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Dwarf Games

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There was a ritual to it.

First, a thorough bathing, to clean and relax the body. Gimli had been scrubbed shining clean, his skin then rubbed with spicy-sweet perfumed oils. He often forwent such things, leaving him smelling of leather and steel, linseed and wool, and ultimately himself.

Still, the oil was not overpowering, not cloying the way many sweet scents could be, and assertive in a way that made Legolas shiver when he breathed deeply.

Then again, there were many things of Gimli’s that made Legolas shiver.

Like the way his damp hair hung in heavy ringlets, the water turning it to a deep tawny rust—living garnet in his hands as he sat still naked at his dressing table and twisted the strands into a complicated array of plaits. They ran close to his head over his ears before being left free to hang down his back. The braids atop his head were stacked, plumped, and crafted to resemble the warriors tuft that Legolas had seen on Dain and Thorin II, that Dwalin had worn in his youth.

Like the utilitarian braid Gimli wore questing, these braids were designed to keep his curls at bay and out of his face, but Gimli had never strung his simple plait with beads of crystal and garnet, topaz and diamond. As his hair dried, lightening with a sheen of burnished copper, his hair burned in the firelight.

Firebeard, indeed, Legolas thought. As if warmed by that same flame, he felt a heat rush through him. He shifted where he lay on Gimli’s bed, humming as he felt the soft fur as it brushed against his bare skin.

Gimli paused in his task, his eyes catching his husband’s movement in the mirror.

“Awake, are ye?” Gimli asked, his voice low between them, intimate, as his fingers deftly tied off another braid with a twist of leather. His mustache and beard had been braided to match his hair, and still managed to maintain his customary forked look. He reached for another section of hair, easily separating the locks and twisting with nimble fingers, pausing only occasionally to thread a bead.

“You would have me sleep?” Legolas murmured, teasing, his melodious voice rough, well-used from the night before. “Never would I miss the sight before me, meleth!“

Gimli smirked, the expression clear in the blue-green glass. “You’re a sight yourself, ghivashel.”

Legolas grinned, stretching languorously on the bed, letting the silks and furs fall away and leaving him unclad, skin shining like moonlight. He heard Gimli bite back a strangled curse, and grinned at the ceiling. “You are more than welcome to look,” he said.

Gimli growled and stood, stalking over to the bed, and Legolas watched eagerly. So much of his husband remained hidden to him day by day, his dwarven modesty as strong and enduring as his will. But here, in their chambers, he would strip bare, maddeningly at ease in his skin and Legolas would stare his fill, relishing in the sight of his love, unencumbered.

Gimli’s hair was not yet finished, and there were still several locks that swung free on the left side of his head. The hair drifted and curled against his shoulders, where Legolas could just see the tops of the swirling knot work patterns that covered his love’s back and upper arms—his marks of mourning. So much loss, born with such grace, lives remembered through art and living tapestry alike. More ink, at his wrists and ankles, geometric patterns that climbed halfway to elbow and knee. Warriors ink, making him as a fearsome foe in battle, for if Gimli was unclad enough for an enemy to see such marks, it would be the last thing they ever see.

The last two markings Gimli bore, however, were not in the thick lines of the dwarves, but in the gentle swooping lines of the elves: above Gimli’s left eye, a curling pattern like a creeping vine to call him Elf-friend, and Champion of Galadriel, to let any that see him know of his standing between their two peoples. The second, however, was Legolas’s favorite, for it was his own name and symbol, created in the manner of the dwarves, inked above Gimli’s heart, and a companion to Legolas’s own only ink: Gimli’s name in flowing Tengwar, his symbol and, hidden in the design itself, Gimli’s own dark-name, bonding them together.

Stroking a finger over that ink never failed to make Legolas tremble, humbled: here, this fierce and fearsome, loyal and loving dwarf, so full of light and life, loved Legolas, simply Legolas, and called himself his and his alone.

Gimli had gotten farther dressed than Legolas had realized, however, and was wearing all of his ceremonial rings and bars: There, glittering at Gimli’s nipples and near buried by the russet fur, were Gimli’s coming of age bars: one at seventy for his majority, and one at one-hundred for his maturity. In his ears, the silver cuffs with small blue sapphires of the Line of Durin, rings of nobility, and at last, in his lobes, were the large crystal stones crafted by Gimli from the stones of Aglarond. A lone garnet caught the light on the side of Gimli’s Broadbeam nose. No longer the most recent, but certainly Legolas’s favorite, were the two rings at either side of Gimli’s lower lip of shining bright mithril, marking his other name: Gimli Silvertongue.

There was more jewelry, Legolas knew intimately, a testament to his love’s endurance and not a small advantage in their bedroom games, but Legolas found his gaze captivated by his love’s flashing eyes.

“Insatiable creature,” Gimli growled, standing firm with his arms planted on his hips, as rooted as the strongest mountain. “And a tease—to invite me to look and not touch—“

“You may touch,” Legolas said quickly.

“To touch,” Gimli said, stepping closer and kneeling one leg on the bed, stroking a broad hand along Legolas’s flank, and Legolas shivered again at the heat of him. “And we have not the time for me to touch you as I would, to take you to pieces as you desire, to love you until you are calling for me, desperately, singing so sweetly.” His hand drifted lower, over Legolas’s hip.

“Gimli,” Legolas breathed, needy as he pushed his hips up into that touch—that disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

Legolas shot upwards, snatching furs over his lap, unable to keep him pressing down against where he had grown hard and ready even as he glared at his husband. “Now who is the tease?!” He snapped at Gimli’s wide grin.

“Aye,” Gimli conceded, “But I am in good company.” He nodded down, and Legolas looked to see his lover’s cockstand thick and heavy, the ring at its tip glistening. Legolas bit his lip as Gimli shifted, making the silver studs along its underside catch the light. Legolas’s tongue touched his top lip; he knew well the taste of that metal, could taste it on his tongue now as a craving, and he shifted forward, ready to crawl from his bed for his love.

“Ah!” Gimli said, holding up a hand and backing away. It was so unlike his husband that Legolas stopped on all fours at the edge of the bed, the lust-fog of his thoughts clearing. He cocked his head in question. “I meant it truly when I said there was little time,” Gimli said, and the regret in his voice was clear. “I must dress and be off, but,” he stepped forward, cupping Legolas’s chin, leading him forward so that Legolas had to hold onto the bed or he would fall, and kissed him deeply. “I will fight all the more fiercely, dance with all the fire in my blood,” he said against Legolas’s mouth. Legolas’s eyes fluttered, head dizzy with the scent of his love, the spiced oil and the thick scent of his arousal. “And when the night is won,” Gimli continued, “I will take my prize, and it will be all the sweeter, for I will know that he burns with the same fire for me.”

“Yes,” Legolas breathed. He claimed Gimli’s lips once more in promise, before letting Gimli pull back and turn towards where his clothing lay. Legolas let himself stay upright, kneeling back on his heels, as he watched Gimli pull a long white tunic over his head. Around his waist, Gimli wrapped and pinned a long length of crosshatched patterned fabric in shades of blue and silver. Legolas nearly choked when he realized Gimli meant to forego his small clothes, that length of wool all that covered Gimli from other’s eyes. Over the shirt, Gimli pulled a vest of blue and silver brocade which latched in the front with silver toggles. Gimli sat to pull on a pair of knee-high stockings, and when Legolas would have thought Gimli to pull on his heavy dwarves boots, instead he pulled on a pair of leather slippers, still shod in steel, but wrapping tightly around Gimli’s calves. Idly, Legolas let his hand slip down his chest, stroking at his hardness as Gimli bent over his ties, only to be caught when Gimli righted himself.

“None of that, now,” Gimli pointed. “Or should I bind yer hands?”

Legolas pulled hand away, holding both up and open in a silent sign. I’ll be good.

With the last few touches—a leather belt with a furred pouch that hung down in front of Gimli’s wrappings, a circlet of silver on his brow, the final braid in his hair bearing their wedding beads—Gimli kissed his love, deftly avoiding Legolas’s grasp for more, and left their chambers, tossing out a “don’t be late,” as he walked through the door.

Legolas flopped back against the bed, grinning up at the ceiling. He had never thought, in his many years of life, that one day he would be playing bed-games with his husband in Erebor, but now that he was here, there was no place else he would rather be. He looked down his body, narrowing his eyes at his own cockstand. Of course, there were some inconveniences. It would not be easy to dress such. He sighed.

Well worth it.

Chapter Text

With his hood thrown back and his closed cloak fluttering around his knees, Legolas slipped into his position with the delegation from Mirkwood, a half-step behind his father. There was no response from Thranduil, save for a slight inclination of his head. Legolas didn't expect more, however, and had, in fact, counted on it. Legolas’s unconventional marriage was still a sore spot between them, though no longer cause for silence.

To Legolas’s left was Curulaedor, The dark-haired elf had been part of the siege of Erebor, and had risen to distinction for his skill both on the battlefield and his ability to relate to the dwarves. When Legolas had first announced his attention to rebuild a Ithilien, and how closely they would be tied to Aglarond, Curulaedor had been one of the first to volunteer. Legolas had been quick to name him his second.

Legolas glanced at Curulaedor, to find him looking at Legolas from the corner of his eye. Legolas grinned brightly, let his eyes list half-shut like a cat in cream. Curulaedor rolled his eyes, but there was no disdain and his bearing, and the faintest hint of a smile played about his features. Legolas was pleased – Curulaedor had a surprisingly dry deadpan wit that would wear well, and his lack of judgment was a relief.

