Delightful Dwarf Stories
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In the Deep Places: 12. To See Clearly
Tolkien gives a fairly detailed description of the blindfold scene, and certainly doesn’t need any help from me. I’ve expanded a bit with my own dialogue and action, but large sections of spoken dialogue are entirely his. Please see the Lothlórien chapter, pages 388-389 of the movie covered Ballantine Books edition of The Fellowship of the Ring for the real version.
Legolas could hear the Orcs as they crashed through the forest, but more, he felt them. The vast mellyrn seemed too great to trouble over this passing darkness, yet a faint tremor ran through the wood. There was not the disruption in the tree-song that he would have heard in Mirkwood, but unease welled in the dark hollows of the forest, and pulsed to the time of heavy boots that pounded the soft earth.
Then the silvered tone of the Nimrodel ran harsh, and the long gentle grief of ages past was sullied by the clash of steel and iron. The Orcs plunged through the healing waters without pause, and he heard their guttural curses as the pure stream touched their skin. Does it burn? Does it hurt them, even as they would hurt it? Some distant, savage part of him hoped that it did.
“Where is the ladder?” Gimli spoke in a fierce whisper. Legolas looked at him, and he saw his own need to fight reflected in the Dwarf’s eyes. Gimli had been moving as one half crippled by stiffened back and hands, but now he caught up his large axe and held it easily, all weariness forgotten. “We must get down there!”
Legolas regarded him with wonder. The Dwarf was raging, ready to abandon his safe haven and confront a hundred Orcs with no weapon but his axe, and yet this was not his home. These woods were alien to him, and he had shown his discomfort in a dozen ways since their arrival, but still he was eager to fight for their protection. Legolas had understood his rage and grief in Moria, when the destruction of his heritage and kin made him passion-blind and he sought vengeance, but this was different. Gimli had no tie to this Elvish land: no Dwarf had ever been welcomed here. And yet he rose to its defense as readily as if it were his own home. And Legolas thought fleetingly that he would be proud to fight alongside the Dwarf.
But duty was stronger than vengeance, and more than the defense of Lothlórien. There would be no victory if they saved the Elven wood but sacrificed Frodo’s mission. So he shook his head slightly, and whispered, “We cannot go down. There are far too many of them, and we dare not draw them here, to the Hobbits’ hiding place.”
Gimli glowered at him and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. But he lowered his axe, and did not protest this logic. “It ill-suits me, to sit in a tree house and do nothing while the Enemy tramps past.”
“It ill-suits me as well,” Legolas murmured, turning away to scan the surrounding tree limbs. “Perhaps we need not merely sit.”
With that he launched himself up into the branches and climbed quickly through the canopy. He was high enough that the tree limbs were slender and light around him, and they bent in graceful curves beneath his swift feet. He could feel the strong life that flowed in these ancient trees, quicker and more vibrant here, so close to the stars. It swelled around him, buoying him up and beating with the swift tempo of his run. The living branches flexed and sprang up again as he swept soundlessly through them. He climbed and swung from one to another, and felt half drunk with the sheer sensual joy of the cool wood’s texture in his hands and the brush of golden leaf against his skin.
He swept through the crisp winter night, and the cold air seared his lungs and burned through his body. He felt the power of this place, and he longed to fly faster, faster – to leap up and catch the stars themselves, to cry challenge to the Orcs and see them fall, ruined by the terrible beauty of Ilúvatar’s creation.
It was then, as the clamor of Orc voices grew stronger and he reached the lessening of the canopy caused by Nimrodel’s course, that Haldir stopped him. The March-warden appeared silently at his side even as he landed lightly on a branch directly before the approaching horde. Legolas had no time even to startle, for Haldir caught his arm and swung him around so that his back was against the smooth tree trunk. His quiver dug sharply between his shoulder blades.
“What are you doing?” the guard captain hissed, and Legolas could feel the tension that ran through him and threaded his voice with steel.
Legolas rolled his shoulder in a smooth, swift motion, and Haldir’s hand fell away. “The Orcs have crossed the Nimrodel. We must keep them away from the Fellowship.”
“I know what the Orcs have done,” Haldir said, and his eyes were murderous. “They will pay dearly for it. But you, my lord, are not part of this game. Your task is elsewhere.”
Legolas held his eyes, and read the captain’s anger, and his fear. “My task is to guard my companions and to fight the Enemy. I will go with you.”
The Orcs were very close now, sweeping between the trees far below and churning the soft earth to mud. Their progress was marked by the growing discord of the Song: the slash of weapons against the mellyrn trunks and the grating snarl of Black Speech. Both Legolas and Haldir flinched from the pain of that harsh tongue.
