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.
The wind was harsh on his face, smelling of the forest. Legolas closed his eyes, feeling the fingers of nature whipping through his hair. A song played in his heart, but he could not bring himself to sing it. Gimli's words still tugged at his heart, and Legolas could not decipher his meaning. Would Gimli truly wish to forget their friendship?
Instead he listened to the wind, wishing his keen ears could pick up the conversations of friends throughout the land. Were Elessar and Arwen enjoying their life in Minas Tirith? Or were they waiting for their friends to return and keep their promises of improving their city? And were the Hobbits back to their pastorale lives in the Shire? It was a place he would have liked to see.
“And maybe I will journey there some day,” Legolas murmured, “if Gimli would go with me.”
He didn't quite understand why, after centuries of journeying alone or with other Elves, his friend's company was so crucial to him. He didn't know why he missed Gimli riding along with him, commenting on the world through his Dwarven eyes. He didn't know why Greenwood was so lonely without the companions of his travel, when they had never crossed into the border before.
All of Gimli's words from the day repeated in his head, driving Legolas's mind into circles of thought that went nowhere. The bitterness he understood, if Gimli were indeed suffering from his broken heart. It would not do to tell him that he'd received more affection from Galadriel than anyone save Celeborn – if Gimli's Dwarven heart was fractured, there would be no soothing it. And certainly no recovery, and no love for anyone else in his life. This made Legolas's heart heavy.
“You were truthful when you said you would find your way to the stars, I see.” Gimli's voice was quiet in the doorway. Legolas felt him step forward onto the lookout.
“Has the ale worn off?”
“Tis almost morning. I've slept the headache away. How do you fare? Did you get your rest?”
Legolas nodded, opening his eyes. “The stars have shone brightly this night, although the moon would not let them keep all the glory to themselves. She is setting now, though.”
“Did you sing to it?” Gimli sat next to Legolas, his legs crossed loosely before him.
“Tonight is not a night for singing, unless it's the drinking songs of men and Dwarves that I do not know.”
“Do Elves not have drinking songs?”
Legolas shrugged. “They do not sound as rollicking.” He said nothing for a long moment, looking up at familiar constellations. “What did your father mean about Dwalin's true name? Is he not Dwalin?”
“He is Dwalin,” Gimli said slowly. “But a Dwarf is given two names – one in a language of his parents' choosing, one in Khuzdul. That is for him to know, and those he chooses to share with. It does not rest on his tomb or in any of the legends.”
“What is your name?” Legolas looked down at the Dwarf.
“Gimli.” He looked up at Legolas, his mouth firmly set. “As I said before – there are some secrets between friends that are meant to be kept.”
“Such as why you would want to forget me?”
Gimli sighed. “Never listen to a drunken Dwarf. He knows not what he says, and even less what he means.”
“I was needling you about your love for the Lady of Lórien. It was ill-mannered of me, and I am sorry to have done it.” Legolas took his friend's hand, placing it between both of his. Although it was a wide and sturdy hand, immobile and resolute, it was small in comparison to his own. But it looked as though it were capable of holding up the world.
“Did I ever tell you the four things an Elf looks for in a mate?”
“Nay.” Gimli stared at their hands, though he did not pull away.
“One is the voice. We are a singing people, and we value the crystalline voice that floats on the air.” He found himself thinking back to the low, deep chanting Gimli had shared in Moria, singing about the music waking in the mountains. His voice had chased out the darkness, for one fleeting moment.
“And the second?”
“Hair. It is said that Lúthien used an enchantment to make hers grow even longer, making her the most beautiful creature in all of Arda. She went on to marry Beren, and chose a mortal life.”
“I could have told you that the two most important things for an Elf to determine beauty are hair and songs.”
“Then what, Master Dwarf, do you think the third is?”
“I dare not guess.”
“Steadfastness.” Legolas glanced down at Gimli's face, amused at the furrowed eyebrows. “Whether it's steadfastness in love or work, or even play – we appreciate a steady heart and soul. When you meet Galadriel again in this life, she will see that you have loved her steadfastly, and she will cherish you all the more for it.”
“She is married,” Gimli said. “And Elves are not like men. They do not have wandering hearts.”
“Oh, an Elf can still care for another without marriage. It's a different sort of love. We are never driven to infidelity by our feelings, but affection beyond that of friendship can still exist after our hearts and lives are pledged to another.”
“I will never gaze upon the lady's fair face again, so it matters not.”
“Do you care to know the last thing an Elf desires in a mate?” Legolas asked, his voice low.
“No, I care not one bit,” Gimli replied, bitterness in his voice once more. He pulled his hand free and placed it in his own lap.
