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Hewing Naught but Wood: 1. Hewing Naught but Wood
This story/parody is dedicated to Marta, who gets full credit for the inspiration that spawned it (though I wonder if attributing such inanity to her is more insult than compliment). Nevertheless, it was one of her comments on my story "Smiting Ruin" that led me to push the Three Hunters into yet another rhetoric debate. Those of you familiar with online Tolkien forums and news groups may already see where this is headed based on the title alone, but for those of you still in the dark, I'll say this much: the Three Hunters are not alone in their debate of pointless issues. And I am just as culpable as the rest of them. Written in the same spirit as "Smiting Ruin" (which was inspired by Fadagaski, so inadvertant credit is awarded), I give you an extremely unlikely missing scene from the Battle of Helm's Deep, based on a bookverse comment made by Gimli. I hope you enjoy!
The postern-door slammed shut behind him with a resounding crash, and Eomer caught himself against a wall, still feeling the pain of grasping claws around his shoulders. Above the roar of blood pounding in his ears, he heard both Aragorn and Gimli shouting orders to the Westfold men, telling them to pile stones against the door and brace it further with strong timber. Outside, the screams of the Uruk-hai and the wild men of Dunland sounded harshly, their clamor ringing throughout Helm's Deep in a deafening tumult of noise, and listening to the savagery in their cries, Eomer shuddered at the memory of the Uruks who had nearly overcome him before the gates.
Feeling eyes upon him, Eomer looked up and met Aragorn's concerned gaze. The question in the other's face was clear, but Eomer gave him a quick nod of assurance to show that he was uninjured. Shaken, certainly, but he would right his mind soon enough, and as his counsel was not immediately required, he would take these next moments to collect himself. Aragorn nodded back in approval and turned his attention once more to Gimli and the Rohirrim. The dwarf had things well in hand, though, and the door was now secure behind a sturdy wall of rocks and beams. As the men cleared away, Gimli walked forward to make a closer inspection of the barricade, but he soon stepped back, his expression one of satisfaction.
Straightening, Eomer pushed off the wall and moved to join him, wishing to express gratitude to the one who had killed his attackers and made possible his escape. "I thank you, Gimli, son of Glóin," he said, extending his hand. "I did not know you were with us in the sortie. But oft the unbidden guest proves the best company. How came you there?"
Gimli clasped the offered hand with the strong grip of a warrior, yet his eyes twinkled as though with some untold jest. "I followed you to shake off sleep," he confessed with a smile. "But I looked on the hillmen and they seemed overlarge for me, so I sat beside a stone to see your sword-play."
Eomer shook his head and returned the smile. "I shall not find it easy to repay you."
At this, Gimli laughed. "There may be many a chance ere the night is over," he answered, shouldering his axe. Turning, he started for the stairs that would take them back to the Deeping Wall, where the sounds of arrows had ceased for a moment. "But I am content," the dwarf continued as Eomer fell into step beside him. "Till now I have hewn naught but wood since I left Moria."
Aragorn was walking a few yards ahead of them, his gaze intent upon the archers atop the ramparts, but at these words, the Ranger paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Do you forget the battle upon the slopes of Amon Hen?"
Gimli's eyes flashed. "I forget no battle, certainly not one in which a dear friend was lost."
"My apologies if I caused offense," Aragorn said quickly, for the dwarf's hands had tightened upon his axe, "but I thought to remind you that you had fought with foes more recently than Moria."
"So I have, but I stand firm in my claim that I have hewn naught but wood since then," Gimli answered. The anger in his voice faded, but in its place was now a curious note of stubbornness. Intrigued, Eomer decided to explore further.
"How can that be?" he asked as they reached the stairs. "Aragorn has told me briefly of the fight that took Boromir from us. Was your Fellowship so scattered that you and Aragorn both met with no Orcs?"
"I met and killed many Orcs upon Amon Hen," Gimli said, his tone indignant. "But none of them were hewn by my axe."
"Ah." Eomer nodded, feeling as though he understood. "You have another weapon, then?"
"Certainly. I have several small knives, all of which have proven very useful. But I did not use them in killing Orcs."
"If you are saying that you killed them with naught but your own hands, I will ask Legolas to vouch for your claim," Aragorn warned.
