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"Numberless in short are the ways, and sometimes imperceptible, in which affections color and infect the understanding." -- Francis Bacon


 

Legolas sprawled on his back on a camp-bed, in the tent he shared with Gimli. He was more than a little drunk, and had been so since the war's end. The celebration at Cormallen had been followed by feasts and days upon days of wine and song, and he was fond of wine, but now he could sense a calm coming. "Next we shall go to the city, I suppose," he said to Gimli.

 

Gimli stretched himself before his own bed, working his shoulder back and forth. "I expect so," he said. "There'll be a coronation, or I miss my guess."

 

"Oh, coronations," Legolas said, and rolled to his stomach to look more closely at his friend. His father had not bothered with one of those, and he had not been in the West when Dáin Ironfoot had been crowned King under the Mountain. "Here now," he said, and went to Gimli's side, digging his fingers into the knots in his friend's shoulder. "Lay you down, mellon , and let me care for you." Gimli lowered himself to the bed, his hair flowing over his shoulders and back. Legolas moved it gently to the side. Gimli made delightful small noises as Legolas worked, and once even shuddered over his entire body, as his muscles yielded slowly to Legolas's hands.

 

Indeed, Aragorn did intend a coronation, although a small one by the standards of Dwarves, it seemed. Gimli affected offense at the haste of the planning and the lack of honored guests, although Aragorn laughed at him and told him many captains and princes of Men would be there. "Aye, and one lone Dwarf, to stand for us all," said Gimli, gesturing with his wine-goblet.

 

"Peace, Gimli!" said Aragorn. "For an ambassador has come from Erebor, while you were lazing about with your Elf-prince, and has brought the news that Thorin Stonehelm is the new King under the Mountain. The two of you shall be the finest Dwarves ever seen in Gondor when I am crowned on the morrow, and you will witness enough for all your kind."

 

"Ah!" said Gimli. "I have not been lazing about, at least, I do not think Legolas would say so." Frodo took a draught of wine the wrong way, and excused himself from the table. "There has been much to do," Gimli continued, "even if it has not been great feats of arms." Aragorn nodded, his eyes very wide, as if smoke had gotten into them.

 

"How feels your last night free of rule?" asked Legolas, peculiarly displeased with the conversation, and wishing to change it.

 

Aragorn laughed again. "I have not been free of it, for Faramir has taught me much, and Gandalf bends my ear, and even you, Thranduilion, son of a king, are a silent rebuke when I would escape them for an hour."

 

Pippin snickered, rolling his goblet between his hands, and said "Our Elf has not been thinking of ruling, of late." Merry clapped his hand over Pippin's mouth, so that his next words were too muffled to understand, and Legolas sought Gimli's eyes, to see if he knew what the hobbits were about. Gimli only shrugged, and poured Legolas more wine.

 

"What have I been thinking of, then, Pippin?" Legolas asked, taking a sip.

 

Confusion erupted, as Pippin and Aragorn both coughed on their wine at once. Merry thumped Pippin on the back, and Gimli thumped Aragorn harder than necessary, and Aragorn fell out of his chair and lay gasping on the ground. In all this, the question was quite forgotten, and at any rate all must go early to bed, for the ceremony would begin with the dawning.

 

*

 

After the coronation, the Companions of the Ring were given a fair house in the city, close by the citadel, and in it Gimli and Legolas were given a set of rooms to share. They had a sitting-room of their own, with a great fireplace in it, and windows to the east, and a cunning sluice-gated bath, and two sleeping-rooms. It was as lovely a set of rooms as Legolas had seen since he had been in Imladris, and he sat cross-legged on a chaise, watching his friend.

 

"What do you think Aragorn waits for," he said, "that he has asked us to stay a while yet?"

 

Gimli paused in un-knotting his hair before the fire. His chest and arms were bare, for he had bathed, and his skin and hair and beard gleamed deep copper in the firelight. Legolas admired the fall of red hair over Gimli's chestnut-brown skin, the whole of him like a wood-copse in autumn. "He says he has waited all the years of his manhood for it," he said. "Perhaps his lady comes to wed?"

 

Legolas turned this thought over in his mind. "It seems as likely as anything," he allowed. "Though I do not know why we have to wait for that. Do they not just wed? They have been betrothed some years now."

 

"Do Elves not have customs, when they marry? With Dwarves and Men, there are things to be done, gifts to give, papers to be signed and witnessed."

 

"Different Elves have different customs," Legolas said. "I know not what all of them are, but among many of the Elves who live West of the Anduin, they marry only once, and have children with the one they wed. Among the Elves in my home, some follow that custom, and some do not."

 

"They marry more than once?" Gimli sounded surprised, but not shocked. "As Men do? Dwarves marry but once." He worked an oil scented with spices into his beard, his fingers smoothing the long strands.



"It is more," said Legolas, slowly, "that some of us do not marry at all, or we may have children with one, and marry another entirely, for companionship. It was thus from the time we awoke in the East, and with some of us it is still thus." He was silent, for a long moment, eyes half-closed from the warmth of the room. "In the days of our beginning, we were created in twos, but those were not marriages, exactly. And those times are far in the past, and none of the Elves on these shores remember them."  He smiled at Gimli.

