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While standing under mallorns fair,
"What are you doing?" Legolas asked politely as he approached Gimli at their small fire deep in the heart of the Fangorn, the kindling chosen carefully in this most ancient of woods.
"Harumph!" was the mostly guttural response as the Dwarf hastily folded a piece of parchment, shoved it under his vest and busied himself with repacking a quill and ink into an ingeniously made box with runes on its top. "How is it that your footfalls never seem quite to be landing on the ground, Elf?" he asked, and Legolas seemed to see a hint of embarrassment in his eyes.
He shrugged, and took his place cross-legged on the forest floor near his friend. "We are mysteries to each other," Legolas spoke, then turned his face up to the canopy of leaves, gazing at them and then far further overhead to the sky awash in stars.
Gimli retrieved his pipe from his pack on the ground, lit it, then stretched out his not very long legs. After savouring the pipeweed smoke in his mouth, he released it into the night air. An impressive white ring floated over to Legolas then dissipated as he twitched his nose in displeasure.
"Well, friend? Say it!" Gimli began to rummage through his pack again, plundering its secrets with deft fingers as Legolas slowly returned his gaze from the heavens to their small fire.
The Elf turned his head slightly, oddly fascinated by the changing shadows the bag made as Gimli continued to fish about in it. At last, with a throaty sound of triumph, he produced a small phial with a single chrysoprase jewel on it, the yellow-green gem lit up by the flickering firelight.
"You do not approve of the smoking of leaves," Gimli was now rubbing the silver container on his breeches leg as though to shine it, and Legolas found his curiosity piqued.
"I neither approve nor disapprove," he said softly into the night air. "Are you able to feel how ancient is this land, the trees, the very air..." He stopped as a calloused hand met his, the small phial with its odd green stone cradled in Gimli's strong fingers.
"Have some," Gimli encouraged, a glint of joy in his eyes that Legolas had hitherto never seen, save during their recent brief visit in the Glittering Caves.
Legolas looked sceptically at the container. "What is this?" he asked, even as he took off the lid with long pale fingers. Holding it up to his nose, he smelled an oddly comforting scent of honey, herbs and another element he could not recognize.
"Try a drop."
Legolas looked into the phial after taking a few moments to admire the obvious handiwork that gone into its making, whorls of decoration on its rim, and was rather disturbed to see that the liquid contained within had a rather earthy colour. He raised his eyes to those of the Dwarf, their deep brown a very echo of the beverage in the container.
Gimli had reclaimed his pipe and was contentedly blowing more smoke rings into the air, one hand idly twisting a plait in his beard. "It will not hurt you, Prince of Mirkwood."
Legolas was not sure whether his companion was making fun or no, but he lifted the phial to his lips nonetheless. A very warm, complex and strong flavour made its way through his mouth and down his throat. Thistle? Blackberry? Honeycomb? He found that he took a longer sample after a few moments, until the bottle was taken from his hand.
"One only needs a small amount," Gimli said. After taking a rather hairy but clean finger to rub around the rim, he drank some of the elixir as well. Smiling to himself, he put the phial back in his pack and resumed his smoking.
Legolas sat for awhile, then as an unexpected warmth and sense of camaraderie flowed through him, he felt compelled to ask, "May I borrow your pipe?"
Gimli stared at his friend as though he had just spoken in Dwarvish and asked to learn how to become a metalsmith. Shaking his head in disbelief, he handed it over. "As you see fit, Legolas," he said, a hint of bemusement in his voice.
Legolas put the pipe in his mouth and inhaled deeply, then began coughing.
"No, Legolas!" Gimli said in alarm as his friend beat his chest with the palm of his hand. "After all this time of watching Aragorn and the hobbits - have you not realized that you are not to inhale?"
Once he was able to breathe deeply again, Legolas gave him a scornful look. "We Elves are truly at sleep from time to time, you know." He held the long-stemmed pipe at a distance, studied it, then put it back in his mouth and tried again. As he exhaled, a small white ring floated into the night air.
"See, that's better, is it not!" Gimli exclaimed, and Legolas nodded.
"I still do not understand its appeal, but now I can say that I have tried it." He leaned forward and returned Gimli's pipe to him. "What was that liqueur that you just dispensed? And why have I not seen you produce that phial before?"
"Questions, questions," Gimli replied, obviously amused. "And I thought that Elves considered themselves the most learned in Middle Earth, save the wizards."
Legolas frowned. "Well, we are learned, to be sure, but I do not believe I have ever tasted a drink such as that. It is of Dwarvish make?"
Gimli nodded. "We call it zhîkomir, and it is a recipe that we have kept secret for generation after generation. None but the Dwarves know what herbs are added as it ferments." He puffed proudly on his pipe. "We Dwarves are full of surprises."
Legolas cocked an eyebrow. "After our travails and dangers together, I am well aware of that." He gazed into the fire for a moment, then looked over at Gimli. "I hesitate to ask again, but I am curious. Were you writing earlier when I returned?"
