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In the Deep Places: 4. Encounters in the Dark
Still, it would be good to make certain that no enemies tracked them. And Gimli welcomed the chance to walk the passages of Khazad-dûm. His flickering light only hinted at the vast columns that lined their small side corridor, the awesome work of ages past. Gimli shifted the torch to his left hand, awkwardly holding it together with his axe, and trailed his right hand reverently along the intricate carvings of the passage wall.
Centuries had his kin toiled here. The greatest craftsmen of Middle-earth had devoted their lives to this city of the Dwarves. They had shaped blank stone into sweeping archways and towering columns. Where others had seen only a black pit, they had realized the possibility of beauty. In the greatest irony of Dwarven secrecy, they had even embraced the derogatory name given by the Elves. They had taken Moria, and made it a kingdom to surpass all others. In the bitter depths under Caradhras, they had created a cathedral unmatched by any other structure in Middle-earth. It was the work of generations, the work of genius. But more, it was the work of love.
Gimli’s breath caught and he felt a great swelling of pride in his chest. He could have fallen to his knees and thanked blessed Mahal that he was born to such a people. His kin had created this! No matter the fate that befell them, Moria was an accomplishment to be sung of through all the Ages of Arda.
Gently he brushed a fragmented design in the wall beside him. Pride was tempered with a deeper sorrow that choked his throat. The labor, the skill, the strength that his people had put into Khazad-dûm was lost. These passages should have been filled with light, singing with the ring of Dwarven steel and machinery. But they were silent. The walls were cold and the echoing spaces whispered with the voices of lost souls. This was their greatest accomplishment, and their greatest downfall. It was fitting that pride be mixed with sorrow, and Gimli was honored to walk their monument, and remember them in the only way he could. If only he didn’t have to share it with the Elf.
Legolas was well ahead of him, moving with deceptive speed. The Elf paused frequently in the narrow passage, listening, but then slipped on so quickly that Gimli could hardly see his movements. He seemed to know without looking the swiftest path through the rubble, and he moved silently in the gloom with effortless grace. He was a good thirty feet ahead of Gimli when he reached the opening of their side passage and stopped before the archway that had confounded Gandalf.
Gimli followed more slowly, using his torch to pick out the path and occasionally tapping the rock with the butt of his axe. These caves were full of unstable shale and hidden pits that might give way suddenly. Despite his height Legolas weighed considerably less than Gimli, and the Dwarf had seen the way he moved over snow and in tree branches. Just because the path held for the Elf did not mean it would not give way under Gimli, and he was taking no chances.
He paused for a moment in a relatively clear area and looked ahead. He was perhaps 15 feet from the open archway where Legolas stood before the three branching passages. The Elf was turned toward him, his head bowed as if listening. A lock of golden hair had worked free of his braids and fell across his cheek. He stood still, his eyes closed and his dark brows drawn together in concentration.
Gimli was about to move forward again when something about the Elf stopped him. He narrowed his eyes, considering. Legolas was well beyond the range of Gimli’s small torch. The smoldering rags cast light for only a few feet about him, and the path ahead was lost in shadows. Yet Gimli could see the Elf clearly. He could see the way Legolas’ hands moved slightly, the long fingers tightening on his bow. He could see the shift of his shoulders and the spill of his hair as Legolas turned his head. There was no light, and yet Gimli could see every detail, even to the color of his hair. Gimli took a step back and tipped his head to look at a different angle, scowling. There could be no doubt about it. The Elf was glowing.
It was faint: a dim light that barely illuminated the rocks immediately around Legolas, but it was there. Gimli wondered why he had not noticed it before. But the light of Gandalf’s staff would have likely obscured the glow. As for their previous journey, it certainly would not have been noticeable by day. And Gimli had made a point of not looking at the Elf during the two weeks of night marches after they left Rivendell. Besides, Legolas almost always took the rearguard of the Company, or else went scouting ahead out of sight. He had avoided the Dwarf’s company as much as Gimli had avoided his.
