The last part of this story… I want to thank all of you for the many reviews and nice
words. It made writing and posting this story much fun :-)

I hope you liked it and for all of you who asked – yes, the next part of 'Encounter with
the Past' will come soon :-)

Thanks to Little My for beta reading!!!

On with the story… and let me know if you like it!!!

___


Victory.

Never before had this single word meant so much. Never had it been so unexpected
to hear it. But Gandalf had come and with him the Rohirrim, turning the tide of the
battle when all seemed lost.

Gimli paused, his eyes taking in what the dark of the night had covered. Now the first
rays of the sun revealed the bitter sight of what had taken place here during those
last hours.

Dead bodies covered the ground. The smell of blood was thick in the air and heavy
on the dwarf's mind.

So much death.

But the hosts of Isengard had fled. The battle was over.

Without conscious thought his eyes sought his friends whom he had not seen since
they rode out of the Hornburg in one last desperate attack. He had blown the great
horn, only joining the fight once more when he heard the shouts that spoke of
Gandalf's arrival.

Gandalf was easy to make out, and next to him were King Theoden and Aragorn. He
saw other, vaguely familiar faces but the one he was looking for he could not find. His
heart started to beat a bit faster as weariness once more fled his tired bones.
Anxiousness filled him. The elf had been on Arod, riding out with the others but he
could not see him with them now. Horses looked all the same to him so he was not
able to tell if Arod was among the other mounts.

Where was that elf?

He could not have fallen, Gimli decided. Not when victory had been so near already.
Yet there was a tiny spark of doubt that filled his heart with fear.

'Gimli!'

He had not heard him approach and almost jumped at the voice coming so suddenly
from behind him. But he recovered quickly and deep relief filled his eyes when he
turned to face his friend.

'Forty-two, master Legolas!' he cried. 'Alas! My axe is notched: the forty-second had
an iron collar on his neck. How is it with you?'

'You have passed my score by one,' answered Legolas. 'But I do not grudge you the
game, so glad I am to see you on your legs!'

The elf's eyes sparkled at him, not hiding his own joy at seeing the dwarf well. He still
held his bow although his quiver was empty and there was blood smeared over
clothes and skin. But the elf stood tall and Gimli's eyes found no injury, the blood that
of his foes and not his own.

Yet there was a sadness surrounding him that stood in stark contrast to the cheers
that arose around them.

'Morning has come,' Gimli spoke.

'Aye, it has. But how many eyes are not able to see it?' Legolas sighed.

The dwarf had no answer, and they stood in silence.

'The land has changed,' the elf suddenly whispered, his long hand gesturing towards
the North.

Gimli quickly saw what it was Legolas spoke of: where before the green dale had
lain, its grassy slopes lapping the ever-mounting hills there now a great forest
loomed. Great trees, bare and silent stood, rank on rank, with tangled bough and
hoary head; their twisted roots were buried in the long green grass. Darkness was
under them.

'What is this wizardry?' the dwarf wondered. Dangerous these woods seemed to him,
and not only because they had appeared out of nowhere.

'Nay, Gimli,' Legolas answered and there was awe in his voice as Gimli had never
heard before. 'This is no wizardry, but a power, much older than even my people.'

He could make naught of the elf's words and cast him a questioning glance. The
wonder on his friend's face made him smile. But then, as quickly as it had come, it
disappeared.

'There is still much to do,' Legolas spoke and turned away from the sight. Ere Gimli
could speak the elf had left his side, nimble feet passing over fallen bodies as if they
did not even touch them.

'So we meet again, master dwarf.' A voice turned Gimli's attention from the retreating
elf before he could make up his mind to follow him.

'So it seems, Eomer, son of Eomund,' Gimli answered, bowing in greeting. 'And I
dare say you came not a moment too early.'

The man smiled and returned the bow. 'Your deeds in this fight will not be forgotten,
Gimli, son of Gloin,' he answered with a smile. 'It gladdens me to see you well, as
well as your companions.'

@@@

Legolas's heart was heavy as he made his way through the battlefield. His bow was
secured to his back--he would not need it for the task that lay ahead of him. His steps
became slower as he reached the area he had sought, his eyes searching the
ground. With a small sound of dismay he finally sank to his knees next to the prone
form on the ground.

Any hope that he might still have carried died at seeing the lifeless eyes of Haldir of
Lorien. Still his fingers searched for any sign of life, although his heart knew he would
find none. For a long moment he remained unmoving, his tangled hair concealing his
face as he bowed his head in a sign of deepest grief. During their long stay in
Lothlorien he had come to know and respect Haldir. His heart ached for the loss of a
friend.

Then Legolas's fingers wandered from the elf's neck up to the eyes that saw no more
and gently closed them. A strand of silver blond hair matted with blood was brushed
away from the pale face. Then he altered his position and slipped his arms under the
still form, gently lifting him as he stood. He carried him away from the place of death,
finding a spot a bit away where the ground had not been trampled and grass still
grew. Sinking down on one knee, he lowered the body down. Then he rose again to
go and get Haldir's weapon, the sword that had fallen from the elf's grasp as death
claimed him.

