The heavy wooden door closed silently.
“I need a drink,” Gimli declared without looking at anyone. Legolas, also without looking at anyone, rose from the window seat where he had sat and waited. He nodded to his friend. He would accompany Gimli, even though he himself was not partial to the spirits.
“Yes, let’s go,” a smooth dark voice agreed from the other side of the room. Elrohir rose from the straight backed wooden chair where had been sitting in silence. Elladan, who had been standing with his back to the company, staring at a colourful tapestry hanging on the wall, turned around and inclined his head. He would be along, too.
Today there was nothing for them to do here anymore.
Gimli led the way. Due to his small size, he was usually the one making up the rear. But today the steps of the four friends were slow and tired.
“I think we should go to the ‘Old Guesthouse’, Cara’s daughter, Meliana is a good cook,” the dwarf suggested, though it was not food that was on his mind.
Legolas raised a delicately slanted golden eyebrow at his friend. “You only want to go there because you have persuaded the Mistress Meliana to stock this awful dwarvish liquor you are so fond of.”
Gimli shrugged. “And if that is the reason? What does it matter? A true taste of Dalish Whisky, that’s what is called for, today.” But his voice was devoid of the cheerful anticipation, with which he usually greeted the opportunity of a visit to his favourite pub.
“Dwarvish liquor?” Elladan asked the slender wood-elf as they passed through the silent streets of Minas Tirith. It was a grey evening in early spring, and a cold wind was blowing down from the Mindolluin.
“Indeed,” Legolas answered, “the foulest, most vicious liquid imaginable. Drunk by anyone but a dwarf, it will burn a hole through tongue and gullet.”
The elf’s light footfalls were absolutely noiselessly, whereas the dwarf’s heavy, ironclad boots echoed like drumbeats through the gathering dusk. The peredhil’s light leather shoes were barely inaudible on the smooth pavement of the streets of Minas Tirith, if not quite as soundless as the lither movements of their cousin from the woodland realm.
“Ah!” Elrohir called out with heartfelt relief. “Dalish Whisky! That sounds exactly like what I need at the moment.”
Legolas frowned at his friend, and then turned to Elladan for an explanation. But Elladan remained silent. His eyes were as dark and uncompromising as the darkness that was settling in the passage ways and alleys of Minas Tirith.
Finally they reached the first circle of the city. “The Old Guesthouse” was a pub with a history of many centuries of offering a fine draught and a good time to its customers. As the four friends left the second circle of the city and walked towards the pub, the stained glass windows were bright with the light of many candles and a great log fire.
Gimli went ahead and opened the heavy wooden door of the pub.
The deafening noise of many voices and the acrid smoke of fire and pipes enveloped the dwarf and the elves as they entered the guestroom. Although it was the middle of the week and still quite early in the evening, business was brisk in the pub. But miraculously a table in a booth in front of one of the small windows was free for them. Legolas and Gimli took the one side, Elladan and Elrohir the other. A young girl with the dark curls and grey eyes of Númenorean blood quickly made her way to their table. She gave them a cocky smile. “And what will it be this fine evening, my lords?” She asked. Her eyes were rimmed in red. She had been crying.
“Dalish Whisky. A large glass,” Gimli indicated three thick, callused fingers high.
“For me the same,” Elrohir sighed.
“I’ll second that,” Elladan added.
“By the Valar! This will be merry drinking.” Gimli said, his gruff voice even deeper and scratchier than usually. “Bring the bottle, iëll-nîn. No, make that two bottles.”
“Very well, my lords. And for you, my lord Legolas?” Apparently the girl was used to Gimli’s advances and outrageous behaviour. She looked at the elf and blushed prettily. Legolas had always had this effect on girls and women, no matter if they were elleth or of human birth. Legolas hesitated for a moment.
He turned to Elladan and Elrohir. “You do realize that you cannot get drunk, do you? Or has the metabolism of peredhil changed that much during the last hundred years?”
