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While the Ring Went South...: 15. January 9, 3019 (Day)
For the day’s camp, the Fellowship stopped beneath the shadow of a tall, east-facing cliff and took shelter under the holly trees that grew thick at its base. Sam grumbled about the repeated use of the term shelter in describing this area, but aside from that, camp was made with a relative amount of quiet. Unfortunately, peace did not accompany this quiet, for all were still troubled by the crows from the previous day. Everyone seemed possessed of dark thoughts, and a feeling of foreboding had firmly settled upon the Fellowship. Legolas did not offer even one song during supper-breakfast. Gimli failed to rejoice in the elf’s silence. Boromir’s brooding stillness warded off all who might have thought about approaching him. Aragorn was restless and could not seem to leave off his constant pacing. Gandalf’s flashing eyes stopped all questions ere they could even be considered. Frodo periodically clutched at something beneath his tunic, and his face would become strangely blank from time to time. Sam had said nothing to anyone and had hummed no tunes as he prepared the morning meal. Even Pippin was subdued, unloading baggage with the rest of the Fellowship and making none of his usual attempts to shirk assigned duties.
So where does that leave me? Merry wondered, concluding his observations of the dour company. I stand with a plate of uneaten food while my mind wanders over my companions. I guess that I’m as upset as the rest of them. The plate of uneaten food was especially troubling to the hobbit. For as long as he could remember, he had never been so distressed that he could not eat. But now, that seemed to have changed, and Merry hoped this wasn’t going to become a habit. Eating was too important a hobbit custom to be thrown by the wayside because of some silly birds. Still, those silly birds have even Gandalf concerned, the hobbit conceded to himself.
"I consider this a singular event, Master Hobbit," a voice at Merry’s side suddenly observed. "Rarely have I seen one of your kind hesitate before eating. Are you ill?"
Merry blinked and shook his head, realizing that he was still holding a full plate of food and that his mind had wandered off without him. "Just…thinking," he eventually said, turning to Gimli as the dwarf watched with concerned eyes.
"A dangerous pastime for hobbits," Gimli remarked with a small smile. "Perhaps you should pursue safer things, such as eating. Strength shall be needed, for tonight we begin climbing the hills that line the base of the mountains. And it will be a cold night. The wind has returned to the east."
With a sigh, the hobbit nodded and made a show of at least picking at his food. Somewhat sheltered by the cliff face, Merry had not yet noticed which way the wind blew. But glancing at some of the trees overlooking the cliff, back-lit as they were by the lightening sky, it was not difficult to see that Gimli was right. The wind had returned to the east and was blowing out of the snow-capped mountains. Which is probably why it’s so cold right now, Merry thought with yet another sigh. I suppose I should be thankful for yesterday since it was warm, but those birds…it’s hard to be thankful for anything when you’re in constant danger.
"Merry, you are still thinking," Gimli said, his voice soft but firm. "There is a time and a place for that, but this is neither. Eat. The food shall warm you and give you strength for the journey. You can save your thinking for later today."
"Aren’t you the one who always complains about how much hobbits eat?" Merry asked with a forced grin at the dwarf, trying to regain some of his usual levity.
"Perhaps, though I think that job is more Aragorn’s than mine," Gimli answered, returning the hobbit’s smile. "Now, may I leave you to see to my own belongings, or shall I stay and force food down your throat?"
"I’m eating," Merry said quickly, taking a bite of some of the sausage that Sam had prepared. "And I promise that I’ll finish every last bite."
"And I can trust a hobbit to keep such a promise, of that I am sure," Gimli laughed. "Then I shall leave you to your duty, Master Brandybuck. I think Gandalf and Aragorn are looking for volunteers to watch the camp during the day, and I shall add my name to their discussion. I have not watched for a while, and if I am not mistaken, I should take one of this day’s watches. But I expect you to have finished your supper-breakfast and possibly seconds by the time I return."
