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One Title: Your Story

A Fairy Tale, Middle-Earth style

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Friends in Small Places

Fast Friends


BeginningsSummary: Legolas and Gimli entered Lothlórien barely on speaking terms, and yet were ‘fast friends’ by the time they left. This story explains how that came about. Bookverse and movieverse combined, rated K+ for references to bodily functions.



It started in darkness, really, in spite of all they say. And for all we thought it would end in darkness, too, who now can tell?

Not that any will hear the full account of it; partly, it is our doing, I think, a wish to save face.

However, the records say that while in Lothlórien, Legolas Thranduilion began taking Gimli, son of Gloin, with him on his walks, so that by the time the company left, ‘they had become fast friends’.

I had neither wish, nor intention of befriending him, to my shame. And on his part, well, his own father had been my father’s guest – in our dungeons. One could hardly wonder, either, given the history of elves and dwarves, that there was no love lost between us to begin with.

Throughout the journey, we had kept to ourselves, as much as we might. The other races – men, hobbits, each had at least one other of their kind to talk to. I had a sort of friend, at least, in Aragorn, who was familiar with the ways of elvenkind. But Gimli? He had no-one. He needed no-one, it seemed. He had his axe and his taciturnity and neither, wanted, nor encouraged friends.

I think, had Gandalf not been there, matters would have been less easy… there, you see, I had almost forgot. For all he resembled a man, Gandalf, too, was unique amongst us.

Driven into the dark of Moria, that was the first inkling I had that the dwarf was not himself hewn of stone, a granite heart beating in his breast. For when he found the tomb of his cousin, he grieved enough.

The elves know grief, of course. I wondered which was worse, to know you are meant to have forever and to see your promise cut short, or to be mortal, to be able to measure and count your years. Which really is more deserving of pity?

I had always thought it was us, the elves.

Until now.

I had seen death, of course, in my forest, how not? But with the Promise of Ilúvatar to diffuse the grief, it lost some of its sting. But I did not know how it was for dwarves.

Or for wizards.

Gandalf fell, in Moria, and we were all bereft, broken by loss. Overwhelmed. Our leader, our unifying force, our peaceweaver, gone.

Gone.

But for Aragorn, I think we would soon all have been gone; he rallied us, bullied us, forced us on and, at last, I at least was starting to feel safe, for there were trees again, there on the hems of the skirts of fair Lothlórien.

And as some of the horror began to recede from my heart I started to see the reality of the tragedy that is allegedly a gift; my companions’ mortality, or, rather, their response to the mortality of others. They were always intended to be brief, temporary. So it was hardly surprising that they projected their own fears onto the loss of Gandalf.

I could not believe he was dead, myself. But – he was still lost to us.

I realised, as I heard the hobbits weep and try to talk, that for all they were familiar with death, still, they could not believe he was dead, either.

At last we had to halt, and alongside of my grief I harboured a secret joy; we had stopped beside the fair river Nimrodel and we would have to cross.

I announced my intention to bathe my feet, odd as it seemed to my companions, but knowing the healing these waters could bring. Even to the dwarf, in whom I had so recently learned a capacity for grief that had surprised me. Now, where once I would have said surly and indifferent, he seemed to me stoic, silent and enduring, rather than simply private.

I wondered if my father had perhaps been mistaken about dwarves all these long years. Certain is it, we know the dwarves have been wrong about elves.

Pretending it was for the hobbits, I sang a part of the Lay of Nimrodel, in Westron, as Lindir of Rivendell had made it, knowing the healing worth of these songs, even when given by an amateur rather than a minstrel.

Presently, we sought the shelter of the trees, and even as I reached up into the branches, even as I knew the tree and it knew me, I heard the voice.

‘Daro!’

Kinsmen. Galadhrim, so, distant kinsmen, true. But elves, nevertheless. Safety, for the moment.

It has been recorded elsewhere how we spent the night up in the trees, which I found comforting but which our poor hobbits found distressing. Also elsewhere, the blindfolding of the dwarf, of all of us, myself included, elf and kinsman though I was. I protested, it was expected. But as we stopped for the night, I heard the song of the trees around me, the whispers of the grass, and my reverie was free of worry.

During the next march, our eyes were uncovered, and then I was glad I had been blindfolded, for Lothlórien presented herself in radiance like a gift. From behind me, so softly I doubt any of the others heard, Samwise muttered.

‘Well, and that’s a right eye-opener, so to speak. It’s like your birthday when they cover your eyes and then, Ta-Dah!! Surprise! There’s a party waiting for you…’

His simple expression of so similar a sentiment to my own made me smile to myself all the way round to the gates and then on to our meeting with the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, our hosts and the keepers of Lothlórien.

