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A Diamond Between Wood and Stone

by Pythoness

Summary: Legolas and Gimli spend a long-anticipated night together in Minas Tirith, not long after the coronation of King Elessar. 

Disclaimer:  The characters in this pastiche, which is written exclusively for the enjoyment of myself and friends, belong entirely to J. R. R. Tolkien and his estate, and this pastiche is not meant to infringe in any way upon their rights.

 Rating: NC-17 

Warning:  A great deal of dialog.  Beware: bearskin rug. 

Archive: www.ravenland.com/fiction.htm/diamond1 .  I will be happy to have it archived elsewhere; please let me know.  Feedback is welcome.

 


"Here are my rooms," said Legolas as they ascended the last flight of stairs into the house in the high circle of Minas Tirith.  It was early evening; the sun had just begun its journey into night, and the light that streamed through the tall windows had the hue of red gold.  A banked fire smoldered on the broad hearth, for the evening was cool.

Legolas entered and set the leather bottle of wine down on a table near the door, swept off the long grey cloak and hung it on a hook set in the wall.

A heavy key, of graceful shape, was in the ancient lock, and the Elf turned it.  Gimli heard the snick of intricate wards as he glanced around the room.  It was spacious and tall-ceilinged, and long windows looked out upon the city below.  A bed of dark wood, hung with rich cloth, stood in a corner, and Legolas' few effects were here and there, the great bow leaning unstrung in a corner, a few clothes hanging in a wardrobe near the door, but the room was impersonal.  Another door led to a small dressing room. Pleasant enough, Gimli thought, though too lofty for his tastes.  He had claimed a room on the ground floor of the building.

"Now finally we are alone, Gimli, you and I," Legolas said softly, "free at last of war and strife.  How my heart has yearned for this hour!  Rarely in the many days of my life have I felt such impatience.  Gimli!"  He held out his long hand, and it seemed, in the uncertain light, to tremble.  "Say you have felt the same!"

Gimli, cowed by a curious, unexpected bashfulness, reached forth his own broad brown hand, and hesitantly its strong blunt fingers closed over the slender white ones stretched toward him.  Legolas breathed deeply at the contact, and it even seemed to Gimli that a glitter of tears rose briefly in his clear grey eyes.

"I would," the dwarf said, his deep voice unintentionally gruff, "If I could believe that such a being as yourself could feel for a creature such as me with the same passion I feel for you.  Legolas!  Do you know what you are doing?"  Abruptly he released the Elf's hand and turned away, his cheeks burning, driven by some destructive desire to point Legolas' folly out to him.  "You have brought to your chamber the laughing-stock of all other races--especially your own, to whom a beard is as appealing as a wart.  You, Legolas, are a creature of light and air, a jeweled bird flitting among the blossoms of an eternal spring, and I--I am a mole!"  He spoke bitterly, with heat, but his tone rang hollow, like that of an actor on a stage, wanting not to convince, but to be proven wrong.

Then indeed the Elf did laugh at him, a gentle sound like the chuckle of water that stirs a quiet fountain.  "A jeweled bird!" he chided, but his voice was full of warmth and tenderness.  "No bird am I, but a long-horned ram with a passion for moles!"

Gimli turned, his eyes still glowering and distrustful, deepset beneath dark bushy brows, but a rueful smile already pulled at his ruddy lips, and Legolas, with the grace of a bird indeed, swooped upon him as he turned. They clung to one another clumsy in their need in this first true embrace, and their kiss was long and hungry.  When at last it ended they did not draw apart, but held one another tightly, and now it was Gimli who felt the heat of tears for a moment in his eyes.

"You are the most beautiful thing my eyes have seen," he whispered at last, his voice failing him.  "Save only the Lady Galadriel, and it was she who read this wish in my heart, to my dismay!  Long ago it seems.  Ah, Legolas, Legolas!  Not til then did I dare hope--I did not dare even dream--!  How could I?  And yet, here I am, in your arms. . ."

Legolas held him the tighter, his face pressed into the dwarf's short neck where the hair grew stiff on the swarthy skin.  He turned his head a little to speak.  "What she read in my heart was no less than this, Gloin's son: no longer a wish but a passion of fire.  By the time we reached Lorien, indeed, I had already lost my avian heart, to--a mole."  He drew back a little and stood beaming, his hands on Gimli's broad shoulders, head cocked slightly to one side as he admired the dwarf with proprietary pride.  The elf's cheeks were flushed, and his eyes bright as stars.

"Yet I denied the truth of it, even to myself, for I had not the faintest hope that the mole returned my love.  It was not until the Lady of Lorien laid bare to me the secrets my heart had kept that I understood truly the nature of my passion, and in words unspoken she gave me to know that there was reason to hope, and sheared through both shame and confusion to the love that lay beneath.  What she knew of you I did not dare ask, but I moved to befriend you in earnest.

"It astonished me, Gloin's son," he said solemnly.  "And I'll admit at first it was not a love for your form--though from the moment I met you I thought you hard and well-made as a stone house.  But you were true, and courageous, and most of all, passionate--yes, you showed your passions despite your efforts to hide them, like white flame in a dark lantern--for those things you loved: the earth, and work of craft and cunning; and before long I found I wished I were one of those things, to feel the beam of your love turned upon me like the heat from a forge.  And then I saw how the nature that I admired was reflected in this strong and sturdy form. I would eye your thick limbs when I thought you did not see--" here Legolas' hands stroked down the dwarf's arms, "these broad muscles, these strong arms, these powerful shoulders!  And yes, this beard!  This great, full, shining nimbus of fur that puts to shame the massy brambles of Mirkwood! Now, Gimli, your beard shall be mine to build a jeweled bird's nest in, and I pray you give me leave to perch myself here, too happy to fly elsewhere."

To Gimli's amazement and delight, Legolas dived his fine pale face into the dwarf's beard and nuzzled it, tickling, until Gimli was forced to retreat, bellowing in laughter.

The embrace had been the first wonder; this laughter the second.  Elf and dwarf laughed and wrestled until they staggered and fell, unhurt, onto the thick bearskin rug before the fireplace, and there they lay together, until the laughter died away and excited breath was caught. "You smell of the fertile earth, fresh-turned in the field; and hot coals; and iron; and leather; and the honest sweat of a just warrior," Legolas said after a pause, and now his voice was soft and solemn, intimate.  "It maddens me--my heart is full of it.  Ah!" The elf closed his long eyes, savoring the moment, and his lips hovered by Gimli's, his sweet-scented breath mingling with the dwarf's.  The kiss that followed was gentle and effortless, as natural as spring.

Gimli's hand groped in the smooth cataract of elven hair, touched a velvet cheek, trailed a thumb down the strong cords of Legolas' long, graceful throat, across the straight shelves of his clavicles.  But when his fingers began to pluck at the buttons of the loose shirt the elf faded from his touch like a shadow.

Opening his eyes in surprise Gimli found Legolas sitting with his slender legs folded beneath him, regarding him solemnly.  The elf's eyes were wide and dark--with trust, Gimli thought at first, a deep trust, and then, *no, not trust,* for trust puts a burden on the one who is trusted not to betray the other, and there was no such burden in Legolas' waiting gaze.  It was as if he were open, receptive to anything, as if he might accept a blow with the same surrender that he would a kiss.

The strange receptive stare, this state beyond trust, burned Gimli's heart like a coal.  "By the beard of Durin!" he muttered, fumbling with the thongs that bound the waist of his breeches, "I shall wait no more for this pleasure!"

But there was, after all, a limit to the receptivity.  The elf shot out a slender hand that touched his own, stopping them.  "Not yet, Gimli, I beg you," he said gently, and his voice was rich with emotion.  "I would drink more deeply of the tension of anticipation.  I wish to savor this act for which my heart so hungers, not devour it at a gulp.  Wait yet a little."

"I can refuse you nothing," Gimli said gallantly, though in some confusion. His misgivings abruptly aroused again, he held Legolas' gaze for a few seconds, searching for some sign of rejection or trickery, but could find nothing in the elf's exquisite features save a hungry attention to his own: he who had hitherto laughed and found a joke in everything was now unrelievedly in earnest, and Gimli felt uncomfortable.

"I wish," Legolas said softly, "that you would not look at me so.  Think you still that I would deny you or betray you?  There is naught in my heart for you but love and desire.  I swear this."

Gimli was further disconcerted by having his fears so accurately pegged. He crossed his stocky arms over his broad chest and snorted.  "All you elves still seem uncanny to me," he grumbled.  "How am I to know what you're thinking?  And may I not be suspicious when he who professes to desire me puts the consummation of that desire away from himself?"

Legolas rolled down onto his side and propped himself on a bent elbow.  For a moment an enigmatic smile touched his lips, then the brooding, receptive gaze returned.  "It is no more than the difference in our races, I think," he said.  "My life has been long, and my moments of great happiness short, and I know beyond certainty that such a moment comes.  It will come, and I shall relish it, and it will be gone forever, a flash in the long twilight--though I hope many other such times await us.  Still, this first will be a special pleasure, and I will relish it the more the longer I wait, here at the edge of its consummation."

Although he had not moved, his attitude was so voluptuous, and his voice so breathily intimate, that Gimli was convinced in spite of himself.  He wondered if the acts of love and even the sensations of pleasure might differ between elves and dwarves, and banished the anxiety-provoking thought impatiently.  "Very well, Legolas.  Yet I would drink deeply of something more than anticipation, if wait I must.  Where is the wine?"

Legolas silently pointed to the table by the door, where the flagon and a stoneware goblet stood.  "We shall have to share the cup," he said.

Gimli fetched them, and seated himself cross-legged beside Legolas on the skin.  He drew the stopper with his teeth--small square teeth, strong and very white--and held it there while he filled the cup to the brim with a flourish.  The wine was good, rich red wine of Gondor, and Gimli drained the goblet in three healthy swallows, then held it up and eyed the drop that ran down its side, folding his plump lower lip over the upper to suck away the remnants of wine from his moustache.