Haldir stepped close. Orcs rarely looked up – they tended to stare straight ahead or at the ground as a rule, and in any case the Elves were well hidden in the canopy. But Orcs had excellent hearing, and there could be no risk of detection, for they could climb trees perfectly well. So Haldir took no chances that they might hear him, but spoke in Legolas’ ear. “Your assistance would be most welcome, my lord, but we cannot risk it. Please, I know how to defend my home. None of those below will escape. Go back and guard your companions. Keep watch on the Dwarf.”
Legolas could not move, pressed as he was against the tree bole, but he turned his head to look at Haldir. “You cannot be serious. The Dwarf is not a threat!”
Haldir moved back slightly, but his face was set and his eyes were as chips of ice. “That is not for me to decide. I must protect my people from all intruders, even as you would protect yours. I trusted you to keep watch over him. And if you will not, then I will send Rúmil to do so while we lead the Orcs astray, and our agreement is ended.”
Legolas swallowed. He said softly, in a breath scarce above the whisper of the leaves, “He was willing to fight for you.” Haldir said nothing, but held his gaze. Finally Legolas hissed and pushed the March-warden back. “Go then! And pray that the Enemy has no more sense than do we, who weaken our defenses by needlessly guarding against our allies.”
He turned and slipped back through the canopy, moving more slowly this time. Behind him he could hear the cries of Haldir and his brothers, and the excited grunt and clamor of the Orcs as they were led away deeper into the wood.
Aragorn and Boromir were awake when he returned to the talan. Gimli was pacing a very short path in the middle of the flet, careful to keep far away from the platform edge. He was muttering under his breath in a steady growl. But he stopped and all three looked up expectantly when Legolas dropped silently onto the flet.
“The border patrol is leading the Orcs into ambush,” Legolas said shortly. “They will not return.”
Aragorn looked at him in surprise. “Are you not going with them?”
“No.” Legolas bit off the word and stalked across the platform to resume his seat in the tree branches. He was being childish, he knew, and some part of him cringed to think what his father would say of this display of temper. But the greater part did not care. He was walking on the fine edge of exhaustion, and all his frustration and grief was wound into tension that knotted his shoulders and clenched his stomach. He wanted to fight. He needed to fight, to run, to do something against this evil that dogged their steps and befouled the golden wood. In all likelihood these Orcs were of the same breed that had hunted them in Moria. That had seen Mithrandir fall.
But he could do nothing. He must needs sit and guard his companions. And a very effective watch I shall keep, too, with a cracked bow and three arrows in my quiver. But he was not guarding them from the Orcs, he knew, for those were moving ever further from them, and already the song of the nearby trees was as slow and peaceful as if the Orcs had never troubled them. No, he was expected to stand guard against the Fellowship, or at least one member of it. The blind stupidity of it, the arrogant assumption of trust and prejudice, fear and scorn, rankled him.
And yet he understood Haldir’s concern as well. The March-warden could not cast aside his duty on a whim, or to suit Legolas’ wishes. Doubtless he knew that Gimli was not a threat. He had accepted Legolas’ testimony to permit the Dwarf to pass, and he surely guessed what trust Lord Elrond had displayed in choosing him for the Company. Indeed, he had shown what degree of respect he could by setting Legolas as guard. Were he truly concerned about Gimli he would have left one of his brothers behind.
But none of this changed the fact that Legolas was left to stand watch over the mortals while the border guard risked their lives in a dangerous game with the Enemy. He was trapped, unable to fight, unable to sleep, and all because of the Dwarf.
This feeling of impotent frustration seemed to be shared by his companions, and a fine-wired tension ran through the small company. Aragorn and Boromir sat hunched at opposite ends of the flet. Gimli had resumed pacing in the center. His muttering was all in Khuzdul, and Legolas did not understand a word, but the black looks that Gimli occasionally cast in his direction were easy enough to interpret. Perhaps the Dwarf blamed him for their forced inaction. It was absurd, for even if Legolas had not been resigned to keeping his companions on the flet there was no way that the mortals could have joined in the chase through the treetops. But there was no point in saying this. Gimli was frustrated, and Legolas was simply a convenient target for his anger. And the reverse is surely true as well, Legolas thought in wry acknowledgement. His own forced inaction was surely due more to Elven prejudice than to the Dwarf, but that did not make it any easier to bear.
Aragorn rose then and walked over to where Legolas sat. He had removed his boots, and his bare feet made whispered sounds over the smooth boards. But Andúril was once more belted to his waist. He stopped next to the Elf, and Legolas looked at him curiously. His branch grew about four feet above the talan, and seated in it he was just above eye level with the standing Man.
“Can you see the Hobbits?” Aragorn asked.
Legolas turned his head and looked through the tree branches. “Yes,” he said after a moment. “They have allowed their lantern to go out. Three of them are sleeping, and one is sitting up on watch. I believe that it is Frodo.”