With a sigh of disgust Gimli raised his torch and stumped forward again. He was prepared for the dark, the musty air, and the treacherous footing of their road. He could even cope with the sense of utter loss that pervaded the ruin of his people’s glory. But this was a bit much. He was trapped in the company of a glow-in-the-dark Elf. Truly the Valar had a twisted sense of humor.
Legolas opened his eyes as Gimli came up to him. “You move so loudly, Master Dwarf, it is a wonder you do not cause these halls to cave in on us. We shall have no need to search for Orcs. You will bring them to us.”
Gimli snorted. “Don’t be absurd. None can match a Dwarf for stealth in the mines. It is you who give us away.”
Legolas raised a skeptical eyebrow. Gimli flushed and gestured awkwardly toward the Elf. It really seemed too absurd to put into words. “You’re . . . you’re glowing.” Legolas glanced down at himself, then at Gimli, and shrugged. “And you are not.” They stared at one another for a moment, and then Legolas turned away. “Have no fear, Master Dwarf. I have centuries of experience at concealment. And your torch gives far more light than do I. If you will control your breathing and footfalls, we will be in no danger.”
I can put out the torch if need be. I wonder how one puts out an Elf? Gimli reluctantly pushed aside the image of himself dousing Legolas with a bucket of water and focused on the task at hand. “Well, Master Elf, it was you that brought us out here. Which way do we go? Back along the path we came?”
Legolas shook his head. “We passed no signs of Orc habitation. The yrch will be further in the labyrinth, away from the entrance. They will come from ahead of us.”
Gimli grunted. “Orcs have a keen sense of smell. And they know these paths better than we do. They might circle around and track our trail. We cannot let them surround us. More than one of Thráin’s companies was lost that way during the War.”
Legolas gave him an odd look. “Did you serve in the war of the Dwarves and the Orcs?”
Gimli laughed shortly. “That was long before I was born. But I know my people’s history. We do not leave the record keeping of Middle-earth to the Elves alone.”
Legolas froze for a moment and then said softly, “No, I suppose not. But many valiant deeds were done in that time. It is good that you remember them.” Gimli stared. Was the Elf actually praising Dwarven valor? But Legolas continued, in a strange tone, “Still, those companies did not have Elves with them. Yrch will not stop to formulate strategy or lay traps when they encounter Elves. Their hatred is so great, they can think of nothing save the blood lust.” He gazed into the dark for a moment, and Gimli saw that his eyes were fully dilated, the pupils filling the iris and dark with memory. “We have no need to worry about such tactics. If they catch my scent, they will come by the most direct path and will not stop for thought.”
Gimli blinked, not at all sure that was an encouraging prospect, but then Legolas seemed to come back to himself. “Our time is limited. We should scout the passages ahead and report our findings to Gandalf.”
The plan was a reasonable one, but Gimli had not missed the edge of tension in Legolas’ voice, nor the way his eyes continuously scanned the darkness around them. The Elf was drawn as taut as his bowstring, and standing there in the dark was not helping matters. For a moment Gimli considered feigning ignorance of his companion’s state and drawing the discussion out longer, just to irritate Legolas further. But the Elf’s left hand was now straying toward the knives at his back, and Gimli thought better of it. Dwarves weren’t ones for extended debates in any case. Shifting his axe to his right hand, Gimli moved toward the center corridor.
“No!” Legolas’ voice cracked like a whip behind him. Surprised, Gimli turned back to look at the Elf. He was standing rigid, staring past Gimli into the black passage, his bow clenched in a white-knuckled grip. “There is evil there, but it is not Orcs. It . . . it is deeper, older . . .” Legolas closed his eyes a moment and drew a slow breath. When he opened his eyes and continued his voice was calm. “It is far from us now, but no Orc would use that path. We would find nothing, and we might disturb something best left to rest. Mithrandir will not choose the straight road.”