He heaved a contented sigh and refilled the cup, offering it to Legolas who accepted it and rolled over onto his belly, a little closer to the dwarf, to sip at it.

Gimli tentatively laid his hand on the long curve of the elf's back and waited a moment, fearing a further rebuff, before reaching beneath the linen to stroke the smooth and pliant skin still unseen beneath the light shirt.  *He's all softness,* Gimli thought, *but it's like supple leather over tempered steel, a yielding overlay for the stiffest strength.*  Again he reached, now running his fingers through the elf's sleek hair, heavy in his hand like precious metal, night-colored and glossy and slick.  Legolas expanded with a silent breath.

"I knew, and yet I was unsure," he whispered into the depths of the cup. "But your touch thrills me to the core, body and soul, and there is no doubt in my heart any more."

"Had you doubts?" Gimli demanded, quick to sense offense.

Legolas looked at him, and his steady eyes glinted in the firelight.  The deep gaze was cryptic, yet masked nothing.  "Had you none, Gimli?  Have you not wondered what comes after?  Shall we separate, and pull apart forever a love which has not existed elsewhere since the world was made--or shall you take me to live buried in stone with you at the Mountain?  Would your lord welcome me?  And how would your  father greet me, not only male, not only an elf, but the son of his jailor of old?  Aye, and maybe he even remembers my face, if elves are not all a blur of beardless chins to him!  Remember his tone at Rivendell!

"Or, Gimli, would you like to come home with me to the green shadows of Mirkwood, and run and frolic under leaves and stars, singing from morning to night?  And would you like to meet *my* father, and be introduced to him as the end of his line?--for if all goes as I foresee, there will be no sons of Legolas.  Mirkwood is not Lorien: the Lady welcomed and abetted our affection; I assure you Thranduil will not.  For love of me he might tolerate it, but only at cost to that love, and I would as soon grieve his heart as yours.  There will be no keeping it from him, yet if I love him it will not do to force him to look upon what he will not wish to see--good may still come of it if I treat with him gently.  Now there is a friendship between the Mountain and the Wood, but it is a partnership of trade and defense; I fear what an announcement of our more intimate partnership may cause."

Gimli was silent for a moment, and he took the wine-cup back from the elf and swallowed another deep draught.  "You have looked farther ahead than I, then," he confessed, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.  "I had not looked beyond this night's pleasure.  But you are right:  our people are still far sundered, and our union will do nothing to bring them closer."  He sighed and combed his moustache with his lower teeth, his heavy brows knitted.  "And yet, Legolas, I would not forgo this tryst, although if you wish it, I will depart."  He fell silent, and sullen.

Legolas smiled, but it was not a merry smile.  "Have I not already said my heart is committed to you, child of the race of Durin, for good or for ill? Am I wrong to look ahead--have I misjudged the depth of your affection? Foresight may fail in matters too close to the heart.  Would you laugh if I say that the thought of the sea troubles me in part because it means my eventual separation from you, or that my proposal to dwell in Ithilien was largely for thought of staying far from either Mountain or Wood, or will you grow angry at my presumption?"

Gimli looked at him, eyes dark and hidden beneath gathered brows.  "I would do neither, Legolas, but I would say that perhaps *I* have misjudged *your* affection, and I ought to be ashamed and beg your pardon.  Parting from you for ever would be hard indeed!  Yet I hope that somehow we may reach a solution--and that your departure overseas may be indefinitely delayed!"

"I hope it may be many years," Legolas said, his voice soft and sad, "Yet even then it may be too soon, too soon."  He rested his head on his shapely arms, his smooth brow contracted, and gazed into the fire, as if into a troubled future.

Gimli scowled.  "Is there indeed something here I do not understand, my friend?  Is there yet more to this melancholy?  Tell me now!  For I know not enough of your race to read what passes in your heart as you seemingly read mine, and I would know what you are keeping from me, if it has aught to do with our happiness."

Legolas chuckled softly, not in mirth but in tenderness.  "Yet you read me well, dear Gimli.  Yes, there is more, but I need not speak of it--it concerns me, and not you, and I am wrong to let it color this night.  Let us leave it now."

Gimli struck his stocky thigh with a clenched fist.  "No!" he exclaimed. "Do not let me glimpse some mysterious pain and then tell me to let it lie! One moment you talk of a lasting union between us, the next you tell me to mind my own business!  One thing is clear to me, Legolas: that from this moment what concerns you concerns me.  What is this seeming sorrow?"

Legolas sat up slowly and regarded Gimli for a little in silence, and in his eyes was again the deep, accepting openness, though now the set of his mouth was grim.  "You would have me speak of it--even if, after I speak, you leave unsatisfied?"

Gimli felt his heart caught, but answered staunchly, "I would."

"Should that happen, should I unmeaning drive you away, by this time tomorrow I shall either be on a ship sailing toward the open sea or lying in this room with my throat cut by my own hand," Legolas said with sudden, unexpected violence.

"You try me sorely, Legolas," Gimli said steadily, although his hands were clenched so that the knuckles showed yellow through the dark skin.  "Do Elves suffer the clap?  Have they shearing teeth in the nether regions? What is this terrible thing? Speak!"

"I did not say 'terrible'," Legolas' long hand moved out to cover Gimli's fist.  "It is only this:  Never has anyone, man, woman, elf or otherwise, entered my body, nor have I entered the body of another.  Do you understand?"

"What? What!" Gimli's hooded eyes were suddenly wide open under raised brows.  "You're a *virgin*?  An elf who has lived to see many elms grow from acorns to a 'ruinous age'?  You mean you've never--?  What, in Durin's name, do you do in those woods that would prevent--"

The elf was gesturing for silence, his eyes tight shut and brows knit as if in pain, and when Gimli bit back his surprised outburst, Legolas laid his hand across his own mouth for a moment, and continued with an effort, as if he were embarrassed or ashamed, "Leaving aside the question of what I have seen grow from acorns, Gimli, I am indeed a virgin in your parlance.  That does not mean I have not lain beside many an elvish beauty, both maid and man--for I have.  Like the dolphins of the sea we touch and part, and carry in our hearts forever a memory of those whom we have touched.  But, Gimli, my dear Gimli, don't you see--there can be only one true lover for us, only one mate.  When the bodies are joined, the souls are joined--so it is for the elves.  It is a burden I am willing to bear alone, and would have borne in silence forever had you not desired me to tell it--for your desires shall to me be as law.  I did not want to put it upon you, for I have told you: my choice is made.  Now must you make yours: to be my fate, or my doom, one or the other.  There is now no third road."

Gimli bit his lower lip, running the stiff black hairs of his beard back and forth against his teeth as he thought.  "You mean that if we make love, body within body, tonight, that you will never do so with another, of any race?  That if I spend my desire inside you, as I have so long ached to do, you will never father a child, or take a wife, or--or when you cross the sea--alone--?"

Legolas' pained silence was his only answer, and Gimli, letting out a long "Whew!" of breath, fell heavily onto his back and stared at the dark beams of the tall ceiling, resting an arm across his brow.  The room felt suddenly too warm.  "This is a hard thing! I had no idea you elves worked on such a stupid system," he announced.  "Why, since I came of age, few weeks indeed have passed that I have not 'tempered my steel' in the flesh of one of my race, or more: strong bearded warriors, eavy-breasted wenches, slim youngsters of either sex.  It seems to do us no harm!  My people deem it good for the health, and say it gives a man strength and sharp vision, steady hands for fine smithcraft.  Like a meal taken or deferred til later, it is so inconsequential a diversion--!"

"But not to the elves. It is the way of things," Legolas said dully. "Believe that I would not have it any other way, nor would I change my heart's choice of you.  And Gimli, though it troubled me that you did not know, smacking of deception, again I say to you that I did not wish to put the burden of this knowledge upon you.  I am sorry."

"Dwarves," Gimli said firmly after a pause, "are made to bear great burdens.  As are elves, apparently, though I knew it not--you may banish the sorrow from your mind!  Legolas, still I can scarce believe that your feelings for me are such that you would risk--such loneliness!--for what may prove at the last only a short game of grunt-and-thrust!"

"Gimli!" Legolas said, his voice suddenly urgent.  "Surely we have said enough!  I wish I had not spoken.  It matters not!  It matters not whether we dwell together until the sun falls into the sea or part for ever before the dawn.  You are he for whom I have waited, and all the acorns that ever fell in Mirkwood would indeed grow to mighty elms before ever I found another!"

Gimli sat up and looked hard in Legolas' ardent eyes.  He held out a small square hand and the elf took it in a heated grip.  "You have uttered a noble challenge," said Gimli.  "Time will tell if I am equal to the task--but it would be a poor man of any race who would not break his heart in the attempt.  Never has Gloin's son been called oathbreaker, and I swear this to you, Legolas: while I have command of breath and limb you will never suffer loneliness that I might have prevented.  Upon my heart I swear it."

In a gesture of gratitude too great for words Legolas lifted Gimli's hand and pressed it to his lips.  He turned his cheek against it, and perhaps tears fell upon it.  Many breaths passed in silence before he spoke. "Never have my ears heard fairer words, Gimli son of Gloin.  Once again my heart's choice of you is justified.  I accept your oath with gladness.  But do not misunderstand!  I would not have you suffer deprivations unnatural to your race:  it is as a dwarf that I love you, and I hope you may father many sturdy dwarflings, and brighten the eyes of many a brawny-thighed dwarf-lover!  Now, come!"  he lifted his head and again the unfathomable eyes were full of joy and laughter.  "Come!  Show me what Durin's folk are made of--and show me where your beard ends, if there be an end to it!" 

 


 Gimli sat upright, reluctantly separating from the elf.  Legolas watched dreamily, reclining at full length, lips parted, and his hands twined slowly, like growing vines behind his silken head. His eyes were as grave now as they had been full of laughter moments before, open and unguarded, a window to the ocean of his soul.

