Author's Note: This is my first attempt at fan fiction so please don't get your hopes up. I don't claim to be a writer just a fan and not even an expert one at that. This story has no beta so all mistakes belong to me. Any useful advice, hints, suggestions would be greatly appreciated, especially with the elvish ! nasty flames will be donated to my local Balrog society. Thank You ! (P.S haven't figured out how to get the various inflections over some of the elvish letters - sorry)

The events in this story ( which take place after ROTK, some movie references ) come from my own warped mind, please don't get upset if characters etc. don't conform with your idea of Middle-Earth, it's just a bit of fun ! I don't intend to offend !Legolas' family history etc. is my own pitiful invention.

Disclaimer: Any recognisable characters, places etc. belong to Prof. JRR Tolkien et al., all knowing, all powerful. I am merely borrowing them for a wee while & will return them reasonably unscathed. Anyone else unfortunately belongs to me though I have tried to disown them !
No money is being made from this - as if !

Hard To Forgive, Hard To Forget by Laiquendi

Chapter One ; Farewells

The two unlikely companions made their way steadily north-east through the forests of East Lorien. They travelled unhindered for the woods were peaceful once again now that the dark tower of Dol Guldur lay in ruins. Much damage had been done to the trees and the valiant elves of the Golden Wood had suffered many losses when the servants of Sauron attacked their homeland again and again.

But they did not allow evil to prevail and once the Dark Lord was destroyed they sailed across the Anduin where Lord Celeborn and the Lady Galadriel saw to the tower's destruction. The forests which once echoed the harsh sounds of battle were healing, returning to their former glory and all that could be heard now was musical birdsong, the chattering of squirrels and the steady gentle pounding of hooves.

This lightened the heart of one of the travellers for he was a woodland elf and held a close connection with nature. The elf was Legolas, son of Thranduil, King of Eryn Lasgalen situated in the northern parts of former Mirkwood and he was returning home. It had been many years since he had seen his Father and though time passes differently for an elf, he was still anxious to see how the King and his people fared after their recent battle with darkness under the trees. He had heard that much of the northern forest had been tainted and damaged by fire and he prayed to the Valar to speed their recovery for it was amongst the familiar trees of home that he always felt most at peace and he was looking forward to renewing that feeling.

The War of the Ring had ended, his friend Aragorn had taken his rightful place as King of Gondor and the remainder of the Fellowship had returned home all except his companion that is. For the elf travelled with a dwarf, Gimli son of Gloin. They joined the Fellowship together in Rivendell, much to one another's annoyance and despite themselves their relationship grew from barely concealed contempt to begrudging acceptance to mutual respect and inseparable friendship.

They had spent time together exploring the wonders of Fangorn Forest and though Gimli did so some what reluctantly he knew that in return the elven Prince had promised to visit the glittering caves known as Algarond with him and Legolas had remained true to his word. Though each companion had tried their best to extol the virtues of their chosen location it was painfully clear that the other could not fully appreciate the true beauty they were being shown.

Legolas had pointed out countless magnificent trees, literally singing their praises all the while recounting fascinating stories he had heard as a young elfling, tales about the mysterious Fangorn and ancient Ents.
But to Gimli a tree was a tree, good for shelter and fire wood . Why would anyone want to climb them ! Surely that is a job best left to the squirrels ! And it was beyond him why any one of sound mind would want to talk to them, what could a tree possibly have to talk about !
He had said as much to Legolas and they elf replied cryptically "Many things my friend" as he disappeared again silently making his way amongst the branches.

So the dwarf endured his time in the perilous forest, wary of every sound comforted only by the heavy weight of his axe against his back, until the elf had satisfied his curiosity.

Then they crossed the open plains of Rohan, home of the horse lords and travelled to Helm's Deep to view the Glittering Caves. Here the dwarf was in his element and he could not contain the passion he felt as he walked through the immense caverns, indicating strange and wondrous formations in the rock that had taken an eternity to create. He pointed out the numerous crystals, gems and ores to be found in the bowels of the mountain, marvelling at how they shone and sparkled in the torch light and he often spent hours staring into the still pools of water hidden deep within the caves, amazed at the reflections they mirrored perfectly.
Unfortunately much of this beauty was lost on the elf, though he could appreciate it on some level it was still just a hole in the ground! It was not natural for an elf, especially a wood elf to spend so much time underground in fact he rarely spent more time than was necessary in his own Father's ornate halls deep inside the mountain . Elves needed to see the sun and the stars, to hear the song of the trees and keep a close affinity with nature, one could not do this in a dark cave ! And though it reminded him at times of Moria and made him feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable he endured it for the sake of friendship until the dwarf had sated his need to delve in the deep places of the Earth.

Both then returned to Gondor for a time and helped their friend Aragorn, the newly crowned King Elassar to rebuild the city of Minas Tirith. The dwarf shared his extensive knowledge of masonry and the elf tended to the much dilapidated gardens.
Now however they were finally returning home and they rode together as always on Arod. They left Gondor with the King and Queen's blessings and thanks. Each had promised to return in the near future with aid from both their peoples. Gimli would settle in Algarond with some of the dwarves from Erabor once Minas Tirith had been restored to it's former glory. With his Father's permission, Legolas would bring some of the Silvan elves from Eryn Lasgalen and set up a small colony in the forests of Southern Ithilien. The area was once very beautiful and had lots of potential, the trees would do well under the caring hands of the elves.

"Farewell my honoured friends, be safe and try not to get into too much trouble on your journey home" Aragorn cautioned, though it was said with much humour and affection.

"Fear not for me and this pesky elf Aragorn for I will keep us both safe", Gimli stated as he patted his trusty axe "I have grown accustomed to saving his scrawny hide in fact it keeps me in full employment !"

"That is an unlikely fantasy Master Dwarf" Legolas retorted peering down at his friend, his sapphire blue eyes twinkling with mischief " but one which I shall permit you to continue for I doubt you will find employment elsewhere, in fact your list of options would be as short and stunted as yourself !"

The dwarf's temper had a short fuse and his face grew redder as he became more outraged .
"Why you prissy, pointed-eared, long-legged son of an orc, why I aught to…………."

"Gentlemen please." Arwen's soft voice gently interrupted before things got out of hand.

Close friends knew from experience how to handle the two when they engaged in their frequent verbal sparring matches. The weapons of choice consisted of barely veiled insults, challenges at their opponents parentage, abilities in battle, general appearance and of course threats of physical violence, especially from Gimli, though the elf had on one occasion threatened to hog tie the dwarf, shave off his beard and hang him from the branches of the tallest tree in Gondor. That particular threat had kept the dwarf on guard for weeks.

"If you continue with this "discussion" I fear one of you may end up in the House of Healing …..again," she warned lightly as though she were chastising naughty children, "and I doubt either one of you wants to delay your journey home unnecessarily."

"As ever my Lady you speak with wisdom" said Gimli bowing graciously, "and I for my part shall resist the urge to pound this ungrateful elf into the ground and leave the healers of Minas Tirith to tend to more worthy patients."

