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In the Deep Places: 2. Echoes of Doom
They had been walking for nearly eight hours when Gandalf finally called a halt. They had reached a wide dark arch, with three passages branching away before them. All traveled east, the left hand passage plunging down, the right going up, and the middle going straight ahead. Gandalf stood with his staff raised, shining light before them, and frowned. “I have no memory of this place,” he murmured. They stood for some moments, watching the wizard, and Gimli could see the Hobbits exchange doubtful glances. Finally Gandalf shrugged and turned aside. “We are due for a rest,” he announced, and led the way into a small room away from the three passages. “We will gather strength, while I remember our course.”
Gimli was grateful, though he never would have admitted it. Even the legendary endurance of the Dwarves had been tested by the long march in the dark. The room was small, a guard’s alcove no doubt, with the remains of a well in the center. There was but one entrance, and Gimli felt immediately secure with the solid stone at his back. The Hobbits sighed in relief as they dropped their packs and immediately began searching for foodstuffs. Sam simply dropped to the ground where he stood and closed his eyes. He had insisted on carrying the bulk of the baggage they had unloaded from Bill, and Gimli wondered if he weren’t now paying the price. Certainly the Hobbit looked ready to sleep where he sat, and might have done so, had Pippin not pushed him over in order to dig the salt out of his pack. Gimli smiled at that and resolved to transfer some of the weight from Sam’s pack to his own. He could unload some of the heavier items while the Hobbit slept, if necessary.
Satisfied that the Hobbits had dinner well underway, Gimli turned his attention to the rest of the Fellowship. Boromir was watching the Hobbits with weary amusement. Gandalf was sitting on a loose pile of rock, his staff propped next to him, a faint light still emanating from the tip. The dim light cast the wizard’s face into a maze of shadows and emphasized his craggy features. His eyes glinted brightly, however, as he gazed at something behind Gimli.
Gimli bent down to unpack his bedroll, using the movement as an excuse to turn a bit and see what Gandalf was looking at. Aragorn was seated against the far wall, his elbows resting on his knees, his eyes half closed. He looked weary, but alert. Gimli knew of the tension between Aragorn and Gandalf over the choice of path. One would have had to be deaf, dumb, and blind to miss it, really. But the Ranger had acquiesced easily enough when the road over Caradhras had proved impassable.
Still, Aragorn was clearly not at ease, and for all his relaxed posture his hands were never far from the hilt of Andúril at his side. Gimli wondered if the Man were thinking of his previous journey along these paths. Aragorn had offered no details of that piece of his past, but clearly the memory troubled him.
A slight movement in his peripheral vision caught the Dwarf’s attention, and he sighed. Aragorn had a look of wary alertness, but the Man was positively slothful compared to the Elf beyond him.
Legolas was tense as a whip. He was nearly pacing, taking a few steps to one side, then the other, then holding himself absolutely still and listening with a look of intense concentration. Alone of the Company he had discarded neither his pack nor his weapons. His eyes were wide as he peered around the small alcove. Gimli watched as Merry approached with some trepidation and offered the Elf a bit of the bread and dried meat that the Hobbits had unpacked. Legolas glanced down at him with an air of distracted impatience and shook his head briefly. Then he turned away and stared intently at the entrance to their chamber. Gimli couldn’t imagine what the Elf hoped to see out there – with the only light here in the room with them, the entrance was an impenetrable black chasm. Merry, for his part, looked at Legolas a moment longer, then shrugged and carried the Elf’s portion off to eat himself.
Gimli smiled a bit and went over to the pile that the Hobbits had made to claim his own dinner. He took his fair share of the meat and bread, and also snagged some of the dried fruit that Sam had been hoarding. He ignored Pippin’s look of dismay and with a sense of immense satisfaction he carried his food back to his bedroll and settled down to eat, with one eye still on the archer.
