3. Chapter 2
Night was upon them. The howls grew nearer, and the Company sought the higher ground of the small hill under which they had earlier sought shelter. A fire now burned inside a broken ring of boulders they had found amid the knot of gnarled trees at the crest. The hobbits hovered near the flames, casting fearful glances into the darkness. With every howl, Pippin shivered, and Sam spent much time attempting to calm the pony. Bill tossed his head, showing the whites of his eyes before settling down as the howls faded.
Gimli kept her back to the fire as Gandalf set the watch, casting her gaze outwards, searching for the elusive wargs that certainly haunted their steps. Aragorn and Legolas took up posts on opposite sides of the fire for the first watch. Gimli and Boromir would take the second, while Gandalf and Pippin would take the third. Frodo, Sam and Merry would have the last watch of the night, and Gimli nodded her approval at the decision. It was unlikely Frodo would need to actually take a turn at the watch, and all could see the Ringbearer needed rest more than any of them, though sleep would elude them all, she feared.
Gimli settled beside the fire to get what rest she could. Nearby, the pony snorted, shifting nervously and trembling as the howls drew closer and then faded back. From time to time, she could see shining eyes just beyond the circle of stones, and she rested her hand upon her axe waiting. The attack would come soon.
The wargs were upon them with no warning. Gimli surged to her feet at a howl from so close by that her beard bristled. The dark shape of a large wolf stood in a gap in the circle of stones, its red eyes glinting in the firelight as it snarled. She drew her axe, preparing for the lunge that would surely come.
Instead Gandalf surged to his feet and strode towards the warg, raising his staff. *"Listen Hound of Sauron!" he cried. "Gandalf is here. Fly, if you value your foul skin! I will shrivel you from tail to snout, if you come within this ring."* Never had Gimli heard such a ring of authority in the wizard's voice.
The wolf took no heed of the words. It snarled and leapt toward the hobbits. Gimli moved to push them back, but before she took one step, the sharp twang of a bow sounded from beside her, and a moment later the wolf fell to the ground, an elvish arrow shot through its throat.
Gimli glanced with astonishment to where the elf stood. His skill was impressive! She took in a sharp breath as her eyes beheld him now. The playful and teasing elf from Caradhras had disappeared, and in his place now stood a fierce and fey warrior. Legolas had another arrow already nocked to the string and his bow drawn. His eyes surveyed the darkness beyond the firelight, and Gimli thought any creature foolish enough to move would find themselves pierced as well.
She turned her own eyes to searching the darkness beyond the circle, knowing hers and Legolas's eyes were best suited to seeing through the blackness of night. Aragorn and Gandalf strode forward, swords drawn, but the howls had faded away.
The wolves were gone—at least for the present.
Dawn neared, the moon setting low in the sky when the next attack came. No warning was given as the wargs charged in from every side. Gimli scrambled to her feet with the others, axe at the ready.
*"Fling fuel on the fire!" Gandalf called to the hobbits. "Draw your blades and stand back to back!"*
The fire blazed up, and Gimli hefted her axe, knowing this time her blade would bite into flesh. She felt someone move to cover her from behind, and the smell of summer and beech trees reached her nostrils. Immediately she knew who stood at her back, and she set her legs with a lethal smile and swung her axe with confidence. Legolas's bow sang behind her as her axe hewed through dark fur and bone. They proved a formidable pair in a fight.
What happened next, Gimli did not know for certain. One minute she had been absorbed in the fight, and the next light bright as a flash of lightning erupted as a voice like thunder roared. Her axe blade glittered in the flare of light and then the trees began to burn. Ash and sparks rained down on them as the smoke wafted over their company. The hobbits cried out, then all that could be heard was the crackle of the flames.
Gimli was uncertain when her eyes had slipped closed. She felt stunned, as if she had taken a heavy blow to the head. Blinking tears from her eyes from the heavy smoke that lay over them, she noticed the fire now burned down, and not a trace of their foes could be seen.
