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In the Deep Places: 7. To Breathe
Silence fell over the great hall. Boromir did not stir, and Gimli soon tired of looking at his shapeless form. He was weary from their long march, and though he could have sat up longer there was no point in taxing themselves without reason.
The Elf was of course immune to logic, and looked set to stay up all night. He stood clear and bright in the gloom and watched the dark, but every now and again shot a sharp glance in Boromir’s direction.
But Legolas gave no further voice to his suspicions and showed no sign that he was even aware of the Dwarf’s presence. For his part Gimli had not forgotten the harsh words they had exchanged, or the cutting tone of the Elf’s voice as he had disparaged Gimli’s kin. The Elf would pay dearly for his slander, Gimli promised himself. But now, in the dark ruin of Khazad-dûm, with the Ring a growing threat, was not the time. Later, Gimli swore. Later there would be time for vengeance.
So he turned his back to Legolas and with single-minded determination shut away the nagging fears that twisted in the back of his mind. He pillowed his head on his pack and shifted so that he was pressed against the wall’s solid rock. Whatever may come, whatever threat they faced from the Enemy, this good stone would endure. Gimli took comfort in this thought, and never mind that the Elf had expressed it first. He shut his eyes and soon fell into sleep.
Legolas listened as the Dwarf’s breathing slowed and deepened into his customary snores. Evidently the stunted creature was not going to continue their dispute at the moment. Legolas was grateful for this, and thanked whatever small wit Aulë had seen fit to bestow upon the Naugrim that Gimli was capable of discretion.
In truth Legolas himself would have dearly loved to finish their discussion. The Dwarf had slandered his father, his people, and his heritage. For the first time all their long history of grievances had been laid bare and Legolas was determined that the Dwarf should know his people’s true role. Moreover, although Gimli had proven himself a powerful warrior in combat, no Dwarf could match an Elf in a battle of words. Like all Elves Legolas loved games of word play and could debate for days without tiring. But Gimli had shown signs of fatigue and impatience after what was, for an Elf, only the preliminary stages of discussion. It would not take long to defeat him entirely. But as pleasurable as that prospect was, it would have to wait. More important matters were at hand.
In the deeps of night the Shadow weighed heavily. And while most of the Company slept Legolas felt again the silent malice that pressed upon them. But perhaps the greatest threat was something far closer to them.
Legolas glanced briefly at Frodo and then again at the shadowed outline of Boromir. The Man had not stirred since he lay down, but Legolas doubted that he slept. What dark voice had claimed his attention so completely that night? How was it that he had been oblivious to Legolas and Gimli’s argument? Legolas did not know Boromir very well, for all their travel together. The Man tended to hold himself apart from the rest of the Company, and his clear discomfort around Elves had not helped matters. But he had proven himself a strong and noble Man, and showed true concern for the Hobbits. He and Aragorn had likely saved their lives on Caradhras. Prior to this night Legolas would not have believed it possible that he could so neglect his duty while on watch.
And what of my own duty? A small voice whispered in the back of his mind. What might Boromir have succumbed to, while I focused on the Dwarf? Legolas shuddered. He had sworn to protect the Ring-bearer. He was tasked with representing all Elves for the Fellowship. And yet he had abandoned his responsibility for the sake of a petty squabble with a Dwarf. His stomach twisted with shame.
A faint sound came to him then, a slight shift of movement soft as the sundering of a leaf from a bough. Legolas turned his head sharply to stare out into the dark hall, and caught the glint of luminous eyes gazing back at him.
He froze, holding that strange gaze for a long moment. His breath stopped, and for an eternity stretched between one beat of his heart and the next, he looked into those shining eyes. Then there was a faint scrabble of bare feet on rock, and they were gone.
Legolas let out his breath slowly. He had known Gollum briefly during his stay in Mirkwood. The twisted creature was foul with hate and malice, and Aragorn had warned that he could not be trusted. But Legolas thought that there was something more to him. He was all but consumed by greed, and seemed to breathe treachery and deceit. And yet . . . and yet there was sorrow in him, and at times he would sit quiet and whisper, not of his foul Precious, but of something deeper. There was a longing in him more pure than his usual lust. He wished, perhaps, for the simple pleasure of a sun that was not an unfriendly eye, and a love that was not for power. His soul was not yet completely discordant with Ilúvatar’s Song. Legolas sensed this, and it was perhaps this that led the Mirkwood Elves to over kindness. He was not yet beyond redemption. Not yet.
