16. Battle Lines
This chapter is rated PG-13 due to violent content.
“Cruel are the tongues of Dwarves, and bitter are the wounds they reopen!” The three Dwarves turned to meet the stormy faces of Fanlin, Rithol and Orimhedil.
“What mean you by this?” demanded Glóin, his deep voice reverberating among the trees. Gimli’s tirade had been uncalled for, but what was this Fanlin spoke of “wounds reopened?”
Rithol balled her fists and glared at him. “It is known to all that the Queen of Taur e-Ndaedelos* met a most tragic death, yet your wicked son insulted her nonetheless.” Her steely gaze rested upon Gimli. “Have you no grace? Have you no pity?”
Gimli’s mouth went dry and he felt physically ill. He had no idea the Elf’s mother was dead, nor the circumstances surrounding the incident. To say he felt terrible was an understatement.
“We didn’t know. Gimli didn’t know,” Barin protested weakly, lowering his eyes and shuffling his feet in embarrassment.
“Vile, vile monsters,” snapped Fanlin. “It is said the Dwarves are greedy and selfish, but I add ‘heartless’ to your numerous faults as well.”
Glóin felt his hackles rising. “Now look here,” he grunted, “had Gimli known of Legolas’ mother, he would not have spoken such!” He would not support the actions of his son, but neither would he allow the Elves to call his kin ‘wicked’ and ‘heartless.’ “He will apologize for his mistake immediately.”
Gimli nodded dumbly and stared in disbelief at the tip of his berry-stained beard. He had sought only to infuriate the Elf, but ended up doing so much worse. He could not be blamed for his ignorance regarding the departed Queen, but his show of disrespect towards the dead repulsed and shamed him nonetheless. ‘It is small wonder he reacted in such a manner,’ the Dwarf berated himself. ‘I would have done nothing less were I in his place.’
“A most monstrous folk I name you. You and your bladed tongues are not welcome among the likes of the fair folk!” Gimli blinked as he realized the Elves were still throwing unkind words at the Dwarves.
“I said I will apologize!” he proclaimed gruffly. “I am truly sorry.”
If Gimli thought his admission of guilt would smooth things over, he was greatly mistaken. The three Elves glowered at him in rage. “Apologize?” spat Fanlin. “Were I Legolas I would fain accept an apology from the likes of you!”
“Yes,” cried Orimhedil. “Your words cannot be forgiven or undone, most uncouth son of Glóin.”
Rithol’s eyes flashed menacingly. “Return to your dark earthen holes and burrow with the rest of your beastly kin!”
“Gimli didn’t know!” roared Barin. “And if any here have bladed tongues, it is the Elves and not the Dwarves! You are the heartless and unforgiving ones as I see it. Gimli—didn’t—know.” He stomped his foot at each word for emphasis.
The situation had become more delicate than the frost-coated edges of the autumn leaves. The battle lines were firmly drawn, and a standoff ensued. Barin, Gimli and Glóin stood with feet planted firmly upon the ground and arms crossed over chest. Orimhedil, Rithol and Fanlin stood opposite the Dwarves in the same fashion. Where Glorfindel had managed to drag the raging Legolas off to was anyone’s guess, but it was safe to assume the eastern scouting party was no more.
* * *
Glorfindel could not keep Legolas separated from the rest of the company indefinitely, and their mission called that they resume their journey. It was with great trepidation that the Elf lord allowed the young prince to return to camp. The sight that greeted them upon their arrival did not help matters.
The camp was clearly divided: Dwarves on one side and Elves on the other. Even the horses appeared offended. Glorfindel muttered under his breath in exasperation. He had hoped the feud would go no further than Legolas and Gimli. Obviously, he was mistaken.
The Elf lord’s concern grew as Gimli slowly turned and approached them. He sensed Legolas stiffen at his side, and wondered if he should restrain the Elf again, for Gimli’s sake. Gimli set his jaw firmly and took a deep breath. “Elf—Legolas,” he boomed, “I believe it is now I who owe the apology. I was not aware of the circumstances surrounding your mother.”
Legolas flinched and Glorfindel found himself wishing Gimli had not brought the matter to light yet again. A heavy silence fell over the forest. Gimli continued when he realized Legolas had no intention of answering him. “Will you accept my apology?”
Legolas narrowed his eyes and sent the Dwarf the sharpest gaze he could muster. “No,” he hissed, and mounted his steed without giving the Dwarf a second glance.
