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Axe and Bow

A Legolas and Gimli fan archive

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A Time and Times and Half a Time

by Honesty

Category: Horror/Angst
Rating: R
Warnings: Torture
Disclaimer: Legolas, Saruman et al belong to JRR Tolkien, whom I am quite glad has not survived to read this. I am sure he would not appreciate it.
Feedback: YES!!!
Summary: Legolas, captured by Saruman, discovers *exactly* how Orcs were made; and Gimli must keep a vigil he will never forget.
A/N: This is the fifth, and, I *promise*, final revision of this sadistic little tale. I've never known a fic go through so many incarnations after first posting - but I swear this will be the last. I am now *nearly* happy with this. Though I still think the ending's a bit on the sentimental side.

Many thanks to Arachne for some inspired editorial suggestions. Undying gratitude - more power to your pen.

This is set in a needlessly pessimistic AU.

Chapter 1: The Twisting

"Have you never wondered, Elf, how the Orcs came to be? Then let me instruct you. Let me show you."

Saruman. That was Saruman's voice. He clearly remembers hearing the words. But was it now, or an hour ago, or a year ago? Or has he dreamt the words, and Saruman has never been present? How long has he been here? A day? An eternity? [When will it end?]

And where is he? Underground, if the echoes and the staleness of the air speak truly. At Isengard, he supposes. His eyes would tell him, but he cannot see, for all the harsh reds and yellows of firelights and forges that burn through his sealed eyelids.

More pressure is applied somewhere outside him, and he feels his spine buckle and twist under it. He feels it strain and crack, and the fires in his elbows and knees flare anew. He cannot scream, though the breath catches in his throat in a dry half-sob. The pain eases for a second, and then pulses anew through him.

His spine twists again, and in a sudden rage of grief he realises how proud he has once been, of the straightness of his posture, of his suppleness and strength and his skill with the bow, of the clear singing voice of his people, of his love of the green woods, and his place in them. Yes - of his elfhood itself, and of all his people's heritage. He was - is - a youth among Elves, considered a green innocent by hard-eyed elders like Elrond and Celeborn, though older in his youth than all the children of men. He has a future, as a noted warrior and son of an Elven king.

He has never thought before that it might be taken from him, he who has been one of the fair ones.

"A lesson ... a lesson most fitting, I think. Gandalf the *White*, indeed! As if one with his monochrome morality could understand what light is, or dark. Well, let him learn."

"No..." He receives a lash across the face for daring to utter a sound. It falls hard on his broken nose, and he feels his mouth fill with blood and mucus again. He swallows awkwardly, twice, and the heavy liquids stay down.

One clear thought trickles through amid the pain and grief. [They would corrupt me ...] And then the spasm of fear which follows. It would take more than instruments of pain to make an Elf an Orc. He is suddenly aware that Saruman has more weapons at hand than these. Weapons, perhaps, that an Elf cannot resist. Perhaps that he cannot even sense, already working their cankerous way through his heart and mind. Perhaps he has already been transformed, and waits only to realise it.

The pressure eases slightly, and he drifts, somewhere between wakefulness and sleep and delirium, letting the comparative absence of pain wash over him and round him. It seems quieter now, though far from peaceful, as hammers ring from nearby forges.

He drifts further, unresisting, taking refuge in memory of the Elven lands - of Lothlórien and Rivendell and of the long years of his youth in his father's kingdom in Mirkwood. He dreams of the cool green of the forests, and the music of the streams, and of the sky. They have never failed to lift his spirits, even in the darkest moments, but now the memories seem distant and inconsequential. [Nonetheless, the kingdoms still live And ... I will see them again.] It feels like a lie, but he does not challenge it.

A slight sound nearby rouses him to near-wakefulness. A footstep, he is sure, and then another, and a third. And then the footsteps stop, and he hears nothing more, though he is listening intently. The oversensitive Elven senses strain to interpret the sounds from the confusion around him.

Someone. Standing by him.

[Watching?] If so, he watches in extraordinary silence. He, an Elf who could once hear a twig break a mile away, can hear nothing.

[Or spellcasting?]

