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In the Deep Places: 16. The Beginning
But at last they reached the soft earth again, and Haldir led them to a small pavilion that had been erected some distance from the path and was, by some miracle, set firmly on the ground.
The Hobbits sighed in relief and immediately set about unpacking their cloaks and bedrolls. Sam actually dragged Frodo by main force from where he had been standing alone at the edge of the trees and made him sit down with the others.
Elves brought them soft couches to lie on, and food and drink, and cushions and silks and wood for a fire and still more cushions. Far more Elves came to help than seemed really necessary, until there was a veritable crowd of them around whispering together and staring at Gimli and the Hobbits. Haldir finally shooed them off and bowed his leave to the Company.
There was a brief murmur of voices in the trees as the Lothlórien Elves pressed Haldir with questions, but that soon faded as they moved away. The forest was still with the deep quiet of the winter night, silent save for the soft melody of Elven song overhead.
For the first time since they had entered Lothlórien, the Fellowship was alone. Sam kindled a small fire and they sat around it, the warm light flickering over them and casting the surrounding wood into blackness. They talked quietly for a time about the interview with the Lord and Lady, and the day’s journey, and their first night in the treetops. None seemed willing to look back farther than that.
A strange melancholy filled Gimli. He felt unsettled, as though he were upon a hill of friable shale that might crumble away at any moment. All the comfortable truths he had known, fundamental to the way he saw the world, had been swept away by the Lady’s gaze like summer grass before a fire. And he had nothing with which to replace them.
Elves are foolish. But she was wise.
Elves are flighty. But she was serene.
Elves are capricious. But she was constant.
Elves hate Dwarves. But she had welcomed him, and there had been no hate in her eyes, no scorn or condemnation. There had been only love, and acceptance, and peace.
Never trust an Elf. But he loved her.
He loved her. He wanted nothing more than to look upon her, to worship her in the quiet depths of his heart. With all the passionate intensity of the Dwarves, the full extreme of his emotions, he loved her. He would have given anything, done anything, to please her. But at the first test, he had failed.
She had looked into him with her deep eyes, and though no words had passed between them, he had felt her intention. And his mind had turned toward the Ring.
Strange, he had not truly given it much thought during their journey. He was focused on the daily necessities of life in the Wild: protecting the Hobbits, hunting food, avoiding the Enemy’s spies, countering Legolas’ slurs. After that night in the Great Hall of the Dwarrowdelf he had become wary, and watched for the Ring’s effects upon the Company, especially Boromir. But he had not considered its effect upon himself.
Yet now he saw Khazad-dûm restored, and its many pillared halls filled with light and laughter and the ring of hammer on stone. And it was great, greater even than it had been in ancient days, for its realm stretched through all the deep caverns of Middle-earth. For an instant it filled his mind and heart: the exile was ended! The agents of the Enemy were destroyed, and his fallen kin honored with tombs wrought in marble that would endure through all the ages. The great doors stood open in friendship, and the peoples of Middle-earth came freely to trade, and all were awed by the beauty and might of his people’s glory.
And then Gimli had shrugged, and pushed the vision aside. It was not real. It could never be real, and most certainly not by work of the Ring. He was a Dwarf, with a Dwarf’s bedrock grounding in fact, and though he would fight for his people, he would not be swayed by any such flight of fancy.
But he could not help but think that, were it possible, the Ring might make a gift worthy of Galadriel. The Lady had the strength to keep it safe, he was certain, more than any other in Middle-earth. Were he to have it, he would give it to her, if it seemed fair upon her hand. She had not known his exact thought, for there were no words, but he had felt her intention sharpen at this, and reach deeper within him.
And she had seen the love in his heart, and the feeling came to him of mingled warmth and curiosity – could a Dwarf claim to care for an Elf, even for the Lady of the Golden Wood? Then his mind had turned without his will to the long years of tales told under the mountain of Elven arrogance and lies, and of his own scorn of Legolas on their Quest.
And what then of Legolas? Gimli thought of the Elf’s words at Balin’s tomb, when he had dragged him, Gimli, to safety. It was no failure of yours. But it was. Even then Legolas had reached out to him, but he had refused to see. The Elf had changed, he had changed, but he had not known it until now.
