16. Sindanóriello Caita Mornië
“Amroth beheld the fading shore
Now low beyond the swell,
And cursed the faithless ship that bore
Him far from Nimrodel.”
—but it did little to move the cold, hard rocks around them now.
“Of old he was an Elven-king,
A lord of tree and glen,
When golden were the boughs in spring
In fair Lothlórien.”
What I would not give to see fair Lothlórien now, thought Legolas as he sang, the memory of the mallorn trees, or niphredil and elanor, fresh in his mind and—for a moment—driving away the dark around him with their gold and silver-grey.
“From helm to sea they saw him leap,
As arrow from the string,
And dive into the water deep,
As mew upon the wing.”
But then darkness fell once more, closing over Legolas’s head like the waters of a hungry—heartless—ocean.
“The wind was in his flowing hair,
The foam about him shone;
Afar they saw him strong and fair
Go riding like a swan.”
There was no wind in this dark place, and no light to make anything shine, no matter how fair. Here, there was only blackness and stone pressing ever closer, smothering his words.
“But from the West has come no word
And on the Hither Shore
No tidings Elven-folk have heard
Alone in the darkness save for Eldarion’s quietly slumbering form, the Elf’s voice faltered and the song died. Around him, the blackness gathered ever thicker. Legolas licked his dry lips but the song he was about to begin shattered in his mind and drifted away, quashed by the ever-increasing, ever-closening darkness of the cave.
Where was Gimli? Legolas could think of many reasons why the Dwarf had not yet returned, but none of them were cheering ones. What if, despite his avowed sense of perfect underground memory and direction, he had gotten lost somehow and could not find his way? Or perhaps in his haste he had neglected to take caution, and had gone tumbling down another pit, and even now was crying for help with an ever-weakening voice…
Shivering, Legolas tried to shake the vision from his mind, but it would not depart. Over and over he watched as Gimli fell to his doom, calling for help that would never hear, never come…he died cursing his so-called friend’s name—and his cowardice.
For coward he surely was. Legolas blamed himself completely for the situation they were now in. Were it not for his foolish fears, Eldarion and Gimli would have spent yesterday enjoying the caverns to their hearts’ content, and left safe and unharmed—but due to his weakness, both in feeling such reasonless fears and in showing them, they had not, and thus had returned today with perfect timing to be caught by this collapse. And were it not for his weakness, both in feeling and showing this fear, Gimli would not be risking his neck to speed so recklessly through sightless, unforgiving tunnels. Were it not for his rising panic, he would have been able to comfort Eldarion, but it was all the Elf could do to cling to fragile control and sanity in this oppressive darkness.
Were it not for his failure Aragorn and Arwen’s son would not be hurt.
Were it not for his failure, Gimli, his dearest friend, would not now be at risk—or worse…
Smothered by darkness and self-loathing, Legolas closed his eyes tightly, trying to close out the pervasive darkness—but there was no refuge. Even with his eyes shut, he could not escape the bitterness of his weakness—his failure.
Having exhausted his not-inconsiderable store of curses, Gimli was now fumbling for other amusements as he sprinted awkwardly through the cavern tunnels, the unlit torches clutched in his arms. He tried singing, haltingly in between panting breaths:
“Where now she wanders none can tell,
In sunlight or in shade;
For lost of…of yore was Nimrodel
And in the…the—blast it all—in the mountain strayed.
“The elven-ship in haven-grey…
“I can remember no more,” he grumbled. “Foolish, flighty Elf…only see the toll his company has taken on my thoughts; singing a silly, romantic, foolish Elvish song, rather than a good, strong Dwarven one…” As Gimli’s grumbles died away with the last echoes of Nimrodel in the dark tunnels, like cobwebs in a sudden wind, the cave seemed to become chiller.
On the heels of ancient Elvish grief came heavy guilt that had ever raced at Gimli’s heels as he ran caught up once more with the Dwarf. It was strong, and smothering, and Gimli thought absently that he might have an inkling of how Legolas felt in what was to the Elf the pressing weight of the caves.
Caves had never bothered Gimli; on the contrary, he was quite fond of them. Guilt, on the other hand…guilt affected Gimli just as strongly and just as readily as it did his Elven friend. And it could overwhelm him just as easily.
His reckless race through the tunnels might have been painful, but no number of tumbles could ever hurt the Dwarf as much as the shame and remorse battering him. Had an orc offered to put him out of his misery, he would almost have been tempted to accept—once he saw the princes safely out of here. He would never forgive himself for this—this foolishness, this wrong done to a child he was trusted to protect and a dear friend who trusted him entirely.
Remembering Legolas’s quiet words at the campfire the night before, Gimli felt tears come to his eyes. “I know that you would never let me be lost, elvellon,” the Elf had said—and Gimli had failed him. Because of his folly, not only had he been lost for hours in the dark cave, but Legolas now sat in blackness without Gimli’s aid and trying to be strong and in control for the sake of the child they had both sworn their lives to protect—
And there another failure! As the other wounded his heart, so did this one wound his honor. He had failed in his charge, and Eldarion was hurt—who knew how badly! That brave, sweet, innocent child had been entrusted to his care and protection, and see how he repaid Aragorn and Arwen for their faith in him! He would be lucky if Aragorn did not take off his head for this.
No, Gimli amended, he would be lucky if Aragorn did take off his head for this. Then not only would he be at last out of his misery, but he would not have to live to know what the Queen Arwen would do to him. For all that Gimli scoffed at Elves, he knew the power of an Elvish gaze—and he knew that if the Lady Galadriel’s had been intense in Lothlórien’s boughs, her granddaughter’s was likely to be sharp enough to cut when it came to those who let her son be harmed. Arwen might be mortal, but that did not change her lineage. She was still of the blood of the Lady of the Golden Wood—
And then a new thought entered Gimli’s mind. What would the Lady Galadriel think, were she to learn of what he had let befall her great-grandson? Shame rushed even thicker through Gimli’s veins with a chill. Galadriel. He had failed the Lady Galadriel, fairest being to ever walk the woods of Middle-earth, she whose locks he bore so lovingly. Gimli’s hands were not free to steal to the small crystal within his pocket, but he felt it there, dragging at him with the weight of his failure. In his mind, the smiling face of the Lady grew dark and frowned on him; more grievous was that wound than any he had suffered ‘ere that moment.
The black darkness of the cave wrapped itself tightly around Gimli’s heart, weaving a heavy mesh of shadow over the Dwarf’s soul.
Sindanóriello Caita Mornië – “all paths are drowned deep in shadow,” from Galadriel’s Lament in Lórien (Fellowship of the Ring: Book Two Chapter VIII “Farewell to Lórien”)
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