Disclaimer: All characters herein belong to J.R.R. Tolkien, his estate and heirs. I’m only having fun. Really.
And the Winds Bear Eagles
Normally, Gimli wouldn’t have woken up at all. A day’s march proving that he could keep up with that long-legged, pointy-eared Elf usually meant that he was tired enough to sleep until one of the Men woke him up to stand the last watch.
But now he was awake, staring up through tree limbs at a moon that proclaimed that it was still the middle of the night. Holding his breath, he listened carefully, hoping for some clue as to why he’d so suddenly been roused from his slumber.
As he concentrated, he could hear the deep even breaths of his companions, punctuated now and again by soft snores. The poor Hobbits were just as knackered as he was at the end of the day. For all that they had such short legs, they did not dawdle; they managed to keep the pace, though they took two strides to a Man’s one. ‘Twas no wonder they slept heavily through the night.
Beyond his sleeping companions, he could only hear night noises—branches moving in the breeze, trees creaking, fuel collapsing to ashes in the embers of the cook-fire, the soft hooting of an owl or some other bird. He had traveled long enough now that they were no longer quite so . . . nervous-making as they had been at first. But still, he preferred the depths of a mine and the solid-weight of the earth over his head to this . . . this being outside. There were times when he felt far too . . . exposed.
The Elf, of course, reveled in it.
“Bloody open air,” he muttered, trying to keep his voice down. There was nothing for it now; he was too much awake to think about returning to sleep. Thinking about the unnerving spaciousness of the world beyond the caves of his home always did that.
As quietly as he could, he rose, and stepped cautiously out from the tangle of his sleeping companions. He nearly trod on Pippin’s hand; the young Hobbit was sleeping on his back, snoring, his arms and legs spread wide, extremities poking out from beneath his blanket. Muttering at such carelessness, Gimli stretched his leg out and managed to step over the Hobbit, and then he was beyond the Fellowship.
Of course, as soon as he’d gotten that far, he realized that he’d grabbed his long axe, quite by reflex. It was pointless of him to have done so, and now that he’d made his way free of the circle, equally pointless to take it back to his bedroll. “Of all the dunderheaded . . .” Grumbling at himself, he leant it against a nearby tree and started searching for his pouch of tobacco and his pipe.
From the nearby stream, he heard splashing, and froze. This late in the season, it didn’t have the volume to do much more than trickle over its rocks, so that meant there was someone in it, bathing—unlikely—or fording it.
He picked up his axe again. Well, and if someone was fording it, he’d meet them on the bank and challenge him there. Lungs like a bellows came in useful at times like that, and he could wake the whole camp in an instant with one roar.
The thing to do now was to make his way to the stream as silently as he could. He glanced down at himself and sighed. He’d been around the Elf and the Ranger too long, thinking he could move like they did, like shadows through twilight.
Well, the only thing now was to make the best of it. Moving slowly, axe at the ready, the Dwarf started through the undergrowth toward the stream. Luck—or something—was with him, for he did not break any branches under his feet as he advanced, nor did the leaves rustle at his passage.
Perhaps he’d learnt something from the Elf after all.
Strange thought, that.
The sound of water flowing grew steadily louder, as did the accompanying splashing. Taking extra pains to be quiet, Gimli crept forward the final few yards until he could peer through the underbrush to see who—or what—was in the stream.
But then all thought of stealth was forgotten, and he gasped loudly.
He would have said that it was Legolas in the water with his back to the bank, that the fine pale hair silvered in the moonlight could belong to no one else. And indeed, the slim figure kneeling in the shallow pool resembled the Elven archer closely . . .
Except for the huge pearly wings, wider than an eagle’s, spreading from his shoulders. They glowed beneath the moon, brighter even than the glittering stars, each feather as pure as mithril. Even Elves did not have such pinions . . .
But his gasp had startled the creature in the stream, and it leapt to its feet, spinning around, droplets spraying everywhere. “Who’s there?” it demanded, and the voice was deep, familiar; it was Legolas’ own. The wings quivered beyond his shoulders, as if the creature—as if Legolas—was unsure whether to wrap them around himself or hide them.
For some reason, though, his sharp eyes had not yet picked Gimli out from the underbrush. Gimli stayed stock-still, barely breathing, silently cursing himself for making any noise.
After another few moments, the creature—Legolas—half-turned away, water trickling down his body, making him glisten in the moonlight. His wings still trembled faintly, showing his alarm.
Gimli waited, watching, still quite unable to believe what he saw. All the tales he had ever heard of the Elves, all the stories his father Glóin had told him when he was but a stripling, and none of them had even touched on this. ‘Twas . . .
‘Tis amazing, was his first thought, followed rapidly by and ‘tis unnatural, that is what it is. A twinge of something that in any other race might be called fear pricked close to his heart. But Dwarves did not fear . . . they did not fear Elves.
Maybe he’s something other than an Elf . . .
That thought brought no comfort.
He waited a long while for the Elf to get over his skittishness and return to his bathing, and then a mite longer for him to become engrossed in it once more. Then, slower than he wanted but as quickly as he dared, he backed away, out of the undergrowth, hoping that no stray twig would crack to give away his presence.
Still, he was shocked to make it back to his bedroll without the—without Legolas falling upon him and demanding to know what he’d seen, or simply staking him to the ground with a flurry of arrows. Picking his way through to his bedding once again, Gimli sat down with a thump, then looked around nervously at the sound. He thought about what he’d seen, and what might happen, and decided it would be best to pretend slumber.
Just in case.