He had not forgotten Legolas’ earlier insults. More than that, he suspected that the Elf had been manipulating him all along. Certainly Legolas had achieved his goal, for they had all crossed the chasm, though the sensible thing would have been to backtrack and find another path. The Elf had an uncanny ability to get under Gimli’s skin, but in this most recent case Gimli suspected that his natural responses had been used against him. He had been goaded into abandoning all common sense, and the rest of the Fellowship had followed suit. It was to be expected that they should follow him, Gimli thought, for Dwarves were natural leaders. He must remember his responsibility to the Company. The others were looking to him for guidance here, in his natural environment. He was more at home in the vast caverns than any of the others, even Gandalf. The Elf’s words demanded retribution, but there was a time and place for everything, even vengeance. He would be more careful in the future. He must not allow Legolas’ increasingly irrational behavior to put the others at risk.
He supposed that the dark was taking its toll on the Elf. They were much enamored with dancing in the moonlight, it seemed, but had not the stamina for real night as it came to the deep places of the world. Truth to tell, Gimli himself was not terribly comfortable with their surroundings. Returning to Moria was a dream held by all Durin’s kin, but the echoing caverns, devoid of any sign of life, wore on Gimli’s spirits. Where was Balin? Had he even made it past the doors? It seemed more and more likely that he had not. This place was a tomb, a mausoleum of all Dwarven hopes and ambitions. It seemed fated that the Khazad were ever to be driven from their homes, hounded and scorned by other races. Let the Elf shiver and jump at shadows. Moria was lost to all Durin’s folk, and if the doom of the Dwarves caused the Elves some discomfort, it was a small justice.
Gimli was pulled from these dark thoughts by a sudden, echoing clang that seemed to ring from the very depths of the earth and reverberate through all the echoing caverns around them. He jerked in surprise. The sound was of a sharp, small plunk that bounced from wall to wall and grew through repetition in the shadows. To Gimli’s experienced ears the echoes gave a very clear impression of the sheer vastness of the labyrinth around them, and in his mind’s eye he could see the endless tunnels, the great halls and stretching pillars. The sound grew fainter and more distorted as it passed away through the dark, but it took a long time to fade.
Gandalf, Aragorn, and Boromir were on their feet; Frodo, Sam and Merry whirled around to stare, and Gimli followed their eyes to the center of the room. Legolas, already on edge, had leaped forward at the noise and caught Pippin by the wrist. He held the Hobbit upright, nearly pulling him into mid-air. His face was unnaturally pale and strained, and one of his long white knives glinted in his hand.
“What’s that?” demanded Gandalf.
Pippin was in no condition to answer. He was pale with shock, and it looked to Gimli as if Legolas had half-wrenched his arm from its socket. After a moment the Elf loosened his hold, setting the Hobbit gently on his feet and stepping back.
“Forgive me, young Master Took,” Legolas said. He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. “I saw you investigating the well, but I did not expect . . .” his voice trailed off and he took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again they were calm. Whatever emotion he had felt was gone, or at least well hidden. “You startled me,” he finished quietly.
That was an understatement if ever there was one, Gimli thought. He resolved to keep a closer watch on Legolas for the duration of their journey through Moria. Elven reflexes and cave-induced paranoia did not make for a good combination.
Pippin seemed to have gotten his breath back, though he stared at the Elf with wide eyes. He was massaging his right wrist and appeared a bit shaken. “No, it’s all right, Legolas,” he managed at last. “I shouldn’t have, I know that . . . I was just curious, and . . .”
“And what?” Gandalf came forward, eyebrows bristling, and Pippin quailed.
“I dropped a stone in the well,” he whispered miserably. “I know I shouldn’t have, but –”
“Quite right you shouldn’t have!” Gandalf exclaimed. He glared at Pippin, and the Hobbit dropped his eyes and shifted nervously. “Fool of a Took! This is a serious journey, not a Hobbit walking-party! Throw yourself in next time, and then you will be no further nuisance! Now be quiet!”
They were all quiet, listening intently. Gimli was just beginning to relax when Legolas drew a sharp breath and turned toward the well. Then Gimli heard it: a faint knocking from the depths, the tom-tap of metal on stone. For an instant he was back in the forges of his childhood, feeling his father’s rough hands over his own small fingers as he grasped the heavy implements, the song of Dwarven smith-craft all around them. He listened transfixed for a long moment, then gradually the knocking died away and the last echoes faded to silence.