But Legolas as usual was quick to reply with a slight impish smile.
"As ever Master dwarf you set your sights too "high" for you lack the stature to pound this or any elf into the ground and though I could easily return the favour there would be no challenge in it for you are already so close to the earth that there would be little pounding required !"

The dwarf growled low and swung out with his axe in the direction of the smirking elf but Legolas easily avoided the weapon as he leapt aside in a blurring fluid motion.

"Legolas !" "Gimli !" The King and Queen groaned together in growing exasperation.
"Will you two PLEASE try to act responsibly, people are watching…." Aragorn pleaded through a tightly clenched jaw as he quickly glanced at the citizens of Gondor whom had gathered to wish the heroes farewell , " and kindly refrain from killing each other while you are in the realm of Gondor for I would not relish writing to your respective fathers explaining the details of your untimely demise !"

"Fear not Master Elf" the dwarf consoled solemnly, "for I should carve a tomb stone worthy of your memory."

"I have naught to fear Master Dwarf and rest assured I would compose a lament worthy of your remembrance" the Prince countered with exaggerated flourish.

A small sigh escaped Arwen's lips and Aragorn merely looked to the sky, silently questioning Iluvatar's wisdom in putting these two together.

A temporary truce was eventually achieved long enough for the pair to mount Arod, then the Royal party waved their friends goodbye at the main gates of the city. As the duo faded from sight the King turned to his beautiful wife and smiled but his eyes held slight apprehension.

"Do not worry my love, you shall soon see them again" she soothed, " they will arrive home safely, they are more than a match for any problems they may encounter on the way." "Aye," he agreed, " more than a match, assuming they don't kill one another first !"

Chapter Two; Doubts and Admissions

The friends journeyed in the shadow of the White Mountains and made their way to Edoras in Rohan where they were the guests of Eomer's for a time. From there they travelled leisurely over the plains of West Emnet and past Fangorn. They took safe passage across the Anduin near Lorien and were now heading steadily north through the former forests of Mirkwood.

It was a beautiful Summers day, the sun shone warmly through the canopy of trees throwing speckles of light on the thick layer of fallen leaves which carpeted the forest floor. The sky was a magnificent blue and held naught but the barest few whispy white clouds. Millions of leaves in countless shades of green rustled softly in the gentle breeze that made itself known from time to time. The air was fresh and smelled of lavender and rich decaying mulch. All in all it was a glorious day for travelling and a delightful contrast to some of the areas they had previously seen.

Earlier they had ridden through an area of forest now belonging to the Beorings and the Woodmen. Here the forest still showed lingering evidence of it's dark past. The trees were ancient and knarled. Their twisted frames bending over as thick vines seemed to strangle the last remaining traces of life from them. High up in their branches hung the tattered remains of countless spider webs, though the foul creatures themselves were nowhere in sight. Many had been slain by Mirkwood's finest warriors during the battle and fire had destroyed dozens of nests, this two pronged onslaught thankfully had a devastating effect on the spider population.

The under growth beneath the smothering canopy was harsh, thorny and full of weeds, very little light made it to the forest floor and the air seemed stale. It reminded Gimli of Fangorn Forest. But they were most fortunate and they passed through without incident.

Soon the friends had left the darker parts of the old forest behind them and were getting closer to the elven King's Halls. They had also passed through pockets of forest damaged by battle and ravaged by fire. Huge ancient oaks, pines and sycamores reduced to ash and blackened stumps. Here the faint smell of smoke had lingered in the air. The forest had paid dearly and it had saddened the elf's heart greatly to see such wanton destruction, such lack of respect for the trees but already visible through the charred debris new saplings could be seen clamouring for the light. The death of the old trees was bringing new life to the forest, their scattered ashes feeding the earth below.

Legolas could only hope that his people had fared better than the trees. Realistically he knew there would be losses , the loss of life in battle was a tragic waste but inevitable and he now feared learning what those losses were. It was possible some of his close friends had fallen and it grieved him greatly that he may never see them again.

As they made their way steadily north they had passed under several occupied talans hidden high up in the trees. Gimli had been unaware of their presence and though the Prince considered the dwarf a good friend it was not his place to point out these secret out-posts as they were part of his father's defensive net-work.
The many patrols that ceaselessly protected the borders of his homeland used these talans to store supplies and rest. Legolas knew they were being watched but the silent sentinels remained hidden, had they perceived a threat things would have gone differently. They allowed their Prince safe passage through the forest and the elf smiled to himself wondering what they had made of his companion, no doubt the dwarfs presence had raised the eyebrows of a warrior or two ! Perhaps he would reveal some of their secret guardians when they got closer to home.

Home. Thoughts of home and the dwarf brought another matter to mind, what would his father's reaction be to his new friend ? But the elf's ponderings were suddenly interrupted.

"If we do not stop soon elf I will lose the power to walk !" the dwarf complained gruffly.

They had been riding for hours and while it had no effect on his eleven companion, Gimli was becoming increasingly uncomfortable and it was wearing on his patience.

"As you wish Master Dwarf" he replied complying with the dwarfs demands, "there is an ideal resting area ahead and the wild life is plentiful here, mayhap we shall have rabbit to feast upon, what say you ?"

"Aye, that sounds good, nothing like a bit of freshly roasted meat to sooth the weary traveller. I have had my fill of salted pork of late, a rabbit will be a welcome change" he answered, the thoughts of a freshly cooked meal already lifting his spirits.

"Then it is settled, we shall make preparations for a fire then I shall hunt us some rabbit."

It would be the first fire they had lit since entering the forest for the nights were not that cold and neither were susceptible if it were and they had brought food provisions with them, however the real reason was that they had simply not wanted to draw attention to themselves. While the risk of being attacked by orcs, spiders and wargs had diminished the treat had not totally disappeared and one does not openly ask for trouble if one can help it.

Soon they entered a beautiful glade surrounded by tall silver birch trees, their white bark dazzling in the late afternoon sun, they resembled the fabled nimbrethil of lost Beleriand.
To one side of the glade were the ruined remains of an ancient stone watchtower. Large pieces of carved stone lay scattered on the ground and would make ideal seats while the companions ate.
The grass was lush and green and many ferns grew in the shade of the beeches lime green canopy. Wild flowers carpeted the forest floor in stark whites, soft pinks and the occasional shocking red as clusters of poppies poked through the grass. The riders dismounted and removed the necessary supplies then Legolas allowed Arod to roam and graze nearby. The elf picked out an appropriate place to set the fire amongst the scattered stones.

"I will prepare the ground for the fire Gimli and hunt us something to eat, would you gather some wood and dry kindling my friend ?" the elf asked politely.

"Aye" came the brief reply as the dwarf set off into the wood.

"Oh and Gimli….."

The dwarf paused, glanced to the heavens and released an exaggerated sigh then turned to face the elf giving him a withering look.

"I am not so old as you and my mind is not so feeble that I have forgotten my promise elf, I will not use my axe on living wood !"

The elf smiled apologetically, "Thank you Gimli and don't wander too far my friend" he cautioned.

As the dwarf headed back into the trees his deep grumblings about the craziness of pointy-eared elves and their blasted trees brought light laughter from the elf Prince.

