13. Chapter 13: Many Meetings
Many thanks as always to Anarilthilien for beta reading.
And to Gandalf's Apprentice for the MEFA nomination.
Chapter 13: Many Meetings
"And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords of life." D. H. Lawrence, Snake
Long shadows cast by the setting sun, reached out across the battlefield with its jetsam of war. Elladan paused wearily, and looked about for those he knew. As in the aftermath of all such battles, survivors drifted like him, looking for comrades. A few scavengers scurried between the dead. Already great flocks of carrion crows alighted on the slain; to Elladan they looked like black cinders in the wind.
The wind blew the acrid smoke and fog away, leaving a bright blue, rain-washed sky. In the distance now as the smoke cleared, he could see on a knoll, the White Horse of Rohan fluttering alongside the great banner of Elessar. Men were gathering beneath the growing cloud of standards, green and white, argent and black, gold and blue, they streamed together in the wind.
Wearily he wiped his bloody sword on a tattered pennant trodden into the mud, deep red with a dragon emblazoned on it – some defeated warlord of the South or East, he thought dispassionately. Sheathing his sword, he searched first for Elrohir, and saw his brother's familiar figure leaping over the fallen bodies of slain Orcs to reach Aragorn and pull him into his arms beneath the standard of the White Tree. Both safe, thought Elladan, still alive, still safe.
As he began to pick his way through the dead and debris of battle towards them, he saw that the Rohirrim too gathered about the standards. Eomer was there, the sunlight gleaming on his helm with its white plume flowing, and his hand twitching on the hilt of his sword as if it yet desired more blood. He was gazing out across the plains, brown eyes distant. Many of his riders shuffled nearby, their horses' heads hanging low in weariness. Eomer's own horse nosed about in the churned up turf, snuffling. The new King of Rohan turned slightly when Elladan approached and he nodded in recognition. But his eyes were devastated.
Elrohir turned, frowning, and caught sight of his brother. Elladan lifted his hand in greeting and to assure him all was well but Elrohir gave a cry and strode over to him, enveloping him in his own scent of sweat and leather and the metallic tang of armour and blood.
'You are safe, thank Elbereth,' he said quietly and unashamedly.
Elladan smiled. Elrohir was so much like himself and yet so different; to Elladan, with exhaustion seeping into every muscle and bone, his brother felt bristling with unspent energy, lust. It didn't matter. He was alive. They both were. And Aragorn stood nearby grinning at them. Elladan pulled him into their shared embrace.
'You will never be too old for this,' he said, ruffling Aragorn's hair in careless, exaggerated affection, relief. 'Although perhaps now you are too illustrious,' he added, only half humorously. But he caught something, a slight flickering of fear, saw it in the way Aragorn held himself slightly stiffly, slightly apart. He held the Man away from him a little so he could look at him properly.
Frowning, Elladan caught his foster-brother's chin, pulling him to face him. He smiled gently and threw an affectionate arm around Aragorn's shoulder, leaning in towards him. 'Even though you have vanquished Saruman?' he murmured into the Man's ear. 'Even though you have saved your city from siege? Even though these Men would follow you to their deaths, and you have wrested the Palantir from the Dark One himself? You still doubt yourself? You still fear you are Isildur?' He brushed Aragorn's hair from his eyes. 'Isildur was never as scruffy.'
Aragorn shook his head and pulled away but he too was smiling now. Elladan caught Elrohir watching them and over Aragorn's head they exchanged a look of deep loss and sorrow. They were gradually losing Aragorn. Elladan tried not to look towards the City that would take him away forever.
At the sound of hooves cantering towards them, the brothers turned. Three elegant white horses, long manes streaming in the wind, approached. Their riders carried standards that fluttered above them, a white swan on an azure field. Sunlight flashed on tall spears and gleaming armour as they pulled to a halt, and the tallest rider approached, his proud white horse flicking its full tail and snorting. The rider lifted his helm from his head, and ran a hand through his dark hair, which was not long in the elven fashion but cut mid-length. His eyes though, were piercing blue and sharp.
Here is one, thought Elladan, who surely had elven ancestry.
The rider's compelling gaze brushed over Elladan and the others, then came back to rest upon him. Smiling, the rider inclined his head courteously. Elladan met the sharpness of the eyes with his own smile, feeling himself weighed and judged in that one glance.
