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Musings by Torchlight: 1. Musings by Torchlight
This is a companion piece to an earlier fic called "Reflections in the Dark." If you haven’t read that one, you might want to do so before reading "Musings by Torchlight." They cover the same period of time, but "Reflections" has a bit more background and setting information.
And with that out of the way, let me introduce this little fic. It was born out of several suggestions/queries/challenges from different individuals, but I blame its creation primarily on Jocelyn and Kneidinger. (This was written specifically for the two of you) As previously stated, "Musings" covers the same period of time that "Reflections" did, but it’s told from Legolas’s perspective. And he has a slightly different take on things. Hope you enjoy!
It was dark.
It was very dark.
These were Legolas’s first coherent thoughts after the sudden tremors had subsided and the tumbling rocks had ceased to fall. The elf had many other thoughts that were not so coherent—most of them running along the lines of blind panic and hysterics—but now that things seemed to be quieting, Legolas was able to calm himself somewhat and regain control of his emotions.
Hesitantly, he blinked his eyes and shook his head slightly, feeling a shower of dust rain off his hair as he did so. He could see nothing, and as he uncurled from his protective ball, he could not help but shudder. One of Legolas’s reoccurring nightmares—and it reoccurred often whenever he visited Gimli in the Glittering Caves—was that he would somehow become lost in the caverns and never be able to find his way out again. It was a rather irrational fear that Legolas could not explain, but neither could he ignore it. Gimli was aware of this paranoia, but he usually refrained from speaking of it, sensing that it was not a matter about which Legolas could comfortably talk or jest. But out of respect for this phobia, the dwarf usually made certain that Legolas always had company in Aglarond. If matters took him away from the elf’s side, Gimli would see that Otin or another dwarf beneath his command was in the vicinity so that Legolas was never completely alone. It was a subtle gesture that they had never discussed openly, but it did wonders for Legolas’s nerves and he was extremely grateful.
Unfortunately, these caves were several hundred miles from Aglarond, and Legolas now found himself very much alone. Adrenaline began to pump through his veins, his heart started to race, and his palms felt clammy. Where was Gimli? He had to find Gimli. Gimli would know what to do. The elf was loath to admit it, but whenever he entered caves, he usually turned charge of his safety over to the dwarf. If he did otherwise, he was too paranoid to endure the experience. It was far easier if someone else looked after his wellbeing, and he had come to trust the dwarf implicitly with his welfare. But now that Gimli had disappeared…
Where had that dwarf gone?! He had been standing next to Legolas just before the rocks began to fall. He could not be far away, yet Legolas’s sharp ears could not hear him. The elf was beginning to hear a slight groaning to his left, but he identified the maker of these sounds as Bergil. Of Gimli, there was no sign. Legolas could hear nothing that might indicate the presence of a dwarf in the caves, and this was beginning to frighten the elf greatly.
Legolas did not like to be frightened.
Moving forward slowly, the lord of Ithilien closed his eyes and began feeling the area around him, hoping against hope that this was all an elaborate trick of his senses. And as he did so, his mind scanned back across recent events, trying to extrapolate Gimli’s most logical position based on where he had been standing last. Legolas did not get very far in his thoughts before his hand brushed up against a rock wall that had not been there before.
The elf’s breath caught in his throat, and one memory in the midst of a muddled kaleidoscope of panicked images suddenly became clear. He had been frozen in terror as the earth around him heaved and shuddered. He could not move and he could not think. He could only stand there as his worst nightmares began to play out and the world came tumbling down around him. Then he’d felt a violent push. He had flown through the air and landed against a wall, instinctively raising his arms over his head and drawing his legs into his chest for protection. And he had stayed in this position as the torches suddenly went out and a horrible, grinding roar filled the caverns. He now knew what that grinding roar had been. The ceiling had fallen in. It had collapsed directly over the place where he had been standing. Had he lingered there a moment longer…
But who had pushed him? His traveling companions had been Gimli and Bergil. Bergil he could still hear. Gimli, on the other hand…
"Gimli?" Legolas whispered fearfully, desperately hoping to receive some kind of a response in the blackness. He had not spoken before, concerned that noise might trigger yet another round of falling rocks, but now fear for his friend was overcoming his fear of caves. "Gimli?!" he tried again.
There was no answer, and panic was beginning to regain its hold on Legolas’s mind. Feeling the rock wall, he got to his feet and began searching for an opening, all the while struggling to keep his sanity intact despite the frenzied fears in his heart.
Bergil’s dazed voice from behind the elf somehow broke through his terror, and it was the young man’s hesitant call that managed to ground the elf to reality for at least a short time. "Here, Bergil," Legolas answered, taking a deep breath and attempting to calm himself. "It seems that the ceiling collapsed."
"Are you hurt, my lord?"
"Nay, I am unhurt. And how do you fare?"
"Well enough," the answer came. Bergil’s voice was growing in clarity, and it was not long before Legolas heard him get to his feet. "What of Lord Gimli? Where is he?"
The brief calm that Legolas had managed to obtain suddenly vanished like smoke. The fear he had momentarily held at bay swooped back upon him, seizing him in its clutches and refusing to release his panicking mind. "I believe he pushed me," the elf whispered, trying to ignore the fact that his hands were starting to tremble. "I can feel a wall here where before there was none. This is where the ceiling collapsed. I had been standing directly beneath it, but someone pushed me."
This prompted a rather stunned silence from Bergil’s direction, eventually broken by the sounds of someone moving toward Legolas. He soon felt Bergil’s presence beside him, and using elven senses heightened by panic and fear, he caught the man’s arm and guided it toward the new wall of rock. For a small eternity, neither said a word, too caught up by the possibility that Gimli had been crushed beneath a mountain of stone.
