Dwarves and Elves
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Telling of Tales, The: 2. Chapter 2
Turning, he made his way back to the nest of blankets where Legolas rested. The June nights were chilly, and a fire and blanket were still welcome. Burrowing under the covers next to the elf, he leaned back against a sturdy log and stole a quick look at Legolas’s face. He looked a lot better than he had earlier.
Gimli had managed to eventually coax the elf down from the rise, and slowly along the path back to the house. The whole way, Legolas had been unresponsive and unresisting, moving mechanically beside the dwarf, eyes dull and far away. The gulls had circled above the entire time, driving Gimli into a near fit of rage. He had even hurled stones up at them in an attempt to drive them off, but they were much too high for him to reach.
Settling the elf on the hearth and wrapping him in a blanket, Gimli had moved through the house, shutting doors and windows to try to block out the sound of the birds. He then sat behind Legolas on a small wooden stepstool to cradle him between his legs. The elf always seemed to become strangely chilled during one of these attacks. He held him close, sharing the heat and strength of his solid body, hoping to remind Legolas through physical touch of his link to Middle Earth. There they had stayed, as the hours passed and as the sun dipped below the horizon and twilight stole across the meadows. The gulls had finally left at sunset, flying into the west with the setting sun
It had been a particularly strong attack of sea longing, an affliction that Legolas suffered from on and off ever since he had first heard the call of the seabirds at Pelargir, before the battle at Pelennor Fields in the War of the Ring. Gimli feared that one day it would become too much for Legolas to bear and the elf would leave, sailing west to the Undying Lands where only his kind could go, unable to stand the ache of longing any more. Leaving Gimli alone to eat out his heart with grief.
Gimli had been sitting for what seemed like forever, brooding silently in the dusk, when he felt the first signs of returning awareness in Legolas. A deep breath and then another, more felt than heard as the elf’s ribs expanded against his encircling arms, and then the tense body had relaxed suddenly into Gimli’s embrace. He looked down as Legolas’s head fell back against his shoulder and their eyes met, the elf’s both weary and sad, but clear again and focused on the here and now, and he had felt a relief so strong that it made him momentarily light-headed.
He had managed to convince Legolas to eat a little, and they had shared the stew and a small salad. The bread had burned past saving, long forgotten in the oven. Gimli had maintained a steady but light conversation, speaking of his journey there, the daily doings in Aglarond, and other matters of minor import, trying to draw Legolas from his torpor. But the elf had only replied in monosyllables, still obviously struggling to regain himself, and Gimli had eventually lapsed into a sad silence.
He had been just considering putting the elf to bed, when Legolas abruptly roused himself, moving from the kitchen table with a suddenness that had startled the dwarf, and pacing through the room with quick nervous strides. He had crossed to the hearth to where their weapons leaned together against the wall, and picking up Gimli’s axe, turned it over in his hands, running his fingers over the contours of blade and handle. And just as suddenly he had expressed his desire to go outside, and disappeared out of the back door and into the night with a speed that had left Gimli blinking in surprise. The dwarf had followed more slowly, collecting the blanket, his tinderbox and flint, and some bottles of ale and wine.
And so they had kindled a fire, and lay together to watch the stars come out one by one as the moon sailed across the sky. Now Gimli felt the elf’s long strong arms come about him and pull him close. Sighing, he wound his own arms about the elf and let his head rest against Legolas’s chest, listening to the slow heartbeat and trying not to think of the loss he knew he might one day face. A slender hand cupped his chin under his beard, and his face was tilted up to meet a pair of bright eyes.
"I’m sorry, Gimli," said Legolas softly, and his fingers lightly traced the lines of care on the dwarf’s face. In response, Gimli lifted himself and bestowed a soft gentle kiss on the elf’s lips.
They lay close together for while in silence, Legolas’s fingers stroking gently through Gimli’s beard. The fire cracked and snapped in the darkness, and the shrill song of the crickets lulled them both into a state of melancholy reflection.
"Gimli…" The dwarf was almost asleep when the soft voice spoke. He lifted his head, and felt Legolas shifting beside him, sliding himself down further and turning so they were lying face to face, foreheads almost touching. Reaching out, he brushed a strand of Legolas’s long fair hair out of his face.