Aragorn sighed, and Legolas looked back at him. “That is well,” the Man said. There was a pause, and he glanced aside briefly. “But I hope that Haldir will return soon. I would not have them unguarded for long.”
Legolas tilted his head slightly. Aragorn was clearly uneasy, and he radiated a nervous tension that seemed out of place with the gentle night murmur of the forest. “What do you fear?” Legolas asked softly. He spoke in Sindarin, to save this proud Man the pain of revealing his doubts before the others. “The yrch are gone. They will not return.”
Aragorn did not answer for a long moment, but stood and looked out into the shadowed wood. “More followed us from Moria than Orcs,” he said finally, speaking in the same tongue. “Perhaps we lost him at the Bridge, but my heart tells me otherwise. The call is now very strong.”
Legolas narrowed his eyes. That last did not sound like speculation, or even a gift of the Sight. Aragorn was speaking from personal experience. “I have not heard nor seen sign of Gollum since we entered Lothlórien,” he said quietly. “But if he comes, what would you have me do?”
The Ranger ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I don’t know. Gandalf would not have us kill him. But I do not know why, or what purpose he saw. And now,” he shifted his shoulders in an angry gesture, “and now we cannot ask him.”
“No being can tell another’s place in Song. Perhaps Gandalf himself did not know.”
Aragorn looked at him and one corner of the Man’s mouth quirked. “Elvish riddles. Don’t you ever get tired of them?”
Legolas smiled faintly. “No. But I would give you a plain answer, Aragorn, were it mine to give. Truly I do not know what purpose Gollum might serve, but I would not kill him out of hand. His life is not mine to judge.”
Aragorn’s eyes grew distant, and he seemed to be looking through Legolas. “His life . . .” the Ranger’s voice trailed off, and he was silent for a long moment. Legolas could hear the creak of the wooden boards under Gimli’s heavy boots, the shift of cloth as Boromir changed position. And always, always there was the slow murmur of the timeless forest around them. Aragorn’s next words were so soft as to blend into that deep song, and they breathed with the power woven through the forest. “His life may not be for us to judge, but neither is it his own any longer. The Ring consumes him, Legolas. He would do anything for it, anything to possess it. He cannot be trusted. The need, the hunger, is too strong.”
Legolas looked at him closely. After a time the Ranger’s eyes focused again and he seemed to see the Elf before him. He shifted nervously, as if embarrassed, and made to turn away. But Legolas slipped easily from his branch and caught the Man’s arm.
“Estel,” he whispered. Aragorn pulled back, but then stopped, and stood still. Legolas held his gaze. “Gollum is . . .” he said. He hesitated, unsure of how to speak, but then continued blindly. “Gollum is alone. He hears no voice but the Ring’s, he has no strength but his own. But you are not alone. The Fellowship –”
Aragorn gave a short, harsh laugh. “The Fellowship,” he said derisively. “The Fellowship is broken. Without Gandalf –”
Legolas’ hand clenched involuntarily, his fingers digging into the Ranger’s arm. “Gandalf told us to have faith. Even without him, we must hold true to each other.”
The Man did not answer. He stood mute, and Legolas saw the doubt in his eyes. He drew a soft breath and continued gently, “I told you before that I would stand with you. Trust me. Trust the others. Together we –”
Aragorn gave a twisted smile. “The Fellowship is united in trust. Is that why you are here standing watch over Gimli?”
Legolas blinked in surprise, but Aragorn shrugged. “It is not difficult to deduce. I have never known you to avoid a fight, but here you sit. And you look at Gimli as if he were a chain about your neck.”
“It is not my –”
Aragorn jerked his arm free of the Elf’s grasp. “Do not make excuses, Legolas.” The Man’s voice was tight with anger, and Legolas saw the same dangerous gleam in his eye that there had been before, after they had left the Dale. “You ask me to rely upon you, your strength, your friendship, and yet you cannot let go this pointless feud even here, in your people’s stronghold. Do not ask me to trust the Fellowship until you can do the same.”
Legolas wanted to refute this, to throw back the unjust accusation, but he could not speak. The anger, the distrust and malice in Aragorn’s voice was not his own. This was the Ring, he knew it with a surety, and he felt the whisper of evil twist around them. But how was he to make Aragorn see this? If he countered the Man’s words, if he said that his guard over Gimli was the only way gain entrance for the Dwarf, would that not seem as if he sheltered behind Haldir’s prejudice? In Aragorn’s current mood he surely would seem false, unworthy of trust or friendship.
So he took a long breath and said quietly, “I would help you, Aragorn. I would serve the Ring-bearer. If Gollum approaches, shall I kill him?”