And then he feels his mind overcome by a wave of horror ... foulness so intense that he feels it engulfing the memories of his homelands. He banishes them from his mind immediately, in a desperate attempt to save them from the decay that swamps him. He tries to think of nothing, tries to wait it out as it breathes putrefaction through his flesh and spirit. He retches twice as it racks him, but nothing rises, and he is grateful for that small mercy at least as the rot flows through him.

A time, and times, and half a time it assails him, racking him on his bed of iron and pain, for seconds beyond all reckoning.

And then it passes, though he does not hear the quiet footsteps retreat once more, for he has slipped temporarily beyond reach, into the dust and ashes of unconsciousness.

* * *



Remembrance. And with remembrance, the pain redoubles. He does not try to analyse what they are doing to his body now, but lets it lie there limp, wondering vaguely if it makes things better or worse.

He reaches instinctively for his memories, and finds they have been despoiled. Mirkwood, the trees felled and carted away for timber, the wood's inhabitants lying dead beneath them. Lothlórien, a haze of ash, where fell beasts prowl among the remaining half-burnt trees. And the fair palace at Rivendell, its halls and balconies filled with Orcs, their faces almost familiar. The tallest of them ... had that once been Elrond?

He recoils from the memories. [No. Not memories, lies,] some distant part of his brain coolly informs him, but he cannot decide whether to believe it or not. He searches for other memories, for some other source of strength and hope, and he remembers the Fellowship. A word filled with such hope for the world, but which brought such failure with it. The halflings he can hardly remember, only that they had such strength, and yet such weakness. Where are they now? In Mordor, he supposes, the two who remain alive. Unless, of course, they too have been caught already. And Mithrandir is fallen, and Boromir also. And Aragorn ... the face in his memory speaks great strength, but also great weariness. After all, he *is* but a human, for all that a great heritage rests upon him. Could he endure this and remain unchanged? Could any?


[But we were nine; and I cannot remember the ninth.] He searches his memory, but can recall neither face nor name.

The pain is accellerating, and his concentration wavers as it ripples and undulates across the delicate surface of his sanity. He tenses instinctively, screwing up his sealed eyes against it, (we were nine!) as it twists and torments him. It feels as though strong acid has been poured over his skin, and he writhes and shudders against it, clinging desperately onto the single word as the burning liquid trickles and drips and slithers, stroking his bruised ribs with its malign fingers, leaving trails of fire in its wake.

[Nine...] (Though at that moment he cannot recall why there were nine, or what there were nine of.)


The fire endures an hour or two, and then fades, before he has solved the riddle. He's never realised before, how monotonous pain can be. It seems as if there are now longer intervals between tortures, and before the next begins he has worked out who the nine must be: the nine Riders, whom they call the Nazgul, black riders on black steeds, whose presence scar the land. He has seen them, many times, on his travels with ... but who did he travel with?

[Nine walkers for nine Riders]

[And I was one of them!] An obscure joy at the memory, at remembering even so little as that.

He names them one by one, the living and the dead. Mithrandir, whom men call Gandalf, Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of the Dunedain, Boromir of Gondor, Frodo Baggins, the ringbearer, Samwise Gamgee, Meriadoc Brandybuck, Peregrine Took, and one other, one other, the name lingering just beyond his reach ... and one other Gimli the Dwarf.

Yes ... Gimli. Gimli, with whom he had clashed continually, as their two conflicting racial memories met head-on. Gimli of the strong axe, and stronger arm, built as sturdily as any weapon of war, and with a mind to match, simple, blunt and direct, and proof against all but subtlety. Gimli, who gave his loyalties unflinchingly, and withdrew them not.

[Such as he could withstand this.]

He can see the Dwarf now, in the eyes of his memory, dressed in his customary furs and mail, grinning all over his weathered face as he pulls his axe from the neck of a dead Orc. He's short and solid, a squat lump of muscle and bone and sinew. He remembers suddenly an old saying he's heard, a favorite of his father's. "The Dwarves are hewn, not born. You can kill them if you can - and that is not easy, but you will never change them." The Gimli in his mind's eyes nods approvingly. "That's right. You stick with us, Legolas. We'll see you through."

It is too much for him; he almost weeps.

He embraces the hours of darkness, holding fast to that one memory, waiting for what will come. Eventually he falls into sleep, and it is as if a single Dwarvish figure, axe in hand, guards his dreams.

