingdom loomed before him. It was a beautiful sight.

The rest of the patrol began to form up on the path around their Prince now that their destination had finally been reached. They too were eager to be home and to be reunited with their loved ones.

They all paused in front of the massive gates and waited patiently for their Prince.

Gimli stood amazed at the scene before him. Stretched as far as the eye could see ran a huge wall either side of the gates. Its great height and girth acting as a protective barrier around the entire kingdom. He could see the tops of trees growing behind the wall but none grew immediately in front of the wall. There was nothing to give any enemy an advantage point from and the walls themselves seemed seamless and impossible to scale, it would be very difficult to find purchase on them to begin climbing assuming you got that far, for the wall was patrolled by an array of warriors, walking diligently along its top. The dwarf watched as they appeared and disappeared between the protective battlements. The forward scouts had already notified the watch guards of the returning patrol and more importantly of their returning Prince and some of them paused to nod respectfully at him in silent greeting.

The gates themselves were a work of art and Gimli felt some begrudging respect for the craftsmanship needed to create such structures. They were a wonderful creation of wood and iron, wrought together in a functional yet beautiful way. Elvish runes were etched deeply into the dark wood while sheets of iron had been hammered onto the surface resembling great trees. Someone had used copper to represent the leaves of the two big oaks and with the passing of time the copper had turned green and completed the illusion.

The mood in the air felt strange around him and he knew he was about to enter into a very unusual and interesting place. Despite himself, he felt his excitement growing, he could not imagine what Legolas must be feeling at this moment.

He cast his friend as side ways glance and watched as Sindadur approached the young archer from the opposite side.

He stood silently beside his former charge ready too offer support and encouragemnt should it be needed for he was aware of some of the Prince's anxieties about returning home.

He watched the younger elf's eyes as they were transfixed on the gates before him, as if they were not real and he was caught in a strange dream. Carefully he gripped the Prince's shoulder and squeezed. It had the desired effect as Legolas' gaze was broken and he turned to look at the Captain.

"He is waiting my Prince," Sindadur whispered as he encouraged the young royal to open the gates.

Legolas nodded then inhaled a deep calming breath. He turned to face the doors once more and all went still as if nature itself held its breath in anticipation.

He raised his hands slightly and spoke clearly and authoritively to the gates before him.

"Lasto annon edhellon Eryn Lasgalen, Im Ernil o taure, edro hi ammen !" (Listen gates of the elves of The Wood of Greenleaves, I am Prince of (the) forest, open for me now.)

All looked on as the gates slowly began to swing open.

Chapter Eleven: Eryn Lasgalen

Gimli stood by, mouth slightly agape as he watched the enormous, heavy twin gates swing open smoothly and effortlessly as though they were made of mere parchment and not tonnes of iron and hard wood. He had heard about the enchanted gates of this Woodland realm but to see them with his own eyes was a different matter and for some small, strange unexplainable reason he felt proud that he was friends with one of the very few elves that could command these charmed doors to open.

He looked to his friend once again only to find the elf's twinkling eyes looking directly back at him,smiling.

"Well my friend, we are finally here," Legolas announced, "welcome to my home," he said while gesturing towards the now fully open gates.

Gimli nodded formally and spoke with great respect. "I accept your welcome Master Elf, may Aulë forever shine upon your household and watch over those held within."

Legolas gripped his friend's shoulder and smiled appreciatatively at the kind response. "Hannon-le mellon nîn, your words mean a great deal."

The other elves began to whisper amongst themselves, keen to see their families once more as soon as their Captain had dismissed them. Sensing their quiet urgency Legolas began to make his way through the entrance of his father's kingdom.

He glanced over his shoulder only to find Gimli and Sindadur walking side by side directly behind him. His two pillars of unwavering support, united for a brief time in common purpose, their animosity temporarily forgotten. It was a good feeling to know that they were there.

Beyond his two friends the remainder of the patrol and Arod followed their Prince through the gates in a calm, orderly fashion.

Once inside Gimli's eyes did their very best to take everything in. It reminded him of the feeling he had the first time he saw the vast halls of the Dwarrowdelf. Where does one start when the eyes have much to feast upon ?

To his immediate left and right grew a row of immense oak trees, any one of which was easily older than his own years combined with those of his father Gloin. They seemed to follow the path of the wall as far as the eye could see. Hanging from their far reaching branches dangled ornate silver coloured oil lanterns, each one shaped like a water-lily.

Around the base of each oak, lush ferns grew in the dappled shade, while further out flowers of many colours circled the ample girth of each rugged trunk, each one turning their fragrant faces to the glorious sun above. The air was awash with the scents of their perfume and large bees hovered from petal to petal, laden with pollen from their labours.

High above in the trees birds sang to each other and to the elves below, while squirrels scampered from branch to branch trying to get a glimpse of the activity beneath them.

He glanced over his shoulder only to witness the silent closing of the wondrous gates as the last warrior crossed the threshold. High above on the imposing wall he caught a better look at the elves vigilantly patrolling the parapets. They were clad similarly to the other elves and equally armed but they also wore simple and functional armour on their chests. It was designed in such as way as to not restrict the fluid motion of an elf in battle, but would offer some protection against enemy arrows. As Gimli moved further away from the wall he could also see what appeared to be wooden benches placed at intervals along the wide top, on them lay extra armour and decorative helms along with dozens of bushels of extra arrows, each one precisely made.

He faced forward once more and wove his way along a speckled cobbled path made from granite, its silver flecks dazzling in the full sun overhead. Large clumps of lavender grew along the edges of the path way adding new colour and fragrance to his already over loaded senses, while strange black butterflies flittered about their fragrant stalks. Soon the majestic oaks were replaced by tall elegant silver birch trees growing here and there in the verdant grass.

The party continued to walk in contemplative silence through the forest of birch trees until they reached a narrow but fast flowing river, most likely it was a small tributary of the Forest River. Although the river could have easily been cleared by any leaping elf, a small stone, wall-less bridge had been constructed across its turbulent water.

It was here that they paused for a moment and Gimli got his first look at what appeared to be the elven city. As he took in the sights before him excitement grew amongst the returning warriors and for the first time since Gimli had been in their company they began to speak openly to each other, their gentle voices no longer hushed but filled with joy and a musical laughter.

Legolas turned to face his stout friend. The returning warrior was practically beaming. Gimli could only recall one other occasion when he had seen the elf so happy and that was after the wedding ceremony of Aragorn to the Lady Arwen and much wine had been consumed on that joyous day.

"We are almost there Master Dwarf, soon you shall be a guest of my father's great halls and I shall show you real elven hospitality !" the elf promised between smiles, then he added more seriously, "know that come what may, so long as I reside within these walls, you will always be welcome here."

"And for that you have my thanks Master Elf," Gimli replied, hoping for the sake of his friend that things would go well. The reunion between a father and son should be a joyous occasion, not one marred by ill will and feelings of resentment and for the first time Gimli began to wonder about the timing of his arrival.

Legolas led the returning party across the narrow bridge and into the very heart of Eryn Lasgalen. Strange tall trees grew all around them and while Gimli was no expert on trees, he was sure he had not seen the likes of them before.

They were immense, though not as tall as the great Mellyrn of Lothlórien and their long branches were covered with long leaf fronds that swayed in the gentle breeze almost like willows. It was then that he spotted the elves in the trees and the great talans on which they stood. The talans were spread over many different levels , each one carefully placed around the tree and its branches so as not to interfere with their living host. Some were open, while some had ornately carved wooden walls and roofs. And again in amongst the branches he could see the same water-lily shaped oil lamps, hanging from silver linked chains along side delicate chimes which filled the air with soothing metallic tones and though the effect was lost on Gimli, the elves loved how these musical chimes sang in harmony with the song of the trees surrounding them.

They elves waved at the returning warriors and called out to their Prince welcoming him home. It was always a great relief to the dwellers of Eryn Lasgalen when a patrol arrived home intact, without casualties or serious injuries. There had been far too many losses of late and families feared for the lives of their loved ones each time they set out on patrol to secure the borders of this woodland realm.

Each life was precious, each being was an integral part of the tapestry of life within this isolated realm and when a life was lost it left a hole in the fabric of their society, a hole which could not easily be mended.

And yet despite their many losses, these proud people refused to give in to the shadow and they fought back repeatedly, with burning passion and grim determination. Over the ages they had been forced to move again and again, further north, closer to the mountains. Well now they would move no more.

Here in these enchanted woods they had made their final stand against the encroaching shadow and they had won. They did not allow darkness to prevail, the light of the elves was stronger here than perhaps any where else.

The elves of Eryn Lasgalen were not ready to leave these shores just yet and so they fought back, they fought with bow and blade beyond the safe confines of their Kingdom, bringing swift death to their foes, while secure within their walls, they cherished life and the lives of their children and they welcomed the new light that came with the birth of each new elfling. They found peace in the knowledge that so long as a flicker of hope and light remained, then darkness could not truly conquer all.

Gimli soon noticed this subtle difference as he walked by his friend. He could not recall seeing any elflings in Imladris or Lothlórien. At the time Legolas was the youngest elf he had seen. It was almost as if the two realms had made their decision long ago to leave Middle-earth and no longer wished to risk bringing new life into this world.

But here the place teamed with life, elflings played in the warm sun, watched over by protective, loving parents and guardians. Some of them paused their play and mock battles and gave him curious looks, one little female elfling ran to the flowing skirts of her mother and hid behind her leg as he passed, she had most likely never seen a dwarf before. Gimli chuckled to himself at the reaction and wondered if these elves told their children stories about hideous dwarves who would come and steel them away in the night. He wondered because he had heard some of his own people conjure up tales about wicked elves who would do the very same thing.

As they passed by another group of slightly older, unsupervised elflings practicing sword skills with wooden sticks, one of them ran over to the returning warriors.

It was hard to make out her age, to Gimli she looked like a child of twelve maybe thirteen, though that was surely not her true age. She wore a simple dress of woven moss green wool. Her long brown hair was tied back in a simple functional plait and her blue eyes shone with joy as she recognised her father.

"Ada, Ada !" she cried with joy as she leapt into her father's open arms. He lifted her up effortlessly and kissed her on the cheek, his warrior's composure momentarily lost as he hugged his youngest daughter. Gimli did not understand a word of what he whispered into her delicate leaf shaped ear but he could sense the feelings of love and happiness held within them. Then all too soon he lowered her gently to the ground and pushed her back in the direction of her other friends, no doubt promising to be with her as soon as he was dismissed.

Once she had left, the warrior smiled apologetically to his Captain and Prince for the over zealousness of his child. But no harm was done and they nodded back, still smiling from having witnessed such a brief yet precious reunion. Absently Gimli hoped that Legolas' reunion with his own father would be just as pleasant.

As they continued to walk closer and closer to the palace, Gimli searched his mind for something he could compare this enchanted place to but found himself at a loss. To compare it to Rivendell was unjust, for the realms were as different as night and day. He supposed that this elven homeland had more in common with Lothlorien, they both shared a strange mystical atmosphere, however the feelings that this particular territory evoked were quite different. The time of the Golden Wood was coming to an end, that was not true of this Woodland realm. This place was bursting with life. It was a sanctuary for all that is good and a haven for nature itself, nothing foul would ever pass through the borders of this land to taint the trees growing within.

The dwarf could clearly see the mountain looming before him which held the home of his friend. It was an impressive sight and he was keen to see what lay within the rock and stone. As they got closer they passed by several wooden structures, some possibly homes or store houses and work shops. Elves busied themselves all around the area, each one tending to their business, many of them casting welcoming glances and waves at the warriors and bowing respectfully to the young Prince.

They paused once more by a large lake, its crystal clear waters mirrored everything around it. Huge white water-lilies floated lazily on the surface and several varieties of frogs could be heard, adding their distinctive voices to nature's chorus. Gimli watched as large yet delicate dragonflies skimmed across the still surface of the pond while their iridescent wings and bodies reflected in the silvery surface.

Sindadur called his young Lieutenant Galathil and instructed him to take the rest of the warrior party to the barracks, where they were to be dismissed once the supplies were returned and restocked should they be needed sooner than planned.

With a curteous nod the warrior spoke to his Prince, "By your leave, my lord."

"Ofcourse Galathil, I shall see you again soon my friend and please take good care of Arod for me," Legolas replied.

With that the Lieutenant turned and left with the rest of the patrol, Arod following obediently behind. Sindadur had to return to the palace and brief his King but even if there had been no need he would have still remained by his Prince's side.

And now the entrance to his father's stronghold stood but a short distance before him. Legolas' bright eyes stared at the view which they had longed to see. He led his friends along the straight path leading directly to the entrance. On either side of them grew tall beech trees. They crossed yet another bridge, made of wood this time and it carried them safely across the swift, dark currents beneath them. Across the stream grew more great beeches and they continued to grow steadily up the side of the mountain, covering it in a lush green canopy. Leading up to the great doors were several stairs hewn from the very rock of the mountain. Their surfaces were smooth and polished from the countless feet that had passed over them across the ages.

Posted outside the entrance to the carven at the top of the stairs, stood several warrior elves. They were dressed quite differently to any elf Gimli had previously seen. Their armour was more ceremonial and yet still functional, they wore gleaming gold coloured helms which mirrored the leaf patterns of their armour. About their long elegant necks hung velvet cloaks of the darkest green and they each gripped a long deadly spear in their right hand. As their Prince approached they moved aside to allow him access to the doors then they stood smartly to attention.

Gimli and Sindadur followed Legolas up the solid stairs and receiving his cue from the elder elf, Gimli waited beside him, a respectful distance from the ornately carved stone doors. They reminded the dwarf of the doors they had used to enter the mines of Moria only the carvings on these doors were clearly visible and were once again composed of scenes from nature.

Legolas approached the doors and again felt the mix of emotions swirl about inside him. With another calming breath he placed the smooth palm of his left hand on the door and placed his right palm across his heart. Then softly he whispered the words to open these magical doors.

Within moments the heavy doors began to swing open, accompanied by the faintest sound of grinding stone. Air from inside rushed towards him and his nose was filled with the familiar scents of home. He smiled contently as he recognised one all too familiar scent on the billowing air currents.

He was finally home.

Chapter Twelve: Reunion

Gimli watched closely as Legolas and Sindadur entered the under ground palace. He began to follow them then found himself hesitating at the threshold. It was only the second time in his life that he could recall feeling uneasy about going into the bowels of a mountain, an action which would normally be as natural as breathing for any dwarf.