"Mahal save me from the foolishness of men," Gimli sighed. "I did not kill them with my hands. I killed them with my axe!"
Eomer exchanged a confused look with Aragorn. "But you said only moments ago that they were not killed by your axe."
"No, I said that they were not hewn by my axe."
Aragorn's face suddenly cleared. "Is this related to your words on the steps of Meduseld just ere we departed?"
"Yes. And in the end, the elf and I both agreed that I have hewn naught but wood since Moria."
"Ai Elbereth," Aragorn murmured, turning away. "Now I understand."
Keenly aware that he had just missed something and also aware that Gimli was being deliberately obstinate, Eomer directed his next question at Aragorn. "How is it that Gimli has killed Orcs on Amon Hen and yet has killed nothing since Moria?"
The Ranger shook his head as he came to the last stair and moved out onto the wall. "He and Legolas entertained a strange conversation yestereve regarding methods of killing. I was not privy to all of it and the little I did hear seemed the stuff of nonsense, but now I believe that I can make sense of their ramblings. They seem to think that Gimli has done more cutting than hewing."
Eomer blinked. "There is a difference?"
"Of course there is a difference," Gimli huffed. "And it is not cutting, Aragorn, but hacking. I have done more hacking than hewing."
Eomer felt his interest in the conversation immediately wane, but Aragorn—who had not spent the last few years playing mental games with Wormtongue—showed no sign of relenting. "Perhaps I am not as well-versed in the ways of the axe as I ought to be, but I see little difference in these words."
"Then I will educate you. Hacking involves severe and often random strikes. Hewing can sometimes include hacking, but hacking does not necessarily include hewing." Gimli's head suddenly turned and he lifted one hand in greeting. "Legolas! I have hewn my first foes since Moria!"
Further down the wall, Legolas looked up from inspecting his bowstring and smiled. "Then your journey was well spent," he called back, coming toward them. "Has this action roused your mind?"
"Indeed it has, but I fear I might be put to sleep again by these two sluggards. They do not seem to understand what it means for something to be hewn."
The elf feigned great surprise at this and turned a condescending eye upon both Aragorn and Eomer. Eomer felt his hackles rise in response, but Aragorn folded his arms and assumed a look of cool defiance. "Gimli has yet to sufficiently prove the claim that he has hewn naught but wood since Moria."
"It is quite simple," Legolas said. "Since Moria, Gimli has only been given opportunity to hack his opponents. Hacking is to strike severely and often randomly—"
"Yes, so I was told," Aragorn interrupted. "But I am not convinced that this is different from hewing."
Eomer was beginning to get the impression that neither Gimli nor Legolas would convince Aragorn of anything in this argument, but he was also getting the impression that it would not be for lack of trying. He wondered if the three would remember that there were also other things afoot. Such as a battle.
"Hewing involves cutting a shape of sorts," Gimli was saying. "And down before the gates, I had time enough to shape the Orcs to my liking."
Aragorn stared at him. "And you had time enough to do so in Moria?"
A strange and altogether disturbing light came into the dwarf's eyes, prompting Eomer to take a step back. "In the home of my fathers, my war was one of vengeance. I had as much time as was needed to hew my enemies as I saw fit."
An awkward silence fell during which the entire group seemed to shuffle away from Gimli. The silence was finally broken by Legolas, who was now keeping a watchful eye on his friend. "Be that as it may, it still remains that, since Moria, Gimli has been given little opportunity for calculated swings of the axe. When we hunted Orcs upon Amon Hen, our blows were made with crude efficiency rather than proper form."
Aragorn raised his brow. "You will pardon my ignorance, but I fail to see how lodging an axe blade in an opponent can result in anything other than that opponent being cut into a shape."
Eomer failed to see how prolonging a debate about the semantics of a killing blow could result in anything other than a headache, but he held his tongue. He did not want them turning upon him, and as long as he could remain removed from their debate, he could monitor the enemy that waited in the darkness below the wall.
"The difference lies in how you define the cutting of a shape," Legolas explained.
"We must define yet another aspect of your definition?"
Gimli nodded. "By cutting a shape, I am guiding my axe. The momentum carries it through, but there is direction and form to it."
