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In the Deep Places: 6. Conversations, part II
Gimli sat near his bedroll, watching through heavy eyes as Gandalf and Legolas argued. Their voices were so soft that he could hardly hear them, and what few words he caught were in a language unknown to him. Elf and wizard stood, tense and angry, and then suddenly Gandalf swept Legolas into a brief hug. When they broke apart the Elf seemed subdued. He turned from the wizard and walked silently to the doorway, where he stood looking out into the dark passage. Gandalf made his way back to his bedroll and sat against the wall, staring into space and turning his pipe slowly in his hands.
Gimli cast himself down on his blankets. It appeared that the Elf had been overruled, and they would stay here a few hours longer. Gimli viewed this development with mixed emotion. Despite himself, he had come to trust the archer’s senses, and it seemed strange to disregard his warning. There was something about that central passage he did not like, and much as he wished to pass Legolas’ words off as Elvish fancy, he could not deny the sense of dread that churned his stomach. He would be glad when they were quit of this chamber.
But he was bone weary, and his back and shoulders ached. He could not go further without some rest. So, trusting Gandalf to stand guard, he closed his eyes and cast himself into sleep.
It seemed that he had only rested a moment when he was shaken awake again. Blearily he looked to see Aragorn kneeling beside him, a hand on his shoulder. The Ranger’s face was lined and weary, but he smiled as Gimli heaved himself up. “Gather your things, Master Dwarf. We have much ground to cover.” Gimli nodded sleepily and accepted the rations that Aragorn offered him. He was stiff and a muscle pulled in his back as he gathered up his bedroll. He could hear Gandalf telling the Hobbits that they would take the right hand passage.
“It is time we began to climb up again,” the wizard said, and at this Gimli shot a quick glance at Legolas. The Elf stood in the doorway, exactly as if he had never moved since Gimli lay down, save that he now carried his small pack as well as his quiver and knives. He showed no reaction to Gandalf’s words, but turned and smiled briefly as Aragorn joined him. The Ranger held something out to the Elf. Legolas glanced at it and shook his head. There was a brief dispute, which ended when Aragorn shoved something into the archer’s hand and stepped back, glaring at him. Legolas glared back, but accepted it with poor grace. The Elf turned back to regard the outside passage again, and Gimli saw that the item in his hand was a bit of bread and dried meat. He nibbled at it reluctantly, and as the Company set out Gimli was vaguely aware of Aragorn watching Legolas until the Elf finished it all.
They made good time through the dark passages. Gimli led the way with Gandalf while the rest of the Fellowship ranged along behind. Legolas and Aragorn brought up the rear. Gandalf seemed more sure of their way, and Gimli felt a faint sense of relief as they climbed away from the central corridor.
They walked on for eight long hours, and ever there was nothing to see but the wizard’s light stretching away into the blank darkness. Gimli soon settled into the steady, mile-eating stride of the Dwarves. The stiffness faded as his muscles warmed to the journey, and his hands swung loose at his sides. He was relaxed, his axe stowed securely at his back. Save for an occasional check behind to ensure that the Hobbits were not in difficulty, he was able to forget their peril and take comfort in the steady ring of his boots against rock, the solid weight of good stone around him.
And yet, as much as he tried to keep his mind blank, images from the previous night kept intruding: the harsh scream of an Orc, the stench of foul blood; the Elf dancing golden and deadly in the dark; the touch of his hand against cool rock and the sense that maybe, just maybe, there could be something more; the shock of pain and loss as he stood before the straight passage and knew that his people’s kingdom was forever gone.
A swell of pain and resentment welled in Gimli’s chest, and he cast a glance behind him. He could just see Legolas, shining faintly in the gloom. Those Orcs were mine. The Elf should have left them to me. It is not his home that was invaded, not his kin driven and ruined. He does not suffer.
But when they finally came to a halt for the night he saw that this was not true. All the Company was weary, but Legolas seemed drawn to a fine edge between pain and trepidation. His usual mischievous air was completely gone, and even the light that shone about him seemed to have dimmed. He stood apart and silent, and watched the dark.
