11. Chapter 11:
Disclaimers – usual. All Tolkien's and we are only playing.
Warning: AU and m/m – nothing explicit or gratuitous… OK, nothing explicit. Rated high for safety but naked elf and man conversation in this chapter.
Again, thank you to Anarithilien for betaing even though she is also writing her wonderful story, Dark Forest and if you haven't read that, WHERE have you been???? There's a little extra in this, Anarithilien – hope you like the additions.
This one's especially for Vectis to cheer her up and take her mind off stuff for a little while. No rugby but reference other sorts of physical activity instead!
Chapter 11: The Fords of the Isen
Once they crossed the Isen, Gimli had managed to persuade Legolas to slow down and now the elf had soothed Gimli and made up for the reckless gallop down the hill and across the Ford.
'You were perfectly safe, Gimli. Arod is very sure footed,' he said calmly.
Gimli removed one hand from where he gripped the elf and tried to smooth down his beard and hair and to pull his round helm back to where it should be.
He could not see the mischievous twitch of Legolas' mouth as Eomer caught up with them breathing hard and his horse, Firefoot blowing and snorting. He let him have his head and they stood side by side, letting the horses crop the short grass.
They laughed together and met each other's eyes, much the way they had the night before in shared and mutual liking. Legolas let his gaze roam freely over the man, unabashed, although Eomer blushed a little under his gaze. The elf looked away but he remembered the feel of the heavy muscle and furred skin, the rasp of a beard against his cheek and the softness that came after the hard unyielding coupling, for he had not held back and neither had the man.
Théoden's strong white horse, Snowmane, pulled up alongside them. The king's eyes sparkled and his face was flushed.
'Is this the way all elvish cavalry ride?' he exclaimed 'Pelting into the mouth of doom?'
Legolas looked at him and decided he could not know his people's sorrow so he inclined his head, 'Only with a dwarf at their backs insisting we ride faster,' he flashed a grin at Aragorn who joined them.
'A common occurrence?' asked Eomer.
Legolas felt the dwarf prod him.
'No. And not likely to ever be again!' said the outraged dwarf. He struggled to slide down from Arod but it was too far really and Legolas had no intention of helping him dismount so he gave up.
'Will you ride together when you eventually go home?' Théoden asked, 'Your way lies together?'
'Yes, although the distances are far enough that Dain's folk and our folk do not share table very often,' Gimli said, and then with an air of innocence he added, 'although my own father was once the guest of the Elvenking.'
'Indeed,' Théoden sounded impressed, 'He must be a dwarf of renown to be so honoured.'
'He is indeed.' Gimli answered, 'I believe my father would dearly like to give him the same level of hospitality should the king ever visit Erebor.'
Legolas drew a sharp breath and he felt the dwarf brace himself. He knew that gesture- the dwarf felt well armed and ready for verbal battle.
'Truly?' spoke Legolas smoothly, not looking behind at his companion but at the king; he was more than equal to the dwarf. 'I had heard he was not so courteous, and that he disported himself during his stay in a barrel of wine.' '
Ah'. Théoden shot a look back at Gimli who was taking a deep breath in preparation for battle. Swiftly realising the mistake he had made in giving these two an opportunity for disagreement, Théoden directed the conversation elsewhere, 'And is the Mountain as beautiful as I have heard tell? I had folk pass through, travellers, who told of the splendour of its halls and the richness of the dwarves who delved great halls.'
Gimli chose to be mollified. Legolas recognised that this was as Théoden had intended, after all, he was king in this land and they were his guests. But Gimli glared at the elf's back anyway.
Softly he murmured 'Even as elves have a gift with song, dwarves have a gift with fire and stone. I am thinking fire and heat.'
Legolas laughed merrily, 'Come Gimli. We are both far from home and I have you to look after. I will not let you fall!' He reached for the dwarf's hand fastened to his tunic, as he had before.
At the gesture of friendship the dwarf softly laughed. 'Did you feel my gaze burn you then my friend?'
'No, I merely felt a warm glow,' replied Legolas.