'My lords,' said the rider, swinging himself from his horse. Drawing his gauntlet from his hand he extended his arm to Aragorn first. 'I am Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth.' He waved his hand beyond to where riders in blue and white gathered. 'I heard a rumour that the Heir of Isildur rode amongst us. My house has always kept close the faith that the Elves raised and kept safe the Heirs of Isildur though many despaired.' He turned now to the twin sons of Elrond. 'I see that it was true.'
'It is true,' said Aragorn briefly, and he clasped the arm of the Prince. With his other hand, he caught Elladan and brought him forwards. 'These are my brothers.'
Elladan bowed. 'Elladan Elrondion, son of Elrond. I am foster-brother of Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur's Heir from ages down,' he said straightening, and as Elrohir made no move to come forwards or bow or make any sort of gesture of respect, he added, 'And this is my tired and grumpy brother, Elrohir.' Elrohir quirked an eyebrow in a startling imitation of their father, but amused, he inclined his head slightly in Imrahil's direction.
The rider looked from one to the other. 'I am honoured indeed, my lords.' He bowed first to Elladan and then rather exaggeratedly to Elrohir, and a smile played about his lips. But then he turned again to Aragorn. 'My lord, my allegiance is yours. Dol Amroth is entirely with you.' And then, in the mud and churned battle field, he knelt before Aragorn, unsheathed his sword and held it out in both hands towards Aragorn. 'My liege,' he said.
Elladan felt a quiet satisfaction at the manner in which his brother received Imrahil's generously offered fealty. Elendil's heir, he thought, not Isildur's.
Aragorn stood a little taller and looking down at the dark head bowed before him he touched the sword lightly and said, 'I count myself fortunate to have such friends as the Men of Dol Amroth and their noble Prince. Do not bow to me though, my lord. Stand with me instead and we will go to the city together.'
Imrahil stood at Aragorn's request and he stood tall as Aragorn, almost as tall as the sons of Elrond, straight as an arrow. He signalled to his Men to dismount also. 'I am yours to command, my lord.'
Aragorn cast a sidelong glance at Imrahil and Eomer, who stood alongside, and then said, 'This City has rested in the charge of the Stewards for many long years, and I fear to enter it unbidden, for doubt and debate may then arise which should not be whilst this war is fought.' He squared his shoulders as if deciding something he had thought long upon. 'I will not enter in nor make any claim until it be seen whether we or Mordor shall prevail.' He looked over the battlefield and then said 'Men shall pitch my tents upon the field and here I will await the welcome of Lord of the City.'
Elladan thought Eomer looked surprised and a little irritated; he felt the red-rawness of the Man's pain. When the Rohan king spoke, it was with an edge in his voice that was exhausted as well as hurt, 'Already you have raised the banner of the Kings and displayed the tokens of Elendil's house. Will you suffer these to be challenged?' Eomer looked ready to fight to the death any who might dare do so.
Imrahil's piercing blue gaze came up and studied Aragorn, who never flinched. Turning away pleased, a smile curved Imrahil's lips as Aragorn put a soothing hand on Eomer's arm. 'No, but I deem the time unripe; and I have no mind for strife except with our Enemy and his servants.'
'Your words, lord, are wise. If one who is a kinsman of Denethor may counsel you in this matter?' Imrahil asked with an enquiring tilt of his head. Elladan already thought Imrahil a generous and intelligent Man, but his next words bespoke also delicacy, subtlety and craft. When Aragorn nodded, he continued, folding his hands together lightly in the manner of a scholar. 'Denethor is strong-willed and proud but old; and his mood has been strange since his son was stricken down.'
Elladan remembered with a slight shock, that Denethor was Boromir's father then and would have only just received the news that Boromir was dead, and that Aragorn- his supplanter- had been with him at the time. He winced. That would be hard to bear for even a generous Man.
'And yet,' Imrahil turned and looked out across the strewn battlefield, with some distress on his fair face, for Elladan noted that he possessed that strong beauty that rare Men sometimes possessed, 'I would not have you remain like a beggar at the door.'
'Not a beggar,' said Aragorn proudly. 'Say a captain of the Rangers who are unused to houses and cities of stone.'*
He lifted his hands to his brow and slowly, lifted the star of Elendil from his brow. He stared at it for a long moment and then murmured almost too quietly for any to hear, 'I wore this for you, my friend. I will not put it on again except to avenge you.' Turning to Elrohir and with one hand on his brother's shoulder, he gave in the other hand the Star. 'Keep it for me. Keep it in remembrance of Halbarad whom I will not forget.'