* * *

"Is all ready?"

It is Saruman's voice which awakens him from his slumber, and he knows now that it is no hallucination, but danger here and now.

The chamber, cave, wherever he is, is absolutely silent. He can feel presences around him, figures looming over him, and they grunt or snarl their yesses from positions around him. [Gimli!] his mind shrills in terror, and the memory returns immediately, though its presence can do little to soothe him.

"Good." Saruman is standing at his head, and as he speaks, he places his hands firmly on the Elf's temples. "Then let us begin. I want Gandalf the *White* to get his ... lesson ... before nightfall."

It starts as pain alone, though pain such as even now he has never known before, lacerating and excoriating him, burning and stabbing and bruising him all at once, leaving no inch of his skin untouched. He holds, desperate, to his memory of the Dwarf, the strength and good humour, and courage, as if he, too, can gain that rocklike immovability. [Better ... to die untainted.]

The pain burrows deeper, spreads through his nervous system, and he is dimly aware that he is retching, and retching again, repeatedly trying to empty his stomach, though nothing comes up. His bones burn like fire within him, and he feels his limbs thrashing uncontrollably ... but those two cool, smooth hands still pinion his temples. Still the memory stays with him, and he realises that the grass underneath the decapitated Orc is thick and green, lustrous with health. The thought nourishes him for a moment, and he clings to it.

And then, as he watches, the grass sickens and withers away, as once again the foulness swamps him, drawing him down into a sea of filth. [Gimli!] he shrieks again, and immediately his almost-friend is there with him. The currents drag him and wash over him again, and the face before him is transformed into something terrible, a gloating, leering ugly face. [No! You cannot *change* a Dwarf,] he roars in his mind, and the face wavers and almost changes back before another waver of currents hits him, and the creature metamorphoses into something even more terrible.

But he has seen it now. It is pure fraud, and he knows it.

The foulness and the filth break over him again, harder and more terrible than before, but he has the strength now - strength to fight it. The face has gone completely, so he repeats the name, repeats it over and over again until it rings in his ears, along with everything it stands for, with a tenacity that he must surely have learnt from the Naugrim ... remembering, remembering, remembering ...

... as the pain and the foulness goes on, for a time, times, and half a time, and then is gone.

And he is still Legolas.

And then he is gone, as his mind trickles away into the darkness.

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Chapter 2: Bitter Mirth

It's late. It must be long past midnight by now.

I have been sitting here for over three hours now, telling myself the darkest, sickest jokes I have ever heard in my life.

I know a lot of them, and they truly are filthy things - perverted, obscene, bloodthirsty tales, the kind only ever heard in the worst kind of barracks. I cannot say I am proud to know them.

I heard most of them first from Oin, almost ninety years ago. He was my captain for my first ever expedition against the orcs of the Blue Mountains, back when I was a youth of two-and-fifty. The expedition was a disaster, for Oin and I and four other Dwarves became separated from the main party just as night fell, and had to be rescued at dawn.

There were six of us, five of us mere Dwarvlings, and we spent the entire night waiting in ambush for a party of Orcs. *They,* alas, were waiting in ambush for *us* in the thicket opposite. We - the Dwarvlings not yet grown - were scared most out of our wits, cold, hungry and miserable, and Oin, the leader of the party, kept us sane through all those hours with jokes and tales of such foul humour that under any other circumstance would certainly have made us blush to the tips of our half-grown beards. We did not dare laugh aloud, but our smiles were like scavengers on the prowl, sharp and predatory with just the thinnest of guilt edges.

They were dark tales he told us that night - tales like the Troll's Whore, and Lackwit and the Goblin, and the Thief of Rhun - and some that were worse still. I do not care for them, not normally, but tonight ... tonight, their obscene and gruesome humour touches me now much as it did then.

No, do not mistake me. I am no lover of crude vulgarity, no more than so any other Dwarf. We are not a courtly race, but we are at least known as a courteous one. But sometimes you find yourself facing a situation so dark and so terrible that you *must* laugh at how foul and sick a place the world can be ... if only to prevent yourself being driven into madness and despair by it. They say that it takes a dark joke to lighten a dark place - but tonight I doubt there is any joke dark enough, nor any tale foul enough to entertain me. Tonight I am far beyond the help of such songs as 'The Jolly Brown Turd' and 'Seven Dwarvish Maidens'.