The Lady of the Wood looked into us all, and who knew what she saw in the others? I only knew that she almost broke my heart, if not my resolve, and when the company talked later, we learned we all had been tested, in some private, intimate way.

That night, they raised a pavilion for us with couches spread, and tired as we were, in as sorry a state as we were, still we were comforted.

***

It happened in the night.

To this day, I do not know which of them did it. All evidence pointed to one of the hobbits; no, to one of two of the hobbits; Frodo would not have had the heart, and Sam would have found it disrespectful. So perhaps Merry, probably Pippin.

Whomever – and I say Pippin, Gimli says Merry – there could be no doubt that they would have been unaware of what they had started.

As I lay down on the couch there was a heaviness in my bones that was borne of the despair of loss and grief, and the cool testing of Galadriel. To see – to know – to fear – that my father would be so hard-pressed, and I away, far away… yet what could one bow and two knives do amongst the hundreds being pitted against the thousands? So I cast myself down, seeking the song of the trees through my grief, not noticing that the head of my couch and the head of another, presently unoccupied, were very close together.

I woke – I came out of reverie, that is - with a jolt, and felt something snag my hair as there was a loud snore from nearby. Whilst I was trying to discover what had tugged my head, came the noise again. I sat up, stifling a curse as my scalp sang with swift, sharp pain, and the occupant of the adjacent couch gave a yell and also attempted to move. I found myself pulled towards him and I saw what had happened even as Gimli – for it was he – began to swear and protest.

‘Sweet Eru, Dwarf, can you not be silent? You’ll wake the company!’ I said urgently.

‘What have you done to me, you villainous elf? Oh, my hair! My beard!’

I crawled from my bed and reluctantly drew nearer, taking the pressure off my scalp as I was finally in a position to examine my hair.

‘We have been victims of a prank, Master Dwarf,’ I said. ‘Whilst we rested, someone has braided our hair together. And they have included your beard.’

‘What…? Well, better cut our way free, then – don’t mind the loss of hair, but mind my beard… pass me one of those knives of yours…’

‘Do not even think about it!’ I spat. ‘Or else I will cut my way free by taking your head off your shoulders, even if it means I must carry it around with me in a bag…’

A low chuckle interrupted what could have rapidly grown into a violent argument. We looked over – tried to look over – at the sound.

Aragorn sat looking back at us, a half smile on his face, glinting in his eyes.

‘This is not amusing,’ I hissed.

Gimli nodded, then growled as the motion jarred us both.

‘Will you keep still, Master Dwarf?’

‘Will you still your noise, Elf?’

‘Come, now!’ Aragorn got to his feet and walked round the couches to crouch at our backs. ‘You two need to relax.’

‘Relax?’ Gimli demanded. ‘When I’m all tangled up in an elvish enchantment?’

‘It was not my doing!’

‘I think it’s more like hobbit mischief than elf magic,’ Aragorn said. ‘You’re well and truly stuck fast, my friends, first braided together and then your tormentor has dripped wax over the whole of the lower portion of the braid…’

‘What?’ I was horrified. ‘But – oh… the damage… Aragorn, please! Hot water, quickly!’

He chuckled again.

‘Oh, I do not think so! I think this is just what we need, a little light relief. Seeing you two tied together by the hair in the morning is bound to brighten our hobbits, at least a little.’

‘And I do not doubt our other Man will be delighted, too,’ Gimli muttered.

‘Come; try, at least for now. Perhaps it’s what you need, to understand one another a little better, to spend more time together. Now, go to sleep!’

‘I need a comfort break first,’ I said.

‘Oh, wonderful!’ Gimli threw his hands into the air. ‘I suppose I have to accompany you to the latrines?’

‘There is always my offer to remove your hair at the neck,’ I said, getting to my feet and holding the braids close to my head to ease the pressure.

‘Ai-oi! Steady on there! A plague on elvish bladders! Now, a dwarf, on the other hand, can go a full sun-round without the need…’

Listening to a diatribe on the endurance of dwarven bladders was rather off-putting, and the dwarvish comments on other aspects of the process were hardly fit for polite company, but nevertheless I was presently comfortable again and once more we settled on our couches, now drawn even closer together to minimise the discomfort of our respective heads being tugged.

I was on the brink of reverie when I was brought back by a pull on the braid.

‘Hey, Elf! Legolas!’

‘What now, Master Dwarf?’

‘My turn.’

‘Your turn?’ I sat up too swiftly, causing us both to wince. ‘And what of the legendary capacity of dwarven bladders?’

‘Doesn’t work so well when we’ve been drinking Elvish wine. Stuff’s so insipid the body can’t wait to be rid of it.’

