This close to the start of first term there was no chance of snagging an empty compartment on the university train, but Legolas did manage to get a window seat. The rest of the compartment's occupants seemed to know each other and paid him little attention.
The train set off with a sharp blow of its whistle, settling into a rhythmic clatter as it picked up speed. The other students continued their conversation without pause.
Legolas checked his schedule twice, then a third time. The student next to him had brought a newspaper, and surrendered it gladly when requested. It was a local paper and the headlines were small in scope, being largely concerned with the goings on of the county. Legolas found he cared little for the politics of the world of Men, and even less for crime and society.
He closed the paper again and stared out the window. Trees and river gave way to villages of varying size and shape, until at last the train pulled into the bustling station that marked the end of the line.
There was a collection of porters waiting to take his trunk, and a new motorcar to transport Legolas and two others from the platform to their college. The two already knew each other, for they greeted each other in tones of great excitement and immediately began sharing the adventures of their summer. Legolas took the seat in the front of the vehicle and left them to their conversation.
The campus was as Legolas remembered it from enrolment some months before, full of green space dotted with copses of trees here and there, and paths lined with hedges and flower beds. It was not quite the pure fusion between nature and civilisation that the Elves would have constructed, had they taken the lead, but it was near enough to put him at ease.
The residence building was old by the standards of Men, but young by those of the Elves. Over the main gates the college motto was inscribed – Handë ar Cálë. He wasn't certain if 'knowledge and light' was intended to convey what the college provided or what its students should strive for.
His room was located at the fourth staircase, on the first floor. The bannister was carved underneath with twirling vines and ivy leaves, and it warmed him inside to feel them beneath his fingertips as he mounted the stair.
Owing to rapid expansion of the college in recent years, first years were expected to share their chambers. Accordingly, the sitting room was outfitted with two desks and two bookshelves. The bedroom was not too large, but could be divided by curtains on either side of the door if he or his roommate wished.
The second bed in the room was small, perhaps two-thirds the usual length. Legolas furrowed his brow. Of course, the campus was not just Elves and Men, but surely…!
He walked back into the sitting room. There was a welcome package on the left desk with his name printed in careful letters.
Reassured, he unpacked his bag and stowed everything carefully in the wardrobe at the end of the bed. He added some slim poetry volumes and a dictionary to the required texts that were already on his bookcase.
His suspicions about his roommate were realised when the door opened and a Dwarf strode in. They stared at each other in silence for several moments.
"Well," said the Dwarf, at length. "This is not what I expected."
Uncertain if he was being insulted, Legolas held his tongue.
The Dwarf stomped over to the desk and picked up the welcome package on it. "But I see there is no mistake. Unless perhaps yours is…?"
Legolas checked a second time. "No, mine is correct."
The Dwarf's shoulders slumped. "A fine joke this is, assigning a Dwarf to share with an Elf."
Now Legolas was starting to feel offended. "If it is a joke, I do not see the humour in it."
The Dwarf began unpacking. "I am Gimli, son of Glóin," he threw over his shoulder. "I come from Erebor, the city in the Lonely Mountain."
Legolas decided not to point out that he knew perfectly well where Erebor was. "Legolas," he said instead. "I come from Greenwood. My father is Thranduil, who rules there."
Gimli snorted. "Greenwood? Then your father has unpleasant history with mine." And he turned around and would speak no more.
Legolas rose. Perhaps he would fare better in conversation with the rest of the occupants of his staircase.
He could hear a commotion from upstairs and climbed the staircase curiously. The two doors on both sides of the landing were open, and the occupants were yelling to each other as they unpacked. Their voices were high, and their stature small – smaller than Dwarves, if they were not in fact shorter.
"I found your toothbrush, Merry!" cried one.
"Sam, I think this must be your boot. It doesn't fit me at all, and it's all covered in dirt."
The occupants noticed Legolas as one.
"Look, Frodo," said one, in what would probably be a quiet voice to all listeners but an Elf. "It's an Elf."
"Why don't you introduce yourself, Sam?" asked another, sounding amused.
"Oh, Mr. Frodo, I couldn't—"
"My room is downstairs. I am called Legolas." A memory stirred, a conversation he had overheard somewhere. He groped for the word in Westron. "You are… Halflings, are you not?"
