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In the Deep Places: 11. From Out of Knowledge
But this forest was too strange, too silent: the trees were too large and the tiny cold pinpricks of the stars seemed to emphasize how very alone the Company was. Gimli felt better with the raised earth at his back and sides. At least here nothing could slip up on him from behind or drop down on him from the high branches.
It was entirely coincidental that the small cavern also hid him from view of the Elves overhead.
Legolas had vanished up one of the giant trees some time ago, taking Frodo and Sam with him. Gimli thought it had been at least ten minutes, but less than half an hour – it was difficult to feel the passage of time properly in these woods. Boromir was pacing back and forth in the small clearing: his shoulders were hunched and he stared at the ground as he muttered to himself in a low monotone. Merry was seated cross-legged at the base of one great tree trunk and eating an apple. Strangely enough, Pippin had not joined him. Aragorn was cleaning his dagger absently, occasionally glancing up at the tree that Legolas had climbed.
Gimli wished that Aragorn had not left it for the Elf to negotiate their passage. He had no illusions about the way that most Elves regarded Dwarves, and this border guard was haughty and condescending enough to make Thranduil seem warm and open-minded. Legolas had translated a small portion of their conversation before he had vanished up the tree, and Gimli bristled at the memory. They had threatened to shoot the Fellowship, and passed it off as a joke. They were obstructing Frodo’s quest and Gimli had no doubts about their reaction when they learned that a Dwarf traveled with the Company.
He did not entirely trust Legolas not to simply abandon him here. Oh, the Elf had been loyal enough in Moria, where he had been disoriented and dependent on Gimli’s expertise, but he was clearly comfortable here in these Elven woods. Who was to say that he would not take the easiest path and agree to leave Gimli behind? Or consign him to the Elves’ dungeons? Balin had always been one to do justice to a good story, and the tale of his imprisonment in the halls of the Wood-elf king had grown over the years in the Lonely Mountain.
And yet… Glóin had never publicly contradicted Balin’s stories, but he did tell Gimli in private not to believe all of them. “They were cellars, really, not so much dungeons. I don’t think the Elves would know a proper dungeon if Durin himself built one for them. And they didn’t bring in spiders to torment us, or feed us on rotten rice and well water. Actually the food was quite good. And I’ve never had better wine. But they did try to rob us, and they brought an army to lay siege to us after Smaug’s defeat.” His father had paused then, and rubbed the side of his nose with one thick finger. “Elves are funny folk. They’re good people, for the most part – at least they fight against the Enemy, same as us. Elrond was very helpful to us, though of course he’s only half Elf. Full Elves are, well, they’re something else. Too tall and skinny, so you’d think they’d blow over in a high wind, but they’re strong too. And they sing the most maddening songs, and are the flightiest things you ever saw, but then they’ll get very still and dangerous, too, when the mood is on them. You never can be sure what they’ll do. It’s best not to get involved with them, if you can avoid it. They think differently than we do, and they don’t care about things the way we do. Don’t trust them. Don’t rely on them. They have their world, and we have ours, and it’s best not to go mixing the two together.”
But here Gimli was, mixing in as Elvish a forest as could be imagined, and even now his fate might be decided by the son of Thranduil. If that spoiled princeling tries anything I’ll hit him with my axe. But surely Aragorn would not let Gimli be left behind. He had better well not let the Elf abandon me. I’ll hit him, too.
Gimli was pulled from these thoughts by a slight shifting in the weight of soil and roots over his head. Ever sensitive to changes in the earth, he immediately tensed. He looked up at the tangled roots and crouched slightly, ready to roll out from under them at a moment’s warning. There was no real stability here, and he dared not risk a cave in.
But the roof did not fall, and after a moment there was a scramble along the side of the bank and Pippin jumped down in front of him. Gimli blinked and relaxed.
“You ought to be more careful, young Hobbit,” he said. “This bank won’t take much weight.”
Pippin started. “I didn’t see you there, Gimli. I’m sorry.” But he spoke perfunctorily, already turning away from the Dwarf.
