The Dwarf awkwardly patted his friend’s back as the Elf sobbed. He murmured something that was supposed to be soothing, but had no idea what he was saying. Time dragged on as Gimli’s mind raced for a solution, but this was a situation he could not come up with a proper response to. He had stood by Legolas in all sorts of circumstances and moods; he had seen the Elf in battle and in peace, content and tormented by sorrow and the Sea, but he could not ever remember him being so freely devastated before.
“Legolas, my friend,” he stammered awkwardly, “please, Legolas, tell me what is wrong.”
“So dark,” he whispered, more to himself than the Dwarf. Gimli wondered if his friend even knew that he was there, but the desperate grip on his arms attested to the Elf’s awareness of him. “So dark, so small…” the prince breathed in between hitching sobs.
Gimli closed his eyes in pain. Had that accursed cave done more than a few wounds to the Elf’s body? Would it cast its shadow across his bright soul as well? Gimli knew that Elves were less vulnerable to mortal injuries than other races, but the trade-off was that their emotions could do them far more harm than any blade or disease. If this experience had some permanent effect upon the Elf…
The Dwarf firmly pushed those thoughts from his mind. Legolas was just upset. He would be fine soon, the Dwarf told himself desperately. He was reacting to his claustrophobia; the attack that he could not allow himself to suffer in the caves was just manifesting itself now. That was all. “It is all right, Legolas. We are out. See, the stars shine brightly overhead tonight.” And now I am talking about the beauty of the stars! some detached part of Gimli’s mind pointed out ruefully. That is what comes of befriending Elves. Gimli harshly told that part of his mind to be quiet; he was too worried about said Elf for jest at the moment.
Gimli cursed himself for not thinking of this sooner. He knew that Legolas did not like being enclosed in small spaces, especially when they were dark and cut off from the outside. And he had recently learned that not only did the Elf dislike them, he was apparently terrified of them and merely hid it well. Obviously he had been terrified down there; Gimli remembered the last time they had been trapped by a cave in and shuddered. Legolas was just reacting to the ordeal he had just gone through. He would be fine in moments, back to his usual nearly-unflappable Elven self. He just needed a moment to get a hold of himself again.
“See, Legolas, you can feel the wind again,” Gimli pointed out heartily. “And—and hear those blasted trees,” he continued in desperation, trying to distract the Elf from his memories and draw him back out of the cave again. It seemed he was reliving the experience, and Gimli’s heart already ached at the thought of what his friend had gone through once. He did not want Legolas to have to feel it all again. “Yes, the trees. I am certain that they are, uh, are pleased to see you,” he added frantically. “The darkness is gone, I swear to you. The darkness is gone…”
The Elf, still shaking, drew away from the Dwarf’s arms after a moment. He seemed to be making a supreme effort to bring himself under control. Gimli placed a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder but Legolas flinched away. The Dwarf understood instantly; Legolas was not rebuking the offer of aid, or of his friendship; he merely knew that accepting any comfort now would send him into sobs once more. The Elf’s breathing gradually slowed although he continued to tremble.
“I am sorry,” he whispered quietly, wiping futilely at the tears that glistened in his eyes and on his fair face.
“For what?” Gimli asked softly, eyes full of concern.
“For…for this,” Legolas replied, unwilling to meet his friend’s gaze. He ducked his head and stared with blurred eyes at the grass his fingers were idling twining through. “It seems that I am still causing you no end of trouble,” he whispered sadly.
“Have we not already had this conversation?” Gimli asked wryly. His friend made no response. Frowning, the Dwarf reached out to move the curtain of pale hair that separated him from the Elf. “Legolas,” he said kindly, “the only trouble you cause me I accept gladly, but I will not accept your guilt. It is I who ought to apologize; I should have never let you convince me to return to that accursed cave, least of all to allow you to enter it. Not now that I know better.”
“Now that you know how much of a coward I truly am?” the Elf asked bitterly, still refusing to meet Gimli’s eyes—which darkened with a scowl as his friend spoke.
“Elf, I know that we have already had this talk, and while normally I do not mind in the least re-treading familiar ground with you, I feel that this is one that need not be repeated.” He stared at his friend, who seemed suddenly so fragile. It was as if something had broken—
Then Gimli understood. Legolas had not been nearly as calm as he had pretended in the cave for the sake of Eldarion—ay, and for his sake, too, the Dwarf realized. Legolas had shoved his terror behind that Elvish façade of unruffled cool that had been so well ingrained in the Mirkwood warrior that the mask would likely have withstood even the physical presence of Sauron himself. But now he was out, and the relief combined with the knowledge that Eldarion was fast and log-like asleep and would not be frightened to see Legolas’s fears had proved too much for the pretense to bear. His desperate mask of control had shattered. Gimli shivered, wondering how close his friend had really come to breaking inside that dark abyss.
Tears sprang to Gimli’s eyes and the Dwarf was forced to swallow many times before he could bring himself to speak. He could not have them both in tears. “Legolas,” he said huskily, “my friend, I am so sorry. I—I am—” He cleared his throat, searching for words but the right ones refused to come. At last he said, “you are braver even than I thought.”
“Do not mock me,” the Elf whispered harshly.
“Nay,” Gimli rushed to correct him, “I do no such thing. I had—I had no idea how difficult it really was. I do not know if I could have shown equal courage under such fear, or kept up such a strong front of calm, in circumstances of the sort.”