 Gimli felt the bashfulness return--a fear of disappointing the brilliant gaze that was turned hungrily upon him, or of occasioning, even now, the laughter of real ridicule.  He felt he would rather die, indeed, spitted twisting upon an orc's spear, than risk either of these terrible dangers. He moved slowly, unbuckling his broad belt from around his waist and  casting it rattling on the floor, pulling off his woolen tunic and shirt beneath and feeling the splash of cool air on his breast and back, hardening the ruddy nubs of his nipples.  The left was pierced with a thick ring of red gold, set with a bright diamond and two fiery rubies, small  but splendid.  The stones gathered light and glinted against Gimli's tawny skin  and the plentiful dark hair of his breast.

 Legolas eyed it in soft wonder.  "I have often seen men and dwarves with  rings through their ears," he said,  "but never such jewelry as you wear."

 "What," the dwarf said, his voice gruff to hide his embarrassment, "never  seen a pierced pap?  Then you have spent far too little time with naked  dwarves."  He chuckled suddenly.  "We may remedy that, I hope.  Do you--do  you find it pleasing?"  He glanced at the elf anxiously, then away again,  brushing at the ring as if to settle it flat to his skin.

 "It is strange to me," Legolas replied.  "But it is not *un*pleasing, and the stones are beautiful.  The rubies are like embers, and the adamant gleams like a star above your heart."  He reached up with a long-fingered hand and traced the circle of the ring, toyed with it, brushed the nipple behind it.  Gimli felt his heart stumble under the touch, his breath suddenly short.  "They are fine stones," he said huskily.

 "Will you take down your hair?"  the elf asked softly.  "I would see it unbound."

Gimli smiled at the request, pleased, and Legolas grinned to see the glitter of his deepset eyes--not large, but brown and expressive under their equally facund brows--and the curve of his deep-colored lips like a ripe cherry.   With hands whose quickness belied their stubby appearance he unbound the bit of leather that held his hair braided and doubled upon itself.

When it was undone and roughly combed with his fingers, Gimli's hair tumbled past his shoulders, thick and wavy,  coarse-textured but soft to the touch, slightly woolly.  Its color was a rich dark brown, close to black yet still with a sheen of chestnut; here and there grey hairs were streaked among the darker.  To Legolas he looked potent and kingly, as if  some deep nobility was revealed with the loosed hair.

 "Now that you have seen my pelt, do you still hold to your plan?" the dwarf  asked.  "Shall I still play locksmith to your inmost doors, or merely frot  against you like a shaggy dog?"

 Legolas laughed, a bright unencumbered outburst of pure delight.  Gimli  saw silver and colored jewels in his mind at the sound.  "Oh, son of Gloin!"  he exclaimed at last.  "Even if you had proved hideous I would still love  you--and instead you are a joy and a wonder to me!  You cannot know how  my heart is moved by the sight of you.  But it is not a surprise:  you thought  yourself very secretive, no doubt, during our long trek together, in your  bathing and dressing--but elves are lighter-footed, and more skilled in  watching unseen than Durin's folk.  Long have I spied on you from hiding,  my shaggy dog, and wondered what jewel flashed on your breast,  and  wondered at other things I could not make out.  Often enough such glimpses  troubled my sleep."

 Gimli opened and closed his mouth twice in search of an appropriate answer.  "Why then, why then," he sputtered, a laugh breaking through in spite of  mock anger and some real confusion, "You owe me a great debt!  Had I such  visions of you, I am sure I would have been a happier dwarf, stronger in  battle and more creative in masturbation.  If you have not been punished  enough by the sight of a bristly dwarf at his toilette, you shall be  punished now.  Pour me another cup of wine, and show me your body of mist  and moonlight--you shall be the first to put aside breeches."

 Legolas' eyes seemed reluctant to unfasten their gaze from Gimli's broad,  crisply-curled torso, but he sat up slowly and opened the buttons of his  loose green shirt, one, and then two, and then gracefully, almost demurely,  he pulled it over his head, his hair falling back as he did so in a satin  cascade that reached far down his spine.  "I shall do as I am bid," he said  softly, the glint of amethyst in his eyes.

 The room was growing dark, and his pale skin shone in the dimness indeed  very like moonlight.  He slipped each shoe off, assisted by the other foot,  loosened the ties that held the cloth close to his slender ankles.  Weightlessly he rose, the power of his fine-drawn sinews giving the lie  to any appearance of frailty, more apt to his thought than the muscles of men  or dwarves.

 Gimli was suddenly aware of a growing awe--whether because some new insight  was upon him or only because of the uncanny beauty of his lover there was  no telling--and with it a sense of his own inadequacy.  *I should not be  here,* he thought.  *How can I think it well to bind myself to him, like  a fly to a jewel?  Galadriel, have you betrayed us?  How can this be right?*

 But unaware of Gimli's inner turmoil the elf stood with his back toward  the dwarf, untied his waistband, and stooping slid the cloth away, stepping  naked from it to turn and face Gimli, like some perfect sculpture of  alabaster, his organ of generation a wand of opal and garnet erect at the  center of his body.

 He did not smile, and though his eyes sparkled in the faint firelight, they  were dark--halls that led perhaps to great palaces--or to other worlds  entirely--of beauty and wonder, would Gimli but dare the door, standing  open and waiting.

 So it was that Legolas stood, open and waiting: lightning carved in ice  and ivory, lovely and terrible, tender and dangerous, ancient child of still  more ancient powers--and Gimli's heart quailed.  The enormity of what he  asked broke over the dwarf at last.  He sat thunderstruck, as a wild man  might crouch coming unexpectedly upon an elven-queen hunting naked in the  wood.  He shaded his eyes, as if before a painful light.  "Forgive me,"  he whispered.  "Legolas, I am but a creature of Middle Earth, and I see now  you are truly somewhat more.  I should never have aspired to you, and I  cannot presume to such a union.  I am also very ugly."

 He felt the air move as the elf crouched beside him, the light hand cool  on his back.  "Nay, child of Durin,"  Legolas murmured, a smile in his  inflection.  "An oath you swore to me on your heart, and I will not let  you out of it so easily as that!  We have much to give each other, you and I,  and much to learn.  Perhaps I have already taught you something: you begin  to see with new eyes.  Will you not turn them upon yourself, and see the  beauty I have learned to adore?  For there is the sweetest lesson of love,  and the greatest gift, and I will be your eager teacher, if you will accept  me.

 "What am I, if not a creature of Middle-Earth?  I have been nowhere else in my life.  And what woke Durin, if your race was not also 'somewhat more'?"

 Tears rose again in Gimli's downcast eyes, and he blinked them away  fiercely.  "Do you not understand, Legolas," he said angrily, "I am afraid.  You are too much for me, and I am not enough for you.  I fear I will  disappoint you; I fear I will give you no happiness at all, or so  transitory a joy that it will be as if it never was, and leave on your  heart a wound that will last until the end of time.  I fear my beard  turning grey and my eyes dim, while you remain young and strong, bound to  me like a deer to a hedgehog.  I fear your grief at my passing, when I must  leave you whether I will or no.  Even more I fear your relief at my  passing!  Legolas!  You are too great a matter for me.  I am a craven and  a coward.  What hope is there, or comfort?"

 Gimli, brows wrung, looked up at last into Legolas' radiant eyes.  The elf  squatted close beside him, one hand on Gimli's back, the other across his  own knee.  "Such doubts come late to you, Gloin's son," said the elf  solemnly, but his tone was light.  "I have no such fears, not anymore:  I have already vanquished them--all, alas, save of the long parting, but of  that we will not speak again tonight: many long years may lie between then  and now.  These fears you name are not for yourself, but for me--surely  that is love, not cowardice: it gladdens my heart.  Who has ever dared to  call Gimli Gloin's son a coward, except Gimli?  He is brave indeed who  would, or a great fool!

 "It is a hard road we have chosen, or which has been chosen for us, yet  we  have the strength to travel it, to whatever end may wait us.  Hard it may  be, but wrong it is not.  I cannot say whether we shall know great  happiness, but already we know great love.  Love may outweigh happiness  in the end."

 "Cheerful lot, you elves," Gimli muttered.  He glanced sidelong at his  companion, and smiled ruefully.  His fears were not altogether allayed,  but Legolas had quieted them for the moment, and Gimli could look at him again  with desire rather than a sense only of awe and inadequacy.

 "But all this is beside the point," said Legolas, heaving a deep sigh.  "For I am certain that you demur because you find my body hideous, and hope  to excuse yourself from my presence..."

 Gimli twisted further around in surprise, and found the elf smiling,  brilliant eyes narrowed, his lower lip pinched between his teeth like a  mischievous boy.

 "Am I wrong?" the elf whispered in the moment of silence.

 Gimli chuckled.  With a shake of his head, he abruptly threw his arms about  Legolas' narrow body and bore him over onto the rug.  The elf tumbled  submissively, laughing, and lay where he had fallen as Gimli straightened  up.

 Again he stretched on the rug and lay open to Gimli's inspection, slender  yet strong with supple muscle, skin as smooth as a boy's, white and  unblemished as the loveliest girl's, cream-colored and fine against the  rough red hair of the bearskin on which he lay.

 Against his shallow navel his elfhood lay, a graceful curve like a tusk  of flesh.  Its head, now fully emerged from its fleshy cowl, was narrow and  ruddy-hued, the shaft smooth and opaline, darker slightly than the skin  it lay against, the vessels that striated it subtle color beneath shining  skin.

 For a moment, his hand cupped the little purse that hung below, now tight  and close to his body, then it trailed along the tumid member and up the  gentle indentation that ran centrally along the smooth expanse of his  belly, up a notch to track slowly up the lily-white breast, on which tiny  nipples, the pale pink of apple-blossom, hardened into buds.

