Late April, 3019*
Merry sat on the deck of the boat, puffing on a pipe, his feet propped up on a lower railing. The large smoke rings he emitted were quickly snatched away by the brisk breeze. As he lowered his eyelids, the city of Osgiliath diminished from his view, the rowers working against the strong current of Anduin bearing the ship toward Cair Andros.
Reveling in the pleasant weather, he closed his eyes as he basked in the sun, sinking ever further into his hobbit-sized chair.
"Do all of your kind take to smoking at such a young age?"
The hobbit started, and one of his golden-haired feet dropped to the deck with a loud thud.
"Legolas!" he spluttered, wrenching his head to the side. "Haven't you learned that it isn't polite to sneak up on people?"
A mischevious smile crossed the Elf's face. "On this journey from Minas Tirith, stealth is not my intention."
Merry muttered under his breath about Elves moving like shadows, then repositioned himself to his former comfortable position. Legolas stepped over to the railing and held it, his gaze focused on the tree-filled island to their north.
"As to your question, I can't answer for all hobbits, of course," Merry began, "but the Brandybuck fathers offer both pipeweed and ale to their sons when they feel they will not overindulge. Or if they do," he grinned, "they shan't soon forget it."
Merry happily clenched his teeth on his pipe, wriggling his toes in the warm air, ensconced in a fond memory.
"And what of the daughters?" Legolas asked, turning his head from their eventual destination to his green-eyed companion.
"Daughters?" Merry coughed, removing his pipe and gazing down on the swift-moving waters below them. After a thoughtful pause, he raised his eyes. "Well, some hobbit women do smoke, it's true." The wind off the river caught his shirt sleeves, which billowed as he ran a hand through his hair. "Yes, some do," he repeated. "And most are as fond of ale as any hobbit worth his soles."
"Worth his souls?" Legolas' eyes sparkled with curiosity.
Merry tilted his head to look back at Legolas, whose reaction surprised him. Suddenly he realised he'd been misunderstood.
"Soles!" he exclaimed, lifting a foot from the railing and waving it in the Elf's direction. "Without our sturdy feet, well, I suppose we wouldn't be hobbits, now would we?"
Both he and Legolas looked at his unshod foot for a moment, then Legolas readdressed his attentions to the front of the boat without a reply. Merry crossed his leg, placing his foot on his knee, puffing on his pipe again to ensure that it didn't go out. As he did, savoring the flavor in his mouth, a question seared itself in his mind. He took some time to think of all of his encounters with Elves during his trials and travels, and, satisfied in his memories, took the pipe from his mouth.
"Why don't the Elves smoke? You all are ancient folk."
Legolas returned his steady gaze to the hobbit, turning to lean his back against the side of the boat. There was a sharp crack as one of the sails snapped in the wind.
In the lengthening silence, Merry stammered, "I mean, we hobbits have perfected the fine art of growing and drying pipeweed, but wouldn't the Elves have done the same for ages past?"
Legolas continued to stare at Merry, who began to regret having asked the question. The Elf pursed his lips, then shrugged. "I have no answer. Perhaps it was a habit of my ancestors, but none do so now." With an indulgent smile, he leaned in toward the hobbit. "For those in Mirkwood, we nurture the trees and plants, we do not set their leaves alight for pleasure."
Merry chuckled, feeling a bit sheepish. "Ah well, 'tis a loss for the Elves." He studied Legolas for a moment, sensing something different about him. Abruptly he sat up straight, placing both feet on the wooden deck and jabbing toward Legolas with his pipe. "Where's Gimli?"
Since their time in Lothlórien, the two were rarely seen apart. They still bickered and suffered many challenges of misunderstanding, but for the most part, they seemed truly to enjoy each other's company.
Legolas emitted a soft sigh. "Minas Tirith. He does not have a fondness for boat travel."
Merry looked quizzically back at him. "But he didn't make one complaint during those days on the river, not like Sam."
Legolas shifted his stance against the boat side. "No, he did not. I suspect you do not know Gimli as well as I."
The hobbit nodded in acquiescence. "I was separated from you for a while."
A solemn expression crossed Legolas' face and he titled his head. "Indeed." He paused. "As for Gimli, it is not that he dislikes water, it is that it reminds him of his separation from Galadriel."
