My Aragon Stories
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Land of Light and Shadows: 16. Return to Light
Eomer had seen many things in his life. He had been a witness to the treachery of Gríma Wormtongue. He had watched as Saruman’s staff was broken and the wizard was cast from the order of the Istari. He had helped negotiate with the Wild Men in Druadan forest and as a result, he had seen the sun break over Minas Tirith in the midst of a terrible, hopeless siege. He had led the Rohirrim to the Morannon and had ultimately cemented the alliance between Rohan and Gondor when the King Elessar was crowned. Eomer would be remembered in history as one of the most traveled and most powerful kings of the Mark, but perhaps the thing that aided him most in his rule was neither his travels nor his prowess with the sword. Instead, it was his ability to watch and gauge emotions as they rolled across another’s face. Very few credited him with this talent as it was usually overshadowed by other abilities, but it had been finely honed and developed through years of circumventing ill policies set in motion by Wormtongue. Eomer had quickly learned where to push, when to push, and how hard he could push by watching the faces of Gríma and Theoden when they gave him instructions. Eomer did not always act wisely upon what he learned from watching the faces of others, but it was still a gift he possessed, and he found himself putting this gift into play now.
Gimli’s face was an interesting study, particularly because he was trying not to appear anxious for his friend. The dwarf was moving from irritation to frustration to anger to veiled concern to heavily guarded fear and then back to irritation with a speed that would have easily impressed Shadowfax. They had all returned to the wide cavern with the natural spring. Eomer and Aragorn had carried Legolas down here after managing to calm everyone down. Garat had also been brought down by Dashnir, but after a cursory examination, it was decided that nothing could be done for him save to make him comfortable and wait. Legolas, though, seemed only unconscious and Aragorn had assured them all that the elf would wake soon. For Gimli’s sake, Eomer hoped Aragorn was right. The dwarf’s emotional swings to the side of anger were becoming more frequent and more extreme.
Eomer froze and looked over as Aragorn joined him at Legolas’s side. "What?! But how? You said he would—"
"Garat, not Legolas," Aragorn swiftly amended. "Garat died a few minutes ago."
"Ah." Eomer’s fear died away, and from the corner of his eye, he saw Gimli’s hand relax its grip on the elf’s shoulder. "How did Dashnir react to the news?"
"He didn’t." Aragorn pursed his lips and shook his head. "Nor has he accused Legolas of murder, which surprises me for he would be well within his rights to do so. He seems to think that Garat’s death and Gimli’s version of events are perfectly acceptable. I like it not, but it does give us a reprieve of sorts. Unfortunately…" Aragorn paused and glanced over his shoulder. "Unfortunately, not all the Haradrim are being so understanding."
"But did you not tell me that the Warra tribe has a tradition and a reputation for violence? Legolas has shown nothing in the way of aggression on this journey. What cause would they have to accuse him?"
"He is not Haradrim," Aragorn said. "And for some, that is enough. Fastahn is pressing for him to be bound and tried immediately."
"He’s not even conscious!" Gimli exploded, whipping around with flashing eyes.
"Peace," Aragorn said, catching hold of the dwarf’s shoulder with a firm grip. "Stay by Legolas and try to get some water into him. Your presence is needed here more than your axe is needed there."
"Gimli!" Aragorn’s grip on the dwarf’s shoulder tightened and Eomer began moving to the side in the event that two would be needed to restrain Gimli. "Gimli, we can ill afford an incident now. There are already too many factors against us without our adding to them. Let me deal with the Haradrim, son of Glóin. You may deal with Legolas when he wakes."
The dwarf blinked and then a smile stole over his face. "Very well. But I will handle Legolas in my own way."
Eomer wondered if this was actually an improvement over dwarven diplomacy. But then, based on what Gimli had reported earlier, the elf was more than deserving of what he had coming to him. Judging from Aragorn’s expression, the king of Gondor was of a like mind and quickly nodded. "He will be all yours," Aragorn promised. Releasing the dwarf, Aragorn then turned to Eomer and inclined his head slightly. "Will you join me? I think it wise if you also hear the complaints and grievances of the Haradrim."
How kind of you to include me, Eomer thought sarcastically ere he could stop himself. He froze, realizing what his mind was doing, and quietly groaned. It was starting again.