"We are Hobbits from the Shire," said the amused one in the first room. "I am Frodo Baggins, this is Samwise Gamgee."
"And I'm Pippin," said one from the second room. "Peregrine, if you're feeling formal. And this is Meriadoc, called Merry."
"I am very pleased to meet you all," said Legolas.
"And I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn. My room is on the ground floor," said a new arrival, pacing into the hall from the staircase.
"Strider!" said the Hobbits. "I didn't expect you here."
"No? Then you have not as much faith in Gandalf as you should, for it is undoubtedly at his request that I am on your staircase. I have already made the acquaintance of your other downstairs neighbour."
Gimli emerged from the staircase behind him, and the introductions were made again.
"Baggins?" said Gimli. "Why, you must be related to my father's friend, Bilbo."
"My uncle," said Frodo. "Then your father is the Glóin my uncle travelled with? What a surprise to meet you here!"
The two embraced as old friends.
"How is your uncle? I have met him but twice, once when I was but a wee lad, and the last perhaps a decade ago."
A shadow passed over Frodo's face. "He is old now, for a Hobbit. He retired to Rivendell last summer. I spent a fortnight with him there, before we came to the university."
Gimli frowned. "Rivendell! When he would have been welcome in the Lonely Mountain as long as he wanted."
Frodo smiled. "Well, you'd have to ask him why. He never explained his reasons to me."
"There is one more on our staircase, but he hasn't arrived yet," said Aragorn. "I expect we'll see him at dinner."
Aragorn was the only student among them who was not in his first year, and took it upon himself to give them an insider's view of the college.
He explained that during the first week, students were assigned to sit with those on their staircase for dinner. For the rest of the year, they would be allowed to choose their seating. Full academic dress was expected for meals and lectures throughout the year.
"If you're interested in joining the inter-college sports tournament, the signup sheets are in the J.C.R.," said Aragorn, as he led them to the dining hall. "There are team and individual sports, and a large varsity tournament in the spring."
Their final companion turned out to be a tall Man with a serious demeanour. He sat across from Aragorn and glanced up and down the table. "I am Boromir, of Gondor."
Aragorn looked at him with interest. "Boromir, son of Denethor, the Steward of Gondor?"
Boromir's expression darkened. "That is correct."
"I had wondered if you were that Boromir. I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn." He paused as if he would say more.
The Hobbits tumbled into their own introductions – addressing Boromir as if they had known him for years – followed by Legolas and Gimli. Aragorn sat back in his seat and the moment passed.
For dessert, Legolas followed the stream of students to the Junior Common Room. In contrast to the dining hall, the J.C.R. was divided mostly into single-race groups. After some consideration, Legolas seated himself with a group of Elves who revealed themselves, by their accents, to be from Rivendell.
They greeted him in Sindarin, and Legolas was relieved to hear his own language after several days with only Westron around him.
They were fascinated to meet an Elf from Greenwood, and though their tone was of curiosity, not mocking, Legolas found himself discomfited by their interest.
"We haven't had many Elves from Greenwood come here," said one of them. "Most of us are from Rivendell." As someone cleared their throat in protest, he continued, "Although there are some from Lothlórien, of course. But you Wood Elves are insular. No offence."
"What made you decide to come here?" asked another.
Legolas didn't really want to get into his relationship with his father and his home forest with a lot of strangers, even if they were Elves. "I heard Mithrandir was teaching here, and I wished to study under him."
There was a chorus of nods along the table. "Oh, now that is understandable," said one. "He is a great teacher."
"Is it true that the Elves of Greenwood live underground?" asked one of the Lothlórien Elves.
"It is true, although I feel underground does not do justice to the halls of the city. It was built in the old style after Menegroth, and much attention was paid to the stonework. I find the city as beautiful in its way as any."
"He's right," said an Elf at the end of the table. "I've been there, many years ago."
"I don't think I should like to live so far from the wind and sky," said another.
"Then let me reassure you, we honour the light and stars in any way we can. There are many exits from the city and places to watch the night sky from above the tree canopy."
"Your accent is delightful," said one, hiding a smile behind his hand. "Say something for me." The request was followed by a chorus of repetitions.
"What would you have me say?" he asked, which seemed to be enough for them.
"Do you speak the Silvan language as well?" asked one of the others. "I've always wanted to learn."
