2. Shadows Under Leaves
Mouthless mutters, hushed voices, stifling confinement. Not ghostly, no. Like a nightmare to the one who followed. Elvish webs of cunning and deceit woven between branches, elven enchantment in the very air. He could smell it, could taste it, and he trembled.
"Few come out who once go in."
Gollum had heard the large man with the silver collar say so, and the words had penetrated his mind. He murmured them now to himself in a sing-song voice, casting nervous glances at the heavy boughs which o'erhanged the narrow road. They creaked and rubbed together in the breeze as if in anticipation of snaring those who were foolish enough to enter. He paused, and he thought... he thought there was movement high in the tip-tops of the massive trees, movement which was not the wind, movement which he could catch only at the corner of his eyes but ceased when he looked directly to it. They could be silent, he knew, could be invisible if they willed it so. The elves, the elves would be watching, watching from high above, their piercing bright eyes seeking targets in the dark for piercing bright arrows.
"Few come out who once go in... few come out who once go in...." he sang beneath his breath as he crept along the edge of the path, casting agitated glances around him, waiting for something to move in the darkness, to grab him, to clutch at him, for cold steel to slide over his skin the second he set foot in the wood. He slowed his steps, then stopped. Gladly would he have fled back down the way he came, back to the mountains and secret paths and away from the terrible trees. He remembered bonds and chains and the sharp ears of elven captors not so long ago. To him, one forest was as another. Those he followed were already far ahead, no longer visible. Only darkness and uncertainly lay before him.
He snuffled and whimpered. "Cannot go in, my precious, cannot go in. Already too far, we are, too far, and they shall catches usss, they will, and we will never find it, never...." He took a few steps backward, then danced forward again, then cowered back.
"We can't go back, no precious. Curse them and crush them, we can't!" He couldn't lose them, couldn't lose them now, not now. With a burst of audaciousness he squinched his eyes tightly and darted forward, daring them to find him, defying the voices in the wind. He ran and ran and came to a breathless halt some distance within the forest, then scrambled off the path to hide, pressed tightly up against the stem of a large smooth tree, his fingers digging into the bark, his thin chest heaving.
He strained to catch the faintest noise, the faintest hint that something was creeping up behind him, that something had seen him. He waited for the hue and cry, the whistle of arrows... waited, and fretted, and panted; he waited... and waited... and began to relax, to hope....
He started violently and bit down hard upon his tongue at the sudden sound of a lilting, cursed elvish voice echoing lightly from the path ahead.
"Ease your hearts, my friends. Follow me. Here is Nimrodel."
Gollum sank to the bole of the aged, mossy tree, muttering, wondering of whom it was the elf spoke, and if they had indeed met up with more elves there in the dark. Surrounded were they? Where one sneaking elf was, certain it was that there would be others. Again, he looked longingly back along the path he had trod and he yearned to go back, but a stronger compulsion was upon him now.
It called to him, called to him all the more strongly the further into the wood it was taken. Now that he had passed within his desire rose and tamped down the fear and doubt and a fell light was kindled within his eyes once more. He crept forward carefully, quietly, weaving past the grey pillars of the trees, stopping now and then to watch and listen, but no voices there were but the familiar ones he had come to recognize.
"The water is not deep. Let us wade across! On the further bank we can rest," the elf called softly.
Gollum peered through open spaces, keeping low, and saw that they had come upon another stream, dark and hurrying, splashing across the pathway. The travellers were making their way one by one down a steep embankment to wade out into the shallow pools, gasping at the touch of the cold water swirling about their feet. The sound of the gentle stream seemed to lift the weight from the grieving hearts and they laughed lightly, making jests as it mounted to their calves, then their knees. The elf waited upon the far shore, the cruel bow slung over his shoulder, but only him, only one elf, no more. The tall man with the worn face came next with his cloak trailing in the water, and he cast keen glances behind him as he went, watching over the others. The hobbit was next with his servant, then the smallest who was smiling and taunting his companion beside him; he splashed and floundered until it was that neither of them reached the opposite side remotely dry.
"Ai! Pippin! If it is cold water you love, far be it from me to deprive you!" They scuffled and pushed one another in the middle of the running stream until one of them inadvertently drenched the dwarf behind them with an ill-aimed kick.
