The halls of Erebor were incredible. At first, Legolas had been afraid he might suffer from claustrophobia; his father's halls were largely underground, yes, but they were perforated with sunlight, or thin pockets of amber meant to mimic sunlight, and decorated with trees and all the growing things dear to a wood elf's heart. Erebor, in contrast, was lit by lanterns and the fires of its forges. Its lines were severe and unyielding, and it was awash not in the warm colors of the seasons, but the cool sheen of emeralds and gold. Yet he had not found, for all that, that it was inhospitable.
Gimli's home had first appealed to him because of its inhabitants. Even news of his parentage had not stymied the long-boasted of hospitality of the Dwarves, and the halls had rung with laughter and drinking songs and warm appreciation of the tales they told. Then, slowly, as he learned more of the culture that had heretofore only been told of in tantalizing flashes, he had begun to think--well, Dwarvishly. He could not help it. He had spent so long walking with Gimli, and his miner and stonemason friends and kin, that he had gained a healthy appreciation of the effort it took to chisel and shape rock, and understand why such styles had come into being. His personal tastes were (so he had been informed many times) still hopelessly Elvish, but he felt comfortable amongst the inhabitants of the Lonely Mountains.
In fact, because he slept so little, he often found himself wandering its halls absent his hosts, observing and learning and thinking. I love it here, he thought with a pang one night. He loved it as dearly as the home he had grown up in, and was drawn to it in a way he had only felt in two other places: Fangorn Forest, and the Glittering Caves of Algarond.
It did not escape Legolas's notice that only one thing tied these locations together, and that of the three, he cherished the Glittering Caves the most. He need only cast his mind back for half a moment and he could recall every word of praise Gimli had lovingly uttered, each plan he had sketched in a hopeful and tentative voice.
“And there shall be a room for you, Master Elf,” his friend had said. “I spied it during the Battle. It is high up, near the sky, and running through it are veins of some green gem I could not name without a closer look, and stone that glitters gold and silver. It is as Elven as a stone cavern can be, and it will be ready whenever you shall ask for it. ”
A frown creased Legolas’s fair face as he wandered Erebor in the darkness. It was a generous offer, and one that had rendered him even more speechless than the wonder of the caves--and still his heart yearned for more.
He paused in his walk and his thoughts as he came across a room with a door that creaked open, spilling light into the hallway. That itself was not unusual; what roused his curiosity was the comparative silence of the room. Even his sharp ears could not discern the tap of a hammer, the squeak of a file, muttered curses, snores, or the clank and crash and shuffling sounds of feasting or crafting Dwarves. All he could hear was the slow scratch of a pen and, now, a muffled word of Khuzdul.
He had heard very, very little of the Dwarves' secret language. Even here, in their ancestral home, most seemed aware that an Elf could be about, and kept their silence. Despite himself, he leaned closer, and the scratching sound halted.
“I know you're there, lad.”
Instinctively Legolas hunched his shoulders, and then laughed lowly. It was the exact same thing he had heard his father say a thousand times—but with that Dwarvish “lad” tacked on the end of it, in that broad accent. His father would be very put out that a mere Dwarf had reached the same level of sternness.
“My apologies,” he said quietly, in case there were sleeping Dwarves about. “I was only curious as to what craft must be done so quietly, so late at night.”
“Come in, then.”
Legolas entered the room and shut the door behind him. The voice had been familiar; he was not surprised to find Dwalin sitting in the center of the room at a wooden desk. He was surprised, though, to see him as he was. For the first time Legolas had seen, he was not wearing armor—not a greave, not a chain link, not a knuckle-duster. He was wearing worn dark trousers, a fur-trimmed cloak, and (to Legolas’s delight) a knitted green jumper. His beard was longer than it had been all those years ago, and snow white. The tattoos on his skull had faded somewhat, but he had added new ones by his brow and temples. His eyes were as shrewd and sharp and distrustful as always.
“Well?” He challenged.
Legolas hesitated for half a moment, and sat down fluidly in the spare chair.
“What are you writing?”
Dwalin, having expected something bolder, snorted and continued to write.