Gimli frowned. There was something wrong. Pippin’s voice was dull, his movements subdued. And, a clear warning signal: Merry had now finished the last of the apples and was starting on their remaining cheese rations and Pippin had not made the slightest effort to claim his share.
“Are you all right, Pippin?” He asked the question casually, but shot the youth a keen glance to see his reaction.
Pippin shrugged, his back to Gimli. “Oh, yes. Tired, I suppose.” He started away, walking toward the edge of the small clearing.
Gimli straightened in alarm. “Hold now! Where are you going?”
The Hobbit did not look back. “For a walk. I am going for a walk.”
Gimli left his small shelter and started after him. “These woods are perilous. You ought not to go wandering alone.”
Pippin did not stop. “I’ll be fine.” His voice seemed oddly strained, thin and choked in his throat.
Gimli grabbed his arm to stop him, catching him at the shadowed edge of the clearing, and Pippin whirled suddenly around, trying to jerk free. “Leave me alone!”
Gimli saw Aragorn glance over at them, and he shook his head slightly, trying to indicate that he had things under control. The Man nodded and looked back up at the branches overhead. Gimli lowered his voice, aware that Merry and Boromir were also nearby. “You cannot go running off into the woods by yourself. It’s dangerous.”
Pippin made a strangled noise, like a half-swallowed laugh. But he made no reply, and only pulled harder to get free. Gimli tightened his grip on the thin bicep. “No one, not even Aragorn, can go exploring the forest by himself right now. We don’t know what’s out there.”
He was afraid that he’d have to bruise the Hobbit to make him listen, but Pippin abruptly stopped struggling and stood still, his head bowed and his narrow shoulders heaving. Gimli waited a moment and then slowly released him. Pippin took a shaky breath but did not look up. “I’m sorry, Gimli. I know this isn’t . . . isn’t a Hobbit walking party. I just, I just needed . . .” but he did not say what he needed, and swallowed hard.
Gimli shook his head, not sure he’d heard properly. “A Hobbit what? Why would you think –”
Pippin threw up his hands. “It’s what he said! By the well! He said it wasn’t a Hobbit walking party, and I knew that, I did, he didn’t need to tell me!” The boy’s voice was shrill, his eyes bright with unshed tears, and Gimli was at a complete loss. But Merry was now looking over with concern, and even Boromir had paused in his pacing. Gimli hesitated and then put a hand gently on Pippin’s shoulder, guiding him away from the forest edge and toward the relative privacy of his shelter.
“Hush, now,” he said awkwardly. “Just take a few deep breaths and think on for a bit. Who said this? What well?”
Pippin’s chest and shoulders were shaking, but he did breathe slowly for a minute before speaking, and he seemed to regain some control. He sat down under the earthen bank and drew his knees up to his chest. His voice was muffled when he finally spoke. “Gandalf. At the well in Moria, after I dropped the stone, he said that it wasn’t a Hobbit walking party, and that I could take first watch, but then he relieved me, and then the Orcs came, and –” His voice choked off, and he blinked rapidly.
Gimli remembered then. Strange, with all that had happened during those long days, he had nearly forgotten Pippin’s stone. But surely the boy couldn’t think that…
“What’s this foolishness, then?” he spoke gruffly, but tried to make his eyes twinkle the way Gandalf’s had. The effort was wasted, however, because Pippin did not look up. “So you were curious about a well and dropped a pebble to see how deep it was. I’ve done that and more, on occasion. Once I dropped a bit of flint down an air shaft, only my uncle Óin was down there, and it hit his head. Knocked him cold for three hours, and he had the nastiest lump for days. My father wore out his birch rod on my britches, and then I had to clean Óin’s forge every day for a week, and I’m sure that he deliberately used the very worst quality iron during that time, so there was a tremendous amount of waste slag . . .”
But Pippin clearly was not listening. Gimli faltered and fell silent. His words seemed terribly inadequate for the weight of grief and guilt that the young Hobbit carried. There was a long pause, and Gimli settled down to sit next to Pippin, his hands on his knees. He felt the damp earth cool against his back, and heard the faint creak and shift of the living roots overhead. He breathed deeply and tasted the scent of rich soil and loam and the crisp tang of the winter night.