 

"Are you wed?" Gimli asked. He had stopped in his grooming and was still as stone. His beard rippled as he breathed, his chest rising and falling beneath it. Legolas longed to run his fingers over chest and beard, both, but instead reached his hand out for his friend's. Gimli crossed to him and sat beside him, letting Legolas twine their fingers together. Gimli's were soft and a little slick from oil, and Legolas felt the tingle of the spices against his skin.

 

"Oh! I may wed, someday." He said it almost carelessly, though he knew in his heart the carelessness was a lie. He longed for someone to ease his loneliness. "It has been many summers since I had a close companion, of the type I might think to make a marriage with." He turned Gimli's hand in his, looking at the strong, thick fingers. "And you? Are you wed?"

 

"I am not," Gimli said, his voice soft and rough, and Legolas felt a wash of relief, though he knew not why.

 

"Then you shall stay with me a while longer yet, mellon , that we shall not be lonely. We shall be each other's company, as true as any marriage, shall we not?" He slid along the chaise and pressed his cheek to Gimli's thigh, rejoicing in the feel of its strength beneath his head.

 

"Aye," said Gimli, and drew the fingers of his free hand through Legolas's hair, gentle as falling dew. "But for now, I need to sleep." He squeezed Legolas's fingers and stood, moving towards the sleeping-room he had claimed as his own.

 

"May I join you?" Legolas asked. "Sleep at your side is among the pleasantest of all things." Legolas had placed his belongings in the other sleeping-room, but he preferred not to rest alone, when he had the choice of it.

 

Gimli looked at him a long moment, and then said "Aye," again, very softly.

 

*

 

The day before Midsummer, the housekeeper spoke to Legolas. He stood before the windows that opened out to the sky, watching birds wheel in the air. "Do you wish to be housed with your kin, my lord? The King says they will arrive soon, and you may wish to join them."

 

"No," he said, "I am happy enough where I am. I shall stay with Gimli, for I am fond of him."

 

The housekeeper, a tall, spare woman who had not given him her name -- she affected not to hear him when he asked -- raised her eyebrows. Her brown hair was streaked with grey, and she clearly thought him a rash youth. He raised his eyebrows back, as if he thought it a peculiar pleasantry of Gondor to do so, and smiled.

 

"As you wish, my lord," she said, with the knees-bent movement that some Men -- the women always, he thought -- seemed to do instead of bowing. He would have to ask Aragorn the name of it, for he had never been much among Men. If he intended to dwell in the south in these next years, he would need to know such things.

 

He wondered if Gimli would be willing to come to south with him. It was too far from any Dwarvish home, he feared; perhaps it would be better to take himself to Dale? He would speak to Gimli about it, and soon, but perhaps not today, when all was a whirl of making things ready to receive honored guests.

 

The Elves arrived the next day, and all assembled to greet them and to go in a great procession into the citadel. The procession broke up in the great hall, groups of travellers breaking off to follow servants or crowd around old friends. Elrond kissed his sons and Aragorn, and Aragorn kissed Arwen amongst a cluster of ellith who then shooed him away from their lady. Galadriel paused to kiss Gimli on his brow, and then to claim the attention of Gandalf. Legolas stood to one side, out of the swirl of movement, and then he saw one he had not hoped to see, had not looked for. "Certavoriel!" She spun, her auburn hair floating behind her, and ran to him on light feet. He pressed his hand to his heart, and she stopped before him, breathless, and did the same.

 

"Ada!"

 

"Daughter--" he could not believe she was here, and reached out to draw her close. "Certa-nin, is it you?"

 

She flung her arms around him, as if she were still a child.

 

“How came you here?” Legolas asked, for he was astonished still that she should have come.

 

“There was much fighting in the North,” she said, “and a great part of our wood was burnt, but Grandfather prevailed. After the fighting was over, Celeborn came, and when he said he would travel here for Elessar’s wedding, I begged leave to come. I wanted to find how you had fared. I feared for you, Ada, and though Grandfather tried to comfort me, I know he feared for you as well.” She leaned into his side and pressed her nose against him, a habit she had had from birth, and for which he had named her “woodpecker”, tavor . "But Ada, you are unharmed?"

 

"I am, I am -- but hold, I must introduce you to the dearest of all friends! Gimli!" Legolas turned, and Gimli was but two steps away even in all this crowd. At Legolas's cry, he came forward, all courtesy. "Gimli! I would have you meet my daughter."

 

"Your daughter, you say?" He bowed to Certavoriel. "At your service, my lady."

 

"Certavoriel of Rhûn, this is my dear companion, Gimli Elvellon, son of Glóin."

 

Certa touched her heart and bowed her head. "I can hear in Ada's voice that he will tell me stories of you, Master Gimli, until I am weary of his speaking."

 

Gimli laughed, then, softly. "He does love to tell tales. I beg you to believe nothing ill of me, lady, and all good, though I fear your father might embellish things in the telling."

 

"I would not!" Legolas said, amused. "Your fine deeds need no embellishment, and I should tell her only good of you in any case, mellon-nin ."

 

He was pleased to see Gimli's eyes drop as if in shyness, and his mouth quirk into a faint smile.

 

*

 

Legolas retired to his rooms very late, having spoken with Certa, Elrond, and Arwen all at some length. Certa had kissed him goodnight and said she was to sleep in Arwen's rooms, if he had need of her, and his heart was glad to see her with such a friend as the Evenstar. Certa was so young, and Arwen both wise and kind. Gimli was yet awake, smoking a pipe by the windows. Legolas stopped to watch him, for he was a pleasure to see, even though he looked weary. It seemed as if it might be a weariness of spirit, not of flesh, though Legolas was not skilled at judging such things with mortals. He joined Gimli at the window and laid a hand softly on his shoulder. "My friend, are you well?"