“Stories. Old stories. I'm an old man, in case you hadn't noticed, and soon I'll be dead and all of the stories with me.” He grimaced, set down his pen, and pinched the brow of his nose. “Ought not be me… never was good with my letters,” he muttered, half to himself “I was always running off to do sommat dangerous and exciting with Thorin—by rights this task ought to belong to Balin or Ori, but somehow they managed to get themselves killed and I didn't, so now it's mine.”
Legolas’s eyebrows rose. He had now been in the old Dwarf's presence seven or eight times, over the course of six decades, and that was more words than he had ever heard Dwalin utter—excluding curses. He noted the weariness in Dwalin's shoulders, and decided that the memories, and the retelling of them, of must weigh heavily on him indeed.
There was an empty mug on the corner of the desk, too. Memories and ale, then.
“I have heard tell that Bilbo Baggins has written a book of the Quest for the Lonely Mountain,” he said lightly, and received a glower.
“Aye, and that'll do well enough for Elves and Hobbits—but it’s a Dwarvish tale that’ll be sung by Dwarvish voices for Dwarvish ears, so don’t be poking about at it, Master Sharp Eyes!”
Legolas bit back a smile. Gimli had, perhaps, told too many stories of far-away foes struck with his arrows.
“I would not dare. Are you writing songs?”
“Aye. And I ought to add a piece for the harp,” he said thoughtfully. “Thorin will be cross if I don’t.”
He leaned over and made a mark on a scrap of parchment to remind himself, and for a moment Legolas’s smile was frozen in place. With older mortals, he had heard, it was possible for the mind to weaken—to blend fact and fiction, past and present. It was something he had always found terribly cruel, even when he was young, and the idea that such a thing might happen to this grizzled old warrior was just, somehow, wrong. Then Dwalin heaved a heavy sigh and closed his eyes, and the Elf relaxed. No, the Dwarf did not believe that his friend was yet alive; he was consorting with his ghosts.
“Do you play, Master Dwalin?”
“Fiddle. And you might as well leave off the master bit.”
“That’s what Gimli calls you.”
“Gimli’s a fair century younger than I am—you’re not. And I was his teacher, many years ago; half the lad knows with an axe, he learnt from me, and he best not be forgetting it.”
“He doesn’t,” Legolas said absently. His eyes fell to examine the stone of the floor—a smooth plane, with dusty ruts from where the scraping and sliding of the same chair up to the same desk had eroded the rock. He wondered if this had been Dwalin’s father’s study, or his father before that. “He always speaks of the Company with pride. He knows every detail of your journey by heart.” He paused. “Speaking of which,” he said slowly. “I ought to apologize for standing on your head.”
Dwalin glared at him, and Legolas lost his nerve.
“And, simultaneously, remind you that in doing so I did manage to save Thorin Oakenshield’s life.”
“That’s true enough,” the Dwarf grunted. “Though he repaid the favor soon after.”
Legolas drew back, startled.
“Aye. There was an orc at your back, and Thorin hurled his axe. ‘Twas a masterful shot.”
“I… had not realized that was him,” Legolas said slowly. He remembered the battle vaguely—it had been very quick and over a great stretch of land, and moments tended to get mixed up quickly, but he did remember that. That could have gone badly, he had thought. I’m glad Tauriel is here. And all that time, it had been the Dwarf king. He shook his head. “I fear I owe him a debt, then.”
“And if you had tried to pay it, he would have reached for his axe again,” Dwalin chuckled. “Bilbo sent me a letter some years ago, with the pages on the dragon’s attack—wanted to make sure it was all right. He was very proud of something he’d written just for Thorin: And he never forgave, and he never forgot. Proper way of putting it, I thought.” He turned back to the desk and dipped his pen in the inkwell. “Ah well, I’ve had enough ales in me to say I forgive you, at any rate. Dwarves have good thick heads.”
“I’ve noticed,” Legolas muttered.
Unbidden, his mind cast itself back to the last time he had tried to court Gimli—when they were on the road north, and Legolas had hoped to show off his voice and give Gimli a rather strong hint by singing for him. It had been a lovely song, written by some long-ago Elf who had admired the fiery passions of mortals. Gimli had thought it patronizing, and they had ridden the next few miles in cross silence. Thinking of it, Legolas let out a heavy sigh.
