DISTRIBUTION: Archive anywhere. Email forwarding is fine.
CANON: Inspired by the movie, background from the books, story is AU.
DISCLAIMER: Tolkien's, not mine.
Many thanks to Kest for alpha and beta and much encouragement.
NB: This takes place in the same AU as my story "Hospitality" but it is not a sequel. You don't need to have read one to read the other.
by Halrloprillalar <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It was evening in Lothlorien. Gimli sat against a tree, caring for his axe, drawing the blade along a whetstone. Others of the company sat nearby, talking in low voices in the flickering lamp light.
"Gimli," said Boromir, turning his head. "Does the forest air take the edge from your axe? You have done naught but sharpen it the day long."
"On our journey there was little time for such care as my weapon required. Here there is little else to occupy me." Gimli frowned.
"Then polish it instead and put down the stone. You have ground my nerves as keenly as your blade."
"You should look to your own gear and leave me to mine." Gimli tested the edge with his thumb. "I do not like the forest." He stood and looked at the tree, as though he weighed its strength against his own. "And I do not trust the elves."
A hand touched Gimli's shoulder and he turned. There a grey-clad elf stood, where no elf had been before. "Master Dwarf, perhaps the forest feels your enmity. As do I."
"Have you come, then, to blind me once again, or shackle me for your safety?" Gimli stood tall, axe at his side.
"No, dwarf, but to summon you. The lady bids you wait on her, if it pleases you to come."
Gimli glanced at his companions and saw their heads rise, their eyes widen. He would show no surprise. "I will come."
"You will have no need of your weapon, I assure you."
"Then on your assurance, elf, I will go without. And yet, I would not leave it in the grass to rust in the dew. I will put it by and then we will go." Leaving the elf to his own thoughts, Gimli carefully stowed his axe with his gear.
When he returned, the elf was waiting beneath the tree, still but with flashing eyes. "Are you ready now to go, dwarf, or do you perhaps have a gem to polish or a mine to dig before you meet the lady?"
"I have left all my gems behind me, friend elf, and my pick and shovel too. But should you have the implements, you and I may begin our mine at sunrise." The elf frowned but made no reply as he led Gimli away.
It was darker now, the moon shining sickly through the branches, barely illuminating the elf ahead of him. Gimli could see no path, but the elf stepped surely, slipping between trees that seemed to part for him. For Gimli, they did not part. Branches slapped him in the face, brambles caught at his legs and arms.
"I should have carried my axe, after all," he muttered. The elf made no sign that he had heard, but the way became a little easier.
At last they came into a clearing. Trees surrounded it in a perfect circle, their trunks set close together like a fortifying wall. The moon was larger in the sky here and shone brighter, almost bright as day. The night air was colder, too, and raised the hairs on Gimli's arms.
Four elves in green and crimson stood with hands clasped, and their eyes turned upon Gimli, though they neither moved nor spoke. His guide left without a word and Gimli waited, wondering if he had been deceived.
Then the lady stepped out of the trees.
"I bid you welcome, Gimli son of Gloin," she said in a low voice. She came to him and laid her hand upon him, palm flat against his brow. "I thank you for your company."
Her touch was cool and light but it seemed to hold Gimli firmly to the earth. He looked upon the lady and to him she was as other elves, tall and gangling, spider-limbed, with skin as pale and hairless as a sightless grub and the sharp features of a mouse.
But her hair, falling over her salt-white dress, her hair was living gold, soft and bright. Gimli longed to take it in his hands, to work it into something yet more beautiful. He stood stock-still and met the lady's eyes.
As they both stood unmoving, an elf approached Galadriel and spoke to her. "Your pardon, my lady, but my lord Celeborn sends word, desiring speech with you this hour."
The lady did not turn, but kept her eyes full on Gimli's face as she replied. "Tell your lord that I am entertaining this night and I will not speak with him nor you nor any other until dawn. Leave us now and do not return unless you are summoned."
Not until the messenger had bowed and left did the lady smile and lift her hand. "My people will wait upon you, Master Dwarf, to refresh you, and then we will dine."
A courteous speech rose in Gimli's mind but his lips were strangely dumb. He bowed in silence and allowed himself to be led to a spring that bubbled and steamed near the far edge of the clearing.
Galadriel retired to where a haunch of venison roasted on a spit above a careful fire. Seating herself on a low stool, she watched Gimli with keen eyes and half a smile on her lips.
Heat rose from the spring and Gimli let his surprise show on his face. "The water rises so from the earth," said one of his attendants. "This is the lady's own bath and no other has she allowed to use it, in my living memory."
"Then I would not trespass where others cannot go," said Gimli, for he did not care to bathe in company. His face filled with flushed shame at the thought of it.
"She has commanded it," said another and Gimli saw that they would obey the lady's words, whatever their thoughts, and his own.
So he allowed them to strip him and scrub him and though their hands and the lady's eyes made the flesh crawl upon his bones, he endured it, hiding his thoughts as well as he could. Flowers floated in the spring and their fragrance filled the air as the water smoked. Too sweet a smell for Gimli, and he feared it would linger for a long time.
When they brought him out, the elves clothed him in a white robe. Deftly, they wove his hair and beard into intricate braids. But when they would have crowned his head with flowers, he could endure no more and stopped them with a growl and an outstretched hand.
