There, that's got it. I'd say you're presentable enough, elf. Gimli fastened the clasp holding the last of Legolas' braids and stepped around to face his friend.
Thank you, elvellon. I can manage everything except my hair. Perhaps by tomorrow I will not need your assistance. The elf smiled up at Gimli from his seat on the end of his pallet.
Best take it easy as Borli advised you, but I'm sure you'll be able to by the time the big celebration takes place. It's just as well that the family gathers are informal, as fussy are you are about your hair when you dress up.
I am not fussy, Legolas retorted with an annoyed snort. There are protocols to be followed when one must be formal.
Well, if you're finished not being fussy, there's crayfish, mussels, and ale waiting for us at the gather. Gimli grinned behind his beard, amused that Legolas was so easily irritated by that subject of conversation. Best wear the sling Borli brought, even if you don't think you need it.
I had planned to, the elf said, looping the sling over his head and placing his injured arm in it. He was kind enough to tend me, even though I know he had not slept, and the shoulder does get sore after awhile. This will help.
Good enough, let's go then. Mam and Da went ahead to start the cook fires.
The doorway to the chamber the gather was being held in was high enough that Legolas had only to duck his head a small amount to enter. Once inside, the ceiling was nearly double his height and he straightened, looking up at the intricate carvings that adorned the ceiling with great appreciation. He glanced down at Gimli with a smile of delight.
My friend, truly your folk are the finest of artisans! Gimli grinned and shrugged.
So are yours, in their way as we are in ours. But, I'm glad you like it. He clapped the elf on his uninjured shoulder. Come on, I want to introduce you to the rest of my family. Legolas hesitated.
Gimli, is everyone here your family? The chamber was quite large and there were many dwarves present, of varying ages.
Well, yes, either by blood or marriage. Gimli gave him a measuring look. Does that surprise you?
I supposed that I had not given it much thought until now. He smiled. It gladdens me to see how numerous your family is, elvellon.
Good, because they all are very curious about you. Gimli chuckled at the perplexed look Legolas gave him. Most of them have never met an elf before, much less one who is shieldbrother to one of their kin. He slapped the elf's back again. Don't get shy on me now, lad.
Green Leaf! Green Leaf! A small whirlwind hit his knees. Legolas laughed as he disentangled the dwarfling from his legs and knelt so she would not have to crane her neck to look at him.
Well met, my lady Nalis! He grinned delightedly when she threw her arms around his neck and hugged him before planting a kiss on his cheek. Around them, startled glances and chuckles were plentiful. Legolas ignored them and settled her on his knee. Have you been helping to make the feast, my lady?
No, I'm still too little, she sighed. But I did make something for you! She reached into her pocket and pulled out a string of colorful beads attached to a clasp. This is to put in your hair, she explained, holding it up for his inspection.
It is perfect. Thank you, Lady Nalis. He turned his head and bent so that she could reach the back of his head. Would you honor me by placing it in my hair? She reached up and clasped it at the top of the braid going down the center of the back of his head and nodded with satisfaction. Now, what do you say to showing me around the chamber and helping your cousin introduce me to the rest of your family?
Come on, sweetling, Gimli said, plucking Nalis off Legolas' knee and lifting her into his arms. Let's introduce Legolas around. He chuckled as he, in turn got a hug and a kiss from the dwarfling.
Over here, lads! There's bowls of mussels and crayfish for both of you, Gloin said, handing Gimli and Legolas each a large bowl that was heaped with the shellfish. There's bread, butter, cheese, and pickles on the tables. Go ahead and sit, I'll bring the ale and wine for you, Legolas.
I am not opposed to drinking ale, Gloin, Legolas said, carefully setting his bowl on the table before folding his tall frame to sit on a bench by the table. I simply do not care for the ale served in many Mannish taverns. It is not of the quality that dwarven ale is. Gloin laughed.
