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They Say of the Elves

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Then Gimli bowed low. "Nay, you are excused for my part, lord,'' he said. "You have chosen the Evening; but my love is given to the Morning. And my heart forebodes that soon it will pass away forever.'' -- 'Many Partings,' Book III, LOTR

You know what they say of the Elves, that they'll tumble you soon as look at you; seducers, coquettes, you'll wake with only a handful of leaves and a sweet taste in your mouth.

Well, I have traveled far and seen enough to give lie to many of the tales old Dwarf-dams tell in the mines of my youth. But still and all, I kept my eye on him. Legolas, a tall luminous shape in the edge of my vision; never far from me, a gleam of sunlight at my shoulder. And when the war was over, and he made good on his promise to travel with me, I knew what he was after. I thought I knew.

Durin's Beard, he wasn't subtle, was he? "Visit the tunnels and caverns of your people, Gimli, my friend,'' indeed. I just bet he was eager to visit my caverns. Elves are all the same.

So off we went, and I was dreading it and dreaming it at the same time. I wanted to taste him, I wanted to touch: would it be as good as legends say? And yet my heart within me felt forged of iron, for once he'd had me he would surely leave. I feared the fistful of leaves and grass, the fading song on the wind.

For I had grown overfond of him.

We passed first through the Glittering Caves, and there I was sure it would happen. I led him down the path into the earth, and in the first great chamber our torches flared and he cried out, and was then silent for a time as we passed under curtains of marbled rock, glinting white and rose, like the hem of the cloak of Galadriel; and thence to glittering passages lined in gems, sharp enough to the touch to draw blood.

In the central passage, where water falls drop by drop into pools of different depths, we stood quietly for a time. The music of the pools lulled me. I stood entranced, I know not how long, and did not look to Legolas, not until I felt the heat of him behind me, and the touch of his long-fingered hands on my shoulders.

I thought my breath would stop in my body. I could not speak. But he did not move his hands from my shoulders, and merely stood close to me, close enough that I could hear his breath.

"Vanya,'' he said at last. "Lama alcarinqua.''

And that was all he said, and the only touch of his hands that I received in that place.

We came up out of the caverns in silence, each of us in our own thoughts. To the others, the wizard and the hobbits, Legolas said only that he had no words, that it was for me to speak of the beauty of the Caves of Helm's Deep. And I, for my part, said nothing to anyone.

I did not know what I felt. The first time I walked in the Glittering Caves, the sight had driven me to poetry, even as we rode from battle. Legolas said then that he had not heard me speak so before.

And it had seemed to me, then, that he was the one I should tell of the Caves, that he would take their beauty and my heart's burden and hold each in his safekeeping.

Yet now...

At the evening meal the young hobbit, Meriadoc, started up with a song, and I took my meat and bread and moved away from the fire. They were used to my ways by then, and said nothing, but Samwise muttered that I must be loathe to depart from Helm's Deep, since I loved it so; and from the corner of my eye I saw Legolas look after me, bright against the evening sky, though I could not read the look on his fair face.

Then the Fellowship was broken, and we two journeyed alone to the forest of Fangorn. I had hoped that the elf would at least roll me on my own ground, at Helm's Deep, and not wait until we were shadowed by leaves and moss. But it seemed that was his plan.

At the forest's edge I balked; strange scents came to my nose, green and wild. But Legolas took my hand, then, and lead me into the wood.

Rightly do they call him Greenleaf, for soon I could scarcely tell him from the ivy and the oak; I kept my eyes on the path before us, and on the pale hand in my own. Presently he spoke to me: "Gimli, look up,'' and I did.

We were in a hall of living trees. Stout and aged they were, with bark as hard and cold as forged steel, and yet if one watched long enough it seemed they swayed, this way and that, though I could feel no breeze. These were trees such as there were when the world was young, Legolas whispered to me, and his fingers interlaced with mine, even as the branches interlaced overhead.

This and other alien wonders he showed to me, and I was amazed. He lead me ever deeper into the Entwood, among trees whose roots alone were like fortresses raised above my head. And my heart beat ever in my ears, like a drum.

At nightfall we camped at the root of a great tree, and when I lay down in my bedroll in the dark I could still see him perched on a great root above me, for elves need little sleep.

I did not sleep, either. All night it seemed I waited for the touch of a delicate hand, the featherweight of his body settling against mine. I waited with impatience and with dread. The bedmanners of elves are well-known, as I have said; but my own people take but one mate, and many who cannot claim their desire, be it man or woman, will have none.

I had already come to know that it would be thus with me. And so trembling I lay awake all night, as the stars moved above the canopy of leaves, and my doom glimmered on his perch above my head, like something wrought of mithril, still and bright.

For my trouble I rose in the morning with a stiff neck. Legolas was boiling water over a little grass-fire for tea.

We came out of the forest that afternoon and set out north for Mirkwood and the Iron Mountains beyond. My heart was heavy.

He did not take me in the caves, for all his innuendo, I thought to myself. I had thought he might draw me down to the sandy cave floor and ... but naught came of it.

He did not ravish me in the forest, I thought. It was his realm, not mine, and he could have cast a charm on me and laid me low in a bed of moss and fallen leaves. He could have peeled my armor from me piece by piece, until I was exposed to him, my pale belly, the places no one has caressed ... I would have given that pleasure to a smooth-handed Elf.

But no.

It could only be that I was too unlovely for him.

No one has ever called me vanya, no one has ever said *lama alcarinqua* to my harsh dwarf's voice. Elves love beauty; I am none. And I grieved, for I loved him, and I would lose him now with not even so much as a handful of leaves to keep by me.

So we walked in silence, and the sun sunk low in the West.

Then Legolas said, "We could come South.''

He had not turned to look at me. "What?'' I asked.

"We could bring our people South, you and I. My folk could dwell in Ithilian; it must be won back from years of fell things and wildness, but there is forest there such as my kin would delight in. And spoke of bringing craftsmen to Helm's Deep...'' Here, he glanced at me, his light eyes slanted as of old. "You spoke of opening the caves and chambers, a single hammer-stroke in a day of anxious work.''

He threw my words back at me exactly as I had spoken them, months before. I was startled, and it roused me somewhat from my despair.

"Ithilian is not so very far from the Glittering Caves,'' I said.

"No,'' said he, "not far by elf-roads. It might be a good life, for two such as we.''

"Such as we?'' I echoed.

"Gimli,'' he cried suddenly, "my friend, speak now and tell me how it is with you! for my people must follow their hearts; but the hearts of Dwarves, they say, are like the hearts of mountains, difficult to reach, and seldom moved.''

I stood speechless. He pressed on: "And they say of the Dwarves also, that they take no joy in the pleasures of the flesh, but carve their children out of stone and so continue their race. I no longer doubt it: A fortnight we have travelled together, and you have made no move toward me; not when I touched you, nor when I took your hand. And yet...and yet, my heart cries that I have found one closer than a brother, a companion for my life. A companion for my bed,'' he added quietly, "if only you would have me.''

And he covered his fair face with his long-fingered hands.

I looked at him a long time, for he was very beautiful; and then I looked away for even longer, as the sun set over the Misty Mountains.

Then I turned to Legolas, and took his hands away from his face and held them in my own. He gazed at me, his light eyes wide. I kissed his hands and spoke.

"You should hear what they say of the Elves,'' I said.