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Lords of Misrule

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"I do not know the ways of Dwarves."

Gimli frowned at his friend's puzzling words and shifted on his seat. The nights in Minas Tirith were warm as wool now, the summer well on its way to high. Too warm, in fact, did Gimli find the nights, and he had taken to passing most of them out here on this balcony, smoking quietly, the lights of the city winking below, the plains of Pelennor sighing in the darkness beyond, the river a faint ribbon of reflected moonlight. It was restful. And most nights Legolas would find his way out here, too, and they would sit in companionable silence, or speak in the warm dark of things the long road here had never seemed the place to talk about -- home, and family, and simple everyday things. First memories. First loves. Greatest fears. Sharpest regrets.

Gimli took a long drag and held it, questioning it. The smoke held no answers, and he released it. "Our ways? It seems to me, Master Elf, you are in a fair way to be an expert in Dwarf-lore, among your kind, at least. Few can have traveled so far and so close with a Dwarf, and the only blood spilled along the way belonging to orcs." He smiled at his own joke, but Legolas only turned his head, marbled in the moonlight, and stared out at the river. Gimli tapped his pipe meditatively along the railing.

"In truth, friend, our ways are not so very complicated as that. A little ale, a little song, some good food, a fine hall, a handsome hoard. . . it's little enough we have need of."

At that Legolas turned his head, and looked sharply at him, as though looking for something. Expecting something. It was a look he wore often in these last few weeks, and it puzzled and unsettled Gimli. Puzzlement -- indeed, unsettlement -- was not so common among dwarves, but Gimli was an unusual dwarf. Sometimes he felt as though he were just on the verge of discovering what it was that Legolas sought when he looked at him like that, and then it would slip away, like a dream at waking. It made him bite his pipe in irritation.

Legolas unbent from the railing where he perched and slid noiselessly to the ground. "I will bid you good night, then," he said. "You have more need of sleep than I."

Gimli snorted. "Ay. I don't suppose you have need of anything much beyond some air to breathe, every now and again. When you think about it, perhaps."

He heard Legolas pause at the doorway, heard the curtain shift in the hot breeze. "Go to hell, Gimli."

He was gone, and Gimli was left frozen in astonishment, his pipe slipping between his teeth.


"Hell is too good for most of them."

Dain shifted on his massive couch and plucked fretfully at his fur coverlets. "They are the harbingers of ill for our kind, Gimli," he rasped. "Always they will speak you fair, these Elves, but never will their fair words or fair looks bring us any good." A coughing fit seized him, and he rolled over, hacking into a linen cloth. He spat and wiped his mouth.

"Curse this wasting illness. My body is a wrack and ruin, my days a torment. Such as they are. Broken my body may be, but my mind --" and here he tapped his forehead -- "my mind sees clearly, son of Gloin."

Gimli nodded respectfully and waited for Dain to catch his breath. When the massive bulk of the King under the Mountain settled heavily back on his cushions, Gimli spoke.

"What have the Elves done to trouble our peace now, my lord?"

Dain frowned and stared at the pine torch that guttered and smoked against the wall. He waited so long to speak that Gimli dared a closer look, afraid he had fallen asleep, or worse. Dain grunted and Gimli jumped.

"Nothing, yet. But they will try to find some way to work matters to their benefit, I have no doubt of it. It is to prevent this that I am sending you to Elrond of Rivendell." Dain's glance became sharper. "Do not make the mistake of thinking him simply another prideful, meddlesome Elf. Well," he amended. "Prideful he may be, but he at least is wise. And just. He has been helpful to Dwarves before. He is summoning a council in Rivendell, and I would have you go."

"Me, my lord?" Gimli raised his eyebrows in astonishment. "I have no experience in diplomacy. Perhaps one of the elders -- Tongit, or even young Thorin--"

"No! I am sending you. Take Gloin with you, or whom you will, but be silent and protest no more. I have my reasons, you ignorant hothead. I send not my heir into the clutches of the Elves! It is not grey beards or sage counsel I have need of in this hour, but a firm hand on a strong axe, to protect the interests of the Dwarves."

"From what, my lord?"

Dain shifted again and winced as he moved. "Argh. Curse these healers. Their draughts do me less and less good, the lazy, foul. . . It is my end they seek to hasten. . ." He drifted off into another fit of coughing, this one longer and more violent. When he raised his head from his cloth this time, Gimli saw bright flecks of blood, and lowered his eyes.

"Go. Go and trouble me no more with your questions," Dain panted. He waved his hand and began to cough again. Gimli bowed deeply and backed out of the audience chamber. At the door a sharp croak from the couch stopped him.

"Gimli. Do not forget. Trust none of them. Not even the Master of Rivendell. Trust none."


Gimli closed his eyes and let the sweet smoke drift him along. He thought of the news Gandalf had brought some weeks ago, of old Dain's death. Not, at the end, in his bed, plumped among his cushions, but in battle. In battle, like a warrior and a Dwarf should fall, bravely swinging his axe at the foul hosts of orcs that had swarmed out of Moria and Dol Guldur and overrun Erebor and Dale, and threatened the peace and safety of Mirkwood and Lorien. Mirkwood. Ay. Mirkwood no more, now that the Shadow was forever lifted. Greenwood the Great it would be called once again, and the light and song in the trees would extend beyond the habitations of Thranduil's folk to all the wood. Surely if he were Legolas he would be champing at the bit to get home and see the newly refreshed wonder of his homeland. Doubtless the Elves would honour him beyond measure now -- their own Prince, returned to them victorious, a Companion of the Ring, one of the Nine Walkers. But oddly, Legolas had made no mention of going home, and not once, Gimli reflected, in all their long journeying or their many aimless fireside talks, had Thranduil's name fallen from his lips. There was a story there, he was sure of it.

It had been a source of joy and pride to him when Dain's heir, Thorin Stonehelm, had arrived with a great escort of the folk of Erebor for the King's coronation, and his heart had swelled to see King Elessar rise from his great white throne and step quickly down to grasp the arm of Thorin. They had fought and died in the north country too, Dwarves and Men and Elves, until at last Celeborn had raised his banner and Galadriel had crushed the walls of Dol Guldur. Under the protection of the King of the West would Thorin's stout folk now live, peace and order restored to all their land. The Dwarves had made a brave showing that day, their beards gleaming with golden rings, their cloaks slashed with velvets and silks. Gimli knew now what Legolas had felt when the hosts of Lorien had marched in their strange solemn file up the causeway of Helm's Deep and proven their valour; he knew and recognized the light of pride that had lit Legolas's face then.

Strange it was, to think of Legolas's face -- how open it appeared, and yet how closed it was at all times. Even in Lorien, when they had all given way to grief, and when the Elven lament had overcome them, Legolas's face had remained its grave, lovely self -- the eyes lit by sadness, but yet shuttered.

In irritation he tapped out his pipe, emptying the bowl, and kicked the ashes over the edge. Damn Legolas. He would be getting no sleep tonight, that much was certain. He replayed the conversation in his head. What had he said to set the Elf off so? And why did it seem to happen all the time now? If Legolas had tired of his company, why did he continue to seek him out? After all, he had been quietly sitting out here, enjoying his pipe, when Legolas and his moodiness had disrupted his peace. Damn the Elf.

