21. The Remains of the Fellowship
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Chapter 21: The Remains of the Fellowship
Gimli looked sideways at the rest of the Fellowship and harrumphed softly into his beard. This was not exactly an overwhelming success. A black and white liveried servant hovered annoyingly at his elbow, trying to fill his goblet with wine. There was no ale. No ale! Thorin's hairy balls, dwarves in their midst yet they had no ale. He turned his glare upon the unfortunate servant who looked terrified and scurried away to fill Aragorn's goblet instead. Again, noted Gimli with immense disapproval.
Sumptuous indeed were the dining rooms of Denethor where the remains of the Fellowship were being feted, but it did nothing to dispel the gloom that seemed to hang over them. Anything less like a Fellowship he could not imagine. This was supposed to be a celebration, Gimli told himself irritably. It was supposed to cheer Merry up. But Merry had eaten sparsely and pushed his plate aside. And Pippin had fussed and fussed until Merry snapped irritably at him and then, hurt by his cousin's brusqueness, Pippin had crossed his arms and slouched into his chair to sulk. Even now he sat with his chin sunk on his chest, stealing glances at Merry every now and again and waiting to be noticed.
Gimli sniffed and reached for the platter of good rare beef. He forked it plentifully onto his plate and then shoved it towards Gandalf. The wizard ignored Gimli completely and glared at Aragorn instead, who glared back, and with studied defiance, took the pitcher of wine from the embarrassed and fumbling servant, waved a dismissal to them all, and sloshed the red liquid unsteadily into his goblet, almost tipping it over. Gandalf was tutting irritably and fumbling in his robes for his pipe. Gimli was glad at least that they no longer had any witnesses to their misery.
And Legolas had that otherworldly, distant look on his face that meant he was asleep, or dreaming, or just being an Elf. Gimli scowled at him, the Elf was pushing the same piece of bread around and around his plate as if making careful patterns in the rich gravy. It was not as if Gimli had never seen Legolas refuse food before, for he seemed able to forgo food for long periods when necessary. But whenever it was plentiful, he ate heartily. It seemed Legolas was as infected with gloom as the rest of them.
Perhaps it was the magnificence that made them uncomfortable, thought Gimli, digging forcefully at the food in front of him. Around them had been lit hundreds of huge, extravagant candles that dripped wax and cast a lustrous golden glow around the splendid room, softening the harsh edges of the black and white marble floor, the hard marble walls. The finely carved table, its dark wood reflecting the candlelight, was laden with golden tureens of vegetables, gleaming silver platters of roasted meat, rare and bloody, and silver bowls of exotic fruits. They had not been feasted like this since they left Lothlorien. Yet only Gimli and Pippin ate with anything like the appreciation it demanded. For Gimli the gloom of his companions was spoiling his dinner, and that made him grumpy.
He reached for a shank of lamb and slammed it bad-temperedly onto his plate. Well, Aragorn had better get used to it quickly, he thought. The King of Gondor and Whatever-It-Was was not acquitting himself with elegance, Gimli squinted irritably down the long table. Aragorn drank steadily, unusually steadily, spilling wine down his tunic and not even noticing it.
When said King banged his goblet down too hard, wine sloshed over his fingers. No one else seemed to notice though, each so sunk in their own misery as to be completely unaware of each other's.
Even the Elf was oblivious and seemed to have barely registered Aragorn's strange behaviour. The least Legolas could do was share Gimli's concern. Gimli nudged him gently, then after no reaction, nudged him harder. Legolas glanced up surprised.
'You are asleep!' Gimli hissed accusingly.
Legolas' eyes cleared a little of the otherworldly gleam and he shook his head. 'No, I am just thinking.'
The Dwarf snorted disbelievingly. 'No wonder you can't eat,' he said, unable resist. Legolas did not respond so the Dwarf growled and added, 'You have to do something.' He looked expectantly at the Elf.
Legolas stared at him blankly. 'Do something? About what?'
The Dwarf jerked his head meaningfully towards Aragorn who was still drinking steadily, defiantly almost. Legolas just flicked his eyes towards Aragorn, shrugged and then went back to pushing that damned bit of bread around.
