--------------------------------------------------------"I'm sorry, my Lord," Lindfir said regretfully, as he bowed to the Steward of Gondor. "We have been searching for the Prince for several days now with no success."
Faramir sighed. "Does the Prince do this often?" he asked. "Or does he only disappear when he knows he is being summoned?"
"It is our way to desire solitude from time to time," Lindfir replied. "If the Prince does not wish to be found, then he shall not be."
"There are other ways of finding that Elf," interrupted a gruff voice.
Both Faramir and Lindfir turned to see Gimli striding into the room.
"Perhaps you merely searched in the wrong places."
Lindfir arched a delicate eyebrow as he looked at the Dwarf, amusement playing at the edges of his smile. The fast friendship between his Lord and the Dwarf was well known among his people. Although not all approved, the Dwarf was accorded respect as the Prince wished. "Master Dwarf," Lindfir said slowly, "if you know of some places we may have missed, we would be glad to have your assistance."
Gimli nodded. "I have a few in mind." He turned to Faramir. "By tomorrow morn that Elf shall be ready to travel to Minas Tirith," he promised, "and I shall escort him there myself."
Gimli gazed up at the rapidly darkening sky. He had spent the day roaming the woods of Ithilien and was beginning to understand the meaning behind Lindfir's words, *If the Prince does not wish to be found, then he shall not be.* But Dwarvish pride refused to let him give up, at least not without trying every place he knew of and there was one more he had yet to check. With one last glance at the evening sky Gimli marched into the woods once more.
Legolas crouched by the edge of the mineral spring, running his hand through the warm water one last time. The spring was heated by a natural geyser, making the water perfect for an evening bathe. He smiled contentedly as he stood up, nimble fingers tying the intricate laces of his tunic.
A loud rustling and the unmistakable sound of heavy footsteps from his left caught his attention. Instinctively, Legolas slipped on his quiver, at the same time reaching for his bow and the small pack that lay beside him. In a matter of seconds he had leaped into the nearest tree, swiftly climbing up its branches. He perched himself amid the foliage as he watched the spring below.
A few minutes passed and then a short figure appeared beneath him. Legolas smiled to himself as he recognized his old friend.
The Dwarf surveyed the spring. "I know you're here," he called out at last. "A warm, evening bathe under the light of the full moon. A rare temptation that even you cannot resist."
Legolas' smile grew wider. How well his friend knew him. Now if only he would go away and leave him in peace.
"I'm not going anywhere," the Dwarf continued, looking over the spring again. "I'll sit here all night if I have to."
The Elf sighed inwardly. For a moment, he entertained the idea of holding the Dwarf to his word and slipping away through the treetops. Then he shook head. Gimli did not deserve that. He looked down at the spring once more. The Dwarf was settling himself upon a low rock, his back to Legolas, indeed preparing to wait out the night. He was muttering to himself in his own language and Legolas' keen hearing could make out the general gist of his grumbling - something about Elves and their predilection for bathing, as well as their nonsensical allegiance to trees.
Soundlessly, Legolas made his way down the tree, pausing when he reached the lowest branch. He gauged the distance between himself and the Dwarf, wishing to startle his friend but not exactly land on top of him. With catlike grace he jumped from the tree, landing immediately behind the Dwarf.
"Preparing for a long night?"
Gimli fell off his rock in surprise. Secretly, he was pleased at guessing the Prince's whereabouts, but he hid his satisfaction behind a scowl as he turned to face the Elf.
"Aye," he retorted. "It has been a long day. I did not come to Ithilien to play hide and seek with you."
"I was not aware that we were playing," the Elf replied, bemused.
Gimli ignored the comment as he stood up, dusting himself off in the process. "Your people have been searching for you for five days now, Legolas."
"Is that so?"
"Humph." Gimli glowered at the Elf, who gazed back with a maddeningly serene expression. "A summons has arrived for you. No doubt you were expected in Aragorn's court some time ago."
A brief emotion flickered in the Elf's eyes at the mention of Aragorn's name, but it disappeared just as quickly. "I have other matters to attend to first," he said, turning abruptly and heading into the woods.
"Such as Ariella."
