Saturday, 3 September 2016

It's Been A While...

Yes, far too long since my last post...

Writing and posting a story a week on top of all my other writing was really a little too much.  Real Life, too, has a habit of getting in the way...

To recap everything that's happened since my last post would take too long and probably be of limited interest anyway but the highlights of the year so far have been...

25th Anniversary celebrations back in March.  25 years is, of course, silver, so one of the things I gave my Amazing Husband was a copy of the new Lone Ranger film because... yes, it's got Silver in it...  and amongst other things, he took me to Blackpool to celebrate.  We had talked about Dublin, where we had our honeymoon, about Paris, about Amsterdam... but for various reasons, going too far afield wasn't easy and so... Blackpool!  It's where we met, all those years ago.

We had sunshine... but it was cold...

We had cloud... and it was a bit nippy...
I had a paddle and it was freezing!

But we had a lovely weekend, even though walking was really difficult and it took ages to find a place I could manage to get down onto the beach; I couldn't manage the steps!

 *****  *****  *****  ***** 

Moving forward...

Walking was difficult because of end-stage arthritis in my foot.  We went through all the usual procedures; physio, advice on shoes, special insoles... x rays showed that the only thing that could help would be surgery, and the insertion of a metal plate in my foot to screw the bones together.  This usually stabilises the joint and reduces pain.  It also limits the kind of shoes I can wear, but I wasn't big on high heels anyway...

In July I had surgery under a regional anaesthetic, and at one point was able to watch, to see the plate in my foot; it looks like Meccano, only it's very posh Meccano, being made from titanium...  there followed two weeks when I had to spend almost all my time with my foot elevated above the level of my hip with no more than 20 minutes at a time walking  - crutching - around.    Since then, I've still had to manage on crutches and wear what we affectionately call the Shoe of Doom... 

I did manage to get out and take part in Writers in the Rafters inspirational trip to the Royal Armouries, to look at the Saxon Hoard and a very nice exhibition of needlework inspired by the Samurai collection, and to return a few days later to meet a writer friend and her family.

Other than that... well, the high point of last week was being able to crutch to the shop and back.

Now I'm going stir crazy; it's raining, and my crutches slip on the path, so I'm housebound until it stops and the path dries... probably tomorrow.

Still, not much longer, and I already have less pain.  I've been doing a lot of writing, and knitting, and planning what I'll do once I can abandon my crutches and get back to what passes for normal.

No pictures, they're all too grim...

Now I have 10 days to go for my next follow-up and

Monday, 16 February 2015

And the Winner Is...


Once more I've been fortunate enough to win the Teitho Challenge, a monthly Fan Fiction competition. Now, this month there were only six entries, and the prize is just the honour of the '1st Place' next to your name, but I was still very pleased to win. The category this month was 'an Unexpected Adventure'.

With copious apologies to my friend S who (often quite rightly) complains about the names used in fantasy stories.  Not a lot I can do when so many of the names are canonical, and when you have to stick to the languages used in the stories, but... sorry, S.

So, as ever...

This is a work of fiction, a tribute to the works of JRR Tolkien. No monies are made from this work, it is intended for entertainment only and no copyright infringement intended...

‘How I Met Your Mother…’

Summary: The Night of the Names is a special Silvan tradition. One year, during the observances, Thranduil tells Legolas a story of long ago…

It was Yule, the shortest night of the year, the Night of the Names in Mirkwood.

Throughout the forest, the Silvan population was gathering, for this was the one night, according to their beliefs, when they could speak the names of their honoured dead without disturbing the fëar of their lost loved ones.

Thranduil the Elvenking, genial autocrat and gracious ruler of the Woodland Realm, though himself Sindar, kept the tradition, too, for his long-dead and much-beloved consort had been Silvan, and while it often pained him not to say her name, still, he would say to Legolas, your mother, and over the long years since he had lost her, he had come to value the opportunity to honour her memory on the longest night of the year.

It was his own edict that none be alone on the Night of the Names, lest the sadness be too much to bear, and he had already attended the public observances, so now he sat in his private chambers, the starlight gemstone of white fire glittering and flashing on its stand, and waited for his son to arrive.
While he waited, he rested his gaze on the diamond sparkling and refracting, and his eyes glittered briefly as he remembered the night he had selected the gem from his store and cleansed it with water, and with salt, before dedicating it to his dead love.  He had spoken all his memories of her into it, and Legolas, in turn, had had recorded his own thoughts and memories...  all her Silvan kin, all of his subjects who had loved and honoured her, they, too spoke their recollections, and finally, when she was laid to rest, her starlight gemstone was put safe also, keeping its remembrances stored for moments, nights such as this.

Those outside the forest knew nothing of the rituals and traditions of the Silvans.  They considered Thranduil avaricious, covetous, not realising the king wanted the stones not for their worth, but for their value. For as a repository of the past and a source of future comfort, the white gems and soft pearls that Thranduil so desired were utterly beyond price.

A knock at the outer doors of his chambers heralded the arrival of his son. He poured rich, ruby Dorwinion into two goblets and when the servant announced Legolas, he waved an idle hand.

‘Thank you. Leave us, you will not be wanted again tonight.  May your observances bring you only joy.’

The servant bowed and left.

‘Good evening, ion-nin.’ Thranduil handed out the Dorwinion.


They settled themselves in comfortable chairs before Thranduil raised his goblet and took a sip of wine.

‘I take it you have made your own public observances already?’ he asked.

Legolas nodded. 

‘Yes, Adar.  I joined Commander Govon and the warriors at the barracks’ remembrances.  We honoured those lost at the Battle of the Five Armies… and while I was there, I spared a moment to think of your elk, too…’

Thranduil raised an elegant eyebrow at his son’s attempt at humour.

‘Indeed, he was a good elk and deserves to be counted amongst the warriors; he certainly caught his share of orcs…  and thinking of Bright Hart puts me in mind of our elk-tamers, which is fitting as tonight I want to speak of your mother, Legolas…  I do not speak of her often enough, I know.’

‘She was one of the elk tamers, of course.’

‘The Royal Elk-tamers, as my father Oropher called them.  She was well named, having a fiery gleam in her eyes... Baralinith...!  And such eyes! That pale blue, sprinkled with a freckling of gold so that I was never sure if they were blue, or green, or silver grey… but anger her, and you would know fire, there…’

Thranduil smiled at some secret memory, and sipped at his Dorwinion before continuing.

‘I remember the morning of the day we met, I was in yet another tedious audience with my father.  I was perhaps in my  fourteenth decade, certainly no longer an elfling, but not quite at my full stature, and the last thing I wanted, on that bright day just before the New Year festivals, was to be trammelled up in the Hall of Audience listening to the chief Royal Elk-tamer complaining that elves had been seen in the buffer zone between the elk-tamers’ reserved territories and the wider forest , and what to do with these elves as punishment, or discouragement… ? I stopped listening as I realised it was not, as was popularly believed, forbidden to be in the buffer zone itself, but only to shoot a bow there, and had I not been so bored, it would never have occurred to me to attempt an exploration of this illicit, almost forbidden territory…’


Thranduil Oropherion escaped the Hall of Audience with relief.  If he ever became king, he was going to do things differently, he decided…. Not that he want to rule, his father was superb in the role, loved, respected and feared in exactly the right measure by his subjects…  But the state meetings and the private and public audiences seemed to go on forever; it was no wonder his father was sometimes stern of face…

He hurried back to his rooms and changed into dark leggings and tunic, the better to blend in amongst the colours of the forest. He was much too blond, of course, but his moss-green cloak had a hood he could use to hide his pale hair when the time came.

Slinging a bow and a quiver of arrows across his back, he inserted a long-bladed knife into the sheath at his side.  A quick trip to the kitchens to beg some bread and cheese from the cooks and to stow a filled water flask, and he was off into the forest, sliding unseen between the trees, heading towards the enticing, unknown acres of the Royal Elk-tamers’ territory.

There was a line of silver birch marking the edge of the buffer zone, the limit of what most folk believed was the boundary of the elk-tamers’ domain.  Now, of course, Thranduil knew otherwise, and so he fixed his eyes on a magnificent oak, one he had often seen from afar and longed to climb.
He made his way up towards the canopy, noting where strong side branches leapt vigorously away from the stalwart trunk, enjoying the challenge of the tree… yes, a climb worth waiting for.  Not too difficult – in fact, the oak made all easy and he relaxed into the rhythm of his upwards movement.
The bright green of young leaves was host to a myriad species of insect and invertebrate, and 

Thranduil could sense the life surging all around him. Selecting a vantage point, he settled with care, looking out onto the forbidden real-within-a-realm which began on the far side of a wide brook twining some small way from the foot of the oak.

The prince stretched out on his belly along his chosen bough and began to really sink into the landscape, absorbing the view even as the forest accepted and absorbed him.

Time passed, maybe as much as an hour, while Thranduil drifted with the life of the tree, soaking it up, drinking it in.

And then…

He became aware of a difference, a new, vital energy that brought him back to focus all his attention across the stream, the direction of this new vitality.

Slowly, proudly, a single white hart advanced into a clearing.

Thranduil, downwind, and far enough away not to be perceived, held his breath anyway.

The coat of the beast gleamed silver in the sunlight.  Buds of nascent antlers, velvet-covered, pushed out from its head; it would be a youngster, he thought, a yearling to judge from its height and build.

A beautiful creature, strong and delicate, already its shoulders would be as high as Thranduil’s own, and when it reached full stature it would be magnificent.

If it lived long enough, of course.

Granted, it was presently on safe ground.  But that did not protect it from the usual dangers of the forest, of course, and what if it strayed? What if it crossed the safe boundaries, to be prey to any passing hunter in the forest?

Thranduil became acutely aware of the bow and quiver at his back.

Not that he had come out to hunt for venison.

Not that he would dream of trying to shoot this wondrous, luminous creature.

Not that he would dare the elk-tamers’ wrath.

...Not that he would hit the creature, anyway.

He sighed.

Thranduil Oropherion, already expert – deadly, in fact, with any edged weapon, had heard it said he would not be able to hit the palace doors with an arrow, were he standing within arm’s reach and holding the arrow in his hand.

So… it would not hurt, then, just to nock an arrow and squint along the sights… would it…?


Thranduil paused in his story to top up his glass with more Dorwinion.

‘Adar! You didn’t?’ Legolas asked, accepting a refill of the dark, red wine.

‘Oh, you know what they say, ion-nin! The safest place to be when I have a bow in my hand is directly in front of the target… of course I did not shoot, Legolas!’