'Legolas,' hissed Gimli again. He jerked his head again, more forcefully and this time, pinned the Elf with a hard, meaningful stare.
'What?' Legolas said irritably, louder, and Pippin looked up with interest.
Gimli rolled his eyes and sighed loudly. 'Do something. He'll be flat on his back in five minutes otherwise! What sort of impression do you think he is giving these folk of their new king? He always listens to you,' he added for good measure. Legolas gave a cryptic stare and Gimli shifted a little. There had been that time in Moria, when Legolas said he didn't like the feel of the place, and then again at Sarn Gebir just before the orcs had attacked... 'He nearly always listens to you,' he amended, and then for good measure, scowled at the Man.
Obediently Legolas glanced over at first Aragorn, then Gandalf. 'What do you expect me to do?' he turned to Gimli.
Gimli noticed that Pippin had opened his mouth to speak but at that moment Merry glared at him so he shut it again. Gimli thought that rather a good thing considering the prevailing mood. But frankly, he had had enough.
'I don't know. Stop him from drinking so much.'
Legolas sighed and rubbed his long hand over his eyes for a moment. 'Perhaps you should leave him, Gimli. He will sleep anyway tonight. Perhaps we should drink with him. Like the Rohirrim.' He laughed softly. 'Drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.'
'That's it! I have had enough of this,' Gimli declared irritably. 'You are as miserable and grumpy as a boatload of Longbeards*.' He crossed his arms and scowled at Legolas. This would not do. 'How about you, Pippin?' he said, appealing to the only other member of the company with any semblance of good sense, and that was saying much indeed!
Pippin brightened up immediately. 'How about a song?' he asked and looked at Merry.
'A song?' Merry said with sudden interest kindling in his weary eyes.
Pippin glanced quickly at Legolas, his eyes round and bright, and said, 'Oooh!' Gimli saw Merry wince, and Gimli knew why; that round-eyed, bright look meant Pippin had an idea. And that was not always good...
'What about if everyone has to sing a song?' Pippin asked, clearly determined to make everyone cheer up.
Gimli's heart sank; Pippin would want Legolas to sing that crude and bawdy song he was singing earlier that morning. Aragorn would sing the Lay of Luthien - he always sang that when he was in his cups! The Hobbits would sing that dreadful song about the Preening Pony or whatever it was. And Mahal only knew what Gandalf would sing. But for the first time that evening, Merry looked more like himself. Gimli softened and decided he would endure anything to see the Hobbit smile again.
Pippin almost bounced, and Gimli realised he had not seen the Hobbit so delighted for some time either but he would not let that little grief spoil things so he gave a tight smile and nodded.
'Legolas? Would you like to begin?' Pippin said mischievously. No doubt expecting the whole company to be regaled with the Elf's bawdy exploits, real or imagined. 'Merry would like that, won't you, Merry?' Pippin continued cheerfully. 'Legolas, will you start?'
Legolas looked up again and his gaze caught on Pippin's hopeful face. Gimli shook his head- that Hobbit knew Legolas could never refuse them anything. Ever. Not even that time Pippin had finished all his pipeweed but somehow knew that Aragorn had been saving his, and had one bowl left. Gimli still didn't know how Legolas had got it, nor how Aragorn had never guessed it was his missing pipeweed that Pippin had been smoking with such quiet satisfaction.
But Legolas sighed now. 'I suppose I could finish Nimrodel for you.. but it is long and very sad,' he added. And he looked back down at his plate and pushed the same piece of bread around again.
Gimli ground his teeth and saw Pippin's face look first appalled and then suddenly determined. To the Dwarf's and everyone else's astonishment, Pippin reached over and grabbed the piece of bread Legolas had been shuffling around on his plate. 'If you aren't going to eat that, Legolas, give it here,' he said and stuffed it quickly into his mouth. 'I hate to see good food go to waste,' he added, his mouth full.
Gimli roared with laughter at the look on Legolas' face.
"Pippin!' Merry cried.