Elrohir bowed his head slightly and looked away. 'Nor I. He will live on in our hearts and be remembered on this day to the ending of the world.'
So stood the great lords, Princes and Kings on the Plains of the Pelennor Fields, Aragorn, Eomer, Imrahil, and the Sons of Elrond standing close together. Elladan looked about for the last unprepossessing Prince who would not be a Prince, and saw him striding towards them, his great bow shouldered and his empty quiver hanging loosely from his hand. He looked down as he picked his way towards them and only glanced up occasionally to scan the sky as if nervous that the Nazgul might return. It seemed to Elladan that he was not the only one to watch the approach of Legolas. Beside him, the new King of the Mark gazed avidly at Legolas' approach, reminding Elladan of a falcon bursting to leave the glove and fly free.
Legolas had stopped and was greeting a Man sitting still beside the great standard. The Man looked up at Legolas and replied but they were too far away for any to hear their words. Elladan realised it was Baelderon who sat there, deep in grief, for Cordobad had been killed along with Halbarad. It would be Cordobad's sword the Man rested on his knees. The wind ruffled his dark hair slightly, and then, as the Elf crouched before him, the same wind trailed its fingers through the Elf's pale wheatgrass hair. Elladan could not hear what Legolas said but he watched as the Elf looked down at the notched sword and slowly, reached out and touched the sword, lightly tracing the runes with his fingers. He lifted his strange green eyes to the Man's, said something more, and then stood again.
Elladan felt a stir in the air beside him and realised that Eomer was already striding towards Legolas. The sun sinking behind them, gilded Eomer's copper hair and Legolas looked up, eyes narrowed against the glare of the setting sun.
Elladan heard Eomer hail Legolas and Legolas seemed to stop dead. Elladan's heart caught at the warmth in his blinding smile. But it was not for him. It was for Eomer. He tried not to feel anything when the Man caught Legolas' arms, tried to squash the emotion that surged through him, but it was hard. Eomer spoke earnestly to Legolas, and slowly, his smile faltered and his hands fell to his sides. Still too far away, Elladan could not hear what he said, but he knew Eomer was telling Legolas of the deaths of his uncle, the king, and Eowyn, his sister. He tried to look away but could not. In the corner of his eye, he could glimpse Elrohir watching too, the wind tugging at his sable cloak, his raven hair.
Legolas pulled the Man close and held him in his arms and Elladan knew he should not begrudge Eomer the comfort. But he did. And he could not help but wonder what had gone on before. He had heard whispers, of course, but he had not listened as avidly as his brother. He glanced across to where Elrohir stood, just as Legolas stroked his fingers so tenderly across Eomer's face. Elladan saw his brother flinch but neither of them, it seemed, could tear his eyes away.
Elladan rubbed his hand over his eyes for a moment, trying to erase the image, still so fresh in his own memory, of Elrohir leaning over Legolas, the scent of his musk heavy in the air, the torn cloth and the shameful denials...He shook his head once, twice, as if trying to shake loose the memory. But something had changed since then. He could not think why but Legolas himself seemed furious with them both and Elladan could only think that their deception had been discovered; he had found out, somehow, that the twin who had brought him to the SeaSong and healed him had been sent away, and it was the other twin, Elladan, he had awoken to find watching over him. Elladan sighed and cringed, he had made it so much more difficult with the pretence. Because he had not expected to feel this way; since that night when Legolas had kissed him, Elladan had thought how it would feel, how it would be in the Woodelf's arms. But suddenly, on the night that Nestor had been injured and Elrohir had joined the ship, he had changed. He had become distant, furious.
Elladan looked back to where Elrohir stood, head bowed as if in physical pain… had something else happened that he did not know about? Had Elrohir tried something else? Elladan felt his fists clench in helpless anger; anger that Elrohir was so uncontrolled and helpless because he loved his brother and could not find a way to help him.
Elladan looked back to where Eomer and Legolas stood. Deep copper and pale gold, they stood closer than men normally would and he saw the truth of it. Too late. He was too late. They were, or had been lovers. He felt a pang of grief that he would not have something he never knew he wanted until a few days ago. He had missed his chance. But when he looked back at his brother, he saw in Elrohir's face utter despair.
