17. Tension and Banter
He saw only blackness.
The faint glimmer that was Legolas’s Elven eyes was not there.
Panic making his fingers clumsy, Gimli at last managed to strike a spark from the flint he carried and with it light one of the torches he had carried here. As the flame suddenly filled the small cavern with dim light that, after such prolonged darkness, was nearly blinding, Gimli saw his two friends through squinted eyes. The reprieve that the sight of the two princes, one sleeping peacefully with his dark head pillowed in the lap of the other who sat over the child protectively, had given Gimli vanished when he noticed Legolas’s face—or, more accurately, his eyes.
The Elf’s eyes were closed!
Gimli had been around Elves—or, more accurately, had been around Legolas—enough to know that they rarely closed their eyes, and that an Elf sleeping with eyes shut was a bad thing usually indicative of heavy injury. The Dwarf started forward with a short, sharp cry of inarticulate worry.
Legolas’s dangling head snapped up and his eyes flashed open. The Elf’s face crumbled in relief at the sight of the flickering torchlight, but the emotion vanished so quickly beneath the calm mask of dignity he usually wore that it almost seemed an illusion. Gimli sighed so heartily the fire wavered and his shoulders slumped in a release of anxiety he had not until then been aware of.
His friend was all right.
Now, as long as the child was unharmed… He looked to Legolas for conformation that Eldarion’s sleep was natural and not something to be concerned over. The Elf nodded slightly, reassuring the Dwarf that all was well, although he seemed decidedly tense—which was really no surprise, Gimli thought, although he could not remember ever seeing his friend look quite so high strung. Not even in Moria—although admittedly watching the Elf to see that he was well had not been high on Gimli’s mind at that point. It was now, though, and he studied his friend closely, unnerved to see how his slim hands shook ever so slightly as he gently shook Eldarion’s shoulder.
“Eldarion,” Legolas said softly, “awake. See, Gimli is here, as soon as I had promised.”
A pang of guilt tugged at the Dwarf when he heard those words and he looked at his friend to offer silent apology but Legolas was not watching him. His eyes were fixed on the small face in his lap as Eldarion stirred slightly and mumbled in his sleep. “Eldarion, it is time to awake,” the Elf continued calmly. “It is as I said; Gimli has returned within moments, and it is now time for you to leave your dreams so that we may leave this—cave.”
Gimli knew that he did not imagine the tremble in Legolas’s voice when he spoke the last word and had to swallow hard at the sight of his friend in distress. Clearing his throat gruffly, the Dwarf stepped forward and spoke briskly, “is it any wonder the lad does not wish to waken? When at last you had bored him to sleep, he had only your company to look forward to. Obviously he is not yet aware that I am here to save him from dealing any further with you on his own.”
Legolas turned a haughty glare on the Dwarf that brimmed with gratitude. “As even you should have noticed by now, Master Dwarf,” he replied with a gracefully arched eyebrow that spoke of derision, “it was your name that I mentioned when calling him to wake. Obviously, he does not wish to leave his fair dreams and come back to your Dwarvish presence.”
“If that is the case, then you have obviously bewitched him,” Gimli replied sternly. “Only strange Elvish magicks could so affect the mind of such a bright lad as to have him scorn Dwarvish company for that of Elves.”
“Nay,” Legolas began, but had no time to complete his response for Eldarion suddenly giggled, drawing both pairs of eyes to him.
The child opened his eyes, a small smile of chagrin on his face for having given away his wakefulness when he was so enjoying the argument. “Er…” the boy mumbled sheepishly, “I am now awake, Uncles, thank you?” He summoned the most innocent expression on to his face that he could manage, and considering both his heritage on both sides and the companionship of his “uncles” it was an impressive one indeed.
Elf and Dwarf nodded solemnly. “Then I suppose Gimli and I shall table our discussion for now, in order to not bore you,” Legolas said in a voice that seemed slightly strained to Gimli although Eldarion noticed nothing amiss.
“All right,” Eldarion replied, completely confident in his uncles’ abilities to free him easily and without mishap. The Elf and Dwarf were slightly less so, but they would not let the boy see that.
Legolas gently lowered Eldarion’s head back to the cave floor as he gracefully removed his legs—which, Gimli grumbled to note, seemed not in the least stiff despite having been in quite a cramped position while serving as a pillow for some time. He was slightly mollified to see Legolas discreetly stretching an ankle—even Elves weren’t above such minor ailments, he noted with glee—until he noticed that it was the Elf’s left ankle, which he had injured earlier. Noting Gimli’s attention, Legolas immediately stopped and glared at the Dwarf.
Gimli sighed and grumbled inwardly at the proud archer, shooting his friend a matching glare which Legolas ignored by turning to survey the small chamber they were in. His naturally pale face blanched a bit more when he saw how close their quarters really were but he gave no other sign of discomfort. Gimli wasn’t sure if this was a good thing—was the Elf getting over his claustrophobia?—or a bad one—or had he just been pressed so far beyond his limits that one more meant nothing to the pretense of calmness he had crafted? The Dwarf’s eyes studied his friend but Legolas neatly avoided the sharp gaze by walking around the large stone that had Eldarion pinned.
