3. Chapter 3
A gentle rain fell on the Golden Wood. The air was fresh and clean and crystalline drops of water clung to every surface, intensifying the emerald grass to a sparkling carpet. An unseasonably warm breeze stirred the branches filling the air with the tinkling music of water. The sky swirled with blue-grey clouds, but unlike in the rest of the world, they seemed full of life and it seemed to those that saw them that they would soon pass away to reveal an even fresher sky than had existed before.
Many of the Galadhrim had taken to the trees for refuge, singing softly so that their sweet voices drifted on the wind, rising and falling with each breath of air. Most of the Fellowship had sought out the shelter of their pavilion, but a peculiar mood had captured Gimli and he wandered aimlessly under the trees marveling at this strange beautiful wood. Before this he had not thought that trees could be anything but tools to build bigger and greater cities. But the trees here seemed too alive to put an axe to, almost as though it would be putting an axe to a friend. Thus it was that he came to Cerin Amroth and its ring of white trees. Though he had not entered the tree tops since their meeting with Celeborn and Galadriel a sudden urge seized him and he began to climb the ladder that led to the upper branches. The climb might have been wearying, yet he felt that he ascended through a cloud of gold veined with white and tiredness was lifted from his limbs.
He passed many flets as he climbed, and from them he heard the sparkling laughter of the elves who called to the strange visitor to stay and sit with them. But he merely shook his head and continued his ascent. This was a time for exploration and excavation, not sitting in idle chatter. He passed many lanterns that glowed like fireflies in the night and after many long minutes he came to the final platform. When Gimli stood on the grey deck of the flet he felt like a mariner amid a sea of gold rather than a harsh sea. As he turned to the south, his breath caught to see the green city of Caras Galadhon rising high into the sky and he stared entranced for many minutes. As lovely as it was he felt suddenly that it was a poor vessel to contain the beauty of Galadriel.
Turning slowly around he found that the flet was not empty as he had originally believed. A lone figure sat at the edge of the platform on the Eastern side gazing outward. Gimli immediately recognized the greyish green of Legolas's cloak. Usually it concealed the elf from sight, but here its drab color stood out in stark contrast to the other colors that surrounded them. Apparently the same strange mood that had seized Gimli had struck the elf as well. A quiet and hasty exit seemed like the best option, but before he could leave Legolas turned towards him, face concealed in the shadow of his hood pulled up against the rain.
"You walk too loudly for me to have missed you, dwarf." His voice was soft, so quiet that Gimli might have missed it if the wind had been turned in another direction. To flee now might suggest cowardice, so Gimli slowly stepped forward across the platform. He looked up from the elf out to the sight before him, and between the gilded leaves he was startled at the stark contrast to the green city. The fertile landscape he had expected was not there; rather it was dark and shapeless, gathering to a black swirling fog in its midst. The gentle rain that covered Lothlórien transformed over the land into a roiling storm occasionally shot through by lightning. The view swept away the feeling of peace that had entered his heart, and he was left with an unsettling despair. Was this Mordor they viewed now? He wondered that such darkness could been seen from the safety of such beauty. For several moments he stood behind Legolas, but when the elf made no move to speak he sat down with the elf at his left hand.
Legolas sat on the very edge of the flet, his legs dangling over the edge into empty air. His usual proud posture was now slumped slightly and he continued to silently stare out into the frothing, dark clouds. Between them, Legolas's hand covered a scrap of parchment, only the corners poking out from beneath his long fingers. Just as Gimli was beginning to think that leaving the elf in peace would be the best course of action, Legolas turned sharply to face him, and just as quickly turned away, hood dropping as he did so. At such a close distance, Gimli could see that the face of the elf was wet but not from the rain as his eyes were ringed in red. Legolas gave an aggressive sniff and swallowed hard followed by a moment of uncomfortable silence.
The quiet raged between them, battling for footing. Removing himself still felt like the best option, but Gimli overcame the temptation. Could he turn away now, when he had stumbled upon his companion (for if nothing else, Legolas was his companion on this journey) in distress? Reluctantly, he pulled out a scrap of linen that might have at one time been called white and thrust it in the direction of the elf. He could think of nothing better to do.
Gimli looked up and saw that Legolas regarded him coolly, deep blue eyes brimming with unshed tears. Usually Legolas would have ignored, or even been insulted by this show of amity but now, in this moment of dejection, he snatched it out of Gimli's hand.
Rubbing his eyes and nose gingerly, Legolas muttered a breathless "Thank you."
The simple act seemed to break the spell that lay between them.
"You weep for Gandalf."
"Among other things."
A silence crept over them again, but this time it lacked the strangling quality that it had bound them before.