"A little," said Legolas. Tauriel had taught him some of her parents' tongue, when they were younger. "It's not very common, even in Greenwood."
"That's disappointing. I would not like the language to completely disappear."
"There are efforts to reclaim it," Legolas pointed out. "But there are few who speak it as a birth tongue in this time."
The conversation turned to the various other Elvish languages and their fates. "For all we think ourselves eternal, we are not immune from change," proclaimed one Elf.
This statement was met with varying levels of agreement. Legolas found himself with very little to add to the conversation, not being used to the depth of philosophical discussion these students had developed.
As the night wore on, he resolved to find another group the next evening.
The final bell for the evening rang at ten o'clock, intended to remind distracted students of the late night curfew on campus grounds.
For races that slept long hours every night, it also served as a reminder of the importance of that act.
Dwarves, Legolas discovered, did not sleep well in the presence of light – not even dim light behind a closed curtain.
"Blasted Elves," Gimli grumbled. "Why can't you just sleep like normal people?"
Rest Legolas had, for several hours. But he was not made for lying on his bed, listening to his roommate snore and the soft sounds of night in the distance.
He rose and carefully opened the door, not even making a sound to his own ears.
He lit the lamp in their sitting room, hoping that the light under the door wouldn't be enough to keep Gimli awake. The campus handbook consisted mostly of legal language describing the responsibilities of the college, the names of the faculty and staff, and the various policies and procedures guiding student behaviour.
There was an inside slip in the back page, with less general information.
It is suggested that Elf students seeking entertainment during the wee hours of the night may wish to check the common room on the third floor of the east wing.
Legolas thought back to his experiences with the earlier meal. Perhaps he would delay that until his presence was less of a novelty at the college.
The booklet also mentioned that the library was open all night, albeit unattended by any librarians. He decided that would be better a option for this night.
As he reached the bottom of the staircase, he saw light seeping under the bottom of Aragorn's door. After a moment's thought, he knocked softly.
Aragorn opened the door momentarily. "Oh, it's you, Legolas," he said. "I thought perhaps it was one of the Hobbits. I fear they are likely to get homesick."
"My roommate objects to my having the lamp on while he attempts to sleep," Legolas explained.
"Ah," said Aragorn. He invited Legolas inside. His chambers sported a separated dining room and study, and the closed door on the far wall surely concealed a good-sized bedroom.
"I know it's forbidden to leave the college after eleven o'clock," began Legolas, "but is there a somewhat private place to go from where I can see the stars?"
Aragorn thought for a moment. "There is a balcony off the fourth floor stairwell in the library. If I want a quiet moment at night, that's where I go."
Legolas wondered if Aragorn would follow him, but the Man remained in his room. Legolas stepped out into the quadrangle, breathing the night air deeply. He circumnavigated the quad quickly, finding the door to the library unlocked as promised.
He didn't encounter any other beings as he made his way up the stairs to the balcony Aragorn mentioned. The balcony was unadorned, save a cold stone bench surrounding the three walls. He curled up against the far wall and turned his gaze to the sky.
It was a clear night – rare now in October, and to become rarer still as the year wore on – and he could see the stars flickering above, scarcely different from the way they looked above Greenwood's canopy.
This late at night, he couldn't even make out the now-ubiquitous roar of motor vehicles. The night was never silent to Elven hearing, but that lack made it seem quieter to his ears.
It was not the place of the Elves to despair of progress, though they withdrew themselves from the everyday lives of Men. Motor vehicles and locomotives were not going away, nor were telephones and gramophones or any of the other noise-making devices of the age of electricity.
He had yet to see any of them in the Elvenking's Halls, however.
Before making his way to Gandalf's chambers for his initiation interview, Legolas found his way to the J.C.R and contemplated the sporting signup sheet for some time. He had no idea how his archery skills would hold up to other Elves – or even talented Men, as it seemed archery contests worked on a handicap basis here. But it could not hurt to try out, so he wrote his name up carefully.
There were some Dwarf names in the archery signup, along with Men and Elves. He saw Gimli's name written in the sheet for axe-throwing, a sport that appeared to be entirely limited to Dwarves.
Frodo was leaving Gandalf's office as Legolas arrived. He seemed pleased.
