TITLE: A Time and Times and Half a Time
AUTHOR: Honesty
CHAPTER: Chapter 3: Morgenlicht
DISCLAIMER: Legolas, Saruman et al belong to JRR Tolkien, whom I am quite glad has not survived to read this. I am sure he would not appreciate it.
SUMMARY: Legolas, captured by Saruman, discovers *exactly* how Orcs were made; and Gimli must keep a vigil he will never forget.

A/N: We switch POVs rather a lot here. It should, I hope, be clear who is who, though.

Chapter 3: Morgenlicht

The morning arises cold and grey over the ruins of Fangorn Forest, and the still figures among the few remaining trees greet it with raised faces, with hesitant, tentative optimism. The Orc-Elf in their midst has not yet stirred.

"It is better so. He will be weaker if he wakes now," Gandalf mutters.

The glance he gets from the Dwarf is not kind. He pays it no heed, save to be irritated anew by the Dwarf's contrariness. He has been tempted many times this night to cast a sleep on the Dwarf, and had not some warning from his heart forbade him, he might have done so.

He has returned with herbs of healing, of one kind or another, and he and the Man are even now steeping and shredding them, their gazes flickering often to the Elf and Dwarf before them.

The Dwarf looks away from them, purposely disregarding their fervid activity. He watches only the figure before him, his eyes drawn constantly from the scarred, scaly skin of the ruined body to the pale, near-perfect Elven face, and back again. The welts and scars that had marred the face are already almost gone; but if the body's wounds are sealing themselves he has seen no sign of it. He watches, memorising the faint motions of the unconscious body - the shallow breathing, the way the gentle morning breeze stirs the tattered hair - and does not let himself look away. The Dwarf feels an urge to reach out and touch the Elf's face, but he does not. He checks his weapons for the hundredth, or perhaps thousandth time; he waits once more.

His world has narrowed. An Elf. A knife. An axe at his side. Beyond those things, all is irrelevant. Introspection and anguish have long since fallen away from him, leaving only wordless waiting. After the long night, he is ready.

The sky lightens, degree by degree, from charcoal to silver to near-white. The world lightens also, though it seems as though a grey pall has been cast over the land around them, and only slowly is it drawn aside.

The Dwarf watches not the dawn, but only the Elf before him. His knife is in his hand. His axe is by his side.

He is ready.

* * *

From somewhere almost too far away, the Elf stirs in his darkness, drifting quickly and slowly towards wakefulness.

It is a painful waking: he can feel too sharply the twisting of his spine, the stings and itches of his skin. His joints are burning, sometimes fiercely, sometimes dully. Everything pains him.

Even with his eyes still closed, though, he is already aware that there is sky above him and wind on his face, and blades of grass tickling his bare back. He can feel the cold light through his closed eyes, he can smell life, and air, and green things.

He contemplates waking, wonders vaguely what he will find when he does. Easier not to, so much easier, to take the other route that lingers temptingly at the back of his mind. He has never before contemplated the thought of Mandos, but now that he must, he finds that it holds no fear for him. It would be so easy, such a small, simple matter, such a quick end to long pain.

He wonders what happens to Orcs, once they die, and the thought breaks on him like a sudden shock of pain. He recoils from contemplating it. He can be certain that it is not a happy fate.

The desire for death wanes, and once again, he is aware of the touch of cool grass against his back. Resolving at last to face what he must, he opens his eyes.

The outer world greets him with such a blaze of unaccustomed light, that he must shut his eyes again against it, leaving him with only a blurred image of the world above him. Orcs are weakened by sunlight, he remembers, and supposes this must be how it feels for them. For a fleeting moment he wonders how badly they have harmed his vision. Or his hearing, for that matter. He is aware of voices around him, but they are dim and confused.

"Gimli...?" He has said it out loud, and that is a foolish thing to do, is it not? But the word is said, and there is no power in the whole of Middle Earth that can take it back.

* * *

The hand tightens around the hilt of the knife; the Dwarf blinks back tears. To hear such a voice from an Elf-

* * *

The sound of his voice pains him. Thick, harsh and guttural - an Orkish voice, and, involuntarily, he recoils from the sound. Once, his voice was beautiful.

"I'm right here, Sir Elf."

He has not expected a reply, but there it is, the old, half-mocking title. The familiar voice, deep and rough, and with it the familiar memory. But which is this? he wonders. The reality or the dream? Was either ever real?

He opens his eyes and looks up blankly into an expanse of sunburned face, framed by wiry brown hair and the thick fur of a beard, a face so much more strong, more vivid than the memory had been. Suddenly he is aware that he has no idea of what it was that he wanted to say so urgently. Whatever it was, it is certainly not the words that escape before he realises what he is saying.

"Am I an Orc?"

And Gimli laughs, unsteadily, and tells him: "Never."