You see, it is very likely that before dawn comes I am going to have to kill my closest friend. Can there *be* any joke darker than that?

Only one; and that is the fact that I am doing it of my own free will.

In the name of Durin ... *why* did it have to be thus?

But I am stupid to ask. I was the one who brought it on myself, and I did so knowingly. I chose it, like a fool.

I could have let some other of the party keep watch. I could have entrusted the deed to Aragorn, as Gandalf bade me. Yes, I should have - a thousand times over I should have! But I would not.

Why - *why* - did I choose to endure alone this darkest of nights?

No; the others are not asleep, or absent. Gandalf has taken himself off in search of healing herbs, he says in case a miracle occurs. Aragorn is standing a little way off, trying to make it appear that he is not watching us. His sword is drawn, and if I were fool enough to ask him why, he would say it is in case Orcs lurk nearby. I am no master of subtle talk, but even I can catch a double-meaning in such words. And the two younger Hobbits - lucky are they to have survived the siege of Isengard when all else went so grim - they still cling together underneath their blanket by the fire. Sometimes I can hear them whispering together. But they will not sleep tonight. None of us will.

And Legolas - he who was my friend and comrade? No; he does not sleep either. He lies before me like one dead, though I can feel the faint pulse beating at his neck. He was almost unrecognisable when we found him, save for his face.

We found an Orc - an Orc with an Elven face.

They did not touch his face, you see - that was the genius of Saruman's mockery. He was not content to bring forth the Uruk-hai - he has delved deeper. He wanted us to know that he is capable of aping even Melkor at his foulest, on one who had been appointed to the Fellowship - one whom we held dear, and he wanted us to recognise what he had wrought.

That is why I watch this night. If the orkish body has brought with it the orkish mind, then none of us are safe while he lives. And if not ... oh, I do not know what will happen if not. I am no seer, but whichever happens I see only pain ahead.

No, I could not trust this task to any other. When he wakes, I will be the one who sees what wakes in him. I will be the one who must decide between his life and his death. I will be the one who must kill him, if needs be. A cruel task, maybe; but I cannot surrender it. If Aragorn or Gandalf took that choice, however wisely - I would never forgive them.

I am a fool, to make myself the butt of such bitter mirth. What else can I do but laugh? After all, here I am, waiting out the night, next to the unconscious body of what was once my closest friend, with my axe at my side, and my hunting knife ready at my right hand, preparing, if necessary, to kill him when he wakes.

Is it any wonder that I grieve?

* * *

I met him first in Rivendell, at Elrond's Council, and thought no more of him than I did of any other Elf, which is to say not very much. Too fine to be strong, and too fey to be sound - that was how Legolas once put it to me, with his usual ear for a well-wrought phrase. Well, that was how I saw him, much as I did all his race. Not to mention the fact that I saw in him all the arrogance of a King's son, of the race of the First-born.

If the truth be told, I had other reasons for not wanting to be involved with Elves, and with *this* Elf in particular. Glóin's line has not forgotten how he and the other companions of Thorin Oakenshield were treated by the King of Mirkwood, on their road to the Kingdom under the Mountain. An old grudge, I suppose, but we are Dwarves, after all. We do not forget our grievances.

No, I had no reason to like him, and many to despise him; and if I ignored him - well, he did no less to me in return. It did not prevent our cooperation, and, after all, nobody would expect any great friendship between us. I suppose I had some distant respect for him, for he did do valiantly, but I could not like him. Too often we clashed, not fiercely, but quietly, as a matter of habit, whenever he or I felt the honour of our races impugned.

So might it have continued, had we not passed through Lorien.

But how can I speak *now* of Lorien? This is no time to ponder now on what passed between us in Lorien, or the bonds it forged between us. After his discourtesy and arrogance when we entered the wood, my indifference towards him had hardened into positive dislike, but the wood changed us both in ways for which there are no words.

We left it friends. Was that so very hard?