"It seems you were right, Aragorn," the king of Rohan said with a sigh, glancing toward the elf. "His presence and his shadow seem to be affecting us."
Aragorn mumbled something that might have been a curse, but as it was spoken quietly and in Sindarin, Eomer could not tell. "Would that I was wrong," Aragorn finally murmured. "Still, there is no help for it. We must press on with what strength is given us. At the very least, we now know the cause of our own failings. Legolas is blocked from Ilúvatar’s song with something akin to a dark wall, and when we are near him, our own feeble links to the song are also blocked by this wall." The king was silent for a moment and then seemed to shake himself, turning away and moving toward the Haradrim. "Come. Let us say what must be said ere our condition grows worse."
Eomer sighed and followed, trying not to feel the pinpricks of irritation for slights where no slights were intended. Despite Aragorn’s words, knowing the cause of this problem didn’t seem to be enough, and the king of Rohan feared it was only a matter of time before his jealousy and pride were enflamed to the point where his own self control was thrown by the wayside. "Know that I follow you, Aragorn," he said quietly, falling into step by the other man’s side. "I pray I am able to harness my own doubts and my own pride, but if I should fall prey to this darkness again, know that in my heart you are my liege."
Aragorn’s hand came up to rest on Eomer’s shoulder and he squeezed it slightly, a silent show of appreciation, gratitude, and encouragement. Then the moment passed and Aragorn moved away as they drew near the Haradrim, who greeted their arrival with hushed murmurs and not a few suspicious looks. And well they should, for when this journey began, there were nine of them, Eomer reflected. Now there were only six. Mohart had been left at Dol Amroth with Imrahil, Dashnir had killed Bron, and now Legolas had killed Garat. If nothing else, this diplomatic mission has been interesting. And anything but diplomatic.
Forcing his face to assume a rather inscrutable blank expression—something he’d learned from his wife Lothíriel who had learned it from her father Imrahil—Eomer swept his eyes over the remaining Haradrim delegation. They were not a happy group of desert nomads. Fastahn, in particular, looked as though he had swallowed one of the spiny lizards that Gimli claimed dwelt in Mirkwood and attacked unwary travelers with a little provocation from an elven prince. Eomer could hardly blame the man. As a representative from the Soltari tribe and a strong ally of Mohart’s Gartabo tribe, Fastahn had been shunned by Dashnir and subtly mitigated to the point where his influence was almost negligible and he knew very little of what happened. It appeared that the continual lack of information was telling on Fastahn, and he looked ready to demand explanations.
As for the other Haradrim, there were varying degrees of suspicion upon their faces. Meret of the Baki tribe, the mining tribe on the eastern border of Harad, seemed more confused than anything else, and Eomer could easily sympathize. He was feeling rather lost himself. Joshri of Baruna and Sarot of Indro, also from the eastern borders of Harad, seemed uncertain but leaning toward the side of condemnation for the foreigners. Arabano of Lotessa wore an interesting expression that Eomer had difficulty deciphering. He seemed almost…pleased. But at the same time, his was a reaction tempered greatly by caution and Eomer tried to remember all he had been told of the Lotessa tribe. They were warriors much like Khurintu and Warra, but they were from the far south and had no alliances with the other raiding tribes. During the course of the journey, Arabano had been a very silent traveler, speaking only when spoken to and almost going out of his way to avoid conversation. What cause would he have for his hidden mirth?
Eomer shook his head. In any case, the only members of the delegation who really mattered were Fastahn and Dashnir. Fastahn was important because of his alliance with Mohart—who should have led the delegation—and Dashnir was important because he actually did lead the delegation. Which led Eomer to the last object of his scrutiny.
Dashnir stood apart from the others, which was not unusual in and of itself, but there was an aloofness about him this night that seemed more severe than was his normal wont. After carrying Garat down here, Dashnir had moved aside and allowed Aragorn to look over the injured man. Eomer had left then, more concerned with Legolas than with Garat, but judging from Aragorn’s words, there had been nothing in the way of condemnation of accusation from Dashnir. Why? From Eomer’s perspective, Dashnir would have everything to gain by dishonoring one of their number before representatives from tribes across Harad. What is your game? Eomer wondered, studying Dashnir closely. What do you hope to achieve and how does it involve us?
