16. Chapter 16:The choice
Special thanks to Anarithilien who put me right on so many things! Especially thank you for the second bit of the last line of the story. Last chapter.
Above all else, Elves have a gift with Song.
Chapter 16: The Choice
Gimli slumped on a hard wooden bench with his head on his arms. An empty mug was overturned next to him, and a plate with a half eaten loaf and a gnawed bone beside it. Snores punctuated the hush that lay in the hall. Two Rohirrim warriors half lay in similar positions around the table, and one snored gently on the floor nearby. Gimli snuffled and murmured in his sleep.
He dreamed he was in the marble halls of Erebor. Gold and mithril runes swirled up thin marble columns. The high roof arced above a throng of dwarves, silent and watchful… Gimli stood at the foot of the throne, which was empty. But on the empty seat lay the crown of Thorin. Gimli stared. Behind the throne stood his father, but hazy and insubstantial… and then a hiss and a low guttural voice spoke. But though he could not really hear the words, he knew they were full of threat…Gimli was turning to face the danger, his hairs on end, when he heard a clear voice and light seemed to slowly edge away the shadows. Warmth travelled from his shoulder, and spread through his strong limbs. The scent of pine and moss and woods filled his lungs and he awoke to see Legolas bending over him, hand on his shoulder.
When he opened his eyes, the Elf straightened and a flicker of relief crossed his face.
'You were dreaming, my friend. I think it was not peaceful?'
'No,' Gimli passed a hand over his eyes and tried to focus. He felt numb, the dream still lingered like a smell and he was grateful that Legolas did not pester him and allowed him that moment. 'No, it was not. I dreamed they had returned with their demands that Dain help them find It… but Dain's throne was empty…'
Legolas breathed in sharply. 'It is as you said, Gimli, war marches upon our own lands and even if we could wish for some of our own people, I do not think any would come...'
Gimli swallowed. His throat was dry and Legolas' words were bitter, but true nonetheless. He felt thunder in his head and closed his eyes again, letting his head sink back to rest on his arms once more. It was worse, the room spun in a dizzying speed, not round and round but over and over like he was somersaulting. The dream had unnerved him, indeed, upset him. He did not want to think of the chill in his bones and his blood.
'Gimli! Awake now! It is a dream.' Legolas' voice was insistent and discordant. Gimli batted away the hand that shook him urgently.
He cracked open one eye and peered at the Elf. Legolas was watching him with that unnerving intensity he had. He grunted as much to himself as to Legolas and shook his head slowly. Then wished he hadn't.
'Are you sick?'
Gimli moaned, a long, deep, heartfelt moan that came from his belly and rumbled through his lungs and chest. His hands cradled his head tenderly and he squeezed his eyes shut. He knew he had drunk too much of the Rohirrim ale the night before. It had seemed only courteous at the time. Now though, he wished he had not.
'You are sick. I will fetch someone.' He heard the scrape of the bench being pushed back. Quickly he reached out and grabbed the Elf's arm.
'No! No… healers or nurses ...or anyone…' he rasped. His throat was scratchy and dry; he could barely recognise his own voice. 'I am not sick… just a little… under the weather.' He said, hoping the Elf would not guess that the real reason for his less than usual cheer was in the number of upturned mugs strewn across the table in front of him. 'Go and wake Merry.' He mumbled, hoping that would drive Legolas away. But it didn't.
There was a pause and he knew the Elf was probably appraising the state of Gimli's slumbering companions; it was not long before Legolas had concluded correctly, the cause of Gimli's discomfort.
Amusement replaced concern in Legolas' voice. 'You are ailing then?' he asked pertly.
It was obvious the Elf was not going to leave him, and would instead delight in tormenting him. 'Very well, Legolas. I am awake. I am fine. I am in your hands. What do you want?' he said, resisting the urge to clutch his head. Instead he pushed himself upright with his strong forearms and shot Legolas an almost venomous look.
Legolas had seated himself opposite Gimli and regarded him with bright, curious eyes.
'I do not want anything.' Legolas said. Gimli glared at him.
'Merry is not yet awake. He slept like a drunken Dwarf all night and I am glad you did not disturb him with your carousing… It was fine carousing was it not?' Legolas picked up an upturned mug and set it right, quirking an eyebrow at Gimli. 'Do you have a sore head?'
Gimli was mildly indignant. 'Dwarves do not get drunk, unlike Wood Elves,' he declared, taking his cue from Legolas. How could he resist the bait when it was so politely offered?
'Perfectly true,' Legolas picked up several platters nearby, stacking them loudly and irritatingly. 'And therefore, you have no dizziness or army of Dwarves in your skull this morning?' he asked brightly. Gimli glanced briefly at Legolas. 'Then I must insist you visit the Woodland Realm on our way home.' Legolas scraped food from one plate onto another and clashed the knives together. His voice was bright but Gimli knew him well, could hear the slight falter at the word home. And his own dream lingered yet.
Just then a finger of cold brushed Gimli's cheek; the door to the hall opened and closed again. Legolas glanced up and his face changed subtly. To Gimli, who knew him well, he looked suddenly vulnerable and he turned to see who had entered.
