The first thought that flashed through the Elf’s mind as he shifted to regain his footing was that Gimli was never going to let him live this down. The second came after his ankle turned beneath him rather than hold his weight and it was a strange and less than polite combination of Sindarin, Rohirric, and a smattering of Khuzdul.
Then a steady hand latched onto his belt and anchored him in place on the rough pile of stones. It took the Elf only a moment to adjust his balance, careful not to wince at the increased pain of his now twice-sprained ankle. Legolas blushed bright red and stared fixedly above Gimli’s head. He braced himself for the inevitable mockery; he would let Gimli have the first word, mainly as the embarrassed Elf could think of nothing to say. Gimli drew in a breath that would have made an oliphaunt proud, and Legolas winced, knowing that he was going to hear about this for a long, long time. If he was lucky, Gimli would not think to relate the tale to Aragorn, Éomer, or Arwen’s brothers…Valar, he hoped he was that lucky.
When Gimli did speak, Legolas almost fell over again in surprise. Rather than the expected (and deserved) teasing insults, the Dwarf started yelling.
“What were you thinking?” Gimli bellowed in a voice that shook both the princes and the echoing cavern. “Have you no brains in that flighty Elvish head of yours? I swear by Mahal, I shall strangle you with your stubborn pride if you ever pull anything like that again!” Legolas stared at the incensed Dwarf in shock. Gimli was angry? No, not angry—the Dwarf was furious!
Eldarion was as astonished as the Elf was; this did not sound like his uncles’ usual arguments. Was Uncle Gimli actually mad at Legolas? Confused and a little bit worried, the boy bit his lip and shrank a little into the suddenly limp arms that were carrying him. He did not know what was going on, but he knew that he did not understand it nor like it. His uncles weren’t ever supposed to really be upset with one another; they were always a united front that just liked arguing with itself.
But all arguments had fled Legolas’s mind with his friend’s shout. “Gimli—I—what?” he stared at the Dwarf with wide eyes, confused. “I do not understand…”
“The next time you are injured, I do not care what you say—and if you tell me you are ‘fine’ I shall kill you right now—you will be dragged or carried, but I do not trust you to properly assess your own state, and certainly not to walk in it!”
“I would think you would be thrilled at the opportunity to relate to Aragorn that you were witness to an Elf losing his footing, Master Dwarf,” Legolas replied tartly. He had the feeling that he was going to regret that later, but if the thought of it would shake Gimli back to normal the Elf was willing to make the sacrifice.
“Thrilled?” Gimli roared, practically quivering with rage, and Legolas realized that perhaps it had not been such a good idea after all, although he still did not know why. “Elf, you could have died!”
Oh. So that was it—Gimli was not trembling in rage but in fear. “I did not think of that,” he admitted quietly. “It is fortunate that such an occurrence was avoided.”
“Think—it—fortunate!” Gimli barked, coherence lost.
“See Uncle Gimli?” Eldarion piped up tentatively. “Everything is all right. You do not have to be worried.”
Legolas nodded, agreeing with the child. “Eldarion speaks truth. There is no cause for further alarm.”
“Further alarm?” Gimli repeated. “Further alarm?”
“Gimli—mellon—please, calm yourself. ‘Twas no harm done, there is no need to carry on so.”
“Carry on?” the Dwarf shouted, eyes still burning. “Legolas you—” Gimli swallowed and dropped his eyes. His voice fell to a whisper. “I almost lost you, you fool Elf.”
Legolas suddenly found he had to swallow hard to force his own words past a lump in his throat. “I am not that easy to get rid of, fool Dwarf,” he said with a small smile, trying to coax an answering one from the other.
“Yet it was such a near thing—” Gimli’s words caught and he cleared his throat gruffly, blinking furiously as the smoke from the torch made his eyes water.
It must have been a decidedly strong torch, for the smoke was causing Legolas’s eyes to glisten wetly as well. “You were here,” the Elf said quietly. “I had no fear.”
Gimli’s voice failed him. He silently placed a hand on Legolas’s arm and they stood like that a moment in the dim glow of the torch surrounded by darkness.
“Are you done being mad at each other?” Eldarion’s voice broke the hush that had settled over the cave.
“Ay,” said Gimli with a raw laugh. “Ay, we are done.”
“Good,” the child replied seriously. “I do not like when you are really upset with each other.”
“Nor do I,” Legolas murmured. Gimli nodded heartily.
“Besides, Uncle Gimli, you didn’t really have to worry. You know nothing can hurt you two,” the child pointed out confidently before yawning heavily and snuggling back into Legolas’s arms. Elf and Dwarf looked at the small boy. They exchanged watery smiles before once more starting their much slower climb out of the tunnels.
