He heard Gimli’s footsteps behind him, slow and shortly measured over the ground, coming nearer, but he did not rise. He felt Gimli stand beside him, but he did not look at him. The Dwarf said nothing, though Legolas could feel his wroth radiating from him, hotter than the Sun that graced the sky above. The Dwarf was lashed to the very height of his temper and it was a towering rage indeed.
“I am staying,” said Gimli, and that was all, and he sat down heavily next to the Elf with the air of one who had no intention of moving or being moved.
“You should sleep,” Legolas ventured nevertheless. “You deserve some rest. You need it.”
Gimli dismissed his words with a belligerent shake of his head. “Nay,” he said. “It seems each time I close my eyes it all becomes worse.”
“Ah.” Legolas indulged the Dwarf and nodded solemnly. “Then it is you we must fault. Must we keep you awake indefinitely to ward all further harm from us?” He brought his eyes down from the sky to consider his companion. “I think not,” said Legolas. “Already you look as bristly and bad-tempered as a Beorning.”
Gimli bared his teeth at the Elf and the resemblance was complete. “Still you prattle on and try my patience!” snapped the Dwarf. “I did not ask for talk! Leave it, Legolas. Let me just sit here with you.” It was both a plea and a warning. “I will wring their necks -- both of them -- if I go back. Never did I think there could be anyone so infuriating as to drive me to seek sanctuary in the company of an Elf, but those Men….” He stopped himself and tightly closed his eyes. “I did not mean that,” he sighed. “I should not have said it.”
“I think you may speak your mind to me or not as you please,” Legolas offered.
“Speaking my mind has gotten me into quite enough trouble this morning, thank you.”
Legolas heeded Gimli’s asperity and fell quiet. Coaxing an affronted Dwarf to speak when he was not of a mind to do so was a fair invitation to hostility, and his jaw still ached from their last confrontation. The Elf sat with him for a long time in silence, letting Gimli come to terms with his anger as he speculated upon its cause. A clash of words between Gimli and Boromir, he deemed, with Aragorn caught up in the fray. Legolas touched upon the implications and tried to arrange them in a hopeful manner. An hour passed them by, unnoticed, unmarked, and then another, and Legolas divided his attention between the reticent sky and the reticent Dwarf, patiently waiting for one or the other to turn.
“I woke and saw him strange,” said Gimli at last, stirring the stillness and bringing Legolas around from his private musings. The Dwarf lifted his head and met the gaze of his companion’s distinctive eyes. “I saw him strange, and there was no trust in me,” he admitted.
Legolas let out a soft breath, and he nodded. “Was he strange, or did you but think him so?” he asked.
Gimli frowned and considered it. “He was strange,” he said. “I did not imagine it. He was watching Frodo with a possessiveness that would have set me between them, had I been awake enough to think on it. Aragorn did not see it. I would have let it lie, but then he had returned and you were missing --” Gimli looked askance at the Elf, as if he had said more than he had intended, and he muttered a bitter oath. “—and I am a fool,” he finished with a disgusted sigh.
Legolas hid the wonder and dismay that came upon him at the slip of Gimli’s tongue. “Not a fool,” Legolas assured him. “Hasty, perhaps. Boromir’s mind is a rabbit warren of guilty notions. You merely jerked the snare in anticipation and set his thoughts scurrying back down their dark holes.”
“Hasty….” scoffed Gimli. “Say irrational or dangerous and you would describe my behaviour more to the point, Master Elf, but then you were spared most of the ugliness of it.”
Because I was not there. Because I was missing to you. Legolas cringed, understanding now the unwitting part he had played in the strife that morning.
“I haven’t the patience to coddle him,” continued Gimli. “Perhaps his notions will stay hidden with an ill-disposed Dwarf standing nigh.”
“Or they shall burrow deeper and breed discord,” murmured Legolas.
Gimli shook his head. “I did not like to leave him alone with the others -- with Frodo -- but I could not stay back there. I know the strangeness in Boromir is not his own and I feel wretched for casting accusations at him when he did not deserve them. This is… beyond me. I cannot feign trust. I will not.”
It truly is beyond him, the Elf realized, and he regarded the bluff, stocky being who sat beside him with new admiration. Dwarves were an undeniably independent folk (Legolas might have once said self-serving), but they were not solitary. Clannish they were, gregarious. In the absence of his own kind for so long, Gimli had adopted his companions as kindred and Legolas imagined this division and disintegration of their loyalties unsettled the Dwarf more than any bloody battle could.