A tall shadow stood in the doorway. One of the sons of Elrond.
The warrior stood still and regarded them silently, the thin morning light that streamed through the narrow window caught in his silver-grey cloak, long black hair was braided much more loosely than Gimli had grown used to. Elrond's son neither smiled nor raised his hand in greeting and Gimli stared back for a moment, wondering at the strange reserve. He glanced at Legolas, his face impassive too and thought they were like two dogs, warily regarding each other. Gimli however, shrugged and took the initiative; he nodded courteously and stood, intending to greet the newcomer properly. However, the warrior merely nodded briefly and turned to go back out of the door he had just come through.
'They are taciturn these sons of Elrond,' he observed wryly to Legolas.
'They are Noldor.' Legolas replied uncertainly, looking after the warrior.
Gimli snorted. 'You say this as if it explains everything! Perhaps though, to you it does.' He stole a sly look at Legolas. The Elf had pulled the thread from the cuff of his shirt and was picking at another. Gimli wanted to put his hand out to stop him but did not. 'Is there bad blood between you?' he asked curious that a child of Elrond would be so dismissive of a kindred Elf. And Legolas himself, adrift amongst mortals, would he not seek the company of his own? Surely he did not prefer the company of a Dwarf to Elves?
Legolas was shaking his head in response to Gimli's question, still pulling at the loose thread. 'Not that I know. Elrond is revered by all our folk as wise and noble. My lord king has cordial relations with the lord of Imladris.' he answered, and Gimli was pleased at the steadiness of Legolas' voice as he spoke of his father, 'But in Imladris, I think they do not understand our ways.'
'And what ways would those be?' Gimli thought he might already know what the wild Woodelves did that was so disapproved of by their more sedate kin.
'They are different.' His companion shrugged. 'They are interested in the things we are not.' The Elf slid a look at Gimli and the Dwarf wondered if Legolas compared him with the Noldor. It was true that the Khazad had more in common with the clever, cunning Noldor smiths than with fey and dangerous Woodelves. 'They think us wild, untutored, unlettered and savage.'
Gimli would have blushed once to hear his own thoughts echo in the Elf's words but he grinned instead, guessing the Woodelves rather enjoyed their notoriety. Even exaggerated it for guests, he thought, squinting an astute eye at Legolas.
'Well, I will look forward to showing your folk how a Dwarf celebrates,' he chuckled richly - even though his head did hurt, but only a little - and resumed his careful check of the remainder of the Company. 'Merry is still abed?'
'Sleeping still.' Legolas smiled, 'He was so very tired.'
Gimli had a memory from the night before. The Rohirrim had wanted to toast the Dwarf's metalwork and skill, again, hailing him as Ironmaster and the Elf as Longshot. He recalled now that Legolas had found that terribly amusing, but Gimli had seen him gently still his movements as Merry, who had been too tired to concentrate on Legolas' jests, had fallen asleep where he leaned against the Elf. Gimli had no further recollection other than he had enjoyed himself immensely.
'He was indeed tired. And did you tuck him in like a fierce Dwarf Lord?' he teased, reminding Legolas that Gimli had done the same himself for Aragorn not so long ago. 'And Aragorn?' he remembered. Gimli had not seen Aragorn at the revelry and glanced quizzically at Legolas. Ah, there it was. The subtle shift, moving his gaze slightly, almost imperceptible. It was strange that once he thought Legolas inscrutable. He wondered why mention of Aragorn had unsettled Legolas.
'He is with Halbarad,' the Elf answered.
Gimli raised his eyebrow gently and waited. He folded his arms and leaned back in the chair. He knew he could wait… in fact it was good to have the silence. Dwarves have the patience of stone. A blackbird sang outside in the morning and nearby, a sleeping Rohirrim rider snuffled and settled back into his dreams.
But Legolas simply sat there, and did not elaborate even in response to Gimli's obviously patient waiting.
Gimli scowled and tugged his beard. 'He is with Halbarad doing what?' And because Dwarves were also creatures of action, he added irritably, 'And yes, we can assume they are talking so don't say talking.'
Legolas closed his mouth and for a moment, he looked amused. Then it faded and he looked serious and concerned. 'He had the Palantir with him.'
Gimli felt a cold dread in his stomach. There was only one reason for Aragorn to take the Palantir with him anywhere; he intended to use it. And even Gandalf had refused to look into it. 'He had what?' he snapped, 'Why did you not go with him? Why did you not stop him?' Even as he spoke he winced – Legolas could not have stopped Aragorn unless he forcibly took the stone from him.
'I tried. He would not be turned.' Hurt flitted almost imperceptibly across the Elf's face and he turned away slightly.
Gimli pulled his beard braids and slowly shook his head. 'Ach- I know. You could not have stopped him once his mind was set.' He paused, hardly daring to think; Frodo and Sam toiling alone across that desolate waste, the heat and smoke and drought of Mordor. The Great Eye searching for them…His own stout heart trembled at the thought and, not for the first time, he wondered at the wisdom of their quest. 'I hope he knows what he is doing. If Gandalf is right and Sauron has control of the stone, then …' He did not elaborate, Legolas would be thinking the same.