Legolas squinted against the setting sun. Silhouetted against the red sky a broad-shouldered warrior strode towards him, his armour gleaming golden and from the helm on his head, a long white plume streamed, tangling with copper-gold hair. Legolas paused to watch his approach, shading his eyes with his long hand and wondering who it was that approached so swiftly, so determined and sure. As he drew close, the warrior lifted his helm from his head and carried it beneath his arm, his copper gold hair fell about his broad shoulders.
Legolas felt his heart beat a little faster and he smiled.
Reaching out to grasp the Man, he began to pull Eomer close into an embrace but something in the brown eyes stopped him. Eomer was speaking, had been speaking as he drew near but the Man seemed unable to get the words out.
He heard him speak Théoden's name and Eowyn's, but the rest was a choking incomprehensible groan. Legolas clasped Eomer's hands, his arms, suddenly afraid of what he might hear.
'Théoden.' Eomer clung to the Elf, and Legolas felt suddenly afraid for what he might hear. 'The King…' His brown eyes fastened on Legolas uncomprehendingly. 'He is dead.'
Legolas gripped the Man's arms, unable to speak for a moment. 'Dead?' he heard himself say stupidly and when Eomer nodded he had wanted to look away but could not. 'How? He was slain in battle…?' he realised and looked away briefly. 'It was always…for all of us.' He knew he was making no more sense than Eomer and a distant part of him wondered why he was so surprised. It was always likely. And Théoden would have wanted to die in battle, gloriously, leading a charge. He hoped that was how it had been, not some dreadful, ignoble death… an image of a still warm body hoisted high seeped into his thoughts for a second and he wrenched himself back to the present. That was a lie. That terrible image was Saruman's lie, he told himself.
Eomer was calmer, beginning to breathe more slowly. 'He was slain. By the Lord of the Nazgul.
Legolas gasped and held Eomer's arm more tightly but he could not speak, only nodded that he understood, for his own heart crumpled beneath doubt about his own beloved King. The King was dead. Théoden of Rohan. Perhaps so too was Thranduil.
But Eomer's eyes were bright with tears. 'That is not all…'
Legolas gripped his arm and lifted his face so he could look at him, though he did so with growing fear.
Eomer shook his head, 'No. No. It is worse… please. I can hardly bear it.'
Legolas froze. He could think of nothing worse for Eomer unless…
'Eowyn…?.' His question trailed away when he saw Eomer's frightened, bereft face. Suddenly he wanted to close his eyes and walk away, away from this battle field, away from this dreadful war. But Eomer's tears spilled from his eyes now and he could not abandon him. 'She is dead.'
Legolas did the only thing he could; he pulled the Man to him and held him close while his body shuddered with grief. He himself could hardly believe it… how was Eowyn dead? How could she, so alive and vibrant and with such hope, be in the cold grave?
The first time he had seen her, standing on the steps of Meduseld, cold and bright like burnished steel, her white gown had billowed in the wind and flattened around her form, curving round her breasts and belly, her girdle about her hips, accentuating, drawing the eye. Proud and defiant she gazed across the steppe, her long golden hair streamed behind her. And she met his gaze and held him…He could see her now, as if he were looking at her.
'When?' he asked, barely believing it, certain he had not heard correctly. He recalled that night he had stolen into her room to ask again for her help in defeating Grima, and she had held a steel blade against his heart and he had laughed and flexed the light steel, and gently mocked her, running his finger along the blade, and had said quietly, 'It is sharp I will give you, but I think you would not have skewered me with this.' **
'She was killed by the Nazgul, standing with Théoden.'
He stared at Eomer, trying to make sense of what he was being told. How could she be with Théoden? He had been killed by the Lord of Angmar.
Then he understood…She had ridden with Théoden. She had refused to stay at home. He cursed himself for his stupidity. He should have known. Had she not blazed like a wildfire, with that intensity and said to him 'I will NOT have that other destiny! I will not wait for the men folk, and sew and sigh and wait until my life is over! I will not!' And the defiance in her eyes had made him waver then. He had listened to her, taken her with him to confront Grima and she had not faltered even though he had himself. **
'Ah.' It was more an exhalation of breath. He had told her he did not see for her the life she had envisaged. He had never seen her as she feared to be, at home, waiting for the Men to return and always waiting… now he knew why. This had been it...