Gimli stared at the Elf in disbelief. How could he possibly know anything about any of the paths ahead? There was no sound or sight Gimli could detect to distinguish the center passage from either of the side corridors. More likely Legolas would simply prefer to take the ascending path to their right. He probably hoped to climb up to ground level, and perhaps find some shaft for natural light. The great city of Khazad-dûm was said to have many such openings to the surface, used to illuminate grand artifacts or chambers of state. In truth it was a sight that Gimli himself would have loved to see. But if there were lighted spaces above, they would be the last places inhabited by Orcs. The Elf was making ridiculous claims in a transparent effort to avoid descending deeper into the darkness. Well, Gimli thought, it was time to call his bluff.
“Very well, then,” he said. “We’ll hunt them deeper.” And he plunged down the steps into the left hand passage. He fully expected Legolas to call him back, but no cry was forthcoming. He could not hear the Elf behind him – perhaps he had simply frozen with fear at the thought of going deeper underground. Gimli kept going. He didn’t need the Elf in any case – let him stay there in the archway until Gimli returned. But as he descended doubt grew in his mind. What if his mind cracks from the strain? Gandalf trusted you to guard him – you know he cannot abide the stone and the shadows. Elves are weak in any case; will you abandon your duty? Gimli gritted his teeth and kept going, but slower now. What if his madness drives him to attack the Company? You may risk the safety of the Ring-bearer, because you could not handle one Elf. Gimli stopped. There was no choice but to go back and persuade the Elf to come, or maybe even go with him to the upper chambers. Probably there were no Orcs within these caverns. Whatever Durin’s Bane had been, it was not Orcs. The Elf might well be the greater danger at this point, and Gimli could not leave him alone. He sighed and turned around, and nearly ran straight into Legolas’ chest, where the Elf stood not two paces behind him.
Gimli cried out in shock and dropped his torch. He stumbled backward, nearly falling on the crumbling steps, and Legolas seized his wrist to steady him. “What are you doing, Dwarf?” the Elf hissed. “This is no time for games. We must go forward!”
Gimli panted, his heart pounding in his throat. His knees were weak and his limbs leaden with shock. It was a moment before he found his voice. “Me! You’re the one sneaking up on people from behind! I ought to put a bell around your neck. Crazy Elf, I could have been killed!”
One corner of Legolas’ mouth quirked and his eyes danced in amusement. “I was not ‘sneaking up’ on you, Master Dwarf. I simply do not choose to stamp and crash about like a cave troll. But fear not. If the Orcs are as hard of hearing as you are, even your movements will not alert them to our presence.”
Gimli sputtered, but Legolas bent swiftly and picked up the torch. He thrust it at the Dwarf, and Gimli was forced to grab the handle lest his beard be singed. “As pleasant as this stairway is, I fear it is time to move on. Come along, Master Dwarf.” With that Legolas slipped past him and moved easily down the stairs.
There was no choice but to follow. “Cave troll,” Gimli muttered to himself as he picked his way cautiously after the Elf. “I’ll show you a cave troll. I ought to lob my axe at your head. See how well you move then, Elf.” He thought he heard a snicker from ahead of him, but he ignored it. It was amazing how quickly the Elf switched from near paranoia to amusement. One moment he seemed likely to attack anything that moved, the next he was acting as if unaware of the surrounding caves. Gimli was unsure if this was a symptom of Legolas’ growing instability, or just normal Elf behavior. In any case it did not matter. All Elves were crazy anyway. He supposed that he ought to be grateful that the creature wasn’t singing.
Legolas could hear the Dwarf’s heavy breathing behind him as he moved lightly down the stairs. This passage seemed to descend forever. Unlike the previous corridors, there were no columns or engravings along the sides. It was just a tunnel with rough-hewn steps, going endlessly down into the dark. Legolas could feel the weight of stone above increasing, the utter silence growing even deeper as they moved in the dark.