“You did well enough on the Paths of the Dead.”
Gimli shuddered. “Perhaps; certainly I still have the nightmares to prove the journey. Yet it was a near thing, Legolas—a very near thing. Almost I could not bring myself to enter them. Were it not for seeing you walking calmly in front of me, unafraid of any specter or spirit, I doubt I would have found the courage to do so.”
“In Harad I was too angry to be frightened. That is not the same thing at all, and you are attempting to distract me so that you may focus on feeling poorly without my interference,” the Dwarf said huffily. His voice softened. “Legolas, it is all right. It is over.” He grasped the Elf’s shoulder and felt it shaking beneath his hand. Legolas nodded jerkily but said nothing.
Gimli took the Elf’s chin and turned his head so that he could catch his eyes. “Legolas—it truly is over,” he repeated firmly. The sight of the Elf’s tear-streaked face was almost enough to break Gimli’s resolve and he had to blink furiously. “My friend,” he said softly, “we are all safe. You can relax your control now.”
Legolas gave a mirthless laugh. “Gimli, I lost my control some time ago. When first I awoke after the collapse, I think. It has been a—a strain to keep up the pretense of it.”
“Once again, the Elves’ penchant for understatement comes to light,” Gimli muttered in a light tone that did not match the worried look in his eyes. Legolas tried to summon a smile for the Dwarf’s jest but failed. Gimli looked at him sorrowfully. “My friend, you can let go the shattered shards of it now,” he said quietly. “There is none here to see but me.”
Legolas stared at him a moment, trembling as he clutched desperately at the long-broken mask of control that had carried him through the darkness. Then he leaned forward and rested his head on Gimli’s broad shoulder. “Thank you, elvellon,” he whispered as fresh tears ran down his cheeks. “I am sorry that you had to see me like that, yet…I thank you.”
Gimli swallowed hard and nodded, but could not stay his own tears for long. The two friends sat long in the starlit night, weeping gently as the strain of the last few hours slowly drained away.
Everything would be all right. They were out; they were together. Everything would be all right.
…Providing, of course, that they survived the wrath of Queen Evenstar.
Arwen Undómiel smiled fondly as she watched the intrepid explorers returning triumphantly to the city—Eldarion’s heartfelt assurance to her of the manner in which they would return. The queen’s eyes narrowed as she studied them closely. Gimli was moving with a pronounced limp, as if his right knee was stiff. Legolas was walking gingerly as well, favoring his left ankle. Both of them were carefully keeping their right arms held close to their sides, and she was certain that Gimli was sporting a rather colorful black eye. Her sharp grey eyes flashed to the small figure bouncing happily between them, but Eldarion seemed entirely unharmed.
Arwen frowned suspiciously at the three figures for a moment before turning and heading deliberately towards the gate to meet them upon their entrance to Minas Tirith. She was waiting calmly, arms crossed and an expectant expression on her face, as they walked in past the saluting guards.
Her eyes went first to her son who was springing along happily and chatting with his adopted uncles. Then she glanced intensely at the other two. Gimli’s eye was a deep shade of dark purple, with faded yellow growing around the edges, and he was definitely limping. As was Legolas, who gave off an almost imperceptibly impression of…it was difficult to associate the word with the collected prince, but Arwen was tempted to say “frailty.” The piercing glare she directed on them was interrupted by a sudden attack.
“Nana!” Eldarion cried excitedly and launched himself at her. Arwen’s fierce expression dissolved into a soft smile as her small son attached himself to her waist. “Oh, nana, I had the most wonderful time it was so exciting there were trees and a cave and lots of rocks and animals and it was so much fun and can I go to Rohan soon?” He looked up at her eagerly, panting from lack of breath.
Arwen raised an eyebrow. “Rohan?” she asked curiously, wondering where that fit into everything else.
“Yes, Uncle Legolas told me stories about ada when he was younger and Uncle Éomer and please nana may I go? Saes? Please!”
Arwen gently patted the boy’s disheveled hair. “We shall see,” she told him gently. She looked up at the Elf and Dwarf with an inscrutable expression. They both smiled innocently.
Entirely too innocently.
Valar, Arwen moaned to herself, what have they done this time?
“And nana, it was so exciting, there was this giant rock and I was trapped after it fell and Uncle Gimli lifted it up all by himself and then we had to climb this amazing staircase he built that looked like it was going to fall down and Uncle Legolas sang to me and told me stories so I wouldn’t be bored while Uncle Gimli went to find the torches and—”
Arwen tried to skewer the two culprits with a glare, but Legolas and Gimli had already silently conferred. Deciding that discretion far outweighed valor where the noble Lady Arwen was concerned, they had begun fleeing as soon as the queen had looked away from them. They had fled very discreetly of course, until they were a suitable distance away and could break out into a—limping—run.
Arwen smirked wryly. She knew that once she heard Eldarion’s version of events, it would not prove difficult to coax the rest of the story out of the Lords of Ithilien and Aglarond.
And if that failed, she could always employ her brothers to do a judicious bit of snooping when they arrived for a visit in two weeks. She could properly exact her vengeance once she knew the true tale.
Then Arwen froze. Her brothers would be here in two weeks.
Legolas and Gimli would still be here. Elladan and Elrohir would be here. Eldarion would be here.
The queen groaned. Gondor was doomed.
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.