"Where is the elf?"
So it begins, Eomer sighed, redirecting his attention to focus on the conversation. Fastahn’s tone of voice was anything but pleasant, and this did not bode well.
"Legolas is where we left him," Aragorn answered, his voice quiet but firm. "He has not yet regained consciousness. Surely you do not expect him to rise and walk away after a blow like that."
"I know not what to expect," Fastahn shot back. "All I know with any certainty is that I arrived in the upper levels of these caves to find Garat with an elven knife in his chest. And now Garat is dead. At this point, honored ones, I must express my doubts as to the sincerity of your visit to our land."
"It was you who invited us!" Eomer pointed out, feeling his blood boil. Fastahn had not liked Garat, but it seemed the man’s fears of the outside world were forcing him to side with the deceased. Eomer was sorely tempted to shake some sense into Fastahn and possibly call Gimli over to help, but Aragorn laid a hand on the young king’s shoulder and pulled him back slightly.
"Fastahn, you knew Garat well. You knew he was capable of impulsive acts. Trust me when I tell you that I know Legolas well," Aragorn said. "When he uses his weapons, he uses them in self-defense. It is not in his nature to kill, for as an elf, he reverences life."
"Forgive me if I cannot simply take you at your word," Fastahn sneered. "You are strangers here, and since you entered Harad, things have begun to happen. We were attacked by unknown raiders on our first morning here. Bron died that night. A sandstorm forced us into the Sihal when we were but hours away from Haradhur. And while we were trapped here, your elf and Garat fought, which fight ended in Garat’s death. In light of all this, I believe I am justified in my skepticism."
"I must point out several things you seem to have forgotten," Aragorn answered, and Eomer shivered at his tone. It was the same tone Aragorn had used just ere the armies of Gondor and Rohan had come to the Morannon. It was a tone of determination in the face of what might be construed as hopelessness, and Eomer wondered just how much trouble they were in. But of course, Aragorn shall see that we find a way out of this trouble. He always does, for he is Aragorn. And even as these thoughts crossed his mind, Eomer silently groaned and stepped back slightly, realizing he would be of no use to Aragorn if this continued.
"And what have I forgotten, honored one?" Fastahn demanded, his tone so condescending that Eomer found himself flinching.
"It was Bron’s tribe who attacked us that first morning here. And it was Dashnir who killed Bron. I do not recall that Eomer and I had anything to do with that."
"Even so, for the sake of prudence the elf must be bound and watched," Meret broke in. "I am against an immediate trial of his innocence, for I have seen how such trials go awry. But I urge against his being allowed to wander freely now that this has happened."
This was too much for Eomer, who had been struggling valiantly to reign in his impatience. Shouldering his way past Aragorn, he confronted the Haradrim with blazing blue eyes, his hand tightening around the hilt of his sword. "And what exactly has happened, Meret? A man has died by the hand of an elf. But what happened two days ago just ere we left Lake Supt? Another man died. Yet his killer still walks freely among us and you did not insist that he be bound and watched."
"You speak of things you cannot possibly comprehend," Fastahn hissed. "It is the way of the desert to destroy traitors ere their treachery can spread. Dashnir was well within his rights to kill Bron."
"Just as Legolas was well within his rights to defend himself."
"We do not know that!" Fastahn shouted. "You have only the word of the dwarf, and how may we trust him when his allegiance clearly lies with the elf?"
"Peace," Aragorn interrupted, forcefully pulling Eomer away from the Haradrim. "I understand your concerns, but Legolas is under Gondor’s protection. He has been taken into our custody and we shall decide what must be done. If you wish to challenge that, then you challenge our sovereignty and that is an affront to my honor. Or have customs changed so much in Harad that I am unable to discipline those of my own kingdom?"
"You ask that our customs be extended to you, honored one, but you are still strangers to our land," Fastahn said.
"Yet you would judge us by your laws despite the fact that we are foreign. Choose you one way or another, Fastahn, but do not mix rules and customs to fit the situation. I am perfectly capable of matching you in this, and we would but run circles around one another."
"King Elessar speaks rightly."