Merry laughed quietly and dutifully turned to his meal. Once he actually began to eat, he found that his appetite was swift to return, and it was not long before he had cleared his plate and was looking around to see if any food had been left. Much to his excitement, Aragorn had declined supper-breakfast and Pippin had not yet noticed. Seizing upon this opportunity with hobbit alacrity, the Ranger’s meal was soon in front of Merry and disappearing with a speed that would put even Fatty Bolger to shame. It was not long before Merry was more or less full—something that had not happened in days—and the sun had just made it over the mountains, adding some warmth to the air. It was actually rather pleasant, and the morning began to take on much brighter outlook.
Setting his plate aside and patting his stomach appreciatively, Merry leaned back against a rock and studied the mountains. They were beautiful in a wild and untamed sort of way. Sharp peaks and fields of snow were outlined by the sunrise, and to a hobbit’s eyes, the jagged spires seemed an impossible obstacle. He wondered where this Gate was that Gandalf had been talking about the day before. Redhorn Gate, that’s what he said, Merry remembered. It’s probably that mountain that looks a little redder than the others. Must be a different kind of rock. Perhaps I’ll ask Gimli about it later.
"I see you’re having a nice morning." Pippin flopped down next to Merry and sent him an indignant glare. "While I helped unpack the last of the luggage, you’ve been watching the sunrise."
"Someone had to make sure the sun came up," Merry answered lazily. "If no one watches for it, how can we be sure that it will make it?"
"I don’t believe this," Pippin growled. "I’m enduring hard labor at Gandalf’s insistence and you’re waxing philosophic. You Brandybucks are a strange lot, there’s no mistaking that. What was that question you asked me once? Something about an elf and singing?"
"If an elf sings in a forest and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?" Merry supplied, closing his eyes and relaxing as the sun’s rays soaked through his cloak and warmed his skin.
"Of course he makes a sound."
Merry cracked his eyes back open and watched as Sam joined them in enjoying the early sun’s rays. "But how do you know he makes a sound?" Merry asked. "No one is around to hear it."
"The elf is around to hear it," Sam answered.
"But how do we know the elf is singing out loud?" Merry responded. "Perhaps he’s singing in his head."
"What a stupid question," Sam said at length after considering Merry’s words. Pippin nodded in agreement and Merry chuckled.
"I think that question came from old Bilbo, if I’m not mistaken. Frodo?" Merry pushed himself off his rock and glanced around for the Ring-bearer, quickly spotting him setting up his bed. "Frodo, do you remember the question about an elf singing alone in a forest?"
Somewhat surprised at being addressed and even more surprised by the question he’d been asked, Frodo looked up blankly and blinked. "Pardon?"
"You remember. ‘If an elf sings in a forest and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?’ Wasn’t that something Bilbo used to say?"
Still baffled by the strange conversation, Frodo nevertheless took a moment to think about it and eventually nodded. "Yes, that’s something he came up with after a rather long walk in the late evening. I think he’d met the elves that night, and having elves on his mind, he started to…well…I don’t know exactly what he started to do. But that question was the result of whatever he did with his thoughts."
"See?" Merry said, turning to Sam and Pippin.
"See what? I still say there isn’t a point to that question. And it’s not as if we can’t answer it right now. Legolas! Legolas, if an elf sings in a forest and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?"
Pippin’s query produced a variety of results, and Merry decided that Bilbo’s question had been worthwhile if only for seeing so many different facial expressions in a relatively short period of time. Legolas stared at Pippin as though trying to determine whether or not he had been insulted. Aragorn blinked and tilted his head to one side with a blank expression that was normal enough for the hobbits but quite humorous when seen on the Ranger. Gimli appeared completely baffled by the bizarre question, and for once the dwarf was studying the elf with a look that did not imply murder. Boromir’s lips were moving as he silently repeated the question to himself as though trying to make sense of it. And Gandalf was thoroughly and openly puzzled, something that almost cost Merry his composure.
"If an elf sings in a forest…" Legolas echoed slowly, watching Pippin carefully through narrowed eyes.
"And no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound?" Pippin finished, looking at the elf expectantly.
Legolas closed his eyes, shook his head, opened his eyes again, studied Pippin, and eventually turned to Gandalf and Aragorn. Aragorn shrugged helplessly and Gandalf’s brows drew together in consternation. "Peregrin, what is the purpose of such a question?" the wizard asked.
"Merry seems to think it’s important for some reason," Pippin answered, earning himself a jab in the ribs from the other hobbit.
