here´s my next short piece, once again for the Teitho contest. This month´s theme was "Friendship" and I´m happy to say the story came in second place.
And yes - still writing on Light My Path - please be patient :-)
Now enjoy this short piece - as always, any comments are highly appreciated.
Disclaimer: Not mine at all – not even the dwarf ;-)
Timeline: After the War of the Ring
Birds Of a Feather
The darkness was deafening but to Gimli´s hands, the rock walls whispered their secrets like long-lost friends.
He could not help but smile to himself while the callous tips of his fingers were travelling along the slightly uneven stone to both sides of the narrow passageway. He could all but hear the chisels that had eased this tunnel out of the bowels of the earth. The rock was strong here, sturdy as the bones of a troll, and yet it had yielded to the patience and skill of those who chose to invade it.
Hard to believe it had been elves.
Gimli gave a short, almost derisive snort at the thought. As much as he had come to respect those impossibly tall and long-lived creatures, it still irked his dwarven pride that not even rock-work had remained an exclusive domain of his own kind. He could forgive pointy ears and beardless chins, but elves excelling at driving tunnels into the ground made his skin crawl.
"Is there anything here to displease you, or is snorting at your companion an attempt at conversation?"
The question, delivered in a carefully cool tone of voice, reminded Gimli of the fact that one of those irritating creatures was indeed down here with him, no less than a few feet ahead.
"Nothing here to irritate a dwarf," he returned with a grumble, "just good rock and stone. I could not feel more at home, even though a torch to illuminate the beauty of structure and color that no doubt lingers here would have enhanced the experience. When you were kind enough to invite me to this part of the palace, I expected to be allowed to see it."
"It was not I who dropped the torch." The hint of accusation was well-hidden beneath smooth tones.
"Hah! I take it that you would have preferred a torch to healthy bones, then?"
There was a lengthy pause and Gimli sensed the elf halting his steps. No sound had given him away, his movements as silent as the brush of a bird´s wings on air, but the dwarf had enough experience by now to react to other indications. He, too, slowed his progress to avoid bumping into the lean frame before him.
"Your actions were no doubt carried out with honourable intent, yet they were uncalled for nonetheless. The rock-slide would not have harmed me without your intervention."
A tart reply was already forming on Gimli´s lips but he swallowed it when his instincts warned him that something was amiss. Carefully judging the words the elf had used he suddenly sucked in his breath and then blurted out: "You lied to me when I asked you whether you got injured! Blasted elven stubbornness! And now you even accuse me to be the cause?"
"I am well, Master dwarf, thus there is no reason to accuse you of anything." The elf started walking again. "Neither is there any need for either worry or insults."
"And you do not call lies insulting?" Gimli shook his head in the dark, irritation rising. Instead of following he crouched low, allowing his hands to travel across the smooth, dusty floor instead of the walls that he had admired ever since an unsuspected collapse of a short span of ceiling had plunged their journey into darkness. Truth be told, his anger was directed at himself more than he would like to admit. What kind of friend was he, allowing his senses to be blinded by stone-work when there was a companion in need?
As the dwarf had expected, it did not take his questing fingers long to encounter sticky wetness that faintly smelled of iron.
He took in a deep breath in preparation of announcing his findings at the top of his lung, but the elf´s silky voice interrupted before he had even begun.
"There is noting to worry about, Gimli. Now get off your knees and let us move on, for I am unsure where this tunnel may lead. It has been a long time even by my reckoning since I have been this deep within the bowels of the palace."
"You will not distract me by politeness, elf!" The dwarf rose and stomped on, determined to get his hands on the immortal and find out just how deep his lie ran. He swiftly found, however, that the elf had moved again and nothing short of a headless charge would allow the short-legged dwarf to catch up with him. Recognising that such an action would be ungraceful as well as a further hazard to the elf´s health, he decided against it. At least for the time being.
"Politeness towards honored guests is not a distraction but a law in this realm, Master Dwarf," a slightly irritated voice announced not far ahead, "even if it is extended by one side only."
His worry making his own anger spike more quickly than ever, Gimli replied: "I will be sure to remind my father of this, my lord. He will no doubt be relieved to hear that his own behaviour saved this realm from a shameful downfall of its law, for no politeness was offered to him and his company."
"Indeed." The elf´s tone of voice betrayed no shame at all. "Invaders are not honored by us as guests are. If your father chose to return here now, all courtesy would be his."
"Oh aye it would, as long as he brought a good share of his riches with him as a token!"
"There are no riches he could bring that would surpass those already present here."
"You mean those stolen from our dwarven brothers in a war that…"
Suddenly Gimli stopped, both words and steps. He listened intently, his senses instantly alert, and was rewarded by the sound of a laboured, painful intake of breath. As soon as the quiet settled the sound was gone, but the dwarf had heard enough.
"I should have known better than to underestimate you," Gimli chuckled despite the situation, "you certainly know how to raise my ire in order to distract me."
"That was never my intention," came the slightly strained reply. "Let us move on."
"Not before I have had chance to look at your injury."
"I am well."
"You are not. I have heard this phrase often enough to judge what truth there is in it."
"It is too dark for you to see anything, Master Dwarf. Not even I can."
"You admit to being injured then?"
"It is a mere scratch."
"I remember a certain elf telling me the same thing after a skirmish with orcs. Only half a heartbeat later he would have fallen flat onto his face if not for my disbelief in his statement."
There was short pause before the melodious voice spoke again. Pain was beginning to leak through the soft words. "This is different."
"I know it is." Gimli carefully began walking closer, his hands outstretched before him to warn him once he had reached his gaol. "But not by very much."