He would never be able to hit the creature. And even if he could, why would he wish to? He was not hungry, it was not his enemy.

Preparing to re-sling his bow at his back, Thranduil heard a hiss from behind him.

‘Hold where you are or I will inflict such pain on you that you will never raise a bow without remembering it!’

That there was a voice at all was a shock; that it was female, and venomous, was an added surprise.  

Thranduil stilled, and spoke as softly and calmly as he could.

‘I was about to stow my gear in any case; I had no intention of...’

‘That’s what they all say!  Very well. With care – take the arrow and pass it back to me.’

‘But... Oh, very well.’  Thranduil felt the tug on the shaft of the arrow and released his hold.

‘Good.  And now stow your bow.’

Obligingly, the prince slipped the bow into place across his back.

‘Now, down from the tree.  And bear in mind, I have your arrow in my hand and remarkably swift 

‘But I have done nothing!’ Thranduil protested.

‘You are trespassing.  This land is reserved for the elk-tamers...’

‘No, it is not! Your lands begin at the brook; this is a neutral zone...’

‘Where you may walk, but not shoot. And you had an arrow nocked and your eye on a hart I have been gentling from birth.’

‘But I was not going to shoot!’

‘Down from the tree, now!’

Thranduil sighed and began his descent, the elk-tamer hissing warnings as he went.  Finally he reached the ground and had a chance to properly look at his captor.

She was his height, almost, but not his age, still having a softness, a roundness to her features that suggest she was not long an adult.  Her hair was more tawny than usual amongst the Silvans, and was gathered into two bunched braids at either side of her head that added to the illusion of immaturity, and did not suit her. Her eyes were a strange mixture of blue and silver but speckled with glints of gold.

And fierce.  Very, very fierce.

Her own inspecting look was contemptuous, so he ignored it and carried on with his own perusal.

Those braids really were bordering on ridiculous!  The lightness of hair tone suggested some Sindar blood mingling with the wild wood-elf, and she was as fair of face and form as most elves, he supposed, marred, perhaps by the disdain of her expression but balanced by the fiery gleam of her gaze.

‘And so, for trespassing and drawing on my hart, you are my prisoner for the day. Your freedom is forfeit.’

Too late Thranduil remembered the morning’s audience but prepared to argue.

‘It was my understanding that the Royal Elk-tamers were only supposed to be educating those they find trespassing...’

‘I intend to teach you a lesson, certainly.  First, we’re going to cross the stream.’

‘So that you can legitimise your actions? I do not think so...’

‘Move, will you?’

‘Do you know who I am?’  Thranduil decided that now would probably be a good time to play the Royalty card.  ‘I am Thranduil Oropherion.’

The elk-tamer looked him up and down and gave a little, theatrical gasp.

‘I am so sorry, ernilen!’ she said with a deep and mocking curtsey.  ‘Move, your highness. Please.’


‘And that was it; love at first sight!’ Legolas exclaimed.  ‘You were entranced!’

His father quirked an eyebrow.

‘Hardly, ion-nin.  I was enraged.  But I decided to go along with her.  Besides, it was not every day 
one got an invitation – however brusque – to visit the elk-tamers’ acres...’


‘There are stepping stones slightly to the left,’ the elk-tamer said. ‘Cross there – and slowly.  The hart should not startle. Well? Why do you tarry?’

Thranduil had hesitated because the elleth was doing something absurd with her braids, twisting them so that they stood up from her head. He assumed there must be some manner of hidden structure inside the braidwork to permit this, but he could not fathom why she would do such a thing.

‘Your hair,’ he said. ‘I beg pardon, but...’

‘It mimics the antlers.’

‘But the hart’s own are only just budding; surely...?’

‘The crossing. Keep your voice low, if you must speak, highness, and slow.’

‘My name is Thranduil, if you would deign to use it.’

‘Baralinith.  The hart likes dried blackberries and strawberries. I call him Urulosson... It means Snow 

‘In what language, precisely?’

Baralinith smiled.

‘The first two components of the name are Quenya, the suffix Sindarin. It is how we keep track of the lineage of the herd.’

‘But... it should be Fire Snow...’

‘It sounds better inverted.’

‘It would sound better yet in Sindarin...’

‘But the breeders would be confused. He is used to it, too.  There is a glade where I feed him.  

Continue to the left and stop near the silver birch. He should follow us there.’ She looked him over again.  ‘I hope you won’t frighten him off.’

‘Then should you not lead, so that he sees your ... ah... familiar antlers first?’

‘Yes... but can I trust you not to try to escape? For should you run away, you would startle him and my entire day will have been wasted...’

‘I give you my word; come, you know my name, you know who to complain to should I do so. Besides, to be this close to a wild elk...’

‘Half-wild; he has been feeding from my hand for many months now,’ she corrected, and moved to the fore, leading the way through the trees towards the silver birch she had mentioned.  A rock sat embedded in the ground some small way from the tree and into its concave top Baralinith placed one or two morsels of dried fruit.

Stepping back two or three paces, she glanced at where Thranduil waited in the lee of the silver birch.

‘Stay there, Thranduil.  He should come when I call.’

She made a deep sort of chucking sound in her throat and waited.

Moments only passed before the undergrowth parted with a soft rustle and a bright head emerged. 

The young hart slowly left cover and stepped lightly across the glade, pausing to look around and scent the air, lifting his delicate pale head, approaching the stone with cautious poise to lower his muzzle to take the treats.

While the hart was eating, Baralinith took another handful of dried fruits from her tunic and passed some to Thranduil in silence.  When Urulosson lifted his head, the elk-tamer extended her hand to reveal the dried strawberry lying on her palm.  Advancing, the hart took the morsel between soft lips and stood while Baralinith scratched behind his ear. She began murmuring softly to the animal, doling out more treats for a moment or two, gradually increasing the volume of her voice and, while keeping the tone soothing, addressed Thranduil, still waiting near the silver birch.

‘And now is a good time for you to step forward gently and lightly and pause there, that’s it... a moment longer...  another step, slowly extend your hand with the fruit flat on your palm as you would to a horse... there... and another and I can see your hand and so can Urulosson...  see, my dear pale one? There is a treat for you... and if you will keep him entertained with treats, we have been doing halter work lately, and so now I will find the headstall and begin to put it on... there we are...’

Working with deft delicacy, Baralinith slipped the halter around Urulosson’s head and fastened it at cheek and muzzle.  The elk paused and tossed his head at the interruption to his snacking, and she hastened to proffer another treat.  Thranduil almost jumped when her fingers brushed his as she fed the hart, but the contact was brief and she returned to the business of securing the halter as if she hadn’t noticed.

‘And now the headstall is on, I make my tone a little brisker and brighter so he knows it is time to work, so the last of the blackberries in your pocket, please.’

‘But he has dribbled on them...’

‘One of the perils of gentling an elk – wrap them in a leaf or such, your pocket will survive.’  

Baralinith secured a lead rope to the headstall.  ‘There, pretty one. We shall go for a walk now, yes? You can walk the other side of me, prince, if we flank, he may be nervous.  Come.  There is a place where I wish to train him a little more; it is not far.’

They walked for maybe an hour, heading deeper into the forest. This region was one Thranduil had never seen before, and although it was still Greenwood the Great, it felt alien and mystical.

The trees here were younger, lighter, allowing enough brightness to dapple through the canopy to support a thick understory of fern and brush and shrub, ideal cover for the herds of elk.  Stands of rowan, of silver birch, of beech mingled with wild cherry and crab apple while brambles sent out arcs of spiny shoots with exuberant vigour.

They walked in silence but for Baralinith’s murmurs to the hart, and at first it did not seem like anything but the restrained quiet of strangers, but soon it mutated into to something more charged, the air feeling suddenly thick and close. Thranduil felt he had to break the silence before something happened.

‘How long have you been an elk-tamer?’ he asked abruptly.

The suddenness of his question startled both elk and tamer, and it took Baralinith a moment to get 
Urulosson calm again.

‘All my life,’ she said.  ‘It is something we are born into.  How long have you been a prince?’

Thranduil felt his face relaxing into a near-smile.

‘All my life,’ he said.  ‘It is something I was born into...  I think, sometimes, I would rather be an elk-tamer...’

‘Ah, but then you would have insufferable officials to deal with, demanding to know when the king’s next elk will be ready, or trespassers and poachers culling your herd before its time...’

‘Whereas I have to sit in on insufferable meetings while officials discuss boundaries with the elk-tamers... Does it take long, to train an elk?’

‘Training comes after taming.  We each are assigned a hind, whom we befriend.  By the time she is old enough to breed, she has no fear of us, so when she gives birth, we may begin almost immediately to gentle it, to make it know us.  So Urulosson is in my care, and it is the first time one of my hinds has borne a hart. Hinds are not trained for riding, so I feel especially fortunate to have so beautiful, so special a creature in my hands.’  She turned to fix her exotic, baleful eyes on him.  

‘Imagine, if you will, how ice clutched my heart when I saw you nock your arrow...’

Thranduil dropped his head to his chest.

‘Forgive me; I really did have no intention of shooting; I am terrible with a bow, I am far better with a sword.  Urulosson was never in any danger from me... but, no, I would not like it if someone drew on one of my friends...’

‘Well, perhaps I will excuse you.  And perhaps you do not need the lesson I was planning for you. Perhaps you should simply return to your part of the forest and leave me to mine.’

But perversely, Thranduil did not want to be excused.

‘Shall we assume I am incorrigible and need the lesson drumming home? I am intrigued by you... you elk-tamers, that is, and your lives, and your forest lands.’

Baralinith glanced at him before her head away to focus on Urulosson.

‘Here,’ she said.  ‘You take the loose end of the rope, and presently, you shall lead him.’

‘May I really?’

‘Yes, I think so.  See?  He is relaxed and confident with us now. Slide your hand up the rope so that you are holding near the headstall...  your other hand lower...’

Baralinith guided his hands up the twisted rope to a position near the elk’s face and stepped away, coming to Thranduil’s other side and herself catching the very end of the rope.

‘Just in case he decides to take exception to you,’ she said.  ‘But... you have a very calm way with you, for a prince.’

Thranduil raised an eyebrow.

‘My thanks,’ he said.  ‘How old must the elk be before he could be ridden?’

‘He is old enough now – the elk here are strong from a young age – and I have begun already, acclimating him to cloth and saddle and light burdens.  But never yet has he carried a living creature...’

A certain wistfulness prompted Thranduil to turn to her with a smile.