Yet here in the home of his friend, he could feel the same sense of unease tugging at his consciousness, the same wariness which he felt before entering the Dwimorberg.

He suspected that some of this discomfort stemmed from having to face Thranduil and yet as he removed a leather glove and placed a caloused hand on the stone door, he could actually feel the difference in the rock. It is said that elves have a strange affinity for trees, well dwarves know rock but this rock felt almost alien to him, as if the very mountain itself had been influenced over the ages by the countless elves to have lived and visited here. It was a strange phenomenon and it took him by surprise, absently he wondered what other unusual experiences he would have here. Quickly dwarvish pride got the better of him and he strode seemingly confidently through the open doors.

Once inside he was witness to a large entrance hall, which he looked over quickly with a critical, experienced eye. Yet he could find no fault in the workmanship displayed all around him, save the design itself, which while skilfully done, was not to a dwarf's taste.

A large vaulted ceiling loomed high over their heads. The countless tonnes of rock were supported by many tall stone pillars, cut from the mountain itself. Each pillar had been meticulously carved to resemble a living tree, springing from the pale green marble floor. Gimli imagined that if he were to reach out and touch a pillar that it would almost feel like living bark. As each pillar grew upwards to meet the ceiling, branches and leaves had been cleverly carved from the stone and they twisted and spread across the expance, intermingling in many places. The whole effect was completed with a pale blue wash across the stone sky.

All along the interior walls hung various richly worked tapestries depicting, what Gimli guessed as being, scenes from the realm's past. Between several tapestries hung long narrow mirrors, carefully positioned to catch the light from the doorway and the ventilation shafts tunnelled through the rock, high above them. The dwarf almost felt as though he were outside once more, such was the light and airiness of the structure. Where there were no mirrors, there hung instead the same distinctive water-lily laterns, their glass bases filled with a strange red oil, though none were lit as yet. Scattered about the floor along the walls were various shaped planters made of rich terracotta earthenware. Many varieties of plants grew within them, particularly ferns and jasmine. Each powerfully scented plant was supported by a delicate trelis of elvish design.

To the left the sound of trickling water, as a small drinking fountain, shaped like a giant leaf, was constantly overflowing with cool fresh mountain water. The hidden spring emptied into the polished stone fountain then spilled over and returned to the bowels of the mountain through a small drain.

To his right stood a long rectangular, wooden chest, as tall as himself. Upon it lay various weapons of both elvish and human design.

Almost as soon as they had entered, another elf appeared from one of four adjacent passageways leading off the entrance hall. His willowy frame was dressed in midnight-blue leggings and a matching tunic. He wore soft black leather boots and a long velvet robe of darknest navy, trimmed with fine sliver, hung from his narrow shoulders.

He was old for an elf, much of his long black braided hair was peppered with silver, especially at his temples, but his vivid blue eyes still sparkled brightly. Under his left arm he carried a thick leather bound book, its parchment, yellowing at the edges and Gimli noticed a fine delicate quill tucked behind his right ear.

"Luinsil !" Legolas exclaimed happily, rushing to greet the elf almost before he had time to enter the hall.

"Ernil Legolas ! Mae govannen Hîr-nîn !" the elder elf replied excitedly, trying to bow to his Prince before he was crushed in a warm embrace. (Prince Legolas ! Welcome my Lord !)

Legolas hugged the elf tightly and breathed in deeply, relieved to see yet another familiar face. Where most elves smelled of the forest or the plants that grew there in, Luinsil was different, he had a unique personal scent which Legolas always found amusing for he smelled of ancient parchment and ink, even now the slender tips of his fingers were stained with the ink from his days labours.

Luinsil was one of his father's many advisors but his main function was to keep track of the King's appointments, it was his duty to make sure the King knew well in advance who he was due to meet, when and what the expected topics of discussion were likely to be, King Thranduil did not like surprises. He could always be relied upon to know the King's exact location at any time of the given day or night, it was a skill the young elf had taken advantage of many, many times during his youth, especially when he was determined to avoid a lecture from his father over his latest misdeed.

"Ai ! Luinsil I have missed you and the smell of your ink pots !" Legolas teased lightly, causing the elder elf to blush slightly.

The advisor was a little confused as to why his Prince was speaking to him in Westron. Once released from his tight hold, Luinsil looked behind Legolas' shoulder and noted the presence of Sindadur. The Captain's return had also been expected, the being which stood beside him however was not.

If it were at all possible for a elf's jaw to drop in surprise then Luinsil came quite close. He stared at the short, rotund being and then looked questioningly at Legolas.

"Prince Legolas," he began almost nervously, unable to detract his eyes from glancing over at the being once more, "we have been expecting you," he finished, adding just enough emphasis on the "we" to suggest he meant the King and just enough on the "you" so as to make the Prince aware that his unusual companion had not been included in those egar expectations.

Luinsil was nothing if not diplomatic, a skill he had honed well over the ages, a skill which was essential when dealing with temperamental humans and an oft equally temperamental King during trade negotiations.

Legolas was equally adept at picking up subtle meanings and reading between the lines for he had spent ample time in his father's court. He tried to ease the advisors worries.

"Luinsil," he said and began to turn to face Sindadur and the dwarf, "there is someone I should like you to meet."

He directed the advisor over to his companions, standing patiently near the entrance.

"Luinsil, may I introduce Gimli, son of Glóin, one of the Fellowship of the Ring and a close personal friend," Legolas began lightly.

To which the elf nodded and replied as politely as he could given the circumstances, "A pleasure to meet you Master Dwarf."

Glóin, Glóin, Glóin...I know that name, where did I hear...Oh Valar No ! his thoughts raced through his head as his mind was flooded with memories of the dwarves once held deep within the under ground palace many years ago...this could cause trouble.

He kept his features as schooled as he could and followed the rest of the formal introductions, while he tried not to think of what could happen very soon.

"Gimli, may I introduce Luinsil, son of Luinlómë, one of my father's most important advisors," the Prince finished.

Gimli nodded curtly, "An honour to meet you Master Elf."

Any further comment was cut off by the ever efficient Sindadur.

"Where is the King ?" he demanded brusquely of the advisor, "I will need to brief him about our latest patrol's findings."

"His Highness is in a meeting with some representatives from Lake-town, they are discussing a possible increase in the trade of..." Luinsil started to explain but was cut off once more by the Captain.

"When do you expect these meetings to end ?" he asked, not at all attempting to hide what he felt about such types of negotiations.

If Sindadur had any faults, it was perhaps his lack of diplomacy, he was not one to spend much time in the King's court negotiating trade, he had proven to be far too blunt with his opinions and advice. Yet this curt directness was prized by Thranduil when matters turned to battle and the defence of their beloved realm.

"I imagine he will be engaged for at least another hour," Luinsil offered, trying to keep the contrary Captain placated.

"You imagine ?" Sindadur questioned, raising an unimpressed eyebrow, not at all pleased by the vagueness of the answer.

"Things have not being going smoothly, there is a question over the value of..." once again the advisor's explaination was halted.

"Then perhaps you can tell my Lord that his son has arrived," Sindadur strongly suggested.

Gimli watched on in growing amusement as the advisor became increasingly flustered, for once he was glad not to be at the receiving end of the warrior's sharp tongue. He began to see the Captain as a worthy advisary in his continuing battle of wills and words against all elves, well against one elf in particular.

Blasted elf, he thought, could Legolas be right ? he wondered, do I actually have something in common with this creature ?

"Ofcourse I shall inform his Highness of our Prince's arrival," he gave said Prince a warm smile then continued, "but first I must ask you to remove your weapons as is the custom of our Lord's house." The explaination was more for Gimli's benefit, for both Legolas and Sindadur were well aware of the palace rule. Only palace guards were permitted to be armed inside the palace itself.

Nodding compliance, both the Captain and Legolas began to divest themselves of their various weapons. It took a little longer for Sindaur to disarm himself completely for he carried about him considerably more weapons, including a few the dwarf had not previously spotted.

Gimli was reluctant to hand over his weapons to this strange elf, he did not like the idea of walking around an elvish kingdom without even an axe to protect himself, he felt vulnerable, almost naked without his weapons. But then he looked to Legolas who was removing his quiver and saw the plea for co-operation in his eyes and so with a self sacrificing sigh he began to strip away his cache of arms.

Legolas handed Luinsil his Lothlórien quiver and bow to be stowed on the oak chest to their right.

"These are not your usual arms my Prince and they are not of our make, where did you come by them ?" the advisor asked curiously.

"Aye, they are a gift from the Lady of the Golden Wood," Legolas explained.

"A bow of the Galadhrim," Luinsil spoke softly, more to himself than to anyone else, while he carefully examined the ornate carvings decorating the bow, "it is a wondrous gift my Lord, long may it serve you."

"Hannon le Luinsil."

Then he reverently placed the items on the oak chest. Sindadur also carefully laid out his own arms a top the chest while Gimli handed over his precious axes to Legolas, trusting him to lay them down gently into their waiting place.

"If you should like to wait here a moment, I shall inform the King of your arrival," the old advisor said to all.

"My thanks again Luinsil, we shall indeed wait here," Legolas replied anxiously, knowing that he was going to be reunited with his father very soon.

But suddenly there was no need for Luinsil to leave, as a pair of dark wooden doors swung open soundlessly to the left of them, the King of Eryn Lasgalen was already here.

Thranduil had indeed been engaged in tedious trade negotiations in one of his many meeting rooms deep within the palace. He was finding this particular meeting more difficult to concentrate on than most, simply because he was awaiting his beloved son's arrival at any moment.

Lagoram, his hawk had returned long ago and so he knew his son was close to the Kingdom's outer wall. By now he should be within the woodland realm and making his way to the palace.

Voices droned on around him, one of his advisors, Arienur was once again trying to come to some agreement with the Lake-town delegation about the costs to be paid for the latest consignment of crops and metals.

The King's attention wavered once more and his eyes focused on the edge of the large wooden table which he sat at the head of. It was an oak table, made from a tree which had once stood proudly with many others of its kind along the inside of the boundary wall, but it had been badly damaged by a fierce storm one winter, its great trunk fractured by lightning. But it soon found purpose once again in the hands of the elves, who crafted it into this functional yet beautiful work of art.

He began to rub its edge remembering a time when his son was very young and insisted on barging in on a meeting with his Advisors and warrior Captains. The young Prince had banged his head against the edge of the table in his haste to crawl up onto his father's lap, determined to be part of what was going on, whether he understood their agendas or not.

The little Prince had been very brave and refused to cry in front of his father's warriors, for he too wanted to be a warrior one day, so he sat resolutely on his father's lap for the remainder of the meeting while the lump on his head continued to grow.

The memory brought a faint smile to the King's lips and then all of a sudden it was there, that strange feeling inside, he sensed it clearly. He could not explain it but he knew not to question the bond he had formed over the years with his son, some how he knew deep within his heart that his child had finally returned home. He could sense his son's excitement and yet there was something else there also. He could wait no longer.

Thranduil carefully pushed back his chair as he gracefully stood up to his full imposing height. All eyes around the table looked up at him, including the some what confused eyes of his fellow elves.

"Excuse me," was all he spoke as he left the table and opened the double doors leading into the room. He walked down the brightly lit corridor which would lead him to the entrance hall where he knew he would find his son.

The movement to the left caught everyones attention and an elf entered the hall. Almost instantly the other three elves bowed respectfully and Gimli surmised that he was looking upon the King.

So this is the legendary Thranduil, he thought, as he tried to get a good look at his father's former captor from behind the three other elves.

He was tall, as all elves are, yet he had a good few inches even over Sindadur. He was of athletic build yet power and strength emanated from him in waves. His long, pale blonde hair was plaited in a style similar to his son's and all was held neatly inplace by a fine mithril circlet, around which a small amount of dark green, silver trimmed ivy had been woven.

Piercing blue eyes focused on the Prince with unbridled intensity from beneath dark delicate eyebrows. Gimli could also see where his friend got his strong jaw-line from, infact father and son were so alike that the dwarf imagined he had been granted a rare gift of seeing what his immortal companion would look like in many years to come, long after he himself had left this life. And yet there were subtle differences also. The King's face was not as smooth and unlined as his son's, his brow was marked by many lines and deep furrows seemed permanently etched between his dark brows, furrows gained from countless years of worrying about his people's safety and from the pressures placed upon him to keep these lands free from shadow.

But it was perhaps the eyes that differed the most, while Gimli could make out that they were the same saphire blue, there the similarity ended. These were the eyes of an ancient being, a wise being, the eyes of one who had seen much of this world and yet so little of it had been good. They were eyes that did not offer trust easily nor perhaps forgiveness. They bore the weight of crushing responsibility, had seen countless battles, witnessed much death and had been through crippling sorrow, though Gimli suspected that very few tears had ever passed their way. They were eyes that had been hardened through necessity. The dwarf wondered if his friend had the power to soften those eyes.

The King was dressed in a deep emerald green full-length tunic which skimmed lightly over the tops of his soft dark brown leather boots. About his waist hung a narrow brown leather belt, studded sparingly with the emeralds of Girion, a gift from Bard of Esgaroth, as an offer of thanks for the King's assistance in a time of need many years ago. Over his strong shoulders hung a dark burgundy robe made from soft flowing velvet, its edges and cuffs were trimmed in a fine delicate design of gold leaves. In short he looked every bit the ruler his people proclaimed him to be.

When Thranduil entered the hall his scanning eyes sought out only his son and they focused solely on him. As they locked gazes, the King found himself closing his eyes for a moment and offered a prayer of silent thanks to the Valar, tentatively he opened them again, but it had not been a cruel vision, his beloved son was still standing before him and he smiled. Opening his arms wide, he wordlessly invited his son to come to him. Legolas needed no further prompting and rushed into his father's warm embrace. Once there, they held onto each other for dear life, each one savouring this precious moment. Thranduil allowed one hand to reach up and grasp his son's golden head from behind, pulling his child closer to him, allowing him to inhale the familiar woodland scent of the young Prince. Valar, he had missed that unique fragrance, he tought to himself, he had missed it so much.

"Ai na vendui ! Guren linna gen cened, gwannant lu ann ion-nín. Ce mae ?" he whispered lovingly into his son's ear. (Ai at last ! My heart sings to see thee, it has been too long my son. Are you well ?)