"Ariella?" the Dwarf repeated.
"Yes, Ariella. I promised that I would sing to her tonight." The Elf stopped and looked back at his friend. "Coming?" he asked, with a tilt of his head.
Grumbling yet again, the Dwarf followed the Elf into the woods. Surely, a day's march on the quest to destroy the One Ring had not felt this long.
The two friends walked together in companionable silence. With the Dwarf following behind him Legolas made certain to shorten the length of his stride to better suit his friend. They traveled deeper into the woods, each lost in their own thoughts. Just as Gimli was beginning to wonder where this Ariella could be, the Elf stopped. Gimli stopped alongside him and glanced at Legolas.
"I would like you to meet Ariella," the Elf told him, holding out his hand in greeting.
The Dwarf followed the direction of the Elf's hand and came face to face with . . .
A magnificent tree, he had to admit, but a tree nonetheless. "You brought me out this way to meet a tree!" he exclaimed.
"Ariella is not just any tree," Legolas explained patiently. "She is the oldest, living tree in these parts, one of a few to survive the destruction of the War of the Ring. I nursed her back to health myself and she has become a great friend. I turn to her when I am troubled."
"And you are troubled now?"
The Elf sighed. "Let us speak more after I have sung to her. Will you join me?" he asked, indicating the sweeping branches overhead.
Gimli eyed them doubtfully. "I shall wait here until you are finished," he decided.
Legolas nodded and began his climb while the Dwarf sat and rested his back against Ariella's broad trunk. Before long a haunting melody filled the air, weaving its way through the night and enveloping Gimli in its sadness. He sighed thoughtfully; such a song would melt even the hardest of hearts.
Legolas knelt on one knee as he studied the Dwarf before him. Gimli was sleeping soundly with his arms crossed and with his chin resting on his chest. His snoring, the Elf was pleased to note, was much quieter than when he heard it last. Indeed, it was almost tolerable. It would be a pity to wake him. Still, the Elf reached over with his left hand and gently shook the Dwarf's shoulder.
"Come, my friend. You are tired. We had best head back so you may rest properly." The Elf made to stand but was stopped by the Dwarf's firm grasp.
"I am not so tired that we cannot finish the conversation we almost started," Gimli told him. He motioned for the Elf to sit down.
One look at his friend's stern face told Legolas that they would not be going anywhere until Gimli was satisfied. He elegantly crossed his legs as he sat down facing the Dwarf.
"What is it you wish to speak of?"
"Why are you avoiding this summons from Aragorn?"
Legolas shook his head. The Dwarf was not known for his subtlety. He shrugged his shoulders uncharacteristically in response.
"There was a time when the two of you were the closest of friends." Gimli paused. "I had thought that perhaps your friendship ran even deeper."
"For a Dwarf, your eyesight is keen."
A silence fell between them and Gimli waited for the Elf to continue.
"It is much harder than I ever imagined," Legolas whispered. "To know that your love is returned, but that it never can be."
"Why then do you stay here, Legolas?" Gimli prodded. "Ithilien is but a stone's throw away."
"To be near him," Legolas replied simply. "To know that I have the choice to go to Gondor, though I shall never take it. And besides, did I not promise to restore Ithilien to its former beauty, just as you vowed to return to the Glittering Caves?"
"Aye," the Dwarf agreed, "and in that respect we have both been true to our word. But what of the Sea?"
"The longing is ever present, like a song at the back of my mind. Some days it sings louder than others, but it is not deafening yet. One day when I am ready, I shall heed its call and pass over the Sea. For now, I have too many attachments still and a promise to keep."
Gimli wondered at the Elf's last remark, but said nothing. Another silence fell between them.
"Will you accompany me to Minas Tirith?"
"If I have to drag you there by your pretty little braids," the Dwarf declared as he stood up, indicating that he was satisfied with the night's talk. "At last I may get some rest."
"There are talans nearby, should the walk back be too much for you," the Elf suggested, also rising to his feet.
Gimli snorted in indignation. "I prefer the comforts of a warm bed," he said, stalking off in what he hoped was the right direction.
Special thanks goes to Liadon for the beta.