‘Why not?’

‘It would require someone to hold him steady...’

‘I am here.  Would you like to try?’

‘I really ought not...’

‘Again, I ask, why not...?’

‘Because it is usual for the person holding the elk to know what they are doing...’

‘I’ve held Adar’s elk for him on occasion; does that count?’

Baralinith paused for a moment, staring at him, her eyes gleaming with glints of flame, her mouth lifting in a glorious smile.

‘Shall we say yes, yes it does?’

Thranduil laughed and halted, burying his fingers into Urulosson’s bright, white coat and scratching the thick fur behind the hart’s ear.

‘That’s right, Thranduil, just steady him for me...’

Baralinith stroked Urulosson’s neck, working down from head to shoulders, running her hands over his hide until she was standing at his side.

‘Can you swap hands now with the rope and with your free hand stroke down his neck, just to keep the motion going?’

‘Like so?’


Running her hands across the hart’s back now, Baralinith stroked down his sides, leaning across  and beginning to rest just a little of her weight on the animal’s back. After a few moments of this, murmuring reassurance, she gave a little jump to lie across his back. Urulosson shifted his feet, but Thranduil steadied his head and Baralinith slid round to finish astride the hart, keeping low over his neck and stroking and scratching the fine fur.

‘Another blackberry would be a good idea now,’ she said. ‘A reward for standing for me.’

Thranduil nodded and found a treat for the elk, who continued to move restlessly, but his head was held firmly and the gentle reassurances of Baralinith stopped him from panic.

‘There... this is wonderful!  He is doing really well...’

‘Does it not worry you to make such a pronouncement? Tempting fate, perhaps?’

‘Why, what could possibly go wrong?’

All sound in the forest ceased abruptly. Urulosson rolled his eyes and snorted, restive.  Suddenly the noise of a great horn sounded out, braying through the forest, echoed by a myriad other lesser horns.  The hart bellowed and plunged, dragging at Thranduil while Baralinith gave a cry and locked her arms around the creature’s neck. Faced with the choice of letting go and abandoning Baralinith and Urulosson, or allowing the beast his head and running with him, Thranduil took a double-handed grip on the lead rope, and prepared for the run of his life.


The king paused to sip at his wine, waving the goblet towards the glittering diamond.

‘It is true that when I set out, I had been seeking adventure,’ Thranduil said.  ‘But the most I had hoped for was a glimpse of forbidden territory.  I did not imagine I would be running full-pelt through the forest, hanging on to the harness of a barely-tame elk and with a wild elk-tamer also hanging on to that same elk beside me...’

Legolas laughed.

‘I cannot picture it, I am sorry, Adar.  It sounds a little... undignified...’

‘Well, in those days I did not have to be dignified all the time... and it was...’  Thranduil broke off, shaking his head as he sipped at the blood-ruby wine in his goblet.  ‘It was incredible.  The sound of the horns... I had never, have never since heard their like...  the sound thrilled through me, through the forest, and that was the first time, the very first, ion-nin, that I connected with the Greenwood in all its mystery... I was no longer Thranduil, having a somewhat hapless adventure with an elk and its handler, I was the forest, I was each and every tree and shrub and creature therein, I was Urulosson and I felt his fear and frantic need to run and I knew the forest as if I were he... and I locked eyes with Baralinith, and it was as if I saw right down into her fëa, and that, that was the moment that I knew...’


Thranduil trembled, or Urulosson trembled, he was not sure which.  He found his eyes fixed on Baralinith’s liquid glittering gaze.

‘Hold on,’ he said as the horn sounded again, and Urulosson bellowed and plunged away.

And Thranduil ran.

It felt terrifying, desperate and liberating as his senses expanded to encompass the whole of the Greenwood, so that he knew the secret lives of the trees, the private speech of the land, but he had no time for that, he had to run, and keep running, and bring Urulosson and Baralinith to safety away from the triumph of the horns.

The forest sped beneath his feet, and he did not know, for certain, if it was he running or Urulosson, two feet or four, hitting the ground at exactly the right spot with each and every stride and the trees blurred past, branches slapping at him, brambles trying to snag and hold, but nothing could prevent him from running, running as if for his life through the green tumble of forest all around...

‘Stop, oh, stop!’

He felt the voice as much as heard it, tasted dread in it, and tried to slow his pace, make the hart ease 
off... but Urulosson, still overwhelmed by the instinct to flee, shied and pulled at the headstall and Thranduil had no choice but to keep running.

‘He is too stressed...’

Stressed. Yes, Thranduil knew that, he could sense the hart’s terror...

If he could sense it, perhaps he could change it?

As he ran, now, he tried to meld more closely with the elk, to send soothing, gentle thoughts to him, trying to imagine and project the soft sensation of calming hands on silver hide, and willed the animal to lose its fear, to relax its pace, and now it began to take effect, so that he was able to slow  himself as Urulosson stopped fleeing and settled to a slower pace, and all the time Thranduil was trying to be calm and easy and unafraid in his mind, to encourage the slowing, the gradual decrease from run to lope, to walk, and all around the swell of the horns surrounding and encompassing them.

And as the elk slowed, so Thranduil was thrown free from the greater life of the forest around him and became aware of himself as an individual again.

‘Thranduil? Are you well?’

No. No, he didn’t think he was.   The sudden disconnection from the immensity of the forest was like a bereavement.   His face stung, he gasped for breath, his legs were shaking and he felt so insignificant...

Baralinith scrambled down from Urulosson’s back and prised the lead rope out of Thranduil’s hands.

‘You sit, rest a moment; I need to keep walking the hart, he’ll take a chill else...’

Dully, her voice penetrated and Thranduil staggered back to lean against a tree, to slide down its trunk. He ached.  The horns sounded in time with the sting and throb of his face.

‘Can I borrow your cloak, do you think?  Thranduil? Your cloak?’

Stirring himself, he struggled out of the cloak which Baralinith spread out over the hart’s back, fastening it in front of the animal’s chest and continued to walk him.

‘Thank you. That was quite a run! We are deep inside the reserve, now, almost at the breeding grounds; when Urulosson took fright, he headed back to where he was born... oh, Valar take those confounded horns! When I find out who is hunting, and here, in my acres...’

Thranduil began to shake, still trying to catch his breath but finding the urge to laugh impossible to resist, especially as the horns chose that moment to fall silent.

‘It is not in the slightest bit funny! It is a grave trespass, there are hinds further in due to give birth...’

‘Your pardon, no, no, not at all funny.’ Thranduil struggled up and reached for his water flask. He offered it first to Baralinith.  ‘What amused me was hearing such dire and dark threats made by your lovely voice...’

‘I have a lovely voice?’ she queried, taking a sip of water and passing the flask back to him.

‘It is one of your more notable charms,’ he said, himself drinking.  ‘Although your eyes are rather compelling, too.  And your hair is... quite a distraction. Should not the elk drink?’

‘When he’s a little cooler.  There is a stream nearby.  Here.’  She reached into her belt pouch and pulled out a piece of cloth.  ‘While you have that water out...’

‘What is this for?’ he asked.

‘Your face,’ she said.  ‘You were plunging through some of the densest undergrowth in the forest, and it has left its mark...’

‘Ah. I thought it stung a little.’ He moistened the cloth and dabbed at his face, disconcerted, but unsurprised, to find blood on the cloth.  ‘My thanks.’

Suddenly the horns sang out again from much nearer and the bushes just down the trail shook and stirred. Urulosson bucked and almost broke free of Baralinith’s grasp but she hardened her grip, and with her other hand drew from inside her garments the arrow she had confiscated from Thranduil earlier.  Surprised, but willing to show support, he unslung his bow and nocked an arrow.

‘With your permission?’ he said.


‘Although I am not sure what use I will be since I cannot hit a barn door at three paces.’

‘The hunters won’t know that though, will they?’

Baralinith moved to stand in front of Urulosson; Thranduil moved to stand in front of Baralinith.

The bushes parted and two hounds emerged. Unlike any Thranduil had seen before, they were sleek and lean and long in limb and face.  They did not look capable of tackling prey of any  real size, so slight and insubstantial did they seem,  with their fragile legs and curved ribcages; there was no weight to them, no sense of menace... still, they were hounds, hunters’ beasts, and he did not lower his bow yet.  One dog was blacker than obsidian, the other whiter than milk and they approached with a light, swaying gait that looked like dancing.

‘Stay!’ Baralinith said firmly and to Thranduil’s astonishment, the animals stopped and slunk down onto their bellies.

Hoofbeats, then, slow and measured and a great horse stepped into the clearing behind the dogs.

The horse was whiter than the pale hound, a glimmer of starlight in its coat and it was richly caparisoned. On its back was a figure to take the breath away; tall and broad and powerful with long hair darker than the black hound, a strong and wise face like an elf’s, but not at all elven...  stern eyes that still seemed wise, and at his side a huge horn was suspended from his belt.    As he moved, it was as if light spilled out of the edges of him, a white, bright shadow.  He looked down on Thranduil and Baralinith and addressed them.

‘Who are you children to command my hounds thusly?’

Baralinith swallowed and stepped out from behind Thranduil, the arrow hefted high in her hand.

‘B...  Baralinith, Royal Elk-tamer to King Oropher of Greenwood the Great,’ she announced after a fractional hesitation.  ‘These lands are reserved for the safety of the herds. Hunting is not permitted here.’

From behind the horse and rider, more mounted forms appeared, all equally luminous, none quite as breath-taking. One rode forward and addressed Baralinith.

‘Do you not know to whom you speak?’ he asked. ‘Can it be that you do not know?’

Thranduil decided it was time he joined in.

‘It would make no difference, my lord,’ he said.  ‘She will say exactly the same thing, only a little more politely; believe me, I know.’

‘She would do well to realise that Oromë Araw is not used to taking orders, however politely framed...’

Oromë? The Huntsman of the Valar? Here? In the Greenwood?

Thranduil gulped and drew closer to Baralinith.

‘Peace, my friend!’ Oromë said to his companion.  ‘We have not sojourned here for a long while, after all, and times may have changed... I think, Baralinith, Royal Elk-tamer, that you will find I hunt where I choose.  But I do not come to frighten your little hart.’ Oromë smiled, and it was as if all fear fled away. ‘May I retrieve my hounds now?’

‘Yes, hir-nin,’ Baralinith replied, lowering the arrow.
Oromë whistled a command, and the dogs rose from their crouching and trotted back to him.