"Gimli," said Legolas again, his voice a mere breath against the dwarf’s lips. "Tell me a story."
Gimli blinked. "Tell you a story?" he repeated, baffled.
"Please." Legolas’s eyes were fixed on his, sparkling and wide. Pleading.
"What kind of story?" said Gimli, feeling at a bit of a loss. Just what was the elf after now?
"Any story. A story of you, of your people, here in Middle Earth…" Here Legolas trailed off, and his gaze became unfocused. Gimli thought he could hear the cry of a gull, not far off, but that was impossible, wasn’t it? Gulls didn’t fly at night…
Gimli cleared his throat briskly, and tightened his arms a little about the elf. "A story, then. Of me, of my people" He cast about in his mind desperately for a story, then remembered other evenings around a fire, long ago in his youth, and tales of wonder and fantastic deeds.
"Hear then, elf, the tale of Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, and defeater of the great dragon Glaurung." He shifted a little on the ground, getting comfortable and pulling the blankets up further around both of them.
"Long ago, in the First Age, Azaghâl the great dwarf lord dwelt with his people in the mountains of Belegost. He was a great and mighty ruler, beloved by his people, and strong was the mountain fastness that he built, in defense against the Dark Lord. Many times did the minions of Morgoth assail his realm, only to break upon his fortress like waves upon a rocky shore…" He grimaced a little at his unfortunate choice of metaphor, and hastily continued.
"And mighty were his warriors, arrayed in bright and fierce armour of their own making, with axes so keen that they could sever an orc’s head from his shoulders as easily as a hot knife slices through butter."
Here he paused, thinking wistfully for a moment of butter, hot and melting on bread fresh from the oven… Sighing, he shook his head and returned to his tale.
"Now Azaghâl was a shrewd dwarf, and he kept his ear to the ground and little escaped his notice." He glared fiercely at Legolas, who was grinning slightly. "There were rumours abroad in the land, rumours of men and elves mustering for an attack against Morgoth, led by an elf who was trying to form a great alliance amongst the peoples of Middle Earth."
"Maedhros," said Legolas quietly, his bright eyes fixed on Gimli’s.
"Yes, him," said Gimli. "Now there was great disharmony amongst the elves at this time; not surprising--you people were always infighting and slaying each other…ACK!" He broke off with a pained cry as Legolas tightened his fingers in Gimli’s beard, giving it a brisk tug.
"As I was saying…" he said sternly, seizing the elf’s wrists to prevent further damage, "there was great disharmony amongst the elves--rumours of treason and threats and dissention, mostly concerning the possession of some fancy stone or other…"
"The Silmaril," supplied Legolas helpfully.
"Yes, that. You’d never catch dwarves acting in such a ridiculous fashion over a mere stone…" He assumed a superior expression, ignoring the elf’s snort of derision.
"And so Azaghâl chose to keep his own counsel, allying himself not with elves or men yet, but day and night his smithies laboured, making weapons and armour of all sorts, including the long coats of bright mail for which the smiths of Belegost were so renowned. For he knew the time for war was coming."
He paused and took a swallow of ale from the bottle he had brought with him, to ease his parched throat.
"One day, the elf Maedhros came to Belegost to plead with Azaghâl to join the alliance of men and elves. You see, he realized the assault on Morgoth would stand no chance without the valiant warriors and vastly superior weapons and armour of the dwarves."
"The Naugrim…" Legolas said, barely audible, then yelped as one of his braids was seized and tugged sharply in turn.
"I’ll thank you not to refer to my people as "stunted", my friend," said Gimli, his voice dangerous. "Or I will gift you with some of the names that we dwarves have for you elves!"
He glowered at the now widely grinning elf, and took another swallow of ale.
"Now Azaghâl felt pity for Maedhros, burdened as he was with undependable allies, fickle men, insufficient weaponry, and lacking the skills or knowledge to remedy this. And so, after counsel with his most trusted advisors, he granted Maedhros his aid, promising many skilled warriors and to outfit the forces of men and elves with suitable armour and weapons. But only on the condition that he himself would remain in control of his own warriors, for he trusted not the leaders of elves and men, and did not wish to be commanded by them."