Everyone from Eomer and Aragorn to the Haradrim blinked and turned to stare at Dashnir. Eomer felt the hair rise along the back of his neck and somewhere deep inside his mind, warning bells began to ring. But he had nothing of substance to back the sudden cries of his instincts, so he watched and waited. In this, he was not alone. They all watched and waited while Dashnir slowly approached.
"I knew Garat perhaps better than any here," the delegate from Khurintu sighed. "And he was very impulsive. I do not find it difficult to believe that he would attack the elf. He revealed to me that he did not trust the elf, and I see now that this distrust went further than I believed."
"Why did you not warn us?" Eomer demanded, trying madly to figure out what this man was up to.
Dashnir smiled slightly and cocked his head. "Shall I come to you with all of my distrusts? For certainly we do not trust one another, King Eomer of Rohan. Shall I speak of it every time something strikes me amiss? Do you come to me with news of those who think ill of me? Of course not, for such is the game we play when strangers meet. I did not think Garat would be so brash as to act on his fears. Thus, I did not warn you. My apologies if you think I have erred in this, but I know not how I could have acted differently."
"Then you do not accuse Legolas of murder," Aragorn said, discreetly stepping in front of Eomer.
"No, I do not. And I ask you, Fastahn, to cease your accusations. Garat’s recent state of mind as it was revealed to me during our journey fits perfectly with the dwarf’s version of events. I do not believe the elf acted first. I accept that defense was his only motivation."
"If you do not accuse him, then neither do I accuse him," Fastahn said, though Eomer thought he caught a tone of reluctance in the man’s voice. "What say the rest of you?"
There was a moment of silence and then the other members of the Haradrim delegation either nodded or murmured their assent, some more willingly than others. Arabano looked as though he wished to speak and his gaze kept straying to Dashnir, but he held his peace and said nothing. At his side, Eomer felt Aragorn relax slightly and the king of Rohan wondered just how unlikely this particular outcome had been.
"My thanks to you," Aragorn said, his eyes fixing themselves on Dashnir. His expression was casual, but there was a note of suspicion in his voice that could not be hidden and Eomer saw Dashnir smile slightly. "If you will now excuse us, we shall see to Legolas so that when the time comes, we may be able to travel quickly."
"How does he fare?" Dashnir asked, his tone conversational.
"It will be difficult to tell until he regains consciousness," Aragorn answered.
"He has my wishes for a speedy recovery."
What game are you playing? Eomer demanded silently, watching Dashnir closely. This man was one puzzle after another. The moment he seemed to reveal his true intentions, everything would change and so would Dashnir. What did this man hope to accomplish? Out of the corner of his eye, Eomer could see Aragorn stiffening and knew his doubts were shared, but it seemed that neither one of them had any answers.
"I shall convey your good wishes," Aragorn said. "My thanks on Legolas’s behalf." And with that, Aragorn turned and walked away, beckoning slightly for Eomer to follow. And of course he expects me to follow, for Rohan has ever followed Gondor’s lead, be it into grave danger or great folly. Have we truly sunken so far that we must obey their every whim and move as a suckling foal must obey its mare? "Eomer?"
Shaken from his thoughts and brought to a realization of where those thoughts were taking him, Eomer blinked and stepped back. "My apologies," he murmured, wondering if they should put Legolas in isolation. At least Gimli seemed to be keeping his senses intact. Not able to meet Aragorn’s concerned, questioning gaze, Eomer brushed past the other king and moved toward Gimli and Legolas.
The dwarf had Legolas’s head cradled in one arm while his free hand tipped a water skin upwards. From his angle, Eomer could not tell if the elf was getting any of the precious liquid, but the very sight caused a smile to steal across his face. This would be something he could use against the dwarf if ever there was a need for blackmail.
"Is he taking water?" Aragorn asked when they reached the pair. Gimli seemed to jump at their arrival, apparently so involved in his nursing duties that he had not heard their approach. Eomer decided to mark that down for later use as well. Even if blackmail was unnecessary, it could easily be used as fodder for banter and good-natured ribbing.
"He has had some water, and he does swallow reflexively on his own," Gimli answered, hastily placing Legolas back on the ground and moving a safe distance away. "How do things stand with the Haradrim?"
