Eldarion kept shooting furtive glances at his uncles, but in the pitch black of the cave, he couldn’t even make out their forms. He thought perhaps he caught an occasional glint of Legolas’s eyes, but he had to crane his neck backward to see over his shoulder—and the shadow that must have been where Gimli’s head was—so he couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that something had happened that he had missed—not altogether unusual when around these two uncles, who tended to communicate without words—but this seemed different somehow. Something bigger had happened, but he couldn’t tell what.
He couldn’t think about it too hard right now, though, because he was trying not to trip. Uncle Gimli had a very strong grip on his shoulder, so he couldn’t fall down or get lost, so he wasn’t scared. But Eldarion still had to pay attention to where he was putting his feet, for there were numerable small rocks, dips, and bumps scattered across the floor of the tunnel they were in, and he had already stubbed his toes quite a few times. But a few bruised toes was worth it for the chance to go exploring with his uncles.
Eldarion had only recently been allowed to go along on some of their trips, and he was overjoyed at the prospect. Legolas and Gimli were his two favorite uncles. Oh, he liked Faramir and Éomer to be sure, but they just weren’t as much fun. Uncle Faramir was very conscious of duty, and one of those duties was to protect the young heir to Gondor—namely Eldarion—which meant that he had a tendency to veto things that would doubtless be fun but possibly quite treacherous. He was also more respectful of the boy, being Gondor’s Steward. When Aunt Éowyn was around, Uncle Faramir would relax more, and Eldarion enjoyed his company most at those times. Uncle Éomer, who was Aunt Éowyn’s brother, was as much fun as Legolas and Gimli usually, but Eldarion did not see him very often. Like ada, Éomer was a king, and so he was often very busy—like ada—doing “ruling” things. And unlike ada, he couldn’t just pop in to see Eldarion whenever he had a free moment, because it took such a long time to get from Rohan to Gondor.
So aside from his parents—and his sisters, who were nice enough, but they were mostly already learning how to be proper princesses and ladies, and that didn’t seem as much fun as learning how to be a Ranger, although they seemed to enjoy it—Eldarion’s favorite people were his Uncles Gimli and Legolas. They were always having fun, and were always willing to share that fun with anyone around. Not only that, but they were funny
. Even when Eldarion didn’t understand their jokes, he joined in with their laughter—it was very infectious. Which was probably the reason that his ada hadn’t banished them from the council room more than three times that Eldarion knew of. They had a tendency to be a little…irreverent, at times. That was something else that the boy could appreciate, because as his education went on he grew more and more appreciative and aware of how nice it could be to poke fun at authority and convention.
And, of course, there were the adventures they took him on. Eldarion had seen more of Gondor than anyone else his age, as well as quite a bit beyond the borders. Because his ada was so busy, he couldn’t always go along, and Gimli and Legolas were more than happy to fill in for their friend. And now he was going to get to explore a cave! Gimli was always going on about caves, but Eldarion had never been in a real cave, not that he remembered. He had seen the Glittering Caves when he was a baby, but he couldn’t remember them (which Uncle Gimli said was a crime beyond words). Until Eldarion had a chance to go back to Rohan and see them again, the dwarf had decided to do his best to show the lad the good caves in the surrounding area. They were teaching Eldarion how to survive in the wild, and knowing how to be safe in a cave, Uncle Gimli said, was a vital skill (although Uncle Legolas had disagreed).
The two had spirited the young prince away from his guards and nursemaids—with his parents’ permission, of course—and taken him into the area around Minas Tirith. He had learned how to walk quietly, scale a tree while wearing packs and without dropping his weapons, find a good spot to ford a stream, and make a campfire. Tonight, he was going to learn how to cook something over one, and he would have to light it without assistance.
But today he was exploring the cave. Uncle Gimli had given a very long lecture on safety underground before they had set in, and Eldarion had done his best to commit it to memory. He had answered most of the dwarf’s questions more-or-less accurately, and Gimli had pronounced him to be “satisfactory, for a human princeling—and a fair sight better than certain Elvish princelings I won’t name.” Eldarion had giggled at that, although he had tried to look very serious when Uncle Legolas pretended to glare at him.
