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The Pirates of Erebor

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I

Legolas listens as the Suldal’s cannons boom out again and again. The vibration from the shot shudders up through the berth.

Surely the pirates will attempt to board soon. Last Legolas could see it through his cabin’s stern window, the pirate ship was turning to the Suldal’s port side. Unconsciously, Legolas’ fingers curve in the shape of the smooth handles of his pistols, his hands sliding along the heavy fabric at his waist where his gun belt should be.

There’s nothing there. Legolas had to leave his pistols behind on Greenwood. Instead, he turns the chair to face the door and sits, tense.

The door opens and Legolas starts, half-standing, but it is only Tauriel.

“This is our last chance,” Tauriel says. “We can still switch places.”

“Impossible,” Legolas says. “You know they will be looking for Linnaril’s golden hair.” He runs one hand over his own blonde hair for emphasis.

“Sending you into danger like this—” Tauriel says. They have already had this argument, several times over. Tauriel’s tone is angry, but Legolas knows her too well. He can see the pleading in her eyes, the sense of helplessness in her crossed arms.

Legolas shakes his head. He stands so he can place his hands on Tauriel shoulders. “My father chose me for this quest,” Legolas reminds her. “And you are needed here. Your crew needs you.”

Tauriel hesitates, her mouth twisting in discomfort. She breathes out once and nods, conceding. She presses her forehead to Legolas’. “Be well, my prince,” she says. “Do not forget what I have said.”

She turns, and is already shouting orders to the crew before the door shuts behind her.

Legolas locks the door behind her.

He sits back down, arranging the unfamiliar skirts of the dress around him, yanking in sharp jerks to try to get them to lay flat.

Legolas forces himself still. He thinks about what Tauriel told him when they first learned of the pirate plot to kidnap Legolas’ cousin, Linnaril. Tauriel warned him about dwarven cunning. Tauriel has spent more time at sea than home on the isle of Greenwood, and knows better than most the ways of dwarves. She told him that he might find dwarves uncouth and uncivilized, but that he must never underestimate them.

His breath comes shallowly; he waits.

The shots grow uneven, and from the deck now comes the sound of the fight joined. The pirates have boarded. Legolas can hear their horrible battle cries and curses as they come. He clenches his teeth against the feeling that he should be out there, defending his ship and his people. Legolas forces himself to keep his seat.

A thump from the outside hits the locked door. A second thump makes the door jam splinter, and with a third thump the door bursts inward, revealing the broad short form of a redheaded dwarf.

“Lady Linnaril,” announces the pirate, “I will have to ask you to come with me.”

Legolas sneers. “And if I refuse to go with you?” he asks.

The light pouring in from the entryway silhouettes the pirate; his stance is a little too open. If Legolas had a weapon—

The pirate hefts his boarding axe, not in attack, but with a workman-like air. “I am afraid I would then have to insist.”

Legolas suppresses a look toward the weapon cabinet as he stands.

“Very well,” he says. The dwarf bows in a mockery of courtesy. Legolas is gratified to see the dwarf at least cranes his neck a little uncertainly at Legolas’ height as they exit the cabin.

Right outside is a group of five or six dwarves facing outward, blocking off the cabin from the battle heaving on the rest of the deck. All the small elven crew is locked in fierce fighting with the pirates, some already bleeding onto the deck. Legolas’ heart twists to see his people fighting so bravely, and for such a false purpose.

One of the guarding dwarves turns toward them. “She’s coming around again,” he says to the pirate beside Legolas.

“Let us move,” the pirate growls, and together the group encircles them as they make their way to the ship’s railing.

From across the deck Legolas catches sight of Tauriel. “Captain!” he cries.

Her eyes snap to his. “Ai, my lady!” she cries, the anguish in her voice genuine. As planned, she begins to fight her way toward them.

The pirate ship is drawing alongside, but slowly, too slowly. Tauriel mustn’t reach them. “Well, then,” says Legolas to his captor, not hiding his contempt. “How are you proposing we go across? Shall I toss you?”

The pirate’s reply is a murderous look. “Kili,” he says, and one of the dwarves turns to catch the axe he slings to him. The pirate jumps on the railing in time to catch a rope that swings across from the other ship. He bends to wrap his other arm about Legolas’ waist.

“Forgive my impudence, Lady,” he says, “but nobody tosses a dwarf.”

Legolas’ reaches out to clutch over the pirates’ hand on the rope as they swing across, but the pirate’s grip is as solid as rock about his waist.

Their height difference means Legolas’ legs dangle far lower than the pirate’s. When they hit the deck of the pirate ship, he cannot pull his feet up high enough. Legolas’ ankle twists with a tearing pain.

They stumble together for a few steps, and then the dwarf rights them.

“Away, come away!” comes the cry from the other ship. All the pirates are returning back across now, many wounded, Legolas notes with dark satisfaction.

The pirate ship is turning north, toward the isle of Erebor, and the Suldal turns with her in feigned pursuit. Tauriel knows her business and her ship; Legolas doesn’t doubt she will give a convincing chase.

Another familiar-looking redheaded dwarf stands at the forecastle, yelling orders. He gives a wordless nod to the pirate at Legolas’ side, who in turn looks up at Legolas.

“I’ll show you to your cabin,” he says, guiding Legolas toward the quarterdeck with a light touch to his arm.

“No cell in the hold for me?” Legolas asks, archly.

“My lady, you are hurt?” the pirate says in reply, looking to where Legolas is favoring his left foot. “Here now, Gamil,” he says, and a young dwarf near at hand turns. “Fetch some bandages to the cabin laid aside for Lady Linnaril.”

“Yes, sir!” he answers, already running off.

The pirate offers his arm, but Legolas pretends not to see it. They pass through the chaotic crowd of dwarves on deck.

**

The cabin is narrow, but the chair the pirate offers is comfortable enough.

“Pardon me, lady.” The dwarf kneels before him, taking his left foot into his hand and sliding off the impractical slipper.

“I don’t even know how to address you,” Legolas says, shocked by this fresh impudence.

The dwarf grins up at him, his smile too wide. “I am called Gimli, son of Gloin.” He looks back down and presses firmly in the middle of his foot. “Does that hurt?”

“No.”

Gimli presses slowly up Legolas’ ankle. “And now?”

Legolas shakes his head, watching the dwarf’s heavy hand upon his leg.

Gimli grunts approvingly. “Just a sprain, then. You elves are heartier than your appearance suggests.” When the boy comes in with the bandages, Gimli takes them and winds Legolas’ ankle in a tight crisscross wrap.

“That will be all,” he says to the dwarf boy as he stands.

“Yes, sir!” The boy salutes as he leaves.

Gimli rocks back on his heels and then comes to his feet with a sigh. He looks away toward the window. “We will come to Erebor in only a few days,” he says, not looking back to Legolas. “Until then, I am at your service should you require anything.”

Gimli locks the door behind him and Legolas is left alone in the dark cabin.

The hours pass, broken only by a skittish cabin boy bringing him a meal. In the evening, Gimli comes to check on him and his ankle. Between times, the cabin is oppressive, and Legolas’ only comfort is the sea visible through his tiny cabin window.

When Gimli comes on the second afternoon, he extends an invitation as he checks Legolas’ ankle. “My father, Captain Gloin, is giving dinner to the officers in his cabin tonight. He has given me leave to bring you as my guest, if you would come?”

“You would play escort to a Lady of Greenwood?” Legolas asks incredulously.

The dwarf has the audacity to look offended. “Please do not misunderstand, my lady, for I have no quarrel with you. There is little love lost between our peoples, and minding an elf is no prized task.”

“How is it, then, that you come to be warden to your prisoner?” Legolas asks, sarcastically.

“I am given charge of you because I am the youngest of the officers on this mission,” Gimli replies. “But if you can but bear it, it would be this dwarf lord’s honor to accompany an elf lady to dinner.”

He speaks well, for a dwarf, with circumstances such as they are. It hurts Legolas’ pride, but the chance to escape this cabin even momentarily is a tempting offer. Legolas bows his head. “Very well.”

Thus Legolas finds himself lead above deck for a sweet moment of fresh air. The bell is just ringing six as they enter another low cabin. This one is considerably larger but is filled nearly to the walls with one long table. All the remaining space given to the company of dwarves and their distressingly loud merry making.

Gimli guides Legolas to the far end of the table. Legolas perches awkwardly on the low dwarven chair. He slides his too-long legs under the seat, careful of his still tender ankle. A mug of ale is set before him, and roasted meat and potatoes are piled on his plate.

The dwarf Legolas presumes to be Captain Gloin gets to his feet and raises his mug of beer. “Dear company, let us have a toast.” The assembled dwarves raise their own mugs. “To good oak under our feet at sea, to good stone over our heads on land, and above all, to our king!”

“To our king!” cheer all the dwarves, and they knock back their drink. They fall to eating, their talk and laughter spilling between bites.

There is no silverware, and a quick glance confirms that the dwarves are all eating with their hands. Legolas tentatively picks the food up in his fingers, his nose wrinkling. The meat is edible, but the potatoes are boiled and unseasoned, and the ale worse: flavorless and weak.

Legolas turns his attention to the conversations around him. Beside him, Gimli is engaged in an animated discussion of trade in the western archipelago, an area Legolas knows as a realm of men and hobbits and little else. On Legolas’ other side the dwarves give him a suspicious look and switch to speaking in their private dwarf language.

Legolas returns to picking at his meal, but finds himself being put off no less by dwarven table manners than by the food. To his right, a white-haired dwarf pulls a knife out of his boot and uses it to cut a tough piece of meat before shoving it back out of sight. Legolas pales and sets his own piece of meat back on his plate.

Two places down on his left, one younger dwarf lets out a long, wet-sounding belch.

This is too much; Legolas has to say something. Just as he opens his mouth, the captain is on his feet and around him the other dwarves raise the cry for all attendants’ attention.

“Now for some music!” the captain announces.

There is a great deal of bustle and laughter as they call for their instruments. But before they can begin, one dark-haired dwarf seated nearer the captain speaks up. “Wait, why not let the Lady Linnaril sing?”

Like all his people, Legolas sings. However, he is here alone and oppressed by the low ceiling, close walls, and the unfriendly gazes of the dwarves all about him. He does not feel like singing.

Gloin gazes at Legolas appraisingly, and then nods. “Very well, Kili,” he says to the dwarf beside him. “If you wish it, let us hear some elf song.”

Gimli must see the resistance on Legolas’ face, as he touches his hand and says, “My lady, will you not favor us with a song?”

Legolas feels a swell of defiant pride, for his people are, after all, great musicians. He gets to his feet. He throws his hair back over his shoulders and takes a full breath and begins The Western Wood of Nimbrethil.

For a moment, he is not a captive on a pirate ship. He closes his eyes. The low ceiling becomes the bows of the evergreens and birches of Nimbrethil, and he glides gently under them. Legolas catches sight of Earendil through the trees, his long white sleeves trailing among the leaf litter. Legolas can hear Elwing calling Earendil home, but still Earendil walks among the trees, whispering to the birches, looking for those he will use in crafting his ship.

The dwarves for their part are quiet enough while he is singing, but when he finishes there is more murmuring and suppressed laughter than clapping. Even the dwarf Kili has a strange expression, as if the song is an odd puzzle he must figure out.

“Well then,” says Gloin. “Our guest has shared her music with us, so let us show her some of our own!”

The dwarves meet this with raucous enthusiasm. Instruments of all kinds are brought forth, fiddles and viols, pipes and flutes, clarinets, and drums. They begin a noisy sailing song all at once. The dwarves with instruments and those without equally join their voices.

Legolas watches in amazement. He had thought their merrymaking before loud, but it was nothing compared to the cacophony of dwarven music. The dwarves hoot and holler through the entirety of the song. The musicians abuse their instruments most cruelly. Those without instruments bang the table with their hands or thump their heavy boots on the floor. When they bring the song to its conclusion, all the dwarves shout together so loudly that Legolas’ ears ring.

More drink is brought out, and most of the pirates launch into a second song, but to Legolas’ relief it is of a relatively slower, quieter pace. Some dwarves break off into conversations with their nearby companions. The dark-haired dwarf from before, Kili, comes toward them.

“Cousin,” he says warmly to Gimli, “might I join you?”

“Oh, aye, for whatever would I do without a princeling sticking his nose in,” Gimli complains, even as he jumps up to give Kili his seat.

While he fetches another chair from the wall, Kili winks at Legolas.

“It looked as if Lady Linnaril didn’t much like her beer, so I thought I might bring over something a bit better.” Kili holds up a bottle of murky colored liquid, sloshing it a bit in the bottle for emphasis.

“Well, why didn’t you say so!” Gimli says, sitting back down. Soon three glasses are poured out. Legolas takes his suspiciously, but finds it is pleasantly spiced mead.

“Well, there now,” Kili says, “the Lady can smile. Your conversation must be even worse than usual to leave her looking so dour, Gimli.”

“At least I had the sense not to embarrass her in front of the whole table,” Gimli says. “Begging your pardon, my lady.”

“My lady, I am sorry if I have played the boor,” Kili says with an earnest look, leaning in toward Legolas. “I thought your song quite lovely, and would have liked to hear more. Although I admit I was curious, I did not quite understand the one part—I believe it went ‘fol di rol di rol?’”

Legolas is torn between being insulted and laughing. “It is ‘folly rolly fol dilly rol.’”

Kili repeats the line back with a look of such intense concentration that Legolas does end up laughing. “So you are Thorin’s heir, then?” he asks.

Gimli’s face blanches and Kili grins wide. “This one?” Gimli asks, after taking a restorative pull at his glass. “Never in life.”

“No, I think it is the fervent wish of all our people that chance will never lead me to sit on the throne of Erebor,” Kili says, amiably enough. “It is my brother Fili who is set to succeed our uncle the king.”

Kili points to a blonde dwarf at the head of the table. He is currently loudly singing along to a bawdy song about a dwarf captain and a dockhand who helps her with his poles. Legolas privately thinks that there can be only little difference between these two princes, but he makes some polite noise of acknowledgment.

Kili takes this as an opening to press Legolas with all sorts of questions about elves, about Greenwood and its people. Legolas would almost think they suspected him but for the obvious delight Kili seems to take in the conversation. Gimli listens, intent, and keeps their glasses filled to the brim until he and his cousin are well drunk. Legolas himself begins to feel warm, and he relaxes for the first time since leaving the Suldal.

“Come Kili, we need your fiddle!” calls the prince Fili from the far end of the table.

“Please excuse me, Lady Linnaril,” Kili says, laying a hand on one of Legolas’. “My brother often asks that I play with him so that, should he hit a sour note, he can blame it on me.”

Legolas inclines his head. “Of course.”

“My cousin has a generous nature,” Gimli says, musingly. Kili is greeted with laughing and clapping as he retakes his seat. Gimli sips from his drink again.

“What mean you?” Legolas asks.

“He was imprisoned with our king once at your isle, but still he bears you no ill will,” Gimli explains.

Legolas looks to Kili, who now is laughing with his brother as he takes up his fiddle. “That is generous. Indeed, I do not know if I will be able to do the same.”

Gimli sets down his glass heavily. “Should you like to return to your cabin, my lady?”

“I should like,” Legolas starts, and stops himself. “I should like to walk on deck, and see the stars.”

Gimli’s smile is open, guileless, as he offers his arm. Their exit is scarcely noted, and as they step out into the quiet and the cool night air on deck Legolas takes a deep, grateful breath.