The scratching of Dwalin’s pen stopped again, and the Dwarf’s shoulders tensed. Slowly, he set the pen downed and turned to face Legolas, crossing his arms.
“Now what was that for, I wonder?” he murmured. Legolas stared back at him, feeling very much like a startled deer cornered by a wolf.
“I… have had much cause to bemoan Gimli’s stubbornness, myself. Over the course of our journeys.”
“Have you, now. Tell me.”
Instantly, every instance of Dwarvish tenacity flew out of Legolas’s mind. The only thing he could think of was Gimli criticizing his choice of song, or not paying attention as Legolas brushed out his hair right in front of him, or nodding with a fond and distant smile on his lips as Legolas tried to show him the most beautiful trees he had found in Fangorn Forest.
He gaped like a fish for a moment, searching desperately for one example that would be suitable to tell Dwalin, and came up with nothing. He snapped his mouth shut and a hot blush spread across his face and his ears.
Dwalin muttered a curse.
“No, I tell you,” he said firmly, holding up a disapproving finger. “No, laddie, you’ll not be saying it—no. I won’t be having anything to do with this foolishness, I won’t!”
“I—I love him,” Legolas said in an anguished whisper, and realized that he had never said the words out loud. “He has no idea, I—”
“No!” Dwalin interrupted. “Did I not say I won’t be hearing it?” He tried to turn back to his book and then he changed his mind and whipped back around. “Gloin is going to skin you.”
“I know,” he said miserably.
“Mahal’s blessed beard, do you know who your father is? Do you know what Thorin said to him? Because I do, lad, and many a night my cousin and I have had a right good laugh over it, and Gimli can call himself elf-friend all he likes but that doesn’t make your kin friend of mine, oh no. No forgetting and no forgiving and—oh hell.” He threw up his hands. “I’m old. By rights I ought not to be mixed up in loving nonsense—oh hell.”
The words were… not unexpected. In fact, they were kinder than many Legolas had imagined in the dark corners of his mind, but still he swallowed thickly and closed his eyes. There was no personal malice in Dwalin’s voice, and he was thankful for that, at least. He did not sound disgusted. He did not sound like he wanted to banish Legolas from Erebor or—heaven forbid—tell Gimli. He sounded merely shocked and scandalized and utterly exasperated.
Legolas longed to pace, but the room was too small—to get a breath of the fresh night air, but he could not leave, not until he was sure that Dwalin could keep his secret. The Dwarf reached for his ale and downed the entire thing, but only a few drops had been left. Legolas knelt before him in supplication.
“Say nothing, I beg you,” he began, and Dwalin scoffed.
“Say anything? I don’t want to be hearing anything.”
“Thank you. Thank you. It means—nothing. Next to nothing,” he said, waving his hand. “I would not wish to disturb my hosts. There is no need for them, or him, to know of this.”
Legolas stood and walked to the door. He ought to leave. Having narrowly escaped death, he ought to leave the room and sleep, and mistake the memory for a waking dream in the morning. Yet—he stopped, hand on the doorknob, and turned back. One thing Dwalin had said bothered him.
“Gimli does not call himself elf-friend.”
Dwalin had been staring at nothing, deep in thought, and he jerked at the sound of Legolas’s voice.
“Elf-friend. It is not simply a courtesy, but a title that commands a great deal of respect among my kind. Gimli was dubbed so by the Lady of the Golden Wood, because he spoke fairly and finely to her, and because she saw the good in his heart. I, too, bestowed it upon him in honor of the Greenwood, because…”
He paused and shrugged, his hair rippling over his shoulders. He had named Gimli elf-friend one night in Fangorn, and had promised to do so again before his father’s court if they got the chance. It was an all but meaningless gesture, since the Lady had already done the same, and Legolas was not more important than his distant kin by anyone’s measure. Yet he had felt compelled to do it, because that title, bestowed in such a light, enchanted court, did not even come close to encompassing all they had survived together, all the battles Gimli had rode into behind and beside him, all the long sleepless nights they had shared wordless fears and hopes. The seclusion and quiet strength of Fangorn had felt a more appropriate setting, but even still elf-friend did not convey all he had wished.
The only title that would was that of husband, partner, soul-bound love, but he did not wish to admit so before this hard, suspicious Dwarf.
“Go on,” Dwalin rumbled. “Because why?”