The rest of the Fellowship was also looking around, although the Hobbits immediately sank down and did their looking from a seated position while unpacking food supplies. Pippin was rubbing his feet and grumbling softly to Merry.
There was a great draught of cooler air and the Dwarf knew they had entered an immense hall, far greater than any they had yet passed. Gimli turned his face up and smiled at the feel of the cool air against his skin. The Company’s voices seemed small and lost in the echoing dark.
“Now I will risk a little real light,” murmured Gandalf, and there was a flash that dazzled Gimli’s eyes. Shadows leaped up and away, sliding back from immense columns that towered over them. Endless passages stretched away before them, wrought with detailed carvings. The black walls were polished and shone like glass, despite the long years. Gimli felt tears sting his eyes as he beheld his people’s greatest glory. Carved from solid rock, hollowed by generations of loving toil, hallowed by Dwarven hands and Dwarven hearts, this was the Dwarrowdelf. Gimli fell to his knees, unnoticed as the others settled around him. Child of the Lonely Mountain though he was, raised in the small forges and metal shops of the exiles, this was beyond all his experience. He was lost, overwhelmed by the immensity of it all. And yet, deep in his heart, he knew this place. It was beyond his thought, beyond his imagining. But it was the home of his soul.
Then the light went out, and the hall fell back into darkness.
“There used to be great windows on the mountain side,” Gandalf was saying, “and shafts leading out to light in the upper reaches of the Mines. I think we have reached them now, but it is night outside again, and we cannot tell until morning.”
There was a soft, choked sound behind Gimli, and he turned to see Legolas. The Elf was standing still and straight in the great passage. His face was turned up, searching as though to find the windows Gandalf spoke of. But all was dark, and there was no hint of light from sun or stars. Legolas’ face betrayed nothing, but Gimli read anguish in his eyes. For a moment he felt a flash of pity for the Elf.
Then his attention was drawn away as Sam asked about the hall. “There must have been a mighty crowd of Dwarves here at one time,” said the Hobbit as he munched a bit of cheese, “and every one of them busier than badgers for five hundred years to make all this, and most in hard rock too! What did they do it all for? They didn’t live in these darksome holes surely?”
Gimli rose to his feet. The Hobbit could be forgiven his ignorance – after all he must have been somewhat isolated in the Shire. But it was high time someone educated him. Gimli had noted the odd reverence with which Sam seemed to hold Legolas, and indeed all things Elvish. Clearly the boy needed a lesson in what a proper culture was like.
“These are not holes,” he said, and the Hobbits turned to look at him. “This is the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf. And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs.” Closing his eyes, he cast his mind back to his youth, to the songs and tales told about a flickering fire. The dreams held in the face of loss, the dreams of Khazad-dûm.
Slowly he chanted the song of exile, remembering the look of his father’s eyes in the firelight as Glóin told his son of their people’s heritage, and their people’s doom. Gimli remembered the glory of Moria, and his heart ached at the desolation, the loss of such beauty. He put this into his song, into the slow metre heavy with sorrow, and when it was finished, he fell silent.
Legolas was not listening to his companions’ conversation. He had clung to discipline during their long march in the dark, schooling his mind desperately to the lessons of centuries past. He could hear the dry voice of the archery master, seek a focus. Concentrate on the target. There is nothing else. Breathe in. Breathe out. There is nothing else. He fixed his eyes on Mithrandir’s small light and tried to shut away the malicious death weight that pressed in upon him. Slowly they had drawn away from the resonance of the straight road, and slowly his heart eased. But it was only a slight reprieve, he knew that. There was still evil in the stones, and Shadow still sought them. And they had tarried, walking with slow steps in the dark, and now resting.