“Then tell me what a Dwarf loves,” Legolas said, “for I am lonely and thinking of love this night.”
“Tis morning,” Gimli said, nodding toward the eastern sky.
“I am lonely and thinking of love this morning,” Legolas corrected diligently. “What makes the Dwarven heart soar?”
“The things that would make any creature yearn. A sweet face, a dedicated heart, kindness. That rush of joy that comes when eyes meet across a room.” He gazed up at the stars, though Legolas did not know how far Dwarven eyes could see. “My mother traveled overland with my father and his kin, even before they married. Her kin was friendly with his, and journeyed together. She loved that he was able to light fires so easily, and always said that she fell in love with him while looking at him over the campfire. That is why they named me Gimli, for it means 'fire' in a Northern language of men.”
It was Legolas's turn to sigh. “Would that we all had such stories to share.”
“At what point in an Elf's life do you marry?” Gimli asked. “Dwarves usually settle sometime around their ninetieth year and begin having dwarrowlings.”
“It is much the same for Elves. At any point between fifty and one hundred. It is said that those who do not marry at that point will live on to have strange lives.” Legolas smiled crookedly. “Queen Arwen's life has been strange, as has mine – so I suppose there is truth in that.”
“So we are both too old for that nonsense.”
Legolas sighed again, closing his eyes. “Indeed, we may be.”
“Tomorrow is Durin's Day,” Gimli said, as they made their way back down into the city. “I would have you stay for that, at least.”
“How do you celebrate?”
“Feasting, drinking, dancing. It will be music like none you've heard before, I would guess.”
“Then clearly I must stay,” Legolas said. “I must meet with King Thorin again, to finish our discussions from yesterday. How will you spend the day?”
“Working, of course,” Gimli said. “You will find me in the forge, rather than in my tiny workroom. There is a large project I am hoping to help the others with.”
Gimli's eyes lit up at the idea of more work, and Legolas could not but help think of his prior words: 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.
“Or you could spend the day with me,” Legolas suggested, “and show me more of your mountain.”
“That can wait until later in the day,” Gimli said with a smile. “We both have work to do ere the celebrations begin tomorrow.”
“And what does Durin's Day honor?”
Gimli looks at him as if he had grown another head. “Durin,” he said. “The long-lived, the Deathless, the one we name ourselves for.”
“The one you are a descendant of, according to your father and cousin?”
“Yes, we are of Durin's line,” said the Dwarf proudly. “It is the last feast before the dark of winter. You likely think, as all Elves do, that Dwarves are like blind moles, living underground with no sight with which to appreciate the light – but look around you. We love light in the darkness, and the natural light that we allow into our city is among our favorite things, as it shines on the stone we have carefully crafted. But in the winter the city becomes even darker, and the howling wind can be heard even within these stone walls. We burrow down and journey less. Winter is a time for weddings and dwarrowlings, and keeping close to our kin. So Durin's Day is our feast to end the freedom of summer and autumn. It is our day to promise each other what pieces of work we would have finished by next season. It is our day to renew our faith in Mahal and thank him for his creation. It is a day for family and love and gratefulness.”
Legolas blinked, unused to pretty speeches from his friend. “It does not seem like the right place for an Elf,” he said sadly.
“Any place I am is an acceptable place for my friend,” Gimli said gruffly. “Come, I will walk you back to the Great Hall, so you may meet with Thorin Stonehelm once again.”
After a frustrating day of waiting and negotiating – if it could indeed be called that, when Thorin cared not what Thranduil offered as appeasement – Legolas was delighted to be able to walk away from the throne room and know that his work in the mountain was complete.
He had come for the pleasure of seeing his friend more than any desire to help Greenwood or Erebor. It was not that he did not care; he had plans to plant gardens in Minas Tirith and restore Ithilien to its former beauty occupying his mind. It was hard to perform his father's will when his thoughts were on other things. He wondered if Gimli had made progress in his plans to start a colony at Aglarond, or if it were still wishful thinking.
He had no guide today, walking back to the forge. He walked with ease, accustomed to the wary looks he received from Dwarven males and females alike. He smiled at a group of small children playing in one corridor. One small Dwarven child – dwarrowling, he reminded himself – grinned back at him, while rocking her doll to sleep.
Singing voices caught his ear before the smells or sight of the forge reached him. It was another work song, phrases in the secret language punctuated with the clang of hammers. The song lifted Legolas's spirits immensely, and when he finally reached the bridge where he could look down at the workers below, he did his best to stay in the shadows. He did not want them to stop. Not because he was trying to learn their language or secrets, but because he enjoyed their harmony.