“Pippin, look at me,” he said finally, and the words seemed to echo in his mind: a strange sense of doubling, as if he had been in this moment before. But Pippin did look up, and Gimli shook off the memory and spoke firmly. “You did not cause Gandalf’s death. Your stone had nothing to do with naught. The Balrog would have found us in any case. And Gandalf, being the stubborn old wizard that he was, would have insisted on fighting it alone. There was nothing you could do, nothing any of us could do, to prevent it.”
Pippin shook his head, and Gimli saw the tear tracks in the grime on his face. “You don’t know that. And the others, they think it was me.”
“What!” Gimli was shocked. “No they don’t.”
“Yes they do! Merry won’t even look at me –”
Gimli frowned. “What are you talking about? He’s been with you every minute since we came off the Dale!”
Pippin drew a gasping breath, and his chest heaved. “No he hasn’t. He hasn’t talked to me, or smiled once, and when Sam went up the tree with Frodo he opened the food pack without even asking me –”
Gimli threw up his hands. “When was the last time you needed to be asked to share food? And you can’t expect him to act normally – he’s lost a friend too. Give him time.”
Pippin hardly seemed to hear him. “Merry never breaks into Sam’s pack. Not ever. He says it’s dishonest, when everyone in the Fellowship needs the rations. So he always lets me do it, and then he just helps out, to keep it even, you know. But he didn’t wait for me, or even seem to care that I was there.”
“That doesn’t mean that –”
But Pippin rushed on. “And Legolas –”
That did it. Gimli reached for his throwing axe. “What has that Elf said to you? I’ll kill him!”
Pippin stopped, and looked at him with wide eyes. “He didn’t say anything to me! But at the well, when the stone dropped, he . . .”
Gimli had another flash of memory, this time of the Elf standing at the edge of the well, gripping Pippin by the wrist and nearly pulling him off the ground. He remembered the fear in Legolas’ eyes, the fine wired tension that had run through every line of his body. And he sighed.
“That doesn’t mean that he thinks you brought the Balrog on us. You just . . . startled him, that’s all. Elves don’t handle surprises well.”
Pippin shook his head again. “That isn’t what Frodo says. He says that an Elf almost always knows what he’s doing. I know you don’t like him, Gimli, but Legolas isn’t as flighty as you make him out to be. He wouldn’t grab me like that unless he knew I had done something dangerous.”
Gimli looked down, slowly turning his small axe in his hands. Then he carefully set it aside. It was a moment before he could phrase his answer in a way that did not sound too biased. “No, the Elf isn’t one to jump like that normally. But you must understand, Master Took, he was under a terrible strain down there in the caves. Elves aren’t used to being underground like Dwarves or Hobbits.” He deliberately refrained from elaborating further on Elven weaknesses.
But Pippin was looking at him skeptically. “We’d only been in the mines for a day. I don’t think he’d lose control that quickly.”
This was something that Aragorn had said, but Gimli had not given it thought at the time. Now, considering it again, he admitted that it did seem strange for Legolas to change his behavior so radically in so short a time. He remembered the Elf’s fear before the three archways, and the horrible sense of dread that even he, Gimli, had felt there. He saw Legolas standing at the foot of a broken stair with head bowed, and heard again the words, It draws nearer. We have tarried too long. And Gimli thought that he understood at last.
He took a deep breath and looked straight at Pippin and said, “It wasn’t just the mines, or the dark, or being away from his precious trees. The Elf . . . can sense things. I think that he knew the Balrog was there, maybe from the first moment we set foot in Moria. Maybe he didn’t know what it was, but he still felt it. And he knew it was coming.” Gimli repressed a shudder, remembering the Shadow, and the roar of flame, and the terrible resonant ache of Power. To have sensed that, drawing closer and closer for days and nights on end . . . how had the Elf borne it? How could anyone have borne it without going mad? Gimli remembered Legolas’ near panic when they had been blocked by the gap in their path on that first day, it seemed a lifetime ago. And he remembered his own amusement at the Elf’s all-too-obvious fear. There was a sour taste in his mouth.