"I didn’t say that," Merry grumbled, deciding that this had been more fun when everyone was looking at Pippin. "I was just talking about something that Bilbo had once told me. It’s supposed to be philosophical, but it’s not really that important."
Gandalf nodded slowly as if in understanding though his face was still curiously and hilariously blank. Legolas frowned and then shook his head, apparently deciding that the odd question was beneath his notice. With both the wizard and the elf dismissing the matter, the rest of the Fellowship returned to whatever they had been doing before the interruption. At least, most of the Fellowship resumed their previous activities. One did not.
"That is a curious question, Master Hobbit," Gimli said, his voice slow and deliberate. "What think you? Does an elf make a sound if he sings alone?"
It was Merry’s turn to be startled by the question, and he eyed the dwarf suspiciously, wondering if this wasn’t some plot to get in a sly jab at the elf. Am I daft? Of course this is aimed at Legolas. But what can I do about it?
Merry was spared the pain of answering his last question, though, because Pippin decided to speak up. "I say yes," the youngest hobbit declared. "If an elf is singing, he has to be making a noise of some kind. Otherwise, it isn’t singing."
"And it isn’t as if no one is around to hear him," Sam added. "He can hear himself, and I’ve heard tell that trees can hear elven songs. So he would have to make a sound or no one could hear him."
"Interesting," Gimli murmured with a quick glance at Legolas. "I would have said that an elf makes no sound when alone, for the fear of the unknown and of being caught without protection would have prevented him from making any noise. Instead, he would creep about in the shadows like a thing of cowardice and shame. However, you make a good point, Sam. If there is an audience, an elf will perform. He cannot help himself, for only by doing so can he maintain the fragile pride that arrogance has built for him."
"A dwarf would know much about maintaining a fragile pride, for a dwarf is ever cut down with almost each action and each word," Legolas said, his voice casual but his eyes hard as the edge of a knife.
Gimli seemed about to respond to that and things might have gone ill, for the dwarf’s hands were clenching and unclenching at his sides. But Aragorn noisily cleared his throat and looked pointedly at both elf and dwarf. To their credit, neither continued the discussion, but dark glares were certainly not in short supply.
"Now look what you’ve started," Pippin hissed.
"What I started? It was Bilbo’s question. Anyway, you’re the one who brought it up."
"Well, you were the one trying to get the sun to rise."
"I didn’t get the sun to rise; it rose on its own."
"Then what was all that about watching to make sure it came up?"
"And it did come up, didn’t it?"
Pippin rolled his eyes, got to his feet, and stalked away, leaving Merry to grin widely after him. He’d missed these inane conversations. They hadn’t had one for a few days, and it was always fun to get the best of Pippin. Most of the time, Pippin had the advantage because his mind just seemed to work better when dealing with the abstract and the superfluous. But there were a few times, and this was one of them, when Merry achieved a victory of sorts. Merry didn’t know if this was a good thing or not, but it was certainly fun.
"If everyone has finished unpacking and settling for camp, it is time to establish the order of the watches," Gandalf spoke up. "And today, those on guard must be especially cautious. I fear we have not left the spies behind, and an alarm must be sounded if we are discovered. And before we have any discussion on this, both Aragorn and Legolas are forbidden from watching today."
Elf and Ranger blinked at this, surprised by both the statement and the sudden authority in Gandalf’s voice. "But if the crebain find us—" Legolas started.
"Then mortal senses will be just as accurate in determining that as elven senses," Gandalf answered. "You have both been up for the last few days and it is time to rest. Even elven princes and heirs of Isildur must sleep sometime."
Legolas and Aragorn exchanged uncertain glances as though wondering what had just happened. For his part, Merry decided that Gandalf had just relegated both warriors to the role of children without so much as a blink. The wizard’s tone and his words had sounded very much like Merry’s mother when she was trying to get him to go to bed. Trying to hide a snicker, the hobbit turned away and composed his face, knowing that mirth would only exacerbate the situation.
"That leaves, then, only four who did not watch yesterday," Boromir observed. "Myself, Gimli, Pippin, and yourself, Mithrandir."
