Legolas had been hesitantly informed, upon request, that Gimli was likely at the forge. Despite being in a cavern second only to Moria in expanse and impressiveness, he imagined a small forge, with several stout dwarves clanging with hammers. And he hoped Gimli would be a pleasant end to a not-nearly-as pleasant day. He had served as his father's emissary to the Dwarves in the past, and he had dealt with unfriendliness in the past. This time, in fact, it was less adversarial. When his name was announced, there was recognition – not as Thranduilion, but as a companion of Gimli, son of Glóin. The difference was marked, but it still did not set anyone at ease. Seeing Gimli, after long discussion and negotiation on the part of Greenwood, would put him at ease.
When he was led through the massive pillared halls – a vast under-mountain city full of more Dwarves than he felt he'd ever seen at once – Legolas was aware of dark glances and conversations falling silent. His ears were sharper than any Dwarf's, however, and heard plenty of snippets of the secret Dwarven language; Gimli had once explained that Khuzdul, as they called their speech, was not for the ears of other kinds. There was a fear that the outsiders would learn the gift Mahal had given them alone. Place names, like Khazad-dûm, were known to some, but used so seldom in comparison to the Elven names, that the Dwarves did not mind. Indeed, Gimli said after hearing the Dwarven names on Galadriel's lips, they had never seemed more beautiful to him.
But the Dwarves in Erebor reminded Legolas that he was an outsider, more so than he had been while traveling with the Fellowship. For then he had been the only one of his kind, but so had Gimli and Mithrandir. Even Aragorn and Boromir were not truly the same. Only the Hobbits had their kin, as Frodo needed their steady cheer in his dark journey. But here there were several men in any given chamber or hall of the city, and so many Dwarves it was overwhelming.
Only one Elf.
His guide brought him to a bridge overlooking what only the simplest-spoken race would call a forge. Massive furnaces – as tall as some of the trees of Greenwood – filled the room. The heat, to a man, would be unbearable. Indeed, there were no men present in this work-room. Legolas, like many of the Dwarves below, minded it not, for heat had as little power over him as cold did. But Dwarves were not the same, he knew, for he had seen stout and sturdy Gimli shivering in the mountain pass. Their race, however, could handle the heat of fires that could forge iron and melt gold.
Along with the heat and the smell of molten metal, the air was filled with a cacophony of sounds. Chains clinked as carts of ore passed through the room, deposited into the bins atop the ovens. Hammers struck metal and anvils with furious clanks. Dwarves grunted as they worked, be it hammering or pulling gold wire.
And they sang.
A number of Dwarves, working together to complete one large project, worked in rhythm by chanting and singing in low tones. Their voices were rough, but appealing to the Elf's ears. It was their language, lifted in hearty song so their hammers would fall together and they could move flawlessly around the sheet of gold. Legolas recognized nothing but the word “Khazad”, that he had once heard on his friend's tongue, and on the lips of the Lady of Lórien. They crescendoed together, and with a mighty crash synchronized hammers fell.
Legolas inhaled sharply, almost enjoying the smells of molten gold and iron-forged tools. He watched the Dwarves continue to move and work in synchronization, continue to monitor their pace with song.
“Wait here,” his guide said curtly, and scampered away.
He kept his eye on the scene below, scanning the crowd to find his friend. There were no helms, no armor. It alarmed him to know that he recognized Gimli more by his battle gear than by the look of his head or the shape of his body. He was not facing Legolas, of that the Elf was certain. For he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would never forget Gimli's face.
Some of the Dwarves did mind the heat to some degree, it seemed. A few of them had removed their tunics and shirts, and Legolas was fascinated to see muscled torsos where he expected none. Thick waists and barrel chests were not something he associated with defined, chiseled bodies. He was used to the human extremes, and to Elven types.
“There is much to learn about your people,” he mused. He knew not enough about the Dwarves, and he decided, in that moment, that he would have to change that. His keen eyes continued to flit from Dwarf to Dwarf, searching for Gimli. He wondered if perhaps Gimli was among the bare-chested, and perhaps that was why he did not see him right away.
The singing stopped suddenly, and many of the hammers paused with it. Murmurs began in that strange, glottal language, low enough that Legolas suspected that they did not know how keen an Elf's hearing really was.
“We are so covetous of our secrets that once it was known an Elf stood here, they felt the need to stop singing,” Gimli's rough voice said from behind. “But you can hear their whispers, can you not?”