'Well it's true!' cried the youngest Hobbit, finally at breaking point. He pointed to Legolas. 'He's been moping and miserable all night. And Aragorn is drunk and going to fall over in a stupor. Gandalf is glaring at Aragorn like they've had an argument, and you,' he turned to Merry with misery in his eyes. 'You aren't speaking to me and just tell me off, and it's only Gimli and me who are making any effort, and this is supposed to be a cheerful meal!' Pippin took a breath and stared defiantly at each of them.
Legolas looked away, ashamed, and Merry reached over and took Pippin's hand. He patted it gently and smiled but he seemed too tired really to say anything. Gimli shook his head slowly, sadly. Here they were, six of the nine who were sent against the Nine of Sauron, victorious upon the battlefield, reunited to celebrate, and unable to even have a simple meal together.
It was Aragorn who spoke first. He put his cup down and drew a breath. 'You are right, Pippin. I have drunk myself to stop feeling. And I cannot say for anyone else but I am sorry.'
He paused and looked away. Then for some reason Gimli was unable to account for, Aragorn faced Legolas and said in utter misery, 'I am sorry.'
Gimli was not the only one to be surprised. Pippin looked at Aragorn and then at Legolas, puzzled, but Gimli had an uncomfortable feeling that there was far more going on than he knew.
'Well you can make it up to us by singing a song,' said Pippin, alway ready to take advantage of an opportunity. He threw a reproachful look at Legolas and added, 'But its got to be happy, or have a happy ending. Aragorn, you can't do the Lay of Luthien.'
Aragorn's face fell. 'I.. I don't really think I can,' he said, holding out his hands in apology. 'My heart is too heavy this night.' And again, Gimli noticed that it was then that Legolas raised his green eyes to Aragorn and regarded him for a long moment.
'Man cerig?' he asked gently. Aragorn would not meet his eyes but shook his head slowly.
Gimli grew very still; Legolas only ever spoke in his own tongue when he was swearing, being crude, or when he was trying to hide something frightening from the rest of the Fellowship.
The Dwarf watched silently and when he had no answer, Legolas reached slowly out and caught the Man's hand. Aragorn froze. He did not pull away, or speak but Gimli saw him close his eyes briefly as if in pain and turn his head away from the Elf's green gaze.
Legolas held him lightly and Gimli saw the gentleness and love the Elf had for Aragorn. It suddenly hurt him to see that, for Legolas never blamed Aragorn for anything, ever. Whatever he had done... and let's face it, Gimli thought to himself, Aragorn had done much to injure the Elf already.
'Geheno in,' Aragorn said softly, his eyes cast down. Gimli frowned and wondered why he would ask Legolas' forgiveness. But the Elf said nothing and when he went to draw his hand back, Aragorn did not let go so that Legolas looked up startled.
'Geheno in,' Aragorn said again, but more urgently and he clasped Legolas' hand this time.
Gimli felt a sudden rise of panic. Aragorn was not just drunk, he was insistent, and obviously distressed. Gimli felt sure it was because of something he had done to Legolas. Abruptly Gimli pushed himself to his feet. 'What is going on here?' he demanded.
Aragorn and Legolas looked at him and if it had not been so serious, Gimli would have laughed at the identical expressions on their faces, of horror and fear and guilt.
He narrowed his eyes. 'Tell me.'
Legolas glanced at Aragorn.
'Something is going on,' Gimli lowered his voice warningly, and was aware too that the Hobbits were very still and looked at Aragorn expectantly. 'What have you done?' he asked the Man warningly.
Aragorn suddenly pushed his chair away and stood up. 'Legolas is going to scout in the mountains,' he said quickly, throwing a venomous look at Gandalf. He whirled away for a moment to throw open a window and stood looking out, Gimli could see his chest heaving as if he were breathless.
Everyone looked at Legolas.
Gimli heard the Hobbits give a sigh of relief but he was not so easily fooled. Aragorn would not look so upset if it were truly just scouting.
'Oh? The mountains? Well, I will come with you then, for I long to see the mountains. I miss the feel of the good stone beneath my feet.' And he leaned back to watch the reaction.
He was not disappointed. Gandalf raised an eyebrow. Aragorn leaned his forehead against the cool stone lintel and Legolas pulled at the loose thread on his sleeve. Ah... that was always a sign with him, thought Gimli wisely.