"Then those who will watch have already been chosen. Pippin, you shall take the last one. I shall watch first, for I have need of thought. Gimli and Boromir, you may decide who shall take second and who shall take third."
"Third," Gimli piped up immediately.
Boromir shrugged. "Then I shall take second."
"Good," Gandalf proclaimed, taking out his pipe and lighting it. "As for the rest of you, I expect you to all get some sleep. The terrain shall become more difficult tonight, and we must all be well rested." This last was said with a sharp look at Aragorn and Legolas, something that almost cost Merry his composure once again. His mother had employed a look very similar to the one that Gandalf now used. And just as it had always worked for his mother, it seemed to be working for Gandalf. Legolas nodded curtly, his body language indicating that he had been highly offended but that he would comply, and Aragorn reluctantly inclined his head in acknowledgement of his own defeat. Merry wondered how long it had been since anyone had ordered either Legolas or Aragorn to bed like that.
"I bid you all a good day, then," Aragorn said. He turned away and moved as though to lie down, but then he paused, his eyes sparkling with sudden mischief. "Gandalf, I wonder if you would be so good as to tuck me in. It has been long since I was lulled to sleep by story or song."
"And it will be longer still, for you will get none from me," Gandalf retorted as the rest of the company, including Legolas, began to laugh. "Go to sleep or I shall send you to sleep myself. That goes for all of you," the wizard added with a piercing glance for each member of the Fellowship.
"If you’re looking for a song, Sam knows a great one about trolls," Pippin volunteered, much to Sam’s chagrin. "In fact, he wrote it himself!"
"But Aragorn’s already heard that one," Frodo pointed out with a muffled yawn.
"I would not be adverse to hearing it again," Aragorn answered with a chuckle as he stretched out on the ground, his head propped against his pack.
"Sleep!" Gandalf commanded testily. And this time, his command was heeded by all.
* * * *
Like wheeling specks of shadow contrasted by the bright blue sky behind them, a group of crebain soared over the silent land, working their way steadily northward. Passing swiftly, they would occasionally break into smaller groups, and some would dive toward the ground, pulling up at the last minute and flashing over several miles of rugged terrain before joining their brethren who hovered above them. Then a command would be given and the flock would move on to a different area, repeating the process several times before they eventually vanished from mortal sight far away in the north.
Coming out of a low crouch, Gimli sighed and shook his head. His watch had begun peacefully enough, but this was now the second party of crebain to fly past since Boromir had woken him. Boromir had mentioned that a flock far away in the east, almost next to the mountains themselves, had flown by while he stood guard, but there had been no other disturbances.
They grow ever closer, Gimli thought with a feeling of helpless frustration. His first group had also been quite near the mountains, but the crebain he had just tracked had been much closer to the Fellowship than to the towering peaks in the east. One breakaway scouting party had even come within less than a mile of the ridge against which the Fellowship had camped, and Gimli had been on the verge of waking the others so that they might seek better cover. But at the last minute, the crows had turned and flown back to the main group, giving the company a slight reprieve. But how long shall this reprieve last? the dwarf wondered grimly. It is as Aragorn has said; it is only a matter of time ere we are found.
It had actually been Legolas who’d made that prediction, but Gimli would sooner shave his beard than be caught in agreement with the elf. As such, his memory obligingly attributed the words to Aragorn, and thus all was right with the world. At least, all was right in matters pertaining to Legolas, but the same could not be said for matters pertaining to the safety of the Fellowship. If the crebain drew closer, the company would have to move. Yet movement would easily give them away, and where in this land could they find better shelter? There was no guarantee that the area further south would provide any more protection than their current position. And beyond that, if we move we shall have to keep near the road we took last night, for that is the path that leads to the Redhorn Gate. Yet the road is easily marked from the air, and we shall be easy to see.
Fingering the haft of his axe and wishing that a few of the crebain might line up so that he could release some of his impatience, Gimli searched the skies and began to pace. Dwarves were not adept at skulking and hiding. Open combat was their preferred form of warfare, and they cared little for what odds might be stacked against them in such a confrontation. But with the Ring-bearer to think of, Gimli had forced himself to accept the counsel of Gandalf and Aragorn in moving slowly and attracting as little attention as possible. Yet this sneaking about was beginning to takes its toll on Gimli, and his hands itched upon his axe. At least Aragorn, Boromir, and Legolas had managed to release some of their energy upon two Wargs. He had not even been privileged to do that much, for Legolas had killed the Warg that had come upon the dwarf.
