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Brothers Beneath the Skin
The clear music of elven laughter rang from the trees like the chuckling of a small stream bubbling up among rocks. Only the flick of Gimli’s dark eyes revealed that he was checking on the whereabouts of his elf.
‘You grew up with them as brothers?’ he grumbled. ‘It is a wonder that you are as sane as you are.’
‘Indeed,’ Faramir remarked carefully, ‘they seem much more precipitate than their lady sister.’
Elessar, King of the United Realm, smiled enigmatically. ‘Do not underestimate them,’ he advised.
‘Light-minded elves,’ Gimli snorted.
A deserted bird’s nest disintegrated into its component twigs and moss, scattering the debris over the three on the ground. ‘Light-minded elves with excellent hearing,’ called one of Elrond’s sons from his perch in the tree.
‘And a good aim,’ added the other.
‘They are not as foolish as they would have you think,’ Aragorn said, loud enough for there to be no doubt that his foster brothers heard him. ‘You have seen them in battle, Gimli – they are competent warriors.’
‘I will grant them that,’ he answered grudgingly, remembering the deadly visions of dancing death that had blazed before the Black Gate.
‘And Lady Galadriel’s grandsons,’ Faramir mused with apparent irrelevance, idly tossing pebbles into the water.
‘That, too,’ the dwarf nodded, looking as the man beneath his bushy brows.
Aragorn glanced at his Steward with a fractional lift of his eyebrow. ‘Let us seek some fish for supper, Elladan,’ he commanded. ‘I would rather not waste this rare opportunity to escape all the tedious formality that goes with kingship.’
‘I hope you are ready to get wet, Estel,’ Elladan teased, leaping from his branch to land lightly beside the former ranger. ‘I have never known you to return from a fishing expedition in dry clothes.’
‘That is because you have always known me to go fishing with you,’ his foster brother said dryly. ‘Most people find that I am pretty capable.’
‘I think you will find that only Arwen claims that,’ Elrohir said solemnly.
‘Or does she insist that he is pretty and capable?’ Elladan asked.
‘It is pretty frightening to think of what she finds him capable.’
‘They are mad,’ Gimli murmured with conviction as they led Aragorn away.
‘They only want you to think they are,’ Legolas shrugged, as he rejoined them. ‘They hide behind a mask of mirth.’ He glanced upstream where Aragorn and the twins continued to tease each other. ‘They are losing much of what they hold most dear, one way and another. We cannot begrudge them their laughter.’
Gimli grunted. One of the things he found hardest to understand about these flighty elves was the deep core of sadness that seemed to fester in them. He would have thought that living for ever would have taught them to let go of sorrow – but they seemed to treasure it as the price they had to pay. He lifted his head as one of the two identical voices demanded that his brother took the fish he had apparently just caught, rising then in pitch as the creature slithered free, only to end his speech in a growlingly expressed phrase – in Khuzdul?
He frowned. Where had the youthful-looking elf learned that? And, he thought, as the words registered rather than the language, what in Arda did he think he had said? Behind his extensive beard, a smile started to spread across Gimli’s face. The picture of those two offering themselves naked to be footstools for the comfort of aged matriarchs was one that would remain with him as long as he lived.
Only, his jaw tightened as the thought occurred, he was not having his elf made a mockery by dwarves with more pride than sense. If he was going to take Legolas up on his agreement to visit the Lonely Mountain – and he fully intended to do so – he was going to have to see that no-one could take him for a fool. He was not prepared to reveal the secrets of his race – not even to one declared a dwarf-friend – but he would have to see that Legolas knew enough not to fall for the trick that had been played on the sons of Elrond.
Aragorn returned a laughing insult to his brothers. He wished to lick the dirt from a master smith’s boot, did he? Gimli shook his head. He would have to have a word with the ranger. He could not allow the King of Gondor and Arnor to go round using that kind of language. He would just have to swear him to secrecy first. He really would not want to be the dwarf to reveal this matter to the Peredhel. They were, after all, remarkably quick with their blades – and it was too good a joke to spoil.
Faramir stirred up the fire. ‘It is a shame we cannot stay longer,’ he said regretfully. ‘It has been a pleasure to get away from the city.’
‘It has that, lad,’ Gimli agreed.
‘But we do not have to leave yet,’ Legolas told them, as he moved reluctantly away from the tree that had been absorbing his attention. ‘We have time to eat – and sing. We can ride back under the stars.’
Gimli grinned. ‘I have a song or two I could teach you, elf,’ he said. ‘I would not want to get you drunk at that feast I have been promising you without your knowing the right words. That would never do.’
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