Particular thanks to Anarithilen for working hard with me on the last bit. And to the lovely Mienpies who has given me two gorgeous pictures of Legolas, one at the end of the chapter Imladris and this one which I have posted here but which could just as easily go with any of the chapters, maybe its Legolas with Berensul, maybe it's Legolas at the end of this chapter after Gimli has gone to sleep.
Chapter 11: Gimli's boots
Next morning, with their breath curling in the cold frost morning, Glorfindel despatched Legolas and Rhawion to scout eastwards, Aragorn and Elrohir to go south, and Gimli and Elladan to go further along the river bank. He and Amron searched the hills around the camp. He sent the Brethren west on their fast black horses, along the old road towards the Last Bridge.
It was early afternoon when Rhawion and Legolas stumbled across the Orcs.
They had been picking their way along the riverbank when they heard a shout, inhuman, harsh. Both froze and carefully melted back into the bushes that crowded to the edge of the river. Legolas gestured that he would go further along the river bank and see if he could spy anything and Rhawion was to wait and if he did not return to get the news to Glorfindel.
Legolas drew his hood over his bright hair and crept stealthily, silently along the shore, just beneath the green bushes and overhanging trees until he drew level with the noise. He guessed about twenty Orcs from the sounds but he lay on his belly and slowly crawled and wriggled forwards, edging forwards a bit at a time towards the camp.
He didn't see the feet until he was nose to toe. And froze. Closed his eyes so the gleam of them was hidden and dropped his head slightly so there were no features. He trusted his cloak would hide him but his heart was hammering in his chest and he slowed his breathing so the Orc would not hear him.
He lay still and silent for what felt like hours before a shout from away to his left drew the sentry away. Silently he slid from tree to tree and kept to the shadows. But when he returned to where he left Rhawion he found the Imladrian gone and he knew he had taken too long and the other Elf thought him taken.
He did not catch up with Rhawion for he dared not travel openly but kept to the shadows, the trees where he could, miles and miles until he was sure he was far from the Orc camp and there were no sentries, no patrols and then he ran, swiftly, along the river back to camp.
When he clambered down into the gorge and into the camp he found Glorfindel arming himself, strapping on his great sword and the Sons of Elrond mounted and ready to ride.
'Legolas! Right glad I am to see you safe.' Glorfindel strode over to greet Legolas, threw his arm over Legolas' shoulder and a look of intense relief on his fair face.
Rhawion clasped his arm and said, 'Glad I am that you were not taken. I thought...'
'A sentry came to stand right before me and I had to wait until he moved,' Legolas said in explanation. His face was flushed with excitement and he felt the beginning of the surge of energy he got before a battle. And Glorfindel's relief at his appearance was more than gratifying.
Rhawion had already told Glorfindel what he could and now the Elf lord turned to Legolas. He listened carefully, his face was very still; there were those who might have said he could have been carved from alabaster, or marble, thought Legolas - but stone was too cold and the life and joy in Glorfindel's beautiful face and eyes was so vital and warm.
'There are about thirty, perhaps forty Orcs, my lord. They are well armed and mustering. They have no prisoners that I could see.' He looked towards Rhawion for confirmation and the other Elf nodded briefly. 'They have a fire lit and have made light shelters beneath the deep undergrowth and trees. They seem to be settled there at least for the night. They have guards posted on four sides but nothing above.' He grinned expectantly. 'They are completely unaware of any danger from above.'
Glorfindel was smiling slightly and Amron snorted this time aloud.
'You think the birds will attack them?' Rhawion asked derisively.
'No, you think to attack them from the trees,' Glorfindel answered for him smiling. He moved off, waving and calling over the sons of Elrond.
Legolas leaned towards Rhawion, calculating what would goad the Imladrian to a wager. 'Are the Noldor too heavy and fat to climb?' he said with a glitter in his eyes.
Rhawion gave a shout of laughter and said, 'I will wager you I am quicker and take out more Orcs than you!'
Already Legolas was pulling out two thin knives from his belt and flicked them both in the air so they turned and turned and glinted nicely in the weak sun. He caught them both in one hand. 'I will wager these two for that nice hunting knife you have so carefully sheathed in your boot. It will ease me to know that it will not stick you when you fall over next.' His white teeth gleamed.