The simple trust of that statement, I would do as you say, even were it against my wish, seemed to bring Aragorn back to himself. He blinked, and shook his head. “I . . . use your own judgment, Legolas. If you deem him a threat . . . do as you will.”
He broke away then, and Legolas let him go. He watched as Aragorn walked slowly back to his own cloak and pack. Every line of the Man’s body spoke of frustrated tension and anger, and fear. It was not so very different, Legolas thought as he cast a glance back toward the flet where Frodo sat, from the way he felt himself.
The night lengthened. Boromir and Aragorn wrapped themselves tightly in their cloaks and lay down again. It was a long time, though, before their breathing slowed into the even rhythm of sleep. Even Gimli finally ceased his pacing and lay down, though he kept his large axe close by his side.
The air was keen and cold, and Legolas breathed deeply of it to keep himself awake. It was far too easy to fall into the lulling peace of the forest song. He sat still and straight on his tree limb, but did relax enough to unbuckle his quiver and knives and set them on the flet below. His shoulders eased at the change of weight, and he arched his back and stretched, exulting in the freedom of movement.
Then, as the night song deepened and the stars danced with sickle moon, Legolas focused on his bow. The fracture in its frame was a small one, but even the slightest weakness could cause it to shatter. He could not fashion a new bow all in one night, and in any case he did not have the wood for it. The upper branches of these mellyrn might have been flexible enough, but they did not know him and he had no time to seek permission to cut their wood.
He would have to repair the existing bow as best he could. He had carried a small kit with sealant in his pack, but that had been lost during the unloading of Bill’s supplies, when the Watcher had attacked. Finally he undid the bowstring and carefully allowed the arched wood to relax. Then he drew a small dagger from his boot and stroked it slowly along the grain, smoothing the fractured area. The crack was not deep, and he hoped that he would be able to wear it smooth without weakening the rest of the bow too much. But it was a makeshift job at best.
For a time there was no sound but the slow scrape of his blade over wood, regular and soothing in the deep night. Legolas felt his own anger and frustration easing in the steady rhythm of his work, the smooth wood warm and comforting in his hands. He was slipping into the hypnotic repetition of movement, his eyes glazing over in reverie, when a different sound called back his full attention. It was faint, so as to hardly be discernable, but clear: a shuffling of the leaves far below, a hissing indrawn breath. Legolas froze, listening. Then he slipped his knife back into his boot and set his bow down on the talan, making certain that it would not slip or fall, and leaped into the trees.
He had not far to go. He climbed swiftly downward and toward the mallorn where the Hobbits slept, then caught a lower branch and swung down to drop lightly onto a thick limb twenty feet below. From this vantage point he could see the forest floor and the base of the Hobbits’ tree.
For a long moment there was nothing, only the shadowed patterns cast by the faint moonlight and the golden leaves. Then the hissing breath came again, and a dark shape slunk over the dappled ground. It hesitated, and the small head came up, sniffing. Legolas saw the gleam of luminous eyes in the dark.
He watched it, as he had done in Moria, but this time the creature did not see him. The living branches cloaked him as the dark stone had not. After a moment Gollum turned away and resumed his slow creep toward the Hobbits’ shelter. Legolas drew his knife. If he touches the tree . . . if he tries to attack them . . . in his mind he heard Aragorn’s voice again, if you deem him a threat . . .
Something moved at the periphery of his vision, and he shot a quick glance away from his target. Haldir was at his side, staring intently at the gangly creature. “What is it?” he breathed.
Legolas shook his head. “We cannot permit it to reach the Hobbits,” he whispered back. “But I would not kill it, if we might capture it instead. Go down and approach from downwind. I will guard you from above.”
Haldir shot him a swift glance, then nodded and dropped down through the branches. Legolas watched Gollum, the blade of his knife light in his fingers. The little creature was snuffing the drifts of golden leaves, creeping closer to the mallorn now. Haldir was not in sight. Gollum looked up; peering at the arching branches high above him, and Legolas heard the slow draw of his breath. Then in a surprisingly swift movement he leaped and clung to the smooth trunk.
Legolas did not hesitate. He hurled the knife in a spinning arc – it sang through the crisp winter air and thudded blade deep in the mallorn trunk a half inch above Gollum’s outstretched fingers.
Instantly the creature dropped from the tree with a hissing gasp and vanished into the shadowed wood. Legolas did not try to follow him. He dropped lightly to earth just as Haldir appeared around the mallorn trunk. “I am sorry, my lord,” the March-warden said. “I was not swift enough.”
Legolas shook his head. “The fault is mine. I did not think that he would be so bold, nor move so fast.”
Haldir regarded him curiously as he reached up and pulled his knife from the tree bole. “You know what it was? Why did you not kill it?”