Resting when they were so close to the end! He could feel it, feel the lessening of the stone above them, the nearness of the stars. Yet there was no light from window or hole, despite Mithrandir’s assurance that the shafts were there. No star song reached him, though he strained to hear it. The black wave of despair that followed this crushing disappointment threatened to drown him. He could have run the length of the great hall, followed the slightest breath of fresh air, scaled the walls to escape this pit. But they must stop, for the Hobbits could go no further. So again he grasped the tatters of his warrior’s training, and grounded himself in duty. He must protect the little ones. He tried not to think of what he protected them from.
Still he could not help giving occasional glances toward Mithrandir. He did not know if he sought to protect the wizard, or looked for reassurance from him. In any case Mithrandir did not look at him. The wizard sat back against the wall and watched the Hobbits with a bemused air. His staff was propped beside him, and he held his unlit pipe in one hand. Somehow the gesture seemed unbearably poignant. Mithrandir had not changed in all the centuries, and he cheerfully disregarded Elven sensibilities. The pipe was a part of him, and was likely to make an appearance in any serious discussion, whether it be in Mirkwood’s throne room or Elrond’s house of healing. Thranduil had once complained that it was impossible to carry on an extended debate with Mithrandir, for the longer one talked with him the longer it would take to get the smell of pipeweed out of the tapestries.
Something stung Legolas’ throat, and he looked away. It is his choice. His right. But his heart cried out within him.
“You are troubled.” Aragorn’s voice came softly as the Ranger joined him. Legolas swallowed hard and then looked at him. He raised one eyebrow in deliberate imitation of normal Elven playfulness. “Is that the astute observation of a Ranger experienced in reading subtle clues?”
The corner of Aragorn’s mouth quirked. “It is the observation of a friend, and an offering of support. And no, the clues are not subtle.”
Legolas smiled back faintly, and then tilted his head as he caught the faint shuffle of bare feet in the dark, as he had done so often during their long march. “Gollum tracks us still. He is there, somewhere.”
Aragorn studied him. “It was to be expected, I suppose. He is used to life in the dark. Is that all?”
Yes, Legolas longed to say. Yes, that is all, just a footpad in the dark, and a foolish Elf trapped in the caves. Do not concern yourself, do not fear, be at peace, mellon nîn. “No,” he whispered. “You said that you could feel the Shadow in this place, Aragorn. It grows. Something is coming, and I fear . . .” Unbidden, his eyes turned back toward Mithrandir.
Aragorn’s rough hand, stained and blackened with toil, grasped his shoulder firmly. “I do feel it. But it seems no different to me now than it did last night. Maybe less.” He followed Legolas’ gaze to where the wizard sat talking with Sam. “We must trust Gandalf. Tomorrow we will see the sunlight, and we will escape this place. Perhaps nothing will come of it.” But the Ranger’s voice was tinged with fear, and his words rang hollow.
Legolas did not take his eyes from the wizard. “Perhaps,” he said.
They were interrupted then by a most unlikely sound. A rough, deep voice lifted in chanting song behind them, and the echoes ran away into the endless depths. Aragorn and Legolas turned. Gimli stood a short ways away, his eyes closed, his face half hidden in the shadows as he sang of the lost glory of Khazad-dûm. Legolas exchanged a shocked look with Aragorn, and the Man smiled. “Do not underestimate the Dwarves, Legolas. They always find a way to surprise you.” With that the Ranger moved away. He settled his pack near Merry’s and leaned back to watch Gimli.
Legolas stayed where he was. Do not underestimate the Dwarves. His father, he knew, would have said that was not possible. Certainly the song was what he might have expected from a Dwarf, had he ever stopped to consider what a Dwarf might sing about. It was a glorification of riches and jewels, a tribute to material wealth that left Legolas cold. But as he listened, Legolas heard something more. There was memory in the Dwarf’s words, not of possessions but of accomplishments. Gimli’s voice was full of love for the deep earth and pride in past glory, and a bone aching sorrow. Almost, in that moment, almost the Dwarf sounded Elvish.
