20. Oaths and Bonds
Aragorn approved of the change in the land and spoke to Frodo and Sam of better concealment and an end to their journey by water. But the hobbits gazed up doubtfully at the ragged ridges and cliffs that surrounded them, menacing and dark against the pale sky; they harboured too many secret shadows and obscure shapes to give them any peace of mind. The Anduin’s voice was mighty here and echoed strangely off the rock. The trammeled water was very strong and the steep stone slopes seemed to be squeezing in upon them from either side. Sam imagined being sluiced through tighter and tighter places until bits of what was left of their delicate boats (and the folk within them) came bobbing out the other end. Drowning had been Sam’s chief fear these past seven days; being pulped like a cider apple suddenly seemed to him a far worse and more likely fate.
They slid ashore at a bend where the Anduin had washed through the brush to the base of a large cliff. The River had deposited a shoal of motley gravel and fine silt and spread it from the edge to form a beach on the western side. Great boulders of limestone were strewn about, tumbled from the heights to the ground and some as far out as the water. The current eddied about these obstructions, forming several small, deep pools which were clear as crystal down to the bottom. Across the way another cliff stood guard, promising good protection; its pale face was daubed thick with swallows’ nests and the air was filled with the birds’ cries as they chased one another above the bright running water in the early light.
It was an altogether pleasing place to sojourn. The companions poked about, exploring it ere settling upon it as their home for the day. Gimli discovered a niche in the cliff behind them that widened far enough back into the rock to accommodate their beds and supplies. The floor within the half-cave was sandy and sheltered with room for the smallest of them to stand and the tallest of them to lie down comfortably. The remains of an old campfire were dug into the ground inside; layers of ash and small litter gave evidence that this was no secret place to some few ranging herdsmen from the nearby grasslands, but no one had been there for a very long time.
They spread out their things and ate a little, then returned to wash in the water. Boromir stripped to the skin and ventured step by step out into one of the deeper pools until he was immersed to his waist. He poured handfuls of crisp water over his head and down his back, stoically shaking away the excess from his dark hair. He faced upstream, against the sweep of the current. The Anduin churned around the small pool in which the broad man stood, and it seemed as if the swift water changed course and yielded for him alone. Boromir dressed cleanly and smoothed his chin afterward as his routine dictated, looking more fit to stand ceremony than surrender to sleep upon the hard ground. Aragorn forwent a shave and took no more than a cat’s bath at the brim. His gaze rested downstream to where the Anduin hurried on, tireless and unremitting. The hobbits were braver than the Men, or more fastidious. They plunged full headlong into the water to get it over with the quicker! as Merry put it, ere he tipped Pippin in and fell after him. Sam followed less recklessly. The cold shocked open their tired eyes and numbed their nerves until they could no longer feel the bite of it. The hobbits spent a good while splashing about in the pebbly shallows and came out shivering in the yet cool air of the morning. They were quick to scrounge for warm blankets and clothing, and they stood drip-drying on the shore, laughing and nibbling at morsels of breakfast they brought out incidentally with their dry things.
Frodo did not join them. He sat by himself upon the furthest rock in the stream, dangling his toes and staring thoughtfully at the successive ripples he made in the water. The others took hope from the new day and their worries melted away in the sunshine, but the light did not seem to touch Frodo. The hobbits tried to coax him from his forlorn meditation, but he took no notice of them. He had not spoken much to anyone, not even to Sam, since last evening, and when he did speak, he was snappish and out of sorts. Their anxious looks only caused him to withdraw further, and so they let him be, trusting that a little rest and some food would make him right again.
The Elf and Dwarf of the Company also chose to keep to themselves that morning, though they were in better spirits than the Ring-bearer. Gimli stood at a distance, propped against the steep stone cliff with his arms folded, yawning in the early light as he watched the others bathe. He was alone, but rather appreciated the fact. He had no mind to be keeping up with Legolas.
While the rest of the Fellowship dallied by the water, the Elf took to climbing to the top of the cliff (for no particular reason that Gimli could tell -- other than Elves were notional creatures seldom prompted by reason). Legolas had begun sizing up the provocative heights as soon as he climbed out of their boat. The Elf fought valiantly to keep his feet on the ground long enough to see his companions settled and secure, but as soon as the time was his to spend, Legolas sought a higher perspective. He blithely ignored Gimli’s forecast of a broken neck and draped his cloak over the Dwarf’s shoulders for safekeeping. With casual strength, Legolas scrabbled up the crumbling rock-face, tugging at bare roots and clumps of grass to give him purchase, sending small avalanches sifting to the bottom.