"That is my home." It was a simple statement, but the emotion in the elf's voice was evident. "Those dark clouds, they hang over the Southern part of Mirkwood." A sudden spring of tears emerged from Legolas's eyes. "I've seen it close in. I've watched it descend and creep ever closer and take that which I love most. But not like this." He cleared his throat, trying to rid the emotion from his voice. "Never like this."
Gimli had his answer then. It was not Mordor that they looked upon, but the power of Dol Guldur. The journey that they had set out on suddenly seemed a thousand times more distant, when evil lurked so close. If this was only a part of the evil that Sauron could muster, what would Mordor be like?
Gimli turned his eyes down to the scrap of parchment that sat between them. During their brief conversation, the elf's hand had drifted and didn't hold it quite so closely. Between the barely covering fingers he could see that it was a portrait. Three women stood solemnly, but still smiling. Made from simple charcoal pencil it could barely be called anything more than a sketch. The middle one had dark hair, streaming down over her shoulders. Despite the roughness of the drawing, her eyes sparkled with love and kindness and her smile was warming. From what he could guess, the other two were young ones, barely reaching womanhood. They stared out of the portrait proudly, and their bearing reminded Gimli strongly of the warrior and prince who sat by his side. He had believed up until this moment that all the members of the Company were bachelors, chosen in part for their lack of connections to their former lives. But now he realized that Legolas has spoken little of his life in Mirkwood.
"You left children behind." He was unsure if it was statement or a question and awe crept into his voice.
Slowly, Legolas turned his head to look at the dwarf. Confusion clouded his eyes until he turned them down to gaze at the portrait that Gimli saw.
A mirthless spate of laughter followed and Legolas resumed his gaze on the swirling darkness before them. "No." he sighed. "I left my sisters behind. Deserted them, maybe. Eyrendis made it for me before I left. It's a copy of…some painting somewhere….I'm not sure." Legolas cleared his throat and straightened his posture. Carefully he refolded the parchment, now becoming damp at the edges, into neat quarters and tucked it safely away in his pocket. When he continued, his voice was flat and dark. "My father had all of them removed when my mother died."
"Aye." Gimli agreed. It was an odd revelation, he thought, and struggled to find a response. "It has been many years since we spoke of a Queen in Mirkwood."
The elf nodded wearily and spoke in a distant voice. "I was very young when she was killed."
Another silence followed. Somehow even less uncomfortable than the last time. The dwarf was surprised by the candidness and wondered if in his dark mood Legolas had lowered his guard. He wondered at the guilt and grief that tinged his companion's voice. The brazenness of the dwarven heart that subsided in Gimli roused him to speak again.
"You could turn away, if you feel you have deserted them. We took no oaths when we began this quest. Return, if you wish."
He looked to Legolas for a response, but the elf said nothing. Instead his eyes clouded with tears again.
"No, Gimli." The use of his name was not unrecognized by the dwarf. "No, there is no turning back for me from this place. I swore my bow to this quest because I believed that I could do more with it at the Ringbearer's side than at the side of my comrades. And there is no safe passage anymore between Lothlórien and Mirkwood anymore."
A sudden sob choked out of Legolas and he leaned forward, gripping so hard at the wood beneath him that his knuckles were white. He bent over so far that Gimli feared he would topple over into the space that surged beneath their feet. "We have asked them for aid! But does it ever come? No! They have abandoned my people." Suddenly Legolas turned to him, emotion exposed raw and a dangerous light flashing in his eyes. "They have abandoned my people! We beg them for aid and the Galadhrim will not give it!" Legolas turned away again, trying to hide tears that were already apparent. "They say that they cannot give relief, but is it "cannot" or "will not"? It is will not, I say! Our borders are besieged by evil. Every year it creeps closer and every year I watch my companions fall as we lose footing against the strength that resides in that tower. This beauty, this peace that surrounds us now is a mockery of the fear and suffering my people have endured. Not that I should be surprised," Legolas growled bitterly "for long have the Sindar been sacrificed for the protection of others. Perhaps I have not done what is best. But I have tried, while the Galadhrim has utterly deserted their kin to the North."
Gimli frowned at the sudden and unexpected outburst. "And yet you are here now. Speak with the Lady, surely she will send aid if you tell her of your plight."
"Nay." Legolas spat. "They know of our troubles. I will not debase my father or myself to beg aid from the unwilling." Gimli shook his head. Perhaps he had been too quick a judge of the elves on many things, but their stubborn and prideful nature was not one of them. Legolas breathed deeply a few times and when he spoke again his voice was softer and his anger had been replaced with sadness. The otherworldly calm of the elves had settled over him once more and Gimli mused that perhaps he not been wrong about the flightiness of elven emotion either.