A sharp catch of breath behind him made Legolas turn. Frodo was on his feet, staring into the dark, his eyes glinting huge in his white face. Legolas blinked in surprise. He had not thought a Hobbit’s eyes sharp enough to see much in the absolute dark, and indeed Sam had earlier bemoaned the lack of lamps and torches. But Frodo had clearly seen Gollum, and the Ring-bearer’s breath sounded loud and harsh in the silence.
Legolas frowned slightly. Was this night-sightedness normal for a Hobbit? He wished he knew more about them. Perhaps he could ask Mithrandir, or Aragorn . . . Aragorn. The Ranger still slept. This Man, who never slept more than five consecutive hours even in Imladris, slumbered on heedless of the noise of his companions, the threat of Orcs, or the weight of Shadow. Legolas fixed the lump of Aragorn’s sleeping roll with a sharp stare. On previous journeys he had found that just the intensity of an Elven gaze was enough to rouse the Man. But now there was nothing. Aragorn did not so much as twitch, and a warning prickle tensed the back of Legolas’ neck.
If I called him, if I shook him by the shoulder . . . Legolas drew a slow breath. He could feel the expanding of his lungs, the weight of his quiver strap as it cut across his chest. He could hear the Man’s steady breathing, louder than the Hobbits’, slightly raspier than Boromir’s. He is all right. He is only tired from the journey. He would waken. Unspoken, unbidden, was the fear in the back of his mind . . . if It allowed him.
Legolas looked away from Aragorn at last. He scanned the dark hall briefly and glanced again at Boromir. The Man had not moved, but he did not sleep. Legolas thought that he was listening.
All during this endless journey in the mines Legolas had been focused on the Shadow around them. That threat had not abated, and he could feel it still, burning cold and hateful on his skin, and drawing ever nearer. But he had not thought about that which drew it to them.
This strange sleep of Aragorn’s, Boromir’s fixation, Frodo’s keen vision and the lines drawn on his white face, even Legolas’ own fears and his argument with Gimli . . . was this all some manipulation of the Ring’s? He rather thought that Gimli’s irascibility was entirely natural to the Dwarf, but Legolas himself should not have been drawn so easily. What purpose could stirring up the old hatreds serve? Was this too a contrivance of the Enemy’s?
Legolas looked again into the dark that waited, scarcely checked by Mithrandir’s faint light. The weight of stone, the dead air, the loss of Ilúvatar’s Song, the Shadow, and now the Ring . . . how could he know which of his senses were real, and which were illusory? What was a true threat, and what was only his own overwrought mind, and what was a trick of the Enemy’s? Perhaps Mithrandir was right to go on. Perhaps the weight of Shadow was an illusion, and Durin’s Bane no more than Orcs. Legolas gripped his bow so tightly that the smooth wood cut into his palms. He was losing control, and the thought sent a hot trickle of panic through his gut. Aragorn had said to trust the strengths of mortals in this pit. But how could he trust the others when he could not even trust his own mind?
A strange thought came to him then, and he turned his head slowly to look at the hump of blankets from which Gimli’s snores issued. The Dwarf was undisturbed by dark or stone or Shadow, and he at least seemed unaffected by the Ring. He was strangely blind to the song of living things, it seemed – more so even than Men. But he was also solid, and firmly grounded in the world of the physical senses. Perhaps . . . perhaps with him Legolas might find some balance, at least while he was cut off from the Song.
Legolas closed his eyes and shook his head briefly. If all the fate of Middle-earth depends on a Hobbit, shall the sanity of an Elf depend on a Dwarf? He opened his eyes again and turned resolutely away from Gimli. The others would waken soon, and perhaps he would have a moment to tell Aragorn and Mithrandir of the happenings this night. He would not be driven so low as to seek aid from a Dwarf.
But now there were more important things to attend to. Frodo still stood apart from the company, his small shoulders tensed and his face drawn with strain. His right hand gripped the hilt of Sting at his side, but his left had strayed up to clutch something at his chest. Legolas pushed down his own wealth of fears and doubts and forced his mind to clear. Frodo was in danger. Whatever small strength remained to him in this pit belonged by rights to the Ring-bearer. Perhaps he was doomed to failure; perhaps it was folly to offer an Elf’s assistance in a Dwarf’s realm. But he must at least try.