Gimli kept half an eye on the Elf as he went, not so much expecting the nimble fool to fall as anticipating things being dropped down on his head. Though it took him the better part of an hour, Legolas managed to find the top without mishap or mischief and Gimli was left by himself to enjoy a bit of peaceful seclusion down below.
The Dwarf might have moved off to be with the others, but the rock felt solid and good against his back and he was comfortable where he was. He did not wish to intrude upon the hobbits -- the sight of them splashing in the water was enough to make his bones ache in proximity. Aragorn sat nearby with his eyes closed in drowse or contemplation as he listened to the hobbits’ mild merriment. There were many things Gimli wished to discuss with Aragorn, but not then. Boromir stood beside the Ranger, breathing the morning air and taking his ease. A frolic in the frigid stream with the Halflings held more appeal for Gimli than a conversation with Boromir. The son of Denethor had kept his distance from the Dwarf these past days and Gimli rather preferred it that way. There was forgiveness between them; neither of them had such narrow souls as could hate after so many months of close companionship, but their civility was tenuous. Too much alike they were, obstinate and direct, but while that had brought them to respect the other in the early days of the quest, now it stirred resentment. Boromir’s reserve, the confident bearing that Gimli had once admired now offended the Dwarf; he no longer believed in the outward honour of the Man and he made that clear to Boromir in small ways. They accepted safe estrangement for the sake of peace, for the sake of the Fellowship. The youngest hobbits still cleaved to Boromir, their loyalties given over to him as their protector. Gimli could not make up his mind to laud or fear this bond, though he was wise enough to hold his tongue when the tempation to speak out to Boromir became too great. He fell instead to muttering in Legolas’s patient ears when he and the Elf were alone.
The sky warmed to a bright, splendid blue. If there was wind, it was confounded by the high cliff walls and could not reach them there. Water evaporated from skin and hair; eyes and limbs grew heavy and the novelty of their haven wore away. Frodo was the first to retire; he passed by Gimli looking small and grey and disappeared without a word into the recess in the cliff. Frodo did not bother with his bedroll. He wrapped himself up in a corner like a beggar and closed his eyes to exhaustion, his head pressed against the cool rock.
Gimli waited awhile for the others to leave off their dawdling and settle in as well. Sam was next to come, and Boromir, and then Aragorn with Pippin and Merry. The sharing of cold rations and small talk went on inside their provisional den as Gimli stood outside, watching the sharp-winged swallows flit back and forth across the way.
At last, when the rustlings of his companions died down and soft snores denoted slumber from most of them, the Dwarf pushed away and made quietly for the water himself. He found a comfortable spot at the edge of the stream and wadded up the Elf’s cloak to sit upon, folding his own neatly over a boulder. He lowered himself to the ground with a quiet groan and a slight creaking of joints. Ruthless river jaunts, fights and flights – he could not fault his body for creaking. He lingered and ran a hand through the pebbles beneath him, admiring the exotic variations. Smooth, wayworn. Some of them had travelled far to wash up there. The Dwarf felt a weary affinity. The air was a little warmer and the flowing water looked more bearable to him. Gimli knelt forward and drank from it, then splashed his face and his arms. He shrugged off his shirt and looked down with a grimace. He tightened his stomach and slowly began to peel away bandaging from clinging skin.
“It bleeds still,” said a voice.
The Dwarf turned his head sharply, but it was only Aragorn.
The Ranger came to kneel beside him and he looked Gimli over with a healer’s scrupulous eye. Legolas’s knife had cut a long, thin swath through the dark hair upon the Dwarf’s torso from the right edge of his ribs to his left breast. The wound should have been well on its way to becoming another scar, but it had not closed and the cloth Gimli removed from it was stained pink.
Gimli gave an indifferent grunt. “I am fine. It is a clean,” he said. “It is merely stiff. It reopens when I turn or strain my arms to use my oar.”
Aragorn nodded. “Bathe it, and I will do what I can to help.”
Gimli hesitated. He cast a significant glance at the top of the cliff behind them. “I would rather he did not see.”
Aragorn followed his eyes, and then laid a hand upon the Dwarf’s shoulder and rose to fetch his supplies. “There is no way for him to come back down except the one he took getting up there. We will hear him. This shall not take long.”