The song ended and the last echoes faded to silence. The Hobbits set up a clamor of questions but Gimli turned away from them. The Dwarf cast his hood over his face and settled against the wall near Legolas, away from the rest of the Company.
Legolas turned away, gazing out into the vast hall. Mithrandir was answering the Hobbits’ questions, describing the wonders that had once been found here. Legolas did not listen, focused as he was on the black space around them. Tales of mithril and gems did not interest him, though he did wonder briefly at the history behind Mithrandir’s story. It seemed absurd to think that there had once been friendship between the Dwarves of Moria and the Elves of Hollin. And yet the doors of Moria bore witness to the unlikely alliance.
What could a Dwarf offer that would be of worth to an Elf? True, the Hollin Elves had been of the Noldor, and more likely to find value in stones and caverns than a Wood-elf ever could. Was it love of metal craft that drove Celebrimbor to befriend the Dwarves? Or was it friendship that fueled him to develop smith work, so rare among Elves? Can it be that Middle-earth suffers because of friendship? Are mortals truly so powerful, that their love can swing the fate of the world?
Legolas was pulled from these thoughts when Aragorn stirred and said, “The hour grows late. We should set watches for the night and retire.”
Mithrandir nodded. “Have we any volunteers?”
Legolas started to speak, but Aragorn shot him a dark look and said, “Legolas will not stand guard. Nor will you, Gandalf, or Gimli. All of you need to sleep.”
Gimli did not look up from his position by the wall, but Mithrandir’s eyes twinkled as he nodded. Legolas, however, narrowed his eyes at the Man and set his jaw. Did Aragorn really think to command him to sleep in this tomb?
“I do not need sleep as you do, Aragorn,” he said. “Nor will I find rest here, whether you set me a watch or not. Does it make sense to weary other members of the Company when I will be alert in any case?”
Aragorn turned slowly to face him. “Not even you can go without sleep indefinitely, Legolas. I value your senses, but they will be of better use to us when you are rested.”
Legolas lifted his chin, but Boromir interrupted. The Man had been characteristically taciturn all through their night march, but now he spoke, glancing between Legolas and Aragorn. “Then let us compromise. Legolas will take one watch, and he will rest during the others. We must still decide how many watches we will set. I will take one.”
“Three watches,” Mithrandir said. “We cannot afford more than six hours rest.” Legolas shot the wizard a look of pure gratitude. For the sake of the Hobbits he knew they must stop, but every moment of delay grated upon him.
“I will take a watch,” Frodo said. “I haven’t had one since before Caradhras.” Aragorn looked at the Hobbit in surprise, but only nodded. Perhaps he remembered the Ring-bearer’s words at the chasm they had jumped yesterday.
“Then Boromir will have the first watch, Frodo the second, and I will take the third,” Legolas said firmly. Everyone turned to stare at him in surprise, and he looked back at them defiantly. Rarely did he seek to command the group. Usually he was content to only offer guidance and allow Mithrandir or Aragorn to make the decisions. By temperament he was a quiet Elf, and did not seek to draw attention to himself. But he had been raised a prince, and he had commanded scouting parties in his father’s service for two centuries. He returned their looks with his best imitation of Thranduil’s imperious stare, and was rewarded when Aragorn sighed and threw up his hands in a combination of amusement and exasperation. “Very well. Then Boromir will wake Frodo in two hours time, and those of us not on watch will sleep now.”
There was a general murmur of agreement as the Company set out their sleeping rolls. Aragorn fixed Legolas with a steely look until the Elf sighed and came to join them. They were huddled in a corner away from the draught of cool air that ran through the great hall. Legolas positioned his bedroll in a way to block as much of the draft as he could. The cold did not bother him, but he had noticed Pippin shivering.
Aragorn and Gimli were both close by. Aragorn had perhaps positioned himself with a similar intention, but Gimli gave no sign of noticing any of the others. The Dwarf sat propped against the wall and stared blankly into the dark, his face half hidden by his hood.