* * *

Why does he laugh? Because the only alternative is a pain too terrible to endure.

He is conscious suddenly of Aragorn and Gandalf watching him, their narrowed eyes speaking doubt and suspicion. There is fear in the Hobbits' eyes, and they draw back a little from him.

Why is he so certain? they are doubtless asking silently; but Gimli has no answer for them.

He can give no name to his certainty; it is beyond the prosaic Dwarvish grasp of words, to give shape to concepts so flimsy. He is sure only of his certainty, but he cannot explain it.

Because- is as much as he can offer. Because.

And he looks down into the face of his friend, studying again. It is a sadder face than once it was, older, perhaps, but it is the eyes that are changed most greatly. They are become younger, older, brighter, wiser all at once, and some kind Maia puts inspiration suddenly into his heart.

Because I never yet saw an Orc whose eyes shone with the light of the stars.

* * *

"Never," the Dwarf says again. "Never - or I am a troll." And now the deep, rough voice rings with certainty.

The Elf stares up, oddly reassured. Only a Dwarf would speak so. Only a Dwarf could be as real as that. Perhaps this truly *is* no phantasm of the mind. Perhaps he truly is free.

He reaches across, trying to confirm by touch what his mind is telling him, but his arm is batted away impatiently by some other person.

"Be still, you fool! Or would you sooner clean your own wounds?"

For some reason it does not surprise him to hear Mithrandir's voice. He is *almost* certain now that he is not dreaming. He would speak to them, ask if all is well, ask of his deliverance, but he does not wish again to hear the sound of his own voice.

* * *

The Dwarf looks up for a moment, to meet Gandalf's gaze. "Leave us. Please."

Aragorn looks up sharply. Gandalf watches him with furrowed brows for a moment, and then nods curtly. "You may have five minutes, Gimli, and not a moment longer."

He nods his agreement, and the others withdraw a small distance. For a moment he can do nothing but stare down into the Elf's face, feeling tongue-tied and not a little stupid.

"Gimli..." The word is whispered, as if the Elf fears to speak aloud. "I saw my hands."

The Dwarf bows his head in acknowledgment.

"Am I much changed?"

"Yes ... and no." The Dwarf grimaces at his answer, which has, to his ear, an almost Elven unhelpfulness about it. "Your body is much like your hands, I fear, and much injured. But the blood from the injuries runs red, not black. Your face is nigh untouched. Your eyes..." For a moment the words almost fail him again. "I have never before seen eyes in which the starlight shines so bright - except one." Except perhaps Galadriel, but she is not one with whom comparisons are lightly made.

He watches the Elf lift up one hand and scrutinize it closely, an unmistakable pain in his eyes. "So thus am I become," he whispers. "Could any endure the touch of such a hand?"

The Dwarf reaches down, and takes the Orkish hand carefully between his own hands, his eyes not leaving the Elf's as he does so. Then he looks down at the hand, examining it closely, tentatively, as his craftsmen kin might examine a damaged instrument, brought for repair.

The hand's skin is black and scaly, marred by cuts and scars. The fingers are thin, but the knuckles much enlarged, the webbing between fingers and thumb thin and papery. The Dwarf runs his fingers thoughtfully over the back of the hand, along the swollen knuckles, across the palm, and down to the sensitive skin at the base of the wrist. Then, slowly and deliberately, he raises the hand in his own, to let the palm rest for a long instant against his cheek. He lays it down gently, noting that the Elf's eyes are tightly closed, and his breathing is uneven, hoping that he has not caused the Elf pain.

"I do not find its touch unpleasant," he says, in the manner of one reporting the result of an experiment. The eyes open once more, and the hand reaches out again, to seize the Dwarf's so tightly the grip is almost painful. "Its grasp is also uncommonly strong," he adds ruefully.

From his place on the ground, the Elf almost smiles. With an unsteady voice he whispers his thanks, but he does not loosen his grasp.

* * *

The others return before another minute has passed away. The Elf relinquishes reluctantly his hold on the Dwarf's hand, and waits in stillness as they resume their ministrations. Weariness is catching up with him at last, and whatever it is the others are doing is taking a long while to be accomplished.

He feels the Dwarf's heavy hand come to rest, surprisingly lightly, on his shoulder, and looks up, meeting the Dwarf's dark eyes with his pale ones. The broad face above him is solemn and sad, though the eyes glitter brightly, almost as if with tears. The hand on his shoulder becomes heavier, and is then removed, as the Dwarf reaches forward to brush a strand of the dirty blond hair from across his face. He feels the callused fingertips rest for a moment against his forehead, in a kind of unspoken benediction.

He gazes up still, never taking his eyes from the face above him, and the dark brown eyes stare solemnly back. But no more words are spoken between them ... just a silence which lasts many moments - for a time, and times and half a time again.