Boromir and Aragorn strode forth, swords drawn, searching for the bodies of those wolves that had fallen in the fight, but they found no trace of them. Gimli turned her gaze upon Gandalf who stood tall and forbidding in the night with his sword drawn, his staff raised and his eyes piercing and nearly glowing with an inner fire. A wizard indeed!
Sam's voice could be heard from where he huddled next to Pippin in the center of the ring. *"What did I tell you, Mr. Pippin? Wolves won't get him. That was an eye-opener, and no mistake! Nearly singed the hair off my head!"*
That was when Gimli noticed the smell of singed hair. Alarmed, she reached up to feel her own head, only to stop when a snort reached her ears. She turned and glared at the elf who watched with amused eyes. "Though it glows red like the fire, it has managed not to be consumed, Master Dwarf." His lips twitched as she narrowed her gaze at him but found she could not summon any of her typical disgust. Instead she wanted to smile, for they had won their first battle as a company!
Unwilling to give him that satisfaction, however, she settled for helping to collect his arrows. They appeared to be untouched by the flame or damaged from their flight—all except one. The toe of her boot hit the single metal point, all that remained of the arrow that had pierced the first wolf. Stooping, she picked it up and turned it in her fingers, then taken by some strange compulsion, she slipped it into her pocket. She dared not question why she had done so, but returned the handful she had to the elf.
He smiled, and to her disgruntlement, winked before placing them in his quiver. Gimli turned away sharply, the haft of her axe conveniently smacking him on the backside. The elf started and glanced around with both surprise and curiosity. Gimli hid a grin, "My apologies, Master Elf," she murmured, moving to join the others.
They set out in search of the doors of Khazad-dum as soon as the full light of morning had come and they had eaten a quick meal. Gimli felt a great eagerness to see for herself the Halls of Durin and to discover what had prevented word from Balin in all the years since last they had heard from him. She walked towards the front, often at Gandalf's side during march. Her desire to reach Khazad-dum drove her on, and she even pressed ahead from time to time.
The sun was reaching its zenith when she called back to the others and pointed to the right towards a deep, narrow channel. Gandalf confirmed the near-dry streambed had indeed once held the rushing waters of the Gate-stream, and her excitement grew. The walk from there was long and wearisome, and the hobbits limped as the day progressed. Even Aragorn and Boromir looked relieved during their short breaks, and Gandalf leaned on his staff, his brow furrowed as his eyes searched out their route.
Only Gimli and the elf seemed to be unaffected by the long walk. Her growing excitement at reaching the ancient home of her people kept her marching along, proving that Dwarves were more resilient and less easily tired than many other races. She glanced back at the elf, and felt a slight dismay at what she found. Legolas too walked with ease, though how he managed it in those light shoes, Gimli could not fathom. Flimsy, silly things made of only a soft deer hide. He would do better in a sturdy pair of dwarven-made boots. Why, he could even have tiny green leaves tooled into the leather to match the ones embroidered on his tunic!
She frowned when the elf briefly met her eyes, then glanced away without any of the typical smiles, jests or winks. He had been quiet and morose since they had begun the day's trek. It was as if some weight disturbed him, though Gimli could not think what that might be. What business was it of hers if the elf was troubled over some petty grievance? He was probably sulking for her thumping him with the haft of her axe. Her thoughts (she refused to acknowledge it as concern) turned from the elf back to their journey.
It was near to sunset when Gimli, Gandalf and Frodo climbed the stone stairs and looked down at a still black expanse of water and beyond it vast cliffs jutted up with no fissure or crack in the forbidding stone. Gimli's heart leapt within her. They were nearly there!
They were forced to find another path up the slopes to the dark lake; the pony could not possibly climb the stairs. The way was long. The last golden rays of sunlight were flickering in the west and the first twinkle of stars could be seen when they reached the lakeshore. They made their way around the northernmost corner and across a slimy, shallow creek. The gunk clung to Gimli's boots and she tried to shake it off to no avail.