There would be time later to contemplate the future, however. Now, his focus was on the present moment.

The games were held in the grand atrium, and amphitheater capable of holding the entire population of Erebor. The room glittered, green and amber gold, the firelight amplified by many mirrors.

King Thorin Stonehelm stood at the far end of the amphitheater floor, flanked on one side by Dwalin, the old warrior aged to white but still granite strong, the Lady Dis to his right. His cousin, his namesake’s sister, had turned equally white with age, but her beauty inspired thoughts of cool marble rather than weathered mountain rock. Next to them, the king’s dark hair was starkly apparent.

On Thorin’s other side stood the new King of Dale, Bard II, and Legolas was struck yet again by how much he looked like his great-grandfather. The dragonslayer’s blood flowed strongly in his veins, and Legolas hoped it boded well for their future. Bard had brought with him a group of men and women from Dale, and they sat in the rows next to him. This was to be a celebration for all three peoples.

As they crossed to great the King, Legolas looked about. It seemed that not only could the entirety of Erebor fit in the cavernous room, they, in fact, had. The stands glittered with dwarves jewelry, beads in braided hair and gems in rich fabric. It was a sight indeed, and Legolas had to fight to keep himself from staring. So absorbed was he that Legolas missed the greetings shared by the kings, and jolted back to himself only when Curulaedor nudged him discreetly. Legolas bowed with the others, following his father to their seats on the dais with the royal family of Erebor, while Curulaedor lead the others to their seats just to the left.

Legolas found himself seated next to the Lady Dis, which was a welcome surprise. Of all the members of Gimli’s family, the Lady was the only who had not so much as blinked when their union was made public. She nodded to him now, a wry smile twisting her lips beneath her graceful beard. Like so many others who had known her brother personally, she forewent golden jewelry as a matter of course, and the sapphire beads in her beard caught the light when she spoke softly.

“Well met, Legolas,”

“Well met, my Lady,” Legolas answered in kind. Dis’s eyes took in his attire in a single sweep and she raised one gracefully arched eyebrow in question. There was no time for Legolas to explain, however, as the sounding of horns signaled the beginning of the celebrations—a display of traditional dwarves dancing.

A page appeared at Legolas’s side, offering him a cup of malt beer, and Legolas took it with good grace. He would be little affected by the dwarves brew, a side-effect of his elven constitution, but he had grown to like the taste well enough. It was a dark brew, tasting of rich bread and milk, and would fill him without weighing him down.

He drank deeply, and nearly choked when he saw the dancers take their place.

There were seven dancers, all of them wearing a variation of the strange costume Gimli had donned in his chambers, though Gimli was the only dwarf wearing Durin blue. He was not, however, the only red-haired dwarf in the group, though the other dwarf was no near match for the depth of Gimli’s red, and looked, in the light, rather orange. Each dwarf carried with them a shining great axe, held out before them at attention.

They processed in a line with Gimli at their head, and when he stopped and turned, the others formed a circle, facing inwards. As one, they placed their axes on the ground, handle towards themselves, and stood. They bowed, faces up towards each other and hands fisted at their hips, and with that signal, the music began to play, a melody on their two-toned dwarven horn.

Up they went onto their toes, and when the drums beat their first, they began to dance.

Left, they leapt, landing on the beat only to spring back, their skirts swinging wildly with their movements. Every beat was a new leap, left or right, or up with a flourish as they tapped their heels beneath them.

It didn’t take Legolas long to realized they were dancing around their axes, sometimes in a circle, sometimes crossing over and back across the handle.

“Axe dancing,” Dis said, and Legolas, nodded. “It’s an old Firebeard tradition, one that was nearly lost. This is one of the few dances that still survive.”

“It’s mesmerizing,” Legolas said.

“Aye,” Dis said with a sly smile in her voice. “Gimli is quite talented.”

It was true. In the middle of them all, Gimli glittered, shining bright like a flame. Legolas couldn’t look away. One particularly high leap, and the wool skirt spun out, and Legolas saw, just for a fraction of a moment, a glimpse of pale thigh—and all at once the spark of his ardor was rekindled, and Legolas let out a breath like a blow to the gut.

The drums beat faster and the dancers leapt in time, quickening to match the pace, higher and lighter until it was as if they weren’t touching the ground at all. Legolas leaned forward, not quite aware of how he was moving, stopping only when the music came to a sudden halt, leaving the dancers frozen in place, their right hands lifted at last above their heads. As one they turned, and bowed to their king. Gimli was the first to turn and pick up his axe, and just as they entered, one by one they exited. They didn’t go far, however, and Legolas watched as a dark-haired dwarf handed Gimli a much welcomed towel. His husband wiped his face, and turned at last to meet Legolas’s eyes. He raised a hand in greeting, and Legolas lifted his own hand in return.

“I heard your father say that your people will be dancing as well,” Dis said. Legolas nodded.

“Yes,” Legolas said, as Thranduil stood.

“Dwarves of Erebor,” Thranduil intoned. His voice never seemed to rise, but still it carried through the cavernous space. “We elves of the Greenwood have our own dances to celebrate the coming of the Spring. As you are sharing your traditions with us, so would we share our traditions with you.” Thranduil gestured and Legolas stood with Curulaedor and the other dancers.

***

Gimli accepted a towel from Nori, grinning easily at the old rogue. He met Legolas’s eyes, waving easily. Did you like the show, my love? he thought. The heat in Legolas’s gaze was answer enough, and their earlier teasing was still too close for as little as Gimli was wearing. He was glad for his sporran, and the sins it was currently hiding. Still, he laughed at Nori’s good-natured muttering that he’d never understand what Gimli saw in the elven prince.

“I’ll take that bet,” Gimli said, off-hand.

The other dancers were gathered around, jostling each other with easy familiarity. They settled easily enough however when Thranduil stood to speak, and Gimli watched Legolas stand in preparation.

As he stepped from the dais, Legolas shed his cloak, and all sound left Gimli’s world.

As stripped down as the dwarves dancers were for their kind, they were bundled against the depths of winter compared to what Legolas and his fellow elves wore. Each elf was clad in leather, soft and supple, that wound about their waist like small clothes, with a longer stretch of fabric hanging from the front and back of his waist to his mid-thigh. They were all of them barefoot, though three of their number wore chains with bells on their ankles.

Dressed little they might have been, but unadorned they were not. They did not wear the gems and chains of the dwarves, but they glittered all the same, dusted with a sparkling shimmer. Gold dust, perhaps? Several wore ribbon on the arms, wrapped around the wrists to their elbows. Their hair was left loose, save for Legolas, who wore his marriage braid with pride, though three had threaded large feathers into their hair.

They stood in formation, semi-circled around Legolas, and as one they half-bowed to the dais, their right hands fisted at their left breasts.

There was no music, no horns nor flutes nor strings. There was only the beat of the drum, and with the rhythm, they moved.

Legolas crouched down low, but instead of stopping he moved, swaying like a spider on his toes, flowing with his incredible grace from his feet to balance on his hands, swinging his legs around and up and over. The others moved with him, around him, and against him as they spun, keeping Legolas in the center. He kicked out with his legs, and the others flowed around him like water. Faster and faster they moved until with a final crescendo and a fierce cry, Legolas leapt over the heads of the others, spinning through a kick, and landed to a full beat of silence before the dwarves were on their feet and cheering—none as hard as Gimli.

Nori leaned in close and passed Gimli a small bag of coin.

Chapter Text

Gimli had little time to meet his husband before he had to take his own seat on the dais. The elves were scheduled to display their skills first, and Legolas had to rush to get ready to take the field.

King Thorin III welcomed him with a friendly grin, and Lady Dis bumped his forehead, greeting him as family. He took his seat on her other side, knowing the other still sat empty for Legolas, and watched the attendants set the area floor with the complicated rigging that would be the course of obstacles for the elven archers to face. Simple distance was not enough for elven sight, diminished though it was out of the sunlight.

King Thranduil, spared him a stately nod, eyes never leaving the tourney field before them. He had relaxed as he sat and drank, and was fairly sprawled in his seat, draped in a display of elegant disregard for courtly behavior. Gimli wondered if it was a deliberate power play, or simply a fortunate side effect of the same irritation with court his son possessed.

Said son had just taken his place on the field, slated last to run, and dressed once more in his familiar breeches though his chest was still bare and the ribbons around his wrists has been tied tightly to his skin so as not to dangle. His bright hair was pulled back in an Elvish approximation of a Dwarvish workman’s braid as he checked and re-checked his equipment. The bow of the Galadhrim seemed to shine in the morning light, though it was really no brighter than the others, possessed of an inner brilliance that spoke so much of the Land, and the Lady, it was from. All of the Elven archers possessed a smooth elegance, but Legolas stood apart from the rest, larger than life, somehow, like a true hero of old.

As if sensing the eyes upon him, Legolas looked towards the dais, meeting Gimli’s eyes and winking so obviously that next to him, the Lady Dis snorted in laughter.

Thranduil clapped his hands, not bothering to rise. The sound of it echoed around the arena, and silence fell.

“Let the competition…begin!”

As one, the archers bowed to the King, and the first contestant, a red-headed Sylvan elf, stepped up to the start of the course.

Legolas had told Gimli that the course was designed to mimic the trees of the Greenwood at its darkest; twisting boughs and hanging vines that the competitors would run across and climb to hit a series of hanging targets. The impact of their weight on the course would send the targets swaying gently, and as the first target was hit, it would set in motion the first of four separate targets that ran around the through the course on a track. Each consequent target would be released as the target before it was hit. The competitor would need to not only hit all the stationary targets, but also release and hit the four moving targets. The fastest runner with the best score would win.