And he blushed in shame, to see his prejudice in the light of the Lady’s gentle acceptance. He lowered his eyes, and turned away.
The fire burned low while they talked, until only the glowing coals remained. Legolas watched the others, listening as the Hobbits speculated upon what dreams had come to them under the Lady’s gaze. But none were willing to describe those visions in detail, though Boromir pressed Frodo long with questions. Finally Aragorn broke in, declaring himself very weary, and suggesting sleep in a voice that brooked no argument.
Legolas lay back upon his couch and folded his hands over his chest. He had pulled his bed out from under the silk overhanging of the pavilion, preferring instead to rest where he could see the stars. He would indeed have rather slept upon one of the flets overhead, where the breeze stirred the living branches and the song of the stars was deep and strong. But this night at least he would remain on the ground with the others.
For a time he lay quiet, listening to the slow breathing of his companions, and considering their words that evening. He had not spoken of his own experience, for he thought that the Ring’s ploy was nothing more than any might have guessed, and it did not interest him. But he watched closely as Boromir proudly recounted his refusal of temptation. If that were so, why then had the Man trembled under the Lady’s regard? And what of his preoccupation in Moria?
Legolas had looked at Aragorn, seeking his reaction to Boromir’s tale. But the Ranger did not meet his eyes, and sat with his elbows resting on his knees as he stared into the fire. Legolas did not know what he had faced in Galadriel’s questioning. From the others’ words it seemed that their experience had been different from his own – they had felt the turning of their thoughts toward the Ring, as he had, but there had not been the direct communication that he had shared. He did not know if this were merely because the Lady did not wish it for reasons of her own, or if it had something to do with the different way that mortals perceived Ilúvatar’s Song. Could they find resonance with another, and share thought along the connecting harmony as Elves did? He did not know. And his ignorance galled him.
He was supposed to be a guardian of this Fellowship, an aid to Frodo on his Quest. But he did not even know this most basic element of his companions’ perceptions. Aragorn was the only Man he had any real experience with, and all indications were that Aragorn was not an average representative of his race. His ignorance of Hobbits might be forgiven, for they had surprised even Mithrandir on occasion. But what of Gimli? Legolas had lived centuries on the very border of the Grey Mountains, and even negotiated trades with the Dwarves for swords and armour when Thranduil’s captains had convinced the king that the need was dire. Elbereth, Thorin’s company had spent weeks in his home! And yet at every turn Gimli confounded his assumptions and bewildered his understanding.
Look to your friends, the Lady had said, and he himself had said the same to Aragorn, and more, he had claimed friendship with all the Fellowship. But what friendship could there be if he did not understand them? Aragorn had passed the Lady’s test. Whether by Arwen’s love or only the strength of his own will, he had resisted the Ring. But he was weary, in heart and body, and his eyes had been so dark as he had stared into the fire.
And what of the others? What of Legolas himself? The Fellowship was splintering, and if friendship was their only hope then truly they were in desperate straights. Then let us repair it, Legolas thought. He was a warrior and a prince, born to serve his people and now sworn to save Middle-earth. And now his duty was clear.
There is no hope without friendship, and no friendship without understanding. So I will understand. I will understand them all, starting with the Dwarf.
It was not until the following evening, however, that Legolas was able to put his resolution into action. He had risen before the others, drawn from Elven dreams by the stir of the freshening breeze and gentle rise of the forest’s song before the dawn.
He climbed into the uppermost branches of the mellyrn to watch the sunrise. And as the light had come over the forest, reaching pure and clear over the Golden Wood as it never did in Mirkwood, he felt the trees respond. Slowly he was coming to understand these woods, he thought. It was still strange to him, still removed from his experience, but he could feel it now as he had not done before.
He thought about this as the light grew and the birds sang clear and free, untroubled by Orcs or Wargs or spiders or Shadow. And then he went to find Celeborn.
He knew of his own family’s uneasy relationship with the Elf lord, of course, and after spending the day in discussion with him Legolas thought he understood why Oropher had distanced himself from his kinsman. There was core of steel in Celeborn to match even Thranduil’s stubborn pride, and if ever those two came into conflict he would have preferred to watch from a safe distance, such as Valinor.
