Indicia by Dracostella

The sun's last bit of red stained the tips of trees, casting a crimson halo over the newest leaves. Legolas looked back at the fading forest behind him, but his steps quickened. The mountain in front of him silently loomed closer. In the shadow of the mountain, he could see two figures standing guard over an impossibly tall gate. For a wild moment, Legolas wondered if Gimli was among them, but even though he could not see their faces clearly yet, he knew by their stance that his friend was not one of them.
Legolas knew the precise moment when the dwarves finally saw him. Both figures stiffened, and their axes were drawn.

"Halt!" the taller one of the two commanded.

Legolas stopped and waited for them to come to him. The one that had spoken to him stood directly in front of the other dwarf.

"What's an elf doing in these parts?" the dwarf asked as he came closer. His voice was full of surprise, but the tone was not unkind.

"I am Legolas Greenleaf, I've come to visit Gimli, son of Gloin," Legolas said. "It has been two seasons since we have parted, and I very much desire to see him."

At the mention of Gimli's name, both dwarves lowered their weapons. The taller dwarf spoke again, "So it is you, Master Elf, who has kept my cousin away for so long."

To that Legolas made no reply.

"I am Fili, son of Oin," the taller dwarf said. He pointed to his companion, "This is my son, Frerin."

Legolas bowed to them both, and they bowed back. Still, Frerin said nothing.

"You have come to us at mourning time, Master Legolas," Fili said. He began to walk past the stone gates, and he gestured for Legolas to follow. Frerin remained behind at his post, but Legolas felt the younger dwarf's eyes on him. "Daini, a kin of Gimli, passed away two moons ago."

Legolas felt his face flush slightly at the news, and his footsteps slowed. He should not have come, but it was too late to retreat. He followed Fili in silence.

Fili, for his part, did not encourage conversation as he led Legolas over a pebbled road towards the village proper. Legolas walked a few steps behind his guide, and let his eyes wander over the dwarf village, marveling the perfect masonry.

Though the road they walked on was wide, there were no dwarves traveling on it. The only hint that the village was inhabited was the constant mummer of hammer striking anvil that echoed against stonewalls.

"Gimli is there," Fili stopped suddenly, and pointed to an especially large dwelling. "So I leave you, Master Elf."

Legolas quickly gave his thanks and watched Fili walk back down the road before turning back to the dwelling. Staring at his lengthening shadow on the walls of Gimli's house, Legolas was suddenly at a loss. While he traveled with the fellowship, a longing for his home and his own forest plagued him. But upon his return to Mirkwood, he could think of nothing else save for the ocean and the dwarf that had become his constant companion. He had spent barely a season with his own people when the growing emptiness felt overwhelming, and he set out for the dwarves. Yet upon arriving at his destination, he knew not what he came here to seek. He merely stood at the periphery of Gimli's home, and watched his shadow faded from the walls and the darkness enveloped him.

Around him, the hammering was starting to fade away to the single sound of pounding in front of him. The dwarves were ending their work at sunset, and the elf still had not moved.

With a deep breath that took in the sharp smell of metal all around him, Legolas forced his feet to carry him forward. Through the wide open door Legolas felt the damp heat from within. Idly, Legolas smoothed out his clothes, and crossed the threshold.

Inside, a single pit fire lighted the large atrium. Gimli stood on the other side of the blazes, hammering a large sheet of metal. Gimli did not look up, and Legolas did not announce his arrival. Gimli was shirtless; his red chest hair glistened with sweat. His eyes focused on the metal, he swung his hammer with practiced grace and ease. With each swing, Gimli's muscles flexed visibly, and the sweat dropped noiselessly on the metal he was working on.

Legolas began counting the swings, mesmerized by its simple motion. On the eighteenth swing, Gimli finally looked up, and his eyes widened at the sight of the elf.

"Legolas!" Gimli cried out. The hammer fell on the ground, but Legolas did not hear it. Without hesitation, Gimli rushed towards Legolas, and clasped the elf in a warm embrace.

Legolas returned the embrace, feeling the damp warmth of Gimli's skin, the hard muscles underneath.

