1. A Bird and a Beast
Later, Gimli would think it was the air in Fangorn that had done it, the stink of the decay of growing things, almost liquid in the mouth, potent as a witch's brew. Though what it had done precisely, he could not say. It had not made him imagine it. The wonders of the Golden Wood, all those years ago, had cured him of holding reason steadier witness than the eye.
But it was not a thing known through the eyes, not a thing all of air, toothpicks and lace like the structure of a Lothlorien talan. It was a pleasure altogether more robust: a thing of appetite, of earth. The memory of it sat low in the belly, heavy and luxurious. Still, it was as easily disbelieved.
He and Legolas had made their promised return to Fangorn that day by afternoon's light, and that light had dimmed as they pressed within and the trees came taller and closer together.
"Lose me not, Elf!" Gimli declared gamely toward the flutter of Legolas's cloak ahead. "Or you shall regret it!"
Legolas's smile caught a flash of sun. Courtly of tone, he called back, "Far more than you should, for the lack of your company!"
Gimli waved a dismissive hand. "Save your fine words!" he said.
Legolas waited, the humour on his face undimmed, for Gimli to catch up. The trudge of Gimli's boots cast moss loose from fallen timber. "What children we are, Master Elf," the dwarf said, not unjovially, "wandering about like wastrels in a such a place, empty of use. Is there no work left to be done in this world?"
"Is use the only thing of matter?" Legolas said. "Behold!"
Gimli looked, as Legolas did, directly up, so that the braid kinked at the back of his neck. The tree in question was indeed tall as the vaults of Moria, mighty in its girth as a pillar in that place. But there was no artifice, no craft nor toil in the tree -- it seemed folly to admire it. Nonetheless, the sun refracted a thousandfold through the hash of its branches, and Gimli did not resent Legolas's lingering.
By starlight, the small clearing of that night's camp seemed hemmed around with a greedy net of grasping foliage. The air was thick with age and rot, foetid and abundant. When Gimli could bring himself to close his eyes, it lay heavy as a blanket upon his eyelids.
Twice Gimli blinked awake to hear rustling swell through the trees. He looked to Legolas, who sat by him -- silver-eyed in the dark, and as straight as the tree's trunk at his back, and quite as still. And twice Gimli sank back into that twilight between sleep and wakefulness where one knows oneself but nothing further.
The third time he came again to know that which was beyond himself, the elf's space against the tree was soot-dark and empty.
Gimli got to his elbow, and his eyes strained around the clearing.
"Legolas?" he said.
The dark fairly sang against his grasping ears.
Gimli sat back against the tree. He pushed down a great, sticky mouthful of the air, like fermenting molasses.
The night gave a crackle here, a shift and a sputter there. The haft of his axe was smooth with the patina of bare-palmed use, and welcomed his grip. It was dark and close as a cave in here, but the walls lived and died, rose and fell, grew and rotted. It lent a perversity to their closeness all around of which he could never have accused diffident stone.
Take care you do not lay your axe to the foot of the wrong tree, a great lady had once counselled him.
"My lady," Gimli imagined himself declaring, "it is merely that there is no such thing!"
He barked aloud to himself in the dark, heartened.
The stars amid the canopy had visibly shifted by the time the murmurs and rustles of the night resolved themselves into an arrival. As fast as alarm fired in Gimli, it was doused. Slight as a streak of moonlight came Legolas, from between two trees.
There was a faint shifting and crackling of the undergrowth as Legolas settled down close beside Gimli on the ground. Even as Gimli reached out a hand in greeting, Legolas had reached first, and laid his hand on Gimli's arm. There was a hiss of breathlessness in Legolas's voice when he spoke, whispering in the dark. "You wake, still?"
"On and off," Gimli replied. "These trees natter like biddies." He shifted, and shouldered against Legolas. "They complain of my axe, no doubt."
"Your axe sleeps," Legolas said, "but you do not."
"What of you?" Gimli snorted. "You sigh as if come from the arms of a lover!"
A note of laughter sent forth a squall of air onto Gimli's cheek. "Perhaps I have," Legolas said.
"You embrace the trees so?" Gimli said. "Stroke their bark? Trace the curve of their limbs? But what else is there, then? Surely you are unsatisfied."
"Discretion, friend," Legolas said with no small lilt, "seals my lips."
Chuckling, Gimli slapped a hand upon the elf's knee.
Insects sang. Gimli looked about the clearing once more, and found the glowering of the dark trees had eased, and could barely displease him.
"Are you jealous, strong Gimli?" Legolas said. "You are thick and sturdy as a tree. I might well like to climb you."
Gimli grunted. "You would make too short work of climbing me like a tree!" he replied. "The summit and the first foothold would be as one."