Gimli scratched his head, feeling his hair and wishing for a bath, for a comb and clean clothes. He needed to clear his head. Legolas had looked away, frowning, and was anxiously pulling at the loose thread on his sleeve once again. They were all unravelling a little, thought Gimli.
'Gandalf gave the Palantir to Aragorn. He said it was truly Aragorn's.' But there was a trace of uncertainty in Legolas' voice too. 'He would not risk Frodo,' he added more strongly. Gimli nodded. He too believed in Aragorn's strength… but to believe he could regain the Palantir from Sauron himself? And Gandalf feared to look into it?
Legolas paused. He picked a single green thread from his sleeve and considered it. At last he spoke, echoing Gimli's own thoughts, 'I think he will try to wrest the stone from the Enemy… he will try to see what is planned for Minas Tirith.' His voice faltered slightly. 'He… he may look further afield…' Gimli did not ask what Legolas hoped; he too hoped that if Aragorn could wrest the Palantir from Sauron, he would turn his gaze North and East and see for himself if devastation had been wrought in Mirkwood and beyond. Gimli remembered his dream briefly but it was slipping away and he could only remember the sensation of loss and anxiety.
Legolas had unravelled the thread and was now pulling it so the edge of the sleeve was frayed. Gimli, suddenly concerned, reached out to stay Legolas' hand. He caught the long fingers and cradled them gently in his own strong, square hand.
It was much lighter in heart, but still heavy in head, that Gimli followed Legolas to the room they had been given for sleeping. He had not seen it yet but Legolas had assured him it was the same they had used when last in Helm's Deep, and that both his and Gimli's packs were still there where they had left them to ride to Orthanc.
The sun was high and warmed the grey stone of the Keep. Most of the Rohirrim were about now and there was a purposeful industriousness about the fortress. Horses whinnied and stamped, and the garrison at Helm's Deep were busy repairing the stone walls where the orcs had rampaged. Gimli found it strange to recall his feelings when they stood on the battlements looking out over the immense and seemingly invincible army of Saruman. Now the sun shone and Spring was in the air. Small white flowers grew between the rocks and a blackbird sang.
Within, Merry still slept deeply in the narrow bed. Legolas' cloak had been slung over the back of a chair, which had been drawn up near the bed and his bow had been laid carefully nearby. Blankets had been tucked neatly around the Hobbit so that only the top of his curly head could be seen, his clothes folded carefully and placed on the other chair. There were clean clothes too, found in some store room. Legolas seemed to be able to find everything; Gimli thought it was an innate elvish ability to locate whatever he needed or a surprisingly detailed knowledge of storerooms.
Legolas leaned over the sleeping hobbit. Gimli caught the expression on his face - a concerned protectiveness and sadness mixed. It was gone before Gimli really had time to register it before Legolas put out a hand and rudely shook the hobbit awake, all tenderness gone and instead was the same irritating smugness with which he had awoken them on many a morning on the long march from Rivendell.
'Wake up Master Sluggard…the sun is high. Come and look at this place while you may.' Merry blinked and groaned. It seemed that Legolas was quite himself once more, thought Gimli, pleased.
'Pippin, go away. I am still asleep.' Merry murmured irritably.
Gimli pushed the Elf out of the way and grinned at the hobbit. 'Come, Merry, I want to show you where I beat the Elf at orc-killing.'
Legolas gave a clear bright laugh. 'By one single orc! And what about the Fell Beasts?'
Merry cracked open one eye and realising who it was who stood there, tried to turn over. But it was no good. They started bickering again the minute he had closed his eyes. He plumped his pillow over his ears but even that could not drown out their voices.
'A Fell Beast does not count as an orc.'
'No, it should count as at least two for BOTH were ridden by Nazgul.'
'You have only shot one of the creatures since we began our contest.'
Eventually Merry could no longer bear it and sat up, blinking and yawning. Gimli sat on the chair where Legolas had spent the night.
'Come on Merry, it is long since others stirred. There is time to show you this fortress and Gimli can tell you how I had to stop orcs from taking off his head with his own axe.' Legolas stretched his long legs out on the bed and put his hands behind his head, in no obvious haste to move despite his words.
Merry yawned again. Gimli thought that he probably missed Pippin and resolved he would take care that Merry would not miss him for long. Merry arose reluctantly and splashed cold water on his face. Rubbing a cloth over his eyes and round his neck, he asked, 'Where is Strider?'
Gimli looked at Legolas, who hesitated briefly, then said, 'In a high chamber of the Burg.' He pursed his lips as if remembering something confusing or unpleasant. 'I cannot tell you if he has either rested or slept last night. He said that he must take some thought, and only his kinsman, Halbarad, went with him; but some dark doubt or care sits upon him.'* Legolas swung himself off the bed and stood up quickly, restlessly, thought Gimli and he wondered if Merry would guess the Elf knew something and was keeping it from him.