Aragorn brought back with him several clean strips of cloth and a greenish salve in a small bottle. Gimli sniffed at the latter speculatively, but he trusted Aragorn’s assurances that the wound would knit swifter for it and he smeared it on as he was told. He suffered Aragorn to bind it up for him again. He took the opportunity to study the Ranger, seeking signs of the Ring’s influence upon him.
There was an intense care in Aragorn’s eyes as he centered upon his hands and the task they performed, a concentration of gentle power toward even such a small summoning of his skills. Gimli felt his body ease at his touch. Warmth spread from Aragorn’s fingers as if he worked magic, not medicine. The sting of the Dwarf’s wound faded, the ache in his muscles fled. Gimli’s eyes slid almost shut, but still he watched Aragorn. He could discern nothing wrong about the Ranger, no strangeness even this close to him, though there were shadows upon his face that spoke of sleepless days and restless cares.
Gimli sighed a long sigh. “I thought you were stronger,” he rumbled quietly. “But then, not long ago, I would have told you I was strong and believed it. What way has it found into your heart?”
“I am not so different from other men,” said Aragorn as he worked. “I have weaknesses, Gimli. I am more practiced at evading the traps and lies of the Enemy than most, but even the keenest blade is dulled by hard use. Dulled is how I feel,” he admitted. “I feel the Ring’s intrusion. Every thought in my mind, every instinct I have I must second-guess, and such hesitation could prove perilous to us now.”
“Do you desire it? It is, after all, the weregild of your family, heir of Isildur.”
Aragorn stilled his hands and looked up at him. The slight emphasis Gimli placed upon Isildur’s name did not go unheeded. “Perilous it is to demand honesty from a Dwarf,” the Ranger said. “It is very like receiving a blow to the head from the blunt end of his axe!” His eyes glinted with a hard light.
Any other being would have quailed, but Gimli had had much experience of late withstanding the lean of intimidating eyes (green, not grey), and he held his ground. There was a heavy silence between them as they regarded one another. Then Aragorn surrendered and gave up a brief smile.
“Forgive me,” he said. “Your question is a fair one, Gimli, though painful. If ignorance was my forebear’s misfortune, his legacy was prudence.” He reached up to touch the Elfstone at his throat. “I have no desire for the Ring, my friend. I desire something far greater.”
But Gimli was unsparing. “The Ring is but a means to an end,” he countered sternly. “You could gain all you wish by it, Aragorn. You would not have to prove yourself worthy of your name, worthy of claiming her hand! With such power you could take what you want and none could deny you. Tell me that is not a temptation for you.”
Aragorn finished tending the Dwarf and sat back on his haunches, his hands clasped before him. He nodded reluctantly. “So spake the Lady Galadriel to me,” he said, “though in Lórien our hearts were only opened to possibility, not truly tested. Here in the middle, between rest and deed upon this journey has our first trial come. But I swear to you, Glóin’s son, upon my life, that I am not tempted by the Ring. It can offer me nothing. I do not desire the heart of Arwen Undómiel, for it was gifted to me long ago and our love does not stand upon kingship or titles or the approval of her father, despite what others may believe.”
Gimli eyed him warily. “That may be,” he allowed, “though I should not be flaunting such words before the Lord of Imladris, were I you. What is this greater desire of yours?”
Aragorn hesitated, as if he wished to hold the answer to himself. When he spoke, his eyes and his voice seemed far away. “My desire is her happiness,” he said. “Nothing more. And yet I fear what I have done in loving her can never be requited. For her to share my life with me, she must sacrifice Elvenhome. I would have spared her the choice, spared her the grief of it, but it is done. Love is not merciful, Gimli. It does not set apart mortal from immortal hearts. She would remain in Middle-earth, and thus I must make Middle-earth a place of peace and surpassing beauty to rival the fair land she shall forfeit. I must free it from war and slaughter, free it from the Shadow that has plagued her people since the time when Sauron served a darker master. She deserves no less.” Aragorn closed his eyes. “That is it. That is my desire, Gimli. How can the Ring, a creation of the Shadow, pretend to offer such a thing to me?”