Truth be told, I don't much care for that rotgut either, he admitted setting tankards in front of both his son and the elf. And I think you'll find that this is a particularly fine brew. Legolas took a healthy swig and grinned.
Perfect. I have never had better. He looked over the utensils on the table before turning a quizzical look on Gimli. You may have to show me the proper way to do this, my friend.
Nothing to it, laddie. You just use the small knife to take the mussels out of their shells. As for the crayfish, this is the way you tackle them. He deftly popped the tail off one of the crustaceans, sucked the material out of it's head, and pried the tail in half freeing the meat which he placed in his mouth. Now, he said after swallowing the morsel, they're cooked with spices, but a lot of us like to put this stuff on them. He indicated small bowls of a dark red sauce. I'll warn you, it's fairly spicy, but nothing like those Haradric seed pods that Pippin tricked us into eating. Best way to do it is to put a mussel or the tail meat of the crayfish onto one of these pieces of toasted bread, put some of the sauce on it and eat it that way.
I shall try it that way, the elf said, mimicking Gimli's demonstration with a crayfish of his own. He chewed the morsel thoughtfully before swallowing and grinning at his friend. I like it very much.
Good. Gimli replied. If the spices start to get to you, eat one of the pickles. That's the fastest way to kill the burn. He watched Legolas try one of the mussels with the bread and sauce.
The mussels are even better this way than the crayfish. I believe I will have to take the sling off, however. Two hands are necessary for this. He carefully wiped his fingers before slipping the sling off and laying it over his knee. Soon he and Gimli were both digging into their meal and conversing with the dwarf's parents and his other family members seated near them.
Had enough to eat, Legolas? Gimli asked, dumping the empty shells in his bowl into a barrel set aside for that purpose before stacking his bowl with others on a table next to the barrel.
I should think so! the elf replied with a laugh, following Gimli's lead with his own shells and bowl. I think I may have eaten my own weight in mussels and crayfish tonight.
And pickles, the dwarf teased, for Legolas had proved to be very fond of those. But I hope you've saved a corner or two, as our hobbit friends would say. There's stewed stone fruit and berries for afters, along with Mam's bread.
I will find a corner or two for that, the elf replied promptly.
Gloin lit his pipe and took a few puffs on it before sitting back with a sigh. Beside him, Gimli blew a smoke ring before reaching for his tankard. The older dwarf glanced around the chamber, locating his son's friend.
Legolas was surrounded by dwarflings of various ages. Nalis was perched on his knee, and her baby sister, Norlin, was nestled in the crook of good arm. The elf had the rapt attention of the younglings around him as he told stories, tailored to their tender years, of his and Gimli's travels and his own childhood. Even the older dwarflings were crowding close to hear, despite themselves. Peals of laughter erupted as he finished a tale. One of the older youngsters handed him a tankard, filled with cider rather than ale. Legolas thanked him with a smile and drained it before launching into another story.
He looks like he's enjoying that as much as the youngsters are, Gloin commented to his son.
He is, Gimli replied, raising his tankard of ale to his lips and taking a swig. Legolas adores children. I've seen him do this in Minas Tirith, Edoras, and Dunharrow. He chuckled briefly. You should have seen the children in Dunharrow vying for his attention. I think every one of them ended up with a flower crown or a sword fashioned from a stick made by him and he loved it as much or more than they did.
I imagine the parents were grateful for the respite, Gloin remarked.
Aye, even though I doubt they understood why a warrior would willingly entertain a passel of youngsters, much less enjoy doing so.
Has he any of his own? one of Gimli's cousins asked.
Nay, he's not wed yet. Gimli replied.
Ah, well there's time for that, the cousin said, puffing on his own pipe. Now that the War's over. He'd make a good da. He eyed Gimli. So would you, Cousin. I'll wager you're considered prime marriage material, even more than you were before. Gimli shrugged.
Mayhap, mayhap not. He emptied his pipe and set it aside. I've plans of my own, so any lady who might set her fancy on me would have to be amenable to them, providing King Thorin approves, of course.