Pippin was watching him. “You mean that Legolas felt the Balrog before I dropped the stone?” He hesitated, seeming to consider that. “But even so, maybe it wouldn’t have found us. Gandalf could have avoided it.”
Gimli sighed. “Maybe he could have. I don’t know. But whether he could or not, his ability was not hampered by you. I’m as good at following echoes as any Dwarf you’ll ever meet, Master Took, and I tell you now that I’d not have been able to track our position from that one dropped stone. I’m sorry Pippin, but you can’t claim the responsibility all on your own. Maybe Gandalf should have chosen more wisely, and I should not have led him to go to Moria.” I was so blind, so greedy and blind. I wanted to believe in Khazad-dûm, and I made Gandalf pay the price. “There is ample blame to share, if you go looking for it.”
Pippin still seemed doubtful. “But the others, Boromir and Frodo –”
“Enough!” Gimli cried, and pushed to his feet. His knee popped as he did so. “Master Took, I have used logic and talked till I am tired, and still you refuse to see reason. If you do not stop this pointless wallowing now and start behaving like a proper Hobbit should, I will have to resort to my axe.”
Pippin looked startled, but smiled weakly when Gimli hefted his large axe. “I’m not afraid of you.”
“No?” Gimli stopped to consider this. “Well, you should be. I’m terribly frightening.” He scowled fiercely and made his eyebrows bristle. Pippin smiled again, with a bit more warmth.
Then he looked down and trailed one finger in aimless patterns through the loose soil. “You really think that Legolas felt the Balrog even before we got to the well?”
Gimli shifted his weight. He’d have given mithril to avoid answering. But Pippin was looking hopeful, and there was no escape. Durin and the Seven Fathers! Gimli swore under his breath. Then he cleared his throat and spoke firmly and clearly. “Master Took, if you ever breathe one word of this to the Elf I will personally string you up by the hair of your feet.” Pippin looked suitably impressed by this threat, though one corner of his mouth quirked. Gimli continued. “The Elf warned us, Gandalf and me, that there was danger coming on the first night we spent in Moria, and I believe that he felt it long before we reached your well. He senses things that we can’t, and even in the Mines he had his uses. He was terrified, but he never lost his wits or forgot his duty, and he fought bravely and with skill.” Gimli remembered how, in the aftermath of Gandalf’s fall, Legolas had stayed hidden while the Company fled. He had been willing to stay, even in the dark stone passage still resonant with the demon’s malice, rather risk the Fellowship. And Gimli swallowed. “He tried to tell us. He could hardly speak of it, but he tried to warn us. And maybe, if we had listened, we could have found another way. Gandalf might not have died.”
Pippin was watching him. Gimli fell silent and looked at him. A long moment passed, and Gimli felt it stretch in the timeless forest. Then Gimli shook himself and lifted his axe again. “So are you convinced, Master Hobbit, or shall I instruct you further?”
Pippin smiled shakily and got to his feet. He bowed to Gimli and said, “Thank you, Master Dwarf. Your axe will not be necessary. You’ve done a good job with your words.” He hesitated, and then added, “I wonder what Legolas would say, if he could hear you?” And with that he backed quickly out of the cavern, then turned and ran to snatch the last bit of dried meat from Merry’s hand.
Gimli watched him go. Pippin was still far too pale, and his antics had a forced quality to them, as if he were putting on a show. But at least he was interacting with the others, and Gimli saw Merry protest as Pippin pushed past him to Sam’s pack. The young Took said something over his shoulder even as he rummaged deeper in the bag. His cousin smiled briefly and sat down again.
Then Gimli looked past them and saw that Aragorn was no longer looking up at the flet above them, but talking to the Elf that stood at his side. Legolas had returned.
All the suspicion and doubt that he had felt came flooding back as he watched them. Aragorn did not seem to be protesting anything, but only listened to Legolas and nodded occasionally. Gimli narrowed his eyes.
The Hobbits had risen to their feet, watching. Pippin was still chewing on his strip of dried meat. Boromir had stopped his pacing and was also looking at them. Gimli came out from beneath his overhang.