Elrohir shrugged. “I am always one to try out new things. I have never had the opportunity to drink Dalish Whisky. If it is as strong as you claim it to be, perhaps for once we will experience something we have never achieved before – the condition of absolute, drunken stupor. I for one am willing to give it a try.”
“Great, great,” Gimli said, rubbing his hands. “A drinking contest! Let’s say we drink until there are no spirits left in this house or one of us is under the table in the afore mentioned condition.”
“Count me in on the game,” Elladan told the dwarf, his voice firm, his eyes dark.
“Oh, yes,” Elrohir agreed, exhaling deeply. “Let’s drink until we are drunk as a skunk.”
Legolas made a grimace. “And that when you have not had one drop of liquor yet!” Turning to the maid, he added. “I think I’d better join my friends tonight, if only to be able to look after them.”
The girl bobbed a curtsy. For a moment she seemed to consider asking a question, but then she changed her mind and hurried for the kitchen.
After only a moment she returned with a great green bottle and four heavy glasses.
She put the glasses on the table and pulled the stopper out of the bottle. A fume of spirits wafted in a greenish mist from its opening. Quickly the girl put the bottle on the table and turned around, convulsing in a prolonged fit of coughing.
Gimli’s nostrils flared at the evil fragrance drifting towards him from the bottle. He sniffed appreciatively. “Oh, yes, that will do the job. Definitely the best Dalish Whisky to be had in all of Gondor.”
“And that wouldn’t be, by chance, because it is also the only Dalish Whisky to be had in all of Gondor?” Legolas asked, with both eyebrows raised this time. But his voice carried only the barest hint of mockery.
“And if it is,” Gimli conceded magnanimously. “It will still do the job it was distilled to do. Drunk delight for dumb dwarves, oh, yes, sir!”
Elrohir snorted slightly.
Then he frowned and inhaled deeply. “Oh, my,” he said finally. “This is a potent brew indeed. Perhaps we have finally found something that is stronger than our elvish blood.”
The serving maid, who had finally recovered from her coughing fit, quickly filled the glasses to the brim and stoppered the bottle again. “Will you refill your glasses yourselves, my lords? Or should I stop by now and again?”
Gimli sighed, his eyes hidden behind bushy brows. “No, run along, iëll-nîn. We are all the company we need tonight.”
The girl bobbed another curtsy and then ran to take up another order, this time by guard off duty and obviously in a foul temper.
Legolas reached for his glass and stared at the greenish contents with a look of ill-disguised disgust. “And what, praytell, if your plan does not work out, my lords Peredhil?”
“Then, mellon-nîn, we will at least have spent the night to see another morning dawn upon us.” Elrohir answered, as always the more talkative of the twins. He lifted his glass.
Elladan followed suit. Gimli slowly raised his glass to his friends as well. Legolas shook his head. Then he, too, held his glass up high.
For a moment they stared at each other, wondering at a possible toast.
“Ach,” Gimli finally grumbled. “For the sweet Valar’s sake, just drink!”
He knocked back his drink. His eyes popped forward. His nose went a deep, flaming red. Legolas almost thought he could see smoke rise from his friend’s ears. Then Gimli inhaled with a sigh of heartfelt satisfaction. “Ahh... how I’ve needed that.”
Elrohir and Elladan had observed the dwarf with interest, their glasses still lifted. Now they turned towards each other, and, giving a small nod, downed the liquid in the same fashion as the dwarf had done.
Elrohir gasped. His hands went to his throat. The pearly white skin of the elf suddenly burned with a bright red colour. Elladan collapsed back against the bench, coughing and spitting, much as the girl had done from only smelling the obnoxious stuff that is called Dalish Whisky.
Finally both elves looked up again and brushed their forearms against their eyes in an identical gesture of relief. Then they looked at each other again. This time it was Elladan, who spoke first. “I think we have a chance, muindor-nîn.”