Legolas lifted his hand and gently stroked the Man's tear-stained cheek. Eomer looked up, his brown eyes devastated and bereft. 'I failed her,' and
Legolas could find no words to comfort him.
Over Eomer's shoulder, Legolas looked up towards the gathering of Men beneath the crowd of fluttering, streaming pennants and standards. Aragorn's great banner towered above them all, the White Tree glittering and the stars seemed to shine with their own light. The sons of Elrond stood near Aragorn but their grey eyes were on Legolas. He shifted uncomfortably but he did not really know why; their scrutiny was too intense.
He told himself he was protecting Eomer when he gently pushed at the man and said softly, 'Let us go to where Eowyn now lies and see that she is given the honour that she is due. And your Men look to you for comfort.' He lifted Eomer's devastated face and smiled at him with immense tenderness. 'You are King now.'
Eomer looked down and mumbled quietly, 'I don't feel like one.'
Legolas laughed softly, but his eyes were sad. 'You don't look like one with all that snot running down your face.' He drew a finger down the Man's cheek lightly. 'Wipe your eyes here in the quiet and then return proudly to lead Rohan in victory. You have avenged your dead. And perhaps…' his eyes grew opaque and he drifted for a moment, listening to the Song, far off and unchanged in spite of Eowyn's death. He wondered what it meant and said, 'Everything is not always as it seems.'
He placed his hand on the Man's shoulder and steered him back towards the waiting group.
There seemed to be some excitement amongst the Rohirrim and one strode forwards, catching at Eomer's arms and his face was excited, hopeful. Legolas recognised him as Hama, the door warden of Meduseld.
'My lord…King,' he stumbled and although he flushed at his mistake, there was such excitement in his eyes that Legolas stopped dead. 'Prince Imrahil has news you must hear!' In his excitement, Hama forgot again that Eomer was now his king and caught at his elbow, pulling him forwards.
Legolas' eyes went past Hama to a tall Man, handsome and with shoulder-length dark hair. He had a look of Aragorn about him but his eyes were the most piercing blue Legolas had ever seen on a Man and he recognised this Man had Elven ancestry. His song was strong and clear and … he shivered…the soft sough of wind-filled sails, and the breath of the Sea was in his song…
Imrahil of Dol Amroth glanced quickly from Eomer to Legolas and paused only for a moment when he looked at the Wood Elf. Then his attention went back to the desperate Man before him. He grasped Eomer's broad shoulder and said, 'The Lady Eowyn was yet living when they bore her hither. Did you not know?'*
The hope unlooked for came so suddenly to Eomer's heart, and the bite of care and fear renewed*, he said no more but turned and looked once at Legolas. Legolas shared the look of hope and joy and fear mingled, he nodded once and simply let the Man go. Eomer went swiftly to his horse and mounted and began to give orders to his gathered warriors to prepare for his immediate departure for the city.
Forgotten, Legolas stood on the edge of the crowd of Men now as they prepared to ride into the city. He stood alone on the great knoll then for all the world a simple bystander and unconnected. He watched Aragorn order his Men and assemble them ready to return to the city walls, giving orders and quickly talking with Eomer and Imrahil. A light smile on his lips, Legolas turned, wondering why Gimli had not greeted him yet. He scanned the Rohirrim where he most expected the Dwarf to be, but he was not amongst them. Nor was he amongst the Dúnedain, who even now in victory were quiet and serious. With increasing concern he strained to see over the heads of the gathered Men but still no Gimli.
Aragorn had mounted a bay horse and now caught sight of Legolas' anxious, increasingly panicked movements. He looked around, catching Legolas' eye. They exchanged a worried look and Aragorn called over the heads of the gathered troops, 'Where is Gimli?'
'I thought he was with you,' said Legolas.
'I thought he was with you,' replied Aragorn.
Legolas smoothed his hand over his hair anxiously and pushed through the gathered Men to Aragorn. He looked up at Aragon, putting his long hand on the horse's shoulder to still its nervous movements. 'Last time I saw him was when the Nazgul attacked me,' he told Aragorn.
'The Nazgul attacked you?' asked the Ranger.
'I shot their steeds,' said Legolas.
Aragorn nodded matter of factly. 'Good,' he said. 'But I have not seen Gimli since he slew the cave troll.'
