Cadenza Set in the same universe as 'Adagio' and 'Mayflies'. One hundred years into the fourth age. Drama/Adventure/Angst A/L/G OC Friendship fic. No slash. R for violence. Beta by the wonderful Theresa Green – Read all her stories, they are very funny, well written, and very good.

Chapter 20

Minuial felt quite revived. Thranduil had returned to the forest in the early evening, received the twin's report on her health with frigid courtesy, and proffered thanks to them for their skill. Despite his stiff demeanour his sincerity could not be faulted.

The twins managed to look both proud and uneasy during this audience. They both suspected, with good reason, that under any other circumstance they would have been escorted firmly out of the Elvenking's presence, with a curt reminder of the wood-elf's quite intact memory. Looking positively Noldor in the impassivity of their faces, and the exactness of their courtesy, the twins bowed, disclaimed any virtue with becoming meekness, and then vanished from the woodland with a dispatch that was just short of panic.

Thranduil's court settled in their absence, melting into the forest to tend to food and reverie. A steward handed his liege a goblet of wine, and offered another to Minuial, who was now sitting cross-legged on the ground to her King's right. She looked up from massaging the still-tender side of her face to take the cup from the steward, and found herself pinned by her King's regard.

"My lord?" She turned away to take a sip of the very fine wine, and then looked at the trees that were settling into the night around them.

Thranduil also attended to his drink. "How fare you, Minuial? Legolas sends his regards. He seemed quite confident you would be well, more confident than Arwen and her husband, at least. I am glad that in this instance, and despite the unorthodox means he employed, he was right."

Minuial sighed, but in exasperation, not pain. "He sends his regards, but not himself, I notice." She toyed with her goblet, turning it to catch the firelight.

It was Thranduil's turn to sigh. He slid down in his chair a little. "He attends to his hobby, that wretched dwarf that tags along behind him like a pet. I fail to understand the fascination."

"How fares Gimli then, my Lord? The twins knew his injury was grave, but no more than that."

"I know not, and care less, Warden. Would that he would follow his mortal path and free my son from at least one of his ties to these friends of his. I hate to see him so mired in mortal doings, it is destroying him."

Minuial eyed the King thoughtfully, amused at herself. The impossible had happened, she had shifted her attitude a little; enough to know that, for Legolas, losing one of his unsuitable friends would lead to either his death from grief or a least his departure from Middle-earth, as surely as if an arrow had pierced his heart. That was knowledge Thranduil would neither countenance nor understand should he live to the end of Ardar.

She finished her wine and rose to her feet, glad to find her balance was back. Mentally she took the twins off her list of people to be dealt with. It was the least she could do after their unselfish help. She refrained from telling Thranduil of her resolve. Following the twins joke with the honey he had not dealt with the bee stings with any kind of graciousness. Minuial found she had a sneaking regard growing in her heart for those wicked elves that had dared so much, for a prank. With a sense of shock she found herself understanding what Legolas saw in them.

She bowed to her King and then took to the trees, seeking the peace of the forest, feeling unsettled. Her own sense of self confidence had been central to her soul for more centuries than she would like to recall. How was it that Legolas, and his petty mortals, had changed her mind about truths she had decided so long ago? She needed time to think.

ooo

Gimli woke, and then lay very still, having learned, over the last day, to assess his condition before making any sudden movements. The tent was very dark. The air smelled of the middle of the night, perhaps shading towards morning. That he could smell the cool air was perplexing, so he turned his head, very gently on his pillow to investigate the tent flap. It was indeed hooked up on both sides, and there, beside his bed, framed in the faintly lighter patch shown by the open door, sat Minuial, tossing and catching a slim silver blade, all in elvish silence.

Gimli felt his mouth drop open in astonishment. Of all the beings to find in his tent, she was the least likely. Gimli blinked his eyes, wondering if he was still dreaming, but still she sat there, tossing her little knife. He found himself almost mesmerised, watching the flashing blade rise and fall. He supposed she would have been almost invisible to human eyes; she had damped her glow and made no noise. But Gimli was dwarf-kind, and he could see perfectly well in the simple darkness of night. The elf finally turned and met his astonished gaze.