He stood and stretched, slipping his pipe into his pocket. Ah, but it felt good to wear fine soft clothes again, to deck his beard with rings, to bathe in sweet scented waters. He felt ten years younger.

"I'm sorry."

"Damn you, laddie," Gimli gasped, wheeling around. "Will you ever learn to stop sneaking up on folk like that?"

Legolas smiled in the doorway. "Sorry. Again. I thought I was making noise."

Gimli grinned. "Ay, no doubt."

"And I am sorry. For my sharpness earlier. I was. . . my mind was elsewhere."

Gimli studied him. "What ways?"

"What do you mean?"

"You said you knew not the ways of Dwarves. Which ways in particular did you mean?"

"Oh." Legolas looked surprised, and Gimli gave a grim internal smile at that. Sometimes he still suspected Legolas thought him a bit thick, or at least unobservant. He took a moment to watch Legolas hesitate over an answer. If the weeks in Minas Tirith had done him good, they had transformed Legolas into an unearthly creature -- all silks and silvers, who didn't walk around the city so much as shimmer and glide. He seemed unaware of how crowds parted for him, and how people, both maids and menfolk, watched him pass admiringly. The Elf shrugged.

"I don't know. It doesn't matter. I was. . . just talking."

Gimli nodded gravely, swallowing the unpleasant taste of his friend's lie. "All right then. I'll be off to bed, I suppose. It does wax late, and it might have cooled off enough by now for warm-blooded creatures to sleep."

Legolas stiffened. "I am as warm-blooded as you."

"Oh, for the love of-- I didn't mean you, you fool of an Elf! Now would you mind telling me what in Middle-earth I have done or said to set your breeches so in a knot whenever I so much as breathe in your direction?"

Legolas blinked at the floor. "Nothing," he said softly. "Nothing. It is my fault, my friend. I should not take my troubles out on you. Please. Forgive me?"

Gimli sighed. "Of course, you witless boy. I am your friend, and if aught troubles you, I would know of it."

Legolas smiled at that. "I am some seven hundred and fifty years your senior, but I suppose I'll let the 'boy' go by. This time."

Gimli chuckled and reached a hand for the Elf's shoulder. He opened his mouth to reply, but not before he caught Legolas's flinch at his hand. He dropped it and frowned at the flags. "Ay. Ay. Well. Off to bed with me." He stepped briskly through the curtain and was gone.

"Gimli. . ." he began, but the Dwarf was gone. He closed his eyes and fought the temptation to hit something, clenching his fists.


Gimli groaned, and wondered, not for the first time, if Legolas enjoyed sending Arod into a canter when he least expected it.

"Durin's teeth," growled Gimli. "D'you think you could give a fellow some warning?"

His clasped arm felt the huff of Legolas' laugh. "Nonsense. Arod's gait is as smooth as--"

"An Elf's arse?"

Legolas laughed aloud. "The Anduin at sunrise, I was going to say, but yours will do as well. I have heard, you know, that Dwarves have so much hair on their arses that they must braid it before they can answer Nature's call."

Gimli leaned back and roared with laughter, startling Arod into a quicker canter. Legolas's hand steadied the stallion with one hand and Gimli with the other, though he was confident by now of the sureness of Gimli's seat, for all his complaining.

"Why, Master Elf," said Gimli when he could catch his breath for laughing, "I had no idea Elves could say such bawdy things. Or that Elves knew aught of shitting, for that matter."

"Oh?"

"Well, you don't eat enough to shit at all, that I can see. And you-- why, you're thin as a rail, even for your lean kind." His hand found the ribs beneath Legolas's tunic. "See? Another month, and they'll be poking through your clothes." It was true -- their journeying had sheared the pounds off all of them, and Legolas's thinness frightened him at times. It did not appear so much when he was in traveling clothes, but when he went in broidered tunic at Minas Tirith, Gimli had been startled to see how slight he had become. Stronger than ever, but still. So slight. His grip tightened involuntarily on his friend, as though afraid he might blow away.

"Gimli."

"Ay?"

"I do still need to breathe."

"Oh. Sorry." He loosened his hold, abashed, and dropped his hand onto Arod's flank. Legolas reached down and gently placed his friend's hand back on his waist.

"Don't be ridiculous," he muttered. They rode in silence for a while before Legolas spoke. "I can hear the gears grinding in your Dwarvish brain from here. What is it?"

Gimli grunted, irritated at his own transparency. "You are not well," he said, sighing. "I know not if such a thing as long illness is even possible for Elves, but you worry me. I know your kind are not given to indulgence in food, but I have seen your kindred enjoy a feast with the best of them. And yet even at Minas Tirith you never did more than pick at anything offered you, no matter how finely prepared. Tell me the truth at once, and no mucking about. Are you ill?"

There was no answer for such a long time that Gimli thought he had crossed another invisible barrier and offended the Elf again somehow. When Legolas did speak, his voice was so soft that Gimli had to strain to hear him.

"I know not," he said. "No, I do not think I am ill. I have never been ill, so I have no way of knowing. But I do not think I am. I am simply. . . tired. It is just. . . I am so very tired."

"Ay," Gimli replied, and his voice was as soft as the Elf's. "I know what you mean."

They all did, though it was plainest to see in Frodo's eyes. They had come through fire and blood and terror, and on the other side had found, not the world they had left behind when they had set out from Rivendell, but. . . nay, that was not it either. It was they themselves who had changed, in some unknowable manner. The world was restored and whole. It was they who were all different. Even the little hobbits. Perhaps most of all, the hobbits.

"Ay," he repeated. "Ay." He watched the late afternoon sun gild the grasslands, and in the distance he caught the first shadows of Fangorn. They could make camp in the eaves of the forest tonight, with any luck. "Say," he began. "Did I ever tell you I can cook?"

Legolas half turned his head and cocked a skeptical brow. "Indeed?"

"Indeed I can, and don't think I didn't catch your tone, you insolent Elf. I'll make a believer out of you yet."

"I'm not one for roasted meats, however savoury."

"I know, I know. D'you think I would try to poison you with flesh meat? I know a recipe for stewed apples, though, that would make even your finicky mouth water. And sweet breads, rich and soft. . . Oh, I can do things with the nuts and berries that grow on the south side of the mountain at home that would make you weep -- bilberry sauces, and spiced chestnuts. . ." He drifted off, lost in his reverie.

"It sounds wonderful," Legolas said. "I did not mean to sneer."

"Of course you did. I'll wager you couldn't heat water, little princeling."

"Did you really just call me little?"

"A turn of expression, so slip your arrow back in its quiver."

Legolas turned his head and gave a sly smile. "When my arrow leaves its quiver, you'll know it."

Gimli leaned back and roared again. "Oh, bless my beard," he said, wiping his eyes. "Bless my stars and moons. I'll not listen any more to tales of the purity and high-mindedness of the Elves. You could hold your own with any in Dain's hall, and that's for certain." He continued to chuckle as they rode, and was still chuckling softly to himself as they slid off and made camp for the evening.