And now he was in a cave! A real
cave, not the little holes in the ground he had played in before. This was a Cave, and he was going to learn all about it! Eldarion was so excited, he could hardly keep from skipping—but he knew he had to, because if he skipped he would trip and Uncle Gimli might think that perhaps they ought to come back tomorrow. He was glad that Uncle Legolas had convinced him not to leave. Eldarion really
wanted to see this marvelous cave Uncle Gimli had talked about.
* * *
At last Gimli stopped them. They were out of the tunnel, although neither of his companions seemed to know. The dwarf had kept up a steady and silent growl of curses as he had guided them inside, nearly all of which were directed at the friend trying not to cling to his shoulder. Elves
, he thought darkly. Why they had to be such stubborn, prideful creatures…
Gimli, of course, had forgotten for the moment that they much resembled dwarves in that respect.
He let go of the boy’s shoulder, whispering for him to stay still. He could feel the youngster nod seriously in the darkness, and had to smile. His smile vanished when he turned to Legolas, whose sharp ears had overheard the command. The elf’s hand had clenched convulsively on the dwarf’s armored shoulder, then quickly dropped from it. Gimli scowled at the faint glitter of eyes above his head.
“You just wait there, Master Elf,” he said gruffly. “I need to light the torches—then you’ll be able to see. I’m just going a few steps. Do you think you—”
“Enough,” said Legolas sharply, cutting him off. “I am quite fine, thank you, Master Dwarf. If you would be so kind as to light the torches so that you can show Eldarion your fine cave?” He spoke coldly to disguise the irrational fear that still gripped him. Keeping a hand on Gimli’s shoulder, he had occasionally reached out to touch the tunnel walls as they walked. While he hated the feeling of being closed in by the thick rock, the fact that the walls were so close meant that he had not feared getting separated; there was nowhere to go. But when Gimli had stopped them, the elf had reached out only to find there was nothing there. Instead of the rough stone encircling them, his hand had met only empty blackness. And while he much preferred large spaces to tight ones, Legolas liked large spaces he could see, not endless black voids. Doing his best to center himself—he had no idea why it should suddenly be so difficult, when it was something he had practiced all his long life—he fought the panic back down. He did not know why this cave should so ill-affect him, but he was not about to let his weakness betray him again.
Gimli glared at the elf, knowing that even though Legolas could not see his fiery expression the elf’s senses would feel it. Then he sighed and turned away, stomping across the cavern by memory to light the torches he had left there. The first spark seemed out of place in the thick darkness, but by the time the second torch was lit the firelight flickering across the stones was fitting and comforting, even to the darkness-accustomed dwarf. He knew Legolas would probably be going limp with relief at being able to see again, and he cursed himself for never noticing how much his friend truly hated caves. Well, this was the last time he would ever drag the elf into one—and they would have words this evening about secrets that were better not kept, and not all of them would be kind!
But Gimli forgot his wrath for a time when he saw the look of wonder that slowly spread over Eldarion’s face in the torchlight. The boy looked around like a child suddenly presented with his heart’s desire. Gimli’s eyes sparkled like an elf’s due to the liquid that was filling them, although he would maintain that it was nothing more than smoke from the flames he’d been kindling. Filled with nearly as much delight as the boy, Gimli had darted around the large, glimmering cave with the young prince, showing pools as deep as the sky whose bottom lay only a finger-length below the surface and ancient stalactites so old that they had met their stalagmite twin and fused into brilliantly colored columns. He pointed out strange and beautiful formations in the water-carved rock and explained how over eons long even to elves the small, fragile drips of water had created this wonder from the depths of the earth.
It was difficult to say which one was happier just then; the awed child staring in wonder of the gruff dwarf, tears of pride and joy in his eyes. Even Legolas was touched by the scene, although he watched from a distance rather than run among the rocks with his friends. The smiles on Gimli and Eldarion’s faces were more than enough to make up for the fear he had felt getting here.
They were all the reward the elf needed to make the darkness endurable.
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.