Elves always interfere in the affairs of dwarves, Gimli thought disparagingly to himself, disregarding the fact that without Legolas’s assistance, it was very likely that he would be dead. The dwarf glared at the prince of Mirkwood, starting slightly when it seemed as though the unblinking eyes turned his direction. It was merely a trick of light and shadows, as the wind had come up from the east and shook the branches of the tree under which Legolas was sleeping, but it was still rather unnerving and did nothing to improve the dwarf’s feelings toward the elf. And beyond that, son of Thranduil, I believe it was you who had the last say in our little argument, the dwarf mentally added, remembering both an encounter with a thorn bush and a brief rock-throwing contest that had taken place two nights ago. Surely you know that I cannot allow such a thing.
As if in encouragement, the wind came up again and the leaves parted, allowing a brief flash of sunlight to rest upon Legolas’s pack, which lay a foot or so away from his right side. It was far too perfect, and Gimli cast a quick glance in the direction of Aragorn and Gandalf. But they slept as soundly as did Legolas, and the dwarf was left to rationalize his decisions on his own.
It is harmless enough, and the elf more than deserves it, Gimli told himself angrily, disgusted at his hesitation. But even with all the odds in his favor and all the desires of his heart pleading for retribution, something stopped him. He could not say what it was and he could not tell from whence it came, but the dwarf was compelled to obey the warnings that filled his mind. Perhaps it was the presence of danger. Perhaps it was the words of Aragorn. Perhaps it was a combination of these plus other factors. But whatever the cause, Gimli stayed his hand and did not act against the elf.
Having made this rather momentous decision, the dwarf went back to watching the skies, and he continued to watch the skies for the remainder of his watch. After some time, a third group of crows passed over, but they came no closer than had the second group and Gimli saw little need to wake any of the Fellowship for the event. By the time the dwarf roused Pippin for his turn on guard—a task almost as difficult as resisting the temptation to act against the elf, for the hobbit was a sound sleeper—all was quiet again.
Perhaps a little too quiet, Gimli thought to himself even as he gave the bleary-eyed Pippin an encouraging smile and sought his own bed. Still, there was naught to be done about that, and the dwarf eventually drifted off to sleep, wondering why he had elected to spare the elf.
* * * *
Sam didn’t know which was worse—starting preparations on food and then packing it all up before it was even halfway done, or having to go without food altogether. Merry, Pippin, and Frodo would argue that the latter was by far the worst prospect, but Sam had a rather different outlook on things as the unofficially designated cook for the Fellowship. Preparing food for supper-breakfast was more of an art than a duty to the gardener, and being forced to cut the preparation short…well, it was an affront to his pride.
The Fellowship was currently creeping along the base of the cliff, flitting from shadow to shadow with stealth and fear. The afternoon had started out well enough. Legolas and Aragorn had just returned from their daily scouting trip, and all was playing out according to the normal routine when it happened. Legolas had stiffened, his eyes widening and his breath coming quickly. Gandalf had leaped to his feet and commanded everyone to take cover under the lowest tree they could find. Not a moment later, one of the largest groups of crebain that anyone in the Fellowship had ever seen flew overhead, some of the birds skimming so close to the ground that feathers snagged on branches. The entire event lasted no more than a minute or so, and after that the birds vanished. But the company had been decidedly shaken and Gandalf had ordered that camp be moved a mile south in case the birds circled back for a second look.
And if I’m not mistaken, he said to move a mile south about two miles ago, Sam groused, deciding that there were severe differences in the way that hobbits and wizards viewed things. For example, the word shelter seemed to be an area of much disagreement, as did the word obstacle and the phrase just over the next hill.
Fortunately for the disgruntled hobbit, Aragorn’s memory of Hollin led them to a thick copse of trees overlooking a steep gorge, and here Gandalf decided it was safe to stop. "It is not prudent to move before sunset, for eyes from on high shall easily see us should we attempt an early start. As such, let us take what rest we can as well as a bit of supper." The wizard nodded at Sam, indicating the hobbit should again start preparations for the meal.