 

"Well enough, I suppose," Gimli answered. His voice was rather rough, and he shook his head, as if trying to clear it. Legolas let his hand slip along one of the braids in Gimli's beard. It was smooth and curving and it was sweet to touch his friend so, an intimacy just between themselves. The cool night wind rippled into the room, and Gimli drew on his pipe. The smoke wreathed his head like a crown.

 

"If something troubles you, there is nothing you can say that I cannot hear," Legolas said, moving his hand from Gimli's beard to his arm, feeling the strong muscles shift under the skin. "Not after all we have seen, together."

 

Gimli looked up at him. "When you spoke of marriage customs among the Elves, I supposed -- well. I did not suppose that you would be one to have had a child without wedding. You are a king's son, after all." His eyes widened, then, and he said hastily, "Not that your daughter is not lovely! I mean no disrespect to her."

 

"No, of course not," Legolas said. Gimli's brow was furrowed, and his eyes troubled and distant. Surely Legolas's child could not upset him so? "My mother and father were not wed, either," he said. "I was born in the East, long ago. There are my kin there who never came West. My mother lives there yet, with my younger brother, and my other daughters. Or she did, nearly eighty summers past, when I returned to my father's realm." He took Gimli's hand.

 

"How long were you with your mother?" Gimli said, lowering his gaze to their joined hands.

 

"Oh, I was long in the East when I was younger. I was born there, as I said, and came West with my father and elder sister. After Sauron fell, I traveled back, to discover what had become of my kin under his sway. There I remained until word came of the Battle of Five Armies, and I returned then with Certavoriel. She is quite young, Gimli, and it seems Arwen has made a pet of her."

 

"And -- and you have other children? Daughters, you said?"

 

"Two others! They are as wild and fierce as their mother and grandmother, and Certa is much like them in face. But in her spirit she is Thranduil's grandchild, with a love of fine clothes, and jewels, and books." His heart swelled in him, thinking of his daughters, of Legpathu's seriousness as she learned swordplay, of Geliriel singing full-throated under the stars in the grasslands of the East.

 

"And their mother?"

 

Legolas shrugged. "It is as I said before -- we may have children with one another, when we wish to have children. So it was with me. I hope she has kept safe, in this last war, but no doubt word will be sent to my father if she has not, or if aught has happened to my other kin." He stroked Gimli's fingers with his own. "In truth, I rarely think of her. I am glad to have my children, for they are a delight to me always -- but their mother and I were not much attached to each other. I doubt she thinks of me more than I think of her."

 

Gimli made a growling noise in his chest and set his pipe aside. "That seems a cold way to speak of a lover."

 

"We were not lovers ," Legolas said. He had thought Gimli understood, that he had sired children because he had desired children, not out of love, but perhaps he had not explained it as well as he thought. "We agreed on three children, and three we had, and I have not seen her since Certa and I came West." He was silent, turning Gimli's hand over in his, and back again, feeling the fine hairs on the back of it and the warmth of Gimli's blood beneath the skin. "I have never had a lover . It is only these past months that I have come to yearn for one -- not merely someone for children. I feel--" and his stomach leapt up into his throat and his voice caught-- "I feel old, and torn by the call of the Sea, and yet my heart cries that here in this land is the one for me, the one to keep by me for all the times to come." He released Gimli's hand and pressed his knuckles to his mouth, stifling a cry of pain that wished to come yelping out of him. His loneliness was a slow bleed inside him, as terrible and insistent as the call of the Sea. Seeing Certavoriel had eased the ache, for a few hours, but now it had returned, and he knew not what would stanch its flow.

 

Gimli reached up and drew his hand down from his mouth. "I do not understand," he said, "for it is not so among my folk -- to have children without love. But I am trying. I do not mean to wound you."

 

"I have wounded myself," Legolas said. "And I have not forgotten that I found you troubled, this night, mellon-nin . Can we not be each other's bulwark against pain?"

 

Gimli wrapped his other hand around Legolas's, and Legolas sank to his knees and leaned his head against his friend's chest. Gimli's arms came around him, warm and encompassing, his strength a bulwark indeed.

 

*

The wedding was all that Legolas could have expected of a wedding, had he ever troubled to think of such a thing. The Elves shimmered silver in the sunlight; the Men were stiff with embroidery and steel; Merry and Pippin wore the uniforms of Rohan and Gondor, while Sam and Frodo wore fine silken waistcoats. Gimli could not have represented his kind any better, for his long hair was gathered into a tail and his beard oiled and beaded and braided in beautiful patterns, the blue of his robe and the blue of his eyes deeper than the sky.

 

Celeborn and Certavoriel and Elrond claimed Legolas after the ceremony, and he did not see Gimli until the evening, when all gathered to eat. He could scarcely look away during the feast, for Gimli had never looked so well. The fall of his hair glowed, and he was strong and solid as rock. He laughed at something Certavoriel said to him, and then Pippin made Certa laugh, and Legolas was seized by a pain in his heart such as he had never felt before, almost as if it stopped within his chest.