But Merry seemed to not notice anything and when he indicated his readiness to join the world again, they went out into the Spring morning.
They walked slowly towards the hall where Gimli had been resting only a little while ago. This was where all food was served and they expected to find the rest of the garrison.
As they entered the stone hall, Gimli was struck by the difference between the Rohirrim and the Dúnedain. The Rohirrim were loud, many dishevelled, all eating and drinking with relish, making plans, talking loudly about the muster. One rider was on his feet, loudly boasting of how many orcs he had single handily killed, there was good-natured laughter and teasing. The Dúnedain, on the other hand, sat together, quiet and focused, keeping only to themselves.
'They are a strange company, these newcomers,' said Gimli to Merry as they walked past the silent group of Men. 'Stout men and lordly they are, and the Riders of Rohan look almost as boys beside them,' he added in a whisper, leaning slightly to wards the Hobbit. 'For they are grim men, worn like the weathered rock for the most part, even as Aragorn himself; and they are silent.'* He pushed Merry towards an empty space on a bench.
At the top table, Théoden was seated and with him, Eomer and one of the sons of Elrond. Legolas pulled out the bench for Merry and Gimli, but Gimli was not really paying attention to what he did. He had half an eye on the Dúnedain and half an eye on the son of Elrond. He had not missed the appraising glances directed towards himself and his companions and he was as suspicious and as curious as were they. Aragorn may trust these Men and Half-Elven Sons of Elrond with his life, but Gimli did not know them and although he liked what he saw so far, he still wanted to be sure that his gut instincts were right.
So he missed the moment when Théoden beckoned to Merry and Legolas. Legolas nudged Merry and nodded towards the King, who beckoned once more, clearly indicating he also wished Legolas to join them Gimli was mildly shocked and secretly pleased when Legolas ignored the summons and pulled plates and bread towards Gimli. Gimli selected a slice of venison and slopped it onto his plate. Then he reached for the bread and tore himself off a chunk in the dwarvish way. Legolas had already heaped food onto his own plate. Gimli poured beer into mugs for both himself and Legolas.
'Oh Vada, do they only have this Dragon's piss?' Legolas muttered, eyeing the foaming mug disapprovingly. 'I suppose the water is not drinkable.'
'No, there is only Dragon's piss,' Gimli allowed the brew to foam lustrously over the top of Legolas' mug and spill over the sides and onto the Elf's fingers. 'So,' he said, mouthful of meat and bread, 'you prefer the company of this Dwarf to more illustrious company?'
'I fear what mischief you will get up to without an Elf to keep you in check,' replied Legolas gloomily, lifting the mug and making a face. 'And Merry needs to do this on his own,' he added, gulping it quickly in case he actually had to taste it.
Gimli cast him a sideways glance, waited until the Elf had a mouthful, and then said innocently, 'Oh? It has nothing to do with the mooncalf eyes young Eomer is making at you?' He smirked. Legolas choked and was now spluttering and glaring at him. The Dwarf raised his mug and toasted his own success, laughing, 'Come now Legolas? We are friends. I am not going to say anything… Anyway, you have quite a reputation now amongst the Rohirrim. Many a poor boy has cast lovesick eyes at you- and many a maid too. And it could have been either and or both.' He grinned. It was the dwarvish way. Meet it head on and make joke out of it. That way everything stayed in perspective.
'Either and or both?' Legolas gasped.
'You know exactly what I mean. It sounded like you had half a dozen with you not one.'
Legolas opened his mouth, outraged, but could not speak. Gimli laughed loudly. 'Fear not, my friend, I do not think others have guessed –Aragorn maybe… Gandalf and me. Eomer is quite safe – you have been almost discrete…for a Woodelf' he grinned, Legolas looked at him like he had grown two heads. 'That little song is what made me guess. I have picked up a fair bit of Sindarin now, you know.' He snorted, 'But that is the least of your problems my friend.'
'You can jest at such a thing?' Legolas stared at the Dwarf. Then slowly, he smiled, his face suddenly relaxing and the light kindling in his eyes.
Gimli raised his mug to his friend and drank deeply. Legolas was right- it was Dragon's piss – he wondered how he could have drunk so much the night before. The stuff in Meduseld was much superior. He opened his mouth to agree with Legolas but the Elf was distracted then. Gimli turned to follow Legolas' gaze.
At the King's table, Merry was standing before Theoden and speaking. Candles had been lit in spite of the daylight, for the hall was dim and the candlelight glowed on knives and pewter goblets. The King's white hair gleamed over his crimson cloak and he leaned towards the Hobbit, a benign smile on his face. There was a scrape of steel and Merry withdrew his elven knife, the gift of Galadriel and laid it before Theoden.
'What is he doing?' Gimli half stood before Legolas pulled him back down.
Theoden lifted the knife and looked at it admiringly, and speaking to Merry. Gimli could not hear what he said but Legolas listened with concentration.
Legolas paused and then said grimly, 'He is pledging himself to Théoden.'