Aragorn finished the conversation and turned toward them. Legolas went to the pile of packs at the base of the tree and began sorting through them. “The Elves of Lothlórien have offered us shelter for the night,” Aragorn announced. “There is a large talan, a platform, in this tree. The Hobbits will stay there. Another flet is in a different mallorn,” he glanced at Legolas, and the Elf indicated a tree about a third of the way around the clearing, “and the rest of the Company will sleep there.”
Gimli was not sure how to take this information. It seemed that they had no choice but to trust the Elves for tonight, yet he was not at all convinced that this plan was their best option. But before he could object Boromir spoke. “Why are we to be split up? The Hobbits will be defenseless.”
Aragorn looked at him. “The Elves will stay with them. They’ll have the best defense imaginable.”
Boromir crossed his arms over his chest. “We know nothing of these Elves. We haven’t even seen them! They’ve interrupted our journey, and the first thing that they did was to separate the Ring-bearer from the Company. How can we trust them?”
Aragorn started to speak, but he was interrupted by a clear, cold voice. Legolas had straightened, and he looked every inch the Elven prince as he stared at the Man of Gondor. “I have spoken with the march-warden and his guard. They bear us no ill will, and you, Boromir, would do well to act with courtesy while you are a guest in this land.”
Boromir met his eyes, but when Legolas fell silent and continued to stare at him, he dropped his gaze and a muscle of his jaw tensed. “It is not discourteous to act with caution.”
“No,” Aragorn said. “But I have journeyed here before, Boromir, and I know that these people can be trusted. The Hobbits will be safe.” He turned away, but as he passed Gimli heard him mutter, “They may be safer, perhaps, than they would be with us.”
Gimli wondered at that, but Aragorn had joined Legolas beside the packs and was looking at them. “We cannot carry all of this up to the flets. Some of it will have to be buried here for the night.”
Legolas nodded. “I’ve pulled out Sam’s pack, and yours. Those should go up. The others can stay.”
Gimli remembered then, and started to protest, but the Elf glanced at him and pulled another bag from the pile. He set it next to Aragorn’s and said quietly, “The Book of Mazarbul should also go up.” Gimli stared at him in surprise, but Legolas met his eyes defiantly, as if daring him to say anything. After a moment Gimli blinked and looked away. He remembered his earlier suspicions, and heard his father’s voice again. They don’t care about things the way we do. His cheeks were hot with shame.
Aragorn’s mouth was hanging open in shock. But he closed it after a moment, and managed to say evenly, “Yes, of course. Merry and Pippin can take Sam’s pack up. I’ll hide the others.”
This took rather longer than one might have thought. Even though Sam’s bag had been lightened considerably by the consumption of most of the food, it was still heavy and awkward. Merry and Pippin squabbled over who would carry it, and ended up by unpacking their own bags and dividing Sam’s between them. This took some time, and the process revealed a good deal about Sam’s organizational abilities and priorities. (“A trowel? Why would he bring a trowel?” “I guess it would be useful for digging roots, wouldn’t it?” “We left in the middle of winter! What roots was he going to dig?” “Maybe he wanted to start a garden when we got to Mordor.”)
Legolas left them to it and climbed quickly up into the second mallorn tree. After a few minutes another silvery ladder came floating down, and Boromir caught the end. He gave it some experimental tugs, but it held fast.
By the time Legolas re-joined them on the ground Merry and Pippin had finished with Sam’s pack and were regarding the ladder that Frodo and Sam had climbed. Merry fingered the rope that fashioned it, while Pippin stood with head back and stared up the length that twisted and swayed with the faint breeze, and vanished into the shadowed branches far above. Gimli followed his gaze. He felt slightly queasy.
But Merry turned down all offers of assistance. “It isn’t that different from the ladders we use for apple picking in Buckland. Just a bit higher, that’s all.”
“Right,” Pippin said, though he was noticeably lacking in enthusiasm.
Merry grasped the rope ladder firmly and began to climb. After a moment Pippin followed him. The addition of Pippin’s weight made the ladder sway and twist alarmingly, and both Hobbits clutched it with white-knuckled grips. Boromir steadied the base and watched them with concern. But they adapted quickly, and were soon climbing again. Their overly large feet seemed to help as they searched for each rung that swung with the rope away from their weight.
