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Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JRR Tolkien. No money is being made and no copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: An AU sequel to The Hobbit. What if Bilbo had never managed to free the Dwarves from Mirkwood, and Thorin and Thranduil had agreed instead to send Dwarven slaves to Mirkwood, in return for Thorin's freedom? And what if Gimli was one of the slaves? And what if he was commanded to serve Legolas? Ah, what then?
A/N: A long story. Ro drew the picture , but it was Jaime who suggested the premise. I wrote the first scene, and left it open to any takers, and it was continued mostly by Dís. Then I made the mistake of rewriting the initial first scene ... and inspiration struck. Have tried to keep as close to the original text though.
Thanks to Isos Arei and Adina for looking over this.
PREMISE: When Thorin was imprisoned by Thranduil, Bilbo never
managed to free him. Instead, Thorin had to bargain his way out,
and since he flatly refused to part with Thranduil's asking-price
(a half-share of the gold) he pledged instead to send slaves - the
children of his companions.
Additional premise: exploring Lisa's
Nefarious Legolas Parentage Theory - Legolas as illegitimate child
Glóin had wept as he had broken the news - wept as Gimli had never seen him weep before.
"Thorin has no children," he had said with tears, his hand trembling where it gripped Gimli's shoulder. "He cannot understand what he does to us. And now you my son must pay the price of our victory."
He had explained, and Gimli had thought he understood: how that Thorin had bought his freedom and the aid of the Elven-King with the promise of servants, swearing to send the first born of his companions in exchange for the aid that would win him the Lonely Mountain. It had been that or a half- portion of the treasure; and Thorin had never borne children.
Gimli had thought he understood.
The chains did not pain him badly, not the wide iron bands at his wrists or the looser ones which bound his ankles - not even the fist-thick iron ring around his neck, which bruised and chafed even the hardened hides of the Dwarves. No, the Elves were not given to cruelty. They had inflicted no pain upon him.
That was small comfort, though. If he had been in pain - if he had been injured, then at least he would have been able to wear shackles without shame, a reluctant prisoner rather than a voluntary one, sold by his lord in payment of an honour-debt. At least, too, he would have had some distraction from the faint currents of cool air that brushed and stirred at what little was left of his beard.
He did not look at the others - at his cousin Oli or Burin, Balin's son or even at Vigdís, Dwalin's only child, whose femininity the keen-eyed Elves had not even detected, the only first-born daughter of Thorin's companions who did not have a brother to take her place. Each in turn had had their beards neatly trimmed at the quick impersonal hands of a dark-haired Elf, who probably knew and cared nothing for the disgrace she was visiting on those she tended.
None had been able to meet her eye, once their faces were shorn - or rather none save Vigdís, who had stared the Elf-woman down with condemnatory eyes, and then turned her back and strode to the back of their group, shedding her tears at the desecration in disciplined, motionless silence, unnoted by any except Gimli.
For Durin's folk, only condemned criminals wore their beards shorn.
The Elf was leading them now through the arched stone corridors of the Elven-King's castle. It was said to have been cut under the earth like caves, and yet so pale, and so airy was it, that it could have been the streets of a Mannish town. Their feet crunched on the rushes strewn underfoot, and she cast them a disdainful backward glance, as if their bruising of the reeds displeased her, or the clanking of their chains as they walked, or the way their feet shuffled heavily along the floor.
* * *
Legolas had been about to return to his duties when the knock came at his door.
Normally he would simply have opened it himself, but there was a slight officious tone about the knock that bade him stand on ceremony. He removed his travelling cloak and weapons once more, and then called to enter, watching patiently as the door opened.
The petitioner was Elwen, a maiden of the Eastern woods, and she seemed to be bringing with her - a Dwarf?
A Dwarf in chains, clad only in undyed woollen breeches, and with his auburn beard cut very short and his hair braided very tight. Flames danced in the darkness of his eyes, and under his tanned skin the muscles moved and shifted in a mechanical battle of wills.
Legolas stared at this apparition for fully sixty seconds.
"What means this, Elwen?" he asked more in surprise than discourtesy. "Are we to make slaves of the Naugrim?"
The Elf-maiden tossed her head impatiently. "Not so. This Dwarf is of those given by the King of the Dwarves, in return for our King's aid. They are to be the slaves of the royal line as long as they live." Her face was lined with a distaste which was probably not for the fate of the captives. "You, as the King's son, have been honoured with one.
It was not customary to honour the King's unofficial children so. There were obviously more slaves than King Thranduil had legitimate progeny, and so the King had clearly decided to display his generosity to those of his children who were not truly royal.
"I have no use for a slave."
"It is yours." Elwen turned and left, with less courtesy than when she had entered, leaving the fettered creature behind him, the chains that she had held striking the cavern floor in a discordant cascade.
"I leave for the Western border at nightfall," Legolas called after her, knowing the words futile. From tonight's new moon until the next he had command of the Western Guard - and was he to take a Dwarven slave with him, and be followed by a a clanking, rattling boulder through the forest?
Legolas gazed down at his new possession in silence, for once abandoned by his normal eloquence. The Dwarf stared straight ahead, not once meeting his gaze, his eyes flickering between anger and shame.
"I do not wish for a slave," Legolas said aloud in the common tongue. The creature did not react, unless the shifting and tightening of muscles in his shoulders and back could be called a reaction. His words were foolish, though more incisive ones seemed to have deserted him. He laughed suddenly, at his own folly, and the folly of the situation in which he found himself. "And I am sure that you do not wish for a master. But we must both adapt, I suppose, as best we may. May ... I ask your name?"
But the creature did not speak, but merely lifted his eyes to meet Legolas's gaze with an expression of pain-laced defiance. Then they were lowered once more, looking down to dwell on the chains that bound him.
The chiming of link on link as his chains shifted and settled sounded suddenly very loud in the ever-lengthening silence, but still the slave spoke no words. Legolas began to ponder whether the creature was attempting to wear out the patience even of an immortal by his silence, or whether he was ever to get an answer.