The course itself was a feat in engineering, and a testament to Elven and Dwarvish collaboration, and it had been the work of several weeks to complete. There were similar tourney tracks, complete with moving parts, in the Greenwood, but they were old, relics of a better time. Newer tracks tended to be simpler, and were few in number. No need for tourney tracks when your days were filled with hunting giant spiders.

So, while the Elves provided the design, the Dwarves made it work. Of all the projects the elves had asked the dwarves aid in creating, making the tourney tracks not just functional, but able to be quickly assembled and disassembled on the field without falling apart, was the most fun.

The first contestant flew through the course with apparent ease, hitting each target and releasing all the moving targets easily. His aim, however, was not completely perfect, and a few of the smaller targets were off center. (Though, Gimli noticed, they would still be kill-shots in battle.) Gimli found himself clapping along with the rest as the Elf’s score was announced.

The next few Elves proceeded the same. The second was a bit faster, though no more accurate. The third was more accurate but slower. The fourth missed the third moving target, leaving the fourth unreleased through she had the fastest time and was the most accurate in all of the other targets.

“I admit it,” Lady Dis said quietly to Gimli as the fifth elf ran his run. “I’m impressed. There are some shots that no Dwarf nor Man could ever make.” The Lady Dis was an accomplished archer herself, and had instilled a love of the bow in her younger son very early on.

“It would be different if you ran, my Lady,” Gimli said, looking at her though the corner of his eye. “The course would not dare risk defeating you, and would bend to accommodate.” He grinned suddenly. “And then, would find itself thoroughly trounced as you beat it senseless for implying that you could not complete it on your own.”

The Lady Dis sniffed, but was hiding a smile of her own. “As long as you recognize that.”

Gimli chuckled. “But truly, we are witnessing the height of bowmanship. The Elves of the Greenwood have long been hailed as the best of the best in archery. You should have seen Legolas when we were in Lorien; they would follow him around like apprentices at a master’s heels. He was very modest about it, but you could tell it pleased him greatly.”

“Aye,” Lady Dis said. “It is no small thing to be recognized for one’s skill.” She looked at Gimli. “Did he manage to get you on the lanes?”

Gimli snorted. “Aye. Once, and only once. It was enough to convince him I was better off with my axes. ‘Tis a rare Dwarf suited for archery, m’lady, and you know this well.” He sat up straighter, leaning forward in his chair. “But now, ‘tis Legolas’s run. Watch—he is a sight to behold.”

Thranduil looked at Gimli sharply, but didn’t hold the gaze as Legolas was indeed approaching the start of the run. He held his Galadhrim bow loosely in one hand, a bundle of arrows held in the other. He waited, still, for the call to begin, and between one moment and the next, flung himself at the course.

Thwip, thwip, thwip his bow sang as he sailed, his feet barely touching the ground as he spun and tumbled through the course. He released the first target, shot the second and a stationary target as it passed with two arrows loosed at once. He hooked his leg around a vine and spun, upside down, claiming targets five, six, and seven, and the eighth mid-air as he dismounted. Each hit was clean, solid, and centered. He moved faster than sight, his single braid whipping behind him as he fairly danced through.

Almost as soon as it was begun, it was over, Legolas alighting on the other side of the course; each target hit, dead center, and a good deal faster than the fastest runner before him. There was a moment of pure silence as he stood, barely breathing hard, and then the judge called his score, the clear winner. Thranduil stood, clapping his hands, and the arena exploded with applause. The Dwarves stamped their feet, the sound like rumbling thunder. The men cheered and hollered. The Elves laughed, already singing, and Legolas raised a hand, waving to the crowd. He spoke to the other runners, clasping hands and speaking to each in turn, before he and the two with the next highest scores, approached the dais. They stopped a few feet from their King, and took a knee, Legolas in the middle.

The three kings stood, and their aids handed them each a crown of leaves. King Bard was handed green oak, to present to the third place winner, a dark-haired sylvan elf, who had the second fastest time to Legolas, but had missed the center on three targets. King Thorin was given golden birch for the second place winner, the first runner. Finally, King Thranduil held aloft a crown of cherry blossoms, which he placed upon Legolas’s head with the pride of a king and father both.

The three winners were then invited upon the dais, as a group of men, elves, and dwarves rushed forward to clear the arena for the next event. Thranduil led Legolas up himself with an arm around his son’s shoulders. Legolas’s ears were red, and there was a pink across the bridge of his nose that matched the blossoms on his head, and Gimli decided that his next gift would have enameled cherry blossoms, to commemorate his victory and to always remind him of how this color looked on his skin.

“Congratulations, Prince Legolas,” Lady Dis said, when it looked like Gimli would do nothing but smile, stunned.

“Aye,” Gimli said, quickly. “Knew you could do it.”

“Oh did you?” Legolas said, voice light with laughter. “Do you then now concede that my count exceeded yours at Pelennor Fields?”

“It did not!” Gimli said, planting his hands on his hips and grinning into the familiar banter.

“It did so!” Legolas countered, mirroring Gimli’s position, and leaning forward. “There were ten men on the back of that Oliphaunt—”

Gimli waved a hand. “Beast and rider count as one. That’s the way it has always been—”

“Aye, when it’s a warg and rider! Not when it’s an Oliphaunt carrying ten men!

“Rules are rules,” Gimli said, and crossed his arms. Legolas narrowed his eyes, and crossed his own, leaning back. Suddenly, he laughed, throwing his head back, and Gimli joined him, uncrossing his arms. Legolas was on him in an instant, hugging him tightly, and Gimli wrapped his own arm around Legolas in return.

“Oh, I have missed our ‘fights,’ Gimli,” Legolas said. “Though I am sure Aragorn is happy to be free of them.”

Gimli shrugged. “He’s got his own elf to fight with,” he said, quietly. “And we’ve better ways to settle our grievances.”

“Aye,” Legolas agreed with no little heat, but still he stepped back, though he kept a hand on Gimli’s shoulder. “Come. Shall we watch the Men compete?”

Gimli nodded, carefully ignoring the way Lady Dis was covering her mouth with her hand, or the way Thranduil looked as if he had just stepped in something unpleasant. Even King Thorin was looking at them with exasperation, and he had been the one to marry them nearly a year past. Deliberately ignoring everyone else, Legolas led them to their seats, Gimli once again next to Lady Dis, and Legolas at his side between Gimli and King Thranduil.

“You are not subtle,” Lady Dis whispered from the corner of her mouth.

“I wasn’t aware we were trying to be,” Legolas said, and to any else he would appear as innocent.

“Aye,” Gimli agreed. He had Legolas with him, his wonderful husband who was now a tourney champion. He could give a flying fig about how it looked.

*

The next few hours passed quickly, and Legolas found himself soon forgetting that he and Gimli were on display, often placing a lingering touch to Gimli’s shoulder or arm to draw his attention, once even resting his hand on Gimli’s thigh as he leaned in close to hear Gimli’s commentary on the Men competing below.

Thranduil was a constant presence at his shoulder, but Legolas had grown up with his father hovering just behind him and would have cheerfully ignored him if not for the way Curulaedor would shift and draw attention to himself. It was then that Legolas would pull back, put that hated distance between him and his love until, caught up in the excitement below, he’d forget himself again.

At length, the Men’s competition ended and trays of food were brought forth to the dais, the servers offering each in turn. There was a wide array of Elvish, Dwarvish, and Mannish fare, and they quickly took their fill. Even though he thoroughly enjoyed the fresh early-summer fruits his father had brought from the Greenwood, they seemed almost bland to him now, the subtle complexities of flavor almost too delicate to enjoy, and Legolas delighted when he saw a pile of sauced ribs. However, Thranduil waved the server on before Legolas could grab a piece, and Legolas froze, not knowing if asking the server to return would be that one step too far.

A gentle nudge at his side made him look as Gimli passed over one of his own ribs with a wink. Legolas grinned, passed over a handful of plump strawberries for even trade, and let his eyes drift shut as he ate. Thus he missed the exasperated look Curulaedor sent him, or the dark look on his father’s face.

He did see, however, the bemused smile the Lady Dis gave Gimli as he happily munched on berries, and offered her one as well. She accepted with a smile nod that he was sure hid laughter, but it did not matter. He had a tournament win under his belt, good food, and Gimli.

Soon, however, their meal finished, Gimli stood to take his leave, for he was competing in the Dwarven games of strength and skill.

“Good luck,” Legolas wished, and Gimli grinned.

“From your mouth to Mahal’s ears,” Gimli muttered, and left with a bow to prepare.

“You’re in for a treat,” The Lady Dis said, settling into the seat Gimli left. “Gimli is a fierce competitor.”

“I am well aware of Gimli’s competitive nature, my Lady,” Legolas said. “Often we would enter competitions between ourselves; truly, we were friends long before the others believed we were for the strength of our competition. I’m quite afraid we nearly drove Aragorn to the end of his wits.”

Lady Dis laughed, delighted. “No one else, but Gimli could frustrate one so completely, yet in such a way that one would never hold it against him.”

“He does have a way,” Legolas said.

“Hmm,” Lady Dis agreed. “He is a poet, in his soul, and for all that his hands turn to nearly every endeavor with skill, I feel that is where his true calling lies.”

“Aye,” he said, aware his voice had gone quite soft as he remembered Gimli’s eloquence at Khazad-Dum, in Lorien; his words of comfort at Helm’s Deep and after Pelennor; his grace at their union in Fangorn and the lover’s words that followed, and follow still.

