1. The Day After
Time is a strange thing.
Also strange is the fact that I am even thinking of time. I never did before; I never had cause to. Time was just something that happened, no more and no less. The days passed, the months went by, and the years dragged on. None of that could be changed, so as a dwarf, I saw little need to think about it. There were things far more deserving of consideration than whimsical musings on the nature of time.
And perhaps even stranger than my current thoughts is the place I choose to have them. I stand on the steppes of Rhûn and look eastward past a field of corpses, watching the horizon for the first sight of dawn. Behind me in the west sit the armed camps of Gondor, Rohan, Ithilien, and Aglarond. All is now silent and still, but not long ago, this was the site of a terrible battle, the likes of which I have not seen since Dunland invaded Westfold. The conflict lasted several days, a fact I realized only late last night at its conclusion. I now find myself tired and worn, and I should probably be resting as I took a hard blow to the head. But I am not. Against my better judgement, I am instead standing here in the cold darkness of early morning, and I am thinking about time.
This is, of course, Legolas’s fault.
Befriending an elf comes with a price, a lesson I learned many years ago. I do not begrudge that price, but neither do I ignore it. For better or worse, Legolas has changed me. There are times when my mind becomes a forge for thoughts and feelings that have no place in a dwarf, yet somehow they have crafted a home within me. To my kinsmen, I am now aloof and distant; a puzzle that is better left alone. Part of me grieves this loss of self and kin, but another part—a part that seems to grow daily—no longer cares.
Yet these changes are not the only reason I stand in the darkness and think of time, and once again, the fault rests with my elven friend. It was on Legolas’s behalf that I came here, you see. Concern for him has driven me to this point, and no matter what our friendship costs either of us, it has given far more than it has ever demanded. So for the sake of that friendship, I wait here in the cold, I watch for the dawn, and I think about what time might mean to Legolas.
It is no easy task. Elves do not perceive time the way mortals do. If forced to endure the endless life of an elf, a mortal mind would shatter beneath the weight of ages. But an elven mind is different. Or rather, it is supposed to be. Yet for Legolas, that may no longer be true, and here lies the basis for my fears: I believe that Legolas’s perception of time has changed to the point where almost it resembles that of a man’s or a dwarf’s. I wish to scoff at this idea. To laugh at the absurd notion that an elf’s thoughts might in any way resemble my own. But I cannot. I have seen too many things that prove otherwise.
It began years ago when Legolas only rarely visited Aglarond. When he arrived, I would usually greet him with the comment that it had been a long time since our last meeting, and a confused look would flash across his eyes because the time had not been long for him. Nor had it occurred to him that it might be long for me. Why should it? Legolas once said that the leaves in Mirkwood had fallen five hundred times since the building of Meduseld and that this seemed but a little while to the elves. If five hundred years did not qualify as a long time, twelve months between visits would feel as nothing.
But then things began to change. After a while, Legolas ceased to be surprised when I said that a long time had passed. A few years later, he voiced agreement with me and began to increase the frequency of his visits. Eventually, Legolas himself made the first remark about the length of time between meetings. When I first noticed what was happening, I wondered if it was done for my benefit. I will give up a mithril mine ere I admit this to Legolas, but he has made many concessions to the mortal world and I suspected this to be another one. But then I joined him in Minas Tirith one summer where a number of ambassadors and ministers from across Middle-earth had come to discuss trade. He greeted me warmly and observed that a long time had passed since our last parting. Then he turned to his brother Narsigil, whose party had arrived shortly after my own, and made the same comment.
It had been less than a year since his last meeting with Narsigil.
That was when I first became concerned. Since then, I have seen other signs. Mahal, even my own changes are proof of my fears, for if Legolas can affect my thoughts, cannot I similarly affect his? The evidence is clear: Legolas’s perception of time has been altered. I do not know how much it has been altered, and I doubt that he will ever experience each passing minute and second as a mortal might. Nevertheless it cannot be denied that he does have a heightened awareness of time. And for an elf, such awareness can be dangerous.