"And so the fated day came; the day of the assault on Morgoth--and his fortress in Angband."
"Nirnaeth Arnoediad," said Legolas softly, his eyes far away again.
"What?" said Gimli.
"Nirnaeth Arnoediad. It means Unnumbered Tears, for the grief that came that day cannot be contained in any song or tale…"
Gimli rolled his eyes. "If you elves spent as much time doing as you did thinking up fancy names for things, it would be astonishing at how much further advanced you’d be right now." He ducked, chuckling, as Legolas aimed a slap at his head.
"Now should I continue with my tale? And will you stop interrupting?"
"I will try," promised Legolas, smiling.
"The day of the assault upon Angband came. The forces were arrayed to the east and the west, with Maedhros and his people acting as bait to lure the forces of Morgoth out to be crushed between the great armies. But as with so many of the plans laid by elves, this was not to be." He cast a sidelong glance at the elf, who appeared to be clenching his jaw shut against a variety of retorts.
"For Morgoth, through spies and treachery, knew of the plans of his enemies, and strove to beat them at their own game. He sent out a host, seemingly large, but not by any means all of his huge army, and they taunted the elves and men, and drew them out too soon. But fiercely they fought, and bright was their armour and their weapons were keen, made with the all the skill of the dwarves, and thirsty for the blood of the enemy." He paused again to take another drink of ale, only to find the bottle empty. Silently, Legolas proffered his bottle of wine, and after a brief hesitation Gimli took a healthy swallow.
"The day might have been won, if not for the treachery and cowardice of Men. Some men ran away, and others joined the forces of Morgoth, and a hidden host of evil men came down from the hills to assail the allies from behind."
"But worst of all, and most damaging to the elves and men, Morgoth sent out Balrogs and wargs, and of course Glaurung, the father of dragons. With his mighty armour and his firey breath, none could stand against him, and many withered within his flames. Except, of course, Azaghâl and the valiant dwarves of Belegost." Gimli was sitting up now, clutching the nearly empty bottle of wine in his hands. Legolas had rolled to his back, his head resting in Gimli’s lap as he watched the dwarf’s animated face.
"Now Azaghâl and his warriors had fought bravely and wisely up to this point on the eastern front, avoiding being surrounded and slaying many of the enemy. But upon seeing the coming of the dragon, the dwarf lord knew that the true test for the dwarves had come. For dwarves can withstand fire more hardily than either men or elves, and their sturdy, strong forms do not tire easily in battle. And of course the smiths of Belegost had retained the best and strongest armour for the dwarves, and all of Azaghâl’s warriors were outfitted with great battle masks, made of metal and proof against fire, and terrifying to behold." Gimli tone was almost rapturous, and he took another long swallow of wine, draining the bottle and tossing it aside with careless abandon.
"And so at Azaghâl’s command, the warrior dwarves surrounded Glaurung the dragon, and assailed him with their mighty axes. Again and again, the dragon tried to break free of their protective circle, and again and again the dwarves beat him back. And even the dragon’s heavy armour was not protection enough from the great two-handed axes wielded by the dwarves of Belegost. The blows rained down on him in a rhythm born in the forges of the smithies under the mountains of my kin."
A faint sound startled Gimli from his battle lust, and he down into Legolas’s sparkling eyes. "What is it?" he asked, stroking a gentle hand across his brow.
"Nothing," replied Legolas, but his expression was almost reverent. "I am just enjoying the way your eyes are glittering."
"Your eyes are glittering, too," said Gimli, feeling glad beyond words that the elf’s entire attention was now focused on him and his tale. The two smiled widely at each other for a moment before Gimli continued with his narration.
"And so, sorely wounded and maddened by rage and pain, the dragon Glaurung made one last desperate attempt to break free, and rushing at Azaghâl, struck him down and crawled over him, wounding him mortally. But with his last strength, Azaghâl drew his knife, that he crafted in secret himself of the finest steel, and no blade was stronger or could cut as deeply. And this he thrust up deep into the belly of the dragon, wounding him so badly that he fled the field, and all the foul beasts of Angband fled with him. And thus were the elves and men saved that day by the might of the dwarves, for they would all have surely withered and perished in the dragon’s fire."