Gimli was appalled, and pulled away from the Elf's restraining hand. He turned furiously to Legolas, 'Then he wishes to serve him when he goes to Minas Tirith? He should not go to war. It is too much. He has not seen battle. Not properly. We must stop him.'
Legolas laid a gentle hand on Gimli's arm. 'What then? You would have him come with us?'
Gimli stared, uncomprehending. Legolas sighed and looked into the Dwarf's eyes.
'Remember the message to Aragorn from Galadriel?
'Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed to thee;
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.'
Legolas drew his mouth in a thin line and explained, 'Aragorn has been joined by his kin, the Dúnedain. Now he must take the path appointed to him. And the Dead watch that road.' Gimli stared but Legolas continued, relentless. 'We will take the Paths of the Dead, Gimli. It is why Aragorn has gone to look into the Palantir,' he said. And Gimli knew in his heart that Legolas was right. Still he wished the Elf to stop, to not say what was coming. He struggled briefly to pull away from his friend but he was held fast. Legolas caught him, held him, made him look at him as he said, 'It is a prophesy, Gimli. And although Aragorn may wish it otherwise, and you and I wish it otherwise, this is our path now.'
Gimli stared at him. 'What are you saying, Legolas?' He felt a leaden weight settle in his chest. He had convinced himself that Galadriel's warning was no more than a test Legolas had to pass, that they could simply join the muster of Rohan and take the road to Minas Tirith, never nearing the Sea or the blasted gulls. Now with the certainty that Aragorn's path led that way, he felt again a tightness of breath. He could not bear the thought that Legolas would go too…
Legolas continued ruthlessly. 'When Aragorn returns, he will fulfil the prophesy. He will take the Paths of the Dead and we will follow him as we have sworn.' Legolas was watching Gimli closely. He paused and then said more gently, 'Would you have Merry ride then with us? No, better that he rides with Théoden and Eomer. Théoden will keep him safe as we cannot.'
'And you, Legolas? What of you?' he cried angrily, unaware of how loudly he had raised his voice and that concerned glances were cast in their direction. All he knew was that his chest felt tight with the fear that hunched there.
Gimli felt the Elf's hand catch his this time. Not for the first time, it struck Gimli how much more alike they were than different. 'Her warning does not necessarily mean death.' Legolas said gently.
Gimli could not speak for the fear now rising up and choking him.
'It can mean many things.' Legolas continued. Gimli forced himself to look into the Elf's eyes, he was reminded as always of mossy streams running over granite and slate. Legolas sighed and said gently, 'I am sworn to follow him, Gimli. As are you. I could not bear to leave him now, when fear and doubt assail him.'
'He has his kin, his brothers,' Gimli banged his fist on the table and then suddenly, noticed the sudden quiet in the room. But he could not stop. 'He does not need you too.'
Legolas looked hurt and then resolved. His stare hardened slightly and his own voice rose, 'Would you have me foresworn? I will not abandon him, even as you said.'
His own words thrown back at him hit Gimli and the hurt that had choked him burst forth. He stood up, pushing himself away from the table. 'You will not follow him, Legolas!' he cried, 'You will ride with Théoden and Merry instead, if I have to hogtie you myself.'
Abruptly, he realised that the rest of the table had fallen into silence and looked at him. With a cry, he stepped away from the table and walked quickly from the room.
Eomer had turned, as did many others, at the Dwarf's outrage. Merry had stood up from where he had knelt at Théoden's feet, his face turned towards his two friends and full of concern. He started to walk towards Legolas but stopped uncertainly.
Eomer frowned, as puzzled by the Dwarf's uncharacteristic outburst as Merry. Gimli wanted Legolas to ride with Théoden? Surely there was no question that they would ride to the Muster and then on to Minas Tirith together? Who did Gimli think Legolas would follow instead? It was surely Aragorn of whom he spoke, but why would their paths be different? He looked down the long table, lined with his warriors eating and talking now in muted voices, to where Legolas still sat.
Legolas had not risen, not stood to go after the Dwarf. Instead he turned back and calmly cut the bread on his platter, carved himself meat carefully and poured himself beer from the jug. This he drank steadily and having drained one mug, poured another and drained that too. Gradually the men began their conversations again, although it was muted and not a few glances were spared for the silent Elf.
Turmoil was within Eomer's breast though he did not show it. Instead he turned to the son of Elrond, the Elf lord beside him and as calmly as Legolas, he poured wine from the jug into his goblet, for this was the King's table. The lord nodded his thanks and although he did not drink immediately, he seemed gracious. Eomer wondered briefly what he thought Gimli had spoken of and wished he could ask but it would be most discourteous to both his guest and to Legolas.
'It seems these two unlikely friends have fallen out.'
It was the Elf lord who spoke. He glanced at him quickly to make sure he was not imagining it and saw the dark eyes regard him coolly but expectant. Elladan, Eomer remembered he had introduced himself to the King before he was seated next to Eomer.
'It will not be for long,' Eomer said with certainty. He glanced at Merry who now watched Legolas but as if he were not sure whether to approach the Elf or not. 'They are as close as brothers and will not stay angry for long.'