"I did not expect you here so soon," Gimli broke away from the embrace first, his eyes gazing steadily on Legolas' face. Legolas's eyes fell from Gimli's face. Elves rarely regarded one another with such an open gaze, and Legolas wondered if perhaps it was because they had more to hide. If Gimli had notice his faltering glances, he made no sign. Instead, the dwarf walked to the other side of the room, and shrugged on a tunic. "I hope there is quality in your elf cloak and my sweat have not dampen it."

Legolas nodded, as he rubbed his fingers together and relished the smooth lingering wetness.

"What is in that pouch you are carrying with you, Legolas?" Gimli asked, coming towards Legolas's side again.

Legolas' hand brushed quickly against his pouch by his side, but no explanation came to him. In truth he did not know why he carried it.

"You are not carrying some elf food are you? You are looking more glowing than usual, Master Elf. I suspect its all the lithe food your people have been feeding you," Gimli said; he smelled of metal and earth. "If you carried your own food here, you are not to eat it. Let me get some malt beer in you, and perhaps you will be more tolerable."

Legolas' hand fell away from the pouch, and he smiled. "It is good to see you again, my friend."

Gimli laughed. "Never would I imagine that an elf would miss a dwarf."

"Many things that were beyond my imaginings have come to pass after I met you," Legolas said.

Gimli turned to him, the smile fading away from his face, replaced by something that Legolas dared not name.

"You have come here at the changing of seasons," Gimli said and looked away. "My kin Danini has died on the last day of summer. And we shall remember her on an autumn night."

"Master Fili has told me," Legolas said. "I would not have come if I had know --"

"Fili is growing an old woman's tongue," Gimli said, his voice almost a rumbling growl. "There are many elder ones here, and they must pass on with each season. And when they have gone, the young ones will be old. I will be long buried if you waited for a time where no one was dying or dead."

Legolas kept his eyes on his friend, but the room suddenly felt cold. Gimli came closer to him and touched his wrist. The dwarf's fingers slowly uncurled the fist that Legolas did not realize he had made. Neither of them spoke, and Legolas found himself staring at the earth tones of Gimli's hair.

"Will you join me tonight, Master Elf," Gimli said quietly, "when we drink and sing to remember Danini?"

Words failed to come to Legolas, so the elf nodded.

"Then, let us go. For tonight you will see the famed great mountain hall of the dwarf lords, and remember with us those that had passed," Gimli said. And with those words, he gave Legolas a firm push towards the door.

Outside, scores of dwarves were walking towards the mountains on the same path. Many turned and looked at Legolas, awed at the sight of an elf by a dwarf's side, but Legolas scarcely saw them. His eyes kept falling back to Gimli, and his ears only heard the Gimli's footsteps.

It had only been two seasons since they were last together, but when elf and the dwarf walked side by side again, Legolas felt as if an age had came and passed, though Gimli had not changed. Even without his armor, Gimli still walked completely erect, as if marching to the battlefield.

"What?" Gimli asked.

Legolas stared at his friend in confusion. He did not think he had spoken.

"You were smiling," Gimli said.

Before Legolas could answer, a dwarf child wandered next to Legolas, touched the rim of his tunic, and then ran away chuckling loudly.

"That is no way to greet a guest!" Gimli called out after the child. With a loud sigh, the dwarf turned back to his friend.

"There has not been an elf in these parts in an age," Gimli said.

"It is a rare honor indeed," Legolas said.

Gimli smiled and Legolas reached out to grasp his friend's shoulders--

"Gimli!" someone called out from behind them, and Legolas' hand dropped in mid-motion.

"Frerin," Gimli turned around to greet the younger dwarf.

"Frerin, meet Legolas Greenleaf," Gimli said.

"I have already greeted the elf at our gates," Frerin said as he stepped between Legolas and Gimli. "Is he to join us tonight at our table?"

"I would have nothing else," Gimli said. Legolas' eyes darted to his friend's face. Although he could only see Gimli's eyes over Frerin's head, Gimli returned his gaze without falter as if accepting an unsaid challenge.

"If that is what you wish," Frerin said.