But the oppressive sense of evil had actually lessened. The air was foul with the stench of Orcs, but that was familiar and could be dealt with. The focused weight of malice was still there, but less intense than it had been above. Standing before the archway above, Legolas had been certain that the source was far from them yet, perhaps leagues away in this twisted labyrinth. But the central corridor had been resonant with its presence. That path would be the first step toward it. Perhaps Mithrandir was right, and it was a Doom they could not avoid. But Legolas did not see that they had to go rushing into its arms either.
Something was waking, the long sleep of Ages falling away as an evil unlike any he had felt before bent its thought toward them. Almost he could feel the heat of flame on his skin, hear the shift of great wings in the dark. If he turned his head quickly enough, he might catch a glimpse of Shadow, visible in its hate. He was young, and the horrors of the Second Age were only legend to him. But this was something that transcended years. Legolas had never seen the terrors that his father had told him of, yet this presence sent a shock of recognition through him. The Shadow had taken form here, and it pulsed with the rhythm of his soul. Elf and Maia and Shadow were come together, and the Bane of the Dwarves had been first the Enemy of the Elves. The Ring was calling, and Legolas could feel the bat-flutter of a response at the back of his mind. Morgoth . . .
So it was that he felt nearly giddy with relief when they chose a different passage and descended, away from the resonance of evil. The physical darkness was nothing compared to that Shadow, and the weight of stone seemed a small thing. The loss of Ilúvatar’s Song was an ever-present ache, but even that was tolerable in his relief. It was childish, he knew, and they could not escape that presence indefinitely. But in his fey mood, he did not care. Mithrandir would certainly choose the ascending passage, for he surely felt the evil resonance of the straight path, and this descending stair stank of Orcs. Soon they might climb up to free air, or even light. Legolas could have sung for joy at the thought.
They descended through three twisting turns and then the stair finally ended in a small open space with openings to two other corridors. Legolas could not be certain of direction in the dark caverns, but he thought that they branched to the east and south. Both were straight and level for the short distance he could see in Gimli’s torchlight. There was no sound but the faint drip of water somewhere in the depths. He could detect nothing to distinguish one passage from the other, or to indicate which they should take.
Gimli came up beside him as he stood surveying their choices. “And which way now, Master Elf?” The Dwarf sounded slightly out of breath, and his voice was heavy with sarcasm. Legolas supposed that he might have preferred a slower descent of the stairway behind them, but the Elf could not be bothered with Dwarven limitations at the moment. He looked from one dark archway to the other. “Whatever happened to the superior abilities of the Dwarves? Must you rely on Elves to direct you even underground?”
Gimli’s boots creaked as he shifted his weight. “It was your Elven fancies that brought us down here. Any sensible Dwarf would know better than to descend when the level above was not secure. So tell me what your superior senses tell you now, or we will go back and take the straight road above.”
Legolas breathed out softly. Was that movement in the left hand passage? No, it was only the flicker of Gimli’s torchlight. “You would be foolish indeed to take that path, Master Dwarf. The evil is less here, but I feel no difference between the corridors. Were we in a forest road . . .” he stopped. Were they in a forest, the trees would indicate which path led to the Orc stronghold. They would eagerly welcome him, and guide him, for all forests were home to the Wood-elves. But these were mines. And mines . . . mines were home to the Dwarves.
He turned sharply to look at Gimli. The Dwarf backed up a step, lifting his axe nervously. “What do they tell you?”
Gimli stared at him, not quite meeting his eyes. “What does who tell me?”
Legolas gestured to the stone walls, never looking away from Gimli’s face. “The stones. The caverns, the mines. This was your people’s home for centuries. Surely they remember you. What do they say? Which path should we take?”
Gimli’s mouth fell open in clear disbelief. “They say nothing. They are rocks, nothing more. Are you feeling all right? Perhaps we should return to Gandalf –”
Legolas sighed impatiently. “This is no time for Dwarven secrecy. Were we in my home, I would not keep the meaning of the tree-song from you.”
