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Time and Times and Half a Time, A : 2. Bitter Mirth
I have been sitting here for over three hours now, telling myself the darkest,
sickest jokes I have ever heard in my life.
I know a lot of them, and they truly are filthy things - perverted, obscene,
bloodthirsty tales, the kind only ever heard in the worst kind of barracks.
I cannot say I am proud to know them.
I heard most of them first from Oin, almost ninety years ago. He was my captain
for my first ever expedition against the orcs of the Blue Mountains, back when
I was a youth of two-and-fifty. The expedition was a disaster, for Oin and I
and four other Dwarves became separated from the main party just as night fell,
and had to be rescued at dawn.
There were six of us, five of us mere Dwarvlings, and we spent the entire night
waiting in ambush for a party of Orcs. *They,* alas, were waiting in ambush
for *us* in the thicket opposite. We - the Dwarvlings not yet grown - were scared
most out of our wits, cold, hungry and miserable, and Oin, the leader of the
party, kept us sane through all those hours with jokes and tales of such foul
humour that under any other circumstance would certainly have made us blush
to the tips of our half-grown beards. We did not dare laugh aloud, but our smiles
were like scavengers on the prowl, sharp and predatory with just the thinnest
of guilt edges.
They were dark tales he told us that night - tales like the Troll's Whore, and
Lackwit and the Goblin, and the Thief of Rhun - and some that were worse still.
I do not care for them, not normally, but tonight ... tonight, their obscene
and gruesome humour touches me now much as it did then.
No, do not mistake me. I am no lover of crude vulgarity, no more than so any
other Dwarf. We are not a courtly race, but we are at least known as a courteous
one. But sometimes you find yourself facing a situation so dark and so terrible
that you *must* laugh at how foul and sick a place the world can be ... if only
to prevent yourself being driven into madness and despair by it. They say that
it takes a dark joke to lighten a dark place - but tonight I doubt there is
any joke dark enough, nor any tale foul enough to entertain me. Tonight I am
far beyond the help of such songs as 'The Jolly Brown Turd' and 'Seven Dwarvish
You see, it is very likely that before dawn comes I am going to have to kill
my closest friend. Can there *be* any joke darker than that?
Only one; and that is the fact that I am doing it of my own free will.
In the name of Durin ... *why* did it have to be thus?
But I am stupid to ask. I was the one who brought it on myself, and I did so
knowingly. I chose it, like a fool.
I could have let some other of the party keep watch. I could have entrusted
the deed to Aragorn, as Gandalf bade me. Yes, I should have - a thousand times
over I should have! But I would not.
Why - *why* - did I choose to endure alone this darkest of nights?
No; the others are not asleep, or absent. Gandalf has taken himself off in search
of healing herbs, he says in case a miracle occurs. Aragorn is standing a little
way off, trying to make it appear that he is not watching us. His sword is drawn,
and if I were fool enough to ask him why, he would say it is in case Orcs lurk
nearby. I am no master of subtle talk, but even I can catch a double-meaning
in such words. And the two younger Hobbits - lucky are they to have survived
the siege of Isengard when all else went so grim - they still cling together
underneath their blanket by the fire. Sometimes I can hear them whispering together.
But they will not sleep tonight. None of us will.
And Legolas - he who was my friend and comrade? No; he does not sleep either.
He lies before me like one dead, though I can feel the faint pulse beating at
his neck. He was almost unrecognisable when we found him, save for his face.
We found an Orc - an Orc with an Elven face.
They did not touch his face, you see - that was the genius of Saruman's mockery.
He was not content to bring forth the Uruk-hai - he has delved deeper. He wanted
us to know that he is capable of aping even Melkor at his foulest, on one who
had been appointed to the Fellowship - one whom we held dear, and he wanted
us to recognise what he had wrought.
That is why I watch this night. If the orkish body has brought with it the orkish
mind, then none of us are safe while he lives. And if not ... oh, I do not know
what will happen if not. I am no seer, but whichever happens I see only pain
No, I could not trust this task to any other. When he wakes, I will be the one
who sees what wakes in him. I will be the one who must decide between his life
and his death. I will be the one who must kill him, if needs be. A cruel task,
maybe; but I cannot surrender it. If Aragorn or Gandalf took that choice, however
wisely - I would never forgive them.
I am a fool, to make myself the butt of such bitter mirth. What else can I do
but laugh? After all, here I am, waiting out the night, next to the unconscious
body of what was once my closest friend, with my axe at my side, and my hunting
knife ready at my right hand, preparing, if necessary, to kill him when he wakes.
Is it any wonder that I grieve?
* * *
I met him first in Rivendell, at Elrond's Council, and thought no more of him
than I did of any other Elf, which is to say not very much. Too fine to be strong,
and too fey to be sound - that was how Legolas once put it to me, with his usual
ear for a well-wrought phrase. Well, that was how I saw him, much as I did all
his race. Not to mention the fact that I saw in him all the arrogance of a King's
son, of the race of the First-born.