'And I will add to your wager,' Rhawion said eagerly. 'For I have seen Amron in battle. His sword will fell more than your bow.'
'I am hurt, Rhawion,' Legolas returned quickly, 'but will accept your wager. What do you lay?'
'Gold coin,' said Rhawion, digging into his tunic.
'It will please me to know I have liberated you from being so weighed down.'
'Master Gimli, perhaps you would be so good as to witness the wager?' called Rhawion, for it would not do to ask Glorfindel.
Gimli flashed a grin then and said, 'I will wager too that Glorfindel beats you all. This.' He pulled something from his own belt. A small wheel it looked like but at a press of his finger, tiny spikes shot out.
Legolas stared at it covetously. 'A roulette! I will do much to win that from you, dwarvish make too. What would you have?'
Gimli glanced up at him and considered. Then he said slowly, 'I would have you polish my boots.'
Legolas baulked for a moment. 'Polish your boots?' He was sure this would not be the wager had it been Amron or Rhawion.
'Yes, they are a mite mucky and will perish.'
Legolas thought for a moment for a quiet had descended on the other two Elves and they watched him closely. Legolas was no fool, he knew this might well be considered humiliation if he were beaten and had to polish to Dwarf's boots. But, he reasoned, only if he allowed it to be a humiliation. It was not as if polishing boots were a hardship, he decided. And he looked over at Glorfindel who feigned ignorance of what was taking place...Beating Glorfindel though? He did not think he could.
'So I polish your boots if you win or I get this roulette if I win?'
'Well if you do not think you can beat him, then do not take up the wager,' said the Dwarf and let the roulette flip between his fingers.
'I do not think I can beat him,' said Legolas slowly, wondering how much the Dwarf really wanted him to polish his boots.
Gimli narrowed his eyes calculating. 'If there were two roulettes? Is that tempting enough?'
'I do not think I can beat my lord Glorfindel,' Legolas repeated and there was a gleam in his eyes and then he said, 'but I can easily beat you, Master Gimli Gloinsson.'
The Dwarf's eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth. 'If you think you can, then you will not swerve from this little wager.'
'Done,' Legolas spat on his hand and held it out to shake. Gimli did likewise for it was an Esgaroth custom they both knew. Rhawion looked horrified and Amron raised his eyebrows.
'You will lose that bet,' came a warning voice but it was unclear to whom it was directed. Legolas turned to see Aragorn grinning at them both from where he sat on the ground whetting his great sword.
'He can take two out at a time with that axe,' said Aragorn quietly as he stood and fastened the sword-belt round his waist.
Legolas flashed a smile. 'There are only forty Orcs between the eight of us. I will shoot five in the first rush. He must really think I will polish his boots,' he said lifting an eyebrow and he scooped up his quiver and quickly ran a hand over the tops counting.
'He is very confident,' Aragorn looked at him sideways and loosed his sword. 'And his boots are very dirty.'
'Then let us hope I win.' Legolas grinned and shoved his quiver over his shoulder and fastened the straps, glad that the ice had broken with Aragorn. Aragorn laughed and followed him then to where Glorfindel stood waiting.
There was an air of expectancy and excitement as Glorfindel gave his orders.
Legolas and Amron were to skirt around to the far side of the encampment and to attack the rear once the Orcs were engaged, throw them into confusion and make them think there were many more Elves than there were but primarily to stop any Orcs escaping that way. Gimli gave a grin when he heard that Legolas was not in the frontal attack. Legolas said nothing. The sons of Elrond and Aragorn were to charge on their horses through the camp and Glorfindel and Rhawion to follow in their wake. There was of course the element of surprise in the cavalry attack and Glorfindel wanted as much noise and chaos to ensue as possible so the Orcs never had time to regroup and certainly never had time to work out how few of them there were.
Legolas and Amron quickly made their way along the river bank and around the camp's location until they guessed they were south of the camp. Then they moved stealthily between the trees, nevertheless making their way swiftly to the edge of the camp.
The two Elves were quick to smell and hear Orcs approach. Legolas immediately sprang up onto a branch and pressed himself against the tree trunk as the pounding of their feet drew closer. He looked down to see Amron hiding behind a tree and gasped.
'Quick! Up here!' he hissed, leaning down and reaching for Amron's hand.