"Avo'osto Adar, Ím sínome sí. Amin tyava quel," Legolas replied assuredly. (Do not worry father, I am here now. I feel well.)

"Adar, there is someone who means a great deal to me that I should like you to meet," Legolas said hesitantly to his father as they finally released their holds on one another.

"Ofcourse my child, where is this friend of yours ?" the King asked with a slight hint of curiosity as wondered why he was detecting a hint of nervousness in his son's voice.

"Gimli," Legolas beconed his friend to make himself more visible and the dwarf obligingly stepped out from behind Sindadur and Luinsil.

Gimli struggled to make sure his expression would remain as neutral as possible before his friend's father, he would not be the one to provoke any argument, he valued the elf's friendship far too much for such pettiness in this delicate situation. And so he stood before the great King of Eryn Lasgalen and gave his most curteous nod of respect as his friend introduced him.

"My lord may I present to you Gimli, son of Glóin, one of the nine walkers, a great warrior who has sacrificed much in defending Arda against the foul hoardes of Sauron and who has fought bravely by my side on many occasion... Gimli may I present to you King Thranduil Oropherion, Lord of Eryn Lasgalen and my beloved father."


Sindadur and Luinsil waited anxiously for their King's response. Sindadur, posed to protect his King should the dwarf try anything, while Luinsil really wished he were some where else.

It seemed like an eternity to Legolas before his father tore his gaze away from the dwarf and when his father's eyes finally locked with his own once more, the young warrior almost wished his father were still looking at Gimli.

Raw powerful emotions swirled in their depths, it was as if a battle were raging within those saphire orbs and Legolas found it difficult to judge just exactly what his father was feeling. He saw glimpses of anger, traces of disappointment and disbelief but more disturbing still he saw rekindled grief and something he had thought he would never see in his own father's eyes, he saw betrayal.

Legolas' heart broke, he did not want to hurt his father, that was the last thing he had ever wanted to do and he realised now his own foolishness. His father had not changed as he had, his feelings about the children of Aulë remained the same, he had not relinquished an age old grief nor had he forgiven those who had caused it.

Suddenly the King spoke to his son, his voice low and level, yet the young elf could clearly detect the struggle for control.

"Man se carel si ?" was all he demanded of his son, as he tried to fathom why his own child would do this to him, here and now of all times. (What is he doing here ?)

"Adar," the Prince pleaded, "he is my friend."

"He is one of them Legolas...have you forgotten what his kind has done ?" he demanded as a touch of frost crept into the calm voice.

Now it was the Prince's turn to feel pain, did his father actually think he was capable of forgetting such a thing ?

"No Adar I have not forgotten, but Gimli is not responsible, he was..." but the Prince's pleading explaination was cut off.

"They are all responsible Legolas," and with that the King turned and opened the doors to leave, as he started to walk down the corridor he called out softly to his Captain, "I shall speak with you later Sindadur," and with that he disappeared silently down the hallway.

Legolas called after him.

"Adar nin goheno, Adar ! Adar..." but his desparate pleas were in vain. He had caused his father pain and for the life of him he did not know what to do. (Father forgive me, Father ! Father...).

Chapter Thirteen: The Painting

As the young Prince turned, his sorrowful eyes glanced at each of his three friends in turn. Luinsil was clearly uncomfortable that not only he, but a dwarf had also witnessed such a personal scene between his King and Prince and the advisor found himself fidgeting with his book. It left him feeling slightly awkward and almost embarrassed for his Prince and he was unsure of what to say or do especially in the presence of Gimli. And so he merely looked back as his eyes filled with pity.

There was no pity however in Sindadur's steady gaze, merely understanding and silent support. The old warrior had suspected all along that the presence of the dwarf would somehow manage to upset the emotional reunion and he cast an angry accusatory glare in the creature's direction.

But Gimli was oblivious to the Captain's sentiments, for his own eyes were securely fixed upon his friend. It was in these deep brown orbs that Legolas was most reluctant to look. He was concerned as to what his friend was feeling right now. Would there be anger ? resentment ? Would his father's attitude be something which would eat away at the dwarf until he could bare it no more and eventually force him away ? Legolas did not want to loose Gimli as a friend and he feared this outcome greatly.

When their eyes did meet, Legolas saw in their depths sadness and guilt and they looked to him for forgiveness. He felt so ashamed, he did not want Gimli blaming himself for something which was clearly not his fault, Gimli was not to blame for his father's feelings, nor was he responsible for what happened so long ago. He only hoped he could convince his friend of this without having to reveal his family's past. He would spare his friend that knowledge.

It happened rarely in his life, but now he felt the weight of his emotions get the better of him and his once proud shoulders began to sag under the strain. He could look at his friends no longer and his eyes turned to the marble floor as his head began to dip forward.

The awkward silence stretched on, neither spectator knowing what to do until Sindadur spotted the young elf bite his lower lip as he was known to do in times of extreme duress and so he stepped forward and placed a comforting hand on the Prince's shoulder.

"All will be well Legolas," he whispered softly, "you know how he can be sometimes...I shall speak with him later."

To which the younger elf looked up.

"Nay Sindadur, this is something I must deal with alone. It is my fault and it shall be up to me to make amends, though I thank you for your kind offer my friend," the young elf replied gratefully, resolute in his decision on what needed to be done.

The old Captain nodded in agreement, inwardly pleased at the maturity shown by his former charge.

"Very well, then by your leave my Prince, I shall return to see if Galathil has released the patrol," he requested with a slight bow.

"Ofcourse my friend and I thank you once again for your company through the forest," Legolas replied.

To which the older warrior merely allowed a small smile to escape as a memory came rushing back, he retrieved his weapons from the chest and began to replace each item into its traditional location with practised skill. He knew the dwarf was watching him closely and he could not help but feel slightly smug that he had surprised the stunted creature when he had produced a few "extra" weapons earlier. But he did not speak to him, not trusting his tongue not to make things worse for his Prince and so he merely gave the dwarf a curt nod as he passed him.

As he left the great entrance hall he called back to Legolas. "Remember our appointment my Lord, on the morrow, or I shall think you too afraid to face me," waiting for no reply he exited the palace.

Legolas smiled then allowed a small groan of self pity to escape knowing that it was likely he would be suffering from numerous bruises by this time tomorrow.

Seeing that the mood had lifted some what Luinsil offered to show Gimli to his sleeping quarters but the Prince thanked him, stating that he would take care of such matters himself and so the advisor found himself gratefully dismissed and he returned to his duties elsewhere, leaving only the two companions.

Gimli had still not spoken during all this time and when it looked like he was about to jump in and apologise, Legolas stopped him before he could do so.

Raising his right hand to stop his friends words, the elf walked over to the dwarf.

"Let us get one thing clear before we go any further Master Dwarf, what has happened here is not your fault, I told you before my father has his reasons for not particularly liking your people but that has nothing got to do with you my friend, so I will not have you apologising for a wrong that is not yours," then he added more lightly, "there will be no doubt, plenty of time in the future for you to apologise for all your actual faults, should Middle-earth last so long !"

"Very funny elf!" the dwarf grumbled, feigning insult but he was secretly relieved that his friend seemed, on the outside at least, to be in better spirits.

He hoped that whatever Legolas planned on saying to his father in the near future, that it would be enough to smooth things over while he was a guest here. He did not like being the one to force a wedge between father and son.

"Come my friend, it is time to take you to your lodgings," Legolas announced as he walked over to the chest and carefully handed Gimli back his beloved weapons and then proceeded to retrieve his own.

He led his friend down the corridor to the right of them.

As they walked, Legolas decided it would be best to give his father some time to adjust and then he would speak with him privately later, in the mean time he would show Gimli where he would be sleeping during his brief stay.

The silence stretched as the pair made their way through the corridors of Thranduil's stronghold. Each one wrapped in their own thoughts, the elf thought about what he would say to his father later and the dwarf pondered on what would be served at the evening meal.

As the elf quietly lead his friend to their destination, they turned and entered a brightly lit corridor carved out of the huge mountain. It had been hewn from the rock at a slight incline. It was decorated with lavish tapestries and painted silks, but what really caught the dwarf's eye were the numerous paintings lining the stone walls, hung at regular intervals between the fabric furnishings. They varied in size but were all of a natural theme ; depictions of various plants, creatures, particularly birds, trees and landscapes to be found within or about what was once, Mirkwood.

It is not enough that they be surrounded by trees outside but they must also have them inside, the dwarf thought.

However one painting in particular really caught his attention and he paused to look at it. It was a painting of the Lonely Mountain at sunset and it was truly beautiful. The colours were vibrant and Gimli felt as though he could almost reach out and touch home. It suddenly hit him how much he had missed his old homestead.

Legolas quickly realised he could no longer hear his friend's heavy foot falls echoing along the hallway and he turned around to find Gimli staring up at one of the paintings.

"Do you like it my friend ?" he asked the dwarf tentatively.

"What ?" Gimli asked, his gaze momentarily broken.

"I said do you like the painting ?" the elf asked again, pointing to the piece of art.

"Oh aye, tis not too bad I suppose, though it is hard to do the Lonely Mountain true justice," he stated proudly.

"Well my friend if you can bear to endure the injustice, you may have the painting," the elf smiled.

For several moments there was no reply as the dwarf stood mutely looking back and forth between the painting and his friend, unsure of what to say.

Finally, "Nay Legolas I could not take one of your father's treasures, he might not appreciate it," the dwarf answered, shifting from foot to foot.

He truly appreciated the elf's kind hearted offer and really did admire the painting, more than he would care to admit but he did not want to antagonise the King further if it meant trouble for his friend.

"But these paintings do not belong to my father Gimli, they are mine," he said, gesturing humbly along the hallway.

"What do you mean they are yours ?" the dwarf quizzed, his curiosity piqued.

"They are mine, that is... I painted them," Legolas replied so softly that the dwarf was almost unsure of what he had said.

"What ? You did ? When ?" came the barrage of demanding questions.

"Oh a long time ago Gimli, before I chose the path of a warrior," he answered as his eyes glazed for a fleeting moment as if caught in a distant memory.

The dwarf released a low whistle.

"You never cease to amaze me elf," he said looking some what bewilderedly up at his friend, "You never said you could paint," he accused.

"You never asked," came the elf's obvious reply.

The dwarf glared at his friend in mock annoyance as they resumed their walk along the corridor. Then Gimli's impatience prompted more questions to his friend.

"Durin's axe ! Must I drag every detail from you elf ? Tell me about these paintings of yours, how did you come to do them ?"

"It is not a strange tale elvellon, every elfling spends time studying a variety of arts and skills before coming of age. We study the healing arts, music and song, painting, woodcraft, spending fifty years or so at each discipline. My keenest interest lay in painting as you can see."

"Then what ?" the dwarf prompted after a moment of silence, clearly impressed.

"Then at the coming of age every elf must enter the service for a time. It is then that we perfect our fighting skills. We practice archery..."

"Naturally," the dwarf interrupted, rolling his eyes as he hardly ever saw his friend without his bow and quiver.

"Naturally," the elf agreed smiling, "and the sword and staff, knife skills, unarmed combat, ambush and patrolling techniques, tracking and hunting skills and so on."

"Hmmm, how long does this training last ?" Gimli asked curiously.

"Usually up to two hundred years," the elf supplied casually.

"Two hundred years in basic training ?!" the dwarf stated incredulously.

"Give or take a few years," came the honest reply.

Once again the great age gap between the dwarf and his elvish friend was brought to the fore front of Gimli's mind. It was so easy to see the elf as a young lad, which in fact the dwarf was prone to calling him but it couldn't be further from the truth.

While Legolas was still a youth amongst his own kind, he was already much older than Gimli would ever be and the dwarf's life span was greater than that of any man's, save Aragorn.

Over the millennia his friend must have amassed a huge catalogue of skills and experiences and it suddenly hit the dwarf once more how very little he really knew about his friend. So he renewed his silent vow to himself to try and find out as much as he could about his normally tight-lipped companion, while he still could.

"So what happens once this mandatory service is completed ?" the dwarf inquired.

"Well then it is time to choose your path. A precious few decide to become healers, artists, musicians and craft workers but in these recent dark times the bulk of my people decide to stay in the service and lead a warrior's life, just as I have... ah here we are," the elf paused and indicated to a large oak door.

"This my friend is where you will be spending your nights, I hope it meets your needs," he pushed open the heavy door with ease to allow his friend entrance, "if there is anything you need you have but to ask."

The room, much like the corridor was bright and airy both having been cut from the very wall of the mountain. It was a large rectangular room with a high vaulted ceiling. Ornately carved wooden beams, art work and tapestries decorated almost every inch of space. There were four large unglazed windows directly facing the door, each one draped in the sheerest pale silk which billowed slightly in the gentle breeze. Gimli could clearly see the tops of several trees growing just outside the windows and in fact a considerable amount of ivy had made its way in over the mantle of each window and was growing contently inside the room.

To the left was possibly the largest bed Gimli had ever seen and he wondered if it felt as comfortable as it looked, to the right were several wooden storage presses and an adjoining private wash room. Though the floor was made from cold stone, several rugs were scattered around the room to provide extra comfort.

The dwarf had a fairly privileged up-bringing as his family were quite wealthy and well respected but Gimli was forced to admit to himself that it was simply one of the most luxurious rooms he had ever stayed in.

"Aye, I suppose it'll do," he said followed by an exaggerated sigh as though greatly put out and accustomed to much finer accommodations.

Legolas could only smile at his friend's reaction.

"Sindadur slept in this room for many years, it is right next to mine," the elf said, gesturing to the left, "so if you do decide you need something I will not be too far away."

The Prince did not miss the deep grunt and grumbled mutterings which followed the mentioning of the old Captain's name and he smiled. Ah yes, he thought, more alike than you know Master Dwarf.

"So tell me Master Elf why is it that this Sindadur slept here ?" Gimli asked as he moved further inside the room and began to place his belongings away.

Legolas followed him inside, making his way over to the bed where he gracefully sat down, relaxed and yet still poised.

"Sindadur was my protector and weapons tutor when I was younger, he was also one of my father's tutors and father wished him to continue on his duties in the palace when I was born, which he did unquestionably. He takes his duties very seriously so he always remained close by should anything... unexpected happen."

"Oh I bet he was a barrel of fun to be around morning, noon and night !" the dwarf's sarcasm was not lost on the elf.