"Lord Gimli was too wise to be caught beneath a collapsing ceiling," Bergil said at length, his infamous note of optimism making an appearance. There was a firmness and a certainty about his voice that made Legolas shake his head. No one should be that confident about anything, but Bergil was very much an exception to the rules. "He is either on the other side of the wall or he is in our own tunnel but unable to respond due to unconsciousness," Bergil continued. "What can you sense of this, Lord Legolas?"
"He is not near us," Legolas murmured, cocking his head to the side and allowing his ears to utilize all the resources allocated to his senses. "I would hear his breathing if he was here with us."
"Then, with all due respect, my lord, why are we tarrying in a place where Lord Gimli is not? Shouldn’t we proceed to the place where Lord Gimli is?"
At this point, reality seemed to fully manifest itself to Legolas. In a blinding flash of insight, he saw his own frenzied actions, the possibilities of what might have happened to Gimli, the wisdom in Bergil’s suggestion, and the time that had already been wasted by pawing vainly at a rock wall. I have spent far too much time around you, Gimli, Legolas sighed as he lifted a hand to rub at his temples. I am becoming as irrational as a dwarf. And Valar willing, I will spend more time in your company and so become even more irrational.
Coming back to himself and realizing with chagrin that Bergil was waiting for a reply on his part, Legolas shook his head and sighed. "How do you propose to reach Gimli?" he asked. "Know you of another tunnel?"
"The entire area is a maze of tunnels, my lord. I am certain we shall find a path soon."
He does not know. He is only guessing. He is guessing at paths and possibilities in a realm of darkness in which we cannot see! Panic began to set back in, and Legolas had to brace himself against the rock wall as his heart skipped a beat and his mind filled with fear. Gimli…Gimli, what if you are…
"Ah. Here come some that will help, my lord," Bergil said, his voice assuming its normal, cheerful tone. Had Legolas not been holding himself up against the wall, he might have lunged at his companion. Did the boy not realize what was at stake? Opening his eyes even though he knew quite well that he would be unable to see anything, Legolas turned toward Bergil with the intention of giving him the full consequences of an elven glare. It did not matter that Bergil would be unable to see it, for Gimli had once informed Legolas that a person could sense an elven glare even in the dead of night. But before he could subject Bergil to the fury of his eyes, he stopped and blinked. Was that…light?
A faint glow was starting to gleam off some of the rock outcroppings in the cave, and by this dim illumination, Legolas’s sharp eyes began tracing the contours of the tunnel. Torches, the elf realized. Torches approach. Feeling hope rise within his heart even as despair sought to squelch all, Legolas pushed away from the wall and hurried toward the approaching men, blinking quickly as the first of the torches turned a corner and flooded the caverns with light.
"Captain Bergil! Sir, we feared the worst when we felt the shaking!"
Legolas moved to the side as Bergil stepped forward and greeted the men. Or rather, the boys, for they are quite young, all of them, Legolas thought, fighting down a surge of impatience that could best be described as dwarven. Of course, to Legolas, an oak tree only 200 years old in Thranduil’s kingdom would also be considered young, but in this case, the elf’s observation matched observations made by mortals. Bergil commanded a small group of very young men beneath the watchful eye of his father, Beregond. It was an experiment that Faramir was conducting, attempting to start young men under young commanders as a way of increasing group cohesion and solidarity. These small units lacked experience, but since Gondor’s borders were reasonably secure on Ithilien’s side and no unrest could be seen upon the horizon, Faramir felt that experience was not a necessary ingredient for routine patrol groups. Unfortunately, at the moment, experience and age both were very desirable, for Legolas was growing extremely agitated and was beginning to feel as though he worked with children.
"Lord Legolas?" Bergil questioned, gesturing that the elf should join the others. "My lord, what is your counsel? Shall we separate in order to search for survivors or shall we move together?"
The word survivors was not the right word for the occasion, and at its mention, Legolas felt his heart hit the pit of his stomach, which was currently somewhere down in his ankles. If there were survivors, it also meant that there were probably those who did not survive. And the possibility that Gimli might be among the latter group was—
"Lord Legolas?" Bergil prompted, bringing the elf back from the terror-driven flight of his thoughts.
"One moment," Legolas murmured, moving to the side of the tunnel and flattening himself against the rock. Laying his head to one side, he pressed his ear to the wall and closed his eyes. During one of his more interesting trips to Aglarond, Gimli had attempted to teach Legolas how to hear the workings of Arda. Legolas had endured the lesson with amused but exasperated indulgence—something that had not influenced the dwarf’s mood for the better—but despite the apparent failure on the part of the elf, Legolas had indeed learned a few things. He could not sense the ground’s movements as Gimli could. He could not hear the songs and musings of minerals as Gimli could. And he could not read the history of Arda from a single fragment of stone as Gimli could. But though the elf had not succeeded in learning these things, he had not come away from Aglarond completely empty-handed that day. For Legolas had discovered one thing that even an elf could hear within the rocks, and that was the sound of an imminent cave-in. He could only find these sounds if he was specifically looking for them, and so he had not sensed the earlier cave-in until it was too late. But now, with all his senses tuned to this particular search, Legolas was confident that the information he gleaned from the rocks was correct.
Eventually stepping back, his search completed, he turned to find a very curious Bergil watching him. The confused expressions upon the faces of the other guards spoke of their own bafflement, but Legolas was in no mood to explain himself, especially since he really didn’t understand what he was doing himself. Besides, they had delayed too long already.
"I sense no cave-ins in the immediate future. That danger has passed, and so I counsel that we separate," Legolas said. "We shall cover more ground that way. Have you torches for all, or must we procure more?"