He hauled Amron up beside him, wondering that the Imladrian was so heavy and cumbersome. Amron clutched the tree trunk, breathing hard so Legolas quietly put his finger to his lips and they saw the first Orc come into view. Its lumbering, crooked gait was caused by a recent injury, Legolas realised. So they must have already attacked a settlement or travellers. Suddenly Amron's foot slipped and he lurched forwards. Legolas shot out his hand to grasp Amron's arm and steady him. His heart pounded in his chest and for the first time ever he wondered if they should have stayed on the ground and simply run. He pushed Amron back against the tree trunk and pulled his hood over his head and they held still, and watched the group pass beneath them.
The first limping Orc was followed by a second Orc, then third passed directly below the tree in which they hid. One spoke in its coarse growling tongue and while Amron covered his ears, Legolas tried to understand what it said. He could only pick out two or three words, srinkh, he thought meant 'gathering' and thought they must be speaking of the Orc encampment. But then he heard one laugh and say something about Uliima-zagh which he knew was what they called the High Pass over the Hithaeglir. He remembered the old bones he had seen on his trail and wondered briefly if he should return home a different way.
'Should we not shoot them now?' Amron whispered but Legolas shook his head.
'We could not guarantee one of them will not shout and alert the camp,' he said softly. He paused and then said, 'We could follow them, wait until they are far enough away to not alert the main group. We do not want them coming back.' He looked at Amron clinging to the tree trunk and chewed his lip for a moment. 'Perhaps I should go.'
Amron nodded and Legolas slid silently from branch to branch behind the Orcs so there was barely a ripple of leaf, barely a branch bent under his supple weight.
One looked up at what it thought was the swish of a branch until a green-fletched arrow went through his eye and he fell instantly without a sound. When the next fell, the other turned and one let out a hoarse shout that was stopped short with an arrow in the throat. Legolas leaped down from the branches and Amron joined him to kick at the heavy carcasses until they each rolled away from the path and into a shallow ditch nearby. Legolas slid his bow back over his shoulder and shoved a few fallen branches and leaves over them to hide them as much as possible in case other Orcs came along the path and were alerted to the presence of Elves.
He gave Amron a wide smile and bowed slightly. 'I hope you are counting, Amron.' The Imladrian gave him a wry look and held up three fingers for the number of Orcs, and then folded down two and left his middle finger up. Legolas laughed softly.
They stayed in the trees now and crept closer to the Orc encampment and this time Legolas could see the camp better. There was a fire-pit in the centre and the remains of something charred and black was on a spit. He did not look too closely. There were about thirty Orcs gathered mainly in small groups. They were all heavily armed as before but those supposedly on guard had been drawn away from the perimeter by something going on to one side and Legolas craned his neck to see.
Two big Orcs were squaring up to each other and growling, snarling, shouting at each other whilst others goaded them on.
He gave Amron a quick look and saw the anticipation in the other's eyes. They had only to wait for Glorfindel's signal.
It seemed an age in coming but Legolas reminded himself that they had a Man and a Dwarf with them and it must be expected that they would be slower. Amron fidgeted and suddenly his foot slipped. His flailing hand grabbed a weaker branch. There was a crack and the branch split from the tree. Like lightning, Legolas grabbed Amron and held him steady. They froze. Barely breathed.
An Orc turned its head in their direction. It stared into the trees for a moment. Legolas kept his hand silently on Amron's shoulder.
And then the Orc turned back.
There was a bloodthirsty shout from the two big Orcs fighting on the far side of the camp and a number of others closed in a little.
Below Legolas and near the perimeter of the camp, a smaller group of five Orcs crouched or knelt. The one closest to Legolas lifted its heads now and looked in the direction of the fight. Legolas silently urged it to go and look but it lifted its snout and snuffed the air. Then it turned its head towards the tree where Legolas and Amron were and its small eyes squinted into the afternoon sun. One of its companions growled something and it lifted itself up onto its haunches and stood looking into the trees. Legolas saw its hand go to its side and finger the heavy saber it carried. It took a step towards them and he felt Amron silently slide his own bow from his shoulder and nock an arrow. Legolas already had one trained on the Orc and silently begged Glorfindel to give the call.
The air was tense. Even the trees seemed to still and there was no wind at all.