Legolas had met Gandalf before, of course, but only in brief moments when the wizard took it upon himself to visit the lord of Greenwood. As the centuries moulded society and the old borders shifted and changed, those times had become few and far between. He estimated it had been at least six decades since he'd last seen Gandalf.
He knocked, and received a short 'come in' in reply.
Gandalf looked at him as Legolas arranged himself on the chair opposite Gandalf's imposing dark wood desk.
"The woodland realm is not known for its interest in academia," said Gandalf, at last. "What brings you here, Legolas, son of Thranduil?"
"I know," said Legolas. "But we cannot remain locked away in the past, even in Greenwood. The world is changing all around us. Am I not welcome here, Mithrandir?"
Gandalf sat back and let out a steady stream of smoke from his pipe. "You are welcome here, although I do not think you appreciate just how the university experience will change you."
Legolas considered this statement for a moment.
"Have you given any thought to what you wish to read? You'll be in my general studies course, naturally." All first year students took Gandalf's course for the first year. It was the primary reason Legolas had enrolled in this college. "In second term, you will be asked to specialise in one or more topics from the first term course. So you do not need to decide between history and politics right now."
"I had thought to read natural sciences," Legolas admitted. "If that is at all possible."
Gandalf's browse rose. "An interesting choice." He ran his finger down a long list on his desk. "I can tutor you for that, but you will attend lectures at Fornost Hall with Master Bregor."
They exchanged names and schedule information, and Gandalf promised to send a scout with the official course information once he had it.
Gandalf also outlined the college's various rules and regulations, most of which Legolas had already learned from Aragorn the previous night.
"About my roommate," Legolas began.
Gandalf looked at him for a long moment, then leant back again and puffed three circles into the air. "The room assignments are random," he said at last. "You can request a change, but they do require a good reason for it."
"Then how is it that the Hobbits are all together?" asked Legolas.
"They were given special dispensation to room in pairs together, since they are the only members of their kind at the university."
Legolas considered this. "That is fair," he decided. "Still, it seems an unfortunate choice."
Gandalf leaned forward again. "Come now, Legolas, surely the harsh feelings between Elves and Dwarves is far in the past."
So Gandalf had known who Legolas was rooming with.
Legolas laughed. "I would that it were so, but in this case there are more recent hurts to be concerned about."
Gandalf smiled. "I am sure Master Gimli will see fit to let it go, in time, assuming he doesn't find your own behaviour offensive in some fashion. Please send in the next person when you leave."
Legolas was uncertain about this response, since in his thus-far limited experience Dwarves seemed easy to offend, but Gandalf did not seem inclined to discuss the matter further.
He sent Pippin in as he departed.
The first archery practices were scheduled for the first Saturday of term.
Legolas was thankful he had brought his bow – he had considered leaving it behind, uncertain if he wanted to use it at university. But as he strung it now, feeling the weight of it in his hand and tensing the string, he had no cause to regret his decision.
"We'll have all the new students try a few different targets so we can assess your skill level," said the instructor, directing them to the far end of the practice field. She was a tall female of the race of Men, and dared them to make an issue of it with a look.
Legolas joined a group of Men, Elves and a Dwarf. It shouldn't have surprised him, and yet somehow he was unsettled to find a Dwarven archer shooting at his side.
"I won't insult your skills by having you shoot the first targets," the instructor told the Elves, grinning. She led them to the third target, which was still a trivial distance away for Legolas. "You get three shots at each target, don't go to collect your arrows until the whistle blows, you have to be within the yellow ring to proceed to the next target."
Legolas hoped he would not be too out of practice. He proceeded through the first three targets with ease, along with his two companions.
It was strange to be shooting at a motionless target again, so long after he had first learned to handle his bow. On the next target, his first shot made the yellow ring, but only just. He took a moment to relax, feeling the wind teasing at his braids and gauging its strength.
His next shot hit dead centre.
By the time he reached the end of the range, he was alone amongst the recruits, and the instructor was looking a little embarrassed. "It's not that we don't want you on the team," she explained, "but won't your skills be wasted here? You could shoot professionally, if you wanted."
Legolas tried to imaging his father's reaction if he announced an intention to become a professional archer. He shook his head. "I've never shot competitively before."
The instructor looked at him doubtfully. "Well, this is the best place to learn. I can't imagine you'll find it much of a challenge, though."
"My shooting was not perfect," he protested. "I outpaced the other new recruits, but that is all."