Legolas burst into song. Not one of the long and rather sorrowful ballads his friend had heard in Rivendell, but a cheerful lilting tune. He knew the dwarf smiled and nodded along to the tune.
That night, as the company settled, Aragorn sat with Legolas and Gimli. The elf seemed lost in thought, the dwarf anxious and fidgety. Aragorn took out his knife and picked up a stick. His clever fingers whittled away at the wood, soothing and quieting his mind, he too was caught up in his thoughts. At last it was Gimli who broke the silence and Aragorn was glad to have something else to think about.
'Those were Ents then?' he said to no one in particular. Neither man nor elf responded. 'Big. Scary, Bit like trolls,' Gimli went on provocatively, 'Glad they are on our side….' he stoked his beard thoughtfully.
The Ranger knew the dwarf hankered for a hot bath and oils to untangle the knots that had worked their way into his hair and beard. He had noticed that Gimli had increasingly fallen into that habit of chewing the ends when he was worried.
'Wonder what happened to the orcs... do you think they ate them or something?'
Legolas smiled. 'Gimli, you sound like Pippin.'
'Ah –we will see Merry and Pippin soon I hope,' answered the dwarf. 'It will do us all good to have sight of each other for I doubt not but they are also thinking of us. Gandalf had not seen us when he met up with those two so they do not know if we yet live.'
Aragorn considered this for a moment but Legolas was suddenly alarmed.
'I had not thought! And they did not know of Boromir perhaps?' His fair face was troubled. 'That will be a grievous blow indeed for I think that Pippin was fond of him.'
Aragorn's companions were quiet, each remembering the terrible blow that sundered the Fellowship and set them on this trail.
'Gandalf's return is an omen and the Song has changed,' said Legolas with firm optimism. He tilted his head on one side, considering the wizard who sat with Théoden a little distance away before the king's tent. 'I think he has yet more surprises for us.'
'And we will have need of everything he can muster,' said Aragorn grimly.
Aragorn stared into the fire, remembering the last time they had been together as a Fellowship. It hurt him to think of it now and he grew quieter and more pensive. He was hardly aware of the looks his companions gave each other, nor did he notice when Legolas began singing very quietly under his breath at first, not a bawdy tavern song, but the Lay of Luthien. He chose the part where Luthien gave her love to the man who was her beloved. Aragorn sighed heavily, listening. Unconsciously his hand went to the token around his neck and it warmed his hand. He thought of Arwen and sank into slumber with thoughts of her to keep him company.
Gimli looked fondly at the sleeping man. 'He needs to rest.' He pulled a blanket over the long legs and tucked it under him.
The elf laughed softly. 'Will you tuck me in too, Nana?'
'Is Nana the elvish word for fearsome dwarf lord?' Gimli asked narrowing his eyes.
'Yes,' said Legolas, eyes gleaming in the firelight. 'Now sleep. I have need to watch the stars this night. I feel I have not seen them for a while.'
Gimli ignored him. 'He needs rest and so do you. We have a long journey still and the road to Gondor will not be easy.'
Eomer stood quietly watching the stars. He could not sleep although there was peace now in his heart where before there had only been rage and bitter regret. Saruman's army was vanquished and he now rode to see the result of their victory. He did not know what they would find but he trusted Gandalf.
And more than that… he closed his eyes sleepily. His limbs were rested and he was sated. He touched his mouth and smiled, remembering the stone storeroom at Helm's Deep he and Legolas had almost tumbled into that night before. He remembered the pile of sacks Legolas had thrown down in one corner and hurriedly spread his cloak. The elf had pushed him down, hands sweeping over the man's shoulders, his back and flanks like he was some prize and Eomer had not minded that fierce and uncompromising possession. The hard coupling between them had been followed by gentleness and quiet.
Legolas had lit a small fire with dry tinder in the storeroom's tiny hearth and leaned back on one elbow watching him. In the firelight, his skin was warmed and flushed. Eomer had in turn explored the strangeness and masculinity that was the elven warrior, his hard muscles and silk hair, and the strange markings inked onto the elf's warm skin, on his arms and across one shoulder. Eomer had seen such things once on the forearms of a merchant from Harad, but not since or before. And those had been crude etchings compared with these delicate, colourful swirls.