All was silent save the noise of the Orc fight on the other side of the camp.
The Orc that stood looking and snuffling the air had something clutched in its hand, something that fluttered slightly. It was blue, like a child's dress. Legolas blinked and swallowed, resisted looking again at the fire-pit and the blackened carcass on the spit. He heard Amron choke back something as he too recognised what it was. Legolas clenched his teeth and slowly drew back his bow, sighting along it at the Orc.
There was a flash of something on the other side of the encampment, something silver that caught in the weak winter sun.
One of the Orcs in the small group below Legolas and Amron lifted its head and looked. It opened its mouth and there was a swoosh and both it and the Orc looking towards Legolas slowly toppled to the ground. The other three were on their feet now but three more arrows were in their necks or throats before they could cry out and then there was a tremendous battle cry and black horses burst from the trees and charged through the camp, straight for the bunched group of Orcs, flashing silver and blood. Orcs scrambled out of the way, scrabbled for sabers, for weapons, shouting and screaming as swords fell and arrows whooshed into the camp. Legolas' bow was singing and he leapt from one tree to the next, ever closer to the main group which was breaking into smaller groups, drawing sabers, scrambling in the dirt for weapons so easily discarded only moments before.
Arrows swooshed and plunged into one Orc after another. Legolas was aware of Amron shooting too and that Glorfindel and Gimli had joined the affray. Clanging swords and battle cries filled the air, shouting and screaming as one Orc fell after another.
There was a shout from nearby and Legolas turned to see three Orcs pounding towards him for they had realised they were being shot at from the trees. He glanced at Amron whose face was focused and deadly calm. He turned his head back to the oncoming Orcs, aimed and missed and cursed and aimed again as one fell. But the Orcs had formed into groups now and the element of surprise was gone; Orc archers were positioned now behind sacks and carcasses and were aiming at the Sons of Elrond and Aragorn, and Orcs were converging on Glorfindel. The Elf-lord was beaten down and on one knee wrestling his sword against one of the big Orcs.
Below Legolas there was snarling and the pounding of feet as Orcs charged towards the trees they were in. He loosed an arrow quickly and the big Orc fighting Glorfindel fell. But suddenly there were Orcs leaping up at him from the ground and one climbing towards him, knife between its sharp teeth.
He glanced at Amron and pushed his bow into his quiver and in the same movement drew his twin blades, leaping into the fray. Three Orcs converged on him immediately. Smoothly and barely breaking his stride, he swiped his blades across in front of him and then out. Two ugly heads fell to the ground and the other stopped grinning long enough for Legolas to pivot on one foot and bring one singing blade round to slice through its neck, the other slashed its belly open so entrails slipped out hot and steaming. Blood spattered over his face and tunic and soaked his hands. He glanced behind to see Amron struggling with the Orc that had climbed into the tree and began to reach for an arrow when there was a spray of blood and the Orc toppled slowly out of the tree. Legolas did not stop to salute Amron but bounded into the fight.
Aragorn was off his horse now and struggled with a huge Orc that was pounding his sword over and over until Legolas though this arm might break. But the Dwarf was there and swung his mighty axe clean through the Orc and it fell to its knees. Aragorn barely paused but turned to hack at another Orc and the Dwarf finished it off.
Legolas was aware of Glorfindel shining, sweeping his blade through the ranks of Orcs and then he saw the Sons of Elrond; a thunderous pounding of hooves and the darkness flowed around them, from them. Sunlight flashed on their blades and the runes ran molten silver on their swords, their gauntlets and shields against the sable of their cloaks, their horses, their long black silk hair. Legolas wanted to pause to watch the terrible beauty as their swords cut a swathe so the Orcs fell back gibbering and howling. The Sons of Thunder have come! They fled before the black horses and their riders.
Legolas spun and cut down one fleeing Orc with one blade and caught a second on the backstroke. Swift and precise was the key to the twin blades and he kicked out and slammed another Orc hard in the gut, brought one blade slashing down on its back and the other up through its throat. He was aware of a sweep of a great war axe nearby and instinctively stood back to back with the Dwarf and not single Orc passed them after that.
