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While the Ring Went South...: 18. January 10, 3019 (Night - Part I)
Merry was not a happy hobbit.
He had not intended to sleep during the day, thinking he could encourage the others to make an early start by staying awake and serving as a reminder that three members of the Fellowship were still missing. But a great drowsiness had come over him even as he positioned himself on the outside of camp, and before he knew what had happened, he was being shaken by Aragorn and told to rise for supper. Or supper-breakfast. Or whatever it was being called now.
Confused and bewildered, Merry had obeyed almost automatically, but he could only manage a few bites before worry for Pippin swiftly closed back in. Leaving his meal unfinished—a blaring klaxon that all was not right with the hobbit—and packing his things quickly, he had stalked to the edge of camp and tried to look expectant in the hopes that this would encourage others to follow his example. It was then that the soft conversation between Frodo and Sam came to his ears, and after hearing that they, too, had fallen asleep far too quickly for their own liking, it did not take long to figure out what had happened.
Aragorn had been immediately confronted by all three hobbits, and when the Ranger admitted that he had slipped something into the hobbits’ water skins, Merry had come very close to screaming. Fortunately, he remembered their need for secrecy before the wail of frustration could escape, and instead of screaming, he gave Aragorn his darkest glare and stalked back to the edge of camp. It would be a long time before he trusted the Ranger again. It would be an even longer time before he let him anywhere near his food. That is, when he started eating food again…
"Merry? Will you be all right?"
The hobbit looked up in surprise, not having realized that he had acquired company. "I’m fine," he said tersely, glancing at Frodo and then looking away again.
Frodo made a faint noise of disbelief and stepped in front of the other hobbit, forcing him to meet his gaze. "You’re not fine. Even Bill can sense that! But that wasn’t really my question. I asked if you will be fine."
Merry scowled. "How am I supposed to know that? Don’t tell me that you can now read the future."
Frodo sighed and shook his head. "I’m not trying to be your enemy, Merry; I’m trying to be your friend. But I can’t help you unless you’re willing to help yourself. And that’s why I asked if you’ll be all right later. But if you’ve already decided that you won’t be, then I can’t do anything for you."
"You’re not making any sense," Merry said stubbornly, attempting to keep his sour mood.
"Yes, I am, and you know it. So stop fighting me and figure out the answer to my question. Will you be all right?"
For a long time, Merry glared at Frodo and hoped that the force of his glare would send the Ring-bearer somewhere else. But when Frodo showed no signs of moving, Merry eventually gave up and looked away, sighing softly. "I don’t know," he murmured. "I don’t know whether or not I’ll be fine."
"At least you haven’t ruled out the possibility," Frodo said, gently placing a hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. "That’s good."
"He’s down there somewhere," Merry whispered. "I know it, but I don’t know how to find him. And if he doesn’t make it out…"
"He will," Frodo whispered. "You just have to believe that. If you think anything else, it only hurts. You just have to believe that Pippin will come out with Legolas and Gimli and that we’ll be able to go on from there."
"But how can I?!" Merry demanded. "You saw the way Gimli and Legolas were ready to attack each other. Why should that be any different down there? And what if Pippin happens to get in the way? They’d never hurt him intentionally, but they’re both bigger than Pippin and if things get ugly…" Merry trailed off, unable to go on.
"I’ve met elves before, and I’ve also met quite a few dwarves," Frodo said. "And you know what? They’re actually very similar. Both are stubborn, both are proud, but both are loyal. Very loyal. They’ll protect Pippin, Merry. I’m sure of it"
"How can you be so certain?" Merry asked.
Frodo shrugged. "Because if I’m not, then I’m too worried to think. This is the only way to keep myself sane." A noise from behind then caught Frodo’s attention, and glancing over his shoulder, he grinned at what he saw. "How are you doing, Sam?"
"Whatever Strider gave me that knocked me out this morning didn’t agree with my stomach, I can tell you that much, Mr. Frodo," Sam grumbled as he made his way over to the other two hobbits.