'What are these?' he had asked, finger tracing the green and gold ink runes on his wrists and thighs. The firelight had flickered, casting golden light on both of them.
'These are the emblems of my house,' the elf had replied, tracing the oak leaf and runes. 'And these are remembrances and runes for protection.' He had indicated the swirling pattern and curlicue flourishes on his upper arms and that on one side, spilled across his shoulder and onto his chest.
'You have the emblems of your house on both arms?' Eomer had followed a swirl with his finger and now followed it to the elf's nipple. He circled it slowly.
'And on your thighs?' Eomer had smiled and traced there also. 'Why is that?'
The elf had gone quiet, staring at the gold oak leaf, beneath which his father's sigil and his own were etched. 'I am no different in this from any other elf in Mirkwood,' he said, 'orcs and spiders are not particular, nor tidy.' He smiled wryly. 'There has always been war in Mirkwood, for as long as I remember we have fought. But still I miss home, the tall beech trees and cool streams that run through the woods.'
Eomer had not known what to say. Here he sat, with his hand laid lightly across an elf's lap, whose own home was far away. Yet he was here. With Eomer. And fighting Rohan's enemies.
Orcs and spiders are not particular, nor tidy.
A horrible image rose up in Eomer's mind. He was no innocent and had seen many a skirmish with orcs and Saruman's minions, but this war was new to Rohan. Villages had been razed to the ground and all that was left was a smoking ruin, but the dead were left intact. The idea that the elves needed to mark their limbs was suddenly unbearable. He looked at the elf's strong, muscled limbs, his long legs elegantly draped over the pile of sacks, the light from the fire flickering over his skin, warming it to gold.
Eomer had a sudden memory of the battle at Helm's Deep.
Legolas. Surrounded by orcs that seemed bent on his destruction. The hate gleamed in their eyes more strongly, and they seemed to gather in that small space around the elf – and yet he held them back.
He had remembered then an old, old tale that orcs were elves once…. And the thought brought bile to his throat, even now.
He had felt the quiet settle upon them and slowly raised his eyes to Legolas, who regarded him, utterly still. Eomer stared, believing the elf must see his thoughts.
'Is it so hard to think?' said the elf softly.
He laid his hand across Eomer's eyes briefly; the image frightened Eomer anew for the crazed lust for battle in the elf's eyes had been reflected in the eyes of orcs.
He scrambled back suddenly, away from the tall, naked elf-warrior who watched him closely, thoughtfully. The man stopped within arm's reach, breathing hard.
'Is it so hard to think?' Legolas had asked again in that softly accented voice.
Eomer had almost become so used to the elf he had stopped noticing the differences – but now, again, he saw the alieness in stark contrast. Eomer stared, mouth open.
The elf had not moved. He lounged, naked, near the fire, his arms still draped where Eomer had been only seconds ago, his long legs crossed at the ankles. Firelight flickered over his skin, scattered light across the delicate markings and runes.
'Are you afraid?' the elf had tilted his head suddenly to one side. Long winter grass hair had fallen across his chest. Legolas had swiftly leaned forward and grasped the man's neck firmly, pulling him close. 'You have nothing to fear from me,' he looked intently into Eomer's wide eyes and smiled wolfishly. 'I am but a simple Woodelf. We are less dangerous and much, much more wise.'
Then he had closed Eomer's mouth with his own, demanding and insistent.
…. Now, in the clear cold night near the Isen, Eomer stirred and his hand reached almost unconsciously to his thigh. It was too complicated for a simple horseman like him.
'I see you do not wish for company,' a voice smiled by his ear.
He jumped, eyes wide and hand on his knife. The elf stood so close he could feel his heat through the soft tunic he wore.
'I wish you wouldn't sneak up on people like that,' muttered the man, but he grasped the fingers of the other and pulled him close. 'But since you are here, perhaps you might keep me company?'
The elf grinned; Eomer could see the glow of firelight reflected in the darkness of his wide cats-eye pupils rimmed with thin green iris. Eomer caught his breath. Eomer felt he walked on the edge of danger and it had only made him hunger more.