They walk down the deck along the starboard rail, the sailors on watch keeping a respectful distance. Legolas looks with glad eyes out on the endless dark water below and the stars above. He drifts to a stop and sets his hands on the low banister, looking out. Gimli says nothing but stands beside him. Out of the corner of his eye, Legolas can see him leaning heavily on the railing, tired from drink, perhaps.

“As a child, I dreamed of sailing away to see all the wide waters of the world,” Legolas says.

Gimli laughs. “Myself as well. As a wee thing, I was always begging to be allowed to go along with my kin when they went adventuring.”

“Hmm, and here we find ourselves,” Legolas says, looking down at Gimli. The dwarf looks back for a moment, and then begins to shuffle in his pockets. He finally produces a pipe and some pipeweed.

“Would you mind if we tarry awhile before I see you back?” he asks.

Legolas smiles, and turns back to the sea. “Take as long as you like.”

They stand together. The stars drift overhead and the ship moves north. Nine bells rings, and then ten. The ship passes between the islands of Dale, and they watch the distant fires of men winking in the dark. Legolas likens them to stars, imagining that they went wandering to come down to visit the land.

Legolas feels an odd contentment, and almost forgets where he is and why, until at last he is taken back to his cabin and locked away again.

II

The autumn sea is already growing rough and slows their passage, so they do not arrive at Erebor until midday three days later. Legolas cannot see Erebor’s harbor from his window, but he can hear the fevered activity on deck as all is made ready. Gimli comes to fetch him.

“I will have to ask your forgiveness, Lady Linnaril, for what I must do next is not my own decision,” he says.

Legolas raises his eyebrows. “Are you not the one given charge of your prisoner?”

Gimli gives him a sharp look, then opens a box on the table. “Aye, so I am, and I am charged also with following my orders.”

The clink of metal draws Legolas' eyes. He burns with indignation when he sees what the dwarf has in his hands. “You mean to chain me? Were all your pretty manners before a show, then, pirate?”

The dwarf glowers. “You are to be presented to the King, and we have seen the deadliness of even your meanest fighters.” He comes to stand before Legolas. “Lady, I must ask for your hands.”

Legolas sneers, but Gimli doesn’t move or say anything further, waiting. After a moment, Legolas presents his hands. Gimli takes Legolas’ hands in one of his own, pressing Legolas’ thumbs together. As he secures the cuffs, the dwarf looks Legolas boldly in the eye, and Legolas finds himself looking back. The dwarf breaks off first, running a finger between Legolas’ inner wrist and each manacle, checking the tightness. The false tenderness of the action only heightens Legolas’ sense of humiliation.

Gimli nods a little, squaring his shoulders as he steps away.

Although the chains chafe and his rage burns him, Legolas is glad to exit his small cabin and again come out under the bright sun. His confinement felt far longer than a few days. Gimli leads him forward down the gangplank, and Legolas gets his first view of Erebor, the Lonely Isle.

When the dwarves here were yet allies of Greenwood, Thranduil visited Erebor many times. Legolas has heard tales of island from his father, but to see it is another matter. Instead of the wide lands and gentle hills of Greenwood, the island of Erebor is composed entirely of one enormous mountain, its bulk sitting alone between blue sky and blue sea. Its steep wooded slopes stand out starkly as they rise up about the harbor.

The docks are filled with activity. The dwarven tall ships are squatter and lower in the water than those of elven make, unlovely to Legolas’ mind. Still, Legolas counts them with some little dismay; their estimates of the current size of the pirate fleet were far short.

They walk together with the crew, Gimli’s father the captain leading. As they pass, the dozens working the docks greet them with great cheers. As tall as he is amongst the dwarven crew, Legolas is impossible to miss. All the dwarves of the docks stare at Legolas. Most glower at him, or look away. One gray-haired dwarf, scars on his face, spits at Legolas’ feet as he passes. Legolas turns his head away.

“I must warn you,” Gimli says in a lowered voice, “though you have named me pirate, you must not call any of us such before our King. He has little enough love for your kind already, even before his imprisonment on your isle of Mirkwood.”

Legolas remembers well his own role in the imprisonment Thorin Oakenshield and his crew decades past. He spares a moment’s thought to hope that time, and a dress, are sufficient to disguise him before the pirate king.

“What then should I call you? For pirates you are,” Legolas asks.

Gimli growls a low grumbling sound. They have come away from the harbor and are passing through the gates into the mountain itself. “There are no pirates amongst my people,” Gimli replies, at last. “Although I have served as a privateer, sent by my king to do what I can for our advantage against our enemy. If there is any dishonor in that, I know not of it.”

Legolas finds he has no reply he can sensibly make.

The grand hall is a humbling sight: the space vast, unfolding in all directions. The hall is filled with a golden light. Far above their heads hang thousands of lanterns, arranged in semicircular, asymmetrical patterns. Their suspending cables disappear up into a distance and gloom even Legolas’ eyes cannot penetrate. To either side, carved columns as thick as Greenwood’s grandest trees soar upward. Between them hang long, rich tapestries, partly obscuring the many side chambers. Legolas can hear the sound of dwarves speaking, here in the common tongue, there in their strange dwarven language.

Legolas thinks he should be counting chambers, but his eyes catch on the tapestries themselves. They are heavy, rich, and faded with age. They depict interlocking shapes unfamiliar to Legolas, until looking at one he suddenly recognizes it as an adze. Each one they pass now he sees shows a dwarven tool of craft, or of war.

Their party reaches the head of the great chamber. Courtiers and servants alike get to their feet at the company’s approach. Behind them is a high dais with a throne made of thick twists of gold wrapping about great gems. Upon this throne sits none other than Thorin Oakenshield, pirate King of Erebor.

Quite different does he appear now from when Legolas saw him last. He is older, of course, his hair more white than black now, but he is also far more finely dressed, wrapped in the best silks and furs of the northern isles and on his arms, his fingers, and his beard flash the fine golden jewelry the dwarves are rightly famous for.

“My king, we are returned,” says Gloin, and all around Legolas, the company bows low. Legolas stands unbent, but Thorin doesn’t look to him. He rises from his throne to come down the steps.

“Cousin,” he says, his voice rich and warm as he steps to clasp Gloin to him, “glad is my heart at your successful return.”

“Glad are we to return to you, and to Erebor,” Gloin answers.

“Great is the service all your crew has done me, and our people,” Thorin says, turning to the whole of the company. “Though you risked much, I knew that you would not fail me in this. Well you have fought!” A hearty cheer echoes Thorin’s words.

“My good dwarves, kin, advisors, and friends, we are gathered here together on the very eve of a change in all our fortunes,” Thorin says. “Long and hard have we all worked to bring beauty and wealth back to our island of Erebor, and here now we have the chance to bring our isle to yet greater heights.”

Thorin continues on into a longwinded and pompous speech that could rival any by the flatterers who attend Legolas’ father. All the dwarves listen with rapt, or at the least respectful, silence. Legolas wonders what bolt-hole they will shove him away in and how soon he will be allowed to retreat there.

Finally, Thorin turns to Legolas. “Lady Linnaril, welcome to Erebor,” he says grandly. “Though we keep you against your will, still I hope you will be comfortable during your stay.”

“Your kingdom is great, King Thorin, and your words generous,” Legolas replies, “but still I find your courtesy to your guests strangely lacking.” He raises his wrists with a metallic clang.

Thorin scowls darkly, his face transformed in his anger. “Do not speak to me of courtesy, elf,” he says, “for well did I learn my lessons in courtesy from your kind.” There are murmurs of agreement from among the company. Legolas looks at them again, wondering just how many were among those imprisoned at Greenwood.

A dark haired dwarf leans in and speaks a few quiet words to Thorin. Thorin frowns, but the other dwarf places a hand on his arm and continues to speak. Thorin waves one hand.

“Yes, very well,” Thorin says, barely loud enough for Legolas to catch. Thorin turns back to the group. “The Princess Royal is correct, we have little to fear from one elf. She may be unbound.”

Gimli produces the key. Thorin nods and turns away. “A feast has been prepared for your return. Let us celebrate!”

The dwarves follow their king, their talk and laughter making an incredible noise. Gimli remains with Legolas to remove the shackles, and rubs his thumbs over Legolas’ chaffed wrists with a frown on his face. “I am sorry for your hurts, my lady,” he says. “I will have an ointment made.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Legolas says.

Surprisingly, Gimli begins to grin. “I have heard elves are haughty,” he says, “but your pride and stubbornness could rival any dwarf’s. Come, I will show you to your room and send for some supper, for if elves do not need any medicine you do at least need food.”

“The food aboard the ship was hard to stomach,” Legolas says, and the dwarf laughs.

“So it often is,” Gimli says. He offers his hand, raised above his shoulder and palm up, and Legolas finds himself taking it.

**

Gimli calls for dinner, and to Legolas’ surprise, he does not leave to join his kin but stays and eats with him. The next day Gimli comes as well, bringing the promised ointment for Legolas’ wrists. Although he does not need it, Legolas uses it once, feeling some sense of obligation. Even long after he has rubbed the thick salve into his skin, the pungent odor of mint and mugwort lingers.

The third day, Legolas is not surprised when Gimli appears again, but he is curious. “Tell me, why do you continue to attend me?” he asks the dwarf.

“Do you wish me not to?” Gimli asks.

“I did not say that,” Legolas says, and finds it is true. The dwarf smiles and takes that as his invitation to sit.

“Truly, is this not taking you away from your duties?” Legolas asks.

“The sailing season is near its end. My crew has already made my ship ready against winter, and it sits now in dry dock.” Gimli pulls out his pipe and looks to Legolas for permission, waiting until Legolas nods to light it.

“What do you normally occupy yourself with during the winter season?” Legolas asks. “Do you work in the forges here?”

Gimli gives him a strange look. “I am no blacksmith,” he says, at last.

“I thought all dwarves knew how to work metal.”

Gimli snorts. “And I have heard tell that all elves talk to plants and enjoy dancing naked under the moon, is that true?”

Legolas pauses, confused by the question. “Well, yes.”

Gimli gives a short bark of laughter, and shakes his head ruefully. “No, not every dwarf learns the art of smithing. I myself know a little metalwork, but my true calling has always been to serve my people at sea.”

Gimli’s voice is rich with satisfaction, or perhaps even pride, and Legolas’ temper is pricked. “Even if that includes kidnapping elven ladies for ransom?”

Gimli takes a deep pull on his pipe and doesn’t speak for a moment, his brow furrowed. “I admit,” he finally says, “I knew little of the plan to take you and questioned less. But now I do wonder if it was the right thing to do.”

Legolas is surprised out of his anger. He gives Gimli a considering look, who returns it with a steady look of his own.

“You were on your way to be wed, were you not?” Gimli asks.

Legolas nods. It is true, Linnaril was supposed to sail for Lothlorien to be wed. Even now, she should be at her wedding feast. If Greenwood had not discovered the plot in time, she would instead be sitting here in Legolas’ place, scared and alone. No matter what else, Legolas is glad to have spared her this imprisonment.

Gimli frowns at Legolas’ nod. “I am sorry you have been caught up in these matters, my lady. I hope you will soon be allowed to return to your people.”

Legolas looks away, unwilling to see the sympathy in Gimli’s eyes. They sit silently for several minutes. Gimli sighs and taps out his pipe before excuses himself quietly, leaving Legolas alone.

**

Legolas’ time in Erebor does not pass as he expects. Although his father let him to undertake this quest so that they might learn more about Erebor’s inner workings, Legolas is confined to his one room. Besides his conversations with Gimli, he has few chances to learn much, and what little he does learn does not take long to write about.

Instead, his coded journal fills up with irrelevant nothings. He writes snatches of song that come to him or recollections of home. He writes several letters he would send to Tauriel if he could. He writes her about his room, the terrible food, and Gimli. He writes her his scornful observations of the other dwarves he meets, the few times he is let out of the room and down into the dwarves’ halls. He writes about the strangeness of wearing a dress: not because of the clothing itself, but how the dwarves treat him in it.

He writes only one line addressed to his father: Did you allow me to take this mission as a lesson in humility, or in fealty? He crosses it out as soon as he has written it.

 

III

On a morning a month after his arrival, Legolas wakes up early. He watches the predawn light growing slowly over the ceiling and the overlapping tapestries covering his room’s stone walls. His limbs are heavy; he takes a long time to sit up.

When he leaves the bed, the thick carpet on the floor absorbs the sound of his footfalls. It reminds him of a forest he once walked through. The silence of his steps now is like then, walking over the forest’s deep beds of layered pine needles, perfect for tracking and hunting. His ankle is long since healed; his feet slide with ease over the lush rug.

Legolas is still unprepared for the opulence of this room, with its high ceiling and rich trappings. Gimli told him that the room is usually reserved for diplomats or dignitaries. Legolas cannot understand why it was given to him.

Back on Greenwood Isle, Legolas had imagined some dark cell awaited him on Erebor. He believed that his many weeks at a time spent at sea, patrolling Greenwood’s waters, prepared him. He has gone without fine clothing, soft bedding, or any of the comforts of home, eating hard tack and sleeping in a swinging hammock night after night. He prepared himself for privation, not this.

He sits in front of the mirror to pin up his hair. The pins he needs for the feminine styles are long and sharp. His hands have grown used to their weight by now. He looks at himself in the flawless dwarven glass wreathed with its jewel-studded frame. The half pinned hair twines around his face, brushing against his shoulders and the under-dress he wears. He looks into his own eyes and isn’t certain who he sees.

Unease pushes him to his feet; it has him tugging out the hair pins and pulling his hair back into a rough queue. He pushes the vanity back against the wall. He turns to all wood and stone furniture. The carvings are sharp under his hands as he pushes, until he has it all shoved away and the middle of the thick, rich carpet is open.

If he had his guns, he would practice his shooting. If he even had a sword, he would practice his sword play, but all he has is a handful of pins. The sun rises as he uses one to practice his long-neglected knife-work. He is rusty, his precision lacking and his footwork off, long trained to different patterns.

He practices until his shift is clinging with sweat and the sunlight fills the room. It is not enough, but soon a dwarf servant will bring him his breakfast and clean water for his washbasin. He dresses quickly.

His only escape from the room is his small balcony. It is carved out of the living rock and comes out over a sheer cliff on the side of Mount Erebor. He can look straight down, far below to where the sea clashes with violence against the rocks.

Legolas steps out onto the balcony now. At first, this space had been a great joy to him. The first few weeks he had spent many hours there, talking and singing to his old friends, the sea and the sky. He added his voice to the cries of terns and gulls.

Today he is silent. Even as he clings to the railing and leans out over the water, feigning freedom, Legolas knows he is caught in a trap.

He is still out there when Gimli comes to visit him around noon, as is his habit.

“Good afternoon, my lady,” he says, stopping in the doorway and looking around at the furniture in disarray. “What happened here?”

Legolas only has eyes for the hallway behind Gimli, dim and low-ceilinged as it is. “Lord Gimli,” he says, and then hesitates. They have met every day, and Legolas has been surprised at the growing pleasure he takes in the dwarf’s company.

Still, Legolas feels an unspoken boundary between them. Legolas once believed the barrier between elf and dwarf was insurmountable, but what troubles him now is the barrier between them as captive and captor. Any sympathy that has grown between them is restrained by the memory of cold metal around his wrists.

Yet desperation drives him. “My Lord Gimli,” he says again, more firmly. “I cannot be confined to this room alone any longer. Is it not possible that I might take a walk outside, accompanied by you?”

Gimli’s expression is surprised, but unwary. “I should have seen that it is cruel to so confine an elf, creature of open air and sunlight,” he says. “There is a path outside of the mountain’s northern face, if you would care to walk there.”

