1. Wine, Women, Song...and Gimli
Gimli, son of Gloin, glared into his own suspicious eyes, reflected back at him from the bowl of dark vintage he currently held in-hand.
There had to be something more to the wine. There was no other explanation for *his* behavior.
The Dwarf glanced from side to side, but his wariness was a fairly futile thing. When surrounded by better than five-score of whirling fair-haired heads and dancing bodies, trying to remain on alert against one insane Elf out was as futile as trying to pick a single crow from a flock on the wing at midnight.
If it were possible, he'd looked forward to this visit even less than keeping his oath to ride to Fangorn Forest, with its dratted unnatural tree-shepherds. Trees, even those that moved and spoke, weren't so keen to aim a bow at strangers as a Mirkwood Elf. Nor had Gimli spent years at his father's side hearing about the prickly pride and generally unreasonable temperaments of trees. Beyond that, it was one matter to befriend a single Elf after you had shared hardship and peril together, quite another to come right into the middle of a den of them.
Gimli grumbled into his beard. It had been, of course, impossible to avoid this. Legolas had kept every promise that he had made thus far, proving himself a fine and true friend. It was through no fault of his own that Legolas was an Elf, after all, and he couldn't be blamed for it...well, not much, anyway. It was just that Legolas's own adherence to his oath made it impossible for Gimli to shy away from his own and keep his honor intact.
Drat the Elves anyway for being on such good behavior! Annoyed, Gimli set the silver bowl back onto the long table with a thump. It was impossible to hold a comfortable grudge when the Elves insisted on being perfect hosts. The most that Gimli could complain of so far were the several askance looks that he'd received from the guards of the caves that served as palace to Thranduil, King of Mirkwood. Even the suspicious gaze of the guards, however, had quickly turned away at the displeased return-glare of Legolas, who had not cared to have any companion of his looked upon with misgiving.
The half-heartbeat between the hail and the attack was all the time Gimli had to prepare himself. This was not quite sufficient to bring his axe to bear, so the Dwarf had to settle for throwing words at his assailant.
"Set me down, you mad Elf!" he bellowed, as Legolas, prince of Mirkwood, son of Thranduil, and one of the Nine Walkers swept him up for the third time in the course of an hour and hauled him towards the nearest ring of dancers.
"I shall not! As I've said to you more than once this night, you are far too somber and sober both for such a celebration! The Ring is destroyed, Sauron defeated, and the shadow over Mirkwood grows lesser once more..."
"And you have returned home in as fair a state as you left it, Prince Legolas!" one merry-maker called out, being either danced with or vied over by the Elf-male and the Elf-maid on either of her arms. "Though with unexpected baggage!"
"It is not every day that we have cause for such a revel," Legolas continued, as if she had not spoken, "and, as our people continue to depart these shores, we will likely not have cause for such again! You should enjoy this while you may! There shall not come another chance for it, I'd wager."
"I *was* enjoying myself! Your father sets a fine table. I simply have not yet become a wine-skin on two legs, as some I observe!" The Elven prince only laughed at the Dwarf's growling, which caused Gimli's face to become as dark and threatening as a thunderhead. Legolas had been as formal and dignified as once might please when he'd introduced Gimli to his father and family within the palace but, once the celebration had started, it seemed that Gimli's companion had gone quite out of his mind. "I say again, set me down!"
Legolas's blue eyes darted over Gimli's shoulder, and the Elf's merry face took on an impish cast. "As you will, Master Leadfoot!" He carefully set his friend back on his feet. Within the next second, the prince had been carried away by the circling and seemingly tireless dancers.
Gimli fumed silently, helpless to do more at the moment than glare at the Elf's retreating back. Yes, there had to be something more to the wine.
"I beg your pardon."
Gimli turned, eyes already heading upward to meet the face of whatever elf hailed him...and, for a moment, he froze. The Elf-maid that stood before him was not anywhere near the peerless beauty of Galadriel -- there was nothing that could ever match what the Elven queen had awakened in Gimli's heart -- but she was not at all something that eyes appreciative of beauty would be quick to stray from. For the life of him, Gimli could not bring to mind her name, let alone return the greeting. He could recall only that she was elder sister to Legolas.
"Yes, m'lady?" he finally managed.
She smiled at him, an expression as lovely as the opening of a fresh bloom. "Aside from my brother's harassment, I have noted that you've sat alone through the whole of the festivities. It is not right that a guest of our house should be so neglected." She offered him her smooth, white hand. "Would you do me the honor of joining me in the dance, Gimli, son of Gloin?"
Forgetting his suspicion, his general annoyance with Elves, and any plans he'd had for whittling Legolas down until they were of a height, Gimli bowed deeply and accepted her hand.
"The honor is mine."
As his partner pulled him into the nearest ring, Gimli finally conceded the possibility that the wine was not wholly at fault.
King Thranduil of Mirkwood stared down the long table, frowning slightly, his mind both settled and freshly disturbed by the sight of his youngest daughter dancing with the Dwarf. Guest or no, he was not quick to trust the Children of Aulë. There had too often been clashes and insults between their people. That, coupled with the many years of long silence given each side to nurse their grudges, there was little enough confidence between the Elves and Dwarves. Often had Thranduil spoken to his son about the treachery of Dwarves in the past, and now Legolas returned after many, many months from what should have been a simple message-carry to Imladris with a Dwarf in tow. A Dwarf that had not even been blindfolded on the path leading to the palace...!
Thranduil shook his head. This boded ill, of that he was certain.