Wondering how he could explain that one did not simply restart a work of art, Sam grumbled and dropped his pack to the ground, rolling his shoulders slightly. Beside him, Frodo chuckled and clapped the gardener on the back. "I’ll help, if it makes you feel any better."
Sam sighed and shook his head. "It’s not that, Mr. Frodo. I just…" He trailed off, still at loss as to how to put his feelings into words. It was a rather difficult challenge, particularly when he didn’t make much sense to himself, and so Sam eventually gave up. "It’s nothing," he said, waving his hand in dismissal. "I’ll just get supper-breakfast started."
"And I’ll help," Frodo added with a smile. "Even if you don’t want my help, Sam, you’ve got it."
The gardener frowned. "You don’t have no call to be—"
"Sam! Like it or not, you’re stuck with me."
Sam sighed, realizing that as stubborn he was, Frodo could be even worse. "All right, but if you get in the way, sir, there’s no accounting for what I might do."
"Valar have mercy upon me."
Frodo’s calculatingly dry tone managed to elicit a laugh from Sam, and he shook his head. "Right, then, sir. Let’s get this started. Now that everything’s packed up, we’d best stick to things as don’t take too much preparation. We can have some of those berries that Mr. Merry found just before we had to move camp. Strider said they’re fine enough for eating. And there are some sausages in my pack that I kept near the top. We can have that, too."
"But aren’t those sausages the last of our meat?" Frodo asked.
Sam looked about at the other members of the Fellowship, noticed that none of them were paying any particular attention to him, and then moved closer to Frodo. "Don’t tell Mr. Merry or Mr. Pippin, but Strider’s been keeping some dried meat for me in his pack. It should last us another week if we’re careful with it."
Frodo stared at Sam for a minute, and then a smile crept over his face. Not long after that, he began to laugh, trying to keep his mirth quiet but finding it difficult to do so. "Sam, you will never cease to amaze me. A spy, a conspirator, a poet, a camp chef, and now you’ve managed to keep a stash of food hidden from both Merry and Pippin. I don’t know what to call that, but you’ve earned my respect twice over." Frodo backed up and made a bow, much to Samwise’s eternal embarrassment.
"What’s going on?" a curious voice called from the side.
"Nothing, Merry," Frodo answered. We’re just talking about food."
"This day is full of surprises," Gimli muttered sarcastically.
"We’ll let you talk about rocks and you let us talk about food," Pippin said with a sleepy yawn near the side of the gorge. "Strider, I think I can see some more of Merry’s berries down there. Do you know of a way to get into this thing?"
"Aside from the direct route?" Aragorn asked with a chuckle. "If memory serves, the gorge rises up to our level twenty miles or so ahead of us, but unless you wish to travel all that way, backtrack the distance, and then make up for it with a faster march later, I fear those berries will have to go untouched."
"Besides, I’m sure we can find some more berries along the way," Frodo added. "And speaking of food, let’s get this meal started, Sam. I’ll dish out the berries while you cut up the sausage. You do trust me to hand out berries, don’t you?" Frodo added with a wry grin.
Sam shook his head and decided to ignore the comment, instead digging into his pack after the sausage. It took only a moment to find, and the next item he discovered was a knife. Testing the blade, the hobbit found it to be sharp enough for his purposes but decided that he should probably borrow Legolas’s whetstone in the near future. Using a small skillet as a cutting board, Sam went to work.
"Need any help?"
"You just stay on your side of the camp, Merry," Frodo ordered firmly before Sam could respond. "We’ll ask you if we need any help."
"It will be a cold day in the Southfarthing before we ask," Sam muttered beneath his breath, thinking of the spicy meat that Pippin and Merry had finished off while the rest of them had hunted for a Warg and Bill.
"What did you call these, Aragorn?" Gimli asked, examining one of the bright red berries that Frodo was passing out.
"Collameliu. Elrond’s son Elladan has a particular fondness for them, and we would often go out to pick them for lunch or as a treat in the middle of the night while I was growing up," Aragorn answered, his voice soft with memories.