Lady Dis eyes him, and then said, sly; “He’s not bad looking, either. You’re lucky to have him.”

Legolas flushed from ears to chest, and grinned. “Aye,” he said at last, knowing he sounded love-drunk, and not caring.

“Hmm,” Lady Dis said again, but did not comment further as the trumpets sounded, signaling the start.

The sun was just setting as the Dwarves took the field, and it shone down through clever holes, reflected over the area with great mirrors. The sun bathed the athletes in red-gold light as they took the field, shining off Dwarvish metals. Legolas sat forward as he realized the metal was that of jewelry alone. He could hear others murmuring around him; The Dwarves had taken the field sans armor, and some even sans tunic, baring impressive displays of chest hair and muscles, tattoos and pierced flesh. Legolas’s breath caught as he realized Gimli was one such, having removed his tunic and vest, remaining only in that patterned skirt.

“Aye,” Lady Dis said. “Not bad looking at all.”

Legolas shot her a look, and she laughed, conceding and abandoning her teasing for the moment.

“Tell me about the games?” he asked, and the Lady Dis nodded.

“There are three rounds,” she said, “with different tasks asked. First is a feat of strength, the second of strength and skill, and the third of dexterity. Traditionally, there are several events in each round, but some have been moved to tomorrow’s events. The feats left are the ones decided to favor Dwarrow physicality too much. The first is the deadlift; each Dwarrow must lift stones of greater and greater weight to a set height, passing them to the left with each lift. The last standing wins.”

Legolas nodded. “And the…attire?” he asked. “It is not simply for dancing?”

Lady Dis grinned wider. “Tradition,” she said. “The northern Dwarven clans, the Longbeards, the Broadbeams, and the Firebeards, all wore such. Now it is reserved for formal events, like a wedding, or celebrations and events such as this. The patterns tell the family. Gimli’s identifies him as of the Longbeard and Firebeard clans, with blood ties to the royal lines of each.”

“I thought such distinctions were determined by braids,” Legolas said. Lady Dis arched her eyebrow and Legolas wondered if he wasn’t supposed to know that.

“They are,” she said. “That is why they are now generally reserved for events where the braids would change, or the hair would need to be tied back.”

Legolas nodded to show that he understood, and watched as the Dwarves took their places and stood still as stone, waiting.

King Thorin stood, raised a hand, and the arena went silent. He called out something in Khuzdul, and the Dwarves on the field answered in chant, beating their right fists to their chests three times. Thorin said yet again something Legolas did not recognize, and the torches around the arena lit at once with a great blaze, adding much needed light for the spectators, through the Dwarves did not seem to need it. The Dwarves on the field bowed and took their positions in a circle around a great pile of stones. A blond dwarrow who had opted to keep his tunic on began with a stone the size of Legolas’s head. He raised the stone above his head and passed it to the right; the stone moved quickly, clearly an easy round. When the stone was halfway around the circle, the starting dwarrow picked the next stone. Legolas narrowed his eyes.

“The starter…is that a dwarrowdam?” he asked.

Lady Dis nodded. “I’m surprised you noticed,” she said. “Most cannot tell the difference.”

Legolas shrugged. “I could not tell you how I know, for I am not sure myself.”

Lady Dis watched him for a moment. “Does it matter?” she asked. Legolas shook his head.

“Unlike men, Elves do not believe in separating work along those lines,” he said. “I do not even know why it struck me so.”

“He is not the only one,” Lady Dis said, and Legolas blinked at her before remembering what Gimli had told him their first night in Edoras after meeting Eowyn, Shieldmaiden. “Westron is imperfect,” Gimli had said. “Every word implies male or female, as if it matters in anything but childbirth! Pah!” Gimli had spat, and sucked on his pipe. It was a sore spot for him, though Legolas was not sure why. “In Khudzul there is one word, khudz, and it is neither masculine nor feminine and thus is used for both. So, while every Dwarf is a Dwarrow, only those who are mothers are Dwarrowdams, regardless of biology, but we learned early on that Men place much on the divide between those who can bear children and those who cannot. So, every Dwarf outside the mountain is a ‘he’ and only mothers are called ‘she.’”

“I cannot tell,” Legolas said. “Though I understand that is the point?”

Lady Dis nodded. “Aye. That is the point.”

The athletes had moved on to their fifth stone, and it was massive. The passing had slowed as each Dwarf heaved its weight, and the strain was starting to show on some. Gimli was one of the few still apparently unaffected, but the Dwarrow he passed to could not reach the height and when he passed it on, that dwarrow bowed and left the circle. The sixth stone took out three more, and the seventh another two. By the tenth stone, there were three dwarrows left, and Legolas was on the edge of his seat. The eleventh stone took first one, then the second, and Gimli was the last to catch the stone, and though he strained, he lifted it easily above his head, and he dropped the stone to cheers.

There was little time to rest, however, as they moved to the next task. They stood in order of endurance, with the first dwarrow out first and Gimli last in line. Before them was the trunk of a great tree, nearly a foot in diameter, stripped of its bark and branches. The first dwarrow picked up the end of the trunk and walked it up, standing it on end. Bending down, he lifted it so his hands were beneath it and the trunk lay against his right shoulder. With a mighty shout the Dwarrow heaved, sending the log end over end to land in front of him before returning to the back of the line.

“Caber toss,” Lady Dis said. “The goal is not height, but accuracy. The straighter the trunk lands after at least one full revolution, the better. Best average of three wins.”

Legolas nodded and watched as the Dwarrows moved through their line. Like before, some moved with ease, while at least two hit the end of the trunk against the ground before it fell forward. Gimli stepped forward and again Gimli accomplished the task with ease, the trunk making a full one and a half revolutions before landing nearly perfectly straight before him.

The Dwarves on the dais all cheered, stamping their heavy boots, and Legolas joined in, clapping his hands and whistling. Even Thranduil applauded, slowly, and when he saw Legolas watching, he arched an eyebrow.

“Your… companion seems most skilled,” he said, and Legolas raised both eyebrows in return.

“He is, indeed,” Legolas said. “These displays show only a portion of his skill. On the battlefield, axe in hand, he dances and orcs scatter at his feet. It is….impressive to behold.”

“Impressive,” Thranduil said. “I see.” He looked back to the field where Dwarven runners were preparing the final contest. “And he has…impressed you?”

Legolas felt his mask harden; it was a familiar barb, and he grew reckless. “Many times, as you well know,” Legolas said. “He impresses me still. I would have to be blind to not see him as he truly is.”

Thranduil leaned back, suitably chastised and Legolas closed his eyes briefly, cursing under his breath. And they were just starting to mend fences!

Lady Dis leaned in as the trumpets sounded to signal the last event.

“Are you all right?” she murmured.

“Aye,” Legolas muttered back, and then sighed. “For all my years, between us, Gimli has the lion’s share of wisdom.” Gimli knew how to speak without insult, to speak when insulted. Legolas had never bothered learning the skill, and he hurt for it now.

Such were Legolas’s thoughts as competition began. This time, the Dwarves faced a series of targets, much like the archery course Legolas himself ran. However, though the targets were varied, the Dwarves aimed from a single spot, and instead of arrows, they each had a set of throwing axes, ornately carved and shining in the torchlight.

Legolas leaned forward. Gimli’s strength had never been in question; he had seen Gimli move boulders like pebbles on their quest. His accuracy with that strength was also never in question; one did not wield his axes with such deadly efficiency without great control. But this—Gimli never threw his axes. He had often declaimed the virtue of essentially throwing one’s weapon away in battle. That, coupled with Gimli’s truly abysmal showing on the archery course, had Legolas worried. How would Gimli fare?

Once again, Gimli was last to compete. He stood to the side, handling his own axes, tossing one lightly from hand to hand, spinning it in between. The axes were familiar; Gimli had carried them on the quest. They were lovingly engraved with a repeating pattern that differed from the single pattern that tied the rest of Gimli’s possessions together. Idly, Legolas wondered just who those axes had originally belonged to.

One by one, the other Dwarves had their turns, the Dwarrowdam holding a clear lead over her competition. In all the competition so far, she was the one closest to Gimli in skill, and Legolas bit his lip as he watched her land her axes one by one, dead center of the target. The dwarves all cheered when her turn was finished, and she bowed to the dais. Legolas forced himself to clap.

At last, Gimli stepped up to the course, still idly tossing and catching the one axe. Legolas leaned forward in his seat, not daring to blink, to breathe. Suddenly, he wished for daylight; the darkness blurred the edges of his vision and he would see his love clearly.

Gimli raised the first axe and let it loose with a snap of his wrist. The axe flew true, quicker than elven sight, and sank deeply into the target. Legolas gasped quietly, quickly, then bit his lips together to prevent further sound.

Again, Gimli hefted his axe and let fly. Again, dead center of the target.

Legolas grew aware that the field was growing darker in his vision, and forced himself to breathe, as quietly as he could. His left leg started to bounce.

Gimli let fly. The axe sank home.

Legolas felt hot, giddy, and suddenly foolish. Of course Gimli could do this. Was there anything Gimli could not do? Gimli was the most skilled Dwarven warrior to come out of Erebor in generations, by his own sheepish admission. His quest had only honed his skills. So what if Legolas had never seen him before hit a target with such skill. Could Legolas throw an axe as such? Never. Of course Gimli would fumble with such an unfamiliar weapon. He had to stop himself from giggling. It would be improper, it would say too much—

Almost as if he was aware of his teasing, Gimli let the last few axes fly quickly, landing throw after throw. When the last axe was thrown, left embedded in the target with such force that it rocked forth and back, Gimli turned to the dais and bowed—and the arena erupted.