"Nay, we have torches for all," Bergil answered. "But my lord…" he hesitated slightly, his eyes searching Legolas’s face. "My lord, these tunnels are complex. Do you wish for one of us to accompany you?"
Bergil’s question and offer—spoken innocently enough with naught more than concern for one who had never entered the tunnels before—sent a dagger straight to the heart of Legolas’s fear of caves. Separating was the last thing he wanted to do. Though he was grateful for the ability to see, the torches revealed just how confining the space was, and Legolas was coming down with a severe attack of claustrophobia. Beyond that, his nightmare of being forever trapped inside a cave kept butting its way to the forefront of his thoughts, and it was all the elf could do to keep from screaming with frustration.
But making these fears seem petty by comparison was his abject terror at the possibility that he might lose Gimli. Every second they utilized wisely brought them closer to the time when Gimli would be found. And if multiple people were using multiple seconds, then the task would be finished even faster.
"I shall be well enough my own," Legolas said in answer to Bergil’s question. "But we must tarry no longer. Which tunnels are most likely to lead around that blockage?"
Hesitation danced across Bergil’s face once again, but a stern elven glare quickly put to rest any thoughts about suggesting another tactic. He didn’t do it very often, but Legolas knew well the value of pulling rank when he needed to get his own way. "This way, my lord," Bergil said, unable to meet Legolas’s daunting eyes. "We have yet to thoroughly explore them, but there are a series of tunnels that seem to loop behind the one in which we were caught. Mayhap one of them shall lead us to Lord Gimli."
"Let us depart then," Legolas said, taking a torch from a startled guard and hurrying down the tunnel in the direction that Bergil indicated. Perhaps if he moved fast enough he could outrun his phobias. The men fell into step behind him and with haste they wound their way down the tunnel.
Presently they arrived at a crossroads and Bergil called out for a stop. "To the left, Lord Legolas," he said. "That tunnel separates into many smaller tunnels. We suspect that some drop deeper into the rock while others lead nowhere, but it is possible that one of them might take us in the direction that we wish to go."
Legolas nodded but said nothing, not quite trusting his voice. He hoped the torchlight did not reflect the emotions he knew to be parading across his face, for that would clearly give away his rising panic. For Gimli, he reminded himself, starting down the new tunnel and quickly coming to the place Bergil had spoken of. Several off-shooting paths could be seen and Legolas glanced back as Bergil and his men joined the elf. "Have you an idea as to which tunnel might prove successful?" Legolas asked.
"Nay. As I said before, we have not explored this area," Bergil answered.
"Then I shall take the tunnel to the far left," Legolas said. "The rest of you may take what tunnel suits you, but I bid you to move with all possible speed."
"Fortune go with you, my lord," Bergil called after Legolas, who did not wait to see what paths the others would take. His fear for Gimli pressed him onward, dwarfing the terrors of the caves and forbidding him to stop and order the actions of others. His elven hearing caught the conversation behind him as Bergil rapidly issued commands and divided the searchers, sending one back to inform those outside the cave as to what was happening. And then silence fell as each left.
The absence of sound was almost too much for the elf. Completely alone now with naught but a flickering torch and enclosing walls for company, Legolas shuddered and his feet began to falter. Move! his mind screamed as concern for Gimli began to rise. Coward, keep moving! And so Legolas attempted to hasten his steps, all the while trying to find a way to distract his mind from both Gimli’s peril and the cave. But every thought that came to him was associated with either the dwarf or the caverns—usually both—and it was slowly tearing his sanity apart.
After several minutes of hurried walking—during which Legolas was certain that madness lay only a few steps away—the elf came to a fork in the tunnel. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another, he sighed despairingly as he surveyed the two options before him. If he chose the wrong path, he wasted valuable time and possibly jeopardized the dwarf’s life. But how was he to know which choice was correct?
"Gimli!" he shouted, his desperate voice echoing down the length of the adjacent tunnels. But there was no answer and Legolas felt his spirits fall. "Gimli!" he tried again, beseeching the Valar for any help they might be willing to provide. But as before, there was no response to his cries. When the echoes died away, silence returned to the caverns.
At that point, Legolas was ready to condemn every dwarf ever born to the pits and dungeons of Angband for thinking that caves might be a good place to create a home. Were it not for their influence, man might never have ventured into the depths of Arda and Legolas would not currently be blundering through unknown passageways with only the light of a torch to guide him. He studiously ignored the fact that elves also periodically burrowed into the earth to carve out vast mansions—such as the halls of his own father which were mirrored after Thingol’s ancient stronghold of Menegroth—for these things were completely beside the point. Caves were obviously the fault of the dwarves, and Legolas was ready and willing to lay blame for this entire mess upon Gimli’s head.
But incrimination was getting him nowhere, and time was marching on heedless of the elf’s indecisiveness. It was a peculiar thing, this preoccupation with time. Prior to befriending Gimli, Legolas had been fairly ignorant of its passage. Minutes, months, years, centuries…they were but ripples in life, interesting but unimportant. Yet now Legolas counted every passing second as precious. He did not have the awareness of time that Arwen now had, but he was far more conscious of its existence than other elves. Every minute that carelessly flitted by brought him one minute closer to the day of Gimli’s death. It was an idea that Legolas avoided as a mortal might avoid a plague-filled house, but with naught but the darkness of the caves to entertain his thoughts, this idea kept creeping into his consciousness. Who knew but what Gimli had already—
Legolas stopped himself before he could complete that thought and instead turned his attention back to the problem of choosing his next road. He still did not know which way to turn and the minutes were ticking away quickly. Eventually falling back on instinct alone, Legolas took the left passageway. Something about it felt right. He didn’t know if this was wishful thinking, inspiration, or the grim hand of fate, but whatever it was, he had nothing else to go on. And so he turned left, breaking into a jog and causing the torch to flicker and sputter as it bounced along with him.