"Legolas is not accused of murder," Aragorn answered. "But there are politics involved in this that do not bode well, yet I know not what to make of them." The king shook his head, grimaced, and then bent down to examine the elf. "How much water has he taken?"
"Not enough for my liking," Gimli replied, moving aside for Aragorn. "However, you may be assured that he will have more when he wakes, for I will see to that myself."
Aragorn laughed quietly. "I am certain that you will, Master Dwarf, and I hope that Legolas appreciates your attentions as much as he ought."
"Elves have difficulty with gratitude," Gimli said with a shrug. "But I will see to it that he does not soon forget my pains on his behalf."
Eomer snorted, remembering the many times Gimli had mentioned his great restraint in not severing the king’s head from his shoulders because of ill-spoken words concerning the Lady Galadriel. The dwarf was not one to allow another to forget gratitude owed, but to his credit, he did not soon forget gratitude that he himself owed. And Gimli always repaid his debts. "I am certain that in his heart, he knows and understands your concern," the king of Rohan said.
"Concern?" Gimli shook his head and glared at the elf. "Frustration would hit closer to the mark. He is overly confident and no longer has the abilities to back that stubborn elven pride. If he does not soon learn to accept limitations, I shall be forced to doctor him all the way back to Anduin."
"Whether it be concern of frustration, Gimli, channel and use it well," Aragorn advised. "The sun is near to rising and we shall be staying here for the day. Let us hope that you can set Legolas back on his feet by nightfall, for we must be on our way come evening."
"Has the storm subsided then?" the dwarf asked.
"I know not," Aragorn murmured, glancing toward the tunnel that would lead them to the outside world. "But I think that perhaps I should check. Eomer, would you accompany me? Fresh air may help clear our heads. Imhran and Arhelm should be able to handle matters in our absence."
Knowing exactly what Aragorn meant when he spoke of clearing heads, Eomer quickly nodded. "It will be good to change our scenery." He started to leave but then stopped, frowning. "Think you that Arhelm and Imhran shall be in danger?"
Aragorn pursed his lips and glanced toward Legolas and Gimli. "They have not been around him as we have, and their loyalty to us should prevent things from falling too far out of control. However, your words are prudent and perhaps a rotating watch should be set, with some men spending time in the upper levels for safety’s sake."
"Then let us go, and when we return, we shall set the order of the watch," Eomer said. "I feel the need for clear thought and fresh air ere I take such action, for at the moment, I know not if I trust myself."
"You speak for me as well," Aragorn sighed, his face twisting into an expression that Eomer could not read though he thought he caught a hint of frustrated anger. "Come, then, and let us not be long lest others suffer our fate."
* * * *
Gimli sighed and rubbed his back against the rock wall, wondering how close to sunset it was. The day had dawned even as the sandstorm lifted, or so Eomer had reported, and they would be moving again the moment the sun sank. At least, that was the plan, but Legolas had yet to recover consciousness.
Glancing at his silent friend, the dwarf frowned and looked for signs that Legolas might be waking. The elf had taken water readily enough throughout the day, swallowing it reflexively when it was offered, but his eyes had remained shuttered and he had neither moved nor called out. It was unusual for an elf to be unconscious for so long, and Gimli wondered just how much ú-glîr was affecting his friend in this. Legolas seemed to be sickening and growing weaker as time went on. Perhaps elves needed the speech of other living things to rejuvenate them and grant them strength. Perhaps he simply hit his head harder than they initially suspected. And perhaps something is wrong that he has managed to hide from us. Gimli shook his head. That would no be beyond the elf, and if that were indeed the case, Legolas would be certain to hear about it.
Still, at this point in time Gimli was willing to give his friend the benefit of the doubt and assume the knock to his head had simply been unusually hard. Checking to see that he was not being watched, the dwarf pushed himself off the wall and knelt by Legolas’s side, brushing a hand across the elf’s brow and then pausing to check his pulse and breathing. It felt as though his heart was racing. Legolas’s heart had always seemed to beat rather quickly and Aragorn said it was the same for most elves, but this felt unusually fast, even for Legolas. Reaching for a skin of water, Gimli gingerly propped the elf’s head up and trickled a bit of water into his mouth. As before, the water was automatically swallowed and then Legolas was still again.