Gimli was trying hard to keep up with the Elf’s flight of fancy. He thought that he had heard Legolas say something about the trees before on occasion, talking to Aragorn or Gandalf during their earlier journey, but he had ignored it. “‘Tree-song?’ The trees . . . sing?”
Legolas nodded, his face utterly serious. Gimli could see no sign of madness in his eyes. “The trees, the plants, the stars . . . even the stones, if they have known Elves long enough. They are all a part of Ilúvatar’s Song. They sing of life, and wind, and sun, and rain, and they welcome Elves, and warn of danger. I know that mortals do not hear the Song clearly, but surely the stones here must welcome Dwarves. You are kin, are you not?”
Gimli bristled. The mysteries of Dwarven beginnings were not something he would share with an Elf, much less a clearly insane Elf. “You are mad. There is good stone here, but it is inanimate. It is a thing. It is not alive. And it is certainly not our kin.”
Legolas shook his head. “I never said that the stone was alive. But . . .” he lifted a hand, trying to express something that any Elf would have recognized without words, “it is a part of life. It resonates with the Song of creation. Can you not hear it?”
Gimli stared at him a moment longer, but the Elf was plainly serious. Finally Gimli turned away. He did feel something. There was a bone-deep connection that any Dwarf felt with solid stone and good craft. Slowly he lifted a hand to touch the wall of their chamber and closed his eyes. He traced a finger lightly along the crumbling remains of a triangle pattern carved in the rock. He thought of the Dwarf that had once carved it, working for hours, perhaps, patiently coaxing the pattern from the yielding stone. Almost he could hear the slow chip of a chisel in the dark.
A whisper teased at the back of his mind. There was something here . . . not song, but maybe the potential for song. It was something Gimli never would have noticed, had Legolas not insisted that he try. But now that he opened his mind to the possibility, it seemed that maybe the Elf was right. Perhaps, if it could be shown how to sing . . . Gimli stepped back and opened his eyes. His glove was thick with grime. I have spent far too much time with this fool Elf. I shall be as mad as he is, soon.
“There is nothing.” Gimli was pleased that his voice did not shake in the slightest. “Only an Elf would be crazy enough to sing to trees and rocks. We use the stone, we do not talk to it.”
Legolas stared at him a moment longer, but Gimli met his eyes defiantly. Finally the Elf bowed his head and turned away. “Then it is true,” he whispered. His voice was strained. “Perhaps even Ilúvatar has abandoned us here. All is death, and not even the stars will remember us.” He was silent for a moment, then he turned back to Gimli and his eyes were bright with fey recklessness. “We may as well choose a path at random, or split up. Death will find us in any case.”
Gimli snorted. “I said that we use the stone. It can give answers, if used properly.” With that he lifted his head and gave a short, sharp shout. “Ai-yi!” Legolas leaped back in shock as the sound reverberated in the small space and echoed down the branching passages. But Gimli stood listening intently, and he smiled.
“The echoes are shorter in the eastern passage. It is blocked perhaps 30 feet down. Nothing can get through there. The southern passage is open, however. That way will lead to the Orcs, if there are any.”
Legolas was staring at him in frank astonishment. “Yes, and every Orc in the mines will be rushing to find us here!”
Gimli looked at him smugly. “You wanted to know which way to go, and now we know. Besides, Orcs hunt by smell and sight, not sound. And I thought you said that they would find us in any case.”
Legolas’ mouth tightened briefly, but he started toward the Southern passage. “I said that Death would find us, not Orcs.”
And as Gimli followed him down the corridor, he thought that an odd distinction to make.
The Southern passage was much larger than the previous corridors they had traveled. It was about 15 feet wide, and lined on either side with columns that stretched up to vanish in the darkness overhead. The floor was level and solid, and a central path about five feet wide had been cleared of loose rubble. But there were many large boulders and hills of crumbling rock that leered over them on either side of this path.