‘Ah. Why did you not say so before?’

‘Didn’t need to before. Do now. Come on, get a move on! In urgent need, here!’

And so we went through the whole performance, so to speak, again, with the exception that I did not comment about any aspects of the procedure, instead holding to a dignified silence and keeping to myself the new knowledge that, yes, it looked as if we elves were definitely the more blessed of the Children of Ilúvatar.

By the time we regained our couches, we had more-or-less learned how to walk without snagging the braid. It entailed walking close to one another, as if we were confidants, and the disparity in heights meant I sometimes had to tip my head down. But our braid rode between us, the light gold of my hair lifting the darker strands of his, so that it was as if I, through my hair, was leading a child by the hand. A very unlovely, sweary child, but nevertheless…

There was not much left of the night, and even though the dwarf was muttering about tiredness, and the lumpiness of the beds, I was glad to try to relax into reverie once more.

Laughter brought me out of reverie, laughter and cursing. The laughter was from Merry and Pippin, and the profanity, of course, from the dwarf.

‘Look at this, Master Frodo,’ I heard Samwise exclaim. ‘There’s been some mischief in the night and no mistake!’

‘Mischief indeed,’ Aragorn said. ‘Our hosts left food for us; come and eat, you two. If you can move.’

I would not normally have sat beside the dwarf; Aragorn being a sort of friend, I had usually placed myself near him, or with Frodo and Sam, whose interest in all things elvish did, at least, form a subject of conversation. But today, perforce, Gimli was my very close neighbour.

He grumbled about the food, which made it seem all the better to me. There was not enough meat, and the bread was too fluffy, not substantial enough. And the water was nice, yes, but it was water and was there no ale here?

‘At breakfast?’ I asked.

‘Why not?’ he retorted.

Presently, I had finished eating, but had to wait, of course, for Gimli to finish his own meal. Aragorn watched with weary amused eyes, seeing my impatience. Oh, I know – I am an elf, I have forever, what is a quarter hour more or less? All I would say to you, is – spend that quarter hour with one who is determined to find fault with everything and who blames you by association, and you will see.

‘Would you care to come for a walk with me, Master Dwarf?’ I asked, not particularly loudly, but clearly enough that Aragorn and at least one of the hobbits had heard me. ‘For I have long wished to wander amongst the trees of Lothlórien, famed in song amongst the elves of the Greenwood.’

Gimli glanced across under darkling brows. For all his uncouthness, his swearing and his dislike of all things elven, he was no fool, and he must have realised that to refuse such a polite and wistful request would sound churlish. He must also have realised that I knew it, too. He made a guttural sound deep in his throat – oh, sweet Eru, he was about to start growling again…

Except his shoulders heaved and he let out a series of short, loud laughs.

‘Oh, Master Elf, what pretty words you use! Aye, I’ll take you walking, if you wish.’

‘That was not quite what I meant, but I thank you.’

‘Not what you meant? Well, there’s just the one strand of my hair and beard in the braid – that means my hair is stronger and I’m in charge…’

‘Really? Yet I am taller, and with two of the three strands, I – and my hair – outnumber you…’

‘Just go for your walk, you two,’ Aragorn said. ‘And try not to start another conflict; we have enough on our plates at the moment…’

We set off, side-by-side. I set a slow pace, reigning in my eagerness to run through the long, bright grass from sheer joy with difficulty. Even in winter the sward was long and verdant and enticing.

‘Where are we off to, then?’ Gimli grumbled.

‘Back to where we can see Cerin Amroth. You will remember the song of Nimrodel? Well, the stories tell that Amroth lived here, in a flet high in the tree…’

He made a humphing sound, unimpressed.

‘It always strikes me as sad,’ I went on. ‘Nimrodel wanted somewhere she could live in peace with Amroth, and so was lost, travelling to the Havens. Had she been content to trust Amroth to keep her safe, perhaps their story would have been happier. Who now can say?’

‘I say it sounds as if your precious elf-lady should have been a bit less demanding, then she wouldn’t have got herself lost!’

‘And you think so, really? I have heard that dwarven ladies are far harder to please, and often will eschew all offers of courtship simply from pique…’

‘Aye? And what would you know about it, you lightweight, pointy-eared, judgemental…’

Judgemental? It was he who began it! But for the sake of harmony, I bit back an angry retort; I did not wish to disturb the peace of Lothlórien.

‘So much of what we elves hear of dwarves is rumour and report; my knowledge, such as it is, comes only from the gossip of men from Lake Town,’ I said softly. ‘I would be happy to learn more; if I am wrong, I am ready to be corrected.’