"Lest it is your desire I hold BOTH of your heads under the water and leave you as bait for the orcs, I suggest you be on that shore and far away from me!" The dwarf's deep voice was filled with an unnerving calmness despite his bedraggled state. The hobbits scrambled up onto the land shamefacedly to wring the water out of their drenched clothing.
The large man with the silver collar brought up the rear, and it was long ere he stepped into the rippling creek to follow the others. He cast his eyes to the treetops often.
It seemed as if he, too, saw the shadows.
Gollum kept at a distance that was safe, leaving the path to slip through the trees, down the river, and only then slinking over the bank, cautiously, cautiously. He sank himself into the mud and deep water of a small pool at a bend in the stream where the water tarried sluggishly before plunging into the falls a short distance away. With nary a ripple he floated like a waterbug across the tickling stream, his arms and legs splayed, his eyes protruding above the surface. The water was cool and sweet and it cleansed the dust and filth which had clung to him over the miles; he paddled there for a long while in spite of the sense of urgency tickling his mind. Pushing the insistent voice inside his head aside, he stayed concealed, hidden, black upon black under a dark sky, feeling the current caress his parched and weary skin.
Finally, reluctantly, he made his way towards the shore and clambered out onto the rocks. He shook his thin frame and licked himself like a cat, pawing long fingers through his lank hair. From where he sat he could hear them camped upstream and now and then he heard snatches of song floating down to him upon the air.
Her hair was long, her limbs were white,
And fair she was, and free;
And in the wind she went as light
As leaf of linden-tree.
Beside the falls of Nimrodel,
By water clear and cool,
Her voice as falling silver fell
Into the shining pool.
Gollum listened to the voice, then leaned over to look speculatively into the dark water in the shoals at his feet. He saw the stars mirrored there, sparkling and winking like tiny bits of silver and glass, and the interlacing pattern of the branches high above him framed the black shadow of his own head. He dabbled his fingers in the puddle derisively and the stars wavered. He dashed his hand upon the surface and the stars disappeared. He turned towards the voices and sounds of the travellers taking their rest and he grinned, baring sharp teeth.
Where now she wanders none can tell,
In sunlight or in shade,
Gollum crawled, tearing and pulling at tufts of reeds and clumps of dirt until he was above the bank and crouched upon the grass. He scrabbled upstream, wheezing and chortling to himself, "Few come out, precious...."
For lost of yore was Nimrodel
And in the mountains strayed.
"...who dare go in," he hissed.
The voice of Legolas faltered and the song ceased. His eyes narrowed and he tilted his head slightly as if he were listening.
"Well?" Merry looked up, fighting to chew at a piece of dried meat as he pushed damp curls back from his face. "What happened next, Legolas? Did Amroth find her?"
The elf was silent a moment longer, then Legolas turned back and smiled at the hobbit. "I am sorry, Merry. That is but part of the tale, for I have forgotten much. It is long and sad, for it tells how sorrow came to Lothlorien when the dwarves awakened evil in the mountains."
"But the dwarves did not make the evil," said Gimli. He and Boromir sat side by side upon a fallen tree, the dwarf with legs outstretched, Boromir with his chin in his hands, elbows on his knees.
"I said not so; yet evil came," answered Legolas sadly. "Then many of the Elves of Nimrodel's kindred left their dwellings and departed, and she was lost far in the South, and she came not to the ship where Amroth her lover waited for her. But in the spring when the wind is in the new leaves the echo of her voice may still be heard by the falls that bear her name. And when the wind is in the South the voice of Amroth comes up from the sea; for Nimrodel flows into Silverlode, and Silverlode into Anduin the Great, and Anduin into the sea. But neither Nimrodel or Amroth ever came back."
"Mmm...." Gimli turned to address Boromir with a look of utmost seriousness and a thoughful tone. "Her voice mingled with the water," he mused. "A sweet maid, this Nimrodel... but she sloshes within my boots most unpleasantly." Boromir choked as he took a pull from his flask and dwarf and man struggled mightily to keep their composure.