"He had his moments," Legolas replied in his tutor's defence, "still I would not trade my time with him for all the jewels in your beloved Aglarond."

The elf smiled as his friend's eyebrows strained to disappear into his unruly hair.

"Costly time indeed," the dwarf mused as he removed his elven cloak and the cache of weapons adorning his body and reverently laid them out on a near by press.

"Maybe, but worth it, for if it were not for Sindadur's years of expert tutelage I would have no doubt passed to the Halls of Mandos long ago," the young archer replied in earnest.

"Then indeed it is valuable time well spent my friend," the burly dwarf agreed as he removed his large helmet and carefully positioned it beside an impressive display of axes. Next he removed his leather vambraces and gauntlets and unclipped his twin gold gilded rerebraces from his leather pauldron.

Despite the layers that Legolas watched his friend remove there were still more layers of armour and clothing underneath. He marvelled at how quickly his sturdy friend could still move in battle under all that excess weight, such obstructions would severely hamper his own style of fighting.

The elf decided it was time to leave his friend in peace for a while as he settled in and Legolas himself was looking forward to bathing in warm water for a change. Suddenly the elf leapt from the bed as faint traces of a familiar smell began to enter the room.

"Ai Elbereth, she will tan my hide !" he cried as he made for the door only to be halted by Gimli's shouted question.

"And where are you off to in such a hurry without so much as a 'by your leave' ?"

"Sorry Gimli but I must go to the kitchens with haste, there is someone there who will no doubt have heard by now that I am home and if I do not call on her soon I will be made to regret it my friend," the elf pleaded for forgiveness as he made to leave the room.

"Then wait for me Master Elf, any maiden who can strike such fear into a warrior's heart would be worth meeting," Gimli replied as he followed his suddenly flustered friend out of his chamber.

Chapter Fourteen: Almond Cakes

As they made their way through the many passages of Thranduil's underground stronghold the dwarf queried his friend about this mysterious elf maiden.

"So tell me something about this fierce Lady I am about to meet," he asked, then as an after thought, "she's not related to that rude, glaring Captain of yours, is she ?"

Legolas smiled.

"Her name is Gwaithwen and if you thought Sindadur could glare pray you do not get on her bad side ! She works mostly in the kitchens now and organises many of the palace staff. We are very close and she holds a special place in my heart though this does not prevent her from inflicting physical abuse should I cross her on occasion !" the elf informed his friend, grinning broadly at several incidents which sprang to mind.

What he did not tell his friend was that Gwaithwen had become a surrogate mother to him when his own mother had died so unexpectedly and tragically after his birth and that she too loved Legolas as though he were her own son.

As they got closer to the kitchens the smell of his favourite almond cakes grew stronger. Legolas led his friend to a large archway at the end of one of the corridors and stood silently at the entrance. Inside a single elf worked at a large wooden table, stirring something in an oversized delph bowl with an enormous wooden spoon.

A functional apron protected her flowing fawn gown and like her face it was spotted with flour. She was possibly similar in age to Sindadur, maybe even older as her long chestnut brown hair which was neatly tied back in a simple braid contained many silver highlights.

When she turned they were met with large expressive doe eyes of the deepest brown, brimming with love and joy. As her eyes took in her visitors she smiled broadly, placed the spoon aside and began to brush the excess flour from her hands onto her apron. Then she opened out her arms in greeting.

"Legolas penneth-nîn, tol enni." (Legolas my young one, come to me)

The Prince complied at once and rushed into her welcoming arms for a loving embrace.

"Greetings Gwaithwen, it is so good to see you, I have missed you greatly," he spoke softly into her ear then sniffed the air, "and your almond cakes !"

"I heard you had returned, it is a great relief to my heart my dear to see you home safe, though I wonder why it took you so long to find me ?" she asked raising a delicate eyebrow as she jokingly chided the warrior.

Legolas could only throw Gimli an 'I told you so' glance over his shoulder, so he pleaded his case.

"Peace Gwaithwen, you know I came here as soon as I could. I value my health too much to risk your wrath by delaying our reunion !"

To which she gave him a final squeeze then she untwined herself from her royal charge and held him out at arms length looking over every inch of him with a critical eye, checking that all was well. Only when he had passed her inspection did she continue to speak.

"Ah ! You have grown my child since last I saw you and you are even more handsome to my eyes if that is possible, Ilúvatar himself must be jealous."

Much to Gimli's amusement this last comment caused his friend to blush uncontrollably and he fidgeted as he stared at the floor.

"Gwaithwen please," he begged, "you embarrass me in front of my friend, besides I have not changed a single bit since we parted as well you know !"

He took her tenderly by the hand.

"Come there is someone important I wish you to meet."

He gestured to the dwarf waiting patiently nearby who then stepped forward some what reluctantly from the archway.

"Gwaithwen this is my good friend Gimli, son of Glóin, a member of the Fellowship I journeyed with to Mordor, who claims to have saved my worthless scrawny hide on many occasions. Gimli this beautiful wood elf you see before you is Gwaithwen but be warned elvellon do not let her sweet looks and soft voice fool you. Those same honey tones that oft sung me to sleep as a babe can be as harsh as orc whips and have cut this elf down to size countless times and she is lethal with that wooden spoon my friend, I swear I still bear the marks to prove it !"

"Nonsense Legolas, nothing you did not deserve," she admonished gently then moved to Gimli and bowed slightly.

"It is an honour to meet you Gimli and you have my thanks for keeping this young upstart out of trouble."

"The honour is all mine my Lady," he answered, returning the bow graciously, "anyone who can get away with beating sense into this elf has both my respect and admiration. I only wish that you had used something bigger than that wooden spoon for I fear not all of your valuable lessons made it through that thick skull of his !"

"Ah Gimli you speak the truth," she nodded in agreement, "if he were mine I would have him confined to Eryn Lasgalen still, knowing the trouble he gets into, he seeks danger like the bees seek pollen."

"I am beginning to regret introducing you two, I fear you will be plotting against me in no time and I am at a loss to say who will have the most damming influence !" Legolas worriedly declared.

"Come my new friend, you must try some of my freshly baked almond cakes, I have a batch ready for tasting," offered Gwaithwen as she picked up a thickly folded piece of cloth resting on the table.

She moved to a hot stove which seemed to fill an entire wall and removed a tray of little golden brown cakes. The aroma was enticing and Gimli began to lick his lips in anticipation.

"They do smell wonderful my Lady," he praised.

"Wait until you taste one and please Gimli call me Gwaithwen everyone does, why should you be any different and in truth I am unaccustomed to such displays of respect," she sighed, sharing a secret wink with the dwarf.

Legolas was left to roll his eyes and groan.

"Then you must allow me the honour of paying you the respect a Lady such as yourself truly deserves," he replied grandly with a huge beaming smile to match.

She returned to the table with the hot tray and began to place the cakes on a plate to cool, just as she was finishing, a pale hand reached over to take a cake but it was promptly whacked by her wooden spoon which seemed to appear from thin air.

"Ai ! Gwiathwen one of these days you will break my hand !" Legolas protested feigning hurt as he clutched his chastised fingers to his chest.

"And one of these days you will learn manners befitting a Prince," she scolded in return.

Gimli did his best to disguise his deep chuckles as a sudden coughing fit but his efforts merely earned him another elven glare from his archer friend.

"Surely it is only proper that your guest should sample them first ? Is it not so in your dwarven halls Gimli ?" she queried her new kindred spirit.

"Indeed it is my Lady and in my home you would be treated as royalty, your every wish catered for, you would want for naught and I would never dream of looking to my own needs before your own," he crooned, bowing low once more.

"Why thank you Gimli, such manners are so refreshing, there you see Legolas your friend knows how to make someone feel welcome !"

The poor Prince released a dramatic sigh and raised his hands in supplication.

"Fine ! Fine ! I surrender," he pleaded, "no more please."

Then he turned to Gimli.

"Please most honoured guest," he invited, bowing low as his soft voice dripped in sarcasm, "will you try one of these delicious almond cakes ?"

He offered the full plate to the dwarf who replied, "Why I would be delighted," as he returned the elf's bow and carefully removed a single cake from the plate.

He then proceeded to nibble daintily on the tiny morsel or as daintily as is possible for a dwarf.

Legolas merely watched the whole scene in stunned silence as Gimli finally finished the little cake with an expression of exaggerated bliss.

"Truly my Lady they are exquisite, they melt like honey in the mouth and taste just as sweet, my compliments."

"Not as sweet as your tongue dwarf," Legolas muttered under his breath but his remark was pointedly ignored by both Gimli and Gwaithwen.

"Why thank you Gimli," she replied, "it is good to know my efforts and talents are appreciated by someone."

Poor Legolas could take it no more.

"Oh for the love of the Valar would you two please stop and you dwarf, I have seen you eat an entire pheasant in half the time it took you to eat that minute cake!"

"Pay no heed friend Gimli," she advised, "Ilúvatar willing some of your impressive manners will rub off on him. Now you must forgive me but there is work to be done here. We will soon have the evening meals to prepare and I would not see our guest disappointed with our fare."

"Say no more my Lady we shall leave you in peace," Gimli crooned, bowing again, he continued, "Till we meet again."

Once again the young Prince found his eyes roaming to the high ceiling in response to his friend's new found diplomatic skills.

"Until later LADY Gwaithwen," he bowed and then added, "...traitor !" as he was practically dragged from the kitchens by his shorter companion.

"Come Master Elf, I am keen to meet more of your friends, especially if they are half as interesting as the Lady Gwaithwen."

As they headed towards the main hall Legolas suddenly realised that he never tasted any of the cakes himself, momentarily abandoning his friend, he ran back to the kitchen only to find Gwaithwen waiting for him with the plate of almond cakes. Both exchanged a knowing smile. He moved toward her and took a handful of the little treats then leaned in and gave her a tender kiss on the cheek.

As he turned to leave she spoke softly, "You have chosen well my child, that dwarf will be your friend 'till the end of his days, he cares for you very much."

"I know Gwaithwen and I him," he smiled and winked, "just do not tell him I said that."

The elder smiled in return and yet the worry in her expressive eyes was clearly seen by the young elf.

"What ails thee Gwaithwen ?" he asked, concerned for his foster mother.

But she answered him with a question of her own.

"What does your father think ?"

A small crease appeared on the Prince's brow and he looked sadly to the floor.

"Ah Legolas," she sighed, "so it is as I thought."

She raised the young elf's chin with a flour splecked finger until she could see his eyes.

"It will be well my child, if anyone can convince him of Gimli's worth, then it is you," then she reached over and placed a tender kiss on his worried brow, "do not fret my go to that friend of yours, he is waiting," she commanded lightly.

Legolas smiled appreciatively at her kind words and nodded farewell.

He ran back through the archway and out into the hallway where he left his friend and divided the cakes up. He kept two for himself and gave the remaining three to Gimli who promptly shoved all three into his mouth and began munching.

Legolas shook his head and began to laugh as he slapped his friend on the shoulders causing almond cake crumbs to fly out of the dwarf's open mouth. Gimli started to protest loudly but it was difficult to make out exactly what he was saying between the chewing and flying crumbs.

"Oh yes Master dwarf, you are the very model of manners, if Gwaithwen could only see you now !"

Chapter Fifteen: Preparations

It had pushed his skills of persuasion to the limit but Legolas finally convinced Gimli to return to his room, take his rest and get settled in, the promise of more almond cakes had finally clenched the deal.

If both friends were to be totally truthful to each other they were equally looking forward to relaxing in a warm bath. The cold streams had not bothered them while they travelled together but there's a lot to be said for a hot tub and some soap.

The Prince walked his friend to his chamber and opened the door for him once more. It swung open smoothly and silently, yet the dwarf made no move to enter, instead he looked up at his friend with serious concern.

"You intend to speak with your father I gather," he stated more than asked.

The elf nodded silently in admission.

Gimli released a staggered sigh and allowed his broad shoulders to sag imperceptibly as if he too felt the pressure Legolas must be under.

"Legolas I have no desire to come between you and you father...I know now that he is all the family you have ...and I would not be the cause of you two is too important my friend."

The dwarf expressed his sentiments so softly that Legolas was surprised his friend's gruff voice was capable of such tenderness.

Legolas looked meaningfully into the swirling depths of the dwarf's dark eyes and saw honest compassion there. A slight smile escaped his lips.

"Yes Gimli, family is important but so is friendship elvellon. Do not worry, all will be well, I shall speak with him once I have made myself more presentable," the Prince glanced down at his less than spotless travelling tunic, "besides, he didn't exactly warm to the notion of my friendship with Aragorn straight away either," he added lightly.

The dwarf knew that the elf was only trying to make him feel better about the situation yet some how he felt that Legolas was holding something back and he could not guess exactly as to what it could be. He suspected that whatever this secret was, might help to explain the King's reactions and biting comments and Gimli had a bad feeling that should this mystery be revealed that it would not be to his liking.

But he knew that his friend was under enough strain at the moment and he would not query him about it now nor would he have him worrying about him, so he decided to take his friend's advice and bathe, then relax for a while.

Legolas could see that his burly friend had come to some sort of a decision, he only hoped that it did not involve leaving Eryn Lasgalen.

Gimli crossed the threshold into his room.

"Fine Master Elf, I shall try to wash the smell of the forest out of my beard and then I shall take some rest while you call on your father," he began to close the door but stopped suddenly and poked a warning finger at the Prince, "don't forget the almond cakes !"

As the heavy wooden door closed before him, the young elf allowed a barely audible sigh of relief to escape, then he walked to his own room next door.

Once inside he took in the familiar surroundings. Nothing had changed while he was away, everything was still exactly where he had left it the morning he had set out for Rivendell. His room looked much like Gimli's only it contained many more personal items.

His old art easel and paint box stood abandoned in the corner, covered with a fine dust sheet. A small stack of books rested by his bed, he had yet to finish any of them, whenever he had found time to read, he was always abruptly called away to perform some duty or other and he thought it highly unlikely that he would be able to pay the books any attention now, especially with Gimli around.

As he placed his current bow and quiver on a large oak press he looked up to see his very first bow hanging as always on the wall between two of his paintings. Carefully he took it down and ran his long, graceful fingers over the plain, unadorned dark wood. It felt so small and light in his hands. But then it was a child's bow.
He had fired his very first arrow with this little bow and became hooked straight away, he had practiced for more hours than could be counted down at the archery fields until he could hit the centre of every target. He remembered the bruises that adorned his left arm when he didn't grip this little bow properly. Somehow the string always managed to catch his arm just above his arm guard. Sindadur had told him unsympathetically that the pain would be a useful reminder to hold his arm properly.