Gimli’s jaw grew tight and his nostrils flared as he watched the Elf ride off. What an ungrateful, despicable, childish— “I think perhaps you should have waited until his anger had sufficiently cooled, son of Glóin.” The softly spoken words of Glorfindel interrupted his mental tirade.
“Hmph,” Gimli grunted, and went to retrieve his axe. The Elf would get no more apologies from him.
* * *
The company had reached the foothills of the Misty Mountains, and the land grew steeper as they pressed onward. Legolas seethed as he rode up the rocky mountain path. He knew, as did Rithol, Fanlin and Orimhedil, that the shortened strides of the Dwarves were incapable of keeping up with those of Elvish mounts. The four Elves could have cared less. Legolas pushed his steed to a faster clip and willed the distance between himself and the loathsome Dwarves even greater.
‘To think,’ he thought furiously, ‘the Dwarf had the audacity to attempt an apology. As though I would merely forget his words without a second thought.’ Focusing his anger on Gimli gave temporary relief from the gut-wrenching memories of his mother’s passing. The pain lingered, though Time had rendered it somewhat dulled around the edges. He gritted his teeth and began to plot the ways he would go about destroying the Dwarf.
‘First I shall tie him to a tree, riddle him with arrows, then drag him behind Mithlaf.* Nay—I shall trample over him several times and then drag him behind Mithlaf. At a pace no less than a gallop. Following that, he will be placed under a loose boulder. . .’
Orimhedil paused to glance over his shoulder. Glorfindel, who had been conversing with Glóin, and the three Dwarves were so far behind that they could no longer be seen. The group rode around a bend in the path, and was sundered completely from the lagging members of their party.
* * *
Glorfindel pursed his lips as the Elven members of the group drew further and further away. He had begun to think the mission a most terrible idea. Perhaps the Dwarves should have traveled separately. ‘And then,’ he thought with a sigh, ‘there is the matter of the return trip. Gimli shall be the only Dwarf among the company. I fear I shall be forced to carry him in my saddle bag for his own safety.’
There was also the issue of informing Thranduil what had occurred during their journey. The Elf lord was beginning to sorely regret his ordering of Legolas to speak with his father about the matter. He had no doubt Legolas would repeat Gimli’s words to Thranduil, and he did not think he would be able to restrain an enraged King of Mirkwood as he had done Legolas. The golden-haired Elf washed a hand over his face in pure frustration. ‘Why is it, when I believe things cannot possibly become any worse, they do?’
* * *
The low, guttural snarl of an Orkish command cracked through the chilly air like a whip. The four Elves immediately snapped to attention and drew their weapons. Their mounts pawed at the earth in unease and the land became deathly still and silent. Then the storm broke.
Dark figures poured down from behind every tree and rock faster than a driving rain. In reality, their foes numbered perhaps twenty or thirty, but to the Elves they seemed as hundreds. Legolas nocked four arrows in succession, his bowstring singing, yet still the fell beasts came at him. To him they were more numerous than the leaves of the forest, and when one was slain there seemed to be twenty in his place. He reached for the knife at his waist and sprang from the back of his steed. Since when had orcs crossed the High Pass to the Imladris side of the Hithaeglir*?
‘Now is no time to ponder such questions,’ he thought grimly. The Elf neatly dispatched the screaming foe to his left with a swift jab followed by an upward thrust. He dislodged the blade as another came at him and managed to catch the creature by the wrist as it brought down its rapier. The orc yowled in pain and fury when Legolas gave the wrist a sharp twist and spun outward, throwing the orc off-balance. The dark beast met the earth with an ungraceful thud, and rolled over just in time to see the sharp glint of an Elvish blade swipe across his throat.
“Legolas!” The Elf whirled at the sound of his name, barely ducking the blow of an Orkish sword. His eyes sought out and found those of Orimhedil. The Imladris Elf frantically gestured down the rocky trail amidst parrying an Orkish blade. Legolas felt his stomach sink. ‘They attack from the middle,’ he realized. ‘And we are driven further from Glorfindel and the rest of our party!’
“Do not let them divide us,” he cried. “We must not be pushed back!” The four Elves began attacking their foes with greater fury, and the orcs responded in similar fashion—sensing they had their prey in a potentially vulnerable position.