He noticed the elves of Lothlorien had joined him, numbering only twelve, and his
heart clenched as he stood and watched them searching the grounds for their dead.
Each one was carried to the place Legolas had chosen, and laid down in the grass
with their weapons close by. Only twelve out of one hundred had survived. So many
lives gone; immortal lives lost in this dark night.

They worked in silence first until one voice rose in a lament, soon joined by others.
Legolas noticed men watching them, but staying away--not intruding as the elves
gathered their fallen, separating them from the carcasses of the foul beasts.

Their task finished, the elves gathered around the bodies, their clear voices raised in
song, beautiful and haunting at once in its deep sadness.

Gimli stood quietly, his heart heavy as he watched the elves grieve. He more felt than
saw Aragorn step up next to him.

'Heavy was their loss,' the dwarf mumbled. But deep inside there was a selfish
feeling of relief in him that one certain elf was not among those that had fallen--relief
that almost overwhelmed his grief over those who had been slain.

'Aye,' Aragorn answered, his voice filled with sadness. 'Yet we would not have lasted
this night without their aid.'

It was easy to make out Legolas among the elves, as he alone wore not the armor of
Lorien. The dwarf's gaze fixed on his friend, and as if feeling his eyes the elf turned
his head to look at him. For a long moment their eyes met, ere he turned away again.
But Gimli knew he understood--knew the dwarf shared his grief.

Weariness made itself felt as each muscle in the dwarf's body screamed for rest.
Casting one last glance around, he decided he was no longer needed. Aragorn
sensed the change in him, seeing his shoulders slump in exhaustion.

'Come, my friend,' he spoke, laying a hand on the dwarf's shoulder. 'It is time to rest.'

In silence they made their way back to the fortress to find a place to lay their aching
bodies down in badly needed sleep, the melody of the elven song following them.

@@@

When he woke he felt much rested, and food and drink did much to help in regaining
his strength. He saw no trace of Legolas, nor of any other elf, and so he wandered
outside to look for him.

He found them where he had last seen them, and this time he did not hesitate to walk
over to his friend. He was concerned for the elf—he had to be weary; even his
endurance had been tried hard during these past days.

As he approached the grieving elves, he half excepted to receive warning glances to
stay away, and words that would tell him he was not welcome here. But none came.
He passed them by, bowing his head in silent greeting and to his surprise they
greeted him back.

Legolas knelt in silence next to Haldir's body, another elf sitting next to him who Gimli
recognized. In the dark of last night he had not seen the faces of the elves that had
come to their aid but now he knew him to be Rumil, Haldir's brother. Grief was so
deeply etched on his fair face that Gimli could not stand to see it, and he turned his
gaze to Legolas. He seemed calm, but the dark eyes rising to meet Gimli's were filled
with sadness.

'Legolas,' the dwarf spoke softly, not wishing to intrude but feeling the need to offer
comfort. But words failed him to voice the loss he felt. It never occurred to him that it
might be a strange thing for a dwarf to feel such pain over the death of elves.

'Gimli.' Legolas's voice was soft and for some time he did not move or speak further.
Then suddenly, as if waking from a dream he shook his head and with one graceful
movement he stood, gathering his bow and quiver he had placed in the grass close
to him. He spoke some words in the melodious tongue of his own people to Rumil,
who only nodded. Then he turned to Gimli and the two friends quietly walked away.

'You have not rested,' the dwarf finally said.

'Time to rest will come. Tonight I needed to be here,' Legolas answered.

Gimli did not object. He led the elf to the table where he had taken his own meal,
feeling relief at seeing Aragorn there. If he could not coax the elf into eating, the man
surely could. The dwarf feared the elf's grief as he had witnessed before the extent it
could take. It was a bitter memory that Haldir had been the one to help then, when he
had not known what to do to ease Legolas's pain.

'I will go and clean myself up,' Legolas spoke before they reached the table. As blood
still stained his clothes Gimli had to let him go, but concern filled the gaze that
followed the elf as he moved away.

'Worry not,' Aragorn's voice spoke up. 'He will recover. This time he did not swallow
his grief but instead let it out.'

He smiled at Gimli, the dwarf's obvious concern over Legolas another sign of how
deep the bond between these two unlikely companions had grown.

'I hope so,' Gimli grumbled. 'I do not wish to see him overwhelmed by it again. Once
was more than enough.'

No, he rather would have the lighthearted elf back, who ran over snow to talk with the
sun.

'Elves grieve deeply, my friend, but they recover quickly. He will never forget the pain
he feels, but he will not dwell on it.'

The dwarf nodded, his heart eased as he knew this to be true. His friend would soon
be back to his former self, annoying him to no end. It made him smile despite the
knowledge that although they had survived this night and won this battle against all
odds, there was still much they would have to face.

He saw Legolas approaching them once more, noticed the light step and the clear
eyes of the elf, and in this moment he felt for the first time the euphoria of the victory
they had achieved wash through him. The night had passed and they were still alive
to greet the morning.