But the Elf lord was courteous, and received Legolas graciously as a prince of Lasgalen. Legolas took care to act his part, drawing upon the long years of training in his father’s court. Though he preferred the battlefield to the council chamber, he knew his duty, and he could serve his people with diplomacy as well as with a bow, though with less enjoyment.
He even went so far as to dig his circlet from the forgotten recesses of his pack, though he was careful not to let Aragorn see him do this. The Ranger had successfully evaded his own royal obligations for nearly three quarters of a century, and he had picked up a bad habit of teasing Legolas from the twins.
Celeborn too was a warrior constrained to lordship, and his probing questions revealed an intimate understanding of the Enemy’s tactics. The Lady had spoken of a War fought not only with blades alone, but her Lord had seen long years upon fields soaked with blood of kin and enemy alike, and had faced firsthand the bitterness of victory in Gorgoroth. His eyes darkened as Legolas described the growing Shadow in Mirkwood, and he had gone silent and still with dangerous calm.
He had not yet committed warriors to aid Lasgalen, but he had not dismissed the idea either. It was a beginning, Legolas thought wearily as he climbed down from the Lord’s office at the gathering of dusk. Before the Fellowship left Lothlórien he would write a letter granting Celeborn’s forces leave to enter Mirkwood and seek audience with the king. He could only hope that the missive would be needed.
And will you not go to them? He heard the words again in his mind and closed his eyes, leaning for a moment upon one of the trees about the Fellowship’s empty bower.
Certainly he could more surely gain aid for his people, and ensure that Thranduil would accept it were it offered, if he stayed and treated personally between Lothlórien and Mirkwood. War was coming, and Sauron’s northern army would strike hardest at his home. He had sworn to guard the Ring-bearer, at least for a little while, and in his heart he had promised to stand by Aragorn as well, but where now did his duty truly lie?
The sky had darkened to velvet blue, and the first stars were opening overhead. Legolas listened for a long moment, standing with head bowed against the cool bark as the night birds sang and the Elven lamps lit in the tree branches overhead. He could feel the peace here, tantalizing close, and with sudden decision he straightened and pulled the circlet from his brow. He stuffed it into his pack and then paused.
He hesitated for a long moment before unbuckling the ceremonial knife from his hip and laying it carefully in its sheath beside his bow, quiver, vambraces and other knives. He wanted no further thought of war this night.
Then, completely unarmed for the first time in his adult life, Legolas climbed up into the canopy of the Golden Wood. He moved swiftly through the trees, climbing for the sheer joy of it higher and higher until he reached the uppermost branches that bent and curved easily beneath his feet. Then he stopped, and settling with his back against the cool brace of a mallorn’s trunk he turned his face up toward the stars.
It was so still. The ancient tree cradled him here, some five hundred feet above the ground, and the night breeze brushed cool against his face. A cloud of hunting bats flitted over the treetops’ golden haze, their sharp cries piercing the gentle rustle of the leaves. An owl glided low over the wood and Legolas turned his head toward the feather whisper of its wings.
There too was the soft melody of Elven voices, lifted in a lament for Mithrandir that wove between the night shadows of the trees. But they came distantly to his ears, and were lost in the clear deep song of the stars. He should join them, he knew, for it was his duty as companion of the Grey Pilgrim to add his voice to those of Lórien, and to represent his people in the grieving of all Elves for Mithrandir’s passing.
But the pain was too sharp: his voice stuck in his throat, and neither song nor duty could ease the weight of unshed tears.
Only here, where the ancient stars met the timeless wood, the grief was muted. The cares and fears of Middle-earth seemed distant as the ground below, unimportant before the vastness of the heavens. He could lose himself here, give himself to Ilúvatar’s Song as it wove together all harmonies of creation, and there would be no pain any longer.
And as his breath slowed and his mind opened, it seemed to him that he heard the forest’s song clearly for the first time. It was deeper and wiser and stronger than any he had felt before: it throbbed with the rich texture of heart’s blood and it swept through him and challenged him to follow it, to fly with the eternal wing-beat of time and to dance with the soul-deep pulse of memory. This was the heart of Elvendom in Middle-earth, and there was no Shadow here. There was only memory, endless and unchanging as the sweep of the stars that welcomed the Firstborn ere mortal waked and mutable sun and moon took form.