Despite the season of year, the fire felt good. Here on the edge of Fangorn, the air was chillier, as though the sun never fully penetrated the deep dark beneath the massive branches. Coolness rose like a mist from the earth.

"Here," said Legolas as he tossed a blanket at his friend.

"What's this for?"

"I won't need it, and you can wrap yourself in it and stop trying to pretend you're not chilled by the forest's breath."

Gimli harrumphed, but accepted the blanket gratefully. He filled his pipe and settled into his customary meditative state as he smoked. He kicked a bit of earth onto a brand that flamed too high, and leaned back against a log to watch the stars wheel overhead.

"So different, here in the south," he mused. "The same stars, seen from another angle. . . ach, listen to me. I'm as poetical as an Elf these days. Next I'll be shaving my beard and whittling my ears into points."

Legolas did not reply. He was stretched on his back, staring up at the stars. Still as a tomb effigy, Gimli thought. Did Elves have tombs? Not likely. But he doubted they burned their dead. Perhaps they simply dissolved into mist and melted away. And yet the bloodied corpses of Haldir's men at Helm's Deep had seemed substantial enough.

"What ways?"

Legolas raised his head a fraction. "What?"

"I said, what ways?"

Legolas propped himself on his elbow, frowning. "What are you talking about?"

Gimli sighed and refilled his pipe. "What ways of Dwarves are so mysterious to you?"

Legolas fell back. "That again? It was. . . my question was ill-timed. Leave it. Like a hound with a bone, you are."

"Or a Dwarf with a notion. Well? We have all the time you need now. Ask away. What of our ways would you know more of?"

It was Legolas' turn to sigh. Gimli watched him fold his hands on his chest carefully. "What I meant was. . . love. I know not the ways of Dwarves when it comes to love."

"Oh." If Gimli was startled, he did not show it. He waggled a brow in his friend's direction. "Have your eye on a comely Dwarf-maiden, have you? It's true, there were one or two in Thorin Stonehelm's escort, and wondrous to look on they were indeed."

"Oh, Elbereth," Legolas muttered, rolling over. "I said, leave it."

Gimli was silent, baffled at the re-emergence of Legolas's strange prickliness. He smoked for a while, watching the stars, thinking. The fire sparked and flamed as the logs crumbled to soft redness, and still Gimli smoked and thought.

"The ways of Dwarves in love," be began at last, as though reading from a lore-book. Legolas was still. "The ways of Dwarves in love," he repeated, "are hard to discover, even to a Dwarf. We have no songs that speak of love, as do you, no high tales from olden days of forbidden loves and doomed lovers. These would make no sense to my people. Why love where you cannot hope to be loved in return? Or where there is only death and destruction at the end of the path? We are a practical folk, above all. Love is for the begetting of children, for the honour of family and home. Love that does not bend to the will of the lover, that cannot be uprooted -- what sense would we find in that?"

Gimli refilled his pipe and held his flint to it, sucking sharp smoke. Legolas watched him.

"So," he resumed. "Do I have it right? That is how Elves see us, is it not? Hard, stern, unlovely and unloving?"

"Not all Elves," Legolas said softly.

"Ay. That I know. But that is what you thought before, yes?"

"Yes. I admit it. But what thought you of the ways of Elves?"

Another long drag, and a wreath of smoke. "Treacherous. Perfidious. Fair-seeming, and ill-meaning. Proud. Contemptuous. Unyielding. Arrogant. Meddlesome. Hungry for rule. Un-"

"All right!"

Gimli caught the flash of Legolas' grin. "And now?" asked the Elf.

"Oh. Well, now, of course, I see things quite differently. I no longer think Elves treacherous." He neatly ducked the clod of earth Legolas shied at his head, and chuckled. They subsided into easy silence again as the last of the fire sputtered and cracked.

"Would you have me build it again, or are you warmed now?"

"I am well enough." Gimli settled into his blankets, laying aside his pipe, and pillowed his head on the log. His eyes began to drift shut, and he had just slipped over the borders of sleep when he heard Legolas' voice again.

"Gimli."

"Hmm?"

"Thank you for coming with me. I know how this forest unsettles you."

Gimli smiled into the dark. "Troublesome Elf. Think you aught can unsettle me anymore when I ride with you?"

Legolas did not answer, and Gimli settled himself again. It had been a long day's ride, if an easy one, and he was weary. He still found spending a day astride more tiring than a hard day's run, even with Legolas' sure hand on the bridle. He yawned.

"You are weary."

"Mm. Only a little."

"I would have you tell me one of those tales of love you say the Dwarves know nothing of."

"Ah." Gimli frowned and thought for a moment. "They have no beards, you know."

"Who?"

"Dwarf women. When I said they were like us in appearance, I only meant that when they go out, they go heavily cloaked, and they avert their faces. Warier of the ways of other races they are, even more so than their menfolk, and with better reason. But in our halls. . . ah, they are passing fair. Lithe and fair as Elves, their hair as soft as moonlight, their smiles like the summer sun. They are the true gems of my people. Perhaps that is why they are so rare among us. The birth of a daughter -- ay, it is a wondrous and a joyous occasion, and songs are sung for days to congratulate her parents. Arhum-kh'zil, begetter of diamonds, the father of a daughter is called. A house is truly blessed that numbers a daughter among its sons. I have heard, you know, that Men think little of the birth of a daughter, and reckon daughters of little worth next to their sons. This seems passing strange to me, as do many of their ways when it comes to love."

He shifted and propped his head better on its makeshift pillow. "However. Not all our tales of love have women in them. I know not if it is because our womenfolk are scarce, or if the comfort warriors find in one another is common to all races. But be that as it may, many of our tales would be. . . well, I saw no evidence they would be welcome if sung in Gondor's halls. Would you perhaps hear one of those?"

He watched Legolas, who held quite still. So still was he that for a moment Gimli wondered if he had slipped into that odd open-eyed trance that passed among Elves for sleep. "Yes," he said at last. "There is one I am curious to know whether it is told among your folk or not. Among Elves, it is spoken of only in hushed tones, and some say it is not true and could never have been. Have you ever heard--" He hesitated. "Know you aught of the tale of Celebrimbor and Narvi?"

Gimli's throat went quite dry. It could not be. Was this the answer to the riddle of Legolas' watchful eyes? He found his chest suddenly tight, and to his dismay a flood of heat filled his groin. By the Valar, if that was what Legolas truly desired. . . He cleared his throat and shifted. "Ay. The Elf-lord and the Dwarf-king. Truest and best of friends, and some say closer. Though among my people as well, most say it is a vicious slander."

"Which part? That they were friends, or that they fucked?"

That common obscenity slipping from the Elf's tongue tightened his groin and his throat together, and the flash of image it brought -- of what Legolas would look like fucking --- almost overcame him. No. No. He would not so shame himself in front of his friend as to think that. . . He was not so deluded as that.