Legolas inhaled sharply at the sound of Frerin's voice. Though the stout young dwarf stood between them, Legolas had forgotten he was there at all.

"I would have nothing else," Gimli said again as he looked away from Legolas and began walking again. Legolas swallowed the breath he held, and his hand touched the pouch by his side before following his friend.

Together, the three of them continued down the path towards the mountain until they were at its feet. Great doors carved out of stone welcomed them inside and the elf felt as if he had been swept into the spectacle of the dwarves' Great Hall.

Fires crackled loudly in the Hall, casting long shadows over light on the giant open chamber. Tall stone colonnades stood like silent guardians over the dwarfs. As a light breeze blew from within the mountain, Legolas thought the hall seemed oddly airy.

At the feet of the columns, marble tables were laid out with dozens of cups of beer. Many dwarves were already sitting around the tables, many more were finding their place in the Great Hall.

Gimli's table was at the end of the hall, and as they walked by the other tables, many dwarves stopped talking to their companions as their eyes fell on Legolas. When they were at last at their own table, there were already two dwarves sitting there, and Legolas recognized them both.

Gloin smiled widely at Legolas beneath his white beard. "I live in interesting times, Master Elf. No elf has come to these halls in all of our memories," Gloin said, his eyes shifting between Legolas and his son. The warmth of the greeting surprised Legolas. He remembered well when the elderly dwarf had regarded him with distrust at the Counsel of Elrond. But many things had come to pass since then.

"These halls were not built for other races," Frerin said as he sat down next to his father. Fili looked at his son sharply, but said nothing.

Legolas felt Gimli tensing beside him. "These halls were built so that creatures many times taller than Master Legolas may come and join us. We hardly need to worry that Master Legolas would not be comfortable here."

"We will welcome any friend of Gimli, be they elf, man, or troll," Fili said, his eyes still on his son.

"Indeed, you are most welcome here," Gimli said. Then with a hearty tug, Gimli pulled Legolas into a seat beside him, and placed a large mug of beer in front of him. "It's been too long since we have shared a drink together."

The odor of the beer nearly overwhelmed the elf. Fermented wheat and sugary sweetness pervaded his senses.

"This is no elvish nectar. This thickens the blood of a real warrior," Frerin said after he took a deep sip of his beer.

Legolas bit back a smile at Frerin's words, and chided himself for such a ridiculous reaction. Gimli has a much sharper tongue than this young dwarf, Legolas thought. The elf felt an odd smugness that Gimli's insults when they first met were much more harsh and biting than Frerin's attempt.

"Real warriors have little need of beer when they go into battle," Gimli said as his hand touched Legolas' arm. Then, Gimli leaned closer, and whispered into Legolas' ear so that only the elf might hear his words, "do not worry, Legolas, the dwarves have no draught like the Ents that make creatures who drink it more like themselves. Drinking our beer will not make you shorter and hairier."

Legolas laughed. "That thought had not been on my mind." With that, Legolas lifted the cup and emptied it with one gulp. When he lowered the mug back on the table, he began to feel the warmth of the beer spreading slowly from within. Turning to his friend he saw that Gimli had also emptied his cup. Tiny mounts of foam clung to Gimli's beard. Legolas laughed again, and Gimli turned to him with a grin, then the dwarf slowly swiped his mouth with the sleeve of his tunic, his eyes never leaving Legolas' face.

"You are flushing red, Master Elf," Fili said. "Though you are a much better drinker than men. The last man who emptied a cup of our beer went to sleep immediately. Perhaps it is because you are taller."

"Size does not matters when it comes to drinking," Gimli said. "I have watched hobbits drink more beer than their weight in stones."

"As have I," Gloin laughed. "Though our elf friend is turning back to his usual pale color. More beer, Master Elf? Or have you had enough of our home brews?"

Catching Gimli's eyes again, Legolas reached out to another cup of beer on the table.

"Be careful, Master Elf," Gimli's whispered to Legolas. The dwarf's warm breath touching Legolas' ear. "Too much of the our brew, and you may forget yourself."