'My brother goes with him.' Aragorn returned to the table and threw himself back into his chair. He looked tired. 'You will not be needed, Master Dwarf.'
Gimli did not budge. 'Master Dwarf now is it?' And that was always a sign with Aragorn that he did not want anymore discussion. Well, thought Gimli, Dwarves have the patience of stone. And are creatures of action. This was not the first time Gimli had had to bang the Man's and Elf's heads together. Aragorn gritted his teeth and took another gulp of wine, and Gimli turned calmly to Legolas. 'One more then will make no difference,' he said and met Legolas' narrowed eyes. He smiled grimly. 'When are we going?'
'Not we… Me.' Legolas spoke firmly. But the thread had run along the edge of his sleeve and frayed the edges a little. Gimli remembered once before, thinking they had all unravelled; it was Legolas who was unravelling now.
'Yes,' Gimli smiled tightly. He was like the rock of the mountain now. 'I will go with you. You made a promise to me, if you remember.'**
Legolas looked at him deeply and Gimli heard that whisper of the high wind in the trees, and thought he smelled the deep forests for a fleeting moment. 'Gimli, you cannot come with me. I need speed and stealth. And you have strength and...strength ... You are a rock.'
Gimli paused for a moment and then slid his eyes away from Legolas' earnest face, and studied Aragorn. The Man had let his head sink low and looked thoroughly miserable. He knew something more.
'Tell me,' he said simply.
Aragorn looked angrily at Gandalf and the Wizard puffed thoughtfully at his pipe, sending a long grey stream of smoke into the air. He looked down the long table at the anxious faces before him and met Gimli's earth-brown eyes.
Eventually Gandalf said, 'Tell them what happened yesterday, Legolas.'
And then in a quiet voice and with dim eyes, Legolas told them a story that Gimli could hardly believe. He listened, astonished, as the Elf told them how he had gone into the city and stood in the frosted streets and the Nazgul had come, how he had let himself fall into the sea-longing to escape the Nazgul's searching, and how Elrohir had driven off the Nazgul. Gimli softened towards the son of Elrond at that, pleased that Elrohir had indeed fulfilled his vow to mend things between himself and Legolas. But he noticed too that Merry paled and looked down at the mention of Nazgul.
'What has this to do with scouting though?' Pippin asked innocently. 'Are you checking the Nazgul has gone?'
Gimli realised Pippin was right. A simple scouting expedition would have no real dangers for a warrior as experienced and skilful as Legolas. So what was all the fuss about, the miserable long faces, the sense that this was somehow their last chance to be together? He shot an accusing look at Legolas who would not meet his gaze but pulled at the thread of his sleeve once more.
'The Nazgul saw something… before I could close off my thoughts from it, it saw that I knew about the Ring,' said Legolas quietly. 'But I saw something too... It knew about Frodo …It had… ' he swallowed, 'it had seen something in Ithilien. One of Faramir's men… I think he had seen Frodo. The Nazgul are searching for him in Ithilien.'
The Hobbits had listened aghast and in complete silence, occasionally stealing a look at Gandalf, who sat silently, puffing thoughtfully on his pipe.
Gimli covered his mouth with his hand. He could imagine. Faramir's company had all been slain, or captured. And Faramir had seen Frodo and Sam, he knew about the Ring; Merry had told him as much. There had been but four Nazgul in the battle of the Pelennor Fields. Now he knew why.
'So we need a plan to make it think we have the Ring here,' Gimli surmised quickly. 'And how is that going to be achieved?' He looked round at the company. Aragorn steadily drank the rest of the wine in his cup. Slowly Gimli turned back to Legolas, who sat quietly, still picking at the thread of his sleeve.
'I am going to find the Nazgul and let it see the Ring in my thoughts.' Legolas glanced apologetically at Merry and Pippin. 'I am going to suggest that Merry, the Hobbit who killed the Lord of the Nazgul, has the Ring. That it is here, in Minas Tirith. As is Isildur's Heir. It will draw the Enemy out as Aragorn wishes.'
Identical expressions of outrage appeared on the faces of Pippin and Gimli.
'You are what... !?!' exclaimed the dwarf.