They had traveled perhaps 200 yards down the corridor when Legolas stopped so abruptly that Gimli nearly walked into him. The Elf stood with head bowed for a moment, listening. Then he turned, and Gimli could see that his eyes were bright and he was quivering with some suppressed emotion. “They are coming,” he said.
Without another word Legolas ran to the side and leaped easily upon a boulder that was twice Gimli’s height. He stood for a moment, staring into the inky dark of the passage ahead, and then jumped lightly down. He was smiling as Gimli joined him. “They carry torches. There are twelve of them, four torchbearers and eight others. They are mountain goblins, and they bear swords, spears, and linked mail armor. There are three archers.”
Gimli blinked at this sudden flood of information. “They outnumber us six to one.”
Legolas gave him a scornful look. “Do you wish to turn back, Dwarf? I can manage this little party, if you are afraid.”
Gimli glared at him. “A dozen Orcs is nothing for a Dwarf. I only meant that an ambush would be our best strategy.”
Legolas nodded. “We must dispatch this group quickly. It is likely a scouting party sent to investigate Pippin’s stone. But more will come, roused by your shout at the cross-road.”
Gimli gritted his teeth for a moment. “Do you take me for a fool, Elf? The Orc stronghold will be far deeper than this level. We have passed no other wells or shafts. My locator cry would never travel so far. If we eliminate these scouts no others will trouble us.”
Legolas shifted his grip on his bow. “We have not explored all passages. You cannot be certain of that.” They glared at each other for a moment, and then Legolas sighed and looked up the corridor again. “It does not matter. We can cope with Orcs.” For a moment it seemed as though he would say something more, but he was silent.
Gimli hefted his axe impatiently. “So we ambush them,” he prompted.
Legolas nodded distractedly. “Yes. Wait here, and stay behind these boulders. I will go ahead. After they pass me, but before they reach you, I will draw their attention. They will turn their backs to you, and then you may complete the trap.”
Gimli opened his mouth to protest, but the Elf was already moving. He slipped easily between the boulders at the right hand side of the passage, then paused and glanced back. “Keep your torch hidden, and stay behind the rocks until the bow work is done and I signal you. I would not wish to take you for an Orc in this dark.” And before Gimli could think of a response to that, Legolas was gone.
Standing to his full height, Gimli could just look over the nearest boulder. He followed the Elf’s progress as Legolas ran lightly ahead. Despite the glow that surrounded him, Legolas was actually hard to see. Somehow he seemed to fade against the rocks and chipped columns. It was clear that he did know something about concealment, Gimli acknowledged grudgingly. Legolas was careful to stay on the right hand side of the passage, presumably keeping the rubble and side columns between him and the approaching Orcs that Gimli could not see. He made no noise as he moved swiftly over the loose rubble. Were it not for the contrast that his light made in the absolute dark of the passage, the Elf would have been impossible to detect at all.
Gimli watched until Legolas vanished behind a column, and then settled down with his back to the boulder. He propped his torch against a nearby mound of rubble and ran his hand slowly over the edge of his axe. That fool Elf had better not get himself killed. He’d be even more of a hindrance dead than he is alive. He did not acknowledge the faint worry that twisted in his gut. Nor did he recognize the fleeting sense that, were something to happen to the Elf, he would miss him.
Legolas ran easily until he could no longer see Gimli’s torchlight. The absolute black of the passage closed in around him, relieved only slightly by the faint glow immediately about his own body. He trailed his hands over the boulders that littered his path, creeping silently through them until he had counted 200 steps from the Dwarf’s position. He looked back, but Gimli had concealed himself well, and no sound or flicker of light betrayed the Dwarf’s position.
Pleased, Legolas selected a cluster of boulders that ranged from eight to ten feet high, with considerably greater girth. He leaped up onto the smallest one and looked over its neighbor and down the passage. There were the Orc torches, and the figures themselves were easily distinguishable in their light. They were perhaps 300 yards down the corridor, though it was difficult to judge distance in the unrelieved darkness of the passage. He could hear them clearly, as they walked with the swift chittering gate of mountain goblins. Legolas stretched carefully along the top of his boulder. The larger rocks around it would conceal him from their sight. They might still catch his scent, but there was nothing he could do about that. He listened closely, tracking their progress toward him.