Before Gimli finished talking, Legolas finished the cup. Turning to his friend, he whispered back, "Will you remind me, Master Dwarf, if I should forget?"

Gimli stroked his beard as he considered Legolas's question. "If I can."

Somewhere in on the other side of the Great Hall, a clear voice broke into song. The talking in the hall died down immediately. Though the song was sung in Khuzdul, and Legolas could not understand the words, he felt drowned in the sadness of the singer.
"Daini's son is singing of her life," Gimli explained. "He loved her well."

"What does he sing of her?" Legolas asked.

"The stones that she carved will remember her mark," Gimli said softly, "though her sun has sunk below the mountains. Deep in the mines, and over the villages, the wind will still carry our whispers of her name. But she will not answer our call, though she will remain engraved in our heart. And in the long years that shall pass after her passing, we shall keep on looking for her return. But she will not return to us, until we too lie sleeping in the mountain."

The song had ended, but Legolas heard only Gimli's voice. He had closed his eyes, and he did not open them until he felt Gimli's hand on his shoulders. Though he was not cold, he trembled. Gimli kept his hand steadily on Legolas, and Legolas fought the urge to lean into the dwarf.

"The words are better in Khuzdul," Gimli said.

"I do not doubt it," Legolas said. To his annoyance, even his voice was unsteady as he spoke. He looked to Frerin and wondered if the young dwarf would mock him, but Frerin was not looking at him. Fili's son was staring unblinkingly at his cup of beer. The young dwarf had both of his hands on the cups, and his knuckles were paler in colour than Legolas had ever seen on a dwarf.

All around them the talking had began again, though no one spoke at Legolas' table.

"Tonight we will have no food save for beer. We fest until tomorrow night when she shall be buried," Gloin said at last. "Drink up, Master Elf."

Wordlessly, Legolas picked up another cup and drank. Soon, someone else broke into song. Legolas did not ask Gimli to translate, and Gimli did not offer. The dwarf simply drunk with the elf. Before Legolas finished his third cup, Frerin stood up and left. Fili did not stop his son.

When the fire of the Great Hall started to die down, Legolas and Gimli had finished all the malt beer at their table. Legolas felt no different than when he had started, but Gimli's cheeks were red under the dwarf's beard.

"Midnight approaches," Gloin said when Gimli had finished the last of the beers, "we all need rest. There is much to do tomorrow."

"Will you dwell with Gimli tonight?" Fili asked Legolas.

"He rarely sleeps," Gimli said, his voice slurred. "But I doubt he can sleep in a room of stone with not a single window."

Legolas looked to his friend as Gimli slowly rose from the table.

"Come on, Legolas, we have a short hike ahead of us," Gimli said. Despite his slurred speech, Gimli was steady on his feet.

"Where will you go?" Golin asked.

"To the forest," Gimli said. "So he can sleep among his trees."

"Gimli, I need not sleep among the trees," Legolas said.

"I am drunk, Legolas. Do not argue with me," Gimli said as he started to walk toward the doors of the Great Hall.

Legolas quickly got up and followed until he caught up with his friend.

Though the night was dark, Gimli did not stumble as he walked, and Legolas soon fell by his side. When they reached Gimli's home again, they both went inside.

"Gimli, I need not go back to the forest to rest," Legolas said again as Gimli gathered blankets from his bed.

"You sat by a window with your eyes wide open in all the dwellings of men," Gimli said. "You cannot sleep in a place of stone. It is not in your blood." Hauling the blankets over his shoulders, the dwarf walked outside, and the elf was helpless to do anything but follow.

"If you insist that I go back to the forest, I shall. You need not come with me," Legolas said. Gimli stopped mid-stride, and turned to Legolas.

"Speak like that again and I shall go for my axe," Gimli said. "I will not allow you to slip back to your forest alone when here you are."

When Legolas made no reply, Gimli continued walking again. Soon, they were walking side by side again. Legolas hardly noticed that they were at the gates that marked the end of the dwarves' territory until he saw Frerin.

"Frerin?" Gimli sounded surprise to see the young dwarf there. "Is it not Fror's turn to guard the gates tonight?"