 

"Legolas," Aragorn said, drawing his attention. Merry was with him, and he seemed to be in high spirits; Arwen was there also, and there was a light in her eyes that spoke of some mischief afoot. Merry broke out into a peal of laughter, and Legolas could see no cause for it. Gimli turned at the sound, also, and smiled at them all. Legolas's heart beat again, fluttering like the wings of a bird. Merry subsided into giggles, which he buried in Arwen's skirts. It was extremely undignified.

 

Aragorn cleared his throat and said, "Legolas, a word alone, if you would."

 

"Of course." They withdrew into a council-room, followed by laughter from both Arwen and Merry. Legolas wondered how much wine the two of them had consumed, to be acting so.

 

Aragorn took a seat at the table. "Legolas -- my friend." He stopped, as if gathering his thoughts about him. "My friend. Would you tell me your heart?"

 

"Why are you and Gimli so concerned with my heart?" Legolas asked. He did not think he had been acting in a manner to invite these conversations, and yet here was another, happening will-he-nill-he.

 

"Because we see it is uneasy," said Aragorn, softly.

 

Legolas sighed, resigned. "I do not know all my own heart," he said, joining Aragorn at the table. The fine lines around Aragorn's eyes crinkled with some emotion. "Truly! I have had leisure to think, since the war ended. I have seen friends I had feared lost, and my beloved child is here, and yet -- the Sea calls, and my heart aches within me. I am lonely, in a way I have never been before. Gimli sees the wound, but he has no more idea how to heal it than I do. He shelters me as best he may, but there is only so much shelter to be had."

 

"I see," Aragorn said. He frowned and covered his mouth with his hand. "Well. Now. You could do worse than rely on Gimli. You are very dear to him, you know."

 

"Oh! I do know. I have not had such a companion in long ages of the world. I would keep him by me for all ages to come, if I could, even if it kept me from sailing."

 

"And yet you are lonely," Aragorn said, biting his lip.

 

"Have I not just said that?" retorted Legolas, irritated nearly into a display of temper.

 

Aragorn coughed. "Well. Gimli is lonely, too, I dare say." He seemed suddenly very interested in the tabletop. "I have heard that for Dwarves, there is one other in all of Arda, made just for them, one with whom they fit as pieces of a puzzle together."

 

Legolas tossed his head. This conversation was uncomfortable enough, but to take such a turn! "Is that so? That is why they marry only once, then, I expect. Elves are not made such, that there be only one for us in all the reaches of the world."

 

"No? And yet Arwen lingered, unwed, while I was yet unborn, when she could have had any other. As if she were made for me, and I for her."

 

"I dislike this talk," said Legolas. "I do not wish to gossip about my friend, and about who he was made for."

 

Aragorn had a coughing fit that devolved into table-pounding laughter, and Legolas stalked off, offended, to find Certavoriel and look at the stars, to calm his racing heart. His daughter, thankfully, was happy to come away with him to a high stone balcony, and did not trouble him with nonsense about who Gimli might love and cleave to. She was full of a thousand questions, about the Fellowship and the long hunt after the Uruk-hai, and then about Fangorn and huorns, and about Gimli, of course, but nothing -- nothing impertinent . They sang together, long into the night, and drifted into reverie together, shoulder to shoulder under the stars.

 

"And where have you been, Legolas?" asked Gimli, over fruit and smoked fish the next morning. "Did you think perhaps to get another child on some Elf lady?" His voice was sharper than was his wont.

 

"I have all the children I shall ever need," he said, sharp in his turn. "And I was with she who is most dear to me, Certavoriel, whose song I have missed terribly since I left my home." He snatched up a handful of berries and left Gimli there without speaking to him further. He was irritated all over again, all the peace of starlight and song fled from him. He went out to see the White Tree growing, for he was sure Aragorn would be abed with his bride and not at the Tree causing trouble. Merry and Pippin were there, and when he sat beside them, Pippin said "I take from Gimli's mood this morning that you did not share his bed as usual this past night," and Legolas growled "I do not usually share anyone's bed, Master Took!" and determined to ride out upon Arod, alone. He finished his berries in silence, ignoring the hobbits entirely.

 

In the stables he found Gimli already at Arod's head, because he was apparently to have no peace whatsoever today. He made to leave, but Gimli sighed at him and said "I should not have spoken so to you, my dearest friend. I was angry, but it is no matter; it is not you who deserved my anger."

 

Legolas came forward and stroked Arod's neck and breathed in his warm scent. "Will you ride with me?" he asked, and his stomach twisted as if he feared both 'yes' and 'no'. He was no fit company for anyone, in this mood, but Gimli had come to apologize, and it soothed his heart a little.

 

"Aye," said Gimli. "I came here because I guessed you would need to be out of the city, and would take our friend with you. And so I am rewarded for knowing you so well." When he was mounted behind, unarmored for once, the length of his body against Legolas's own, it was as if starlight descended upon them. There was only peace, and Arod beneath them, and Gimli warm and strong behind and around him, and Legolas shivered with the delight of it. Arod seemed pleased as well, and danced down the streets to the walls, and on the plains stretched out into his smooth canter. Gimli's chest rumbled against Legolas's back, in some Dwarvish song in his own tongue, which Legolas could not understand. Yet the Sea-longing and his own loneliness eased at the sound of it.