The heat was more intense than the day before, at least for many of the Dwarves. More than half had removed their shirts and worked either completely bare-chested or with only aprons to guard their flesh from sparks. In this sea of singing workers, there was one who immediately caught his attention.
Gimli stood off to the side of one of the larger groups, hammering small pieces of iron into door hinges. Like half of the others, he was shirtless, sweaty and singing. Legolas could not tear his eyes away, drinking in the image of his friend hard at work, so focused on his craft that he occasionally fell out of song. He swung his hammer with great ferocity when starting on a new hinge, flattening the iron. But then he patiently worked to even the metal, with the gentlest and slightest of taps. His face was filled with both concentration and joy at the work he was doing.
Legolas's ears felt flushed. He wondered if maybe the furnaces' heat was even much for an Elf, though that was unheard of.
“I thought I may find you here.” Dwalin appeared next to him, having moved more quietly than any Dwarf Legolas had known.
“Aye, Gimli asked me to meet him when my day was done.”
“But he won't be done for at least another hour. Do you plan to watch that entire time?”
Legolas looked at the clever Dwarf, feeling his breath catch in his throat. “Of course not,” he said. “Elves are capable of resting while doing anything. I was thinking of doing that now, while listening to their songs.”
“Of course you were,” Dwalin replied. “Come with me.”
The sturdy Dwarf led him back the way he'd come, but pulled him into a small room. Tables and chairs filled the room, and shelves held various tomes, many in Elven script. It was a library, although it was not as large a collection of books as Minas Tirith or Rivendell had to offer. It impressed Legolas just the same. Had someone told him a year before that a Dwarven city was filled with books, he would have been amused at the jest.
“Sit,” Dwalin said, gesturing to a chair next to a strange board with small stones set upon it. “Do you play?” he asked, moving some of the pieces.
Legolas shook his head.
“Then I will show you how. Follow my lead.” Dwalin proceeded to set up the board and Legolas mirrored his actions. Little explanations of what certain symbols on the board meant were followed by a basic tutorial of the game, which seemed to be about surrounding and collecting stones.
“Does Gimli seem altered to you?” Dwalin asked suddenly, after taking another stone from Legolas.
“As I said last night, I know not what he was like before our journey, so I cannot say how he has changed.”
“Nay, not from how he was ere you met. Has he changed from when you last parted?”
Legolas thought about the question for a long time before answering. “We were all affected by the magnitude of our journey. We faced peril and were haunted by the deaths of others. Our sorrows were barely outnumbered by our joys, and Gimli had the added woe of seeing your brother's tomb. It would be impossible to endure all this in less than a year's time and not feel changed by it all. I returned home and felt both satisfied and lonely.”
“He behaves like a heartbroken Dwarf,” Dwalin said gruffly. “His father worries for him, and I ask you because you seem to be his friend, though I still cannot imagine how that came to pass.”
Legolas captured a stone and examined it. “Is guilt a common feeling among your people?” he asked softly. “For it is not the normal way of my own. But I made a point to befriend Gimli because I felt guilt.”
With the rise of his eyebrows, Dwalin silently urged Legolas to continue.
“After he had endured misery and risked his life with his reluctance to move away from Balin's tomb, and after we had lost Gandalf the Grey to Durin's Bane, I had treated him more like an enemy than a companion. The Elves of Lothlórien told me they would not let him enter their lands without his being blindfolded, and I warned him not of their decision. Nor did I think to reason with them. We walked on the next day until they sprung it on him, and he was incensed. At Aragorn's insistence the party diplomatically agreed that all should be blindfolded – even me, among my own kinsmen – and we entered the Golden Wood in such a manner.”
Dwalin re-set the board, nodding along with Legolas's tale. He was not affronted by the confession, and his lack of surprise made Legolas feel even more shame.
“I was angered that I should be taken into Lórien in such a manner, when it is considered the greatest dwelling in Middle Earth of my own kind. It would have been like me blindfolding Gimli ere we walked into Moria. But I did not reflect, at that moment, that Gimli did not say that I had no right to go there. He did not block my view of a place he considered sacred.
“And when Celeborn learned of the Balrog and said he would not have let Gimli enter the wood, had he known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria yet again, the Lady Galadriel chastised her mate, and reached out to Gimli in kindness. She reminded us all that any of us could be drawn to the places of our people, even if they had been overrun by dragons.”
At that, Dwalin gave a hearty nod. “Aye, there is truth in that. I'm sure you're well aware of my people having done that, half a century ago.”
Legolas nodded. “And indeed I thought of that, when she mentioned the dragons. She went on to speak of the wonders of Moria, by the names of your own language. Gimli then bowed and declared that she was above all the jewels that lie in the earth. In that moment, I think he gave his heart to her.” He sighed, thinking of his friend's longing and obvious loneliness.