The Dwarf jerked his head up violently to meet his eyes again, and this time the fires in them were raging furnaces of rage and pain. "Gimli," he said roughly. "My name is Gimli."
* * *
Dusk had fallen, and the wind in the treetops was fresh and clean.
After a full month spent within the walls of a palace, the first night spent under the stars was never aught but pure joy. The unwished visitor had made him late, but not seriously so, and even in his haste the trees welcomed him like old friends. Legolas journeyed through them eagerly (perhaps more eagerly than was his wont), darting like a squirrel through the high canopy that hid Mirkwood from the sky above, until at length he hung from the tree directly above his companions' watch-fire, relishing the scent of the new-roasting venison on the fire below him.
The Dwarf he had returned to the hall of slaves, citing his duties in the Western woods. The slave-master had said he would find labour for it, and return it to him on his return.
He gave the signal, and waited for the countersign before he descended, to be greeted by Udin and Elenion, his two lieutenants of the guards.
"Friends," he said joyfully, embracing each in turn. "What news under the western trees?"
They told him, after their fashion, Elenion speaking in simple facts and plain narrative, overlaid (and at times all but obliterated) by Udin's incessant commentary and critiques of the state of the Western forest and of the Wood-Elves' handling of the threats they had encountered. There was always something, come to ravage the borders of their realm. It had been wolves this time, despatched with comparative ease, and a stray spider, doubtless kin to Ungoliant, who had become enraged when her carefully-knitted webs had been destroyed. It had taken the entire might of the western guard to destroy her.
"I fear something has happened to disrupt the colonies in Southern Mirkwood," Elenion had said at that. "For they stray North more often now, singly, rather than in packs."
"Of course they do," Udin said quickly. "Were they not interrupted by our herd of stampeding Dwarves, as they went to storm their mountain? Why, I almost pity them - torn from their homes thus and forced to wander whither they will until they come within our bowshot."
"Dwarves!" Legolas exclaimed. "Speak to me not of Dwarves! Do you know, they have come bringing Dwarves to the castle as slaves, in payment for the help we gave them."
"I had not heard it," Elenion said thoughtfully. "It seems strange to my ears, that an Elven-King should keep Dwarven slaves."
"Not at all! Think how our King must think." Udin leaned forward, tossing his dark-brown hair back from his face, his eyes lit with mischief. "He captures thirteen Dwarves on our borders on their way to despoil a dragon, and what will he have but a portion of the gold? He bargains for a share and it is denied him. Is he to keep the Dwarves until the unmaking of Arda, feeding them and clothing them in his dungeons like unwanted houseguests. Surely not! No, he will settle for what he can get, sure as morn follows night. If he will not get gold he will take serfs, and hope that the Naugrim- King relents. Then at least he shall have some labour for his pains, and some hope of gain, when a new Dwarf-King takes the throne."
Legolas almost sighed. Udin, all too truly, lived up to his name - Not-Silent. "These are no serfs," he said flatly, "but the sons of King Thorin's companions. One of those miserable slaves has been given to me - and I know not what to do with the wretched creature."
"But that is barbarous," Elenion said, distressed. "It has never been the custom of our people to enslave others. And that they are nobly-born-" He shook his head sadly. "I can make no sense of it."
"I know it." Legolas stood, and cut some venison from the roasting carcass, making sure to leave plenty for the Silvan Elves of the guard when they returned later. "But he has been given me, and I am supposed to make some use of him. I can hardly refuse a gift from my father."
"But of course you may refuse it! You would be most welcome to join us in exile here. Since courtly living irks you so-"
"Aye, but what may I *do* with a slave?" Legolas all but wailed. "What duties can I give him?"
"You can hold a festival at the palace and make us all your guests," Udin said helpfully. He had not come within bowshot of the palace for seven hundred years - ever since the fateful day when his talent for scurrilous verse (and his woeful want of tact) had seen him barred forever from the royal court.
There was a pause.
"You could give him the tending of your horse," Elenion said tentatively.
"To a Dwarf? Are they not called 'stunted' for a reason?"
Elenion blushed, and then laughed. "Forgive me - I suppose they are."
"No, what you ask of a slave are the things that you would not do yourself. Have him deliver your requests for supplies to Galion - and let him argue the toss for you himself, have him draft your reports for the scribes, have him take your place at stately occasions and when your father sits in council."
Legolas had a sudden, and very vivid picture of his father's face should such an occurrence take place, and laughed merrily and suddenly at the image. "Do you know, Udin," he spluttered, "I am half-minded to take your counsel already." But then he remembered once more the anguished Dwarvish face, and the laughter died on his lips. "But truly, friends, what am I to do?"
There was a pause as his two companions considered the question, and fortunately Elenion spoke first. "Well, if you must keep the Dwarf - and it seems that you must - then there must be some tasks that can safely be given to one such as he. Menial tasks, such as the cleaning of shoes."
Legolas found himself faintly affronted by the suggestion. "I do such deeds for myself!"
"Aye, but you could entrust it to him. He could ... He could fetch and carry for you, from the washers of linen, and other places. He could serve you at table - then truly King Thranduil will see that you make use of his guest. He could clean your quarters, mend your arrows-"
Udin gave a low laugh. "He could scrub your back, when you take to the tub. He could wash your hair, brush your teeth, rub your earrrrrs...."
"Enough, enough!" Legolas cried, laughing almost too hard for speech. He could feel his ears burning at the very thought. "Mercy, I beseech you! I - I could not be so cruel."
"No indeed," Elenion said earnestly. "After all, if he is of noble birth-"
"-then truly, you should be careful not to bruise his sensibilities. Say you that his father was of the Dwarven-Lords who assisted their king in the taking of Erebor? Then he is surely of higher birth than a royal Elven by-blow who guards the woods by night!"
To that, truly, there was nothing more to be said. Legolas finished his meal in silence, leaving Udin to talk alone. Udin had charge of the Wood-Elves for the first part of the night, and departed through the leaves, leaving Elenion and Legolas to take their rest until midnight, spreading their cloaks deep in the shelter of a bramble thicket.