‘I do not hunt for venison,’ he said.  ‘It is the enemies of Morgoth I pursue... you would do well to tell your king we have this day made several kills of the spawn of Ungoliant... his majesty may have a problem on his hands in times to come.’

‘Thank you, my lord Oromë,’ Thranduil said, finally lowering his bow, ‘I will pass that on.'

'If I may, hir-nin,’ Baralinith interjected, ‘it should be noted that my poor hart here did not know you were not hunting venison, and so he has near run his heart out...'

'Indeed? Then you must let us make amends.  Lauretindor, see what may be done.'

'Yes, my lord.'

An elf with hair more golden than sunlight dismounted and came forward.

'By your leave, my lady?'

Baralinith nodded, and brought Urulosson forward, Thranduil standing aside.  He watched as the stranger stroked the hart's muzzle, speaking softly to him in a language that should have been familiar, and yet wasn’t.

Lauretindor looked into each bright eye, still murmuring.  He ran his hands down the pale neck, smoothed the shoulder beneath the covering cloak. 

'He will be fine,' he said reassuringly, looking into Baralinith's eyes in a way Thranduil really did not like.  'I have calmed him, and his fear is stilled.  Give him to drink, when you can.'

'Yes, lord, I shall.  But I must see your company off my lands, first.'

Oromë laughed.

'Tenacious, are you not?  One day, you might join my host, Baralinith.  Lauretindor already looks favourably on you...'

'My lord!' Lauretindor protested, swinging back up into the saddle.  ‘The lady’s eyes favour another, can you not see that?’

'Ah, well.  Next life, then.   As for your young stag there, Baralinith, you had better keep him.'

'I am an elk tamer, lord, not an elk owner! Besides, he is not yours to bestow!'

Oromë laughed again.  'Child, I did not mean the elk; I meant the ellon; he has seen into your soul and a part of him is trapped there; only your death will free him.  Cleave to him in this life; in the next, you will ride with us and help Lauretindor succour all the creatures in need of care along the way; he will wait for you.  And in exchange, I promise you this: I will never enter your lands without permission again, agreed?'

Baralinith tilted her head, considering.

'We will see,' she said.  'But for now, my lord, your best way is back the way you came.  Two leagues hence, you will find a line of rowan.  That marks the elk tamers' eastern boundary.'

'Yes, we will see... and you are helpful, indeed! But we ride south and west; we will circle Lothlórien and wind our horns until Cerin Amroth itself shakes!'   He turned to his host.  ‘Be ready! We ride for Lothlórien!’

'Just do not distress any of my pregnant hinds as you leave,’ Baralinith called.  ‘Or there will be 


Thranduil smiled and tipped his goblet towards the shimmering starlight gemstone in salute.

‘It was almost a year before I saw Baralinith again, and it is not an exaggeration to say I pined...  But on my next begetting day, my father King Oropher led me down to the stables.  I thought we would be going riding together; a whole day with Adar away from the cares of state was a rare treat – but no.  It was to give me a very special gift; my own elk. When Urulosson was brought forward, wearing a jewelled headstall. I was delighted to see him, but even more pleased that Baralinith was leading him.  She stared and said: ‘So you really are Thranduil! I am glad! I didn’t want him going to a stranger!' After that, we were inseparable.’

Thranduil smiled. 

'Urulosson, Baralinith, me.  My father, of course, did not approve an elk-tamer for his son – not even a Royal Elk-tamer – no parent ever really believes anyone is good enough for their elfling – but she won him round with that same combination of fierce, uncompromising dignity and determined politeness that so amused Oromë Araw.   She put her chin in the air and swore never to be my queen, never to pledge herself to me beyond the boundaries of this world.   And when he raised his white gold eyebrow and asked her why not, she said in her next life she was promised to one of the Maiar in return for the safety of the elk preserves, and no less a person than Oromë himself had told her to cleave to me in this world.  After that, there was not a lot my father could say on the matter.’

‘Did not you mind?’ Legolas asked. ‘About Lauretindor?’

‘At the time, no...  Baralinith, being Silvan, was not the sailing type...  and death severs all ties...  But I did not think she would die so soon...’

Thranduil sighed and refilled their goblets. He drank deep, and rose from his seat to go to the starlight gemstone and lift it to the light of a storm lantern on the wall, watching the dance of refraction glittering in its depths.

‘I miss her still, of course, her loss burns me...  But when I think of Baralinith, on nights such as this, should I find myself growing sad, I think of her in her new life, riding with Oromë and calling him to task for overstepping the bounds, and it makes me smile in spite of my loss.’

Thranduil turned the diamond, falling into its beauty.  The silver sparkle had a heart of blue fracturing it, fragments of flecks of gold, like freckles in the depths of Baralinith’s eyes.

‘A tedious meeting... an escape to the woods...  and that, ion-nin, is the story of how I met your mother.’


Some translations:
Ernilen: my prince
Ion-nin: my son
Hir-nin: my lord

Friday, 30 January 2015

Busy, busy...

I'm always being given gentle hints to update more often. Thing is, life gets in the way.

But I have managed to find time to be creative, aside from writing.

I've been crocheting.

 It's actually not that difficult a patter, really.  Hardest was shaping the antlers... it didn't help that I misread the pattern and had to undo a few rounds... it's very warm, and snug, and took a lot of finishing - sewing on the ears and antlers etc.
And it's just wonderful in this cold snap we're having.

Dogwalking, anyone?

Monday, 19 January 2015

New Year, New 'Teitho Challenge'...

So, the New Year has started and today, on Blue Monday, I'm posting a story.

It placed second in the December 'Teitho Challenge', finishing behind the story I voted for first place and ahead of another I voted for, so I was in good company...

The topic for the challenge was 'Endings', and it sparked a riot of stories about death and dying...

Not me, though, and I think that might have helped.

Bookverse rather than movieverse, and non- LOTR fans might not get some of the references, sorry, but it Teitho is for LOTR writings...

The End of the World as We Know It…
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, an homage to the Lord of the Rings.  I acknowledge I have no rights of ownership to the characters or the settings and that I only own my original content and interpretations. Intended for entertainment only, I will earn no monies for this work.

Summary: On the eve of the elven New Year, just days after the War of the Ring, Thranduil and Celeborn meet in the Greenwood… and far away, on the Field of Cormallen Legolas marks the passing of more than just the old year…

They met in the midst of the forest, surrounded by the trees of Mirkwood.

‘Mae Govannen, Thranduil Oropherion.'

Thranduil inclined his head in the slightest of acknowledgements.

‘Celeborn. I suppose we’d better get the business over with.’ He swung down from the back of his elk, scratching its neck as he murmured to the creature to go with the warrior waiting nearby to lead it away.  ‘Remember, Erthor: He is fond of dried blackberries, if you need to coerce him.’

Celeborn waited for the King of the Elves of Northern Mirkwood to stop giving instructions for the care of his steed, shaking his head.

‘What in the name of all the Valar are those things on its antlers?’

‘The bells? A tradition started in the days of one of my previous mounts.  They seem to enjoy the sound, to find it soothing…’ Thranduil watched his elk being led away before turning back to the husband of the Queen of the Golden Wood. ‘How is your wife?’

‘Fine, fine.  Starting to get agitated.  She feels she must be involved in all the plans for the wedding.’
‘Wedding…? Ah. Your granddaughter and this king person. Yes, I remember now.’

Celeborn’s mouth worked in a smile he failed to hide.

‘Just because the most eligible alliance remaining to our mutual kindreds failed at the first hurdle when Arwen saw Estel on Cerin Amroth long before you had chance to suggest to your son…’

‘Oh, Arwen is far too old for Legolas,’ Thranduil said hurriedly.  ‘I never really considered her as a possible daughter-in-law.  Indeed, I wish her well with her mortal betrothed.  I am not certain her father is entirely delighted, however.’

‘Or her grandparents, for that matter. Galadriel is trying to make the best of it, but…’ Celeborn sighed. ‘Come, then, Thranduil.  There is wine waiting in the pavilion.’

‘Is it that pale golden stuff you pass off for wine or is it a proper vintage?’

‘You remember some decades before all this fuss began, you were good enough to send a couple of cases of the good Dorwinion? I managed to keep a bottle or two aside…’

‘Lead on, then.’


‘The wine of home drunk far from home… is there ever anything sweeter and yet more bitter?’ Thranduil asked reflectively, setting down his empty goblet. 

By now he and Celeborn had long breached the second bottle and were beginning to relax in each other’s company. The business was still to attend to, of course, the reason behind this formal meeting, but the day was not yet turning towards evening.  There was plenty of time.

‘Seeing one’s granddaughter happy, and know her happiness is fleeting...’ Celeborn offered. 
‘Knowing one’s wife has achieved her life’s work in glory… and that she has decided to retire across the seas…’

‘At least you still have a wife.’

Celeborn laughed abruptly.

‘Yes, but history will always have me down as Galadriel’s husband.  Well. We’ve come a long road, she and I…’ The silver-haired Lord of Lothlórien raised his goblet in salute. ‘Perhaps I need some time alone.’

‘I cannot see Celeborn of Lórien being alone unless he wanted to be,’ Thranduil said.

‘Mayhap that’s been our problem. You need time apart to appreciate the time you have together. And now all the time is running out. It’s not simply the end of the year, mellon-nin, it is the end of the world as we know it… even so, I will not simply attach myself to Galadriel’s train again, and follow in her wake while she pretends to defer to me…’

‘The humans have a word for it,’ Thranduil said. ‘Emasculation.’

‘You enjoyed saying that far too much,’ Celeborn said.  ‘Besides, it matters not; humans seem to like having their men lead and their women follow.  It is very unelven.’

‘True. But so are humans.’ Thranduil shared out the last of the second bottle of Dorwinion red into their two goblets, making sure Celeborn got the dregs. The fellow wouldn’t know a decent wine if it jumped up and down and kicked him in the head.  ‘However, that is how the world will be, now. Unelven.  Human.’

‘What shall we drink to, then, mellon-nin? The future? Or the past?’

‘To friendship,’ Thranduil said.  ‘It is much less contentious.’

The wine finished, the spouse of the Queen of the Golden Wood and the Elvenking both set down their goblets.

‘You did remember to bring a map?’ Celeborn asked.

‘In spite of everything else I had to attend to on the way, yes, Celeborn, I brought a map.’ Thranduil removed a roll of parchment from inside his formal outer robe and spread it on the low table between them, placing the empty wine bottles and goblets at each corner.  ‘We have had losses, of course.  And, as you so rightly observed, the world is changing.  Perhaps it will have less impact for me, for I have never had the questionable support of an Elven-ring, and so now do not feel the loss of its power.  But I would only hold as much as I can properly care for…’

He drew a sweeping line across the northern sector of Mirkwood.