Legolas closes his eyes against the rush of gratitude he feels. The dwarf has made the offer casually, but to Legolas as he is now there is no more precious gift. Legolas hesitates, and then bends to take the dwarf’s hands in his, squeezing them in thanks.

“My lady?” Gimli says, eyes wide and his hands almost slipping out of Legolas’ hold as he makes to pull away.

“O, let us go at once, Gimli,” Legolas replies, joy welling up into happy laughter. Gimli smiles, though a perplexed look remains on his face. He leads Legolas through the dark dwarven tunnels to the outside once again.

**

Soon they are taking almost daily walks on the lower slopes of Erebor. Winter has come on fast. The trees on the mountain have dropped their leaves and the terns have gone from the sky. Although the cold doesn’t bother Legolas, Gimli begins wearing a greatcoat of leather, and soon piles on wraps of fur.

They walk together one afternoon down to the harbor. They are somewhat sheltered there from the bitter northerly winds. As they walk along the stone causeway, Legolas notes several deep borings. Each is many hands-breadths wide, drilled down into the stone.

“What is the purpose of these?” he asks.

“No purpose, save as a reminder,” Gimli says. “These were made by Smaug.”

Legolas asks him, and so Gimli tells the story of that great and horrible sea dragon. It is a story Legolas has heard before, but only in piecemeal and construed by many retellings. Gimli speaks, with an affected dispassion, of how the wicked dragon dragged itself out of the sea and into the mountain kingdom of Erebor. Gimli tells of how boiling water spilled from its jaws and cooked alive a hundred dwarves, driving the rest from their homes and their treasures.

Only later, through cunning and luck, had Thorin’s small company, with one hobbit and the wizard Gandalf, sailed back across the seas to reclaim Erebor.

“A man of the raft-people, Bard, was the one who threw the great harpoon at the weakness in the scales at the beast’s breast and slew it,” Gimli says. “By then our king had been taken by the gold-madness, and he would not listen to the pleas of the men for a share of our treasure, such that they might rebuild their homes with. It was only after Bilbo Baggins, hobbit and dwarf-friend, offered to trade away his share that King Thorin came to his senses.”

“It is well for this world that he did,” Legolas says.

“Your people did not come to our aid, not against the sea dragon nor yet when we had lost our home and were starving,” Gimli says, mildly, but there is a hard look in his eye.

“I am certain our king was thinking of our people,” Legolas says.

Legolas remembers the harbor full of boats of Erebor’s dwarves, injured and hungry as their ships smoked under their feet. He remembers how his father had refused to listen to any dissent from his councilors after deciding to send the dwarves away. He remembers, too, how Thranduil had sat up late that night with a bottle of wine, his face hard and unhappy.

“Greenwood has been plagued with sea monsters of our own before, and we have known hungry days. Back then, I would have agreed with his decision.”

“And now?”

Legolas looks at this dwarf, who has shown him kindness when he expected none. He thinks of Gimli among those smoking ships, and Legolas knows he would not now turn away from him if he were in need. “Our peoples are enemies,” he says, “but, for my part, I would prefer that we stood side by side as friends.”

Gimli looks out at the grey ocean, beyond the harbor full of ships docked for winter. He pulls his furs tighter about him.

“Aye, I should like that, as well,” he says, softly. Legolas places a hand on Gimli’s shoulder, and they walk closer together as the cold ocean spray stings their cheeks.

***

Shortly after, Gimli invites Legolas to an evening of gaming. Legolas doesn’t wonder if it is simply an excuse to spend less time in Legolas’ quarters. Legolas has refused to allow the servants to block up the balcony entry with curtaining, although they have all but insisted several times. The room has grown too cold for dwarves to linger long.

“My cousin Kili asks often how you fare,” Gimli says by way of explanation, “and wonders if you won’t come. Although his tastes cannot be called sophisticated, still his gatherings are usually merry ones.”

Legolas has rarely been among a gathering of dwarves since first arriving. He knows he is not welcome. When he and Gimli go for their walks, the dwarves they pass in the tunnels or near the harbor usually ignore Legolas entirely or give him nasty looks. “What will your cousin’s guests think?”

Gimli snorts. “Most are our relatives, and will be used enough to Kili’s eccentricities.”

Legolas laughs. “Is it eccentric to invite a lady to join your games?”

“More strange to invite an elf,” Gimli says brusquely, but with two high red spots of embarrassment standing out on his cheeks.

“O, very well, if your cousin does not mind inviting an oddity, I suppose I do not mind being one,” Legolas says, inclined to be merry. He makes Gimli sit down at the table with him and teach him how to play whist, which Gimli says is his cousin’s game of choice.

He watches Gimli’s thick fingers on the cards and thinks how strange it is that he used to find them stubby. When Legolas takes a new hand of cards from Gimli, he finds Gimli’s touch is cold. Legolas gets up to pull one of the coverlets off the bed.

“I cannot use your bed clothes,” Gimli protests, when Legolas offers it to him.

“More dwarven stubbornness! Who will teach me about these ‘Honors’ if you take a chill?” Legolas says, tucking the blanket about the grumbling Gimli.

**

Kili welcomes Legolas warmly when they arrive for the evening. At first, all goes well. When they draw cards to choose partners, Legolas is paired with a dwarf named Bombur, who seems less concerned about whether Legolas is an elf than whether he understands the rules properly.

“Last time, I lost a great deal of gold to Dwalin,” Bombur says to Legolas. “When we play against him, I mean to pay him back.”

Gimli has lent Legolas some gold to join the gambling, and although games of chance are not popular among his own people, the dwarves’ intensity soon infects Legolas. He even drinks some of their rum along with them, oddly sweet as it is.

Legolas and Bombur do poorly in their first match against Prince Fili and Gimli, but quickly grow used to each other’s styles. They are surprisingly well matched. Legolas prefers to go after early tricks, and Bombur likes to spread his takes out through the game. They double down in their round against Kili and Gimli’s father, Gloin, and win handily.

Kili looks delighted and raises his glass in salute, but Gloin is slow to hand over their winnings. “Come now, Gloin!” Kili says. “We shall win more back again from my brother next.”

Bombur claps Legolas’ shoulder as he takes his share. “That was well played, lass,” he says.

Next they play the brothers Dwalin and Balin. As they sit down, Bombur gives Legolas a meaningful look.

“Well,” says Dwalin, pulling up his chair with his grin wide. “Do you have your gold ready to pay me again, Bombur?”

“You are the one who will be going home with a lighter purse tonight,” says Bombur, “for I have a special weapon this time in deft elf hands and wits.”

Dwalin gives Legolas a dismissive look. “As long as sharp elf eyes don’t try to peer at our cards.”

Balin slides Dwalin a fresh drink and says, “Here, words are nothing but that. Let us play and settle this in the game.”

Bombur laughs and holds up his glass to clink against Dwalin’s. “Here’s to that!”

In the other matches, during the rounds of play the dwarves have been silent, but Bombur and Dwalin continue to growl at each other throughout the game. It is a close fight, both sides conceding points only grudgingly. As they go Bombur and Dwalin get progressively drunker and more vocal in their insults.

For his part, Legolas watches Balin. The older dwarf is a cagey player, giving little away.

Other tables finish their games, but Legolas’ table keeps going. Some of the other dwarves pull their chairs around to watch.

They have been tied in points, but then in one round Legolas and Bombur start taking trick after trick after trick. Dwalin’s face grows a deep red, and Balin’s face as set as stone.

While they count the tricks up, the room is quiet, all the dwarves watching. Legolas and Bombur have gained four more points; they have won the game. Some dwarves cheer Bombur heartily, while others boo or shout insults.

Dwalin slams his hands on the table and glares at Legolas. “Sharb khathuzhinh, this is the fault of her cheating!”

Dulikhmuzm hubmu, your wits are as dull as your axe,” Gimli growls, half rising from his chair. “To insult a woman’s looks just because she beats you at cards!”

Gloin turns to Gimli, throwing down the cards he had taken to shuffle. “To hear my son say that to such a warrior! That is no dwarrow you defend, but an elf!”

Fili makes a disdainful noise. “Is it not clear the elf has bewitched Gimli? While my addle-witted brother might be excused for thinking an elf beautiful, I should have thought Gimli unlikely to fall for such.”

“At least I can see what is in front of me, and do not invent stories to soothe my own feelings!” Gimli says, still glaring at Dwalin.

Both he and Dwalin are both on their feet now, ready for a fight, and several other dwarves look poised to join in. Kili pushes past his brother to quickly help Legolas to his feet.

“My lady, thank you for coming, but you look tired, are you not?” he says, false-hearty. “I am sure my cousin should be happy to accompany you back to your quarters!”

Legolas grabs Gimli’s hand when it seems he will not back down. “Come, Gimli,” he says.

Kili’s mouths words of gratitude to Legolas as he all but shoves them out of the door.

The door shuts behind them, cutting off the noise of the fight still going inside. Gimli has his hands in fists and half turns as if to go back in, but Legolas feels a giggle rising in his throat. “Come, Gimli,” he says again, softer. “Let us go to my quarters.”

**

For Gimli’s sake, Legolas pulls the curtains across the balcony opening to shut out the cold ocean wind. They have only the light of lanterns, now that the moon is covered, but Gimli relaxes a little with the breeze cut.

“It is kind of you to defend me,” Legolas says, “but there is no need. If your kin resent my presence, I can only hope they will take it up with your king.”

Gimli flinches, a quick shake of his head. “Such rudeness is inexcusable, and I have not the stomach to tolerate such falsehoods.”

“So you truly think me beautiful?” Legolas asks, teasingly, not a little amused by the thought of himself as a beautiful woman.

Gimli looks at him with disbelief. “Of this there can be no doubt,” he says, seriously. "For your every movement is as graceful and powerful as a wave. Your hair is as sunlight on beaten gold, and you glow like the purest strain of mithril.” Gimli dips his head as if suddenly aware of what he is saying. “You are surely one of the fairest creatures I have ever beheld,” he says, low.

Legolas is amazed and not unmoved. He wants to speak about how Gimli has changed in his eyes, from the squat and vicious pirate to a noble dwarf lord. How Legolas has noticed his bright eyes shining with wit, and admired the luster of his red hair, bright even under the weak winter sunlight.

Gimli continues before Legolas can speak. “Although,” Gimli says, his tone lighter, “I would not have thought it possible to think an elf so ere we met. You do have too little beard.”

Legolas laughs delightedly. “And you are too short for an elf’s tastes,” he says, “Yet I find you not unhandsome in your looks.”

Gimli finally relaxes fully, a rueful grin on his face. They sit and talk of other things until the lanterns burn low and they must bid one another a good night.

**

Over the next several weeks, Gimli’s visits are less and are shorter when he does come. He tells Legolas that he is busy in his workshop, that he has some work he wishes to complete before the spring sailing season.

It is undoubtedly true, but Legolas wonders if Gimli has other reasons as well. Since the night of the card game, something has shifted between them. They are both more hesitant to touch, but linger longer when they do.

When they do walk along the water’s edge, where Erebor meets the sea, Legolas finds himself looking at Gimli and not the waves. They sing for one another. Legolas learns the lines of response to the epic Baruk u Zirak-zigil, and teaches Gimli the first several verses of the Song of Nimrodel. When they walk under the skeletal branches of Erebor’s trees, on the Northern slopes where they are shielded from the eyes of others, they hold hands. At these times, they say nothing at all.

Something fragile grows between them, something Legolas fears.

And so Legolas feels both relief and sorrow when Gimli says he must go back to sea. The ice floes have largely disappeared from the waters, and Erebor’s larders are running low. Gimli is ordered to go abroad to trade for food.

“My crew and I are sailing to the lands of men,” he says. “The journey should not be over-long; a few weeks at most.”

“You will not pass Greenwood?” Legolas asks, not wanting to ask if Gimli will lead raids against his people.

Gimli shakes his head, and takes one of Legolas’ hands in his. “Not on this journey, but I shall ask after any word of your kin, if I can.”

Legolas is glad Gimli has not understood his unspoken question. “I wish you fair sailing, and strong winds to bring you back with all haste.”

Gimli lowers his eyes, and presses a kiss to Legolas’ palm. “Until we meet again, my lady.”

IV

“Our peoples were not always enemies,” Kili rebukes his brother, one afternoon as they are visiting Legolas’ quarters. Kili has come calling several times, claiming Gimli had asked Kili to check in on him. Prince Fili appears to have only reluctantly come along on this visit. He is contributing little to the conversation, until Kili provokes him.

“Ancient history matters little now,” Fili says. He looks directly at Legolas for the first time, expecting him to share his opinion.

Legolas looks out the balcony, the curve of the harbor just visible from where he sits. In the past, Greenwood’s trees had served as lumber for Erebor’s ships. The current unlovely, squat form of the dwarven ships must be due to the inferior timber that grows on Erebor’s steep slopes.

Legolas looks back at these two princes of Erebor before him. They are resplendent. Even their everyday clothing is richly embroidered and fur-trimmed, and their fingers are heavy with rings. To trade again for the gems and metalwork of the dwarves would be a powerful incentive for Legolas’ father, were there not such bad blood between them.

“Much could we gain from each other, if we were no longer enemies,” Legolas says. “In trade, as well as in friendship.”

Fili frowns, but Kili grins broadly. “I am glad to hear you say so, my lady,” he says. “There are many of us in court who agree with you.”

Fili barks a laugh. “Perhaps among the nebbish and the dim-witted.”

Kili gives his brother an ill-natured look. “Like your mother?” he asks.

“Mother does not believe that!” Fili says. The brothers’ snarls are so identical, like two wolf cubs playing at fighting, that Legolas has to laugh.

They turn their looks of anger to Legolas, who holds up his hands. “Pray, let us have peace. I should not want to be the cause of discord between you. I have about a half-bottle of mead, if you’ll join me for a glass?”

Kili raises an eyebrow at Fili, who shrugs. “Very well. I should rather drink than fight on any day.”

Politics set aside, they manage quite a merry party, if a strange one. Despite his earlier show of disdain, Fili proves to have just as irrepressible a personality as his brother.

“Have you ever heard the story, my lady,” Fili asks, sometime into his third glass, “of the miner and the blacksmith?”

Kili gapes. “Fili! You cannot tell that story to Lady Linnaril.”

“Whyever not?” Legolas says. Kili gives him an injured look. “I should like to hear it.”

“Well,” says Fili, with an impish grin, “as it happens, there once was a miner who found many new seams of copper and of gold, and become quite wealthy. Still, he feels something was missing in his life, and decides he would not feel like a proper dwarf until he learned the craft of smithing.”

Kili still looks as if he would like to interrupt, but Legolas nods; the story seems straight forward enough.

“The miner tells his neighbor he is going to visit the local blacksmith, and learn from him the craft of smithing. The neighbor wishes the miner well, and off he goes.

“The neighbor sees the miner head off day after day, and each day the miner says the same, that he is going to learn from the blacksmith. Then one day, the miner does not go out, and his neighbor asks him if he is done with the blacksmith.

“‘Not at all,’ replies the miner, ‘In fact, he comes here today. At his forge, he already taught me how to fold and how to put the bending fork into the handy hole, all the combining processes, and the importance of finishing.’

“‘So why is he coming to your mine?’ asks the neighbor.

“‘Well,’ says the miner, ‘Although I now feel a complete dwarf, I was worried that my friend lacked some skills that I myself possess. I invited him to come and learn from me how to keep a shaft up.’“ Fili finishes with a flourish his hands, his grin wide.