It was quickly over and the slaughter was great. The sun was already sinking below the Mountains and the ground was slippery with blood and gore, clots of blood and entrails strung out over the ground where the Brethren's' great swords had hacked the guts of their enemy. The axe inflicted even greater damage and the body of the Orcs killed by the Dwarf were many, great gouges in their flesh and limbs dangling. There was the smell of meat and blood, the iron tang on his tongue.
Suddenly there was a shout from Aragorn. All turned to see an Orc running hard away, as fast as it could through the half light up the slopes above the camp towards the river. Glorfindel grunted. 'Hells, that may summon help. This we can do without.'
Legolas swiftly strung his bow and reached behind him for one of his few remaining arrows. He sighted and let it fly. The Orc crumpled in a groaning heap and then tried to struggle on. Legolas strung another arrow but someone blocked out the light for a moment and he looked up to see one of the sons of Elrond. He reined in his great black charger and looked down at Legolas.
'Leave this one alive. I would leave a sign that we were here.'
Legolas frowned and looked up into the darkened eyes of the Son of Elrond. The nobility of his face was shadowed and Legolas thought the darkly dripping blade he held seemed almost to hiss. He took a step back, the hairs on his neck on end and the blood seemed to be absorbed into the blade rather than run off the steel.
Legolas stared. Then looking up he asked, 'Would you leave it struggling and howling enough to raise others?'
The black horse shook its head and the silver bit jingled. Its rider lifted his head and looked out to where the Orc writhed and howled, his grey eyes distant. 'Yes. Until it howls no more.'
Legolas said nothing but watched as the rider cantered easily through the destroyed camp and hefted a lance from amongst the abandoned weaponry. Then he turned the black horse in a tight circle and cantered up the slope towards the Orc which raised its hands and crawled away though the rider followed. He dismounted then and for a moment Legolas could not see what he was doing but he seemed to be driving the lance into the ground. He was aware that Glorfindel had turned away and his head was bowed. Then Legolas heard the gurgling wail of the Orc that went on and on and on.
He took a step forwards but Aragorn put his hand on Legolas' arm and he looked up to meet the Man's serious, troubled gaze. 'Let it be,' he said and Legolas looked back up the slope but did not move.
Gimli looked up to see that dusk had fallen by the time they had piled up the bodies of the Orcs, and he watched as Glorfindel kindled a branch and thrust it into the pyre.
'So we will send a beacon into the Mountains as a warning,' Glorfindel said grimly and the firelight shone red and gold on his face, made him wild and savage.
The coarse hair of the dead Orcs ignited and flared. In the darkness sparks flew up into the air and the flames leaped suddenly and roared. The pile of carcasses shifted and for a moment, the Orcs looked like they writhed, burning alive. There was the beginning of a smell that made Gimli feel nauseous, of charred and burning meat. He wiped his brow with his hand and turned away. He felt the battle fervour bleed from his bones and was weary now.
"Elrohir, Elladan, keep watch over the fire first,' Glorfindel asked and one of the sons of Elrond nodded. 'We will post two watches, one here and another on the camp.'
Glorfindel looked over the small group, assessing them, and then he broke off twigs and held them in his fist to draw for the watches. Gimli drew the shortest twig so he would be watching with the son of Thranduil, he thought. At least they would not to be posted at the fire. It was a horrific sight. Aragorn and Amron both grimaced when they drew the second watch at the carrion pyre, and that left Rhawion and Glorfindel taking the second watch at the camp. Glorfindel made no mention of a third watch. Gimli sighed and thought longingly of Imladris, with those enormous comfortable beds, rare red meat, not bad ale and good songs by a roaring log fire, and not a fire made of Orc carrion, he thought to himself.
Glorfindel looked as though he had not even broken stride once, not during the battle nor in the hard work of building the massive pyre. Only a light sheen was on his skin and his cheeks were slightly flushed. Gimli was not fanciful but for one moment he wished he could have stood and watched Glorfindel in battle. Not that he would ever admit to it but there was a fluidity to Elves' movements that Gimli, above all else a craftsman, wished to etch clearly in his memory.
Their camp was beside the river on a small pebbly beach at the foot of cliffs so there was a good vantage point immediately above the camp and yet sheltered and safe from prying eyes. A good spot, Gimli thought approvingly. The river was fast-flowing and fed the Bruinen. Gimli liked its white-green colour. Good for pots, he thought practically, digging his finger into the damp white clay soil and examining it with approval.