“Nay,” Dwalin countered, moving his piece to initiate a new game. “A Dwarf who is in love does not speak of his heart's desire as often as Gimli speaks of the Lady of the Golden Wood. He sees her as the most perfectly worked jewel, something to be cherished and gazed upon. Not someone to love and craft a life with.”
“Why would he not speak of that?” Legolas asked, his voice growing harsh. “Would he not dream of her beauty and wisdom and kindness for the rest of his days? Would he not share these thoughts and hopes?”
“That is not the way of the Dwarf. We are a covetous, jealous sort. We keep our prizes close to our hearts, and we keep our hurts even closer. If he were to love someone who could not return the affection, he would want few to know his heart.” Dwalin shook his head sadly. “Love is never easy for Durin's Folk. But continue your tale – how did you discover your guilt? Was it the Lady Galadriel's example?”
Legolas moved another stone, but quickly pulled it back when he realized his mistake. He pushed a different one across the board instead. “It was not her example, though that was the first step in realizing my error. It was when she spoke in my mind: she did not chastise me, but pointed out the error in my decision. I had not spoken up for my companion, yet claimed to be part of a fellowship. I did not treat him as an equal, as a friend. She showed me that the differences between Elven and Dwarven peoples were not irreconcilable. She said I had a choice to keep him at bay, or embrace him. And I chose to have him as my friend. In doing so, I passed her test. After that day, for as long as we were in Lórien, I made a point to walk with him and talk with him, and learn what made him who he is. I remembered Mithrandir, and honored his passing by remembering his words: I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, to at least be friends, and to help me.
“I might have saved his life by pulling him to safety in Khazad-dûm, but it wasn't until weeks later that I realized I would harm any person who threatened him. He became my friend in quick time, when compared to the centuries of my life when I assumed I knew everything about Dwarves that an Elf needed to know.”
“In all my time I've known the Elves,” Dwalin began, leaning back in his chair and stretching out his legs, “I've never known one who admitted he was wrong.”
Legolas nodded. “He has been called Elf-friend many times, due to his devotion to Galadriel and his friendship with me. But there are times when I think I should be known as Gimli's friend, or perhaps friend to the Dwarves, if your kind would let me be.”
“It is the most unlikely of friendships,” Dwalin mused.
“And that is what makes it so precious to me.”
Their evening had been quiet together compared to the one before. The hours after taking their meal with Gimli's kin were spent sharing their plans for Minas Tirith. It was a topic they enjoyed dancing around, imagining all the possibilities. Gimli's eyes were bright in the dim light of his room, speaking of the stonework that would be repaired or the iron-work he would supply, and he listened intently as Legolas rattled off the various breeds of plants that would flourish in that part of Gondor.
“I need to go to sleep soon,” said Gimli apologetically. He tamped out his pipe and rubbed his eyes, stifling a yawn. “Tomorrow will be filled with dancing and feasting, and I must be well rested.”
“Go to your bed, my friend,” Legolas said with a smile. “Have sweet dreams of the gates you will craft one day, while I commune with the wind and the sky.”
“I will dream of tomorrow's songs for Durin.” He sounded close to sleep already.
Legolas smiled and stood. “Tonight, however, is a night for Elven songs. I will find my way to the starlight, and share my music with a more appreciative audience.”
When he reached the lookout, he stood in silence, gazing out at the land before him for a very long time. The stars were bright and comforting; they shifted as he thought, new constellations rising on the horizon before he could lift his voice in a song.
And when he sang, he thought about the things he'd felt since coming to Erebor: his worry that he would not recognize his friend among other Dwarves, his realization that he could never lose sight of Gimli even if they were among ten thousand Dwarves. He had wondered, since revealing the truth about the dawn of their friendship, what prompted Gimli to accept his kindness after having been treated in such a manner. It had always been Legolas's belief that Dwarves did not forget hurts that were inflicted upon them, and Gimli's reactions throughout their journey supported that notion. However, when it came to the hurtful thing he had done, Gimli appeared to forgive and forget. Legolas wondered, not for the first time, what words Galadriel had spoken in Gimli's mind.
Had the Lady tempted him with his greatest desires, the way she had the others? Did she ask him to see Legolas as a friend, and trust him? He suspected that of all Gimli's secrets, his own and those belonging to his race, this would be the last one he would share with anyone.
And what would Legolas's greatest desire be, were Galadriel to offer it to him now? The sea. The answer came to him immediately, and his head was filled with the images of grey ships and the smell of salt water.