Shaking my head, I turn toward the horizon and look for the sun, but she is still hidden. I wish she would rise, for my heart is heavy and things tend to look brighter in the clear light of morning. It seems as though days have passed since I came to stand here, yet I know that only a few hours have gone by. And as I think on this, it occurs to me that perhaps this is similar to what Legolas experiences.
My father once told me that battles last only moments, and he was right. In battle, there is no past and there is no future. Not for dwarves, at any rate. There is only the present. Only the moment. And this moment continues enemy after enemy, blow after blow, until it is one continuous moment without beginning and without end. A dwarf faces an opponent and either kills him or is killed by him. If the dwarf is fortunate, he moves on to his next opponent, and this continues for as long as the dwarf is able. Hours and even days may pass, but the dwarf will not be aware of them. His only focus is his enemies, his allies, and his immediate surroundings. His only objective is to survive until the next moment. Nothing else matters.
Actually, I should not say that. There are times in which it is possible to become aware of other things. At one point during the battle we just fought—I do not know when, for it has all run together—I tripped over the corpse of a man who had been guarding my back earlier. After recovering from my stumble and dispatching my enemy, I paused and realized that I had felt no grief for this man’s death. I had noted his passing and taken steps to ensure that others protected my back but nothing more. The man had ceased to be a part of my moment, and as there were no ties of friendship to weld us together, his death held no meaning for me.
Mayhap this is what time is like for elves, particularly those who live among mortals. Locked within their own moments, they do not truly experience the changes around them, nor do they feel the passage of time. But once in a while, something happens to draw their attention outward. Something like a mortal friendship. The moments in which they live become disjointed, and before they realize their own danger, the moments are over and they arrive at the part of battle I dread most: The day after.
To the dwarves, a battle may last only a moment, but the day after that battle is another matter entirely. Even men will agree with us on this subject. The minutes of the following day tick away so slowly as to be all but eternal. There are no moments when time ceases to matter. No endless cycle of enemies to occupy the mind. There is simply the past and the future. The past is a grim story of who has fallen and who yet clings to life. The future is a dark, uncertain passage that some will reach and some will not. And in between lies the present, where long hours creep painfully by and those of us still hale wait for tidings of our friends and companions, helpless to do anything more.
Perhaps this is what Legolas now experiences. In terms of time and his understanding of it, perhaps he has reached the day after the battle. He no longer lives in moments but has instead become aware of the changing mortal world. He marks time and feels its passage. He thinks of the future and what it will bring. He watches those around him age and weaken, helpless to prevent it. And equally helpless, I watch him in return, knowing that he has millennia left to live and that if he does not change his perception, his mind will not survive. He cannot count the passing days if he wishes to continue, and he certainly cannot think of the years as long. Grief and madness will destroy him!
I squeeze my eyes shut—noting that the sun has still not risen—and I curse both the elf and myself. I would like to say that this, too is Legolas’s fault, but I cannot. He did not choose this alone. I made a choice as well, and together beneath Lothlórien's leaves, we forged our friendship. I have since been greatly rewarded by this choice, and I would not trade it back for all the lost treasures of Khazad-dûm. But as I said before, it comes with a price, and at the moment, that price is sorrow and fear. And beyond that, there is rage. Rage at what has happened to Legolas. Rage at what he will face in the end. Rage that I can do nothing to prevent it!
My anger is hot and deep, and I let it fill me for it shields my heart against pain. But even as I am taken by my fury, something in the back of my mind chimes a warning, and I pause, pulling away from the rage.
It seems I have a visitor.
I cannot say how I know someone is behind me. I cannot say how I know it is Legolas. He certainly does not give away his position through sound. Unless he is underground or in halls of stone, he is absolutely silent. But somehow I have learned to…sense him. If that sounds strange to you, then rest assured that it sounds equally strange to me. Nevertheless, I know he is here, and I also know that he is injured and should not be.