They cleaned themselves up as best they could in the dark and standing in the shallows of the river. Glorfindel allowed a small fire and they ate in silence. Gimli wondered if this was the time to call in the bets but no one seemed to have the appetite for it; every now and again there was a horrible cry of agony from the impaled Orc. Its gibbered speech in the Black Tongue made the Imladrian Elves cringe. Gimli noticed it did not have that effect on the Elf from Mirkwood, instead the Elf rose quickly to his feet and walked down to the river. No one said anything or watched him go.
Once Gimli had finished eating, Glorfindel gave him a nod and the Dwarf hefted his war axe and climbed out of the bowl that held their camp. There was a rocky outcrop where he would take the watch. He stood on the good stone, granite, he thought to himself seeing the glints in the moonlight, shot through with quartz. He stamped his foot on the good, solid rock. A good place to watch.
Below him the river wound a silver trail and he could hear its rushing through the gorge, over boulders, could hear the shift of pebbles and the grinding of the rocks. Further down river, the long spire of smoke and flames that was Orc pyre gave a hellish glow to the night and as he looked, there was a faint, exhausted howl.
He breathed a heavy sigh. Seasoned warrior that he was and witness to much slaughter, this was an unexpected and, he thought, unnecessary cruelty. He had not expected Elves to be so brutal. No matter that they found the small charred bones in the fire, the tattered blue cloth with daisies embroidered on it.
Gimli shifted and rested the head of his great war axe on the ground, leaned on the haft. He looked in the direction of the dying Orc and then back. He felt a prickling on the back of his neck and turned to see strange green eyes gleaming in the starlight. He jumped and suddenly brought his axe up before him when a smooth voice said, 'Forgive me, I did not mean to startle you.'
It was the Mirkwood Elf. He had been here all the time, sitting silently on the rocky outcrop, watching Gimli and saying nothing! He felt his beard prickle. He knew the Elves in Mirkwood well enough; he did not like their unwavering, unblinking stare, their intense stillness so you were fooled into thinking they were statues. And then the sudden burst of movement and song or silly laughter.
'It will take more than that to startle a Dwarf of Erebor,' he said, determined not to give in and let this Elf think he was intimidated. The long green eyes did not blink until the Elf turned his head slightly and from where he sat upon the rock, looked down the slope to where a dark blur writhed and lifted its head in a whimpering cry of agony.
The Elf turned back to Gimli and for a moment, Gimli thought the smooth mask slipped and something like distaste flickered over the Elf's face. There was a long pause then and the Elf looked down as if troubled. Gimli saw his chest rise and fall, as if he sighed but so quietly it slipped between his lips with not a sound.
The Elf looked up then and Gimli saw the Moon reflected in his strange green eyes. Slowly he reached behind him and drew an arrow. 'I hear something, Master Gimli. Do you?' he asked.
It was only then that Gimli realised his bow was strung and he held the arrow loosely against the string as if waiting.
It was strange, just the two of them, one sitting, one standing on the hard granite that glittered in the moonlight. Not a breath of wind. Not a sound...except even Gimli could hear the breathless gasps of the Orc.
Slowly Gimli met the Elf's unwavering gaze, and he nodded. It was time to end this.
'I do, Thranduilsson' he replied because he could not remember the Elf's name, just his father's. 'And it may well be dangerous so I bid you shoot it.' He paused then, remembering the fury and fire in the eyes of Elrond's sons. It was their trophy after all that the Elf would be denying them. And they could be dangerous. One of the brothers was molten fire, moving, spitting, destructive. 'Ridding us of this one danger however, may well bring another.'
There was silence and he guessed the Elf was thinking of the Sons of Elrond too. 'I am not afraid.' And then, not mocking but curious, the Elf asked, 'Are you?'
'Of course not!' he almost spluttered and then he saw the Elf smile. 'I was merely thinking of you and that you might need protecting.' Gimli stuck out his beard and crossed his arms in front of him.
'And you would protect me?' the Elf asked and he could hear the amusement in his voice.
'Do you need it?'
'I do not think so.'
'I think you will,' Gimli was amused himself now, for Dwarves love riddles and games and puzzles and he realised he was enjoying himself.
The Elf's teeth gleamed white in the dark. 'A wager then.'