 Gimli's tongue touched his lips, trying to restore moisture to a mouth gone  very dry.  He knelt down beside the elf--facing him, for he was not yet  prepared to face the immanence of his sex--and saw Legolas draw a breath  and hold it as he lay, unmoving, his eyes on Gimli's, and nothing in them  but acceptance, neither patience nor urgency.  He merely waited.

 Gimli's thick-fingered hand stretched out of its own accord.  He looked  at it in renewed wonder as it rested, square and brown, on Legolas' ivory  breast, on skin fine-textured and smooth as densely woven silk.  The elf's  chest was flat but shapely with subtle sculpted muscle, not nearly so deep  or broad in proportion as Gimli's own, yet broad enough across straight  collarbones and strong sloping shoulders, tapering down the  dolphin-graceful torso to the slender hips.  Lightly he touched a nipple,  and Legolas breathed again, one long breath.  He closed his eyes and arched  luxuriously beneath Gimli's touch, all the smoothness springing for a  moment into valleys and hills of sinew.

 Gimli too drank in a deep breath, and, gently at first, he pinched the tiny  nipple between his thumb and forefinger, twisting it and smiling as the  elf's closed lids tightened in proportion with the pressure he applied.  He brought his second hand into play, at first to slide over the gentle  contours of his lover's arm and shoulder, then to toy with the other  nipple, so that Legolas made a sound deep in his throat and shifted under  the touch like a restive horse, eager and attentive to its rider's every  move.

 Then Legolas' hands as well came to life, first squeezing Gimli's solid  forearms as if testing the powerful muscle there, feeling their way up the  arm, kneading the broad bicep, shifting to caress the round masses of the  shoulder, sliding down to explore the crisp hair and firm brawn of the  dwarf's chest, the long nipples like red berries.  He pulled at the ring  gently, threaded a fingertip through it to rub the skin.  He cupped his  palm over the dense mound of Gimli's breast to feel the pulses of the  strong heart, ran his open hands over the taut, furred curve of the  dwarvish belly.

 Then his fingers stretched upward through Gimli's thick beard, feeling for  the bold line of the hidden jaw, bones heavy to withstand the mighty pull  of corded muscles; he limned the outline of the dwarf's small mouth,  finding the sharp bow of the upper lip beneath its curtain of wiry hair,  the lower like a pillow, full and generous.  Gimli kissed the questing  fingers again and again, barely brushing them with lip and moustache.

 His eyes still closed, Legolas drew one hand away to wander his slender  fingers across the perfect lines of his own longer and narrower lips,  softly coral against the ivory of his cheeks.  He breathed deeply now, his  breast rising and falling under Gimli's hands with a movement like the sea.

 Gimli followed suit, reaching with one hand to trace the elegant lineaments  of the elf's face.   Legolas was real and alive--a quick pulse beat in his  long throat; his breath was warm on Gimli's hand; his mouth, when the  dwarf's short fingers slipped between the flawless lips, was moist, the  tongue soft, and the teeth that closed gently on his fingers were hard.  Yet even now, so close, so indisputable, the elf seemed a creature from  a vision, a splendid dream not entirely caught in the world:  ethereal, as  if flesh and blood might melt away without warning.  To the dwarf's touch,  used to the stalwart bodies of his own folk, Legolas' bones seemed as light  and delicate as a cat's, the overlay of pliant flesh and lithe muscle a  veneer as frail as cobweb.

 Gimli felt hot, almost fevered, and overwhelmed.  He did not yet dare to  turn even his gaze farther down the elf's body, so he paused in his  ministrations to draw breath and calm himself.  He bent to kiss each of  the small nipples and run his tongue over their pebbly surface, so hard now  that the blood had been driven from them, leaving them a pearly color,  nearly as white as marble.  Legolas sighed as the dwarf rested his head  on his breast, and for a moment they were both quiescent.

 For the first time, Gimli realized he could smell the subtle, sweet  fragrance of elf-skin: a fugitive hint of musk like incense, a trace of  far-off spice, a distant memory of happiness too fragile to grasp.

 Beneath his ear the elf's heart struck swiftly, felt as much as heard.  "A  pretty drum, this," he said softly, and laid his hand tenderly over the  place where its motion was strongest.  "Light as the footfalls of a deer  on a forest path."

 "Nay, the hammer of Durin is in it!" Legolas sighed.  "Or the hammer of  Gimli.  I feel its blows through all my body!"

 "Or soon you shall.  You know nothing of the hammer of Gimli as yet!"  Gimli smiled, and at last found the courage to gaze down the long landscape  of Legolas' belly to where the erect organ lay waiting, elegant and comely,  a pearl gleaming at its apex.  Gimli bit his lip and moved his hand slowly,  drawing a line down the elf's abdomen.  Legolas grew very still.

 Not daring to grasp the rod as yet Gimli traced a line past the elf's  groin, let his fingers slip into the warm crevice between his sleek thighs,  out again to finger the scant triangle of fine dark hair, feel it, soft  and curling, between his fingertips.

 At last he softly clasped the little sack that lay between the elf's legs  like a doeskin purse, rolled the weights within against each other in the  palm of his hand.  Legolas' hand tightened slightly on his shoulder.

 The elf made no sound or comment as Gimli's fingers trailed upward and  gripped the root of his wand--indeed he seemed barely to breathe; but, more  eloquent than words, his heart doubled its pace beneath Gimli's ear.

 Encouraged, the dwarf let his hand glide experimentally up the  shaft--already firm, and hardening into crystal under his touch--to run  around the arrow's point, his thumb smearing away the silky drop of fluid  it found there.

 Gimli raised his hand to suck the taste from his thumb, but as he lifted  his head the elf jerked under him with a gasp and a laugh, startled by the  sensation of the beard whisking unexpectedly along his side.

 Thumb still in mouth, Gimli raised himself to look at Legolas' face, and  found the elf smiling at him, heavy-lidded and lax.  There was a light  dappling of sweat on his brow and lip; Gimli thought he had never seen him  sweat before, and felt a rush of reverent pride that it was his presence  which had drawn the dew forth.  Immediately the thought seemed foolish,  and he chuckled at himself.

 "Ah!  I did not know I could endure such emotion,"  Gimli said.  He turned  his head to again kiss the soft skin and rest his brow upon it, and felt  Legolas' fingers caressing his hair, running down his spine in its deep  furrow between heavy muscles.  His hand slipped into Gimli's breeches and  rested there, curved around the dwarf's solid, furred buttock.

 "And I did not know I could love such a broom!" the elf said.  "I can  scarce tell what is bearskin and what is dwarf-hide--save that you are  warmer.  You are as hot as the furnaces under the Mountain, Gimli, and  hard-muscled as a bear in good training--or harder indeed in places.  And it's time I was allowed to inspect those places!  Glimpses in the  wilderness are all very well, but it seems some things have changed since  then.  And I am now convinced your beard forms a circle around your body,  but I still cannot verify my conviction."

 With a sudden lurch Legolas rolled Gimli onto his back and sat up, bending  to unlace the dwarf's breeches before Gimli had fully realized his intent.

 "Why, here is another beard entirely," the elf exclaimed as he folded the  leather down, exposing a dark thatch. "And an even longer nose that puts  the one on your face to shame.  Ah, Gimli, you accuse me of keeping  secrets--I would never have supposed such a metamorphosis was possible.  This nose was long enough when I glimpsed it before, but it has grown  prodigiously--you wield a mighty hammer indeed!"  Legolas laughed.

 Gimli folded his arms behind his head and reclined in satisfaction.  He was proud of his sex, thick and dark and knobbed like the root of an ancient tree, and enjoyed the elf's admiration.  "Barak Khazad," he grunted,  "has more than one meaning in the dwarf-tongue."

 "Indeed an enemy has much to fear from the axes of the dwarves," Legolas agreed, "if your kin all bear such weighty weapons."  With none of Gimli's shyness he grasped the stout appendage and slid down the substantial foreskin to expose the whole of the round purple head.  "But I am no enemy and I have naught to fear--I hunger to learn more of this hammer. Why--what under sun and star is this--?"  His exploring hand had encountered an unexpected texture in the deep fur under the dwarf's weighty scrotum.

 Gimli obligingly shifted his weight and wriggled out of the encumbering breeks.  "Have a look," he said complacently, and with his hands pulled one knee up to his chest to give the elf a better view.

 Legolas bent far down, sorting through the dense hair with his fingers,  eyes wide and surprised.  In the tender ridge of flesh behind Gimli's  genitals were seven gold rings, each as big around as the elf's thumb, set  close together.   The foremost was adorned with two rubies which flanked  a bright diamond, the twin of the stones in his nipple-ring, though the ring  itself was larger.  Legolas sat back with an open mouth and put both hands  to his cheeks in an exaggerated gesture of astonishment.

 "My dear, mad dwarf!" he exclaimed.  "I confess myself more than  confounded.  What lunacy is this?  Is it the final hoard against theft?  Or do you have more gold stashed in even stranger places?"

 Gimli snorted at the elf's amazement.  "'It is no hoard!" he said  scornfully.  "I would carry greater wealth in my boot.  Say rather that  the dwarves decorate what is dearest to them."

 "Decorate!  And no doubt they gild daisies and swallow gems so that their  middens may sparkle.  But nay, this is a wonder to me."  He laughed.  "Seven rings indeed--you have kept yours safe enough, anyway!  And I  imagine these too are magical.  Suppose I did this--?"  Legolas' hand  flashed out of sight.

 Gimli shivered slightly and sighed in happiness.  "You catch on quickly.  .  ." he murmured.

 "...Or this..." The elf again grasped the haft, and Gimli squirmed, with  a deep rumble of approval that turned into a loud groan as Legolas bent over  him and slipped the head of the hammer into his mouth.

 Gimli stared down his body hungrily, drinking in the sight.  Legolas had clever fingers, and a clever tongue, and with subtle motions created strong  sensations.  He tugged and twisted at the rings, both gently and firmly.  Gimli's hands buried themselves in his shining hair as he began to ride  the  shaft,  going farther with each thrust than seemed possible.