Elrohir gulped and coughed once more. “Oh, yes,” he replied, his voice hoarse. “The best chance we ever had.”
Together they turned to Legolas. The wood elf stared into the swirling greenish liquid in his glass. Drunken stupor?
Oh well. It could not hurt to try. After all, he had survived the small swallow he had tasted years ago.
He gulped down the glass. And raced to the bar, helplessly gesturing for the water jug. The men at the bar were beside themselves with laughter. But the grim faced barman simply handed over a water jug and a beaker. Legolas drank a beaker of water in one long, soothing swallow.
Then he returned to the table where his friends were waiting for him.
He gave them a wry smile and opened the green bottle once more. “You are right, my friends. I think we have a chance,” he said to the twins.
“I told you so,” Gimli grumbled. “Didn’t I?”
“Don’t talk,” Legolas advised. “Just drink.” He set down a refilled glass in front of the dwarf.
This time around the reaction to the Dalish Whisky was not quite as strong as with the first glass. The tip of Gimli’s nose went considerably pink, but there was definitely no smoke issuing from his ears. Elrohir and Elladan gasped. Legolas thought he could see a wisp of smoke trail from their nostrils. But that might have been imagination. Or the smoke from Gimli’s horrid pipe. When the wood elf downed his second glass, the need to scream bloody murder was not as potent as it had been with the first glass. He needed only half a beaker of water to reclaim his senses.
The third time it was Elrohir who filled their glasses. “This is really interesting stuff,” he told the dwarf. “What is it made of?”
Gimli gulped down the third glass. “I have to admit that I don’t really know. It is a secret the dwarf women keep.”
“I wonder why... perhaps because the dwarves would never do a day’s work, did they know how to make this insidious liquor?” Legolas asked sarcastically. Gimli made a face at his friend and refilled the glasses.
When the fourth glass was empty, the dwarf’s posture was relaxed. The elves’ eyes were hopeful.
After the fifth glass was gone, Gimli sighed and his eyes grew bright. Elrohir, feeling less tense than he had before, filled up the glasses again. “It’s only to be expected that it takes more of this to have the desired effect on us, than it takes with the dwarf.” Elladan nodded mutely, offering his glass to his brother. Legolas did the same.
When the sixth glass was emptied, the bottle was empty, too.
Awkwardly Gimli rose to his feet and walked to the bar, swaying precariously from side to side. Elladan cocked his head and watched out of narrowed eyes, as the barman handed over the new bottle. “He’s well on his way to oblivion,” the elf remarked.
Legolas gave a small, dignified burp. “As long as he gets the bottle safely to the table...”
Gimli brought the bottle back to the table without major difficulty. “Here you go,” he announced and filled the glasses again without spilling a drop. The Whisky was blissfully at work on his mind, but as a dwarf he was doomed to be utterly indefatigable. Or so he thought.
“Here we go again,” Elrohir said, raising the new glass. This time the liquor had a golden-green hue, as it was not quite as well aged as the first bottle had been.
Elrohir downed the liquid and promptly gagged and gasped. Gimli was no longer in the position to judge the question of trails of smoke drifting forth from nostrils, ears or mouths. He blinked blearily at the elf, trying to summon a chuckle.
Elladan coolly swallowed his seventh glass, swirling the liquid around his tongue like a dwarf with several hundred years of experience with this most potent of all draughts in Middle Earth. “Meldir-nîn.” He told Legolas, who was watching with ill-concealed horror. “’Tis an acquired taste. You have to work at it.”
Legolas nodded. This advice seemed sound to him. He tossed back his seventh glass. For a moment he saw an explosion of silver and golden stars. Then, unfortunately, reality was back before his eyes. “I see. It is well invested labour, however.”
Elrohir inclined his head with a dazed expression. “Indeed. Let’s have another glass.”
Gimli wordlessly shoved his glass against the bottle. He felt thoroughly put out by the fact that his elvish friends – who had never in their lives drunk this most potent of all beverages of Arda – were still more or less sober, if a little more relaxed than they had been on entering the pub. For himself, he knew that speech was failing him. But he did not mind. That had been his purpose, after all.