Regardless of the many trials and errors he had with it, it had all been an enjoyable experience, back then archery had been fun. Then he looked at his gift, the ornately carved bow of the Galadhrim and his heart felt saddened, knowing that he had only ever used this beautiful object as an instrument of death. As he replaced the little bow on the wall he promised himself some time on the practice fields, it would be nice to remember what it felt like when his archery skills were not just used for slaying.

He carried his pack over to his bed and began to empty out its contents. Everything would need to be washed and one of his tunics was in definite need of repair, Gwaithwen would probably unleash her wooden spoon if she found out and he wondered idly if he could smuggle the item to the tailor without her knowledge.

As he emptied the pack the bed became littered with various items; soap, healing herbs, rope, a whet-stone, spare bow strings, a comb, spare leather straps and fletches. Finally he removed the last item, it was well wrapped in cloth which he carefully removed, revealing a delicate mithril circlet.

No doubt he would be required to wear it later.

He did not really enjoy wearing this symbol of his nobility but was glad it had come to no harm. It was placed on another press beside a small painting of his father. He stared at the picture for a few moments, then decided it was time to get cleaned up and face him, putting off the inevitable would only make things harder.

So he entered the bathing chamber and began to fill his tub with gloriously hot water while he removed his travelling clothes. He added a generous amount of lavender oil and then slipped into the bath, allowing the hot water and soothing smell to ease his tensions while he un-braided his hair.

He felt much better and a whole lot cleaner after his thorough soak. The time alone had allowed him to sort out a few things in his head. He only hoped that things would go as well as he had rehearsed them in his mind.

He dried himself off and removed a dark brown silk shirt and beige leggings from his wardrobe. Once dressed he began to put on a fresh pair of brown leather boots. As he was sitting on the edge of his bed, pulling on his second boot, a soft knock rapped on his door.

"Come in," he replied.

The door swung open partially and a familiar voice asked him, "Are you decent ?"

"Yes, fear not Lady Gwaithwen, your honour shall not be offended," he answered as he hurriedly shoved the damaged tunic back into his pack.

Gwaithwen's head appeared around the door.

"Young scamp !" she lightly scolded, "well I see you are almost ready."

Then she entered the room carrying a small tray of almond cakes.

"Ai Gwaithwen you must have read my mind, I promised Gimli I would bring him more of your delicious cakes, he seems to have taken quite a liking to them," the young elf laughingly declared.

"And why wouldn't he ?" she countered, "he is obviously a dwarf of considerable taste !"

"I have heard Gimli accused of many things, but taste was never one of them," he teased, narrowly missing her swiping hand as it tried to cuff his ear, "peace Gwaithwen ! Do not have me call upon my father with glowing ears !" he pleaded.

"Very well, just this once," she warned gently as she placed the tray on a nearby press, "now come, sit by the window and I shall try to put some order on the hair of yours," she instructed the young elf, as she reached over to the bed and retrieved his comb and a small discarded towel.

Legolas lifted a small fire side stool over to the nearest window and sat down compliantly while Gwaithwen dried off the ends of his hair and then began to comb out any tangles. She worked swiftly and methodically as she braided his long silken hair into his favoured warrior style.

"There, you are ready," she told him with a gentle pat on the shoulder.

Legolas stood up in front of her and smoothed out his shirt.

"Well, do I pass inspection ?" he asked hopefully.

"Yes my Lord, you look every bit the Prince you were born to be," she proudly announced, as she felt emotional tears threaten to show themselves. Turning quickly away she wiped her eyes and retrieved the tray of tiny cakes.

"Well, what are we to do with these little morsels ?" she enquired mischievously.

"I had better give them to the dwarf or I shall not be let forget it any time soon," he told her.

So they both left his room and Legolas closed the door gently behind him. When they were outside in the corridor their ears were assaulted by a strange sound. The Prince recognised it at once for what it was and could not help but smile.

"For the love of the Valar ! what is that noise ?" Gwaithwen demanded, totally bemused.

"That my Lady is the sound of a dwarf sleeping," he happily informed her.

"It sounds like he's wresting with a pack of wargs!" she exclaimed incredulously.

Legolas did his best to stifle his giggles as he slowly opened the dwarf's door and crept inside. The sound was, if possible even louder and Gwaithwen's delicate eyebrows rose in amazement. He left the little cakes resting on a small wooden locker beside the dwarf's bed and then soundlessly sneaked back out of the room, closing the door behind him.

As they walked down the corridor Gwaithwen turned to her Prince.

"How did you ever manage to stay hidden from the enemy with that racket ?" she asked in wonder.

"Oh we never let it get that bad on the journey to Mordor, except while staying within the protected borders of Lothlórien. Usually someone would just give him a shove and it would cease," he informed her playfully.

"Amazing," she replied while shaking her head, still in apparent disbelief, "Well my dear I must return to my work and ensure all is underway for tonight's feast."

She placed her two soft hands either side of the Prince's face and gently pulled his forehead to her lips, kissing him tenderly.

"Go now, make your peace and be strong," she advised him lovingly, then she turned and walked quietly away.

And so he made his way to Luinsil's office, where he found the elder elf busily arranging the King's future appointments.

"My Lord," the startled elf exclaimed as he stood abruptly, "I was not expecting you, how may I be of service," he asked somewhat flustered.

"All is well Luinsil, please sit down, I merely wish to know the King's where abouts," the warrior informed the advisor.

"Ah...yes...of course, the King...the King is in his private study my Lord...though he did express a desire to be left alone," Luinsil hesitantly informed his Prince.

"You have my thanks Luinsil...I shall take that under advisement," then he smiled briefly and allowed the old elf to return to his unenviable duties, while he headed straight for his father's study.

Chapter Sixteen: An Understanding

The King of Mirkwood sat behind a large ornate desk made from ancient oak. Absently he ran his fingers over the smooth polished surface, tracing the grain of the wood with his strong yet delicate fingers.

His own father, Oropher had made the desk soon after their arrival in Mirkwood and he had spent many hours carving the ivy leaf details which surrounded its frame, he had called it his labour of love and it was now one of Thranduil's most treasured possessions.

He felt close to his father when he sat here and so he would come here to think when ever he needed to sort out a problem. At the moment he had quite an unusual problem to think through and it was currently preventing him from attending to the numerous parchments which were piled high on his desk, silently demanding his attention. He had given up trying to attend to these matters when he realised he had been staring at the same piece of parchment for nearly an hour.

With a dejected sigh he sat back in his comfortable chair and interlocked his long fingers as he rested them across his slender abdomen. Ice clear blue eyes took in his familiar surroundings. The room had changed very little since his father had been slain in the land of shadow, Thranduil had been loath to alter anything his father had put in place.

Perhaps the only additions were a small treasured selection of his son's paintings proudly displayed above the fire's mantle and his beloved wife's harp, resting forever silently on its plinth in the corner. It had not been played by a living soul since she died.

The room was richly yet tastefully decorated with tapestries and wood panelling which did much to hide the walls of stone. It was positioned deep inside the mountain, partially for security reasons and it had no windows but was kept bright and airy with the clever use of air vents and mirrors, still it darkened quite early and it was Gwaithwen who would come in daily and light the numerous candles scattered about the room. Their flickering flames danced about in the gentle jasmine-scented air currents and illuminated the room in a soft warm glow.

The study also contained many book shelves packed with ancient texts, scrolls and various parchments and there was an impressive display of elvish weapons fashioned by the finest craftsmen and smiths in the woodland realm. The King's own curved sword, yew bow and stocked quiver rested permanently by his desk should the need ever arise.

Like much of the rest of the palace large rugs covered the floor, the King stared at one in particular as he recalled watching a certain young elf take his first few steps into his father's open arms. Thranduil permitted a small smile to escape at the memory, his son Legolas always evoked strong feelings and he wished again for the millionth time that his wife had lived to see him grow up.

The young warrior Prince reminded him so much of his departed wife that it hurt sometimes but the similarities were not physical however, Aranalph had been a raven beauty with eyes of amber that sparkled with life and glowed in the evenings like burning embers but Legolas had his mother's compassionate heart, shared her passion for life and a burning desire for adventure.

He was relieved more than he ever thought possible when he saw that his child had come home safely and though he had known his son and the fellowship had been successful on their crucial mission, he longed to see evidence of this with his own eyes.

When word had arrived that Legolas had left with the ring bearer on a quest to Mordor his heart had been gripped with an almost paralysing fear for his precious son's life and when the delegation of woodland elves finally returned and informed their King that his son had left on this hazardous journey with one wizard, two men, four hobbits and a dwarf !, the King's advisors and personal guard feared they would have to barricade their Lord in his own chambers for fear of him sneaking out in order to track down his only son and heir.

But now his child was finally home, only he had brought one of his companions with him. To say Thranduil had been taken aback at the sight of a dwarf in his halls would be a slight understatement. Dwarves were no longer welcome in his realm and there had not been any of the stunted creatures here since that debacle involving Mithrandir and that wily perian Bilbo Baggins before the Battle of the Five Armies.

And now here was his own son actually befriending a child of Aulë and openly welcoming him into their home, it had been a most unexpected development, one which had wounded the King deeply.

He had been so eagerly awaiting his son's arrival, anxious to see him in one piece and keen to hear all about his harrowing adventure but the sudden appearance of the dwarf had brought back a personal grief so powerful that he feared his own reaction. He could not trust his tongue to hold the angry words his grieving heart longed to scream at the stunted creature, words he had shouted at the walls of his private chamber for countless nights, words which were forever left unanswered.

And so he had forced himself to leave the great entrance hall before his anger vented itself elsewhere, before he turned on his own son and with each weary step he took taking him further from his child, his heart grew heavier as the image of his son's sorrowful eyes filled his mind's eye.

He had wisely abandoned the trade meeting, lest his foul mood destroy all hopes of further business dealings with the men of Lake-town and he made straight for his study. He had hoped to distract himself by throwing himself into his work but his efforts were doomed to failure and so here now in the solitude of his study, he finally sought to put some order on his thoughts after the considerable effort it had taken to soothe his raging emotions.

Naturally his thoughts had turned to his son, although he had been deeply hurt by the Prince's actions he found that he could not stay truly angry at the young elf for long. Life in former Mirkwood was unpredictable at best and it was not wise to remain angry with loved ones for too long lest the chance to make amends never present itself, he had learned that lesson the hard way.

Growing up, the young elf had never ceased to amaze him and now even as a young adult, the Prince was full of surprises, his acceptance of this dwarf was a fine example. His son was gifted with far greater powers of forgiveness, Thranduil knew this, it was one of many noble traits the young Prince had inherited from his mother and the King often wished that he too could put the past behind him and move on as easily as Legolas appeared to.

Perhaps such flexibility and spirit was a gift of the young and it had been a long time since the King felt young. His musings were interrupted by a hesitant knock on the heavy doors leading into his private study. The King had been expecting this visit, he knew it was only a matter of time before his son would call on him to explain his side of the story, just as he had done countless times before whenever he had got himself into some sort of trouble.

"Enter," the King replied evenly to the knock.

Outside Legolas composed himself with a steadying deep breath, smoothed his clothes then he purposefully pushed open the double doors with more bravado than he actually felt. He really felt as though he were an elfling again, forced once more to apologise to his father for another prank pulled at Sindadur's expense or to give his account of some event gone awry.

As the young Prince entered the study he noted that his father was sitting comfortably behind his desk, partially obscured by an impressive pile of documents and he groaned inwardly, loath to disturb his father when he clearly had a lot of work to attend to.

The King noticed the worried and troubled look that flashed across his son's face.

"Come in my son, I have been expecting you," he beckoned.

"You have ?" the archer asked in return, slightly surprised.

"Legolas my child I know you better than you know yourself, you are here to discuss this new friendship and tell me all the reasons why it is a good thing despite what I may think," Thranduil informed the anxious Prince as though reading his mind, yet he also sensed that there were other serious matters besides the dwarf, troubling his son and he hoped the young warrior would unburden himself in time.

The Prince had a tendency to bottle things up rather than show any perceived weakness, in this respect the acorn had not fallen far from the oak.

Legolas nodded obediently knowing that there was little he could ever hide from his eternally astute father.

"You are right of course Adar but you are busy, perhaps I can call upon you when you have more time."

"Nonsense my son, we have serious matters to discuss, matters which I would rather not leave unresolved... besides I have not seen you in what has felt like an age to my heart, come, close the doors and sit with me," Thranduil indicated to one of a pair of large high backed chairs in front of the flickering hearth. Though it was not cold in the room at this time of year, a fire was often lit to help create more light.

As the Prince effortlessly closed the enormous oak doors behind him, Thranduil made his way over to one of the chairs and sat down. Legolas then silently crossed the room and sat opposite his father in a matching chair.

For a moment he could not look directly at his father, afraid to look into his ancient eyes, afraid of what he might see, so he studied the intricate pattern of the upholstery fabric and realised how worn it had become.

Thranduil cast a narrow but concerned gaze in his son's direction and noticing his obvious discomfort he decided to break the ice.

"Well, shall we sit here in contemplative silence or shall we begin to discuss that which is weighing so heavily on your heart that it prevents you from looking at your own father ?"

Unable to decipher his father's neutral tone, the Prince steeled himself, finally lifted his head and looked his father apologetically in the eye, hoping to find some trace of understanding, a hint of tolerance. What he saw surprised him, there was no anger, no disappointment only a faint flicker of curiosity which when sated just might help the King to comprehend his son's actions. It was a good start.

"Adar you must understand that it was not out of disrespect or malice that I brought Gimli here. He has invited me to visit his old home in the Lonely Mountain and it would seem rude not to return the favour. To cause you pain and suffering was never my intent, you must believe this. Aragorn is due to arrive within the next day or two and after a brief stay we shall all leave for Erebor. If it pleases you, we shall keep to ourselves and cause you no trouble while we are here."

"Ah, so the Ranger will take part in this little adventure too I see.." a faint crack began to appear in Thranduil's seemingly calm exterior.

"He is no mere ranger father, he is..." but the Prince's defence of his friend was cut short by the King's harsh tone as his manner became increasingly irate.