Legolas removed one of his knives from it's leather scabbard and began to cut into the earth. He worked until he had almost freed a large sod of earth three-quarters way round, then he flipped it back to rest on the grass.
He carefully cleaned his knife and replaced it, a good warrior always took care of his weapons, one of the many lessons learned during his novice training.
He then gathered some small pieces of masonry that had broken off the large stones and made a small make-shift wall in the newly exposed earth. All it needed now was the wood so he removed his bow from his back and set off noiselessly into the woods in the opposite direction of his friend. No doubt the dwarf's heavy footfalls were sending potential prey running for cover, it would be pointless to follow him.

He had not travelled far from their rest site when movement in the undergrowth ahead caught his attention and so with the agility he was graced with he leapt effortlessly up into the branches of a near by tree and waited. His keen ears heard the rustling of grass and the pawing of the earth. As he quietly removed an arrow from his quiver two large brown-grey ears made themselves visible. A young hare. Bigger than a rabbit and there would be more than enough meat. It paused and sniffed the air for danger, sensing nothing it went back to it's foraging.
Legolas set the animal in his sights, gave silent thanks to the Valar for this blessing and released the shaft. It was a clean kill.

The elf jumped nimbly from his hidden perch and collected their meal . He removed the arrow and looked it over with a critical eye , it was still in good condition, after wiping it in the long grass he returned it to his quiver to be used at another time. It was then that he noticed what had grabbed the hare's attention. Wild berries were growing in abundance amongst the undergrowth and so he collected two large hand fulls and carefully tipped them into the quiver.

When he returned to the glade Gimli had already begun to build the fire and was fashioning a wooden spit to cook dinner on.

"Look Master Dwarf to-day we feast on hare !" he exclaimed, holding up the animal for the dwarf to see.

" Nicely done elf ! And not too old either by the looks of it, the meat will be nice and tender, you best skin and clean it and I will get the fire lighting , should be nice and hot by the time you are finished !" the dwarf was getting more and more excited at the prospect of a hot meal and he eagerly removed his flint and set about lighting the fire.

The kindling was good and dry and the sparks soon became dancing amber flames encouraged to life by the dwarfs steady puffs of air. The flames had well and truly established themselves by the time the hare was ready and it wasn't long about cooking on the make-shift spit.
They ate their meal in a comfortable silence then the dwarf's curiosity got the better of him.

"What is this place Master Elf ?" he asked.

"It is called Barad Gleimor (Tower of Echoes), though I do not know if that has always been it's name. Long ago it was used as a look out. It was quite tall in it's day and gave a clear view above the trees in all directions. I heard it said that on a clear day and elf could see across The Great Sea Belegaer to The Undying Lands though it is most likely a myth. It fell to ruin long before I was born and I have only ever seen it as you see it now, though many of the stones were removed some time ago and taken to my father's halls for other uses."

They lapsed into silence once more and rested contently when both had eaten their fill. As the moments passed the dwarf noticed a look of apprehension on the elf's normally guarded face. Unconsciously he had begun to chew his lower lip, a sure sign of some hidden turmoil for the elf would never knowingly allow his actions to betray him. This continued for a time until finally the dwarf could take no more.

"Enough ! Out with it elf! What is wrong ?" he demanded loudly.

The sudden outburst caught the elf some what by surprise and he looked questioningly at Gimli.

"Excuse me?" he asked, both delicate eyebrows raised in slight confusion.

"I said what is wrong with you elf , you have done naught but chew your face and stare blankly at the ground this past while. Clearly something is eating that crazed mind of yours, now out with it !" he shouted slapping the wooden handle of his axe that lay across his lap.

"Nay Gimli I am well" he assured unconvincingly.

"Of course you are stubborn elf and one day I shall wed a fair orc maiden and we shall live in the tress !" he growled glaring at the elf who suddenly erupted into a fit of uncontrolled giggles. He rested his hand on the dwarf's shoulder and smiled.

"Ah Gimli you always know how to lift my spirits," but the levity was fleeting and the elf grew serious again taking in a deep breath and releasing a soft sigh he continued " but you are right my friend my thoughts have been troubled of late, in truth I can not help but wonder how my father will react upon my return."

"Surely he will be glad to see the safe return of his son" the dwarf stated quite matter of factly.

Legolas got up from his stone seat and walked to a nearby birch placing a hand on its mottled bark allowing his connection with the trees to ease his tension.

"I do not doubt this Gimli even though I joined the Fellowship without my father's permission and blessing for there simply was no time but I believe he will understand my decision to go was because of my love of Mirkwood and our people. I would do anything to protect my home even if it meant abandoning my duties there" the elf declared in earnest.

"Thranduil is a fool and a blind fool at that if he does not see the reasons behind your decision to aid Frodo" the dwarf grunted harshly in reply.

"My father is no fool Gimli !" the elf bit back some what sharply, a flash of anger momentarily darkening his bright eyes. Then he sheepishly apologised and returned his gaze to the forest floor.

"I am sorry my friend but you must understand the presence of evil and darkness has been abound in my homeland growing in strength with each passing year since before I was born. Now with the destruction of Sauron and the ring the light will return to Greenwood the Great, in time the forests will heal and it will be a place of beauty once more. But for a long time my father has been hard pressed to keep the evil forces at bay with naught but the skill of our warriors to rely on. Bow and blade protects our realm my friend, we did not have the luxury of magical rings to call upon. As ruler and protector of our people my father can ill afford mistakes of any kind or evasion of duties from anyone, myself included and I respect and understand this. Mistakes and negligence in Mirkwood are unforgiving foes and leave grave consequences in their wake. My father may be many things Gimli but he is no fool."

The dwarf raised his hands and softened his gruff voice in an effort to placate the elven Prince.

"Peace my friend, I meant no offence or disrespect to your father" he offered.

The elf stepped forward from the tree quietly advancing on the dwarf closing the gap between them before Gimli had time to react or retreat. Legolas stared into the dwarfs dark brown eyes for what felt like an eternity, a sad expression gracing his fine features.
"Oh but you did……… is there my friend subtle and wily but there none the less, it is in your tone and oft in your words and I can see it now…………in your eyes………the betray you Gimli son of Gloin," he returned to his place beside the dwarf and continued, his voice low as though he were weary "but in truth I can not blame you elvellon my father's relationship with the children of Aule has been strained at the best of times and it is this aspect of my return that concerns me."

"You fear your father's reaction to my presence and our friendship" the dwarf stated, understanding now the real reason behind the elf's anxiety.

"Yes Gimli, I fear he may not understand or worse simply refuse to understand how a dwarf and an elf, how you and I could become friends. He has his reasons for this and they may prevent him from keeping and open mind."

"Oh really and what reasons are they ?" the dwarf enquired in a slightly irked tone.

"Reasons that are his own Gimli and his alone to tell my friend." The elf removed his quiver and poured out the fruits he had collected earlier.

"Would you like some berries ?"he asked , skilfully changing the subject as he offered a handful of the juicy red fruits to his friend.

