1. Giving Ground
Aragorn's gaze burns into me as he answers. "Then I shall die as one of them!"
I'm taken aback by the anger in my friend's voice as much as his sudden shift from Sindarin to Westron.
Aragorn turns his back and walks away. Gimli's firm hand on my arm restrains me from following.
"Let him go, lad," my friend warns in his gruff way. "Leave him be."
Lad? I was bringing down the spawn of Ungoliant at my father's side a thousand years before this Dwarf was born. I do not know whether I should be offended, voice laughter I have no heart for, or simply pull free and follow Aragorn. My decision does not matter; the momentary hesitation will be all one raised by Elves needs to make his escape out the door and towards the walls of Helm's Deep. I shrug off Gimli's hold and head in the direction opposite the ranger, deeper into the keep. My footfalls resounding off of close stone puts me further on edge, but this is the time for it. As Aragorn has chosen to put distance between us, it will have to be the Orcs that feel my ire.
How could Aragorn, of all people, behave thusly towards me? We both know the reality of the situation: three hundred men -- nearly half of that number old men and striplings -- set against the might of Isengard's thousands will be as useless as trying to hold back a flood with two outstretched hands. If any here see the light of the next red dawn, it will be only by the dubious grace of the Valar. It will be more death and misery, and to what purpose? So that an uncertain king may hold on to his pride, in the hopes that his people will forget that he was taken by a wizard's spell and a worm's tongue?
That is an unkind thought and untrue as well, but I cannot help it. It is not my place to argue Theoden's decisions with him, for I am not of his race, let alone of his house. Beyond that, I will stand beside Aragorn. If his choice is to follow the king of the Rohirrim -- even into death -- then it is my choice as well. It is not, however, a choice that I accept gladly.
Does he think that I do not understand? I know what it is like to lose home and loved ones to darkness! When the Shadow in the southern realms of Mirkwood stretched forth, we Elves might have stood and battled it, though it darkened the waters, the trees, and the beasts around us. We might have remained and fought for land that would kill us as surely as a spear to the heart, but we were unprepared and we knew it. Instead of a making a meaningless stand, we retreated, trying to find a more defensible position. The Shadow's servants pursued us, and the spiders pursued us, and some of us did not live to our final destination. No few of us looked back towards those dark woods with burning hearts. The blood of our fallen kindred cried out for retribution, but there would be no vengeance if all my father's people lay dead or scattered before darkness.
Our retreat was not in vain. On the eastern edge of Mirkwood, we found a place that we could hold. No orc or spider has set foot in it yet and lived.
'Perhaps Theoden thought to hold this place,' the calmer part of me suggests.
Perhaps. And perhaps he should have heeded the warnings given him by Aragorn and Mithrandir, instead of condemning us to this ready-made tomb.
"Blasted Elf! Have a little consideration and slow those unnaturally long legs so that a friend may keep pace!"
Distracting indeed are the thoughts that can plug Elvish ears to the approach of a Dwarf!
I turn to Gimli as he draws near, but say nothing. He is a steady companion, but I do not know that I can share my thoughts with him. If Aragorn did not understand, how can he?
For his part, Gimli simply stands beside me, arms folded over his broad chest, as if he has a mountain's lifetime to wait for my words.
They come considerably sooner than that, for I must unburden myself to someone!
"I know it has cost Theoden's people much in the way of pride to leave Edoras behind, and it would be worse still if they were to continue flight before Saruman's armies. My people have more than once been driven from our homes, Gimli, and I know the hurt and the outrage of it, but their city can be reclaimed only if there remain Rohirrim to take it back! Even if Edoras is truly lost, while there is life, there is a chance to start over, to found a new city." It is not until Gimli gives my armguard a deliberate pat that I realize my hands are clenched in fists. I regard my own hands in surprise for a moment, then slowly relax. "The lives of men are brief enough. I would not see these cut short here."
Gimli waits until I have regained my composure to speak. "I believe you feel the plight of these people more sharply than you know, nor have I forgotten the days when Smaug drove my people from the Lonely Mountain." He pauses and leans on his axe, an infuriatingly calm presence. "What would you have them do, Legolas, if it were in your hands?"
"I would not have had them come to this place."
"That cannot be undone, Master Elf, but let us assume that it could be. Do you know Rohan so well that you could have found a place better defended?"
Not so long ago, I would have assumed that Gimli mocked me with these words. I have since learned that Dwarves can be quite pragmatic when the need arises and that he only digs to the heart of the matter as directly as he can. His question makes me restless all the same.
"Were it up to me, we would have taken them on into Fangorn." Gimli looks at me as if he considers me to be more unreasonable than usual. "It would not have been expected." The answer remains feeble, despite my attempt to justify it.
"Only because even Saruman credits us for some sense! Fangorn is practically on his doorstep. Beyond that, these are Men not Elves. The journey would have exhausted them, and I daresay you would have been the only one at all secure in those musty old woods."
"I would not have us remain here!"
"Even if there were some mousehole we could creep out of what good would it do? The Uruk-hai would find it out when they took this place and they would pursue. Even if it were a small tunnel, and they could only come at us one and two at a time, they would not tire. They would feed on their dead even as we ran short of provisions. Eventually, we would be worn down. Is dying in open battle not better than being worn away like rock under rushing water?"
Gimli speaks the words that I will not allow myself to think, and they are no easier to accept coming from a friend.
"It seems that Elves do as well surrounded by stone as Dwarves in the heart of the forest," I say finally.
"And neither of our kind react well to being forced down paths we would not have chosen for ourselves. Helm's Deep is not ideal, Legolas, but it is the best of many poor paths and we should set our feet firmly on it."
"You speak true, friend Gimli. Nothing is gained by balking on this journey. I thank you for reminding me of what I refused to accept in my despair." I reach down to squeeze the Dwarf's shoulder as I voice my gratitude. "I should speak with Aragorn. I did nothing but add weight to his shoulders, tormenting him with what we cannot change."
"We will meet up with him, by and by. In the meantime, we should find our way to whatever armory this place has. The time for battle draws nearer and neither of us are equipped for it."
As he brings his axe into both hands, I realize that I still do not understand this Dwarf. There is a glint in his eye saying plainly that he looks forward to the fray, despite the odds. It seems that he intends to enjoy each step of the journey, and never mind the destination. I cannot help but take heart from that.
"Lead the way, Master Dwarf, and I shall take comfort in the fact that, no matter the outcome of this battle, the Uruk-hai will leave behind more dead than we shall."
"That's the proper way of looking at it!" The Dwarf's friendly thump, unexpected as it is, sends me two steps to the left. "Now you're thinking like a Dwarf!"
This time, laughter wins over indignation as we set out together.
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.