"I owe you an apology, master Gimli."

"My - my lady?" Gimli's throat felt like squirrels had been nesting in it for the winter. His stutter came out like a croak.

Minuial leant forward and made a long arm to snag a cup that rested on the table near the bed. She handed it to Gimli, who had scooted himself up in the bed a little. He accepted it and drank, taking a moment to be pleased that the whole automatic sequence of movements had not woken the nauseating pain in his head that had so bothered him earlier. His head still hurt, as did his back, but it was a trifle he could deal with easily.

Minuial did not miss the care with which he moved, but he seemed hale enough to hear her. She ploughed on.

"I spoke harsh words to you, last year, when you came upon Legolas and I, in Ithilien." She shifted a little in her chair and seemed to find the opposite side of the tent suddenly interesting. "I drove you from his side, and for that I am sorry. He needs you, dwarf. I know not why." She looked at him again, and shrugged. "He needs all of his mortal friends, otherwise he will sail, and be lost to us all until we meet again in Valinor." She sighed. "I would delay his departure for as long as possible, Gimli. He has a place in my heart, even if my place in his is quite different. I know not how things will fare in Valinor. I feel no compulsion to go. This world is mine for now but I would share it with him, as much as he allows, for as long as I may. So, I am sorry that I caused you grief with my words, and I take them back. Be hale, live long, love my prince, for then I will be able to have him as well, and I will treasure the moments I can have."

Gimli closed his eyes against the sudden tears that prickled. It is because you are sick, he told himself. Not because you are a soft old fool who cannot bear that a creature so noble should sell herself so short. He blinked his eyes open, and saw her examining him, her expression curious.

"My lady," Gimli said softly. "He is a great fool. My dear friend, but a fool nonetheless, to spurn what you offer. My heart grieves for your pain, and I will ease it by living, if it pleases you, for a very long time. Time you have, my lady, time and more time to work on him, and who knows what the future holds? You have eternity in your hands, and I will thank you with my dying breath for the generosity of your soul."

Now it was Minuial's turn to blink suddenly. The creature was charming. No wonder Legolas cleaved to him. His spirit was as true as the gold that was supposed to rule his race. She could almost hear the cracking as another long-held belief dislodged itself from her heart. At this rate she would soon be as mad as her lover, and Thranduil would send her from his side in disgust. She smiled, and stood. "Get well Gimli, and I will look forward to seeing you again. In Ithilien perhaps?"

Then she was gone, and Gimli was left in the soft night, wondering if the whole visit had been a dream. His eyes drifted shut, and when Legolas returned to his side, just as the sky greyed before dawn, he was sleeping as peacefully as a babe, not even snoring, for once. Legolas sat on the chair beside his bed and idly picked up a silver dagger that was on the dwarf's side-table. He tossed it in the air and caught it, wondering why it seemed so familiar.

ooo

Arwen supervised the packing of the last of the bales of her and Aragorn's personal possessions from the royal pavilion, and walked with the porters to see it safely stowed on the back of one of the waiting wains.

In this little oasis of personal time she prodded at her emotions, trying to gauge how she was coping with the changes of the last few days. Celeborn had warned her to live as serene a life as possible to ward off her illness. She smiled wryly to herself, if would appear the Valar had other plans for her and her husband, the quiet life eluded her. Nonetheless, as far as she could tell she was well enough, she would apply the disciplines Celeborn had taught her and hope. Hope had always been her watchword.

The great draft-horses turned their heads to her as she passed, and she took a moment to fuss at their heads once the wagon was secured to her satisfaction. As she stroked the velvet muzzles she looked at the long baggage train and shook her head in wonder. How did they accumulate so much stuff every time they stopped? Surely she had ridden from Minas Tirith with only a company of soldiers and her husband, and then returned to him from Rivendell with only the addition of a few elves. It was quite unfathomable.

