A/N: And so it is that, one year to the day that it began, the journey ends. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me, and all of you have made it so. Thank you so much. And thank you to my beta reader, Angel, for sticking with me all this time.
Disclaimer: J.R.R. Tolkien created these wonderful characters. For that, I am more grateful than I can say.
In the Deep Places, by Lamiel
"Then Thorin left Erebor and went to unify the Khazad of the Grey Mountains –"
"Thorin? I met him."
Gimli shot his companion a quick glance. When they had begun the lessons the previous evening Legolas had listened respectfully and his few questions had shown a surprisingly insightful understanding of the material.
But a night spent up in the treetops above the Fellowship's pavilion seemed to have relaxed the Elf, and now as they walked under the dappled afternoon sunlight Gimli began to suspect that he was being teased. He ignored this and continued doggedly. "No, not Thorin Oakenshield. This was seven hundred years before his time."
Legolas seemed to think about that for a moment. "How long did the first Thorin live?"
Gimli dropped back to follow the Elf as the path narrowed. "Two hundred and fifty years. His grandson, Glóin –"
"My great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Six hundred years ago, Legolas."
"He did not come back?"
"But Durin –"
"That was a special case."
Legolas shook his head as the path widened again, allowing them to walk abreast. "I am sorry, Gimli. Durin was the one who made sense to me."
Gimli stopped to adjust the fit of his small axe in his belt – it had been bumping against his hip as he walked. "Mmph – there." He glanced up to find the Elf waiting for him. "Now what was that?"
Legolas shrugged. "When I studied Dwarven history and customs –"
"You studied Dwarven history?"
Legolas straightened. "Of course. As a representative of the king –"
Gimli snorted. Legolas ignored this and continued, raising his voice slightly. "As a representative of the king I was required to know the cultures of all peoples of Middle-earth. Including Dwarves, Men, Ents –"
"And most confusing was how many kings the Men and Dwarves have had, and how quickly they come and go. Hardly a yén seems to pass without a new one. But Durin was different. It was much easier before he left."
Gimli thought about this. "I suppose," he said finally, "that that's just one of the things you'll have to get used to, Master Elf. We mortals do tend to come and go faster than you Elves."
There was a pause. "Yes," Legolas said softly, and fell silent. He seemed to be thinking about something, but he soon shook himself and gestured back toward the path. His eyes were very dark.
They walked for a time in silence, while Gimli tried to think of something to say. Clearly his words, obvious though they were, had reminded the Elf of a truth that he preferred not to contemplate.
Legolas' brow was furrowed, and his thoughts were clearly elsewhere as he walked faster and faster along the path. Loose tendrils of his hair blew back, and he was soon striding along so rapidly that Gimli was in danger of having to trot to keep up.
But it isn't as if he didn't know, Gimli thought, torn between sympathy for the Elf and impatience at his sudden moodiness. Five minutes. Is it really too much to ask . . . How Aragorn puts up with – Oh Mahal. Aragorn. So that was the problem.
Gimli glanced up at the Elf as they swept along, trying to keep from panting. He considered pointing out that by all accounts the line of Númenor was much longer lived than most Men, but somehow he didn't think that would be of much comfort to the immortal. Also, he was now so short of breath that he doubted if he could pronounce the word "Númenor" without a rest stop first.
"You know," he managed, now taking two steps to every one of Legolas', "we also study other cultures."
"Mmm." Well, at least the Elf was still listening. Gimli forged on, breathing hard now.
"Of course… it's important… for trade. Have to… know how… to deal." This was ridiculous. He was tempted to stop and just let the Elf run off into the forest alone, if that's what he wanted. But Legolas had comforted him, when he had grieved for his people's loss. He could do no less in return. And he'd run his legs into the ground before he admitted weakness before the Elf.
"Men are… complicated. All those different lines… north kingdom… south kingdom… stewards. But Elves… are easy."