What do you have in mind? Gloin asked.
Well, first of all, I need to speak to the king. After he's made his decision, I'll fill the lot of you in. He stretched, and then settled back in his chair. But, suffice it to say that I've seen some places in my travels that would benefit from our folks' talents.
Sounds good to me, another cousin piped up. We've got a good thing going here, but I'd like to try my hand at helping start another colony, perhaps find a nice mine or two of metals or gems to work.
So would I, especially now that I've age and experience enough to try it, yet another cousin said.
We'll talk more about it after I've spoken to the king, Gimli said. He stood, stretching again. It looks like the youngsters are being herded off to bed now so I'll see if Legolas wants to join us now that we're done with our pipes.
Was that why he didn't before? Gimli's cousin Torli asked.
Aye, elves don't like pipe smoke, any of them. Besides, he wouldn't have passed on telling stories to the younglings for anything, if I know him. Gimli walked over to the elf, who was putting his sling back on and spoke with him briefly. Legolas nodded and rose to follow Gimli back over to the group gathered by the hearth. Gimli reclaimed the chair he had occupied before and Legolas opted to sit on the floor beside Gimli's chair.
Well, what do you think of our gather thus far, Legolas? Gloin asked.
As fine as any I have seen, the elf replied, accepting a tankard of ale from one of the cousins. I am curious however, as to how you find such quantities of crayfish and mussels in the winter?
Easy enough, Niri replied. We farm them. We started doing that the first year we were here. It was one thing we didn't have to trade for. The climate inside the mountain is the same year round, so it was a simple thing to set up and an easy way to feed our families.
Ah! I had wondered. He chewed his lip thoughtfully. Would it be permissible for me to see how you do this? My people do not farm shellfish, but I think perhaps that we should. Particularly when some of us move to Ithilien. We will need what resources we can gather simply to survive.
I don't see why not, Niri said, looking around the group and seeing agreement there. It's not difficult; you just need the proper set up. He took a swig of his ale. Plus, then you've got the shells for fertilizer and building material.
Ithilien's in Gondor, yes? Torli asked.
Yes. King Elessar has given me leave to bring some of my people there to repair the damage that has been done by evil creatures. My king has given his leave as well. We shall depart in the spring.
I hope to start out on my own ventures in the spring as well. Gimli said. Pending the king's approval. I'm hoping we can travel together. There are still evil creatures and bandits on the roads between here and Gondor. A larger band with many warriors would not be a target worth risking.
I hope so as well. Not only would I like to travel in your company once more, but you are correct that we would not tempt attack with a larger group. Legolas drained his tankard and accepted a refill.
Are you certain that's a good idea? Torli asked. We're fine with each other, but not all of our folk or yours are.
I plan to choose those going with me carefully, Legolas replied. Those who go must be able to get along with dwarves and Men. I will accept no hot-heads or fools who would cause problems or take offense where there is none.
Nor will I, Gimli said decisively. He sighed, glancing down at Legolas. If we don't want to be in hot water with Borli, I suggest we seek our beds, lad.
As much as I am enjoying the ale and the conversation, I would agree, my friend. Legolas drained his tankard again.
Aye, best not to annoy your healer, Niri opined. They tend to dose you with something foul and knock you out.
You'd know, stone-head, Tavri snorted, earning a clout in the arm from his brother.
So would you, granite-skull.
Gimli chuckled, noting that Legolas was looking down at his empty mug, stifling the grin that threatened to cross his face. He slapped the elf on the back, rising from his chair. Come on, you daft point-ear. I'll make sure you don't get lost trying to find your bed.
That will be a first, Master Stone-cleaver. As I recall, I had to lead you around Minas Tirith to make certain you did not go astray. The elf shot back, winking at Gloin who chuckled into his tankard.
Go on with the lot of you, the elder dwarf grumbled good-naturedly. I'd like a bit of peace to finish my ale in.