How does Gimli get me into these situations?! Legolas demanded of himself, somewhat unsure about whether or not he actually wanted to know the answer. But it was still a great source of confusion to the elf. Almost without fail, whenever Gimli wanted to enter a cave, be it Aglarond or some forsaken opening in the side of a cliff, Legolas was talked into going with him. Legolas had no idea how Gimli managed this feat with such regularity. What made this even stranger was that while the dwarf usually convinced Legolas to follow him into the dark places of Arda, the same could not be said for Legolas’s attempts to get Gimli up into the trees. The last time Gimli had been up a tree was during their last day in Lothlórien when he had climbed to a talon and looked out over Caras Galadhon. But since then, the dwarf had staunchly refused any and all efforts to get him off the ground and into the branches. And the more the elf thought about it, the more perplexed he became. The elven prince was fairly certain that his will was just as strong as the dwarf’s. Yet if that was true, then how was it that he would venture into the Glittering Caves of Aglarond but Gimli would not visit him in his trees in Southern Ithilien?
Although, I suppose that might be because his home is in a cave whereas mine is built upon the ground. Why did we construct the court of Doro Lanthiron on the ground? Legolas frowned and shook his head. This was another point of confusion for the elf, and one that he also liked to blame upon Gimli. He was certain there had been another excuse present at the time, but the more he thought about it, the more he realized that the dwarf had been the primary reason for constructing an earthbound court rather than one situated in the trees. He could also argue that he was taking after his father, except that in reality, he wasn’t. His father’s palace in Mirkwood was the last thing on his mind when he and the other elves had created a small but serviceable manor safely tucked away under thick canopies of trees. Many of his advisors had pointed out that those trees could easily support a home, and many of those same advisors had subsequently built extensions to the manor in the upper branches to serve as their own homes. But Legolas and the bulk of the manor remained upon the ground. And though he wished he could say it was because this made his home more accessible to mortal visitors from neighboring realms, in reality, it was because Gimli had awakened in him a love for the earth.
I should start insisting on reciprocity, Legolas thought sourly. For every cave I enter, Gimli must climb a tree. That sounds fair. Or perhaps two trees, for this incident clearly proves that caves are far more hazardous than trees. But despite what Legolas might desire of his friend, deep in his heart, he knew it would require an act of the Valar to get Gimli up into a tree. The dwarf’s brief stint in Lothlórien’s trees had gifted him with priceless but sorrowful memories, and were he to venture into another tree, these memories would be stirred until they approached the power of elven grief. It was for this reason that Legolas never pressured Gimli very much whenever the elf ventured into the treetops. He had to give some snide comment simply for the sake of tradition, but he never pushed the teasing too far. He had seen the despair on Gimli’s face when they floated away from Lothlórien, and Legolas had vowed to do all in his power to prevent that despair from ever returning. It was one of the first things Legolas had learned about the dwarf after becoming his friend, and one of the first misconceptions to be broken. Dwarves were not unfeeling creatures of earth and stone. They experienced emotions almost as deeply as did elves, and at times, these emotions wrought great harm upon them.
But what of elven grief? Legolas demanded, glancing about at the confining walls of the cave. Do you take no thought for me when you endanger yourself by venturing into these caves? By Elbereth, Gimli, if you are not well when I find you, I will bodily haul you into the treetops and leave you there to hang by your feet until you beg for release! "Valar!" Legolas exploded aloud, his powerful tenor echoing through the depths of the cave system. "Gimli, if you are capable of answering me and choose not to, not even Aragorn will be able to heal you after I am through! Gimli! By all the sacred notes of Ilúvatar, answer me!"
But as before, there was no response to the elf’s frantic calls. Deciding that condemning every dwarf to the pits and dungeons of Angband was not nearly punishment enough for the torment he currently endured, Legolas tried to come up with something even worse. But his ample elven imagination was strangely absent, and Legolas decided to blame this on Gimli, too. That cursed dwarf was racking up quite a total of black marks next to his name insofar as Legolas’s mental tally sheet was concerned, and the elf fully intended to see that Gimli paid dearly for this.
And so time dragged onward with Legolas’s thoughts flitting about in an endless round of blame, fear, confusion, and anger. Periodically, the elf would stop and shout, hoping against hope to receive an answer. But Arda was filled with silence this day, and never once did his ears catch the sounds of the voice he longed to hear. His mounting fear and anger were mixing to form a dangerous combination, and at this point, the slightest provocation, no matter how light-hearted the jest, might well earn the jester a swift arrow in the throat. And this volatile emotional mix was abruptly released in an incoherent cry of rage, frustration, and despair when Legolas turned a winding corner and found himself face-to-face with a dead end.
The scream seemed to last for eternity, and it only ended when Legolas had emptied his lungs. Devastated and convinced that he had lost Gimli to the depths of the caverns, the elf dropped his torch and fell to one knee, his head bowing and his shoulders beginning to tremble. He heard his outcry echoing in the tunnels behind him, and he heard it distantly echoing on the other side of the rock wall before him. Echoes. That was all that was left. Fragments of truth and reality that bounded aimlessly off—
The elf froze.
There were echoes on the other side of the dead end.