Gimli took a few and popped them all into his mouth, thinking on what had been said as he chewed. He had wondered himself what the Elf King's reaction would be to his appearance in his halls.
One thing was for certain he would not be allowing history to repeat itself. This was one dwarf who would not be enjoying the hospitality of Thranduil's dungeons. His father had already endured that particular pleasure and if that tree-hugging, wine-guzzling, jewel-thieving King sought to detain him he would not be taken without a fight. He would swing his axe and gladly knock that pompous, pampered elf down a peg or two, then he would……….Gimli stopped his own thoughts in their tracks, Legolas had been right, he did not respect the elf's father. Well if Thranduil was allowed his reasons for animosity well by Durin's axe this dwarf would have his ! Then he made a silent promise to himself that however bad the King's reactions may be he would not allow them to spoil his friendship with his son. The young elf had proved himself to be a skilled fighter time and again despite the lack of a good axe, he was brave, loyal and trustworthy and even if he didn't fully understand all the crazy elf's ways; talking to trees, singing to the stars, sleeping with open eyes and to avoid partaking in a decent bit of pipe-weed is just not normal, he knew he could tolerate these peculiarities and annoying elf habits for the sake of their friendship.

As the dwarf mused one word crept back into his thoughts demanding attention; trustworthy. In his long life Gimli had never believed he would come across an elf worthy of his trust and yet here sitting quietly beside him was such a fabled creature and he marvelled again at the uniqueness of their friendship. But the word would not go away and it pounded against the walls of his mind like a hammer on an anvil.

"Legolas," the dwarf began. The serious tone combined with the use of his first name snapped the elf's attention.

"Yes Gimli, is something wrong ?" he enquired, his soft voice tinged with concern.

"Nay I merely want to say…..that is I must tell you that……what I mean to tell you is………Oh for the love of Mahal !" he sighed frustrated at his inability to express his thoughts and he began fidgeting with the leather wrappings of his axe handle.

His friend was clearly having trouble and the elf grew more concerned causing furrows to appear across his pale brow.
The dwarf took in a deep breath, released it slowly and began again.
"Legolas." "Yes Gimli." "I want you to know that when I spoke at Lord Elrond's council I spoke in anger, my words were said in haste and not meant as a personal slight against you, I hope that…"

"Peace Master Dwarf," the elf understood at once what his friend was referring to and interrupted the unnecessary apology "what you said in Rivendell you meant at the time and who could blame you for you had no reason to trust an elf especially a Wood elf. Trust must be earned, I know this and I hope that I along with the many elves you met during our quest have helped to sway your thinking on this matter."

"Aye lad more than you know" the dwarf nodded with heartfelt earnest.

"That is good to hear, shall we make a move evellon ?" the elf enquired.

"Aye," he agreed regretfully, "though my body has no desire to be back on that beast !"

Legolas began to pack up their few supplies. Their meal was over and they had let the fire burn itself out and there were plenty of hours of daylight left before they would have to rest for the night. All going well he would be home some time after mid-day tomorrow.
He called for Arod to return, who soon approached looking sated and rested, he had enjoyed the lush green grass nearby.
He patted the horse down and told him that their journey was nearly over and that soon he would be able to run with the many elven horses stabled outside his home.

As he secured the last few items to the grey horse he said a silent prayer to Iluvatar pleading for his father's understanding. After all he had eventually if not reluctantly accepted his friendship with Aragorn even though he had initially held the failings of Isildur against the man like they were his own and was oft prone to dragging up these failings during their many "discussions". Maybe he would learn not to blame Gimli for the actions of other dwarves just as he himself had learned over time.

Meanwhile Gimli had removed the small stones from the fire and scattered them back amidst the long grass. Then he placed the few remains of the hare into the ground and covered the bones and ashes with the sod. Once he had stomped on it a few times it looked as if the fire had never been there which was the elf's original intent. As they mounted their horse and left the glade behind them only keen elvish eyes would have detected their presence.

Chapter Three; Reunions and Introductions

They continued their steady pace north, the mountains which held the Elven King's halls could be clearly seen in the distance. Legolas expertly guided Arod through a forest of tall beech trees. He knew these path ways like the back of his hand, even the ones that weren't obvious to the eye, he felt confident enough to navigate them in the dead of night but he had long decided to make one final camp before going home, besides the dwarf would adamantly refuse to continue riding through the night.
He smiled to himself, tonight he would introduce Gimli to some of Mirkwood's finest warriors.

They made another brief stop near a small natural spring and had some cool water to drink along with the remainder of the elf's berries. Legolas made sure Arod had his fill of the refreshing water then they filled their water skins and set off once again.

"How long do you think it will be before Aragorn will get here ?" the dwarf enquired.

"I expect he will be no more than two days behind us, assuming all goes to plan, why ? Are you anxious to leave my home before you have even arrived ?" the elf asked with mock indignation.

"What ! No, I was merely curious, no need to get your leggings in a knot ! You elves can be so touchy, tis no wonder you hide yourselves in trees from others, probably faint at the merest insult !" Gimli accused.

"So you did intend to insult my home ?" the elf questioned softly, feigning hurt .

"What ! Now that is not what I meant and you know it, just like an elf to twist your words and turn them against you when you are simply making conversation, why I even bother when all I get ….." Gimli paused and frowned as he watched the elf's shoulders shudder almost imperceptibly, "….you are laughing at me aren't you ?" he demanded.

Once he was discovered the elf felt no need to stifle his merriment any longer and filled the air with his musical laughter.

"Oh Gimli my friend you make it so easy, if I am to allow elves to be branded as touchy then you must concede to dwarves being easily duped !" Legolas bargained between giggles.

"Elf I sincerely hope that father of yours is aware of your ruthless negotiating skills, it would do him well to use you when dealing with the men of Lake town !" Gimli advised practically growling at his friend's back, but he could not keep up the charade any longer than the elf and he too succumbed to laughter.

As for Aragorn the elf was reasonably accurate in predicting his imminent arrival. Both Aragorn and Arwen were to follow Legolas and Gimli within days of their departure. There were some small matters of state to settle first and instructions to be left with Faramir during the King's absence. Aragorn knew the young Steward was more than capable of governing in his stead and besides there were many, too many perhaps, counsellors and advisors waiting by to lend support should they be needed. The royal couple were travelling directly to Rivendell. It was there that Arwen would stay and visit her family for a time while her husband travelled with his friends, after which they would all return to Gondor together.

As Arnor sank behind the distant horizon, Legolas watched the sky's myriad pallet of colours change and gradually darken. Soon the heavens would be littered with the stars he loved so much and the jewelled light of Earendil would once again offer hope and courage to all in need.
He remained high up in the tree gazing into the heavens until his nose caught the putrid stench of pipe weed wafting up through the tree's branches.
It was a ritual the companions had easily slipped into while travelling together, Legolas would watch the sun set, preferably from a height while Gimli made himself comfortable below and engaged in a bit of pipe smoking.
As the cloud of offensive smoke gathered about him the elf knew it was time to return to his friend below. Before he made his way silently down the tree he apologised to the ancient oak for tainting the air surrounding it, then he began leaping from branch to branch until he landed on the soft earth protecting the tree's roots.
The sudden appearance of the elf always caught Gimli by surprise but by now he had mastered the art of schooling his features so that outwardly he appeared almost bored while inside his heart pounded from the sudden burst of adrenaline and his limbs longed to leap into action.