The lady laughed. "Leave him be, my elves, and bring him here to me. He's lovely as he is."
The journey across the clearing seemed a long one under the lady's gaze. Gimli's feet were bare to the soft grass and the edge of his robe brushed the ground.
When he sat, Galadriel took his hand and smiled at him. "Do you wish anything more from your attendants? They will fetch you sweet honey to eat or jewels from the deep to adorn you for our feast."
Gimli inclined his head. "My lady, they should not fret over me, for I am content."
"Then I will wait upon you myself." The lady waved her hand. The elves passed silently out of the clearing and they were alone.
The night was quiet then, but for the crackle of the fire. Galadriel took up a cup and filled it with wine. She drank once, then offered it to Gimli. "Long years ago, and in another place, we brewed dark beer for Durin's folk and drank their health when we feasted with them. But now we have lost the art. Instead, here is strong red wine. Drink it, and we will be merry."
Taking the cup, Gimli drained it in a single draught, for he had a head for wine. The lady smiled and filled his cup again. The taste was light and clear and as he drank, he felt a languor and a warmth spread through his limbs.
Rising, Galadriel served them both, cutting rare meat from the spit and breaking bread. "This is nothing like our great feasts, but tonight we will take our ease together, not concern ourselves with greatness or with finery."
The lady's voice was sweet in Gimli's ears and he rose and bowed to her. "A skin of water and a handful of cram would be a feast, my lady, if you shared in it."
Galadriel laughed. "You have eaten honey after all, Gimli Gloin's son. But we will do better for ourselves than water and cram, at least." And she refilled his cup and they both fell to.
Gimli ate well, for his journey had been long and provender thin. The lady, too, with an appetite Gimli had not thought to see in any bloodless elf. She matched him cup for cup and plate for plate. As they supped, she spoke to him of long ago, of the halls of Khazad-dum and the wonders she had seen there, and Gimli's heart was warmed.
She reached out and lightly touched the braids in his beard. "This is a style of that far time, that only the noblest wore. I have taught it to my elves so that it might not be forgotten. Well it suits you." She gazed at Gimli until he wondered if she could see straight through him and he lowered his head in confusion.
Then Galadriel took the marrow bone, broke it with her own hands, and handed one half to Gimli. He took it, wondering at her strength, and they sucked the marrow until their mouths and fingers glistened.
When the bones were cast aside, the lady poured out the last of the wine. She took Gimli's hand once again and raised her cup. "To friendship," she said, "not of elf and dwarf, but of Galadriel and Gimli." She drank and Gimli too, his eyes fixed upon her face.
In the moonlight, her skin was polished alabaster, her eyes cool sapphires, her hair molten gold flowing down her shoulders. All but the lady was darkness and he was drawn to her flame. "To friendship," Gimli said, and bowed his head to kiss her hand in courtesy.
But Galadriel turned her hand so that Gimli's lips pressed into her palm. She lifted her fingers to stroke his cheek. "Longbeard," she said in a low voice, "long has it been since I last had this joy." Then she stooped, and kissed him.
At the touch of her lips, the warmth in Gimli's bones flared and his head began to spin. Her hands raveled out his braids and tangled in his hair and beard. Under her tongue, she tasted of wine and the blood of the deer.
Gimli's hands shook, both from ardour and from fear, as he took the lady's arms. Her hair fell over his hands, soft and heavy against him. He twined his hands in it but could get no purchase as it slipped through his fingers.
Then the lady tumbled him to the ground and they lay together in the grass. She wrapped her hair around his throat and took his breath with kisses. Her skin was warm beneath his hands, and slick to touch. She smelled of crushed flowers and damp soil.
As they moved together in the night, Gimli felt a mist fall before his eyes and at once he was deep underground, in a rich stone chamber which he had never before seen. Yellow light filled the room. He lay upon a wide, soft bed and the lady was in his arms, murmuring to him in the ancient language of his people.
His vision cleared and he was back in Lorien, with the lady still in his arms. She used him not with tenderness, but passion, and laughed in triumph when she roused him to the same pitch.
"Strength to strength," she said and rolled him over on the ground. "Well-matched are we in this contest." And Gimli was enflamed and met her with all the vigour he possessed.
They lay for a long while, joined together, and the moon did not move across the sky. Then Galadriel looked into Gimli and found his name and spoke it to him. All was dark and pain and bliss, and he knew no more.
When Gimli woke, he was soaked with dew, and shivering. The sun above shone pale and distant, giving light but no warmth. He wore his own garments once again, though he had no memory of donning them.
The clearing was bare -- neither plate nor cup, fire nor ashes, not even the spring remained. The grass was smooth and unmarked, save for where he had lain.
Cold fear gripped Gimli's heart. His head ached, his body was sore, and he was alone in the wood. The lady was nearby, he knew, close to him, and he longed for her. He must go to her, but the trees stood close together and he could not find the way.
He could hear her voice in his ears, whispering to him, calling him. But he could not see her and the murmur was all around him, dizzying and compelling.
Gimli roared and beat his fists upon the bark until they bled, but still the trees encircled him and he had left his axe behind.
F I N I S
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