Despite forced banter about careful footing and the state of the crude stairs, they emerged without further incident. After so long cooped in the lower levels, the upper caverns felt almost like freedom to the Elf. He paused, reveling in the feel of air—however faint—against his face. Then Gimli climbed from the pit and, brow still furrowed in concern, practically dragged Legolas away from the edge and back into the tunnel. Legolas murmured soothingly in Sindarin to Eldarion the entire journey, but none of them could afterwards remember what the words had been.
They were all too overcome by the sight of the stars as they stepped out of the cave. Stars, trees, and air—Gimli would never admit that he was as moved by it as the Elf was. But the Dwarf had to blink black tears as he took his first breath of the night wind. He cleared his throat, ready to make a gruff, teasing comment until he saw the tears sliding silently down his friend’s cheeks. Gimli swallowed and turned away a moment. When he looked back, they were both under control again, eyes, if not exactly dry, than at least no longer dripping.
They would have time to feel after they saw to the injuries accumulated in the darkness.
With an efficiency born of much practice, the Elf and Dwarf quickly set to work organizing a camp. Gimli retrieved their packs from the entranceway of the cave and tossed them to Legolas, who had carried Eldarion a few steps away to a soft mossy spot between two pines. The Elf pulled their blankets out and started to make the child comfortable while the Dwarf began gathering wood. After making certain that the boy was all right for a moment, Legolas disappeared with their waterskins and Gimli kindled their fire. The Elf was back in moments, and the draught of cool water did much to refresh them all. It also refreshed Eldarion’s stomach, which rumbled loudly.
No words were needed for the Elf and Dwarf to discuss their next acts. A nod and a glance and they set to work. They knew better than to attempt any complicated procedures when they were unskilled in the arts of healing, but they were safe enough with bandages and salve—and as all three of them had a talent for requiring such items, they made sure to carry a decent supply with them on their travels.
First, Legolas deftly slid Eldarion’s circulation-deprived feet from his soft boots while Gimli rummaged in their packs for a suitable collection of dried fruits, bread, and cheeses to become their dinner. Eldarion ate his portion while the Elf and Dwarf worked at massaging life back into his legs faster. He squirmed and mumbled, but distracted as the boy was by the food he did not express a great amount of discomfort at the procedure. His stomach comfortably full, the child lay back and allowed his uncles to check every inch of him for injuries. He rolled his eyes and sighed only once; the child of Aragorn was used to the practices of healers, and while neither Gimli nor Legolas would ever qualify as one they knew the rudiments.
Remarkably, Eldarion had emerged almost unscathed. He had a painful bump on the back of his head, but it did not seem dangerous. He had already slept and shown no signs of difficulty awakening, so they ruled out a concussion. There were a few small scrapes and bruises all along his back from the rough floor of the cave, but nothing that would not disappear in a few days. There were mottled bruises along his shins, and some particularly puffy ones on his knees and toes, but no bones were broken. The only real wound he had acquired was a shallow but long gash along the back of his right calf. A sharp rock must have snagged his skin along with his trousers when he was being dragged from beneath the rock.
“Valar,” Legolas whispered in a voice full of sudden guilt upon seeing the bloody slash, “I did that?”
Gimli rolled his eyes but Eldarion spoke before the Dwarf could open his mouth. “It is all right Uncle Legolas,” the child quickly reassured the Elf, “it does not hurt and I know it was not your fault.”
Gimli just raised his eyebrows, daring his friend to contradict the child. Legolas sighed and rolled his eyes but gave in. When the Dwarf and boy were united, that was really the only option left.
The gash was quickly salved and bandaged, and Eldarion happily reported that the burning in his legs had dropped down to plain pins-and-needles now. He hugged both of his uncles and thanked them for the wonderful adventure before asking what they were going to do tomorrow. Before either Elf or Dwarf could recover from their speechlessness, the boy gave a great yawn and dropped into slumber.
Gimli and Legolas stared at each other a moment before realizing that they both had their mouths hanging open in confused surprise. Chuckling softly, they tucked the child more securely into the blankets he was wrapped in. Eldarion mumbled and turned over, but did not wake. He would be all-but-unconscious until morning.
Which left plenty of time for Elf and Dwarf to deal with their own hurts—both physical and mental. Whatever those might prove to be, it mattered little. The cave and its darkness were far behind them. They were out; everything would be fine now, Gimli was confident. But best of all, the light was back in his friend’s eyes.
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.