"So it is from Rivendell," Gimli murmured. "’Tis no wonder, then."
"What do you mean?" Pippin asked, leaning over the side of the gorge for a better look.
"The elves in Rivendell are civilized. It is no great surprise to learn that they have edible food."
Sam stiffened and looked up at this comment. Standing slightly behind the dwarf, Legolas’s casual position made it appear as though he had not heard the words, but his eyes were dancing with a dangerous fire as they glanced everywhere except for at Gimli. "Merry, how did Bilbo’s question go?" the elf asked.
Aragorn sighed, Gandalf mumbled something, and Merry looked as though he desperately wished to be somewhere else. Not that Sam blamed him. He wouldn’t have minded being somewhere else either. "It was about an elf singing alone in the forest," Merry eventually said.
"If an elf sings in a forest and no one is around to hear him, does he make a sound? Was that not the question?"
Apparently not knowing what else to do, Merry nodded.
"Ah. Interesting," Legolas murmured, leaning back against a tree and turning his eyes skyward. "I suppose that the elves will be the only ones to ever truly know the answer to that question. But not all answers are within our grasp, I fear. For example, we have one baffling question among our people that concerns the dwarves."
Blatantly ignoring Aragorn’s warning tone, the elf continued as though only thinking aloud to himself. "It is strange question, and one for which I fear there will never be an answer. How did it go? Yes, I think I have it now. If a dwarf mines alone in a cave and is buried alive, does anyone care?"
Gimli’s slight rumble indicated that trouble was brewing, but Legolas was not quite done yet. Continuing to ignore the looks directed his way from both Gandalf and Aragorn, the prince folded his arms across his chest and smiled slightly.
"We have another question along much the same line, and I think I also remember it now. If a dwarf mines alone in a cave and a rock strikes him upon the head, is there a mind inside to affect?"
"To compliment that question, Master Elf, if the king of Mirkwood falls out of a tree, will the weight of all the gold that he wears drive him into the earth?"
Deciding that supper-breakfast was more or less a lost cause for the moment, Sam packed away the sausages and sat down to wait this out, knowing it couldn’t last indefinitely. Though they were being ignored now, eventually Gandalf and Aragorn would manage to silence both elf and dwarf. Or perhaps it would be Boromir who stepped in, for he appeared to be extremely uneasy and seemed to have developed a nervous twitch. Either way it worked, silence at least, if not peace, would return and then the meal could be resumed. But this is the second time today that I’ve had to stop in the middle of it, Sam complained silently to himself. If it’s not birds, it’s an elf and a dwarf, and if it’s not the elf, the dwarf, or the birds, then it’s Gandalf.
"At least the king of Mirkwood is able to rise above the earth," Legolas replied coldly, pushing off the tree and assuming a combative stance. "I fear that Dáin has not the ability to even rise from his bed, much less be able to comprehend the light of day. In this, dwarves are much like the servants of the Enemy, unable to endure the sun and forced to delve ever deeper into Arda."
Aragorn’s words were sharp and filled with warning, but elf and dwarf seemed to be beyond any of the Fellowship now. Gimli had rounded on Legolas, his eyes narrowing and his hands clutching at the haft of his axe while Legolas had shifted all his weight to the balls of his feet and was moving one hand ever closer to the haft of his elven knife.
"You speak of what you cannot possibly comprehend, elf," Gimli spat. "It is for this reason that your people fade. You are too weak to endure the darkness and so cannot fight it. Your journeys to the sea in reality the shameful retreat of the elves. You must flee because you are not strong enough to stay."
"Your mind is smaller than I first thought," Legolas hissed. "Have you ever considered why your kind burrow beneath the ground? Is this not the way of the helpless when the hunter draws near?"
"If we are to speak of helpless, than let us—"
But whatever Gimli had in mind to say was to be forever left unsaid, for even as the dwarf spoke, a sudden yelp and a terrified scream filled the air. As one, the Fellowship swung around and watched in horror as Pippin, who had managed to get himself a little too close to the edge of the gorge, lost his footing on loose gravel and began to fall. Aragorn immediately lunged, Boromir was running, Gandalf surged to his feet, Merry, Frodo, and Sam were racing forward, but they were all too far away. The only members of the Fellowship with any hope of reaching Pippin in time were Legolas and Gimli. Yet even they were too far from the hobbit. Both elf and dwarf dove for Pippin upon seeing what was happening, and aided by faster reflexes and longer legs, Legolas came within a hair’s breadth of seizing Pippin by the back of his tunic. But fate seemed to be against them all that day, and the hobbit tumbled out of sight.