Legolas turned and nodded. “Maybe I will learn your language after all, and hear your words of Aglarond in the language that best suits their beauty.”
“You will not,” Gimli said, closing the gap between them. “For there are some secrets between friends that are meant to be kept. Have you been waiting long?”
He wore no armor, his short corslet replaced with a simple burnt-gold tunic. His shirt sleeves beneath were rolled up, his forearms thick and dark as though he'd been among smoke and ash. But his face – ah, it was more familiar and more loved than any other Legolas knew, and he was relieved to see his friend again. He reached out and clasped his arm affectionately.
“I'll ruin your clothes,” Gimli murmured, but he did not pull away. “You're dressed like a princeling today, albeit a traveling princeling.”
“My father had need of a messenger. When I learned his dealings were in Erebor, I offered myself immediately. Had it been Dale, I would have done the same, knowing that you were so near.”
“Will you stay long?”
“I am not needed back immediately,” Legolas replied. “Am I interrupting your work?” He gestured to the workers below, who had resumed their tasks, but not in harmony.
“I work not with them. They are assisting in the rebuilding of Dale. Many of the Dwarves are repairing the stonework as we speak, and the rest are going to repair what metal-work we can. Today they work in gold for the first time in weeks – which is why you heard that particular song. As much as Dwarves love working in stone and iron, gold is a treat.”
“What are you working on, then?”
Gimli simply invited Legolas to follow him. “I would have you see what I do, rather than describe it to you.”
They walked through a narrower passage and down numerous stairs, into a smaller room that was the kind of forge Legolas had initially imagined. It was a place for one or two smiths to work, filled with tables and tools, including a metal bucket filled with a horrible-smelling liquid.
“This is what I've been working on,” Gimli said, showing Legolas a table where the head of an axe rested. “Today I completed the etchings.” Dwarven runes were marked in the metal.
Legolas's hand hovered over them, but he didn't dare touch. The design was simple: words ran along the curves which would eventually be sharpened into deadly blades. Toward the center was a large circle, and within was a design reminiscent of the doors of Moria. “What does it say?” he asked softly.
“It's my tale. I'm the only Dwarf alive who has seen the majesty of Khazad-dûm, and this axe tells how it came to be.” He gestured to one line of runes. “This means 'The Nine Walkers'.”
“It's perfect,” Legolas said, surprised that he could be awed by a double-headed axe. Perhaps seeing the High Elven trees wrapped around pillars, next to the hammer and anvil, reminded him that their journey brought more than an end to Sauron.
“My axe was notched, you remember, on that orc's collar in Helm's Deep,” Gimli said with a slight scowl. “I could do nothing until I'd designed and created a new one.”
“Were there no other axes available to you?”
Gimli blinked. “A Dwarf rarely chooses to use arms he did not craft. Before we learn to fight, we learn to forge our own weapons. Axes, in particular, are one of the most sacred to my people. It helps us create kindling for fire, so we may do our work, as well as defend ourselves.”
“Like the bow is useful for hunting, as well as bringing down our enemies.” Legolas did not voice his next thought – that he could bring food to the fire that was kindled by the wood of Gimli's axe. Elf and Dwarf, working together. There was something about it that brought him joy. “Is this close to finished, or will it be long ere you return to Minas Tirith to forge the gates of iron and mithril?”
During their travel north from Fangorn there had been much discussion of those gates, as well as the gardens Legolas wanted to plant. He had even seen, during one of their evening rests, drawings Gimli created in the dirt to explain what he imagined they would look like.
“It is strange for an Elf to be so interested in your metal work, is it not?” Legolas asked. “At least, an Elf who does not dabble in the craft himself.”
“Ah, tis no stranger than the Dwarf who listened eagerly to your stories of the stars, or your knowledge of the trees.” Gimli gave a bark of laughter, moving to a bucket of water in the corner. He rinsed his arms of their dirt, then yanked his tunic over his head before replacing it with a clean one.
“Gellon ned i galar i chent gîn ned i gladhog.”
“What did you say?” Gimli asked, his head still trapped under cloth.
“Nothing,” Legolas answered. “Nothing important.”
“Likely lamenting the lack of trees and starlight,” Gimli scoffed. His head was free again, and he began rolling his sleeves down. “Will you be staying here in the Lonely Mountain, at least tonight?”
“I-it was not offered to me.”