"Well Master Elf I take it all is right with the world and the sun managed to set under your expert guidance once again !" the dwarf asked between puffs, teasing his friend in payment for startling his wits.

Legolas cast his friend, what Gimli would rate as, a mild elven glare, the one he usually reserved to demonstrate wordlessly how un amused he was.
"Aye Master Dwarf, all seems quiet and the trees are at peace though like me they do not share your enthusiasm for pipe weed" he replied bluntly.

"Legolas surely you do not expect me to believe these little conservations you have with these blasted trees and now you expect me to extinguish my pipe because the trees do not like it !" Gimli's disbelieving eyes looked up at his friend from beneath unruly bushy eyebrows.

"Believe what you may Master Dwarf" the Prince answered quietly as he sat down beside his friend, " but answer me this, have I ever lied to you before ?"

Poor Gimli found himself at a loss for words, so he merely grumbled under his breath and continued to puff on his beloved pipe.
Then he remembered the way the trees seemed to act strangely in Fangorn Forest and how the elf claimed to know what they were feeling and what they were saying to each other and strangely enough he couldn't recall Aragorn disputing any of those claims. Reluctantly he took one final puff then removed his beloved pipe from his mouth and knocked it gently against the side of his boot, emptying the precious weed onto the forest floor. He sighed loudly as he extinguished the tiny glowing embers to make sure his friend was aware of the seriousness of his sacrifice.

"Happy now !" he demanded of the tree as he glared up into the oak's sprawling branches.

Legolas could only smile in appreciation at the dwarf's actions. He could not imagine any other dwarf in Arda doing what his friend had just done.

"Thank you my friend…..", he said with earnest to his stout companion as he bowed his head in gratitude, "we both thank you", he continued as he gestured to the tree towering above them.

"Tell another soul I did this elf and I will declare you to be insane then I will use this axe of mine to cut every golden hair from your crazed head !" Gimli warned with equal earnest.

"Not a word my friend", the elf promised as his smile grew.

"I'm serious !" Gimli warned again, not liking the elf's light hearted reply.

"Peace Gimli I believe you, not a word I promise" he pledged once more but he could not totally wipe the smile from his face for he knew that there must be several other wood elves carefully concealed in the trees surrounding them ,seeing as they were so close to his father's stronghold. He wondered what they would make of such a selfless act coming from a dwarf… for a tree !

Gimli continued to watch his friend suspiciously and watched as his bright eyes twinkled in the growing dark. One word, he thought, just one word elf and you shall know a dwarf's ire.

As the night progressed Ithil climbed high into the twinkling sky and cast the forest in a faint shimmering silver light. Night creatures ventured out to forage for food, large moths and insects filled the air with a cacophony of strange sounds and somewhere out in the dense forest an owl called out to no one in particular.

The friends spoke of many things while Arod rested nearby and Gimli watched as ever with fascination as his friend's aura once again began to steadily glow in the moonlight.
It was just one of the many strange things about his friend that was so unique to elves and so foreign to dwarves. And though he was no expert on elves, Mahal forbid, he believed this curious phenomenon was even more pronounced amongst the wood elves for he was certain none of the elves in Imladris shared his friend's level of radiance, unless it is something which can be controlled, he mused ….well use my head as an anvil who would have thought a dwarf could waste so much energy pondering over the peculiar nature of elves. Maybe I will ask Legolas about it someday, he decided.

"Take your rest my friend" the Prince instructed, " we are safe here in these woods, there shall be no need to stand watch this night."

"Nonsense elf we shall operate the watches as normal, no offence but I do not share your feelings of security….", the dwarf countered as he moved to get at his bed roll, " shall take first watch as usual and I shall take second."

"Really Gimli there is no need."

"We are alone elf," he said as if stating the obvious to a child, "and I for one would feel better knowing that at least one of us is awake and alert at all times."

"What makes you think we are alone my friend ?" Legolas enquired as his eyes sparkled with mischief.

Suddenly Gimli began to think his friend had lost his mind, he became quite flustered and started to gesture about wildly. "There is no one else here that I can see!"

"Ah yes, I forgot, you have the eyes of a hawk and the ears of a fox, but not the eyes and ears of an elf my friend. We have been observed since entering my father's realm, even now we are being watched over" Legolas calmly informed the dwarf.

The look on Gimli's face could not be bought with the finest mithril and it would forever stay in the young Prince's memory. The elf smiled broadly at his stunned friend and gripped him gently on the shoulder.

"Perhaps it is time to meet some of our secret guardians."

Gimli's voice failed him, he could only look up into his friend's dancing eyes and mutter some unintelligible rumblings.

The Prince stood up effortlessly once more and placed his hands to his face and used his fair voice to imitate something that sounded a lot like bird calls. As he tilted his head to the night sky he closed his eyes and concentrated on the sounds coming from the forest. Within seconds his call was answered by a similar bird call coming from just two trees to the left. Gimli jumped up at this, his grip automatically tightening on his sturdy axe, as he realised how close the wood elves had been all along. He honestly had no idea that they had been there.

The Prince's smile brightened even more once his call was answered, he recognised instantly who had replied to his signal. He called again using bird code, inviting his friend to join them.

Without even the barest rustle of leaves an elf suddenly jumped from an oak tree nearby, landing noiselessly and safely on the ground far below.

Gimli watched intently as the elf approached, he moved with the gait of a predator stalking it's prey as he appeared to glide over the forest floor. He was clad in a functional, plain garment made from a strange cloth which appeared to be several colours all at once, greens melted into browns then greys, it made for excellent camouflage.
He was heavily armed, on his back he carried a quiver laden with arrows, similar to the ones Legolas had with him until they reached Lothlorien. The quiver also supported twin knife sheaths and a dark wooden bow, a leather belt surrounded his waist and from this he carried a large dagger on each hip.
Gilmli thought he caught a glimpse of something else protruding from the tops of each of the soft brown leather boots he wore and in his right hand he carried a long wooden handled spear which resembled the legendary Aiglos (King Gil-Galad's spear). It looked capable of cleaving an orc in two, in the right hands it could even do fatal damage to a charging warg and this elf gave the impression that he knew exactly how to use such a formidable weapon.

Gimli noted that he was taller than Legolas by possibly three or four inches, he had long fair hair tied in the warrior braids favoured by his friend and he was much older than any elf he had ever seen before, definitely older than Lord Elrond, but it was the elf's eyes which gripped the dwarf's attention, they resembled the precious emeralds he had mined from the bowels of Erabor before the War of the Ring, they were ancient and fierce and they seemed to pierce his soul, coldly and calmly assessing him in the briefest of glances.
As the elf approached the pair he stopped two paces away and rammed the base of his spear into the soft earth allowing it to stand freely on it's own. Then he placed his right hand over his heart and swept it out before him as he bowed low in front of the young Prince.

"Mae govannen Ernil nin. Nae saian luume" he greeted softly but with much feeling. (Welcome my Prince. It has been too long.)