 "Legolas!" Gimli moaned, "Legolas!  Do you know how long--I've desired this--"

 Legolas made a sympathetic sound whose vibrations made the dwarf's stocky body arch and his hands clutch at the rug.  Suddenly mouth and hands drew away.

 "Don't stop!" Gimli gasped.

 But the elf had vanished again, and Gimli opened his eyes in some annoyance to seek him.  Legolas was taking a lamp from the mantel to light it from the fire with a straw.  "It is time for some light," he said without turning.  "I would have a better look at your bejeweled bottom, for one thing."

 "And I at yours," Gimli muttered, propping himself on his elbows, "with one squinting eye, and that before the sun rises."

 


 He spoke to himself, but the elf had quick ears.  He glanced sidelong at  Gimli over his shoulder.  "Indeed it has barely set," he said softly, and,  taking in hand a candle he had lit at the lantern, he crossed the room,  muscles shifting fluidly beneath silky skin, and seated himself on the tall  bed that stood in the corner.  "Let us leave the rug," he said.  "I need  neither warmth nor fur with you at hand.  Come."

 *More like a maid than a man, at times*, Gimli thought.  With a grumble  he rose and stumped after him, bringing the full goblet.

 The bed, with its old dark wood, and drapes and dressings of dark green  and blue, looked black in the meagre light, a pool of shadow in which the elf  reclined, alabaster skin golden in the candlelight.  He lay seemingly  relaxed on one side, his legs dangling over the edge of the mattress.

 The bed, on its tall legs, was too high for Gimli to spring upon easily  as Legolas had done.  A two-step stool stood at the bedside, but Gimli used  this as a stand for his cup, crossing his arms on the mattress and setting  his chin on them to be face-to-face with his lover, his loins still  tingling with remembered sensation.  "You say you have conquered all  fears," he said gently.  "Yet it might seem to some that you are afraid."

 Legolas' hand reached out to twine Gimli's hair around its fingers, comb  through the lush beard.  "No," he said.  His lips were moist, and darker  than Gimli had yet seen them.  "Not in the sense that I doubt you, or  myself.  Yet for me this is a moment as strong as birth.  You do not blame  me for hesitating?"

 "Did you hesitate before your birth?"

 "It was not an option open to me.  Gimli, I pray you to take the option  away from me now.  The time is come, and I find being poised on the brink  becomes, after all, painful, and I can seem to make no move."

 Gimli nodded, gratified by the honesty of the response.  He straightened  to regard the elf's lax body, like that of some supple preying-beast in  repose, and stroked a slender flank.  "I will not say I have no appetite  for this!  Yet we need not take the final leap all at once.  Will you sit  up, and move a little closer to the brink...of the bed?"

 Legolas did so, smiling, and Gimli gently pressed his knees apart, ran his  calloused palms up the alabaster thighs.  He felt the elf's hands again  in his hair, curving over his shoulders, heard his deepened breathing as Gimli  bent his head to kiss, first the inside of the knee, then up the smooth  skin of the thigh, where the hair grew light-colored and soft.  "Every inch  a new joy," he murmured.

 "If the Elves knew the joys of a beard," Legolas said unsteadily, "no dwarf  would be safe."

 "If Dwarves knew the joy of whisking dust from Elvish thighs," Gimli  answered, flashing him a grin, "no Elf's lap would want for polishing."  His fingers wrapped around the elven-shaft and he bent at last to kiss it.

 Suddenly he looked up with a start, into Legolas tense, waiting face.  "Is  this...the irretrievable moment?" he demanded, wide-eyed.

 Legolas gave a single syllable of startled laughter.  "No!" he said  breathlessly, shaking his head.  "No.  This is little more than a kiss  between comrades.  See, you hesitate yourself, and I am not alone!  No.  You will know when the moment comes.  You will feel it." And then, more  softly, as if to himself, "You must."

 For several seconds Gimli paused, disturbed, but then he shrugged and bent  again to his task.

 Soon his anxiety was forgotten by dint of distraction.  The arrow's head  was satiny to the touch of his lips, a phantom taste of salt at the eye;  a thrill ran through the whole of the elf's body when his tongue chafed at  the frenum, where shaft and foreskin joined under the cleft of the head.  With hidden strength Legolas' thighs gripped his sides, and almost at once  he began to twist and arch under the dwarf's ministrations.

 The tender cleavage between the elf's narrow buttocks was hairless and  humid to Gimli's fingers.  He pressed his way down, searching for the  opening, until it yielded to a questing thumb.  It was elastic, but, the  dwarf thought, extremely tight--virginal indeed.

 He lifted his head long enough to wet several fingers and ease his jaw  while Legolas watched milkily, eyes seemingly unfocused. Gimli held his  misty gaze as he worked first one, and then two thick fingers into the  little gateway.  He thrust gently once or twice, stroking the velvety inner  walls.  The elf moaned dulcetly.

 "Hurt?" Gimli inquired, but Legolas shook his head violently, the dark hair  tossing like running water.  Gimli smiled--*Like a maid in more ways than  one,* he thought, *and as responsive as a girl with her maidenhead  whole*-and returned his mouth to the smooth cock with renewed enthusiasm,  bringing a third finger into use when it became possible.

 Gimli was not unskilled in fellatio, both in extending and curtailing the  length of play.  He had waited too long for his own satisfaction to wish  to prolong this episode indefinitely, and he played his gambit to bring it  to an end, using short fast strokes while his inserted fingers dabbed at the  spot that gave the greatest pleasure.

 Legolas heaved on the bed, hands now clenching in the bedclothes, now on  Gimli's head and hair.  He let out a sibilance on each exhalation that grew  in amplitude as his hips began to rock.

 Gimli leaned his left arm on the elf's groin to steady him, matched his  rhythm.

 About a minute passed with gathering momentum, and then abruptly Legolas  arched toward Gimli and slammed back down, driving his sex deep into the  dwarf's throat with clenched buttocks.  He gave a wordless sobbing cry and  fell silent, breath captured.

 Gimli was ready for the thrust and welcomed it, felt the silken shaft of  the elf's rod pulse as he braced himself for the rush of hot fluid--that  failed to come.

 Legolas' body froze in its tight, trembling arc for several seconds, then  relaxed with a shiver and a gasp.

 Gimli, puzzled, made one or two strokes--Legolas' staff showed no sign of  softening--but the elf jolted and drew a hissing breath as if in pain, and  Gimli desisted.  He stood back and rubbed his aching jaw, surveying his  lover with a frown.

 Legolas lay, panting softly, his breast trembling with the tumult of his  heart, skin ashine now with sweat.  Only a few seconds passed before he  seemed to recover his breath.  "Gimli!" he said, caressingly.

 "What happened?" the dwarf demanded.

 Legolas opened his eyes and frowned back at him.  "What do you mean?"

 "Did you come?  Or what have I done wrong?"

 Legolas laughed and passed both hands over his face, brushing away the  now-tumbled hair.  "Ah, Gimli, I came indeed; I came like a dragon!  I hope  you do not feel cheated: I am saving my seed--it makes the first climax  longer and the next greater: I would share the greatest with you, and not  spend the best alone."

 Gimli looked blank.  "You can do that?" he asked, in spite of himself.

 "I have learned," Legolas said, still grinning.  "Though perhaps it is a  skill limited to my kind--I do not know.  We have much to learn of each  other, but it is not time for conversation now.  I hesitate no longer."

 Gimli shrugged, and paused for a gulp of wine.  He passed the cup to  Legolas, who drained it and let it fall unheeded on the mattress.

 "Well," the dwarf said.  He was again feeling daunted, himself hesitant,  his erection long since fallen to half-mast.  "Have we any oil on hand?  You are as tight as a hobbit, my friend, and we will both be walking like  men of Rohan after a long ride tomorrow, even if both are greased like  sucking pigs."

 Legolas, lithe as a lizard, inverted himself over the side of the bed and  came up holding a little pot of lard.  "Purloined from the kitchen," he  said with a grin.

 "A plain sauce for an elegant dish," Gimli said with a lifted brow.  "I  expected some elvish unguent, delicately perfumed and magical in its  effect!"

 "Ah, but there are such things!" Legolas curled around himself to better  see the dwarf.  "It would have won me strange looks indeed had I been so  foresighted that I asked for them from Elrond's household. . . Even in  Lorien I was not so full of hope, for it seemed far more likely that I  would wake in Mandos than at your side."

 "Small matter.  After all the chances we have run to be here together, lard  will suffice--as it has from the beginning of time."  Indeed Gimli found  so  homely a salve comforting. "And after all those chances," he added,  apologetically, "perhaps it is indeed fainthearted for either of us to  hesitate now."

 Legolas laughed.  "First one and now the other," he said.  "Yet I doubt  not  that we are drawing nearer to that brink we spoke of.  Let us confer upon  strategy:  shall I come down to you, or you up to me?"

 Gimli eyed the stepstool, tested its firmness with his foot.  "Perhaps we  may meet in the middle," he said.  He climbed the stool and rocked upon  it--its widespread legs held solid.  "This puts me adequately at your  service--if you would see my face for this first sally.  If you prefer to  turn your back on me, I would understand."

 Legolas looked at him sharply but did not deign to respond.  He raised  himself to Gimli's new height and kissed him, hard and deeply, as if  devouring him, then bent to kiss the broad breast and pinch the nipples  ungently between his teeth, tugging at the ring until Gimli gasped.  He  moved down the stout body, biting, the sensation balanced between tickling  and pain, with one arm around the dwarf's waist to steady him while he  squirmed and protested weakly.  By the time he reached the bottom of his  belly, Gimli's axe had again brandished itself proudly.

 And again Legolas took it in his mouth, sliding down the haft until the  whole of the organ was sheathed in his throat, drawing gasp after  appreciative gasp from his lover.