"It troubles you still, Legolas?"
"Yes! By the sun and stars, Elenion, what in all Arda am I to do with a Dwarf?"
"I ... I know not. Does he have no skills? Works of craftmanship, such as the Dwarves love, perhaps, that he could do for you? But I do not know what his craft would be. Alas - I find I do not know." Elenion lay himself down, crossing his hands on his breast. "May your dreams bring you answers," he said sleepily.
"I thank you. May yours bring you peace." Legolas folded his own hands, staring (as he always did) for some sign of starlight through the thick canopy of leaves. Answers his friends had given him - plain or risible according to their natures - but they seemed strange and unfitting, suited to blank, faceless slaves, and not at all for a grieving, angry Dwarf with eyes like underground forges.
Slowly, grain by grain, he let the dreams take him, though they brought him neither answers nor peace.
He was seated at table, in the great hall of his father, at some fine occasion or feast, and the hall was busy with servants. The Dwarven-slaves were among them, bringing dishes to their masters, still shirtless, still wearing their heavy chains and short beards. Instrumentalists played on a dais, an old pavane that had been written when the Second Age was young, and already couples among the Elves were beginning to step onto the dance floor, to tread the stately measures of the dance.
In his dream, Legolas had finished eating, though his empty plate still lay before him, and was watching the dancers before the dais.
The slave - Gimli, if Legolas remembered the name truly - was standing a little behind him, a basin of water held in his hands, and when he looked up, gave it to him, meeting Legolas' eyes with a perfect, steady gaze, the fires in the dark eyes dampened to mere coals, steady fire, not a blustering inferno alternately raging and failing, reflected in the water, fainter but still compelling.
It was a face so ungainly that it was almost beautiful - a conundrum that nearly made sense in Legolas' dreaming state.
For a moment, the scene hung motionless, and then Legolas took the bowl from him, his fingertips brushing lightly against the thick fingers of the Dwarven hand.
The Dwarf turned and left him then, walking in silence back to the palace kitchens, without looking back, the chains ringing softly as he walked away.
* * *
The Dwarves had been given an old store-room for accommodation, crudely carved out of greying limestone, some twelve foot by twenty, which they shared with old stacks of broken barrels and piles of empty coarse-woven sacks.
They sat, a small, lost cluster of squat, lumpen bodies, waiting in the half-light for nothing in particular. Already they had made up beds at one end, with blankets that the master of the servants had given them, and rolling up the empty sacks to serve as pillows, doing what little they could to make the sparse room serve as a living space, but that short flurry of work had been little enough to keep them occupied, and they had fallen simply to waiting, sitting in their huddle on the floor, those who were kin sitting closely together, seeking a comfort that none of them would have dared request aloud.
Burin glanced around the small group, his eyes flickering momentarily around each face. All but Oli, Gimli's cousin, had returned for the night, and Gimli had left a space for him at his left hand. Next to him, in a tight cluster, were the three Broadbeam cousins, Bruni, Buri and Bild. Bruni and Buri were not even battle-ready yet, and Bild, Bombur's son, had been of age but three years. Then Dáin, Náin and young Iari, none of whom Burin knew well, and at the last fair Vigdís, his own cousin, her eyes hard and brittle, the torchlight glittering on her blue-black hair as if on the facets of a gem.
Their captors had brought in a pot of bean stew that they might eat, and Burin ladled it out carefully, mindful to leave an adequate portion for the latecomer, and passed the bowls round to his subdued companions.
"*Wooden* spoons," he heard Bild, Bombur's son mutter, turning the thing over in his hand, before digging it into his bowl. Bild had just turned forty-three and was as thin as his father was fat. He always ate, Burin had heard, as though he had never seen food before, though tonight he was spooning it into his mouth indifferently, preoccupied by something that was probably not the coarse wooden cutlery.
The others said nothing. They, too, were eating in a desultory, absent manner.
"New moon, tonight," Burin said softly, into the silence. He knew it from the almanacs, not from having seen it.
"A month to Durin's Day," he heard Vigdís say. It was the second new moon of autumn, the start of the last month of the year. With the rising of the next new moon the old year would pass and the new begin.
"I hope we can see it," Iari, one of the youngest Dwarrow-children said miserably. "Then at least we may greet Durin's Day as we did in the Blue Mountains."
"Could we not ask leave for the rituals?" one of the other younglings asked. "They might grant it to us."
Burin shook his head. We are slaves, he thought. It is not our place to ask favours.
"Well, could we not observe them with what we have? There are empty barrels that would do service as drums, and-"
"Would you be mocked of the Elves?" Vigdís snarled at the lad, not even letting him finish his sentence. She had drawn the blanket she had been given round her chest and shoulders for modesty. "It is the way of Elves to mock the things our folk hold dear. Would you hear them make sport of our new year solemnities? We can hardly keep our festivals here."
Burin burned suddenly to silence her, to disprove the truth of her words - but in all honesty he could not. He had asked his father many things about the ways of Elves, when he had heard what his fate was to be, and even the Elves of Rivendell (who according to all tales were wiser and nobler than those of Mirkwood, and owed Durin's folk an old honour-debt) were inclined to pour ridicule on the ways and habits of the Dwarves - and most of all, on their beards.
"We shall not forget them," he said inadequately. It pained him to see Vigdís so cold and so angry, though he could hardly condemn her for it, if it gave her strength. Anger or despair - there were no other choices - and it would have grieved his heart beyond measure to see her in despair.
"There are many things we should not forget."
"No," Burin said quietly, and glanced round at the other Dwarves, sitting in their unnatural silence around him.
He resolved to speak quietly to her, though, about her treatment of the children.
He was the eldest of the Elven-King's slaves, and that simple accident of birth had left him in some measure responsible for them - for fair Vigdís, his cousin, for Gimli and Oli and the others, right down to the three Dwarrow-children who had had no elder brother to send. They looked to him, at a time when he would sooner have torn at his beard and wept aloud, and he had no choice but to lead them.