For a moment, he seriously considered taking his axe with him when he rolled into his blankets, but in the end, he left it outside. After all, it would never do to have his weapon tangled in the blankets when he needed to use it. And doubtless it would look suspicious to Legolas when he returned to the camp.
And he’d really better be asleep when that happened. Or at least pretend so well that no one would wonder.
Despite his whirling thoughts, though, one image remained clear: bright wings arching wide from slim shoulders, glimmering in the starshine.
He’d not seen anything that could compare to that for beauty, and that was the honest truth.
It seemed he’d only just closed his eyes when he felt a hand on his shoulder shaking him. He woke with a start, grabbing for his axe and opening his mouth to bellow.
“Hold, Master Dwarf!” Aragorn’s hand closed over Gimli’s thick wrist, pressing it back to the ground. “It’s only me.”
Slowly the words and the timbre of the voice penetrated his sleep-soaked consciousness, and he stopped struggling.
Once he’d stopped, Aragorn released him. “What has strung your nerves so tightly?” he asked, taking care to keep his words soft.
Gimli looked around, sitting up as Aragorn leaned away. He could see that it was still some time until dawn; the hobbits slept soundly all around him. Boromir, too, had rolled back into his blankets. Of Legolas there was no sign.
“Just a dream,” he replied gruffly, and threw aside his blanket.
And perhaps, he thought, that’s all it was in fact. It seemed unreal now, something out of a dream indeed.
But still the image of wings remained in his mind, and he was sunk deep in thought as his watch wore slowly on.
As a result of his wakefulness during the previous night, Gimli fell asleep soon after the Fellowship ate the evening repast.
But once again, he found himself awake not too long after the middle of the night. This time, however, the cause was brilliantly clear—the spot he’d chosen for his bedroll was bathed in moonlight, and bright enough to wake him. He rolled over, tucked his head under his blanket and tried to go back to sleep.
Something rustled over his head. And it certainly wasn’t a branch, for there were none nearby. Cautiously, he poked his head out from beneath the blanket and looked around.
Legolas was standing at the edge of the camp, his back to Gimli. It looked like he was leaning on his bow. But the wings were back, sweeping out from his shoulders in perfect curves, each feather distinct and gleaming.
He couldn’t help himself. The sight was simply so stunning, so strange and amazing that a sound of some kind escaped his mouth.
Legolas turned around instantly, dark eyes boring into him. Glaring at him, even as the wings quivered behind him. A faint breeze stirred and lifted strands of blond hair to wave weakly.
Caught, Gimli thought, his stomach sinking. Trapped.
“What do you think?” Legolas asked quietly. His deep voice carried easily through the still, cold air. As if to emphasize his words, the wings fluttered behind him, a gentle ruffling of feathers almost indistinguishable from the light wind through dead leaves.
To Gimli’s ears, he sounded . . . immovable. Like stone. And that was so very wrong for an Elf.
He sat up and studied Legolas, the inexplicable wings that had burst from his shoulders. “I think . . . ‘tis a wonder. A stranger thing I have never seen in all my years.”
The Dwarfs were not given to reading features of others—the heavy beards and bristling brows they wore made it nearly impossible. But Elves bore no such facial hair and even in the uncertain moonlight, Gimli could see Legolas’ face grow harder, as if his words had only confirmed the Elf’s fears.
But Gimli had not done speaking. During his watch, he had though long and hard on what he had seen that night, and his own reaction to it. “’Tis a wonder, yes, that you keep them hidden. Beautiful things should be seen.”
Legolas’ mouth dropped open at that, and Gimli raised one bushy brow in response. He had never been very good at hiding his thoughts, and he purely believed that the Elf would have been able to see that in his face. “What?”
The Elf took a step toward him, moving with a recklessness that he had never evinced before, nearly stumbling in his haste. “You . . .” He cut himself off, stopped his movement short, and just stared. “You . . . say that? To me?” His voice rose in pitch as all his Elven poise deserted him.
Gimli snorted. “And why would I not?” he replied, remembering to keep his voice low. One of the hobbits nearby stirred at the sound of his rumbling, but did not wake. “Surely ‘tis a unusual thing to see. But because something is odd does not mean that it cannae be beautiful as well. And Dwarfs know beauty when they see it, as surely as Elves do.”
Legolas’ mouth worked but no sound emerged.
Truly, the lad—lad? he thought and scoffed. He’s a thousand years if he’s a day—was gobsmacked. Clearly, though, he needed reassurance.
He stood then, and picked his way over sprawled, slumbering hobbits to where Legolas still stood, his bow dangling from limp fingers. Reaching up, he clasped a hand around the Elf’s forearm, and met his stunned gaze steadily. “Aye,” he said, toning his rumble down as far as it could possibly go. “I mean it.”
At last, Legolas managed to close his mouth. He did not smile, but his eyes were bright with relief as he nodded. “Thank you.”
Gimli inclined his head in return. “Aye.” He released Legolas’ arm and returned to his bedroll. When he glanced over his shoulder, the Elf was gone. He’d melted back into the trees without a trace.
There were so many things that he wanted to ask—what were the wings used for? Were they hereditary? Would they support his weight in the air? Could he touch them?—but something told him that now was not the time. The Elf had enough to think on.
As he settled himself back into his blankets, Gimli wondered at what Legolas’ life might have been like. Had he been shunned because of the wings? It almost seemed that way.
But as sleep overcame him once more, he could not help but think how very strange it was that a Dwarf—notorious for being one of the more traditional and hide-bound of races—would be so accepting of an Elf’s differences.
And again, the image of wings pearlescent in moonlight floated unbidden to the top of his mind. He smiled and closed his eyes and dreamed of eagles.
October 11, 2005
©randi (K. Shepard), 2005