“That is the end of the story?” Legolas says, tentatively, when no more seems forthcoming. “It is a tale of friendship?”

Fili stares at him for a moment, and then he bursts into laughter. Kili groans and puts his face in his hands. “This is worse than I thought,” Kili says, his face red where it shows through his fingers. “My lady, it is a crude type of joke, and not a very funny one at that.”

Legolas must still look confused, for Fili composes himself. Still grinning, he says, “The humor is in the double entendres.”

Legolas thinks about it while Kili shakes his head in embarrassment. “Oh!” Legolas says, realizing. “It is a story about the act of love?”

Fili laughs again. Kili pours himself another drink. “Yes,” Fili says. “Do elves not tell such jokes?”

Legolas looks into his own drink and wonders if he should have had less, or perhaps more. “We have many stories of love, some sad and some droll, but none quite like that, no.”

“Oh, I should like to hear some of those stories,” Fili says, and Kili smacks his arm.

“That is enough, brother,” he says.

“Tell me,” Legolas says, “is it common among dwarves to form their marriages so easily?”

The brothers both look confused. “What mean you?” Kili asks.

Legolas wonders if he is still misunderstanding. “The miner and the smith, did they not consummate their marriage in the story?”

“They were not wed,” Fili says, slowly, still frowning in his confusion.

“But they made love,” Legolas says.

“Why did you ever tell that joke!” Kili says, to Fili. “My lady, the truth is, although many dwarves do take spouses, many do not. And married or no, some still take partners, temporarily or permanently.”

“Temporarily!” says Legolas, shocked.

Fili raises his glass again. “I had no idea elves were so prudish.”

Legolas draws himself up. “We are not prudish! Only,” and here he hesitates, “what you describe is unthinkable. We only ever take one to our hearts, and to our beds.”

“Please, my lady, do not think ill of us,” Kili says, and takes Legolas’ hand in his. “While it is true we may take more than one partner, dwarves’ hearts are as steadfast as bedrock. Once our heart is given we cannot take it back.”

“I do not think poorly on it, only I have trouble imagining such a thing.” Legolas pulls his hand from Kili’s. “Well! I might tell you an elvish love story, after all, should you like to hear one,” he says, to change the topic.

“Yes, if you will,” Fili says, “For if my brother’s groveling continues I shall get a headache.”

Kili waves one hand dismissively. “And it may stop my brother from saying anything to further embarrass us, although I should not care to bet on it.”

So Legolas recites for them several sections of the Lay of Leithian, Kili minding their cups as the story goes. Legolas finds pleasure in reciting for an audience who has not heard the story before. Fili shakes his head when Luthien is captured, and Kili gasps aloud when Beren’s hand is bitten off. When Legolas sings Luthien’s lament, both brothers weep, although Fili attempts to hide his tears.

At the story’s conclusion, Kili sighs. “I believe that has bested your joke, Fili.”

Fili raises his cup. “To the Lady Linnaril!”

Legolas smiles as he raises his own cup. “To the princes of Erebor.”

“Here, here!” says Kili.

They drink, and share nothing more but cheer and goodwill that night.

**

With daily practice, Legolas’ knife work is growing better than it has been in a century. A late morning, when he is just pushing the furniture back into place after one practice session, there is a knock at the door. He assumes it is Kili come again, but when it opens, Gloin stands without.

“Lord Gloin,” Legolas says. He recovers himself well enough to make room to allow Gloin in, but the dwarf shakes his head.

“Nay, I will not tarry long,” Gloin says. “I only wished to talk to you a moment.”

Legolas inclines his head. “Speak, then, and I shall listen.”

“Gimli will return soon,” Gloin says, then pauses and clears his throat. “I will speak plainly. The time you spend together is unwise, and I would—request that you discourage his visits henceforth.”

“Is your son not grown, and a decorated commander besides, fully capable of choosing his own company?” Legolas asks, his temper rising.

“He does not know your kind as I do,” Gloin says. “Soon you will be gone and will think on him no more, and you will leave Gimli with nothing but hurt.”

Legolas is appalled. “I would do nothing to pain Gimli.”

“You already have!” Gloin says, his voice breaking in anger, or desperation. “I have seen—“

But he does not say what he has seen, and only shakes his head. “If you truly think well of him, and are not merely toying with him on some elvish whim, think on what I have said. If you care not for his reputation, at least consider his feelings.”

“You have nothing to fear from me,” Legolas says, caught between anger and alarm.

“If only that were the truth,” Gloin says, and bows shallowly. “Good day, Lady Linnaril.”

Legolas sweeps out onto the balcony, and stares out over the wide water. Today the ocean is a bright blue where it reflects the sky, but glassy black where it does not. Legolas thinks how swiftly he could sail home on a calm day like this.

Legolas stands there a long while; he pretends he is not looking for the return of Gimli’s ship.

V

If Legolas has any intention of heeding Gloin’s warning, Gimli leaves him little choice. The very day of his return, Gimli comes late in the evening, long after Legolas has eaten and is thinking of sleep.

“I pardon the late intrusion, my lady,” he says, hoisting a small trunk into the room with him. “The coin-counters made quite the thorough reckoning of the ship’s inventory, and I could not come sooner.”

“Never mind that, my friend,” Legolas says, and bends to kiss Gimli’s cheek in welcome. “I am glad you have returned safely.”

“More than safely,” Gimli says, “we have returned richly, and I have brought you a share of the bounty.”

“Gifts?” Legolas asks, interested despite himself, trying to peer into the trunk as Gimli opens it.

“I know they are not quite the elvish style, but the seamstresses of Dale assured me they would fit you,” Gimli says, producing several dresses.

Legolas looks down at the one threadbare and stained dress he has worn for the past several months. “Any change must be an improvement,” he says. He takes the dresses to spread them out on the bed and admire the fabrics.

“Also, I would make of this a gift for you,” Gimli says. Although the smile is still on his face, his tone is stiff and formal, and Legolas watches him pulling out of a small box of dark wood.

Gimli hands it to him. Legolas is surprised at its heft for its size. He opens it and inside is a most perfect set of sapphires set in a silver necklace, and stuck in velvet on the lid, silver hairpins with heads the shape of flowers. At each of their centers is another tiny gemstone.

“Why, this must have cost a small fortune,” Legolas says. “I cannot accept this.”

“Ah, but I didn’t purchase them,” Gimli says, coming close, “for I made these for you.”

“What?” Legolas says, uncomprehending.

“This is what I was working on, before I went to sea,” Gimli says. “I want you to have them, even when you must return home, as a token of our friendship.”

“Gimli,” Legolas says, but before he can speak on, Gimli continues.

“Besides, soon it will be the festival of Muhudtuzakhmerag. Many of our allies will attend, and I know an elf such as yourself would not want to be seen without finery on such an event.”

Legolas flicks his eyes toward the ceiling. “You have become quite the expert on elves,” he says, and it is too late to refuse the gift again. He allows Gimli to close his hands around the box.

**

The day of the festival, Legolas struggles to put on the fanciest of the new dresses, saved for the occasion. It has more layers than the others, and even once he gets it on, there are an unending number of buttons to find and do up.

He has waited, too, to use the hairpins from Gimli for the first time, but when he takes them out of the case he finds they are a completely different style from the ones he has grown used to. Instead of a straight pin, each has a small pinching mechanism. Legolas struggles so long with them that his hair still only half-pinned by the time Gimli comes to accompany him to the festival.

“Here, let me help you,” Gimli says. He speaks gruffly, as if impatient, but his touch is soft on the nape of Legolas’ neck. When Legolas hands him the pins, he twists them in place with perfect gentleness.

In truth, Gimli takes more time than he needs to; Legolas never dresses his hair without few strong tugs to pull it in place. But he doesn’t say anything, just closes his eyes and wordlessly hands over more pins when Gimli asks for them.

The grand hall is transformed for the festival. Beyond the greeters, a large open space has been cleared for the dwarves and their guests. After comes the tables, laden with feast foods. Hanging over all, the hall’s lanterns have been replaced with ones with colored glass, sending the whole vast space into a tumult of blues and greens, golds and reds.

As they approach the front, Legolas apologizes to Gimli for delaying them. Gimli waves it off.

“After all, we are hardly late. Here, the official presentation of honored guests is still going.”

Legolas looks where Gimli points out a human man and woman, richly dressed, as they are announced as representatives of Dale. They bow before Thorin on his throne. Next comes the smallest person Legolas has ever seen, and to his great surprise, Thorin leaps off his throne to come and embrace him.

“Is that the hobbit?” he asks.

“Bilbo Baggins, yes.”

“How comes he here?” Legolas says, and then nearly gasps aloud when the next guest is presented: a tall person, in the figure of a man, dressed all in gray. “Mithrandir!”

“Aye, Gandalf, or Tharkûn, as we call him,” Gimli says. “Do you know the wizard?”

“Yes,” Legolas answers, shocked into truthfulness. He wonders how he will hide his face. “Well, by reputation, of course,” he amends. As the official presentation ends, he turns his head in hopes of not being spotted.

Music strikes up, and most of the crowd of dwarves and guests swirl out into the free space.

“Would you care to dance?” Gimli asks, and Legolas laughs.

“What a picture we would make,” he replies. “Besides, I know not your dwarvish dances.”

“Come then, let us feast a while, and then perhaps you will let me entice you for at least one turn.”

A rich banquet is set out. There are roasted swans and peacocks with the feathers reattached, a whole rainbow of spring vegetables, and the last gleanings of the winter larders. In pride of place are the final apples and pears, skins slightly wrinkled but tantalizingly sweet still. Legolas sees with relief that some taller chairs have been scattered throughout the hall for the guests. He and Gimli take seats across from the two representatives from Dale.

They haven’t been eating long when a youthful dwarf with an elaborately braided beard approaches their table.

“Ladies, gentlemen,” says the dwarf with a bow, before turning to Gimli. “Lord Gimli, I was wondering if I might beg a dance with you?”

“With pleasure!” Gimli says as he stands. “Excuse me,” he adds to the group, and walks away without looking back to Legolas. Legolas watches as they join the line of dancers. This dwarf is too young for Gimli surely. He frowns as Gimli is boldly pulled in close as they turn together.

“It is gratifying to see Greenwood Isle and Erebor are restoring relations,” the woman of Dale says.

“Pardon?” Legolas says, realizing he has been neglecting the conversation.

“Well,” says the man, his tone too hearty, “it is clear you and Lord Gimli have struck up a fine friendship. Your diplomacy is a credit to your King.”

“Diplomacy?” Legolas asks in disbelief. “I am afraid you have sadly mistaken the situation.”

“Indeed,” says a voice from behind Legolas. “I was just wondering if I had done the same.” Legolas turns to look up into the smiling face of Mithrandir, who is regarding him with both bushy eyebrows well raised.

Mithrandir’s knowing look fills Legolas with shame. For the first time, he is embarrassed to be seen in skirts.

“Mithrandir,” he says, getting to his feet and curtsying with deliberate showiness.

“If you would excuse us,” Mithrandir says to the Dale representatives, and steers Legolas away by the elbow. Legolas takes his arm. Even in his alarm, Legolas cannot help noting how strange it feels to be walking with someone of the same height again.

Mithrandir says nothing as they walk, waiting until they reach the relative privacy of a nook in the wall. When he speaks, he cuts straight to the point.

“I had thought to try to convince Thorin to release his prisoner, to show good will, but I think the situation is not quite as it has been rumored.”

“The rumors do not speak falsely, for here an elf of Greenwood is held against their will,” Legolas replies, chin raised.

“Still,” Mithrandir says, and here he switches from the common tongue to Sindarin, “not all caged birds long to be freed.”

“This is so, if they love their masters,” Legolas replies in kind. “Others await the right time to test their wings again.”

“That time might come sooner than you expect,” says Mithrandir, his mouth dropping into a frown. “Dark times have come upon us, and evil is returning to Middle Earth.”

Now it is Legolas’ turn to frown. “Ere I left Greenwood, we had news of goblin raids further south,” he says.

“They will not stop in the South, and I fear worse than goblins may follow. Ah, Gimli, son of Gloin,” he says, switching back to the common tongue as Gimli approaches.

“Gandalf,” Gimli says with a courtly bow. “What news from the West?”

“All is well there, as yet,” Mithrandir says, making no mention of goblins. He turns back to Legolas. “By the way, Lady Linnaril, how came you by that necklace?” His look has some deliberate casualness about it.

“It was a gift,” Legolas says, somewhat hesitant to answer.

“Just so?” Mithrandir says, his eyebrows climbing up, but he says nothing further, only looking at Gimli.

“Well, speak on, if you have more to say,” Legolas says.

“Only that it is a handsome gift for Gimli to make you. While you are staying here, there is much you might learn from him about his people’s customs.”

“I did not say it was from Lord Gimli,” Legolas says.

“You did not have to,” Mithrandir says. Gimli looks as uncomfortable as Legolas feels. The dwarf shifts his weight from one foot to the other uneasily.

“Well!” announces Mithrandir. “I wanted to offer to carry any messages Lady Linnaril might have for her kin, for I sail next for Greenwood.”

“I have none, other than I hope all continues well with them. It is my hope to rejoin them soon.”

“Then I shall take my leave of you. Farewell, Gimli, son of Gloin, and Lady Linnaril, aew caun.”

Legolas feels alarmed to be so named—Prince Bird—and Gimli still looks unhappy as Mithrandir leaves them.

To distract them both, Legolas says lightly, “Mithrandir did instruct me to ask more about dwarven ways, and only the foolish ignore the advice of wizards. Perhaps you would still be willing to teach me your dancing?”

“Nothing could please me more,” Gimli says with evident relief. Legolas is happy to have steered them away from further conversation, but regrets his method soon enough. Gimli leads him in an increasing complicated pattern of steps, nearly half of which seem to be stomps.

Gimli laughs freely at Legolas’ attempts.

“You are too light on your feet, my lady,” he says. “You are supposed to make the stone ring, so that the mountain knows you are there.”

When Gimli pronounces himself sufficiently satisfied, they go out to the group of dancing dwarves. The first dance is done in a circle, with two couples dancing together and then trading off. Some of the couples they dance with scoff at Legolas, but at one turn they come on a puffing and red-faced Bombur with his spouse, who greets them warmly. On another turn they meet Kili and his pretty, silver-haired dance partner.

“My lady!” Kili announces. “You did not say another of your talents was dancing! You will save a dance for me?”

“I’m afraid your dance style is too wild for me,” Legolas says. “Best if I stay with your more stately cousin.”

Kili sighs theatrically even as he continues to spin, and Legolas and Gimli laugh as his dance partner begins to scold him.

Legolas’ dress restricts his movements and seems to grow heavier with every dance. The dancing itself is strange, too, but Legolas feels a great joy in the motion. He moves across the floor with Gimli, and they are one, and two, and one.

The other dancers begin to tire and fall aside as the evening grows late. The music changes to a slower beat, and the dance itself grows calm, almost solemn. Legolas spies Prince Fili leading a new dance partner out: an older brown-haired dwarf with a regal manner. He looks familiar to Legolas, although he cannot place his identity.

A few turns bring them close together. Fili and Gimli nod to each other, and the Fili’s dance partner says, “Greetings, Lord Gimli.”

Gimli spins Legolas out, and quickly bows so low the tips of his beard brush the floor.

“Princess Royal, greetings and good health to you,” Gimli says, standing to pull Legolas back, only a little off the beat.

Legolas looks again at the Princess, and sees now her resemblance to her family. She is looking back at him. “Lady Linnaril, I must compliment you,” she says. “Few non-dwarves have mastered our dances so quickly.”

