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Lie Down in the Darkness, Rise up from the Ash: 4. Alone Together
Frodo woke the next morning slowly, and felt for a moment confused by the soft golden light that filtered through the trees and tent. From somewhere nearby, an elvish voice raised itself in song, and the sad melody brought the memory of loss sharply to his mind, making it impossible to sleep again so he rubbed his eyes and then sat up. All about him his companions lay slumbering, and for once none so much as twitched in his sleep.
We wore ourselves out, doubtless,he thought, thinking of the odd and almost painful discussion they had had last night. Chief among the topics of debate had been the unusual audience with Galadriel and Celeborn, for none of them had withstood the gaze of that high lady, and none save perhaps Legolas knew what to make of it. But if he did, the Elf kept the knowledge to himself, for he had said nothing from his place in the corner the night before, content to listen to his more vocal comrades.
"I liked it not," Boromir had said immediately. "What sorcery she sought to cast, I know not, but I trust it not either."
"I don't know about that." Surprisingly, it had been Sam who spoke up in response, and a very thoughtful look indeed he had worn.. "I don't know… it weren't magic, I think, unless all Elves are magic, beggin' your pardon Master Legolas. But it was less about her and more about us, if you understand me, sir."
"I think I do." Pippin had interjected, which had been even more surprising. "It was… well, I saw you blush, Sam, and I thought to myself 'guilty.' And that was exactly how I felt! Guilty! It was as if she knew everything about me, and showed me the one thing that I wanted most and said I could have it, if only I would turn aside. I mean, I do want the quest to succeed, so it can't be what I wanted most…but, well… you know…." he had amended, stumbling over the oblique assurance as he blushed in his turn. Finally, he had fallen silent.
"You speak truly," Gimli had said then, taking up the conversation as he had stroked his beard, considering anew, perhaps, his own experience. "And though it seemed we stood naked before her, yet my choices in this matter would remain secret. Or so I perceived."
"It was but pretense – what choice could any of us have made that would not be known instantly to the others?" Boromir had challenged. "And what purpose lay in this… this testing? Have we not yet proved ourselves true?"
"In the matter of the Ring," Frodo had said, speaking at last, "there is no proof that is final, until It be unmade. How could there be? Else we would not suffer so under the weight of Sauron's malice. Gandalf said it once himself: he could trust no one, not even himself, in matters concerning the Ring. As for the Lady Galadriel's purpose, none can read it, but neither can any doubt it. You do wrong to speak ill of her, for what evil lies upon this land comes but with us, and does not lie with her."
Frodo had met Boromir's proud eyes, and for a moment they had seemed to strive against each other. But in the end the Heir of Denethor had looked away, and though there had remained tension in his posture, he had said no more. So relieved had Frodo been by this seeming withdrawal that he had needed a few moments to realize that he had won the contest of wills in a battle he had never thought to fight. He had felt a thrill of misgiving over the victory, doubting whether a quarrel might not break the fellowship, and wondering whether this was an omen of things to come.
Perhaps it was, for though they had passed eventually to other topics, an aura of palpable tension had hovered in the air between them, and would not dissipate. Eventually, their conversation had fallen silent, and the companions had bidden each other an uncertain good-night. Despite that, Frodo had fallen asleep almost instantly, and if he had dreamed he could not remember any of it.
Perhaps that is just as well, he thought, for waking life grows harder with each day, and I dread the nightmares! Since that fateful night in Moria, when he had eavesdropped on the secretive talk between Gandalf and Aragorn, his dreams had grown dark indeed, and fear was ever in his heart. He could not yet clearly perceive the danger that Gandalf had foreseen, but the dread had grown nevertheless. Almost his courage had failed him when the Balrog had appeared, and who knew whether it would now prove sufficient to carry him to the Mountain of Fire?
He wished he could talk to someone about such fears, but he could not bring himself to broach the subject with Sam. And he could not speak with Aragorn on this matter either: he had sensed a change in the other that had come hard upon Gandalf's fall, and he feared to learn what dark care preoccupied the Ranger.
And where was he last night? Frodo wondered, frowning as he glanced over and saw Aragorn asleep upon his couch. Strider had disappeared early and the hobbit could not imagine what had kept him so very late. I could ask him….
But once more, doubts welled up, and in the end, he decided to let it lie. What, after all, did it matter if the Ranger preferred his solitude to the company of others in this time of grief?