Legolas did not answer for a long moment. He stood and turned the blade slowly in his hand. “For the same reason you did not shoot it with your bow. We could not risk it being wounded,” he said finally. “We dare not take the chance of it making noise.”
The March-warden studied him, his head tilted slightly to the side. Then he said softly, “There is much that you are concealing from me, my lord. I held my fire because I did not know what it was, or whether it was a threat. But you knew, and a warrior of Mirkwood would not be such a poor marksman as you imply. There is another reason you spare his life.”
Legolas met his gaze silently. Finally Haldir turned away. He reached up and touched the wounded tree gently, stroking the mark that Legolas’ knife had made. “I will climb up and speak to your Hobbit friends,” he said. “One at least has surely waked.”
“Thank you,” Legolas said. He also reached up to press his hand briefly against the torn bark. But the tree’s song was unchanged, as if it had taken no notice of this small impact he had made.
He was half way across the clearing when Haldir said, “Do not expect to keep your secrets long, my lord. For tomorrow you shall meet the Lady.”
Legolas stopped, and turned back toward him, but Haldir leaped up into the branches, and was gone.
All was still when Legolas returned to the talan. The Men’s steady breathing indicated that they had not waked, and he moved reluctantly past them toward his tree branch. Even for a Wood-elf a tree limb was not the most comfortable of seats for a long stretch of time.
But he could not sit on the level talan. Even in the tree branches and with his bow as a distraction he had nearly fallen into reverie before. Wholly aside from Haldir’s admonition, he dared not rest now for fear that Gollum would return. He had spared the creature’s life, but he could not explain why. Surely it was a threat, surely he risked an attack on the Ring-bearer, or the chance that Gollum would bring Orcs down upon them all, but somehow he could not bring himself to kill the miserable creature. There was no explanation save the sympathy that he had felt before, in Moria, and the pity that had led him to leniency in Mirkwood. Despite Aragorn’s words, Legolas could not believe that Gollum was wholly beyond redemption. He was too tired to examine his motives further.
He had nearly reached the tree limb when a rough voice spoke behind him. “What was it?”
Legolas spun to find Gimli propped up on one elbow, looking at him with bleary eyes.
“Gollum,” he said softly, and some distant part of him marveled that he did not hesitate to share with a Dwarf what he had kept hidden from his kinsman. But this Dwarf was a member of the Fellowship, and Legolas would not keep this secret from him.
Gimli was instantly alert. “Gollum! Where is he? Did you kill him? What of Frodo?”
Legolas drew a steadying breath. He felt unbearably weary, and reached to touch the tree branch for support as the questions washed over him. “He is gone. Haldir is with Frodo now. He will protect him.”
Gimli frowned. “You did not tell him!”
“No, Master Dwarf, I did not. You may trust me at least not to give details of our quest to the first people we meet along the way.” Although, he thought briefly as he remembered Haldir’s parting words, that may be irrelevant, if the stories of the Lady are true.
Gimli’s scowl deepened, and his beetle-black eyes narrowed. “But you left Frodo alone with that –”
“Oh, for the sake of the Valar, Dwarf!” Legolas snapped. “Haldir has already risked his life once this night to protect the Company, though he did not know what Frodo carries. You complain much about the arrogance of the Elves, but what of the prejudice of the Dwarves? Do not judge us when your own words so condemn you.”
There was a silence. Gimli seemed to be shocked into speechlessness. Legolas turned away from him and settled once more on his tree limb. For a long moment he sat with downcast eyes, staring idly at the bow that rested on the talan floor. Finally he spoke again, without looking up. “Frodo is safe. I will watch him from here. If you will not trust Haldir, trust me at least this far. No harm will come to the Hobbits this night.”
Gimli did not reply, but after a moment Legolas heard the shift of his cloak and the faint clink of mail as he lay down again. And as Gimli’s breathing steadied and deepened with sleep, Legolas remembered that night so long ago when he had stood guard in Moria, and the Dwarf had stayed awake to keep watch on him. And he smiled.
The next day dawned clear and cool. The pale rising of the sun shone through the leaves and cast golden shadows over the Company as they assembled on the forest floor. Climbing down from the trees proved to be more of a challenge than going up had been, as they were forced to look down to find the rungs of the swaying ladders. But the promise of breakfast on the ground was a great motivator for the Hobbits, and even Gimli managed the distance in good time.
As he looked at his companions, Legolas thought that the night’s rest had done them good. The Hobbits had regained some of their usual optimism, and Merry and Pippin joined forces to tease Sam into parting with the sausage that he had horded from the Hobbits’ meal the night before. Even Frodo seemed relaxed, and watched the banter with a faint smile, though he steadfastly refused all attempts to draw him into the fray.