Legolas sat down again slowly. Dwalin was staring at him, his dark eyes narrowed and alive with solemn curiosity. He remembered suddenly that Dwalin was kin to Gimli—second cousin, on his father’s side—and had every right to be protective. He deserved an honest answer. Legolas averted his gaze and found himself staring at the curl of flame on the candle. He watched it dance as he considered his words carefully.
“Because he regards anything less than total devotion as faithlessness. If he must crawl and bleed and cry to do his duty then he will, without a moment’s pause. He fights like the mighty heroes of old and sings like the very soul of the mountain. He is more stubborn than any being I have ever met, but still he can learn to trust an Elf at his back. He laughs, and weeps, and roars with all of his being. He… I know no words in any tongue that can encompass all that is good within him.”
“That’s enough, lad,” Dwalin said quietly. He sighed and rubbed his face tiredly. “Gloin is going to skin me, too,” he muttered. “Gimli does not know?”
“He needs to. No, do not look at me so; I will not tell him. You must.”
“I—not five minutes ago you wanted to hear no more of it, forever.”
“Five minutes ago I did not know how clearly you saw him,” Dwalin snapped. “Do not think you are the first to love Gimli, Elf; that entire line of the family is known for their beauty, and Gimli’s skill with words and blade have earned him many admirers.”
Legolas thought of what his fellows might say of Gimli’s beauty—or, Valar forbid, that of his father and his uncle—and tried to keep his lips from twitching. Yes, he found his friend lovely beyond compare, but it had taken some time to arrive at that conclusion. Dwalin didn’t notice.
“Several attempted to court him, but he refused all. They admired him for one aspect or another… not all of them.” Suddenly Dwalin leaned forward, his fist tightening, and Legolas understood why he had been the general and bodyguard to three kings. Few, he imagined, could face Dwalin son of Fundin at his most protective without feeling fear. Advanced age or no. “Make no mistake, princeling. It is not easy to love a Dwarf, nor is it a task to be undertaken lightly. We love once and completely. If he refuses you, there is no second chance—if he accepts, there is no turning back.”
The room felt very close and dark, and Legolas nodded. Dwalin sat back wearily, and Legolas spoke in a quiet voice.
“Elves, too, take only one spouse for all their lives. It is a true bond, a soul bond, and… I am terrified to take such a step,” he admitted, running a hand through his hair. “But I cannot think of anyone, Man, Elf, Dwarf, or Hobbit, I could love greater than I love him now. And still he cannot see it!” he said, frustration heating his voice.
Dwalin leaned back, and behind his beard, his mouth seemed to twitch.
“Ah, well, Gimli has been called noble and true and brave. Perhaps not observant. You’ve tried to court him, then?”
“For months now, in the manner of my people. He has noticed nothing.”
“Ha. Do you know aught of Dwarven courting rituals?”
“I do not. Courting, for Elves, is rather simple.”
“Not so for Dwarves. Certain things are always done in certain orders. It is a fine art, perfected for many years, for the very purpose of aiding our less intuitive folk.”
“Will you teach me of them? Gloin will not skin you,” he said quickly, holding up a hand as Dwalin began to protest, “if he does not know who told me.”
Dwalin pondered this for a moment.
“Bofur,” he said finally. “He’ll believe Bofur—that one’s always had an odd sense of humor.”
“Agreed,” Legolas said with a nod. “Now: Dwarvish courting, please.”
“Thorin would’ve thrown me off the mountain for this,” Dwalin muttered. “Ah well, I’ve a few good years left before he can exact punishment. First thing in courting—I suppose it varies. Some do it, some don’t. But it’s custom for Dwarves who have just found their One to braid their beard differently. Two braids that join into one. ‘Spose your hair could work just as well.”
Legolas’s hand flew to the little braids above his ears, and heat flooded his cheeks again.
“That would be… rather scandalous among my people.”
Dwalin looked confused for a moment, and then the thought clicked. He let out a loud bark of laughter.
“Ha! More of a marriage declaration than a courting one?”
“As I said, ‘tis not always done. These things go in and out of fashion. In that case, the first thing you ought to do is come up with a gift. Something small, that has to do with your craft—unless your craft is goldsmithing. Not that yours would be, but gold is for marriage, keep that in mind. What’s your craft?”