"I see he is not yet awake."
Gimli managed to refrain from jumping, though he did set Legolas back down rather quickly and managed to drop the water skin in the process. If only Aragorn would make some noise when he approached. Or at least announce his presence like a normal king whenever he came back down from the upper levels. "Not yet," the dwarf answered, turning to look at Aragorn. "How long do we have?"
"An hour or so," Aragorn sighed, kneeling beside Gimli and checking the elf’s pulse. "He should have awakened by now."
The dwarf grunted, and glanced around the cavern, wondering who was here on this particular watch. For some reason, Aragorn and Eomer had decided to institute rotating guards, with part of their forces on the upper levels and the other part down here with the Haradrim. It seemed to set Dashnir on edge, but beyond that Gimli had yet to find a purpose to it. Of course, he was concentrating more on Legolas than on deciphering the watch rotations, but he wasn’t about to admit that. "Where is Eomer?" the dwarf asked when the silence began to stretch into minutes.
"The upper tunnels. He and the Rohirrim are more comfortable when they are closer to the outside world."
"Perhaps Legolas would be more comfortable there as well," Gimli mused.
"Perhaps, though in his condition one must wonder if such a thing would make a difference."
Gimli sighed, knowing well what Aragorn referred to. Without his elven senses, Legolas was probably unable to tell exactly how deep in the caves he was. Here or by the entrance, it made no difference. Rubbing his temples, Gimli picked up the water skin he had dropped at Aragorn’s surprise approach and discovered that he had spilled most of the water.
"I will go," Aragorn volunteered, taking the skin from the dwarf ere he could protest. "Stay with Legolas. See if you can wake him."
"Wake him?" Gimli echoed as Aragorn moved away, glancing at the elf with raised eyebrows. "At this point, I think waking my father after a night of drinking might be an easier task." With a shake of his head, the dwarf bent and took Legolas by the shoulder, shaking him gently but insistently. "Legolas! Come, Master Elf, you shall make us late and soil the spotless reputation of the elves insofar as punctuality is concerned. Legolas?" Gimli shook the elf again. "Legolas, I refuse to ride Faensul without your presence to control him. Prince of Mirkwood, is this the reputation of your father and your family? Elves do not lie silent when there are deeds to be done. Wake, Legolas!"
The dwarf was certain that the reference to Legolas’s father might stir something and Legolas did seem to mumble a bit, but other than that, there was no sign that the elf was waking.
"If I didn’t know better, I would say you were doing this purely to annoy me," Gimli muttered, shaking Legolas again. "Fortunately for you, I saw you hit your head on that rock, and I am willing to play this game for a while. But if you do not wake soon, you will have more to answer for than simply wandering off alone with Garat. You are already in enough trouble, my friend."
"Still not awake?" Aragorn asked as he returned with a full skin of water.
"No." Gimli pursed his lips and glanced around. "Are the Haradrim watching us?"
Aragorn frowned. "Not at the moment. Why do you ask?"
"Because I am about to do something that will probably not sit well with them," the dwarf answered, taking the water skin. Uncorking it, he raised Legolas’s head and then tossed the water full in the elf’s face. A spluttered coughing could be heard, and Legolas murmured something as he began to turn his head from side to side.
"You are correct," Aragorn said with a muffled laugh. "The Haradrim would not approve of such a waste of water."
"You said he had to be up," Gimli answered, not the least bit repentant. "Legolas? Legolas, can you hear me yet or shall I do that again?"
"Close, but you are not yet close enough," Gimli said. "Open your eyes, prince of Mirkwood. Prove to me that you are indeed awake."
With a tired sigh, heavy lids slowly lifted, revealing gray eyes that seemed painfully dull and lifeless compared to their usual brightness. Knowing that Legolas would attempt to minimize his weakness before others, Gimli wondered just how much of a toll was being taken on the elf for him to reveal even this much. Clearly this had all gone too far, and if Aragorn and Eomer refused to act, Gimli could not promise to restrain himself in the near future.
"Welcome back, Legolas," Aragorn said, interrupting the dwarf’s thoughts and assisting Legolas as he sat up. "You slept long. How do you feel?"
