19. Chapter Nineteen
"And how fare the doors of Minas Tirith?"
"Done and done again, Legolas. There was damage to the Second Gate as well, if you remember. We Dwarves could not leave one replaced and the other broken."
"I had forgotten the Second Gate."
"You were too busy mounting Mûmakil!" Gimli laughed so hard he almost fell off the horse. By the stiffened back of the Elf, the Dwarf knew he would have been on his own, if he had. Yet, he could not stifle the laughter. At last, he caught his breath and continued on. "The Great Gate is now firm and strong. It would take ten Gronds to breach it." Pride shone in the Dwarf's voice. "Aragorn is pleased."
"I am sure he is. So you have been content to sit back in the Green Parrot and smoke a pipe and drink your ale, toasting your great accomplishments?"
"Hah! The lot you know, Elf! I have spent the last year, while you were pussy footing around forests, in Aglarond," the Dwarf sighed happily.
"Aglarond?" Haldir asked as they road through a small stream on their way north.
"The great caverns near Helm's Deep in Rohan. Fine caverns, the likes I have never seen before. King Éomer gave me leave to mine them. But their beauty is such that I only look and wonder."
"Harrumph!" Gimli responded, not quite sure what the smile meant. He turned towards Haldir. "I brought some Dwarves from the Lonely Mountain. Much to their chagrin, or some would say shame, we only work to open more and more chambers. We do not actually mine the caves. Their beauty is too much to even think of marring." The Dwarf's voice was aglow with excitement. "They go back far into the mountains. The beauty of their crystals is... Well, all I can say is, I sit many a night with my pipe in my hand and discover I have taken nary a puff on it, so greatly am I enchanted by them."
"Is it part of the Lady's enchantment?" Legolas teased.
Gimli bristled. "There is no enchantment. Any with an ounce of sense would know she," and the Dwarf sighed a deep, melancholic sigh, "needs no enchantments. She is beauty itself. Ah!" Gimli's eyes lit, "Perhaps that's why I love the crystals. They remind me of her golden hair, her fair skin, her eyes. To look upon those eyes once again!" The Dwarf moaned. "The crystals of Aglarond cry out in shame! This trip has been worth it if for naught else but to have been in her presence again. Did I tell you, Legolas, that I showed her the locket I made for the gift she gave me?" The Dwarf sighed in satisfaction. "It is beautiful, though it holds not a candle to her beauty. She took great pleasure in holding it. But now, it too is become an object of my affection, almost as much as the gift, for I can sit and hold it and know that she touched it." The Dwarf shook his head in wonder. "Is it any mystery why I love her?"
Legolas smiled again and nodded to Haldir, who had watched the Dwarf in surprise. "Will we camp by the Loeg Ningloron?"
"I think it wise. That is where I asked Haldirriel to set up camp. It will be nearly dark by the time we reach it. Sometimes the terrain changes there. The eddies swirl and sinkholes appear." Haldir threw Legolas a sly smile. "There are hot springs a little west of there, at the base of the Hithaeglir."
Legolas' smile broadened at the thought. "Mayhap a small patrol should be sent there. Just to make sure there are no Yrch about."
Haldir grinned. "A small patrol consisting of Haldirriel, yourself and me?"
"That seems appropriate," Legolas sighed. "This mission has been most pleasant so far." He looked back at Gimli who had said nothing for quite some time. The Dwarf had a smile on his lips and a look of contentment in his eyes. 'He dwells on the Lady.' Another sigh passed his lips. 'We are all enchanted,' he thought wryly. 'Gimli by the Lady and Haldir and me by Haldirriel. But a pleasant enchantment.' And the Elf's smile broadened further.
They rode slowly, the Elves reminiscing about their times together. Neither Elf spoke of the future.
As Anor began to fall below Hithaeglir, they spotted Haldirriel's camp a little to the west of them. They turned their horses and made for their comrades.
Exhausted, both mentally and physically, Haldirriel waited. They had ridden at a good pace during the day, but had stopped early, following Haldir's instructions. Setting up camp was not too difficult, but they had purposefully packed light, to ensure a fast pace; therefore, their supplies were low. Haldirriel did not want to use their supply of lembas. It would be needed once they reached the mountains. They would not have time to hunt food then; they would be hunting the enemy. She sent out three patrols of two each. Only one patrol searched for firewood; the rest hunted. That left only two in the camp since the four remaining were set as pickets.
