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Thulesilme's Children

By Teanna Byerts

Adventure / Fantasy

Chapter 1

"Come! Let us make this bargain-- if we both return safe out of the perils that await us, we will journey for awhile together. You shall visit Fangorn with me, and then I will come with you to see Helm's Deep."

"That would not be the way of return that I should choose," said Gimli. "But I will endure Fangorn, if I have your promise to come back to the caves and share their wonder with me."

"You have my promise," said Legolas. (The Road to Isengard, The Two Towers, LOTR)

Thulesilme's Children

In a dark dream landscape under a fiery moon, Calad LinsSon hunted orcs. His bow sang, and his count already far exceeded that of his brother, Cam. The wargs that ran with the orcs, or served as hideous terrifying steeds, fell under his sure straight shafts. Their howls split the night...

Cal sat up hard in the dark, the howls had shifted to frenzied, frightened barking, mixed with the terrified screams of goats and the bleating of sheep. He smacked his brother awake and hit the earthen floor running, calling to his older brother, his father, his sister. The thud of feet on the ladder from the loft, the rattle of quivers slung, the hiss of a torch hastily lit in the banked fire, followed them out the door.

"Orcs again!" hissed Cam, searching beyond the torchglow for a target. The herd in the stonewalled barnyard milled and lept in panic, but he could see no orcs.

"There!" A shadow moved among them, two shadows.

Worse than orcs, which were somewhat wary of the sheepdogs. "Wargs!" Cal raced to the stone wall, its uneven surface well over his head. He scrambled up from the gate, teetering on the loose stones at the top of the wall, wishing he knew where to find some decent stone-working Dwarves in this desolate edge of the wild. Wargs, he thought they'd all vanished with the fall of the Dark Lord in the East, but no, like the orcs, they'd scattered, leaping out of the dark wild places when least expected to plague honest settlers.

The little black and white sheepdogs ran barking to the gate, thrust open by Cam. They stopped, tucked down their ears and tails and retreated. The shadows in the barnyard were beyond their skill. The two brothers fired, over and over, arrows skipping off rock and wall and...

"Watch the sheep!" Cam yelled, already firing from his place on the ground by the gate.

"They've got one down already!" Cal fired again, and again, scrambling along the rough, dark wall, trying to make sense of the melee of pale sheep shadows in torchlight. Trying to pick out the darker shadows between.

The shadows fled, bounding over the wall in a way no dog, no wolf, could.

Cal lept from the wall, Cam ran after him, their sister following with the torch. They marked the path the departing shadows took, and ran hard after them. Near the edge of the wood, one fell under an arrow, then rose and ran again.

"I hit the other, many times, I'm sure!" Cam panted.

Cal stopped, eyeing the dark wood. His sister halted beside him, the torch whooshing left, then right, as she tried to pierce the deep shadows. Fangorn's wood. There were places in there where the hearts of the trees were dark, and things walked that had never been seen by Men. Things that walked before even the Firstborn awoke.

"We'll track them tomorrow." Cal said.

Gimli, Gloin's son sat his pony, only slightly less uncomfortable than a badger in a wind-whipped treetop. It was still less terrifying to the sturdy Dwarf than bouncing on the rump of a Rohan warhorse, clinging to the cloak of his friend as he had in battles that seemed a lifetime ago. Legolas rode ahead, drifting like a wolf through the tree-shadow on that same Rohan warhorse, clothes the colors of leaf and bark and stone, winter-grass hair flying like the horse's mane in the wind of their speed. Gimli's earth-colored pony, Sweetgrass, was bigger than the one his father had ridden on the quest to the Lonely Mountain and Smaug's hoard, and smoother of gait. She floated across the ground like a boat on a stream.

Still he would have preferred to go slower, and on his own two feet. He eyed the sun glinting through the branches, rumbling through his beard in his own tongue that one should never trust an Elf to know when it was time to stop staring dreamily at trees and have a proper meal. Sweetgrass flicked an ear, in agreement, he thought.

Legolas's voice drifted back, speaking Sindarin, like water rolling over river rocks, ending with a laugh. Gimli caught a few familiar words: something-aes (food, especially good, juicy meat), Perrianath (hobbits), canthui (fourth) and something that sounded like breakfast.

"I only had one!" He shouted in Common. "I do not eat like a Hobbit! And my rump has had enough of horsemanship for one morning."

Legolas fell back beside him, slowed, fair face still merry, "You'll make a rider yet."

"And have me sleeping in trees and talking to rocks. I think not. And the sun tells me it's time for lunch." He drew Sweetgrass to a halt.