Merry's eyes widened. "He's still thinking about her?" He shook his head in disbelief. "You're right; I don't know him like you do. I would never have guessed that was the reason."
"Truth be told," Legolas confided, "I think he also wished to spend some more time with Pippin. Since only you were summoned to deliver the goods we are taking to the island, he decided to remain with your companion. Though he may not say so in words, he has become very fond of your young cousin."
Merry laughed. "Pip has caused him much grief, but he's almost impossible to dislike." More reservedly, he added, "I'm glad we'll only be away a few days. After all we've been through, I don't want to be gone for long."
Legolas leaned back from the railing and placed a hand on the hobbit's shoulder. "Neither do I," he replied. Then he walked away to the front of the ship.
"Legolas!" Merry called, and the Elf turned. "Why did you come? I didn't think they required that you go."
"To see the trees," he replied. "Though not as old as Fangorn, they too are of old stock."
Merry nodded his head, looking again across the waters to the shores of Gondor.
"And to keep an eye on you!"
Merry whipped his head in the direction of Legolas' voice, but the lone Elf was no longer to be seen. The hobbit shrugged. "Galadriel!" he muttered to himself as another smoke ring drifted into the wind.
Several days later Merry and Legolas returned to Minas Tirith in mid-afternoon. They walked up the many levels to the Houses of Healing, but found none of their companions. Ioreth, as busy and as talkative as ever, waylaid the two for quite some time as she explained in restrained tones that the Halfling Prince and Bergil were giving the two new periannath an extended tour of the city. The Dwarf, who had been running his hands along the walls and stomping down the corridors, disturbing her patients, was off with two more of his kind. The Lady Éowyn, though her arm was healing well, had become very quiet and wouldn't heed the call from King Éomer to join him, and -
"There are more Dwarves in the city?"
"Éowyn isn't with Éomer?"
The tandem exclamations shot into the air, silencing the Healer. Elf and hobbit looked at each other.
"I must go find Gimli!"
"I must see to Éowyn!"
Their verbal ejaculations of enthusiasm and worry jumbled into each other. As they again opened their mouths to speak at once, Merry hurriedly said, "You first."
Ioreth glanced from one to the other, her expression a mixture of annoyance and amusement. She placed her finger to her lips, then turned back around to attend to her many charges.
"I have an idea of where I can find Gimli," Legolas said, his voice hushed as they left the room. "Now that the war is over, I suspect he is making great plans of repair and construction. I shall go to Fen Hollen, where fell the Steward Denethor."
Merry shuddered. "Elves and Dwarves have strong stomachs. I‘ve enjoyed getting to know Steward Faramir, and I do not ever wish to go into that place." He gazed worriedly at Legolas. "I don't like what I hear about Éowyn, and I think I should go see her. Surely she will not mind my company."
Legolas shrugged his shoulders, his long hair waving across his back. "You know her well, not I."
They both turned and went in opposite directions.
After investigating the Rath Dínen and breathing in the haunted air of the House of the Stewards, Legolas continued his search for Gimli. He paused for a few moments in the doorway of the sturdily built sepulcher, held transfixed by the lingering echo of tragedy. He murmured a brief utterance for the passing of Denethor, whose fiery presence still scarred the blackened floor before walking on to the next level of the city.
It was out in the courtyard of the seventh level where Legolas found his companion. Ioreth's words had been correct. Gimli stood - or rather, crouched - at the wall, pointing at some intricate carvings and speaking to two other Dwarves next to him, who also squatted on their heels. As Legolas approached, he heard more of what Gimli said, but couldn't recognise even a syllable. He stood for a moment, fascinated by the rising and falling phrases of the two unknown Dwarves and Gimli, who, after many months, was at last able to speak in his native tongue. Their punctuated guttural exchanges sounded to Legolas like rocks tumbling in a stream but also punctuated with sparkling clarity of hidden gems whispering in ancient hills. If Elvish is the language of the stars, Legolas mused, then the Dwarf-language truly echoes it as the song of the earth.
He waited patiently until the Dwarves stood and Gimli noticed him standing there.
"Legolas!" he exclaimed. "You have returned! Were the trees all that you had hoped for?"
Legolas smiled. "Though fair enough to look upon, I more anticipate our return visit to Fangorn Forest. You have not changed your mind about those particular travels, have you?"