'He slew a cave troll?
'Yes- it was about to crush me,' replied Aragorn.
Legolas smiled tightly. 'He has his uses.'
They stopped and looked at one another.
'By your leave my lord, I will go and look for him.'
Aragorn nodded. 'Send me word as soon as you find him... I would not lose him.' They looked at each other, reading each other's unspoken concern.
'Nor I.' They held each other's hearts in that gaze, for so close they had grown, even though Aragorn had relied on his own folk once the Grey Company joined them. It did not matter now. Nothing mattered but that one of their own fellowship was missing: the Dwarf they both loved. 'No, I would not lose him now. Not for all the world.'
He glanced back once. Aragorn had turned away and the lords and princes were preparing to ride for the city. The sons of Elrond had not moved though. They stood under the banners and standards that streamed together beneath the wide blue sky. The setting sun glinted on the steel of their swords and elvish armour, the wind lifting their long black hair and sable cloaks and their grey eyes watching him impassively. Like stone, he thought. Like stone that felt nothing. He threw his own steely glance at them and then turned away.
Long he searched, striding over the enormous fields of the Pelennor, scanning the ground for a notched axe, a battered helm, chainmail ripped and bloody… a square, clever hand reaching. But there was no sign of the Dwarf. The battlefield that only moments ago it seemed, had rung with the sounds of Mumakil thundering, trumpeting, steel clashing on steel, Orcs horrible shouts and yammering, and the Nazgul shrieking – now everything was deathly silent. The snap of a torn banner in the wind, a low groan from some dying creature and across the battlefield, sometimes a name shouted by someone searching as he, for a loved one. He grew more frantic, lifting shields and banners, lying on the ground to listen for the sound of a fluttering breath, a chime of steel and the song of fire and furnace. Nothing. Nothing.
As he searched, he came across the winged steed he had brought down himself and shuddered at its great blunt head, unformed and reptilian. Hours later in the darkening evening, he found the mangled iron remains of the Lord of the Nazgul, its own great winged steed dead. Théoden's white horse lay beneath the creature, white mane stained with blood. On the ground nearby, was a small helm, like it had rolled off some warrior's head, but it was too small to be any Man's, and he breathed with relief when he saw it was not the crafted metal helm that Gimli wore. Too small even for a woman's so it was not Eowyn's. He picked it up and held it in his hands, looking down at the bronze inlay, the Rohirric patterning. He dropped the small helm, thinking on it no more.
Shadows grew longer and reached out to him. The sun was low in the red sky. But he had still not found Gimli. A strange sense of panic seized him.
Silence on the battlefield now and stars pricked out in the sky one by one. Except for the crack crack of carrion crows there was only the sound of the wind. After the long, long years of fighting he thought he had grown immune to the silent aftermath of battle, but here in this strange country where there were no trees, no forest glades or grey rivers tumbling over granite boulders amongst the ferns, he felt the silence and smell of blood and oily stink of death grip him. He fought it down. He was centuries old. He had fought countless skirmishes and battles. And yet the loss of one Naugrim was unravelling him.
Perhaps Gimli had taken the chance to find Pippin and Gandalf, he told himself. For Merry was still in Meduseld, he thought. Even now, the three of them were probably curled up somewhere safe with smoke curling from their nostrils and wiggling their toes near a fire. He paused when he saw again the Nazgul's winged beast that had fallen to his arrows. Not even the crows picked at it, but he knew he was covering the same ground over and over. He turned towards the city walls where tents had sprung up, and with long strides made his way to the white city. Boromir's city. Aragorn's city.
Torches and campfires lined the tracks between tents and formed their own strange itinerant town. He guessed these would be for the wounded and the soldiers who could not be barracked within the city walls. His long legs covered the ground quickly, and he was spurred on by growing doubt. Surely Gimli would have been searching for him too if he were able?
Here the ground was even more churned and muddy, for beneath the darkening sky, carts and horses were busy pulling debris away or bringing supplies, and Men shouted to each other. Some stared at Legolas as he passed for they had never seen one of the Firstborn before although they had heard a rumour that an Elf came with the Heir of Isildur. The worn soles of his boots slipped on the mud even though he stepped lightly and he felt sympathy for the draft horses that strained and struggled to pull the great carts through the mud.