“That was the sound of a hammer, or I have never heard one,” Gimli said softly. He was surprised at the weak timber of his voice. The hollow sounds were a mockery of the sound of Dwarven industry that he had so longed to hear. It was as if the ghosts of Durin’s folk, slain here so long ago, sought remembrance in the very echoes. But whatever signaled now did so with ill intent, and Gimli was badly shaken.
“Yes,” said Gandalf, “and I do not like it. It may have nothing to do with Peregrin’s foolish stone; but probably something has been disturbed that would have been better left quiet. Pray, do nothing of the kind again! Let us hope we shall get some rest without further trouble. You, Pippin, can go on first watch, as a reward.” With that Gandalf wrapped a blanket around himself and settled against the far wall.
The others seemed to take this as a cue, for the other Hobbits arranged their usual sleeping pile with some sympathetic looks toward Pippin. Sam was asleep almost instantly, and the others soon followed. Even Boromir was soon laid out under his cloak, one hand resting on the horn of Gondor at his side.
For his part, Gimli looked to Aragorn. Pippin had been foolish, and the Dwarf could appreciate the justice of Gandalf’s sentence, but surely they would not leave the Hobbit to keep watch all alone?
But Aragorn did not seem to share his misgivings, for the Man had set his pack near Boromir’s and was clearly preparing to sleep. Gimli made his way over to him. Aragorn had stretched out on his side, but he propped himself up on one elbow at Gimli’s approach.
“What is it, Master Dwarf?”
Dwarves were never ones for roundabout inquiries, and Gimli got straight to the point. “We cannot let him stand watch alone.”
Aragorn raised his eyebrows. “He is a capable watchman, and we are close at hand. None of us will be sleeping too deeply this night, Gimli. Pippin will serve.”
Gimli scowled. “I do not doubt his ability to sound alarm should the need arise. But even the best warrior cannot leap instantly from sleep to battle. We must have a trained fighter on guard as well.”
“Even the best warrior cannot fight without sleep, Gimli.” Aragorn sighed. “We are all weary . . . of the shadows, and there is evil here . . .” His voice was so soft that Gimli could barely hear it, and he seemed to have forgotten the Dwarf standing over him. Then the mood passed, it seemed, and he smiled slightly. “We must sleep, Shadow or no. But fear not. I do not think that Pippin will stand watch alone.”
Gimli turned to follow the Ranger’s gaze, and saw Legolas still standing near the well. The Elf had discarded his pack and sheathed his knife, but his bow was in his hands and he stood alert and tense, his head cocked slightly as though listening.
“He will not sleep tonight,” Aragorn said softly. “I wonder if he sleeps at all during this march in the dark. He will be your guard, Master Dwarf, and the wearier for it. All the more reason for the rest of us to sleep well, and be fresh tomorrow.”
Gimli stepped back as Aragorn lay down again. He stood a moment irresolute, and glanced from the Ranger to the Elf. Legolas was clearly watching and listening with all his might, and had probably overheard their conversation, soft as it was. But the Elf gave no sign, and never took his eyes from the dark entrance to their small chamber.
Gimli huffed to himself as he moved toward his own bedroll. Aragorn might trust to the guard of an Elf, but he was after all a Man and might be excused for such foolish notions. Gimli was a Dwarf, and the Elf had nearly attacked a member of their Company in a fit of nerves. Gimli settled himself against the wall and propped his axe close at hand. He folded his arms across his chest and studied the archer in the faint light of Gandalf’s staff. Granted, he had proved himself a capable warrior during their journey thus far. As much as he might dislike the Elf, Gimli had to concede that much. Despite his attachment to that flimsy bow and those ridiculously light knives, Legolas had fought well against the wolves when they came down off of Caradhras, and again in the fight against the Watcher. But the endless stone and darkness were clearly taking their toll, and Gimli had no intention of leaving his companions’ lives to the care of an increasingly edgy Elf. They would be safe, he thought, for Glóin’s son was on guard.
Next up: Chapter 3, a return to Legolas’ POV. Angst, angst, angst!
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