Gimli made an affronted harumph!-ing sound. "Ah! I have not introduced you to my comrades. Khali, Frain, this is Legolas of Mirkwood."
A Dwarf with a silver beard wearing two thickly-roped golden necklaces standing to Gimli's right bowed, then the one to Gimli's left did the same. The second Dwarf had a full russet beard with several plaits, each tied with a thin leather thong. He appeared to be from a well-situated line, as he wore a cloak of rich brown velvet the color of owl's eyes. As this Dwarf held Legolas' attention from under his deep set gaze, the Elf felt disconcertedly as though he were being stared straight through by such a night-fowl.
Legolas bowed deeply to the trio. Placing his right hand atop his heart, he spoke clearly. "Legolas, son of King Thranduil of Mirkwood. It is a pleasure to meet any friend of Gimli’s."
The Dwarves flanking Gimli nodded in appreciation. Gimli gawked for a moment before recomposing his face and shutting his gaping mouth.
Frain turned to Gimli. "I would not have expected an Elf of Mirkwood to be so respectful." He raised a bushy eyebrow and winked. "You must have made an impression on him during your travels to this place."
The Dwarf with the mithril-colored beard clapped Gimli fondly on the back. "Frain and I must be off to other levels of this city. It is of good stone, as you said. I am sure that many of our folk from the Lonely Mountain will be glad to make the journey and keep our hands and tools busy here for some time."
Frain bowed slightly to Gimli, then Legolas. "I trust we shall see you at the Coronation, Elf of Mirkwood."
In a graceful gesture evocative of rushes waving in water, Legolas bowed again as the two Dwarves made their way down the cobbled path. The background cacophony of horses' hooves on stone and quotidian conversations drifted around Legolas and Gimli, the latter fixating his attentions on his friend.
"My apologies, Legolas," Gimli began. "I did not fully explain my companions. Khali is a master craftsman of stonework from west of the Iron Hills, and a distant relative to my father Glóin, I believe." He paused briefly. "Frain is his wife, and an excellent lapidarist."
At this, Legolas stood silent for several moments, his face like carved marble.
"Wife," he finally muttered.
Gimli nodded enthusiastically. "Quite a Dwarf woman, too. Many keep to themselves, but she has always smashed the mould, as our saying goes. She believes that she should have gone to ruin Smaug instead of her son Bombur, though he did bring honour to his family in the end."
Legolas absently rubbed his hands together. His gaze meandered over the still-scorched lands outside of Minas Tirith, as though by his staring he could remove himself from the walls and circle above the ground like a hawk carried on the wind.
“I'm surprised that you have some sense of Dwarvish manners,” Gimli finally said, his hand resting as it often did, on the tip of his axe, his toughened fingers caressing the battle-worn iron. “That’s more than I can say for anyone else of your father’s halls!”
Legolas pressed the tips of his fingers together with such steady force that his fingertips turned white under the nails. He turned to look at Gimli, ire flickering in his gaze though his voice was carefully measured. “I am sure that you did not intend to insult me, my family, and all Elves of Mirkwood. I assure you that despite your father’s perceptions on the matter, we are known for our hospitality and graciousness with all save our most hated enemies.” “My father did most certainly tell a different tale,” Gimli said hotly, then reached into a pack tied at his waist, producing his pipe and an exquisitely carved tinderbox. “Thrown into a prison cell and told he and his companions would stay there for a hundred years if Thorin would not explain his presence in the forest. Not allowed to speak to his comrades! Nothing to do but sit, and wait.” He struck a match against the stone wall, lit his pipe and began puffing on it.
“They trespassed, Gimli,” Legolas said, motioning down the path and beginning to walk. “They provoked the spiders, bringing them closer to our gate. In such perilous times, those Dwarves should have been dealt with facing our arrows.”
“Should have been…” Gimli growled, grinding his teeth against his pipe.
“Instead they were merely escorted in blindfolds, given clean rooms, plenty of food and drink, and were kept in comfort.”
“They were imprisoned!” Gimli shouted.
At Gimli’s outburst, a nearby shaggy-haired youth with a bandaged knee stopped, mouth gaping at Elf and Dwarf until his guardian knocked at his shoulder to regain his attention.