She looked at him for a moment, then stuck out her hand. "Then welcome to the team."
It seemed that Gimli liked to study with the wireless radio on. It was set to a volume that Gimli probably considered low, but was perfectly audible to Elven ears. The crackle of static set Legolas's teeth on edge but he felt compelled to try and listen through it to make out whatever was being discussed on air.
The wireless was currently babbling a review of some new moving picture, which had so many layers of lack of interest to Legolas it defied counting, and yet he found himself unable to stop listening.
After the second time he carefully wrote the title of the film into his draft instead of the subject of the essay, he decided he had had enough. He dug his fingernails into his palm and said, as politely as he could manage, "Could you please turn that off?"
Legolas had to repeat himself twice before Gimli looked up from his writing. "What?"
"The wireless. Could you turn it off? Please," he added belatedly. Even Dwarves could respond well to politeness.
"I like having it on," protested Gimli. "You can barely hear it."
"No, you can barely hear it," he snapped. "If Dwarves were not so impaired in their hearing—"
Gimli snorted. "If Elvish hearing were not unnatural—"
"Unnatural! It is Dwarves that are unnatural—"
"That is not the story the Dwarves tell," Gimli interrupted forcefully. "It does not surprise me the Elves are biased in these things."
"We are not—" Legolas shook his head. "This is a ridiculous argument. Just turn off the wireless, please."
"You started it," muttered Gimli, but it sounded like he meant it as a joke. Perhaps. "It's too quiet if I turn off the wireless. I find it difficult to concentrate. I can turn it down more, if that pleases you."
'Too quiet' was rarely an issue for an Elf. There was always noise to be found somewhere, if you listened enough. "Do not bother yourself. I will go to the library," he declared, hoping he didn't sound as petulant as he suspected.
It was not as if the Dwarf would even miss his presence.
Saturday mornings were dedicated to athletic practices, but the long hours following were free for all students. Legolas divided his time between the library, walking the various trails around campus and along the river, and joining the rest of the undergraduate body in the Junior Common Room.
One such Saturday, as Legolas sat with Sam and Frodo at their usual table in the common room, Merry and Pippin burst in, visibly excited and as smug as any feline.
"We've just been down in the village," started Pippin.
"There's a place there that sells tea and coffee," added Merry quickly.
"Well, I don't know about buying tea when we've perfectly good kettle and teapot here," said Sam.
"Ah, but that's not the best thing. They will make you bacon and eggs whenever you want."
"And cakes, too," said Merry. "And fried potatoes."
"Potatoes and gravy!" adde Pippin.
"Whenever you want?" repeated Sam, his eyes widening.
"And," said Merry, "there's a pub that serves beer in pints."
"Their potatoes are not as good as the coffee shop's, though," Pippin proclaimed.
"It's only three, and you've already been to a coffee shop and the pub?" asked Frodo, laughing.
"You should come with us next week," said Merry. "You too, Legolas."
The invitation was repeated to Gimli that evening at dinner, then to the rest of their dining companions.
Gimli seemed dubious, shooting a glance at Legolas like he expected the invitation to be retracted. "Will the Elf be coming?" he asked.
Pippin looked disappointed. "Don't you two like each other?"
Gimli looked faintly embarrassed. "No, it's just… we have history. My father and his party were arrested for trespassing when they passed through Greenwood. They might still be locked up if it weren't for Frodo's uncle Bilbo."
Frodo grinned. "I remember this story. It seems funnier when Bilbo tells it."
"There is no love lost between my father and the Dwarves of Erebor," admitted Legolas. "But things between the two nations are civil now."
"The nations, perhaps," muttered Gimli. "The individuals, that will take some work."
At this, the Hobbits looked so upset that Gimli agreed to join them the next week despite his misgivings.
As with all students, Legolas had a scheduled weekly meeting with his tutor. Gandalf had very little patience for the bureaucracy of university teaching, and made it very clear that this time would be productive for them both or it would not happen.
"You are happy with your studies?" Gandalf prompted, at the end of the fourth week of term. Legolas reassured him that he was. "Any issues with the other students?"
"They are very young," said Legolas, after a moment. "Even the Elves have barely come of age." As one of the youngest in Greenwood, he wasn't used to feeling like he should be the voice of experience. "The Hobbits are… unique."
