"This is probably the best spot."
Thranduil reluctantly reined in Aduial and cast his eye about him. "You have a good eye, Master Dwarf." Yes, this would be a good place for the two of them to part. They had stopped in a small clearing, with a stream trickling merrily somewhere not too far away. Surrounding them, what remained of the late autumn forest colors scattered on the ground around them lent at least a little warmth to the chilly afternoon. The lack of bird song and the nearly naked limbs overhead told of the lateness of the season. Just a few weeks more would see snow on the ground and not a single remaining golden leaf above their heads.
Glóin's eye – or his memory of the terrain he'd covered that Spring in coming to Thranduil's Halls – had remembered a spot almost neatly equi-distant to their respective destinations. To the east, the ground was more or less even for quite a distance before the rocky terrain of the foothills took over. That way lay Erebor and the Blue Mountains beyond. To the north lay the Elven Path, and the Hidden Gate to his underground Halls.
Thranduil threw his leg over the stallion's neck and slid to the ground, then put up a hand and helped Glóin dismount as well in the manner that the two of them, over time, had found most efficient. "Our time together has come to an end, it seems," he commented wryly as he steadied the one he now had come – very privately, almost secretly – to consider a friend for one last time. "I must admit, this has been one of the most interesting seven months I have spent in my very long lifetime."
Glóin stomped his feet and walked stiffly in a circle, his fingers stretching open and closing to work out the residual lack of movement there too. "I have not lived as long as you, but I will admit that this has been an interesting Spring and Summer, to be certain!" He paused in his efforts to get circulation back in legs, backside and fingers to gaze up at his traveling companion. "We make a good team," he commented thoughtfully.
"Just as our sons expected," Thranduil replied with a nod as he moved to the bundles on the back of the mare. "It was just as well that we had plenty of time to practice our arguing skills on the journey south, and then kept them sharpened during the visits. Did you see the look on Legolas' face when we finally left Ithilien for the last time in the middle of arguing about the merits of axe over sword?"
"No," Glóin guffawed. "I was having too much trouble not laughing at the look on Gimli's face."
Thranduil grew thoughtful. "We disappointed them, I think."
"That we did. More importantly, we taught them that they cannot expect all Elves and Dwarves to come to the same conclusion that they did and get along when pushed together," Glóin corrected him, his laughter dying quickly, and Thranduil nodded somberly.
"The past is almost too big an obstacle for our two kindreds to overcome."
Glóin nodded. "Unless there is good reason to. And, from what I can tell, even those in Ithilien and Aglarond still do not feel ample reason."
"We can only hope that our sons' constant presence among each other's kindred will have a positive influence in time. At least until even Legolas is convinced that the time of the Elves is finished and he feels free to follow his Sea Longing to the West."
"With luck, that will be long after Gimli has left the circles of the world," Glóin said and then blanched as if realizing the implications of his statement to the both of them. "Maybe not so much luck."
"It will be as it will be. I doubt me that Legolas will long tarry once his Mortal friends have left him."
"Thranduil, I did not mean to..."
"There is no offense." Thranduil shook his head and began untying lacings that held bundles to the mare's back. "It is simply the greatest difference between us, Master Dwarf, that you and your kind will leave this world in short order while I and mine must remain behind and remember. It naturally colors our perceptions, and changes our perspectives one from the other."
Thranduil tossed back first the battle axe from where it had been stowed with the other weapons since first entering the eaves of Eryn Lasgalen, then the tightly-rolled sleeping blankets, and finally with the wrapped bundle of clothing and gifts from Ithilien and Aglarond that Glóin would take back to members of his family at home. He no longer wondered at the simple, sparse grace of Glóin's movements to catch and deal with the tosses without a single error. Even as an elderly Dwarf, Glóin was quick and capable, and in so many ways lesser only in stature and lifespan.
"You have been a boon companion, and a fine warrior," he offered then, turning to face Glóin directly. "Other than your persistent bias against my poor, long-suffering Aduial, I have found your mind sound and your heart a good one."
"Well, as far as that towering mule of yours is concerned, remember that you did lose that bet in Laketown," Glóin reminded him with a wicked smile beneath all that grizzled beard.