The elf grimaced slightly and rubbed the back of his head. "I feel as though I have been caught between Gimli’s hammer and Durin’s anvil," he confessed, shocking Gimli with his honesty and his frankness. "Other than that, I seem to be faring well. How fares Garat? For when last I saw him, he did not look well."
Gimli snorted. "No, he did not. And there was good reason for that, Legolas, because your knife had just entered his stomach."
"Garat died several hours ago," Aragorn informed him. "There was nothing we could do."
"My apologies," Legolas murmured. "I fear I have complicated matters by this."
"Better to complicate matters than to force us to carry your corpse through the desert," Gimli stated firmly. "There are ways of solving complex issues, but I am afraid we have not the power to restore you to life."
"Nay, I suppose that none here have that power," the elf whispered, his expression going blank and his eyes glossing over. "Or if they did, they should not wish to lift this veil of darkness from my mind."
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then Gimli spoke, hoping to snap his friend out of his growing depression. "As I have stated before, pity is unbecoming the son of Thranduil. Would your father behave so, Legolas?"
"No," the elf answered slowly. "No, my father would lop off a few dwarven heads to relieve his frustration. Are you volunteering your services for this, Master Dwarf?"
Gimli grumbled something under his breath and made a show of rolling his eyes, though he was secretly pleased. At least Legolas seemed to be recovering some of his humor. "If you think to use my neck as a means of venting your anger, you hit your head harder than I thought."
"In any case," Aragorn added with a quiet laugh for their banter, "we have dealt with any complications you might have incurred. The Haradrim have no wish to accuse you of murder, and it seems Garat was not well liked as a general rule."
"But surely he was more well liked than I," Legolas said, his eyes narrowing.
"Dashnir spoke in your defense," Aragorn said, his voice dropping to a whisper. "At his word, the others backed away."
Legolas stared at Aragorn as though unable to comprehend this news, and Gimli wondered if revealing such information had been wise. Still, there was nothing to be done for it now, and he laid a reassuring hand on the elf’s shoulder to impart his own support. "Whatever his plans, we will stop them," the dwarf promised, capturing Legolas’s gray eyes with his own.
"I hope you are right, Gimli," Legolas said, getting to his feet and wincing at the sudden movement this required. Gimli hastily stepped behind him while Aragorn surreptitiously drifted before the elf, and they waited to see that he could maintain his balance. Legolas glared at both of them, not fooled in the least, and stepped away, wobbling slightly but staying upright. "What is the time?"
"We have slightly less than an hour before sunset," Aragorn said. "We should begin preparations to set out so that we may do so at the earliest moment. I would like to scout Haradhur ere the Gathering begins tomorrow night."
Gimli could not remember the elf looking so surprised. If Legolas had been a man, his jaw would have dropped. As it was, both eyebrows shot up and gray eyes blinked twice with amazement, which was the most amount of surprised facial animation that Gimli had seen on any elf. Clearing his throat to catch his friend’s attention, Gimli stepped to Legolas’s side and inclined his head toward the horses. "Faensul is eager to see you, or so I gather from his activities. He was loath to leave your side. Shall we prepare him for the ride and ascend into the upper tunnels?"
"When…when did Garat approach us?" Legolas asked, his brow furrowed as he tried to account for missing time.
"Three, perhaps four hours before dawn," Gimli said, exchanging concerned looks with Aragorn.
"Then I have been unconscious for—"
"Your head took quite a blow and you are not completely well," Aragorn interrupted. "Do not dwell on it, my friend. We need you alert and ready. Go with Gimli and prepare Faensul." The king stepped closer and offered a small smile. "That was not a suggestion, lord of Ithilien."
Legolas returned the smile weakly and nodded, turning away and moving toward the horses. Gimli fell into step at his side, lengthening his stride to keep pace with the elf and watching his friend closely. "It was not your fault," he offered.
"What was not my fault? Garat’s death or my own incompetence?" Legolas asked, his voice bitter. "I do not mourn overmuch for Garat. Any loss of life is grievous, but the man was a threat to us. But as for my own abilities…" The elf trailed off and shook his head. "I am but a hindrance to you. Should we find ourselves beset by raiders again, I will only be a burden."
"When have you been anything but a burden?" Gimli demanded, deciding that insults would probably work better than condolences. "As I remember it, I was watching your back all the way through the Paths of the Dead."