It was what Greenwood might have been.
What it could yet be, a small voice whispered deep within him, but he closed his mind to that and shut his eyes, digging his fingers into the tree’s bark and breathing deeply, willing himself away from the call of the stars and the Song, the temptation of life free of the Shadow.
As he gathered his thoughts a new sound came to him, drifting up from far below. It was a steady, rhythmic thudding, completely at odds with the peaceful night song of the forest. Legolas tilted his head, listening intently. And then he opened his eyes and sighed. And he began the long climb down again to the ground.
Thud. Gimli was bored. He had spent the day walking about the woods with the others, and had first eaten, then nibbled, then finally just watched while the Hobbits partook of no less than eight separate meals as one group of Elves after another had approached them.
Thud. The Elves of Lothlórien had discovered the way to a Hobbit’s heart very quickly, and their hospitality was met with whole-hearted approval on the part of Gimli’s smaller companions.
Thud. The small axe’s blade struck deep into the soft earth at his side, and he slid his hand down the short handle and pulled it free, swinging it over his hand in a practiced motion and bringing it down again in a swift, smooth arc. Thud.
The Elves had treated him courteously, if somewhat distantly. But when evening had fallen and they invited the Fellowship to view the lamp lighting from the vantage of the trees, Gimli had excused himself. The Hobbits were also uncertain about venturing yet again into the heights; but Merry was determined to go and this, coupled with the promise of more food on the flets, meant that they all went, although Sam took much convincing.
Aragorn had spent much of the day off by himself somewhere, but he rejoined them at dusk and encouraged Boromir to join the expedition as well. So, satisfied that the Men would keep the Hobbits safe, Gimli felt no need to break his vow to avoid Elven ladders just yet.
He still felt uncomfortable around so many Elves, even when he wasn’t suspended three hundred feet in the air. The Lady Galadriel had changed him, or made him aware of changes already taken place, and in his love for her he could not hate her people. But that didn’t mean that he necessarily had to spend all his time with them, either. So now he sat alone at the base of a mallorn far from the Elven city, and tried to find some peace in thought.
Thud. He wanted his pipe. He had searched through his pack and checked all his pockets twice, and it simply was not there. Either Legolas had finally made good on his threat early in the journey to hide all of the Fellowship’s pipeweed supplies, or Gimli had lost it somewhere in Moria.
Thud. He needed his pipe. He needed something familiar, something that he could cling to in the bewildering morass that surrounded him. He had spoken far too freely before all those Elves, he thought. What madness had come over him? Love, yes, but love should be kept secret and deep, as a river that flows cold and pure through hidden chasms far beneath the earth. It was not to be exposed for any to see.
This was the message of the exile: what was not hidden would be lost. What was not guarded would be taken. Adrift in foreign lands, the Khazad had learned these lessons through slow years of painful experience, and they kept them well. Anything that truly mattered, history and love and even language, was secreted away from the outside world, guarded from those who could not understand.
But somehow he had forgotten that. In his journey with the Fellowship he had slowly opened to his companions, Hobbits and Men and finally even the Elf. And as he had come to understand them, and even to admire them, the bulwarked defenses of his heart had gradually eroded. So that the first rush of love in face of the Lady’s kindness had overwhelmed him completely, and he had given himself up to her utterly, and laid his heart open, vulnerable to any who cared to read it.
And he was supposed to be the Fellowship’s representative of all Dwarves in Middle-earth! He, who had not joined the quest to end the exile, who had fled before the evil that defiled his people’s tomb.
Balin, Oin: all the names and faces of his friends, his kin, who had gone to claim a world, while he had stayed at home. They had fought, and conquered, for however brief a time, and died there, and their bones were dust in the great chambers of Khazad-dûm.
He carried their legacy in the great book of Mazarbul, but even that seemed futile now. The book was cracked and torn, and soon its pages too would be dust. He could recite the names, but his memory faltered, and to forget even one would be to dishonor them all.