I turn my head and give him my fiercest glare. Not that it does any good. Legolas was born into a family that could crumble Erebor with a dark look. But I must make my disapproval known, so I continue to glare as I run my eyes over him, putting behind my gaze all the anger that still simmers in my mind.
He looks better than when I saw him last. In the healers’ tent, he was white and shaking, his teeth grinding together as the healers worked on his arm. It had been broken and bent in places where arms are not supposed to bend, and it pained me to even look at it. The dregs they gave him were slow to work, but the healers could not delay his treatment for they had many other patients to tend. So I stayed at his side, holding him still while his arm was set, and after the healers left, I tarried until the medicines sent him to sleep. Then I took my own leave, knowing that he was safe, that I needed to escape from chaos of the camps, and that he would follow me as soon as he woke.
Sometimes it worries me that I can predict him so easily.
"It has been barely three hours since you fell asleep," I say, and into my voice, I inject a stern note of warning. "You need to be resting."
Legolas arches his brow at my words, and piercing gray eyes travel the length of my body, lingering over the bloody bandage tied about my head. "I am not alone in that need."
His response says many things, and I have learned to hear them all. He concedes that he should rest, he argues that I should also rest, and he informs me that if I press the matter, he is more than prepared to return the favor. In light of this, I decide to overlook the fact that we are both better off in bed, but I cannot completely forego concern for his injuries. There is a steady flicker of pain in his eyes that has nothing to do with his endless longing for the sea. "How fares your arm?"
Legolas glances down at the sling that supports the injured limb, gingerly running his left hand over the tight wrappings. "It will mend in time. What of your head?"
"Head wounds bleed more than they ought. It will be well."
His expression is skeptical, but he nods and says no more. As if by agreement, we turn together to watch the horizon, and I see that the sun is finally beginning to rise. But it is slow this day, or so it seems to me, and again I am reminded of what Legolas must endure because of his friendship with mortals. Because of his friendship with me. Legolas will survive the march of time, but those around him will not. And if the endless years of Arda continue to seem long to him once his friends are gone… I shiver at the thought. Perhaps after our deaths, Legolas will finally heed his heart and cross the sea, and perhaps then he will return to that endless elven moment. The moment in which change is noticed but never truly felt. I hope very much that this will be the case, but a part of me—the part that can predict his actions—fears that Legolas will cling to his new perception of time, refusing to let go of the past. And if he does this… I shiver again. Eternal madness is a fate I would not wish upon my foulest enemies, much less my dearest friend.
Did he know, I wonder, that this would be part of the price for our friendship? Did he fully understand what his choices would cost him? Did he realize what it meant to be sundered from the moment and trapped in the day after? My throat tightens and my hands grow cold as I imagine the wearying toil of ceaseless years in which even the days are considered long, and in desperation I turn to look at Legolas, hoping to find some elven reassurance that will set my heart at ease.
Sensing my gaze, he turns to me, and the first rays of the sun reflect upon immortal eyes that are weary and pained. "It will be a trying day, my friend," he murmurs. "Already the very minutes seem long."
And I turn my head away so that he will not see my tears.
Author’s Notes: First of all, many thanks to the encouraging words of Raven, Hobbes, and Silvren Ithilden, and HUGE thanks go out to Fliewatuet, who not only figured out the source of a major problem with this fic but also told me how to fix it. Thank you! Also, my sincere apologies if this fic failed to live up to your interest. Sorry again, but I did warn you that it was experimental!
On to other things, Legolas’s remark about the leaves in Mirkwood falling five hundred times since Meduseld’s construction can be found in The Two Towers on page 142 of the Ballantine 50th anniversary edition. The chapter to look at is "The King Of The Golden Hall." Finally, the battle in Rhûn that this story references is not based on anything specific within canon or within my own stories. It is simply a moment caught out of time, if you will. The exact time and place is impossible to determine because it is the nature of moments to forget such things.