Frerin did not answer Gimli, rather he walked to Legolas. Frerin lifted his fist quickly, and Legolas thought perhaps the young dwarf would strike him, but Frerin's fist stopped in front of him. The young dwarf shifted his hand, and opened his palm. On his palm, laid a single jewel. Despite the darkness, the jewel glowed faintly green.

"I never thought I would win, Master Elf. But I have never imagined that I would lose to an elf," Frerin said.

"I do not understand," Legolas said.

Gimli came to them, and he reached out and closed Frerin's palm. "You cannot give a gift that will not be received."

Frerin turned to Gimli, and for a long moment the two dwarves stared at each other.

"I will have no other though I cannot have the one I want, Gimli," Frerin said.

"Nor I," Gimli laughed and placed his hand on Frerin's shoulder. "That is the way of our people."

"You have far more grace than I, Gimli," Frerin whispered. "Though I wish it were not so, for I fear it will only make me regret more what I lost."

Legolas did not hear Gimli's reply as Frerin turned and walked back towards the dwarf village. With his back to Legolas, Gimli said, "To the forest, Master elf."

Legolas' throat burned with questions, but he said nothing.

Soon they were among the trees, but Gimli did not stop walking until they were deep in the forest. Dropping his blankets to the ground unceremoniously, the dwarf laid down on his back and pulled the blankets over himself. In the open air, Legolas could no longer smell smoke and fire and beer, except for the scent on Gimli.

"Gimli," Legolas said.

"Sleep, elf," Gimli said. "I'm know my own strengths. I'm too drunk to talk." True to his words, the dwarf started snoring almost immediately.

Legolas laid down next to his friend and watched him the darkness. Tentatively, he reached out and laid his hand on Gimli's chest. Before this day, Legolas had never known Gimli without his armor. With only a tunic between Gimli's bare skin and Legolas's hand, Legolas could feel Gimli's blood pulsing against his fingers tips. He closed his eyes, and counted the beats.

When he opened his eyes again, the night was already ending, and the darkness was fading around them. The elf could not remember a time when he had fallen asleep without meaning to.

Yet sometime during the night, Legolas had fallen asleep, and became tangled between Gimli and his blankets. The elf was practically draped over the dwarf.

Legolas raised his head a little from Gimli's chest, and felt leaves falling away from his hair. Sleeping in the open air on an autumn night, the wind had scattered leaves around them. Legolas looked to Gimli, and saw that his friend's hair too was covered by leaves. Without thought, he reached out and pulled a leaf from Gimli's hair.

The dwarf's eyes opened, and Legolas did not have time to pull back his hand.

"I must have been more drunk last night than I thought," Gimli said. "For surely I would I have remembered falling asleep underneath you."

"I--"

"And what is it that you keep in that pouch of yours, Master Elf," Gimli said. "For it feels like rocks, and it is digging into my side."

Legolas jumped up sharply from the dwarf. Standing at arms length away from Gimli, Legolas' hand slipped to his pouch again.

Slowly, Gimli stood up and walked to Legolas' side. Without asking, Gimli reached out and opened the pouch, and looked inside.

"Rocks," Gimli announced. There was no surprise in his voice.

"Stone," Legolas said.

"Why?"

"I know not why I carry them," Legolas said and looked away. Gimli's hand touched his face, and brought him back to facing the dwarf.

"Light as you are, you need not these rocks, Master Elf," Gimli whispered. With his other hand, Gimli unfastened the pouch and tossed it into the forest.

"Come with me," Legolas said, the words falling from him as the rocks fell to the ground.

"I have promised to return with you to help Aragorn rebuild his city, and to that I hold," Gimli said.

"Come with me," Legolas said again as he moved to embrace Gimli. Wrapping his arms tightly around the dwarf, Legolas held on to the solidity of Gimli's being. The embrace was returned with equal pressure.

"Aye," Gimli said as he pushed Legolas slowly to the ground.

Lowered to a bed of leaves, Legolas did not release his hold and neither did Gimli.

For a brief moment, Legolas looked up. The first rays of the sun dyed the tips of the trees; chasing away the last of the night.

~fins