"I know who he is !" he almost shouted, "well I know it... and whose blood flows in his veins."

The Prince could feel his frustration build as he saw the beginnings of the same old argument creep to the surface and his eyes darkened, determined to defend his most trusted companions.

"Ada please ! We have been down this path many times before, I care not of his blood line, he is not Isildur nor has he shown similar failings, he helped in the Ring's destruction Ada ! Aragorn is my friend and he is now King Elessar Telcontar of Gondor and you have told me many times that if I cannot show respect for someone then I should at least respect their rank or station, now I ask you to do the same."

Thranduil's eyes locked with those of his son and a battle of wills commenced as the tense silence stretched, finally he broke the contact and directed his attention to the comforting flames. He reached down to a wicker basket full of small logs and cast one into the waning fire. Tiny sparks momentarily filled the air and the crackling increased as the hungry flames found new fuel to feed on. The King took several deep calming breaths as he allowed his annoyance to slowly dissipate, then finally looked once more to his son.

"Peace Legolas...I understand my son...honestly I do, it is just hard sometimes to leave the past behind when it remains so fresh and clear in my mind..."

The Prince knew his father spoke of more than just Aragorn's distant past and a familiar grief resurfaced.

"and," the King continued, "it can be equally difficult to reconcile myself with your choice of companions. First a human, the heir of Isildur no less and now a dwarf and not just any dwarf, no it has to be Gimli, son of Glóin ! If I did not know you better Little Leaf I would begin to think you do it on purpose to trouble your already troubled father !"

Legolas detected the faintest hint of humour colouring his father's voice and he privately thanked the Valar for the small reprieve.

"Ada, as I said, that is not my intention, I would never knowingly add to your burdens," he pleaded, "but fate is indeed a strange and unpredictable companion. Besides you know if I had not met Aragorn all those years ago on the southern borders of Mirkwood we would not be having this conversation now. Both he and his fellow Rangers were of great aid to my patrol and I during the orc attack and the athelas he carried was most useful, would you not agree ?"

The King allowed a small begrudging smile to escape.

"Yes, it was most fortunate," he agreed, "I know he saved your life and for that I will be forever in debt to the edain but remember some of us are a little more set in our ways than you my child and you must be patient with us while we try to adjust, after all it is not everyday that an elf brings a dwarf into his father's home, especially when that father is me."

Now it was the Prince's turn to smile faintly and gaze at the flickering flames. But the moment of levity was all too fleeting as Legolas contemplated how truly difficult this new friendship must be for his father to accept. Grief can be a smothering emotion which closes off the sufferer's heart and prevents recovery, leaving its victim stuck in the past and unable to move on.

"Ada..." the Prince softly called for his father's attention. When he held the ancient elf's piercing gaze once more, he continued. "You know it took me a long time not to blame every dwarf alive for what happened, I too was angry Ada, very angry... with their whole race... for generations. I wanted revenge Ada for what they did, I wanted them to feel the grief we felt, every last one of them... but eventually I realised it would change nothing."

Thranduil was deeply moved by the depth of emotion revealed by his son's heartfelt words and he reached over and grasped the young elf's hand offering his encouragement. Legolas was touched by his father's gesture and he gripped the offered hand like a life line as he continued.

"Still I was unwilling to see them as individuals and considered them unworthy of our attention but Gimli changed all that Ada. I now realise that he and all the other dwarves alive in Arda this day are no more at fault for what happened than Aragorn is to blame for the actions of his ancestors. It was an accident Ada, a dreadful costly accident that brought crushing grief and pain to our family but it happened a long time ago and those responsible are no longer alive to blame,... to hate."

The King's heart broke on hearing his son's confession and only countless years of training allowed him to prevent the tears of lingering grief and paternal pride that threatened to fall from doing so. His child had grown up so quickly it seemed and he thanked the Valar for gifting him with such a son.

Legolas had been able to do what he had not and he marvelled at these precious glimpses of his son's soul and how mature he could be when the situation warranted it. He also felt like he was beginning to really understand just how important this friendship with the dwarf was, in a special way it was helping to heal his child's grief and wash away the bitterness he had felt for too many years. These were gifts that could not be cast aside lightly and so he made a solemn vow to be more accepting of his son's new friend.

"Thank you my child for sharing this moment with me it has meant a great deal. I suppose I know deep in my heart that your friend is not personally responsible Legolas and yet sometimes it can be difficult to convince the heart of what the mind knows to be true, they seem capable of existing independently of each other," he smiled, "I give you now my solemn promise that I shall try to give this friendship a chance and that I will be more accepting of your friend Gimli."

Legolas was relieved more than he thought possible and actually felt some of the tension drain from his shoulders. He released his father's hand, stood then moved to the King's nearby chair where he then knelt before the elder and surrounded him with a loving hug which was eagerly returned.

"Thank you Ada," he whispered into his father's chest, "it is all I ask."

Thranduil smiled contently as he partially removed his grip to allow him to stroke the young warriors golden hair. Ahhh ...Aranalph my love, he thought, would that you were here to see what a fine son you have given me, he would have made you so proud my Queen, just as he has made me. Then he bent over and placed a loving kiss on his child's head.

"I love you my son, more than life itself and though you are an adult now remember you will always be my child and I can not help but look out for your well being. I will admit that a large part of me will always believe that relationship's with these mortals is folly, destined to end in grief and pain as you are forced to watch them wither and fade. You have your mother's gentle heart Legolas and I have no desire to see it crushed. Do not fault me for trying to spare you such torment."

"I understand Ada and I love you too ... despite any actions to the contrary !" he young elf chuckled.

"Now come Legolas, tell me how this unique friendship came to be, for surely there is none other like it in all of Middle-earth."

Another light chuckle escaped the Prince's lips as he looked up into his father's face.

"Oh believe me Ada it was not always so !" the young Prince was forced to admit.

"Hmmmm sounds like a tale which needs a good wine to help it go down," the King hinted.

Legolas raised an amused eyebrow then reluctantly freed himself from his father's embrace as he went to fetch them something to drink from the wine cabinet beside the large oak desk. He filled two goblets with rich red elven wine, offered one to his father then returned to his own comfortable chair once more and continued his tale.

"When we first met in Rivendell things did not go well at all, in fact at Lord Elrond's council things nearly got out of control. Luckily young Master Frodo distracted us all before any real harm was done by either delegation."

The King's curiosity was genuinely piqued and he gestured his son to continue.

"I will admit it was a strain at first travelling with Gimli but we were both equally to blame and both equally fell victim of our ancient prejudices. I know our behaviour was childish at times and it was starting to irritate Mithrandir. Though he never spoke of it, we did however receive several looks. T'is a wonder he did not make us mute for the things we said to each other. But gradually I began to respect his strange dwarven ways even if I could not fully understand them. I discovered that he has as much honour and loyalty as any elf twice his stature, he is a brave and fierce warrior, highly skilled with an axe and we have fought side by side many times. I could not ask for a better friend to watch my back..."

He paused to take a savour the aroma of the wine, then drank a mouthful and delighted at its unique fruity flavour. He realised how much he had missed these small home comforts while he was away.

"... but to be honest it was the Lady of the Golden Wood who finally persuaded each of us separately to reconcile and cast aside our differences for the sake of the Fellowship and one does not easily cast aside the advice of the Lady, so we agreed upon a truce for the sake of the others but we soon realised we had more in common than we thought possible and the seeds of friendship that were sewn in Lothlórien grew stronger and stronger during our quest."

"Ah I see," said the King mischievously, "and these common traits no doubt include a stubborn streak that runs deeper than any mithril vein ever mined, a total disregard for personal safety, an uncanny ability to attract trouble, a competitive nature most unbecoming an elven prince, a gift for making loved ones worry beyond reason and age before their time, a knack for..."

"Ai ! I can see this conversation has quickly become a lecture worthy of Gwaithwen," the Prince protested, "but please remember Ada an elf does not learn everything from the trees, surely family are as much to blame for how an elfling turns out ! And Gwaithwen always says I have too much of you in my blood at times !" he teased.

"Oh does she now, mayhap Gwaithwen and I shall have a discussion about that."

" You can always try Ada but I fear t'will be your ears burning by the end of the 'discussion' !"

Chapter Seventeen: An Understanding, Part 2

Father and son sat together peacefully having slipped into a comfortable silence, each one simply content to be in one another's company for the present as they both sipped the rich elven wine.

Thranduil looked on as the glow from the flickering flames danced across his son's pale, handsome face. In the eerie amber light he could detect faint shadows under the young elf's expressive eyes.

It would seem that his son had not been sleeping well and the King suspected it had something to do with whatever the Prince was bottling up inside him. At a glance the young elf appeared relaxed and at peace but Thranduil knew his child better than that. He could tell that his own eventual acceptance of the Prince's unconventional friendship with the dwarf had done much to ease his son but there were other matters troubling the elf, matters which it would seem he was unwilling to share. And so the King decided to ask, sometimes, not always, but sometimes the direct approach worked when dealing with the stubborn youth.

"Something troubles you my child and I would have you share it with me so that I may help you," the King offered softly.

Legolas' eyes glanced at his concerned father then quickly returned to the dancing flames lest they give him away.

"Nay Adar...all is heart has been lightened now that you are willing to accept my friendship with will be interesting to see what Glóin makes of our companionship," the Prince replied as casually as possible.

Thranduil's gaze narrowed as he spotted his son's commendable attempt at changing the subject away from the matter at hand. He had thought that by bringing up Glóin he could distract his father.

It will not be that easy my son, the King thought to himself and so he ignored the baited comment and merely nodded sagely at his son before varying his approach and laying some bait of his own.

"I know this Legolas but you cannot fool me my son, there are other matters weighing heavily upon you and I am unsure as to why you are unwilling to share them with me..." he admitted sadly, while glancing at his son, then he sighed heavily and also looked to the comforting flames as he continued, "...I wonder if it is that you do not feel I can offer you advice on these worries, have my skills as a father diminished with time ?"

Shocked by his father's question, Legolas once again looked to his father and shook his head vehemently.

"Nay Adar, that is not the reason for my silence, you are all the father I could ever need and want...I just do not know how to..." the Prince suddenly stopped.

The bait had been taken and swallowed whole and Legolas suddenly realised his error as he caught the ghost of a smug smile on his father's face.

"You did that on purpose," the Prince accused, as playful suspicion deepened his voice.

But the King merely raised a single elegant eyebrow and with a casual wave of his right hand he spoke, "I know naught of what you speak Little Leaf," he replied as innocently as possible, "but I do believe that you were about to tell me something very important."

The Prince relented and released a defeated sigh, there was little point in trying to fool his father any further.

In truth there were many things troubling him, concerns that lingered in his conscious thoughts by day and plagued his waking dreams and sleep by night. Concerns which he was presently reluctant to mention to his father, though he knew he would have to discuss some of them 'er he left for Erebor, but where to start ? That was another problem and more importantly, how would his father react to his revelations ?

Thranduil watched his son's inner struggle play across his face, there was confusion, concern and there were doubts. He decided to offer the elf some encouragement.

"Legolas," he called softly.

The Prince's eyes once again returned to his father's deep gaze, where they were held in place by the intensity of the love and pride they witnessed.

The King smiled warmly then continued to speak.

"You have offered me much comfort my son and you have guided my heart to the path of recovery, allow me now to return the favour...I know you harbour matters which trouble you and I sense you fear how I shall react...but know this...I love you and no matter what, I shall always love you, you are my own flesh and blood, you are all that I have in this world and I would gladly give my life for thee. I am so proud of you Legolas, what you have done for this world is a debt which can never be repaid. You have been a loyal Prince of Eryn Lasgalen since you first drew breath, your courage and skills as a warrior are exemplary...

It was then that the King spotted a fleeting shadow, a whisp of shame flash in his son's eyes.

"Legolas, surely you do not doubt your loyalty to these lands or your prowess as a warrior ?" the King asked, somewhat confused.

He was answered by silence.

"Legolas ?" he enquired gently once more.

"Ada I...I was not always strong on the quest," the young Prince almost whispered, as if admitting to some terrible deed.

"Tell me my child, you have naught to be ashamed of," the King encouraged.

"There was a time when my courage failed the Mines of Moria," the Prince explained, feeling the ghost of a shiver run down his spine at the memory of such a dark and dead place, " ...when we faced the Balrog of Morgoth...I was afraid, I felt a fear I had never known before, it froze my very breath and stole my skill with the bow...I lowered my aim Ada, I heard the arrow as it fell to the ground," the young elf dropped his eyes in shame.

Thranduil inhaled deeply then softly sighed with compassion, feeling his son's distress. He rose gracefully from his seat and placed his wine glass on the fire's stone mantle, he then moved towards the young elf, where he hunched down before his son, he took the Prince's glass and placed it on the thick rug at his feet then he tenderly took his child's trembling hands in his own.

"Look at me Legolas," he asked of his heir.

The Prince hesitantly complied.

"There is not a warrior alive this day that has not felt the sting of fear at some time in his or her life, be it in battle or every day life. A parent may fear for their child, a Captain may fear for their patrol, a King can fear for his people..."

"I doubt you have known fear in battle Ada," the Prince stated, "your skills are unmatched."

The King allowed a slightly bitter chuckle to escape his lips.

"Would that that were true my son...when I saw my own father fall in Dagorlad, I thought that all was lost, I feared we would never see home again and that the shadow would win...and then Gil-galad was cut down by Sauron," the King shook his head, "those were fearful times Legolas... but it is how we deal with that fear that counts and you dealt with yours most honourably, you did not allow it to over come you, you did not abandon the quest nor your friends and that is what matters," Thranduil consoled, then added lightly, "besides this was no warg or spider you faced, it was a Balrog Legolas and while I would never fault your aim, I do not believe even your arrows would have made much of an impact !"

The Prince smiled faintly but as yet the weak humour was not mirrored in his eyes.

"I thank you for your kind words Ada, they mean much to me and I am pleased that you understand my reasons for going on the quest and that you approved of my decision to go, though I know it was difficult for you."

Thranduil raised one slightly perplexed eyebrow, then realisation dawned.

"Sindadur ?" he asked with mock exasperation.

"Sindadur," Legolas nodded, confirming that it was the seasoned Captain who had revealed the King's 'difficulties'.

The Prince continued.

"But I must also confess that when I saw the destruction of our beloved forests and learned of our grievous losses, I began to question my decision to go, I felt as though I had let down our home...and my friends."