Legolas stood by them, scanning the shadowed hall until an impatient snort from Aragorn brought him back to his immediate surroundings. He sank down onto his blanket, folding his legs under him in a position that appeared relaxed but from which he could instantly spring up to action. Aragorn seemed to accept this as the best he was likely to get. The Ranger stretched out on his own bedroll and shut his eyes. Legolas looked around at his companions. All were preparing to rest, save Boromir, who sat at some distance away and was slowly running a cloth over the Horn of Gondor. A soft chorus of somnolescent breathing already rose from the Hobbits’ sleeping pile.
“How can you sleep?” Legolas murmured. He might have been speaking to himself, save that he spoke in Westron.
Aragorn opened one eye. “We sleep because we have to, Legolas. As you must.”
Legolas shook his head mutely, but Aragorn had already closed his eyes again. Soon the Ranger’s breathing settled into the slow pattern that the Elf had grown accustomed to during their many journeys together. Legolas watched him for a moment. A faint crease lined Aragorn’s brow, even in sleep. His eyes were sealed shut against the dark.
Mortals close their eyes to the world. Can he so easily shut out the Shadow? Legolas would not have dared to sleep under the threat, even had it been possible. Elven dreams followed the pattern of their thoughts. Though he could not see his surroundings when he slept, Legolas was always aware of them. His dreams danced to the wheel of stars overhead and sang with the whisper of the night breeze. He dared not think what form they would take here, in the stone and silence and weight of Shadow. It was a part of the Gift of Ilúvatar, he supposed, that mortals could remove their dreams from their environment, and escape the circles of the world.
In truth Legolas was bone weary, exhausted in a way he had never been before. It was not a weariness of flesh, but of soul. He had not slept and hardly had eaten since they had entered Moria. Normally this would not trouble him, but he needed more than food or sleep to sustain him. The loss of Ilúvatar’s Song and the shutting away of the sun and stars wore upon him in a way that mere physical discomfort could not. Though most mortals would not have discerned any difference in his appearance or movement, the weight of Shadow was taking its toll. Even in the southern reaches of Mirkwood the black influence of Dol Guldor was relieved by the whisper of trees still friendly to the Elves, the occasional shafts of light that pierced the canopy. But here there was no respite from the aching weight that bore down upon him.
So often mortal senses had seemed dull to him, their world was oddly narrow and limited to only what they could see and hear with their physical eyes and ears. But now he envied them. If Mithrandir was right, what good was there in sensing what was to come? They could not escape it in any case. If they were doomed to stay in this black pit, what a relief it would be to close one’s eyes to the stone, to escape the Shadow for just a little while. But that was not his right, and not his place in the Fellowship. Let the others seek comfort in mortal sleep. Legolas steeled himself to his duty, and willed his mind to remain clear, his senses sharp despite his exhaustion.
But as he watched, he became aware that not all his companions slept. Gimli sat a short distance away, his arms folded and his head covered. He was as still as the rock behind him, but the Dwarf’s customary snores were absent from the chorus of nocturnal breathing around them.
The Dwarf, at least, he might have expected to sleep. Gimli was comfortable beneath the earth, and did not seem troubled by Shadow. Yet the Dwarf was wakeful. At any other time Legolas would not have thought much about Gimli’s habits, or indeed noticed him at all. But he was sick of dwelling on Shadow and terror. Try as he might, in all the long hours in the dark he had not sensed any physical threat. Only the loss of Song, and the dead stone, and the Shadow. There had been no change in all that night’s long march, and no relief save for the brief encounter with the Orcs the day before. His mind seemed to chase itself in endless circles, Mithrandir’s words and Aragorn’s reassurances racing round in a senseless litany. He was sick of it. Sick of the fear, and the taste of iron, and the void of silence. Any distraction was welcome, even were it only an insomniac Dwarf.
“Are the great halls of my people so dull, Elf, that you must stare at me?”