All I see is the Shadow, Frodo thought tiredly, closing his eyes again as his left hand rose almost habitually to the Ring upon its chain. All I see is darkness spreading further and further until it swallows the sun. I know I must come at last to Orodruin, if I can, but how? I thought to leave all others behind, but now I am bereft ere ever I could fly myself for that dark realm!
Frodo bowed his head. Foolish was I to suppose I would be the first to break with this Fellowship! But… I needed to hope. Now, as Strider said, I must do without it for a time. His eyes strayed round once more to his companions, who were beginning to stir. Yes, I shall carry on, I suppose, to whatever end awaits. I only wish it would come quickly!
The day waxed. In time, the companions roused themselves, though to what purpose, no one seemed to know. After so long upon the road and on guard against its dangers, they seemed unsure what to do, and there was a bereft quality to such little tasks as they set themselves to that could not be traced simply to the loss of Gandalf.
So it was that Gimli , having attended to such small chores as his gear required, stood at the edge of their camp, and he frowned as he gazed up at the heights of Caras Galadon, squinting at the noon-day sun, wondering if he dared leave this clearing without Aragorn in tow as a witness to his good intentions. He doubted not that the Lady would laugh at his fears, and though he trusted her implicitly now, he found that trust in general still came hard to a Dwarf adrift in the land of the Elves. With a snort for his own ridiculous anxiety, he turned and took a few hesitant steps beneath the boughs of the mellyrn, then paused again, turning back towards the clearing.
What is it that holds me back? Shall a Dwarf feel constrained by the faintest hint of Elvish displeasure? Gimli grimaced, feeling riven by uncertainty as he never had before. As he stood there, he saw Aragorn emerge at last from the tents and, after a moment's hesitation, make off quickly northwards. So much for a witness!
"Some of us seem born to wander whither they will," said a wry voice softly from behind him. Startled, Gimli turned and saw, to his surprise, Boromir. The Man stood with his arms folded across his chest and he leaned against a tree, gazing out after Aragorn, apparently. Boromir looked down at him, and his grey eyes held an odd gleam as he continued, "While the rest of us remain tethered in place, hmm? Do you not feel thus, Master Dwarf?"
"Tethered… yes, I suppose that that is an apt word," Gimli replied, and cocked a heavy brow at the other. "And you, Master Boromir? What has a Man to fear from Elves that he feels… tethered?"
"There are some things that Men were never meant to see," Boromir replied, seeming to repeat a maxim of sorts. "'Tis perilous to meet with the Firstborn, for such encounters change one. Some say that one loses a part of one's humanity in such a meeting."
"I had not heard such rumors," Gimli confessed, and shrugged. "For myself, I know not what to think of your humanity, Boromir; I know only that I am and shall always be a Dwarf, let the Elves do as they will! Perhaps Aragorn could better reassure you as to the truth or falsity of such a notion." It was meant as a friendly suggestion, but Boromir's eyes narrowed and the gleam grew stronger, so that Gimli began to feel a certain uneasiness.
"Ah, that one! I think not, for he is too much an Elf himself, though his blood run as red and mortal as any of ours – saving only Legolas's, of course. I wonder sometimes whether he has not been too long sundered from his own kind."
"You speak as if you have some grievance against Aragorn, my friend," the Dwarf replied carefully, scowling this time for he liked not the course of this conversation and wondered what lay behind it. He scrutinized the other's face carefully, but unless it were the flash of some peculiar emotion in those intense eyes, he could discern nothing of the other's thoughts.
And perhaps I am not a fit judge in these matters. But even as he thought it, his heart misgave him, though he knew not why, precisely.
"'Tis hardly his fault, I suppose," Boromir said in response, speaking slowly, almost as if to himself now. "Fate is an unfaithful mistress, and cruel are her ways. Nay, 'tis not his fault. Nevertheless…." Boromir shook his head and brushed irritably at a long lock of jet black hair that fell into his face. "It matters not. Only I am not at ease in this wood, and shall be glad to see the land of my home again!"
"Aye." And although Gimli agreed wholeheartedly, he spoke with reluctance, some part of him unwilling to accept the change of subject, but equally unwilling to argue it with his companion. "Aye, you speak for me there. But, since we are here, I shall make the most of it – insofar as it is granted a Dwarf to do so in the midst of Elvish ways. Good day, Boromir."
The Dwarf bowed, after the manner of his people, and Boromir smiled absently and returned the salute, hands crossed upon his breast according to Gondor's customs. Then the Man strode quickly away, vanishing swiftly into the woods at the opposite end of the clearing.