Gimli nodded, but did not offer up any further details. Legolas continued to gaze at him until finally the Dwarf spluttered, "Yes! I was writing! Does that come as such a shock to you that you feel you must bore holes through me with your eyes?"
Legolas turned his eyes to the fire. "My apologies, friend," he spoke quietly. "I am somewhat surprised, though by now I should know better." Gimli soon found himself in the Elf's blue-eyed gaze once more. "Do you write a letter to one of your kin?"
"Confound it all, Legolas!" Gimli's face was now a unique shade of scarlet. "I'm writing poetry, if you must know, and apparently you must, as you will give me no peace."
Legolas reacted as though he had misheard. "Poetry?" he repeated.
"Yes! Trollstrollop!" Gimli was now decidedly agitated, and began patting his chest and in his pockets. He fished out the piece of parchment and looked at it long and hard, then back over at Legolas. "I am writing a poem for Lady Galadriel, though I know it is no good."
Legolas laughed merrily, the jovial sound loud enough that it disturbed a nearby owl which then flew further into the forest.
Gimli scowled. "I knew I should not have told you," he said sullenly.
"No, no!" Legolas beamed. "I am delighted! To think that not only did you use such fine speech that you charmed the Lady of the Wood into bestowing you with three locks of her hair, but you are now lauding her with lines of eloquent verse. Gimli, I do believe you are becoming positively Elvish!"
Gimli shook his head, then placed his pipe to the ground by his side and began to tighten his arm braces. "I do not wish to come to blows, Legolas, but I will not be mocked."
Legolas placed a pale hand above his heart. "Dear comrade, I mean you no ill will." His eyes twinkled in the glow of the firelight. "Would you be so kind as to share your work with one whom you think has insulted you?"
Gimli looked thoughtfully back down at the parchment. "Well," he began, "I suppose it can do no harm. It is nowhere near completion, however," he said quickly, "and there are many marks on it. Withhold your judgment until I am finished." He gingerly handed the folded square to Legolas. "If I ever finish."
As Legolas began to unfold the parchment, Gimli stood up from the fire. "I'll just go and stretch my legs," he said matter-of-factly, relighting his pipe, then striding off into the gloom.
Alone now in the fireglow, Legolas reverently held the creased paper in his hands, his keen eyesight making sense of the tidy letters and strikethroughs.
How is it that one who
So you spoke, and yet I am bound to your beauty
Your grace binds me more tightly than any knot of Elvish rope could hold...
What is aught to do?
Shall I kindle fire, and smelt
While standing under mallorns fair,
Galadriel, luminous vision fair
From me you lifted the weighty call of the earth
And yet, o queen of starlight at morning
Gold hath dominion over me still -
Haunted shall my heart ever be
By glory which must remain forever as memory
After many minutes had passed, Gimli reappeared from the darkness and busied himself with preparing his bedroll. As he laid the blanket on the ground, he looked over at Legolas who was still lying on his back, eyes shut.
"Well!" said Gimli, gruffly. "Do you sleep?"
Legolas turned his head and opened his eyes. "No. I am mulling over the words of your lines of verse."
Gimli sat on his blanket, then, looking down, began to remove his leather arm braces. "And?" he asked, anxiety audible in his voice.
An ensuing quiet between the two reigned over many moments as the sound of insect chatter reached an almost unbearable level, then Legolas responded.
"Your words are beautiful, my friend."
Gimli raised his head to stare disbelievingly at Legolas from across the fire.
"You only say that to humour me. Elves are masters of poetry, not Dwarves." The words rang through their enclave, hushing even the winged insects which had been flying near their bright light in the dark forest.
"Gimli..." Legolas' words hung in the air, as though captured by low branches, unable to escape to higher reaches. "It is not of Elvish speech, surely, and the metre is most indelicate, but - "
"It isn't finished." Gimli grumbled. Resigned, he took off his helmet then lay down, crossing his arms over his chest.
As his friend succumbed to a well-deserved sleep, Legolas poked at the fire, rearranging the burning embers. Stretching back out on his own Elvish blanket, he resumed his position on his back, this time with his ancient blue eyes fixed on the stars.
Once he was sure that he heard Gimli's regular sure breathing, the slow inhalations and exhalations of sleep, he felt free to speak again. Resting his head in his pale hands once again, he spoke quietly aloud to the brightly-lit night sky.
"The metre is uncouth. But Galadriel herself was drawn to this Middle Earth, its very substance calling her from the Blessed Lands. Who better to write homage to her than one who knows so well the secrets of the earth, especially now that she has departed, leaving the lands bereft of her presence?"
A distant owl hooted and leaves murmured in a sudden breeze. At these understated disturbances, Gimli snorted in his sleep and turned sideways, his back now facing Legolas. Legolas rubbed his nose, then rested his arm above his head. If only Gimli could bear the length of life that we do, he thought, melancholy overtaking him. There is so much yet for me to discover in this most unlikely and yet dearest of friends.
He shook his head, then set his sights on the leaves above him. Soon he was journeying in the non-sleeping, yet non-waking dreamroads that only the Elves can travel, his hand placed above his heart on the piece of parchment under his vest.
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