As he raised his head the warrior and the Prince locked gazes and grasped each other firmly on opposite shoulders. It was plain to Gimli that this older elf meant a great deal to his friend for his eyes shone brightly with much affection and respect. Equally the ancient warrior's eyes flashed with much pride and relief at seeing the young Prince again.

"It gladdens my heart to see you again Sindadur, it is good to be finally home," Legolas greeted in return, " what act of good fortune has allowed us to cross paths my friend ?"

"My patrol and I are returning from our tour of the eastern borders, we have spent the last six months securing the area and eliminating any lingering threats" he explained.

Sindadur then signalled to the members of his patrol which were hidden nearby, the remainder had been tasked with patrolling the perimeter. It was then that Legolas could clearly make out the smiles of many familiar faces from their revealed positions high above in the tree tops, each warrior bowing their head respectfully as they silently welcomed their Prince home. Gimli watched dumb struck as his friend graciously returned each greeting.
"Our relief arrived last week and we were steadily making our way home when we spotted you and your companion, we have been shadowing you ever since," the warrior paused then smiled teasingly at the younger elf, "it would not look well if our hero Prince survived the throes of Mordor only to come to harm in his own forest."

"It has been many years since I have had need of a nurse maid," the Prince laughed lightly, "though I appreciate the sentiment old man."

The happy reunion was suddenly interrupted by the gruff tones of a slightly irked dwarf.

"Didn't your mother ever teacher you manners elf , introduce me !" Gimli demanded.

The Prince turned at once to face his friend and Gimli was surprised at the look of pain that flashed across the elf's delicate features, while his face seemed to suddenly pale in the moonlight and he could not help but catch the swift movement of the elder warrior as he reacquainted his hand with the deadly looking spear.
Sindadur's green orbs burned with anger and insult as they sought to level the dwarf with a fierce glare, as he began to advance on the dwarf he was stopped in his tracks by the Prince's hand.

"Sidh mellon-nin.E u-ista" he quietly informed his old friend. (Peace my friend. He does not know.)

Once Gimli managed to tear his eyes away from Sindadur he looked back to his companion some what confused but the Prince was once again his normal stoic self and all evidence of hurt was washed away as if it had never been there.

Legolas moved to stand beside his burly friend and once again gripped him on the shoulder to show the old warrior that he held no bad feelings towards the dwarf.

"Apologies my good friend, allow me to introduce you, Gimli this is Sindadur, a very close friend of mine, a Captain in my father's guard, an excellent weapons instructor and quite possibly the second best archer in Mirkwood….", the last comment caused the seasoned warrior to raise a sceptical eye brow but Legolas smiled innocently as he continued, "Sindadur before you stands Gimli, son of Gloin, a member of the nine walkers, my close friend and companion and an expert axe wielder."

The warrior bowed respectfully in honour of the great deeds achieved by the Fellowship.

"Welcome to Eryn Lasgalen Master Dwarf, the free peoples of Middle Earth owe much to the Fellowship of the ring. It is an honour" he stated sincerely yet his burning eyes still displayed traces of anger and warned of trouble should the dwarf speak disrespectfully to his Prince once more.
Gimli kept his voice as neutral as possible as he greeted the border guard in return but any further comment was cut short by the Prince's enquiry.

"How many Sindadur ?" he asked anxiously, without further explanation, for the warrior would know well what he meant.

The older elf's expression became grave and he glanced quickly at the forest floor before staring intently at his Prince.

" In the east forty five, twice as many in the south, ten in the north with several wounded on all sides my Lord."

"One hundred and forty five……..," Legolas whispered as his mind tried to comprehend such losses while his wounded heart tried to come to terms with the death of so many fellow warriors, "…..and for you my friend, what was the count ?"

Sindadur knew the archer would specifically ask after the welfare of his own patrol as it was the same one the young Prince travelled with when on boarder duty. Legolas had many close friends within the tight knit group, many of whom he had known since he was an elfling and had trained with from the very beginning of his own career as a warrior. People you relied on to watch your back in battle became like family, so he was most reluctant to deliver the sad news to his former student for he knew it would effect the Prince deeply.

The Prince noted his old tutor's hesitance and he braced himself for the answer.

"Please Sindadur, tell me, I have to know" he pleaded, while at the same time he did not think his heart could bear to hear the news of the deaths of any of his close fellow warriors.

"Three" came the hushed reply, as the elder elf's eyes softened and apologised for bearing such ill news.

It felt like an arrow had pierced his chest. Three, he thought…three of my friends…..three elves that shall never again walk under the trees of home and rejoice in their song. He suddenly felt as if he were being crushed under a great weight, grief and guilt washed over him in tempestuous waves. He should have been here, he should never have left with Frodo, his people and his fellow warrior's had needed him at home.

Sindadur watched as emotions flickered across the Prince's face, he had been with the elf his entire life and could read him like an open book. It was painfully clear what was going through the young archers mind.
He moved to stand close beside his Prince as he placed a comforting arm over the grief stricken elf's right shoulder.

"Legolas there was nothing that could have been done to prevent this tragedy, you must not blame yourself, you made the right decision to escort the ring-bearer, by doing so you have helped to rid these lands of a great evil, you have helped to make these woods, your home a safer place….. You have prevented the loss of many lives my Prince, we are…..I am….. very proud of you."

These heartfelt words of comfort meant a great deal to Legolas but they did not lessen the pain in his heart nor ease the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach and the worse was yet to come.
He looked at Sindadur with fearful eyes that threatened to fill with tears, silently they asked him to reveal the names of the fallen dead while they begged him to say that it was all just a terrible mistake.

"Tathordur…….Gildil……and…..I am truly sorry my Prince but we lost Galadon also"

Some invisible force had just viciously twisted that arrow in his chest and used it to shred his heart into a million pieces. The names of his dead friends resounded in his mind over and over again blocking out the sounds of the living forest surrounding him. His senses became strangely dulled as the grief and pain gripped him once more and threatened to cruelly strangle his life force from within.

He was vaguely aware of movement around him and it seemed as though both Gimli and Sindadur were speaking to him but he could not hear their concerned words as he started vacantly ahead, seeing nothing except the faces of his dead companions.

"Legolas, …Legolas," the dwarf called as he tried in vain to get his friend's attention while he shook the stunned elf by the arm.
Sindadur was intrigued by Gimli's show of concern and watched him closely as he became increasingly worried for the young elf.

"All will be well Master dwarf, our friend has just heard some grievous news, he will soon recover from the initial shock, fear not, he is a most resilient elf" Sindadur informed the troubled dwarf.

The old tutor gripped his former charge by the shoulders and shook him gently until the Prince's eyes gradually began to focus on him.

"Legolas my child listen to me," he instructed gently, "do not lose yourself in this grief, what has happened cannot be undone. Your friends died well defending a home they loved and swore to protect, their sacrifice was not in vain. Their actions saved the lives of many. They fought bravely Legolas and destroyed many of Sauron's foul creatures, you would have been very proud of their deeds."

"I am," came the hushed reply, "but I would much rather tell them in person."

Sindadur nodded his head in agreement and understanding then called out to one of the elves hidden within the branches of a nearby oak.

"Galathil bring me two skins" he ordered.