Legolas blinked. Gimli’s voice was cold and bitter. He still sat and stared ahead, his face obscured by his raised hood. He had not moved or looked at Legolas, yet it was unquestionably his voice that had spoken.
“It is dark,” Legolas said.
Gimli snorted. “Do not tell me that those Elf eyes fail you now. Gandalf’s light still shines.”
Legolas glanced around. In truth he could see quite a bit of the great hall as it stretched away before them. The shadowed pillars marched into the depths, dark against the gloom. “I see only what I have seen since we entered Moria. Stone and shadows. There is nothing worth looking at.”
Gimli turned to face him. His hood fell back and his hands were clenched on his knees. There was a murderous light in his eyes. “Do not say that word! This is no black pit, Elf, and your feet are not fit to tread its passages. This is Khazad-dûm, and you will speak of it with respect!”
Legolas stared at the Dwarf in mild astonishment. The hostility toward himself was expected, even welcomed as a small thread of normalcy in this disorienting place. But beneath the anger in Gimli’s tone there was a far stronger current of grief. Sorrow and memory deepened the Dwarf’s voice, and his breath was ragged.
Gimli was not behaving as Legolas expected. First there had been the song, and now this tirade that seemed more of a sob. For all his fascination with mortals, Legolas had never imagined such depth in a Dwarf. Gimli piqued his curiosity.
“I mean no disrespect, Master Dwarf,” he said after a moment. “But what can you see here? All is in ruin. Your city is gone.”
“You are wrong, Master Elf.” The anger was more distant in Gimli’s voice, the grief stronger. “Durin’s folk may be driven away, but the cities of the Khazad remain. They will endure until the end of the world.”
Legolas studied the Dwarf. This was a mood he had never thought to see, one he had not thought the Naugrim capable of. Anger, yes, passion, yes, but not this deep well of memory and sorrow.
“Mortals fade and pass away,” he said softly, “but the stone remembers them.”
Gimli looked at him, his eyes wide with surprise. “Yes,” he said.
“I had not considered this before,” Legolas mused. “It is a great mystery to us, why Men and Dwarves must always break the earth to suit their cities. They tear down the forest rather than live within it. But they know that their time is brief, and with the passing of an Age they are forgotten. So they must scar Ennor to leave their memory.”
Gimli frowned. “You call this a scar on Ennor? Think what you say, Elf. Would you rather see only the damp holes that were here before? Shallow pits and barren rock? We have improved what Ennor gave us. We have brought life to the waste, and created beauty. The treasures of Khazad-dûm are legend! Think of the great craftsmen here and the things they made! Jewels like the sun, and mithril stars!”
Legolas looked at the vast columns around them and thought for a moment of the endless labor to create just one of them from a blank pit of stone. The toil of hundreds of craftsmen, mortals who would never see the fruit of their labors, but who left them as a legacy for their children. He could never love this place as Gimli did, and his soul still cried for the song of living things. But this was also a hall of memory, and an Elf could appreciate that.
“You comfort me, Master Dwarf,” he said at last. “I am honored to witness the memorial of the Dwarves. But in truth I can find no beauty without life. Great skill your ancestors had, but their gems are meaningless without them.”
Gimli’s eyes grew dark. “Aye,” he said. “Though it seems to me that your father found great value in our gems, and did not trouble about the living Dwarves that claimed them.”
Legolas’ eyes narrowed. Must the Dwarf dwell on such trivial issues now? “The king claimed no more than was his due after defending your people from the Orcs. They would have ravaged your plunder were it not for us. No paltry stones can repay the Elven lives lost that day.”
“The Dwarves had no need for rescue. My father proved that when he escaped your dungeons.”
“Would you rather they had been kept in the flets of the trees?” Legolas asked dryly. “It would have been more secure, but we thought they would be more comfortable in the cellars.”
“Oh I do apologize,” Gimli said with deep sarcasm, “I suppose they should have understood your motives better. Somehow they were distracted by the attempt to rob them.”