Legolas answered his silence. "You are weary," he said softly. "We can have tales another night. Sleep now, and I will watch. Perhaps I will steal a puff or two off that fabled pipe of yours."

"Touch the pipe and die," growled Gimli.

"Go to sleep, you irascible old Dwarf."

"Did you really just call me old?"

A soft chuckle in the dark, then stillness. Gimli wrapped himself tighter in the blankets, and turned his back that Legolas might not see his eyes, which he could not yet close. By Aule and Yavanna together. . . Fucked. Legolas had said 'fucked,' as lightly and casually as if it were something he did every day, the doing, that is, not the saying. . . and unbidden, thoughts and dark fantasies he had ruthlessly squashed came at him in a rush, and he saw Legolas naked beneath him, astride him, his face taut with passion, his voice a grunt of need -- strong Elven hands grasping him, kneading him. . . sweet Aule, what he must look like unclothed. . .

His cock throbbed in his breeches, and he knew he must touch himself or die. There was no longer any choice -- matters were not going to resolve themselves at this point. He could get up and go into the forest, and Legolas would not question it. Many times on the long journey from Rivendell, Legolas had seen one or other members of the camp go off to answer Nature's call. He would think nothing of it. His chest pounding, Gimli threw back the blankets and strode under the nearby branches, not daring a backward glance. He did not stop until he was well out of earshot of the camp, even for an Elf. He leaned against a tree's thick trunk and freed himself with one hasty hand.

Ah, he had forgotten how good it was, this simple, easy indulgence. . . Hard and slick with need he was already, and he let the forbidden images rush over him again, let himself see Legolas spread beneath him, arching to meet him, let himself feel how tight and hot his arse would feel, how he would groan and thrash, Legolas' face in orgasm, oh yes, right there, there was the image, Legolas coming in a hot splash on his stomach, over his hand, Legolas touching himself, head thrown back, hand moving fast, fast, faster. . .

"Ahh," he moaned softly, as his own release found him, hard and sharp and fierce. His knees trembled, and he sank into the sweet languor of it for a moment, before he quickly remembered himself. He wiped his hand on the tree bark and cleaned himself as best he could. With a quick step he walked back to camp, eyes down, chest hammering again in guilt. He had been quiet. Surely he had been quiet. Legolas would not have listened. He would be lost in his Elvish trance. Surely he would have heard nothing.

His heart sank in his chest when he came out from under the trees and by the moon's light saw Legolas, sitting up, his back rigid, his eyes ablaze, his face set like stone. With a grunt Gimli settled himself back in his blankets and quickly turned over.

"Fuck you," he heard the quiet voice say.

"What?"

"I said, fuck you. You seek release in the trees before you seek it from me? Fuck you too, Gimli Gloin's son." Not in all the long months had he heard Legolas' voice shake, or seen the hard flash of those eyes directed at him. His tongue hardened to clay in his mouth as he watched Legolas rise and stride off into the trees, his fists clenched.

Fuck.

Oh, fuck.

Durin's beard, but I think I hate that word, Gimli thought.


He stared into the dark for most of the night, wondering if he should try to follow Legolas, wondering what in Middle-earth he was supposed to say. His sleep came in fitful snatches, and dawn found him poorly rested and foul-tempered. The muscles in his neck ached fiercely. He rolled over and groaned.

"Up with you, slug-a-bed," came the cheerful voice. He cracked his eyes and saw Legolas had returned. Their little camp was cleaned and packed, and bread and cheese were sliced and waiting for him on a makeshift platter of leaves. Before he could speak, Legolas had crouched beside him.

"There is the loveliest glade not two hundred paces from here, and a stream clear as diamond, if you crave a wash. Here, I brought you some water." He handed a metal cup to Gimli and hastily rose. "There is an ancient path I could just make out that leads away from the stream into the heart of the forest. We can follow that as far as it goes, and then--"

"Legolas--"

"By noon we might be near enough the north of the wood to encounter some Ents, if we are very fortunate. I know not if Treebeard has heard of our coming, but I doubt there is little he does not know about. Have a care to keep that axe well-sheathed, Master Dwarf, or I doubt not the trees will find some way to thwart us. We have ample evidence that they hesitate not to fight their own battles."

"Legolas--" But the Elf had headed back into the trees, and pretended not to hear. Pretense Gimli had no doubt it was.

"Stubborn, crazy Elf," he muttered, kicking back his bedroll and hastily grabbing the bread and cheese.

They were to go on foot, apparently, Arod trailing behind. All day he struggled to match Legolas' pace, which seemed just calculated to keep Gimli at a distance of twelve feet. By mid-morning he was feeling winded, and by noon he was growling curses into his beard at his companion, who seemed to hear nothing. Legolas had talked so much of wanting to show him the glories of an ancient forest, to share the sights of Fangorn with him, and here he was, unable to even catch his breath in the damnable close air of this godforsaken forest, unable to focus on anything but the swiftly disappearing Elven boots in front of him. Not only that, but Legolas showed not the slightest sign of intending to stop for a rest.

When the sun was just past high, Gimli had had enough. He used the last of his strength to sprint forward, and grabbed Legolas's arm, jerking hard. The Elf wheeled around, his eyes blue with anger.

"What the hell do you think you're--"

"Enough! Enough of this! You crazy, half-mad, stubborn, long-legged idiot!"

With a rough shove, Legolas pushed him away. The strength of it was enough to knock Gimli into the nearest tree, and he came back with a roar, boring into Legolas with all his strength and knocking him clean off his feet. I just made an Elf lose his footing, he thought for a giddy half-second before Legolas' fist slammed into his jaw. Should have worn the helmet, was his second thought. And then they were grappling and rolling, a pile of Elf and Dwarf and flying dirt, and Gimli knew that for all Legolas' apparent slightness, it was a contest he had no hope of winning, not against the extraordinary strength of Elves and those arms that moved faster than his eye could follow. But Legolas was angry, and anger was muddying his movements, making them erratic, and at last Gimli had him pinned, with his legs caught against a log, and the noises he was making were like a cornered tiger, his eyes wild, and Gimli pushed him into the earth harder, and their groins caught and held, and he knew no longer who was pushing into the other, but only that Legolas' groans had changed entirely, and they were clawing and clutching at each other like drowning men, and the hard heaviness of his swollen cock found Legolas' own, and it was so sweet and fast and good, the friction unbearable, unstoppable.

"Gimli-- ah, gods, Gimli--" Legolas' hand was between them, and Gimli's lust-clouded brain couldn't figure out exactly what he was doing until they were both deftly freed from the prison of their breeches, and he felt Legolas' naked cock hot against his own, and gasped aloud. Legolas went still.

"Yes?"

He was incapable of speech, beyond feeling anything but the headlong rush for release, and he ground into Legolas in answer, letting their cocks slide along each other, letting the heavy weight of his balls sink into his friend's groin, and Legolas arched, panting, and dug strong fingers into Gimli's buttocks, thrusting as he kneaded.