Haldir and Rúmil watched with fascination as Pippin attempted to claim rights to three-quarters of the breakfast food by virtue of a complex argument involving himself, the Thain of Tuckborough, Sam’s Gaffer, and Bill the Pony. Merry added a short but articulate monologue in support of Pippin’s position, drawing on the history of Buckland and the Old Forest. Sam listened to all of this without expression, but when the pony was mentioned he stood up and swung his pack on with a grunt. “You’ve no call to be bringing poor Bill into this, when we don’t know if he’s lost, or frightened, or eaten, or anything,” he said. “And Mr. Frodo needs this breakfast more than either of you do, begging your pardons. You can just eat the dried rations while we walk.”
Haldir’s eyes lit in curiosity at this statement, and he shot a probing look at the Ring-bearer. Legolas stiffened, but Aragorn spoke before anyone could ask why Frodo, in particular, might need additional sustenance. “The packs are ready,” he said, “and we would all do well to finish our breakfast on the way, and make the best of the daylight for travel.”
Haldir glanced at the Man, and Legolas saw a speculative glint to his eye that suggested that he knew very well that Aragorn sought to distract from Sam’s comment. But he only nodded, and turned to lead the way through the forest. Aragorn followed him, and the others came after. Legolas took his customary position as rear-guard, and Rúmil came last of all. Orophin was not there as he had gone on to alert the larger patrols nearer the center of the wood. The borders would be far better guarded this night.
Legolas marveled that it had taken an actual incursion of Orcs to shake these Elves of their complacency. Dol Guldur loomed only a few leagues to the north, and yet they had such confidence that no enemy could enter their borders. That confidence had been shaken last night. Whatever power guarded these woods, whether that of an Elven Ring or some other force, was being tested. And whether by some caprice of the One Ring, or the growing Shadow, that power had weakened.
The path was churned with the deep prints of Orcs, but there was no hint of disquiet in the wood this morning. Legolas tilted his head back as he walked, breathing deeply of the crisp air and watching the leaves dance gold in the morning light. It seemed strange to walk slowly along the earthen path when all the forest was alive and fresh with the dawn. In Mirkwood such a morning was a rare blessing, and would be treasured as a time to celebrate in the canopy, rejoicing in the brief lifting of the Shadow. But Haldir and Rúmil appeared to find nothing extraordinary in the peaceful morning. They seemed slightly discomfited, but that was likely because they were, as Haldir had said, unaccustomed to walking on the ground. Apart from that they were relaxed, and they walked with weapons slung casually at their backs and hands swinging free. Legolas kept his restrung bow in his hand, and marveled again at the peace that these Elves took completely for granted. What would it be like to live in a place like this, where one could walk on the ground without fear, and the forest held no taint of Shadow? Legolas had grown to adulthood during the Watchful Peace, but even then Mirkwood had not been free. He had not gone unarmed since the mortal equivalent age of six.
The others seemed to also feel the peace of this place. Gimli had stopped fingering his axe every few minutes. Aragorn walked easily behind Haldir with his hands loose at his sides and even Boromir appeared to be more at ease. He was joking with the Hobbits as they walked, and Legolas noted that he even spoke comfortably with Frodo. He remembered Aragorn’s words the night before: the call is now very strong. But Boromir seemed to be resisting the Ring now, and Aragorn too was much more like himself. Perhaps it wanes here, where the Shadow does not come. But he had no faith in that idea. Despite the deep power of these woods the Ring had certainly drawn Gollum to them, and it had worked its influence over Aragorn. It waits. Even here, in the place of our people’s greatest strength, it only waits.
They soon reached the crossing of the Celebrant, far deeper and stronger than the Nimrodel. Haldir paused at the bank and gave a low bird call. He tossed a coil of rope easily to the Elf that emerged at the other bank. They made the bridge fast and then Haldir called for the Company to follow as he ran across the rope.
Boromir gave an impatient snort at this display, and Gimli made a low rumbling sound in his chest. The Hobbits were staring in open mouthed astonishment as Haldir reached the other side, glanced back, and then returned to them. Legolas was tempted to laugh at his kinsman’s ignorance, but he vividly remembered his own folly at that first large chasm, so long ago in Moria, and he managed to restrain himself.
“I can walk this path,” he said as Haldir returned to their bank, “but the others have not this skill. Must they swim?” An image flashed suddenly through his mind: Gimli so weighed down with armour and axes that he sank and simply walked across the bottom of the stream, and Legolas stifled another laugh. He was feeling slightly giddy. Although he had not slept, the forest song had eased his pain and now, free of the oppressive weight of stone and Shadow, mere physical weariness seemed a minor thing. He was fey and light headed.