Legolas inclines his head in acknowledgment, then must turn his attention to mirror Gimli’s spin and stomp. When he turns back around, he says to her, “It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Princess Dís. I’ve heard much about you from your sons.”

Dís gives a decidedly unsophisticated snort at this and gives Fili a look, to which the prince shrugs and grins. “You know Kili cannot keep his mouth shut,” he says.

Legolas feels oddly protective, as if he needs to defend the princes. “They are a credit to you, Princess. They have helped my time here be comfortable.”

“Well, you certainly keep a civil tongue, Lady Linnaril,” Dís says, but she is smiling.

The dance carries them apart, but Legolas watches Dís a while more, still curious. Gimli notices.

“The Princess Royal is quite the power in the court,” Gimli says.

“Really?” Legolas says. The music shifts even slower, and Gimli pulls Legolas close.

“This one is danced like so,” he says. The steps lighten. They are dancing so close together their steps become entwined. Few others are still dancing. There is plenty of space, but they hold together, barely shifting from their place on the floor.

The instruments fall one by one out of the music, until only a flute is left, and finishes the song on a wistful, quiet note.

Gimli bows over their joined hands. “Thank you for the dances, my lady,” he says. Legolas feels flushed, uncertain if he is glad the dancing is over.

They sit together and have some spring wine, a gift from one of the visiting dignitaries, until the servants begin to clean the emptying hall. Legolas sighs.

“I suppose we should get out of their way,” Gimli says, as one servant meaningfully wipes the long table closer and closer to them.

“No harm in bringing along another bottle, if you’ll join me,” Legolas asks.

Legolas throws back the curtain in his room to feel the cool night air on his warmed face as Gimli pours them each another glass. Legolas leans out over the slope, breathing in the mingled smell of sea and of mountain, which is coming alive again with spring. It is a smell of change and growth, a heady odor. Legolas looks back over his shoulder.

“Do you know,” Legolas says, “The men from Dale thought I was a diplomat.”

Legolas expects Gimli to laugh, but he doesn’t, instead settling heavily in his chair and cradling his glass in his hands. “Is the thought so strange to you, that an elf might come to Erebor by their own will?”

“Do you not find it so?” Legolas asks in turn. “I am not certain what could heal this breach between our peoples, or the hatred we bear each other.”

“And I have seen how much of what is said of elves is false. I heard elves were empty-headed but I find you serious-minded; I heard elves were callous and inconsistent, but find in you a true companion.” Gimli says this last bit tentatively, as if unsure of Legolas’ reaction.

“Much I was told I know now to be false, as well,” Legolas says, “and proud I am to call as noble a dwarf as you my friend.” He comes away from the window, but doesn’t want to sit in his chair with his back to the balcony. He opts instead for the floor near Gimli’s feet, where he can still look Gimli full in the face. “But could you imagine Thorin Oakenshield extending an invitation? Or King Thranduil allowing any elf of Greenwood to accept it?”

Gimli does not answer, searching Legolas’ face for Legolas knows not what. “My lady, what will happen when you are restored to your people? Will you sail to meet your intended?”

Legolas is uncertain how to reply to this sudden question. Any answer skirts truths Legolas must not reveal, but he is reluctant to lie when Gimli has asked so seriously. “I barely know the bridegroom, and did go to sea at my father’s will,” he says, close enough to the truth. “When I am released, my intent is to return home, and not go forth to wed.”

Gimli’s face twists as if he has bitten something sour. He sets down his drink and leans forward over Legolas. “I do not wish to offend you, my lady,” he says, “but to not speak would be unjust and cowardly. Gandalf made mention of my gift to you.”

Here Gimli gently presses his fingers to the necklace Legolas wears.

“It is from my own selfishness that I entreated you to take it, for it brings me joy to see you wear it. And yet you know not what it means.”

Legolas can feel the warmth of Gimli’s hand, so close to his bare throat. “It is my delight to have this gift from a friend.”

“Ah, but to a dwarf, this is not a gift from a friend,” Gimli says, and raises his hand to lightly cup Legolas’ face. “To make such a necklace with one’s own hand and gift it is to declare one’s heart.”

Legolas feels his throat go tight. Gimli’s bravery is beyond anything, to speak of what has grown between them. Legolas has been certain the barriers between them were too great to ever set those feelings into words, to act on them a certain absurdity.

Legolas pictures his father’s face, proud and sorrowful, the day he left Greenwood. He remembers Gloin’s face, full of hate and fear. He sees now it is this fate he feared for his son.

Legolas looks down at his hands in his lap and thinks about their purpose. They can now wield a hairpin as well as a pistol, but what other uses might they be put to? Although Mithrandir has called Legolas a songbird in a cage, his hands are unshackled.

Without looking up, Legolas raises one of his hands to place it on Gimli’s, cradling it against his cheek. The ends of his fingers curve around Gimli’s shorter hands, the different sizes fitting together unevenly. Gimli lets out a wet sounding sigh.

Legolas dares to look up. Gimli looks weakened, rocked, and Legolas sits up so he can reach to wind his arms around Gimli’s neck. Gimli’s own hands flutter uncertainly at Legolas’ shoulders.

“I would have wished to accept your gift, had I known what it meant,” Legolas tells him, “although I do not know if I have bravery equal to yours.”

Legolas has no betrothal ring to give Gimli, but still he will give himself.

Gimli’s arms go about him, now as certain and solid as the day they met, when Gimli stole him across the water to his father’s pirate craft. Legolas remembers the dizzying feeling of swinging in the air, both suspended and in motion, as Gimli kisses him.

Legolas draws Gimli closer by tightening his fingers in Gimli’s hair, heavy with braids and decorations. The feeling is as sweet as any he has known, but when Gimli pulls Legolas up onto his lap Legolas remembers himself.

“Ai, but, Gimli,” Legolas says, even as he sprawls over Gimli’s thick thighs. From this position he is much higher than Gimli. He must crane his neck to look down. Gimli’s hands are about his waist, already seeking the laces of the dress. “Gimli,” he says, more urgently, catching his hands on the fabric across Gimli’s chest.

“Yes?” Gimli says, sliding his hands up Legolas’ sides so gently he cannot help but arch into the feeling.

“Oh, you must stop,” Legolas forces out. The thick skirts protect him yet, but if Gimli continues the skirts will not be enough for long.

To Legolas’ relief, Gimli stops at once. “What is wrong?”

“I must tell you, there are matters you know not of. I fear what you would think, should you know me truly.”

Gimli’s eyes are dark and his voice is certain. “I know you.”

Legolas shudders; it is the truth, and yet not enough. “I cannot do this.”

Gimli gazes up at Legolas, then brushes the back of one hand against Legolas’ cheek. “I would have all you would share with me, but I would not take more than you would give.”

Legolas catches his hand to kiss it. “Then let us have this much.” He shifts so he is sitting across Gimli’s lap, the long skirts in twisted bunches around him. He means to kiss Gimli only once more, but instead they stay, kissing and kissing, Gimli’s hands stroking warm on his back and Gimli’s chest warm and heaving under Legolas’ hands, until Legolas must pull back, mouth bruised and his facing burning from the rub of Gimli’s beard.

Legolas feels his weakness. He yearns to tell Gimli the truth in the hope all would be well between them, even if it means Legolas betraying the trust of his father and his people.

Gimli saves him. “My lady, shall I leave you for the night?”

Legolas nods, not trusting what he will say if he speaks. Gimli carefully pulls his hands back and Legolas slides off his lap. As Gimli stands to go, Legolas clasps his own hands together so they will not reach out for him.

When Gimli is gone, Legolas sits before the mirror to undo his hair. He takes out the first of the pins and stares at it, a delicate flower crafted by Gimli’s hands. He sets the pin down carefully, then crosses the carpet on noiseless feet. He is already lifting the layers of skirts as he lies down on the bed, reaching to take himself in hand.

It is quick. Legolas pants silently to the rhythm Gimli’s breath had made in his ears, presses up against his hand the way Gimli had pressed up against his thigh. He licks his lips and feels how tender they are, then bites his lower lip to keep from crying aloud.

His release is mingled with relief and remorse.

VI

Legolas sleeps but poorly; shadows follow in his dreams. The next morning, Legolas is sitting in his quarters, toying with one of the flower pins, when he hears a shout go up from the harbor. When he sees the white ship in the water, a cry of joy bursts unbidden from him: it is the Suldal.

He spends an anxious half-morning watching. Activity swirls around the ship, but hours pass before the dwarves allow the elves disembark.

Two figures come down the plank. Legolas clutches the balcony rail. First is Edwenil, his father’s advisor, and behind her Tauriel. They disappear from sight into the mountain. Legolas paces, his skirts rustling against the carpeted floor.

Gimli comes to collect him. “They are meeting with King Thorin now,” he says. Legolas hurries him along to the audience chamber, even though the fastest tunnel is so low roofed that Legolas must walk half-bent.

Yet when Gimli makes to open the door, Legolas halts. He catches Gimli’s hand and holds it tight.

“Gimli, know that whatever should follow, I spoke sincerely last night,” Legolas says. “Mine is no false love. Should we be parted, my heart remains with you.”

“Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens,” Gimli says. “I am by your side.”

Gimli opens the door to Thorin speaking stonily. “Our terms are clear, and are not intended for negotiation.”

He sits at the head of a long table, an honor guard behind him. Dís, Fili, and Kili are on his right hand, and Balin and few other older dwarves are on his left. At the other end of the table sits Edwenil, who has her back to the door and does not look up, but Tauriel rises from her seat as Legolas enters.

Legolas would not care if all the dwarves of Erebor were watching. He pulls Tauriel close, breathing deep her sea-scent. “Mellon nin,” she says, leaning her head against his.

Edwenil says, “Your demands, King Thorin, were for reparations for the week-long imprisonment of you and your companions 40 years ago. As you have already held Lady Linnaril in captivity for over four months, you might consider the insult repaid.”

Thorin slams his hands on the stone table. “Locking us in a dungeon, and thereby keeping us from reclaiming our realm and realizing all the hopes of our people, is not the same as keeping one coddled elf lady in style. Were it not for Bilbo Baggins, your King Thranduil would have us locked up there still, so the short length of our captivity does not strike me a relevant point!”

Edwenil folds her long fingers slowly before her on the table. “This winter, many sea monsters have crawled up from between the ice, and Mirkwood has been near overrun.”

Legolas looks to Tauriel. She nods, slightly.

“Between this and the wreck of our shipping Erebor has made over the last several years,” Edwenil continues, “we have considerably less than you demand to pay you with. However, if you will return Lady Linnaril, King Thranduil has agreed to make a good-faith trade with you for goods.”

Thorin stands. “If you are not here to pay the reparations as originally asked for, you will leave. I currently have guests staying at the mountain, and have no further time to treat with you.”

Edwenil stands as well to bow, her dark hair sweeping the tabletop.

“King Thorin,” Tauriel says. “We shall obey you. But please, allow me to visit with my Lady Linnaril. Her family has been anxious for her, and I would bring them word of her.”

“My king,” says Dís, suddenly speaking up. “It would be most honorable and generous to do so.”

Balin, too, leans in to whisper to Thorin. Thorin makes some small noise of annoyance, but turns to the guards. “See Councilor Edwenil to her ship. The elf captain may accompany Lady Linnaril to her chambers for a short while.”

“Oh, it would be my pleasure to escort the Lady Linnaril and her friend,” says Kili, with a grin.

Fili glares openly at him, and Legolas sees a spasm cross Thorin’s face. “Very well, Kili,” Thorin says. “The rest of you are dismissed.”

Kili instantly joins them and hurries them from the room.

“It is well you catch my uncle in a good mood,” he says, as they go along, “otherwise it may have pleased him to say you nay.”

“That was King Thorin in a good mood?” Tauriel asks.

“Why yes, did you not see the enchanted look on his face? His dear friend is visiting, and it has softened his temperament considerably.”

Legolas smiles at Tauriel’s disbelief. “Thorin’s disposition is as hard as the mountain stone,” he says.

“Captain Tauriel, was it?” Kili asks. “Do you not find that companionship can bring you hope, even in disheartening circumstances?”

Tauriel glances to Legolas, a half-smile tugging at her lips. “Yes, I have found it so. But you seem of such a cheerful inclination that you would hardly need your friends to buoy you, Your Highness.”

“Ah, but you are seeing me among friends, madam,” he says, “for I consider Lady Linnaril my friend, and hope I might do so with you, as well?”

Tauriel smiles fully, as if charmed by this shameless display. “I am certain we do not yet know one another well enough for that,” she says, “but you have my gratitude nonetheless, for allowing me to speak privately with Lady Linnaril.”

They have reached Legolas’ door. “Well! I am gratified to at least have your thanks,” says Kili. “I shall wait for you here, Captain Tauriel.”

As soon as they are inside, Legolas pulls Tauriel close again, laughing his joy.

“My prince,” she says, in Sindarin, “Glad is my heart to see you again.” She bows as she pulls back.

“My heart is almost too full for me to speak,” Legolas says, “but we may have little time.”

From his desk drawer, he pulls the packet of his reports. “These are for my father,” he says. He pauses, and pulls the smaller stack of folded letters out as well. “And these are for you. I fear my correspondence has been lacking, given the circumstances.”

Tauriel secrets them in the inner pockets of her uniform jacket.

Months of work have come down to a few pages, but Legolas must be certain the knowledge reaches Greenwood.

“Should anything happen to the papers, here is what I would have my father know. Erebor’s gunnery teams are deadly, but they have not enough skilled sailors for all their fleet and many of their ships must stay in dock.” Tauriel nods; her walk through the harbor would have brought her past many of the ships still in dry dock.

Legolas speaks on about the weakness of Thorin’s admirals, and the prize-hungry and willful nature of the captains of Erebor’s fleet. He tells her of Erebor’s other essential weaknesses: the poor fortification of the northern shore, Erebor’s dependence on trade for almost all their food stuffs, the shortage of timber suitable for ship building.

When he is finished, Tauriel repeats the whole back. Legolas breathes out his relief.

“Now quickly, tell me how Greenwood fares. Edwenil mentioned sea monsters?”

“Fell creatures battered our ships all winter,” says Tauriel. “Worse are the monster crabs, some twice our height, who now crawl on land to hunt us. They hide where they can, burying themselves in sand or mud or else climbing to a height, then drop on us.”

Legolas shakes his head slowly. “I spoke with Mithrandir only last night,” he says, “and he said evil times were upon us. Now I hear it is true.”

“Mithrandir is here?” Tauriel asks.

Legolas goes to the balcony entrance, where he can see the Suldal, bright in the dark sea. “He said he would ask Thorin to show me clemency, but it seems Thorin has heeded him not. The wizard sails next for Greenwood; you may sail on the same tide.”

“Would that you sailed with us!” Tauriel joins him. “Tell me, truly, how do you fare? I was in earnest when I said I wished to ensure you were well. Your father tries to hide it, but your separation grieves him sorely.”

Legolas shakes his head. He has not the time or words to explain all that has happened. “You were right when you told me the dwarves would not be as I expected,” he says.

“That dwarf, Kili, called you friend,” she says.

He looks at Tauriel. Long have they have gone under branch and over wave together. They have fought and bled together. Once, when Legolas had not yet reached his hundredth year, they went hunting on an uninhabited islet. Legolas had been carelessly showing away, and been gored in the side by a wild boar. She had treated his wound, there on that silent forest floor thick with pine needles.