Legolas found himself on his feet, cheering and clapping, bringing his fingers to his lips to whistle, stamping along with the Lady Dis, Gloin and Dwalin, King Thorin and Curulaedor.

The Dwarrowdam approached Gimli and after a few words Gimli laughed, and grasped her by the forearm with a nod.

Then Gimli turned back to the dais, eyes finding Legolas and grinning so broadly that Legolas felt dizzy. His own face ached, and he realized he must be grinning as well. King Thorin called for silence and said a few words as he presented Gimli with the winning prize, but Legolas cared little for what he said. His Gimli—his love—had never looked brighter than at that moment, and Legolas wanted nothing more than to drag him off and show him his love away from prying eyes.

Some of that wish must have made it to his eyes, for when Gimli met them again, he flushed nearly as red as his hair, the color spilling attractively over his shoulders, shading the skin behind tattoos Legolas wanted to trace with his hands, his mouth.

At last, Gimli was before him, and Legolas wanted to reach out—to touch—but he held back, some reason intruding, and said, instead. “If I had known of your skill, my friend, then I would have pitted my bow against your axe long before now.”

Gimli grinned, low and slow and filled with heated promises. “We shall have to do so soon,” he said. “My axe has longed for such a challenge.”

Legolas felt his ears flush, but before he could form a reply, King Thorin appeared at Gimli’s side, clapping him on the back with congratulations and steering him away for the feast. Legolas blinked at Gimli’s retreating back.

The feast.

He would have to sit with his father, both as his son and as the victor of the tourney, for at least the next hour. He would have to wait to get Gimli alone, and once again his desire was kindled. This day would be the end of him.

Chapter Text

The feast was prepared and presented in the Elven style on the grass that stretched before the mountain underneath the stars. A central bonfire provided light to the Kings and the victors of the day’s games, with smaller warm fires entertaining the rest. Wine flowed freely, and ale, and spirits.

Bombur’s sons had been turning a spit laden with a fat pig for the better part of the day, though they showed no signs of weariness. At last their work paid off, and as soon as the Kings declared the feast officially begun, they carried to the kings a platter laden with the fruits of their efforts, skin golden and crackling, meat juicy and tender. A fat red apple was stuffed in the hog’s mouth. At his side, Legolas whimpered.

“Your fascination with pork astounds me,” Gimli said, quietly. “Was it not Legolas who turned up his nose at the salted pork at Isengard, who ate only bread and apples in Rohan?”

Legolas sniffed. “It was, and you well know it. But truth, it was also not your cousin’s pork that was on offer, or I am sure I would have availed myself of such before now.”

Gimi grinned. “I’ll pass along the compliment.”

They ate, Legolas humming under his breath as he chewed on cracklings, Gimli crunching bone between his teeth to suck at marrow. Legolas selecting a few smoked and sauced ribs, the sauce smearing across his lips as he ate, the meat falling clean away. He sucked the end of the bone, cheeks hollowing and eyes heavy lidded as he hummed his appreciation. Gimli’s mouth went suddenly dry as the low simmer of lust that had been roiling all day peaked like a hit to his gut. Legolas pulled the bone from his mouth with a soft pop, and when he opened his eyes, he smiled, coy, with his eyes full of knowing.

“Good?” Gimli asked. His question rumbled through his chest, and he saw Legolas shiver at the sound.

“Oh, aye,” Legolas agreed, breathlessly. “I find I quite enjoy the taste of dwarves’…meat.”

Gimli couldn’t help it—he burst out laughing, great big belly laughs that sent his whole frame shaking. It was an odd sensation; his mirth had not cooled his ardor. In fact, his laughter had only made his desire grow. They would not long be at the feast, he realized.

Huffing, Legolas tossed his head, but Gimli knew his husband. He knew the angry line of his husband’s shoulders, and Legolas was not truly mad, despite the silence between them. “I am quite pleased that you enjoy the taste of dwarven…meat,” Gimli said, conversationally. “As it turns out, I’m quite enamored with elven…meat.”

Legolas’s shoulder twitched once, twice, and then Legolas was looking over his shoulder, biting his lip as his eyes twinkled. “All right, you’ve made your point. It was a ridiculous thing to say.”

“Nay,” Gimli said. “For it was nought but the truth, and I, for one, am very happy you have said it. Here,” he said, reaching out to swipe his thumb along a drop of sauce, but as soon as the pad of his thumb touched Legolas’s lips, it was like lightning down his spine all over again. He ran his coarse and calloused thumb across the softening, gentle swell of Legolas’s lips, and then paused, hand still outstretched. Legolas swayed forward, as if drunk, to kiss away the offending smear. He hummed to himself at the pressure building against his lips, and then parted them to draw Gimli’s thumb inside. He smirked when he heard Gimli’s bitten off curse, running his tongue along the whorls of his fingerprints and hardening of callous.

Gimli pulled his thumb free with a shuddering sigh, and Legolas opened his eyes; the black of his pupils had nearly eclipsed Legolas’s severe, bright blue. Suddenly, Gimli remembered where they were, and coughed, breaking the spell.

Legolas flushed, but turned back around to the table where he was introduced to another treat, a stewed apple sauce spiced with cinnamon. Gimli, to be fair, was given smoked fish and delicately herbed breads—much heartier than the elven fare served in Rivendell or Lorien, though still unquestionably light to his Dwarven palate.

Throughout it all, Elven musicians played soft songs, singing in their peculiar, trilling voices. This, even to Gimli’s untested ears, sounded different. Lighting his pipe, he wondered just how blind he had been to the Elves closest to him, when the Elves that were most familiar lived half a world away.

“Gimli?” Legolas asked. “What brings such a look of sadness to your face?”

“Probably this ruddy music,” Nori said, appearing suddenly behind them. “Not quite as funerary as it was in Rivendell, I’ll give ‘em that, but still so bloody tragic.” “No offense, your highness,” he said, as if an afterthought.

“None taken,” Legolas said, amused. “Elves have long looked for beauty in tragedy. It is a…common theme.”

“That’s just sad,” Nori said. “This party needs a bit more party, if you catch my meaning.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Lady Dis said from where she sat, halfway across the fire. “Do you have a suggestion, Nori?”

“Me?” Nori said, placing a hand on his chest with exaggerated care. “Why ever would you think that?”

Gimli grinned. “Because you’re smarter than you look, and twice as clever. Come on, then, what’s the plan?”

“No plan,” Nori insisted, then started to grin. “Just a cue,” he nodded his head, and bowed low, arms out to his side, and from across the fires, Gimli heard Bofur shout:

“Oy, you hear that, lads! Bilbo said we’d blunt the knives!” And began to sing as the remaining members of the company pulled out their instruments and began to play – clearly, Nori had had some say in this; his father rarely carried his clarinet with him anymore. It was a familiar song, an old tavern tune adapted to his Thorin’s Company’s furry-footed fourteenth member at their first meeting—and often sung in his honor in the reclaimed Erebor. Gimli laughed as he clapped along, adding his voice to the chorus and raising his tankard with the others as the song ended and they called out; “To Bilbo!”

He caught Legolas’s amused look. “What?” Gimli asked. “Bilbo Baggins is a name that has been long-revered in our halls.”

“And you celebrate him with mockery?” Legolas asked, eyebrow raised.

Gimli leaned back in his seat and looked at Legolas. “You do not know the story. Of course, how would you?” He huffed his pipe for a moment. “Apparently, Bilbo was not expecting my father’s company when they arrived on his doorstep, and in true Hobbit fashion, grew quite flustered, though he was apparently very accommodating. You remember how Sam would get. The company, not knowing Hobbit customs very well, found him quite silly and teased him with that song. It wasn’t until much later that they realized their error, but by then the song had become a bit of a theme song for Bilbo.” Gimli shrugged. “We sing, and we remember him and the lesson of underestimating first impressions.”

“I see,” Legolas said quietly. “That is a noble remembrance.”

“It is a Dwarven one,” Gimli corrected.

“I see no difference,” Legolas said, and Gimli nodded, smiling.

While they had been talking, other Dwarves had pulled out their instruments, much to the surprise of the Men and the Elves, and several pockets of Dwarvish music had sprung up between the Elves.

Then, one bold Mannish musician had approached a trio of Dwarven players, asking if he could add his strings to their group. After a moment’s consideration, the Dwarves agreed, and the Man joined in, improvising as they played a jig. A young woman from a nearby fire began to dance, twirling her skirts as she moved to the beat. She was joined by her sisters, and the group started to draw the attention of the crowd. Another three Men joined the band, and an Elf maid added her pipes, their ethereal melody soaring up, a counterpoint to the earthy Dwarven tones, and a few Elves gasped aloud at the effect. The Elves were the next to join in to the dance, and by the time Legolas and Gimli were able to look, the band had grown to nearly thirty strong with Men, Elves, and Dwarves, and the spaces between the fires were filled with dancers of all three races.

“Oh, dancing!” Legolas cried, and pulled Gimli out after him into the crowd. Gimli stumbled at first, still not quite used to Legolas’s surprising strength, but caught himself quickly. His pipe was left on the table, still smoldering and forgotten.

Legolas danced like a dream, flowing like the rivers flowed with explosive grace. There was no obvious pattern to his step, no formal dances like the ones Gimli had been dancing since he was a wee dwarfling, but there was obvious skill and joy in the way he moved his feet, his hips, his arms. His grin was a challenge, and a promise, and Gimli, for all his strength, did not have it in him to turn down such a challenge.