 

Gimli had prepared for a ride, as Legolas had not, and had a pouch of bread and cheese with him as well as a waterskin. They stopped to let Arod graze, and took their small meal together as they had so often in past days. Gimli dusted crumbs from his hands and said, “Your daughter brings you great joy.”

 

Legolas blinked at him, surprised. It was not the conversation he had expected. “She does,” he allowed. "She is not so fair to some as Arwen or Galadriel--" he nudged Gimli with his foot "--but to me she is as sunlight through leaves."

 

“She is fair indeed, but that is not what I meant," said Gimli. "I am not about to turn my affections on her, for they are fixed elsewhere. It is only that I should not resent that she takes you from my side, and yet I find that I do.” Gimli looked serious, and troubled.

 

“I never wish to leave your side,” Legolas said, fiercely, for it was true and the truth of it seared him to the bone. “But we cannot always be together; we must part, and come back together. Even Elrond’s sons are sometimes apart, though you might not know it to see them.” He plucked unhappily at some blades of grass.

 

Gimli now had a stone-still expression on his face, as if a thought had struck him. After a moment, he shook himself, and said “Well, that is settled, then.”

 

“What is settled?” Legolas asked. Gimli smiled, his strong face lit by the sun, his bright eyes shining. Legolas took his hands. “Gimli? What is settled?”

 

“Why, that you wish never to leave me,” Gimli said. “I will hold that wish in my heart, against any pain at parting from you.”

 

Legolas threw a handful of grass at him.

 

*

 

The days of celebration passed, and there was work enough to do, even if it was often work of the mind and not of the body. Legolas applied to Celeborn for the details of the battles in Mirkwood -- " Eryn Lasgalen now," Celeborn said, "for your father's hope you should return to him unharmed." -- and Gimli applied likewise to the ambassador from Erebor, a stout black-haired Dwarf named Núr. Great had been the destruction in the North, and Legolas and Gimli told all the news to each other over ale and cheese in their rooms. Then Gimli desired a bath, and Legolas opened the sluice-gate for him, for it was out of his reach. "Mayhap we could work a chain for it?" he said, as steaming water poured into the great basin below, "for you would not be at my mercy, then." Gimli ignored this sally and brought two tankards of ale over.

 

"If you've never had cold ale while in a hot bath," he said, "you shall try it now, and learn of one of the pleasures any Dwarf knows by the age of sixty."

 

Legolas hesitated for a bare second. To bathe in company out in the wild was one thing, but to bathe with another, in a secure house, spoke of family ties. Of love-bonds, perhaps. But Gimli could not know this, and so he accepted the tankard and stripped to his skin. "I am sure there are many pleasures of the Dwarves," he answered, sinking down into the water. Gimli twisted his hair up into a knot behind his head, and slid in beside him. His shoulder brushed against Legolas's as he settled himself, and his beard drifted free. Legolas touched the floating strands. "I often think of your beard as of leaves in autumn," he said, "but it is not much like leaves on the water. It is entirely of itself like this."

 

Gimli took a pull at his ale and his eyes glinted in the low light of the bathing-room, but he did not speak.

 

"Forgive me if this is not polite," Legolas said, after a deep draught of his own ale, for it was indeed welcome in the hot bath, "but I am very curious. Not many Elves have beards, you know, for it is not the custom among us. May I touch your face, where it meets your skin?"

 

"Aye," said Gimli, and took Legolas's tankard again and placed both ales to the side, turning his face towards Legolas. Legolas raised his hand, tracing the brown skin of Gimli's cheek where it disappeared into the rich red of his beard.

 

"Are not long beards a hazard in a smithy?" He touched Gimli's mustache, wishing he dared trace Gimli's lip with his thumb. He was certain it would be slick and soft, like his own.

 

"Of course," said Gimli, "but you will not often see a smith with a beard like mine. Those that do will braid them and lay them under their leather aprons, for safety."

 

"How do you keep it so soft? For the hairs are coarser than those on your head."

 

"You have seen me oil my beard after bathing," said Gimli, "so that it stays soft, and so that the skin underneath does not become dry."

 

Legolas shifted so that he could reach Gimli's face with both hands. Their legs brushed together under water, and he felt the prickle of the hair on Gimli's legs against his own. "Would you let me oil your beard, after we have bathed?" Gimli hesitated, his eyes very wide, but he only looked alert, not reluctant. Legolas's words tumbled out of him like a spring stream, swollen with snowmelt. "I have watched you do it, and I will be most careful, and I should like it above all things, but of course if it is not done--"

 

"You may," said Gimli.

 

After they had bathed and drunk the rest of the ale, Legolas sat bare-chested upon the chaise and let Gimli pour oil into his palm. Gimli's eyes glittered in the lantern-light as he told Legolas what to do. "You must stroke all the way to the end," he said, "and tease apart any knots with your fingers, and when all is soft and sleek and lies well, your hands should have almost no oil left on them at all."

 

It was dream such as he had never had, to draw his oil-slick hands through Gimli's beard, to feel the strands slip and twine, to see their shining color against his own skin. He trembled a little under Gimli's calm regard, though he felt at peace, too, sheltered from loneliness in this room with the dearest of his friends. At last, Gimli caught Legolas's hands in his own and held them against his chest, under his beard. His heart beat slow and strong beneath Legolas's palms.  "Well done, for a first try," he said, and went to dress himself.  

 

Legolas raised his hands to his face and inhaled the lingering scent of the oil, pleased that in some small way he would smell of Gimli for a while.

