Chapter Twenty Seven ; Balance

This time, Gimli found himself patiently waiting while the elf paused once more in the telling of his tale, though some how the dwarf sensed that he had just heard the story's end and that his friend had some how come to terms with his recently unearthed memories. As he discretely studied the elf's face, he noted the familiar, slightly unfocused look, had returned to his bright eyes but he felt no concern for a slightly wistful smile also graced his fine features. No doubt Legolas was reminiscing over a positive yet personal and private moment connected to the event and this time Gimliwas not about to pry any further.

As he watched from the corner of his eye, Gimli saw those pale eyelids finally move in a series of rapid blinks, heralding his friend's return to the present, then just as suddenly Legolas turned to observe the dwarf and his smile broadened.

"Thank you mellon-nîn," he softly whispered, bowing his head in respect.

"For what ?" Gimli inquired in return.

"For listening," the elf simply stated.

Gimli then returned a knowing smile while he graciously accepted the elf's thanks.

"It has helped... a great deal, friend Gimli to talk about these events, more than I had thought possible...I had locked those memories away while still smothered in a child's fear...but now as I look back as an adult, it is helping to put things into perspective and while I am forced to admit I shall never share your strange love of dark, dank caves elvellon, at least now I can make sense of my reactions," Legolas explained.

Gimli nodded and as they sat in comfortable silence, he turned his thoughts to his friend's frank admission. He found himself having to admit that he would probably never truly understand his Legolas' total loathing of caves, in that respect their inherent natures were just too different. These Wood Elves were creatures of the forest but Dwarves, Dwarves were born to dwell in the bowels of the earth and thus it has been since the Seven Fathers stirred from their deep stone chamber in the First Age of the Stars.

Getting stuck in dark caves and narrow passageways was an everyday occurrence for dwarvish children, it was part of their development, Aulë ! It could be considered adventurous play !

He fondly remembered the times he had spent exploring the myriad of rock formations, passageways, fissures and crevices, that made up his beloved home, as a child. He would not barter that time for anything. It was those experiences that had helped to develop his relationship with and understanding of the earth.

Just then he leaned over tentatively and looked to the blessed solid ground far below his slightly swaying boots, then he cast his gaze upwards to the vast lush green canopy high above him.

He tried to imagine what it would be like to be stuck up there over night, injured and unable to see, balancing precariously on some flimsy branch and he couldn't repress a shudder from wracking his bulky frame. He supposed that, that same mixture of dread, helplessness and fear was something similar to what the elf experienced anytime he found himself in an unfamiliar cave system.

He remembered back to their time in Moria. He initially thought that the elf's increasingly aloof and unsociable behavior, during that time, was for his benefit, that Legolas was some how silently demonstrating his personal loathing of the Dwarven city. But as they journeyed further into the mines, Gimli had begun to suspect that it was something deeper, something much more personal and that the elf's dislike of caves was not just limited to those of Dwarven origin.

He had also observed the quiet words exchanged between the elf and Gandalf and even Aragorn, from time to time. Words of comfort that were designed to soothe the elf's silent distress at being separated from nature and his precious stars.

Gimli wondered absently if either member of the Fellowship knew of the warrior's traumatic experience as an elfling. It was possible that Gandalf had some how learned of the event during his visits to Mirkwood over the years but he suspected that the former Ranger had been kept in the dark.

He couldn't help but smile a little at that thought, the very notion that he knew something fiercely private about the young Prince that Aragorn did not, he felt strangely privileged some how.

Legolas had shared a very private memory with him, one which had shown a vulnerable side to the brave warrior and he knew that this must have cost the elf on some level as he did not like to be perceived as a creature of weakness. The elf was a skilled fearless fighter, a trustworthy and loyal companion but he was also prideful and sometimes his pride got the better of him. Gimli had seen first hand how Legolas could be ruthlessly self-recriminating, the elf was swift to forgive the errors of others but he seemed to hold himself to much more stringent and exacting standards.