“I visited them regularly when not out on patrol,” Legolas continued, “making sure for myself that they were not lacking any basic need.”
“Except for their freedom.”
“That was not mine to give, and even had it been, I was of the same mind as my father. There were increased numbers of orcs and foul creatures from Dol Guldur, and the nearby Dwarves, while mostly incorruptible, refused their assistance.”
“It could have been me,” Gimli seethed. “Had Glóin not said I was too young, even at sixty-two, I would have been in their number. And had I been kept in a cell in your father’s halls-”
“Who was in prison?” A familiar and inquisitive voice interrupted him.
“His father,” Legolas replied evenly.
“Locked up by his father!” Gimli followed, jabbing his pipe at Legolas.
“Oh,” Merry said, reaching into his breeches’ pocket for his own tinderbox. “That explains a lot about you two.” He lit his pipe and took a deep puff on it, causing the contents in the bowl to glow vividly.
“It most certainly does not!” Gimli blurted out.
“Oh, I think it does,” Merry said, nodding sagely. “And both of your fathers have come out all right after the battles, haven’t they?”
There was silence as Legolas and Gimli looked at each other, breathing in the air of growing dusk, richly suffused with hope for the future.
“Yes,” Gimli said grudgingly. “Frain brought news that he survived the siege and is contentedly making repairs at the Mountain.”
“I, too, have heard that Thranduil is well, though grieving the loss of so many trees,” Legolas said. “Fire ravaged our forests, but I hope that Galadriel will see fit to visit Mirkwood’s damaged lands and heal them as only someone of her power can.”
“And what of you?” Gimli asked as the trio sat on a stone bench next to a large pile of marble rubble.
Merry looked at him, resignation in his expression. “There’s no news from Buckland, or the Shire. But it’s so far away, perhaps they haven’t been affected. They may not even know that there’s been a war at all.” He shook his head pensively before inhaling on his pipe. “Now that would be odd, going through all of this, only to get back and have folk think you were mad. Half of them might’nt even believe us.” Brightening, he added, “But there’s lots of celebrating to do before we go back. I don’t know about you two, but I think an ale would hit the spot.” He got up and began to walk away before turning around. “Well, aren’t you coming?”
Legolas looked at Gimli, who gave an indecipherable grunt. “We’ll follow you in not too long.”
Merry made a jaunty salute with his pipe, then headed back toward the upper level of the city.
Moments passed with only the foot- and hoof-steps of the citizens of the White City heading to their still-ruined homes. Legolas and Gimli sat in the relative quiet of the advancing night, watching as first one, then another star began twinkling faintly in the deepening dark.
“Hobbits truly are amazing. Surprisingly sturdy, and resilient. Almost Dwarf-like,” Gimli said proudly with a chuckle.
Legolas arched an eyebrow. “An interesting comparison. I suspect that Merry and Pippin would not be offended by it.” He turned to look at Gimli, who was scowling in the increasing shadows. “They certainly have no Elvish qualities.”
Gimli snorted. “They might take insult to that.” He tapped out his pipe, then rose, knees creaking, to his feet. “A tankard of ale does indeed sound like a fine thing. Would you care to go back?”
The Elf nodded, drinking in the sparkling patterns that continued to bloom overhead. “Perhaps someday, Gimli, you will come to Mirkwood. The stars there are so bright.”
“Me? Come to Mirkwood?” Gimli was incredulous. “Well, possibly. Maybe someday.”
*From "The Steward and the King:" The days that followed were golden,... And tidings now came by swift riders from Cair Andros of all that was done, and the City made ready for the coming of the King. Merry was summoned and rode away with the wains that took store of goods to Osgiliath and thence by ship to Cair Andros.
The reference to Gimli not being included in group of Dwarves in The Hobbit comes from Unfinished Tales, “The Quest of Erebor”:
In the earlier, when Gandalf ceased speaking, Frodo records that Gimli laughed.
‘It still sounds absurd,’ he said, ‘even now that all has turned out more than well. I knew Thorin, of course; and I wish I had been there, but I was away at the time of your first visit to us. And I was not allowed to go on the quest: too young, they said, though as sixty-two I thought myself fit for anything. Well, I am glad to have heard the full tale. If it is full. I do not really suppose that even now you are telling us all you know.’
‘Of course not,’ said Gandalf.