‘I do not know if my son will rule after me; I do not know whether or not I will sail, ever.  My Silvans largely do not seem to wish to, themselves, so I must be able to keep them safe and help them to live as traditional a life as possible, still, as was the intention when first was founded the Realm of the Greenwood… oh, such hopes my father had…’

‘And so much he achieved, and you after him, Thranduil.  Whereas we withdrew behind our borders and some of us dared to criticise you for openly taking care of your own first... but Elrond has admitted he can no longer field an army out of Rivendell, and our Galadhrim too have become insular, withdrawn. Is this really all the land you would keep?’

‘This much I can heal and hold.  This much is enough, to the northern mountains which rise within the forest. Eryn Lasgalen, the Wood of Greenleaves it shall be, a haven for the Silvans while they last.’

‘We cannot allow the rest to simply lie unclaimed… permit me, and I will take the southern regions, below the Narrows, and remake it as part of Lórien…’  Celeborn marked the new boundary on the map.  ‘East Lórien, if you will.’

‘Good.  And the rest men will take, sooner or later. So we had better make them a gift of it, to the Beornings and the woodsmen; that way, they may feel beholden, or at least think kindly of us. The Beornings, at least, are more than men, even if they are not elves.’

‘I will have one of my notaries in to properly record this,’ Celeborn said.

‘My people prepare a feast this evening. Would you and your company care to join us? Sing the songs to the old year’s end and usher in the new?’

‘Thank you. I feel I will find it easier to sing out the old…’


Far away, on the Field of Cormallen, Legolas withdrew from the company after supper and sought a quiet area of the camp. There were no other elves amongst the veterans of the Battle of the Morannon, and he did not expect Aragorn to remember it was the eve of the New Year in the elven calendar. Even if he had, there were many matters that required his attention, and so, once again, Legolas must be alone in his observances.  He found a quiet spot and climbed up into the branches of a culumalda tree to sit looking up at the stars, and drew comfort from knowing that all over Middle Earth, other elves were also turning their eyes to the sky. Perhaps even his father, had he survived the war far away in Mirkwood, would be gazing up at the bright jewels of the heavens and humming the old songs.

Legolas lifted back his head, closed his eyes and opened his heart, singing the Refrain of the Years’ Turning in a clear, sweet voice that swept the camp with preternatural clarity and stirred the hearts of all who heard its melancholy keening.

‘What’s that?’ one of the warriors asked. ‘It sounds… not human…’

‘It is not human,’ Aragorn said, happening to pass at the right moment and feeling his heart stirred by the song.  ‘It is elven.  An observance for the passing of the year.’

He continued on his way, his steps taking him away from the camp now and not towards his pavilion as he’d preciously intended, drawn by the eldritch song from the trees lining the field.

He had not forgotten, of course.  Not as such.  It was simply that, for all he had been raised amongst the elves of Rivendell, for all he knew and respected the elven ways, his humanity had been brought home to him more of late, as he had striven to fulfil his destiny and save the world.  But he had not done it alone.

Drawing near to the foot of the tree whence issued the clear, musical voice, he joined in the refrain, adding the harmony he had learned long ago from Lindir in the Hall of Fire at Rivendell, continuing to weave his voice with Legolas’ until the song, and the old year, was ended.

After a moment, a soft rustle and Legolas jumped down from the tree, landing beside him with barely a thump on the sweet spring grass.

‘Happy New Year, Legolas. I hope you do not mind my joining your song.’

‘Thank you.  No, I do not mind… I have had my time alone with the stars, so to share them is also good. And yet I cannot shake the sense that something is ending, rather than beginning. The fading of the time of the elves and the start of the Age of Men.’

‘Yes, indeed. And triumph is mingled with loss.’

‘Indeed.  The end of the world, as we know it.’

Aragorn clasped Legolas on the shoulder.

‘And how do you feel about that, mellon-nin?’

‘Me? Considering how it might have ended?’ Legolas tilted his head to one side, considering.  ‘All things told…  I feel fine.’



Mae govannen: well met

Mellon-nin: my friend

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

'It's the End of the Year as We Know It...'

Paraphrasing REM... not for the first time, either...

So as the internet and Facebook and blogs everywhere fill up with end-of-the-year posts and fluffiness...  it would be churlish not to add my own contribution.

It's been a year.

No real disasters, some lovely times and some wonderful ones. A break in Amsterdam in September, a day trip to Scarborough... new friends both at home and away...  some competition wins with the writing, and lots and lots of words...

Here's to the next one...

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The November Teitho Challenge...

For those who may not know, the Teitho Challenge is a monthly competition for FanFiction writers writing specifically about one or other of two main characters from The Lord of the Rings.

November's topic was 'Beginnings', and in a strong field of eight entries, any five of which I thought were better than mine, with a long story I didn't think would cut the mustard...

I won.

Now, the only prize is the fame, so let;s not get too excited, here.  But it was still great to win.

So, an impromptu story that will probably  not mean much unless you're a fan of the works of Tolkien...

We start, as ever, with the disclaimer...

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction, an homage to the Lord of the Rings.  I acknowledge I have no rights of ownership to the characters or the settings and that I only own my original content and interpretations. Intended for entertainment only, I will earn no monies for this work.

Fast Friends
Summary: Legolas and Gimli entered Lothlórien barely on speaking terms, and yet were ‘fast friends’ by the time they left.  This story explains how that came about.  Bookverse and movieverse combined, rated K+ for references to bodily functions.

It started in darkness, really, in spite of all they say.  And for all we thought it would end in darkness, too, who now can tell?