‘It will be the first time an elf listened to a dwarf…’

‘Then let us make history, you and I.’

‘You would not hear me properly; you would simply laugh and make a song of it.’

‘It is true, it is our way to preserve matters in song, for it is how we record the emotion of a story as well as the words. But I assure you, the elves of the Greenwood do not make light of serious matters, unlike, perhaps, some of those in other settlements. Come, Master Dwarf. Explain to me, and I promise I will neither make a song of it, nor laugh.’

And so, as we walked through the fragrant grass towards where I could look back towards Cerin Amroth, Gimli talked and I listened as he explained how there were few dwarf women, and many preferred their craft to marriage, and how dwarves themselves were often too preoccupied with their work to consider family life. I must confess to becoming a little lost amongst all the intricacies of who was related to whom and what the implications of that was for potential choice of spouse, but if there is one thing I have learned at the court of my father, it is to listen politely under extreme duress.

‘I think I see,’ I said finally. ‘It is not, then, that dwarven women are difficult to please, more that they – all dwarves – take marriage so seriously that they prefer to wait, to be certain, than to make a mistake.’

‘Simply put, laddie, but pretty much.’

‘As do elves, for that matter. So our two kinds have that in common, at least, that we both value love too well to treat it lightly.’

We reached the foot of a lush hill and began to climb slowly up. Around our feet a few golden stars of elanor glittered - nowhere near as many as on Cerin Amroth – and the tall stems of the pale niphredil waved delicately in the breeze.

Gimli sneezed.

‘Damn weeds,’ he said, and the brief moment of common understanding was over. ‘Wonder how long we’re going to be stuck here…’

I speeded up the hill, determined to ignore the grumbling and take as much pleasure in the place as possible. It did, after all, look across to where Amroth the king had lived, and I felt part of a living story. For me, who until very recently had not known for certain that any of my distant kin still lived in Lothlórien, it was almost magical.

I sat on the slope looking down, so that my unwilling companion had to sit also. The air was beautiful, soft and clear, timeless and fragrant and I felt myself relax, almost forgetting the indignity of being joined at the hair to a dwarf when a tug on the braid startled me back to alertness.

‘Yes, Gimli?’

‘How long are we going to sit here? This ground is damp and I am not quite as waterproof as I would like… seems like a daft place to stop for a rest…’

‘But it is beautiful! The vista… the landscape flowing, the greens and golds and whites…’

‘Damp.’

I sighed.

‘You do not like the food, you do not like the water, you grumbled about the beds being hard, the grass is too green, the ground is damp… you do not like the wine, although you drank enough of it… is there anything about Lothlórien that you do not dislike, Master Dwarf?’

He scowled for so long that I thought I had offended him again.

‘Actually, yes, there is,’ he said. ‘The Lady of the Wood. I thought I was looking at an enemy, and saw only compassion in her eyes, not hate.’

‘And you like her for that?’

‘Aye.’

I turned my head as well as I could to look at the dwarf, seeing him with fresh eyes.

‘And what are you staring at now, laddie?’

‘A different person from the one I thought I was looking at. Gimli, many people who find compassion in someone they expected to hate would be angry at being denied a reason to carry on with their hatred.’

He laughed.

‘That’s true enough. It can be hard indeed to know when to stop the old suspicions. Come on. Too damp to stop here any longer. I need to get my bones moving again. And no doubt you’ll be needing a little comfort break…’

‘I? I am fine… perhaps the legendary endurance of dwarves is rather more legendary than factual after all in this respect…?’

‘It’s probably the damp.’

***

We went back to the pavilion at lunchtime and endured the amused looks from Boromir and the light-hearted teasing of Merry and Pippin in dignified silence.

At least, I did. The dwarf was not so reticence.

‘I’d like to see you two tangled together by the hair and forced to get along!’ Gimli said, glowering at Pippin.

‘Oh, we know all about it,’ Pippin answered. ‘Only it wasn’t braids that tied us together. Me and Merry fell asleep in the Green Dragon one evening…’

‘It had been a long day,’ Merry corroborated. ‘And I must have just put my head down on the table for a minute…’

‘And the next thing we knew, they’re calling time, and we gets up to move and someone had fastened our belts together. So when Merry went to go one way and I went the other, we crashed down over the bench…’

‘Knocking one of the lesser Bracegirdles flying amongst the pots…’ Merry added.

‘We were barred. For two whole days.’ Pippin finished. ‘Still, at least we were able to undo our belts easy enough.’