"We should continue on." A familiar note of stubbornness made the elf´s words stronger again, and Gimli swiftly took two more steps, his hands finally making contact with the soft fabric of the elf´s tunic. To his dismay he found that the immortal was leaning into the wall for support, small trembles travelling through his body.
"And I believe we should continue down," the dwarf replied, applying gentle pressure to slender shoulders, "sit before you fall."
The elf complied and Gimli followed him down, crouching before him. A small gust of warm breath passed his cheek as the elf hissed in pain. "You truly are an insistent creature, Gimli son of Gloin." The following sigh held the shadow of a smile. "That makes you such a formidable enemy."
"Some people call me a formidable friend." Gimli carefully ran his hands across the other´s torso as he spoke. "But then again, sometimes the two are closer related than one might think."
"True, Master Dwarf…" Another, this time sharper hiss of pain told Gimli that he grew closer to the injury, and his breath caught when his careful fingers encountered what felt like a huge splinter of wood that was imbedded deeply inside the elf´s body just beneath his ribs. Blood continued to ooze from around the puncture, but Gimli knew that he could do very little about it. Neither could he remove the intruder.
"Barad!"/Damn/ he cursed, not even noticing what language he was using before he heard the elf´s painful chuckle.
"I tend to agree, Gimli. How considerate of you to speak your curse in my own tongue to let me share its strength."
"I was merely straining from insulting your sense for beauty," he returned while his thoughts were racing for the best route out of this predicament. "Dwarven courses tend to be far more colorful than this."
Another small laugh was his reply. "As are true elvish curses, my dear dwarf. We should exchange them at some point."
Gimli was suddenly glad for the darkness. Otherwise, the look of utter surprise on his face would have surely earned him more than one biting remark from his companion.
Instead of reacting to the surprising offer Gimli chose to turn to the matters at hand. "We must move again, if you can."
"If I remember correctly that was what I kept suggesting before you refused to follow…" The sentence was cut short by a gasp of pain, but at the end of it both dwarf and elf were standing, the latter heavily leaning on the former.
"Aye, you were correct from the start, Master Elf," Gimli grumbled as he began moving, "but do not expect this to happen all too often."
After that, they trudged on in silence. The passage was just wide enough for them to move side by side, and the tightness began to be a blessing when the elf grew weaker and stumbled more often, kept from falling by his determined companion and the wall to his other side.
Gimli began to feel the strain of both weight and worry that burdened him in equal measures. Even though none of them had addressed it again, he was sure that it had been his rough push against the elf had had forced the stray piece of wood into the immortal´s side. Maybe the elf had been correct and his natural grace would have saved him had the dwarf not interfered…
Even this one word came out as a stressed hiss.
Gimli tightened his hold on the elf and wondered whether the other was still coherent.
"I would love to light a torch but we do not have any." He attempted to lighten the situation, if not the tunnel. "And even if I had, having my hands full with you I would have trouble lighting it."
"No." The elf drew himself up, walking with less of a slouch. "Before us. Light. Voices."
Finally understanding, Gimli´s heart began to race and he wasted no time shouting as loudly as his lung would allow. "Help! We are here, we need help!"
He felt the elf flinch at the sound but even so he drew himself up farther, coming to a stop. As they both stood side by side, relief flooding Gimli when he, too, saw the light of flickering torches moving towards them and heard worried voices, the immortal slowly withdrew his hand from the dwarf´s shoulder and stood on his own.
Understanding, the dwarf stepped a few paces ahead and waved excitedly when a familiar face came into view.
"Legolas!" he called, "I have never been happier to see you."
His long-time friend hastened to meet him, keen blue eyes searching for an injury and frowning when they encountered red stains.
"It is not mine," the dwarf quickly explained, "it is…"
"I am well, my son," Thranduil´s voice interrupted him with surprising strength. "It is merely a scratch."
"Your kind of scratch," Gimli whispered urgently and Legolas could not quite hide a smile as he nodded, passing his friend to approach his father. A gentle hand on Thranduil´s cheek was all comfort he offered, and Gimli was certain this was appreciated.
"I expected Gimli to have hurt himself again," Legolas said almost casually, staying close to his father in a posture so protective that it made Gimli´s relief grow even stronger. "I brought healers down here to take care of him. Let us not make their efforts worthless. They would be most pleased to assist you instead."
The dwarf stepped back as the other elves approached, watching in silent approval when Legolas managed to coax his father not only into a treatment, but also onto the stretcher the healers had brought with them.
Seeing father and son so close together made Gimli realize once again just how much alike they were, even if neither seemed to notice.
It was Thranduil´s voice that shook the dwarf out of his contemplations. "I would have never thought it possible, my son, but today I learned that this Middle Earth brought forth a creature so stubborn to match even you." His eyes travelled to the dwarf in question, no hint of coldness in their blue gaze. "And so brave as well."
The stretcher was lifted carefully and as Gimli leaned into the wall to make way for it, the elven king caught his attention once more, his voice suddenly stern. "Do not forget the language lesson we agreed upon, " he said, "for a true elf-friend should not go poorly educated."
Legolas raised his eyebrow at Gimli when he walked beside him. "I would have never thought it possible, " he said quietly.
"Nor me," Gimli chuckled. "Few elven kings have ever considered me poorly educated."
Legolas´ own smile lit the dark tunnel. "Oh aye. But even less elven kings have ever called you a friend."
Gimli´s glance at his companion sparkled with mirth. "That is true. So far I had to be content with mere princes."
Their combined laughter travelled through the tunnel and beyond, gently filtering into the green depth of the wood.