"That’s another thing," Merry muttered. "I don’t like the idea of Strider drugging us. Maybe it was for our own good, but—"
"He should have said something, I know," Frodo interrupted, his tone quiet and soothing. "I’m upset, too, but thinking back on it, I don’t know as I’d have found any other way to get to sleep. And I know I would have refused if Strider offered to give me something. So it was really the only way for us to rest. What about you? Would you have taken something to help you sleep?"
"I wasn’t going to sleep," Merry confessed.
Sam frowned. "Why not? It was a nice day and I wouldn’t have minded enjoying it, but I don’t see as how staying awake for all of it would help find Pippin. I’m worried about him, too, but there’s nothing we can do except keep moving up the ravine."
"I don’t know exactly what I was thinking," Merry sighed. "And I still don’t. I just know that I’m worried and that I don’t like standing around with nothing to do."
"It will be all right," Frodo assured him, giving his shoulder a squeeze. "I don’t like this any more than you do, but right now, the only thing for us to do is sit sight and endure. Right, Sam?"
Sam nodded. "Mr. Frodo and I had a good long talk about this yesterday before we stopped for camp. It’s no use thinking about what might happen or what could be happening because we don’t know what really is happening. And until we know, there’s nothing we can do about it."
"I can’t just stop worrying!" Merry said, his frustration rising. "This is Pippin we’re talking about. I don’t see how you can just—"
"We’re also worried," Frodo said quickly. "But we’re not letting it get to us because we can be more useful if we stay calm. And that’s what you have to do, Merry. During the Old Forest, you were the only one who really didn’t panic. At least not until Old Man Willow. You have to be like that now. You have to be strong."
"But I knew the Old Forest," Merry whispered. "I knew what kind of dangers there were. Or, rather, I thought I knew. But this…this is so different!"
"It’s not different at all, Mr. Merry," Sam spoke up. "I was worried in that nasty Forest of yours, but if you were scared, you didn’t show it. And that helped. Now look at Gandalf and Strider and Boromir. They’re worried, too, but they’re also calm. And they know what’s going on better than we do. It will be okay, Merry, you just have to trust them."
"Strider was the one who drugged us," Merry pointed out sullenly.
Frodo sighed and shook his head. "So talk to him about it. Ask him exactly why he did it. I’m sure that he’ll tell you, and he’ll probably even apologize again, too."
"It wouldn’t do any good," Merry muttered. "It’s already done. He made us sleep."
"Well, if it’s already been done then why are you so upset?"
"You don’t understand, Frodo," Merry snapped.
"Merry, Pippin is also my friend. And he’s Sam’s friend. Gandalf, Strider, and Boromir all consider him a friend. They’re doing everything in their power to get us to a place where we can meet back up with Pippin. And we’ll find Legolas and Gimli there, too. What more can you ask, Merry? What more do you want us to do?"
Merry sighed wearily and rubbed his face. "I’m sorry, Frodo. I guess I’m just letting my worry go to my head. I don’t mean to be a problem, but…I don’t know what else to do."
"It’s okay to be worried," Frodo said softly. "Just don’t let it control you."
With a nod, Merry let out a deep breath and straightened. "Thanks," he whispered.
"That’s what friends are for," Frodo said, smiling slightly. He then turned back to the camp, keeping one hand on Merry’s shoulder. "I think we’re ready to go," he called, addressing his words to Gandalf, Boromir, and Aragorn.
"Bill is loaded and prepared?" Gandalf asked.
"Everything is set," Frodo answered, "and we’re all anxious to start over here."
Merry blinked and stared at Frodo. "You were waiting for me? You mean that the entire time we were talking we could have been traveling?"
"Not at first," Frodo shrugged. "Sam was still loading Bill."
"But after he came over here and joined us, we could have left?!"
"No, because you weren’t ready."
Some very choice words immediately came to mind as Merry struggled to control his growing rage, but the understanding in Frodo’s eyes and the compassion coming from Sam stopped his voice ere he could speak. Knowing he’d been defeated and deciding it was probably for the best, Merry allowed a rueful smile to spread across his face and shook his head. "Thanks again."
"As I already said, that’s what friends are for," Frodo answered as they began walking. "And you’re more than welcome."