No - that was unjust. Most of them looked to nobody, at present, but nursed their angers and betrayals in self-absorbed solitude, leaving him to stand watch over them whether they noticed it or no, to protect those who could not watch themselves.
"At least," Burin said, trying somewhat to encourage speech, "at least our duties seem unlikely to be onerous. My whole duty seems to comprise standing below the King's throne, waiting for his command."
There was a pause. "Mine did too," the youngling Iari said timidly. "But they never ask me to do anything."
There was a pause, and then Gimli forced a laugh. "I think my master better than that," he said, either in mirth or bitterness. "He does not want me at all!"
"How so?" Burin could not tell whether Gimli was amused or pained by this rejection, but could not but be grateful for his effort at lightness.
"He sent me away! Within ten minutes he had me back in the hall of slaves, and the slave-master sent me to wash linen with the maidens." Gimli raised his hand as if to rub his beard, and it took all Burin's self-discipline not to mimic the gesture. "I'm told he will return in a month, and then I should think I will be standing idle too."
"I had work to do," Náin, Nori's son, said softly, absently picking a black-eyed bean out of his stew. "I do not think I understand great ladies. She could not decide what to wear for dinner, and had me bring her every shawl in her wardrobe - each in turn."
Burin heard Vigdís give a grunt of contempt, and almost smiled. At least it got them talking - complaining, even, for even complaints were better than silence. Slowly at first, and then more freely, with less prodding, they began to discuss their day's labour. Most had fared like he, on the whole. The labour was light, but menial, and the Elven-folk not given to cruelty. Burin would sooner have had heavier labour, and more of it, but it would hardly have been his place to ask. It would have made more sense to keep them out of sight, hewing stone or chopping wood, rather than separated and bored, dependent on their masters' whims for work to do, but if that was the King's whim, then ... well, Kings did as they would do. It was not for commoners or slaves to gainsay them.
But Burin's train of thought was interrupted before he could dwell much on the ways of kings. He heard the great oak doors of the hall crash open, and the hurried, jangling steps of some enchained creature storm through it.
Oli's face was livid white, save where angry patches of red showed at the cheek-bones. Burin climbed quickly to his feet and stepped forward. Behind him, he heard Gimli follow suit, brushing past him to go to his cousin's side.
"What has happened, Oli?"
"My master - my master is a shameful creature!" Oli collapsed into a sitting position, ignoring Gimli's hand on his shoulder, his voice shocked and outraged. "He - brought a - a *woman* to his quarters - while I was there!"
"You do not mean-?" Burin suppressed his exclamation, and looked around quickly, endeavouring to see if there was any way in which he could send the three Dwarrow-children elsewhere before any unsavoury details were unearthed, but in a chamber twelve feet by twenty privacy was a distant luxury. He hoped that Oli would not be too specific in his description.
"He made me bring him wine and sweetmeats while he - and she with her mouth-" Oli broke off, failing totally to put words round the act that he had seen performed. "And she was not even his wife!"
There was a long, shocked silence, even from the three children.
"The ways of the Elves here are not ours," Burin said heavily. "They have their customs, and - we are slaves here. We have no choice but to endure it."
"No," Vigdís said angrily. "This - this deed - is beyond anything that could be asked of us. Is it not enough that they make us their slaves? Is this how they shall treat us? Are we to be made to witness such immorality? For it is neither right nor fair."
"We have no choice-"
"Be silent, Burin! This infamy is beyond any claim of duty to our king or people! What would you have said if it had been one of the children - or I?"
You could have endured it better, Burin thought, but did not say, and the children were too young to comprehend. They would only have been perplexed, and perhaps a little curious, inclined to ridicule what they did not understand. Such things, after all, did not touch the unwoken mind the way they did the part-woken one.
"I am sorry, Vigdís," he said finally, "But to endure is our only honourable course. It was King Thorin's will that sent us here, and it is his command that keeps us here. If we rebel against the Elven-King we commit treason against our own lord." He looked around, at the nine Dwarves of whom he had somehow become leader. They were sitting silent, shocked, and Gimli had his arm tightly round his cousin's shoulder, gazing back at him with angry eyes. "Would you do that? Because I would not."
None of them answered him, and Burin found himself somewhat disappointed. He had counted on Gimli's support, at the very least.
* * *
"Gimli! Are you awake?"
Gimli had not been sleeping - or had not thought that he had been until Oli's touch on his arm shook him into life. He grunted an affirmation and opened his eyes, his fingers raising automatically to touch the remains of his beard. "Aye," he said wearily.
Oli shuffled a little closer, trying to suppress his chains for the sake of the other sleepers. "Forgive me," he said miserably, "but I cannot sleep for thinking of what I saw them do. It was... Is it *natural* for Elves to do such unclean things?"
It was not something Gimli wanted to think about, at any time. More than anything he did not want to consider it now, when his mind was still half-clogged with dreams that he could almost not remember. "I don't suppose it can be natural for any being to do such things," he said, "but if they do it there must be some gain in it."
"How can there be?"
Gimli cast about in his mind, seeking for some explanation which did not make him uncomfortable. "You said they were not wed. Perhaps they do not wish children."
"It troubles me," Oli whispered, and his face was pale and strained. "It troubles me very much. I can think of nothing else."
Gimli blinked, and watched his cousin for a moment, and then glanced sharply away, his face flushing involuntarily. To find such an unnatural act arousing - well, it could only be a matter of deep shame, to an unwed Dwarf.
"Come on." He pushed his blanket off, and climbed to his feet, not bothering to mute the ringing of his chains.
"What-?" Oli stood up as well, rather more quietly, staring at Gimli in honest incomprehension, and followed him to the empty half of the room.
"You need distraction."
"Distraction? But we cannot disturb-!"
"Would you wish to ponder this all night?" Gimli asked shortly. He met Oli's gaze steadily, and was careful not to let his eyes drop. "I'll give you seven rounds empty-handed.