 After only a minute or two he wriggled himself off, exquisitely slowly,  and  looked up as if to gauge his success by Gimli's face.  Gimli felt the gaze  as a physical impact, like meeting the wild eyes of a night-creature and  finding in them deep sentience and burning emotion.  The look of the eyes  was almost as powerful a sensation as the touch of the mouth had been.

 Gimli groped for the lard-pot, and Legolas, satisfied of his intent,  changed his position so that he lay in conjunction to the dwarf, almost  shaft to shaft, knees raised.

 The dwarf pushed at his thighs, which folded back almost too easily for  the  nature of the joints.  There would be no problem there, Gimli thought, no  frustrating tangle of insufficiently-supple limbs.  He pulled back a little  to survey his point of entry.

 Even after accommodating three of the dwarf's thick fingers, the orifice  looked so small and clean that it seemed never to have been used for its  daily function, let alone any other.  Gimli surreptitiously glanced at his  hand:  it too was clean.  *Elves,* he thought with a shake of his head.  Aloud he said cautiously, "I don't want to hurt you. . ."

 "What makes you think you *can*?" the elf demanded, in an imperious tone  Gimli had not heard him use before.  "You may try, if you like! Pain is  only pain because it is an unwelcome sensation--I will accept none from  you!"

 Gimli's whiskers twitched skeptically, but he had no desire to argue--his  attention was elsewhere.  He rubbed a generous dollop of grease between  his  fingers, and when it was smooth and melted daubed it caressingly onto his  own staff, and then onto the elf's, holding them together as he slicked  their surfaces, so that Legolas moaned and clutched at his wrist, in  approbation not discomfort.

 Had Gimli been a younger dwarf, the stimulation which he had already  undergone would have been too much; he would have spent himself at that  moment and had to begin all over again at a less propitious time.  But most  dwarves school themselves to endure pleasure as well as hardship, and in  that way he was better matched with the elf than he realized.

 As it was he was content to wait a little, while Legolas' fingers explored  the meetingplace of their bodies, thrilled at the contact.  When his hand  drew away Gimli pulled back a little to insert a well-greased finger into  the aperture before pulling the point of his staff into position against  it. He paused then to look into Legolas' eyes and assure himself that the  Elf knew what was about to happen, and found Legolas' gaze again open and  empty of all save endless acceptance.

 He pushed more suddenly than he had intended, lust again kindled by the  clear eyes, driving the whole head of his thick cock into the elf, but,  true to his word Legolas neither yelped nor flinched.  His lips parted and  he drew a breath, and his eyes became slightly more unfocused, but the  muscles of his lower body did not tighten, and Gimli found his entry far  smoother than he had expected.

 "Here," breathed the dwarf, reaching out his hands.  "That was harsher than  was meant.  Take my hands and guide me as you will, at a pace of your own  choosing."

  Legolas took them, distantly at first, and then, as the dwarf braced  against him, back arched and broad arms flexed, he seemed to understand  and  pulled against him, drawing him further inside.  The elf arched and moaned  as he did so, but he did not let up, and it was with one smooth exertion  that the dwarf was fully sheathed in his body.

 Gimli found that he trembled with both joy and anticipation, and Legolas  trembled as well, both inwardly and out, sending sweet and subtle signals  from one body to another.  They held thus, quaking, until with a final pull  Legolas raised himself and Gimli bent toward him for a gentle kiss, cut  short when Gimli's footstool rocked perilously and he hastened to center  his weight again upon it.

 If he did not lean it remained secure, he found as he began to move.  He  drove in short strokes at first, short and slow, letting his partner grow  accustomed to the motion.  Legolas was snug, but not of as uncomfortably  small a bore as Gimli had feared.

 Legolas released his hands when began to thrust with greater force. One  hand curved around Gimli's side; with the other the elf grasped his own  rod  and began to stroke it.

 His hands freed, Gimli slid them beneath his partner for better leverage,  gripping and caressing the narrow pads of the buttocks, thin enough that  bone was palpable through them.  Their skin, like that of the rest of the  elf's body, was smooth and perfect, as fine as an infant's but firmer and  denser.

 Galadriel's skin would feel the same, he thought, his mind wandering of  its  own accord.  Yet with still finer velvet--for at the crease at the top of  the thigh Legolas had hair like that lower on his legs--and her stert would  be fuller, rounder, softer, heavier in his hands... the fantasy grew in  his  mind; he could see her body, altogether softer and gentler, writhing on  the  bed, breasts full and buoyant, her golden hair tossing in place of Legolas'  shadow-colored locks...

 Suddenly the memory, sharp as a slap, came to him of the words of  Galadriel: *Wherever thou goest my thought goest with thee.  But have a  care to lay thine axe to the right tree*.   He gasped, and actually paused  in his rhythm, shaken.  He was guiltily certain that the Elves would  neither approve--nor understand--nor perhaps even forgive his thinking of  another in the middle of the act in which he was engaged, and equally  certain that this *was* the act her words referred to; he wondered what  Galadriel had seen of him in her mirror.

 The jolt was almost enough to sabotage his erection, as if the Lady herself  had walked in at that moment and pointed an accusing finger at him, but  before disaster had actually set in Legolas, apparently unaware of Gimli's  small faithlessness, let out a sudden wail.  "Don't stop!" he cried, his  voice tortured, and beautiful in its pleading.

 *A pleasure so rare, and a gift so great is given you,* Gimli fumed at  himself, *and you dare go hungering for yet daintier meat!*

 He grunted an apology and took up his rhythm again, more slowly as he  gained lost ground, his eyes open this time and riveted on the body coupled  with his, lest his mind again stray.   He had maintained his tumescence,  but fallen back far from the pinnacle he had approached.

 Legolas was nearing a climax, his stroking hand moving rapidly, his body  taut and twisting.  He was silent except for the breath that hissed hard  through his teeth, eyes closed as his head strained backward, half lifting  his shoulders from the bed, every muscle limned crisply in the candlelight.  

 He made one strangled cry as he came, body jolting in shock after shock  of  what looked very much like pain, so extreme were the spasms.  Gimli, still  far behind, watched in hunger, felt the reverberations passing through the  deepest parts of his lover's body, and was surprised by a bolt that shot  through his own loins, a keen stroke of pleasure that almost brought him  off against his will.

 He stopped thrusting again for a moment, trying both to savor and subdue  the sensation, and Legolas, lying loose in the reaction, voiced no  objection.

 But his shaft was still hard; again no seed had been released save a single  drop that lay like a moonstone on his heaving belly.

 Almost absentmindedly Gimli picked up the drop on a finger and stroked it  off with his tongue.

 Vague and dilated, Legolas' eyes followed the motion; he smiled wryly.  "*Now!*" he whispered, and braced himself, the whole of his lax body  drawing tight again.

 Gimli obediently began to pump, slowly so as not yet to give in entirely  to the arrow of pleasure that still throbbed in him.  Legolas moved with him,  matching and countering his rhythm, deft and adept.  After a minute or two  Gimli reached down and took hold of his cock, working it in rhythm with  their dance.  Legolas laid a hand over Gimli's to guide it to greatest  effect.

 Now they held each other's eyes, Gimli's merely highlights beneath brows  gathered in concentration, Legolas' wide, black, and misty, as they rocked  in quickening cadence.  What passed between them was a rich conversation,  far too complex for words, far too rapid for memory to grasp.  It was soon  that Gimli felt a veritable storm gather in his balls.

 He groaned in the stress of the cresting wave.  "I cannot hold much  longer," he panted, and Legolas, his face wild and beautifully anguished,  responded with an eloquent little toss of his head that somehow carried  throughout his body.  "*I* have been waiting for *you!*" he gasped in reply.

 No room for laughter.  One stroke more, two, three--and the storm broke.  Gimli stiffened, driving into his lover with all the considerable force  of his solid body--it was only Legolas' sudden grip on his hand that kept him  from overbalancing and toppling the stool.

 But that was the moment when all resemblance to orgasms he had known in  the past ended, for an absolute flame shot up his spine like a lightening-bolt,  engulfing mind and body as if in a sheet of white flame that seared away  thought and knowledge and time, devoured selfhood and sex and awareness  in a searing conflagration of light.

 


He might have been lost for one minute or many hours, but, as he realized when awareness gradually returned, the former was more likely.  He came to himself staring at the ceiling, the echo of a roar he knew for his own still in his ears, mingling with the roar of his blood.   He had bellowed, certainly, but he had also been holding his breath.  He let it out explosively and staggered a little, steadied again by Legolas' grasping hand.

His axe had begun to soften, but when he drew it from its living sheath he saw it was streaked with blood.   He blew softly in consternation, but had not the strength to be much disturbed as yet.

Still bemused Gimli heaved himself ungracefully onto the bed, half unaware of whether it was his limbs or Legolas' in which he was tangled, first to flop onto his lover--whose belly was slick with finally-released semen--for a rough embrace, then to one side of him where he lay and puffed, his breath a hot draft across Legolas' breast.

Legolas, lips resting against his forehead, listened to Gimli's blowing with amusement.  "Mercy on your poor anvil!" he said after an interval, for Gimli's heart beat against him with violence.  "I have surely taken enough pounding from one hammer or another of yours this night.  And I think you may stop pumping the bellows now," he added.  "The forge has overheated and the iron has melted."  He reached between Gimli's legs to illustrate his metaphor.

Gimli, nearly recovered, groaned as Legolas' fingers touched sore flesh. "Ah, you may laugh," he snorted, "but I am the one who has nearly killed himself in the service of love!  I am not made for such exertions." But after a moment he sighed happily. "But do not take that as an atom of regret!"

Gimli found his beard grasped and his head tipped upward for a kiss, and when it was done he lay back, still as drunk and giddy as he had felt, long ago, in the arms of his first lover.  That encounter had been with an older woman of high skill, such as are held in great esteem among the dwarves, and had been paid for with gold.  This new feeling, Gimli reflected, had none of the brash self-satisfaction of his youth, and its cost--however readily paid--had been much greater, its full price a long mystery.  Not long ago he had been satisfied with how he had spent his life, deemed himself well-content and well-acquitted.  Now his heart ached for years lost and wasted.  Time, all measured time, felt chokingly short.