* * * *
Legolas had finally admitted to himself why he was really in such a hurry to get out of the ravine. And in reality, it had very little to do with Pippin’s head injury, the desire to rejoin the Fellowship, or even Gimli’s company. Those were all influential factors, to be certain, but the true reason was something that went much deeper and touched upon the very essence of who Legolas was. The real reason for his insistence that they escape the ravine was because he felt he had lost control.
The sounds of yet another rockslide had echoed up the ravine in the late afternoon, and Gimli had casually mentioned that the cliff walls were extremely soft and highly susceptible to erosion. The ravine itself was the result of a river now gone that had cut into the rock and worn it away. Gimli suspected that the ravine had been widening ever since its formation because of the nature of the rocks that formed it. This was all somewhat interesting to Legolas, but it clearly illustrated for him the problem that had haunted him ever since falling into the gorge. He was not attuned to the rocks as Gimli was. At times he could hear them sigh or whisper of the elves who once dwelt here, but other than that, the world of Arda herself was closed to him. Gimli, on the other hand, had a sense for the cliffs and the boulders. He had felt the morning’s rockslide ere the first pebble had even begun to roll. Were it not for the dwarf’s senses, they might have all been buried, and this troubled Legolas deeply.
The elf was used to knowing his surroundings. He was used to having an awareness of the danger that threatened himself and his companions. But trapped in this ravine and caught between unstable walls, that sense was gone. He could not anticipate the occurrence of a rockslide as Gimli could. He could not look ahead and see the next threat coming from afar. To a large extent, his safety was now dependent upon the dwarf, and this dependency was severely threatening the elf’s sanity. Legolas felt that he had to escape the confines of the ravine soon or fall prey to the effects of madness!
Unfortunately, their journey had now come to a grinding halt. A recent rockslide, which Gimli had estimated to be about two days old, had blocked the path, and a tumble of piled boulders loomed above them, creating a cliff face of debris that could not easily be surmounted. Determined not to lose hope so quickly, Gimli had gone left while Legolas had gone right, each searching for a path that might take them around the wall. But neither had met with any success, and now both stood together again, staring at their newest obstacle as though the heat of their combined glares might melt the rocks and form of them a road to freedom.
Still cradled in the elf’s arms, Pippin blinked glazed eyes open and tried to turn his head. "Why have we stopped? What time is it?"
"The sun is setting," Legolas murmured, deciding to ignore the first question for now. "Rest. It will be dark soon."
"What’s happening?" Pippin persisted, squirming slightly. "Where’s Gimli?"
"Here," the dwarf answered absently, kneeling next to a large boulder and pressing his hand against it.
"What’s going on? Why aren’t we moving?" the hobbit demanded.
"A small delay," Legolas reassured him, hoping to reassure himself in the process. But the situation was desperately hopeless. Legolas was carrying Pippin and Gimli was still suffering the aftereffects of a dislocated shoulder. On his own, the elf might have been able to manage this sheer wall of boulders, but with a dazed hobbit to look after and an injured dwarf to consider, the task of moving forward was nigh unto impossible.
"I have no rope," Gimli announced after a lengthy pause. "What of you?"
"None," Legolas answered quietly, eyeing the rocks much as one would eye a dangerous adversary. "If any of the Fellowship thought to bring rope, it would have been Sam."
"He didn’t," Pippin muttered. "He was complaining about it the night we left."
"Then we shall have to find something that might serve as rope," Gimli murmured. "For that is the only way we shall manage to get Pippin over this."
Legolas frowned and wondered how a rope was going to help them. There was no one at the top of the pile to aid them, which mean that someone would have to go up there, a tricky prospect at best. And though Legolas was fairly confident that he could manage the climb, he did not think he could brace himself firmly enough to haul both a hobbit and a dwarf up after him. Though if I could leave the dwarf behind…
"Straps," Gimli suddenly said, interrupting the elf’s thoughts. "Straps for baggage and quivers. They shall have to do, for we have naught else. Yet length shall be a problem. Pippin, can you stand?"
Legolas felt the hobbit move experimentally in his arms. "Maybe," he eventually answered. "I’m still dizzy, but the world isn’t spinning so fast anymore."