This was a waiting game he had played many times, with spiders and Orcs in the southern regions of his father’s kingdom. Closing his eyes to the blank darkness about him, he could almost pretend he was back there now. The sound and stench of approaching Orcs was the same. But the cold stone beneath his cheek held none of the life present in even the sleepiest of Mirkwood’s trees, and the silence made it more difficult to track the Orcs. He was used to sensing the Enemy’s minions through the change in the forest tone, and his own ears seemed a poor substitute.
But they were coming . . . closer now. He doubted that they had anything to do with the greater evil that brooded in the depths below, but they were still servants of the Shadow. This was a threat he could counter, an enemy he could defeat. So long had they walked in Shadow, with the weight of stone and malice growing ever stronger until he thought his very soul would be crushed under the strain. So long had he struggled to compensate for the loss of Ilúvatar’s Song, fighting his own mind and ingrained responses until it seemed that he must escape this tomb somehow or go mad. Now finally, finally there was an escape, an outlet for the endless tension. He listened to the Orcs draw closer, and his heart thrummed in anticipation.
They were nearly to him. They were passing directly below. They were moving past. Legolas shifted forward just enough to see the glow of their torches as they went by. There, they were past him. If he waited until they were just a little further on, in range of the Dwarf . . . suddenly, one of the rear-guard stopped. Legolas froze. He had made no noise, and he was certain the creature could not see him. The Orc snuffed the air, turning its flat face upward. It growled something to its companions in the black speech, and Legolas flinched in pain as the evil tongue assaulted his ears.
The other Orcs stopped, and shuffled about, sniffing the air. Legolas did not wait for more. Clearly they had scented him, though how they could smell anything through their own thick stench was beyond him. If he remained atop the boulder he risked being surrounded. He leaped to his feet and cried loudly, “Gilthoniel A Elbereth!” The Orcs were turning toward him, dropping their torches as they drew their swords, and he leaped down with an arrow already nocked to his bow. He fired the first shot while still in mid-air, and three more followed in swift succession. The fourth Orc was dead before the first had yet fallen to the ground, but the remaining eight had overcome their shock and were racing toward him. He strung two arrows simultaneously and shot one Orc between the eyes while the second arrow sang past its ear and into the neck of the companion behind it. He was aiming by instinct – there was no time to sight along the arrow shaft, and it was too dark anyway. The bow was a part of him; he could feel that the shot was true even as he released the string, and the song of battle pulsed through his veins.
But they were upon him now, and there was no room for bow work. In a single swift movement he stowed his bow at his back and drew out his knives. They flashed white in the torchlight and he spun, stabbing one Orc through the chest. The knife stuck there and he let it go, continuing his turn to slash another through the throat and making a full circle to pull the knife from the first Orc’s chest even before it slumped to the ground. None were firing arrows now – the fight was too close and hot for that. He lifted his head and called “Khazad! Khazad ai-mênu!” And he smiled to hear the sound of a Dwarven battle cry from an Elven throat. What would my father think to hear that? Then he heard Gimli’s answering cry, and the Orcs closed in upon him, and there was no more time for thought.
That fool Elf should have let them come closer to me, Gimli thought as he raced forward. He left his torch behind and gripped his axe in his right hand as he ran. He had been startled to hear Dwarf speech in a musical Elven voice, but it was clearly the signal Legolas had spoken of. He pushed his legs to carry him faster as he pounded up the middle of the corridor. There was no point in concealment now, and Gimli did not intend to go stumbling through the rubble at the sides. As it was he’d be lucky to get there before the Orcs finished the Elf off. Then as he reached the torches that flared up where the Orcs had dropped them, he paused to collect his bearings. Looking up, he saw the fight for the first time, and caught his breath.