She paced back and forth in front of the overlarge fire. They had stoked it well, hoping Haldir and his friends would easily see it. When they did not arrive as Anor set, Haldirriel's pacing quickened. She walked to the picketed horses and stroked her own. 'He should be back by now,' she whispered to her steed. 'Should I go after him? Mayhap something untoward has happened and he lies in some ravine, crying for help.' She shuddered as her imagination ran away with her. At last, she could stand it no longer. She grabbed the horse's mane. A hand stopped her.
"I hear horses, Haldirriel. Two only, I think. They are headed this way."
She smiled and ran towards the perimeter of their camp. Truly! She heard them too. She also heard faint singing in the distance and recognized the Wood Elf's voice. Beaming, she turned to the fire and threw another few logs onto it. She ran a hand through her hair and hoped she appeared comely. A shudder ran through her and she smiled. She loved him so.
He raised his hand in greeting, as did Legolas, and her heart sang. Taking a deep breath, she walked towards them. "A little late, I think. I expected you to catch up with us many hours ago." The smile on her face belied the words of admonishment. "But you come in time to gather more firewood."
He laughed, jumped off his horse and took her in his arms. "Be still, you troublesome Elleth. I have brought with me the object of your desire." He flourished his arm and Legolas strode towards her. "Did I not promise I would return him to us?" he whispered in her ear.
Legolas beamed at the sight of her. Her silhouette in the fire caught his breath. Her hair flew about her face and up towards the firmament; it sparkled with jeweled tones, her skin shone. He took both Elves into his arms and kissed Haldirriel. She gasped in surprise at the intensity.
Haldir raised an eyebrow. After Legolas broke the kiss, Haldir turned the warrior's face to his and took firm control of the Elf's mouth. Another moment, then another passed; Haldirriel smiled and ran a hand over Legolas' chest. Then, she put her other hand on Haldir's rump.
"I thank you kindly, young Elf, for helping me off the horse," Gimli said sarcastically.
Legolas turned in confusion, then apologized profusely. "I had an errand to run," he said and then broke into such laughter that the Dwarf was sore put to remain angry with him.
"If not for one of your friends, Elf, I would have to have fallen off the horse," he continued with the gruff tone, but Legolas saw the twinkle in his eye.
"I will make it up to you, I promise."
The three broke apart. Legolas and Haldir went to gather more wood, while Gimli led the two horses to water. Haldirriel set up their tent. The two other Elves began to prepare their meal.
After all the chores were completed, Haldir sat with Legolas and Haldirriel. "There is a hot spring nearby. Only perhaps an hour's ride. Legolas thinks we should investigate," he whispered.
She looked into his eyes and saw love and unbridled lust. "I think that is wise. Patrols have not been through this part lately. What think you, Haldir, to Legolas' suggestion?"
"I too think it wise. Mayhap, after we sup, we should go?"
"Aye." Both Elves said the word in unison and laughed.
Gimli snorted. "As long as you take the sounds of your activities away from the camp so a tired Dwarf can sleep, I would heartily agree, though I have not been asked my opinion."
"Forgive me, Master Dwarf. Perhaps you would join us?"
The Dwarf stood up and unhitched his axe. "Do not toy with me, Elf. I would sooner be spit meat for a dragon!" He grumbled again and put his axe back in its holder.
Legolas laughed soundly. "We would not take you away from your warm bed, Gimli. After all, you have sweet dreams to entertain yourself with this night."
The Dwarf immediately calmed. "Aye. I look forward to sleep tonight."
The hunting parties returned with four pheasants, six quails and seven quail eggs. "We will break our fast in style tomorrow," one of the hunters shouted and was answered by shouts of congratulations. Gimli's deft hands worked the birds into a bright bit of stew that had everyone exclaiming over its flavour. After that, the fire was stoked and the Elves sat about. One after another sang their own song and then the entire camp broke into a Lórien favorite.
The three looked at each other, slowly slipped out of camp, and mounted their horses. Gimli knew where they were going while Haldir left one of his lieutenants in charge. They rode off at a brisk pace and began to sing as they put the leagues behind them. The sharp peaks of Hithaeglir stood out against the night sky, lit by an almost full moon.
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