"It would be unwise for you to climb in your current condition," Legolas said quietly, his words directed to Pippin but pitched so that they would carry to Gimli.
"I said nothing of climbing," Gimli replied rather tersely, correctly interpreting Legolas’s warning. "I asked if Pippin was able to stand."
"Not for very long and I’d probably need something to lean against," the hobbit confessed with a soft sigh.
"That can be arranged," Gimli murmured, now speaking more to himself than to anyone else. "I found a place just to the east where it appears that some of the rocks began ricocheting back off the far wall of the ravine. The pile is more jumbled there and because of this, there are ledges and outcroppings where one might stand. And these places are close enough that it might be possible to pull Pippin up into one and then ascend to the next with enough rope for there to still be some slack."
"If we sacrifice the straps, how shall we pull up our packs?" Legolas asked.
"The main concern as I see it, Master Elf, is to get Pippin over this obstacle. Baggage is of secondary importance."
"Nevertheless, this baggage contains food, supplies, and weapons, Master Dwarf," Legolas answered, his voice growing cold. "It is not lightly left behind. Aside from being needful for our journey, should it be discovered it would be an obvious indication that we had passed this way. It might also reveal clues as to who and what we are."
Gimli was quiet for a moment, his dark eyes boring into the elf’s, and then he grunted slightly. "Then we shall find a way to leave nothing behind," he said. "Once Pippin is safely over, the rope will no longer be needed and the baggage can be retrieved."
"Time consuming," Legolas pointed out with a shake of his head. "And time is of the essence."
"Have you a better idea?" the dwarf demanded.
Unfortunately, Legolas didn’t. Nor was it likely that he would suddenly find a better idea in the near future. Rocks and quarries were not his specialty, and he was already disconcerted by his forced dependence upon the dwarf. Beyond that, he was now experiencing feelings of helplessness and vulnerability. There seemed to be absolutely nothing he could do about their predicament, and this idea did not sit well with the elf. But until he could rectify the situation, he would have to trust some of his safety to the dwarf, unpleasant as that might be. And so, with jaw tightening and eyes hard as oak, Legolas reluctantly swallowed his pride and met Gimli’s questioning stare. "Where is this place you spoke of?"
A look of supreme triumph flashed across Gimli’s face, but it vanished before Legolas could say aught. Assuming a casual expression, the dwarf turned toward the east and began walking. "This way," he answered, his voice calm but touched with a hint of smugness. "It is not far."
Legolas was sorely tempted to lash out at the dwarf, but fortunately for all involved, he managed to curb his tongue and his temper. It was no easy task and required almost all of his willpower, but it was accomplished. Thus, with a rigid walk and stony eyes, Legolas followed the dwarf along the base of the rock pile, still trying to work out the logistics of the plan in his mind. If they lashed together all the straps from their packs, they would form a stiff rope but it would be very short, probably just a bit more than four meters in length. It they were going to use it to haul Pippin up the debris, they would need to find several ledges that were quite close together. And Legolas still hadn’t figured out how Gimli was going to manage the climb. The dwarf was trying to hide it, but Legolas could tell that he was still favoring his right arm.
"Here," Gimli announced, stopping next to the remains of a tree that appeared to have been caught in the slide.
Glancing up at the rocks, Legolas ran critical eyes over the course they were to climb and eventually had to admit—to himself, at any rate, for he would never admit this aloud—that the dwarf was right. There was a possibility that they could manage this. "Pippin, I am going to set you down for a moment," the elf murmured, kneeling and gently lowering the hobbit to the ground.
"I can try standing if you need me to," Pippin answered.
"Nay, rest a bit. For the time being, your assistance is not required."
Pippin seemed more than happy with this arrangement, and Legolas shook his head in amusement. Even in dire circumstances, hobbits could find joy in the little things. Alas that much of my innocence was lost centuries ago, the elf sighed, unbuckling his quiver and removing the strap. He took his belt off as well and looked up as Gimli’s belt and straps joined his.
"If we lash this rope onto Pippin’s belt, the rest can be used for climbing," the dwarf said, glancing at the hobbit.