"Ah-- can't bear-- Gimli, yes--" and then there was a hot spreading wetness between them, and Legolas convulsed, arching toward him, and Gimli was lost, lost, and coming in a hot flood, and he had the wild thought that he knew not what would happen if the seed of Elf and Dwarf met, if their mingled essence would burst into flame and sear them both.

He collapsed and had just enough strength to roll off his friend. For long minutes they lay there, breaths rasping, sprawled messes of earth and leaves and sweat and come, before either of them spoke.

"I'm sorry."

Ice water flooded Gimli's veins, and he closed his eyes at the slice of words that cut deeper than any Orc blade. Of course, he would be sorry. It was not as though he should have expected anything else. Legolas must have been driven to the brink of madness by sexual frustration to have done this -- to have satisfied himself by rutting against a Dwarf. He swallowed, not trusting himself to speak, and struggled to his feet, his back to the Elf. Hastily he tucked himself in, wiping his stomach with the edge of his tunic.

"Gimli, please. Can't you look at me?"

"It's all right," he said gruffly. He turned and averted his eyes from Legolas, still stretched heavy-lidded on the ground as though it were a bed of silks and linens, still half unclothed and drenched with sea-sweet come. "It's all right. We'd best be moving on, I suppose."

At that Legolas sat up. "We-- what? Gimli, have you gone mad?"

"There's as much of my brain functioning as there ever was. You've said you're sorry, and there's an end of it. Now let's be getting on before Arod decides we've both lost our minds."

As if in answer, the horse snorted at them from the edge of the clearing they found themselves in.

"Ah, Elbereth Gilthoniel! No, no, that is not what I meant!" Legolas pushed himself to his knees and clutched at Gimli. "I am sorry for my moodiness, my sharpness, my. . . most of all, sorry for not finding the courage to speak to you about this, but tumbling you instead on the forest floor like some lust-crazed. . . ai, Gimli, I know not what more to say. . ." He sat back on his heels, and Gimli thought it was unfair, that he could be graceful and lovely, even as disheveled and half-dressed as he was. He tried to speak and found the same strange blockage that had been there before, pressing on him like a weight.

"Unless you. . . I see," said Legolas, releasing his hand, his face grave. "It is not with you as it is with me, and I have shamed myself in more than one way." He rose lightly to his feet, and turned away to right himself.

Speak! Speak! you clod-tongued idiot! he thundered at himself, and anger made his voice rougher than he had intended. "Legolas-- no, I. . ." what was it he had meant to say? "Long. . . long have I desired this."

Legolas turned, neatly tucked and ordered once again, not a hair out of place. He inclined his head in a courtly gesture, his eyes shuttered again. "Then I am glad to have satisfied your desire, and brought you pleasure, however brief and clumsy."

He walked away then, whistling for Arod, who trotted obediently to his adopted master's hand. Gimli sighed and studied the forest floor, willing his legs to move. There was a hollowness inside him, and an ache like the slow bleed of an internal wound. He trailed behind Legolas, silent, grateful that at least their pace had been slowed, even if they found no more words for each other until nightfall.


Their camp that night was deep within the forest, and the air was even chillier than before, though not as chilly as the air between the two companions. For the rest of the day, Legolas had been unfailingly courteous. Carefully polite, as though they were strangers. There was no talk of tales or songs that night, and even the fire was subdued. From the heaviness of the forest air, no doubt, but to Gimli it seemed but a reflection of the heaviness between them.

He had no heart for his pipe that night, but remained lost in thought even after Legolas had rolled over in his feigned half-sleep and the small fire had sputtered to nothingness. Again and again he replayed the words of the afternoon in his head, weighing each one, pushing aside his own irritation to find the true meaning. It was like shaping a gemstone. Shaping could not be done in anger or haste, with one's own emotions clouding the tap of the hammer. You must let the stone show you what it wanted to be, and you must follow where it meandered, and not where you willed it to go. Tap, tap, tap and wait, was the rhythm of it. Young and inexperienced craftsmen, who knew not the ways of stone or diamonds, were puzzled by the rhythm, and did not understand what the waiting was for. Their elders knew it was for listening.

"Gimli, you fool," he muttered to himself at last, when the stars were high overhead.

He kicked aside his blanket and made his way to where Legolas lay, motionless, though Gimli doubted not he was awake. He fought the urge to kick him, aware after this afternoon that he would earn a hard fall and a twisted ankle for his pains. He sat down heavily, and laid a hand on his friend's back.

"Legolas."

Legolas rolled over, his eyes alert. "What is it? Is all well?"

"Ay, ay. And no. I -- Legolas, I. . ."

Legolas cocked a lazy brow. "Never before have I known you to hesitate before speaking. 'Tis a good habit for you to acquire."

"You're not making this easier."

"No? Perhaps I do not wish to. But be at ease. I know what it is you seek." With one fluid motion, he sat up and edged closer to where Gimli sat. He slid his hand up one leather-clad leg. "I can give you what it is you want, if you wish it. And I can do better than a quick rut in the leaves."

"I doubt it not," Gimli rasped. Legolas propped on one elbow, and the small smile that curled his lips was unsettling.

"Would you see me unclothed, Gimli?"

"Ay -- no. I--" In some way unknown to him, matters were not going where he had planned them to, but he was powerless to resist this turn of events. He had expected anger and bitterness, not this pliant willingness, this sultriness of tone. With a careless hand, Legolas began to unlace his boots and breeches. He pulled his tunic and jerkin over his head. Gimli felt his pulse quicken. He had known, of course, that the Elf would be beautiful, but it took him back nonetheless. His skin was like buttermilk, silvered in the moonlight, his muscles fluid as a panther's.

"Would you touch me?"

"A-ay."

He ran a tentative hand over the bare chest. It felt as firm and solidly muscled as a Dwarf's, but soft as sueded leather. He ran a finger over the small brown nipple, but Legolas gave no sign other than a slight closing of his eyelids.

"Would you see the rest of me?"

Gimli could manage no more than a nod. Legolas stood and shed the rest of his clothes as easily as though he were stepping into his bath. Gimli's mouth went quite dry at the sight. The cock, longer and thicker than he would have thought, nestled in a thatch of dusty-golden hair, as pale buttermilk as the rest of him. His legs were marble pillars, covered only with the same soft down that dusted the rest of his body. He was flawless, from head to toe, and Gimli had the uncomfortable thought that he knew it, too, and knew what Gimli was thinking as he surveyed him.

"Do I please you?"

"You know. . . you know you are beautiful."

"And what would you have me do, Gimli Gloin's son? Would you take me, like a woman? Would you have me use my mouth on you? Or would you have me do something else?"

Gimli met his eyes, shuttered and cold, and frowned. "If I ask it, will you do it?"

"Yes."

"Then I ask that you put your clothes back on and cease this foolishness." He bent and tossed his tunic at him. "Get dressed."

Legolas frowned and made a bare motion that might have been a shrug. He pulled his tunic over his head, but made no move to put on anything else. "Why do you deny yourself what it is clear you want?" And he dropped his eyes to the bulge that tightened Gimli's breeches and smirked. He stepped closer. "Take what you want. It matters not to me."

