6. Chapter 6: Gimli
Chapter 6: Gimli
In spite of their best intentions, that was the last chance Aragorn really had to talk with his companions. From then on, he was close in the counsel of Théoden and with Eomer, as his army, such as it was, prepared to march to Helm's Deep. They had one more day before they left and there had been no sign of Saruman's army. Scouts were sent to check the way ahead was clear. Théoden called his marshals to him, with them he summoned Aragorn.
The night had worn away and the sun risen over Rohan. Bright and clear, so it hurt the eyes of the men and the one dwarf who gazed out across the plains from the Golden Hall. Gimli privately thought the claims of Meduseld to be The Golden Hall a little exaggerated- it was a bit more than the mud and thatch he expected, true, but hardly a rival to even his own modest halls in Erebor. Better to have stone above, below and around.
And he had given his opinion freely in the discussion between Théoden and his marshals. He had not needed to back up Legolas, for the King was utterly under his spell, muttered the dwarf. However, he told himself, it is enough that we unite against the One Enemy. Théoden had spoken of Helm's Deep as a fortress where his people fled in times of war. It sounded to Gimli just what they needed. A fortress. Although why they don't just live there I don't know, he muttered into his beard. And he didn't like the idea of evacuating a whole city either; they could be picked off one by one. He knew Legolas and Aragorn felt the same, by the twitchy way they kept looking at each other. But they both knew Gimli was right- they were sitting ducks out here on the open plain. They had so little chance anyway.
Right, no more of that sort of talk, Gimli reprimanded himself sternly. Bad enough the elf getting all down at the mouth about the orc army without a dwarf losing heart. No, as usual, it would be up to the dwarves to get everyone out of this mess.
Light caught and gleamed on the shining amour of the small party of scouting riders as they wheeled away across the plains. Gimli watched with eyes narrowed. The elf went with them and even now, he could pick out the one rider who did not catch the light, refusing even light amour and any spur or rein. Gimli knew that Legolas had asked to scout the fringes of Fangorn and as far as he could go in one day towards Orthanc. However, he suspected he was not only scouting for orcs but keeping up his search for the hobbits, and he wondered briefly if he and Aragorn should have insisted that Gandalf take them to the hobbits, if for no other reason than it would give the elf some peace. He waved his hand at Aragorn, who even now, left to follow Théoden into the King's council chamber. They had to make plans for war. So did Gimli.
The furnace roared and burst and then settled as the dwarf went about his business. Other smiths watched his blunt clever hands as he twisted metal and seemed to bend it to his will with almost a breath. Their own hands seemed heavy beside his skill.
A knot of lanky, blond-haired boys, too young to be warriors, had gathered shyly at the wide open doors of the forges, staring at the dwarf. They had never seen a dwarf, few had been out of Edoras and now suddenly there was an elf and a dwarf in their midst. The dwarf was strong enough to blow a house down, they had heard, and the elf could vanish and appear at will amongst them, and all the maidens fell in love with him at first sight. But he had also killed the evil Grima and freed their king, so he could not be as bad as those wicked elves of the Golden Wood.
Gimli eyed them thoughtfully and although they glanced at each other nervously, none shied way or fell back. He decided.
'You,' He beckoned to the nearest. His voice seemed to carry further in the forge, though he had not raised it. 'You are now my apprentice. Here…' the boy walked boldly into the heated air, the other smiths paused briefly to look up and smile or nod encouragingly to the youngster. 'D'you know how to make arrows? These will save the whole of Rohan, so it is important work mind you. I want no slacking.' The boy nodded.
'My father is a warrior,' he said quickly. 'Away with Erkenbrand' he glanced out over the grasslands and waved his hand vaguely.
'Good.' said the dwarf. 'Now... I will need four more and will show you how to make arrows good enough even for the elf!' An immediate flurry of voices and hands shot up. Gimli smiled into his beard. Yes- they would do. Eager and willing, and it would take their minds of the battle, and they would need to be ready. Best they get familiar with things now than on the battlefield.