"Then let us set to work," Legolas said, tying his quiver strap and belt together. "I will do the initial climbing while you stay behind and steady Pippin. When I have found a place where the hobbit might rest comfortably, I shall pull him up and then repeat the process. How shall you climb this, Master Dwarf?"
"I suspect I shall climb it the same way you do," the dwarf answered gruffly, a warning light gleaming in his eyes.
"In that, you are wrong. My reach is longer than yours and in this I shall have the advantage," Legolas shot back, feeling a small thrill at the idea that he was about to force Gimli into admitting a weakness. "Beyond that, your arm is still tender and I would advise against putting too much strain on it."
"Worry about yourself, elf," Gimli said sharply. "You shall have enough to look after on your own." The dwarf then seized the rope Legolas had made of his belt and quiver strap, connecting them to the straps and belt he had contributed. "Think yourself ready?"
"A dwarf is not the only being who is always ready," Legolas answered coolly, taking the rope back and wrapping one end around his hand. "I shall begin the ascent while you see to securing Pippin."
"What’s going on?" Pippin asked blearily.
"Naught for a moment," Gimli answered, kneeling next to the hobbit and looping the makeshift rope around his belt.
"Are we climbing yet?"
"Do I need to stand?"
"It depends upon the elf," Gimli answered, glancing at Legolas. "Hopefully, no."
Ignoring the obvious skepticism in Gimli’s tone, Legolas backed away from the pile of rocks and looked for the first series of handholds. Finding what appeared to be a suitable starting place, he stepped forward and began. It was not as easy as climbing trees since his senses could not immediately place the next foothold, but Legolas soon found that it was not as difficult as he’d anticipated. Pulling himself up on the first ledge and determining that it would probably support both Pippin and Gimli, he turned around and glanced back down expectantly. The dwarf roused the hobbit and murmured something to him. Responding to whispered instructions, Pippin drew his legs up into his chest, wrapped one arm around the rope, and then wrapped the other arm around his head.
"I shall climb beside him," Gimli called up. "Do not pull too fast."
Legolas frowned and wondered just what kind of an idiot the dwarf took him for. Of course he was not going to pull too fast, for that would bash Pippin against the rocks. Exercising great restraint, Legolas waited until the dwarf had begun to scramble up the rock, and then he began pulling the hobbit next to him. Between the two of them, they managed to keep Pippin away from the rocky surface for the most part, though his back did scrap along the last bit where it slanted.
"Hold your position, Master Dwarf," Legolas instructed, continuing to pull Pippin. "This ledge is wide enough only for two."
Gimli didn’t answer and Legolas wondered if his arm was bothering him. But regardless of his condition, the dwarf did stop climbing and braced himself with his feet and his left arm, his right arm coming down and hanging limply at his side. Shaking his head at the dwarf’s stubbornness, Legolas pulled Pippin the rest of the way up and propped him against the rock wall.
"It is wide enough here for you to sit, my friend," Legolas whispered, brushing Pippin’s hair off his forehead. The hobbit’s eyes were wide and he was staring at the ground below them, his mind apparently turning the ten feet into fifty. "Pippin?" Legolas prompted, reluctant to leave the hobbit until he had received something of a response.
"I’m fine here," Pippin finally answered. "Go on."
"Worry not," Legolas assured him. "We shall surmount this obstacle. Gimli shall be here soon to see that you do not slip."
"I know," Pippin muttered, shutting his eyes and turning his head away from the ground. "But knowing it and believing it are two different things. Go on, I’ll be fine."
Deciding that this was a much as could be expected from the hobbit, Legolas nodded and stood, searching for the next available handhold. He found it quickly and once again began climbing, aiming for another small ledge that might support Pippin and Gimli. Below him, he heard the dwarf’s chain mail clinking against the rocks, and then came murmured words of comfort as Gimli pulled himself up next to the hobbit. It struck the elf for the first time that Gimli had always been very protective of the hobbits. Strange that I did not notice before, Legolas thought to himself, pausing to glance back down. It was a rather odd sight, actually. Pippin was pressing hard against the side of the piled debris, and Gimli had placed himself between the hobbit and the edge, acting as a shield should aught happen. In addition to that, the dwarf was still whispering to Pippin, but his words were so low that even Legolas could not quite make out what was said. The few words he did catch seemed to be variations on the theme of safety and encouragement, and despite their rather precarious position, it seemed that whatever Gimli was saying actually helped. Pippin was certainly not the quintessence of peace and tranquility, but his pale face did regain a bit of color and his rapid breathing seemed to slow marginally.