Gimli was quiet, considering. And then he lowered his head with respect. “Well answered,” he said. “I played at judging your worth, Aragorn, and find now that I have not the means to measure it. It is beyond my reckoning. Regardless of their fondness for flourishing appellations, not lightly do the Elves call you Estel! You seek to fashion an earthly setting worthy of the Evenstar? ‘Tis a lofty ambition, my friend, though I admit I am much heartened to hear you speak of it. If anyone could accomplish such a thing, I must believe you will.” He frowned. “I had feared --”
“You feared I was coveting visions of glory, a sword wet with the blood of my foes, a crown upon my head and the Ring upon my finger -- the same longing for conquest and renown that lives in Boromir.” The Dwarf’s dark expression was confirmation and Aragorn said, “Nay, Gimli. I am not for such distinction. I have grown accustomed to hiding this face of mine in the shadows. The hobbits call me Strider and I embrace the name, for I know the man who bears it has done much that is honourable and good, and he can take pride in that, though it is not a proud name. I am rather fond of Strider.” He smiled wistfully. “Elessar… he is a stranger to me yet, but Strider is a very old friend and I do not like to leave him behind. ‘All that is gold does not glitter,’” he said.
Gimli furrowed his brow. “You have that wrong,” he said. “The common saying among my people is ‘all that glitters is not gold.’ And I would counsel you to remember that when dealing with Boromir. He conceals much from you.”
”I have worn many guises, been given many names and titles,” said Aragorn. “One title has ever been beyond Boromir’s reach, though he has born the heavy obligations of a king’s son all his life. Boromir was raised by stern measures. His pride is considerable. Can you think he would not harbour some resentment for me, the heir to the throne upon which his father sits? Can you think it so easy for him to dismiss a weapon powerful enough to destroy Gondor’s foes when he was sent forth to beg for what little help he could find? He is conflicted and afraid for his people, and the Ring stalks his mind. If you sense guilt in him, Gimli, know that it is not the guilt of an evil man, but the guilt of a good man driven to contend with evil thoughts. He will not fall to them. I know this. When our journey is over and all deeds are measured, he will have done what is right.”
“Right can be easily skewed by a willing mind!” said Gimli, “or a desperate one. He does not fear the Ring and that makes me fearful, Aragorn. I had hoped Legolas and I might have served you all by our shameful example, but Boromir is a fool!” he declared angrily. “He is a child who must thrust his own hand into the fire and be burned by it ere he appreciates the danger.”
“You are dwarf-kind,” said Aragorn, “and Legolas is elf-kind. I fear Boromir marks that distinction from himself more than he should.”
“Humility will come to him,” pronounced Gimli. “Too late, perhaps.” He shook his head and the anger in his eyes became sadness. “I wish for him no pain.” His voice was suddenly thick, his face haggard. “A good man he is, Aragorn. But nothing is evil in the beginning.” Irritated by the care he betrayed, Gimli stood and drew his shirt back over his head. He stroked his beard into place and said brusquely, “You have not yet told me what hold the Ring has upon you, Aragorn. If it cannot entice you, how then are you bothered by it?”
The weight settled once again upon the Ranger’s shoulders. “It mocks me,” he answered bitterly. “I have little hope of defeating the Shadow when I am unable to keep it even from my own mind. For the past two days it has whispered to me incessantly of failure and doubt. It tempts me not with visions of glory, but torments me with visions of death. I cannot close my eyes for the dreams it gives me.”
“It taunts you with your own demise?”
“Nay. Rather… yours.”
“Mine!” Gimli looked at him with surprise.
“And theirs.” Aragorn’s gaze strayed in the direction where the others slept. “Each of you. I hear your cries but I am helpless to come to your aid. It is more grief than I can stand and it does not fade upon waking. I mourn your death even as I sit next to you for this, here – now -- seems less real to me.”
Gimli scowled. “That should unsettle my dreams, not yours,” he replied. “I would like to know just where and when I am to meet my timely end so that I may have my axe ready and a few parting shots prepared for the Elf. It is naught but pretentious deceit, Aragorn, you must know that.”
“I do,” said Aragorn. “But a man who dreads a fate fortold may turn aside to avoid it, only to find it lying in wait for him. I have dreamed of Amon Hen as the place of our despair. It is where I should have led you, but now I fear to do so.”
“It seems to me if the Ring wards you away from Amon Hen, then Amon Hen is where we must go!” said Gimli stoutly. He hesitated. “Amon Hen… I gather from its name that this hill would be a good vantage point?”
“It is said that one can see the world from the Seat that is carved upon its summit,” said Aragorn. “I would look from it and discern what I may ere we must choose our path.”
“The east-way or the west way,” mused Gimli.