His words were met with a glare. “My kin still hold grudges against your father, even though they fought the hosts of Dol Guldur together.”
“They are also mourning the loss of their leader, and repairing damages, and have other things to consider.” Legolas had never thought to consider receiving hospitality from the Dwarves. His plan had been to visit with his friend and stay in Dale, if he planned to stay at all. Or simply wander throughout the night, greeting the stars as they appeared in the night sky.
“Mourning has ended,” Gimli said brusquely. “Otherwise you would not see so many working. I should share my sharp words with those who offered you no room or meal.”
“Perhaps I should just take my meal wherever you do.”
“Aye, that would be pleasant, though a simple fare. Follow me.”
They took a different passage this time, still deep in the heart of the mountain. Legolas noticed runes carved into the wall, just below the level of his shoulder – near the average Dwarf's eye-level. “What do these say?”
“That Elves are too curious,” Gimli retorted. He glanced up at Legolas, his mouth pulled into a half-smile. “Throughout the city you will see markings like these, in all the public places. It is a history of Durin's people, and the tale of this mountain.”
“If your life is long and successful, will a wall tell of your story?”
The Dwarf ducked his head slightly. “A new section is currently being carved, speaking to the bravery of those who fought to save Erebor and Dale from Dol Guldur. My father is to be mentioned for sharing his experience and wisdom with Elrond, whereas I will be mentioned as one of the Nine Companions.”
Legolas thought Gimli's deeds as one of the Nine were enough to warrant his own wall in this city, but he said naught. “Your people put the names of the Eldar on your walls?” There were few Dwarves mentioned by name in the lore of Greenwood.
“Elrond, yes. But you, if listed among the Nine, will likely be listed as an Elf, along with four hobbits and a man. Gandalf and Aragorn may be listed by name.” He then shrugged. “But it is not for me to write, so I know not how it will be done. I am told that the nine of us will be mentioned, though.”
“Are you a hero among your people now?” Legolas's return had been greeted happily, but it was not a hero's welcome. Too much fighting and sacrifice had come to Greenwood for Legolas's pains and sacrifices to warrant the attention of others. His father welcomed him with affection and concern, and friends had offered the warmth and comfort they offered any traveler among their kin. They were relieved to know of Sauron's defeat and were happy that the Elves did their part, but did not care for the details. It was a time for singing praises to the light in the night sky, for climbing to the tops of the trees in celebration, for breathing in deeply at the clean air, now that Mirkwood was no more.
“I am considered more odd than ever,” Gimli said with a chortle. “I've journeyed the land with an Elf as my friend, I've wept at Balin's tomb, I've gazed upon the wonder of Kheled-zâram. I walked with an army of the dead and heard the Lady Galadriel whisper in my mind. I helped the ring-bearer. And upon my return, my father asks only if I think it time to consider finding a mate and begetting dwarrowlings.”
Legolas smiled. Among the Fellowship they had eventually become allies in their differences from the others. Now their differences from their own kin would keep them allies again. “It is good to be with a friend who was there, from Imladris to the Morannon.”
“Aye, that is is.”
They turned one last corner and entered a wide corridor filled with elaborate doors. Few Dwarves were in the massive hallway, but those who walked by gave Legolas and Gimli wide berth, eyeing the Elf suspiciously. Gimli led Legolas to one fine door, simpler than the others, and opened it unceremoniously. “This is the place I call my home.”
His quarters were decorated in a simple style, but were cluttered with bags of goods and piles of various items. It looked like a merchant's store, with bundles and packs along most of the walls. An elven cloak was tossed over one familiar-looking pack of necessary travel-items, though Legolas could not tell if it meant Gimli was ready to leave, or had not touched it since his return.
Gimli presented a meal of fruit, dried meat, bread and cheese. He set out several dishes on a small table and beckoned for Legolas to sit. “It's not a feast, but it's a meal in good company.”
“The best of company.”
“I would have you meet my father. And Dwalin, my father's cousin and brother to Balin,” Gimli said as they ate.
“I should like to pay my respects,” Legolas replied solemnly, “so long as my Elven nature is not an affront to them, as they were both held in my father's realm.”
“Dwalin knows that you pulled me from the Chamber of Mazarbul, when my grief for Balin kept me from realizing my own peril. For that he will thank you, as I was his favorite in the family, next to Balin.”