All of which was neither here nor there, and mildly berating himself, Legolas turned his attention back to the task at hand, which involved finding a foothold while he scrambled for a grip on the ledge that sat just above his head. This particular area proved to be a bit more difficult as the cliff was slightly undercut, but after some rather innovative maneuvering, Legolas hooked one leg over a rock outcropping and managed to swing himself up.
"Pippin?" Legolas called down.
"He is ready," Gimli answered as Pippin clutched at the rope and drew his legs up again.
Bracing himself as much as he was able, Legolas nodded and then began pulling the hobbit up the side of the rockslide. Gimli scrambled up alongside Pippin, still favoring his right arm, and managed to keep the hobbit from receiving too many knocks and bruises as he swung haphazardly through the air. Eventually, Legolas was able to reach down and take Pippin by the arms, lifting him up and over the edge that jutted out slightly. After making certain that the hobbit was still somewhat calm and seeing that he was positioned a safe distance from the drop off, Legolas then looked back down and silently groaned.
Gimli was not faring as well as his companions. His arms were not long enough to safely reach the next handhold, and his right shoulder was not up to taking the strain necessary to get up onto the ledge. Wondering at his actions but forcing himself to move before he could think things through, Legolas stretched out on his stomach and lowered one arm.
"You will need assistance for this part."
Gimli froze at the elf’s voice, and a multitude of emotions raced through his dark eyes. They moved too quickly for Legolas to interpret them, but he was quite confident that the dwarf was less than pleased. For a small eternity, nothing happened. And then Gimli looked up, his face unreadable.
"Will that ledge hold all of us?"
"Yes. It is larger than the last one," Legolas answered.
Gimli gave a slow nod, took a deep breath, and then reluctantly stretched his left hand up toward the elf. Legolas had to scoot forward in order to reach him, but he managed to get a good grip around the dwarf’s wrist while the dwarf grasped the elf’s gauntlet in return. "I am ready," Gimli murmured, and his voice was gruff and angry.
Stifling a smile and making certain that he was securely braced, Legolas took a breath and then pulled. For a moment, he was certain that the weigh of the dwarf would take them both back to the ground. He had not expected Gimli to be quite this heavy, and though the dwarf was helping as much as he could by pushing off with his feet, it was still a surprisingly difficult task. Scrambling backward across the slippery ledge, he felt the rock shudder beneath him and his heart froze. Gimli apparently felt it also, for his grip loosened and he began to pull against the elf.
"Hold still, foolish dwarf!" Legolas hissed, struggling to keep his hold.
"We are too heavy. Let me go!" Gimli protested.
"If you ascend quickly, then I will be able to leave this ledge and decrease the weight," Legolas shot back. He might not have any great fondness for the dwarf, but Legolas wasn’t about to let him fall. They’d come too far to lose him to something so trivial.
"You doom Pippin!"
"As do you. Now quit struggling and start helping!"
But the dwarf was nothing if not stubborn, and Legolas was making no progress in lifting Gimli any higher. In fact, he was beginning to slide forward and if he didn’t find a burst of strength soon, he was going to have to release the dwarf or risk falling himself. Yet even though Legolas possessed the legendary strength of the elves, he simply did not have the needed leverage to pull the solid dwarf up onto the ledge. He had almost given up hope when he felt small hands wrap around his ankle.
"Pippin?" he questioned, glancing back incredulously.
"I might not be able to keep my balance when I stand, but I can still help," Pippin muttered, his eyes shut tight.
"Together, then," Legolas said, hoping he wasn’t asking too much of the hobbit. But at the moment, he could think of nothing else to do. And though Pippin’s strength was rather small, the hobbit had locked his feet around a gnarled tree stump that protruded from the debris and was secure in his position. It was just the leverage that Legolas needed, and with one great burst of energy, he bodily hauled Gimli up onto the ledge.
