20. Elbereth and Mahal
“By Elbereth, are you unharmed?”
“Mahal, are you all right?”
“Yes, yes, fine, what of you?” they both replied anxiously, then relaxed with heavy sighs when they realized that the other was unscathed.
“Valar, you frightened me,” Legolas murmured as he rose unsteadily to his feet.
“How do you think I felt? You were the one under the rock,” Gimli muttered as he moved to join the Elf and child. Legolas was already searching Eldarion’s legs with gentle fingers.
“How do you fare, child?” the Elf asked quietly.
“He was not harmed, was he?” Gimli asked, fear returning.
“Nay, we were both safely out of the boulder’s path.”
“Thank the Valar for the speed of the Elves, then,” Gimli murmured, passing a hand over his eyes.
“Don’t worry, Uncle Gimli,” Eldarion piped up. “Nothing bad was going to happen. I knew you wouldn’t let it.” Gimli swallowed hard and nodded, unable to form words for the lump forming in his throat. There was silence for a moment, then Eldarion shifted and groaned slightly beneath Legolas’s gentle hands.
“Eldarion? What is hurt?” the Elf asked quickly.
“I’m—all right,” Eldarion gasped, tears sparking in the corners of his eyes as he clung to the Elf’s tunic. “My legs just—burn!”
“That is just the blood returning,” Legolas spoke with confidence that his eyes did not mirror. Gimli crouched down next to the two princes.
“Here, lad, hang on to me so your uncle can see if anything’s hurt,” the Dwarf offered, knowing that Elven fingers were better suited to the sensitive task, as their touch upon an afflicted part oft relieved pain rather than caused it.
Nodding silently the boy transferred his grasp to the Dwarf’s thick beard. Gimli attempted to look affronted but the worry and concern in his heart prevented anything more than an anxious, tender smile to form on his creased face as he gingerly patted the boy’s head.
He knew Legolas suddenly tensed although he was careful not to let out a gasp. The Dwarf looked up quickly and saw the Elf’s pale fingers stained red as he held them up to the torchlight. Gimli’s heart dropped like a stone but he forced himself to keep his voice merry. “Tell me, lad, did this flighty Elf manage to drive your thoughts to distraction while I was gone?”
“Better than time spent in the company of a Dwarf. At least if I sent his thoughts anywhere it was to a worthy place,” Legolas forced out cheerily as he searched for the sight of the injury.
“Worthy?” Gimli snorted through a painfully dry mouth. “I think you confuse high with lofty. Simply because the stars are far above your heads does not mean that they need have such thought devoted to them as the Elves give.” Eldarion’s giggle was lost somewhere in the Dwarf’s beard. Gimli gently stroked the small head, relieved that they had at least managed to distract and relax the child, even if they could not manage to do the same for themselves.
“Simply because some things may be too high for a Dwarf to properly fathom is no reason why greater beings should not do so,” the Elf responded with forced humor.
Had Gimli not been so worried right now, he would have known better than to ever use the word ‘high’ when in conversation with Legolas. That was almost as bad as saying ‘above.’ “And ‘tis a good thing,” Gimli replied stoutly. “The way you foolish creatures keep your heads in the clouds, it is only thanks to the more sensibly creatures of the earth that anything gets accomplished.”
“Alas,” the Elf replied quickly, “we have no sensible Hobbits here to do so for us.” Legolas visibly relaxed as he spoke and Gimli let out a breath he had not known he was holding. The injury was not bad. He raised his eyebrows questioningly at his friend. Legolas tilted his head to one side, thinking. Gimli was tempted to remark on how much he resembled a brainless bird studying seeds to decide if they were edible when he did that, but restrained himself. If they got into a discussion on their personal habits, they could become involved for hours and they could not spare that time now.
Legolas nodded at last and Gimli relaxed even more. The child could be moved. Neither Elf nor Dwarf were healers, and both were frightened of any situation that called for them to act as thus. But even they could tell when a bone was broken; they were both accomplished enough warriors to know the basics of field medicine by now, and if the Elf judged that the boy was not so injured, Gimli would agree. Not that the Elf liked trusting in his diagnoses, but now they had no choice. They could not wait for Aragorn to come and tell them what to do. It would be days yet before anyone in Minas Tirith wondered why they had not yet returned, and by then it would be too late—for not just the boy but the Elf as well, Gimli knew.
They needed to get out of this cave, and quickly, for both their sakes.
“I really do not think you ought to be doing this,” Gimli muttered under his breath. He could not see the Elven glare directed at his back, but he could feel it.
“We already discussed this,” Legolas hissed back.
“But with your shoulder—”
“I truly do not think that I am so injured I cannot carry such a small child!” the Elf whispered.
Gimli sighed and rolled his eyes. A plague upon the stiff necks of the Elves, he thought unhappily. He had almost convinced Legolas to allow him to carry the boy out when he had somehow insulted his friend’s stubborn pride. Gimli knew that, under normal circumstances, there would not even be a debate; first, they were in a cave, so Gimli would be leading their steps, and as such ought to have his hands unhindered save for the one torch he held to light their way. Second, Eldarion was already almost up to the Dwarf’s chin and it only made sense for the far taller Elf to carry the lad, who barely reached his knees. Gimli knew that he was exaggerating the height differences slightly but the point was unchanged.