Gimli, now taking a good look at the stone for the first time, blanched as well. It looked far worse than they had assumed. The boulder was easily the size of four rather round hobbits and was precariously balanced on a few of the smaller stones that littered the floor of the small cavern. Move it the wrong way, and it would come crashing down to crush whatever was beneath it—including the legs of little Eldarion.
Elf and Dwarf exchanged fearful glances around the stone, realizing what a close call they had really had when first they tried to free the child. A slight push in the wrong direction… Shuddering in unison, they silently decided not to think on it but to concentrate on getting Eldarion free without further danger.
Lighting another torch and handing it to Legolas, Gimli walked slowly around the stone examining it closely from every angle with a single-minded attention to detail that only a Dwarf could approach. Legolas was doing the same, peering intently at the rock with a practiced eye in exactly the way that Elven warriors never did. Gimli felt he ought to make a comment, but even his vaunted skills of banter couldn’t quite muster an appropriate insult at the moment.
“I believe,” Legolas said after a moment, “that we ought to be able to lever it against these stones over here.” He looked at Gimli for conformation of his assessment.
“And are we to trust the word of an Elf in how to handle rock?” Gimli said with a wide grin, pleased to have teasing opportunities dropped in his lap when he could not come up with them on his own. Anything to distract them from the situation…
Apparently Legolas thought the same. “When a Dwarf proves inadequate, what else is one to do?”
“If a Dwarf proves inadequate, how is an Elf to attempt to be equal to the task?” Gimli said quickly, relieved that Legolas had responded.
“Where lesser beings fail, is it not up to superior ones to compensate for them?”
“I suppose you are right, Elf, in which case it is good for you that I am here to do so for you.”
“Trust a Dwarf not to recognize the words of wisdom for what they are even when they are offered clearly enough for such small brains to comprehend.”
“Elves know of wisdom?”
“I know it is difficult for such as Dwarves to grasp the concept of wisdom’s existence, but trust me, my stunted friend, it does exist.”
“True enough, although I have seen little evidence of such lately,” Gimli began.
“Then it is good that you have returned to me ‘ere you forgot entirely what the use of wisdom looked like,” Legolas interrupted with a brittle grin.
Gimli glared at the Elf, but continued as if he had not spoken, “but I must admit that occasionally even Elves can show an inkling of intelligence. It must be my companionship rubbing off on you,” he added under his breath. “But you are right, likely for the first time in all your long years,” he went on as Legolas chuckled—weakly, but he still chuckled, which cheered Gimli’s heart greatly. “I believe that these rocks are stable enough to act as the fulcrum.”
Throughout the entire exchange, Elf and Dwarf had been carefully inspecting and testing the stones around the base of the boulder, conversing about their suitability in the silent pantomime unintelligible to all but them. Eldarion had been vastly amused by the conversation, which was of course another of its purposes; their endless banter was an enjoyable means of sharpening their wits on each other, but it was also good for keeping up spirits. Granted, there were those who occasionally found it annoying (Aragorn came to mind, and his many advisors; even Éomer on occasion had barked for them to cease), but on the whole others appreciated it when under stress as much as did the Elf and Dwarf involved in it.
Thranduil, Gimli thought idly as he planned out the maneuver in his mind, had never appreciated their conversations for the genius that they showed. The Dwarf had privately decided that the Elven-king had no detectable sense of humor, despite Legolas assuring him that such was not the case. Of course, Dwarves in general put that Elf in poor humor, so perhaps that had a slight affect upon… With a satisfied nod, Gimli decided that would be the best course of action.
“What do you think?” He turned to the Elf to see if he agreed with his conclusion, but Legolas was frowning slightly as he studied the boulder. “You do not concur?” Gimli asked, surprised.
“Nay, mellon nin, I find no fault in your mechanics,” the Elf reassured him. "Although I assure you once more, he truly does possess one," he added absently.
Ah, Gimli thought. “You are probably right,” he said after a moment. “I had not thought of the lad being too stiff to scramble out quickly.” He thought for a long moment, but no solution presented itself. “Yet if one of us pulls the boy free, will the other on his own be able to raise the rock to enough height to allow him to slip free?”
“And therein lies the difficulty,” Legolas murmured, studying the boulder carefully. Suddenly he dropped to a crouch and, holding his torch nearly level with the floor, peered under the rock by Eldarion’s trapped legs. He mumbled something that Gimli thought must be a curse, but he could not quite make out the words, or even the language. He was sure the Elf would know better than to curse in Sindarin in front of Arwen’s son, but both he and Legolas had picked up enough other exclamations (primarily from Éomer) over the years that their oaths could be quite versatile in language. Then again, Legolas had picked up enough Dwarven curses that it was quite possible that he had said something nasty in Khuzdul—yet another complaint Thranduil had with Gimli’s friendship with his son. The Dwarf grinned to himself, remembering that particular discussion, while he waited for Legolas to finish his examinations.
The Elf patted Eldarion’s shoulder reassuringly before rising smoothly and staring at Gimli. The Dwarf tensed; he knew that look. That was the look of, you are not going to want to do this but I intend to convince you. It was never good when the Elf got that look on his face.
It meant he was going to suggest something unutterably stupid, foolhardy, and reckless.
Gimli groaned. No. There was nothing on all of Arda that could convince him to let the Elf do that!
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.