There was a long, uncomfortable pause.
“Archery,” Legolas said finally. Dwalin was not amused. “Carving arrowheads and fletching the shafts,” he snapped. “Gardening, hunting, slaughtering spiders, singing. I do not know, Master Dwarf. Must I have a craft?”
“Dwarves must,” Dwalin said solemnly. He crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat. “And if you don’t yet understand that, princeling, you must learn soon. What is the name you give our Maker?”
“Aulë,” Legolas murmured. He was well aware that he was being chastised, and his voice sounded uncharacteristically meek to his own ears. His fingers lingered on his stool, tracing the grains of the wood.
“Aulë. It would be a disservice to him if we did not choose a craft. Even old soldiers like me, even those with many skills like Gimli—we create because we are meant to. Teachers craft words, musicians build their instruments, warriors are blacksmiths. It is the way things are done.”
“Not amongst the Elves,” Legolas sighed. “We are meant to observe and protect the world, not shape it. Some of us are artists and craftsman, but it is a choice, not a calling. Perhaps our people are too different…” he muttered in a sudden fit of pessimism.
“They certainly are, if you would give up so easily!” Dwalin said, outraged. Legolas glared.
“I have tried courting Gimli my way, and it did not work,” he said coolly. “If I cannot court him your way either, then I am at a loss for what is to be done.”
Dwalin had to admit that that was a tricky point. He grunted and reached up to rub at the corner of his beard for a moment. Legolas found himself looking curiously at the lines of faded ink on his fingers and wondering what they meant. Not that he was inclined to ask, of course—not that he thought he would get an answer.
“What is your craft, Dwalin?” he asked instead.
“Engraving. An odd one, I know. I had some skill with smithing and carving, but engraving the fine bits of metals and gems was what I was best at. Didn’t matter if it was odd; my axes were my living, anyway. I remember my courting gift… did the finishing on an iron hair clasp. I didn’t trust myself to forge the entire thing, but the delicate work was well done.”
Legolas stared at him with wide eyes. He tried to picture Dwalin young, lovestruck, flattering, and could not do it. The image was—laughable.
“I had no idea you were married.”
“I wasn’t,” the Dwarf said stiffly, and Legolas winced.
“They refused you?”
“My condolences… for what little they are worth.”
“It was a long time ago, lad.”
Legolas thought of his father, who spent long, silent hours with his face turned to the Western wind, and kept a cutting of his wife’s favorite flowers in his bedchamber in every season, and could not bear to hear certain songs played in his court.
“It is not a wound time can easily heal,” he murmured quietly. “One that has killed many an Elf.”
“Well, Dwarves are made of hardier stuff,” Dwalin grunted, his irritation plain. “Anyway—braids and gifts. You give one, and then wait. If it is returned, then you move on to the next step. You invite him to spend an afternoon or an evening in your family’s halls. It’s proper, see, for kin to know who you’re courting before others.”
Legolas thought of his father again, and coughed.
“That… might prove difficult.”
“Try. After that you give another gift, this one more elaborate. Gimli is the son of a Dwarf Lord, you’re the son of an Elvenking; if he knows his own dignity, he’ll refuse anything without gems in it, although something of sufficient artistry might make up for that. When you give that one, you must make it clear you’re courting. We’re a thick-headed lot, and more than a handful of Dwarrows have gotten to this point and not even noticed they were being wooed. Gets embarrassing.”
“I imagine it would,” Legolas said drily. “This second gift, I need not make it myself?”
“Good. Out of everything you’ve told me, this one I can do, at least.”
He wondered for a moment what kind of gift he might procure for Gimli, and the thought was easy. Hair beads, throwing axes, a new coat to make up for the one ruined on the road, a set of earrings to match his leaf broach, a circlet to wear when he became Lord of the Glittering Caves. Yes, that would prove no difficulty. He thought of the wonder that shone out of Gimli’s face when he was really, truly happy, and a smile crept onto his lips unbidden.
Dwalin, not noticing, moved on.