Legolas said nothing at first, chewing thoughtfully. Dwarven bread was dense, like Elven, but not as sweet. He found he liked it immensely. “Will your people object to my staying in the city?”
“Not if I tell them you are my guest.” Gimli replied. He frowned slightly. “Did the King Under the Mountain address you himself?”
“Yes.” He was not addressed warmly, but it was still a better welcome than in years past.
“As he did not cast you out, and indeed, had you brought to my side once the Elvenking's concerns were addressed, no one in the mountain would shut you out.”
“I confess,” Legolas began, thinking again of those workers in the forge while he waited for Gimli, “I did not think Dwarves would sing in such a manner.”
Gimli looked surprised, although Legolas could not tell if it was the thought or the changed in subject matter that startled him.
“Music is important to Durin's Folk,” he said. “Did I not sing during our travels?”
“You chanted in Moria, but it felt less a song to me than those others shared. I assumed that Dwarves chose not to sing, as you did not take part in Boromir's lament.”
“I did not because I was far too grieved. To see Boromir and Gandalf fall, and to lose the Hobbits so shortly after discovering the tomb of my kin – it was too great a burden, and I had no words to share.” Gimli coughed suddenly, his tone changing. “Ah, but to have seen the Lady of the Golden Wood again – it would have done my heart good in that moment. She alone made the loss of my family endurable.”
“Did I not help? Our walks through Lórien were to let your heart lighten at the beauty in the world.”
“Aye, it did – you're right. It served as a distraction, when my heart would have been content to wallow in my misery.”
Legolas pushed his near-empty plate away and leaned his head on one hand, gazing at his friend. “Elves are not prone to wallow. It would be disastrous, as we would do so for centuries.”
Gimli snorted. “There are some Dwarves who have wallowed that long. But it is a rarity, usually brought on by a broken heart.”
“Do Dwarven hearts break so easily?” Romantic disappointment was not unknown to Elvenkind, but finding love in the world was generally easy for those who took pleasure in beauty and light.
“It is not that a Dwarf's heart is easily broken, just that it is never fully repaired after the fracture has been made. If you see a Dwarf who is wholly dedicated to his craft, he either wishes to care for no other, or he cannot attain the one mate he will ever love.”
“You have mentioned that before,” Legolas said. “When we were witnesses to Elessar's wedding, you said that you were pleased that he'd attained his one love.”
“Among the Dwarves,” Gimli began slowly, pulling out his pipe, “there is only one love in a lifetime. It can be found early in life, mid-life, or toward the end – it matters not. But once it is discovered, no Dwarf will ever love again. If that person loves another, he will be jealous and moody, or resigned to live a life without the affection he desires.”
“Elves are similar in some ways,” Legolas said. “An Elf will marry just once in his life, and will never desire another after that first coupling – before that, he may explore love. But he will commit to no one.”
“A Dwarf never bothers unless he is serious.”
“You said that your father wants you to marry and start a family, though. Have you become serious?”
Gimli stared at him for a moment, then lit his pipe. “My father will be disappointed,” he said, after several puffs. “I choose to think instead of those Glittering Caves, and whether I will be granted leave to start a colony there.”
“My father has long since given up the idea that I would ever marry,” Legolas confided. “It has been well over sixty years since he entertained the notion, and that was the last of a long line of speculations on his part. But he will not perish, so there is no pressing need.”
“I cannot imagine the point if there is no line to uphold.”
“The point? I thought Dwarves' romantic natures regarding the one true love of their lives would lead you to understanding. My father, for all his apparent coldness, wishes for me to find love. Wouldn't any parent wish the same for their child?”
Gimli continued to smoke his pipe weed, gazing levelly at Legolas and making an occasional smoke ring float through the air. “I would wish love on anyone, so long as it were returned.”
Comprehension dawned on Legolas finally. He remembered the altered behavior of his friend upon leaving the protection of Lothlórien. He could hear the words in his mind: Now I have taken my worst wound in this parting, even if I were to go this night straight in to the Dark Lord.
“Alas for Gimli, son of Glóin,” Legolas murmured. “Your father knows not that you found love on your journey?”
“Let us not speak of it,” Gimli said gruffly, rising to his feet. He tamped out his pipe and cleared the dishes swiftly. “There is something I would show you this evening, if you will join me.”
“Of course,” Legolas said. He was grateful – and not for the first time in his long life – that he was an Elf, if only because it meant that disappointment in love could be followed up by another attempt to love another. From that moment he would refrain from discussing marriage, love, or Galadriel with his friend again, unless Gimli chose to bring it up.