He deliberately dislodged a bit of rubble as he walked over to the Hobbit, but Frodo showed no reaction to his presence. He started badly when Legolas touched his shoulder, and wheeled around with Sting half drawn from its scabbard. Legolas moved with Elven reflexes to catch Frodo’s wrist before he could finish the draw. “Peace, Master Hobbit,” he said softly. Frodo seemed to stare straight through him for a moment, then he blinked and his eyes came into focus.
“Legolas?” The Hobbit gave a wan smile and relaxed slightly. Legolas released his wrist and Frodo dropped Sting back into its holder with a soft snick. He drew his left hand away from his chest and flexed the fingers absently. “Is it time for your watch already?”
Legolas ignored the question. He had absolutely no idea how much time had passed. He simply did not feel the passage of hours as mortals did. In the open he was so attuned to the motions of the stars that he could wake from a sound sleep when their positions told him that his watch had come, but he had quickly lost all sense of time and direction in the mines. He had very deliberately volunteered for the last watch this night so that he would not have to determine when to wake the next watchman, and so that Aragorn would not be able to fault him for being awake when the Man arose.
“You seem troubled,” he said instead. “I thought you might wish company.” He took a few steps back so that the Hobbit would not have to crane his neck up to look at him.
Frodo glanced out at the blank darkness of the hall and then back at Legolas. “I thought I saw something,” he said, “but it is gone now.” The Hobbit looked again at the dark and drew his cloak more tightly about himself, but Legolas thought that it was not cold that made him shiver.
Legolas hesitated. He did not wish to alarm the Hobbit unnecessarily, but he also did not know how much Frodo sensed, and what the Ring-bearer might already know. “There is danger here,” he said finally. “But the Fellowship will not fail. Gandalf will not lead us astray.”
“No,” Frodo said absently. “I suppose not.” He stood gazing out at the dark for a moment more, then shook himself and turned to face the Elf. “Are you all right?”
Legolas blinked in surprise, and Frodo smiled slightly at his reaction. “You seem very tense.” Legolas opened his mouth, but Frodo shook his head quickly. “I don’t mean just with Pippin and the well earlier. Pip was being foolish, and he’s fine now. But you’re, well,” he lifted one hand in an uncertain gesture, “you haven’t been yourself. It must be terrible for you, being trapped underground.”
Legolas laughed softly. The Hobbit’s summation seemed so simple. But his clear laughter ran away into the depths and echoed back twisted and distorted from the shadows. Legolas sobered quickly. “It is not an experience I care to repeat, Master Frodo,” he said. “But I will survive. You need not concern yourself for my sake. You have far more important cares upon you.”
Frodo looked at him thoughtfully. “Maybe. But I don’t believe that there’s much that’s more important than helping a friend in trouble.”
Legolas looked hard at the Hobbit then, in his surprise forgetting to lessen the normal intensity of his gaze. But Frodo met his eyes unflinchingly. There was something about this Hobbit, some sense of an intrinsic spirit far greater than his slight frame would suggest. Even in the Black Pit, with his normal senses limited, Legolas could feel it. Almost he could see it, shining in the Hobbit’s eyes. Then Frodo flushed and glanced away, and Legolas remembered himself.
“Elvellon,” he breathed, lessening his gaze but not looking away from Frodo’s face. “I see now why Gildor named you Elf-friend. You speak wisely, Frodo.” He raised his right hand to his heart and bowed formally. “It is my honor to serve you. Whatever threat we face, I will protect you.”
Frodo looked slightly uncomfortable. “Thank you, Legolas. Everyone has already risked so much on this Quest – I couldn’t ask more. But these mines seem especially hard on you. So please tell me, as a friend, are you all right?”
Legolas smiled slightly. “No, elvellon. I am not myself at the moment. But we will escape this place soon, and I will be fine. Please do not concern yourself about me. Aragorn does quite a good enough job playing nursemaid on his own.”
Frodo smiled back, but when he spoke his voice was serious. He reiterated Legolas’ words, as if offering reassurance, or seeking it. “We will get out.”