But then he thought of the things he would be leaving behind. Memories of Fangorn and riding Arod across Rohan. Seeing Elessar in the White City. The promises of Minas Tirith and Ithilien.
The pang in his heart was as sharp as the one he'd felt upon first hearing the gulls. He had been in the midst of a war, preparing for a great battle, when suddenly his heart was elsewhere entirely. And now it was the opposite: his heart, journeying to Valinor, had suddenly been pulled back to Middle Earth.
There will always be some folk, big or little, and even a few wise Dwarves like Gimli, who need you. Merry's words haunted him. At that time Gimli had mentioned all the places left in Middle Earth to explore, but Legolas had been too focused on the cries of the gulls and the lure of the Elves who had traveled before him. But now... the idea of exploring Middle Earth was appealing, if Gimli were to join him.
Legolas stopped singing abruptly, instead choosing to listen. The wind was ever strong on the rock promontory, and it batted against his flushed ears. But on the wind he heard the whispers of tree and star alike, and they all seemed to be telling him something. Perhaps it was something his heart had already known, but it felt new and rejuvenating. He felt as young as he did walking through Fangorn, as though his long life were lying ahead of him with every promise known to Elvenkind.
And one promise that was not.
“I worried that you were never going to come down from your perch, Master Elf,” Gimli said by way of greeting.
“Your braids are different.”
“It's Durin's Day. Do Elves not tidy themselves and put their best faces forward when they have something to celebrate?”
Legolas shook his head. “We always have our best faces,” he answered. He liked the spring in Gimli's step and the way his hair was pulled more tightly away from his face. His tunic was a rich dark blue, and finer even than what he wore to the late summer coronation in Minas Tirith. “Should I change my braids, as well?” he asked, eyeing the four- and five-strand braids in Gimli's beard.
“Aye, if you'd like to look like a Dwarf.”
“It's Durin's Day," Legolas echoed. "Wouldn't being more Dwarf-like be an ideal way to honor your people?”
Gimli chuckled. “We shall start by chopping off your legs at the knees, and filing your ears until they are plain and rounded. And then we shall have to do something about your face.”
“What's wrong with my face?” Legolas asked.
“Nothing, if you're an Elf. But if you want to be more like a Dwarf, we will have to give you a beard.”
“Ah, but if I could be a Dwarf for this day,” Legolas sighed, leaning over his friend playfully. “I would know your language and your songs. I would love the stone around me as deeply as you do. I would feel the burning heat of the forge and love it. And mayhaps you would tell me your name.”
Gimli's face grew wistful. “Nay, I would rather have you an Elf, and know you brought the morning with you.”
“But would you tell me your name if I were one of your kind?” Legolas wheedled.
“If you would tell me why your ears flush pink when you drink, and when you ask me silly questions.”
Legolas stood upright again, holding his cool hands over his warm ears. “There are some secrets between friends that are meant to be kept.”
Gimli barked a laugh and reached for the door. “Come, my Elf-friend, and I will show you how the Dwarves honor their pasts and their creator.”
The larger halls of the city served as gathering places for friends, and therefore were very crowded. It was worse than walking through Minas Tirith the day of Elessar's coronation. Legolas liked it when the crowd push against him – he was not given the wide and wary berth he had been over the last two days. He did not feel as though he belonged, especially with many Dwarves still lowering their voices or switching languages when he passed, but neither he did not feel as strange as he initially had, towering head and shoulders above the rest.
There were fewer men in the city, to boot. Durin's Day, as Gimli had said, really was about family and love. All around him were tight-knit groups of parents and dwarrowlings, sharing their breads and treats. The air was festive, and by the time they reached the Great Hall- the central room of this cavernous city – they were surrounded by lilting, powerful music.
“You may like this,” Gimli said, winding through the crowd and trusting Legolas to follow. He brought him to a withered old Dwarf who sat near a wall. His beard was long and white, his hands wrinkled but steady. In them he held a small knife and a piece of wood. Crates were placed on either side of his chair – one filled with small, dry pieces of wood and the other with wooden figurines.
“Orful likes to craft things from wood,” Gimli said, by way of greeting. “Orful, this is my friend Legolas, of Mirkwood.”
“Greenwood,” Legolas corrected. The old Dwarf did not look up at him. In fact, his gaze remained steadily ahead of him, even as he addressed Gimli. He was blind, or nearly so, Legolas realized.
“I've lived to see an Elf come to Durin's Day.” Orful said, his low voice raspy but rich. “This is worthy of celebration.”
Gimli smiled. “You always were an odd one. Crafting with wood and speaking highly of the Elves. There is one in every Dwarven city, I am told.”