Legolas was dancing. Or at least, that was what it looked like. Gimli could not see the surrounding Orcs – they were only small black shadows in the darkness that occasionally passed between him and the shining Elf at their center. Legolas whirled and raised a knife, and there was a shower of sparks as he caught an Orc blade in a ring of metal on metal. Then the sword was gone, drawn back into the mass of shadows, and the Elf was spinning in another direction. His long golden hair fell over his shoulders as he completed the turn, a white blade slashed and Legolas leaped away from a gout of black blood that was just visible in the glow around him.
The Elf’s eyes were shining, and though his face was drawn in concentration, he was alive with the grace and beauty of his dance. Gimli stood frozen for a long moment, watching. Something shifted in his chest, and for one instant he was grateful just for the chance to witness such a sight. Then he caught the flat gleam of eyes as an Orc slipped between the archer and the boulder at his back, and he found his voice. “Elf! Behind you!”
Legolas did not look at him or say a word, but he suddenly leaped straight up and back to land on top of the boulder behind him. The Orcs stumbled in confusion at the sudden disappearance of their foe, but Gimli did not pause to marvel at this latest feat of Elven gymnastics. He took two strides forward and planted his feet, and the first swing of his axe neatly parted an Orc from its head. The second was more prepared, and parried his blow with its sword. Gimli twisted his axe around and swung it down, forcing the Orc blade to the ground. Then with a sudden jerk he snapped the Orc sword and brought his axe swinging up to cleave through the plate armor at its chest.
There was a flash of gold as Legolas leaped overhead, and then the Elf was blocking the last Orc as it advanced upon Gimli. Gimli wrenched his axe free from the chest of his foe and turned. Legolas was parrying a massive Orc that blocked his knife with its sword and then thrust forward a long spear, forcing the Elf to leap back. Gimli circled carefully, watching. The Orc was grunting in excitement, all its attention focused on the Elf before it. Legolas leaped to the side, and the Orc turned to follow, and Gimli saw his chance. With a great swing he cleaved the Orc’s helm and split the creature’s head in two. There was a sudden wash of blood, and Gimli staggered as the stench hit him. Then he saw the flash of a blade from the corner of his eye, and he pulled up his axe handle to block it. There was a clash of metal, and he found himself blocking Legolas’ knife.
Elf and Dwarf stood frozen for a moment, staring at one another over their locked weapons, and then they broke apart and whirled to stand back to back. But the corridor was empty. All the Orcs lay dead, and their torches guttered on the stone floor. Gimli could feel his heart pounding, and the heat of Legolas at his back.
All was silent. Legolas could hear the Dwarf’s heavy breathing, and feel his own adrenaline start to fade. He had slashed to catch the Orc, and been surprised to find that Gimli had already done it. I shall have to remember that in the future, he thought absently, the Dwarf can be relied on in battle. Then Gimli gave a great cry, and Legolas turned to see the Dwarf lift his axe over his head in triumph. “Ai! Ai yi Khazad ai-mênu!”
Legolas laughed aloud in a rush of relief. Two members of the Fellowship had defeated twelve of the Enemy’s servants! Surely Elbereth herself guided them. What could Shadow do to them? Stone and death and shadow and flame – they would face them all, and they would defeat them! He spun lightly on the ball of his foot. “Gurth an Glamhoth!”
Elf and Dwarf looked at one another, and laughed.
Gilthoniel A Elbereth!: Elven battle cry, “Elbereth Starkindler.” The TwoTowers and The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 211.
Khazad ai-mênu!: Dwarven battle cry, “The Dwarves are upon you.” The TwoTowers.
Gurth an Glamhoth!: “Death to the din-horde (Orcs)” Source: Tuor’s cursing of the Orcs, The Silmarillion, translation provided by www.councilofelrond.com
Next up: Chapter 5. Meddling in the affairs of Wizards.
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