Legolas gritted his teeth as an errant blade nicked his forearm. He gripped the haft of his silver knife even tighter and plunged the weapon into the nearest orc. They may be outnumbered, but they were by no means finished. He winced when he saw an Orkish sword score the back of Fanlin, and then again when his own shoulder received a blow.
“Elbereth Gilthoniel!” No, they were not finished yet.
* * *
Glorfindel immediately bolted upright when the sound of battle reached his ears. The unmistakable snarl of orcs coupled with the metallic shiver of blades was a song he knew all too well. And to make matters worse, the din originated directly in front of them.
“Elbereth Gilthoniel!” The Elven battle cry rang out clear and proud.
‘O Valar,’ the Elf lord thought in alarm. ‘What have we thrown ourselves into now?’ He had not long to await an answer, for soon the path was overrun with charging, snarling orcs.
The eastern scouting party’s previous differences and insults were immediately forgotten. The three Dwarves reached for their axes, and Glorfindel drew forth his sword with a metallic ring. They met the orcs head-on, weapons clashing in deadly fervor.
“Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd aimênu!*” Glóin swung his blade in a wide arc and roared as one of the foul creatures fell before him. Gimli and Barin were just as proficient, skillfully hacking an orc as it tried to flatten Glorfindel with its shield. The Elf lord, being the most skilled and seasoned of all the eastern scouting party, was a force in his own right. He thrust, parried and feinted with the grace of a dancer and the deadly accuracy of an archer. The orcs, who had foolishly concentrated themselves in the space between the divided company, soon found they were caught between the hammer of four Elves and the anvil of three Dwarves and Glorfindel.
Gimli felt the rocky stone trail beneath him and dug his feet into the earth for better grip. He brought his axe down upon the shield of an orc and cried out in triumph as the shield splintered. The Dwarf swiftly rolled his shoulders and swung his blade in the opposite direction. The orc beneath him caught its blow under the chin and moved no more. “Khazâd aimênu!”
“Glorfindel!” The Dwarf glanced towards the sound of the voice, and caught sight of the tall figure of Legolas. The Mirkwood Elf paused to help Rithol dispatch of a particularly troublesome orc before calling out again. Gimli could not help but feel slightly impressed as he noted the agility and speed at which the Elf did so. ‘He is an Elf,’ he told himself, ‘they all fight the same.’
“Glorfindel!” Glorfindel heard his name called a second time before finally locating its owner.
“Legolas!” he called over the fray, “How fare you and the others?” He snapped out his arms and sent an orc reeling backwards. The dark beasts’ numbers were severely depleted, and they now held no advantage over their foes.
“Fanlin has taken hurt to the back,” Legolas shouted in reply after a few moments, taking time to dodge the swipe of a heavy metal shield, “but I do not think the wound grievous. Aside from minor scrapes and bruises, we are as well as is to be expected.”
Glorfindel gave the orc a solid kick as the beast attempted to pick itself up. “Let us end this before one of us does come to serious harm,” he called, bringing his bright sword down in a resolute stroke.
* * *
Within a matter of minutes, the final minion of Sauron had been slain, and the eastern scouting party found themselves standing amidst a blackened sea of twenty-odd orc bodies. Glorfindel wiped his sword blade on an untarnished spot of grass and grimly shook his head. “They lack any sort of provisions on their bodies. I suspect we rode too close to their camp and shall find its remains nearby.”
Glóin wiped the sweat from his brow and leaned against the hilt of his axe handle. “What was their business here, I wonder?” The old Dwarf panted in exertion. “I knew orcs inhabited the wilds of Mirkwood, but I did not know they had pushed so far west—and so close to Rivendell at that.”
Legolas tore an arrow from the body of a fallen beast, baring his teeth in disgust when he discovered the shaft ruined. He discarded the arrow by lightly tossing it over his shoulder. “When we journeyed from my father’s realm, there were signs of the Enemy along the eastern side of the Hithaeglir. We found the High Pass to be the most perilous stage of our trek, but even then it was only Wargs we faced.” He delicately prodded an orc with the toe of his boot to make certain the thing was slain.
“Wargs are a common spy of Sauron,” said Glorfindel, his face clouding over. “Orcs are not. And they are too many to suggest a scouting party.” He glanced over to see how Fanlin, who was being attended to by Rithol, fared. “They are far too close to Imladris for my liking.”
“I am more concerned about the safety of the High Pass,” said Gimli. He spat indignantly at the body lying near his feet when he noticed his axe blade had been notched. “How are we to cross the mountains if we are waylaid by Orkish armies? For all we know they have seized the Pass by now.”