'A wager,' he agreed. 'Let us make it the same as before. My boots are mucky, from the blood of the many orcs I killed,' he said. 'Although I note that yours are clean as a pin.'
'That is because I kill elegantly and do not stumble over the many, many Orcs that I killed,' the Elf replied easily. 'But because of that, I will ask for your roulettes as you offered before.'
'Very well. If I have to protect you, you will clean my boots. If I do not, I will give you my roulettes.'
The Elf smoothly rose to his feet. He lifted his bow and fitted the arrow. Moonlight shone down on them and Gimli saw how it gleamed in the Elf's long hair, reflected in his eyes, silvered the stone and frosted the grass.
'You will not hit it from here,' Gimli said, resting the head of his great war axe on the ground and folding his arms over the haft.
There was a swoosh and then nothing.
'You have not hit it,' Gimli said in disbelief.
There was a sigh from the Elf and then he said, 'Would you care to make a wager?'
Gimli found his fingers twisting the ends of his beard and deliberately put his hands around the haft of his axe again, to stop himself. He was no fool though and this time he said, 'I do not wish you to work your fingers to the bone. Polishing my boots will be enough.'
The Elf laughed softly.
They did not speak again but watched as the Moon crossed the sky and stars wheeled overhead. He watched the Elf curiously and there were no more whimpers or sounds from the Orc. He remembered the Elf's name. It was Legolas.
The Moon was high and the stars bright when Gimli heard soft sounds and Legolas shifted and rose fluidly to his feet. He was taller than Gimli remembered and the stars and moonlight seemed to catch on his hair, in his eyes. He thought there might have even been a faint glimmer...but surely that was his tired imagination? Then first Rhawion appeared and then Glorfindel climbed onto the rock and there was no doubt in Gimli's mind that Glorfindel had an aura about him that if he didn't glow, he should have done. His strong noble face was lit as if he beheld some great wonder and Gimli knew he was staring.
'Go and rest,' said Glorfindel and Gimli shook himself; what nonsense was this? He was spending too much time amongst Elves and it was making him fanciful.
He followed Legolas back down into the camp and rolled himself up in his blanket. Then he reached over and snagged Glorfindel's; after all, he did not need it and it was still warm.
He slept deeply, feeling the bones of the Earth beneath him, the good clean soil and listened to the sounds of stone as the river scraped and rolled small pebbles grinding against each other to make the smooth clay he knew was buried beneath the grass. He dreamt of a white city hidden in the mountains, where fountains played and molten jewels cunningly encased in marble and carved like trees and rivers...
Gimli awoke abruptly to the sound of voices raised in anger. His hand immediately went to his small throwing axe and his fist tightened around it before he even opened his eyes. When he did blink his eyes open, he saw the sons of Elrond standing over Legolas, voices raised and eyes flashing in fury.
Legolas was sitting up, leaning back on his hands and his long hair fell down his back and pooled on the ground. One of the brothers threw something at Legolas, who caught it. An arrow, Gimli realised, and he was on his feet, axe in hand. The other son of Elrond had one hand on his brother's chest and was talking to him urgently, but he seemed to take no notice and glared down at Legolas, furious, incandescent. Gimli shook his head, this was exactly what he had expected.
'Elrohir! Daro!' said the one with his hand on the other's chest so Gimli knew this one was Elladan and the angry one was Elrohir.
Legolas looked away as if completely unbothered and pulled his hair over his shoulder, not even looking at Elrohir.
Elrohir shouted something, crackling and sparking like fire and Gimli wished he understood what was being said and had paid more attention to Bombour when he tried to teach him Sindarin.
Legolas picked up the arrow that had been thrown down and looked at it as if he were examining it carefully. Then he looked up and nodded in agreement with whatever Elrohir had said and shrugged nonchalantly. Infuriated, Elrohir shoved his brother back out of the way, and with fists clenched as if to stop himself from reaching for a weapon, he took another step towards Legolas so he was almost standing on him and Legolas had to strain his neck to look up as Elrohir shouted furiously at him. Spittle flew from his lips.