If the truth be told, I had other reasons for not wanting to be involved with
Elves, and with *this* Elf in particular. Gloin's line has not forgotten how
he and the other companions of Thorin Oakenshield were treated by the King of
Mirkwood, on their road to the Kingdom under the Mountain. An old grudge, I
suppose, but we are Dwarves, after all. We do not forget our grievances.
No, I had no reason to like him, and many to despise him; and if I ignored him
- well, he did no less to me in return. It did not prevent our cooperation,
and, after all, nobody would expect any great friendship between us. I suppose
I had some distant respect for him, for he did do valiantly, but I could not
like him. Too often we clashed, not fiercely, but quietly, as a matter of habit,
whenever he or I felt the honour of our races impugned.
So might it have continued, had we not passed through Lorien.
But how can I speak *now* of Lorien? This is no time to ponder now on what passed
between us in Lorien, or the bonds it forged between us. After his discourtesy
and arrogance when we entered the wood, my indifference towards him had hardened
into positive dislike, but the wood changed us both in ways for which there
are no words.
We left it friends. Was that so very hard?
Yes ... Yes, very hard. I am a Dwarf, and we neither forgive nor forget. I had
been the guest of Elrond, but he has not yet forgotten the debt he owes to Durin's
folk. I have been given the friendship of Galadriel, but she is of the Noldor,
who above all the Elves honour Aulë. But this overprivileged princeling of
the Sindarin? Yes; very difficult.
I am thankful, I suppose, that none of our companions witnessed our quarrel,
that first night in Lorien. They at least never saw how deep, or how bitter
our hate could be. That night, neither of us held back so much as a word, in
all that long quarrel. It was a savage, bitter quarrel, and we shredded each
other with words half the night long, until there seemed nothing left to be
said, and no strength left in either of us to speak further, glowering at each
other across a clearing so beautiful it ought to have put both of us to shame.
It was he who broke the silence; it always is.
So we reach an impasse, he commented with seeming detachment. I suppose we had
better begin again and fight it out once more.
I remember grimacing at his lightness. You can trust an Elf to find a flippant
remark for every situation. I told him it would be a foolish thing to do, and
he laughed, and said to me that we were already the greatest fools in Lorien.
Well, that, I suppose, was undeniable, not that admitting it would have achieved
When I gave him no answer he hesitated for an instant, and then sat down, cross-legged
on the bole of a tree, and said with seeming lightness that he didn't suppose
I'd accept the apology of an immature, overprivileged, effeminate Elven brat.
My own words, paid back to me, with usury added. That is what happens when you
engage an Elf in a war of words.
What can I say? How could I answer such words? Dwarves do not accept apologies
made only in words. We cling as fast to our grudges as we do to our loyalties
I said nothing, just stood and watched him, half-suspecting him of mockery -
until I noticed how his slight smile froze on his face at my silence. I noticed
how his right hand plucked with seeming nervousness at the hem of his sleeve,
and then fell suddenly still. I noticed how he had seated himself so that his
eyes were exactly level with mine.
What can I say? Perhaps I was under some enchantment, or perhaps the Golden
Wood had put madness into my heart. No, I said to him. If you must give me an
apology, offer it as one fool to another, and I will do the same.
Maybe I *was* insane that night, to make peace with him thus; but do you find
me regretting it? Never; and certainly not tonight.
Though I may have reason to regret so many things when morning comes.
* * *
We had this - this contest at Helm's Deep. It was a game, of sorts, I suppose,
of a particularly grisly kind, keeping the tally of our kills and comparing
notes whenever our paths crossed. His score was the higher by one when the tide
of battle swept him away.
We searched for him after, fearing the worst. After all, a bow is no weapon
for close-work, and that knife of his is no substitute for a true sword. I kept
my spirits up, joking that he would have to return, if only to proclaim his
final score. I was quite certain he would be the victor.
Alas, the killing of orcs has ceased now to be a joke. Yet another of the foul
ironies of this night. Better for him to have died there, than to have been
- changed so. Kinder for him and us all.
Ach - how can I say that? I know nothing yet; it may not yet come to that. Gandalf
says that Saruman would never have released him if he were not under his control.
He is probably right, but we do not *know*, not yet. I will not let myself give
up my hopes until he wakes.
Legolas, Legolas ...
Just to listen to him talking nonsense once more, to tease him once more about
his flightiness, to talk about everything and nothing with him! Just once more
would be enough. If nothing more, if I could only say farewell to him.
Durin's Beard, what am I doing? This is no time for weeping, you fool Dwarf!
I - I would have helped him if I could, I truly would, I would have endured
it with him, even taken his place, if I could have done.
But my words are bootless. I was not there. I could do nothing to help him.
It is too late now for such wishes. All I can do for him now is to wait.
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