Oli looked up hopefully, and then his face fell. "But we can hardly fight with these chains -"
"We can try well enough," Gimli said firmly. "They haven't hobbled us hand and foot yet." He tensed, raising himself slightly onto the balls of his feet. "Ready?" Oli nodded. "Then on guard!"
There was no better distraction, so some among the Dwarves said, for such unwanted aches, and no greater solace. The duel was tentative at first, as each tested out the limits of his chains and what they would permit, then fiercer and faster as they gained the feel of it, relying much on elbows, which required but little reach, and on shorter punches and such throws as did not require the full length of a Dwarf's arm, the clink and crack of iron on iron ringing loud through the silent chamber.
* * *
"Mahal's blade! What do you think you're doing?"
Vigdís was the first to wake enough to protest, her voice ringing with outrage. Gimli swivelled quickly out of reach of Oli's barrage of roundhouse punches, and did not answer. He could hardly spare the time.
And in all fairness the answer was quite clear.
There were other voices too, calling for them to be quiet and go to sleep. He ignored those too, for Oli had hit his stride now, and was attacking him with frenzied vigour, dealing blow after blow, seeming oblivious of the tears which obscured his vision.
He did not hear the door open.
"Hold - hold!" It was an Elven voice, and Gimli let out an involuntary squawk as a long-limbed creature hauled him bodily away from Oli, and dumped him unceremoniously three yards away. Gimli rolled himself on to his feet again, his breath coming in heavy gasps as he faced the Elf.
There was a sudden, and profound silence as the Elf stared down at them, broken only by young Bild, sitting tangled in his bedding, his tightly-bound braid of hair hanging askew over his face.
"What time of night do you call this?" he asked incredulously.
"The time of night when Dwarves need to fight," Gimli said shortly. Bild stared at him, not understanding, and then muttered something and looked away.
"Why were you fighting?" the Elf asked
It was the Master of the Servants himself, and he was very tall, and very angry, his eyes haughty and indignant. There was a large bunch of keys at his belt.
Gimli planted his feet firmly apart on the ground and folded his arms, meeting the Elf's gaze squarely and trying to ignore the bead of blood that had seeped from the side of his mouth and was now easing its ticklish way through what remained of his beard.
"Because we wished it," he almost growled, meeting the Elf's eyes combatively. "There are times when Dwarves need to fight.
The Elf glanced across at Oli, and then back again. "Oh? Do the Naugrim consider it seemly for slaves to brawl in the house of their masters?"
The Dwarves did not keep slaves.
"If need be, yes."
"The ways of our peoples are different, then. It is not the Elves' way to seek needless conflict or to prolong it, and we will not tolerate it in those under our command." Another piercing glare at Gimli. "You are slaves here. I suggest that you learn our ways - for your own peace of mind. Go to your rest, and do not continue, I pray you."
Gimli bowed low, but said nothing, and the Elf left, closing the door with an audible *click*. For an Elf, Gimli presumed, that was the equivalent of slamming it so hard that the very rock of the ceiling shook.
He walked over to Oli, and pulled him to his feet. "All right, Oli?" he asked in a low voice.
Oli shrugged, though Gimli was glad to see that he seemed at ease now. "Mahal! Even my bruises have bruises."
Gimli was not about to complain about his own cuts and scrapes. "Then it serves you right for waking me after midnight."
Oli nodded, and stood, walking slowly back with him to where their blankets lay. "Cocky brat," he said, swathing himself in them and curling up. And then, in a low voice, "Thank you."
Gimli returned to his own blankets, and squatted down by them, but did not lie down to sleep again, watching as the others whom he had disturbed settled once more, putting their heads under their blankets to sleep. The thrill of the fight was still coursing through his veins, and he felt more real, and more alive than he had since Glóin had first told him his fate.
He could still fight. Chains or no chains, he could still hold his own in combat - and he could still bring Oli down five times out of seven. Not even the aloof, arrogant Elves could take that from him, let them forbid what they would. There was nothing like the challenge of the fight, testing his mettle against another whether in play or in earnest. It was a pleasure as fine as the best of ales, or the freshest of pipe-weed-
And that was another luxury he would be learning to live without.
Gimli's exultation vanished as soon as it had come, leaving only a yawning pit in its place.
Pipe-weed - ale - why mourn those? They were but small pleasures, relished but hardly needed. It should have been greater cause for grief that he would never gain victory in battle or skill in craft, never earn respect or honour, or the regard of any creature, or meet one whom he could love. All those things were more than gold to the Dwarves - and now that he was enslaved they were going to be forever out of reach. And yet at that moment Gimli desired nothing more than a pipe of Hobbit-weed and someone to smoke with him.
And all this - for a master who did not want him and had already tried to cast him away.
He was a Dwarf, was he not? He could shape metal, hew stone, turn wood, and all the other many crafts which comprised general Dwarvish education. He had travelled widely among other folk, and could repair anything that Men or Hobbits might make - and the Elves had less grasp of crafts even than Hobbits - and was he to be ignored or cast aside as useless?
There was no honour in quietly remaining a slave - but there was great shame in rebelling against the Elves. Burin was right about that - what alternative did they have? To rebel against the Elves was to commit treason against his own King, and he would never do that - even though Thorin had hardly shown a King's regard for his subjects, and even though the Elves cared nothing for them, and had humiliated them in cutting off their beards, and making them walk half-clothed about the palace - and poor Oli-
Burin was right, he realised suddenly. They were slaves, but they could still show the world what it was to behave with honour - even when others did not.
He glanced down at his hands, still wrinkled and red from the washing of laundry. And to think King Thorin deems ironmongery to be menial! he thought.
Well, he had done it - and because he did have pride in his work, he had done it well. He had ignored the stares and the remarks of the Elf-maids and worked quickly and thoroughly even as they dipped the sheets languidly in the river, occupying his mind in trying to interpret what little of their speech he could.
He had had some profit of the day, at least, he thought, and almost laughed: he now knew many useful words concerned with the washing of laundry.