"Hobbits could make any of us feel old. Even their elders quarrel like children." Gandalf let out a long stream of smoke from his pipe. "Still, they are a resilient folk and I am very fond of them."
"They are quite remarkable. It is a relief for me to be around such merriment." There had been little enough of that around Thranduil's house, of late.
Gandalf regarded him thoughtfully. "Try to keep the peace with your roommate, wherever possible," he added. "It is long past time for some feuds to end."
Legolas pondered that proposition. He had been limiting his interaction with Gimli as much as possible, both because of his own wrong-footedness with the Dwarf and that he thought it would make Gimli more comfortable.
"I can try," he said, although his heart was heavy with doubt.
"Sometimes peace begins with the smallest of steps," said Gandalf. He settled back into his chair and closed his eyes.
Taking this as a dismissal, Legolas left.
After some discussion back and forth, Thranduil had agreed to have Greenwood joined to the central postal service, so several days a week mail was delivered to the Halls of the Elvenking.
Once they reached the midpoint of term, Legolas realised he hadn't written since week two and it was probably time to send a letter back.
He set his pen to paper, then paused. Safe topics for discussion with his father included archery and most of what Gandalf was covering in his lectures. It did not include Dwarves, and it seemed disloyal to talk about his friends in anything other than general terms.
He doodled on his blotter while he thought. A tree took form beneath his pen, tall and knotted like his favourite haunt in Greenwood.
Perhaps he would write to Tauriel instead. He had an address for her, although it was merely a request to forward it through a post office.
Gimli growled at him from his own desk. "You're singing again."
Legolas paused. "Am I?" When he stopped and thought about it, he supposed he had been singing – some tune that had been popular in Greenwood last season he'd been reminded of earlier. "I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apologise, just stop doing it!"
"But if I'm not aware I'm doing it, it's difficult to stop," he protested.
He had the impression that Gimli was counting to ten before responding, and wondered if Gandalf had had similar words to say to him during his latest interview.
"You are always singing," said Gimli.
"But why do you not? Do Dwarves not have songs?" asked Legolas.
"None that we care to share with outsiders," he replied. "And if we did, we would certainly not hum them constantly. Sound travels in the Mountain."
"It sounds like a sad place, your Mountain," said Legolas without thinking.
"And your Forest sounds like a cacophonous mess," said Gimli. "But if I can avoid the need to wear earplugs here, I would appreciate it."
Legolas sighed. "I will try."
Sunday afternoons at the coffee shop became a weekly standing event, and before long it was not uncommon for groups of ten or more to gather over breakfast foods obediently served out of their proper hours. They argued about politics, literature and whatever else happened to cross the table.
Before the university, Legolas had not had any particular interest in the vagaries of mortal politics. They changed with alarming frequency, and there was so much variation from country to country that it seemed an impossible task to keep up with.
Being around so many mortals now, he found himself unwittingly drawn into debates – or his ignorance being used as a vehicle to explain why a particular system was superior to another, and vice versa.
He didn't particularly mind.
"You're still in a monarchy in Greenwood, no?" prompted one debater, a friend of Boromir's from another college.
"It's a little more complex than that," said Legolas. "Trying to apply mortal political systems to Elves is complicated." There was no expectation of change in Greenwood. Disagreements and dissatisfaction with his father's rule had to be addressed when they came up, whilst mortals may be tempted to just wait for the death of the ruler.
"So you don't consider yourself a prince?" prompted one of the Men, one of Merry's classmates whose name Legolas had failed to catch.
"Not the way Men do," said Legolas. "Although it is true that I've been afforded certain privileges in life thanks to my father's status." This statement launched another fierce debate about class and wealth.
The group quickly learned that if they wished to keep conversation civil, they should avoid the issue of Elves and Dwarves and the tension between the two races.
"It's a bit old-fashioned, don't you think? It's time to eradicate the old prejudices and move to an age of equality."
"Elves have long memories," Legolas pointed out. "We cannot forget the past the way mortals do."
"Aye, and don't you think the Dwarves forget old slights either," said Gimli. He narrowed his eyes at Legolas.
"But it wasn't always that way," Sam pointed out. Uncomfortable with suddenly being the centre of attention, he turned bright red. "I just meant, Elves and Dwarves used to work together to build things, didn't they?"