"You have a face like a long, cold winter of poor hunting," the guard at his side informed him, an Elven woman so pale that the line of the scar across her cheek seemed dark against her skin. "Hardly befitting this celebration. I offer remedy." She held up a deep flagon of the best vintage to her king, looking at him innocently with her night-hued blue eyes.
"I have want of a clear head for the moment." He shot her an annoyed look. "I blame you for it."
"I?" Her eyes followed the pensive gaze of her king. "I have never said anything kinder about Dwarves than they have almost as strong a love for their kin as they do for their gold. I do not see how our son's current choice of companions is any more or less my fault than yours."
"Nonetheless, I am certain that I shall come up with a reason presently, Maradë." Thranduil accepted the flagon, his fingers brushing affectionately against those of his dark-haired wife, though he still did not drink. Maradë was of the Moriquendi, the Dark Elves that had never seen the light of the Two Trees. Theirs had hardly been a conventional courtship, nor had it been a particularly easy marriage. So odd and fierce was Maradë's love for Thranduil that, less than a fortnight after their marriage, she'd insisted that she was far better suited to being the king's guard than his queen, and nothing could disuade her from her decision.
"Perhaps you should simply ask."
"Pardon?" Thranduil, who had turned back towards the dancing, looked to his guard-wife so sharply that the crown of silvery leaves and wildflowers atop his golden hair tilted forward.
"The...unclear nature of Legolas's relationship with the Dwarf troubles you, my lord. It might settle your mind to ask them of it yourself and do away with the uncertainty."
Thranduil was silent and continued to watch their youngest daughter frolic with the dwarf. The look on his face indicated displeasure with his mate's suggested course of action.
"Or you might simply sit there with a sour face until our youngest son and Master Gimli announce their intentions to set up housekeeping together in Ithilien."
Thranduil had been through more than one war with a cool head, but the suggestion that his wife-guard had just thrown at his feet made him twitch. Finally, the Elvenking sighed deeply.
"I suppose I could always name this as one more unhappiness that has befallen our people as a result of Sauron's evil," he finally muttered.
"You are determined to be difficult this eve," sighed Maradë. "But it matters not -- see? They approach."
Indeed, during their conversation, the dance had ended and a new one had been taken up. In the brief interim between, Legolas had taken possession of the Dwarf's elbow and was steering him towards the head of the table. It seemed uncertain as to whether or not the Elf would succeed in his task. Legolas was slightly unsteady on his feet and Gimli seemed less than eager to accompany him.
"The news will grow no easier to tell in time, Gimli, and I am filled with courage at present."
"You are too filled with strong wine, and haven't the faintest idea of what you are doing! I have no desire to find myself facing the spears and bows of outraged Elves in a similar state!"
Maradë hid her smile behind one hand as the unwilling Dwarf was dragged closer, his heels digging furrows in the earth. Even Thranduil was having some effort keeping his face schooled into neutrality, and he had several centuries of experience over those present.
"Legolas, have you words to share with us?" the Elvenking asked as they drew near.
"Yes, Father, Mother..." The fair prince bowed his head to each of his parents in turn. "...though they may not be precisely pleasing to you." Legolas settled his hand upon the Dwarf's shoulder, as if to reassure his companion. For his part, Gimli looked as if he might have bitten off his companion's fingers had he not been in circumstances that required a modicum of polite behavior.
"Gimli and I have shared in many dangers together during the quest to destroy the One Ring," Legolas continued. "During our travels together, I have come to recognize in him a kindred spirit, whose appreciation of the world's beauty would be hard pressed to find its equal, even in the hearts of our own kind. It is not a common situation, I will grant that, but what we have found together cannot be denied. Father, Mother, Gimli and I have found in each other a deep understanding, though our blood does not flow from the same source. He is more than elf-friend, he is brother to me and will have him named as such."
As Legolas fell silent, two sets of eyes, one the green of new leaves, the other blue, flicked over to the Dwarf.
"Is this true, Gimli?" asked Thranduil.
Beneath his beard, the Dwarf's jaw unclenched. Though the Children of Aulë had passions that ran as deep as the Earth's foundations, they were not typically given to demonstrativeness before strangers. "It is, your highness, though I would have picked other circumstances in which to relay the news."
"I do not believe there could have been better circumstances than a revel." Thranduil smiled slightly. "I could not have foreseen this, but I will not say that I disapprove of it."
"There!" Legolas folded his arms over his chest, his manner that of one who'd known that he was right all along. "You had no reason to grumble so."
The Dwarf declined to respond and took his leave as quickly as he could without giving offence. Legolas grinned after him, waved quickly to his father and mother, then found his way back to the dancing.
"If you are planning to gloat, Maradë, I would suggest you do so now, while I am still dizzy with relief."
"My lord, I would not dream of acting in such an impertinent manner. I must, however, admit to some confusion as to your sudden ease."
Thranduil looked over at her curiously. "Why is this?"
"The end result of the confession is the same is it not?" The Elf-woman's face was a smooth mask of perfect innocence. "There is now a Dwarf attached to our family's lineage."
Thranduil blinked once, stared down into his untouched silver flagon for several long moments, then drained a good measure of it in one long pull. He set it firmly down onto the long table with a thump.
"Come, Maradë." Thranduil rose to his feet, his forest-green cloak swirling about his body as he did. He offered his wife his hand. "Perhaps if your feet are kept busy, your tongue will be still."
Smiling, the two of them went to join the dancers.
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.