'Hardly discrete my lord,' the elf whispered, and he was so close now his breath tickled Eomer's ear deliciously. 'If you make the noise you did last night, they would think a warg was attacking.'
Eomer grinned back, 'And the noise you made was like an orc army on the rampage.'
'I know not how you could hear anything, you had your head…'
'Hush,' Eomer interrupted, glancing round.
Legolas quirked an eyebrow and said mischievously, 'One would think you didn't want others to know how …'
'Ah yes!' Eomer interrupted again loudly. This time he gripped the elf's elbow and pulled him away out of the firelight. He seemed suddenly normal, the humour familiar and the sensation of otherness fled. Eomer kissed him deeply.
'You are insatiable,' laughed the elf. He tangled the fingers of one hand in Eomer's hair and the other hand grasped his tunic. 'Now, what would you have of me?' he asked in a way that was more a demand than request.
There was a cough behind them and Eomer jumped again. Legolas did not move away, his breath hot and quick and his fingers still entangled.
'Gandalf,' the elf did not look at the old wizard, his bright eyes still fastened on Eomer. 'Did you wish to join us?'
Eomer was quite scandalised and when the wizard advanced on them glaring he was more than a little scared.
'If you think to shock me, Legolas Greenleaf,' the wizard said threateningly, 'think again; you do not deal now with Noldo or Men. I promise you that I am not so easily swayed'
'We were discussing studs and what lines to choose should we cross an elven steed from Mirkwood with a Rohan steed.' Legolas still had his hand on Eomer's chest and although he had let go of his hair, he still looked lustfully into Eomer's eyes, and the man could not look away.
'Really,' Gandalf said dryly, 'I would have thought that a most unsatisfactory pairing. What kind of offspring would it produce?'
Legolas laughed. 'A good ride,' he said cheekily, watching Eomer blush.
Gandalf swept up his robes and threw them rather unceremoniously over one arm to get them out of his way. 'Have a care, Thranduillion. I do not think your father would approve a cross between such different mounts. And do you not have your own mounts at home?'
Eomer started at that and he unconsciously drew back. A flicker crossed Legolas eyes then and the strangeness that Eomer had almost become used to returned.
'You know well that is not our way, Mithrandir.' At that, Legolas turned and confronted Gandalf. 'And I am far from home. It is not our way, though the trees wither and the fire burns all the ground in the wood. But I am not there. I am with you.' He put his hand then on Gandalf's arm. 'I am still here. Isn't that what you wish to know?'
'For now at least… and it was only put on you to go as far as the mountains, I know.' Gandalf sighed, 'You have come further.' He turned and looked away into the East, where a dull red glow seemed to tinge the night sky. 'Come child, you and I must have words.' He put his hand on Legolas' shoulder affectionately. 'I have a message for you.'
Eomer felt confused; he had been dismissed. He walked away to give them their privacy. He was acutely aware of their presence however, and longed for Gandalf to leave. Like a moth to a flame he was, and he would have no regret. He was aware of the cold air and the smell of night. Stars hard silver studs above him and the turf beneath his feet.
Behind him, the wizard bent towards the elf and their voices were low. At one point, Gandalf seemed to recite a rhyme and after he had finished they did not speak. Then Legolas asked him something in a low urgent voice, though if Eomer did not know him better, he would almost say Legolas was afraid. Gandalf had paused before replying but Eomer was trying hard not to overhear and he only discerned a low concern in the wizard's voice. They moved away after that and took a seat beyond the camp.
Eomer only saw Legolas briefly then as he returned to his companions. But his heart clenched when the elf passed him with barely a glance. He dug his nails into his palms and sighed. Legolas had not lied – he had said, that is all it is. And he, Eomer, had said it was enough. And so it must be.
Gimli was still sitting by the fire and watching Aragorn sleep quietly. In sleep, his face lost its cares and the worry, and the lines round his eyes and mouth eased. He looked younger, thought Gimli. The road before them was still far and at its end now was Boromir's father. Gimli was certain he would not give up his throne to this stranger easily. Oh, and then the small matter of Mordor's armies to take care of. He became aware of the elf rather than heard him. It was a strange sensation but he was used to it now. He did not glance up but stared into the fire, musing.