Stomping twice, Gimli spun into a dance, the complicated footwork coming with the ease of long practice, even as those around him started to cheer. The dancing Dwarves stomped their boots and clapped their hands, keeping time with him as he spun. Still Legolas danced away, never missing a beat. The Elves began to sing in their own tongue, clearly recognizing the air of competition between them and encouraging Legolas.

“Come on, son! Dance his pointy ears off!” Gloin yelled suddenly, and Legolas laughed, bright and carefree.

“Indeed,” he teased, face flushed and eyes sparkling like the stars above them. “Come on, Gimli.”

Gimli growled, and when the next refrain in the music brought Legolas close to him, he reached out and took Legolas’s hand, tugging just so to set Legolas spinning in, then reversing to send him spiraling outward. Gimli heard various gasps from those around them, but the dancers were spreading out to give them room, and they cheered them on as they came together and separated again and again. They moved with each other with the unconscious grace of the battlefield, each confident in the position of the other, of the readiness of the other to catch them as they moved with the intimacy of shieldmates.

They were burning, far too much, but Legolas was warm and solid and real in Gimli’s hands, barely breathing hard but flushed like he had been their first night together, and it was not within Gimli to stop.

The music ended with a great crash and Legolas fell into Gimli’s arms, held out and dipped low as they paused, holding their position.

Legolas broke first, laughing even as he hung, head upside down and hair brushing the ground. His body shook with the force of it, and Gimli found himself laughing much the same. With effort, he lifted Legolas up, but Legolas was too far gone in his mirth and slumped, seated, to the ground. His arm wrapped around Gimli’s shoulders, and Gimli hunched awkwardly forward for a moment before giving in and sliding to the ground next to Legolas, his great guffaws sending Legolas into further giggles.

“Please, meleth,” Legolas said, quiet breath in Gimli’s ear. “End this torment. Take me to bed.”

Gimli’s eyes slid shut for a moment, and when he opened them, they were desperate and dark. “Aye,” he said. “To bed.”

Chapter Text

Legolas’s head hit the wall with a muted thud, but he barely noticed as Gimli pushed up against him. His hands scrabbled for purchase along the stone wall, finding and twisting in thick embroidered cloth as Gimli hitched him higher, his arms thick and strong and steadfast under Legolas’s thighs. He was balanced on Gimli’s shoulders, Gimli’s strong hands splayed across his arse, his mouth peppering tiny kisses on the skin of Legolas’s midsection. Legolas gasped when Gimli nipped with his teeth, his beard warm and full, a whisper of sensation against his rapidly hardening cock, constrained by the leather of his breeches though it was.

Ai, Gimli!” Legolas panted, trying to writhe, to push up into Gimli’s beard, to find the relief of friction, but he could barely move, the way Gimli was holding him aloft, and Gimli, the bastard, wasn’t helping.

“Yes, ghivashel?” Gimli asked, his breath hot against the leather. “How may I serve you?”

Legolas growled low in his throat, and reached for Gimli’s hair, ready to pull him to where he wanted him if Gimli would not listen to reason.

“Ah, ah!” Gimli cried out, chastising. “Hands!”

Legolas gasped, shaking, but put his hands back on the tapestry, forcing himself to open his eyes to watch. Gimli nuzzled Legolas’s cock through the fly of his breeches, looking up into Legolas’s eyes before placing a gentle kiss on the tip. “Good boy,” he murmured. “Very good.”

They were almost all the way home; they had made it to a little used corridor down the long main hallway that led to the nobles quarters before Legolas had dragged Gimli into a long, lingering kiss. How they had ended up here, with Legolas’s shirt lost and his love between his thighs, Legolas was not quite sure, but he would not have traded it for the world.

Gimli shifted, jostling Legolas as he moved to support him with a single arm. Legolas let out a sound, high and needy, at the thought of the sheer strength of his husband. Then Legolas felt Gimli’s fingers at his fly, thick and sure, and he gasped when his cockhead was finally freed to open air.

”Ai, Gimli, lavo nin, he moaned, and Gimli chuckled, sending warm shivers up Legolas’s spine.

“Aye, âzyungel,” Gimli said, his face close enough for his beard to brush against Legolas’s sensitive flesh. He pressed his lips, warm and soft and full, against Legolas’s cockhead, a press of heat. “That’s the idea.”

Gimli lickeda hard stripe up the underside of Legolas’s cock, and Legolas cried out. The sound catching in his throat as Gimli closed his mouth around Legolas, and his back bowed as Gimli slowly took him deep down into his mouth, his cockhead bumping at the back of his throat. The heat of him was incredible, and Legolas keened.

Gimli grinned, pulling back enough to chuckle, and those thrice-bedamned wonderful rings in his lip pressed against the sensitive skin under Legolas’s cock, and he trembled.

Already, Legolas could feel the heat, buzzing like summer lightning, begin to build at the base of his spine, and it freed his tongue at last.

“A, Gimli, meleth win, avo dharo! Avo—“

Gimli pulled away and Legolas whimpered. He was so close!

“So quickly, Umralamê?” Gimli teased, licking at him with the hot tip of his tongue. “What ever happened to elvish patience?”

“Patience!” Legolas cried, shocked from his blissful stupor. His impending release still thrummed in his veins, and it made his temper flare all the more brightly. “Bah! I have been patient! I have been waiting all day, Mela en' coiamin, and I have ached for you all this time. I burn for you. Please, meleth let me come!”

“Aye,” Gimli growled, and swallowed Legolas back down. There was no teasing, now, just blinding heat and soft, wet—Legolas’s breath caught and embers flickered at the edge of his vision like showering sparks in a forge when he felt Gimli’s free hand reach down between his legs to press against his opening.

“A! Gellon n'i iuithog i lebir gîn,” Legolas moaned, and Gimli stroked with his finger, his callouses catching and dragging across the sensitized skin, and Legolas lost what words he had left. Pleasure throbbed through Legolas, and he came with a wail that echoed along the stone walls.

Gimli pulled back with a satisfied smirk. “That is one for me, my love,” he said. His thumb still rubbed, drawing out the sparks of Legolas’s release. Legolas blinked open bleary eyes, when had he shut them? He couldn’t recall, and smiled down at his love.

“You would make this a competition?” he asked, his words slipping into each other at their edges.

"Nay, a game,” Gimli said. “I will try to beat my score, to make you sing for me again and again.”

“And I will put dwarvish stamina to the test, to make you quake for me as quickly as I quake for you,” Legolas said, and squirmed until Gimli let him down. He folded over on himself, his knees not yet steady, and kissed Gimli to seal their pact.

“It is agreed,” Gimli said against Legolas’s lips. “Let us retire to our own arena.”

Legolas giggled, kissing the tip of Gimli’s nose. “Let’s.”

They never found Legolas’s shirt, but instead ran for Gimli’s rooms with all haste, flushed and laughing and anticipating their game. Gimli paused only to mark the door “do not disturb,” and then they were inside, Legolas stripping his clothes like a tree dropping leaves.

Gimli stood just inside the door as Legolas’s bent forward to remove his breeches, stilled for a moment by the sight. Legolas, still bent over, flipped his hair out of the way, like a stream of pale gold, and winked.

Gimli grinned.

In three steps, Gimli was up against his husband, a single hand pressed to the small of Legolas’s back to keep him in position. Gimli had rarely lamented his husband’s much greater height, and why would he? Gimli was not an elf, he was a dwarf, and a perfectly respectable size for one, as well. But their differences in height meant that finding a compatible position sometimes proved difficult; if Gimli wanted to fuck his husband now, for example, either Legolas would need to get down on his knees, or Gimli would have to find a box.

Luckily, Gimli was patient, and he had a game to win, besides. This position was perfect for other things.

Sure that Legolas was not moving, Gimli spread his hands over Legolas’s cheeks, pressing down with his fingers, and was rewarded with a breathy moan from his husband. Gently, he parted the muscles, tracing both thumbs along the pink creased skin that ran from either side of Legolas’s hole. With a featherlight touch, Gimli ran a single thumb over the ring of muscle, watching it twitch in response to the caresses.

When Legolas’s silence continued, Gimli chanced a glance at his face; Legolas’s face was flushed wine red, and he had bitten down on his lower lip, eyes shut.

“Don’t be shy now, love,” Gimli murmured, nuzzling at Legolas’s skin, letting his beard tickle at the top of Legolas’s thighs. “Let me hear you sing for me.”

Legolas seemed to force his mouth open, but all he could do was breathe heavily, too lost in the feeling of Gimli’s thumb tracing runes across his hole.

“Come now,” Gimli said, and Legolas cried out, legs shaking hard as his cock spent once again. Not much, Gimli noticed through his surprise, but enough to shake Legolas. “Love?” he said. “I hadn’t meant it quite like that, not yet.”

Legolas groaned, and hung his head, muttering something Gimli could not hear. “What was that?” he asked.

“I said, If you do not yet know the effect you have on me, meleth, I can hardly be blamed for that.” Legolas’s voice was strained, breathy.

Gimli chuckled. “Well, this is certainly the night to learn. Are you good where you are, umral, or need you move?”

“I am yet well, here,” Legolas said, and Gimli was please to note that Legolas was steadying—and that his cock had never fully softened, still thick between his legs. He reached out and gave it a fond caress, stroking gently, and Legolas hissed, shifting on his feet to widen his stance further. Gimli left Legolas’s cock with a light tap, and spread his cheeks once more.

