Exploring Darkness: 15. Darkness

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15. Darkness

Eldarion’s bright laughter rang happily through the dark, suffocating cave. For a moment, it chased away the shadows, but it seemed to Legolas that they returned all too quickly. The lad, on the other hand, appeared to be perfectly content.

“Oh, uncle, truly? I cannot believe that ada would be so silly!”

“Well,” the Elf amended, “most of the blame ought to lie with Éomer, as it was in truth his idea. But ay, little one, you adar can indeed be that silly and more so. When you visit Rohan with him, you will be able to decide for yourself.”

“Do you think ada will let me go to Rohan soon?”

Not once he hears what happened when he allowed you to go exploring only a few days from Minas Tirith, Legolas thought to himself. Aloud, he said, “I am certain of it.”

Eldarion relaxed happily, then paused. Legolas could sense the child’s brow furrowing. “Do you mean Elf-soon or Man-soon?” he asked accusingly.

“There is a difference?” Legolas replied with innocent surprise.

“Uncle Legolas,” the boy chided him, “you know there is. ‘Soon’ always means something different when you and nana say it than when everyone else does.”

The Elf smiled, trying to focus wholly on the light conversation and ignore the dark pressing in around him, although that was growing increasingly difficult. “Does it indeed?” he asked in mock amazement. “I had never noticed. Pray tell, what is this difference?”

“When you and nana say soon it never means soon,” Eldarion explained forcefully.

“Really? I had not noticed that her majesty and I possessed such poor command of the Westron tongue. Perhaps we ought to continue in Sindarin?” he asked helpfully.

I think,” the child said with the air of a philosopher surrounded by plebeians, “that Uncle Gimli is right. You are impossible to talk to for more than five minutes at a time.”

“And yet,” Legolas pointed out, “we have already been speaking for many times that.”

“Then I’m obviously more talented at speechcraft than Uncle Gimli.”

“I see,” the Elf said seriously. “You shall have to inform him of this upon his return.”

“All right. I will.”

“I look forward to seeing his response. It is sure to be memorable.”

There was silence for another long moment. Legolas closed his eyes, thinking that perhaps it would help to shut out the blackness. He brushed light fingers through sweaty curls. The child needed water soon, or he would become dehydrated, but there was none here. Legolas hoped that Gimli would return shortly. He did not know how much more of this the boy could endure.

Or, for that matter, how much more he could endure.

Then the silence was broken once more by a soft, piping voice:

“Uncle Legolas? Could you tell me another story?”

* * *

Loud curses in Khuzdul echoed through the dark cavern, along with a clattering racket as Gimli went sprawling. He picked himself up, still cursing, and felt out with raw and scraped hands the obstruction that had so discomfited him. He had done so many, many times throughout his mad dash. No matter how much Dwarves like caves, and caves like Dwarves, they cannot see in the dark—and rocks will not move aside for them.

And right now, Gimli was in no shape to search out a safe path before taking it. Rather, he was running headlong through the black tunnels out of anxiety—and, if he would admit it, fear. Not for himself, but for his friends, whom he had left behind—abandoned, hissed a cruel voice in Gimli’s mind, which he did his best to ignore. Still, the voice chased him on as much as his fear did, without pause or concern for the numerous (and occasionally quite painful) tumbles and collisions he had suffered from. But despite his now battered condition—especially around his shins, toes, and palms—he paid little attention to either hurts or hard stone.

Except for this one. This rock got special treatment, because, as Gimli quickly discovered, this stone was at the bottom of the pile he had made—was it only a few hours ago? It felt like days—to reach back to the level from which they had fallen in the collapse. Pausing only long enough to ascertain in which direction the crude “steps” climbed, the dwarf scrambled up them as fast as he dared—perhaps faster.

Faster, certainly, than he should have; no more than a third of the way up (or so he estimated), Gimli took a wrong step and slipped. He scrabbled desperately for a purchase, but the stones caught only the first few layers of the skin of his palms and did little to arrest his fall.

Cursing even louder, Gimli plummeted back to the floor of the cavern where he lay still.

* * *

Eldarion’s eyes drooped sleepily although he fought to keep them open. Having finished the story some time ago, Uncle Legolas was now humming something—it sounded familiar, like one of the songs his nana sang, but he couldn’t quite place it—and the numbness had spread past his legs, diluting some of the chill he felt. A gentle hand stroking his brow combined with the soft melody to draw the boy irresistibly towards slumber.