Legolas sat near him and said nothing. His long fingers twitched and then found a twig that he began to strip of bark until the pale wood was bare. Gimli thought this strange but did not comment.
Legolas threw the twig impatiently on the fire and breathed out. He picked at a loose thread in his cuff. Gimli cocked his head and met the elf's eye.
'You need to rest too,' said the elf, 'I will watch.'
'There are ten others who can watch this night,' replied Gimli quietly, 'Take some rest yourself.'
'I cannot rest now.' Legolas frowned. He sounded irritable and unlike himself. He leaned back on one elbow gazing up at the night sky that was now scattered with light stars. 'Rest… what does that mean?' he murmured to himself.
Gimli looked at him carefully. 'Rest. Sleep. Take some time…' Gimli said slowly, patiently. 'You need to recover. You have been in a battle and before that you were on your own confronting Saruman through Grima. And before that we were many months in the wild and hunted by orcs. Now we have a brief time for rest before we go on to Gondor.'
'Rest can also mean death, can it not?' asked the elf, his voice sounding strained.
Gimli looked sharply at him but his face was turned away and the dwarf wondered what had happened. 'Where did you go just now?' he asked sharply.
The elf said nothing but looked down at the new twig he was stripping. His actions were sharp and his elbow jabbed out as he moved. His brows were drawn together and Gimli thought how unhappy he looked.
'I have been scouting,' the answer was terse.
'Who did you speak to then?' the dwarf persisted.
'Gandalf,' Legolas fidgeted and stood up restlessly. 'Are you set upon going all the way to Minas Tirith?' he asked abruptly.
Gimli looked up startled. 'Faithless is he who would abandon his friends now.'
Legolas laughed bitterly, 'Faithless say you?' He looked down and would not meet the dwarf's brown eyes.
'Surely you are not thinking of abandoning Aragorn when he is on the brink of his greatest task?' Gimli was astonished that Legolas would even think such a thing.
Legolas shook his head slowly. The firelight flickered in his eyes. 'No. I … I do not wish to…'
'You do not wish to? Well? Are you thinking on it? Legolas, Aragorn is counting on us.'
'I know this.' Legolas said quietly, almost too quietly. He passed his long hand over his eyes and his lips thinned.
Gimli's eyes narrowed. 'Are you well Legolas? Has that forest laid some enchantment upon you?'
'I... No…Well, yes but that it is not it.'
'No well yes?' Gimli snorted, 'That is not very helpful. Why are you thinking these thoughts? We have come far. We are a Fellowship, are we not? The hobbits will join us soon and what will they think if you go gallivanting off? You are not thinking of going off into yon forest without me are you?'
'No. That I will not do, Gimli. I will go to Isengard with you,' said Legolas. 'Do not fear that I will leave you in some dark forest. For I wish to see Merry and Pippin again and to hear their tale. It will be a wonder I think, if they have been with Ents. I wonder what we will find.'
'Well I hope it will not be another orc army. My axe is notched and dented and I need a proper forge to renew it. '
'And I only have arrows I have gleaned and those do not fly as true as I would wish' added the elf. He paced restlessly about the fire. 'I will go and scout,' he said. 'These men are valiant but their senses are not like ours Gimli.'
The dwarf nodded and it was only when the elf had slipped away that he realised Legolas had not answered his question.
Tbc Thank you to wonderful reviewers who take the time to press that button – yes, just there, at the bottom, to say they have enjoyed reading this. Just a quick line is lovely to know who you are out there.
Well- hope that has given you something to think about. I like the idea that Mirkwood is aware of its rather bad press out there, (even amongst those who should know better, Gandalf!) and doesn't give a damn.
I have to add for those of you who are not sure, there is absolutely no evidence that Legolas has tattoos, all my lurid imagination I am afraid – but I think it makes sense that they would have markings to identify their bodies bearing in mind what the Prof does tell us about orcs and elves.
Next chapter: Saruman.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.