Suddenly another voice barked an order. Glorfindel strode into the camp and over to the sons of Elrond. He shoved Elrohir in the chest, pushed him back, and spoke loudly, demanding. There was more shouting, accusation from Elrohir who pointed at Legolas and then gesticulated towards the arrow. But Legolas remained sitting, and did not speak even though Glorfindel turned to him with such sorrow in his eyes that it took Gimli aback.
Suddenly Elrohir turned to Gimli. 'At the least he must have left his post to do this!' he cried. 'Tell me, for how long did you let him out of your sight?'
Gimli frowned and walked slowly over to them, knowing that when dealing with Elves it was best to walk slowly, appear unthreatening whilst keeping your hand on your axe and your finger on your throwing knife. Just in case. 'Why are you asking?' he said carefully.
'This!' Elrohir reached down and snatched up the green fletched arrow from where Legolas had placed it and thrust it towards Gimli. 'This was in the heart of the Orc I left as a warning.' He turned back to Legolas. 'He left his post to shoot it!'
'I did not leave my post.' Legolas said from where he sat.
'You must have! No one could shoot that distance in the dark.' Elrohir poured out his scorn and anger. 'You must have left your post and taken it upon yourself to silence the Orc because it was disturbing you. Typical of Thranduil's folk. You could not kill your own but you can sneak off watch to put an arrow through an Orc.'
The air suddenly changed and became dangerous. Legolas rose slowly to his feet, saying something in his own tongue that was low and charged. Gimli saw that his fists too were clenched, so hard his knuckles were white. Whatever he said did nothing to calm things and Glorfindel said something to Legolas which he ignored and stepped around Glorfindel, closer to Elrohir. His eyes were hard and glittered. Glorfindel moved to keep between them and Gimli could see that only the respect they both had for Glorfindel held them apart, like a thin veneer, and at any moment, even that would shatter.
'He did not leave his post.' Gimli interjected, letting his voice roll beneath the noise, and as he knew they would, all ceased and looked at him. 'He did not leave his post for the whole watch. He stood with me on that rocky outcrop and did not leave it. And at the end of our watch he came back down here with me. He has not moved since.'
Elladan stepped in front of his brother and put his hand on his shoulder and spoke softly in their own tongue.
'How dare you challenge me!' Elrohir glared at Legolas, ignoring his brother, ignoring Gimli. The air seethed around him almost tangibly and Gimli thought he might explode. Like hot flames, molten rock, seething, moving, consuming, Gimli thought, whereas Legolas was still, like ice, his lovely face like a statue. But Gimli did not think the Woodelf was cold, not at all.
Gimli paused and thought for a moment. Smiling secretly to himself then, he stooped to pick up his boots. He took a step forwards and simply dropped his boots at the feet of the Woodelf. 'There,' he said and could not help a little smugness. 'I think you will find that I have won,' he said simply, looking up at Legolas.
Slowly as if reluctant to draw his gaze from the son of Elrond, Legolas looked down at the boots at his feet. Then he raised his head to stare at Gimli. His mouth was slightly open and Gimli grinned, showing his hard white teeth.
'That was the wager,' he added and drew one of the beautiful little roulettes from his belt and with his forefinger he spun its wheel. Light glinted off it, sparks flew, the razor edge hissed as it cut the air. He flicked its bronze etched centre and the blades opened smoothly, like silk; lethal scything blades. He let it glint in the firelight and smiled as if he were gloating. He waited for Legolas' reaction. 'And this is what you have lost. Again.'
And he was not disappointed for suddenly Legolas raised his eyebrows in surprise and his face softened. He tipped his head back and laughed, such a merry sound.
Glorfindel looked over his shoulder at them both in surprise.
Gimli quirked an eyebrow and gave a pleased smile, for he thought Legolas had proved his worth in that reaction, acknowledging that he had been outwitted by the Dwarf, and was delighted by it.
Elrohir stared for a moment at Legolas and then with a cry of anger, he turned on his heel and stormed out of the camp, his brother following in his wake. Glorfindel watched them leave, and then turned away, his face full of compassion and sorrow.
Legolas sat back down on his blanket and gave Gimli the biggest grin he had ever seen on an Elf.
He felt his own mouth twitch but pulled his beard instead and pulled the blanket over his head. 'Don't wake me up again with your lover's tiffs,' he growled and fell straight to sleep.
When he awoke the next morning his boots were beside him, polished and as shiny as a bright new penny.