“Or home,” said Aragorn. “Aye, that choice is still yours, Gimli, and Legolas’s. Your journey back to forest and mountain would be perilous now, but you would be together.”
Gimli shook his head firmly. “We will not do that, Aragorn. Legolas and I have discussed it. We can serve our people best by serving the Ring-bearer. We shall go on with you, wherever ‘on’ may lead us.”
“Wherever indeed,” sighed Aragorn. “Often have I wished of late that Gandalf had been more forthcoming with his intentions. Tell me, Gimli, did he say nothing to you when you were close to him in Moria? Did he give you no hint at all of the road he meant for us to take beyond?”
“He spoke of naught but our journey through the Mines,” said Gimli with deep disappointment, “and never of what we should do after that. I am sorry.”
A spasm of grief passed over Aragorn’s face. “The West calls to my heart and the East holds no promise, and now I cannot be certain that my judgment is unaffected. We are plunging into darkness as deep and dangerous as Khazad-dûm, and we have neither Gandalf’s light nor wisdom to guide us. I lead you blindly, and thus would you follow me to a bitter end, I fear.”
“To be fair!” protested Gimli, “we are not striplings tripping nervously at your heels. Do not let yourself be overwhelmed. East or West, the decision shall lie at last with the Company, not you alone, nor are you bound up to go with Frodo should he take the darker path. If I must, I will walk with Frodo myself to the very brink of the fire to see him fulfill his responsibility, for I have little enough to risk compared to some. But we shall watch out for one another, Aragorn. You are not alone. You have done your share to safeguard your companions from that fiddling bit of gold. Do not be ashamed now to fall back upon us. I daresay that is why Elrond chose a Fellowship for this task.”
“Elrond sought to counter the Nine with nine,” said Aragorn. “We are eight now, besieged by One.”
“It is a crafty foe, but it shall be hard pressed to break our circle!” declared Gimli
Caught up in their conversation, Aragorn and Gimli did not hear the voice at first. It called again a little louder and they left off to look around.
There stood Sam behind them blinking in the sunlight, his face covered with worry. And there was Frodo, plodding along at the base of the cliff with his hood over his head and his arms folded, nearly invisible against the grey rock.
Aragorn came to his feet. “Where are you going, Frodo?” he asked gently.
Frodo did not answer. He took a few wandering steps, and then he staggered and fell painfully to his knees.
Sam gave a cry and ran toward him. Frodo was groping for something he had dropped on the ground. It was a small thing that glittered very brightly amongst the stones.
Frodo recovered the Ring and he held it in his palm.
He traced the smoothness of it with a delicate finger, crooning words they could not hear. As he petted it, the air grew heavy and a loathsome throb seemed to emanate from the Ring like a slow, lurching heartbeat. It swelled out until their own hearts matched its pervasive rhythm. Frodo gave up a strange laugh. He sat down on the ground and brushed his hood away, then held the Ring aloft and squinted through it at the sky. He sang lightly:
An eye in a blue face
Saw an eye in a green face,
‘That eye is like to this eye’
Said the first eye,
‘But in low place,
Not in high place.’
Frodo’s smile changed, became rueful, resigned. He lowered the Ring into his lap.
‘An eye of red fire
Was in a place that is higher.’
“No,” said Aragorn firmly. “Let it alone, Frodo.”
"I must leave,” whispered Frodo.
“Where would you go?”
“Away.” The hobbit’s eyes were vague, lost. “I cannot stay here.”
“Let it alone,” Aragorn said again. “Put it back on its chain.”
Frodo stared at the Ring. He touched it again, and his finger lingered at the hollow of its center. The throbbing in the air grew stronger. They watched him and were afraid. Aragorn and Gimli tensed. Sam took a step forward, preparing to leap for his master.
But Frodo obeyed Aragorn and brought out the fine silver chain from his pocket. With trembling hands, he slipped it through and fastened it about his neck, and he settled it carefully beneath his shirt.
The throbbing stopped. The air lifted and the brisk voice of the River climbed once more into their ears. Frodo gave a tired sigh and lifted his head. Sam was immediately beside him on the ground, clutching at his arm in relief.
“I’m sorry,” said Frodo. “I was bringing it to –“ He licked his lips and concentrated. “Isn’t that odd?” he murmured. “I… can’t seem to remember.”
“No harm done,” Sam assured him, “and naught to be sorry for.” He helped Frodo to get up and brushed him off. “You were overtired and your feet wandered off with you. A few more long nights and lembas dinners and we’ll all be sleepin’ awake like Elves.”