He went on, arranging things and directing men and boys until he was as happy as he could be given the inferior skills of men. He wished for the umpteenth time he had but twenty dwarves instead of a hundred men. 'We wouldn't be here either,' he muttered to himself, looking darkly up at the wooden beams, thatch, and cob walls.
He had told Théoden in no uncertain terms that he would be making arrows rather than swords for they did not have the time to forge weapons strong enough to withstand the heavy steel of the orcs, although he would repair ands strengthen what they already had. Shamelessly he had plundered the treasury and sent his now utterly loyal apprentices to gather anything that could be remotely used as a weapon, pitchforks, and axes, even to remove swords from any tombs they could get into. And when a shocked Eomer had challenged him, he looked sharply at the man and said 'Do you think they would not rise up and fight with you then? Rather see all of Rohan fall than spare you their swords?' Aragorn had smiled unashamedly along with him and Eomer had admitted the logic.
'But I warn you, the king will not be happy about this,' he said.
When Théoden did realise what had happened, Gimli resolved, he would make damned sure the elf was with him… then the king would not say a word. He chuckled and returned to his smithing. He found the steady ring and beat of the forge soothing, the hiss of water as hot metal was cooled, and the strong voices of men who, if they did not have the skill of dwarves, at least had strong hearts. He felt happy. If only they were not waiting to be obliterated by Saruman's army, he thought cheerily.
In the heat and rhythm of the work, he found himself musing on Legolas. They had not really had time to talk… not that they hadn't talked, they had; they had swapped news. Legolas had stopped questioning them about Gandalf, but still, when he looked at them, Gimli could see he was troubled.
But that was not what the dwarf meant by talking. He cast his mind back to the night he had arrived in Meduseld and Legolas had told them his story. There was something in the elf's eyes that belied his merry accounting of what had happened in Edoras. Not that strange sort of prophesying trance he had gone into briefly. No, that was something else altogether and, though he knew it had affected them all deeply, they had already known the army Saruman had created, had already fought the dreadful Uruks first hand… No, this was different. He knew that Aragorn had noticed it too, but said nothing. And later, when both he and the man had lit their pipes and drawn a satisfyingly deep lungful, they had both glanced at each other and exchanged what Pippin called 'A Meaningful Look.' Dwarf and man had got used to each other out there in the wilds, searching for the hobbits.
But still, Gimli thought as he brought his hammer down on steel, perhaps there was more to what the elf had said than what he actually said. He picked up the blade he had forged and sighted along it. Firelight gleamed molten along the smooth, true blade and reflected in the dwarf's narrowed eyes. That business with waking up Théoden for example, Legolas had been very glib about that bit, skipping over the details but embellishing the part Eowyn played. Gimli knew that was to distract them from what was really bothering him. Well, Gimli was a dwarf, he thought, taking the sword over to the anvil once more. And although Legolas was eerily dwarvish in some ways, not that he would ever pay him such a compliment, he did not really yet know the legendary patience of the dwarves. He raised his hammer once more and with the most delicate movement, smoothed a slight crease in the steel like it was linen.
Gimli worked all day and well into the night at the forge and the pile of weapons grew satisfyingly large. Indeed, it was not the weapons were short, but hands to wield them, he thought. He eyed one of the women who brought him an evening meal. She had strong capable hands and broad shoulders. She looked capable of easily wielding a pitchfork. He resolved to speak to Aragorn about his idea.
It did not go down well. Aragorn simply lifted an eyebrow, looking for all the world like Lord Elrond, Gimli thought. 'It's a good idea!' he protested. 'All these women, they are capable of stringing a bow and firing a shot, like any other. I do not understand men!' He said exasperated. Dwarf women fought alongside the womenfolk and wielded weapons as heavy as any man. 'I wager the womenfolk are just as keen to be useful as me.' He said defiantly.