“After that, it’s customary to make the courtship known to all. There’s some argument as to how that’s done, but the simplest way is to show off the courting gifts and then walk around where others can see you, looking content-like and mayhap holding hands or some nonsense like that, so on and so forth.” Dwalin paused. “Come to think of it, half of Erebor might think you’re courting already. That’s what happened with—”
His mouth snapped shut, and Legolas raised his eyebrows.
“With your beloved,” he supplied.
Dwalin’s eyes widened and he drew his cloak tighter around himself. Legolas wondered if he had overstepped, as his eyes then narrowed in anger and long-held pain.
“Elves never give a straight answer, Master Dwarf, and so one cannot live among my people without learning to hear the unsaid. It is known from here to the Shire that you lived and breathed at his side.”
Dwalin nodded slowly, and heaved a great sigh.
“An iron hair clasp, I gave him,” the old warrior mused, gazing off into the distance. “And then a mahogany harp with ivory inlay… not nearly so fine as a king deserved, but we were in exile and I could afford no better. It was beautiful, at least. He gave me a knife and then a cloak, with an emerald broach. Never wore the blasted pin, it seemed too dear to risk.” He shook his head. “Ach, why bother telling it? I was young then and I’m old now.”
“Did people…” Legolas hesitated. “It matters not to Elves, because we are long-lived. But I imagine that a king of Dwarves must be concerned with heirs, no matter the pull of his heart.”
“I did not court him until after Kili was born. Most Dwarves marry just before they reach their first century. Thorin hadn’t bothered, and he had two good strong nephews he adored; he made it very clear that he expected one of them to take the throne.” A smile flickered on his lips. “We found out, later, that many thought we had been secretly betrothed since Fili’s birth—and some even before! Dis nearly laughed herself to the floor when I asked her if she thought Thorin would accept the clasp. Nervous as a new-broken pony, I was.”
Legolas smiled. He had never imagined such gentleness to come from the grizzled general—but then, an hour ago he never would have expected to find him writing harp songs while wearing a knitted jumper, either. This simple love story charmed him; it may have ended in sadness, but it had not begun thus, and he found that he could not pity Dwalin for finding pleasure in the past. After all, he did not doubt that the Dwarf found happiness in the present, too—no, he was enjoying teasing Legolas far too much to be one of those veterans who had given up on all but memories.
“Anyway,” Dwalin said, clearing his throat. “Back to the courting business. It’s forbidden to give material gifts after a while. Fine things are for when times are good and gold is plenty, but that is not always so. Instead, you ought to share stories, and especially songs. The song of your family first, if you have one—Dwarves always do, and sometimes several. Then the ones nearest and dearest your heart.”
“Elves do that as well,” Legolas said brightly. Then his lips twisted in a frown. “And what if he thinks a song dear to your heart is… patronizing?”
“Ask why. Discuss it. Argue about it. Arguing is a long-held tradition amongst the Dwarves, and ought to be part of the courting process if at all possible. Which is particularly easy if you’re looking to court a Longbeard.”
“Arguing, we can do. Easily.”
“I’ve known Gimli since he was a lad,” Dwalin said empathetically, and they shared a companionable look. “Final gift: something that can be worn in the hair, beard, or perhaps on the ears. Something with your mark on it.” He tapped the rings in his ear. “That’s the betrothal gift, if it’s accepted.”
“Elves exchange silver rings when we become engaged, and gold when we wed. Would that be appropriate?”
“Perhaps.” Dwalin tapped his chin as he thought, and shook his head. “I doubt Gimli would refuse a ring—that is to say, if you get that far at all, which isn’t certain—”
“Most encouraging, Dwalin, thank you,” Legolas drawled, and received a wicked grin in return.
“—but you really ought to include a matching piece for his hair or his beard, if you don’t want other dwarrows to whisper. It’s meant to be a declaration, you see. Dwarves are possessive and jealous, and proud of it. You want everyone to know, at a glance, that he’s your One and no doubts about it. Rings might be hidden beneath gloves or taken off to do work, and that won’t do for betrothals. We give rings at weddings, but that’s different.”
“Why—?” Legolas began to ask, then he paused and drew back. He rested against the cool stone wall. “I had better not ask about weddings, I think. Some might call it bad luck.”
