The nick in the blade was no wider and no deeper than the thickness of his thumbnail, easily fixed even with the limited equipment in his possession. He would not have to beg the loan of tools from the smiths of Helm's Deep, nor tolerate the discomfort of working in another's shop. Still, he frowned at the axe, the blow was careless that dealt this damage. Even in the heat of battle he should have seen and avoided the orc's iron collar.
He was pleasantly conscious of Legolas's eyes on him as he selected the oil and his coarsest whetstone from his kit. The elf had not left his company since they had been reunited after the battle, as if he feared orcs would snatch him away in a moment's inattention. Or perhaps he though Gimli's trifling head-wound was more serious than it was. Either way, his attention was comforting, like a warm cloak on a cold winter's day.
The entire edge would have to be removed to the depth of the nick, he decided. A grinding wheel would make short work of the job, but his little stone would do as well. Better, perhaps, as he did not wish to remove more metal than he must. Many battles loomed in their future, and his axe would undoubtedly need sharpening many times before it again saw the inside of his father's smithy in Erebor again, if indeed it--or he--ever did. In steady rhythm he drew stone over steel until he could no longer feel the catch of stone against uneven steel.
Feeling the edge of the blade, now dull, he sought any remaining sign of the nick. The smallest imperfection could weaken the axe and an unlucky blow shatter it, equal shame to the one that forged the steel and the one that struck the blow. As he was both he would not chance it. When his hands could feel no sign he tested it against the inside of his wrist so the soft skin there might feel what his hard and callused fingers could not. He felt--or thought he might feel--a burr, so took up the stone once more.
Elven hands did not harden as dwarven ones did. Legolas's hands remained as free of callus as a babe in arms, yet none could doubt their strength. Forty-one he slew, with bow and knife, and not a blister to show for it. No soft merchant's hand could wield so much as a spoon after such a tally. Elves were strange, seeming so frail that a soft breeze would break them, yet tougher at need than tempered steel.
Testing the blade again and finding it clear he switched to a finer stone and set about restoring the edge he had just removed. The elf was watching his every more, he could feel that, but he did not prattle as the hobbits often did. The hobbits.... He could only hope they were well; Gandalf said they were safe, but he remained mysterious as to their whereabouts. After such a chase Gimli would believe them safe only when he beheld them with his own eyes.
He switched to a finer stone, carefully maintaining the angle of blade to stone. No son of Gloin would ever round an edge or scratch the face while sharpening steel. A dozen passes on each side was sufficient for that stone. He held the axe to the light to check that the edge was symmetrical and to better show it to the elf behind him. Would the elf recognize its beauty, its craftsmanship? It had not the delicate, deadly grace of an elvish weapon, but it had its own sturdy elegance, the beauty of strength and function.
Gimli nodded to himself. The edge was true. He brought out his very finest stone and gave it a last few careful passes. A final check of the wrappings on the haft assured him none had loosened in battle. At last he laid the axe--strong, sharp, and whole once more--on the table. Finished.
Steel whispered behind his back and twin white blades joined his axe. He turned to look up at Legolas. "Will you sharpen them for me, my friend?" the elf asked.
Anger kindled in Gimli's breast. "I am no weapon-smith to tend any blade but my own," he said shortly.
"I do not ask a weapons-smith. Though the Rohirrim have many smiths of skill, there is no other to whom I would entrust the task." Legolas's eyes held no anger, only met Gimli's own in serious regard. He moved to stand beside Gimli at the worktable and picked one of the blades up. Reversing it so the blade pointed at his own chest he offered the handle to Gimli.
None save a weapons-smith held the uncovered weapon of those not family. Could an elf, a stranger, alien, know what he was asking? He reached slowly for the blade, searching Legolas's eyes for sign of reluctance or hesitation, finding none. He closed his hand on the white bone and Legolas released it freely to his care. The elf smiled and Gimli quickly looked to the blade in his hand to forestall a rising blush.
The blade was longer than a knife, shorter than a sword, balanced to feel lighter than it truly was. The bone handle might once have been delicately carved, but time and use has worn it smooth. The grip felt odd to his hand, but he doubted not that it fitted Legolas to perfection. The maker's mark on the steel was covered by the handle, but-- "This is dwarven steel!" he blurted.
"The finest steel always is," Legolas said gravely. "Did you remove the handle you would see the sigil of your own home, Master Dwarf. I traveled to Erebor some five hundred years ago and bought the bare steel blades from she who forged them, fashioning the handles myself upon my return home."
"You care for them well." The blades showed signs of use, but less wear than he would expect from their age. Indeed, there was little need for his skill; only his finest stone was called for and a strop to straighten the edge. A few minutes sufficed for both blades, but he prolonged the pleasure of handling such fine steel by using jeweler's rouge to polish out a minor scratch from the spine of one of the blades. He cleaned each blade with a soft cloth, then offered them up to Legolas handle first, sharp edges lying against his unprotected forearms. "Sharp enough to cut the East wind."
Legolas made no move to take them. "In five hundred years none but I have touch them." He smiled, "Save a number of very dead orcs."
Gimli smiled back in relief and wonder: the elf did understand. "Blood washes all blades clean," he said, conscious of the cool steel against his bare skin. If the blades thirsted for blood before they were sheathed he offered his own.
Legolas gently took the blades, lifting the razor-sharp edges carefully from Gimli's arms. "My blades need never taste your blood." He sheathed both blades with a single motion and then held out his hand to Gimli. "Come, my friend, you must rest now. Tomorrow we ride to Isengard."