He did not want his friend to feel that this new found knowledge would have him cast the elf in a lesser light and so he decided to do something about it.

"I don't much care for the water," he stated completely out of the blue.

The comment took the elf some what by surprise and he looked intently to the dwarf.

Seeing now that he had Legolas' attention, he explained further.

"I was a mere youth at the time," he paused to smile and shake his head at his own stupidity, "I had recently begun working in the mines full-time, hours spent delving deep into the mountain unearthing it's precious secrets, I couldn't have been happier."

Legolas smiled also, knowing that what his friend considered utter bliss, he considered to be utter torture.

"My father had presented me with a mining axe, it was as beautiful as it was functional, strong, balanced and sharp, it cleaved stone with the barest caress. I valued it above all my possessions at that time. One evening after a successful days toil, I was crossing one of the many low wooden bridges within Erebor. A fully laden load cart was also making it's way slowly across the bridge while being dragged by several other workers. My youthful impetuousness got the best of me my friend," Gimli admitted.

Legolas answered with a look that spoke of complete understanding, he had been a victim of his own inexperienced brashfulness on more than one occasion.

"I did not wait and allow the cart to pass by, instead I forced myself between it and the wooden railing, as I wormed my way past it, part of the cart snagged my leather back pack and I had to struggle to pry it loose, unfortunately this shook my beloved axe free from its harness and I watched on in helpless horror as it plunged to the slippery rocks below," Gimli paused momentarily, doing his best to add to the drama.

"Ai, elvellon, what did you do ?" the elf asked, now fully intrigued by the tale, as he tried to imagine himself in a similar situation where one of his precious bows was in peril.

"Without a moments thought to common sense I pulled myself free and leapt over the railing, jumping down onto the water's edge. The underground stream was inches away, the icy water was black and fast flowing, I had no idea how deep it was, all I saw was my father's gift balancing precariously close to the edge. As I stretched my hand out to grasp it's handle, I lost my footing on the slimy stones..."

"Then what ?" the elf demanded eagerly, showing even less patience than his friend had earlier.

"Both the axe and myself plunged into the frigid water, in my haste of course I had jumped the railing fully clothed and laden down with other mining equipment and a leather satchel full of jems...needless to say, I sank like a stone and would have drowned if not for the dwarves on the bridge. They used the rope from the cart to climb down to the water and lowered a small grappling hook into the darkness over and over again until it snagged itself on my back pack, then they heaved my foolish hide from out under the currents...never much cared for water after that," Gimli added softly.

"And what of your axe my friend ?" Legolas inquired.

"Sadly it was never seen again, my father was none too pleased but considering he still had his son, the matter was soon forgotten," the dwarf explained.

The elf understood this completely, his father too had been a little angry at his son's carelessness after the 'incident' and once they had recovered from their injuries both Galadon and himself had to endure several lectures and punishment chores from both the King and Sindadur, but underneath it all Legolas knew that his father was indescribably relieved at having his son back with him, alive and well. He did however make the young Prince promise never to venture near the caves again and Legolas had remained true to his word to this very day.

As he thought about other similarities between his childhood nightmare and his friend's harrowing experience, he soon realised what the dwarf had just done. The elf had unexpectedly shared an immensely personal memory with his companion, one which revealed him as being less than perfect and in his own selfless way Gimli had just done the same. He had voluntarily exposed one of his own weaknesses to the elf in an attempt at making him feel better. The dwarf had effectively restore the balance in their relationship.

Legolas once again found himself feeling extremely lucky to be able to count this being as his friend.

"Thank you again my friend," he declared sincerely.

Gimli, knowing this time what his friend was obscurely referring to, simply smiled.

"What are friends for ?" he answered with a twinkle in his eye.

Legolas could not prevent the light laughter from escaping as he spoke again.

"I must compliment your resolve Master Dwarf, I did not suspect for a moment that you harboured a dislike for the water during our time together on the Anduin."

"Ah Master Elf, a dwarf's beard has many uses," Gimli replied cryptically, as he fingered the auburn mass that obscured almost half his face.