 

*

 

When Éomer returned to Minas Tirith to bear back Théoden King to Edoras, he and Gimli and Núr spent a full day in a small council-room together, and emerged with an agreement for Gimli to lead a small group of Dwarves to the Glittering Caves. Núr said he had not the authority to put his hand to so much, and so Gimli was to take the contract to Thorin Stonehelm in Erebor. Then all made ready to leave, and Gimli rode behind Legolas on Arod to accompany the wain of Théoden, and told Legolas his dream of opening the Caves. "And I have not forgotten your promise," he said, "and I shall show them to you first of all, for you will be as another jewel inside them." His arms around Legolas's waist tightened for a moment.

 

"I look forward to it," Legolas answered, "and you will come to Fangorn with me, afterwards, will you not?"

 

"I will," Gimli said, and laid his head between Legolas's shoulder blades, that they might move together as one upon Arod's back.

 

The journey to Edoras took fifteen days, and as the nights were warm and rain infrequent, Legolas often spent them under the stars, with Gimli sleeping at his side, sometimes with one hand wrapped around Legolas's wrist as if to keep him close. They were joined now and then by Certavoriel, or Elladan and Elros, and even, once, Arwen.

 

"I have worn my husband out with bed-sport," she whispered, after shaking Legolas's shoulder to wake him, "and now I have crept off to your side. I think among Men this must be most suspicious behavior."  She sat beside him with her chin on her knees, her cloudless grey eyes full of starlight, and the dark fall of her hair like a raven's wing.

 

Legolas looked around at the sleeping encampment. "You are a Queen among Men now, and it will not do to sow suspicion in their hearts."

 

"We are out where all can see, and of course none believe you would be so inconstant, whatever they might believe of me ."

 

"Arwen," he said, reprovingly. "Your company is always welcome, but I am in no mood for teasing tonight."

 

She smiled. "Very well. I shall tell you plainly, then, that I see pain in you and would help you, if I can."

 

"I have heard the gulls," Legolas said. "My heart longs for the Sea."

 

"Is that all?" she asked. "Aragorn said to me that you were struck to the heart with loneliness."

 

Legolas looked down at where Gimli's hand lay, palm open to the night sky. "It eases my pain to have those I love about me," he said.

 

"Hm," she answered, and after sitting with him in silence for some time longer, she returned to her own bed. He lay back down beside Gimli, and let his friend's breathing lull him to sleep.

 

*

 

Théoden was buried, and Éomer crowned, and near the end of the feast Éomer announced that his sister Éowyn was to wed Faramir. Aragorn wished her joy and returned to table, and Gimli cleared his throat. "Queen Arwen," he said, "my friend Legolas tells me that some Elves marry for love, and that some who are less high-minded, like he himself, scatter children behind them like leaves. How can one tell, without asking, which type of Elf is which?"

 

"I do not scatter children ," protested Legolas, but Certavoriel was giggling into his shoulder, and Gimli winked at her, which set her off again.

 

Arwen looked thoughtful. "I think either type might become the other," she said, "with sufficient inducement. An Elf long disappointed in love might wish for children, perhaps, or one who has long been content with his state and his scattered leaflets develop a pang in his heart and a nameless yearning for a companion."

 

Aragorn snorted wine up his nose.

 

"I shall not be like my Ada in either way," Certavoriel said. "I have determined I do not like his way of going about things, as if falling from one age to the next."

 

"Certa-nin!" Now Arwen and Gimli and the hobbits were laughing, and Legolas did not know whether to be irritated or amused.

 

"I am young yet," Certa continued, "but I shall fall in love, and have one for myself for all my days. I have seen the love between Arwen Undómiel and the Elfstone, and I will be satisfied with nothing less."

 

"And has some golden archer caught your eye, my lady? Or some lord of Men?" Gimli said, smiling.

 

"I have not gone so far as that , yet," Certa said with perfect dignity. "I shall take care to love only one worthy of my heart. Perhaps a Dwarf? I have met Thorin Stonehelm and thought he looked very well, and he is a King now, after all."

 

"How much wine have you had?" asked Legolas, aghast.

 

"I did not think you would object to a Dwarf," said Certavoriel, refilling her goblet. Her hand was perfectly steady and Legolas restrained himself from snatching away the carafe.

 

"You cannot propose marriage to Stonehelm via his kinsman ! You are Thranduil's granddaughter ! Such an alliance would have great import all through the North!"  The hobbits all seemed to take fits at once, and Gimli laughed until he cried.

 

Arwen intervened, though she, too, was laughing. "Legolas, Legolas, she only meant to tease her Ada."

 

"Nevermind that," Gimli said, "I did not take it as a serious offer, and could not in any case, for Thorin is wed already. For love, of course, for that is the way of our people. I do recommend it, Certa-girl. Surely love is more precious than any jewel."

 

Legolas frowned. "Are you flirting with my daughter , Gimli?"

 

"Excuse me," said Aragorn, "I must go take my leave of Éomer," and he left the table with unseemly speed as Gimli disclaimed any flirting "with anyone's daughter, any rate", which sent Certavoriel and the hobbits off into peals of laughter. Again.