From there Gandalf pressed them hard until they reached the remains of a holly forest. The tangled old thickets were long bereft of life, but close to the cliff remained two towering holly trees, throwing dark shadows about their feet. *"Well, here we are at last!" said Gandalf. "Here the Elven-way from Hollin ended. Holly was the token of the people of that land, and they planted it here to mark the end of their domain; for the West-door was made chiefly for their use in their traffic with the Lords of Moria. Those were happier days, when there was still close friendship at times between folk of different race, even between Dwarves and Elves."*
*"It was not the fault of the Dwarves that the friendship waned,"* Gimli declared, bristling with indignation. She had heard many tales of how those ties had been severed and in none of them had her people been at fault.
*"I have not heard that it was the fault of the Elves,"* Legolas added, looking down his nose at her.
Gimli blinked. In all their travels, with all the insults thrown, never once had the elf sounded so haughty or arrogant. He laughed and teased, winked and grinned, but this? This reaction disturbed her. Something was troubling the prince-ling, but what?
*"I have heard both," said Gandalf, giving both of them a hard look, "and I will not give judgement now. But I beg you two, Legolas and Gimli, at least to be friends, and to help me. I need you both. The doors are shut and hidden, and the sooner we find them the better. Night is at hand!"*
Gandalf turned to speak with the others, leaving Gimli and Legolas staring at one another. The elf looked as startled as she felt. Friends? Could they ever become anything remotely akin to friends? 'Unlikely,' Gimli thought. Still…the Elf looked thoughtful.
He offered no words of reconciliation, but glanced instead to the stone walls. "We should seek the doors," he said.
Gimli nodded and stepped up to them, tapping with the haft of her axe and listening for the change in tone that would signal a chamber or tunnel behind the stone wall. She knew that what appeared to be solid stone might hide a hidden door. There were many such in Erebor, and Glóin knew them all and had taught her well the art of locating them so their secrets might not be lost.
She moved down the wall, tapping and listening, then glanced back to see what the elf was doing. She started when she saw his lithe body pressed up against the stone, his ear to the wall and his eyes closed as if listening. By Mahal! Could he communicate with the stone itself? She remembered his declaration in Hollin: *"Only I hear the stones lament them…"*She had heard the Elves could speak to the trees, and had never before this quest considered they might have an affinity with stone as well. She pushed such thoughts from her and continued searching.
Glancing up at the towering cliffs, Gimli felt humbled. Behind these walls lay Khazad-dum, the dwarven realm of old; but the gates she searched for had been made by not just Dwarves — Elves had worked alongside them, skilled in stonework and the shaping of gems. Perhaps there had been reason for a friendship between their peoples if they shared a love for creating things. And while Dwarves did not spend much time in the forests of the world, they had a great appreciation for nature's beauty, carving it into their pillars and walls.
*"Well, here we are and all ready," said Merry, "but where are the Doors? I can't see any sign of them."*
Gimli cast a frustrated look at the hobbit. *"Dwarf-doors are not made to be seen when shut," Gimli called to him. "They are invisible, and their own masters cannot find them or open them if their secret is forgotten."*
She regretted saying that as soon as it left her lips, for the elf rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath that Gimli could not hear. She cast him a disgruntled look, and opened her mouth to challenge him on it, but was cut off by Gandalf.
*"But this door was not made to be a secret known only to Dwarves," Gandalf said, turning to look at them. "Unless things are altogether changed, eyes that know what to look for may discover the signs."*
'Riddles,' thought Gimli. 'Wizards always speak in those blasted riddles!' But then Gandalf did something, muttering some words Gimli could not quite hear. Then he stepped back.
*"Look!" he said. "Can you see anything now?"*
Lo and behold, Gimli's eyes perceived in the moonlight upon the stone faint, silvery lines, slowly growing to reveal their design. An arch of elvish characters ran across the top and below glowed an anvil and a hammer, surmounted by a crown with seven stars; and beneath these were two trees, each bearing crescent moons and in the center, a single star with many rays.
Gimli gawked at what she was seeing. *"There are the emblems of Durin!"* she cried, her excitement mounting as she realized they had found the Doors.
*"And there is the Tree of the High Elves!"* Legolas gasped in wonder, his eyes shining. He glanced at her, and their eyes met. Unable to help herself, Gimli grinned at him, and to her surprise, Legolas grinned back.
To Be Continued…
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.