Frodo nodded dully. “I am tired, Sam,” he agreed. He winced and bent to rub his knee where he had fallen, aware now of the pain. But then a curious expression came over him. He straightened quickly and raised his face, squinting up into the sunlight as if he were searching for something.
“What is it?” asked Sam cautiously, following his gaze.
A violent shiver ran through Frodo’s body, and suddenly Sam was bracing himself to keep them both standing. Frodo’s eyes went as wide and blue as the sky above them. “Gandalf?” he whispered. Then he pushed away from Sam with a wild, breathless cry.
Such conviction was in the Ring-bearer’s voice that the others looked up as well. But the sky was empty, as they knew it had to be. There was naught to be seen. They bowed their heads, overcome by pity and sorrow. They grieved anew for Gandalf, and for the hobbit who missed the old wizard most.
Sam carefully took his master’s hand. “Mr Frodo, no,” he said softly. “Gandalf is not here. You were dreaming.”
“Take him back, Sam,” said Aragorn. “See that he gets some rest.”
Sam nodded sadly and then he looked up at the Ranger. “You won’t be far, Strider?”
Aragorn shook his head. “I will be here, Sam. Call me if there is need.”
Sam grasped Frodo’s arm and began to lead him away. Frodo held back, but subsided when Sam pleaded with him to come. He went, though he continued to gaze back over his shoulder at the sky.
Gimli came to stand beside Aragorn. He was quiet until the Halflings were gone, then he raged in a low voice, “This is not right! Why must he be the one to make such a sacrifice? Madness take us all! Though darkness came of it, I would fall to my knees before Sauron and offer him up the Ring if it meant Frodo could be returned to his Shire not knowing the anguish, the grief he carries with him in his eyes!”
“I would have chosen differently for him as well,” said Aragorn. “And yet he goes on, Gimli. He has made it so far against such odds. Strange circumstances have played to his advantage. There has always been a way for him, though not the way we would have chosen for him, or the easiest way. Our path has never been our own. We have come this far by fate -- or luck, as you would have it.”
Gimli shook his head. “If you think so, then you worry for naught,” he said. “Frodo has had a greater guide than you or Gandalf all along.”
Aragorn was thoughtful for a long moment, and then he nodded as if he had made a decision. “Stay with me awhile, Gimli,” he said. “Give me your company until Legolas leaves off wandering the cliff-tops, and then go and catch some sleep. Legolas shall not want any and I will find none myself. We will need your strength. We make for Amon Hen, as far as the Great River can take us. Though I cannot see through the darkness that fills my find, it seems right to me.”
“And to me,” agreed the Dwarf. “I do not fear what awaits us there!”
“I do fear it,” said Aragorn, “but I accept that what will be must be for Frodo to find his way.” He looked at the Dwarf. “Thank you.”
“For what little service I could offer, you are welcome.” Gimli bowed. He lifted his eyes to see Legolas standing at the top of the cliff. The Dwarf eased a little, his face became less dark. “The wanderer has returned,” he said. “We should consider leashing him.”
Aragorn beckoned and the Elf came down, climbing half the distance and dropping lightly to the ground.
Gimli retrieved his own neatly folded cloak and put it on, then scooped up the Elf’s from its heap in the sand. He shook it out ineffectually and met Legolas as he approached.
“The air is warm and so still,” reported Legolas. “I could have let a feather fall and watched it land at your feet. The Sun is glorious. Would you like me to carry you up, Gimli, so that you might see her?”
“Aye, and would she laugh to see me dangle you from the high edge by your heels?” retorted Gimli.
Legolas made a face at him. “Ascend at least as far as a smile, then, disagreeable Dwarf.”
Gimli complied. He smiled generously as he presented the Elf’s smirched cloak to him, and then he took his leave.
All day Aragorn and Legolas remained awake and let the others sleep through the hours. Few words passed between them, for they were watchful and listening. Legolas kept to the edge of the water, sometimes standing, mostly walking, never still. Aragorn sat in the cooler shadows, shifting as the Sun changed in the sky, striking a pipe when the mood took him. They were conscious of every wisp of cloud, every bird call, for Aragorn suspected that the tug upon Frodo’s mind had been the Ring’s response to something dark and interested. But morning passed them by, and the afternoon apace. The swallows sailed the air and sunlight glinted upon the water ; there was no trace of danger. The day was warm and peaceful.