Not that any will hear the full account of it; partly, it is our doing, I think, a wish to save face.
However, the records say that while in Lothlórien, Legolas Thranduilion began taking Gimli, son of Gloin, with him on his walks, so that by the time the company left, ‘they had become fast friends’.
I had neither wish, nor intention of befriending him, to my shame. And on his part, well, his own father had been my father’s guest – in our dungeons. One could hardly wonder, either, given the history of elves and dwarves, that there was no love lost between us to begin with.
Throughout the journey, we had kept to ourselves, as much as we might.  The other races – men, hobbits, each had at least one other of their kind to talk to. I had a sort of friend, at least, in Aragorn, who was familiar with the ways of elvenkind.  But Gimli? He had no-one.  He needed no-one, it seemed.  He had his axe and his taciturnity and neither, wanted, nor encouraged friends.
I think, had Gandalf not been there, matters would have been less easy… there, you see, I had almost forgot.  For all he resembled a man, Gandalf, too, was unique amongst us.
Driven into the dark of Moria, that was the first inkling I had that the dwarf was not himself hewn of stone, a granite heart beating in his breast. For when he found the tomb of his cousin, he grieved enough.
The elves know grief, of course. I wondered which was worse, to know you are meant to have forever and to see your promise cut short, or to be mortal, to be able to measure and count your years. Which really is more deserving of pity?
I had always thought it was us, the elves.
Until now.
I had seen death, of course, in my forest, how not? But with the Promise of Ilúvatar to diffuse the grief, it lost some of its sting.  But I did not know how it was for dwarves.
Or for wizards.
Gandalf fell, in Moria, and we were all bereft, broken by loss. Overwhelmed. Our leader, our unifying force, our peaceweaver, gone.
But  for Aragorn, I think we would soon all have been gone; he rallied us, bullied us, forced us on and, at last, I at least was starting to feel safe, for there were trees again, there on the hems of the skirts of fair Lothlórien.
And as some of the horror began to recede from my heart I started to see the reality of the tragedy that is allegedly a gift; my companions’ mortality, or, rather, their response to the mortality of others.  They were always intended to be brief, temporary.  So it was hardly surprising that they projected their own fears onto the loss of Gandalf.
I could not believe he was dead, myself. But – he was still lost to us.
I realised, as I heard the hobbits weep and try to talk, that for all they were familiar with death, still, they could not believe he was dead, either.
At last we had to halt, and alongside of my grief I harboured a secret joy; we had stopped beside the fair river Nimrodel and we would have to cross.
I announced my intention to bathe my feet, odd as it seemed to my companions, but knowing the healing these waters could bring. Even to the dwarf, in whom I had so recently learned a capacity for grief that had surprised me. Now, where once I would have said surly and indifferent, he seemed to me stoic, silent and enduring, rather than simply private.
I wondered if my father had perhaps been mistaken about dwarves all these long years. Certain is it, we know the dwarves have been wrong about elves.
Pretending it was for the hobbits, I sang a part of the Lay of Nimrodel, in Westron, as Lindir of Rivendell had made it, knowing the healing worth of these songs, even when given by an amateur rather than a minstrel.
Presently, we sought the shelter of the trees, and even as I reached up into the branches, even as I knew the tree and it knew me, I heard the voice.
Kinsmen. Galadhrim, so, distant kinsmen, true.  But elves, nevertheless. Safety, for the moment.
It has been recorded elsewhere how we spent the night up in the trees, which I found comforting but which our poor hobbits found distressing.  Also elsewhere, the blindfolding of the dwarf, of all of us, myself included, elf and kinsman though I was. I protested, it was expected. But as we stopped for the night, I heard the song of the trees around me, the whispers of the grass, and my reverie was free of worry.
During the next march, our eyes were uncovered, and then I was glad I had been blindfolded, for Lothlórien presented herself in radiance like a gift. From behind me, so softly I doubt any of the others heard, Samwise muttered.
‘Well, and that’s a right eye-opener, so to speak. It’s like your birthday when they cover your eyes and then, Ta-Dah!! Surprise! There’s a party waiting for you…’
His simple expression of so similar a sentiment to my own made me smile to myself all the way round to the gates and then on to our meeting with the Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn, our hosts and the keepers of Lothlórien.
The Lady of the Wood looked into us all, and who knew what she saw in the others? I only knew that she almost broke my heart, if not my resolve, and when the company talked later, we learned we all had been tested, in some private, intimate way.
That night, they raised a pavilion for us with couches spread, and tired as we were, in as sorry a state as we were, still we were comforted.
It happened in the night.
To this day, I do not know which of them did it.  All evidence pointed to one of the hobbits; no, to one of two of the hobbits; Frodo would not have had the heart, and Sam would have found it disrespectful. So perhaps Merry, probably Pippin.
Whomever – and I say Pippin, Gimli says Merry – there could be no doubt that they would have been unaware of what they had started.
As I lay down on the couch there was a heaviness in my bones that was borne of the despair of loss and grief, and the cool testing of Galadriel.  To see – to know – to fear – that my father would be so hard-pressed, and I away, far away… yet what could one bow and two knives do amongst the hundreds being pitted against the thousands?  So I cast myself down, seeking the song of the trees through my grief, not noticing that the head of my couch and the head of another, presently unoccupied, were very close together.
I woke – I came out of reverie, that is - with a jolt, and felt something snag my hair as there was a loud snore from nearby. Whilst I was trying to discover what had tugged my head, came the noise again.  I sat up, stifling a curse as my scalp sang with swift, sharp pain, and the occupant of the adjacent couch gave a yell and also attempted to move. I found myself pulled towards him and I saw what had happened even as Gimli – for it was he – began to swear and protest.
‘Sweet Eru, Dwarf, can you not be silent? You’ll wake the company!’ I said urgently.
‘What have you done to me, you villainous elf?  Oh, my hair! My beard!’
I crawled from my bed and reluctantly drew nearer, taking the pressure off my scalp as I was finally in a position to examine my hair.
‘We have been victims of a prank, Master Dwarf,’ I said.  ‘Whilst we rested, someone has braided our hair together. And they have included your beard.’
‘What…? Well, better cut our way free, then – don’t mind the loss of hair, but mind my beard… pass me one of those knives of yours…’
‘Do not even think about it!’ I spat. ‘Or else I will cut my way free by taking your head off your shoulders, even if it means I must carry it around with me in a bag…’
A low chuckle interrupted what could have rapidly grown into a violent argument. We looked over – tried to look over – at the sound.
Aragorn sat looking back at us, a half smile on his face, glinting in his eyes.
‘This is not amusing,’ I hissed.
Gimli nodded, then growled as the motion jarred us both.
‘Will you keep still, Master Dwarf?’
‘Will you still your noise, Elf?’
‘Come, now!’ Aragorn got to his feet and walked round the couches to crouch at our backs.  ‘You two need to relax.’
‘Relax?’ Gimli demanded.  ‘When I’m all tangled up in an elvish enchantment?’
‘It was not my doing!’
‘I think it’s more like hobbit mischief than elf magic,’ Aragorn said.  ‘You’re well and truly stuck fast, my friends, first braided together and then your tormentor has dripped wax over the whole of the lower portion of the braid…’
‘What?’ I was horrified.  ‘But – oh… the damage… Aragorn, please! Hot water, quickly!’
He chuckled again.
‘Oh, I do not think so! I think this is just what we need, a little light relief.  Seeing you two tied together by the hair in the morning is bound to brighten our hobbits, at least a little.’
‘And I do not doubt our other Man will be delighted, too,’ Gimli muttered.
‘Come; try, at least for now.  Perhaps it’s what you need, to understand one another a little better, to spend more time together. Now, go to sleep!’
‘I need a comfort break first,’ I said.
‘Oh, wonderful!’ Gimli threw his hands into the air.  ‘I suppose I have to accompany you to the latrines?’
‘There is always my offer to remove your hair at the neck,’ I said, getting to my feet and holding the braids close to my head to ease the pressure.
‘Ai-oi! Steady on there! A plague on elvish bladders! Now, a dwarf, on the other hand, can go a full sun-round without the need…’
Listening to a diatribe on the endurance of dwarven bladders was rather off-putting, and the dwarvish comments on other aspects  of the process were hardly fit for polite company, but nevertheless I was presently comfortable again and once more we settled on our couches, now drawn even closer together to minimise the discomfort of our respective heads being tugged.
I was on the brink of reverie when I was brought back by a pull on the braid.
‘Hey, Elf! Legolas!’
‘What now, Master Dwarf?’
‘My turn.’
‘Your turn?’ I sat up too swiftly, causing us both to wince. ‘And what of the legendary capacity of dwarven bladders?’
‘Doesn’t work so well when we’ve been drinking Elvish wine. Stuff’s so insipid the body can’t wait to be rid of it.’
‘Ah.  Why did you not say so before?’
‘Didn’t need to before. Do now. Come on, get a move on! In urgent need, here!’
And so we went through the whole performance, so to speak, again, with the exception that I did not comment about any aspects of  the procedure, instead holding to a dignified silence and keeping to myself the new knowledge that, yes, it looked as if we elves were definitely the more blessed of the Children of Ilúvatar.
By the time we regained our couches, we had more-or-less learned how to walk without snagging the braid. It entailed walking close to one another, as if we were confidants, and the disparity in heights meant I sometimes had to tip my head down. But our braid rode between us, the light gold of my hair lifting the darker strands of his, so that it was as if I, through my hair, was leading a child by the hand. A very unlovely, sweary child, but nevertheless…
There was not much left of the night, and even though the dwarf was muttering about tiredness, and the lumpiness of the beds, I was glad to try to relax into reverie once more.
Laughter brought me out of reverie, laughter and cursing.  The laughter was from Merry and Pippin, and the profanity, of course, from the dwarf.
‘Look at this, Master Frodo,’ I heard Samwise exclaim.  ‘There’s been some mischief in the night and no mistake!’
‘Mischief indeed,’ Aragorn said. ‘Our hosts left food for us; come and eat, you two. If you can move.’
I would not normally have sat beside the dwarf; Aragorn being a sort of friend, I had usually placed myself near him, or with Frodo and Sam, whose interest in all things elvish did, at least, form a subject of conversation. But today, perforce, Gimli was my very close neighbour.
He grumbled about the food, which made it seem all the better to me. There was not enough meat, and the bread was too fluffy, not substantial enough. And the water was nice, yes, but it was water and was there no ale here?
‘At breakfast?’ I asked.
‘Why not?’ he retorted.
Presently, I had finished eating, but had to wait, of course, for Gimli to finish his own meal. Aragorn watched with weary amused eyes, seeing my impatience. Oh, I know – I am an elf, I have forever, what is a quarter hour more or less? All I would say to you, is – spend that quarter hour with one who is determined to find fault with everything and who blames you by association, and you will see.
‘Would you care to come for a walk with me, Master Dwarf?’ I asked, not particularly loudly, but clearly enough that Aragorn and at least one of the hobbits had heard me. ‘For I have long wished to wander amongst the trees of Lothlórien, famed in song amongst the elves of the Greenwood.’
Gimli glanced across under darkling brows. For all his uncouthness, his swearing and his dislike of all things elven, he was no fool, and he must have realised that to refuse such a polite and wistful request would sound churlish. He must also have realised that I knew it, too. He made a guttural sound deep in his throat – oh, sweet Eru, he was about to start growling again…
Except his shoulders heaved and he let out a series of short, loud laughs.
‘Oh, Master Elf, what pretty words you use! Aye, I’ll take you walking, if you wish.’
‘That was not quite what I meant, but I thank you.’
‘Not what you meant? Well, there’s just the one strand of my hair and beard in the braid – that means my hair is stronger and I’m in charge…’
‘Really? Yet I am taller, and with two of the three strands, I – and my hair – outnumber you…’
‘Just go for your walk, you two,’ Aragorn said.  ‘And try not to start another conflict; we have enough on our plates at the moment…’