Haldir blinked at his words, and for an instant the proud warrior looked comically surprised. But he recovered quickly. Two more ropes were soon secured at shoulder height for the Hobbits and Men, and the Company crossed with varying degrees of ease. Gimli came last of all, and gripped both ropes tightly: reaching up above his head to grasp the one set for the Men and shuffling sideways like the freshwater crabs of Laketown. Legolas bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Gimli reached the shore with axes and armour intact and shot Legolas a suspicious look as the Elf struggled for composure. Legolas swallowed hard and gave what he hoped was an innocent smile before turning back toward Haldir.
The March-warden was occupied with dismantling the bridge, and if he thought the mortals amusing he gave no sign. He tossed one rope back to his brother at the far shore. Rúmil coiled it up and vanished into the trees. At Legolas’ questioning look Haldir said, “He must return to the Nimrodel to keep watch. We will go on.”
Legolas caught his breath in shock at this casual statement. To send only one guard back to the border alone! Such an action would be utterly inconceivable in Mirkwood, where even the Home Guard never patrolled in groups fewer than five. Even with the shelter of the mellyrn it seemed a terrible risk, and he marveled at the casualness with which Haldir sent his brother into peril. But the March-warden did not seem to consider it any great danger, and even Aragorn appeared unperturbed by the idea. The Ranger knew the dangers of the Wild, but he had traveled here before and he had been fostered in Rivendell. Once again Legolas felt the gulf that separated his home from these peaceful realms, and he repressed a twinge of jealousy. They are so rich, and they do not even know it.
Haldir was speaking further, welcoming them to the internal realms of Lothlórien, and Legolas pulled himself back to focus. “We allow no strangers to spy out the secrets of the Naith. Few indeed are even permitted to set foot there. As was agreed, I shall here blindfold the eyes of Gimli the Dwarf. The others may walk free for a while, until we come nearer to our dwellings, down in Egladil, in the Angle between the waters.”
“What!” Gimli roared. “‘Agreed’? Who agreed? When did –” He stopped then, and turned slowly to look at Legolas. Legolas fought down the urge to back up a step. The Dwarf’s gaze was positively murderous. “You,” Gimli growled. He stalked slowly toward the Elf, his hands clenching in fists. “You did this. You black-hearted, traitorous, treacherous, misbegotten Orc-spawned –”
“Gimli!” Aragorn said sharply.
The Dwarf stopped, but continued to glare for a long moment. Legolas met his eyes fearlessly. He could not explain his actions, which surely must seem like treachery to the Dwarf, but neither would he be goaded into apologizing for them. The blindfold, unfair though it might seem to Gimli, was the only way to gain entrance for him at all. It was this or splinter the Fellowship even further. And if the Dwarf had the diplomatic awareness that Ilúvatar gave a jackdaw he would realize it.
Gimli finally turned away from Legolas to glare at Aragorn. “I suppose you were in on this?” he said bitterly. Without waiting for a response he whirled on Haldir. “This agreement was made without my consent.” His voice was fractured with the effort of control. “I will not walk blindfolded, like a beggar or a prisoner. And I am no spy. My folk have never had dealings with any of the servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.”
Haldir raised his eyebrows in a pointed look. Given Gimli’s immediate reaction, this skepticism was understandable, but oddly enough Legolas himself felt no injury at the Dwarf’s diatribe. Considering the circumstances and the Dwarf’s usually irascible temper, he thought that Gimli was showing admirable restraint. He caught the March-warden’s gaze and nodded slightly in confirmation of Gimli’s words. He had, after all, told him much the same the night before.
Haldir turned smoothly back to the Dwarf. “I do not doubt you,” he said. “Yet this is our law. I am not the master of the law, and cannot set it aside. I have done much in letting you set foot over Celebrant.”
Gimli was apparently immune to logic, however. He set his legs firmly apart and laid one hand on the shaft of his short throwing axe. “I will go forward free,” he said, “or I will go back and seek my own land, where I am known to be true of word, though I perish in the wilderness.”
Legolas suppressed a sigh. If that was what the Dwarf wished, it would not have been difficult to achieve. And it would have saved Legolas considerable negotiating time and a sleepless night as well. He felt his patience with this argument ebb rapidly.
Haldir grew stern. “You cannot go back,” he said. “Now you have come this far, you must be brought before the Lord and the Lady. They will judge you, to hold you or give you leave, as they will. You cannot cross the rivers again, and behind you there are now secret sentinels that you cannot pass. You would be slain before you saw them.”
Legolas gritted his teeth. That could have been better said. But before he could say anything to defuse the situation Gimli pulled his axe from his belt. The weapon came free with a ring of metal on mail, and the Dwarf swung it easily in one glove-clad hand. Instantly Haldir and the other Elf bent their bows, their arrows trained on Gimli’s head.