Thranduil released his son's hands and retrieved his almost empty glass. Raising effortlessly, he moved to the wine cabinet and refilled the delicate glass, watching as the deep burgundy liquid swirled around inside, invisible tendrils of cinnamon and berries invaded his nose and flooded his senses.

He returned to the Prince's chair and offered him the freshly filled glass.

"Hannon le," he replied in thanks and drank deeply of the wine.

Thranduil stood in front of the soothing fire and retrieved his own glass, then turned to face his son.

"I know you lost many of your friends Legolas and I know Galadon was amongst the fallen, we suffered greatly, as did our precious trees but you must never feel in your heart that you have failed us. Your decision to journey with the ring bearer was the right one, I believe now that it was your destiny," the King admitted.

Legolas was listening intently to his father's every word and he pondered on what had been said.

"Do not dwell on one fleeting moment of weakness Legolas, instead look to the many times when I am sure you saved the lives of each member of the Fellowship as well as countless others and do not tell me that it was not so, for I know you my son and I know you would have gladly laid down your own immortal life to save those whom you travelled with, such is the depth of your sense of duty. You have always judged yourself too harshly Little Leaf, there is not a single elf in Eryn Lasgalen who does not feel a burning sense of pride at your have represented your Kingdom with honour, bravery and dignity, there are none here who fault you, so do not fault yourself," the King cautioned with earnest.

Relief washed over the younger elf like a cleansing tide, washing away many of the doubts he had secretly harboured inside. He rose quickly, placed his own glass on the huge mantle and embraced his father in a hold which was fiercely reciprocated. Silver tears welled up in azure eyes as father and son shared a precious moment filled with love, understanding and utter acceptance.

Chapter Eighteen: Beware the Nursemaid

The tender moment was broken by the sound of a hesitant knock on the doors to Thranduil's study. Father and son reluctantly broke the comforting hold and Legolas quickly wiped his tearful eyes with the back of his hands. He smoothed out his shirt and signalled his preparedness to his father with a slight nod. Thranduil smiled in return and called out to whoever waited outside.

"Enter," came the brief command.

A single large door swung open to reveal Arienur, one of the King's many advisors. Legolas knew the elf well but they had never been close friends. Arienur was always serious and his face bore a perpetual frown, the young Prince could not recall a single occasion where he had ever seen the older elf smile. But what he lacked in pleasant humour, he more than made up for in his ability to barter goods.

The elf bowed respectfully before his liege, causing his chestnut tresses to momentarily hide his face.

"Apologies my King, but the trade negotiations appear to have come to an end, it seems both sides have finally reached an accord, however I wish to seek your approval before a final settlement is agreed upon and there will be documents requiring your signature and seal," he explained, indicating to the collection of parchments tucked safely under his left arm.

"Of course Arienur," the King beckoned, "come in, leave the documents with me and I shall examine them as soon as is possible."

Legolas caught a brief flash of dissatisfaction on the advisors face before it quickly returned to its neutral demeanour. It seemed that the advisor was keen to see matters settled as soon as possible in order to see the Lake-town delegation promptly on their way and before they had time to change their minds...again.

The Prince decided that he would keep his father from his duties no longer. He had been very pleased with the way things had passed between them so far, he could wait for another time to discuss the many other matters which were currently on his mind, besides he needed more time to think upon how he would broach the subject of his proposed move to Ithilien.

"Adar, by your leave, I shall see to our guest and leave you free to attend your duties," the Prince bowed before his father and Lord.

Realising that his son had already made up his mind and would not be wheedled into changing it, he gave him leave to call on Gimli.

"Very well my son, go to your friend and I shall see you both later at dinner."

Legolas bowed respectfully once more and quietly made to leave the room. As he passed by the King's advisor, Arienur caught his attention.

"We are most fortunate to have you safely returned my Prince, your people and the trees have missed you, you have done us a great service," said the dour elf as he performed a formal obeisance.

"You have my thanks Arienur, it is good to be home and as for my service... it was no more than any other elf in this Kingdom would willingly undertake."

With that parting comment the young elf left his father's study and unfortunately missed the ghost of a rare smile which graced the advisor's face.

"Come old friend, let me see how our people shall fare in your latest dealings with the men of Lake-town," the King beckoned as he made his way over to his desk.

"Of course my King."

Thranduil had taken his time and poured over the many documents brought to him by his advisor. Some matters needed further clarification but all in all it seemed as if Arienur had once again managed to strike a bargain which would be of benefit to the inhabitants of Eryn Lasgalen.

He dipped a long white quill into the glass ink pot one last time and signed his signature with an elegant flourish. Then he carefully placed a red wax stick into the yellow flame of a near by candle and watched as a generous amount of wax dropped onto the parchment. Before it cooled he pressed his seal firmly into the pliable material and then blew gently over it as it hardened. He meticulously checked over everything one last time then handed the various documents to the waiting advisor.

"Please see that these documents reach the proper parties concerned Arienur, no doubt you are as anxious as I to see the delegation safely on their way," the King teased lightly, knowing how his old friend felt about the men of Lake-town.

Arienur's countenance took on a look of feigned innocence.

"I know not of what you speak my Lord, as for the documents, I shall see to them at once," he said as he carefully gathered the precious bundle of documents representing several days of hard negotiating.

Bowing low before his liege one last time, the trusted advisor hastily left the chamber, leaving the King of Eryn Lasgalen alone once more but not for long.

Thranduil returned to the fire side and gingerly threw another small log into the greedy flames, as the wood crackled in the building heat he retrieved his glass and drank the remainder of his wine. Standing before the glowing embers, his mind began to wander as his eyes focused on the hypnotic dancing flames but his private musings were disturbed by yet another knock on his solid doors.

"Enter," he called out once more.

A single door was pushed open without hesitation as Gwaithwen entered the King's personal study. She carried with her a small wicker basket filled with short logs in case the King's stock needed to be replenished.

"I have brought you more wood my Lord," she said, explaining her appearance.

It was a ruse of course, her true intention was to calculate the King's humour and thus judge how things had gone between father and son. She cared deeply for Legolas and she would not see him worry and suffer unnecessarily, the young elf had endured much already.

"Of course Gwaithwen," Thranduil replied as evenly as possible.

It took considerable effort not to allow his scepticism colour his voice. The wily elf maiden was up to something and he had a pretty good idea what, but he would play along.

As she crossed the room to the hearth, Thranduil moved to refill his glass. Gwaithwen laid down the basket beside the identical one already there, she could see that the basket was still quite full.

Perhaps I should have used a different excuse, she thought.

Unwilling to leave the study and give up so quickly, she removed a long slender taper from a box beside the fire.

"It grows dark my Lord, shall I light more candles," she asked, already lighting the taper in the fire.

"If you wish," came the neutral reply.

Gwaithwen then moved about the room lighting extra candles here and there, every now and then she would steal a glance at the King who would catch her each time as his intent eyes followed her every move over the wide rim of the glass held before his face.

Gwaithwen knew that look and she saw flashes of barely veiled humour in his eyes, he was laughing at her, she knew then she had not fooled him for an instant. So she tried to take some of the focus away from herself.

"I see my Lord has not eaten any of his luncheon," the house maid accused as her eyes looked to the untouched tray of fruits, bread and cheese she had prepared earlier.

"I had not the taste for it," he lied, in truth he had been much too angry earlier to eat.

"But you have taste for the wine I see," she censured once more.

Emotions rolled swiftly like the fast flowing currents of a river as humour changed to annoyance as the King felt unnecessarily mothered by the maid.

"Gwaithwen...may I remind you that you are my son's nurse maid and not mine," the King chastised brusquely and then proceeded to drain his glass.

"A position which I would not wish to reverse for all the mithril in Moria my Lord, thought I doubt the young Prince would like to hear that you still think he requires a nurse maid," she teased lightly.

"That is not what I meant and well you know it," he pointed out, trying to remain stern but was fast losing the battle.

It was difficult to remain angry with Gwaithwen, they had been through much together since the death of his beloved wife and he knew he could never repay her for the loving way she helped him to raise his son.

"Aye my Lord, I know, he has grown much since he has been away, I doubt he shall ever have need of a nurse maid's services again," she sighed sadly, knowing now that there would be many experiences she would never share with the Prince again for he had indeed grown up and moved on.

Thranduil heard the sorrow in the maid's voice and saw the regret clearly on her face. He moved to be beside her at the fire and gently touched her on the shoulder.

"He may have no need for a nurse maid Gwaithwen but I suspect he shall always have need of you for you are much more than that to him," he consoled as he tried to comfort her.

She looked up at her King with tearful eyes and yet she smiled, silently thanking him for his kind words.

"Come sit down," he offered, smiling, "for I sense you have questions you wish to ask, even though you are trying your hardest not to ask them."

If she had her spoon with her, she probably would have been sorely tempted to use it on her King at this moment, it was probably for the best then that she did not.

"Thank you my Lord," she replied as she sat down in the chair previously occupied by her former charge.

"Would you like some wine," he asked politely.

"Nay my Lord, I shall wait till the feast later," she answered equally polite, still hesitant to ask what she really desired to know.

Sensing this Thranduil decided to put her out of her misery, she above all deserved to know how things stood between him and his beloved son.

"All is well Gwaithwen," he said softly.

She looked at him and studied his features for a brief moment then breathed a sigh of relief.

"Thanks be to the Valar," she whispered under her breath.

"We discussed much while he was here, though I sense there are other matters he will raise ere he leaves, however we have settled matters concerning the dwarf, I have agreed to accept him as Legolas' friend and he is welcome in my halls, in fact I have come to the opinion that his friendship with Gimli may be of great benefit to him," Thranduil admitted.

"That is good to know Thranduil," she said relieved yet again, as she slipped into addressing the King on a familiar basis. She was one of the very few elves in the Kingdom that could call upon that privilege but she had earned it.

"You know he loves him very much," she stressed.

"I know I could here it clearly in his words," Thranduil disclosed.

"Nay Thranduil, I speak of the dwarf," she revealed.

The King merely raised one lone interested eyebrow.

"Think of it, he has come here of all places by his own volition for the sake of friendship, he has placed himself in your son's trust in a realm where he knows there is no love for his kind, where his father was detained and where he knew he would eventually meet could not have been an easy decision and yet he made it willingly because he cares deeply for your son," she explained, "and I have witnessed how they react together, there is playful banter and jibbing but there is also a deep respect and comradeship...I do believe they would trust one another with their own lives."

The King nodded in agreement, he knew that his son did not make friends easily or lightly and yet when he did offer his companionship it was usually to people he shared similar traits with, therefore this dwarf must be a courageous, trustworthy and honourable being.

"Yes, Legolas said as much in the dwarf's fact he actually said that they had much in common, which brings me to another yet similar matter dear Gwaithwen," the King said in a mock threatening tone.

"Oh my Lord and what matter would that be," she enquired as innocently as her voice would allow, knowing that she was some how in trouble.

"It has come to my attention that you seem to feel that having your Prince share similarities with your King is a bad thing, something along the lines of he has too much of my blood in his veins, I believe were the words used," the King accused lightly, demanding an explanation.

"Oh come now Thranduil, you know I speak the truth and do not dare to deny it," she admonished, "that elf shares the same stubborn, pig-headed, wilful and reckless traits shared by your father's line and you know it and I can give you a million examples how he was just the same as you were when you were growing up, while only two days before he left for Imladris he..."

Thranduil sighed as Gwaithwen proceeded with her litany of examples of how alike they were while he inwardly groaned knowing there was no escape, maybe his son was right, this discussion was not going how he had intended, he has stirred up a hornet's nest and perhaps his ears would be left burning after all.

Chapter Nineteen: An Unexpected Request

Legolas made his way back to his room, feeling much more at ease with himself, his mood was lighter than it had been in days. The shadow of worry was fading and the knot of tension which had been building up inside him was finally starting to unravel and it felt good.

To have his Father look beyond his preconceived notions and biased opinions and actually agree to accept Gimli as a suitable friend for his son had meant a great deal to the young elf and he could not wait to tell the dwarf the good news.

As he walked through the familiar passageway he paused once again before the small painting depicting the Lonely Mountain. He looked at it appreciatively and smiled, he had made his decision. Reaching up he carefully removed the picture from its resting place and ran his fingers lightly across the little mounds and swirls of oil paint. He then gently blew over the paint, removing tiny traces of dust which had gathered on the textured canvas over the years. Tucking it under his arm he walked to his room.

No sound could be heard in the stone hewn corridor, his friend was no longer snoring and yet as he reached the dwarf's door he could clearly hear Gimli's heavy breathing. The dwarf was still asleep, Legolas would have to wait to share his happiness with his companion.

As he entered his own room, Legolas headed straight for his bed where he pushed aside the contents of his travelling pack and carefully placed the picture down. He then began to search the deep drawers of his press and rifled through his storage chests until he found something suitable to wrap the gift in. His search had revealed two perfect coverings. The first, a large piece of dark green velvet which Gwaithwen had given him to cover the top of his press to prevent it from being damaged by his numerous weapons. He had accidentally scratched its surface once long ago and she had made him work in the kitchens for a whole month. The second was a piece of soft doe leather, he had often used it to carry spare arrows in but now it would act as a perfect outer covering for the picture.

He deftly wrapped the painting up in the protective velvet and then placed it in the centre of the laid out leather, folding in each of the edges until it was fully covered. Then he reached under his bed and retrieved a long wooden box. When opened it revealed a treasure trove of feather fletches, strong fine string, lethal ornate arrow heads, sturdy bone nocks and a small yet impossibly sharp knife. He measured out some of the string and then cut it free with the knife. He used the string to secure the wrappings and used a decorative elven knot to hold everything together.

Pleased with his efforts he went back outside and laid the gift outside his friend's door. The dwarf's breathing was much lighter now, it was possible he would be awake before long. Content to wait until then, the elf returned to the privacy of his own chamber.

The elf's observations had been accurate and shortly after he had returned to his own room, the dwarf began to stir within his. A deep grunt followed by a long tortured moan filled the air as Gimli stretched his arms above his head and peered disdainfully at his surroundings through a single barely opened eye.

Both eyes were soon shut again and he released a contented sigh, he had not dozed so well in many weeks. Grunting once more he tried to pry himself free of the comforting hold of the soft down filled pillows surrounding him. Once he had achieved a sitting up position he risked opening both eyes, each one blinking quickly in the late afternoon sun. His waking gaze studied the shadows cast on the chamber's floor and he judged that he had been resting for the best part of two hours. It was time to make an appearance.