Elladan said nothing. He twirled a sharp white knife between his fingers, watching the light play on the etchings of the blade. 'Will Legolas follow you, do you think?' he asked suddenly, 'Or Aragorn?'
Eomer was taken by surprise. He frowned and turned to the warrior. 'Why would you think he would not follow Aragorn?' he asked carefully.
Elladan looked up then and Eomer was struck by how unlike Legolas he was, although they were both Elves. His muscular frame was that of a swordsman, muscle and bone heavier like a Man but the same grace and steely strength as Legolas was in his movements. His grey eyes though, were haunted by shadows and the weight of his gaze was heavy. Where Legolas was alien and strange and fey, this warrior was serious, more like Aragorn than Legolas… Eomer felt a strange disquiet for Legolas then. He did not like the questions or the sense that Legolas was in some way being judged, and found wanting.
'He is sworn to follow Aragorn,' he replied shortly. 'Why should he follow me?' He could not help asking that bitter question.
The Elf-Lord looked down at the knife and twirled it so it spun and danced between his fingers. 'Even to his own death?' he asked.
Eomer's breath caught. 'What do you mean?'
'Ah.' Elladan gave him a swift appraising glance and then quickly looked back at the knife as it twirled and gleamed in his long fingers. 'He has not told you then? But why would he?'
'Told me what?'
Merry was listening now, Eomer felt him shift and fidget beside him.
'He had a warning from the Lady Galadriel,' The Elf's blade flashed silver, gold, silver, mesmerising. 'Shall I speak it?' his voice was low, almost speaking to himself alone and then he spoke, his voice took on a different note, deeper, quieter so Eomer had to lean towards him to hear the words, 'Legolas Greenleaf…' the Elf lord seemed to linger over the name, 'Long under tree, in joy thou hast lived. Beware of the Sea! For if thou hearest the cry of the gull on the shore, thy heart will then rest in the forest no more….'
Eomer's heart seemed to stop. He could face battle and the prospect of losing loved ones in battle, but to go needlessly to one's death- that was not the way of Men, certainly not the way of the Rohirrim. And he could not believe that Legolas, with all that he was, would squander his own life so needlessly simply because he thought Aragorn would feel better! He swallowed a gasp and turned to face the Elf lord, who was no longer waving the play of light on his blade, but watching Eomer himself with that same intensity he had seen in Legolas.
'I wonder that he did not tell you himself,' murmured Elladan, lowering his grey eyes once more.
Eomer took a breath and clenched his fists under the table. When he spoke, his voice sounded stronger than he felt. 'Whatever it is you think he should have told me, he owes me nothing and Rohan owes him everything. Without Legolas, Théoden would still perhaps be in thrall to Saruman and instead of sitting here exchanging news you would be picking our bones from the orcs.'
The Elf flicked a crumb of bread from his fingers fastidiously. A smile played about his lips and he said almost teasingly, 'Aragorn said you were close.'
Eomer felt heat rise on his skin. Aragorn? What had he said to this strange Elf? What had Legolas told him? Blushing furiously Eomer decided that he trusted Legolas, he was not some trophy. Raising his chin and looking the Elf in the eye he said, 'We are friends, and I am proud that he is my friend. If we are close it does not mean I am his keeper.' He forced himself to stare at his companion. After all, he was surely used to an elven stare by now? When the Elf met his eyes, he did not shy away but blazed defiance.
Elladan smiled more warmly Eomer thought. 'My apologies, Eomer of the Mark. I do not wish to insult you.' Inclining his head slightly to the Man, he waited for Eomer to acknowledge his apology and then said, 'I do not know this Legolas of Mirkwood, although I hear Aragorn speak well of him. And my concern is with him, not this Legolas. It is imperative to my family that Aragorn becomes all that he is destined to be.'
Eomer became aware of the Hobbit, Merry, sitting near and listening, mouth open. Now he spoke up, and he sounded furious, like he was clenching his fists, thought Eomer.
'Well, I do know this Legolas of Mirkwood,' said Merry, echoing the Elf lord's own words with defiance, 'And he is the best of friends. He stood with us when many would have fled, when Nazgul pursued us and wargs attacked and hunted us, he was in the mines of Moria when we were attacked by cave trolls and orcs and the Balrog.' He paused for a moment and Eomer felt ashamed of ever finding Merry amusing. 'And when Orcs had taken Pippin and me, Legolas and Gimli and Aragorn- they never gave up! And his being there stopped at least one hobbit from turning tail and running with all his might back to the Shire.'
Merry stared angrily at the tall Elf lord, sitting beside Eomer. The candlelight glinted off Elladan's raven black hair and he was smiling gently. He seemed unoffended by either Eomer's or Merry's words Eomer mused. He seemed intrigued and more heartened than anything.
Merry however, was oblivious and he continued regardless. 'I do not think Legolas will thank either of you for deciding what he does.' He gave Eomer a furious glance as well as the Elf lord. 'He can be very stubborn. And I should warn you that he can probably hear you although he does not eavesdrop. He says you never hear anything good about yourself. But he can probably hear you without trying very hard.'