“You have a straightforward heart, my friend,” said Legolas, “and I do not know if you can understand this, but I say to you that sometimes trust and faith are not the same.”
“Believe the best of him, but do not turn your back on him,” said Gimli harshly. “Is that it, Elf?”
Legolas felt the accusation and he paled a little. “I do not play false with Boromir, and I do not play false with you,” he said. “If I have given you any reason to doubt me, Gimli, have it out. I will right it, or leave. We can afford no misunderstandings between us.”
Gimli flinched. “Nay, Legolas,” he whispered. “My words were hollow. Pay them no mind. I am not trying to chase you away.” He stared moodily at his hands. “I am frustrated this morning and tired. Bristly,” he jested soberly.
“And hasty,” Legolas agreed.
Gimli glanced at him and narrowed his eyes, but their depths had warmed a little. “Aye,” he growled. “Thank you! but for reasons most justified. Grant me some little time to shoo away this grudge, my friend.”
The Dwarf’s stomach chose that moment to give a long, steady rumble, eliciting a smile from Legolas. The Elf raised an eyebrow. “It is a particularly vicious and vocal grudge,” he observed.
Gimli shot Legolas a baleful look, daring him laugh. “You may add hunger to my tally of complaints today,” he said. “The sustenance of that waybread of your folk is overrated, or it is no match for a Dwarf’s consuming strength. It is pleasing enough for elvish fare, but some real food would be welcome.” He gave a hearty sigh and his eyes were far away. “Ah, for the feasts and fires of Erebor!”
Legolas lifted his head. “I know that I should not admit to such a thing,” he said. “Not to you, I am sure, but… I am not altogether fond of lembas. Some venison and a taste of wine would be much more to my satisfaction just now.”
Gimli looked down his nose at him, and then he snorted. “Just a taste? It is said the Elves of Mirkwood nurse their babes on the stuff. ‘Tis a wonder to me that you ever learned to shoot an arrow with what little accuracy you manage.”
“’Tis a wonder to me you ever learned to distinguish the sharp end of your axe from the other, as much time as Dwarves spend dipping their beards into flagons of ale,” returned Legolas. The Elf was pleased to see the spirit rekindle in the Dwarf’s eyes and he traded discourteous smiles with him.
Gimli’s stomach growled again. “For all this talk, now I am hungry,” he groused. “Shall we make a dash homeward for breakfast and be back ere evening comes on?”
“I think our companions would have our necks if we came back to them reeking of ale and wine, sated and sluggish. Nay, I think perhaps it would be for the best if you sought out whatever stores our hobbits did not think necessary to unpack.”
Gimli grunted regretfully, but at the further urgings of his empty belly, he wandered over to their overturned boats to forage. He returned with a makeshift breakfast of salted meat and waybread. He plunged into it with tired enthusiasm, sharing it with Legolas there upon the shore. Legolas was not particularly hungry but he accepted it as the peace-offering it was meant to be and enjoyed it, a simple meal on a warm morning.
“I wonder where our small footpad has gone to,” Gimli mused as he chewed. “No doubt cozying up to some Orc troop, begging scraps in exchange for information on us.”
Legolas balked at the suggestion. “I think not, Gimli. Boromir is wrong.” The Elf leaned forward, his eyes narrowed in thought. “What would Gollum fear more than anything?”
Gimli crumbled apart a bit of lembas in his hands and he shrugged. “My axe, were he wise.”
“A formidable fear, but nay. As long as the Ring is with us, he has hope. If the Dark Lord reclaims it, he has none. I would wager anything that he is still upon this side of the River.”
“Perhaps,” said the Dwarf slowly. He took time to swallow his last bite of his breakfast and he sucked at his teeth. “I think it more likely that Gollum would seek the opportunity to bring us to peril to snatch the Ring from Frodo’s dead hand. Draw danger to us, and let others do the dirty work of slaughtering us ere collecting his prize.”
“A great risk,” disagreed the Elf, shaking his head. “Too great.”
“If I had anything of worth left to wager, I would take you up on that,” said Gimli. “I have only my axe and my pride. I cannot do without my axe, and there is not much remaining of my pride after this morning. Pray do not suggest now that Gollum is our ally, or I will send you back to Aragorn. You may try his overindulgent patience, for you have reached the end of mine.”
Legolas brushed aside his words. “I meant only that evil may be drawn to the small creature, as evil seems drawn to Frodo, but he leads it to us not willingly.”
“Either way, evil finds us,” shrugged Gimli. “Gollum is long gone. I wish with all my heart we were as well,” he mumbled. His eyes were grown heavy and it was apparent that exhaustion was catching him up.