He begrudgingly eased himself off the comfortable bed and straightened out his clothes, a quick slap on each cheek and he was ready to face the world once more, even if it was a world currently filled with flighty elves. He decided to call on his friend next door. The elf had most likely returned from his discussion with Thranduil and the dwarf was forced to admit that he was secretly anxious to know how things had gone.

It was then that the freshly familiar smell of almond cakes tickled his nose and he smiled appreciatively at the small plate of sweet treats. As he filled his mouth with several of the delicacies he wondered who had brought them to him. Most likely Legolas, he thought. The elf would have no doubt caught him sleeping, no harm, he would deny it, stating that he had been merely resting his eyes, for sturdy dwarves such as himself require little in the way of sleep.

Gimli opened the door to his chamber and was about to step out into the corridor when a strange sound stopped him, something had fallen. He looked to the floor only to see a neatly tied up package lying at the threshold. He looked at it suspiciously for a moment and gave it a gentle shove with his boot, when nothing happened he reached down to pick it up. It wasn't heavy and someone had paid careful attention to wrapping the item. As he examined it closely, realisation dawned and he began to suspect as to what the mysterious item may be. Heading out into the corridor, Gimli turned left and made his way to where his friend's paintings were displayed.

It was as he suspected. A large empty space was all that remained of where the painting of Erebor had once hung. It seemed his pointy-eared friend was not going to take no for an answer and the dwarf smiled at the elf's thoughtfulness. Soon after Gimli stood outside his friend's door and rapped his knuckles on the wood.

"Come in," came a distant sounding reply.

The dwarf pushed open the door to reveal a large room which looked very similar to his own, however this chamber was filled with personal belongings and gave the room a more lived in appearance.

It was heavily yet tastefully decorated with little leaf designs. More plants and trees, Gimli thought as he rolled his eyes, don't they ever get tired of it, he wondered. It seemed to him as if elves were adverse to using a solitary straight line in anything they designed or made. It was all so different to the bold geometric structures and patterns favoured by his kin.

A quick look about the room and the elf was no where to be seen. Maybe he is in his wash room, Gimli surmised, and so he decided to wait. It was then that he noticed that there were even more windows in this room, each one draped in the same sheer curtains, yet these were dyed a shimmering olive green. Pushing through one window was, what could only have been, the branch of a very large tree and it was not alone, it seemed as if the creeping ivy had also been given free rein to invade the room and it was doing its best to cover much of the stone inside.

A large bed littered with items and similar to the one he had just left, stood to the left of the room. Above it hung a long, ornate elvish banner. To Gimli it looked very old and slightly battered, it was possible this banner had been carried into battle. Curious he moved closer to examine it better. It was then that he spotted the faint tell-tale splatters of faded brown speckled about the banner. At some time in the distant past these little stains would have been a rich vibrant red, full of colour like the now faded elaborate designs adorning the banner.

He also noticed several more pictures about the room and a small, plain bow hanging high up on the far wall. Suddenly his observations were cut short as he heard his name being called.

"Gimli ?" Legolas called out to his friend, wondering why he had not heard from the dwarf.

It was then that Gimli realised the elf was actually outside the room and was most likely some where at the other end of that trespassing branch.

It was with slight hesitation that he moved to the open window and pulled back the fine gauze like drape. Looking directly outside he did not spot his friend straight away.

"Ah, there you are Master Dwarf, come, will you not join me ?" asked a light teasing disembodied voice.

Gimli leaned further out the window and looked high up into the leafy canopy above and there perched precariously on a branch that looked like it could not support anything but itself, sat his friend, looking for all the world as if he had been born in a tree.

"You crazed creature !" Gimli censured, "are you deliberately trying to get killed ? That branch does not look like it could hold a squirrel, never mind a long-legged oaf like you !"

Legolas could only chuckle at his friend's unusual demonstration of concern.

"Do not fear friend Gimli, I am perfectly safe, this branch is more than strong enough, however if it eases your mind I shall move to another," the elf replied as he swiftly navigated his way down the tree and closer to his companion.

Gimli studiously tracked his friend's progress and absently wondered exactly how much did an elf weigh. He had seen the elf glide over freshly fallen snow without sinking so much as an inch and he had seen him thread lightly over young sweet grass without bending a single blade nor did he ever know the elf to leave even the faintest of tracks in his wake. How did he do it ? he pondered.

Before Gimli knew it, the elf had landed safely and silently before him, perfectly balanced on the much broader branch which had worked its way into the room.

"Will you not join me Master Dwarf ? It is a most pleasant afternoon and the views from this fine tree are a wonder to be seen," the elf invited once more.

"Legolas if you think for one instant that I am about to willingly crawl out there into that tree," he pointed, "then Master elf you are even more cracked than I had originally estimated !" the dwarf retorted loudly.

"You know you can just about see Erebor from up here," Legolas baited, "would you not care to catch a glimpse of your beloved mountain, after all it has been sometime since you have laid eyes on it."

Legolas could see a tiny glimmer of interest spark in the depths of the dwarf's brown eyes at the mention of his home. But it was clear that there was more encouragement needed.

"There is a talan just a small climb up my friend, you would be perfectly safe there I can assure you and you would be free to enjoy the beautiful views of your much-loved home," he added while offering a stretched out arm to his friend.

Gimli grunted and leaned further out the window to see exactly how high up this tree was. His eyes opened wide when he realised how far from the ground he would be, this tree was huge ! But the prospect of seeing his home was very tempting. A mini battle raged within him as he weighed the pros and cons of venturing out onto the twisted limb.

"I shall not let you fall my friend," the elf assured in all seriousness and sincerity as he locked eyes with his stout friend.

And with that simple comment his decision was made, Gimli trusted this elf implicitly and he knew the elf would never deliberately put his life in jeopardy, he would rather die himself before risking the short lives of his mortal friends. So he carefully placed the gift against the wall and dragged over a sturdy wooden chair to the window's stone mantle. With a small grunt of effort he was soon standing on the sill and about to take his first step onto the branch and his friend was by his side, his pale slender hand gripping him with hidden strength as he guided him out onto the branch.

Far below Gimli could see clusters of what looked like mushrooms growing in the shade of the tree's vast canopy , as he looked down a slight wave of vertigo over came him and he began to wobble slightly on the branch. He was instantly caught in an iron grip that took him by surprise and he looked to his friend in slight wonder but the elf merely smiled back in return and continued to guide him up higher into the tree. Soon they were both sitting comfortably as promised in the wooden flet.

Both sat in comfortable, companionable silence as their eyes drank in the vast views surrounding them. It was as the elf had said, truly beautiful and Gimli was lost for words as he saw a sight that he had recently on occasion, thought he would never see again. Erebor, in all its glory, rising proudly and majestically, high up into the early evening sky. Anor was beginning her slow decent but her waning rays still bathed the mountain in a warm light and elsewhere shadows stretched across its expanse. It was a sight that brought much joy to the dwarf's heart.

Once sated by this precious glimpse of home Gimli's curiosity turned to other matters.

"So tell me Master Elf, how did matters go with the King ?" he asked some what anxiously.

"Ah my friend all is well, your mind can be at ease for my father has agreed to accept our friendship and I think in some small way he has begun to understand it, which you must know Gimli is a large leap on his behalf," Legolas explained.

"Aye I suppose it is," Gimli agreed, "and though I do not fully understand the full reasoning behind his words and actions earlier, I am happy that he has for now agreed to acknowledge our friendship, it is a good outcome."

"Thank you my friend," the elf said softly.

"Thank you for what ?" Gimli asked, slightly confused.

"Thank you for understanding him and his actions even though you have been given no cause to, it means a lot to me," Legolas admitted.

Gimli simply nodded then reached out to touch one of the large green leaves covering the tree.

"I recognise these leaves," Gimli stated, taking Legolas by surprise, "they look like those of a mallorn tree."

"Why Master Dwarf be warned, you are in danger of becoming an elf," Legolas teased, "first you willing climb trees, then you correctly identify trees, I expect next you will be constructing a flet of your own."

"First of all," the dwarf pointed out, "I reluctantly climbed one tree and I correctly identified one tree and I will be wed to an orc before I build anything in any type of tree and you should be warned that you Master Elf are in danger of coming face to face with those mushrooms far below," the dwarf gruffly warned.

"Peace my friend, I jest however that is one wedding I would willing attend even if it were to take place in the very fires of Mount Doom," the elf laughed, narrowly missing the dwarf's swinging blow.

"But you are right my friend it is indeed a mallorn tree and not native to these parts. It was a gift sent to my parents by the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood when news of my conception reached their borders. It was my mother that planted the young sapling outside my chambers before I was born. It is a young tree still and will take many more years to reach the size of its fellow mellyrn in Lothlórien. It has become a very special place to me," Legolas explained while his gaze drifted and looked to the far off distant horizon.

As he watched his friend, Gimli spotted the hauntingly familiar far away look return to the azure pools of his friend's eyes. It pained him to see that look for he knew what it meant and he knew what it could mean for this precious friendship.

"Do you think of it still ?" he asked softly.

The elf simply sighed and allowed his proud shoulders to droop ever so slightly.

"Every day my friend, everyday," the elf answered with heart breaking honesty.

"Have you spoken to your father about it ?" the dwarf enquired with touching concern.

"Nay Gimli not yet, it would have been too much too soon, though I shall discuss it with him...he has not yet felt the pull of the sea-longing nor does he hear her haunting call as I do...many of my woodland kin have already answered the beckoning waves... but fear not my friend for I have no desire to do so yet, there is still much that holds me here," Legolas assured as he smiled faintly at his friend.

"But at what cost Legolas ?" Gimli asked.

"Who has yet to put a price on friendship elvellon ?" the elf asked in return.

The dwarf could only nod once more in support and understanding.

"I take it then you did not mention your proposed move to Ithilien ?" Gimli half stated, half questioned.

"I did not think it wise to discuss my impending move on the very day of my return home," the elf answered as lightly as he could, though in truth he thought the matter to be of a most serious nature. Family meant a great deal to his father and he could not afford to be too whimsical about the notion of leaving Eryn Lasgalen.

"You will know when the time is right my friend, do not worry," the dwarf reassured as he gripped the elf's slight shoulders.

"Let us hope there is such a time," replied the young Prince.

The silence stretched once more as each friend was left to their own thoughts. The sky's palette was changing in the steadily setting sun. Vibrant oranges and violets were reflected off the lower edges of the lazily passing clouds. Within a matter of a few hours night would be upon them once more and the heavens above would be bejewelled with a myriad of tiny stars, each one offering guidance to the inhabitants of Middle-earth below.

Once again the silence was broken by the dwarf's deep voice.

"I found the painting you left me Legolas...and though I really do appreciate the gesture my friend...I cannot accept it, it is too much and I have naught to offer you in return."

It did not sit well with Gimli that he had nothing to give the elf in exchange for the picture, as was the custom amongst his kin.

"I do not offer you the painting in trade elvellon...I offer it to you in friendship," the elf explained, "it would mean a great deal to me if you were to accept it."

Gimli looked to his friend, he was surprised to hear the tiny hint of hurt which had tainted his friend's normally musical voice and quickly made amends.

"Then I shall accept it my friend and I shall treasure it for as long as I draw have my thanks."

To which the elf smiled warmly once again.

"Now tell me Master Elf how is it that you somehow manage to perch yourself on naught but tiny sticks and seem to float over drifts of snow ?" Gimli demanded.

The question took the elf completely by surprise, he could not recall a time when the dwarf had ever wanted to know anything about the nature of elves.

"Well don't just sit there with your mouth hanging open, are you going to answer my question or not ?" Gimli insisted once more.

"I shall do my best my friend," the elf laughed lightly, then wondered to himself how best to explain this matter to his suddenly curious friend.

" is not that we do not weigh anything...elves do have weight Master Dwarf, though perhaps we are not as heavy as men...", he began to explain but was interrupted.

"So how do you do it ?" the dwarf asked with renewed vigour.

Legolas thought once more.

"Ah, consider the dragon fly," he instructed.

"The dragon fly ?" queried the dwarf somewhat warily.

"Yes, does it not appear to walk on water when we know this to be an impossible feat ?" the elf questioned in return.

"What ?" shouted Gimli incredulously.

"Well it is a matter of weigh distribution is it not ?"

"Weight distribution ?!" the dwarf repeated, as his tone became increasingly wary.

"Yes weight distribution," the elf insisted.

"But you have only two legs Master Elf, how much weight can you possibly hope to know if you don't want to tell me well that is fine by me, if it is some sort of strange elvish secret you only have to say so...dragon flies...I never heard anything so ridiculous in my life !" Gimli ranted.

Legolas just stared at his friend and then erupted into a fit of uncontrolled laughter.

"Laugh all you like elf, just don't expect me to reveal any dwarvish secrets when we reach Erebor, you shall simply have to compound your general ignorance with that of a painful ignorance on the matter of dwarves !" the dwarf fore warned.

The elf simply laughed even harder.

Seeing that his comment did not evoke the desired effect, Gimli decided to change the subject once more.

"I noticed a small bow hanging on the wall of your it yours ?" the dwarf enquired.

The elf's laughter died down once more as he was forced to answer another uncharacteristic question from his friend.

"Yes Gimli, it is mine...from a time when I was much younger and I have not used it in many years, though it is precious to me," the elf revealed.

Intrigued by this, Gimli questioned his friend further for he did not see anything special about the bow, it was rather plain and lacked the craftsmanship of the Galadhrim bow that even he could appreciate.

"More precious than the Lady's gift ?" he asked.

The elf answered a simple "Yes." without any hesitation.

Now eager to change the subject himself, Legolas asked a question of his own.

"Now Master Dwarf we still have some time remaining before tonight's feast, where else in my father's Kingdom would you like to go, what do you desire to see, you have but to ask and I shall take you there my friend," the elf stated with exaggerated flourish, as he gestured with open arms.

The dwarf thought seriously on the offer for a moment and then decided to make his request, it was something which he had been thinking about even before he had arrived in the Woodland Realm.

"Very well Master Elf, I wish to see where my father was kept during his brief stay in your father's halls."

For the first time in his long life Legolas Thranduilion thought he was at risk of falling out of a tree.

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