The look she gives him now is the same as then, a mix of deference and amusement, worry and love. When they returned to Greenwood, she claimed Legolas had felled the boar down with his shot, when in truth her knife wounds had finished the beast. She did not mention the bandages under Legolas’ tunic. Thranduil never knew he was injured.

Tauriel is his comrade and his secret-keeper, his oldest and truest friend. If she had not rejected him in years past, when he was young and foolish and mistook their camaraderie for love, he would have married her.

“Yes, I am afraid my father would not approve, but I have a few dwarves among my friends now,” he says, striving to keep a light tone. “One in particular.”

Tauriel cocks her head, eyes narrowing. She hears some of what he has not said. “Legolas,” she says.

To be called by his own name, after so long, makes him shiver. He smooths his hands down his dress. “Nay, call me not Legolas, for here I must be Linnaril.”

“Legolas,” she says again, firm, “a fish cannot sprout wings, nor the oak put forth beech leaves in spring. You are yourself, no matter your guise.”

He turns away. “And yet I have become someone else.”

Tauriel touches his elbow. “Your particular dwarf,” she says, “what does she know?”

Tauriel must ask him, he knows. His purpose in this place requires his secrecy, and many elves have risked themselves for the hope of his success. He clenches his hands. “He knows nothing but the one truth I may permit him, the truth which is my own and no other’s: the direction of my heart.”

Tauriel is silent. Legolas turns back to her. She runs one hand over his hair and the flower pins twined there.

Her sympathy undoes him; all his fears rise up. “My father will forbid his only child to pledge himself to a dwarf.”

“Yes, he will,” Tauriel says, frankly. When Legolas would shake off her hand, she adds, softer, “but do not despair. You have friends who will stand by you.”

She permits him to pull her close, and together they stand looking out over the water.

**

In the days after the Suldal sails, Legolas is left hollow. The impression of emptiness abates only when he is with Gimli, although his joy is tinged with desperation. Their time together is growing short even as spring is bursting full. Each morning they walk in the early light under new-leafed trees.

On one of these mornings, Gimli brings sweet breads from the kitchens. They sit among windflower blossoms to eat them. Although Gimli calls Legolas a ridiculous elf, he allows Legolas to feed him bites ripped off from the rolls. He complains less when Legolas chases the bites with stolen kisses, and they linger long under the dappled light.

Another day, they have wandered almost to the water’s edge when they are caught in a rainstorm that blows in from the east. Before they can make it back to the shelter of the mountain, Legolas’ outer dress is soaked. The laces swell with water, pulling the dress tightly across his back.

“I do not know how I will untie them,” Legolas complains, as they reach his quarters.

“I could assist you,” Gimli says, voice deep.

It is dangerous, so dangerous, but as Legolas goes to say no he says instead, “please.”

Gimli’s fingers are careful, but the laces are so tight in the eyelets that he must tug hard to get them through. He places his other hand against Legolas’ lower back to hold him still against each sharp pull. When the lacing is finally undone, he parts the back of the dress, and Legolas pulls it from the front.

Thankfully, his shift is only a little damp, and another dress can just be put on over it. But Gimli doesn’t immediately take his hands from Legolas’ back, and Legolas leans back into him. Through the thin cloth, he can feel Gimli trace patterns against his skin, across his back and down to his rear.

Legolas has to pull away quickly. Gimli watches him with hooded eyes as Legolas dresses, pulling on the over-layer, doing up every tie and button. He watches as Legolas undoes his wet hair, untwirling it from the pins and shaking it, loose and curling, about his shoulders.

“What about you, Gimli?” Legolas asks. Gimli wears only a simple shirt and trousers, and they have also been soaked through. “Should we get you out of your clothes? We might hang it to dry for a while.”

Gimli grins, raising his eyebrows, but he parts his wet beard over his shoulders and starts to unknot his cravat. “Let me,” says Legolas, getting on one knee before Gimli. He slides his hands under Gimli’s.

Gimli moves his own hands down but not away, holding Legolas’ wrists as he unties the wet silk of the cravat. Gimli’s thumbs push lightly against Legolas’ pulse as Legolas unbuttons his shirt.

Legolas truly means to hang the clothing, but when he pushes Gimli’s shirt back off his shoulders, he is distracted by his first look at Gimli’s bare chest. He runs his hands over the thick hair there, dark and curling with the damp. When he brushes his knuckles against Gimli’s nipple, Gimli shudders, once but long, so Legolas leaves his hand there, rubbing it with his palm in light circles.

Gimli’s fingers tighten around his wrists, trapping Legolas’ hands against his chest, so Legolas leans in to lick at his mouth.

“You tease beyond all endurance, elf,” Gimli growls. He pushes forward still gripping tight, bending Legolas backward until his balance on his one knee is uncertain, and kisses him. Legolas gasps and tries to pull back his hands, but Gimli does not release him, holding him still even as he sucks Legolas’ lower lip.

Legolas relents and kisses Gimli back, and only then Gimli lets go his hands. He winds them about Gimli’s waist as Gimli’s arms go about his shoulders, and he plays his hands against the bare curve of Gimli’s spine.

When finally Gimli pulls back for breath, Legolas says, “I do not mean to tease.” He means it to say it with humor, but instead hears how serious he sounds.

“Let me prove myself to you,” he adds, moving his fingers along Gimli’s waistband. They look each other full in the face, Gimli’s eyes dark and his mouth parted, and Gimli does not say no.

Legolas undoes the buttons of Gimli’s trousers, then the buttons on his drawers. His hands want to tremble. The only sound in the room comes from the rain, still pouring outside.

Legolas pulls the wet layers down and away, until Gimli is naked before him.

Legolas licks his lips. “Will you sit on the bed?” he asks.

He watches the muscles move in Gimli’s thighs and backside as he walks to the bed, and Legolas almost forgets to get to his feet. He has gather handfuls of his skirts up in a hurry as Gimli sits, and comes to kneel before him.

There will be no marriage feast for them nor an exchange of rings, but here before Gimli, Legolas clasps his hands and bends his head, murmuring the words of marriage blessing in Sindarin. As he invokes Varda and Manwë, he asks in his heart for their forgiveness as well as protection for what he is about to do.

Gimli watches with his head tilted, concerned. “Is all well?” he asks.

Legolas gives Gimli his best smile, and then he slides his hands up Gimli’s thighs to distract him. “I am well, Gimli, my heart.”

Gimli gives him a small smile back, and brushes his thumb across Legolas’ cheekbone. “My lady,” he says, his voice deepening with warmth and desire.

Legolas tenses, and knows he cannot ask Gimli to call him otherwise. Instead, he bends his head to take Gimli in his mouth, and to hide his guilt. He presses his thighs together against his own need. When Gimli spills in his mouth, he imagines his unfulfilled desire is his penance.

Legolas allows Gimli to coax him up into the bed. Gimli wraps his arms above Legolas’ waist, and Legolas cradles his hands there. Gimli dozes off, and Legolas watches with eyes unseeing as murky green-blue light plays across the wall. He thinks on what he has done, but with Gimli behind him, breathing gently in his ear, Legolas feels no regret.

**

The next morning, they’ve barely stepped out into the dawn light when Legolas reaches to tangle his fingers with Gimli’s. Although it is cold after the storm yesterday, the trees have fully leafed out and protect them from the worst of the winds. Legolas doesn’t protest when Gimli leads him off the path into an old glade and draws him down to the ground, thick with moss.

Legolas spreads his skirts and pulls Gimli across to him. Gimli half-sprawls on Legolas’ lap, his hands warm at Legolas’ sides.

Legolas has his fingers wrapped in Gimli’s beard and Gimli’s teeth are nipping at his ear when Legolas hears the noise.

“Do you not hear that?” he asks.

Gimli pulls back and tilts his head, listening. “No one should be here,” he says, finally.

They stand and straighten their clothing, Legolas concentrating on the sound. “Gimli, those are not dwarf voices,” he says, low.

They go together down the path in the direction of the sound on silent feet. They come around a curve and see, barely more than a stone’s throw down the path, a group of arguing goblins.

Gimli yanks him down behind a bush, full with young green leaves. They crouch together. Legolas clenches his fingers in Gimli’s tunic.

The goblins fight a minute more. One dressed in a high helm snaps at the others and they get into formation. Gimli is as still as stone under Legolas’ hand. The goblins go past on the path, up toward the mountain entrance. Gimli’s hand goes to the belt about his waist, where he noiselessly unsnaps the cover on his axe.

“Gimli,” Legolas whispers. “Have you a knife?”

Without hesitation, Gimli slips him one even as he unholsters his axe. Legolas takes it. The grip is short, but the blade long and well-balanced. He flicks the blade a few times to get the feel of it in his hand.

“I will take the three on the left if you can handle the right,” Legolas says, low. Gimli raises his eyebrows, but nods.

Legolas goes out first, sliding up behind the rear-most goblin and slicing his throat in one motion. His death-gurgle has the goblins all turning about, already on alert, but Gimli is with him, screaming a terrible dwarven battle-cry as he falls on a goblin on the right.

Legolas trusts Gimli and turns his attention fully to the left. The path is narrow and the fighting close, to Legolas’ advantage. The goblins cannot come at him two at a time, and the trees leave little room for them to swing their weapons. Legolas guts the next easily, but the third is more cautious, keeping out of Legolas’ short range.

“I did not know the dwarves were so poor at fighting they resort to elven ladies protecting them,” he taunts. “Are you sure you wish to dirty your hands, madam?”

He is forcing Legolas back down the path with testing swings of his mace, toward the corpses of his comrades. Legolas steps back over the last one, reaching down to snatch the sword from the dead goblin’s hand.

“I do not need to dirty my hands with you,” he says, and throws the knife straight into the goblin’s face.

He raises the sword, but the knife hit true, and the goblin is falling, the life-light dying in his eyes. Legolas looks then to Gimli, who has the last goblin, the leader, on the ground. His axe is to her throat.

“Tell me your purpose here, and I can ease your passing,” Gimli growls.

She chuckles, black blood bubbling over her lips. “You are too late,” she says. “Your mountain will be over-run.” She wheezes. “The dark lord will make sure that you dwarf filth are wiped from this world.”

Legolas and Gimli look up together as the goblin lets out her last rattling breath. The horizon is dark with a fleet of goblin ships.

**

They race back side-by-side to raise the alarm. The goblin ships are already launching more boats to bring their soldiers to shore. No one has time to question when Legolas takes a dwarf-steel sword, a pair of pistols, and a powder bag from the armory.

Erebor is well-defended on her southern harbor, but the small north entrance has no built up defenses. Gimli, of all Erebor’s dwarves, now has the most practical knowledge of the northern slopes and knows it. When his crew organizes around him he leads them there, and Legolas does not leave his side.

Most of the goblin ships sail around the island, making for the southern port, but dozens of boats of goblins are deployed first on the northern shore. Other dwarves come to join their small group, but they are still sadly outnumbered. They cluster by the northern entrance to defend it.

The goblins come on like the tide, crashing again and again against their ranks.

The battle is brutal.

The fight is joined midmorning, and not until the sun is touching the horizon are the last straggling goblins escaping the shores of Erebor for their ships. Around the survivors lay dead and dying goblins and dwarves.

Legolas’ dress is heavy with filth and goblin blood as he walks among the broken bodies seeking Gimli. Legolas finds him ordering the care of the wounded. Gimli is seemingly hale, other than one hastily wrapped bandage about his forehead. Legolas stops to watch him for one moment, gratitude full in his heart to see him well.

One moment is all he has; matters are urgent. He touches Gimli’s sleeve; Gimli turns. In his smile Legolas sees the mirror of his own relief, but there is no time to speak on it.

“Gimli, you must take me to King Thorin.”

The throne hall is in disarray, doubling as an infirmary and, at the far end, a morgue. Most of the dwarves are working quietly and grimly, but the odd cry breaks out as some discover kin or friends among the dead.

Thorin and his councilors are in a side chamber. Thorin, fresh from the battle and still half in his uniform, is hearing reports. No acknowledgment is made of them as Legolas and Gimli enter.

Legolas waits. A page helps Thorin remove his torn outer coat. Another dwarf stands at hand with a needle and thread, eyeing the jagged wound in Thorin’s arm, but Thorin waves him off. Balin is reading a damage report on the fleet. Many ships were hit hard by the southerly arm of the attack, and two sunk.

Another dwarf begins reporting the list of casualties, but Legolas can wait no more.

“King Thorin,” Legolas says, as loudly as he can. The dwarf speaking falters, and then looks to Thorin to see if he should continue.

Thorin looks at Legolas then, his eyes moving across the grime on Legolas’ dress and the sword still in his hand. “What is it?” he says.

“You know as surely as I this will not be the end of the attack. To commit such a fleet without gaining the day, someone is testing your might. Some evil moves against your people, an evil that means to consume us all.”

“I see not how this is any concern of yours, elf,” Thorin says.

“On behalf of King Thranduil of the woodland isles, I would negotiate an alliance between our peoples to fight this terror.”

Thorin glares, his look fiercer for the blood and sweat matting his graying hair. “And who are you, to negotiate on your king’s behalf?” He makes to turn away, pulling off his gloves.

Legolas breathes in once, deeply, holding Thorin’s eye. He can feel Gimli beside him. He cannot turn to look. “I am not who you believe me to be. I am called Legolas Greenleaf, prince of Greenwood, son and heir to King Thranduil.”

The room freezes still. A painfully long time passes before understanding enters Thorin’s eyes, but when it does anger follows. “Dwalin, Baldir,” he says, “Strip the prince of his weapons and remove him.”

Legolas sets his weapons on the floor before the dwarves can take them from him. He looks to Thorin, and when their eyes meet again, he bows formally and low to the dwarf king. As he rises, Dwalin has him by the arm and jerks him roughly away.

Legolas seeks Gimli’s face. The dwarf looks back at him. Legolas is pulled from the room before he can make meaning of Gimli’s expression.

VII

The moon rises over the ruin of Erebor’s harbor as Legolas watches from his balcony. He has cleaned himself as best he could. His only shift is ruined, and he has no choice but to wear one of the simpler dresses without one. His hair he has left free for the first time in months, and the missing weight of the pins makes his head light.

He carefully cleans the necklace of all traces of dirt, and puts it back on.

Guards have been stationed outside his door, and he hears their indistinct voices now through the door. The lock turns and Legolas stands, hoping it is Gimli.

Instead, it is Princess Dís. She waves off the guards when they try to follow her into the room. She shuts the door behind her.

“Prince Legolas,” she says, and bows. Legolas returns the gesture, hiding his surprise with lowered eyes.

“Pardon my taking a seat,” Dís continues, as she pulls up a chair. “I would speak with you, by your leave.”

Weary of the courtesy of the dwarves, Legolas says only, “Of course,” and takes a seat himself.

Perhaps sensing his mood, Dís does not delay with any further pleasantries. “I heard about your offer,” Dís says. “Is it truly your intent to commit Mirkwood forces to this fight?”

“I would not have spoken were I not in earnest.”

“Know that Thorin will not be betrayed by your people again,” Dís says.

Legolas’ throat tightens. “I have already fought this day for the dwarves of Erebor. If that is not proof enough of my sincerity, I would think choosing to reveal my identity should be demonstration enough.”

Dís ignores Legolas’ flare of temper, nodding. “Very well. I will speak on your behalf to Thorin.”

She stands to leave.

“Please, wait, Princess Dís,” Legolas says. “Can you tell me—Do you know how Lord Gimli fares?”

Dís glances briefly at the necklace. “I could not say. Too many of our people are wounded or dead, and the halls remain in chaos. Last I saw him, he was headed to the harbor with his first mate and quartermaster, but that several hours ago.”