Frozen in shock, the Fellowship stared at the gorge, unable to comprehend what had just happened. But fate was not yet finished with them as she had another card to play. Sprawled upon the earth next to Legolas, Gimli suddenly stiffened in horror. He shot to his feet, almost knocking Legolas over in the process, and that is when the rest of the Fellowship saw what had so alarmed the dwarf. The ground beneath him shuddered, and with a wide-eyed look of surprise and fear, he started to turn around even as the overhanging cliff broke away beneath elf and dwarf, unable to support their combined weight. Legolas scrambled backward, Gimli made a desperate lunge, but it happened too fast for either one to reach safety. With a groan and the unmistakable roar of cascading rocks, the earth crumbled away and Legolas and Gimli disappeared.
Another still moment passed, and then Aragorn shook off his shock and sprang to the cliff’s new edge. Immediately falling upon his stomach so as to more evenly disperse his weight, he eased himself forward and peered into the gorge. Sam felt a lump rise in his throat as he watched the Ranger, and at his side, Frodo’s face was pale with fear. A deadly silence fell, broken only by the clattering of a few more rocks that were sent to join their brethren in the base of the gorge. Waiting together for a fell pronouncement, all eyes were upon Aragorn as minutes ticked away and the sun sank behind the horizon. At length, approaching the Ranger with caution, Boromir cleared his throat. Aragorn sighed and began to shuffle away from the edge of the cliff, his face blank but his eyes filled with torment. A safe distance away from the gorge, he rose to his feet, turned to Gandalf, and shook his head slowly.
Sam heard Merry’s sharp intake of breath and almost reflexively seized the hobbit’s arm to prevent him from doing anything foolish. Frodo apparently had the same thought as he grabbed Merry’s other arm, and between the two of them, Sam and Frodo managed to keep the Brandybuck from rushing to the edge of the cliff. But it was a struggle and one that Merry was not willing to give up easily.
"What of them, Aragorn? What did you see?"
It was Boromir’s deep voice that finally broke the tense silence, and at his words, Aragorn sighed deeply and closed his eyes. "The gorge is too deep. I could not see them. Not in this light."
"We have to go down there!" Merry exploded, still pulling against the restraining arms of Sam and Frodo. Sam would not have credited the Brandybuck with this much strength, but as Merry slowly dragged both Sam and Frodo forward in his need to reach Pippin, the gardener quickly revised his opinion.
"Peace, Merry," Aragorn soothed, seeing the trouble that Frodo and Sam were having and coming to their aid. Kneeling before the distraught hobbit and placing his hands upon the small but tense shoulders, Aragorn caught Merry’s eyes and held them. "There is hope yet. The sides of the gorge are not sheer, and there is much foliage in the bottom to cushion their fall. If all goes well, they shall find their way out and meet us where the level of the gorge’s base rises to meet our own elevation." Aragorn then glanced over his shoulder at Gandalf, looking to the wizard for confirmation.
"I suppose it is our only real course of action," Gandalf sighed. "Come, then. We must be off."
"Wait," Sam interrupted, feeling thoroughly confused. "What are we doing? We’re not leaving them down there, are we?"
"We cannot reach them from here," Aragorn explained gently. "Our only choice is to travel to the mouth of the gorge. Thankfully this ravine parallels our path and we shall not be forced to travel far out of our way. And the denser brush shall hide us from unfriendly eyes."
"But what if they don’t meet up with us?" Frodo asked hesitantly. "What then?"
Aragorn and Gandalf exchanged glances. "We shall cross that bridge when we come to it," the wizard finally answered. "Now, let us be off. We now must travel even farther, and the Enemy is growing watchful."
Collameliu—A berry that grows around Rivendell and Hollin. My own invention, so apologies to Tolkien purists. The name literally means "red and sweet."
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