Gimli let out a sigh, and slumped down between the two blankets. There was no point in dwelling on it, if he wanted to sleep before the morning. "Sleep, Gimli," he muttered, pushing himself down, and drawing his knees up to his chest. He would have work to do after all - even if it was only the washing of dirty linen.
Some random notes:
1/ Female Dwarves indistinguishable from male: Appendix A.3 of LotR. Oh yeah, and the movie - but some of us don't like to talk about that.
2/ Burin: Not my invention (though the other Dwarves are. He appears in a very, very early draft of the Council of Elrond. (HoMe 6, I think.)
3/ Dwarves & beards: HoMe 11 - the fascinating tidbit that Dwarves 'die of shame' if their beards are shaved off.
4/ AU Illegitimate Leggy: an explanation of the reasons for this theory may be found here: http://axebow.hakaze.com/char/legs.htm.) Legolas in book!LotR gives very much the impression of being a working Elf, rather than a lordling, & guarding duties in particular explain why he might have been sent to bring word of a missing Gollum.
5/ Galion: The steward or butler or whatever in The Hobbit. Living proof that, yes, Elves do get drunk.
6/ The Erogenous Elven Ear. Fanon all the way. Snerk. Well, actually that bit was put in as homage to a friend who is obssessed with Harry Potter House-Elves, whose ears are very long and flap or droop expressively.
7/ Elves mocking Dwarves, Durin's day: The Hobbit - the bit about the Dwarves arriving in Rivendell. The Dwarf/Elf dynamic you see in the Hobbit (& to a large extent in LotR) is one of mockery on the Elven side/insecurity and defensiveness on the side of the Dwarves. Can't remember where in The Hobbit it mentions Durin's Day as the Dwarvish New Year, but it's only given that name if the sun and moon appear in the sky together.
8/ Dwarves learning languages: HoMe 12. The Dwarves are described as the quickest to learn of all the peoples though Tolkien mentions elsewhere that they have little grasp of the niceties of language, & always speaking with a strong accent, and with no concept of spelling etc.
9/ Ironmongery as menial: Thorin's speech in The Hobbit on what the Dwarves had to do to survive in exile. He also considered coalmining to be menial.
The interruption was not a welcome one.
Thranduil pushed back his chair slowly and rose to his full height, frowning at the guard who had disturbed his morning council thus. "What is it?" he asked as regally as he could, in spite of the fact that his sleeves were rolled up and there were inkstains on his fingers.
It had been a tense discussion, involving much spoiling of maps, for the hunting boundaries for the seasond were proving inadequate, and the lords of Northern Mirkwood were finding themselves greatly in want. It was not his way to leave any of his people lacking, but the lords whose hunting grounds were in the West and East, and whose lands were fruitful at any season, were reluctant to make do even with an acre less of land, for their own people had grown in number, and needed more provision than in earlier years
The Silvan Elf of the guard quailed a little under his gaze, and then steeled himself to stand a little straighter, a little more rigidly. "My liege, an emissary of the Dwarves begs an audience with you. It was your command that-"
"I know what I commanded." Thranduil glanced round at his assembled lords, who seemed indifferent to the new arrival. "This council is dismissed, my lords. I bid you think on what we have discussed, and we shall resume here after the noontide meal. Slave!" He turned to the black-haired Dwarf, who, he noticed, still tensed perceptibly at the summons. "Wine to the throne-room, now."
The slave bowed low, and left, and Thranduil watched as his lords stood up and began to depart. The scribes stepped forward to retrieve their maps, and Thranduil signalled for them to leave them be. There would be more arguing over maps after luncheon, he did not doubt.
It was but a month since the Dwarf-slaves had arrived - barely the blinking of an eye. Had the Dwarven-king truly given in so quickly? It hardly seemed credible that he should be so easily swayed. Or perhaps his people were in revolt - though that too fell far short of being credible. The Naugrim were of too stolid a kind to be roused by aught but greed or glory.
The door to the throne room was opened ceremoniously, and he walked quickly over to the throne on its raised dais and took his seat, ringing the bell at his left hand so that the Guards would know to admit the newcomer. The slave had already returned, bearing a silver tray with a flask of wine and a single goblet on it.
He had already learned that Thranduil never offered wine to strangers.
The doors swung open, and the Dwarf entered. Thranduil frowned.
It was a single figure, clearly travelling alone, with straight blue-grey hair tied back like a pony's tail, and a lined, haggard face. There was none of the look of a royal emissary about it.
The creature caught sight of his slave and stilled, his face paling as if with shock, and something else which might have been compassion, his eyes meeting the slave, searching his face as if for some kind of answers, then clouding in anger and grief. Thranduil watched in puzzlement for a moment before he remembered that it was said that the Dwarves had a language of gestures so slight that they might speak silently in others' sight and other folk would not perceive it.
"You wished to parley with me," he said, a little more sharply than perhaps he had intended. "You are an emissary of King Thorin?"
The creature bowed down and made him reverence, with more servitude than Thranduil had thought to see in the manner of a Dwarf.
"Forgive me, your majesty, but I am no Dwarf's emissary save my own." The creature took a breath, as if steeling himself for some great deed. "I am Dwalin, son of Fundin, of the companions of Thorin Oakenshield. You have my only child in your palace ... as your slave. I would offer you my portion of the King's gold for the return of h-his freedom - every last piece of it."
A curious creature - and a curious errand. Thranduil's heart had leapt at the word 'gold' but his puzzlement outweighed even his desire for what was his due.
"You come alone," he said quietly, signalling for the slave to pour him wine. The Dwarf stepped forward obediently, though the action did not have his normal tidy economy of motion about it. "Do others of your people have no care for their kin?"
A bead of the rosy liquor slopped over the side of the goblet, making a thin, sticky trail down the back of his hand. Thranduil frowned, and the slave retreated. It would have proper to correct the misdeed, but he did not do so. Perhaps he feared to touch the King's person.