Legolas repressed a shudder as the Shadow curled against the back of his neck. He forced his voice to remain steady, and hoped that he seemed confident. “Yes. We will.”
Frodo nodded. “Then I suppose I ought to let you take the watch now, and I won’t tell Aragorn that you were up all night.” He cast another brief glance at the surrounding darkness and then carefully picked his way past Mithrandir and Pippin to where his bedroll lay between Sam and Merry.
“Sleep well,” Legolas murmured. He watched as Frodo wrapped himself in his blanket and lay down. One day, he thought, he would like to visit the Shire and hear what song the forests sang in a land of such remarkable people. It seemed that Men were not the only mortals whose friendship was of value.
The rest of the night passed quietly. The hall lay in thick silence, broken only by the soft breathing of the Fellowship. Even Boromir had finally fallen asleep. Legolas sat on a low pile of rubble against the wall and stared out into the dark. But there was no sound, no hint of movement. Gollum appeared to have gone, or more likely, to be sleeping as well.
Legolas absently ran one hand slowly along his bow, stroking the grain with the tips of his fingers. The Shadow seemed to have lessened slightly, but his own sense of dread was like a leaden weight in his stomach. And yet what was there to dread? Durin’s Bane? All they had encountered thus far in the journey was Orcs. He did not fear them.
He thought of the straight path that they had avoided earlier that night. He had been so certain, so confident that evil lurked there. He remembered the coiling brush of Shadow, the whisper of hate against his skin. But had it been real? Or was it only another deceit? Perhaps the Ring had twisted his mind, and led him to draw the Company astray. Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise. But there was no comfort in the old sayings now. He had accepted his duty to the Fellowship, and he could not escape it. Perhaps it was folly, but they needed his senses, and he must advise them as best he could, even in the mines. And Mithrandir sensed the Shadow too, and Aragorn. It is real. It must be. And if it was not, if their path was twisted by the Ring, he could not help that.
Besides, there was no evidence that the Ring had corrupted him, either. He did not long for it. It was foul with evil that could not be concealed, for Sauron had no gift for beauty any longer. Legolas was not of the Noldor, and had never sought power or wealth. The Ring did not tempt him. Can you be certain? The small voice whispered in his mind. Did you not serve Its purpose when you fought with the Dwarf?
Perhaps he had. But that failing was his own, born of weariness and pain, and the insufferable Dwarf. I cannot go on like this. I must trust that my thoughts are my own, and my senses are true. I will not be drawn; I will not be manipulated, not by Durin’s son or Durin’s Bane, or Isildur’s. And if he was wrong, if his thoughts were false, he must trust that the mortals would prove stronger than he. Aragorn was right: they had strength here that he lacked. Frodo had proved that, as had Gimli.
His mind seemed clearer now, the plaguing doubts dissipated. Something teased the edges of his awareness. There was a faint stirring of the dead air in the hall. He had no idea how much time had passed, but he must trust that the others would rise on their own. Mithrandir, at least, would surely rouse soon. Legolas idly traced the geometric patter of a pillar with his eyes. All was still. He marveled that the Dwarves had taken so much time, so much skill, to create a pattern that was so dull. Why diagonals and squares? They might have made pillars like tree boles, branches lacing the ceiling, carved birds and animals . . . similar things had been done in Rivendell, and in the deepest parts of Mirkwood’s fortress. It was an illusion, of course, and a mere mockery of life, but it would have been some small comfort to the Wood-elf. He raised his gaze to the distant ceiling, following the curve of the great archways.
The ceiling. He could see the ceiling. Legolas looked around sharply. The gloom was still thick, the looming pillars still blurred and indistinct in the depths, but he could see the nearer ones clearly. He could see their carvings, gray and shadowed, but there nonetheless. He looked up, scanning the upper part of the hall . . . there! There near the roof, a slight lessening of the absolute dark, a faint hint of light . . . Legolas leaped to his feet. He was running, racing through the dark, his feet silent on the smooth stone. He reached the far wall and pressed his hands against it. The wall was smooth as glass and at least fifty feet high. He looked around frantically, but there was no break or ledge anywhere, no rubble for leverage, no hint of hand or foothold for even an Elf. He backed away from the wall, just far enough to see the small square of growing light so high above him. He closed his eyes and listened for a long moment. And there it was. So faint, soft as the brush of snow on skin, but real.