 

*

 

Legolas might have the most troublesome kith and kin in Arda. Most of the Companions were content to leave him to his thoughts as they all rode to Helm's Deep, although Pippin opened his mouth frequently and received many kicks from the other hobbits, and then closed his mouth again without saying anything. The Lórien Elves likewise let him be, but those from Imladris were curious still as to his friendship with Gimli. They would come by, and ask about it, and how it came to be so, and would it last until Gimli died, did Legolas think? And they would do this while Gimli rode against his back, or sat by his side, and did not see that Legolas did not want to speak of it, most especially not of Gimli dying . He wanted only to share this time with his friend, to save it up against future pain.

 

He knew the folk of Imladris were thinking of Arwen, and how they mourned her though she was yet alive, but he thought they ought to talk of that among themselves, not pester him about his friend. He lost his temper, finally, at the son of Erestor -- he could not recall his name -- and said "I do not wish to waste Gimli's years speaking of his death! I wish to enjoy them!"

 

Only when he felt Gimli's restraining hand, low on his thigh, did he realize he had leapt to his feet and thrown the heel of his bread at the other Elf's head.

 

In a fine high temper, he went to speak to Gandalf. Loss and loneliness clawed at his throat, but he could not lose control so. Suppose he had thrown his knife, in his anger? Gandalf had the rare gift of listening without judgement. The white wizard was smoking, sitting on a little hillock east of their camp. He said nothing, only watched Legolas. His eyes were old, and kind. After a time, Legolas said, "I do not want to talk about Gimli to all and sundry, and yet that is all so many of them will talk about, and I -- I have not been so angry, Gandalf, in this last age. It is all out of proportion to the offense, and I do not know why."

 

"Hm," said Gandalf.

 

"It is only," Legolas said, warming to his subject, "that it pains me to think of Gimli's death, and I do not wish to pay them any mind, but I cannot seem to help it. I fear -- I fear so much, I fear that when he touches me I will feel the difference between now and a year hence. I fear that one day I shall be oiling his beard and it will have gone grey beneath my fingers."

 

"Hm," said Gandalf again.

 

"Is it not hard enough to have one so dear to me live so short a time, without everyone asking me how I feel ?"

 

"Hm," said Gandalf, and blew out smoke in the shape of a castle.

 

Legolas flung himself down at Gandalf's side and buried his head on his crossed arms. "I am weary of everything, here in what should be the world's new dawning. And I have never in all my years been so alone."

 

Gandalf patted his shoulder. "Ah, here is Gimli now," he said, and Legolas felt Gimli's hand at his other shoulder, and then Gimli's bulk at his side. He did not move. After a moment, Gandalf said, "If I were you, Legolas, I would look for a new dawning within, as well as without."

 

"Hold now," said Gimli, a note of warning in his voice. "He must come to the end of his trouble in his own time."

 

"Hm," said Gandalf. "That is kind of you, but do not let him take all the years of your life to do it. And you let him oil your beard for you, do you?"

 

"That is my affair," said Gimli, firmly, and his steady voice soothed Legolas as much as his hand had. He lifted his head, to watch Gimli pack his pipe and light it, and they all three sat there on the hillock until the last ember had burned out, and the smoke blown away on the wind.

 

*

 

Legolas had been in too many dark and terrible places under the ground, of late, but the Glittering Caves were not so. There was no danger here, no darkness, and he kissed Certavoriel's hands with a merry heart that morning, and went singing into the Glittering Caves with Gimli's lantern lighting the way.

 

He was night-sighted, though perhaps not so much as a Dwarf; the lantern was sunrise enough for both of them, there in the rose and gold halls beneath Helm's Deep. The silver pools lay beside the stairs hewn by Men, the paths carving deep into the mountain. The ore and gems in the walls were as nothing to the fluted rock, whose colors caught at his breath; the still pools of water seemed to shiver with their footsteps, even though they did not stray from the path. They went deeper, the air cool around them, but fresh. "I have not found the ventilation shafts," Gimli said. "But they must be there, long shafts of rock falling through the mountain, so that we might breathe here and see these wonders."

 

They stopped before crystal pillars, yearning hands of shimmering stone reaching down from above to those reaching up from below; in some places those hands had joined forever and in others they reached yet, not quite close enough to touch. "The Men scarcely seemed to see it," Gimli said, "when we passed."  Legolas felt some kinship with the rock gnawing at him, something formless and nameless breaking free inside of him. He sank to his knees, and he must have made some sound, for suddenly Gimli had him by the shoulders, holding him upright. The nameless feeling rushed like a river through him, and he bit his lip to keep from crying out at Gimli's touch. Instead he let his head drop back, resting against Gimli's chest, and turned his mind to the path of the feeling, as if he could discover it by seeing the wreckage left behind. He heard, in memory, Gimli saying "Well, that is settled, then," and in an instant, all was changed within him. It drove him back to his feet, steady now that the flood had passed.

 

He did not know if Gimli would take his heart into his safekeeping, but he knew now that he offered it, in the wellspring of himself that no one had ever touched. As a gift of Aulë under the earth it had come upon him, with Aulë's strong autumn child its object, and he could no more turn from this gift than he could tear out his own spirit.

 

Gimli looked at him, concern lining his features, but he did not press Legolas to explain. Mayhap he thought his friend was only overcome by the loveliness, for the caves were indeed lovely. Whatever the cause, Legolas was glad of it, for he could not find the words to tell Gimli what he had learned there, in the lantern-light, under Gimli's strong hands.