Legolas sighed. "Gimli, from your position behind me on Arod, it was impossible for you to see anything but my back. Do not change the subject."
"The subject is hardly conducive to your wellbeing."
"My wellbeing is in jeopardy and we must recognize this."
"We recognized it two days ago!" the dwarf said, rounding on the elf and fixing him with dark, glaring eyes. "Will you never cease to agonize over this? Others have faults and missteps, but apparently you are above all of that. If you are not perfect, you are useless."
"I did not mean—"
"Yes, you did," Gimli shot back, not giving Legolas a chance to respond. "Your elven pride is doing more harm than your lack of senses. Accept the fact that you’ve been brought down to the level of mere mortals and move forward!"
"I have never disparaged mortal abilities," Legolas protested.
"No? Your actions say otherwise." The dwarf was now angry, frustrated, and above all else, disgusted. And he intended to see that Legolas did not easily get away with his behavior. "You have done nothing but bemoan your lost senses and complain of their limited abilities. My friend, your diminished senses are comparable to my senses. You diminish me when you indulge in self-pity. Cease this!"
Legolas stared at the dwarf for a long time, his face expressionless, and then he eventually turned away. "My apologies, elvellon. You are right. My behavior has been inexcusable."
"Good," Gimli said, feeling some of his anger drain away. "And now that we understand one another on this point, we must turn to another matter. What were you thinking when you allowed Garat to lead you away?!"
"I was thinking that mere mortal abilities were more than adequate to deal with him," Legolas responded with a small smile.
Gimli snorted. "Mere mortal abilities would have been more than enough, but you are not yet used to them and you react as if you still had all your elven heritage to fall upon. You do not. And until you have completely adjusted to this, you cannot afford to take risks such as the one you took last night."
"What could I have done differently?" Legolas asked. "Refusal to speak with Garat might have had far worse consequences. As it was, I managed to disarm him and minimize damage to myself."
"He might not have attacked had you stayed with me."
"Or he might have used one of us as a hostage against the other, for in close quarters, two against one can at times be a disadvantage."
The dwarf sighed and shook his head. "However you may argue it, you and I both know that meeting with Garat alone was a foolish move. Do not do it again."
Legolas’s smile grew. "And who are you to order me?"
"I am the only one who has any hope of talking some sense into that flighty elven head of yours," Gimli answered. "And I take my responsibilities seriously."
"Ah. It is well that I have such an attentive caretaker. I suppose you shall be turning down my blankets also ere I retire for bed."
"You are hopeless," Gimli declared, turning away and resuming their walk toward the horses. Faensul looked up at their approach and whinnied a greeting, hurrying toward them and almost knocking Legolas over in his enthusiasm to greet the elf. "It seems hopelessness is not exclusively yours," the dwarf observed.
"Yes, alas. I fear I have acquired my hopelessness from you."
"I was referring to the demon currently assaulting you."
Faensul snorted indignantly, but he did not pause to send the dwarf one of his stern glares for he was too busy butting his head against Legolas. Laughing, the elf caught hold of the horse’s mane and braced himself as the stallion proceeded to reprimand the prince in his own way. At least in this, Gimli and Faensul were of one mind, and the dwarf vowed not to let Legolas out of his sight until this journey was through. He suspected the horse had made a similar promise, if the horse was capable of such thoughts.
"Are you quite finished?" Gimli asked after a moment when there seemed to be a lull in Faensul’s scolding head butts. "Or shall the rest of us proceed without you?"
"We are coming," Legolas said, stroking Faensul’s neck and speaking quietly to the horse. "And as for proceeding without us, I fear you do not travel quickly enough for that, Master Dwarf. It is beyond me how you can move anywhere on such short legs."
With a grumble and a shake of his head, Gimli secured his axe firmly in his belt and started for the tunnel that would take them to the surface. Though his face gave the appearance of indignation, he was inwardly rejoicing. So long as he could keep Legolas’s humor intact, they would get through this. Listening as the elf and horse followed him into the dark tunnel and smiling at the quite grumble of unease this inspired in Legolas, he set his sights ahead of him and forged into the darkness.
Neither he nor Legolas saw the figure cloaked in shadows who followed them.
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