Legolas actually slowed his stride at that. He glanced sharply at Gimli. "Are they." His voice was cool, wary as though suspecting a trap, but clearly the Dwarf had captured his interest again.
Gimli nodded. "Sure. Take Mirkwood, for instance." Legolas came to a halt and turned his full attention upon him. Gimli unbuckled his large battle-axe and leaned it gratefully against a tree, using the opportunity to take a few deep breaths. He waited until his heart had slowed and then turned casually back to find the Elf still staring at him.
He wiped his hands with elaborate care on his leggings and said, "Mirkwood's complete history can be summed up in two words."
"Two words." Legolas' voice was laced with skepticism.
"Yup. Oropher, Thranduil. See? Easy."
Legolas' jaw actually dropped a millimeter. Gimli saw it. But the Elf recovered quickly and turned away, walking much more slowly this time. "I think it is a little more complicated than that, Master Dwarf."
Gimli shrugged and swung his axe back over his shoulder as he joined him. "Nonsense. A child could learn it in a day."
"And the Sundering of the kindreds? Oropher's passage over the mountains to the great wood, and the joining of the Úmanyar? The mustering of the Nandor to the plain of Gorgoroth? The rise of the Dark Tower?"
Gimli waved his hand. "Piffling details."
"Piffling!" But their eyes met then, and Gimli could not keep his face straight any longer. His lips twitched, then quirked, and a deep chuckle rumbled from his chest. The Elf's utterly shocked expression was too much for him. Gimli leaned against a nearby tree trunk as his knees went weak and he gave himself up to the laughter that shook his whole body.
Legolas watched him stiffly for a long moment, radiating disapproval as only an Elven prince can. But a faint twitching set in about his lips, and then his eyes crinkled briefly as one corner of his mouth quirked, and finally the façade crumbled and he laughed, his clear voice ringing over Gimli's deep chortles.
When the mirth had run its course Legolas sank down to sit on the raised earth at the side of the path. Gimli settled back on the opposite bank, wishing again for his pipe. But something jabbed him sharply in the ribs, and he had to lean forward as he pulled his short axe from his belt.
Legolas watched this with interest. "Would you not be more comfortable, Master Dwarf, if you left your weapons behind?"
"Mmph." Gimli occupied himself with setting his throwing axe next to the battle-axe beside him, preferring not to answer that question. In truth the constant weight of the axes, helmet, and chain mail was becoming tiresome. But he was still not entirely at ease in these woods, though they did seem less strange now. Perhaps that was due to the Lady, or perhaps it was seeing Legolas here beside him – the Elf looked so perfectly at home that Gimli could not help but relax in his presence. But these experiences were new, and Dwarves were slow to trust in new relationships. He felt better with his weapons close at hand.
Legolas started to say something else, but then stopped. He seemed to be listening to something that Gimli could not hear, and he tilted back his head to look up. His eyes narrowed as he studied the branches overhead, and then he looked back at Gimli and smiled ruefully. "We have company," he said.
Gimli was just opening his mouth to ask what he meant when two Lórien Elves dropped suddenly into the path between them. He shut his mouth with a snap but, thanks to Legolas' warning, succeeded in not jumping two feet into the air. It must be endemic to all Wood-elves, he thought as he tried to slow the pounding of his heart. Some inherent weakness of the species that makes them leap out of trees at people.
The Elves looked a little like Legolas, with their long blond hair, and they glanced at Gimli with expressions of mingled curiosity and disdain that reminded him forcefully of the Mirkwood party at the Council of Elrond. One of them turned to Legolas and said something in a swift, musical tongue that Gimli did not even try to understand.
Legolas remained where he was, seated comfortably with his hands dangling over his knees, but he raised one eyebrow and said coolly, and in Westron, "Lord Gimli is a member of the Fellowship sent out from Imladris, and my guest. If you wish to know anything further, I would suggest that you speak to him."