Orful laughed. “Or two, if you are the one who is bringing an Elf-friend to our festivities.”
“You make these creations?” Legolas asked, picking up a tiny wooden bird. It was a finely whittled gull, and it brought forth the familiar dull ache of the sea.
“Aye. My da thought I was strange, preferring to work in wood than in stone or iron. But someone must make the wooden shafts for our axes and hammers – woodwork is a dying art among Dwarves.”
“Orful is the one who helped make the axe that I carried through our journey. A weapon truer than any other I've wielded, and one that hewed many an orc.”
Orful smiled and set his knife down so that he could reach out to take Gimli's hand. “You are a good child, Gimli, Glóin's son.”
“I will purchase one of your wood-creations for my friend,” Gimli said, reaching into his belt-purse to pull out a coin and pressing it into Orful's hand.
“Would an Elf sing to an old Dwarf?” Orful asked, his face full of hope. “Tis many a moon since I've crossed the land and listened to the music of the Elvenkind.”
“Today is for Dwarven music,” Legolas replied automatically. “But ere I leave this city, I will share at least one song with you.”
They exchanged polite farewells and left the old Dwarf's side, Legolas clutching tightly to the wooden gull. “How old is he?” he asked of his friend as they walked through masses of people.
“At least two-hundred and eighty. Very old for a Dwarf, though some have lived longer.”
Two hundred and eighty years was not very long at all, in Legolas's world. “Will you take me to him tomorrow, ere I leave?” He asked. The crowd pushed up against him once more, shoving him against Gimli.
“Tomorrow?” Gimli asked, steadying him with his sturdy arms. “Must you leave so soon?”
Legolas smiled. “My plan had been to leave yesterday, you may recall.”
“Aye,” Gimli said. His arms still held onto Legolas's, though they were both steady on their feet. “I suppose an Elf cannot last long under a mountain.”
“No longer than a Dwarf can stay among the trees.” Legolas's eyes stayed locked upon Gimli's darker ones, and he wished for the first time that he had the power to communicate with open thoughts, the way he would another of his own kind. There were many things he wanted to say, but he had not the ability to say them aloud.
“Perhaps this is why I should hold you at arm's length,” Gimli said, pushing slightly against Legolas's upper arms. “Elf and Dwarf were not meant to be close, since they cannot stand to stay in each other's homes for even a fortnight.”
“You may hold me at arm's length, Dwarf,” Legolas said, a slow smile crossing his face. “But my arms are longer, and can still reach you even while you push against me.” He reached out, despite the strength of Gimli's hands, and touched one of his braids.
Gimli dropped his arms quickly, pulling back. He glanced around him quickly, as though searching to see who else had seen this interaction. He shook his head suddenly, and muttered below his breath in Khuzdul.
“I could not catch your meaning,” Legolas said in a falsely casual voice. “Did no one tell you it was rude to speak in a language your companion doesn't know?”
Gimli glared up at him. “And how often do you speak in your Elven tongue before me?”
“Only to speak with others, not to deny you what I was thinking,” Legolas retorted. “Pedin I phith in aníron, a nin ú-cheniathog.”
Gimli snorted. “And what was that? Something you would share with a tree?”
“I said that I can say what I wish, and you won't understand me.” He pushed his way toward a smaller corridor that led away from the festivities. “Why are you so angry with me?” he asked, when it was clear that the Dwarf was following.
Gimli stopped and sighed. “Because I wish you weren't leaving on the morrow.”
“And pushing me or muttering below your breath, thinking I won't hear you is how you entice me to stay?” Legolas braced his arms on the wall, as if forbidding Gimli to pass. But Gimli stood perfectly still, looking up at him. His entire being thrummed with energy visible to the Elf, as it had been at Helm's Deep, waiting for the orc attacks.
“I am not good with words,” he said angrily. “I am not good with partings. And there a hundred other things that I cannot do well, and I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated that you will leave tomorrow, and that I don't know when we will cross paths again. I'm angry that we don't speak the same language and we don't understand each other's ways. I'm bitter that you will go to the Havens and be gone from Middle Earth forever, and I'm furious that I can't find anyone selling beer!”
Legolas blinked and stepped toward the Dwarf, dropping his arms to his side. “We passed several Dwarves selling beer.”
Gimli closed his eyes. “And that is all you take from my words?”
“No.” Legolas took another step closer. “I take much from all of your words.” He lifted his hand to Gimli's hair, barely touching it. His fingers stroked one of the elaborate braids that started at his temple, and he followed its length slowly. “I can see that this is inappropriate, because my doing this made you snap at me.”
“Stop,” Gimli whispered, his eyes wide. “You don't understand.”