This time, he didn’t bother teasing. He pressed in and licked across Legolas’s hole with the broad of his tongue, circling around the ring as sounds of pleasure were almost pushed out of Legolas with every breath. Broad, sweet strokes of his tongue, followed by probing, pointed muscle, and Legolas began to babble, seemingly unaware of what he was saying. “A-charo, a-charo, please, fuck! Puitho nin, Puitho nin, Puitho nin…

Gimli grinned, pulled back to bite at the muscle, feeling his teeth sink in as he sucked a bruise, Legolas’s babble cutting off with a shriek. He panted for a moment. ”Dringo nin?”

Gimli released the skin from between his teeth, watching for a moment as the spot reddened to a deep near-purple, and without a word, brought the flat of his hand down on Legolas’s other bare cheek, watching with satisfaction as the muscle rippled with the force of his hand.

“Ai!” Legolas cried out. ”A-charo!”

“Aye, when I want to,” Gimli said, and just because he could, he spanked Legolas again. Legolas hissed, and pressed his arse back into Gimli’s hands. Gimli pressed back in, working his tongue to loosen Legolas, listening to Legolas’s panting, breathy cries and deeper moans when Gimli brought his hand down on Legolas’s skin.

Bit by bit, the muscle loosened, and Gimli reached around to fist Legolas’s cock as he pressed with a thumb, pushing the tip inside, and Legolas’s breath caught as he went tense, shaking, and then to the floor as his knees gave way. Gimli caught him lowering him to his knees and catching what he could of Legolas’s release. He hummed to himself, spreading it like oil across Legolas’s hole just to watch it shine as Legolas gasped and shook and started to calm.

“All right, love?” Gimli asked, and Legolas turned his head to look at him.

Legolas’s eyes were nearly black with desire, but they focused well enough after a moment. “That is three for you, my love. I am losing this game, but I am afraid that I do not mind.”

Gimli laughed. “Do you concede?” he asked, and Legolas shook his head.

“Nay. You have yet to find your release,” he said, and sat back, arching his spine to reach Gimli’s ear. “and I would have you spend yourself in me,” he whispered, biting at the skin around Gimli’s earring, and Gimli shuddered. He pressed his palm against his cock through the wool, and it was a moment before he was sure he would not spend right then. Mahal’s beard and balls, he was still dressed!

“Ah!” Legolas said, spinning around quicker than Gimli would have thought possible, pouncing on Gimli and pushing him back onto the thick, woolen rug. He held himself up above Gimli, one knee at Gimli’s waist, the other pressing up between Gimli’s thighs, pressing against Gimli’s aching cock. “It seems I am not yet out of this game,” Legolas said, leaning in to suck the sapphire earring into his mouth, his teeth sharp and his lips warms. Gimli gasped, his hips thrusting up, seeking friction. Legolas moved with him, keeping contact light and Gimli gripped Legolas by the waist, to hold him still. Legolas laughed in Gimli’s ear, making him shiver.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Legolas teased. “That’s not playing fair, meleth.”

“Fair,” Gimli repeated. Legolas hummed and licked the shell of Gimli’s ear. Gimli ran his hand down Legolas’s flank. “You do not fight fair.”

Legolas kissed the patch of delicate skin just were Gimli’s beard met his ear. “No,” he said. I do not.” He blew a thin stream of air, warm yet cool against wet skin. “Gimli,” he said, singsong. ”Sevin dhâf gîn an laved i 'wî gîn?”

Gimli blinked. His grasp of Sindarin was always strongest in the bedroom, but the words eluded him, like the way Legolas’s hair slid silken over his features. “Eh?”

“Can I?” Legolas asked, punctuating his question with small licks and nips. “Suck. Your. Cock?”

“Gnnn!” Gimli cried through grit teeth. “Aye, yes! Do it!”

Legolas pulled back, grinning brightly, and his long, delicate hands landed on Gimli’s knees. “I’ve wanted to do this since you put this on,” Legolas said, sliding his hands upwards, gathering the wool and pushing it up higher and higher, until Gimli’s cock was revealed, standing thick and tall, the silver of his piercings gleaming in the light.

“Aai,” Legolas breathed, as if he was the one getting sucked, Gimli thought, and then Legolas bent down and licked the glistening precome from Gimli’s shaft, licking up from the bottom as if his cock was some frozen treat, and tonguing at the ring through the tip of his cockhead. Gimli groaned, letting his head fall back, even as he reached out with a hand, cupping the back of Legolas’s head and letting his hair curl around his fingers.

Humming, Legolas sucked the tip into his mouth, and Gimli fought the urge to thrust, to pull Legolas’s head down where he wanted him. That wasn’t the way this game was played. He would have to wait there as Legolas worked his way down the row of tiny metal rods that ran down the underside of Gimli’s cock. Legolas tongued each one as he went, giving it due attention, and Gimli could feel himself grow wetter from Legolas’s mouth. Gimli forced himself to raise his head and look, and he tightened his grip. Legolas looked up, eyes dark, as Gimli’s cock stretched his red mouth wide. Legolas winked and pressed his head back against Gimli’s hand.

“Fuck,” Gimli cried, “Legolas…” and, twisting Legolas’s hair in his fist, he thrust up into Legolas’s waiting mouth. Legolas’s eyes slipped shut, his jaw slackening tough his tongue stayed pressed tightly against him as Gimli trust.

Gimli felt a long-fingered hand reach up and cup his stones, rolling them gently and flicking the pierced ring, and he came with a cry, thrusting in and stilling as Legolas swallowed around his cockhead.

A sharp pinch on his hip, and Gimli dropped down, Legolas’s breath coming in quick gasps, like he had been running a great distance, and he beamed up at Gimli.

“One for me,” he said, and his voice was rough. Gimli growled, and pulled Legolas’s face to his, kissing him desperately. They kissed for long moments as Gimli’s heartbeat slowed, until his cock began to stir once more.

Gimli cupped Legolas’s cheek and ran his thumb over Legolas’s swollen mouth. “Seven,” he said.

Legolas hummed in agreement and then paused. “Seven? Seven what?”

“Seven times will I make you spend yourself tonight,” Gimli said, and was satisfied to see Legolas’s eyes widen. “Seven is a good number, a strong number. A sacred number. I would show my love for thee, sevenfold.”

Legolas swallowed, thickly. “Gimli…”

“Three already I have,” Gimli said. “One in the hall, one by my words, and one by mouth. Four more times will I make you break. On my fingers, on my cock.”

“Aye,” Legolas breathed.

Gimli glittered. “Get the oil.”

Legolas scrambled to his feet, his gait coltish until he gained his bearings and dove for the small cabinet next to Gimli’s bed, where they kept a crystal jar of lightly scented oil. Legolas climbed onto his bed with the prize as Gimli quickly stripped his clothes, his shirt and kilt tossed carelessly over his shoulder. His soft boots were quickly untied, and he crawled onto the bed next to his love.

“On your stomach,” Gimli said, moving a pillow to the hollow of Legolas’s hips, angling them up making it harder for Legolas to squirm away. Legolas reached back with one hand, holding himself open, and for once, Gimli did not comment on his husband’s eagerness. Instead, he rolled the crystal jar quickly between his hands, warming the oil as much as he could before pouring a liberal amount directly onto Legolas’s hole. Legolas gasped as Gimli coated two fingers with oil, and rubbed them against Legolas’s hole as an apology. Legolas settled after a minute, his body relaxing as Gimli slowly started to work a single finger inside.

It wouldn’t take much, Gimli knew. Legolas was more than relaxed from his earlier release, and still slightly loosened from the night before. Soon he was working in a second finger, twisting them as he stretched, listening to Legolas gasp.

By three fingers, Gimli’s reach was deep enough to hit that spot deep inside Legolas, and he cried out, fisting the sheets. “That’s it,” Gimli said, rubbing that spot over and over. When Legolas began to rock back into Gimli’s fingers, Gimli pulled them back, ignoring the way Legolas whined.

“Roll over,” Gimli said. “I want to see your face.”

Legolas rolled, his hand sliding down his leg to hold his knee up as Gimli settled back between his legs, thrusting back in with all three fingers. Legolas cried out, back arching when Gimli hit that spot again, thrusting quickly as Legolas’s cock bounced from the force of it.

“I want you to come like this,” Gimli said, low. “Untouched, on my fingers.” Legolas shook his head, face growing pained. “You can do this,” Gimli said. “You can. Come on my fingers, and you can have my mouth.” Legolas whined, high in his throat, but the line of concern became concentration. “Relax, my love, let it come, let it go.”

Gimli saw the moment Legolas’ release began to build; his jaw clenched and dropped open, his breath coming in gasps as his skin flushed deeply. “Avo dharo, Avo dharo, Avo dharo— Hortho! Hortho! AI! Legolas cried as his body seized, his cock managing a few more drops. He wasn’t dry yet, but he would be before the night was done.

“So good for me,” Gimli soothed, smoothing his hand over Legolas’s chest. “You must be thirsty, yes? Would you like some water? Some wine?”

Legolas nodded, beyond speech, and Gimli pulled away gently, helping Legolas lean against the headboard before padding into his kitchen and fetching them a cup of watered wine to share.

Legolas took the cup eagerly, drinking deeply enough to spill drops of pale red down the side of his mouth. “Easy,” Gimli said, and took the cup back, drinking himself when Legolas stared at him. He didn’t even bother to wipe his face.