Aragorn looked back towards the halls of the king. 'I will wager they are,' he said 'but men are different from you. They cannot bear that their loved ones be slain, and orcs will see that they are women and target them… It is not the same as dwarves.' He added gently. Gimli could see that.He tried again 'Legolas will agree with me I know. .. They have to rely on their wits in Mirkwood. How about if they only shot arrows... or poured boiling oil? Ah – let's ask Eomer. He has a sensible head on his shoulders.' He waved to Eomer and stomped over.
Beyond hearing, Aragorn merely watched as Gimli made his suggestion to the man.
Eomer listened carefully and with a gradually increasing smile, until Gimli finished and he let out a huge guffaw. Gimli scowled and gesticulated. He pointed over at a woman, lugging washing back to her cottage, one child tugging at her dress, another child lifted onto her hip. Eomer glanced over and registered, but the man slowly shook his head, speaking solemnly. He walked away, leaving Gimli standing, looking between the retreating man and the woman who, realising she was the subject of a discussion, had stopped to stare. Gimli paused for a moment and then tugging on his beard, approached the small family. A conversation ensued, and Aragorn watched the face of the Rohirrim woman go from smiles to interest and then thoughtfulness. Aragorn pulled out his pipe and settled down to watch as Gimli explained his plan, drawing in the earth and pointing.
Sunset. Waiting for the elf to arrive back from scouting with the other riders, Gimli realised that he was worrying the end of his beard braids. Hastily he sat on his hands. He squinted into the setting sun and watched. He was hardly aware when a shadow fell across him and he looked up, seeing Eomer. 'Ah, horse-lord. You wait for a report from the scouts? 'Eomer fidgeted –uncomfortably Gimli thought in surprise. He had not wished to make him so. 'Sit,' he invited hospitably. 'I am waiting for my wayward friend,' he told him, crossing his arms. 'I have something I need to discuss.'
'And you?' Gimli invited.
'As you say, my lord Gimli, I await… their reports.'
'Are any of the other scouts returned?'
Eomer shifted. 'Yes, They are all returned except one.'
'Oh? Is Legolas returned?
'Oh… so you await him also?' There was a pause, and Gimli glanced at the man in puzzlement. 'Do you have a message for him? Shall I ask him to report to you when he arrives? We do not both need to wait.' Eomer shook his head, as if he had a fly buzzing round him thought Gimli. He frowned.
'No… no,' Eomer replied, he sighed.' No. I … I will... Yes. Will you ask him to find me… no. I will …' Gimli glanced sideways at the man again and pursed his lips.
'I will tell him you waited and I sent you to eat. He will find you later.' There was no room for argument and the man seemed relieved to have his mind made up for him. Gimli sat quietly, and thought.
He heard the horse approach rather than saw because night had well and truly fallen. The watch had signalled one rider and recognised the elf before he arrived. Gimli was cold by this time and only the legendary patience of the dwarves, he had reminded himself, kept him from abandoning his post and returning to the hall, where a great fire roared and there was food and drink aplenty. If not in a rather somber atmosphere as the city prepared to move.
Legolas looked dusty and strained, thought the dwarf. Unusually, and the tired horse hung its head low but he supposed Legolas was no more immune to the tension of waiting for battle than anyone else. And he had been scouting on his own now, looking for signs of orc movement or the approaching army. Gimli watched him slide down from the horse and to rub its nose. He shook his head at the grooms who ran out to take the horse from him and led it himself into the spacious and comfortable stables. As he walked in, other horses put their heads over their doors and whickered softly, straining at their halters at the sound of him. Gimli smiled wryly and watched the elf as he took care of the horse.
At last Legolas shut the stable door and wiping his hands, turned to the dwarf. He smiled 'Well?' When the dwarf looked innocent the elf laughed. 'You have been practically hopping from foot to foot. You look like nothing as much as Pippin bursting to tell me something.'
Cross that he should be so easily read, the dwarf decided to save his great plan until later. Instead he said mischeviously 'First I have a message for you. Yon horsemaster wanted you to see him' he said first. A flicker of something flashed across the elf's face then.