Gimli meanwhile stood still as stone and pondered what meaning that odd conversation might have had. He did not even realize he was not alone until a sigh ruffled his hair, and he turned sharply, hand going swiftly to his ax in a reflexive motion. But then his eyes widened in astonishment as he gasped incredulously, "Legolas!?" The Elf''s mouth was a tight line of worry, and he seemed not to realize how very close to death (or at least to injury) he had come. "What do you here? And why came you behind me?"
"I came to see who might remain in the glade. And I came behind you because I heard your voices on the breeze, and you face the wind."
"And so an Elf of the Woods is drawn to speak to a Dwarf? Are you ill?" Gimli demanded, abandoning tact. Legolas's eyes flashed a bit at that, but then that fire faded, and was replaced by an emotion strange to the Dwarf.
"Nay, not ill, unless it be that grief is illness. And perhaps for Elves it is. Too many of us have died of that wasting disease!" Legolas sighed, and Gimli felt abashed for his outburst, which drew Gandalf so sharply and easily to mind. But before he could formulate an apology, the Elf continued, "Something eats at him."
"Yes," Legolas looked down at him again, and his gaze was unusually frank and solemn, "You see it, too. How could we not, we who have so often stood at his sides?" Gimli raised a brow, surprised by the acknowledgment of their private war of wills. "Shall we not be honest with each other for once, Gimli, and set aside our quarrel for a time?"
"For the sake of the Company?"
"If you will," Legolas replied with an impatient shrug. "I care not what reason you give, but I like not the mood that has fallen upon us all."
And Gimli, gazing hard at his rival, asked suspiciously, "Is that the only reason?"
"Oh, very well!" Legolas gave an exasperated sigh, and his voice bespoke irritated embarrassment, a state altogether foreign to the Elf. But then, so are these clumsy attempts to disguise his feelings, Gimli thought, realizing that the other truly was concerned about something. "In truth, I came hither because I heard your voice, and I…I wished to ask you what you thought of this matter of Boromir."
"Why not ask Aragorn?" he demanded. "Surely a Man would better suit your need in this case."
"Aragorn was not present to hear our companion last night," the Elf countered, "and he, too, has troubles that he does not wish others to see, though I cannot guess what they might be. But I think that they are not of the same sort as Boromir's. Alas! An Elf has little understanding of Men at times, and I fear to misread him. I thought to ask you because…."
"Because Dwarves, too, are mortal?" Gimli asked when Legolas faltered. "That may well be, but I am no more a Man than I am a hobbit! Think you that I understand Frodo any better?" Legolas pursed his lips, and his brows drew together as he considered this, and Gimli nearly laughed aloud. The Elf seemed so utterly puzzled, as if it had not occurred to him that a Dwarf might labor under the same burden of incomprehension as he!
Not all mortals are alike! That Lindir fellow back in Rivendell was more right than he knew, perhaps, when he said that mortals were not the study of Elves, Gimli thought. Finally, however, he took pity upon the other's confusion, and said:
"You and I look into another world, Legolas, and it is foreign to us both. Nevertheless, we must do what we can to aid the Quest. Perhaps we may between us discern what lies at the heart of Boromir's temper." Elf and Dwarf stared at each other across the gulf of their differences, and for a while they seemed poised thus, unable to move toward each other. And yet, that very estrangement which separated them from each other also lay between them and most of the others of the Company; thus ironically, what kept them apart was also that which gave them ground to stand upon together.
"Perhaps," Legolas allowed finally, and he cocked his head slightly, and his posture relaxed ever so slightly. "Perhaps we may. And perhaps we may speak further upon this?"
"If we do, we must wait for the others to disperse, for I would not risk being overheard again," Gimli warned.
"Why not go our own way, then?"
"Ah…hmm." Gimli's eyes flicked towards the treetops involuntarily, as if seeking Elves hidden among them, or else monsters. Legolas noticed, and something suspiciously like a smile passed quickly over his face.
"The wardens would not dare to arrest you in my presence, if that is what worries you," the prince said, and there was a hint of true mirth in his voice. And even, Gimli thought suddenly, surprised by the insight, even a touch of endearment – as if the Elf were charmed by that uneasiness. For a long moment, the Dwarf gazed at his strange would-be companion, and it was as if he had at long last begun to see him.
"Very well, Master Legolas," he said at length, and there was now in his voice a certain bemused challenge. "We shall see how high the Elves of Lórien esteem their kinsman from afar. Lead on!" And for the first time since the Watcher had driven them into Khazad-dûm, the Dwarf felt the shadow upon him lift.
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