‘Well, I think our elf and dwarf look rather sweet. Like two children told to stay together so they don’t get lost,’ Boromir said. ‘And for certain we will not lose you, so odd a pair are you together… a bearded child in the care of a wisp of a guardian…’

Although the sentiment was not much different from my own previous thought, it was expressed rather mockingly, I thought. There was something in Boromir’s tone that sounded high-handed and patronising, something sharp in his eye that suggested he would enjoy provoking the dwarf. And, if the dwarf was going to be giving out negative emanations of anger and rage, it was bound to upset my peace of mind.

‘So where was it you wanted to drag me off to this afternoon?’ Gimli said loudly. ‘And if it’s such a long way, shouldn’t we set off now?’

He jumped up, snagging my hair, and I hurried to my feet. Of course, I hadn’t suggested going any such expedition, but all he was trying to do, I realised, was avoid staying where we would be the butt of everyone’s jokes. And perhaps he was right; it was much better to take ourselves away from the company and wait out the time until we could surreptitiously free ourselves from our braided chain in as much privacy as possible.

‘I thought you might like to see the talans,’ I said. ‘And the ground will be less damp, as we climb.’

I did not speak again until we were out of earshot of the company.

‘How long does Aragorn want us to be like this?’ I sighed. ‘Just to raise the spirits of the company?’

‘Aye, it seems a hard burden to bear.’ Gimli paused for a moment and then guffawed his big, hearty laugh.

‘What’s amused you?’ I asked.

‘Well,’ he said. ‘It could have been worse. One of us could have woken up braided to Boromir.’

***

If you consult the histories of the time, they will say only that I spent much of my time amongst the Galadhrim and often took Gimli with me – not that, perforce, we were chained together at the head. For this I am most grateful, and I think Gimli is, too. Besides, at such a moment of seriousness, to have to report such an apparently frivolous episode would have spoiled the narrative, I think.

That afternoon, as I wandered in peace with my attached companion beside me, now grumbling, now asking almost intelligent questions, we found a point of truce, although neither of us would have admitted it; it was us against the rest of the company, and we began to consider whether or not we could be allies against them.

We walked through the trees, pausing here and there so that I could lay my hand on the bark of a mallorn and sense its gentle energy, he muttering away to himself, until we had gone far into the woods, following a stream that chuckled and gurgled between the trees.

‘Can we sit?’ he asked.

‘Of course. But here, near to the stream, I am afraid the ground might be too damp…’ I glanced around, seeking alternatives and spotted a flat platform peeking through the golden leaves of a nearby mallorn. ‘I promised you a talan. Would you like to climb up?’

‘No, and I thank you. Don’t want to intrude on any of the Galadhrim.’

Laughing voices came down from the canopy where I had seen the flet. I could only be glad they did not speak in the common tongue, or I fear Gimli would have been up into the talan like a squirrel up a tree, only with deadly intent and axes drawn.

‘Tell your little friend that we would not brook intrusion in any case; we have our own matters to discuss.’

‘Although it is very wise of you to keep him close, as humans do with their tame canines so they do not frighten other creatures!’

‘What was all that about?’ he asked.

Never since my father had ordered to me to be as insulting as possible to the father of the dwarf at my side had I heard such rudeness from elven mouths; I wondered if the Lady Galadriel knew how her elves comported themselves when she was not listening.

I should have realised, of course – as should the impolite elves above – that Galadriel was always listening.

For the sake of dignity, of not having the dwarf explode in rage and amuse the two invisible Galadhrim further, I paraphrased.

‘They say we would not be interested in their idle gossip, and that they are glad I am showing you around.’

‘Ah. Because it sounded less than friendly to me.’

‘I do not know how it is with dwarves,’ I said, heading away from the talan and seeking higher, drier ground, ‘but with elves we are of several kinds. Simply because I am an elf does not mean I am like these Galadhrim. You have seen Lord Elrond and his folk; they are Noldor. And those who came with me to Rivendell, they are Silvan. While the Lord of the Golden Wood greeted me as a distant kinsman, we Sindar of the Greenwood are, I assure you, very different from these elves.’

We were some way from the talan now, and I was pretty sure we were out of earshot of the insolent elves.

‘So it was an insult, then?’

‘I do not know the ways of these elves,’ I said, hoping to silence him.

‘Aye. An insult. And, considering the way you spoke to my father once, it must have been a pretty bad one…’

‘Oh look, there is a seat beside the little waterfall over there. Somewhere dry for you to sit…’

‘Aye,’ he repeated. ‘It must have been pretty bad…’

We gained the seat. After a few moments in which I silently contemplated the beauty of the cascade and pondered the ever-flowing channels of energy in the world, Gimli broke the silence.

