Beside him, Gimli grunted as he raised his axe to sever the head of a half-dead orc. Gimli's axe fell swiftly. Legolas doubted that the orc ever saw the swing.
"Do your elf eyes spot him anywhere?" Gimli asked as he moved closer. Even though Gimli was covered in blood, the dwarf did not reek of it. Gimli smelled of wet earth, and the coming storm. Of its own accord, Legolas's body leaned toward the dwarf, trying to let the scent of the dwarf drown out the blood. Jerking himself back, Legolas turned away from his friend's gaze, and let his eyes swept across the carnage once more.
"I do not see Pippin yet," Legolas said.
"I don't suppose I should hold out much hope. But we have suffered so for this hobbit, and I find myself hoping against hope that he is still alive and waiting for us to rescue him." Even while he talked, Gimli's axe poked and prodded the bodies at his feet.
One of the orcs moaned at the touch of the blade of Gimli's axe, and an immediate stroke fell on its head. Despite the swiftness of Gimli's axe, Legolas could see Gimli's strength starting to falter. The dwarf shoulders slumped, and despite the layers of armor, Legolas could see the tenseness in the muscles underneath.
"Why waste your strength on dying orcs?" Legolas asked.
Gimli did not answer and Legolas tried to remember if Gimli had left any dying orc alive during all their battles. He could not remember one. No matter where Gimli had struck first, he always killed the orc before moving on, never leaving one dying at his feet.
"You are more merciful than I, my friend," Legolas said but he did not look toward the dwarf. In the distance, he saw a movement, and he raced towards it. Gimli's heavy footsteps fell behind him.
"Do you see him?" the dwarf's voice was so full of naked hope that Legolas's felt a sharp ache in his chest when he saw that it was a man and not a hobbit that was struggling out from a pile of bodies.
By the time Legolas reached him, the man had already managed to wrestle both of his arms free. The man, barely full grown, was marked by a deep gash across his chest.
"Do not move," Gimli said, placing a hand over the man's shoulder to steady him as Legolas lifted the weight of the other bodies away from him.
The man slumped against Gimli, his dark eyes falling on Legolas.
"An elf?" the man's eyes slowly focused on Legolas. Legolas nodded whilst he tore his cloth to bandage the wound.
"Don't," the man placed his hand over Legolas's hand. "Let it be. It is too late." Then, as if he had used the last of his strength, the man's hand slid slowly from the elf, trailing blood as it fell.
"You have fought bravely," Gimli caught the hand. "The world of men is strong. Your people will not fall."
The man smiled at Gimli's words, and Legolas could see him return the pressure on Gimli's hand.
"Will you laugh at me, Master dwarf," the man asked, "if I told you that I had never feared death until now?"
"Cruel are the times, when we are traitors and do not know ourselves; when we do not know what we fear until it comes before us," Gimli said.
"I do not know… I do not know if I can bear the darkness that will come before me," the man whispered.
"You will not be alone, friend. You will walk among many of your kin, and you will walk knowing what you have given today for all of Middle Earth."
The man smiled again, closed his eyes, and his breathing slowed until there was none at all.
After a moment, Gimli released his hand, and laid the body gently on the ground.
"When we find the hobbit, we will come back to bury him," Gimli said as he moved on from the body.
The wind howled around them, carrying with it the stench of the carcasses, and Legolas trembled in its wake.
Legolas did not move away from the body. His eyes fell on his hand. He could still feel the faint warmth of the man's hand, but as always the blood was already slipping away. Soon, it would be as if he never touched him at all. And perhaps he hadn’t.
"I had no words for him," Legolas said, "I could not give him hope."
Gimli came back to his side, and reached out to clasp the elf's unsteady hand. "You offer hope to the living," Gimli said. "And I will give whatever comfort I can to the dying."
Legolas stared at Gimli's hand, still stained red from the man's touch like a strange marking. Slowly, he bent over and his fingers traced the edges of the marking.
Gimli caught his hand, and clasped it firmly.
A still moment passed soundlessly around them.
Taking a deep breath, Legolas opened his mouth to speak, but he swallowed his words when he saw Gimli's eyes focusing on something in a distance as the sound of the wailing wind returned.
"I see a hobbit's foot!" Gimli exclaimed, and ran towards another mount of bodies. But he did not release Legolas' hand, compelling the elf to walk down the path with the dwarf.
As Legolas returned the pressure of the dwarf's hand, he hoped it would be his skills and not Gimli's that Pippin would need.
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.