Thud. Someone was watching him. Gimli felt the warning prickle along the back of his neck, and with a warrior’s keen instincts he pushed aside his inner musings and focused on the threat. He pulled his small axe free and held it ready as he slowly scanned the surrounding wood.
A flicker of movement caught his eye, and the next moment Legolas stepped into the small clearing directly in front of him. The Elf did not say anything, but merely stood and regarded Gimli in silence. Gimli returned the scrutiny with frank curiosity.
For the first time that he could remember, Legolas was not dressed in hunting brown and green. A loose silver tunic fell to mid-thigh over his flowing grey leggings. The tunic was open at the throat and wrists, with no sign of quiver strap, knives, or vambraces. The Elf’s feet were bare upon the soft grass, and his unbraided hair fell loose over his neck and shoulders. The soft radiance about him blended with the starlight, and Legolas seemed a part of the timeless woods, the graceful lines of his slender form scarcely to be distinguished from the silvered trees.
Gimli felt suddenly acutely conscious of the bulk of his chain mail and axes, his heavy boots and weighted helmet, and he felt more out of place and uncomfortable than ever. He bristled defensively, gripping his axe uncertainly. “What are you doing here, Elf?”
Legolas raised one dark eyebrow. “At the moment, I am looking at you, Master Dwarf.” Gimli hesitated, unsure how to respond to that, and the Elf continued with a strange sort of formality. “You seem… disquieted. Are you in need of aid?”
Gimli frowned. Had he given himself away so completely, that any passerby could read him so easily? “What makes you say that, Master Elf?” he asked cautiously.
The Elf seemed to hesitate. “I do not know,” he said finally. “It seems that I know very little about the Khazad. But I did not think that thumping like a woodpecker in the forest was a sign of contentment for a Dwarf.”
Gimli blinked. He hardly knew whether to take offense at the comparison, or simply fall over in astonishment at the Elf’s use of his people’s proper name. Finally he set his axe down and folded his arms in a gesture of wary neutrality. “I did not hurt the trees, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“No.” Legolas smiled faintly. “I doubt that you could do that, Master Dwarf, even were you to lay your axe directly to the mellyrn themselves. Though that would certainly attract the attention of the Elves, if you wish company.”
Gimli repressed a shiver at the thought. “No thank you,” he said. “I’ve had enough Elves to last me a while.”
“I see.” Legolas bowed coldly and turned away. “Then I will not trouble you with my presence.”
“No!” the word was past Gimli’s lips before he could think. Legolas stopped and looked back at him quizzically.
“I mean,” Gimli said, backpedaling furiously as he tried think, “that is, you don’t have to –” He flushed. “Durin’s beard, Elf, I didn’t mean you!”
“Ah.” Legolas faced him and folded his arms casually over his chest. “Then in fact you meant to say that you had had enough of Lórien Elves to last you, and your insult was directed toward your hosts.”
Gimli groaned. “No.”
Legolas tilted his head quizzically, but when Gimli did not elaborate he shrugged and said, “Then I am forced to conclude that you did in fact intend to insult all Elves, but for some reason I am not included in your tally.”
“Yes. No. I mean –” Gimli wished he could pick up his axe again. But given that Legolas was unarmed it seemed somehow unsporting.
“I assure you that I am indeed an Elf.”
“Yes, I know, I only meant –”
“I was chosen to represent all Elves in the Fellowship.”
“I know that, I just –”
“I can prove it to you, if necessary.”
“No, that isn’t –”
“I can sing.”
“Aargh!” Gimli threw up his hands in exasperation, while Legolas watched him with a faint smile on his lips.
“That is not necessary.” Gimli said finally, speaking slowly and choosing his words with care. “I know that you are an Elf. Only an Elf could be so blasted infuriating. I only meant that the past few months have increased my resistance to your particular breed of madness, so that your company is marginally less unpleasant than it once was.”
Legolas’ smile grew, his eyes dancing. “Such fair words from a son of Aulë! Stay your sweet tongue, Master Dwarf, else I shall fancy that I might rival the Lady Galadriel in your affections.”
Gimli tensed, his hand straying instinctively back to the shaft of his axe. Here they came to it, and surely the Elf would now remind him of his folly, and exploit the weakness he had shown.