Gimli found the turn of his thoughts disturbing, and examined his lover, wondering what things, sweet or bitter, might be passing in his mind and heart.

The elf's fingers were still fixed loose in his beard, and his face, serene and perfect, was resting with flushed cheeks and near-closed eyes close to Gimli's.  "Is all well with you?"  the dwarf asked softly.

Legolas drew a deep, slow breath, relishing the air, and released it in a sigh.  "Yes," whispered.

"I made you bleed," Gimli persisted.  "I am sorry."

"Small matter--a wound in the arse made by love heals much faster than a wound in the heart from the same cause."  The long eyes opened languidly and a wry smile pulled at his lips.

"There is no praise high enough!" Gimli exclaimed, moved by the sweetness of that smile, the piercing beam of the eyes.  "Had you asked me before this night, I would have said I had plumbed the depths and flown the heights of pleasures of the body--now I am humbled by the extent of my ignorance."

"You speak for me as well," Legolas stroked damp hair from Gimli's brow. "I did not know if elf and dwarf could join in that way: I feared our dissimilarities might betray us, and leave each alone. . . And what then! But no: we felt one another's pleasure, Gimli, and the sum was greater than its parts.  I wonder if it was not even greater for our differences."

Gimli blinked at him, wide-eyed.  "Will it happen again?  Each time we make love?"

Legolas shrugged diffidently.  "I do not know.  We have entered a new land, Gimli, only little less strange for me than for you, though perhaps not quite so far outside my experience.  I hope and believe that time will only strengthen the bond, and our pleasure only grow as we become more skilled and learn better of each other."

"How I hope you are right!" Gimli said fervently.  "Such joy may shorten my life, but it will make it infinitely more worth living!"

Legolas winced slightly. "Your heart is as strong and as jealous of life as any that has beat against mine--yet I could wish you had not said that, even in jest.  Fate lies oft in idle words."

Gimli shook his head, chuckling.  "Tonight, indeed, I feel more as if I shall live forever."  He raised himself to find what object was gouging him and extracted the goblet from the chaos of bedclothes.  He let it tumble out of his hand onto the floor, not caring for its safety.  It did not break but rolled under the bed, where it was fated to lie forgotten for a long time.

"Yet. . . Was that not what we felt?" Legolas was murmuring.  "A moment of mortal death--? To lose the self and all the world truly and well. . . ?"

He trailed off dreamily, distracted, and Gimli stared at him in alarm. "Who tempts fate now?" he demanded.

Legolas returned his gaze for a moment in silence. "Idle words," he whispered.

Very different he looked, Gimli thought, and wondered why.  The elf lay lax, his long limbs spread at ease across the bed as if there were no other state but nakedness, and his hair made a black satin aureole around his flushed face, strands clinging to brow and cheeks.  His eyes, all pupil, also seemed black, and there was a warmth in them that Gimli felt in his heart.

Yet there was also a subtle distress in his expression that made him look vulnerable and, deceptively, very young: like a youth who faces his first battle, or his first child; an expression that seemed alien, to the dwarf's eyes, on the fair, familiar features.  Attuned perhaps to Gimli's thoughts Legolas answered the unvoiced question.  "There is no word for what you are to me," he whispered.  "We are something entirely new.  My heart is in disarray, Gimli, and everything is changed--and I have no word for what you are to me."

Gimli frowned, worried, for the elf's problem was one he could only dimly fathom.  "To speak of idle words!" he answered in gentle exasperation, "I have sometimes thought that elves set too great a store by words.  Deeds are of greater worth."

"But words *are* deeds, dear Gimli.  An oath taken, a lie told, a love declared, a hatred voiced--what deeds are truly greater?  And what deeds do not have their origin, or their history at least, in words?"

Gimli leaned to kiss him, to taste again the sweetness and softness of his perfect mouth.  Legolas responded with an echo of the recent passion, and many heartbeats passed before they again separated.  "I would have said that act had no root in words," Gimli said, softly, an inch from his lover's lips.  "But you would argue, no doubt.  Listen--we will find the word, or make it up if we must, if it is what you need."

Legolas smiled.  His hand came up to caress Gimli's cheek and trace the little lines it found there, and Gimli blinked to feel the almost palpable intensity of the dark gaze, as if he had for a moment stepped, welcome, into the profound depths of his lover's heart and mind, and found there endless lovely reflections of himself.  An answering warmth rose up in him that made him gasp through parted lips, as one startled.

"Yes, I will listen," Legolas whispered.  "And it will be to you.  And we may find the word, although perhaps I will find that I do not need it after all."

It was Gimli who wanted words, now.  His heart was suddenly full to bursting, the emotions new and overwhelming--sweet yet hurtful, like a sad song.  He began to understand the elf's distress.  "Legolas," he said suddenly.   "You wear no jewelry, not even a ring.  Have you no fondness for decoration at all?"

The elf gazed at him for a moment  as if gauging his motives and framing a reply.  "Little enough," he said.  "I have not my father's love of jewels. Yet also I have admired many beautiful things and works of craft.  Why do you ask?"

"Because I would see a strand of mithril gleam against the shadow of your hair, and a ruby red as blood against your white skin, here, or here." He touched Legolas' forehead and the soft hollow at the base of his throat. "Or perhaps a moonstone of the finest water, or deepest amethyst.  I wondered if you would wear any such thing."

The elf's comely face softened and brightened, as if he heeded the emotion behind the words more than the words themselves.  "If it came from your hands, I would treasure it, Gimli," he whispered, "and if it pleased you, with pleasure I would wear it."

The dwarf smiled, relieved.  "Fairly spoken, my friend.  But until I can deliver it to you I would leave you an earnest of our espousal.  Here." His hands were out of sight for a moment, and then reappeared, holding the gold ring set with stones that had lately inhabited his nether portions. "I won't insist that you set it in back of your balls, but on a chain near your heart might be nice."

Legolas laughed and took the dwarf in his arms, and Gimli laughed with him, not loud but long, deep laughter close to tears for a feeling that had no other means of expression.

At last they drew apart and lay, heads close together. Legolas took the ring and slid it onto his thumb.  "Look," he said, displaying the fit. "As if it were made for me."  He admired it, smiling, as it flashed red and blue-white in the candlelight.  "A keepsake indeed, my friend.  How is it joined?  You did not--"

"No, I neither sliced it in nor tore it out.  Can you not see the seam?"

The elf examined the ring closely in the flickering light.  "No," he said. "It looks to be all a solid piece."

Gimli smiled sleepily in satisfaction.  "I wish I could tell Balin, who showed me the trick, that it deceives even the eyes of elves.  I am well content."  He yawned and closed his eyes.  After a moment he felt Legolas' hand light on his breast, caressing its hairs, fondling the nipple-ring. He laid his own hand over it to hold it there, and opened his eyes to find the elf studying him.

"Must you wander off and sing at the moon tonight?" he asked.  "Or will you sleep with me?"

"I will sleep," Legolas said.  "I too am weary, and I do not wish to leave you."

"Good."  He nestled closer to the elf, who cradled him, laying a long thigh that felt nearly weightless across his groin, warm and smooth, its light-colored hair glinting gold in the fluttering candlelight.

"Gimli, before you sleep," Legolas said after a moment, rising again on one elbow, "I would ask you this:  did you--do you still--feel aught has changed?"

Gimli heard the tension in his voice and came more fully awake.  "Yes," he answered at once, but then took a moment to consider how to answer.  "Yes. I feel a warmth in a place I did not know was cold, and there is--something, something of you, it may be--filling a place I did not know was empty.   I did not know I was lonely, Legolas, until I was lonely no longer.  I feel I as if I never shall be again."

"Yes," Legolas agreed, relieved.  "That is what I too feel.  Yes."

Gimli watched his face in last light of the guttering candle.  As he spoke it hissed and went out, leaving the room filled with moonlight, for the little lantern on the mantle of the fireplace cast only a small circle. "So will you continue as you have?" he asked after a pause, his voice a little gruff, "Leaping like a dolphin from bed to bed, or loping from bower to bower, or springing from tree to tree--whatever is your custom?"

Legolas looked at him for a moment; what his eyes could see in the silver light Gimli could not tell.  "Yes," he said at last, "unless it would make you unhappy."

Gimli felt suddenly foolish.  "Ah," he said dismissively.  "I would not have you change long habits for me."

"It is different amongst the dwarves, I take it?"

"Well, yes--when a couple are wed they forego the intimate pleasure of all others..."

"And do you feel that we are wed?"

Gimli wondered if the elf could see him blushing.  "Well, yes, Legolas, I do.  I thought--"  he broke off in confusion.

The elf heaved a great sigh and dropped again onto the bed.  "Ah, I am glad, Gimli--I am terribly glad.  Ours is a special case, and I think we must agree on how we shall treat with others.  I shall do whatever you request of me.  There is no need for such a prohibition amongst the elves, of course, for such a bonding can truly only happen once, and we have, as a rule, no need for jealousy."

"I did not say I was jealous," Gimli grunted, and Legolas curled against him in a tight embrace.  "And I shall not be, if it be true that none other has the key to the place which I have been first to enter."

"None ever shall," Legolas said, "unless it be by force, and then it would be but a desecration of my corpse. I would fly this house long before I would suffer such violation, were there no other choice."

Gimli was startled out of his drowse.  "That is an evil thought, and a grim oath, if oath it was," he said, shocked, "and should certainly never have been spoken by one who believes fate is easily tempted!"

"I spoke no oath, nor do I foretell--it is merely a truth you must know, if you would know the extent of my commitment.  It is no more or less than most of my race would do."  The elf spoke lightly, as if he had said no very terrible thing.  "But I shall happily swear never to give you cause for jealousy, if those were your terms--you shall keep the key.  I love you, my mole."