“Uncle Legolas?” he asked in hoarse whisper.

“Yes, Eldarion?” the Elf replied instantly, leaning over the small form resting in his lap. “What is it, little one?”

“Do you think Uncle Gimli will be back soon?”

“Ay,” Legolas replied in a confident voice, then continued lightly. “And that is human-soon, not elf-soon; fear not.”

“Good,” Eldarion whispered, fighting his eyes back open, even though it made no difference in the darkness. He was glad his uncle was so certain; if Legolas was sure of it, he was sure of it. He yawned and winced, for his head was still sore. Instantly Legolas murmured in Sindarin too quietly for the boy’s sleepy ears to catch and pressed his hand lightly on the child’s forehead, soothing the twinge of pain.

“Are you tired?” the Elf asked quietly.

Eldarion would have denied it, but another yawn prevented him from doing so. “Perhaps a little,” he admitted.

“Then sleep, little one. No doubt Gimli will be here within moments, but there is no reason why you should not enjoy what rest you can ‘ere he returns.” Again he tried to protest, but Legolas shushed him determinedly. “Losto, Eldarion. I shall wake you—very soon—when Gimli comes. But for now, sleep.”

“Thank you for rescuing me,” the boy whispered, fighting against falling eyelids and tightly hugging the Elf as best he could from his awkward angle half on his uncle’s lap and half under the heavy rock.

“Hush,” Legolas said softly, stroking the child’s head soothingly, “losto, child. Losto.”

Struggle though he would, Eldarion dropped slowly under the soothing spell of a soft Elven voice. The comforting blackness of sleep—so different from the ever-so-slightly frightening (but he wasn’t scared) black of the cave—draped itself gently around the boy.

“Sleep, little one. Do not fear. Gimli shall return in moments, and I am here with you. Sleep.”

Safe in his uncle's arms and vocie, Eldarion slept.

* * *

With a heavy groan, Gimli lifted his head. He froze a moment before he realized that the ringing he heard came not from the cave around him, but from within his own head. The dwarf groaned again and forced himself to his feet.

He promptly fell down again as his right knee gave way and deposited him suddenly on the hard ground. Wincing, the Dwarf rose more carefully, silently cursing himself for the fall. His ribs, if they weren’t before, were definitely cracked now, he realized with a deep breath that turned into a gasp of pain. Grumbling words that would never have been uttered in the hearing of Queen Arwen, Lady Éowyn, Queen Lothíriel, or any of their children, but which had many times been spoken to—and by—the ladies’ husbands, Gimli shoved the pain aside and climbed quickly, although a bit slower, up the stone steps. They were strangely spaced and shifted dangerously with his weight, but he would not pause to check their stability—there was no time for that. He would simply have to trust to luck and the Valar.

One or the other was with Gimli, for the stones held, and he at last clambered out of the pit onto the crumbling lip of the half-collapsed cavern floor. There was still no light, but Gimli thought he detected the faintest hint of fresh air. Taking no time to enjoy it, he immediately began groping around the rubble-strewn floor—gingerly; he had no desire to start another collapse—for the torches that he prayed were still here. Hurry, he extorted himself. He had to hurry. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious. He thought that it was only for a moment or two, but if it had been longer…

The Dwarf shivered, picturing Legolas and little Eldarion alone in the darkness, waiting hopelessly…

* * *

Legolas was having a difficult time remaining calm; he needed to distract himself before he started to panic. He needed something—anything—to draw his mind away from this consuming darkness, but he was not going to wake Eldarion to entertain him; he was not yet so cowardly that he would disturb needed rest and draw the child back to this place of dark despair simply to distract himself.

As it had once lightened spirits—if only for a moment—after the dark of Moria, so Legolas hoped perhaps the Lay of Nimrodel might—for a moment—lighten them again. The close, dark cave threatened to overwhelm him. Taking a deep breath, the Elven-prince began to sing in a soft voice barely to be heard in the smothering caves:

“An Elven-maid there was of old,
A shining star by day:
Her mantle white was hemmed with gold,
Her shoes of silver-grey.

“A star was bound upon her brows,
A light was on her hair
As sun upon the golden boughs
In Lórien the fair…”

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.

Story Information

Author: Tathrin

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: Drama

Rating: General

Last Updated: 02/02/05

Original Post: 02/02/05

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