For an instant Legolas was cast back to that day with the utter clarity of Elven memory. He had remained in Laketown to direct the building of shelters for the people left destitute by Smaug’s attack, and had only joined his father’s main force shortly before the battle began. He heard again the screams of dying Elves, his people, his friends. He smelled the acrid dust and thick stench of blood. He felt the lust and hatred of the Orcs. And then, in the bitter aftermath of grief, there had been the pride and greed of the Dwarves. The Elves had died defending these mortal strangers, had sacrificed immortality to protect the free peoples and drive back the Enemy’s servants. But the Dwarves cared only for gold.
“We stole nothing,” Legolas hissed. Under normal circumstances he would not have allowed the Dwarf to bait him so. He would have held himself with the dignity becoming a son of Thranduil, and perhaps tempered Gimli’s harsh words with understanding of the pain the Dwarf was in. But at this moment he did not care. He was beyond weary, beyond pain, beyond caring. He was sick unto death of the Shadow and the weight of malice, and he would not be in this place at all were it not for the Dwarves.
“Ever have the Elves fought to save Middle-earth, even now when it is our Doom to leave it. But the Dwarves care nothing for life or beauty, except in their rocks. They leave the free peoples in hardship or betray them to the Enemy. What of the sacking of Doriath? What of the siege of Barad-dûr? Where were the Dwarves when Elves and Men died together? You reap the reward of our sacrifice, and yet betray us and scorn our loss!”
Gimli jumped up, his hands balled into fists. He stood over the seated Elf, shaking with fury. “And what of the treachery of the Elves? It was not the Dwarves that betrayed Middle-earth. We would not be here at all were it not for Celebrimbor’s idiocy! Durin would not have fallen were it not for those accursed Rings. Khazad-dúm would not have been lost!”
Legolas leaped fluidly to his feet. “No one forced the Rings upon the Naugrim. And it was not the Elves that drove you from Moria. Your greed stirred that which hunts us now, and endangers Frodo’s quest. This is your people’s legacy, greed and treachery that leave Middle-earth in darkness! The orphans of Doriath know this. The widows of Gorgoroth will remember the stunted ones that fought with Sauron.”
Gimli glared at him. “Always the Elves must live in the past. Those deeds were done an Age ago, and yet you lord it over us still. Why does Aragorn dread his heritage? Because Elrond holds the mistake of an ancestor forty generations dead over his head!”
“Lord Elrond knows Aragorn’s destiny far better than do you, Dwarf. Aragorn will claim his heritage in his own time. He has already sacrificed beyond your ability to comprehend, and no Elf would belittle his pain as you claim. It is the Dwarves that refuse to acknowledge their history.”
“Do not presume to tell us our role in Middle-earth. And know this: those dead were dust three thousand years ago. Do not think to blame us for the past!”
Legolas stepped forward dangerously. “My brothers died in that battle!”
They stood for a long moment, breathing hard, as the hatred of ten thousand years flickered between them like heat lightening.
Then Legolas spoke, his voice hard and cold. “Mortals think that time washes away the past, as though it never were. But that is not true. Elves need no stone to remember us – we endure. The legends of your ancestors, Dwarf, are my father’s experiences. And I will remember the Dwarves’ greed and treachery when your precious halls are dust.”
Gimli ground his teeth. “And your arrogance will not be forgiven, Elf, so long as there are Dwarves to remember it.”
They glared at each other as the moments stretched away in silence. Gimli longed to reach for his axe, to cut down the Elf’s pride. He thought of his father’s long torment in the dungeons, so easily dismissed by this arrogant Elf-brat. To think he had the gall to stand in Durin’s home and insult the generations of his descendants! His fury burned in his throat, and his eyes stung and watered as he met the Elf’s gaze. But Legolas had not reached for his knives, and Gimli would not draw first.