But that could only mean…
Legolas sprang into action, seizing the flickering torch and hurrying toward the rock wall for a closer inspection. He almost hit himself for having not recognized that this particular wall was very different from all the other walls. It had been recently made, and its base was littered with cracked rock from the ceiling. He had found another cave-in, and for the echoes to get behind this, there must be an opening near the top. Nimble as a cat, the elf began to climb, leaving the torch propped against the base, and ere long, he had found a gap perhaps one foot tall at the top of the pile. He could not see in the blackness beyond, but he could hear. And what he heard lifted his spirits high enough to compete with the eagles. Someone within the darkness was breathing. It was a labored process, but there was life. And Legolas knew of only one being who took breaths that deep. It was Gimli.
"Gimli!" Legolas shouted, attempting to squeeze into the opening but discovering that his shoulders were too broad. "Gimli, can you hear me?"
But the elf’s elation at having found his friend swiftly died when he did not even hear a shift or change in the breathing. Gimli could not hear him. The dwarf didn’t even seem aware that he had company. Feeling the keen bite of fear nip at his heart, Legolas dropped off the wall and grabbed his fallen torch. Ascending once again, the elf thrust the flame into the opening and tried to shine enough light into the cave that he might see Gimli. After a minute or so of angling and shifting, he thought he caught sight of his friend on the other side of the cave near the rock wall that had first separated him from the dwarf. A slight rise and fall of the chest could be made out, but nothing else were clear unless it was the torchlight reflected in a puddle of liquid near the figure’s legs.
Legolas felt his heart leap and skitter at the idea that the liquid might be blood, and almost without thought, he began pawing at the rocks, trying to create a larger opening whereby he might reach his friend. But alone and unaided, he could do very little and with great reluctance the elf finally conceded that he would have to find help. He could not move these stones by himself.
"I will return, Gimli, I swear it upon the house of my father," Legolas promised, knowing that the dwarf could not hear him but needing to say it anyway. What he did next felt more like betrayal than anything he had ever done before in his life, but he had no other choice. Not if he wanted to save Gimli’s life.
The return trip down the tunnels was much longer than Legolas remembered it. At every twist and every turn, he expected to find himself back at their starting place. But he continued to be disappointed, and after a moment, the thought occurred to him that he might be lost. It was not inconceivable, especially given the fact that Legolas had never had a very good sense of direction while underground. It was something he always tried to hide whenever he visited Gimli in Aglarond, though he suspected that the dwarf knew the truth. The only reason Legolas was able to navigate the mansions of his father was due to the fact that he lived there for centuries. He did not know the Aglarond cave systems as well as he knew the palace in Mirkwood, and he suspected that the reason Gimli always walked him to the guest quarters at night was to ensure that the elf actually made it there. It was a great affront to Legolas’s pride, but since neither one of them had ever spoken of this, it was an affront that could be endured. But now, bereft of all guidance save his own, Legolas was becoming more and more convinced that he was hopelessly lost. And this belief persisted until he turned a corner, collided headlong with Bergil, and sent them both tumbling.
"Lord Legolas!" the young man exclaimed rather breathlessly from his ignoble position on the floor. "We feared you had become lost and were coming to—"
"I have found Gimli," Legolas interrupted, getting to his own feet and fiercely berating himself for not having heard Bergil’s approach. I did not even see the light from his torch, the elf realized with a mix of chagrin and astonishment.
At the mention of Gimli, Bergil immediately stood, his eyes filled with both hope and fear. "Where is he, my lord? Why is he not with—"
"I have found a second section of tunnel where the ceiling collapsed. Yet this portion has an opening near the top, and through this hole I saw our missing dwarf," Legolas said, interrupting the young man once again. Though normally sympathetic to the exuberance of youth, the elf did not have the patience at the moment to listen to Bergil’s seemingly endless stream of questions. Gimli had not appeared well, and time continued to tick away. "We shall need aid in clearing a path and aid in transporting Gimli to the outside world. He was unconscious and appeared injured."
"Then wait for me here, my lord," Bergil instructed. "My men are not far and together we shall see that Lord Gimli receives all necessary attention." And without waiting for acknowledgment or dismissal, Bergil took off, racing back down the tunnels and leaving Legolas alone in the dark.
Perhaps I should move my dwelling underground, the elf thought caustically, eyeing the confining walls with a weary sigh. I seem to spend the great bulk of my time in caves. If I make them a permanent dwelling place, mayhap I will become used to them.
As he waited for Bergil to come back with help, it seemed to Legolas that another eternity stretched by, but at length, his ears caught the sounds of returning footsteps. They moved swiftly, but not quite swiftly enough for Legolas, who hurried forward to meet them. He blinked at the light of their approaching torches, but his eyes quickly adjusted and he attempted to compose himself as Bergil moved toward him.
"We are ready, Lord Legolas," Bergil announced, indicating the men who came bearing bandages and shovels. "A stretcher of sorts is also being constructed outside and should be ready by the time we reach Lord Gimli."
"This way, then," Legolas said briskly, spinning on his heel and breaking into a quick jog. "And hurry. I fear there is little time remaining."
Legolas could not remember the sunlight ever eliciting feelings of both relief and fear simultaneously. He was overjoyed to be out of the cave and back in the natural world, but Gimli’s wounds looked even worse by daylight than they did by flickering torch.
It had taken them almost half an hour to reach the dwarf, and when they had, there had been just enough light remaining from their dwindling torches to see that his left shoulder had been dislocated and he had suffered wounds to both his head and his right thigh. They had set the shoulder in the caves and bound the leg injury, but they needed better light ere they attempted anything else. Yet now, Legolas almost wished that he had treated all the wounds in the darkness as it would have spared him the agony of seeing the angry injuries in all their festering glory.
But Gimli would live. Legolas was certain of that. His pulse, though fast, was strong, and his breathing was steady, albeit shallow. The loss of blood in the leg still concerned the elf as did the massive bump on Gimli’s head, but the dwarf would live. And now that he no longer feared losing his friend, Legolas was starting to feel the bite of a terrible anger.