"Have you spent so much of your life swinging through the trees, rutting against anything with a pulse, that you don't know a 'no' when you hear it?"

"Fuck you."

"Ay, you've said that much before."

They stared at each other in the chill dark, and Legolas dropped his eyes to Gimli's crotch again. "Will you relieve yourself in the forest again?"

Gimli sighed. Suddenly he felt tired, and he cursed himself for thinking he could have a rational conversation with an Elf, or that he could keep up with this Elf in particular. His anger evaporated, and was replaced by weariness.

"What is it you want of me, Elf? What is it? What have I done or said to make you torment me so? What is it you want?"

Legolas' face was colder and stiller than before. He bowed his head. "What you cannot give," he said, so softly that Gimli almost missed it.

"And why are you so sure of that? How can I know what it is you want, or how I have offended, unless you ask me? If you are going to change all your friendship for me into bitterness and hatred, I would first know the reason!" And in a rage he kicked the crumpled breeches with all his might. A lucky gust caught them, and they landed high in the branches of the overhanging tree.

For a moment they both watched them, transfixed. Legolas was the first to speak. "Did you really just do that?'

"I did! And what's more, I'm going to send the rest of your gear to join 'em!" And in a frenzy he grabbed whatever lay to hand -- boots, leggings, jerkin -- and flung with all his might. Some things caught in the branches, some tumbled out of sight. It was a tantrum and a childish one, but it felt good. When it was over, he turned to look at Legolas, who gaped at him in astonishment, then up at his clothes. He looked back at Gimli, who was panting in satisfaction.

"You. . ." He seemed at a loss. He surveyed his clothes again. And then a strange fit seized him. He fell to the ground, his whole body shaking.

"Legolas? Legolas, what ails you? Are you--" Legolas threw his head back, and Gimli saw, for the first time, an Elf in the grip of convulsive, hysterical laughter. Legolas fell onto his back, and a clear peal of laughter rang out, deep and true and infectious. Gimli began to chuckle. The fit seized him too, and he threw back his head and roared along with Legolas. He felt his legs give way beneath him, and then he too was on the ground, and the laughter was rolling out of both of them as they watched the breeze gently wave Legolas' clothes.

"I do hope," said Legolas, when at last he had caught his breath, "that that does not turn out to be an Ent wearing my underthings."

This sent Gimli off into fresh gales of laughter, and all the poison of the day spilled out of him, leeched by merriment like venom from an adder bite. They lay long on the ground until their laughter subsided into soft chuckles and groans, and of a sudden Legolas propped himself on his elbows and scooted closer to where his friend lay prone.

"This is what I want," he said, and without warning he lowered his head and met Gimli's mouth with his own. And to Gimli's shock there was an Elf hand against his head, and a warm Elf mouth on his, and an insistent Elf tongue parting his lips. With a whuff he lost his breath and anything else he might have been planning to say, and surrendered.

He had never kissed another male before, but not for the world would he have admitted it. The Elf's mouth was firmer and rougher than he would have thought, his tongue more masterful. He tasted of leaves and earth -- a sharp musk, like the ground after rain, and Gimli felt himself slipping back, back, into the cradle of the arms that gently lowered him, except that could not be right, because he was already lying down, or was he? The earth was spinning, and he knew not if it would ever be right side up again.

He thrust his tongue up to meet the one exploring his mouth, and when their tongues met and slid, he felt Legolas' groan tremble his body, and felt a shock of desire and warmth. His cock, which had been half-hard since Legolas had shed his clothes, awoke again and filled with blood.

"There seems to be an injustice here," Legolas murmured in his ear, and he knew not what he was talking about until there were firm fingers in his lacings, and determined jerks at his breeches, and it hit him in a rush that Legolas would have him unclothed as well, and panic flooded him.

"I -- no, I--"

"What? Is this not what-- I thought you--"

"No, no, that is fine, I simply-- oh, damnation." He cast about. "I would not-- why would you have me unclothed?"

Legolas pulled back and propped on his elbow again, frowning. "Because I would have it." And with his other hand he grasped Gimli's wrist and brought his hand down to rest on the warm, hardened, silken cock that pulsed and jumped beneath his fingers. "Because I desire you. Or do you doubt the evidence your hand rests on?"

"Nay," he rasped, and let his fingers slide around the shaft, impossibly hot, as he felt a drop of wetness slicken it. Legolas gave a fluttering groan, and the sound caught and held in Gimli's throat, and made the ache in his groin tighten to pain.

"Gimli. I spoke truly when I said I knew not the ways of Dwarves. There are things -- indeed I know not what I may do to you, with you, that will not offend. You did not look for me to kiss you."

"Aye, you have me there." Gimli began to swirl his thumb over the tip of Legolas' cock, wondering if he could get another groan, and was not disappointed.

"Gimli-- aie, stop it, I am going to-- no, no, I want you too much, you must stop--"

Gimli leaned closer and paused. He had intended to mutter something lewdly provocative in the Elf's ear, but the sight of the ear stopped him short. He had wondered. . . on a hunch, he darted out his tongue and flicked the tip of the ear, dipping just inside the rim to trace the gentle point.

"Ahhh!" Legolas arched clean off the ground, head thrown back, and thrust fast and convulsively into Gimli's hand. "Ivanie sli-morenna! Ah! Fuck!"

That at least Gimli recognized. He sidled closer and began to grind his cock against Legolas' thigh. "That's a word you seem to throw around quite a bit, laddie," he growled. "You might give a body ideas." Hastily and clumsily, he pushed off what he could of his clothes, no longer caring if Legolas found him comely or not. The Elf was an inch from coming, it was plain, and Gimli knew he would not be able to hold back at the sight -- warm, hot Elven seed gushing on a pale stomach--

"Wait, wait! Slower this time, mellon-nin!" Legolas' hands were on his shoulders, slowing him, and he realized he had thrown himself atop his friend and was beginning to grind away, as they had before. Legolas' mouth was warm on his own ear. "I said, I can do better."

And then there were fingers, fingers everywhere, it felt like, and a warm, insistent pressure against his backside, pushing against his entrance, and he startled like a skittish mule.

"No?"

"I-- in truth there is much I do not know."

"Would you learn?"

"Aye," he managed, and the fingers resumed their gentle swirling and pushing, and he forgot to feel shame at the unbelievable intimacy, the shocking unashamedness of it, because those swirling fingers began to feel so good, and when one of them slipped just inside he gave a little gasp and relaxed into it, knowing Legolas would bring him only pleasure.

"That's it, my friend." The delicious mouth was on his again, the tongue mimicking the motions of the finger, swirl and push, swirl and push. His mouth and nose and hands were full of Elf, and it did not seem possible that Legolas' fingers were quite so long. "Push against me."

For a minute he had no idea what he was being asked to do, and when it struck him, he was glad the night hid his blush. He pushed, and the slight burning eased. The pressure increased, and he realized Legolas had slipped another finger up him. He opened his mouth to protest when a blinding wall of white-hot something hit him, and he only knew it for pleasure when he lay gasping as its tide went out.