The whisper of a breeze, the stir of free air and on that breath came the taste of green, the smell of growing things, the murmur of life. Legolas spread his arms wide and tilted his head back. His long hair spilled over his quiver and the sensitive skin of his face and throat was laid bare to the whispered kiss of dawn. His lips parted as he drank in Ilúvatar’s Song.
Gimli awoke with a headache. He had slept with his head propped against his pack, and the angle had given him a crick in his neck. He twisted his head slightly from side to side, trying to work the cramp from his shoulders, but his chain mail hampered his movements, and the dull throbbing only got worse.
His bad mood was lessened slightly by the sight of light streaming in from shafts cut high in the far wall of the great hall. It was faint and pale, but seemed painfully bright to Gimli’s eyes. The rest of the Company was waking, and speaking in soft voices – still mindful of spies, but delighting in the light. Remembering the events of the previous night Gimli shot a sharp look in Boromir’s direction. The Man was sitting a little apart from the others, his eyes downcast. In Gimli’s current mood it seemed as if he were very deliberately not looking in Frodo’s direction. The Hobbit slept still, as did Pippin. But a gleam of light had fallen across Frodo’s face, and he was beginning to stir slightly.
Gimli looked around. The light was welcome, and yet in some way it seemed to emphasize the dark of places it did not reach. This whole hall should be full of light and life. The great walls should reflect the glow of a thousand torches, not this pallid gleam that left most of the hall in shadow. Gimli shifted his shoulders irritably as he bent to pack up his bedroll.
Straightening up again sent a bolt of bright pain through his spine, and he gritted his teeth. Perhaps he should ask Aragorn for something to ease it. If he could get the Man alone for a moment . . . Gimli looked around. He caught sight of the Ranger soon enough, but all hope of speaking to him privately vanished.
Aragorn was standing about ten feet away, his back to Gimli. He was looking up at a narrow pillar of a side passage that had crumbled into disrepair. Perched perhaps twenty feet up the pillar was Legolas. The Elf had evidently climbed the chipped masonry to the top of the small archway and clung there, his hands and feet braced on some slight imperfection in the stone, his body leaning back and his eyes fixed on the shaft from which the light came.
Aragorn seemed half amused, half exasperated as he called up to the Elf. “Legolas, come down. The Company breakfasts down here.”
Legolas twisted almost upside down to look at the Man. “I can smell the green from here, Aragorn! It is better than food or sleep.”
Aragorn snorted. “First you wouldn’t eat because of the dark. Now you won’t eat because of the light.”
Legolas laughed, clear and bright as bells ringing. “You can toss the food up here. Or,” his gaze fell on Gimli, “send it with the Dwarf. He is good at climbing stone.”
Gimli glowered at him, but the Elf only laughed again. Aragorn sighed. “The longer you stay up there, the longer it will take for us to leave Moria.”
Legolas let go of the pillar. Aragorn started in shock, but the Elf somersaulted smoothly in mid air and landed lightly beside him. Gimli wondered how he kept his arrows from falling out of his quiver.
“We can go now,” Legolas said simply. He took the dried fruit that Aragorn held and laughed again. Then he caught up his bow and leaped away, racing across the hall to come to a complete stop at the eastern archway, his head thrown back and his eyes half closed as he looked up at the shaft of light.
Aragorn turned and gave Gimli a sympathetic look. He walked over to the Dwarf, one corner of his mouth drawn up in wry amusement. “That, Master Dwarf, is a typical Wood-elven reaction. We’ve been in these caves too long, and the light is very welcome.”
Gimli snorted. “We’ve been here less than three days. That hardly excuses his madness.”
Aragorn smiled, but his eyes were dark. “He has been under more strain than you know, Gimli, and he is stronger than you think.” The Ranger’s gaze shifted to where Gandalf stood leaning on his staff, looking at the various archways and muttering under his breath. “I have felt a darkness here, and my heart bids me take caution. Legolas is not gifted with foresight, but he senses much. You would do well to pay heed to his words.”
Before Gimli could reply to that Aragorn’s face lightened and he smiled at something behind Gimli. “Frodo is awake. I suggest you get some breakfast, Master Dwarf. We’ll be leaving soon.”