This rage was irrational and unfounded, but that didn’t stop it from growing. Legolas had been frightened and badly so. He did not like being frightened. He hated being frightened. And since the dwarf was the cause of much of his fear, the dwarf was now becoming the brunt of Legolas’s anger. This growing fire of wrath was still tempered by fear for the dwarf’s wellbeing, but it was nonetheless quickly turning into a furnace that might rival the depths of Orodruin.
"You will wish that cave-in had killed you by the time I am finished," Legolas vowed quietly, rewrapping the bandage upon Gimli’s leg and then gently feeling the dwarf’s right wrist, which looked to be bent at an odd angle. "Bergil!" he called, looking around for the young man.
"My lord?" Bergil questioned, quickly appearing at Legolas’s side.
"I shall need something to wrap and splint Gimli’s wrist," Legolas explained, cautiously tracing the broken bones. "It is broken."
"I shall find the things you need, my lord," Bergil promised, swiftly disappearing again.
"I fear you will have to refrain from sparring for a time," Legolas murmured, checking the wrist again. One of the bones had moved slightly, but setting it should not prove to be too great a hassle, and for that, Legolas was intensely grateful. He had learned some amount of battlefield medicine as a matter of necessity, but he had not learned much beyond the basics. And of those basics, he absolutely hated setting broken bones. There was something disconcerting about feeling solid bone move beneath one’s hands, and whenever possible, Legolas asked someone else to handle that aspect of treatment. But at the moment, he was strangely loath to allow anyone else to tend the dwarf, and so he was glad that treating Gimli’s wrist would not be too unsettling.
Bergil soon returned with the requested items and then left again, tending to some of his own men that had been injured in the tunnels. Legolas was grateful for the privacy, as he was still attempting to sort through a myriad of emotions. In addition to this, he felt that tending Gimli was a rather personal thing. He could not explain this feeling, but neither could he ignore it. He wondered if it might not have something to do with Gimli’s innate strength. The dwarf did his best to avoid all appearances of weakness, and Legolas was certain that he would not wish for a crowd of onlookers in this particular instance. But as for why Legolas needed privacy, he truly could not say.
The elf quickly set the bones in Gimli’s wrist and began to bind the hand and arm to a length of wood. It was crude, but it would do for the time being. And as he worked, Gimli began to turn and moan, possibly roused by pain. Finishing with the wrist, Legolas gingerly set it aside and focused on the dwarf’s face.
"Gimli?" The elf caught movement beneath the dwarf’s shuttered eyelids and decided to try again, hoping to encourage the process. "Gimli! Gimli, open your eyes." There was more movement, but Gimli still did not regain consciousness. "You will not do this to me, dwarf!" Legolas threatened, feeling his anger bubble to the forefront of his mind at the same time that fear clutched his heart. Perhaps Gimli’s head had been hit harder than they thought. "Come!" he commanded. "Show me the endurance of the children of Aulë. You boast of it often enough. Gimli!"
The dwarf’s brow furrowed, which meant he was at least considering the idea of waking. And if he could do that much, then he could probably react to a threat. And Legolas knew exactly what kind of threat would garner a response.
"Gimli! Master Dwarf, if you do not open your eyes by the time I reach the count of five, I will shave off your precious beard and scatter it to the four winds. One…" The furrow in the brow grew deeper… "Two…" The dwarf’s eyelids began to twitch… "Three…" He almost had him now… "Four…"
And as Legolas neared the last number, Gimli groaned, moved his head to the side, and blinked. His eyes opened with painful slowness, but they opened. And at the moment, that was enough for Legolas. Relief rushed through him, temporarily pushing aside the anger that still held a sizeable chunk of his mind.
"Welcome back, Gimli," he said quietly, his voice rough with emotion and relief. "When first we found you, we feared the worst."
The dwarf blinked again as though trying to clear his vision. "Legolas?" he asked, his eyes squinting.
And as the dwarf uttered the elf’s name, indicating that his mind was working clearly enough to recognize a familiar voice, the floodgates of Legolas’s anger burst. "Gimli, if ever you push me out of the way again and then fail to see to your own safety, I shall string you up by this fine beard of yours in such a way that you will be forced to cut it off yourself in order to get down."
The dwarf’s brow furrowed for the third time in as many minutes, and he seemed confused. Fear rekindled itself in Legolas’s heart and his anger backed away. Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps Gimli’s mind had been affected. The dwarf’s next words only served to further frighten the elf "What happened?" Gimli asked, squinting at the sky overhead.
"What do you remember?" Legolas countered, testing to see how much damage had been done. As he did so, he ran his hands over Gimli’s head gently, searching in the event that they had missed an injury.
Gimli took a moment to answer the question, but eventually, after a terrifyingly long pause, he spoke. "The cave-in," he murmured. He might have wanted to say more, but he was interrupted by an involuntary hiss as Legolas’s hands finished with his head and began to travel down his body, reaching the injured shoulder.
"My apologies," Legolas said quietly, wishing there was a way he could examine his friend without causing additional pain. He had almost killed the dwarf already when he forced Gimli to push him out of the way. But even Aragorn had never found a painless way to search for hidden wounds, and so Legolas was forced to continue his exam, now moving his hands over Gimli’s ribs. "We cared for your injuries as best we could when we cleared a path to you, but I fear we may have missed something in the darkened cave. I can give you something that will—"
"Keep your medicines," Gimli interrupted, wincing again when Legolas felt a rib shift beneath his gentle touch. "I would rather know how I came to be outside."