We set off, side-by-side.  I set a slow pace, reigning in my eagerness to run through the long, bright grass from sheer joy with difficulty.  Even in winter the sward was long and verdant and enticing.
‘Where are we off to, then?’ Gimli grumbled.
‘Back to where we can see Cerin Amroth. You will remember the song of Nimrodel? Well, the stories tell that Amroth lived here, in a flet high in the tree…’
He made a humphing sound, unimpressed.
‘It always strikes me as sad,’ I went on.  ‘Nimrodel wanted somewhere she could live in peace with Amroth, and so was lost, travelling to the Havens. Had she been content to trust Amroth to keep her safe, perhaps their story would have been happier. Who now can say?’
‘I say it sounds as if your precious elf-lady should have been a bit less demanding, then she wouldn’t have got herself lost!’
‘And you think so, really? I have heard that dwarven ladies are far harder to please, and often will eschew all offers of courtship simply from pique…’
‘Aye? And what would you know about it, you lightweight, pointy-eared, judgemental…’
Judgemental? It was he who began it! But for the sake of harmony, I bit back an angry retort; I did not wish to disturb the peace of Lothlórien.
‘So much of what we elves hear of dwarves is rumour and report; my knowledge, such as it is, comes only from the gossip of men from Lake Town,’ I said softly.  ‘I would be happy to learn more; if I am wrong, I am ready to be corrected.’
‘It will be the first time an elf listened to a dwarf…’
‘Then let us make history, you and I.’
‘You would not hear me properly; you would simply laugh and make a song of it.’
‘It is true, it is our way to preserve matters in song, for it is how we record the emotion of a story as well as the words.  But I assure you, the elves of the Greenwood do not make light of serious matters, unlike, perhaps, some of those in other settlements. Come, Master Dwarf.  Explain to me, and I promise I will neither make a song of it, nor laugh.’
And so, as we walked through the fragrant grass towards where I could look back towards Cerin Amroth, Gimli talked and I listened as he explained how there were few dwarf women, and many preferred their craft to marriage, and how dwarves themselves were often too preoccupied with their work to consider family life.  I must confess to becoming a little lost amongst all the intricacies of who was related to whom and what the implications of that was for potential choice of spouse, but if there is one thing I have learned at the court of my father, it is to listen politely under extreme duress.
‘I think I see,’ I said finally.  ‘It is not, then, that dwarven women are difficult to please, more that they – all dwarves – take marriage so seriously that they prefer to wait, to be certain, than to make a mistake.’
‘Simply put, laddie, but pretty much.’
‘As do elves, for that matter. So our two kinds have that in common, at least, that we both value love too well to treat it lightly.’
We reached the foot of a lush hill and began to climb slowly up. Around our feet  a few golden stars of elanor glittered  - nowhere near as many as on Cerin  Amroth – and  the tall stems of the pale niphredil waved delicately in the breeze.
Gimli sneezed.
‘Damn weeds,’ he said, and the brief moment of common understanding was over.  ‘Wonder how long we’re going to be stuck here…’
I speeded up the hill, determined to ignore the grumbling and take as much pleasure in the place as possible. It did, after all, look across to where Amroth the king had lived, and I felt part of a living story.  For me, who until very recently had not known for certain that any of my distant kin still lived in Lothlórien, it was almost magical.
I sat on the slope looking down, so that my unwilling companion had to sit also.  The air was beautiful, soft and clear, timeless and fragrant and I felt myself relax, almost forgetting the indignity of being joined at the hair to a dwarf when a tug on the braid startled me back to alertness.
‘Yes, Gimli?’
‘How long are we going to sit here? This ground is damp and I am not quite as waterproof as I would like… seems like a daft place to stop for a rest…’
‘But it is beautiful! The vista… the landscape flowing, the greens and golds and whites…’
I sighed.
‘You do not like the food, you do not like the water, you grumbled about the beds being hard, the grass is too green, the ground is damp… you do not like the wine, although you drank enough of it… is there anything about Lothlórien that you do not dislike, Master Dwarf?’
He scowled for so long that I thought I had offended him again.
‘Actually, yes, there is,’ he said. ‘The Lady of the Wood. I thought I was looking at an enemy, and saw only compassion in her eyes, not hate.’
‘And you like her for that?’
I turned my head as well as I could to look at the dwarf, seeing him with fresh eyes.
‘And what are you staring at now, laddie?’
‘A different person from the one I thought I was looking at.  Gimli, many people who find compassion in someone they expected to hate would be angry at being denied a reason to carry on with their hatred.’
He laughed.
‘That’s true enough. It can be hard indeed to know when to stop the old suspicions.  Come on.  Too damp to stop here any longer. I need to get my bones moving again. And no doubt you’ll be needing a little comfort break…’
‘I? I am fine… perhaps the legendary endurance of dwarves is rather more legendary than factual after all in this respect…?’
‘It’s probably the damp.’
We went back to the pavilion at lunchtime and endured the amused looks from Boromir and the light-hearted teasing of Merry and Pippin in dignified silence.
At least, I did. The dwarf was not so reticence.
‘I’d like to see you two tangled together by the hair and forced to get along!’ Gimli said, glowering at Pippin.
‘Oh, we know all about it,’ Pippin answered.  ‘Only it wasn’t braids that tied us together.  Me and Merry fell asleep in the Green Dragon one evening…’
‘It had been a long day,’ Merry corroborated.  ‘And I must have just put my head down on the table for a minute…’
‘And the next thing we knew, they’re calling time, and we gets up to move and someone had fastened our belts together. So when Merry went to go one way and I went the other, we crashed down over the bench…’
‘Knocking one of the lesser Bracegirdles flying amongst the pots…’ Merry added.
‘We were barred. For two whole days.’ Pippin finished.  ‘Still, at least we were able to undo our belts easy enough.’
‘Well, I think our elf and dwarf look rather sweet. Like two children told to stay together so they don’t get lost,’ Boromir said.  ‘And for certain we will not lose you, so odd a pair are you together… a bearded child in the care of a wisp of a guardian…’
Although the sentiment was not much different from my own previous thought, it was expressed rather mockingly, I thought.  There was something in Boromir’s tone that sounded high-handed and patronising, something sharp in his eye that suggested he would enjoy provoking the dwarf.  And, if the dwarf was going to be giving out negative emanations of anger and rage, it was bound to upset my peace of mind.
‘So where was it you wanted to drag me off to this afternoon?’ Gimli said loudly. ‘And if it’s such a long way, shouldn’t we set off now?’
He jumped up, snagging my hair, and I hurried to my feet. Of course, I hadn’t suggested going any such expedition, but all he was trying to do, I realised, was avoid staying where we would be the butt of everyone’s jokes.  And perhaps he was right; it was much better to take ourselves away from the company and wait out the time until we could surreptitiously free ourselves from our braided chain in as much privacy as possible.
‘I thought you might like to see the talans,’ I said. ‘And the ground will be less damp, as we climb.’
I did not speak again until we were out of earshot of the company.
‘How long does Aragorn want us to be like this?’ I sighed.  ‘Just to raise the spirits of the company?’
‘Aye, it seems a hard burden to bear.’ Gimli paused for a moment and then guffawed his big, hearty laugh.
‘What’s amused you?’ I asked.
‘Well,’ he said.  ‘It could have been worse.  One of us could have woken up braided to Boromir.’
If you consult the histories of the time, they will say only that I spent much of my time amongst the Galadhrim and often took Gimli with me – not that, perforce, we were chained together at the head. For this I am most grateful, and I think Gimli is, too. Besides, at such a moment of seriousness, to have to report such an apparently frivolous episode would have spoiled the narrative, I think.
That afternoon, as I wandered in peace with my attached companion beside me, now grumbling, now asking almost intelligent questions, we found a point of truce, although neither of us would have admitted it; it was us against the rest of the company, and we began to consider whether or not we could be allies against them.
We walked through the trees, pausing here and there so that I could lay my hand on the bark of a mallorn and sense its gentle energy, he muttering away to himself, until we had gone far into the woods, following a stream that chuckled and gurgled between the trees.
‘Can we sit?’ he asked.
‘Of course. But here, near to the stream, I am afraid the ground might be too damp…’ I glanced around, seeking alternatives and spotted a flat platform peeking through the golden leaves of a nearby mallorn.  ‘I promised you a talan.  Would you like to climb up?’
‘No, and I thank you.  Don’t want to intrude on any of the Galadhrim.’
Laughing voices came down from the canopy where I had seen the flet.  I could only be glad they did not speak in the common tongue, or I fear Gimli would have been up into the talan like a squirrel up a tree, only with deadly intent and axes drawn.
‘Tell your little friend that we would not brook intrusion in any case; we have our own matters to discuss.’
‘Although it is very wise of you to keep him close, as humans do with their tame canines so they do not frighten other creatures!’
‘What was all that about?’ he asked.
Never since my father had ordered to me to be as insulting as possible to the father of the dwarf at my side had I heard such rudeness from elven mouths; I wondered if the Lady Galadriel knew how her elves comported themselves when she was not listening.
I should have realised, of course – as should the impolite elves above – that Galadriel was always listening.
For the sake of dignity, of not having the dwarf explode in rage and amuse the two invisible Galadhrim further, I paraphrased.
‘They say we would not be interested in their idle gossip, and that they are glad I am showing you around.’
‘Ah. Because it sounded less than friendly to me.’
‘I do not know how it is with dwarves,’ I said, heading away from the talan and seeking higher, drier ground, ‘but with elves we are of several kinds.  Simply because I am an elf does not mean I am like these Galadhrim. You have seen Lord Elrond and his folk; they are Noldor.  And those who came with me to Rivendell, they are Silvan.  While the Lord of the Golden Wood greeted me as a distant kinsman, we Sindar of the Greenwood are, I assure you, very different from these elves.’
We were some way from the talan now, and I was pretty sure we were out of earshot of the insolent elves.
‘So it was an insult, then?’
‘I do not know the ways of these elves,’ I said, hoping to silence him.
‘Aye.  An insult. And, considering the way you spoke to my father once, it must have been a pretty bad one…’
‘Oh look, there is a seat beside the little waterfall over there. Somewhere dry for you to sit…’
‘Aye,’ he repeated.  ‘It must have been pretty bad…’
We gained the seat. After a few moments in which I silently contemplated the beauty of the cascade and pondered the ever-flowing channels of energy in the world, Gimli broke the silence.
‘Concerning the harsh words between yourself and my father…’
‘It was long ago and I was younger then. Foolish, unwise, ungentle with my words to other races… there were standard orders to be discouraging with strangers…’
‘Yet he remembers you saved his life. The lives of all of them. I was but going to say that I am glad he had lived to be insulted by a blonde pointy-eared pretty boy rather than become spider soup…’
‘Pointy-eared pretty boy?’ I echoed.
He guffawed.
‘So, I am repaid in full for the words you said when you looked at the picture my father carried…’
‘Well, if that will satisfy you… all I can say is you do not seem to have had much practice at insulting elves…’
‘I’ve never really had the opportunity, laddie.’
‘I apologise,’ I said.  ‘For my words to your father concerning yourself and your mother.’
‘Don’t worry over it,’ he said with a grin I could only just make out through the beard.  ‘I’m sure the rest of our journey will give me chance to work on my elf-offending skills.’
I laughed, grateful he was prepared to let the matter rest there, and we sat in silence for a few moments more, contemplating the gentle voice of the cascade.
‘Strange thing, the sound of running water,’ he said.  ‘Always seems to connect straight with my kidneys…’
‘And once more the legendary capacity of dwarves is proven to be just that,’ I sighed. ‘A legend of unfounded magnificence.  Come on.  We are a long way from the latrines but there is a conveniently thick thicket yonder.’
Presently, once my companion was comfortable again, we wandered through the trees towards the crown of the hill.
‘So, what do you know about the wonderful queen of the woods, then?’ Gimli asked.