Arod, the swift horse of Rohan, stopped, facing him. "There's a change in the air, in the birdsong and tree-whisper." the Elf looked off into the branches, "Storm coming. If we make haste, there's a farmstead but two leagues from here."

Gimli did not bother to ask how he knew. He had probably seen the farm from the hilltop last night, before dark overtook them. Gimli felt no difference in the air, or the indecipherable chattering of birds, but the Elf was usually right in such matters. Gimli had weathered many hard journeys in the wild, but the idea of a roaring fire, a dry roof, and mugs of ale appealed to him more than a soggy night in a tree-shelter. And in this wilderland on the edges of Fangorn, even settlers' cabins were as rare as snake feathers. "Then the faster we ride, the sooner we'll have meat and ale and a warm fire." he thumped Sweetgrass with his heels, flapping his arms and the reins like a vulture trying to take off after too big a meal. The pony raised her head in annoyance and scuttled forward.

Legolas winced, "Keep your hands still..." he began. But Gimli was well down the trail. With but a shift of weight the Elf whirled Arod and cantered after.

The trail was wide here, and in a few long strides Arod had nearly overtaken the pony. A mischevious flicker came into the Dwarf's deep eyes; this pony had been chosen because she was nearly a match for the swift warhorse. And here, on the twisty trails under the trees, her smaller size and catlike agility were an advantage. He locked one hand onto the saddle pommel and whispered "Noro lim, noro lim!". She flattened her ears and leaped forth like an arrow from the bow.

A few thundering breaths later, the trail looped, snaked back on itself, and dove under some low-hanging pines. Sweetgrass pattered under them, now in a flat-out gallop, about as smooth, it seemed to Gimli, as a boat on whitewater. He clung tighter, held his breath, and shut his eyes.

Behind him Arod's light thunder slowed to an uncertain trot, then stopped. Gimli peeled an eye open, "Daro, daro!" he called to Sweetgrass. (He had tried to retrain her in his own tongue, but Legolas had taught her too well in Elvish). She tucked her hindquarters under herself and slid to a stop. He bounced, sloshed, and came to a lurching halt, sprawled across her neck, nose in her left ear. He straightened himself, pulling together as much Dwarvish dignity as he could, peering around quickly.

Arod stood behind him on the trail, riderless. Lego-less.

"Uh." Gimli said. He raised a furry eyebrow. Dropped both of them. Sudden panic took him as he remembered the low branches he'd ridden under so easily. He swore something softly in Khuzdul, directed at the foolishness of certain red-bearded Dwarves; to have ridden through so many battles and perils together, to have faced orcs and wargs and Nazgul and...even the nameless doom of Durin's Bane...and to smash his friend's head on a tree of all things!

He rode back slowly, afraid to see what lay around the bend.

Nothing. The trail was empty.

Gimli frowned.

A slight squirrel-rustle in the branches overhead, and a light thht! like cat feet; Gimli cranked himself around in the saddle and Legolas stood at his pony's tail.

Gimli let loose then, in his own tongue, waxing eloquent about the lineage and character of his companion-in-arms.

It was more Khuzdul than any Elf had heard since the First Age of Middle Earth. Legolas had learned a few words in the last year, several not repeatable in courtly company. He let it blow over him like a summer storm, sensing the true reason for it. "Your flapping must have helped your pony run faster." he said finally.

"And it seems you learned how to fly into trees." Gimli grumbled.

"I could show you how to do it." he took a light step toward Gimli, straight-faced, but with a glint in his eye like sun on deep water.

"I like my feet on the ground." Gimli slid off Sweetgrass, square and solid as a rock, eyebrows like two bushes over his dark eyes. The Elf might win a race on open ground, or swing into the trees faster, but in a wrestling match, nothing could move a Dwarf who had rooted himself into the earth.

Except perhaps, an Elf who had spent hundreds of years learning how to use an opponent's energy against him.

Swift as a hunting ferret he moved, and Gimli found himself staring at the tree branches from a vantage point flat on the ground. But his stocky build was no more slow and clumsy than the broad-beamed badger; he rolled and twisted and swept the Elf's feet from under him. "Nobody tosses a Dwarf!" he yelled, and caught a glimpse of a wicked grin growing on the Elf's face.

Once more, Legolas proved it was possible to toss a Dwarf, or at least remove one from his feet.

But not for long, for Gimli saw much more than he let on, and had made a point of understanding a few things about the elvish martial arts. Like how to dodge those lightning fast grabs, and use his own great strength to good advantage.

...or not. Legolas had the advantage of speed, and years of practice, if not raw strength

The horses backed up, flicked their ears and wandered off in search of grass.