“And I can't understand, if you tell me nothing.” Legolas pulled away, and Gimli visibly relaxed. “Let us find your beer, so we can make this a Durin's Day you will never forget.” His false cheer echoed off the stones surrounding them.
“He's always loved to dance, once he's plied with enough beer,” Glóin said, watching his son dance happily over the large stone floor of the hall, amidst a sea of his celebrating kinsmen.
“It is hard to reconcile this light-hearted, merry Dwarf with the warrior who bested me in slaying orcs,” Legolas said, the beer in his hand and stomach making it far easier to laugh and smile. Dwarven dancing was unlike the dances of men or Elves. There were far fewer maidens, so there was little to no partnering. They danced in circles, the males surrounding the females, spinning and skipping and performing little feats of strength and agility.
Gimli's scowl was gone, as were the wide, frightened eyes that Legolas couldn't unsee. After numerous drinks together and with his father and uncle, Gimli acted as though nothing had transpired. As though he had not been touched by Legolas. He danced as light-heartedly as the rest, a simple Dwarf enjoying the festival, unburdened by cares.
“Do you agree with Dwalin?” Legolas suddenly asked his companion.
Glóin raised his eyebrows. “About a great many things, but there are a great many more I do not. Of what do you speak?”
Legolas took another gulp of his drink. “Lady Galadriel,” he said. “Dwalin does not think that Gimli has lost his heart to her.”
The old Dwarf snorted. “Dwalin doesn't think highly of anyone losing their heart to an Elf, so he likely wouldn't believe it even if it were true. But it's not.”
“How do you know?”
“I don't,” Glóin replied uselessly. “But I strongly suspect that what ails my son is not love for a lady lost to this world, Elven or otherwise. He does not grieve as someone who has lost his heart. He grieves as someone who is afraid of losing it.”
Legolas said nothing, prodding him forward with a nod.
“Once, many years ago, I found the perfect gem. When I cut it from its bed of rock, I thought it could be crafted into the most amazingly beautiful stone. I could imagine its facets, I could feel the lines where I could cut it. I could see its sparkled beauty, even when it was raw and new. But when it came time to work it, I couldn't make the first cut. I was afraid of ruining something that had the potential to be utterly perfect. So instead I stared at it, and fretted over it. I imagined everything that could go wrong instead of thinking of what could be done well.”
“What did you do?”
Glóin laughed. “I gave it to my wife, and she cut it into the perfect gemstone. To this day she has it, and is wearing it now. I was afraid of something that she made beautiful with ease. And sometimes, I think we Dwarves let our hearts do the same. We worry about making a mistake. We have but one chance to love, if Mahal gives us even that.
“If Gimli's heart were given to the Lady of the Golden Wood, he would not dance like he does today. He would stand off to the side and feel bitter envy of those who have full hearts. Today he dances, because part of him still has hope.”
Legolas did not know if there were truth in these words. He, too, hoped.
“You should dance as well,” Glóin said. “Elves are sure-footed, are they not? Certainly you have watched long enough to learn the steps. Let it not be said that the Dwarves of Erebor did not make their guest feel welcome.”
Legolas met Gimli's laughing eyes, and saw his friend beckon him to enter the ring of dancers. It was enough of an invitation for him. He thrust his mug into Glóin's hand and joined in the ring of Dwarves, skipping lightly on one foot, then switching to the other on the third beat of the measure. His hands were held by young Dwarves on either side of him who did not mind sharing their dance with an Elf. Opposite him, on the other side of the circle, Gimli met his eyes and grinned; Legolas danced with a light heart and even lighter feet.
“Are you certain you must come up here?” Gimli asked, two stairs ahead of Legolas.
“The stars, Gimli! Do you never feel the need to see them?”
“I am not an Elf,” Gimli said with a laugh. “I can go many days without seeing the stars or the moon and it ails me not. What do you tell the stars when you sing to them?” He stopped suddenly, turning to look at Legolas. They were close to the same height, with Legolas standing on a lower stair.
“I tell them stories,” Legolas answered. “I sing to them of other stars, of Elves who have used their light to guide them through a forest. I sing whatever comes to my mind.”
“Do you sing to them of the sea? Do you sing 'I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me'? Is that a promise you sing to the stars?”
Legolas reached up toward Gimli's face, again wanting to touch his hair. But he held back this time. “Sometimes I do,” he said honestly. “And sometimes I sing to them about how I do not ever want to leave this land.”
“Aye, but you will.” Gimli said these words with a sadness Legolas had not heard in his voice since leaving Lórien.