However, with the Elf’s injuries, Gimli had not wanted him carrying anything more than a single torch, which he could easily hold with his unwounded arm. Now instead he was cradling a sleepy, battered child. Granted, Eldarion was quite light, but he still weighed a fair bit more than a torch. Gimli was not happy with the present state of affairs, but there was nothing he could do now—except complain, which he was doing with great skill, too.
Legolas apparently decided that the conversation was over. “Eldarion, do you feel any better?” Gimli’s ears perked up, listening worriedly to the child’s muffled reply.
“Nu-uh,” the boy mumbled into the Elf’s tunic. “It’s still all prickly.”
“I am sure that it is fine,” the Elf soothed him. “Your legs were merely pressed tightly for a time. As you grow used to the return of blood flow, they will no doubt cease to hurt.”
“All right,” Eldarion murmured softly, half-asleep in his uncle’s arms. They proceeded in tense silence for a time. Gimli increased their pace through the dark tunnels as much as he dared. He did not want his injured friend to put too much strain on his ankle—although he knew better than to mention anything of the sort—but he knew that it was just as important to leave these dark tunnels as soon as possible.
“How far is it to the entrance?” Legolas asked quietly. Gimli heard the tension in his friend’s voice and turned around to offer a reassuring smile.
“Only a few more turns,” he assured the Elf. He nodded stiffly, but did not look very reassured. Legolas’s face was pale and drawn in the dim torchlight and there were shadows over his eyes that Gimli was sure had nothing to do with the inadequate lighting—or perhaps they had everything to do with that.
Gimli’s heart ached with the thought of what these caverns were doing to his friend. He swore to himself that he would never mention caves in the Elf’s presence again—not even Aglarond. He paid no mind to how impossible a promise that would be to keep; he and Legolas were both responsible for their own realms, but they often conferred with Éomer or Aragorn, or each other, on the state of them. Not speaking of Aglarond when the Elf was around would not be possible—but Gimli would find a way. He would never do anything to deliberately cause his friend distress, and now that he knew what pain these caves inspired, he would see that he never did so again. Aragorn and Éomer would simply have to learn to deal with those new limits on conversation.
Eldarion stirred slightly, trying to ease the pain of his burning legs. It felt like his fingers when he had been outside in the snow without his gloves and came back in to warm them by the fire—all tingly and on fire. Only worse. He bit his lip, hard; he would not show that it hurt. He would be brave, just like his ada and his uncles. He could see that both Uncle Legolas and Uncle Gimli were a little hurt, but they did not seem to be paying any attention to it, so he ignored it as well. If Uncle Legolas was not worried about the blood in his hair, Eldarion would not worry either. If Uncle Gimli was going to ignore his black eye, Eldarion would too.
Eldarion would be strong, just like his ada. Ada came home hurt lots of times, and he never complained—not even when nana scolded him. He would be a brave Ranger, just like ada. Ada would be so proud when he told him! Eldarion idolized his father, and he was determined to grow up just like him. If Aragorn could be brave when he was hurt, so could Eldarion.
He just wished it would stop being so painful; that made it very hard to ignore. His head was throbbing again and even though Uncle Legolas’s gait was as smooth as any Elf’s, his head still jarred slightly with each step. He bit his lip and swallowed hard, determined not to show that it hurt.
“Shh, tithen min, rest.” Uncle Legolas shifted his arms slightly and brushed a cool hand across Eldarion’s throbbing brow. “Sedho, Eldarion, hodo. We shall be out soon. Sedho.” Eldarion relaxed slightly, soothed by the sound of Sindarin. It sounded like his nana when he had a bad dream in the middle of the night and she would come in and sit with him until he went back to sleep. Eldarion sniffed, suddenly fighting tears.
He missed his nana.
Uncle Gimli’s voice broke into his thoughts. “Here, we have reached the first chamber. Once we climb that pile of rocks, we shall be back where we began, but a few steps from the exit to this cursed place.”
Eldarion forced his eyes open and glanced over at the haphazard, rough “steps” that could be made out in the light of the torch before disappearing into the darkness above them.
“I see the building skills of the Dwarves are to be as highly praised as ever,” Uncle Legolas murmured quietly.
“Mahal. It looked better in the dark,” Uncle Gimli muttered, scowling darkly at the rocks in apparent betrayal. “It is perfectly safe to climb,” he continued. “Just do not slip.”
“My confidence knows no bounds,” Uncle Legolas retorted.
Eldarion laughed. He knew that his uncle would never build anything that wasn’t perfect; the rocks just looked so funny balanced on each other like that. “It looks as if it is about to fall over!” he exclaimed brightly. “How did you make it look like that?”
Uncle Gimli, for some reason, blushed beat red and grumbled something unintelligible under his breath before replying. “Secret of the Dwarves,” he said shortly.
Uncle Legolas snorted and said something in the Dwarven tongue that did not sound particularly polite. Eldarion giggled. Uncle Gimli glared.
“After you, Elf.”
“No, no, I would never wish to upstage the builder in the use of his own work,” Uncle Legolas demurred politely.
“You are the one whose arms are laden,” Uncle Gimli responded. Eldarion wanted to point out that he could walk, but he knew he couldn’t. “You shall go first, in case I should need to catch you.”
“The day a Dwarf needs to help an Elf maintain his balance will be a dire day indeed,” Uncle Legolas replied haughtily and stepped forward. He paused just before starting up the rough stairs.
“Elbereth, I feel as though I am going to regret this.”
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.