And as Anor sank further in the evening sky, the two friends laughed together in harmony, the elf's light, melodic tones strangely complimenting the dwarf's deep, hearty booms.

As the shadows lengthened and the air began to cool ever so slightly the elf spoke again.

"We should return inside my friend, time grows short and I have still to take you to the place of your father's detainment before we are required to attend the feast," Legolas cautioned.

Gimli looked to his swaying boots for a moment then replied.

"You don't have to you know, I'll understand if you do not wish to venture down there."

"Nay Gimli, I made you a promise and I intend on keeping it, besides we shall not be journeying past the storerooms," the elf explained, "and what better companion could I have when going underground, than a dwarf of your experience."

Legolas gently slapped the dwarf's shoulder.

To Gimli, it was a good sign that the elf was looking upon the impending trip with such a light hearted manner and so he agreed to accompany his friend. In a way he was secretly pleased that Legolas had resolved to take him, dwarves are nothing if not curious creatures.

Legolas began his sure-footed descent from the talan, never once traveling too far away from his friend, he wanted the dwarf within grasping range should he lose his footing. But he need not have worried, Gimli managed the climb down admirably enough, though Legolas was sure his sensitive ears had been witness to some pretty inventive expletives along the way, probably just as well that his knowledge of Khuzdul was severely limited. Soon they were both safely back in the bed chamber.

Legolas jumped down easily from the stone ledge while Gimli and his considerably shorter legs, used the stool.

The elf quickly spotted the carefully wrapped painting that his friend has rested against the wall and he promptly returned it to its new owner.

"Do not forget this," he said, while handing it to the slightly panting dwarf, "you can leave it in your room along the way."

Gimli nodded in agreement.

"Thank you Legolas, it is a beautiful gift and I shall treasure it," the dwarf swore solemnly.

"I know you shall my friend," the young Prince replied.

"Speaking of treasured possessions, I gather this bares some manner of importance to you," Gimli stated as he pointed to the banner above the elf's bed with his free hand.

"You are correct," the elf confirmed, "it was my grandfather's and it was carried by his faithful herald, Suiadan during the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. He was with the great King when Oropher was slain during the Battle of Dagorlad."

Gimli had suspected as much for the banner was old and ragged in places, it could well have been brought into battle, it also confirmed his suspicions about the faded brown stains speckled across the intricate design, it was even possible that those once vibrant blood stains may even have resulted from Oropher's fatal injuries. It was a somber thought.

"My father presented it to me on completion of my warrior's training," Legolas explained further, "it is an important piece of our people's history but it has even greater personal value to our family."

"Do you wish to take it with you to Ithilien ?" Gimli asked softly.

"I hope to, my friend...I hope to," the elf answered wistfully.

"But let us not speculate about the future for now Master Dwarf, let us concentrated on the present and it would seem that presently I have a promise to fulfill," the elf declared, with a little more humour.

"Fine elf ! I have given you the opportunity to absolve yourself from this obligation, yet fool that you are, you wish to see it through," Gimli teased, "just don't come knocking on my door in the depth of night should you find yourself plagued with night terrors, for I shall have it locked and barred !"

"Do not fret dwarf, I shall simply leap through your window and give you some night terrors of your own !" the elf countered laughingly.

"Pesky pointy eared ingrate," Gimli muttered.

"Stubborn stunted scoundrel," Legolas mumbled.

And so the two carried on, trading numerous insults even after they had left the painting in the dwarf's chamber, all the way to the Palace's storerooms.

After all, what are friends for.

ooOoOoo

Author's note ; Hi folks ! See I didn't take as long this time, yes I know it's a wee bit on the short side but I hope you enjoy it none the less. As always feed back is greatly appreciated, so do hang around and let me know what you think.

Signed in reviews will be replied to using the 'reply' setting & please forgive me if my replies go on a bit...any unsigned/anon reviews will be answered in my blog (see 'homepage' link on my profile page).

Roll on the Summer Holidays !

Take care,

Lai.