Legolas paced capriciously along the shoreline, shifting his bow from hand to hand. His senses were cast out as far as they could reach and his face reflected the abstract serenity of their sheltered place. He swept past Aragorn -- too close-- and disrupted the smoke that had accumulated above the Ranger’s head. The Elf caught a taste of it and sneezed. He passed the back of his hand over his eyes. “Pfah! You are on fire,” he informed Aragorn, breaking their silence. “A good friend would throw you into the water to save you.”
“A good friend would have to be quicker than an Elf to succeed,” replied Aragorn, and he blew another stream into the air.
Legolas snorted and jumped up onto one of the boulders that jutted from the water, partly to escape the smoke and mostly to proclaim his superiority over the Man on the ground. The gesture was spoilt as one of the swallows took offense and swooped at the Elf’s head, forcing him to duck. Legolas gathered his dignity and drew himself up, daring another to be so bold.
Aragorn regarded the Elf as he stood there with his head cocked reprovingly at the birds. Legolas had washed and smoothed his grey cloak after Gimli’s misuse of it and it hung from his shoulders and down his slender back like long, folded wings. Aragorn’s eyes shifted thoughtfully beyond Legolas to the clusters of nests clinging to the cliff across the way. He smiled. “Aiya bar-in-tuilinn, e-mbar Tuilindo”*, he observed.
Legolas spun around and pounced upon the jest. “Ah!” He pointed an accusing finger at Aragorn. “You were encouraging the Dwarf! You could have given my lineage to him rightly instead of filling his head with whatever tall tales you did tell!”
Aragorn stretched and laughed from his place in the shade. “I told him nothing! Your kind and his have been inventing untruths about one another ere my race existed. Fault me not for Gimli’s imagination. I take it you set him aright?”
“Aye, I did that,” said Legolas. “We spoke long about many things during the night. It took some effort to convince him that I was not molded of clay and leaves upon conception. It took more effort still to make him believe that my sire does not heap his wine cellars with the bones of neglected Dwarven prisoners.” The Elf’s eyes shone with amusement. “But Gimli gave freely as much as he took. I will not tell you of my own woeful misbeliefs that were remedied.” He shook his head. “For all we have seen and done together, still he is strange to me,” confessed Legolas, “as are his ways. But then… strange also do you seem to me at times, and Boromir, and our young hobbits.” He hesitated. “I hold you all dear, nonetheless,” he added in a softer voice.
“And strange is the Elf to his companions, and as dear to them,” said Aragorn carefully, sensing a sobering of Legolas’s manner. “All of them, whether or not the Dwarf would admit to it.”
Legolas nodded. “Thank you. But his patience toward me is a matter of honour,” he said, “a fulfillment of an oath, nothing more. Necessity allies us.”
Aragorn frowned. “You would chide me for telling tales and then hand me such a lie? Or do you believe this?” With difficulty the Ranger again forced down the memory of his dream of Amon Hen. He denied Gimli’s failing shouts, Legolas’s last suffering cry. He concentrated upon the Elf who was very much alive there before him in the warm sunshine. “Come,” Aragorn bade him. “Sit for a moment and speak with me. If any enemy has a mind to disrupt our rest this day, he is in no hurry to do so.”
Legolas stepped down from the boulder and settled beside him, oblivious now of Aragorn’s clinging pipe smoke. “He is strange,” he said again. “The beauty of a remote mountain wreathed in mist and light dispels into a reality of harsh peaks and plain stone as one draws near it. It is not so with him. I once thought him rough hewn, but as the distance closes between us, my admiration increases for his bravery, for the capacity of his soul. Rich veins run through him, sprung from a bright source: his fiery heart and a deeper mystery. I am fascinated by that,” he admitted, “and I am humbled by him.” Legolas swallowed a little and fell quiet. He looked at Aragorn and flushed as he realized how far his words had gone.
“My good Legolas,” said Aragorn gently, “you see much with those eyes of yours. Too much to accept certain narrow beliefs which are the consequences of your upbringing. I would beg you not to feel shame for it.”
“I am not ashamed to call him friend,” answered Legolas. “But I will not press upon him the companionship of a… maudlin Elf beyond what is necessary for us to survive this struggle.” He smiled sadly.
“It is not so much a sacrifice upon his part as you deem it,” said Aragorn. “Gimli’s regard for you is not self-serving.”