‘Not much, to my regret.  As I have said, my kin were kin to Celeborn, long ago.  In truth, Aragorn seems to know more of Lothlórien and its inhabitants than I, loath though I am to admit it.  But the stories are that Lady Galadriel went to the Undying Lands, and chose to sail back to Middle Earth, for adventure’s sake, and that she met Lord Celeborn equally long ago.’ 
‘Well, she doesn’t look old; she is very lovely, and her words gentle with me when I did not expect such courtesy.  And she seemed very knowing, somehow.’
‘She is reputed in legend to have great wisdom… and I do not mean the same kind of legend in which dwarven attributes feature, Gimli!’ I added hastily.
He laughed, and to my surprise, another voice joined in, low and merry, and the Lady herself stepped forward through the trees.
‘Well met, Thranduilion, and Master Gimli,’ she said.  ‘I hear you do not find quite everything in my woods to your liking.’
‘Ooh.’ Gimli stopped bowed low, almost pulling me off-balance.  ‘I’d say it’s growing on me, your majesty… my lady… um…’
She laughed again, her voice clear and joyful.
‘Come, walk with me a little,’ she said.  ‘For we have many ancestors in common, and I know it will delight you to speak of them as much as it will please me to hear of them.  Oh, but Legolas! You will perhaps not be quite so eager for such a discussion.’
‘Whatever pleases you, my lady,’ I said.  ‘But I must perforce be your companion, whether welcome or not, at present.’
‘Yes, I heard the tale of the prank in the night.’  She reached out to lift the tangled braid and laid it on her palm to cover it with her other hand.  Her lips moved silently, and when she dropped her hands we found ourselves disentangled, unencumbered, separate.  ‘There! What mischief has joined together, I have now put asunder.  You are free to go your separate ways once more, and your hair, Legolas  – and your fine beard, Gimli – are quite undamaged.’
I bowed and offered thanks.
‘If you will excuse me, then, I will be glad to leave you to your walk.  Good day to you.’
‘Or,’ Gimli said, ‘you could tag along behind.  You never know, you might learn something.’
‘You do not need a chaperone, surely?’ I said. ‘I have no wish to intrude.’
‘But you would not be intruding,’ Galadriel said.  ‘And, besides, there are some Galadhrim I wish to embarrass – they were very impolite to you earlier, to both of you, and y]our walking together will forewarn them that they are in serious trouble.’
‘What exactly did they say? Gimli asked, holding back for a moment.
‘I forget,’ I lied.
We took gentle paths back the way we had come, Gimli and the Lady talking easily like old friends, but not forgetting me entirely, so that more than once Galadriel would say: ‘That was in the time of your great-grandfather, Legolas,’ or ‘I remember hearing how your father fought, so bravely, when his own father fell…’ so that I did not feel excluded.
And as the afternoon wore on, more and more, it seemed, Galadriel would raise a topic, and Gimli would begin to talk, and the Lady would find a point of relevance to my own forest, or family, or habits, and encourage me to offer my opinion, so that by the end of the walk, when we neared the ring of trees around the pavilion once more, the dwarf and I were talking freely and easily and finding more in common than we could ever have expected.
‘So here I will bid you farewell for the moment, my friends,’ she said.  ‘Now all you need to cement your friendship is to have a battle contest together, and a drinking contest together.  We will speak again before you leave, both of you, and I.’
I may have been mistaken, but it seemed to me that while the rest of the company were glad to see Gimli and I disunited once more, Boromir was less than delighted.
‘That did not take long!’ he exclaimed.  ‘And which of you made the sacrifice? Legolas, it looks as if your delicate tresses are intact… and as for our good dwarf’s splendid beard…’
Came a growl, harsh and fearl. Everyone looked over at where Gimli and I were sitting. The dwarf shrugged.
‘Don’t look at me; I’m not the one snarling…’
Ah. I tried to pretend I had only been clearing my throat.
‘Our friends are untethered again, does it matter how?’ Aragorn asked.
‘I care not.’ Boromir shrugged.  ‘I still think it was a lot of fuss over nothing – a few moments’ work with a knife…’
Gimli got to his feet.
‘Did you say something about a glade you thought I might like, Legolas?’ he asked casually.  ‘Flowers, or something?’
‘Indeed,’ I answered, picking up the same casual tone.
‘Oh, and so now our brave dwarf is off to look at the flowers!’ Boromir laughed.  ‘And with an elf, no less!’
‘May we join you?’ Frodo asked, an impulsive note to his voice. ‘Sam is a keen gardener, but, as you know, would not think to put himself forward…’
‘Aye,’ Gimli said, a twinkle of amusement in his eye.  ‘The flowers grow for everyone, do they not? Why not, then?’
‘Can we come?’ Pippin asked. ‘Me and Merry?’
‘You would be welcome,’ I said. 
‘It is not often one has the chance to look at the blooms of Lothlórien these days,’ Aragorn said. ‘I’ll make up the party, Pippin. Just to keep you and Merry from mischief.’
We set off, leaving Boromir in solitary splendour in the pavilion. Once we were well out of mortal’s earshot, I turned to Gimli – at my side once more, although no longer through necessity.
‘Which flowers were you wanting to look at?’
He shrugged.
‘I don’t know, those white ones that made me sneeze, does it matter?’  He glared at the four hobbits and Aragorn.  ‘I hope you were not all hoping for a botany lesson – I just wanted to get away from that insufferable, closed-minded, high-handed…’
‘And you think I didn’t?’ Aragorn said with a grin.  ‘With all due respect to the flora of Lothlórien, and the undoubted interest of some of the party, I must confess I myself merely wished to distance myself from the opinions of our stalwart Man of Gondor!’
We walked in comfortable silence for a good while until I finally found some niphredil for everyone to look at. Sam had more questions than I had answers concerning it, of course.
‘I do not know the plant’s habit,’ I said with regret.  ‘I only know that it still blooms in our songs, far away in the Greenwood.’
Perhaps something in my tone alerted the Dwarf; possibly our enforced proximity, brief though it had been, making us both more aware of the other’s mood.  Or it may simply have been a lucky guess. Whatever the reason, while the four hobbits examined the niphredil, and Aragorn lounged against a tree, Gimli sought me out.
‘Never fear, laddie,’ he said.  ‘Your father and all his fierce elves, and mine and our doughty dwarves… if there’s any orc-trouble back home, they’ll soon see them off between them, you see if they don’t.’
‘Dwarves and elves fighting side-by-side,’ I said.  ‘Who would have thought it?’
‘Me, never!’ Gimli admitted.  ‘Not before Moria, at least.  I saw you had my back, laddie.’
‘Only because you had mine,’ I said.  ‘It would have been ill-mannered not to.’
As we returned to the pavilion, the evening meal was being laid. Generally, those serving us had been discreet, leaving us to ourselves out of courtesy.  But this time, they stayed, the two laying the meal approaching Gimli and me, and a third, who was obviously in charge of them, watching as they bowed and, in stilted, learned-by-rote common speech, offered an apology in voices I recognised from the flet high in the trees earlier.
‘For although it is our way to be wary of strangers, we need reminding it is also not our way to be rude to them. How may we make amends?’
‘Well, you can start by providing some decent ale at breakfast,’ Gimli said.  ‘And as for the wine you serve at other times, are you sure we’re getting the best stuff?’
‘All will be as you request,’ the observing elf said, stepping forward and bowing.  ‘And these two are off to perform latrine duty now for a moon’s round to give them time to consider the wisdom of being polite to strangers.’
Probably with the fuss of the apologising elves, we didn’t notice until later that someone was missing.  Frodo noticed first.
‘Where is Boromir?’ he asked.
‘Can’t say I care, especially,’ Gimli said.  ‘After all, he’s no loss at present.’
‘You put me in a difficult position,’ Aragorn said. ‘I feel I should defend him, explain something of Boromir’s situation.  But I must confess, I would find it hard to do at the moment.  Well, he will come back when he is hungry, no doubt.’
We were talking about settling for the night when the elf who had overseen the apology earlier came to us.
‘Your pardon,’ he said with a bow.  ‘But I think you are missing a companion?’
‘Indeed we are,’ Aragorn replied.
‘Well, he is found. Perhaps you will come and see?’
Of course, we all went to see.
He led us into the quieter, darker areas of the forest, not far from the latrines, explaining as we went.
‘You, Legolas, will know many matters concerning spiders and woodlands. We have our own species here, much smaller than those of Mirkwood, of course, their bodies hardly larger than the eye of a daisy… but it is the time of year when these spiders form colonies for the winter, and they weave their webs together, making them stronger than usual. They are known for stringing these webs across pathways and open spaces to capture the ground insects that come out in the cooler weather.’
We began to hear voices now, the insulting elves and Boromir, from the direction of the latrines, and arrived to find the aftermath of an incident…
It appeared that our Man of Gondor had been on his way for a comfort break when he had fallen foul of one of the webs and land in one of the more unsavoury areas, stunning himself in the process. Then, while he lay unconscious in the mire, the colony of spiders had come to wrap their apparent pray in more webs, his head and hair coming in for particular attention.
Waking with a headache in such noxious circumstances, Boromir had called for aid and the elves had hastened to his side. Now they were attempting to raise him and becoming increasingly besplattered themselves in the process.
I had to admit it gave me the most wonderful sense of justice.
‘As well as the Man’s friends, I have brought hithlain,’ the elf with us said, casting out a rope. ‘I suggest once you are free, that you all visit the cascade and wash.’  He turned back towards us again. ‘I do hope your Man does not place any ritual or spiritual significance to his hair, for it will be nigh impossible to completely wash out the webs, and then, considering where he fell, also…’
‘Oh, I do not think so,’ I said as with a sucking plop Boromir was hauled free and stood, dripping and sticky and glowering… and listening.  ‘He is certainly quite cavalier concerning the hair of other races.’
Gimli and I watched in satisfaction as the elves led Boromir away towards the cascade.  My companion laughed quietly to himself, and I tried not to smirk; it was undignified, unbefitting to an elf.
But that did not stop me from a certain gentle enjoyment.
When Boromir was returned to our camp, much cleaner and with rather shorter hair, Gimli and I were surprised when he came over and sat near our couches.
‘So I suppose you’re happy now?’ he said.
‘No,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ Gimli replied, possibly with more honesty.
‘I do not know how it is with dwarves,’ I said, ‘or with men. But to an elf, our hair is connected with our identity.  Our braids can tell our marital status, our warrior achievements, which company we fight in, our family allegiance, our stage of life.  To cut the hair is tantamount to saying that we do not recognise our history, our sense of self. Even to lose a few strands to be free of a braid made in jest would have damaged my self-respect..  I know it was done in innocence, however, and so I bear no grudge.’
‘And with dwarves, it is similar,’ Gimli said.  ‘Since elves do not have beards, and men seem unable to achieve proper ones, we don’t expect understanding from less-blessed races.  But back home, mess with my beard and I’ll have your hand off, if not your arm.  Or your head.’
‘I can see we have much to learn from each other,’ Aragorn said, coming to stand near us.  ‘And, hearing this, it is to be hoped you bear no ill-will to whomever performed this prank?’
I shrugged.
‘How could they know, unless they were an elf, or a dwarf?’
‘What the elf said,’ Gimli growled. ‘But… they know now. And I know they know now so if anything else happens…’
It didn’t of course.  And for all the long road that lay ahead of us, Gimli and I were barely parted, except in the heat of battle.  At Helm’s Deep, there we had our first battle contest, and I was glad to cede Gimli the victory… and, since I won the drinking contest, it was fair enough.
So there we were, at the point of battle again, perhaps the last one, who could say? And I was daydreaming, wool-gathering... no. No, spending my last moments before the fray with memory and contemplation, ever my friends and companions of old.  Many days had passed since Boromir was alive, and taunting me and Gimli about our braid, and almost as many since Gandalf returned to us.
And so we stood on a hill, at the end of all things, and I thought of beginnings.
At my side the dwarf muttered something.
‘Never thought I'd die fighting side by side with an elf…’
In spite of the tension of the moment, I smiled.
‘What about side by side with a friend?’ I said.
Gimli looked up. ‘Aye, I could do that,’ he said.
And then the blur of battle, and far away the hobbit Frodo managed to destroy the Ring of Power, and Mordor fell, and the ground shook…
Somehow, we came through it all, as did our friendship.
Our friendship, which began with a prank.
And we still do not know who did it.