Skimming the faces before him, he searched for the Dwarf, pulling wide tent flaps to peer anxiously within, muttering apologies to the healers who were too busy to attend him, and to the ashen-faced wounded for whom he could do nothing anyway.
It was late. The moon had risen in the sky and stars scattered. He pinched his nose with his forefinger and thumb in a mannerism that was unmistakably Thranduil's had he realised it, and tried to quell the hammering and fear in his heart. He had not found anyone who had seen Gimli fall although he had news that both Hobbits were in the city. He suspected a tale similar to Eowyn's to explain how Merry had come to be there. But it was good that they were both safe. And he had not been told by anyone that the Dwarf was injured. And that too was good. So he must assume the Dwarf was alive. And well. And just needed to be found. And to do that, he had to think like a Dwarf….
…Then he smiled tightly at the absurdity of it. Once he considered it, it was obvious.
He caught the sleeve of one of the victuallers as his cart went trundling past, laden with food for the hungry soldiers. 'Where can I find pipeweed and ale?' he asked urgently.
The victualler nodded his head back along the route Legolas had come. 'Rohan camp probably best. Surprised you can't hear 'em from here, my lord,' he said good-naturedly. 'They're a rowdy lot compared with Dol Amroth.'
Legolas smiled and the victualler stared a little but Legolas had already whirled away and his long stride took him swiftly to the tents of the Rohirrim. He paused to smell the air. No doubt about it. Pipeweed and iron. And he listened carefully… his head tilted slightly to one side. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply. There… a rich, deep sound… hammers chiming on rock far, far below ground, a plink of a drop of water on lakes undisturbed for centuries, slow, slow shifting of the Earth, the flare and roar of the furnace, of fire, deep chanting under far mountains, the strike of metal on stone…Gimli.
Gimli knew exactly the moment that Legolas had slipped quietly into the tent. He did not know how he knew; it just seemed to him that there was a subtle shift in the air and a scent of woods in the rain. He grinned secretly to himself with immense self-satisfaction. He was comfortably ensconced on a bench amid a beautiful fug of pipeweed and ale fumes, and before him was a plate of red meat and a tankard of ale that spilled over his fingers. He was surrounded by his favourite folk, so he had decided. The Rohirrim were like Dwarves –though rough and unlettered compared with the secret knowledge and hidden ways of Khazad - but akin to his folk in their love of life and their vibrancy. He smoothed his hand over his beard, enjoying the sensuous silk of it. He thought of the bath he would soon have and the scented oils he would smooth into his beard. He would be sure to polish his armour too, and find a nice little forge somewhere to heat the iron and get the smell of blood out of his hair and clothes, let his hands feel the obedience of metal and of fire.
He had placed his helm on the bench to one side of him and propped his great axe reverently against the other side, sated and still now that it had drunk so much blood. He nodded at the Rohirrim opposite him and wondered why he looked so anxious. The Rohirrim warrior's worried eyes were not looking at Gimli though but a spot above him and to the left so he knew then that Legolas stood behind him and was not happy.
Gimli grinned even more broadly. It was not often he bested the Elf in such an overwhelmingly superior way. He intended to enjoy it. He let out a loud belch to emphasise how much he had drunk. To those others present, it might seem that Gimli alone had not noticed the seething, frantic energy that was his mislaid friend. But they could not know that he could almost feel the hard Elven stare burrowing its way into his own back. He laughed gleefully and banged the tankard down as noisily as he could, spilling ale over his hands. With one hand he tore a chunk of bread from a hard loaf nearby and with the other he grabbed a shanks bone from the huge platter of meat on the table before him and without looking, waved it overhead.
'Hah! Legolas!' he shouted, almost knocking Legolas in the face. 'This is what we needed! I knew I was missing something but I could not place it. We've been either bobbing around on that blasted boat or bobbing around on that blasted horse, no offence meant,' he added hastily to his neighbours. They waved away his remark, more concerned it seemed about the Elven warrior's tight-lipped fury. 'I have missed red meat and good ale!'
'Did you miss anything else?' asked the Elf, too smoothly, ducking the shanks bone. 'You have not missed for company whilst you have been sitting here and eating everything in Minas Tirith? Have you been sitting here all this time? Whilst I have been out searching the dead for you?'
'I knew you'd work it out eventually,' Gimli smirked proudly. He patted Legolas on the arm and pulled him to sit down.
'What?' Cold. Steel.