By the time that Gimli was convinced that the Hobbits would not fall, Aragorn had finished burying their packs in a shallow trench covered with a deep drift of leaves. Even in the night cloaked forest the leaves shone a faint gold.
“Will that be sufficient?” Gimli asked. “Won’t the Orcs be able to smell them?”
Aragorn shook his head. “If Orcs manage to penetrate these woods they will be running panicked and pursued. They won’t have time to scent anything.”
With that Aragorn grabbed his own light pack and started toward the tree where Legolas and Boromir were waiting. Boromir was tense, fingering the rope ladder and glancing repeatedly up to where it vanished into the mallorn’s branches. By contrast Legolas looked perfectly at ease as he leaned back against the tree trunk. Indeed, he seemed a bit too relaxed, and his open eyes had a glazed look to them.
Aragorn grinned and bumped Legolas’ shoulder as he passed, pushing the Elf back a step. Legolas’ head snapped up, and he straightened abruptly. Aragorn muttered something that Gimli did not hear, but Legolas shot the Man a cutting look that was easy enough to interpret.
Then Aragorn grasped the ladder and began to climb. He weighed more than the Hobbits, but seemed more accustomed to the task, and he did not hesitate as the rope twisted beneath him. Boromir and Gimli exchanged glances. Then the Man of Gondor took a deep breath and adjusted his shield again on his back. He seized the rope and set one foot in a rung about three feet off the ground. It immediately swung away from him as he lifted himself up, and the weight of his shield and sword fell back, so that he was left dangling with his feet nearly level with his hands.
With an effort he managed to pull himself vertical, but the ladder swung again as he reached for the next step, and he grasped it tightly to keep from falling. Legolas seized the bottom of the rope and pulled it straight. “You would find it easier,” he gasped, “if you left your shield behind. The weight puts you off balance.”
Boromir did not reply. He pushed one arm back impatiently to settle his shield from where it had slipped on his shoulders and began to climb again. With Legolas holding the rope he was able to make better progress, and soon had reached a considerable height.
That left Gimli. He took a deep breath and tipped his head back to look again at the distant tree branches. He was strongly aware of the weight of his own pack, axes, chain mail and other gear as he approached the flimsy rope. But it had held for Boromir, and Legolas was still holding it steady. Without looking at the Elf he grasped the ladder tightly and began to climb.
He immediately saw why Boromir had had such trouble. The rope was strong and light, and it swayed easily with every step he took. He had not been climbing long when it suddenly gave a great lurch and swung dangerously. Gimli nearly fell, and clutched the woven rungs close to his chest. “What in Mahal’s name!” he swore, and locked his arms around the rope. After a few moments it stopped twisting and he dared a glance down.
Legolas had let go of the rope. He was standing at the base of the tree, clearly preparing to climb up, and he looked up at Gimli with poorly concealed amusement. “What are you doing, Elf?” Gimli demanded. “I could have been killed!”
“You are less than ten feet off the ground, Master Dwarf.” Legolas said.
It was true. Gimli turned his face toward the tree trunk and closed his eyes, swallowing hard. The rope was still, but the world seemed to spin sickeningly. Without looking again at the awful distance he said, “You’ve no call to be upsetting the balance. Just because you –”
“Shall I stay here and hold the ladder still for you all night, Master Dwarf? If you speed your climb you might reach the talan by dawn.”
Gimli growled beneath his breath and reached for the next rung. “You can practice patience, Master Elf. No one forced you to go last.”
Suddenly the rope swung again, though less dramatically this time. Gimli closed his eyes and swore loudly. “Will you stop that!”
“Do you want me to hold the rope for you or not, Master Dwarf?”
“I want nothing from you, Elf, except that you stop upsetting the blasted ladder! I don’t need your help!”
“Very well.” The tension of the rope changed beneath his hands as Legolas released it. Gimli took a deep breath and began to climb again. It swung more freely without the Elf’s weight as a stabilizer, but he soon found a rhythm in the swaying balance and he climbed steadily. He kept his eyes fixed on the tree trunk directly in front of him and did not look down.