The Elves looked at each other, and at Gimli. "Hir Legolas," the first one began again, "i nogoth a renia mi aladh –"
Legolas smiled and said, "It seems that I am constantly clarifying things these days. Yesterday I reminded Lord Gimli that I am an Elf. Today I must explain to you that I am not a Dwarf. And to think, I had always imagined the difference to be obvious."
Gimli hid a smile behind his hand. The Elves looked rather taken aback, but after exchanging another glance the second one turned to Gimli and said in halting Westron, "Lord Nogoth. We were wondering how it comes that a stump-footer leaves his caves and dwells now in Lothlórien."
Gimli hesitated, unsure how to respond to that. He was virtually certain that he'd been insulted, but he did not know if it was deliberate. And if it were an insult then his usual responses were curtailed. Threatening one's hosts with an axe was generally considered to be in poor taste.
But Legolas had risen smoothly to his feet, and he had no need to draw any weapon. His eyes were hard and every line of his body radiated a clear warning. "Khazad," he said softly.
The first Elf glanced back at him questioningly. "What?"
"I believe," Legolas said with that same dangerous calm, "that the word you intended to use was Khazad. Or "Dwarf," to use the Common Tongue. It is difficult, I know. Perhaps it would be best if you addressed the Lady's guest by name."
The Elf met Legolas' eyes for a long moment, and then looked away. He gave a twisted smile and bowed shortly. Looking back at Gimli he said in clipped tones, "Lord Gimli. How is it that a Dwarf hides behind the defense of a prince of Mirkwood?"
That one was definitely deliberate. Gimli got to his feet, resisting the urge to take his axe with him. "I suppose," he said coldly, using his best impression of Thorin Oakenshield, "that he recognizes quality company when he sees it. The reverse is certainly true as well."
It was not often that one saw an Elf go speechless with shock. Gimli thought that the experience almost made up for not being able to use his axe. Legolas shot him an amused glance, but when he addressed the Elves his voice was clear and cold. "I believe that you have your answer. Is there anything further?"
It seemed that there was not. With a last puzzled look back and a bow, the two Elves leaped up into the trees and were gone. Legolas stood with his head tilted slightly, listening, and then sighed. The taut lines of his body relaxed, and he bent easily to retrieve Gimli's small axe. "'Quality company', Master Dwarf?"
"Hmph." Gimli took the axe and fell in beside Legolas as they proceeded down the path. "Not quite applicable to a spoiled Elvish princeling, I know, but the best I could do on short notice."
"Ah. I was uncertain if you referred to your impression of me, or mine of you. But as you meant the first, I will not correct you. However we may have to work on your insults, Master Dwarf."
"Nonsense. I've won every argument I've ever had with you, Master Elf."
Legolas coughed, his shoulders shaking as he covered his mouth with his hand. It was a moment before he could speak, and his eyes were very bright. "I was unaware that fleeing the battlefield in confusion constituted a victory. My education grows by leaps and bounds, Master Dwarf."
Gimli smothered a grin as he looked up at the Elf. "Of course it does. There wasn't much there to begin with, after all."
"Better. A clear subject and objective noun is always helpful if you wish to make your opponent understand the insult. We can work on that later."
"Hmph. What makes you think –" but Legolas had come to an abrupt halt. Gimli stopped mid-sentence and looked at him curiously. "What is it?"
Legolas smiled. "We are here."
But the Elf only gestured for him to follow and slipped off into the forest. Gimli hesitated, looking around nervously as he thought of his father's tales of another Elven wood, and the consequences of leaving the path. But the trees here were young, much smaller than the mellyrn, and birds were singing in the branches close overhead. There was no hint of the darkness or musty air and webs that Glóin had described. With a sigh and a muttered comment about unnecessarily secretive Elves, Gimli took a firmer grip on his large axe and followed.
Legolas led him some distance from the path, to where a cluster of young trees grew close together, draped in a grey-green moss. Pulling the curtain aside, he motioned Gimli forward. Hesitantly Gimli stepped through the opening, and froze.