Ah, thought Gimli warily and he gave the Elf a quick sidelong glance. Have I overplayed it? He decided he didn't care and would enjoy it anyway. What was Legolas going to do anyway? He knew the Elf would rather cut off his own arm than harm a hair on Gimli's head.
'I knew you would work it out eventually.' He spoke as if he were speaking to someone very dull and slow. 'You have been searching for me, have you not?' He grinned smugly. 'I knew that eventually, eventually mind you,' he gave Legolas an even smugger look, 'you would work out where to find a Dwarf. And here I am.' Gimli waved his hand carelessly. 'Of course Aragorn did not think you would.'
'Aragorn?' Even lower. Even colder. Even steelier. Gimli still didn't care. He was just so pleased to see Legolas that he could hug him… maybe not hug him. After all, plenty of other folk wanted to hug Legolas. He could not see the attraction. Too tall. Too skinny. Too … not weak. Oh no, not weak… unlike this ale. But Gimli realised just then that it was stronger than he had thought. Thorin's hairy balls! Had he been considering hugging the Elf?
Gimli waved the shanks bone around again and still chewing said lightly. 'Where was I?'
'Aragorn.' Even Gimli thought Legolas' smile looked a little strained and he thought he might be grinding his teeth … that was never a good sign. Yes, he looked more closely. The Elf looked definitely strained.
'Oh yes. He was here with all the fine folk. Said you were looking for me and he would send someone to fetch you. I told him no need, you would work it out. He said he did not think you would!' The Dwarf said, angry on Legolas' behalf that Aragorn could think so poorly of the Elf. He grinned widely and slammed his fist down on the thin plank table. 'And you see! I was right! He said you would panic and run round and round in circles… well he did not quite say it like that but he did not have the faith in you that I have. He wagered you would not guess where I was! And here you are!' Gimli declared triumphantly. 'So I think he owes me a pouch of the best Longbottom leaf.'
There was a silence. Silence in which Gimli thought he could definitely hear the sound of teeth grinding.
'Well you have won, my friend,' said the Elf, far far too smoothly, snagging a wooden board and piling meat and bread on it. 'I worked it out, as you say, eventually. And you should demand your payment as soon as you see Aragorn. He is the king now and should be able to command only the best leaf.' Legolas tore the bread up, shoved slices of meat between the bread and began to eat.
Gimli frowned. Legolas really did sound upset. And suddenly he knew that Legolas had been worried. Scared even. And although Legolas had worked it out, he had said he had searched long. Gimli remembered that time in Edoras when he and Aragorn had given him the news that the Hobbits were safe and Gandalf returned. Legolas had tried to believe them. But he could not. And now, when he saw the Elf's hand creeping up to clutch at the fabric of his stained tunic above his heart, Gimli recognised the gesture and winced.
'I am mightily glad to see your skin whole,' he said suddenly and put his hand on Legolas arm, as much to stop that nervous clutching as anything.
Legolas looked down at the Dwarf's square, clever hand. He chewed slowly and swallowed. 'When I was searching for your cold, dead body beneath the rotting corpses of Mumakil and Orcs,' he said conversationally, 'I realised something, oh Khazâd vuinen.' Gimli met his green eyes; they were no longer strange to him, but as familiar as his own, more so perhaps for he had looked on them, into them and with them for many months now and had grown to trust them as much as his own.
'If you died, Angren-pau,' Legolas said slowly, looking intensely into the deep eyes of the Dwarf, 'I would miss your song, and the warmth of you at my back, and the hiss of your axe as it hewed the necks of many Orcs. And I found I could not bear it.'
He looked away and Gimli felt sure he saw something glisten at the corner of those familiar green eyes. Instead he seemed to shake himself slightly. 'Now I am done,' he said and set to eating with a hearty relish. 'By the way,' he said with his mouth full of meat and bread, 'if you or Aragorn ever wager upon me again, if you ever…and I mean ever do that again, I will find you and half-drown you in a barrel of ale. Then I will fish you out to ride with you bouncing at my back to Erebor and back. Oh,' he held up his hand, 'I have not finished. Then I will piss on all your pipeweed and not tell you. Oh, and Aragorn' he continued, nodding to himself, 'I haven't even started on Aragorn…'
** -Deeper than Breathing (first fic)
Khazâd vuinen – Beloved Dwarf
Angren-pau – Iron Fist
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.