Legolas stretched lightly, then tucked his legs beneath him and tilted back his head to stare upward once more. Still there was nothing but straying hints of clouds marring the clear stretch of morning space. Sunlight danced there, but in Legolas’s heart there was foreboding. “Tell me, Gimli, were you there when the messenger came to Dáin?” he asked.
Gimli folded his broad arms and settled back with a sigh. “The second occasion, aye. It had a foul voice, and worse was its laughter when Dáin tried to bargain with it,” he said. “The time has come and passed for the third visit the messenger promised and it pains me that I was not there to hear what was said. I should give much right now to be allowed a few moments to speak with Dáin or my father.” He looked up with some apprehension at the sky. “Have you felt aught of it since?”
Legolas shuddered, recalling the elemental aversion that had come over him at the Rider’s passing. “Nay. I hope never to feel anything of it again.” His voice was tight. “I should have Frodo far and away from here immediately, were there any safe place to bring him.”
“There is not,” Gimli told him. “We will no doubt know this Enemy, and worse, ere we see Frodo to the end of his road.” He eyes were fixed ahead of him morosely, as if he could see the end he spoke of. But then he swelled defiantly. “We have not come this far to shy away from some flapping, vulturous wraith! Let it come again. I shall pinion and pluck it and lay it at Frodo’s feet,” he boasted, though his words were thick with fatigue.
“You will not have the strength to raise that axe or to put one foot before the other, Master Dwarf, if you do not get some rest,” Legolas told him with a laugh.
“Your ceaseless chatter prevents my finding any peace,” said Gimli.
The Elf made an indignant sound. “Was it not you who sought sanctuary here with me?”
The Dwarf ignored the taunt, or did not hear it. His mind had wandered elsewhere. He propped his elbow on his knee and placed his chin in his hand. He gazed at Legolas vaguely for a long moment and then he nodded, as if coming to a decision.
“You will go to Gondor,” said Gimli.
It was not a request. Legolas gave the Dwarf a startled look. “Are you trying to rid yourself of me again?” He forced a smile. “If you tire of my company, you need only say it.”
“You will go to Gondor,” said Gimli again firmly.
Legolas regarded Gimli with consternation. “Nay, as a matter of fact, I will not,” he said. “Not if you mean by that, ‘Thranduil’s son will take the easier route whilst Glóin’s son walks into shadow.’”
“I hardly consider marching into war the ‘easier route’,” rumbled the Dwarf, “and we cannot both go with Frodo. It is too great a risk if the Ring’s power grows stronger. It is also likely that the division of the Company will be quick and possibly covert, if there isn’t an agreement. We will separate. You will go to Gondor with Boromir and the younger hobbits,” he stated in a manner that suggested the matter was settled.
“Why not you?” demanded Legolas.
“Boromir trusts me not, and I do not think he will endure my travelling with him any longer than he must,” said Gimli.
”He has very little trust for any of us just now, and I certainly do not intend to let Boromir’s will dictate my actions,” replied Legolas. “Your pride received a few blows this morning, as did his. It is not an irreparable rift. Even if it should be, you are warriors, you are not children!”
Gimli accepted the chastisement but did not surrender. “Which of us, Master Elf, do you think shall be more able to pass through the Black Lands unnoticed and unscathed?” he countered. “A Dwarf trudging about in his dusty armour beneath his cloak and helm, or an Elf who cannot help but look like an Elf from a mile away?”
Legolas squared his shoulders proudly (looking very much like an Elf) and he said, “It shall come down to being seen not at all, Gimli, and at that, I am more adept than you.”
Gimli straightened. “Foolishness!” he cried. “I have tolerated more indignities upon this journey already than I will ever admit to, and I will not be drawn into a game of hide-and-seek here with you to prove myself!”
Legolas thought on that and he tumbled from his serious heights to mirthful laughter. He looked at Gimli with an irritated smile. “Go back, Master Dwarf, and retire, for you are in dire need of sleep.”
Gimli chuckled himself, but insisted, “I mean what I say, Legolas. I question neither your courage nor your strength, Elf, but you do not belong in Mordor.”
“None of us belongs in Mordor,” said Legolas. The Elf swallowed as if tasting the bitterness of the black name. “Frodo least of all, but we will do what we must.”
Gimli nodded at that and relented. He sighed remorsefully. “I have made our plight worse,” he said. “I am sorry. After all of it, I acted without thought. I fear I have done much damage.”