"Legolas! What--"

"Shh." Now the fingers were back, pushing against that same spot, more gently now, more rhythmically, and he couldn't stop himself from pushing back onto them, wanting more, more of that unearthly feeling that had pulsed through him before, and that was beginning to build again, more slowly.

"Ahh. . . oh, yes. . . don't stop. . ."

"Not going to. . . I want to see you come, I want you to think about me fucking you, can you feel it Gimli, can you imagine it's my cock fucking you, pounding you, so tight, yes yes that's it, come on me now, let me, let me. . ."

And deft Elven fingers were on his throbbing neglected cock, curling around them. "Fuck my hand while my cock fucks you, Gimli, let me feel you come, let go for me. . ." The fingers began to slip around inside him, pushing, pushing, massaging that hot center of him until he could bear it no longer, and he roared his pleasure as the fingers pounded him and the hand pumped him, and his seed came out in a long powerful spurt as it hadn't since he was a lad, and he was aware he was whimpering as he came and came, but the pleasure would not stop, it did not abate, Legolas was killing him, killing him. . .

He fought for breath as the dark boughs of the forest spun above him.

The stars, he thought, were very bright.

He could not move.

He watched Legolas slowly lift his left hand to his mouth and lick the dripping seed from it. Their eyes met and held, and Legolas' tongue lapped at his fingers. He thrust them into his mouth and sucked.

Gimli was helpless before him.

Slowly he became aware that the other hand, the one inside him, hadn't moved. Infinitesimally, he relaxed his muscles, and the fingers began, with infinite care, to slip out of him, drawing out his last shudders.

"Ah. . . by the Valar, lad. . ."

"I am no lad."

"Well do I know it."

Legolas' eyes had gone quite blue, and Gimli wished, not for the first time, that he knew exactly what that meant.

"I need no reminding of who and what you are, Master Elf."

"You said my name before."

"And I will say it again, Legolas." He began to feel blood returning to the rest of his body, and he reached a hand to brush against the smooth cheek beside him. He let his hand continue down, and brushed something else.

"Ah-- careful--"

"You have seen my pleasure, my friend. Now I would see yours." Gimli rolled onto his arms and surveyed the six feet of naked Elf beside him. "What would you?"

"I am fine, mellon-nin. I need nothing."

"Aye, and that's why you're taut as a bow-string and hard as mithril." Tentatively, he resumed his exploration of before, tracing the long clean line of him.

"No! Please, I am too far gone, I-- I cannot bear that."

"Then tell me what you would have."

He caught Legolas' hesitation, and cocked his brow. "Anything you want. Would you fuck me in earnest? Would you have my mouth? My hand? Tell me, and it is yours."

Legolas reached a hand to brush against the thick beard with its heavy braids. "I. . ." he began.

"Say it. Anything."

"I would have. . . your beard."

Understanding dawned, and Gimli smiled. "Indeed? Then my beard you shall have." Adjusting his position, he bent over the cock that strained and jerked at him, and gave it an experimental flick with his tongue. As full of the musk of rain as his mouth.

"Gimli-- please--"

With no further hesitation, he wrapped the length of his beard around the purpling shaft and placed his hand around it. Slowly he began to move his hand, letting the beard rasp Legolas, enfolding him.

"Oh! More! I must, I must--!"

Faster and faster he moved his hand, and he felt his own softened cock begin to stir again at the sight of Legolas' fantasy, at the thought that Legolas had pleasured himself while thinking about coming in his beard, fucking his beard. Fingers dug into his shoulders, and Legolas began to jerk and thrust faster, almost, than he could keep up.

"Ah. . . yes. . . oh, fuck. . ."

Gimli reached through the thicket of beard to grasp his balls and gently tumble them about, burying them, too, in the bramble of coarse reddish hair that twined and tangled about them. The Elf was close, so close, and of a sudden he knew what he wanted, and in his overpowering need did not trouble about the completion of Legolas' fantasy, and he lifted himself up, jerking his beard free, straddled the still thrusting body, and settled his loosened body right on the slick shaft, letting it pierce him, take him, unmake him, and he groaned and fell forward limp, thrust to the heart.

"Ah, talaith-nin, talaith-erelda!"

He had forgotten Elvish strength and fervor, once again. Faster than thought, he found himself shoved on his back, the cock never leaving him, and now it felt impossibly huge and growing huger, as though it was swelling within him. There was a growl at his ear, and he groaned as the cock shifted and found its pace, pounding him, beating into him, fucking him fast now, and there was sweat slickening the back he tried to clutch, sweat that smelled like rain-musk, and his legs were being bent back as Legolas fucked him harder, and there was a last rending thrust, and then heat -- wet, impossible heat, and he realized with a start that he could actually feel Legolas coming as he stiffened and shook and spilled within him, that it tingled inside him like swallowing miruvor. At that his own cock jerked and sputtered and his own orgasm pulled him under as the last embers of his pleasure caught fire and burned him, and it was actually burning, burning like fire, only the burning was in him, somehow, tearing him, and he was powerless against it.

As his breathing slowed he became conscious of a heavy blond head on him, and of warm lips kissing his chest.

"Ah, Gimli-nin. . . mellon, talaith-erelda. . ."

"Speak something a person can understand, will you?"

He felt Legolas chuckle as he nuzzled his beard. "Crotchety as ever." A hand came and smoothed his brow, pushing back the hair that had strayed. "I have hurt you, badly I fear. You should not have done that."

"I wanted it."

"Aye." The warm brown eyes met his. "But that is not how I would have had that be. I have done many things amiss here, from first to last."

Gimli grimaced as sharp pain assailed him in the ebb of his pleasure.

"I need to pull out of you now, but I must go slowly, or I will hurt you more. Try to relax, mellon." He massaged the quivering leg muscles as he slowly withdrew, and Gimli caught his frown and muttered curse as it became apparent not all the wetness was seed. "Ai, Elbereth, what have I done. . ."

"Legolas. Leave it. I had great pleasure in this. Do you believe me?"

Legolas crawled up beside him and collapsed. "Yes. I believe you."

Gimli turned so they could watch each other, and for long minutes they were content to do so.

"Tell me the meaning of those words."

"Which ones?"

" Mellon I know, but not the others. Tal-- tabith?"

"Talaith-erelda."

"That's the one."

Legolas' eyes shifted away. "It is just an expression."

"Mm. Is it Elvish for 'faster, faster'?"

Legolas gave him a lazy kick. "Insolent Dwarf. You really know no Elvish at all, do you?"

Gimli's eyes shaded. "You'd be surprised what I've picked up."

"No doubt. You want to know something of my tongue, and yet you teach me nothing of yours. I do not even know your true name. What is it you Dwarves fear, that you are so secretive?"

"Meddlesome Elves, as we have reason to. Stop dodging the subject. What does it mean?"

"It is an ancient expression meaning 'quarrelsome Dwarf.' Isn't it lovely?"

Gimli aimed a kick at him, but Legolas caught his foot, and they rolled around in a long lazy wrestling match, laughing for nothing but joy.