“In years past there was greater need to have sentries,” Gimli said. “Durin's Folk were wary of dragons – many were attracted to treasure, as I'm sure you know.” He spoke this as they climbed a narrow flight of stairs. Back and forth they had climbed, flight after flight, carrying a small lantern as their only light source.
It reminded Legolas of Moria, and all the barely-lit passages, when they had relied on Mithrandir's staff to shine light throughout the expanse of the caverns. Legolas had known fear in that place – and rightfully so, with the Balrog's presence. Erebor did not offer the same bone-chilling terror, but it was not comfortable, either. He would have been happier with the moon and stars above his head than layers upon layers of stone.
“This lookout was where Smaug was first spotted, some two hundred and fifty years ago.” Gimli opened a door – it looked like another piece of the wall to Legolas – and suddenly they were met with the sweet smell of fresh, thin air.
They stepped onto a small outcropping, a peninsula of rock that looked over the south-western valley. Legolas could see Greenwood and beyond. A glance upward showed him the face of the moon, and the constellations he had known since birth. There was room for two to sit comfortably, though they did not choose to do so.
“Now that I have shown you where the door is, you can find this spot whenever you need the sky. I know an Elf cannot be happy, buried underground. And since you don't require the sleep of the Dwarves, I thought this might be a place you would like to spend part of your night.”
Legolas breathed in deeply, closing his eyes and feeling the cool air whip around him. This was like breaking through the canopy in the days his forest was known as Mirkwood. He felt vibrant life on the wind. It was as though he were leaving the Paths of the Dead and reaching the rivers that flowed into the ocean, where he had first heard the cries of the gulls.
He opened his eyes again, exhilaration replaced with a sudden pang of longing.
“Was I mistaken?” Gimli asked, watching Legolas carefully. “I thought you would appreciate this view.”
“No, friend,” Legolas assured him, reaching out to clasp his arm. “This is more than I would have expected. I can find my way here and sing to the stars tonight, after we meet with your kin. When you wake, if I'm not where you left me, you can be sure that I will be here.” He lessened his grip, and his hand slid down to Gimli's, and he squeezed it gently in a gesture of gratitude.
Gimli opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. “Come,” he said gruffly. “My father awaits.”
Glóin and Dwalin were together when the pair found them, arguing over plans for Dale. They welcomed Legolas kindly enough, though he couldn't help but wonder if they were reserved in their own way. They offered pipe weed and ale, and he was polite enough to refuse only one.
The rich brown ale was bitter on his tongue, but not unpleasantly so. Gimli drank as well, matching pint for pint; Legolas could not tell if the Dwarf was keeping up with his greed, or slowing down to keep even with his limited venture. Neither of the older Dwarves seemed to think anything of it.
“So tell me of this Lady Galadriel Gimli has mentioned,” Glóin bellowed jovially. “Did she short-change my lad in giving him such a strange gift?”
Legolas glanced at his friend, wary of the topic he'd so recently determined to avoid. “She asked him what he would have, and he named only the lock of her hair. This is the greatest gift she has ever bestowed; even great Elves have been refused the same request.”
“Is her beauty that renowned?” Glóin scoffed, disbelief in his countenance. Gimli glowered at his father.
“And what did she bestow upon you?” Dwalin asked.
“My bow. I had been traveling with a lighter, shorter bow. My Lórien bow is the greatest I've ever wielded, and was successful in slaying many an orc over the past year.”
The three Dwarves clinked their glasses together with a mighty shout in their language – a celebration at the notion of felled orcs, certainly – and downed their mugs. Legolas did his best to keep up with them.
“Gimli tells us that she spoke in our language.”
“Only the names of the places we had been to – Khazad-dûm and Kheled-zâram.” Legolas's tongue tripped haltingly on the strange words forming in his mouth, but was rewarded with Gimli's beaming joy at his effort. “Unless she shared her thoughts in your language?” he added, raising his eyebrows at his friend.
“Nay, those thoughts were in Westron.”
Dwalin glowered. “Sharing her thoughts?” he asked. “What nonsense do you mean?”
“Lady Galadriel, like many of the Elvenkind, can speak without words,” Gimli said. “While in Lórien, she spoke in our minds, to what end I know not. I felt as though she were determining the truth in our hearts.”