‘Concerning the harsh words between yourself and my father…’

‘It was long ago and I was younger then. Foolish, unwise, ungentle with my words to other races… there were standard orders to be discouraging with strangers…’

‘Yet he remembers you saved his life. The lives of all of them. I was but going to say that I am glad he had lived to be insulted by a blonde pointy-eared pretty boy rather than become spider soup…’

‘Pointy-eared pretty boy?’ I echoed.

He guffawed.

‘So, I am repaid in full for the words you said when you looked at the picture my father carried…’

‘Well, if that will satisfy you… all I can say is you do not seem to have had much practice at insulting elves…’

‘I’ve never really had the opportunity, laddie.’

‘I apologise,’ I said. ‘For my words to your father concerning yourself and your mother.’

‘Don’t worry over it,’ he said with a grin I could only just make out through the beard. ‘I’m sure the rest of our journey will give me chance to work on my elf-offending skills.’

I laughed, grateful he was prepared to let the matter rest there, and we sat in silence for a few moments more, contemplating the gentle voice of the cascade.

‘Strange thing, the sound of running water,’ he said. ‘Always seems to connect straight with my kidneys…’

‘And once more the legendary capacity of dwarves is proven to be just that,’ I sighed. ‘A legend of unfounded magnificence. Come on. We are a long way from the latrines but there is a conveniently thick thicket yonder.’

Presently, once my companion was comfortable again, we wandered through the trees towards the crown of the hill.

‘So, what do you know about the wonderful queen of the woods, then?’ Gimli asked.

‘Not much, to my regret. As I have said, my kin were kin to Celeborn, long ago. In truth, Aragorn seems to know more of Lothlórien and its inhabitants than I, loath though I am to admit it. But the stories are that Lady Galadriel went to the Undying Lands, and chose to sail back to Middle Earth, for adventure’s sake, and that she met Lord Celeborn equally long ago.’

‘Well, she doesn’t look old; she is very lovely, and her words gentle with me when I did not expect such courtesy. And she seemed very knowing, somehow.’

‘She is reputed in legend to have great wisdom… and I do not mean the same kind of legend in which dwarven attributes feature, Gimli!’ I added hastily.

He laughed, and to my surprise, another voice joined in, low and merry, and the Lady herself stepped forward through the trees.

‘Well met, Thranduilion, and Master Gimli,’ she said. ‘I hear you do not find quite everything in my woods to your liking.’

‘Ooh.’ Gimli stopped bowed low, almost pulling me off-balance. ‘I’d say it’s growing on me, your majesty… my lady… um…’

She laughed again, her voice clear and joyful.

‘Come, walk with me a little,’ she said. ‘For we have many ancestors in common, and I know it will delight you to speak of them as much as it will please me to hear of them. Oh, but Legolas! You will perhaps not be quite so eager for such a discussion.’

‘Whatever pleases you, my lady,’ I said. ‘But I must perforce be your companion, whether welcome or not, at present.’

‘Yes, I heard the tale of the prank in the night.’ She reached out to lift the tangled braid and laid it on her palm to cover it with her other hand. Her lips moved silently, and when she dropped her hands we found ourselves disentangled, unencumbered, separate. ‘There! What mischief has joined together, I have now put asunder. You are free to go your separate ways once more, and your hair, Legolas – and your fine beard, Gimli – are quite undamaged.’

I bowed and offered thanks.

‘If you will excuse me, then, I will be glad to leave you to your walk. Good day to you.’

‘Or,’ Gimli said, ‘you could tag along behind. You never know, you might learn something.’

‘You do not need a chaperone, surely?’ I said. ‘I have no wish to intrude.’

‘But you would not be intruding,’ Galadriel said. ‘And, besides, there are some Galadhrim I wish to embarrass – they were very impolite to you earlier, to both of you, and y]our walking together will forewarn them that they are in serious trouble.’

‘What exactly did they say? Gimli asked, holding back for a moment.

‘I forget,’ I lied.

We took gentle paths back the way we had come, Gimli and the Lady talking easily like old friends, but not forgetting me entirely, so that more than once Galadriel would say: ‘That was in the time of your great-grandfather, Legolas,’ or ‘I remember hearing how your father fought, so bravely, when his own father fell…’ so that I did not feel excluded.

And as the afternoon wore on, more and more, it seemed, Galadriel would raise a topic, and Gimli would begin to talk, and the Lady would find a point of relevance to my own forest, or family, or habits, and encourage me to offer my opinion, so that by the end of the walk, when we neared the ring of trees around the pavilion once more, the dwarf and I were talking freely and easily and finding more in common than we could ever have expected.

‘So here I will bid you farewell for the moment, my friends,’ she said. ‘Now all you need to cement your friendship is to have a battle contest together, and a drinking contest together. We will speak again before you leave, both of you, and I.’