“Not while you walk this earth,” said Legolas softly, letting his palm rest against Gimli's hair. “When we were in Minas Tirith I told Samwise that I would not leave while you still live.”
“I know what you are feeling, my friend,” Gimli said, his voice stronger. “And we both know nothing can come of it.”
“How can you know what I feel, when even I don't understand it?”
“Because you asked my name.” Gimli turned around and began walking up the stairs again, albeit at a slower pace. “You do not even know the ways of Dwarven courting, yet you instinctively found the most important part. If I had told Aragorn that a Dwarf has a secret name he shares with no one, he would not have asked me what it was. Pippin would not have touched by braids, or said he wished he could be a Dwarf so that he may understand my language and my ways. Boromir never told me the traits he found attractive in a mate. Frodo will never come to the Lonely Mountain. Gandalf does not care if I am known as anyone but Gimli, whereas you need to know all of me.”
“Only because you hide so much.”
Gimli said nothing in response until he top of the stairs, when he turned back to face Legolas. “I hide what I cannot bear to share,” he said gruffly. “I cannot give all of myself to anyone, because there must be something left for me when I am not wanted.”
“It is not Galadriel for whom you pine,” Legolas said. “Why did you let me believe for so long that it was?”
Gimli pushed the thick, stone door open. “It was easier. Have your starlight, Legolas. The moon is full and beautiful.”
“The moon isn't what I want,” Legolas said, pulling Gimli back to face him. The night breeze entered the stairwell, cool against Legolas's warm ears.
“What would you have, if I cannot give all of myself to you?”
“I would have whatever you are willing to share,” Legolas answered. “But there is no reason for you to hold back, because you are wanted. We are not the gemstone your father was afraid to cut.” He ignored the surprise that crossed Gimli's face. “We will not be perfection, so there is no fear in marring us. We will be who were are, and love how we love. There is no precedent. We will not be afraid to travel where no Elf and Dwarf have journeyed together.”
Legolas had scarce uttered the last of his words before Gimli placed a hand on his shoulder. The Elf barely had time to start at the raw feeling the weight of his palm sent coursing through his body before Gimli kissed him. It was not the Elf's first kiss, but it was the first to make his heart sing and his ears flush. He was undone. Legolas put one hand at Gimli's waist, and the other tangled in his long hair as he deepened the kiss. When they finally parted, he felt light-headed.
“How long have you known?” Legolas asked breathlessly. He held Gimli close, enjoying the height given to his friend by the staircase.
“Fangorn.” Gimli replied gruffly. “The first time.”
“So long to stay silent.”
“I was not sure,” he said. “Galadriel sent my message, through Gandalf: Lockbearer, wherever thou goest my thought goes with thee. But have a care to lay thine axe to the right tree!” He shrugged. “Perhaps she meant nothing of it, but she knew my heart and my will – maybe she meant it as the metaphor I took it to be. She warned me not to love her, and reminded me that there could be another who I truly would care for as an equal. Someone whom I would not worship, but love.”
“Yet you told me nothing,” Legolas said with a small smile. “In Aglarond, in Fangorn – all the way back to Greenwood – we traveled together with only our lives to talk about, and you said nothing. You say you knew how I felt, even before I knew with certainty, and yet you said nothing.”
He kissed Gimli again, reveling in the firm press of his mouth and the tickle of his beard. When his lips parted and their kisses became more urgent, he tasted beer and pipe weed and something that was altogether Gimli.
“Now may I know your name?”
Gimli sighed with exaggerated exasperation. “Do you not know the meaning of secrets, you meddlesome Elf? That is mine to keep, though you are welcome to spend the rest of my life guessing.” He reached up and lightly traced the edge of Legolas's ear with one caloused finger. “As I have guessed that the fourth thing that attracts an Elf to his mate is someone with the ability to make his ears flush with heat.”
Legolas swatted Gimli's hand away. “It is inappropriate to draw attention to an Elf's ears,” he protested.
“Was there never some spritely fey Elven lass or lad who made them burn before?”
“You know there was not.” His ears burned hotter. “Come,” he insisted, pushing past the Dwarf and heading to the fresher air. “I will teach you the songs my people sing to the evening.” He took Gimli's hand in his own and pulled him through the doorway.
Together they stood, once again looking out at the world below them. Dale and Laketown and the vast Greenwood stretched out before them, no different from what they had been that morning, but to Legolas everything was altered. “Will you journey with me, Gimli?” he asked. “To Minas Tirith and Ithilien and Aglarond and all the places I would go?”
“Aye,” Gimli said, his voice very low. “All of the places I am permitted to go to, I will be at your side.”
And Legolas sang to the stars, Gimli's fingers entwined with his.