In moments another similarly clad elf appeared beside them and bowed before his Prince then he offered his Captain two full skins.

"Hannon le Galathil" the old warrior thanked the wood elf, then he offered both Legolas and Gimli a skin each.
"Drink some, it will do you good," he instructed the Prince, "I'll wager it has been some time since you have had the pleasure of tasting Brass (White Heat)." Then he turned to Gimli.
"Try it Master dwarf, it may surprise you, you may even like it" he challenged lightly.

The two companions opened the skins and while Legolas drank the offering straight away yet sparingly, the dwarf paused to sniff the skin's contents.

"What is it ?" he asked.

"Just an elvish cordial Master dwarf, made from some fruits and a few other secret ingredients" Sindadur supplied with a touch of mystery.

It certainly smelled fruity the dwarf thought as he sniffed the container once more, probably just like miruvor, the cordial of Lord Elrond. Not wanting to appear weak in front of this intimidating elf , Gimli took several large swallows of the mystery liquid.

All at once his insides were burning, the sweet drink filled him like liquid fire, he did his utmost best to refrain from coughing and spitting the cordial back out but alas his reflexes got the better of him and lost the battle against the liquid lava. Several smothered coughs escaped while he quickly wiped his teary eyes with his sleeve.
Gimli's reaction seemed to momentarily distract Legolas from his despair and the young elf smiled as he began to slap his struggling friend on the back which only opened the flood gates to more coughing.

"I am fine, I'm fine elf leave me be !" he spluttered, "I think some went done the wrong way that is all" he hurriedly declared, trying to salvage his wounded pride.

"It is best taken in small sips my friend," Legolas warned a little to late, " it has quite a kick does it not ?"

Gimli did not trust himself to speak too much just yet so he settled for a growl instead while sensation returned to his tongue.

"My thanks Sindadur, indeed I had forgotten the special qualities of you home brew" the Prince said with a weak smile as he returned the skin to the Captain. He then turned to Gimli with downcast eyes, he had a difficult request to ask of his friend.

"Gimli my friend I fear I must leave you for a short time, I need to be alone to gather my thoughts for a while, I hope you understand elvellon" he pleaded, then risked a glance at his loyal companion. "Sindadur will see to any of your needs while I am gone."

The dwarf gazed up at his friend's stoic countenance, at a glance it would seem that all was well with him but Gimli knew the elf better than that. He had witnessed the elf in a similar state while the fellowship rested in Lothlorien after the fall of Gandalf.
He could see the internal struggle for control, the tenseness in the archer's posture and most obviously the hurt in his expressive sapphire eyes. If the elf needed some time alone to deal with his grief in private then he was not going to deny him, even if it did mean he would be left alone with a bunch of fierce warrior elves he didn't know and didn't trust and who probably felt the exact same way about him.

"Of course I understand Legolas, you go and do what you need to do my friend, do not worry about me I shall be fine here" he assured his friend.

"Thank you Gimli" the Prince bowed his head then turned to his old tutor, " I shall not go far Sindadur, there will be no need to follow, I will return at dawn."

He glanced once more at is dwarven friend, smiled, then began walking away from their camp and gradually disappeared from sight as even his luminescence was swallowed up by the forest.

Once the Prince was out of plain sight Sindadur gave Galathil his spear then he freed his bow from his quiver and began to follow the Prince.

"What do you think you're doing Master elf ?" Gimli questioned, unable to hide the suspicion from his gruff voice.

"I am about to follow him Master dwarf, what does it look like ?" the warrior answered caustically.

"He did not request your company elf !" Gimli retorted angrily, pointing at the warrior.

"I have yet to obey any order from him which I feel compromises his security dwarf and I am not about to start this night especially when grief has dulled his senses so." The warrior's voice was cold and threatening and Gimli knew instantly that this elf was unaccustomed to having his actions questioned. Sindadur turned once more and silently headed out into the forest after Legolas.

"I shall come with you !" Gimli shouted after him and made to move.

"Do not be ridiculous" came the harsh reply. The old warrior had not even looked back at the dwarf and continued on his way.

"Why you….." Gimli began, furiously.

"Peace Master Gimli, please stay here," pleaded Galathil, " he has the Prince's best interests at heart as I am sure you do too but if you are to follow…well…. sounds travel easily in the dead of night" he reasoned with the dwarf as diplomatically as he could, "…….the Prince would hear you coming and we both know he needs to deal with the deaths of his friends."

Gimli eyed the young elf who was doing his best to make him see sense. He was as physically different to Legolas as the sun is to the moon. He appeared quite shorter than most elves he had encountered and yet still towered over the dwarf, his long wavy hair was black as night and his gentle eyes resembled twinkling grey granite. He was handsome, as are all elves it would seem but his face was marred by a faint scar which travelled from his high forehead to his left cheek and left an unusual gap in his left eyebrow. As with Sindadur the elf was armed to the teeth but he carried coils of fine elven rope on each hip instead of daggers. Gimli knew the elf was right, Legolas could hear him coming a mile away in the midst of day never mind in the dead of night. He decided it would be best if he waited here after all but still he did not appreciate the superior attitude of the Captain and he wouldn't be long about telling him so on his return.

"Very well, though it does not please me I shall remain here" Gimli stated loudly as he pounded the earth with the shaft of his axe.

Galathil bowed in thanks then called out to some of the other members of the patrol.

"Alatalad, Tirdil, Luinorn."

Three fair elves made their soundless approach to Galathil. They all glanced at the dwarf and gave courteous nods of greeting, yet Gimli detected their lack of warmth and knew the greetings had been little more than formalities and so he nodded wordlessly in return.

"We are to stay here this night, the Prince shall not return until dawn. Alatalad set up camp and get a fire going, have Mithmor help you, Tirdil notify the scouts of our situation then organise the watch, Luinorn take Farothel with you and hunt some fresh game for the morning meal."

The young Lieutenant efficiently organised the members of the patrol and arranged for several more tasks to be seen to, as was the custom when their Captain was otherwise engaged. The role was still quite new to him as it had been previously been occupied by the Prince's best friend Galadon but he performed it capably despite his youth. All three warriors nodded then turned to carry out their duties. Within moments the area was awash with eerily silent activity as the various elves performed their assigned tasks. Galathil and Gimli looked on in silence while camp preparations were quickly and efficiently carried out. Finally the young warrior broke the silence….

"Would you care to take your rest now Master dwarf ?" Galathil asked Gimli, "the area is quite secure I can assure you, it would be a shame to waste the few remaining hours of darkness."

"May hap I shall Master elf but first tell me of these friends of Legolas" the dwarf requested.

Galathil looked warily at Gimli.

"What is it you wish to hear ? Is it not enough to know that they are dead ?" he asked as a hint of iciness crept into his tone.

"I mean no disrespect Master elf , I am merely concerned for my friend. It seems as though he was very close to those that were slain" Gimli explained calmly ,not wanting to upset the elf any further, after all he seemed to be the only hospitable one here.