There was movement at his side then, and a soft voice said, “You improve by the minute, Master Dwarf. Perhaps you should dwell in the trees more often.” Gimli shot a quick glance to the left and saw Legolas looking back at him. The Elf was hanging from a tree limb a few feet away. He smiled at Gimli and then swung himself up onto the branch. Then he leaped easily through the air to catch another branch that grew a quarter of the way around the curve of the great tree bole.
Gimli watched him for a moment. Legolas used the tree branches as much as he could, but they were spaced widely apart and at times he seemed to actually scale the smooth trunk itself, digging his fingers into the bark and bracing his feet against it. There had to be some ribbing to the soles of the Elf’s thin boots to allow him to do that.
Legolas had long vanished from sight when the shift in the ladder’s tension told Gimli that the Men had stopped climbing. A few minutes later he reached the end and pulled himself gratefully up onto a large wooden platform in the tree branches. It was open and completely exposed save for the surrounding tree branches and one small woven screen that could be adjusted to block the wind. But it was level and solid, and did not sway beneath his feet. Gimli breathed a silent prayer of thanks and stretched cautiously. His back and shoulders ached, and his hands seemed to be permanently fixed in position from grasping the rope.
Boromir was also massaging his fingers, and he was bent slightly beneath his shield. But Aragorn was seated easily on the smooth boards. He looked perfectly comfortable, and had unbuckled Andúril and laid the sword at his side. Legolas was inspecting several large covered baskets that rested near the center of the platform. Gimli looked over sharply as he caught the scent of roasted meat.
“What is that?”
“Food, Master Dwarf.” Aragorn said. “The Elves have left us some provisions.” He rose in one smooth motion and walked over to the edge of the flet. He began to pull up the ladder.
Gimli’s stomach abruptly reminded him that he had not eaten for several hours, and he’d been exerting himself considerably in that time. He followed Boromir toward the baskets. Legolas was laying out roast venison, apples, several wafers of some sort of bread, sausage, two pastries, a bottle of wine and, incredibly, some folded linen napkins. He looked at the feast and one corner of his mouth quirked in a slight grimace.
“Will you look at that,” Boromir breathed. “It’s a meal fit for a king.”
“Or a prince,” Aragorn said, and Legolas glared at him.
“More than that,” Gimli said. “It’s a meal fit for a Hobbit. We’d best eat quickly, before they come to claim it.”
“Do not be concerned about that,” Legolas said. He was looking through the branches toward the other mallorn. “They have their own. They will not be hungry tonight.” He looked again at the food before him and muttered under his breath, “By Elbereth they had better well not be. I’ll string Haldir up by his ears.”
Gimli gave a snort of laughter which he quickly turned into a cough when Legolas looked at him. Boromir insisted on standing for a moment to face the west before eating, and Aragorn seconded him. Legolas stood respectfully to the side while they did this, but Gimli sat down. He was tired, his hands and back ached, and the Dwarves had their own customs at meat. He murmured a quiet prayer of thanks with the traditional blessing for the host, and privately wondered what Mahal would think of giving a Dwarven blessing to an Elf. He omitted the wish that “their beards grow ever longer,” but could not think of a good phrase to substitute. “May their arrows always fly true”? Legolas at least didn’t seem to need the Valar’s help with that. “May their glow never go out”? Now he was getting silly. Valar, he was so tired.
The others appeared to share his exhaustion. Boromir and Aragorn soon joined him, and Legolas sat cross-legged a short distance away. He claimed not to be hungry, but when Aragorn suggested that they could call the Elves and tell them that the food didn’t meet with Legolas’ approval the Elf glared at him and snatched up a piece of venison and a wafer of bread. Gimli did not touch the bread, which looked something like cram. He had heard strange stories of Elven waybread, and he had no wish to fall captive to any spell that might be laid upon it. But he ate heartily of the rest of the food. Boromir and Aragorn also ate quickly. But Legolas only nibbled at his food, and sat and stared into space for long stretches of time with it forgotten in his hand.
