28. With him, it is said, went Gimli the Dwarf
The First Year of the Fourth Age (August by Shire Reckoning)
Gimli squirmed a little to the left. When that did not help, he tried rolling to the right. Then he readjusted the pack serving as his pillow. Finally, he let out an anguished roar of frustration. "A forest," he moaned. "Why did I ever agree to go with you to a forest? There are no tree roots to disturb one's sleep in the Glittering Caves of Helm's Deep, you recall."
"I do not recall that we spent a night in Helm's Deep," Legolas answered with amusement from where he lay, still and serene and perfectly comfortable. "And besides, think about all those sharp little stones that would have dug into our backs if we had. Can you not feel how the earth itself is alive here, vibrating with ancient memories? It thrills my heart."
"Perhaps I could if I could find a patch of clear ground to lie on," Gimli answered. "I tell you, Master Elf, the trees are moving their roots about purposefully to disturb my sleep!"
Legolas laughed. "Perhaps they sense your discomfort, and respond to it likewise," he said. "Lie still, listen to the forest, feel its life about us, and perhaps then it will let you rest."
Gimli held very still, listening intently, but the only thing he heard was Legolas' breathing, so instead, he listened to that. Whether Legolas was breathing in tune with the forest, or if the rhythmic sound merely helped him to relax, the dwarf found his body curving into the shape of the roots quite comfortably after a while. A breeze stirred the canopy of leaves above their heads, giving the two companions a glimpse of a sea of bright stars. The quiet of the night pressed into the dwarf; not unpleasant, but vast in its emptiness, until he spoke merely to hear the sound of a voice.
"It pained me to part from Aragorn, but it burns me now not to hear the sound of those young hobbits' voices."
Legolas sighed. "I share your feelings, Gimli. When we departed from Rivendell, I thought I could not become used to their constant chatter should I spend a century with them, but after these few short months, I long for it when it is gone."
"We shall be glad of the quiet soon, I expect," Gimli said gruffly. "No more will we be awakened by demands for food. Or for story and song. Or to play childish pranks. No, our lives, and our sleep, may now continue without such disturbances."
They lay silent again for a while, and then Legolas said, "We shall have to journey together over the mountains and visit them before too long, I suppose."
"Well, yes, of course," Gimli agreed. "We shall want to see that Frodo got home safe and happy in the end, as he so deserves. And besides, I shall need to settle up with Merry about a certain matter come Midsummer next year."
"Gimli," Legolas' voice was distinctly suspicious, "have you and Merry been placing wagers again? Have you not learned?"
Gimli chortled. "Never you mind, Master Elf!" he answered. "But we shall see how swaggering young Master Brandybuck is when his predictions fail to come true."
Now Legolas' voice was amused. "I hope you did not take him up on that wager about Sam being married to that lass come this time next year. Frodo told me he is quite confident it will not take Sam long to settle that matter once they are home."
Gimli snorted. "I've never even heard him mention the lass, Legolas!" he said. "And surely all the young lasses in the Shire will have their eye on our Sam once he returns home a hero."
"All right, all right," Legolas answered. "I just hope you did not bet more than you are willing to part with, and that includes your pride." He sighed. "I suppose they shall all settle down and live quiet, domestic lives in their hobbit-holes now."
Gimli muttered something that Legolas chose to ignore, then said, "How many little Frodos do you think the Shire will name in his honor in the years to come?"
Legolas' eyes were dark with some sadness. "They should be beyond count, but somehow my heart says they will not be. But Sam will give us a Frodo-lad, at least." After a moment, he added, "Was it not a wonderful sight, Gimli, to see Pippin holding his namesake ere we left the city?"
"It was indeed," Gimli replied, his voice warm with the memory. "I feared the babe would tarry and we would have to leave without knowing if we left behind a young Pippin to terrorize the good people of Gondor." Then he chortled deep in his throat. "And that is one matter in which I was not bested by a hobbit!"
Legolas groaned. "You must know Merry better than that by now. He is simply toying with you, Gimli, mark my words. He is giving you small victories to let your confidence grow. Just please promise me you will not let Merry raise the stakes any higher."
Gimli made a series of displeased, grumbling noises and then subsided into silence. After a while, he asked, "So I suppose you know the lass' name, as well?"
"It is Rose Cotton, though I am quite confident it will be Rose Gamgee a year hence," was the prompt answer. "What are you going to have to do when you lose?"
Gimli let out a long breath through his nose. "Sing the drinking song at the wedding festivities. Including the final verse."
Legolas, to give him credit, did not laugh, though he was silent and quivering for a very long time. "Shall I teach you the words?" he finally managed to get out with only the slightest hint of irony in his voice.
Had there been anyone about, which fortunately there was not, no one would have believed their fantastic tale of an elf and a dwarf, lying amidst the tangled roots of Fangorn Forest, singing a hobbit drinking song. As for the trees and the stars, they kept that tale to themselves, weaving it into the fabric of the one great song.
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