"Never, my Lord - do not think so!" the Dwarf cried in anguish, wringing his thick hands together. "They grieve their loss as I do. Our kin are precious to us -- more than gold or jewels."
A pang of pity - though the Naugrim had brought this fate to themselves and hardly warranted it. "And yet you come alone."
The creature bowed his head, and said in a whisper, "My King forbade it."
Thranduil gazed at it a long time, torn between regret and ire. Much as he would have liked to settle the matter and dispose of one at least of the inconvenient creatures, there was honour between Kings and a treaty to be considered. "Then I fear I must forbid it also," he said at length.
The Dwarf seemed to crumple then, and Thranduil felt the slave shift uneasily behind him, as if he wished to move but dared not.
"Then -" The sudden refusal seemed to have left him bereft of words, and for a long time he halted as though unable to speak. "Then I suppose I have no path but to depart." The words came out in a sudden burst of grief. "And not even to look on my d- my dear child's face."
It was not Thranduil's way to indulge in cruelty - or to deny those who laboured under grief.
"I did not say so," he said. "Tell me your son's name and I shall send for him straightway."
The Dwarf hesitated - and it was the slave who stepped forward and said, "His name is Vigdin, my Lord."
* * *
The wash-house was very wide and very low, a natural archway formed out of the rock just where Thranduil's palace met the Great River. The waters were pure and clear, as were all things touched by Elves, and it was here that the maidens of the wash-house worked, dipping their sheets in the river without so much as rippling the silvery surface.
It was not Legolas of Mirkwood's way to suffer nerves, but as he entered the cavern he found himself almost reluctant to continue, or to face the creature that now - somehow - belonged to him. He lingered a moment, and Angrod, the master of the slaves paused, waiting for him, in a manner that made it clear that there was no time for delay.
Legolas followed meekly, and almost sighed. A month in the Western reaches of the forest had brought him no nearer an answer to his questions, in spite of all Udin's helpful suggestions, and the more rational ideas of others of his troop.
And yet - and yet it was almost laughable. Like all Dwarves he would doubtless be skilled in the working of weapons - and out in the Western woods he could have saved Legolas's troop much time and labour. In the palace, a slave was hardly necessary.
But then, if he had heard truly, Dwarvish weapons, from all that he had heard, were too heavy and too crude to be of use to the Elves, made for close combat rather than long-range defence, useless to those who fought by skill rather than by violence.
When he had arrived at the door of the servants' halls to ask for his slave Angrod's fair face had darkened, as if with remembered wrath. "That wretched creature!" he had said with disdain, "You are welcome to him."
He had turned and bidden Legolas follow him, walking swiftly down the passages and pathways of the servants' hall, saying naught, until the door of the wash-house was shut behind him. He could make out the Dwarven figure at the very end, in the darkest corner of the chamber, scrubbing industriously so that the waters flew like spray around him
"But has he given you trouble?" Legolas asked for the third time, the moment Angrod paused to draw breath.
Angrod shook his head, his lip twisting into a grimace. "Trouble? Nay! But I have had him under my roof one month, and I swear by the stars, he is like a thing possessed! The very first night, I caught him fighting with another of the Dwarves, and he swore that Dwarves needed to fight when I bade him stop. And the maidens of the wash-houses say that he works as though he must wash each sheet himself by nightfall. It is a wonder he does not tear them all in twain in his haste!" He paused, sighing a little for the contrariness of his charge. "He has shattered the peace of the wash house, with all his splashing and scrubbing, and the maidens complain to me daily of it."
"Does he do his work ill?" Legolas asked in wonder. Of the many things spoken of the Dwarves, it was said that they were rash, but never that they were careless.
"Nay! Fear not that!" Angrod said swiftly. "He may labour in haste, but his work is sound enough."
Which meant in Angrod's estimation that the Dwarf worked well, even though his methods were deplored. Legolas followed as Angrod moved on, passing the poised, graceful maidens as they dipped sheets and garments in the river's flow in far more harmonious fashion, some singing, or murmuring to their companions, as most worked in silent serenity by the flowing waters.
The Dwarf stood as they approached, laying aside the dark green cloak that he had just been scrubbing in the pool, and wiping his hands on his trousers. Legolas examined him curiously, wondering anew at the thickly-muscled body and tight-bound hair, now dampened and darkened by his labours at the poolside. Altogether a curious creature.
His labours had clearly been so vigorous that they had left him drenched in water, for as he stood Legolas could see rivulets and rills of river-water coursing down his arms, his back, his broad chest. His woollen trousers were wet through with the water, and clung closely to his thighs and his groin, outlining faithfully the shape of the body within.
The Dwarf saw the direction of his gaze and flushed, and then his face darkened with banked anger.
Curious creatures, Legolas thought, undisturbed by the Dwarf's ire, though he averted his gaze. It must, he thought suddenly, strike directly at the heart of a Naug's pride, to be a slave.
It was folly - needless folly - to delay the matter. Best to do the deed and lay claim to his slave.
* * *
So that was Gimli's master.
Brúni, the youngest of the Dwarves, was sitting wedged under the stairs when Gimli and the Elf came past. He watched them closely as they passed, and the Elf led Gimli through the oak door into the part of the palace where the lords lived. He looked no different to any other Elf to Brúni, though his hair was pale instead of dark, and his clothes were less rich than those of the nobles who waited on Brúni's mistress.
The door closed behind Gimli, and Brúni glanced away, looking round at the hall. It was empty at the moment, and when Brúni kicked the bottom stone stair it echoed dully throughout the chamber.
He went there often, whenever his mistress dismissed him (which she very frequently did) because he was most likely to see one or more of the others, and perhaps be able to talk to them if they had also been dismissed from their duties. And besides he was bored, and if any of the supervisors among the Elves caught him there they would find him something to do.
And there was also the matter of the hazelnut.