Gimli turned to see that the Hobbit had indeed sat up and was looking around blearily. He scowled. Aragorn had apparently looked over his head to see Frodo. Normally this would not have bothered Gimli, but this morning he was in a mood to take issue with everything. The ridiculously disproportioned Man was flaunting his height; the Elf was using his ancestral halls as a climbing structure –
At that moment Gandalf’s unusually cheerful voice cut over the other quiet conversations. “Good morning,” he called, evidently speaking to Frodo. Pippin sat up as well, saw Merry with the breakfast supplies, and scrambled over to claim his share. Gandalf continued smoothly. “For morning it is at last. I was right, you see. We are high up on the east side of Moria. Before today is over we ought to find the Great Gates and see the waters of Mirrormere lying in the Dimrill Dale before us.”
“I shall be glad,” Gimli growled. The Company was being entirely too cheerful for the early morning, and a little glimmer of light did not merit this casual disregard of his people’s lost home. It was time they were reminded of that. “I have looked on Moria, and it is very great, but it has become dark and dreadful; and we have found no sign of my kindred.” His voice softened as a lump formed in his throat, and his last words were a whisper. “I doubt now that Balin ever came here.”
The others were looking at him sympathetically, and even Pippin sobered and put down his food for a moment. There was a silence, and then Gandalf cleared his throat. “We are tired,” he said with a close look at Gimli, “but we shall rest better when we are outside. I think that none of us will wish to spend another night in Moria.”
“No indeed!” said Boromir. Gimli looked at him sharply. Alone of the Company the Man seemed to have retained his senses, and indeed seemed more dour now than ever. There were shadows under his eyes, and his face seemed to be newly lined in the dim light. He met Gimli’s gaze briefly, then looked away. “Which way shall we take? Yonder eastward arch?” He gestured toward the far wall, and Gimli caught a flash of relief in his eyes as the others turned to look at the passage.
“Maybe,” Gandalf said slowly. “But I do not know yet exactly where we are. Unless I am quite astray, I guess that we are above and to the north of the Great Gates; and it may not be easy to find the right road down to them. The eastern arch will probably prove to be the way that we must take; but before we make up our minds we ought to look about us. Let us go towards that light in the north door. If we could find a window it would help, but I fear that the light comes only down deep shafts.”
“The light comes where it may, but the sun travels swiftly.” A sickeningly cheerful voice made Gimli’s head throb anew. The Elf had joined them. “She will leave the eastern wall soon, and the Company must follow her. And if we cannot find a window, perhaps our Dwarf might make us one.”
Gimli glared at the Elf. Legolas returned his stare easily, his arms folded casually across his chest. At least he was not yet singing, but that was probably only a matter of time.
“Then we will explore the northern arch first,” Gandalf said in a voice of strained amusement.
The Fellowship ranged along behind him as he led the way under the great arch and along a wide corridor. Legolas ran ahead and then darted back to walk at Aragorn’s side. The Elf seemed unable to keep still. Gimli wondered how difficult it would be to trip him with the shaft of his axe.
But as they walked the Company became more sober. The glimmer of light grew stronger, but a pall seemed to fall over their spirits. Aragorn seemed wary, and walked with Andúril unsheathed in his hand. Even Legolas quieted and slowed his steps. He unslung his bow and fell to the back of the Fellowship, his posture radiating a tense alertness.
Gimli ignored the Elf. These radical mood swings were apparently normal for him, or so Gimli judged from Aragorn’s calm reaction earlier. The Man seemed to take Legolas’ behavior in stride, though the Elves of Rivendell had seemed different from those of Mirkwood. Gimli could not imagine Elrond somersaulting from a pillar. But then Elves in general were unpredictable and contradictory creatures. No doubt Aragorn had learned to put up with them during his childhood in Rivendell.
Indeed the Ranger seemed to have absorbed some of their characteristics. Gimli trusted Aragorn as he trusted few people, but at times the Man seemed disturbingly Elvish. This business about feeling a darkness in Moria, and his earlier insistence that Gandalf, in particular, would be in danger there . . . what had that meant? Unbidden, he remembered the weight of sorrow and fear that had taken him when he stood with Legolas at the crossroads after their fight with the Orcs. Was that what Aragorn meant? Had the Elf felt that strange terror all these days? No wonder he had not slept.