Gimli was pleased to see Pippin stifle laughter as well. The young hobbit had been suffering much since Gandalf's fall in Moria and they had worried for him. The hobbit's mood had lightened since they had crossed into the Wood, and though the dwarf reserved his misgivings about the place, he saw new hope slip back into his compnions' voices beneath the sheltering leaves of Lothlorien and he felt for the first time that perhaps they might find sanctuary here after all.
Gimli regarded Pippin a moment longer, then glanced up to see Legolas straighten suddenly and push away from the tree upon which he had been leaning by the wayside. The elf melted silently into the forest.
"Legolas!" Boromir called to him. "'Twas a jest! We meant nothing by it. Come back." Gimli snorted and murmured something beneath his breath. Boromir shook his head, troubled. "He should not be wandering alone here, Aragorn. I do not trust this wood."
Gimli cast a casual look at the man beside him and saw the uneasiness in his face which he heard in his voice. New hope for all but Boromir, Gimli thought. The man took no comfort in the forest. The stalwart son of Denethor bore a pensive, uncertain look and seemed at the verge of jumping at his own shadow.
Aragorn did not reply but he lifted his head; his eyes were shining beneath his hood. He had seen Legolas move, had seen the elf's face, had seen his elven ears fairly prick up and he wondered what it was their companion hunted. And thought that he knew.
Gollum sat with his knees drawn up, his long, thin arms wrapped around himself. The air was cool but not cold, yet his skin was damp still and he shivered. His large eyes gleamed with a green light in the near darkness and he bared sharp teeth in a grimace. He remained some distance from the road, yet near, near enough to hear their voices, near enough to hear them rummaging through their baggage and to hear them partaking in food and drink. He shifted uncomfortably and ran his pallid tongue over dry lips.
"Does they moves, or does they stayss?" he hissed quietly to himself. "'Praps they sleeps a bit, 'praps they does, and with haste, haste, we might find a bites to eats, we might... nice fishes from deep waters, crunchable and juicy, my preciousss. Famissshed we are yes, and orcses are near, they are, they are, but they must sleep before long, must rests tired eyeses, precious, they must, yes, they must...."
The voices had quieted some and he edged closer, still mumbling absently to himself, then craned his neck sideways to better hear the conversation upon the pathway. He stiffened and became aware of someone staring at him.
He gave a strangled squeak and looked up into inquisitive eyes, into a gaze as sharp as that of any bird, set in the pale and serene face belonging to the elf who sat within the crook of the tree under which Gollum crouched.
The elf was perched there casually, impassively, pondering the creature below him. How long he had been there Gollum could not guess; he looked at the elf warily, taking into account that the bow was not over his shoulder, that the nasty white knife remained sheathed at his belt.
The elf slowly straightened before him and stood tall; he pressed one hand against a balancing branch, then placed the other hand upon his hip.
Gollum stayed crouched low to the ground. He blinked. The elf did not move. They watched one another for a very long time. Gollum's fingers twitched nervously. The breeze stirred the elf's dark hair.
Gollum sprang. With the nimbleness of a squirrel he lunged over stone and brush, clawing his way up a broad grey tree trunk and hurling himself through the branches. The elf tossed his head and coiled himself and leapt, landing within the same tree. He ran along the limbs, twisting and ducking the boughs that snapped and whipped behind the fleeing creature. Faster than sight could follow they weaved and dodged, rustling through the foliage, Gollum skittering and scrabbling to find firm hand holds, throwing himself between trees, down from the heights to the ground, then bounding back up to wind his way through the dark mazes of wood and leaves high in the air. The elf was ever at his heels, vaulting through the spaces with flying leaps, sprinting across the trembling branches as if they were firm earth, touching the ground lightly, then kicking off into the trees once again, no more than a breath behind his prey. Gollum jumped for a branch and hung for a fraction too long and the elf was there above him, eyes flashing dangerously, and he clasped the creature's wrist. Gollum snarled and hissed and bit, shaking loose, twisting himself desperately. He let go of the branch he held and his heart caught in his throat... then he deftly snagged another and he was off once more. They chased with dizzying speed through the grey forest, two shadows flickering quickly, skimming fluidly through the woods, circling and twisting back towards the clear stream which crossed the path, Gollum keeping ever just a fingersnap ahead of the elf.
Until he ran out of trees.