Both Glóin and Dwalin looked at Legolas expectantly.
“I do not have the ability to project my thoughts into your minds,” Legolas said, his hands up in defense. “The Lady of Lothlórien is one of the highest of my kin, special in may ways. She can find the open thoughts in any race, whereas I can share mine only with other Elves.”
“That is a bit of a relief,” Glóin said roughly. “I would hate to know that an Elf could read my mind while I attempted to trade with him.”
“After you left the Golden Wood you fought at the fortress of Helm's Deep. Was it as marvelous as Gimli described?”
“It was impressive. Gimli felt that Dwarves could reinforce the walls of the fortress – which is needed more than ever now. And I'm sure he told you of the caves below.”
“Aye, he did not stop talking of them for days!” Dwalin said with a laugh. “He mentioned a forest briefly, and several battles, but most of his talk since returning has been about those amazing caverns, and how even an Elf was moved by their beauty.”
“He speaks the truth,” Legolas admitted. “I was rendered speechless at their sight, as Gimli eventually was in the forest of Fangorn, where we traveled before returning to our homes.”
Both of the older Dwarves looked at Gimli, who in turn hid behind his pipe. The two Dwarves then looked at one another, shaking their heads. For all that he had seen Elves communicate in thought during his long life, he had never seen another race say so much to one another without words.
“What is so special about this forest?” Glóin asked Legolas gruffly, eyeing his son while he waited for the answer.
“It is an ancient forest – it makes me feel like a child to wander through it and listen to the trees. It is also incredibly beautiful, dense and lush. The water that runs through it is sacred; we know of two Hobbits who grew when they drank from the entwash. Neither Gimli nor I could do such a thing, as we are quite happy with our respective heights. In truth, I would not know if it would affect an Elf or Dwarf as it does trees and Hobbits – but I would not risk it.”
“And you liked this place?” Dwalin asked Gimli, incredulous. “A child of Durin – of Durin's direct line, no less – enjoying something that no hand ever crafted? Mahal bless us all despite your lack of respect.”
Gimli flushed. “Mahal created us with his hands, but we were also given life by Ilúvatar. There is no harm in showing respect for the life in the world, as well as the craft.”
Glóin gave Legolas a dark look. “This is your influence, is it not?”
Legolas shrugged. “I did not know him prior to our journey, so I cannot say how much he has changed since his parting,” he said, and paused to take a deep gulp of his ale. “But our agreement was that I would gaze in wonder at his Glittering Caves and he would happily walk through my forest.”
“Aye,” Gimli said. “It was on our way home, no less.”
“Ah, what has the world come to, when a Dwarf chooses an Elf as his travel companion?” Dwalin asked, leaning back in his chair. He crossed his heavy arms and shook his head slowly.
“Perhaps it has grown better,” Gimli said softly. “Do we not remember Narvi and Celebrimbor? Great things can come of friendship between the Elves and Durin's Folk.”
“And maybe the waning friendship was not the sole fault of the Dwarves,” Legolas said, “and not, either, the sole fault of the Elves.”
“Aye, it was the stiff necks of both,” Gimli said with a grin.
“I did not realize that an Elf's ears would flush such a pretty red shade after so much good Dwarven ale,” Dwalin said with a snicker as he refilled the mug that Legolas had emptied with a swift gulf. He did not know the inappropriateness of addressing an Elf's ears, so Legolas did not hold it against him. “I would not think that you were Thranduil's son. You have his look, but not his demeanor.”
“No,” Legolas agreed. “I am more like the Silvan Elves than I am like him.” His love of the starlight, especially, was different from his father. His desire to travel, and lately, to go to Valinor, was entirely his own.
“An Elf is an Elf,” Glóin said. “I never knew much difference between the lot of them, in all honesty.”
“The Elves of Rivendell are nothing like the Elves of Lórien.” Gimli's voice, again, had gone soft and his eyes were wistful with the memory of Lothlórien. “And Legolas is like neither. He is more real.”
Although Legolas did not understand what Gimli meant by that, he took it for the compliment it was.
“We have a saying here in Erebor,” Dwalin said with a chuckle. “'Ma ôhfûkizu kuthu khathuzh aslônî. Ni ma mahùlchùp agrîfumùnhi ya'. This means--”
“You're not going to be sharing all of our secrets, are you?” Glóin interrupted. “Why not just tell him your true name?”