“You are hardest upon yourself,” the Elf told him softly. “It is done. Whatever comes of it, we shall find a way to go on. Much can change over the course of a few days.” For good or ill, Legolas thought to himself, and I dread to think upon the ill. “We have made it this far. We shall choose our path when we must, if indeed the choice is given to us.”
Gimli did not reply. Legolas glanced at him and discovered the Dwarf had fallen sturdily asleep, sitting there upright beside him on the rocky ground. His arms remained folded and his face was still stern and vaguely contentious, as if he carried on their conversation in his dreams. His chin was sunken down upon his breast and he had begun to snore softly into his beard.
Legolas examined him curiously. He considered waking him to send him off to bed, but could not quite figure out how to do it without risking life or limb. Instead he carefully turned the edges of Gimli’s cloak to cover his shoulders and let him sleep. Legolas touched him lightly and Gimli took a deep breath. The Dwarf’s face relaxed, the lines smoothed away by forgetful rest.
All at once, it was more than the Elf could bear. The fond smile which graced Legolas’s features fled. He felt sharp sorrow bury itself deep within him and he bled with helpless anger.
“We are innocent,” whispered Legolas. “All of us.” He tore his eyes from Gimli’s face and he cast a challenging look at the air above them.
There was nothing there but the clouds and the soaring Sun. Legolas sighed with resignation and settled in. He took up his vigil of the sky once more and waited for it to fall.
His empty stomach twisted and it made him irritable, vicious. Pickings were slim. He needed to be swift to follow them, and they had begun to sleep days and journey nights. He was glad they had the sense at least to take such care, but now he was left to forage beneath the mocking Yellow Face for what food he could find in that forsaken stretch of land. He did not dare go far from them, and he could not find proper rest in the daylight when there were few places to hide from it. The ragged, dead brush offered little in the way of shade or concealment. Gollum was resourceful; he had survived in lands far, far less hospitable. But he was at the mercy of their designs, ghosting along behind, moving when they did, stopping when they did. It came to be that there were no nests in the grasses, no small things hiding in holes, naught even to scoop up from beneath the stones in the murk of the River’s shallows.
His growing desperation had made him careless. He had drawn too near to the boat of the Elf and the Dwarf in the night and they paid him for it, warding him away with a handful of scattered stones. Gollum took to the shore like a kicked cur, angry and hungry, and he had left them. It wrenched his mind to do so, to put any distance between himself and the Baggins for even a short while, but he knew they would not leave the River yet, not here, when there was no where else to go. He abandoned them, forging on ahead to find food.
As the Sun dawned red and ruddy and the Fellowship camped in the mists, Gollum found his bounty. He was nowhere near their resting place; his hunger had taken him far downstream. He crawled ravenously from the water and up the bank, a slimy, black, murderous thing. He discovered that birds and animals were plentiful here again, away from the bare, bleak stretch of the Wold. Too tired to hunt properly, he sniffed out a nest of young mice beneath a copse of thorn bushes and gobbled them greedily, heedless of the scrapes and scratches he suffered getting to them.
He was just beginning to feel fuller and better and thinking about looking for something bigger to satisfy him when he noticed the air had changed.
He licked his lips and paused curiously.
He felt the wraith’s scream, just beyond hearing. He stiffened as if stabbed by it, and he threw back his head to cry out in response. But he didn’t. He couldn’t. His mouth opened but he gave no sound. He was afraid to be discovered, afraid to give the others away. He whimpered frantically, anticipating the loss, the dreadful, unimaginable loss of them and it and he scrabbled back and forth, witless and afraid.
It had found them. It had caught them! There was no escaping such a hunter, so keen, so cold, so strong. He cursed and wept. He shouldn’t have left them, shouldn’t have left them, shouldn’t have left them behind! Better to have stayed and died, thin and starving, wasting away to nothing. Life was no mercy in the face of such despair.
His panic receded. He stopped his writhing and moaning and lifted his face to the sky. He listened fearfully for the wraith, for the rhythmic sound of its wings flailing the air, or worse, for an answering call.
But the voice had been far away and in the East, and there was only one; it drew no closer to the River and did not come North.
The cold chill fled his limbs, left him limp and weary. The day was warm and still again. Whatever its business, it was not with them, not yet. The dread feeling faded and left his heart pounding as if it were struggling to free itself from his breast. He resisted the urge to flee back along the water to find them, to seek them out. They would come to him. He slept through the sunlit day buried beneath the brambles, twitching and snuffling fitfully.
The sky turned gradually grey above him as clouds gathered and breezes were stirred.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.