It was their latest game. His cousin Búri had found it, in one of the empty food sacks they had been using as bedding, but it was Brúni who had thought up the game, and gradually it had spread so that all of them save the four eldest Dwarves were involved in it. The object was simple: to pass the hazelnut, undetected, to another player in front of the Elves, and then the recipient would keep hold of it until they too could attempt to pass it to another unobserved. Only Iari Orinul had been stupid enough to be caught with it so far, and wimp that he was, he had burst into tears and stammered out something fortunately too garbled to be comprehensible.
Luckily his master had only laughed, and let him keep the nut.
Brúni snorted scornfully. Iari was thirty-three, two years older than he and Búri, but he might have been ten years younger, crying like that, and in front of a stranger! Even his cousins Dáin and Náin were staring to get impatient with him. Mind, Oli Óinul cried sometimes, at night, too, and he was sixty-something at least. Not that anyone would have had a go at Oli. Gimli got very protective if anyone had a go at Oli - *very* protective.
Brúni frowned. He had been awake late last night, and could have sworn he had heard Vigdís, of all people, weeping in the darkness. He'd seen Burin get up and go to her, speaking inaudibly to her in a low voice, and he'd put his arms around her. Brúni had caught a glimpse of his eyes as he had sat with her, and they had seemed haunted - filled with ghosts.
It had made Brúni uneasy. He had pretended to be asleep until the morning, and hadn't mentioned it, even to his cousins. They hadn't mentioned the start of the new year either, although Dáin, who had seen it, had said that the Sun and Moon had hung in the sky together, round about sunset.
Just at that moment, Brúni heard a door open, and saw his elder cousin, Bild, come through it, carrying a large pile of scrolls in his bony hands. He had a master who fancied himself as a scholar, Bild had said, and was forever wanting scrolls and books borrowed from the scribes or returned to them. Somehow, Bild had put on weight in the last month, even though the Elves had a very poor idea of what constituted a full meal and Bild got no more to eat than anybody else. Brúni had even asked him two nights ago whether Bombur had been starving him, and Bild had knocked him down and walked off.
Brúni got to his feet, hazelnut in hand, adopting the brisk walk of the Dwarf-in-a-hurry, just as a small group of Elves came from the cellars with baskets of wineskins.
As he brushed past Bild's arm he felt the tiny, whispering rattle of the hazelnut as it slid and rolled down the inside of a scroll into Bild's unsuspecting hand.
"You little-!" Bild said in Khuzdul, but Brúni had already slipped through the nearest convenient door, grinning widely through the short brown fur of his beard.
* * *
The Elf's chambers were large and spacious, with pale limestone walls and a high arched ceiling, dominated by a wide balcony looking over the woods and wound round and about by dark green ivies. There was little furniture.
Gimli glanced around quickly, irked to find that he had remembered nothing of the room from his earlier visit. Only that it had been large, and lighter than any cave ought to be, and that his new master bore a marked resemblance to the Elven-King, and wanted nothing of him. It irked him to find his memory so untrustworthy, and he examined the room with care, determined not to fail thus a second time.
There was a bed close to the balcony, a soft, low pallet on a raised dais, the only cover a single undyed linen sheet, with neither blankets nor furs to keep out the chill. Pale bolsters and pillows lay at its head. It seemed a comfortless resting-place, chill and exposed.
The Elf was lighting candles, and had his back turned to Gimli. Another glance, less covert than the first.
There was an archway behind the bed, perhaps to a dressing-room, for Gimli could just make out the draperies of fabric within it. Further in to the room there was a writing table with a tall chair beside it, though there were no other chairs, or any other furniture. On the other side of the chamber the walls were plain and smooth, and there was no furniture save a single tapestry with a device of two trees, one of gold, the other of silver. Below it Gimli saw a smaller dais, carven of stone, but unadorned. On it there lay a harp, a plain, basic instrument such as a pauper or a novice of the instrument would play, without gilt or decoration.
A harp whose frame was shattered and broken in three places and surrounded by its dislodged pegs and shards of its sounding-box, the strings fallen around it, slack and useless. A broken thing laid on a pedestal, damaged and never mended, the neglect flaunted to the world as if this Elf had some perverse desire to shame both the instrument and its maker.
Gimli looked away from it abruptly, troubled by some emotion too tangled to understand. He was not sure he cared much for his new master.
The Elf - his master - was watching him again.
"Would you have me take your cloak - master?" he managed to say.
"Very well," Lord Legolas murmured, and handed the garment to him, the Elf's eyes watching him too intently. Gimli met his eyes for an instant, and then took cover in the dressing room to perform his errand, feeling the sharp eyes of his master follow him as he headed into it, moving instinctively into the shadows as if to a refuge.
It was a natural cave, not a carved one, little more than an unlit cupboard. Gimli spotted the lantern on a natural high shelf, and ignored it. There was quite enough light not to trouble a Dwarf's dark-accustomed eyes, and Gimli wasted no time on it, glancing around as he had glanced around the main room.
There were but few garments within, even by Dwarven standards, and Gimli located quickly the peg from which the cloak must have hung. He replaced it silently, before taking a moment to inspect the larger part of the room that was not used for clothes.
Weapons. Most of the space allotted to garments had been taken up solely by a sizeable rack of weapons.
Gimli allowed himself a moment to inspect them silently. He had learned enough now to know that the maintaining of weapons was a task never given to slaves, but it could not keep him from wondering what manner of weapons the Elves would use.
Professional curiosity. Was he still allowed that?
Bows and their trappings, thin knives, a token sword that looked good only for ceremonial posturing. Thin, fine-honed weapons, much like the Elves themselves - made with little bulk but excessively sharp, weapons of precision rather than of force. They were simply wrought, but skillful, and Gimli had the impression that while the Elves knew almost nothing of craftsmanship, they worked what few techniques they had incredibly hard.
Unlike the harp, they were well-maintained and cared for, ready for use at a moment's notice, and well-used and maintained, with the exception of the ornamental sword.
He stilled suddenly, hearing a slight sound behind him, left his inspection and returned to the main room. It would be the act of a dolt to be caught inspecting his - his master's weapons.
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