"Most of them withered and perished anyway," murmured Legolas, his fingers once again playing with Gimli’s beard.
"I am not yet done my tale," returned Gimli sternly. "Now listen. Azaghâl, Lord of Belegost, perished that day beneath the dragon. And the dwarves picked up his body and bore him away from the battle, singing a funeral dirge. None dared stay them, both friend and foe alike, so fierce and terrible were their countenances. They brought him back to his mountain fortress, there to lay him in state in the Great Hall of the dwarves. And upon his breast they laid the Nimphelos, a great pearl the size of a dove’s egg, that shone with the light of the stars. It had been gifted to the dwarves of Belegost by Thingol the elf in thanks for assisiting him in creating his great halls and mansions under the hills of Doriath, and Azaghâl had prized it above all other gems. But they never again found his knife that wounded the great dragon Glaurung, as it was still buried deep within his belly when he fled the battle."
"Glaurung was slain many years later by the man Túrin, and his body was burned by the banks of the river Teiglin," Legolas said softly.
"Mmmm. Mayhap this Túrin found the knife then, in the ashes of the fire," rumbled Gimli.
"Nay. For Túrin killed himself with his own sword, after learning that his beloved sister had cast herself into the roaring torrents of Cabed-en-Aras."
Gimli snorted. "You elves and men! Forever casting yourselves into torrents and chasms. Why, the very bowels of Middle Earth must be stuffed full to bursting with the corpses of your peoples! The next time you come upon a fit of despair, my friend, remind me to keep you away from all precipices and any form of running water…" He broke off, laughing, at the outraged expression on the elf’s face, and roused himself to stir up the fire and add more wood.
Returning, he settled down once again against his log, and Legolas came back into his lap, pulling the blanket up around both of them.
Gimli looked down at the elf’s face as he stared dreamily up at the stars. "Did my story please you?" he asked gruffly.
Legolas smiled. "It did indeed. Although I must wonder at your version of some of the events you described."
"That is how the story was told to me in my youth, by my esteemed elders," said Gimli with great dignity.
"Then far be it from me to question the veracity and honour of your esteemed elders," laughed the elf, then fell silent for a moment. "Would you like me to sing you a story of my people?"
The dwarf groaned. "Why must all your tales be set in song?" he groused, although they both knew he loved to hear Legolas’s clear tenor.
"They are not! We have many spoken word tales. Come, let me tell you the story of Lúthien and Beren."
"Lúthien and Beren?" Gimli pretended to think hard. "Ah, yes, I have heard that one. The tale of the elf, the man, and the talking dog."
After a moment of shocked silence, Legolas sputtered in outrage. "The elf, the man, and *the talking dog*?"
"What?" asked Gimli innocently. "There is a talking dog in the story, is there not?"
"Yes… but the dog was Huan, one of the great wolfhounds from Valinor, gifted and wise, and able to speak thrice to aid Beren in his quest…"
"So--a talking dog, as I said."
"Gimli! ‘Tis one of our most treasured tales, and you are being positively irreverent!" Here the elf’s face grew crafty. "And here I thought it would please you, being a story of true love between two different races, overcoming all obstacles…"
"You may be an elf, but I am no man," replied Gimli complacently.
"Actually, I was seeing you in the role of the talking dog…" began Legolas, then squawked as he was unceremoniously dumped off of Gimli’s lap and sat upon by the sturdy dwarf.
"I would retract that statement, if I were you, elf," said Gimli in a dangerous tone, as he pinned Legolas’s hands above his head.
"Perhaps you are right…" said Legolas with mock reflection. "For the hound of Valinor was said to speak three times with wisdom, and I very much doubt that you have spoken thus even once in your life…" He gave a rather undignified shriek as Gimli began tickling him mercilessly, and the two rolled together in the dirt until they were both breathless and laughing.
Subsiding back into the blankets and each other’s arms, they spent a moment reordering themselves and their clothes, which had become somewhat disheveled during their tussle.