He was in a cave. Or, he was in as close to one as was possible in these woods. The tree branches were woven close over his head, and only a dim greenish light filtered through their leaves. A thick screen of low branches and moss grew all around the tiny area, enclosing an almost perfect circle ten feet in diameter.
Legolas entered behind him and stood, his head brushing the low branches above them. "Well, Master Dwarf?"
Gimli turned in a slow circle, trying to take it all in. "How did you…"
The Elf smiled. "There are many wonders in the Golden Wood. I expect that there are other glades like this about as well, if one knows where to look."
Gimli glanced at him. "You asked the trees?"
Legolas shrugged. "Not as such. But I finally learned how to listen." He reached up to touch one of the slender branches. "These trees are young, and their tone is very different from the mellyrn."
Gimli looked around again, trying and failing to be nonchalant. He swallowed the lump forming in his throat.
"It is…" there were no words.
Legolas was watching him closely. "These woods must be very different than what you are used to. I thought that you might prefer a place more sheltered."
"Aye," Gimli said softly. "Aye, I do at that." He took a deep breath and continued, "Thank you, Master Elf."
A brilliant smile lit Legolas' face. "You are welcome, Master Dwarf." He looked up again. "Of course, it could be improved. If we just pushed these branches aside, to let in more light –"
"Oy! Touch those branches, Elf, and I'll have your head with my axe."
Legolas laughed. Gimli chuckled and settled down on the mossy floor. He prodded the soft earth absently as Legolas sat down at the far side of the "cave."
"The Hobbits would enjoy this as well. It's not too different from one of their holes."
"Mmm." Legolas' head was tilted back as he watched the flicker of light in the leaves overhead.
Gimli looked at him sidelong. "You couldn't have found a real cave, could you?"
Legolas smiled. "I fear not."
"Mmph. An outcropping of granite? Boulders by the river? One little rock?"
"Alas, I am not attuned to such things, Master Dwarf."
"H'm." Gimli thought for a moment. "You don't have to be attuned to them when logic will suffice. With a river like the Silverlode running through this forest, there has to be some good strata exposed. Tomorrow we will go and find it."
"Consider it part of your education, Master Elf. You can't understand Dwarves without understanding rocks."
"I did notice a similarity between the two. In intelligence, mostly."
"Watch it, Elf. You keep this up and your next lesson will be spelunking."
The small glade grew dark much more quickly than the more open forest, and scarcely had it done so than Legolas insisted that they leave. As the evening shadows lengthened they made their way back to the Fellowship's pavilion, where Sam explained to them at length the custom of punctuality at meals and the difficulties of reheating sausage and mash.
Legolas ate with the others, but as night came on he excused himself and vanished into the woods. He was gone all night and much of the next morning, but reappeared promptly at lunchtime, dropping from the trees to land almost on top of Gimli.
Gimli started violently, spilling his soup, and gave loud opinion as to the questionability of Legolas' ancestry. But the Elf only laughed, and soon the rest of the Fellowship joined in, while Gimli glowered at them and fought back a smile. And when Legolas invited him to explore the river that afternoon, he went, and he did not take his axes.
Legolas was away much among the Galadhrim, and after the first night he did not sleep with the other companions, though he returned to eat and talk with them. Often he took Gimli with him when he went abroad in the land, and the others wondered at this change.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Mirror of Galadriel, The Fellowship of the Ring.
Úmanyar: The branch of Elves that includes the Sindar, Silvan, and Green-elves, the Eldar who did not go to Valinor. The Silmarillion
Hir Legolas, I nogoth a renia mi aladh – "Lord Legolas, that Dwarf strays in the forest" (word is interrupted.)
A/N: I can hardly believe that it's over. I've invested a tremendous amount of my creative energy and time into this story, and it has been rewarded tenfold. Thank you all so much.
Coming in 2013: The Gloaming, an original novel by Lamiel. In a world ruled by monsters, you have to be a monster to survive.