'Eomer?' The dwarf was scrutinising him closely and he laughed, a little breathlessly. 'Is that it? You have become the messenger boy?'
'Certainly not!' Gimli crossed his arms and blew out exasperated. 'I am just worried about you, that's all. Someone has to be.' And then, with genuine concern and all pretence gone, he said, 'What is wrong with you, Legolas? You are not yourself.'
Legolas looked away across the grasslands and beyond. He was touched by the dwarf's concern and answered honestly, and with sudden realisation of all that it meant. 'I am cold.'
Later, when the halls of Edoras were quiet, Aragorn sat beside Gimli, Legolas joined them. He threw a twig in the still burning fire in the small grate of the room they shared.Gimli nodded towards Legolas. 'He is cold,' he said flatly.
Aragorn turned towards the elf. 'Cold?'
Legolas resolved to keep his mouth shut next time. There was silence, the dwarf pulled on his pipe and blew out a stream of blue smoke. 'Ah- this is inferior stuff but better than nothing.'
Aragorn chewed the end of his pipe in agreement. 'Caradhras was cold.' he observed after a while to the dwarf.
Gimli grunted. He belched quietly and blinked 'He doesn't mean 'cold, he means 'cold'.' He squinted at the elf. 'Did you find the horselord? He was most anxious you see him I think.' Gimli grunted. He belched quietly and blinked. Legolas looked away across the small room and to the door. He had heard booted feet pause outside the door, but they had scuffed together and now moved away.
'Yes – I made my report, but it was to Théoden, and Eomer was there.'
'Hm' the dwarf stole a glance at Legolas. 'He seems alright after all. Though I have still to teach him manners and the right way to talk of the Lady.' Legolas hid a smile. Gimli always softened his voice when he spoke of Galadriel, and he unconsciously stroked his hand over the leather above his heart. 'Still, he seems alright for a horselover, and his sister is fair enough. She looks fairly wrung out though – seems like she was just about holding it all together till you came along.' He added grudgingly to his friend. Aragorn scratched his beard and caught Legolas' eye. He grinned. '…Pity you killed that Grimble Wormthingie before I got there,' Gimli continued gruffly,
Aragorn glanced over at the dwarf and the seemingly total change of subject, and then towards Legolas. He threw another small twig on the fire and grunted back. He and Gimli had got to understand each other well in the short time they had hunted orcs alone.
'I would have liked to introduce him to an axe.' Gimli added. Legolas pulled his cloak about him a little more tightly. 'Seems you did a good job though.' he continued.
Aragorn looked sideways at Legolas. 'Tell me of Grima Wormtongue.' he said.
Legolas did not respond at first. 'I think Eowyn or Eomer have more knowledge than I.' he replied.
Aragorn turned to him then. 'They did not kill him,' he said mildly.
Legolas let his head fall on his arms then and he sighed. He knew he should not have told Gimli anything. 'There is nothing to tell.' He said. 'He was a man, he was nobody. He wanted power. He succumbed.' Picking at a thread in his shirt, he added, 'Like others before him.'
'Did you think you could save him.. Like you tried to save Boromir? And Gandalf? Is that what you think to do when you scout alone looking for Merry and Pippin?' Aragorn said quietly and without rancour; Legolas froze. 'Did you think to reach him?'
'No.' Defiantly he met the man's gaze, but the compassion was too much for him and he stood quickly. 'I will scout around I think.'
'Not much to scout round here, this place is swarming with guards and sentries' observed the dwarf. 'Oh, and we are in a hall, the Golden Hall' he said slowly and with heavy sarcasm. The elf ignored him, stepping over boots and cloaks dropped untidily on the floor, and shut the door behind him, quickly and silently.
Aragorn caught Gimli's eye and lit his pipe again. The dwarf gave a satisfied little nod and narrowed his eyes as he watched the flames. 'You were right,' he told the man. 'We best keep an eye on him.'
Next chapter up soon: Helm's Deep