Then a strange look came into Legolas’ clear eyes, and the Elf frowned and turned his gaze away from Gimli’s. Gimli sagged slightly, as though a physical weight had been lifted from him. He would have claimed victory in the staring match, but Legolas seemed distracted, almost as if unaware of the Dwarf before him. He was gazing over Gimli’s head at something behind the Dwarf, and a faint crease was drawn between his eyes.
Reluctantly Gimli turned to see what the Elf was looking at. There seemed to be nothing unusual, just the dark humps of their sleeping companions and Boromir. Then Gimli frowned. There was something odd about the Man. Now that he thought about it, it was strange that he and Legolas had not been interrupted in their argument. Never before had they been permitted to voice all the long grievances and past hurts that lay between their peoples. Never had they fought so long, with words that cut like knives. On the occasions that they had exchanged heated words someone had always broken them apart. Usually Aragorn, but sometimes Gandalf or Boromir. Yet this time no one had intervened. Gimli was glad for that, but it was strange.
He looked over the Fellowship. Aragorn had stirred and kicked off his blanket, but had not waked. Gimli wondered at this. The Ranger was a light sleeper and he and Legolas had not troubled to keep their voices down. But Aragorn was clearly exhausted. He seemed nearly as uneasy as Legolas in the caves, and this took its toll on his mortal body. Gandalf also slept, as was to be expected after keeping watch all through the night before. But Boromir was awake, and he had not shown much patience for their bickering in the past. He should have interrupted them. Yet the Man only sat, his eyes blank, turning the Horn of Gondor slowly in his hands.
Gimli narrowed his eyes. Something was definitely wrong. Aragorn seemed to have settled, Gandalf had not moved, the Hobbit pile was oblivious, though Frodo seemed to be stirring in his sleep. . . Frodo. Boromir was staring at Frodo.
Legolas spoke behind him, his musical voice low and intense. “How much time has passed?”
Gimli started, and then said without looking at the Elf, “An hour and a half, perhaps two.”
“Long enough.” Legolas slipped by him and was nearly to Boromir before Gimli registered the cool wind of his passing. The Elf stopped at the Man’s side and said sharply, “Boromir.” There was no response. “Boromir!” Legolas bent down and shook the Man’s shoulder.
Boromir started and looked around. “Legolas? You should be asleep.”
“It is well that I am not,” the Elf said shortly. “You are clearly fatigued, and your watch is over.”
“Is it?” the Man smiled ruefully. “I am sorry, Legolas. I must have drifted off for a moment. I was more tired than I realized.” Boromir got up and picked his way over to the Hobbits. Legolas watched through narrowed eyes as the Man woke Frodo and then retired to his own bedroll. He wrapped the cloak around himself and lay down to face the wall without another glance at the Elf.
Frodo was looking between Legolas and Gimli with a puzzled frown. Legolas spoke softly to the Hobbit and then came back to his own blanket. He did not sit down, but stood against the wall and stared over at the shadowed lump that was Boromir. The Elf’s eyes were dark with suspicion.
“He was watching the Ring-bearer,” Gimli said softly.
“Yes,” Legolas’ voice was distant and cool as wind off the mountains. “It seems that Durin’s Bane is not the only one to hear the call of the Ring.”
A/N: My assertions about Legolas’ age, possible siblings, and role in the Battle of the Five Armies are entirely my own and have no basis in canon, although there are some wonderfully well written arguments to support the theory that he is “young” for an Elf, perhaps around 500 years old. We do know that his grandfather Oropher was killed in the Last Alliance and his father Thranduil led the surviving third of Greenwood’s forces home, but not much else.
The Dwarves’ role in attacking the Elven kingdom of Doriath is related in the Silmarillion. Tolkien says that all creatures, including birds and beasts, were divided in the last war with Sauron. Elves were the one exception to this, for they fought only against him. So I interpret this to mean that some Dwarves fought on Sauron’s side, just as some Men did. Durin’s kin, however, (Gimli’s direct ancestors) fought against him. But for the most part the Dwarves were not involved with the Last Alliance, on either side.
Next up: Chapter 7, dead Dwarves and a glimpse of light.
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