Yes ... Yes, very hard. I am a Dwarf, and we neither forgive nor forget. I had been the guest of Elrond, but he has not yet forgotten the debt he owes to Durin's folk. I have been given the friendship of Galadriel, but she is of the Noldor, who above all the Elves honour Aulė. But this overpriviledged princeling of the Sindarin? Yes; very difficult.

I am thankful, I suppose, that none of our companions witnessed our quarrel, that first night in Lorien. They at least never saw how deep, or how bitter our hate could be. That night, neither of us held back so much as a word, in all that long quarrel. It was a savage, bitter quarrel, and we shredded each other with words half the night long, until there seemed nothing left to be said, and no strength left in either of us to speak further, glowering at each other across a clearing so beautiful it ought to have put both of us to shame.

It was he who broke the silence; it always is.

So we reach an impasse, he commented with seeming detachment. I suppose we had better begin again and fight it out once more.

I remember grimacing at his lightness. You can trust an Elf to find a flippant remark for every situation. I told him it would be a foolish thing to do, and he laughed, and said to me that we were already the greatest fools in Lorien.

Well, that, I suppose, was undeniable, not that admitting it would have achieved anything.

When I gave him no answer he hesitated for an instant, and then sat down, cross-legged on the bole of a tree, and said with seeming lightness that he didn't suppose I'd accept the apology of an immature, overprivileged, effeminate Elven brat.

My own words, paid back to me, with usury added. That is what happens when you engage an Elf in a war of words.

What can I say? How could I answer such words? Dwarves do not accept apologies made only in words. We cling as fast to our grudges as we do to our loyalties and friendships.

I said nothing, just stood and watched him, half-suspecting him of mockery - until I noticed how his slight smile froze on his face at my silence. I noticed how his right hand plucked with seeming nervousness at the hem of his sleeve, and then fell suddenly still. I noticed how he had seated himself so that his eyes were exactly level with mine.

What can I say? Perhaps I was under some enchantment, or perhaps the Golden Wood had put madness into my heart. No, I said to him. If you must give me an apology, offer it as one fool to another, and I will do the same.

Maybe I *was* insane that night, to make peace with him thus; but do you find me regretting it? Never; and certainly not tonight.

Though I may have reason to regret so many things when morning comes.

* * *

We had this - this contest at Helm's Deep. It was a game, of sorts, I suppose, of a particularly grisly kind, keeping the tally of our kills and comparing notes whenever our paths crossed. His score was the higher by one when the tide of battle swept him away.

We searched for him after, fearing the worst. After all, a bow is no weapon for close-work, and that knife of his is no substitute for a true sword. I kept my spirits up, joking that he would have to return, if only to proclaim his final score. I was quite certain he would be the victor.

Alas, the killing of orcs has ceased now to be a joke. Yet another of the foul ironies of this night. Better for him to have died there, than to have been - changed so. Kinder for him and us all.

Ach - how can I say that? I know nothing yet; it may not yet come to that. Gandalf says that Saruman would never have released him if he were not under his control. He is probably right, but we do not *know*, not yet. I will not let myself give up my hopes until he wakes.

Legolas, Legolas ...

Just to listen to him talking nonsense once more, to tease him once more about his flightiness, to talk about everything and nothing with him! Just once more would be enough. If nothing more, if I could only say farewell to him.

Durin's Beard, what am I doing? This is no time for weeping, you fool Dwarf!

I - I would have helped him if I could, I truly would, I would have endured it with him, even taken his place, if I could have done.

But my words are bootless. I was not there. I could do nothing to help him.

It is too late now for such wishes. All I can do for him now is to wait.

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Chapter 3: Morgenlicht

The morning arises cold and grey over the ruins of Fangorn Forest, and the still figures among the few remaining trees greet it with raised faces, with hesitant, tentative optimism. The Orc-Elf in their midst has not yet stirred.

"It is better so. He will be weaker if he wakes now," Gandalf mutters.

The glance he gets from the Dwarf is not kind. He pays it no heed, save to be irritated anew by the Dwarf's contrariness. He has been tempted many times this night to cast a sleep on the Dwarf, and had not some warning from his heart forbade him, he might have done so.

He has returned with herbs of healing, of one kind or another, and he and the Man are even now steeping and shredding them, their gazes flickering often to the Elf and Dwarf before them.