The melee tumbled from one side of the trail to the other with bursts of Khuzdul and Sindarin coming from both sides. As Gimli was executing a lovely forward flip (caused by Legolas' timely duck and block) the Elf was sure he heard the word 'chwand' at the tail end of a mangled bit of Sindarin.

"My mother dresses me funny and I look like what...?" he never got to finish because Gimli's heavy boots were now locked around Legolas's neck.

"Awartho!" he demanded, eyes gleaming darkly from beneath bushy brows, grin hidden in his red beard.

"Awarthon! Awarthon!" the words were a bit strangled, but despite a yet vague understanding of Elvish, Gimli understood 'I yield, I yield!'. He rolled to his feet, laughing.

Legolas sat, looking up at him, leaves tangled in his pale hair, face smudged, tunic askew.

"Why did you call me a fungus?"

"I did? I thought I was saying...oh, nevermind."

There was trail food in their packs; waybread and dried fruit, and clear water in their flasks from a spring a few miles back. Not quite ale and red meat, but it would do for now. Overhead the sky went from blue and gold to silver, now even Gimli could feel the wind shift. He cast a worried glance skyward.

"There is still time. It won't rain till nightfall."

"How do you know that?" the Dwarf asked. As long as he had traveled with the Elf, there were yet many things that mystified him, even when they were explained, if they could be explained. Can you explain how you breathe? Where your thoughts spring from? How you know the sky is blue? What do trees dream of?

Well, he was a wood-elf anyway, and Elves of any kind were still strange folk.

For some things, Legolas claimed, there were no words. Gimli had found this to be true when he tried to explain the roots of mountains and the beauty of dark deep places, and the bone-solid feel of good rock underfoot. Yet it had mattered not, in their Great Journey from Rivendell to Mordor. It had been their differences; like moon and sun; earth and sky; tree and rock, that made the Fellowship strong.

Ahead of him Legolas stopped in midstride, like a cat on the hunt, his whole body alert, eyes and ears searching for something.

Gimli felt a prickle of excitement. Long it had been since his axe had hewn anything but firewood. A stray wandering band of orcs a month ago; they had mowed them down like wheat under a farmer's sickle. "What is it?" he hissed. "Man cennich?"

The Elf was gone, melted into the trees, Arod danced in a circle on the trail beside Gimli's pony, snorting.

"Whoa there, daro, daro, easy, steady boy, sedho, sedho." Blast that Elf and his 'I don't need the saddle and bridle' business. There was nothing to hang onto, not that Gimli wanted to try to hang onto the tall horse, if he wished to go elsewhere. Let Legolas call him back if he ran. "Aaaagh!" Gimli looped Sweetgrass's tie-rope around a sapling and stomped off into the woods in the direction Legolas had been looking. "You wouldn't be going to a fight without me now, would you?"

He looked at the ground, not expecting to see any trace of his companion, Elves left no trail, barely even on snow. He peered ahead, nothing but trees and silence.

Then a sudden crash-crunching of brush, and the faint, sweet sound of a bowstring loosed.

"I'm coming!" Gimli yelled, smashing through the underbrush with all the grace of a passing orc-horde. He gallumphed out of a small stand of firs to find Legolas kneeling by a body in the ferns. Gimli looked around, axe clenched in gloved hands, then came closer. His eyebrows went up and down a few times, then he stuffed his axe back in his belt.

"Why are you singing to a dead deer?" he asked.

The Elf ignored him for a long moment, then the song, soft as rain shadow, came to an end. He looked up.

"He's a bit beyond hearing you." Gimli added. The buck that lay at the Elf's feet was impressive, and quite dead, one green-feathered arrow had administered an instant, killing blow.

Legolas made a gesture toward the deer, to Gimli it looked reverant. Then he pulled the arrow, cleaned it and stuck it back in his quiver. "His spirit hears. And Araw the hunter, who taught our people long ago."

"Ah." Gimli plumped down onto a mossy log. These explanations could take awhile; the true name of the Elder Kindred was Quendi, the speakers, and they usually lived up to the title. "You told me of him before. One of the Valar. Like Elbereth, the Star-Queen, and Aule the Smith who gave my folk form."

"Yes. We...we sing the song," he said, the words coming uncharacteristically slow, uncertain, like a deer stepping out into a clearing, " that they know...the deer..and Araw...that we are grateful for the gift. A life given so we may continue ours." Legolas fell silent, unable to put any more into words.

The Dwarf sat in quiet thought for awhile, letting the words sink in. Like water on stony ground, it took some time, and much ran off.

He finally raised his head and met the Elf's sea-grey eyes. A flicker of understanding passed between them.

"Well, my friend," Gimli rose and thrust his axe back into his belt, "As always; curu-cuthalion. We'll feast tonight!"

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