The young Lieutenant took a moment to study the dwarf, gazing at him intently. Gimli forced himself not to look away while Galathil came to a decision. The elf looked deep into the eyes of his Prince's friend and saw nothing but genuine sincerity and deep concern. The son of Thranduil had always been a good judge of character, if this dwarf was his friend then Galathil would accept him also, he just hoped he was not over stepping any boundaries by discussing his Prince's relationship with the dead members of his patrol. Decision made he asked Gimli to follow him over to the steadily growing camp fire.

"Here Master dwarf sit down and we shall speak" Galathil gestured to a place by the fire then he offered the dwarf some elvish way bread who took it graciously.

Galathil sat down by the dwarf and stared a while at the burning flames as if considering how much he should reveal. Gimli said naught, he merely waited until the elf was ready to speak, until that time he watched the reflections of the amber flames dance across the elf's serious countenance.

"As you have already guessed my Prince knew the warriors very well, when on boarder duty he travels with this very patrol. We are all extremely close, like brothers if you will. Battle and violent skirmishes create close bonds. But the Prince knew these elves long before his warrior days….especially Galadon. They grew up together, he was the son of one of the King's advisors. They shared many adventures and got into trouble together numerous times when they were elflings or so I am told," he added with a slight smile.

Gimli also smiled, he suspected someone as wilful and daring as Legolas was destined to be trouble as a youth.

"It is possible you met Galadon Master dwarf for he travelled to Imladris with the Prince and was present at Lord Elrond's council" the elf informed Gimli.

Gimli was not about to tell the Lieutenant that he had paid little heed to the other elves present at the council once he discovered the son of his father's jail keeper was there.

"Aye it is possible" he agreed timidly.

"They were virtually inseparable and travelled everywhere together. I remember Galadon when he returned home, he was both furious and anxious over the Prince's decision to journey with the ring bearer. It was the first time they were to be separated since they met in childhood. I know Galadon missed him terribly."

Gimli suspected the same was true of his companion. Although Legolas had never mentioned his warrior friends in keeping with his quiet and private nature, Gimli knew his friend was capable of deep emotion and potent feelings.

"How did he die ?" the dwarf asked tentatively.

Pain flashed across the young Lieutenant's face as he recalled the all too clear memory of what happened to his fellow warrior.

"It was during the long battle under the trees. Our borders were attacked regularly by Sauron's servants and allies. The forests were being burned, we were stationed in the east repelling the advance of the hoards of foul creatures. During one skirmish an archer named Gildil was hit by an orc arrow and fell from his tree. Galadon was nearest to him and saw it happen, without a care for his own safety he jumped from his own concealed position to offer aid. As he was dragging Gildil to safety he too was hit but the wound he received was more grievous and he died within moments. Tragically Gildil did not recover from his wounds,….. the dark poison was too great," he hissed angrily, "Tathordur was cut down by an orc scimitar almost two weeks later. Thankfully we had no further losses, though many others died elsewhere."

"Aye Master elf the losses were great amongst all the peoples of Middle-Earth. I saw many men of Gondor and Rohan cut down in battle and worse still women and children. Even my own kin in Khazad-dum did not escape evil's wrath. It has been a time of great sacrifice and suffering and it shall not be soon forgotten" Gimli declared sadly.

Galathil nodded wordlessly in agreement.

As the pair sat quietly by the crackling fire two elves appeared with a freshly killed wild boar. One began to construct a spit while the other skilfully skinned and cleaned the carcass.

"A successful hunt Luinorn, my thanks to you and Farothel, we shall all dine well at day break, it has been some time since we have all eaten so well" Galathil praised the members of his patrol.

With in moments the boar was roasting on the spit, it's heavenly scent made Gimli's mouth water, it would be difficult to sleep while such culinary delights were being prepared, not that he didn't appreciate Legolas' hare but boar……now that was real meat on the bone.


Gimli soon felt a heaviness in his eye lids, sleep was soon going to get the better of him but before he gave into it there was one other little matter niggling at the back of his mind and he suspected this Galathil may be able to shed some light on the problem.

"Where is Legolas' mother ?" he asked quietly.

The question came from out of the blue and took the Lieutenant completely by surprise, once recovered from the shock, anger took over with the swiftness of a hawk on the wind.

"What business is it of yours dwarf ?" the elf demanded sharply as his frame of mind changed yet again.

Gimli suspected his enquiry would be a difficult one for the elf to hear yet he was taken aback by the elf's vehemence. Absently he thought how easy it was for these creatures to change their disposition tenfold in the blink of an eye. But he pressed on despite Galathil's response and he did his best to explain his reasons for asking.

"I do not ask out of mere flippant curiosity Master elf…… though it is hard for me to admit it, I fear I may have caused my friend harm earlier," he sighed gravely, "I made an off hand comment about his mother and both he and that brusque Captain of yours reacted rather badly to it, though in different ways I might add."

"What did you say ?" the young warrior asked worriedly as he glared at the dwarf with barely concealed anger in his dark eyes.

Gimli's attention was suddenly rooted to the scattered leaves covering the forest floor between his large boots. Eventually he recounted his words to the elf.

" I asked him if his mother had not taught him any manners" he muttered, yet the admission was clearly heard by the warrior beside him.

"Tis a wonder Sindadur did not cleave you in two Master dwarf," he informed the dwarf, "you are most fortunate to be alive this night."

"I believe he was about to," Gimli admitted softly, " but Legolas held him back and spoke to him in the grey tongue, I know not what he said. Please, tell me of his mother."

"Queen Aranalph is dead Master dwarf" Galathil stated bluntly.

Once more the dwarf was forced to hang his head in shame, how could he have been so foolish, true, he had never heard of a Queen of Mirkwood before, not in passing conversation at least. In his father's halls there was only one royal member of Mirkwood that warranted discussion and none of it was favourable.
At the time he was simply not interested in learning any more about elves than was necessary. The less dealings he had with the creatures the better but now his attitude had changed greatly and he had hurt his closest friend with his ignorance.

"I have made a grave error," he sighed heavily once more, shaking his head, "tell me Master elf what foul deed or creature robbed my friend of his mother ?"

Suddenly Gimli was aware that every elf in the vicinity was staring at him none too kindly. He felt extremely uncomfortable as he nervously gripped the handle of his axe.

" I feel it is best you cease with your questions Master dwarf before they get you into serious trouble," Galathil warned in a disturbingly calm tone as his irate eyes surveyed the camp, " take your rest now while you can" he insisted and got up to leave.

"Please," Gimli called out , "tell me or I shall ask him myself when he returns" he bluffed.
Seriously he did not think he could mention the incident to Legolas for quite some time, he would have to pick a suitable moment in private to apologise to his friend for his carelessness.

Galathil was torn between protecting his Prince from further hurt by the dwarf's pesky questions and his reluctance to reveal such private information. Finally his concern for Legolas won over. He returned to the dwarf's side and glared down at him.

"Queen Aranalph died in child birth Master dwarf," he seethed, "she died bringing the Prince into this world and never had the pleasure of knowing her son, so you see she could not have taught him manners, though you dare to question the etiquette of the royal house of Mirkwood." The Lieutenant paused a moment to compose himself. "Speak of this to no one dwarf !" he warned then turned abruptly and left Gimli alone in his growing misery.