"My lady?" Arwen turned her bemused gaze on Ingold, the new captain of her personal bodyguard. "The King sends for you. Elfwine and his court have gathered." The man waved a mailed hand to indicate the small crowd of people gathered in front of the scaffolding that now marked the gates of Edoras. The sound of hammer and saw echoed through the morning, along with snatches of song in both Dwarven and Human tongue. After only a week the restoration and refortification of Edoras was proceeding apace, and the whole city sounded like a building site. It reminded Arwen of Aragorn's city in the early days of their reign. The busyness made her feel quite nostalgic.

As she approached the group, Arwen could pick out the distinctive pairing of Legolas and Gimli, chatting animatedly with her brothers and the little hobbit, Tolman. Arwen smiled to see them.

Thranduil had moved his court on to Firien wood yester-eve, with the intention eventually of abiding in Ithilien for a space, so the twins had finally lost the nervous habit they had formed of glancing all around in case of being surprised by one of Thranduil's escort. Arwen smiled. They deserved any discomfort that Thranduil or his people cared to inflict on them. Minuial had told her of the joke they had connived that had Thranduil and his court as its butt last spring. Arwen thought the menacing looks and complete silence on the subject that Thranduil had commanded his people the best punishment they could receive. Before the wood-elves left, Ell' and 'Ro were both jumping at shadows, sure that revenge was on its way. Now they had resolved to escort Tolman back to Rivendell, perhaps to make sure he arrived at his destination for once, at least he would be merry company for her chastened siblings.

"Arwen!" Aragorn moved forward to take her hand and draw her into the group.

"My Lady." King Elfwine inclined his head and Cyneth dropped a bob of a curtsey. The Royal party followed suit, including Gleowyn and her now recovered husband, Telfaren. Arwen nodded and smiled at them all, wondering who was caring for Brytta. Then she lifted her gaze a little and saw little Morshy with a babe on her hip and another toddler holding her hand a little removed from the formal party. The Queen allowed herself a brief moment of sorrow, to be paid for this evening with meditation she knew, but despite the terrors of her captivity she had come to love these folk. She would miss them.

"So comes the time for parting, Elfwine." Aragorn reached forward and clasped the other King's forearm with his own.

Elfwine returned the clasp and placed a hand on Aragorn's shoulder. "I am - we are - most grateful for your steadfast support, Aragorn. Gondor has amply proved itself Rohan's great friend. Know you," he released Aragorn and turned to the whole party including the armed escort, "Gondor more than proved its friendship with Rohan this campaign. Call, Gondor, and Rohan will answer; at peril to ourselves we will answer, for as long as they remain our two Kingdoms will be joined in bonds of alliance."

The soldiers cheered and the party broke up reluctantly, Elfwine and his family returning to Edoras and Aragorn, Arwen and their men starting out on the journey back to Minas Tirith.

Legolas and Gimli lingered, watching as Tolman fussed around Bess and his wagon. Finally the last goodbyes were said, the healers of Edoras, and some from Aglarond, waved the small party away and the sound of the merry bells on Tolman's wagon sang a jaunty road song. Legolas and Gimli watched them out of sight.

Frior approached Gimli in a purposeful manner.

"I know." Gimli raised his hands in surrender. "I was only allowed up for this farewell and I must return to your care." Gimli shared a long- suffering look with his friend. Legolas laid a pale hand on his shoulder.

"I promised Gliver I would make you attend to your healers, as, I might remind you, you made me but recently."

Gimli huffed, but started off meekly enough towards the work camp the dwarves had set up outside the gates of Edoras.

His grumbling voice, interspersed with the lighter tones of his friend faded into the background noise produced by the re-building activity in Edoras, and a skylark sprang into the air from the grass near where they had been standing, winging its way over the busy city, hovering over the ruined shell of Meduseld that would rise soon from its ashes like a phoenix to again inspire the hearts of the Rohirrim. The bird sang its delight at the peace that was now returning to its grasslands, its liquid song lightening the hearts of all in Middle-earth that were blessed by its joy.

The End of Cadenza

Please review, I will hoard it and admire it and even reply. Thank you, more times than I can express, for all the support and encouragement I have received during the writing of this tale. I will miss it, and you. All my love. Rose Sared