Gimli place the cup on the little cabinet, and gripped Legolas’s chin with his hand, leaning in to lick the spilled wine away. Gimli kissed him, gently. “More?” he asked. Legolas nodded, and Gimli handed him the cup; this time, Legolas sipped slowly.

His eyes were blown wide, his face flushed, his hair a mess; he was beautiful. Gimli rubbed his hand over Legolas’s chest, feeling his firm muscles, his belly, feeling the skin twitch and jump. He ran his hand down over Legolas’s thighs, and pushed them up and aside, letting them splay naturally. Legolas watched him from over the cup as Gimli picked up the oil jar once more, adding more to his fingers.

Gimli leaned in, kissing Legolas’s inner thigh up to the crease between leg and belly, holding on to Legolas’s leg when Gimli’s beard made him twitch and jump. Finally, pulled back and rubbed his forefinger over Legolas’s pink and shining hole. It opened easy, and Legolas shifted, but made no protest. When Gimli looked, Legolas met his eyes clearly, and smiled. Gimli smiled back, and took Legolas’s semi-soft cock into his mouth. He suckled gently, pushing in with his fingers to no resistance, and held Legolas there, so sweetly, until he felt his husband begin to harden once more. This would be the last time like this tonight, Gimli thought. He’d make it count.

So Gimli took his time, letting himself savor his husband’s taste, his scent heightened by their risen blood. He moved his fingers slowly, sometimes thrusting, sometimes rubbing, sometimes simply pressing. HIs husband’s release came, not like a thundercloud, but like a summer rain, with a soft cry and a gentle sigh. Gimli released his husband’s softened cock from his mouth.

“That is five,” he said, his voice rumbling like the very mountain they were in. “Can you give me two more?”

Legolas reached down, passing his hand over Gimli’s hair. Gimli turned into the touch.

“For my husband,” Legolas said, “I could do anything.”

Gimli smiled, crawling up to kiss Legolas, even as he used the oil on himself, slicking his once again hard cock. Gently, slowly, Gimli lined himself up and pressed inside Legolas’s welcoming heat. Gimli kissed Legolas wherever he could reach, his chest, his neck, his chin, his hips keeping up the gentle rhythm as Legolas curled around him, like a vine around a tree branch.

Legolas began to meet the motion of Gimli’s hips, and Gimli grabbed him by the waist, pulling him up off the bed to settle in Gimli’s kneeling lap, sinking him deeper onto Gimli’s cock. Legolas rocked, head bowed and hair falling about his shoulders, his forehead pressed to Gimli’s, the world close between them. Bit by bit, Legolas began to move faster, his hips snapping and his mouth moving without sound, mouthing the words, Ritho! Hortho! harder, faster.

Gimli gripped Legolas’s hips, holding him still, pressing him down and grinding, Legolas’s head falling back, and Gimli knelt up, holding Legolas in place even as he scrambled to hold on to Gimli’s shoulders, and thrust harder and faster, bouncing Legolas on his cock until he felt Legolas’ fingers curl into claws and his whole body shudder as he came, his cock twitching between them, dry.

“Six,” Gimli said, and lay Legolas back on the bed, still trembling, flipping him over and pulling his hips up, sinking back into him with a groan. Legolas’s face as pressed against the pillow, his moans near constant, wordless as Gimli thrust into him, his cockhead hitting that place inside Legolas. He was tight and hot, and Gimli could feel his own release building. He reached for Legolas’s chest, pinching at his nipples, dragging his nails down Legolas’s chest. He leaned down, and bit Legolas’s shoulder blade, just next to his spine, sucking a mark as Legolas shuddered around him.

“Seven,” Gimli whispered, and emptied himself into his husband.

Gimli gently lowered himself onto Legolas, his chest pressing against Legolas’s back as he pressed gentle kisses to Legolas’s spine. Legolas hummed, pleased, and pressed back against the kisses, but the motion was gentle, unhurried. Gimli licked a stripe up Legolas’s spine, finally earning him a soft voice of protest, and he chuckled, lips pressed to warm skin.

“Seven to two,” Gimli said without raising his head. “It appears that I have won this game.”

Legolas turned his head, and it seemed to take him great effort. Gimli couldn’t help but feel a small welling of pride at that. “Have you?” Legolas said, his words sticking together. He tried to push himself up with one arm, holding himself there, trembling, when Gimli stopped him to carefully pull out and slide off. Legolas rolled himself over, pulling Gimli to him. Gimli lay his head on Legolas’s breast, and listened to the words rumble in his chest. “I do not feel as if I have lost, meleth,” Legolas added, dryly.

Gimli grinned into his husband’s chest. “Ah, that is the best part of these games, âzyungel; if one player wins, both players win, for if a player loses, then the other player does not win.”

Legolas blinked at him, syrup slow. “Ah, my star, I am too weary to follow the twists of your words.”

Gimli reached for Legolas’s hand, twining their fingers together. “Then rest with me, dearheart.”

“Aye,” Legolas said, and pressed a kiss to the top of Gimli’s head. ”Ned i postog a nin, ni bant.”

Gimli blinked, his lids slow to respond; already he was beginning to slip into sleep. “Wuzzat?” he asked. “I’m not as familiar with those words, love.”

Legolas smiled, and said, “When you lie beside me, I am complete.”

Gimli hummed. “Aye, that’s the truth of it, all right. That’s the truth.”

In between one heartbeat and the next, they slept.

Chapter Text

Breakfast the next morning was a more sedate affair than the revelry of the previous day; a breakfast for the kings and their selected few, mostly family, in the Stonehelm's own receiving room. Without the need for spectacle, the affair was much more relaxed, which was quite the benefit for those who had overindulged the night before—which, Legolas realized upon his and Gimli’s arrival, may have been everyone.

Not that everyone showed their discomfort to the same degree, however. Thranduil, with an ease developed over centuries, showed little sign save for a slight slowing of his movements, and an almost unnoticeable avoidance of direct light. Bard II was the worst off, sitting slumped in his seat, grey-green in complexion and clutching a cup of dwarven kafé like it was his very salvation.

Legolas had to give Bard II credit for his presence, and hoped the man had learned the dangers of keeping pace with the Elvenking. Even if the morning after had included Thranduil idly petting Bard II’s hair, as if he was an overgrown feline. Legolas was determined not to look

“Gimli, Legolas,” Thorin II greeted them. The King was dressed simply in tunics no more adorned than what Gimli had worn on quest, and his hair was tied back in a loose tail. “Come, join us. There is food,” he winked at Legolas, “if you can stomach it.”

Legolas had the grace to flush, though he laughed, more subdued than his usual birdsong brightness in deference to the aching King of Dale. “I thank you for your consideration, King Thorin, but I have learned my lesson well; my head is clear and my stomach steady.”

“Rub it in, why don’t you,” Gloin grumbled. Gimli’s father looked nearly as bad as Bard, and Dis, who was wearing a pair of darkened lenses over her eyes, patted Gloin on the top of his head.

A large round table had been set, which was surprising for Erebor; Legolas knew how Dwarves tended away from curved lines. Still, the table would allow for easy conversation among all parties, and Legolas rather assumed that was the point. There weren’t many seats left, (despite their lack of indulgence in wine or ale, they were still last to arrive), and Gimli sat next to Curulaedor, who nodded at him from where he was slowly and methodically eating deep blue berries with his fingers. Legolas sat as well, far more gingerly, and ended up more leaning against Gimli than not.

The food on the table was simple: bread and fresh butter, cream and honey, fresh summer berries, a platter of fried bacon for those inclined to soak their sore stomachs in grease, and a tray of various baked sweets.

Gimli wasted no time filling a plate while Legolas poured them both drinks from a carafe. The drink turned out to be a tart fruit juice that tingled pleasantly on Legolas’s tongue. Gimli thanked him with a smile and began to eat. Legolas was content for the moment with his juice, but was not above picking pieces of fruit from Gimli’s plate when Gimli was focused elsewhere. The third time, Gimli caught him, and Legolas merely grinned, his finger still between his teeth. The next berry, a strawberry coated in honey, Gimli offered freely, grinning himself when Legolas ate it from his hand, licking honey from his fingers.

Curulaedor shook his head at them. “Is this what I am to expect then?” he asked, mildly, his question neatly hidden in the soft-toned conversations that filled the room.

Gimli raised an eyebrow. “Nothing wrong with a little goodwill between nations, Master Curulaedor,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “No harm in that, surely?”

Curulaedor raised an eyebrow. “You have an interesting view of politics, Master Gimli.” Gimli laughed at that, his eyes crinkling.

Legolas, meanwhile, just nodded. “Oh, we will most likely be worse, I suspect,” he said. Long absences were known to increase passion, and there would likely be longer absences than Legolas or Gimli would like in the coming years.

Curulaedor simply nodded as if he had expected as much.

“I think this year’s celebration was a great success,” Thorin II said, his tone capturing the attention of everyone in the room.

“Indeed,” Thranduil said. “A testament to the continued accord between our peoples.”

“Here, here,” Bard said, lifting his kafe a few scant inches off the table.

“Speaking of accords,” Lady Dis said, and pulled a piece of silver-white cloth from next to her seat. Gimli froze, eyes wide as he recognized Legolas’s shirt from the night before. “You boys left this outside of my rooms last night.”

“Oh,” Gimli said, faintly. “Is that where it went.”

Gloin groaned, and dropped his head against the table with a thunk. Even Thranduil covered his eyes with his hand. Curulaedor had both his eyebrows raised, and poor Bard II was looking between them, confused. “I don’t want to know,” he muttered, and turned back to his kafé.