The Dwarf looks away from them, purposely disregarding their fervid activity. He watches only the figure before him, his eyes drawn constantly from the scarred, scaly skin of the ruined body to the pale, near-perfect Elven face, and back again. The welts and scars that had marred the face are already almost gone; but if the body's wounds are sealing themselves he has seen no sign of it. He watches, memorising the faint motions of the unconscious body - the shallow breathing, the way the gentle morning breeze stirs the tattered hair - and does not let himself look away. The Dwarf feels an urge to reach out and touch the Elf's face, but he does not. He checks his weapons for the hundredth, or perhaps thousandth time; he waits once more.

His world has narrowed. An Elf. A knife. An axe at his side. Beyond those things, all is irrelevant. Introspection and anguish have long since fallen away from him, leaving only wordless waiting. After the long night, he is ready.

The sky lightens, degree by degree, from charcoal to silver to near-white. The world lightens also, though it seems as though a grey pall has been cast over the land around them, and only slowly is it drawn aside.

The Dwarf watches not the dawn, but only the Elf before him. His knife is in his hand. His axe is by his side.

He is ready.

* * *

From somewhere almost too far away, the Elf stirs in his darkness, drifting quickly and slowly towards wakefulness.

It is a painful waking: he can feel too sharply the twisting of his spine, the stings and itches of his skin. His joints are burning, sometimes fiercely, sometimes dully. Everything pains him.

Even with his eyes still closed, though, he is already aware that there is sky above him and wind on his face, and blades of grass tickling his bare back. He can feel the cold light through his closed eyes, he can smell life, and air, and green things.

He contemplates waking, wonders vaguely what he will find when he does. Easier not to, so much easier, to take the other route that lingers temptingly at the back of his mind. He has never before contemplated the thought of Mandos, but now that he must, he finds that it holds no fear for him. It would be so easy, such a small, simple matter, such a quick end to long pain.

He wonders what happens to Orcs, once they die, and the thought breaks on him like a sudden shock of pain. He recoils from contemplating it. He can be certain that it is not a happy fate.

The desire for death wanes, and once again, he is aware of the touch of cool grass against his back. Resolving at last to face what he must, he opens his eyes.

The outer world greets him with such a blaze of unaccustomed light, that he must shut his eyes again against it, leaving him with only a blurred image of the world above him. Orcs are weakened by sunlight, he remembers, and supposes this must be how it feels for them. For a fleeting moment he wonders how badly they have harmed his vision. Or his hearing, for that matter. He is aware of voices around him, but they are dim and confused.

"Gimli...?" He has said it out loud, and that is a foolish thing to do, is it not? But the word is said, and there is no power in the whole of Middle Earth that can take it back.

* * *

The hand tightens around the hilt of the knife; the Dwarf blinks back tears. To hear such a voice from an Elf-

* * *

The sound of his voice pains him. Thick, harsh and guttural - an Orkish voice, and, involuntarily, he recoils from the sound. Once, his voice was beautiful.

"I'm right here, Sir Elf."

He has not expected a reply, but there it is, the old, half-mocking title. The familiar voice, deep and rough, and with it the familiar memory. But which is this? he wonders. The reality or the dream? Was either ever real?

He opens his eyes and looks up blankly into an expanse of sunburned face, framed by wiry brown hair and the thick fur of a beard, a face so much more strong, more vivid than the memory had been. Suddenly he is aware that he has no idea of what it was that he wanted to say so urgently. Whatever it was, it is certainly not the words that escape before he realises what he is saying.

"Am I an Orc?"

And Gimli laughs, unsteadily, and tells him: "Never."

* * *

Why does he laugh? Because the only alternative is a pain too terrible to endure.

He is conscious suddenly of Aragorn and Gandalf watching him, their narrowed eyes speaking doubt and suspicion. There is fear in the Hobbits' eyes, and they draw back a little from him.

Why is he so certain? they are doubtless asking silently; but Gimli has no answer for them.

He can give no name to his certainty; it is beyond the prosaic Dwarvish grasp of words, to give shape to concepts so flimsy. He is sure only of his certainty, but he cannot explain it.

[Because-] is as much as he can offer. [Because.]