A corner of Dwalin’s mouth bent in a deep frown, and Legolas remembered, belatedly, that the old Dwarf had never had a wedding. He longed to ask why—he had recognized Fili and Kili’s name, and knew that the late princes had both been older than Gimli by some years when he had died. Seven decades seemed an incredibly long time to be engaged, even to long-lived beings. Still, he doubted that the reason would bring Dwalin any joy, not like reminiscing on old courting gifts would, and he held his tongue.
“How old are you, lad? By your reckoning?” Dwalin asked suddenly.
“It is difficult to say… some consider me young, still, including my father. He was born in the First Age. Elves usually marry between age fifty and one hundred, if that is any measure, and I am quite a bit past that.”
“I ask because you have that same damned look Kili always had when a question was bouncing around his head, and I’ll always think of him as a lad no matter how he argued. What is it?”
Legolas hesitated and his will wavered, as the flames of the candles flickered and cast long shadows on the wall. He gave in, and tried to make his voice gentle.
“A lad you may have thought him, but Kili was a grown Dwarf by—by the time Erebor was retaken. Why were you engaged so long? You did say that Dwarves, too, married at one hundred.”
“And Thorin was nearing two,” Dwalin muttered. “Aye. It is because…. When Dwarves marry, they must have a hall to go back to. So it has been since—ah, I cannae recall. Ask Gloin, he knows his history. Since the Dwarves first became exiles. We can wander if we must, but a home is where we belong and so a marriage must begin in one. Thorin had a house which he shared with Dis and her children, and Dis had been married there happily, but she was only a child when the Lonely Mountain fell. Erebor was always Thorin’s home. He said we need not wait, but he did not mean it, and I… was young,” he repeated faintly. “We agreed that we would be married in Erebor, or not at all.”
Legolas could imagine any number of words Dwalin had wanted to say instead of young—blind, foolish, unsuspecting, devoted—and they all caused a guilty ache in his heart. Once he had tried to prevent the Dwarves from taking back their home. He had long since regretted his decision for a hundred reasons, and this was not the greatest of them. Somehow, though, it seemed among the most cruel. Unthinkingly, he stretched out a hand to rest on Dwalin’s tattood knuckles, offering comfort if he could. The Dwarf did not acknowledge it.
“Would your father let you be married out of Mirkwood?” he grunted after a long silence.
“I hope so,” Legolas said quietly. “But Gimli wishes to settle in the Glittering Caves. He says—he says there is a room there, near the sky, shot through with green gems and stone that glistens gold and silver.”
If he closed his eyes he could see it, and Gimli’s auburn hair gleaming in the warm light of a single candle.
“That’ll be good for Gimli,” Dwalin nodded. “He’s a good lad, faithful to kin and king, but Erebor’s always been a mite too small for him. He’d make a proper Dwarf Lord in a colony of his own.”
“I have never seen him so happy as when he speaks of it,” Legolas said with a faint smile. “It would be an honor and a joy to be wed there.” He wavered uncertainly and then, in a small voice, asked “Do you think he will refuse me?”
“How in Durin’s name am I to know that?” Dwalin demanded, although Legolas thought—or hoped—that the wicked glint was in his eye again.
“You’ve known him since he was a babe!”
“Very well, then—based on the one hundred and thirty-nine years of his life, Gimli’ll take an axe to any Elf who comes to him with a proposal of marriage.”
“He is one hundred and forty now.”
“Is he? Hmph. Well, one-hundred-and-forty-year-old Gimli is strange to me. P’raps you ought to ask him yourself.”
Legolas sighed and stood.
“Perhaps I will. Thank you, Dwalin, for your advice and your stories. I am sorry to have kept you from your task—but then, you really ought to have traded desk for bed some hours ago.”
“The day I’ll sit still and be lectured by a pointy-eared Elvish princeling—” the Dwarf snarled threateningly, but there was no bite to it. Legolas laughed gaily and bent down to drop a light kiss onto Dwalin’s bald head—and then swooped to avoid the blow this nearly earned him.
“Come now, Master Dwarf—we shall be cousins, if I succeed.”
Legolas left the room with a fuller heart than he had entered it. He looked back over his shoulder and could have sworn that the old Dwarf was smiling as he bent over his parchment once again.