But Legolas seemed to sense his unease immediately, and his teasing manner fell away like a discarded cloak. “Master Dwarf?” he said gently. “I would not speak ill of the Lady, in your presence or any other’s. On that I give my word.”
Gimli hesitated, looking into Legolas’ now-serious eyes. Would it be asking too much, he wondered, to expect the Elf to stay in one mood for longer than five minutes at a stretch? Perhaps only a week earlier he would have followed this thought with a comment on the value of an Elf’s word, but now he only nodded slowly. “I know,” he said. “It isn’t that. It’s just…” He trailed off.
Legolas dropped gracefully to the ground, folding his overly-long legs beneath him so that he was nearly at eye level with the seated Dwarf. Gimli wished he hadn’t – this was awkward enough without the Elf staring at him from a few feet away. He looked down and picked at the leather bindings of his axe handle.
“Master Dwarf?” The musical voice was tinged with concern. “Gimli?”
Gimli’s head jerked up in shock. This was the second time the Elf had called him by name. He looked into the clear eyes, and saw something he had never seen before.
Legolas’ defenses were down. Not only knives and quiver were cast aside, now, but the steel-edged self-possession, the deadly precision with which he held himself, were relaxed. Legolas had opened himself, had become vulnerable as Gimli had never seen him. And Gimli could not help but respond in kind.
“Legolas,” he said, the first time he had spoken the Elf’s name in direct address. “I think that I must be going mad, but it doesn’t matter.”
Legolas frowned, clearly puzzled, and Gimli fought down a sudden urge to laugh. Perhaps he should have confided in the Elf earlier. Legolas was rarely at such a complete loss, and Gimli felt that the experience was good for him.
“I have already given up more of my people’s secrets than any Dwarf of this Age, for I held nothing back when she looked at me. And now I would willingly confide yet further in an Elf.”
“Would you?” Legolas smiled. “Then I must join you in your madness, for I would seek to understand a Dwarf, as no Elf has done in this Age.”
Gimli hesitated, looking at him closely, but Legolas met his eyes calmly, not piercing him, only waiting for what he chose to reveal. “I told you that it does not matter,” he said finally. “Whether you understand or not, it makes no difference. Khazad-dûm is gone.”
Legolas looked at him steadily, his dark eyes gentle. “And the Elves are fading,” he said softly. “Lothlórien cannot hold for long, even as mortals measure time. But we will be remembered, in the Undying Lands if nowhere else.”
Gimli shook his head, forcing back the hot stinging behind his eyes. “But there is none to remember us. The book of Mazarbul is already unreadable in places. Even the stones of Khazad-dûm will wear away and be forgotten, with none to care for them.”
“I will remember them,” Legolas said. Gimli blinked and stared at him in surprise, but the Elf looked utterly serious. “I have seen the great halls of Khazad-dûm, and the tomb of the warriors who took back their city. My people fight with their own strength, and we will not fade, however comes this Quest. I will live, in Middle-earth or over the Sea, and I will remember.”
Gimli hesitated, unsure how to respond, but Legolas smiled and rose to his feet in one smooth motion. “Come, Master Dwarf,” he said. “Let us join our madness together. You will tell me of your people’s glory, and I will understand. I will remember for us both.”
Perhaps it was madness. But Gimli did not care. He stood, brushing the dirt from his axe head. He slipped it in his belt and set out across the grass. Glancing up at his taller companion as he approached he said, “It is a worthy plan, Master Elf. But I wonder if your wit is great enough to comprehend the true majesty of Dwarven history, much less to remember it all.”
Legolas shrugged easily. “You will simply have to take your chances, Master Dwarf. But I am sure that whatever I do not remember I can invent easily enough.”
“Invent?” Gimli had to hurry to keep up as the Elf slipped silently into the forest.
“Of course. For example, I can say that Dwarves were so frightened of knives of any kind that they refused to cut their hair, and their beards grew so long that they frequently tripped over them when they walked.”
“That is when the weight of the ungainly things didn’t tip them over headfirst into the ground.”
“You wouldn’t dare. Would you? You better not – Legolas? Elf!”
But they were well into the woods by then, and only the tramp of Dwarven boots and the clear notes of Elven laughter drifted back through the trees.
Next up: Endgame.
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