And he looks down into the face of his friend, studying again. It is a sadder face than once it was, older, perhaps, but it is the eyes that are changed most greatly. They are become younger, older, brighter, wiser all at once, and some kind Maia puts inspiration suddenly into his heart.

[Because I never yet saw an Orc whose eyes shone with the light of the stars.]

* * *

"Never," the Dwarf says again. "Never - or I am a troll." And now the deep, rough voice rings with certainty.

The Elf stares up, oddly reassured. Only a Dwarf would speak so. Only a Dwarf could be as real as that. Perhaps this truly *is* no phantasm of the mind. Perhaps he truly is free.

He reaches across, trying to confirm by touch what his mind is telling him, but his arm is batted away impatiently by some other person.

"Be still, you fool! Or would you sooner clean your own wounds?"

For some reason it does not surprise him to hear Mithrandir's voice. He is *almost* certain now that he is not dreaming. He would speak to them, ask if all is well, ask of his deliverance, but he does not wish again to hear the sound of his own voice.

* * *

The Dwarf looks up for a moment, to meet Gandalf's gaze. "Leave us. Please."

Aragorn looks up sharply. Gandalf watches him with furrowed brows for a moment, and then nods curtly. "You may have five minutes, Gimli, and not a moment longer."

He nods his agreement, and the others withdraw a small distance. For a moment he can do nothing but stare down into the Elf's face, feeling tongue-tied and not a little stupid.

"Gimli..." The word is whispered, as if the Elf fears to speak aloud. "I saw my hands."

The Dwarf bows his head in acknowledgment.

"Am I much changed?"

"Yes ... and no." The Dwarf grimaces at his answer, which has, to his ear, an almost Elven unhelpfulness about it. "Your body is much like your hands, I fear, and much injured. But the blood from the injuries runs red, not black. Your face is nigh untouched. Your eyes..." For a moment the words almost fail him again. "I have never before seen eyes in which the starlight shines so bright - except one." Except perhaps Galadriel, but she is not one with whom comparisons are lightly made.

He watches the Elf lift up one hand and scrutinize it closely, an unmistakable pain in his eyes. "So thus am I become," he whispers. "Could any endure the touch of such a hand?"

The Dwarf reaches down, and takes the Orkish hand carefully between his own hands, his eyes not leaving the Elf's as he does so. Then he looks down at the hand, examining it closely, tentatively, as his craftsmen kin might examine a damaged instrument, brought for repair.

The hand's skin is black and scaly, marred by cuts and scars. The fingers are thin, but the knuckles much enlarged, the webbing between fingers and thumb thin and papery. The Dwarf runs his fingers thoughtfully over the back of the hand, along the swollen knuckles, across the palm, and down to the sensitive skin at the base of the wrist. Then, slowly and deliberately, he raises the hand in his own, to let the palm rest for a long instant against his cheek. He lays it down gently, noting that the Elf's eyes are tightly closed, and his breathing is uneven, hoping that he has not caused the Elf pain.

"I do not find its touch unpleasant," he says, in the manner of one reporting the result of an experiment. The eyes open once more, and the hand reaches out again, to seize the Dwarf's so tightly the grip is almost painful. "Its grasp is also uncommonly strong," he adds ruefully.

From his place on the ground, the Elf almost smiles. With an unsteady voice he whispers his thanks, but he does not loosen his grasp.

* * *

The others return before another minute has passed away. The Elf relinquishes reluctantly his hold on the Dwarf's hand, and waits in stillness as they resume their ministrations. Weariness is catching up with him at last, and whatever it is the others are doing is taking a long while to be accomplished.

He feels the Dwarf's heavy hand come to rest, surprisingly lightly, on his shoulder, and looks up, meeting the Dwarf's dark eyes with his pale ones. The broad face above him is solemn and sad, though the eyes glitter brightly, almost as if with tears. The hand on his shoulder becomes heavier, and is then removed, as the Dwarf reaches forward to brush a strand of the dirty blond hair from across his face. He feels the callused fingertips rest for a moment against his forehead, in a kind of unspoken benediction.

He gazes up still, never taking his eyes from the face above him, and the dark brown eyes stare solemnly back. But no more words are spoken between them ... just a silence which lasts many moments - for a time, and times and half a time again.


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Issue No.: 2.6
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