Legolas dips his head. “Thank you.”

“I hope to send you word of Thorin’s agreement soon,” Dís says. “I bid you farewell, Your Royal Highness.”

**

Legolas spends the night awake.

He drafts several letters to his father, striving for the words that will convince him to turn his enemies into allies. He writes of the gems they might still get in trade from the dwarves. He writes of his own relationship with the dwarves, and the richness that might be had in a friendship between their peoples.

He looks up several times to see himself in the mirror, the necklace still around his neck. He doesn’t take it off.

He scratches out the lines about his friendship with the dwarves.

He finally writes:

To my father and king,

Much I knew to be true I have learned is false. I thought we must stand alone and I thought we must fight against the dwarves, but I now believe we might fight with them instead.

The world changes and we must change with it. All that is left to decide is the manner in which we will change: will we fall into ruin, or will we build our kingdom into one that will be everlasting?

Your devoted son,
Legolas

Legolas is sitting, looking at this letter in the predawn light, when at last Gimli comes.

Gimli looks haggard; his coat missing and his shirt and pants unchanged from yesterday. Worse still are the dark circles under his eyes and the haunted, anguished expression he bears.

Legolas jumps to his feet, the letter forgotten on the table.

“Gimli,” he says.

“My sailing master, Kilur, is dead, as is young Danan.” Legolas moves toward Gimli, meaning to comfort him, but Gimli shakes his head. “Many more of my men would be dead, without your pistol-work. For that at least, I must thank you.”

He pauses. Legolas does not breathe.

“To see you fight, as though a warrior of a greater age, I thought for certain here was your dread secret. That perhaps you had fought dwarves before, and believed I would not forgive you for killing my kinsmen.”

Gimli hangs his head. Legolas takes his hands and still he will not look at Legolas.

“But the truth is worse yet,” Gimli says, “and I do not know how to accept it.”

“My father truly wronged yours, you have helped me see this,” Legolas starts.

“It is not who you are, it is who I believed you to be!” Gimli says, facing him. “It is who you told me you were that wounds me now.”

Legolas holds himself still so he will not flinch away. “I spoke no lies, Gimli, other than those duty compelled me to,” he says.

To Legolas’ dismay, Gimli’s eyes appear wet. “I took your truths and your lies mingled, and in so doing have betrayed my own duty to my people. Many times my kin warned me that you meant to trick me, but I dismissed them. I believed you.”

“So believe me still,” Legolas says, and goes to his knees before Gimli. “Whether I am Linnaril or Legolas, I gave my heart truly.”

Gimli does give one horrible, chocked-off sob then, and drags Legolas against him. Legolas seeks with hands and mouth to soothe where his words could not, smoothing Gimli’s hair from his face and kissing his cheeks, his lips.

Gimli makes an inarticulate noise of refusal, and pulls back, but Legolas cannot let him. “No, please, beloved,” he says.

“I cannot, I cannot,” Gimli says. “You look at me with my one love’s eyes, but you are not her.”

“Then let me be Linnaril just once more, and do not leave my side,” Legolas begs. “For I will be she if it means I may keep you.”

He kisses Gimli then, and Gimli relents for a moment, moving into the kiss.

Then he straightens back. “Just once more,” Gimli says, and Legolas gives a cry as Gimli sweeps his knees out from under him and picks him up in his arms.

“Gimli,” Legolas says, stunned, as Gimli lowers him on the bed. Legolas pushes himself up on one elbow to watch Gimli roughly pulling off his disheveled clothes, then turns back to Legolas.

“I would see you,” Gimli says. He waits for Legolas’ nod before he begins to undo the snaps that hold together the bodice of the dress, his pale chest revealed under Gimli’s fingers. Gimli does not stop there. He continues to the stays about Legolas’ waist. The same fastenings that took Legolas several minutes to figure out are coming rapidly undone by Gimli’s hands.

Legolas wonders now if when Gimli bought the dress he asked the seamstresses the workings of it, if Gimli thought even then he would have need of that knowledge—

Gimli works lower, untying the skirt section and pulling the two halves aside. He stops. He stares at Legolas, exposed, until Legolas can bear it no longer.

“Gimli, love,” he begs, holding his arms open, “please.”

Gimli climbs on top of him, the unfastened dress crumpling beneath them, and Legolas moans aloud at the touch of their bare skin sliding together. Gimli’s beard trails along Legolas’ bare skin as Gimli slides between Legolas’ spread legs, their shafts bumping together.

Gimli holds himself above Legolas, slowly rubbing them together, a maddening sensation. Legolas reaches between them to take a hold of Gimli, playing his hand along Gimli to encourage him to a faster rhythm.

Gimli rebuffs his effort, keeping the same pace, but presses wet sucking kisses to Legolas’ chest. A high whine escapes Legolas. Gimli glances up at him.

“Do you need more?” he asks, and Legolas nods. Gimli reaches one handed to the bedside, where the jar of ointment Gimli gave Legolas all those months ago sits, dusty and unused.

Gimli scoops some out. Legolas watches as Gimli’s hand disappears between his thighs, and goes lower. Legolas jumps as Gimli’s fingers, cold with the salve, brush his hole.

“What—?” Legolas says, and gasps as Gimli’s fingers rub the salve warm against him. The smell of mint rises, and then Gimli is pushing one thick finger in.

“Ai, Gimli! What are you doing?”

“Do elves not do this?” Gimli asks. “Fear not, I will take care of you.”

And he does, although Legolas is uncertain: Gimli is gentle and steady, pushing further into Legolas until he relaxes into it.

Gimli works another finger into him, using them together in Legolas. Legolas whines a little in his throat, which changes into a cry when Gimli pulls his fingers out.

“Come now,” Gimli says, gentle and chiding. “Lift your hips for me.”

When Legolas does, Gimli gathers the crumpled dress in handfuls to shove under Legolas. Then he takes more of the salve and, as Legolas watches him, spreads it in rough economical movements over his shaft. Legolas realizes now what Gimli means to do, and twists in uncertainty and discomfort at the thought.

Gimli puts a heavy hand upon his hip to hold him still. “I promised to look after you. Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” Legolas says, and wills his body to open for Gimli as he pushes slowly, slowly into him. Once Gimli is fully in, he stops.

“And yet,” Gimli says, his breath hot on Legolas but his voice steady, “I cannot trust you.”

“Gimli,” Legolas says, but Gimli pulls out and thrusts back in with a roll of his hips.

“You lied to me,” Gimli said.

“Yes,” Legolas says, and Gimli begins to move against him again, slowly but purposefully.

“You were a spy,” Gimli says.

“Yes,” Legolas says, dazed, wrapping his legs about Gimli’s hips.

Without changing his rhythm, Gimli thrusts harder.

“And still, you let me love you, knowing all this.”

“Yes, Gimli,” Legolas says. “Yes.”

“You used me,” Gimli says, bitterly.

“Gimli,” Legolas cries, pushing back in time against him.

Gimli looks him in the eyes and says, “Legolas,” for the first time, for forever, and Legolas must shut his eyes against his release.

Gimli doesn’t slow, pressing on and on, the same hard rhythm, rocking Legolas like the tide. Legolas opens his eyes to see Gimli still watching him, eyes intent.

Legolas wraps his legs tighter about Gimli, his calves sliding against the tight muscle of Gimli’s rear. Gimli’s brow is knotted with concentration and unhappiness. The roots of his hair are darkening with the sweat of exertion.

“Gimli, please,” Legolas whispers, bringing his hands to hold Gimli’s face. “Blame me; do not torture yourself. You did nothing wrong.”

Gimli shuts his eyes tightly and shakes his head, beard and braids skimming across Legolas’ skin. Legolas trails his hands wherever he can reach, over the back of Gimli’s neck, around his collarbones, and scraping his fingernails lightly down Gimli’s chest.

Still Gimli keeps at him, and Legolas feels his own pleasure rising again. He wants to kiss Gimli but cannot quite reach. He wraps his fingers in the braids in front of Gimli’s ears, letting Gimli’s own rocking tug them against his hands.

Gimli gives two low, short moans one after the other, his rhythm faltering for a moment. With one hand, he grips Legolas hip bruising hard and pulls Legolas up onto his shaft.

For an instant, all goes dark. Legolas cannot breathe. Gimli moves his hand back to Legolas’ shaft, working on him inside and out in a punishing pace. Legolas spends again a second time, and a few stuttering thrusts after, Gimli does as well.

Gimli pulls out of him, slow, arm muscles trembling, and lets himself fall to Legolas’ side on the bed. Gimli rolls onto his back, eyes closed. Legolas lies panting a minute, and then pulls the ruined dress out from under him and kicks it to the floor.

Beside him, Gimli’s breaths are already slowing down, easing into sleep. Legolas wraps an arm around him and, when no protest comes, curls his entire body close against Gimli’s side.

Legolas watches Gimli’s face as he sleeps. He eyes the bandage about Gimli’s head, but no fresh blood has seeped through. He takes in the dark circles. He runs his eyes again and again over Gimli’s wrinkled brow, strong nose, parted lips, thick beard. He sees the sweat dry, disappearing from Gimli’s hairline.

The spring breeze blows cool in through the window, and after a while, Gimli begins to shiver.

Legolas rubs his hand slowly along Gimli’s arm to try to warm him, to little effect. When Legolas pulls the sheet over them, Gimli stirs and opens sleep-heavy eyes.

“Legolas,” he says.

Legolas slides a leg over Gimli’s legs and moves in to kiss him. Gimli allows him to, lets Legolas put his tongue in his mouth. He runs his fingers into Legolas’ hair and grips there lightly, pulling Legolas back.

Legolas wants to say how much he loves Gimli, to speak the joy he feels in this being together. Gimli says, “This was a mistake.”

Gimli pulls away. He rolls over the far side of the bed and walks around to pick up his clothes.

“Do not leave me, love,” Legolas says, sitting up. He winces a little at the soreness and the dampness.

Gimli pulls his clothes back on, methodically. “Once more for us was one time too many. Should I stay, it would only be another regret.”

He goes to the glass to right his sadly askew braids. Legolas rises, naked, and comes to him.

“But you wish to stay?” he asks, hovering just far enough behind Gimli he cannot be tempted to lay his hands on him.

Gimli shakes his head. “Do not ask me that question.”

Gimli finishes, turns, and stops. He looks at Legolas for a long while. He reaches one hand up to Legolas’ jaw, and guides him down for one more kiss. “This is impossible,” he murmurs as he pulls back.

He turns on his heel, going for the door.

“Will you return to me?” Legolas asks.

Gimli does not turn back to face him; he shakes his head. “I do not know,” he says, and shuts the door behind him, leaving Legolas alone.

**

A servant brings him trousers and a shirt in the mannish style. They are loose on him, but Legolas does not mind. He practices his knife work in the trousers, and is amused to find he must compensate for no longer wearing the skirts. He ignores the soreness he feels.

Gimli does not return.

Dís calls on him again, accompanied this time by Balin.

“Prince Legolas,” Balin says, bowing low. “Thorin has accepted your offer of a truce.”

“Albeit somewhat reluctantly,” Dís adds, with a grin that reminds Legolas of her sons. “By his leave, we are to prepare a draft treaty.”

The three sit together for long hours, sketching out the details of agreement that covers trade and mutual military aid. Even when the dwarves leave, Legolas’ mind is full of details, tracing words with one finger on the tabletop as he thinks them through.

Kili, too, pays him a visit. “Well,” he says, grinning sheepishly. “You were a man the whole time?”

“Yes,” Legolas says.

Kili throws himself into a chair. “You do make an exceptionally beautiful woman, if I may say so,” he says with a sigh.

“You may say so,” Legolas says, lightly, taking the seat across from Kili, “but it still will not be true.”

“Tell me, is it common among your people for men to wear skirts and women to wear pants?” Kili asks. “I had thought elves maintained different clothing for men and women.”

If another dwarf had asked, Legolas might have taken offense. He shakes his head instead. “No, it is not common.”

Kili scratches one cheek, making a low considering noise, then asks abruptly, “Captain Tauriel, she isn’t a man, is she?”

Legolas smiles. “Not unless she is a much greater master of disguise than I,” he says.

Kili coughs. “And is she yet unwed?” he asks.

Legolas blinks. “Do you seek to woo Tauriel?” Legolas asks, incredulously.

Kili draws himself up, and for the first time Legolas sees a truly serious look on his face. “An alliance is to be forged between our people. If my uncle and my brother only grudgingly agree to it, it is because they are putting their pride above their people. Should I, as the younger prince, take an elven bride, a shaky truce might be made into a lasting peace.”

Sitting tall and proud before Legolas, Kili is no longer a simple jokester, but a seasoned warrior and prince of Erebor. “You have helped your mother convince your uncle,” Legolas says, in sudden comprehension.

Kili grins and does not deny it. “I had thought I might ask for your hand, but it is just as well I cannot. I find I much prefer Captain Tauriel.”

**

Gimli still does not return. Dís and Balin come again the next day, and Legolas spends wearying hours arguing with them about the worth of Greenwood’s bounty and what Erebor will trade for it. Legolas would have welcomed even the least of his father’s councilors, if only to have a second defender against the dwarves’ unrelenting and exacting negotiation.

Near the end of their talk, Legolas says, “I have prepared a letter for my father, for when you send him word. I hope it will help convince him of our proposed course.”

Balin bows his head as he takes the letter. “You have our gratitude,” Dís says.

“There is one other issue,” Legolas says. “Does Thorin still think me his prisoner, even though we are in negotiations? Or may I be at liberty to move about the island?”

Balin and Dís exchange looks. Dís frowns, but to her credit does not dissemble. “I do not think that Thorin would be willing to free you until your father has signed the agreement, as your release is to be one of the conditions. Anything you might need, however, we would be happy to acquire for you.”

“I had only wished to seek out Lord Gimli, who has been a great friend to me during the trying time of my imprisonment,” Legolas says.

Balin gives him a considering look, but Legolas lets nothing show. Dís sighs, her shoulders slumping and her hard negotiator’s mask falling away. She runs a hand over her hair.

“I am old,” she says. “I remember the time before Smaug ever came to Erebor. I remember how it was between our people in those days, and that is why I have worked with you to try to repair what unraveled long ago. But in truth I think Thorin is not mistaken to remember how our people were betrayed by yours. To us, your race has proven fickle, changeable, and false.

“Gimli, while not a young dwarf, is still too young to remember that time. When first he met you, he did not know your kind the way we do. Not yet.”

There is no malice in Dís’ words, but her meaning is clear. The rebuke is like a blow. He wants to protest he did not choose to love Gimli, or to hurt Gimli, but he knows it is feeble stuff to do so; he sees the choices he made at each step.

Legolas looks down at his hands, folded in his lap. “I may be fickle and false,” he says, low, “but not my heart. The only thing that will part me from Gimli is his sending me away.”

“That he will not do,” Balin says, and Legolas looks up to see Balin smiling sadly at him. The dwarf nods his chin at the necklace Legolas wears. “A dwarf may love once or never at all, but never twice.”

“And if a dwarf learns to love someone false?” Legolas asks them.

Dís gets to her feet. Balin, too, goes to stand, and Dís moves to help him. He leans on her for support.

With Balin on his feet, Dís pats Legolas’ shoulder. “That, you will have to ask the dwarf about.”

**

Legolas asks them to send word to Kili. At Legolas’ request, Kili brings Legolas a ring. Legolas has learned a little from living with the dwarves; all he has is the few coins he won playing whist those months past, but he uses them to make a token payment for the ring.