The Ranger frowned. "'Direction and form'? Gimli, what manner of thoughts are in your mind when you strike a blow?"
Wondering the same thing himself, Eomer turned back to the debate.
"The same manner of thoughts that exist in your mind when Andúril strikes a blow. If you are given time and space enough, Aragorn, then there is strategy and cunning to your attacks. It is the same for me. And during such moments, I hew rather than hack."
Deciding that this was a fair answer, Eomer returned to watching the Uruks.
"But I cannot believe that you lacked strategy and cunning on Amon Hen," Aragorn pressed.
"You misunderstand," Legolas said. "There was indeed great strategy and cunning on Amon Hen, else we would not be here now. But it was hurried and desperate, for the Orcs were many and we were only two. Although…" the elf paused and glanced at Gimli. "The Uruk you slew by the water's edge took greater time than the others, and you were more careful in your blows when you fought with him. Is it possible that he was hewn?"
Gimli shook his head. "Nay, he was cloven rather than hewn."
Eomer blinked. "Cloven?" he asked, speaking ere he could stop himself. "It may be that my knowledge of Westron is insufficient, but is not cloven the word used to describes the hooves of goats and kine?"
"Yes," the dwarf answered, "but it is also the word used to describe something that has been split along the grain."
Legolas frowned and Aragorn pressed his lips together, considering the matter. For his part, Eomer was quite certain that he wished to be elsewhere, but he was hesitant about leaving these three unattended. Should the wild men decide to come over the wall, the attack might go unnoticed.
"Would not splitting something along the grain also be a form of hewing?" Aragorn said at length.
"You clearly do not understand what it means to hew," Gimli said, a hint of exasperation creeping into his voice. "If I cleave something with my axe, I cut it into an already existing shape. The grain has established the pattern and I but follow. If I hew something, I give it a shape that is all my own. Some of this new shape might follow the grain, but taken as a whole, the design is mine."
"I fear I must disagree," Legolas said slowly. "There is nothing in the definition of hewn to indicate that it must be a new shape. It simply must be a shape."
"And even if we accept your interpretation regarding shapes, to cut into an Orc creates a new shape regardless of where the grain lies," Aragorn added. "Living creatures do not run about with open wounds! Such things must needs be new by the very nature of the beast."
"Must they?" Gimli challenged. "Is it not in the nature of Orcs to run about with open wounds? The Uruks that tripped Eomer already bore numerous cuts, and they were not cuts made by our allies."
"That may be so, but it was not the choice of the Uruks to go about so injured."
"Does choice matter? Perhaps it is not my choice that men grow tall, yet tall they are, nonetheless. And thus it is with the Orcs. To employ your own words, it is the very nature of the beast."
"It is not the very nature of the beast! Rather, it is the very nature of other beasts that prompts Orcs to run about with open wounds. Their own nature would dictate otherwise."
"Béma give me strength," Eomer murmured to himself before noisily clearing his throat and peering over the parapet. "There is increased activity toward the outer edges of the Deeping Wall," he said loudly. "Perhaps we should seek to better organize ourselves in those areas and thus repel the attack ere it can begin."
Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas gave Eomer three very knowing looks, but a modicum of common sense remained to them and Aragorn nodded his agreement. "Then let us go together, you and I, and so divide our resources." He gave the elf and dwarf a warning glance as though promising to return to this argument in the future, and then he started down the wall. Eomer followed quickly.
"So how many foes did you valiantly cut into a new shape?" he heard Legolas ask as he moved away.
"Two," Gimli said triumphantly.
"Two? I have done better, though now I must grope for spent arrows; all mine are gone. Yet I make my tale twenty at the least."
Despairing of ever understanding his strange companions, Eomer thanked whatever Vala might be listening that he moved out of earshot after that.
For the curious, the beginning dialogue and the ending dialogue comes from The Two Towers on page177 of the Ballantine 50th anniversary paperback edition. For the even more curious, I've drawn from the Old English definitions of the words "hew," "hack," and "cleave." And for the insanely curious, I've included specifics down below.
Hew – Old English: Heawan, meaning to cut or strike a specific shape or line.
Hack – Old English: Haccian, meaning to cut with sharp, irregular blows.
Cleave – Old English: Cleofan, meaning to cut along a natural line of separation.
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