'No!' Pippin shouted. Indignant and angry, he glared at Legolas. 'Hasn't Merry suffered enough? They will come looking for him and... ' Pippin's breath hitched.
Gandalf spoke up then. 'He is safe here, Pippin.'
'Well, Legolas wasn't! Don't pretend the Nazgul could not have killed him! I have seen what they can do- far too close for my liking too. If they can trap Legolas, they can trap Merry. I won't let you do it, Legolas!' exclaimed Pippin angrily. His face was flushed and red and he met Legolas' steady gaze defiantly.
'Nor will I!' declared Gimli, standing beside the Hobbit. 'You go to your death, Legolas. I will not let you do this.'
As if he had not realised, Pippin stared first at Gimli and then he swung round to look at Legolas. 'Then you will sacrifice both you and Merry. You cannot do this, Legolas. Not even because Aragorn wishes it.' All eyes turned to Pippin but he did not waver.
Gimli felt a new respect for Pippin. He looked up at Aragorn and said, 'Pippin is right, Aragorn.' He saw in Aragorn's eyes the despair and fear but he could not stop now. 'Aragorn, this is your friend you send to his death!'
'No.' Legolas reached out and held Gimli's arm. 'Aragorn had nothing to do with this, Gimli. It is my fault alone.' He pulled Gimli round to face him and pinned the Dwarf with his steel gaze. 'I brought danger to us all and I have to dispel it.'
Gimli snorted angrily.'By going to confront the Nazgul? And letting them capture you?'
'No.' Legolas protested, but Gimli saw the fear in his eyes. 'No, I will let them see just enough to convince them that It is here, in the city. It will stop the Enemy from searching Ithilien. He will focus on here instead.' Legolas' spoke anxiously, and Gimli saw how he wanted to convince them this was the right way.
'And how do you intend to escape?' demanded Gimli, feeling a strange laughter bubble up inside him, for this was the most preposterous thing he had ever heard.
In the uncomfortable silence Gimli caught Aragorn throwing a venomous look at Gandalf who sat quietly puffing on his pipe and watching them with shrewd, thoughtful eyes. The Dwarf stroked his beard, realising that of course, it was Gandalf behind this after all.
It was Merry who spoke then, his voice weak as though he were out of breath. 'Is this really the only way?' he asked Legolas soberly.
'It is less than we have asked of Frodo.' The Elf's reply silenced them all. All except Gimli, who would not be silent in the face of this madness.
'Sam is with Frodo.' Gimli clenched his fists. 'With his friend. And I will go with you. Like Sam. With my friend.'
'You are coming back, Legolas? ' said Merry suddenly.
At that moment Aragorn shoved his chair back so hard it fell over. He turned away and glared at nothing, jaw clenched. Merry and Pippin stared at him and Gimli looked back at Legolas.
'Gandalf...?' Pippin asked suddenly, 'You are very quiet. Stop him from doing this. It is too dangerous!'
Only then did the Wizard take his pipe from his lips and he blew a long stream of smoke into the air. 'Legolas is right, Pippin, ' he said slowly. 'I will not stop him. It was I who asked him to go.'
'And now you will ask me to go with him,' Gimli planted himself now in front of the wizard, arms crossed and determined not to budge. 'Like Sam went with Frodo.' He did not miss the flicker of pain cross the wizard's wrinkled face, nor did he miss the glance at Legolas and the strange expression in his eyes.
'It is true that Sam did go with Frodo,' the Elf conceded.
'Good.' Gimli turned to him, uncrossing his arms and sitting back down again. 'Then that is settled. We leave at dawn.'
But he felt a strange emptiness settle in his chest at the bleakness in Aragorn's eyes, and in the sorrowful pride in Gandalf's eyes when he looked at the Elf and then Dwarf. And although Gimli wanted to reach out and still Legolas' fingers where he nervously picked at the loose threads of his sleeve, he did not. Yet it was what he wanted. More - it was what he had demanded. He would not leave his friend…And yet, he felt that he had somehow done wrong by him.
He should have known better.