Looking closely at Legolas, Gimli was relieved to see a striking difference to the withdrawn and lost elf of a few hours ago. His face was merry, his eyes snapping with humour, life and a vivid interest in the world around him, and he was once again filled with the lively spirit that normally animated his every move. Gimli could only hope that his own strong link to this land would continue to tie Legolas to Middle Earth. He knew he was being selfish, but it was not something that he had any control over.
Abruptly, Gimli cleared his throat, interrupting his own thoughts. "Anyway, it was you who asked me for a tale. Would you have another?"
"Please." Legolas’s voice was muffled a little against Gimli’s chest.
"Hear now the tale of Nár, the singing axe, and the oliphaunt who recited poetry," declaimed Gimli in tones of great import.
Legolas convulsed with laughter. "The singing axe and the oliphaunt who recited poetry? You jest, Gimli!"
Gimli drew himself up with dignity. "’Tis one of our most cherished tales! Do not be irreverent. Now listen. Nár was a mighty warrior, and he was gifted by his lord with a fantastic axe. This axe would never miss its mark, and would slay the enemy every time with a single stroke. And the most wondrous thing of all--the axe could sing, just like a nightingale! The only problem was that as he would try to sneak up on his foes, the axe would invariably burst into song, and thus alert his enemies to his presence." He raised his voice to be heard over Legolas’s chuckles.
"Now then, one day Nár came upon a wild oliphaunt, who was strangely enough reciting poetry in a field. And he hit upon an unusual but clever idea. If he could capture and tame this oliphaunt, surely the sight of such an amazing beast reciting poetry would distract all of his foes long enough so he could sneak up behind them, even with a singing axe…" Here he had to stop, for Legolas was laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes.
"Oh, Gimli!" he gasped, when he had caught his breath again. "You must be careful. You realize that my people consider me a great authority on all things dwarvish, due to my association with you. Do you wish for tales such as this to go down as true dwarf lore in elvish libraries?"
"Why not?" exclaimed Gimli with feigned astonishment. "As I said before, ‘tis one of our most treasured stories, and part of the rich tapestry that is my people’s history…" He could not keep a straight face any longer as Legolas dissolved again into merriment, and he joined in with his own great booming laugh.
They quieted again, and lay for a while in silence, listening to the logs snapping and popping in the heat of the flames, sending up sudden showers of sparks like fireworks in the night. The moon was on the descent and even the crickets had stilled, when Gimli gave a sudden yawn.
"It is late, my friend, and I would like to go in to bed," he said, stretching a little. "Will you stay with me this night, or will you go to sit in the trees and sing to the stars?"
"I will stay with you," murmured Legolas. "But I would like to sleep here."
"Here? On the cold hard ground when there’s a perfectly good bed inside? Haven’t we slept outside and on the ground enough in our years of companionship to satisfy you?" Gimli’s tone was incredulous.
"Aye, but I wish to make love to you, tonight, under the stars," said Legolas ingenuously, twining his arms around the dwarf’s neck.
"Oh," was all that Gimli could think to say, and he privately decided that it was as good a reason as any as he was kissed very thoroughly indeed by an ardent elf.
Pulling away after a time, he glowered sternly at Legolas. "I will concede to your wishes. But I refuse to be cold and uncomfortable--my old bones have taken enough abuse over the years."
The elf leapt to his feet with mirth in his eyes. "My poor tender dwarf!" he cried. "Rest you easy, and I will see to everything. I shall return to the house and fetch more blankets."
"I am not tender!" growled Gimli, and Legolas sprang away, laughing. "I merely refuse to be uncomfortable when it is not necessary!"
He watched as the elf disappeared into the dark down the pathway back to the house. "Mind you bring ALL the blankets," he called after the retreating form.
"And my pillow!" he bellowed, after some reflection.
"AND MORE ALE!!" he roared, but the sound of distant laughter was his only response.
"That the Elves ever came to know so much (though only at a time when the vigour of both their races was declining) is thought to be due to the strange and unique friendship which arose between Gimli and Legolas. Indeed most of the references to Dwarvish history in Elvish records are marked with 'so said Legolas.'"
The Peoples of Middle-Earth
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