***

I may have been mistaken, but it seemed to me that while the rest of the company were glad to see Gimli and I disunited once more, Boromir was less than delighted.

‘That did not take long!’ he exclaimed. ‘And which of you made the sacrifice? Legolas, it looks as if your delicate tresses are intact… and as for our good dwarf’s splendid beard…’

Came a growl, harsh and fearl. Everyone looked over at where Gimli and I were sitting. The dwarf shrugged.

‘Don’t look at me; I’m not the one snarling…’

Ah. I tried to pretend I had only been clearing my throat.

‘Our friends are untethered again, does it matter how?’ Aragorn asked.

‘I care not.’ Boromir shrugged. ‘I still think it was a lot of fuss over nothing – a few moments’ work with a knife…’

Gimli got to his feet.

‘Did you say something about a glade you thought I might like, Legolas?’ he asked casually. ‘Flowers, or something?’

‘Indeed,’ I answered, picking up the same casual tone.

‘Oh, and so now our brave dwarf is off to look at the flowers!’ Boromir laughed. ‘And with an elf, no less!’

‘May we join you?’ Frodo asked, an impulsive note to his voice. ‘Sam is a keen gardener, but, as you know, would not think to put himself forward…’

‘Aye,’ Gimli said, a twinkle of amusement in his eye. ‘The flowers grow for everyone, do they not? Why not, then?’

‘Can we come?’ Pippin asked. ‘Me and Merry?’

‘You would be welcome,’ I said.

‘It is not often one has the chance to look at the blooms of Lothlórien these days,’ Aragorn said. ‘I’ll make up the party, Pippin. Just to keep you and Merry from mischief.’

We set off, leaving Boromir in solitary splendour in the pavilion. Once we were well out of mortal’s earshot, I turned to Gimli – at my side once more, although no longer through necessity.

‘Which flowers were you wanting to look at?’

He shrugged.

‘I don’t know, those white ones that made me sneeze, does it matter?’ He glared at the four hobbits and Aragorn. ‘I hope you were not all hoping for a botany lesson – I just wanted to get away from that insufferable, closed-minded, high-handed…’

‘And you think I didn’t?’ Aragorn said with a grin. ‘With all due respect to the flora of Lothlórien, and the undoubted interest of some of the party, I must confess I myself merely wished to distance myself from the opinions of our stalwart Man of Gondor!’

We walked in comfortable silence for a good while until I finally found some niphredil for everyone to look at. Sam had more questions than I had answers concerning it, of course.

‘I do not know the plant’s habit,’ I said with regret. ‘I only know that it still blooms in our songs, far away in the Greenwood.’

Perhaps something in my tone alerted the Dwarf; possibly our enforced proximity, brief though it had been, making us both more aware of the other’s mood. Or it may simply have been a lucky guess. Whatever the reason, while the four hobbits examined the niphredil, and Aragorn lounged against a tree, Gimli sought me out.

‘Never fear, laddie,’ he said. ‘Your father and all his fierce elves, and mine and our doughty dwarves… if there’s any orc-trouble back home, they’ll soon see them off between them, you see if they don’t.’

‘Dwarves and elves fighting side-by-side,’ I said. ‘Who would have thought it?’

‘Me, never!’ Gimli admitted. ‘Not before Moria, at least. I saw you had my back, laddie.’

‘Only because you had mine,’ I said. ‘It would have been ill-mannered not to.’

***

As we returned to the pavilion, the evening meal was being laid. Generally, those serving us had been discreet, leaving us to ourselves out of courtesy. But this time, they stayed, the two laying the meal approaching Gimli and me, and a third, who was obviously in charge of them, watching as they bowed and, in stilted, learned-by-rote common speech, offered an apology in voices I recognised from the flet high in the trees earlier.

‘For although it is our way to be wary of strangers, we need reminding it is also not our way to be rude to them. How may we make amends?’

‘Well, you can start by providing some decent ale at breakfast,’ Gimli said. ‘And as for the wine you serve at other times, are you sure we’re getting the best stuff?’

‘All will be as you request,’ the observing elf said, stepping forward and bowing. ‘And these two are off to perform latrine duty now for a moon’s round to give them time to consider the wisdom of being polite to strangers.’

Probably with the fuss of the apologising elves, we didn’t notice until later that someone was missing. Frodo noticed first.

‘Where is Boromir?’ he asked.

‘Can’t say I care, especially,’ Gimli said. ‘After all, he’s no loss at present.’

‘You put me in a difficult position,’ Aragorn said. ‘I feel I should defend him, explain something of Boromir’s situation. But I must confess, I would find it hard to do at the moment. Well, he will come back when he is hungry, no doubt.’