Down went the eighth glass.
It did, however, comfort Gimli to see that Elrohir’s hand was shaking a little bit, when he filled up the glasses for the ninth time.
“Nine.” Legolas said.
“Fuck.” Was Gimli’s barely intelligible answer.
“Right,” Elladan added.
They drank again.
Somehow the tenth and the twelfth glass went down, too.
Suddenly the second bottle was empty.
Gimli was not up to another trip to the bar. It was Elrohir who made it. The grim faced man at the bar gave him a long look. The elf suddenly realized that they were the only customers left in the bar. And he was still more or less sober. Damn.
“Should we be going?” Elrohir asked, feeling a trifle light headed. This was more than any other alcoholic beverage had ever done for him. He did not want to leave, as long as there was still an option for their little experiment to succeed.
The stern man behind the bar returned the elf’s look. Then he inhaled deeply. “No,” the man said with a sigh. “Stay as long as you wish, my lord. But we have only this third bottle of the dwarvish spirits. Then you will have to make do with rum from Umbar, or the Rohirric stuff. But that’s a pretty effective knock-out, too.”
He put a dark green bottle on the bar. Elrohir nodded wordlessly his thanks to the bartender and carried the bottle back to their table.
“Thirteen,” Elrohir announced.
The liquor had a rather ominous dark green colour.
“This...looks interesting,” Gimli said, staring mystified at the contents of his glass. It was the longest sentenced he had uttered for several hours.
Legolas took a look at his own glass. “Yes, it does,” he agreed.
And they drank.
And they drank again.
After the seventeenth glass, Gimli suddenly put his head on the table and started snoring in deep, sonorous honks.
Elladan sighed. “I think, muindor-nîn, I will need some more of this. Though I do admit that it has some effect on me.” The elf’s eyes were slightly crossed and did not focus with their customary sharpness.
“Oh, yes,” Legolas added. “Please.”
Elrohir felt a little shaky, but he managed to pour without mishap.
“Eighteen,” he said, his voice almost gone from the fire of the dwarvish liquor.
“Eighteen.” His brother and his friend echoed.
Twenty went by, and twenty-one, too.
The barman had long since finished cleaning up the kitchen and the bar. He was sitting on a bar stool, leaning on the clean, polished wood of the bar, watching the elves trying to drink themselves into stupor and oblivion.
The night outside was already waning.
It was difficult to see with the stained panes of the small round glass windows. But the night was almost gone. A new dawn was on its way, colouring the eastern sky in pastels, soft reds and oranges and a most delicate hue of apricot.
Elladan poured number twenty-five.
He raised his glass. Elrohir did the same. His hand as heavy as his heart, Legolas followed suit. Gimli was snoring peacefully.
“Twenty-five,” Elladan said.
“It did not work,” Legolas observed. “Although we are not exactly sober, drunken stupor or oblivion are beyond our grasp.”
“That’s true, mellon-nîn.” Elrohir replied in a husky voice. “But take a look at the window. A new day has dawned outside. Now that we’ve made it once, we’ll make it again.”
It was a cool morning at the beginning of March. The dawn was exceptionally beautiful, with many colours and the softest hues. The birds of spring had begun their bright voiced songs even in the grey twilight before the dawn. The streets of Minas Tirith were empty at this early hour of morning. The smooth pavement gleamed pearly white in the pale light of the sunrise.
Way above the city of Minas Tirith the Citadel was silent.
Arwen looked up slowly, barely comprehending the meaning of the first golden rays of the morning sun that slanted through the window. A new day had come. Slowly, painfully she rose to her feet and left the room, closing the door behind her without making any noise at all.
On the bed, her Estel, Aragorn, King Elessar Telcontar of Arnor and Gondor, lay in silence, his eyes closed, and his features still like white marble.
He was dead.
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