Before they turned in, Legolas had been sitting, head bowed, on the edge of the narrow cot that was too short for him. Lamplight glowed and the Elf seemed to reflect it in his own soft glimmer. In his hand a fine silver chain was looped and something glittered. He was staring at it as if it could save him somehow and Gimli had leaned over to see the delicately wrought leaf dangling from the chain. Dwarven-crafted no doubt for no silvan Elf could make something so fine.
Legolas had suddenly looked up and Gimli felt that unsettling sense of vertigo that he sometimes got when he looked into those strange green eyes.
'If I fall,' Legolas had said earnestly, 'Take this to my father...if he yet lives. Make him understand that we are friends. Promise me.'
'You should keep it then,' Gimli had replied sturdily,' for you will not fall while I am with you.'
They had left it at that and Gimli had slept. And dreamed … of dry deserts and hot blue sky … drumming hoofs and red crimson robes flying, white heat shimmering… And awoke, not to the drumming of hooves but the soft drumming on canvas and the dim, diffused light from outside the tent. Rain. It had finally broken over the Pelennor Fields and Gimli knew all would soon turn once more to mud.
He blinked carefully and held his head. After he had forced Legolas to agree to Gimli going with him, the Elf had gone to search for ale for Gimli, and then kept the Dwarf's cup topped and the Hobbits laughing with his merry tales of the Wood. If not everyone had joined in and been happy, Gimli could not blame them, for tomorrow he and Legolas would face the Nazgul and they might not return. But he was determined that if this were to be the last memory the Fellowship had of them both, it would be a merry one. So Gimli had drunk much, too much, and joined Legolas in singing loudly the bawdy songs that usually shocked him.
Gimli winced and told himself everything was fine. The world did not spin in that horrible dizzying way. He was not clinging to the edge of the wooden cot and forcing himself to focus on one thing at a time. In fact, he told himself, he felt remarkably well. He felt something small and sharp-edged in the palm of his had. He looked down and opened his hand with a sudden sense of fear.
A small leaf, wrought of mithril, lay in his open palm.
The Dwarf stared at the leaf for a moment and then suddenly leapt from the bed and grabbed his boots. Dragging on first one then the other, he threw open the canvas tent flap and hurled himself into the daylight.
It was a miserable sight that greeted him. Rain fell in a grey sheet. The ground was slippery and sodden. Mud was churned up by great cartwheels and the proud banners and pennants flopped wearily, bedraggled in the steady rain.
Gimli charged through the mud, wiping the rain from his eyes and struggled to Aragorn's tent. He barged in without waiting.
Aragorn stood, his back to the Dwarf, one hand leaning on a wooden desk, the other covering his eyes.
'Where is he?' Gimli strode over to the man and dragged him round to face him. 'Where is he?' he shouted. And then he stopped. Aragorn wept. Tears on his eyelashes, his eyes red-rimmed showed he had not slept, and he could not look at Gimli.
'He has gone. Early. Before daylight.'
Gimli stared at him, speechless. Then he turned and throwing open the tent once more, he ran. Sliding and slipping on the sodden mud, he pelted over the battle field and into the city. He scrambled his way over piles of rubble and beneath wrecked carts, instinctively knowing his way to the upper levels. His heart hammered, not from exertion but from fear and he hoped with all his dwarven might, that he was not too late, that he had guessed right and Legolas would take Arod, that there was yet some way of catching him.
The mews were almost empty. Two horses put their head over their doors when he entered the stables, munching hay and regarding him with soft, intelligent eyes. One whickered softly and for a moment he thought it was Arod. But it was not. It was a black war horse. It shook its long black mane and whickered again.
Then he realised it was not calling him, and looked behind him. One of the sons of Elrond stood there, staring with the same look of horror and loss on his face, elven-fair. His eyes travelled then to Gimli.
'They are gone then,' he said. 'They are gone and not even farewell.' And Elladan covered his eyes with his strong, swordsman's hand much the way Aragorn had.
Next chapter: In the mountains, Elrohir and Legolas, alone.
* Longbeards- one of many clans of dwarves. Notoriously averse to any kind of journey by water.
** The promise Legolas made to Gimli is that he would go with Gimli on their return and explore Aglarond.
Man cerig? - What do you do?
Geheno in. - Forgive me.