“When I am restored to my home, I will pay you the rest,” Legolas says.

Kili waves him off. “Just put in a good word with Captain Tauriel for me,” he says.

Legolas sits, with the ring cupped loosely in his hands. He waits.

Around the time of the evening meal, the usual knock comes on the door. Legolas sets the ring in his pocket to get up and answer it. When he does, Gimli stands without.

Legolas moves aside slowly, scared to spook him. They do not speak. Once Gimli is inside, Legolas turns the inside lock.

“My cousin tells me you wished to see me,” Gimli says, stiffly.

“Yes.”

Gimli rolls his shoulders. “In truth, he begged me to come.”

“Soon I may depart Erebor,” Legolas says. “I had to see you ere I leave, for there is much unsettled between us.”

Gimli nods, an acknowledgment and nothing more.

“I wished to know how it stands with you. I know you might,” Legolas swallows. The words feel like a lie. The words sour in his mouth, but still he says them: “you could yet take another partner.”

“I have made my dedication publicly.” Gimli says.

Legolas covers the necklace with his hand flat against it. “You gave me this under false pretenses. I would understand if you would wish me to not keep it, now that you know who I am.”

“You cannot be other than as you are,” Gimli says, and sighs, shakes his head. “Nor would I have you other than as you are.”

It sounds like an admission. Legolas’ pulse speeds up to a hopeful pace. “I would make my own declaration. By my laws, I am already wed to you.” Legolas watches Gimli’s face for a reaction but gets none. He takes out the ring. “By tradition, we wear such rings to signify a marriage.”

Gimli makes no move to take it. Legolas comes to him, and he takes Gimli’s hand to put the ring in it. “What say you?” Legolas asks.

Gimli stares down at the ring in his hand. “My loyalties turn against one another. I have made a promise of my heart, and therefore of my hand, to you, but,” here he looks back up at Legolas, “to fulfill that promise is to betray my people.”

Legolas yearns to say that among Gimli’s own kin there are those who do not think it a betrayal to side with an elf, but Legolas himself had unthinkingly sided with his kin over Gimli. He cannot protest if Gimli should do the same.

“You need not decide now,” Legolas says instead, and closes Gimli’s fingers about the ring, “only take it with you.” He bends, and raises Gimli’s hand to press a kiss to his knuckles. Gimli goes still, unyielding but for his eyes, which widen, perhaps in fear.

Legolas is certain he has frightened Gimli away, but the next day Gimli comes again. Legolas’ elation is tempered. Gimli is not wearing the ring.

“I heard that you have not been granted free reign by King Thorin,” Gimli says, “so I thought perhaps you would care to take a walk, my lord?”

In his joy Legolas presses a kiss to Gimli’s cheek, which Gimli allows, but when Legolas would kiss Gimli’s mouth, Gimli pulls away. Legolas smiles and pretends not to notice. “Nothing could please me more,” Legolas says.

As they pass the battle site, they linger a little. Gimli’s eyes are hard as they sweep the ground, still dark with the blood of dwarves and goblins.

Once beyond that unhappy place, however, they go together as companionably as any of their walks. The few quickthorns on the northern slope are in bloom. A particularly magnificent one stands right against a cliff edge. Legolas stops to admire it, with its heavy, dense crown full of pale blossoms waving in the gentle sea air.

He feels a tickle at his hand and looks to see Gimli sliding his hand into Legolas’. Gimli keeps looking forward, as if taking in the sight of the tree, but when Legolas takes his hand and squeezes it, he smiles.

Gimli does not drop his hand, even when they come to the mountain entrance. He holds it even as they pass other dwarves in the passages back to Legolas’ quarters.

He only lets go when they are back inside, sliding his hands to Legolas’ waist and saying nothing. Legolas tries running a hand over Gimli’s hair. Gimli leans into his touch.

Legolas runs his fingertips along the curve of Gimli’s ear to the point, then down. He trails a line down Gimli’s neck. Gimli’s eyes close, a small frown of concentration on his face. Legolas fiddles a little with Gimli’s collar, not sure if he should ask permission to do more.

“Say you will allow me to stay by your side,” Legolas says.

Gimli opens his eyes, and slides his hands from Legolas’ waist around to Legolas’s back, and then down to his rear. Gimli rubs Legolas’ behind with his thick fingers. Legolas sways, torn between the sensation and forcing Gimli to answer. As if sensing his uncertainty, Gimli holds tight, pulling Legolas against him, close enough until his face is pressed into Legolas’ stomach. He mouths at Legolas through his shirt, and Legolas shudders.

“Please,” Legolas says, “I cannot bear this, if you will not keep with me.”

Gimli nips him, and looks up when Legolas whimpers. “You have proven yourself true,” Gimli says, “and even if I should be a traitor to remain with you, I will not be parted from you.”

Legolas must shut his eyes, pressing a hand to his mouth. When he has contained himself, he bends over until his forehead is pressed to Gimli’s. “You will not regret this, my love,” he promises. “You will see.”

He kisses Gimli until both their necks are sore from bending to reach each other, until they pull each other to the bed. Gimli whispers nonsense comfort into his ears in common tongue, in Khuzdul, yet Legolas weeps as Gimli pushes into him, so complete is the joy in his heart and in his body.

**

His father arrives, six white ships sailing up to Erebor’s ravaged harbor.

Guards come to escort Legolas to the main hall. Dís, standing next to Thorin on his throne, gives him a quick nod. At the base of the dais stand Fili and Kili. Beyond them are all the assembled courtiers, and among them, Gimli.

Legolas takes his place without taking his eyes from Gimli: Gimli is wearing the ring.

Legolas only realizes how broadly he is smiling when Gimli, coming to join him, tentatively returns it.

He does not want to embarrass Gimli in front of all his kin, and on such a solemn occasion, but he slides one hand under Gimli’s heavy braids to rest on Gimli’s neck. He bends to whisper in his ear, “You are wearing it on the wrong finger.”

Gimli starts, and then laughs, unaware or uncaring of the stares they are drawing. “Tell me where I should have it, then.”

“Let me,” Legolas says, and slides the ring off and back onto Gimli’s right index finger.

The trumpets blare. Thranduil sweeps into the hall, and behind his swirling cloak comes a full party of elves, all in dress uniform. Legolas takes his hand from Gimli’s neck and smiles when he and Tauriel catch sight of one another.

“King Thranduil, I bid you welcome to Erebor,” Thorin says, his tone wrong but his words correct.

Thranduil expression is contemptuous, but he inclines his head.

“King Thorin, I must speak to my son first. Nothing will proceed until I have.”

One of the side chambers is hastily cleared for them, and as soon as the doors shut behind them, Thranduil’s cold expression falls away. They embrace.

Legolas rests his forehead on Thranduil’s shoulder. His father strokes his hair. The cold caverns walls, so different from the airy chambers of home, do not matter. The dwarves and his father’s people, all waiting outside, do not matter. They are reunited.

“You are well?” Thranduil asks, as if afraid the answer will be no. Legolas raises his head to show him a reassuring smile.

“More than well, father, to have you here at last.”

“I only came for you.” They sit together on a low stone bench, carved into the wall. “Tell me, did you truly mean what you wrote, or were you forced to pen that letter?”

Legolas shakes his head. “The alliance was my proposal. I do not think Thorin would ever have considered such a thing, even if he had a thousand years to do so.”

“I care not for Thorin’s concerns,” Thranduil says, chin up, “I should have thought you would not either, after so much time imprisoned amongst these dwarves.”

Legolas tilts his head. “Although they have used my imprisonment as a bargaining chip, the terms of the agreement are fair.”

“Yes, I’ve read it,” Thranduil says, disinterested. “What has changed your mind about the dwarves?”

Legolas looks down; his courage falters. “I have been given a precious gift.”

“They have attempted to bribe you?” Thranduil asks.

“No.” Legolas takes a deep breath. He touches the necklace. “This is a love token.” He glances up to gauge his father’s reaction, and is surprised to find him amused.

“Well,” Thranduil drawls, “it is hardly a shock that a dwarf might appreciate your loveliness.”

Legolas shakes his head angrily. “You misunderstand.” He raises his head, shoulders back, and tells Thranduil, “I have given him a golden ring in return.”

Thranduil quirks an eyebrow. “Whatever for?”

“It was a token of our marriage, father.”

“To a dwarf?” Thranduil says, tone arch, disbelieving. “You jest.”

“No, father,” Legolas says. “I have given myself to him along with the marriage band.”

Thranduil throws his hair over his shoulder. “If this is true, which hardly seems credible, you will simply have to take it back.”

“I have no intention of doing that,” Legolas says.

“I order you to,” Thranduil says, “as your father and your king.”

“Even if I did, it would mean nothing. Our marriage is consummated.”

“What!” Thanduil gets to his feet. “What is this dwarf’s name? He is here, in the hall?”

Legolas nods, grudgingly. Thranduil’s expression is twisted. “He is called Gimli, son of Gloin.”

Thranduil turns and strides from the room, Legolas hurrying after him, regretting his temper. “Father, wait, at least allow me to explain—”

But Thranduil is not listening, and the hall falls silent as he sweeps out. He turns, his cloak whirling behind him and he asks, in a voice full of thunder, “Who among you is Gimli, son of Gloin?”

The dwarves all begin to mutter, and Legolas can see even the other elves glancing at each other nervously. Gimli steps forward.

“I am Gimli,” he says, looking up into Thranduil’s face calmly.

Thranduil unsheathes his sword, and the dwarven muttering turns angry. Many reach for their own weapons.

Thranduil puts his sword to Gimli’s throat. “This dwarf has despoiled my son.” He turns to Thorin. “This insult will not be borne.”

Thorin is on his feet now, along with all the other dwarves. Almost every dwarf has their weapon in hand. “Nor will I bear the insult of weapons being drawn in my hall and used against my people!” Thorin says.

Gimli has not flinched under the blade, still gazing coolly at Thranduil. Legolas comes to his father’s side to try to coax Thranduil’s sword arm away. “Father, please,” Legolas says, low. “The choice was my own.”

Tauriel has come to Legolas’ side, her hand on the hilt of her own blade, although she hasn’t drawn it yet. Thranduil’s arm is rigid under Legolas’ palm. Thranduil looks to him and says, “You were coerced, forced into this while a prisoner.”

His eyes are pleading.

Legolas glances to Gimli, who looks back, raising his eyebrows but otherwise unmoving beneath the blade. Gimli’s quiet dignity, and the feeling of Tauriel at the ready beside him, shame him.

Legolas grips his father’s sleeve. He says, “I am the one carried out our marriage rites. I alone should bear your condemnation.”

Dís is suddenly there; Legolas missed her approach. She rests her hand on the sharp edge of blade. “I do not deny that all knew about their courtship, King Thranduil, but we believed your son was in truth Lady Linnaril until it was too late. Not even Lord Gimli knew he was Prince Legolas.”

Her dispassionate speech reaches Thranduil where Legolas’ pleading could not. His resignation is evident in his stance when Legolas says, quietly, “It is true, father.”

Thranduil rolls Legolas’ hand off his arm in order to whip his blade away and sheathe it.

“Very well,” he says, looking to Thorin. “You will have my name signed to your treaty, but my son and I are leaving. Now.”

The dwarves have still not put away their weapons. Thorin is on his feet. “You cannot believe I shall allow you to insult me in such a fashion and then simply walk away,” Thorin says.

Legolas meets Dís’ eyes. Their work is about to be undone. Quickly, before his father can say anything, Legolas bows his head and says, “King Thorin, I pledge to personally pay any honor price you should name for this insult.”

Dís has turned to her brother. Thorin is looking back at her, defiance still dominating his features. Balin is speaking urgently in his ear, and Kili too has one foot up on the dais, ready to approach his uncle.

Beside Legolas there is movement; Thranduil is poised to haul Legolas away.

And then Gimli before him gets to on one knee, looking up into Thranduil’s face. “King Thranduil, know that by our laws I am obliged to help my spouse pay any honor debt he owes. I would not shirk my duty.”

Legolas looks to Gimli kneeling by his side, as they face opposite directions, opposite kings. Laughter catches in his throat at the absurdity, that the two of them are begging each other’s lords. Legolas stoops to take Gimli’s hands and pulls him to his feet.

“My prince,” Tauriel says, a low warning, but Legolas shakes his head.

“Enough,” Legolas says. “We will have peace. The enemy grows against us, and if we do not set aside our fear of one another we will be destroyed.” Gimli squeezes his hands encouragingly. Legolas looks to Thorin, whose people have so recently suffered attack, hoping he will see sense.

Thorin nods, slowly, looking at Legolas. “Prince Legolas, I will accept your offer of an honor payment, if Greenwood still will sign to our agreement.” Behind him, Balin closes his eyes, pressing one hand to his chest.

Legolas turns to his father, who stands still and wrathful. Legolas lets go Gimli’s hands to take up Thranduil’s and says, in Sindarin, “I am filled with regret that I have defied you, father. Please do not punish us all for what was my doing.”

Thranduil pulls back and will not look at him. “King Thorin,” he says, “perhaps there is somewhere private where you and I might discuss our treaty?”

Thorin inclines his head, and gestures with one hand to the side of the hall as he comes down off his throne. “If you will join me in my chambers,” he says.

Dís quickly falls into step behind her brother as he leads Thranduil forward. As soon as they have exited the hall all around them break into excited chatter. Legolas turns with glad eyes to Gimli, who gives him a nod, and then shows Legolas a broad, relieved grin.

Kili comes up and claps Legolas’ arm, then throws his own arm about Gimli’s shoulders. “That was masterfully handled,” he says to them.

Tauriel, who has barely taken her hand from her sword, looks disbelieving at Kili. “We nearly fell to bloodshed in your court hall,” she says.

“All a part of diplomacy in a dwarven court,” Kili says, flippantly, and grins as Fili also approached to join their group. “Wouldn’t you say, brother?”

“I would say we could all use a drink, after that display,” Fili says, which is how Legolas finds himself in a side chamber, sharing many healthy draughts. Kili makes quite the fool of himself trying to charm Tauriel. In fact, Kili is half-fallen out of his seat, leaning over toward Tauriel, when Balin comes to inform them that they are needed. It is time for the official signing of the treaty.

Balin glares especially at Fili, Kili, and Legolas, and says, “Take a moment to compose yourselves. This is a momentous occasion.”

And yet when they get to the door, they are still laughing together. Legolas cannot regret his happy grin or flushed face as he steps out into the hall, Gimli by his side, to observe the signing and official alliance of their peoples.

 

Epilogue

 

In latter days, many said that the marriage of Prince Kili of Erebor and Admiral Tauriel of Greenwood cemented the alliance of their two nations. This may be true. During the War of the Ring, Prince Kili convinced Prince Fili, his brother and heir-apparent to the throne, to combine Erebor’s fleet with that of Greenwood. Admiral Tauriel led this force in the sea battles of Greenwood and Dale. Her leadership was credited with the shattering of the navies of Sauron and the Easterlings. Since that time, the free peoples of the North, dwarves, elves, and men, have ever been allies.

However, some remember that before Kili and Tauriel were Gimli and Legolas, the first elf and dwarf to overcome the hatred between their people. Already bound in marriage before the War of the Ring, Gimli and Legolas together sailed to the enchanted isle of Rivendell. There they joined the company known as the Fellowship of the Ring, whose deeds are recorded in songs and stories without number.

Although they are better remembered for their great acts in that dread war, they themselves believed their love for each other to be their greatest strength. Their love first healed the breach between their people, then saw them through the war, and at last would carry them together beyond the edges of the known sea.