The tree-line ended abruptly at the water's edge at the riverbank. In his panic Gollum moved higher rather than nearer to the ground, scrambling along boughs which thinned and grew too weak to support even his spare body. They bent and broke as he tried to find purchase among them, clinging desperately with nimble fingers and grasping toes. Gollum caught a brief glimpse of the elf standing below and beyond him, cradled securely in the forked trunk, watching him, and he hissed in rage and frustration. Then he grabbed and searched and found nothing left to hold on to.
Legolas watched the strange creature plummet with limbs flailing just out of his reach. It hit the soft ground far below with a muffled thud and to the elf's amazement, the thing was immediately on its hands and feet once more and loping towards the stream. It jumped once, twice, three times, over the deep embankment and plunged into the dark water, disappearing with the current.
The elf climbed down and paced silently to the edge of the Nimrodel, but there was no sign, no sound but that of the running water. He knelt and examined the tracks of long fingers and spindled toes pressed into the wet soil.
"We have stayed here beside the road already longer than is wise, Aragorn," Gimli said impatiently. The wind was gusting harder now and the dwarf wrapped his cloak more tightly about his shoulders as he stared back along the winding trail from whence they came, back towards the Dimrill Dale; he watched the leaves swirl in patterns over the dark ground and past his feet with a dry rush.
There was a soft whistle off to his side from the trees and the dwarf whirled, his hand upon the hilt of his axe. He felt a light movement behind him and he turned back to find the elf sitting cross-legged before him on the path as if he had been there all along. A smile played upon Legolas's lips and in one cupped hand it appeared he was holding a goodly amount of river mud.
Gimli's eyes widened. "You wouldn't dare...." he growled.
"My dear dwarf... mud drives the sting from scratches." Legolas stood complacently and proceeded to anoint the thin abrasions which lightly traced his hands and face. "The trust you place in your companions leaves much to be desired," he murmured, and amusement shone in the elf's pale green eyes.
"Certain companions, yes, and for good reason. Most of my companions are not out tilting with trees in the middle of the night. What have you been up to?"
"May... may we go on?" Frodo interrupted with a tense voice. The hobbit sat nearby on a rock by the trail, one hand pressed against his breast as if he were in pain, his face still drawn and weary from the events of that morning. Sam was by his side, both his pack and Frodo's slung upon his back, and his eyes were tired and filled with concern beneath the fresh bandage Aragorn had wound over his head.
"Of course, Frodo," Legolas said ruefully. "I am sorry. It is indeed unwise to stay here. Our pursuers are not far behind and we must find safe ground to rest. It was not my intention to tarry for as long as I did. Forgive me." He bowed slightly to both hobbits and ere Sam could find the words to protest, Legolas moved near and relieved Sam of the burden of his pack and Boromir took Frodo's. The Company rose and stretched and prepared to continue with their march. The elf swept past Gimli to gather his bow and his belongings; he handed the dwarf's gear to him and patted his shoulder amicably as he passed him by.
Gimli glowered, staring daggers at the elf's back. He felt the generous plaster of mud stick where Legolas had touched him and begin to stiffen and dry.
"Safe ground. That may be hard to come by, Aragorn! How far are we yet from the borders of Lorien?" asked Gimli as he stomped along behind.
"Not far, yet far enough," Aragorn called back. "Too far, if the orcs are as near as I suspect. They are as hounds upon the scent and the Golden Wood is vast. The trees grow taller and the forest deeper towards the west beyond the Silverlode. There we might find shelter."
They turned aside from the winding road and began to pick their way through the underbrush. Aragorn slowed his pace, letting Boromir and the hobbits lead. He fell back to walk with Legolas and he looked questioningly at him. With the streaks of mud painting his face the elf looked like some wild forest spirit risen from the earth.
Legolas met his gaze and shook his head lightly. "I had hoped we had lost him in Moria, but it seems he follows Frodo still," he said in a low voice. "A fright I gave him, I believe, and perhaps he should not now be so bold as to linger so near. I would have slain him had I not recalled Mithrandir's reluctance to do so in Moria and... in truth, I know not if I could have done it. He is an utterly miserable creature, Aragorn."
Aragorn sighed and nodded, running his fingers through tangled brown hair. "One more danger, one more worry. There is naught else to be done tonight but press on as swiftly as we may."
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.