Three days later, Legolas approached Gimli’s workroom with a gift in his hands. His heart was pounding as speedily and steadily as the hammers that echoed in the cavernous halls of Erebor, but he took a deep breath and pushed the door open. Gimli was bent over the table, and Legolas could hear the chipping and scraping of careful tools against stone. Gimli was humming to himself, and nodding his head in a familiar rhythm.
“Do I interrupt?”
At his voice, the Dwarf froze, and then reached for a dark cloth that had lain in a pile on the corner of the table. This he cast over his work before he turned and greeted Legolas with a warm smile.
“Never, my friend—although I wish you would have a heavier tread, sometimes. You walk as lightly as a hobbit!”
“Next time I will don iron-tipped boats,” Legolas promised. “With bells on the laces, perhaps.”
“Yes, that will do very well. What do you carry?”
“It is a gift,” Legolas said simply, and he held it out so that Gimli could see more clearly. “A crown of beech leaves and red berries and golden roses. It is a poor gift, I fear, for it will not last as carven stone, and I wish they had come from plants I nurtured with my own hands, but…”
Gimli lifted the crown from his hands and turned it on its side, marveling at the carefully interwoven stems. Legolas had spent many hours trying to perfect the pattern and he was most proud of it, although he still worried that it was not a proper courting gift. Far, far too Elven, he thought, but he had spotted the roses on a morning walk and could not shake the image of them next to Gimli’s hair.
“A poor gift!” Gimli exclaimed. “Speak not so! I have witnessed the skill of your hands in knife-work and bow-work, but never in such delicate craft. It is beautifully made, and I will cherish it for as long as I may.”
“It comes with an invitation, if you accept it,” Legolas said, and the pace of his heart increased. “I—I invite you to travel with me to the Greenwood, and pass an evening there among my kin, so that my father and my siblings might know you.”
Gimli’s fingers stilled in their exploration of the vines, and he looked up into Legolas’s face. His eyes (his lovely eyes, brown and clear as a cheerful forest stream) were startled and hopeful as he examined the expression that lay there, trying to decipher if Legolas knew the significance of his offer. The Elf smiled dreamily, trying not to give it away. Oh, perhaps it was mean, but Gimli deserved it. The Ballad of the Fiery Folk, patronizing indeed!
“Aye, I accept it. The gift and the invitation. I would be honored to meet your noble family.”
“I am glad,” Legolas smiled sweetly. He diverted his gaze for a moment, and it rested on the black cloth that covered Gimli’s workbench. He was curious—yes, very curious. “Shall I leave you to your work, then?”
There was a pause, and Gimli ran his fingers over the cloth thoughtfully.
“Nay,” he said finally. “Nay, I would show you what requires my attention, for it too is a gift—albeit an unfinished one.”
He drew back the cloth and lifted a rough grey stone, about the size of his palm, and held it up for Legolas’s inspection. Along the edges of the rock he was carving vine and leaf patterns—simple, elegant, and very similar to the motif that decked Legolas’s travelling clothes. Then Gimli turned the stone, and the Elf gasped. A skillful hammer had split it in half, and the center was made of bristling crystals, nearly translucent, lit with veins of white and yellow. He leaned closer, tracing the crystals with his eyes, and recognized patterns.
“The leaves of Lorien!” he gasped. “Gimli—oh, Gimli, how dare you compliment me on my so-called craft? This is masterful!”
“I thought it might please you,” the Dwarf said, beaming. “The Golden Wood will always be dear to me, for there I first saw kindness in the hearts of Elves, and spoke fairly to a friend I will cherish to the end of my days.”
Gently, Gimli closed his hand around the stone and set it down, beside the crown of flowers, on his work table.
“How long did it take you?” Legolas asked.
“I hope to finish this evening—I cannot allow you to accept an incomplete gift! The stone I had found some time ago, but I was saving it until the day before last, when I received… encouragement. From an unlikely source.”
Immediately, Legolas’s thoughts flew to Dwalin. He laughed softly, and reached out. He had not noticed before, but Gimli’s beard was styled differently than usual. Two braids, that joined to one. He rubbed the end of it between his fingers and thought silver beads. Yes, silver with garnets in them, perhaps. He would have to commission them soon.
He met Gimli’s eyes and saw his own emotions reflected back at him: joy, wonder, unexpected delight. With a blinding smile, he leaned down for a kiss.