"Forgive my harsh words, Gimli. I do not mean to disparage our hosts, for they have provided our company with shelter and I am grateful for it. I fear this long struggle has poisoned my heart with bitterness. And perhaps I speak unfairly, for I hear my father's words in my own. I know not what guards this place, but it does not protect us. For good or ill, our fates will be decided soon." He rubbed his eyes again with Gimli's handkerchief, less delicately than the last time. "In our isolation I forget that we are not the only ones who have lost much."
Gimli did not reply, but only nodded solemnly, his thoughts returning to Moria and the chamber of Mazarbul. It had been clear that all was not well in the Mines as soon as they had entered, yet he had clung to the hope that dwarves still remained there, that the once great kingdom still existed. Stumbling upon the Chamber had crushed those dreams. Never again would he speak to Balin and it hung heavy on his heart that he was tasked with delivering the somber news home to Erebor. He had said nothing to the others of his sorrow following the dreadful sight of slaughter, for their minds were too clouded with the loss of Gandalf. But in the hours that had followed, he had been doubly grieved. Legolas alone had acknowledged and seemed to understand the devastating hurt. The simple apology had surprised and startled him. The thought of the eyes of an enemy mirroring back his own loss still troubled him.
He doubted that any of the company had believed his ruse to stay behind and speak privately about the matter. But even if Legolas had brushed off his questions and deemed it a "regrettable lack of judgment", Gimli did not think it so. Rather it had seemed heartfelt, and at the very least sincere.
He was pulled out his musings by the elf's quiet voice. "You didn't tell the others."
"About what?" At his side, Legolas looked deeply uncomfortable and he twisted the handkerchief with an uncharacteristic nervous energy. Had it been fear that touched his voice? So it seemed that both their thoughts had turned to the events following their escape from Moria. Well, the unfortunate encounter between the two had crossed Gimli's mind a few times. "How can you be sure I didn't?" He asked, almost teasingly. He regretted it immediately though, for Legolas's brow furrowed and a cloud of uncertainty crossed his face.
"Aragorn would have said something, I think. You could have told them the heroic tale of how you saved my life, while I was threating yours." Legolas laughed mirthlessly. "I would have told them."
"There were other cares on their minds. I saw no reason to bring it up."
Almost too quiet to be heard, Legolas replied simply "Le fael." He was silent for a few moments before clearing his throat and taking a deep breath resolutely. "I…I would not have it always be thus between us. And for my part, I regret many words that were said since we began this quest. This grudge serves no purpose and has endangered us all. And-" Legolas swallowed hard against the pride that threatened to choke his next words. "And I would lay it aside if you would, for the sake of the others, at least." The elf went suddenly still and Gimli thought were it not for the wind stirring the blond hair his companion might have been carved from stone.
"Aye." He answered slowly. "I suppose I see no reason why the grudges of our fathers should stand between us."
Legolas exhaled in relief and nodded. No more words passed between them then and they sat with both sets of eyes considering the view.
Suddenly, Legolas sprang lightly to his feet and offered a hand his companion. "Come, Gimli. Let us leave this place then. While we are afforded peace I should aim to be glad of it and not dwell on that which cannot be changed." The dwarf accepted his hand and rose.
As they had talked, the rain had slowed and only occasional drops fell from the sky. The wind was warm and held the promise that the darkened sky would soon pass and the sun would be bright in Lothlórien again soon.
Legolas turned once more to the blackened skies that covered Mirkwood. "When this is all ended, if we have been successful, then I will show you my home restored. And perhaps you will show me Erebor?" He added hopefully. "For although I have stood at the Mountain's feet I have never seen its halls."
"It would be my pleasure, Legolas," replied Gimli, bowing deeply.
"Thank you, Gimli. I would like that."
"As would I." said Gimli, smiling. "As would I."
"Beyond the river the world appeared flat and empty, formless and vague, until far away it rose again like a well, dark and drear. The sun that lay on Lothlórien had no power to enlighten the shadow of that distant land.
'There lies the fastness of Southern Mirkwood," said Haldir. "it is clad in a forest of dark fir, where the tress strive against another and their branches rot and wither. In the midst upon a stony height stand Dol Guldur, where long the hidden Enemy had his dwelling. We fear that now it may be inhabited again, and with power sevenfold. A black cloud lies often over it of late. In this high place you may see the two powers that are opposing one to another; and ever they strive now in thought, but whereas the light perceives the very heart of the darkness, its own secret has not been discovered. Not yet." He turned and climbed swiftly down, and they followed him. "
Yikes. Way to be rude, Haldir. Judging on Mirkwood like that is not cool.
Anyway, I realized a while ago that there's a little missing scene here. If Mirkwood is visible from Lothlórien, then Legolas would surely stumble upon it as well. Or someone might mention it to him (though hopefully not as grimly as Haldir did). I thought about the first chapter of this story and this one separately and wrote chapter two as a way to connect them.
"Le fael" has the translation of "you are generous". It means thank you, but also a bit more than that.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR READING! I hope you enjoyed it!