Blinking in surprise as he landed next to the exhausted elf, Gimli instinctively dropped to his stomach and tried to evenly distribute his weight. "That was foolish," he warned.
"Then we are all fools," Legolas answered, not having the energy to debate the issue.
"You more than most, elf, for this ledge will not hold us for long."
Anger flashed through Legolas, but he was too tired to heed it. Instead, he decided to ignore the dwarf for the time being and determine his next move. The next ledge was about twenty feet above him, and Legolas grimaced. The rope wouldn’t reach that far.
"I’m going to have to climb, aren’t I?" Pippin asked, resting on his back and following Legolas’s gaze.
"The elf and I will climb together," Gimli answered, moving toward the rock wall but staying on his stomach. "You, Master Hobbit, shall have to keep yourself clear of the cliff face on your own. We will pull you up after us."
"Is that wise?" Legolas asked.
"No, but since fate has just blessed you with fortune, I will risk my own stupid idea and hope that fortune is as kind to me. Come."
Legolas was not used to being ordered around by dwarves. It went against his upbringing, his personality, his beliefs, and his prejudices. He was also not used to being called foolish. The dwarf had gotten away with it the first few times, but Legolas’s patience was beginning to wear thin and Gimli would not be so lucky in the future. But at the moment, stranded as they were on the side of a cliff, Legolas decided there was really nothing he could do about it save to plot revenge for a later date. And so he wearily labored to his feet, wondered if he had pulled something in his arm, and began scrambling up after the dwarf.
At length, he felt the rope that he grasped pull taut, and he knew that the next step upwards would lift Pippin off the ground. He stopped for a moment, trying to collect his strength, and almost lost his hold as he started in surprise when Gimli reached over and seized the improvised rope. "This next area shall be difficult," Gimli said, looking at the climb above them. "We shall have to coordinate our movements. Take care, Master Elf."
"I fear that you are the one who shall need care," Legolas said coldly. "Do you feel yourself ready?"
"So long as your own strength is not overtaxed."
A dark glare crossed Legolas’s face and in answer to Gimli’s question, he started upward. A soft exclamation echoed up from below as Pippin suddenly found himself swinging, and then Gimli’s strength began assisting them. Little by little, elf and dwarf managed to move towards the next ledge. But it was difficult, for both were essentially climbing with one hand only, and for Gimli, that one hand was attached to an injured shoulder. As upset as he was with the dwarf, Legolas couldn’t help but notice that Gimli was beginning to move very slowly with each new handhold.
"Hold your peace, elf," Gimli hissed, never ceasing to climb. "Save your energy for other things."
Legolas sighed, but if the dwarf wanted to play it that way, he wasn’t going to interfere. Why should he care anyway? Because were it not for the dwarf, you would still be looking for a way over this blockade, the cynical half of his mind pointed out. Legolas shook his head, trying to silence his traitorous thoughts, but he could not quite accomplish that. Once acknowledged, the thought stayed with him, and it could not be ignored.
Glancing up and trying to occupy his mind with physical action, Legolas noticed that the next ledge would not be hard for him to reach if he could but release Pippin for a moment. He looked over at the dwarf and tried to evaluate his condition, but Gimli was doing an admirable job of hiding his weariness.
Then I shall put that weariness to the test, Legolas decided. "Master Dwarf, have you the strength to support Pippin on your own for perhaps half a minute."
Gimli blinked at this and then turned his eyes upward. Apparently guessing what Legolas had in mind, he sighed quietly, seemed to collect himself, and then nodded. "Go."
That was not exactly the response Legolas had been looking for, though he conceded to himself that he really couldn’t expect the dwarf to bare his soul to an enemy while clinging to the side of a cliff. And so, quickly getting over his disappointment that Gimli had not confessed his exhaustion, Legolas slowly allowed the dwarf to take all of Pippin’s weight. Gimli’s face paled and his arm trembled slightly, but he showed no signs of failing in his grip.