"Well, you can't blame the Dwarves for ending the friendship," muttered Gimli.
"And yet I do not think it was the Elves," said Legolas thoughtfully.
"Somehow I don't think arguing about whose fault it is will get us anywhere," Frodo pointed out, smiling. He steered the conversation around to the latest sporting news, and the topic was dropped.
Autumn turned to winter, and before long it was the end of term and the college was packing to return to their families for the winter solstice and turning of the year, by the calendar of Men.
Their rooms were to be locked over the vacation, so he packed only the minimum for a short stay for the train journey home.
It was only surprising in that it had not occurred to Legolas to think of it, that Gimli and Legolas were on the same train home. Erebor was not so far from Greenwood, and the train that passed through Lake-town stopped at Erebor soon after.
The Hobbits were chattering excitedly about their Yule plans and the presents they'd bought in town to bring back to their friends and family. It seemed like the midwinter festival was a big event in the Shire.
Legolas and Gimli parted ways with the Hobbits at the Bree interchange and found themselves sitting opposite each other in a mostly empty carriage.
Legolas focused his attention on the landscape slipping by at ever increasing speed. It had only been three months, but already it seemed new. Here a row of trees had been cleared, there a new house was going up.
Gimli made an attempt to read the paper, but Legolas kept catching him glancing at Legolas over the top of it.
"Do Dwarves celebrate midwinter?" asked Legolas.
Gimli seemed to mull this statement over, examining it for any potential insult. "Just because Dwarves live underground it doesn't mean we pay no attention to the seasons," he said, his brows lowered in suspicion. "We still eat and drink as much as any mortal race, and all that depends on the cycle of the natural world."
"I apologise. It was not my intention to cause offence. For Elves we know it as the longest night of the year," he said, sensing perhaps it would be more polite to offer something of his own culture before demanding information on someone else's. "In Greenwood we mark it with wine and staying up to greet the dawn, but it is not a specific festival." The wine part, at least, could apply to any of Greenwood's celebrations. Thranduil was very fond of wine.
Gimli shook his head. "In Erebor we celebrate new year on the last new moon of autumn, and Durin's Day, should the moon be visible with the sun on that day. We don't mark the solstice."
Legolas nodded, and settled back into his own seat. "It seems to be an important celebration for both Men and Hobbits."
"It would not surprise me to find out that Hobbits have a feast occasion for every moon," said Gimli.
Legolas laughed. "It would not me either, although I suppose we would have been invited to join such a celebration by now." There had certainly been enough other celebrations to keep their staircase occupied.
Gimli snorted in agreement, and picked up his newspaper again. He opened it to a random page, and this time Legolas let him read.
Thranduil welcomed Legolas back with a feast in his honour, much to Legolas's discomfort, and then proceeded to avoid the topic of the university altogether for the rest of the evening.
Some of his younger acquaintances wanted to know more about Men and Dwarves, although the latter topic was always brought up furtively. That he was sharing his living chambers with a Dwarf Legolas elected not to share, even then.
Greenwood did not seem to have changed in his absence, so he wondered why he felt so out of place in it now. At every meal, he found himself turning to absent friends to share some tidbit of information or ask a question.
Gandalf had told him the university experience would change him. He had thought that Gandalf referred only to what such prolonged absence from his people might do to him, but now he wondered if it was something more subtle he had in mind.
He wrote to Tauriel of his thoughts, although he had little hope of receiving a reply until he returned to university. He reminded her of his college address and departure date accordingly.
Legolas resolved to spend as much time as possible doing the things that were not possible at the university, and thus spent long hours wandering the forest, humming to himself as he re-examined it in the new light of his studies.
"It is not my right to restrict your movements," his father said, over one of their private dinners. "But I must ask if you are sure on this direction. You seem ill at ease."
"I am certain," he said, surprised at the rightness of the words once they were out there. "It is not my way to retreat because of a little discomfort."
"I distrust the ways of Men," said Thranduil. "They have no foresight."
"But we are a part of the same world and their actions affect us all the same," Legolas pointed out. "We gain nothing and lose much by withdrawing from their affairs."
Thranduil looked at him long and hard. "Just do not forget that we were here when these cities were built, and we will still be here when they fall to the ground."
"I am not so old as that yet," Legolas pointed out. "Even the university was established before my birth. But your point is taken."