"I most certainly did not!" Oddly, the thought of not having anyone willing to or even halfways as capable of challenging him in a verbal sparring match as this Dwarf was a depressing one. Being a King definitely had its disadvantages, these past few months had taught him. Still, this was not the time to mope. Without the slightest reservation or hesitation, Thranduil extended his hand. "Farewell Glóin, son of Gróin, master craftsman of Ered Luin. May the rest of your journey be swift and easy, and may you enjoy a fine feast for homecoming."
Thranduil's hand was grasped by the strong, dry grip of the Dwarf. "Farewell Thranduil, son of Orophir, Elvenking. Since only the two of us are here to hear me say it, I can say that I have enjoyed our time together. There are stories I could tell my people of you that..." Glóin grinned as a brief flash of panic washed unexpectedly through Thranduil. "Have no fear. Those stories will not be shared. Other tales, however, I will tell – if only to enjoy the looks of disbelief."
He'd do it, too, Thranduil realized, as would he himself. "You are not the only one with potentially embarrassing stories, you know," he reminded Glóin with a haughtily raised eyebrow. "But like you, those tales will not be shared, only savored in memory over a tall glass of good wine."
"Maybe on those nights, you should consider working on developing a taste for ale?"
Thranduil snorted. "Only if you promise to develop a taste for wine." He had to laugh at the disgusted grimace his remark garnered. "Ah well, I suppose some things are just too much to wish for."
"Thank Mahal!" Glóin's face brightened. "Say! You never did teach me that Elven healing trick!"
"As you never mentioned it again, I forgot about it entirely. I beg your pardon, Master Dwarf." Thranduil was nonplussed. After all they'd been through together, it would have been the least he could have done.
"Ah, well..." Glóin expertly settled his bundle on his back and took up his battle axe as if it were a walking stick. "Good luck arguing with your advisors, and getting out of the bindings holding you to your throne," he tossed over his shoulder as he took his first steps alone in the direction of Erebor.
"Yes, well, I do not envy you your welcome either," Thranduil called out. "Did you not say that they wanted you to stay at home because of your advanced age? What will they say now that you wear even more silver in your beard than before?"
"At least I do not have to argue my way to a summer's stroll."
"I do not either," Thranduil complained, stung. "It is an absence of well over half a year that caused the problem that had my advisors upset."
"So you can slip away again for a shorter time without causing too much trouble?" Glóin had turned about and walked back into the small clearing.
Thranduil thought for a moment as he gazed at the grizzled face of his unexpected friend, and then a slow smile spread. He'd learned that expression early on in their travels: Glóin was planning something. "It is not as if I have not now left clear instructions as to how to handle issues when I am absent," he stated regally. "Why?"
"There is the possibility that I may be making a journey to Rivendell in the next couple of years. One of Elrond's sons sent an order for work to be done that will need delivery by then."
Rivendell. Imladris. The journey, provided they used Aduial, would take two weeks over the mountains and two weeks back, with perhaps a week or so spent in the refuge on the other side of the Hithaeglir. Rivendell, where so many Galadhrim now lived after leaving the Golden Wood, including Haldír, who, according to Gimli as related to Glóin, was the one who had insisted on blindfolds for Legolas and...
"I hear Haldír remained behind with Celeborn in Imladris when Galadriel left these shores," Thranduil said slowly and carefully, watching Glóin's face closely for the reaction.
It wasn't long coming, and was thoroughly satisfying in its predatory nature. "He did, did he?"
"Indeed." It was good to know that they both were thinking the same thing, very good!
"That adds an interesting potential side-benefit to the trip, do you not agree?"
Thranduil definitely agreed. "And in such a case, I think I might be able to arrange my schedule to accommodate such a journey and absence, no matter what my advisors believe. Send word to me when the time for your departure grows nearer."
"If nothing else, at least now we know how to escape your Hall unseen."
Thranduil threw back his head and laughed. "And I shall caution Aduial to be quieter this next time."
"You do that!"
The two grinned at each other, and then exchanged a warrior's clasp before turning away, each now on their own, solitary paths.
Thranduil spent a few moments tying the laces back so that the bundles on Saerôl's back wouldn't slip or fall open, his mind spinning. He had two years to come up with new ways to needle his traveling companion, because there was no doubt in his mind that Glóin would be spending his time preparing his arguments as well. There was no way that he could allow the Dwarf to come out the victor all the time. And he had two years to decide on a proper consequence to repay Haldír for his insolence.
He could hardly wait.