 

Nor, when they emerged, could he speak of the caves to the others. With unlooked-for kindness, they let him put them off, only laughed a little when he reminded Gimli of his promise to visit Fangorn. Certavoriel twined her fingers with his. "Ada," she whispered, "you will tell me of the Glittering Caves one day, will you not?"

 

He looked at Gimli, making tea over the campfire, and said "One day, I hope to take you there, and show you their wonders."

 

*

 

At Isengard, all the vast company broke apart, some to the south and some to the west, and Legolas and Gimli alone remained. Legolas told them that he would visit the Entwood with Gimli before they went back to their own lands, together. The hobbits all smiled at each other when he said that, and he wondered to himself if they knew -- but surely if they knew, Pippin would have made an endless nuisance of himself?  

 

Celeborn said “I shall take your daughter, myself, as far as the Narrows, and your father's guard will meet her there.” Legolas thanked him, and went a little way off with Certavoriel. She pressed her nose against his breast, and he held her close. “Tavor-nin," he whispered, "I shall see you again ere snow falls on the forest road, and we shall make your grandfather's halls ring with our song.”

 

Her voice was muffled against his tunic. “Will you bring Gimli with you?”

 

He drew back a little and lifted her chin, that he might see her face. She clasped his hands in hers. “I had intended to,” he said, cautiously.

 

“It is only that I am fond of him,” she said, “and a little that I want to see Grandfather's face when he realizes how fond you are of him.” Mischief colored her voice, and understanding, and perhaps a little tenderness, for she loved her father very much.

 

“Daughter—“ he said, and fell silent for a moment. “I have not spoken to him of my heart.”

 

She laughed, delightedly. “At least now you know your heart, Ada. The last time I teased you about Gimli I thought you would lose your temper entirely, and you did not know which way to look."

 

He kissed her brow, and she ran away from him to the company of Lórien, stopping only to bow to Gimli, and then in a rush of hoofbeats everyone was gone. He and Gimli were alone, for the first time since Minas Tirith.

 

The Entwood of Fangorn loomed over them, ancient and lovely and full of its own thoughts. Legolas trailed his fingers over furrowed bark and lichen, and listened closely to the voices. "My friend will hew no wood here," he said. He had seen the huorns and their anger, and he wanted no harm to come to Gimli. He reached back in his memory to the language of his youth, for the trees remembered that tongue, and sang of the time when a great forest stretched all across the land, from Fangorn to Lórien to Eryn Lasgalen, and even into Rhûn, which was now grasslands.

 

The Entwash cut across the whole south of the wood and up into the mountains, and on the second day they found a shelter of rock by a waterfall, and stopped there for the night. Even under the trees it was hot, for summer was fierce, and so they bathed in the river. The sight of Gimli, naked in the river-water, made Legolas's stomach twist, and he did his best to attend to his own travel-stained skin and not to look too long. He dug his nails into his hands as his friend, half-dressed, sat on his bedroll and spread his hair around him like a cloak to dry, and rummaged in his pack for his oil. He held the bottle out to Legolas. "Will you?" Legolas had done this twice, since the first time, but not since they left Minas Tirith. His fingers unclenched slowly, and he kept them from trembling only by force of will.

 

The oil slicked his palms, and its warm scent mingled with the scent of the forest around them. Gimli's beard slid against his skin. He had not known, when last he did this, what it meant to him. He had not known , and to do it now, knowing, was like lancing a wound. He was made for this, created and formed for Gimli, and if this was what Gimli wished of him, this he would do.

 

He completed his task, but he could not bring himself to remove his hands. Gimli's thumb brushed across his cheek. He had been weeping, in his relief and realization, and had not perceived it until Gimli touched him. He tightened his fingers in Gimli's beard, and Gimli's hands were on his face, holding him steady, drawing him down, and then Gimli kissed him. His mouth was as firm and sure as his hands, and when he released Legolas, Legolas could say "Kiss me again," into the space between their breaths.

 

Legolas had never before been kissed so that his whole body yearned for it, and he pressed into the second kiss and bore them both down upon the bedroll. Gimli's pulse hammered into his hands, and Gimli's strong thighs cradled him, and the dizzying scent of spices surrounded him. He could not think, only feel, and the forest, the river, all fell away as Gimli rolled them over and his red hair fell over them, making an autumn glade only large enough for two. Legolas arched upwards, and Gimli held him down. "Legolas. You will have to teach me. I've never--"

 

"Nor I," said Legolas, "you are new to me--this wanting is new to me--" He slid his fingers through Gimli's beard again, trying to arrange his thoughts. "Gimli. I know -- I know the mechanics of siring children . I do not know this, this fire between us; it consumes me, please, only do not stop."

 

"We will learn together, then," said Gimli, kissing him again. Legolas opened his mouth to it and Gimli cried out, then pulled away. "A game, perhaps, of who can please the other most--"

 

Legolas rolled him to his back again, laughing, shaking with the sheer joy of it.

 

*

They rode North.

 

"How old are you, anyway?" Gimli asked, on the third day since he had kissed Legolas, since they had lain together on the riverbank.

 

"Old and old," Legolas said. "To be quite honest, I lost count long ago, and could not tell you."  

 

Gimli laughed, a low rumble in his chest. "Please tell me my new daughter is younger than I am, at least."

 

"She is one hundred and thirty-three," said Legolas, "quite young enough to need your counsel."

 


 

The end.