"Nay," Legolas said. "It would be long work indeed. For perhaps once I was up, I might never consent to come down." Legolas's hand settled upon Gimli's, where it had slipped down from the raised peak of the elf's knee.
The supple cloth beneath Gimli's palm was warm with the elf's own vitality.
"How you tease, my fair friend," Gimli said. He found that something robust had come into his voice.
"Do I tease?" Legolas said.
Gimli said, after a pause, "I cannot answer."
The starlight silvered the fall of Legolas's hair, but left his face in shadow -- Gimli saw only that the head moved, and that the night had become unmitigated before his own face. Legolas's lips pressed full and unhurried against his. It was as one kissed a maid, and Gimli was no maid, but even as he thought it, he found that he pressed back.
Ever Legolas looked slight as kindling one might break over one's knee, and here again came the delight of the lie of it: Legolas fell upon Gimli, heavy and strong of shoulder. They tussled, and rolled free of the bedroll and into the undergrowth.
"What, not enough leaves in the blanket?" Gimli found a moment to say. Legolas kissed him again.
Gimli pushed his tongue within and tasted Legolas's mouth. He threaded his fingers, thick weft to the fine warp of Legolas's hair. They rolled again, and languidly again.
A carved puzzle, left to rattle in a bag, may solve itself; and there was a fittingness to this, astonishing, unforseen. These wrists, whose brace against a bowstring's stretch had stood between Gimli and death -- let him bare them to his grateful caress. This beating heart, between which and oblivion he in turn had stood -- let him unclothe the breast that housed it, and claim his prize.
And he did. The hidden row of eyelets beneath the hemmed front edge of Legolas's tunic strained as he jerked them. Lacings of leggings snapped back and forth.
Then Legolas was up to his knees, ankle still trailing the leggings. "Where are you hiding in there?" Legolas said, as his fingers followed straps across Gimli's sides, in under layers of leather and metal. "Show me the latch!"
Gimli found the first buckle as Legolas found the second, and they wrestled together with his layers till he was free.
Then they were bare together, and it was strange to look upon this one, his comrade, as they knelt together, unclothed and swollen in the loins, breathing each other's breath. And they lay down, and it was overpoweringly strange to lie with such a creature -- hairless as a child, and willow-thin, and hopelessly long in the leg and the torso. They were as a bird and a beast together: when they contrived to ease their desire in friction, Gimli's face lay against Legolas's breast in a mockery of a parent's chaste embrace.
Still, the friction burned hot in him, and when Legolas's heel nudged the base of Gimli's spine, and Legolas murmured, "Mayhap you have oil for your leathers," Gimli feared he would be overcome, that the pool of heated liquid in his vitals would spill.
Long seconds later Gimli found the oil in his gear, only to have Legolas seize it, limbs bent angular as scaffolding as he knelt up and arched to put it to its use.
Then he was reclining, tugging Gimli with him. "I am no maid. Come!" Legolas said. And he threw one gangling leg over Gimli's shoulder, and Gimli could not but oblige him.
Whether they were bird or beast, they rutted. The surge of Gimli's blood pounded loud, and he shifted his weight that he might nurse with his hand the pulsing centre of Legolas's pleasure. Legolas's face crumpled, unrecognisable.
Later, Gimli would sit up from where he had sprawled back upon the leaf litter, and say, "Well, we are in a great mess now, and miles from the nearest bath."
"There is the river," Legolas said. "We might double back toward it in the morning." He sat up as well, and at last freed his ankle from the leggings.
"Ha!" Gimli said. "I kept meaning to take that off you."
Legolas smiled. His hand found Gimli's shoulder, and then drifted aside. Gimli's scalp tingled as he felt his hair move.
"Do you comb my hair?" Gimli said.
"I shall, if you wish," Legolas said.
Gimli merely grumbled, and Legolas's hand settled instead again upon his shoulder. They sat quiet.
They walked without speech for the most part the next day, deeper into the green daytime dark of the wood. After midday -- so far as the height of the sun could be determined -- the ground grew rockier, and at the head of a rise, Legolas stopped and said, "The Entwash is nigh. You shall have your bath!"
"Alas," Gimli said, still climbing to catch Legolas, "my clothes and I have adhered as one! Mere water, I fear, shall not part us."
Legolas turned, his face spread in a smile. "Ah ha!" he declared. "I am relieved. When you desist so long from complaint, I fear you are ill."
"Indeed?" Gimli said, arriving at Legolas's side. But when he grasped for further words, he found none. Whether the puzzle of the two of them had cleaved together, still solved, or had rattled loose again, he could not say. Neither could he say, when Legolas laid his hand upon his shoulder, if it were the same sort of laying of a hand that the elf might have done a day ago.
But Legolas said, "Nonetheless, come!" And Gimli did, and they went down into the vale below, shale crunching beneath their boots.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.