Eomer glanced guiltily down the tables towards Legolas ... but he had already gone.
Legolas found Gimli, sitting where he thought he would, in the crude forge that was the nearest thing Gimli had to home. It was small and rudimentary, only any good really for mending broken swords and spears and shoeing horses. But it smelt good to Gimli and the heat and noise of hammers and the hiss of hot metal in water comforted him as the woods did Legolas.
When he first approached him, the Dwarf pulled away and so Legolas sat silently nearby, waiting. He did not have to wait long; he never did with Gimli.
'I cannot let you do this,' the Dwarf suddenly burst out, 'so do not ask this of me.'
Legolas did not speak but tilted his head slightly on one side, listening intently. Gimli felt his own heart pounding in his chest like a great hammer and bellows. 'You cannot go, Legolas. We… I… still need you.' The words had burst from him and now freed, hung between them like fireflies… or the globes of fire that once glowed in the caves of his ancestors, in Moria, where he first understood.
Slowly, slowly, the pounding of his hammering heart calmed and became the rhythmic breath of the bellows. It soothed him, as did the steady glow of fire, of slow molten steel running through stone channels, the brightness of it beautiful in the darkness, the close heat from the Earth warming the mountain, and the bones, granite and slate, basalt rock worn smooth… he realised Legolas had not moved and his bright eyes watched the Dwarf gain awareness of himself once more.
'To others here,' Gimli began slowly, seeking the words of his heart, 'your loss will be sad. You have been a friend, an ally. You have helped us to victory here… But to me, it is more. A Dwarf's heart is not given lightly. I do not mean love that I have for a wife, Legolas,' he said quickly at the alarmed look in the Elf's' eye, 'but you are my friend. And for a Dwarf, that is very important.'
Legolas sighed, 'For an Elf too, Elvellon. But I do not see Death for me just yet… not Death of the hroa... the body… perhaps, a different kind of death… she did not say death anyway... she said I would rest no more under the trees of my home... and that could mean that Mirkwood, as you call it,' he could not, even now, resist the curl of his lip, 'is no more' He sighed and bowed his head. 'We are both a long way from home.
'Who knows, Gimli? Who knows? But we have to keep on going, do what we have said we will do and not count the cost… otherwise, would we ever live at all?' And even as he spoke, he knew this was not the Way of Elves, but the Way of Men. He had already lost too much to stop now. He was already caught up in what it meant to be mortal, to count the seconds and to live like a fire burning - not the slow pace of Elvish life, but the fast burning flames of his mortal friends… And he had yet to speak to another to whom he owed a farewell.
'We will leave when Aragorn returns,' he said quietly. 'You and I, Gimli, will ride together. You will ride at my back I hope for I trust your axe will not take off my head.'
Gimli looked away, he could not bear either the hope or sorrow in his friend's eyes. He breathed in deeply and then said, 'It was a good plan of Théoden's. We will ride home together, my friend, when this war is over. Your Wood Elves can test a Dwarf's mettle, if they can stomach it!' he said with a smile.
Swallowing a gasp, Legolas leaned forwards and gazed earnestly into Gimli's eyes. 'Aye. And I will visit Aglarond with you that you may teach this Wood Elf that there is beauty under the earth.'
Gimli would not deny him for the Crown of Durin, so he said, 'And I will visit Fangorn with you that you may teach me the forest's Song.' Gimli felt the long hand close around his and warmth flooded him. He smiled.
'You have to understand now, Legolas.' He said earnestly, desperately perhaps. 'To be friends with a dwarf is to never break your word.' He held the Elf's forest green gaze with his own. 'Now you have given me your word, not even through death can you break it.'
Legolas leaned forwards a little, staring at Gimli so intensely that Gimli had to resist the urge to pull away. Then he felt a strange vibration, like a low sound, deeper than anything he could possibly hear. He felt intensely aware of himself, the love of the strong bones of the earth, the feel of granite and slate, of silver molten and bright, and gold malleable under his clever hands, of the deep song of the mountains…He was overcome with an emotion he had never felt before… of being utterly known. For a moment, he was moved beyond speech. Then he said with immense solemnity and quietness, 'Know this, Legolas. You are my friend and I could not bear to visit those caves again without you.'
Eomer stood on the Deeping Wall, gazing across the empty steppe. The late afternoon sun cast long shadows. In his bones and blood he felt cold.
As Elladan had predicted, Aragorn had returned some hours earlier and broken the news to Théoden that he would not ride to the Muster, but had chosen to ride the Paths of the Dead. Eomer had not been the only one shocked at how exhausted Aragorn had looked, his skin had been tinged with grey and he had looked haunted, grim. He had called Legolas and Gimli to him to talk. And now, in the courtyards and stables below, the Dúnedain were preparing to leave. Eomer could hear them from where he stood, but not see them.