The little balcony that overlooked the Pelennor had come to feel like his own, and he knew he would miss it, and its view, when he finally journeyed back north. Odd how folk thought the Dwarves indifferent to views, as though their caverns were dark, dank, narrow holes and not torchlit, glittering vistas. He thought with a pang he knew would never ease of Khazad-dum, and wondered if its glory would ever be re-kindled, and how many ages it would continue to lie in its long enslavement to the dark and the evil that still gnawed at the secret places of the earth, despite the springtime of Sauron's fall. He drew long on his pipe and contemplated this gentler dark, and the soft breeze that had replaced the midsummer's stifling heat.

"Do I disturb you?"

"Aragorn! It is a mighty king who walks with such a courteous tread in his own house. Why are you stirring so late?"

"I might ask the same of you." Aragorn stretched his long body into the chair beside his friend's and pulled out his own pipe. "Have you any to share?"

"You know well the answer to that. Hand it here." He turned the pipe over in his hand and frowned. "King of all Men, Ruler of the West, and this is the pathetic pipe you still smoke. I shall send you a fine new one, of Dwarvish make, and this you shall consign to the ash-heap where it belongs."

"Any gift of yours I will cherish, my friend, but this pipe will never see the ash-heap. Its smoke has too many memories."

They smoked in silence, watching the thin line of the Anduin, away in the distance.

"You are still determined to leave on the morrow?"

"Aye. It is time."

"And Legolas too?"

"You don't think I'm maneuvering that dangerous beast all by myself, do you? No, no, I must have the Elf to drive that dratted horse where I need him to go."

"It is good that he is going. His people will need him. Gandalf says Thranduil is. . . not well. Since the battle in the forest. He has the look of one who knows not what world he walks in."

"So I have heard. Will he go to the Havens, do you think?"

"I know not. He is a hard one to read."

Gimli snorted. "Show me an easy one. Elves." He shook his head and stretched out his feet. "Aye, I have been too long away from the mountains of my birth. Besides, I am eager to see if there are any in Erebor who still have a taste for adventure."

"So. You still purpose to settle in Aglarond?"

"Oh, aye. Eomer has given his leave, if any wish to come. So we shall see."

He heard Aragorn's smile in the darkness. "Lord of the Glittering Caves you shall be. I shall have your smiths work gates of mithril for the White City."

"Well, now, that will cost you."

"Well do I know it. So, you have not said. What did you think of Fangorn? Did Legolas finally persuade you of its charms?"

Gimli shrugged. "Trees and dirt. Not much to see." He smiled into his pipe. "But it was a fine journey, nonetheless."

"Yes, it is a fair road."

They drifted in the lee of their pipeweed for a while before Gimli spoke again.

"I have been studying some of the books in that fine library of yours."

"Oh?"

"Most impressive. More lorebooks than are in all Rivendell."

"Find anything that interested you?"

"Well. . . I have mainly been studying the language books. All that journeying we did. . . it opened my eyes to all the many tongues that were out there to learn. I thought I might see if I could bend my mind to some of them."

"Which ones in particular?"

"Oh. . . I thought I might learn a spot of Elvish."

"A beautiful tongue."

"Indeed, indeed. There's one phrase I'm having trouble translating, though -- found it in some old book, and can't quite track down the meaning. . . was wondering if you might help me."

"Of course."

"It's talaith-erelda."

Aragorn gave him a sharp look. "Which book did you find that in?"

"Oh, I can't remember the name of it. Those Elvish words, they all begin to sound alike after a while."

"Ah." Aragorn puffed a minute, thinking, then tapped out his bowl, emptying its ash. "Talaith-erelda. It's Quenya, actually -- high Elvish. Most spoken Elvish on these shores is Sindarin, except for ancient texts, prophecies, oaths, that sort of thing. If you've got a Quenya text, you'll want to go back and pick up a Sindarin one. Quenya won't get you very far, if it's the spoken language you want to learn." He rose and stretched, looking out over the plain that was a brilliant lake of moonlight. "It's a vow word, from a very ancient and solemn oath. You're not likely to hear it often, if at all. The Elves don't say it lightly." He turned and watched Gimli, who smoked impassively.

"It means only-beloved."

Gimli let the breath he had inhaled swirl in his lungs, grateful for his pipe. He released the breath in a long rich cloud, and nodded slowly, not trusting to words. Aragorn watched him another minute, then slipped the empty pipe in his tunic and stepped towards the archway before he stopped, hesitating.

"Also. . . the Elves have certain beliefs. Customs. Those words. . . they are never written down. You didn't find them in any book, in Middle-earth or elsewhere." He paused, and laid his hand lightly on his friend's shoulder. Then he was gone, the curtain a swish of cool air behind him.

Gimli lowered his pipe with shaking hand. For a long time he sat quite still, and the ashes in his pipe bowl died away as he sat there. Then he frowned.

"Elf, I know you're there."

Legolas emerged from the archway and slid into the seat Aragorn had vacated. "I didn't want to disturb you. What were you thinking about, so solemn and grave?"

Gimli shrugged. "Oh, nothing. Tongues."

"Really." Legolas shifted and leaned closer, lowering his voice. "I've been thinking about that, too."

"You're a disgrace."

Legolas gave a light laugh and rose. "Come on. I want to get away with the dawn, and I'll never roust you out if you stay up much longer. To bed with you."

"I'm getting there. Talaith-erelda."

Legolas froze, and his smile faded. "Don't."

"Why not?"

"Because you might want to take it back."

"Can't do that."

"I-- stop it."

Gimli rose, too.

"No."

Legolas balled his fists. "Don't be a fool. Those words -- Dwarves take one mate, I know this, you mustn't--"

"Laddie. I don't have a choice. It's done. And Elvish gibberish isn't going to make it or unmake it. Now come on, let's both get some rest. And don't tell me this business about Elves not needing sleep. I've seen you sleep with the best of them." He tapped his ash out on top of Aragorn's and pocketed his pipe, clapping his friend on the shoulder -- his more-than-friend, he thought, wondering if there was quite the word in any tongue for it.

The corner of Legolas' mouth twitched. "You've seen me sleep after I've had something to tire me out."

"Well, then, we'll just have to see what we can do about that."

They headed through the arch and down the winding stairs quietly together, mindful of the sleeping palace.

"Gthronshishkhul," Gimli said softly, as they descended.

"What?"

"My name. Gthronshishkhul. You wanted to know."

"Hmm. I can't say I feel terribly closer to you. Of a sudden 'Gimli' doesn't seem so bad."

And at the last turn, while Gimli was still on the stairs behind him, Legolas seized his collar and pushed him against the wall, but the kiss was gentle, almost shy, because so often their coupling was rough and full of their need, and kissing was rarer. Gimli felt himself stir at its sweetness. He wondered if the idea had taken Legolas because they were on the stairs, and the height difficulty didn't matter, and he wondered, too, if kissing was less frequent because Legolas wouldn't make him feel awkward by bending to kiss him. The thought wrung something in his chest, and he deepened the kiss.

"To bed," he rasped, breaking off, and they trod their quiet way through the wide halls, needing no further words.