“He's not going to learn the language from one phrase,” Dwalin snapped back. He turned back to Legolas. “It means 'rejoice not when an Elf falls – but don't rush to pick him up, either.' Do the Elves say things like that?”
Legolas nodded. “Not identical, but the sentiment is known.”
“Yet you rescued my young cousin when he would remain at my brother Balin's tomb, unaware or uncaring of the danger he faced.”
“I did. We were a fellowship, and I would not have him come to even greater grief.”
The room fell silent, save the sounds of two Dwarves smoking their pipes, and the other finishing off his mug of ale.
“I am glad of your friendship,” Dwalin said at last. “Even if you were exactly like your father, I would still be glad of it, for you kept one of my family from losing his life in Khazad-dûm. We have lost far too many there already, and would have grieved greatly to lose another.”
They were not sure how many pints of ale they had consumed, but it was enough to make even Legolas sway on his feet. Gimli was half unconscious, insisting he could easily walk back to his rooms.
“Make sure he does not wake facedown in his own filth, in the middle of the Great Hall,” Dwalin said with a laugh.
“He will be fine,” Legolas slurred. Together they stumbled into the corridor, Gimli beginning to sing a bawdy-sounding Khuzdul song. “You will have to lead the way,” he reminded his friend.
“Dwarves don't get lost in a mountain,” Gimli said with a snort. “We are at home here, surrounded by rock and stability, with molten gold and iron and mithril to work until the end of our days. How can one lose his way with so much work to be done?”
“It was not a metaphor, my friend,” Legolas replied. He tripped over something – or nothing – and stumbled into a wall. The sharp Dwarven runes rubbed against his triceps. “I wish that I could read your runes and speak your language,” he said suddenly. “Then I could read the tale of Gimli, son of Glóin, translate it, and tell it to all my kin so they will not only know the legend of a small Dwarf who helped save the world – but retell it through the centuries and in Valinor. Re-tell it the way the Dwarves would.”
Gimli stopped and looked up at Legolas. “You would not instead choose to tell the story of brave Legolas, who walked atop the snow and sang to the stars?”
“That story is no different from any other Elf.”
“Then, the story of the Elf who walked under the mountain with no fears in his heart, while a Dwarf cowered behind him?”
“Ai, that would be the story I would have your people pass down through generations. Legolas, friend of Gimli, who braved the Glittering Caves and the Paths of the Dead for the sake of those he loved!”
Gimli laughed and stumbled onward, returning to his song. When they were back in his rooms, he offered his bed to Legolas.
“Nay, friend. I will not take your place when you require sleep. I shall stay here until my mind has cleared, and then perhaps I will find my way back to the mountain top.”
“You should not go without me,” Gimli slurred. “For you could end up lost within the mountain.”
“Not if I am looking for the sky. Not even a mountain city could keep me from reaching it.”
“Poetic,” Gimli murmured, “like an Elf.”
“Insistent,” Legolas replied, dropping into a chair. “Like a Dwarf. Why do you have your pack here? Do you plan on leaving, or did you drop it when you arrived and never looked again?”
Gimli fell into another chair in the room, and he reached out to lovingly touch the Elven cloak. “I could not bear to put it away, as that would mean the journey would truly be over.”
“And what did you do with Galadriel's hair?” Between the discussion with Gimli's kin and the vast quantity of ale consumed, Legolas had completely forgotten his decision to never discuss the lady with his friend.
“In my pack.”
“What good can they do hidden away? Why would you keep them there?”
“Because I fear that I will look at the strands and see nothing of the beauty that shall soon pass into the West.”
“Ah, Gimli. I wish you were an Elf, so you could worship her forever.”
“There are times I wish I were an Elf, as well.” The bitterness in Gimli's voice was of a different sort than Legolas had heard ere before. “It is not only the Lady who keeps my heart heavy, but the passing of so many out of Middle Earth and leaving it a world for men and Dwarves.”
“And Hobbits,” Legolas added, his head lolling. “We must not forget the Hobbits.”
“Nay,” Gimli agreed. “But there are days I would forget you, if my heart would let me.” His expression was dark and surly, and unlike the Dwarf Legolas knew.
“I could not forget you, even if it were my greatest desire.” Legolas knew not what was driving his friend to such words, but he felt the need to mirror the strength of the sentiment. Even if Elves were capable of forgetting, he felt that his heart would never gloss over any memory of his sturdy friend.