“Perhaps we ought to turn back,” suggested Orimhedil. “We were to only scout the Enemy, not engage him in battle. We have not the numbers to do so.” He gestured towards Fanlin. “Already we have taken hurt, and Imladris must be informed of the growing presence of fell beasts.”
“But how are we to return home?” argued Barin. He missed the Lonely Mountain and had no desire to backtrack to Rivendell.
Orimhedil shrugged somewhat apologetically at the Dwarf’s inquiry. “Perhaps you do not.”
“Mirkwood shall not be sundered from Imladris!” cried Legolas in alarm. “We must continue onward, and when we reach the forest perhaps my father’s forces will help to drive back the Enemy.” Elbereth, he had just agreed with a Dwarf. It was a most unnatural sensation. Apparently Orimhedil found the situation as odd as he did: the Imladris Elf started and shook his head.
“Those of us still able shall not turn back to Imladris,” Glorfindel stated firmly. “Fanlin and Rithol may depart.” He turned to the injured Elven warrior. “I am sorry my friend, but you would only serve to jeopardize our mission in your present condition. I send Rithol as your escort—it would be unwise for you to travel alone.”
The warrior heaved a sigh of resignation. “Were it that I had not been injured,” the crestfallen Elf replied. “Alas, my heart wishes to continue onward.” He stood and straightened his tunic. “But that cannot be helped. We shall warn Lord Elrond of all we have seen.” He bowed stiffly, taking care not to upset the wound’s dressing. “Come, Rithol.” He gave Legolas an amiable pat on the shoulder as he walked to his horse. “Keep your weapons close, young prince,” he whispered in Legolas’ ear as he passed by. “For I fear you shall need them.”
The two Elves gracefully mounted their steeds and turned to wish the remaining company a safe journey. “Farewell!” they called, their clear voices ringing pleasantly in the crisp air. Then, in a whirlwind of flying pebbles and dust, they turned their steeds and flew back down the rocky trail. Soon all that could be heard was the softly fading cadence of flinty hooves and the wary chirrups of battle-frightened birds.
* * *
“We too must go forth,” said Glorfindel after a time. He eyes swept over the slain orc bodies littering the mountain path. Orimhedil was right—they had not the numbers to constantly battle their foe. “Let us try to call as little attention to ourselves as possible.” His eyes slid to the face of Legolas. ‘That means no more foolhardy stunts, young prince.’ Though he did not voice the words, he was certain the Mirkwood Elf understood his message.
He was about to turn and grasp the mane of his stallion when a slight movement behind Legolas caught his eye. The Elf lord’s eyes widened in horror as he realized not all of the orcs had been slain. The dying beast was reaching for the dagger at its side, intending to send at least one Elf to the Halls of Mandos while it still had the chance. “Legolas!” he cried out in warning and leapt forward, knowing that even as he did it was too late.
Legolas spun around in time to see a crude dagger speeding straight at him. His body only had time to tense before…
CHINK! The most peculiar clash of metal upon metal sang in the air, and the dagger fell harmlessly to the ground. Legolas stood motionless, mouth agape, as Glóin stumped over to retrieve his helm.
“Hahah!” cried the Dwarf as he examined the metal working of the helm. “Not a scratch or dent upon it.” He chuckled and gave the very pale Elf a hearty thump upon the back. “Now here is a good and proper piece of Dwarvish metal, Master Elf!” He winked at Legolas and trundled back to his comrades, still chuckling.
Legolas swallowed wanly and marveled that his knees had not yet given away.
Gimli hoisted his thick axe upon his shoulder and began to tread around the various orc bodies. He looked at the Elf, who still appeared rather stunned, and grinned to himself. He couldn’t stand the haughty prince any more than he had before, but at least the Elf would now think twice when it came to Dwarves.
Thunder rumbled overhead as the reunited company slowly picked its way over the mountainous terrain. Soon a cold rain would fall, washing away any trace of battle and cleansing the tainted land. Necessity called that an uneasy truce be reached, but how long would it last?
*Hithaeglir- The Misty Mountains
*Taur e-Ndaedelos: ‘the forest of the great fear.’ Translated into Westron as ‘Mirkwood.’ --The Return of the King; Appendix F, II On Translation.
* “Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd aimênu!” --“Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!”
* Mithlaf—Legolas’ steed
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.