There was none of the loud excitement or gusts of laughter that accompanied Eomer's own Eored when they set out. These Men were quiet, unhurried; a scrape of iron on stone, a horse whickering softly, the clink of metal, quiet voices speaking a language Eomer did not understand but that sounded familiar.
Eomer wished not to be found, for a moment of peace so he could think, could bind up in his heart the memories of sun on winter grass hair, of a figure standing high on the cliffs above poised as if for flight, of a few hours in a stone storeroom, with a fire of dry tinder in the tiny hearth and leaning back on one elbow watching him, his Elf warrior, long hair sweeping over one shoulder and the firelight glowing on his skin.
Small white flowers grew in the crevices of stone now that it was Spring. He leaned on the wall and stared out across the steppe, long grass waved in the breeze, for miles and miles. High blue sky above, hot sun overhead and in the distance, far away, he almost imagined he could hear the wild horses running, long manes streaming in the wind, long grass brushing their sides…
He dug his hands into his belt and sighed.
Almost, below his awareness was a note, a lingering drift of pine trees and frost from the mountains. Warmth at his elbow made him turn, and suddenly Legolas stood next to him. Eomer shifted slightly and turned to look at the Elf. That long pale hair was blown back from his face and those tight braids revealed the point of his ear. Eomer still felt a slight shock when he saw that. The cheekbones and full lips, the straight nose made his face strong as well as beautiful, nothing pretty or soft. Eomer looked back over his shoulder at the camp.
'You are going with him?' he said, and he could not help the bitter note in his voice.
Legolas did not reply.
'You will ...' Eomer swallowed. What right did he have to ask anything? 'You will walk the paths of the dead from which no man has returned.
'I am not a man'
'No. You are not... But even so I fear for you.' The Man's hands tightened on the edge of the wall. 'The warning… if you hear the cry of gulls, you will die'
'That is not what she said.'
'That is what she meant.'
'That is one meaning.'
Eomer swallowed and then, determined, he spoke the words of his heart. 'I would follow you. I would follow you to the ends of the earth… to Mirkwood, to Gondor, to Valinor itself… if you would have me.'
Legolas turned and stared at him, this man of Rohan, of the steppes and the high blue sky. He smelt of horses and sunlight on the new grass of Spring. His earnest young face turned up towards him. And he was suddenly lost in the anxious, vulnerable brown eyes. Legolas knew Eomer was afraid now that he would be rejected having declared himself and the Elf knew enough to understand how much it cost him to lay himself open like this, to open his heart and be vulnerable.
Legolas smiled gently and lifted his hand to the man's face. He stroked his cheek, feeling the rough fur and soft skin beneath. Exotic musk and the sensuous mouth beckoned him. He wanted to press his lips against the other's, to fill his mouth with his tongue and to sink himself into that heavy sensuous flesh…. He breathed deeply and instead, he whispered 'I will not forget you. Ever. You will live in my memory like a waking dream and I will not forget. Not for all the days of my life.'
He looked away across the steppe, his hand still on the Man's cheek, still rubbing his thumb across the rough fur, seeing in his perfect memory the first time he had set eyes upon the Man – the small band of riders, still bloody from the battle with orcs, and this young Man's fire and courage. His gaze drifted out of focus and somewhere in the middle distance he saw many years away…
'You will be King one day. A King of Men. You will marry some bright lady and father children. ..' He could almost hear the shouting of blond haired children at play, and see the benevolent aging face… 'You will be one of Rohan's greatest kings. The Sea …the Sea will always be close…' he murmured, almost without hearing his own voice.
Eomer leaned his cheek into the caress and closed his eyes, filling his own memory with the scent of moss and woods and hay. He wanted to brand his own memory with the image of the elf, tall, impossibly beautiful, alien and strange. He breathed in deeply and when he opened his eyes he saw the elf's own green eyes wide and gazing at him, the cat-pupil huge and dark, he could see his own reflection there, his hair mussed and eyes bright, his lips parted...
'Will we see each other again?' he asked.
Legolas tilted his head. He seemed lost in a moment that was not this one, but elsewhere.
'When we next meet everything will have changed,' he said softly. 'Namarie.' He brought his hand back down and regarded the other intently. Eomer felt a sudden sense of dislocation- like he had back in the cell in Meduseld when he first truly encountered the Elf. He wanted it to start all over. He wanted the frustration and the promise that it held. He wanted Legolas to wait….
But instead, Legolas turned and walked away through the silent grey stones.
Eomer could not hear his footfalls although he knew the Elf drew further away. He stood there a long time, and watched the band of Dúnedain ride out from the Deep. He watched the only rider with bright gold hair streaming behind him, and the smaller figure clinging to his back. He gazed after them, long after they had vanished from sight, unseeing as the day faded and the sky was sprinkled with early stars.
Eomer breathed deeply, the scent of Spring grass was on the air. He picked a long gold hair from his suede tunic. It was paler than his own and recognising its owner, he carefully lifted it and wrapped it round his hand. Remembering there was a velvet pouch unused in his room, he thought how he would place it there, how he would keep it with him forever, like a memory or a song trailing on the wind.
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.