"Would you rather be lying in a pool of your own blood?" Legolas demanded, his anger rising again as he found a second broken rib. "I judged the open air would be a far safer place to recover, and Bergil readily agreed with me. There are those who recognize my wisdom when it is offered, and Bergil is one of them. Other beings, however…" The elf trailed off and sent Gimli a scathing glare.
For his part, Gimli looked away, refusing to meet the elf’s eyes. But if he thought to placate Legolas, he was far from the mark. Feeling as though he were being patronized—while at the same time knowing that his actions probably deserved it—Legolas became even angrier. But he still had a duty to perform, and he completed it quickly, finishing his inspection of the dwarf’s chest.
"Your have four broken ribs," the elf said briskly when he had concluded. He drew his knife from his belt and cut open Gimli’s tunic, thankful that the dwarf was not wearing his chain mail. That would have been far too difficult to remove under the circumstances. "They will need to be bound. It is a wonder that none of them have pierced your lungs. Bergil!" Legolas turned his head and searched for the boy. "Bergil, your aid is required."
"A little louder, if you don’t mind," Gimli grunted, sending the elf a baleful glare "I do not think my head is pounding hard enough."
"Be thankful you were not buried beneath the cave-in," Legolas answered angrily, still fuming over both the fright he’d received and the fact that he had been patronized, no matter how much he had deserved it. "If that had happened, a pounding head would be the least of your worries."
Fortunately, Bergil chose that moment to arrive, his breath coming short as though he had been running. "My lord, is everything well?" The young man dropped beside Legolas and his eyes strayed to the injured dwarf. "Ah, Lord Gimli is awake. How do you feel, sir?"
Gimli’s eyes narrowed and he directed his attention to Legolas. "If you could convince this foolish elf to—"
"He has four broken ribs and I think two more may be cracked," the elf interrupted, returning the dwarf’s glare. "I need something with which to bind them, and you will have to hold him up as I do so."
"One moment, then, my lords," Bergil promised, quickly disappearing.
"What of the other men in the caves?" Gimli asked after Bergil left, speaking before Legolas could unleash more of his rage.
"All have been found, but none were injured so grievously as you," Legolas replied, still torn between anger and relief. "It took us well over an hour to find an alternate route by which to remove you, for we could not clear away the rubble in the main cavern and you would not answer our calls."
"I heard no calls," the dwarf muttered. "Are you certain you were not struck in the head and imagined things?"
The elf’s eyes narrowed and he sent his friend a dark glare. "Of all of us here, I think that you, Master Dwarf, should be most concerned with—"
"I have returned, my lords," Bergil suddenly interrupted, dropping to one knee beside the elf. For his part, Legolas wondered if there was a conspiracy abroad to keep him from lecturing the dwarf. His suspicions were heightened when he caught Bergil sending a wink in Gimli’s direction before turning back to the elf. "How may I best be of aid, Lord Legolas?"
His eyes suspicious, Legolas wondered if the conspiracy theory was worth pursuing and ultimately decided against it. It would take too much time and too much effort. "We must raise Gimli off his back so that I may bind his ribs, and you must hold him for me while I do this," the elf instructed, moving behind the dwarf.
"I can sit on my own," Gimli protested.
"No, you cannot sit on your own," Legolas said sharply, wondering if all dwarves were alike or if he was just singularly unfortunate to have befriended the most stubborn one of their race. Shaking his head, he carefully slid his hands under Gimli’s back, pausing before doing anything else. "And now I will ask you to brace yourself, Master Dwarf, for this may be uncomfortable."
There was a slight grunt which Legolas took to be the closest thing to acknowledgement that he was going to get. With a frustrated roll of his eyes, the elf slowly began to raise Gimli off the ground. His movements were gentle and smooth, but it was not enough. He felt ribs shift, and at the same time, Gimli cried out. Legolas stopped immediately and moved to Gimli’s side while Bergil replaced him as the dwarf’s support in back. The elf placed a tentative hand on Gimli’s ribs, feeling for new damage, while the other hand went to rest upon the dwarf’s brow as a means of comfort.
"Gimli?" Legolas prompted. "Gimli, are you—"
"Still here," the dwarf answered in a breathy whisper.
"I will not be long," Legolas said quietly. Reaching for the strips of cloth that Bergil had brought, the elf began wrapping Gimli’s chest, moving gently but quickly so that the ordeal might be finished soon.
"You worried us greatly, Lord Gimli," Bergil said after a moment of silence. "When we first found you, we were uncertain if you lived. The loss of blood frightened us most, I believe, though we were also concerned for your head. You have a concussion, my lord, as well as a deep wound in your right leg."
"What else?" Gimli asked, hissing slightly when Legolas pulled one of the wrappings tighter.
"Broken ribs, as Lord Legolas has told you, a broken wrist, your shoulder was dislocated but we reset it, various knocks and bruises, and possibly a sprained ankle," Bergil answered. "All things considered, you are quite fortunate, my lord."
Legolas frowned at this and shot the young man an exasperated look. Fortunate? Ai, Valar. I suppose he shall next say that this has all been a wondrous learning experience. "Lay him down, Bergil," the elf instructed, finishing the last of his wrappings. "And my thanks for your assistance."
"It was my honor, my lord," Bergil said with a nod and a smile. "Shall you be requiring anything else?"
"Nay, but if you would send to Lord Faramir and tell him that our coming will be slightly delayed, I will thank you again."
"It shall be so, my lord," Bergil promised, gently lowering Gimli to the ground. Standing, he gave both elf and dwarf a quick bow before moving away to see to his own men.
Left alone with his injured best friend, Legolas felt his anger rising yet again. It was a more controlled anger, yet it was still there and still very irrational. The elf sighed and rubbed his temples. Very few beings could wiggle beneath his skin, but Gimli seemed able to do so with such frequency that it was frightening.