Without thought Legolas stepped between them. He drew no weapon. He could not fully trust his bow, and in any case no Elf had drawn weapon against another since the dark days. He would not be the first, and he was trusting that Haldir would not either. The March-warden’s eyes widened in shock, but Legolas met his gaze and did not move. Haldir actually held his draw for a moment, the arrow now trained on Legolas’ chest, but he swiftly recovered and lowered his bow. His companion followed suit.
Legolas released a slow breath, still holding Haldir’s gaze. The March-warden glared back, his jaw set and his eyes hard. There was no sound but the deep chuckle of the river and the Hobbits’ faint, rapid breathing. Then Haldir stepped back. He did not look away, but Legolas felt the tension ease. A line had been set, one that Haldir would not cross.
Then there was a clink of metal and Gimli shoved Legolas aside. He knocked the Elf back a step, and Legolas whirled to keep from stumbling. All his frustrated tension and weariness came bubbling to the surface, and he glared at Gimli. Gimli glared back, a wealth of stung pride in his eyes.
Legolas could have struck him then. All his efforts this past night: his admission to Haldir, his sleepless watch, were evidently worth nothing. He had nearly had the situation under control, and given a moment to speak quietly with Haldir he was certain he could find some way to compromise. But in his stubborn blindness Gimli would not even trust him that far. “A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!” Legolas hissed.
Aragorn stepped forward then, his hands raised in a placatory gesture as he moved between them. “Come,” he said. “If I am still to lead this Company, you must do as I bid.” He shot a swift glance at Legolas, and Legolas ground his teeth at the way the Man had turned his earlier words against him. But he dipped his head in acknowledgement, and Aragorn continued. “It is hard upon the Dwarf to be thus singled out. We will all be blindfold, even Legolas. That will be best, though it will make the journey slow and dull.”
Legolas’ head jerked up in astonishment. That was not part of the plan!
But before he could speak Gimli gave a sudden, short laugh. “A merry troop of fools we shall look! Will Haldir lead us all on a string, like many blind beggars with one dog? But I will be content, if only Legolas here shares my blindness.” He looked challengingly at the Elf, and Legolas tensed.
“I am an Elf and a kinsman here,” he said dangerously.
Aragorn snorted. “Now let us cry, ‘a plague on the stiff necks of Elves!’” he said. Legolas glared at him. But Aragorn was already turning toward the others. “But all the Company shall fair alike. Come, blind our eyes, Haldir!”
Haldir looked as uncertain at this development as Legolas felt. He glanced from the Ranger to the archer and back again, but made no move to produce more blindfolds. Legolas for his part stared at Aragorn with narrowed eyes. Aragorn met and held his gaze, and the message was clear. If he is to lead . . .
Legolas drew a slow breath and looked away. His jaw clenched, but he gave a short nod of acquiescence. Aragorn drew a ragged cloak from his pack and began tearing it in long strips. Haldir and his companion took the cloths and moved slowly through the Company. Gimli was making a low rumbling sound in his chest, but he did not pull away as the blindfold was drawn over his eyes. “I shall claim full amends for every fall and stubbed toe, if you do not lead us well,” he said.
“You will have no claim,” Haldir said as he approached Legolas. “I shall lead you well, and the paths are smooth and straight.”
Then he stopped in front of Legolas, and looked at him hesitantly. “I would do otherwise, my lord, were it in my power,” he murmured.
“I know,” Legolas said. He turned his back to permit Haldir to tie the cloth behind his head, and fought down a thin trickle of panic as the darkness closed over him. This was the first morning they had seen since Moria, the first time he had been free to walk in the sunlight and see the play of golden leaves, and now he must be once again bound in darkness. He was breathing in short, shallow breaths as he struggled for calm. It is not the same. I hear the forest, I feel the Song. It is not the same. But his heart still pounded in his chest.
Haldir was speaking with the Hobbits, talking of the distant Havens beyond the Shire, as they were led away from the rushing Celebrant. It was then, as he picked his way along the narrow path, that Legolas realized that he could still see. Haldir had tied the bond loosely, and by looking down Legolas could make out the path beneath his feet, the glimmer of light and color in the drifts of golden leaves.
For one brief moment his heart leapt, and he grasped what Haldir offered him – the chance to walk at ease in the golden wood, the chance to see. But then, before he could give in to temptation, Legolas reached up and drew the blindfold tight with a swift, angry jerk. The light was cut off, and the darkness was complete. He was still bound to serve the Fellowship, and he would not leave his companions to suffer alone. But he wished that he could tell Gimli what sacrifice an Elf had made for a Dwarf.
Next up: Chapter 13, in which Gimli learns how to find an Elf in the dark.
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