By Nieriel Raina

"No more, Merry. Those bags are making me itch!"

"Do you want the disguise to work or not? We have to make you bulkier; now be still while I stuff a few more of these sacks into your shirt."

"That's enough. Any more and I'll tip over. Get the hair."

"Legolas is going to notice, you know."

"I don't think so. He never looks there. Now put it on."

"This is never going to look right, Pip. You should just ask Gimli…"

"Hush and put it on."

"It's too straight! Dwarves have frizzier hair."

"You promised, Merry."

"Fine, but when you get caught, I'm pretending I don't know you."

"You always say that."


"Now the boots."

"You won't be able to walk right in them."

"Just help me put them on!"

"Fine. There, all done."

"Well? How does it look?"

"Not too bad. I think you might just get past them. But I still think you should just ask…"

"Not now that I've done all this. Wish me luck."

"I hope you get caught."

"I won't. Just you wait and see."

: - :

Gimli paused as he passed a certain passageway. He caught a glimpse of a small figure with a lantern rounding a bend. No one should be down there at this time of night. Curious, he turned and headed towards the treasury, nodding at the sentries as he passed. As he neared the door, he stumbled to a stop. A strange dwarf had managed to get past the guards and was attempting to pick the lock of the treasury door!

"You there! What goes on here?" The slight frame, combined with other tell-tale signs only a dwarf would note, caused Gimli to raise an eyebrow. A woman? Down here?

The dwarf-woman jerked up, but kept her head low, her features concealed in shadow. But her hair and beard reflected the light - straight and silky, and such an unusual color. In the dimness, her hair appeared to be a mixture of colors - dark red and black, light strawberry blond, even some pale blond and grey streaks. Gimli had never seen such pretty hair on a dwarf-maid! How had he not met this one before?

She said nothing, just stood there trembling.

"Come now, explain yourself, pretty one."

"Gimli, it's not what you think. I'm not a lady dwarf!"

He froze. "Pippin?" His mind scrambled for a way to cover this blunder. In the dark he had mistaken a hobbit in disguise for a dwarf-maid! He'd probably had too many ales with Legolas. Or maybe his eyes were going dim?

"Yes, Gimli, It's me. But I can explain."

"Of course, it's you, Peregrin Took! Did you honestly think I'd mistake you for one of my people in that ridiculous disguise?" That was it. Make the hobbit think he'd been teasing! "Had you going for a minute there." And he laughed with loud guffaws.

"Yes, you sure had me worried."

The hobbit sounded unsure, and considering he'd been caught breaking into Aglarond's treasury room, and dressed as a dwarf to boot, Pippin had good reason to be nervous. "Why are you dressed like that anyway? And what are you doing breaking into my treasury?" He affected a stern frown.

Pippin sighed. "Well, it's just that… Merry said... And Legolas saw…"

Gimli's frown turned to one of confusion. "Just spit it out, laddie!"

Pippin's shoulders drooped as he came clean. "Supposedly there's a whole room full of treasure in there, and I've never got to see it. Merry saw it last time, and Legolas has seen it many times. And they said it's magnificent and you have a jewel the size of an orc's head! And…" He dragged his booted foot on the ground. "I just wanted to see it, too."

Gimli snorted. "Well, why didn't you just ask? I'd have shown it to you and gladly!"

"Really?" Pippin looked excited for a moment, then his face fell. "Will you still show me, Gimli? Even though I tried to sneak in?"

Chuckling, Gimli produced a key from his pocket. "Sure I will. Come." The key turned in the lock and the door groaned open. As they slipped inside, Gimli glanced again at his dwarvishly-clad companion. "Pippin?"

"Yes, Gimli?"

"Where did you get the beard and hair?"

Pippin froze. "Well, you see…."

Gimli shook his head. "Never mind. I don't think I wish to know."

: - :

Legolas hummed to himself as he slipped out of the caves and into the starlight. He smiled up at the stars and then made his way over to where his horse and the others' ponies grazed peacefully. Legolas' dappled grey stallion lifted his head and nickered plaintively. Legolas moved to him and stroked the proud neck with soothing strokes.

"What is it, friend? Are the ponies pestering you? You usually like their company." But his horse tossed his head and whickered again, reaching over to nose one of the smaller mounts.

Legolas looked, and froze in shock. He glanced from pony to pony till finally his gaze rested on the rump of his own horse.

Tailless. Every single pony and his horse had had their tails cut off at the root, leaving nothing but bony stumps. He stood blinking for a full minute before storming back into the caverns. His voice echoed down the glittering halls.

"Peregrin Took! What have you done to my horse?"

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