Gimli tried to push away these thoughts and focus on the task at hand. Legolas seemed to have regained his senses, but that did not mean he could be relied upon. Boromir had been acting strangely, and Gimli was wary of him. And Aragorn was apparently troubled by the caves as well. Someone had to keep a level head during the rest of their journey. And there was none better for that than a Dwarf. Gimli only wished that his own head did not ache quite so much. It seemed to have eased slightly, but a strange sense of dread weighed upon him.
Eventually they came to a wide stone door, half open upon its hinges, through which the light gleamed. Gimli swallowed hard. The great halls of Khazad-dûm used these light shafts, he remembered, to illuminate important artifacts, or chambers of state. He pushed ahead of Gandalf and through the door.
The light dazzled his eyes, and for a moment swirling black dots obscured his vision. He blinked furiously. The floor was thick with dust, and he stumbled over loose rubble and shapes that he could not make out. The Fellowship’s feet stirred up an acrid swirl of dust motes that floated in the shaft of light.
That light fell on an oblong block about two feet high in the middle of the room, upon which was laid a long slab of white stone. Runes were written upon the stone, in the ancient tongue of the Dwarves and the common language of men, and their message drove Gimli to his knees as a paroxysm of shock and grief overwhelmed him.
Balin. Balin was dead. Balin his father’s cousin, his friend. Balin with his long white beard and that red hood that he was so fond of, Balin who was never too tired or too busy to tell tales to his young cousin. It had been Balin who first described to him the great battle with the dragon Smaug, and the Elf-king’s palace, and the Orcs’ tunnels. Balin had never given up hope, never. He had lobbied for their return to Khazad-dûm at every gathering of the Dwarves in exile, and he had fought Dain to a standstill and won the right to lead his colony back to Moria. Balin had been their last hope, their last defiant stand in the face of the Enemy. And he was gone.
Gimli bowed his head. The others were speaking, meaningless words that washed over him unheeded. There was a roaring in his ears and a small voice that chanted nonsensically in the back of his mind, lost. Lost, all is lost. You knew he was gone, you knew. All is lost. He whispered the ancient words pleading that Mahal take back what was his, uncaring if others heard the guarded tongue. What did it matter any more? What did any of it matter? Balin was gone.
A hand touched his shoulder, and he came slowly back to himself. Boromir was standing next to him. There was a look of sympathy in the Man’s eyes, and Gimli found himself strangely grateful for that. He had not thought that any besides a Dwarf could understand their struggle and their loss, but perhaps he had been wrong.
Gandalf was speaking now, reading from the remains of a great book. Gimli rose slowly and joined him. He felt strangely detached, as if moving in a dream. But the record was real, and his kin’s history demanded witness. Gandalf was reading Ori’s flowing hand now, and the wizard’s voice was deep with shared pain.
"We cannot get out. We cannot get out. They have taken the Bridge and the second hall . . . The Watcher in the Water took Oin. We cannot get out. The end comes, and then drums, drums in the deep. I wonder what that means. The last thing written is in a trailing scrawl of elf-letters: they are coming. There is nothing more.”
"We cannot get out,” Gimli whispered. He took the book from Gandalf and looked at the hastily scratched words. A deep horror seemed to freeze within him, and he felt as though the very stone about them should ache with the memory of those last desperate moments.
Then Legolas gave a sharp cry. The Elf had been standing near the door with Aragorn, but now he strung an arrow and sprang back, drawing and aiming through the door. There was a great rolling boom that echoed up from the depths and shook the stone at Gimli’s feet, and for a moment he felt a strangely detached sort of surprise. Stone was not supposed to move. Then more great drumbeats sounded, tolling doom, doom through the labyrinth. A horn sounded, and another, and there was the harsh scrabble of many feet.
“They are coming!” Legolas cried.
“We cannot get out,” Gimli said again, and the drums tolled in the deep.
A/N: Lamiel’s first cliffhanger! Although I suppose it doesn’t really count, since you all know what happens. Next up: Chapter 8, the Fellowship is saved when a mysterious girl from modern day Earth joins them and captures Legolas’ heart. Or not.
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