We were talking about settling for the night when the elf who had overseen the apology earlier came to us.

‘Your pardon,’ he said with a bow. ‘But I think you are missing a companion?’

‘Indeed we are,’ Aragorn replied.

‘Well, he is found. Perhaps you will come and see?’

Of course, we all went to see.

He led us into the quieter, darker areas of the forest, not far from the latrines, explaining as we went.

‘You, Legolas, will know many matters concerning spiders and woodlands. We have our own species here, much smaller than those of Mirkwood, of course, their bodies hardly larger than the eye of a daisy… but it is the time of year when these spiders form colonies for the winter, and they weave their webs together, making them stronger than usual. They are known for stringing these webs across pathways and open spaces to capture the ground insects that come out in the cooler weather.’

We began to hear voices now, the insulting elves and Boromir, from the direction of the latrines, and arrived to find the aftermath of an incident…

It appeared that our Man of Gondor had been on his way for a comfort break when he had fallen foul of one of the webs and land in one of the more unsavoury areas, stunning himself in the process. Then, while he lay unconscious in the mire, the colony of spiders had come to wrap their apparent pray in more webs, his head and hair coming in for particular attention.

Waking with a headache in such noxious circumstances, Boromir had called for aid and the elves had hastened to his side. Now they were attempting to raise him and becoming increasingly besplattered themselves in the process.

I had to admit it gave me the most wonderful sense of justice.

‘As well as the Man’s friends, I have brought hithlain,’ the elf with us said, casting out a rope. ‘I suggest once you are free, that you all visit the cascade and wash.’ He turned back towards us again. ‘I do hope your Man does not place any ritual or spiritual significance to his hair, for it will be nigh impossible to completely wash out the webs, and then, considering where he fell, also…’

‘Oh, I do not think so,’ I said as with a sucking plop Boromir was hauled free and stood, dripping and sticky and glowering… and listening. ‘He is certainly quite cavalier concerning the hair of other races.’

Gimli and I watched in satisfaction as the elves led Boromir away towards the cascade. My companion laughed quietly to himself, and I tried not to smirk; it was undignified, unbefitting to an elf.

But that did not stop me from a certain gentle enjoyment.

When Boromir was returned to our camp, much cleaner and with rather shorter hair, Gimli and I were surprised when he came over and sat near our couches.

‘So I suppose you’re happy now?’ he said.

‘No,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ Gimli replied, possibly with more honesty.

‘I do not know how it is with dwarves,’ I said, ‘or with men. But to an elf, our hair is connected with our identity. Our braids can tell our marital status, our warrior achievements, which company we fight in, our family allegiance, our stage of life. To cut the hair is tantamount to saying that we do not recognise our history, our sense of self. Even to lose a few strands to be free of a braid made in jest would have damaged my self-respect.. I know it was done in innocence, however, and so I bear no grudge.’

‘And with dwarves, it is similar,’ Gimli said. ‘Since elves do not have beards, and men seem unable to achieve proper ones, we don’t expect understanding from less-blessed races. But back home, mess with my beard and I’ll have your hand off, if not your arm. Or your head.’

‘I can see we have much to learn from each other,’ Aragorn said, coming to stand near us. ‘And, hearing this, it is to be hoped you bear no ill-will to whomever performed this prank?’

I shrugged.

‘How could they know, unless they were an elf, or a dwarf?’

‘What the elf said,’ Gimli growled. ‘But… they know now. And I know they know now so if anything else happens…’

***

It didn’t of course. And for all the long road that lay ahead of us, Gimli and I were barely parted, except in the heat of battle. At Helm’s Deep, there we had our first battle contest, and I was glad to cede Gimli the victory… and, since I won the drinking contest, it was fair enough.

So there we were, at the point of battle again, perhaps the last one, who could say? And I was daydreaming, wool-gathering... no. No, spending my last moments before the fray with memory and contemplation, ever my friends and companions of old. Many days had passed since Boromir was alive, and taunting me and Gimli about our braid, and almost as many since Gandalf returned to us.

And so we stood on a hill, at the end of all things, and I thought of beginnings.

At my side the dwarf muttered something.

‘Never thought I'd die fighting side by side with an elf…’

In spite of the tension of the moment, I smiled.

‘What about side by side with a friend?’ I said.

Gimli looked up. ‘Aye, I could do that,’ he said.

And then the blur of battle, and far away the hobbit Frodo managed to destroy the Ring of Power, and Mordor fell, and the ground shook…

Somehow, we came through it all, as did our friendship.

Our friendship, which began with a prank.

And we still do not know who did it.

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