"If you wish for that medicine, I will give it to you now," Legolas said at length while he wrestled with how to react to the situation. "But I cannot give you much, for you must be kept awake yet a while longer. I am concerned about your head."
"I do not feel much pain," Gimli muttered, turning his eyes skyward. The pupils were reacting slightly to the sun’s light, which was a great comfort to the elf. The last thing he needed was something else to add to Gimli’s list of injuries. "Legolas…Legolas, I am sorry I made you enter the cave."
Legolas blinked. He was angry, yes, but he had not been expecting an apology. The dwarf was not at fault. At least, not much. Gimli was to blame for pushing Legolas out of the way, but then, Legolas was to blame for standing there like a fool. Deciding to sidetrack the conversation, the elf reached out and put a hand upon Gimli’s forehead. "You do not feel feverish."
The dwarf scowled, clearly unwilling to be sidetracked. "Legolas, I do not jest. I truly am—"
"Peace, Gimli," Legolas interrupted, making his voice soothing. If Gimli needed comfort and assurance, then he would have it. The last of Legolas’s anger was starting to drain away, and much of it had been dispelled at the idea that Gimli held himself to blame for Legolas’s fright. While the elf might jokingly agree that this was the case, he would never allow the dwarf to carry such a burden. Gimli was no more at fault than Bergil, who had been equally enthusiastic about exploring the caves. In truth, none were to blame. It had simply been an unfortunate accident. "I know that you do not jest, but you need not apologize," Legolas continued. "I suffered no hurt. I have you to thank for that, though it grieves me to think that you may have been injured because you saw first to me. In truth, I should apologize to you, and also to thank you for it. And I should not have spoken to you so when you woke. For that, I also apologize."
"But had I listened to you outside the cave, then perhaps—"
"Gimli, at that time I was speaking from my own fears, not from any foreknowledge of what was to come," Legolas answered, shushing the dwarf once more. "There was no reason for us to avoid the cave save for the fact that I was uncomfortable. Think of it no more, my friend. I am merely relieved that none were killed in this accident."
Gimli grunted slightly and closed his eyes, but he did not seem comforted. He looked to be wrestling with something. Guilt, Legolas decided. He still believes himself to be at fault. And I suppose that I do as well. At this point, neither of us have aught to do and so must amuse ourselves by placing blame. Valar, but we are a strange pair!
The elf sighed, shook his head, and then turned his attention back to Gimli. To his surprise, the dwarf had opened his eyes and was watching Legolas with an expression that the prince of Mirkwood could not easily interpret, which was odd because he was usually able to guess what his friend was thinking. "Gimli?" Legolas questioned, wondering if an injury was causing problems. "Is aught wrong?"
"Would you…" The dwarf trailed off, his voice strangely hesitant, and once again, Legolas felt a bite of fear. Perhaps there was an internal injury that he had missed. Perhaps Gimli was not yet out of danger. Perhaps—"Legolas, would you sing?" the dwarf blurted out.
Legolas had been expecting any number of things to be said, but the request for a song had not been among them. Blinking and wondering if his ears were perhaps deceiving him, the elf studied the dwarf and decided that he had indeed heard correctly. Gimli had asked him to sing. A smile slowly spread across his face as the last of his fear disappeared, and Legolas laughed quietly to himself. Gimli knew him far too well. He was giving him something to do. It was probably not the dwarf’s first choice of activity, but it would serve to distract Legolas. And for that, the elf was extremely grateful. "Of course, elvellon," he said quietly. "It would be my pleasure to sing for you."
"Thank you," Gimli murmured, closing his eyes and letting out a contented sigh.
Perhaps he actually does wish for a song, Legolas thought, his brow furrowing. It was not completely impossible, yet it was certainly out of the ordinary. But as Aragorn would point out, unusual things seem to become normal and customary for us. With a shake of his head, Legolas’s smile widened and then he began to sing.
The choice of song came to him almost instantly. There was very little conscious thought involved. The words poured forth, and as Legolas sang, softly at first and gradually building, he pondered over how appropriate the selection was. It was a rather obscure song of two warriors that had fought against a great darkness and descended below a great evil until at last they had emerged again together. Lindir had sung it in honor of Frodo and Sam when Arwen’s escort had arrived from Rivendell, but Legolas now sang it in honor of his own friendship with the dwarf. And as he sang, the notes and the words seemed to take on a different, more recent story, which had started in Rivendell and had wound its way under stone, down rivers, over plains, through forests, into darkness, past death, and ultimately to the gates of the Dark Lord himself. And in the end, they had achieved victory.
Losing himself in the soaring melody that whispered of the power of friendship, Legolas did not notice that Gimli had fallen asleep. When at last he finished and looked to his slumbering friend, he started and moved to wake the dwarf. But an inner voice and a look of peace upon Gimli’s face stopped him. He could not say from whence the knowledge came, but somehow, he knew the dwarf was safe. The head injury would not trouble him, and it was best to let him sleep. With a sigh and a feeling of relief for not having lost his dearest friend this day, Legolas settled down to wait by Gimli’s side until the dwarf woke again. And as he waited, he listened to each inhale and each exhale, and he counted himself fortunate. That which he had feared most while searching by torchlight had not come to pass. His friend still lived and would still journey by his side.
"And you will still make my life an unpredictable adventure," Legolas added quietly with a smile. "And for that, Gimli, son of Glóin, I thank you. Sleep well, elvellon. I shall be here when you wake."
Doro Lanthiron—Land of Many Waterfalls (Elves’ name for Ithilien)
Author’s Notes: The name Doro Lanthiron comes from fellow-author Ithilien. My many thanks to her for allowing me to use a small piece of her brilliance in this fic!
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