"And I, you, my jeweled bird," Gimli answered.  With his head inclined against his lover's heart--it beat softly now, at its ease, and very slowly--Gimli again drifted toward slumber.

"Now for a time we shall journey together," Legolas murmured, and, on the threshold of sleep, the dwarf drew himself back to listen.  "And that must serve as our honeymoon, for my heart fears that we are fated to spend much time apart, and to see each other only now and again for many busy years. Grief may weigh heavy on us, yet each will prove a comfort to the other no matter how many miles lie between, for each will know the other's heart, and he will never suffer alone.  We may journey together again someday.  . ."

The elf paused.  "After that I cannot see."

"Ah.  More of that distinctively Elvish variety of optimism and cheer," Gimli said.  He raised the hand he held to his lips and kissed it to draw the teeth of his dismissive words.  He felt too sated, himself, and too weary, and too altogether comfortable, to worry about what, if anything, the elf truly foresaw.

Legolas sighed, and was silent again for a long time.  Gimli was once more nearly asleep when he spoke for the last time that night, now whispering.

"I will tell you, then, the hope I have.  I do not believe we have been brought together by random chance, and that alone is a comfort.  All the songs teach us that there is no final parting for true lovers:  in my heart I believe that is our road.  All we must do is remain upon it."

*All we must do.*  The promise hung before Gimli like a ripe fruit, complete and perfect it seemed and well within his grasp, for a thing so  far off.  It would not always seem so, for the road would be indeed both  hard and long--yet even at its darkest the promise never seemed entirely to wither, or to die.  "I swear it," he whispered, and again, "I swear it."

He slept.

 


Gimli woke with a shock in the slanting light of very early morning. Legolas was kissing the nape of his neck, parting the hair and stroking it aside in long motions that tickled across Gimli's shoulders and onto his chest.  For some minutes he lay motionless to enjoy the sensation.   When the elf moved from kissing and stroking to kneading and rubbing with his long sensitive fingers, finding and releasing places where tension or soreness was stored in the massive muscles of Gimli's arms and shoulders, the dwarf allowed himself appreciative rumbles of approval.

When at last he turned his head to deliver some greeting, the elf leaned over him and stopped Gimli's mouth with his own before he had a chance to speak.

Had he waked alone and had time to dwell on his declarations and decisions of the last night it might have been a very different mood he came to; it was possible the elf had guessed this and moved to be sure Gimli woke to the same love and admiration he had encountered last night, so dark and somber thoughts were banished before they began.

As he lay thus, half twisted across Legolas' breast, the elf reached around his body and grasped his sex, and leisurely, with great delicacy, and sensitivity, and skill, brought him slowly to a long, exquisite plateau at the extremity of pleasure, where Gimli squirmed and moaned and uttered what endearments and pleas he could never remember, until, with deliberation, Legolas tipped him abruptly and thunderously over the edge.

Again Gimli heard himself roar involuntarily, and even in the blind moment of orgasm he was aware of the hot splash of semen on his back as, once again, the elf shared the climax with him in perfect unison.

When he was spent he lay quivering in the reverberations of ecstasy--the crest of passion not so violent nor so intense as that of the night before, yet still extreme in his experience; but Legolas laughed and shoved him aside to spring out of the bed.

Gimli, his head clearing, could hear him singing and splashing in the dressing room.  With an effort he rose to seek the chamberpot, discovering as he did so that his penis was still raw from its exertions of the last night, yet Legolas' touch had been so adroit that he had felt no pain from his manipulations.  He wondered if the elf was also still sore.  He showed no sign of it, if he was.

His bladder relieved, Gimli climbed back into the bed and snuggled again under the blankets, where he drowsed pleasantly between sleeping and waking until the elf suddenly sprang onto the mattress beside him.  "Slug-a-bed!" he cried.  "I have done my best to wake you--what more does it take to roust a dwarf from slumber?  Cold water and a birch rod?  I will fetch them, if I must!"

Gimli opened an eye and examined Legolas' happy face as it hovered above his own.  Gimli was short of sleep and would have gladly slept several hours more, but Legolas was clearly in an extremely lighthearted, even giddy mood, and eager to be up and doing.  Between a desire to remain near him and a fierce hunger Gimli resigned himself to wakefulness.  "You did your job only too well, " he said.  "I am faint with exertion and worn with starvation."  He hauled himself into a sitting position to gape and stretch his arms, but Legolas unexpectedly seized his beard and jerked him into an undignified kiss and embrace.

"Will our mornings together all follow this pattern?" he asked sternly when he was released at length.

"What pattern could you prefer?"  Legolas cried, again whisking away to begin dressing.

Gimli watched regretfully as his legs disappeared into his breeches.  "Then I shall have to shave my beard to deprive you of leverage," he growled with as much an air of injured pride as he could invoke, and swung himself out of the bed.

He marched toward the dressing room, looking round at the last moment. To his concealed delight he caught Legolas watching the movement of his well-rounded buttocks as he walked.  The elf met his eyes honestly, and a smoldering glance passed between them.

Gimli sighed.  He leaned against the door, hands on his hips, and said dryly, "And we are to mingle with our friends all day, I take it, and pay as little attention to one another as if it were not the morning after our 'wedding night'?"

"I thought," the elf replied coolly, examining the ring he still wore on his thumb, "that we might ride out of the city a certain distance, in the afternoon."

Gimli lifted his brows.  "Up for riding already!" he said blandly.  "But I have always heard it said that Elves heal wondrous quick."  He caught a pillow in the face for that, and went to his ablutions all the more pleased with himself.

 


"And what of the Fellowship?" Gimli asked a few minutes later as, washed and brushed, he also began to gather himself into his scattered clothing. "Shall we make an announcement of our--betrothal?"

"To what end?" Legolas shrugged.  He had thrown the windows open and was seated on the sill, legs dangling, bathed in warm sunlight and still-cool air, while he gazed out over the city.  "Will it change the world for any but ourselves?  And, besides, I doubt that it would come as a surprise to any."

"Surely Gandalf, with his long sight, knew before even Galadriel. . ." Gimli mused, "And Aragorn--"

"--Has certainly known since Helm's Deep, even if he was blind before," the elf interposed without turning.

Gimli was nodding.  "And the hobbits, Pippin and Merry, know--for when you had the consolation of Galadriel and the company of your kin, I was bewildered and alone, and turned to them for comfort."

"Indeed?  And did they ... comfort you?" Legolas glanced toward him, and his eyes sparkled.

"For shame, Elf!  They are--they are little hobbits, scarce more than youths!  And this was in Lorien!"

Legolas chortled, delighted.  "I thought it a very pretty picture, you and a brace of young hobbits among the mallorn-trees.  Alas!  They comforted you only with words, I take it."

"Yes, they did.  More than you might think.  For they are of a short-lived kind, and their tradition says that seed must not be wasted on pleasure, but must go to the service of the race, to make more hobbits.  And Pippin and Merry are cousins, to compound the error.  They too travel a hard road."

Legolas shook his head.  "I did not intend to demean them.  It is hard among all people to go against custom, and difficult indeed when many children are called for and there is no desire for them.  It is a different matter among the elves--it is your beard, and not your sex, that will keep my kin from sharing my happiness in you--though if they knew more of your talents, they might be more inclined to jealousy."  He winked at the dwarf, who smiled in return.

"Among dwarves," said Gimli rather proudly, "it is accounted manly to gratify a mature woman and still have the power to satisfy a young warrior--and the latter may be deemed the more important, if the less difficult, for there are more young warriors than women."

Legolas chuckled.  "Potent indeed are the sons of Durin.  I have no doubt but that you measure up to the test: you leave nothing wanting in a comparison to Shadowfax, from the snorting and bugling to the masculine trappings, save a longer neck and a silver tail."

"That leaves only Frodo and Sam," Gimli said.  "And they may truly be too caught up in themselves and their adventures to have noticed us or ours."

At last the elf swung to face him fully, his eyes glittering with repressed laughter.  "But Gimli, my dear stone-eared ass, that would only be true for Sam and Frodo--and for the city of Minas Tirith down to the outermost walls--if you had not bellowed like a balrog in your passion last night and again this morning.  I don't believe you yelled so loud in battle; my ears are still ringing."

He laughed at last, merrily, and though Gimli felt the blood in his cheeks the words did not sting much, for they were spoken with pride. "And you mew like a seagull and warble like a nightingale," the dwarf said softly.  "I have never heard such sounds made so lovely.  Ah well--if our love must be notorious throughout Middle Earth, so be it.  Let them talk!"

"Yes--today I feel as if I could face any scorn!"  Legolas rose.  "Though in Minas Tirith we are likely to face no worse than the elaborately-feigned ignorance of friends.  Bad enough at that!  But it is far past time to face it."

"And breakfast as well!  But wait--"  Gimli's hands flew to his head.  "I have faced many perils with you, yet it would be too much to face Gandalf on this morning with my hair down, like a courtesan too drunk to order herself.  Just a moment."  He began to weave the tresses into a braid, but to his surprise Legolas' hands interrupted his own.

"You have combed it down the sides," he said. "If you pull it back now it will look more disordered than ever.  Wait a moment." In a few seconds he had fetched a comb, and with dampened hands bound the locks into a braid as tight as rope, doubled it back on itself as the dwarf was wont to wear it.

Gimli examined the elf's work with his fingers.  "Well done," he said with lifted brows, and could not help adding,  "You make a fine wife."

Legolas lifted one smooth brow in return.  "When the time comes," he said, beautiful head held high, "you will find I also make a more-than-adequate husband."

Gimli, caught--not for the last time--without an adequate rejoinder, bowed low.

Legolas sardonically returned the bow, but then extended one hand for a fervid clasp before he swept suddenly out of the door and ran lightly down the stairs.

At the first landing he paused and looked back, but Gimli was following stolidly at his own pace.  Legolas waited until he drew alongside, and they descended the rest of the way together.

FIN

 
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