“Friendship is a bond,” said Legolas, “and ours is more unyielding than most. Dwarves do not like chains. He resigns himself to my close company with good grace, but if such familiarity is kind to him, I must lose by it.”
“You do yourself a discourtesy,” said Aragorn. “I know you well, son of Thranduil. You have a rare heart and a noble spirit. I would swear by your worth, if there were any to doubt it. Gimli will think no less of you for knowing you better.”
“I am less than what he knows,” replied Legolas. “He was predisposed to scorn my people in Imladris and I returned his disdain. In Lothlorien he was enchanted by the Galadhrim and I accepted his admiration.” He lowered his eyes. “Reviled or revered, I was proud before him always, Aragorn. Now I fear to disappoint him.”
Aragorn nodded with understanding. “You are no longer ‘the Elf’ to him. You are Legolas.”
Legolas drew a small breath and then he laughed. “Nay, I am fodder for a Dwarf’s axe if he learns we were discussing him so. He would have my head and yours. You will not tell him what I have said?”
Aragorn shook his head. “I will not encourage him.”
Legolas flushed deeper. Aragorn chuckled even as he took the opportunity to search his companion’s face for traces of the damage done mere days ago. The cut was healed upon his cheek and the bruising had all but faded, though perhaps the memory of it had not. Aragorn held out his pipe and offering it to the Elf by way of amends. Legolas sputtered and choked as the smoke climbed up his nose. He waved it away and gave the Ranger a look of profound disgust.
The harsh sound of rushing wings brought them both sharply to their feet.
The swallows surged from their nests. A seeming impossible number of them poured from the cliff-face, a dizzying gale of rustling feathers and bird noises. They filled the air over the water, turning it black, though what had caused their distress the Elf and Ranger could not tell.
Aragorn watched their flight with unease. And then his eyes were drawn up beyond the mass of smaller birds and he descried a dark spot against the fading light: a great bird high and far off, now wheeling, now flying on slowly southwards.
“What is that, Legolas?” he asked, pointing.
The Elf looked and said, “It is an eagle. A hunting eagle. I wonder what that forebodes. It is far from the mountains.” They watched the bird carefully until it vanished from their sight. Aragorn cast his hood over his head and Legolas did the same; the Elf gripped his bow tightly in his hands.
“We will not start until it is fully dark,” said Aragorn.
Aiya bar-in-tuilinn, e-mbar Tuilindo. Look there, swallows’ homes, and the House of the Swallow. (See author’s note below.)
(Me: Oh my! I wasn’t going to get into any of this, but it went with the story. Here’s a bit of speculation as to Legolas’s maternal line, since Legolas’s mother seems such a topic of interest.
As you all know, there is an Elf named Legolas in the tale of the Fall of Gondolin, accounted in The Book of Lost Tales II. This Legolas was a particularly keen-sighted individual of the House of the Tree who helped Gondolin’s refugees flee the ruined city. This Elf was our Legolas’s namesake, given to Mirkwood’s prince by his Noldor mother. I suggest that our Legolas’s mother was one of the few survivors of the sack of Gondolin, the daughter of Duilin, lord of the House of the Swallow, who was reputed for his skill as an archer, swift and sure, who was brought down by a Balrog during the last battle. Duilin’s daughter was among the children who fled over the Mountains and witnessed the valiant efforts of Elves like Glorfindel, Galdor, and Legolas of the Tree to save them.
Duilin’s daughter wandered with the exiles and came eventually down the Sirion. When the Beleriand was destroyed, she was one of the few Noldor left who chose not to sail across the sea. Duilin’s daughter came east instead and met Thranduil, Sindarin Elf of Thingol’s kindred, who had dwelt in Lindon since the fall of Doriath. They married and relocated to Greenwood. When their child was born, she remembered the flight of her people from Gondolin and named her bright-eyed son after the Elf of the Tree who had been their guide.
Legolas gets his dark hair and his particular skill with a bow from his mother’s side of the family. He gets his love of the forests, his fair voice, his temperament, and that pesky sea-longing from his father’s side. The child of a Deep-elf and a Grey-elf, raised as a Wood-elf, Legolas truly does represent his people on Middle-earth as a whole and that is why Elrond chose him.
Like it or leave it, that is the background I’ve created for myself for Legolas. Tolkien probably invented the name for The Silmarillion and just decided he liked it well enough to use it again in The Lord of the Rings, but that explanation isn’t half as much fun!)
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.