Reassured that Gimli would be able to hold his position for a moment longer, Legolas hastily scrambled upwards and quickly pulled himself onto the ledge. Peering back down, he lowered his hand as he had done before and reached for the rope. Gimli had to lift himself a bit higher in order for the elf to catch the straps, but he somehow managed it and Legolas was soon pulling Pippin to safer ground. While he handled the hobbit, Gimli’s stubborn pride reasserted itself, and the dwarf eventually swung his shaking body up next to the elf, refusing all offers of aid but visibly shaking with weariness.
The rest of the climb was nowhere near as eventful as the first few ledges had been. The cliff began to slope and it soon turned into more of a very steep hill, though much care was still needed and Pippin was still pulled rather than moving on his own. But at length, the ordeal came to an end and Legolas could not help but breathe a sigh of relief as he detached the makeshift rope from Pippin’s belt.
"That was interesting," Pippin murmured, rubbing his head.
"Indeed it was, Master Took," Legolas laughed quietly.
"What about all our packs, though? They’re still back there along with your quiver." Pippin started to sit up, but he stopped before he could do so and clutched his head. "I don’t think I can help you get them," he muttered.
"And I did not expect you to," Legolas reassured him. "I shall now go myself while you wait here with the dwarf."
Upon hearing this, Gimli glanced up and frowned. He was weaving slightly where he stood and rubbing his right shoulder almost unconsciously. Legolas wondered if it had separated again sometime during the climb, but as Gimli had not yet spoken of it, the elf had not asked. "I do not think an elf can carry all of our baggage in one attempt," the dwarf said quietly.
Anger boiled through Legolas’s blood, but he forced his mind to calm, deciding that a sullen remark by an exhausted dwarf did not warrant his ire. "We shall see," he answered, his voice casual but cold. Buckling his own belt back on, he shouldered the remainder of the straps and prepared to descend the cliff.
Legolas stopped and glared at the dwarf. They did not have time to pursue this conversation. He was about to say something to that effect, but Gimli’s next words stopped him.
"I…my shoulder is dislocated again. It would be well to set it and then allow it to…rest…before we continue."
The disturbing thought occurred to Legolas that, had their positions been reversed, he would have probably said nothing about a dislocated shoulder. He would have certainly not trusted the dwarf to care for it. What had it cost Gimli in pride to speak of this infirmity?
His mind filled with confusion, Legolas approached the dwarf and moved behind him. Wordlessly, he wrapped one arm around Gimli’s chest and pulled the dwarf back, using his own body as a brace. Then in one smooth motion, he jerked the dislocated right arm down, out, and then pushed it back in. Gimli shuddered, but did not cry out. He slumped forward against the elf’s hold and Legolas was still for a moment in case the dwarf needed further aid. But after a minute of silence, Gimli took a deep breath and then broke away from the elf. "My thanks," he said gruffly, unable to meet Legolas’s eyes.
Not quite sure what to say to that, Legolas settled for a nod, though what good that did only the Valar knew, for Gimli was not even looking at him. Still, it made Legolas feel slightly better, and he turned again to the cliff, preparing to let himself down. But just as he was about to release his handhold and slide to the closest ledge, he stopped. He had no way of knowing when Gimli’s shoulder had become dislocated, but it had probably been early in the climb. And the dwarf had then managed to continue, without a word of complaint, until he reached the top. It was a feat that garnered even Legolas’s respect, and because of this, the elf could not let it pass without comment. He had been raised as a prince among nobles, and though criticism had certainly been a part of his training, he had also been taught to give praise where it was due. And such a display of strength and endurance was simply too admirable to ignore. Knowing he was probably going to regret his next words but unable to stop himself, Legolas sighed and looked at the dwarf.
Gimli looked up, meeting Legolas’s gaze with reluctance, and his eyes were suspicious, as though expecting some taunt or jibe. "Yes?"
"Given the circumstances, you performed well."
Unbridled shock flashed across Gimli’s face and his mouth dropped open slightly as he frantically searched for something to say in response. But with his praise given, Legolas was not going to linger any longer. The situation was awkward enough already, and they had a Fellowship to meet. And so, turning his head quickly, he concentrated on lowering himself down the cliff face and getting out of the dwarf’s view as quickly as possible.
As a result, he missed the brief look of gratitude and reciprocated admiration that appeared briefly upon Gimli’s face.
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