The meal was soon over and Aragorn wrapped himself in his cloak and stretched out to sleep. For the first time that Gimli could remember there was no discussion of watches for the night. Aragorn seemed ready to trust the Elves to guard them. Boromir was less likely to leave their safety in the hands of strangers, but after sitting for a short time with nothing to do but listen to the faint rustling of the leaves he gave it up and lay down under his heavy cloak.
Gimli settled his gear in the exact center of the platform and positioned his pack as a pillow. But he could find no comfortable position. He was painfully aware of how very high up he was, and the thin boards seemed a poor protection from the tremendous drop beneath his feet. He felt horribly exposed on all sides, and he thought about the mysterious Elves that might even now be hidden in the branches, watching him.
Strangely enough, Legolas made no preparations to rest. Gimli would have expected him to be the first to sleep, for he was clearly comfortable here. And the Elf had virtually fallen asleep on his feet several times already this night. But now he perched easily in the crook of a branch that hung low over the platform. He drew his three remaining arrows and inspected them carefully.
It was quiet. Gimli could hear the Men breathing in slow rhythm and the faint dry rustle of the leaves overhead. His eyes burned and he ached with weariness, but sleep eluded him. Legolas drew one arrow slowly along his hand, turning the smooth shaft and lightly fingering the golden brown fletching at the end. It seemed a long time before he set it down and selected another.
Gimli watched him simply because there was nothing else to look at. Finally the Elf completed his examination of the arrows and paused for a moment. Gimli thought that he would now go to sleep, but instead he drew his bow and began running his hands over its smooth length. Gimli fancied that he could hear the brush of Legolas’ fingers in the silence.
“What are you doing?” He heard the question, but it was a moment before he realized that he’d spoken it.
Legolas did not look up. “I’ve cracked my bow. I must repair it.”
“When else would you have me do it, Master Dwarf? When the Orcs are upon us?” The Elf’s voice was clipped.
Gimli stiffened. “I think we can manage. Our safety is not wholly dependent upon you, Master Elf.”
Legolas paused. He sat still for a long moment, looking at the bow in his hands. Then he shook his head and said quietly, “I did not mean that. I am . . . I am weary. I did not think before I spoke.”
Gimli stared at him in amazement. This was the closest he had ever heard the Elf come to an apology. After a moment he realized that his mouth was hanging open, and he closed it abruptly. He cast about for something to say. “I didn’t . . . that is, I only meant . . .” he heard his own awkward speech and stopped. He took a deep breath and then said in a rush, “Your bow would be missed. The Fellowship is stronger because you are with us.”
Legolas looked up at him then, and he saw surprise in the Elf’s eyes. He flushed with embarrassment. But Legolas did not take advantage of Gimli’s weakness. He smiled slightly and seemed about to speak, when suddenly he stiffened and leaped to his feet. This was something of an accomplishment, as the Elf was still perched in his tree branch rather than on the platform. The movement was nearly too fast for Gimli see, but he thought that Legolas pushed with his folded legs so that he sprang straight up several feet in the air and landed lightly down again to stand where he’d been seated only an instant before. Gimli blinked.
The Elf was standing straight on his tree limb and staring intently through the branches toward the ground. He was very still, but he clutched his bow in a white-knuckled grip. Gimli got slowly to his feet. His back and legs were still stiff from the climb. “What is it?” he whispered.
Legolas shook his head abruptly and motioned for quiet. He slipped along his branch and vanished into the surrounding foliage. Gimli waited for a long moment, straining his senses. He could hear nothing, but his instincts were on high alert. Then suddenly Legolas reappeared, dropping straight down from a different branch to land lightly on the platform next to Gimli. Gimli started, but Legolas only looked at him. His eyes were very bright. “There is a large party of Orcs approaching the Nimrodel. The Enemy has come to Lothlórien.”
Cram: Waybread made by the Men of Dale. Mentioned in the Hobbit and the Lothlórien chapter of the Fellowship of the Ring.
A/N: So, 14 pages to get up a tree. Next up: Chapter 12. Hopefully we get down from the tree.
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